Atlantis had been on Earth for five months, and preparing for its return to Pegasus for two. There were personnel changes, some expected and some not. Keller and Biro departed, to the shock of almost nobody. Woolsey, Sheppard, and McKay made forceful arguments that Carson 2.0 should be Chief Medical Officer, resulting in his installation/reinstatement. (John and Rodney enjoyably wasted quite a bit of time debating the proper term.) More surprising were Miko Kusanagi and gate tech Chuck's resignations. During the going away party Miko revealed that she would be heading up the science division of the Japanese SGC, while Chuck announced, "I'm going back to Winnipeg and sleep for six months. I hear they have a hockey team now..."
The SGC set a departure date for the city of just after midnight New Years Day, so any witnesses would likely be dismissed as drunken revelers. The city was put on lockdown for the ten days prior (holidays be damned), with all departures and arrivals requiring special approval by the IOA itself.
Carson and Lorne bet on who would go stir-crazy first. Carson's money was on Ronon, while Lorne chose the newly promoted Colonel Sheppard. Neither considered Rodney McKay, but it was he who broke first.
Day one of the lockdown was greeted with an all-around grumpy mood.
Day two of the lockdown had Rodney arguing even more vehemently than usual, leaving the senior staff with stunned faces when he stomped out of Woolsey's office, muttering under his breath.
Day three of the lockdown found Rodney alone at a table in the mess, staring people down (some claim he'd snarled like a caged animal), before he disappeared into a lab for the rest of the day.
John Sheppard's door chimes, dragging his attention away from his book. "Come in," he calls, even as Rodney shuffles in agitatedly. "Hey, buddy..." he says cautiously.
Rodney's slightly manic eyes meet his. "You wanna get outta here?"
John sets his book aside and gets up, pulling Rodney close. He nuzzles Rodney's neck and asks, "How 'bout we watch a movie instead," starting toward his new, larger bed.
"No, no! I'm serious, John," Rodney snaps, his tone taking Sheppard aback.
"Okay. I heard there's chocolate cake in the mess-"
"Let's go to the jumper bay," Rodney interrupts.
"Rodney..." John whines, making Rodney roll his eyes.
"Come on. Like this lockdown isn't making you crazy, too."
John shrugs nonchalantly. "Not really, no."
"But we were- It's- I mean-" Rodney sputters. As John watches him, confused (but indulgent), he finally grates out, "It's Christmas Eve, John. We should be celebrating it with Jeannie and Kaleb and Maddie. Instead we're stuck here."
"We've spent the last five Christmases in Pegasus, McKay. What makes this one so different?"
Rodney gives him the Glare of Grade One Moronitude before his cheeks pink up. John blushes, too, when he finally gets it. "Oh," he says, smiling and leaning in for a kiss.
Twining his fingers with John's, Rodney claims one more kiss, then tugs him out of the room. He holds John's hand (thrilled that the US has finally come out of the dark ages and dumped 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'), hauling him along to a transporter. John tries to press the map for the mess but Rodney is quicker, hitting a station near the jumper bay.
"Lieutenant," Rodney says as he tows John past Laura Cadman, the sole officer in the jumper bay that evening.
John looks back at her quizzically. "I thought you were-" he starts.
"She was," Rodney interjects, "until I hacked the duty roster. Jinks is in the gateroom." He hits a couple of buttons and throws back at the Marine, "It's a beautiful night, Cadman. What say you let John and me gaze at the night sky for a while, eh?"
"Whatever, Rodney. I'm going to go get some coffee. Sir." With a quick salute for John she abandons her post, calling over one shoulder on her way out the door, "I'll be back in a few hours."
Rodney herds John into one of the jumpers, practically shoving him into the pilot's seat before settling in the one on the right. After a few seconds of not moving, Rodney growls at his partner. "Well?"
Laughing out a sigh, John cloaks the jumper and starts its ascent through the roof and out into the night air. "So where to first?" he asks, secretly delighted to be out of Atlantis and flying.
"We could head out to SFO and watch planes take off. " Rodney catches John's amused expression. "I don't know," he admits. "You like planes and stuff. I thought maybe you'd enjoy that."
John swings the jumper onto a northerly heading. "There should be some really brilliant Northern Lights over Greenland," he says, earning an arched and disbelieving eyebrow from Rodney. "What? I was bored and got stuck on some weather channel after dinner... It's not like we're going to have live television once we get back to Pegasus, you know."
"Whatever, Flyboy. Take us to Greenland." Rodney smirks, glad that the puddlejumper makes the trip halfway around the planet possible.
Rodney gets up to stand behind John as he parks the jumper in an orbit low enough to see the dancing lights and high enough to stay out of commercial air traffic. The waves of green and blue and red rolling across the sky are mesmerizing. He bends down until his cheek is cushioned by cowlicks, and murmurs, "Thanks."
