“I’m not so sure about this...”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and yanked her suitcase off the carousel. It had been, literally, years since she’d been in the Detroit airport and time had not been kind. They’d already been waiting for half an hour for the luggage to be offloaded their plane and the luggage carousel had made a suspicious grinding noise before starting up. It was the coda to an exceedingly long travel-day that had started at 4:30 this morning when a fresh-faced Lieutenant had hauled her bags up 24 stories to a waiting jeep. Add in a flight delay in North Carolina, an increasingly squirmy travel companion, and a severe lack of coffee... All told, she was wishing that she’d taken advantage of that airlift into Great Lakes and just rented a car from Chicago.
Live and learn.
Elizabeth bit her lip and took a breath before continuing in a quiet, forceful tone. “John, you’ve been going on about this ever since roughly five minutes after I asked you. I get the point. Can we just agree that you’re insecure and freaked out by spending the holiday with my family and move on?”
It had been a long few days.
She glanced over at her traveling companion and snorted as he ran a hand uncomfortably across the back of his neck. Okay, so maybe she’d just been a little harsh, but nearly seven hours of catering to his whiny squirming was finally getting to her. Plus, she’d be seeing her family for the first time in two years in roughly forty-five minutes, give or take some holiday traffic. She was tired, anxious, and had only had two cups of coffee since she woke up. Honestly, she was surprised she hadn’t stabbed anyone yet.
And there wasn’t a single coffee kiosk in sight.
“Elizabeth, are you sure it’s okay that I came with you?”
She bit back a growl – seriously, not even a Dunkin’ Donuts? – and stalked towards the yellow Hertz sign, squeaky borrowed suitcase in tow. “John, so help me, if you don’t calm down about this, I’m leaving you here. It’s all cleared. Mom’s expecting you, Dad’s thrilled to have someone I work with coming home to interrogate, and my brothers will take happy, evil delight in demanding embarrassing Elizabeth stories. We’ll go, you can play touch football with my father and brothers, we’ll go to a Christmas pageant or two, eat entirely too much fattening food, and we’ll go back to Colorado. Simple.”
She swiveled away from her rather gob-smacked Colonel and beamed at the small blonde woman behind the Hertz counter. She wanted to be home. Three hours ago. “Reservation for ‘Weir’. W-E-I-R. Elizabeth.”
Uncertain, the woman glanced between the two of them before nodding and awkwardly starting to type the name into her computer. From the way she was holding her body, it was pretty obvious that she was keeping more than half an ear on any conversation they might continue.
She sighed and dropped her head to her chest before turning around. It allowed her the luxury of counting to ten before she could say anything. Something she’d learned over the past couple years was that it never paid to let John catch you in a heated moment. That way only lead to tears, paperwork, and the occasional death threat.
“John,” she smiled as reassuringly as she could and put a hand on his arm. “I wouldn’t have invited you if it wasn’t going to be okay. It will be fine.”
He stared for a couple seconds, seemingly judging her on her sincerity and word. He must have seen something he liked because he nodded and gave her that half-smile that did terrible things to her nerves before her first cup of coffee in the morning. “Okay. But if your brothers throw me into a snow bank-“
She rolled her eyes. “I’ll make sure to short-sheet their beds.”
“That’s all I’m asking.”
The whole thing had started out rather innocently. By some strange quirk of fate – the heavens had aligned correctly, or the universe had decided to temporarily delay dropping all of its footwear from the sky – the command team and several of the middling and lower echelon research staff had been ordered back to Earth for review.
Personally, Elizabeth thought that General O’Neill, in all his rather perverse and freakishly prescient observation, had decided that the long-term staff of Atlantis deserved a holiday treat. All thirty of the people called back had walked through the Gate to discover that the frighteningly long set of debriefings were due to finish up a few days before Christmas. While that didn’t necessarily mean anything to the non-Christians in the group, to the handful of people who were, the three-week post-debriefing leave that happened to coincide with a major holiday was a huge gift.
Especially since the collective governments were springing for the plane tickets home. Not on military transportation.
When she’d called them, Elizabeth’s parents had been thrilled. Okay, more than thrilled. It was possible – but only just – that her mother had punctured an ear drum. Of one of the brand new Lieutenants down the hall.
Her parents didn’t actually live in Ann Arbor. They’d moved ‘to the country’ just after she’d gone into grade school, and spent the next thirty years watching the suburbs grow up around them. Breezing up Highway 23, Elizabeth was surprised at how much and how little had changed since she’d last visited. It had been a few years, but the turns in the road and the larger landmarks were the same. What was different was the rather frightening amount of chain malls and stores.
