A Christmas Miracle
Category: Slash, Angst, Drama, H/C (Jack Whumping), Romance, Holiday, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Season: Beyond the Series - December 9, 2010 - January 1, 2011
Written: December 25,27-29, 2004, January 1-2, February 13,26-28, March 2-6,15-16,21, June 1,19,24,26-30, July 9,30, 2005 Tweaked for rank only: August 25, 2006 Revised for consistency: September 3,6, 2007
Summary: When Jack disappears during a skiing trip with David, Daniel and the children try to get through the Christmas season, which proves difficult when the authorities call off the search, believing Jack is dead.
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't. A gal can dream though!
1) Hanky warning, so I've been told (actually, I've been told you'll need an entire box of Kleenex)!
2) “Silent Night” was composed by Joseph Muhr.
3) “Let It Snow” was composed by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn.
4) “Celebrate Me Home” was composed by Bob James and Kenny Loggins.
5) You can listen to a midi of “Give Me Your Hand” at http://www.ireland-information.com/irishmusic/givemeyourhand.shtml
6) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically. Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
7) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
8) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic, “Murphy's Law Redeux”
9) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better: Claudia, QuinGem, Tamara, Allexandrya, Robert, Linda, Melissa, Carol! A nod to my medical betas for their help with the medical implications of the fic: Sheila, Brenda!
A Christmas Miracle
--Day 1: Thursday, December 9
“Are you excited, David?” Brianna asked.
“Lots. I've only been skiing a couple of times before, and this will be the first time with Dad.”
“I didn't even know he knew how to ski,” Jennifer commented, a half smile on her face.
The three were sitting in David's room as he packed for an overnight trip he was taking the next day with Jack as part of the Adventure Guides program. The event itself was just one day, Friday, but Jack and David were going to spend the night and have some extra quality father and son time. The plan was to have breakfast there and a morning of skiing together before returning home Saturday afternoon.
“Maybe he'll take me some day. I've never been skiing,” Brianna lamented.
“Ask him, Bri,” Jennifer said, encouragingly. “I'm sure he'd love to.”
“I ... don't know,” the girl said shyly.
“I thought you were tough,” David challenged.
“I am,” the tomboy said, sitting up straighter, unaware she'd let some of her vulnerability show through.
“Okay, then ask him!” David told his sister firmly.
“You just need to let him know,” Jennifer noted. “Dad and Daddy are great about letting us try new things, and they both try to spend special time with each of us.”
“Yeah, I was wrong about that, Jennifer; I mean that argument we had. They really do have time for all of us,” Brianna admitted, having received more love and attention from Jack and Daniel in the past several weeks than in the previous ten-plus years of her life.
“So, you'll ask?” Jennifer urged.
“Yes, I'll ask him.” Brianna smiled and then added, “David, maybe you can give me some pointers when you get back.”
“Sure! You'll love skiing, Bri,” David stated. Then he laughed, “Daddy's worried Dad will break a leg or something.”
“Or something,” Jennifer snickered.
“Jen!” David said.
“I don't think it's Dad's leg he's worried about,” the teenager teased, blushing slightly.
Brianna burst into laughter as she added, “I don't think so, either.”
Their boisterous laughter filtered into the hallway. Curious, Daniel walked into the bedroom and saw three of his children bubbling over in laughter.
“Hey, what's so funny?” Daniel asked innocently, unable to stop a smile from forming on his face.
Jennifer couldn't finish her greeting, and neither could David or Brianna. Seeing their father, the children laughed uncontrollably.
Daniel looked around the room as the giggling increased in intensity and volume. He became very self-conscious, even checking himself out to make sure he hadn't forgotten to zip up his pants or something. When he did that, the children's laughter grew to a deafening level.
“Okay, Guys, come on.” Daniel finally gave up, backing out of the room and straight into Jack who had heard the noise, too, and was coming to investigate. “Oh, sorry, Babe.”
“Never apologize for that, Love,” Jack said, putting his arms around his husband and squeezing him close.
Witnessing the embrace, the three children burst into a raucous laughter once again.
“Oh, geez, I ... I need ... water,” Jennifer gasped, getting up and running past her parents.
“Me ... too,” David said, practically doubling over from the ache as he moved.
Brianna walked by them, laughing but also with a smirk on her face.
“Bri?” Jack called out.
The girl turned and warned, “Don't break anything ... important, Dad!”
Laughing, Brianna ran down the stairs. Confused, Jack shook his head and looked at his husband with a questioning expression.
“I have *no* idea, and I don't want to know, either.”
“Ooookay,” Jack responded as he arched his eyebrows, shrugged, and then headed for the stairs.
“Jack?” Daniel called out.
“Don't you dare break anything ... important!” Daniel said with a seductive leer.
Jack grinned as he replied, “I'll try to use my arms and legs to shield anything ... important.”
“You do that,” Daniel snickered before blushing bright red having realized that was what Brianna had been hinting at. ~Oh, gawd!~
--Day 2: Friday, December 10
“I hate saying good-bye,” Jack said, holding Daniel close to him in the den.
“The children are waiting,” Daniel replied, leaning against his husband.
The couple stood quietly, foreheads touching, their hands interlaced between their two hearts.
“Forever and always, Danny.”
“Forever and always, my Silver Fox. You have fun.”
“I'll miss you,” Jack softly spoke.
“That's the downside of having special times with our brood.” Daniel sighed and then smiled. “You'll have a good time,” he told his love confidently.
“Yeah, but I'll wish you were there every second.”
“I love you, Jack.”
“I love you, Danny.”
“Fathers, I hate to break this up,” Jennifer interrupted from the edge of the doorway, “but Mister Klein is outside, and he looks very impatient. I don't think he likes waiting ten minutes just for you two to, uh, well, you know.”
“Go on, Jack,” Daniel chuckled.
The lovers kissed, and Jack moved away. As he passed Jennifer, he gave her a kiss and a hug.
“I love you, Jen. Watch the volume,” Jack admonished with a smile.
“Don't worry, Dad. I'll behave ... maybe.” Jennifer looked at Daniel. He was self-hugging and looking downward though he had a smile on his face as he listened to the lighthearted banter. The teenager walked to him, and placing one hand on Daniel's arm and extending up on her tip toes, she gave her father a kiss on his cheek. “Don't worry, Daddy,” she assured, “The time will fly by. Dad'll be home before you know it.”
Daniel gave his daughter a smile as he stopped his hug, moving his right hand to rest on hers.
“I know,” Daniel replied, nodding. “We'd better go see them off and make sure your siblings don't get lost.”
“You mean Bij and Katie,” Jennifer teased, recalling the recent scare when the two beagles had sneaked inside of Jack's duffel bag and gone on an unexpected trip as a result.
Daniel glared at her, pleading, “Please; don't even think it!”
Laughing, the two went downstairs.
“Way to go, Son,” Jack called out as David completed a successful run down a mini-slope for children.
Taking off his goggles, David cheerfully responded, “At least I didn't fall down this time.”
Jack moved to where his son was and praised, “You're doing great, and remember ...”
“I know,” the nine-year-old boy said, smiling. “If I fall down, just get back up.”
Jack ruffled David's shaggy brown hair, and then the two were joined by other members of their ski party.
“Jen, you sure?” Aislinn asked as she worked on her special project.
“Ash, Dad is going to treasure this forever. It was a wonderful idea,” fifteen-year-old Jennifer responded as she brushed her brown hair while overseeing the special project.
The idea hadn't really been Aislinn's, at least not totally. Jennifer had intentionally maneuvered a conversation with hints and suggestions about what the children could get their fathers for Christmas, trying to make it so that it was their idea. Having heard their older sister's 'idea', the Munchkins immediately jumped on it.
“Not very good,” Jonny added as he, too, worked on the project.
“Trust me, you guys. Dad and Daddy are going to treasure this forever.”
“Forever?” Aislinn asked, her blue eyes wide in amazement.
“Forever,” Jennifer said with a big smile.
“Okay, Jen,” Little Danny said as he leaned up to review his part of the surprise. “We believe you.”
“Well, thank you,” Jennifer chuckled as she pulled the brush through her hair for the hundredth time.
“Jen, help here,” Aislinn requested at a particularly difficult section. “Don't want it to go outside lines.”
Putting her brush down, Jennifer got down on the floor next to her sister, trying to decide how to best handle the situation.
“Here, let me guide your hand a little, but, you guys, you know what Dad and Daddy say: it's not about being perfect, it's about being yourselves.”
“And doing our best,” Jonny added. “Dad say 'ways do best.”
“Yeahsureyabetcha,” Jennifer giggled, watching him finish a portion of the part he was working on. “That's good, Jonny,” she encouraged as he sat up to look it over.
The children were taking full advantage of Jack's absence from the house to work on their special Christmas present for him. The gift was for both their parents, but the brood had discovered long ago that while they could successfully ban Daniel from entering a room and thereby keep him from ruining a surprise, Jack's insatiable curiosity usually led to him trying to get sneak peeks at whatever the brood was up to. Thus, the Munchkins were planning on working all day on their present.
--Day 3: Saturday, December 11
The Friday event with the Adventure Guides had been enjoyable for both Jack and David. The snow was good, the kids were well-behaved, and the parents bantered back and forth with 'bragging rights' about who was the best or had learned the most. When the others left, Jack and David had fun playing games, taking a walk, and just talking 'man to man' about all of life's problems.
When the father and son turned in for the night, Jack missed his 'Danny Blanket' desperately and didn't get much sleep as a result. In fact, at 2 a.m., he was so lonesome, he placed a phone call to his lover.
“Hey, Beautiful,” Jack crooned as he lay in bed.
“Hey, My Sexy Silver Fox,” Daniel spoke in a low voice.
“I miss you,” Jack said as his right hand lay on his chest.
In their bed at home, Daniel mirrored Jack's position and whispered, “I miss you, too.”
The lovers' conversation was quiet and intimate, and left each feeling a bit more at peace than they had been before Jack's call. The phone call ended with a simultaneous “I love you” to each other.
After an indulgent breakfast of pancakes and maple syrup early Saturday morning, Jack and David spent the rest of the morning on the slopes. It turned out to be the perfect weekend for skiing, helped by a couple of big back-to-back storms that had brought in an abundance of fresh snow for the ski slopes.
“You're doing great, Son, but don't jam your poles in the snow to stop,” Jack advised. “A friend of mine did that once and broke his jaw on the handle of the pole.”
“There are better ways of forcing yourself to talk less,” Jack teased.
Just then, Jack noticed something that resembled two figures off in the distance. He wondered if he had just seen shadows amongst the trees, but then frowned as he realized he really wasn't sure what he had seen.
~Must be my imagination,~ Jack told himself. ~Maybe a couple of bears or something.~
The only reason Jack even thought about it was because the phantom figures were in an area that was a 'no ski' zone.
“Dad, what is it?” David asked, looking over at his father who had suddenly become quiet.
“Nothing. I just thought I saw something moving. It's my overactive imagination,” Jack replied with a chuckle. Checking his watch, he suggested, “Let's go back up for one last run.”
“Okay, Dad,” a happy David responded.
The father and son had finished their last run and were standing at the bottom of the slope. Jack's heart warmed with the look on David's face which was one of happiness and enthusiasm. As hard as it was to be away from his husband, he knew these times with the children, on their own, were needed.
“That was cool, Dad. Thanks for bringing me here,” David said as he held on to his ski poles.
Jack patted David on the back and was about to reply when he noticed a commotion nearby. He nodded to David, and the two went to see what was happening.
“You have to find them,” a black-haired woman cried hysterically.
“Are you sure they were on this slope?” an official asked, motioning over at the area in question.
“They would never go anywhere they weren't supposed to,” a man responded defensively in an upset tone.
“Major General Jack Jackson-O'Neill, United States Air Force,” Jack said, showing off his ID to a nearby official. “What's going on?”
Jack learned that two boys were missing, and a search was just getting underway. Told his services weren't needed, Jack and David headed back towards the lodge.
“Dad?” David inquired, looking up at Jack when his father stopped suddenly, lost in thought.
As Jack rested his ski poles securely into the spot where he stood, something was gnawing at him; he just didn't feel right leaving the resort until he'd ascertained whether his hunch was right or not.
“David, I'm going to check something out. I want you to stay here until I get back,” Jack instructed his son.
“But, Dad, I want to go with you,” David pleaded.
“No!” Jack ordered. He looked around, seeing Miles Renfree, one of the ski instructors they'd visited with. “Miles, will you keep an eye on my son for a little bit?”
“Sure, Jack. I'm teaching a children's beginner class over here in about five minutes. David, how about helping me out?”
Nodding at the instructor in thanks, Jack looked at David and ordered, “Stay with Miles; I'll be back in a few minutes.”
Jack started to ski away when he heard his son call out.
“Shouldn't we tell someone?” David asked, frustrated at being left behind.
“We will, when I get back.” Jack hesitated a moment, knowing he probably should go get help. ~Nah, I can handle this. I'm not really sure what I saw anyway. I don't want to take searchers away from their assigned areas if all I saw was a raccoon or something.~ “David, just make note of where I'm going in. Do you remember where we were earlier when I thought I saw something?” After the boy nodded, he said, “That's where I'm going. I want to see if there are any tracks, and if so, what kind they are. That's all. Now stay here.”
“Okay, Dad,” David whined in agreement, swaying back and forth a bit on his skis as he leaned heavily on his ski poles.
Jack skied onward, confident that he only needed to get close enough to the area to identify the tracks as human or animal; that is, if there were any tracks.
Jack returned to the northeast slope where he thought he had seen figures in the shadows. The area was clearly marked as being out of bounds. He slowly went in the direction to see if he could spot any signs of the missing boys. Just as he reached the area, he heard a humming a noise from somewhere higher up.
~What the heck is that?~ Jack looked up in disbelief at what he saw and heard. ~The friggin' idiots! Doesn't anybody read these signs?~
As fast as he could, Jack began to race back to safety, away from the area, but it was too late. A snowmobile was racing along the slope in what had become a potential avalanche area due to recent snowfall. He didn't need anyone to tell him that trouble was ahead. He knew he was in a dangerous situation.
The mountain slope was at an angle of approximately thirty-five degrees, and from tracking recent weather conditions, Jack deduced the layers of the snowpack were fragile enough that it wouldn't take much to set off a slide. Plus, there were large patches of treeless sections which would seem to indicate that avalanches occurred in the region on a regular basis.
Sure enough, the rumble of the snowmobile was all it took with the fresh snowpack to set the white killer in picturesque but life-threatening motion. Jack skied as fast as he could, but the slick snow was almost on him. His heart was pounding as he realized he was about to be swallowed up in a veil of snow.
~David was right. I should have gotten help. Daniel is going to kill me, if I live through this, that is.~
Though doubtful that anyone was in hearing distance, Jack shouted pleas for help. He let go of his ski poles and was grateful he didn't have a pack on to worry about.
**Danny, I love you. I love you so much. Hear me, Love. You're my heart and soul. I love you, Danny.**
Jack was engulfed in a falling sea of snow powder. He was pushed further down the hill, rolling in a large ball. In vain, he desperately tried to stay towards the top of the snow, but it all happened so fast. He gasped for air as he moved his arms around so as to keep an air pocket in front of him.
Jack's well-built six-foot-two-inch body was little match for the avalanche. His arms and legs were shoved about as if they were twigs. Fortunately, the bindings to his skis had functioned properly, and as he had been swept up by the snow and begun to fall, the skis had dislodged from his feet.
Unfortunately, however, Jack's right boot was torn off by the powerful force of nature, his ski cap slid off his head, and his cell phone dropped out of his ski jacket as he tumbled.
**Danny ... love you.**
Jack was shocked when, without warning, the power of the snow threw him against something hard. The wooden boards broke, and he fell into a hole, cutting his pants and scraping his knees against some old nails as he moved downwards.
~Oh, for cry...ing ...~
With a loud thud, Jack hit his head hard against the surface, knocking himself out as snow continued to fall on top of him through the hole.
Unaware of the danger his husband was in at the moment, Daniel was in the kitchen of their house. Little Danny was seated at the table, and Jennifer was on one of the stools at the counter. The other children were either in their rooms or outside playing. At the moment, the archaeologist was stirring a batch of chocolate frosting to go on a cake he was baking.
“So, the trick,” Daniel advised as he stirred the mixture, “is to always make sure ...”
**Danny, I love you. I love you so much. Hear me, Love. You're my heart and soul. I love you, Danny.**
“Jack?” Daniel responded out loud.
**Danny ... love you.**
With a look of horror on his face, Daniel dropped the silver bowl, and it made a thunderous clanging against the floor. He turned pale and was visibly shaking. His hands reached out and gripped the nearest counter, as if holding on for dear life. His breathing hitched, and the frightened archaeologist audibly gasped for breath.
“Daddy?” Jennifer jumped up and ran into the kitchen, alarmed by the paleness of Daniel's face and the slight tremors that racked his body. “Daddy, what's wrong?”
Little Danny scooted off his chair. He went over to his father and stared. Without saying a word, the youngster picked up the bowl and spoon that had fallen to the floor. He reached up and pushed both onto the counter before turning back around and quietly staring at his father.
“Daddy?” Jennifer said again.
Daniel turned his head to face Jennifer, but all he did was stare at her. He felt numb and empty. His connection with Jack had more than ended; it had severed. Not only could he not hear his lover, but he couldn't feel him, either.
“Daddy?” Little Danny called out in a tiny voice, tugging on Daniel's pants leg.
Daniel looked down and shook his head. He picked up his namesake, and squeezed him so tight that the little boy began to squirm. Not trusting himself, he handed his son to Jennifer and hurried upstairs to the master bedroom.
“Jen, what's wrong with Daddy?”
“I don't know, Little Danny. Hey, why don't you go outside and see what Jonny and Jeff are up to?”
“Jen?” the young boy asked, a slight tremor in his voice.
“I'm gonna go check on Daddy. Go on,” the teenager urged, putting her brother down.
Reluctantly, the young boy did as his sister requested.
Jennifer had never seen Daniel like this, not even on that crazy day in March when so much had gone wrong. On that day, it had been frustration more than anything else that had caused Daniel to shut down a bit, but today, it was something different. He looked white as a sheet to the teenager, and very vulnerable.
~It's kinda like when ... when Kayla died.~
Jennifer didn't want to think about what that meant, but, as the oldest of the children, she knew it was up to her to try and help her father through whatever was happening.
As she approached the master bedroom, Jennifer could see Daniel sitting up against the headboard, his knees drawn to his chest. His head was lying on his wrists as his hands hung over his knees. In his right hand was the phone.
Jennifer moved to the bed. She bent her left leg and rested on it as she sat down. Gently, she eased the phone out of Daniel's hand, and as she did, Daniel looked up at her, tears in his eyes, and a few escaping down his cheeks.
“Daddy, what's wrong?”
“Voicemail. All I get is his voicemail. Jen, the children ... I ...”
“It's okay, Daddy. Everyone's fine,” the teen said, trying to reassure her father, but when Daniel closed his eyes and moved his head down again, she knew she needed to do more. “I'll be right back, Daddy.”
Jennifer placed the phone back on the cradle and went next door to the den. She didn't normally go in the den without permission; none of the children did, but right now she didn't want to go too far from her father.
Picking up the phone, Jennifer dialed Jack's cell phone number, but just as Daniel had gotten, all she heard was the voice mail. Then she called the ski resort directly, but apparently no one was in the room because the phone only rang. Calling again and speaking with the clerk at the front desk, the teenager learned that Jack and David hadn't checked out yet, but that is all the information the clerk could, or would, provide her with.
~Something is wrong,~ Jennifer thought as uneasiness filled her body.
Next, the brunette called Sam, but only got through to her voicemail. Knowing Sara and Mark were on vacation in Europe, she tried Janet, but like Sam, all she got was voice mail.
~Isn't anyone around?~ Sighing, the determined girl tried again, phoning the one person whose whereabouts she could be sure of. “This is Jennifer Jackson-O'Neill. I need to speak with my grandfather please.”
“I'm sorry, he's in a meeting right now ...”
“I don't care if he's in a meeting with the freakin' President! I need to speak to my grandfather, and I need to speak to him right now!”
Jennifer's outburst was met with a moment of silence as the person on the other end debated with themselves which course of action was least likely to end in their court-martial.
“Just a moment, Jennifer,” the voice said.
~Hurry,~ the teenager thought, feeling more uncomfortable by the second.
“Jennifer?” Hammond asked as he came on the line a minute later.
“I'm sorry to call you Grandpa, but ...”
Hammond could hear the distress in the teenager's voice and interrupted, “What's happened, Jennifer?”
“I'm not sure. I tried to call Aunt Sam and Aunt Janet, but they aren't answering their phones.”
“They're both on assignment at the moment.” Hammond heard the girl sigh. “Jen?”
“I'm really not sure. Grandpa, Dad took David skiing this weekend.”
“Yes, I know. Jack was looking forward to spending some time with David,” Hammond acknowledged.
“Well, the thing is, I think maybe something's happened. Dad and Daddy have this ... connection. It's complicated; I don't know how to explain it because I'm not really sure what it is, but it's there.”
Even though the general knew the call was serious, he couldn't help but chuckle lightly at the girl's observation.
“I know what you mean, Jennifer. Conversations spoken in front of you that you can't hear, right?”
“I've been dealing with that for years,” Hammond replied, amazed at whatever this 'connection' was between the two men.
“Daddy's really upset. When will Aunt Sam be back?” Jennifer asked, her voice trembling slightly.
“As soon as I can contact her,” Hammond assured his surrogate granddaughter. ~She's definitely rattled about something.~
“I'm scared,” the teenager admitted.
“Jen, everything will be all right. I'm sure whatever has happened is only minor.” Hammond let out a little snort as he stated, “I've seen your parents survive a great deal; it would take a lot to do any permanent damage.”
“Thanks, Grandpa,” Jennifer stated, feeling a little bit better.
Jennifer hung up the phone, but clung to it for a minute. She just needed a moment to regroup. She thought about her dad and how much she loved him. Jack was so strong and always in command, unless Daniel or the kids had the upper hand, which occurred frequently; and Jack was always so protective of his family ...
In a flash, Jennifer went downstairs and brought all the children in the house, believing it would be easier to make sure they were all safe if they were indoors. She turned on the door alarm that beeped loudly should it be opened. Thus, she'd be alerted promptly if any of the younger children tried to go outside.
“Jeff,” Jennifer called to her new brother who was the last to enter the house from the yard. “I need you to watch them. Don't let them go outside and ... I'll be with Daddy. Just ... keep them all occupied.”
“What's wrong?” Jeff asked, full of concern.
“I don't know, but whatever it is, it's not good.”
“Daddy, will you please tell me what happened?” Jennifer asked when she returned to the master bedroom and sat back down on the bed.
“I heard him, Jen, calling to me, and then he wasn't there anymore. I know it's sounds crazy, but I just know that something bad has happened,” Daniel explained.
Jennifer scooted over so that she was sitting beside her father. She slipped her arm into his and leaned her head against the shoulder.
“He'll call soon,” Jennifer promised.
“Jeff's watching them.”
“I just ... need ... gawd, sometimes I think I'm a lousy parent,” Daniel spoke, believing it was true at the moment.
Daniel knew he should be with his children, trying to reassure them, but he just couldn't get himself to move.
“Daddy, you're one of the two best parents in the world,” Jennifer said with a smile in her voice.
