Written for the Sheppard HC LJ Secret Santa challenge. Written for Sholio, using her prompt for "Sheppard/McKay h/c and/or friendship taking place on Earth with Jeannie worked in somehow if possible. Can be a holiday-themed story, or not; just an Earthside friendship/comfort type of thing. Angsty is fine, but should end up with a "feel good" sort of feeling by the end."

Reviews and feedback, as ever, gratefully received...


"Tofurkey." McKay rapped impatiently at the door.

Sheppard frowned. "What the hell is tofurkey?"

"Disgusting, that's what."

"McKay.." Sheppard favoured Rodney with a slightly incredulous glare. What had started off as a perfectly innocent conversation had, as was often the case, taken a bewildering turn towards the nonsensical but before he could demand a more sensible explanation the door swung open and Jeannie Miller greeted them with a smile that was part pleased, part uncertain.

"Hi! You made it!"

The hint of surprise in her voice echoed the uncertainty in her stance and Sheppard fought back an exasperated sigh as Rodney, his entire posture stiff and uncomfortable, stood unmoving at the threshold of his sister's house as though glued there and mumbled inanely, "Uh, hi. Yes. We did." For siblings with genius-level IQs, these two could sure be dumb at times.

With a withering look at McKay, Sheppard leant forward to offer Jeannie his hand and, with as much charm as he could muster, broke the uncomfortable silence. "Nice to see you again, Jeannie. It's really great of you to offer to put us up like this. I hope it's not too much of a bother..?"

He elbowed McKay pointedly and manfully resisted the urge to roll his eyes as Rodney yelped loudly and scowled at him, rubbing at his ribs as he complained, "What was that for?"

Sheppard was saved from answering by the appearance of a small blonde creature travelling at high velocity which immediately wrapped itself around McKay's legs like a small but particularly determined limpet. He couldn't hold back a grin as Rodney looked down at the little girl with what was rather more of a grimace than a smile and stuttered, "Oh. Hello.. uh.. Madison." Uncle Rodney. No, wait. Uncle Meredith. This was just priceless. As if sensing the growing smirk on Sheppard's face, McKay looked up suddenly, his eyes narrowed, and Sheppard returned his suspicious regard with a wide, innocent smile.

"Oh, hi guys."

A tall, rangy man in casual clothes followed Madison into the hallway and immediately held out his hand to Sheppard, his manner easy and relaxed. "I'm Caleb. You must be Colonel Sheppard?"

"John, please."

They shook hands and Sheppard could feel the level of tension in the air drop a little as Jeannie looked to her husband with a fond smile.

"Did you bring me a present this time?"

"Maddy!" Jeannie tried to scold but couldn't keep the laughter from her voice.

Madison's face was serious as she gazed up at Rodney and told him firmly, "It's Christmas. You have to bring presents at Christmas."

Taking pity on McKay, Sheppard bent forward conspiratorially, telling Madison in a loud stage whisper, "Don't worry. I made sure he brought some presents this time."

Caleb was grinning as he gently untangled Madison from her uncle's legs. "The guest room is all made up," he told them. "Sorry we haven't the space to give you a room each."

"Don't worry about it," Sheppard grinned easily, "I've slept through worse than McKay's snoring."

"Oh, hah ha. I'll have you know I do not snore!"

Rodney was still hovering in the doorway and, with an exasperated smile, Sheppard gestured with his thumb over his shoulder. "I'll grab the bags from the car," he told Caleb before throwing a quick wink to Madison. "Why don't you show Uncle Meredith where his room is?" he suggested slyly.

"Okay!" Madison was practically bouncing as she ran forward to grab hold of McKay's unwilling hand, pulling him awkwardly after her like a dog straining at its leash. Sheppard was still grinning as he hefted their bags from the trunk of the rental car. This was certainly going to be an interesting Christmas.

"So, uh.. how are things on Atlantis?"

McKay poked morosely at his plate while Sheppard smiled easily, telling Jeannie, "Oh, you know. Same old, same old. Saving the universe every other day. Twice on Tuesdays."

