The Christmas Heart

“Jack, stop!”

I slam on the brakes at the panicked shout, deftly turning the steering wheel into the slid when my back wheels begin to slide on the snow-packed highway. I check my rearview mirror and seeing no other cars on the road, glide to a stop in the middle of the lane.

I turn to find huge blue eyes fixed on mine.

“Back there,” Daniel gasps. Clutching my sleeve, he swivels his head over his shoulder and watches out the passenger side window as I slowly back up. “There!” The hand grips my forearm with punishing strength. Almost immediately my arm is released and Daniel fumbles with his seatbelt.

“Whoa, hold on,” I bark, pulling quickly off to the side of the road. “Where do you think you’re going?” I lay a hand over his, but Daniel’s already got the seatbelt undone and is turned awkwardly in the seat, reaching for his walker.

“We gotta get her before she freezes to death.” He pushes me away and reaches for the door handle.

“There’s someone out there?”

Damn, in this blizzard? Daniel and I are the only ones on the road for a reason. You’d have to be out of your mind to be out in this stuff. Or the guardian of a sixteen-year-old genius who just spent the last twenty two hours helping to puzzle out the verbal faux pas that landed SG-9 in the equivalent of the local pokey on P5 – whatever the planet designation was. 

Again, I place a restraining hand on his arm. “Stay put,” I order, using my other hand to release my seatbelt. I flip on the emergency flashers and open my door only enough to slip out. The last glimpse I have of Daniel as I close the door behind me, he’s all concern-knotted forehead and trusting azure eyes.

Using the truck to help me keep my footing, I shuffle around to the other side, calling out to whomever Daniel had spotted in the snow. I can’t see a damn thing and no one’s answering my hail. I’m just about to give up and retreat to the warmth of the cabin, when I spot movement.

Taking a few cautious steps into the grass by the side of the road, I sink into the snow up to my shins. I grumble at my feet, wishing I’d kept my Government Issue boots instead of changing into my street shoes. Kicking some of the snow away, I swing my gaze up and I see her. She moves slowly towards me, a ghost materializing out of the mist, and I note immediately that she’s limping pretty heavily. Quickly closing the distance between us, I bend and scoop her into my arms. She goes limp against me and for a few seconds I’m afraid we’ve found her too late.

Until her grateful, snow-encrusted tail thumps against my hip.

I don’t know how Daniel saw her. Her fur is pale blonde, as most Golden Retrievers tend to be. She’s too light for a dog her size, though. I should be struggling under her weight, but the biggest obstacle to getting us both back to the heater-warmed interior of the truck is the slick surface I have to navigate.

Finally, I get to the rear passenger door and am startled when it swings outward to meet me. Squinting into the now blowing snow, I scowl darkly at Daniel who has managed to pull himself between the front bucket seats and is half-sitting, half-lying on the rear bench seat. He reaches out and helps me guide the dog onto the seat beside him.

“Careful. Looks like she’s got a shoulder injury.” I reach behind the seatback and pull out the emergency blanket, spreading it over the noticeably shivering form.

Slamming the door shut, I make my way around the truck again and climb into the driver’s seat. Taking off my gloves, I hold my hands up to the heater vent and, when I finally have feeling in my fingers again, I adjust the rearview mirror and watch Daniel.

He’s shifted closer to the dog and her head rests in his lap. He’s leaning over her, trying to share some of his body heat.

“Sit up right and put on your seatbelt,” I tell his reflection.

Daniel pushes his upper body erect and shifts his hips till he’s straight in the seat. Once his seatbelt is fastened, he lays a comforting hand on the dog’s side, mindful of her sore shoulder.

“Watch, Daniel. If you inadvertently hurt her, she might bite you.”

“She’s not gonna bite me, Jack,” he responds with a grin, as though the very thought is ridiculous.

Turning, I give him one of my ‘parental’ looks. “Humor me.”

Daniel smirks patiently. “Alright, I’ll be careful.”

Knowing this is as good as I’m gonna get from him, I face forward and put the truck in gear, while, at the same time, fastening my own seatbelt. “Let’s see if the twenty-four hour vet clinic actually stays open on a night like this.

Not only are they open, but their parking lot’s recently been cleared of snow. I find a parking place near the door and come around to retrieve the Retriever.

“Okay, you wait here,” I instruct once the blanket wrapped bundle is secure in my arms.

“Jack.” Daniel shifts agitatedly towards the open door, eyes once again wide and anxious.

