Daniel drummed the fingers of his left hand impatiently on the top of his kitchen table. There wasn't a doubt in his mind that Jack would call, but Daniel was going to be late if the man didn't call him within the next fifteen minutes. He decided he would give Jack a few more minutes before he caved in and called him first. As a distraction, Daniel began a mental countdown, first Abydonian, then French, moving onto Greek, Egyptian, Goa'uld, finally settling on English, and getting to number eight, before his phone rang.
"A funny thing happened as I was reading over the duty roster today."
"And what would that be, General?"
"The SGC seems to be short one archeologist today."
"Really? Anyone I know?"
"I'm not sure. Dr. Daniel Jackson --"
"I know him. Great guy."
"He has his moments." Jack's voice dropped an octave. "Are you okay?"
"You're always fine."
"I'm really fine this time, Jack."
"Soooo, all the other times you've said you were fine, you really weren't fine?"
Daniel checked his watch. "I gotta go."
"No, you can't. Go, I mean, without telling me why you didn't come in today."
"It's Christmas, I need to do shopping."
"I'm insulted that you don't believe me."
"Good, be insulted, but you're still lying. You hate malls."
"No, Jack, I hate you and malls -- together, you're a lethal combination."
"What are you doing today?"
"It's the holiday season and no one should be asking questions around this time of year."
"Are you buying me a present?"
"Yes. I took today off to buy a present for you. Happy?"
"No pressure or anything, but did you see the new 2005 Avalanches?"
"One car per relationship. Don't be greedy."
"I'm not greedy and that one car thing, is that a rule? Because if it is, I didn't get the memo."
"You're the General, you're supposed to be writing them."
"I don't read what I write."
"Obviously. Goodbye, Jack."
"Daniel. wait --"
"Bye, Jack. I've got to get --"
"I still like the black ones -- though the grays look --"
"You only get one." Daniel closed the phone, severing the connection on Jack's sputtering, smiling at his ability to bring Jack to his knees, General or not.
Cassie was uncommunicative and surly, answering all attempts at conversation with either a grunt or a nod of her head, so after awhile Daniel just concentrated on driving and tried to ignore his passenger.
She had made herself sparse these past few months, even though she had chosen to attend a local college and had barely squeaked through her first semester. Sam had been disappointed. Daniel had sat through Sam's lecture of how upset she had been about Cassie's GPA, so Daniel, in an act of pure stupidity and craziness, had volunteered to talk to Cassie. Obviously, based on the young girl's attitude, this hadn't been one of Daniel's better ideas.
"Do you need to buy any gifts?" A safe, supportive question, Daniel thought.
Daniel's hand swooped through the air. "I don't know. Holidays? Less than two weeks away? Christmas at Jack's?"
"There's nothing I want to see."
"Okay. are you hungry?"
Frustrated, Daniel cut across traffic, ignored honking horns, then pulled into a strip mall and parked. "Why did you say yes?"
"Huh?" For the first time since she entered the car, Daniel felt he had Cassie's full attention.
"I mean, why did you come?" He wagged his fingers between their seat-belted bodies. "Why did you agree to spend the day with me?"
"Oh, that." Cassie shrugged and pulled her feet up onto the seat, leaving Daniel amazed at the teenager's dexterity.
"You were the least of two evils." Cassie flipped her hands palm side up, then made a balancing motioning. "Sam-Daniel." She said their name combinations a few times, bobbing her hands up and down until eventually her left hand was resting on her knee and her right hand was raised. "Daniel."
"So you figured I would ..."
"Give me space. Let me be quiet. Not push as to why I'm on academic probation. That's why I'm here."
"And not with Sam."
Cassie slid her legs down and stared out the passenger window. "You're less ... intense."
Daniel sighed. Cassie had made the simple word sound like a curse and he felt old and out of his league. "Well, we're here now. What do you want to do?"
"Whatever you want," Cassie sighed.
"As long as it has nothing to do with shopping, the mall, buying gifts, eating --" Daniel put the car into drive and backed out of the space.
