Stargate Horizons


Christmas Eve soon arrived.  Daniel had remained in his room for a good deal of the time on Sunday, but ventured out on Monday to ask if he could help fix the big dinner.  Diane's mother thought that was the sweetest thing and actually pinched his cheek, shocking the boy.  Nobody had ever pinched his cheek before.  Diane thanked him for the offer, but said that she didn't need his help since her mother was there to give a hand.

Feeling a little restless, Daniel got his coat and went into the backyard.  The other three kids were there, playing in the snow that had fallen the night before.  Paul was on the back patio with his father, who was smoking a cigarette.  The smoke made Daniel's eyes water, and he hurried on past them.  He went over to Susy, who appeared to be trying to build a snowman.

"Can I help?" he asked.  Upon receiving a nod from her, he began forming a ball of snow.  He'd been at it for several minutes when his foster father called to him and asked if he could watch the other kids for a few minutes.  Daniel said yes, and the two men went inside.

Not even two minutes later, Caleb and five-year-old Adam got into a fight over a toy, and Daniel ran over to break it up.  It took a couple of minutes to settle the two boys down.  When Daniel turned back around, Susy was nowhere in sight.

"Susy?" he called.  There was no answer.  Daniel started looking around.  "Susy, where are you?"  Thinking that she'd gone inside, he went to the sliding doors that were off the dining room and looked through the glass.  There was no sign of her.

Telling the boys to stay in the backyard, Daniel opened one of the sliding doors and called to Diane.  "Did Susy come in?" he asked when she came out of the kitchen.

Diane frowned.  "No.  Isn't she playing there in the backyard?"

"She was, but Adam and Caleb got in a fight, and I went over to stop it.  When I turned back, Susy wasn't there anymore."

"What?!" Diane exclaimed in alarm.  "Where's Paul?  He was supposed to be watching them."

"He and his dad went inside.  He asked me to watch the kids."  Daniel started to get worried.  "I'm sorry, Mrs. Underwood.  I only looked away for a couple minutes."

"Paul!" Diane cried as she hurried to the sliding doors.  He stepped out of the master bedroom.  "Susy's missing.  How could leave the children alone?!"

"I left Daniel to watch them."

"He's only eight years old!" Diane yelled, furious, and rushed out the door, calling Susy's name.

As Diane's and Paul's mothers searched the house to see if Susy had snuck in, Daniel and the other adults looked outside, calling the name of the little girl.  Caleb and Adam had been sent into the house.  Diane had told Daniel to go in, too, but the boy refused to go.  He was filled with guilt and fear.  This was all his fault.  He'd been given the responsibility to watch the kids, and he'd messed up.  What if something terrible had happened to Susy?

As the adults searched out front, Daniel got the idea that maybe the girl was hiding somewhere in the backyard.  He went back there and started looking under things, any place that a four-year-old could possibly fit.  And then he spotted something.  Hidden behind the bare branches of a bush was a hole in the wood fence.  It wasn't a big hole, but it might be big enough for a small child to get through.

Daniel went to the hole and peered through.  On the other side was a little stream.  There was no sign of Susy, and Daniel was just about to pull back when he caught sight of little footprints in the snow.  Susy had gone through.

Daniel ran full speed to the front yard.

"She went through the fence in back!" he called out.

With the adults hurrying after him, he returned to the hole.

"Oh my God!" Diane cried.  "The stream is back there.  What if she fell in?"

"Now, Diane, don't panic," Paul said.  "She's probably fine."

Diane got down on her hands and knees before the hole.  "Susy?  Susy, answer Mommy."

For a few seconds, there was no reply, then they heard a little voice call out.  "Mommy, there's a shiny thing."

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

"I'm sure it's very pretty, Susy," Diane said, "but you need to come back inside now."

"No.  I want the shiny thing.  Can you come help me get it?"

Paul sighed.  "I'll go get her.  I'll have to go over the Carltons' chainlink fence.  I can't get over this wooden one.  It's too high."

As Paul left to go next door, Diane told Susy not to move, to stay right where she was and that Paul was coming and would help her get the shiny thing.

"I think I can fit through the hole, Mrs. Underwood," Daniel said.  "Then I can get her."

"You stay put, boy," responded Paul's father.  "If you'd done as you were told, this mess wouldn't have happened."

Guilt and pain crashed down upon Daniel, and he began hugging himself, eyes on the ground.

