“I have an idea for the best gift ever,” Rodney said.
Lorne, in the middle of cleaning his sidearm, blinked at him. “Gift for…?”
Lorne thought quickly. “It’s not John’s birthday. The Atlantis Birthday Party isn’t for at least another month.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “You know John. He eschews traditional holidays like no one’s business. Doesn’t mean I can’t give him a gift.”
“True,” Lorne said. “So, what’s the gift?”
Rodney held up an old VHS tape. “I need your help.”
So many people pitched in once Rodney explained what he needed and who it was for. Zelenka helped digitize the tape. Lorne rounded up volunteers to help with the ASL portion of the project, and he spent painstaking hours teaching them and practicing with them. Cadman used her previously undisclosed camera skills to film the ASL portions of the project. Dr. Naoe used his computer wunderkind skills to edit what she filmed into the video.
“Wow,” Kusanagi said, peering over Naoe’s shoulder while he worked. “Who’s the blond kid? He’s pretty.”
“That would be McKay,” Lorne said, and Kusanagi’s eyes went wide. She cast Rodney a horrified look. He couldn’t decide if he should be amused or offended, so he waved off her apology.
“Don’t worry about it. This isn’t about me, it’s about John.” They were all standing around, watching Naoe’s draft of the work. Lorne’s input was the most critical here, to make sure the ASL was timed right with the source video.
Eventually most of the volunteers drifted away, but Rodney, Lorne, and Kusanagi stuck around to watch Naoe put the finishing touches on the project. When it was finished, Naoe burned it onto a DVD and saved a back-up copy on a flash drive just in case.
“There you go.” Naoe cracked his knuckles and stretched his arms over his head, yawning. “Hope Sheppard enjoys it.”
“I think he really will,” Lorne said quietly, and smiled at Rodney.
Rodney left the DVD on John’s laptop during the lunch break the next day, because it was his only chance to deliver it, and his schedule was so full of briefings that if the present didn’t go over well, he had a legitimate excuse to avoid John and think up an apology and hopefully John would have time to cool down.
That didn’t mean Rodney checked his email and IMs obsessively during the day to find out how his gift had been received. With every moment that passed without a response, his anxiety grew, and Zelenka eventually took over the final briefing of the day, telling him to go home and relax, because his tension was making everyone else freak out.
He was in the middle of a long, rambling email to Jeannie about how he’d been so stupid and John probably hated him now when the lock on the door initiated and John appeared. He had a bowl of popcorn in one hand and the DVD in the other.
He was smiling. “Movie night?” he mouthed.
Rodney deleted the draft of the email and nodded. They’d done this dozens of times before, snuggled on Rodney’s bed with one of their laptops between them to have a private movie night, just the two of them. During communal movie nights no one complained about closed-captioning - turning that on was second nature - but not every DVD had it and even though John was good at reading lips, he got bored easily if he didn’t understand a movie.
Rodney made sure the bowl of popcorn was placed just right to ensure the least probability of getting knocked over while John put the DVD into the laptop.
Rodney’s heart was pounding as the DVD player program initiated, but John curled his fingers through Rodney’s and squeezed. Then he settled back against the headboard with a handful of popcorn and watched, like it was any other movie night.
Only it wasn’t. Because this wasn’t just any old movie. It was a recording of the high school production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead that Rodney had been in senior year (his senior year he was fifteen), playing Rosencrantz. Lorne had trained different expedition members - the ones he knew to be his most competent ASL students - to be the interpreters for each role, and he’d spent a long time reading the play and translating the dialogue as best as he could. Rodney had reprised his role as Rosencrantz, which had been exhausting, because he’d had so much dialogue, and Lorne had taken up the role of Guildenstern because he was the only other person who could handle it. But Kusanagi had taken on Gertrude with aplomb, and Zelenka had been delighted to play King Claudius. Teldy, of all people, had consented to play Ophelia (apparently she was a Shakespeare afficionado in her spare time), and Kleinman had played Horatio. Carson took on Fortinbras, Reed had been very willing to tackle Hamlet, and Coughlin tackled The Player. Naoe, Marie, Banks, Chuck, and a host of others had taken on bit parts as necessary, and overall, Rodney had been very pleased at his own genius for coming up with the idea. Right up till the moment he put the DVD on John’s laptop in the lab and fled before someone saw him and told John.
No one knew about the video John had given him, of his teenage self before the accident that took his hearing, so no one knew what had driven Rodney to try to find something of equal value to give to John.
Rodney glanced at John, nervous, every couple of moments, but John was watching the movie, enthralled. He smiled at the jokes, looked thoughtful at all the right moments, and his attention never wavered.
When it was over, John ejected the DVD and put it back in its case, set both it and the laptop aside, and turned to Rodney.
“Well?” Rodney asked, hands moving jerkily. “What did you think? Did we do all right? Was it -”
John leaned in and kissed him, and he had Rodney halfway out of his clothes before Rodney realized John must have liked the gift after all.
Rodney really had thought of the best gift ever.