The First Christmas

Author: Orrymain
Category:  Pre-Slash, Drama, Smarm, Holiday
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  1
Spoilers:  Children of the Gods and Cold Lazarus (both minor)
Size:  95kb
Written:  November 30, December 1-8,10-14, 2005
Summary:  It's Christmas, and Jack rescues Daniel from spending it alone, or is it the other way around?
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) By the way, 'firman' is a word!
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) Jack and Daniel sometimes say things that have double meanings.  A simple word or phrase like “Jack” or “What are you doing?” could mean much more than the words spoken or carry multiple connotations, including feelings, desires, fears, etc.  These double conversations are noted like this:  “Actual Spoken Words”  **(double dialogue meaning)**
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Linda, Claudia, QuinGem, Tove, Cassiopeia, Kat, Ali, Tamara, Heather!

The First Christmas
by Orrymain

“And I'd like to go visit my brother, but I don't think that is going to work out,” Sam lamented to Jack with a sigh as they walked swiftly down the long SGC corridor.  “So then I was talking to Janet, and she invited me to join her for Christmas.”

“Sounds like a fabulous time, Carter,” Jack replied, twisting his body around to check out one of the new female personnel.  ~Hmmm, not bad.  Nah.~

“I talked to Teal'c, too,” Sam continued, not missing a beat.  “I feel bad for him, not really having anywhere to go.”

“Well, he can't exactly go home for the holidays,” Jack noted as they rounded a corner, nodding to a passing airman.  “Of course, I don't think Teal'c actually knows what the holidays are all about.”

Sam chuckled, “That's what he told me when I invited him to join Janet and me.”

“He turned ya down?” Jack asked with a frown as they reached the stairs that led up to the briefing room.

“Yes, Sir.  He says he intends to study Christmas by watching movies,” Sam answered, biting her lip in amusement.

Grinning, Jack looked back at his 2IC and chimed, “I'll make him a list; wouldn't want him to miss any of the classics.”

“Well, he already told me he was getting 'It's a Wonderful Life,' 'Miracle on 34th Street,' ...”

“What about 'Santa Claus Conquers the Martians'?” Jack questioned as they entered the empty briefing room, Sam moving to stand on the opposite side of the table from her CO.

“I'd hardly call that a classic, Sir,” Sam stated, suppressing a snort as they waited for the remaining members of SG-1 and General Hammond, the commanding officer of the SGC, to arrive.

Waving his hand dismissively, Jack responded, “It all depends on your definition.”

“Your definition of what?” Daniel asked curiously as he walked in and stood by the chair next to his best friend's.

“Classic,” Jack answered simply, as if that one word explained everything.

“Oh,” Daniel responded softly, rolling his eyes and scrunching his nose slightly at the unusual response.  “Uh, classic means something created to the highest degree of excellence.”

“See!” Jack said lightheartedly, extending out his arm towards Sam in triumph.

Sam bowed her head, shaking it back and forth as she laughed.

“Is something humorous, CaptainCarter?” Teal'c asked in his usual stoic way, walking in and taking the spot next to Sam.

“Uh ...” Sam began, not knowing what to say.

Jack interjected, “I was just educating Carter on the meaning of ...”

“Be seated,” Hammond ordered, abruptly cutting Jack off mid-sentence and sitting down at his usual spot at the head of the table.  “We have a crisis on ...”

“Another one, Sir?” Jack inquired jovially.  Seeing the unappreciative look on his CO's face, Jack cleared his throat self-consciously and whispered a tiny, “Sorry” before sitting down to find out the reason for SG-1's unscheduled briefing.

====

Two very long weeks later, Jack ambled happily down the gray SGC hallways on his way home to a relaxing downtime.  He stopped suddenly, shaking his head at the view in front of him.

~Deja vu.  Geez, he still looks like a little lost puppy.~

Several feet away, leaning against the wall, was Daniel.  He was staring off broodingly into the nothingness, much as he had been several months ago upon returning from Abydos.  It had been another night just like this when Jack had gone up to the archaeologist and literally rescued him, taking him home to his house.  While Daniel now had his own apartment, he was still a frequent visitor at Jack's country-style home and still had some of his things in Jack's spare room.

There was no real reason for Daniel to be where he was, standing in the empty corridor, staring at the blankness of the gray wall.  Like before, it seemed it was destiny for Jack to intervene in the lonely young man's life, and Jack wasn't about to disappoint destiny.

“Hey,” Jack said softly, coming to a stop behind his friend.

“I'm fine, Jack,” Daniel replied automatically.

Shaking his head, Jack responded, “I didn't ask you how you were.  I just said, 'hey'.”

“Hey,” Daniel echoed.

Jack looked back behind him as two chattering nurses passed, heading towards the commissary where some festive partying was going on.  The noise was unusually loud as it filtered down the corridors of the SGC.  It seemed like every day during this week before Christmas there was some kind of celebration going on, especially since the personnel had various lengths of holiday downtime.

For SG-1, this was the last day of their workweek.  As the flagship team of the SGC and having just come off two long, difficult back-to-back missions, Hammond had given them five days off, two days on each side of Christmas Day.

“Come on, Danny; time to go play with Santa and his elves,” Jack cajoled, tapping lightly on his friend's right arm.

Daniel looked up and smiled cautiously as, he, too, recalled how a similar scene had played out when he'd returned from Abydos.  Back then, he'd felt more alone than he ever had felt before, and his heart had been was breaking over the capture of his wife, Sha're, by the Goa'uld, Apophis.  On that first lonely night back on Earth, he hadn't known what to do with himself; that is, not until Jack O'Neill gave him a roguish grin and took him home, like he was a lost puppy the colonel had found beside the road.

~Great.  I'm still a lost dog.  Good thing Jack prefers dogs over cats,~ Daniel silently mused, his melancholy still getting the best of him.

It was a strange friendship to some, the gun-loving colonel and the shaggy-haired archaeologist, seemingly so opposite in almost every way; nonetheless, these two men had formed a deep bond, and by their own admission, were now best friends.

Of course, finding Daniel like this in the hallway again was a surprise to Jack, just as Jack's cunning plans for the Christmas holidays were likely to be a surprise for Daniel.  Jack had anticipated Daniel arguing with anything and everything he'd suggest they do together, so he had planned to essentially kidnap the younger man for a decent Christmas celebration.

With Sha're gone, and Jack still mourning the loss of his marriage and his young son, neither man wanted to do anything loud and raucous.  In fact, a part of Jack just wanted to hightail it home, crawl into bed, read some old 'Mad' magazines, have a few beers, and wake up when it was time to go back to work again.  However, while watching Daniel at one of the early Christmas parties, Jack realized how ill at ease his friend was in celebrating the season. He recalled, too, how Daniel's parents had died when he was but a small boy.

~I'll bet you haven't had a tree since you were a kid,~ Jack had thought sadly.  ~Okay, Dannyboy, Santa Jack is on the case.~

It was a day earlier than Jack's planned kidnapping, but that was okay.  Daniel was obviously feeling the emptiness of the season, and to be honest, so was Jack.

“Daniel, let's go!” Jack called out again now that he was several feet away and anxious to leave the drab halls of the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.

Daniel nodded, more to himself than Jack, and hurried to catch up to the older man saying, “Uh, Jack, does this kinda feel like deja vu to you?“

“Deja what?” Jack mocked, raising his eyebrows.

“I mean, uh, what just happened and, uh, well ...” the younger man stuttered.

“Daniel, I haven't got a clue what the heck you're talking about,” Jack smirked and then grinned, causing Daniel to duck his head and chuckle slightly.

“Where are we going?” Daniel quizzed curiously.

“You'll see,” Jack responded cryptically, his devious smile alluring in an odd sort of way to the younger man.

“I'm not sure I should trust you, O'Neill,” Daniel said after stopping to sign out at the security gate.

“Not trust *me*?” Jack asked in mock shock, stopping to put his hands on his chest.  With wide, pure eyes, he added, “I'm as innocent as freshly fallen snow.”

“Jack, I may be naive about some things, but please don't make me laugh,” Daniel requested in amusement, shaking his head and walking on past the older man.

“Daniel, I'm hurt,” Jack said mockingly as he jogged a couple of steps to catch up with his friend.

“You'll get over it,” Daniel quipped.

Jack laughed as he reached into his pocket for his keys.

“Uh,” Daniel stammered nervously.  He suddenly realized he had been leading the way and had instinctively walked to Jack's Ford truck, leaving his run-down jalopy two aisles over and back a few spaces.  “I, uh ...”

“Danny, we're taking my truck,” Jack said, choosing to ignore Daniel's discomfort so as not to upset the younger man further.  Unlocking the vehicle doors, he ordered, “Get in.”

~Gawd, I feel so embarrassed,~ Daniel thought as he climbed in and buckled his seatbelt.

~Love it when he does stuff like that.  Danny, you're not alone in this world, and I'm going to get you to realize that one of these days.  Maybe on Christmas!~ Jack thought, a little excitement at the prospect seeping into his soul, glancing at Daniel as he turned on the engine.  He smiled.  ~Yeah, maybe at Christmas.~

====

“Jack, what are you doing?” Daniel asked in exasperation as he watched Jack poking through the archaeologist's closet, a brown duffel bag laying open by his feet.

“Daniel, I thought we bought you clothes,” Jack said, referring to a shopping trip they'd taken soon after Daniel returned to Earth, as he flicked through the hanging garments.

“We, uh, did,” Daniel stated nervously as he stood, arms folded, by his bed, not sure where this line of inquiry was going.

“We forgot about winter,” Jack laughed, returning a thin, red, plaid shirt to it's home, hoping that it would never see the light of day again.  “Okay, our adventure begins with a trip to the mall.”

“The mall?” Daniel inquired, dread filling him, as Jack flew by him, going into entering the bathroom, sounds of rummaging reaching his ears.

“Where's your razor?” The older man called out.  “Never mind.  We can share.  Let's go,” Jack ordered, re-entering the bedroom, not wanting to waste anymore time.

“Jack, would you care to share what's going on in that wacky mind of yours?” a clueless Daniel queried.

Jack's answer was a smug, knowing smile and a gallant gesture towards the door.

“Fine,” Daniel sighed in defeat, causing Jack to nod triumphantly as he left the room.  “But I want my own shaver,” he argued to his friend's back, quickly going into the bathroom and throwing a bunch of toiletries into his shaving kit, after which he grabbed a few other items and tossed them into the duffel bag as well, shrewdly suspecting that he was being kidnapped by his team leader.  ~I can't take any chances, not with a Special Ops trained colonel.~

As Daniel hurried into the living room, Jack added, “Daniel.”

“What?”

“Feed your fish,” Jack instructed.

“My fish?” Daniel stated, more than asked.

“You know those little things that get flushed down the toilet when they die and ...” Jack teased with a small grin.

