Sam slowly moved her mouse and clicked on 'save', closing the file. She stared morosely at the blank page on her computer screen, gradually and unhappily arriving at the conclusion that she didn't have anything else to write. She was caught up on all her reports; the mission briefing for their next mission was even finished--ten days before the briefing. The inbox in her e-mail program was empty... it was 1830... it was Christmas Eve. And she had just run out of reasons to 'not' go home.
Sighing, Sam reluctantly powered down her laptop, rolling her shoulders trying to work out some of the kinks that were the result of sitting at her desk all afternoon. She couldn't help but think back to earlier that day, she'd been so excited that morning; her Dad was going to come to Earth for Christmas Day. The operative word being 'was'. At the appointed hour, instead of her father, a message materialized through the Stargate. Urgent Tok'ra business, won't be able to make it, sorry honey, I'll make it up to you... the usual empty promises and excuses she'd gotten from him her whole life. She laughed bitterly, the harsh sound echoing around her empty lab. You'd think she'd be used to the disappointment by now.
Everyone had been appropriately sympathetic; bad enough that General Hammond had been present in the control room, expecting to see his old friend, but the Colonel had been there to witness her humiliation as well. Thank god she was used to hiding her feelings... she'd managed to make it out of the control room and to her lab before she'd let any tears fall. After everything that had happened to her the last six months, she'd been looking forward to Christmas with her father--a brief moment of normalcy in her less than normal world.
Taking a deep breath and forcing her thoughts into neutral, Sam stood and let mindless routine take over as she closed her laptop and gave her lab a quick visual once-over. All equipment off, nothing out of place, everything nice and tidy. Nothing left to do now but go home and spend Christmas... alone. Turning out the lights, Sam locked the door behind her and slowly made her way down the deserted hallway towards the locker room.
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all, Jack thought, as a strong gust of wind caused his truck to shudder. The snow that had been lightly falling when he'd left his house was now coming down heavier and with the increase in the wind it looked like they were in for a blizzard. Jack turned the heater up in his truck, pulling his cap down a little lower over his ears, trying to keep the cold from seeping into the cab. It was damn cold to be sitting in a parked vehicle waiting for Sam--who should have been home by now. He checked his watch again, 1930. When he'd called the base from his home half an hour earlier, he'd been told that Major Carter had just signed out for the evening. Where the hell could she be? A thought suddenly occurred to him--what if she wasn't coming home? Nah, she'd been planning on spending the evening with her father, she wouldn't have made any other plans after he didn't show up.
Jack still couldn't get the look on her face when she'd gotten the message from Jacob out of his mind. If he hadn't been looking right at her, he would have missed it. The acute disappointment and sadness he'd seen fly across her face before she'd brought her emotions under control, along with the look of resigned acceptance which had immediately taken over her features had torn at his heart. He recognized the look at once; he'd seen it directed towards him by his own child way too many times for comfort. And he discovered he hated seeing it on Carter's. But she was a good soldier, and he knew she hadn't cried until she'd reached the safety of her lab. He hadn't disturbed her there, but he had decided to do something. Sam had been dealt more than her fair share of disappointment lately; she deserved to have a nice Christmas. Yeah right, O'Neill, his conscience suddenly mocking him, you're sure Sam will think spending Christmas Eve with her commanding officer--who quite possibly expects more from her than just friendship--is going to ensure her a nice Christmas? And NORAD is tracking Santa Claus, along with his eight tiny reindeer, right now... .
Jack groaned, resting his head against the steering wheel. His conscience be damned, his heart told him that Sam needed him tonight, and for once he was going to listen to his heart--no matter what the consequences. Light suddenly reflecting in the side-view mirror alerted Jack to the presence of a car turning onto Sam's street. He straightened and peered into the rear-view mirror; he could just make out the approaching headlights of a vehicle traveling slowly over the now treacherous street. The blowing snow obscuring his vision, it wasn't until the car was almost abreast of the pick-up that he recognized the car as Sam's Volvo. She cautiously drove past, then pulled in front of him, stopping at the curb. Quickly pulling his black watch cap off, Jack grabbed the red and white Santa hat that lay on the seat next to him and tugged it on over his short, graying hair. Taking a deep breath, he opened the pickup's door, struggling against the wind and muttering, "Well, it's now or never."
