Christmas is Here

Author: Orrymain
Category: Slash, Drama, Romance, Holiday, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating: PG-13
Season: Beyond the Series – December 25, 2020
Spoilers: None
Size: 265kb
Written: December 20, 22-25, 2020
Summary: Isolation is over, JD reveals his Christmas wish, and the family enjoys their first visit with their grandparents since early 2020. It all equals a very Merry Christmas for the Jackson-O’Neills.
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't. A gal can dream though!
Notes:
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically. Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s): “In Memoriam” and “Christmas Druthers”

Christmas is Here
by Orrymain

The clock was barely past seven-in-the-morning when JD let out a huge gasp and jumped to a sitting up position. He gulped and looked all around his room. He sprang up out of bed and ran to the window to look outside.

~Dad promised me a white Christmas.~ As JD looked in the backyard, all he saw was snow. It was everywhere. ~Oh boy! Dad never breaks a promise.~

Unfortunately, the snow wasn’t authentic. In fact, it was sunny and bright outside. This was as the forecasters predicted, so once JD went to bed last night, Jack engaged the snow machine at full power. Fortunately, it was cold enough through the night that the backyard was now full of white flakes. The youngest boy was well aware of the snow machine. He’d seen his parents use it before to whiten their yard, but this still felt like Christmas snow to him and he didn’t mind that it was machine-made.

Not changing into daytime attire, JD opened his bedroom door and ran next door to his parents’ room. He saw the door was ajar and peeked in.

~Not there; probably up early to help Santa.~

Still ignoring the ‘no running in the house’ rule, JD ran down the hallway, through the jog, and into the hallway where several of his sibling’s had their bedrooms. Full of energy, he opened the door to the girls’ room first.

“Ash, Jenny: time to get up! It’s time for Christmas!”

JD didn’t wait for a response from the waking females. Instead, he ran out and went to the next bedroom.

“Guys, get up! Hurry! It’s Christmas.”

As JD ran out, Little Danny sat up and yawned, “I love Christmas, but it’s too early.”

“You didn’t feel that way a few years ago,” Jonny reminded as he pulled away the covers.

“He’s old now,” Ricky teased, laughing loudly as he stood up and stretched.

“I’ll get you for that, Ricky,” Little Danny jested as he stood up and made a move as if to start a wrestling match.

“Promise?”

“Later, we’ll wrestle for chocolate cream pie.”

“You’re on,” Ricky agreed with a big smile.

In the hallway, youthful feet jumped up and down in excitement at the door of Chenoa and Lulu. After a brief knock, the youngest Jackson-O’Neill again entered the room.

“It’s Christmas! I think Santa’s been here. Get up!” JD shouted.

The next room was Brianna’s. It was the last room on the left side of the house addition.

So full of excitement that he barely tapped on the door, JD ran inside the room, not even realizing Brianna’s embarrassment as she pulled her robe taut.

“JD, knock!”

“Bri, Christmas is here!”

“Listen, Squirt, I know it’s Christmas, but I literally am just getting dressed and I hope you didn’t notice that the only thing I have on is this robe.”

“But Christmas is here. Come see, Bri!”

Brianna leaned over, gave her little brother a kiss on the cheek, and promised, “I’ll be right down. Merry Christmas, JD!”

“Merry Christmas, Bri! Hurrrrry!”

“I will.”

JD now ran in reverse and when he ended up back in the original hallway, he still didn’t go downstairs. Instead, he ran past the master bedroom, re-entered his room that was once the nursery, and then pounded on the door that separated it from the small room David still chose to live in. Even though a man now, the genius really loved his little space and refused all offers to move into either Jennifer’s or Jeff’s old rooms.

“David …”

“I know, JD It’s Christmas! Are you ready?”

“I’m big-time ready, David. Hurry!”

“All I need are shoes,” David commented as he looked down at his stocking feet.

JD nodded and then scurried down the stairs, shouting, “It’s Christmas!” He saw his parents standing by the big tree in the living room and called out, “Dad, Daddy, Christmas is here, and it’s a white Christmas, too!~

“It sure is, Sport,” Jack responded to his son.

As he looked around, JD noticed that Jennifer and Jeff were both up already and stood to the right of their parents. There was an abundance of presents not there the night before, but it was something else he saw that made his eyes grow as big as silver dollars.

“Yep,” Jack affirmed. “Not only did Santa get the milk and cookies that Jeff put up on the roof for him, but he also found the plate and glass you left him out on the back patio.”

“Wow!” JD exclaimed.

The nine-year-old child was amazed. It was Jeff who told him earlier in the month that because of COVID-19, Santa welcomed parents to leave the traditional milk and cookies on the roof for him. When Jeff joined the family in isolation, he told his parents he would like to put the milk and cookies in place, which he did on Christmas Eve with JD’s help. The young boy perched himself in the tree house to get the best view of the home’s rooftop and shouted out instructions to Jeff on where he wanted the goodies placed.

The bigger thrill for JD, though, was the second plate he saw. The milk was half gone and so were all of the cookies, except for the last bite of one.

“Santa was stuffed when he left. He couldn’t even get that last bite into that big belly of his,” Jack explained with a bit of a smirk.

“He found it! He found it, just like he said he would,” JD marveled in a quieter voice. ~He really found it. Santa is forever. I love Santa.~

In the hubbub of the night before Christmas, JD sneaked out of the house and onto the back patio porch. He went all the way to the corner and placed his specially made plate of cookies and glass of milk on the part of the porch that wrapped around the left side of the home.

~Only Santa would have looked there,~ the boy determined in his mind.