“Jack!” Daniel objected in horror at the thought.  “Why should I feed my fish?”  He shook his head, asking, “I mean where are we going?”  ~I *am* being kidnapped.~

“Fish, Daniel!” Jack ordered, ignoring the question, as he grabbed the shaving kit and duffel bag from the younger man's hands and headed out the door, a secret smile on his face as he headed down the hallway.

“Fish,” Daniel echoed, ambling over to do as he'd been told.  ~I don't take orders; I just don't want my fish to die, either!~ he thought, rushing out the door after his best friend.

====

With four bulging shopping bags already in Jack's hands and another three in Daniel's, the two friends stood next to a clothing rack, preparing to do battle.

“Jack!”  **(You're overdoing it.)**

“Daniel.”  **(Just pick out a dang sweater.)**

“Jaaack.”  **(I don't need another one.  I already have plenty!)**

“*Dan*iel.”  **(No arguments.  Do it now.)**

“Gawd.”  **(Sometimes you are so infuriating.)**

As he watched Daniel eyeing the different colors, finally picking out a tan sweater, Jack smiled to himself, thinking, ~Geez, he's like a kid sometimes.~

As they started to walk away to pay for their purchases, Jack suddenly turned around on impulse and grabbed a midnight blue sweater that he'd been admiring.

“Jack, I don't need another sweater,” Daniel stated flatly.

“Last one, Danny,” Jack promised.  “You need a blue one,” he opined with his boyish charm.

~Right.~  Daniel sighed as he carried his new winter clothes to the counter.  With Jack behind him, he stared at the latest stack of clothing being purchased.  ~I've never bought so much in my life,~ the younger man thought, shaking his head in amazement.  Cocking his head slightly, he noted, ~I've never had the money to buy anything I've really needed before, either.~  Daniel looked over his shoulder at Jack and felt a smile forming on his face.  ~How does he get me to do things like this?~

“Cash or charge?” the clerk asked, interrupting Daniel's thoughts.

“Charge,” both men said, handing over their credit cards.

“Jack.”  **(I'm paying for my own clothes.)**

“Daniel.”  **(It's Christmas.  Let me buy.)**

“Jack!”  **(Give it up; lost cause, Colonel).**

Sensing he'd lost this skirmish, Jack nodded and put away his credit card.  After all, he'd purchased the boots, gloves, a hat, two scarves, and a down jacket.

~Besides, the season is still young!~ Jack inwardly plotted.

====

Jack and Daniel had just reentered the mall after putting several bags containing Daniel's new winter wardrobe into Jack’s truck.  There were still a few more things on Jack's shopping list to get before the two could continue their holiday journey.

“... and the characteristics of the drawings indicate that the civilization may have been more advanced than we realized.  They, uh, had mechanical devices, or at least, the ...”

Daniel stopped his oration, suddenly realizing he was alone.  He looked back and saw Jack grinning at the mall's Santa, who was talking to a couple of small, excited kids.  It was towards the end of Santa's duty, and only one child remained in line.  He walked over to stand beside Jack and shrugged, not really having a comment to make at the sight before them.

“Sometimes I wish I were a kid again, Danny,” Jack confided.  “I loved telling Santa what I wanted for Christmas; made him a long list, told him to check it twice, that I was most definitely nice.”

“You're rhyming, Jack,” Daniel pointed out, helplessly letting out a snort.

Jack chuckled, “I was pretty lucky with Santa.  How about you?”

Daniel shrugged non-commitally, watching as the last child took her spot on Santa's lap.

“Daniel, are you telling me you've never sat on Santa's lap and given him your Christmas list?” Jack asked incredulously, dreading the younger man's answer.

“He never came to Egypt, or at least, not where I was,” Daniel admitted quietly.

A new plan forming in his mind, Jack grinned, putting his left hand on Daniel's back, and said, “You're never too old to give Santa your list.”

A panicked Daniel exclaimed, “No, Jack!”  **(Not on your freakin' life!)**

“Yes, Daniel,” Jack said, still grinning.

“No!”  **(I'd rather die!)**

“Now, Danny, giving Santa your list is part of Christmas,” Jack argued lightheartedly.

“Jack, I'm a grown man, and grown men don't sit on Santa's lap,” Daniel refuted, taking a step back, not realizing he was heading towards the bearded man.

“Sure, they do.  Are you prejudiced against Santa?” Jack asked with an accusing frown.

“What?  Jack, don't be a loon,” Daniel stated a bit sarcastically.

“Start thinking,” Jack urged, quickly adding, “and don't leave anything out.”

“Jack, I am *not* sitting on that ... that man's lap,” Daniel said, pointing at the Santa Claus, taking just a few seconds to realize that he was closer to the bearded figure than he had been a minute earlier.

“Yes, you are,” Jack insisted, giving him a gentle push backwards.

“No, I'm not,” Daniel maintained, a helpless look on his face.

“Yes!”

“No!”

“Oh, yes!” Jack said smugly.

“Nooo,” Daniel stated, shaking his head as more panic swelled within him.

“Daniel, sit down!” Jack ordered, his voice and tone so abrupt that Daniel took a step backwards.  “Ooooooh gawd!” he exclaimed as he fell back.  His face reddened as he realized that he was now on Santa's lap.  ~How did he do that?~ Daniel wondered in annoyance, aware that somehow Jack had managed to keep him so engaged in their bickering that he had ignored the fact that he had been in line to visit with St. Nick.  “Uh, hello,” an embarrassed Daniel said to the Santa, giving him a nervous smile.

“Ho! Ho! Ho! to you, Sonny.  Aren't you a little big to be on my lap?” the Santa asked with a twinkling eye.

“Yes, I am.  Ex...”

“Don't move a muscle,” Jack ordered as he hovered over his friend.  “Listen, Santa, Daniel here has never *ever* sat on your lap before.  He was raised in Egypt, and I guess you boycotted the pyramids, so you owe him.  Daniel, give Santa your list.”

~These two are definitely not typical, but what the heck?~ the Santa thought.  ~I'm still on the clock.~  Santa smiled and asked, “So what's your name, little boy?”

“You've got to be kidding,” Daniel replied, his hand moving up to cover his eyes.

“Daniel, Santa asked you a question,” Jack admonished in a parent-like way.

~If I don't do this, he'll just try again.  I must be insane to still be sitting here.  Gawd, I'm sitting on Santa's lap,~ Daniel thought.

“Come on, Danny,” Jack said more softly.  “Close your eyes, and put yourself back in time.  Tell Santa.”

Daniel wanted to strangle his friend; yet, at the same time, a tiny part of him was excited at the prospect.  He didn't quite understand why he hadn't yet bolted up and run out of the mall at high speed.

“Danny, tell him your name,” Jack coaxed as he glanced at the woman dressed as an elf who had been taking Polaroid pictures of the kids sitting on Santa’s lap.  Jack smiled mischievously as he walked over to Santa’s picture taking elf.  ~Can't pass this up.~

The archaeologist closed his eyes and took a deep breath before answering, “My name is Daniel.”

“Danny, you're a kid, a child, a little boy.  Tell Santa your name,” Jack said again, his voice soft and steady.

Daniel sighed, “My ... my name is ... it's, uh, Danny.”

Jack smiled, and the Santa looked at him, seeing something there that made him think of the current situation more seriously.

“Danny, that's a fine name,” Santa responded.

“I like it, or I ... did,” Daniel replied sadly.

“Have you been a good boy this year, Danny?” Santa inquired.

“Um, I ... think so,” Daniel answered.

“Have you kept your room clean, eaten all your vegetables, and minded your ...” Santa paused, glancing at Jack before continuing, “elders?”

~Ouch!  Low blow, Santa,~ Jack thought.

“Yes,” Daniel answered.

“Not so fast,” Jack interjected.  “He needs help on the following orders bit.”

“Jack!”

As Jack laughed, Santa nodded and then advised, “We'll let that go this year. So, Danny, what would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?”

Daniel's eyes were still closed so he didn't see the flash of the camera or Jack’s smile as he handed the elf five dollars and took the Polaroid picture from her.

“I, uh, um ... well ... world peace?” Daniel asked, unsure of what to ask for.

“Danny!” Jack said.  “The little boy -- what do you want?”

Daniel took another deep breath, closing his eyes as he tried to go back in time, to a period in his life that he could barely remember anymore.  Part of him still couldn't believe he was really doing this while another part of him was relishing the experience that he'd missed out on as a child.

“I'd like a new wagon, a ... a red wagon.  Dad's been using mine for artifacts,” Daniel explained, keeping his eyes closed.  “And, uh, more blocks.  I like to build, but I don't have enough building blocks to make the pyramids.”

“What else?” Santa inquired.

“I don't want to be selfish,” Daniel stated, biting his lip.

“You've been a good boy this year, Danny.  Santa wants you to tell me more of your dreams,” the man in the red suit encouraged.

“A slinky: I saw a boy with one of those.  I'd love to have a slinky and some new books to read and ... I like to draw.  I'd like to have something to draw with.  Oh, and a bicycle.  That would be fun,” Daniel said, unaware of how deep into his childhood he had let himself go.  “And a big globe to see where we are, and my own tools I can use to help Daddy and ...”

Suddenly, Daniel snapped out it, opening his eyes and staring at the man in whose lap he sat in total shock.

“Santa will do his best,” the jolly man said, adding, “Ho! Ho! Ho!  Merry Christmas!  Merrrrry Christmas.”

“Thank you,” the younger man said, completely embarrassed as he stood up and walked away.

“I'll take those,” Jack said to Santa's helpers as he whisked some candy canes out of their hands.  “Thanks, Santa.”

“Merry Christmas, Colonel,” Santa replied as he stood up and walked away.

Jack smiled and hurried to catch up with Daniel, only then he heard Santa's words echo in his mind -- “Merry Christmas, Colonel.”

“Colonel?”  Jack looked back, seeing Santa and all of his helpers were completely out of sight.  ~Did I say I was a colonel?  Did the military come up?  Does it say 'colonel' on my jacket?  Crap, that was weird.~  He shook his head, deciding, ~Must be someone I know.  Double crap!  If Danny knows him, he'll ... oh crap!~

Jack opted to not think about the possibility of Daniel sitting on Santa's lap getting all over the base.  He jogged forward, catching up with the younger man in front of the toy store.

“Danny ...” Jack began tentatively, placing his hand on the younger man's arm.

“You know something, Jack?  For just a minute, I was back in Egypt.  It was just a minute, but I felt like a ... a ...” Daniel hesitated, not sure what he wanted to say.

“A little boy?” Jack completed for his friend.

Daniel turned his head to face Jack and smiled, giving him a tiny nod.

“Was that so bad?” Jack asked.

“No, no it wasn't,” Daniel admitted.

“Good.  Now we have more shopping to do,” Jack stated, yanking Daniel's arm to follow.

“Jaaack!”  ~Geez, why do I even bother?~  Daniel chuckled.  ~Because he's Jack, and that means he's ... he's just Jack!~

“Daniel, move it!” Jack barked.

“He's also a grizzly bear!” Daniel stated softly as he walked towards the older man to continue their shopping.

