Crisis

Author: Orrymain
Category: Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating: PG-13
Season: Beyond the Series - January 28-29, 2013
Spoilers: None
Written: April 25-26,30, May 1, 2018, December 30-31, 2020, January 1 & 8, 2021
Summary: Aislinn and Jenny are worried sick when their beloved guinea pigs become ill. Their family vet is worried, too, as the cavies could die.
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): “A Christmas Miracle”

Crisis
A Warm Fuzzies Tale
by Orrymain

“Jack, I'm back,” Daniel announced as he closed the front door.

“Soccer stars of the future delivered?” Jack mused.

“Straight to the practice field for a hopefully tiring experience.”

“I love you,” Jack declared before kissing his husband hello.

“I love you, too.”

“Ready for the spot inspection?”

“Just remember, this isn't the military.”

“Totally civilian,” Jack returned.

It wasn't an original conversation. With slight deviation from other chats, Jack and Daniel prepared for a quick once over of their loving home. Chores were done regularly and well. While the parents had confidence in the cleanliness of the home, every now and again they did spot checks to ensure nothing was being missed or overlooked.

Upstairs at the start of the new addition to the renovated residence, Jack suggested, “I'll do the bedrooms and you handle the rooms on the left.”

Daniel was prepared for the directive. The lovers sometimes mixed up who checked where, but when first asked, Jack tended to respond as he had. Daniel didn’t mind, since they did alternate from time to time.

“Meet you at the emergency exit,” Daniel responded per usual as he referenced the door at the very end of the hallway.

As the archaeologist entered the full bathroom on the right, Jack walked into the bedroom shared by Aislinn and Jenny. He did a cursory check of most things and then a more intensive review of two areas discovered to need more attention in a previous once over. The first was the top shelf in the closet. The girls had a choice of enlisting the aid of their parents or one of their older siblings to keep the closet shelves clear of dust. Jack hadn't been asked and he knew Daniel hadn't been sought out, either. Carefully, he removed a couple of items and smiled to see just a few dust mites. He ran his finger between a couple of gaps and was pleased to see no real accumulation of dust. He assumed the shelves were cleaned in the past week.

~Nice job. Keep it up.~

The second place the general wanted to give a more thorough look to was the space between Jenny's bed and the wall which upon the last review proved to be a hiding spot for candy wrappers, gum discarded before bed, and an assortment of items Jenny disposed of in her nightly routine.

~Red's personal dumping grounds: the trash zone.~

Pulling the bed out to reveal more of the space between it and the wall, Jack groaned, but it was a small groan. There were a couple of wrappers and one gum dump, but on the whole, it was much cleaner than than the last reveal.

~Better, darling daughter, but that's a demerit. We'll be talking about this one tonight.~

The penultimate task was a check of the desktop computers. As was the norm, Jack checked the browsing history and emails. It was important that all of the children followed computer usage rules. There were very view violations of the rules and when they were, the kids usually fessed up to them before being discovered. There were no issues with the current check.

Last on Jack's list was a perusal of the guinea pigs' abode. The two critters had a fun home, one personally built by the general after realizing they needed better housing than a two-level cage.

“Strawberry Shortcake, how's it going in there?” Jack called out. It was the same question he always asked the critters when in the girls’ room. His amusement ebbed to a serious demeanor when he didn’t get a response. “Cavies? Hey, are you mad at me?”

Frowning now at the less-than-excited creatures, Jack began to study the unique GP Residence, as he called it, and then expressed, “Crap!” He called out loudly,
“Daniel!” while at the same time opening the large door and reaching inside to pull out Strawberry. “It'll be okay,” he assured the guinea pig.

“Jack, what's wrong?” Daniel asked as he entered at a sprint's pace.

“Call Pam. We're bringing in two guinea pigs for an immediate exam.”

“What happened?”

“That,” Jack answered as he pointed to a red hue in urine.

“I'll make the call.”

“And get something to carry them in.”

====

The lovers settled into Jack's truck with Daniel sitting in the backseat to monitor the two guinea pigs. Each one was in a casserole-sized plastic container that wasn't quite three-inches high.

“Jack, we need to get the girls.”

Jack groaned, but conceded, “Yeah, they won't forgive us if we don't. Why don't you phone Mrs. Bateman and give her a heads up. She can have the girls ready.”

