Once they'd gotten the reindeer under control, things went relatively well. Except for a few slips on frozen rooftops and having to spend an hour in someone's backyard trying to find loose marbles when Cam dropped an open sack and a game spilled, the first few hours of present delivery went off without a hitch. Then the sleigh landed at General Landry's.

Jack tripped on the cord attached to a string of Christmas lights and went sprawling face first onto the living room floor. The noise woke the general, who came charging downstairs in ducky pajamas, shotgun in hand. He gaped wide-eyed at Jack and the members of SG-1 for several moments, then slowly lowered the gun.

"Let me guess," he smirked. "Santa needed backup and you people got called in."

"Not exactly, sir," Cam replied.

"Wait," interrupted Jack. "You mean this whole Santa thing doesn't surprise you?"

"Nah," Landry shook his head, walking over to lean on the back of the couch. "I met Santa when I was eight. Never forgot."

Vala saw Daniel tense and frowned, but he quickly turned his attention to the present sack that Jack had left on the floor beside the tree. She knelt to help him, her hand discreetly moving to brush the back of his fingers. He smiled in response, but before she could press him, Cam remarked,

"That's…really interesting, sir."

"Yeah, and if we had time to stick around and chat, I might even ask how you met the old guy, Hank. Right now we've still got a lot of ground to cover," Jack reminded him. Then he turned toward Daniel and Vala, adding, "You all set there, Daniel?"

"Yep," Daniel sprang to his feet again.

"Okay, let's go," Jack nodded, leading the group back toward the chimney. "Merry Christmas, Hank."

------

"Do we really have to stop here?" Jack asked when the sleigh landed on former Vice President Kinsey's roof. The deer shook themselves and snorted in protest at the question, and he let out an exaggerated sigh.

"It is Christmas," Sam reminded him with a knowing smile. She peered at the list displayed on Santa's monitor and her eyes widened. "Uh…guys…?"

"What's wrong?" Vala asked, pausing in her perusal of the gift sacks.

"This list says Kinsey's getting coal," Sam replied.

"See? I knew it," Jack smirked.

------

An argument broke out at Walter's over the brownies. It was a well known fact at the SGC that Harriman's wife routinely baked brownies on Christmas Eve and left them for Santa. The day after Christmas, the leftovers found their way into the briefing rooms on base. This year Cam wanted to filch one early, but Jack insisted that, while one missing brownie could be attributed to a member of the family, more than that would arouse suspicions.

"Well, why do you get it then?" Cam demanded.

"Because I'm Santa?" Jack raised an eyebrow.

"So? You've had the cookies at the last three houses! It's my turn!" insisted Cam.

"You can have 'em at the next house! I want the brownie!" Jack exclaimed, reaching to slap the coveted confection out of Cam's hand.

"The next house is that clone that Loki made of you! What kinda cookies you think he'd leave out for Santa?" Cam snorted. "He don't even have kids!"

"Ho-Hos," Jack replied. "Same thing I used to put out when I was single."

"What?" Cam cried.

"Look, will you two keep it down?" interrupted Daniel. "You're gonna wake up--"

"General O'Neill?" came a stunned voice from the kitchen doorway.

"Walter," Daniel finished with a sigh.

"Dr. Jackson? Colonel O'Neill?" Harriman continued, his eyes darting first toward Daniel, then Sam, and then slowly taking in the rest of SG-1. "How did you get in my house? Why are you in my house? And why are you dressed like elves?"

"Hey, do I look like an elf to you?" Jack asked as the team eyed one another uneasily.

"No…" Walter said slowly.

"Good," said Jack. "And we're here because you're dreaming. Go back to bed."

"Yessir," Walter nodded, turning to make his way back to the bedroom.

------

"So, why did you leave sweets out for Santa when you were single?" Sam whispered. They had finished leaving presents under "Mini-Jack's" tree, and succeeded in doing so without waking up the clone. Now they were making their way carefully into the kitchen.

Jack shrugged. "Thought it was funny, I guess."

"Did you not think it strange that the Ho-Hos were always missing on Christmas morning?" inquired Teal'c.

"Figured one of the dogs ate 'em," Jack replied, his hand groping along the kitchen wall for a light switch. Before he found it, a low and unmistakably hostile growl sounded from further inside the room.

"Um…Jack…what kind of dogs did you have back then…?" Daniel asked worriedly.

