Jack had been miserable for a long time, but now the misery was official - the holidays were upon him, having started with Thanksgiving at Sam's. Which had been nice, with Teal'c, Jacob, Janet and Cassie in attendance. But it had been blatantly obvious that all was not well. The party had consisted of the same number of individuals as the previous year, but not the same people. One person had been very absent, and that absence had been very noticeable, if not directly discussed. And the missing individual? Mister Glowy himself; Daniel.
In spite of the fact that Jack was pretty certain the glowy version of Daniel was happy zipping about the galaxy, he'd learned that a Thanksgiving without Daniel - and this had been their first - simply wasn't a Thanksgiving. Who would have guessed that he'd actually miss Daniel's anthropological discussion about Pilgrims, the Indians, and the cultural significance of the day, versus the reality of the original Thanksgiving. What did that say about his current life, that he was waxing nostalgic for a Daniel-lecture? And if Thanksgiving hadn't been enough, he now had Christmas on the horizon. He'd have preferred a wormhole connected to a black hole.
His neighborhood was already obscenely decorated, with almost every house presenting some sort of offering to the season. Which was exactly why he was spending more and more time at Cheyenne Mountain. Sure, the decorations were cropping up there as well, but since, when not going off world, he kept to his office (with the occasional foray into the Commissary for - waffles) he wasn't overly bothered by the few he did see. Grey walls had a wonderful way of muting the holiday. Of course, being twenty-something floors underground didn't hurt either.
He was at his desk now, and doing absolutely nothing, if you didn't count staring at an old SG-1 team picture. A picture that showed a laughing Daniel, front and center.
Jack felt a familiar burning sensation behind his eyes, then cleared his throat, and with an almost angry gesture, picked up the picture and tossed it into his drawer. Enough was enough.
Daniel had chosen to leave, to give up, to go transparent. His choice. Okay, he was dying at the time, in the most horrific manner imaginable, but Jacob had been healing him.
To what degree, O'Neill? a small voice asked. Even Jacob said that in all probability, Daniel would have been a shell of his former self, the voice continued.
Jack closed his eyes and sat back. Damn, he was a selfish man. Could he really have preferred an ill and scarred Daniel, to an ascended Daniel? And would he have survived Baal without Daniel's help?
No, and no again.
He would have survived - but his mental state would have been in question.
Jack leaned back in his chair and regarded the far wall like an old friend. With hands behind his head, he said, "Why did you sacrifice yourself in the first place, you stupid son-of-a-bitch?"
"Please, Colonel? Cassie won't forgive me if you say no."
"It's Christmas, sir. You need to be with your family." She shifted slightly, putting herself in his line of sight, and added, "We all miss him, Colonel, don't you understand that?"
"Of course I do, but that has nothing to do--"
"Sir? It has everything to do with it. Jonas is back home where he belongs, SG-1 is down to three again, and you've been making noises about leaving it that way. Do you really think I didn't know how you felt about Daniel? How you - really - felt about him?"
Now Jack looked at her, his shock registering in his eyes and on his face. Janet was putting into words - as only a major in the Air Force ordered to not to tell, nor ask, could do - what Jack himself had barely acknowledged. He continued to stare at her, finding no words to even begin to contradict what she was implying. He wasn't altogether certain he wanted to contradict her.
"Please come, sir. He... would have expected you to."
"Oh, sure, pile on the "He would have wanted it" crap, Doc. Low blow."
In spite of the teasing tone in his voice, he wasn't completely joking. Daniel probably would have expected him to go. Hell, Daniel wouldn't have understood why it was so painful to even contemplate a Christmas without him. Which was Jack's fault.
"I'll... be there, Janet. I'll .. be there."
Her gaze softened as she patted him on the arm before leaving his office. When the door was closed behind her, he put his head in his hands.
In spite of all Janet professed to know, what she couldn't understand was that it had been Daniel who had made the enjoyment of Christmas possible again.
//"What do you mean, you don't get a tree?"
Daniel looked up from his work and said, "Uhm, I mean... I don't get a tree? I don't think there was any subtext contained within my statement, Jack. And you don't get a tree either, so why are you hounding me about it?"
"Because - because... you should have a tree, Daniel. I live alone, you have ... fish."
Daniel's glasses waggled with his expression as he said, "Well, I did put a tiny replica of the North Pole in their tank, Jack. I think that's more than enough for... fish."
