It was getting to be a lot like Christmas in the small western town of Tok'ra Flats. It was the morning of Christmas Eve. The Emerald City Saloon was already festooned with pine tree branches, ribbons, luminaries, and of course the biggest, tallest, fanciest Christmas tree in town. It stood over twelve feet tall and was decorated with fresh fruit, grapefruit, oranges, lemon, apples, pear apples hauled in all the way from Corpus Christi Texas, by the special order of it's owner, Mayor Debi. Along with the fruits, there were gingerbread cookies, popcorn strung together and the school children (a maybe one or two or ten of the Riders) had taken colored paper and made chains of the red, yellow and blue stuff. There were some painted pinecones and even some delicate blown glass; honest to real tree ornaments donated by some of the town's people for the overall good. It was beautiful.
Debi had to stop and watch as Louigi, Daniel, Sam and Teal'c were putting the finishing touches on the tree. Louigi was arranging the small hand carved wooden nativity scene, Daniel was putting a last paper chain on the very top boughs from a precarious perch of a chair on a table. Teal'c was holding the furniture in place and giving directions for the chains placement. Sam was delicately tying some silk ribbons on what few bare spots remained. There weren't many.
As Debi turned to go get some more firewood for the pot-bellied stove, she saw Sheriff O'Neill standing on the center landing of the staircase. He was standing motionlessly, a look of extreme concern on his face, watching his youngest Deputy performing his upper air ballet on top of the chair. He stood there until Daniel, finally satisfied with his placement of the ornamentation, turned and hopped down onto the table and to the floor. She had to smile as she saw him exhale finally and shake his head.
"Oh, hi Jack. I didn't see you there."
"I wasn't here when you got up there, or you wouldn't have BEEN up there." He growled at his young friend.
Daniel smiled winningly at the formidable looking lawman. "I was in no danger, Jack. Teal'c would have caught me."
"Danny boy, I don't quite know how to tell you this... but you're grown now and not light as a feather anymore. I don't want either of you at Doc Fraiser's surgery." He looked at Teal'c, who did not look the least concerned at the possibility of catching Deputy Jackson out of mid-air. The Sheriff shook his head again, sighed and headed for the door.
Debi took up along side of him. "You're in a mood today, Sheriff."
He looked sidewise at her. "You coming to lecture, or can I help you with something?"
She smiled teasingly at his glower. "Well, if yer asking, I do need some help a bringing in some firewood. I want to have everything done so's I can go to Evening Mass at the Mission. Padre Jose says the Indian Kids have come up with a Passion Play." She laughed merrily."It's always fun to see those kids having a good time doing anything."
The Sheriff smiled back, "Yeah, kids like that have a hard row to hoe in life anyway."
"That's the truth." She nodded. "I think half of them are orphans from after the Small Pox epidemic. It was the first year I was here, about five years ago. Father Joe came in right after I did. I think it was him that figured out the blankets the traders were bringing in from the west were contaminated. We burned everything we could find and then Ms. Angel donated jest about her whole stock of woolen blankets. He worked and nursed and stayed there with them, wouldn't let any of us that hadn't been exposed before come in and help. I thought for sure we'd lose him too, but his boss man must a' been looking after him, cause he never did even get a fever. Then, bless Pat, the next summer, well, here comes Father Joe with that ole buckboard of his'n jest full of them purty woven Indian blankets for her and everyone else who helped out." She smiled in remembrance. He's been working his as... uh, hands off out there ever since. Doin' a whole lotta good for them and everyone else around here. When you need help, he and his boys will show up and dig ditches, cut hay, help brand; you name it, they'll do it. He just won't let them carry pistols or drink hard liquor."
The Sheriff nodded in understanding. "You can't hunt with pistols, they're only for killing men and, well, a beer now and then is good for the blood." He winked at her; "Any Irishman worth his salt knows that."
"Yep, that's something my ole daddy'd say all right." Debi had to smile at his serious tone. "So, you coming with us?"
"Nah, I think I just stay here and keep the stove burning." He declined politely.
