The thing of it was, they should have known better. They should have known better than to encourage Vala to find some way to amuse herself while the others were busy. And they should have known better than to leave any of their laptops unattended in their locked rooms. They had known better than to leave her with any of their credit cards but that's really as far as their wisdom extended.
It was a couple of weeks from Christmas and SG-1 was officially pulled from rotation to work from the home base until the new year. They would be on vacation soon enough but until then, Vala was bored. Daniel was locked up in his office, slowly but surely creating a live-in structure made entirely of books, parchment and artifacts. Vala was surprised he wasn't more worried about the parchments getting crushed under the heavier tomes but by the time she'd thought to mention it, a wall of "valuable historical items" was blocking him from view and she didn't dare try to create a window without his leave. Sam, one level below, had built a similar mini-fortress out of metal, wiring and glowing things that Vala assumed should worry her more than the parchments. Needless to say, both were less than receptive to her attention as of late, and with Cameron and Teal'c working off-base until the holidays, Vala was left to her own devices.
At first, it was fine. The way she saw it, her teammates were all expected to be good little soldiers and were therefore being robbed of the holiday cheer! So she'd taken it upon herself to spruce up their lives. She'd had to do some research what with this being her first Christmas on Earth but by the end she'd been quite pleased with the results. But…as mentioned, Daniel and Sam barely noticed her efforts except to warn her not to move or touch anything, and the boys weren't around to enjoy them. Also, it seemed no one was quite as pleased to walk into their locked bedrooms to find them bedecked in holly and garlands. Ungrateful, the lot of them.
Nevermind then, it's not like she didn't have better things to do. She would just… She could… She could always go to the mess hall and enjoy the company of chocolate pudding.
"Walt, you have to relax. If not for you, then for me, you're really getting on my nerves."
Or she could kill at least 5 minutes eavesdropping on the table behind her while eating her chocolate pudding.
"Sly, you don't understand. I've been trying to do some digging, some probing, you know? To get any sense of what he might like and I think he knows."
Well this was juicier than she'd expected for a 3pm conversation in the mess hall but who was she to look a gift horse in the mouth?
"Of course he knows, Walt. He's the General, he knows everything. You're good but you're no Radar."
Vala was…confused. She wouldn't be surprised if Walter had a penchant for the lesser gender and the man did all but worship General Landry but this was still a bit much.
"I know. But now he's started turning it against me."
"What do you mean?"
"He's started dropping…hints."
"Well that's good, isn't it?"
"I don't think they're real hints! Well, I think some are but he's mixing them in with hints that are just meant to toy with my mind!"
"Like this morning, I gave him his coffee and when I go to leave, he starts telling me about this French roast brew he used to have when he was just a Captain. About how he'd have it every morning and because it was the most exciting time of his life, that brew was forever branded as an instant pick-me-up for him. So I thought, Great! All I need is some digging for the brand name and I'm set, right?"
"No! Because then he starts talking about the coffee maker in terms that…I just don't want to repeat them but let's just say he was attached to it, and then it broke and he couldn't afford a replacement so he had to start going to a coffee shop and he had never had occasion to buy that coffee maker again."
"So he wants a specific coffee maker?"
"You'd think! But no, then he starts reminiscing about the specific coffee shop and how he'll always remember it because the chairs for the tables had moderate butt grooves carved into the actual wood. He wouldn't stop talking about how even the expensive, padded, special pencil-pusher chairs could never amount to the comfort those butt-groove wooden ones had given him."
"This is getting weird."
"It's been days of this, Sly. Days! Yesterday, don't ask me how, but I think he was hinting that he wanted stockings."
"Like over the firep-"
"So what are you going to do?"
"My current plan A consists of me walking into the back-end of an active wormhole."
"Don't you mess with my stargate, Harriman."
"You're a good friend…"
"And I will remain as much as long as you don't make me work overtime to fix my gate after you and your entrails have exploded in it."
"I don't think that's how that works...and I feel like that's something you should know. Can you just help me, please? What are you giving him for Christmas?"
