Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.
~Author unknown, attributed to a 7-year-old named Bobby
It wasn't that Christmas meant nothing at all to Daniel. He'd celebrated it, or variations of it, many times over the years.
First, as a child in Egypt with his parents.
"Mommy, how come it's not snowing for Christmas?"
Claire Jackson smiled down at her 4 year old son and ruffled his hair. "Danny, I know Dad explained all this to you just last night. You're just trying to get out of going to sleep, aren't you?"
Daniel shook his head then grinned and nodded. "Dad told me it's because it's so warm here in Egypt, the snow would just melt and make big puddles and Santa's sleigh would sink like... like... quicksand."
"Well, that's right. Do you miss the snow, Danny? I do." Claire's voice held a wistful note and Daniel tossed aside the sheet covering him and climbed onto her lap, wrapping his arms around her neck tightly.
"Tell me about when you were a little girl and you built a snowman for Christmas and you used Grandpa Nick's best suit to dress it in and he had to wear it all damp and yucky on Christmas Day. Please," he begged.
Claire looked at her watch then hugged him back. "Okay, I guess we've got a little while before Santa comes." She looked up as the bedroom door opened and Melburn came in and sat beside her.
"Yeah, tell us the story, Mom," Melburn said, smiling at them both.
"You've both heard this a hundred times," she replied.
"Not me," Daniel said. "I've only heard it four times cos I'm only four." He held up four fingers.
"All right," she agreed. "Let's make it five then, shall we?"
"Daniel, I'm sorry it's not much of a Christmas for you here but we'll try to make it as happy for you as we can."
Daniel looked up into Marcia Higgins' kind blue eyes and shrugged at her. "It's okay," he said, trying to mean it.
Marcia nudged at his knee with her foot and he obligingly moved along the stoop so she could sit down next to him, sighing as she rubbed a hand over her heavily pregnant belly. "I think this little guy in here is going to be a football player," she said. "Do you want to feel him move?"
Daniel nodded and she took his small hand in hers and held it to her belly, laughing as he jumped when the infant inside her kicked against his hand. "Wow," he breathed.
"Pretty cool, isn't it?" she said. She hugged him against her, one arm around his shoulders and he relaxed into the embrace, closing his eyes. Sometimes, at moments like this, he could almost pretend it was his mom who was holding him...
"Hey, you two coming to have some of these fine burgers I've been slaving over?" Tim Higgins called down to them and Daniel stood up quickly, heading up the steps at a run, suddenly starving. He stopped at the top and waited for Marcia to lumber up to join him then took her hand. "Thank you for letting me be here for Christmas," he whispered.
"Oh Danny, your mom was my dearest friend. I just wish we could keep you with us for always..."
"Why can't you?" Daniel asked urgently though he already knew why. It had been explained to him the day the Higginses had picked him up from the orphanage. "I'll be good and I can help with the baby and help Tim with the yard. I'm stronger than I look."
"I know, sweetie." Marcia cast a helpless look at her husband and Tim joined them, dropping to one knee in front of Daniel. "Danny, I have to go overseas to work as soon as the baby is born. We're moving to England, remember?"
Daniel nodded slowly, wishing now he hadn't asked, not wanting to hear it again.
"Well, we haven't been able to track down your grandfather to get his permission to take you out of the country so we can't." Tim rubbed his shoulder consolingly. "I'm sorry, buddy. If we could, we would."
Daniel rubbed hard at his eyes, willing the tears to stay back but traitorously they seeped through his fingers and down his cheeks. "He doesn't want me either," he said softly, the pain of the truth choking him up.
"Your grandfather was very upset by your mom's death," Marcia said. "I'm sure he'll be back to get you very soon."
"I don't think so."
Tim stood up, grabbing Daniel and lifting him to ride high on his shoulders. "Let's not worry about it tonight, Danny. Tomorrow's Christmas. Let's make it as happy as your mom and dad would want it to be, okay."
And it was, in a way, the last truly happy Christmas he'd had.
