Jackfic Archive Story

 

Pride, Precedents and Presents General Jack Year Three - Part Fifteen

by Flatkatsi

Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s).




"Are you sure about this?"

"Yes, certain." I couldn't see Daniel's nod, but I knew he had not only made one, but from his voice I could tell he was smiling.

"They don't know I'm coming?"

"Not unless Teal'c told them." I made to turn, and he hurried on. "Not that I think he would. Anyway, I can't see why you're so worried."

I relaxed back into the chair again and echoed the words I'd said to Hammond weeks ago. "I don't want a fuss."

Our forward momentum stopped and Daniel came around to stand in front of me, a worried expression on his face. "You know they'll be pleased to see you. What do you expect - that they'll just wave and say 'Hi, sir. Good to see you after so long', and go back to their drinks?" He paused and gave me one of his serious looks. "You aren't going to run off, are you?"

"Not likely to do that." I gestured at my legs, but he just gave me an exasperated glare.

"You know what I mean. You have a tendency to not face things that make you uncomfortable."

"Do not."

"Do too, and you know it. You haven't talked to anyone from the SGC since before your 'accident'." I winced at the inverted commas I heard around the word. He was still so pissed about that. "You've come this far and you're not backing out now."

He strode behind me again and we were off.

"Doesn't look like I've got much choice in the matter, does it." I couldn't help the bitter snap in my voice as, once again, a decision was made for me. It seemed to have happened a lot lately. I was losing control of my own life.

Daniel obviously didn't pick up on it, or if he did, he chose to ignore me. "No, it doesn't."

We proceeded across the parking lot at a fast clip, the wind bitter at my back.

Someone must have had wheelchairs in mind when they designed the venue, because there were no steps and the door was wide enough for me to fit through. For a moment I wondered if someone had picked the place with me in mind, but the thought was pushed from my mind by the noise that assailed me as soon as I removed my jacket.

The place was packed. Daniel had told me the SGC had hired it for the night, Hank Landry deciding to use the occasion of the annual Christmas Eve party to informally introduce himself to the wives and husbands of his personnel. There were people everywhere, at the bar, sitting around tables, even dancing. Most I recognised, but some I didn't - after all it had been weeks since I had last been at the base, and a lot had changed in that time. The room certainly looked festive, and I found my spirits lifting a little as I looked around, taking it in. The ceiling was strung with tinsel, with large cut-out Santas hanging from the walls, and there was a Christmas tree in the corner that touched the high ceiling, with presents piled in a brightly colored heap at the base.

Daniel nodded at the men guarding the door, ensuring the entry of only invited guests. They both straightened up, and smiled as they saw me.

"Cooper, Thomas." I nodded in return. "How's your mother, Cooper?"

The tall SF gateroom guard gave another, wider, smile. "Good, sir. The doctors say the tumor is gone completely, but she's having some radiation treatment just to be sure."

"That's good news."

"It's good to see you, sir." He gave a nod and sketched a salute, and we continued into the room. Daniel bent to speak softly to me as we moved.

"I didn't know Cooper's mother was ill."

"Cancer. But it sounds like they caught it in time."

The volume of noise changed - it didn't diminish, just became different, and I realised Daniel and I had been spotted. I have to admit to once again wondering if I had done the right thing in agreeing to come.

"Jack!" Hank's voice wasn't loud, but it carried clearly across from where he was standing with Reynolds and the new guy, Mitchell. He strode over, the other two men following in his wake. When he reached me, he didn't speak for a moment, but stood in front of me, giving me a searching look as if surprised by what he saw.

"This is unexpected."

I nodded. "Yep - sort of for me too." I pointed an accusatory finger at Daniel. "Blame him."

"Well done, Doctor Jackson."

Smugness fairly oozed out of my friend's voice as he replied. "Save the thanks 'til the end of the evening - who knows what he'll get up to."

"Hey!" I couldn't help laughing a little, but decided not to continue the topic. Hank had served with me, when we were both much younger, and if anyone knew what I could get up to at a party, it was him. And no way did I want him to start reminiscing. I turned instead to the other two men.

"Colonels. How's it going? Settling in okay, Mitchell?"

