Scenes of the Season - Scene 6

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 21, 2013
Spoilers:  None
Size:  41kb, short story
Written:  December 4-5, 2017
Summary:  Today's holiday scene is Zoo Panic.  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 6
by Orrymain

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--Zoo Panic
====

“Do you think Susie will like this?” Chenoa asked her siblings who were near her in the living room.

“I would, so Susie will love her,” Jenny answered about the doll.

“I hope so,” Chenoa responded as she thought about the six-year-old little girl recently taken in by her Aunt Sam and Uncle Pete.  ~Susie needs a good doll to be by her side all the time.  I hope she likes this one.~

“Kevin's gotta like this.  It looks just like a police car,” Jonny noted as he organized his working area.

“Uncle Pete doesn't drive a police car 'cause he's a detective,” Little Danny pointed out.

“But it's still a police car.”

“Yeah,” the middle Munchkin agreed with a big smile.  “I hope he likes the book I made him.”

“What's in it, Little Danny?” Aislinn questioned, raising her eyebrows and tilting her head slightly as she glanced over at her brother.

“Pictures of Egypt.  I picked them out and Jeff helped me put them together.  We made a book.  See?”

Several of the children went over to look at the book that was being given to the autistic five-year-old child who the Shanahans were adopting along with Susie.

“That's neat, Little Danny,” Lulu praised.  “Kevin likes pyramids.”

“Lulu, this paper has candy canes on it.  Do you want it?”

Lulu gasped for joy as she hurried over to where Jenny was sitting on the carpet.

“It's perfect.  Thank you, Jenny.”  Lulu took the paper and then leaped over Bagel, the family's New Zealand rabbit.  “Sorry, Bagel.”

“Shortcake, get out of there,” Jenny chastised her guinea pig, pulling her out of box cover she'd just stepped into.  “Silly girl.”

“Geez, you guys started without me,” David, now twelve, whined, though he was only teasing, as he entered the living room.

“You were late,” Chenoa responded.

“I know.  Sorry.  I was reading a book and lost track of time.”

Though his eyes were pointed on the gifts he was organizing and didn't drift from them, Little Danny laughed and admitted, “I do that, too, David.”

“How's it going in here?” Jack inquired as he bounded down the stairs.

“We just started, Dad,” Jonny replied.

“Do you have everything you need?”

“Little Danny, checklist,” Aislinn requested and then stood up.

The middle Munchkin looked around, finally spying his notebook, which he opened and began to review.

“Lots and lots of wrapping paper,” Little Danny stated.

“Lots of checks,” Aislinn responded.

“Oodles of ribbon and bows.”

“Pretty paper stuff: check.”

“Tape.”

“Have tape for everyone,” Aislinn responded as she passed out transparent scotch tape to each of her siblings.

“Labels: who from, who to.”

“Um,” Aislinn sighed.  She raised her right hand and ran her fingers through her long brunette hair.  “Where are the labels?”

The children began to be concerned until Ricky piped up, “Here they are.  Cream Cheese was sitting on them.”

“Creamy, go sit by Bagel,” Jenny instructed the family's black Holland Lop rabbit.

“Scissors,” Little Danny called out.

“Four pairs,” Aislinn acknowledged as she handed a pair of the blunt-tip bladed items to David, Lulu, and Jenny, keeping the last pair with herself.

“Hey, I see you have a lot of our furry friends around,” Jack stated as he glanced over at the two rabbits and two guinea pigs.  When last seen, the two family cats, Mittens and Calico, were in the study, and the beagles, Bijou and Katie, were in the house somewhere; he just wasn't sure of their location at the moment and he was sure both the cats and the dogs would be on the move at some point.  “You need to be extra careful with the scissors.  Pay attention to what you're doing.  Someone tell me why?” the father questioned.

“We don't want them to get hurt,” Ricky answered.

“We'll pay good attention, Dad,” Lulu promised on behalf of the brood.

“That's what I wanted to hear.”

“We're good to go, Dad,” Aislinn advised.  “All checks checked,” she added with a grin.

