The True Meaning of Christmas
by Winter S. Jameson
Completed: December 24, 2005
Spoilers: Thor's Hammer, Forever in a Day
Summary: Reluctant to do his Christmas shopping the Christmas Eve after Sha're's death, Daniel comes across a soul in need of saving.
Warnings: There's a discussion of drug use and some of the negative effects thereof.
Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters belong to MGM/UA, Showtime/Viacom, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is merely intended for entertainment purposes. No money has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended.
Notes: This one's been bugging me since the idea occurred to me while listening to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Old City Bar". And since it had to be written, it had to be shared. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Daniel Jackson sat in his car at the back of the mall parking lot staring at the mobs of last-minute shoppers entering and leaving the shopping complex. He sighed. He didn't want to do this, which provided him with quite the dilemma. He wanted to get his friends Christmas gifts before the party that night at Jack O'Neill's house, but going shopping on Christmas Eve was an exercise in insanity. And once a year was more than enough for that kind of exercise, thank you very much.
The biggest part of Daniel's hesitation wasn't the shopping, however. If he went inside, he'd be inundated by the outward trappings of Christmas. The decorations, the music, Santa Claus... and he wouldn't be able to share it with Sha're. During their idyllic year on Abydos, Daniel had shared with his wife the wonders of Christmas, the different myths and traditions of the holiday, and she had hung on every word. He'd hoped to one day share it with her, knowing even then that he couldn't keep the Stargate sealed off forever. It was a hope he'd held onto even as they searched for her after she'd been taken by Apophis and made a host to the Goa'uld Amaunet. But now that hope, along with all the others he and Sha're had shared, was dead, killed by the same staff weapon blast that had taken her life.
Daniel sighed. He'd forgiven Teal'c for firing that shot, he truly had, but he had to wonder at the fate the two of them shared that caused them both so much pain. Which was yet another reason he didn't want to go inside. It just didn't feel right to volunteer to be surrounded by a mass of basically faceless people all struggling for the same items, to be jostled left and right be people who didn't really care who they stepped on or elbowed as long as they got that last gift on their list before everything closed and dinner was served back at home. It would be like baring his soul to the indifferent mob, and his soul was feeling far too raw for that kind of thing.
But Jack and the rest would be disappointed if he didn't do this. They'd also be concerned, not that they weren't already, about how this holiday season was making him depressed. Although depressed wasn't the word Daniel himself would use. Melancholy, maybe. And he'd end up being just fine, with a little more time. He just wished he could make them all stop worrying.
The archaeologist let his head fall back against the headrest of his car seat and roll away from the mall entrance, his eyes following along with the motion. He stared off into space for a long moment before he realized what he was staring at. Across the street from the mall in a battered-looking old telephone booth near the curb stood a teenage girl with long, unkempt brown hair and wearing a thin, short denim jacket, dirty blue jeans, and fingerless black knit gloves. Her back was to him, but even as he watched she turned ninety degrees and slid down the side wall of the booth, revealing the out of order sign hanging on the phone itself.
Daniel moved on pure instinct. The next moment he was out of his car, the blanket he kept in the back seat for emergencies in hand, his destination the huddled mass of misery he could barely take his gaze from. "Hey, are you all right?" he asked gently once he'd opened the folding glass door.
A pair of dull grey eyes looked up at him, shocking him with how dead they were. "No," the girl said simply.
"Please let me help," Daniel said as he held out the blanket, his heart breaking at the dejected tone. He wrapped the green and navy plaid flannel cloth around her shoulders when she merely shrugged. "That should warm you up a bit," he said when he was finished.
"Maybe." Her gaze rolled back to the phone. "It's broken," she whispered.
"So I see." Daniel took a deep breath when the girl didn't say anything further. "Who were you trying to call?" It was prying, but he just had to know what the cause was for her unhappy position.
She shrugged again. "My parents. I wanted to talk to my parents."
Daniel's brows furrowed in confusion. "If you need a ride home, I can take you there," he offered.
"They live near Boston."
The brown-haired man blinked at the information. "Then who are you staying with here?"
