A/N: This is not a Campfire, though there is in fact a campfire within. Enjoy. Feedback rules. Remember, if you don't provide an email link, I cannot respond to your critiques, and I always reply to my readers.
Set on a planet and mission of my own making, in Season 3–because that's when the romance was abloom and the angst was nonexistent . . . mostly.
Traditions, Old and New
O'Neill's tone was sharp as he questioned her, and Sam quickly suppressed the purely reflexive urge to hunch her shoulders. She followed his pointing finger, grimacing as she realized that the route the GPS indicated would take the team through dense, tangled trees and underbrush. She sighed and then lifted her hands in mock-supplication. "Yes, Colonel. Through there. Sorry, Sir, but," Sam tucked her electronics away and pulled out her knife. "It looks like we have to go through.
"Of course we do." O'Neill quirked a small smile her way and then turned, waving at Teal'c to take point while he brought up the rear.
Sam sank back into her seat as Hammond left the room, fidgeting with her notes to disguise her distress. She couldn't believe they'd drawn a mission just three days before Christmas. It didn't seem right. The hard-core officer part of her knew it was crazy to be upset about it; after all, the rest of the universe didn't care about Christmas on Earth.
"Carter?" O'Neill's voice interrupted her thoughts.
"Sir?" Sam hurriedly schooled her expression as she stood, stuffing her notes into her folder as she stepped away from the table.
"You planning on joining us today?"
"Yes, Sir. Sorry. I was –"
"Thinking. I know. You usually are." O'Neill waited for her at the door, then waved her through, one hand seemingly finding the small of her back of its own accord.
Sam bit back a smile as she felt that pressure on her back. He'd been doing that more and more often, she realized. "Escorting" her through doors, into cars, elevators, hallways, even her lab. She didn't mind, and found that she missed the contact when he caught himself doing it.
"Something on your mind, Carter?"
"No, I guess not. Just . . . surprised, I guess, that we've drawn something so close to Christmas." Sam glanced over her shoulder in time to see O'Neill shrug.
"Dunno. You'd know more than me about why we have to go now." Once again his hand found her back as they approached the locker room door.
"I know. It is odd to find a repeating energy pulse on a planet the Asgard say is deserted, but . . ." Sam opened her locker and began her pre-mission ritual of removing all personal identification–save for her dog tags–placing each item carefully in the small box she kept for just this purpose. Beside her, O'Neill was doing the same thing, and the two donned their mission gear silently.
O'Neill broke the silence, continuing their conversation. "But . . . it's Christmas." He shrugged on his ALICE vest. "Big plans?"
"No. Not really. I –" Sam hesitated, realizing suddenly how pathetic her plans sounded.
"You . . ." O'Neill prompted, waving at her to continue as he pulled his worn cap from the top shelf of the locker.
"Nothing, Sir. No plans." Sam grabbed her own cap and jammed it on her head, pulling the bill low to hide her eyes. "I'm good. Ready, Colonel?" She'd barely taken a step when O'Neill's low voice stopped her.
"Carter." He waited for her to turn before continuing. "We'll be back for . . . whatever it was you had planned." Giving her a small smile, he gestured for her to open the door. "I promise."
Sam winced as another branch whipped back toward her face, grimacing as the tip lashed at her cheek. "Ow! She lifted her hand and frowned when her fingers came away bloody. "Daniel!"
"Wh – oh, sorry, Sam." Daniel stopped and brushed a hand across his face, sweaty from exertion despite the deepening cold.
Sam frowned at him, wiping again at her cheek. "It's okay, just . . . just be more careful, okay?"
Fumbling in her pockets for a tissue, Sam was startled when a bright white cloth appeared before her.
Sam pushed the soft cloth away. "No, Sir. I'll get it all bloo–"
O'Neill pressed the cloth into her hand as he pushed past her. "Don't worry about it, Carter. It'll wash out."