====

“... and then the old windbag grunts, puffs out his cheeks and belly like ...” Jack paused, suddenly realizing he was talking to himself.  He and Daniel had been on their way out of the mall, Jack telling his friend a story from his Academy days, when all of a sudden he noticed that he was getting funny looks.  Turning around, Jack realized his problem -- Daniel had stopped, staring at something in one of the stores.  ~Okay, what's so interesting?~

Jack backtracked the distance of two stores and stood next to the younger man.  He looked at the object of Daniel's attention and then back at the man.

“Daniel, if you want it, go buy it,” Jack stated.

“No, I shouldn't,” Daniel said.  Suddenly, he snapped out of his trance-like state.  “Oh, geez, I'm sorry, Jack.  I ... I, well, I ...”

“You were standing here drooling over those truffles,” a grinning Jack answered for Daniel.

“Don't be ridiculous, Jack,” Daniel argued.  “I was just making a scientific study of ...”  He smiled, seeing Jack's skeptical stare.  “I was drooling,” Daniel chuckled.

“Let's go get some,” Jack urged, moving towards the shop.

“Nah.  They're way too expensive.  We already bought those Hershey bars at the gas station and ...” Daniel began, only to be cut off by the colonel.

“Hershey's great, but Godiva is mouth-watering,” Jack said as if that settled everything.  “Danny, you can afford this now.  How come you don't splurge?”

Daniel shrugged, looking off into the crowd of shoppers, saying, “I don't know.  It's just a luxury I don't really need.”

“Which is why you should buy it, and from now on, you're going to Godiva-shop once a week,” Jack ordered.

“I am?” Daniel questioned astonishingly.

“You are!” Jack said, motioning towards the candy store and then leading the way in.  “Need is good, but sometimes you have to give yourself a treat.  You need to get these only because you want them.”

“If you say so, Jack,” Daniel said, feeling a bit embarrassed and not for the first time today.

~There's a chocolate story inside of you, Daniel Jackson, and one of these days, I'm going to pull it out of you,~ Jack thought as he began ordering candy to be purchased.

====

As they traveled east on I-80, Daniel sat comfortably, munching on some Barnum's animal cookies.

“I can't believe you bought these,” Daniel stated, swallowing the last of his sweet treat.

“I can't believe you never had them,” Jack replied.  “It's not that they're the best treats invented, that's a Big Hunk bar.  Bazooka bubblegum is probably the second because of all the ways you can use it, but ...”

“Excuse me?” Daniel questioned with a raised eyebrow.  “Bazooka is a ... a bubblegum?  I thought it was a gun.”

“Yes, it's a bubblegum!” Jack exclaimed, glancing at the linguist in disbelief.  “Geez, Daniel, haven't you heard of anything besides coffee and Twinkies?” he asked incredulously.

“Sure, I have.”  Smiling at Jack, he added, “Power bars, donuts, and anything Chinese.”

“Very funny,” Jack responded dryly.

“Where are we going?” Daniel asked yet again.

“To Christmas,” Jack responded mysteriously.

“Oh, well, uh, that certainly tells me what I wanted to know,” Daniel quipped.

“So, Daniel,” Jack said, tapping his fingers against the steering wheel.  “What's so fascinating about digging in the dirt and playing with old rocks?”

Daniel glared at his friend and snapped back, “Oh, probably the same thing that's so fascinating about flying in tiny airplanes and playing with guns.”

Jack stared at Daniel for a moment and then replied, “So, Daniel, you ever think about doing something besides rock ...” Jack paused, re-thinking the phrasing of the question and then continued, “being an archaeologist?”

“Ever consider not being in the military?” Daniel questioned in return, avoiding the query.

Jack let out a tiny snort and then asked, “Ever imagine going to other worlds?”

“Did you?” Daniel replied.

“Daniel, do you plan on giving me a straight answer?” Jack inquired with a slightly agitated sigh.

“Do you plan on asking me something that isn't obvious?” Daniel retaliated.

“Daniel!”  **(Geek!)**

“Jack!”  **(Give it up!)**

Jack laughed, and soon Daniel followed suit.

“Hand me an elephant,” Jack requested a few moments later.

Daniel sorted through the small box of cookies and pulled out an elephant, handing it to his friend.

“I never thought about doing anything else,” the archaeologist suddenly stated solemnly, looking out the truck window into the dark of the night.  “Digs and artifacts were all I knew until ...”  Daniel trailed off as old memories of Egypt and his parents began to haunt him.

Jack considered saying something, but he knew all about the void Daniel had entered into.  It was one he frequented far too often himself.  Instead of trying to laugh their way out of it, he decided to let the passage of a few minutes do it, allowing Daniel to privately remember his upbringing and the loss he had ultimately suffered.

“Uh, sorry,” Daniel finally uttered several minutes later.

“Not a problem,” Jack replied softly.

“Anyway, I was fascinated by it all,” Daniel continued.  “And even after my parents died, I knew I'd follow in their footsteps, that I'd ... I'd do my, uh, best to ... to make ...”

Again, the younger man's voice trailed off into silence, but this time Jack intervened, saying, “I'm sure they're proud of you, Danny.  You're doing what no one else in their field could ever dream of doing.”

“Academia thinks I'm a nutcase,” Daniel replied in a derisive snort.

“Academia needs a swift kick in their six,” Jack responded hotly.  “Give me a lion.”

Daniel smiled as he lifted the half-empty box up and started shaking it until he found Jack a lion, taking a bear for himself.

“The older I got the more I realized that it wasn't just the treasures we found buried in the ground that were important, but the societies that left those treasures for us to find, so I started studying about ancient civilizations and cultures,” Daniel explained.  “After that, it, uh, well, it wasn't a far stretch to add languages to it.  I mean, if I wanted to learn about the people of the world, I needed to be able to communicate and interpret the messages they left behind.”

“Yeah, but you knew a lot of languages before you studied them,” Jack commented.  “Knowing twenty languages before you reached the age of twenty is quite an accomplishment,” he said, obvious awe in his voice at the younger man's accomplishment.

~Okay, that's *not* a guess.~  Daniel looked at Jack thoughtfully, a bit surprised by his awareness of the subject.  He nodded, saying, “Yes.  My parents taught me the basics in several languages, and I, uh, taught myself a lot, but to actually get the degree in linguistics was a bit of an afterthought,” Daniel revealed a little sheepishly.

“Nice afterthought,” Jack said with a smile, almost at the same time that Daniel clarified his thought.
 
“I mean knowing foreign or even old languages isn't the same as learning about a language's history, its function in a society, or how it's changed structurally over a period of time.  Studying linguistics took me to another place I needed to be in order to understand things I was learning in archaeology and anthropology.  It's not just how a language is used, Jack, but how it fits in with languages of other cultures.  Linguistics ...” the younger man continued, his pace of speech rapid.

“Daniel?” the older man interrupted.

“What?”

“Give me a bear,” Jack requested.  He waited patiently as Daniel reached in and emerged with a cookie.  Having been handed the cookie, Jack began to take a bite, but whined, “Daniel, I said a bear.  This is a lion.”

“Sorry,” Daniel said, searching through the box.  “Uh, no more bears, Jack.  How about another elephant?”

“Open a new box,” Jack instructed.

“Jack, eat the elephant,” Daniel replied sternly.

“But I *want* a bear,” the colonel whined like a child.

“Jack, you *are* a bear.  Now eat the freakin' elephant,” Daniel ordered, rolling his eyes.  ~How can a grown man, a colonel, a Special Ops colonel even, sound so much like a child?~

“Geez, when did you get to be such a dictator?” Jack asked a bit rhetorically as he grudgingly took the elephant.

“Since you went on an animal cookie safari,” Daniel answered.

A couple minutes later, Jack broke the silence, saying, “I was going to be a fireman, then a mountain climber, a hockey player ...”  He paused as he laughed.  “Once I was sure I was going to join the circus and be a clown.”

“Now *that* I can imagine,” the younger man quipped with a laugh.

“Smart ...”

“Jack, you were saying ...” Daniel interrupted, stopping the older man's wisecracking remark.

“I was saying the military seemed the logical choice.  It's full of clowns,” Jack responded.

“Jack ...”

“Yeah, me, too,” Jack responded, not needing to hear his friend's words, just knowing them instinctively.  “We'll stop at the next exit.”

====

<Thump, thump>
<Thump, thump>

~What is that?~  Daniel's eyes fluttered opened slowly, a long yawn emerging, the thump, thump sound annoying him for the moment.  ~Truck.  I'm in a ... oh, yeah, Jack's truck.  Time?  What time is it?~  Daniel's eyes widened as he struggled to bring the clock into focus.  ~Why can't I see clearly?  Did my glasses fall off or something?~  Daniel raised his hands to his head and exclaimed, “Jack, where are my glasses?”

“Welcome back to the world of the living, Doctor Jackson,” Jack quipped.

“Jack!” the cranky coffee-free archaeologist objected.

“Check your shirt pocket,” Jack responded, deciding that teasing his friend wasn't the best option at the moment.

Daniel looked down at his shirt and shook his head.  He pulled out the frames and put them on, suppressing another yawn and widening his eyes as the world came back into focus.

<Thump, thump>

~Oh, the windshield wipers.~  Daniel paused as reality set in.  “It's, uh, raining!”

“Very good,” Jack teased.

“I can't believe you got them off without me waking up.  Why'd you take them off?” the younger man queried, squinting at his friend.

“They were falling off, and it was easy.”  With a brief look at his friend, Jack saw Daniel's skeptical scowl.  “Daniel, when you sleep, a truck could drive over you, and I don't think you'd wake up.”

“Oh,” Daniel responded quietly.  “Uh, where are we?” he inquired a few moments later, looking out the window into the murky darkness.

“On the road,” Jack answered cryptically.

“Very informative, Jack,” Daniel said in exasperation, looking out the window and watching as they passed a 'Highway 11' sign.  ~Highway 11 -- wherever that is.~

“We're going to have a white Christmas, Danny,” Jack said all of a sudden in a bit of a far-off longing voice.

“We had that back in Colorado,” Daniel stated grumpily.

“That's not the point,” Jack responded.

“What is the point?”

“Christmas,” Jack intoned optimistically, smiling at his friend.

“You're not making any sense, Jack,” Daniel commented.

“Who's your favorite reindeer?” Jack asked, changing the subject again.

Daniel scrunched up his face in confusion.  It seemed that his friend was once again following his own logic in this conversation.

“I don't have a favorite reindeer,” Daniel eventually answered, choosing to go with the unusual flow of the discussion.

“That's almost un-American, Daniel.  Don't be so noncommittal,” Jack encouraged as he moved over one lane to stay on the correct freeway as it divided up ahead.

Daniel let out a snort and said, “Jack, I don't really see a difference between a Scandinavian reindeer or one living in Greenland.  They're all pretty much the same -- ruminants, antlers ...”

“Danny, I'm not talking about *those* reindeer,” Jack interrupted, letting out a sound of frustration.

