Merry Christmas, Love Santa

by Kodiak Bear Country

Summary: Sometimes miracles do happen.

Warnings: Some dark content implied, slash pairing (but no sex), McShep, slight SG-1 crossover.

Thanks to Patricia (adragh) from the SGAHC yahoo list for beta help!

"Elizabeth?"

Carson paused at the threshold of her office, not wanting to intrude, but the sight of her sitting there alone tugged his insides. She'd retreated to her sanctuary, as she often did lately, leaving the Christmas party after only an hour of mingling.

She lifted her head from where she'd been staring down at something in her hand.

He came forward, already guessing what it was. The frown he'd been trying to hold off tightened – one of regret, sorrow and sympathy. Carson was in front of her now, and he covered her hands with his own, pulling the photo around enough so he could look.

The physical pain at seeing those two familiar faces, laughing in the picture, made him wish she'd stop doing this to herself.

"They were so young, Carson – so full of life."

"Aye, I know." The lump in his throat had everything to do with her, the picture, the damnable circumstances. "Even though we're all close in age, those two always seemed younger, especially Colonel Sheppard."

Her focus moved - and the accusing photo - and on to the celebrating personnel that were visible through the glass panel. "I still wonder if they're alive – out there. Just waiting for us to find them."

For that, Carson had no reply. The painful truth was that if they were waiting, they'd be waiting forever, because the search had been called off months ago. No leads, no progress, and the SGC wasn't willing to foot the bill for the Daedalus to hunt down nothing but hunches and seat of the ass guesses. After the expedition had lost more than a few good men gating to worlds in search of leads, Elizabeth had to accept that the death toll in people was too high of a price to pay.

And Carson knew she'd never forgive herself for that decision.

"I'm sure they're somewhere safe, and warm, and celebrating Christmas even now. You know Rodney, he'd come up with something, and John would've been right there making it happen," Beckett said.

But she wouldn't take it. She turned back to him and asked flatly, "Then why haven't they come home?"

On Another Planet, Far Away…

John ducked into the hole that led into their rough shelter, pushing aside the tattered blanket that they'd hung to keep as much heat in as possible. His eyes immediately alighted on Rodney as he moved inside. McKay was hovering by the meager fire, rubbing his hands to keep them warm.

Rodney's eyes met his, and John smiled wide. "I got it," he exclaimed, holding the prize aloft.

"How -" Rodney swallowed convulsively, staring with hunger at the wrapped meat in Sheppard's grasp.

Now Sheppard's eyes darkened, and he shook his head. "Don't ask," he said roughly.

The message was clear; he didn't want to talk about it. There might have been a time where Rodney wouldn't have accepted that, couldn't even, but now he accepted a lot of things, because he knew there wasn't anything they could do to change it.

And sometimes knowing was worse than not knowing.

"Is it good?" Rodney asked, stepping to the side so John could begin to warm up. Too often meat was rancid, and filled with maggots.

Gleefully, John pulled off the gloves that were full of holes, and tossed them onto a rickety wooden table. "Perfect," he said.

"Oh, god," groaned Rodney. "I can't remember what good meat tastes like."

John let Rodney take the package from him, and thought it'd been too long since they'd had anything, let alone meat, that wasn't rotten. Food was hard to come by on Tattana. And slaves didn't often get what was edible by anyone else.

Unconsciously, he rubbed the collar, his mind shifting back to that day almost a year ago when they'd been captured. A simple mission, but they'd been waylaid by slavers who were out hunting. Teyla and Ronon had been at the gate, while he and McKay lounged at some ruins while Rodney waited for his laptop to finish translating a section of Ancient writing they'd found on a pillar.

There'd been no hope for them to escape, a mass stun weapon had knocked them out shortly after he'd gotten a message to Ronon and Teyla to get out of there, and come back with reinforcements. They'd woken up on this god-forsaken world, made into slave labor, with the one small kindness that they'd been left together. The overseer in charge of them had figured it'd keep them happy and working. The threat being, do your job and you get to be together, don't – and so long Rodney. John did his job, and so did McKay, because if they were separated, they'd never figure a way out of this.

Of course, they never had – yet. Any hope of escape had been stopped with a demonstration on how the collar worked. Some poor sap had been pulled from the group, and tossed to the front. The overseer, a gruff bastard of a man who wasn't actually anything more than a victim like the rest of them, told the guy he was free.

The man, skinny and a wretch to begin with – probably why he was picked out of everyone else, hadn't thought twice, before turning and running for the gate. He dialed, and in tune with the wormhole spewing forth, so did the man, before crumpling to the ground, drowning in his own blood that oozed from his mouth, nose, ears and eyes, and Sheppard figured other places that were covered by clothing.

Everyone's attention had snapped from the dead guy to the overseer, and he'd sniffed, wiped his nose with a meaty hand and said, "And that, my friends, is why you won't try to escape."

And they hadn't. Because Rodney hadn't been able to figure out a way to remove the collar without killing them.

"Should we eat it tonight, or save it for tomorrow, after all, it's Christmas," Rodney asked.

He looked as torn as John. They were so hungry he could taste it, but tomorrow was Christmas…

"Eat it now," he said shrugging. They wouldn't have tomorrow off anyway.

Rodney nodded, and busied himself preparing the spit and skewering it, before resting it over the fire. They huddled quietly near, neither one talking, just listening to the fat hissing and spitting on the flames, and enjoying the smell and the knowledge that tonight they wouldn't go to bed hungry.

Later that night, John slipped out of bed, out of Rodney's embrace, and outside.