Daniel looked at his daughter and tried to smile, but he couldn't. He sniffled and leaned his head against hers, and together, they sat in silence for quite a while.
~It'll be okay, Daddy. Dad will be home soon, and he'll ... he'll fix whatever's wrong.~
“Daddy, what's wrong?” Jeff asked when Daniel and Jennifer finally appeared downstairs a while later.
“I ... I don't know. Maybe I just ... overre...”
Daniel's words were cut off by the telephone, and for some reason, the mere sound of the ring frightened the archaeologist. He stood there, staring at it.
With a nervous look to Jeff, Jennifer walked to the phone and answered it.
“Just a moment, please.” The teenage girl walked to Daniel and held out the cordless phone. Somehow, she knew, too, and a tear had started to fall down her cheek. “It's the resort.”
Daniel swallowed hard as he brought the phone to his ear.
At the same time that he closed his eyes, the archaeologist spoke, “This is Daniel Jackson-O'Neill ... yes ... how? ... I ... yes, I understand ... my son? ... I'll be there as soon as possible. Thank you.”
Disconnecting the phone, Daniel looked around the room. Excluding David, who was still at the lodge, all of the children were there now, all solemnly quiet, and all staring at Daniel. He took a big breath and gave them a tiny smile.
“There's, uh, there's been an accident, and I need to go to the resort. David's fine, but, they ...”
“Where Dad?” Ricky asked.
“I don't know,” Daniel answered honestly in a voice that was almost as soft as Ricky's had been.
Daniel looked at Jennifer, but before he spoke, there was a knock at the front door.
“I'll get it,” Jennifer said, hurrying to the door. She looked through the blinds and let out a sigh of relief. ~Thank you, Grandpa!~ She opened the door and immediately sniffled, “Aunt Sam,” while hugging the woman.
“Janet's right behind me,” Sam said, walking into the house quickly, fear and concern written all over her face. “Daniel?”
“Sam,” Daniel greeted with a cracked voice, walking over to hug her.
As the friends embraced, Janet and Jennifer hugged, and then Janet headed over to say 'hello' to all the children.
Daniel held on to Sam tighter than he ever had before as he requested, “I need you to watch the children.”
“Anything. What's happened?” Sam asked, surprised that she could feel Daniel's fear as they hugged.
“I don't know, but ... I don't feel him, Sam. Gawd, I don't feel him.”
“You will,” Sam promised, hugging him again as tight as she could.
“I have to go,” Daniel sniffled as he pulled back. Seeing Janet, he embraced her for a moment, and then he looked at his children. He knelt down in the middle of the living room floor. He opened his arms for them to come close. “Sam and Janet will take care of you, and I'm ... I'm going to go find Dad and bring him home. I need you to be on your very best behavior. I love you all so much.”
The next thing Daniel experienced was a giant group hug. It filled him with a resolve that he had to think positively. Their family was special; this was just another nightmare that he and Jack would soon wake up from. With more hugs and kisses, he said goodbye to his children and the beagles.
“Daniel, you're naturally very upset, and you're in shock. I don't think you should drive right now,” Janet said as she accompanied her friend to the front door, leaving Sam and the children in the living room.
“I have to go, Janet, and I need you and Sam here.”
“What about Sara?” Janet suggested.
“The Wilsons are in Europe for a couple of weeks. I ... I don't want to upset their trip,” the worried husband explained.
“Okay, well, how about Teal'c?” a determined Janet offered.
Daniel looked around expectantly, sighing, “Where is he?”
“I'll call the general and ...” Janet began.
“No, Janet, that will take too long,” Daniel argued emphatically.
“Daniel, you're shaking. I'm not even sure you're breathing. There is no way that I'm going to let you drive that far.”
Daniel crossed his arms across his chest as he searched for an alternative, finally suggesting, “Megan. She's at the office. I'll have her drive me.”
“I mean it, Daniel.” Janet gave Daniel a warning glance and then stated, “In fact, I'll drive you to the office, and then you two can drop me off again here. That'll just take a few extra minutes.”
“Don't you trust me?” Daniel queried in a funny-sounding voice.
“I trust you; and I trust you to do anything you think you have to in order to be with Jack.” Janet rubbed his arm, a soft smile on her face, and said, “I'll tell Sam and have her call Megan so she knows we're coming.”
Daniel nodded, and Janet reentered the living room to fill Sam in.
A minute later, Sam and Janet returned to the entranceway.
“Good luck, Daniel,” Sam said as the two embraced again.
Locking the door, Sam returned to the living room and the sight of eleven moping children. As the minutes passed, she tried to get them to play, but they weren't interested. Even the animals sat like bumps on a log.
~I know. I feel the same way. Maybe we can just be together. The general will be back; he always comes back; just like Daniel.~
“How are they doing?” Janet asked when she returned to the Jackson-O'Neill home twenty-minutes later.
Sam shrugged as she answered, “See for yourself. They're just sitting. Janet, I don't know what to say to them.”
“There's nothing we can say, Sam. What we have to do is just be here for them.”
Sam nodded, and the two went into the living room. The children smiled at Janet, happy to have her with them again, too.
After a couple of minutes, Sam said, “Janet, I should call General Hammond now and let him know what's happening.
Jenny's head bounced up when she heard the name 'Hammond'. She knew that was her grandfather, and right now, she needed the strong presence of the bald-headed man.
Sam picked up the phone and dialed.
“Want Gran'pa,” Jenny sniffled a couple minutes later, hearing Sam on the phone with the general.
Sam hung up the phone and picked Jenny up, promising, “He's on his way.”
“Gran'pa coming?” Little Danny asked, tears running down his cheeks.
Jonny hurried over to comfort his younger brother, but as tears were running down his own cheeks, he wasn't very successful.
“Yes, he'll be here very soon,” Sam promised with a tiny smile on her face. ~I am not a good mother. Look at them; they're so sad.~
Janet walked over to the sensitive child and knelt down, taking hold of his tiny hands.
Using her best bedside manner, the physician spoke, “Your parents will both be home soon, Sweetie. Those two are ... well, nothing gets the best of them, so you just send them all kinds of good thoughts.”
“How?” Chenoa asked, rubbing her eyes.
“Close your eyes, and think of them here. Imagine all of you together, in front of the fire, eating ice cream. Your dad is telling you a story, and your daddy is poking him for saying something he shouldn't.” The children giggled in spite of their sadness. “Feel their love, and send them yours. Just keep doing that, over and over, and they'll be home soon.”
Little Danny opened his eyes and threw his arms around Janet. His hold on her was tight, so she picked him up, knowing he needed extra comforting.
As they stood, Janet holding Little Danny, the two women studied the children and their alignment in the room. All of the youngest ones were clinging to the older children. Their fear was evident.
“I have an idea,” Sam said. She knew that the worst part of any crisis was the unknown. Well, Jack and Daniel had faced a lot of unknowns in their history, and they'd always come out the winners. Maybe sharing some of those stories, albeit watered down quite a bit, would help the children get through this now. “Hey, guys, let's all sit down, and Janet and I are going to tell you some stories, some really incredible stories of how your parents have beaten the odds over the years.”
“That's right,” Janet chimed in. “They've done some amazing things, and in the process, have survived a lot. Let's sit down.”
“Uh, guys, let's go in the rec room. We have more room in there,” Sam suggested, guiding the youngest ones through the kitchen and into the large rec room.
Soon, everyone was settled onto the comfortable sectionals or the floor comforters and pillows.
“Tell us story 'bout Dad 'n' Daddy, Aunt Sam,” Chenoa requested.
“What happened to the bad men?” Jonny asked about the nasty politician who wanted to have Jack and Daniel fired.
“Well, the President knew all along that he wasn't a nice man, and finally, he made the man quit,” Sam answered.
“And, boy, was the country better off after that,” Janet added emphatically.
Sam and Janet had had to stretch the truth and ad lib a little throughout their stories, but the plan was working. With each story of how their parents had bested some bad man, survived a threat of nature, or overcome some technological glitch, the children cried a little less. Almost an hour had passed, but it seemed like an eternity.
As Sam was starting another story, another knock was heard on the door. She got up and answered it.
“General, I'm glad you're here.”
“There's nowhere else I'd be right now, Colonel,” Hammond said, entering the home.
“Gran'pa,” Jenny cried out.
It took about fifteen seconds for the entire clan to encircle the three-star general. With a bunch of arms clinging to him, Hammond led the children to his favorite spot -- Jack's arm chair.
“Let's have our pow wow over here,” Hammond cajoled.
Sam and Janet stood next to each other as they watched the general with the children.
“We don't get to see this often enough,” Janet said, marveling at the tough military man who, at the moment, was simply a tender grandfather.
“It's like watching Santa Claus; look how close they all are,” Sam observed, her blue eyes misting.
“Even the new ones. How do they do that, Sam? Jeff, Bri, and Lulu have only been a part of this family for a few weeks, and they're right there, holding on and being held on to,” Janet commented in wonder.
“Janet, you know something strange? When I first found out about the general and Daniel, I wasn't sure how I felt about it, and I wasn't convinced it would last. I mean, I knew from the start that they were happier, but I just didn't understand it. I could never have imagined them with a family like this.”
“And now?” Janet asked poignantly.
“And now, I can't imagine them any other way. Life without the Munchkins? Or the twins? The Mouseketeers? And now the new recruits?” Sam jested. She shook her head. “No, Janet, I can't imagine them without these kids.” Refocusing on the surrogate grandfather, she said, “He sure does love the brood.”
“So do we.”
“Janet ...” Sam began a bit melancholically.
“Positive thoughts, Sam. We can't afford to think otherwise right now. We don't even know what happened,” Janet insisted.
“It's just ... Daniel. Did you see his eyes?”
“For as long as I could bear, and that wasn't long. No. Sam, we have to assume this is just one more crisis, and no matter what, Jack will be home soon.”
Sam nodded, though she wished she felt more encouraged.
“Daddy, he saw something, and therewerelostkids, and Dad wenttosee something. Itoldhimwe should tellsomeonebuthe,” David took a giant breath, “he said, I mean ...”
“Hey, come here,” Daniel urged, pulling David into a warm hug. They'd just been reunited, and David was eager to tell his father everything. “Just breathe. Take your time. Everything will be okay.”
Feeling both scared and guilty, David's words had been spoken rapidly and urgently, and Daniel hadn't understood much. Daniel knew it was how he sometimes sounded when he was nervous. Times like this reminded him just how much the young boy was like him.
“Okay,” Daniel said, kneeling down, his hands rubbing up and down gently on David's arms, “take it slow, and just ... tell me what you know.”
The boy nodded and then told Daniel had had happened.
“I need to find the authorities,” Daniel stated. ~Jack, when I find you, we are going to have a long discussion about not taking stupid risks.~
“Daddy, please let me stay with you,” David begged.
Daniel nodded, and the two went to locate the authorities, each holding onto the other's hand tightly.
“See that mountain, Doctor?” Sue Hendricks asked, pointing in the appropriate direction. “It's a lot bigger than it used to be, and the reason for that is snow ... lots and lots of snow. If General Jackson-O'Neill was skiing in that area when that avalanche hit, I wouldn't hold out much hope.”
“You don't know Jack,” Daniel insisted.
“How's he going to survive? We have rescue teams out, but he's not the only one out there. We still haven't found the missing boys,” Sue explained forcefully.
“You *are* going to search?”
“Of course, we are, but it's going to take time, and we only have so much manpower,” the woman answered.
“Manpower?” Daniel paused. “You need people to search. Is that what you're saying?”
“No, I'm saying we need qualified rescue personnel. Look, I know you're worried, but we're doing our best. Now, if you'll excuse me,” Sue said, brushing by Daniel to talk with incoming rescue personnel.
“Daddy?” David asked.
“Don't worry.” While Megan tried to reassure David, Daniel pulled out his cell phone and called the Mountain. That's when he found out Hammond was at his house. ~I should have known. He's their grandfather.~ He pressed the speed dial button, and moments later, Sam answered. “Sam, is General Hammond there?”
“It doesn't look good, but I need help,” Daniel stated.
“Hold on a minute. I'll have to disentangle him from five children first.”
Daniel wanted to chuckle, but he just couldn't. A minute later, Hammond came to phone, and Daniel filled him in about the avalanche and the lack of personnel.
“Son, you'll have all the people you need just as soon as I can get them there. I need to make some phone calls.”
“Do we have trained ...” Daniel began to ask.
“Son, this is the Air Force. We have people who do everything. You just take care of David, and yourself. Who's in charge up there?”
“Uh, her name is Sue Hendricks.”
Hammond assured Daniel that help was on the way, so for the next little while, Daniel focused on David, trying to comfort him which wasn't an easy thing to do when his own heart felt like it was broken.
“Let's get something to eat, Son,” Daniel said.
“I'm not hungry, Daddy.”
~Neither am I, but Jack ... he ... gawd, I need to be strong.~ Daniel put his hand on David's shoulder and smiled. “We have to keep up our strength. Dad would be upset if we didn't.”
“Yes, Daddy,” David agreed quietly.
“Daniel, you need to be with David. I'm going to keep an eye on what's happening out here.”
“Thanks,” Daniel said, taking her hand in his and holding it for a moment.
Megan smiled and nodded before walking over to be close to where Sue Hendricks had several of the personnel gathered.
As Daniel and his son headed for the cafe in the hotel, he asked the boy to tell him about the ski trip with his father. From the sounds of it, it had been all that Jack had hoped.
~It was a great bonding outing, Jack. David had a good time, and I know you did, too. There'll be more. There *will* be more.~
It took a few hours, but, finally, Sue Hendricks had plenty of military manpower to help search for the missing children, the other potential avalanche victims, and Jack. By now, though, there was only an hour or two of daylight left, and that wasn't a plus in the goal of finding survivors alive.
Daniel insisted on going with one of the teams, specifically the one headed in the direction where David had seen Jack heading.
“Daddy, you need me to go with you,” David said, desperately wanting to go. “You need me, Daddy!”
“Yes, I do, but ...” Just then Daniel noticed a familiar face. Sprinting over to him was Lou Ferretti, who had just arrived with the last group of helpers from Cheyenne Mountain. “Lou!”
“Hey, Doc. The troops are here. Geez, what Jack will do to keep from paying up on a bet.”
“What bet, Uncle Lou?” David asked.
“I bet your old man that he couldn't say 'D'oh' fifty times straight without laughing.”
“Homer Simpson,” David remarked, shaking his head. “He didn't do it?”
“He got to forty-five, and then I panicked.”
As Daniel was preparing to go, putting on his jacket and pack, he smiled at Lou's attempt to distract David. He was grateful for friends like Lou Ferretti.
“You cheated, didn't you, Uncle Lou?”
“I put on his favorite episode, and just as he got to 'D'oh' forty-nine, he laughed out loud.”
David chuckled, “Dad loves Homer.”
“Doc, we can ...”
David interrupted Lou's words, saying, “Daddy, I have to go with you. Please let me come. What if something happens?”
Lou saw Daniel's emotional struggle and took over. He knew the boy needed to know his daddy would be safe, especially with his dad lost out there somewhere.
“David, I'll keep a personal eye on your daddy; I've had a lot of practice,” the colonel mused as he looked over at Daniel.
David looked from one to the other, clearly weighing things up.
“Well, okay, but Uncle Lou, watch him close.”
Lou cut off Daniel's words with a firm, “He will be glue to my flypaper.”
“SGC-Honor!” Lou said, crossing his heart.
“Okay,” David said as he nodded and then hugged his younger father. With his voice cracking, he begged, “Don't get lost, Daddy.”
“I won't, Son. I love you,” Daniel responded, holding David tightly.
“I love you, too.”
“Hi ya, Megs,” Lou said, finally greeting Megan who was standing close by.
“Hi, Lou,” Megan responded softly.
David moved to stand by Megan and clasped her hand. She looked at him and smiled, squeezing his hand in return. She could feel his anxiety.
“I'll take care of him, Daniel,” Megan promised.
“Thanks, Megan,” Daniel responded gratefully. “I know you will.”
“Jeff, are you okay?” Jennifer asked her new brother, rubbing her upper arms to warm herself in the chilly air.
The teenage boy, who was just one year younger than Jennifer, was sitting off by himself on the swings where the younger children often played. Unlike his sister, he was wearing a jacket to protect himself from the cold.
“Jen, it hasn't been that long, my dad, I mean. I miss him,” Jeff said as his wavy sandy brown hair blew with the whispering winds.
Jennifer sat down on the swing next to Jeff. Her feet played lightly in the grass below as she contemplated how to respond.
“One of the best things about Dad and Daddy is that it's okay to remember. David, Noa, and I had just moved in, and they saw a photo I had with our parents.”
“The one on the mantle in the living room?” Jeff asked.
“Yes. At first, I thought they'd be upset, but they weren't. They actually took us out to our old house, so we could say goodbye. I know a lot of adoptive parents have a fear about the birth parents, see it as some kind of competition, but Dad and Daddy aren't like that. You know that, or we've tried to show you by asking you about your family and life before us.”
“I know, but ...” Jeff paused, taking note that his sister was without her jacket. “Jen, you must be cold. I'm okay. Go inside.”
“We Jackson-O'Neills are tough,” Jennifer responded. “We can handle the weather. Talk to me.”
Jeff slipped off his jacket, handing it to his sister.
“How gallant,” Jennifer said with a sweet smile as she slipped the warm coat on.
“I'm afraid, Jen,” the boy confided, now that his sister didn't look like she was freezing to death.
“You don't need to be, Jeff. Believe me, our parents aren't threatened by our birth parents because they aren't trying to take their place. I know it hasn't been long, but they want you to talk about your dad, and your mom. It's okay to remember your life before joining us. In fact, we all want to know. I wish you'd talk more about them during our family time, or now,” Jennifer requested sincerely.
“My dad raised me to be proud and independent,” Jeff informed.
“Oh, the macho thing?” the girl chuckled lightly. “Dad's like that, or he likes to pretend to be like that.”
“Daddy has his number,” Jeff said, nearly laughing at the thought.
“Big time,” Jennifer acknowledged. “I'm glad you're here to help me with the little ones, but ... Jeff, it's okay to cry or be upset, and ... well, not just about Dad, but about your birth dad.”
“I miss Dad. It feels like I'm losing Dad, I mean my birth father, all over again,” Jeff admitted, choking up somewhat.
“Dad will be back,” Jennifer said firmly.
“You sound so sure.”
“Dad is strong, and he knows Daddy needs him. Dad will do anything, survive anything, for Daddy.”
Jeff smiled and then said softly, “They really do love each other.”
“Did you ever think it was strange, Jen?” Jeff dared to ask.
Jennifer smiled, knowing exactly what her new brother meant, and answered, “No. Honestly, I never did. We've gone through some bad things. A lot of my so-called friends showed their true colors when they found out who my parents were. It's their loss. Dad and Daddy loving us, taking us in, is the only thing that kept David, Noa, and I together. Mrs. O'Hanlon was going to have to separate us if they hadn't adopted us. What about you? Do you have ... second thoughts about being one of us?”
“No. They've given me a home, too. Dad keeps asking me if I want to go visit some of my friends from the old neighborhood.”
“Don't you want to see them?” Jennifer questioned. “I'd already lost touch with my old friends because of the shelter, or I would have wanted to,” she added.
“I didn't want to hurt him by saying 'yes'.”
Jennifer let out a soft chuckle as she said, “Jeff, I swear, they're okay with it. You don't have to give up your friends or your memories. Tell me about your birth dad.”
Jeff looked at his new sister, surprise on his face as he asked, “Do you really want to know?”
The girl nodded, saying, “Of course, I do. I know you have the one photo out, but I want you to pick out a couple more photos we can put around the house. That is, if you want to share your birth parents with us.”
Jeff felt a weight lift off his shoulders. Jack and Daniel had both gone to great lengths to try and reassure him that his past life didn't need to be forgotten, but somehow, hearing it from Jennifer, who had gone through a similar experience, made it feel more real and okay.
“Dad was great. He ...” As Jennifer listened, Jeff rattled on for several minutes about his father, barely taking a breath. “Geez, I didn't know I could talk so much.”
“We all love to talk in this family, especially Daddy and Little Danny. I can hear Dad asking where the 'off button' is now.” Jennifer suddenly sniffled, her inner strength fading quickly. “I want him to come home, Jeff.”
Jeff reached over and took Jennifer's hand, gently reassuring her, “Dad will be okay, Jen. Like you said, he's strong. We're all strong.”
“We'd better go check on the others. They need us, Jeff.”
“I know. Jen? Thanks.”
“Anytime, little brother.”
Chuckling and sniffling both, the two teenagers got themselves together and returned to the inside of the house to provide strength and support for their younger siblings.
It was a daunting task as the rescuers slowly moved forward. They were spread out in a line, sticking probes into the snow with every step they took. They also looked for shallow depressions, signs of disturbance, pieces of equipment: anything that would indicate a human being might be nearby.
**Jack, can you hear me?**
Daniel continuously repeated his words, both silently and verbally, but there was never a response. He felt so cold, not from the chilly weather, but from the absence of his heart, his Jack.
As night fell, and the search was suspended, Sue Hendricks approached the weary and emotionally drained Daniel.
“When we find him, if we find him, at this point ... I'm sorry,” Sue tried to say sympathetically.
“You're wrong. He's alive.”
Daniel turned and walked away. He wondered if he was telling the truth, or just lying to himself.
“Doc, we'll find him,” Lou said as strongly as he could.
“Thanks, Lou. Lou, David ...”
“You want me to take him home?” Lou asked, knowing the young boy didn't belong here within sight of the rescue attempt, especially with Daniel's struggle to remain strong.
“Yeah, would you? I have to stay here.”
“I'll take him home, and I'll be back in time to pick up the search in the morning,” Lou promised.
“He's alive, Lou,” Daniel said, his eyes focused and intense as they stared at his friend.
“Of course, he is. You think some little old snow is gonna get the best of Jack Jackson-O'Neill? Snow? Never happen,” Lou said with a smile.
~Thanks, Lou, for letting me lie to myself a while longer.~
Seeing Daniel's downcast eyes, Lou Ferretti called out, “Daniel.” Still, Daniel eyes were locked onto the ground. “Hey, Doc, I'm over here.” The words brought the archaeologist out of his cocoon for the moment. When their eyes finally met, Lou said, “Look, Daniel, last year I thought my number was up, that I'd never get to tell Carolyn one more time how much I love her. You and Jack came charging to my rescue. You got me out alive, and I'll never forget it. Trust me on this, Doc -- Jack is alive, and we're going to find him and bring him home. You got that?”
Daniel nodded and gave Lou a small smile of gratitude. Lou noticed, however, that Daniel's eyes hadn't lost their haunted look.
~I'll be back, Doc, and then we'll find Jack.~
Daniel couldn't sleep, and he felt uneasy staying in his room at the lodge. Soon, he found himself outside, standing in the snow, oblivious to the fact that new snow was falling on top of him.
**Jack, I love you, and I'm going to find you. I don't know why you aren't answering me, or why I can't ... why I can't feel you, but I refuse to give up. You're out there, and I will find you. You hang on, My Love. Live for me, just like you always tell me to live for you.**
Daniel looked up at the night sky, and the flakes of snow adding to the snow pack that already existed. This would only complicate the search and increase the chance of additional avalanches.
He ached; every part of his body ached. Not only did he miss Jack, but he hated being away from their children. They'd all sounded so supportive when he had talked to them earlier in the evening, but he could hear through their voices; he could feel their pain.