While Jack drove towards the woman's house, Daniel made the call from the back seat of the truck. He asked the host of the day's doll club meeting to have the sisters ready to go, but also to assure them that their parents and siblings were perfectly okay. It didn't take too long to arrive at the neighborhood home.

With Daniel keeping a close eye on the lethargic Cavia porcellus, Jack advised, “I'll get them,” and exited the truck.

“Thanks, Mrs. Bateman,” Jack spoke two minutes later as the girls walked onto the front porch, their dolls clutched to their chests.

“Dad, why are you picking us up early?” six-year-old Aislinn inquired, her voice strained with worry.

Jack kneeled down and put one hand on each of his daughters’ arms as he answered, “I found a little blood in Strawberry Shortcake's urine.” Many times, the family combined the name of the two guinea pigs, considering them a unit and leaving out the normal 'and'. “We're taking them to Pam's and Daddy and I thought you'd want to come with us.”

Both girls gasped and ran for the truck without hearing another word. Jack helped them into the backseats while Daniel re-positioned the containers to be in between the girls. He then sat in front next to his husband.

“It's okay, Strawberry,” Aislinn soothed.

“Don't worry, Shortcake. Pam will make you all better,” Jenny assured as she gently stroked her guinea pig.

**We made the right choice,** Jack communicated as he engaged the truck.

**Yeah. I hope they're okay.**

Jack gave a nod and drove away from the Bateman home.

====

“I assume you're waiting,” Pam said to the Jackson-O'Neills at the same time that one of her vet techs, Gretchen, was taking the Cavia porcellus to a back examination room.

“Yes,” Daniel replied.

“No,” both girls rang out.

“We're going with them,” Aislinn stated.

“Sweetie, it might be best if we all waited here,” Daniel put forth calmly.

“Would you wait here if it were Bij or Katie?” Jenny argued.

With a cough, Jack gave Pam a shrug which she surmised meant that the four were going into the examination room with the sick animals.

--

Carefully, Pam began to run her hands alongside Strawberry's body.

“Hmm.”

The vet did the same for Shortcake.

“Hmm.”

“Pam!” Aislinn objected.

“I'm sorry, Ash. I'm thinking while doing my exam.” Pam looked at Jack. “You said there was blood in their urine?”

“I couldn't tell you which one, or if was both,” the general answered.

Pam nodded and returned her hands to Shortcake's body. She palpated the lower abdomen and felt a release.

“Looks like there’s some calcium sediment,” Pam noted after which the vet tech inputted the information into the computer record. “Girls, do you feed them carrots?”

“We feed them lots of veggies, especially lettuce and carrots,” Aislinn responded.

“They love carrots,” Jenny added.

“Thank you,” Pam responded. “Gretchen, I want X-rays on both Strawberry and Shortcake.”

“Two views?” the vet tech inquired.

“No blood,” Pam muttered, not seeing any blood on the critters. Realizing a question was asked, she drew a breath and answered, “Yes, please, and get me a needle. I want to get urine samples from both of them.”

“With a needle?” Jenny questioned with wide eyes.

Pam chuckled mildly and confirmed, “Yes, like drawing blood.”

“Ewe,” the sisters lamented in full voice.

Her examination finished, Pam explained, “The X-rays we're taking will show us if either of the cavies have Urolithiasis. Oh, that’s more commonly known as bladder stones. We'll do a urine culture in case we need antibiotics. The culture will help us know which antibiotics will be the best to give them, or either one of them.” She paused a moment and queried, “Have any of you noticed blood in their urine before?”

Everyone shook their heads, but Jenny also noted, “No blood, but there were brown blotches.” Suddenly, the redhead gasped and tears began to fall. “It was brown, not red. It's my fault.”

“Oh, no, no, no,” Pam negated. The woman moved quickly, actually beating Jack and Daniel to the girl. She kneeled down onto her haunches and her hands rubbed swiftly but gently along Jenny's arms. “Jenny, listen very carefully to me.” Pam took Jenny's hands in hers. “Yes, those brown blotches were blood, blood that had dried.”

“I thought they were just dirty,” Jenny sobbed.

“I know. Honey, it's okay. It's not your fault, not at all. How could you know that brown meant anything?”

“I should have told Dad and Daddy.”

“Jenny, you're a little girl, an extremely bright and caring little girl, but you're still a little girl with a lot to learn. You've taken such wonderful care of Strawberry and Shortcake. I can tell that you've kept them well groomed and clean and while there's something making them not feel well today, they have good vital signs and they look very healthy to me. They're happy, too, aren't they?”

