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Sand in an Hourglass

Chapter 3

Jack poked his head into the office. He had to occasionally show up here. To at least check the mail. He frowned when he saw the white, padded envelope. There was no return address. He opened it, took the plastic disk case and stared at it for a few moments. He didn't remember ordering anything. There was no note. Curious now, he dropped down into his chair. Turned on his computer. Continued to turn the plastic case over and over in his hands while he waited for it to boot and run through the virus scans.

When at last the beep that signaled the machine was ready filled the air, Jack put the disk into the drive, opened the directory. He wasn't as helpless on computers as he liked to pretend. He'd learned, however, that by allowing others to believe him incompetent when it came to certain things, they were more apt to do the task themselves as repeat instructions to him. Which kept him from having to do half a dozen mundane, routine jobs. There was, as the old saying went, method to his madness. He couldn't help but grin at that thought. His 'kids' never seemed to mind. Just like they didn't mind that during the weekly team 'meditation' sessions, he normally slept. If he wanted to meditate, think about life, he'd go fishing. But it was important to his team that he be there, be a part of what they'd come to believe was something that helped them. He wasn't about to deny them. Besides, it was nice to have the team together, just sitting quietly. Actually, it was the only time they were quiet. No incomprehensible techno-babble from Sam, no boring explanations about some rock from Daniel. No smartass comments from Casey. Teal'c...well, T never made a lot of noise anyway. It was worth getting a numb ass for...just to have the silence from them.

He scanned the contents. Opened the first document. "Simmons, you lousy sonuvabitch!" he hissed. Then grinned. "Thanks, Harry. I'll take care of it," he mumbled, taking the CD from the machine.

 

 

 

General Hammond looked up when Jack tapped on the door. Braced himself for the argument he was certain he would hear. There was no doubt about how Jack felt about the Tok'ra, the man didn't keep it a secret. Even though the mission was planned, there was always the chance that between now and the time SG-1 was scheduled to step through the Stargate to go to the planet where they'd be 'captured', they'd change their minds. That Dr. Jackson would refuse to participate. That Casey Jackson would follow her husband's lead. "Come in, Colonel."

"Sir, I received some information. From Harry Maybourne," Jack said immediately, walking into the room, the disk in hand.

Blue eyes widened with surprise. Not what he'd expected his second-in-command to say. "I see."

"I think the president should know about this, sir," Jack continued. He handed the silver disk to his commanding officer. Stood quietly as the man loaded it into his computer, then read the directory of contents.

"This is treason!" Gen. Hammond hissed.

"That's what I thought," Jack agreed.

"Do you have copies of this?"

"No, sir."

"Make three. One for the president, one for me, and I want you to put one where no one would ever think to look for it. Somewhere not the SGC."

"Yes, sir."

"Let's hope we can bring this asshole down. Very publicly. It will have a greater...impact...on those who work for and with Simmons if that happens."

"Yes, sir."

"And thank Colonel Maybourne for me, will you?"

Jack grinned. "Yes, sir!"

Back in his office, Jack pulled up his favorites menu. Found what he was looking for. Typed out a quick message. Three simple words. "Hutch-thanks. Starsky"

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Teal'c smiled when he greeted Bra'tac. "You have it?"

Bra'tac grinned. "I do. It was made by the finest wood carver I know. Polished until it shines. It is almost too beautiful to be used as a training staff." The Jaffa master led his friend into a nearby dwelling. Leaning against the wall was a basha'ak, the wooden training staff which all Jaffa learned to use in order to become proficient with a staff weapon.

"It is indeed most impressive," Teal'c said, taking the staff in hand, examining it.

"I was surprised that you made such a request," Bra'tac said, nodding at the basha'ak.

"Casey Jackson wishes to learn mastaba. She is a quick learner. That she should learn to wield a staff weapon is a natural progression of her tutelage. She would have been a formidable Jaffa."

The older man grinned. "You are quite taken by this young woman."

"She is a good friend. Nothing more," Teal'c replied, noting the twinkle in his mentor's eyes. "She is also the wife of Daniel Jackson. Who is my best friend."

"Be that as it may, you are still taken with this young woman," Bra'tac insisted.

"She is an incredible woman," Teal'c allowed. "She has suffered much in the single year she has been at the SGC. Yet her spirit has never been defeated, her smile has never dimmed."

"Will she understand the significance of this gift?"