"Rottweilers…" Jack replied, his hand dropping away from the wall. "Run."

"What is wrong?" asked Teal'c.

"Run!"

-------

After they narrowly escaped Mini-Jack's dogs with their lives, they landed at Cassie's and brought down the wrong bag of presents. By the time they went back to the roof, found the right one, and went down to put the stuff under the tree again, Sam calculated that they had thrown off Santa's timetable by more than three hours already. At General Hammond's, the problem wasn't forgetting Santa's gifts. When all his grandchildren's presents were safely under the tree, Sam realized that she had forgotten the watch that the team had engraved for the general.

Sighing, Jack reluctantly said that there wasn't time to go all the way back to the house for it and that they would have to present it to Hammond on New Year's Eve instead. This brought them to the Silers' house, where, miraculously, nothing seemed to have been forgotten and none of the family pets chased Santa's helpers away. The problem came as they were leaving, when Jack lost his footing on the slippery roof and barely managed to hang on by the tips of his fingers.

Teal'c was busy watering the reindeer while Cameron and Vala tried to re-pack the remaining bags of toys in the back of the sleigh. Sam and Daniel were the first ones to reach Jack, whose booted feet were dangling directly in front of Siler's bedroom window. Even through Santa's gloves, Jack's fingers had rapidly become numb, and he craned his neck to bark at his rescuers.

"C'mon, pull me up, I'm gonna slip!"

"Oh, I really wish you'd eaten a few less cookies," Sam groaned as she and Daniel hefted her husband back onto the roof.

His foot smacked the window pane, and although the glass didn't shatter, Daniel's eyes slid closed in exasperation. A few moments later, they heard the window being shoved upwards, and Siler's voice demanded, "Hey, who's out there?"

Back on his feet by then, Jack raised a hand in silent signal, and his teammates froze. After a few tense heartbeats, the window slid down again, but as it did they heard Siler explain, "No, I thought I saw Santa's boots…maybe he fell off the roof…I don't know, must've been dreaming…"

------

Once they'd left the Silers' they managed to make up some time. There were several houses where nothing actually went wrong, and under Jack's repeated commands for them to hustle, the team learned to unpack and leave presents faster than they thought possible. Unfortunately, though, they only fell further behind at Carolyn's. Unlike Mini-Jack, the CMO had forgotten to leave her apartment door unlocked.

"Why the heck would she lock her door on Christmas Eve?" Cam asked, running a frustrated hand over his face.

"Probably because she doesn't believe in Santa," Daniel replied dryly.

"I doubt the clone believes in Santa," Cam pointed out.

"Yes, but he's Jack," Daniel replied.

"Right," Cam rolled his eyes. He let the sack he was carrying slide from his fingers and leaned against the wall opposite Carolyn's door. "So now what do we do?"

"I…have no idea…" Daniel admitted.

"I do," chirped Vala brightly. She reached into the front pocket of her elf costume and produced Daniel's wallet, which she opened before beginning to casually peruse the credit cards.

"What are you doing?" Daniel demanded. "And why do you have my wallet?"

"I thought I should bring it in case of an emergency, darling," Vala replied as she selected a card and sauntered over to the door. "And it's a good thing I did!"

It only took her a moment or two to pick the lock. The door swung open, and the team stood gaping, not that she could do something like this, but that she would. Finally, Jack gestured them inside and Cam picked up his bag again. Swinging it over his shoulder, he followed the others inside, pausing briefly to catch Vala's arm.

"So getting coal for that," he smirked.

------

Santa had warned them about the silent alarm at the White House. The problem was that they were rushing so much by then that no one stopped to think about it. So, when the White House security and Secret Service agents came bursting in with guns drawn, there was no time to make a dash back to the chimney. SG-1 found themselves thrown against the nearest wall and patted down, and when asked to identify themselves, Jack bellowed,

"I'm General Jack O'Neill!" then paused before adding, "…in a Santa suit…"

The situation only deteriorated as Daniel repeatedly urged the Secret Service to "call his house", where he insisted that Santa Claus was watching Christmas shows with his children. He didn't actually expect them to do it, though, so he was surprised when, about an hour after the first round of interrogation ended, the Secret Service returned and escorted him and the rest of the team to the roof.

"Told you to check up here," Jack smirked when their captors went wide-eyed at the sight of the sleigh.