“You know, I thought Michigan was more... woodsy.”
Merging into the middle lane, Elizabeth snorted and sped up. Something else she’d missed about Michigan: its insane drivers. When she’d first started at the UN, there had been no end of jokes about how this little girl from Michigan was going to handle the scary New York traffic. They’d shut up pretty quickly after the first time someone had volunteered her to drive. Sure the close lanes had been a little odd, but the reckless belief that her car was the only one on the road that deserved to occupy any given space had served her faithfully.
Add to that nearly ten years in DC traffic. Well.
“Parts of it are. Actually, my parents bought a few acres when they got tenure. It was some kind of scheme of my mother’s to become self-sufficient. You know. Windmill, home grown food. We even had a few cows and a rather angry set of chickens.”
She smirked as she caught at the incredulous look John shot her out of the corner of her eye.
“Wait. Farmer Elizabeth? Seriously? Were there pigtails, and if yes, are there photos?”
She laughed and cut off a slower moving mini-van. “Ask my mother about the photos, and hey, what can I say? It was the 1970’s and my parents were university professors. But Mom realized pretty quickly just how much work everything was and sold off the livestock before settling for a rather large garden.” She bit her lip, memories of hours and hours of weeding playing in short succession behind her eyes. God, she'd hated the heat and the bugs.
“So, your parents live on a farm?”
She snorted. “No, my parents live on what used to be a farm. At least, before they sold most of the acreage to a developer when I was sixteen. They now have sewer, water, garbage pick up, and neighbor children leaving their bikes all over the lawn.”
“That’s... kind of sweet. Was there a barn?”
“Yes, John, there was a barn. It’s now my youngest brother’s apartment-slash-garage.”
She glanced over, keeping half an eye on the pickup truck she was tailgating. John was staring out over the concrete median, possibly counting the mile markers.
“Are you okay?” It wasn’t the first time she’d asked him that question since she’d asked him to come along. He hadn’t said just why he’d agreed – she was still not thinking too closely on why she’d pushed the subject of him joining her in the first place – to come along, but with each time she asked, he looked a little more likely to cave. She figured she’d be asking him at least six more times before he coughed up even part of his reasoning.
“Yeah.” He shrugged. “Weirded out by all the gas stations. Three dollars a gallon?”
She nodded and flipped on her turn signal before coasting hard across three lanes towards her exit. It had been worth a shot. “Good thing we have all that unspent back-pay. Oooh! A Starbucks! And there’s a drive-thru!”
Half an hour and eight dollars worth of coffee later, Elizabeth navigated the rental into her parents’ driveway. In a move that, had anyone else seen it, could only be described as scripted, she and John leaned forward over the dash to stare at her childhood home. She blinked, taking in the new paint and old Christmas decorations. She blinked again.
She was home. Huh.
"Are you sure this is okay with your family?"
Without looking, she reached over and punched John, hard, on the arm. Apparently the brother-conditioned behavior was already surfacing.
"I would not have invited you and my mother would not have said yes if it was a problem. We talked about this at the airport." She glared over at him, but softened. When she spoke again, her voice was low and warm. "John, it's fine. You're my friend, and you told me yourself that you were going to spend the holidays on base. As your friend, I couldn't do that. Please, can we just go inside?"
His smile was small, but genuine. "You're getting tired of talking me into this, aren't you?"
"What was your first clue, the constant 'It's fine' lectures or me punching you?"
He scratched his neck and shot her an innocently amused expression. "Well, you know. I pick up on these things quickly."
She snorted and rolled her eyes before reaching back to grab her coat. Winter had been a bit of a rude surprise after months of warm, comfortable weather. She'd been damned grateful that all of her winter clothing had still mostly fit by the time she'd finally rustled it out of base storage. "So, are you just freaked out that my brothers are going to throw you into a snow bank, or something else weird?"
"I don't know. I mean, you are bringing a man home for Christmas. Won't they get... ideas?" He waggled his eyebrows at her and play-leered at her chest. One arm was halfway down a coat sleeve and she had to pause in forcing the whole process along further so she could stop and laugh. John shot her a look of pure false innocence. "What? You’re hot in that reindeer sweater!"
"This is your sweater! I’m the one who lost the bet, remember?" She finally got both arms in her jacket, but kept giggling.
"Well, yes, but it looks loads better on you." He smiled at her. "Seriously though, your brothers..."