The woman looked up at him, his expression had changed, and his face was a closed book if she had ever seen one. She'd have to ask Daniel or Sam what the problem was. "Well, if you change yer mind, you know where the Mission is."
Later that day, Daniel was sitting by the ole pot bellied stove, putting the short chopped logs into the coal bed. Ms Debi came out of the kitchen with the scent of cakes baking in the restaurant's oven in the back kitchen wafting behind her. She had a big yeller crockery bowl in her hands and it had the remains of some chocolate cake frosting in it.
The young man looked up at her suspiciously as she sat down next to him and handed him the bowl. "What?"
She looked at him all innocent eyed. "What what?"
"I was always told to beware of Greek's bearing gifts." He accepted the bowl and stuck a finger into the chocolate confection, transferring some of the sweet stuff to his mouth with skill and alacrity.
"Well, it doesn't matter," she replied primly; "I'm Irish and Alsatian. Not a Greek in sight, even Louigi."
The small dark man had come into the empty saloon with a mop and bucket to wax the dance floor for the upcoming festivities. The barkeep looked at her with a scowl. "I no Greece man, I Italiano, eefyoupleasethankyouverrrmuch." He proceeded to slop the liquid on the wood floor and mop energetically. The man and woman watched him in surprise for a moment, and then continued on with their conversation.
"So, you going to the Mass, Dan'el?"
"Sure, Little Raven and Morning Flower would never forgive me if I didn't come." He chuckled; "it took us all morning to convince Paco, the burro, to tote her sideways. Then, he looked at her in comprehension "Oh."
"Oh, why isn't Jack going? Is that what this is all about?"
She had the decency to look embarrassed but stuck her chin out anyway. "Okay, you're right. Why won't he go?"
"Not my place to say," the young man answered her lightly. "You want to know about Jack, you ask Jack." He forlornly extended the bowl back towards her.
Debi laughed, and waved him off. "That wasn't a bribe, Dan'el," she grinned down at him. "That was from one chocolate fiend to another. Just bring the bowl back to the kitchen when you're done with it." He smiled back and she patted him on the head. "After all, I wouldn't want to stand accused of bribing a Deputy."
It was Christmas Eve and time for Midnight Mass at Mission San Patricio. The townsfolk had carefully scheduled their evening time to be ready for the big annual event that Padre Jose had so carefully orchestrated.
Mayor Debi had spent the last hour trying desperately to get her hair to stay within the confines of its bobby pins. The gray strands that had mainly started to take over from the dark blonde hair was not going along with her planned hairstyle. It insisted upon springing up along any edges and parts she tried to corral it into. Finally, she gave up and just stood looking at her reflection in the dresser mirror still in slight disbelief. Angel and Athene had insisted that she needed a new party dress and had picked the dark blue-green velvet material and sewn the garment. Devra, Majel and Kelly had put their two cents in with a collar and cuffs of Irish Lace, some silver buttons, shiny cord and other such fol-der-rol. She had objected initially, but looking at herself in the mirror, she realized that all their efforts were really showing off what assets she had left at her age and mileage. She picked up her heavy winter shawl and wrapped the cream colored wool around her shoulders, pulling one side up over her head and shoulders to keep the northern night wind from chilling her on the way out to the Mission.
She left her room, to meet the others who were waiting for her. They had decided to all ride together in one of the Rider's wagons, instead of going by horseback and risking the ruination of all their grooming efforts.
Samantha was resplendent in sky blue satin dress that just matched her eyes. Around her throat was a beautiful antique necklace with a least five sizeable blue gems, possibly sapphires, that the older woman was sure had been handed down from her mother. Sam's blond hair, having escaped from their braids for the evening, was perfectly styled except for the short bangs that always seemed to have a mind of their own. She was enveloped in a heavy gray woolen cloak with a hood that fastened with a red silken frog around her throat against the evening chill. Daniel said something to her and her laugh sounded out like musical notes. The cold wind blowing down from the mountains had added an attractive blush to her cheeks.