Somehow, while researching Christmas customs, Vala had managed to gloss over that particular tradition. Of course, it was only logical – every big celebration throughout the universe typically came with the exchange of gifts but for someone who had lived in the "If I want it – oh look it's mine now" mentally, the idea of needing to gift someone with something was no longer natural.
Vala stood up from her table so quickly that her chair toppled, but she paid it no mind. She turned to Walter's table, placed the remainder of her chocolate pudding in front of him, patted him on the head and made her way out to do more research.
"This place is getting weirder by the year." She didn't hear Sgt. Siler say as she left.
Vala was an amazing gift-giver, ask anyone! The problem she was facing is that: a) most of her gifts wererelieved from one random owner or another to be given to her intended recipient, b) they were amazing because they were typically very expensive and very rare and/or alien. Seeing as she was grounded on Earth with the rest of her team and not on vacation and therefore unable to requisition the gate for personal use, her options for acquiring special gifts were limited. Second, the Tau'ri were somewhat opposed to her…creativeacquisition techniques and she rather doubted that they'd appreciate receiving a token that had been lifted from someone else. Luckily, there was Internet. Doubly lucky was Cameron having left his laptop in his room – at least one person would be enjoying her hard work at decorating.
It took her a few minutes to figure out how to navigate his specific computer but once she got a browser open (and remembered the bizarre word for the popular search engine) it took less than 10 seconds to get the results she wanted and find the perfect article. She studied it intently (in that she scanned it quickly) and took notes (in that she scribbled down the few key words that seemed relevant) like any good student, and then she pondered. In no time, she had come up with perfect presents for Cameron, Teal'c and Sam but of course Daniel wouldn't make it easy on her. After another hour of mulling over the suggestions on the website and coming up with nothing, Vala decided to give up on it for now and go shop for the others. At least she'd feel good about that and it would be out of the way, leaving her then to her dilemma.
Three days later, she'd completed two shopping trips (she had found her inner generosity and decided to help Walter shop – it had absolutely nothing to do with procrastinating on her problems) and had lightened her personal checking account by a respectable amount.
Now she was back to where she started: with nothing to do and needing a gift for Daniel. He just wasn't as easy as the others. Sam was her girlfriend, Cameron like a brother and Teal'c her brother-in-arms and secret ally – they just got each other, and all of their presents were already wrapped and bowed and stashed in her secret base of operations (Cameron's very seasonal room). But Daniel was…Daniel. And they'd been making some minutiae of progress (she thought) towards him becoming her Daniel as she maintained he would be from the start. So she needed something that would hasten him up this hill he'd built in the way of their relationship. She needed something thoughtful and sweet and everything he thought he needed. She'd take care of what heactually needed once he got with the program.
Vala plopped her spoon into her chocolate pudding and went over her notes again. She had rewritten them when she realized that half-written key words didn't ensure she'd remember what they related to. When her spoon held nothing but air when she lifted it up to her mouth, she decided she was never going to find something that satisfied everything on this list of tips, but if she split them up into separate presents not only would she succeed on every front but she would seem ridiculously giving in this season of giving. It was really a win-win situation, she thought. Plus, if, early in the game, he reacted the way she wanted (with that special smile he got when he was surprised and happy with something she'd done – she loved that smile) then she could just stop at that step and save her the trouble of the rest.
And Phase I began. She turned the page in her notebook and started planning.
Operation: HO HO HO
Date: December 18th
Tip #1: Take some time to really think of their interests. What are their hobbies? What do they search for on the Internet, what television shows or kinds of movies do they watch? Are they into sports? Do they read books, and what kind?
Belatedly, Vala realized she should have picked an easier tip than the first. In order, the answers to those questions were: He has none, he works and works some more. Work-related things, none and none. If he was, he hid it from her well. Well now that he does but the books he wants are, of course, work-related and he has an entire library of them anyway. The only way she could get into that particular niche was to go off-world, otherwise everything he needed was at his disposal.
She'd come back to this one.
Operation: HO HO HO
Date: later December 18th
Tip #3: Is there anything they've hinted at wanting? […] If they haven't showed you anything, try to hint at things yourself. […] Show them gift catalogs or clothing online for convenience.
This one she could do. She didn't know why she'd thought she should go in order when Tip #3 was by far the most up her alley.