“Okay, well, which reindeer?” the archaeologist asked a bit abruptly.

“Santa's reindeer!” Jack exclaimed.  “I like Rudolph myself.  I know, he's not considered one of the regulars, but how can you not love that shiny red nose?”

Daniel bobbed his head up and down slightly in acknowledgement.

“So which one do you like?” Jack quizzed again, glancing at the younger man curiously.

“Rudolph, I guess,” Daniel answered quietly, his arms folded tightly across his chest as looked out the window so that Jack couldn't see his face.

“Two votes for Rudy,” Jack chirped happily.  “Who's your next favorite?”

“Um, I don't know.  Who's yours?” Daniel asked hesitantly, biting his lip.

Jack took a quick moment to stare at Daniel as the proverbial light went off in his head.

“Name Santa's reindeer,” Jack instructed.  As Daniel remained quiet, Jack's hypothesis became a proof.  “You don't know, do you?” he asked softly.

“Reindeer are reindeer,” Daniel replied.  “Jack, I was thinking about setting up some kind of field rotation for ...”

“Daniel, the SGC is back there,” Jack stated strongly, using his right hand to point behind him.  “We're talking reindeer.”

“I don't know any of the freakin' reindeer, okay?” Daniel sighed.  “Dasher or something stupid like that.”

~Whoa!~  Jack waited a few moments until he could sense his friend had calmed down, the bitterness and anger Daniel had uncharacteristically expressed fading almost immediately.  ~Another story to learn one day.~

“I'm sorry,” Daniel said quietly, slowly turning to look at the driver of the vehicle.  “I, uh, I don't know.  I mean I ...”  He closed his eyes for a moment, silently regrouping, and then spoke, “I sort of remember my parents mentioning reindeer, but we were in Egypt, where the closest thing to a reindeer was a camel; and later, I guess I ... well, I tuned Christmas out.  There just wasn't much reason to remember it.  Can we talk about something else?”

“What we need, Danny, is some holiday cheer,” Jack declared, carefully reaching into the back for some cassette tapes.

“Jack, watch out!” Daniel exclaimed, fearing that Jack was about to drive the truck off the road.

“Nothing to fear,” Jack replied confidently.  He put in the desired tape and smiled as the song began to play, filling the Ford truck with festive music.

You know Dasher, and Dancer, and
Prancer, and Vixen,
Comet, and Cupid, and
Donner and Blitzen
But do you recall
The most famous reindeer of all

Daniel chuckled in amusement, “I guess those are the reindeer.”

“Those are the reindeer,” Jack confirmed.  “And now we're going to begin your reindeer education by learning this song.”

“Oh, gawd,” Daniel moaned, his head lolling onto the headrest, as Jack backed up the tape.

“And a one and a two ...” Jack began.

You know Dasher, and Dancer, and
Prancer, and Vixen,
Comet, and Cupid, and
Donner and Blitzen

====

“Goodbye, North Dakota,” Daniel quipped as they drove along Highway 13.  “We're in Minnesota,” he stated, as if having a revelation.  He looked over at Jack.  “You grew up in Minnesota.”

“My grandparents lived here, but I probably spent as much time here as I did in Chicago,” Jack answered in agreement.

“Jack, we're not going to meet your grandparents or ... or ...” Daniel wondered, suddenly feeling as if he wanted to throw up.

“Relax, Danny.  They're long gone,” Jack stated a bit sadly.  “So are my parents, but where I'm taking you, they're as alive as we are.”

“Oh, gawd, we're going fishing,” Daniel whined in abject horror.

Jack laughed and said, “It's snowing.  You can't fish if it's snowing.  The water's frozen by now.”

“Oh, yeah, uh, right,” a relieved Daniel replied as Jack made a turn off onto an unmarked country road.

“Unless, of course, you want to go ice fishing,” Jack said, teasing his younger traveling companion.  The look of panic on Daniel's face was too much for Jack.  “I’m just kidding,” Jack stated in his best Irish brogue.  “I love to fish, but I was never fond of ice fishing.  Too cold,” he shivered.

Daniel breathed an audible sigh of relief, which caused Jack to chuckle.  Both men smiled, and the next few minutes passed in silence.  Jack watched Daniel staring out the window at the snow covered scenery.

~By the end of this trip, Danny, you will know what Christmas means,~ Jack determined silently.

“You do know where we're going?” Daniel inquired hopefully, suddenly feeling more out in the boondocks than he ever felt in Egypt.

“Trust me,” Jack beckoned.

“Someday I may regret this,” the younger man said.

“At least you know your name,” Jack jested.

“Huh?” Daniel asked cluelessly.

“One of Santa's flying brigade has an identity crisis,” Jack announced quite seriously.

“Uh, who?” the archaeologist asked, scrunching his nose.

“Donner.  Some folks call him Donder.  Poor critter is lucky he's not schizophrenic,” Jack commented lightheartedly.

“Mmmm.  So why the identity crisis?” Daniel inquired inquisitively.

“No clue, and back to business with your reindeer education.  One more time, Danny,” Jack said, restarting the cassette deck.

Daniel considered arguing, but the way Jack sang the song was so off-kilter, though not off-key, that he couldn't resist.  He'd quickly memorized the lyrics, so with his pal, Daniel sang along.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say:
'Rudolph, with your nose so bright,
Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?'
Then how the reindeer loved him,
As they shouted out with glee,
'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
You'll go down in history.'

“There's hope for you yet, Danny,” Jack said happily as Daniel successfully concluded the song with him.

“Jack?”

“What?” the colonel asked.

“It, uh, the song ... reindeer games.  I feel sorry for Rudolph.  I bet he was the last one picked before they kicked him out,” the archaeologist commented with a frown.

“Yeah, but in the end,” Jack replied softly, “Rudolph was right, and he became the leader.”  Jack looked over at the sometimes shy man next to him and added, “It may not be with your nose, Daniel, but your knowledge has lit the way for us to go places we never knew we could.”

“Are you saying General Hammond is Santa Claus?” Daniel teased.

Jack laughed as he made a turn down yet another single lane road and quipped, “He does have the figure for it.”

“Ouch!  I'll be sure to make sure he knows you said that,” Daniel joked, imagining the general in a Santa outfit.

“Santa Hammond and Daniel the long-haired geek,” Jack teased.

“And who are you?” Daniel asked, anticipating the colonel's answer.

Jack smiled as he answered, “I'm the elf who's going to make sure you have a white Christmas.”

“I think the clouds may have something to do with that,” Daniel replied, glancing up towards the sky.

“Smart aleck,” Jack chuckled.

====

Daniel took in the sight before him as the truck came to a stop on the wintry white road.  His mouth was open slightly as he got out of the truck, his hands still on the door.  His eyes surveyed the small cabin in front of him.

“I know it's not much, but ...”

“Jack, it's beautiful,” Daniel interrupted, closing the truck door.  He patted his arms from the chill of the snow and walked a few steps towards the building.  “It's small and quaint, just like your house,” he said quietly with a tiny smile.

Daniel loved Jack's country-style home.  While Jack had always said it was just a modest little place, Daniel had fallen in love with it the first moment he'd laid eyes on it.  The same thing was happening now.  In spite of the cold and his more natural love of the desert warmth, Daniel felt at home at the cabin instantly, and he hadn't even gone inside yet.

“Danny,” Jack beckoned, leading the younger man around to the side of the cabin.

Daniel laughed at the view in front of them, saying, “So there is a lake.”

“Grandma called it a pond, so I do, too,” Jack commented.  “And you'll notice it's frozen.”

The two walked the few yards from the house to the small dock and looked out over the icy area.

“No boat?” Daniel questioned.

“Over there,” Jack said, motioning to their left and back a ways where a tiny boathouse had once existed.  “It needs some work.”

“Some?” Daniel challenged, looking at the pieces of lumber that may have once been a boathouse, but now was basically a lumber cover for Jack's small rowboat.

“I come here to fish,” Jack rationalized.  “It keeps the boat protected; that's all I need.”

“How can you be sure?” Daniel teased.

As the snowfall increased in its intensity, the two quickly unpacked the truck and walked inside the cabin.  Daniel slowly ambled through the small living area, fully emerged in his peaceful explorer mode.  It was even smaller than Jack's small living room at home, but there was a nice wood burning fireplace, an old dark green sofa, and a small light-wooden table next to it.

Upon entering, immediately to the right was the bedroom, where Jack had taken some of the bags.  When he returned into the living room, he saw Daniel studying the room. The archaeologist had an expression on his face that reminded Jack of when they were in some ancient alien ruins somewhere in the galaxy, and Daniel would look the place up and down, his mouth open slightly in awe and his body twisting around to make sure he didn't miss a thing.

~It's just a cabin,~ Jack thought, looking around, wondering what it was that his friend found so entrancing.  “Danny,” Jack called out, prompting Daniel to turn and face him.  “The bathroom is right here,” Jack announced as he pointed to the small room that was next to the bedroom.  He walked two feet or so and chuckled, “And this is the kitchen.  You'll notice we have all the modern conveniences -- refrigerator, oven, and dishwasher.”

“Dishwasher?” Daniel quizzed, not seeing anything close to resembling that in the open kitchen that was practically part of the living room.

“Me!” Jack replied, laughing and taking a short bow.

“I'll remember that,” Daniel chuckled, his arms now folded across his chest as he continued to get familiar with his surroundings.  He put his hand out to touch the round table that was at the edge of the kitchen.  “Nice table.”

“My grandfather made it,” Jack said informatively and proudly.

Jack crossed over the living room towards the back right corner of the room and said, “And here's the other bedroom.  It's not much, though.”

Daniel followed and looked inside.  It was small, just room for a twin bed, small desk, chest of drawers, and a nightstand.  A rocker sat by the back window.  He turned back around and looked out the window that was part of the living room.  It had a great view of the frozen lake.  Then he moved forward to examine the fireplace.

“Uh, Jack, is there heat?” Daniel asked hopefully, still wearing his down jacket and in his mind, ~freezing.~

“Have to turn on the pilot light,” Jack announced.

“Well, turn it on!” Daniel whined.

Jack chuckled, “Desert baby.”

“Ice boy,” Daniel retaliated.  He watched as Jack set about to turn on the power and heat.  When Jack was done, Daniel asked with concern, “Aren't you tired?  I mean, uh, you wouldn't let me drive.”

“You didn't know where we were going,” Jack explained rationally.

“I know how to follow directions,” Daniel said.

Jack's eyes widened in disbelief as he gave Daniel a questioning look.

“Wise ...” Daniel began.

“Thank you, Daniel,” Jack interrupted.  “There's some wood out back.  I always keep a pile ready.  We'll start a fire, and that'll warm up the living room.”

“I don't care about the living room; I care about my body,” Daniel responded without thinking.

“I'm sure your body will be just fine, Doctor Jackson,” Jack laughed as he proceeded to attend to the task at hand.