“Good.  Okay, listen up.  Daddy's on an overseas call that's very important to J-O Enterprises.  He's likely to be on that call for another hour.  Please do not disturb him and if you go upstairs, use the secret stairway in the rec room.  David, I expect you to monitor the usage.”

“Sure, Dad.”

“If you need anything, I'll be in the garage.”  Jack began to walk away, but then he stopped to say one more thing.  “David, if the phone rings, answer it.  It might be Grandpa, ready to trade in JD for an older model.”

Most of the kids chuckled since they were aware how hard it was to keep after the almost-two-year-old as he explored his world and wanted to know why everything was the way it was.  They missed JD, but they suspected their littlest brother was having a blast at their grandfather's house for the day.

With their dad leaving them alone, the brood spiritedly returned to their project.  They were wrapping presents for friends, neighbors, and extended family, gifts that were okayed to be seen by the family.  Gifts for one another and their parents were going to be wrapped privately at another time.

Within thirty minutes, the living room was a mess, but the kids were having a hearty time wrapping their presents.  Joking around, Jonny stood up and began to act like Larry the cucumber from “Veggie Tales.”  His brothers and sisters laughed at the little general's humorous take of Larry's song, “Wrapped Myself Up.”  It was a new tune the youngsters heard for the first time this week.

Before they knew it, the kids were on their feet, their faces turning red from the amusement.  They slunk all around like the veggie wrapped in holiday paper did on TV.  The children danced gaily, picking up large sections of wrapping paper and pulling it around their bodies until they couldn't stand it anymore.  Tears actually ran down Lulu's face, she was laughing so much.

Giggling wildly, the children finally settled and sat back down to continue their tasks, though it took more than a minute for their abdomens to stop wriggling and their tiny remnants of sounds to cease.  Off and on, they stopped to play with the zoo, all of whom got along very well.  Even the cats were gentle with the guinea pigs, who sometimes slept atop the felines.

“Wish Bogey could be done here,” Jonny sighed about his bearded dragon lizard.

“Not a good idea, Jonny,” David reminded.

“I know.”

The wrapping adventure continued with more songs and holiday chitchat.  Since there were multiple gifts going to the same people, there were large bags and boxes with names on them so that when a child finished wrapping a gift, they could put it in the appropriate box.

“Done,” Aislinn said softly as she applied the to/from label to the small box.  The gift was a bracelet with an open heart dangling from it.  The Munchkin actually made the jewelry herself in a homeschooling co-op class attended earlier in the year.  She made three identical bracelets, one for each of her three aunts, Sam, Janet, and Sara.  She stood and put the last of the wrapped bracelets into the box that had Janet's name on it.  ~'Kay.  Two more presents to wrap.~

The little girl returned to her spot, stepping over an abundance of cut gift wrap, ribbon, and tissue paper.  While not on Little Danny's list, the children realized the omission early, so David had Chenoa go to the projects room where all the Christmas material was being kept and retrieve an ample supply, which she did.  As a result, plenty of the delicate white paper was scattered across the room along with the rest of the wrapping necessities.

Aislinn picked up the next box and looked inside to verify that it was tiara she purchased for her friend, Cassidy.  She was about to start wrapping it when she gasped.

“Strawberry?  Strawberry, where are you?”  Franctically, Aislinn shuffled all the paper and such surrounding her as she searched for her guinea pig.  “Oh no!”

“Ash, what's wrong?” Little Danny asked when he heard the urgent ruffling of the holiday wrap.

“I can't find Strawberry.”  Worried, Aislinn called out, “Jenny, is Strawberry with Shortcake?”

“Na-huh.  Shortcake's resting on Bagel right by my foot.”

“Where's Strawberry?” Aislinn sniffled.

“Listen up!” General Jonny commanded, sounding just like his dad as he stood up. “Mission: Find Strawberry.  Pick up every piece of paper 'n' stuff in the room, one at a time.  Go!”

