The Christmas Trip
Dragonlots aka Dana Bell
"Mail call." John stuck his head into McKay's lab, giving the scientist a grin. "Looks like it's from your sister."
"Really?" Rodney hit 'save' on his laptop and hurried over to take the envelope Sheppard extended to him. The outside was bright red with a Santa stamp on the corner.
"Cool stamp," John commented as he leisurely leaned on the door jam.
"Yeah," McKay agreed, carefully opening the message from his sister. He pulled out a card decorated with a green tree surrounded by tiny animals. Inside it said, 'Happy Holidays, Love Jeanie, Caleb and Madison'. He turned it so John could see it. "Madison signed it."
"How old is she?"
"Don't remember." He proudly placed it on his desk and extracted the letter she'd included. Unfolding the page, he glanced at Sheppard.
"Better go." Sheppard unfolded himself. "Got more Christmas cheer to spread." He held up a bundle of mail.
The colonel nodded and tactfully withdrew, leaving McKay alone to read his mail. He sat down at this desk and began to read,
Merry Christmas, Rodney!
I hope this letter arrives before the holiday. Since I don't know the schedule of the Deadalus, I'm not sure if it will. However, I know you'd want to hear from me, so I'm sending it anyway. I really hate the fact that you're so far away, particularly during this time of year.
We're all fine here. Kaleb sends his love. He's joined a local church recently and has been taking Madison to Sunday School. She's playing a shepherd in the Christmas program. I'm not much on religion or God, but I wouldn't miss this important moment in my daughter's life for anything.
I was wondering, if this letter gets to you before Christmas, would Dr. Weir allow you to come and spend it with us? I know it's a lot to ask, but it would be so nice to have a real family gathering this year. It's been so long. Too long, actually.
Kaleb and I will be leaving just after Madison's program and driving to our parents' cabin. You haven't seen it yet. I still don't understand what was wrong with the one here or why they sold it or why they felt compelled to purchase one in Colorado. I think mom said something about the weather being better. I don't remember and it's too late to ask them now.
If you can get away, come ahead and join us. Don't worry about trying to call us. We'll probably have already left and the cell phone reception is lousy. I'll just expect you if I see you.
The directions are below. I need to go. Kaleb and Madison should be home from rehearsal soon and I want to get dinner going.
Rodney lowered her letter and had to blink to keep from crying. He really missed his sister. He'd never seen Madison and had only briefly met Caleb at the wedding. It amazed him she wanted him to join them for Christmas. True, they'd reconnected after she'd visited Atlantis and he'd come to understand her decision, even if a part of him still didn't agree.
He glanced at the calendar noting when the Deadalus was due to return to Earth. Their current trip was a short one and he assumed that was because many of the crew wanted to be home for Christmas. He could understand that. He wanted to be as well.
Tucking Jeanie's letter into his pocket, he got up and hurried out of lab. He knew Dr. Weir should still be in her office. He raced through the corridors to the gate room and was breathless by the time he stopped shyly outside her door. "Dr. Weir?"
"Yes, Rodney," Elizabeth glanced up from her laptop.
"Uh," stalling briefly to phrase his request, he noticed the Santa hats on a couple of the African heads mounted on the wall. He pointed to one with a questioning look.
"Just getting into the spirit," she provided with a smile. "What can I do for you?"
"Jeanie asked if I could come home for Christmas." He hadn't meant to be so blunt.
"I see." She sat back in her chair and he wondered if she was going to say no.
"I know it would be an imposition," he began.
"You can go."
"What?" Stunned it took a moment to register. "No arguments as to why I shouldn't go?"
"You want me to change my mind?"
"No!" He backed toward the door.
"From what I'm hearing things are shaky back home. The SGC may send out a recall order at any time." She leaned forward. "Enjoy your holiday and tell your sister I said hello."
"Okay. Thanks." Not sure what that was all about, he left and returned to his quarters. He'd have to decide what to take quickly. Rodney grabbed his suitcase tossing it on the unmade bed and tossed various clothing into it. Shutting it, he placed his suitcase by the door.
"Best place, I won't forget it," he said to himself before returning to his lab to finish his notes on his current project.
Days later, the Deadalus lifted from the East dock and headed into space. Rodney sat in his quarters writing a few notes to himself on his laptop attempting to battle his claustrophobia. It wasn't really that the room was so small, he'd just gotten used to having open windows and seeing the vast ocean and had forgotten how cramped it could feel.
"Hey, Rodney," John called from outside the door.
"Just a sec." McKay finished and shut down the computer program. He opened the door. "What?"