"This isn't Daniel's fault," Diane snapped at her father-in-law, "and don't you dare say it is.  You and Paul were supposed to be watching the kids.  What were you thinking leaving an eight-year-old outside alone to look after three other children?"

Diane's words should have made Daniel feel better, but they didn't.  Yes, he was only eight, but he still should have looked after the kids better.  This was his fault.

With that thought in mind, Daniel squeezed through the hole before anyone could stop him.  Ignoring Diane's call, he started looking for Susy, following her tracks in the snow.  When he finally saw her several yards farther upstream, he froze in place, his heart racing.  Susy was squatting right at the edge of the stream, her eyes on the "shiny thing", which appeared to be a broken silver Christmas tree ornament and some tinsel, caught on a branch sticking out of the water.

Before Daniel could call out to her, the little girl reached for the ornament.  In the next instant, her feet slipped, and she fell into the stream.

"Susy!" Daniel screamed.  Not thinking twice, he jumped in after her.  The icy water shocked his system, taking his breath away.  It was only around two feet deep, but the current was fast and threatened to knock him off his feet.  For the much smaller Susy, it was deadly, and she was being swept downstream, right toward Daniel.

Fighting to keep his footing, the boy reached out to grab her as she was carried past.  He got hold of her arm, but Susy's weight pulled him off his feet, and the frigid water closed over Daniel's head.  A moment of sheer terror gripped the boy, and, in that moment, he knew that he didn't want to die, not even if dying meant that he'd see his parents again.

Daniel struggled to the surface, coughing and choking.  He still had hold of Susy's arm and pulled her to him.  A partially submerged tree limb hanging out over the stream was their salvation.  Daniel desperately grabbing onto it and, somehow, managed to pull himself to his feet.  It took all his strength to hold onto the little girl and get out of the water.

When Paul reached the two kids, they were both on the ground, coughing and shivering violently, soaked to the skin.  He stripped off his coat and wrapped it around Susy.

"Daniel?  Come on, Daniel, we need to get you inside," his said anxiously, knowing that the kids needed to get warmed up right away to avoid hypothermia.

"C-c-c-cold," the boy said through chattering teeth.

"I know, Daniel.  We need to get those wet clothes off you.  Can you stand up?"

With the man's help, Daniel struggled to his feet, feeling colder by the second.  With one of Paul's arms supporting him, the three of them made it to the hole in the fence.

"I need some help here," Paul said to the people waiting on the other side.  "It looks like they fell into the stream.  They're sopping wet and as cold as icicles."

Horrified, Diane helped pull first Daniel, then Susy through the hole.  As Paul headed back to where he'd gotten over the fence, the children were hustled inside and stripped of their clothing.  Daniel was too cold to be embarrassed.  He was dried thoroughly, dressed in his flannel pajamas, bundled up in several blankets, and put in front of the lit fireplace.

"Are they hypothermic?" Diane asked in a panic.  She was sitting on the hearth, holding Susy tightly.  "Do we need to call an ambulance?"

Paul's father, who'd grown up in northern Michigan, shook his head.  "They'll be fine.  We got them dry and warmed up in time.  If they'd been out there a few more minutes, it would have been a different story."

Diane's mother hurried over with cups of hot chocolate.  Still shivering a little, Daniel took his, uttering a very muted, "Thank you."  He took a sip of the liquid, feeling its warmth flow through him.

He'd been drinking it for several seconds when he felt Diane's hand touch his head.

"Are you okay?" she asked, her voice a little unsteady.

He nodded in reply.

"Did you and Susy fall into the stream?"

"Susy fell in.  There was an ornament caught on a branch in the water, and she tried to get it.  She fell in, and I jumped in to get her."

Diane stared at him, her mind filled with images of what would have happened to Susy if the boy hadn't been there and bravely risked his own life to save her.

"Daniel, you saved Susy's life," she said in a hushed voice.  "If you hadn't done what you did, she'd have been swept downstream and drowned."

A second after that, Daniel was being held in a tight embrace, Diane whispering "thank you" over and over again.

Daniel and Susy were put to bed for a nap a few minutes later, the little girl already having fallen asleep.  As she tucked him in, Diane placed a kiss on Daniel's forehead.

"What you did was so very brave, Daniel," she said.

Daniel didn't feel brave.  "It was my fault that she was there.  I didn't watch her good enough."

"No, Daniel," Diane stated firmly.  "This was not your fault.  Paul should not have expected you to keep an eye on all three kids by yourself out there."

