Or, How Rodney McKay Got His Head Out of His Ass and Learned to Decorate Christmas Trees Again
Spoilers: Vague allusions to "The Hive" and "Grace Under Pressure."
Summary: "C'mon, McKay," Ford said with a grin. "You're the original Scrooge."
Notes: This story is as much reccea's fault as mine. She's the only reason I didn't give up on it a week ago and the best lines came from her. I was a complete brat during the beta and she didn't kill me. Dr. Safir belongs to miss_porcupine and Elizabeth's pet project was also her idea.
A Non-Denominational Holiday Mission Report
Or, How Rodney McKay Got His Head Out of His Ass and Learned to Decorate Christmas Trees Again
Ford was dead: to begin with. No matter what Colonel Sheppard thought or hoped or felt, Ford was dead. Just like Grodin and Abrams and Gaul and Dumais. More than a half dozen other scientists, Marines with names Rodney never bothered to learn, and even the ten thousand year old plants Elizabeth had been trying to get rid of for over a year now.
Ten thousand year old plants which were currently in the act of being defiled by one pointy-eared, prematurely promoted Lieutenant Colonel.
"Are those Christmas ornaments?" Rodney asked.
"Sure are." Sheppard flashed him a smile and tossed him a goofy-looking reindeer made from a clothespin.
"And what do you propose I do with this?" Rodney asked without the precise level of withering disdain to which he had been aspiring -- the reindeer was slippery and awkwardly shaped and tiny. No one would have caught it without a few false grabs.
"Hang it on the tree, McKay, what else do you do with a Christmas ornament?" It was just the same sarcastic drawl Rodney was used to hearing with Sheppard's breath in his ear and Sheppard's hand on his back.
Rodney scowled. "With your predilection for widespread holiday commercialism? The possibilities are endless."
And then, ignoring Sheppard's raised eyebrows, he stomped back to his lab, the ornament still clutched in his hand.
"Elizabeth." Rodney saved his work and glanced up at her. "What's up?"
"I have a favor to ask." Elizabeth smiled at him in a way that belied both her age and her ability to con autocratic military societies out of their supply of nuclear weapons.
"Speak the word," Rodney said generously, "and it shall be done."
"I know this sounds silly," Elizabeth said hesitantly. "But Ancient is such a beautiful language, so close to Latin, I've been trying to translate some of our Earth songs, Christmas carols actually, into Ancient. We're going to have a tree and I was just thinking that if we could find a room with good acoustics, large enough to set up the tree, maybe we could something of a concert in there."
Rodney felt the familiar twinge of ire at the mention of Christmas, but Elizabeth wasn't asking much and he was actually sort of flattered that she'd asked.
"Big room, good sound, some lights and amplification equipment?" he asked, just to check the parameters of the job. Zelenka was probably up for a little city exploration and once they found a place, the baby-faced systems guy, Campbell, would probably be the one to tap for setup. His mind was already calculating how large the room would have to be to fit -- comfortably -- the population of Atlantis and not subject any of the audience to dead spots.
"Exactly." Elizabeth beamed. "Thank you, Rodney." She touched his shoulder in that special, diplomatic, way she had. "Colonel Sheppard didn't think you would be interested but I don't think he realizes how much you enjoy music."
"Oh, really." The calculations froze in Rodney's head.
"He said you were being the Grinch," Elizabeth said conspiratorially, the corners of her eyes crinkling.
"Oh, he did, did he?" The numbers fell to pieces as if their polarity reversed and fell off his mental refrigerator.
"But obviously he doesn't know what he's talking about." Elizabeth's faltered. Rodney watched her figure out that her crappy bedside manner had sold her out and she'd never seen it coming. "Right?"
"Right," Rodney said.
Rodney looked up from his laptop. Sheppard was bouncing in the doorway of the lab.
"Let me guess," he started.
"You won't, just c'mon," Sheppard said, jerking his head excitedly toward the hallway.
Rodney hit CTRL-S automatically. Sheppard hadn't been this excited about anything since maybe the Arcturus Project. And he wanted to share with Rodney.
It was worth checking out, at least.
Rodney stepped into the hall and blinked. The walls were blinking and colored. "You did this?" he asked, reaching out to touch one panel.
"I was thinking about Christmas lights," Sheppard explained, holding out both hands as if measuring a string of them. "And then I thought, the walls light up. Why not?"
The grin he offered Rodney was contagious.
"Hey," Rodney said. "I wonder if -- "
"Elizabeth!" John was halfway down the hall, grabbing Elizabeth and dragging her back to show her. "Look at this!"
