Christmas Day, Alvin managed to forget everything for a while. He tagged along to Jack's with Jonathan. Sirikat was on Kalimar still helping with the relocation of Seshat's people to a new homeworld, and her absence was felt. Like so many other families this Christmas, there was an empty place at the table, and hopes and prayers winged their way to loved ones serving in distant lands. Jamie missed his "sister" and kept asking about her, but he was small enough that simple answers satisfied his questions, and he had enough aunts and uncles around that he was passed from lap to lap all afternoon. Janet and Cassie were there, along with all of SG-1. Teal'c had brought Ishta, who was dressed in Tau'ri clothing and learning all about the native midwinter celebrations.
Hammond had stopped by earlier with gifts, but he couldn't stay long, because his daughter had a houseful of her in-laws.
Cassie was on Christmas break from college, in her first year of pre-med. It was really the first time Jonathan had talked to her for more than five minutes at a time, crossing paths at the day care center. But now she hung out with him and Alvin as they kept Jamie occupied with a video game, when he got tired of being held on people's laps. Alvin stayed out of the way. The laughter from the gang in the living room raised his spirits, and he didn't want to put a damper on the festivities by reminding them of his loss.
Things suddenly got quiet in the living room, then everyone started talking at once in excited voices and they heard the name Sha're several times, and someone said something about they should have set another dinner place. Jonathan gave Cassie a questioning stare. She shrugged, as mystified as he was.
No explanation was forthcoming. Jonathan gave Daniel a quick glance. He couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something distinctly different. He looked a lot more like the Daniel that he knew from Jack's memories of a few years ago--not only younger, but less burdened somehow. Jonathan decided questions weren't necessary--something good had happened.
He and Alvin left about an hour after dinner. They were expected at Nancy's and they were both already tired.
Teal'c and Ishta left first, planning to drive around and look at the Christmas lights before they went back to the mountain. Shortly after that, Cassie and Janet went home.
Sam jumped about three feet into the air when Sha're appeared to her for the first time. Daniel had told them earlier that she was trying to be visible to all of them, now that she knew Jack was able to see her as well as Daniel. It still startled the hell out of Sam. "You really are here! Sha're, how is this possible?"
Sha're said, "It is all right, Sam. I know this must be really difficult for everyone to accept but to Dan'yel and me, we are completely real to each other. It was just so very hard for him to understand after he descended and lost his memory. These months have been very difficult. I do not think he would have made it through if it had not been for you and Jack and Teal'c."
"Daniel means everything to us. We were just so thankful to have him back. But--HOW? Are all our legends about ghosts actually true?"
"Sam, you know that life continues. Daniel ascended. I passed over to the western shore. Ghosts do remain, usually to be with their loved ones, but most of us as mortals don't have the understanding to see them. I know I often felt my mother's presence, although I never saw her."
Sam had to admit to that. Often she had known her mother was with her, watching over her.
"Teal'c still cannot bring himself to see me, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he cannot allow himself to accept that he sees me. He knows that Dan'yel has forgiven him, but does he know that I believe there is nothing to forgive? He set me free of Amaunet. For that alone he would have had my eternal gratitude, but above and beyond that he saved Dan'yel's life."
Sam said, "When I get the chance I'll spell that out for him."
"Good. We have all been through enough thanks to that Goa'uld harlot. She is out of my life and I wish only for her influence to be ended in everyone else's."
Sam realized that Sha're had healed and moved on. The rest of them needed to do the same thing. Living well was the best revenge, and ghost or no ghost, Sam thought Sha're knew how to live very well. Daniel was smiling again, giving Jonas a run for his money once the eggnog started going around, and that was enough for Sam.
"Sha're, what kind of energy are ghosts? Are you the same kind of energy being that Daniel was while he was ascended, or something different?"
"I think there is a difference. Daniel and I can go to a dreaming place where we are real and solid to one another. But in this place, I am but light and shadow to you, as you are to me. It is not necessarily always so for those who have ascended."
"Orlin made himself human again."
"Yes. But while the Ascended may not interfere, I can--as far as sight and voice will allow. No such rules bind me."
"Sha're, you could teach us so much. Answer so many questions about life and the nature of life after death. It's just amazing."
Sha're shook her head. "I can't teach anything that your wise ones haven't already, Sam. Everyone follows a different path."
"Never mind all that...I've never seen Daniel so happy. This is a miracle."
Sha're smiled. "The powers grant us miracles...if we only open our eyes and look for them."