**Well done, Babe,** Daniel expressed via the special and most unique communication ability that he and his husband had shared over two decades now. **Look at him. He thinks Santa found it.**

**That was the goal of my recon, Angel. Our kids should never be underestimated. It was a challenge,** Jack returned, happy that he’d thought of doing the recon at almost the last minute. ~I don’t think I’ll tell him that I could swear I heard Santa in my ear telling me to check the patio, or that those cookies were gone, except for that last bite.~ Jack looked around at the growing gathering of family and decided, ~Nope. Lips are sealed.~

“We got up early to help Santa,” Daniel pointed out to JD. “It’s a good thing we did. Look at all these presents.”

JD couldn’t even speak. He was totally flabbergasted. As he stood, totally astonished by the myriad of gifts, the rest of his siblings entered the room. They were all dressed and ready for a very special gathering of the family.

Then JD swallowed and made an admission, saying, “Dad, Daddy, everyone: I saw Santa last night, or maybe real early this morning. I don’t know what time it was.”

“You did?” several family members queried, some with smiles of wonder and some with little smirks that the youngster was simply dreaming.

“He gave me my Christmas wish,” JD claimed.

“What was that?” Daniel asked gently.

“I asked him if I could meet Rudolph and if it was okay, if I could ride him,” JD answered. “He said it was okay. I got to feed Rudolph some of his magic food that helps him fly and we flew around the sky, but only for a minute because Santa had to go.”

“I thought Santa left the reindeer at the North Pole this year,” Ricky spoke in confusion, wanting to believe his younger brother, but not really able to do so.

“He did,” JD responded without missing a beat. “He just brought Rudolph here, for me, and then Rudolph went back to the North Pole. You know, that tele-thing.”

“Teleportation,” Jeff clarified.

“Yeah, that.” JD smiled and looked up at his two fathers. “Santa said to tell you both that he’s really liked watching us grow over the years. He said we’re good kids and none of us have ever made the naughty list. He did say you were on the naughty list once, Dad.”

“Me?”

Nodding, JD revealed, “He said it was the year that you cut off the pigtails of some girl, um, Dorothy Jane Ferguson.”

“Babe, is that the same girl? You know, when Billy taught you how to tie pigtails together,” Daniel inquired.

“… and not get caught,” Jack boasted. “Same one.”

“Whoa! You really did that, Dad?” Jonny questioned.

“Spill the beans, Dad,” Jenny urged.

“What’s the story?” David interrogated.

“Whoa, gang!”

“Yeah, whoa,” JD spoke up loudly. “I’m not done.”

“Sorry,” a bunch of voices apologized.

“Santa said you were on the list, but he took you off because you said you were sorry to Dorothy and her parents, and you did extras chores to give her money for a good haircut, and you took her to the spring dance. Santa said if you hadn’t taken her, no one else would have. He said you were always very nice to her after you cut off her pigtails and made her feel special that year, so he took you off the naughty list.”

“Ooookay,” Jack sighed. ~How does he know this stuff? Billy’s the only one I told, and we were still kids then. Geez, haven’t talked about this to anyone since … crap, ages. I’m old.~

“Jack?” Daniel prompted.

“Okay, yeah, I did cut off her hair. Those dang ponytails kept flipping around, disturbing my study. Dad lit into me pretty good for doing that, and Mom was … angry, upset, and disappointed. I had a sore behind and lots of time to think about what I’d done.”

“So you asked her out on a mercy date?” David inquired.

Jack was about to answer in the affirmative, but he grew serious and said, “Kids, I learned a big lesson from my not-so-funny prank. Dorothy Jane was a very nice girl. She actually liked playing with things like guns and little toy soldiers. The truth is I liked her and she was a great date, even if I did get a lot of guff from the guys.”

“Do you know what happened to her?” Daniel queried.

“Nope. Her parents moved to Alaska of all places the next year, so haven’t a clue where or how she ended up.”

“Dad, how would JD know about Dorothy if Santa didn’t tell him?” Aislinn wondered aloud, something all of the children were doing at the time.

“Well, like we told you earlier,” Daniel began, “Santa is real. We’ve met him and apparently, JD has, too. I can’t tell any of you what to believe, but I suggest you take what you’ve heard to heart, consider the source,” he smiled at the young boy, “and then decide what you believe, or don’t believe.”

Jack picked up JD, looked straight into eyes, and declared, “I believe you, Son. Santa knows all. I did cut Dorothy Jane’s pigtails, and I haven’t told a sole about that since it happened. In my opinion, Santa paid you a visit during his holiday run.”

“He did, Dad. He really did.”

Back down so he was standing on the carpet, JD searched the faces of his siblings. He felt oddly strange, thinking they didn’t believe him.

The children exchanged looks and it was Little Danny who leaned over to face JD eye-to-eye and said, “JD, I believe you, one-hundred percent.”

JD’s smile grew so that his face felt like it was about to burst.

“Me, too, JD. Man, I wish I’d met Santa,” Jonny spoke with envy.

The proclamations continued until every member of the family expressed their belief in JD’s story. Somehow, Santa came while they were sleeping and gave JD his Christmas wish for 2020, to meet Rudolph. No one lied. No one hedged. Each member of the brood stated the truth as they saw it. JD wasn’t asleep. He wasn’t dreaming. He didn’t imagine it. He experienced a rarity for humans: he’d met Santa.

“Hey, we have a big day planned. Grandpa and Grandma will be here around noon, so let’s have some breakfast and then we can open a few presents,” Jack told the family.

“Wait!” The cry came from Chenoa, who gave a nod to Lulu. She watched her sister begin up the stairs. “Hurry, Lulu.”