"We're having eggnog and cookies in the mess hall. How about joining us?"
The two sauntered down the grey hallway to a large room filled both officers and many from Atlantis. Along the wall a long table had been set up with a punch bowl filled with eggnog and several platters of cookies.
"From Corporal Henry," John explained.
"Did he come?"
"Nah, said his place was on Atlantis." John placed several cookies on a plate and found a spot next to Teyla, who smiled as he joined her.
Rodney noted that and wondered why the Athosian woman was going to Earth. He filled a cup with the creamy drink and selected a couple of cookies. He knew Henry knew about his citrus allergies and the cook always made a point of not putting any in them, even if the recipe called for it. He glanced around and delightedly noted that Katie was there. McKay worked his way to her side, almost dropping his treat on the deck. She caught his hand and shyly grinned at him.
"Going home?" he asked, taking a bite of cookie.
"No. I'll be attending a seminar and then staying at the SGC until the Deadalus returns." She brushed a bit of hair away from her face.
"Uh, how about coming with me to my sister's?" he heard himself ask. His face turned red. Now he'd gone and done it.
She threw an odd look at him. "Are you sure?"
"Of course, I'm sure." He sounded gruff and hadn't intended to.
"Then I'd love to."
"Great." His heart pounded in his chest and he awkwardly smiled at her. "My sister is going to love you."
"What are you going to tell her?"
"Uh," what was he going to tell Jeanie? "I'll, uh,"
She laughed and squeezed his arm. "It's okay, Rodney. I'm sure she'll understand." Katie leaned against him and planted a kiss on his cheek.
He felt his face burn and tried to glare at Sheppard who threw him a knowing look from across the room. Rodney pointedly looked at Teyla and saw John glance nervously down. So, the colonel was also bringing someone home to meet the family. Interesting.
The three weeks passed quickly and without incident, something McKay was thankful for. He still remembered that their last trip had been marred by a Wraith virus, which had almost killed them all. At least his trip this time had been free of any unwanted incidents. Caldwell beamed them down to the SGC and from there General Landry arranged for transportation.
Rodney and Katie were on their way to the car when John and Teyla caught up with them. McKay put both suitcases down. "What do you want?"
"How about we share a car?"
"Thought your father was picking you up?" They'd talked briefly about their plans over breakfast so McKay wondered about the change.
"Change of plans. He's staying with friends in Leadville. Didn't you say your sister's cabin is near there?"
"Our parents," he automatically corrected. "Jeanie and Kaleb are just - " Just what? Who was he kidding? He knew their parents were long dead and that most of the inherited property Jeanie had been taking care of since he couldn't. He might as well admit it was Jeanie's. "Yes. It is."
"Is it okay if we tag along?" John's face looked so child like Rodney didn't have the heart to say no.
He turned to Katie. "Okay with you?"
"Sure." She frowned. "What are you going do during the seminar?"
"You said this morning it was only a couple of days," John replied. "Thought I'd take Teyla shopping."
"Won't your father be concerned if you're late?" McKay didn't want to discourage them, but if he were a father, he would be.
"I'll call Dad and let him know we found a ride and that we're delayed a couple days." He shrugged. "No big deal."
"The seminar is in Denver." Katie moved to pick up her suitcase and Rodney grabbed it before she could. "I'm staying in student housing not far from the college campus."
"I was going to see if I could get a room somewhere in town."
"Don't bother," John said. "Most of the hotels are booked already." Before Rodney could think of a reply, Sheppard continued. "My dad keeps a loft apartment downtown. You can stay there with us."
"I think he also has a spot in one of the garages. I'll check when I call." He headed for the elevator. "Coming?"
They reached the surface and quickly found the car Landry had set aside for McKay. Tossing the suitcases in the back of the gold Suburban, Rodney got behind the wheel and started it up. Slowly he rolled it out of the tunnel, out the front gate and down the steep paved road.
"What is all the white?" Teyla asked from her seat in the back.
"Snow," John supplied.
"Anyone check the weather before we left?" Rodney nervously asked.
"Carter said it snowed a couple of days ago," John answered. "And the last weather report she listened to stated there shouldn't be any more for several days."
Not that the road conditions worried McKay. Having grown up in Canada he was an experienced driver on snow and ice. "Have you talked to your father yet?"
"Just a sec." Sheppard pulled out a cell phone and dialed. After a few moments there must have been an answer since the colonel started talking. "Hey, dad… Yeah, got in a few hours ago…It'll be a couple of days so I thought we'd use your loft…Figured you wouldn't mind…." There was a rustling and Rodney glanced in the rearview mirror. John was precariously balancing a piece of paper, plus phone and a pen as he wrote furiously. "Got it. Thanks…Looking forward to see you, too. Bye."
