The Unexpected Guest
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).
,,No. Thanks anyway for the invitation, but no." The voice at the other end of the line sounded tired. "I can't. It is the first Christmas since her... I couldn't bear it."
Jack heard the sniffling on the other end of the line. It had been just a few months since Janet's death. And they all had their troubles with it. But it had been the worst for Cassie. She not only lost her mother, she been uprooted for the second time in her young life.
,,Oh come on, Cassie. Do you really want to spend the holidays alone at the boarding-school? Without `Jingle Bells' and `Rudolph The Rednosed Reindeer'?"
If he was hoping to cheer up her with that then he failed.
,,I have to learn", was mumbled through the line. "And everything with you... would only remind me of last year... when we all were together."
,,Okay. I'll tell you what. If you're not in the mood for Christmas, then we cut all the usual things. No tree, no turkey, no gifts. But I won't allow you to hide at school. I'll pick you up myself at seventeen hundred. So try to sleep now. See you tomorrow, okay?"
,,Okay. Good night." She didn't sound totally convinced, but at least she had agreed. Jack waited to see if she would say one more word, but the line was dead. Slowly he hung up the receiver.
He had a mission to fulfil. And it would be the most difficult mission he'd ever had to lead. He had a child needing to enjoy Christmas again. But - Cassie was no longer a child. With Janet's passing, her childhood had abruptly ended.That would not make the matter any easier.
The next day punctually at 5 pm, Jack pulled up in front of Cassandra's new home. She already was waiting at the door, a little overnight bag was standing in the snow. There were only a few days till Christmas, and the building was festively dressed. The trees on the lawn were covered with lights and the big heavy entrance door was trimmed with evergreen boughs decorated with red ribbon. All people at the campus had an expectant facial expression. All - except one.
Jack didn't let show how her lost look shocked him. He had seen her just a few weeks before, but she looked even more pale and thin.
,,Hey! You ready to go?" He left the greeting intentionally short, not wanting her to be embarrassed. They would have enough time to talk. He bent down as if to pick up her overnight bag and let her decide if... Bingo. She hugged him with a force that surprised him. Even though she never would admit it - she needed someone to be with her through these days, perhaps the worst days of the year for her. Someone who knew very well how she was feeling...
Jack shoved these thoughts aside. He was here to help Cassie, not to drown in self-pity. So he loaded the bag in his truck, pulled the door open for Cassie and started the engine. They drove in silence till his passenger began to tune the radio. Finally she found a station playing hard rock where was no danger of suddenly hearing a contemplative Christmas-song.
Cassandra never spoke a word during the drive, only stared out the window. "Hey, we're here", Jack said softly as he parked in the drive. Cassie nodded and slid from the seat. Hesitantly, she entered the house with him.
Jack had kept his word. There was no decorated tree in the living room and no stockings were hung at the fireplace. And although she had wanted it to be this way she suddenly felt as if the house were naked. How she had always liked when it was lit with countless candles and the pine fragrance was creeping into every pore. She shivered a little, although she was not sure whether it came from the cold or from her thoughts.
,,May I light the fireplace?" she asked softly.
"Sure. You do know where everything is" Jack called from the kitchen. He couldn't suppress a grin. His tactics were beginning to work. Now he was suddenly confident he was doing the right thing. As he brought in two glasses of non-alcoholic punch, he couldn't help but notice Cassandra staring into the blazing fire, apparently lost in thought.
He gave her one of the cups and motioned her to sit on the sofa. "How about pizza?"
,,I'm not hungry."
,,But I am. And I don't like to eat alone." Cassandra rolled her eyes. It was obviously what he intended, but somehow she enjoyed it. It had been long time since someone had cared for her.
,,All right, pepperoni, double cheese. Extra hot." She grinned a little as she said it, but it wasn't little more than a jerk of her mouth. Jack had seen it nonetheless. He ordered two pizzas and when they came a half hour later they both made themselves comfortable in front of the fireplace.
As the last piece was disappeared in their mouths it became silent. Finally Cassandra said, "I'm tired, I'm going to bed. Thanks for the pizza." She gave him a quick goodnight-kiss and then he heard her in the bathroom. Shortly after that the door to the guest room was closed and it became absolutely quiet. Only the crackle of the flames was heard now.
Jack was still motionless on the sofa. His thoughts wandered without his wishing into the past. To another lonely Christmas almost ten years ago. He had spent it with beer and potato chips. For three days he didn't leave his house. Without Charlie's shining eyes the whole celebration had lost its meaning.