"Yes, thank you, sir. Although it isn't exactly what I expected." The tall, handsome, younger man, looked down at me, seeming on the verge of a complaint and I wondered what his beef with me was. He'd walked in and taken over SG-1 when people like Reynolds and Dixon had served far longer at the SGC and had far more experience than him. Mitchell might be a good pilot, but flying a plane well didn't exactly qualify you for ground fighting on alien worlds. When I had put his name forward as a possibility for a position on an SG team, I hadn't meant it to be SG-1!

It had been the Pentagon's idea, and one I'd had no say in. Okay, I know I wasn't in charge of the SGC any longer, but finding that Carter had been reassigned to Area 51 and the new guy given command was like rubbing salt into the wounds. The fact they'd done it while I'd been stuck in hospital and unable to protest, probably said more about how they knew I would react than they realised.

True, Dixon and Reynolds wouldn't have wanted to split up their own teams to take over command of SG-1, but Mitchell's appointment was a slap in the face to them. It was just lucky Lou Ferretti had been reassigned a couple of months before. I wouldn't have liked to have been around when he found out.

And now, here Mitchell was, looking as if he was the one who had a problem.

"Can I get you a drink, sir?" Reynold's question interrupted me before I could give the snippy remark I had been about to make.

"Thanks. A mineral water."

"Let's circulate, Jack." It was Landry who took control of the chair, leaving Daniel to walk beside us, having snagged a glass of wine from a passing waiter. "I saw Teal'c over the other side of the room a while back."

Once again I didn't have any say in the matter. The fact that I wanted to stay where I was and have an argument with Colonel Mitchell obviously hadn't occurred to them.

Or maybe it had. I sat back, smiling mechanically at the greetings I was receiving from all sides, sipping the mineral water Reynolds gave me.

I was exhausted by the time we reached the back of the room, both physically and mentally. Much though I enjoyed speaking to the base personnel, their looks of curiosity mingled with barely hidden pity were wearing me down. I was bombarded on all sides by well wishers, as if I was a charity case presented to them as a Christmas present. None of them seemed to know what to say to me, even men I'd known and served with for years.

Daniel had vanished, and Teal'c was nowhere to be seen. Hank had relinquished the task of pushing me around to Walter, going off to greet late arrivals, and when Walter gave the duty to Siler, to return to his wife, I felt like I was acting the part of the potato in the children's party game.

Strangely enough, it was Mitchell who rescued me, just as I felt the desperate need to get up out of the damn chair and run, doing exactly what Daniel had predicted I would. The fact I couldn't was just an added nail in the coffin I found myself in when I woke up in hospital to be told I was crippled.

The colonel approached just as the forced cheerfulness of my conversation with a group of scientists was becoming too much for me.

"May I speak with you for a moment, sir? In private?"

"Sure, Colonel." I smiled a farewell to the group and thanked Siler as he handed me off to Mitchell.

We headed for a secluded corner of the large room. He pushed me up to one of several unoccupied tables, far enough away from the music to be able to speak properly.

I prepared myself for a confrontation, for complaints. I was taken completely aback by his first words.

"I wanted to thank you, sir, for recommending me. I don't know what I would have done if it wasn't for the support of you and the others while I was in the hospital. Knowing what we had been fighting for, and that it had been worth it, made all the difference." I tried to speak, but he hurried on, as if he had prepared what he wanted to say and was determined to finish. "And then to have you recommend me for the SGC when I felt like I'd been written off by everyone else. . .I don't think you realise how low I'd gotten at that point. I felt like, even after all my hard work to get myself back on my feet, it would all be for nothing. I was finished as a pilot and the only other option was riding a desk somewhere. I doubt I could have survived that."

His words cut through me, the parallels obvious, but where he had been a fit young man at the height of his physical fitness when cut down by injury, I was already past a field position with a desk job the only real path left for me. But, I realised, Mitchell had fought back and won. Maybe I'd judged the man too hastily. Perhaps he was the right leader for SG-1.