Sam nodded as she pressed the neatly folded linen to her stinging cheek, staunching the already slowing flow of blood. She inhaled quietly, surreptitiously enjoying the spicy, slightly musky small of aftershave and . . . O'Neill that permeated the cloth. Smiling slightly to herself, Sam stepped in behind O'Neill, grateful to him for taking the third position behind the branch-flipping Daniel.
Ahead of her, O'Neill's grumbling grew with every step they took, hacking their way deeper into the dense underbrush. "For cryin' out– Daniel! Just how much further do we have to go!"
Daniel's voice was muffled, and Sam could barely make out his response. " . . . know. Ask Sam."
Sam nearly bumped into her Colonel as he stopped abruptly and turned. O'Neill shot out a hand to steady her. "Carter?"
Pulling out her small GPS, Sam checked the reading. "Shouldn't be too much further, Colonel." She glanced up from her device to find O'Neill's gaze intent on her face. "What?" Self-consciously she lifted a hand to her face, only to be stopped by O'Neill.
"Don't." O'Neill's hand shot out to capture hers. "It's just clotting." He leaned closer, and Sam caught her breath as his fingers gently traced the line of the scratch on her face.
"Is it bad?" Sam caught his gaze and couldn't deny the thrill that shot through his eyes held hers, the rich gold-flecked brown colored almost amber in what sunlight filtered through the dense grown.
The Colonel shook his head, then glanced back over his shoulder to where they could hear Teal'c and Daniel still cutting through the thicket. He looked back again at Sam. "No, but you got lucky. A little higher and your eye . . ." O'Neill frowned, then abruptly turned away as Daniel's excited shout was carried back to them. "Guess you were right, Carter. We are close."
Following closely, Sam lifted one hand in front of her face, but smiled as she realized that her Colonel was easing the branches as he passed, careful to keep them from flying back at her.
Sam yawned and stretched, settling herself deeper into her makeshift seat. She was exhausted. Two days of crawling, climbing, and scanning, and they'd yet to figure out how to enter the strange step-sided structure, but the energy readings recorded by the MALP certainly had originated from here. The already dim light had faded quickly as they arrived that first afternoon, and finally even Daniel had given up trying to take rubbings in the gathering darkness. Two days of frustration with nothing to show for it and, Sam frowned, counting the days, tonight was Christmas Eve.
Shifting again, she bit back a sigh as she found a more comfortable spot against the brush. As annoying as the thick underbrush had been during their trek here, it certainly made for comfortable seating once they'd arrived at their destination. Teal'c had completed his self-appointed nightly task of building their campfire, stacking the supply of wood against the almost solid wall of underbrush that ringed their small clearing. The merry little fire crackled and burned brightly, casting sharp, flickering shadows on the small tents and pensive figures gathered around the stone ring.
Shivering slightly, Sam zipped her jacket higher, wishing she'd brought a scarf. The pulsating signal had so intrigued the science teams and Hammond that they had forgone the usual 24-hour MALP observation of weather and planetary conditions. Therefore, the team was somewhat unprepared for the close to zero degree temperatures. Their first night, the Colonel had directed that Sam set up the tents, a very necessary decision. Sam found herself looking forward to crawling inside the one she shared with her CO, if only for the illusion of warmth the thin shelter provided.
Beside her O'Neill sat hunched over his steaming coffee, his eyes on the trees overhead, his expression pensive. Across the fire Daniel and Teal'c spoke in low tones, their heads bent low over the video playback on Daniel's recorder. Sam glanced from one to another of her teammates, watching as the fire played across their features. Daniel, always animated, in direct contrast to Teal'c's almost always solemn mien. Her gaze lingered longest, as it often did, on O'Neill. The sharp planes of his face, made mobile in the dancing light of the fire, intriguing her, drawing her in. She started as she realized he'd turned is deep eyes to her.
"S-sir?" Sam stammered slightly, hoping he'd attribute her stutter to the cold.
"It's Christmas Eve, and I know you . . ."
Sam looked quickly over to find Daniel and Teal'c watching them. Daniel offered a small smile and Teal'c impassive.
Clearing her throat, Sam gave them all a tiny smile. "Like I said, Colonel. No big plans."
