Summary: Jack gets a pleasant surprise for the holidays.

Timeframe: Takes place sometime after Sam is relieved of command in Atlantis.

Characters/Pairing: SamJack, Cassie

Genre: Fluff, Family, Romance

Rating:T (mild)

Note: Written as a gift to Kirsty841 for sj_everyday's Secret Santa on LiveJournal.

I'll Be Home For Christmas

"Okay, kiddo, I'll see you soon. Drive safe. Bye." Jack hung up the phone, his heart feeling just a little bit lighter. At least he wouldn't be alone this Christmas.

Cassie was coming up to the cabin to spend the holiday with him, and he had an inkling that it had all been Sam's doing, so that he'd have some company. Cassie had said she was pleased to be spending her holiday with him. Jack had been somewhat of a surrogate father to the young woman over the years, and she was part of his family as much as SG-1 was. It was hard to think of Cassie as a young woman now, but that's what she was. She was a college girl, heading home for winter break. Well, as close to home as she could get these days.

Unfortunately for Jack, bureaucrats apparently didn't do holidays. Sam was tied up in Colorado, still working things out with the IOA, and trying to get them up to speed with what had been going on in Atlantis. Jack knew damn well that she wasn't happy about her command being ripped out from under her. After all she'd done, they didn't even give her notice.

Despite being outraged about what they'd done to Sam, and seething because he wasn't able to do anything about it, Jack couldn't help feeling a little relieved that she would at least be in the same galaxy as him. Who knew how long it would last, but Jack would take whatever he could get. Their relationship felt like it had barely gotten started when she'd been called to Atlantis in the first place, and he didn't want to pass up any moments he had to be with her.

Jack wouldn't freely admit it, but he was lonely. In DC he was surrounded by work, which made it just a little bit easier to bear at times, but when he went home to his rented apartment after hours, the cold, hollow loneliness would set in again. At least here, at the cabin, he had more familiar, comfortable surroundings. And good memories. He had plenty of good memories of Sam being at the cabin with him to stave off the loneliness until he could be with her again.

Striding into the bedroom, he opened up the linen closet to take out the sheets so he could make the bed. He grabbed the soft flannel ones that he'd gotten for Sam last winter. Jack grinned at a particularly fond memory involving those sheets.

"Seriously, Jack. It's so cold here at night. Even with the fireplace."

Jack gave her an incredulous look. "What? I thought I was doing a pretty good job of keeping you warm." He snuggled up against her back, enveloping her in his embrace, and holding on tight to prove his point.

Sam hummed softly, and he could feel the gentle vibrations against his chest as he tightened his arms around her. "Well, I think I just might have to cover up more when we go to bed," she teased.

Jerking back as though in horror at the idea, Jack shook his head dramatically. "Uh-uh. Can't have that. When it comes to sleepwear, less is more I always say."

Giggling, Sam leaned over and turned to look at him skeptically. "You always say that, huh?"

He grinned. "Yep." Then as the idea struck him, Jack pulled Sam against him again and tucked his face into the side of her neck. "Flannel," he murmured against her skin, smiling. "I'll buy you flannel sheets."

Sam laughed, both from the suggestion, and because his day old whiskers were probably tickling her neck. "Flannel sheets? They'll be warm enough?"

"Oh yeah," was his emphatic response. "Flannel sheets, naked Carter. I'll keep you plenty warm."

She just laughed at him again, turning in his arms to plant a kiss on him that told Jack exactly what she thought of that idea.

God, he loved making her laugh, Jack thought with a wistful sigh. He quickly finished with the bed, and feeling a chill in the air, went to go start a fire in the hearth, thinking of Sam.

-

When he heard the rental car crunching over the snow-covered driveway, Jack got up from the couch and made his way to the front door to greet Cassandra. As soon as he opened the door, Cassie launched herself into his arms, her face pressed against his flannel-clad chest.

"Jack! I missed you!"

He chuckled deeply as he held her for a while, lightly stroking her back. "Missed you too, kiddo. How the hell are ya?"

"I'm good." Cassie leaned back and smiled widely at him. "And, I uh . . . I got you an early Christmas present."

"Oh yeah?" Jack rose a suspicious eyebrow.