I was worried about Daniel. His visits lately had been hurried, and his speech had become increasingly incomprehensible as he rattled off, at a hundred miles an hour, his thoughts on the Ori threat. He might as well have been talking to himself for all the notice he took of my opinions. Without Carter and Teal'c to ground him I worried he would burn himself out. Teal'c was too involved in the convoluted political situation the Free Jaffa had got themselves into and Carter was too far away to be rushing back whenever Daniel got his panties in a twist. It was as if he was trying to take over my old role at the SGC, as if he felt Hank Landry couldn't, or wouldn't, understand what was involved. He was almost acting as if he owned the base. I had noticed it, even during his fleeting visits, and I'm sure Hank had too. I was just waiting for the general to give the archaeologist a good slapping down and a warning to remember just who the big trout was in this pond.

Perhaps Mitchell could keep Daniel in line. He seemed to be a pretty down to Earth sort of guy. Just as long as he kept a tight rein on the man, he should be okay.

I rubbed at my right knee, trying to ease some of the ache that was almost a permanent state now. Sometimes one knee was worse than the other, but there was never a time when I wasn't experiencing some degree of pain. Even my sleep was disturbed enough by it to make me wake every few hours, and I found myself almost crying in frustration. Conflict between painkillers and the anti-depressants meant I could take nothing to ease the constant throb that occasionally leapt into sharp agony.

"The cold seems to make it worse."

I looked up sharply, seeing the understanding in Mitchell's face, and remembered just how badly he had been hurt and how long his recovery had been.

"Yeah." I couldn't help the bitter comment that escaped. "It would be worth the pain if it meant walking was the result." Then I felt ashamed of having said it, as if I was reducing his achievement to something banal. "Sorry, Colonel. I've no real excuse for my bad manners."

He didn't say he understood, he didn't have to, he was probably the only person in the room that truly did. At least we both had the knowledge that our injuries had happened while we were doing something worthwhile.

"Could you tell me something, sir?"

I nodded, happy to change the subject. "Sure, if I can."

"How did you manage to keep Daniel in line all those years? The guy never stops."

"I was going to ask you how things were going, but I think you just answered my question. He's keeping you busy then?"

Mitchell turned the glass in his hand, staring into the liquid. He didn't smile at all. "You could say that. I feel like I spend an awful lot of time listening to him give the orders." He voice was serious. "I know I'm meant to be the commander of the team, but it doesn't seem like that. Even Teal'c does it - waits for Daniel to make the decisions. And I don't know what I'm meant to do to change that - how I'm meant to lead a team that treats me like the poor relation." He finally tore his gaze away from the liquid and made to stand up. "I'm sorry, sir. I shouldn't have brought it up. It's not your problem, it's mine, and I can handle it."

I leaned forward and snagged his arm, pulling him back down. "You don't need to apologise, Mitchell. If anything you should be blaming me. I'm the one that left. Without me there, Daniel obviously feels he's the 'expert' on gate travel. You're just going to have to prove that you have as much right to lead the team as I did. He still makes a lot of mistakes, you know. You're going to have to learn to come down hard on him or he'll run rough shod over you and you'll be likely to find yourself short one archaeologist."

He nodded his agreement. "I know. Really. Trust me - I do. Yep. Sure." I don't know which of us he was trying to convince, but he had me smiling. "I can do that. Come down hard." He nodded again, then looked terrified. "Just don't ask me to come down hard on Teal'c."

I let found myself genuinely laughing for the first time this evening. "You'll be fine. Just pretend you're me."

"With all due respect, sir, I'd rather not. The grey wouldn't suit me."

I shook my finger at him. "Watch yourself, Colonel. Now let's go mingle. There's a few people I haven't talked to yet. Why should they escape?"

xoxoxoxoxoxo

Mitchell and I had almost done a complete circuit of the room when I finally found Teal'c - or rather, he found me. He was accompanied by Daniel, and to my surprise, Carter.

"What are you doing here?" I know it wasn't the most polite greeting, but I wasn't expecting to see her at all.

She looked a little embarrassed, as if caught out. "Daniel told me you were coming, sir, and I arranged a hop out for a few days. I was due some leave."

"So you knew about this?" I eyed my other friends sternly. "And neither of you thought to mention it?"

"You said you didn't want any 'fuss', O'Neill, so we didn't fuss. We merely went and picked Colonel Carter up from Peterson and brought her here to spend some time with her old friends and colleagues."

