Rodney McKay didn't do birthdays. This was, he felt, a very sensible thing that had saved him a lot of time and money over the years, and he could thank his parents for it. The McKays considered birthdays a frivolous waste of time, and never hesitated to remind their children that money spent on gifts was better spent on useful things, like tuition to the private schools that they couldn't quite afford, but insisted upon anyway, for both of their children.
When Rodney and Jeannie were younger, they'd sometimes slip each other little gifts anyway. The older he got and the more he thought about it, the more Rodney came to the conclusion that his parents were right -- birthdays were frivolous and silly, and he couldn't figure out why he'd bothered putting aside chocolate cupcakes and little trinkets for Jeannie, couldn't figure out why unwrapping a snarled wad of yarn that his 7-year-old sister claimed was a pencil topper should make him feel warm and gooey inside. He didn't trust warm gooey feelings; they tended not to end well.
Jeannie kept giving him small packages long after he stopped giving her anything.
Rodney celebrated, or, as the case may be, didn't celebrate, his 21st birthday shortly after receiving his first PhD. Sneering at lesser minds who might use the occasion as an excuse to behave like boors, he instead spent the evening studying. Jeannie sent a cute card and a gift certificate that she'd either wheedled out of their parents or saved up from her after-school job to buy. Feeling vaguely guilty, Rodney made a mental note to bend to convention and send her something the next time her birthday rolled around. Except he couldn't really remember when her birthday was, and what was he supposed to do, call and ask? He didn't think of it again.
He turned thirty in a cramped apartment right before getting his big break doing contract work for the Air Force -- although he didn't realize it until a month later when he was filling out reams of security forms for the U.S. government and oh, hey, thirty, cool. Jeannie had long since stopped sending cards, of course. She had to grow up and stop being a sentimental fool eventually, after all.
By the time his fortieth birthday rolled around, he hadn't thought about birthdays at all in years -- at least not his own; it was sort of hard to avoid in Atlantis, where everyone lived in everyone else's pocket and someone was always stringing up confetti around the labs for some stupid reason. And, okay, he did scribble an offhand "R. McKay" onto the cards when they went around, because otherwise Radek glared at him and Miko sniveled. And maybe he'd thrown a few bucks into the envelope the last time the lab took up a collection to buy Radek a collection of racing pigeon DVDs the next time someone was on leave back on Earth, because, really, money, like it was doing him any good in another galaxy anyway. And, fine, yes, the last time he went back to Earth on leave he'd rolled his eyes but accepted from Coleman the Top Secret, Do Not Show This To Anyone list of things to buy for upcoming events of a frivolous nature in the lab. But this did not, he thought gloomily as he stood in the party aisle at Wal-Mart staring at bags of balloons, mean that he was celebrating anything. It was just the path of least resistance, because while it wasn't as if he cared about his minions' happiness, they got more work done when they weren't sulking and whining all the time.
So a few weeks later, when everyone got even more secretive and annoying than usual, he chalked it up to ... well, he didn't know what to chalk it up to, really, unless Keller was right and every woman on Atlantis did go through PMS at the same time (she'd once started to explain synchronized cycles to him, at which point he'd screamed "Computer emergency! Very important! Got to go!" and fled the infirmary at top speed). And somehow they'd infected the men. Hey, it was the Pegasus Galaxy, it could happen! But it wasn't as if they were fighting with each other; it's just that everyone seemed to be clustered into little knots, and when they saw him coming, they giggled and fled.
This wasn't hugely different from their usual behavior, minus the giggling, but even his team was starting to engage in this sort of behavior. He'd seen John and Teyla with their heads together in the cafeteria, whispering and darting glances in his direction, but by the time he made it over there with his tray, John had vanished and Teyla immediately started telling him all about Torren's newfound ability to roll over by himself, until most of the important parts of Rodney's brain had liquified and he could no longer remember what he'd wanted to ask her.
On the way back to his quarters, he ran into Simpson -- almost literally; she was toting a giant bag of ... what in the world was that bag full of, anyway? well, something colorful that sprinkled all over the floor when she nearly collided with him due to her inability to see over the top of it. She babbled and stammered and for a moment he thought she seemed to be trying to hide it behind her back, which was impossible, of course, since it was almost as big as she was.
Some people clearly didn't have enough work to do.
She scurried off down the corridor, leaving a trail of confetti, and Rodney finally tumbled to what the hell was going on: some poor sap was having yet another "surprise" birthday party. Yeah, as if the "lucky" recipient could possibly fail to notice all the supposedly secret preparations going on around him; Rodney knew that he wasn't always the most observant person (too busy with important things, thank you very much) but if he'd caught on, obviously the target of the whole thing couldn't possibly be in the dark either. Well, hopefully they'd all clean up after themselves and would have the common sense not to hold their frivolous waste of time during work hours.
He turned the corner to his quarters and stopped. John was bent over his door controls, doing something to them. Really, did the man's practical jokes ever quit?
"What are you doing?"
John jumped and whacked his elbow on the wall. "Ow! Uh, nothing."
"Right," Rodney said, eyeing his door controls warily for signs of tampering, suspicious wires or anything else. Nothing looked out of place, which could just mean that John had been re-locking it after being inside -- and oh god, that couldn't be good, especially since John was radiating cheerful innocence that had to mean he was up to no good.
"Had dinner yet?" John asked brightly. "C'mon, let's get something to eat," and grabbed him by the elbow.
"I just ate."
"Oh. Well. Have I showed you the new games the Marines brought back from Earth?"
And with that, Rodney, squeaking and flailing indignantly, was towed away from his quarters where he'd had every intention of spending a relaxing evening catching up on all of his many vitally important projects and simulations without having a bunch of idiots pestering him all the time.