“Daniel, there could be ice on the sidewalk. Let me get her inside and I’ll come back for you, okay?”

“You’re not just gonna dump her off?”

Ah, that explains the hurry to get out of the truck. “No, we’ll hang around and see what the doc says. Unless you fall on the ice, then we’ll likely spend the rest of the evening in the human emergency room.”

Conceding the point, Daniel sits back, but, as I bump the door closed with my hip, I see him move his walker to this side of the cab.

Thankfully, the animal hospital’s got one of those automatic doors that swing wide open as I approach. Almost immediately a scrubs clad vet tech comes and takes the dog from me.

“We found her on the side of the road,” I tell him. He nods and disappears through another set of automated doors.

The gal behind the counter holds up a clipboard. “I’ll need some information.”

“Yeah, okay, just a second.” I flap my hand at her and she lays the clipboard on the counter. “I’ve got to get my kid out of the car.”

I’m not the least bit surprised when Daniel’s walker is thrust at me the second the door is open. He fought me on bringing the walker; he wanted to use the forearm crutches he’s been training on. But, appealing to his common sense – or at least what passes for common sense in Daniel’s world – I finally convinced him that the added stability of the walker was a much better option given the ten inches of snow that had accumulated over the past forty-eight hours.

Unfolding the walker, I stand aside and let Daniel slide out of the truck, ready to catch him if he loses his footing.

We make it safely inside and I settle him in a chair then go to the counter and fill out the paperwork. Coming to the page where I agree to be financially responsible for the medical bills, I glance briefly at Daniel. His eyes are glued to the doors through which the dog was taken, the troubled frown making a re-appearance. I sign my name with a flourish and, leaving the clipboard on the counter, go and sit next to Daniel.

*****

We’ve been here about an hour now and, despite his concern for the dog, Daniel is finally giving in to his body’s need for sleep. He’d been awake most of the past forty hours when we left the base. I was frankly surprised he wasn’t sleeping when we passed the area where we found the dog. Even on days when he’s fully rested, Daniel tends to nap on the ride home.

I shift a bit so his head rests more comfortably against my shoulder. The arm of his glasses has got to be digging into the side of his head, but as long as he’s resting, I’m not gonna risk disturbing him to take them off. Lightly scrubbing my cheek against the top of his head, I open a dog magazine that’s lying in the seat next to me and find an interesting article about busy schedules and maximizing your limited time with your dog.

An omen? Daniel’s obviously developed affection for this pup but, realistically, we can’t even think about keeping her. Our lives aren’t busy – they’re insane. Witness the last two days.

I catch movement from the corner of my eye and look up to find a cute, petite redhead coming our way. She reminds me vaguely of Janet Fraiser and my heart skips a beat. I gently nudge Daniel and make sure he’s sitting upright before I stand to greet her.

“Mr. O’Neill?” She extends a tiny hand in my direction.

I grip it in my own huge paw, slightly taken aback by her commanding grip. “Ah, it’s General, actually,” I say reflexively, then smirk self-consciously. “Jack. Jack is fine.”

“Please, have a seat.” She smiles tiredly. “I’m Dr. Franco.”

“This is Daniel –”

“Is she going to be okay?” the kid steps all over my introduction.

“She’s going to be fine.” The doctor smiles again, this time with feeling. “She’s emaciated and a bit anemic. It looks like she’s been out in the elements for a couple of weeks. But she must have found somewhere to get out of the cold because, thankfully, there’s no sign of frostbite.”

“What about the limp?” I swing my gaze to Daniel and the kid’s intense blue eyes are riveted to the doctor’s clear gray ones.

“Nothing’s broken. She does have a nasty bruise on her shoulder. I suspect she’s been wandering around on the highway and was clipped by a passing car. She was lucky. It could have been much worse.”

Daniel lets loose what is unmistakably a relieved sigh. “Can I see her?”

The doc’s eyes widen ever so slightly. “I was given to understand that she’s not your dog.”

“She’s not,” I confirm, a tad too emphatically based on the doc’s flinch, “but, I think we’d both feel better if we could just say good night?”

Doctor Franco glances briefly at Daniel and her smile telegraphs her understanding. “Okay. If you can give us half an hour to get her settled, I’ll bring you back.”

“We’ll be here,” I say.

*****

Pulling to a slow stop at the next red light, I turn to Daniel. He hasn’t said much since we left the animal hospital and I suspect he’s fallen asleep. My mouth slides into a sideways grin when he blinks at me, eyes droopy but definitely open. So, thinking then, not sleeping.

