- Week 5 -
After his uncharacteristic display of juggling, Rodney had spent a good hour frantically washing and rewashing his hands. When they turned puffy and red he went straight to Carson. Oranges!? Why oranges? Had he gone completely insane?! Were those hives? Was his throat constricting?
"No Rodney," Carson had answered with an overly patient tone. "There are no hives. You're heart-rate is within the norm, for you. The citrus is inside the orange, I sincerely doubt that just handling one is going to harm ye."
"But it wasn't just one! It was lots! And believe me when I tell you there was a lot of handling!" Rodney bemoaned.
At this Carson frowned inquisitively, "What were ye doing with them?"
"Can we get back to making sure I'm not dieing!?" Rodney snapped.
There was another belaboured sigh and the physician continued with tiring patience. "Ye are only allergic to it if you ingest it. As for why your hands are red, how many times did ye say you washed them?"
"A few…." Rodney admitted, withdrawing his hands sheepishly.
Carson smiled, "I think that might be why they're a wee bit irritated then. It's my clinical opinion that you're not insane. But, it's a touchy prognosis so I understand if ye want to get a second opinion on that one."
"Oh, very funny," Rodney had groused. Then he muttered a sarcastic, "Oh great," when Ford appeared with his laptop.
Carson looked between the two men, then found something to be busy with a few beds away.
Ford shuffled his feet guiltily, "I'm really sorry, McKay."
"You should be sorry!" Rodney snipped, "I can't believe you let me handle citrus! You're supposed to protect me!"
"I'll… remember that next time." Ford answered with a confused look.
McKay folded his arms, "Then you're forgiven."
The Lieutenant grinned from ear to ear, "Thanks Doc. Oh! Here. You forgot your laptop."
"What's this?" Carson took the laptop and scrolled down all the finished music. How did he move so fast?
"It's almost finished." Rodney moved to take the laptop, but Carson stepped out of reach.
Carson couldn't read music, but he could recognize that there were parts written from tenors, bass, soprano, and so on. As well as strings, wind… and each song annotated with the country of origin and a short history of the song's origin. Rodney McKay did nothing by halves. "Ye had to have been up all night! Well that answers any question about yer apparent lapse in judgement then. Yer over tired!"
Beckett had then sent him away with a prescription slip with a single instruction ridden in big red letters, "SLEEP!!!!"
One good thing about the entire unfortunate experience was nobody was surprised when he didn't hang around for meals for the rest of the week. He had continued his obligation fulfilled once he delivered the finished sheet music to Carson. And Elizabeth had refrained from giving him anymore lectures about spending his evenings in solitude, as had claimed he needed the time to practice juggling. Juggling! Damn… At least he had a signed legal contract guaranteeing that she would never ever ask him to do it again, either directly or through a certain Major.
'Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through Atlantis,
Not a creature was stirring,
Except for a few marines on night watch, the technicians on night duty in the gate room, and two plotting team mates.
Rodney and Teyla had finished all the bagging, and wrapping, and tied brightly coloured ribbons around it all.
Teyla sighed as Rodney again attempted to straighten some unseen imperfection in the freshly cleaned and wrapped machine. He seemed nervous, again. "Rodney, leave the bow alone. It looks fine."
"It's crooked," he insisted, and began to re-tie it completely. "And this was a bad idea. I went way too far. Everyone is just going to think I was idiot for wasting so much time. And they'll be right."
It wasn't the first time Teyla had noted how little confidence her team mate had when dealing with anything outside of his areas of expertise, "Was it not your time to waste?"
"Yes," he snapped in a tone that said that was obvious, "But that's not the point."
Teyla persisted patiently, understanding that the aggression was not really directed at her, "They cannot be angry for how you use time that does not belong to them. And the time was not wasted. I think you have used it most productively."
"You do?" He asked in a surprised tone.
She nodded confidently, "You should not think yourself a fool for wishing to bring joy to your friends."
"Colleagues," Rodney corrected.
Teyla refrained from arguing. His actions spoke the truth, rather than his words. That was all that truly mattered. "Are you ready?"
