The shopping was all done, packages wrapped and stacked in boxes in his garage. There was no tree inside his home to put them under, because he never put one up. It wasn't necessary; just an extra expense, and it was sad to watch the green, vibrant tree go stiff and brittle in death. Besides, he didn't own any ornaments, and he had better things to do with his money.
He drove to the storage unit downtown and unloaded the boxes of gifts from his car. Then he went back home, loaded up the last boxes, and made a second and final trip. After waiting for darkness to fall, he telephoned the homeless shelter and gave them directions to the storage facility, telling them the unit was full, and they could go and pick up the gifts with the key he'd mailed them earlier in the week.
Then he put on a Santa hat and began to drive.
Some of the people he'd gifted in the past had moved away from Colorado Springs. Others had stayed, for whatever reason, but each of the families of SGC personnel who'd died in the last ten years received anonymous presents in the mail or on their doorsteps at Christmas time. He kept track of where they were living, along with the ages of the children, their clothing sizes, and interests. All year he would buy little things he thought might be useful or appreciated, putting them away in the storage unit for Christmas.
Then, over the Thanksgiving holiday in late November, he'd begin wrapping. He updated addresses and boxed up items that had to be shipped away during the first two weeks in December. Once that was done, he started calling the local homeless shelters and orphanages, asking for gift lists. With whatever time he could spare, he'd spend the remaining days shopping.
He made time to buy gifts for his teammates and other close friends with a "from Daniel" tag, but there were others who received anonymous packages because they had no family, were going through difficult times, or needed a lift, for whatever reason. Daniel knew that the mysterious appearance of a Christmas package on a desk or on top of a locker never failed to bring a smile.
Daniel was always very careful about how he delivered those packages, making sure no one saw him. They were hidden from view as he transported them, so that not even the security teams watching the monitors knew who the base's secret Santa was.
On Christmas Eve, it took him several hours to get all the packages delivered to all the local homes. When he was finished, he took off the Santa hat and set it into the passenger seat of the Jeep. Stopping off at a service station, he filled the tank with gas and checked the fluids. Last thing before leaving, took a clothing bag into the restroom with him and changed clothes, into a rented costume he'd found just for this occasion.
Then he drove to Denver, straight to St. Anthony's Orphanage. He parked close to the door, noticing there weren't many cars in the lot. Most of the staff had gone home to their families for the holiday, which was one of the reasons he was there.
He got out and walked up to the door, rang the bell, and waited for Sister Judith to appear.
The nun smiled broadly when she saw him, welcoming him inside the warm foyer.
"Merry Christmas, Daniel," she said happily. "We missed you last year. Were you off at a dig somewhere?"
With a smile, he let her take his coat. Last year at Christmas, he'd been ascended. "I had to be away, Sister," he told her smoothly. "I couldn't get back in time to be here. I'm sorry I couldn't be here."
"The children missed you, too," she assured him. "And our mysterious benefactor also didn't make an appearance." She cocked her head and looked him in the eye. "That wouldn't be a coincidence, would it?"
He frowned at her. "What mysterious benefactor?"
She hung his coat on a peg by the door. "The wonderful person who provides the lion's share of the gifts for the children," she explained. "I know you say you're just a poor college professor who has nothing to give but your time, Daniel. I just found it a little odd that the one year you weren't here, our benefactor wasn't, either."
Daniel grinned. "Well, as much as I'd love to own up to that, I'm afraid I can't, Sister Judith. I can donate my time to be here, so others can be with their families on Christmas Eve, but that's about it. It wouldn't be fair for me to buy a couple of gifts for some kids, and leave others wanting, so all I can offer is myself, along with the turkey and ham out in the Jeep."
"Then why do I not believe you?" she teased. She held out her hand. "Is it locked?"
He placed his keys in her palm.
"I'll send a couple of the older children out to get them. Thank you, Daniel." Her gray eyes twinkled. "For everything." She stepped back and swept him up and down with a glance. "Who are you tonight, by the way?"
Daniel's costume featured a long black velvet jacket, covering a white shirt with a lacy jabot at the throat. He also wore a black and silver brocade vest and black breeches that stopped just below the knee. Long white stockings with black and silver garters covered his calves, and on his feet were shoes with wide silver buckles and two-inch heels.