"Is it really that dangerous?" Caleb leaned forward, his expression interested, and Rodney wondered just how much Jeannie had told him. He sighed. He couldn't believe she'd told him at all. Did she not understand the concept of national security? The official secrets act? These weren't things you messed about with.

"Well, we have our moments," Sheppard said off-handedly, swallowing a mouthful of nut roast with every evidence of enjoyment. "We try to keep Rodney from destroying the universe too often though.."

"Oh, yes. Very funny, Colonel." Rodney abandoned all pretence of eating and pushed his plate aside with a sigh.

"Dr Weir didn't mind her Chief Scientist and military commander being away at the same time?" Jeannie questioned.

"Well, it was actually kinda her idea…" Sheppard admitted.

"She made him come," Rodney clarified with a smirk.

"I wouldn't exactly say made.."

"I had asked for some time off so I could come visit.. uh.. you.. for Christmas and Elizabeth.."

"..suggested that I might like to come along too," Sheppard finished.

Rodney pretended to think for a moment, his voice considering. "I wouldn't call it suggested, as such," he pondered. "I'm pretty sure she ordered you to take some time off."

"She did not order me.."

"And then she begged me to take you with me and get you out of her hair for a week," Rodney needled.

"No, she didn't. You're making that up!" Sheppard's tone was dismissive but Rodney knew him well enough to see the tiniest flicker of doubt in his eyes and sat back smugly. Round two to McKay. That'd pay Sheppard back for encouraging Madison to drag him on a room by room guided tour of the house before she'd finally been chased off for bath and bedtime by Caleb.

"You're only on Earth for a week?" Jeannie noticed. "I thought Meredith said… Oh, I'm sorry. I must have gotten things mixed up. I thought when Mer said you were coming to stay for a few days that he meant both of you were staying that long."

"We are," Rodney prickled, suddenly feeling ridiculously defensive. "I did call. You said it was okay for us both to stay.."

"Mer," Jeannie chided, somehow instantly making him feel like an awkward teenager again. How does my younger sister get to scold me, he wondered vaguely. "You're both welcome to stay as long as you like, of course. I just thought that you'd be wanting to visit your own family, John…"

"I don't really have anyone to visit," Sheppard answered smoothly, his face a genial mask that took the sting from the firm tone of voice that plainly stated, "Don't go there."

Rodney, having tried to have this conversation more than once as he and Sheppard had planned their trip, gave Sheppard a sharp look that the Colonel returned steadily. Jeannie, once again more diplomatic than her big brother, accepted the rebuff with good grace and didn't push any further, rising from the table and starting to gather the plates. Sheppard immediately jumped up, saying "Hey. Let me help with that", his voice as warm as his smile, as if to make up for any possible offence.

"Stop showing off," Rodney grumbled acidly, "you're never this house-proud on Atlantis."

Sheppard gave him a look of exaggerated patience as he gathered up Rodney's plate of barely touched food. "I'm just being polite, McKay.."

"I don't see why you need to buy presents for my family too?"

"It's called being polite, McKay. I'm a guest in their house, it's Christmas, people traditionally give each other presents…. Is any of this ringing a bell?"

"Just as long as it's not a sleighbell."

"Bah humbug."

McKay gave Sheppard's back a decidedly dirty look as the Colonel preceded him into yet another over-crowded store. Christmas shopping three days before Christmas. Crowds of frantic shoppers, screaming children and being bashed around the ankles by other people's bulky shopping bags and all overlaid with the constant saccharine tinkle of Christmas music played ad nauseum on a loop tape. This was why he'd travelled 30,000 light years from another galaxy?