“We can’t have dog, Daniel.”

Daniel gives me an enigmatic little smile and a vague nod before he turns back to watch out the window. “I know,” he breathes, the words fogging the glass.

I watch him for a few seconds then turn back just as the light becomes green again.

The vet told us she has a microchip, so it’s possible they may still find the owner. But I saw purpose in the kid’s eyes when he leaned over to say good-bye and she kissed his face. He’s anticipating that won’t happen.

Not that it matters. We *cannot* have a dog. This becomes my mantra on the remainder of the ride home.

Once we get to the house, I send Daniel to his bedroom to wash up and change into his pajamas while I make him some hot chocolate. He’s already under the covers when I get there, sitting against the backboard, archaeology magazine spread open on his lap.

I take his reading material and hand him the mug, which he gratefully cups in both hands. He brings the chocolate to his face, inhales deeply and takes a big gulp before putting the mug on his nightstand. Usually its coffee that warrants this type of ritual, though I have yet to see him relinquish his coffee cup until every drop is downed.

“Let me see your feet,” I order mildly and slide my hand over his blanket-encased leg. He flips the covers back, reclines into his pillows and takes up his chocolate again.

Since Daniel’s lost a good bit of the sensation in his lower extremities, we have to be very careful about injury to his feet. He didn’t spend much time tramping through the snow – just the length of our sidewalk which has remained unshoveled since this blizzard began two days ago – but I’m taking no chances. Its cold enough out there tonight that frostbite has become a nebulous specter hovering at the back of my mind.

Pulling the heavy wool socks from him, socks he wears to bed even in the full heat of summer, I carefully inspect from toes to heels. His feet are a little pinker than normal, and they are cold – a constant condition this time of year, according to Daniel, even when he could walk – but otherwise healthy. I slide the socks back over his unresisting feet and tuck them back under the covers.

“Looks like even a sub-zero Colorado night is no match for that tough hide of yours,” I happily report.

I take his now empty cup from him and wait while he rearranges the pillow and slides down into the sheltering warmth of his bedding. His right arm snakes its way out from under the swaddling and lands with a soft plop on top of the down comforter.

“Dogs are made for nights like this,” he comments quietly. He’s stroking the cover next to him and I just know his mind has supplied a large bundle of blonde fur beneath those twitching fingers. Smiling, he turns sleepy blue eyes on me, hope and trust the last thing I see before they close in slumber.

Aw, hell, I know that look. I’ve been on the business end of that expectant glance too many times to count. Even after all the disappointments he’s suffered, Daniel still believes in the impossible.

And I’m gonna do my damndest to get it for him, too. Because, as much as I protested Daniel’s desire to bring that dog into our home, I know she’d be good for him. And he deserves nothing but good things.

*****

Daniel finally emerges from his cocoon somewhere around 1300, but the dark smudges under his eyes silently dispel the notion he got any kind of beneficial sleep.

The weather’s improved since yesterday. The snow has stopped and the sun’s even made an appearance, but it’s still colder than a well digger’s behind, as my Grandma O’Neill was fond of saying.

Per his request, I get Daniel some coffee and a grilled cheese. The phone rings as I’m cleaning up.

“Yeah, O’Neill,” I bark sharply into the kitchen extension, anticipating that someone at the SGC has discovered one more thing that only Daniel can help them with.

Instead of the bumbling apology I was expecting to hear in Walter’s soft tenor, I get a stifled feminine chuckle.

[Jack, this is Dr. Franco from the vet clinic. Are you always this pleasant on the phone, or did I just make an especially good impression last night?]

“Ah, no. Sorry. It’s…” God, now I’m the one bumbling apologies. “I thought you were someone from work. What can I do for you, Doc?”

Daniel had finished his sandwich and was pulling himself up onto his walker when he heard me address our caller. He’s frozen in a half crouch, bloodshot blue eyes peering worriedly into the too bright light coming in through the window over my shoulder. I motion him back into his chair before his forearms begin to tremble with the weight. He executes a controlled fall back into the seat, his gaze never leaving mine.

[Jack, we’ve found the dog’s owner.]

“Oh,” is all I say, and that one word sends Daniel’s chin to his chest, his shoulders slumping in concordant dismay.

[I know it’s a nasty day to be out, even with the sunshine, but he’d like to meet you and Daniel. Do you think you could come by the clinic this afternoon?]

I check my watch and mentally calculate the time it’ll take us to make ourselves presentable for a public appearance. “Three thirty okay?”