Now, Daniel had hinted numerous times that he wanted her to go away but she'd already left him in peace for an entire week. Aside from that, he hadn't hinted at anything materialistic but she was no stranger to catalogues and she was nothing if not a master of subtle interrogation. With a spring in her step, she made her way to Level 18. As she walked into his lab, however, she was met with a surprising sight.
The archeologist lifted his head, his brow furrowed with question at her tone.
"I can see you!" She explained, her hand waving about the now considerably neater office.
"Oh, yeah." He scratched at his newly regrowing beard and shook his head sheepishly. "I tend to get a bit overzealous when it's been a while since I could really get in there and focus without interruption."
Daniel must have heard the hesitation in her voice because he shook his head and pushed out a stool.
"You're not bothering me, come in. I haven't seen you for a while." Spotting her armful of catalogues, he started clearing a space for her at the edge of his desk and Vala wasn't sure what to do with that. She knew the Tau'ri phrase "absence makes the heart grow fonder" but this was throwing her off.
"Well, you and Sam made yourselves quite clear that were jonesing, as Cameron would say, for some alone time with your inanimate objects." She laid her catalogues down and sat on the offered stool, her eyes never leaving his face for a sign of what was going on. He grinned, but didn't respond to her baiting.
"I didn't hear any alarms go off so you must have kept yourself out of trouble. What have you been up to? Aside from spontaneous redecorating, of course." He gestured to the tinsel hanging off the masks on his walls. It looked like they were wearing silver wigs. "Thanks for that, by the way. It's very…festive."
"My pleasure." Vala waved him off before she remembered the doorframe where she had hung something far more interesting. "Though I see you weren't a fan of the mistletoe."
"Ah, yeah." He shifted uncomfortably. "I was pretty…focused, as I said, those first few days and I didn't even realize it was there until I had to sign for a delivery and things got very awkward. Twice. So yeah, I took that down. Sorry." He was apologizing for her having inconvenienced him. She was half-tempted to edge her way out and raise the alarm. Her other half was enjoying these pleasantries, though, so she stayed where she was.
"Well I've just been flitting about, very busy and whatnot." Vala declared, buckling back down to her plan. "I was actually just looking for a little quiet corner to look through these magazines and I thought of your office, like the good old days. You know, with less animosity."
Daniel chuckled. He chuckled. And then he nodded.
"Sounds good to me. Are you okay there or should I clear the desk so you can lie down on it?" He teased her…he had no idea how he teased her. Focus.
"No, here's good. Carry on with whatever you were working on, darling. Don't mind me one bit." Vala patted his arm and nonchalantly cracked her first magazine open. His gaze stayed on her a moment longer than necessary and for a moment she thought she'd been made – what, she couldn't suddenly be interested in National Geographics merchandise? – but then he shook his head and dutifully went back to work.
That's when Vala encountered a problem. She had done her homework in preparation for this mission. She had actually read all of these magazines this afternoon and carefully (and nearly invisibly) marked any item she thought would interest Daniel. All she needed was his confirmation on these items, but she couldn't very well pester him every 10 seconds for his opinion. Not when he was being so sweet and attentive for once. Uncooperative ass.
So she sat there and could only work past the guilt of intruding on his work whenever it seemed like he was taking a mini break. Which meant that three hours later, she had noncommittally polite opinions on exactly six items, of one magazine. Eventually, it was time for dinner and she had to conceded defeat. That meant she had failed at two tips on her first day. There were only five tips. Vala sighed and lost herself to her misery. She didn't even think to look over when Daniel leaned backwards to crack his back.
She stood up when he did, and when she looked up, they both tried to speak at the same time, strangely both gesturing towards the door. Now this Daniel she knew.
"Well thank you for a pleasant afternoon, darling, but I must be off. Busy busy busy!" Vala picked up her catalogues and made for the door. Had she not been glaring at them for their failure, she would have seen a speechless archeologist and she might have spared a moment to wonder what Daniel was actually going to say. But she had no time for that, she'd wasted a day and she had to get back to planning. She dumped the offensive catalogues in the next office down, startling Dr. Renfrew, but she ignored him in favour of pulling out her notebook and getting back to the master plan.