"Karen was my roommate." She sighed and let her eyes wander back to Daniel's own. "She's dead now."
"Dead?" Daniel parroted, shaken by the emotionless way she'd said it.
"Dead. Nobody cared. I guess I really don't have anybody here." The grey orbs traveled back to the handset. "That's why I was trying to call them."
Daniel swallowed nervously. There was obviously quite a story here, but he didn't think being cramped in a telephone booth was the right place to dig for it. "Look, I can't just leave you here. How about you let me take you to a restaurant, get some warm food into both of us."
She shook her head. "I just want to call my parents. I just want to hear their voices. But it's broken." Her voice cracked slightly as she repeated the state of the phone, the first sign of feelings she'd shown yet.
Daniel immediately started to dig in his pockets, his heart going out to the girl, but he soon stopped and sighed, his eyes closing. "I left my cell phone at my apartment. I didn't want to get bothered while I finished my shopping."
"It's okay. I wasn't really asking." Her eyes dropped to the floor of the booth, her voice barely audible.
"I know. I was trying to offer." Daniel considered the young lady in front of him and could see she was close to her breaking point. "My name's Daniel Jackson. What's yours?"
She brought up her eyes once again. "Cori Bender," she whispered.
He smiled. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Now why don't we go ahead and get that food I mentioned earlier? You can clean up and warm up, then use the pay phone the restaurant is sure to have." He offered his hand to pull her to her feet.
She searched his eyes for a long, silent moment before she finally accepted the invitation. "Thank you." Her softly spoken gratitude made Daniel's smile widen, and the two of them left.
"So, Cori, what brought you to Colorado Springs?" Daniel asked once the girl had finished up in the bathroom of the nearby Denny's and the pair had been seated in a quiet corner away from anyone else, their order quickly taken.
Cori shrugged. "I didn't have enough bus fare to make it to Los Angeles."
The waitress brought their hot chocolates, then Daniel continued the conversation. "What's in Los Angeles?"
The girl smiled and took a small sip of her drink. "The knowledge that I'd have the width of the country between me and my parents," she replied wryly.
"Ah," Daniel said. "So you ran away."
"Yeah," she admitted, her smile dropping along with her gaze. "I was fourteen and my parents had just had another baby. I didn't like not getting all their attention." She glanced up for a moment. "Pretty stupid, huh?"
"Maybe," Daniel said non-committally. "How old are you now?"
She sighed. "Sixteen. My birthday was last month."
Daniel closed his eyes for a moment, horrified at the knowledge that this girl had been out on her own for almost two years and in that time had had most of the joy of life driven out of her. It was apparent by the way her smiles never reached her eyes, never drove out the lingering deadness there, or the way she watched everyone who came into the restaurant with a tense wariness until they showed no signs of coming toward her. There was no real innocence left in this child. And that's what really pained Daniel. "Happy birthday," he whispered, forcing an upbeat tone as he opened his eyes.
Their food arrived at that point, cutting off the discussion. The two of them ate in silence, both considering the situation they were in. Daniel had no idea what was going through the girl's mind, but she'd let him help her this far, so he was confident he could push a little more and find out what had been the deciding factor in making her reach out to her estranged parents after all this time. After their dishes had been cleared away and they were lingering over their third refills of hot chocolate, the linguist pressed forward.
"So, why now?" he asked quietly, watching her face for her reaction.
"You mean after so long?" Cori replied. She sighed when he nodded. "Like I told you, my roommate died and no one cared. I realized the last time anyone cared was when I was back home. So I tried to call." She shrugged and dropped her eyes to stare at the creamy brown liquid in her mug.
"You do realize I care, don't you?" Daniel asked, trying to will her into looking him in the eye so she could see his sincerity.
She shrugged again. "I don't know why. And I don't know if my parents still do. But I needed to find out." There was a brief pause as the girl swallowed forcefully, obviously struggling to keep herself under control. "I want to go home."
Daniel's heart broke all over again when he caught the barely audible confession. "Then we'll get you home. Look, we'll use my credit card at the pay phone and let you talk to them, then I'll take you to the airport and find you a flight home. Will that work?"
