Daniel stood in his kitchen, barefoot and wearing only the bottoms of his flannel pajamas. He was indulging in heat, the thermostat up to eighty, and he was extremely comfortable. On the counter in front of him was a cook book, a mug of coffee, and an apricot pastry. Outside, it was snowing lightly, the soft, white puffs dotting his backyard and not melting when they hit the ground. It wouldn't be long before the grass was blanketed with the stuff. And it didn't bother him a bit, not as long as he was inside the toasty domain he called home.
He scanned the book while reaching over and picking up the pastry. He took a big bite, chewed, and nodded. This recipe might work. He swallowed, took a gulp of coffee and started to chew on his lower lip instead of more pastry. It had been foolish to fall for Jack's stupid dare. Foolish, foolish, foolish. He stepped back and banged his head on the edge of the counter - three times. Not hard, because after all, he wasn't that foolish.
But really, he could do this. One Christmas-decorated cream cake. Green. A green Christmas-decorated cream cake. He read, and re-read, the recipe. Okay, now how many times had he assisted in the saving of Earth? Surely he could handle one little cake for General Hammond's special Christmas party. The man would only be here for three days, and was first hosting a "drop by" cocktail party from six to eight for the SGC, followed by a dinner party for his "family" which included SG-1 and Jack. He was even going so far as to dress up as Santa. Now if George Hammond, head of Homeworld Security, could do all of that for his people, all right, ex people, then damn it, Daniel Jackson could make a fucking green cream cake for the occasion. He looked up at the clock. Cool, he had nine hours to make this happen. What more could he ask for, anyway?
One green, Christmas-decorated cream cake coming up.
Jack shut off the alarm with a hand slam and rolled over onto his back. He yawned, scratched his belly and finally sat up. He was actually not going to the mountain today, trusting in the newly promoted Colonel Davis, his new 2IC, to keep things running. Paul had been in his new position for over three weeks now and Jack was in heaven. The man was a master of organization, and since Jack had been wise enough to steal him from the Pentagon, he'd actually had days where he was home at a decent hour. Not that he had anything at home to come - home - to, but still. On the other hand, there had been several enjoyable evenings with Daniel, which was nothing to sneeze at.
Jack threw off the covers and got out of bed. He was scheduled to have breakfast with General - sorry, George -- this morning, and he smiled as he walked into the bathroom. Gosh, just two generals sitting down to bacon and eggs. Who'd have thunk that one of them would be Jack O'Neill?
"That's perfect, Sam," Pete said as he watched her pipe the salmon spread into the small puff pastry bowls.
She looked up from her task and grinned. "You know, this is actually fun."
"Better than building a naquada generator or working on your bike?" he teased as he filled the hollowed out tomato with the chicken-walnut salad.
"I won't say it beats working on my bike, but it's coming in a close second." She put down the piping bag and pinched Pete's cheek. "You're turning out to be a real gem, though. Who knew you were such a wizard in the kitchen?"
"I am a jewel," he said as he put the now empty bowl into the sink. "And I can't wait to see General Hammond as Santa Claus."
Sam laughed lightly as she piped the last of the spread into the final pastry bowl. "I'm with you on that. You know what I can't believe? A real Christmas."
"Care to explain?"
She licked her fingers and tossed the pastry bag into the trash. Admiring her handiwork, she said, "Well, it's not that we haven't been on Earth for Christmas in the past, although there were several when we weren't, but somehow, the holiday was always a real rush job. We were either just returning from a mission, usually in worse condition than when we'd left, or we rushing around because we'd be going off world the day after. Shopping was a real headache and wrapping? Can we say, 'Yes, please wrap it for me'?"
"Then this really is a departure."
She nodded delightedly as she wrapped the tray of goodies with Saran Wrap and put it in the fridge. "We've had this entire week, and SG-1 doesn't go off world again until the sixth of January."
Pete added his tomato cups to the fridge as he asked, "Why the reprieve this year?"
"Mostly due to Daniel. The general let him spend a couple of weeks at the Arctic site and he brought home a wealth of goodies that no one else was having any luck with, so the general's allowed him time to study everything."
Arm in arm, they walked into her living room and sat down in front of the fire, their chores for the party later that night now complete. As Sam watched the blaze, she smiled at how good it felt to be able to talk to Pete. Jack had given Pete top level clearance a few weeks ago, after she'd announced her engagement, and since then, it had been as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Knowing that she could share anything with him seemed to cement their relationship as nothing else had.
"He must be happy as a clam, then."
She settled into Pete's side and nodded. "He is. Very. No interruptions, other than the general telling him to go eat, or sleep, or go home." She snickered. "Years go by, everything changes - and everything stays the same."
"Personally, I think O'Neill should just move in with Daniel - or vice versa," Pete observed as he buried his fingers in Sam's hair. He wasn't prepared for her reaction, which was to pull sharply away.
"God, sorry, honey," he said as he leaned forward and tried to smooth her hair down. "I didn't know you were going to... I mean, I just...."
Suddenly she started laughing and a moment later, he joined in. He didn't know why they were laughing, but it felt good. She finally fell back and, holding her stomach, said, "Oh, lord, Pete. The idea of the general and Daniel moving in together - do you realize they'd kill each other inside of two days? Heck, try two hours!"
"You mean that's why they're not living together? I just assumed it was the regs - you know, don't ask, don't tell?"
Once again, his words caused Sam to jump. Shocked, she stared at him, her mouth falling open. Finally she snapped it shut only to open it again in order to say, "Are you nuts?"
"About you, but that's another subject. Why?"
"Are you... do you realize what you're... implying?"
"Oh, come on, Sam, it's just us here. You're not in uniform, there aren't any regulations between us."
"Pete, there is nothing between the General and Daniel. Nothing. Except friendship, and let's face it, they have the weirdest friendship I've ever witnessed. I still don't understand its foundation, but--"
Pete cocked his head. "Don't you, Sam?"
She gazed back at the fire and shook her head. "They're polar opposites and shouldn't be friends at all. And yet...."
"And they say you're smart." He shook his head in disgust.
"Pete, I know those two men better than... I've served with them for... there just isn't anything... just ... no way."
Pete simply shook his head again. "Women."
At that moment, Cassie bounded in the front door, stomping her feet and dislodging snow onto the entry way floor. "Sam? Pete? I got the wrapping paper!"
Sam rose gracefully and, with a warning look, said, "We'll talk about this later." She turned, put on a grin and yelled out, "We're in the living room, Cass."
"So how are things really going at the SGC?" George asked as he added more butter to his rye toast.
Jack poured syrup over his pecan waffle and said, "I've written you several rather homey letters, all ending with my resignation, but I've yet to send them, so I guess we're all surviving."
"I've heard a few ... stories."
Jack glanced up from his breakfast, one eyebrow arched. "Only a few?"
George chuckled. "You apparently have a rather unique command style, which doesn't come as any surprise to me, but you are becoming a legend in your own time, Jack. The President is very pleased and strutting around like a peacock."
"Now there's something I'd like to see."
"How's Colonel Carter handling her first command?"