Daniel's eyes filled with tears.  "But I should have been able to."

"Daniel, you're only eight years old, just two years older than Caleb.  I know you tried your best to watch them, and I bet if Caleb and Adam hadn't gotten into that fight, everything would have been fine.  Even an adult can have a hard time watching over three little kids.  I know I do.  Inside, it's not so bad because they can get into less trouble, but outside. . . ."  Diane shook her head.  "This was Paul and Nigel's fault, not yours.  They are the adults and should have known better.  So, I don't want you feeling guilty anymore."

Daniel said nothing as Diane gave him a brief hug, then left the room.  Despite her words, he still felt responsible and that he'd let everybody down.  Susy could have died, and it would have been his fault.

Burying his face in the pillow, Daniel closed his eyes.  Several minutes later, he finally drifted off to sleep.

Dinner was served later than originally planned because of the interruption caused by the near catastrophe.  Daniel wasn't very hungry and ate little, remaining silent as everyone else talked.  Susy had completely recovered from the event and was wolfing down the slices of ham on her plate, it being one of her favorite foods.

Diane glanced often at the boy.  She could tell that, in spite of her words, he was still blaming himself for what happened.  She was so angry at Paul and his father.  Not the kind woman who normally liked confrontations, the thought of what could so easily have happened had raised her ire.  She could have lost her precious Susy today.  She could have lost Daniel as well.  Even though the depth of the stream was never more than a couple of feet at this time of year, it was fast-moving and could have swept the boy under.  And then there was the temperature of the water.  If Daniel hadn't managed to get himself and Susy out as quickly as he did, they would very rapidly have gotten hypothermia and then drowned.

As Diane thought about what happened, she started getting scared.  If Social Services found out, they'd take all the kids away from her and probably never let her foster again.  It would just about kill her if that happened.

Later that night, as she watched Daniel climb into bed, she approached him.

"Daniel, I . . . I need ask you a favor."


"I need you to keep secret what happened today.  If the people at Social Services found out, they'd get mad and probably take you, Susy and the other kids away."

That worried Daniel.  "They would?"

"I don't know that for sure, but, yes, I think they would.  They'd say it was mine and Paul's fault and that we're not good enough to take care of you."

"But it wasn't your fault at all!"

"Even so, that's what they'd say."

"Then I won't tell anybody, not ever," Daniel declared.  "I promise."

Diane hugged him.  "Thank you."  She gave him a kiss on the cheek.  "Sweet dreams, Daniel."  She smiled at him.  "You're my hero."

"I am?"

"Yes, you are.  You saved Susy's life today.  That is something you can always be proud of.  Always."

Daniel was feeling better the next morning, though a trace of guilt still lingered deep in his heart.  He had fun watching the other three kids tear open the wrappings covering their presents, waiting until they were done before opening his gift.  He was pleased to see that his present was not only a gift certificate to a local book store but also his very own library card and a beautiful bookmark with a picture of King Tut on it.

"We figured that you'd much rather pick out your own books than have us pick out books for you," Diane said with a smile, seeing the look on his face.

"Thank you, Mrs. Underwood.  This is great.  I already know what books I'm going to get.  And the library card is great, too.  I never had my own library card before.  And I love the bookmark.  Thank you, too, Mister Underwood."

The man nodded faintly.

Daniel got up and went to the back of the tree, which was where he'd hidden the gifts he'd made for his foster parents.  Diane opened hers to find that the boy had made a rose from the modeling clay, painting it red.  The flower was far from perfect in form, but it was perfect to her.

"Oh, Daniel.  It's simply lovely.  Roses are my favorite flower."

"I know.  I heard you say that.  I tried to make it look like a picture in the encyclopedia, but I couldn't do it very well."

Diane gave him a tight squeeze.  "It's beautiful, Daniel.  I'll keep it forever."

Pleased by the comment, Daniel turned to his foster father, who was staring in surprise at his gift.  It was supposed to be a car like the one the man was fixing up, but Daniel didn't think he'd done a very good job.

"This, um . . . this is very nice, Daniel," Paul said, still looking surprised.  He met the boy's eyes.  "Thank you."

"Let me see," Paul's father said.  His son handed it to him, and he studied it critically.  "Is this supposed to be that junk of a Corvette you've been working on for the past two years?  If so, the front end's too short and slopes too much, and—"

"Shut up, Dad," Paul snapped.

Shocked, Nigel stared at him.  Then he frowned severely.  "I didn't raise you to speak like that to me."