Following Jonny's orders, all of the assembled blood diligently tried to locate the guinea pig, but they had no luck.  She wasn't mixed in with the gift wrap supplies.

“Now we do a recon.  David, you stay and watch other zoo and make sure they no get lost.  Ash 'n' Jenny, you search the rec room.  Little Danny, you look in the entryway and the hallway.  Ricky, look under there and under chairs here in the living room,” Jonny ordered, having pointed to the sofa.  “Lulu, you look in the kitchen.”  He sighed and made the last assignment.  “Noa, you stand guard by the garage door.  Don't let Dad open the door.  If we don't see Strawberry,, she might run out.”

The next several minutes were spent doing a thorough search of the downstairs.

“Where's Strawberry?” Aislinn cried as she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

Little Danny put his arm around his sister and promised, “We'll find her.”

“But where is she?”

Jonny thought and thought.  They'd looked everywhere, or had they?

“Ut oh,” the oldest Munchkin expressed.

“What is it, Jonny?” Lulu asked.

“I think we wrapped her.”

“Wrapped her?” Aislinn questioned incredulously.  Then her expression turned to one of unhappy surprise, her down-turned lips and heavy eyelids showing her fret.  “Oh no!”

“No panic, Ash,” Jonny ordered.  “Everyone take one box.  Lift packages very carefully.  Call out for Strawberry.  Listen for her patter and her purr.  She sounds kinda like Mittens when she's happy.”

“What are you going to do?” Jenny questioned, always curious to see what assignments the Munchkin gave himself.

“Find Bij and Katie.  They'll help us sniff her out.”

“Good idea,” Little Danny responded while Jenny nodded in agreement.

“Happens ... lots,” Jonny giggled.  “Move out!”

Gently, the kids went box by box, putting the presents to their ears and calling out Strawberry's name.  Meanwhile, knowing he had to remain quiet because of Daniel's phone call, Jonny did his own recon with stealth.  Since the beagles weren't with them, he had a hunch they were with his daddy, and they'd all been given strict orders about not disturbing him.

~This is an emergency.  I just hafta do best covert.~

Using the secret staircase in the rec room as directed by his dad, Jonny went upstairs and took the long way to the study.  However, he did his diligence by first checking each room upstairs, leaving the den for the last.  On his knees, he crawled to the open doors and peeked inside.  Sure enough, the girls were on their blue beanbag, relaxing as Daniel talked on the phone.

Jonny tried to get the girls' attention, but they were sleeping.  It was peaceful and they had no reason to be on alert.  When all else failed, he reached in his pocket and took out a couple of treats.  Not even that worked.

~What I do?~  Finally, the boy decided to do what he did with his fellow triplets.  ~Maybe we have beagle power, too,~ he told himself.

Thinking as hard as he could, with his eyes closed, Jonny called out Bijou's and Katie's names.

~Bijou!  Katie!  Need you!  Zoo emergency!~

Before Jonny could open his eyes, the two beagles were in front of him.  He put his finger against his lips in a shushing motion and led them away from the den.  When they were through the jog and clearly far enough from where his daddy was, the Munchkin told the beagles the situation.

“Strawberry is missing.  I think we wrapped her up like a present.  You two help us sniff her out, okay?”

“Woof,” Bijou returned in a short, succinct acknowledgement.

“Find her?” Jonny asked the brood when he and the dogs entered the living room.

“She might be in here, or in that one, or ...” Aislinn sighed, her shoulders dropping and upper lip quivering, preventing her from finishing her thought.

“Ash, Bij and Katie will find her,” Jonny assured as he joined Little Danny in hugging their distressed sister.

“We think we hear something in all three of these boxes, but it could be the gifts because some of them are noisy anyway,” David advised about the three boxes that were placed on the carpet, separate from the other presents.

“Bij, Katie, find Strawberry,” Jonny ordered.

The beagles walked around the boxes, their noses almost touching the paper that enclosed them.  Their ears went up and both sat down by the far box.

“Quick!  Unwrap it,” Jonny told Ricky, who was the closest to the package.

