'Dear Mom and Dad,

I thought it would be hard being away from Christmas but not this hard…'

Jack O'Neill looked at the few words on the page before screwing up the
paper and tossing it in the trash. Who was he kidding? A letter wasn't
going to heal the rift between himself and his parents. He should have
been there, but after an argument with his dad, Jack had refused the
invitation to go home. The dumb thing was that, right now, he couldn't
even remember what the fight had been about.

Looking out of the window, it seemed like he was the only person left on
the base. It wasn't snowing. There was something very wrong about that
and Jack felt all the more homesick for Minnesota. Damn it… he was
twenty-three years old, a second Lieutenant in the USAF and he shouldn't
be sitting her missing his Mom.

Jack was sorely tempted to head into the nearest town and drown his
sorrows, but he didn't really want to piss off his new CO by returning
to base drunk or hung over. Although Jack had yet to experience the
man's anger, rumours were that the Colonel was a bit of a hard ass when
it came to discipline. Nope, getting wasted wasn't on the agenda, but
Jack was dammed if he was going to spend the whole of Christmas Day
staring at the four walls of his room. Deciding that a little exercise
might shake his despondent mood, he decided to go for a run.

Pounding the concrete served to raise his spirits a little. The base
wasn't actually as deserted as it had appeared, but Jack hadn't been
stationed there very long and only knew most of those he met by sight.
He answered their greetings with a smile and a nod as he ran past. Most
of them probably thought that he was extremely dedicated… or slightly
mad to be running on Christmas day, but Jack had never been one to
really care what other people thought of him. Besides, judging by the
look one particular female lieutenant gave him, being out here in shorts
and a singlet wasn't all bad.

He found himself turning around to watch her as she sashayed past, but
running backwards wasn't a particularly good look for him… especially as
he promptly tripped over a stray dog. The woman laughed and Jack felt
himself blush. Unable to look her in the face, he turned his attention
to the animal who had inadvertently stolen his cool. The Australian
shepherd didn't seem in the least bit repentant as it meandered over to
him and started licking his face.

"Where did you come from?" Jack asked, scratching the dog's ears.

Looking around, there was no sign of whoever owned the animal but the
dog was wearing a collar with a tag,

"Armstrong," Jack read. There was an address on the other side. "Okay,
buddy, let's take you home."

Armstrong seemed quite happy to trot along beside Jack as they made
their way across the base to where the families were housed. Most of the
houses were decorated and Jack found himself fighting another wave of
homesickness as he saw the lights and tinsel. His Mom always went
overboard on the decorations. She just loved Christmas.

Jack didn't have much trouble finding the right house. As soon as he
opened the gate, Armstrong shot through it and started barking. The
front door opened and a little girl dashed out, running towards the dog
as fast as her short legs could carry her. Jack could tell from her
swollen face that she'd been crying but she was all smiles as she flung
her arms around the dog and buried her face in its thick coat. She
couldn't have been more than seven or eight and the dog was almost as
big as she was.

"Samantha?" a voice called from inside.

"Look Dad, Armstrong came home," the girl cried out.

A man appeared in the doorway and Jack immediately snapped to attention.
It was none other than his commanding officer.

"Colonel Carter, sir!" he said as he saluted.

"At ease, lieutenant," the colonel replied before turning to his
daughter. "What do you say Sam?"

"Thank you for bringing my dog home, sir," Samantha said, clinging to
Armstrong's collar.

"Good girl, now go on back inside."

Both men watched as Samantha dragged the dog back into the house.

"Thanks… Jack O'Neill isn't it?" Carter went on.

"Yes, sir."

"You made my little girl's Christmas. Armstrong got out yesterday and we
thought he was gone for good."

"You're welcome."

"Although I'm wondering what you're actually doing here."

"Sir?"

"I thought the point of having leave was that you actually left?"

Jack found himself looking at his feet, unable to answer the man. He had
put in the request some time ago; when he still thought he would be
going home for Christmas.

"Problems with your folks?" Carter prompted.

Wondering if the man had some kind of second sight or instinct that came
with the rank, Jack nodded.

"Look, we're just about to sit down and eat. Why don't you join us?"

"I wouldn't want to intrude, sir."

"It's the least I can do."

The offer was tempting, but Jack knew there was something else that he
had to do.

"I should call home," he said.

"You can do it from here. Besides, my wife would never forgive me if I
let you leave without at least a glass of egg nog."

Despite himself, Jack followed the Colonel into the comfortable family
home. Samantha was waiting just inside the door, obviously having heard
the whole conversation. She slipped her little hand into Jack's,

"You can sit by me," she smiled up at him.