Cori brought her head up, a look of total confusion shaping her features. "Why are you doing this? For all you know I'm some drug addict delinquent who's looking to soften you up before I rob you blind for drug money. How do you know I'm telling you the truth?"
"I don't, not logically at least. But my instincts say you are - and I'm someone who tends to go with his instincts." Just ask Sam, he thought, remembering his insistence to the astrophysicist about following Kendra on their first visit to Cimmeria.
"You really trust me," she whispered, her eyes widening.
"Yes," Daniel agreed with a gentle smile. "Now why don't we go make that phone call."
Five minutes later, the two of them stood in front of the payphone at the front of the restaurant frowning in disappointment. "They must be visiting my grandparents," Cori whispered as she hung up the receiver.
Daniel struggled against his natural inclination to wrap a comforting arm around her shoulders, knowing she wasn't ready for that kind of solace. "That doesn't mean they don't care. I hope you realize that. They just didn't know you'd be calling."
She nodded limply, her body language screaming dejection. "Why should they have? I'm probably dead to them anyway."
"Don't say that!" Daniel exclaimed sharply. He immediately lowered his volume. "Cori, they love you. I'm sure they haven't given up on you. I never would have if you'd been my daughter."
"You really mean that, don't you?" Cori asked, tears beginning to well up in her eyes. She looked at him with a lost expression, her hard outer shell not gone but definitely cracked.
Daniel took that as his cue to finally give her some physical comfort and pulled her into a hug. "You bet I do," he murmured into her hair as she buried her face into his chest and squeezed him tight. "I'm thinking we need to give your parents the best present ever," he said once she'd pulled away, sniffling. "Let's go."
Her brown brows creased in confusion. "What are you talking about?" she asked as Daniel went back to their table and left enough cash to cover their bill. "What kind of present do you mean?"
"You'll see. Come on." He led her back out to his car and the two of them were off.
Cori had her suspicions as to what Daniel was up to as she waited for him to reappear out of the holiday crowd at the airport later that afternoon. She wasn't a hundred percent sure what she thought about the prospect one way or the other, but it was nice knowing that this man, this stranger, cared enough to do it. It made an interesting counterpoint to the disappointment she felt knowing that someone she hadn't even heard of before she'd found herself in that phone booth earlier gave more of a shit about her than the supposed friends she'd been living with.
That train of thought was cut off as her brown-haired savior made his way back to her, wearing a wide smile and carrying a thin packet of papers. "It's all taken care of," he announced happily, handing her what turned out to be plane tickets. "In another hour you'll be on your way to Boston and your parents."
She looked at him, her grey eyes wide. "How did you manage to get your hands on a plane ticket on Christmas Eve? How can you afford it?"
"Don't worry about that. My job pays me more than enough. It's more important that you get home and to the family that loves you. Family is very important." His eyes radiated how much he believed in that particular truth.
"I... I guess so. But my parents don't live in Boston. They live in a small town north of there. I don't know how I'm going to get there if they're not there for me to call, and I don't think I can call my grandparents..."
Daniel pushed up his glasses as he quickly considered the way the girl's voice trailed off at the mention of her grandparents. There was obviously a story there, but he didn't feel he should pry any more than he already had. "You did mention they lived near Boston, so I came up with a way for you to get where you need to go." He pulled out a small wad of cash from his pants pocket and handed it to her. "Take a cab, get a bus ticket, whatever you need to do, but get home. That's the most important thing. I think you and your family all need it."
Cori's eyes welled up again at this incredible sign of his trust in her and of his compassionate heart. "Thank you," she barely managed to whisper, her hands starting to shake.
"Let's get you through security and on your way. I'm sure they'll be boarding before you know it."
"Um, let me go to the bathroom first. I'll be right back." She thrust the dollar bills back at Daniel and rushed off to the nearest ladies' room.
Daniel frowned at the way the girl's eyes had darted around furtively as she made her announcement. He wondered what was all going on with the teenager he'd made it his mission to help, but knew he couldn't ask. Even if he did, she wouldn't answer, and he didn't want to make her feel like she had to lie to him. So he'd leave it alone and hope everything would sort itself out once she was reunited with her parents.