“I’m hurrying.”

“Please, everyone find a spot. I have something important to give all of you for Christmas. Lulu is helping me,” Chenoa explained.

“It’s not another isolation, is it?” Aislinn joked as she sat on the third stair from the bottom.

“Maybe,” Chenoa half-teased. “But it won’t last as long. That I can promise.”

“What is it, Princess?” Jack asked from his chair where he was now seated, the still elated JD on his lap.

“Well, we worked very hard to isolate, cutting ourselves from all other living beings outside our home for two long weeks, right?”

“Right,” came a flurry of affirmations.

“In a few hours, our grandparents, the most at-risk people we know for COVID will be in our house, right?”

Again, multiple answers in the affirmative played out across the room.

“Well, don’t you want to make absolutely sure that we, all of us, including the zoo, are truly safe as of this moment, to know positively that none of us will harm Grandpa and Grandma?”

“Of course, we don’t want to hurt them,” Jonny, who was seated on the carpet near the left end of the coffee table, responded.

“Well, then, we’re going to prove it,” Chenoa told her family.

“Here it is, Noa.”

“Thanks, Lulu,” Chenoa said as she placed the box on the long table against the wall.

Chenoa opened it and pulled out two pairs of plastic gloves, handing one pair to Lulu while putting on the other pair herself. Then she retrieved the first item from the box and showed it to the family.

“That’s a … a …” Daniel began.

“… swab,” both parents observed in unison.

“We’re all going to be swabbed. We could have spit into cups, but I don’t like doing that, especially on Christmas and …”

“Before breakfast,” Jonny said with a grimace.

“Right,” Chenoa responded. This is the COVID-19 test, the easy one, not that horrid thing that goes up your nose,” Chenoa clarified. “We’re also going to test the zoo, all of them.”

“The zoo?” Brianna challenged. “Why?”

“Bri, it doesn’t get a lot of attention because people are worried about people, and not animals.” Chenoa looked back at Little Danny, who was sitting on the stairs next to Aislinn. “You were right, Little Danny, to be worried about Bij, Katie, Mittens, and Callie. Animals do get COVID.” She elaborated, “There are medical places that have been testing animals all along. As is happens, several species have been found with COVID: dogs, cats, leopards, minks. Now, it is a small percentage and animals can, but haven’t really, passed on the virus to humans. Dogs especially haven’t done that, but some cats have. Other animals, like hamsters, can get it and pass it on, too. It’s believed the animals who have gotten it, got it from humans caring for them. Anyway, the point is, that the animals rarely get it, rarely pass it on, and very rarely die from it.”

“Some have died?” Ricky surmised sadly.

“I’ve only heard about two dogs in the United States dying, but one is controversial. They think it was something else and the other had severe underlying conditions. He was a shepherd-mix. It all means that, yes, we’re going to test the entire zoo this morning, and, yes, we need to continue to be vigilant with the animals we love.”

“Thank you for telling us that, Sweetie,” Daniel expressed to the nurse wannabe.

“Okay, I have kits for everyone. I’ll remove the swab and put it all around the inside of your mouth and then put it in a tube and back in the bag. I’ll hand the bag to Lulu, who will make sure the container is sealed, and then she’ll put the sample back in the box. Dad, will you be first?”

“The leader of the troops always shows his courage,” Jack proclaimed. “Swab me.”

To the right of Jennifer on the sofa, Jeff laughed, “Would you ever say no, Dad?”

“With the twelve of you here? Never,” the father admitted as he opened wide.

JD was looking deep inside Jack’s mouth, so much so that Chenoa warned, “JD, please sit forward. You don’t want to contaminate the swab.”

“Sorry, Noa.”

“It’s okay,” Chenoa replied with a smile as moved forward and down to get the right entry for the swab. “Watch, guys. This is simple. All I’m doing is inserting the swab into Dad’s mouth. I’m swabbing the inside of his cheeks.” She stopped for a second and then continued her swabbing. “Then I’m going under and on top of his tongue, and, finally, the roof of his mouth.” She stood upright and announced, “That’s all there is to it. See, it only takes five to ten seconds max.” She looked at Jack and asked, “Did it hurt?”

“Painless. JD, you’re up next.”

“Lulu, take this,” Chenoa instructed as she put the already-labeled tube into a protective holder. Put it back in the box where I showed you and then find JD’s sample.”

“Sorry, Honey, would it have been better to let you tell us who’s next?” Daniel wondered.

“Yes, but we’ll do JD next, proof that it doesn’t hurt or bother him, and then we’ll go in the order of whichever sample kit is pulled out of the box.”

The testing continued. JD wanted to laugh, claiming it tickled, and that made it easy on the rest of the brood.

“Okay, Lulu, you do me.”

“Noa, are you sure?” the insecure brunette questioned.

“Yes, just do it like we practiced. I could do it myself, but I’d rather you took the sample.”

“Okay. Here goes nothing.”

As Lulu put the last human sample kit back into the box, Chenoa announced, “Time for zoo, and this is going to take some help. I don’t know that any of them will sit still, except maybe Bij and Katie.”

“I’ll take snout duty,” Jack offered, understanding fully that the members of the zoo might get a bit cranky about a swab being inserted into their mouths. “The boys will handle the rear ends,” he instructed.

“We’ll watch,” Jenny mused, happy not to have to hold down potentially upset pets. ~I should help with Peanut Brittle, though. He’ll feel safer, I think,~ she thought about the large Galápagos tortoise who resided in his own habitat in the backyard.

“Hey, what about Bogey?” Jonny asked.