Once again, Daniel was thankful for his extended family. Sam, Janet, and General Hammond were all making sure the children were properly cared for. Janet had called Cassandra, and she and Dominic were on their way to Colorado Springs. Teal'c was still involved in important business on Chulak, but he had been informed, and sent word he'd be back just as soon as he could.
~The Christmas season is supposed to be happy,~ Daniel lamented as he stared out blankly at the still-falling snow.
Some miles away, buried under several feet of snow, Jack's eyes began to flutter open. He tried looking around, but all he saw was darkness. He coughed several times, and each time, he grimaced from pain. He was cold, and it took him a while to figure out that he was covered with snow, wood, and debris. He tried to move his hand to his head, but there wasn't room.
~Suffocating; I'm suff...suffocating.~
Using all his energy, Jack managed to clear a pocket of space around himself and only then did he realize that he wasn't actually buried alive in a massive heap of snow. He had felt a piece of wood when he tried to clear an air pocket, and now he realized his back was lying against something hard that certainly didn't feel like snow. Still, he was in a confined space.
~What the heck happened to me?~ Jack closed his eyes and tried to recall what he'd been doing. That was the moment he realized he didn't remember anything, not even where he was or had been. ~Crap! That can't be good. Okay, first things first. Have to get out of here.~
As he cleared the space around him, ignoring the pain his movements caused him, Jack soon knew that he had only one way to go: behind him, crawling out on his back, something that would be slow and tedious to do. Staying where he was wasn't an option, though.
The more he scooted backwards, the more the general's wrist hurt. Every move, every push brought a fresh jab of pain.
Shoving backwards against the ground, Jack finally became aware that he was only wearing his left boot. This discovery had been driven home when his right, bootless foot, hit down against the edge of something sharp. He couldn't tell what it was, but he knew he couldn't worry about it. He just hoped he hadn't cut his foot on whatever it was.
Jack kept going, ignoring the pain, trying to find his way out from the darkened chamber. Eventually, he paused for a break, and when he did, he tried to measure the space he was in.
~Can't tell, but it's small. Mine shaft? I must be in a tunnel.~ The weary man closed his eyes, tired from his efforts. ~Have to get out of here. Why? Why was I here? Where is here?~ His eyes opened wide. ~Who am I?~
Meanwhile, Daniel tossed and turned in his bed, wondering why he was even attempting to sleep.
--Day 4: Sunday, December 12
Daniel did a three-hundred-sixty degree turn. Everywhere he looked, he saw a veil of white, and more snow was falling every second. The searchers had not given up, but they were no longer hopeful of finding anyone alive.
“Here, found something,” Sergeant Laura Bates called out. Laura was one of the SGC personnel who had volunteered to help. She was an expert skier and mountain climber. “I hit something,” she called out, then focused again on her probe that she was burying into the ground.
Daniel's heart raced as he hurried to her location and called out, **Jack?** His soul ached at the lack of response. **Please, Jack,** he called out again, sighing dejectedly when, again, there wasn't a response of any kind.
“There's definitely something down here. Everyone dig,” one of the lodge workers said after sticking his own probe into the ground.
Immediately, a group of workers, including Daniel began to dig.
“A foot; I feel a foot,” Laura said, desperately trying to reach down. Then she glanced at Daniel, and he knew.
“It's not Jack, is it?” Daniel asked hopefully and yet fearfully as well.
“The foot is too small; I'm sorry.”
“I feel a hand; wait ... wait ... yes, there's a pulse, but barely. DIG!” the lodge worker said again.
Frantically, the crew dug, until finally they pulled out a young boy. Medical teams had been called and were hurrying to their location.
“We missed him,” Daniel said softly, believing that the boys had traveled further into the 'no ski' zone than Jack. He looked back at the huge expanse of ground. “We could have gone right over him.”
“Don't give up hope,” Laura said encouragingly.
Daniel watched the doctor on scene work.
“He's alive, but not for long if we don't get him to a hospital soon. Let's go,” the doctor ordered the medical team.
Sue, however, had another concern and urgently encouraged her rescue team, saying, “There's still the second boy. Keep digging. He must be close by.”
Daniel was desperate to retrace his ground, but there was a child's life at stake, too, a little boy, probably around Charlie's age. He knew what Jack would want him to do, so with a sigh, he picked up his probe to help the others in the search for the second boy.
Jack used his feet to push himself backwards, grunting at both the pain and the effort. It was all he could do to move. If he'd been able to turn over and wriggle forwards on his abdomen, it would have been easier but when he'd tried that he discovered he had rather broad shoulders. He wondered if he'd gotten far at all. Every inch was like a mile as he had to work his way through snow and pieces of board. At one point, he jabbed his finger against nail.
~Just what I need: lockjaw. Wonder if I've had a tetanus shot.~ Jack shook his hand, forgetting his wrist had been injured. “OUCH, YOU IDIOT!” he yelled at himself. ~Double idiot,~ he said silently, having realized that shouting those words in a mine filled with snow was probably not the smartest thing in the world to do.
Finally, as the wounded general pushed another board out of his way, he was granted new hope. He had fallen downwards slightly.
~The end of a tunnel or a connector maybe: is that what I've been in? More space at least; it's easier to breathe ... <cough> ... now. Spoke to soon, ... whoever I am.~
Jack coughed some more as for the first time he was able to sit up. He reached back with his left hand to rub his back, which was aching from the pressure he'd been placing on it. He still couldn't see anything; it was pitch black, but he could tell he was in a bigger area.
Trying to stand, Jack fell down to his knees. He cried out from the agony. He was weak, and his legs didn't even get the chance to steady before he fell to the ground, jamming his right knee against a piece of wood protruding from the ground in the process.
~Geez, that hurt. Ow!~ Jack had felt a twinge in his knee as he stood, but he wasn't sure of the cause. ~Did I bang it up just now, or ... arthritis maybe? Wonder how old I am? I feel like I'm a hundred.~
The injured man rolled over on the ground to catch his breath before standing up again, though this time he took it more slowly. He reached out, finding a wall, and braced himself against it. Cautiously, he took a step forward, realizing that his right ankle was throbbing, which reminded him that his right wrist was still hurting too, as was his head, and just about every muscle in his body.
Tediously, Jack took one slow step after another, often using the wall as a support, not knowing if he was going deeper into the mine or out of it.
“Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, I must insist you come back to the lodge,” Sue Hendricks stated as strongly as she had said anything since the two had met.
The search parties had given up for the night, but Daniel had gone back out. He ignored the woman as he stuck the probe into the snow.
“Please, Daniel, come back to the lodge,” Sue pleaded, her voice softer than before. When the archaeologist failed to respond, continuing his efforts, she spoke sternly, “Daniel, do you have any idea how much new snow we've had since the avalanche? The probe won't go down deep enough. I'm still surprised we found those two boys.”
“Then we can find Jack, too,” Daniel stated flatly, pressing the probe into a new spot.
“I know you don't want to hear this ...”
“Then don't tell me,” Daniel interrupted, staring at her.
“Doctor,” Sue stated, returning to a more formal state, “there are a hundred old mines around here. The weight of the snow could easily have broken through one, and ...”
“Then he's not suffocating, is he?” Daniel responded snarkily.
The woman shook her head in frustration.
“I'm afraid I have to insist. This area is still at risk. I can't let you stay out here. Either you come with me now, or I'll call in the authorities.”
Daniel glared at her. He didn't care whether or not she was right, but he couldn't fight her, either. He threw the probe forcefully in her direction, noticing that she caught it firmly. His eyes swore, his heart screamed, but his legs carried him away and back to the lodge.
Hendricks followed, and doing all she could do, continued to stick the probe into the ground every few inches as she, too, headed out of the area and back to the warmth of the ski lodge.
--Day 5: Monday, December 13
As the sun rose signaling the start of a new day, Daniel stared out the window. He had shadows under his eyes from lack of sleep, and stubble graced his face as he hadn't shaved since coming to the lodge. He stared mindlessly off in the direction of the avalanche that had taken his Jack from him. He was numb.
After several minutes he walked to the bed and picked up the phone. He didn't know how to do this, but he knew he had to. As much as he wanted to wallow in his emptiness, he was a parent now, and he had to think of his children.
The phone rang twice before someone picked it up.
“Sam, it's Daniel,” the archaeologist spoke in a monotone.
“Daniel, you sound horrible,” Sam commented, her heart immediately going out to her friend and the anguish she knew he was feeling.
“Yeah, well ... I ...”
“No news?” Sam asked.
Daniel shook his head, becoming lost in his despair.
“Daniel, can I assume you shook your head?” Sam asked in a tone reminiscent of the missing man.
“Oh, gawd. Sam, I'm sorry. I haven't slept ... much,” Daniel admitted as he stifled a yawn.
“Is there anything I can do?” Sam asked as she sat on the edge of one of the barstools.
“You're doing it. How are they?” Daniel asked, missing his children horribly.
“Scared; sad; confused. Cassie and Dom are here now, and that's helping a lot. Little Jenny really loves her. I think it's the red hair.”
If Daniel's heart wasn't breaking, he would have smiled. Yet, Daniel felt guilty.
“They should be planning their wedding,” Daniel lamented.
“Daniel, it's planned. They've got it all covered, and there's plenty of time yet.”
Daniel nodded, not remembering that Sam couldn't see him. Then, he changed the subject.
“They found the second boy. They're both in critical condition, and it's still snowing, even heavier than before. He's ...”
“Daniel, don't say it. I don't believe it,” Sam said, glancing all around her just to make sure the kids were still not in the room. “Don't you stop believing; you two have survived too much to let a little avalanche get the best of you.”
“I love you,” the archaeologist said in a tender tone.
Sam almost burst into tears. SG-1 was so close, and yet, even after all these years, verbal expressions of their love were not often spoken, and for Daniel, of all people, with the insecurity of his past, to be the one to say it now, cut her right to the quick.
“I love you, too, Daniel. Do you want to talk to the kids?” Sam asked, needing to regain her composure.
“It's so hard, Sam.”
“I know,” the blonde barely managed to respond.
Daniel hunched over, the phone in one hand, his head in the other. He sniffled, “I don't think I can handle all eleven.”
“Let me see who's up, okay?”
Daniel nodded and waited as seconds clicked by.
“Daniel, did you nod?”
“Hold on. I'll be right back,” Sam said, putting the phone down.
Sam knew Jennifer was up, David, too. The Munchkins were stirring, but the twins were still asleep. She also knew Jeff was up, but he had taken the beagles for an early morning walk. She wasn't sure about Brianna, Lulu, and Chenoa. Sam headed for Jennifer's room above the garage.
A few seconds later, Little Danny walked down the stairs and into the living room. Seeing the phone off the cradle, he wiped his eyes of sleep as he walked over to it and picked it up.
“Who on the phone?”
The little voice took Daniel by surprise.
“Danny, it's Daddy.”
“Daddy,” the youngster sniffled, suddenly battling more than waking up.
“Hey, Sproglet, everything's going to be okay,” Daniel said as soothingly as possible, hearing his child's cries.
“You find Dad?” Little Danny asked hopefully.
“No, not yet, but I will,” Daniel promised.
“When you coming home?” the boy sniffled.
Daniel closed his eyes. He couldn't handle this. It was more difficult than he had imagined.
“I'll be home soon, but I ... I have to keep looking for Dad.” He heard his namesake take a deep breath. “Hey, now, you're a big boy, and I need you to be strong for Ricky and Jenny, okay?”
“I try,” Little Danny promised.
“I love you, Son, so much,” Daniel told him softly.
“Love you, too, Daddy.”
Jennifer had come into the room in time to hear this last statement. She hugged her brother close and wiped away the tears that were running down his cheeks.
“Little Danny, let me talk to Daddy,” Jennifer said, reaching out for the phone.
“Jen wants talk to you,” the youngster told his father.
“Danny, listen to me,” Daniel said strongly.
Daniel swallowed and wet his lips, struggling not to cry and upset his namesake. He closed his eyes and nodded, gaining silent strength from his children.
“I want you and your brothers and sisters to think of good things. Dad needs you to send out your love. Remember, uh, when we went flying in Jo last month, or the last trip to the cabin, or ...”
“Dad hugging me?” Little Danny asked brightly, a smile on his face as he remembered the hundreds of hugs he had received from his missing father.
“Or ... Dad ... hug...hugging you,” Daniel said, trying to stifle his tears that refused not to fall. “Send out your love, okay?”
“Little Danny, it's important. Send Dad your love, as much as you can.”
“I promise, Daddy. Jen here.”
Little Danny handed the phone to his older sister who quickly moved a bit away from her brother.
“Daddy, it's Jen. How are you?”
Daniel let out a tiny snort as he automatically responded, “Lousy.” A detached part of him realized how much he had changed since he'd let Jack into his heart. No longer was his automatic response 'I'm fine'; instead it was honesty, be it good or bad. Then he remembered he was talking to his daughter, and he instantly began to change his answer. “I mean I ...”
“Daddy, don't lie to me,” Jennifer told him.
“I'm, uh, lousy.”
Daniel sighed, “We're about to go out again, but it keeps snowing, Jen, and there's ... there's been no sign of him.”
“You'll find him,” Jennifer encouraged.
“Jen, do what Little Danny says. I gave him a message; something I want all of you to do today. It's important.”
“I promise, Daddy. Um, can I stay home from school today? I mean, I swear I'm not trying to goof off, but the brood, they, uh ...”
“They need you, Jen. Put Sam back on the phone, please, and Jen ... I love you.”
Jennifer smiled as she walked back and handed Sam the phone. Then she picked up Little Danny who was still sniffling.
“Big boy,” Little Danny argued lightly.
“That's right, but right now, I'm your big sister, and you don't have to be brave for me.”
“Sure? Daddy said be brave for Ricky and Jenny,” Little Danny told her.
Jennifer smiled as she held her brother. Gently, she said, “They're still asleep. With me, you don't have to be brave.”
With the trust that only a child could give, the little boy let out a sob as he threw his arms around his big sister and nestled his head against her neck. Jennifer held on tight, rocking Little Danny in her arms as he cried.
“Daniel?” Sam asked, trying to fend off her own weakening emotions as she watched Jennifer holding Little Danny.
“Sam, if you don't mind, I told Jen that she could stay home,” Daniel informed his friend. “Jeff can, too, but it might help if they did some schoolwork with the others. Jen knows how, but don't force them. I thought it might ... might, uh, help keep their minds off of ... things.”
“Okay, we'll see how it goes. Good luck, Daniel,” Sam spoke as enthusiastically as she could.
“Hi ... ho ... hiiiigh ... ho ... I'm off ... to ... <cough> ... see the ... wizard.”
Jack stumbled over a stone, falling to the ground. He'd been walking for hours, fumbling his way through the darkness of the mine shaft. He was shivering from a chill, and he hadn't had anything to eat or drink in ... well, he didn't know how long, but he knew it was too long.
His throat was dry and parched, and his stomach growled for nourishment. His body tingled from hunger. This was in addition to his still unattended-to injuries. He rolled over and crawled along the cold, dirt floor. His hands reached out, searching.
“Got ya,” he said, snatching a small bug in his hand. ~Taste just like ... crap,~ he thought as he swallowed the bug and searched for more.
The snow was falling in a frenzied flurry, flakes of white hampering the rescuers' ability to see.
“That's it. Pack it up, everyone,” Sue Hendricks called out, signaling the end of the day's search.
“It's not night yet,” Daniel argued stubbornly.
“I said 'pack it up'. Now, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill.”
She felt compassion for Daniel, but they'd been searching and arguing all day about whether time was of the essence, and frankly, she thought it was for naught; she was certain Jack was long dead.
**Jack, please answer me. Gawd, please.**
“Daddy, says it 'portant,” Little Danny said as he gathered all of his siblings together.
“What are we doing?” Brianna asked as she took a seat, crossing her legs, on one of the large ottomans in the rec room.
Little Danny sighed. He looked around and, seeing Janet, he ran up to her.
“Aunt Janet, Daddy say we need to send Dad love. How we do that?”
Janet glanced at Sam and then knelt down on her haunches. She took both of Little Danny's hands in hers.
“Well,” Janet began, “I suppose one way would be to celebrate your father.”
“I no understand,” Little Danny said.
Janet paused a moment before answering, and then said, “It's like what we talked about yesterday. We need to send good thoughts and think of good things, and if we do that, remember all the fun stuff and how much we love your father, then that celebrates his life and ...”
“Wait a second! I've got it!” Jennifer exclaimed. “I'll, um, be right back. I'm sure I saw it in Dad's CD collection.”
Janet looked at Sam who shrugged and made an 'I don't know' expression on her face.
A few minutes later, Jennifer returned to the rec room, walking over to the stereo.
“Sorry, it took a while to find this. I remember hearing Dad playing this CD once. Gee, I think it was a year ago, but I hadn't heard this song before,” Jennifer explained as she took the CD out of its case and inserted it into the player. “He told me it was a special song for him, but I, um, don't know why.”
“What's the song, Jen?” Jeff asked.
“It's called 'Celebrate Me Home' by Kenny Loggins,” Jennifer answered.
“Who's that?” Brianna asked.
Jennifer shrugged as she responded, “I'm really not sure. He's a singer Dad likes; he has long hair.”
“That says a lot,” Janet laughed quietly to Sam.
“Listen to the lyrics, you guys,” Jennifer urged.
Home for the holidays,
I believe I’ve missed each and every face,
Come on and play my music,
Let’s turn on the love light in the place.
“Isn't that perfect?” Jennifer asked.
“Jen, I no understand,” Little Danny said again. “Daddy say it 'portant to send Dad love. Why song?”
Jennifer got down on her knees and sat back. She drew her little brother to her so that his back was against her chest. Her arms wrapped around him.
“Listen, Little Danny. Listen and think about Dad.”
Play me one more song,
That I’ll always remember,
And I can recall,
Whenever I find myself too all alone,
I can sing me home.
“Wow,” Brianna said. “That's on the money, Jen. Way to go!”
“By remembering Dad, his smile, his hugs, his love; by thinking about him and wishing he was here, by singing this song, we're sending him our love. Feel the song, Danny,” Jennifer lulled. “Feel it.”
Please, celebrate me home,
Give me a number,
Please, celebrate me home
Play me one more song,
Celebrate me home.
“Jen, I don't know the words,” Lulu complained.
“Let's learn them,” David said eagerly, moving to the stereo and stopping the CD. “We'll play it slow and ...”
“Whoa!” Sam called out. “Jen, on the Internet, there are a lot of places were we can ...”
“Get the lyrics!” David said, already moving out of the rec room towards the stairs. “I'll be back in a few minutes.” A few moments later, David popped back into the room. “Uh, Jen, what's the name of the song?”
“Celebrate Me Home by Kenny Loggins,” the teenager repeated.
Thirty minutes later, the Jackson-O'Neill children were all singing their father home. The older children had the song memorized already, as did Little Danny who had a photographic memory, so they helped the younger children to learn it. Over and over, they played the song, with Sam controlling the stereo to make sure the children didn't get overly anxious and break it.
David had printed out several copies of the lyrics, and they agreed to keep them by the stereo in case they forgot the words at some point.
“We'll sing this every day to Dad,” Jennifer said when they had finally made it through the song once.
“Twice every day,” Little Danny said.
“Twice?” Ricky asked.
“Hafta send Dad love. Daddy said so. He needs lots of love. We sing it twice every day!” the little boy insisted.
“We'll sing it twice,” Brianna agreed.
“Yeah, twice!” Jenny chimed in, as did all the others.
“Okay, brood, bedtime!” Sam told them.
“One more time, Sam,” Little Danny begged.
“One more time,” Sam said, unable to deny the blue-eyed boy.
--Day 6: Tuesday, December 14
Daniel's body forced him to sleep that night, but he'd only been asleep for a few hours when his phone rang at six in the morning.
“Daniel, there's been another avalanche. They've called off the search entirely,” Megan informed him with a soft voice.
Saying nothing, Daniel hung up the phone and pulled the covers over his head, wanting to disappear. He was on the verge of succumbing to the melancholy of his soul when his phone rang again. It rang over and over again as Daniel lay under the sheets trying to block out the world.
Five minutes later, when the phone began its latest series of rings, Daniel picked it up and intoned an emotionless, “Hello.”
“Daddy?” a little voice asked softly.
“Jonny? Jonny, what are you doing up this early?” Daniel asked, scooting up in the bed.
“No sleep, Daddy. You find Dad?” the little boy asked anxiously.
“No, not yet,” Daniel answered, his voice a dull monotone.
Suddenly, the soft voice Daniel had heard turned tough.
“Daddy, no give up. Dad deepened on you,” Jonny said, stamping his foot as his spoke.
~Deepened?~ Daniel silently question. It was too early in the morning. Daniel's brain just wasn't available for cryptic deciphering. “What, Son?”
“Dad deepened on you to save him,” Jonny explained.
~Oh, I understand,~ Daniel thought as he yawned. “Depends. He's ... depending on me,” Daniel corrected very softly.
“Daddy, no give up. We sending love. You need more?”
Daniel smiled in spite of himself and answered, “A lot more.”
“We send more. We celebrating Dad. No give up, Daddy. We deepened on you, too,” Jonny told his father without a hesitation in his voice.
Daniel smiled a little brighter at the love and encouragement he was receiving from the eldest Munchkin.
“I ... deepened on you, too, Jonny.”
Sam nodded, her eyes staring at Jonny who handed her the phone.
“Daniel, he insisted,” Sam explained. “Jonny woke me up a few minutes ago and said it was important that he call.”
Daniel let out a tiny snort, replying, “He was right, Sam. Sam, what did Jonny mean about celebrating?”
“Oh, Jen pulled out a Kenny Loggins CD and said the general's favorite song on it was ...”
“'Celebrate Me Home',” Daniel finished for her. “It's a special song for Jack. I'm glad she remembered it.”
“Yeah, but I feel so old,” Sam teased lightly.
“None of them know who Kenny Loggins is. They think he's old, but they like his long hair.”
Daniel allowed himself to chuckle for a brief second, before reality slapped him in the face again.
“I'll, uh, be home soon,” Daniel informed Sam.
“Aren't they searching today?” Sam asked, surprised by Daniel's comment.
“No. I'll be home soon.”
“Okay.” There was silence. “Daniel, I ...”
The phone clicked, and Sam put the phone down as she sat down on the edge of the bed. Jonny held out his arms, so she picked him up so that he sat on her lap, his head resting on her shoulder.
“Daddy scared, Aunt Sam.”
“Yes, he is.”
“We need send more love. Gonna get Little Danny.”
Jonny started to run out, but then he turned around and ran back to Sam. With both hands extended, he reached up for her. She leaned down so he could give her a kiss.
“Love you, Aunt Sam.”
As Jonny ran out of the room to get his brother, Sam said softly, “I love you, too.”
“Teal'c,” Jeff Cornell called out.
“ColonelCornell, it is an honor.”
Cornell looked around the area and casually remarked, “So this is Chulak. It's hard to believe I've never been here.”
Teal'c stared at the man and said dryly, “I was surprised when I received word you would be coming to Chulak. Is there news of the negotiations with the Aikens?” the Jaffa asked, regarding a group of aliens the Tau'ri had just become acquainted with.
The Jaffa Nation was also trying to come to agreements with the Aikens and, in fact, expected a delegation from the Aikens home world to visit shortly.