No one answered, though, since their attention was diverted by the chopper that was landing nearby. When the propellers came to a halt, it opened to reveal Generals Hammond and Landry, who were followed out by Carter O'Neill, and then Manda and Nicky Jackson. Lastly came Santa, hobbling out on his crutches with the aid of the helicopter pilot.

"What are you doing here?" Daniel asked the kids.

"I thought we told you to stay at the house," added Jack.

"You told us to stay with Santa, Dad," Carter replied.

"I couldn't exactly leave them at the house alone," Santa piped up, clearing his throat apologetically. "And I was needed here to clear up this little misunderstanding."

"They could've stayed with my grandfather," Daniel pointed out. "He's still at the house."

"No he's not…" called the voice of Nick Ballard from inside the chopper. Adorned in a Santa cap, Nick's head poked out of the chopper and he edged his way down to meet the rest of the group.

Daniel buried his head in his hands and sighed. "Okay…so now what?"

"Now," said Santa, "We need to get the rest of these gifts delivered before morning."

"Yeah, that could be a problem," remarked Cam.

"Indeed," agreed Teal'c with a glance at the now gray sky.

"There is a way," Santa assured them. "We'll just have to make a little trip back to my workshop…"

------

"Sorta reminds me of Superman's house," Cam remarked as Santa led the wide-eyed group through the giant double doors and into the gathering hall at the front of his workshop. Groups of real elves were seated at long tables, and rushed over, along with a gray-haired woman they assumed was Mrs. Claus.

"What?" Vala asked, turning incredulously toward Cameron while the elves offered mugs of hot cider and Mrs. Claus began to help Santa and Jack with their coats. She had discovered The Man of Steel some time while she and Daniel were newlyweds and become as well versed in Superman lore as Teal'c was in anything related to Star Wars.

"I think he means the Fortress of Solitude, Mom," Manda spoke up.

"He doesn't live there, you idiot," Vala rolled her eyes at him.

The name-calling earned her a look of censure from Santa, and she bit her lip. She murmured an uncomfortable apology before following the rest of the party down the hall. Cam gave a nod of acknowledgment and then turned his attention to the kids, whose eyes seemed to grow bigger with each step they took down the arched corridor. Their amazement grew when General Landry began pointing at various doors and explaining what types of toys were made behind them, or what part of the wrapping and packing process was accomplished there.

"Ho, ho, ho, you have a good memory, Hank!" exclaimed Santa happily.

"Well," said the general, "getting lost in the woods, found by Santa Claus and helping him make his Christmas Eve rounds because he'd already been to my house and couldn't double back until the rest of the presents were delivered is one of those experiences that sorta sticks in my mind."

"Wow, General, does Carolyn know about all that?" Carter asked.

"Well, she did when she was little," sighed Landry. "She's probably forgotten all about it by now."

"Why?" frowned Nicky.

"Most grown ups just stop believing in Santa," Landry explained. "Once they do, anything like this kinda just fades away. Like it never happened at all."

"Is that gonna happen to us?" Nicky asked.

"Not if you don't want it to," Santa promised with a smile.

"What about you, General Hammond?" Manda asked, frowning thoughtfully. "Did you meet Santa when you were a kid too?"

"No," Hammond smiled. "I'm a grandpa. I got to meet Santa when my granddaughter Tessa celebrated her first Christmas."

Daniel's eyebrows rose at this, and he turned a questioning glance on his grandfather. Nick shrugged and looked away uncomfortably. Catching the exchange, Santa smiled sadly.

"Most grandparents do get to meet me again. A few here and there are too busy with more important things," he said. Then he looked back at Hammond and smiled. "Which reminds me. Jack, look in your pocket."

"Huh?" Jack frowned.

"Your pocket," Santa repeated.

Jack's eyebrow rose, but he reached inside the pocket of his suit, eyes widening as he pulled out the watch that the team had meant to give General Hammond tonight. He cleared his throat and stepped forward with a half-smile. "Merry Christmas, George. From Sam, Daniel, Teal'c, and I."

Hammond smiled too as he took the watch and turned it over to read the inscription on the back. It was a single word, but the general's smile widened at the sight of it.

Leader

"Thank you, SG-1," he said.

"Ho, ho, ho!" exclaimed Santa with a wave of his arm. "Now--let's get those presents delivered!"

He led them through several corridors and finally stopped at a large arched door which Landry said he had no memory of. Santa grinned in response and began to enter a security code in the digital lock on the wall beside it. It slid open, revealing a huge open interior with a mounted lever in the center of the floor. The walls were covered with smaller levers and switches, blinking red and green lights, and view screens depicting scenes from all over the world.