But he remembered the first Christmas with Cassie, too. Though she was from another planet she still was just a child. And suddenly it had made him glad again to tell the tale of Santa Claus. To teach her all the names of the reindeers - Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and of course Rudolph. And to hang the stockings at the fireplace with her. Together with Cassie, Janet, Sam, Daniel and Teal'c light and warmth returned to his house. And now she didn't want to hear about everything.
Since that first year they had spent every Christmas together. They didn't have to exchange big gifts to show their affection for another. It was enough that they were together, laughed and had fun. But now Cassie didn't want to hear about anything to do with the holiday. And this year one seat at the table would remain empty. And they all would frantically try to ignore it. And they would fail miserably.
He shoved these sad thoughts aside and stood to put out the fire. Then he went to bed too.
Before they knew it Christmas Eve was upon them. Jack convinced Cassandra to buy some groceries. But a short time later they fled back to the quiet house. The countless people who filled the stores looking for last-minute gifts upset both of them.
When all the things were stowed away in the refrigerator Cassandra stood at the kitchen window and looked into the yard. Jacks birdfeeder had visitors. She watched the feathered guests a little while then heard the doorbell ring. She could hear Jack open the door then exclaim, "Sam! Nice you're here. But - what's that anyway?"
As Cassandra heard Sam's voice she ran into the hall and threw herself into her arms. Eventually she pulled back and looked at the little bare bent thing which Sam brought along.
,,Oh, that." Sam smiled self-consciously. ,,Well, I happened to walk by old Mr Lewis who was selling the Christmas trees on my street. Almost all of them were sold. Just this poor little guy stood in one corner, and somehow I felt sorry for it. So I ended up buying it." As she said these words she tried to hold it upright, but everyone could see that the trunk was bent and that it was lopsided, with more boughs on one side than the other.
But Jack understood immediately why Sam had to buy this tree. It suited their moods. Lonely, abandoned, lost. It should at least get the chance to be a beautiful Christmas-tree. Carefully, he looked at Cassandra whose eyes had filled with tears. Obviously she had the same thoughts.
,,It's perfect", she whispered. And then, with excitement he hadn't seen in the days before she asked, "Jack, can I look through your kitchen cupboards?"
,,Sure, whatever you want, kiddo!", he answered surprised. What she was planning? But Cassie had long disappeared in the kitchen.
Jack rummaged for the tree stand, and Sam removed the lowest boughs. When they finally had the tree in an upright position it didn't look too bad. And the fact that the boughs were shorter on one side than the other was now an advantage. It fit perfectly into the corner.
Just as they wiped off their hands, the bell rang again. Daniel and Teal'c stood in the doorway, appearing very much like snowmen. During Jack and Sam's tree setting-up ordeal, snow had begun to fall. So heavy was the falling Colorado snow, that it had covered the two men in the short walk from the car to the house.
There was a big welcome and hugging, but the cheerfulness was a little too forced to be convincing. So they all stood confused in the hall and no-one knew what to say.
Till Teal'c, him of all people, finally broke the silence. "Where is my little friend?"
,,Cassie? Uh, Cassie is in the kitchen and is being very secretive!"
,,Maybe I should look in on her?"
,,Yeah, do it, big fella. I'm certain she'll be glad to see you."
With these words Jack shoved Teal'c into the kitchen and motioned to Sam and Daniel to follow him into the living room. Daniel shouted "I'll be right there!" and followed Teal'c to greet Cassandra and put a large parcel in the refrigerator. As he came in the living room, Jack had just found the string of lights for the tree. They were a mess, just like every year. As Jack worked at untwisting them, Sam tried to scientifically explain how every year in millions of homes; lights that were put away untangled became hopelessly snarled. And he hadn't given her any punch yet, Jack thought.
Daniel replied that this could be a mystery they would never able to solve, just like the lone sock left in the washer. He tried to explain his theory in detail but stopped in mid-word. Sam too was suddenly silent and Jack looked up, alarmed.
The three of them began to laugh. Teal'c stood in the doorway. But he looked... odd. Like a ghost. His dark skin was in many places an unnatural white. And it looked like a blizzard was going on in the kitchen.
Teal'c acted like he didn't hear the laugher and managed a dignified, "O'Neill, we can't find the raisins." Jack stifled a last chuckle and followed Teal'c into the kitchen and tried to prepare himself mentally for the chaos he was bound to find there.