Rodney stood in the middle of the hallway alone and watched the lights blink cheerfully around him as John ran at the mouth. No one noticed when he went back in the lab.
"Since when was there a mission scheduled?" Rodney asked, as he skidded into the gateroom.
"Did you not look on the plan of the day?" Colonel Sheppard asked, slinging a mysterious object that resembled an axe over his shoulder.
"I thought we usually had briefings or somesuch," Rodney replied snottily, testing the batteries on his scanner.
"We didn't need a briefing," Ronon rumbled.
Rodney stared at him. "Oh. Well. In that case. Into the breach we go."
Sheppard rolled his head back and called over his shoulder. "Dial it up!"
The event horizon splashed to life in front of the team and settled back into a stable wormhole.
"Happy hunting!" Elizabeth called from the catwalk.
"Thanks!" Sheppard called back, waving one arm over his head. He sauntered through the gate, closely followed by Teyla and Ronon, leaving Rodney to catch up.
"What are we hunting?" Rodney asked on the other side of the gate.
"Trees!" Sheppard called, hiking down a path and into the forest.
"Trees?" Rodney stopped in his tracks and stared after the rest of the team. "Oh, for crying out loud, is this another one of your inane Christmas obsessions?"
There was no answer and Rodney had to scramble to catch up before he was left behind.
"I think this one is healthy and full," Teyla was saying, surveying a pine tree a few feet taller than Ronon.
"Not big enough!" Sheppard said, tramping further into the woods.
"Wait, would someone please tell me why I'm even here?" Rodney asked, stepping into the clearing and holding up one hand for attention.
"Because you're part of the team," Sheppard said, amusement leeched from his voice. "And we're picking out a nice tree for Elizabeth and the rest of the city. And you're going to shut up and be happy about it."
Rodney opened his mouth, fully prepared to be unhappy about it, but Ronon loomed dark and angry over him, and then Teyla found what really was the perfect tree, and so Rodney had to determine the safest way to chop it down so that it didn't fall on anyone and cause irreparable brain damage.
Even the Mess was in on the conspiracy.
"What are these?" Rodney asked, peering at his tray.
"They're cookies, Dr. McKay," the Marine behind the counter said, the one with the name Rodney couldn't pronounce, but it rolled off Sheppard's tongue. "Gingerbread."
"I know what cookies are," Rodney told him witheringly. "I want to know why they all have stupid little red hats on them." He picked one up and turned it around to show the sergeant. A tiny red Santa hat was drawn in sugar on the gingerbread head. "Do you have any concept of political correctness? Do you not realize that while yes, Christmas has consumed the spirit of American commercialism and made it the unstoppable juggernaut that you see today, Christianity was not always the morass of secular opportunism that it is today." A familiar, dark-haired figure appeared behind him in line, adding to his ammunition. "Also, hello, not everyone celebrates the birth of Christ around here. Are you seriously going to make Doctor Safir eat a Santa Claus cookie?"
"Mine have little yarmulkes," Yoni Safir said cheerfully, holding it up for Rodney's inspection. "But if you don't want yours, I'm not concerned with the secular opportunism of my congealed sugar."
He reached and Rodney snatched his cookies back, retreating into the noise and fuss of the mess hall. It wasn't easy to find an empty table, but no one wanted to eat with him, either, so one was vacated fairly rapidly.
Rodney ate his cookies first so he wouldn't have to see them. He stirred the squash and potatoes, formerly powdered, together and scooped them onto a fork, stabbing a sliver of poultry to top it all off.
"Hey," Sheppard said, setting his tray down across from Rodney and swinging his leg to the other side of the chair. He sat down and surveyed the food. "Better than last year's Christmas dinner, anyway," he said brightly, attacking the squash first.
"Where's Teyla and Ronon?" Rodney asked. He and John hadn't sat alone together at a table for months.
"Mainland," Sheppard said, peering at Rodney's plate. "She wanted to pick some stuff up and he volunteered to go with her. Lorne's taking them," he added, in explanation of why he hadn't gone.
"Hm." Rodney piled up food on his fork again and maneuvered the heap into his mouth.
"Too bad you've been so grumpy this year," John said with casualness that didn't come anywhere to close to being genuine. "I was going to decorate my room tonight."
"Such a shame my very important research conflicts with your frivolous indulgences," Rodney said, shoveling in another mouthful.
"Yeah, well, if your very important research lets you stop by for five minutes -- " Sheppard stopped talking and frowned at Rodney's plate again. "You don't have any cookies," he said. "How did you make it out of line without any cookies?"