"This is our emergency system," Santa explained. "It slows down the passage of time in the event of a delay so that I--or in this case, SG-1--can finish delivering the presents."

"How exactly does it work?" Sam frowned. "I mean, why aren't we affected by the time dilation?"

"Christmas magic, Samantha," replied Santa easily.

"But there's no such thing as…" Sam began, breaking off at the pointed eyebrow Santa gave her. "Right."

"Good then," nodded Santa. "Now, I'm going to need all of you to help me turn this thing on…"

------

For the rest of the world, only a few minutes passed. SG-1, Santa, and their motley crew of helpers experienced almost a full day before the last of the gifts were dropped off at an orphanage in Afghanistan. The kids had long since fallen asleep in the back of the sleigh, but woke immediately when Santa suggested returning to the North Pole for a party to celebrate the success of the mission.

"I'd…really rather not," Daniel said, igniting a storm of protests from the kids, Vala, and Cameron. Knowing that there was no way to extricate himself without giving a reason that would, more than anything, confuse his children, he sighed quietly and let himself be dragged along.

He did his best to be social, but the merry making left a hollow sensation in the pit of his stomach, and finally he withdrew. The workshop seemed to exist inside a temperate bubble. Only a few yards away, the frigid polar winds would have made it impossible, but Daniel found himself outside, leaning against a giant candy cane in only a sweater and a pair of khakis. A single star was still brightly visible in the eastern sky, and his gaze kept drifting toward it despite his efforts to find something else to look at.

"I wouldn't lean on that," Manda said as she slid out the double doors to join him.

"Huh?" Daniel asked. "Why not?"

"It's real, Daddy," she smiled indulgently. "Can't you smell the peppermint?"

After an experimental sniff, his eyes widened, and he shoved himself hurriedly off the sticky surface. Manda peered behind him and giggled, letting him know that he now had candy-cane stripes all down the back of his clothes.

"Great," he sighed.

A speculative frown creased her forehead, and she asked, "Dad, are you okay?"

"Fine," he said with an automatic smile.

"You still don't believe in him, do you?" she asked.

Daniel's mouth opened and closed in surprise at the turn of the conversation, but finally he shrugged. "'Course I believe in him. He's right in there."

"That's not the same thing," Manda sighed. "As soon as we leave here, you'll forget, won't you? Like Carolyn forgot her dad told her the story about getting lost in the woods."

He started to shake his head, but paused and finally let out a sigh of his own. "I don't know, Monkey," he admitted.

She gave him a long, disappointed look, then finally turned and trudged back inside. Daniel started after her, realized he had no idea what he was going to say, and paused again, catching sight of Mrs. Claus as the door closed behind his daughter.

"I'm sorry," she smiled apologetically. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop."

Daniel shook his head, crossing the remaining distance between them. "Daniel," he said, offering his hand.

"Jessica," she replied, giving it a firm squeeze. "But you can call me Mrs. Claus if you like."

"I like Jessica," he said, and she nodded, smiling a bit shyly. They fell silent for a moment, and Daniel's eyes drifted toward the door. "I don't think she's ever looked at me that way," he said.

"It's difficult for a child," she nodded. "Suddenly realizing that a wonderful experience like meeting Santa Claus is something she may not be able to share with a parent. Especially the parent who's given her so much of his own love of discovery."

"So, you think I will forget?" Daniel frowned.

"Do you want to?" Mrs. Claus asked.

"I…it's complicated," he sighed.

She nodded in understanding and reached into the pocket of her apron, drawing out a yellowed piece of notebook paper. She carefully unfolded it, smiled a little, and looked up at him. "Santa has a room where we keep all the letters that, for one reason or another, don't get answered. Most of them are because the toys the children want are popular and we run out. We fill the request as soon as possible and drop them off, then the letter gets moved. But a few of them just have to stay there. It's part of my job to keep track of them, write apology letters. You got one, remember?"

"I thought that was my foster mother," Daniel replied.

She shook her head, smiling a little as she began to read,

"Dear Santa,

There's only one thing I want for Christmas this year, and that's the chance to say goodbye to my mom and dad. No one really thinks you can do that, but I know you can do anything you want. They don't have to stay or anything. Maybe just visit for a couple of hours.