"She's doing a bang up job. I'm the one not very comfortable with it."
Now it was George's turn to arch an eyebrow, but all he said was, "I'm listening."
Jack shrugged. "Wish I could explain, but I can't."
"You're afraid for her?"
Jack waved that off. "Not in the least. No one more capable. It just seems... wrong."
George frowned. "You miss it that much, Jack?"
"No, no, the feeling isn't about me. Sure, I miss my teammates, miss going through the 'Gate, but no, it's not about that. It's more... look, a civilian with less of everything was put in charge of the SGC and if a civilian was the ticket, then why not Daniel? And now he's taking orders from Carter and it doesn't feel right."
"Doctor Jackson doesn't take orders from anyone, Jack."
"Wrong. He doesn't take orders from me, but he took them from Weir, and he takes them from Carter and it's like... like fingernails on a blackboard. And no," he held up a hand, "this isn't about some macho 'taking orders from a woman' crap. Damn, I just wish I could explain this better."
"He opened the 'Gate. You, he and Ferretti are all that's left of the first team through and yes, none of us would be here now if not for Doctor Jackson, but--"
"That's it in a nutshell, Sir. He should be leading his own team, he should--"
"Then why isn't he?"
Jack sighed. "He doesn't want to abandon Carter and Teal'c."
"So you've actually asked him, then?"
"Hell, yeah. I even asked him to be my 2IC. He refused. But not out of any abandonment issues, oh, no, not our Daniel. Can you guess why he turned me down flat?"
George gave him one of those wise half-smiles and said, "Because he wasn't qualified? Because he figures such a job should go to Colonel Carter? Because he thinks he's the last person in the world who should be your 2IC?"
"Nailed it in all three," Jack said, clearly disgusted. "He's impossible."
"There's a newsflash."
Jack's lips curled up as he said, "Do you think he's qualified?"
"Immanently so. Hell, Jack, I'd vote for him for president. But that doesn't help your situation, does it?"
"I don't know. You're here, you could talk to him... maybe?"
George looked pensive for a moment, and when he didn't answer right away, Jack said, "Sir?"
"I'm trying to think of a time when Daniel Jackson ever listened to me. So far, I'm drawing a blank. And damn it, Jack, if you don't start calling me George, you're not only going to pay for this breakfast, but I'm sticking you with the bill for the party tonight."
"You're right... George. He's never listened to you either. Unless you agreed with him."
Suddenly Jack grinned. "Know what he's doing right now? Our brilliant doctor?"
Looking highly suspicious, George asked, "What?"
"He's baking a green Christmas cake for tonight. Sweet, eh?"
"No doubt due to something you said?"
"No doubt," Jack answered, looking supremely smug. "All you have to do nowadays is dare the guy. That's all, just dare him. He'll try -- or do -- anything on a dare."
George's smile faded. "That doesn't sound like the Doctor Jackson I know, Jack."
Jack gave out with another sigh as his grin joined Hammond's on vacation. "I know. He's... not happy. You'd never know it, he doesn't show anything, but I can tell."
George picked up his coffee cup. Maybe tonight he'd find some time to sit down with his favorite archaeologist and do some... prying.
Daniel slid the mess that was his third green cream cake into the trash. He looked over his shoulder at the clock on the wall. Oh, goody, five hours to go. And who knew green food coloring could be so tricky? Not to mention cream cakes. Whose idea was this again? Oh, yeah, Jack's. When he thought of all the opportunities he'd had over the years to do away with the man without anyone knowing - well, it was just mind boggling.
Daniel got down a bottle of wine. It was afternoon somewhere. He opened it, poured, took a good sip, and went back to the drawing board.
Sam stared at her phone book. There had to be someone in here that would be right for Teal'c. She flipped the page and ran her finger down the columns of names - pausing at one in particular. She gave it a thoughtful look.
Rotation included the SGC, had full clearance, would be there tonight. Funny, dry sense of humor, tall - well over six feet in her stockings - great shape, strong, feisty... Sam smiled and picked up the phone.
She didn't stop once to wonder why she never tried to fix Daniel up with anyone.
In the other room, Cassie and Pete sat hunched over the chess set - a gift from Daniel last Christmas -- while discussing matchmaking.
"Sam doesn't think so, Cass. She just doesn't see it."
"How can she not?"
Pete shrugged and made an uncertain move. At Cassie's triumphant grin, he realized that he'd just made the losing move. It might not spell the end of the game right away, but he knew the truth.
Cassie pretended to study the board, even though the game was hers, as she said, "So what do we do?"
"We, kemo sabe?"
She looked up and grinned mischievously. "Yes, we. We who know the great truth. Who else could be depended on to make things right? You have Sam, I have Tony, Sam is taking care of Teal'c, so that leaves it up to us to take care of Uncle Jack and Uncle Daniel."
"You are most wise, Yoda-Cass."
She nodded regally, moved a chess piece and said, "Check-mate."
Pete sighed heavily.
Jack picked up the remote and clicked off the set. The game was over, his team had won, and he still had four hours before he had to leave for the general's - er - George's. His gifts were wrapped, thanks to a sweet store clerk who'd taken pity on him, and the wine, his contribution to the evening's festivities, was sitting on the table by the front door. All of which meant that he was bored out of his skull. He supposed he could go over to Daniel's - do a bit of heckling. He grinned at that thought, almost got up, but immediately dropped back down. Nah, he'd save the joshing for later. Way more fun to share it with the gang, embarrass Daniel in public. Yeah, way more fun. But damn, he'd love to drop by, sit around with a beer, talk....
Yeah, he'd go for a run.
Mind made up, Jack rose and jogged into his bedroom with every intention of changing into his running outfit.
Daniel closed one eye and looked at the cake. He opened it and closed the other one. He looked up at the clock. Just enough time for one more try. He ditched the Leaning Tower of Piza imitation and started over.
Forty minutes later, he was taking something out of the oven that actually smelled - and looked -- good. He tapped the top lightly with his finger - and grinned. It felt good too. He pulled a small bit out from the side - tasted it - and his grin widened.
IT TASTED GOOD!
HALLELUJAH, WE HAVE CREAM CAKE!
And he had no intention of ruining it with tasteless decorations. He had an idea.
Oh, it would still have the creamy green frosting - a cream cheese frosting - but no garish Santa Claus on top, no badly written "Merry Xmas", and no plastic reindeer - all of which Jack had purchased for his "dare". No, Daniel Jackson had another idea altogether.
All right, the cake had to cool, which meant he should probably get dressed, something he'd not done all day. He ran a hand over his bare chest and frowned. He glanced down and was only slightly taken back by the fact that he had cake batter splattered over his skin.
Shower. He should definitely shower - again.
Clean, dry, dressed, and the cake still looked as good as it had when he'd left the kitchen thirty-five minutes ago. Now the frosting. He was going to go about this in the scientific way. He'd already blown it too many times to count and he was down to his last bricks of cream cheese. He double checked what he had left in powdered sugar, vanilla, and the dreaded food coloring, and nodded. Enough for one ... last ... try.