Operation: HO HO HO
Date: December 19th
Tip #2: Think of their softer side. Even guys may want teddy bears. Christmas gifts can be more cuddly and emotional.
Vala sighed into her pancakes. She really had to stop thinking she could tackle the hard ones first thing in the morning.
Operation: HO HO HO
Date: noon December 19th
Tip #2: Think of their softer side. Even guys may want teddy bears. Christmas gifts can be more cuddly and emotional.
Nope. Still nothing.
Well, not nothing. She had plenty of cuddly ideas and some involved a teddy but she was trying not to fall back on old habits.
Operation: HO HO HO
Date: still noon, December 19th
Tip #4: Think of your own pocket. Don't splurge on expensive gifts if you can't. Your loved ones won't appreciate your money, but the gesture.
Well that one she could just cross off. She wasn't rich by any means but as she'd borrowed Daniel's credit cards for her first few months, and she'd been living on base (which was an expense calculated into one's pay), andshe'd been paid retroactively for a few months once she was fully instituted into the team, she wasn't in any dire straits financially. Plus, she couldn't say she agreed all that much. Give her a pile of gold any day and she'd she some appreciation.
Operation: HO HO HO
Date: afternoon December 19th
Tip #5: If all else fails, go for the reasonably practical. It is always nice – try things that everyone uses, like stationery. A fancy pen or writing paper and envelopes is always a wonderful gift […] Leather wallets, attaché cases, and money clips are classic men's gifts as well.
She hadn't failed at all else, not really, not yet! But this tip finally gave her a clear-objective that couldn't go wrong.
Vala didn't know what exactly Daniel would do with stationery and envelopes – the article must have been written decades ago. But he did do most of his note-taking by hand! And he was always carrying around 500 unbound sheets of paper just waiting for one wrong turn in the hallway to create an instant parade of large-sized confetti. Finally armed with a solid plan, she immediately packed her things and left for a third trip topside for some shopping, not noticing the twosome rounding the corner.
"Was that Vala?" Sam asked, pointing in the direction of the dark blur shrinking in the distance.
"Yeah." Daniel replied, his jaw shifting to the side as it did when he was upset and/or trying to solve a puzzle that made no sense to begin with.
"We should have asked her to join us for an early supper, I haven't seen her in a while." She replied as they resumed their course for the mess hall.
"I tried yesterday but she seems to be preoccupied with something." Daniel grabbed two trays and handed one to Sam before getting in line. Seeing her companion focused on the choice of entrée, Sam acted quickly.
"You tried what?"
"Asking her to din-" Suddenly the entrées seemed to just really capture Daniel's full attention.
"You tried to ask her to dinner, did you?" Sam gloated, picking a dish at random. "Well that's different."
Daniel sighed loudly. "Everything's different. There's no immediate crisis, we're working regular hours in ouroffices, and she's, I don't know, she seems to be really settling in." Sam wanted to point out that Vala had settled in ages ago and that he was the one slow to acclimatize but he seemed to be on a roll. "And you know how she decorated our offices? Well I don't know about yours but she hung mistletoe in mine which, I suppose isn't surprising at all, but as soon as I saw it I knew she'd be in there every day trying for something and she never did. And when I saw her yesterday, she noticed it was gone but she didn't make a huge deal about it. In fact, she said she'd deliberately stayed away because she knew we wanted to work."
"So what happened yesterday?" Sam probed as they sat down at their table.
"Nothing. She came in looking for a spot to relax for an afternoon and she just read her magazines. Quietly. It was very weird." Daniel had been so distracted by the pervasive silence in his office that he'd especially had an afternoon off with six little working periods instead of the opposite. "I do think she may have been hinting that she wants something from National Geographic for Christmas though."
"Seems to be a trend." Sam replied, gesturing to the table on their right where Dr. Renfrew sat reading an unpleasantly familiar National Geographic catalogue.