Daniel Jackson was also dressed in his finest. He was wearing his new fringed buckskin shirt that he had gotten for his birthday last July as a gift from the Anasazi tribe that he was working so hard to help. The beautifully tanned leather over shirt was almost exactly the color of his sun-bleached hair. Some of the fringes were decorated with beading of turquoise and some few small feathers, not enough to be too gaudy but certainly enough to catch the eye. Around his slender waist was a wide, flat braided leather belt held together in the front by a turquoise buckle in the squash blossom style of the Navaho. He wore the shirt over a pair of black broadcloth trousers and on his feet were the knee high laced and fringed moccasin boots that started just above the calf of this leg.
Teal'c struck an imposing and handsome figure, wearing a brand new dark gray woolen suit complete with white cotton shirt, silver colored silk cravat tied to some exact set of specifications that some one had obviously known more about than she did, tucked into a maroon silk vest with gold buttons shining in the lantern light. A gold chain was lying across his broad chest, obviously connected to a large gold watch that peeked out of the vest's watch pocket. On his feet were a pair of brand new, shiny, highly polished black leather boots. He was carrying a dark gray bowler hat that matched his suit. As the four friends gathered in the upper hallway, they could hear Louigi bustling about in the downstairs kitchen area. Finally, he called to them from the Dance Hall itself.
"Hey, up-a-der. You alla-mos ready to go yet? It'sa alla-mos foura tirdy." He came out into the middle of the highly waxed floor and waved at them. They all looked at him in amazement.
The small young Italian was resplendent in a black tailed tuxedo coat, worn over a silver silk shirt, red cummerbund, fawn colored pants and complete with a pair of patent leather dress shoes. His shoulder length black hair was neatly combed into a rigorous part and as the other members of the party descended the stairwell, he produced a black top hat and popped it on his head.
When they reached the ground floor, Louigi offered his arm to his friend and business partner, Ms Debi, who took hold of it with a small curtsey. Daniel extended his right elbow to Samantha, which she took graciously and when Teal'c showed up on her other side she took his arm also.
Once outside the two women were lifted up into the high-sided, canvas covered conestoga wagon that was waiting for them. When they were safely seated, Teal'c and Louigi joined them in the sheltered seats under the bows. Daniel climbed up into the box to drive the pair of big Missouri Mules to the adobe and stone church several miles outside of town.
Sheriff O'Neill was standing on the Emerald City's exterior balcony holding a snifter of brandy. The Napoleon was his Christmas present from Danny and Sam and he raised the round bottomed, stemmed goblet in salute as they drove by. Daniel, hawk-eyed as usual, saw him and waved an invitation to him. O'Neill shook his head and waved back. He smiled to himself as he heard the happy excited voices of his little extended family as the large wagon drove away from their home.
On the outskirts of Tok'ra Flats, they were joined by a goodly number of the riders dressed in their finest duds on both horseback or in buggies. Another of the large schooner wagons driven by Lou Ferretti contained the Hammonds and the Fraisers. The little cavalcade wound its way down the dirt road towards the Mission. Ms Angel and Ms Athene were there the General Store`s delivery wagon; Ms Devra and Ms Majel and Ms Jo had also come together in the Lumber mill's large and heavily made Lumber delivery buckboard. Just about everybody in town had shown up to celebrate the Christmas season at the Mission.
Once at their destination and after everyone disembarked from their various forms of transportation, Father Joe, or Padre Jose, as the community affectionately knew him, greeted them with delight. The Priest, in spite of his nickname was neither Spanish nor Mexican, but was a second generation Irishman from Chicago. Though he had been born in America, his voice still held a trace of the lilt that marked him from a family not long from the auld country. He was in his early forties, a tall slender handsome man with laughing brown eyes and sandy colored hair. Wearing the full-length black cassock and white collar of his calling should have made him an intimidating figure. Instead his ready smile and legendary good humor made him one of the most beloved men in the territory.
