A/N: I don't know how the weather is where you are, but with temperatures at 100 degree levels today, I figured concluding this story with a Christmas scene might cool me off.


CHAPTER THREE: HERE TO STAY

Christmas morning dawned crisp and clear in Colorado Springs. Snow had fallen overnight and a white blanket of cold, crystalline fluff covered the ground.

The day unofficially began two hours earlier, around 0500 with one very excited four -year- old bounding into the room and jumping onto her parents' bed shouting, "It's Christmas, Mommy! Daddy, it's Christmas!" Sam had gotten up and carried Beth back to her bed explaining that Santa Claus was still making his rounds and little boys and girls were not allowed by the Christmas tree until sunrise. Fortunately, Beth was still young enough to believe this. The older children had simply learned to stay in bed until Mom and Dad were up and about on Christmas morning.

By 0730, Sam had been up puttering in the kitchen for some time. With Grace's help she'd prepared a light breakfast of just baked cinnamon rolls and freshly squeezed orange juice. Now it was time to rouse her husband who was still snoring soundly.

Jack had put in a long Christmas Eve. Retirement wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Jack O'Neill's special talents were still in great demand; he'd been tied up with SGC trainees until nearly 2000 hours last night. Between the long day and his dedication to preserving the Christmas Eve tradition of storytelling, family time and yes, dressing up as Santa Claus – hey, Beth still believed – he was exhausted by the time everyone finally settled down to sleep.

Sam quietly made her way to her husband's bedside, the coffee in her hand a peace offering, as she prepared to wake him up. She chuckled silently as she noticed an unexpected lump under the covers just behind Jack's legs.

"Jack, time to wake up. It's Christmas morning," she whispered in his ear. He stirred ever so slightly, a mildly puzzled look on his face as he slowly opened his eyes and caught sight of his wife.

"Morning, beautiful," he said taking in her freshly washed face, still lovely without a hint of makeup.

"What's the matter?" Sam asked with a grin, recognizing his confusion as he began to shift in the bed.

"If you're there, then what's in bed with me?" he asked. "It's not …hey, I thought we talked about that."

As Jack threw back the covers, Chip bounced out of his cozy hideaway, where he'd been tucked under the hollow of Jack's knees, and worked his way up to kiss his master good morning. His happy go lucky attitude spoke volumes as if to say, I knew you'd like sleeping with me. It's a Christmas present.

Chip had been with the O'Neills nearly 6 months now. Despite Jack's initial resolution to the contrary, the dog had full run of the house. The little Jack Russell had a definite aversion to sleeping alone and took turns sleeping with each of the children. Though Jack had reluctantly given in to that habit, he'd drawn a line in the sand when Chip had decided to try out the master bedroom.

"But Jack, he just wants to snuggle. He sleeps with everyone else in the house. He likes you," Sam had reasoned.

"Sam, I am not having anyone, anything or any DOG sleep in our bed with us. Do I make myself perfectly clear?" Jack had said more than once.

"Yes, dear. Crystal," Sam had replied, while rolling her eyes, each and every time. But today, on Chip's first O'Neill Christmas, the irrepressible canine had decided to take things into his own paws. Once Sam had left the bed to prepare breakfast, Chip had found his way in, snuggling up to a soundly sleeping Jack O'Neill. And now the deed was done, even the big bad black-ops soldier couldn't be mad at the determined little guy.

OoOoOo

As usual, the O'Neill and Jackson families spent the majority of Christmas Day together. It had become a dearly held tradition over the past few years. This year it was the O'Neills' turn to host the celebration and there were several new additions to the extended family.

This was Ethan's first Christmas. Janet and Daniel's only child, now eleven months old, was wide-eyed and a bit overwhelmed at all the decorations and packages that seemed to go with this particular celebration. His parents were thrilled to finally share the joys of this day with a child of their own.

Then of course, there were the three new canine additions. Chip, Dale and Gloria had all found permanent homes within the O'Neill-Jackson circle. As the two-legged members of the family prepared to open presents, their four-legged friends played companionably in the yard. Gloria, as was her ilk, watched calmly from her perch on the patio while Chip and Dale attempted to corner and take down a lone chipmunk foolish enough to forage for food in the O'Neill yard.

Cassie was quite pleased with herself once she realized how well her canine adoption plan had worked. She knew everyone would love the dogs, even if it did take awhile for Uncle Jack to warm up to the idea. She had to admit, throwing his own words back at him that first day had been a stroke of genius.

As Cassie glanced up at the fireplace mantle, she noticed it was much more crowded than in years gone by. It was hung with stockings for five adults, five children and, you guessed it, three little dogs.

Positioned next to the stockings belonging to their respective owners were stockings neatly labeled 'Gloria', 'Dale' and 'Chip'. Filled with doggie treats, holiday bandanas (Cassie had insisted they be fashionably dressed) and replacement pull toys, these particular Christmas treats were big hits with the canine set.

With their own hand embroidered Christmas stockings, loving family members and ready made playmates, the Jacks were here to stay.

THE END