“Thank you, Colonel.  Does anyone have anything else to add?”

General George Hammond scanned the faces of his premiere team, noting the haggard look on each of them.  This had only been their seventh mission through the stargate, and so far they had been turned into Neanderthals, died and been brought back to life, one of them had been aged and returned to normal, and had met a life form that had transformed itself into O’Neill’s dead son.  If anyone needed a break, it was them. He hoped his next statement would bring them some small measure of relief.

“In that case, I have one last order of business.  You are all on leave for the next five days.  Your next mission will be December 28th at 0800.”  He glanced at each face as it brightened at the news.  “Merry Christmas, people.  Dismissed.”

With that, he stood and headed for his office, pulling the door closed behind him.

Jack looked at each of his teammates, discovering they were as surprised as he was. 

“Wow,” Sam said.  “Five days.”  She got up and walked to the coffeemaker on the side table. 

Jack followed her, holding out his mug for a refill.  “Sweet.  I could use a few days.”

“I might have time to visit my father or my brother if I can still get a flight.”

Jack found himself contemplating a similar plan.  He’d done a crummy job of staying in touch with relatives; the recent visit of his “son” and reunion with Sara had him wondering if he should try to reconnect with his loved ones. 

“Yeah, I’m thinking the same thing.  Wonder if I can get a flight to Chicago at this late date?” 

“It’s worth a try, sir,” Sam said with a smile.  “What about you, Daniel?”  She turned to Daniel for his response.

She didn’t get one.  Daniel’s chair was empty.

Jack turned and noticed the absence of their younger teammate.  “Where’d he go?”

“He left soon after you and Captain Carter began discussing your travel plans,” Teal’c commented.

“He must be in a hurry to get on the road, too,” Sam said. 

“Yeah, must be,” Jack agreed.  Something about that just didn’t sit right, but he couldn’t put a finger on it.  “Well, good luck getting a flight, Carter.  See you in five days.”

“You, too, sir,” she replied, heading for the door.  “See you soon, Teal’c.”

“Have a safe journey, Captain Carter.  And you as well, O’Neill.”

“Thanks, Teal’c.  You gonna be okay here?”

“I will be fine.  I have much to learn about Earth culture.  I have procured many Earth magazines as well as a television for this purpose.”

“Uh, good luck with that,” Jack said, wondering what kind of magazines and TV shows the big guy was going to be reviewing, ultimately deciding that he probably really didn’t want to know.  “See you in a few days.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jack slammed the phone back on its base.  He’d been trying for an hour and a half to find a flight to Chicago.  Several flights had been cancelled for various reasons, leaving even fewer seats available.  Which all boiled down to: Jack had five days off over the holiday season and wasn’t going anywhere.

Well, he had plenty to catch up on around here.  Maybe he’d help Teal’c choose something worthwhile to watch, like The Simpsons. But first, he needed something to eat.  A stop at the commissary, then Teal’c’s quarters.

As the doors of the elevator opened, Jack found himself facing his 2IC. 

“Hey, thought you were flying out, Carter.”

Her dejected look answered his question.  “No flights, sir.  Looks like I’m staying here unless something miraculously becomes available tomorrow.  I’ve got some work to catch up on, anyway. What about you?”

“Same story.”  Geez.  Carter was going to work through the holiday? A thought occurred to him.  “Maybe we could, uh, get the four of us together, for, you know, a team get together.”  Why in the world had he said that?  Did he really want all these people at his house?  The more he thought about it, surprisingly the more he actually did want them there.  Somehow, spending it alone just wasn’t appealing.

Her face brightened, a smile gracing her lips.  “That’d be nice, sir.”

“Why don’t you get Teal’c and I’ll stop by Daniel’s office and see if he’s gonna be in town.”

“Okay.  Do you think they’ll let Teal’c leave the base?”

“I’ll clear it with Hammond.  After all, it’s Christmas,” he said with a flourish of his arm.  “Come by Daniel’s office after you pick up Teal’c and we’ll make a plan.”

“Yes, sir.”   Sam entered the elevator and pushed the button for Teal’c’s floor.

Jack headed for Daniel’s office, curiosity about his early departure from the briefing room occupying Jack’s thoughts. 