“Gently, Ricky,” Aislinn reminded as she pressed her fingers over her mouth and her body shook lightly with hope.

The Spitfire unwrapped the present and then opened the box.  As soon as he did, Strawberry let out a squeaking sound.

“She's scared,” Aislinn surmised from the sound.  She leaned over and picked up her guinea pig.  “I'm sorry.  It's okay now.  Bijou and Katie saved you.  I love you.”

As Aislinn held the animal to her cheek and swayed back and forth, the squeaking transitioned to a soft purr.

“It's okay now.  I love you, Strawberry.”  After a moment, Aislinn kneeled down and gave the beagles a kiss and let Strawberry go nose-to-nose with them in thanks, too.  “Thanks, brood, for helping me.”

“It's what we do,” Ricky responded simply.

“Good job, Jonny,” Jenny praised.

“General Jonny comes through,” David laughed, patting the boy on the back as he headed over to his wrapping area.  “We'd better finish wrapping these and clean up,” he urged.

David didn't need to say more.  Jennifer, Jeff, and Brianna were shopping and were due home soon.  Then the plan was for the family to head over to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and the 23rd Annual Electric Safari.

The kids were really looking forward to the event.  The trees were always decorated with lights and there would be warm fires all over the zoo.  The brood was extra excited to see the animated animal sculptures, too.  They also heard Santa would be there, although they realized this would be a helper and not the real St. Nick who they gave their Christmas lists to earlier in the month.  Still, Little Danny told them it would be a good backup and they should enjoy sitting on Santa's lap again and reviewing their lists.

Naturally, it was also going to give the kids a chance to see some of the animals, even though some of them were wary about the notion of animals being kept in cages.  Little Danny and Jenny already had questions about that to ask the zookeeper since he would be giving a special talk during the Electri Safari.  Not all of the animals in the zoo would be able to be seen, but Ricky was looking forward to visiting the giraffes in their barn, while Jonny was thrilled to observe the monkeys.  David was more eager to go on the Mountaineer Sky Ride to observe all the lights from the city.  Actually, everyone was looking forward to the overhead view of the holiday lights.

The living room a mess, the children hurried to finish the few gifts that remained to be wrapped.  Then it happened, shocking all of them.  So engrossed in completing their wrapping that no one noticed Mittens and Calico taking sly, small steps from the kitchen.  Within a second of the other, the two cats sprang onto the tree, climbed to the top, and began swatting at a decoration.  Their swats were forceful, wide, and frequent.  It caused the tree to sway.

“Oh no!” Chenoa exclaimed in a raised voice.

“Calico, get down!” Lulu called out.

“Noooooooo!” most every member of the brood shouted when the tree came crashing down to the floor.

As the cats fled the scene of the crime, the kids hurried to ensure their furry friends were okay.

“Where's Bagel?” Jenny shouted.

“Here she is,” a relieved Jonny sighed as he extricated the rabbit from below a branch.  “She's fine, Jenny.”

“Whew!” Jenny exclaimed, taking Bagel into her arms.  She looked over at the box she'd placed Shortcake in after the Strawberry episode and let out a big airy sound.  “Good Shortcake.”

“Cream Cheese is still over here with Strawberry,” Aislinn told her siblings.

The children all gave huge sighs of relief, but didn't have a chance to react further since at that point Jack hurried inside.  He'd heard something that sounded like shouts and figured he should check it out.

“What the ...?  Kids, are you okay?” Jack asked, the health of his children foremost in his mind.

“Bagel almost got squashed,” Jenny answered in a low voice.  “Jonny saved her.”

Jack took a moment to thoroughly review his troops.  He studied each child and then each pet.  There appeared to be some emotional distraught, but no physical injuries.  However, Jenny's clutching of Bagel drove him to take a closer look.

“Dad, is she okay?”

The father took a close look, sighed, and went over to the phone.  He used the speed dial function to connect to the home of Pam Lawrence, the family's longtime and dearly trust vet.  She treated all of their animals, or at the very least, was the connection to the specialists.

