"That's pretty isn't it?" Daniel commented and shifted in the truck's seat as Jack slowed down in traffic.
Jack leaned over a little to see the luminarias lining the walkway heading into the church. He heard Daniel's quiet sigh and on a whim he pulled into the church's parking lot. "You wanna go in?"
"We probably shouldn't." Daniel looked down at his hands.
"Hey it's Christmas Eve. I'm sure they expect visitors, Daniel." Jack said. Then he shook his head. "We don't have to. I just thought maybe you wanted to...you know...experience something other than the infirmary or my four walls. I don't think Doc Fraiser would approve of me taking you to a mall."
Daniel smiled at him, the bruise mostly faded from his face but still there. "Yeah. Maybe it would be nice."
Jack heard the hiss as Daniel undid his seatbelt and he was around the truck and at his friend's side to help him out of the door. "Take it easy." Jack cautioned, not removing his hand from Daniel's elbow until he was sure Daniel had his balance.
Daniel looked down at his loose sweat pants and then at Jack's chinos. "We're not dressed very well for a church service Jack."
"We'll sit in the back. And I really don't think they're going to mind." Jack started walking at a slow pace, mindful of Daniel's still healing injuries.
Jack watched, noting the lines of pain appearing as Daniel pulled himself up the few stairs by tightly gripping the hand rail and taking one step at a time. They walked into the church together only to be met by some teenagers who smiled and wished them a Merry Christmas.
An older woman handed them programs for the evening and gestured to a side aisle. "You can sit anywhere but you might be more comfortable there." She nodded at Daniel. "You'll have more room there and the children aren't likely to jostle your leg."
Daniel smiled at her and murmured a thank you. They went to the second last row, and Jack didn't miss Daniel's sigh as they sat in the cushioned pew. Using the cover of reaching for a hymnal and studying the program, Jack glanced at Daniel. Daniel's strong fingers were kneading his thigh. His eyes were closed and he had a look of determination on his face.
Jack closed his own eyes for a moment, thinking of the arrowhead that had been embedded in Daniel's thigh two weeks ago. The natives of P1A-990 didn't take kindly to visitors and had a nasty habit of including poison on their arrows. It had been close. It seemed it was always close with Daniel. Too close.
The months after Daniel's ascension had been the roughest Jack had experienced since his son's death. Daniel's return to them, alive and human, had been a miracle Jack had never expected. But there'd been Daniel's kidnapping in Central America and now this latest run in. Jack swallowed hard. He didn't know if he could go through losing Daniel again. Not when...no, he wasn't going to think of it.
Daniel didn't remember the relationship they'd begun to explore just weeks before the disastrous mission to Kelowna. Jack had hoped that as other memories came back to Daniel, the memory of the intimacy he and Jack had shared would return. But it hadn't, and Jack wasn't about to put another burden on his best friend and someone he loved in a way he hadn't thought possible.
"Jack?" Daniel's urgent whisper cut through his thoughts.
"Daniel?" Jack opened his eyes and studied his friend. "You okay?"
"I was just going to ask you the same thing." Daniel said, then pointed. "I need a hymnal please." He accepted the book from Jack. "Um," Jack watched as Daniel traced the design on the cover with one finger, a habit, he supposed, that Daniel wasn't even aware of. Jack drew his gaze away from Daniel's long finger and looked up into Daniel's eyes.
"Um, are you sure you're going to be okay with this?" Daniel asked, his eyes bright blue behind his lenses.
"Why wouldn't I be?" Jack kept his voice to a whisper to match Daniel's.
Daniel pointed to the program, "Children's service," he announced..
"Ah," Jack nodded. He shook his head. "It's been a long time, Daniel. It'll be okay."
"Okay," Daniel said and turned his attention to the program, his lips moving as he read silently.
The organ started to play and Jack rose along with the rest of the congregation, helping Daniel up with an arm under his elbow when it appeared the leg had stiffened up. He felt his throat tighten as Daniel began to sing 'O Come All ye Faithful,' and the choirs filed into the sanctuary.
Jack allowed himself to get lost in the ritual and could remember Daniel discussing the importance of rituals in human's lives at a briefing years ago. When the children from the nursery choir got up to sing, he laughed along with the rest of the congregation as one eager toddler pulled up her robe to show off her new Christmas dress and as they sang off-key in their loudest voices.
He could still remember Charlie dressed up as one of the sheep in the nativity play when he was three. It had been one of five Christmases he'd been home with his family. Five out of Charlie's ten. He'd been in the hospital for one-sick with a bug he'd picked up on a mission in South America. Two he'd been on missions and hadn't even realized the date. And one he'd been in a hotel room, wondering how he and Sara could work things out after he'd come home from yet another mission and drank himself into oblivion. But he and Sara had worked it out and he'd been home for Charlie's last Christmas. He didn't know if he could have ever forgiven himself if he'd missed the last one.
Sneaking a glance at Daniel as the minister was giving his Christmas message, Jack smiled. Daniel was listening intently, his face expressive as he laughed at an amusing anecdote the minister shared, frowning at a story of injustice. Jack let the words wash over him, figuring there was something to be said for the miracles the minister was now discussing. After all, one was sitting right next to him, although maybe Oma Desala would have just put it down to Daniel's pure pig-headedness. Jack shrugged and decided he'd still consider it a miracle anyway.