"Mister Cratchet, at your service, mum," he declared with a formal bow, his accent decidedly British. "I thought I'd read Dickens' A Christmas Carol for the children, if you think they'd be interested."
"They always love anything you read to them," the Sister told him. "You go on to the activity room, and I'll begin sending them in to you."
He started down the hall but turned back when he heard the doorbell ring. "I'll get it, Sister," he called, retracing his footsteps to the front door.
He pulled it open and stood frozen in surprise.
There on the porch were the rest of SG-1, all wearing Santa hats except for Jack, who had on a green elf hat instead. Each one bore a large sack of goodies.
"Merry Christmas, Daniel," Jack said with a grin. "You gonna let us in? It's cold out here."
"Uh." Daniel stepped aside after another stunned moment ticked away. "Sure. What're you guys doing here?"
Sam held up a portable GPS tracking unit. "Hope you don't mind us tracking you, but I've seen how you drive," she admitted with a grin. "We've gotta talk about your behind-the-wheel tactics, Daniel. Traffic laws are laws, not suggestions," she teased.
"Hey! I'm a good driver," he protested, unsure what to think about his friends having tailed him, and wondering why they'd done it.
"You are a cunning man, DanielJackson," Teal'c intoned. "A difficult performance to trail."
Jack turned to look at the bigger man. "That's 'a hard act to follow,' T," he corrected. Then he turned back to Daniel. "And you are that." He came inside and hung up his coat, the others following suit.
"Why are you here?" Daniel asked again, glancing down the hallway. "You guys were supposed to be spending the holidays with your families."
"That is what we told you, in order to deceive you," Teal'c explained. "That way, you would not be expecting us to follow you."
"But that's what you've always done at Christmas," Daniel argued. "Why aren't you with them? They'll be missing you, and-"
"It's okay, Daniel," Sam assured him, patting his shoulder. "We've been planning this for a while now, and we wanted to surprised you." She grinned broadly. "Obviously, we did."
"But I don't-"
"See, the reason we're here," Jack cut in, "is because we've never spent Christmas with you. Every time we've invited you, you've begged off because you said you were busy. We always felt bad about leaving you behind, knowing you'd be alone, taking someone else's shift at work or something."
"It took us a while to realize you weren't working at the base on Christmas, and last year..." Sam's expression grew serious and sad. "There were news reports the last several years about a mysterious person gifting the homeless shelter in the Springs. Last year, there wasn't a report. There was also a very special secret Santa at the base who made sure no one was missed or forgotten, and he didn't make an appearance last year, either."
"We noticed many things were left undone while you were... elsewhere, DanielJackson," the Jaffa added. "And this year, when things were back as they had been, we were certain that you must have been the one who was responsible for the many quiet joys in the lives of those most do not even see, but of whom you are always aware. There is much that we have learned from you, my friend, though you were not aware that you were teaching."
"That's what made me think of this orphans' home," Jack finished up. "I called a couple weeks back and spoke to a nice nun who said that you were a regular here at Christmas... except for last year. So we thought we'd see what a Daniel Jackson Christmas was like." He grinned. "You're probably pretty close to broke right now, if I'm guessing right."
"I have enough." Surprise had faded into pleased acceptance, and Daniel was smiling. That they had cared enough about him to want to be with him tonight filled him with warmth and love. "The kids will love this. Come this way."
He led them down the hall into the activity room. It was a very large space, boasting a big fireplace, with an artificial tree sitting in a corner near it. The tree was festooned with small, multicolored lights and decorated with an assortment of handmade ornaments, most of paper, but some of hard-baked and painted dough. There weren't any presents under it yet, because those would be brought out after the children went to bed.
Daniel, however, knew the combination for the lock on the nearby storage room, and he let his cohorts in to stow their sacks of gifts.
Moments after the goodies were hidden away, the first of the children, a little girl of about six, came racing into the room, crashing into Daniel and hugging him with a squeal.
"Daniel!" she cried joyously. "Oh, I missed you so much!"
He picked her up and hugged her. "I missed you, too, Claire," he assured her. "Hey, did you know that was my mommy's name?"
She clasped him around the neck, giggling as she looked into his eyes. "Yes, silly! You ask me that every year!" She hugged him so hard, he started to turn red and pretended to be choking. After delivering a loud, smacking kiss on his lips, she asked, "Can I sit on your lap while you read? Can I, huh, please, please?"