Reaching the office, Jack found the door shut.  He knocked and waited a couple of seconds before trying the handle. It turned and he opened it, calling out as he stepped into the room and flipped the light switch.  “Daniel?”

Daniel’s desk looked the same as it always did—stacks of books and papers filling it.  The computer was turned off and a half-full coffee mug sat next to it.  Jack nosed around a bit, looking for anything that might indicate where Daniel had gone.  A large rock—artifact—that Daniel had been translating was sitting on the desk, a pen and some notes lying next to it.  Jack didn’t think Daniel would go off and leave it sitting in the open if he were going to be gone for a while.

Sam and Teal’c arrived at that moment. 

“Where’s Daniel?”

“Don’t know.  Not here, apparently.”

“He must have been in a hurry,” Sam said, looking around the office.  “He wouldn’t normally leave without saying goodbye.  Do you know if he has relatives he would go visit?”

Jack had been wondering the same thing.  He’d read Daniel’s file when the archaeologist joined the Stargate Program and the only thing he could remember was that Daniel had lost his parents when he was young.  No other details about any family came to mind. 

“No parents, but I don’t know about anyone else.  He’s never mentioned anyone.”

As a team, they’d only been together a few months.  In that time you figured out who you could count on, what each person’s strengths and weaknesses were in the field, and a little about their character.  But Jack had known Daniel the longest, had spent more time figuring the guy out.  And he was starting to get a sense of what might be going on.  Daniel had spent over a year on another planet, which meant he had spent his last Christmas with Sha’re—happily married and leading a life he thought would never end.  Hell, Jack knew what that was like; he’d been through the same thing when he’d lost . . . everything.  That memory had been brought back to him in painful detail just a short time ago.

“I don’t think he’s gone to visit anyone,” Jack stated, facing his teammates.    

“Where do you believe he is, O’Neill?

“Sir?”  The questions were simultaneous.

“How much do either of you know about Daniel’s background?”

Teal’c shifted position, his scowl deepening.  “Daniel Jackson has not discussed his personal life with me.” 

Jack knew that Daniel and Teal’c had put their mutual past behind them, but that didn’t mean Daniel was ready to open up and tell the Jaffa any personal secrets.  In fact, he didn’t share stuff like that with anyone of his own volition. 

Looking at Carter, Jack could tell she was confused by his question, but she dutifully answered.  “Not much.  I know he got his first doctorate when—“

“No, I mean his personal life.”

“I guess nothing, really.  Catherine was the one who recruited him for the project and she was the only one with a personal file on him.  What are you thinking, sir?”

“I’m thinking that up until three months ago, Daniel was married and establishing a new life for himself on Abydos.  I don’t think he had anyone here to come back to, and I don’t think he ever thought he would see Earth again.  The holiday is probably bringing that reality back to him full force.”

Teal’c shifted again and raised one eyebrow as he considered Jack’s words. He did not understand this ‘holiday’, but the Tau’ri seemed to put great stock in it and he respected O’Neill’s opinion. 

“Sir, we should go look for him.  He must be hurting.” Sam’s face was full of concern. 

“My thoughts exactly.  I’m gonna call and see if he’s left the Mountain yet.”

Jack picked up the phone and called the guard station, confirming that Daniel had left the Mountain an hour ago.  Next, he tried Daniel’s apartment.  No answer. 

Deciding to drive to Daniel’s in hopes of meeting up with him, Jack called Hammond and received clearance for Teal’c to leave the base with them.  They made their way to the surface, signed out, and headed for the parking lot.  Jack drove his own truck while Sam and Teal’c rode in her car. 

As he wound his way down the mountain, Jack wondered if they had missed any signs from Daniel that he was having trouble dealing with things.  He had seemed to be coping pretty well, all things considered.  Jack also knew this was the kind of pain a lot of people would rather deal with privately.  He knew better than anyone that that wasn’t always a good thing. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Daniel drove without an awareness of his surroundings.  The overcast sky hung drearily above him, perfectly matching his mood.  He simply needed to get away and be by himself. 

He hadn’t even realized what day it was until General Hammond had announced their leave.  They’d been on mission after mission and the days had blurred together. The team had been offworld at Thanksgiving and he hadn’t even realized he had missed the holiday until they’d returned.   He preferred it that way, hoping they would be offworld at Christmas as well so he wouldn’t have time to contemplate that fact that he had lost his whole world and was alone.  Again.