====

Daniel took a breath as his hands patted his upper arms, attempting to warm them up.  He was colder than he could ever remember feeling.  Of course, Jack had told him he didn't need to come with him to get the wood, but Daniel had insisted, eager to see everything.  Then again, Daniel hadn't anticipated that his friend would decide to cut more wood, meaning a trek through the snow to find some fallen limbs or a dead tree.

“I hate killing trees, and I don't do it unless I have to,” Jack announced, bending down to pick up another fallen branch from the ground.

“Sentimental over trees?” Daniel asked, surprise in his voice.

“Trees make this place,” Jack responded quite seriously.  He stopped, turning to look at Daniel.  “I know.  I joke about trees on missions, but look at this place, Danny.  It's what it is because of the pond and these trees.  Take away the trees, and it's nothing.  I want these trees to be here forever.”

A bit embarrassed, Jack turned away, moving forward to hunt for more of his prey.

Daniel smiled as he thought, ~Always knew you were a big softie, O'Neill.~

====

“Okay, that's done, one roaring fire to warm your cockles, Doctor Jackson,” an extremely pleased Jack announced as he stepped back from the fireplace. “Now, for some lunch.”

“Jack, I'll make us something.  You need to take a nap,” Daniel stated, enjoying the warmth of the flames.

“I'm not tired,” the older man objected.

“Jack, you drove over sixteen hours, after a full day at the SGC, dealing with holiday shopping crowds, and chopping the wood just now.  Nap time,” Daniel insisted softly, pointing to the couch.

“I'm not tired.  I'm one of the few, the proud ...”

“Wrong branch of the service, Colonel,” Daniel pointed out.

“I knew that, but up, up, and away into the wild blue yonder just didn't fit in,” Jack explained, admitting defeat and lying down on the old, comfortable sofa.  “But if it will make you happy, I'll just ... for a few minutes ... just relax.”

Daniel chuckled.  His brave friend was out like a light in five seconds flat.  He took a deep breath as he looked around the cozy room before deciding to check out the kitchen area more closely.

====

Jack's eyelids fluttered open as he awoke.  He was surprised to see Daniel staring down at him, his arms folded across his chest.

~I know that look.  I'm in trouble.  Wonder what I did,~ Jack pondered as he saw the stern expression on Daniel's face.  Sitting up slowly, he queried, “Daniel, everything okay?”

“There's a generator at the side of the house,” Daniel revealed, his voice icy.

“Oh, yeah, of course, there is,” the older man agreed, stretching his arms, his back giving a satisfying pop.

“Jack, why did we go traipsing through the woods when there was a generator that turned everything on right away?” Daniel inquired with a scowl.

“Because it's Christmas,” Jack answered reasonably, standing up and running his hand through his rumpled hair.  “And Christmas is about chopping wood and warm fires, like that one,” he pointed out.  “I'm hungry.  You hungry?”

“We only have what we brought with us,” Daniel answered.

Jack glanced at his watch, saying, “I'm thinking ham and cheese sandwiches.”

“Right, Jack,” Daniel responded dryly.

“Steaks for dinner,” Jack added, rubbing his abdomen in anticipation at the thought.

“In your imag...” Daniel started and then stopped when he heard the distinct sound of a horn honking.

“Yep.  Steaks for dinner,” Jack smirked, throwing on his jacket as he headed outside, leaving the door wide open, the icy blast of cold winter air making Daniel shiver.  “Franklin, you old jack...”

“...ination,” Daniel finished as he moved to the door, rubbing his hands together, watching as Jack greeted an older man with white hair.

The man removed a brown canvas covering from the back of his farm truck, revealing several boxes.  One by one, Jack carried the boxes to the cabin, after which he took out his wallet and paid the man, slapping him on the back in thanks.

When Jack returned to the warmth of the inside, he opened one of the boxes, pulled out some steaks with a flourish, and asked, “You were saying?”

“I was just saying steaks would be nice,” Daniel replied, smiling.  “You had this planned, Jack.”

Jack smiled, saying, “Daniel, every time I asked you what you were going to do for the holidays, the answer was the same --work.  That's not what the holidays are for.”

“I see,” Daniel replied softly.

“Come on, Danny.  Help me put this stuff away,” Jack requested, motioning towards one of the boxes.

====

“Jack, what's in this box?” Daniel asked, pointing to a lone box beside the door, after the two had enjoyed generous ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch and, much to Daniel's delight, Starbuck's coffee.

“Christmas, Dannyboy; that's Christmas,” Jack said excitedly, picking up the box and carrying it to the kitchen table.  He opened the large box and began pulling out all kinds of colorful decorations.  “Here,” he said, handing Daniel some green and gold garlands.

“What, uh, do I ... do with it?” Daniel asked innocently, frowning at the objects in his hands.

“Put it over the mantel; string it along the walls.  Come on, Daniel, you've seen garland before,” Jack stated.

Daniel smiled and began to help Jack decorate the cabin.

====

“Not bad,” Jack grinned as he took in the small cabin, now accentuated with garlands, holly, pinecones, and more.  “We just need one more thing,” he said, moving towards the front door.

“Jack?”  Daniel stood by the fireplace, confused at Jack's comment.  “Oh!”

“What would Christmas be without a Christmas tree?” the older man asked pointedly as he brought in a six-foot fir tree.

“How did ...”

“Franklin brought it,” Jack answered.

“He did?” Daniel asked, only remembering the boxes being delivered.

“You going to help me or ...” Jack prodded.

Daniel moved quickly to help Jack set the tree in place by the small window near the guest bedroom where it was a safe distance from the fireplace.

“It's a beautiful tree,” Daniel commented admiringly as he stood back to get a better look.

“You haven't seen anything yet,” Jack promised, going into the small bedroom and returning with an old battered box he had pulled from its closet.

“Can't have a Christmas tree without Christmas ornaments,” Jack chimed with a grin.

“Of course not,” Daniel said, smiling as the two began to decorate the tree.

====

“Last one, Jack,” Daniel said as he pulled out the final decoration.  “It's, uh, in a separate box.  It's big,” he commented.

Jack smiled as Daniel opened the box, revealing a shining star.  He shook it off when Daniel attempted to hand it to him.

“Here, Jack,” Daniel said, holding out the nice-size item again.

“That's the tree topper.  You put it on,” Jack instructed.

“Shouldn't you?”

“Not this year,” Jack answered, motioning towards the tree.

Daniel nervously walked closer to the tree, fidgeting with the star topper as he did so.  He didn't understand why he felt so odd, why his stomach was in his throat, or why his heart was beating so fast.  Carefully, he stepped up on the ladder, and then slowly, he leaned forward, placing the star securely at the top of the tree.  He looked down and saw Jack standing back by the sofa. His friend was grinning happily.

“Come look, Danny,” Jack beckoned.

Daniel climbed down and walked over to Jack, looking back at their decorated tree.

“Just one more thing,” Jack said, plugging in the tree lights and then moving back to Daniel.  “So, not bad, eh?”  When Daniel didn't respond, Jack turned to face him.  “Daniel, are you okay?”

“It's beautiful, Jack,” Daniel said softly.  “It's, uh, I mean it's ... beautiful,” he repeated with awe.

Jack smiled, looking back at the star.  The first part of his mission had been accomplished.  Daniel was discovering Christmas and the simple joy of having decorated a tree.

====

“I don't think I was older than four,” Jack commented, “but I remember it like it was yesterday.”

The two men were sitting across from each other in front of the warm fireplace.  Jack wore a black flannel shirt with his jeans while Daniel had on one of the white pullover sweaters they'd bought back in Colorado Springs.  The wool turtleneck was providing him with much-needed warmth to his torso, though he noticed from a slight chill that the small hole at the knee in his old blue jeans needed to be patched.

~Jack was right; should have worn one of the new pairs, but these are broken in,~ Daniel lamented, half tempted to go change just to stop the tiny bit of cold from chilling that one spot on his leg.  ~No, I can tough it out.  Besides, I don't want him to know he was right.~

After taking another swig of his coffee, Jack continued, “I wanted that ant farm.  It was a brand new thing; all the kids wanted one that year.  When I got some ridiculous looking puppet horse instead, I threw a tantrum.”

“I can't imagine,” Daniel quipped with a smile, shifting his position slightly to draw his legs up to his chest.

“Grandpa grabbed me by the pants, literally carrying me by holding onto my belt, and took me outside.  I was kicking and screaming up a storm.  It was snowing out, heavily, and he took me out to the dock.  He put me down in front of him and just stood there.  I kept waiting to be spanked or yelled at, but he just stood there,” Jack said, his eyes downward as he recalled that Christmas morning.

“What happened?” Daniel asked curiously.

“We stood there a long, long time, until finally I asked him why we were standing out there,” Jack answered.  “I was confused and scared, but the more he stared at me, the more nervous I got.”

Daniel chuckled, “Gawd.  That's where it started, didn't it?”

“What?” a confused Jack asked.

“That's where you learned how to be intimidating,” Daniel deduced.

Jack let out a little snort, nodding for a moment before he added, “Yeah, I guess so.  He had me wetting my pants, and all he did was stare.  I swear, we stood out there an hour before he finally said anything.”

“What did he say?”

“He said, 'Jonathan, I'm disappointed in you.  Santa brought you a lot of fine presents, and your family did, too, and instead of being grateful, you're crying like a baby that you didn't get an ant farm.  You want ants, Jonathan, we'll go digging in the dirt.”

“You were only four,” Daniel commented, trying to defend the young Jack.

Jack smiled at his friend's attempt to be understanding and replied, “Maybe, but it's what he did next that really got my attention.”

“What was that?” Daniel asked, immersed in the story.

“He walked me back into the house, made me pack up all the toys, and told my parents we'd be back.  Mom started to object, but Dad stopped her.  The next thing I know, my grandfather and I were at the orphan's home.  It's a couple of hours from here.  He told the woman there that his grandson wanted to give away smiles.  I couldn't believe it.  Smiles, he called them.”  Jack let out a snort, shaking his head as he said, “He was making me give away my toys.”

“You didn't like the idea?” Daniel asked.  Before Jack could answer, Daniel added, “No child would, I guess.”

“I was all set to have another tantrum, until this woman took us into this long, cold room.  There were a dozen kids in this big room.  Oh, they had a tree with a few scattered ornaments on it, one string of lights, I think, but that room was so cold.  They each had one toy, one, that they held on to tightly.  There was some mural on one of the walls and some pictures, but it was cold.  Their eyes were cold.”

“They were alone,” Daniel said, swallowing hard as he looked down at the floor.  ~I know what that's like.~

“Yes.  I gave away my toys, and then we went home.  Grandpa took me back to the dock and asked me what I'd learned.  I told him all I wanted for Christmas was to feel warm again.”  Jack smiled as he noted, “The emptiness of that room made me feel hollow inside.  Grandpa gave me a big hug, and I told him I loved him.  He smiled and said he loved me, too.  I ran back into the house, and all I cared about was being with my family.  It took a while, but I was warm again.”

“I can understand why you remember it so well,” the archaeologist observed.

