Author's Note: My prompt word for December 22nd was "cookies." This is the end!
Happy holidays everyone! :)
V. A Midnight Snack
Jack sighed in his sleep then woke up in the process of rolling over. He lay snuggled under his flannel sheets, hugging his big blue rabbit as he tried to fall back asleep. There was a bumping noise from the living room and Jack sat up. His parents had invited Colonel Sheppard to spend the night and it sounded like he was up getting a snack. Jack kicked off his covers and crawled to the edge of his big boy bed before lowering himself down. Sheppard always snuck him cookies and he'd been hungry ever since he'd gazed longingly at the plate of cookies and milk they'd left out for Santa earlier that evening.
His little bare feet padded across his room and he gently pushed open the door that was never completely shut. He hesitated for a moment. The hallway was dark and cold and his parents were asleep so he felt very alone. Dashing back into his room, he snared his Bun Bun from the bed and carried it out with him. Thus emboldened, he headed down the hall for the living room and kitchen.
There was a rustling as Jack rounded the corner. He peered around the corner into the kitchen but there was no one there. A crunch sounded from the living room, and Jack pivoted to spy a portly man dressed in red and white, dimly illuminated by the colorful lights on the tree, munching on a sugar cookie. The man had a long white beard and kind eyes that crinkled as he smiled when he noticed Jack. A low chuckled seemed to emanate from his very core as he rested his hands on his knees and hunched low enough to be level with the toddler. "Hello there, little one," he said in a voice that sounded like laughter.
Jack bit his lower lip and pressed against the wall, hiding until only one green eye was peeking out.
The man laughed again then had a sip of milk. "Thank you so very much for these delicious cookies, Jack. But I'm afraid I've eaten too many already tonight... I don't think I'll be able to eat the rest of these and it would be a shame to let them go to waste. I don't know what I'll do. If only there were someone to help me finish them off."
The man's eyes smiled as he studied Jack, and the gaze was so warm and inviting, as if the man were his grandpa, that Jack pulled away from the wall and tottered over to him.
"I knew you would help me," the man said with a chuckle, and shoved the plate of cookies over to Jack, who took one with a shy smile. "That a boy."
Jack offered some of his cookie to Bun Bun, but the rabbit seemed too shocked at seeing Santa to even take a crumb.
Santa moved to shuffle about the tree, inspecting its decorations and lights. "This surely is a fine tree." His leather boots creaked as he leaned back to see the full expanse. "And is that a bluebird on the very top?"
Jack nodded as he finished his cookie.
Jack set Bun Bun on the couch then climbed up next to his stuffed friend as they both watched Santa wander around the tree with his hands clasped behind his back.
"You have a lovely home. Are you happy here?"
Jack nodded and licked some sprinkles off his lips. Santa smiled and eased into the seat next to him, and the weight made Jack slide down the cushion until he could feel the elderly man's warmth through his pajamas.
"You know," Santa began. "There are two cookies left. What do you say I eat one, and you eat one?"
Santa chuckled and picked up the plate, resting it on his round belly. He handed a tree-shaped cookie to Jack and took the star-shaped cookie for himself. The two sat and munched in comfortable silence, watching the snow fall outside the window, shimmering in the moonlight. They shared what was left of the milk then sat quietly for several long minutes, each enjoying the sensations of their digesting treat. "I'm going to have to leave soon here, Jack. But you know that you can always find me, don't you?"
Jack shook his head.
"Why, don't be silly," Santa chuckled. "I am always here." He rested his hand above Jack's heart. "I am love, and love is I. You love your family very much, and they love you. I'll always be in that warmth, Jack."
Jack looked down at his heart.
"Can I have a hug before I leave?"
Jack hung his arms around as much of the portly frame as he could, and Santa chuckled as he rubbed the toddler's back. Jack held out Bun Bun and Santa kissed the stuffy on the nose.
Lilo flung open the door to Ronon and Teyla's bedroom and burst in, climbing onto their bed and jumping up and down. "Wake up! Wake up!"
Ronon coughed as his daughter's foot landed on his abdomen and Teyla sighed, wincing from Lilo's shouting. "We're awake, Lilo."
"Yay!" Lilo flopped down onto her knees and studied the two, who both appeared to be falling back asleep. "Daddy?" Ronon didn't open his eyes so Lilo swept the hair off his cheek. "Daddy!"
"Get up, Daddy! I wanna go open presents!"
Ronon smirked. "I'm sorry, Lilo, I forgot to tell you. All the presents are for Sheppard this year."
Lilo frowned and pinched his bicep before scrambling off the bed while Ronon whined to Teyla that it hurt. Once the two were up, Lilo marched, leading the way into Jack's room. She opened the door and ran to leap onto his bed but froze in mid-stride when she saw that the bed was empty. "Jack?"