"Look, lots of people live alone, but they still celebrate, you know? Sam has a tree, hell, even Teal'c got a small one for his room. Although, what idiot convinced him to put a live tree in that tiny room he calls a home, I'll never know."
Daniel raised a hand and waved a finger toward himself. "I would be that idiot, Jack. He didn't like the idea of killing hundreds of thousands of trees just so people could decorate them for a couple of weeks, stick presents under them, then grind them up for sawdust. I told him about live trees. He's going to replant it -- in your backyard -- after the First."
"Oh. Really?" At Daniel's nod, Jack added, "Cool. Very cool. But really, you should have explained that they're grown specifically for the holiday--"
"You know, it's funny, but I tried that. He mumbled something about growing people specifically for sacrificing--"
"Oh, fer cryin' out loud, Danny, it's not the same thing and you know it. Now, after work today, I'm taking you to pick out a tree, no ifs, ands, or buts about it."
"Jack, does it matter to you that I don't want a tree?"
"In a word - no."
"Fine. If we're getting a tree for me and my fish, then damn it all, we're getting a tree for you too. No," he made little quote marks in the air, "ifs, ands, or buts about it."//
Of course, later, Jack realized that Daniel's whole "I don't want a tree" crap had been an Academy Award winning performance played for Jack's benefit - in order to get Jack back into Christmas.
Once two trees had been purchased, Daniel had 'appeared' to suddenly be struck elfish by the seasonal trappings. He'd insisted that since he only had an apartment, and Christmas was going to be at Jack's (a surprise to Jack) that Jack naturally needed to purchase the appropriate decorations. Which, shockingly enough, Jack had. Together, they'd bought house lights, a couple of huge, light-up snowmen, several light-up candy canes to trim the walk-way up to his front door, and the requisite wreaths and indoor decorations that Daniel had happily set up. By the time the annoying archaeologist was done, Jack's home had looked like Santa's workshop.
And ... he'd liked it.
That year, and all subsequent years, Christmas stopped being about the absence of Charlie. Rather, thanks to Daniel, it had become a celebration of Jack's SGC family. It had only been later that Jack had discovered that the first Christmas had also been Daniel's first real one in more years than Daniel preferred to count.
But now, Jack was facing the holiday without Daniel, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't seem to find him. His memory of him wasn't enough, the many photos weren't enough, hell, his fish tank, which sat in Jack's office, wasn't enough. Nor were the myriad of artifacts that now graced Jack's home and office. Nothing filled the hole that had once held Daniel. Nothing.
Song writers and great authors throughout history were wrong. Holding someone in your heart wasn't enough to keep that person with you. At least, not in Jack's case.
Maybe it was because he had so many regrets and so many words left unsaid.
Jack negotiated the snow-covered streets with care, and cursed the SGC. Today of all days, why couldn't there have been an inter-galactic emergency? Where were the Tok'ra (he didn't count Jacob, who was probably already at Janet's) when you needed them? Or the Asgard? Where was a good Goa'uld when you really needed a nifty twelfth hour invasion?
As he turned onto Janet's street, he couldn't miss the line of cars along the curb in front of her home. He groaned inwardly, but parked (several houses down) anyway. He got out, opened the back hatch, and took out the three large bags of gifts. As he started up the walk, the door was thrown open, and Cassie, all long legs and teenaged energy, rushed out.
"Uncle Jack, you came!"
"I promised I would, Cass. Merry Christmas, kid."
He was led inside, Cassie talking non-stop. She helped him off with his coat, took his gloves and muffler, then led him into the living room. He put on a happy face, and greeted his 'family'. The day had begun.
Everyone took their coffee or hot chocolate and headed into the living room and the tree. Breakfast was over, and it was time for the gift exchange. Cassie had nominated General Hammond (whose own family was in England) as their Santa, so wearing a ridiculously cute red Santa hat, he proceeded to hand out gifts, "One at a time, Uncle George."
Presents were attacked, then oohed and ahhed over, and Jack could only feel a hard lump in his heart. He watched, and thought of Daniel. Did glowy people celebrate Christmas? Probably not.
"Okay, there are two gifts left," Hammond said as took the one from the floor. He held it up to read the tag and his face paled slightly as he said, "It's for... Doctor Jackson... from," he looked over at the youngest member of their holiday group, "Cassie."