Hearing Jack and Sam talk about visiting relatives had brought that to the forefront.  He decided the best thing was to slip away quietly and go where he wouldn’t have to listen.  They deserved to enjoy time with their families, he just couldn’t hear about it right now.  His office only reminded him of how many missions they had gone on without finding any trace of Sha’re. It made him realize that he needed to get away from the SGC.  Grabbing several archaeological journals, he had stuffed them in his case and headed for the surface.

Slowing, he suddenly realized he was on his street with no recollection of his drive there.  Pulling into the driveway, Daniel entered the garage and pulled into his spot. Grabbing his case, he got out, locked the vehicle and headed for the elevator. 

Daniel got off at his floor and headed for his apartment.  He unlocked the door and entered, flipping on the light while depositing his case on one of the boxes stacked in the entry way.  Considering making some coffee, he made his way to the kitchen, opening a cabinet. His eye caught sight of several chocolate bars on the shelf and his mind flashed back to Abydos and the only Christmas he had spent there.

Smiling at the memory, Daniel opened one of the bars, breaking it into pieces and releasing the wonderful scent before depositing them in his coffee mug.  Opening the refrigerator, he found there was a little milk left.  Sniffing it for freshness, he set it on the counter and rummaged for a saucepan.  Finding a small pan, he set it on the burner and turned it on, pouring some milk in to heat.  When it began to simmer, he poured the hot milk into his mug of chocolate pieces, stirring it with a spoon to dissolve the chocolate, then blew across a spoonful, cooling it.  He closed his eyes and sipped the spoonful, savoring the sweetness.  But as he finished, his throat suddenly tightened and tears filled his eyes. The spoon was quickly dropped back into the mug as Daniel left the kitchen and headed for the living room, threading his way past more boxes. 

He flopped down on the couch and leaned his head back.  He should have known better than to let himself get caught up in the memories.   Keeping busy had been the only way to take his mind off of losing Sha’re.  And now he had five days to do nothing but remember. 

Where was she now?  Was she holding on to the same memories as he?  Did she know he was still looking for her?  Why couldn’t he have been content with what he had?  Why did he have to go and open the gate again?  If—when--they got her back, would she ever be herself again?  Would they get a chance to make new memories?

Daniel jumped to his feet and began pacing the room, fighting the tears that continually threatened to fall.  Spotting the balcony doors, he decided some fresh air was what he needed.  He unlocked the door and pulled it open, leaving it wide open as he rushed out onto the balcony. 

The icy air hit his face, stinging his eyes and causing the tears that he’d held back to fall.  The heavy cloud cover reflected the city lights, obscuring his view of the sky, until a small break appeared, allowing a single star to shine through.  He ignored the goose bumps on his skin and the shivering of his body as he gazed at the star, wondering if somewhere, Sha’re was looking skyward and thinking of him. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jack pulled into the garage, followed by Sam and Teal’c.  Finding a visitor spot, he parked and, joined by his teammates, headed for the elevator.  No one spoke, their concern for their friend consuming their thoughts.

They exited on Daniel’s floor and stopped at his apartment door.  Jack knocked, but there was no answer.  Trying the knob, he found it unlocked.  We’re gonna have to have a little talk about security later, Jack thought. 

The apartment was dark except for a light over the kitchen stove.  Sam flipped on the entryway light; all of them noticing there were a couple of boxes stacked against one wall.  Entering the kitchen, they found it empty as well but there were several more boxes stacked on one side of the room. 

Jack walked over to the counter and lifted the mug that was sitting there next to a partially used candy bar.  “Who uses candy bars to make hot chocolate?”  Jack asked. 

“Daniel?” Sam called out.

“Isn’t it a little chilly in here?” Jack asked, feeling an icy breeze blow through the kitchen.  “And what’s with all these boxes?”

“O’Neill.”  Teal’c had gone into the living room, his call bringing Jack and Sam to join him.

The door to the balcony stood open, letting a frigid December wind whistle through the room.  Outside, the glow from the city lights outlined a dark figure against the balcony railing.

“Oh, no!”  Sam said, moving towards the door.

Jack stuck out his arm, stopping her.  “Hold on, Carter.  Let’s not all rush out there at once.  Let me go talk to him first.”

