CHRISTMAS OF OPPORTUNITIES

DISCLAIMERS: The only things I own are my mistakes.

A/N: Thanks to Ruralstar for giving my muse the push…
Thanks to Jenn for extra-speed Beta-reading!

A/N: the recipe for stuffed mushrooms can be found at http://www.vernalisapartymenus.com/state23.html

Copyright © Anakin David 2004

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Jack glanced through the window panel from his office to the briefing room. SG-1 had just arrived and were calmly taking seats around the table.

He signed at the bottom of the last page of the file he was reading, closed it, and then stood up and opened the door to the briefing room.

He felt Sam tense as he smiled and welcomed them: since he had been promoted, more than ever, she felt the need to keep up military protocol, and that annoyed him a great deal, but unfortunately, he couldn’t do anything about it.

Inexorably, Sam Carter was drifting from him, and the only thing he could do was to acknowledge this.

He went to sit at his usual place then crossed his hands in front of him, a smile plastered onto his face.

"Guys, with the arrival of the Holiday season, I’ve got some great news for you."

He observed them looking expectantly at him, then sat leaning on the back of his chair, his fingers lightly drumming on the top of the table.

"Mrs. Johnson has moved," he said smugly.

Teal’c raised an eyebrow, proof that he didn’t understand what this meant, and Sam dared ask:

"Sir?"

Daniel was quicker in understanding.

"Mrs. Johnson… *The* Mrs. Johnson? That obnoxious neighbor of yours?"

"Yep!" he grinned.

"And you called upon this meeting just to tell us that, sir?" Sam was perplexed.

"Yes, but… Let me finish the story… Mrs. Abigail Johnson, 78, has just moved into a retirement home. It appears that she has no heir, and she’s asked me to be the legal keeper of her small house, and rent it to someone I trusted so that it could stay in good shape until she decides otherwise. Mrs. Johnson’s house is right next to mine and would perfectly suit a lone person. It’s a two bedroom house with garage and a little garden - obviously not for a large family with kids. I have found the perfect guy for the job," he smiled, his eyes ending up on Teal'c’s impassive form.

"Teal’c?" Sam asked, nonplussed.

"Yes, Teal'c!" he announced proudly.

"Err… Jack, you do remember what happened the last time we decided to let Teal'c out of the mountain?" Daniel turned to Teal'c with an apologetic look "Sorry, Teal'c."

The big man nodded in understanding.

"Yes, I remember, but I have the president’s authorization, and contrary to the last time, Teal'c will live right next to me, in a quiet suburb. I’ll see to it that he ‘behaves’," he said, eyeing Teal'c. "Right, T’?"

"I feel most honored, O'Neill, this time I shall endeavor to remain discreet."

"Well, you saw my neighborhood, almost all are middle aged or old people… The only thing you could help them with if they ask you to, is to trim the hedge or mow the lawn, and with your schedule, you will hardly be able to do that. If you need to perfect your Tai Chi techniques, do that in your own garden and stay under the radar, because if you slip just this bit," he showed with his thumb and index finger almost touching each other, "I’ll have to drag you down to the mountain for good. I know it’s watched freedom, but it’s the most I can do for now. If you manage well, they may give you a little more leeway…"

"They?" Sam asked.

Jack cringed. "The NID will be monitoring him for awhile," he said in a blow.

Daniel snorted. "Yeah, talk about freedom!"

"I’m sorry, Daniel, but they agreed on this one condition!"

"Until they decide to kidnap him and take him down to one of their own facilities! At least he’s protected here!" Daniel exclaimed with an unusual vehemence.

"Wow! Daniel, calm down, T’s entitled to have a life outside of the SGC now. He’s been among us for eight years, and helped us I can’t recall how many times, he’s my responsibility, if he does something wrong, I’ll be the first to take the blame!" Jack replied harshly.

"O'Neill, Daniel Jackson!" Teal'c rose from his seat.

Jack sharply turned to the big man and his eyes locked with his.

"I am most honored that you would place such a high level of confidence in my ability to absorb this world’s customs and live by them, O'Neill. But if it becomes a subject of discord, then I would rather remain in my personal quarters here."

"This is not a subject of discord, just mother hen Daniel playing it a tad too cautious. I trust you, T’, and so should Daniel. What do you think, Carter?"

Sam had observed the exchange from afar, waiting for the storm to subside. She shook her head slightly.

"I don’t see any problem, Sir. Daniel, the general is right. Teal'c should be able to come out of the mountain, it’s been his residence for the past eight years, and I think you would go nuts if you had to do that yourself. His self control and dedication to our cause is what kept him sane, and--"

"Dedication to our cause?" he snorted. "Yeah, that’s what it is all about, dedication to our cause, suffering by our cause…"

"Hold on, Daniel!" Jack said warningly.

"No, I won’t, Jack! How many times have we had to sacrifice for our cause?! For the greater good? When is it going to end? I lost my wife, I ascended, you had your mind overcome by Ancient knowledge twice, Sam will never be the same again thanks to Jolinar, and Teal’c’s been living in exile far from his loved ones for eons, not to mention he lost his wife too! I’m sick of it!"

"Where does that come from, Daniel?" Sam asked, astonished at her friend’s declaration.

Daniel’s anger suddenly vanished and his shoulders fell as if he was supporting the mountain itself. He took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes, the others waiting for him to talk.

He raised his head and looked at Jack.

"I’m tired, Jack," he sighed. "All the pressure… I guess it’s getting on my nerves and I… I can’t bear the weight of it anymore. I need to cool off for a while, do something different."

"You want to quit?" Jack asked very seriously.

"Let’s call it ‘extended leave’ instead. I don’t know if I want to quit yet. When we first went through the gate, you and me, I was exhilarated, then I met Sha’re and…" he shook his head. "She’s been dead more than eight years, at least to me. I need to take a break, Jack."

Jack leant back on his seat, and eyed Carter, silently communicating with her.

"All right, Daniel. Take whatever leave you need to take. I’ll put SG-1 off the roll for a while, the holiday season is coming soon and I didn’t plan on sending any team out there anyway. There’s some maintenance on the installations long overdue that will keep you busy, Carter, and Teal'c… Well if you want to take that opportunity to move your stuff to Mrs. Johnson’s…"

"Thank you, Jack." Daniel said simply.

"No sweat, buddy. If you need anything…"

"No, I won’t be contacting you for a while. I won’t tell anything, you can trust me on that, actually, I’d like to go to P3L-997 and remain there until I decide what to do."

"P3L-997? It’s a desert, Daniel!" Sam exclaimed.

"That’s why I want to go. Abydos…"

"Oh! Sorry…. Of course," Sam said, blushing at her lack of understanding at first.

"All right, I can't give you a GDO. If you want to come back, use your radio, we'll send a MALP then a team to get you. Will that be okay?"

"Yeah. I understand. I might bring a few books with me, but I don’t intend on working, now if I could have some kind of supplies… There are some animals, plants, and water in some kinds of oasis on the planet as I recall, but just to begin with…"

"Sure, and Daniel?"

"Yes?" Come back well…"

"I’ll try to, Jack," the younger man said with a tired smile.

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"Teal’c, that sofa will never get through that door, why don’t we try the window instead?!" Jack exclaimed cursing, bumping his knee against the frame of the big object for the umpteenth time.

He grimaced as the big man finally let the sofa on the ground and he sat on it, rubbing his knee.

"Are you unwell, O'Neill?"

"What? Oh no! I’m perfectly fine! Who needs knees anyway? As if mine were not already shot?! And where’s Daniel when you need him?!" he cried in frustration, his closed fist hitting the arm rest.

"Hey guys!" Sam said cheerfully, coming from the interior of the small house, "I made you hot chocolate to warm you up!" she gave Teal'c a steaming mug and came to sit next to Jack with her tray carrying a second mug.

He took the proffered beverage with a thankful look and smelt the brown liquid before taking a sip, like it were a fine wine.

"Hmmmm!" he moaned. "I hadn’t had hot chocolate in I don’t know how long! Sara used to make Charlie and I some when we came back from playing outside in the winter," he said, a brief dreamy look passing on his face.

Sam smiled slightly. For once, she felt none of the usual angst in Jack’s voice as he mentioned his past, happy life. He seemed just-- nostalgic, maybe?

He finished his mug in a few gulps and put it back on the tray. Sam looked at him mesmerized.

"What? I have something on my nose or what?" he asked, rubbing furiously at his nose with his ungloved hand.

Sam chuckled.

"No, sir… I was just wondering how you didn’t burn your throat considering the speed you drank at. The milk was boiling when I prepared it!"

He grinned boyishly.

"Minnesota boy, here, Carter! My mom did the same when I was a kid!" he smiled fully, and then stood up, flexing his knee carefully.

"All right, T’? Let’s get this over with and then we’re done! Oh, and Carter? I’m barbecuing tomorrow, interested?"

Sam’s features saddened a short while, but enough for him to notice.

"Ah no sweat, Carter, if you and Pete have plans--"

"No! No… Pete won’t be home… He’s in Denver."

"Ah sorry, I didn’t mean to…"

"No, it’s okay, really," she said smiling and putting her hand on his forearm, "He’s at a friend’s birthday, but Teal'c was planned first, so he went without me," she said, smiling reassuringly.