Okay. First, dump the softened cream cheese into the mixer, add the sugar, and start beating. As it smoothed out, he added the vanilla. When it was ready, he shut off the beater and twisted the bowl out. Now the hard part. He wanted a soft, gentle Christmas green, and he'd been experimenting with drops as often as he'd had to make new cakes. This time - one drop and then stir. He let one plop of green hit the creamy frosting and began to stir.
All right, one drop was close, but no cigar. He added a stingy second drop and stirred again. Okay, this was ... nice. Very nice. In fact, this was absolutely perfect. He grinned like a fool. He put the food coloring away, along with the sugar and vanilla. Man, he was good. Now, where was that cake platter? Oh, yeah, the pantry, bottom shelf. He got it out and wondered how he'd ever become the owner of a cake platter. Wait - Cassie, house warming gift. Well, that made it especially ... special ... for tonight.
He thought about the Food Network and how he'd observed chefs doing the whole cake on the cake platter thing... so he upended it over the cake pan, then inverted it. When he lifted the pan ... the cake was sitting there as nice as you please. Wow, this was easy. He spent the next few moments frosting what would be the middle of the cake before carefully adding the top layer. He remembered that many chefs frosted the sides first, so he did exactly that, being as careful as possible so that no frosting marred the lovely platter. He did a few fancy swirls and grinned before dropping globs of frosting on the bare top. He spread it out, did a few more swirls and stepped back.
Now this was a work of art.
If he thought a man who rather routinely helped saved Earth might look funny getting all hot and bothered by the fact that he was succeeding in making a green cream cake, well, so what? He was entitled.
The cake looked good enough to eat. But now for the Daniel Jackson decorations. He picked up the two red and white candy canes and bagged them. Then he pounded them until they were in small chunks. He opened the bag, took out a handful, and dribbled the chunks over the top of the cake until it was very lightly coated with the candy crumbles.
His grin widened. It looked good, but not yet perfect. He picked up the box of miniature candy canes and tore into it. He then proceeded to stick the smaller versions around the side of the cake.
Now it was perfect.
Take that, Jack O'Neill.
He put the glass top over his creation and figured that if this wasn't the hit of the evening, he was a monkey's uncle. No relation to space monkeys intended.
Jack pulled the green sweater over his head and tugged it gently down over his hips. He turned and checked it out in the mirror. Okay, not bad, and just Christmassy enough to keep Cassie and George's grandkids happy. The front of the sweater had pine trees on it, all dusted with snow. He pulled the cuffs of his white shirt out from the edge of the sweater, double checked his teeth and, satisfied, walked out, turning off the light as he left his bedroom.
He grabbed his jacket and gloves, slipped both on, picked up the bags of gifts and the wine, and headed out.
Cassie carried the presents while Pete and Sam carried the trays of appetizers. They made their careful way to the car, all of them seeing one slip on the icy walk way liberating their pastry cups and stuffed tomatoes. The trays were put in the back with Cassie making sure they didn't travel during the drive to General Hammond's. Sam buckled herself in, pausing long enough to gaze down at her engagement ring. It sparkled on her finger and warmed her heart but she still couldn't believe that she'd said yes.
Lou glanced over at Teal'c before looking back at the road. He was pretty sure that Teal'c wearing a reindeer sweater was a first. He looked oddly... threatening. Which also had to be a first. Normally people in reindeer sweaters looked anything but scary. The light ahead went red so as Lou slowed to a stop, he asked, "I understand Colonel Carter has fixed you up for tonight."
"I did not require fixing. I am not broken."
"Date. She fixed you up with a date."
"Ah. Indeed. Doctor Sandra Coleman. She is not off duty until seven, so we will meet at General Hammond's - which is why I am currently traveling with you, Lou Ferretti."
Clearly impressed, Lou whistled low. "A doctor, eh?" He rubbed his chin thoughtfully and finally said, "Why is that name familiar?"
"Colonel Carter has told me that Sandra Coleman rotates once a month and has served us well at the SGC. I do not understand what she rotates, nor how I have missed meeting her, but she has full clearance."
"Uh, rotate... uhm, it means she is based at one location--"
"The Academy hospital."
"Like the Academy hospital, but will rotate to the SGC every so often. I must have seen her at one time... or something, because her name really is familiar."
The light changed to green and they were on the move again. After a few moments of silence, Lou said, "You looking forward to seeing General Hammond again, Teal'c?"
"I am. It will be as old house week."
Lou smiled. "Home week, Teal'c. Like old home week."
"That as well."
"So ... you going to tell me what you got for our general?"
"It is not a secret. I have purchased and wrapped a box of condoms for O'Neill."
Lou somehow managed not to plow the Explorer into a tree. After his coughing fit was over, he sputtered out, "Condoms?"
"Indeed. DanielJackson stated just the other day that O'Neill's love life was so full that he would need a subscription to something called, 'Condoms of the Month'. I attempted to discover how to obtain such a subscription, but was unable to do so. Instead, I have purchased a month's supply."
Lou tried to decide if Teal'c understood that Daniel had been facetious about O'Neill's love life and thus was pulling his own kind of joke on Jack, or if he seriously thought... nah, impossible. Teal'c had to know. Right? Right.
Suddenly the party was looking like it might be fun.
Daniel set the cake down on the floor and then wrapped the blanket around it so that it wouldn't move during the drive. Not that he was paranoid or anything. He straightened, adjusted his jacket, and shut the door. He still couldn't believe he was going alone. He should have asked ... someone. Everyone would be with someone, although both Lou's girlfriend and Teal'c's blind date were meeting them at the party. He was, he was pretty sure, the only person going stag. He paused in putting the key into the ignition. Did people still use that term? Oh, well. He started the car and backed out onto the street. It was snowing again, but lightly, so negotiating the streets wasn't all that difficult for a man who'd spent the last several years in Colorado Springs.
Okay, Jack was duly impressed. Good ol' George had really gone to town on the decorations. Lights on the house, reindeer (also lit up) on the lawn, snowmen (also lit up) on the walkway, wreaths (also lit up) on the door and windows, and if Jack worked tonight right - and the eggnog was properly spiked -- he'd be lit up by evening's end as well. He parked behind Pete's car and grabbed the bags of gifts. Walking up toward the front porch, he could hear the Christmas carols and laughter on the other side of the door and paused long enough to take several deep breaths. He wasn't sure why he needed the deep breaths, except it might have something to do with the urge to run as fast and as far as he could. Which was ridiculous. He was a freaking brigadier general, and just inside - his people. Friends.
He should have asked Pamela to come tonight. To be his ... date. Oooh, date.
"Jack, do you plan to party on the porch, or come inside?"
Jack blinked a couple of times and realized that the door had been opened and he was now staring at his old boss. He coughed, smiled, and said, "Merry Christmas, Si--"
"George. Merry Christmas, George," Hammond coached.
"Right. Merry Christmas... George."
"So you're thinking of actually coming in, then?"
Jack chuckled and held out the wine. "I'm coming in."
Jack stared up at the tree and gave a small shake of his head. It was huge. He felt a tug on his sweater and he looked down and into Kayla's shining face.
"Biggest ever, Uncle Jack?"
