Scenes of the Season - Scene 1

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 - November 29-30, 2013
Spoilers:  None
Size:  32kb, short story
Written:  November 26-28, 2017
Summary:  Today's holiday scene is Decking the Halls and More.  Can it really be that simple?
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
2) Though part of a series, each scene stands completely on its own.

Scenes of the Season - Scene 1
by Orrymain

====
--Decking the Halls and More
====

Once upon a time, Christmas for Jack and Daniel was a simple holiday.  Often, the special day was spent at their Minnesota cabin where the couple enjoyed warming themselves by the quaint fireplace.  Once they began their family, which now included an even dozen children and more animals than they could count, the celebration took on an added dimension - elaborate decorations.  Every year the number and type of festive adornment grew which also meant that the budget for Christmas increased with each season, especially the electric bill.  The saving grace was that the couple's designer, Alex Dennison, made sure they had the best and most economical setup for their home, one that actually kept their utility bills remarkably low.  Still, the more lights and animated objects they added, the higher the bill.

“Bah humbug,” Jack snarked as he reviewed the bill for 2012.

“Is it fighting back?” Daniel teased, having just entered his Love's study.

“Nope, and I don't care if it does,” Jack replied, putting the bill back in its file.  “Danny, we had another awesome Thanksgiving and now it's time to celebrate the Big Guy.”

“Teal'c?”

“Very funny,” Jack growled lightly, though he quickly turned the snark into a chuckle.  “Santa's coming and I don't friggin' care what it cost, our kids are gonna have another year of animated joy.”

“You do realize we have an obligation not to spoil them ... all the time,” Daniel stated with a hint of amusement.  ~Us?  Spoil our children?  What a thought.~

“Sure, we'll do that, or not do that, right after the holidays,” Jack teased.  He stood up and approached his Heart, raising his hands and warming Daniel's arms.  “Angel, Christmas is special.  Yeah, so are birthdays and other times, but there's something about the magic of Santa Claus and all he encompasses that needs to be celebrated.  Hey, I know I go overboard ...”

“Ya think?” Daniel interjected as he intimated his husband's delivery of the infamous line.

“I want them to live the magic.  Jen, Jeff, Bri, and David are already growing up to where Christmas is meaning something different, but the rest of kids need to see and feel it the way kids do, so they remember.  It's important, Danny.”

“I know, Jack.”

The lovers shared a tender kiss and a deep look of forever as they gazed into each other's eyes.  They kissed once more before the mood shifted.

“The team will be here soon,” the general advised.

“Jack, they aren't a team.  They're our friends.  Let's not turn the sentiment of the day into a military exercise.”

“Yes, Sir,” Jack teased, adding a salute for emphasis as he walked by his husband and left the study.

Daniel rolled his eyes as he turned around and stared at the empty doorway.

“Once a general, always a general,” the archaeologist sighed.

====

The amount and complexity of the family's decor, especially the outside goodies, was now so big that Jack needed to gather some friends and extended family to help out.  They had leftover turkey and other foods to share, along with plenty of snacks, from brownies to fudge and chips to peanuts.  Soda, juice, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate were at the ready.  It was a true buffet that everyone could partake in throughout the day.  Holiday music was playing, inside and outside.  There was a lot of work involved, but it would be a party-like atmosphere as the work was done.

“Hey, thanks for coming,” Jack began as the group quieted.

“He looks like he's addressing the troops,” Daniel whispered to Sam as the assembled helpers stood on the front lawn.

“And they're all buying it.”

“He still threatens everyone with a transfer to Elmendorf.”

“He never does it,” Sam responded.

“Almost never,” Daniel corrected, a sigh of seriousness notable in his response.

Sam stared at her friend for a moment and then decided maybe she'd better pay more attention to what the general was saying.  After all, she had no plans of retiring anytime soon and no desire to be separated from her husband for any length of time, either.