Daniel looked out of the window at the other children milling around in the snow below. Some were going to spend Christmas with foster families, others would stay at the orphanage like him. The difference between the children in the grounds below and himself was that they all carried gifts in their arms while he had nothing to even tell him it was Christmas. He'd received gifts from Tim and Marcia but they'd been taken from him when Miss Jones, the director of the orphanage, had caught him in the library after lights out on Christmas Eve, his nose buried in a book about Egypt.
She'd yanked him out of the chair by his arm and marched him upstairs to the dormitory where she'd set about removing his gifts and the small bits of tinsel the children were allowed to stick on their bed rails. "You know the rules, Daniel," she'd admonished him sharply, her thin, sallow face creased in a frown of disapproval. "You can have these back after Christmas is over. I'll unwrap them for you first. If you can't obey the rules like the other children, you don't deserve to spend Christmas with them."
"I was just reading about Egypt," he'd murmured, biting back the sobs that threatened. "My dad told me it never snows in Egypt and I wanted to know why... And... and..." the sobs were surfacing now despite his best efforts to keep them at bay, "how Santa gets there if he can't use his sleigh. My dad forgot to tell me that part before he-"
"There's no such thing as Santa," Miss Jones snapped to stifled giggles and a few gasps from the other children. "Now get into bed before I decide to get my belt and give you the spanking you deserve."
Daniel did as he was told and spent the rest of the night staring into the darkness, trying to remember a time from long ago when he was sitting on his bed, wrapped in his parent's arms and love while his mom told them about the time she'd stolen her father's best clothes to dress her snowman in.
When he finally got his gifts back a week later, naked of their bright wrappings and ribbons he'd pushed them back into the furthest corner of his bedside locker and never looked at them again. He never believed in Santa again either.
Sha're smiled shyly at him as he held out the gift wrapped roughly in notepaper torn from one of his journals. "What is this, husband?" she asked, taking it curiously from his hand.
He leaned forward and kissed her forehead gently. "It's a gift," he said, sitting back on his heels. Smiling at her puzzled expression, he explained, "On my world we have a day called Christmas. On that day we give each other gifts, offerings. This is for you. Open it," he urged as she hesitated.
Shrugging, she pulled the wrapping away to reveal the roughly carved stone bowl beneath. "You made this?" she asked, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. "For me, you did this, Danyel?"
He nodded, feeling shy himself now. "I know it's not very good. Your father tried to teach me but I think he was worried I was going to cut my fingers off with the carving tool before I was done." He wiggled his fingers at her, showing off the small cuts he'd received while working on the bowl.
Sha're placed the bowl carefully on the ground at her side, handling it as if it were made of priceless crystal, then moved around till she was sitting next to him. She picked up his hand and kissed each finger tip. "Poor Danyel," she said. "Thank you for my Christmas gift. I have nothing for you though."
"Yes, you do," he replied, pulling her against him and kissing her passionately. "You give yourself and your love to me every day. Every day with you is like Christmas for me."
Sha're's eyes shone with love as she looked at him and she reached over and picked up the bowl, handing it to him. "What do these mean?" she asked, pointing at the symbols decorating its sides.
"This is your name in my language, and this is mine, and this," Daniel pointed to the lettering that joined their names together, "this says love." He put the bowl down and pushed Sha're down to the ground then lay beside her, caressing her face, her hair, her neck. "I love you, Sha're. Happy Christmas."
"Happy Christmas, my husband."
A month later, Sha're was gone and Daniel never gave anyone a Christmas gift again.
"So, Daniel, what are you doing for Christmas?"
"Hmm?" Daniel lifted his eyes from the book he was reading and looked across the table at Sam. "Christmas? Oh, I don't do Christmas."
Sam blushed. "Oh, I'm sorry. I know not everyone celebrates the same holidays. I just... I thought..."
"Oh no, it's nothing like that. I mean it's not a religious reason or anything." He smiled at her. "I've just always been somewhere else at Christmas, you know on digs and stuff."