Teal'c overheard.

"I am sorry you had to cancel your week end with Detective Shanahan over me, Colonel Carter, had I known, I would have refused for you to come," he said.

She smiled broadly.

"No, it’s okay, really… Last time you moved, neither I nor the general could help you, and it’s been ages since we did something like this together. It’s nice to be with you guys. To be honest, I don’t particularly appreciate his friends anyway."

Jack was watching her sharply until she noticed and blushed slightly. He smiled softly.

"So does that mean you’ll be coming tomorrow?"

"Sure, I’ll bring a cake, okay?"

"Chocolate?" Jack asked, raising an eyebrow mischievously.

"Always!" she said, smiling with her tongue in her cheek.

"Sweet!"

He then took his side of the heavy sofa and maneuvering through the glass window panel, Teal'c and he managed to set the sofa inside.

Once again, Jack sat down heavily on it, wiping his brow with the back of his arm.

"I love Daniel’s presents," he started "he wants to get rid of his old sofa, offers it to you, and does anyone see Dr. Jackson here today to help us move it in?"

"Daniel Jackson had given it to me the first time I tried to get an apartment, O'Neill."

"I know, T’, I wish it was him helping you move instead of me! Not that I’m not overjoyed to have you as my new neighbor, buddy but I’m far too old to be carrying furniture that heavy."

"Age is a matter of spirit, O'Neill."

"Oh then rest assured, Sir, if this is true, you’re no more than ten years old!" Sam joked.

O'Neill frowned at her.

"Carter?!" he said warningly.

"Did I say that aloud?" she sounded surprised.

Jack sighed, rubbing his eyes with the sole of his hands.

"I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the damn archaeologist," he said tiredly.

Sam became serious.

"Have you notheard of him yet, O'Neill?" Teal'c asked.

"Nope, otherwise I’d have told you. He left about a week ago, I hope whatever he needs to do won’t take too long, and that he will stay with the program. You can’t imagine the amount of paperwork I’d have to fill for both his replacement and his departure!"

Sam looked at him, meeting his gaze for a short moment. It was his way to show his anguish through sarcasm, and if she knew him well, he was a lot worried at Daniel’s latest outburst and subsequent departure to a desert planet.

Jack stood up then and fished for his keys in his pocket.

"All right, I’ll leave you to rearrange the place as you wish, T’, my shower is calling for me. I know you’re a careful person, but in this case, be EXTRA-careful, okay? Carter, I’ll see you tomorrow," he nodded towards her and stepped out in the garden through the window by which they had made the sofa come in.

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Daniel had settled a couple of clicks from the gate. The gate itself was in the middle of an abandoned ancient city which the remaining stones were eroded by the sand winds, but when he had come with SG3 the first time, they had discovered a small Oasis away from the city, which provided shelter, water, edible fruits and various wild vegetables which nutritious properties had been studied at the SGC.

He had set his tent next to a small embankment which would give him protection in case of a sand storm. Not far from the area ran a small stream of clear water, its source being a subterranean lake detected once again through their preliminary observation. He had a few ration bars and MRE, fruits all around, water, and a patch of lentil-like vegetables nearby he could harvest and consume if needed. He could stay there for some time.

He came back from his everyday walk around his little paradise - as he called it sarcastically - drank a little, and settled against a tree, grabbing his journal.

‘I am all set, finally. I conducted a preliminary search of the area, and so far, I haven’t noticed any immediate threat, Jack would be proud of me.

I wonder what made those people leave? The Goa’ulds probably…’

He paused, sucking the bottom of his pen staring at the sand, and then resumed.

‘I don’t really know what came over me, maybe it’s because the tenth anniversary of my meeting Sha’re is approaching, maybe all these experiences are finally taking their toll on my nerves, I don’t know. I just needed time to think and try and reassess who I really am, and what I want. The SGC is not all I want. Sarah’s liberation last year stirred some old feelings that I would like to feel again one day, not necessarily with her - and that’s a complicated matter. Sarah has changed a lot through her ordeal, I might be the ideal person to understand and comfort her, but I don’t want comfort. It’s harsh from me to say that, but for once I want to be on the receiving end of comfort, not the one always giving it.

Look at us, all battered by our experiences, and for what? We save our world, we beat the Goa’uld, and they come back… It’s a never ending charade. Of course it’s worth it, but what about us? What makes us human is what we miss the most in our situation.

Teal’c is estranged from his perfect match and his son by several billions of light years, Sam is in a relationship for the wrong reasons, Jack is an old solitary wounded bear, and I’m a basket case. Emotionally speaking, SG-1 - or what remains of it - is a wreck.

What am I doing here? Desert landscapes have always provided me some kind of peace, and that’s what I hope to find. Peace. The planet is deserted, I’m not expecting a miracle Sha’re to appear out of no-where, but maybe time will help me see clearer and come back to my friends.

Time will tell…’

Daniel stopped scribbling and put his journal down by his side. He rested his head on the trunk and closed his eyes a few seconds before standing up and putting his journal back in his tent.

As he emerged from the shelter, he saw a fish-like creature leap out of the stream to gobble a fly - probably.

"Time for fishing… Jack would be so proud!"

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The smell of grilled steak filled her nostrils as she rounded the house to join Teal'c and the general behind the house.

The sun was shining bright, but the air was crisp and cold, and her breath came out as a small condensation cloud. She pushed her scarf up her neck and strolled to where both men were talking while preparing lunch.

"Carter!" Jack exclaimed beaming.

Her answering smile was heart felt, and she waved the cardboard box containing the promised cake in front of her.

"Ooh goody!" the general said as he put yet another piece of meat on the grill. "Teal'c, go inside with Carter, and bring the tray I put on the counter. Carter, I made some space in the fridge for the cake, you can bring the salad I made, and there’s sour cream somewhere in my fridge, too."

"Yes sir! I’m on my way, sir!" she winked.

Jack rolled his eyes as Sam passed him chuckling softly.

10 minutes later, they were all seated around the table, fresh steaks steaming in front of them, with a large bowl of potatoes Jack had cooked under the ash while barbecuing.

 

"We hadn’t done that in a long time," Sam said, blissfully enjoying her coffee on one of Jack’s lounge deck chairs.

"As a matter of fact, Colonel Carter, we have gathered at O'Neill’s on many occasions since his promotion," Teal'c said, earning a warning glare from Jack.

She turned to him, not knowing whether to be offended or surprised.

"I wasn’t invited?"

Jack sighed.

"It appeared that most of the times we were planning on a gathering at O'Neill’s, you had other plans with Pete Shanahan."

"I only refused one!" she said indignantly.

"Indeed. The next two you said that you were going out for the week end, before we even asked you."

"Oh," Sam was speechless for a while. "What about the other times?"

"After a while I told them not to bother you with it, Carter."

"Well, thanks!" Now she was frankly irritated.

"Have you not been unavailable most of our downtime since you were promoted?" Teal'c asked, raising an eyebrow.

That sobered her a little.

"I…. Yes, you’re right, I was. First either Pete would make the trip down here or I to Denver, and then when he settled in he wanted to know the area better, until he bought the house and wanted to re-decorate. Actually I haven’t had one week end for myself for a long time," she concluded in a blow, then looked at her friends apologetically. "I’m sorry, guys. From now on I’ll try to spend more time with you."

"You are engaged, Carter, for crying out loud, we understand you want to spend time with Pete," Jack said.

She looked at him sharply, he had spoken with an even voice, either he was an excellent actor, or maybe he had moved on too and no longer felt what was once between them both, and what she still felt deep in her heart, despite Pete.

He smiled tiredly, and an uneasy silence descended upon them.

Teal'c cleared his throat.

"I believe I still have a few boxes to sort out before I can invite anyone in," Teal'c said, standing up. "That was as usual excellent, O'Neill. I hope that I will be able to host the event next time."

"You do that, T’! Need any help with unpacking the boxes?"

Teal'c smiled.

"I will be fine, O'Neill. I know exactly where I wish to put them, and it is no trouble."

Teal'c left for his house through Jack’s garden, leaving Jack and Sam alone.

Jack sipped the last drop of his coffee and rose from his chair. He turned towards Sam, showing his cup.

"Want some more?" he asked.

She smiled and gave him her cup.

"Sure."

He disappeared inside and went to the coffee pot in his kitchen. Seeing that it was almost empty, he opened the cabinet above in search for the powder.

He set the machine on and turned only to gasp as he nearly missed bumping into Sam who was carrying the empty dishes.

"Whoa! Carter! Wanna give me a heart attack?" he said, barely catching one falling plate.

"Sorry, Sir! I thought you had heard me come in," she said apologetically, setting the plates on the counter. "You okay?"

"Yeah," he grinned. "No need to do that, I’d have done it."

"Well actually I figured I’d go inside since it’s getting chilly out there. Thought I’d be useful while getting comfy, sir," she grinned.

"In that case I forgive you, Carter," he said jokingly.

He put the plates in his dishwasher while the coffee was percolating, then refilled the cups and gave one to Sam.

"Got a spare minute? We could go drink in the lounge?" he asked.

She smiled and nodded, smelling the hot beverage.

They went to sit on the sofa.

"Any favorite Hockey team for this season?" she asked nonchalantly.