The nurse-to-be answered, “I have a kit for him, Jonny. We can test him when Aunt Sam brings him back tomorrow.”

“Um, what about Chipper?” David interjected. “We didn’t even know he was going to be with us.”

“I have a few extras,” Chenoa assured.

“Noa, how’d you get these anyway?” an inquisitive Jack questioned.

With a grin, the young girl explained, “That was part of Aunt Janet’s Christmas present to me.”

“Part?” Daniel piped up with intrigue.

“What’s the other part?” Brianna inquired.

“You’ll see in a little while. Okay, I’m ready. We need Bij and Katie up first.”

It wasn’t easy to swab the animals. Peanut Brittle wasn’t happy about the mouth swab and neither was Chocolate, one of the two Shetland ponies. The rabbits and guinea pigs took it surprising well, but Mittens and Calico had to be held carefully, neither cat eager to be swabbed.

Glancing inside the box of samples, Daniel noted, “You do have some extra kits in here.”

“There’s one each for the horses at Uncle Mike’s,” Chenoa explained. “And there are four extras in case they were needed, like with Chipper, and one is for Bogey.”

“Great job, Princess,” Jack praised.

“Noa, how are you going to get these tested?” David probed.

“That’s the other part of my present from Aunt Janet and …” Just then, a few honks were heard from a car outside. “… and that should be it now.”

Chenoa made sure the kits were safe, closed up the box, and then took it to the front door, which Lulu opened for her. The family couldn’t help but want to see what was happening so they all followed the girl to the door to watch.

Putting the box down on the porch, Chenoa saw her aunt still standing by her car parked on the street.

“They’re all here, Aunt Janet, except for Bogey and including Chipper.”

“Any problems?” Janet shouted.

“No. You’re so great for doing this, Aunt Janet.”

“My pleasure, Noa. I can’t thank you enough for all the help you’ve given me this year. I’m proud of you. Merry Christmas! Now go away so I can get the box. I have people waiting on me.”

Chenoa laughed and waved, “Merry Christmas, Aunt Janet. I love you.”

Cries of love also rang out from the rest of the family, even as Chenoa closed the door and locked it.

“I thought the Doc was on Chulak for the holidays now that know Jaffa are immune,” Jack put forth.

“She was, but she came back to do this for us. She’s going to take the kits to the Mountain and do all the tests there and then she’ll call with the results.”

“What a woman,” Jack stated. “Little Napoleon with a heart of gold.”

“Uh, let’s have breakfast,” Daniel suggested. “JD, you need to get dressed.”

“Okay, Daddy.”

Immediately, JD started for the stars while the rest of the Jackson-O’Neills headed for the hospitality room to start preparations for the first meal of the day, but it was then that they heard a jingling noise and then a boisterous, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

“We’re never going to eat again,” Jonny groaned, not yet realizing who the intruder was, but once he did, food was the last thing on his mind.

Mouths agape and eyes wider than ever, the parents and kids turned back to face the fireplace and there he was, Santa in his familiar red garb, grinning and waving.

“Jack, Daniel, you have a wonderful collection of children.” Santa looked at all the brood and commented, “Stay good, kids.” He focused on JD and announced, “JD, Rudolph was sorry you couldn’t ride him longer. He asked me to bring you a special present as a thank you for believing in him and loving him.”

“A present?” JD gasped as he hurried over the man with the white beard. “He doesn’t have to give me a present, Santa.”

“He wants to,” Santa insisted. “Here you go,” he pulled the item out of his pocket and handed it to an eager JD. “This is the collar Rudolph has worn for the last, oh, I’d say hundred years or so. The reindeer don’t wear their collars often, but when they do, Ho! Ho! Ho!, the noise they make. It’s jingle jangle non-stop. Ho! Ho! Ho! Mrs. Claus has been telling him for decades that he needed a new one, and, Ho! Ho! Ho!, Rudolph decided she was right, so he’s giving you this one. Keep it safe. It’s very special.”

~I got it,~ Jonny thought. ~Santa laughs with his Ho! Ho! Ho!’s; it’s not just a remark or exclamation~ He smiled and verified to himself, ~He’s laughing.~

“Thank you, Santa,” JD replied, sharing a hug with the jolly man. Pulling back, he added, “Please tell Rudolph I’ll take very good care of this forever and ever and ever.”

“He knows,” Santa replied. “Well, I must be on my way. Mrs. Claus gets disturbed if I’m gone too long on Christmas Day.” He chuckled, his belly shaking in the process, “She worries. It takes so long to deliver the presents now, even with teleportation.”

“It was nice to see you again, Santa,” Daniel spoke, his voice very gentle and soft.

“Danny, you keep that little boy out. It took a long time for Jack to pry your child away from darkness. Now that he has, enjoy the beauty and innocence of childhood. It’s forever, you know.”

Bobbing his head up and down and his voice quivering slightly, Daniel acknowledged, “I do know, Santa, and, uh, Danny is here to stay.”

The kids grinned. It was actually the first time they’d ever heard their daddy refer to himself as Danny. They all knew a great deal of his past now, including the fact that the only living person allowed to call him ‘Danny’ was their dad.

“Good.” Santa smiled, turned, and then turned back. “And, JD, next year, just one plate of milk and cookies. Mrs. Claus is going to put me on a diet if I gain too much weight.”

“I’m sorry, Santa. I just …”

“You believe, but you wanted to make sure I exist,” Santa stated.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Now you know.”

Brightly, JD responded, his eyes beaming with joy, “You’re Santa Claus and I love you.”

“I love you, JD, and all of you. Now I must be off. Ho! Ho! Ho! Merrrrrry Christmas! Merrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry Christmas to one and all!”