"I don't care."  Paul snatched the car back from his father and turned to Daniel.  "Thank you, Daniel.  I like it.  I'll put it right up on the mantle so that I can see it every day."

Daniel's head ducked shyly.  He hadn't really expected Mister Underwood to like it and was happy that he'd been wrong.

Nigel got to his feet.  "I'm going out for a smoke."  Without another word, he grabbed his coat and went out the front door.

Paul's mother turned to her son.  "Paul, you should apologize to your father."

"Not this time, Mom.  He was being an as . . . a jerk.  He's always a jerk.  I just never stood up to him before.  Diane's right.  What happened yesterday was my fault.  Dad and I shouldn't have left them alone.  Susy and Daniel could have died yesterday, and it would have been my fault.  Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?"  Paul shook his head.  "No, you probably don't.  After all, during most of my childhood, I was either in some boarding school or at summer camp.  You and Dad barely had anything to do with raising me," he looked at the four kids, "and I've been doing the same thing all this time that we've been foster parents.  I guess it really is like what they say.  'Like father, like son.'"

Getting to his feet, Paul strode out of the room, toward the master bedroom.  Stunned, Diane just sat there for a moment, then hurried after him.

Her cheeks pink and looking like she'd bitten into something sour, Paul's mother also left, going off to the guest room.

Now alone with the kids, Diane's mother smiled brightly at them.  "So, who wants pancakes?"

"Me!" chorused three little voices, Daniel being the only one not to answer.

"Well, then let's go fix some, my little sweetie pies."  The woman got to her feet.  "You, too, Daniel.  I'm sure you'll find your appetite by the time the pancakes are done.  We can even put chocolate chips in them."

By the time the pancakes were done, Daniel was, indeed, hungry.

Not as much talking went on during breakfast as it had during the meal the night before, Paul's parents remaining mostly silent.  Diane's mother almost made up for it, though, chatting animatedly.

"I would simply love to take all you little darlings home with me," she said to the kids at one point.

Daniel didn't say anything to that.  The woman was very nice, but he wasn't sure he could take constantly being hugged, and kissed, and . . . what was the word?  Doted on.  He liked being hugged, but she did it all the time!  If it wasn't for the fact that there were three other kids for her to give affection to, Daniel thought that she might have squished him by now from hugging too much.  The two other boys were being overwhelmed by it, too, and had wriggled away from her more than once.  Only Susy appeared to be completely enjoying it.

Daniel was glad when Jacob arrived to pick him up.  The moment the two of them walked in the door of the Carter home, Sam was grabbing Daniel's hand and showing him all the gifts she got.  Mark was excitedly displaying his as well.

"Mom and Dad said that this was just the little present from them," Sam said as she showed him one thing.  "They said there's something else but that it would be an even better surprise if we waited for you to be here.  That was forever ago.  I wanted Dad to go get you sooner, but he said we had to wait and let you have time with your foster family.  So, what did you get?"

Daniel told her about the gifts from his foster parents and the one Diane's mother gave him.  "I got ones from the Greers, too, but I haven't opened them yet.  I want to wait until they come back from New York.  They're going to wait to open the presents I made them, too."

"You made them presents?  That's cool, and I think it's neat that Mister Greer and his wife got you presents.  I never got a Christmas present from a teacher, except in first grade, the teacher gave all the kids in class little gifts."

"I got a present from Kenny, too.  I wanted to open it when I was with him, but he said he'd rather have me open it when he wasn't there, so I opened it this morning."  Daniel smiled.  "It was a book on birds that live in Africa, including the ones in Egypt."

Jacob and Laura walked up with a smile.  "So, Sam.  Are you and Daniel ready to see your presents?"

Daniel looked at them.  "You got me a present?"

"We sure did.  We hope you like it.  Now, both of you close your eyes.  And no peeking!"

Getting excited, the two kids shut their eyes and waited.  A good half a minute passed before they were told that they could look.

Sam and Daniel both gasped upon seeing two bicycles standing side by side, a purple girl's bike and a blue boy's bike.

"Oh, wow!" Sam exclaimed, leaping to her feet and running over to get a better look at her bike.  Daniel remained sitting where he was, staring, stunned, at his bicycle.

"You okay, Danny?" Jacob asked.

"You got me a bike," he said in disbelief, overwhelmed.

"Uh huh.  I'm afraid that we couldn't afford to get you a new one, but it's in good shape, and I made sure it works right."