Sniffling, Jenny nodded and replied, “We love them. They play with us all the ti...me.”

“Happy purrs and lots of popcorning?”

“Lots,” Jenny acknowledged about how the guinea pigs often jumped into the air with delight.

“Guinea pigs need human contact more than people realize, Jenny. They know you're here, and that's important. No feeling guilty. This isn't your fault. Brown is not red and you were looking for red. Now, I need to go check on your cavies.”

“Me, too.”

“And me,” Aislinn insisted as she and the others all moved closer to the examination table. “They need to know we're here, like you said.”

Pam stood and gave the parents a cautionary look. She was hoping for a happy ending, but she couldn't guarantee it.

“The X-ray area is quite small and I need Gretchen.”

Jack and Daniel got the message. The girls could go, but neither of them could. The added caveat was that it could be an unhappy ending.

“Let us know if you need us,” Daniel replied.

“Stay out of Pam's hair,” Jack quietly instructed his daughters.

“Girls,” Pam urged, motioning to the doors.

When the vet reached the exit, Jack called out, “Pam?” Seeing her turn, he cocked his head and said softly, “Thanks, for Jenny.”

Pam nodded and left the room. For a moment, the lovers remained in the exam room, but then they went to the reception area and sat down.

====

In a much smaller room, Aislinn and Jenny had their bodies against the table on which Strawberry and Shortcake were.

“Ash, I want you to talk calmly to Strawberry while I palpate her.”

“Press against her body?”

“Her abdomen,” Pam clarified. “Just keep talking to her.”

“Strawberry, we're going to get you more hay next week, a fresh new batch. Maybe you and Shortcake can go shopping with us. Dad said we can make a new sign for our door, so no one will let the rest of the zoo in and we can keep the top of your home open.”

Pam smiled as Aislinn kept her guinea pig calm. As she did, a notable amount of crystals and debris oozed from Strawberry as a result of Pam's administering.

“What is that, Pam?” Jenny asked.

“Excess calcium that's been stored up in her bladder,” the vet answered. “Shortcake is next.”

Pam requested the same of Jenny as she did with Aislinn and was pleased at how well the Spitfire kept Shortcake relaxed, especially considering how upset the redhead was just minutes earlier.

“They must like sharing,” Pam remarked. “Looks like both of the guinea pigs are suffering from the same thing.”

“What is it, Pam?” the Munchkin queried.

“Let me get the lab results first. Girls, I need you to stand back now and let Gretchen get the X-rays and the rest of the lab work. You have to stay over there, by the wall. Is that clear?”

Pam received two nods in response. She motioned to Gretchen to proceed while she went to another exam room to see her next scheduled patient.

====

“We’re still waiting on the lab tests,” Pam told Jack and Daniel in-between seeing those with appointments. “Ash and Jenny are behaving perfectly; they’re just glued to those guinea pigs.”

“If you need them out, let us know,” Jack put forth.

“As long as they listen to what we tell them, it’s fine.”

“Pam, do you have any idea what is hurting the guinea pigs?” Daniel inquired.

“There are a few options here. Sometimes, blood in the urine indicates Pyometra, which is an infection of the uterus; or it could be bladder stones. The X-rays should confirm their presence, if that’s the issue. I’ve seen some indication that this could be the case. Oh, are you aware if either one of the GPs has been squeaking while urinating?”

The parents looked at each other, both shaking their heads.

“I’d ask the girls,” Daniel suggested.

“I’ll do that,” Pam agreed. “There’s always the chance it’s arthritis or some type of spinal injury, but I’m leaning more in the direction of bladder stones or possibly Interstitial Cystitis.”

“And that is?” the archaeologist prompted.

“It’s where there is an hyperechogenic covering on parts of the bladder wall. This can be extremely serious.” Pam looked at the two men individually for a second before adding, “It may or may not indicate cancer.” She sighed, “Not all guinea pigs make a full recovery.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” Jack lamented.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” the vet urged with a more uplifting vocal tone. “It could also be something not very serious at all, um, maybe … some type of vitamin deficiency. That’s why we need to see what the X-rays and labs reveal. That’s when we’ll get the answer.”

“Okay, we’ll be … right here,” Daniel replied to the zoo’s most trusted human, aside from Jack, Daniel, and the brood.

