Justin Sheppard was five years old the first time he went through the Stargate, fast asleep and snuggled close to his father’s chest. He’d been excited about the idea, but the trip from Connecticut to Cheyenne Mountain was a long one, and a child’s energy for such excursions can sometimes wane.
Dave held his son close, his wife Gina staring wide-eyed at the forming wormhole. It was her first time through the Gate as well. It was Dave’s third.
The invitation from John had been short—“Can’t take time off for Christmas this year; real bad swarm came into town last week and our clients are chomping at the bit for a better level of pest control. Come our way instead? -John”—and Dave had to pause a moment before he understood the cipher being used for the problems his brother faced in the Pegasus galaxy.
There was another family going to Atlantis with them, Kaleb and Jeannie Miller with their daughter Madison. Dave wasn’t sure he knew who they were related to, but John did say he wanted Dave to meet someone. Maybe Jeannie was the sister of John’s new girlfriend. He figured he’d find out soon enough.
The rest of John’s team were waiting in the Gate room when John sauntered over to them with a goofy grin on his face. He sidled up to Rodney and took his hand before placing a quick kiss to his cheek.
“What the hell are you grinning about?” Rodney asked. “And what are we waiting here for, anyway?”
The email they’d all received was downright cryptic, with John requesting their presence in the Gate room at 1700.
John shrugged. “I may have planned an itinerary for our holiday.”
Rodney groaned. “You know how much I hate holiday cheer.”
“Come on, McKay, lighten up,” Ronon said, smacking Rodney across his shoulder. “Have some fun.”
“Fun,” Rodney huffed with a roll of his eyes. “I’ll have fun when I can get back to work. It’s already going to take months to clean up the virus the Wraith uploaded into our defenses.”
“Rodney,” John whispered as the Stargate chevrons began to light up. “Three days, that’s all I’m asking.”
With a defeated sigh, Rodney conceded. He hated it when John pouted at him—especially when he knew John wasn’t doing it on purpose; indeed, John even wiped his face a moment later, a telltale sign that he was trying to school his expression.
“If it’s important to you, it’s important to me,” Rodney said.
“Thanks,” John said, bumping his shoulder with Rodney’s.
The wormhole activated, and when Jeannie Miller came through the Gate with Madison, Rodney gasped. “Jeannie?” he stepped forward and wrapped her up in his arms. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, it’s great to see you, too, Mer,” Jeannie said with a grin and a brush against the back of Rodney’s head.
Kaleb came through and he shook hands with Rodney first, then with John as Ronon scooped up Madison and started spinning her round the Gate room. Rodney looked like he might have an aneurysm, but Jeannie was laughing as she watched them.
Dave and Gina Sheppard came through next, Justin still asleep against Dave’s shoulder. He briefly shook John’s hand before pulling him into a half sideways hug.
“John,” Dave said in greeting.
“John, it’s good to see you again,” Gina said, planting a kiss on John’s cheek.
Jeannie came over to John and hugged him.
“Thank you for the invitation,” Jeannie said. “God knows Meredith was never going to get around to it.”
“Meredith?” Dave asked, and he glanced around the Gate room. His eyes fell on Teyla, but John shook his head and with a smirk he grabbed Rodney by the hand as the Gate shut off.
“Meredith,” John said, and Rodney’s attention shifted immediately from Ronon and Madison to John. That attention was packaged in a glare.
“So we’re introducing me as ‘Meredith’ now?” he snapped.
“It is your name,” John said.
Rodney just huffed and extended his hand to shake Dave’s. “It’s actually Rodney, Dr. Rodney McKay.”
“It’s, uh, nice to meet you,” Dave said awkwardly.
“This is Dave,” John said, “my brother.”
John rolled his eyes. “Yes, really. Now come on, grab some bags, let’s get everyone settled in.”
Gina and Teyla followed along behind them, Teyla telling Gina about the mixture she put together that she uses for her hair. Ronon had Madison on his shoulders, talking to Jeannie and Kaleb.