“Last but not least,”Jack spoke with a twinkle in his eye.  He paused as he moved to his left.  “Now this isn't an order.  This is strictly volunteer.”  At that point, he reached JD, the youngest child of Jack and Daniel who would be two on New Year's Day, and picked him up.  “I need someone to be eyes on and with this one at all times.  It's the most important job on the list.  Any volunteers?”

Literally everyone raised their hands.  Though it sounded like it could be the easiest job, it actually wasn't.  JD was at that stage where he was curious about everything.  “Why this” and “Why that” was part of every fragmented conversation with the child, and he was using his legs to toddle everywhere so he could reach all kinds of intriguing things, like cups, phones, and anything left on a table.  It would take a lot of patience and love to accomplish this task of keeping JD happy, occupied, and safe.  Normally, the brood would look after their brother, and odds were, they still would at various times, but the older kids also wanted to take part in decking the halls of their home, so the parents decided to make JD an assignment.

“Look at that, Son.  See how much everyone loves you and wants to be with you!” Jack looked out at the group and suggested, “How about ... Grandpa!”

JD clapped his hands, giggled, and began to chant, “Gran'pa!  Gran'pa!” repeatedly until General Hammond took hold of the boy.

“Thank you, Sir,” Jack acknowledged as Hammond smiled at JD.

“My pleasure, Son,” the man responded.  “We're going to have fun making sure your parents do things right.”

“Why do right?” JD asked.

Jack let out a tiny smile, knowing it was going to be a long day for his friend, the retired major general.  He also let out a cough, still feeling the sensation of having to meet the bald-headed man's expectations and approval.  Doing things right would be the key to finishing a multi-day project in less than twenty-four hours.  In fact, the clock was ticking and it was time to get started.

“Move out!” Jack bellowed, though he quickly laughed and added, “Thanks, guys. Remember, food and drink are available inside.  Help yourselves.”

Daniel quickly walked over to Brianna and David and instructed, “Uh, listen, I want both of you to do one more walk-through of the house and make sure every one of the zoo is where they should be.  We don't need Bogey or the guinea pigs or the cats or ...”

“Daddy!”

“Whew!  Thanks, Bri,” Daniel replied, happy to be stopped from listing off every member of the animal kingdom in their house, especially since Little Danny had two “guests” at the moment.  “You know what to do.”

“Yes, Daddy,” both of the kids responded as they headed inside to make sure cages were locked and/or all of the family pets were safely secured in places that would not be visited by any of the helpers.

“David, I think we should check on the animals every couple of hours,” Brianna suggested as they started their task by going to the recreation room where Ptolemy, their beautiful hyacinth macaw, was in her cage.

“Good idea, Bri.  Lots of people going in and out today.”

The activity was abundant and full of energy and excitement.  Several of the men, including Lou Ferretti, Jeff Cornell, and Teal'c, worked on the elaborate Santa sleigh with reindeer that went up on the roof.  Others, like Sam, her husband Pete Shanahan, and Jack's longtime friend, Andy, who was attached to the sheriff's department, worked on putting up Christmas lights all around the home.  Another group that included Janet, Grace Satterfield, and Paul Davis worked on the snowmen, snow-women, reindeer, and elves that would spice up the front and back lawns of the home.  Then there were Carolyn Ferretti, Mrs. Sophia Valissi, and neighbor Mitzi Miller, all of whom were helping set up a life-size nativity scene in the backyard near the gazebo.  Sergeant Siler was at the home, too, working on a special music and electrical light display that Jack and Daniel could activate whenever they wanted.  Many others were present and helping out wherever they could, including neighbors and other SGC personnel.  The goal was to do several days worth of work in one and it would take every person at the home to make that happen.

The weather was cooperating with the decoration operation.  No rain or snow threatened.  In fact, the temperature reached the high fifties as everyone toiled to put up the Jackson-O'Neill holiday displays.

Inside the house, the brood focused on putting up strands of red and green paper chains they'd made previously, wreaths of various styles, indoor lights, displays of all kinds, and even mistletoe everywhere possible.  Though others came inside and helped out for a while, the brood wanted to do most of the interior garnishing themselves.  They appreciated the offers, but it felt more special to them if they actually did all the work.