[That should work fine. Mr. Mendez said he would make himself available at whatever time was convenient for you. The dog is Cora, by the way.]

“That’s nice,” I say sincerely if a bit distractedly. “Okay. Well, we’ll see you then.”

[See you then. Good-bye.]

Still watching his knees, Daniel takes off his glasses and rubs the back of his hand over his right brow before planting his elbow on the table and resting his forehead against his palm.

Turning away from the scene of abject heartbreak playing out at the breakfast table, I hang up the phone and say into the fist still tightly gripping the receiver, “Her name is Cora. Her owner wants to meet us, maybe offer you a reward or something…” It’s such small consolation, I immediately abandon the effort to mitigate his sorrow.

“Look, Daniel –” I spin back in time to see him lift his head and slap the glasses back on his face.

“I know, Jack,” he huffs with barely contained impatience. “We can’t have a dog anyway. I’m glad she’s going home.” He surges awkwardly to his feet, pushing violently at a nearby chair when it catches one of the legs of his walker and slows his retreat. “I’m gonna go get a shower.”

Glaring into the space he’s hastily vacated, I mutter, “Damn it,” under my breath, and return to my clean up.

*****

“Are you gonna be okay?” I ask, squinting into the lowering sun which dangles directly above the glass enclosed lobby of the vet clinic. “I know you don’t want to give her up.”

“I’m fine, Jack. It’s not like she was ever mine to give up. Can we just go in, please?”

The unspoken, ‘and get it over with,’ hangs heavily in the air between us, a barrier as solid as any brick wall. Just like his adult self, this Daniel has the maddening tendency to cut himself off from others when he’s hurting.

He turns away and opens his door. I slide out of the truck and come around to his side, yanking his walker out of the back seat with more force than is strictly necessary.

This so bites. Daniel has had to make so many adjustments in the last six months – losing the life he had before the accident, the ability to move freely. He keeps telling me it’s no big deal, that he’s nothing if not flexible, and given that his most recent memories include being shuffled from one foster family to another, that’s not surprising. But, damn it, can’t the kid get just one break? Is it really fair that the cosmic bullies who seem to have it in for him get to stomp all over his heart, too?

Shaking off my anger, I hand Daniel’s walker over to him and wait patiently while he unfolds it and gets himself situated.

The walk to the clinic entrance might as well be a forced march through a Goa’uld stronghold, we’re both so grim. But, to his credit, Daniel sheds his gloom and offers a passable smile when Dr. Franco approaches with a man I’d guess to be about my own age.

“Jack, glad you could make it. This is Mr. Mendez.”

“Jack O’Neill. It’s a pleasure.” I step forward and extend my hand, but Mr. Mendez ignores it. His face seems to lose a bit of color as he gapes over my shoulder. I glance back and see that Daniel’s moved in behind me. My heart lurches a bit. How many times have I ordered him to just that spot when an unknown person or group approached us off-world?

“Is this your boy?” Mr. Mendez gasps.

I’m quickly brought back to the present by the question. It’s on the tip of my tongue to correctly label Daniel my ward, but just a fleeting glance into those cherished baby blues stills my tongue. Screw legalities; Daniel is my family in all the ways that count.

“Daniel,” I tell him, nodding firmly.

Instinctively, my hand shoots out to keep Mr. Mendez from crumpling to the floor. “Whoa, you alright?”

Dr. Franco grabs his other arm and we move to the bank of chairs on my left. We quickly get Mr. Mendez settled but he waves off suggestions of an ambulance and water. Once again he sets his eyes on Daniel.

“I’ll be fine,” he whispers. “It was just a bit of a surprise.”

I turn to Daniel, whose wide-eyed gaze darts from Mr. Mendez to me and back again. Directing him to sit, I step back to give him room to maneuver.

Dr. Franco excuses herself with a muttered, “Call me if you need anything,” and retires to the exam room. I watch her go with a smile of thanks and when I turn back, Mr. Mendez appears to have fully regained his composure. I’m betting the fact that he’s got one hand securely enfolded in both of Daniel’s helped speed his recovery.

Mr. Mendez gives me a small shrug as I take the chair next to Daniel. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause such a fuss. It’s just… your Daniel reminds me so much of my son, Mateo.” He passes his gaze over Daniel then his eyes retreat to their conjoined hands. “He died in an automobile accident the weekend before Thanksgiving. He would have been nineteen next month.”

Oh, God. “I’m so sorry,” I utter spontaneously. It’s not nearly sufficient to match the gravity of his revelation, but he accepts it gratefully.