====

“Jack, Daniel,” Pam called out, waving them over where she stood in front of the closed exam room door.

“Ash and Jenny are inside here with the guinea pigs. The news is iffy. Do you want to have them wait elsewhere while we talk?”

“They’re going to know anyway, Pam,” Daniel answered.

“Let’s go inside then,” Pam stated, opening the door and entering the exam room, waiting for the parents to come inside as well before speaking again. “Girls, both Strawberry and Shortcake have bladder stones. In these cases, the stones don’t appear to be too big, but they’ve gotten stuck in the urethra.” She pulled out an anatomical drawing and pointed. “That’s here.” After a pause, she explained, “Unfortunately, animal science has yet to come up with any way to dissolve the stones. Now, Strawberry and Shortcake are in otherwise wonderful health, but if they are to live, we’ll need to do what we call a cystotomy surgery on them and any surgery on such a small animal comes with an inherent risk.”

“Will it hurt?” Jenny asked with a trembling voice.

“Not while they’re asleep.” Pam drew a breath and again kneeled down to be closer to the sisters. “Ash, Jenny, I won’t lie to you and your parents have told me to be totally upfront with you both. This is very, very serious. Because of their size, the surgeries will be extremely delegate. I can’t promise you that they’re survive. I can only tell you that their quality of life will diminish quickly if we don’t remove the bladder stones.”

Pam didn’t bother to bring up the cost for such surgeries. She knew the Jackson-O’Neills well enough to know that price was never a factor in the care and treatment of their zoo.

“If we get the stones out successfully, the odds are good the guinea pigs will recover fully or they may need some medication, maybe short term or maybe for the rest of their lives, but right now, I need to know what you want me to do.”

Fighting back tears, the daughters instinctively turned to their fathers, running to them for support.

Jack picked up Aislinn while Daniel did the same with Jenny.

“Do you want us to decide?” Daniel asked the Spitfire while then looking at Aislinn and indicating the question was directed at her, too.

Aislinn and Jenny, still crying, exchanged a look and then the oldest of them responded, “Strawberry Shortcake are ours. We want them to live.”

Jenny nodded and affirmed, “We trust Pam. She won’t let them die.”

“Sweetie, Pam can’t promise they’ll live. She told you that.”

“Tiny little bodies, girls. She’ll do her best, but you have to be honest about the outcome. They could live or they could die.”

Jack hated himself for being so blunt, but he had no choice. If the worst happened, he didn’t want the children blaming Pam.

“We understand,” Aislinn spoke. “Put me down now, please.” When Jack let go of his daughter, she sniffled and wiped her eyes dry with her sleeve. She walked over to Strawberry and picked her up. “It’s the best thing. You’ll be okay, Strawberry. I know you will; and you, too, Shortcake.”

The decision was made to proceed with the surgeries. Not wanting to get anyone’s hopes up, the vet silently determined to see if an intake of extra water overnight might allow the cavies to flush out the stones on their own. She also wanted to try palpitation to see if she could get the stones to essentially slide out on their own.

Since Pam’s docket was full for the rest of the day and since she also wanted to try the less invasive tactics first, the surgeries would take place the following morning. It promised to be a dark night at the J-O residence that evening.

====
 
The next morning, Pam was preparing for surgery when she was advised that the Jackson-O’Neills were in the reception area.

“I’ll only be a moment,” the vet told her medical assistant. She left the surgical area and walked out to reception where she got an eyeful. Aislinn and Jenny immediately caught her eye. They were seated on their knees on the floor. Each held one of the beagles in their lap. Surrounding the girls were all of their brothers and sisters. Pam counted to make sure. ~Yep. That’s all twelve of them.”

“Good morning,” Daniel called out as he and his husband stood to the left of the children.

“Morning,” Pam greeted. She went to the wet-cheeked girls and knelt. “Try not to worry too much. Send out all the positive vibes you can.”

“We have been,” Aislinn replied.

“And we are,” Jenny assured.

“We even did our circle,” Ricky announced.

“Circle?” the confused vet echoed.

“It’s, uh, something they do when someone they love is in danger,” Daniel explained as he glanced at Jack who unfortunately was the cause for the initiation of the circle back in 2010 when he was injured and missing from the fold.

“Anything that helps,” Pam returned. “I’ll let you know when I’m finished.” She looked over at the parents and stated, “I assume you’ll still be here when I’m done.”

“Count on it,” Jack promised.