He nodded and moved to the trolley holding the first load.
Teyla took point, as they would in the field, stealthily guiding the scientist down the halls and occasionally looking to him to check his life signs detector. It was great fun, and she more than once struggled to keep herself from laughing when they had a close call with a guard. For one evening, she felt like a child again; able to set aside the worries and cares that came with grave responsibility.
When they were finished, he walked her back to her quarters, then picked up the last gift and held it out to her, "Merry Christmas, Teyla. Uh… Sorry it's not much of a surprise."
She was more surprised than he could know that he had included her among his people, "I… am delighted, Rodney. Thank you." Whatever the scientist said in reply was stifled by a yawn. "You should rest, Rodney, before the party."
"Ah yes," Rodney grimaced, "Juggling."
They said good night, but he returned to the Christmas lab rather than to his quarters. The finishing touches and final tests needed to be carried out on the bag of tricks he'd prepared for the party.
He needed to give Elizabeth a performance that would impress the cast of Lord of the Flies.
Ford grinned widely at the surprise he'd found waiting outside his door. Down either side of the hall similar expressions of astonishment and then joy were worn by marines and scientists alike as they picked up their packages.
A bundle of twelve candy canes, of red and white and red and green, were tied to clear bags of fluff in the same three colours. A quick taste confirmed that it was cotton candy! The tag simply read 'From Santa', but Ford could think of only one person who knew he'd been missing candy canes and would arrange something like this. He jogged towards Major Sheppard's quarters.
He slowed when he spotted a very large wrapped gift sitting outside the Sheppard's quarters, on a curtained trolley, as yet untouched.
Major Sheppard was standing outside his quarters with his eyes closed, savouring a mouthful of cotton candy from his own gift bag.
"Major!" Ford started excitedly.
Sheppard held up a hand to stall the Lieutenant, not wanting any distraction from the sensation of the fluffy ball of sugar dissolving on his tongue.
Ford took the time to look at Sheppard's bag, with the candy canes and ribbon still dangling from it. "Wait a minute? You didn't do this?"
The Major's eyes popped open and he looked incredulously at the Lieutenant, "Me? How?"
Ford shrugged, "I just figured since we talked about it…hey, yours is different. Everyone else has white, yours is yellow."
Realization smacked them simultaneously, "McKay?!"
They turned to the larger gift and found a tag tucked neatly under a perfect bow,
'To: My Team
Fr: Dr. Rodney McKay,
Thanks for watching my back, though I realize it's your job and, after-all, where would you be without the greatest mind in two galaxies? May your efforts continue to be successful.'
"I believe the tradition, as I understand, is to now open it," Teyla suggested from behind the two shocked men. She had been watching with great amusement, particularly at the yellow cotton candy as she now believed she understood their joke about the snow.
"Well, since we're all here…" It was so carefully wrapped he almost didn't want to spoil it… almost.
He and Ford tugged away the ribbon and ripped into the paper, revealing a shining new cotton candy machine. A quick look under the curtain revealed bags and bags of ground sugar and a few small vials of colouring.
It was then that Elizabeth came towards them, intending to inform Major Sheppard of how his trading had led to a feast this-afternoon. "John. I was just coming to thank you; though in the future you might want to keep in the loop."
John tore his boyish gaze away from the machine and shook his head incredulously at Elizabeth, "Why does everyone think 'I' did it?"
Elizabeth looked quizzically at him, then to the newly unwrapped cotton candy maker. Ford handed her the tag, and her she turned to Teyla in surprise.
Teyla simply smiled and shrugged, "I do not believe that Dr. McKay is quite the Grinch he gives the impression of being."
"Guess not," Ford agreed.
"Told you so," Sheppard bragged at Ford, then popped into his quarters and came out with a decorated envelope, "I'm gonna go find him and thank him now."
"Ya, me too," Ford agreed and jogged back to his quarters to pick up the gift he'd gotten for McKay.
Teyla bowed her head gracefully, "I'm afraid I must prepare to receive my people from the mainland. But I will see you later."