Cori seemed calmer when she got back, and accepted the money back with a shy smile of gratitude. They walked over to the first security station so Daniel could see her off. "I wish you all the best, Cori," Daniel said sincerely. "And merry Christmas."
She only hesitated a moment before throwing her arms around his waist and hugging him tightly. "Thank you so much for everything, Daniel," she said into his chest as he returned the embrace. "I'll always remember this, always." She tore herself away and hurried over to an amazingly available security officer, handing him her paperwork. She walked through the metal detector then looked back at the man who still kept an eye on her. "Merry Christmas, Daniel!" she cried, then hurried off to find her departure gate.
The archaeologist watched her go and smiled. She'd be okay. She had to be. He double checked his watch to make sure she'd make her flight on time and froze. After everything that had happened with Cori he'd totally lost track of time. It was long past the time he was supposed to meet everyone at Jack's house for the team's holiday get-together, and he had absolutely nothing to show for his shopping expedition. He was never going to hear the end of this.
With a sigh of resignation, Daniel left the airport and headed out to meet his impending doom.
"You did what?" Jack O'Neill exclaimed when Daniel explained why he'd been late and had no presents for anyone. "Are you completely nuts?"
"No!" Daniel cried defensively. "I saw a girl who needed my help and I gave it to her. It's as simple as that."
"You're lucky it wasn't as simple as luring you close enough to stab you and take your wallet," Jack grumbled.
Sam gazed at him sympathetically and laid a gentle hand on his upper arm. "The colonel has a point, Daniel. There's no way you could have known what her intentions were. It was really dangerous to approach her the way you did."
The Air Force colonel rose from his seat on the edge of his chair and put down the glass of egg nog he'd been holding. "That's not to mention how stupid it was to give the kid cash. You probably just set her up for her next few hits of whatever drug is the current flavor of the month."
Daniel glared at him. "Aren't we pessimistic this holiday season?" he snapped back.
"Realistic, Daniel. The term you're looking for is realistic." Jack's brown eyes bored into the archaeologist's blue ones. "Assuming anything she told you was the truth, think about what she said. Her roommate died and no one cared? She ran away from home almost two years ago and has been living on the street ever since? You said she wasn't anywhere near dressed for the weather. What about this doesn't scream 'suspicious character' to you?"
"I'm not saying nothing about her story was suspicious, Jack. But you didn't see her, didn't hear how she said it all. My instincts told me to trust her, so I did." The brown-haired man gave him a look that was a cross between frustrated anger and a plea to understand.
Teal'c looked on from his seat on the couch as Jack sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. The Jaffa was inclined to agree with Daniel Jackson's chosen course of action. The girl had needed assistance and was no obvious threat. Yet she had not requested help; his friend had offered it freely. This was the kind of compassion that had always put Teal'c in awe of the archaeologist and made him proud to have earned his friendship. He'd be more concerned if Daniel hadn't reacted the way he had.
Sam remained standing next to her fellow scientist as her commanding officer began to pace, obviously building up to something. She'd been very worried when Daniel hadn't arrived on time between the snow starting to blanket the roads and the mental state she was sure he was in. And then his reason for being late... She smothered a sigh. It wasn't the smartest of moves, but intrinsically Daniel. As much as she'd been willing to agree with the colonel, everything had turned out all right. Now she was wishing that her team leader would just let it go and let them all get back to the party.
Any and all musings came to a halt when Jack did, leaving the man standing at the far end of the couch. "Daniel, did you ever stop to consider that this girl might be the one who caused her roommate to be dead in the first place? And that she was looking to find some poor, sentimental sap to get her the hell out of Dodge before the police found her?"
"What?" Daniel almost whispered incredulously, feeling Sam stiffen in shock at his side. "Are you kidding?"
"No, I'm not kidding, Daniel. Think about it."
"No, you think about it, Jack, just for a second. If Cori had killed her roommate and was on the run, why on Earth would she tell me about it? I would have absolutely no idea someone was dead, no reason to think she could have done it, nothing. And it wasn't like she was begging for me to find her a way out of Colorado Springs. She just wanted to talk to her parents. And she nearly turned down my help to make that happen. Getting her the plane ticket was all my idea. Giving her the cash to get from the airport in Boston to her parents' house was my idea."
