Rodney growled in frustration as he dropped the spoon again, splattering the cast with oatmeal for the third time. One more reason to hate oatmeal, he thought to himself.
He heard Sheppard clear his throat and glanced over at the next bed to see John holding out his napkin. He took the cloth with a grunt and scrubbed the oatmeal off the cast. "Tell me again why my cast is red," he said as he pushed the bowl away and picked up the juice glass with his left hand.
"It's festive," John replied with an easy smile as he finished his own breakfast.
Rodney snorted and finished the juice. "Next time I break a bone, I want to be awake when Carson fixes it. Blue, green, and now red. Is there something wrong with a plain white cast?"
"Colors are more fun," John told him. "And I didn't pick the other ones." He gave Rodney a serious look. "Let's hope there's not a 'next time' for a while, okay?"
Rodney saw the concern behind the comment and nodded. Two days in Garen's house plus another three in the infirmary and he was more than ready to escape Carson's clutches and get back to work, though he wasn't sure what he was going to do.
He stared down at the cast and his fingers. The cast was bad enough, extending up his arm almost to the elbow. His fingers were the bigger issue. He could finally see the individual joints again as the swelling from the frostbite went down, but it still hurt when he tried to bend them and he didn't trust his grip to pick up anything heavier than an eating utensil. He glanced at the oatmeal splashed on the table in front of him and reconsidered the idea he could even use his right hand to eat.
He tried to flex his fingers and winced as he thought about his other problem. He and John had missed the festival on the mainland. The ridiculous Secret Santa exchange was supposed to be that evening and his project had only been half done before their ill-fated trip to Lurra. He could barely manage to eat oatmeal; he had no idea how he was going to finish his gift in time. He was still thinking about how to finish the work when Carson came over to their corner of the infirmary.
"I have good news," Carson said as he stopped beside Rodney's bed. "I'm releasing both of you this morning."
"Finally," Rodney muttered. Hopefully, he could get back to his lab and finish his gift. He knew no one would blame him if the gift were delayed, but he didn't want to show up empty-handed if he could help it.
Carson pursed his lips but said nothing as he picked up Rodney's right hand. "The blisters are almost gone," he said as he examined each of his fingers. "Your fingers should heal without any scarring or loss of dexterity. You were lucky the frostbite was superficial." He looked up at Rodney. "Are your fingers still feeling numb?"
Rodney shook his head. "No, just stiff."
Carson nodded. "The joints may ache for a few more days. Ibuprofen will help. I'll have some ready for you before you leave. Make sure you take it."
"And don't be pushing yourself, either. You'll do more harm than good if you try to do too much with those fingers. Let Radek and Peter deal with any repairs for the next few days."
Carson turned to John, "And you, Major, are not to be doing anything strenuous for the next few weeks. Give yourself a chance to heal before you go running laps or taking on the Marines or Teyla and her fighting sticks. Normally it would go without saying, but since it's you two, that means no 'gate travel, either."
"Don't worry," John replied with a tight smile. "I've had broken ribs before. Not going to rush things."
"It's part of my job to worry about you lot," Carson replied. "Young Aiden and Teyla will be here soon with some clothes. Once you've changed, you can go." He patted John's leg then walked back to his office.
Rodney watched Beckett walk away and carefully bent his fingers in toward his palm. He winced and dropped his hand to his side with a frustrated sigh.
"What's the problem?" John asked.
Rodney gave him a puzzled look. "Would you like the list alphabetically or in order by biggest problem first?"
John glared at him as he carefully moved to sit on the edge of his bed. "You know what I mean. You've been staring at your hand and making faces ever since you woke up this morning. What's going on? Carson says you're going to be fine."
"It's nothing," Rodney said. He glanced at John, saw he was still waiting for an answer, and sighed. "I didn't get something done before we left and I'm running out of time to get it finished."
"Ahh," John mouthed and gave Rodney a knowing look. "We can put off the gift exchange for a few days, you know. The others won't mind."
"So I can hear Ford make more comments about me acting like a Scrooge? No thanks." He shook his head. "It's almost done," he added when he saw John's frown. "I'll figure something out. Don't cancel the party on my account."
Before Sheppard could say anything else, Ford and Teyla came into the infirmary carrying two small carryalls. Ford dropped one of the bags on John's bed and pulled a DVD from inside his BDUs with a flourish. "Corporal Daley let me borrow this, sir," he said as he held up the DVD. "My cousin loved it."
Rodney shook his head as Ford grinned. He picked up the bag at the end of his bed and went to change. The sooner he was out of the infirmary, the sooner he could figure out how he was going to finish everything in time for the party.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney leant back from the work table and felt several vertebrae crack as he stretched from the hunched position he'd been in for the last several hours. It had taken some creative thinking and a lot more time than it should have, but his gift was finally finished. The long, narrow strip of polished meteorite was held in place by a thin piece of copper hammered flat, then carefully rolled into a flexible wire and worked around the stone in a barber pole spiral from top to bottom. He held up the finished piece and watched the light bounce off the polished copper.