Well, you're not somewhere else now," she said, "so will you come to my place for Christmas? The Colonel's coming, and Teal'c, and Janet and Cassie, of course."
"He'll be there."
Daniel looked round at the sound of Jack's voice behind him then back around at Sam again. She looked so... eager and so he nodded. "Yeah, okay. Um, I haven't bought any gifts or anything yet though. I've been," he swallowed then let the lie out, "busy."
"It's not about gifts, Daniel," she said, smiling at him. "I just really want you to come."
"Okay," he said again. He stood up. "I have to go work on the translation from SG:9."
"You didn't ask me when it was," she reminded him and this time he was blushing. "It's tonight. 7 PM, all right?"
"Yeah, great. I'll be there." He sketched a quick goodbye at Jack and made his escape, down to his office where the translation for SG:9 sat finished on his desk. He stood in the doorway for a moment then walked across to the bookcase and reaching up, pulled down the carved bowl that had rested there for over a year. His fingers traced the words he'd carved so lovingly. Then he reached up and put it away.
Daniel turned and saw Jack leaning against the doorframe.
"Yeah. I just haven't done Christmas for a very long time." He grinned. "I'm not sure I know how."
"I'll remind you," Jack said. "We've never shared a Christmas, have we?"
Daniel shook his head then moved over to stand in front of Jack. "I don't think I can do it, Jack," he whispered.
"Why?" Jack grasped his arms then flicked a glance up at the ever-present camera and sighed, releasing Daniel's arms. "I hate this," he growled softly. "Daniel, talk to me. What's going on up here," a long finger tapped Daniel's temple then moved down and repeated the motion over his heart, "and in here?"
"I can't... It's nothing, not worth talking about." Daniel moved away, went back to the bookcase and took the bowl down again. He held it out to Jack. "I made this for Sha're, a Christmas gift, about a month before..."
Jack walked across, took the bowl from his hand, peered at the words. He nodded, smiled bittersweet. "Sorry," he murmured. He reached up, replaced the bowl, patted Daniel's shoulder. "We don't have to go to Sam's-"
"No, no, you should go," Daniel said quickly. "Just... tell her something came up. That I had something to do here."
"Carter's at least as bright as you, Daniel. She's not going to buy it. You don't turn up for her party you're either going to hurt her feelings or she'll bring the party to you," Jack replied. "Just come to the party, stay for a little while then we'll make an excuse and leave, okay?"
"I haven't got any gifts-"
"It's not about gifts," Jack said, echoing Sam, and Daniel gave in. "All right."
Daniel juggled the parcels he'd pulled from the passenger seat of his car so he could get to the central locking button on his key. Eventually he got it done by dint of gripping one parcel's ribbon in his teeth thus freeing one hand. Placing that gift under his arm once he was done, he stepped carefully up the snow-covered path to Sam's front door. Sighing when he reached it as he realized he had no hands free to knock, he instead used one foot to tap on the door then looked up as the door swung open to reveal Jack standing there, a sprig of mistletoe held aloft in one hand.
"Merry Christmas," Jack said, swooping forward to plant a kiss on Daniel's mouth.
"Um, Merry Christmas. Um, should you be doing that here?" Daniel replied. He shoved a parcel into Jack's hands. "Could you take this before I drop it? I think it's the fragile one."
"Is it for me?" Jack asked, rattling the parcel experimentally.
"Will you quit shaking it? What part of 'it's fragile' didn't you understand? And no, it's not. It's for Sam. So, should you?"
"Should I what?" Jack asked, leaning in for another kiss. "Do this, you mean? Sure why not? It's Christmas and I've got the mistletoe. As a matter of fact," he shoved the mistletoe into Daniel's fingers, "now you have it so you can kiss me."
"Jack, what about," Daniel dropped his voice to a whisper, "don't ask, don't tell?"
"No one here to ask or tell," Jack replied, leading the way into Sam's living room where he bent and placed the gift beneath the lavishly decorated Christmas tree.
"I thought-" Daniel looked around the room as Jack took the rest of his parcels from him and placed them under the tree as well. "Where is everyone?"