Carter came forward, smiling, but it was a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "It's good to see you looking so well, sir."

I snorted. "You mean it's good to see me out of the house, Carter, but I appreciate the sentiment. Daniel dragged me here, but it hasn't been all that bad after all, although I would have liked to spend a bit more time with my friends than I have." I gave them a mock glare. "They vanished almost as soon as I arrived. Anyone would think they were tired of my company." She still didn't smile, in fact she looked even more uncomfortable. "Is there something you want to share, Colonel?"

"I. . . " For once Carter was at a loss for words. She gave Mitchell an unsure look. "We have some news, sir - or at least Teal'c does."

"Would you excuse us, Colonel Mitchell? We have something we wish to discuss with General O'Neill in private."

Trust Teal'c to be as unsubtle as a concrete truck at a mafia meeting. Mitchell looked intrigued, but left us alone, turning back to the bar. Teal'c grabbed the wheelchair and pushed me towards the same tables I had been at before, and I soon found myself surrounded by my ex-team. For a minute, it almost seemed like old times.

Teal'c began as soon as we were settled. His face was even more impassive than usual, and I found that fact quite disturbing. "I have news. As you know I visited Dakara yesterday. A Jaffa has reported the presence of a Tau'ri in Kali's palace. Apparently this Tau'ri was a once trusted servant, but is no longer in favour. He gave Kali information about Earth's defences, which she then passed on to many of the other remaining System Lords. Kali lost much credibility after the information proved to be false. She is punishing the Tau'ri by having him repeatedly tortured and revived in a sarcophagus. His mind is already broken and his death seems inevitable, but only after much more suffering. The Jaffa High Council asked if we needed help to launch a rescue mission." He paused before continuing. "I suggested it was better the Tau'ri not be told of this person's presence on Kali's homeworld, as her defences are strong and such a rescue mission could result in much loss of life."

"Did this Jaffa give them a description of the man?" I had to know. I had to be sure.

"Indeed. He is elderly, perhaps some seventy years of age, short and thin. But I can do better than a description - a name was heard." He stopped for a second, a gleam in his eyes, and then continued, "Ramsey."

I saw Carter's face pale and her knuckles tighten on the glass she was holding. She almost looked as if she was going to bolt, and I realised Teal'c must have already given his teammates some inkling of his news while in the car on the way over.

"Having second thoughts, Colonel?"

"I..." she gulped, "It's just . . . this wasn't what we planned. We had the equipment to tape him at the warehouse. We could have gotten enough evidence to send him to prison for life."

"You know why I changed things. I explained. We all know he would have gotten off with a slap on the wrist - especially with the contacts he had. And even if he had gone to jail, how long do you think they would have held him before they paroled him on compassionate grounds because of his age? Five years? Ten maybe?"

Daniel interrupted. "That may be so, Jack, but look at what the change in plans cost. Was it worth it? Really? Was it worth your career? For Christ sake, was it worth being crippled?"

I thought of the torment I'd gone through while in Ba'al's hands. I remembered how I'd screamed, and how I'd dreaded each reawakening. How I would have done anything to end it.

And I nodded.

"Yes, it was." I turned to Carter. "And while you're thinking about it, I'd like to propose a toast - to absent friends, and those who we wish could join us to celebrate Christmas. Keith Marsden." I kept my eyes on her as she raised her glass. "All the nameless young men." I saw her expression harden. "And Janet Fraiser"

"Janet," she echoed, and nodded. Then she raised her own glass slightly in the air. "And here's to Jack O'Neill."

Teal'c and Daniel copied her movement and her words, and I felt my soul get just that tiny bit lighter.

xoxoxoxoxoxo

I suppose it was inevitable that there had to be speeches. And I really should have known better than stay for them. Fortunately they were relatively short and painless, even if the applause when Hank mentioned my presence were a little over the top.

Then Walter and Hank handed out the Christmas gifts. Someone had the brilliant idea of Secret Santa presents, where everyone's names were put in a hat and you drew out the person you were buying the present for. I was glad I wasn't involved - there was nothing worse than getting the name of someone you hardly knew and not having a clue what to buy them. At least the price limit put on the gifts usually meant they ended up being more amusing than personal.