In the afternoon, Daniel glanced at his watch.  He looked around until he spotted Jack up on the roof working with Jeff and others on attaching a large star that would shine and blink on and off every night of the season.

“Jack!” Daniel shouted, tapping on his watch once he had his lover's attention.  Seeing Jack's nod, the archaeologist headed inside the house where most of the children were.  “Brood, it's time for the Great Christmas Tree Hunt.  Who wants to come?”

It was no surprise that all of the kids wanted to go.  The family had fun every year getting the right trees for their home.  They kept one tree in the living room and always had an even bigger tree in the recreation room.  Sometimes they even bought little trees for the bedrooms.  There was no such thing as too many trees and decorations around the Jackson-O'Neill homestead.

“Who's ready for the hunt?” Jack asked as he and Jeff entered the house.

Hands raised and a cacophony of voices thundered through the house, reaffirming the brood's desire to go tree shopping.  

“All aboard who's going,” Jack ordered, knowing they needed to head out with haste or risk getting stuck in Friday traffic.

“Aunt Janet, would you do our animal check in a couple of hours, if we aren't back?” David asked.

“We're checking on them every two hours,” Brianna explained.

“Foot traffic,” Janet acknowledged.  ~There was a time no one got inside this house and now it's a neighborhood attraction,~ she mused.  “Where do you have the critters hidden?”

Brianna and David were the last ones out of the house as they had to ensure their aunt knew where all of the zoo and their animal guests were, but soon, the Jackson-O'Neills and the Shanahans were on their way in various vehicles to the best place where they could find fresh-cut trees for their homes.  At times, Jack and Daniel made a special outing with their children and actually cut their own trees, but with so much going on this year, they elected to do the next best thing.  It was a bit of a drive to the location, but the caravan of drivers ensured all the trees could be easily driven to the family homes.

Once at the chosen tree farm, the buyers roamed the area, discovering the different tree types and debating on which one was best.

“Dad, there's so many trees.  I don't know which one is best,” David put forth.

“I didn't know there were so many different kinds of fir trees,” Brianna laughed.

“Maybe we should be state proud and go with the Natural Colorado White Fir,” Jennifer suggested.

“I don't know, Sis,” Jeff responded.  “Look at this Canaan Fir.”

“Daddy, look.  They can cut us a Ponderosa Pine,” Little Danny noted.

“Uh, I don't think we have time for that, Sproglet.  They have to do that in advance.”

“Oh, we don't get to cut our own tree this year,” the Munchkin sighed in dejection.  “That's pretty,” he commented, smiling and pointing at another tree, having already recovered from the disappointment he'd felt just seconds earlier.

After a half-hour of surveying the fresh-cut trees while listening to holiday music, the Jackson-O'Neills and the Shanahans gathered round, some sitting on chairs and benches, sipping on the complimentary hot chocolate provided by the facility. Discussion continued for several more minutes with no clear-cut tree winner.

“We need to vote,” Jonny put forth.

Though Jack and Daniel always retained veto and override powers, they were happy with the outcome on this day.  Ultimately, the kids opted for a Fraser Fir for the living room and a Ponderosa Pine for the rec room.

“Kids, listen, Daddy and I agree on the pine, but they need more time, and we don't have time,” Jack told the brood.

“Little Danny, go,” Jonny ordered.

“Big pout, Little Danny,” Chenoa reminded.

“And sad face,” Aislinn added.

Suddenly, Ricky gasped.  He desperately wanted the Ponderosa Pine this year, and now he had an idea that he was sure would help get them a cut tree this afternoon.

“Li'l Danny, wait!” the youngster called out.  As the Munchkin hurried back, Ricky put down his drink and walked over to Jennifer.  “JD, come with me.”  As he took hold of his little brother, Ricky said, “We need Ponderosa tree.  Little Danny pout; you look cute.”  Handing the laughing J-O over to Little Danny, he urged, “You can do it.”

Seeing what was happening, Daniel started to get up.