Not that he wasn't a force to be reckoned with. Just last year, Debi had seen him stand his ground and bring down a grizzly bear with three shots from his old carbine. The beast had been raiding the small herd of milk goats that belonged to the mission and his only comment later had been that God had given him those poor wee beasts to care for just like his other children and they had needed defending. She'd also seen him deliver a Mexican woman's baby with gentle skill and then curse a drunken cowboy into shame for whipping his poor horse to the ground. The Padre played a mean hand of poker and was the best chess player she ever sat across the table from. Rumor had it that he and Daniel were fairly well matched in the game, the younger man having been taught the skills of battle by Sheriff O'Neill.
But now the priest was as excited and proud of `his children' as any man could be. It would be a full night of entertainment and sacred worship for everyone involved. He welcomed all comers to the enclosed courtyard of the old Mission grounds and saw to it that everyone was settled for the evening's festivities.
First, on the program that evening, the older adolescents performed their Passion Play depicting the journey of Joseph and Mary into Bethlehem. In the first act, the smaller children depicted the shepards who received the annunciation of the Christ child's birth with their flocks of the Mission's long-suffering milk goats and the Mission's pet mongrel dog, Sport. Then the boy Raven and beautiful little Morning Flower depicted the holy couple and their faithful burro, Paco, who were dutifully turned away from each and every inn. Finally, the couple was sent to the stable bower where the infant baby Jesus appeared on cue, very well portrayed by the three-month-old method actor, Little Wolf. He was carried in by a new character in the story, Saint Patrick, ably portrayed by Standing Coyote the oldest boy at the school. After a hymn of something resembling "Holy Night" with support from the audience, the three kings appeared, one in fringed leather buckskins, one in a buffalo robe and one wrapped in a bright red Indian blanket to worship at the holy infant's bower which was performed flawlessly by a feed trough. After the gifts were given and accepted by the holy parents another hymn of `Silent Night' was performed, again with audience participation. Just as the play was ending, the sun which was setting between the two highest peak of the Tok'ra Mountains performed its task of perfectly highlighting the Nativity for several minutes before it dropped behind the peaks for it's evening rest. The applause was resounding and long lasting much to the pride and pleasure of everyone in attendance.
After a brief pause, the younger children's choir started to sing some classic and some new Christmas carols. This allowed the animals to be secured for the night and the guests to proceed on into the Chapel itself and get comfortable on the dirt floor in preparation for the required kneeling and praying of the High Mass itself.
The Mass, like all High Masses, was very long, very Latin, very holy and very tiring for all involved. But coming from the emotional high of the Play, it was quite bearable and almost enjoyable. So, no one was watching to see the tall man arrive outside the Mission, tie his gray mottled Appaloosa to a Mesquite Tree, slip into the rear of the building and stand quietly in the shadowed corner of the Sanctuary.At the end of the Evening's service, the Priest and his group of altar boys proceeded back to the Main Door to greet, thank and bless all of their guests who had attended the evening's festivities. The Emerald City group and Judge Hammond's party had stayed awhile in the Chapel, speaking to their friends the Riders and some of the neighboring ranchers. Rancher Ryan and his extended family were there and Judge Hammond was discussing the further pasturage of their livestock with the local landowner. So, when they did leave, their group was one of the last to depart the chapel.
Louigi, Teal'c and Ferrretti had gone to get the wagons and mules. Ms Debi was speaking to Ms Angel, Ms Jo and Ms Athene; Sam visiting with the younger women Ms, Majel and Ms Kelly; and Daniel was talking to the two town Medical people, Doc Janet and Ms Devra, the Veterinarian.
Then Daniel noticed the familiar figure exiting the chapel by a back door and saw Father Joe had also seen the silent man of the shadows and was heading back to speak to the stranger. Daniel excused himself from the group and went after the Priest, trying to head him off at the proverbial pass. Daniel had recognized the Sheriff immediately, and was concerned that the older man would be in a somewhat sensitive condition after the religious experience. Jack did not do vulnerable well. The young man wanted to prevent any misunderstanding between two men he admired greatly. Then, an extraordinary thing occurred.
The Priest had almost caught up to the retreating pilgrim with his long legged stride, when the man turned to face the cleric. They were standing at about five feet apart, stock stone still, with nary a word only a look of complete shock and disbelief.