Cassie stepped aside, and from the side of the porch, Sam came forward, a duffle in one hand, and a big smile on her face.

"Merry Christmas, Jack."

"Sam," he breathed her name as a grin crept across his face. Jack reached out to her and pulled her against him, causing Sam to drop her bag. He held her tightly, breathing her in, and pressing his cheek against hers. "You're finished early."

"I did my best to speed things along." Sam leaned her head back and kissed him thoroughly, until Cassie voiced her teasing complaint.

"Ew, guys! Save it for later. And by later I mean when I'm far, far away and can't see or hear you. Gross."

Jack shot her a look, and Cassie shuddered for dramatic effect. He rolled his eyes, and Sam slowly drew back. "Yeah, like you don't do that with your boyfriends."

Cassie picked up her own bag again. "But you guys are old." She made a face, squeezing past them and abandoning the chilly outside air for the warmth of the cabin.

Jack barked out a laugh, then bent to gather Sam's duffel.

While he was leaning over, Sam playfully swatted his backside and whispered, "For the record, I don't think you're old."

With a smug grin on his face, Jack straightened and quickly followed the two women inside to escape the chill of the frosty Minnesota winter air.

-

Heaving a contented sigh, Sam tugged the blanket around her and Jack tighter, snuggling closer against his side. The fire in the hearth had warmed much of the cabin significantly, and gave Sam a pleasant, comfortable feeling. Cassie had cheerfully put It's a Wonderful Life in the DVD player she'd brought along, and they were all seated around the living room watching the movie, and consequently, because of the late hour, drifting off to sleep.

Jack was snoring softly by the middle of the movie, and judging by the lack of movement from Cassie, who was snuggled into a pile of blankets on the floor, she was sleeping as well.

Leaning away from Jack to reach for the remote, Sam was surprised to feel his hand lightly grasp her arm. She turned to him, smiling at the glazed, sleepy look in his dark, twinkling eyes.

"Where you goin'?" he mumbled in a dopey, sleep-filled whisper.

"To turn off the movie," she said softly with a small laugh. "I think it's time to go to bed."

Jack's brows lifted, and it was comical how suddenly alert he became, a sly gleam in his eyes. "Okay," he said eagerly.

Sam laughed again and rolled her eyes, grabbing the remote as he released her arm. She knew right where his mind had gone, and truthfully, she was looking forward to the same thing. She hadn't been home in far too long, and was sorely missing Jack in every way possible.

As she got up to wake Cassie and sent the girl off to bed, she noticed Jack quickly sneaking off to the bedroom. Sam contemplated leaving the young woman to sleep on the floor, because she looked so cozy in all the comfy blankets, lulled by the warmth of the fire.

Figuring Cassie would still be more comfortable in a bed, and would probably go right back to sleep, oblivious of her and Jack's nighttime activities, Sam wound up waking her surrogate daughter.

Cassie was out again almost as soon as she was under the covers. Sam bent over to kiss her forehead, as though she were still a child, then quietly left the room, closing the door softly behind her.

Striding into the master bedroom, Sam felt her heart flutter with unyielding love for this man that had come to mean so much to her over the years. The lights were out, but Jack had a few candles lit on the dresser, with the bedcovers already turned down, revealing the cranberry red flannel sheets he'd bought for her last winter. As Jack emerged from the en suite in a white t-shirt and plaid boxers, Sam strode toward him purposefully, her arms going about his waist as she leaned forward to kiss him.

"Mrm," Jack hummed happily into the kiss as she deepened it and allowed him to walk her backwards to the bed, one hand in her hair, the other at the small of her back.

"I missed you, Jack," Sam whispered as she lay back on the bed, smiling at him hovering over her, his dark eyes filled with need and love.

"Me too." His lips quirked into the crooked little grin she loved so much, and he leaned down to kiss her again. "Welcome home, Sam," Jack murmured into her ear.

As Jack leaned back so she could pull off her sweater and jeans, she felt a flash of heat wash over her at the sight of his obvious arousal. She let him take off her bra, and before they could go any further, firmly whispered, "We have to be quiet, I don't want Cassie to hear."