Jack frowned at the vehemence of the other man's argument. "Which was an incredibly dumb one, I might add," he interrupted.
Daniel's jaw clenched. He could just barely feel Sam's hand on his arm and hear her gasp of surprise, while he caught Teal'c's expression darkening out of the corner of his eye. This had gone on long enough. "Jack, what's done is done," he said in a low, unnaturally even voice. "Cori was heading for the terminals when I last saw her. If she ends up spending the money I gave her on something other than what I intended, either here or in Boston, there's nothing I can do about it. I think she'll go to her parents' house, but that's just me. All I know for sure is that if this is going to end up being a let's-all-bash-Daniel party, I'm better off spending the evening alone!" He swiftly but gently removed Sam's hand from him before he spun and headed for the door.
"Daniel!" Sam cried, stricken, as Teal'c quickly rose to his feet.
"Damn it, Daniel, wait a second!" Jack exclaimed a beat later out of shock, realizing he'd gone too far this time. He dashed to the door, getting between Daniel and the exit. "I'm sorry if you think I was bashing you..." His voice trailed off at the glare he got from his friend. "Okay, I was bashing you," he clarified. "But you had me worried with how late you were. The roads are icy, the snow's coming down pretty steadily, and you've been getting more and more depressed the closer it got to Christmas. When I couldn't reach you on your cell phone, I couldn't help but think the worst. And then you come rushing in here all apologetic, talking about this girl you just had to help..." Jack sighed and ran a hand through his greying hair. "All I could think about was what could have been, and it scared me."
Daniel's grip tightened for a moment on the jacket he held but hadn't started to put on. Then he released an explosive breath and relaxed his shoulders. "I guess I should have known that," he said quietly. "You always lash out when you get scared."
Jack frowned even as he relaxed himself. "I do not."
"Yes, Jack, you do."
"Do." A small smile began to tug at the corners of Daniel's mouth.
Sam cleared her throat, making both men turn to face her and the Jaffa who stood at her side. "I hate to say this, sir, but Daniel's right. You lash out when you're scared."
Daniel only partially managed to stifle a laugh as Jack's jaw dropped. "Mutiny, Major? Is that what this is?" The colonel's brown eyes began to twinkle with good humor as the rest of his features settled into an expression of annoyance.
"No, sir," Sam replied promptly, not bothering to hide her growing grin. "We're Air Force. For it to be mutiny we'd have to be in the Navy."
"She's got you there," Daniel said through a laugh he no longer tried to hold back. He quickly hung his jacket back up in the coat closet near the door and patted his friend on the back. "Give up while you still can, Jack. I think we have you outnumbered."
"Not yet, you don't. T, back me up here," Jack pleaded to the last member of his team.
Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "I am afraid I am unable to do so, O'Neill," he said solemnly. "Daniel Jackson and Major Carter have described your behavior correctly. I have observed it to be so on many occasions."
Jack merely glared at him. "You're all a bunch of traitors," he grumbled, then led Daniel back to the living room where the four of them started the Christmas celebrations in earnest.
Daniel glanced at the clock on his wall as he dashed into his house. He'd just managed to finish the translation for SG-17's mission the day after Christmas and now found himself in the worst rush to be able to make it over to Jack's on time for the team's holiday celebration. He was glad he could finally fully remember celebrations past, and a little part of him couldn't help but wonder what SG-1 had done the year before while he'd been ascended. Shrugging off the somewhat morbid thought, he grabbed the blue raspberry Jell-O fruit salad he'd made and stored in the refrigerator three days before and ran back out to the car, pausing only a moment to grab the mail that was threatening to spill out of his mailbox. That's what he got for not coming home for three days he supposed. He was only glad he'd remembered to take Jack, Sam, and Teal'c's presents with him when he left the mountain.
A little while later Daniel sat ensconced on Jack's couch, a mug of egg nog on the coffee table in front of him, his hands full of envelopes he was sorting through. "What are you doing?" Sam asked, coming in from the kitchen where she'd put away Daniel's dessert.
