Unfortunately, there was no Teyla, Athosian, or any non-Earther to be found when Ronon entered the Mess Hall. He had apparently missed them, along with the big lunch rush, so the cafeteria was nearly deserted. He grabbed a tray and went through the line, thankful that the strangeness spreading through the halls hadn't reached this room yet. At least he would still be able to eat in peace without being asked strange, vaguely insulting questions.
Even though Ronon had been on Atlantis for several months, he still couldn't break the ingrained habit of immediately identifying the setup of a room, so he was already heading toward a table occupied in the far corner of the Mess. At least if he couldn't find some answers there, he would undoubtedly find a little entertainment.
He dropped into the seat without any flourish or intention to disrupt the other occupant, but still earned an annoyed glower nonetheless. "Do you mind?"
"Nope," he said simply, grabbing the bright red Earth fruit that vaguely tasted like the senyuh fruit from Sateda, and tossed it in the air to see if he could get a reaction from his team and tablemate.
McKay did not disappoint, and visibly flinched and leaned further away from Ronon and his flying fruit. "Okay, are you going to play with your food or eat it?"
"Why wouldn't I eat it? I got it, didn't I?"
"Well, I don't know. It was a rhetorical question."
"Isn't that the kind that doesn't have an answer?"
"Well, yes, that is the meaning of—wait, was that a joke?"
Ronon was careful to keep his expression neutral. He was starting to learn that McKay didn't really need much ammunition to get wound up. Actually, he didn't need much head start when he felt he wanted to talk about something (which was rather often.) Ronon had also learned that McKay also didn't need much in the way of a conversational rope when he was bound and determined to hang himself. Ronon was curious to which direction this encounter was going to lean toward.
"Why aren't you saying anything?" McKay prompted.
Instead of answering immediately, Ronon took a large bite out of his apple, being sure to chew it several times before casually answering. "Wasn't sure if I was supposed to answer the question."
"That one wasn't a rhetorical."
He finally swallowed the bite. "It wasn't?"
"No, it wasn't," McKay answered sourly, fixing him with a suspicious look. "You are messing with me, aren't you? And before you ask—not a rhetorical question."
"I might be," Ronon replied, and bit off another large chunk of fruit.
"Figures," McKay grumbled, pointedly turning back to his rapidly diminishing tray of food. "So other than torturing me, what have you been doing for fun today?"
"Walking the halls."
"Really? That's all that takes to entertain you—"
"Something strange is going on."
The forkful of potatoes paused about halfway on its trip to McKay's mouth. "Strange? Strange how?"
"I saw Lorne."
"Oh, yes, I can see how that might be alarming." McKay rolled his eyes and finished shoveling the potatoes into his mouth.
"He was dressed weird."
"He always dresses weird," McKay said around the mouthful of food, although it sounded more like "'e alfae freshes beerd".
"And he asked me if I had been a good man."
The scientist's brow scrunched up in confusion, clearly not expecting that. After a few tries, he swallowed the mouthful of food, almost whole if the painful wince that followed as any indication. "He what?"
"You heard me."
"Why the hell would he ask you that?"
Ronon just stared back at him nonplussed. "Figured you'd know. He was also wearing a really bad fake beard. Not sure who it was supposed to fool."
"A fake beard? Why would he be wearing a—oh," and the confusion melted away into what could not be mistaken for anything but pure annoyance, "oh, God. It's started."
The annoyance wasn't tinged with any sort of panic or concern, which over the past few months Ronon had learned was a Bad Thing, so whatever 'it' was, it probably wasn't something that needed immediate action. "What's started?"
"Madness?" Ronon echoed.
"The Christmas madness," McKay clarified, and looked at him, as if that was supposed to make perfect sense.
Ronon just stared back, because, no, it didn't.
"You know, Christmas?" McKay waved a hand in the air vaguely. "Peace on Earth, fauna with bioluminescent nostrils, Santa Claus?"
"No, I don't."
"Seriously?" He looked taken aback. "No one warned you about this?"
Maybe Ronon had been hasty in his judgment, because his teammate was clearly vexed over the situation. Apparently the Christmas Madness had some bearing of importance, otherwise it wouldn't be something that he was supposed to have been briefed on.
"What kind of rotten example for a leader in cultural exchange does Sheppard think he is?"
"Oh, for crying out—it's Christmas, the happiest time of year, except that's a lie because it's the most miserable excuse for a holiday, and it only causes pain, agony, and destruction."
Like a lot of what McKay said, Ronon guessed that statement was supposed to make sense to someone. Of course, like a lot of what McKay said, it rarely ever did to him. "Again—what?"
"Okay, this is probably a bad idea. I think you should ask someone else."
"But you're here."
"My presence doesn't necessarily mean that I'm the best person to enlighten you on all of Earth's stupid traditions."
"But you know a lot."
"Yes, I know hard science-type of things, not this soft science, history crap. Dr. Jackson would do a good job at this, he's got like three or four PhDs in the whole cultural exchange thing. Which is just overkill if you ask me. Two PhDs is plenty."
"Who's Dr. Jackson?"
"'Who's Dr. Jackson?' What kind of question is—oh, you haven't met him. Right. Anyway, lacking the overcompensating credentials in stupid holiday traditions, I still think this explanation is completely Sheppard's job. He's the leader. And if he explains it, then Teyla can't blame me when this all goes to hell."
"He's not here."
"So you should tell me," Ronon said simply. "This Christmas sounds dangerous."
"Well, it's not."
"But you said it caused pain."
"Well, it does, but most people tend to ignore that for the bright, shiny wrapped presents."
"Yes, there are presents. I mentioned that, didn't I?"
"No, you mentioned glowing animals."