Daniel got to his feet and slowly approached the bike.  He touched it as if afraid that it would vanish.

"I never had a bike before," he murmured.  "I had a tricycle for a while when I was really little, but I never had a bicycle.  Mom and Dad said it would be too hard to transport all over."  Blue eyes gazed up at Jacob and Laura with deep gratitude.  "Thank you."

The woman pulled him into a gentle embrace.  "You're welcome, sweetheart.  We're so glad that you like it."

"When the weather's better, we'll have to see about teaching you how to ride it," Jacob said with a smile.

"And, in the summer, we can go riding together!" Sam said excitedly.  She ran over to the tree and got a wrapped, tube-shaped package, handing it to Daniel.  "I got this for you."

Mark handed him another package.  "And this is my present for you."

Daniel slowly unwrapped Sam's gift first.  He was surprised and pleased to see that it was a big poster of the Pyramids of Giza at sunrise.

"You can hang it up in your room," the girl said.

"Thank you.  I really like it a lot."

Mark's gift was a Spider-Man wall clock.

"You said that you liked Spider-Man the best, so I thought you might like that," the older boy said.

"I do.  Thanks."

Daniel went to his backpack.  Carrying it over, he started toying with the strap.

"I didn't have enough money to buy presents for everybody," he said in a low voice, certain now that his handmade gifts weren't nearly good enough.

"That's all right, Daniel," Jacob assured the boy, seeing that he looked a little sad.  "Just you being here with us is good enough."

Daniel reached in and started pulling out packages, handing them to the four people one at a time.  "I . . . I made these.  They're not very good."

The members of the Carter family all sat down and began unwrapping their gifts.  Mark was the first one to get his open and stared in surprise at the handmade figure of Batman.

"Wow, this is cool," he said with a grin.

"You . . . you like it?" Daniel said uncertainly.

"Yeah, it's great."

Sam finished opening hers to find an astronaut inside, its spacesuit like the ones the Apollo astronauts wore.

"Oh, wow!" she said.  "I love it!"  She jumped up and gave Daniel a hug.

"Oh, my," Laura said, having just opened her gift.  It was a dolphin.  Apparently, Daniel had noticed the small collection in the curio cabinet and learned that it belonged to Laura.  "Oh, Daniel.  It's beautiful."  She went to her knees and embraced the child.  "Thank you so much."

Jacob was the last to open his box.  Surprised, he stared at the contents, then lifted it out.  It was a fighter jet.

"Daniel, this . . . this is wonderful," he said, deeply touched.

"Does it look okay?" the boy asked.  "I didn't know what kinds of planes you fly, so I went by pictures in the encyclopedia and made one that's kind of like some of them."

Jacob smiled at him.  No, the plane wasn't a perfect representation of a real jet fighter, but, to the captain, it was better than any scale model he could have ever bought and made himself.  "It's great, Daniel.  I couldn't ask for a better present."  He looked around at all the gifts the boy had created with his own hands, thinking of all the hours Daniel must have spent making them.  This was far better than any store purchased gifts could be.

He held out his arms.  "Come here."

The boy went to him and was pulled into a big hug.

"These are way better than any presents you could have bought, Daniel," he said.

"Yeah," Sam agreed.  "I wish now that I'd made your present instead of buying one."

"No, I like my poster," Daniel insisted.  "I can't wait to hang it up.  Then, every day, I can look at it and think about Egypt."

Christmas dinner took place at two o'clock and was quite a boisterous affair.  Accidents were, therefore, bound to happen.  Daniel ended up getting milk all over the front of his shirt when Sam accidentally jostled his elbow while he was drinking.  Laura told him to go in the bathroom and use a wet washcloth on it.  The boy did so, taking his shirt off to make it easier to wipe the spot.  He'd been rubbing with the wash cloth for a minute or so when there was a tap on the door, and Jacob asked if he could come in.  Getting permission, he came into the room, shutting the door behind him.

"How's it coming?" he asked.

"Okay.  It's really wet, though."

"We can hang it in front of the fireplace to dry.  You can borrow one of Mark's shirts in the meantime.  It'll be big on you, but it'll just be temporary."

Daniel turned to face him, and Jacob stilled, his eyes fastening upon a rather large bruise on Daniel's upper right arm, near his shoulder.

"Daniel, how did you get that bruise?"

"I had an accident," the boy replied quickly, afraid that Jacob would question him further about the injury, which he'd gotten when he hit the tree limb that saved him and Susy from being swept further downstream.

