Disclaimer: Rodney's drugged speculation on Athosian cultural practices are not meant to indicate actual Athosian practices in canon, merely Rodney's preconceived cultural biases, presumably from watching too much Star Trek.
* * *
"It's my birthday next week," Rodney said to John as they entered the command center together.
"I know." John was past feigning that the information was new or being entertained. Rodney had mentioned it a thousand times in the past few weeks. John was down to knowing the very hour Rodney was born by Earth, Atlantian, and Athosian astrology.
"But!" Rodney continued as John pulled himself up the stairs. "Did you know that the Athosians believe that those born before the harvest are doomed to be eternally barren? Something about unriped grain."
Weir was waiting for them at the top of the stairs. "So, Rodney, I hear it's your birthday."
"Don't start." John rolled his eyes.
Rodney blinked. "What?"
* * *
Two days later, Teyla caught up to John in a corridor. "It is Dr. McKay's birthday."
She seemed taken aback. "I was wondering about your customs."
"Oh. Well. There's usually cake."
"It's a sugary confection, sometimes with chocolate--"
Teyla put her hand on his arm. "I know what cake is. It is appropriate for a birthday? Why?"
"I... don't know. Can you Google it?"
She gave him a dirty look.
He shrugged. "Ask Weir."
* * *
Weir rested her chin on folded fingers. "Thank you for giving me time to prepare, Teyla. I looked up the relevant facts."
"You did not already know the traditions of your birthdays?" Teyla raised an eyebrow.
"They're just not a big deal in our culture... despite Rodney."
Teyla's eyes widened.
Weir cleared her throat. "That doesn't mean the history isn't interesting. See, there was this religious figure... Well before that, there were pagan traditions... Not really pagan, I mean, you're pagan--I mean, you're not pagan--"
"Right." Weir tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Okay. On the longest night of the year, people would celebrate and make offerings, praying for the return of the sun."
"When, ah, Jesus was born... He was a religious leader who..."
"I know who Jesus is."
"You do? No one's been trying to convert you, have they? I mean, it's impolite to--"
Weir exhaled. "So, the Germans--Do you know who the Germans are?"
"The Germans made cakes in the shape of Jesus to celebrate his birth, which happened to fall on the longest night of the year. Now we make cakes to celebrate everyone's birth."
"From the Gods to the leaders of men to men themselves," Teyla mused.
"Thank you, Dr. Weir." Teyla stood. "I have heard there will be a party for Dr. McKay's birth. Do you mind if I involve myself in the preparations?"
"Sure, go ahead."
Teyla nodded and left the office.
Weir had a sudden craving for cake.
* * *
Rodney, summons in hand, arrived at the shipping bay at 1100. At least someone had been thoughtful enough to sleep in. He found the door to the main bay locked and his access revoked. Pounding on the door for a full five minutes seemed fruitless, nobody was answering his calls, so he looked at his summons again. BAY-10-A, not BAY-10. He shook his head and headed for the smaller storage office to the right of the bay.
The door worked. Inside, the room was dark and smoky. He had to wait for his eyes to adjust to the lone candle flickering on a shelf filled with electronics equipment. The room smelled of sweet incense and he sneezed. No soul was in sight.
"This is it?" He waved his arms at the dark, cramped room. "Is this some sort of joke? This is all?"
A figure emerged from behind a metal case. Rodney squinted through the darkness. "Teyla?"
"Rodney." She stepped forward, close enough so he could see her smile. "Happy Birthday."
"Thanks. So, just you and me? And cake?" On the last word, his voice raised in hopeful pitch.
Teyla's smile grew wider. "There will be cake later, Rodney."
"Oh, so I have to earn cake." He folded his arms.
She inclined her head. "Sit."
"On the floor?"
She tapped an office chair someone'd brought from Earth and shoved into a corner near a desk. He sat. Teyla lifted the candle from the shelf, grasping the wax column with her bare hands, and set it in front of him on the desk.
"The Athosians are small in number. Each generation brings promise, but there is always the culling. So when someone reaches a birthday... It means that they have not been culled."
"I know all--" Rodney stopped himself.
"Would you rather I not repeat, then, what you know?" Teyla's eyes gleamed in the candlelight. The corner of her mouth was curved into a smirk.
"Actually, I would rather you did," Rodney said.
Teyla nodded. "I also believe that each Althosian born has the potential to defeat the Wraith. Each birthday celebrated affirms that he has another chance. You, Rodney, have done more to fight the Wraith than I thought I would ever see." She put a hand on his shoulder.
"Me? Hm. I suppose that's true. So what do I do with the candle?"
"You meditate and reflect."
Teyla let go of him to pick up a necklace made of beaded fruits, bark, and incense, which was producing the smell Rodney had noticed upon first entering the room. She placed it around his neck. He sneezed again in defiance.
"I checked with Dr. Beckett. You are not allergic to any of these substances."
"Not even a little."