"Well my heart is in between the Canucks and Avalanche, but I must admit with the job and all I’m not as tuned to the season as I used to be," he replied. "I didn’t know you were interested in Hockey, Carter?"

"Oh, not as interested as you are, but I like to keep up with the scores. I don’t have enough time to watch the matches either, and Pete’s a basketball guy anyway…" she said a bit dejectedly.

She missed the shadow that clouded his features for a while.

"Sorry, I didn’t want to bring Pete into the discussion," she said apologetically.

He raised an eyebrow suspiciously.

"Something the matter, Carter?"

She sighed, pinching her lips.

"Actually it’s nice to have a little break. When he was living in Denver, it was different, now it’s…"

He looked at her intently. She was staring in front of her, and then sharply looked into his eyes.

"It’s a bit overwhelming," she said in a blow.

"You’ve been alone a long time, Carter, bad habits die hard…" he replied gently.

"I don’t know if it’s just bad habits, sir. I agreed on selling my place to move into the house *he* chose. The house is nice, but I don’t feel at home in it. He couldn’t wait to propose to me for crying out loud! It’s flattering in a way, but six months of an on and off relationship is not enough for that, I… I shouldn’t have… I don’t know, I guess things are moving a bit too fast for me," she concluded softly.

He pondered her words before replying gently.

"Give it some time, Carter, it’s been what? Two months?"

"Three…"

"Oh… Well, maybe you need to wait another month?" he said smiling a bit.

"And if the situation doesn’t change? What do I do? Wait another month, and another? Until we get married and one day ten years from now I wake up and realize I *still* don’t feel at home?"

"Carter--"

"No, sir… for once in my life it seems like the floodgates are opened, and the more I think about it, the more I feel that I’m making a mistake. Pete’s a nice guy, a little too eager in my opinion, but he’s okay… And I don’t want ‘okay’, I want ‘good’, I want ‘perfect’…"

He snorted at that.

"Perfection is an illusion, Carter."

"I know, but I know what I want, and the more I think about it, the more I realize Pete is not what I want. I thought he was for a moment, but as time goes, I am more and more aware that he’s not…"

"Carter, don’t do anything rash. The guy’s not here, you miss him, you’re feeling useless because you haven’t saved the world in the last ten days…" he winked, trying to elevate the mood.

She smiled briefly.

"Maybe you’re right, maybe not," she said. "I don’t know myself, to tell you the truth," she said sadly, looking straight into his eyes.

They stared silently at one another for a while, and then Sam stood up, laying her cup on the coffee table.

"I should probably go, sir. Thanks for the barbecue, it was like old times minus Daniel…"

"Yeah, it was nice," he said softly, smiling to himself. "I wonder what Daniel’s doing in his exile…"

"Hopefully he’ll tell us himself in a short while?" she said smiling slightly.

"Yeah. See you tomorrow?" he asked.

"Of course, sir, I have that maintenance to perform on the gate, remember?" she winked.

He chuckled softly.

"Carter and her toys!" he mused, opening his front door for her.

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Daniel woke up suddenly at the soft noise, grabbing his 9 mm. Years in the field had trained him to always have his senses in full alert, and he silently thanked Jack - again - for that.

He cautiously emerged from his shelter, and looked around, then stopped.

A fox-like creature was observing him, his attitude that of an animal on guard.

Unable to determine if it was aggressive or not, Daniel moved slowly to sit on his heels facing the creature, his gun aimed in case of an attack.

Both observed each other for a while, and then the animal started sniffing around it before going to eat some berries from a nearby bush.

Daniel relaxed a bit and sat more comfortably, still observing the creature. He started making a detailed examination of it.

Its fangs were very small, testifying of a mostly vegetarian/fruit diet. Its backside and foreside were even, and the claws at the end of its feet were probably the evidence that it could climb trees. Its coat was a reddish brown with tiny black spots, and its legs and the top of its ears were creamy white as well as its snout.

Daniel was lost in his contemplation of the animal and only realized some time had gone by when his stomach grumbled. Sighing, he stood up and went to grab a fruit in his tent from his harvest the previous day, along with his canteen and some biscuits.

The creature observed him but did not run and continued sniffing and eating here and there. Daniel went back to his observation spot and started eating his alien fruit. The animal stopped what it was doing, looked at him remaining immobile for a short while, and then tentatively closed the distance between them.

Daniel observed it, mesmerized. The animal had probably not seen a human being in a long time, if ever, and it came towards him cautious, but seemingly unafraid, giving Daniel a glimpse of what the primary relationship between man and animal was.

The animal - Foxxy, Daniel had decided to name him - stopped about a foot from him and sniffed.

Daniel smiled and cut a piece of his biscuit before slowly presenting it to Foxxy. The animal tentatively sniffed it then delicately grabbed it between its teeth and stepped back to chew it, eliciting a chuckle from Daniel.

"Brave but not foolhardy-huh?" he said, putting the second half on his biscuit into his mouth.

Foxxy sort of yapped and scrubbed the ground impatiently.

"Hungry for more?"

Foxxy yapped, jumping slightly on its forelegs.

Daniel took a biscuit and threw it before its feet. Foxxy quickly snagged it and retreated a little to lie and eat its prize.

Daniel finished his meal and went back into his tent retrieve his journal. He sat against a tree and started scribbling.

‘Met a new friend today: Foxxy. It’s a sort of fox, thus the name, but it doesn’t seem to be carnivorous. We observed each other for a while then it tasted the wonders of Earth biscuits. I wonder if it’s a male or a female…’

He wrote his observations for several minutes before attempting to draw it. Foxxy had settled a couple of yards away from him and was resting, its eyelids half closed, in a perfect attitude for Daniel to draw it.

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After a week moving boxes from room to room, putting tapestries here, and a touch of fresh paint there, Teal'c felt finally at home. He had transformed the spare room into a small gym and decorated it with Jaffa trophies and ornaments. The home cinema Jack, Daniel and Sam had offered him for his first apartment, was strategically set in the lounge, Daniel’s sofa right in front of the 16/9 screen TV, giving the house a very Earth like look in his opinion. He had to admit the Tau'ri had certain technological gadgets that were most convenient.

The only thing that was missing was his truck. But he had agreed to leave it at the base for a while, eager to show whoever was watching him, that he was indeed discreet. Aside from O'Neill, he had no direct neighbor, his house being separated from the next one by a small wood of fir trees.

He had noticed a not-so-discreet agent once or twice, but had decided to leave it at that, his freedom was at this price, and he did not intend to draw unnecessary attention to him this time around. He had learnt his lesson and knew that O'Neill had probably sold his soul to Sokar to get permission for him to exit the mountain.

The flower beds virtually separating his garden from O'Neill’s required his attention, and he decided that would be his next self imposed assignment. Colonel Carter had once given him books on gardening, and he had studied them religiously, the ability to grow plants in his mind the expression of his new found freedom.

Teal'c shut his front door and calmly walked to O'Neill’s driveway just as the latter exited his house.

"Hey T’!" O'Neill greeted him, smiling.

"O'Neill," he bowed his head.

They both climbed in the truck and headed to the base in companionable silence. Upon entering the parking lot, Jack turned slightly to Teal'c and said:

"T’, I want you to back up Reynolds and SG-3 when they go to P2R-114 next month. I’m not entirely comfortable with that mission, and the natives are rather rough around the edges. Since Daniel is on his little vacation, that makes SG-1 a two man team, and Carter is needed at the SGC for a while. I’m reassigning you temporarily."

"As you wish, O'Neill," Teal'c agreed.

They parked and went to the check point, rapidly being engulfed in the mountain’s bowels.

Once in the elevator, Jack spoke again.

"T’, since you’re my new neighbor, maybe we could do something together for Christmas, I’m not particularly fond of fancy, but dinner between friends… Whatcha’ think?"

"I would be most pleased, O'Neill. Would you like me to host the event?"

"Nah, we’ll do it at my place this time, maybe the New Years eve?"

"I requested to go to Hak’tyl. I have not seen Ishta nor my son, Rya’c in a long time. I will be back when SG-3 leaves. Have you not read my formal request yet?"

"Ack! Don’t remind me of paperwork!" he sighed. "You can go, of course. Soon the whole SGC will be on vacation off world and good ole’ general O'Neill will be stuck here, buried under tons of paperwork!" he grumbled.

"Have you not hired a secretary for that purpose O'Neill?"

"I have, but the damn paper pusher left two days ago for the holidays! I’m telling you, half the SGC is gone, and I’m stuck here!"

"Why do you not leave for the holidays yourself?" Teal'c asked, intrigued.

"Generals never rest," he sighed. "I will give me a leave when everyone is back, probably in January. Someone has to stay in charge, and Reynolds and Dixon are on a much overdue stand down. Besides, I have several interviews to conduct for a suitable assistant. Much like Gilmore was all too briefly, I know he was the president’s mole, but damn good at his job as my assistant."

"I see," Teal'c nodded.

They had reached the commissary and stood in line to get their coffee. O'Neill quickly scanned the room, not spotting his favorite Lt. Colonel anywhere. He frowned and checked his watch: either she was late, or she had had breakfast earlier and was already running whatever diagnostics she needed to run on the gate.

He opted for the second solution.