"That's too bad." O'Neill's soft comment was low, and Sam almost missed it as Daniel spoke up.
"Um, you know," he scratched his cheek almost nervously, his gaze going from O'Neill to Sam and back again. "Today, when I was crawling around the back of the . . ." he waved toward the building rising above them, a dark bulk against a darker sky. I found some, um . . . well, it looks like . . ."
"Mistletoe!" Sam's exclamation brought a grin to Daniel's face.
"Yeah. Or something like it, I think." Ducking his head slightly, Daniel avoided O'Neill's gaze. Sam was very aware that her Colonel had grown very still beside her. "Anyway, since tonight's Christmas Eve and all, I thought . . ."
"You gonna plant one on Teal'c?" O'Neill's voice was dry and Sam hastily swallowed a chuckle at the look of confusion on the Jaffa's face.
Daniel looked from Teal'c to Jack before turning pleading eyes on Sam. "No, I, ah. Um. Well, I thought, you know. It being, ah, Christmas and all . . ." He trailed off, clearly realizing that this was probably not one of his best ideas.
Teal'c leaned forward, pulling the tangled cluster of leaves and berries from Daniel's grasp. "I do not understand the significance of this plant, Daniel Jackson."
"Ah. Well." Daniel settled back into his own seat, falling easily into lecture mode. "There are lots of customs," he began, clearly warming to his subject. "Some say that, according to custom, the mistletoe must not touch the ground between its cutting and its removal as the last of Christmas greens at Candlemas. It may remain hanging through the year, often to preserve the house from lightning or fire, until it was replaced the following Christmas Eve."
"And you wish us to hang these . . . branches . . . in our tent?" The Jaffa looked up at the sky, then at the campfire. "I do not believe we are in danger of either fire or lightning strike."
Sam smothered another laugh as she poured more hot water into her cup. Catching O'Neill's eye, she offered him the last of the hot water in their pot, listening as Daniel continued.
"Well, no, Teal'c. There are other traditions. Ah, in Norse mythology, Baldr was a god of vegetation. His mother Frigga, prompted by a prophetic dream, made every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to harm him. But Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant and the mischievous god Loki took advantage of this oversight, tricking the blind god Ho-oor into killing Baldr with a spear fashioned from mistletoe."
O'Neill grumbled as he sipped his coffee. "It's always something, isn't it? And what kind of a name is 'Loki'?"
Daniel frowned at Jack as he continued his explanation to Teal'c. "Baldr's death brought winter into the world until the gods restored him to life. Frigga declared the mistletoe sacred, ordering that from now on it should bring love rather than death into the world. So, it's become a tradition that, complying with Frigga's wishes, any two people passing under the plant from then on would celebrate Baldr's resurrection by kissing under the mistletoe."
Teal'c carefully laid the plant aside. "I am afraid I still do not understand, Daniel Jackson. You do not believe in gods and," he paused, frowning at Daniel, "I do not wish to kiss you." He glanced across the fire. "Nor, I believe, does O'Neill."
Sam gave up and laughed out loud, unable to contain herself any longer. After a moment she came to Daniel's rescue. "I think Daniel was trying to bring us some Christmas cheer, Teal'c. It's just tradition to kiss someone under the mistletoe." She stood and stepped around the fire, bending to break off a small cluster of green leaves and white berries. Holding it over her head she leaned down and quickly kissed first Daniel's cheek and then Teal'c's. "Merry Christmas, guys." Sam avoided O'Neill's gaze and instead shot Daniel another smile. "And thanks, Daniel," she murmured as she turned and opened her tent's flap, "that was a nice surprise." Slipping into the tent, she quickly closed the flap against the chilly wind.
She had just eased into her sleeping bag when O'Neill entered, sealing the tent flap as quickly as she had. Her back to him, Sam listened as he prepared for bed, mentally mapping his actions as he moved. Boot laces coming undone, then a soft grunt and thud as the boots slid from his feet. The whisper of cotton as his overshirt came off, followed by the slight crackle of static as he pulled on the worn thermal pullover he wore on particularly cold planets. Then . . . nothing. She'd expected the slither and shuffle of him sliding into his sleeping bag but . . . there was no sound.