Well, this is unexpected, Sam thought in dull surprise, as she put her car into park, letting the engine idle as she waited to see what O'Neill wanted. Her traitorous heart had started racing the moment she'd recognized his pickup truck in front of her house, barely visible through the snow. Why on earth was he here? Hell, he probably felt sorry for her, she decided unhappily; she had seen the pity in his eyes as she'd made her escape from the Gateroom after her father failed to materialize. But still, she wondered longingly, would pity alone bring him out into a snowstorm and to her house on Christmas Eve? Lost in her dreary thoughts, she didn't realize he had reached her car until she heard him rap on the window.
She turned her head and stared at him through the glass, not quite believing her eyes. She didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the sight that he made, standing in the cold night with snow swirling around him, wearing a silly Santa cap. He rapped on the window again; she jerked herself out of her trance and rolled down the window a few inches.
"Sir, what are you doing here?" she asked, raising her voice to be heard above the wind, wincing a bit as the cold and snow hit her face.
"Ah, Carter... " he bounced up and down a little, rubbing his gloved hands together. "Do you think we could discuss this inside your house? In case you haven't noticed, it's turning into a blizzard out here." He hugged himself, rubbing his hands on his arms as if to emphasize his point.
She couldn't help but smile slightly as his movements caused the pompom on his hat to bounce around and finally flop in his face. He frowned, brushing it out of the way, his brown eyes sending her a pleading message that she was helpless to ignore. She nodded, "Follow me around to the alley, you can pull up behind me in the carport and that way we'll both be off the street."
He smiled, relief apparent in his face before the pompom fell back down into his eyes. She rolled up her window, wondering at the wisdom of inviting him into her home, but her father's failure to appear had opened up areas inside her that she had thought were long gone and left her feeling vulnerable. And, god help her, she acknowledged in quiet desperation, she needed O'Neill tonight. She watched him through the rearview mirror as he hurried back to his truck; his movements neat and economical even in the driving snow. Over the wind and the sound of her own car's motor, she could just hear the powerful engine in his truck roar to life, then the headlights came on. Putting her car into drive, she carefully pulled away from the curb and guided him to her alley and carport.
Jack followed cautiously behind Sam, his windshield wipers and defroster working overtime. He was amazed that she had even made it home through the snow packed streets in that little car as she fishtailed making the turn into the alley. Her house was about midway in the block, so it wasn't too long until he saw her blinker flashing and she turned into a narrow drive. He pulled in right behind her, his headlights illuminating Sam parking the Volvo in a small carport attached to the house. He eased the truck right in behind her, so that he was snuggled almost bumper to bumper with the Volvo, the hood of the truck tucked just under the roof of the carport.
Shutting off the truck, he opened the door and hopped out and found himself ankle deep in blowing snow. Motion-sensitive lights had flared on when they'd driven up, illuminating the area by the carport. Sam met him by the door of the pick-up; the collar of her coat pulled up around her ears. She tugged on his arm, "Come on, let's get inside!"
She brushed by him and he quickly followed as she made a path through the snow to her back door. A light over the small stoop burst into life as they drew near, and Jack stood with his back to the wind, shielding Sam as much as possible from the blowing snow as she struggled to unlock the door without taking off her gloves. He grabbed her brief case as it slid out from under her arm, gratified to hear the catch of the key the lock, and followed her quickly into the shelter of her house.