“Whoa!  Where are you going?” Jack questioned, gently pulling his lover back down to his seat.

“Jack, we can't let them do this.”

“Danny, you like the idea of having a nice big pine tree?”

“Sure, but that's not the point.”

“The point, Daniel, is that our kids *want* that tree ... badly.  Let them get the tree.”

“It's not fair to the owners.”

“We're paying for it.”

“I'm sure the owners have a routine and a plan and that doesn't include cutting down a giant pine just because our children want one.”

“Who says?”  Jack shrugged and asked, “You never know until you try.”

“I asked, Jack.”

“Yes, but you didn't use the pout.”

“That's what I mean.  They don't have a chance.  I mean, uh, Little Danny *and* JD?”

“A winning combination, and let's not fight it.  Maybe they'll refuse.”

Daniel took a breath and challenged, “Less than three minutes.”

“Or?”

“Or I'll do all the bills this month.”

“You're on.”

“But if I win?”

Jack groaned and replied, “I'll handle all the morning duties for a week.”

“I get to sleep in?”

“Seven days straight, every day.  Sleep until lunch, if you want.”

“J-O business?  The performance appraisals?  It's time to put in new shelf paper in the kitchen?  And I was going to ...”

“Danny, whatever you have scheduled, I'm your morning slave, *if* you win.”

“Under three.  Deal.”

Jack smiled.  He was certain the Munchkin and JD combo would be successful.  He was just banking on JD's cuteness distracting the owners long enough that they wouldn't give in until more than three minutes passed.

“Jen,” Jack called out.

With a nod, Jennifer stood and walked over to keep a closer eye on the two young ones.  Jeff also stood and walked with her.  They stayed together, talking, but with eyes focused on their siblings.

As soon as Little Danny and JD entered the sales area, Jack used the stopwatch feature on his watch to start the countdown.

~Three minutes and one second.  C'mon, kids, get Dad that extra second.~

====

“Great tree, Jack,” Lou praised after Jack pulled into the driveway, the Fir tree strapped to his Ford truck.  “What did they cost ya?”

Securing his work gloves, the general replied, “This thing?  Nothing compared to that hog,” he groaned, nodding towards the tree atop the SUV that was slowly approaching the home.  “That one was darn expensive.”

“How much?”

“Seven days of paperwork, to start,” Jack sighed.  “All I wanted was one more second.  Just one second, but no, the pout and the cuteness worked in less than two minutes.  *Two*, Lou.”

Shaking his head, Jack walked away, leaving Lou very confused and thinking his friend needed a nice long nap.

Daniel carefully pulled into the other half of the driveway with the big pine tree secured to the top of the SUV.  The specially built vehicle was actually longer than Jack's truck and was the best choice for transporting the big Ponderosa Pine tree. Even with its longer length, the wrapped tree extended over the vehicle, requiring yellow warning flags hang at both ends.

“Two more feet,” Jack shouted to his lover.  “Whoa!” he exclaimed shortly thereafter, having safely guided Daniel as far as he could go without the tree hitting the garage door.

As for the Shanahans, they detoured to their house to drop off the Balsam Fir Christmas tree they'd purchased.  Once done, they returned to the Jackson-O'Neill home to finish out their obligation there.

====

“John, just let us know when you need help with those pipes,” Jack called out to his neighbor, who waved and nodded as he and his wife left for their nearby home.  “Lou, Carolyn, thanks for coming.  Andy, great job with Santa.”

The farewells took awhile, considering how many people assisted with the decorating, especially the outdoor emblazonment.

Because dinner was still to be had and it was already late, the parents decided to hold off on bedecking the upstairs of the home and the trees until the next day.  The kids whined a little, mostly because they were tired, thereby proving Jack and Daniel were wise to wait.

Later, with the kids asleep, the soulmates snuggled on the sofa in the living room. Nestled in with them were Bijou and Katie, their beautiful beagles, who were as much Jack and Daniel's children as their human ones were.

“It was fun today,” Jack opined.

“It was.  Who knew, Babe, that we'd end up having big decorating parties,” Daniel laughed.