Sam slowly turned over, just able to make out the dim shape of him by the diffused light of their campfire still filtering through the walls of the tent. He sat, still hunched over in the center of the tent, unmoving. She wondered if he'd hurt himself, or . . . "Sir?" Her soft whisper barely carried to the edge of the tent.
"Yeah?" O'Neill's voice was just as quiet, and she could hear that he hadn't moved at all.
Turning to face him fully, Sam raised herself up onto an elbow. She reached out to touch his arm, her concern rising. "Are you . . . is everything okay, Colonel?"
Sam felt him sigh, arm rising and falling with the movement. She let her hand fall away, suddenly unsure. The tent was warming now with the two of them in it. The silence between them lengthened and Sam felt a flush of embarrassment start to roll through her. Of course there was nothing wrong with him. Maybe she'd mistaken what she'd heard and had caught him while he was changing. Chagrined, she inched backward, ready to turn away from him, when his rough whisper reached her.
"Sam," O'Neill said softly. "You . . . you forgot someone tonight."
Her own voice as quiet as his and shaking just slightly, Sam shook her head slightly, despite knowing he wouldn't see the movement in the darkness of their tent. She sat up, her legs crossed inside of her sleeping bag, her hands fisted in the bags folds. "No, Sir. I didn't."
She heard–and felt–him shuffle closer in the darkness. "You didn't?"
"No. I . . . it seemed like a good idea to not . . ." she trailed off uncertainly, hoping he'd understand. Terrified that he'd understand. That he'd know just how much she'd wanted to include him.
Sam wondered if she imagined the disappointment in his voice. She closed her eyes as she heard him move again, unable to determine if he was moving closer . . . or further away. When he spoke again, his voice was rougher and nearer than she expected, and she jumped slightly, shivering in surprise.
"I guess I shouldn't have brought this in, then."
O'Neill's hand found hers, easing her grip on the bag. She felt him open her fingers, then drop a small bundle of . . . something into her hand. Something that felt like . . . Daniel's mistletoe. "Oh," she breathed, unable to form any other words. Or thoughts.
"I did promise you, Carter, to have you back for whatever it was you had planned, didn't I?"
Sam closed her hand around the bunch of leaves and berries, aware that his hand was still holding hers as she did so. "You did, Colonel, but it didn't matter. I really didn't have–"
"I know. But . . . I promised." O'Neill blew out a long breath, and Sam was close enough to him to feel it. "And I always keep my promises. Or I try. And since I couldn't . . . well, this is the best I can do."
O'Neill's hand lifted, taking hers with it, the bundle of quasi-mistletoe still clenched in her palm. He raised their joined hands high, then paused. Sam realized he was waiting for her, expecting her to resist, or to protest, and she found that she could not. Instead she leaned forward, balancing her other hand on his knee, bringing her face closer to his.
Slowly, in the darkness of their tent, Sam felt him lean close, felt the warmth of him as he neared, felt the brush of his breath across her face. She closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of him, savoring the moment. She expected a quick peck on the cheek and was electrified to feel his lips brush across hers.
A third time, this time lingering for a brief, tantalizing moment, withdrawing before she could react, leaving her bereft, reeling.
"Merry Christmas, Sam."
Before she could form coherent thought, he'd pulled away, laying her hand back down into her lap and then rolling over and into his own sleeping bag. Sam found herself sitting in the darkness, mistletoe tangled in her hand, her thoughts whirling and confused. Slowly she raised her hand to her face, inhaling the tangy scent of green leaves and berries, her sensed still full of him. The brief taste of him, the scent of him.
She slid back down in her own bag, carefully cradling the bundle, determined to pack it away carefully in the morning. That was so much better than anything I'd had planned . . . or could have even dreamed, she thought, as her mind slowly returned to normal. As she settled her head back onto her pillow, she turned and whispered into the darkness, "Merry Christmas, Jack."
To the women and men who are in service and far from home during this holiday season, please know that we are thinking of you.