Daniel ran his fingers gently over the silver Chanukiah, with its eight level branches and the one in the middle standing proudly above the others, and smiled wistfully, remembering. The short time he'd spent with the Goldbergs had been one of the happiest times of his childhood. Three months of absolute acceptance and compared with what he had been used to, almost stifling love and affection.
He had been around ten years old at the time, already a veteran of a dozen foster homes in the two years since his parents had been so tragically killed. It should have given him a harder edge, but for some reason it just made him all the more vulnerable.
The local Child Services department in New York never seemed to quite know where to put him. An ideal family would probably have been with parents who were academic and had bright children. Unfortunately they were not the kind who generally joined the list of prospective foster carers. The department was under staffed and over worked. The extra money from the County which was paid to foster parents was a welcome addition to the pockets of the poorer families who often volunteered. Sadly, there were too many who were more than prepared to abuse the system, and the poor children who were deposited into their care. The Goldbergs, however, were that all too rare commodity: A loving, generous family who wanted to share that love with children less fortunate than their own.
They were what was termed a middle-of-the-road Orthodox family, Jacob, Miriam and their own four children, Sam, Rachel, Asher and Max. At any one time, the Goldberg house could be expected to house two or three foster children in addition, but for the three months of Daniel's stay, he was the only one. Not that it mattered. The Goldberg kids treated him like a sibling. They shared their toys and books, included him in their games and exhibited the same generosity of spirit that their parents did. It was a truly joyous time.
Daniel had had no experience of Judaism before he was sent there. Everything was strange and new, but then it seemed to be that way wherever he went. Miriam would gently tell him, for the twentieth time, that the milky plates went in the blue cupboard and the meaty plates in the red cupboard, explaining - again - that in a kosher Jewish home, milk and meat were kept separate. She would lift an admonishing, but kindly finger when he reached to switch on a light on a Friday evening, reminding him that Orthodox Jews don't use electricity during the Sabbath hours, from Friday night to Saturday night. The fact that Daniel was neither Orthodox nor Jewish didn't seem to matter.
He walked to synagogue with Jacob Goldberg and the other boys in the family every Friday night and watched them as they gathered to greet the Sabbath bride. They prayed in a language he could not hope to understand, but he didn't need to understand Hebrew to appreciate the veil of peace and joy which covered the worshippers and himself . Then coming home to the welcoming light of the Sabbath candles, the white tablecloth spread over the family dining table, which for the rest of the week was covered with a chequered cloth, and breathing in the smells of Shabbos. The chicken soup, the sweet noodle pudding warming in the oven and the cholent, the Sabbath casserole which Miriam always joked, with a twinkle in her eye, had a piece of the Sabbath added to it, to give it that special flavour. Daniel suspected it was ginger, but he never let on. The house was warm and cosy, and the family seemed to see the Sabbath as an anchor to keep them safe against the storms which raged in the world outside.
He enjoyed watching Jacob put on his tallit, or prayer shawl, every morning, intoning prayers as he wrapped the leather straps of his tefillin around his head and arm. The young boy had very little clue of exactly what was going on, but knew instinctively that this was a special time. A time for Jacob to make peace with his God and prepare for the day ahead.
He was lucky enough to have been with them for Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. Eight days of celebration as the community remembered the miracle of the oil in the temple. During the time of Antiochus, the original temple in Jerusalem was desecrated, and rising up in rebellion, Judah the Maccabee and his followers drove back the Greeks and re-sanctified the temple. Within the temple, the large seven branched candlestick - the menorah - was always lit, but at the time Judah and his men arrived, there was only enough oil to keep the menorah lit for one more day. To get more of the sacred oil was a four day ride in each direction and by a miracle, the one day's worth of oil lasted the full eight days necessary to obtain more, thus the menorah never went out.
To remember this, every Jewish family had an eight branched candlestick, the Chanukiah, which was lit, one candle at a time, over the festival. It was a particularly good time for children, because after candle lighting, came presents. Never anything expensive, a book or a toy, perhaps a sketch pad, or a little money, commonly called Chanukah gelt, and an obligatory gift from Jewish parents to their offspring on at least one night of the festival. All that and donuts too. Daniel had never been spoiled so much in his life.
The day Daniel left, Jacob had taken the sobbing child to one side. He had picked up the family chanukiah and given it to Daniel, along with a tallit and skullcap of his own.
"I know you're not Jewish, Daniel," he had said, softly, "but for a short while at least you were part of a Jewish family who loved you. I want you to remember that and remember us, wherever you are."
He pointed at the candlestick which stood slightly above the others. "You see this? This is the shamash. With this candle we give light to all the others, to remember the miracle. You be the shamash, Daniel. Give light to the others and show them the way. You have it in you. I know you may not think so, but it's there, trust me. The miracle of Chanukah shows that if you stand up and fight for what you know is right, God will be with you. He will give you the strength to fight whatever life throws in your way. Be true to yourself and never be afraid to be who you are. Remember the meaning of your name, 'God is my judge'. He is the only one you have to answer to in the end."