Elizabeth shook her head at the machine and decided to accompany the two men. No wonder Rodney had been so busy. Getting all this done in a single month, on top of his normal duties?!
But he wasn't in his room, or any of the labs. He wasn't even in his private lab. A quick call to the commissary confirmed that he hadn't gone to breakfast, and he wasn't answering his radio.
By this time word had spread about Santa McKay, in part because each time they failed to find McKay they were asked why they were looking for him. The science staff were feeling a little embarrassed at their misjudgement of the so-called Atlantis Grinch. They seemed to feel that they had driven him to attempting to prove he was not the Grinch that their wallpapers and screensavers implied.
Sergeant Bates was not pleased when he questioned the night security, "Are you seriously telling me that one scientist managed sneak around to every single set of quarters, probably making several trips, and pushing around a…"
"Cotton Candy Machine," Sheppard supplied.
"A Cotton Candy Machine," Bates grumbled, "and you, some of the best the U.S military has to offer, didn't see him once?"
"No sir," one of the men answered.
"He must have hidden all this stuff somewhere. Maybe he's still there?" Ford suggested.
Elizabeth nodded, "Teyla was helping him. I'll ask her."
"Teyla was helping him," Bates repeated in a grumbling tone, still upset at the total evasion of his security force, "Of course."
Teyla was reluctant, but given that Rodney was not answering his radio she led the group, minus Sergeant Bates, down to the area that he had set aside for his Christmas preparations. The scents of sugar and peppermint still filled the halls leading to the room.
Sheppard took lead, and cautiously entered the room. One never knew what dangers lurked in an alien city. It only took a glance to show the room was safe and he turned to wave the others in and held a finger to his lips to keep them quiet.
Elizabeth's jaw dropped at the sheer quantity of sugar piled against a far wall and sloping towards the centre of the room.
"The trade was far more lucrative than expected." Teyla whispered in explanation, "A full third went to my people for arranging the trade. Another third was traded for other supplies, such as the herb which Dr. McKay says is similar to your peppermint. This is what remains. I believe it was his intention to inform you of its existence and hand it over to you on …Boxing Day. It is a luxury item on many worlds."
Elizabeth made a mental note to tell the Chef to cross sugar off his list of things they were running low on.
An Ancient worktable rested against one of the walls. Rodney was hunched over it with his head resting against his arms, sound asleep, in front of a row of coloured balls. His earpiece had fallen onto the floor.
"Hey, check out the tree!" Ford exclaimed rather loudly. He figured it wasn't like McKay was going to wake without being shaken for a few minutes. When he got overtired he could sleep through pretty much anything. They'd learned that the first time he slept through an attack on their camp, by some unfriendly natives. The long hike they'd had that day had completely exhausted the scientist when he was still used to sitting around in a lab.
The 'tree' was actually some wire twisted into the shape of a tree, decorated with Christmas Cards and every colour of dangling ancient crystal. Though they were cracked and broken they caught the light beautifully.
Though Sheppard had shushed everyone when they came in, he had taken to amusing himself by tapping the sleeping scientist on the head. "He's just overtired," Sheppard assured Elizabeth when the scientist didn't wake. "The party's not for a few hours. We should probably let him sleep."
"I'll stay and keep an eye on him," Ford quickly volunteered. Dr. Weir levelled a look on him and he quickly added, "I promise not to poke him or anything."
Elizabeth nodded, "Alright then. Have some of this sugar moved to the kitchen as well."
"Yes, Ma'am," Sheppard saluted sloppily. He couldn't wait to see the looks on the Athosian kids faces when they tried out cotton candy.
Bacon, eggs, freshly baked bread, and a pot of hot coffee were spread out on the table in Rodney's drawing room while he flipped through the latest science journal. He was reading a particularly interesting article to this months Nanny while she lay out the food.
"Rodney," a distinctly Scottish voice broke into the dream of home, "Time to wake up, lad."
He shifted and a weight he hadn't realized was there fell from his neck and landed by his head with a sploshing sound. Bleary eyes opened slowly and focussed on a hot water bottle.