He set her down and looked at her with a stern face, hands on his hips. "Well, I don't know. Can you sit still this time? Because last time, you wriggled around an awful lot, and I almost dropped the book."
"I'll be still, promise!" she swore, flashing a huge gap-toothed grin.
"Okay, then you can sit on my lap while I read."
She chortled with joy and danced around exuberantly as other children started coming into the room, the noise level growing along with the population. In short order, everyone began taking their seats, all except Teal'c, who stood guard beside the tree. Daniel introduced his friends and greeted all of the children whose names he knew from previous visits.
Sister Judith made introductions for those who were new to the orphanage. Daniel shook their hands and asked them questions to help him remember their names, so he could ask the Sister later about their family histories. They talked for a little while, and Daniel told a few stories about some of the places he'd been and people he'd met in his travels, always being very careful to couch the descriptions in terms of Earth locations.
Jack told a couple of stories, too, mostly about funny things Daniel had done that had gotten him into trouble. He also told the kids what the team did for a living, making it sound as fantastic and unbelievable as possible. The children laughed along with the adults, and Uncle Jack was an instant hit.
When the laughter finally died down a little, Claire asked Daniel what story he'd brought to read to them. He stood up and gave a brief history lesson, setting the scene and illustrating Dickens' time, describing the funny clothes he was wearing and how different things were back then. So many things were different, and though times had changed, people were still basically the same, he told the children. There were those who had much and were poor, and those who had little and were rich.
With that as his introduction, he sat down in his chair, snuggled Claire into his lap, and began to read.
Every so often, Daniel would glance up at his audience. There were 34 children at the orphanage, from the ages of five to fourteen. Jack and Teal'c sat on either end of the big sofa with children piled all around them, and Sam sat cross-legged on the floor with the two littlest ones in her lap. All of them listened attentively, and Daniel let the story carry him away with everyone else.
As he closed the book, he felt satisfied with a job well done. Applause rang in his ears, along with some very loud whistles from the O'Neill section of the audience. Daniel's cheeks hurt from grinning so broadly, and Claire strangled him with another affectionate hug just as Sister Judith came in to announce that dinner was ready.
That resulted in a mad dash to the community dining room, with everyone arranged by age from the oldest to the youngest. Sister Judith put Jack at the head of the table, and even though Teal'c was far older than any of them, that wasn't something they could tell the others. Teal'c sat to his right, then Daniel and Sam, and then the children all around them. Sister Judith and her staff sat at the far end of the table with the littlest ones in their laps, helping to cut up their portions and make sure they had plenty of whatever they wanted. Everyone ate a hearty meal of turkey, ham, and more assorted goodies that seemed to come out of nowhere.
Just as they were preparing to return to the activity room for some games, little Claire came rushing into the dining room, her face alight. "It's Santa!" she announced in a dramatic whisper. "He's HERE! He's putting presents under the tree RIGHT NOW!" She dashed off again.
Amid a chorus of quiet gasps, the children all got up and hurried quietly after her. As did Daniel and his team.
Daniel thought Jack looked a little smug, and Sam didn't seem surprised in the least at this new development.
The children all clustered in the wide-open doorway of the activity room, peering inside at the portly man in the bright red and white suit. He was hurriedly stuffing packages under the tree, his bag almost empty. From the number of gifts under the tree, Daniel knew there was far more that Santa could possibly have carried in that one bag. It looked like the total of what Daniel had sent, plus what Jack, Sam and Teal'c had brought with them, plus a little more.
Jack stood behind all the children, looking over their heads right in line through the doorway. "Merry Christmas, Santa," he called.
The man in the red suit glanced at him and laughed, bright blue eyes twinkling above a scraggly white stick-on beard.
The moment he spoke, Daniel knew who it was behind the disguise.
"HOHOHO!! Looks like Santa's busted," he said in a deep voice with a decidedly Texas accent. He straightened up, the last package still in his gloved hand. "Well, then, come on in, everyone," he invited jovially. "And a merry Christmas to all!"
Kids broke into cheers and excited screams, the little ones racing to hug Santa around the knees and inspect all the packages. Sister Judith appeared in the middle of the mad dash and had everyone take their seats. In orderly fashion, she began to parcel out packages by name, using a handful of the little ones as runners to deliver the gifts from the tree to the recipient.