He was just about to order when a slight commotion at the entrance made him turn only to discover a slightly disheveled Carter taking her spot in the line. He raised an eyebrow questioningly as their eyes met, but she dismissed any worries he had shaking her head apologetically.

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Jack had just signed the last report on his desk when a soft knock on his door made him raise his eyes.

"Come in?"

Sam Carter opened the door slightly, raising an eyebrow questioningly.

"Carter! Come in! I feel like I’ve been reading and signing reports all day long!"

She checked her watch then replied.

"Well as a matter of fact, sir, you have…" she smiled.

"Then by all means, do come in, I don’t mind the distraction, neither does my wrist!"

She chuckled as she sat in front of him.

"Is that what I am to you, Sir? A distraction?"

He smiled raising his eyebrows suggestively.

"Oh yes you are, Carter, constantly!" he said jokingly.

She chuckled again then her smile faded a bit.

"Something I can do for you?"

"Not really, I was taking a break from the lab, Teal’c is in the gym, and I was wondering if you’d like to get a coffee," she offered.

"Ahah! One of the perks of being general, Carter! I have a coffee maker right here! He said standing up to fill the pot. "Not as nice as a percolator, but that will do for the moment, right?"

He gave her a mug and poured the dark liquid inside when it was ready.

"Milk and sugar are by the coffee machine if you like."

"Thanks," she said, going to help herself. She went to sit back on the chair opposite him.

"So? Any project for Christmas, sir?"

He took a sip before replying.

"T’ and I are planning a little dinner, but not much. I’m only getting accustomed to celebrating Christmas again," he said with a sad smile. "What about you?"

"Pete wants to go to Denver. He has some family there, and he wants to celebrate with his friends. I told him I’d go on the condition that I am back on Dec. 26th… I don’t want to be gone that long."

"Ah come on, Carter, give yourself a real break. Enjoy the holidays and nothing will go wrong."

"Sir, if you don’t mind, that’s my own business," she said sharply. Then realizing the tone she had used, she winced and looked at him apologetically. "I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean it to come out that way."

"Carter, something’s wrong with you, and I think you’re in dire need of a vacation. I don’t want to see you on base until January 3rd, and that’s an order," Jack said, frowning.

"That won’t be necessary, sir," she started smiling.

"What part of ‘that’s an order’ you didn’t get, Carter?" he interrupted her, raising an eyebrow.

Sam realized he *was* serious.

"Very well, sir," she said harshly, standing up. "I hope you have a nice time with Teal'c."

He relaxed a bit.

"You need to rest, Carter," he said gently.

She sighed and looked at him with a sad smile.

"I know what I need, sir, and rest isn’t part of it," she looked into his eyes intensely, then exited his office.

He signed and rubbed his eyeballs with the palms of his hands, his fingers ruffling his already sticky up hair.

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Daniel and Foxxy had gotten used to each other. In fact, Foxxy nested in a tree not far from Daniel’s tent, and it would often come to snag some piece of biscuit whenever Daniel ate.

Despite the proximity of ruins and ancient stones, for once in his life, Daniel had no wish to go study them further than when he had first come. But he did frequent walks around his little paradise. He hadn’t discovered any remnant of civilization within the Oasis, but that was not entirely surprising: Oasis did not remain in the same spot all the time, their sources drying out due to climatic conditions, or - as it was the case on Earth - extensive use by men - or whoever had inhabited this planet once.

There was a rather large set of rocks at the opposite side from his camp, from which the stream came out, and the small waterfall had created a pool wide enough for Daniel to bathe or shower underneath the fall.

He came there every day, and fished a little sometimes, before heading back to his camp. Once or twice, Foxxy had mewled a little when he went out, but he had thought nothing of it, until it finally followed him.

He hadn’t seen any other animal like Foxxy. There were birds - probably, judging from the sound they made - at the top of the trees, fishes, and he had seen rodent-like creatures, but never one of Foxxy’s fellow creature, then again, Foxxy literally *nested* at the top of a tree, that was probably why he hadn’t seen any other of the sort: he didn’t walk with his nose up.

He took pleasure in the company of the trusting animal, and so seemed the creature. Their relationship was non-demanding, and that suited him just fine, only the occasional piece of biscuit from time to time, and no strings attached. Sometimes, Foxxy would disappear for several hours, then come back exhausted and reach its nest. Daniel had quickly concluded that it must have been hunting or meeting with others like it.

Today was one of these days, and he had to admit he missed the fur ball a little. After a short breakfast, he leant on his usual tree to scribble in his journal.

‘I’ve been here ten days, and so far, the maelstrom that is my mind hasn’t got much clearer. I’ve thought about my life with Sha’re - again - and I can see a bit of an improvement there. I thought I was bitter, but I’m not: our life for the year between our meeting and her abduction by Apophis was amazing, and that’s what I want to remember. Maybe she gave me a message just before her son was born and she was herself for a too brief moment. She told me to be happy and live with the knowledge she would always be by my side. How cliché is that? But now that I’ve been ascended, I understand what she meant.

I want to look at life with her innocence but cannot. After all that’s happened to me, I cannot. But on the other hand, I’ve seen and experienced things that should have given me a lesson. Gone the over enthusiastic archaeologist I was when I met Jack O'Neill, the hard assed suicidal Colonel. Gone the diplomatic Daniel who always wanted a peaceful solution to all situations, gone the angry man I was for a brief moment. Almost ten years have gone by and it feels like twenty.’

Daniel stopped scribbling as he heard a ruffle indicating that Foxxy was back. He looked over his journal to see the animal almost crawl up its nest. Whatever it had done must have been exhausting. He observed it as it reached its nest and almost immediately slept.

Daniel frowned a little, then stood up and went to put his journal back in his tent, retrieving a book at the same time.

He sat back against the same tree from which he could get a good view of what Foxxy was doing. The fur ball's well being worried him a bit: he had never seen it in such a tired state.

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Teal'c softly knocked on Jack’s window panel, carrying a paper bag with supplies for the little dinner Jack and he had planned. He had also done a little shopping to get gifts for his friends, knowing it was tradition to do so. He was not very comfortable buying gifts on his own, but since Dr. Jackson was off world, Colonel Carter was in Denver, and O'Neill was his host, he had had to do it alone this year.

Knowing Colonel Carter’s fondness for chocolate, her gift had been the easiest purchase to do. He knew of a chocolate confectioner downtown, and had simply ordered by phone and waited for the delivery boy. He had asked Ishta to find him a pair of Sit’oc bracelets that he thought would look nice in Dr. Jackson’s collection of antique and bizarre objects, and he would bring him those when he returned from Hak’tyl. O'Neill’s had been the toughest, but he finally decided for a bottle of fifty year old pure malt Scotch whisky.

O'Neill came to slide the window open to let Teal'c in and beckoned him to the kitchen where he had already arranged a tray with various items on. Teal'c noticed the Christmas tree, in the corner next to the fireplace, something that throughout the years, he had never seen O'Neill do.

He arched an eyebrow, which Jack understood immediately, rolling his eyes.

"No, these are not *all* take-outs, I can cook too, ‘been married once, remember? And about the tree? Well, I figured I could get one since I actually *had* someone for Christmas this year," he concluded with a proud smile.

Teal'c raised an eyebrow, looking back at the tree.

"It does not seem to bear any decoration, O'Neill."

Jack rolled his eyes.

"And we have a winner!" he exclaimed. "Put this stuff" he started gesturing at his loaded arms, "on the table, there’s a box full of - guess what? - Christmas decorations next to the tree, I hope you have a decorative mind, suit yourself!" he smirked.

Teal'c considered the tree then the box aside, looked at O'Neill who was chopping vegetables, and finally put his bags on the dining room table to set decorating the small fir tree.

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They were seated opposite one another, enjoying a cup of coffee after their dinner.

"Thank you for a most enjoyable evening, O'Neill."

"Ah, T', no big deal…" Jack dismissed him.

"Although it is not my first Christmas, it is the first I celebrate in such close company and I have enjoyed it," he said, smiling slightly and bowing his head. "I believe it is now time for presents to be shared, is it not?"

Jack looked amused.

"Learnt your lessons, did you?" he chuckled.

"Indeed," he rose and went next to the tree.

"Don't try and find yours, I haven't wrapped it. I suck at these things anyway…" Jack said, standing up in his turn.

He went to open a cupboard in his corridor and retrieved a mahogany oblong case he presented to the Jaffa.

"I didn't know what to get you, but I figured you'd find a spot in your new house for that."

Teal'c bowed his head as he took the case and opened it. Inside, laid an authentic Katana.

"It's a Japanese Samurai saber it's…"

"I know what it is," Teal'c interrupted, visibly moved by the gift, "and I know the worth of such a gift, O'Neill," he concluded respectfully.

"Oh, think nothing of it. I've had it for a long time but I just couldn't find anywhere to hang it in here…" he said dismissively.

"I am afraid my gift does not bear such high value," Teal'c said, suddenly worried.

"You brought me a gift too?" Jack asked, genuinely surprised.

"Of course," Teal'c said, bending to pick a package next to the tree.

Jack took it and opened it.

"Wow!" was all he said as he discovered the fine bottle of amber liquid. He studied the label religiously, and then smiled broadly at his friend. "That's encouraging sin, my friend! Thank you! I'm going to taste it right now!" he said enthusiastically, reaching for his bar from which he extracted a glass.

