She has walked into her office and sat down behind her desk before she notices the small parcel sitting beside her laptop.
Frowning, she leans forward and checks the silver wrapping for a gift tag, or any sort of note. Finding none, her frown deepens and she picks up the present and walks to the door.
“Did you see who brought this in?” she asks the technician on duty.
He shakes his head. “No ma’am.”
She nods, still puzzled, and returns to her desk. Curiosity finally getting the better of her, she gently peels back the tape and unwraps the gift.
Inside is a small wooden object. It is simple in design, but it looks like it is supposed to be a tree.
She smiles, having her suspicions as to who has left this for her, and places the object on the corner of her desk.
She stops in the doorway of her office when she notices two brightly-wrapped items sitting on her desk. Instinctively she looks around her, hoping to catch a glimpse of someone watching or looking guilty. Unfortunately, she finds nothing.
Walking into the office, she picks up one of the new presents and opens it, revealing another wooden ‘ornament’ in much a similar style as the first; but this one is shaped somewhat like a bird.
The opening of the second gift reveals an identical ornament, and she stands them both beside the ‘tree’.
John comes in a few minutes later and finds her focussed on these little wooden additions to her office. He picks up the ‘tree’ and turns it around in his hand.
“Have you figured out what this tree is all about yet?” he asks.
She shakes her head. “Care to tell me?”
He places it back on the desk. “I told you yesterday that I didn’t put it there.”
She raises an eyebrow and watches him walk out of the room; then she stands up the ‘tree’ which John has left lying on its side.
She waves Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard’s team through the ’gate and then goes to her office to finish reading a report McKay has given her about city power consumption.
There on the desk are three packages, shining in Christmas paper.
“Who’s been in here?” she asks the staff in the control room.
Their faces are all blank. “No one, ma’am. Except you.”
She eyes them all with suspicion then turns back to the presents.
Again, they are made of wood, in the same style, and, again, they resemble birds – although they are slightly different to yesterday’s. All three are identical though, and she stands them beside the others.
The secret Santa is really puzzling her now. Her initial reaction had been to suspect John – because it seems like something he would do – but every time she asks him he seems genuinely oblivious. Yet, so does everyone else.
Her suspicion that it is John leaving the gifts seems proven incorrect when four presents arrive, despite his team being still offworld – she supposes that narrows her search by four people really.
She is en route to a meeting when she finds them and therefore has time to either open them or question the control room staff. Given that the latter has never got her anywhere she decides to open them.
Four wooden ornaments – different again from those of the previous two days, but still apparently supposed to resemble some sort of bird.
She places them on the desk with the others and runs out to her briefing.
When five presents are waiting for her in her office she actually wishes that John was leaving them – because then he would be in Atlantis, safe and pleading ignorance, rather than missing on a faraway planet.
She opens the gifts slowly, her mind elsewhere, and methodically stands the five circular ornaments – which look like miniature models of the Stargate – on her desk.
Vaguely she registers that these gifts confirm the pattern she has noticed is being followed, but she gains no pleasure from this conclusion, and she simply stands from her chair, moves to her sofa and lies down.
It is almost midnight by the time she finds the six presents gathered on her desk. She has spent the entire day in the infirmary after Rodney and Ronon returned through the ’gate in the early hours of the morning. Both were covered in blood and dirt, and both had collapsed to the floor as soon as they cleared the event horizon.
Carson had determined neither to have life-threatening injuries, but they were both very weak and were covered in bruises. They had tried to give as much information about John and Teyla’s whereabouts as they could remember, but were both fearful that their captors had gated to another world.
Major Lorne, two teams, and Dr Zelenka have gone to the address Rodney and Ronon had come from, and all she can do is wait for their report.
She moves the presents to one side and opens up her laptop to update her journal with the day’s events.
The search party returns under heavy fire, bringing an unconscious Teyla with them, but bearing no news of John. Dr Zelenka has managed to get the most recent addresses dialled from that planet’s DHD, though, and Major Lorne’s team is just leaving for the address dialled before Rodney dialled Atlantis.
She stands in the ’gate room and watches them leave, wishing them luck, and silently adding a prayer that they will bring him home with them. As the wormhole disengages she turns and heads back to the infirmary, determined she will be there when Teyla wakes up.
Seven more presents sit unopened in her office.
Teyla wakes up in the afternoon and is declared to be in a stable condition, but she is unable to provide any information about where John might be. She says she was separated from him as soon as the two of them were taken from the cell they had shared with Ronon and Rodney.
She sits beside Teyla’s bed and forces a smile, trying to be reassuring, but the younger woman sees straight through it.
“Dr Weir,” Teyla interrupts one of her anxious ramblings. “He always comes back to you… Have faith.”
She frowns at Teyla’s choice of words; the implication that he returns to her; the idea that her faith in him could bring him back.