Cassie drew a smiley face in the window's moisture.
"I didn't realize you bought a house." Daniel joined an amazed Cassie by the side of the car, then ducked his head, embarrassed as she studied him intently. "A house? You? Go figure."
"Would you rather --?" Daniel jiggled his car keys in front of Cassie's face.
Cassie moved the keys away. "Not at all." Cassie tugged at his arm, pulling him away from the Thunderbird and up the walk.
Daniel followed Cassie as she walked through the house. She made no comments until she came to a framed photo in the hallway, taken at Janet's house for Sam's birthday many moons ago.
"You look so young." Cassie traced the picture with her forefinger, outlining Daniel's face, then moving to Jack's, Sam's, Teal'c's, eventually stopping at her mother's. "Everyone looks so young."
"Sha're was still alive, wasn't she?"
"Why do you look happy?"
"'Cause I was spending the day with friends. It was a good day."
"But Sha're wasn't with you. How could you be happy."
"Because I was young. I had hope. I believed that every time I stepped through the 'gate I would find her."
"Yeah, you were young," Cassie answered sarcastically before shouldering past Daniel in the narrow hallway.
Daniel went to go after her, then stopped and just shook his head, and chose instead to adjust the picture frame. He smiled gently at the impossibly young, naive people in the picture who at the time, had no idea what the future would hold.
Daniel started a fire, pretending not to notice Cassie doing a very judgmental perusal of his Christmas tree, touching various ornaments as she walked around it. Satisfied with the fire, Daniel stood in front of the tree. "Is it too much?"
"You have a tree."
Even though it was early in the day, Daniel plugged the tree in, taking Cassie's hand and pulling her back to get the full effect of the lights. "It's Christmas, of course I have a tree."
She tugged her hand free and stuck it in her pants' pocket. "You never used to put one up."
"You're right, I didn't."
"Why what?" Daniel rubbed his forehead in frustration. Since when had dealing with Cassie become like dealing with Jack?
"Never mind, stupid question."
"No, it's a perfectly reasonable question." Daniel walked up to the tree and fingered the blinking lights. "It was time."
Daniel didn't reprimand her when she flicked an ornament with her thumb and forefinger, but he took her by her forearm and guided her to the couch, then sat. Because he didn't let go, Cassie had no choice but to sit right with Daniel, which she did with a loud noise of protest.
"To get on with my life."
Cassie snorted and crossed her arms and legs simultaneously, shutting Daniel off in a body language that was eerily familiar. He could take the easy way out and play cat and mouse all day, failing Cassie as well as failing Janet, or he could do what Jack hated, which would be grabbing the bull by the horns and not letting go. Daniel opted for the latter, and waved his proverbial red flag.
"Will you feel better if you just say it, Cassie?" Daniel asked softly. "You didn't jump at the chance to spend the day with me because I would be easier on you than Sam, did you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." She grabbed the remote off the table then and switched on the TV, turning to the music channel.
"Nope." Cassie clicked to another music channel and increased the volume.
"You're angry at me."
She sighed, shook her head, then dropped the remote on the couch next to her, out of Daniel's reach. "The only thing I'm angry about is that people won't quit hassling me. Because sometimes having a bad semester at school is just that. A bad semester, and has nothing to do with," Cassie began to pick at an imaginary stain on her pants, "a death in the family."
"Nope, I'm sure it doesn't. Just like it doesn't have anything to do with a person you trusted protecting someone you loved."
Cassie scooped the remote off the couch and made the sound of the TV even louder.
"I can yell louder than the TV, you know," Daniel shouted.
Cassie stood, shutting off the TV and flinging the remote down on the couch. "I know. You're wonderful, Daniel. You're a genius, and a linguist, and an archeologist. You can do a lot of things, but you couldn't save my mother."
"No, I couldn't," Daniel said softly.
"Why couldn't it have been you? I wish it had been you."