“No, but General Hammond gave me permission to bring you a message.”
Teal'c reached out to take the envelope Cornell had in his hand. As he did so, he asked, “Has there been any word about O'Neill?”
“It's not looking good, Teal'c,” Jeff answered. ~And that's why I'm here. My question is -- why are you here? But, I'd like to leave this place without a broken body, so let's try this diplomatically first.~
The Jaffa nodded, then said, “If things were not so crucial here, I would ...” His words stopped as he unfolded the note, which was really a drawing of a little girl with golden hair full of curls. Large red teardrops were running down her face and falling to the ground. Her face was frowning. The sky was black, and she was alone, though in the background were stick figures of several other people. At the bottom, scrawled in crayon, were the words, “Need you, T.”
Teal'c looked away from Cornell and actually walked several steps from him, turning his back so that the Air Force colonel couldn't see him. He stood there for a moment, and then sensed Cornell walking up to stand next to him.
“It must be hard to choose between family and an entire world.” Jeff waited as Teal'c turned and gave him a quizzical look. “Jack. Daniel. Those kids. They're your family, Teal'c. I'm glad I'm not you and don't have to make some of the choices you've had to, but I tell ya one thing, that little girl loves you, and right now, she's scared. She's lost her birth parents already, and Kayla. All I'm saying is ... is it really going to make a difference whether or not you're here to greet the delegation from Aikia?”
Teal'c continued to stare at the man before him and then back at the drawing he held in his hand.
“You are a wise man, JeffCornell. The Aikens are a good people. I will send word to their leader. Thank you,” Teal'c said, placing his hand on Jeff's right shoulder and bowing his head slightly.
It was mid-morning by the time the Jackson-O'Neill children finally settled in together. They sat in a circle in the middle of their large family room, also known as the rec room, which was part of the new section to their home. Many of them yawned involuntarily from lack of quality sleep. In fact, most had cried themselves to sleep during the night or had restless bouts of slumber. Now, they held hands as they began their musical ritual.
“This song is for Dad. We love you, Dad, and we're singing this song to you with all our love,” the teenage girl said.
Jeff added, “And we need to do what this song says -- celebrate Dad and what he means to us -- and help Dad find his way home.”
“Yeah, and singing isn't good enough,” Brianna stated. “We need to shout it so loud that he can't help but hear us.”
From the corner of the room, Sam and Cassandra stood, watching quietly, occasionally glancing at each other, and both trying not to cry.
“Jonny say Dad need more love. Daddy need love, too” Little Danny said wisely.
“Dad deepened on Daddy; hafta help,” Jonny explained although his choice of words still wasn't exactly right.
“That's right, so let's focus again, and sing our song to Dad ... and to Daddy,” Jennifer suggested.
Using the remote, Jennifer turned the CD on and the music began. When it did, the children sang their hearts out to their fathers. When the song ended, the children's resolve was strong, but their hearts were so sad that everyone but Jennifer, Jeff, and Brianna were crying.
“They're tired, Sam,” Cassandra observed.
“I don't think they've gotten much sleep,” Sam noted sadly.
“Come on, brood,” Jennifer said. “Let's talk about good things. I'll start. You know what? I love Dad so much, and I'm so glad that he ...”
Jennifer's statement was cut off by a loud sob, coming from Chenoa.
“Aw, Noa,” Jennifer said as her little sister got up and ran into her arms.
“Miss Dad. Want Dad and Daddy come home now.”
In spite of Jennifer's best intentions, all of her siblings were now in tears. The girls were uninhibited with their tears, and the three youngest boys were crying, but trying to stop, mumbling things, like “Big boys; we no cry; and hafta be strong for girls.”
Jeff got up and went over to the boys. He brought them together for a guy hug.
“Hey, big boys do so cry. It's okay; you're just expressing how you feel.”
“Not sissy?” Jonny asked.
“Nope,” Jeff said definitively.
“Hey, you know what? We're all so tired. We'll do this tomorrow, okay? How about some ice cream?” Jennifer looked over at Sam and Cassandra, her eyes begging them to allow it. Seeing Sam's nod, Jennifer smiled. “Who wants to help?”
“Ice cream in the morning?” a frowning Cassandra asked Sam quietly.
“Right now, Cass, they can have it all day if it makes them feel any better.”
Cassandra sighed and walked into the hospitality room to help the brood.
With their ice cream eaten, David and Brianna collected all the empty bowls and took them into the hospitality room. As they did that, Jennifer lowered the big screen TV and put on 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' which was one of the brood's favorite movies.
Since they were already sitting on the floor comforters, the teenager tossed everyone a pillow and lay down to watch the movie. All of her brothers and sisters followed suit, and before Hagrid had even tracked down Harry and the Dursleys, everyone was catching a little much needed sleep. All eleven children, along with both beagles and both cats, were sprawled out and intertwined.
Sam wiped back a tear as she tidied up the hospitality room. Cassandra sat quietly on the large sectional, just watching the sleeping children. Her mind was full of thoughts about her two favorite uncles -- Jack and Daniel. They were the most important men in her life, along with her fiancé.
As the credits rolled, the children began to stir. Their much-needed sleep, though brief, had done a world of good.
After Chenoa sat up and rubbed her eyes, she looked at Jennifer and said, “Send Dad love now. Sorry I cry before; not going to cry again.”
With the children back together after bathroom breaks, they again sat in a large circle.
“Okay, we don't need to be sad right now. We have to be happy; we have to celebrate our parents, especially Dad.” Jennifer paused and took a big breath. “Everyone think of one thing that makes you smile about Dad. Remember, nothing sad. We're sending out good vibrations to Dad and Daddy. David, you start,” Jennifer said.
“Teaching me astronomy; I love it when Dad lets me go on the roof deck with him and study the stars from his telescope. I mean, I like it when he helps me with mine, too, but, it's just ... special when we get to use his,“ David said.
“Stories. Dad tells funny stories,” Chenoa added.
“He tells the craziest jokes. Man, what a sense of humor he has,” Jeff chuckled, but then he grew a bit serious as he added, “but I like that he just lets me be me, as long as I like hockey, too.”
Everyone laughed, knowing how each had adopted hockey in one respect or the other to pacify their father.
“Homer; Dad tried to 'tend new fish was Homer. No fool me,” Little Danny contributed. The boy gasped suddenly, putting his hands to his mouth. “Jenny?”
“It 'kay, Little Danny. I know Homer not Homer now,” Jenny sighed.
The little redhead had been the last of the family to realize that the original Homer had died and been replaced by a look-a-like. In fact, she'd only begun to question it when the newest J-O children had been introduced to the fish, and David had accidentally talked about Homer the Second. Though he'd covered his tracks at the time, Jenny had begun to question it and had finally asked her fellow twin about it. Ricky had learned the truth from Jonny previously and so confirmed it for her.
“Whew!” Little Danny sighed, relaxing and grateful he hadn't upset his sister.
“D'oh. Love to hear Dad walk around eating donuts and saying twenty 'd'ohs' in a row. No one d'ohs like Dad,” Brianna said, shaking her head slightly.
“Ash, your turn,” Jennifer said.
“Hands,” she said softly.
“What, Ash?” Brianna asked.
“Dad's hands strong; safe in Dad's hands.”
Brianna leaned over and hugged her younger sister, saying, “You know, Ash, you're right. He's a great hugger!”
“Fly in Jo. Love fly,” Ricky said. “Dad teach me fly when I big.”
Knowing it was her turn, Jenny swayed back and forth, trying not to cry as she spoke, “Love Dad sing me.”
“He will again, Jenny,” Jennifer said reassuringly. “What about you, Lulu?”
“Like that Dad tucks me in. He ... makes sure monsters are gone,” the once-abused little girl said shyly.
“No monsters in this house, Lulu,” Jeff said, “except when Dad growls like a bear.” That brought another round of laughter. “Your turn, Jen.”
“He doesn't have a cow anymore when my blouse doesn't cover my belly button,” the teenager chuckled.
“You mean just as long as you don't leave the house,” Brianna quipped.
“Well, it's progress. You should have seen him in the beginning, Bri,” Jennifer explained.
The children still held hands, as they talked about their dad, and how he made them feel special.
“I kinda wish Jack was my dad,” Cassandra whispered to Sam.
“He and Daniel are great parents.”
“It shows. I hope Dom and I do half as well,” Cassandra said shyly.
“Cassie?” Sam asked the unmarried young woman with a bit of trepidation in her voice.
“No, Sam, I'm not pregnant ... yet,” Cassandra giggled.
That evening, the children were eating dinner when they heard a knock on the door.
Several of the brood made a move to leave their seats, but Janet beat them to it and stopped them by displaying her Little Napoleon face and saying, “I'll be right back.” She went to the door and answered it, breaking into a smile when she saw who it was. She hugged the latest arrival to the home and whispered, “Thank you for coming. They really need you.”
The visitor nodded humbly.
After spending a minute catching up with the visitor, Janet returned to the kitchen and informed, “Noa, you have a visitor.”
At that moment, the visitor walked in and stated, “ChenoaJacksonO'Neill, I regret I could not come sooner.”
The little girl jumped off her chair, the chair actually falling backwards from her momentum. She ran and leaped into her beau's big arms, instantly bursting out into a hundred, mournful tears.
“Daaaaad l...lost; Daddy sc...scaaared,” the curly-haired blonde sobbed as her little arms reached around Teal'c's neck.
Teal'c nodded to the other children as he turned and carried Chenoa into the living room, holding her tightly. Now, more than ever, he wished he had chosen to return to Earth earlier. Jeff Cornell had been right; these people were his family, just as much as Rya'c.
“O'Neill will be fine. You will see. I have seen both your fathers survive much. He will return.”
Meanwhile, Jeff Cornell had also arrived.
“Wooof!” Bijou cried as he picked her up.
“Don't you worry, Bij. That Jack is one tough dude. He'd go crazy without you and the runt.”
Jeff Cornell was the original owner of Bijou and Katie, and while he had hated having to give them up, his wife, Margaret just wasn't much of a dog lover. He'd been happy when Jack had taken the two beagles as surprise birthday presents for Daniel, especially when it meant that he got to come over and visit the girls, which he did frequently.
“Woooof,” Katie cried out as she came scampering in.
“Hey, ya runt,” Jeff said, picking her up, so that now he held both dogs.
While Jeff comforted the beagles, the once talkative children now ate their meal in silence.
“Not hungry,” Jonny said, pushing his plate away.
“Me, neither,” Little Danny agreed.
“And me,” Ash said.
Before Janet could say a word, the Munchkins had gotten off their seats and were huddled together.
“No want food,” Jenny said, scooting off her chair, followed quickly by Ricky who took her hand as they sat down next to the Munchkins on the floor.
“Dad take me dancing,” Lulu said firmly. “He promised me.”
“Dad doesn't break his promises, Lulu,” Brianna said, getting up at the same time Lulu did, both of them joining their siblings.
Jennifer and Jeff looked at Janet who smiled softly. It wasn't that her permission was necessary, but the two teenagers felt responsible for their sibling's actions, and they wanted to make sure Janet wasn't upset about their leaving the table abruptly.
Janet began to clear away the dishes as David joined the others.
“We'll help, Aunt Janet,” Jennifer said.
“No, Jen. You two go be with them. Send out that love.”
Jennifer and Jeff nodded and smiled and quickly joined their brothers and sisters.
~Hungry. What I'd give for a nice bowl of chicken chow mein. WHAT? I hate Chinese, don't I? But, still -- no, this is wrong, I think. I want a steak: a nice, thick, juicy steak. But I want ... teriyaki, too. Why? Geez, I'm confused. Can't think. I may never get out of here, wherever here is.~
Jack continued to walk in the darkness of the mine shaft. His feet and hands were sore from bumping into objects, and his hands and fingers had multiple cuts and bruises.
~Lie down and die. Sounds good. Why am I fighting the inevitable? I'm probably a workaholic, no family, no friends ... no that's not right. There's ... someone ... something ... can't ... can't place it. Hear ... hear what? What's in me that's keeping me going like this? I'm tired; I can barely breathe. Lie down and die. Sounds ... sounds good.~
Jack fell to the ground, lying on his back. He blinked.
~Singing? Is someone singing in this dungeon?~
Unable to concentrate, Jack fell into unconsciousness.
Sam had fallen asleep on the sofa with the TV on and with Bijou nestled in next to her. Suddenly, Bijou's head flew up. A second later, she had jumped off the sofa and run to the door, her tail wagging. The door opened and closed, and Daniel felt the paws of his beloved beagle at his feet. He leaned over, picked her up, rubbing her against his cheek.
“I didn't even find him, Bij.”
“Woof,” spoken softly and comfortingly.
“I love you, too.”
“Daniel,” Sam called out quietly. She drew the two of them into a three-way hug, Bijou licking away the tears that were running down Daniel's cheek. The two hugged a bit longer than normal. She rubbed his back in support, knowing her friend was being put through the wringer. “We aren't giving up, Daniel.”
Daniel pulled back, nodding and inquiring, “The brood?”
“All asleep, in spite of their best efforts to stay awake. Come on. I'll make you some coffee, and you can fill me in.”
“It's impossible, Sam. There's so much snow. The second avalanche killed any chance we had of finding him. He's ...”
“Daniel, you searched that area where he was over and over, right?”
“We tried, but we were only guessing where he was,” Daniel said, his eyes lacking the shine they normally had, a shine that had been put there by Jack Jackson-O'Neill.
“Maybe ... maybe ...”
Daniel reached out and squeezed her hand, nodding as he agreed, “Yeah, maybe. I'm going to go and ... stare at my children. I don't know what to say to them, Sam.”
“The truth, that we don't know where the general is,” Sam stated supportively.
“What?” the blonde questioned.
“Gawd, Sam. His name is Jack,” Daniel said sharply.
Abruptly, Daniel stood and went upstairs.
A roach crawling over his face awoke Jack. Desperate for anything, he grabbed and swallowed it. He struggled to get up, but his body was like an anvil, weighing him down. He crawled ... and crawled ... and crawled some more until he collapsed into sleep.
Daniel ran his hand across Aislinn's forehead, brushing back her long hair.
“Our little miracle. We were so surprised to see you, and you were so tiny.” The sleeping child shifted a little bit, unconsciously moving closer to Daniel. “We hadn't a clue what we were doing, Ash. What were we doing raising children?” He paused, retracting, “Well, maybe Dad had a clue, but that was with one baby, not three at one time.” He smiled, saying, “But you and Jonny and Little Danny ... all our miracles. You gave us so much love and courage to go on. Dad's going to come home, Ash. I don't know how or when, but he'll be back because ... one day, he's going to walk you down the aisle, if he lets you date. Don't worry, Jen's leading the way. She's battling him for all her sisters.”
Daniel leaned over and placed a kiss on her forehead, and then he pulled the covers up to keep her warm.
“Our little miracle,” the father whispered and then stood and walked out of the room.
“Hey, Uni,” Daniel said softly to the toy unicorn Chenoa clutched to her chest. It was a stuffed animal her mother had made and given to her not long before she died. Chenoa was holding it tighter than ever as she lay on her side. “Keep Noa warm,” he said as he started to walk out of the room.
“Daddy,” Lulu called out from her bed.
Daniel had already checked on her, but apparently, the six-year-old had stirred as he was talking to Chenoa's stuffed animal.
“I thought you were asleep,” Daniel said, sitting down on the bed.
“Woke up,” Lulu said in a tiny voice as her eyes moistened.
“Come here, Lulu,” Daniel said. The brown-haired girl quickly moved into his arms. It was then that it hit Daniel as to what day it was. Lulu's birthday had been two days ago, and Daniel had completely forgotten about it until now. “Lulu, I'm so sorry.”
“Me, too. Miss Dad.”
“I ... that's not what I meant.” Daniel readjusted them so that she was sitting on his lap, and he held her close. Placing a kiss on her cheek, he began to rock her. “Lulu, we love you so much. Do you know that?”
“Love you, too,” Lulu responded.
Holding her head in the palm of his hand as they rocked, Daniel placed another kiss on her head, keeping his lips pressed against her skin for several seconds.
“We cheated you, Little Bit.”
“No cheat,” the brunette refuted, yawning.
“You just had a birthday, and I ... gawd, Sweetie, I forgot. I'm so, so sorry. Dad says birthdays are so very important, and he's right; they are. Birthdays are special, and we always celebrate them.”
“Cel'brate when Dad comes home,” Lulu replied. “First, we have to celebrate Dad home. Jen said so.”
“Yes, I've heard about that, and Lulu, we will celebrate your birthday when Dad gets home. We'll make it up to you, because Lulu, you are a precious, precious gift whom we cherish. I need you to know that.”
Jack and Daniel had had plans to spend the day with Lulu on Sunday when she turned six. They were going to take her flying in Jo, just the three of them, and then on a picnic. She'd only been a part of their family for a couple of months, and they felt it was important to celebrate her birthday as completely as possible.
“I know, Daddy.”
“I'm so sorry,” Daniel said again, burying his chin against his daughter's neck, unable to stop the tears.
Daniel was consumed with guilt. Though he hadn't had any other choice, the little girl who was now his daughter deserved more than they had given her, in his mind anyway.
In Lulu's mind, though, she felt nothing but love. All she wanted was Jack to come home.
“We'll get you something extra special for your birthday soon,” Daniel told her.
“Just want Dad,” the little girl maintained.
“Me, too,” the mournful man choked out as he continued to rock her until she fell back to sleep.
It was seventy minutes later when Daniel sank down onto the sofa.
Sam reached over and gently rubbed the side of his head for a moment, after which she commented, “You need to rest.”
“I forgot Lulu's birthday.”
“Oh, gee, Daniel. When was ... oh, it was Sunday, wasn't it? I can't believe I forgot.”
Daniel sighed, “Sam, Jeff, Bri, and Lulu, they have special needs right now. That was so unfair to Lulu.”
“I'm sure she understands.”
“She says she does.” Daniel leaned his head back on the sofa cushion and stared up at the ceiling. “I can't think anymore. I feel ... I feel so empty, and I ... I keep trying to remind myself that he'll be back. We're unbeatable; that's what Jack says.”
“The ... Jack is right. You two have something very rare.”
Daniel looked over at Sam and said, “I'll bet Pete isn't too happy about you being here all the time.”
“Daniel, Pete's been here quite a bit. He understands.”
“He, uh, sort of inherited a ...”
“Family?” After her friend nodded, Sam continued, “Well, after that big tiff we had, when things started to get back on track, I laid it out for him. He knows how I feel about the brood. Besides, he loves them.”
“Jack and I are so lucky. I mean ...”
“I know what you mean. Daniel, don't you think we should call Sara?” Sam queried.
“Not yet. There's nothing she can do, but worry and ruin her trip. They'll be back in another week or so anyway.”
“Sam, why don't you go home? I'm okay,” Daniel lied.
“I don't know, Daniel.”
“Go home, Sam,” Daniel insisted again.
“Janet has the morning shift,” Sam told him as she reluctantly stood to go home for what was left of the night.
Daniel smiled and responded, “Like I said, Jack and I are very lucky.”
--Day 7: Wednesday, December 15
Daniel's attempt at sleep ended slightly before 4 a.m. Dressed in some jeans and Jack's old gray sweatshirt, he went downstairs, followed closely by Bijou, who hadn't let him out of her sight since his return. He picked her up and ran his hand under her chin. She loved that.
“You always do look out for me, Bij.”
Bijou licked Daniel's face, earning her a small and all-too-brief smile from the man holding her.
“Thanks, Bij. I love you.”
Daniel continued to rub under the beagle's chin as he stared at the large Christmas tree that had gone up the week before the ski trip. The Jackson-O'Neills had so many holiday traditions now, only right now it felt more like Doomsday than Christmas to the archaeologist.
If things had been normal, today the couple would have gone shopping for more Christmas presents. Several gifts were already under the tree, but they still had more of their 'Santa' shopping to do, gifts that they would keep hidden from the children so they could produce them as gifts from Santa Claus.
Still holding Bijou, Daniel went to the tree and reached out to cradle, in the palm of his free hand, the angel ornament that was responsible for the nickname of 'Angel' that Jack so often called him. The ornament had been Charlie's.
“Look after him, Charlie. Help him find his way home.”
Bijou licked Daniel's neck, causing him to refocus on her.
“You're right. Okay, positive thinking. Let's, uh, look at this from a ... a tactical point of view,” Daniel stated as he turned away from the tree. “So what do we know?” He stood near the back of the sofa as he thought. “We know there were two avalanches. We know David saw Jack heading towards the 'no ski' zone because he thought he'd seen something there. We know there are a lot of mines.”
“Woof, woof,” Bijou said in a hushed bark, after which she nudged him.
“The mine shafts?” Daniel asked.
Big, black eyes seemed to urge the thoughtful man on.
“Okay, well, it ... it might make sense because we couldn't find him. We searched and eventually found the boys who had been lost. Jack couldn't have been buried in ...” Daniel shivered at his choice of words, but after a moment, he continued, “He should have been reachable, so ... Bij, what if he fell through one of those abandoned mines, and then the snow covered it up?”
The mama beagle nudged her owner again, right at the base of his neck.
“Right, so ... he'd be hurt, obviously, and in ... in one of those cold, dark ... gawd, Bij, he's lost in one of those mines,” Daniel said, quickly walking over to stare out at their huge backyard. “I feel it. I mean, I can't feel him, but I just know.”
Daniel turned and sat down on the sofa, Bijou on his lap, as he processed what was running through his brain. For a second, he had had real hope, but as he continued to think about it, doubt began creeping in.
“But even if that's what happened, Bij, am I just indulging in wishful thinking? Granted, it's a possibility, but there's still no way to find him. Besides, we only know the general area he was in before the avalanche hit.”
Several minutes passed before Daniel spoke again. He'd been lost in thought; empty thought; not really focusing on anything. Blinking several times, he took a deep breath.
“Well, that's what we know Bij. Jack is missing, and I don't know how to find him. So, what do we need? Gawd, we need Jack. I need Jack so much it hurts.”
Bijou stood up on her hind legs, her front paws pressed against Daniel's chest as she gave him a few kisses and again nudged him.
However, Daniel was full of too much sorrow to continue his military-style critique.
“We need to keep the faith, and we need to find out more,” Jennifer interjected from over by the stairs. She was standing with her arms crossed in front of her and gave Daniel a small smile when he turned his head to face her. “If he's in a mine, are there maps of the mine shafts? How about the SGC and all that fancy equipment? I mean, can't they detect things? And ... if he fell through an opening, then wouldn't there have to be another opening? And one more thing -- where's Thor when you need him? Can't the little gray guy just beam Dad up or something?”
Daniel gave his oldest daughter a tiny smile as he asked, “Wanna come sit?”
Jennifer nodded and took a seat next to her father. She leaned into him as Daniel put his left arm around her shoulders.
“There's always an 'or', Daddy,” the girl said, repeating one of Jack's many mantras.
“Always,” Daniel agreed and kissed Jennifer's forehead. “I'll make some calls this morning. I do know that they've mapped the locations of many mines all across the state, but still, there are hundreds, Jen, and a lot of the time, they aren't found until someone falls into one. If that second avalanche hadn't happened, we would have had a real chance, but there's too much snow there now.” Speaking honestly with his daughter, Daniel said, “Jen, I think ... we have to hope that Dad didn't get hurt so badly that he can't find a way out.”
“Special Ops, Daddy. He's the best, right?”