“Pam, Jack Jackson-O'Neill ... yeah, Merry Christmas ... No, it's just we may have a bunny problem ... Yeah ... here's the deal.  Bagel somehow or another found herself under the tree.  Hold one.”  Jack looked at Jonny, the person Jenny claimed saved Bagel.  “Jonathan Charles, show me exactly where you found her.”

~Ut oh,~ the Munchkin responded to the use of his full given name.  That was a rarity and it scared him.  Kneeling, Jonny indicated the exact spot.  “Her head was right under this branch.”

“Looks like she was pinned about four branches from the top of the tree, Pam ... about a foot from the ceiling ... her eyes look a little dilated.  She's breathing okay, but she hasn't made ... Pam, wait a sec.”  Again, Jack directed his attention to the children, specifically the redhead.  “Jenny, when the tree fell, did Bagel make that 'squeeeeeech' sound like she made when she got a staple in her foot?”

“I didn't hear her make any sounds, Dad.”

“Anyone?”

Seeing shaking heads and shrugs, Jack returned to the phone and gave the information to Pam and then added, “Doc, do you think she's concussed?  I kinda know the signs of concussion and this rabbit looks concussed to me.”  He listened, nodding his head a couple of times.  “I hate to disrupt your Christmas ... are you sure?  I ... okay, excellent ... you, too.”

“Does Bagel need to go to the hospital?” Jenny asked.

“No,” Jack responded as he handed the rabbit to the children.  “Speak ... now.”

“We were finishing our presents,” Lulu explained.

“We didn't make the tree fall,” Chenoa added.

“Dad, Mittens and Calico leaped on the tree and climbed to the top.  They started swatting at something and then the tree came down and they ran off.  It happened in a couple of seconds,” David explained.

“A couple of seconds is all it takes,” Jack commented as he stared at the children, most of whom were surrounding Bagel.

“Okay, first things first.  Sit.”  Jack watched as the children squeezed onto the sofa or the sofa arms.  He gave David a permissive nod, allowing him to stand behind it since there wasn't room for all of them to sit comfortably.  In fact, he motioned for Lulu and Chenoa to kneel in front of the furniture so everyone had a roomy spot.  “Listen very carefully to me.  My portion of the blame here is that while I reminded you to keep track of these little furries,” he said while motioning toward the rabbits and guinea pigs, “I did not take a minute to instruct you to keep a close eye on the cats.  I assumed you would do that.”

Little Danny looked down as did Jonny.  Slowly, more of the others looked away or bit their lips.  Their dad didn't have to say how disappointed he was.  They heard it in his tone and they felt it in their sinking hearts.

“Kids, I love you and Daddy and I are always proud of you.  You're good kids.”

“But we didn't watch close enough,” Aislinn whispered.

“Hey, eyes forward,” Jack ordered when he noticed the children were looking off more than he felt was acceptable at the moment.  “Bagel is fine.  I was not talking to Pam.  I faked it.”

The kids looked up, their faces a mixture of joy, relief, shock, and happy surprise.  Then a hint of confusion set in.

“Kids, have your heard the phrase, 'it only takes a second' or 'it only takes a minute?'”  Seeing nods from everyone, Jack explained, “I'm sorry for misleading you, but this was a chance for me to show how quickly something can go wrong.  What if Bagel had been hurt by one of those bigger branches that could have hit her on the head?”

“Ruin Christmas,” Jonny said softly.

“It would be our fault,” Little Danny sighed.

“The jury's still out on that one,” Jack countered.  “Kids, Daddy and I left you alone to wrap your presents because you asked for that and said we could trust you.  Make no mistake, we do trust you, but you're growing up and you have a responsibility to take care of the zoo.  Maybe it wasn't a good idea to have them out right now when you were all so busy.”

“We shoulda had a zoo monitor,” Jonny chimed.

“Yes, that would have been a good idea.”

Her head down, Lulu's cracked voice barely eked out, “I promised I'd watch them.”

Jack was about to speak, but the other children all spoke up, one voice above another as they reminded Lulu that her promise was more about the scissors than anything else and that they all shared the fault.