Seeing the Sheriff's tense body language, Daniel had started to hurry now as he approached the pair wanting only to forestall any misunderstandings. Then, he stopped in amazement when he saw the stunned expression on his best friend's face. The shocked expression was reflected in the Priest`s face.
Debi and Sam had seen Daniel break away from the group in the Chapel and gone after the young man. They had also stopped and were caught in amazement at what they were seeing before them.
The two men in question were staring at each other as if each were seeing a ghost from bygone days. The two men revealed much in their close proximity and it was graphically obvious by the marked similarity of their lean forms, the identical graceful long-legged stance, and the mirrored sharp facial profiles. It was clear to anyone that bothers to look that they were not only kin, but also relatives of a much closer bloodline.
Ferretti, who had seen something from a distance but didn't know exactly what had ensued, had come skidding up beside Daniel. He looked over at the tableau and the only comment. "Oh, my God." was all the Ranger could manage.
Finally, the sheriff and the priest stepped towards each other. As the two brothers reached to enfold each other in their arms, the O'Neill men found each other for the first time in nearly ten long, hard years of sweat, blood, pain and sorrow.
Seeing there was no more threat of any danger, the little group of townspeople turned to leave the men in their private peace. Daniel then noticed a small knot of Anasazi who had also gathered in support of their Priest, just in case, and called to them. The older boys, Raven and Standing Coyote separated from the other young men and approached him. Briefly they discussed this most remarkable occurrence here on this most wondrous of nights. They all agreed this good thing proved to everyone that miracles can indeed and sometimes do happen when one least expects them.
Louigi, Hammond and Teal'c, arrived with the two wagons and teams to pick up the respective groups and return to Tok'ra Flats for the night. Daniel, being close to both of the men in question, felt confident enough to approach the pair to advise them of their departure and to make certain all would be well. He was briefly brought into the conversation between the two O'Neill men, hugged firmly by both of them and sent back to the waiting group of concerned friends.
He smiled as he entered the knot of onlookers. "Jack says to go on back to town, he'll come back later tonight or in the morning. I said I'd wait for him but I think they want to be alone together to talk for a while."
Judge Hammond cleared his throat. "I think that's probably true enough, son." He clapped Daniel on the shoulder. "Let's go home, it's Christmas."
The following morning, the denizens of the Emerald City were all gathered in the kitchen for a breakfast of eggs, ham, biscuits, and gravy. The coffee was hot and the topic was the Sheriff and his kin. Daniel was shaking his head, "Honestly, he never even talked about a brother in the priesthood. He's not an atheist by any means, he's just sort disillusioned with the church." The young man took another drink of coffee, "he's had too many hard things happen."
Louigi nodded, "Sometima eets'a hard, sometima your prayers eetsa answer but eetsa no the answer you need."
"And sometimes, there's no answer at all." The Sheriff's voice came from the back door of the kitchen.
The little breakfast group turned as one to see the two O'Neill men enter the kitchen. Louigi immediately stood up to offer his chair to the priest. Teal'c stood and Daniel nearly dropped his cup of coffee in his haste to get up. The sheriff glanced over at his younger brother, the priest, with an amused look that spoke volumes.
Father Joe looked at Debi and Sam. "If you two get up, I will be insulted."
"Ah come on, Padre, somebody's gotta cook yer eggs and bacon." the saloon owner smiled up at him.
"I geet it," Louigi picked up his own dishes and headed for the cooking area. "It'sa no problem, I'ma trough anyway. Whadda yew wanna eat?"
The two men answered together, "Coffee."
Louigi looked at the two men in dismay. "Dat's a notta eatin, dat's a drink...wadda yew wanna eat. Eggasas, bacon, bisquits, soma da gravy anna coffee, milk, buttermilk or sweety tea."
The sheriff smiled at the cook. "Louigi, whatever you cook is so good, I promise to eat hide, hooves, hair and horns."
"No, I godda no hornsa onna my eggs. Maybe soma hida, butta no horns.No gotta horns on de chickens, you gotta ver bad chikens inna Texas!"
