Title: Promises, Promises

Spoilers: None

Setting: First season

Rating: K

Disclaimer: All characters etc are owned by someone else. No copyright infringements intended.

This one is for S3.

Beta-ed by Kiky – thanks again Kiky :-)

Promises, Promises.

'An expertly pulled Bishop's Finger with a perfect head on top.'

Rodney McKay turned the piece of paper over with a frown. The other side was blank, so, no clue there.

"Why, thank you, Peter," he smiled uncertainly at Grodin. "And what would I do with that?"

"You'd drink it, you heathen. It's a pint of beer."

The table erupted into laughter at the Englishman's sardonic tone and Rodney felt his face flush. It was with some degree of surprise that he realised that it was pleasure and not embarrassment that caused his face to redden. These people were laughing with him, not at him, and that was an almost unique experience in all of his 30-something years.

It had been six months now since a disparate collection of scientists and military had made the, possibly one-way, trip to Atlantis, and, during that time, grounds for celebration had been few and far between. Wraith, energy creatures, vampiric bugs; those seemed to crop up with monotonous regularity, but Rodney found it hard to recall the last time the Pegasus Galaxy had thrown something good their way. A birthday, apparently even his birthday, was an excuse for a party.

Unfortunately, the supply of suitable presents was limited and someone, he wasn't sure who but he suspected the Czech with the eminently forgettable name, had suggested the giving of 'promises' instead. So Grodin had just promised him a pint of beer when, or more likely 'if', they ever returned to Earth.

'A pint of beer.' It didn't sound much, but Rodney was truly touched at the thought that had gone into the promise. Reading around the words, Peter had also promised him a visit to his home in England, and a trip to his local pub with all the companionship which that implied.

"C'mon McKay, open mine." Rodney looked across at Sheppard, bouncing in his seat in a reasonable impression of an excited six-year-old. He tried to force his expression into a stern frown, but the Major's wide grin was too infectious and Rodney found himself grinning back as he reached over to take the blue envelope which Sheppard teasingly held out.

Like all the other envelopes, this one had been used before; in fact several names had already been neatly crossed off the back. Paper was becoming too scarce a commodity to be used once and then thrown away and soon the ideal of 'The Paperless Office' might finally be realised. Rodney turned the envelope over and carefully peeled back the double-sided sticky tape that held it closed.

'Get Out of Jail Free.'

He read the promise aloud and glanced around at the looks of puzzlement that mirrored his own.

"You'll thank me for it." Sheppard sounded slightly hurt at the reception his 'promise' had received, but Rodney could see the look in his eye that said it was the reaction that he had expected; possibly even planned.

"OK, Major." Rodney placed the scrap of paper down on the table and crossed his arms. "I'll bite. What does it mean?"

Sheppard unleashed another disarming grin. "Sometime in the future, Rodney, you're gonna do something that warrants a bawling-out." He stated, matter-of-factly. "But this will allow you to avoid it." He picked up the paper and flourished it at McKay. "If you hand me this piece of paper, then, I promise, whatever you have done, no more will be said."

The crowd around the table hushed and all eyes turned to McKay. He could feel their stares as they realised that Sheppard had just made it quite clear that he thought McKay fallible. They waited for the angry reaction, the tension rising as he simply sat, motionless, with his head down. On any other day, he would have treated that statement as a mortal insult, but, at this moment, he could see it as the show of friendship in which it was intended. Although he would never admit it, Rodney knew that they were all in way over their heads. Everyone sitting around this table would, at some stage, make a mistake; the Great Dr McKay included. Sheppard had just told him that he accepted that and still wanted him on his team. The fact that he had scrawled it in a childish hand and orange crayon just emphasised the foolishness of expecting perfection.

Rodney finally lifted his head, his expression schooled into a mocking smile. He looked at Sheppard and bestowed a sarcastic. "Thank you, Major."

"See," Sheppard smirked at the wary faces around the table. "I said you'd thank me." He waited until it was apparent to all that Rodney was not about to explode. As smiles started to appear, Sheppard turned back to face McKay before dryly delivering the punch-line. "I was going to give you a book of these things, but I ran out of paper."

This time, Rodney couldn't contain a snort of amusement, but, from the looks that came his way, he could tell that the others had simply taken it as his standard irritated grunt. Only Sheppard caught his eye and surprised him with a conspiratorial wink. Suddenly, Wraith, energy creatures and vampiric bugs didn't seem so much of a threat. The people of Atlantis had beaten them before and now he even had a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card to fall back on.

"Major Sheppard, Dr McKay, please report to the control room immediately." The serious voice of the gate tech cut through the subsequent relieved chatter and Rodney paused only to scoop up his small pile of 'promises' before hurriedly tailing the Major out through the refectory door. He folded them and tucked them carefully into his jacket pocket wondering which he would redeem first.