She sits with her until Teyla falls asleep, and then she goes to her office, starting when she is greeted by the sight of the twenty-one unopened presents that sit on her desk.
She sits down in her chair and reaches for the nearest package. Turning it over in her hands, she leans her head back and closes her eyes. “If these are from you, John, how on Ear- … on Atlantis are you doing this?”
Opening her eyes she peels off the paper to reveal another bird-shaped ornament. She smiles. “Geese.” But as tears well in her eyes, her smile falls. “I don’t need geese, John,” she says, barely above a whisper, before increasing the volume and screaming. “I need you!”
The wooden goose bounces off the glass wall as her head falls into her hands.
She is woken by a commotion in the control room and sweeps from the sofa where she has slept once again.
She is informed that Major Lorne has just sent his IDC and has reported that they have Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard but are under fire. The shield is lowered and a medical team is called to the ’gate room.
She moves to the balcony overlooking the ’gate, but does not have a good enough grasp on her emotions to allow herself to go down there to meet him. She settles for watching them bring him through the ’gate, and the tears of relief begin when she sees that he is conscious.
His eyes meet hers briefly before his legs give way and the medical staff surround him and usher him away.
She moves back into her office and lets the tears stream down her face.
As she dries her eyes, she notices that someone has put the ‘goose’ back on the desk, and that there are nine new presents with the others.
She’ll open them when she knows that he is okay.
She won’t leave his side despite Carson’s pleas for her to get some rest. She insists that she is fine, and she will get plenty of sleep when he is fully recovered, but the Doctor still sends her concerned looks every time he walks by.
She chooses to ignore them.
John wakes up periodically and they share short spurts of conversation, but she isn’t even sure he is aware that he’s speaking. Carson has explained that he is physically exhausted and, judging by the bruises and burns that cover a lot of his body, he must have endured a torture that would also leave his mind just as depleted.
They speak of nothing of importance, and she hasn’t asked him anything about what happened. In truth she doesn’t want to know unless he wants to tell her. All she cares about is that he is alive and returned to them. To her.
Eventually she settles herself into the chair beside his bed to watch him as he sleeps and, as her own eyes slip closed, she briefly wonders once more if it is John who arranged for all the presents to be left in her office; where ten more have joined the others on her desk.
Her eyes flutter open and immediately are met by his, this overrides their urge to close again, and, when he smiles at her, she smiles back, sitting up in the chair. He has not smiled since his return. She hopes this is a sign he is more lucid now.
“Hey,” he says, voice a little croaky.
Her smile widens. “Hey.”
“Have you been there all night?”
‘And all day.’ “Yeah, I guess I have,” she chooses to say, working a crick out of her neck as she speaks.
“You’d be a lot comfier in your bed,” he says.
She just shrugs in response, with a small smile.
He moves on the bed, adjusting his position. “And so would I.”
She raises an eyebrow and smirks, causing him to roll his eyes.
“In my bed, Dr Weir,” he says, his tone one of mock reprimand.
“I didn’t say anything,” she defends herself, the mischievous smile on her face giving her away, though.
He narrows his eyes briefly, all the while smiling, and they share a short silence. This is different. This is more like John. He’s back. She can finally relax.
“So,” he says, eventually. “Did you figure out what that tree was about while I was gone?”
“Well, it was followed by two birds, then three birds, then four birds…” she trails off to see his response.
“Ah, a pattern,” he says, face creased in thought, as if the information is new to him and he is not the brains behind the operation.
She frowns a little, wondering if he is just good at lying or if it really wasn’t his idea. After all, he wasn’t here for most of the presents. “Yes.”
“The twelve days of Christmas,” he states.
“It would seem to be. The gifts did start on the appropriate Earth date.”
He nods. “So, that would mean you should get more presents today?”
And she nods. “Eleven.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
She is just placing the last of the twelve little wooden drums on to the shelf when a familiar voice sounds from the doorway.
“So they’ve been shunned from your desk then?” he says.
She smiles and turns round. “I kinda needed some space on my desk to actually do my work… Seventy-eight little wooden ornaments didn’t leave much room.”
He crosses the room to stand beside her, and they look at the items on the shelf. “Still no idea who they came from?” he asks.
She shakes her head. “Are you sure it wasn’t you?”
“How would I have done that?” he says. “In case you didn’t notice, I’ve been gone for a few days.”
She turns her head to the side to look at him. “I did notice.”
He turns too and his eyes meet hers. “The bruises give it away, huh?” he jokes to alleviate the tense atmosphere.
“The peace and quiet gave it away,” she replies and it’s only half a joke: her tone is soft and serious.
“Missed me, eh?” he teases, his voice as quiet as hers.
“I always do,” she whispers.
Their eyes hold each other’s, and her mind reels through all the possible responses he could offer. Her heart is racing and she has butterflies somersaulting in her stomach as he continues to just stare at her.