"She will. Her curiosity is insatiable. Much like Daniel Jackson. She has learned to speak our language. Questions me constantly about our way of life. Each answer I give her brings more questions. She asks what only a person truly interested, a person who already understands the Jaffa, would ask."

"Then it will be well received."

"It will. I have another request to make of you, old friend."

"And what request would you make?"

Teal'c quickly explained the upcoming mission for the Tok'ra. And that SG-1's failure would mean the end of the Jaffa rebellion. The discussion lasted well into the afternoon. By early evening Bra'tac was gathering enough men to make up a squad. That the seven Jaffa had once served Osiris, before escaping to the secret camps of the Free Jaffa, would only make the deception all the easier. Two others would take their places as 'captured' Jaffa, allowing them greater freedom of movement among the prisoners of Osiris' ship. They'd be instrumental in seeing to it that SG-1 'escaped' when the time was right.

It was a pleasant evening, spent in the company of his own people. Yet he yearned to return to the SGC. To his friends. His 'new' family.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Casey glanced around her, at the shelves of brightly colored ornaments. "So, do you have a particular theme, or a motif that you prefer?"

"What?"

"Theme, or motif for the tree."

"Um...well, I guess I never really thought about it," Daniel admitted. From what he could remember of his time with his parents, their Christmas trees had been covered with ornaments of all sizes and shapes and colors.

She picked up a box of glass balls. "I love color," she said softly. Words had been an escape for her as a child, whether she was reading, or writing poems. There had been little color in the house where she'd grown up. Drab, dirty white walls. The broken down green sofa, her adoptive father's brown Barco-lounger. A few school photos on the wall, one of her, five or six of Sheryl. The black clock in the kitchen. When she'd been able to, she'd surrounded herself with color.

"Why don't we just look around, and get whatever appeals to us?"

Her eyes lit up. "I like that idea!"

He grinned. Seeing that smile was always worth trying to figure her out. Which wasn't always so difficult, given how much he could see in those beautiful green eyes. "Guess we'd better get a cart, huh?"

"Probably a good idea."

Twenty minutes later, the cart was full of boxes of ornaments of various shapes, sizes, and colors, and twinkling lights; strands of red and gold and white bead garland, and packages of tinsel, a compromise reached when they discussed the matter, she admitting a desire for the garland, he expressing his like of the tinsel. It was at the kiosk set up in the corridor of the mall where Casey discovered a display of homemade ornaments.

The look of excitement in her eyes, made him smile. "Take a look, babe," he said.

"Oh, can I?" she asked breathlessly, already caressing two of the crocheted snowflakes.

"Whatever you want, Angel," he replied softly. Stood and watched her as she sorted through the display of snowflakes, and snowmen and Santa Claus faces, red stocking cap ornaments and black boot ornaments. Without a doubt their tree would be colorful... and it would be as amazing as the woman who decorated it.

She smiled up at him. Whatever she wanted. If she suddenly developed a yen for the moon, she had no doubt he'd find a way to give it to her! She examined that thought for a moment, analyzed the fact that such a truth could only be the result of love so deep that she couldn't even fathom it, and in return filled her with so much love that she swayed slightly.

"Case?"

His voice was full of concern...worry, as were his eyes. For just a few seconds she was lost in them, the love that she could see in the depths of those beautiful blue eyes. 

"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she said softly. "I just got hit by your love."

If she'd actually been hit by his love, she wouldn't be standing, he thought. The force was such that it surprised even him at times. "I do love you," he whispered.

"And I love you," she whispered in reply.

He looked at the snowflakes in her hands. Then at the stack of snowmen. They were cute. There was something about snowmen...his mother had owned an ornament, a snowman. It had been his favorite, although he had no idea why. He remembered her singing 'Frosty the Snowman' to him, as he found a spot on the tree for the ornament. "What about these?"

She smiled. "Aren't they adorable? You don't mind if I get a few of them as well?"

"I don't mind." He watched her choose a dozen, each with a different colored hat. Quietly told her about the snowman that had belonged to her mother. "I have no idea if it's in the with their stuff. I know there were a few ornaments, but I don't remember what they are."

Something told her he hadn't sorted through his parents' belongings in a very long time. "I can look, if you want me to."

"We'll look together," he smiled. Aware that she was trying to protect him from the pain of going through the few boxes that held all he had of Melburn and Claire Jackson. It had been years since he'd opened any of them. Although he knew exactly where they were.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

While Casey was busy putting a casserole into the oven, and mixing up an apple crumble, Daniel pulled the boxes from the closet in the den. He carried them to the living room, then stood staring at them.