"There ye are," Carson's voice greeted cheerily.
Rodney instinctively huddled deeper into the blanket he hadn't realized.
"McKay," Ford insisted, and Rodney felt his shoulders being gently shaken, "Wake up."
"M'up," Rodney mumbled through a yawn. He began to stretch out the kinks that came with sleeping in odd positions, but found he had none.
Even so, Ford started massaging his shoulders, "How's your neck, McKay?"
This was weird enough to still be a dream, "It's… fine."
Carson moved the hot water bottle and set down a tray of food in its place. It was bacon and eggs, and freshly baked bread, with a pot of coffee.
This had to be a dream.
"Give him a minute. He's not really awake yet." Ford advised with the wisdom of experience.
As long as he was dreaming about food, McKay figured he might as well enjoy it. He picked up the fork and dug eagerly shovelled some egg into his mouth. The taste and texture of real food served as proof that he was not dreaming and his eyes popped wide. Crap! How long had he been sleeping?! He dropped the fork and looked at his watch.
"Now he's awake," Ford informed Beckett.
"Relax lad," Beckett poured a cup of coffee and set it in front of Rodney, "The delegations are only just arriving. Ye have plenty of time before they'll be needing us at the party. Enjoy yer breakfast. I'd say ye earned it."
Rodney was confused by that last part for a moment. Then he realized that they must have liked the gift! And clearly they weren't mad at him. "Ah. You liked the gift then."
"Aye," Beckett chuckled and clapped him on the shoulder, "And I think we might have made some unfair presumptions."
"I know I did." Ford was quick to confess.
After breakfast, Rodney went to his quarters for a quick shower and opened the presents his team had left on his bed.
Major Sheppard had given him a renewable voucher for puddle jumper flying lessons, and a puddle jumper pilots licence that would be validated with the Major's signature. The voucher was valid for three lessons… at which time it could be renewed at the cost of two work-out sessions with the team. That man was underhanded.
Ford had given him an empty sketchbook and some charcoal. He understood and appreciated the sentiment.
Teyla had given him a blue wide-sleeved shirt with loosely fitted cuffs. It would look far more appropriate and be less restrictive than the uniform jacket he'd been planning to wear. He changed into it, grabbed his bag, and headed to the jumper bay.
Elizabeth found her mind drifting to how easily she had fallen into misjudging Rodney. She almost felt bad for pressuring him into juggling today. She would have, were it not for the reason her mind was drifting.
The Rathean's were just coming to a close of an hour long ceremony of joy and gratitude, involving standing very still with candles and occasionally making incremental movements that held some sort of meaning and chanting in a monotone voice.
The Jumper Bay had been cleared and decorated for the event, and the roof opened to let the sunlight spill in. The room was large enough to hold both the feast and had a small, slightly elevated, area that served as a stage.
Many of the adults heads had begun to nod forward. And, having already sampled a good deal of cotton candy, the Athosian children and the delegation from the planet of children looked ready to implode with boredom. It would be the Atlantean's turn show something next. They needed something a bit more engaging than story time with Sheppard or even music. They needed movement.
She was relieved, and a bit guilty, when Rodney finally appeared. He looked nervous and unhappy, but resolved to his fate. However, with his entrance the interest level in the room immediately increased. First the Atlantean's noticed him, then the visiting delegations, and the children, seemed to sense that something of interest was amiss.
Rodney quickly covered all hint of nervousness with a confidence that bordered arrogance.
The Rathean's completed their ceremony with a low bow, and blew out their candles. And there was a ripple as the audience bowed in return, as was the Rathean's tradition.
Elizabeth stood, staunchly resisted the urge to yawn and stretch, and mounted the stage with John at her side. "Thank you for opening this occasion with such a ceremony of such a fitting theme. Now, if he's ready, I believe our Dr. Rodney McKay has prepared a little something."
Thankfully, Rodney nodded and began making his way to the stage. Elizabeth grinned, "Then I give you The Great Dr. Rodney McKay!"