"Just sorting through the mail that piled up while I was at the mountain working on that translation for SG-17," Daniel explained, looking up from his task briefly with a smile.
"Ah," Sam responded, returning the expression. "I had a bit of a pile when I got home myself."
"You do realize this is supposed to be a party, not a working vacation, right?" Jack asked, following behind Sam with a refilled mug of egg nog and seating himself in his recliner.
Daniel shot him a grin. "Yes, Jack. I just wanted to sort through this stuff and get rid of the junk, see if I had any Christmas cards. I doubt there's much personal stuff here, but I wanted to make sure. Besides, my mailbox was nearly overflowing and it's supposed to snow tonight. I didn't want everything to get wet."
Jack rolled his eyes. "You could have just tossed it back in the house."
The archaeologist shrugged. "Too late now."
"O'Neill, where is the figurine that customarily rests atop the Christmas tree?" Teal'c asked, giving the fir in question a critical once-over.
"I, uh, broke it last year," Jack muttered, his eyes dropping to his mug.
Sam gave him a confused look. "But, sir, you didn't have a tree..." Her words trailed off when he glared at her. "Right. I think I understand now. I'm going to go... get some egg nog." She quickly disappeared into the kitchen.
Daniel understood as well. "So, how many pieces did it end up in after it hit the wall?" he asked mildly.
Jack shifted his glare. "Don't go there, Daniel. Let's just say last year wasn't that merry and leave it at that."
The brown-haired man gave him an understanding look. "All right, Jack." There was a moment of silence. "I missed you guys, too," he whispered.
"You remember this, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c asked.
"Not exactly. Just a vague feeling when I try to think about last year at this time, that's all." Daniel sighed and went back to his mail, knowing things would be awkward for a little while.
About five minutes later, Jack slapped the arms of his chair and rose to his feet. "Well, let's not be gloomy. This is supposed to be a party. Teal'c, come upstairs with me. I haven't brought down everyone's presents yet." The Jaffa bowed his head briefly in assent, and the two of them left the room.
Daniel smiled and shook his head. Jack would be fine. When he looked back down at the few letters he had left to sort through, he saw the return address and the postmark of the top one and his brows furrowed in confusion. Who did he know in Stoneham, Massachusetts? Frowning slightly, he opened the thick envelope and pulled out the multi-paged letter inside. He began to read.
"I doubt you'll remember me, but my name is Cori Bender. Four years ago you helped me get home on Christmas Eve, and I'm not sure I ever thanked you properly for that. You cared when no one else around me did, and that made all the difference.
"I suppose I should explain why I'm writing. I've been in counseling since I got back. Recently, my counselor suggested I write a letter to someone explaining what I went through so that I could put it in perspective and move forward. I didn't have to mail it; it would most likely be enough to just put the words down on paper. But when I thought about who I'd write to, I remembered you. You reached out to me, helped me, all without knowing why I needed the help in the first place. I knew if it hadn't been for you I wouldn't be here today, so I figured you deserved an explanation.
"I was the youngest of three, and the only girl, when my mom discovered she was pregnant with my sister Riley. Now up to this point I suppose I'd been pretty spoiled, and I resented the fact that I wasn't going to get as much attention once the baby was born. And when my guess became reality I started acting up, doing whatever it took to get attention - which was mostly negative things. Looking back I can see how much of a Catch 22 it all was: I did bad things to get attention, then resented the kind of attention I got. I'd get angry and act up some more. I think you can see the downward spiral I was on.
"Finally, I had enough. I thought I hated my parents and especially Riley. So I stole money from my parents and decided to head out to Los Angeles. I wanted to get as far away as I could. And then I ran out of money when I reached Colorado Springs. I was sitting in the bus station feeling sorry for myself when I met a guy who went by the charming nickname Roadkill. He seemed concerned about me just sitting there at the station alone and invited me to come hang out with him and his friends. Having nowhere else to go, I took him up on the offer.