"Daniel?"

"Hmm?"

"You don't have to do this."

Her voice was soft, her hand warm against his skin. "It's okay, Angel. I want to." He dropped down to the floor.

She sat down on the floor beside him. "Just the good times," she whispered.

"What?"

"Think only about the good times."

With a brusque nod of understanding, he opened the first box. There were several books. Two bundles of letters tied with ribbon, faded and dusty. At one time, they'd been pink, or at least a shade of pink. Bold handwriting was scrawled upon the front of the envelopes of one stack; neat, precise handwriting addressed the others. Obviously they were love letters exchanged between Melburn and Claire. A large photo album was at the bottom of the box. He pulled it out, held it with both hands, and stared at it.

"Daniel, you don't have to look."

"Maybe it's time that I did," he replied. It had been so long. So many memories forgotten, or pushed back by the bitter, painful events of one horrible summer afternoon. He ran his fingers over the leather cover, then slowly opened it.

The first pages were filled of pictures of Melburn and Claire, a photographic record of their courtship. They'd been married on a dig in South America. In fact, it seemed that most of the photos were taken at various digs, although there were pictures taken in and around a two-story, white clapboard house. Memories long dormant began to push forward. He remembered that house. Remembered having Christmas there, at least twice, although he clearly remembered the 'tree' that his father had made out of the wooden stakes used to lay out grids, and the paper decorations he and his mother had made adorning it. Egypt. They'd been in Egypt.

Toward the middle of the album were the first baby pictures. Casey had declared him to be the most adorable baby she'd ever seen. She pointed out how overjoyed his parents appeared, each of them taking turns holding their son while the other took the picture.

He could remember the toys that circled him in the Christmas photos, laughed when the memories of one of his birthday parties filled his mind. His seventh birthday. All of the children of the village near the dig his parents were working on had been invited. Claire had made a piƱata, and filled it with candy a friend had sent her from the States. His eighth birthday had been celebrated in New York as his parents worked on the display for the museum. There were only three photographs after that party. All of them taken in the museum. The last two pages were empty. Because not long after that birthday party, his parents had been killed by two tons of rock, when the capstone they'd discovered came crashing down on top of them.

With shaky breath, he closed the album. "I'd forgotten so much," he said softly. "All I really remembered was...that afternoon. And the funeral. And then Nick telling me that he couldn't take me with him."

"I'm so sorry," Casey whispered, one arm around his broad shoulders, the other hand caressing his chest.

"It's okay," he replied, forcing a smile. He wrapped his hand around her slender wrist as she continued to gently touch him.

"If you need to stop..."

Daniel shook his head. "No. I'd really like to see those ornaments on our tree," he said quietly.

The second box was full of journals. Both of his parents had kept journals on each dig that they went on. Someday, he thought. Someday he'd be able to read them. His breath caught in his throat when he opened the third box. A small, brown, and slightly ragged teddy bear was on the top. He held it tightly in his hands for a few minutes. Remembered hugging the bear as his mother tucked him in at night. Could smell the soap that she used, feel her soft kiss against his brow. A pair of bronzed baby shoes. A baby book. And a shoebox. Inside the shoebox, wrapped in faded tissue paper, were half a dozen glass ornaments. Including a snowman, with a brightly painted orange carrot nose, and a deep red scarf.

"They're lovely," Casey said softly, holding each one gently.

"I know there were more," he said. "But these were always special...Mom always kept them in this shoebox. I remember that. They were the last ornaments to go on the tree."

"Did your mom do anything special while you decorated the tree, or for Christmas Eve, or Christmas day?"

He smiled. "Not that I can remember. She always sang "Frosty the Snowman" while I found just the right place for him," he said, running the tips of his fingers over the ornament.

It was a good thing she'd been listening to the radio for the past few days. She'd heard that particular song numerous times. She'd look up the words.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

They had agreed to wait until the weekend to actually decorate the tree. Casey insisted that she wanted an entire afternoon in which to do the job. After all, she told Daniel, more than likely she'd take the bead garland off at least once to redo it before it was 'just right'.

Daniel was working in the den, trying to decipher four tablets, or rather, the photographs and film of four tablets. It was Ancient, he was certain of that, but a dialect he hadn't encountered before.