"Not over yet, McKay," John replies, producing a cellphone from his pocket. "What say we buzz Jeannie's house and you can call her? Maybe we'll even walk around on her roof, so Maddie thinks she hears Santa."
Rodney beams and steals a kiss or seven.
John descends before they get into Canadian airspace, flying under the radar. The cloudless sky and full moon gives the pair a clear view of the beauty below them. "Now this is what I think Christmas should look like," John admits.
"This is what we should be-" A horrible scraping sound drowns out the rest. "What the hell was that?"
"I think we hit something," John admits, his pulse racing. "Going back around." He completes the 180, slowing the craft as he approaches the impact zone. The jumper hovers as they search the ground, John spotting a darkened area with minutely blinking lights first. "There!" he points out, bringing them down gingerly. They hang over the site, where a figure in a red suit lies on his side next to the gently hissing sled. "Did we..." John starts.
"Holy shit," Rodney breathes. "We ran over Santa!"
After parking the jumper, John and Rodney wait impatiently for the ramp to lower so they can race out toward the wreckage. John stops short in disbelief, while Rodney runs right up to the jolly old (and unfortunately unconscious) elf. "John? Come help me!" he bellows, snapping John out of his stupor.
"Is he okay?" John asks as he helps arrange the man in a sitting position against his downed sled.
"He's Santa," Rodney says sarcastically. "How the hell should I know?" He checks for a pulse, finding one even as Santa's breath warms his arm. "Yeah, he's alive." Glancing back at their ship, he asks, "The jumpers get their medical kits restocked yet?" John shakes his head.
John and Rodney fuss over him until it becomes obvious that he's not waking up any time soon, then start poking around the downed transport. Though it resembles something from the steampunk era, modern safety features abound: front and side airbags and a full-body harness - though one side is hanging loose (the reason Santa faceplanted into a snow bank). "Here's his bag," Rodney says, retrieving a floppy burlap sack tied with a velvety red ribbon. "This is weird," Rodney says, hefting it. "It feels empty. And it's so small..."
John laughs. "So you're saying Santa has a tiny sack?"
Dope-slapping him upside the head, Rodney chastises, "What are you, twelve years old?" He studies the sled for a moment before starting in surprise. "Wait, where are his reindeer?"
"Reindeer?" John turns a complete circle, searching both on the ground and in the air.
"Here, Dasher! Here, Dancer! Here... Umm... Dopey," Rodney calls, suddenly unable to recall the reindeer names.
"Jesus, Rodney. It's Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen."
Rodney, having remembered, clears his throat. "Actually, it's Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen. What? In the original text, the seventh reindeer's name was Donder, not Donner. Don't look at me like that," he orders. "I once dated a self-declared Christmas Historian."
John's jaw drops.
"What? She was blonde and had really, really nice breasts. Besides, it's not my fault your corrupt American system changed Santa's reindeer's names."
"Those aren't my reindeer," a voice booms from behind the sled, sending John and Rodney hurrying to attend him. "They're the nine iterations of the quantum drive that powers my sled," Santa says while exploring the bump on his forehead. "Wasn't my idea. The elves like to name things."
"Elves?" Rodney asks, smirking at John's ears. John rolls his eyes and shakes his head fondly.
"Ingenious little buggers," Santa says jovially, trying to get up. "Ho! Ho! Owww..."
John and Rodney rush to help, but he shoos them away as he rubs his knee and stretches it out.
"Wait. Quantum drive?" Rodney blurts, getting a nod from the jolly old elf. "Huh. Who knew Santa was a quantum physicist?"
"Oh, yes. I don't spend all my time making toys," Santa says. He pushes his glasses up his nose and points to the back of the sleigh. "She's a thing of beauty. The green button opens her up."
Rodney nearly runs to the rear of the sled, presses green, and gasps at the engine. "That's a... That's... That's just like a--," he sputters. He spots John sidling up to see, and quickly shuts the door.
"Just like a what?" John asks, reaching for the panel - forcing Rodney to plant his body firmly in front of the controls.
Santa chuckles. "Go ahead, Meredith. Let Jonathan see the engine."
"But. But... Santa!" Rodney grouses, finally stepping aside under Santa's paternal gaze.
Opening the panel, John peers inside and then quickly shuts it, his eyes growing wide. "It's. That's a..."
"That's the Rudolph 9.0 Flux Capacitor," Santa fills in, joining them at the back of the sled. "It's what allows me to visit all the good little boys and girls in one night."
"Well, then, why isn't it glowing?" Rodney demands, crossing his arms defiantly.
Santa laughs again, and John feels a helpless grin bloom as Santa's belly jiggles like... Well, exactly like a bowl full of jelly. "It's not on right now, now is it?"
"What? You mean," Rodney starts. "Wait... How about you tell us how this thing works?" John shoots him a quelling look. "Please," Rodney implores, "for scientific curiosity!"
