"What do you mean that's not allowed?" Sam asked, the shrillness of her voice reflecting her disbelief.
Jonas scuffed the toe of his boot into the crimson soil of Rojobian, also known as PB3-X9J, suddenly fascinated with the alien dirt. "The Bianites abhor celebrations or commemorations of any kind. Even though we're honored guests and it's understood we're far from home, it would be an affront to them if you recognized your tradition in any way in their village."
"It's not like we're going to deck the halls and trim all of their trees or anything," she said. Disappointment was etched across her tired features. It had been bad enough having to stay on the miserable planet six more days following nearly two weeks of research, negotiations, treaties, and tedium. But, this took the cake.
SG-1 had finally gotten the opportunity to learn what it felt like to be stranded off-world because of problems back at the SGC. It'd happened to the other teams too many times to count when it had been up to SG-1 to save the day. This time, someone else was there saving the day. And they get Christmas, too.
It wasn't as if she hadn't worked through Christmas before. But, to have to spend Christmas off-world and not even be able to acknowledge that the sacred day had passed was a bit too much.
Jack pursed his lips, as if trying to hold back the words he was about to speak. "Carter, leave it alone. We don't have a choice about this while we're guests in the village. The last report from the SGC indicated that we may have to stay here another week."
"Carter," Jack warned. His voice rumbled deeply.
"Fine, sir. I'll just go run some more mineral tests to see if there's anything of merit left on this planet that I haven't found." Sam grabbed her pack off the brightly colored ground and stomped off to her make-shift lab that the Bianitian chieftain had allowed her to set up in one of their huts, though she didn't know what she'd be able to do there.
The spare batteries for her laptop were nearly exhausted. The MALP's power supply was low and they needed to save what was left to be able to transmit radio signals to the SGC on their scheduled contacts. If this place wasn't so darned primitive that she could have actually gotten some work done, maybe she wouldn't be so disappointed. Then again, she probably would.
Hours later, Sam nearly didn't hear the rapping at the opening to the hut for the throbbing of her head. "What?" she sighed.
"Carter? You okay?" Jack asked softly as he ducked to enter the small hut.
Rolling her head from side to side to loosen the tension at her shoulders, she collected her thoughts before looking up at him. "Just ready to go home, sir."
"I know, major. We all are. Have you been out of this hut since this morning?"
"No, I've been . . . busy." Actually, she hadn't. After draining the remaining power from her laptop, she'd ended up journaling her thoughts about the extended off-world visit, heck, several extended off-world visits, by hand on a legal pad.
"Well, then, it's high time to take a break."
"I'm fine, colonel. Really."
"Come on, major. Do I really have to make it an order?"
Reluctantly, she rose from the pallet on the floor and tucked her notebook into her backpack before following him into the late afternoon sun.
"Besides, Carter, I've got something to show you."
"Sir, I doubt seriously that there's anything left on this side of the planet that you could show me that I haven't already seen in my surveys."
He led her out of the clearing where the village had been built and down a well-worn path into the thick rainforest; the sound of water dripping from the lush canopy providing a soothing backdrop to the unexpected hike.
"Oh, you'd be surprised, major." He struggled to keep his face passive, but a hint of a grin tickled his lips and his eyes glistened with excitement.
"This better be good, colonel."
After what seemed an eternity of twists and turns through the darkening forest, they finally broke free, exiting onto a plateau overlooking a rushing waterfall. The purples, yellows, and pinks in the upper atmosphere from setting sun provided a magnificent sky show.
"We've seen this, colonel," she groused.
"Patience, Carter. We're just stopping here so I can do this." He pulled a green bandana from his pocket and quickly folded it into the shape of a blindfold.
"Oh, I don't think so, sir."
"Humor me, Carter. It's Christmas."
Sam locked eyes with him, a shiver shimmying through her body and tickling her stomach. She sighed and stepped in front of him, her back facing him. Long, lean fingers gently placed the blindfold over her eyes and secured it without catching her hair in the knot. Those same fingers lingered over her shoulders before grasping her hand. She jerked at the unexpected contact as if shocked.
Leaning close to her ear, his breath ruffling her hair, he said, "Relax. Trust me."
His affect on her was irrational, she thought, as she stumbled beside him. She was a grown woman, for crying out loud, and she'd worked with him now for over six years. She'd thought she'd have been immune to his touch by now. But, all she could think about was that she was alone with him—holding hands, no less—and what little civilization was growing further and further behind them.
After a few more minutes of walking, their pace slower than before given her enforced blindness, Jack finally stopped her.
"What would you have done if we were back home?" Jack asked.
"I didn't know if Dad was going to make it in, so I'd planned to fly out last week to San Diego to see Mark and the family," she said softly. "The kids' Christmas presents are sitting in my study waiting to be sent."
"It's not your fault."
"I know, but—"
"What would you have done?"
"I, uh, I'm not all that big on Christmases any more."
"Oh. OH!" she gasped, understanding why. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault."
"I know, sir, but—"
"Hey, let's drop the sir part for a bit, huh, Carter—Sam? After all, it is Christmas . . . somewhere." Jack reached for the bandana's knot and gently untied it.
She blinked rapidly for a moment while her eyes adjusted to the lighting change. When her vision cleared she couldn't believe what she saw. "But . . . the Bianites . . . "
"I found a loophole. They said we couldn't observe our traditions in the village, Sam. We're way outside of the village."
"I don't know what to say. It's beautiful." Tears stung her eyes at his thoughtfulness.
They were in a clearing within the rainforest, and standing before her was a small, conical-shaped dark green tree that had been decorated. She recognized some of their supplies standing in for decorations. Repelling rope coiled around the tree like white garland as fluorescent green light sticks cast an elliptical glow where they hung on the branches; their light reflecting off of the hundreds of strands wide silver tinsel that draped the boughs.
Jack smiled almost self-consciously. "Well, I wouldn't say that, but it'll stand in, in a pinch."
"How did you . . .?"
"A little bit of this. A little bit of that."
"And tinsel. Where did you get the tinsel?"
"Uh," he paused as he cleared his throat, "Teal'c and Jonas donated their thermal blankets. It isn't like we needed them in this climate anyway. Oh, here." He picked up something that he'd hidden at the base of the tree. "I thought you should do the honors."
It was a small silver angel that had been twisted and shaped out of MRE wrappers, like a foil origami. Sam took the angel from him and stepped to the tree, placing the angel on top, and then wrapped her arms across her chest as she stared at the tree and the handmade angel, speechless from the surprise. He moved close behind her and she leaned her shoulders back against his chest. They stood that way for a while, just enjoying the closeness and the quiet of their surroundings.
"Merry Christmas, Sam."
Her eyes glistened as she turned to look at him, their faces just inches apart. "Merry Christmas, sir—Jack," she whispered. She rose up on her toes and hesitated briefly before lightly brushing her mouth against his in a soft kiss, lingering a moment and wishing for more before she broke contact and opened her eyes to meet his chocolate ones. "Thank you."
Jack's gaze never left hers as he touched his tongue to his lips as if to taste any residual from her kiss. "So, major, got plans for New Year's?"