There was a brief shift in his expression as he remembered the young woman sleeping in their guest room, and then he nodded as Sam's deft hands reached out to pull the t-shirt over his head. "You got it." The fiery, amorous flash lit his eyes up again, and he smirked.

Sam tugged at the waistband of his boxers the same time he reached for her panties. A swell of desire made her stomach flutter. She was more than ready to be welcomed home.

-

Sam slid a cup of coffee over to Jack across the kitchen table. He gave her an appreciative smile and inhaled the intoxicating aroma. Looking over at Sam, then at Cassie, who was inhaling her own cup of coffee, Jack said, "So, who wants to come pick out a Christmas tree with me?"

Cassie eyed him quizzically. "There are tree farms way out here?"

"Nah." Jack grinned boyishly. "We're gonna get a tree the old fashioned way."

"As in tromping through the snow and hacking down a tree yourself?" Sam asked with mild amusement. The childlike glee in his chocolate-brown eyes was infectious.

"Exactly!" he exclaimed, taking a slow sip of his coffee, then eyeing Sam and Cassie across the table. "So, who's with me?"

Sam got up from the table, taking her mug of coffee and going over to the kitchen window. She peered out at the frosty landscape beyond the double-paned glass, and shivered. "Um, I think I'll stay inside and bake cookies."

"Cookies?" Jack asked with interest.

Turning around, Sam smiled and sauntered back to the table, reclaiming her seat. "It's Christmas Eve, and tomorrow's Christmas. We need cookies. It's tradition. Daniel and Teal'c should be arriving in the morning. I'll make cookie platters for everyone to take home."

"That's a good idea," Cassie agreed.

"But you're making some just for us, too, right?" Jack asked hopefully.

Sam sent him a reassuring smile. "Absolutely."

"Sweet." Jack grinned, then shot a look at Cassie. "Looks like it's you, me, and a tree, kiddo!" he exclaimed cheerfully.

Cassie shrugged with a sigh. "Okay, but if I get frostbite, I'm blaming you."

Jack snorted. "Buck up, Cass, it's not that cold."

Groaning, Cassie sent Sam a pleading look, although Sam suspected that the college student would go with Jack anyway, because she liked spending time with him.

"You'll have fun," Sam insisted, then with a smug look on her face, said, "Dress warm."

"Yes! Let's go!" Grinning triumphantly, Jack shot up from the table and started putting on his boots.

"Ah, Jack?" Cassie tried before Sam could say anything, holding back a giggle. "To start; pants."

He turned around slowly, then looked down at himself to see that he was only wearing his robe, boxers, and a t-shirt. Sam was amused to watch his ears turn pink. "Right. I should get dressed first."

Sam and Cassie were laughing as he kicked his boots off and skittered back to the bedroom.

-

Finding that Jack had absolutely no ingredients for her to make her cookies, Sam took the rental SUV and drove into town to do a little shopping.

By the time she got back, Sam was half expecting Jack and Cassie to have returned already, but they were still out tromping through the woods somewhere, probably searching for that elusive, perfect Christmas tree.

After digging her mother's Christmas cookie recipe book out of her bag, Sam pulled out some baking sheets, preheated the oven, and got to work.

She was putting the second batch of gingerbread cookies in the oven when she heard voices outside, and peered out the kitchen window to see Jack and Cassie emerging from the woods. Jack was carrying a modest-sized blue spruce on his right shoulder, and Cassie was skipping alongside him in the snow, holding the hatchet in her gloved hands. The two looked to be chatting amiably, and Cassie was smiling like she was a little kid again. The scene warmed Sam's heart, and she wanted to be a part of it.

Quickly pulling on her jacket and boots, Sam went out the back door, making her way off the deck to greet her family.

"Hey, guys!" Sam waved, carefully going down the icy steps when she saw Cassie lay the hatchet in the snow and gather up a handful of the white powder.

Apparently conspiring with Cassie, Jack lowered the tree from his shoulder and started to gather his own snow.

"Oh no, you don't!" Sam squealed, hurriedly making a snowball and tossing it at Cassie before running for cover as one of Jack's snowballs hurled her way.

The sound of his laughter as he chased after her made Sam's heart fill with happiness, fit to burst. She felt a heavy snowball connect with her back, staggered slightly, and turned to retaliate, hitting Jack in the chest before he lightly tackled her.