In an instant, Santa was gone.

“Okay, I wasn’t expecting that,” Jack remarked.

“Me, either,” Daniel agreed.

“Me, either, but I’m hungry, and I wanna open presents,” JD told his parents.

“Food. Lead on, kids,” Jack instructed.

The experience felt surreal, but also was real to the Jackson-O’Neills. They decided to go forward with their day and let the visit with Santa settle silently within them. They could discuss it later, whenever later might be. For now, the family craved food.

“I’m afraid to say it,” Jack spoke.

“Then don’t,” Daniel suggested.

“Okay, let’s just saunter elsewhere, shall we?”

JD headed upstairs to dress while the still surprised children got the message of their dad’s words and cautiously headed for the hospitality room where the cooking for breakfast did at last get under way.

====

Having kept their food choices light since they knew dinner would be huge, breakfast was over fairly quickly. It was enough to satisfy the hunger and allow brainwaves to consider things other than food.

The family squeezed together in the living room for a truly fun part of the day: opening presents. Happy to participate, Jennifer and Jeff shared distribution duties.

“Only two per customer,” Jack instructed the young adults.

“But …” JD began to object.

“We’ll get to more when Grandpa and Grandma get here,” Jack advised.

“Okay, Dad,” JD replied a bit reluctantly.

**Jack, maybe we should do three gifts right now,** Daniel put forth to his lover. **There are so many. The general will have to stay overnight just so we can get through them all, and while I personally wouldn’t mind that, I don’t think that’s what they have in mind.**

Jack thought for a moment, gave his husband a nod, and then called out, “Jen, Jeff: make that three gifts each.**

“Yes!” Jonny exclaimed with a fist pump, causing some laughter. He shrugged and explained, “I love Christmas.”

“And Christmas presents,” Aislinn teased.

“Yeah, okay, there’s that,” Jonny admitted, sounding very much like his dad.

Jack and Daniel exchanged a knowing look and smiled before sharing a kiss. While they didn’t think they were anything worth writing home about, they loved how their children took after them with all of their best qualities.

In fact, the older the Munchkins got, the more they spoke and acted like their parents. They all knew it, laughed at it from time to time, but mostly, the triplets embraced their likenesses to their dad and daddy. Aislinn also had the special gift, as she thought of it, to be a bit more like their mother, Kayla Armentrout. To the close-knit trio, being like their parents was the best thing anyone could say. Each of the three wanted nothing more than to be good representations of those who gave them life.

For the next period of time, the clan opened three presents per giftee. The presents were a mixture of bought goods, hand-made items, and other unique gifts.

“Wait!” Aislinn called out. She looked at her older father and then retrieved a package from beneath the tree. “Dad, it’s the same gift for Jeff and Jen. Can I please give this to Jeff to open while Jen opens her?” She smiled. “That way, I don’t have to explain it again.”

“Permission granted,” the general conceded.

“Thanks.” Aislinn handed the gift to Jeff and then watched as he and Jennifer unwrapped the small boxes. “It’s not just paper. Those are two certificates for each of you. The gift is two times of emergency babysitting duties for each of you. This is true emergency duty. It means you can call at the last minute, even if I’m not home. If you have a way to reach me, you can tell me you need me now, right then, and no matter what I’m doing, at a movie,” she groaned, realizing that was still unlikely for months to come, “at the mall, eating lunch, whatever. You get me and you’ve got me.”

“Ash, are you sure, because I’ll use this,” Jennifer examined her sister.

“I mean it. I know sometimes things come up, Sheila comes to down without calling or maybe Chely’s mom needs her. It doesn’t matter the reason. I’ll come, two times, for each of you; and that’s beyond just the normal babysitting stuff we do all the time.”

As members of the brood laughed in understanding, Jeff and Jennifer both thanked their sister.

“Woof! Woof!” Bijou said happily as she paraded around the room with her new bone toy.

“You’re welcome,” Jack responded, scooping up the shredded holiday wrap that Bijou had just torn apart to get to her toy.

David was about to open his second gift, the first being a coffee table book on rocks and minerals.

“I know it’s a little old,” Jenny had sighed about the 1974 book, “and you probably know all of it anyway, but it was at a garage sale when they thought it was safe for everyone to be out. It’s in perfect condition. I thought you might like it, for display or something.”

“I love it, Sis. Rocks are never old,” David had teased.

Now the young man had a much smaller box in his hand. He wondered what it could be as he pulled on the string that was the shape of a petite bow atop it.

“David, please wait,” Daniel requested, after which he looked at Jack for a moment and saw the node. What was about to be said had been the subject of long and intense discussions for the past month; actually, since mid-November when the archaeologist ran into Mitzi Miller at the mall. “Son, this is not easy for Dad and me. We, uh, don’t want to push you, but we have it on good authority that this may be something you want, but are afraid to tell us.”

David swallowed. His eyes threatened to mist. There was only one thing his daddy could be talking about, only how would he know?

“Son, we want you to know we love you. We want you in this house as long as you want to be here,” Jack put forward in earnest. “Stay, go, come back, go again: this is your home. It will always be your home.”

“Mrs. Miller told me about Calvin, David, that he’s having a hard time with the memories of his father and that he wants to get away.” Daniel paused, his eyes upon the once-frightened, sensitive boy who was often picked on by others for being a nerd. How David had grown. Seeing the young man he now was, the younger father became emotional and couldn’t speak. “J’ck.”

“David, open it up,” Jack said while also supportingly reaching out to take his husband’s hand in his.

The brood was stunned, their curiosity great when they saw the gift.

Slowly, David removed the tissue paper and pulled out the silver key.