The giant chocolate wrench Siler got was just the start of things. Carter was given a set of those wooden puzzle pieces that fitted together to make a shape. It was labelled 'The World's Hardest Puzzle' and whoever had given it to her had removed the instructions and the picture, and had taken it apart. She had no clue what it was meant to look like or where to begin, and her eyes lit up with eager anticipation. Teal'c received a set of Christmas CD's, probably to give everyone a break from the terrible ones he bought himself last year and apparently had insisted on playing for weeks. Daniel unwrapped a small flat parcel, and his face broke into a large grin. There were several old postcards inside dating from the 20's and 30's, all with photos of Egypt.

I was interested to see what the poor smuck who drew Hank had bought him. I pictured some young Airman's face when he pulled out the bosses' name from the hat, and smiled to myself, but whoever it was had done very well, giving him a book of inspirational quotes from famous people. He was already leafing through it as he stepped back to make room for the next gift recipient.

It took some time before the present giving was complete, with much hilarity as people tried to guess who had given which gifts. I sat at the back, looking on, pleased to be there and to see how happy everyone was, but also feeling a little left out, like a spectator where once I had been in Hank's position at the center of the activity.

I had already turned away, about to go to the bar for another mineral water, when I heard my name called and looked back, to find everyone's eyes on me.

It was Walter who had spoken. He stood right in front of the tree, looking a bit embarrassed. "Ah, we have a gift for you, General."

For me? But they hadn't known I was coming. I gave Daniel a stare and got a quick shake of his head in return. So, whatever Walter had cooked up, Daniel wasn't in on it.

I wheeled myself forward, a gap clearing for me as I went. "That's not necessary, Walter, but thank you."

He shook his head. "It isn't just from me, sir. It was Sergeant Cooper's idea, but we all agreed." He gestured around the room and I saw heads nodding and shy smiles from all directions - even Hank's and Mitchell's.

Walter gave a sudden grunt and almost took a step towards me, before throwing an annoyed look over his shoulder to Siler, who was grinning madly, his finger still extended from having poked him in the back. He thrust a small gold foil wrapped parcel forward, and I took it, wondering what it was.

"Open it." Daniel's voice spurred me to action, and I put it in my lap to tug at the tape sealing it.

It came open, revealing a bright golden star.

"It's from the tree, sir." I looked up again as Walter spoke, lifting the ornament as I did so. "From the top. We decided it was the most appropriate gift, sir, because. . . well, it's you."

I stared at him in bewilderment. It was me?

"Without it, the tree isn't complete, sir. It's what brings the rest together and makes it whole."

Oh crap.

I couldn't think what to say. I just sat there, looking stunned.

What had I possibly done to inspire such loyalty? I glanced over to Hank, worried at his reaction, but found him smiling along with the rest.

I looked back down at the gift and felt a sudden rush of emotion. It was all I could do to mutter a quiet 'thanks'.

xoxoxoxoxoxo

"How are you feeling, sir?" I hadn't really spoken to Hank's daughter, Caroline, now the CMO of the base, since I arrived, but I wasn't surprised when she showed up at my side a few minutes after the present giving. She pulled a chair out from one of the nearby tables and sat, bringing herself down to my level, and giving me one of those appraising looks doctors are so good at.

"I'm okay."

"Really? How's the pain?"

It was obvious she already knew the answer.

"Not good." I just managed to stop myself from rubbing my knees, knowing it would only make it worse.

She didn't say anything else, just gave a grim nod and stood. I watched as she approached her father, pulling him away from the woman he was talking to, and bringing him over.

"General O'Neill needs to be taken home."

Hank cocked his head at me. "Jack?"

I was profoundly grateful for the excuse Doctor Lam had given me. I wanted to go home. It was time. Before I lost it, here, where everyone could see.

"Could you ask Daniel to give me a ride, Hank?"

He nodded, but instead of going himself, gestured for his daughter to do so. As soon as she had gone he took the same seat she had been in.

"How are you doing, Jack?"

"Fine, Hank. I'm fine." I didn't want this conversation now.

"You know I'm only keeping your seat warm, don't you.? Until you're ready to come back."