Instead he got to kick John's ass at a brainless game with some kind of suitably testosterone-laden name, which was, okay, kind of fun. After a few rounds, someone hailed John on the radio; he leaned away from Rodney, cupping his hand around his ear. "Yeah? Okay. Be right there."
"Emergency?" Rodney asked, looking wistfully at the frozen computer screen.
"Not major, but, um, a developing situation I'd better take care of." John folded up the computer, laden with tons of brand-new gaming software from Earth, then paused and shoved it at Rodney. "Here, you may as well hang onto this. Not like I'm gonna get a chance to play any more tonight anyway."
They strolled back to Rodney's quarters together; the Marines' barracks were generally in that direction anyway, which was where Rodney presumed that John was going. "By the way," he said, stepping over some of Simpson's confetti, "better steer clear of the labs for a while."
"Oh really? Why's that?"
"Some unlucky sod's having a birthday," Rodney said, kicking more confetti out of the way.
"No kidding?" John said, blank-faced. "Seems like someone's always having a birthday around here."
"Yeah, tell me about it. It's hell on productivity, I can tell you --" About to reach for his door controls, he paused, remembering that John had been last seen tampering with them. He jerked his hand back. "You do it."
John rolled his eyes and dutifully reached for the controls. "Rodney, for god's sake, I did not booby-trap your door."
"Yeah," Rodney said, "right, like I believe that," and then the door opened and John shoved him forward with a hand in the small of his back.
-- into what looked like about half of Atlantis crammed into his quarters along with the entire base's supply of balloons and -- oh god, he thought in dawning horror, doing some hasty mental calculations in the split second or so that it took him to stumble over the threshold; what day was today, anyway?
Crap, he thought woefully as a ton or so of confetti fell on him along with cheerful cries of "Happy birthday!" and "Surprise!" and other things of that nature.
And they were all descending on him now, armed with party hats and noisemakers and other things he'd spent a lifetime avoiding. "Eek," Rodney managed to squeak and tried to retreat, but John, worthless excuse for a friend that he was, just shoved him back into the room, where Ronon wrapped one long arm around him and plunked a party hat on top of his head.
"Happy birthday, McKay," Ronon said cheerfully, grinning down at him.
"I hate all of you," Rodney managed weakly, but then Teyla was hugging him (actually hugging him, which he was pretty sure had never happened before) and, okay, it was impossible to hate Teyla, especially when she had Torren slung on her hip. He decided that he unrepentantly hated Simpson, however, as he tried to pick confetti out of his ears. Then he caught a glimpse of the cake, which was sitting in the middle of his bed on top of a drop cloth that had been spread out beneath it. He'd never seen a cake that big; what had they baked it in, a washtub? It actually looked very edible, as long as one ignored the "Happy 40th, Rodney" lurking on top of it.
"What would you care to do first, Rodney?" Radek asked, nudging him in the direction of the cake. "Blow out candles, or open gifts?"
"First I'm going to fire all of you," Rodney said faintly, his knees folding and depositing him on the edge of the bed -- at least the small portion of bed not taken up with cake. (There was. A cake. On his BED.)
"Candles it is," Radek said, and as Rodney stared, candles began to materialize from various people's pockets -- not the traditional birthday-cake variety, but small light-colored candles of obvious Pegasus manufacture.
"I hope you know, this is against the fire regulations," he heard Woolsey say, somewhere hidden in the press of people crowding around. "And I'm turning a blind eye, but just this once."
John leaned over Rodney with Teyla's firelighter to set the candles ablaze, grinning so hard it looked like his lower jaw was about to drop off. "Hope you've got good lungs, Rodney, because that's a hell of a lot of candles. How old did you say you were? Sixty?"
"You hacked my file," Rodney said accusingly, before realizing that he was surrounded by people who could have easily accessed his personnel files. "And you're all fired," he added, then realized to his absolute horror that he might actually, for some reason, be on the verge of tears.
Radek patted him on the shoulder. "We know, Rodney. Blow out your candles before they set your bed on fire."
An hour or so later, the cake had been devoured, the unexpectedly large heap of presents (including a huge box from Jeannie) had been opened, and people had begun to drift out in twos and threes, until only the team remained. Rodney's quarters were a wreck, adrift in confetti, balloons, wrapping paper and leftover paper plates.
"Uh ..." John said, idly kicking a balloon towards the wall. "We'll clean this up."
"Later." Rodney realized that he really didn't care, and he didn't even care that he hadn't actually managed to accomplish anything useful all evening. He yanked the drop cloth off the bed and let it fall in a heap, then sat down with his shiny new stack of DVDs.
He felt the bed settle as Teyla curled up next to him, with a sleeping Torren in the crook of her body. Picking up the top DVD off the stack, she read, "Iron Man?"
"Oh, that's great," John said, cheerfully. "Uh. That is, I've heard."
"You've been watching my birthday DVDs?"
"Only some of them," John muttered, his ears turning pink. "It was research. Can't give you crappy DVDs."
Rodney narrowed his eyes and glared at him. "Say, how old are you, anyway?"
John opened his mouth, and then quickly shut it. "Don't remember."
"On that mission last year, you told the tribal chieftain you were thirty-eight," Ronon chimed in helpfully.
"Reaaaaallllly," Rodney drawled. John ought to have a fortieth birthday coming up here sometime soon, then.
John blanched. "Don't even think about it, McKay."
"Turnabout is fair play, Colonel." The wheels of his brain had already begun to turn, making plans. Glancing Teyla and Ronon's way, he saw that they were both grinning. He had a feeling that he'd have willing help.
The large box sitting on the floor reminded him that there was someone else to whom he might, maybe, owe about twenty-five years' worth of birthday cards. He still couldn't remember Jeannie's birthday off the top of his head, but he was pretty sure he could find out before the Daedalus made its next trip.