She peeked in, and satisfied that he was completely absorbed by his work, set about to get everything ready. The quickest and easiest task was to make certain that all of the lights and ornaments were near the tree. She smiled as she looked at the Blue Spruce that took up an entire corner of the living room, sitting in front of the French door, 'between' the oak cabinets and the fireplace. It was a beautiful tree. Her first Christmas in her own home. She couldn't believe her good fortune. She never could have dreamed that her life could be this wonderful!

Making Spritz cookies was something she'd always enjoyed doing with her Grandma Rose. The old cookie press that her grandmother had used was a bit battered, but still worked well enough to do the job. Humming softly, she mixed the dough, then carefully pressed the star shaped cookies onto the waiting cookie sheet.

He leaned back in his chair. Frowned slightly. The image was clear enough, but something about it bothered him. The rune didn't look quite...right. He took a deep breath. His frown deepened. Another deep breath. Cookies! The frown turned to a smile. A glance at the monitor. If he could just figure out what was wrong with that particular rune...those cookies smelled good! Yet another deep breath...that was almond...Maybe if he took a little break...

Casey looked up when Daniel appeared in the kitchen. She carefully slid the cookies onto the rack to cool them. "Finished?"

"Nope. What are these?"

"Spritz cookies. Miss Eloise was Grandma Rose's best friend and neighbor for years. She was Swedish. She gave Grandma nearly a dozen great Swedish recipes. Including Christmas cookie recipes."

He grabbed one of the small cookies, popped it into his mouth. "They're delicious!"

"They're even better with hot chocolate."

Daniel glanced into the living room. "So, we're going to have hot chocolate and Spritz cookies while we decorate the tree?"

"Mmmhmm."

"I love Christmas," he sighed. A sentiment that he hadn't felt in many, many years.

"So do I," she said softly.  The feeling completely new for her.

 

 

 

The brightly colored glass ornaments, the snowflakes and the Santa Claus's reflected the lights which blinked merrily around them. The strands of bead garland looked like berries draped along the branches, and the silver of the tinsel refracted the lights. He'd laughed at her when she took the tinsel one strand at a time and put it on the tree. She'd watched in shock as he took handfuls of the shiny tinsel and tossed them toward the tree. Then she'd rushed forward to 'make the mess presentable'. Which made him laugh all the harder.

The only ornaments left to go on the tree, which looked beautiful, as far as Daniel was concerned, were the ornaments in the shoe box. "Help me out here, Angel," he said, holding the box toward her.

She smiled. Picked up an ornament that looked like an icicle. Watched as Daniel ran his finger over the Snowman before picking it up. "Frosty the Snowman, was a happy, jolly soul, with a corn cob pipe and a button nose and two eyes made out of coal," she sang softly.

Daniel turned to look at her, tears filling his eyes as she continued to sing. There was a spot, in the very middle of all of the other decorations, in the very front and center of the tree. She'd left it for the snowman, he was certain of it. He carefully wrapped the hanger over the limb. "Thank you," he said softly, when she'd finished singing.

"You're welcome," she replied. Snuggled into his embrace when he pulled her into his arms.

"I haven't looked forward to Christmas, haven't felt this...festive...for a very long time," he admitted.

She put her hand over his heart. "They're always with you, Daniel. Always."

He pulled her closer, pressed his face against her neck. How could he thank her for this? For giving him the joy of Christmas once again...for helping him to look at the memories of his parents, his life as a small child, without the horrible memories of...that...day, and what happened to him afterward, overshadowing them. "Love you."

"Love you, too."

They cuddled on the couch, watching the Christmas lights. He listened as she chattered about the cookies she was planning to bake, the 'goodie bags' she wanted to give to the people they worked with in the mountain. Noted that she had a list of every person who was a part of the SGC. When he pointed out how many cookies she'd have to bake, she smiled. And told him that she was well aware of how many cookies she'd need. And that if he snitched so much as one, she'd shove him out of the house and lock all of the doors. He'd protested, but only to see the fire dance in her beautiful green eyes.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Christmas fell on Wednesday. SG-1, and every SG team in the mountain, had been given Christmas Eve and Christmas day off. Casey had spent Saturday and Sunday baking. And then wrapping cookies in small bags, tied with the most amazing bows Daniel had ever seen. He'd watched her, mesmerized, as the intricate bows seemed to just form themselves on her slender fingers. Two hundred people worked in the SGC. There were two hundred and twenty bags of cookies. Attached to each bag was a Christmas card, with a small message of holiday cheer handwritten inside. She carefully packed them into boxes, which he'd wind up carrying from the parking lot to the bus.