They then both sat on his sofa listening to Puccini in the background.

"So? How's the settling in going?" Jack asked after taking a sip of his whisky.

"I think Mrs. Johnson would be satisfied with the way I tried to keep the spirit of her house." Teal'c said, a small smile of satisfaction tugging at this lips.

"Don't tell me you kept the huge honkin' flowers in the bedroom?" Jack snorted.

"I did not, I repainted her house in Ivory paint and in contrast to the varnished beams it gives the house a very soothing atmosphere. I am rather pleased with myself."

"That's a shocker!" he chuckled, then regained his seriousness. "The NID guys not giving you too much trouble?" he asked, looking straight into his eyes.

"While I could send them to Chulak to learn about concealing techniques and discretion, they are not too much of a nuisance. I hope you are not bothered by them either, O'Neill."

"No, I'm getting good reports so far and I can see with my own eyes anyway… Ya know, this side of generaldom I couldn't care less…"

"Watching over myself?"

"Nah, reading reports all day long," he said with a half smile, "among other things…"

Teal'c raised an eyebrow, sensing that his friend was ready to talk. "You do not enjoy your new function as commander of the base, O'Neill?" he asked.

Jack put his cup on the table then leant back on his chair.

"Actually, Teal'c?... I'm not sure. I'm not cut out to make most of the decisions that are being asked from me. I'm a field officer, not a desk jockey. I was honored to take the promotion and the job, but I expressed my doubts at the beginning, and I think I was right. I talked to Hammond 'bout three weeks ago, and that's why he suggested an assistant. He picked out a few names and I'll be interviewing them next week. I hope I can rely sufficiently on him or her because I need support."

"What about SG-1?" Teal'c asked bluntly.

A corner of Jack's mouth rose slightly.

"SG-1 is in the field, Teal'c, I didn't understand the gap that existed between administrative matters - for lack of a better word - and field operations before I became ageneral. And frankly, I'd rather go down the retiring route again right now."

Teal'c looked strangely at his friend.

"What about us?"

O'Neill chuckled.

"Oh you don't need me and Carter's an efficient CO. I am proud of you all, and she's not disappointing in any way."

"I meant will you be seeing us still, O'Neill?"

"I'm not planning on retiring from the world, T'. I'll continue seeing you… If you continue seeing me," he smiled.

"I for one will, O'Neill, and I think it will be the same for Dr. Jackson and Colonel Carter."

"Oh, I don't know T'," his face clouded an instant. "Daniel's not given any news since he went to his own secluded place, and Carter… well… Carter's getting married," he closed his eyes briefly and the brief pained expression did not escape Teal'c's sharp sense of observation.

"You do not approve, O'Neill." It was not a question.

"Whether I approve or not, it's none of my business, T'. She's moved on, and I don't blame her, but God help me if *he* hurts her in any way…" his jaw hardened.

Teal'c remained silent, then rose from his seat and went to pick his saber.

"I shall endeavor to find a suitable place for your gift, O'Neill. Thank you for your hospitality."

"You're welcome, T', I liked the evening too."

He walked his friend to the door, and then cleared the table before turning in for the night.

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Daniel woke up to some winning.

He tried to clear his mind from the midst of sleep then put on his glasses and tried to identify the source of the sound.

He came out of his tent and a few feet from it, Foxxy lay sprawled on the ground, in obvious pain.

Daniel rushed inside to take his canteen and a cup. He kneeled next to the creature and poured some water inside the cup before trying to give it to the animal. The latter darted its tongue and lapped at the liquid inside the cup.

Daniel did a quick visual examination of the creature, noticing its coat had somehow darkened and its tummy was rather bloated. He brought his hand to caress it and could feel the skin trembling from nervous influxes underneath his fingers.

Suddenly, Foxxy's body jerked and blood pooled down emanating from its back legs.

Understanding finally dawned upon Daniel: Foxxy was a *she* and she was giving birth!

Daniel rushed back to the tent and came back with a tee shirt he tore down before trying to help the creature.

Whatever "baby" she was giving birth to did not want to come out smoothly, as soon as he saw something emerging from her rear end, that was obviously not part of her, he tried to pull, wrapping his hands in pieces of cloth from his torn tee shirt, but Foxxy yelped and he was forced to stop.

Foxxy seemed to be in a tremendous pain, and her forces were rapidly decreasing. Daniel did not know what to do, but as he realized neither Foxxy nor her offspring would survive if he didn't do anything, he had to make a decision.

He went to his tent and came back with his knife and a first aid kit.

When he knelt down next to its furry companion, it looked into his eyes with such intensity, Daniel was deeply troubled, then Foxxy's eyes clouded.

Daniel's instinct kicked in and as in slow motion, he took his knife and opened the animal's tummy, releasing its offspring. He quickly rinsed it with the water remaining in his canteen and wiped the trembling but breathing newborn in some pieces of his torn tee-shirt, before trying to assess the situation with its mother, but there was nothing to be done. Foxxy had stopped breathing just before Daniel had sliced her body.

Daniel felt strangely bereft, and could only stare motionless for a while. He had become used to the animal and its loss was more painful than he first would have thought.

The offspring in his arms squirmed, bringing Daniel back to reality. He looked at the creature in his arms: no wonder Foxxy had had troubles bringing it to the world, it was huge!

Daniel rose from his kneeling position and brought the offspring to his tent. He took his second canteen, rummaged through his supplies to try and find powdered milk and poured a little water in the cup in order to prepare a nourishing beverage - according to Earth mammal standards - for the now rather active animal.

Not knowing how to give the milk to the creature, Daniel dipped his pinky into the cup and presented it to the offspring which took the hint and sucked.

An hour or so after, it was sleeping and cuddled inside Daniel's tee shirt.

Daniel prepared a sort of nest inside the tent, and deposited the sleeping creature inside.

He looked at it for a moment and remembered one of the tales his grand-father used to tell him when he was a little boy, about a fox named Goupil. Its coat reminded him of the drawings illustrating those stories, and that's the name he gave Foxxy's offspring.

He exited the tent and looked at the bloody mess around Foxxy's corpse. He didn't know whether or not carrion feeders populated this planet, but he really didn't want to find out, so he set to dig a hole and put the dead animal inside. He also sprinkled earth on the blots of blood to prevent any carnivorous animal to be attracted by the scent.

Next he rummaged through his belongings searching for his radio. He took a pack of powdered milk with him, his canteen, and took hold of the deeply sleeping Goupil, before heading to the Gate.

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"Unauthorized incoming wormhole!"

The warning pulled Jack out of the long list of reports that had accumulated on his desk before the holidays.

He sighed, stood up, and went down in the control room. The technician today was Sergeant O'Brien, Davis being on downtime for two days.

"O'Brien?" he asked.

"Receiving audio transmission general, it's from Dr Jackson's location."

"He probably misses us already!" O'Neill smirked.

The crackling of the speaker interrupted him.

"Jack would you stop babbling!" Daniel's voice came in slightly distorted.

Jack smiled.

"Daniel! Good to hear from you! Tired of solitude?"

"Actually not yet, no… I was calling to know if you could send powdered milk and a bottle with nipples…"

"What?!" Jack's eyes were as wide as saucers "What kind of a mess have you got yourself into this time, Daniel?!"

"I'm the proud foster father of an orphan sort of fox, Jack, don't let your imagination run wild."

"A fox?! You want to bottle-feed a fox?"

"I… I know it sounds crazy, Jack, but I need to do it."

Jack felt the urgency into his friend's voice despite the sarcasm he had heard before. He sighed and resumed.

"How much do you need?"

"I don't really know, I have almost given it all of my supplies if it's not enough, I'll call you back."

"I'll send enough human rations for two weeks, and then you can call back if you need more."

"Thanks… Oh, and send biscuits along, would you? It's mother loved them, maybe it will too."

"Okay, Daniel… O'Neill out."

"Will send a postcard, Jack, thanks for all…"

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It was not that late when Jack came back home, but he felt exhausted nonetheless. After having notified Teal'c their friend was well, he had seen him depart for Hak'tyl in his Jaffa robes, sending along his best wishes for Ishta, Rya'c and his wife, and Bra'tac.

He had planned to use the next hours of quiet to complete his review of reports of past missions before reading the ones that were about to be launched after the holiday season, when Hammond had made a surprise visit.

In Colorado Springs for Christmas, the wise general had had a long troubling talk with him, suggesting changes to come, along with the arrival of his assistant. Jack had pondered his superior's suggestion with great attention, and had had to agree with him, but he still was a bit wary on how things would eventually turn out for the SGC and himself.

He shut his entrance door behind him, hung his coat, and went to his bar with the intention to drink a glass of Teal'c's Whisky.

He was just about to bring the edge of the glass to his lips when his doorbel l rang. He rolled his eyes and sighed in frustration. "What now?" he mumbled.

He climbed the few steps leading to his entrance hall and opened his front door.

His eyebrows shot up.

"I thought I ordered you to…"

"It's not the base, Sir." She interrupted him, stepping past him into his corridor and leaving her bags against the wall.

He observed her flabbergasted. "Merry Christmas to you too and please, do come in!" he smirked. "Is that all?" he nodded at the two huge bags she had just left.