She snorted again and shook her head before shooting him a wry look. "What is with this pathological fear of my brothers? George is an accountant and Jason's current job, according to my mother, is helping six-year-olds paint ceramic mugs. It's not like you can't take them."
He shot her a scandalized look, and she had to bite her lip to keep from laughing again. "But they're your brothers. It's their duty as men to intimidate anyone you bring home. It's like a universal law."
Elizabeth just rolled her eyes. "Stop defending my virtue, John. My brothers are forty-three and thirty-four. The last time one of them tried to defend my honor by beating up a boy who'd hurt me, I was seventeen, and it ended so badly for them, they haven't tried since." She gave him a gentle smile. "Besides. You're my friend."
He nodded and sighed, but kept her eye. The moment held, and it was only the roar of another car going past that broke it. Blushing, she shrugged and jerked a thumb at the house in front of them. "C'mon, Colonel Sheppard. There's cookies in that there house, and it's a crime to let that situation continue."
"As you say."
It didn't take long to wrestle their luggage out of the trunk and head up the shoveled front walkway. Elizabeth had to smile at the decorations she knew her mother had insisted on sticking up. The Weir household had always approached decorating for Christmas in a lackadaisical manner. There were a few years where they'd had a wreath and no lights, or one string of lights around the porch. This year seemed a banner one as there were both lights AND candy-cane statuary. She made a mental note to compliment her mother.
And then the door was suddenly and loudly opened. Her father, all six feet of him covered in red fabric, was blocking the entrance. There was a Christmas tree on his sweater. Elizabeth bit her lip and tilted her head. It kind of matched her reindeer.
"So!" His voice boomed out and across the yard. "You're the man my little Lizzie's bringing home to meet the family!"
Elizabeth took the opportunity to drop her head into a hand and groan.
"Hey, are you okay?"
She found him in the cafeteria at 1 a.m., three days before she was set to fly out of Denver. She hadn't been looking for him, but when she'd wandered into the mess and found him idly destroying a piece of pecan pie with his fork, she hadn't really had a reason to walk away. Especially since he was staring at the pie like it'd killed his puppy.
"Huh?" He blinked, shaking off wherever he'd been before focusing on her. His smile was familiar and welcome in the quiet bustle of the between-shift-prep going on behind the counter. "Oh, hey, Elizabeth. Yeah, I'm fine. Couldn't sleep."
She nodded, letting go of the obvious misdirection for the moment. Stretching a bit, she pulled out the chair next to him and dropped into it. "I know what you mean. Something about being buried under millions of tons of rock messes up my sleep schedule."
"You want me to-" He made a vague motion towards the half-staffed kitchen area, all the while shifting his chair to angle towards her own. "They probably have tea."
"Nah. I've had more coffee and tea in the last two weeks than I really want to think about it. How'd you score the pie?"
He blinked and stared down at the squishy mass in front of him. Bits of sugar and nut were smashed down into the remains of the crust. It looked pretty horrible. John just shrugged and pushed the plate away. "I begged. It was either this or some really dry looking chocolate cake."
She quirked an eyebrow and snagged one of the mostly-whole pecans off his plate. "You don't like pecan pie? Sacrilege! If my mother heard you talking like that, she'd force feed you her famous pecan pie until you conceded. True fact."
"What if I'm allergic to nuts?"
"She doesn't know that."
Elizabeth smirked and stole a piece of crust. "She will if I tell her."
He snorted, shot her an amused look, and bumped her shoulder with his own. She smiled back and chalked another point up on her imaginary scoreboard. She doesn't know when she started keeping a tally of the times she'd talked him around a bad mood, but she was up to three hundred and seventy six. She'd feel weirder about it if he wasn't such a pouter.
"Well, it's a moot point anyway. I don't think she'll really have an opportunity to force feed me pecan pie. When are you leaving?"
"Three days. Fly out of Denver and I'm home for a week and a half." Elizabeth let a contented smile drift across her face. Oh, she was sure she'd be ready to throttle her brothers and parents before the end of the third day, but she was looking forward to that too. There was something reassuring about family arguments. "I can't wait. How about you? What are you doing for your leave?"
She wanted to kick herself immediately after the words left her mouth. The way John's eyes locked up and went from comfortable and slightly tired to blank but hyper-aware clued her in pretty quickly. And if that hadn't made her faux pas abundantly clear, his next statement and the way he curled his head down and started mashing the pie remains did.
"I'm probably going to stick around Colorado Springs. There are some nice hotels in the area, and General O'Neill is supposed to be holding an orphan Christmas at his place." He shrugged his shoulders and looked up to catch her eye. "I figure it'll give me a chance to make my famous cheesy potatoes."