“I never whined about presents again, not for real, and they knew it.  Some whining for a kid is obligatory, but ...”

“No more tantrums,” Daniel deduced.

“Never,” Jack acknowledged.  “That was the year I learned that Christmas isn't about toys.  It's about the people you spend Christmas with.”

When Jack laughed, Daniel curiously inquired, “What's so funny?”

“Grandpa surprised me later that night with a special Christmas present.  He said he was so proud of me for giving away my toys without arguing that he had to give me something wonderful,” Jack answered with a smile.

“What was it?” Daniel asked.

Smiling, Jack stood, disappearing into the bedroom.  When he returned, he held the prized possession in his hands.

Daniel laughed, as did Jack.

“Your first one?” Daniel asked.

“My very first fishing pole that was all my own and no one else's.  My pole.  The pole my grandfather gave me because he was ... proud of ...” Jack's emotionally-charged voice trailed off as he wet his lips and tried to hide his misty eyes.  “Geez, getting a bit sentimental in my old age.”

“You're not old, Jack,” Daniel stated emphatically, standing up to get a better look at the pole.  “I'll bet this was one of the best fishing poles ever,” he said as he examined it.

“It is the best.  My grandfather made it,” Jack said, coughing to hide the strong emotions in him.

“Jack ...”

“I loved that man, Danny.  He taught me a lot about what matters in this world.  So did my dad.  I miss them,” Jack confided, turning to head towards the kitchen as he said, “Crap.”

Daniel got their coffee cups and joined Jack by the counter, laying his hand on his friend's shoulder.

When Jack turned to face him, Daniel smiled reassuringly and asked, “More coffee?”

“Yeah.  I'm going to put this away,” Jack said about the fishing pole he still held.  “Danny ...”

Jack shook his head and disappeared into the bedroom, leaving Daniel to fill up their cups.

~I guess fishing isn't so bad, not if you're with Jack O'Neill,~ Daniel decided, taking a sip of the brown nectar.

====

After an enjoyable steak dinner, the two settled in for a game of Scrabble.

“Daniel, how is it that I'm making words like 'sexier' and 'firman', and you keep making these little two-word ditties like 'eh' and 'ut', AND YOU'RE WINNING?” Jack asked in frustration, grabbing another four tiles from the bag.

The younger man laughed, saying, “Bigger isn't always better.”

Jack looked at Daniel in disbelief, saying, “I can't believe you just said that.”

Daniel shrugged as he continued to wipe Jack out at the word game.

====

As they shouted out with glee,
'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
You'll go down in history.'

Jack and Daniel both laughed heartily as they washed and dried the last of their dirty dishes later that winter night.

“Jack, I think we've got that song covered,” Daniel stated.

“Tomorrow we take on 'Jingle Bells',” Jack announced.

“I think maybe I know that one,” Daniel admitted.  “I think,” he said with a shrug.  “Well, some of it anyway.”

Jack put his hand on Daniel's shoulder and said, “Don't worry.  We'll make sure you know it by this time tomorrow night.”

“I, uh, can't wait,” Daniel replied with a tolerant smile.

The two decided it was time to get some much-needed sleep.  Daniel assumed he was using the small room and headed in that direction.

“Hey, where are you going?” Jack asked.

Daniel pointed nonchalantly and said, “To bed.”

“You're sleeping in here,” Jack replied, pointing towards the bigger of the two bedrooms.

“Uh, no, I'm not,” Daniel refuted.

“Yes, you are,” Jack stated strongly.

“Jack, that's your room,” the younger man argued, having no intentions of displacing his friend from the best room.

“And you're my guest, so ...”

“So,” Daniel interrupted, “as the guest, I sleep in the guest room.”

“It's too small in there, and it's musty.  Only kids sleep in there,” Jack maintained.

“Jack.”  **(I am not putting you out of your room.)**

“Daniel.”  **(I am not sleeping in a big bed while you're in that tiny twin thing.)**

“Jack.”  **(It's not right.)**

“Daniel.”  **(I don't care.)**

The two stared at each other defiantly, Daniel self-hugging while Jack had his hands on his hips.

“I'm not giving in,” Daniel informed the other man.

“Well, neither am I,” Jack insisted.

“So what do we do?” Daniel asked.

Jack groaned in annoyance at his friend's stubbornness, and then he smiled.

=====

The next morning Daniel awoke to the alluring aroma of freshly brewed coffee.  Dragging himself from the warm, comfortable bed, he stood up a little shakily, still not quite awake, and put on his robe.  His bare feet sliding along the oak floor, he yawned widely as he made his way to the kitchen area.

“Morning,” Jack greeted lively.

“Mmm.  Coffee,” Daniel mumbled, forgoing a morning greeting in favor of coffee.

Laughing, Jack handed the younger man a cup of the brew.  He continued to laugh as Daniel sighed contently after taking the first satisfying sip.

His eyes closed, Daniel drank another sip, then another, and finally another before releasing a satisfied, “Mmmmmmm.”

“Daniel, I've never before met anyone in my life who responded to coffee like it was a woman,” Jack quipped.

“Wha...what?” Daniel responded, suddenly waking as the comment permeated his half-asleep brain.

“Good morning, Daniel,” Jack said.  “Breakfast is about to be served.  You have time for a quick shower, if you want.”

“Break...breakfast?” Daniel asked in confusion.  Suddenly, the smells of bacon, eggs, and sausage filtered through his nose.  “Oh.”  Taking another sip of his coffee, Daniel smiled and said, “I'll, uh, be right back.”

====

“Sit,” Jack ordered when Daniel returned, now dressed in a brown turtleneck sweater and intentionally-faded blue denim jeans, new ones without any holes in them to chill his skin.

~And stop grinning.  My old jeans are ... dirty.  Gawd,~ Daniel thought with exasperation as he sat down.

“You really shouldn't have done this,” Daniel commented, wondering where to start on the feast in front of him.  “You've made enough for a small army.”

“This?” Jack asked, motioning to his plate and eyeing it critically.  “It'll do us until lunch.”

Daniel looked at Jack as if the older man had gone insane.

“Eat up, Danny,” Jack said upon sitting down at the table and picking up his cutlery.  “You'll need a full stomach.  Today's Christmas Eve, and we have a lot to do.”

“We do?” Daniel asked as he took a bite of his sausage, wondering what they'd be up to today.

“We do,” Jack verified, not giving the younger man any clues, and then drank some of his freshly squeezed orange juice.  “And we're going to begin with jingling some bells.”

“Oh, gawd,” Daniel whined, although inside he was looking forward to it a little.

Jack laughed as he enjoyed a few bites of hashed browns.  He was having a good time with his friend and that was helping him to survive the memories that he was working so hard to suppress.

“Sleep okay?” Jack asked, choosing to ignore the memories.

“Yes.  You?” Daniel inquired in between bites of scrambled eggs.

“Just fine,” the older man answered, nodding.  “You have to admit that it was a whole lot more comfortable than a tent.”

“Beds usually are, but I still feel guilty,” Daniel commented.

“Guilty enough to let me sleep in the other room?” Jack queried with a raised eyebrow.

“No, it's your bed.  We'll keep ... sharing,” Daniel stated determinedly.

“You know it works out the same.  Half a bed for each of us,” the older man remarked.

“Then let me sleep in the guest room,” Daniel stated shrewdly.

Jack sighed, admitting, “That old twin bed is a piece of crap.  Hasn't been replaced in decades.  It should probably be put out of its misery.”

Daniel chuckled, and Jack smiled.  His solution of both of them sleeping together in the full-size bed in the main bedroom had seemed to satisfy both of them.  After all, they had shared much tighter quarters before when off-world, some of which had made even their Air Force issued tent seem spacious and homely.

“We can have a bonfire,” Daniel suggested in jest.

“Interesting idea, Doctor Jackson,” Jack teased.  ~Hmmm.~

====

Bundled up in their warm winter coats as a light snow continued to fall, Jack and Daniel decided to go on a mid-morning walk.

“Let's go this way,” Jack suggested, motioning towards the left.  “I've always liked this side of the cabin best.  No clue why.  It's not like the trees are better.  Habit, I guess.”

“Your grandfather?” Daniel asked with interest, eager to hear more about Jack's family and past.

Jack laughed, shaking his head as he answered, “No, my mother.  She loved morning walks so whenever we were up here, she'd wake me up, and we'd go.”

“Sounds like you had a great family, Jack,” Daniel surmised as he ducked under a low-hanging branch.

“They were the best,” Jack sighed.  “Now, about those jingle bells.  On three, Danny ...”

“Gawd,” Daniel said as he prepared himself for yet another round of singing.

--

“Let it snow!  Let it snow!  Let it snow!” Jack sang jovially, Daniel's voice having trailed off just prior to the final line.

“Jack, I don't think the weather needs our permission.  It's snowing just fine,” Daniel chuckled.

“Can't argue with that,” Jack agreed, watching as the flakes settled onto the already snow strewn ground.

The two were almost back to the cabin. They'd taken a different route on their return to the cabin, enabling Jack to show off more of the beautiful Minnesota countryside to Daniel.  Their current path had them walking towards the old dilapidated boathouse.

“Hey, I've got an idea,” Jack announced excitedly, suddenly breaking out into a jog.

“Where ... what ... Jack!” Daniel called out.  “He worries me when he says things like that,” Daniel said to the air before hurrying after the older man.

Jack emerged from the shamble of a building just as Daniel reached the site.  He was holding two treasured items in his hands and sported a grin that was the most mischievous Daniel had ever seen on the colonel's face.

“Oh, no, Jack.  I don't think so,” Daniel said, shaking his head and backing up a couple of steps.

“Oh, yes, Danny,” Jack smirked.  “There's the perfect incline just over there about half a mile.”

“Jack.”  **(Not in a million years.)**

“Danny.”  **(You'll love it.)**

“Jack!”  **(You're out of your freakin' mind!)**

“Daniel.”  **(We're going; give it up.)**

“No way, Jack,” the younger man whined.

“Way, Danny,” Jack chuckled, pushing one of the sleds into his friend's chest, forcing the younger man to grab it or otherwise drop it.  “You can have this one.”

“Gee, thanks, Jack,” Daniel said sarcastically about the unwanted gift.

“Danny, you'll love it.  Trust me,” Jack requested.

“Jack, I'm beginning to wonder why I ever trusted you,” Daniel bemoaned as he trailed after his insistent buddy.

--

“I'll probably break my neck,” Daniel whined as he and Jack arrived at the small hill.

Jack laughed and then assured, “No, you won't.  Kids do this all the time.  Just go with the flow.  Let yourself go.”

“Yes, I'll do that ... all the way to the morgue,” Daniel quipped, eyeing the slope with deep suspicion.

Jack just rolled his eyes in exasperation as he sat down on his sled.

“Remember, Danny, sit like this.  Don't slide on your belly.  It may be what folks think of first, but more injuries are ...”

“Injuries?” Daniel asked with wide eyes, cutting off Jack's words.