He was rooting through a drawer in his desk for a box when there was a knock on the door to the lab. He quickly dropped the meteorite in the box and unlocked the door as he went back to the work table in search of something to tie the box closed.
"You ready?" John asked as he entered the lab. He frowned slightly as he walked over to the work table. "Still cold?" he asked and tugged one of the sleeves of the orange fleece Rodney wore.
"I'm never going to be warm again," he replied. "I hate being cold."
John smiled slightly. "I think I can agree with you on that one." He glanced at his watch then over at Rodney. "Ford and Teyla went to get drinks and the popcorn from the mess hall. They won't let me carry anything, so I came down here to drag you back up to the conference room, gift or no gift."
Rodney gave John an impatient glare as he slowly worked a piece of wire around the box and tied it into a bow. "Told you I'd get it finished in time," he said and held up the box.
"What? No wrapping paper?" John teased as they left the lab.
Rodney shook his head. "Don't push it, Sheppard. I still say this is something for kids, not adults."
"And yet you were the one worried about getting his gift finished in time. At least pretend to have fun," he said and gave Rodney an odd look.
"What now?" he asked and touched the sensor for the transporter.
"Nothing," John replied. "Come on, we don't want to be late."
"You have got to be kidding," Rodney exclaimed as he walked in the conference room a few minutes later. He turned to John and pointed at the table in the corner. "I thought you told Ford no tree," he said and stared at the small tree decorated with snowflakes cut out of bits of paper. "Are those barrel lights?" he asked, and stepped closer to the tree. He found several small flashlights balanced precariously on various branches.
"Yeah," John said with a smile. "Ford was almost as busy as you this afternoon."
"Where did it come from?" he asked as he set his box next to the other three gifts under the tree and studied the plant.
"Ford talked to Zelenka. It's on loan from the botanists."
Rodney reached out a hand to touch one of the decorations, but John grabbed his hand and pulled it back. "Might not want to do that," he said as he let go. "Ford found out the hard way the tree has thorns."
Rodney bent forward and noticed the long pointed thorns hidden around the leaves. He curled his fingers into his palm, stepped back from the tree, and wandered over to the salvaged jumper bench seat someone had converted into a sofa.
It didn't take Ford and Teyla long to return, balancing popcorn bowls and drinks in their arms. They set the snacks on the table in front of the makeshift sofa and Rodney noticed three of Ford's fingers were sporting bandages. He eyed the tree again with suspicion as John and Teyla joined him on the sofa. Ford pulled up a chair and set the DVD on the end of the table.
"Do we view the movie first or exchange gifts?" Teyla asked once they were settled.
"Presents!" Ford said with a grin and glanced at John.
Rodney shifted uncomfortably on the sofa. The moment he'd been dreading ever since Ford suggested the idea of a Secret Santa had arrived. He reminded himself John, Teyla, and Ford were friends, family even. They wouldn't actively want to hurt or embarrass him. He shrugged when he saw John watching him.
"All right, Lieutenant," John said with one last glance at McKay. "Since this was your idea, you should probably see your gift first."
"Yes, sir," Ford agreed and looked from John to Rodney to Teyla in eager anticipation.
"Who had Aiden?" John asked and looked at Rodney then Teyla.
"I did," Teyla said. She walked over to the tree and picked up a thin narrow package wrapped in a scrap of cloth.
Ford unfolded the cloth and held up the gift. Rodney saw it was a small knife with a leather sheath and a handle made of bone or antler. He remembered the knife as the one Teyla had in her boot when they'd been kidnapped by Rasha.
"It's beautiful," Ford said as he turned the knife over in his hands.
"My father made it for me," Teyla explained. "The handle is made from the antler of a hart. To my people, the antler symbolises harmony with one's surroundings. I hope it will be such a totem for you."
Ford turned the knife over in his hands again. "I … thank you, Teyla." He looked up at her with a smile.
"You are most welcome, Aiden," she replied.
John waited for Ford to set the knife aside then said, "Ford, who did you have?"
Rodney was surprised to see Ford's cheeks flush as he stood and picked up a small envelope from under the tree. "Umm, I had you, sir," He said and handed John the envelope.
John gave Ford a reassuring smile as he took the envelope and tore it open. He looked inside, gave Ford a startled look and dumped a small metal disc into the palm of his hand.
"It was my grandfather's, sir. He got it while serving in Korea. Gave it to me the day I earned my commission."
"What is it?" Teyla asked as she peered around Rodney at the disc in John's hand.
"It's a challenge coin," John replied, holding up the coin for Teyla and Rodney to see. Teyla gave him a puzzled look and he explained. "The idea started in World War I as a way for members of a unit to identify each other. Later, it became a sort of game. Someone would call for everyone to show their coin and if you didn't have yours, you had to buy a round of drinks for everyone else." He studied the coin and glanced over at Ford. "Are you sure you want to part with this?"
Ford nodded. "When my grandfather gave it to me he said he was proud of me and that he was giving the coin to a man who would serve with honor." Ford ducked his head. "I think he would agree I'm giving it to a man who serves with honor," Ford finished and looked John in the eye.