The two of them went back to Jack and Daniel.
Daniel announced, "Uh, Jack, I think I better not drive. I'm gonna move my car up in the drive and call a cab."
Jack told him, "Don't worry about it, use Sirikat's room. Sam, you had as much to drink as Daniel did. Do you have anywhere else you need to be tonight?"
"Nope, I can watch the Christmas specials right here. I don't mind the couch."
"I'll scare up some extra blankets in a minute."
Sam helped put the leftovers away. Jamie was underfoot. He had a hollow leg for cookies. "He's gonna be sick."
"Hey, sport, how many of those have you had?" Jack asked him.
Jamie held up four fingers and said, "Three."
Jack laughed. "One more, but that's it."
"That one." Jamie pointed at a chocolate-covered pretzel and held it in both hands, grinning from ear to ear.
Sam let Brownie out of his pen and took him out in the backyard long enough to do his business. It was so cold out that as soon as he was finished she picked him up and brought him back inside. He made a beeline for the warm living room and started rough-housing with Jamie. Jack realized that the scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon were probably a little too tempting for a half-grown dog. He looked in the kitchen for a plastic bag to gather them up before they ended up with a Christmas Day emergency vet bill. Sam took coffee and a cookie with her into the front room.
They had always made jokes about Daniel being a cheap date, and it wasn't long until he went to bed. Jack put Jamie to bed, then came back downstairs to find Sam half-asleep with Brownie curled up on her lap. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs, just watching, before he crossed the room to sit in the recliner.
"Did you get Jamie settled?"
"Yeah. Tell your dad that radio-controlled car was a hit. He took it to bed with him."
Sam smiled, and in that moment she was so beautiful it was all he could do not to tell her so, and tell her how much he loved her. Not yet. But not too long now.
Alvin was surprised to find a picture of his father as a young man in a Marine Corps uniform on display in the funeral home. He had never seen that picture before, or any photograph of his father in uniform. He greeted the people who came to the funeral, all of them his friends except for a tall, white-haired man who came in with General Hammond.
"Alvin, this is General Thomas Bryant. He was your father's commanding officer in Viet Nam. Tom, this is Alvin Connell, Joe's boy."
Bryant stuck out his hand and Alvin shook it firmly. "Pleased to meet you, sir."
"Pleasure's mine, son. I'm sorry to hear about Joe. He was a good man. George here tells me that you don't know a lot about your dad's history. I don't think Joe would mind if I filled you in on some of the details."
Alvin nodded. "I'd really appreciate that, sir."
In the rest of the hour before the funeral service started, Bryant told Alvin stories about the young man he'd commanded half-way around the world thirty-five years ago. And as he talked, Alvin started to remember things about the life he and his family had shared before his mother's death. He listened, committing every word to memory, and from the bottom of his heart he thanked the fragile old man who still somehow stood strong and ramrod straight though he leaned on a cane.
A preacher who never knew Joe Connell laid him to rest, with a eulogy for a veteran and a widowed father. Later, at the cemetery he listened to the rifles and the lone bugle, and he was dry eyed until a young Marine placed the flag in his arms. Then he would have collapsed if Jonathan and Lydia hadn't been standing on either side of him to hold him up. After the service came to an end they all gathered at Nancy's house, where there was plenty of food and always someone hugging him. It all seemed surreal.
It wasn't until he went back to Jonathan's apartment to pack up his stuff that it all hit him. He sat on the couch. "Jonathan, I don't know about living with General Hammond. I'll be in the way. I'm not even sure I know how to live a normal life. I've spent the last four years hiding behind Mrs. Felty's rose bush waiting for Dad to leave before I could go home."
"Hammond doesn't do things half-way. If he didn't want you to stay there he wouldn't have asked. And the normal life thing? You'll do fine." He laughed. "Of course, if you really want to stay on my couch--"
Alvin fingered the spring that poked out of the middle cushion. "Now that you mention it--no, I won't miss the couch."
"Come on." Jonathan picked up a box of Alvin's books and they headed to the car.
Margaret let them in. "Dad got called to the mountain a little while ago, but he didn't expect to be more than an hour or two. I'll show you your bedroom and you can be putting your things away." She led the way through the family room into a back bedroom that had previously been used as one of the guest rooms. Alvin had been here a couple of times as a guest at barbecues, but now that he was actually going to be living here he was a little overwhelmed by the place. The bedroom had its own door onto the side patio and an ensuite bath. "God, Jonathan, this isn't a bedroom, it's a damn apartment! What if I pick up the wrong fork or something?"