"Biggest ever, Kayla. Absolutely. Did you chop it down yourself?"
"Not hardly. But I did put on all the red balls."
"And a fine job you did too."
They continued to stare at the beautiful tree with Jack wondering how soon Daniel would show up.
Daniel was very grateful for shopping bag handles. He hung the bags of gifts off each arm and carefully lifted the cake platter before kicking the door shut. He made his cautious way up the street, turned into General Hammond's driveway and walked up to the front door. Once there, he realized he had no way to knock. The party was evidently in full swing, so he figured they probably wouldn't hear him anyway. He frowned. Okay, maybe an elbow to the door bell? Carefully balancing the cake, he angled his arm up until he could use said elbow to press the button. His efforts were rewarded a moment later when the general himself opened the door.
"Doctor Jackson, you made...."
Hammond stopped mid-sentence to stare at the cake in Daniel's hands. Daniel, looking sheepish, said, "Jack... a dare... it's a ... Christmas-green cream cake... Sir."
"Ah, yes, the dare."
Feeling his face grow warm, Daniel nodded and held out the cake. Hammond, grinning, took it and said, "Well, it would appear that this is one dare that will ultimately benefit all of us, Doctor Jackson. This looks incredible."
Daniel grinned foolishly and walked in.
"My only problem is duplicating the red cheeks," George Hammond said as he held the large red coat in his hands.
Jacob Carter looked at his old friend and vowed that Selmac was going to remain in the dark about red cheeks and Santa suits. It was just too difficult to explain a major player in the Tauri world dressing up as a mythical being for Christmas. A being with red cheeks and a white beard.
"I suppose I could use some of my daughter's lipstick...."
"Cheek stuff," Jacob said. "Go with the cheek stuff. That pink goo women add to make their cheeks rosy ... or something. Or maybe... it's not too late to try and find some greasepaint, George."
"It's too late, Jacob. Santa is making his appearance at seven thirty, which is thirty minutes from now."
"You're right. It's too late. So we go with cheek stuff. I'll get Sammy. She's sure to have some." He started for the bedroom door but stopped and said thoughtfully, "Just how do you think you're going to fool your granddaughters, George?"
Jack, Teal'c, Sam and Pete stared at the beautiful cake that now sat in the middle of the kitchen table.
"He actually did it, Sir," Sam murmured.
"I for one, am not surprised," Teal'c stated.
"And you can tell he made it," Pete added. "It's a bit... you know... lopsided. But still beautiful."
Jack ran a hand through his hair and said, "I will never, ever, as long as I live, understand Daniel."
Pete grinned. "Funny, that's what I keep saying about Sam."
Lou walked up and looked over Sam's shoulder. "General Hammond said the Doc made that. Tell me he was joking."
Jack shook his head. "Nope. Daniel made it. From scratch." He puffed out his chest a bit and added proudly, "It's a cream cheese frosting. Green."
"I noticed the green part, General," Lou said with a grin.
"But it's a nice green," Jack said, feeling the need to defend.
"Actually, Sir," Sam added, "it's a beautiful green. And the peppermint crumbles on top were a stroke of genius, but then, we're talking Daniel."
"I like the candy canes decorating the side," Cassie added as she stepped up to the table next to Jack. "Kayla says no one gets any of them but her. She said Uncle Daniel promised."
Jack tried to ignore the fact that seventeen year old Cassie was ... pouting.
"She'll share," Pete assured, already the doting father figure.
"Daniel'll give me one," Jack pronounced confidently.
"No, I won't. And don't you guys have something better to do than stare at the cake?"
Jack slung his arm around Daniel's shoulders. "Of course you'll give your best friend one of the candy canes."
Looking like a somewhat evil angel, Daniel glanced over at Teal'c and said, "Teal'c, you don't really want one, do you?"
Teal'c made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a snort and said, "Indeed I do, DanielJackson."
"Oh. Well. Okay. You can have one, Teal'c," Daniel said, barely biting back his smile.
"What about me, Uncle Daniel?" Cassie said as she sidled up to him.
"Kayla didn't get it quite right, Cass. Candy canes for you, Tessa and Kayla. And of course, now Teal'c."
Lou waved a hand hopefully.
Sam batted her eyelashes.
Pete cocked his head.
"Okay, and Pete."
Jack clutched his heart. "I'm wounded here. I gave you the best years of my life, went prematurely gray for you--"
"Because of me...."
"Because of you, and you won't give me the coat off your back or the candy cane off your cake?"
"I do not believe anyone mentioned DanielJackson's coat, O'Neill."
"Which I'd give you, Jack, if you asked."
"But not a candy cane? I'm not good enough for a candy cane?"
Daniel lifted the cake dome, looked furtively over each shoulder, and plucked a small crumble of peppermint candy off the top. He replaced the dome and proudly handed Jack the piece of red and white confection.
Jack gazed heavenward and said, "The ingratitude for years of patient listening of lectures--"
"What alternate universe would that be in, Jack?" Daniel asked.
The jingling of bells stopped any possible retort to Jack's brilliant comeback.
"Oh. My. God," Sam said as her father, dressed as Santa, entered the living room, a huge sack flung over his shoulder.
Most of the drop-by guests had dropped by and left, and now only Sam, Pete, Cassie, Lou, Teal'c and their dates, and Jack and Daniel remained, along with Hammond's family. Dinner was due to be served in a few minutes and everyone was simply enjoying the tree and the relaxing ambiance. Jacob was back in his street clothes, his Santa persona boxed up. Hammond had Kayla on his lap, his youngest grandchild staring dreamily at the tree, still remembering a Santa that looked - and sounded - like the real thing, thanks to Selmac, who was giving Jacob grief, albeit silently.
Daniel was on the floor with Tessa, both engrossed in a game of Chinese checkers. Jack doubted that Tessa understood what she was letting herself in for, after all, to her, it was a simple game.
"It was a nice cocktail party, Sir," Sam suddenly commented.
"Thank you, Colonel. It was good to see everyone again. I've missed them."
Jack felt the sudden stillness in the room and wondered how a simple phrase like, "I've missed them" could mean the exact same thing to everyone. He knew instinctively, the way a good commander should know, that all thoughts were on the one person very much missing from the "family" get-together: Janet.
Cassie was suddenly looking very young as she leaned into Sam. It was, after all, the first Christmas without Janet, and while they'd all been working very hard to make this holiday as cheerful as possible for Cassie - for all of them - well, these moments of remembering were inevitable. And healthy, and needed. But for all its health, it hadn't skipped his notice that Daniel had gone unnaturally still. Maybe it was time to bring Janet in all the way.
"She would have loved your cake, Daniel."
Daniel looked up, and blinked from behind his glasses. He glanced over at Cassie, who nodded. "She would have, Uncle Daniel."
Slowly... Daniel smiled at Cassie, who smiled back.
"So, are you going to cut it, or are we just going to keep on staring at it?" Jack said from his seat at the dining room table.