“Mitzi said Calvin wanted to move out and that you were considering rooming with him, at least for a while,” Jack stated, ignoring the murmurings of several children. “She told us there was a specific apartment the two of you liked, but that you weren’t sure about the commitment. From what Mitzi said and what we know of you, Son, Daddy and I think your hesitation might be us.”

Daniel added, “Dad and I, along with Mrs. Miller, have paid the first and last months’ rent plus the security deposit. The rental agent agreed to hold the apartment through New Year’s Day. You have to give her a decision by the second of January.”

“You can move in any time. The apartment is there, ready for the two of you.”

“But if you don’t want to go …”

“Or if you get there and hate it …” Jack continued.

“Or if you just hate it,” Chenoa interjected, wiping away a tear. ~First, Jen and now, David. I’m not sure I like growing up.~

David nodded, whispered thanks, and put the key in his shirt pocket. He felt his cheeks moisten and realized he was crying. Moving away from home was not something he was eager to do, but he was truly worried about Calvin Miller and felt that if they moved into an apartment together, he could get Calvin over the hump and back into the land of the living. He looked at his younger sister, Chenoa, and saw her tears on a very brave face.

“The three Mouseketeers,” David mumbled.

“Bro, listen to me,” Jennifer begged as she walked over to her birth brother and knelt in front of him. Taking his hands, allowing the empty box to drop to the ground, she orated, “We all grow up. Sometimes that’s painful. Trust me, David, leaving home, even to marry Peter, was so darn hard. I love this family. Dad and Daddy took the three of us in,” she paused, looked back, and waved Chenoa over, the three children joining their hands together, “the three Mouseketeers. We were going to be separated, maybe never see each other again, and a miracle occurred. Better yet, we didn’t just get an awesome set of parents, we got the brood. Every last one of them are beautiful and have made our lives so much richer. Still, we can’t remain here forever. Life is moving forward. That doesn’t mean we can’t come back and maybe when we do, it’s just for a short time.” Jennifer glanced over at Jeff. “The last two weeks have been the most wonderful gift for me. I never thought we’d get to have another pillow fight, to be there when Dad and Daddy say their daily goodnights to each of us, to argue over the chores.” She chuckled and looked again for just a second at Jeff. “It’s been a blessing, but it’s ending today, for Jeff and me. We have great lives with our own families now, but in our hearts, we’re Jackson-O’Neills; we’re the brood; and we’re just us. If you need to go, then don’t be afraid to go because Dad and Daddy and all of us: David, we’re still here. We’ll always be here, no matter where we are.”

With that, a crying Jennifer enwrapped her brother with a big hug and then joined with him and Chenoa in another special Mouseketeer hug. Then she returned to her seat, leaning her head against Jeff’s left shoulder as he put his arm around her.

“Well said, Sis.”

“Do you think he heard me?” Jennifer asked softly.

“He did.”

Chenoa went back to her spot next to Lulu. She liked the hugs, but the idea of David moving away still was disturbing. That said, she kept a brave face and would continue to do so in order to help her brother. She didn’t want to be responsible for his remaining at home, not if he felt the need to be elsewhere.

Finally, David managed to say, “Thank you, Dad and Daddy. Can we talk about it more, tomorrow maybe?”

“Anytime you want,” Jack promised. “Hey, elves, we’re not done.”

“I’ve only opened one gift,” JD whined.

“Oops! Sorry, Bro,” Jeff spoke while moving over to the tree again and pulling out a gift with JD’s name on it.

Jack and Daniel both grinned at seeing the chosen present. They believed their son would love it.

JD tore off the wrapping with great force and pulled out his gift.

“A train! My own engine!” JD held the item out for all to see and fuss over. “It’s awesome Dad and Daddy!”

“You’ll have to think of a name for it,” Jack told the boy.

“Protect it and treat it right and maybe that train will grow,” Daniel suggested.

“Welcome to the train depot, JD,” Jonny said, after which he placed his hand on JD’s head and messed up his hair playfully.

“Thanks, Jonny. My own engine.”

“What are you going to call it?” Ricky inquired.

“The … the … um, I’m going to call it … uh, well, I know!” the happy youngster exclaimed.

“Then tell us,” Jenny demanded.

“I’m going to call it The Thorster.”

“The … Thorster?” Daniel questioned.

“Thorster, as in …” Jack began.

“Uncle Thor will love it,” JD opined.

“Yes, I’m sure he will,” the older father replied dryly while giving his husband a look of disbelief.

**Don’t fret, Jack. You know JD loves Thor.**

**I know, but that used-to-be little gray butt keeps invading our lives.**

**After saving our lives, you mean.**

**I give.**

**Smart.**

Jack grumbled, but quickly returned to the holiday spirit as three more presents were opened by the children.

As the family separated to make sure everything was ready for their grandparents, the phone rang.

“I’ll get it!” Chenoa called out anxiously and went hastily to the phone. “Hello.” She nodded and listened. “Yes.” More listening. Then a smile, a big smile, formed on her face. “Thanks, Aunt Janet. Tell Teal’c we all love and miss him and have a good time on Chulak.”

“Well?” Jack prodded.

“Every test was negative, including the zoo.” Chenoa clapped excitedly and exclaimed, “We’re clear to see Grandpa and Grandma!”

The children cheered and the whole family exchanged hugs. It was thirty minutes until noon when their grandparents were scheduled to arrive. They were all so giddy from anticipation they could barely think. It was a wonderful feeling for them.

====

“Son, two minutes,” Jack advised Jeff.