Pam nodded, gave Aislinn and Jenny one more reassuring smile, and then rose and headed for the surgery area.

“It could be a long wait kids,” Jack reminded.

Sighs and anxious breaths were the only response to the caution.

====

With extra water intake and palpitation the night before not having the desired result, Pam was proceeding with the risky surgeries. She was just about to order the anesthesiologist to begin her work on Strawberry when she sighed.

“Doctor?”

“Vonda, let’s try one more time. The stone may have shifted enough that we can just go in and grab it,” Pam told the vet technician assisting her. “The X-ray shows these are pretty small.”

Vonda nodded. This very response was why she loved working for Doctor Lawrence. The woman had a lot of experience with all types of animal species and she never once took a shortcut in their care. The assistant hoped her employer was right. It definitely meant a better chance of survival if she were.

Instead of fully anesthetizing the guinea pig, the anesthetist followed new orders to only lightly sedate her. She attached the animal to a monitor so she could oversee Strawberry’s breathing status at every second. This particular monitor tracked the intake of the anesthetic while also reporting vital signs including blood pressure and temperature.

“Vonda.”

The single name told the vet tech to drape the animal, giving it a protection from anything else on the operating table. Once done, Pam gave the herbivores a local anesthetic that would ease any pain Strawberry might feel upon waking up.

When Strawberry was ready, the vet carefully began to manipulate the small body. The palpitations were designed to force the bladder stones to move and perhaps be flushed out during normal urine elimination.

“No, I don’t believe this is working on its own. We’ll have to go in,” Pam stated. She turned Strawberry onto her back and shaved her belly. Then she made an incision just long enough to expose the urinary bladder. Getting control of the bladder wasn’t an easy thing as the intestines kept wanting to pop out as well. The vet wanted to be as unintrusive as possible. She observed the area closely, looking for the stone. “No indication of inflammation or irritation.” With a contented sigh, she added, “Lucky girl. Vonda, I think we can do this without risking this little one’s life.”

“Everything’s ready, Doctor,” Vonda returned.

“Lube,” the vet requested. “Come on, Strawberry. Believe me, you’ll be much happier if we can just slide this stone on out.” She focused intently on the urethra and the positioning of the stone. “See it. It’s just on the edge there. That could make our job a lot easier,” she spoke to her staff. “Forceps.” With the necessary tool in her hand and a sufficient amount of lubrication applied, Pam gently went in for the stone. “Got it!”

With the stone removed, Pam grinned and praised, “Good girl, Strawberry. Let’s hope your sister is equally cooperative.”

The opening in Strawberry’s belly was sutured and then she was placed into a protective space where the anesthetist could still observe her.

Next, Vonda prepared Shortcake and the same procedure was followed. Shortcake’s stone was bigger than Strawberry’s and Pam was uncertain if manipulation of the body with lubrication would work, but she was determined to try. For one thing, giving this species anesthesia was always risky. For another, weighing just two pounds and having tiny bodies increased the risk of something going wrong during any surgery. Finally, she simply couldn’t bear if she had to tell Jenny that her beloved pet died on the table.

Pam had to work harder to get the stone to move.

“It shifted, Doctor, just a tiny bit, but it did move,” the vet tech said somewhat happily from her angle.

Pam simply nodded and kept her focus. She couldn’t afford for the forceps to slip, not even a fraction.

“Work it, Shortcake.” Pam called out, “More lubricant.” She took a breath and sighed, “It’s now or never, little cavy. Let’s move that stone!”

“It’s going!” Vonda exclaimed, seeing Pam confirm the observation with a nod.

“And here it is,” Pam sighed in relief. “Good job everyone.” She added, “Put the stones in marked bags, one for Strawberry and one for Shortcake.”

“Are you going to give them to the little girls?” the anesthesiologist asked as she continued to watch over the slightly sedated creatures.

“I am,” Pam chuckled. After sewing up the incision, she told her staff, “I’ll be back to check on them shortly.”

====

In the reception area at the front of the animal hospital, Gretchen was speaking with another one of the vet techs. Jennifer was nearby and couldn’t help but overhear the conversation.”

“How’d it go?” a concerned Gretchen asked as she glanced over at the brood.

“I peeked in a minute ago, and Vonda said everything went swimmingly.”

Jennifer smiled. She wasn’t certain the two women were talking about the guinea pigs, but she hoped they were.