“But protecting the zoo ...”

“We all should have done it, Lulu,” Chenoa comforted strongly.  “We all messed up.”

Jack waited a moment to let the conversation ebb.  He made a mental note to speak with Lulu later at a time when Daniel could be a participant.  Lulu was still a special case when it came to situations like this.  He seriously doubted she was responsible for anything that happened; regardless, she needed to be reassured that she was loved and any blame on her was minimal.

“One more thing about Bagel,” Jack continued.  “Her eyes are fine, but it would probably be a good idea to keep an eye on her.  I want to see her little whiskers moving around and hear that little purr.”

Chiming in brightly, Aislinn suggested, “Let's give her a treat.  She's always happy when we do that.”

“Go ahead.”

Nearby, the children had treats, homemade by Aislinn and Jenny with assistance from Jennifer, that were suitable for both the rabbits and the guinea pigs.  Jenny took a treat from the baggie on the coffee table and held it out with hope.  It took a few seconds, but then Bagel's whiskers began to move as she very lightly grounded her teeth.  She accepted the treat and ate it.

“That's an excellent sign.”

“Dad, no excuse,” Jonny began as he sat on the sofa.  “She wasn't squished under the tree.  I just held up the branch with a finger and she was sitting there.”

“And?”

“We were lucky,” the Munchkin sighed.

“Thank you for the added information.  That helps us to know that she probably wasn't hit by the tree.  It covered her and scared her.  Again, I apologize.  I did not lie to you to be cruel.  I lied so that in the future you'll plan better and watch better.  You can be mad at me if ...”

“No, Dad,” Jenny interrupted, shaking her head vehemently.  “I learned a lot.  Bagel and Cream Cheese and Strawberry and Shortcake and Mittens and Calico and all our zoo: we'll be even better at protecting them now.”

“I know you will, Red; all of you will be.”

“Uh, hey!” Daniel called out, realizing he'd missed a lot from what he overheard while walking down the stairs.

“How was the call?” Jack asked as he glanced over his shoulder.

“Successful,” the archaeologist answered as he stepped down to the living room level.  “So, why is the tree on the carpet?  And why do our children look so sad?”

“Short version: Mittens and Calico climbed the tree, the tree came down, and Bagel was under the tree.”  Jack quickly continued, “Bagel's fine, but I lied to the kids to teach them a lesson which you and I can discuss more later at which time you can let me know if I'm in the human doghouse.”

“Oh, okay,” Daniel returned, reeling from the summary as his eyes darted to his left.

Looking at the kids, Jack spoke, “Let's get to the second thing.  *Why* did Mittens and Calico climb the tree?”

“Uh, not to interrupt,” Daniel interjected as he moved forward a couple of feet to stand next to his lover.  “Just exactly where are ... Mittens and Calico?”

“That's a good question.”

At that precise moment, the three older children walked inside the home, full of smiles and bags upon bags of shopping purchases.

“We're home!” the three chimed.

“Oh boy!” Brianna responded to seeing the fallen tree and the look of her siblings being reprimanded.

“No Electric Safari?” Jennifer questioned.

“We haven't gotten that far yet,” Jack responded.

Of note to Jeff was that quite uncharacteristically, none of the younger children said a word, not one.  Clearly, he and his sisters entered in the middle of the rebuke.

“Jen, Jeff, Bri, take that stuff to your rooms and then I want you to find Mittens and Calico ASAP.  Bring them downstairs.”

“Callie will be under my bed,” Lulu suggested softly.  “That's her safe place.”

Not saying anything further, the three older children did as instructed.  None of them wanted to be in their fathers' bad graces with Christmas only a few days away.

“Okay, kids.  The cats climbed the tree.  Not once in all the years since we've been invaded by those two felines have they *ever* attempted to climb our trees.  We don't put bulbs low.  We keep the cords and such out of their furry hair.  *Why* on this night did they climb this tree?”

Jonny gulped and looked away, while the rest of the kids shrugged in total innocence.