"You know," Sheppard muttered, "You're probably going to eat those words." Then continued more loudly, "Gather around kids. You're gonna want a good view for this."
The audience shifted until a small sea of children faced the stage, just in time for Rodney to set his bag down on the stage and turn to grimace at them.
"Knock 'em dead McKay." Sheppard called from his seat on the side lines.
The children leaned away and exchanged uncertain looks.
"He means figuratively." Rodney explained with a small sigh.
"We knew that!" proclaimed one of the children who had looked the most worried.
"Of course you did," Rodney answered sarcastically and flicked his wrists. Two red balls that had been hidden up his sleeves appeared in his hands. He juggled them simply at first, then bounced them off the back of his wrists. It happened so fast, the children's eyes popped when they realized he was suddenly juggling four balls. They leaned forward to watch more closely.
Halling smiled, pleased to see Jinto and the others enjoying themselves, and leaned over to whisper to Dr. Weir. "An impressive display of coordination."
Elizabeth smiled at him, "It is."
The Athosian children, and those who had accompanied the delegations from a few other worlds, seemed delighted by the increasingly complex shifting patterns and colours. The children from the entire planet of children, however, seemed to be losing interest.
Rodney had expected as much. He removed the balls from the revolving loop one by one and tossed them into the bag he'd brought.
The audience applauded, thinking him finished, but slowed when he began rummaging through the bag he'd brought and bringing out knives.
Elizabeth's eyes bulged. She was getting to know that Rodney was a man of extremes, but surely we wouldn't.
From a row behind Gaul laughed nervously, "They must be dull."
"They don't look dull," Ford, their weapons specialist, advised.
Abrams shook his head disbelievingly, and agreed with Gaul, "There has to be a trick to it."
"There's a trick," Grodin agreed.
Elizabeth turned to her military advisor, "John?"
"Definitely a trick," John nodded, with a wince at the stage as Rodney proceeded to juggle them.
The wince hadn't inspired Elizabeth's confidence, "Are you sure?"
"It's Rodney," Sheppard answered, "He freaked out after handling the oranges."
The Atlantean's relaxed a bit as the show continued and there was no blood shed. But there was no denying that their chief scientist seemed to be concentrating much more on the knives than he had on the balls.
Rodney's arms were starting to get tired. He really wasn't in shape for this anymore, and maintaining the illusion required precision. But at least he had regained the attention of the Lord of the Flies cast. Nothing less than shiny weapons and the impending chance of bloodshed would impress them for long.
He made a show of backing cautiously around his bag and letting the knives fall into it one by one. The audience clapped, and he reached in for the finisher.
"No way!" Gaul gaped.
Grodin stood in disbelief, "are those…?"
"Torches?!" Elizabeth breathed in alarm. Had she pushed Rodney too far?
"Nah, he wouldn't," Ford answered confidently.
No sooner had he said it then did flames shoots from the torches… and Rodney proceeded to juggle them.
"Impressive!" Halling praised diplomatically, but added with a furrow of concern, "Though I find myself wondering if that is safe in such proximity to the children."
Grodin's eyes popped wide, "He's gone mad!"
Carson bemoaned, "I should have recognized he wasn't acting himself."
"John!" Elizabeth commanded, "Put a stop to this."
But Sheppard had already made his way to the stage and was cautiously approaching Rodney, "McKay. You don't have to do this. You have nothing to prove. How about we put those torches out?"
Mischief glinted in Rodney's eyes, "Look kids! A volunteer!"
He tossed one of the torches to Major Sheppard, who scrambled to catch it. But his hand went straight through and the audience gasped as the flaming torch continued towards the edge of the stage.
Elizabeth stood in horror, and time slowed, as Rodney stopped juggling and the torches began to fall.
Then he grinned, double snapped his fingers, and the torches vanished in a cloud of light and butterflies, leaving little silver balls rolling around the stage.
Sheppard stared in complete confusion, "What the hell?"
Rodney made a sweeping gesture towards the dumbfounded Major, "A hand for my lovely assistant, as he makes himself useful by picking up the balls?"