Reluctantly, she nodded and stayed put, Teal’c standing next to her.  Jack walked cautiously to the door, his focus on the man at the railing. 

Speaking calmly, he called out, “Daniel, don’t do it.”

Daniel visibly jumped at Jack’s words.  “What?” 

Jack took advantage of Daniel’s confusion and rushed forward, grabbing him by the arm. 

“Jack?  What are you doing here?”  Daniel said with a bewildered look on his face.

“We were worried about you.  Now, why don’t you step away from the railing and come back inside.”

“What are you talking about?”

“This isn’t the answer, Daniel.  Believe me, I know.”

“Answer?  What are you—” He paused as realization dawned.  “You thought I was going to jump?”

“Well, you were standing by the railing and, well, we knew you were probably upset about, uh, stuff.”

Daniel couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  Jack O’Neill had been worried about him?  It was obvious Jack was uncomfortable with that revelation.  “It’s okay, Jack.  I was upset, but I would never consider that.”

By this time, Teal’c and Sam were standing in the open doorway. 

“Well, I didn’t think so, but Carter here was kinda worried—“

“Sir!”  Sam moved out onto the balcony, followed by Teal’c.  It was then that Daniel realized his entire team had been worried enough to come look for him.

“It’s okay, Sam.  Thanks for being concerned about me, but I’m fine.”

“Well, I’m not, it’s freezing out here and you feel like a popsicle,” Jack said, pulling Daniel’s arm and leading him toward the doorway.  “How ‘bout we take this inside?”

For the first time, Daniel realized how cold he was.  Shivering, he allowed Jack to lead him back inside.  Moving a couple more boxes out of the way, Jack pushed him down on the couch and directed Sam, “Go see if you can find a blanket.”

She took off to search and quickly returned with a blanket, wrapping it around Daniel’s shoulders before taking a seat his left, Jack sitting on his right.  Teal’c turned on another light and then simply stood, hands clasped behind his back.

“We need to get you warmed up,” Jack said, noticing Daniel’s teeth were chattering.

“How ‘bout some hot chocolate?” Sam asked.

“No!”  Daniel replied sharply.  “Sorry.  Uh, j-j-just some coffee would be g-g-good.”

Sam smiled but gave her commanding officer a concerned look over Daniel’s head.  “Okay, I’ll go start some,” she said, heading for the kitchen.

A couple of minutes later she returned.  “Coffee’ll be ready in a minute.”  She sat down next to Daniel again and gently rubbed her hand in circles across his back.

Daniel held the blanket tightly around him, but the shivering seemed to be easing.

“Daniel, what was the deal with the candy bar hot chocolate?”  Jack asked.

Daniel glanced over at him and quickly returned his gaze to the floor.  Jack exchanged a glance with Sam, wondering if he was going to answer.

Heaving a big sigh, Daniel began to explain.  “I spent my one and only Christmas on Abydos waiting for a sand storm to blow over.”  He looked at Jack again.  “You remember that big sand storm that hit on our first trip there?”

“Oh, yeah.  Kinda hard to forget.  I’m still finding sand in places that--   Never mind.”

Daniel gave him a half smile before sobering and continuing his explanation.  “While we were waiting, I began telling Sha’re and the people gathered with us about our Christmas holiday and its traditions. I knew the date because I kept track in my journal.  Anyway, they had tasted the chocolate I had brought, but couldn’t figure out hot cocoa.  So, I took out a chocolate bar, broke off some pieces and put them in a cup.  Sha’re heated some milk and poured it over the chocolate.  Everyone got a taste and loved it.  I tried explaining marshmallows, but those were just too hard to describe.”

“That’s a nice memory, Daniel,” Sam commented, keeping her hand on his back for comfort.

“You know what the hardest thing was to explain?  Snow.  They couldn’t understand water that was so cold it became solid.  They all thought I was crazy.”

“Smart folks,” Jack said.

Daniel smiled again, which was the response Jack had hoped for.

“But Sha’re didn’t laugh.  She said that she couldn’t wait to see this miracle.  And I . . . I promised her that someday she would see snow.  I told her that when she did, she would remember that I always keep my promises.”  Daniel leaned forward, folding his arms across his knees and resting his head on them.

“You’ll show her someday, Daniel.  You’ll get a chance to keep that promise,” Jack assured him.