Sam was laughing hysterically, catching her breath as Jack fell on top of her, the two of them landing in a big pile of heavy, deep snow.

With a big grin, Jack leaned down to kiss her, his cold lips warming instantly against hers. It lasted a sweet moment, then he rolled onto his back to sprawl beside her in the cold snow, both of them breathing heavy as their laughter faded.

Much to their horror, the sudden war cry from Cassie startled them, and they both jerked their heads up from the snow in time to see the young woman drop an armful of the freezing white powder on top of them.

"Ha!" Cassie cried triumphantly, laughing. "I got you guys!"

Sam heard Jack sputtering beside her as they climbed out of the snow, shaking themselves off and still laughing, though Sam was freezing her butt off, and assumed Jack was as well.

Glancing sideways at her fellow ice man, Sam shared a conspiratorial look with him, then as one, with a synchronization born of many hours in the field together, they took Cassie by surprise. Jack wrapped her in a bear hug while Sam gathered snow and stuffed it down the back of her collar, laughing evilly as Cassie squealed.

"Oh my God! That's COOOOOOLD!" Cassie shrieked, doing a comical dance as Jack released her. She jumped around in circles trying to shake the show out of her jacket. "SO not fair, guys," she scowled, though her eyes were full of laughter.

Jack chuckled loudly next to Sam, pulling her against his side, then tugging Cassie against the other side. He kissed them both on the tops of their snowy heads. "Okay fellow abominable snow rats, who wants to go inside and warm up by the fire with some hot chocolate?"

"I do!" Cassie exclaimed eagerly, making her teeth chatter for good measure.

Sam laughed, tucking her head into Jack's shoulder. The thought of snuggling up next to him again was very enticing. "Yeah, me too." Suddenly, she remembered the cookies in the oven, and pulled away from Jack before making a run for the cabin.

"Sam!" Jack called after her, laughing, and probably wondering what the hell had gotten into her.

"Cookies!" She yelled back in explanation, nearly slipping on the porch steps as she scrambled inside.

-

Dragging the tree into the house, Jack and Cassie immediately began to set it up in the tree stand that was waiting in the corner of the living room. He'd shucked his boots on the way inside, not wanting to track snow all over the cabin, only to realize that his damn socks were soaking wet. And cold!

"Jack, Cassie! It's a miracle; the cookies didn't burn!" Sam exclaimed cheerfully from the kitchen.

Grinning, Jack finished securing the tree in place and stood, wincing at the crack and accompanying ache in his shoddy right knee. He staggered slightly as he got up, and noticed that both Cassie and Sam were giving him a look. "What?"

"You're soaking wet," Cassie said first.

Jack nodded. Yeah, he was. He and Cassie had been out there a long time searching for the perfect tree, slogging through deep snow. Their impromptu snowball fight hadn't helped with his situation either. He'd worn long johns under his clothes, but didn't have waterproof snow pants like Cassie had been wearing. He shrugged. "I'll go change."

"I'll go get the tree decorations," Cassie said, excusing herself, and quickly scampering off to the big closet where he always kept them.

Jack tried, and failed, to hide his slight limp as he headed down the hall to change, absently aware of Sam following him. She was right behind him as he went into the bedroom and started peeling off his freezing, wet outer layer of clothing, starting with his socks. He glanced back at her. "You're not so dry either, Sam," he pointed out with a crooked half smile.

Sam looked down at her pants and socks, wiggling her toes. "Yeah, thought I'd better change, too." Smiling back at him, she went to her dresser and started taking out sweatpants.

Tugging off his outer shirt, Jack tossed it on the floor and pulled his thermal shirt out from his pants.

"How's your knee?" Sam asked, catching him off-guard.

He paused and looked over at her, hands poised at the button on his pants. Jack sent her a disarming smile and flexed the aforementioned joint with a faint grimace. "Just a little stiff from the cold. You know how it goes."

And she did know, which was really something, he thought. She always knew more about him than she ever let on over the years. It wasn't until they'd started dating that they both realized how well they already knew each other. It was amazing how in tune they were to one another's body language and mannerisms. The talking and more open feelings sharing came later, but what they had already was a good start that just led to better things.