The cake platter had been set in front of Daniel by General Hammond, and with a "shut up" look at Jack, Daniel lifted the dome from the platter and set it down. He stared at the knife and back at the cake, then at the knife again. Lou grinned and said, "Doctor Coleman, you wouldn't be a surgeon by any chance? I think Daniel may need some ... help."
Dark eyes gleaming with humor, Sandra Coleman said, "I'm afraid not. I'm a proctologist, actually."
There was dead silence, broken only by the sound of wine being spewed out of Jack's mouth.
Kayla and Tessa were in bed, Daniel's cream cake and candy canes having turned out to be the highlight of the evening. All the gifts had been exchanged and now the grown-ups, Cassie included, sat in the living room with glasses of champagne in their hands (sparkling apple cider for Cassie) while they waited for General Hammond to lead them in the final toast of the evening. He picked up his wine glass and looked over at Daniel. "Doctor Jackson, maybe you'd be so kind as to provide the toast, since it was your cake that lead the drool fest?"
Daniel rose from his seat on the couch, glass in hand. Holding it up, the light sparkling off the pale liquid, he cleared his throat, coughed a bit, and finally spoke. "I could say a good many things tonight, like how honored I am to be here, and how grateful I am to General Hammond. I could certainly sing the praises of everyone in this room and say something about the fact that I share my days with some of the bravest people on Earth, but somehow, I think there's really only one thing to say." He glanced over at Teal'c and Sandra. With a wink, he said, "Bottom's up."
"Dry cleaners can do wonders nowadays, Jack," Daniel said as he looked over Jack's shoulder.
"You're paying, Jackson."
"Hey, what did I do?" Daniel asked innocently as he stepped back and lounged against the wall of the bathroom.
"Bottom's up, Daniel? Bottom's up?"
"It seemed appropriate."
"Yeah, well, you're paying to get this sweater cleaned, bucko."
"Since when is it my fault that you can't control your spewing?"
"It's always your fault, Daniel."
"My lot in life."
Jack glanced up from the continuing task of cleaning his sweater to look at Daniel's reflection in the mirror. "It was... a good toast, Daniel. Even the bottom's up part."
"Huh, uh. Look, I've said my good-byes to everyone so I'm heading out. See you next week."
"Got any plans over the holiday?" Jack asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
"Sleep... sleep... and probably more sleep."
"Ah. Sounds good. But do you think, maybe in one of your waking moments, you might want to do something?"
"I'm pretty sure I'll be doing something, Jack. Just don't know what that something will be yet."
Jack rolled his eyes. "I mean... with me. Do something with me."
Daniel paused, hand on the door knob. "With you? Do something with you?"
"You know, there was a time when such a concept wouldn't have shocked you."
Daniel met Jack's gaze in the mirror. "Yeah, well, that time is a few years in the past, Jack. Lot's of water under both our bridges since then. Most of it unforgivable water."
The washcloth dropped from Jack's hand. He turned around and faced his friend. "Unforgivable? That doesn't sound like you, Daniel. You sometimes forgive far too easily."
Daniel started out the door but said as he glanced over his shoulder at Jack, "I wasn't talking about me, Jack." He grinned. "See you after the holiday. Oh, and Merry Christmas."
Jack watched, stupefied, as Daniel walked out.
"Thank you, General. Tonight was great," Daniel said as he slipped into his jacket.
"Thank you, Doctor Jackson. And thank you for falling for another Jack O'Neill dare.
I was right about all of us benefiting. That cake was delicious."
Daniel's return grin almost reminded George of the Daniel of old. Somewhat unsure of those around him, or maybe just less than confident, his smiles had been rare, and when given, had almost always held a kind of disbelieving quality to them. Like now.
Daniel was the second to the last to say his good-bye, and with the cake platter and gifts already packed in his car, he put on his gloves and said, "We miss you, Sir. I... miss you." Then he grinned. "Not that Jack isn't a great general, mind you."
"Someone trained him well, not that he's even aware of - your - efforts," George said with an evil grin of his own.
"As if," Daniel scoffed. He held out his hand, and as they shook, he added, "Here's hoping you and your family have a great Washington Christmas, Sir."
Hammond nodded in agreement and, as Daniel stepped out onto the porch, said, "Take care of them, Doctor Jackson."
Surprised by Hammond's words, Daniel said, "I'm hardly the one--"
"Take care of them," Hammond repeated.
"Yes, sir." He gave a final wave and with a final - and strange - look at the general, he headed down the walkway toward the street and his car.
Once in the car, and as the heater churned out blessed warmth, Daniel wondered if George Hammond would ever call him anything but Doctor Jackson. Jack was... well, often Jack in more informal occasions. Teal'c was Teal'c, and he'd certainly heard Hammond call Sam... Samantha, on occasion. But for some reason, he was always Doctor Jackson.
Of course, it had now been years since he'd overheard Hammond talking to Kayla and explaining about how a good friend had been lost and he'd miss his granddaughter's play. And as he'd said to Jack, a lot of water had flowed under a certain bridge - and he'd often been more trouble to everyone than he'd been of help. And of course, he'd been gone for a year.
Enough. He settled back for the careful drive home and the enjoyment of the Christmas lights.
As he approached Glen Oaks, he had the green light. A glimpse of motion on his right captured his attention and he realized that a car was traveling too fast for conditions as it approached its red light. Daniel took his foot off the accelerator and even started to brake as he realized the SUV was going to run the light. He was in no danger but opposite, another driver wasn't as observant - or lucky.
The SUV braked its way into the intersection, the driver belatedly realizing his error. He must have pulled the wheel sharply to the left because the next thing Daniel knew, the large, dark vehicle was heading straight for him while the other car blew through the intersection unscathed. Daniel was already in the right lane, with no where to go.
This was going to hurt.
Jack entered the living room still fiddling with his sweater and trying to dry it out, even as his eyes searched the room for Daniel.
"Were you able to save the sweater, Jack?"
"What? Oh, yeah, no problem." He looked around again as he asked, "Did Daniel leave?"
"A few minutes ago, yes." Hammond nodded to the chair. "Have a seat, Jack."
Jack was torn. He wanted to spend some private time with George, but at the same time, Daniel's words had really spooked him and he'd been toying with the idea of heading over to the younger man's house and discussing a few things with him. He figured he had time for both. Daniel was hardly likely to go to bed early - not Daniel. Jack sat down.
"So what's up with Doctor Jackson? I thought things had improved between you two."
Not sure where the question was coming from, Jack found himself unable to answer right away. When he finally found the words - they were less than stellar. They were also singular.
"Jack, the relationship between you and Daniel has always been extremely ... complicated, and deep. There's a connection between you that I've rarely witnessed between two such different individuals, and it's a connection I've often been in awe of, envious, even. I also suspect that there's an aspect to your relationship that we would be permitted to discuss only as friends while leaving behind our military persona. But tonight - tonight there seemed to be an unusual distance between you both. It worried me."