She bit her lip. "You have famous cheesy potatoes?"
"Mmm," he grunted. "Store hashbrowns, sour cream, cheddar cheese, a few other things and bang. John Sheppard's world famous cheesy potatoes."
She raised an eyebrow. He smirked.
"Okay, okay, they're only famous in my own mind. They are good though."
"I believe you. My father likes to point out that there is no dish on the planet that can't be greatly improved with the addition of cheese and onion salt. Mom likes to ask him if he wants cheese on his cookies. Regularly."
They both laughed and settled into a comfortable silence that stretched out. It didn't feel strange or awkward. They'd spent countless quiet hours in each other's company. Usually there were reports to go over or staff evaluations to compile, but it wasn't odd for John to show up at her door with his copy of War and Peace and completely take over her couch. On those nights, she usually curled up with one of the network e-books loaded on her PDA.
It felt comfortable and right in ways that were hard to verbalize while on Atlantis. But they weren't on Atlantis. And they had two weeks of leave in front of them.
"Come with me, John."
He jerked, surprised. "What?"
"Come with me to my parents' for Christmas." Quietly and carefully, she reached over and covered the hand still holding his fork with her own. "I’d like you to."
He stared for a moment, completely thrown off guard. "Elizabeth-"
"John, I wouldn't ask if I didn't mean it."
"But the airfare-"
"Is being paid by the US Government." She bumped his shoulder with hers and grinned up at him. "What's the point of being super secret diplomats if you don't get to take shameless advantage now and then?"
Elizabeth kept her expression fixed; widening her eyes and doing her absolute best impression of Sedge at her most insistent. Before she'd left the galaxy, it'd been the one thing that'd have her caving faster than her own attempts at soufflé. It was a tense few moments, watching him debate the possibility back and forth, especially with the odd little trembly feeling beating around her chest.
Apparently, her request wasn't just a pity invite. She ran the thought over in her mind like a new shiny river stone. She wanted John to come meet her family. To show him where she was from, and who she loved. That was even more surprising than the actual invitation.
"Please?" She reached up, hesitating for a second or two before moving her hand off his and setting it on his shoulder. "I don't want you to be alone on Christmas. Come with me, John."
O'Neill hadn't even blinked when she'd requested the extra ticket.
"You know, with all your letters and video letters, you never mentioned that Colonel Sheppard was so handsome."
Elizabeth bit her lip and concentrated on not shaving any skin off of her thumb with the potato peeler. She'd been home for an hour and her mother already had her closeted in the kitchen with a pile of potatoes and a few onions. Say what you would about Karen Weir, but above all else, she was damned efficient.
This was not to say that her mother wasn't shooting her soft looks and taking every opportunity to touch her. She's not embarrassed to admit that she'd spent a good twenty minutes crying all over her mother and father when she and John had finally gotten inside the door. John, bless his heart, had spent the time shuffling awkwardly and, presumably, staring at the family photos lining the entrance hall.
She knew this because as soon as her father had bustled off with their luggage and her mother had gone to wash her face, John had pointed to the rather humiliating Halloween photo of her and her brothers. She'd been eight, wearing a long white dress with pigtails on either side of her head, rolled to resemble cinnamon buns. Her brothers had been similarly attired; George, twelve and wearing a plastic Darth Vader costume, while three year old Jason was clinging to her dress and waving around a C-3PO mask.
"So. This whole intergalactic leader thing has been a life-long dream, huh?" His smile had been wicked and hit her all the way down to her toes. Which was exactly when her father stomped back down the stairs, chattering about the insulation in the guest rooms and how to work the radiators.
She'd held his eyes though. Kept smiling before turning to hug her father again - she knew she'd be doing that all week. "Dad," she'd said. "I know how to work the radiators."
He'd kissed her forehead then, and she was eight years old all over again. "I know, baby. Just wanted to remind you in case you forgot."
She resigned herself right there to randomly bursting out into tears a lot. She'd made a mental note to find some tissues.
When she'd looked over at John, he'd been watching her. And somehow, that had felt exactly right.
Still, it hadn't been long before she'd been summarily shooed towards the kitchen by her mother while her father had dragged John off for a tour of the house. John's parting look of absolute terror had been priceless. So, here she was. Experiencing the first tried and true method of Weir parenting: divide and conquer.
And people wondered where she got her diplomatic skills.
"It didn't exactly come up, Mom." She flicked a particularly wide bit of peel into the pot she was using for refuse. "Besides, it'd be kind of awkward for Chuck if I suddenly started going on about how hot my coworker is. Poor boy has enough problems."
