A/N: Written for Shipsgiving Day 2008 for the S/J Gateworld Family Thread. Feel free to join us on 22 Nov at gateworld .net
He picked the phone up on the second ring. It was his personal cell, not the official line, so he wasn't too worried as he answered simply, "Jack O'Neill."
"Hi, Cassie." Something in the young woman's tone made him add, "Anything wrong?"
"Uh… No. Not exactly."
Which, of course, meant he'd been correct. "But….?"
Cassandra Fraiser laughed softly on the other end of the line, but he could tell it was a trifle forced. "But Kristin Carter called me."
Now he understood. "Ah… So. She told ya?"
"Actually, she invited me. Why didn't you tell me the Carters asked us to spend Thanksgiving with them?"
"Well," he began, already formulating an excuse before deciding Cassie deserved no less than the truth. Heck, she'd probably believe no less, either. "With Sam away, I just thought it might be… you know…"
"Awkward?" she asked, finding the word before he could.
"Yeah. A bit."
"Jack. Have you ever tried dorm food? You wouldn't sentence me to it on Thanksgiving, would you?"
"It can't be any worse than Air Force commissary food."
She snorted. "Believe me, it is." He still didn't want to go. It was nice enough of Sam's brother and sister-in-law to invite him and Cassie despite Sam's being gone to Atlantis, but he'd still rather spend the holiday at home. He was just opening his mouth to explain that to Cassie when, as if sensing his upcoming refusal, she added, "And, Jack?"
"Sam really wants you to go."
"Her last letter to me. Mark or Kristin must have mentioned the invitation - or maybe it was her idea in the first place. Either way, she doesn't want you spending Thanksgiving alone at home and I swear this is her word - 'moping' - because she's out there wherever she is instead of back here with us."
Cassie didn't know exactly where Sam was or what she was doing, she didn't need to, but she was smart enough to figure out what the cover story of Sam's 'overseas' tour meant. And she was smart enough to know Sam's desire for him to go was the one and only argument that could get him to agree.
Still, he had his pride. "I don't 'mope.'" Silence was her only answer. With a sigh, he continued, "So. When's my flight?"
He'd slipped outside into the warm evening to get some fresh air. After years spent in cold winters it was still shocking to find it so warm at this time of year. Still, it provided a much needed momentary escape from the pressure of dealing with the people inside.. The Carter's had done their best to be welcoming, but it was as uncomfortable as he'd expected to be at his in-laws without his wife. Still, if he were honest, being here in San Diego with them was better than staying home alone in DC.
Not that he would have been moping, even there. Because he didn't mope. But he would have been alone. Which wasn't too bad, really. He'd spent years celebrating holidays alone. It was just that the idea of spending the holidays alone now - even here when not actually alone - was worse than it had been before.
God he missed her.
Especially now, with the smells of turkey wafting out of the open screen door behind him, along with the happy chatter of the people inside. Except being inside with them had only seemed to accentuate the emptiness - the empty place in the room that should have been Sam's.
Which was why he'd escaped to the back deck. Out here, looking up into the night sky, he somehow felt closer to her. At least he could look in the general direction of the Pegasus galaxy and imagine he was looking at her, despite the distance.
A voice at his side startled him, proving he'd been out of the field for far too long. "Moping?"
He turned to find Kristin Carter standing at his elbow. "No. Just thinking."
She studied him for a long moment, her brown eyes serious beneath long sandy blonde hair, the moonlight casting her features in stark contrast. Turning to look up into the sky herself, she finally asked, "Wondering what's up there?"
He almost chuckled at the irony. "Not exactly."
"Ah." She paused, staring up silently for another long minute before observing, "Kind of puts it all into perspective, though, doesn't it?"
He turned to look at her. She must have seen the confusion on his face because she quickly continued, "All our problems, no matter how big, seem pretty small when compared to all that." She waved her arm outwards, taking in the expanse of the universe. He could see her judging his reaction out of the corners of her eyes as she continued, "And, really, no matter how far apart you and Sam are, you're still spending the holidays together. In comparison, of course."
And then he really did laugh. Because despite the fact that Sam was a whole lot further than Kristin could possibly imagine, he'd been subjected to enough astronomy lectures to know she was still correct. Which realization, absurdly, did make him feel better.
Though, if he were being completely honest, it was probably just interacting with another human being who, despite hardly knowing him, still cared that he was lonely and miserable and missing Sam that made the difference. And that she would go out of her way to make him feel better touched him more deeply than he cared to admit.
Which was why, later, seated around the food-laden table, when they each shared what they were most thankful for, Jack had his response ready. Because it was what he'd lost all those years ago, what he'd longed for all the years since, and what he'd finally found. And it was one thing he'd learned just that evening even Sam's absence on Atlantis didn't undo.
Jack was thankful for family.