“Oh, yeah. He's the best,” the father affirmed.
“Daddy, what about Thor?” Jennifer questioned, knowing the Asgard was capable of many things that couldn't even fathom.
Daniel sighed, “I've tried to contact him, but he hasn't responded.”
“Yet,” Jennifer added confidently.
Daniel smiled, placed a kiss on her cheek, and with moisture in his eyes, said, “Yet.”
Jack's eyelids slowly began to flutter open. He'd been asleep for an undetermined period of time, and he was weak from the lack of food and water, though he continued to find droplets of water now and then along the walls of the mine shaft.
~I'm going to die in this hellhole, and I don't even know where I am.~ He snorted as he struggled to get off the cold surface. ~What does it matter where I am or even why I'm here? I don't even friggin' know my name.~
Still, something inside him made him continue to try. He moved slowly, every step a concerted effort. His hands now used the wall for support, and then he saw it -- light. It was small and in the distance, but it was there.
Hope now filled his being, and he moved just a bit faster as he proceeded through the mine.
“Daniel, Sam called last night and told me you were home,” Janet said as she embraced the weary archaeologist.
“There wasn't any reason to stay, Janet. The second avalanche wiped away any chance we had of finding Jack.”
“Sweetie, you have to stay strong for those beautiful kids of yours.” Janet pulled back, but her hands slid down Daniel's arms so that she could take his hands in hers. “There is no one stronger or more capable of finding his way home than Jack Jackson-O'Neill.”
“I know. I just hope he's strong enough,” Daniel commented, his eyes dull and betraying his words.
“Where's the brood?” Janet inquired.
“In their rooms, all ... huddled together. The twins aren't up yet.”
Janet led the way into the living room. Daniel followed her all the way to the kitchen.
“Have they had breakfast?” Daniel nodded. “You? Never mind. Don't answer that,” the petite physician said as she pulled out some ingredients. “I'm making you food, Daniel -- *real* food -- and you *will* eat it.”
“Janet ...” Daniel began to argue.
“Daniel, your husband will have my hide if, *when* he gets home, you're in the hospital. Do you understand me? I am not about to be lectured by him for that. No way,” she said with a mock shudder, continuing her task and shaking her head. “Been there, done that. That man has no tolerance for any of us if we don't make sure you take care of yourself. I can just hear him. There isn't anyone ...”
Daniel smiled as Janet continued her rant, all designed to encourage him. He sat down quietly at the table and watched the diminutive doctor prepare breakfast, a meal he did eat in its entirety.
~Have to get to the light.~ Jack had continued walking towards the light, though he stumbled from time to time. ~Crap, maybe I shouldn't go towards the light. Isn't that what they say you see when you die? I don't want to die. I have ...~
The confused man stopped. There was something. It seemed so very important to him, but now it was gone.
~Reason: I need to live for a reason, but I don't know why.~ Then he became aware of his hand, and he brought it close to his eyes. ~Ring. I'm married? I hope he's beautiful, like an angel. Did I just say he? Must be the lack of food and water. I hope *she* is beautiful.~ He coughed, then walked a few more steps. ~Have to live, for her. Wait, maybe I'm a widower. No, maybe I'm divorced. Why would I wear a ring if ... oh shut up, and get out of here.~
Frustrated at his inability to remember, Jack forged ahead.
~Water. Please, water.~
Jack leaned up against a wall, exhausted. He leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and tried to calm himself as his breathing was labored. Then he felt the moisture.
Turning around, Jack used his tongue to lick in some of the moisture that seeped down the wall of the mine shaft.
It wasn't much, but he took in enough to keep himself going, or so he hoped.
As he moved forward, Jack only managed to get a few yards before he fell down again, and this time he didn't have the strength to get up. Even with the water he had licked up, his throat felt dry, and he was sure he had a fever.
~Gonna lie here and die.~
“Hurry, Daddy,” David said as he hurried into the family room.
Daniel looked over from his spot by the Christmas tree and stared at the fleeing boy.
“Come on, Daddy; it's time,” Brianna said as she, too, hurried through the living room.
“Time for what?” Daniel asked, watching his children running by him, one by one.
“Daddy, let's go,” Jonny said as he and Ricky came inside the house and headed for the family room.
Daniel looked all around, startled and confused by the sudden procession of children. Curious, he went to the family room. Janet was standing at the doorway, smiling at the children and then at Daniel when she saw him.
“Do you know what's going on, Janet?” Daniel asked as he moved to her right, standing with his hands in his pockets.
“They're sending out their love, just like you asked them to do,” the physician answered.
Daniel stared at her for several seconds and then looked over at his children. All eleven were seated on the floor in a circle, holding hands.
Janet explained, “They've done this every day since you told Little Danny to send their love to Jack: once in the morning and once in the afternoon.”
“Daddy, are you going to sit with us?” Jennifer asked.
The loving father saw all the expectant faces. Nodding, he went and took the spot they had opened up for him. Daniel took the hands of the two children he sat between: Lulu and David. Then, one by one, the children did what they always did: each spoke of something special about Jack, which led to laughter over past experiences.
~There's so much love.~ **We're sending our love, Jack. Please feel it. I know you can't hear me, but My Love, please feel us.**
Jack felt a jolt go through him, but he couldn't figure out what it was. He tilted his head to look back toward the light, and saw the brightness had grown. Somehow, suddenly, he found the energy to try again. Turning over, he crawled a few feet before he resolved to stand again.
~Something; have to live; there's a ... a reason.~
Finally, Jack reached the light that was filtering through a pile of wood. One by one, Jack peeled away the boards. Splinters impaled themselves in his hands, but he ignored the annoyance. He was close now; freedom was on the horizon.
The virtually-enslaved man worked hard at his efforts, his cough worsening, and then a moment he hated.
Jack vomited, the effects of both his concussion and partial dehydration taking their toll. For a moment, he sat against the wall, his head reeling.
~I have to get out of here now!~
More determined, Jack stood and quickly gripped the wall with his hands. In addition to everything else, he was dizzy, the darkness of the mine spinning around, mixing in with the light that signaled freedom.
Shoving aside his physical problems, Jack fought for survival by continuing to pull the boards away. He had to overcome the pain and the injuries, or he'd soon die.
“Okay, let's end with our song,” Jennifer said, picking up the remote and turning it on.
Tears welled in Daniel's eyes as he watched every child sing 'Celebrate Me Home'. Even Ricky and Jenny knew the lyrics, but what amazed him were the smiles on their children's faces.
~Smiles of love and hope, all for Jack. Come home to me, Jack. Come home to us,~ Daniel silently begged, trying, but unable to sing the song.
“THIS IS FRIGGIN' RIDICULOUS!” Jack shouted, slamming his right hand against the cold wall of the mine shaft. “OUCH! OH FOR ... CRAP!” he exclaimed, cursing at the self-inflicted pain.
The weary man collapsed down onto the dirty ground. Lying back and closing his eyes, Jack could feel the sweet arms of oblivion beckoning him to lay down all care and worry.
~I wonder if the Sioux think this is a good day to die?~ Jack frowned and raised his head up slightly. He looked around, seeing nothing but blackness. He felt weak, and his entire body ached. “Fine, I'm yours. Take me!” the injured man told the darkness, ready to abandon all thoughts of survival and struggle and instead, drown in oblivion's comforting blackness of death. ~Works for me,~ he thought as he tossed his head back and forth a few times.
Jack was tired and alone, and while a part of him wanted to live, another part was ready to give up the ghost. It was a contradiction brought about by Fate's decision to put a fighting warrior slash family man into nothing but darkness and grime, with little hope of rescue.
~I could fight, or ... I think I like the 'or'. I'll just let it all go. Why am I fighting so hard anyway? Just close your eyes ... whoever I am and in just a few minutes more, I'll slide into home like a batter rounding third base. Mmm,~ Jack chuckled. “Do I like baseball? I don't care. *Here I am. Take me!*” he yelled, not really believing anything would happen and yet needing to hear a sound, any sound, to stay sane. “It would be so much easier to die.”
Jack began to give up, his mind and body turning numb and limp as he headed for an unknown darkness. Was he asleep, or losing consciousness? Was he about to die? He didn't know, and he didn't care. Until suddenly, something gave him pause. He blinked, unsure yet if he was awake or in some other phase of existence. He saw what he could only describe as a vision. It was vague, just colors at first -- yellows, reds, oranges.
~I'm seeing a fire. No, not a fire.~
There were more colors -- reds, browns, rusts -- but he couldn't determine what it was, and he certainly had no clue where it was.
It was an incredible moment when the colors and the voices merged, and in that instant, Jack was hit in the gut with the unequivocal desire to live. He shook his head as his delirium lost its hold. He kept his eyes closed, but the inviting blackness had retreated, put off by the vision of colors and voices that somehow filled him with peace and resolve.
~Well, that was like the Twilight Zone for a minute. Great, I must like baseball and the Twilight Zone. Sweet!~ Jack blinked as he reflected on his word choice. ~Forget about it; you don't have time to analyze losing your mind, so get your butt in gear and get out of this nightmare.~
Later that afternoon, Daniel again called the children together. He'd made a decision, and he needed to share it with them. They assembled in the living room.
“Um, listen. We're not giving up hope. The snow stopped this morning, and there's supposed to be a break in the weather for two, maybe three days. I spoke with the lady in charge of the rescue detail and, well, she said if the snow settles, we can go back in tomorrow and look some more.”
“You find Dad,” Jenny said confidently.
“That's the plan,” Daniel responded, trying to sound firm. “Uh, Christmas ... we're going to have Christmas, but, I ...” He paused, looking at the sad faces in front of him. “Christmas always comes, but we might not be able to do everything this year. We, uh, need to go shopping for ...” Daniel stopped, feeling like he was giving a lecture. “Uh ...”
“We do Christmas when Dad back,” Chenoa said.
Just then Jenny gasped.
“Jenny, are you okay?” Daniel asked, immediately walking towards her, worried her allergies had kicked up.
“Have to write Santa,” Jenny answered. She looked at Jennifer, saying, “'Portant, Jen. Help me?”
The light bulb turned on in the teenager's head, and she nodded. The other toddlers also seemed to catch on.
“Jeff, help me?” Ricky asked, getting up and tugging on his big brother's arm. “Need write Santa.”
“Little Danny, we have to write Santa, too,” Jonny said, scooting off the sofa and grabbing his brother's hand. “Ash, c'mon.”
Daniel stood by quietly as the youngest children headed for their rooms, dragging Jennifer and Jeff with them.
Left on the sofa were David and Brianna. Brianna stood and walked toward Daniel. She glanced at David before looking at Daniel again.
“You know, I'm too old to believe in Santa Claus,” the tomboy stated.
“Santa's in your heart,” Daniel responded quietly.
David got up and looked at the tree; then he turned to face Daniel and Brianna and opined from his heart, “I think he's real.”
In a sudden flash, David ran upstairs, leaving Brianna standing near Daniel. She looked at him and sighed.
After another moment, the newly adopted little girl stated, “Not so long ago, I didn't believe in this family either. A girl can learn. I think ... I think I'm going to go write a letter, too.”
As she walked away, Daniel called out, “Bri.” When she turned, he inquired, “When's the last time you believed in Santa Claus?”
“I never did,” Brianna answered truthfully. Then she added, “But if he brings Dad home, I'll believe in him forever.”
The light was so close; Jack could even feel the warmth of the sun, but there was so much debris covering the opening he'd found. His fingers were raw from clawing at scraps of wood, and his hands bloodied from cuts and scrapes as he pried off bigger pieces.
The weary and injured man had been digging his way out for hours, pushing away rocks that were also blocking the path.
~So close. I can't. I just can't,~ Jack thought in despair as he was about to give up.
Meanwhile, in Colorado Springs, Jennifer and Jeff were helping their siblings with their letters to Santa. Ricky and Jenny couldn't write very well, and the Munchkins wanted their letters to be just perfect.
“Jen, tell Santa,” Jenny requested.
“I'll tell him whatever you want, Jenny. What would you like me to say?”
Jenny thought, and then she answered, “Dear Santa, Love you lots. Please send Dad home; no need presents; just need Dad. Love, Jenny.”
Jennifer nodded and wrote the note, giving it to the toddler to sign.
Of the triplets, Aislinn's handwriting was the best, but she wasn't sure of the spelling, so Jeff helped her with the note, that read:
We have lot; give all back if you bring Dad home. Dad takes care of me; love him. He's all I want for Christmas. You can take my new dolly and give it someone else. Bring Dad home. Love you lots!
Thirty minutes later, Jennifer sat at the end of Lulu's bed. In her hand, she held letters written to Santa by Jenny, Ricky, Lulu, and Chenoa.
Jack was just about ready to sink into unconsciousness when words came from nowhere.
“Please send Dad home; no need presents; just need Dad.”
Jack's mind began to wander. What had he just heard? Strange words in a child's voice. He remembered his vision from earlier in the day, the myriad of colors and indistinct voices.
~Great. I'm not just dying in some snake pit, but now I'm losing my mind, too.~
Jack coughed a few times, his lungs hurting from the effort. He wiped his brow, a combination of sweat from his work and his rising fever. Then he heard it again.
“Dad takes care of me; love him. He's all I want for Christmas.”
“Okay, Kid, whoever you are. Get out of my brain,” the amnesiac father spoke aloud. He shook his upper body, as if trying to shake off the strangeness of hearing a voice that wasn't there. “Oh, for crying out loud,” he suddenly uttered, the words snapping him into alertness. They had a familiar ring to them, and he had started to say them earlier, too. Maybe all hope wasn't lost. ~Okay, maybe I won't die just yet.~
Trembling slightly, Jack's hands reached out, removing the next piece of wood that was blocking his way.
“Here's mine,” Jeff said, walking in and sitting down next to his sister. He had letters written by Jonny, Little Danny, Aislinn, and David. “They worked hard on these.”
“Call me a sap,” Brianna called out as she, too, sat on the bed. “I never thought I'd write a letter to Santa Claus,” she said, handing it to Jeff to add to the pile.
“Why did you, Bri?” Jeff asked.
“Because I just found this place, and I like it here. I have ... people who ...”
“Love you,” Jennifer spoke, smiling as she completed her sister's sentence.
“Yeah. Life's no picnic when all you have is yourself. Being tough never made me happy,” the short-haired girl stated, bowing her head evasively.
“I can't believe you're saying that,” Jeff said. “What I mean is that you always like to be, you know, independent.”
“A couple weeks ago, Dad and I had this long talk. He told me how he was before he met Daddy. You know, right?” Brianna asked, her jet black eyes questioning the two.
“Yeah. He was real unhappy,” Jeff said. “Very tough, but completely miserable.”
“Charlie had died, and Aunt Sara ...” Jennifer trailed off. “You know that still wigs me out, how Dad's ex-wife is ... geez, she's a friend and a ...”
“Mother,” Brianna said, happy that she, too, could complete Jennifer's sentence. ~Like we're really sisters, and we are!~
“Yeah. It's crazy, but it's the real thing,” Jennifer agreed.
Brushing her bangs back, Brianna continued, “Dad said he had shut himself off from everyone. He was tough, didn't need anyone or anything because he felt alone and like he'd already lost everything. We talked about that a long time. I don't know. Being tough keeps the pain away, except it doesn't really because it means not being who we are.”
“Living a lie,” Jeff said.
Brianna smiled, and after a moment, she commented, “I don't have to lie to myself anymore. I don't need to ... to protect myself because now ... now, uh, ...”
“Now you have Dad and Daddy, and Jeff and me, and ...”
“And a whoooooole bunch of brothers and sisters,” Brianna chuckled.
“You've come a long way in just a few months, Bri,” Jennifer said. “I'm glad you're my sister.”
Brianna smiled, knowing the words were unsolicited and came from Jennifer's soul.
“Jen, I don't think I could stand to lose this now. I'm afraid that I'll ...” Brianna admitted, feeling free to let her emotions out.
Jeff put his arm around Brianna, pulled her to him in a hug, and comforted her by saying, “Bri, we're all a family now, and no one is going to let you put the walls back up. You're our sister. Dad's coming home. We just have to believe.”
Inspired by something deep within her, Jennifer stood and walked over to the desk. She pulled out a piece of paper and began to write.
“Jen, what are you doing?” Jeff asked.
“Go ahead and laugh. I'm writing Santa.”
When she was done, Jennifer handed all the letters she had, including hers to Jeff. He stared at them, and then he stood and reached into his back jeans pocket, pulling out an envelope.
“You didn't?” Jennifer asked in amazement.
“I don't believe it,” Brianna said.
Jeff nodded, adding his own letter to Santa Claus, making a total of eleven letters.
“We need to mail these ... tonight,” Jeff stated.
United, the three went downstairs. It was dinner time, and Sam and Lou had both arrived to check on Daniel and the children. They, along with Janet and Trina, the Ferretti's adopted daughter, were catching up on the day's events.
“Trina, hi,” Jennifer said, seeing her friend and walking over to her.
“Daddy,” Jeff spoke quietly as he approached, the letters in his hand in front of him. “Will you take us to the post office?”
Daniel saw the bunch of letters in his son's hands and remarked, “That's a lot of letters.”
“Eleven,” Jeff responded.
“Eleven,” Daniel echoed, staring intently into Jeff's eyes and then Jennifer's.
“We'll mail them for you, Jeff,” Lou volunteered.
“No,” Brianna objected, moving forward. “I mean, thank you, but ... we need to mail them. It's important that we do it ourselves.”
Daniel understood and nodded. Sometimes it was necessary to do things personally.
“Let's go,” the archaeologist agreed.
“Daniel,” Janet said, giving him a warning look.
“I'm fine, Janet.”
Janet wanted to object, believing Daniel was still too upset and tired to drive; and yet, she knew this was something the Jackson-O'Neills had to do alone.
Jack yelled, “*Yes!*” when the last board flew out of his hands, clearing a large enough passageway for him to squeeze out of his hole.
The man was sure that if he'd spent a moment longer trapped in that mine, he would have gone stark raving mad. He was a little afraid that he was already there. The kids voices had kept on coming, all sounding different and all calling him Dad.
After gulping in the fresh air, Jack examined his surroundings. The ground was completely covered with snow, and the sun was almost completely set.
~Plenty of snow at least I won't be thirsty anymore.~
Jack roamed around the area, turning around and around, praying he'd recognize something, but he didn't.
~I'm free. Free to ... where am I? Who am I? I ... I need ... I ...~
Jack fell to the snowy ground, tumbling down a short hill. If he didn't freeze to death during the night, he might live to see another sunrise.
--Day 8: Thursday, December 16
“Daniel, I know you want to go back out, but we have plenty of manpower now,” Sue Hendricks said.
Daniel had risen before sunrise and driven to the lodge, against Janet's wishes, leaving the children in the care of Cassandra and Mrs. Valissi.
“Look, all I'm asking is that you let me go out with one of the search parties,” Daniel pleaded as he stood with his feet planted firmly on the ground and his arms folded across his chest. ~I'm going back out!~
The woman sighed, looking at the man before her. He had bags under his bloodshot eyes, and his hair was mussed. She could hear the stress in his strained voice. She could say no, but if she did, she had a hunch he'd do it on his own ~and then I'd have another person to rescue!~
“Okay, but please, don't expect much. We've had an incredible amount of snowfall in addition to the avalanche.”
“I just ... I need to try.”
Jack rolled over, staring up at the sky. He was shivering, the chill going right through to his bones, but he was still breathing.
~Well, what do you know: I'm alive.~
The general grabbed some snow and put it in his mouth. It was the first real moisture he'd felt in days. For the next several minutes, he ate snow, his body desperately needing the water since he was close to dehydrating.
The weakened man stood, walked two steps, and slipped on the snow, falling to the ground. He wasn't sure if his fall was a result of the snow itself, his ailing ankle, or the fact that the world seemed to be spinning around him. Slowly sitting up, he decided to just stay where he was for a while. Jack brought his hands to his head, burying his face in them. Listlessly, he slid his hands down, his body about to succumb to his dizziness and numbness from being in the snow for so long.
Thinking about the object diverted Jack's attention from his physical condition.
The general had lost weight, and the ring didn't fit as firmly on his finger as it had before. Carefully, Jack slid the ring off his finger. It was hard to focus, but he could tell there was writing on the inside. It took him a couple of minutes to finally be able to read the entire inscription:
Jack and Daniel - always and forever
“Okay, now I know I've lost my mind. Am I such a bum that I couldn't buy her a new ring? Geez, probably got this at some pawn shop.”
Jack put the ring back on, twisting the ring around and around as he became lost in thoughts he couldn't even focus on.
“Jack and Daniel,” Jack muttered. “Stupidest thing I've ever heard of.” Yet, he couldn't let go of the names. ~Daniel?~
Suddenly, an image of a heart flashed in front of him, and for a strange reason, Jack felt warm for a few seconds.
~Heart? Why when I think 'Daniel' do I think of a heart?~
Jack checked his chest. Had he had surgery? Was Daniel a doctor?
~Daniel heart. Maybe's it's a name. Daniel Hart, not heart.~
Dismissing the inscription, Jack stood, but then he reached up and scratched his head.
“Am I Jack, or am I Daniel?” Confused more than ever, Jack shook his head as he decided, “No, I think I'm ... Homer. I keep seeing that name ... Homer.” ~Think. Come on. You have to know your own name. Think!~ He ordered his mind to be logical and rational. After a minute passed, he said, “I got nothin'.”
Forgetting his identity crisis for the moment, Jack went in search of civilization. He knew he needed to find someone, anyone and get to a hospital. Every movement hurt, and Jack soon realized he must have some internal injuries. In the mine shaft, it had hurt to move, too, but he had assumed, or perhaps just hoped, that the pain was from the cramped quarters he was in. Now, though, it was clear he'd broken or pulled something.
As he evaluated his pain, Jack became aware that his movements hurt the most when he did what was the simplest of things: breathing.
“Crap, I must have broken a couple of ribs.”
“Oh, well, I don't know, Mrs. Payne. Um, Uncle Daniel isn't home right now, and I'm not sure if he wants any of the kids to go out,” Cassandra said, unsure of the correct course of action.
“Dear, it would be good for them,” Mrs. Valissi said from her spot on the sofa.
Cassandra nodded and said into the phone, “Mrs. Payne, would it be all right if I call you back? I'll talk to Noa and see how she feels.”
A moment later, Cassandra hung up. She sighed as she turned back around to face Sophia Valissi, the Jackson-O'Neill's neighbor and long-time friend and confidante.
“Cassie, the children need normalcy. This is a very trying time, but they need air, and they need the support of others, as well as their family.”
“I guess you're right.”
Cassandra headed upstairs to talk to Chenoa. Mrs. Payne's daughter, Chloe, had asked if Chenoa could come over for a little while and play. She also wanted her to have dinner with them. Chenoa and Chloe were very good friends, and had gone through several Kinder Camps and similar programs together.
“Noa, what are you doing?” Cassandra asked, entering the young girl's bedroom which she shared with Lulu.
“Drawing picture for Dad. See!”
Chenoa held up a piece of paper. It was full of roughly drawn people.
Cassandra smiled as she studied the drawing, observing in question, “A family portrait?”
“Dad likes pictures.”
Cassandra sat down on one of the tiny chairs that was part of Chenoa's tea set, a present given to her quite a while ago for her 'dates' with Teal'c.