“Mateo was a good boy,” he says, raising his head proudly. “Patient and always kind to everyone.” A genuinely gratified smile lifts his features for a moment and he once again fixes his gaze on Daniel. “He believed one day he would walk again.”

“Your son was disabled, too,” Daniel concludes without further prompt. His fingers shift and I see the tendons in the back of his hand tense as he tightens his grip on Mr. Mendez’s hand.

“Yes. Corazón was his dog.”

Daniel smiles softly. “It means Heart,” he translates for me over his shoulder, though he knows I speak Spanish fairly well myself.

“Yes,” Mr. Mendez confirms.

“You said Mateo had hoped to walk again,” Daniel begins cautiously. “Do you mind if I ask…”

“Mateo loved skiing,” Mr. Mendez eagerly jumps in, obviously pleased with the opportunity to talk about his son. “When he was fifteen he had a serious fall and suffered a spinal cord injury. He was confined to a wheelchair and, for a while, we feared his spirit had been defeated. The following Christmas I got him a puppy, hoping only to lift those spirits.

“At first Mateo wanted nothing to do with her. He refused even to name her and for weeks she was simply ‘that dog.’ I considered finding her another owner, but it soon became apparent that Cora had a mission in our home. She refused to be put off by Mateo’s indifference. She demanded his attention, nudging his hand for petting every time it was within her reach and even dragging toys to him. He gave in eventually, just to keep her from constantly pestering him, he said.”

Daniel and I share a grin at this. I’ve told him how he pretty much had the same effect on me.

“Slowly,” Mr. Mendez continues, unaware of our private moment, “Corazón drew him out of himself, gave him someone else to live for. He took over her care, and, as the weeks went by, she not only tended to his emotional needs, but seemed to realize his physical needs as well. She instinctively retrieved and returned things Mateo had dropped or missed, and she quickly learned to bring her leash when it was time to go out. She’d not only given him the will to live, but had made his life easier, too.

“The day he accepted her, he named her Corazón. They became inseparable after that.”

Mr. Mendez’s eyes lose focus for a few seconds, the nature of his thoughts easily readable in the wistful smile that tugs mightily at his lips. “We were talking just last year about the day she joined our family,” he quietly relates. “Mateo said it was fitting that she came to us on Christmas because she has a genuine Christmas heart, completely loving and giving.”

Daniel smiles, too, and I can see the corner of his eye crinkling with the exuberance of it.

Suddenly, Mr. Mendez’s blissful expression turns somber. “Cora was so much a part of his life that, when Mateo died, my wife could not bear to have her nearby; she was too painful a reminder.” 

Daniel gasps softly. “She left Cora on the side of the road?”

“Please, don’t judge her too harshly,” he implores, his haunted gaze swinging in my direction.

I hope he doesn’t misinterpret my reflexive cringe. I’m stunned that he would seek my forgiveness for his wife’s actions. But then he has no way of knowing that I’m the last person qualified to judge the actions of a parent who’s just unexpectedly lost her child. I was prepared to kill thousands.

Mr. Mendez shifts agitatedly in his seat. He lowers his head, his shoulders bowing under the weight of his distress. “She’s grief stricken,” he chokes out. “She would never wish Cora harm. I know my wife thought that she would find another home.”

As Mr. Mendez dissolves into tears, Daniel lays a supportive hand on the anguished man’s shoulder. He turns gentle blue eyes on me and that look is so familiar, it takes my breath away. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen it, but it always takes me back to the first time: Abydos.

Daniel condemned my plan to set off that nuclear device but, when he learned of the despondency that had driven me to that point – in the few seconds before he reamed me a new one for wanting to throw my life away – I was blessed with this same look. So I know how effortlessly Daniel transitions from disapproval to complete understanding. God, I love that about him.

In a gesture that belies his youth, Daniel slides the hand to Mr. Mendez’s head, and whispering words of compassion, effectively absolves him, and by extension his wife, of any wrongdoing. As the older man sits up, he does so with the lightness of one who has been freed from a backbreaking burden. He sighs gratefully, pulling out a handkerchief to dab at his eyes.

“My wife was so relieved to learn that Cora is safe,” he says between sniffles, “but I cannot take her back with me.”

Daniel pats the hand he’d never let go. “You don’t have to worry about Cora. She’ll find a good home.” He says it with just a little too much confidence, and I narrow my eyes a bit. Sure, I’m gonna give in eventually, but there’s no need for the kid to know I’m essentially putty in his hands.