Daniel had become many things. Archaeologist, linguist, anthropologist, academic, outcast, explorer, husband, but the one thing that seemed to have eluded him was happy. Up to now, he had functioned, he had friends, a good job, fish, but more and more over the months that he'd been with SG1, he had glimpsed happiness. Real happiness, not the kind which one created out of dealing with an impossible situation and making the best of it. The problem was, what or rather who was making him happy. And why.
Jack O'Neill was his best friend, something which had been lacking for much of his life. Jack was his CO and always on his six when they were off-world. They laughed together and on occasion had cried together, but Daniel wanted more. Daniel felt more and wanted to know if Jack felt it too. Some days he would be convinced that Jack loved him, other days the doubt would creep in. Now and then, he started to tell Jack how he felt and before he knew it his cowardice would stop him short. There were no real indications at all that Jack could feel the same way about him, and Daniel had kept his bisexuality quiet at work, as was prudent within a military structure even though he was a civilian.
However, this was the last night of Chanukah. A time of miracles. Perhaps it was time for Daniel to remember what Jacob had told him. "Be true to yourself." It was time for Daniel to muster his courage and tell his best friend that he was in love with him, taking whatever consequences might follow.
The short stop at the store to pick up beer was a welcome distraction from the purpose of Daniel's journey. He got back into the car and held the wheel tightly, with trembling hands, half inclined to turn the vehicle around and high tail it back to his apartment as fast as he could.
"Not this time," he said aloud to the universe at large, and pulled back into the traffic.
Jack stared at the small fir tree nestled in the corner of his living room. It was decked in tinsel, small baubles and candy canes, the small lights twinkling in the half-light. The logs were roaring in the fire and to anyone looking through the window it was a cosy scene. All that was missing was the people. Jack nestled further into the sofa and clutched a cushion tightly to him. He'd thought about having a party, just to stave off the pangs of holiday loneliness, but decided against it. Just now he was better off keeping his melancholy to himself. Besides, when they had all gone, the house would feel even bigger and more empty, the pangs would return and just be more acute. This house didn't need a lot of people anyway, it only needed two. Jack - and Daniel.
He snorted, "Humph. That'll never happen. Get over it O'Neill. This happens every Christmas, it's about time you pulled yourself together. No, Jack. Daniel doesn't love you, at least not the way you want him to. No, Jack. You won't wake up tomorrow morning with your arms wrapped around him and your face in his hair. No, Jack. There are no 'Happy Ever Afters' in this life. You should know that by now. And by the way, Jack, there's Scotch in the kitchen. Why, thank you. I'd completely forgotten. "
He padded mournfully across the living room and up the stairs to the kitchen, hearing a loud knocking just as he passed the front door.
It had begun to snow, and the smiling figure in front of him was covered in a light sprinkling of white.
For once O'Neill was struck dumb, his mouth open in surprise.
"Er, it's, um, kinda cold out here. Can I come in?"
"What? Ah, sure. Yeah. C'mon in, Daniel. Sorry," he beckoned his friend into the warmth of his home.
Jackson shook off the snow and shivered, "I didn't realise it was going to snow. I hope it doesn't get too bad out there tonight. I hate driving in it."
Jack smiled and shook his head, "It's December, Daniel, and we're in Colorado. It ain't gonna rain rose petals. Get by the fire and thaw y'self out. You look frozen." "Thanks, Jack."
"Is the Pope Catholic? Going blue here." came the teeth chattering response.
Jack chuckled as Daniel's voice filtered into the kitchen. Yeah. He guessed it was kind of a stupid question to ask 'Caffeine Boy' over there. They should just set up a drip at the SGC, it would work out so much cheaper. As usual, Jack had some of Daniel's favourite Blue Mountain blend easily to hand. Along with a generous supply of chocolate walnut cookies. Not that he was always expecting Daniel to drop by, but a guy could hope, couldn't he?
Daniel set the chanukiah out on the coffee table and gave it a last polish. The reflection of the twinkling fairy lights glittered on the shining silver, somehow melding the Jewish and Christian festivals of light together. Daniel knew that almost every culture and religion had a festival of light during the dark depressing months of winter and that many of the Christmas rituals and traditions, including the timing, had been born out of the pagan festival of Saturnalia. At the end of the day, though, it didn't really matter which God you personally followed, there were good things to glean from all of them. They all existed to somehow bring light and peace into a dark, troubled world, just as Jack had brought light into Daniel's world, and Daniel hoped that he'd been able to do the same for Jack.
Daniel's favourite sight in the world -- the PG version that is -- Jack O' Neill and a hot, steaming mug of fresh coffee, - and were those chocolate walnut cookies? It just didn't get any better than that, well, maybe a little.