“And,” Jeff turned on the camera he was adjusting, “on. Dad, all three cameras are on. I’m going to keep them running all day and just keep changing film and digital cards as necessary.”

“That’ll be a lot of editing.”

“I don’t mind,” Jeff replied. “I told the brood you said it was okay for them to keep their phones handy so they could catch anything spontaneous or that they think is special, just to make sure we get it. You’re still okay with that?”

“Yep. We want this Christmas memory available for when we’re old and feeble, all of us,” Jack joked.

“Jack, they’re here!”

“Yippee!” Jack cried out unabashedly. “Kids, let’s go get your grandparents and show them some love!”

That’s all the brood needed. They threw open the front door and ran out to the driveway where space had been left for the Hammonds to park. There were happy shouts and plenty of tears as the children felt the touch of George Hammond for the first time in months. There was more joy as they greeted former neighbor, Sophia Valissi, who was now Mrs. Hammond and thus, their grandmother.

With kids huddled all around them, the Hammonds’ movement towards the front door wasn’t possible, except for an inch at a time. Then Hammond had an idea.

“Brood, the trunk is full. Here, get your presents,” Hammond suggested as he handed Jonny the keys to the car, which included a trunk key.

“Grandpa, we love you,” Aislinn sighed as she placed a kiss on his cheek. “You didn’t need to bring us any presents. You and Grandma are we want.”

Hammond believed Aislinn, especially when not a single Jackson-O’Neill was yet willing to part from he or his wife, not even for presents.

“I’ve missed all of you so dang much,” Hammond replied. He looked at his wife and emotionally declared, “We’re lucky people, Dear; very lucky.”

Sophia nodded and shared another embrace with Jennifer, who actually considered her a grandmother before Sophia married, or even knew, George Hammond.

“I love you, Grandma,” Jennifer proclaimed.

“You should be with your own family, Jen.”

“We have forever to be together. Peter wanted this for me, Grandma. He really did.”

“He’s a sweet man, kind and aware. That’s unusual, Jen. Don’t ever let him drift away.”

“I won’t,” Jennifer promised.

“Jeff’s pretty lucky himself.”

“Chely’s the best. Like Peter, this was her idea, all her idea.” In reflection, Jennifer put forth, “I’m not sure, but I think Jeff and I did luck out to have spouses who let us continue our love for the family we grew up with, but don’t worry, Grandma, we know we’re lucky and neither one of us will ever take our spouses for granted.”

“See that you don’t,” Sophia warned with an intense look. “The path is open. Let’s see if we can make the porch by dinnertime.”

Laughing and feeling more optimistic than she had in all of 2020, Jennifer began the walk towards the house, her arms still around Sophia’s waist as they strolled forward.

====

Holiday music filled the house, adding to the festive decorations and the natural joy of being together. The family enjoyed some time outside where they helped JD build a snowman and a reindeer, which wasn’t easy at all. Afterwards, they feasted on a large turkey dinner with all of the usual fixings, stuffing each of them appropriately. After dinner, everyone settled in the rec room and listened to Hammond tell Christmas stories from his military days. Then they listened as Sophia talked about her holiday experiences in Italy and while vacationing abroad during other years when not at home.

Chenoa and JD led the way to something they just had to do, both sitting on Hammond’s lap and simply enjoying their grandfather’s presence. JD was especially delighted when on her own, Sophia re-invited him to spend a week at their home as soon as the COVID-19 situation was under control, which all hoped would be soon.

As the afternoon began to ebb, attention was turned to the presents. All knew it was going to take time to get through them all.

One of the highlights was when Aislinn opened a present and discovered a beautiful holiday-themed red and green turtleneck sweater. She loved it and put it on over the green blouse she was wearing.

“Dad, Daddy, it’s beautiful. I just love it!” Aislinn gushed.

“It’s a little big, Ash,” Jennifer pointed out. “Maybe you can exchange it.”

“Uh, actually, Ash, Sweetie, this present isn’t really from Dad and me,” Daniel confided.

“It’s not? I don’t understand,” Aislinn said as she looked again at the tag and saw her parents’ names on it.

“Princess, Aunt Janet actually gave that to us a couple of months ago and asked us to pass it on to you when we thought the time was right,” Jack explained.

“And with all that’s happen this year, we thought the time was right now,” the archaeologist added.

“Ash, there’s an envelope beneath the tissue. Open it,” Jack instructed.

Confused, Aislinn did as told and was stunned by what she found.

“Look,” the teen spoke as she turned the item to face her siblings.

“It’s Mommy and Aunt Janet,” Jenny chimed as she stood to get a closer look.

“She’s so beautiful,” Little Danny opined as he, Jonny, and Ricky all moved in to see the picture up close.

“Ash, that was your mother’s favorite Christmas sweater. I, uh, actually saw her wearing it a couple of times.”

“Apparently, Aunt Janet kept a few of your mom’s things,” Jack advised the children. “For whatever reason, she decided to part with this and she wanted you to have it.”

“Wow. It’s an awesome present, no matter who gave it to me,” Aislinn responded. She was filled with contentment. “It’s funny, but the moment I put it on, I felt safe. I mean, deep down, extra safe. Thank you.”

Just then, David quietly got Jeff’s attention and the two disappeared from the room. Seeing this, Jonny and Little Danny made excuses and left the gift-opening for a couple of minutes as well.

“I wonder what that’s all about,” Jack mumbled to his husband.

“I have no idea, but I’ll bet the reason is good.”

It didn’t take long before the four brothers returned with a large box roughly two-feet tall, fifteen-inches deep, and twenty-inches wide.

“May we have your attention, please,” Jonny requested. “Dad, this is for you from the brood. All twelve of us pitched in to get this for you. Merry Christmas.”