John shook frowned at being called lovely, but picked up one of the balls and began examining it closely. It actually had small flat dents on four sides.
The children whooped and clapped. A few shouted, "He's a sorcerer!" and "real magic!"
Rodney grimaced, "No-no-no-no-no! It's illusion. Specifically, they're holographic projections."
The children looked at him blankly.
He sighed, "It's science, the things you saw were just light. It's completely harmless."
A little girl that reminded him impossibly of Cindy-loo Who poked her hand up and waved for his attention. But before he could ask her what she wanted there was a gasp from the crowd. He turned to see Sheppard with his head in flames.
"Well, that should give some people some nightmares." Rodney snapped, "Thanks for that, Major."
Sheppard pulled his head out of the flames, unscathed, and grinned, "That's cool."
Rodney rolled his eyes and felt around the handle of the torch, which suddenly became a red torch.
"Now," he turned back to the audience and pointed at the blonde head and snapped, "You, impossibly cute little girl, what did you want?"
"What were those little flapping things?" The little girl quickly asked.
"They're called butterflies," Rodney answered.
To which she wrinkled her nose, "But butter doesn't fly."
"I said the same thing to my sister once," Rodney replied. At the time he had been trying to teach his little sister to use the Latin terms, over lunch.
"What did she say?" Jinto asked, with genuine curiosity.
Rodney grimaced at the memory, "She said it does if you throw it, and then she threw it at me."
The children giggled, while the adults groaned.
"It didn't look like only light," another child whined in a complaining tone.Rodney rolled his eyes and answered snidely, "That's why it's called an illusion." The children looked at him, as though expecting further explanation. He huffed, "Look, does a rainbow look like only light?"
The children looked at him blankly.
"A rainbow." Rodney repeated and noted the total lack of recognition at the term. "A curved band of colours that spreads across the sky after it's rained and the sun has come up." As he spread his hands over his head in an arch, motioned rain with one handand punctuated the sun with the other.
The sea of little faces lit up with understanding.
"A Bridge of the Ancestors," Jinto clarified.
"A Bridge of the Ancestors," Rodney reluctantly allowed the superstitious term, "is made of light, shining through small drops of precipitation remaining in the air…" he looked at them then amended, "It's made when the light shines through the bits of rain that's still high in the sky."
"Like when it shines through a waterfall?" One of the children asked.
"Yes," Rodney pointed at her, "Just like that." He went on to explain about bending light and answering the children's interested questions for about half an hour, until they simply couldn't absorb anymore information.
Then Elizabeth announced that it was time to eat.
Jinto had found his father and was resting his head against his shoulder now, "My head is buzzing."
Ford grinned at him, "That's called brain fry. Have some more cotton candy. It'll help you feel better." He had a feeling the marines at McKay's table were feeling the same way. Rodney had managed to rally the scientists into trying to explain to them the relationship between the 12 Days of Christmas and something called Pascal's Triangle.
Major Sheppard wandered over to the table and said something that made McKay do a double take. The look on his face made Ford laugh out-loud.
This had turned out to be a great Christmas after all.
Elizabeth stood and addressed the room, with her glass raised in toast to the expedition, "Although we have many different traditions and beliefs that surround the Christmas season, I believe that the most important part of this season is something all of our cultures share. This is a celebration of joy in one another and in possibilities. It is celebration of hope for the future, and it is a celebration of giving. I know it's hard, not being able to communicate with your friends and loved ones on earth at this time of year, to let them know you care and are thinking of them. But, although our families and loved ones back on earth don't know it, your work here and all that you have sacrificed to be here is a gift for their future… And I'm proud of you."
Halling nodded and stood, "Teyla has often attempted to guide us to appreciate the gift of hope that your presence brings to our Galaxy. No one has before dared to face the Wraith as you have. I already owe my life to that. I may not agree with all that you do here. But I applaud your spirit."
And he did applaud. The other Athosian's stood and joined him. And soon all the visiting allies whom they had in some way helped were standing in a show of appreciation. The children began jumping up and down and calling, "Merry Christmas!"
And it was.