"Would you give it to Uncle Jack to open, please? " Cassie said, her voice holding equal notes of sadness and pride.
Worried, Hammond looked at Jack, but at Jack's nod, he held it out.
Jack took it, and slowly unwrapped it. He lifted the lid of the large, square, but oddly flat box, and inside sat a manila folder. He looked over at Cassie, who was smiling proudly in spite of the shine of moisture in her eyes.
"Take out what's inside, Uncle Jack," she directed.
He did, and found a bound notebook. On the front, a white label read, "We Are Not Alone - by Cassandra Frasier" and across the typed lettering, someone had written a large, red, "A".
"It's my paper for school. And no, it doesn't reference aliens, or space," she assured everyone. "That's not - exactly -- what it's about."
"Why is it for... Daniel?" Sam asked, unshed tears in her eyes.
"He inspired it. I once asked him why he kept going through the 'Gate, and he told me it was because we humans have a terrible superiority complex. We think we're the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that until we learned differently, we would never truly understand anything or anyone that we perceived as different, and thus fear, arrogance and ego would rule the world. So that's what I wrote about."
Everyone was silent for a moment, then Janet said, "Open the folder, Jack."
He did, and nestled inside, draped across the page, sat a blue ribbon. He looked up, one eyebrow raised as he held it out for all to see.
"She won first place in the State. Her paper has been entered in the National Essay contest," Janet said softly. Then she added, "Now read the inside page, and maybe... aloud?"
Jack turned the title page, and found himself staring down at a picture of Daniel, and beneath it, Cassie's acknowledgment. He cleared his throat, and read....
"For my uncle - and - friend, Doctor Daniel Jackson, who gave of himself for others, and taught me that we are not alone, and that I am a part of something beyond my understanding. He gave me my thirst for knowledge, and my desire to explore and enjoy all creatures, -- great and small."
Jack bent his head and swore under his breath that he would not cry in front of his people, let alone his commanding officer, god damn it. By the sound of the hitching breaths, and sniffles, he wasn't alone.
"Uncle Jack, mom thought you'd like that one, so while it's for Uncle Daniel, well, would you... would you - hold it - for him?"
His fingers tightened around the notebook, and he nodded, unable to say anything. He hoped she understood that he would read it, every word of it, later. Her gentle smile told him that she did.
"Well," huffed an emotional Hammond, "I guess we'd better take care of this last gift."
He plucked it out of the tree, but before he could read the label, Janet said, "Wait, we didn't put any gifts in the tree." She turned to Cassie and asked, "Did we, honey?"
Just as surprised, Cassie said, "I didn't, mom."
Janet looked around the room, and everyone shook their heads, all with puzzled expressions on their faces. She got up and stepped over torn wrapping paper and empty boxes, to stand next to the general. She looked at the small gift, and said, "That doesn't even match any of the wrapping paper. It's... beautiful."
"Oh, come on, now, Doc," Lou Ferretti said. "If this is for my benefit, I already believe in Santa Claus."
Everyone laughed, but Sam joined Janet and Hammond to inspect the present. Finally she said, "No, really, Janet's right. This paper is... it's... unbelievable." She took it carefully from Hammond's hand and held it up to the light. "I can... see... I mean... this just isn't possible. I can see... us in it. It's all blue and shimmering, like the wormhole, but I can see... there's Teal'c...."
Everyone got up and moved to stand by Sam, Janet, and Hammond, all jockeying for a better view.
"... and there's... me, and... my God, there's you, Janet, and Cassie, and Lou, and even... even... Kolwalsky, and... and... there's... Colonel, there you are, in the center."
She held it out, and Jack, peering over Janet and Cassie's shoulders, blinked, and stepped back as his face swam out, front and center, on the blue paper. With shaking hands, Sam took the tag, flipped it over, and said in a hushed voice, "Sir, it's for you... and it says its from...."
She turned and looked at Jack. "It says its from... Daniel." She held it out to Jack, who took it with his own shaking hand.
No one cracked wise, everyone knew instinctively that the gift wasn't a joke. Jack, gift in the palm of his hand, walked over to his chair and sat down. No one moved.
Slowly, he undid the ribbon, then carefully untucked the paper to reveal a small black box. His face tinged red with emotion as he lifted the lid ... and gasped.
Inside... sat his pocket watch.