And then he picked up one of his gingerbread men and held it out to Rodney. "Here, have one of mine. We'll get more on the way out."
"I don't want your cookie," Rodney sulked, taking it and biting its head off, anyway.
John scrunched up his eyebrows. "Is that a metaphor for something?"
Within a week, Rodney couldn't walk down the hall without being assaulted with reminder of the winter holidays.
Ronon had a stack of wreaths looped around one brawny arm and was handing them to Lorne to be tacked up on the doors of the living quarters.
Lieutenant Cadman nearly crashed into Rodney because the stack of packages she was carrying towered over her head.
Carson started talking about missing his mum more than usual.
Some idiot acquired a sprig of fake mistletoe and tacked it to the door of the nearest transporter to the control room. Rodney'd had to kiss Elizabeth twice, Teyla once, and managed, through an entirely manly avoidance dance, to not kiss John at all.
More and more of the corridors started twinkling in shades of red, green, blue, and gold, and Rodney found his eyes rolling to the ceiling every time someone else squealed over it.
"It is fantastic how Colonel Sheppard can manipulate the Ancient technology," Zelenka said as they walked down a blinking hallway on their way back from setting up the sound system in what was to be Elizabeth's concert hall.
"It is, isn't it," Rodney said. "And he's not the only one." He pointed accusingly at the wall and said, "Off!"
The wall blinked out meekly and faded in to its usual soft white glow. Rodney felt pleased for the first time all week and lifted his head to find Zelenka frowning at him.
"I'm sure it was draining power," he said, hating that he might sound the tiniest bit defensive.
Rodney stomped into the lab and was nearly blinded by the sheer number of lights and ornaments strung throughout the area.
"Oh, whose brilliant idea was this?" he demanded, shielding his eyes and squinting around the room.
"Ah, Doctor McKay?" A small, dark figure with massive eyeglasses reflecting the hundreds of twinkling lights popped up below his line of vision. "I thought, for the holidays, decoration?"
"Ohhhh, you thought. For the holidays." Rodney glared at Miko and snapped, "There was no thinking involved here! Unless you were thinking that you were going to blind us all and in that case, this was some really spectacular thinking because wow, as a brilliant scientist, of course Christmas lights were the obvious answer! Is anybody doing any work in here? Can anyone even see in here? I'm surprised the glare off the computer screens hasn't set anything on fire yet! How much of an idiot do you have to be to pull some crap like this? Take it all down! Now!"
"But. But." Miko looked terrified. "It was so many hours to get them all up."
"And now it's going to be so many hours to get them all down, so maybe next time you should just not do it at all, you think? Oh, wait, we're back to the thinking thing."
Tears shone behind Miko's glasses and started to tumble down her face.
"Oh, no," Rodney groaned, trying to be more put off by the crying than guilt-tripped. "Don't even. Don't even start with that." He clapped a hand over his eyes so he wouldn't have to see and spun around to walk out the door and nearly crashed into Elizabeth.
"Rodney," she said, crossing her arms and Rodney's day just got worse.
"So," Dr. Heightmeyer said when it became clear that Rodney had nothing to say. "Let's talk about the source of all this repressed anger toward the holiday."
Rodney and his repressed anger walked into that afternoon's staff meeting ten minutes late and stopped short. And blinked.
"What -- " He waved a hand in front of his own eyes, convinced that Sheppard and his inane Christmas cheer had finally driven him 'round the bend.
Elizabeth sat in her usual place at the table, a red hat -- which managed to clash badly with her red shirt -- perched on her head. Dr. Weir was stitched across the white trim in red thread and the white pom-pom dangled next to her cheek. She looked entirely too pleased.
Rodney quickly surveyed the rest of the room. Everyone was wearing them. Beckett, Lorne, Ronon, Teyla…Caldwell. Sheppard's was even jaunty.
"Oh, my God," Rodney said, taking a step back toward the doors, which swished closed, trapping him in there with the hats. "Sheppard's rubbing off on all of you. How many of my staff have you infected?" he demanded.
"Rodney," Elizabeth warned. Rodney flashed back to Kate Heightmeyer chanting that Christmas had done him no harm. "Teyla brought us gifts."
"My people made them," Teyla said with a smile. She brought another one from the leather satchel sitting on the table in front of her. "There is even one for you, Doctor McKay."
Rodney somehow found himself unable to move and gaping like a fish as Teyla circled the table and went up on her tiptoes to settle the hat on his head.
The whole table beamed at him, except Sheppard, who just raised a curious eyebrow and for some reason, something in Rodney just snapped.