"That's Rudolph. But it's only his nose that glows."
"The red-nosed reindeer," McKay sighed. "He's one of Santa's lackeys."
"Seriously, I'm not—" at Ronon's look, he just sighed again, "fine, fine. Santa is a big fat guy in a red suit—"
"You mean Lorne?"
"Lorne's not fat."
"Well, he had the suit. And it was stuffed to make him look fatter."
"That's the point. He's supposed to look like Santa."
"Because—I don't know. You should ask him why he would do something so embarrassing."
"I'd rather not."
"Well, I don't blame you."
Ronon took another large bite of his apple, and leveled a stare at his teammate. "So, who's Santa?"
"Well, I'd get there if you'd stop interrupting!" McKay gave him a pointed glare, and cleared his throat. "Right, so Santa Claus, big fat guy in a red suit." At Ronon's nod he continued, "Well, he shows up every year and goes into your house. And you leave him milk and cookies and he's supposed to leave presents for all of the kids. Except when he forgets that you specifically requested a chemistry set that year and instead brings you camping gear, because really, who needs a good grasp in science when you can get eaten alive by mosquitoes?"
"So this Santa guy breaks into people's houses every year?" Ronon prompted in order to cut off the inevitable side train conversation about the horrors of camping. He'd already heard that one enough on overnight missions.
"No, he doesn't break in. Everyone expects him to come. Besides, he uses the chimney."
"The chimney," Ronon repeated disbelievingly. If this guy was anywhere near the girth that Lorne was trying to put on, that would be pretty tough. Unless the chimneys on Earth were larger than the ones Ronon had seen around the Pegasus Galaxy. That was always a possibility.
"Yes," McKay continued on impatiently, "he slides down the chimney and comes in through the fireplace."
"While it's still lit?"
"No—no, that'd be stupid. You don't set a fire if someone's coming down your chimney."
"What if it's cold?"
"You grab an extra blanket and turn up the heater!"
Ronon frowned. That seemed pretty inconvenient. "So you don't freeze?"
"No, you're nice and toasty. Heater. Blankets. Everyone's fine."
"But you still just let this guy break into your homes once a year and trust he doesn't take anything?"
"It's not breaking in," McKay insisted, although his vehemence had died down some.
"Then what is it?"
"It's... it's Santa Claus," Rodney insisted. "He brings kids presents."
"Because he's just merry and generous like that!"
"Sounds suspicious. I wouldn't trust him with my kids."
"You don't have kids."
"Still wouldn't trust anything coming from some guy sneaking in through a chimney. Why doesn't he just use the door?"
"Because the reindeer and sled look too suspicious to the cops when he lands them in the front yard," McKay said bitterly.
Ronon shook his head, fairly sure that response was laced with more sarcasm than was necessary. How the hell was he supposed to know this? And what was so special about this fat guy that made people forget all of their common sense. "What are reindeer?"
"They're a type of animal."
"Oh." Ronon vaguely remembered a mention of deer a few missions ago, when Sheppard had pointed out one of the local animals resembled a 'white tail buck'. Maybe they were related somehow. "And what are they there for?"
"They pull his sled."
"Up onto the roof?"
"No." McKay buried his face in his hands. "He lands on the roof."
"They're flying reindeer."
The animal on the other planet certainly couldn't fly. "Do they have wings?"
"Then how can they fly?"
"Because they're magical flying reindeer," McKay spat. "They can do whatever the hell they want. Include make their noses glow brighter than a fog light at will."
McKay had been right from the start. This was madness. "So, Santa uses his 'magical' reindeer to go around the world."
"Well, when you say it in that tone of voice it sounds ridiculous," McKay muttered. "But yes, that's the general idea."
"So why doesn't anyone just set traps? Sounds like he wouldn't be a hard guy to catch."
"You don't set traps for Santa Claus!"
"Why not? He steals your food."
"Look, it's not stealing. You leave the food out for him."
"So he'll leave presents in return."
"I thought you said he did that because he was generous."
"Well, he's clearly expecting something in return. And he can't even use the front door, keeping you from lighting a fire to keep your family warm. Sounds like there's something wrong with this guy."
"He's Santa Claus," McKay said again, but with a much weaker insistence.
"Are you sure he doesn't take anything?"
"Oh, god," McKay mumbled into his palms, "let's talk about some other part of Christmas. Please."
"Okay." Ronon really wasn't sure he wanted to know any more. Nothing about the whole situation made any bit of sense. He silently crunched on his apple as he tried to retrace the conversation back to the beginning, as well as what he had witnessed in the hallway earlier. "You mentioned presents?"
"Yes," that seemed to brighten McKay's mood some. "It's tradition to give all your friends and families gifts each year."
Okay, that didn't sound so bad. "Why?"
"Well, you see there was this lady and a donkey and a star..."
John looked up to see a bright, red-faced Rodney wrangling Ronon into his office. As he looked between the two, John couldn't help but feel a little concerned. Ronon's face was a mix of deep-rooted concern and even deeper confusion, while Rodney looked like he was close to having a stroke.
"Sheppard," he practically spat the name.
"Rodney," he returned cautiously.
"It's your turn."
"My turn to what?"
Even from across the room, he could see Rodney's eye twitch as he gave a particularly murderous look to the thoroughly confused Satedan. "It's your turn to explain Christmas to Ronon."
Prompt: SGA; Gen; Rodney, anyone else; Soft science: Bonus if you can use the fact that Rodney has 2 PhD's and Jackson has 3 somewhere! Jackson does not have to actually appear, unless you want him to.
Bonus Prompt: SGA; Gen; Rodney, Ronon; Rodney trying to explain Christmas to Ronon...possibly bonding over the food side of things!