“I’d like to say goodbye to her, if I could,” Mr. Mendez requests and Daniel releases his grip as the man slowly stands. I jump up and skate to the receptionist’s desk to ask that someone bring Cora out to us.

By the time Daniel’s on his feet, Dr. Franco bursts through the double doors on our right, tripping along behind a big blonde battering ram on the scent of a friend. Cora goes unswervingly to Mr. Mendez, coming to her hind legs for a hug. Mr. Mendez wraps his arms around her and closes his eyes, tightening the embrace until Cora begins to squirm. He presses a discreet kiss on her muzzle then loosens his hold. Cora slides to the floor and sits beside him, her eyes riveted to his familiar face.

I glance at Daniel and am not surprised to see empathic tears glistening in his clear blue eyes. He shifts his weight to the left and hooks a few fingers around his glasses, lifting them from his face. As he passes the back of his hand over his eyes, he suddenly loses his balance. Grappling for the support of his walker, he lets the glasses fall from his grip and they bounce off the linoleum with a quiet clatter.

Cora turns, her ears perched forward on her head like a couple of satellite dishes zeroing in on an elusive signal. Without hesitation, she leaves Mr. Mendez’s side and, with an attentive expression I’ve seen on few humans, let alone any animal, she carefully takes Daniel’s glasses in her mouth and settles them in his waiting hand.

That devoted canine gaze is turned on my kid, and I mentally prepare for a major battle, knowing the fight is now two against one.

*****

“It wasn’t a sign, Daniel,” I argue, pointedly ignoring the ‘I know better than you’ eye roll I catch from the corner of my vision. “It was instinct.”

“Exactly,” Daniel deftly turns my argument against me. “She knew that I’d have difficulty getting my glasses on my own, and she jumped in to help me.”

“But that doesn’t mean she’s supposed to be your dog. By this point she’s so conditioned to pick things up, she would have retrieved my wallet if I’d tossed it on the floor.”

The hushed monologue wafting from the back seat has me again darting my eyes to the rearview. Daniel huddles with Cora, his lips pressed to her ear like he’s sharing his deepest secrets with her.

“Hey, don’t even think about teaching her to take money from my wallet. If you need something, all you have to do is ask.” I refuse to add ‘because obviously, I can deny you nothing’ even though the evidence of that fact is sharing the backseat of my truck with him.

Daniel pulls his face from Cora’s fur, puffing a bit of fluff from the corner of his mouth before replying with a bright smile. “I know, Jack. Thanks.”

I flash him a crooked grin over my shoulder. “Sit back and fasten your seat belt,” I tell him, reasserting myself into the position of ‘guy in charge.’ Yeah, right, I mutter to myself, making sure Daniel’s secure, before heading for home.

Once we get there, Daniel introduces Cora to her new digs while I lug in the dog food, toys and comfy bed Mr. Mendez was delivering to the clinic for Cora’s new owners. Remembering Daniel’s comment last night, I’m thinking the bed won’t get much use.

Daniel excuses himself after dinner, making his careful way down the hall with a book and his four-legged best friend. I’m not afraid that Cora has replaced me in Daniel’s affections, though, since Daniel generally seeks refuge in his room on Simpsons night.

I check on him after the show, a sappy grin overtaking me at the scene that greets me when I round the threshold. He made a valiant effort, I’m sure, but in the thirty minutes since I last saw him, he’s grappled with the sandman and lost. Big time.

He’s bonelessly sprawled on his back, still dressed and on top of his blankets. I remove his shoes and gingerly lift the glasses from his nose and the book from its perilous perch on his chest, placing both on his night stand. Reaching down to pull his comforter over his inert form, I note the hand possessively entwined in soft blonde fur and carefully tuck the cover around it. Cora lifts her head and watches me, the end of her shaggy tail thumping softly against the mattress.

“You’ll let me know if he needs help getting under these blankets later, right?”

She smiles at me and the tail beats out an affirmative response. I scrub my fingertips roughly over her head and turn out the light.

We still have a lot of details to work out. Daniel’s seemingly made himself indispensable at the SGC again, and I can’t really see the Pentagon or some potential alien ally agreeing to a break in diplomatic negotiations so Daniel can take an hour to go home and walk his dog.

But as I head back to the living room, it hits me that it was probably fated from the moment Daniel saw her struggling in the snow and shouted out to save her that Cora would come to live with us. They’re kindred spirits, my kid and his dog. They both have Christmas hearts.

 

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