Her mother laughed. "Good to see you're not in denial there, sweetie."
"Trust me, I'm not. Still, it's not really a huge deal." She smirked and raised an eyebrow she'd inherited from the woman across from her. "I haven't told you about Ronon."
"Win the eye-candy lottery in this super secret job of yours then?" Her mother was peeling and coring apples into a bright red bowl Elizabeth remembered her Grandma Benson using. Elizabeth's mouth started to water at the thought of her mother's apple tart.
"Mmm." She dumped her newly peeled potato into a bowl of water and picked up another one. "I won't say that the scenery is hard to take, that's for sure. Happy bonus of working with a bunch of marines who take physical fitness really, really seriously."
"Still." Her mother shot her the look that meant 'I am on to your misdirection, young lady'. "You didn't bring this Ronon or Chuck home with you."
Elizabeth shook her head, running the peeler over a particularly stubborn bit of skin. Felt the weight of the next statement. Felt the weight of saying it to her mother. "No, I brought John home."
"You did." Her mother finished the last apple and set down the paring knife she'd been using, before wiping her hands on a nearby towel. "Does this mean something?"
Elizabeth opened her mouth to reply just as the back door banged hard against the doorstop ushering in a blast of cold air and her baby brother; complete with a bright orange parka and the absolutely ugliest green hat known to man. And considering the Pegasus galaxy's penchant for weird hats, Elizabeth felt her opinion carried more than a little weight.
Happy as a puppy, he bounded over and gave her a warm hug. He reminded her, weirdly, of Chuck. Only Chuck had never actually pounced on her. Yet. It was all she could do to keep her hands up and not stab Jason with her peeler.
"Lizzie! You made it!"
"Call me that again this week, and I'm gonna call you 'Puter' for the rest of the year. And I'll explain why to everyone."
Drawing back, he laughed and kissed her hair before giving her another long squeeze. "Can't have that now, can we? So, Elizabeth, stand up and let me see you. God, you've gotten old."
The punch to his shoulder made him grunt and wince, but he stayed on his feet. "But I'm still mean."
"Apparently. Jeez, you sure are eating your Wheaties out there. But seriously, sis, you look awesome for someone who's about to hit forty rather hard. Ow, dammit!"
“Elizabeth, stop hitting your brother.”
Jason stuck his tongue out at her. “Yeah, stop picking on your baby brother! It’s only been five minutes.”
“Jason, stop baiting your sister. Otherwise, no pie.”
Feeling all of twelve, Elizabeth beamed and stuck her tongue out at him. Which quickly degraded into a tickle fight that only ended with a – manly, John pointed out later – screech from the living room.
“You’re THAT Andrew Weir!?”
And because she and her mother and brother really were that nosy, a hasty retreat was beaten towards the screeching. They found John and Andrew standing near her father's football shrine. John was switching between staring in awe at Andrew's framed jersey and the man himself. Elizabeth bit her tongue and tried not to giggle.
She'd forgotten about that.
"What's going on?" Her mother whispered at her.
"Yeah, why's that guy staring at Dad like he hung the moon?"
Elizabeth's smile was wide. "John's... a bit of a classic football fan."
Which was a bit of an understatement and John's awed expression was illustrating that point rather well. He was currently pointing at her father's team plaque. “You were on the team during the 64 through 66 championship run!”
"Well, I only ran in two games...”
“Over three hundred yards! You..! Do you still have your trophy? Or any old game reels?” John looked like Christmas, Easter, and his birthday had all come early. Her father looked exactly the same. After all, this was the same man who’d assigned her to write out the 1965 game books from watching the game reels; an exercise in observation he’d called it.
“Well.” Her mother’s voice was in her ear, warm and highly amused. “Looks like your father’s found a friend.”
Elizabeth hummed. “Looks like.”
"Oh, god." Jason glared at her. "You know he's going to be insufferable at dinner, right?"
"Which won't be ready before we need to leave if we don't finish what we were doing. Let's leave them alone." Her mother put a firm hand on her shoulder and gave a slight push back towards the kitchen.
"Optimus Prime IS SO a girl!"
"But he's a guy! He sounds like a guy!"
"That's a fall..." Two bright green eyes turned and stared up at John from beneath a curly mop of brown hair. It took a rather lot to not laugh at the expression on his face, but Elizabeth managed to persevere. "John, what's the 'fall' word that means wrong?"