The first four bags of cookies were delivered when they passed the guard shack at the main gate. Casey had handed them to the young man on duty, telling him that there was one for each of the guard shifts. The young man had grinned broadly, and thanked her profusely.

He gave a token protest as they walked toward the bust stop, carrying two boxes. "You didn't have to do this," he said.

"I know."

"But you did it anyway."

"Yep."

"Why?"

"Because, for the very first time in my life, I can. I can give gifts to the people I work with. I know they're just cookies, and I baked them, but I've never been able to afford to do it before. Grandma Rose always said that the best gifts came from the heart, and should go straight to the stomach."

He grinned. Once again he wished he could have met Grandma Rose. She'd been a very smart woman. "You realize that it won't take them long to expect this."

"That's okay. I don't mind."

"Good morning, Mrs. J," the bus driver said in greeting. He was retired Air Force, had spent his military career in the motor pool. Driving the bus around the base every day kept him happy, and out of his wife's hair.

"Good morning, Mr. Dausey. This is for you. And if you could give these to the other drivers, I'd appreciate it," Casey said, handing him four bags.

"You didn't have to do anything," the older man protested.

"I wanted to."

"Well, me and the other drivers thank you very much," Dausey smiled.

"You're very welcome."

The guards at each of the check points received bags of cookies, and promised that the men and women on the other shifts would be given theirs. Daniel followed her to every office and lab in the mountain, from dispersing to supply to the infirmary to the various science labs. General Hammond was delighted with the gift, and the techs who worked in the control room thanked her for remembering them. Four bags remained.

"Okay, who are these for?" Daniel asked.

"The team."

"There are four of them," he pointed out.

"Yep." She led him to his own office. Picked up the phone and called Sam. Asked that the major bring the colonel with her. Then she called Teal'c.

 

 

 

"What's up?" Jack asked five minutes later, as he followed Sam through the door. Teal'c was just behind him.

"Merry Christmas," Casey said, handing each of them a bag. Her eyes dancing, she turned to Daniel. "And for being so good, and staying out of the cookies yesterday, this is for you."

He grinned, dropped a kiss on the tip of her nose, opened the bag and grabbed one of the molasses cookies.

Sam opened hers, then looked over at the slender blonde seer. "You baked all of these?"

"It was no big deal," Casey shrugged.

"What are these?" Jack asked, holding up one of the bar cookies.

"Basler Lekerli. They're a Swedish cookie. The other bar cookies are called Yugoslavian Christmas cookies."

"Fudge!" Sam exclaimed, popped a piece into her mouth and closed her eyes. "Oh, god, that is so good!"

Teal'c was already eating one of the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. "You are indeed a good cook, Casey Jackson."

"Thank you, Teal'c."

Assured that there was no crisis, bags of cookies in hand, their teammates returned to their interrupted tasks.

Casey sat down and began typing up notes and filling out requisition forms. Daniel continued to work on the translation that he'd been struggling with all weekend, nibbling on the cookies as he did so. For the duration of the day scientists and Marines and SF's and techs and medical personnel stopped by the office to thank her for the gifts. Many of the women requested the recipes for several of the cookies.

Shortly before three in the afternoon, Major Ferretti knocked on the door. "Mrs. Jackson?"

She looked up. The man was standing with one hand behind his back. Which piqued her curiosity. "Hi, Major."

"Just wanted to thank you for the cookies."

"You're welcome."

He pulled a bouquet from behind his back. White and yellow roses were surrounded by Christmas greenery. It was obvious he'd gone to a florist for the arrangement. "I wanted to give you these."

Her eyes went wide. "They're beautiful! But...why?"

Lou Ferretti glanced at Daniel. Knew that he understood, even if she never did. "Just a thank you. For all that you've done around here. Saved my sorry butt a couple of times."

"I should be thanking you," she said softly. The boxes of chocolates had been hand delivered to the men of the teams who'd attempted, and finally been able to rescue her from Ba'al.

"No ma'am, you don't owe me, or anyone else around here, anything. You shook this place up, that's for sure!"

Daniel didn't think her eyes could get much wider. He smiled as he listened to the grizzled Marine.