The next morning, Vala had some rationalizing to do. The briefcase and the pen she'd gotten were quite handsome and altogether perfect, but she'd had second thoughts about the stationery business. Daniel didn't write letters but she had gotten him a pen for note-taking without anything upon which to take notes. That wasn't the bit she needed to rationalize though. Daniel was very fond of the SGC's notebooks and got all out of sorts when someone tried to give him a different kind. It was why she thought he was a bit…affected…the first few weeks she'd been on base. But she supposed she could understand, she had her favourite lockpick set after all, and trying to attempt a break-in without it just didn't feel right. And she supposed she had grown rather fond of the little notebooks herself through the careful writing down of her plots.
She had gone to the supply officer's office and tried to bargain with him but he'd proven completely unreasonable. He said they were common supplies, to be taken when needed, that she couldn't simply buy them. So she did what any sensible person would do – she decided she had great need of their entire stock and helped herself to it. And really, what did she need to rationalize? It wasn't stealing. She was an employee who intended to give them to another employee. Perfectly logical and it also took care of Tip #4 and Tip #3 since they were free and she had at least one clear recollection of Daniel saying the words "I need to get another notebook". Context be damned.
Now if only she'd anticipated the amount of notebooks actually in stock and gotten more than one briefcase… She wondered if there might be any briefcases in the stockroom. She would check, and then she would enact Phase II.
"Heya, strangers." Cam called out across the mess hall when Teal'c spotted their not-so-long-lost teammates. Sam and Daniel were waiting for them with piping hot coffee and French toast.
"Hey, guys. Welcome back." Sam replied, pushing Cam's food across the table as he sat down in front of her.
"I would say it's good to be back but you really forget how great it is to see the sky until you have it above you again." Cam sighed wistfully.
"Is it still blue?" Daniel asked, unimpressed.
"Yeah, Jackson, it's still blue."
"Then I'm content."
"Is ValaMalDoran not joining us for brunch?" Teal'c asked when everyone just dug in.
"She was supposed to but she's kind of been hard to get a hold of lately. We think she may have forgotten you were coming back today." Sam informed them, stealing the syrup away from Cam before he used it all.
"Speaking of her – has she been breaking into rooms again? Because some kind of schizophrenic Martha Stewart is all over my walls." Cam said around an absurdly large bite.
"Yeah, she did all our rooms and offices." Daniel told his coffee.
"So what's with the notebooks? And are all the presents for me?"
"What notebooks and presents? I didn't get either." Sam looked over to Daniel but he shrugged.
"There's gotta be at least 200 of them, the notebooks, all stacked in piles. And a bunch of little presents wrapped but no stickers or notes on them or anything." Cam said, trying not to be disappointed that the presents might not all be for him. He wouldn't lie – he'd gotten really excited.
"I don't know about that, you'd have to ask her if you can find her." It was the if part of that that really bothered him. Vala was usually incessantly underfoot and now she was impossible find.
It turned out, however, that she was very easy to find if one simply waited in Daniel's office, where Daniel headed after brunch. He'd done 20 minutes of solid not-work before he let himself admit that he really wanted to see Vala and that he would have to deal with that because clearly it wasn't going away. Slumping on his stool, he kicked his legs out to cross at the ankles but met with resistance. Leaning sideways, he saw that the back of the hollow area under his desk was filled with stacked notebooks. Looking around, he saw evidence of slight tampering and when he opened what were supposed to be empty drawers, he found a dozen or more notebooks. It was very curious.
A knock on his open door made him quickly close his drawers – he had no idea why – and turn his attention to Dr. Renfrew who was standing nervously by the door.
"Hello, Dr. Jackson." The twitchy man began. Daniel just looked at him dead on. "I'm sorry to bother you but I was wondering if you might have any spare notebooks? It seems they've run out at supply."
There was a moment of contemplation.
"No, sorry, Doctor. I'm afraid I'm all out too." Daniel replied, his voice aloof and betraying nothing and definitely not asking the nervous man how he'd come by certain magazines.
"Oh, alright. Well thanks." It might have been the end of an awkward exchange had Vala not entered the office just then with another stack of notebooks in her arms.
"Oh, hi Vala, could I have one of those?" Dr. Renfrew asked, much happier with her presence. Vala spared him one glance .