“I drew him a flower once. He loves flowers,” Cassandra noted. There was a pause as Cassandra remembered Jack and then as she pondered her decision to let Chenoa leave the house. “Noa, Mrs. Payne called. She's invited you to go over to her place and play with Chloe for a little while. Would you like that?”
“What if Dad comes home?”
“I'll come get you,” the young woman responded as she gently put her hand on the little's girl back. “Would you like to go?”
Chenoa shrugged her shoulders.
Cassandra was tempted to let it go, except Mrs. Valissi's words about getting out kept circling through her mind. She remembered how she herself had wanted to be a hermit for a long time after her parents had been killed on Hanka.
“Tell ya what,” Cassandra began. “Mrs. Payne volunteered to come and pick you up. You can go to her house and play for an hour or two and then have dinner with them. If your dad comes home, I'll come and pick you up right away, and if you get there and decide you want to come home earlier, then you call me, and I'll come right away.”
“Promise?” Chenoa asked.
“Promise,” Cassandra pledged with a smile as she crossed her heart.
“I go play with Chloe,” the curly-haired youngster decided.
Cassandra watched Chenoa put away her crayons and get ready.
~I hope Uncle Daniel doesn't mind, but all of you need to ... Uncle Jack is alive, and he'll be angry if we've all just sat around like sacks of potatoes.~
Going downstairs a minute later, Cassandra called Mrs. Payne and finalized the arrangements. Ten minutes later, the woman arrived with Chloe and headed back to her home with Chenoa in tow.
~Okay, this is no good. I'm falling down every two steps because of this blasted ankle. I need something, a support. Okay, whoever I am, look around.~
Limping over to a tree, Jack struggled for several minutes to pull down a small branch that was hanging downward from the tree. He yanked off some of the protruding twigs and broke off the end pieces. It was awkward, but his makeshift cane provided him some much-needed support as he continued his efforts to climb off the mountain and find help.
A while later, Jack realized he needed padding for his bootless foot. He still had his sock, but it had a hole in it and wasn't providing the protection Jack needed, something he could tell as the cold began to seep through his body. He began to notice that his foot was becoming a bit numb.
~Need something; leaves even.~
With the snow covering the mountainside, it wasn't easy, but Jack took whatever he could find and placed it inside his sock. It was a strange feeling, walking on a small mound of moist leaves and a piece of newspaper he had found wedged by a tree, but it seemed to help him a little.
~Just keep going. No matter what, keep moving. Don't stop.~
Jack's head was throbbing. He'd been eating snow all day, unable to find anything else. He began to wonder if he was on some strange planet somewhere, not seeing anything in the distance but snow and trees.
~That's an odd thing to think.~ Why would he be on another planet? ~I must watch too many science fiction shows.~
Beads of sweat covered his body as the sun set. He had no idea how far he'd walked. Truth was, he was surprised he had been able to walk, even with his branch crutch. Finally, though, the snow was subsiding a little. It didn't seem as deep to him as before. He looked around for shelter, finally finding a cluster of trees that he thought might soften the impact of the winds.
A few moments later, as Jack approached the trees, he noticed a deer several yards away eating the bark off of a tree
“Good idea; thanks Bambi.” Sitting down, Jack pulled at the bark of the tree and began to eat it. Grimacing from the taste, he opined, ~I think I'd prefer a steak.~
I gotta count on being gone,
Come on woman, come on daddy,
Be what you want from me,
I’m this strong, I’ll be weak
Please, celebrate me home,
Give me a number,
Please, celebrate me home ...
“They have so much trust in their little circle,” Mrs. Valissi said quietly to Cassandra as the two women watched the Jackson-O'Neill children sing their song for their lost father.
“I think it's helping them to cope,” Cassandra observed.
Mrs. Valissi nodded, then said, “I'll make them hot cocoa, and then it's time for these precious ones to get some sleep.”
Cassandra nodded as Mrs. Valissi walked into the kitchen and pulled out the necessary ingredients.
The family circle had happened later than usual since Chenoa had been at the Payne's, but soon after her return, they had gathered together to talk about their dad and to celebrate him home.
“*Will you please get out of my head!*” Jack shouted at the chorus he kept hearing in his head. The colors and voices had returned, as they seemed to do once or twice a day, but he could never latch on to the specifics. “I'd just as soon go insane quietly, especially when I'm dining on tree bark and white powder,” he whined, grabbing a handful of snow and stuffing it into his mouth.
Daniel lay awake in his bed at the lodge. It was well after midnight. He'd checked in with Cassandra, who told him about Chenoa's successful visit with Mrs. Payne.
“I hope you don't mind, Uncle Daniel,” Cassandra had said.
“No, Cass, Mrs. Valissi was right. They ... they need to have some ... they, uh ... she was right,” Daniel had mumbled.
The two had talked for a few more minutes before hanging up. Daniel felt guilty about neglecting their children, but he couldn't just leave the search for Jack to others. He kept hoping that sooner or later, preferably sooner, the connection he and his soulmate shared would rekindle itself, something that was more likely to happen if they were in close proximity.
~I have to stay here.~
Staring at the ceiling, Daniel's mind went back several years, to a conversation with his lover on the roof deck of their house. They'd made a pact, and it was one both made with a solemnness that ripped Daniel's heart in two at the moment. The truthfulness of their words at the time, words repeated a few times since then, now filled his heart.
“I can't live without you, Jack. You have to find your way home because ... I ... I can't find you. I don't know how to find you. Come home, My Love.”
Daniel turned over on his side, not even trying to stop his tears from falling. He was so tired, not just physically, but emotionally. He wanted to believe, to not give up, but the emptiness inside him was crushing to nothingness whatever hope he had. In one sense, their children were keeping him going, but not by much. Jack was his heart and soul, and without Jack, Daniel felt like nothing more than a breathing machine, a vessel through which blood flowed.
**Come home to me, Jack. Please come home.**
--Day 9: Friday, December 17
With the beginning of a new day, Jack continued his stumbled descent to what he hoped was civilization. Relief and hope floated through him when he saw a shack in the distance.
As quickly as he could, he made his way there. It was almost entirely empty but in one corner he found a worn old blanket and, nestled amongst fragments of burnt paper, a package of matches. Looking around, he didn't see anything else worth much, but that was okay: the matches were worth their weight in gold.
“Daniel, I'm sorry, and I'm sorry that all I keep saying to you is that I'm sorry, but the search has been officially called off,” the head of the rescue operations informed him. “There just isn't anything more we can do. Wherever your husband is, it'll be spring before we find him. I'm very sorry.”
Sue Hendricks left the devastated archaeologist standing at the center of the lodge's lobby. He knew she was right about one thing: they wouldn't find Jack at the site of the avalanche. They had searched the area thoroughly. Now, he had to move on, not to a life without Jack, but to the next possibility of how to find him.
“If he's in a mine, are there maps of the mine shafts?”
Jennifer's question from days earlier thundered through his mind.
“Okay, Jen, it's time to find out. No, it's time to find the maps and go searching for the mine shafts.” Daniel headed for his car, gaining more resolve with each step. By the time he sat down in the Silver Fox, he was ready for anything. He picked up his cell phone. “Sam, I need more information on the mine shafts.”
“You tell me what you want, and I'll get it,” Sam responded, happy to hear some spunk coming from her heartbroken friend. ~That's it, Daniel, and now it's up to me.~
“Don't wanna,” Jonny pouted.
“Son, Dad doesn't want us sitting around moping. Now, I have a lot of work to do. I'm going to try to find him, and I really need your help,” Daniel pleaded.
“I help you,” the little boy said.
“Really?” Daniel asked gently.
The boy nodded as he asked, “What you want me to do, Daddy?”
“I need to know that you're safe, and that you're doing the best thing for you right now.”
“You want me play with Kyle,” Jonny pouted again, folding his arms and tapping his foot repeatedly against the carpet.
“I want you and Little Danny to play with Kyle at his house for a while, and while you're doing that, Ash will be at Maria's. Noa and Lulu are going to their dance class, and Brianna is going with them today. Jen and Jeff are taking David to a science fair at the mall, and Jenny and Ricky are going sledding with Cassie and Dom.”
“Why, Daddy? Why you want us all go away?” Jonny asked beseechingly.
Jonny was trying to be a tough soldier like his Dad, but there were tears glistening in his eyes.
“No, Son, I don't want you all to go away,” Daniel said, picking him up. “Dad wants us to spend time with our friends. How do you think he's going to feel when he comes home and finds out we've all just sat here like lazy people?”
“He get mad,” Jonny answered without hesitation.
“That's right. Jonny, it's just for a few hours, but everyday, we're going to work on getting back into a routine because Dad will be very angry if all we do is ...” Daniel paused, remembering that the truth was always the best thing. “I need you to help me, Son, because to be honest, I don't know that I can do this by myself, not unless you help me.”
Jonny's arms went around his father as he sniffled, “I help. We go play with Kyle.”
“I love you, Jonny. You're so much like your dad,” Daniel sniffled as well, his hand securely on Jonny's back as they hugged.
“Gonna be pilot,” Jonny said with pride.
“Dad'll like that.”
“Little Danny be 'rgologist. We be team!”
Daniel sighed, “The best team.” His voice cracked as he echoed, “You'll be the best team,” and held Jonny tightly once again.
“It was so hard, Sam, but I realized when Cassandra told me about Mrs. Payne's phone call yesterday that the children were living in a ... a frozen bubble. They need to see their friends; they can't just stay in the house, waiting. Gawd, the waiting is horrible,” Daniel said as they met at the SGC to talk about the mine shafts.
“You did the right thing,” Sam assured him.
“Then why do I feel like such a heel?” Daniel asked as he leaned forward, his hands gripping Sam's work table tightly.
“Because you love your children, and it's hard to make them do something they don't want to, even when you know it's for their own good.”
“We have to find him,” Daniel said, his blue eyes red and puffy from bouts of fallen tears.
“And to that end,” Sam said, pulling out several geographical maps of the area in which the lodge was located. “Here's the lodge, and this is where the avalanches occurred. Now right here, there is a long line of old mines that have been found over the years. Daniel, it's not hard to imagine that the ... that Jack fell into one.”
“Okay, let's assume he did. If he fell in a mine around here, he'd have to find a way out. Which way, Sam?”
“Well, that's what we don't know. Daniel, it could take a very long time, and we might not have any luck. The 'x's are known mines, but there are more that we have no clue where they are. We also don't know where the tunnels of a lot of these mines come out. It's possible some of them only have one way in and out.”
~No.~ Daniel refused to think about that. He had to stay positive. “We go with what we know,” he said.
“Daniel,” Hammond said, walking into Sam's lab. “I heard you were on the base.”
“Sir,” Daniel responded in surprise. Hammond rarely went to Sam's lab, and even more rare was the use of his first name on the base. “I didn't mean to interrupt Sam's work,” the archaeologist apologized.
“Has there been any word?” the general asked.
“No,” Daniel responded, folding his arms across his chest and looking away.
Sam seized the moment, biting her lip for a moment as she moved forward, taking the top map with her.
“Sir, we think Jack fell into a mine shaft. Now, the problem is that there are hundreds of these, and we have no way of knowing which one.”
“Colonel, unless a crisis of major importance comes up, I want you assisting Daniel on finding Jack. Use Colonels Ferretti, Cornell, and Reynolds at your discretion, and Teal'c, of course. Their teams are at your disposal for the next ten days. I'm rescheduling their off-world assignments.”
“Yes, Sir,” Sam said, not even trying to hide her smile.
“Sir ... I ...”
“Son, this planet owes you and Jack more than a few men and a few days. I wish it could be more. You take what you need, and God speed.”
“Thank you.” The general left the lab, and Daniel looked back at Sam. “Sam, have you been able to contact Thor yet?”
Daniel had been trying to contact Thor himself with the communication device the Asgard had given to him and Jack, but so far, he'd been unsuccessful. He had thought the alien might be able to locate Jack and simply beam him up to safety.
Sam sighed as she answered, “I got sort of an ... Asgard answering machine. Thor's apparently on the far side of the galaxy, and ...”
“Our galaxy?” Daniel queried.
“I'm not sure, but the impression I got is that he's nowhere close to Earth. The message we got back was sort of, 'Sorry we missed your call'.”
“We'll keep trying,” Daniel stated, hope stirring in his heart.
“Your loss is my gain. Sorry little guy,” Jack said with little regret.
With the advent of the nighttime, Jack picked his resting spot. He gathered as much wood and as many twigs as he could find and built a fire, relieved when, after a few tentative flickers, the fire took root. He had run across a dead animal and, using the Swiss army knife he'd found in his pocket to dissect the animal, Jack finally had meat for dinner.
“So you had fun?” Daniel asked the children as they gathered together for their family meeting.
A bit reluctantly, the children nodded.
“We help you, Daddy?” Jonny asked.
Daniel was standing, but he moved to the sofa, picking Jonny up. He sat back down, holding the child on his lap.
“You helped me a lot. I know it's hard, but Dad wants this,” Danny told the brood.
“You finding Dad?” Aislinn asked.
“I'm trying. Aunt Sam and I talked to Grandpa today, and starting tomorrow, we're going to search several mines in the area of the avalanche. It's a long-shot, but we're going to try.”
“Daddy, can we send out our love now?” Jennifer asked. “We were all gone this afternoon.”
“Hafta to send Dad love,” Jonny said, scooting off Daniel.
“Yes, we do. Let's go.”
“We love you, Dad,” David said. “Thank you for being part of the Adventure Guides with me.” He looked at his siblings. “I know now that being successful isn't about being the best, it's about doing your best and having fun at the same time. Dad and Daddy taught me that.”
“You 'sleep, Dad?” Jenny asked. “E'ry night I 'magine Dad tuck me in. Love you, Dad,” she said.
Lulu squeezed Jenny's hand and let out a big sigh.
“Dad, I learned a new dance step. We dance when you get home, okay?”
When all the children had sent their love, and messages of hope to their missing father, Jennifer turned on the CD and again, the Jackson-O'Neill choir sang out loud and strong.
Jack tossed in his makeshift bed of snow, the worn-out blanket doing little to warm him. Still, he began to lull himself into a welcome state of sleep when he heard noise. He looked up, expecting to see people, but there was nothing.
~It's the fever,~ Jack told himself as he tried to settle again.
Then the colors came, and the voices began to ramble on in his head. If that weren't enough, he suddenly felt something against his cheek. He raised his hand, certain a bug or something must be crawling on him.
~Geez, that felt like ... like a dog licking me.~ “A dog?” Jack sighed, “I am so losing it!~
“Bijou, what are you doing?” Daniel asked as the family meeting and the circle of love was concluded.
“Woof!” Bijou answered, wagging her tail.
Daniel raised his eyebrows as he watched the beagle head off to her beanbag. Shaking his head, Daniel walked over to the photo of Jack. It was from the older man's Air Force academy days, and Jeff had taken it from its place on the study wall to put in the middle of the circle as the children conducted their meeting. This time, though, Bijou had jumped up, run over to the photo, and kissed it several times.
Daniel drew the framed photo to him and wondered if Jack was hearing the song and feeling the love from the entire family, including their beloved beagles.
“I love you, Jack. You're my heart. I'm going to find you.” Daniel rocked back and forth. While he was there for some of the circles, he let the children run them and when asked, sat down for them, but otherwise, stood in the background, as he had done tonight. Continuing to rock, Daniel softly sang, “Celebrate me home.” Tears ran down his cheeks, and his voice was cracked and barely audible, as his solo continued on.
Please, celebrate me home,
Please, celebrate me home,
Well I’m finally here,
But I’m bound to roam,
Come on celebrate me home
“I'll find you,” Daniel vowed again as he turned, carrying the photo up to their very empty master bedroom. Sitting on the bed, Daniel smiled at the photo. “I love you,” he said again, needing to say it over and over. Then Daniel kissed the photo and lay back, clutching it to his chest. “Goodnight, My Love.”
“Okay, what's going on?” Jack leaped up, tossing the blanket to the ground. He looked all around, but still saw nothing. “I am seriously going insane. That was no dog. I don't know what it was, but it sure as shootin' wasn't a dog. “*Who kissed me?*”
Jack's answer was silence, and then he started to laugh hysterically.
“Call me crazy, or call me lazy, but just call me,” he said nonsensically to the night sky. “You see, I'm either losing my mind, or I'm schizoid, or maybe just paranoid, but there's no one home to help. Home. I'm not making any kind of sense.” He laughed. “I think I'm being tortured; that's it.”
Suddenly, Jack grew serious. His thoughts darkened as images of pain and fire exploded in his mind.
“*Stop!*” the sleep-deprived man cried out as he sank to the ground. “Bring back the voices. The voices didn't hurt. They ... they ... the voices gave me strength. Think about the voices, you idiot. The voices. Think about the voices,” Jack said over and over again until he finally sank into a restless sleep.
--Day 10: Saturday, December 18
Sam took charge of dividing the teams. She had fifteen people from the SGC, which included SG-1 and the three teams Hammond had assigned to assist; eight others who had volunteered to help: Dominic, Dale Rancolini (another of Jack's old Air Force buddies who lived in Denver), J-O employees Bibreanay Appleton, Ty Harper, and Dora King, and neighbors: Carl Ramirez, Bob Stevens, and Mitzi Miller; and, lastly, two of the Jackson-O'Neill children -- Jennifer and Jeff who had spent two hours convincing Daniel that they were not only old enough to help, but that they had a right to aid in the search.
Brianna, David, Jonny, and Little Danny had also tried to get Daniel to let them help in the search, but acquiesced to the suggestion that they were needed at home to look after their siblings. The children had, of course, had their morning family circle, gathering together to send their dad all their love and support, before the eldest two left to participate in the search.
Sam decided to divide the searchers into seven teams of three and one team of four. For his own peace of mind, Daniel insisted his children be on his team, along with Teal'c.
Each team had the appropriate gear, including radios. By 9 a.m., the teams had begun their searches.
Meanwhile, Jack, feeling slightly stronger after his road kill dinner the previous night and having sworn off snow as some kind of narcotic, continued his trek out of the mountains, finally finding actual liquid water. He didn't know where he was, but he had stumbled upon Monument Creek.
Though he had a fever, and it was the dead of winter, Jack felt like scum, so he threw off his clothes and jumped in. Of course, as soon as he felt the icy cold water flowing over his skin, common sense returned.
“THAT HAS GOT TO BE THE STUPIDEST THING I'VE EVER DONE!” the freezing-cold man shouted as he immediately got back out, redressing as soon as possible. ~How stupid can I be?~ He let out a snort. “Apparently, pretty stupid.”
Dumb or not, he felt a little better after his brief foray into the water. Although he hadn't been in it long enough to do much good, and his body was still dirty from his adventure in the mine, he didn't feel quite as caked in grime as he had been.
Shivering again, Jack followed along the water's edge, hoping to find help eventually.
Brianna reached in and took out a piece of paper. Carefully, she opened it. Smiling, she read Jennifer's written thought about her father, and then David read Jeff's.
Both of the teens had written down several fun memories of their father; Jeff had been a bit surprised that he had so much to choose from when he'd only been with the Jackson-O'Neills for a relatively short period of time.
The children's circle would go on, as would their song of encouragement, even if Jennifer and Jeff weren't there in person.
--Day 11: Sunday, December 19 and Day 12: Monday, December 20
The next two days went on in much the same vein. A slew of volunteers from the neighborhood had joined in the search for mines. They'd actually managed to find some new ones, but so far, they'd had no success in finding Jack. Daniel had been deeply touched by the outpouring of help from their family of friends.
While the search continued, Jack had made his way to an encampment at the edge of Colorado Springs, reaching it at the end of the day on Monday. There were tents and fires blazing, and he found himself staring in disbelief at the indigent souls living off of nothing in homes that had no walls.
The exhausted man walked around the camp, but before he could ask for help, he fell unconscious to the ground.
Back at the house, babysitting duties were being handled on a rotating basis by Cassandra, Mrs. Valissi, General Hammond, Janet, and Suzanna Simpson, Daniel's foster sister who had flown in midday Monday after finding out about Jack's disappearance. She'd been angry at Daniel for not calling her.
Suzanna had found out what was happening when Jonny and Little Danny decided their Daddy needed her and phoned her. She was grateful to the little mischief makers and planned to thoroughly lecture her little brother when he returned, right after hugging the stuffing out of him.
--Day 13: Tuesday, December 21
~I'm dead. I must be. I see incredible warm hues. Children, singing. Peace -- peaceful. Heaven. Must be in Heaven,~ Jack's waking mind thought as the now-familiar vision circled his mind.
The vision had become a twice daily part of his amnesiac life, though he never knew when it would happen. He'd given in and acknowledged the fact that he truly was on the run from some mental institution. Still, what both disturbed and delighted him was that somehow the abstract picture and whispered words were strangely comforting. As he had aimlessly walked Monument Creek, his determination to survive seemed to heighten when his mind 'lost control' as he thought of it.
~Maybe insanity has its own rules and conventions,~ Jack had thought as he moved forward, marveling at the calm he felt while experiencing what he was sure was, ~one heck of an hallucination.~
Jack blinked, his 'delirium' ending as he awoke shortly before sunrise. He was lying on his back, and every part of him ached. He was sure he looked like death warmed over because that was exactly how he felt. Bringing both of his hands to his face, Jack rubbed his eyes and tried to concentrate, but still, he had no clue who he was.
“You're awake,” a young woman said, sounding surprised. “You're very sick. I don't have anything to clean your wounds, but I managed to pull you here.”
For the first time, Jack realized that blankets were covering him.
“Here, sit up and eat this,” the woman instructed.
Jack waited a moment, not sure he wanted to give up the warmth of the blanket, but then he sat up. Looking at his surroundings, he became aware that he was on a cot inside a makeshift tent. He noticed that the creek was about fifteen yards away.
“Take this,” the woman insisted, handing him the bowl. “My name is Martha. What's your name?”
“I don't know,” Jack answered truthfully as he brought the bowl to his face, taking in the warmth and aroma it contained.
“Then pick one,” she said, apparently not the least bit shocked by Jack's lack of memory.
“Homer,” Jack answered, believing it.
“Nice to meet you, Homer,” the soft-spoken woman stated as she stood. “I mended your shirt as best I could.”
Jack looked down, seeing that the previously torn pieces of material he'd been wearing had been sewn together and were no longer in danger of sliding off him.
“Thank you. Where are we?”
“A tenement camp,” Martha answered simply.
“No, I mean ... where, um ... what city?” Jack quizzed his benefactor.
“We're southwest of Colorado Springs,” Martha answered.
“Colorado Springs,” Jack repeated, just before taking another bite of the stew that was more soupy than stewy.
“You're welcome to stay,” Martha told him.
“No, I ... I have to find my ...”
“Find your what?”
“I don't know,” Jack chuckled sadly, adding, “But whatever it is, I have to find it.” ~Voices. I think I have to find the voices.~
As she tended to various things, Martha advised, “You should rest today. Your body is quite warm; feverish.”
“Do you ... ever hear voices?” Jack asked suddenly.
“All the time. You?”
“I keep hearing ... children. Actually, it's not all the time, but ... once or twice a day, out of the blue, I hear these voices; sometimes, they're singing. I think I've lost my mind,” Jack admitted.
“Sometimes, that's not a bad thing,” Martha said, her eyes full of sadness. “Sometimes, I wish I didn't know who I was, or what I'd left behind.”