“One thing, though,” the tech began with a serious expression. “I think the doctor wishes she could afford that laser equipment.”

“I’ve read about it,” Gretchen remarked. “It’s suppose to help prevent bleeding during surgery.”

“And it helps prevent inflammation and pain afterwards,” the tech put forth. “I know she’s had an eye on that equipment for quite a while.”

“You know the doctor. She has such a successful practice because she donates her time and services so much.”

“I know. The animals come first with her. I’ve seen her hand out medications to people who couldn’t pay.”

“And that means she can’t always afford to get the equipment she wants when she wants.”

“True, but she’s one of most skilled vets in Colorado, so in my view, that makes up for the lack of the newest and best technology equipment.”

At that point, Gretchen was called away, halting the financial discussion.

Jennifer didn’t think much of what she overheard. She simply continued to hope that the vet tech was referring to Strawberry and Shortcake at the beginning of the chat.

====

Aislinn and Jenny jumped up when they saw Pam appear in the reception area.

“Relax, girls. The cavies are just fine,” Pam reported.

“We knew you’d save them, Pam,” Aislinn responded as she and Jenny gave the woman a happy hug.

“Can we see them?” the redhead asked with pleading eyes.

“Well, I guess so,” Pam agreed cautiously, “but you are to look only. You can talk to them of course, but their bodies might be a little sensitive to the touch right now. They’re not fully awake, either; and, you know you must always do as my staff asks … immediately.”

“We promise,” Aislinn spoke with a nod.

“Go ahead,” Pam instructed. She looked over and motioned for Gretchen to allow the sisters entry to the recovery area. Then she looked back at the family, centering in on Jack and Daniel. “There’s good news.”

“We could use some of that,” Jack replied.

“I didn’t have to do the full surgery. We gave them a local and were able to use a lubricant to remove the bladder stones.”

“Wow!” Jonny exclaimed happily, a sentiment all the brood felt, along with the two beagles who barked their joy.

“Some advice moving forward,” Pam stated. “Back off the carrots. Give them carrots only once or twice a week and/or cut down on how much you give them.”

“I don’t understand, Pam,” David interjected. “Carrots are a healthy treat, aren’t they?”

“Yes, they are, David, but not all metabolisms can process them the same and it looks like the piggies are getting too much calcium. Let me tell you about a friend of mine. She has three dogs, the oldest one a black lab. Some years back, she became worried that her dogs were gaining weight. I told her about the carrots. ‘In and out’, I told her. So, she starting giving the dogs carrots instead of biscuits, and the dogs loved them. Then she noticed something odd. The oldest dog, the lab, loved the carrots and was eager for them, but she began to throw them up and she did this with regularity. Apparently, the dog’s system couldn’t tolerate that level of calcium. So, instead of giving her a full carrot, she’d break it in half, or when she uses those mini-cut carrots, she’ll give the lab just two or maybe three, but she might give a couple more to the other dogs. Metabolisms are different.”

“Thanks for explaining that to us,” David returned.

“That’s why I’m here.” Pam paused a second before continuing. “Ash and Jenny have told me the feeding habits for Strawberry and Shortcake, and it really sounds to me like this is a simple case of carrot overload. I believe if you just reduce their intake of this one food, that we won’t see a recurrence of bladder stones.”

“Affirm,” the military man responded.

“Also, it would be a good idea to try and increase the cavies intake of water. I’d suggest adding another water bottle to the GP Residence and give that water a splash of juice, one-hundred percent juice. Flavor doesn’t matter. They’ll like it and might drink more.”

“That would help them go to the bathroom more?” Chenoa asked.

“The goal is to eliminate what we call bladder sludge. That’s an accumulation of various compounds, like calcium, that can build up and form stones.”

“Oh, I understand,” Chenoa returned.

Pam focused on the general and asked, “Jack, you built the GP residence, correct.”

“With some help,” the silver-haired man answered.

“Did you include an UV light?”

“No. Should I have?”

“It might help,” Pam replied with some uncertainty. “Actually, the use is controversial. It would help the guinea pigs to get the sunlight they need, which is very important. I know you take them outside sometimes. How often?”

“Maybe every few days or so; sometimes it’s a longer stretch, depending on what’s going on at home,” Daniel answered.

“That’s what I thought and that’s why the UV light should be considered. If you can take them outside more, fine, even for ten or fifteen minutes a day. Maybe you could install a UV light and only use it when you aren’t able to take the cavies out for days in a row.”