Daniel lifted his head, unshed tears again threatening to spill, and looked at Jack.  This was a side of the man he had rarely seen.  A side that was comforting and understanding.  Of course, if anyone could understand what Daniel was going through, it was Jack.  Only a few weeks ago he had seen the man get his son back only to lose him again.  Daniel knew that pain had to be much worse than his own, yet Jack was offering Daniel comfort.  “Thanks, Jack.”  He didn’t know what else to say.

“Hey Daniel? What’s with all these boxes?  Are you moving again?” Sam asked.

That was going to be Jack’s next question. There was some furniture in the room; he’d helped Daniel order it but hadn’t been here when it was delivered.  Most of the boxes were books and personal items that the Air Force had stored when Daniel had stayed on Abydos.

Daniel put his head down briefly, then took a deep breath and let it out.  He raised his head and said softly, “No, I’m not moving. I put them in storage when I lost my apartment before joining the program.  I’ve never unpacked them.”

“It’s been almost three months, Daniel.  Why haven’t you unpacked?” Sam continued to gently question him.

“Because . . . because I didn’t want this to feel permanent.  If I unpacked—put things away—it would feel like this was home.  And it’s not.”

“You can’t live in limbo, Daniel,” Jack said.  “When we find Sha’re, you may want to bring her here; just make a place that you can bring Sha’re home to.

Daniel hadn’t thought about that.  His thoughts had been focused on finding her and taking her back to Abydos.  But there was a good chance that when they found Sha’re, they would need to bring her to the SGC.  And then he would bring her here.  He would love to show her Earth; she would be so amazed by everything here.  They could always go back to Abydos when they were ready.

Jack watched as Daniel seemed to pull himself together, sitting up.  “You’re right; we may want to spend some time here.  I should probably fix it up.” 

“We could help you unpack,” Sam offered, opening one of the boxes and pulling out a book.

“I would be glad to assist you, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c added.

“Thanks, guys.  But I thought you two were going to visit family.  Why are you still here?”

“No flights.  We were gonna come ask you if you wanted to have a team get-together for Christmas.”

“Really?  You don’t have somewhere else you’d rather be?”

“Nope.  I think it’s time the four of us spent a little downtime together.  Besides, Teal’c’s gonna need someone to explain all the holiday traditions to him.  You know, eggnog, fruitcake, bringing a tree into the house and decorating it.”

“O’Neill is correct.  I am looking forward to a more in-depth explanation of some of these Tau’ri rituals.  For instance, I am familiar with your Earth eggs, but have been unable to determine which part is the ‘nog’.”

Sam tried to stifle a laugh and ended up snorting instead. 

“I think I can help you with that, Teal’c,” Daniel said smiling.  Teal’c bowed to him.

“Sweet!  I’d better start planning the menu.  Why don’t we meet here tomorrow?  Teal’c and I can start unpacking and Carter can help you decorate this place.”

“Oh, that’s a great idea, sir!  Daniel and I can go shopping for some new things.”

“What?” Daniel looked startled.  “What’s wrong with what I have?”

“Well, nothing, I just think it could use a woman’s touch, especially if you’re going to bring Sha’re here,” Sam explained.

“Jack?”  Help.

“Daniel?”  You’re on your own Danny boy.

“Two days before Christmas?”  Daniel squeaked. “Think of the traffic, the crowds—”

“Suck it up, Daniel, and think of Sha’re.”

He could do that.  He’d faced goa’uld—holiday shoppers couldn’t be that bad.  Could they?  He was willing to face a lot worse if it would get Sha’re back.  And now, it appeared he had friends who would stand beside him in that endeavor. People who understood and wanted to help him through it.  He couldn’t think of a better Christmas gift.

“All right, tomorrow it is.”

Jack clapped him on the back and they both turned at Sam’s exclamation.  “Oh, look!”

They all moved to the door of the balcony to see what she was looking at.

It was snowing, big white flakes drifting gently down, covering everything like a sparkling blanket.  Daniel felt a warm hand on his shoulder and turned to see Jack looking at him with understanding in his eyes, silently offering his own promise:  whatever happened, Daniel wouldn’t have to face it alone.

Daniel returned the smile, turning back to watch the falling snow and was filled with hope. He wasn’t alone. He had friends; friends who would help him keep his promises.   

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