"Now, that party wasn't the first time I'd tried drugs, but it was the first time I'd thrown myself into it with such abandon. I wanted to feel good, and was willing to do anything to do it. I'm pretty sure I lost my virginity that night as well, but I can't completely remember. Isn't that sad? I can't remember when I lost my virginity. I do know that if it wasn't that night it was soon after. It's amazing what kinds of drugs you can get when you promise the dealer a special treat in return. To tell you the truth, it makes me sick to my stomach to think about that time now. Which is probably why I need to write this letter.
"Sorry about that. Let me get back to the subject at hand. I don't think I was one of those people who got addicted to heroin the first time they tried it, but it wasn't like I only planned on doing it once. As time went by I smoked my pot, did a few snorts of cocaine every now and again, and always shot up to keep me going. By the time you met me I was as addicted as I could get, and I'd hit rock bottom.
"But I'm a little ahead of myself. The day I finally realized I'd hit bottom, I'd been staying with a bunch of so-called friends in a house tucked away on frat row near the UCCS campus. A couple of the guys who lived there were students, and let the rest of us transients drift in and out of the place as we needed to. They got free drugs and alcohol out of the deal, so everybody won I guess. Karen and I were sharing a room on the ground floor - I think it used to be the pantry - that barely fit two cots in it. We'd done our dose for the day, and I remember griping about the fact that I was about due to restock the cupboards (I giggled about the way I'd put it - I thought I'd been so witty). She said she'd go with me, since she needed a new supply herself. I don't know how long it had been when I finally noticed Karen sitting on the floor between our cots, her eyes drooping as her breathing kept slowing down. Her muscles kept twitching sporadically, too. I didn't know what was happening, but I just knew something was wrong. I ran out to the living room, where a bunch of guys were sitting around doing cocktails (you don't want to know what was in them, I promise). I told them what was happening, and they laughed me off. I kept trying to make them understand, and they just kept ignoring me or telling me I was having a bad trip. Everything was fine, I'd see.
"I did see. When I got back to my room, Karen was lying on the floor, not moving and staring at the ceiling. Her lips and fingernails were blue and I couldn't see her breathing. My hand shook as I checked her neck for a pulse, and I didn't find one. I reeled back at that point and went into total shock. I don't know how long I sat on my cot and stared at Karen's body, but eventually I passed out. When I woke up, it was a little under twenty-four hours later - and Karen's body was still there! I screamed, it felt like forever. And no one came. No one had thought to check if I'd been right the day before, and no one checked to see what I was screaming about then. There was a dead body in the house and no one cared. That's when I realized that could be me on the floor. I could be dead in a dirty pantry in the middle of a house filled with people, and no one would care.
"That's when I remembered how my parents had been there for me when I'd come down with double pneumonia when I was eleven. They'd taken care of everything for me with no complaints. They told me how much they loved me and how much they wanted me to get better. And I wanted that again. I knew I was addicted to heroin - I'd gone through a few bouts of withdrawal when I couldn't get my hands on a new supply soon enough. But I could give it up to be loved again. To have someone care if I was alive or dead. I actually wanted to give up the heroin.
"Of course, I also figured I'd burned my bridges with them. I was in no position to take a plane or even a bus out to Boston to find out, and I couldn't help but wonder if I could take their rejection. What I did know was that I couldn't stay in the house a moment longer. I took what drugs I had left, and what was left of Karen's supply, and walked out the front door. I didn't look back.
"It took quite a while to gather up the courage to try to place a collect call. I looked around and saw my wanderings had taken me close to the mall, and I remembered the phone booth across the street from it. I'd reached the end of my rope; there was nowhere else to go. And then I saw the out of order sign on the phone. It was all over - I was done. I slid down the side wall of the phone booth and wished I could just fade away and not hurt anymore.
"Then you came and wrapped your blanket around me. You kept insisting I let you help me. Then you fed me, let me talk without pressuring me to tell you more than I wanted to say, and tried to get me through to my parents. And then you bought me a plane ticket so I could go home and gave me enough money to make it all the way there. You trusted me when I know I had to look like the druggie I was, when you had to know I hadn't told you everything. You cared. It was like a beam of sunlight breaking through an overcast sky. Suddenly I had hope.