"Not really, I might ask you to lend me a part of your garage for my furniture, and I have several other bags inside my car, but I don't need them right now so I'll leave them in the trunk. If I could put my car in your garage, it would be perfect," she said, looking into his face.

"Wow, wow, wow… Carter!" he said, raising both his hands.

"Jack, I'm falling apart here so please, we'll talk later," she said, going to his living room and literally collapsing on the sofa.

He frowned looking at the two bags, then sighed, put his coat on, took Carter's car keys from the coat she had thrown upon both bags, and exited.

After putting her car in his big garage and locking it, he came back inside.

Stepping into his living room, he noticed she was drinking the whisky he had intended to slowly savor before she came in.

"I hope you like it, it's Teal'c's present for Christmas," he said, pouring another glass.

"Actually, I don't really care for the taste, Sir. I just needed something strong."

"Oh? It's back to sir now?... And what a waste…"

"How did the dinner go? Is Teal'c happy with his new house? Are you…"

"Carter," he interrupted softly then looked into her eyes.

She blinked once, hard, and wiped the small tears from her eyes.

"Right now, I'm wondering if I'm making the hugest mistake of my life, or if I'm taking a safe bet," she said, her voice trembling.

He frowned.

"Care to explain?"

"I'm breaking it off. I can't marry Pete."

"Oh?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.

She took a deep breath.

"I told him all my stuff would be moved from the house this week, but as I sold my old place, I was wondering if I could stay with you. Daniel's apartment is too small and he's not around anyway, Teal'c has just settled in, so it was either a motel room and storage warehouse, or asking you," she looked into his eyes.

The look in her eyes was his undoing and he came to sit next to her, offering his shoulder. She crushed her chest against his and hugged him like a wrecked man a buoy. She cried and he let her, stroking her back slowly and murmuring soothing words in her ears.

After a while, she calmed down and wiped her tears with the sole of her hands.

"I'm sorry…"

"Hey, that's okay…" he said smiling gently. "You can have the guest room for however long you need it, I will call the movers and they can put your furniture into my garage, but on the one condition that you don't go to the base until January 3rd, as I first ordered you," he murmured soothingly.

She nodded. "What about you?"

"What about me?"

"You're going to work?"

"Until Reynolds or Dixon comes back, yes. Mostly paperwork though, so I can bring some home and come back sooner to keep you company. Afraid of boring yourself to death?"

She sniffed into his chest.

"I don't want to be alone… Not now…"

He sighed.

"Look, I have a few interviews to conduct tomorrow for my new assistant, but I guess I can be there by 6 o'clock, would that be okay?"

"It will have to be, she said, sitting up right and wiping the last remnants of tears from her eyes. "I'll have to go house hunting anyway…"

"Good girl!" he joked, "Oh, and Daniel has called, so-to-speak? He's adopted a fox and is bottle-feeding him."

"What?"

"That's about the reply I gave him, but you know Daniel…" he became serious again "I just hope it's going to help him get through whatever it is he's experiencing right now."

"Okay Colonel, let's get you settle in and we'll see what we do from there, but first, I'm gonna order Pizza!"

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Daniel had arranged a sort of nest in his tent, with his jacket and other pieces of clothing, and Goupil had made itself at home. It slept most of the time, waking only to feed and tend to its natural needs. Daniel’s ways of nourishing it seemed to work well, since it was growing and not showing any apparent symptom of malnutrition so far. From time to time, Daniel added mashed biscuits to its milk, and the animal seemed to like it as much as its dead mother had.

Daniel had stopped scribbling his thoughts in his journal, but instead used it for hourly observations of his guest. He didn’t take strolls around the oasis anymore, in fear that the offspring would need him. He soon realized that he was in fact quite taken by the little creature, and wondered briefly if that wasn’t a sign from above.

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Jack hung up the red phone with a satisfied grin.

George Hammond and the president approved of his choice, now he hoped the base would. This would need some adjustments, no doubt, but at least, he was in peace with his personal ethics and he had no fear the eager applicant wouldn’t be thrilled and efficiently help him.

Now he just needed to do one last thing.

He opened his laptop and began typing.

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Sam was engrossed in one of his books on Astronomy when he came back. He went to his kitchen to put the groceries he had bought along the way in the cabinets and the fridge for some of them.

She left her spot curled on his sofa to join him.

"So? How was your day?" she asked, realizing at the same time how domestic it sounded.

He rose from his bending position with a smirk on his face, knowing exactly what she was thinking.

"Sorry…" she said blushing.

He chuckled.

"Don’t be," he said gently. "Well as a matter of fact, it was a very interesting day. I recruited my new assistant. Along with my secretary, that completes the team that will help me run the base, and concentrate on the important things instead of trivialities such as jello supplies and the color the commissary’s tables should be dressed with."

"Oh?" she asked, genuinely surprised.

"Yes, I will present my new assistant to you as soon as everyone is back from the holidays. What about you?"

"I’ve been house hunting, but they have nothing like what I had for now. The time is not the best one either. I guess I might have to settle in for a rental apartment for a while before I find a small house to buy."

"No need to rush, Carter, you can stay as long as you want, the house is big, and it’s not as if I expected some visitors anytime soon."

"Thank you for your kindness, sir, but I hope I’ll find something before I get back to work," she said, smiling softly.

"As you wish." He had left several items on the kitchen table.

Sam pointed at them with an interrogative look.

"What’s that?"

"Haha!" he brushed his hands together "Minnesota stuffed mushrooms tonight, Ma’am! An O'Neill delicacy that comes from my Mom!"

She chuckled.

"I didn’t know you cooked," she said.

"Oh, Carter, there are many things about me that you don’t know! Teal'c was rather impressed at my cooking skills on Christmas eve, I’ve decided it’s about time SG-1 discovered a few secrets about their CO… " he winked. "technically, I’m still your CO, right?"

"Yeah," she chuckled.

"Wanna give me some help?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.

"Sure, what can I do?"

"For starters, can you wash the mushrooms?" he said, giving her a paper bag with fresh mushrooms. "I’m gonna put the clams to open, and then I’ll chop the spices and other stuffing."

An hour and a half later, they were both seated in his dining room, 6 stuffed mushrooms adorning both their plates, and a fine white wine chilling in a bucket.

Sam’s mouth began to water as the scent of the mushrooms assaulted her nostrils.

"It smells delicious, sir."

"Not only smells, Carter, it is… come on, have a bite!" he said encouragingly. "Wine?"

"Yes, please," she said, presenting her glass to him.

She then took a bite of the dish under his intense scrutiny, and couldn’t prevent her moan to escape.

He chuckled.

"I take it you like it?" he asked amused.

"Mmm, sir, it’s delicious!" she replied almost too enthusiastically.

He smiled, then looked at her seriously.

"Carter, while it’s just the two of us, I won’t report inappropriate behavior from your part if you don’t call me ‘sir’."

She blushed a little, and before her mind had time to realize what she was saying, she replied.

"Very well then Jack, but it is Sam to you."

He smiled knowingly and resumed eating.

"What are you doing on New Years Eve?" she asked over a mouthful

"No plans as of yet," he replied. "You?"

"Ditto… We could…"

"Celebrate together?"

She blushed. "Why not?"

He leant on the back of his chair, wiped his mouth with his napkin, and looked at her.

"People don’t know yet I’ve broken up with Pete," she said defensively.

"That was not what I was thinking about, and it doesn't bother me what people think. If it did, you wouldn't be staying here."

She was a bit surprised.

He smiled cockily, then stood up and went to fetch an envelope. He sat down and gave it to her, still smiling.

"I didn't know what to give you for Christmas, but since you're here, *that* seemed like the perfect gift, at least I hope so," he concluded seriously. "Merry Christmas, Sam," he said softly.

Sam looked at him frowning, then opened the envelope and extracted a letter.

She began reading.

One of her hands rose to her mouth. She finished reading then looked at him blinking.

"Why did you do that?" she whispered.

He sighed.

"I'm on my way out, Carter, and faster than you believe. This new assistant I'm getting, *she* -it's a she- will run the base after I'm gone. Ever since I was promoted, I've been second guessing my decisions, even though the teams and the SGC personnel seem to support them. I'm not comfortable in General shoes. Hammond knows, he understands. He felt the same at some point, when he was younger, only he wasn't in charge of such a thing as Stargate Command. Kathleen Mason used to be military. She left the armed forces when she married, as a Lt. Colonel, so she has some background and she's a tough lady. She's divorced now, and has been working for the government since she left the army. She's got all necessary clearance and George Hammond briefed her long and hard on the gate. Dr. Weir was good, she's even better. My resignation has already been accepted, but in order for Kathleen to get a head start, the president has asked me to remain at the SGC for 6 months to a year, depending on when/how Kathleen takes over."

"So you're a civilian now?"

"It'll take time for me to even register that, but yes," he smiled cockily.

"And that Kathleen? She's… Pretty?"

One corner of his mouth rose.

"Oh yeah!"

"How old is she?"

"42 as her file states, and a brunette…"

He noticed her contrite look as soon as the words escaped his lips. He bent over the table and whispered.

"But not as pretty, sexy, intelligent and Carterish as you, Carter. There's only one woman in my life, and she sitting before me…"

Sam shyly met his twinkling eye and leant in her turn so that their noses were almost touching.