“And loving it.”

“It was good before, too, when it was just us and then the four of us.”

“Daniel, are you getting nostalgic?”

“I'm getting ... I'm getting ... I don't what I'm getting, but I like it.  I like it a lot, Jack.  I love our life.”

“Me, too, Love.  Me, too.”

“Woof, woof,” came two tiny canine affirmations.

Before they knew it, Jack and Daniel fell asleep, the beagles switching to guard duty since the house wasn't totally secured yet.  It was a job they loved, the trust they were given filling them with happiness.  The dogs knew their humans would never fall asleep like this if they weren't positive that the house was protected by them.  So, for an hour or so, until the couple woke naturally, Bijou and Katie were on alert and ready to spring into action, if necessary.

====

By midmorning on Saturday, the Jackson-O'Neills were well into their holiday illumination tasks.  Music was playing, the kids were singing, and several members of their zoo were having fun, too, playing with garland, hiding inside Christmas stockings, and stealing any morsel of food they could find.

After dressing up the upstairs, including the walkways, bedrooms, and other joint use areas like the library, in a manner that would make Santa proud, the family focused on the big Christmas trees, beginning with the one in the living room.

The tree was full of lights and strings of popcorn.  There were all kinds of ornaments, too, including homemade trinkets to rest off the green branches.

“Time for the star,” Aislinn announced after inspecting the tree.

“Daniel, that's your cue,” Jack declared with a smile.

“Maybe it's time to let one of the children place the star on the tree.”

“Kids, I love you, and with all due respect to your desires to affix the star, Dad absolutely insists that Daddy does it.”

“Here, Daddy,” Lulu stated as she handed her father the star.

“Wait!” Jonny objected.  “We have one more ornament.”  The little general retrieved the precious item, still in its box, that he'd been given earlier in the month and hidden since that time.  “Dad, this is my best present for you this year, and maybe in all my life.  I asked Aunt Sara and she gave it to me.”

“Any clue?” Daniel whispered to his husband.

“Not one,” Jack answered.

“Little Danny, help me,” Jonny requested, handing his brother the box.  He walked over to JD and picked him up, carrying him over towards a preselected spot, one that was visible to anyone looking at the tree from the moment they walked into the living room.  “JD, this is the last ornament for our tree.”  He turned and pointed to a picture on the mantle and asked, “Who's that?”

“Char-ey,” JD answered, not yet having mastered the name of Charlie.

“Yeah.  He's your big, big, big, big, big, big brother in Heaven.  He looks over us all the time.  You know, I'll always take care of you, and Charlie will, too.”  Turning back to the tree, Jonny gently took the ornament out of the box Little Danny was holding and said, “This was Charlie's.”

Daniel stood a little straighter and glanced at his husband, who was as still as the proverbial night.

“When Charlie was born, Dad brought this home from one of his missions.  It was Charlie's very first ornament.  Aunt Sara said that except for memories, it was her most precious thing of Charlie's because Dad filled it love before giving it to him.  Now, we have to protect it forever, but Aunt Sara said we should put it on the tree to remember.  She said Charlie would like that.”

“It shows he's always one of us,” Aislinn added with a nod.

“We'll never forget Charlie,” Little Danny told JD.

“Okay, JD, you put it on the tree, and I'll help you.”

Very carefully, Jonny helped his littlest brother place the ornament on the branch. They stepped back and the entire family paused a moment and remembered the boy who first made their dad a dad.  Then the Munchkin put JD down and turned to face his silver-haired father.

“Merry Christmas, Dad, from me and Aunt Sara,” Jonny said with a huge grin.

“Thank you, Son.  That was special, very special.”  Overwhelmed and vividly recalling the ornament, where he got it, and just how he filled it with love, Jack picked up his namesake and held him tight.  He rubbed the back of Jonny's sandy hair and then gave him a kiss on the cheek.  “It's a wonderful present.”

“JD put on tree.”

With Jonny back on his own two feet, Jack lifted up the youngster and replied, “Yes, you did, and you did it better than any airman could.”

