TITLE: Night of the Reindeer
SPOILERS: Based in season 2.
SUMMARY: Colonel Sheppard's team should never go through the gate on Christmas eve. It just never works out. An SGA Christmas tale..
The best laid plans didn't always work out. Beckett really didn't want the infirmary crowded with people while they tended to their newest patients, which, she realized, included Ronon and Teyla as well.
Elizabeth hadn't noticed the abraded wrists when they'd returned from the mission. Ronon's long sleeves, and Teyla's jacket, had initially obscured the injuries from view, and neither of the two had pushed for treatment. Apparently when Beckett discovered the raw rope burns on both Sheppard's and McKay's wrists, he'd naturally checked out the other team members.
It was after half an hour that Elizabeth felt comfortable in leaving the holiday party. It was called many things: the Christmas party, the holiday party, the 'experiment can wait a day' party by a few workaholic scientists. Many of the Athosians had come over via puddle jumper for the festivities. They didn't celebrate Christmas, nor yet understood the concept of it, but instead took advantage of a more congenial atmosphere to get to know the expedition members better.
As overall leader of the expedition, she had to be there to start the festivities. Beckett had all but ordered her to be bright and cheerful. At least she was able to report that Sheppard and his team, although a bit worse for the wear, would be fine within a day or two. That brought smiles to many of the people who had heard of the mission's nearly disastrous ending.
She'd slip out every now and then, wandering down to the infirmary, but realized her concerns were ungrounded. Both Teyla and, remarkably, Ronon, had not left. They'd taken up spots on the beds opposite where Sheppard and McKay were fast asleep in their own beds, like sentinels guarding their flock. She couldn't blame them for not wanting to leave; the team had been taken captive and threatened with death just minutes after arriving through the Stargate.
Midnight came, and the party slowly died down. By two in the morning, it had faded away entirely, just a pleasant memory. Volunteers cleaned up the remains of the festivities.
Morning rolled around quickly enough. It seemed like any other day on Atlantis, full of promise but also simmering with the knowledge that at any moment, things could fall horribly apart.
Elizabeth checked the control room first. All was quiet. There was a tiny fir tree – someone had brought it over from the mainland, stuck it in a pot of soil – with a few homemade ornaments on it, as well as a set of fake reindeer antlers. They'd belonged to Peter Grodin. An Athosian child had made them for him as a gift, and he'd insisted on wearing them all of last Christmas.
Peter was gone now, one of many casualties of the Wraith siege against Atlantis almost a year ago.
She sighed. She missed Peter. Missed his smile. His gentle voice and how he imparted a sense of calm and sanity when the roof was falling in around them. The fabric was soft under her touch, and she hoped that whoever had brought out the antlers would make it a yearly ritual, so that those who had died would be remembered at this special time of year.
Beckett finally gave her the go-ahead to visit that morning. After midnight, he'd banned all visitors. Not so much because it was after hours or that his patients needed sleep. No, actually, both Sheppard and McKay had risen from their short sleep and proceeded to be more than a bit sick from their spot of overindulgence.
Cup of steaming black coffee in hand, Elizabeth entered the infirmary. The lights were dimmed to the point it could still be midnight. She spotted a lump under several blankets on one bed. Pillows were arranged around the spot where she assumed the head should be. A protective barrier against the outside world? She couldn't tell who it was hiding and the other bed was empty.
Beckett came around the corner. He held a finger up to his lips in the classic 'quiet' gesture, then came closer, drawing her off to the side. "Poor Rodney. He finally got back to sleep just a few hours ago."
"Ah, come to my office."
Elizabeth followed, worried at this new development. Her fears faded away when Beckett stopped at the doorway, nodding his head toward the inside of the small room. Sheppard was in a chair in the corner. His legs were propped up on another chair, and someone had wrapped him up and covered with him with a blanket. His head was nestled against a pillow placed between him and the wall.
"Every time he'd finally get to sleep on the bed, he'd wake up not long after, pretty startled," explained Beckett. "He wandered in here after losing all his lunch. Been sound asleep since sitting down here."
Elizabeth could understand that. Teyla had given her a little more detail on one of her visits to the infirmary the night before. It had been a very tense situation on Lubri, and had the 'executioner' not had strong arms, he might not have been able to stop the axe in time. Even a few mugs of strong ale wouldn't be able to eradicate the memories of nearly being decapitated.
"Plus every time he woke up, he'd wake up Rodney, and well, God forbid Rodney wake up again until he's totally sober," Beckett remarked, frowning painfully.
"Yes, I've never heard a Christmas song so badly mangled in my life," agreed Elizabeth, keeping her voice down to a whisper.