"Why don't you take a hot shower to help loosen you up. I'll put some milk on the stove for hot chocolate, and finish decorating the cookies while Cassie deals with the tree lights." Sam smiled warmly at him.

"Alright." Jack nodded, shucking his pants and thermal shirt. He glanced at her sideways, standing there in his long johns and pausing at the bathroom door to waggle his eyebrows suggestively when he caught her eye. "Sure you don't wanna join me?"

Sam released a heartfelt laugh. She pulled up the dry pair of sweatpants, wiggling her hips, which only made him want her more. "Cassie's waiting. Rain check?"

He heaved a dramatic sigh, feigning severe disappointment. Jack's fingers tapped against the wooden doorframe. "I guess," he mumbled like a child who hadn't gotten his way.

Stripping off the last of his clothing, Jack smirked as Sam whistled at him before he closed the door. That woman did wonderful things for his ego, that was for sure.

-

Sam handed Cassie a mug of hot chocolate as the teen worked at untangling the lights for the tree, and when she returned to the kitchen for her mug and Jack's, smiled widely as Jack was there to greet her.

They met in front of the counter, and Jack wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. She pressed her face into his chest, breathing in the freshly-showered scent of him, the soft knit fabric of his sweater warm against her cheek. Her hands were around his waist, and she looked up to kiss him, smiling. "How's the knee?"

That crooked grin she so loved adorned his face. "Better now that I'm warmed up." He kept his arms around her, rocking them from side to side.

Despite the fact that she wouldn't mind staying there for hours, wrapped up in his arms, Cassie was waiting for them to help with the tree, and the hot chocolate was getting cold. Sam reluctantly pulled back, reaching for the mugs on the counter and pushing one into Jack's hand. "Come on, we've got tree decorating to do."

Jack sipped at his hot chocolate, an amused expression on his face when she tugged at his hand. "Yes, ma'am."

-

When several feet of tangled lights had finally been unwound, Sam, Jack, and Cassie strung them around the tree. Then, as Jack dug into the red, silver, and blue bulbs, he passed them over to Cassie and Sam before pausing on a plain-looking, flat silver star ornament. He smiled pensively, running the tip of his index finger lightly over the etched engraving in the middle of the sterling silver. It read, simply: Here's to Always.

Jack remembered giving Sam that ornament almost two years ago, their first Christmas spent as a couple. He'd actually gotten the star engraved the same year her dad had died, but had kept putting off giving it to her, concerned that the gift wouldn't have been appropriate. He hadn't gotten the nerve until they were together.

"Jack?" Sam's gaze shifted to him with concern.

With a wry grin, he held up the ornament, twisting it in his fingers. "Remember this?"

The bright smile that lit up her whole face absolutely warmed Jack's heart. "Of course I do." Sam lightly took the ornament from him, holding it reverently. She met his eyes, and another expression flitted across her face. "And I remember the first time you told me always, too."

"Yeah?" He cocked his head slightly, absently picking up another ornament from the box.

She nodded, then softly and sincerely told him, "Yeah. And it meant as much to me then as it does now."

Not resisting the urge to hold Sam at the moment, Jack got up off the couch, setting the assorted ornament box on the coffee table and slowly pulling her into his arms. He smiled into her hair, inhaling her intoxicating scent as she rested her head on his shoulder. "I love you, Sam," he murmured.

"Me, too." Sam looked up to kiss Jack, and he responded with slow, building passion. Soon their hands were moving over one another, and her tongue was skimming along the back of his teeth.

They were both so lost in the moment, they'd failed to remember that Cassie was in the room until she loudly cleared her throat.

"Um . . . Guys? Hello?" Cassie dangled an ornament in her hand when they broke apart to glance over at her, both of their faces slightly flushed.

Sam shared a sheepish look with Jack, their arms still around one another. Then Jack reached into the box on the table and pulled something out that she couldn't see right away. He held it above their heads, and Sam laughed as she realized what it was.

"Mistletoe," Jack muttered as a poor excuse, dangling the plastic mistletoe ornament above them and shrugging.

Cassie rolled her eyes and looked away, focusing on decorating the tree and probably trying to forget what she'd just seen, though Sam could swear she saw a flicker of a smile on the young woman's face.