"I am sick and tired of being required to play at your delusional little fantasy games," he snapped, snatching the hat off. "I have made it abundantly clear on more than one occasion that I have absolutely no interest in your childish dedication to a holiday that lost any meaning it might have had decades ago and you people can't get it through your thick heads that I don't give a flying fuck. So take your crappy imitation commercial retard hats and stick them where the sun does not shine!" He threw the hat as hard as he could, but Athosian wool was impossibly lightweight for its warmth and the hat fluttered a few feet before coming to rest in a potted plant. A ten thousand year old, dead potted plant that was decorated with popcorn and pseudo-cranberries and little foil constructs that might or might not be puddlejumpers. Rodney spun on his heel and stomped out of the room so fast he nearly slammed into the door.
The control center technicians -- and technicians was a ridiculous word because no one in the room had anything less than PhD, even if a few of them had come in Publisher's Clearinghouse envelopes -- all looked up as he barged through, and quickly looked back at their stations.
"McKay!" It was Sheppard and he was angry. Rodney could almost here the control room staff's necks as they swiveled back and forth again. Rodney was fast but Sheppard was faster and caught up before Rodney made it to the door. "Not here," Sheppard growled, cuffing Rodney on the neck and pushing him through the door and into the empty hallway.
"I'm sorry if I don't roll over and heel for you anymore," Rodney snapped, shrugging off Sheppard's hand and for a split second, Sheppard's face flashed hurt and then the anger took over again.
"You never rolled over for me," he hissed. "Never. In your life. And that's fine. I don't care how angry you are or how you take it out on me, but Teyla is off-limits, got it? She did not do anything to deserve those words. She and her people made us gifts, gifts of things from our home to make us feel welcome. You have no business, none, at all, shitting on that. Is that clear?"
"Crystal," Rodney said stiffly. It was clear, entirely so. It would have been clear, without Sheppard's lecture, if Rodney's head hadn't been so bombarded by inane Christmas gestures.
"Good." John's eyes were dark and stormy, reflections of the hurt from before glinting in the light. "You owe her an apology," he added, like Teyla was his best friend ever. Which these days, maybe she was.
Rodney stared at him mulishly.
"When you can offer one without being a complete jackass," John amended. "And you probably shouldn't bother going to the concert and tree-lighting tonight. Elizabeth is not happy."
"Fine. I wasn't going to go anyway." Rodney folded his arms and tilted his chin up. That was maybe technically not entirely true, but Sheppard didn't know that.
"Fine." Sheppard turned to go and hesitated. "You didn't always hate Christmas," he said in an odd voice, and it wasn't really a question. "Did you?"
Rodney set his mouth and walked away.
"I have this...irrational fear of candy canes," he told Heightmeyer two hours later.
Rodney lingered in the would-be concert hall until he was satisfied that everything was as well set up and error-proof as he could possibly make it -- which was to say, until the first person wandered in. He hid at in the lab until almost midnight, and then he went to his room to avoid the imminent clusterfuck of people returning from the concert bathed in holiday glow.
In his room, he shrugged off his jacket and unhooked his radio, setting it on the desk under his diplomas. He kicked off his shoes and nudged them under the bed, resolutely not thinking of the silly star ornament in the plastic storage carton. When he lay down, he fell asleep immediately.
"McKay." The words were whispered and fairly easy to ignore if he tried very hard. "Open your eyes."
Rodney opened his eyes and jumped upright when he found his face inches away from Sam Carter's. "Sam!" he squeaked, scrambling upright. "What are you doing here?"
Sam sat up, smoothing the little red skirt she was wearing and adjusted her Santa hat. "Look, McKay," she said. "You've been a real jerk the last couple weeks."
"Oh, so you're going to harp on that? Get a new schtick, because trust me, this one's been done to death." Rodney crossed his arms and looked at her. "Nice outfit."
"Yeah, thanks. So look...."
"Is there mistletoe? Because I could totally get in the spirit if there was mistletoe."
"Okay," Sam murmured. "That a horrible pun we're not even going to talk about." She rolled her eyes. "Look, you're going to be visited -- "
"Is that sort of a Mrs. Claus thing you have going on?" Rodney asked, deciding that really, John Sheppard and his elf ears had never been enough for him to forget Sam Carter, not if she was going to wear this sort of thing. Damn his weakness for dumb blondes, anyway.
"All right, you know what? You are a jerk," Sam said, swinging her legs off the bed and standing up. "Also? Petty, arrogant, and bad with people. You're on your own with this one."
And she was gone.
"Huh." Rodney blinked at the place where she'd stood. "This is one freaky dream."
He shrugged and lay back down. He'd barely closed his eyes before passing out again.