"Ach, reminded me of when my mum's neighbor's pup was hit by a lorry. Dreadful, pathetic noise," said Beckett.
Elizabeth took a tiny sip of her coffee. Still too hot. She studied Sheppard from the doorway, fearful of moving in too close and awakening him. She was tempted to sit nearby, just to make sure he was truly all right. The thin, red cut on his neck was obscured by the blankets tucked around him, but the discoloration on his face… she knew bruises always looked worse the next day but he looked pretty bad. "Is he…?" she trailed off.
"Oh, just surface bruising," Beckett said with a relaxed smile. "No fractures, not even a concussion this time around. The man's got a strong skull, and he's handled the whole mess a lot better than Rodney, but then Rodney really doesn't drink, does he?"
"No pity for me? It's Christmas." The voice was a bit raspy, but definitely John Sheppard's.
"John, you're awake." Elizabeth decided this was her invite to sit down next to him, so she pulled up the extra chair.
"No, it's just another bad dream, like the reindeer," he muttered, grimacing as he poked tentatively at his face. "Oh good, head's still attached."
"Yes, it is," agreed Weir happily. She watched him nestle his hand back under the blanket, then squint suspiciously at her.
"I'm okay," he insisted.
"Of course you are," she replied. He was the kind of man who never liked to admit misery, even though it was written all over his face. She noticed his gaze drift slowly from her face down to her hands.
"Coffee?" he said curiously.
"I don't think so, colonel," warned Beckett from his desk.
"Carson, I haven't thrown up since…" His eyebrows drew down in deep thought, or maybe that was just a headache. "Uh… since the last time, and it wasn't anywhere near as spectacular as Rodney." He offered a wan smile. "Technicolor, all over Nurse Collins. You know, the one who's picked up all of Zelenka's wonderful Czech swear words. Think she used half of 'em last night."
Elizabeth arched an eyebrow at this tiny revelation. She'd missed that part of their recovery and quite honestly, didn't mind it a bit. She'd seen enough people throw up throughout her career, and amazingly, it hadn't been during college, but at high-brow diplomatic functions where dignitaries indulged far too much.
"Don't make me beg, Elizabeth." Sheppard snaked a hand out from under the cover, reaching for the mug in an almost pitiful gesture. She was so tempted but…
"Oh, go ahead," sighed Beckett. "He'll just steal mine if you don't, and he's had enough anti-nausea meds he may be able to handle a sip or two. At most," he added as a not-very-subtle warning.
Sheppard gratefully accepted the mug and brought it up to his lips, but instead of drinking it, he just shut his eyes and breathed in its steam as though it were hot chocolate on a cold winter's day.
"That's it?" she asked incredulously.
"I'm easing into this, okay?" he muttered a little crabbily. "Teyla and Ronon finally leave?"
"That they did," said Beckett. "Rodney's rendition of 'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer' did not go over well with them."
"Ah." Sheppard grimaced. "I must have been out for that."
"Wish I'd been," Beckett muttered dismally under his breath. Elizabeth shook her head in mock dismay, which the physician rightfully ignored.
"Rodney?" asked Sheppard.
"He'll live," she replied, resisting the urge to break into a big grin.
"That's good," said Sheppard in what sounded almost like an afterthought, but Elizabeth knew the casual words belied a deeper worry for his friend. "After all, have to thank him for ticking off someone so badly they gave him that fruitcake. Saved our butts."
"That would be Dr. Grange," explained Elizabeth. "Apparently the fruitcake has passed through approximately 21 sets of hands since it arrived on the Daedalus last month with the mail call."
Sheppard started to shake his head, not remembering the name, but then stopped. Movement was probably still painful. He had to have a dreadful headache.
"Red hair, black horn-rimmed glasses," described Elizabeth. "Came in a few months ago on the Daedalus."
"Ah, yeah." Sheppard stopped, placing the very warm mug against his forehead. His eyes shut in welcome relief as the heat soaked in. "No, uh, no, don't know him."
Elizabeth could tell that even the few minutes of discussion was exhausting for Sheppard. Beckett was hovering close by and she expected any second now he'd tap at his watch and point his finger toward the door.
"Why don't you get some more sleep?" she suggested.
"'m okay," he murmured faintly, eyes still shut. "I'll get some sleep once Rudolph and his buddies stop beating my skull with candy canes."
Elizabeth was confused for a second, until the description of the missing fruitcake package came back to mind: dozens of tiny reindeer and little dancing candy canes plastered against a bright Christmas background of brilliant red, green and silver. Zelenka had obtained a rather detailed description of the package before he'd gone on his hunt.