"Well?" Patience had never been a strong point.
"He's got a parking spot he pays for, so we can use that."
"Good." He pulled the suburban onto I25 and headed north toward Denver. The double laned highway took them past the towns of Monument and Palmer Lake. Once over the mini pass the landscape flattened out and wound through snow covered plains and green pine trees. At least the roads were clear.
"What beautiful country," Teyla marveled.
"Been here a few times," John returned. "The best part of this state is the mountains. The Rockies sort of run through the center."
"Aren't there ski resorts here?" Katie turned slightly to address Sheppard.
"Think so. Never had time to visit any."
"Probably too expensive," Rodney mumbled.
"Yeah. From what I've heard, Vail and Aspen are pretty much a playground for the rich."
"Makes me appreciate Atlantis."
Teyla and Katie started a conversation about clothes and shoes, so Rodney concentrated on driving. He passed the turnoff for Larkspur, where the road curved and car slid slightly. Carefully he slowed down and kept out of a spin. Evidently there was still ice he needed to watch out for.
"Smooth recovery," Sheppard complimented.
"Had lots of practice."
Another twenty minutes later they went through Castle Rock and had to slow down before going back up to highway speed. There was a slight incline with a tight corner at the town's edge.
"Too bad we couldn't stop and shop," Katie said, looking wistfully at the factory stores.
"Plenty of shopping in Denver," Rodney placated with a smile.
Soon, he was driving in on the edge of Metro Denver. Traffic got worse and he had to slow down, yet keep going fast enough not to get run over by the other drivers. "Where are we going?"
"I'll get my directions." Katie pulled out her backpack and pulled out a large envelope. "The seminar is on the Auraria campus, but my housing is at something called the Regency." She started to hand over the sheet.
"Just read them to me," he snapped. He bit his lip at her hurt expression. "Sorry."
"No, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking." She read the directions and after a few near misses and some rude gestures for reasons Rodney couldn't understand, they pulled into the nearly packed parking lot.
"Be right back." Rodney got out and opened the back, taking out Katie's suitcase. He went with her to what looked like a registration area.
"Dr. Katie Brown," she identified herself to a bored looking woman in a suit.
"Yes, Dr. Brown." The woman picked up her glasses and slid them on her thin nose. After checking her computer she said, "I'm sorry, but we gave your room to another guest."
"You what?" Katie looked like she wanted to cry.
"You're late. I'm sure you read the papers."
"But," the botanist took a deep breath. "I've come such a long way."
"She still has a place in the seminar, correct?" Rodney figured he shouldn't butt in, yet he did anyway. He cared about Katie.
"Let me check." Long red nails tapped the keys. "She does."
"Fine." He picked up Katie's bag. "Come on. We'll stay at Sheppard's father's loft." Rodney glared at the woman. "You're lucky she has another place to stay or else you'd be hearing from people you don't EVER want to."
"Like I haven't heard that before," the woman responded.
"In my case," Katie stepped in. "It would be very true." With a dignified expression, she walked back out to the suburban with McKay. "Thank you."
They got back in.
"What happened?" John asked.
"They gave my room away."
"Hope your father has plenty of beds," Rodney said as they pulled out and back onto the highway.
Navigating downtown Denver with all its odd one way streets proved to more difficult then finding their way around Atlantis. With the help of passerby, they finally found the correct garage, parked the suburban and headed for the loft. John talked with the person manning the desk and soon they were settled in the spacious and modern decorated home.
"Your father has good taste," Rodney complimented.
"He uses it more for business than to live in." John opened a door and tossed his bag inside. "Bedroom here."
"There's another in the loft area," McKay observed.
They explored the loft and found another bedroom on the second floor. The two women claim it as theirs and Rodney put his bag in the same room as John.
"Guess we'll be roomies."
"For a couple of days."
As night fell over the city, they gathered around the large windows and gazed down into the streets. Green wreaths glittered with red, blue, and white lights, where they'd been mounted on the light poles. Storefronts invited shoppers inside with more lights and people all bundled up in coats strolled along the pedestrian walkway.
"You did say you would take me shopping," Teyla prompted.
"Might as well go out," John agreed. "There's no food in the place and I'm starving."
They grabbed their coats and went outside. The night air held a brisk cold and carried many delicious scents to their noses. Teyla and Katie stopped to gaze into every window and John and Rodney joined them.
"I'd forgotten what Christmas could be like," Rodney said as they hurried across the street before the shuttle reached them.