The stars were bright, and despite the cold, he stared longingly at the night sky.

"You'll catch pneumonia," Rodney said softly behind him.

"I haven't yet."

A snort and McKay said, "A lot of things haven't happened yet, that doesn't mean they won't."

John ignored the painful double meanings. Instead, he pointed upwards. "Do you think they still think about us?"

Rodney moved closer to John, wanting to get warmer. "I think about a lot of things."

"They had to have called off the search by now."

"I know."

A hand on his shoulder, and Rodney tugged him back towards their make-do home. "Come back to bed, John. I always said the holidays were for kids and the clinically euphoric. You're becoming positively melancholic over it being Christmas." McKay didn't stop tugging, and eventually, John turned to go back with him, but Rodney kept talking, "It's cold, and you'll get sick if you stay out here all night like you did last time. If you die, I'll be alone."

It'd happened, once, after they were first captured. John had had a hard time giving up what they'd lost, harder than Rodney, which neither of them expected.

He'd stayed out in the cold, just watching the sunset then the stars come out, and stayed for the sunrise. Less than a day later, he became so sick the overseer had given up on him, telling Rodney he was free from the worksite to care for John until he died, and then cracked that it wouldn't be long.

Only Rodney's insistence that John not leave him kept him alive, because he didn't want to leave Rodney to face this life alone. Rodney had had a couple of close calls, too. The fact that they were still alive while they'd watch many others die under the same conditions was a testament to how much they cared. Neither one was willing to give up and leave the other without even that comfort.

Together, they headed back to the thin mattress resting on a rough log frame, the only bed they'd been able to scrape together. Rodney slid in first, his need to always have the wall against his back something John had conceded to long ago. Rodney was afraid of having open air next to him, he'd been that way since the night they'd gotten caught out after hours – out of the slave housing that was.

John had tried to get him to talk about it, but he never would, hadn't to this day, but he'd seen the bruises, and he'd seen Rodney's eyes.

Survival on Tattana didn't come at a cheap price.

After Rodney had gotten settled, he shifted so John could slide in, before he pulled the threadbare blanket over the tops of their bodies.

Spooned together, their shared body heat soon did what nothing else could do on this planet, warm them completely. Everything else was merely a mockery of warmth, but this – this is where they both found true heat, and sanity.

A soft tentative touch around his hip, and John shuddered. "Not tonight, Rodney," he whispered.

"You shouldn't have done it," McKay whispered angrily back.

"We needed it, and I don't want to talk about it." Purposefully, John settled in closer to McKay, and grabbed his hand, bringing it up just off the waist, and kept his hand on Rodney's. "Go to sleep, tomorrow's a long day."

And tomorrow was Christmas.

OoO

The city was in an uproar. Celebrating was in full swing, and everywhere Elizabeth went, she was practically grabbed and hugged, and someone shouted, "Merry Christmas!"

Because morning had arrived with the greatest present of all.

John Sheppard and Rodney McKay had materialized in the infirmary, and the only thing aside from the rags they wore, was a note saying 'Merry Christmas, love Santa'.

Beckett had radioed her, almost incomprehensible, shouting that John and Rodney were alive. It'd taken at least five minutes for him to calm down enough to explain that when the morning shift had arrived they'd found the colonel and McKay sleeping on the floor. There hadn't been anyone on duty during the night because no one was sick or injured.

The nurse that had found them, had called for Beckett, and was so shaken by her discovery, she'd had to be given smelling salts.

The trip to the infirmary took forever, but when she'd arrived, Elizabeth wished she could do it all over again - just because the knowledge that they were home was a balm over the open wound that had never healed.

And the two familiar faces, now much older and wearier, smiled at her like she was the best present they'd ever had.

"How?" she asked.

John shared a look with Rodney, and it was so bare and full of things that Elizabeth knew were too personal to see, but Rodney shrugged and John said, "We don't know. We fell asleep there, and woke up here."

Elizabeth had touched John Sheppard a few times out of relief for his safety, but now something held her back. Instead she stared wonderingly at both Rodney and John.

"We thought we'd never see you again," her voice cracked halfway through from the emotion, but she finished saying it anyway.

Before they could respond, the gate room tech called over her radio, "Ma'am, Colonel Caldwell's calling from the Daedalus."

Elizabeth tapped the ear piece, "Put him through."

"Doctor Weir, our sensors are tracking some unusual readings leading away from Atlantis. Did you get any unwelcome visitors last night?" Caldwell's voice was concerned but military crisp.

Staring puzzled at the two rag tag figures, she answered, "Yes, we did." Flustered she stopped before saying, "Not unwelcome though, in fact, they are very welcome. It seems during the night Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay were returned to us. Do you know anything more about how?"

Caldwell's voice returned, "The readings are remarkably similar to an Asgard cruiser's energy signature, but Hermiod is denying the presence of any Asgard in the area. We'll keep an eye out while we continue to make our way back to the city. Caldwell out."

Carson paused in helping Rodney with his shirt, and met Elizabeth's eyes. She smiled weakly, thinking back to the conversation she'd had a little over a month ago with a certain General O'Neill about her frustrations with the search being shut down.

It seems it did pay to have connections in high places.

Meanwhile, on a certain Asgard ship…

"I do not understand the need for secrecy, O'Neill."

Grinning, Jack put the red hat with white fur trim and pom pom on Thor's head. "Let's just say, Thor, sometimes Christmas miracles do come true."

Blinking under the brim of the hat, the Asgard stared at his friend, before shrugging, and turning back to the screen. He'd never fully understand humans.

The End…