Eyes staring down at the beloved item, he whispered, "This was given to me by my father when I graduated the Academy. It's been in the family for generations and was his father's, and his before that, and his before that... and some day, it would have been... Charlie's. But after he - died -- I went up to the lake... and threw it in. I watched it sink."
With trembling fingers, he turned the watch over, and read, "To Jonathon O'Neill, on his sixteenth birthday. October 17, 1880."
Everyone moved to stand around Jack's chair, and each of them, in turn, touched the lovely watch. There was reverence in the touching, and love.
"Are you really all right, Jack?"
He looked into Janet's concerned eyes, and nodded. "Miracles tend to enliven Christmas parties, don't they?"
She grinned. "I guess you could say that. Do you think... he was... here?"
Jack didn't, because he knew Daniel would have ruffled his hair, but he didn't want to disappoint Janet, so he said, "I'm sure of it."
She wiped her nose with the edge of her sleeve, then leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. "Drive carefully, okay?"
"I will, and thanks, Janet, for making sure I came." He held up the notebook. "I have some pretty terrific reading to do tonight, don't I?"
"Yes, you do. Good-night, Jack."
He returned the kiss, then headed for his car. He'd said his good-byes to everyone else, being the first to leave, but Janet had insisted on escorting him out. Now... he was glad she had. He got into his Avalanche, waved a final good-bye, and drove away from the cheerful home.
In spite of the cold and the clouds that promised snow, Jack went up to his roof and sat in front of his telescope. He set his coffee down, and Cassie's essay, which he'd just finished. He stared upward and said, "You should read it, Daniel. You'd be as proud as I am. But I guess you wouldn't need to read it, since it's ... you. And by the way, I finally, actually and completely, understand you. You were - are - one hell of a man, and so far ahead of the rest of us... although I guess Cassie will carry on your tradition, so to speak. And she'll spread it, thanks to this wonderful," he tapped the notebook, "essay. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if she joins the SGC one day."
He took a sip of his coffee, and whispered, "Yep, I understand you now."
Several quiet moments passed, and it seemed to Jack that the night went still. The clouds had apparently floated away, and overhead, stars sat... and didn't twinkle.
Jack dipped into his pocket... and pulled out his watch. He fingered it lovingly, then set it on the top of the telescope. "That was a pretty terrific thing to do, Daniel. And I don't want to sound ungrateful, not by any means, but facts are facts, and I'd rather have you. It's that simple." He closed his eyes, took two deep breaths, opened them, and said, "There are so many things I should have told you while I had you on this Earth, and in my life, but I didn't. But now, I will. I admit that until today, I didn't understand you at all. I could never get into your head, and that scared the hell out of me. I've always prided myself on my ability to get into people, to get into their minds, but with you, no way. Hell, I had no difficulty with Carter at all, you know? But you? Oddly enough... that little failing of mine didn't stop me from falling in love with you. Weird, huh?
"Man, this is so stupid. I'm talking to the sky, and you're probably a billion, trillion miles away, doing some weird shit "I'm not a God" thing while I spill my guts. But as long as I am, and it's Christmas for another," he picked up the watch, flipped open the cover, "six minutes, and it's supposed to be a night of miracles, then why not?" He looked up at the velvet night sky and said, "I wish you were here, Daniel. I wish you were here...."
He shook his head, gazed upward again... and frowned. He leaned forward and peered into the eyepiece of his telescope. He steered it upward, and his mouth dropped open. He leaned back, looked up, and shook his head again.
"Okay, stars twinkle. That's a scientific fact. I'm not going into the reasons why they appear to be twinkling, but they do. But they're not. The stars are not twinkling."
He stood up. Turned around, then around again.
Now he noticed the stillness of the cold night. Complete - utter -- stillness.
Jack had the silly notion that time had stopped for him. That maybe... time had to stop... so that Daniel could, what, visit? Stop by? Drop in?
The notion of time standing still dissipated as young voices caressed the night air with a Christmas carol.
//It came upon a midnight clear....//
He let out the breath he'd been holding, gave himself a mental shake, chastised himself for his foolishness, and turned toward the telescope.
He stumbled back, blinked hard several times, then shot out his hand and grasped the stair railing.
"Be careful, you don't want to fall," the apparition said.
He finally found his voice. "Hey, you're a whatever, you could catch me."