Later that day, Martha gave Jack a new shoe. Actually, it was an old, beat up shoe she had found somewhere during one of her scrounging trips. Jack noticed the woman had a strange stockpile of odd items: cans, pieces of material, scraps, an assortment of clothing. None of the items were new, and all were in varying degrees of cleanliness and quality. He thanked her, and not long thereafter, Jack left the camp, eager to reach Colorado Springs and unearth his memory.
Meanwhile, the searchers were running out of places to look, and knowing it was Christmastime, Daniel was feeling guilty about keeping the volunteers from their families. It was time to make a tough decision, one of the hardest ones he'd ever made. Though he wasn't giving up on Jack, he had to call off the search. They weren't making progress, and it was literally like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
**I'm sorry, Jack. I won't give up, but I need you to find your way home. I need you. I'm so cold, Love. I need you to keep me warm.**
Jack stopped walking. He looked around, as if expecting to see someone. He hadn't heard the words exactly, but he'd felt like someone was calling to him, like something was tugging at his soul. It was different from the children's voices; this one was intimate, reaching down to a place inside of him that almost frightened the mind without a memory.
**Jack, I love you; love you so much.**
Jack shook his head rapidly, trying to shake off the strange feeling that was beginning to overwhelm him.
~Voices that aren't here. Right. I *am* losing my mind. I need to go to the police.~ Jack decided that when he reached the city, he'd find a police station. ~That's the thing to do,~ he confirmed in his mind as he continued on.
Sometime later, as Jack reached a highway bridge, it began to rain. What started off as a light rain, soon turned into a torrential downpour. He ducked under the bridge for cover. Thunder bolted from the sky, and with it, his shivers returned. He slid down to the cold cement ground. Before he knew it, he had fallen asleep.
“The house is awesome, Daniel,” Suzanna remarked, totally awed by the renovated Jackson-O'Neill home.
“We love it. I wish you lived closer,” Daniel responded to Suzanna as they sat on the patio porch that evening.
The youngest children were asleep, the older ones occupied in their bedrooms. Mittens was on Suzanna's lap, and Daniel was holding Katie while Bijou was inside, sleeping on Aislinn's bed.
“It was easier when I was in Los Angeles, but now that I'm in New York, it's not so easy. I wish you'd come visit me sometimes,” the woman told her foster brother.
Daniel shook his head adamantly as he explained, “I made Noa a promise. New York, it's ... it's never been good to us. Maybe when she's older.”
“Maybe you should ask her, see what she says.”
“No, we, uh, I guess it's a little ... strange, but if we're watching a movie, and she hears the name, she still looks at me. Her birth parents died there; so did mine. I don't like New York,” Daniel admitted quietly.
“Well, I didn't want to say anything, but I'm interviewing for a job in Atlanta, so ...”
“We'll come visit you in Atlanta,” Daniel spoke, a smile on his face, though only for a second. Two minutes passed. “It's so cold,” Daniel said, though his foster sister knew his comment had very little to do with the weather.
“Jack Jackson-O'Neill is coming home. He's not dead.”
“I want to believe that,” Daniel whispered.
“Then do,” the smiling woman said forcefully.
Daniel looked at her and smiled. He took a deep breath and continued to look at the falling rain.
Jack's head was shaking violently as the flashes thundered in his mind. He kept hearing it: a sharp, loud bang. What was it? His nightmare raged within him. Then he saw it: blood. It was all over his hands, all over him.
The thunder of the last strike blasted just as Jack awoke from his trauma. He was shaking, not just shivering, and he was soaked with sweat. He remembered the banging in his dream; it was a gunshot. Then he remembered the blood.
“I can't go to the police.”
“What did you say, Mac?” a man said from several feet away. He, too, was seeking a hideout from the storm. “Mac?”
“Nothing,” Jack said. ~I killed someone.~ He let out a nervous cackle. ~I'm not only insane, but I'm on the run and insane! I'm ... I'm a murderer - a crazy, insane murderer. Geez, I should've died in that god-forsaken mine.~
When the storm let up, Jack left his spot under the highway bridge. He didn't like it there; the nightmare taunting him.
~Please. Where are the voices? Bring back the voices.~
He may be insane, but Jack's only moments of feeling sure of himself came when the children's distant words and musical harmony came. He longed for that to come, praying it would drown out the murderous memories the rain had brought on.
“Jen! Jen, hafta get up! Jen, wake up!” Little Danny urged as he pushed his sleeping sister.
“Little Danny, what's wrong?”
“No know, but we have to send love to Dad.”
“Danny, we did that today, twice, like always.”
The little boy shook his head, insisting, “Hafta to send more. Now, Jen!”
Little Danny hurriedly walked down the stairs of Jennifer's room and made his way to the Jeff's room, which was opposite Jennifer's. Her room sat over the garage, but Jeff's room was situated over the cluster of small rooms in the new part of the house.
“Jeff, up! Hafta wake up!”
“Whaaaat? What ... what's wrong, Little Danny?” the teenager asked as he sat up.
“We need family circle now, Jeff. Hurry!”
Little Danny carefully but swiftly moved down the steps and then made his way to the main stairs. Going back to the second level, he walked into David's room.
“David, I had dream; Dad need us. Get up, David,” the little boy said, having jumped up on David's bed. “We send love in the rec room. Up, David,” Little Danny ordered as he ran out of the room.
Eventually, the little boy had awakened the entire family, until all of them, yawning and in their pajamas, met in the rec room.
“Okay, Little Danny, we're ... <yawn> ... all here,” Jennifer said. “What's going on?”
“Dad need love. We have to send him love. Hold hands,” the little boy ordered as he sat down and held out his hands, waiting for his siblings to sit down in their circle.
“Okay,” Jennifer said, sitting down. She took the hands of her siblings she sat between, Ricky and Lulu, and took a deep breath. After an involuntary yawn, she began, “Dad, we send our love. I remember that horrible joke you told when ...”
Daniel woke, hearing music. Scrunching his face, he stumbled out of bed and walked down the stairs.
“Hey,” the tired father said to his singing children.
Little Danny let go of Jeff's and Aislinn's hands and ran up to his father. He took hold of Daniel's hand with both of his tiny ones and began to pull.
“Come on, Daddy. Dad needs our love. It 'portant.”
Daniel didn't have the will to send his children back to bed. Instead, he let his namesake lead him to the singing circle. He held Little Danny's hand in his right and Aislinn's in the left.
“Daddy, sing! You hafta help,” Little Danny begged.
Swallowing hard, Daniel nodded and, though barely audible, joined in their chorus.
Whenever I find myself too all alone,
I can make believe I’ve never gone,
I never know where I belong,
Sing me home.
Please, celebrate me home,
Give me a number,
Please, celebrate me home ...
After a couple of miles, Jack reached the edge of the city proper. It was late, and most of the businesses closed for the night. As exhaustion hit him, he found refuge next to a trash bin in an alley. He was cold. He wanted to go home; he just didn't know where home was.
Suddenly, Jack's anxiety faded for a moment, replaced by the calm of his recurring vision. It was only a momentary sanctuary from the nightmare of the thundering gun blast and the fresh blood oozing on his hands, but he was grateful for it.
~The voices. Thank you for the voices.~
--Day 14: Wednesday, December 22
Jack walked aimlessly along in the street. He had sprouted a short beard, much more than stubble, from his days in the mine and on the streets. He had no money. When he had fallen through the mine shaft, his pants pocket had ripped, and his wallet had fallen out, something he hadn't realized until well into his journey out of the mine. His cell phone had been catapulted out of his jacket during the tumble down the hill, though in his current state, he wasn't even aware that he'd owned a cell phone.
The six-foot-plus man was limping, had dried blood in a few spots from cuts, and the right side of his face was bruised from the fall. His head throbbed, and occasionally, he had a tough time focusing as things blurred for seconds at a time. He felt nauseous, and heat was emanating from his body. Jack was certain now that he had a fever, and his cough was getting much worse.
Jack's few successes at finding food had sustained him, but he was weak, almost frail considering his normal, rugged state, and he was much thinner than he'd been in decades.
Nothing of Colorado Springs was familiar to him. As the clueless general roamed the streets, he kept looking at street signs, storefronts, the eyes of passersby -- anything, desperate for something that would give him an idea as to who he was and what he was doing there.
~Am I really on the run? Maybe I shouldn't be looking at anyone.~
Fearful of the unknown, Jack began to act more stealthily, his instincts for covert maneuvers taking over.
~Where'd I learn this stuff from?~
Still, it was daylight, and the silver-gray-haired man was earning plenty of stares, his ragged attire and looks attracting negative attention. His stomach growled from hunger, and he stumbled on the street corner. His need for shelter and sustenance eventually took precedence over his fear of being caught for being a murderer.
“Help me,” Jack asked various people on the streets, but the men simply stared at him, and the women either ignored him or cowered and fled in response. “Why won't you help me?”
Jack pleaded with one woman who simply shook her head, backing from him as if he were a leper.
“Please, help me.”
“I'm sorry,” the woman said in fear as she began to hurry away.
“Can you at least tell me what a Munchkin is?”
Jack's question went unanswered. To be honest, he didn't know where the name came from, but the word was associated with his recurring vision and had come to him during the morning vision.
Desperate for answers, Jack continued to ask for help, but no one would.
Daniel was in the living room with the Munchkins, Lulu, and David when the doorbell rang. Expecting it to be Megan, who was bringing him some papers that needed to be signed for J-O Enterprises, he went to open the front door only to be stunned at the sight that greeted him. There on the doorstep was the entire Wilson family - Sara, Mark, Angela, and baby Madeline. They had bags worth of presents.
“Sara,” Daniel said, surprised.
The Wilsons weren't due back until the next day, and Daniel wasn't looking forward to telling them about Jack.
“Well, can we come in? Santa's been busy,” Sara commented, her face bright with delight.
Jack's ex-wife was so intent on surprising him that she failed to notice the archaeologist's haggard appearance.
“Um, yeah, sure. I mean ... come in,” the near-speechless man said with difficulty.
“Merry Christmas!” Sara called out to the brood as she entered the living room.
“Aunt Sara,” the children cried out.
Sara put down her bags near the tree and then turned, expecting to see smiles. She faltered a little when all she saw were several pairs of very sad and tearing eyes.
“Aunt Sara,” Aislinn said, running up to her, reaching up with her hands.
“Ash,” Sara responded, picking the child up, a bit of trepidation in her voice. She looked over at Daniel, who stood nervously near the buffet, his arms folded in a self-hug. Suddenly, she flashed back to another time, when Jack had been missing in action, though she'd later found out he had been a prisoner in an Iraqi hellhole. “Daniel, where's Jack?”
Just then, Chenoa came downstairs and cried out, “Angela!” After the two girlfriends hugged, Chenoa said softly, “My dad lost.”
Sara looked at Daniel and saw him swallow hard. Mark knew something was wrong. He had already put down the bag he carried in and was now just holding Madeline.
“Angela,” Mark began, “why don't you and Noa go upstairs to her room, and you can tell her about Europe?”
“Want to know about Uncle Jack. Where's Uncle Jack, Noa?” Angela asked inquisitively.
Mark looked at Daniel, who seemed to be frozen in place.
“Dad took David skiing; there was 'valance,” Jonny said.
“Avalanche,” Little Danny corrected. “Our dad lost now.”
“Daniel?” Sara asked again, her heart beating more rapidly than it had a minute earlier.
“I didn't want to ruin your trip. Jack and David went skiing with the Adventure Guides, and they stayed over an extra day. There were a couple of kids that got lost, skiing out of bounds apparently. Jack thought he saw them and went to find them. Then there was an avalanche. Actually, there were two. I don't know where he is, Sara.”
“Oh, Daniel, no.”
Sara shook her head, and squeezed Aislinn tightly.
“We send love to Dad every day,” Little Danny told her.
“What?” the blonde woman asked.
Daniel motioned to the sofa and suggested, “Um, why don't you sit down, and ... I'll answer your questions.”
For the next several minutes, Daniel filled the Wilsons in on what had been happening. As he did so, one by one, all of the children came downstairs to say hello to the Wilsons.
“Daniel, you should have called me,” Sara chastised sternly.
“You've been planning that trip for a long time. Jack wouldn't want to be the cause of interrupting it.”
Sara wasn't happy with that, and she felt sick about Jack's disappearance. She was also consumed with worry for the man sitting before her. She'd known for a quite some time just how important Daniel was for Jack's continued existence in this world, but she hadn't realized it worked the other way as well. She feared for Daniel, if Jack wasn't found.
“I wish I knew what to say,” Sara said as Aislinn continued to cling to her as they sat.
“There's nothing to say,” Daniel responded.
Soon, the Wilsons had to go, but not before Sara and Daniel shared a warm embrace, and she again reassured him. Her heart was doubtful, but she had to be supportive.
“He'll be home soon.”
“I know,” Daniel lied.
Daniel didn't know, but he was praying for Jack's safe return.
Night was approaching again. The storm of the previous night had ceased during the day, but now the skies were darkening and snow began to fall. The chill went through Jack's body causing him to shiver. He looked for a shelter, finally settling on a bench, only to be shooed away by a street bum who claimed, “That's *my* bench.”
The visions and voices were stronger now that he was in Colorado Springs, but the harshness of the nightmare stayed with Jack, both haunting and taunting him, and sadly, the painful shadow was overwhelming the musical light.
In Jack's confused state, he didn't know what to do, so he stumbled onward. As the snowfall increased, he finally found shelter -- a cardboard box outside of a restaurant in an alley. Hiding inside, he shivered from the cold as he prayed for sleep, not much caring whether he woke up again or not.
--Day 15: Thursday, December 23
“Don't you want to watch Rudolph?” Suzanna asked the twins, disappointed when Ricky and Jenny both shook their heads.
Suzanna stood back up, leaving the twins sitting quietly on Ricky's bed, and walked into the den where Daniel and Sam were talking.
“Any luck?” Sam asked hopefully.
“No,” Suzanna answered with a dreadful sigh as she sat down. “They aren't interested in Christmas.”
“I've tried,” Daniel said softly.
Sam reached out and took Daniel's hand, assuring him that, “They just need time.”
“Time for what, Sam? Time to adjust to Jack not being here? Time to get used to losing another parent? Do you know how much our children have already lost. Gawd!” Daniel stood. Days of frustration were raging inside of him. “It's not fair to any of them. They ...” He stopped, seeing the tearing eyes in front of him. “I'm sorry,” he said, his voice cracked. “I miss him so much.”
Seconds later, Daniel was being hugged by both women. Just like earlier, they didn't have words, but they did have a lot of support and love to give him.
“They have to have Christmas. Jack will be angry if they don't,” Daniel said quietly, his voice devoid of any excitement over the normally festive holiday.
“They'll have Christmas. We'll all help,” Sam said.
Suzanna nodded and added, “Daniel, I'm going to extend my vacation.”
“No, Suz. Grant wants you there for Christmas. Please, things are upset enough. Go be with Grant.”
Grant was Suzanna's boyfriend. They'd been together a year, and things were heating up. Daniel liked Grant, and he didn't want to be the cause of anything going wrong between them.
“Please, Suz,” the archaeologist said, reaching out and taking her hand.
“Okay,” the woman reluctantly agreed, “but you better promise me you'll call if you need me.”
“I will; I promise,” Daniel said, bringing his foster sister in for a hug.
Jack found his way to a park -- Acacia Park, according to the sign he saw. He roamed the large acreage, scrounging for food. He noticed people shying away from him, even little kids.
~I must look like a bum. Geez, I am a bum,~ Jack opined.
As he continued to wander, Jack looked at the nearby intersection -- N. Tejon St. and E. Bijou St. His brown eyes stared intensely at the street signs.
~Bijou Street. Bijou. Funny name for a street.~ Jack started to walk away, but then he turned, walking back to the intersection. ~Bijou.~
The name sounded familiar. The wandering man wondered if this was the street where he lived, but he knew that wasn't right. Nothing else about the street seemed familiar, only the name. He spent the next hour just standing there, staring at the sign.
**Jack, I love you.**
Daniel was barely getting through the days. He couldn't believe his husband was dead; it just wasn't possible, but he felt so hopeless and empty, and even worse, he had a family watching his every move. He had to focus on the children. He had insisted that they finish their holiday shopping, and he'd taken the children to see Santa Claus at the mall.
“You know how Dad feels about this. Tell Santa what you want, and give him a hug,” Daniel had told the youngest children.
It had been a mistake, and poor Santa ended up in tears after a string of nine children had cried on his lap, all wanting one thing: their dad. Just when he thought it was safe to see another child, Santa was floored by little Angela Wilson, wanting nothing but her Uncle Jack to come home.
“I'm so sorry. I just wanted them to have a normal Christmas. I'm so sorry,” Daniel had apologized to the traumatized Santa.
Now it was time to visit a local nursing home. This was another of their traditions. The Jackson-O'Neills always went to a nursing home to visit and then to a shelter to drop off a present, presents not purchased by Jack and Daniel, but by the children from money they'd earned throughout the year.
“Ash, what are you doing with Molly?” Daniel asked.
Molly was a large doll, one the little girl had wanted desperately. Jack and Daniel had surprised her with it one day in October “just because we love you.”
“Give Molly to someone who needs her more than me. I no need Molly. I need Dad.”
Daniel wasn't sure what to do, but in the end, he let Aislinn give the doll away. Her innocent eyes had just been too much for him to fight.
It was nighttime, and Jack still stood staring at the street sign. There was something about the name that fascinated him.
“Bijou. What's a Bijou?”
As Jack stared at the sign, a couple walked by, the woman steering the man away from Jack.
The stranger looked afraid, hurriedly begging, “Charlie, let's get out of here.”
“Charlie?” Jack said, his heart suddenly pounding. He looked at the street sign again. “Bijou?” He turned around. <BANG!> “What's happening to me?”
Jack's head exploded, and just that quickly, he remembered his son.
“Charlie. Sport? Geez, you must be worried. I'm coming home.” Jack started to run, except then he realized he didn't know where he was running to. He remembered Charlie, but nothing else, not even his own name. He brought his hands to the side of his face, pressing in, trying to squeeze out the knowledge he knew must be there. He fell to the grass, sitting on his knees. ~Sara. I ... I remember Sara.~
The anguished man was blocking Charlie's death from his mind, but he was seeing flashes of Charlie and Sara. They were happy memories of days at the park, time spent at the ballpark, reading at the library, cuddling, food fights, building a bookshelf, Charlie's first steps: flashes galore, all good times, all filling Jack with warmth.
Not knowing what to do, Jack stayed in place, praying more precious memories would come back to him and lead him home. Minutes passed as he knelt, trying to piece his life together. Then he heard the song. For the first time, his vision had definite words to it. The children were singing.
“Celebrate Me Home?” Jack cried in question. He shook his head. “What does that mean?” Slowly, he stood up and walked around in a small circle, searching for a sign, something to help him understand his vision. He extended out his arms, feeling helpless. “What does it mean?” he whispered. “Charlie? Help me, Son.”
Jack spun around again, becoming dizzy as he did so.
“Celebrate? Bijou? Sara! I ... Charrrrr ...”
Jack collapsed, his emotional turmoil depleting what little strength he had left.
--Day 16: Friday, December 24
~Voices. Who is that?~ Jack thought as his mind began to clear.
“Officer Babcock found him passed out in Acacia Park a couple of hours ago. When he wouldn't come to, he called the paramedics,” a woman with an English accent stated.
“ID?” another woman inquired.
“Nothing. There's no wallet or other papers. The only thing he has are the clothes he's wearing, that pin on his shirt, and the wedding ring.”
The second woman commented harshly, “You'd think these street bums would find some work, earn a living instead of loafing around and scaring children.”
“Well, this one has been through the wringer,” the female with the accent spoke. “He has a lot of injuries. We've cleaned him up and gave him an antibiotic to help with that infection, but Doctor Bitelli hasn't had time to do a thorough exam. We've been swamped.”
~Nurses. They're nurses,~ Jack deduced, his eyes still shut as he tried to learn all he could without alerting anyone that he was awake.
“I don't smell any alcohol,” the second nurse said after going up close and actually sniffing.
~I'm a man, not a cantaloupe,~ Jack thought sarcastically as he sensed the nurses' close proximity.
“Officer Babcock is checking with the shelter to see if anyone recognizes him.”
“Anna, Nicole, you're both needed out front right away,” a new voice beckoned from further away.
The two nurses left, and as soon as they did, Jack sprung up. Still thinking he might be a wanted fugitive, or maybe a psychiatric patient, or both, he undid the IV, picked up the tattered parka that was sitting in the chair by his hospital bed, and began making a stealthy exit from his location.
Once outside, Jack discovered he'd been in a free clinic. He felt a little better and assumed they had given him some medication, but still, his body ached, and his memory had not returned except in jumbled excerpts about Charlie and Sara. He could feel the bandages, though, that now graced several parts of his body.
Jack made his way back to Acacia Park, sitting down on a bench where he could stare at the 'E. Bijou St.' sign. It, too, rang of familiarity. Then he remembered what the one nurse had said about a pin. He hadn't even realized he was wearing one. Taking off the tiny lapel pin, he saw the initials 'J' and 'D' intertwined. He thought about the inscription on the wedding ring.
~Pawn shop must have been having a special.~ “Charlie, where are you?”
The day passed slowly for the lonely and confused man. There were times when Jack felt like he could just reach out and grab his memories, but when he opened his fist, there was nothing there but air.
~It's so close. Sara. Charlie and Sara.~
Jack concentrated as hard as he could until finally he stood and began to walk. He was following his gut instincts. He heard the voices again, but somehow, they conflicted with what he knew was true -- he was married, and Sara and Charlie were out there, waiting for him to return. He shut out the children's song, chalking it up to illness or some kind of psychic phenomenon, not that he believed in that sort of thing.
As night fell, Jack entered a quiet neighborhood, full of holiday lights and decor. One house in particular captured his attention.
~This isn't my house, but I know Sara is here.~
Jack's mind was mixing his past and present. Somehow, he knew he hadn't lived in this home, and yet, he knew it was Sara's home. He was confused, hungry, and sweaty since his fever was on the rise again. A light from the second floor drew his attention. His heart opened for its first happy moment since regaining consciousness in the mine.
Feeling encouraged as he recognized the silhouette of the slender frame of the woman who he believed was his wife in the window, Jack was smiling as he went to the front door. His smile dissipated, though, when he realized the door was locked. His hand moved to the doorbell, but he thought better of it. He wasn't going to enter 'his' house like a guest.
In his confusion, even though he didn't remember the home, Jack was certain he must live here. He knew his son was there, too, even though the house didn't match what his brief glimpses of memory had showed him.
Looking around to make sure no one was nearby, Jack took out the Swiss army knife and used one of its tools to pick the lock. His vision was still blurred, so he was grateful that a few lights were on downstairs to highlight the way. Gingerly, he made his way up the staircase.
There was a noise coming from 'their' bedroom, and the noise was not a sound Jack expected to hear, not without him being in the room with Sara.
Opening the door, Jack's eyes widened at the sight of Sara atop the stranger in his bed, or at least, Jack thought it was his bed. They were in the early throes of lovemaking. The man was naked; Sara had on a tiny white, lace top.
“WHAT THE BLAZES ARE YOU DOING WITH MY WIFE?” Jack shouted as he stomped into the room.
“*Jack?*” Sara called out, completely stunned, her hands on her husband's chest.
“YOU NO GOOD ... I'LL KILL YOU,” Jack threatened, murder in his eyes as he began to go around the bed and get to Mark.