The last package handed out came from Santa Hammond himself. It was a large, flat box wrapped in gold paper, tied with an elegant gold bow, with an angel dressed all in gold dangling from the ribbon. He handed it to Daniel, then turned and stood in the doorway.
He called to the children to get their attention, and all heads came up instantly, eyes bright and fixed on the man in the red suit.
"Boys and girls," he said, his voice booming into the big room. "There are all kinds of heroes in this world. There are policemen and firemen and soldiers. Everybody knows about them, and what they do for all of us. But there are other kinds of heroes, too." His eyes went to Sister Judith in the back of the room, helping some of the little ones open their packages, and then to the other handful of staff workers scattered around the room. "There are those who spend their lives and their time looking after kids, like you."
The children began to look around the room at the Sisters and other staff with new eyes.
"They don't have to be here. They don't make a lot of money at their jobs. They're here because they want to be, because they love you. It's their choice."
Santa turned to SG-1. "And there are those who watch over us and keep us safe without anyone ever realizing the sacrifices they're making. They walk bravely into places when others might run away, facing untold dangers, fighting the good fight so we can all sleep warmly in our beds."
His blue-gray eyes were full of love and pride. "Boys and girls, you are surrounded by heroes tonight," Santa told them. "That's the best gift I could have given you, and one I hope you will learn to appreciate one day."
He took a step backward, into the doorway. "HOHOHO! Merry Christmas, everyone!" he called, and then he was hurrying down the hallway toward the kitchen. Some of the children tagged after him, their presents temporarily forgotten, wanting to catch a look at his sleigh and the magic reindeer they were sure were just outside.
As the jingle of sleigh bells sounded, Daniel hurried after them, eager now to see what the General had cooked up.
Santa had disappeared out the back kitchen door with his empty sack over his shoulder, and somehow the door had locked behind him. The kids couldn't get out, so they ran to the nearest window and threw open the curtains.
They jumped back, screaming in excitement, because the movement of the curtains had startled a live reindeer, standing just on the other side of the glass.
A moment later, the sound of sleigh bells and another, "HOHOHO!" preceded the reindeer backing up and disappearing from sight.
"The front door!" one of the children cried. "We can go around!"
Then all of them were running toward the front, bringing the rest of the children with them, until the whole household was pouring out onto the porch and around to the back of the house, adults and all.
They found that Santa was gone, as were the reindeer.
Daniel spied a large truck motoring down the street, and figured that was the getaway vehicle. A look at Jack's face showed that he'd been in on it.
He gave Daniel a nod and then he was off to his truck to get a flashlight. He helped the kids search for tracks. There were deep ruts in the ground that looked like they might be from sleigh runners, pressed down by a heavy load, and there were lots and lots of reindeer markings in front of it.
The most impressive thing of all, though, was how the tracks just seemed to be in that one area behind the orphanage, as if the sleigh had just magically landed right out of the sky, and taken off again the same way.
Daniel would get the explanation of how they'd done that later, once they returned home, because it was powerful enough evidence that he almost believed it himself.
After the excitement died down and the kids started to get cold, everyone was herded back inside the house for some hot chocolate the kitchen staff had prepared. The children warmed up and returned to their gifts, all of them filled with a sense of wonder that shone in their eyes and their bright, happy smiles.
Daniel stood along the back wall of the activity room, watching them, pleased to have been a part of this. He turned grateful eyes to his friends, who were all looking at him with pride in their eyes. "Thanks, guys," he said quietly, fairly certain they couldn't hear him above the din, but sure they understood anyway.
They all smiled and nodded back, and turned with him to watch the kids with their presents.
Inside fifteen minutes, every package had been opened, and everyone was scampering off with their booty, eager to play until bedtime.
Daniel and his friends helped out during the evening, playing games with the older kids, helping with cleaning up all the paper and mess the festivities had left behind.
When the last of the younger children had been tucked in for the night, Jack got his team outside to his truck to help him unload the gift that the base personnel had bought for the orphanage: an enormous wide-screen plasma television for the activity room, complete with DVD player and a big selection of Disney DVDs.