"No, sorry." It was succinct and Daniel loved it. Dr. Renfrew left Daniel's office empty-handed and nobody was sad to see him go. Especially not Daniel himself who was enjoying watching Vala attempt to open another empty drawer of his with her foot while balancing the stack of notebooks in her arms, on one leg.
"Vala, what are you doing?" He asked, not thinking to hide his smile. Not even when she sighed with exasperation and plopped the books down on his desktop instead.
"You weren't supposed to be back until later. What happened to brunch?" She demanded. Her cheeks were flushed and her hair a bit damp on the brow from, he assumed, lugging notebooks from Cameron's room to his office all morning. She was gorgeous.
"I went to brunch, and then it was over and I came here. We missed you there." She looked slightly guilty for having missed it so he changed the subject. "What is all this? Did you clean the supply office out of notebooks to supply us?"
"No, not the team." Vala rolled her and sighed again. "Look, it's part of something much bigger, alright? You'll understand at Christmas. For now, I just…needed a place to stash these before Cameron goes to his room and I can't tell you why."
"Yeah, you've totally been busted. Cam's already been to his room." Daniel informed her and this time managed to control his smile when she looked worried. "He must have gone between your trips to and from. He wasn't angry, just…curious."
"Well good." She replied decisively, shaking off her concern. "So then it's settled. There are notebooks here, and they're not for anyone else but I can't tell you why until Christmas and that's the end of it."
"Okay." Daniel could see he'd acquiesced to her conditions more easily than she'd anticipated, but she answered him with a nod. "Do you need help carrying the rest? Cam said there were hundreds."
"No, Daniel, you can't carry them. That's completely against the point." Clearly she found him uneducated on the finer points of Christmas. "Besides, he's seen the state of his room, the jig is up, I don't see the point in moving the rest for now. Oh, except for his present, that one I should move."
She made a beeline for the door but Daniel's voice stopped her before she was out.
"Hey, you forgot to leave one." He warned her, snagging for the notebook peaking out of her side leg pocket.
"No that one's not-" Her protests dwindled by the time he'd read the title. In hindsight, she regretted labeling the notebook of her secret project in big, clear letters.
OPERATION: HO HO HO
In the time it took her to close her eyes and will reality to be a lie, Daniel had shown as much restraint as he ever had with a new book. That is, none. He was on the second page when she cracked her eyes back open to see something she never expected.
The look. That rare look of surprise and joy she had longed to see. It was there.
She indulged in just watching his expression as he read, less and less concerned with the inherent humiliation of her ridiculous plans and failures being laid bare. Eventually, it was him who broke the silence.
"You had trouble with #1 and #2." He remarked quietly, hints of his wonderment laced in his voice.
"Yes, well, you need a hobby." Vala accused him before grinning. "Honestly, between the basic functions of life and work, you really don't do much."
"I suppose I don't." He admitted, his head bobbing.
"And #2, well…I just couldn't think of anything. I suppose I'm not good at the cuddly emotional side of life either." She shrugged.
"You did have an idea." He pointed out, flipping to the right page and coming nearer. "You just crossed it out."
Vala let out a short, nervous laugh. She didn't need to see the written proof, she remembered that idea quite well on her own.
"Yes well that space was really more for brainstorming and clearly my creativity tapped out after that one thought." She winked at him but he didn't seem fazed.
"I think it was a good thought." He told her, advancing slowly, inch by inch. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Vala thought they were supposed to be on the opposite sides of this situation. There was no universe in which she should be nervous in this moment. But then he laid the notebook down and reached behind her to grab something and she thought maybe she'd just misread the situation. He didn't back away though, he lifted his arm above them and bid her to look up. He may have taken down the mistletoe but he apparently hadn't thrown it out.
She looked away from it and back to his face but had no time to ask a question before his lips were on hers, not softly but not roughly. There was an edge of desperation in his kiss, in the hands that were circling around her to hold her closer, in the fingers making their way through her hair to keep them locked together. Three points of contact and Vala's shock was gone. She kissed him back with everything he was giving her. Her own arms reached up to pull him down closer to her and he went without a fight. It was the end of waiting, it was the sharp slide down after the long climb up the hill, it was her well-deserved victory after a long-fought battle. It was exquisite.
It was exactly what she'd hoped Christmas would be.