At least all the flour had not ended up on Teal'c, some of it had actually made it into Cassandra's dough. It had been carefully rolled out and using the cookie cutters she had found in one of the drawers,Cassie had cut out stars, moons and reindeer.But now she needed raisins to complete the decorating.
Jack reached into the cupboard and found the raisins Cassie and Teal'c were unable to find then watched as Cassandra took the cookie sheet into the oven. Her look on her face was focused but relaxed. Maybe this would be a good day yet.
For a moment it was absolutely silent at the house. Then they heard from outside a brilliant voice singing,
,,Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn."
Then a whole choir of voices joined in:
Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angel voices!
Oh, night divine. Oh night when Christ was born.
Oh night divine, Oh night, Oh night divine."
During the singing Jack had gently opened the door and all of them looked out at the carollers. The song which first had begun so softly became loud and powerful at the end. And somehow it brought a bit of comfort. The simple song had warmed their hearts in this cold night. And as the group moved on to the next house and they pulled back inside, shivering a bit, something had changed. The spirit of Christmas had moved in.
You would have to look very carefully, of course, to see it. You could perceive it in the eyes that reflected the shining light of the candles. You could smell it with Cassandra's baking cookies and the scent of the tree in the living room. And you could feel it radiating from the warmth of the fireplace.
When Cassandra came with the first cookies from the kitchen they all acted like starved people. But she didn't give in. "The batch is for the tree!" she proclaimed. Jack's protest was the loudest, but then in the end he was the first to hang them all over Sam's tree.
Only after every branch had been decorated, did Cassandra allow the rest of the cookies to be eaten. Then Daniel came out with his surprise. He had brought a turkey along in fact. It had been already stuffed and cooked, so that all they had to do was reheat it.
His contribution was greeted with enthusiasm and was immediately shoved into the oven. After the meal they all sat filled and satisfied together. Jack decided that now was the moment for his special idea. He switched on the television and the VCR and put a video tape in.
Daniel shot him a questioning look that said, "Are you really going to play a movie, and ruin the evening?" But Jack simply nodded at him and then addressed them all.
,,Well, you know I'm not a man of many words. But you're all here in my house and I thank you for that. The last year wasn't easy. And for that reason I have invited one more guest who is missing from this occasion."
Now all of them looked at him with questions in their eyes but he simply pressed the play key and the screen came to life. There was the title "Christmas 2003" and Sam held her breath as the tape began.
They saw how happy they were being together, unwrapping their gifts and exchanging funny comments with each other. And in midst of them was the one person who was very much missed this evening: Janet. The camera now zoomed on her face as she smiled and held up the book which she had just unwrapped.
It was like Janet had never left them. She looked so alive, like that at any moment she could step through the door. Sam blinked back the tears that threatened to start. She looked quick over to Cassie ready to help her. But it wasn't necessary. Even though the tears flowed down her face, she was smiling. As the tape ended and only a gray flicker remained on the screen, she ran to Jack and threw herself into his arms, catching him completely by surprise.
,,Thank you, thank you, thank you. This is the best present I could have received. Can I please have a copy of this?"
,,Sure, if you want. Are you sure it doesn't make you too sad?"
,,No. With this video tape I will hold her in my memory how she was. And every time when I miss her I can watch it, over and over again."
,,I'll make you a copy." And then he said to the others, "What about you? The four-pack is cheaper, you know..."
His banter loosened the mood. Now they all began to remember funny events with Janet. Teal'c, stoic as ever told how Dr. Fraiser had put the thermometer in the mouth each and every time during the time-loop. Sam again had tears all over her face. But this time they were tears from laughing.
It was a long evening. On Christmas morning they found not one gift under the tree because Santa Claus had unsuccessfully tried to come down the chimney unnoticed. All the talking and the laughing had kept him away.
But that was okay, nobody actually missed the presents. They had a much more valuable thing: Their friendship. And the confidence that whatever would happen they could make it through together.
"Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Let your heart be light,
From now on our troubles
Will be out of sight.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on our troubles
Will be miles away.
Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.
Through the years
We all will be together
If the Fates allow,
Hang a shining star
On the highest bough,
And have yourself
A merry little Christmas now."
T H E E N D
And here's how I came up with the idea for this story: I once had an uncle (actually it was my father's uncle). He died in 1986. Two years before that he was in a TV-Show with his collection of caricatures. But at that time we did not have a VCR to save this special moment.
Last year I wrote to the TV-archive, and they sent me a copy. I played this copy at a big family meeting and there were many tears and they all were happy to see him again after so many years.
And my father said the words "I have invited one more guest".
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