"Then you'd better keep your distances from her or that Carter you're speaking of might take matters into her own hands."

She was about to brush her lips against his when he retreated chuckling at her disappointed look.

"All good things to those who wait, Carter. Ice cream?" he asked, standing up.

"Did I not ask you to call me Sam?" she asked annoyed.

"Carter's sexy, Carter…" he called from the kitchen.

"Well, how would you feel if I called you 'sir'?"

"Oh, 'sir' is not half as sexy as 'Carter'! Besides, 'sir's impersonal, 'Carter's you," he said as he sat back at the table with a carton of chocolate ice cream and two spoons.

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They sat cuddling on his sofa before a fire he had lit before dinner. The room was only illuminated by the dancing flames and his hand was absently caressing her hair.

Sam sighed of contentment. "Is it possible to feel so happy?" she said softly. "I'm expecting a Goa'uld mothership attack in the next seconds…" she added as her fingers slipped between two buttons on his shirt to caress his abdomen.

He chuckled softly and kissed the top of her head.

"I've disconnected the phone line…" he joked.

"Really?" she asked smiling.

"Ah… No…" he said, tightening his hold on her shoulders.

"Jack?"

"Yes?"

"Kiss me?" she said, raising her head and looking into his eyes.

They became darker if possible.

One of his hands crept to her neck and he gently but firmly pulled her head to his. His lips parted slightly and she closed her eyes, opening her mouth in the same manner in anticipation.

His lips brushed hers slightly. It was not tentative, just a brush of his lips against hers, as if he took his time.

On their own accord, both her hands crept to his neck and she angled her head to intensify the kiss, but Jack was first and she felt his tongue slip past her teeth and explore the velvet of her own.

Jack's kiss was firm and yet his lips were supply moving against hers, not smashing them. He knew what he was doing and took and gave at the same time, directing but not imposing.

She wanted more.

Her hands left his neck and trailed along the collar of his shirt, deftly undoing the buttons.

He reached for her wrist and steadied her, ending his marvelous caress of her tongue at the same time. He rested his forehead on hers, licking his lips softly and closing his eyes.

"No, Sam, not like that."

She raised her eyes confused.

"I’m not having a quick fuck on the couch with you now." He said hoarsely. "I’m not having sex with you."

She looked at him shocked.

"Okay, if you want to wait I can…"

"Your place or my place?" he said in a breath.

She looked at him even more confused than before. "We're already at your place…"

"Your room or my room?"

"Jack you are an infuriating man, you know that? What do you want?!" she said in an aggravated tone.

"I want to make love to you in a comfortable bed. We can save the couch and other unusual places for later if you feel like it, I’m always up to the challenge, but not the first time," he said in an amused voice.

"Oh… Well then, I’ve only seen your room once…"

She didn’t have time to say more as he swept her in his arms.

"What the lady says…" he said, carrying her to his bedroom.

He dropped her on the bed and covered her body with his. He stared at her, taking his time to examine the well known contours or her face, which he was now officially allowed to do, then kissed her lips softly, gently framing her face with his hands.

"I’m scarred, Sam, inside and outside, I am far from perfect, and I can have pretty bad moments, but you changed me, you changed the man I was and made a better one."

"I’ve never doubted that you are a good man, Jack, or I would have stopped caring long ago."

"I want to make you happy, Sam. "

She smiled softly and caressed his brow.

"Isn't it what it has always been? Making me happy, sometimes at the expense of your own happiness, Jack?"

"It's all worth it, Sam. Would I get another chance, I would do the same mistakes and the same choices, but it would all be worth it because of now," he said humbly.

She smiled broadly and laid a gently kiss on his lips.

"Jack, your resignation has nothing to do with what is happening. I had reached the point when I was ready to do whatever it took to be allowed to…" she caught herself before saying the word.…"

He looked into her eyes intensely, kissing her lips softly.

"To be allowed to do what?" he murmured tracing tiny kisses along her jaw.

She arched her neck as his mouth descended on the soft skin of her neck.

"Love you," she breathed.

He smiled and held her gaze once more in acknowledgment, as she realized what she had just said.

"Jack I…"

"Shhh… It's okay… It's not as if I wasn't familiar with the feeling… "he winked before resuming his gentle ministrations, and all her logical sense flew by the window.

Unbelievably slowly, Jack unbutonned her blouse, kissing every inch of free skin in the process. Once that was done, he quickly rid her of the garment and disposed of her bra at the same time.

He reverently caressed her skin and descended on her belt.

Sam wriggled a bit to help him ease the pants down her hips and her legs. He pulled her shoes off and left her clad in her underwear.

He stood up by the bed to admire her body, before switly pulling both his sweater and shirt over his head.

Saml looked at him intently scooting up the bed to get a better view.

Jack smiled smugly as his hand reached his own belt and unfastened it.

He sat on the side of the bed to undo the laces of his boots, throwing her a cocky glace from time to time.

Sam chuckled, shaking her head.

Finally, he stood up, slipped both his pants and underwear down his legs and climbed on the bed next to her, his hand reaching for her breast, his lips hungrily seeking hers.

He pulled the quilt over their naked bodies and continued arousing her in a sensual way she had seldom experienced.

Jack tried to worship her body as he had often fantasized.

She was firm as the regular muscular exercise her body experienced would suggest, but she was not angular, she was smooth and responsive.

He was caught in a whirlwind of emotions as she writhed under his sensual onslaught.

His fingers gently sought her and found her ready for him.

He took his time though, bringing her close but never close enough for her to fall into the abbys that awaited them, until she could take no more and reversed their positions in one swift movement.

Jack was on his back, not even registering what had happened as he felt her sweetness engulf him.

She paused when their union was complete and just remained motionless savoring the intimacy of the moment, until he gently urged her and she answered his silent plea.

Slowly but steadily their combined movements brought them to new heights until Sam was caught by surprise and exhaled a long breath quickly followed by short irregular ones.

Jack crushed her body to his, bathing her face with quick urgent kisses before taking her mouth.

"I love you, Sam," he murmured as he rolled them over and proceeded to join her on the land only lovers share.

 

They lay in the peace of the aftermath, their limbs tangled, until he felt Sam stirr.

"I'm glad we did it now," she said smiling upon his chest.

He chuckled.

"Pretty amazing-huh?"

"Oh yeah!" she aquiesced.

"It sounds rather sappy, right?"

"Hopelessly, but quite frankly, I don't give a damn," she sighed, toying with a few hairs.

"And that's when the guy mutters 'shower' to the ear of the girl and they have wild sex in the bathroom..." he joked.

"Be my guest!" she replied, a glint in her eyes.

"Ah.... No... Shower, yes, sex, no... I'll never believe they can do that five minutes after experiencing the best sex I had in a loooong time, unless they take something!"

She chuckled slapping him slightly on the chest.

"I thought you didn't want to have sex with me!" she said playfully.

He rolled over and pinned her body underneath his, looking her in the eyes.

"I didn't," he said very seriously.

She caressed his cheek staring back at him lovingly, then she quickly slipped from underneath him and made a mad dash to the bathroom, "I really need a shower!" she cried playfully.

He rolled his eyes then slipped out of bed to follow her.

"You'll be the death of me, woman!" he groaned.

"I heard that, mister! And I expect it to be in a loooong time!"

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Daniel was amazed at Goupil's rate of growth: he had calculated the critter was born on December 26th, and 4 days after, it was already about its mother's size, and was already wandering around to eat the same fruits its mother ate.

It was truly an amazing creature, and he noted everyday its progress in his journal.

For once in 4 days, he had decided to go bathing at the pool, leaving Goupil alone by the camp.

He immersed himself in the cool water and let his mind wander. He had to admit that both Goupil and its mother had contributed in helping him find some inner peace. He no longer thought of Sha’re with the bitterness that usually came with those thoughts.

The past year’s events had tired him more than usual, and his ‘descension’ - for lack of a better word - had been more of an ordeal as he would admit: first coping with his missing memory, then with the intense frustration at the fact that he would never totally recover his memories as an ascended being, and for the last, losing Jack and losing Sam, even though they were now safe and sound. He had felt like being beaten up over and over this past year, and added with the intense physical life they endured at the SGC, he had been close to a tremendous nervous breakdown. But now, having seen nor heard from anybody for more than two weeks, and having taken care of - in his own ways - those two animals, he felt somehow rejuvenated. His mood was far less somber than when he had arrived. He exited the pool and decided to walk back to his camp with only a towel draped around his hips: nobody was to come in on him anyway, and it was not as if Goupil would be suing him for indecency.

On his way back, he picked a few fruits and some sort of wild asparagus he had already tested.

When he reached camp, Goupil was lying sleeping in front of the tent, like it were guarding it. It raised its head when it heard Daniel's approach, and came to sniff him.

"Sorry, pal, no biscuits right now, but I've got some fruit for you!" he threw the animal one of the fruits he knew the creature was very fond of, and went to his tent to put on some fresh clothes.

He prepared a small meal and tossed Goupil some biscuit crumbs to accompany his bowl of milk and his fruits, then took his usual position leaning on the tree to read his journal, and write his thoughts, but when he finished reading the last words he had laid down on the paper the day before, he didn’t feel inclined to write anymore. In fact, he felt like exploring the ruins next to the Gate.