While Louigi went to cook the breakfast, the Sheriff proceeded to make introductions of everyone to the Priest. Though Father Joe had briefly met all of the deputies he had no idea who these people were to his brother. He had seen Sam come out with Doc Fraiser, Teal'c from his driving the wagon for the school children and of course he knew Daniel from his volunteering out with the Mission's people, translating for them and helping them with their dealings with traders that come through the Mission to sell their wares. As he sat through the introductions, Joe could see the affection that his big brother had for this special family of his. Jack had told him of their history together and how they had at one time or another literally saved him body and soul.
After a while, Teal'c flashed the two men a rare smile then looked to the other deputies. "I will feed the horses this morning, Danieljackson, Samanthacarter, please continue your meal."
The two young people nodded at the large man and Daniel responded."Thanks, Teal'c, I'll make it up to you." The ex-slave bowed slightly and left the kitchen.
At Father Joe's distressed look in his direction of travel, Jack explained. "Don't worry about it, Joe. He's still a little shy around strangers. Freedom suits him, but he still has to unlearn some things. He'll be back soon."
Debi made to get up from the table to help her partner in the kitchen, but the Sheriff smiled at her. "You might as well stay for the story, this way you won't be trying to bribe the deputies with chocolate frosting again."
She chuckled and glared playfully at Daniel who looked at her innocently and shook his head. "Not me, honest. I didn't say a word."
Louigi came back in with a plate of fresh biscuits, two clean mugs and the full pot of coffee. He put the bread down, refilled all the cups and and left the pot on the table.
Daniel, who had sat back down at the table, and Sam were listening like two new colts waiting for their mentor to tell his tale. Jack took his time getting started, sipping from his coffee mug and being particularly lavish with the butter on his and his brother's biscuits. Debi grinned at his antics and handed him the honey jar. He smiled sweetly at her and proceeded to doctor the hot bread with the sticky sweetness making a great show of licking his fingers at the time.
Finally, Daniel could stand it not longer. "Jaaack, c'mon."
The two brothers looked at each other and the Sheriff finally took a bite from his bread and put it down. He glanced around the table and saw his friends waiting. Leaning back, he started his story.
"Daniel, you know about my son." He stated calmly. "For the rest of you, my son shot himself with my gun. It just about killed me," he looked over a Joe who was watching him sadly. "It did kill my marriage. Sara, my wife, left and went back east to her father. I just locked up the house one day and left everything behind." He looked over at Joe. "I didn't tell my parents or anyone else where I was going." He smiled sadly at the group. "Hell, I didn't know where I was going.other than away from there. Long story short, I wound up in Texas and in the Rangers. I met the Indian over there," he pointed at Daniel, "and things started to make sense again. But I never could bring myself to go back over old ground. I guess I was just trying to forget. Then the war came and things.things got all mixed up again." He glanced at his brother. "I didn't know Joe had taken the vows. Never even thought of it, I thought all O'Neill's were just too plain onery."
Joe smiled warmly at his older sibling. "You were almost right, boyo."He agreed with a nod. "When I first approached Father George with my desire to become a priest, tha poor old man just about fainted in surprise. Not an O'Neill, lad. He'd say, surely not an O'Neill. T'would be an act against yer very nature. The O'Neill's are fighters, lad, not men of the cloth." Joe laughed merrily. "But I kept after him and he finally relented and sponsored me into the seminary."
Jack could only shake his head at his younger brother. "If I had been there, Joe-me-lad, I would have agreed with him. We do lots of things well, but peace-making seems a bit far of a reach."
Ms Debi looked at the two men sitting at her kitchen table and had to smile. "Oh, I don't know about all of that now. You and your deputies have been doing a purty fair shake at keeping the peace around here at Tok'ra Flats. And you Padre, have been doing one hel.uh, one fine job out thar at the Mission, teaching them kids how to handle themselves and about what's right and wrong." She looked at them seriously. "I'd say you both found your places in this ole world, and that's a fine thing to have."
Father Joe and Sheriff Jack looked at each other then at the friends gathered around them in the kitchen of the The Emerald City Saloon. The lawman raised his cup of coffee in salute "Amen."
The priest matched his actions. "And God bless us, everyone."