Danny Jackson."

"You don't have to--" Daniel started, then broke off and shook his head, blinking against the sudden burn of tears.

"There are some things even Santa can't do," she said softly.

"I know that," Daniel nodded quickly. "I just--I was a kid."

"Yes," she pressed her lips together, letting a brief silence fall between them before she folded the letter and slid it back into her apron. "Daniel, you could believe in the face of academic ridicule that the pyramids of Egypt were landing sites for alien visitors to Earth. Yet you can't believe in something as simple as Santa Claus."

His eyes widened, "It's not simple! It's--it's--it's ridiculous! He's an amalgamation of figures from so many different cultures, there's no way it could be true. There's no logical reason for--for reindeer flying, or a big fat man going down chimneys, or--" he broke off, realizing much as Sam had earlier where he was standing and to whom he was saying these things. He raked his fingers through his hair in frustration and spun around, but he caught sight of the star again and heaved a sigh. "Sorry," he finished.

She didn't reply for a minute, took a few steps and stopped beside him. Her gaze followed his to the star and she said softly, "You're enough of an expert in culture to understand that one day, no one will believe in Santa. When that happens, everything you see here--the workshop, the elves, Santa and I, will just fade away. But Christmas won't."

Daniel's head turned toward her in surprise and she smiled back, reaching for his hand. "Come on," she encouraged. "Let's join the party."

He hesitated briefly, but his lips turned up in a tentative smile and finally he nodded. She led the way inside, where loud music and laughter assaulted them. A group of elves tried to drag them into a folk dance, but Daniel's eyes immediately sought out Vala--and found her.

Standing under a sprig of mistletoe in full view of their children and the rest of SG-1, his wife had her arms wrapped around Santa's neck and was kissing him full on the lips. Daniel stood shocked for a moment, then mumbled a hurried apology to the laughing Mrs. Claus, and barreled his way through the crowded room.

"Vala, what are you doing?" he demanded.

"Kissing Santa, darling," she grinned back.

"I can see that!" he snapped. "WHY?"

"Daniel, are you jealous?" she laughed.

"Yes!" he barked, grabbing her by the wrist and pulling her hard against him.

"We're not under the mistletoe," she teased as her arms slid around his neck. Heedless, Daniel brought his lips to hers, while Santa, with a bellowing ho-ho-ho, reached up to remove the mistletoe from the ceiling and hold it above the pair.

"Kinda gives new meaning to I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, don't it?" Cam grinned as his gaze moved from Nicky and Manda's aghast expressions to their parents' oblivious liplock and back again.

"Indeed," agreed Teal'c dryly.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As a final note: this fic does have multiple sequels set later in Daniel and Vala's marriage. They were written as sequels because I fully intended to stop this AU before now, but readers asked for more, and challenge prompts gave me the necessary inspiration.

They will be posted in the upcoming future. I am not sure when. If you enjoyed Fire and Water, feel free to add me to your Author Alerts subscription. DON'T subscribe to a story alert for this fic; you won't get update notices because the story itself is complete.

In chronological order, the stories in this universe are:

-Fire and Water (written early s9; What if Vala had been able to ring back after destroying the first Supergate?)

-Interlude ( a loosely interconnected collection of fics set in the same universe as Fire and Water. They were written after the series itself, so I don't include them as part of it. )

-Rediscovered Hearts (a 46 chapter epic set in the third year of Daniel and Vala's marriage, involves the birth of their first child and an exploration of Vala's past.)

-In The Moment (a loosely interconnected collection of fics similar to the Interlude set. They were written shortly after I wrote Rediscovered Hearts, but take place before Beyond Breaking.

-The Promise of Thorns (an SGA fic set in the same verse. It's the SGA equivalent to Fire and Water, kicking off a crossover sequel called Beyond Breaking.)

-A Rediscovered Christmas ( a Christmas series set in the RH universe. Hijinx abound when Vala's Santa Trap actually works. Just silly, but I had lots of fun writing it.)

-Beyond Breaking ( the planned followup to RH and Promise. I and some of the RH readers on LJ readers were speculating about season 10 and what might happen if the Ori returned in the RH AU somewhat later than they did in canon. About six chapters have been written, but the end of SG-1 s10 and SGA s3 really blew the fic out of the water. It will be done eventually, just don't know when.)

-Idyll Days (the final collection of short interconnected fics in this AU, set after the resolution of the Ori conflict)