The little girl turned back to glare at her brother. "FALLACY. Just because Optimus Prime sounds like a boy, doesn't mean she is one. Ms. Kirkpatrick looks like a boy, but she isn't one."
"Maddy, stop fighting with your brother at the table."
"But, Mom!" This came from two directions, and this time, Elizabeth couldn't stop the laugh. Neither could anyone else, except Allison, the children's mother and her brother George's wife.
"Ah-ah! Keep this up, and we won't be going to the nativity play tonight."
"We'll be good, mom!"
Still chuckling, Elizabeth glanced over at her brother George. He, Allison, Maddy, and Joey had arrived just before dinner, storming the house like a herd of raucous marines. After being thoroughly hugged for the third time that day, everyone had moved into the kitchen for pre-dinner chatting and general catching up.
It had been a shock to see her niece and nephew in person. The last time she'd spent any real quality time with them had been two years previous, with Joey six and Maddy four. More of a shock was how easily John had gotten along with them. He and her father had been installed at the kitchen table, still gossiping about something football-related when Maddy had walked up to John and point-blank demanded his identity, relationship to Elizabeth, and financial security.
That last one had earned George a cuff on the shoulder from Allison, and caused Jason to choke on a carrot. Luckily, Elizabeth had just finished swallowing some water, otherwise someone would have gotten sprayed.
Ten minutes later, Joey, Maddy, John, and her father were engaged in a rather spirited debate about the merits of Toon Disney versus Cartoon Network. By the time everyone had settled at the dining room table, they'd moved on to extolling the merits of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. She'd actually been able to participate in that one. John had been rather adamant that she watch a few episodes. Apparently, Nergal reminded him of Zelenka, and he needed a 'second opinion'.
"So, are you guys looking forward to tonight's performance?" Jason, seated next to her, raised an eyebrow at Joey. "Your mom says you've been practicing for weeks."
Joey beamed. "Yeah! Mrs. Johnson says that my part's real important. Because the song is about Mary and Jesus and it fits the moment. Or something. At least, that's what she says. I just think the song's pretty."
"What are you singing?"
"He's singing 'Silent Night'. But I'm going to be an angel! I get to wear wings and a halo that's made of tinsel, and I'm the last one to walk up, so I have to make sure that everyone's in the right spot!" Maddy took a second to cram part of her roll in her mouth. "An-"
"Madeline." Allison didn't even look up. Elizabeth shook her head. It was like sitting through a normal Tuesday meeting in the briefing room, having to deal with a wound-up John and Rodney. She'd always told people her job was like riding herd on a bunch of over-enthusiastic six-year-olds, but she never thought she'd get presented empirical proof.
"AND," Maddy shot her mother a Look. "I get to sing 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' and my doll is the baby Jesus!"
"You only get to sing one verse though, and with Jessie and Leyla! I get to sing by myself."
"Kids, you're both going to be great and you both have important roles. Now eat your food, so we can get a move on." Both children quailed under their grandmother's intense stare, and both went back to eating.
"Okay, that was just freaky."
Elizabeth blinked and eyed John. He was sitting next to her, and had leaned over to mumble at her. "Where did you think I learned most of my management style, college?"
"So, Jason, are you going to be able to make it tonight?"
Elizabeth's younger brother glanced up from where he was systematically destroying his mashed potatoes and turkey mashup. As far as she knew, he'd been doing that with his food since he went on solids. It was disgusting to watch, but he seemed to like it.
"Mmm, no. Sorry, kids." He turned an apologetic eye on his newly pouting niece and nephew. "I told you it wasn't likely."
"Soup kitchen again?" Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at him. He hmm'd and nodded before shoving another spoonful in his mouth.
"Yeah. But I managed to switch off Christmas Eve for tonight, so I shall be here with bells on."
"Please don't mean literally."
That earned her a pulled face. "Just because some of us have had a bad experience with bells of all sizes, doesn't me all of us do. Lizzie."
John stared. "You had a bad experience with bells? How can you have a bad experience with bells?"
"I just did."
"You know that's not going to cut it."
"Puter, you are SO dead if you even open your mouth right now."
"You should ask her about glow sticks!" George put in from the other end of the table.
"No one is going to ask me about glow sticks!"
"Oh, no, I think I'm definitely going to be asking about the glow sticks." John's amusement was palpable despite the level twelve glare she sent his way. The laughter from the entire table was loud and warm, and even as riled up as she was, it felt good. This was her family.
The strangest thing about that statement was how true it felt. And then she was laughing too.
"Come on, everyone! Plates to the kitchen for scraping and stacking!" Her mother's voice sounded over the table and laughter. "We have places to go. Andrew, stop sneaking the extra meatloaf, it'll be in the fridge when you get back."