Jack stood a bit uncertainly just inside the doorway, watching as she turned on the light and brushed the snow out of her hair. He looked around curiously, he'd hadn't seen this small breezeway the few previous times he'd been to her home. She shrugged out of her coat and hung it on a hook, tugging her bright red sweater back into place before taking the briefcase from him. She smiled, and the beauty of it went right to his gut. He stomped on the mat, trying to shake most of the snow off his boots, he started unzipping his coat, only to stop in surprise when Sam pulled his Santa cap off. She had an odd expression on her face as she shook the snow off it, but then she smiled wryly and hung it on a hook. "Take off your boots," she instructed as she quickly pulled hers off, brushing the excess snow off her jeans and then scooting past him, into the main part of the house.
Jack did as instructed, following her moments later in his stocking feet. He heard a furnace suddenly hum into life and followed the sound of movement to her kitchen. She was standing in front of the refrigerator, in the process of taking out several containers when he found her. He glanced around the kitchen and then into the living room. There was a small Christmas tree standing in one corner, only about four feet tall, but it was real--he could smell the familiar scent of pine. The lights in it twinkled merrily and he could see it was decorated in an eclectic style, all different types of ornaments hanging in the branches. He decided he approved, glad that Sam didn't go in for the 'designer' look. She seemed to have forgotten his presence as he silently watched her. She closed the refrigerator and opening one of the containers, began scooping out spoonfuls of some kind of congealed yellow... stuff into a large saucepan. She turned one of the burners on the stove on, and he finally cleared his throat as she sat the pot on the burner.
Sam spun around, "Oh, sorry sir." She gave him an apologetic smile, then turned back to the stove and began stirring the contents of the pot. "Would you like something to drink?" she asked after several moments.
What he wanted, he decided, was an explanation, as her behavior was kind of confusing him. He finally settled for, "Whatcha' doin', Carter?"
"Heating up the soup," she adjusted the temperature of the burner, continuing to carefully stir the contents. "We always have potato-cheese soup on Christmas Eve," she muttered. Sam kept her back to him, but he could hear the tears in her voice and see the quiet trembling in her shoulders.
He walked around the counter and into the kitchen, standing behind her and gently grasping her shoulders. "Hey, it's okay," he murmured.
Sam wiped at her eyes with the hand not holding the spoon. "No, it's not okay. He was supposed to be here... I needed him to be here."
Jack knew she referred to her father. "I know you do," he murmured gently. "But he's not."
Her shoulders shifted a bit under his hands as she took a deep, shuddering breath. "No, you're right... he's not." She turned abruptly, and his hands fell away from her shoulders. "But you are." He met her steady gaze as she looked at him with serious eyes. "Will you stay for dinner, Colonel?" she asked almost formally, but he could hear the plea in her voice. Jack wasn't sure it was wise, but then just being here with her wasn't wise--and since when had he been concerned about that?
"I was hoping you'd ask," he told her, his lips curving into a gentle smile.
They ended up eating their soup in the living room, seated companionably side-by-side on the sofa while a Boston Pops Christmas Concert played quietly on the TV. After they had finished their meal, Sam brought out homemade Christmas cookies for dessert, arranged on a rather gaudy looking dark green plate shaped like a Christmas tree made out of holly leaves. She handed Jack a mug of creamy-colored coffee, in a mug that matched the holly berry scheme of the Christmas tree.
"You know I like my coffee black," he protested, as she sat back down next to him.
She just smiled at him and said, "Try it, I think you'll like it."
He raised an eyebrow at her, but did as she asked, taking a small sip of the steaming liquid. "Hey, this is good... what did you put in it?"
She smirked at him. "A shot of Bailey's."
He raised an eyebrow. "Another Carter family Christmas tradition?"
"Yes," she told him, sitting back down on the sofa with her own mug of Bailey's-laced coffee. "Along with the mugs and cookie dish." A wistful expression came over her face. "Mark and I always got hot chocolate while Mom and Dad had the coffee with Bailey's. We'd have cookies," she gestured towards the ones on the coffee table, "and drink our hot chocolate." She delicately traced one of the holly leaves outlined on the mug. "We only got to use these on Christmas Eve. I got these out just special for tonight."