“What’s the controversial part of the UV light, Pam?” Jennifer inquired. “That’s what they use in greenhouses, right?”

“Yes, but there are those who have negative feelings about the wavelengths and what could be transmitted; and there’s a sector that believe GPs get all the sunlight they need from pellets. I myself prefer all living creatures to get it naturally.”

“Affirm,” Jack acknowledged. **New item for the chore list, Danny.**

**Agreed,** the archaeologist replied. A new UV light would be acquired for backup, but from now on, the rotating animal chores would include taking the guinea pigs outside for fifteen minutes every day. “Pam, do you think that’s a good idea for the rabbits, too?”

“It’s a good idea for your entire zoo.”

**Two-person assignment?** the general queried.

**I’m thinking yes,** Daniel replied within his mind.

Jack pondered, **Maybe we could build a sunlight pen.**

**And that is what exactly?**

**A small, contained space on the grass, like a mini-mini-mini-corral. The small zoo could be released in the pen to walk around and let the sun rays do their thing.**

**And the children wouldn’t have to watch every second.”

**Let’s be realistic, Danny. The kids love the zoo and they are good monitors, but day after day some complacency is going to set in and that could lead to disaster. Building a pen avoids that.**

**We have to set some rules,** Daniel put forth.

**That’s affirm.**

“That’s about it, except you know how I am with the animals in my care,” Pam reminded. “I’d like to keep Strawberry and Shortcake here for a day or two, to monitor them and just be sure there are no problems.”

“Anything you want,” Daniel replied.

“They’re beautiful,” Jenny called out as she Aislinn returned from the recovery area. She looked up at Pam and said, “Vonda let us pat them on their heads for a minute. They purred.”

“I’m glad,” Pam responded. “Okay, questions? Anything you need?” She saw the shaking heads. Then she looked over at Bijou and Katie. “What about you two? Any complaints? Any run-ins with squirrels I should know about?”

Everyone laughed as the canines went to the floor to lie down, their eyes full of innocence.

“I have to get back to work. Take care, you guys.”

“Thank you, Pam,” Jack spoke as his family all uttered their goodbyes and thank you’s to the vet. “Homeward bound,” he said, motioning for the kids to exit. “Ash, Jenny, we’ll fill you in on what Pam told us while you were with the warm fuzzies.”

“Warm fuzzies?” Daniel questioned.

“The GPs,” Jack clarified. “Danny, don’t you ever feel warm and fuzzy when you hold those little pests?”

Daniel laughed. Now that it was known that Strawberry and Shortcake would be fine and home soon, Jack was back to picking on them.

“Yes, I remember holding them and feeling that way sometimes.”

“Right, so they are warm fuzzies.”

“I like that, Dad,” Aislinn opined as she looked back at the man before following Jenny out the door.

“See, Danny. It has the Munchkin seal of approval.”

“And so do you,” the younger father proclaimed.

**Geez, I love you.**

**Backatcha’, O’Neill.**

Jack looked over at his husband with a suspicious eye, having not expected such a quip in response to his declaration.

Daniel shrugged with a bit of smirk highlighting his face as he exited the animal care facility.

~He’s never predicable, except when he is,~ Jack mused as he followed Daniel out the door and headed for the SUV.

====

After dinner, the family was sitting around the rec room. The TV screen was lowered and a video of an old “The Simpsons” episode was playing. At the same time, the parents were on the sofa, working on the new chore schedule, one that would include outdoor time for the entire zoo.

Meanwhile, Aislinn commented, “I wish we could do something to thank Pam for saving Strawberry’s and Shortcake’s lives.”

“Me, too,” Lulu agreed.

“Write her a card,” Jack suggested.

“She’ll like that,” Daniel opined before going back to chore detail.

“Um, Dad, Daddy, I think I know how we can really thank Pam. I mean, she does so much for us, and others,” Jennifer stated.

“What do you have in mind?” Daniel asked.

Jennifer told the family about the conversation she’d overheard at the hospital.

“I looked it up when we came home. This laser technology appears to benefit the patient, but Pam just can’t afford it right now,” Jennifer pointed out.

“I saw Pam give out medication when I took Katie there awhile back,” Jeff related. “Remember, when she twisted her paw.”

“It hurt,” Little Danny expressed on behalf of the beagle, who he happened to be holding at the minute.