John swallowed. "Thank you, Aiden. It means a lot."
Ford nodded and smiled. "Glad you like it, sir."
John flipped the coin over in his hand a few times then put it in his trouser pocket. "Umm," he stopped and cleared his throat. "Teyla's next."
Rodney twitched where he sat then got up and handed Teyla the box tied with a bit of wire.
"Thank you, Rodney," she said with a smile as she untwisted the wire and opened the box. She stared at the contents of the box for several seconds making Rodney feel uncomfortable.
Maybe he should have told John he needed more time, he thought and watched as Teyla looked over at him, her expression inscrutable.
"It is … beautiful," she finally said and held up the copper and meteorite charm dangling from a length of leather cord. "What is it made from?"
"Umm, the copper is from a bit of Ancient tech. Don't worry," he hurriedly added as Teyla gave him a startled look. "Not that kind of Ancient tech. The stone is from a piece of meteorite I found in Russia a few years ago."
"And you brought this meteorite to the Pegasus galaxy?" she asked as she pulled the cord over her head and settled the charm in the hollow of her throat.
He shrugged and sat back on the sofa between Teyla and John with his arms crossed over his chest. "It was one of the few nice memories from my time there," he admitted.
Teyla stood and faced Rodney. "Thank you, Rodney, for my gift," she said as she bent forward and touched her forehead to his. "I will treasure this piece of your home galaxy, always."
"You're, umm, welcome," he said with a hesitant smile.
"I guess that only leaves you, McKay," John said as he carefully stood, picked up a rectangular box, and handed it to Rodney.
He studied the box from all sides before carefully lifting the hinged top and pulling out a small wooden toy shaped like a pickup truck. "You made this?" he asked as he studied the toy from all angles and spun one of the wheels.
"I did," John replied. "I asked Teyla to talk to Halling and find a piece of wood I could use and I borrowed the tools from Zelenka. I've been working on it when you were asleep. Carson was not thrilled with the idea of wood chips in his infirmary at first, but then I explained what it was for and we figured out a way to minimise the mess. He hid it in his office when you were awake. Finished the detail-work and sanded it this afternoon."
Rodney studied the truck again. The area for the windows was cut out and he could see a tiny steering wheel in front of the carved bench seat. The grill, headlights, and taillights were picked out in fine detail and even the bed of the truck had been hollowed out and the edges for the tailgate were carved in the back just above the square where a license plate would sit.
"Why a pickup truck?" he asked absently, marvelling at this heretofore unknown talent of John's.
"Because," John replied and paused. Rodney picked up the serious tone in Sheppard's voice and looked up at him. "It's more than just a toy. That is my truck. Back on Earth." He draped an arm over Rodney's shoulders and pulled him a little closer. "That is my promise to you that when we make contact with Earth, and I have every confidence we will make contact with Earth again someday, that I meant what I said in the jumper. We will go see Niagara Falls and any place else you want to visit. Got it?" he asked.
Rodney nodded and looked down at the truck again. Maybe Secret Santa wasn't such a childish idea after all, he thought to himself.
"How about the movie?" Ford asked a few minutes later. John nodded, and Ford bounced up, loaded the DVD into the conference room computer, and started the film.
"Out of all the versions of this movie, this is the one someone brought from another galaxy?" Rodney muttered as the splash screen came up on the large conference room screen and the opening credits rolled.
"Are you kidding?" Ford replied with a grin. "This is one of the best ones! It's fun and it has Kermit the Frog."
"There is a frog named Kermit?" Teyla asked.
"You have no idea," Rodney muttered with another glare at Ford. "Someone could have brought the Alastair Sim version, it's a classic. But no, we have A Christmas Carol … with muppets."
"What is a muppet?" Teyla asked as the opening song began.
"That's all on you, Ford," John said with a smile as he sat back, his right arm still resting on Rodney's shoulders.
Ford tried to explain why puppets of various animals interacting with people was considered normal in the film but Rodney could tell Teyla was bemused by the whole thing and probably thought they were all a little crazy as a result.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
"Admit it, you had fun tonight," John said as they stopped outside the door to Rodney's quarters a few hours later.
Rodney reluctantly nodded. "Fine. Yes, it wasn't as bad as I expected it would be. I might even be willing to go through the whole thing again next year."
John smiled and headed toward his room. "I'm going to hold you to that, McKay," he called over his shoulder.
"That was sarcasm, Sheppard," he retorted automatically.
John turned around and gave Rodney a measured look. "No, it wasn't," he said simply.
Rodney stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and grasped the wooden car. He smiled slightly.
"'Night, Rodney," John said easily as he turned and walked away.
Rodney walked into his room and closed the door. He pulled the carved truck out of his jacket pocket and sat on the edge of his bed. He turned the toy over in his hands, thinking about what John had said, what he had promised.
He held the truck for a few more minutes then stood, cleared a spot on the shelf under his diplomas, and set the truck where he would see it any time he entered the room.
As he crawled into bed, he wondered if John would be game for a road trip if they ever got back to Earth. He'd never been on one before. Not with family.