It was very late when they finished unpacking it and setting everything up. All of the older kids and most of the staff except Sister Judith had gone to bed. She brought them a tray of coffee to help keep them awake for their drive home, and blessed them for their generosity and warm, caring hearts.
Then she noticed the gold-wrapped box, which was still on a side table where Daniel had left it in the mad dash to see Santa off. "Don't you want to open your gift, Daniel?" she asked, bringing it over to him.
He glanced at his friends, who smiled and nodded in agreement. "Okay," he said with a shy smile. He sat down in a chair, pulling the package onto his lap. "I wonder what this is? You guys really didn't have to give me anything, you know."
"We didn't," Jack assured him. "I don't have a clue what's in there. I already gave you your present from me."
"I know what it is," Sam piped up, then put her fingers over her mouth to hide a smile.
"It is from SantaClaus, DanielJackson," Teal'c intoned.
"Yeah, I guess it is," Daniel agreed, and carefully slid the ribbon off, setting the bow aside. He gently opened the folded ends of the paper to keep it from tearing, then turned it over and pried the tape closure apart, only slightly damaging the shiny paper. He opened the flaps and turned the box over, to find a clear plastic sheet revealing the contents of the box.
It was a scrapbook, bright red, with bold black Japanese calligraphy down the front, the character for 'friendship.' There was a small box cut out of the padded cover, and inside that was an elegantly lettered card with his name on it. Daniel lifted it out of the cardboard box, set the paper aside, and opened the book.
There was the picture of him as a child with his foster parents that Catherine had shown him in the car when they'd first met. On the next pages were other photographs, all of them ones he'd kept in a small box, the only mementos of his family and youth. He'd assumed they'd been lost or thrown away after his ascension, but someone had obviously rescued them and put them together into this scrapbook for him.
His eyes filled. "This is wonderful," he murmured, looking up at Sam. "You kept my pictures?"
She nodded, tears in her eyes, too. "Keep turning the pages, Daniel."
He did, flipping past the familiar photos, looking for something new. The last few were photos he'd kept on his desk - himself on a camel with the pyramids in the background, one of Sha're that he'd left with Teal'c when he discovered that his wife was dead. He glanced up at the Jaffa, whose emotions were shining brightly in his dark eyes.
Daniel turned another page and found a handwritten letter, with a photograph of Janet Fraiser next to it.
Grief gripped his heart as he read over it and realized it had been written shortly after he returned to the base from Vis Uban. In it, Janet welcomed him back, telling him how much she'd missed him, and how she'd treasured his friendship. There were funny little turns of phrase that were uniquely hers, and the warmth of her words flowed through him and filled him up.
On the next page was another letter, along with a photograph of Cassandra Fraiser. That one had been written shortly after Janet's death, thanking Daniel for being there with her mother when she'd died, thanking him for his friendship and for helping to look after her over the years.
He turned the next page and the next, and found that every one was the same. Each had a letter and a photograph of someone from the base, people whose lives he had touched, some whom he had saved from death. Page after page filled the thick book with love and gratitude for him.
On the last pages were letters from Sam, Teal'c and General Hammond. The final page, however, was blank. With a small half smile, he looked up at Jack.
"I missed the deadline," Jack admitted with an embarrassed shrug. "I'll give you mine when we get out to the truck. It won't be as pretty as the others, because I didn't do all the fancy mounting and decorating, like everybody else." Jack gave him an incredulous look. "Didja know they had a scrapbook artist teach a class for everyone who wanted to participate in this thing? A class, for cryin' out loud!"
Jack's irrepressible humor had broken the serious mood, and Daniel chuckled. "That's okay, Jack," Daniel assured him. "It's the thought that counts."
He packed the book back into its box, carefully re-wrapped it, and tucked it under his arm. "This is gonna take me a while to read through," he told them softly. "Thanks, guys. Best Christmas present ever." His smile widened. "Best Christmas ever."
"Merry Christmas to all," said Sister Judith. She seemed to recognize that this had been a very special holiday for Daniel. She gave him a hug, which he fondly returned.
"See you next month, if I can," he told her.
She chuckled. "I can hardly wait to see what you'll do to entertain the children then. You're always so clever with mixing education and fun, Daniel."
"Thank you. I felt a little silly in this get-up, but it worked, don't you think?" He laughed a little, too.