“Just sit and slide, and you'll be fine.  Cheerioooooooo!” Jack called out as he took off down the small incline, whooping and hollering the entire way down.

“Maybe I should have been a psychiatrist; then I would know how to handle someone like Jack,” Daniel told the sled conversationally as he sat down on it.

“Come on, Danny!” Jack shouted from the bottom.  “You can do it!”

“I must be insane,” Daniel said.  He closed his eyes and sighed, “Ready or not ...”  Opening his eyes, Daniel pushed off.  “Here I ... gooooooooooh gawwwwwwd!”

--

“You loved it!” Jack exclaimed with delight.

“I was out of my mind, something that I must have gotten from you!” Daniel accused, brushing the snow from his jeans.

“But you loved it!” Jack maintained.

“You're nuts, O'Neill!” Daniel argued, not willing to give in just yet.

“Admit it, Danny, you loved every second of it,” Jack stated confidently.

“You're freakin' crazy, Jack!”

“Is that all you have to say?” Jack asked, grinning manically.

“I could have broken my neck,” Daniel theorized quite seriously.

“And?” Jack prodded, smiling knowingly at him.

“I might have broken every bone in my body,” Daniel surmised.

“And?” the older man prompted.

“Last one up the hill gets to patch up the broken bones,” Daniel shouted gleefully as he began lightly jogging up the incline, dragging the sled behind him.

“That's my Danny,” Jack teased, laughing.  ~What did I just say?~

Shaking the words out of his head, Jack picked up his sled and headed after his friend for more snow sledding.

====

Later that day, Jack had gone outside to work a bit on the rowboat.  It was an attempt to make his first springtime trip to the cabin less repair-oriented so he could get down to his favorite pastime of fishing.  Daniel was inside the cabin, doing his homework as assigned by Jack -- reading 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens.

~Burr, it's cold.~  When Jack finished his work, he returned inside to the warmth of the cabin and immediately growled.  “Daniel, what is that blasted thing doing here?” he demanded, pointing a glove covered hand at the 'thing'.

“Uh, I was just ... uh ...” Daniel stammered guiltily, quickly closing his laptop.

“Daniel?”  **(What were you doing?)**

Daniel sighed, “I was reading a paper on ...”

Daniel's words were abruptly cut off by Jack grabbing the laptop off the table and unplugging it.  He disappeared outside, returning two minutes later.

“This is Christmas, Daniel.  You work too much as it is,” Jack said as he calmed down slightly.  “Did you finish the book?”

“Almost, but something reminded me of this article I'd been meaning to read and ...”

“Daniel.”  **(Finish the friggin' book.)**

With a weak apologetic smile, Daniel got up from the kitchen table and returned to the sofa, picking up the book and continuing his required reading.

“Jack, what did you do with my laptop?” Daniel couldn't stop himself from asking.

“I threw it in the pond,” Jack answered harshly.

“Jack, you didn't?” Daniel responded, a look of total horror on his face as he twisted around to look at the older man.

“No, I didn't, but if I catch you with it again, I will!” Jack threatened as he turned around to get a beer from the refrigerator.

“I'm not a child, Jack,” Daniel reminded.

“That's the problem, Daniel,” Jack replied strongly as he uncapped his beer and took a drink.  “You weren't a kid, but you should be.  Read!”

“Grouch,” Daniel said, settling back into a comfortable position on the sofa.

“For crying out loud, Daniel, it's Christmas.  Don't you realize how special this time of year is?” an agitated Jack asked.

“I'm not arguing, Jack, but you can't order me around,” Daniel replied, temporarily slamming the book shut.

“I'm trying to *help* you,” Jack said in a raised voice.

“I don't need help,” Daniel shouted as he stood up.  “I was only reading one article, Jack.  You're acting like I intentionally ruined the entire holiday.  Besides, I didn't ask you to bring me here.”

“And if I didn't, you'd be locked up in your office at the SGC or your apartment, with your nose stuck in the computer or some reference book, working on translations or studying some stupid rock,” Jack accused hotly.

“I have a job to do, and it's important,” Daniel argued, not denying the accusation.

“I'm not denying that, but you don't need to do it all the time.  Give it a rest,” Jack requested discordantly.

“It's not your decision to make, Colonel.  What I do is my business,” the younger man pointed out.

“Daniel, just read the dang book, and put on some shoes.  You might step on a nail or something,” Jack nagged, losing his steam.

“I'll read it when I want to, and stop mother henning me.  I'm your teammate, not your son,” Daniel yelled.

~Geez!~  Jack's skin paled immediately.  He nodded, his face tight with pain, as he quietly replied, “No, you're not my son.  Excuse me.”

Jack grabbed his jacket and walked out the door, leaving Daniel by the sofa, surrounded by an eerie and uncomfortable silence.

“Way to go, Jackson,” Daniel said out loud.  “He's trying to help you live a little, and how do you repay him?  You cut out his heart.”

Despite wanting to rush after Jack and apologize, Daniel realized it was probably kinder to give his friend some time alone before going after him.

====

Fifteen minutes later, Daniel walked slowly out to the dock where Jack was standing, staring out over the frozen water.

“Jack, I'm sorry.  I wasn't thinking,” Daniel apologized softly, stopping beside his friend.

Jack shook his head dejectedly, saying, “No, it's my fault.  I shouldn't have kidnapped you.”

“I wasn't exactly kicking and screaming.  Uh, in fact, I don't recall even saying I didn't want to come,” Daniel replied.

“Do you want to go home?” a vulnerable-sounding Jack asked.

“No, it's ... it's cold here, but it's nice.”  Daniel took a breath and looked out over the lake.  “Jack, I'm not ... I'm not used to anyone ... I mean ... it's been a long time.”  Daniel walked forward, passed Jack to within a foot of the edge of the dock.  “I remember my parents singing Christmas carols.  They taught me some.  We had a tiny tree every year, but we were never in the city.  It was okay, though, because we always celebrated being together.”

“Christmas means family,” Jack almost whispered.

Daniel turned to face his bast friend and said, “I think so, but after my parents died, Christmas became just like any other day.  I was, uh, in a lot of different foster homes, but they weren't homes, Jack, not really.  I guess I sort of ... blocked out the holidays as time passed.  Some of the things you talk about, I ... I know I've heard of or ... maybe I even know it, but I ...”

“Shut it out,” Jack completed.

The younger man nodded and added, “Jack, did you celebrate Christmas last year?”

Jack swallowed hard as he looked away from Daniel, finally answering, “No.”

“Gawd, this isn't easy for you, is it?  I'm being so selfish.  I'm so sorry, Jack,” Daniel said, feeling a bit like a fool for not thinking more about his friend's feelings.

“No, Danny, I'm sorry,” Jack stated.  “I didn't mean to force you into doing something you don't want to do.”

“But I do want ... I ... Jack, I'm having fun here.  It's just ... it's new, that's all,” Daniel replied brokenly.  He sighed, “I realized when I was reading the book that it's all about choices, and it scared me.”

Jack looked at Daniel, a bit taken aback by the comment, and asked curiously, “Why?”

“Because I am having a good time.  For the first time since my parents died, I feel like ... like it's Christmas, and, um, well, I know that's ...”  The younger man looked away for a minute, but then looked into Jack's eyes as he finished his thought.  “I know that's because I'm here with my best friend.”

Jack's smile lit up his whole face as warmth filled him once again.

“I feel the same way, Danny, and to be honest, I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to do any of this again.  The last time I was here in December was four years ago.  Sara and I brought Charlie here for a Minnesota holiday.  Everywhere I look I see him,” Jack admitted.

“That's why you didn't want me to sleep in the guest room, isn't it?  That's where Charlie slept,” Daniel deduced.

“It really is a crappy bed, Danny,” Jack responded, though his haunted eyes gave him away.

“The worst,” Daniel agreed compassionately.

“Not fit to sleep on,” Jack stated in all seriousness.

“Can't even imagine,” Daniel lied.

“Danny ...”

“Yeah, me, too,” Daniel replied.

“Eggnog?” Jack asked.

“And I want to finish the book before dinner,” Daniel noted with a smile, nodding in agreement.

Jack put his arm around Daniel's shoulder as they started to walk back to the cabin, saying, “Let's have a round of Christmas cheer, Danny.”

In seconds, the two friends were singing, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” as they returned to the warmth of their shelter.

====

“Smores are one of life's greatest delicacies,” Jack commented as he enjoyed his third gooey treat of the evening.

“I had one once, I think,” Daniel said hesitantly as he ate a bite of his bar.

It was shortly before 10 p.m., and the two had enjoyed a delicious ham dinner and some in depth conversation about the Dickens book Daniel had completed.  Jack being Jack had mentioned several of the various incarnations of the novel that had been done on television and on film, and he assured Daniel, who had simply smiled and nodded, that when they returned to Colorado Springs, they'd watch his favorite adaptation -- “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and a couple of others, as well.

After that, Jack had taught Daniel more holiday carols and shared some old family Christmas stories.  Now, the two friends were sitting comfortably on the sofa, enjoying the sparkling Christmas tree and some music Jack had playing on the CD player.

“Be right back,” Jack suddenly said, wiping his hands on his jeans and then standing.

Daniel was surprised when Jack headed outside.  He could hear his friend opening up the truck, but he had no idea what Jack was up to.

“Merry Christmas, Danny,” Jack said, walking back in with three festively wrapped packages, one big, one medium, and one small.

“Jack, wha...what are those?” Daniel stuttered from embarrassment.

“Christmas presents, for you,” Jack announced with a pleasing grin plastered all over his face as he placed the gifts on the sofa beside the younger man.

Daniel smiled conspiratorially and replied, “Be right back, Jack.”

Stunned, Jack watched as Daniel headed for the bedroom, returning a minute later with two brightly wrapped packages.

The archaeologist walked to his friend, handing him the packages as he said, “Merry Christmas, Jack.”

Jack nodded in thanks, breaking out into an identical wide grin as both men settled back down on the sofa.

“You first,” Jack instructed.  “Start with the big one.”

“Okay,” Daniel said, taking the biggest box and unwrapping it with great care, much to Jack's amusement and dismay.

~You haven't gotten a lot of presents, that's obvious,~ Jack thought sadly.  ~Look at the care you use to unwrap the gift, as if it's the most precious thing in the world.~

Daniel chuckled in amusement as he held up the pair of brown pajamas with little tan pyramids all over them.

“Where'd you find these?” Daniel asked, delighted at the gift.

“That's my secret,” Jack answered cryptically.  “I saw them and couldn't resist.”

“I didn't think they made these for adults; I mean, uh ... wow!  Thanks, Jack!” Daniel said sincerely.  “Your turn,” Daniel announced as he carefully folded up his new nighttime wear.

“Which one?” Jack inquired.

“Either is fine,” Daniel answered about the two similarly sized boxes which had just fit inside the duffel bag he'd brought with him to the cabin.

Jack roared with laughter as he tossed the tissue paper onto the floor from the first gift, revealing the present.

