Jack had learned the futility of trying to do Christmas solo. Sara had it down pat; loved it, and made him love it, too; married her family's traditions with what he remembered of his and created something new; something sparkling, like the tinsel layered over the tree, something warm like the glowing candles in the window, high, where Charlie couldn't reach them.
He tried. That first year alone, he tried. And as he sat bleakly contemplating the wreck of a tree he'd kicked over halfway down the bottle of whiskey that was his present to himself, he swore he'd never do it again.
He'd got out of it a few times by volunteering to be on duty at the SGC; safe bet that the Goa'uld weren't nogging their eggs or pulling crackers, and someone had to be there.
This year, Hammond had turned him down, telling him that he was looking tired. Well, yeah, sir; been a busy year. Weren't they all...
He hadn't made any plans. Carter was at her brother's, Teal'c off world with his family, and Daniel was as seemingly indifferent to the season as Jack, his office devoid of a shred of decoration. Strictly speaking, everyone's should be, but somehow there was a sprig of holly here, a row of glitter-shedding cards there, and on Christmas Eve Jack didn't make it out of the mountain without getting kissed by ladies who seemed to think a date and a squashed piece of vegetation held high made it less against regs to lay one on him.
Pointing to his lip and muttering 'cold sore' hadn't done a damn thing to slow Janet down, although she'd offered to give him some foul-smelling ointment once she'd finished transferring her lipstick to his cheek. Both of them. And his mouth and chin, although it had started to get foggy then.
And she'd giggled. Looked cute, too, but still --
He'd escaped to his quiet, empty house and heaved a sigh of relief, before settling in with a stack of old movies, some books he'd been meaning to read, although he probably wouldn't, and enough food and drink to ensure he wouldn't starve if the promised storm came in.
He woke to find that the inch or so of brownish slush had been covered with four inches of thick, soft, fresh-fall, dazzling under a blue sky. Pretty. Especially when he didn't have to go out in it.
Half an hour after breakfast he couldn't stand it any longer. Snow. Untouched by human anythings. He had to go out in it --
The streets were quiet, and he felt hemmed in by the hush. All around him were houses filled with families celebrating the season by tearing open presents and getting drunk on the joy of possessing expensive crap.
Hell with it. He was dressed to walk and throwing snowballs at the side of his own house had lost its appeal by the fifth handful. He locked up and set out on foot. Daniel would give him a beer and they could -- they could --
He kicked up a plume of snow and watched the sunlight turn it to golden sparkles as he strode through it. It settled on his hair and face in a quickly melting frost.
What did he want to do with Daniel? Really? Nothing he could admit to, that was for certain. Talk. Yeah. Hang out. Oh, crap, what was he thinking? How pathetic was this? For all he knew, Daniel had company.
His footsteps slowed and he stared around him uncertainly. He didn't even have a gift; not that they ever exchanged them, but even so, turning up empty-handed wasn't a good idea. If he didn't have anything to give Daniel, what excuse was he going to use for dropping by on Christmas Day?
Up ahead, there was a jingle of a bell and the slam of a shop door and he watched a man with a tense, tight face hurry over to his car, clutching a carton of milk as if it was gold, frankincense and myrrh, or the modern equivalent. An open shop. Well, okay.
Ten minutes later, Jack emerged from Marty's Market with a bag weighed down with a bottle of sherry, because Daniel had once mentioned drinking it in England at Christmas, and a snow globe with a densely decorated Christmas tree captured and safe inside, where it couldn't smack either of them in the face with a wet sting as they walked past it, or dump half a gallon of water down the back of their fucking necks. As an afterthought, because they'd been marked down, he'd thrown in a tangle of metal; a puzzle of brain-melting complexity designed by a sadist, to give Daniel something to play with in the bath, and softened the blow with a handful of assorted chocolate bars.
Gift buying? Nothing to it.
The sunlight dimmed dramatically and a skirl of wind spun a piece of litter high in the air. Jack turned up his collar, tugged his hat lower, and set off again, his steps purposeful.
Daniel wasn't in. Jack lowered his hand after knocking for the third time and gave the door a glare. Sleeping in? Showering? Hiding out?
Fuck. With one final, disappointed look at the closed door, he left, leaving the bag propped up by the wall. It'd probably get stolen, but what the hell. It wasn't like it held anything that mattered.
The snow was coming down in thick, large clumps, like miniature snowballs. Jack scowled, muttered, and trudged home, the weight of the snow pressing his shoulders down in an inward, irritable curve.
Damn it. Daniel should've been there. Where else would he be? There wasn't anywhere -- God, if he'd gone to the SGC to do some research, Jack promised himself he'd kick Daniel's workaholic ass clear across his cluttered, crowded office.
