Candles of Remembrance

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis

Rated: PG

Category: Angst, Hurt/Comfort, Family, Carson/Rodney Friendship, Christmas.

Season: Four

Spoilers: Miller's Crossing

Summary: Jeannie Learns Some Things About Her Brother…This Story Can Serve As A Prequel To My Series 'Madison's Moments'.

For The Ancient Obsessions Advent Challenge:

December 1 (Candle) and December 2 (Nativity Scene)...

XXX

I've never been a very religious person, but when Madison came home from school one day jabbering her little head off about wanting to be in a church Christmas play with a friend of hers who attends the little bible church down the road, I couldn't help but grin.

Not one to really care about such things, but catching Mad's excitement, I gave her permission to do the play, then promptly forgot about it in the bustle of other holiday preparations. Caleb took her to the rehearsals since they were on his day off, so I wasn't really involved.

That is, until yesterday, when Madison announced that she needed an angel costume and three bales of hay by tomorrow as casually as if she were asking permission to watch television.

I did a double take, but once I ascertained that Mad truly needed these things (turns out Madison's play director had given each child the task of providing something for the play), I did what all mothers have done since the dawn of time. Or at least since the advent of Christmas plays.

I made it work.

Angel costume? No problem.

White sheets, tinsel, garland, and a whole lot of safety pins did the job just fine.

Hay was another story entirely, but a thirty minute drive to the feed store (who knew we even had one of those in Vancouver?) got that taken care of. One day, I'll figure out why my child doesn't tell me things like this ahead of time. She's known for weeks about this.

Oh, well. Some things are just not meant for understanding, I guess.

Quantum mechanics? Not a problem.

The logic of a five year old? Much more complicated.

As the thought of physics crossed my mind, I closed my eyes and sighed.

Rodney.

I had completely forgotten he was due in today.

And Caleb had to work late last night.

So I spent the rest of my evening getting Madison fed, bathed, and in bed, then got the guest room ready for my irritating and annoying brother.

When I finally turned in, after nibbling on what Madison hadn't finished of her dinner for my own, I was tired, cranky, and not in the holiday spirit at all.

But now, now it all seems worth it.

My daughter is on the stage, looking radiant in her sheets, garland, and safety pins as she hovers over the Nativity scene that represents what Christians celebrate on this holiday.

My husband is sitting next to me beaming at his child.

And my brother, well, somehow my brother is the best of all.

He's here, too, and he's also beaming at Madison. I'm surprised to see his expression.

That is, until the play is over.

When all the children the leave the stage to snack on cookies and milk in the back room, the minister steps to the lectern and speaks briefly.

"What a wonderful way to celebrate the season. I always love the Christmas play. Seeing the faces of the children, and their parents, always makes me remember the real reason for the season. Family. And speaking of family, I'd like to invite everyone here, whether church member or not, to join me in a tradition of this church. Many of us have lost loved ones this year. This time of year is often especially hard to face without a dear friend or treasured family member. So we started this ceremony several years ago. There are candles in boxes at the end of each pew. Our ushers placed them there during the play. Anyone who wants to may go to the box closest to them, select a candle, and bring it to the front of the church for lighting by one of our young helpers here."

At this point, several teenagers filed to the front of the church, carrying small butane lighters.

The minister continued. "You can then place your candle upon the altar for all to see as a remembrance of your loved one. We will allow the flames to burn until each and every one of us has left for the night, and we'll relight them every night until Christmas to symbolize that our loved ones never leave us, but are alive in our memories forever."

I don't expect anyone in my group to participate, but I'm touched by the thought of this little tradition.

It's sweet.

I'm reminded of how lucky I am that my family is intact this year when Caleb reaches over to me and gives my hand a gentle squeeze. We had a close call a few months back, but somehow we survived, thanks in no small part to Rodney.

My brother.

Annoying and irritating, but still my brother, and still there when I needed him, even if he was somewhat to blame for everything that happened.

My brother, who still surprises me from time to time, and who apparently wasn't as lucky as I.

He's standing next to me, and the slightest sheen of tears covers his eyes.

As if he's in a daze, he makes his way past the other occupants of our pew and takes a candle from the box on the floor there. I can't even begin to fathom my brother doing this.

He's never been much for ceremonies and spirituality.

But as I see him walk to the front of the church and accept the flame offered by the young man there, I see something in him that I haven't before.

He sets the small candle on the altar and looks upward for a moment that will stay frozen in my mind forever.

His face is a mask of sadness as he mouths one word to the heavens.

It looks like 'always', and I can't help but wonder at the depth of his emotions.

It's not like Rodney to wear his heart on his sleeve like this, and I realize that I hardly know the man before me. My brother has changed in these last few years.

And suddenly it's clear to me how that's happened.

He's finally learned to put others ahead of himself.

And he lost one of those others.

I think I like him better now, and Lord knows we are getting closer all the time, but I wish I could have spared him from the harshness of this lesson.

Rodney turns and makes his way back to us.

As he does, his eyes meet mine and then fall to the floor.

He's embarrassed, and he stays silent and distant until the service concludes and we make our way outside.

Once we're out of the sanctuary, Madison runs up to us with arms wide.

"How did I do, Mom?"

I smile and pick her up into a hug. "You did great, honey. Didn't she look good, Mer?"

Rodney smiles back and nods. "Fantastic, kid."

Caleb agrees and I put Madison down. We start to make our way out of the church for the short walk home when suddenly Madison pipes up again.

"Uncle Mer?"

"Yeah, kiddo?"

"Who'd ya like a candle for?"

I feel my eyes widen. I didn't know Madison had seen the ceremony. Guess the kids were at the back of the sanctuary by then. I start to correct Mad for her lack of tact (as if she can be expected to have any at her age), but my brother surprises me again by waving me off.

"Well, ya see, Madison, I had this friend. He was a great guy. He died early this year."

"What was his name?"

We're outside now, and Rodney takes Madison's hand and walks in front of us toward the house as Caleb and I follow them down the street.

"Carson."

"Do you miss him?"

Rodney hesitates, then answers in a rough voice.

"Oh, yeah, kid. More than you know."

We're home before we know it, but not before Rodney tells Madison a few stories about his friend and I share a secret smile with Caleb.

It's been a long time since either of us believed in Christmas miracles, but we got one tonight.

Our family is plus one Rodney McKay again, and while that sometimes seems a mixed blessing, tonight it seems just right.