"You make history very interesting, Doctor Jackson," she told him with a wink. "I don't know if your college students appreciate you, but you'd be wonderful teaching younger children, too."
He grinned and gave her another big hug. "Thanks, Sister. I'll remember that in case I need a Plan B."
She walked them all to the door. After donning their coats and wishing each other a good night, the foursome went outside into the early hours of Christmas morning.
Sam and Teal'c got into her Volvo and drove off with a wave. Daniel got into the cab of the truck with Jack, who started the engine to let it warm up. He searched around between the seats until he found a manila envelope, which he handed over to Daniel.
"Sorry it was late," he said quietly. "You know me; I didn't know what to say."
"You never do, Jack, any more than I do, but that's okay."
Daniel opened the clasp and pulled out several sheets of paper, along with a big 8 x 10 glossy photo of Jack and his late son, Charlie, smiling into the camera. Each of them had a fishing rod in hand, and they were dressed in grubby jeans and old T-shirts, obviously having just returned from the lake. Charlie held up a stringer with a fish almost as big as he was, and Jack was holding a stringer filled with leaves and an old shoe.
Daniel's eyes filled again. Knowing Jack, this was an original photograph, not a copy he'd had made for the scrapbook. Jack had given Daniel one of the most precious pieces of his life - a photograph of him with the beloved son he'd lost.
He looked at the letter in the pale glow of the street light, and saw that each sheet was filled, ten pages of words that Daniel couldn't read because it was too dark and his vision was blurring so badly. Speechless and overwhelmed with emotion, he gave Jack a nod and a tight smile of thanks, then got out of the truck and put everything into the passenger seat of his Jeep. When he turned around, he found Jack standing right behind him.
"I thought you said you couldn't find anything to say," Daniel teased him gently. He sniffed and blinked, and the tears he'd been trying so hard to hold back fell anyway. He wiped them away with his gloved thumbs, then took his glasses off to clean them.
"No, I said I didn't know what to say," Jack reiterated. "So I told you everything I thought you needed to know. Stuff that shoulda been cleared between us a long time ago."
"Like what?" Daniel asked, unable to think of a single thing at the moment that he didn't already know about Jack O'Neill.
Jack ducked his head, pulling his coat tighter around him. "Read the letter, Daniel," he returned gently. He reached out and hugged Daniel close. He patted him on the shoulder and said, "Merry Christmas, big guy. G'night." Then he got into his truck and backed out of the parking space, waiting for Daniel to do the same.
Moments later, Jack was following him through Denver as they headed south, for the Springs and their homes.
Daniel didn't know what all of those letters said, but right now, that didn't matter. The idea of the scrapbook itself spoke volumes, offering a message of love and respect that he'd never forget.
He knew without reading it what Jack's letter would say. He'd read enough of Jack's mission reports to know that the man could write - some of those reports were so riveting that they seemed more like adventure novels than military necessities. What Jack could dispassionately put on a printed page were not things he could utter where anyone might hear them. Verbalizing his feelings wasn't something Jack could do, but apparently he'd found a way to do that. Daniel was sure that Jack had missed the deadline because he'd wanted to say everything just right.
What Jack would be telling him in those many pages would be the things he'd wanted to say in the infirmary as Daniel had lain there, dying from radiation poisoning. The words would be heartfelt, things he could never say out loud, because he'd tried and failed to do that when it mattered most.
There would be apologies, of course, because Jack always knew when he'd screwed up; he just couldn't always say the words to ask for forgiveness.
But there would be something more in there, something Jack had been compelled to say. There would be acknowledgment of Jack's respect for him, and there would also be a statement of friendship, so in the future, it would never be taken for granted. This was a starting over for both of them, a moment of renewal; a chance to wipe the slate clean.
That would be a good gift for Jack, too, he thought. He could let him know that all his past unkindnesses were forgiven. Daniel would read the letter once he got home, and then sometime on Christmas Day, he'd find something appropriate to offer as a symbolic olive branch, and he and Jack would make peace.
"Peace on earth," he said out loud in the dark interior of his Jeep. "Good will to all." He grinned to himself. "Best Christmas ever."
|Summary:||In all of the years the team has been together, they have never spent Christmas with Daniel. This year, after his return to mortal form, they decide to find out why he has always begged off, and learn what a Daniel Jackson Christmas is like.|