They reluctantly broke apart, then Jack placed a chaste kiss on her cheek before moving over to the tree.

-

As Jack sauntered into the bedroom, chewing something, Sam propped herself up on an elbow in bed, eyeing him suspiciously. "So, how many cookies have you stolen already?"

Sam stifled her laugh as Jack froze, looking terribly guilty. She watched him nearly choke as he quickly swallowed. "None!" He exclaimed, almost squeaking as he pulled the sweater over his head, leaving the t-shirt beneath on.

Hooking a finger, she motioned toward her, eyes narrowed. "Let me smell your breath," she threatened, inwardly grinning devilishly.

"Er, I gotta go brush my teeth," Jack muttered, dropping his pants and nearly tripping over them as he hurried into the bathroom.

Sam laughed, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. "Yeah, that's what I thought."

She curled up beneath the covers, comforted by the warmth of the flannel sheets and snuggling into the mattress as she waited for Jack to join her.

It had been a good day. They'd finished with the tree before breaking for a light lunch, and had then snuck off to separate rooms for last-minute present wrapping. The trio watched sappy Christmas movies until Jack couldn't take it anymore and decided to go outside to shovel the walkway. Sam and Cassie had both laughed at him, but gave him credit for sticking it out as long as he did. That brought an instant smile to Sam's face.

Their Christmas Eve dinner had been a simple affair. Jack made spaghetti with a tomato cream sauce and Cassie did the garlic bread while Sam scrambled to finish a few more batches of holiday cookies. They ate companionably, each taking the time to give updates on their lives. They laughed and joked, keeping the mood light, and just enjoying one another's company.

Sam couldn't have been more grateful to be spending the holiday with Jack and Cassie, who were pretty much her closest family at this time in her life. With her father gone, and her brother across the country, Jack and Cassie - Jack especially - were her constants in life. Cassie was a grown woman making her way through college, soon to have a life of her own. Jack was her rock; her home. He was, and always would be there for her. It was something she could count on, something she needed to count on.

-

Jack spat in the sink, rinsed his mouth, then dried his face with a towel and ambled out of the bathroom. He smiled when he saw Sam curled up in bed waiting for him, nearly buried beneath the blankets and cozy flannel sheets. Despite the heat from the fire in the living room, it was chilly, and he was only dressed in boxers and a t-shirt. Hurrying toward the bed, Jack lifted the covers and quickly snuggled up behind Sam.

She squeaked softly as he wrapped his arms around her, his cold feet brushing against warm, bare legs. He was amused to discover that she was wearing one of his old flannels and not much else.

Jack nuzzled the back of her neck affectionately, her long hair tickling his nose, and they both squirmed around a little get comfortable, the bed comforter nearly over their heads.

"Did you want to cash in on that rain check?" Sam asked while he trailed a few kisses along her jaw line.

"Maybe later," he whispered huskily into her ear. Jack gave her a tender squeeze, placing one final kiss on the corner of her mouth, then settling and relaxing behind her. "Right now, I'm content to have this." And he really was.

Jack hadn't been expecting to see Sam at all until Christmas night at the earliest. It had been quite a pleasant surprise to have her arrive with Cassie. Sam was definitely the best gift he could receive this year.

Tilting his head a little, Jack smiled into the back of her neck, breathing deep and inhaling her familiar scent.

"Hm. Me too," Sam murmured contently in return, her hand finding the arm draped over her and tangling their fingers together. "Did you put Cassie's gifts under the tree and fill her stocking?"

"Yep." Jack nodded, twisting slightly and propping himself up a little to peer at the clock on the night table.

Sam rolled towards him, propping herself up an elbow. "What?"

He looked her in the eyes as a grin slowly spread across his face. "It's after midnight." Jack settled down again, on his back this time. "It's Christmas," he said softly.

"Merry Christmas, Jack." Sam cuddled up against him, draping an arm across his stomach and laying her head on his chest.

Jack wrapped one arm around her, making sure she was snugly against him. He closed his eyes, feeling content and happy. "Merry Christmas, Sam."

He didn't know what lay ahead for them in the future, or what crazy stuff the universe might throw at them, but right now, in this moment, this Christmas, Sam was his, and Jack wouldn't have it any other way.

-The End-