He gestured towards her with his mug, "I'm sorry your Dad couldn't make it."
"I'm sorry too," she replied, her expression resigned. "But it's certainly not the first time he's missed Christmas, and I don't suppose it will be the last time."
"That must have been rough, when you were growing up."
Sam sighed. Her dad's 'no-show' earlier had filled her with such mixed feelings. The memory of every Christmas that he had missed had resurfaced during the long afternoon she'd spent working in the lab. She studied Jack over the top of her mug. She wasn't sure it was fair to dump her less than stellar Christmas memories on him, but his eyes were sincere and full of concern.
"It wasn't so bad while Mom was still alive, but after she died... I don't know, it was hard for Dad to keep any of her traditions. I don't know whether he just didn't want to or whether it hurt too much." She chuckled dryly, "The first Christmas after my Mom died was just horrible. Mark wasn't talking to Dad at all." She paused for a moment, taking a sip of her coffee before continuing. "I think I had an ulcer from trying to pretend that everything was normal between all three of us, and trying to make it seem like Christmas. In the end, Dad took us out to dinner on Christmas Eve; there was no soup, no cookies, and no hot chocolate. It was all strange and different, just like our lives without Mom." She sighed again, shaking her head. "It wasn't until years later that I finally understood he was hurting just as much as Mark and I, only his response was to ignore the pain and that first Christmas without her, I guess the only way he could do that was to do something totally different."
She took the last swallow of her coffee, and setting the mug down on the table, she slouched down onto the sofa, resting her head against the cushions. She turned her head to look at Jack, who had a pensive expression on his face, his eyes staring across the room as he took another sip of his coffee. "Penny for them," she said quietly.
He turned and looked at her then, his eyes and face serious. "What you said, about the first Christmas without your Mom just reminded me... ." his voice trailed off.
"Of your first Christmas without Charlie?" she whispered, instinctively knowing the direction his thoughts had taken.
"Yeah," Jack murmured after a long moment. He set his mug down too and slouched down next to her, their shoulders almost touching. Without thinking, she shifted closer to his warmth, letting her head rest on his shoulder. It felt so good to be this close to him again, to talk with him, to share her feelings with him. She sat quietly, waiting patiently for him to continue. "We'd gone to Abydos, that first time, the end of September," he finally said, his voice contemplative. "When I got back home, well, things between Sara and me were bad. Not that they'd been so great before I'd left, but my absence sure hadn't helped. We tried to make it work, at least I thought we were trying until Christmas Eve that year, when she handed me the divorce papers and moved out of the house. Not very flattering, but I spent that Christmas pretty much drunk. No point in celebrating."
She made a distressed sound, and reached out taking hold of his hand and gently squeezing it. "I'm so sorry, sir. I didn't mean to dredge up bad memories."
He squeezed her hand in return, then threaded his fingers through hers, resting their joined hands on his thigh. "They're just memories, Sam. They're neither good or bad--I had to learn to accept them--or go nuts." His tone was light, but she knew he was deadly serious.
"I know, I just keep hoping with my father... ."
"That he'll change?"
Sam chuckled. "No, I gave up on that a long time ago." She continued wistfully, "I keep hoping that I'll change and be able to accept him as he is, a good man, but a less-than-perfect father." She tilted her head to look at Jack, "Looks like I still need to do some work."
His eyes were solemn as he replied, "Just be thankful, Sam, that you still have the chance."
She dropped her eyes, suddenly feeling guilty and ungrateful. Here she was complaining about her family to a man who had lost his family. She sat up, pulling her hand free from his. Jack sat up too, looking at her in surprise. She ran her hand agitatedly through her hair, scooting away from him. "I am so sorry," she apologized, "that was incredibly insensitive of me."