JD chuckled, “JD boy.  What ... that?”

“I'll let your big, big, big brother tell you,” Jack laughed, leaving JD in Jonny's hands.

“Daddy, put the star on the tree now,” Jenny requested.

Daniel nodded and placed the star on the top of the tree.  He remembered the first time he'd ever done that.  It was after his return from Abydos when Jack took him to the Minnesota cabin.  It was a good feeling, then and now.

“Perfect!” Aislinn declared.

With the living room tree adorned to everyone's satisfaction, the family began to saunter into the recreation room one by one.  Lagging behind was Jennifer, who  approached the tree.  Slyly, she made sure Charlie's ornament was properly affixed and would not be in danger of falling off or hit by people who might brush by it.  She looked over at her folks and smiled.

“Dad, there's a story behind this ornament, isn't there?  I mean, you didn't just buy it somewhere, did you?”

“Yes, there's a story, and no, I didn't just buy it somewhere,” Jack affirmed as he walked over and stood next to his daughter.

“Will you tell us one day?”

“One day, Jen.”

Jennifer knew it would be a while, so she dropped the notion of discovering the story behind the precious piece.  She was very curious, but her dad needed time.  Resisting the urge to pry, she gave him a kiss and a hug before turning and heading for the rec room to join the others.  She passed by her daddy and gave him a smile, too.

Daniel joined his soulmate in front of the ornament and remarked, “This is the ornament you told me about during our first Christmas with the Munchkins, isn't it?”

“Yeah.  I didn't know Sara still had it.”

“She wasn't going to discard something like this.”

“She never mentioned it.”

“Jack, the two of you don't sit around discussing Charlie that often, do you?”

With a sigh, Jack answered, “No.  Maybe we should, but we usually talk about today, not yesterday.  It's safer that way, for both of us.”  He took a recovery breath and smiled.  “The big question is do I ask Jonny how it came about that Sara gave this to him?”

“Do you really need to know?” Daniel asked pointedly.  “I mean, Jack, the idea here was, well, remembering and sharing love, and making sure JD knows who his ... brother in Heaven is.  Our children believe that's important, and I do, too.”

“Let it go?”

“He'll tell you, if you want him to.”

With a smile, Jack suggested they join their brood, and Daniel agreed.  It would be up to Jonny, or Sara, to share the story behind the gift, if and when either of them wanted to do so.

====

In the recreation room, the family began their task for the tree that nearly went to the top of the tall ceiling with garland and lights.  A couple of ladders were inside to make decorating the top of the tree easier.  Finally, many holiday bulbs and baubles were placed on the tree.

At one point, Jennifer took a call from her best friend, Sheila, who had some hot news about a friend of theirs.  The eighteen-year-old continued to put ornaments on the tree while keeping the phone in her pocket and using an earpiece to converse with her friend.  So engrossed in her conversation was she that Jennifer never noticed the activity going on around her.

“Shhh,” Jonny commanded in amusement as he continued his sly feat.

“Should we stop him?” Daniel asked his husband.

“Why?”

“Oh, I don't know.  She might pull the tree over.”

“It might be worth it.  This is a holiday, Danny, family time.  I told her five minutes; it's been fifteen.”

“Good point.”

At the same time, both men spoke, “But maybe we should ...”

In sync, the soulmates quietly positioned themselves where they could hopefully prevent disaster once Jennifer finished her call.

The oldest Munchkin noticed his parents and realized they had no problem with his play, so he continued on, going round and round the tree.  He wasn't even trying to be covert any longer.  Rather, he began singing along to the tune that just began playing through the stereo system, encouraging the others to do so as well.  Aislinn stood up and followed Jonny around the tree and soon, seven members of the brood were doing the same thing, singing about rockin' around their Christmas tree with the holiday spirit ringing and the promise of pumpkin pie and more caroling later in the evening.

“Okay, Sheila, I'll talk to you later.  Bye.”

Jennifer ended her call and started to back up.  When she did, she almost fell backward and flittered around in shock.  The large tree moved only slightly moving since Jack and Daniel hurried in and propped their daughter up.