It had seemed like a good idea at the time. He and Jeannie had, if not exactly made their peace during her time on Atlantis, at least come to some kind of an understanding. One he sincerely hoped they could build on. When the issue of Christmas leave for Atlantis staff had come up he had remembered their last conversation and it had seemed the perfect opportunity. He'd even been pleased when Elizabeth had all but ordered Colonel Sheppard to take some well-deserved holiday time and, when Sheppard had tried to weasel out of it by claiming he had nowhere to go on Earth at Christmas time, it had been he who had suggested to Weir that Sheppard could come with him.

As he sourly watched Sheppard flirt with the pretty brunette salesgirl at the perfume counter, he was beginning to sincerely regret that decision.

Rodney was most definitely regretting the decision by the time, 2 hours later, that they left the mall. It was getting dark and, even worse, starting to snow, and the parking lot was as much a heaving mass of chaos as the stores inside. They'd had to park miles away from the mall, at the far side of the lot – the only spot where there had been any empty spaces because only idiots like Colonel Sheppard were prepared to walk three miles from their car to the store just to buy Christmas presents – and any seasonal spirit Rodney may once have had was draining rapidly as he trekked across the parking lot like a Sherpa, his arms full of Sheppard's precious shopping bags as the Colonel searched his jacket pockets for the keys to their hire car and unlocked the trunk.

Rodney was so focused on his desire to just dump the purchases in the trunk, get in the car and get the hell out of there that the sudden squeal of tires barely registered and the first he realised that anything was wrong was when Sheppard shoved him roughly aside, sending him stumbling beside the car, presents spilling from his grasp as he landed awkwardly on his hands and knees.

"Sheppard! What the hell..?"

The angry complaint was spilling from his lips before he had even caught his balance, his voice shrill with fury as he struggled to his knees and turned to look back at Sheppard. His anger died a rapid death, to be quickly replaced by a lot of shock and not a little fear, as he was faced with a large black van blocking their car, its side door slid open and a small knot of black-clad men struggling valiantly with.. Colonel John Sheppard. McKay had thought he'd seen Sheppard fight before. Well, he'd seen him fight with weapons - guns and knives and even those stick things that Teyla used to beat the crap out of him twice a week. He'd never seen him fight like this, no weapons, just hand to hand, fighting like his life depended on it. Maybe it did, McKay realised with growing horror.

Sheppard was fast, scarily fast, and for a brief moment McKay felt like he was watching a complete stranger, like he didn't know this man at all; Sheppard's movements were sharp and focused, a targeted fist catching an enemy in the throat and dropping him to the ground even as Sheppard spun and dropped low to kick another man's legs out from under him. McKay counted four attackers, including the guy flat on his back on the tarmac, struggling to breathe, and Sheppard was holding his own. Still huddled on his knees beside the car, frozen in place as he watched the drama unfolding before him, McKay wondered, not for the first time, just exactly what Sheppard's military assignments previous to Atlantis had entailed.

He found himself at a loss for what to do – obviously he was no help to Sheppard in a physical fight such as this and yet he couldn't just crouch here and do nothing. Sheppard had pushed him out of the way, seeking to protect him from this attack; had he expected McKay to run away, to hide? Was he fighting to give him time to do just that? This wasn't a random attack, that much was certain; these people had planned and prepared for this and it seemed that the target of their attack was Sheppard. McKay was pretty much defenceless, kneeling beside the car, the melting snow on the tarmac soaking through the knees of his pants, chilling his skin, and yet they paid him no attention, focusing all their efforts on subduing Sheppard. As another of their number hit the deck and didn't get back up again, McKay allowed himself a fleeting moment of hope; it looked like Sheppard might actually be winning. But then, as Sheppard turned his back to the van to block a punch from one of his remaining opponents, a fifth man appeared in the doorway of the van and wrapped an arm around the unsuspecting Colonel's neck. Even as Sheppard reacted, grabbing hold of the offending arm and using the man behind him as leverage to lift both legs from the ground and kick out at his attackers, a move that left McKay awe-struck, the man's other arm was moving, the orange-tinged glow from the streetlamps glinting off something in his hand as he pressed it sharply to Sheppard's throat. And just like that, Sheppard crumpled, his legs simply folding beneath him as he sagged in the man's grasp.