"You probably didn't realize this, but when I went to the bathroom right before the flight, I shot up just enough to keep me from going into withdrawal. I had one last dose that would last me through the next day, and then I would tell my parents I needed help. I wouldn't wreck their Christmas. It ended up working out that way, too. I'm actually grateful for that. Christmas shouldn't be tainted by something like that.
"My mom answered the door when I rang the doorbell at eleven that night. She looked at me for a long moment, then I could see when she recognized me. She started crying, Daniel, right there in the doorway. She pulled me inside and into the tightest hug I'd ever had before, thanking God that I was all right and I'd come home at last. Then my dad came over wondering what was going on.
"I'd never seen the man speechless before. My mom finally pulled away a little bit, not taking her eyes off me, and my dad wordlessly took her place. And I felt his tears against my neck. My dad cried for me. And you were right. They never believed that I was dead, and they had kept trying to find me. Thank you for believing when I couldn't. It was something I'd needed to hear.
"I won't go into the gory details about my treatment. I will say that it took me a long time, though, and it would have taken even longer I guess if I hadn't been so willing to do whatever it took. I've been in counseling the whole time, and I started to try to make something of myself. I got my GED, and am currently a sophomore at Boston University majoring in psychology. I have a great relationship with my sister Riley, who's six now, and I've reestablished relationships with my parents and both my brothers. Their support has been invaluable to me; I wouldn't be where I am today without them. You were right - family is very important.
"But even more than that, I wouldn't have had this chance at all if it hadn't been for a good, decent man who decided to show me that he cared if I lived or died, and did more than he ever had to do to make sure I could go home. Thank you, Daniel Jackson. I owe everything to you.
"P.S. - I almost forgot! I decided to send along a current picture so you could see how I was doing. There's also one of me with the rest of my family. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas."
Daniel's eyes were misted over by the time he finished reading the letter. He pulled out the two pictures.
"Daniel, are you okay?" Sam asked softly before he could take a good look at either one of them.
Daniel looked up to see Sam, Jack, and Teal'c standing together at the end of the couch, watching him carefully. He smiled. "I'm fine, Sam. I just never expected this letter, that's all."
Jack narrowed his eyes. "Who's it from?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Try us," Sam said as she took a seat right next to him on the couch and placed a gentle hand on his knee.
Daniel took a deep breath before starting his explanation. "Do you guys remember the Christmas after Sha're died, about four years ago?" He went on after getting nods of confirmation. "Well, this letter is from the girl I sent home that night. She wanted to explain things and let me know how well she was doing now." He looked down at the pictures he held and felt a wide smile spread across his features. "And she's doing just fine." He handed the photos to Sam.
"Wow," the blonde whispered. "She looks a lot different than the description you gave us that night." She passed them to Jack.
The colonel's brown eyes widened when he took a close look. "Holy crap, Daniel. Are you sure this is the same girl you found in that phone booth?"
Daniel nodded, still smiling, although the expression faded a bit. "I have to admit you were right though, Jack. She was hooked on drugs. But she went home and got herself into rehab. Now she's gotten her GED and is a sophomore at Boston University studying psychology." He brightened again. "She's really turned her life around."
"So I can see," Jack admitted before handing the wallet-sized pictures to Teal'c. "Makes me sorry I gave you such a hard time."
"Hindsight's twenty-twenty, Jack, and you could have been right. I'm just glad you weren't."
Teal'c gave a small smile at the sight of yet another soul who had benefitted from contact with Daniel Jackson. "Again you see how much good you have done, Daniel Jackson," he said to the seated man, returning the photos.
Daniel's smile turned a bit shy. "Yeah," he whispered.
Sam gave his leg a squeeze. "And now that you're back, we can have a real merry Christmas," she said firmly, grinning. He gave her one in return.
"Exactly," Jack agreed expansively. He waited a beat. "So when are we going to open presents?"
Everyone laughed, Daniel shaking his head. "Well, I guess this means Cori's wish for me is coming true. My family and I are having a wonderful Christmas." They all shared a smile, then Sam hugged Daniel while Teal'c took the other seat on the couch and Jack handed out the presents. Their holiday was happy indeed.