Daniel stood and walked over to the tree and gently removed an ornament. "The answer as to why I chose to put up a tree this year is this." Daniel showed the ornament he had cupped in his hands to Cassie.
"Big deal, it's an angel."
"Your mom gave me this, as a present, the Christmas after Sha're died." Daniel found himself smiling at the angel's dark hair. He turned it over and removed the little note card that had been tucked into the back of her robe. Daniel rearranged the robe, then handed the note to Cassie. "Read it."
With a sigh and a roll of her eyes, Cassie opened the note and read it out loud. "It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end."
"I kept the angel in the box for years. Never put up a tree and your mom never commented on the angel's fate." Daniel took the note from Cassie, tucked it back inside the robe, then replaced the angel onto the tree. "I truly didn't understand what the note meant. I took the words to mean simple platitudes. sorta like 'sorry your wife is dead, Dr. Jackson'." Daniel shrugged. "Then I ascended, a year later descended and it was only a matter of months before your mom was killed. And one day while I was unpacking some things that had been in storage, I found the angel, and reread the note, and I understood."
"Care to enlighten me?"
"It's the journey, Cassie. The people you touch along the way." Daniel reached out and tapped the tip of Cassie's nose. "And the people who touch your heart and soul. I couldn't save her, but I can honor her strength and the person she was, and remember how much she meant to me. That's the best I can do."
"I wish she hadn't died." Cassie fingered the angel. "I find myself laughing and having a good time, then I'm horrified that I can do that. I mean she's not dead a year." Cassie swallowed a sob. "I forget sometimes that I should be sad."
Daniel removed the angel again, placed it in Cassie's hand, then gently closed her fingers around it. "It's okay to be sad, just as it's all right to laugh. And be angry. Your mom would have been okay with all of that, but she wouldn't have wanted you to die with her."
Cassie gave Daniel a watery smile, opened her hand and inspected the angel. She picked up the gold string that enabled it to hang from the tree and moved forward to rehang it.
"No," Daniel said, pushing the angel back into Cassie's hands. "It's yours. Think of it as a reminder of the people along the way who make the journey easier. Remember to let them in."
Cassie adamantly shook her head. "It was a gift to you."
Daniel held his hands around Cassie's. "Think of it as a gift from your mom ... to both of us. Merry Christmas, Cassie."
Daniel blinked and squinted against the sudden bright light that flooded the living room.
"I didn't know it was possible to read by the light of Christmas tree decorations." Jack leaned over and kissed the top of Daniel's head.
"Firelight," he yawned, then awkwardly bent up and captured Jack's lips.
"Romantic." Jack tapped Daniel's hip and Daniel slid sideways on the couch, giving Jack access to sit. "Did you have a good day off?"
Daniel hid his yawn behind the book he'd been reading and just nodded.
Jack looked over his shoulder. "I don't see any presents under the tree yet."
"Haven't shopped yet," Daniel teased, rubbing his knee against Jack's back.
"There's only ten days left until Christmas ... you didn't shop?"
"Nope, I spent the day with Cassie." Daniel felt Jack move against his knee, obviously enjoying this strange massage, groaning as Daniel's knee dug into his lower back.
"How's she doing?"
"Better. Surviving. Getting through each day."
"I'm sure it helped, spending time with you."
"I gave Cassie her present today. I think that helped."
"What did you give her?" Jack asked as he began to unbutton Daniel's shirt.
"Memories." Daniel helped Jack's fingers as they got stuck on a stubborn button.
"Am I supposed to understand that?" Jack slid his hand over Daniel's exposed chest.
Daniel held Jack's hand as it strayed over the area of his heart, holding the callused fingers in place, feeling its weight against his beating heart. "No, all that matters is that she understood."
There was a blank spot on the tree where the angel had rested, but that was okay because the message it had brought with Janet's words, had shown him the way to fill all the empty spaces in his heart and in his life. The tree would eventually be filled in the coming years with more lights and ornaments, but none would hold such truths as the gift of an angel from a dear, missed friend.
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