“It did,” the oldest son recalled. “Anyway, there was a woman with a cat. I heard her tell Pam that she couldn’t afford this medication. She wondered if she should give up her cat. She didn’t want the cat to suffer. Pam gave her the medication and told her to come back when she needed a refill. Then Pam went to the receptionist and told her to make a permanent note on the woman’s account not to ever charge her for the meds.”

“I have a hunch that’s not unusual,” Jack responded. “Laser, eh?”

“Well, we know it’s the rage with vision,” Daniel interjected.

Jack leaned forward and asked, “Kids, what would you think about the Strawberry Shortcake Laser Fund for animals of all kinds?”

“Yeah!” Jonny exclaimed.

“Cool, Dad,” David expressed with excitement.

“I want to put in money to it,” Little Danny chimed.

“I do, too,” Chenoa remarked. “I don’t need a new chair in my bedroom right now,” she put forth, referring to an item she’d already shopped for with her parents. “Please use that money for the animals.”

“You got it,” Jack returned, though his instinct was to get the chair anyway, but it was something he knew he shouldn’t do, at least not right away. Chenoa wanted to contribute, and he wouldn’t take that away from her. “We’ll get some funds together and present it to Pam when we pick up the critters.”

“She won’t want to take it,” Brianna opined.

“No, but we can be … insistent,” Daniel assured.

“She’ll take it,” Jennifer asserted.

“What makes you think so, Sis?” Jeff challenged.

“For the same reason she gave that woman her cat’s meds: the animals.”

“Here, here!” Daniel agreed.

Jack and Daniel had actually helped Pam out in the past. They were very aware of the costs involved with animal care, especially at a veterinary hospital. While she may resist this latest offer, they, too, believed that in the end, she’d take it for the sake of the animals she served.

Eager to see the idea through, various comments were made about how to proceed. One idea was to provide a donation plaque for the wall that would say something like, “Laser Equipment Donated By Strawberry Shortcake.” They even considered including a sculpted image of the guinea pigs. Someone said they should still write a card and include flowers and balloons with the funds. Whatever the final resolution was, the family knew it would convey their appreciation for the vet and it would help other animals down the road.

====

That night as they were pulling down their bedding in preparation for a good night’s rest, Jack asked his lover, “Second thoughts?”

“About?”

“The Strawberry Shortcake Fund.”

“No, not one,” Daniel replied. “Pam’s done a lot for our zoo, Jack. I don’t think any amount of money can repay her.”

“It’s not exactly petty cash.”

“No, it’s not, but neither are we going to feel even a dent in our account for doing the right thing,” Daniel claimed. “Plus, there is an added benefit.”

“What?”

“Little Danny.”

Jack nodded at the mention of the middle Munchkin’s name. The boy adored animals and was very sensitive to their treatment by humans.

With the bedding in easy access positioning, the general hopped into bed and looked up at his husband.

“He wouldn’t have forgiven us if we didn’t do something for Pam,” Jack opined.

“He’d forgive us, but somewhere in his mind, he’d wonder why we didn’t help when we could. That’s why we have a turkey sanctuary. It’s why we help out after big fires where animals are displaced.”

“It’s why we have Hot and Chocolate,” Jack stated about the family’s two Shetland ponies, the animals rescued, along with two others now residing at his ex-father-in-law’s ranch, at the insistence of Chenoa and best friend, Angela Wilson.

“And it’s a good example for the children,” Daniel remarked as he joined his husband in bed, settling in where he was the happiest, his head atop Jack’s chest.

Jack mused, “It gives you warm fuzzies just to think about it.”

“Jack, stop with the warm fuzzy stuff.”

“Okay, Angel.”

“I love you.”

“Love you, too, Danny, more than you’ll ever know.” Jack expected another response and when he didn’t get one, he looked downward. “Daniel?” He let out a solitary chuckle. “Sleep well, Love. The brood and the zoo are safe, and so are we.”

In the suburbs of Colorado Springs, the Jackson-O’Neills fell into deep sleep, confident in the knowledge that all was well with their family, including the two guinea pigs. As it so often was, life was good, full of laughter, joy, and love, and on this occasion, the gift of giving, something the children would always remember as they continued to mature. Yes, for Jack and Daniel, there was comfort in the awareness that their children had compassionate hearts and that caring might just lead to the saving of their beloved zoo one day. Such was life, a full circle where what comes around often goes around. A cliché, yes, but this family loved cliches and often lived by them.

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

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