He seemed confused, then a look of comprehension crossed his face, and he smiled softly at her. Now it was her turn to be confused as he reached out and gently caressed her cheek. "Nothing to be sorry for, Sam." They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Jack dropped his hand as if suddenly realizing what he had done, smiling ruefully at her. He looked at his watch then, and Sam realized in sudden panic that he was going to leave. She jumped up quickly and grabbed the coffee mugs.
"Let me get some more coffee."
He reached out, stopping her by a touch on her arm. "No, Sam, I better leave."
She sat the mugs back down on the coffee table as he stood and moved a few steps away from her. He seemed so weary as he smiled gamely at her, but his deep brown eyes were bleak. He didn't want to leave and she didn't want him to either; she wanted him to stay, while they still had the opportunity to explore a relationship. She knew Jack had been referring to her relationship with her father, when he had told her to be thankful she still had the opportunity to be with him, but she also knew the same truth applied to her supposedly non-existent relationship with her colonel. One of them would have to take the risk of changing in order to give any feelings they had for each other a chance to grow and either flourish or wither. And, with unexpected insight, she acknowledged that she was tired of waiting for their circumstances to change.
Jack moved to walk past her, but she stepped in front of him, blocking his way. Imitating his earlier gesture, she reached up and gently caressed his cheek, letting her fingers trail in a soft caress across his slightly hair-roughened skin before sliding down his arm and grasping his hand. "You don't have to leave," she said quietly, studying his now carefully neutral expression.
"Sam... " he murmured, his rough voice betraying his longing.
Still holding his hand, she moved closer to him, until their bodies almost touched, then bringing her free hand to his shoulder she lifted her face so that their lips were only inches apart. "Jack, please stay," she whispered against his mouth.
Jack groaned and Sam let go of his hand as he tugged it loose; leaning into his embrace as he wrapped one arm around her waist, the other sliding across her back, his hand cupping her head as he kissed her. She wrapped her own arms around him, clutching him tightly as they kissed, her mouth meeting his ravenously as she responded helplessly to the passion flowing from him.
After long, heated moments, she whimpered softly as Jack finally ended the kiss, resting his forehead against hers. Panting, she closed her eyes and started nuzzling his neck, unable to help herself from kissing him, touching him, now that they he was finally in her arms. His arms tightened around her almost painfully, before he slowly pulled away and held her by her shoulders. Her knees felt so weak, she was sure she would have fallen if he hadn't been holding her. They stared at each other for long moments, their harsh breathing the only sounds in the room. Outside the storm still raged, the wind howling around the house.
Jack finally spoke, his words a low rumble. "Sam, are you sure?"
She felt his hands tighten on her shoulders as he waited for her reply. This wasn't going to be easy, but then what in life ever was? Her lips slowly curved into a smile as she replied, "I've never been more sure of anything."
As soon as the words left her mouth, she found herself back in his arms, his face buried in her hair. She wrapped her arms tightly around him, reveling in the sweet pleasure of being in his embrace, murmuring, "We need to have this chance."
Sam woke slowly; luxuriating in the warmth that surrounded her as she snuggled deeper into her lover's arms. She cautiously opened one eye and saw bright sunlight trying to peek through the blinds. The blizzard must have passed during the night, she decided, bringing a bright, sunny day in its wake. She smiled as she felt Jack move against her, his arms tightening around her, his breath warm and moist in her ear as he whispered, "Merry Christmas."
Wriggling in his embrace until Jack loosened his hold, she quickly turned in his arms so that she faced him. Her eyes sparkled as she gazed at the sleepy face of her lover. Sam kissed him, delicately tracing his lips with her tongue before murmuring against his open mouth, "I don't think 'merry' quite covers it, love."
"Hmm?" he rumbled against her lips.
Brushing her lips every so lightly against his, she whispered softly in reply, "How about the most wonderful, fabulous, most perfect joyous Christmas?"