Santa checks his watch, calculating how far behind schedule he is. "Very well. But why don't I show you instead?"
Suddenly realizing how cold he is, Rodney points to the jumper. "Can we do this in there?"
"Ho ho ho." Santa reaches into his sack and comes out with a lined parka and gloves for Rodney. He hands them over, smiling at Rodney's saucer eyes.
John squeezes his eyes shut and whispers, "I wish," opening them again as Santa digs into the seemingly empty bag and produces a thick orange fleece, just like the one Rodney wore in Antarctica, along with gloves to match. "Thanks, Santa," John says as he dons the warm jacket.
"Are you ready to see how it works now?" Santa asks, to eager nods. He guides the men into the sled and sits between them. He lays a finger next to his nose and gives it a twitch, laughing when John and Rodney gape at him in wonder. "Just kidding. Gets them every time." He presses a button on the dash.
"Can we go to..." Rodney asks, stopping as the sled shimmers out of existence and rematerializes on the roof of Jeannie's house. "Wow..."
Santa points to the house next door, where John and Rodney see... themselves and Santa waving back. "So, this quantum drive..." John starts.
"An infinite number of universes with an infinite number of possibilities with an infinite number of Santas," Rodney theorizes. "So you can visit every one? At the same time?"
Santa's eyes twinkle as he twirls a different control, sending a reverberation of bells jingling through the air, accompanied by the sound of hooves on a rooftop. "Take my arm," Santa says, so they grab on tight. Instantly, they're inside Jeannie's house, where she and Kaleb seem frozen in place.
"Wait," Rodney blurts. "Space, and time?"
"Ho ho ho!" Santa chortles with pleasure, leaving John once again fascinated with his jello-y belly. He proffers his limp, beribboned bag and motions for them to get to work.
"Okay," they say in unison, beaming at each other. John and Rodney kneel in front of the tree, pulling present after present from the flat and flaccid sack until they feel a sudden tingling in the back of their heads. "I guess we're done here," John says, standing up and hauling Rodney to his feet.
"Almost," Santa says, gesturing at the frozen forms of Jeannie and Kaleb. As a light shimmers around them, he explains, "I just gave them memories of buying these toys for Maddie. Can't have grownups blowing my cover, now can we?"
Santa takes them each by an arm - the room vanishes and they're suddenly on the roof again. "Now to get you two back home," he says, pumping a pedal on the floor until its indicator blinks red. They are instantly in the field next to the puddlejumper.
"Okay, boys. Time to scoot! I've got a couple more time zones to go, so..." He gestures to the puddlejumper, then waves a hand at their outerwear. "Oh, and another thing. I'll need those back."
Rodney nods and starts removing his parka and gloves, while John's pout is better suited to an eight-year-old than a soldier pushing forty. "I'm sorry, Jonathan," Santa says gently, "but if you return to Atlantis with them, people will find out. And we can't have that, can we?"
"No, Santa," John allows lowly, watching Santa stuff the orange fleece and gloves back into the sack.
"Merry Christmas, boys!" Santa calls as his sled takes to the air before winking out of existence.
Waving, John and Rodney yell, "Merry Christmas, Santa," before they retreat into the puddlejumper.
John and Rodney share contented smiles on the journey back to Atlantis. The puddlejumper sinks into the jumper bay and docks. They wave to Cadman as they make their way out of the hangar, with John offering her a cheery, "Merry Christmas."
"Come on, McKay." John heads towards the residential section after diverting to the mess for some warm spiced cider. They walk arm-in-arm to John's room, sipping as they go. When they enter, John sets his mug on the bedside table and pulls the scientist into a hug. "Thanks, Rodney," he says, dropping a kiss on Rodney's nose.
Rodney kisses him back, blindly reaching back to set his mug on John's desk. He turns to find out why he can't, and discovers that it's almost overrun by two good-sized boxes with big bows. "What're these?" Abandoning his mug on the floor, he picks up the black-wrapped package and sees the tag addressed to John. The "From" space is empty except for an Impressionistic Santa face. He hands it over and grabs the other - obviously his, judging by the mathematical proof wrapping paper.
They look at their packages, and then each other, with wonder and anticipation. John breaks first, ripping at the paper like a rabid badger. "My fleece!" he crows, grinning like a madman. "Thank you, Santa!" he calls toward the ceiling.
Rodney's carefully peeling the tape off his when he feels something shift within. He tilts it back and forth, saying, "It sounds like paper." Lowering himself into the desk chair (while John dons his fleece and nearly dances around the room), he settles the box on his lap and removes the lid. Inside there are nine sets of ribbon-bound blueprints. He unties and unrolls the top one. His shock at its title - Dasher 1.0 - almost prevents him noticing the handwritten note that says, Happy Experimenting, Meredith!