Jack shrugged as he straightened up. "Not here?" he suggested.
"Jack, if this is one of your surprise party ideas-"
"Moi?" Jack looked indignant. "It was Carter's idea."
"Great. So any minute I can expect them all to jump out and yell, 'Surprise!'" Daniel shouted the last word. "Well?" he asked at the continued silence.
"They're not here," Jack said softly, patiently. "What part of not here didn't you understand?"
"I don't get it," Daniel replied though he was beginning to... he thought.
"You will later. So will I if I've been good." Jack wiggled his eyebrows and smiled lasciviously.
"Oh boy. Jack, just tell me what's going on." Daniel sat down on the couch.
"This is your Christmas present from Carter." Jack waved a hand that encompassed the whole house in its gesture.
"She's giving me her house?"
"You know for a guy who speaks 23 languages and is purported to be a genius, you can be pretty damn slow sometimes." Jack was kneeling in front of him now and automatically Daniel opened his legs so Jack could edge between his thighs and lean in close. "An empty house for you and I to spend Christmas together, that's her gift for you," Jack said softly, breath wafting pleasurably across Daniel's mouth.
"You and me? But she doesn't know- Does she? How could she know? We've been so-"
"Careful?" Jack filled in helpfully. He gave a shrug that said he didn't much care how she knew only that she did. "Woman's intuition? Daniel, she knows, Teal'c knows, the Doc knows, hell, even the General probably knows. I don't care. All I care about is the person I care about most in the world is here with me for Christmas and we're alone."
Daniel let his mouth open under Jack's lips, let himself begin to drown in the sensation... "We can't... you know... I mean, not in Sam's bed..."
Jack grinned, turned and pointed to the double air mattress and sleeping bags under the Christmas tree. "We're camping out," he said. "My favorite kind of Christmas."
"An air mattress, a sleeping bag and thee," Daniel misquoted mischievously, laughter finally bubbling up.
"Whatever floats your boat."
An hour later, sated, sweaty, boneless, Daniel looked up the Christmas lights twinkling on the tree above him. "This was a really nice thing for Sam to do especially because... I mean, you and she... I mean, I know there was a time when..."
Jack leaned up on one elbow, looking down at him. "Yeah, that's the operative word. Was. There was a time when Carter and I thought we felt something for each other."
"But you did feel something for each other," Daniel said. "I was aware of it, I'm sure half the base was-"
"Listen to me, Daniel. I thought I could have something with Carter because I thought I couldn't have you, and no, I don't mean she was second best. I just mean that there was an attraction there-"
"Hey, who wouldn't be attracted?" Daniel asked more rhetorically than anything else. "Sam's beautiful."
"You weren't," Jack said. "You were always just like brother and sister, closer even."
Daniel shrugged, not sure he could explain it. "I couldn't fall for Sam because there was something missing, some element in our relationship that meant I could only ever love her as a dear friend. But it was more than that with you two until..."
"Until I knew I could have you... in my life, in my bed, in my..." Jack paused then said it anyway, "...heart. If that hadn't happened, I would have been with Sam, and she would have known eventually that she wasn't really the person I wanted to be with most of all. She's a bright woman. She'd have worked it out."
"So she's okay with it, with us?"
Jack waved a hand at the tree. "She gave you this Christmas gift. Seems to me like she's okay with it."
"She still loves you though," Daniel felt he add to add, because it was true.
"Yeah, she does." Jack leaned down and kissed him gently. "She loves me enough to give me the chance to be with the one person I love without reservation."
"And she loves me enough to give me the gift of her acceptance." Daniel pulled Jack down so they were heart to heart, Jack's head snuggled against his shoulder. "That's pretty special."
"Yes, it is." Jack yawned against Daniel's skin. "What say we leave the other presents till morning?" he suggested, rolling off Daniel to curl up on his side, pulling Daniel into his arms.
"I once thought I'd never want to celebrate Christmas again," Daniel whispered. "Now I think it's going to be my favorite time of the year."