Surprised and very curious, Jack approached the boys as they surrounded the box.

“Do I get a hint?”

“It’s inside the box,” Little Danny quipped.

“Thank you, Son.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Just like your daddy,” Jack mumbled.

“Thank you, Dad. I appreciate that.”

Jack smirked and then smiled, reaching over to pat the teen on the back for a second before he focused on the box and began to unwrap it. Even with the lid open, he had no clue what it was.

“Give me some help getting this … whatever … out of the box.”

The four sons helped their father ease the heavy object out of the box and place it on the carpet.

“Whoa!” Jack exclaimed as he stared at his vintage 1930’s radio.

“It works, Dad,” Jeff pointed out.

“We thought you might want to put it in your study, or maybe leave it here, or maybe put it in the man cave,” David remarked.

Giving the product a once over, Jack agreed, “Maybe the man cave.”

“We could all listen to it sometimes, as a family,” Daniel suggested.

Jonny pulled out another box and said, “We bought some extra tubes and buttons, too, just in case.”

“Good to know,” the gift recipient responded. “Kids, this is fantastic. Thank you.”

“There’s more,” Ricky called out, standing and retrieving another box still under the Christmas tree. “This goes with it, too.”

Jack opened it and discovered a collection of CD’s and a few DVD’s.

“What are these?”

“The thing is, Dad, we wanted you to be able to listen to old radio shows, too, but we know those aren’t broadcast very much these days,” Jonny explained.

“But YouTube is full of old radio programs,” Ricky told his dad.

“So all year long, we’ve taken turns downloading the radio broadcasts and putting them on CD’s and DVD’s so you can look at the radio and actually listen to the old programs,” Brianna advised.

“See,” JD said with a big smile. He pointed at something behind the radio and advised, “It’s a portable player.”

“You thought of everything,” Jack commented in amazement. ~This wasn’t cheap, either.~

“Just like you taught us, Dad,” Jonny replied.

“Thanks, kids. This is a great gift. You did good!”

Others opened gifts, including Sophia who opened a big box from Jennifer.

“Oh, dear. Jen, this is magnificent. It must have taken you months,” Sophia spoke as she held the full-size comforter in her hands, examining the intricate details of its design.

“It did, but with COVID, I had a lot a lot of time.”

“Well, you certainly have nothing left to learn from me.” Holding out the comforter, Sophia requested, “George, look at this. It’s unbelievable how well she crafted this.”

“Nothing’s too difficult for my granddaughter,” Hammond boasted as he took in the beauty of the item.

“Thanks, Grandpa, and you are wrong, Grandma. Maybe I’m pretty good on the loom now, but I have a lot to learn from you still, all about being a strong and capable woman and a good wife and mother. You’ve taught me a lot about making good choices and surviving the bad times while making the most out of the good. I love you, and I hope I keep learning from you for years and years to come.”

“You’re a wonderfully incredible and independent young woman, Jennifer, and I’m proud, so proud, to be your grandmother. I love you, dear.”

More gifts were opened, including a watch from Daniel to his lover, new ballet shoes for Lulu from Chenoa, the board game Ticket to Ride given from Ricky to JD, a literal case of Godiva chocolates for Daniel to enjoy from his husband, a variation and quicker version of Monopoly called Monopoly Deal from Aislinn to Little Danny, two new scratching poles for Mittens and Calico from Little Danny, and to each one of her siblings from Lulu a homemade angel ornament with their name and the year on it.

“You’re all angels to me,” Lulu told her brothers and sisters as they examined the special gift.

This, of course, was still only the tip of the iceberg. It took what some deemed an eternity for the entire Jackson-O’Neill household to go through all their gifts from one another and other family and friends, not to mention those from Santa.

As the sun began to set, the Hammonds departed for their own home, not wanting to drive in the darkness of the night. There were still some unopened items, but Jack and Daniel noticed how tired their children were and said they’d have a special Day-After-Christmas reveal. The kids accepted that, each having more than they dreamed of to put away or use. It had been a perfect day for all involved.

Shortly thereafter, Jeff and Chipper said their goodbyes and went home to be with Chely and the babies. The oldest of the brood left the camera equipment, telling his folks he’d get it the next day, along with any smartphone footage the others may have taken.

It was another hour before Jennifer returned to her home, eager to enjoy her husband’s embrace and to hug her child.

Suddenly, the house felt quiet. Some cleanup occurred, but Jack and Daniel told the kids not to worry about. The mess would be there tomorrow. All they asked was for any food items be stored properly.

“When we get up tomorrow, we don’t need to find the critters have eaten the rest of the turkey,” Jack reminded.

As the family headed off early to bed that evening, no one knew what to think about Santa. Was it some big dream, a mass hallucination, some kind of inexpiable prank, or was it somehow real? Did Santa Claus actually give JD a ride on Rudolph? Did he teleport to the living room and wish them all a merry Christmas? How could they explain the gold jingly collar now in JD’s possession? In the end, they simply kept the magic to themselves, keeping the experience, on whatever level it happened, inside their hearts.

Isolation was a challenge, but in reality, it was really a reward. For probably the last time, the brood was together and engaged in the silly and the serious during the last fifteen days. Then there was the ultimate: Christmas with their grandparents. That just couldn’t be topped by anything.

Taking all the preciousness of the day with them to slumberland, the Jackson-O’Neills of Colorado Springs felt loved and indeed were loved, by one another, family, friends, co-workers, their zoo, God, and, yes, even by Santa Claus. Life was good, oh so good, for Jack, Daniel, and their brood plus zoo.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~

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