He made sure Goupil had enough milk and water, left the remainder of his fruits outside, and filled his own canteen with water. He knotted his bandana on his head, and started walking in the direction of the ruins which were located a good half hour outside the Oasis.

Goupil yelped a little as Daniel walked past him. He smiled and patted the critter on the head.

"Sorry but you're on your own for the rest of the afternoon… I'll be back for the night."

Goupil emitted a series of plaintive moans, as if he understood what Daniel told him, but it didn't follow him, and resumed its lying position in front of Daniel's tent.

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Sam woke up smiling and thinking that nothing was better than waking up to the strong and warm embrace of the man she loved.

She looked at him in the dim light the morning light bathed the room through the curtains. He was still sleeping a peaceful expression on his face.

The night had been exceptional, more because she was finally with a partner she was perfectly in tune with, than for the sex itself. Yes, Jack O'Neill knew how to please a woman, and he was talented at that, but the feelings they shared were more important than the physical aspect of them.

Jack stirred slightly and she used the opportunity to lay her head on his chest, and to caress the patch of graying hair between his breasts.

He groaned softly, as he awoke.

She looked up and her eyes met his sleepy ones.

"Morning," he mumbled.

She rose to kiss his lips softly.

"Good morning, Jack."

He smiled and his hand reached her cheek. She leant into the caress.

"So?" he asked.

"So what?" she replied.

"No regrets?"

"A huge one," she smiled.

"Oh?" he raised his eyebrows.

"That we didn't do it sooner."

He chuckled.

"You bet! How about breakfast?"

"Shower, first?"

"Suit yourself," he said as he pushed the bed covers to grab his pajamas bottoms on the chair next to the bed. "I'm gonna prepare breakfast, I'm hungry! There are some fresh towels in the closet, but I'm afraid I only have men shower gel…"

"Then that's something that's going to have to change…" she said, sitting up and giving him a peck on the lips.

He stopped what he was doing and looked at her seriously.

"You're not going to vanish?" he asked, half joking.

She smiled brightly and kissed him again.

"Definitely not, you're stuck with me and my technobable, mister, I'm afraid!"

He made a half smile.

"So no house hunting?"

"Nope, unless you're not comfortable with the idea of me living here…"

He took some time before responding, and looked into her eyes intensely.

"It will take some getting used to, no doubt, but remember what I told you yesterday. It's still true and will always be…"

She smiled and kissed him quickly before heading to his bathroom in all her glory.

He followed her naked form with the eyes appreciatively and when the door closed, he stood up to go and prepare breakfast.

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Daniel came back from his second errand to the ruins late. Goupil seemed no where to be seen, but he didn't worry too much: the critter had become more and more independent in the last two days, and was now its mother's size.

His unbelievably rapid rate growth still amazed Daniel, and he wondered how long these animals lived. He hadn't seen any other of its kind, despite trying to spot them on top of the trees, but he had noticed a few nests like the late Foxxy's, so he supposed there were others. In about a week, Goupil had more than doubled its size and looked like its mother when it had died.

On the same level, when he had first encountered Foxxy, it didn't look pregnant. Its state was only obvious to him when it gave birth. Maybe those animals did have a very short life span, like the people on Argos. Maybe this planet had once been inhabited by Pelops and he had first experimented with his aging techniques on those animals.

A sudden thought hit Daniel as he was reminiscing about one of his first experiences as a member of SG-1. What remained of the ruins showed some kind of Ancient Greek design. Maybe his theory was the right one! He would check tomorrow, and maybe bring part of his gear with him to be able to sleep there. He had a few dry supplies left from the SGC, and three canteens he could fill with water. He would pack his tent first thing in the morning.

He was so excited he nearly forgot his self imposed obligation to Goupil.

He scanned his camp in the diminishing light, but could not see the critter anywhere, so he went inside his tent to sleep.

The next morning, Daniel woke up early and started gathering what he would need for his expedition.

Goupil was still nowhere to be seen.

As the morning stretched, his ardor at packing and preparing his expedition diminished. He missed the fur ball, and was starting to worry.

He decided to try and find him, following its footprints in the dusty ground, which was not an easy task. Soon, he had to admit he was no tracker, and he came back to his camp.

Daniel waited all day long for the animal to come back, his packing interrupted. He was about to lose all hope of ever seeing it again, when it emerged at the other end of the camp, panting.

Daniel stood up and started walking towards it, but Goupil suddenly assumed a defensive stance. Daniel stopped. Goupil hesitated, and then came nearer. Daniel remained immobile. When Goupil was about a yard from him, he crouched and extended his arm. Goupil tentatively sniffed it and came a bit nearer.

Daniel tried to grab a biscuit from his backpack, but Goupil assumed a defensive stance once again.

The critter's attitude was totally incomprehensible, but as Daniel was doubting that it even *was* the same animal he had fed and raised, Goupil licked his fingers and came to nest between his legs.

Daniel didn't move. Goupil only remained a minute on Daniel's lap, before heading back from where it had appeared. He threw one last glance to Daniel, then it was gone, and somehow, Daniel knew he would not see it again.

It was the end of the afternoon, and the sun was still high.

He looked at his gear pensively for a few seconds, then put his vest and back pack on. He cleared the camp of anything he could possibly carry, and headed back to the gate, and his life…

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Jack's mood was excellent. The base was running smoothly, his new assistant Kathleen had settled in the office next to his and had already demonstrated her skills at organizing his job, and he was about to leave to have his first New Years Eve dinner with Sam. She had told him she would take care of everything and he was a bit anxious to get back home… to her.

The idea made him smile: 'home - to her'… Their relationship was only two days old, but it already felt like forever.

He stood up and was about to go change in the locker room when the klaxons flared.

He exited his office through the briefing room and went down the stairs to the control room.

Kathleen was already there.

"Sir, receiving audio transmission," Walter stated, half turning towards him.

"Patch it through, I hope it's Daniel."

After a moment, the distorted voice of the Archaeologist came through the speakers.

"Jack, is that you?"

"Yes, Daniel, what's up?"

"How about you send that team you promised? I'm feeling homesick…"

Jack smiled.

"On its way, Daniel!"

"I hope you behaved while I was gone!" Daniel joked.

Jack chuckled.

"Oh you have no idea!... I may not be around when you get home, I have a date, tonight, but you can keep company to my new assistant, she'll be thrilled to get to know you!" he said, looking at Kathleen with a twinkle in his eyes. "A lot of things have changed while you were gone."

"You have a date?! Have I been gone that long?!" Daniel exclaimed.

"I bet our favorite Lieutenant Colonel will have some interesting news for you. In the meantime, Daniel, you know the procedure: a 12 hour quarantine, and a full medical check up!… When you're clean, you can come home so Sam and I can fill you in on the main changes in our lives, "Jack motioned for Walter to cut the transmission.

"Sam? We? What the hell…" the transmission ended as Jack chuckled.

He looked at Kathleen with an inviting nod.

She smiled and bent to speak in the microphone.

"SG-3 get geared up to go and fetch Doctor Jackson. Sergeant Siler, send a MALP," she looked up at Jack who nodded affirmatively.

"Very good! The base is yours, I've ordered a special menu for tonight at the commissary… "

Kathleen chuckled heartily.

"I suppose this is what I get for pining over this post for so long!"

"All good things… Hey, maybe you and Daniel can bond over a nice commissary New Years Eve dinner in the infirmary? Oh, and please, don't let him bore you to death with questions regarding Sam and I. If he becomes too much of a pain in the neck, have him sedated…"

She laughed. "I don't think I will resort to such measures. I've read a lot about Daniel Jackson, and I hope he will be as interested in knowing me as I am in knowing him. Have a good evening, Sir, or shall I call you 'Jack'?" she winked.

Jack smiled.

"I'll let you be the judge, 'Kathleen', in the meantime, I'm outa here!" he said.

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"You what?" Sam exclaimed as Jack told her the news about Daniel's return.

"It's normal procedure, Sam, you know the drill…"

"He's one of our best friends, and you let him have New Years Eve on base at the Infirmary?" she asked, incredulous.

Jack shrugged.

"We're going," she said with a determined tone.

"Sam," he whined. "He can take care of himself, he's a grown man…"

"Jack, we're not letting Daniel alone in the infirmary on New Years Eve, and that's final," she said, grabbing her jacket.

"I've ordered you not to come to base until January 3rd…" he stated, not even believing in his weak attempt at keeping her here.

"You're not even a general anymore!"

"Hey, I'm still commander of the SGC!" he said defensively.

"So bring him home."

"I can't, beside, where would he crash tonight? The spare room is packed with your stuff…"

"Then I'll bring our dinner to the base, we can share with him and I can meet this Kathleen you're so enthusiastic about…"

"You know they won't accept the food inside the base," he rolled his eyes.

"Very well, we can have a commissary dinner and we'll invite Daniel here when he's clear…"

"Sam…" he shook his head "Why am I even trying?" he wondered.

She smiled and gave him a peck on the lips.

"Come on, mister commander of the SGC, get the truck ready, we're going!"

Jack rolled his eyes shaking his head, and watched Sam go change in less revealing clothes than the ones she had chosen for their dinner, a smile making the corners of his lips rise in wonderment…

Oh yeah, his retirement looked definitely good with this woman and their friends by his side!

The End

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