"What's that?" Jack asked as he settled back onto the couch cradling the coffee cup.
Daniel took the candles out of his pocket and began to fill each branch. "It 's a Chanukiah. It's used by Jewish people to celebrate the Festival of Light. The word 'Chanukah' actually means 'dedication'. It commemorates when Judah Ha-Maccabee re-dedicated the temple in Jerusalem after it had been desecrated by the Greeks."
Jack listened intently as Daniel explained the significance of the ritual and the story behind it.
"So, when I left, Jacob gave me this to remind me of them and the time I spent there," he knelt in front of the Chanukiah, eyes fixed on it while he related his memories to Jack, sharing a part of his history, opening the breach in his protective wall just a little more, to let Jack come further in.
"I had no idea they put non-Jewish kids with Jewish families. Especially not the Orthodox ones. Did he have the - y'know the - " Jack twirled his fingers down from his temples to indicate the ringlets that the very Orthodox wear.
Daniel smiled, "No. Jacob didn't have the peyos and Miriam didn't wear a wig. They weren't that strict. All the boys had skullcaps though, including me," he blushed a little.
Jack smiled, his eyes twinkling affectionately, "Get outa here."
Daniel nodded and took out the slightly grubby white knitted skullcap from his trouser pocket. It had some Hebrew letters in blue wool knitted into it.
"What does that say?" Jack asked.
"That's the Hebrew letters for 'Daniel' dag, nun, yod, lamed. It's meant to be read from right to left, like this, see?" he traced his finger around the letters, pointing out each one to Jack.
"My foster sister Rachel knitted it for me, she had kind of a crush, I guess. Had to give her a break, she was only seven," he laughed.
Jack laughed along with him, "Well, I'll be. Wowin' the ladies at the tender age of ten, huh? " he grinned, "And that's supposed to say 'Daniel'?"
Daniel nodded, "No vowels. The vowels are symbols which go underneath the letters."
"Whoa. This must be hard to learn, huh?"
"A little, but I already knew some Arabic and there are a lot of similarities, and I was used to reading things the opposite way round."
Jack chuckled, "Well, I guess that wouldn't be so hard, since that's the way you like to do things half the time!"
Daniel blushed, and Jack only just managed to bite down the urge to hold him close and kiss him senseless. Instead, he coughed, "So, why did you bring this over? It's real nice and all, but what does it have to do with Christmas Eve?"
The younger man paused and looked directly into Jack's eyes, "Because it's the last night of Chanukah. It's a time for miracles and I was hoping for a miracle of my own."
Jack looked puzzled, but his heart was racing, "What? What are you talking about?"
"Can I light them, Jack?"
Daniel put on the skullcap and lit the shamash with trembling hands. 'Be true to yourself and never be afraid to be who you are' Jacob's words tumbled around in his mind as he struggled to remember the blessings. Jack just watched quietly and patiently as he sang them.
"Baruch atah adonai, eloheynu melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav, v 'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Chanukah, Amen. Baruch atah adonai, eloheynu melech ha'olam, she'asah nissim l'avoteynu bayamim ha'heym bazman ha zer. Amen"
His faltering voice became stronger and clearer as the tune helped him to remember, the beautiful song filling the room . Jack was filled with awe. This was a secret part of Daniel's history which as far as Jack knew, he had never shared with anyone else either on SG1 or at the SGC. It made Jack feel special and he didn't think he'd ever seen Daniel look as beautiful as right now, his eyes closed and his face shining in the light of the candles with the Chanukiah and all it's glory reflected in his glasses. Before he could stop himself, Jack reached out and cradled Daniel's face in his hand, then brought it back sharply as the heat from the candleflames burned his arm.
"Jack? Are you okay?"
"Oh, except for the fact that my arm hair is singed and I've probably just fucked up the best friendship I ever had with anybody, just peachy. Thanks for asking," he rubbed his sore arm more as distraction than comfort.
Sudden and happy realisation beamed in Daniel's eyes as he said a silent 'thank you' to whichever God had done this for him. He walked around the coffee table and took Jack's arm.
"Where did it get you?"
"Right there." Jack pointed to a spot on the outer edge of his wrist, and Daniel could swear his lower lip was pouting, just a little. He took Jack's hand and brought the injured spot to his lips. Jack's mouth dropped open as Daniel suckled the burn gently, licking the affected skin, then made a trail of small, delicate kisses all the way up Jack's arm, stopping just short of his shirt sleeve.
Daniel smiled, then kissed Jack softly on the lips. He drew back a little, as if to get permission, then kissed him again, slightly harder this time and Jack opened his mouth to Daniel's gently questing tongue with a quiet moan.
Eventually they drew apart and Jack looked deeply into his eyes. "Hot damn," he whispered. "Merry Christmas, Danny."
"Chag Chanukah sameach, Jack," he replied with a grin, "Guess I got my miracle after all."
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