"Don't worry." She carefully removed the mug from his hand before he spilled any of the coffee. "We'll keep the reindeer away."
"You do that," he replied, turning his head toward the soft pillow.
Elizabeth watched him for a few minutes as his breath steadied out. The slightly strain frown dissipated as well, and after a minute, she realized he'd fallen into a restful slumber.
Beckett leaned behind her, touching her gently on the arm to indicate she should go. "He'll be fine." Elizabeth followed him out of the office, back into the main section of the infirmary. She wandered over to the rather large lump on the bed, noticing that there had been a slight change in position. "And Rodney?" she asked.
"I suspect he'll be here another day," replied Beckett. "The Colonel will probably want to leave later today, and he's healthy enough, really, to do so, although I expect he'll just go to his quarters for some peace and quiet."
Elizabeth nodded in agreement.
"Now, Rodney here," began Beckett, but then he stopped abruptly. "Oh dear. Here we go again."
Elizabeth looked at the monitors, expecting to see a disastrous arc or something fly across the screen, but realized that Rodney wasn't hooked up to any machines. Instead, she saw two hands reaching out in a rather feeble manner. She winced when she noticed bandages around each wrist, evidence of when their new 'trading partners' had tied them up for several hours.
"I'm blind," croaked a hoarse voice. "I knew it! Alcohol poisoning!
"Rodney, you have half the pillows in the infirmary atop ye," admonished Beckett lightly. "I'd be more worried about asphyxiating. Your eyes are perfectly fine. So's ye liver. I've told you this at least six times already."
Elizabeth leaned down a little, peeling back a few scrunched-up pillows to peer underneath the white cloth cave. Two wide eyes stared back at her from the dark depths, very much like a frantic raccoon cornered in its den. "Rodney, you're going to be fine."
The hands immediately grabbed the pillows, sucking them into that hole. "Ack, too bright!" he screeched. A moment later, the pillows ruffled again, the two hands burrowing out so Rodney could see outside again. A worried voice echoed from the cocoon. "Sheppard? Where is he?"
Elizabeth realized Rodney had a perfect view of the empty bed across from him.
"Sleeping it off in my office," replied Beckett. "And you would be well advised to continue resting as well."
"You're sure?" came a timid question.
"Yes, the colonel's fine," repeated Beckett.
"Oh, good for him," Rodney grumbled sarcastically. "He kept waking me up last night and now my brain is melting."
Elizabeth watched the pillows suck back in upon themselves, like a negative image of a black hole drawing in everything around it. A second later, Beckett snagged her by her elbow, steering her unerringly toward the infirmary's outer doors.
"They will be all right, Elizabeth." Beckett appeared serious for a moment, perhaps remembering worse times when those two men had been his patients, but then his familiar and reassuring smile appeared. "They had a rough night, but they'll be both be out of here by day's end."
"I know," she agreed, looking back into the infirmary. "And I suppose I did get my Christmas wish fulfilled."
Beckett looked perplexed. "I don't understand."
"That they all made it back in one piece, Carson," she replied, taking a sip of her coffee. "We've had far too many times when the mission has seemed simple and…" She left her words drift away. Both of them could too easily remember the names and faces of those men and women who had never returned to Atlantis.
"There is that," he agreed, a wistful expression crossing his eyes. "Only…"
"Yes?" Elizabeth stared at him, hoping there wouldn't be any lasting problems from the mission.
"I can understand the colonel being a wee bit annoyed about reindeer, particularly after Rodney's…" Beckett winced as though in abject pain. "…singing. However, I'm not sure why he thinks they're beating him up with candy canes."
"You didn't see the fruitcake package, I gather?" she asked.
"Oh heavens no," Beckett crossed his arms. "Total waste of good ingredients."
"I happen to like fruitcake," Elizabeth frowned. "In fact, it almost sounds like I'm the only person on Atlantis who does."
"You've never tried Dundee Cake, I see." Beckett tsk-tsked, shaking his head as though she'd missed out on the chance of a lifetime. "Shame we can't get any of that out here in the Pegasus Galaxy."
Elizabeth listened with rapt interest as Beckett described the various delicacies he'd grown up with in Scotland. While they were being introduced to a variety of new and fascinating Pegasus Galaxy foods, she realized that the simple foods from home, particularly at Christmas, were special to each member of the expedition. Perhaps next year, if the wraith left them alone and it could be arranged, the Daedalus could 'import' in more than just a fruitcake or two from Earth.
And definitely, most definitely, she would not let Colonel Sheppard's team go out on any missions the day before Christmas.
Author's Note: Thanks for all the feedback:)