“Jonathan?”

The Munchkin was relieved that it was only his first given name used this time, not that it made him feel that much better.  With a sigh, he stood up and walked over to the tree.  He studied it and then walked around the top to the other side.  He counted branches and got on his knees to look under it.  Then he reached out with his right arm, fidgeted a little, and pulled his hand back, revealing a squiggly green creature in his grasp.

“Look, it's a Bogey ornament!  I bought it when we went shopping for presents.”

“And how did it get on the tree?” Daniel questioned as he caught up with recent events.

“I used a chair from the kitchen and stood on it and put the ornament up near the top.”

“You baited the cats,” Jack challenged.

“Not on purpose.  I just wanted Bogey's relative on the tree.”

“Jonny, what almost happened to your ... Bogey ornament is why Bogey is not allowed to be outside when Mittens and Calico are roaming the house unless your eyes are fixed on him.  You know the rules on that.  It's for Bogey's safety.”

“Mittens and Calico like Bogey.”

“But not his ornamental look-alike,” Jack put forward.

“Alright, let's ...”

“Here they are,” Jennifer called out, cutting off her daddy's words and leading the way for Jeff, who was holding Mittens, and Brianna, who had Calico in her hands.  “It wasn't easy, either.”

“Come here, you beast,” Jack groused as he took hold of Mittens.  “You okay?”

“Meow.”

“Yeah, well, you should be scared.  You know better than to climb the tree and look,” Jack walked over and removed the object from his namesake's hand, “it's not even real.  Fake: fake, I tell ya, nothing but a rubber lizard.”

“Meow.”

“She looks fine,” Daniel commented as he examined the feline while his husband held her.

“Agreed,” Jack returned.  After giving the cat back to Jeff, he went over to Brianna and eyed Calico.  “What's your excuse?”

“Mew,” Calico answered with a shortened expression.

“You want a look?”  Jack held out the reptilian decoration.  “You would not have enjoyed eating this.  Stick to your poles and stay out of the Christmas trees.”  He paused for a moment, just for effect.  “Scoot!” he ordered both cats, some laughter by the family occurring as the cats loved regaining their freedom and scurried away as fast as they could after released from the care of Jeff and Brianna.  ~This is why I'm a dog person.~

“We should, uh ...” Daniel spoke and nodded towards the tree.

“Yep,” Jack concurred.

The two fathers returned the tree to an upright position, while the older kids spotted and picked up ornaments that fell off the branches.

“Hmmm,” Brianna noted.  “I don't think any of them broke.”

“Yeah, these are all good,” Jennifer remarked.

“We were lucky,” Jonny stated, repeating his earlier thought.

“Jen, supervise putting the bulbs back on the tree and then you three,” he motioned at Jeff and Brianna, “can do whatever you want.  The rest of you, finish wrapping your gifts and then get this room cleaned up.”

“Yes, Sir,” a chorus of voices acknowledged.

“Daniel,” Jack stated firmly as he headed for the study.

“Yes, Sir,” Daniel replied, getting a few chuckles from the children.

When the parents were out of sight, Lulu asked, “What do you think they're going to do to us?”

“No Electric Safari,” Jonny sighed.  Then he sighed again, a really deep, heavy sigh.  “I'll be right back.”

Jack and Daniel had barely sat down when Jonny knocked on the door and entered upon hearing permission to do so.

“Dad, Daddy, everything was my fault.  I put Bogey's ornament on the tree, so it should be me who gets punished.  Mittens and Calico were just being cats.  It's not their fault, and no one else even saw it on the tree yet.  I think you should ask Aunt Sam or Aunt Janet or Mrs. Valissi, or someone, to baby-sit me and you should take everyone else to the Electric Safari.  Oh, and you should know that we lost Shortcake earlier.  We wrapped her, but Bij and Katie helped us find her.  I'm the leader.  It was my fault we didn't watch the zoo better.  Dad's right, Daddy.  Bagel could have been hurt, or worse.  Please don't punish the rest of the brood.  Please punish me because it was all my fault.  I'm sorry.”