“Whoooooooa!  What the ... Jonny, what did you do?” a squirming Jennifer asked upon realizing she was affixed to the huge pine, thanks to rows upon rows of garland and popcorn strings.  “Jonny, I'm gonna get you ... just as soon as I get out of this.”

“All you're going to get, young lady, is phone restriction,” Jack advised.  “Kids, free your sister.”  As the laughing children worked slowly, very slowly, to undo all the strands that bound Jennifer to the tree, Jack held out his hand, his fingers wiggling as an indicator of what he expected to happen.  “Earpiece, too,” he demanded.

“But you said I could talk to Sheila.”

“For five minutes.  You were on the phone for twenty minutes, gossiping.”

“But, Dad!”

“Jennifer,” Daniel interjected strongly, though with calm as well.  “This is family time.  You told Dad it was important, so he agreed to five minutes.  You took advantage by staying on the phone and ignoring us for much longer.  You didn't even sense what Jonny was doing.”

“Hey, shouldn't he get in trouble?”

“That's not your concern,” Jack replied sternly.  “You'll get this back, whenever we decide to give it back.”

Daniel continued, “Okay, that's done.  We have more decorating to do.  Let's focus on the fact that we're all together, all healthy, and all excited for another Christmas season.”

Jennifer sighed, nodded, and returned, “I'm sorry, everyone.  It's just Blair broke up with Bryan and then Cynthia found out Blair actually cheated on Bryan with the principal's son.  It's very scandalous.”  After a moment, she laughed.  “Geez, that's bad.  I'm sorry.  I mean, I'm really sorry after I heard myself say that.  I thought I was too old to make mistakes like this.”

As she finished talking, Jonny removed the last of the garland and announced, “You're free, Sis.  Are you mad at me?”

“Heck no, Jonny.  You reminded me how important it is to stay focused on what's really important.”

“Ice cream?”

The family erupted in smiles and laughs before Jennifer replied, “No, silly.  Us.  Our family and being together is much more important than who Blair did or didn't cheat on.  Let's get these bulbs on.”

Jack and Daniel shared an affirming nod and a knowing smile.  If Jennifer thought she'd never make another mistake like the one she'd just made, she still had a lot of learning to do.  Life was full of challenges and most of the time, it took a repeat or two to finally let the wrong choices fall away for good.

With the voice of an angel, Aislinn began singing “O Christmas Tree,” and was quickly joined by the rest of the family.  They stood together, enjoying the beauty of the big tree, some arms around waists, a few hands on shoulders in front of them, and a couple of heads touching side-by-side while they sang.  It was the magical time Jack wanted and Daniel loved, every part of the holiday a present to the youth inside him who missed so many holidays after his parents died.

Jack looked at his Love and took his hand, raising it to his lips.  He kissed it tenderly, his eyes never leaving Daniel's.  Then he mouthed words of love and leaned in for a quick kiss before returning to the song being sung.

By nightfall, the family was on to other tasks.  Jennifer was planning her annual bauble shop with Chenoa where they'd buy tiny things they didn't need but would find some use for.  Jeff was reading a book on photography, while Brianna was trying to figure out what gifts to give her siblings this year.  The sky being clear, David was using his telescope to study the stars.  Lulu was playing air hockey with Chenoa in the game room, while Jonny was in the library, finding the perfect Christmas book to read.  Little Danny was with his animal guests, checking on their injuries, and Aislinn was in her room, changing the hair style of one of her taller dolls.  Jenny was also in the game room, sitting beneath Muffin the dinosaur while imagining living in the time of the giant creatures.  Ricky was using his imagination, too, via his Etch-a-Sketch.  As for Jack and Daniel, they were putting JD to bed, answering the toddler's many “Why” questions, like why Christmas trees grew on farms and why the blots on his pajamas were called polka dots.  The activity proved one thing: life was just about perfect for the Jackson-O'Neills with this scene from the season having shown how much decking the halls filled the family with love and joy.

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

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