As one, the group broke up. Maddy and Joey sped on ahead with their plates and silverware precariously balanced; everyone else trailed behind. Deciding that she didn't want to get stuck in the rush, Elizabeth stayed seated, watching as John and her father put their heads together, each carrying their own dishes and a serving bowl of some kind.
After they disappeared through the door into the kitchen, she felt her mother's hand brush her shoulder.
"Yeah, Mom?" She couldn’t help but smile at the words. They felt good on her tongue.
"Oh, honey. He's just fine." And then her mother was kissing her hair and back to yelling at Jason to stack the dishes correctly and get a move on.
Damn woman. Always knew what needed to be said. And now she needed another good cry. Too bad she hadn't been able to hit a Walgreen's yet.
Sniffling a little, Elizabeth stood, picked up her dishes, and followed.
They were late. Kind of. They were in their seats before the curtain went up, but they ended up sitting in nearly the last row, behind a family of white-blond people and their ten children. Two minutes after sitting down, John and her father were in a face-making contest with three of the younger children. Elizabeth just rolled her eyes and skimmed the program.
It was an amateur job, but the smiling cartoon angel on the front was adorable, so Elizabeth let it go. It was just a church children's program flier. And there were Maddy and Joey's names. Sure enough, Maddy was angel #3, and Joey was listed as a soloist about half-way through.
"You know, Teyla would probably love this." John, momentarily finished with face making, was leaning into her. "All these kids. Plus, there's punch in the lobby. I saw them setting up the bowl."
"Yes," Elizabeth shot him a glance. "Because Teyla is all about fruit punch."
"Okay, that's more Ronon than Teyla. Still, I think she'd love all the decorations." A little girl that John had just been teasing took that moment to jump on her chair and send him a rather large and long raspberry. He returned it.
"That's mature there, Colonel."
"Well, that's me. Prime example of maturity, right here! They even let me wander off by myself sometimes."
"Mmm-hmm. That's why I have to have Major Lorne go save you on a regular basis..."
"Hey, now, I'll have you know that young Evan likes a walkabout now and again."
"Walkabout?" Elizabeth shot him an odd look as the lights went down and the older woman at the piano played an opening scale. She lowered her voice to a whisper. "You are aware that it's not his job to save you guys, right?"
John shrugged and shot her an amused smirk before quietly replying. "No, it's his job to make sure you don't get blown up."
"Uh-huh." She raised her eyebrow and leaned in so he could hear her over the group of children enthusiastically working their way through "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" on stage. "I think the official briefing count on rescues for you is seventeen."
He gave a soft groan. "I can't believe they brought that up."
"Why are you surprised? These are the same people who took me through an hour-long discussion on my decision to phase out toilet paper over Bamsa leaves."
"Well, they do sound weird... on paper."
"But they're renewable! And no one complained. Well, except Rodney."
"And he doesn't count because the only thing he's never complained about is the color of his furniture, and that's because he honestly doesn't care. Oh, here comes Maddy!"
She, John, her parents, and George and Allison craned their heads around the blond family and waved as Maddy and her angel crew went by. As indicated, Maddy brought up the rear, her sparkly wings and halo shedding on the deep red carpet of the aisle. She looked adorable; an image only magnified when the group made it up to the front of the church and Maddy - apparently unhappy with the standing arrangement - glared, pointed, and quietly harangued the shepherds onto the next highest stair.
The beatific smile she sent the crowd when all the angels were in place was stunning. Elizabeth made a quick grab for her camera.
"Oh, yeah, she's your niece."
Elizabeth snorted and zoomed in on Maddy's face. "Just because I happen to like things done in a correct way..."
"Are you ever going to let that whole virus thing go?"
"I'll take that as a no."
She just smirked and took another few pictures.
The program wended its way through a few shaky solos, enthusiastic choir numbers, and adorably memorized speeches about Mary and Joseph’s trip to Nazareth. This was capped by one of the boys suddenly deciding that it was icky to sleep in a barn and “Wouldn’t there be fleas and wood ticks? Couldn’t they have gone to the hospital?” This was, of course, asked at top volume. Elizabeth was glad her camera had a ‘video’ feature.
The pastor, an older man who bore more than a passing resemblance to Friar Tuck, just laughed and told the boy that “They were probably full too.”
And then there was the bit with the sheep.
“Why is there a lion in the nativity play?”
“I don’t think he’s supposed to be a lion. I think he’s supposed to be a sheep.”