"Alvin, General Hammond is one of the most down-to-earth people I know. They're just regular people."
Margaret came back in carrying an armload of towels and sheets. Alvin relieved her of the stack and put them on a chair by the bathroom door. She said, "We thought you'd appreciate a little privacy to study while the girls are playing. They can get pretty noisy."
"It's fine." Alvin looked out the window at the west end of the spacious back yard. He still felt like pinching himself.
"I'll leave you guys alone to get settled. I'll be in the kitchen if you need anything. Dinner's at six. Jonathan, you're staying, aren't you?"
"Wouldn't miss your cooking, Margaret."
She grinned. "I hope you like meat loaf, Alvin. I'm not a fancy cook, but there's always plenty of it."
"Yes, ma'am!" He smiled back. He figured the flu must be on its way out the door, because at the mention of meat loaf his stomach reminded him that it hadn't been full in a while.
"Alvin, I know this is going to be a great big adjustment for you. But when we told the judge we wanted you to be a member of our family, that's exactly what we meant. We don't have a big list of family rules and regulations here. Dad gets enough of that at work. The biggie is, if you leave the house, let one of us know where you're going to be and when you expect to be back. I'm not setting a curfew. You know when you have to get up for school in the morning. And with your grades I know I don't have to fuss at you about homework! You can have your friends over any time you want to, this is your home now and Jonathan and Nancy and Lydia are practically family anyway. Oh, yeah, I have a laptop computer that you can use. We'll have to get you a printer so you can print your homework. You'll have to set up the internet yourself, the guy from the cable company set mine up for me."
"I use the printers in the school library anyhow, so that's no trouble at all if I can use your computer. Where's the bus stop?"
"Oh, right! You don't have your license yet, do you? Turn left and it's a couple of blocks up the street, right in front of Weber's deli. I see the high school kids go by about seven o'clock."
"I'll go to my same school, won't I?"
"Yes, you will. Your old neighborhood was at the west end and we're at the east end but we're still in the same school district. You'll have to check with the office about changing your address."
"Uh, what is my address now?"
"1718 East Aspen Drive." She told him the phone number, too.
A shout came from the kitchen. "MOM! Is the meat loaf supposed to bubble through the hole in the aluminum foil?"
She hurried to the kitchen.
Jonathan started putting Alvin's books on a shelf while Alvin made the bed and put his clothes away. He put the framed picture of his dad on a shelf, with the small picture of his mother in the corner of the frame, and he put the folded flag there as well.
They were washing up for supper when they heard Hammond came in. After supper, Hammond told Alvin about the "insurance benefit" and his trust fund. "You'll get a little over $1000 a month, and when you start college you can pay your school expenses out of the trust fund."
"Did you say $1000 a month?"
Hammond nodded. "You'll need to get a bank account. We can go set that up tomorrow morning."
"I don't know how to thank you for everything you've done, sir. Finding out about my dad and bringing General Bryant to the funeral really meant a lot to me."
Hammond said, "Your dad wore the uniform and fought for his country at a time when a lot of people back home didn't thank us for that and hated everything we stood for when we came back home. They called us baby-killers. When I was at the Pentagon, we were warned not to go around in town in uniform. That was all before your time, but it profoundly affected everyone who lived through it, and that included your dad. All we had was each other. You don't ever have to thank me for doing my duty towards anyone else who was over there with me."
Jonathan looked up with understanding born of Jack's memories of that time. Hammond saw that understanding in his eyes. Neither of them said anything, but the bond was there.
Once again, Hammond cursed Loki. Every generation had its own crosses to bear, and that was sufficient for each generation in turn. Loki had burdened Jonathan with thirty year old memories of a place and time that no longer existed except in the memories of the old men and women on both sides who had lived through it, nightmare memories of blood and death in rice paddies and jungles so far from home. But Hammond was a good judge of people, and he figured maybe in the end it was the best thing for a young man of character to carry those memories into another generation. Lest we forget.
Jonathan left not long after that. Hammond saw a bone-deep weariness in Alvin and told him, "It's been a hell of a day, son. Get some rest."
Alvin said, "Yes, sir," and excused himself to his room. For a moment before he turned off the light he stood looking at the pictures of his parents. They were together now, and he found that all he felt about his father was to hope that he finally had found some peace.
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