Hammond shifted in his chair and rotated the glass of brandy in his hand. "This might surprise you, Jack, but Daniel, for all his airs and surface humor of late, is actually quite lonely. And I don't mean that in any way you might expect. Daniel has always been a loner; the nature of his upbringing following his parents death being one of the more obvious reasons. He's used to it, expects it, knows how to live with it and in it. He's probably even comfortable in it - normally. But lately it seems as if something should have changed, perhaps came close - only for him to have lost it. Hence, the loneliness seems darker, and that scares me." He looked up from the glass he was still twirling between his fingers, a frown creasing his forehead. "I've never worried about you, Jack. Nor Colonel Carter or Teal'c, or for that matter, any other member of the SGC - except Daniel. And I don't mean because he's a civilian. I certainly don't worry about any of the other civilians."
Jack finally found the where with all to speak. "So why Daniel? He's more than capable of taking care of himself, George. Hell, I wouldn't want anyone else on my six."
"That's not the cause of my concern. It's unhealthy for any man, let alone someone like Daniel, to live in a vacuum. Surely you understand how much responsibility he shoulders? How much he holds himself responsible for in the last eight years? And how unforgiving of himself he is. He'll forgive a goddamned Goa'uld before he'd forgive himself. And with no anchor, Jack, I fear a repeat of Kelowna because it would be so easy for him. Only this time, I see no resurrection for our archaeologist."
Jack was sucker punched. He could feel his mouth drying out as cold tendrils of fear invaded his chest and wrapped around his heart. He imagined he could feel them squeezing....
"You two deserve some happiness, Jack. And from one friend to another, and as a man who thinks of Daniel as a son, I'm telling you to do something before he runs out of lives." With that, George took a sip of his brandy.
"Don't pull any punches, George, okay?"
Hammond simply smiled.
Before Jack could say anything else, his cell went off. Since it was unlikely to be anyone other than the SGC, he took it out, flipped it open, and barked, "O'Neill."
//"Sir, Doctor Elliott here. We just received a call from Memorial Hospital. Doctor Jackson was involved in an auto accident and has just been taken into Emergency. I'm on my way now.//
Jack must have given off some signal that the news was bad because Hammond was at his side instantly. Fingers tight around the phone, Jack said, "Do we know anything? How bad--"
//"No, sir, only that he's unconscious."//
"I'm on my way now." He disconnected and looked into a pair of worried pale blue eyes. "It's... Daniel. Car accident - Memorial."
"Hang on, let me tell my daughter and we'll be on our way."
Five minutes later, they were, with Hammond on his cell to the rest of SG-1.
Carefully, yet with restrained speed, Jack negotiated the icy streets, while at the same time trying desperately to calm himself down. The hospital was at the opposite end of town and he had no doubt that Elliott would beat him there. As he made his turn onto Madison, he sent up a prayer that Daniel was all right - that Jack would have time to... his mind cleverly avoided finishing the thought regarding why he needed more time with Daniel. A groan from Hammond brought Jack back from his avoidance, and it didn't take long to see the reason for the groan. In spite of knowing that Daniel had been in an auto accident, Jack was in no way prepared to pass the scene of said accident, or to see Daniel's Jeep shoved into the curb, the damaged front end drawing a hiss from between Jack's lips. The other car was on the opposite side of the street and being loaded onto a tow truck. There were no police or fire trucks left at the scene, only the tow crew and the clean-up crew, who were sweeping up the glass. Nevertheless, Jack stopped.
"Hang on a moment," he told Hammond as he climbed out of the Avalanche. He hurried over to the car, pulled out his ID and a few moments later, was retrieving Daniel's Christmas presents. He couldn't have said why, only that he felt compelled to rescue them. Every one of them had seemed to thrill Daniel, including the gag gift from Lou, namely a rhinestone eye glass chain, which had brought forth gales of laughter from everyone when Daniel fixed the chain on his glasses and let them hang from around his neck. Cassie had insisted he put the glasses on so everyone could see the chain in action, which of course, had started the laughter all over again. Daniel had huffed a bit and said, "Lou, are you telling me that I'm turning into an old lady here, or what?"
"It's the 'or what', Doc. The 'or what'."
Jack set the bag of goodies into the back seat and a moment later, they were back on their way to the hospital.
"Most of his injuries were actually due to the air bag, or should I say, the effects of its deployment."
Jack stared at Elliott, completely clueless as to what the hell she was talking about. Fortunately, Hammond wasn't.
"The steering wheel components?" he asked.
"Exactly. He sustained bruises to the left side of his face, neck and left arm, as well as bruising due to the seat belt. He was really bounced around when the other vehicle struck him and, as a result, suffered a concussion, but right now, my only real concern is his left eye. Apparently his glasses were dislodged and a piece of plastic struck his eye and scratched the cornea. Doctor Reynolds, an Air Force ophthalmologist, is on his way and I've bandaged Daniel's eyes to protect the left one until Reynolds can tell us more."
"How bad could it be? I mean... there's no chance he might lose his sight ... or anything, is there?" Jack asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
"I don't know, General. That's why I've called in a specialist. The eye is simply not my area of expertise. I'm sorry. But we will know soon."
Nodding, Jack said, his voice back to full general mode, "I need to see him."
"Of course, General. He's a bit groggy, but awake. He's already been moved to a private room on the second floor. Two-o-seven. Go on up. I'll bring Doctor Reynolds along as soon as he arrives."
"Thank you, Doctor Elliott."
Jack and Hammond walked down the long hall to the elevators and George pushed the 'up' button. As they waited, he said, "It'll be fine, Jack."
"Nine lives," Jack said as he stared up at the elevator board.
Jack had seen Daniel Jackson under so many different - and often horrific - circumstances, that he doubted anything could surprise him. He was wrong.
Seeing a bruised Daniel, even seeing the spectacular type he was now sporting on the left side of his face, neck and both arms, was no surprise, nor was seeing him bandaged. But the white gauze covering his eyes - that gave Jack the shivers. Daniel looked both helpless and extremely vulnerable. Not to mention that Jack had always been able to tell what was going on with Daniel by looking into the younger man's eyes - and now that was impossible. He wouldn't be able to tell if "I'm fine" meant the pain was a ten on a scale of one to ten, or if he even knew who and where he was. With Daniel, that was scary.
He walked, somewhat hesitantly, over to the side of the bed. He didn't want to shock the man, so he said softly, "Daniel, it's me, Jack. General Hammond is here too."
Daniel turned his head toward Jack and gave him a grim smile. "Don't say it, Jack," he said, his voice somewhat husky in tone.
"Don't say what?"
"Me, here. Not my fault."
Jack put his hand on Daniel's shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. "I know, Daniel. I know. And no cracks, I promise. I'll even keep Lou out of here, okay?"
The smile was more genuine now. "Thanks. And don't worry about this," he fingered the gauze around his head, "it's nothing, just a scratched eye, but you know how doctors are."
"Yeah, I have a nodding acquaintance with them." He looked behind him and spotted the usual - and always uncomfortable - hospital chair, and pulled it over. "I'm going to sit down and stay with you, if you don't mind."
"You don't have to do that, Jack. I'm fine, probably won't even need to transfer me to the mountain. Probably go home tomorrow."
"In which case, you'll need a ride," Jack said as if that explained everything.