"You're enjoying this, aren't you," he said. The scent, more powerful now that it was right next to his face, was already making him feel tranquil. "Hey, is this cannabis? Will I have visions? Did you clear this with Elizabeth?"
Teyla laughed. "When you feel you are ready to face the burdens of the next year, you may enter the door at the back of the room. Crossing the threshold is symbolic."
"Well, I guess I can be glad you're not stripping me naked and throwing me into the ocean to hunt my first sea monster."
"This is an honor, not a rite of passage."
She nodded and turned to go.
She looked over her shoulder. Rodney smiled and said, "I never quite imagined I'd meet someone like you."
Teyla paused, and then said, "And the same to you." She bowed her head, and disappeared through the door.
Rodney had intended to only wait a minute or so before going through the door to where he was sure his cake would be waiting. The incense, however, made him lethargic, and he found himself staring at the candle, and quite enjoying the quietness of the dark room. He couldn't remember the last time he'd stopped doing anything in the middle of the day. It should feel wrong and silly, but he just felt a kind of peace.
"Am I high?" His voice seemed far-off to his own ears. "Am I going to see a spirit animal?" The candelight offered no animal vision, so he turned to watch the shadows play across the electronics storage shelves. He saw battlecruisers and puddle jumpers and solar eclipses. When a Wraith ship seemed to pass by a broken laptop and Rodney yelped.
"Hey, Teyla?" He said to empty room. "I think this stuff is wearing off." His stomach growled. "And I've definitely got the munchies."
He stepped through the doorway, blinking at the brightness. The cargo hold was filled with people, and he could smell vanilla. The crowd burst into singing "Happy Birthday," and he wanted to retreat, to hide in the dark little room, where he wouldn't be caught blushing.
When the song had mutated into a fainter, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" with ironic tonal influences from some of the officers, Ronon stepped forward. "You!" He said to Rodney.
Rodney shrank with fear, but Ronon quickly had him in a headlock, and was rubbing his scalp.
"Happy birthday, McKay," Ronon said, letting Rodney go. Rodney toppled sideways, and barely managed to maintain his footing. He watched Ronon make his way to the back of the room, where John was waiting with two beers. Ronon took one and clinked it with John.
John raised his to Rodney.
Rodney scowled. He moved forward, and the crowd parted, revealing Weir standing next to a large, white sheet cake decorated with roses and scrawled with Happy Birthday, Rodney in peach icing. They'd remembered he was allergic to green icing. Weir was holding a large knife. Rodney flashed back to third grade and Mrs. Wesmal looming over him and nearly wet his pants. Weir tilted her head. Rodney took the knife. "How did you?"
"We had it shipped aboard the Daedalus. Weeks before you reminded us about your birthday."
"Cut the cake, Rodney."
He smiled at Weir and then cut through the cake, carefully cutting a square and maneuvering it onto a paper plate. Just like rewiring a Goa'uld cargo ship. All delicacy.
Ronon sniffed the air. "Woo, there. Enjoying yourself on your birthday, Rodney?"
Rodney fingered the necklace. "It's spiritual."
"Oh yeah, I've always met the Gods when I've tried it," Ronon said.
John smirked and took a sip of beer.
"So, are we going to do this for everyone's birthday?"
"I already talked it over with Weir," John said. "On my birthday, I'm going to be on Earth. Watching football."
Rodney glanced at Ronon.
Ronon lifted his beer. "Getting laid, my friend."
"Lovely." Rodney ignored them and carried the cake to Teyla. "Thank you," he said, when she'd taken it. "I... honor you with the first piece."
"You're just making that up, aren't you, Dr. McKay?"
"Well, yes. But, thank you, all the same. When I am single-handedly defeating the Wraith, it is invaluable to have you at my side."
Teyla nodded, a smile tugging at her lips. "I am glad to be there."
"Plus, you can kill me with your bare hands."
"This is true. But you could wipe out the entire continent with your technical expertise."
Rodney watched her pick up the fork. "All a matter of scale, I suppose."
"Scale." Teyla's smile grew wider. "So you are suggesting we are the same, Rodney."
"I... ah... I could only wish."
She took a bite of the cake as he watched. Then she set down the fork and squeezed his arm. He nodded. "Right. I want cake, too." She laughed as he walked back to the table, where Weir had been parceling out slices to the crew.
John wandered over and offered him a beer.
"How was the ceremony?" Weir asked, handing him a piece of cake.
"Oh, it was great. I found inner peace and communed with the shadow spirits and stuff. It was nice of you to wait all that time for me."
Weir raised an eyebrow.
"Rodney," John said.
"You were in there a minute and a half after Teyla came out."
John threw back his head and laughed.
Ronon positively giggled. Rodney didn't understand how a man could do that. He shrugged them off and looked in Teyla's direction. She was smiling at him. No hint of mocking was in her expression. She was proud of him.
He got a chunk of cake onto his fork and lifted to her in toast. She did the same. They ate together, and he smiled as the sugar melted on his tongue, swimming in the saliva that rushed into his mouth to greet it.
Maybe next year, he'd get a spirit animal.