"Doctor Jackson is the man who started this whole thing to begin with. Wouldn't even be a Stargate Command if not for him. And you've brought a lot of sunshine to this place. A lot of smiles when we really needed to smile. Hope when we were running short."

She tried to speak past the lump in her throat. Found that she couldn't. She blinked back tears, looked at Daniel helplessly.

"That's a very nice thing to say," Daniel said quietly.

"Just telling you the truth," Ferretti replied.

Casey walked around the desk, accepted the bouquet, then stretched up and kissed the Marine on the cheek. "Thank you," she whispered.

Ferretti's eyes went as wide as hers had been, and then he grinned. "You're welcome. Merry Christmas, Mrs. J. You too, Doc."

"Merry Christmas, Ferretti."

Never in her life had she felt the way she was feeling at that moment. Never had anyone said such nice things about her. She examined the feeling...the warmth that flooded her entire being. She'd always tried to be kind. Telling jokes had been her way of dealing with her shyness...an attempt to keep people from looking too closely at her, and perhaps finding her unworthy of their attention. Searching for the silver lining in each dark cloud had been all that kept her from being overwhelmed by the darkness that had been her life for so many years. Grandma Rose had always told her that she should treat others with kindness, and respect, and that if she did so, they'd treat her the same way in return. For the first time in her life, it proved to be true.

Daniel watched her eyes as she sniffed the fragrant buds again and again. He could see just how surprised...how overwhelmed...she'd been. Understood that it would be a very long time before she could accept her self worth, if she was ever able to see herself the way others did. Her sweet, gentle soul had touched every life she'd come in contact with. Her sunshine brightened more than the dark corners of his own heart. Hearts...souls like hers were far too rare. Which was a sad thing. How much better off would the world be if more people reached out the way that Casey did? In spite of the hell she'd endured in her adoptive home, she was amazing; her sweetness, her kindness, a testimony to the strength of her character. When she could have chosen a far different path. Could have become self destructive, followed many of her peers into a life of drug and alcohol abuse, spiraled into a cycle of anger and hatred and bitterness. She'd chosen the harder path. The path that only the strongest of souls, those most determined to rise above all the pain ever chose. Yep, she was amazing. Absolutely amazing.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

They walked hand in hand, bundled against the bitter cold. Their breath hung in white clouds when they spoke, commenting on this display of yard lights, or that one. Daniel had decided that they should decorate as well, when she'd commented that most everyone on the street had lights out. So he'd gone to the local home-improvement box store, found the 'icicle lights' that seemed so popular. Casey had found two large weather resistant wreaths that he'd hung on each of the wide pillars that flanked the steps up to the porch. For two blocks it seemed that each homeowner was determined to 'out decorate' his or her neighbor. The decorations were bright and colorful, and in many instances, playful. One house had Santa's legs hanging over the top of the chimney, making it appear that the jolly old elf was on his way down. Another had the sleigh and all eight reindeer, and Rudolph, waiting patiently on the roof. Several yards boasted Nativity scenes.

"Whenever I could spend Christmas Eve with Grandma Rose, she and Miss Eloise would walk around the neighborhood with me, so that I could look at the lights," she said softly. "I haven't done this since Grandma died."

He tightened his gloved hand around hers. "We'll do this, every Christmas Eve, I promise."

Casey smiled. "Don't make promises you might not be able to keep."

"And why wouldn't I be able to keep this one?"

"Never know if we'll even be here for Christmas Eve. We could be off-world."

"True," Daniel allowed. "Although General Hammond is pretty good about getting and keeping teams home for Christmas Eve and Day."

"He's a good man."

"Yes, he is."

"Hey! Isn't that Sam's house?"

Daniel looked down the street. Noted the dark F250 truck parked in front. "Looks like Jack is there." He felt the shiver that moved over her. "Case?"

"I think I'm ready to go home, and have some hot chocolate."

With a nod of understanding, he tucked her hand into his pocket, then put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.

"As soon as the hot chocolate is ready, I'm going to whip your ass in Scrabble."

He laughed. "Right. I'm a linguist."

"Yeah? So? Your point is?"

"You have got to stop hanging around Jack so much," he declared, grinned as she giggled. "Let's get home, Angel. I'm getting cold, too."

The walk home was done at a much brisker pace than their easy stroll while they enjoyed the Christmas lights. They only made it through three games of Scrabble before the teasing led to more...invigorating...games.


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