The same teenagers who had greeted them as they entered the church were now collecting the offering.
"Jack," Daniel whispered as the young girl drew closer to them. "I don't even have my wallet."
Jack pulled out his own and placed a bill in Daniel's hand. "Remember I know where you work," he murmured.
Daniel nodded, looking entirely too serious and placed the bill in the collection plate after Jack put his in.
"Hey," Jack leaned closer, "are you doing okay? We can go if you want."
Shaking his head, Daniel gave Jack a smile that faded nearly as quickly as it had appeared. "No. This is nice, Jack."
The same girl who'd passed the collection plate was back with a basket of candles that she handed to Daniel.
The minister was explaining the procedures for the candle-lighting portion of the service. He motioned for the congregation to rise.
Jack took in Daniel's white knuckled grip on the pew in front. "Maybe you should just stay sitting." Jack gestured at some of the older people who remained seated. He'd known it was a stupid thing to say as soon as the words left his mouth. He put his candle on the pew and put his arm around Daniel's shoulder to help his friend stand.
"Thanks," Daniel said after a few moments of hard breathing while tightened muscles adjusted to a new position.
Jack nodded and retrieved his candle. They waited with the rest of the congregation as the teenagers lit their candles from the minister's and then began to make their way down the center aisle.
Jack lit his candle from the older woman's seated next to him. He smiled at her and then turned to Daniel. Daniel touched his candle to Jack's, his face a study of intense concentration achingly familiar.
A hush descended on the church, even the children quieting as the overhead lights were turned off and the only light present was the glow of candles held by the congregation. The organ began to play Silent Night and Jack began to sing along with the others, keeping his voice low. Beside him, Daniel's tenor was strong and sweet. Looking at Daniel and the candlelight bathing his friend's face in gold brought back a painful memory of the Gateroom and Daniel asking to be let go. Jack wondered, as he had so many times before, if it would have made a difference if he'd asked Daniel to stay.
The flame from the candle was reflected in Daniel's glasses, a twin glow that danced and hid Daniel's eyes from Jack's view. They'd had such a short time together as lovers and there were times Jack still didn't understand why Daniel left with Oma. But deep in his heart in the part he now kept hidden, Jack knew asking Daniel to stay, to suffer through the pain and maybe never be whole again would have been the ultimate selfish act. He hadn't even been able to tell Daniel he loved him-not because he didn't but because he'd been a coward. Too afraid of being hurt again. And still, Daniel had come to him when he'd been in Ba'al's prison. Come to him and offered Jack a chance to leave the pain behind. Daniel was there even when Jack said no to the offer. Daniel was always there it seemed, had always been there for him, offering his heart to Jack with no conditions.
The organ was silent now as the congregation moved onto the second verse. A chill went up Jack's spine at the beauty of the music and the moment. He closed his eyes and still the light of the candles penetrated, a golden glow that warmed him much as Daniel's presence did. A simple song of shepherds and angels and a small baby. He remembered going to church with Charlie and Sara on those five Christmases they had together. Remembered Sara's shoulder touching his and Charlie standing sandwiched in between, his small body vibrating with excitement and his mouth a round 'oh' of awe and amazement.
Five Christmases, the same amount he'd had with Daniel before...before he'd nearly lost it all again. It didn't matter, Jack realized, it didn't matter that Daniel didn't remember those few weeks they'd had together. They'd had five years together as friends. Five years of fighting and a deep solid foundation. And now they had more. More years to build an even stronger foundation-one built onto bedrock so that it wouldn't fall or crack no matter the earthquakes sent their way.
But Jack couldn't help the regret for the lost months, the regret of all the anger, the moments when the foundation had been shaken and sinking into quicksand. His throat was tight and Jack couldn't swallow past the lump that had formed there. Regret for the five lost Christmases with Charlie, regret for words he didn't say, it swirled in Jack's mind and he could feel hot tears burning his eyes. He squeezed them more tightly shut, hoping to keep them in but it was useless. As useless as his meager efforts to save Daniel all those months ago, as useless as his inability to keep his son from bleeding to death from his gun. The tears leaked out despite his wish for them not to, and they stung as they began to trail down his cheeks chapped from the dry winter air.
The hymn ended and there was silence in the sanctuary until the minister began his prayer. Jack didn't know if anyone out there would even listen; he didn't even have the ability to put what he felt into words. A hand took his, strong fingers curled around his and squeezed gently in understanding. Jack opened his eyes as the minister began his blessing of the congregation and looked into Daniel's eyes. He could see them clearly despite the candle glow and they were lit with a fire more powerful than the small flames on the candles they held.
"Daniel?" Jack mouthed, not wanting to shatter the silence or the moment. He raised his eyebrows in question.
"Yes," Daniel nodded.
Jack grinned, not caring if tears were still on his cheeks. "Welcome home, Daniel," he said, his heart feeling as if it would burst. "Welcome home."
|Genres:||Angst, Drama, Established Relationship, Holiday|
|Summary:||Christmas Eve brings some realizations to Jack.|