"Me, too." John grinned. "We spent Christmas last year in Atlantis."
"Wasn't all bad." McKay chuckled. "Who else on the planet can say they've seen the real Santa Claus?"
"What do you mean?" Teyla stared at the two of them puzzled.
"It's a long story," Katie interjected. "What about that place?"
"The Cheesecake Factory, hmmm." John rubbed his jaw. "Dad always said this was a good place to eat."
Welcoming warmth greeted them as they entered the restaurant. The hostess greeted them. "How many?"
"Four," John said. "Long wait?"
"Not right now, but it's early and not the weekend."
She led them to a table and soon their waitperson took their drink orders. While they waited they poured over the menu.
"So many choices, I don't know what to order," Katie lamented.
"You know, Corporal Henry is a good cook, but sometimes," Rodney stopped.
"Know what you mean," John said behind the menu. "Think I'll have steak."
"I'm going to have a salad." Katie closed her hers.
"Sandwich," Rodney put his aside.
"I am not certain what to order. Most planets I have been to do not have such variety." Teyla seemed a bit overwhelmed.
"I suggest the Shepherd pie," John said, lowering his voice. "And most people on our Earth don't know about other planets."
"I see." She closed the menu.
The waitperson reappeared, they placed their order and talked together about what they would do for the next few days while Katie attended her seminar. When the food arrived silence reigned as they enjoyed the rare treat of having dinner out and split the check as they left. They wandered the street mall and returned late to the loft, falling into an exhausted sleep.
In the morning, Katie discovered the campus was much closer than where she originally had been supposed to stay and left the companions for the day. John and Teyla went shopping to get her some new clothes. Rodney opted to stay at the loft and work on his laptop. He'd had a number of project notes to finish and the silence of the place helped him work.
Katie returned in early evening and they again went out to dinner trying a place on Lawrence Street and the next evening they shopped and ate fast food. Too soon it was time for them to leave and they left the city behind. Rodney almost missed getting onto I70 and began the drive up into the mountains.
"There seems to be more snow here," Teyla said.
"We're going up. There will be," Rodney replied. "Don't worry. I'm an excellent driver." He reached across and squeezed Katie's hand before concentrating on the road.
"It'll be fine," John smirked, settling back in the seat. "Wake me when we get there."
"You're going to let me do all the driving?" McKay couldn't believe the level of trust Sheppard put in him.
"Why not? You're part of my team."
Teyla asked about the trees and Katie did her best to explain them, in non-scientific terms. Once past the tunnel and headed down into Silverthorne, Rodney stopped at factory outlets at the bottom.
"Think we all need a break and Katie, you said you wanted to shop at some."
The botanist beamed. "Thank you, for remembering."
The two women wandered off to look at shoes and the Rodney ducked into the bookstore. He found the Science Fiction section and pulled several titles off the shelves.
"You like this stuff?" John leaned back on one of the tables.
"Sometimes. I think we need a library."
"I'll suggest it to Dr. Weir."
"Good idea. I think there are some videos in the back."
"I'll take a look."
They paid for their selections and rejoined the women, dumping their purchases and going back inside to have lunch. There wasn't much of a selection, but after living in another galaxy, it was a treat. Getting back into the car, Rodney pulled out his sister's directions.
"We need to get off on 24 to head for Leadville. Help me watch for the turnoff."
Passing by Frisco and then Vail, with billionaire's homes nestled snuggly amongst the tall pines, snow covered and looking like a Christmas postcard.
"Look at all those mansions," John breathed.
Teyla gazed at them and shook her head. "They do not compare with Atlantis."
"I have to agree," Katie said.
Rodney smiled and found the turnoff to 24 a few miles beyond, and headed up a steep mountain road. It wasn't as well maintained as the highway and no guardrails were along the side. Ice patches were everywhere and he gripped the wheel afraid of loosing control and plunging them someplace they'd never be found. Night came quickly and he slowed down, trying to see clearly through the murky light.
"Is it snowing?" Katie sounded scared.
"Yeah." He shifted into a lower gear. The front tires slipped and he gasped.
"Easy, Rodney," John spoke from the back seat. "Take your time."
"The snow comes from the sky?" Teyla seemed puzzled.
"You've never seen snow?" John inquired.
"I have not."
Suddenly, Rodney felt the car skid and he tried to compensate. The suburban slipped across the road into the lane of on coming traffic and back across. "Hold on!" he yelled. He experienced a moment of weightlessness before the jarring thud and they stopped. Not daring to believe they were still alive, he took a deep breath. "Everyone okay?"