"Uhm, ye-e-s, but tomorrow. No need to stay now. It's late, go home. You too, General Hammond. You're scheduled to leave for Washington in the morning, aren't you?"
George walked over to the other side of the bed and said, "Yes, but things can easily be changed."
"Sir, I know you've already talked to Doc Elliott and you know that I've got a few scratches, and yes, okay, a concussion, but a mild concussion. There is absolutely no reason for you to change your plans. None, sir."
"I don't agree, son. I wouldn't leave my daughter under these circumstances, and I'm not leaving you until you're home and I'm certain everything is all right."
Daniel didn't say anything, but both men noticed that he immediately griped the blanket tightly in his right hand.
Elliott found herself breathing a bit easier. Doctor Reynolds had finished his examination of Daniel's eye and the news was better than she'd thought upon first look at the cornea. She walked down the corridor to the waiting room where she knew General O'Neill, Hammond, and SG-1 waited. She turned the corner and wasn't surprised when O'Neill shot out of his seat the moment she entered the small room.
"The news is good. He has a partial-thickness laceration of the left cornea." Before Jack could ask, she raised a hand and explained, "This means there was no actual penetration of the cornea, which was the concern upon initial examination of the eye. The treatment is pretty simple, our goal being to prevent infection and promote re-epithelialization and stromal healing. We'll be using a bandage contact lens and a broad spectrum systemic anti-biotic. In addition, we'll use topical chloramphenicol until the lens is no longer necessary. I'm going to keep him here overnight, but he can go home tomorrow. He'll be sore and pretty miserable, but he's going to be fine."
"What's this ... bandage contact lens?" Jack asked.
"A few years ago, we'd have treated this injury with a pressure cup, but we've found that a bandage contact lens, which is basically a soft-gel lens, proved as effective while at the same time, providing considerable relief from the pain associated with this type of injury."
"So it's a regular kind of ... contact, then?"
"Yes, General. As soon as they're ready, we'll remove the bandages and fit him."
"Wow," Jack mused, "Daniel in contact lenses. This will be weird."
Sam stepped forward and said, "Doctor, one of the reasons Daniel has never worn them is because of the high degree of astigmatism."
"Yes, we're aware of that. But he'll only be wearing these for a few days. His vision will be less than desirable, but the outcome will be worth it." She looked at Daniel's friends and said, "You can go in and see him now. He's sore and tired, but awake."
"Thanks, Doc, for everything," Jack said, his voice powerful in its sincerity.
It was late, but Jack found that he simply couldn't leave Daniel's side. Sam, Pete, Cassie and Teal'c had finally left, and George was downstairs getting some coffee. His flight was scheduled for the next day, and so far, it looked as though he and his family would make it. Daniel was indeed, going to be released in the morning.
"Here, thought you could use this too."
A Starbucks coffee cup was placed into his hand. Jack glanced up and smiled. "Thanks, George."
"You can't stay the night, Jack. He'll kill you in the morning if you do."
"I know, I know. I'm going to leave at the next shift, which is in," he looked at his watch, "thirty minutes. I'll pick him up tomorrow at ten, per the doctor's orders."
"Good, good. I'll stop by on my way to the airport, check on him and say my good-bye."
Jack took a sip of the hot brew and nodded. Suddenly he grinned. "We'll have breakfast with him, make him miserable."
With a fond but exasperated shake of his head, George said, "Daniel once told me that you'd never aged beyond fifteen. I think he was right."
With a smug look on his face, Jack just settled back and drank more coffee.
Whistling, Jack walked into the hospital at eight-thirty. He'd checked on his way out the night before to see when Daniel would be served breakfast and he figured he'd get upstairs a few minutes before the tray would be delivered. He looked at the bag in his hand and smirked. He really was evil. He walked past the gift store... and halted his forward movement. He took two steps back and glanced to his right and into the store window and the stuffed animals - one stuffed animal in particular.
Oh, God, this was too good to pass up. He walked inside.
Daniel looked at the bowl of oatmeal and scrunched up his face. Ugh. He knew he was grumpy and out of sorts, but hey, every bone in his body hurt, his face hurt, his arm hurt, his pride hurt, and his car was basically destroyed. Merry Christmas.
Okay, okay, cut it out, he admonished. You're fucking alive.
But oatmeal? Pul-eeze.
"Good morning, Doctor Jackson."
He looked up, scrunched-up expression still in place. "Jack? What are you doing here?"
"Well, I thought we could have breakfast together before the Doc releases you. Then I'll take you home and get you settled."
If it was possible, Daniel scrunched up his face even more. "Oatmeal, Jack. You might want to reconsider."
Jack was pretty certain that his friend had never looked as cute as he did at that moment. He looked all of five years old, what with the disgusted expression, wrinkled nose and spiked hair. Even the very grown-up bruising that gave the left side of his face a hue of colors usually reserved for an oil painting didn't diminish the "disgruntled little boy" look.
He walked over to the bed and held up one of the bags he was carrying. "I brought my own so no worries. Oh, and I brought this for you." He put the gift shop bag on the tray to the right of the bowl of truly disgusting looking cereal.
"Just your typical get-well gift," he said as he sat down.
"Flowers, like those," Daniel indicated the several bouquets that now decorated his room, "are the," he made quote marks with his good arm, "'typical get-well gifts', Jack."
"And you seem to have cleaned up in that arena, Daniel. So open it already."
With a barely disguised look of curiosity and yes, delight, Daniel pulled the bag toward him. He lifted his chin a bit, and frowning, tried to see inside.
"Oh, fer cryin' out loud, Daniel, just dig in."
"Don't rush me, don't rush me." Daniel reached into the colorful Christmas-themed bag and dug around in the green tissue before his hand connected with the gift. Still frowning, he withdrew it.
"It's a ... it's a ...."
"Stuffed camel. It's a stuffed camel, Daniel. With a holiday ribbon around its neck."
Slowly Daniel smiled. Eyes bright, he said, "It's a stuffed camel with a holiday ribbon around its neck, Jack."
Before Daniel could respond, George Hammond walked in carrying a bag and a bouquet.
"Good morning, Daniel. How are you feeling today?"
Looking shocked, Daniel said, "I'm fine, Sir. Going home in a few." He held up the camel and said gleefully, "Look what Jack brought."
Hammond looked at his hundred dollar holiday bouquet and then at the camel. Clearly, the camel was the winner. He smiled and put his bouquet down next to the others and said, "Looks like a stuffed camel with a holiday ribbon around its neck."
"I swear," Jack said, "the intelligence in this room could light a city for a week."
Daniel looked at the food spread out in front of both Jack and General Hammond
and then back at his meager bowl of oatmeal. He didn't even have a fruit cup. Or orange juice. Or coffee. Just two little tubs of cream. He sighed. Then he sighed again - dramatically.
Jack glanced up from his feast of bacon, scrambled eggs, country potatoes, sourdough toast, hot coffee and orange juice to ask, "You okay, Daniel?"
"I'm fine." He sighed again.
Hammond looked up from his Southwestern omelet doused in salsa and sour cream to ask, "You sure?"
"I'm fine." He sighed again and added a small groan.