And back again.
He walked up to his door, almost blinded by the swirling, stinging flakes, and got inside, gasping as the warm, thick air made his numb face start to tingle. The message light on his phone was blinking. Shedding snow, he walked across to it.
"Jack? It's me. Looks like we missed each other." Jack stared down at a melting chunk of snow, listening to the familiar sound of Daniel's answering machine voice, hesitant and slightly self-conscious, with no attempt to identify himself because he knew that Jack would know that it was him.
"Thank you for the, umm, the stuff."
There was a thread of amusement looped tight around his voice now and Jack realised, with utter certainty, that he'd left the receipt in the bag. Oh, what the hell; it was Daniel; he'd understand. And it wasn't like he'd given Jack anything --
"Your present is in your mailbox."
"I don't know if -- well, if you're not doing -- we should have discussed this before, I suppose, but --"
Jack heard Daniel take a deep breath and start over. "I'm coming back. Stay where you are, okay? I'm driving so it shouldn't take long; I just have to get changed; there's snow...oww, melting and...fuck it's gone down my back--"
The message cut off, leaving Jack grinning.
By the time he'd rescued a bottle of single malt from the mail box, mopped up several puddles because by now even he'd got used to the idea that if he didn't, no one would, and changed his socks, he was starting to worry about Daniel's impending visit, as close to fretting as he let himself get.
He was used to Daniel coming over, even sleeping over when they'd both been left exhausted from a mission but too wired to separate and be alone. He had a score of memories of talking to Daniel, a beer bottle warming, forgotten, in his hand, the silences stretching comfortably longer, until Daniel fell asleep or Jack stood, stretched, and yawned before heading off to bed.
Christmas Day, though, that was different. It was a time for families and Daniel wasn't family. Jack didn't want him to be, not really. Been there, lost that. Daniel was a friend. No more, because it didn't get much closer than that for Jack these days. Whatever scale he used, Daniel, Carter and Teal'c were off it and that was all there was to it.
And Daniel was, well, Daniel was --
Jack played the message again noting the time it'd been left, and did some swift, generous calculations, involving Daniel driving at 10 m.p.h. having taken thirty minutes to change. Daniel could take that long if he started to think about something, wandering around the locker room with an inward scowl and a bare ass, a T-shirt half-on, half-off, scratching idly at his stomach as Jack stifled a laugh and Teal'c blinked at him. Yeah, he could -- but he could also skin in and out of uniform in under a minute and Jack couldn't see Daniel obsessing over what shirt to wear at any time, certainly not when all he was doing was coming over to spend Christmas Day with a friend.
Jack plucked at the ratty sweatshirt he was wearing, faded with washing, and then rolled his eyes.
Daniel was late. The deepening gloom of the storm made it something more immediate to worry over than the implications of spending this particular day with someone Jack couldn't fit comfortably into any niche. Daniel had a tendency to get everywhere, effortlessly filling empty places in Jack's life, but this was different, somehow.
Jack peered out of the window, sighed, and went out to find Daniel.
" -- thought I told you to wait! If you'd waited, you'd be here, and you're not, so you didn't, and now I'm going to have to go back out and dammit, Jack, the battery died, not me!"
Jack shivered convulsively as he listened. His legs weren't working right and the itchy throb of the blood returning to his hands, feet and face hurt. Getting yelled at by Daniel should have been annoying, but it wasn't. He knew how Daniel felt; he just wished that Daniel wasn't having to worry the same way he had. Was.
It was wild out there. At one point Jack had discovered, thanks to an advancing snowplough, that he was walking in the middle of the road, and he'd fallen headlong into a drift trying to get out of the way. Finding Daniel's apartment empty again had left him too wiped out to do anything but turn around and go home, the wind pushing at his face insistently.
He couldn't go back out until he'd changed. Maybe a bath...
He tried Daniel again and left a message.
"--Daniel, you get lost in the SGC, for crying out loud! Of course I went to look for you! You stay still, dammit. I'm going to change and I'll call you later, okay? And if you're not there, I am coming to get you, and when I do..."
He couldn't think of any threat dire enough to keep Daniel's butt inside, in the warm, where it belonged.
"Just stay put. And..." He hesitated. "Merry Christmas and all that. Thanks for the whiskey."
He fell asleep in the bath and woke to Christmas bells, pealing silver, ringing out....
Tripping as he tried to get to the phone hurt his toe, his knee and his pride but he managed to beat the answer phone.
"Yeah?" Training kicked in belatedly. "O'Neill here."
"Daniel." Relief, sweet and simple, warmed him but he kept it out of his voice. "You fucking idiot!"
"Love you, too."