Finally unable to take the intensity of the emotions flaring inside her, she is about to speak when he breaks the contact and turns back to the shelf.
“So, whoever it was didn’t leave you any clue at all as to who they are?” he says after clearing his throat.
She shakes her head; partly in response to his question, and partly to clear her head. “Er… no. No note, no card… Nothing.”
He nods slowly and picks up one of the ‘birds’. “They’ve gone to a lot of trouble. You’d think they would want you to know who they were.”
“Yes you would,” she says, moving to her desk in hope that distance will calm her heart.
John follows her across the room, sitting down in front of her desk, still turning the wooden model round in his hand.
“I take it Carson let you out,” she comments, to change the subject. “You haven’t snuck out?”
“Would I?” he asks with a mischievous grin.
She sends him a look that she knows answers that question, and he smiles at her.
“He let me out… My reward for managing to get you to leave to get some rest yesterday.”
“Ah,” she says looking down at whatever report sits on her desk.
“He said you’d been there since the day they brought me back.” He speaks more seriously now, almost concerned.
She shrugs. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
He nods and then those eyes meet hers again. “Well, I am,” he says, “because I’m home now.”
She smiles. “I’m glad to hear it.”
“However, I won’t be okay if I don’t get back to the infirmary,” he smiles as he stands.
“You said he let you – ”
“Relax, boss! He just put a time limit on my freedom,” he grins.
“Ah. Well you had better get back then.”
He nods and puts the bird down, on its side, on the desk. “I’ll see you later.”
She smiles and nods and he leaves the office.
She reaches over to stand up the bird, but something on the base of it catches her eye. Bringing it closer to her confirms that there is a letter engraved into the wood. An ‘R’ in fact.
Frowning, she stands and moves to the shelf where she picks up one of the drums and finds an ‘S’ engraved into it. She smirks a little and turns over a couple more just to make sure they are not just marks in the wood. Finding that most of them do have letters engraved into them, she rearranges them into the order in which they arrived, presuming that they will spell something.
The tree is engraved with an ‘M’ and the two ‘turtle doves’ with an ‘E’ and an ‘R’. When two of the ‘french hens’ have a ‘Y’ and an ‘R’, and the other a ‘C’, she assumes she has the beginnings of ‘Merry Christmas’ and continues to piece together the puzzle.
“John Sheppard?” she asks as she walks into the infirmary and over to his bed.
“You suddenly doubt my identity?” he smirks, moving so he’s sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Was it really necessary to put the ‘Sheppard’ part?”
“Well, you might know other people called John… I believe the science department has five.”
She narrows her eyes. “How did you do it?”
“The Athosians made them for me.”
“And how did you get them into my office?”
“I’m the military commander, a lot of people have to do as I say. No questions asked,” he grins.
“You said it wasn’t you.”
“I said I didn’t put the tree on your desk… I never once said that I didn’t have anything to do with it.”
She laughs and shakes her head, then she captures his eyes. “Why did you do it?”
“Did my note not make that clear?”
Her brow creases. “Well, I got that you were wishing me a merry Christmas, but I don’t understand the part about an oven.”
John frowns. “Oven?”
“Yeah… ‘Merry Christmas Elizabeth!’” she recites. “‘All my oven, low and always.’… I don’t get it.”
It might have been more convincing if she had managed not to smirk as she spoke.
He stands from the bed and steps up to her. “I think you had your eight maids in the wrong order,” he says as she looks up at him, grinning.
“Really?… Well, what was it supposed to say?” she asks with her eyebrow raised.
His lips curl into a smile as he takes a step closer. “You’re cruel, Elizabeth Weir,” he says quietly.
She shakes her head. “No there weren’t the right letters for that.”
He laughs and then he takes a deep breath. “Are you sure you want me to say this?”
Her face straightens and her breathing shakes. “I thought I was…”
Disappointment clouds his eyes and he takes a step backwards. “Okay… I never should have – ”
“… But I’d rather you show me.”
His eyes fly back to her and she smiles nervously.
“Really?” he asks, eyes wide.
She laughs at the expression on his face; it’s like that of a child given permission to buy sweets. She steps forward, closing the gap between them. “Really.”
He looks terrified as he gently takes hold of her hand with one of his while the other cups the side of her face. Her eyes slip closed when he brushes his thumb over her lips seconds before it is replaced by his lips.
It’s a soft and tender first kiss, clearly conveying the same message the letters on the ornaments had, and it lasts only seconds before he pulls his mouth from hers and moves his lips to her ear.
“All my love, now and always,” he whispers then he kisses the skin just below her earlobe before pulling back to look at her.
“That makes more sense,” she smiles, leaning in to capture his lips again.
And in her office sit seventy-eight wooden ornaments, arranged in little groups, the letters engraved on them spelling: “Merry Christmas Elizabeth! All my love, now and always – even when I’m not here – John Sheppard”