It wasn't the most brilliant thing he'd ever said, but then, he'd never been faced with these precise circumstances before.
"Actually, I couldn't, Jack. Not anymore. I'm not a whatever now. I'm a thing-a-ma-bob."
White teeth flashed as the apparition grinned.
"No, a thing-a-ma-bob. Big difference. One's human, one ... isn't."
Jack frowned, and took a step forward. He cocked his head. "Which one... is?"
Eyes narrowed, Jack regarded Daniel with suspicion. "So... if I throw my shoe at you right now...."
"Please don't. You know how we fair-skinned guys bruise."
Daniel put his hands in his pockets and looked at Jack from under his brows and over his glasses. He indicated the watch still in Jack's hand and said, "Nice watch. Get it for Christmas?"
Jack stared down at the watch, then said, "Uhm... yes. A... friend... gave it to me."
"Must have great taste, this friend."
When Jack didn't respond, Daniel whispered, "It seemed the right thing to do...."
Jack lifted his head, titled it, and stared at Daniel.
Daniel cleared his throat, then an idea struck. He held his arms out to his side, and with a charming grin reminiscent of Jack's, said, "I'm baaaack."
Jack blinked again, put the watch in his pocket, and asked tentatively, "You're... back?"
"Yep." Then in a softer voice, he said, "Merry Christmas, Jack."
Jack shuffled sideways to Daniel, reached out... and poked him in the chest. His finger connected with cashmere and solid muscle. "Wow, you're real."
"Told you so."
Jack leaned in and inspected the sweater. "This is cashmere. Daniel doesn't own any cashmere. Where's the cream sweater?"
Daniel rolled his eyes and said, "You gave this to me last Christmas, remember? And how the hell should I know where the cream sweater is? I don't know why I'm wearing this, let alone where the other sweater is. And by the way, I love you too, which is why I'm here."
Taken aback, Jack said, "You do? You are? I mean, that's why you're here?"
"That's what I said, yes."
"So, what, a glowy person falls in love, and he descends? Is it like... a punishment, or something?"
"This has got to be the strangest conversation that you and I have ever had, Jack. I'm here because this is where I always wanted to be, but ... oh, hell, who cares? I'm here, I love you, you love me, can't we just unwrap each other downstairs, in your bedroom? Then call everyone and invite them over tomorrow for the return of the geeky archaeologist?"
Jack looked at the man in front of him, and thought 'geeky' might not be the best description of Daniel Jackson any more. In fact, hunk came to mind. But he couldn't argue with Daniel's idea of what they should do now.
"I think I could get behind that idea, Doctor Jackson."
"Well, finally, Colonel O'Neill."
Jack stepped up to Daniel, and cupped the beloved face. He searched it for changes, found none, found only love staring back at him, and so he kissed him. As their lips met, a light snow began to fall, and the voices from the carolers drifted upward....
//I'll be home for Christmas, you can plan on me....//
Janet, Cassie, Sam, Jacob, Teal'c, Hammond, and Lou were still sitting around the tree, in spite of the fact that it was after midnight. For some unfathomable reason, no one wanted to end the day. Janet had turned out all the lights, so that only the ones on the tree illuminated the room, along with the crackling fire in the fireplace. Cassie had put on a Christmas CD, loath to let go of the holiday.
The ringing of the phone seemed to be oddly natural, and Janet rose easily from her spot on the floor to answer it.
"Hello? What? When?"
At the shock in her voice, everyone quickly joined her, believing it to be a medical emergency at the base.
"But... how? Where? You're... what? You're going to put him... oh, my, God. Daniel? Is that you? God, it is you. No, no, we're all here, hang on while I put it on speaker... what? Don't? Tomorrow?" She held the phone out a bit, and everyone leaned in....
//...for breakfast... uhm, wait... now Jack says... lunch. Ooops, he just changed his mind. Now he says dinner. And we'll explain everything, but tell everyone... tell everyone... Merry Christmas, and let Cassie know how proud I am of her, okay? And... I love you... all.//
In a tableau to rival the last scenes in "It's A Wonderful Life", they remained gathered around the phone, huge smiles on their faces, as Janet said, "We love you too, Daniel, and welcome back, and ... Merry Christmas...."
From the stereo, Julie Andrews sang, "Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the yuletide bright, from now on, your troubles will be out of sight...."
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