Before McKay had chance to react, Sheppard was dragged, limp and unresisting, into the van, his remaining attackers quickly scooping up their fallen comrades and bustling them into the van even as the engine was gunned loudly. The van peeled away, tyres squealing, before the side door was even closed and within moments the vehicle was gone from view, screaming through the parking lot, a few straggling shoppers jumping hurriedly from its path, and out the nearest exit, leaving McKay alone and aghast, still kneeling helplessly beside the hire car, presents scattered forgotten in the thin layer of snow around him. It had all happened so quickly, too quickly for him to do anything. From start to finish the entire attack had lasted maybe two or three minutes and now Sheppard was gone. And McKay had no idea who had taken him – or why.

John awoke blearily, his head feeling thick and heavy, just opening his eyes seeming a major effort. A vague sense of unease, of wrongness, nagged at him and for a long moment he stared unseeingly at the ceiling above him, blinking the blurriness from his vision and trying to process his surroundings. Then memory rushed back in a flood and he jerked into wakefulness with a jolt. Sudden resistance brought his movement up short, and he looked down to find hard leather restraints pinning his wrists to the metal railings of a hospital bed. His clothes were gone, replaced with white, cotton scrubs, not unlike those used in the Atlantis infirmary, and he was disturbed to see a sterile dressing taped to his upper arm, a slightly numb throbbing from under the dressing telling him that his subcutaneous transmitter was history. There was also a small piece of tape at the crook of his elbow; the kind of tape Carson used to cover a puncture site after he'd drawn blood.

He pulled futilely at the restraints, his muscles straining uselessly as the stiff leather refused to give even a fraction, his breathing coming short and heavy as he tried to push down a sense of growing panic and think, dammit John, think! He needed to find a way out of this. He lifted his head to look around at his surroundings but there was nothing there that could help him; the room was small and bare, his hospital bed the only furnishing. The walls were rough, unfinished breezeblock and the floor plain, undressed concrete. Some kind of industrial facility. Maybe a warehouse? The muscles in his arms burned and protested and the restraints remained firm, unyielding. "Sonfabitch!" he cursed fiercely, dropping his shoulders back to the firm mattress as he relaxed the trembling muscles in his arms.

"It is quite useless to struggle so, Colonel Sheppard."

The voice surprised him, breaking suddenly into the silence as he lay helpless and frustrated, staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. He lifted his head sharply to find that he was no longer alone, his visitor calmly closing the only door behind her, cutting off a brief glimpse of a bare corridor beyond. She moved elegantly, crossing the room in a confident stride, and looked down at him with an arrogant smile. She was tall, slim, dressed in a dark business suit that seemed at odds with such industrial surroundings. He'd never seen her before in his life.

Projecting a calm confidence that he didn't feel, he met her gaze evenly. "You have me at a disadvantage," he remarked, a little pointedly.

"So it would seem," she agreed smugly, deliberately ignoring the reference to her apparent knowledge of his identity in favour of a pointed glance that took in the restraints, the thin scrubs, his bare feet, reminding him forcibly of the vulnerability of his predicament.

John quickly lost what little patience he may have had for playing games, struggling to maintain his outward show of calm as he asked her directly, "What do you want?"

She smiled easily, confident in her position of superiority, and her voice was warm with amusement as she told him, "We want many things, Colonel. Our primary interest in is obtaining technology, advanced technology that can be used to our benefit." She strolled slowly around the bed as she spoke, her hand trailing idly along the metal railings, forcing him to turn his head to follow her movement.

"Then you got the wrong guy, I'm afraid. You should have grabbed McKay; he's the scientist, not me."

John's tone was dismissive, his attitude one of disinterest, but his façade faltered when the stranger turned to face him and her eyes flashed suddenly with a burning light, her voice changing, becoming deep and resonant, as she told him smugly, "The Trust has no need of Dr McKay's expertise, Colonel Sheppard. What we need is you – and your precious gene."