Only Daniel could infuse three words with enough sarcasm for an encyclopedia.
"Yeah, well. I was worried. And the frostbite isn't helping."
Daniel was smiling, he could tell. "It's very seasonal out there, isn't it?"
"Oh, yeah. Very. So what the hell were you doing out in it?"
"It wasn't snowing when I left the first time and after that, well, I was looking for you."
Jack tucked the phone under his ear and wandered into the kitchen pouring himself a generous slug of Daniel's whiskey.
"What are you doing?"
Jack took a sip. "Drinking your whiskey -- I said thank you, right? And I'm dripping all over the floor which makes the third time today. Maybe the fourth."
"Dripping the whiskey?"
"No, me. I'm wet. I was in the bath."
"And where are you now?"
"Kitchen, heading for the bedroom."
"Are you talking to me naked?"
Jack swallowed hastily and choked. "Uh... yeah. I don't usually bathe fully-dressed."
"Apart from that time on P5X--"
"939. Yeah, well, that was an emergency."
Jack told himself that he was welcoming the change of subject and glad that Daniel's voice had gone from flirtatious to reminiscent.
Are you talking to me naked? Yes, Daniel, I am. And for some reason I'm hard now, which given the way I'm freezing my ass off, takes some doing.
"Maybe you should get dressed. As I'm not there to keep you warm."
Daniel sighed. "I'm drunk."
"You don't sound drunk."
"I just came on to you, Jack."
Jack put his glass down on the night table and sat on the edge of his bed. "Don't be. Just don't do it again."
"I won't. Of course I won't." Daniel sounded sober and scared and sorry and Jack cringed.
"I should go and sleep this off."
Jack dragged his robe over and blotted off some bath water before lying back. "Hell, Daniel, I've been chasing after you all day; the least you can do is talk to me now we're finally in the same place."
"We're not. Are you drunk as well?"
"Where are you?"
Jack got up, grabbed his robe and drink, and wandered into his front room, shrugging into the warm, in need of a wash, robe as he went. It hung heavy and was shabby and infinitely comfortable. He really should launder it more often though...
"Right. Couch. I'm there. Want to watch the football?"
"Tough. I've got the remote. Channel 52. There we go." Jack turned the sound up and sighed. "Look at that score. What do they think they're doing?"
"Boring the pants off me?"
"You're wearing pants?"
"Not as such."
"Jack..." Daniel cleared his throat and said uncertainly, "Jack? What was that? Because it sounded like you were..."
"Thought it would make you feel better if I did it, too. Kind of cancel out."
Daniel was silent for a long moment, the sound of the television tinny and distant in Jack's ear. "I think you need to say more."
"I do?" Jack shrugged agreeably. It was the commercials after all. "Okay. Uh, kiss, kiss?"
"What," Daniel said tightly, "was that?"
"I'm not a patient man. I was skipping to the good parts."
"Kissing me is a good part?"
"Hey, I've seen you get kissed. Always looked like fun for all concerned."
"I really don't think this is a good idea, Jack."
"No, it probably isn't." Jack sighed. Not a good idea at all and the next time they met it'd be awkward...
"Should I be naked? I can be naked. I'm not really wearing all that much as it is."
Daniel really had to stop. "No, I'm not naked and it's too damn cold. I'm in my robe. What happened to this not being a good idea?"
Daniel ignored him. "If I was there..."
"Mmm?" The game started again and distracted Jack. Daniel's murmured words filtered into his ear over the commentary and sank in.
"You'd do what with your what?"
Daniel giggled and Jack muted the TV. "You really are drunk, aren't you?"
"You gave me sherry. Seemed rude not to try it."
"You can't get drunk on sherry," Jack said with certainty. "You'd throw up before you drank enough."
There was a silence that said all it had to say.
"Daniel, I want you to get a glass of water -- a big one -- get dressed and get to bed."
"Then you have to come, too."
"I'm watching the game."
Daniel wheedled, Jack rolled over. Always.
Five minutes later Jack stretched out and felt the covers start to warm around him. "Yeah, I'm snug as a bug in a fucking rug. And missing the game."
"Missing me, too?"
"No." Jack punched the pillow and settled his head comfortably. "Got you right here."
"So you do. This is nice," Daniel said. "It is, isn't it?"
It was warm and dark and Daniel started to tell Jack about a dig he'd been on one Christmas in somewhere hot and dusty and dry.
Jack fell asleep before the part where Daniel found something spectacular and amazing and way before the part where it all went horribly wrong, and woke to a dial tone and dense, blue-drenched skies.
The storm had blown over and he knew who was knocking at his front door, wanting to come in and get warm.
He'd spent Christmas Day missing Daniel.
Enough was enough.
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