Not saying anything further, the boy walked out of the room, his head down in remorse and regret.

“Well, that was quite the admission,” Daniel opined.  “Maybe you'd better ... you know.”

“First, here's the part you missed,” Jack began as he brought Daniel up to speed with the full story.

The couple conferred about what to do, if anything, about the children's behavior and also took into consideration Jonny's confession of sorts.  They also agreed to talk with Lulu during nighttime rounds.  Jack also put himself in the hands of his Love about his Bagel deception.

“What do you think?”

“I think that was a harsh thing to do, Jack, especially at Christmastime.  They're shaken.  I saw it on their faces.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing, because they learned an important lesson this afternoon that might just save one of the zoo someday.  Jack, they aren't upset with you, not one of them, and that tells me a lot.  They got the message and it sounds to me like they are actually appreciative of the lesson.”

“Off the hook?”

“Hmmm ... maybe,” Daniel replied with a mysterious smile.  “We'll discuss it more later.”

The lovers made a final decision about the children and returned to the living room, observing it was clean and the tree was back to its old self.  There was no sight of the ornamental Bogey.  They also noticed that the three older kids were also present.

“Solidarility,” Jennifer explained when she noticed Jack's questioning expression aimed in her direction.

“Kids, it's Christmas.  Did you have fun wrapping your presents?” Jack asked.

“We had lots of fun, until the tree fell down,” Aislinn answered.  “Well, and for a couple of minutes when ...”

Daniel saw the hesitation on his daughter's face and interjected, “We heard about Shortcake.  It's okay.”

“But we had fun wrapping presents together,” Ricky asserted.

“Does anyone feel like they need to say anything?” Daniel asked.  “Good because it's time to change.  It's very cold out and getting colder.  Put on warm clothes.  Mittens, uh, the gloves, not our cat, hats, and scarves required.”

“We still get to go?” Jenny asked, the pupils of her eyes growing bigger in surprise.

“Do we?” Chenoa asked, her mouth agape as she took in the possibility that the family outing was still a go as planned.

“Is there a reason we shouldn't go?” Daniel inquired.

“Kids, what happened here was an accident,” Jack interjected.  “You could have taken more care and paid more attention to the zoo, but it was just an accident.  Let's get back to Christmas!”

Cheers erupted, except for one.

“Jonny, why aren't you happy like us?” Aislinn asked.

“I'm not going.”

“Yes, you are, Son,” Jack corrected, walking over and kneeling down on one knee to face his son.  “You made a mistake, but it wasn't done maliciously.”

“Huh?”

“You didn't mean for anything bad to happen.  You love Bogey and you wanted him represented on the tree.  You just didn't think about how it would look to the cats.  It's okay.  I did a lot worse when I was your age.”

“You did?”

“Oh yeah,” Jack affirmed with a strong tone.  “You go change and on the way to the zoo, I'll tell you all about the time I painted the Christmas tree.”

“You painted it?” a shocked but secretly proud Jonny queried.

“Yeah, and I've never forgotten it,” Jack confessed as he stood up and rubbed his rear as if recalling a spanking.  “Go!  All is well.”

“Thanks, Dad!” Jonny exclaimed as he ran towards the stairs.

“Jonny!”

“Oops!  Sorry,” the Munchkin chuckled about disobeying the 'no running in the house' rule.

By nightfall, the Jackson-O'Neills were enjoying a wonderful evening at the zoo.  The lights were sparkling, warming the family even though it was a below freezing temperature.  Fortunately, it wasn't snowing, which allowed all facets of the Electric Safari to operate normally.  The kids' joy was shown via smiles, giggles, and non-stop chitchat.  The parents' joy was in watching their children smiling, giggling, and chitchatting non-stop.  Both knew that their life was not always perfect, as the falling tree proved on this day, but it didn't matter because their family was full of love, and understanding, and as this scene from the season moved forward, that was all that truly mattered to the Jackson-O'Neills of Colorado Springs.

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

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