“Danny, this is priceless,” the older man said as he examined the chef's white cotton apron that said, 'Danger: Colonel Grilling Steaks'.  Jack looked at Daniel, shrugging and smiling knowingly.  “Are you implying I'm a bad chef?”

“No.  I'm saying you burn your steaks,” Daniel answered straightforwardly.

“Your turn, smart mouth,” Jack told Daniel.  “Middle box,” he instructed.

Again, Daniel used great care in opening his package like he was soaking in every millisecond of the moment.  Gently, he opened the box to see what was inside.

“Jaaaack!” Daniel said, giving his friend a 'you've got to be kidding' look.

“Just the classics, Daniel,” Jack said as he began to give Daniel a brief overview of the set of six Christmas cartoon videotapes he'd purchased, including 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer', 'Frosty the Snowman', and 'The Little Drummer Boy', and Jack's favorite, 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'.

Daniel listened to Jack's summation of the tapes, and while he mocked verbally, inside he smiled, knowing they'd have a good time together watching the tapes.

“But, uh, there's no TV,” Daniel pointed out, looking around the room.

“I have a monitor with a VCR in the closet.  We can pull it out later and watch Rudy,” Jack replied with a smile.

“Oh,” Daniel replied.  “Your turn again.”

Jack nodded as he took the other package, shaking it flamboyantly.

“Jack!” the younger man objected.

“Will it break?” the older man asked, trying to get a clue as to what was in the package.

“I'm not telling.  Just ... open it,” Daniel requested urgently.

Curiously, Jack made quick work of the green gift wrap, once again tossing the tissue paper haphazardly atop the present onto the floor.

“Uh, wait,” the younger man requested nervously.  He stood and separated himself from Jack by several feet.  Self-hugging by the lighted tree, Daniel added, “I ... I sort of took a liberty.  I ... I probably shouldn't have.”

“Danny, how can a Christmas gift make you feel guilty?” Jack asked in obvious confusion.

“You'll see.  Go ahead,” Daniel urged as his breathing hitched from anxiety.

Jack gave his friend another curious look before removing an oak box.  He immediately knew why Daniel was suddenly so hesitant as staring back at Jack from the top of the box was a photo of Charlie, which just fit into a small frame that was part of the box's lid.  Saying nothing, Jack lovingly traced the photograph with his fingertip, then he blinked, suppressing the tears that were threatening to fall.  Finally, as he wet his lips, Jack noticed a golden clasp at the side of the box.  He immediately saw that his initials were engraved on each side of the clasp, and there was a lock.

“Open it,” the archaeologist encouraged.

Slowly, Jack opened the box.  For the next two minutes, he leafed through the collection of photographs and memorabilia, including the wedding ring he'd worn while married to Sara.  Actually, they were still married, but their divorce would be final soon.  Jack held the ring in the palm of his hand and then looked up at Daniel.

“Jack, you've been keeping all of those precious things in some old cigar box, and I know that ever since that crystal unity being took your form and went through them, you've been a little anxious about leaving them in your locker. I thought if you had a box, like that one, to keep your things in, you might ... I don't know.  I probably shouldn't have taken them, and I guess I gambled a little that you wouldn't look inside that box in your locker until Christmas, but I wanted to ... to, uh, surprise you, and I didn't look at anything; uh, I tried not to, but I know you value those items and like to ... to look at them and ... gawd, I'm rambling.  It's just that I know I shouldn't have gotten into the box but ...”

“Danny, thank you,” Jack said with a small but emotionally charged voice.  “This is perfect.”  Jack gently put the ring back in the box and closed it; then he placed the keepsake box on the side table, looking at his son's picture one more time as he regrouped.  “I believe that means it's your turn, Doctor Jackson.”

Still locked into a self-hug, Daniel tentatively made his way back to the sofa, sitting down on the edge and reaching for the final box.  Before he could do anything more, however, he felt Jack's hand rubbing his shoulder.  Looking over, he saw mistiness in the brown eyes that meant both safety and friendship to him.

“Thank you,” Jack whispered in a tone that came from deep down inside his soul.

“You're welcome, Jack,” Daniel replied, smiling in relief as his anxiety eased.

“Go on.  Open it,” Jack encouraged about the smallest package of the night.

A few moments later, it was Daniel who laughed.  He picked up his gift and then tossed it into the air, catching it on the way down.

“Thanks,” Daniel said, smiling at the shiny copper object.  “I'll, uh, start a collection.”

“Find enough of 'em, and we'll never be able to shut you up,” Jack teased.  Then his smile lessened as he said, “Danny, sometimes I'm not as tolerant as I should be.  Sometimes, the military bravado or my own impatience gets me saying things I don't mean.”

“Jack ...”

“Hold on,” Jack stated quietly, holding up his hand.  “I'm always interested in what you have to say.  Off-world, sometimes I don't care as much about ruins and making nice with the natives when other things are happening, but I do know it's important to you, so you keep that penny, and you remember that where it came from, there are a lot more.  I have a penny for every thought you want to share.”

Daniel smiled his thanks as he looked at the older man and quipped, “I have a lot of thoughts, Jack.  I might end up owning your house.”

Jack laughed, as did Daniel.

“Merry Christmas, Danny,” Jack said softly, reaching over and pulling his young friend into a hug.

“Merry Christmas, Jack,” Daniel replied, warmed by the hug and the friendship it represented.

====

The next morning, Daniel yawned as he awoke.  As had happened before, he could smell the allure of coffee and breakfast foods.  He took a quick shower, still so caught up in his sleep state that he didn't notice anything unusual in the cabin living room as he wandered from the bedroom to the bathroom, and back again.  After dressing, he walked into the kitchen, eyes half shut, desperate for his morning caffeine fix.

“Merry Christmas,” Jack said enthusiastically.

“Thanks,” Daniel mumbled as he grasped the warm mug with both hands, inhaling the welcoming aroma.

Jack shook his head.  He knew Daniel would need four or five sips before his brain officially awoke.  Calmly, he waited and watched as Daniel sat down, taking small sips of the brew and then finally smiling as he recaptured his communication skills.

As they ate, Daniel thought his friend had a strange look on his face, but he ignored it, figuring it was just Jack's love for the holidays.

Finally, after carrying his dishes to the sink, Daniel turned around and, now fully awake, took in the living room.

“Ja...Jack?” Daniel stuttered in surprise.

“What?” Jack asked innocently, glancing at the living room and then turning as if to start doing the dishes.

“What ... what is ... all that?” the younger man asked, pointing in the direction of the tree in the living room.

“All what?”

“Jack!” Daniel called out in light frustration.

Jack turned around, facing the room and wiped his hands.  Moving forward, he stopped next to Daniel.

“Jack, look!  What did you do?” Daniel queried.

“Me?  I didn't do anything,” Jack denied, his hands on his chest.

“Right,” Daniel said, walking to the fireplace where a giant stocking hung, bulging with gifts.

“Looks to me like Santa was here,” Jack deduced knowingly.

“Jack, how did you do this?” Daniel asked, completely shocked at the latest turn of events.

Jack took down the stocking, handing it to the younger man, and answered, “Told you; wasn't me.”

Daniel felt embarrassed and yet excited as he pondered the stocking's contents.

“Hey, looks like someone's made a killing,” Jack observed about all the presents that were under the tree.

“Jack ...”

“Let's open these,” Jack said, cutting off his friend.

For the next several minutes, Daniel reveled in the silliness of the stocking's offerings which included everything from camel magnets to a jump rope to an orange.  Then, as it turned out, all the presents under the tree had Daniel's name on them.  Daniel kept smiling at Jack as he unwrapped the gifts that included a vintage building block set, a globe of the world, an art pad with charcoal pencils, a few of the most current best-selling novels on the market, some games, and much more.

Jack got up to get one more thing -- a box of truffles he'd managed to buy when Daniel wasn't looking.  As he walked out from the bedroom with the box, he grimaced.

~Crap, I had Franklin get everything but the ...~

“Jack, it's a slinky!  Silly thing to want,” Daniel said, emanating joy as he played with the coiled object.

~Slinky.  I didn't ... how did?  I checked this stuff myself last night, and there definitely was not a slinky,~ Jack thought, slowly walking forward.  ~It *so* was *not* there last night.~

“Great card, Jack,” Daniel said, motioning to the card that had been on the slinky's box.

Still holding the box of truffles, Jack picked up the card and read it:

“For Danny, a very good little boy.  Remember, it's never too late to be a child.  From Santa and his helper, Jack.”

“Jack, are you okay?” Daniel asked, seeing the strange, almost stunned expression on the older man's face.

~I didn't write this.~  Jack let out a nervous snort as he smiled, but then quickly refocused on the card.  ~I think I need a drink.~

====

Late that night, at the end of a full day that included a turkey meal, Jack and Daniel sat outside on the porch as a light snow fell.  Daniel was wearing the midnight blue sweater Jack had picked out for him back in Colorado Springs, and Jack was wearing his black sweater.

“This is crazy,” Daniel declared good-naturedly.

“Bonfires have been a mountain tradition for years, Danny,” Jack stated as they watched the fire burn.  “It's a great way to end the day.”

“Jack, thank you, for, uh ... you know,” Daniel said, unable to find the words to express his gratitude to his friend.

Somehow, the little boy inside Daniel had come out for just a few hours, for the first time in many years.  He'd let down his guard, which he had built up to protect himself, and he'd played.  It had felt surprisingly good, and yet, Daniel knew it was just temporary.  The real world was beckoning them both, and soon, its pains and sorrows would overtake him again.  In Daniel's world, nothing good lasted for long, or so he believed.

“I didn't do anything, Danny,” Jack quietly denied.

“Yes, you did, and I figured out how.  You had that old man bring these things.  Who is he?” Daniel inquired curiously.

“Franklin DeMilo.  He's lived in Ashby for as long as I can remember.  My grandparents hired him to keep the place in shape; then my folks; then me.  He's a good man,” Jack noted, grateful that the man was still willing to help out in a pinch, including a last-minute run to a toy store about ninety-minutes away.  ~But he didn't get that slinky,~ Jack said, still confused by the inclusion of that item and the note from Santa.

“It's, uh, nice to have ... friends,” Daniel spoke quietly.

“Best friends,” Jack pointed out, his eyes emphasizing their relationship.

“Best friends,” Daniel agreed, smiling shyly.

“Ready for the big number?” Jack asked.

“Ready,” Daniel answered, prepared to exercise his lungs again.

The two men still had another full day before they had to head back to Colorado Springs, but right now, they felt a tremendous peace and joy as Christmas ebbed away.  Daniel had discovered a child within him that he thought had long ago disappeared, and Jack had realized that he could find joy in a Minnesota Christmas that didn't include his much-loved son.  Both realizations were brought about by the tender affection each felt for the other.

Thus, as the snow continued to fall, and the fire blazed away, two best friends, grateful for the presence of the other, sang a song of praise.

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

It was Jack and Daniel's first Christmas together, and each hoped there would be many more to come.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
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