What did he expect? A miracle? I held back the bitter laugh that threatened to erupt.

"I've sold the truck and bike. That should tell you what I think my chances of coming back are."

I had to keep reminding myself that he didn't know everything, didn't know about the medication, and didn't know about Ramsey and how he had taken my life and trodden it underfoot. Only my old team knew it all, in sordid detail, and I wished with all my heart that they didn't.

I was saved from any further introspection by Daniel's arrival, looking anxious. I made a quick goodbye to the people around me and asked Carter and Teal'c to give my best wishes to anyone I had missed. We arranged to meet up tomorrow for Christmas dinner, but I left the details to Daniel, as I sat, conscious of the growing aches in my legs.

xoxoxoxoxoxo

The wind hadn't died down when we left the warmth of the restaurant, if anything it had gotten worse. Snow lay in deep piles on the ground at the sides of the parking lot and a fresh fall had left the parked vehicles with a thin layer of white. Daniel pushed the chair as close to his car as possible and, with Teal'c's help, lifted me carefully in enough that I could slide myself over the seat and into position. Even just that much exertion had me groaning softly with the pain, and I sat back, my eyes shut, and let Teal'c reach across and buckle me in.

"Goodnight, O'Neill."

"Night, T, and thanks."

"You are welcome." His large hand squeezed my arm for a moment before I felt him straighten, then the door shut. There was a brief blast of frigid air as Daniel opened the driver's door and got in, then we were off.

xoxoxoxoxoxo

The trip home was slow and careful on the icy roads, but we made it safely, although Daniel almost took a fall getting me out of the car. He offered to come in and help me get settled, and I accepted, asking him to light the fire. I knew he planned to go back to the party so I assured him I didn't need anything else, and he soon left.

I yawned as the living room began to warm up. I was exhausted, but it was a pleasant tiredness now the heat had taken some of the ache from my knees. It had been a much better night than I had expected, and I was very glad I had gone.

I took the star I'd been given and held it in my hand, smiling at the way it reflected the fire's flames. It was a small thing, but it meant more than I could ever express in words. It represented friendship, respect, and understanding. It meant I still belonged.

There was only one place it could go.

I moved myself over to the Christmas tree my friends had insisted on me having, despite my protests. It glistened with ornaments. Nestled amongst the branches, old baubles were mixed in with the new - familiar friends from many Christmases long past, each with its own special memory, rubbing shoulders with the bright shiny newcomers Teal'c, Carter and Daniel had presented me with.

I had opened the door a few days ago and found them standing on the doorstep, all looking unsure, even T, as if afraid I'd be upset or angry at the gesture. Teal'c had been holding the tree up, his large form barely hidden by the green foliage, while the others clutched shopping bags.

I found myself unusually moved by the gesture and could do nothing less than usher them in. T had the tree up in the corner before I could even shut the door. I had stopped, looking it over, while the others waited, their faces anxious.

"It needs to be turned to the right - hide that part where the branches are a bit sparse."

Teal'c complied, while his co-conspirers grinned and took their offerings from the bags.

The tree took a whole evening to decorate. Daniel found the box where I told him it was in the garage, and they unwrapped the contents, exclaiming at the delicate glass shapes cocooned within the aging newspaper. My grandparents had bought one a year for all the years of their marriage - a tradition I had continued. Sara had the ones we'd collected, I had insisted on that, wanting her to have something pleasant to remember - something that brought our son to life again if only for a brief time. I kept only one - a tattered paper Santa, colored in bright crayons with a young boy's enthusiasm and lack of consideration for keeping within the lines.

I held that Santa the whole time they worked, hanging each ornament where I indicated. Their placement was carefully considered, leaving a gap about two feet from the bottom, right in the front. When they finished, I strung the Santa's faded string over the branch and hung it exactly where my son had done, as high up as he could reach.

Then I moved back and took a look.

Damn mixed up emotions.

I beat a hasty retreat and busied myself making snacks.

And that's how I ended up with a Christmas tree in the corner of my lounge room on one of the least likely Christmases I would have thought I'd be celebrating.