“And the roaring?”
“I think the kid just likes to roar.”
It was then her father finally leaned over and put a hand on her shoulder. "Will you two pipe down? Joey's song is up next, and I had to listen to you three sing badly and out of key at all of these when you were little. It's about time I got to listen to someone make up for it."
"Love you too, Dad."
Next to her, John started to snigger. She joined him. It had been, literally, years since her father had reprimanded her in public.
"CHILDREN." Her mother hissed at them and glared, rather pointedly. Exchanging a quick glance with John, she slumped down in her seat.
On stage, Joey opened his mouth, and everything got quiet.
"Well. That was interesting."
"What, before or after my mother chewed us out for talking?"
They were curled up, with cocoa on her parents’ porch. George, Allison and the kids had parted ways with them at the church. After several rounds of praise heaped on Joey for his solo and more than a few claps on the back for Maddy and her brilliance in angel-arrangement, Elizabeth, John, Andrew, and Karen had piled back in the SUV for the trip back to the Weir house.
When they'd arrived, Andrew had muttered something about 'that damned TiVo' and wandered off. Karen had waved them goodnight, warned them - again - about the knob in the bathroom and, presumably, taken herself off to bed.
Two or three eyebrow raises, a teakettle of hot water, and a few packets of instant-cocoa later, here they were. The night was cold, but clear, and with the light of the moon reflecting off the snow, it was actually quite pretty.
"All of it."
She grinned into the dregs of her mug. "You're just saying that because Maddy gave you half of her fudge."
John laughed and set his mug on the porch before stretching his feet out and giving the swing seat a slight push. "Nah. It's been... a really long time since I've been to something like that. The last time was probably my baby cousin's and he's in his late twenties at this point. At least, I think so."
She hmm'd and let herself absorb the movement of the swing and John's quiet tone. It was the first time he'd mentioned his family, in any way, to her. She knew some of the details. She'd read his record and his background check less than an hour after meeting him. She knew his mother and aunt were dead and that his emergency contact was an ex-wife and that it hadn't been updated since before the listed divorce date.
But this was the first time he'd said anything about a family to her at all. It was also the first time she remembered him giving family information to anyone. And she and Teyla talked. A lot.
"My family was glad you came. Maddy and Joey especially. But you really impressed my brothers and parents. You didn't have to come, but you did." She smiled up at him.
He nodded, eyes and face serious. He took her now-empty mug away and set it next to his. "So my quick and violent trip into a snowbank is postponed then?"
"Mmm. As is my short-sheeting adventure."
"You can always knock them over in the after-Christmas-Weir-Bowl and then we'd have to plan pranks for retaliation or something."
He blinked. "The what?"
"The after-Christmas-Weir-Bowl. Dad usually drags us out for a game of tag football in the back yard."
"That is... really badly named."
"Huh, that's... entirely in keeping with what I've observed of your family so far."
“Despite a tendency towards evil, we Weirs are pretty freakishly mainsteam.”
“I caught that.” John paused. “Thank you, by the way. For inviting me.”
Her smile was warm and completely sincere. “I’m glad you came.”
“It beats the alternative. By a really wide margin.” He tweaked her nose and grinned, abruptly shifting the tone. “After all, I got free fudge.”
She laughed, but let the conversation drift into passing. It felt right to be quiet now.
Elizabeth pulled the sleeves of her sweater over her hands and wrapped her arms around her legs. The winter air, while not as cold if she’d been further from the house, was still biting here on the porch. Almost unconsciously, John reached over and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, drawing her into his side.
Her smile was soft and feminine, and as she glanced up, his face was very, very close to her own.
“Why did you say yes, John? Trek all the way to Michigan with me to spend a holiday with my family?”
Her question was quiet in the dark of the evening. She’d asked it before – twice just that day – but this time seemed different. It felt different. And because John could sometimes be a keen observer, he answered. Finally.
“Because you asked.”
Warmth flooded her. Not heat or fire or anything specifically lust-related, but warmth. True, comfortable peace, and it had been a very long time since she’d felt anything remotely similar. Her wonder and slight sorrow at the exact length of time totally couldn’t stop the absolutely stupidly happy grin that exploded on her face.
He’d come because she’d asked. Damn if it weren’t that simple. And probably the most romantic thing anyone had ever said to her. Ever.
“I’m glad.” And then she was kissing him. Just like that. Her arms wrapping tightly around his neck, legs dropping to the porch, kissing.
When she finally pulled away, there he was. This had been a really good idea.
"So, about those glow sticks..."
Okay, maybe not.