Elizabeth Weir looks at her watch nervously. She tries to convey confidence for everyone who depends on her on this mission far away from home; yet, those closest to her know to read the signs. This is actually a very important occasion, not to mention her pet-project since day one, and the flicker in her eye tells she feels worse than when they all left Earth to face an unknown fate in the first place.
It's Christmas Eve and the Atlantis strike teams are still off-world, serving as busy scouting parties, looking for a fair-sized Christmas tree. With merely three hours to go, it looks like the expedition members might have to make do without a tree after all.
For weeks, while Dr Zelenka and his group of scientists headed teams to provide the most beautiful decorations from all cultures representing Earth, Dr McKay prepared to reroute the ZPM's power right on time in order to properly light everything up without rendering Atlantis utterly defenceless in the process. Between Rodney and Radek, they even came up with a workable solution to have a ton of electric candles made, approved by McKay himself.
At the moment, all those items are securely stacked away in boxes, waiting for the tree which is still to come.
'It will come,' Weir reminds herself for the umpteenth time and can't help but cast another doubtful glance at her watch, showing in an irritatingly unsympathetic manner how time is ticking by.
Dr Beckett and Ronon are busy in the mess hall, preparing drinks for the party.
"This is an old Sateda family tradition," Ronon nods enthusiastically at the physician. "Only those that are kin are allowed to take part in the preparation."
Carson smiles appreciatively and sniffs curiously at the fumes coming from the huge kettle. Trying and failing to cough discreetly, the Scot croaks, "Spicy," at last. "I bet this can fell a raging bull in three seconds flat."
Ronon cocks his eye brow in question, taking a good whiff of the brew as well. "Good stuff." His bright smile is proof enough that he considers the drink perfect.
Along with Halling and eight other Athosians Teyla is decorating the Control and Stargate Rooms festively. She is aware that Elizabeth could use a distraction right now and asks her to help with the finishing touches.
Chuck, who kept watch at the controls all the while, smiles at her reassuringly and Dr Weir leaves with a heavy sigh and her standard "Call me immediately if there's any activity."
Cadman and her girls' poker-club are almost finished with their own top secret mission, sewing the Santa costume for Lt. Stackhouse, who volunteered for the part.
Then Major Lorne radios in. After searching seemingly endlessly, he has found a nice tree about 10 feet high and needs several more people to carry it through the Gate. Chuck refers the good news to Elizabeth, sends a back-up team to help Lorne and his men and starts calling the other teams home.
After a while, team Lorne comes through the Gate carrying an enormous Pegasus-Galaxy-equivalent of Douglas fir with blue-violet tinged needles and they immediately start to get it into an upright position next to the Stargate. Dr Zelenka and his team are already on site, dragging boxes and crates into the Gate Room to decorate the tree in a hurry. Another look at the clock confirms that the party is about to begin in only two hours.
"This is going to be a Christmas miracle in its own right if we get finished on time." Radek adds other choice words in Czech but it doesn't keep him or his team from working furiously on the tree.
While the Atlantis Douglas fir is starting to look like a real Christmas tree, it becomes apparent that McKay isn't done with the power lines yet.
"Rodney, taking your time as usual?" Sheppard asks a bit snidely over the com before he even enters the lab but McKay barely huffs at the good-natured banter.
"Colonel, all will be ready soon enough, provided you stop interrupting me." The scientist's fingers fly over the consoles as Sheppard leans over and watches intensely, rather bored than interested.
"What's blinking there anyway?" John makes a show of trying to press a button for no other purpose than to annoy his friend before his hands get swatted away like an insect.
"Too busy to reply," comes the brisk comment and finally Colonel Sheppard leaves him be. He doesn't want to be the one to keep Rodney from finishing in time.
In the mess hall the tables are already loaded with tons of various sorts of delicious food and awaiting the start of the feast. The youngest members of the military had been in charge of decorating this room and their youthful approach cannot be denied. No one actually has any idea how they managed to make everything look warm and bright with only the help of basic camouflage colours. But then, no one really cares because it looks breath-taking.
The whole crew stationed on Atlantis proceeds to go to their respective quarters after completing their part of the preparations in order to get dressed for the evening. Only Chuck stays alert and on his post. He isn't a faithful man, never has been, and doesn't mind being on duty while everyone else is taking time off.
And then, even if some people thought they would never get ready in time, all gather in the Gate Room, staring at the wonderfully decorated and brilliantly lit Christmas tree. Sheppard shoots a quick glimpse at Rodney, who is currently standing next to the tree. John is certain the man couldn't look any more smug than that if he tried.
Chuck turns off the bright illumination in the room at Dr Weir's nod, casting everything in dim light, evoking a nice feeling of Christmas with the family. As if this was the cue, people start getting themselves drinks, chatting cheerfully with each other and thoroughly enjoying their time together.
And just in this very moment of carefree happiness, there's an off-world activation of the Gate. Everybody freezes where they stand and expect the worst because this had happened too often already in the past. Yet, Chuck doesn't engage the shield, and through comes...
...and through comes Santa!
Stackhouse, who had managed to sneak away secretly through the Gate with Chuck's help while all others were dressing, had simply waited for the opportune moment to have his BIG ENTRANCE...
Everyone laughs out loud, relieved beyond belief. Santa grants them a moment before he delivers a short but nonetheless touching speech of how great it is to have friends and colleagues around to celebrate Christmas with in this special surrounding that is Atlantis. Roaring applause from the other members of the Atlantis mission is his reward and he can't, for the life of him, stop smiling after that.
Then Elizabeth is called to speak as leader of the expedition. Hesitantly she obeys and walks up to Santa, standing right in front of the tree.
"There's only so much I want to tell you." Some people giggle silently and Dr Weir takes the opportunity to breathe deeply before continuing. "We've been through a lot in the past two years, and I cannot even begin to thank you for what you accomplished. All of you! This is by far more than I could ever have imagined. Although today we celebrate Christmas here in the Pegasus Galaxy with our friends, our family even – because that's what we have become –, it's not so much about celebrating Christmas as a Christian holiday, it's much more about celebrating being a family. And that may well be our greatest achievement! Let's raise our glasses to our friends and family. But also to those who are no longer with us and who will be dearly missed forever. Cheers!"
Of course Elizabeth receives standing ovations for her heart-felt speech, and there's not one among them who doesn't think of a loved one they lost along the way as they toast with their drinks.
"One other thing," Weir adds after silence reigns for a long while. "Buffet's ready!"
Chuck raises the shield, effectively cutting their Gate off for now and they all turn to the mess hall, heading for the arranged banquet. And if you look very closely, it's McKay who leads the group, followed by Colonel Sheppard and Dr Zelenka.
By the time the very long and comfortable feast, which of course ended with blue Jell-O, is over, it's already morning and presents-time!
Weeks ago, every member of the expedition had to draw a piece of paper with a random name on it and prepare a little present for this person. That way, everyone would get something on the occasion without blowing their resources entirely.
The expedition members behave like little kids, hurrying to the bright Christmas tree and shifting frantically through the gifts to find the right one with their name tag on it. All around you can see wrapping paper on the floor and hear people calling out in wonder and amazement. But nothing can match John's surprise when he opens the box meant for him and finds a blaster like Ronon's in it! His beaming smile is priceless.
Dr Weir is standing back a little, looking over the scene and feeling proud. 'This really is family,' she thinks and smiles fondly.