It just lacked one thing. A star. The only casualty of the evening had been the beautiful star my grandfather had so carefully placed on the top of the tree every year. One of its points had snapped off, the age-brittle glass too delicate even for Daniel's careful hands. He had been devastated, but I pointed to the smaller box in the bottom of the larger one, which held the remains of years of breakages - a natural consequence of the years of moving and bumping. The star had been added to the collection, put next to the reindeer with the broken antler.

Now I had the perfect replacement.

I wheeled myself forward, reaching up.

And came up several feet short of my goal.

The bare treetop taunted me. Where once it would have been a matter of stretching a couple of inches, now it was an insurmountable obstacle.

And everything came crashing down around me as the reality of my future hit me right between the eyes.

I dropped the bright star onto the carpet.

xoxoxoxoxoxo

The steady beep of the phone roused me from my self-imposed stupor. I reluctantly turned from the fire and pushed myself up the short ramp to snatch the receiver from its cradle.

"O'Neill."

"Evening, Jack. I didn't wake you did I?"

It took a moment for the voice to register with me.

"No, Mister President." I took a quick glance at my watch. It was after midnight and I decided a white lie would be in order when I saw I'd been sitting there for so long. "I just got in."

"That's good. Just a minute." I could hear voices in the background then there was the sound of a door closing and a sudden silence. "Sorry about that. I'm hosting a Christmas party for the NATO ambassadors. This time of year is so hectic I hardly have time to sleep between engagements."

I mumbled something noncommittal, wishing my brain would start catching up with things.

"Anyway, Jack, I just wanted to wish you a merry Christmas. I arranged to have a present delivered. It should arrive any minute. I have to go. We'll catch up soon."

I barely had time to say a quick goodbye before the line went dead and I was left staring at a silent phone.

A present? It seemed a strange hour for a gift to be delivered, but I suppose if you're the President of the United States it would be a small thing to organise.

I put the receiver down and wheeled around - just as a sudden beam of bright light turned the room momentarily as bright as day.

"Greetings, O'Neill."

I just sat there as the little gray alien floated in midair in the center of my living room.

We hadn't heard from the Asgard for months - nothing, not a peep - and yet here he was, sitting under my Christmas tree, like a . . .

"President Hayes suggested I visit you, O'Neill. I approached him today with a request, and he suggested I ask you. He explained about your celebratory ritual tonight, so I waited until a suitable hour. I hope I come at a convenient time."

"It's fine." I pushed myself forward, ending up just a few inches from his hologram. "The President told you I was at a party?"

Thor inclined his head. I wondered just how in hell Hayes had even known I was going to the restaurant. Daniel sure had some explaining to do when I next saw him.

My friend's large eyes blinked. "You have a chair similar to mine, O'Neill. General Hammond told me you have been injured. Is it a healing device?"

Hammond? What was going on here?

I shook my head. "No. My legs were injured very badly and I need the wheelchair to get around."

"How long will it be necessary for you to use it?"

My throat closed up for a moment and I swallowed before forcing the words out. "Probably for the rest of my life."

He blinked again. "That is not acceptable. I came here to offer you a proposal. Both President Hayes and General Hammond suggested you would be the best person for the position. I admit that I was surprised at their willingness to lose your services here on your planet, but was very pleased. But your disability changes things."

I rolled forward, wanting nothing more than to shake him, but knowing it would be like trying to hold smoke.

"What proposal? What position?"

"I wish to extend an offer for you to become temporary Earth ambassador to the Asgard. There is much happening in our galaxy and we need someone there who can look at things with a different perspective. Your Ancient gene will also be an asset in the position. However, it will mean your injury will have to be dealt with first." He stopped and gave me a look I could only interpret as worried. "Will that be acceptable, Jack? I would be very pleased if you would accept the role."

Would it be acceptable?

But only if my legs were fixed first?

"Hell, yeah!"

I beamed at Thor and found myself humming under my breath.

'On the first day of Christmas my President gave to me, an Asgard in a fir tree.'

Something caught my eye - a tiny glimmer of light from the floor near the wheels of my wheelchair. I looked down, then back up at the hologram of my alien friend.

"Hey, you got any idea how we can get this star up on the top of that tree?"

xoxoxoxoxoxo

TBC


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