Ronon furrowed his brow at the peculiar sight. "Jack?"
Teyla held a hand over her heart when she heard the toilet flush. "He's in the bathroom."
Ronon's shoulders sagged in relief. "Oh, good..."
The bathroom door opened a few seconds later and a messy-haired Sheppard stepped out. He blinked when he saw all three staring at him. "What?"
Teyla and Ronon bolted into the family room. "Jack?"
Ronon hastily looked about the room while Teyla searched the kitchen. "He's not here," she said.
Ronon joined her by the island, seeing his own panic reflected in her eyes. "Where could he have gone?"
Lilo kneeled beside the presents under the tree and started searching for one with her name on it.
"I don't know," Teyla said. "If he went outside he could be frozen to death or fallen into the river..."
"Why would he go outside?"
"Uh, guys," Sheppard said, drawing their attention. They looked over to see that he was pointing at a bleary-eyed toddler peeking up over the back of the couch.
"Jack!" Ronon cried and had the little boy in his arms in a heartbeat. "I was so worried about you, Jack." He kissed his cheeks while Teyla hugged them both.
Lilo glanced at the scene from over her shoulder. "He was there the whole time."
Teyla looked to her daughter. "Then why didn't you tell us?"
Lilo didn't seem to want to dignify the question with an answer and went back to present hunting.
Ronon realized that he hadn't noticed the toddler earlier because he'd been curled up under a blanket on the couch. "Buddy, did you sleep out here?"
Jack nodded and Teyla smiled at the red and green sprinkles sticking to his cheeks. "I told you we shouldn't've left the cookies in his reach. Looks like he ate them all."
"No," Jack said.
Sheppard chuckled. "Wow, Jack, that's a new one... sneaking out to eat Santa's cookies."
"Sata ate two cookies and I ate two cookies," Jack explained.
Ronon leaned back enough to see his son's face. "Santa?"
"You ate cookies with Santa?"
"And Bun Bun."
"Oh my gosh..." Teyla cooed as she took Jack from Ronon and snuggled him.
Sheppard snickered and Ronon pouted. "I wanna eat cookies with Santa."
"Perhaps next year," Teyla said with a smile.
Ronon spied a letter tucked under the empty plate on the coffee table and picked it up. "'Thank you for the delicious cookies,'" he read. "'And for the beautiful drawings. I always enjoy visiting your home and look forward to coming by again next year. Oh, and Jack, thanks for the company. Ho ho ho.'"
Lilo grinned and snatched the letter from Ronon to look at it herself. Ronon and Teyla shared a smile while Sheppard narrowed his eyes and studied the letter over Lilo's shoulder. "That's some fancy red ink... and some fancy penmanship."
"He has had thousands of years to perfect it," Teyla said as she set Jack down. Jack grabbed Bun Bun and hurried over to the tree and sat down beside Lilo, who hugged him.
"Seriously, though," Sheppard muttered as he stepped closer to Teyla and Ronon so that the kids wouldn't hear. "Did you study calligraphy?"
Ronon furrowed his brow. "What do you mean?"
"To write that letter."
Ronon shrugged. "I didn't write it."
"Nor did I," Teyla said.
Sheppard looked between the two, waiting for a smile. "Then who did?"
"Um, Santa, duh," Ronon said as he reached out and ruffled Sheppard's hair then moved to sit down beside his cubs.
"I don't understand," Sheppard said. "Santa doesn't exist."
Teyla furrowed her brow. "Why would you say that?"
"Because it's true. He's just a story."
"Hey Sheppard," Ronon called. "Looks like there's one here for you."
Sheppard stepped away from Teyla and took the package from Ronon. It was nicely wrapped in cheery paper and read: "To John, from the S. Man." Sheppard cast Teyla and Ronon a suspicious look then opened it. It was an adult-sized sleeper. "What the heck? How'd you know I always wanted one of –" He cut himself off and narrowed his eyes at the couple. "I never told you I wanted one of these. It's embarrassing."
Lilo sighed, as if exasperated by Sheppard's stupidity. "It's from SANTA, Sheppard."
"Yeah," Ronon chimed in, followed by Jack.
Sheppard looked back to the pajamas in his hands and ran his thumb over the soft fleece, feeling tears prick his eyes as the idea that years of conditioning to believe in only what he could see and feel began to fall away. He quietly stood by and watched the family open a few more gifts before joining in himself, smiling more freely than he had in years.
Ronon stuck a bow on his head and tossed some torn up wrapping paper at Teyla. She retaliated with a wad of her own that hit him right on the nose. Both Lilo and Jack belly-laughed at the expression on their father's shocked face as he was struck, and Teyla fell over she was laughing so hard.
The snow fell outside, and a cold wind blew, making the snowflakes dance, but the chill couldn't touch the warmth inside the cabin.