Jacob's alarm bells started ringing at the hasty reply.  He knew that abused children often claimed that their injuries were caused by falls or other accidents.

The captain stared at the child.  "What kind of accident?"

Daniel didn't look at him, his gaze shifting about, an expression of panic starting to form on his face.  The boy's reaction convinced Jacob that he was right.  That bastard Paul Underwood had hurt Daniel.  With fury starting to kindle in his belly, he knelt down and gently took Daniel's arms.

"Daniel, did your foster father hurt you?"

"No!" Daniel cried.  "It was an accident!"

Jacob didn't believe him.  "Daniel, I know that maybe you're afraid to tell me because you think that he'll hurt you again if you do, but I won't let that happen.  I promise."

"Mister Underwood didn't hurt me," Daniel insisted.  "I swear."

"Then tell me what happened."

Daniel was staring fixedly at the floor, his shoulders hunching.  "I can't.  I promised I wouldn't tell."

'Damn,' Jacob cursed internally.  If this wasn't a case of child abuse, then, at the very least, it was a case of irresponsibility on the part of one or both of the boy's foster parents.  Something had happened to Daniel that the Underwoods didn't want anyone to know.

Jacob's voice firmed.  "Daniel, I want you to tell me what happened."

"Susy fell in the water," the boy responded in a little voice, feeling horrible about breaking his promise.  "Me and-and the other kids were outside playing.  Mister Underwood and his dad were out there, too, but they went back inside, and Mister Underwood told me to watch the other kids.  B-but Caleb and Adam got in a fight, and I went to stop it, and, when I turned back, I couldn't see Susy anymore.  She'd gone through a little hole in the back fence.  Mister Underwood went around to the neighbor's yard to go over their fence and get her, but I wanted to get her, so I went through the hole, too.  Susy was right on the edge of a stream that's back there.  There . . . there was a broken Christmas tree ornament on a branch in the water, and she tried to get it.  She fell in, and I jumped in right away to get her.  The water was really cold, and fast, and, when I grabbed her, I got knocked off my feet and went under the water, and . . . and I was afraid I was going to die.  But there was a tree limb, and I grabbed hold of it, and that's how I got the bruise."

Jacob stared at the boy, chilled to the bone.  Daniel had come very close to dying yesterday.  If not for that limb, he and Susy would likely have drowned.

The captain gathered the boy into his arms and held him tight.  "Thank God you're all right," he murmured.  He pulled away slightly.  "Is Susy okay?"

Daniel nodded, not looking at him.  "It was my fault."

"Like hell it was," Jacob growled, not caring that he'd just cursed in front of the child.  "Your foster father should have known better than to leave you to watch all three of your foster siblings all by yourself.  That was too much responsibility for him to lay on you, especially with you kids being outside, where accidents and other things can so easily happen.  I have half a mind to march right over there and have a talk with him."

"No, you can't!" Daniel cried.  "I promised Mrs. Underwood that I wouldn't tell anybody.  If the people at Social Services find out, they'll take all of us away from the Underwoods and give us to other families, and Mrs. Underwood will be really said, and-and I don't want to be given to another foster family."

Jacob frowned.  Daniel was right.  If Social Services discovered what happened, they'd likely deem the Underwoods unfit to be foster parents and take the kids away.  Though the captain agreed that Paul Underwood really shouldn't be a foster parent, Diane did a good job of caring for the four kids in her charge pretty much all on her own.  He'd hate to see her punished for the stupidity of her husband.

As far as he knew, this had been an isolated incident.  Hopefully, Paul Underwood had learned his lesson, and something like this would never happen again.

"All right, Daniel," he said.  "As long as something else doesn't happen, I won't tell anyone except Laura about this, and your foster mother never has to know that I forced you into breaking your promise."  He caressed the boy's hair.  "Okay?"

Daniel nodded faintly.

Jacob smiled.  "That was quite heroic, you know, jumping in to save Susy like that."  His smile widened.  "You deserve a medal."

Daniel shook his head.  "No, I don't."

Jacob lost his smile.  "Yes, Daniel, you do," he insisted.  "You risked your life to save someone, not giving a single thought to your own welfare.  That makes you a hero."

The boy said nothing, staring down at the floor.

Gazing at the child who, at only eight years old, had already unselfishly risked his life to save another, Jacob had to wonder what other heroic deeds this boy might do in his lifetime.

Only time would tell.

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