John reached for both of Dave and Gina’s bags, but Rodney muscled him out of the way and took both of them.
“Lead the way, Colonel.”
John led the group to the residential tower where he and Rodney shared quarters, where two suites were already set up for their guests. Dave caught up to him, shifting Justin to his other side.
“You want me to take him?” John offered.
“Um, sure,” Dave said. He passed Justin along, who snuggled contentedly in John’s arms.
“Hey, buddy,” John said, running his hand along the boy’s back.
“So, you and Rodney…” Dave started. “How long?”
“Three years,” John said. “Surprised?”
Dave scoffed. “Should I be?”
“I don’t know, that’s why I asked you. It’s not like I can read minds, you know.”
Dave sighed. “Fine, yes, I was surprised.”
“This is my family,” John said. “I wanted you to meet them.”
“John, when I came here six months ago, you were in bad shape. Some guy named Woolsey calls me in the middle of the night, he’s so agitated it wakes up my wife, and the next thing I know, I have top level security clearance and I’m being flown to Colorado so I can travel some millions of light years to another galaxy to save your life. Then I don't hear from you until Thanksgiving.”
“That about sums it up,” John said, but he didn’t look at Dave. He noticed that the rest of the group was lagging behind and paused.
“I stayed until you were out of the woods, but I had to go back home. I had a family to take care of.”
“Yeah, I know that,” John said. “Why the hell do you think I invited you back? It’s not like last time was a vacation for you.”
Dave shook his head. “No, it wasn’t. I still don’t even know what happened.”
“The way Beckett explained it… hell, I don’t even how he explained it. But no one else in the city was a match.”
“So I was your only hope?”
John grinned. “Yeah, I guess you were.”
Dave sighed and took Justin from John’s arms. The boy woke up a little, rubbing his eyes.
“Hey, Justin, this is your Uncle John,” Dave said.
“Hi,” the boy said. He scrunched his face up and planted it back against his father’s shoulder.
When they entered their quarters, Rodney almost did an about-face and headed back into the corridor.
“Rodney…” John said, grabbing his arm and spinning to face the bright red and green decorations all over their home.
“This is why you were late to your own meeting, isn’t it?” Rodney asked. “I knew I should have left the lab early when I got that email.”
“It’s just a tree…” John said.
“That’s how it always starts, and then there are wreaths and bows and tinsel and nutcrackers and screaming eggnog.”
John frowned. “Screaming?”
“Obviously, you’ve never tried to steam it before.”
“And you have?”
“Yes, well, one of my doctoral professors actually had an espresso machine,” Rodney started. John was pulling off his clothes, and Rodney was distracted for a minute as he watched him climb into bed.
“Yeah? He let the students use it?”
“No, actually it was forbidden for us to even be in the same room as that thing,” Rodney stripped and climbed in next to John. “But one day, it broke, and me, being my genius self with a PhD in mechanical engineering already under my belt, I fixed it. He let me use it anytime after that, and all the other students were jealous.”
The telling of the tale brought a rather wicked grin to Rodney’s face. John spooned up against him anyway.
“And the eggnog?”
“Screams when you steam it,” Rodney said. “Tried to make an eggnog latte during winter term one year, and the thing hissed so bad I lost my thirst for it.”
“Poor baby,” John whispered.
“Shut up, Sheppard,” Rodney replied.
“You know, I think we’re going to have a good holiday,” John said. “What do you think?”
Rodney chuckled. “As long as you didn’t forget to put up some mistletoe.”
“That was the first thing that went up,” John said. He listened for sounds of sleep from Rodney before tiptoeing quietly out of bed, across the room to their closet, and he pulled out two large bags of gift-wrapped packages. He carefully laid them out under the tree, then stuffed the empty bags back into the closet.
When he climbed back into bed, he nestled Rodney in his arms once more, and glanced up at the ceiling. Above their bed hung a small sprig of an evergreen plant from the mainland. It looked enough like mistletoe, he thought, and so he planted a kiss on Rodney’s shoulder, and drifted off to sleep.