"You really don't sound fine at all, Daniel," Jack said as he winked at Hammond.
Daniel rolled his eyes. "Jack, you either give me the breakfast you bought for me, or I'll kill you where you sit, Christmas on the horizon or not."
"General O'Neill, I'd advise you to hand over the goods," Hammond said with a grin.
"Damn, how'd you know?"
"Oh, please," Daniel said.
Jack picked the bag up from the floor and pulled out a to-go carton. He set it in front of Daniel and slowly peeled back the foil that covered the food. "Okay, go to town, Daniel."
Pancakes and sausage. Daniel was in heaven. He sighed happily. "Now this is more like it," he said as he opened a packet that contained eating utensils and the syrup. But something was missing. He was about to open his mouth and ask when Jack set a to-go cup in front of him.
"Coffee," he said with a smile.
"No matter what anyone says about you, Jack, you're a good man," Daniel said as he dug in.
Hammond picked up the camel and a warm light came into his eyes. "I remember giving something very similar to Carol for her third Christmas."
There was nothing Daniel could say so he simply watched the general relive a moment in his past. Finally Hammond put the camel down and said, "I'll need to get going now, Daniel. Carol and the girls are already at the airport waiting. You take care of yourself, all right?"
Shocked for the second time at the use of his first name, Daniel could only nod dumbly. A few moments later, Hammond was gone and he was alone with Jack.
"He called me Daniel."
"Yeah, funny he should do that, what with your name being - Daniel -- and all."
"Jack, he never uses my first name. It's always Doctor Jackson, never Daniel. You're Jack, Sam has been Samantha, and of course, Teal'c is Teal'c, but I'm always Doctor Jackson."
"So you thought... what?"
Daniel seemed confused by Jack's question. "I ... don't ... I didn't think anything... exactly."
"Pish tosh. You figured that because he addressed you formally that he didn't respect you, when in actuality, he was showing his immense respect by his chosen form of address. For once, Doctor Jackson, you were not a good judge of character. Hammond thinks of you like a son, Mister Know-it-All."
One eyebrow went heavenward. "Pish tosh? Pish tosh?"
Jack pushed Daniel down the corridor toward the elevator, having talked the nurse and orderly into allowing him to do the pushing. The stuffed camel sat on Daniel's lap and brought forth more than one smile by people passing them. While they waited for the elevator, Daniel said, "Did anyone find about my car?"
Talk about a mood buster. Jack put a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Totaled, Daniel. But I rescued your gifts and George took care of everything with your insurance so you'll have a check in a few days. We can go car shopping after Christmas. How does that sound?"
"Damn. I liked that Jeep."
"So you get another one."
Daniel grinned. "Nah, this time... I'm going for a Tahoe."
"So much for a suitable mourning period," Jack snorted.
Jack followed Daniel - a very slow moving Daniel - up to the front door. He waited patiently while Daniel fumbled in his pocket for his keys, knowing better than to offer to help. He was impressed by the real wreath hanging on the front door and the lights that trimmed the house. When had Daniel done that?
"When did you put up the lights?"
Daniel finally got the door open and as he stepped inside, he said, "Last weekend. Thought it would be fun. I was wrong."
Jack followed him inside and got the door shut against the Colorado cold and was rewarded with another surprise: the inside of Daniel's home was as decorated as the outside. A large and beautiful tree stood in front of the living room window and several reminders of the holiday adorned various pieces of furniture. The mantle was trimmed with garland and at one corner, a cheerful Santa, while at the other end, four glass letters spelled out "NOEL".
He whistled his appreciation, said, "Nice job, Daniel," and then rubbed his arms and added, "But it's like a tomb in here. Let's get some heat going for you." With that, he walked down the hall to the thermostat and kicked it on and up. He walked back into the living room to find that Daniel was down on the couch, shoes off, legs up on the coffee table, head back and eyes closed. Jack figured he'd check out the kitchen and make sure there was enough food.
There wasn't. But on the fridge he found a note Daniel had obviously written to remind him to go to the market, and next to said note - a shopping list. Shaking his head, Jack took the list and walked back out to the living room. The soft snoring coming from the couch told him he could probably get to the store and back again before Sleeping Beauty woke up. He took the afghan off the corner of the couch and draped it over Daniel before heading out.
Jack had set the table with paper Christmas plates - even though Christmas was still three days away - and had even lit a couple of candles. The shopping was done, the groceries put away, and now the Chinese take-out was evenly divided amongst the two plates. He walked out into the living room and announced, "Dinner's on. You hungry?"
Daniel, who'd awoken upon Jack's arrival home, now looked up and nodded. "Did I see bags of Chang's food come in with the groceries?"
"You did. Get a move on, food's getting cold."
Daniel got to his feet and joined Jack at the table. He noted the setting and candles and shot Jack a puzzled look. The older man simply shrugged and grinned.
After fifteen minutes of silent enjoyment of Chang's barbecued chicken salad, shrimp lo mein, pork fried rice and crab wontons, Jack said, "Do you mind if I stay?"
Daniel wiped his mouth and said, "Stay? Jack, I'm fine. I don't need a watch dog."
Jack picked up the bottle of wine and poured a bit more into his glass as he said, "I mean - stay forever."
Daniel cocked his head at Jack. "Forever? Oh, well then. Sure."
"Sweet. We can wait 'til after Christmas to move a lot of my stuff, and I suppose, for appearance sake, I should keep the house, but otherwise, hey, I've got my cell phone and as long as I can be reached, well, who the hell cares where I am when it rings?"
"Uh-huh." Daniel plucked up another wonton and dropped it on his plate.
"Of course, your place is kind of small, but I like that. Intimate, you know?"
"Uh-huh," Daniel said before taking a bite of his wonton.
"Even that thing you call a bed is kind of cool. We can spoon. Hell, in order for both of us to sleep in it, we'll have to spoon. A hardship, no doubt, but I'm willing to make the sacrifice."
"Uh-huh," Daniel said again.
Daniel picked up his plate, added Jack's, and carried them to the sink. He started to rinse them off in preparation for the dishwasher as he said, "So how did you go from a straight military general to a gay one, by the way?"
"Oh, that. Well, in all actuality, Sara was a temporary fork in the road of my sexuality."
"And Laira... and--"
"Okay, so there have been a few forks. My preference is what really counts, right?"
"You have a preference, do you?"
Daniel put the dishes in the dishwasher, turned it on, and took his seat. He sat back in the chair and regarded his friend. "So what makes you think my preferences might include you - a man?"
Jack gave Daniel a look that could only be interpreted as an "Are you kidding?" look and followed it up with, "Are you kidding? You're so smitten, you practically vibrate with it."
Daniel gave Jack his "Are you kidding?" look and followed it up with, "You must be on grass or something."
"What, you're not smitten?"
"Smitten? Pish tosh? You need a new vocabulary book, Jack. And no, I'm not smitten." He paused a beat, just long enough to see the worry creep into Jack's eyes, before adding, "I'm in love. Big difference, you know."
"So I can stay forever?"
"This is because I'm not wearing glasses, isn't it? My glasses hid my stupendous good looks until now, right?"
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