Mark gently pushed Sara off of him and then moved off the bed as fast as he could, grabbing his clothes that had been thrown to the floor.
Sara stood, panic filling her body. She tried to stay between the two men in her life.
“Jack, stop it,” Sara begged, thankful she hadn't gotten totally undressed yet.
“You, I'll deal with later,” Jack said angrily.
Sara stuck her hand out and moved in step with Jack to keep him from getting to Mark as she ordered, “JACK, STOP IT.”
“This is what you're doing when I'm off fighting for our country, AND WITH OUR SON DOWN THE HALL?”
“Our son?” Sara said, on the verge of breaking down into tears. She jerked her head back and forth a few times, her lips quivering. “Jack, our son is dead. Charlie is dead.”
“No,” Jack replied weakly. ~No, he can't be. Charlie is here. I know he is.~
Sara saw the shock in her one-time lover's eyes. Her heart ached for him and the terror he must be experiencing. She placed the palm of her left hand on his chest, her watery eyes speaking more than words ever could.
“Oh, Jack. He died; he died a very long time ago,” Sara said with tears rolling down her cheeks. “Don't you remember?”
“I ... I remem... I ... No. I just see his face ... and yours,” Jack said, reaching out to caress her cheek. “How could you cheat on me?”
“Cheat?” Sara asked, astounded by the accusation.
“You're my wife. Who is that idiot?” Jack asked harshly, pointing at Mark.
“Wife? Jack, we're divorced,” Sara informed the man she had once planned to spend the rest of her life with.
Jack shook his head in vehement denial, saying, “I don't know what game you're playing, but you are my wife. Your name is Sara. We have a son. Charlie. Where's Charlie?” he asked, beginning to look around.
Anxiously, Jack started to go out the door, but Mark blocked his path. He was more than willing to let Sara handle the situation, but not at the risk of their children.
“Sorry, Jack, but our daughters are asleep. I can't have you upsetting them.”
Mark started to say 'Angela and Madeline', but Jack insisted on using nicknames for them. He was the only one, even now, to use a nickname for Angela, and while Madeline's nickname was growing in frequency of use, he was the one who had first used it and forced the issue. If Jack had a memory problem, Mark thought the use of the nicknames might go further.
“Angie and Maddy, remember?”
A light flickered, but it was brief. Jack turned around and stared at Sara who had taken the opportunity to dress, putting on some slacks and a white blouse, both of which accentuated her figure beautifully. He could see the tears still rolling down her cheeks and, though angry, he longed to comfort her.
Denial was the word of the moment. Jack was tired and sick, and he couldn't believe the only people in his world weren't really his. The fire on his insides bubbled over into a jealous wrath.
“*No! I'll kill you!*” Jack took a swing at Mark, the man falling back against the door. Jack flew down to sit on his adversary's chest, his hands grabbing Mark's throat. “You lying, cheating piece of garbage. Making love to my wife; lying about my son. You don't deserve to live.”
Mark's hands rose to be level with his neck. He latched on to Jack's hands and wrists, trying to force Jack to release his hold.
“Jack, no,” Sara said. She got down on her knees, her torso leaning over Mark. She put her hands on Jack's face, immediately becoming aware of the raging fever within her ex-husband. “Jack, please stop. You're sick. You've been hurt. Heaven knows we were good together, but when Charlie pulled the trigger of your gun, what we had, we buried with him.”
The blood on his hands.
Jack's nightmare flashed before him in a thunderous roar.
“Dead?” Jack mumbled weakly, his hands releasing Mark.
“Oh, Jack,” Sara spoke gently, continuing to caress his bearded face. “You shut me out, and then I left, and for a long time, all we felt was bitterness. The love: it went with Charlie. But don't you remember? We both found what we wanted. Now we're ... we're family again.”
“I don't understand,” Jack said, his eyes pleading with Sara for help.
“Um, do you think you could get off me?” Mark asked, still rubbing his neck.
Jack didn't recognize the man, but something inside told him Sara was telling the truth. He backed off, staring at the room. He saw a wedding photo of Sara and Mark, and several photos of children, a lot of children, more than just the two girls Mark had said they had.
~Celebrate me home?~ For reasons Jack didn't understand, seeing the photos of the unknown children brought the vision to his mind. He remembered their voices, singing out soulfully. ~Who are they?~
Sara approached Jack again, slipping her arm in his and leaning her head against him as she spoke soothingly, “Charlie is dead, but he lives on in our hearts, Jack.”
“Dead. I killed him.”
“No. Oh, heavens, no, Jack. It was your gun, but Charlie disobeyed you. He pulled the trigger.”
“My gun; left it in the drawer. My ... fault.”
“Jack, listen to me,” Sara said forcefully as she spun Jack to face her. “We spent *years* blaming. It isn't about blame anymore; it ... it never was. We loved our son. He was such a good boy, Jack, but he was a little boy, too, and little boys make mistakes. Jack, he just as easily could have disobeyed me about not running across the street and been hit by a car. Please, Jack, no more blame. We've worked too hard,” she cried, “to let it win now. Charlie wants us to be family, and we are. I swear to you we are.”
Jack felt cold and numbness was overtaking him. Sara's words touched his heart, but right now, all he could feel was tremendous loss and a mountain of self-doubt.
“Dead. Charlie's dead.” There was resignation on Jack's face. “We're divorced. There's nothing; nothing left.”
The defeated man walked to the foot of the bed and sat, staring down at the floor. Sara followed, kneeling down in front of him. She took his hands, noticing how cold and clammy they now felt. She looked up into his eyes: they were glazed.
“Mark, I think he's going into shock.”
“Should I call Daniel?” Mark asked.
“Daniel?” Jack echoed very softly, a bit of focus returning to his eyes. “Ring says 'Daniel'. Heart. I keep seeing a heart. I hear voices, Sara. Singing that song.”
“What song, Jack?”
“'Celebrate Me Home',” Jack answered, exhaustion beginning to overtake him once again.
Sara smiled at the remembrance of the song. She knew it was special to Jack, and they had danced to it many times.
“Do you ever hear voices, Sara? Geez, I can't get them out of my head.” He looked away. “Daniel. I see a heart whenever I hear his name. Sara, who the heck is Daniel?”
Sara's ex-husband was a mess, but even more than medical care, what Jack needed was his best friend, lover, soulmate, and husband. He needed Daniel. It was something Sara was sure of, especially now.
Ignoring Jack's question, Sara turned to look at her husband, saying, “Mark, call Allison and Jim, and ask them if they can come over and watch the girls. I think we need to take Jack home.”
“Jack? That's my name?” the silver-haired man asked. Seeing her nod, he confided, “I don't know who I am, Sara. Help me.”
“I am, Jack. You have to trust me. Do you trust me, Jack?”
“With my life, Dar...” Jack looked down and bit on his lip. He tried to draw on some inner strength, surprised when he found it. He nodded and answered, “Yes, Sara, I trust you.”
“What exactly do you remember?” Sara asked, trying to determine if there was anything else Jack recalled at this point.
“Nothing, just ... Charlie, playing with Charlie and ... you. I remember the sunlight bouncing off your hair,” Jack said, reaching out to run his fingers through her blonde locks of hair.
“It's going to be okay, Jack. You'll see,” Sara said, moving one hand to cup Jack's as he interlaced his fingers with her hair.
“Someone ... someone very, very special, Jack.”
Sara had a warm smile on her face, but still, tears escaped, rolling down her cheeks. Stifling another sniffle while Mark called their friends, Sara studied Jack closely.
“You're hurt, Jack, but these bandages aren't that old. Where have you been?”
“I don't know,” Jack answered. “Who's Daniel?” he asked again.
The name was flooding his mind. Hearing the name spoken like that, with tenderness and love, confused him. There was something about the name, about the thought of this Daniel, but Jack still didn't know who he was, and he couldn't understand why he associated the name with a heart.
“We're going to take you to him. Trust me, Jack,” Sara asked again.
Jack nodded. He loved Sara, and he trusted her, even if she was cheating on him. No, wait, she wasn't cheating. They were divorced; that's what she said. He tried to remember, but he had nothing except the same images he'd had for the last twenty-four hours.
“Allison and Jim are on their way,” Mark spoke about two of their closest friends who lived nearby. “How's he doing?” he asked, motioning towards the general.
Jack looked up at the man and asked, “Who are you?”
“Mark. Mark Wilson, and when you're better, Jack, you're buying me a big, steak dinner with all the fixings.”
“Steak. I like steak. I thought my name was Homer?” Jack asked Sara.
The woman let out a snort, shaking her head in amazement, and yet not really surprised. Her ex-husband survived on his wit. His sense of humor and in fact, his often childlike nature were a cover for many things. Sara knew this, as did Daniel.
Jack smiled at Sara, wondering what he had done to lose her. He looked over at Mark again. He wanted to despise the man, but for some reason, he couldn't. After all, if Sara was telling the truth, Mark was being very understanding of Jack's presence and how he and Sara were interacting at the moment.
For a strange reason, Jack asked, “Do you love her?”
Mark nodded and gazed his wife, a gigantic grin emerging on his face.
“She's the cat's meow,” Mark said, causing Sara to grin at the reference to a private joke between them.
“Treat her good, or I'll kill you,” Jack stated.
Mark sobered and knelt down on his haunches. He was a few feet from the bed. He nodded and then looked up at Jack.
“Jack, I swear to you, I love this woman, and I will never mistreat her. If I do, you won't have to kill me. I'll kill myself.”
“I'll see to it,” Jack said, returning his eyes to look at his ex-wife. “I'll always love you.”
“I know that, Jack. It won't be long, and you'll understand again.”
Jack nodded, and the three continued their wait for the Wilson's friends to arrive.
Sara sat down next to Jack on the bed, holding his hand and leaning her head on his shoulder the entire time. He leaned into her, savoring the closeness of this incredible woman.
Sara looked at Mark, grateful he understood, her love growing for the man who had given her new life.
“Sara, I'll wait for Allison and Jim downstairs.”
“Thank you, Mark,” Sara whispered.
Standing, Mark dared to move closer to Jack. He reached out and gently placed his hand atop Jack's right shoulder.
“Everything's going to be okay, Jack,” the understanding man spoke, after which he turned and walked out.
When Sara's husband disappeared down the stairs, Jack turned his head to face to her and asked, “I like him, don't I?”
Sara laughed, “Yes, Jack, you do.”
“Crap,” Jack lamented mockingly, taking a momentary lighthearted reprieve from the tenseness of the last thirty minutes.
Daniel threw on his red sweater and stared mindlessly in the mirror. His reflection revealed an overly tired man with shadows under his eyes, eyes dry and swollen from days and nights of crying, grieving for a forever gone south. He'd forced himself to shave, to try and look his best, for their children, all of whom had only Daniel to depend on now.
“I need you, Jack. I'm not sure I can get through this night without you.”
The despondent man crossed his arms and closed his eyes, desperately trying to retain his composure. It was Christmas Eve, and he had eleven children to think about. He took a deep breath and walked into what used to be the nursery. It was now Chenoa and Lulu's room, but at the moment, neither girl was there.
Sitting in the rocking chair was Bobette, the stuffed monkey that had belonged to Kayla Armentrout, the surrogate birth mother of the triplets and the twins.
Daniel picked up Bobette and sat down in the rocker. He squeezed the animal to him.
“Kayla, if you're listening, help the children get through this. I'm not sure I'm strong enough tonight. I miss him so much. Thanks.”
After a couple of minutes, Daniel stood up and slowly walked downstairs to where his children were waiting. They were all in their best holiday clothing, the girls with little red bows to complement their red and white lace dresses, the boys in navy blue suits.
~Gawd, you and blue. You're obsessed, Jack.~
Jennifer held Ricky on her lap as she sat on the sofa. Jeff sat alone on a stool by the counter. David and Little Danny were snug in Jack's favorite chair, Little Danny's stray of the week, a small field mouse, nestled securely in a container on his lap.
Chenoa, Aislinn, and Jenny were huddled together in the chair opposite David and Little Danny. The girls were crowded, but they didn't care.
Jonny sat off by himself on the other end of the sofa from Jennifer and Ricky, but he wasn't really alone. Bijou and Katie were both on the sofa close to him. Mittens and Calico were playing in front of Lulu who was seated on the floor in front of Jonny.
Brianna sat on a pillow in between Jack's chair and the sofa. In her lap was Bagel, the family bunny.
Daniel sighed. There wasn't a smile in the bunch. The Christmas tree was full of presents, and the lights were twinkling. Outside, Rudolph's nose was glowing, and Santa's greeting arm was moving up and down invitingly. On the stereo, classic songs of the season filled the room, but no one was merry. Taking a deep breath, he tried to find some holiday spirit.
“Okay, okay, let's ... let's, uh, open a gift or two. Santa will ... be here tomorrow. I mean, tonight. Gawd, I don't know what I mean. I'm sorry.”
“It's okay, Daddy. We know,” Jennifer replied, trying to smile.
The teenage girl didn't feel like Christmas. None of the children did. The truth was that Daniel was doing Christmas for his children, and his children were doing Christmas for Daniel.
“Come on,” Daniel encouraged, but the children stood their ground, and he had to urge them on again. “Listen, um, Dad wouldn't want us moping around. After all, it's ... it's Christmas and ... well, you know how much Dad liked ... likes Christmas, so ... we can't let him down, can we?”
Daniel hated himself for the slip. The officials had given up hope. On the books, Jack Jackson-O'Neill was still missing, but believed to be dead. There had been no sightings, no reports, no contact, and the two avalanches had made it impossible to find a body until spring.
The archaeologist had argued until he was literally blue in the face, but no one would listen, except for General Hammond. However, even the general had admitted that, at this point, there wasn't anywhere to search. For the sake of the children, Daniel knew they had to move on, somehow.
The archaeologist didn't believe Jack was dead. If he'd believed that, he'd be dead, too. Several times, he'd recalled their pact from years earlier, but had vowed not to follow through with it, no matter how tempting, until he had solid proof of Jack's death. Even though he couldn't feel Jack, there was too much doubt in his mind. He and Jack had beaten the odds so many times, he couldn't give up on his husband now.
Daniel's soul kept saying, 'Don't give up. He's coming home.' It was hard to let that be the beacon of his existence, but right now, that's all he had, that and a family of children and animals he adored to the ends of the Earth.
It was the brood, human and otherwise, that spurred Daniel to even try and move forward. The children had given both Jack and Daniel an extra purpose and reason for being that neither had ever imagined. Still, no matter what 'life' would be for him in the future, he knew it would not be life as he had known it. There would be no joy and no spring in his step, not unless Jack found his way home.
**Come home, Jack. We all need you. Our children have suffered from too much loss already; they need us both, and I ... I need you.**
“Daddy's right,” Jennifer said in support of her father. She scooted Ricky off her lap and stood. “Let's go sit by the tree.”
“Yeah, it's Christmastime,” Jeff added, trying to mask his pain. It had been a horrible year for the growing teen; he had lost not one, but two fathers. He didn't really want to celebrate, but he felt a responsibility to his family to be a leader. ~Dad would expect me to set an example,~ he told himself. “Watch out for Mittens and Calico,” Jeff reminded the children since the cats were in the middle of the room in everyone's way.
Without saying a word, all the children moved to the big tree. They sat down on the floor, not even remotely resembling children excited by new toys and play things, but instead, looking as though they were going to a funeral, something the older ones knew was a distinct possibility.
~I don't want to go to any more funerals,~ Jennifer sighed inwardly as she chose her spot. ~First Mom and Dad, then Kayla, and now ... Dad. It's not fair.~ She looked at her siblings and sat up straight, a subconscious move designed to boost her flagging will. “I'll be Santa's elf,” she volunteered, moving to hand out one gift to each child which was the family's tradition.
“I'll help, Jen,” Jeff said. You get them, and I'll pass them out, okay?”
“Sure ... Elf!” Jennifer teased as jovially as she could. She shared a grateful glance with her brother and then handed out the presents. ~I guess I'd better push these to the back. I don't want the little ones seeing them,~ she thought about a few presents that had been purchased and placed under the tree early on 'For Dad'.
Daniel took his namesake's field mouse and placed it on the counter, still in its protective container. They'd already had lots of discussions about protecting small critters from the cats, so Little Danny hadn't argued. Then Daniel sat down, and Katie immediately climbed into his hold, unwilling to let the grieving man be without her personal style of comfort. He held her close as he petted her, grateful for the young beagle's attentive nature.
“Okay, Ash, you go first,” Daniel instructed when Jennifer and Jeff had finished passing out gifts and returned to their seats on the floor.
“No, Daddy,” Aislinn said. “First we sing Dad's song.”
Daniel nodded his permission, and when he did, Jennifer stood and hurried into the rec room to retrieve the CD. When she returned, she put the Kenny Loggins disc into the player and turned it on. Though moving on with their lives, they continued to have their family circle, but because it was Christmas Eve, they hadn't had it yet today.
“Um, tonight, let's just send Dad our love,” Jennifer suggested, knowing it would take all their energy just to get through the gift opening.
The children nodded and sang their song, but for the first time, their smiles were as dim as their hopes of finding their dad. Still, they sang, becoming stronger as the song reached its final moments.
In another part of town, Jack blinked as he heard faint voices. They were as indistinct as the first time he had heard them. Exhausted and with too many injuries to think about, he said nothing to Sara about the song. Emotionally, he was too scarred to even think about it. In the last hour, he'd lost his home, his wife, and his son.
Aislinn looked at the big package that was before her. She loved dolls, and in addition to the one she'd given away, she'd been wanting a life-size doll for a long time, frequently pointing out pictures of the large dolls in magazines or in the stores whenever they were shopping. The life-size doll would be a companion and babysitter of the regularly-sized dolls.
Jack had teased her that if she got it, they'd confuse her and the doll. Aislinn's response had been to giggle and say, “You silly, Dad.”
Staring at the long, rectangular package, Aislinn hoped it was the doll. Her fingers moved to the end, but then she stopped, remembering her letter to Santa Claus. Silently, she reaffirmed her pledge. She'd give the doll back, just like she promised Santa Claus, if her dad would come home. Abruptly, she pushed the package under the tree.
“Wait for Dad,” Aislinn informed her family softly.
Jonny quickly jumped onto the bandwagon, scooting his box under the tree, too, agreeing, “Yeah, wait for Dad.”
“Woof!” Bijou barked, carrying her wrapped package in her mouth and dropping it back into place. She knew it was a bone, of course. “Woooof!” she said again, and then Katie jumped out of Daniel's hold and nudged her present back under the tree as well.
Katie went over to Mittens, and Calico and Bagel and 'nosed' them.
“Meow!” both cats said.
Bagel flicked her ears in agreement.
Katie grabbed their gifts and put them under the tree.
“Katie right,” Jenny agreed, using her feet to push her package towards the tree.
One by one, all eleven children put their gifts back. Daniel sat in silence, unable to stop his tears from flowing. He had no problem being emotional in front of the children. Jack and Daniel had both agreed that they hated stereotypes, and men not being able to cry was one of the biggest and most ludicrous stereotypes in the world.
It was the same reason that Daniel hadn't hidden the truth from their children. They knew what the world thought, that their father was dead. He hadn't hidden anything from them, but they approached each day with hope and a resolve never to give up, and that's why their song had begun quietly and ended on a high; they may be down, but the Jackson-O'Neills were definitely not out.
Little Danny ran over and threw his arms around his father, promising, “It will be okay, Daddy. Dad be home soon.”
“Real soon,” Jonny said emphatically as he joined the hug.
“Very soon,” Aislinn added as she threw her arms around Daniel, too.
“Dad will be home before you know it,” Brianna added, kneeling down and putting her arms into the growing huddle.
“Sooner than soon even,” Jeff chimed in, sitting down on his knees behind Aislinn and joining in the family hug.
“Dad coming home,” Ricky stated as he added his little body to the group.
“Yeah. Dad never leave anyone behind,” Chenoa told them as she added her voice and body to the group embrace.
“And that means us. Dad will never, ever leave us,” Jennifer said as she became a part of the Jackson-O'Neill pretzel.
“Dad *will* be home,” Lulu said as she took her place with the others.
“Yeah, he will. Dad loves us,” David voiced as he and Jenny joined their siblings.
Thus it was that Daniel sat Indian-style on the floor, the center of human hug of eleven children, two dogs, two cats, and one bunny. He sniffled and then nodded, so grateful for the wonderful gifts that were his children.
“Yes, Dad will be home soon,” Daniel told their loving children.
“We wish you a Merry Christmas; We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.”
Jennifer heard the faint chorus. Disentangling herself from the family hug, she went to the entranceway and looked out the window. Outside were several neighbors, completing their round of caroling. She listened as they continued.
“Good tidings we bring to you and your kin; Good tidings for Christmas, and a Happy New Year.”
“Daddy, there are carolers outside. They're in front of our house,” Jennifer informed her father.
Jonny was the first to run to Jennifer as she stood, still looking out the window.
“Oh, bring us a figgy pudding; Oh, bring us a figgy pudding; Oh, bring us a figgy pudding, and a cup of good cheer.”
“Jen, what's figgy pudding?” Jonny asked inquisitively.
“It's pudding ... with figs.”
“Oh,” the little boy said, shrugging. ~I stick with Froot Loops.~
“Daddy, go outside?” Jenny asked after seeing the carolers.
“Okay,” Daniel said, still trying hard to keep himself in one piece.
The father of eleven opened the door, and even as he did so, he saw other neighbors coming out. The carolers were singing with all their might.
“We won't go until we get some; We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some, so bring some out here.”
The crowd grew as the Jackson-O'Neills walked to the sidewalk. Christa and Jacob Svenson who lived across the street hugged Daniel, as did Mrs. Valissi. All the neighbors began to try and cheer the children up.
“Sing with us, Children,” Christa urged, her smile infectious among the children.
“We wish you a Merry Christmas; We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
Just then, Janet and Cassandra arrived unexpectedly. Daniel was especially surprised to see Cassandra, who had planned on spending Christmas with her fiance and his family.
“Hey,” the petite physician said quietly as she greeted her friend.
Cassandra smiled, though Daniel could see her reddened eyes before they hugged.
“Uncle Jack will be home soon; I just know it,” the young woman told one of her two favorite uncles in the entire universe.
Daniel couldn't speak, but he held her longer than he normally did, knowing she had stayed to support him. Cassandra was like a daughter to him and Jack.
A light snow began to fall on the already whitened ground. Right on cue, the carolers began again, wanting to cheer up the children.
“Oh the weather outside is frightful, But the fire is so delightful, And since we've no place to go, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”
When the song was done, Mrs. Valissi hugged Daniel.
“We all love you, Dear, and we're all here for you. You must have faith, especially on this night of magic when anything is possible.” She felt his tears and squeezed the younger man as a mother would, for both Jack and Daniel were sons to her. “Let's sing some more.”
Daniel placed a kiss on her cheek, still unable to say anything with words, but he didn't need to. The senior citizen held on to him for a moment as the carolers hummed in preparation for the next song.
“Sing with us, Dear,” Mrs. Valissi begged.
Daniel nodded as the neighbors gathered round, and even more joined them. The entire neighborhood -- the Millers, the Iversons, and so many more -- were out in force, all for the Jackson-O'Neills.
“Silent night, holy night,” Daniel sang, surrounded by his children and a host of neighbors. He felt numb, empty, devoid of life, but he was desperately trying to hang on for the sake of his children, and right now, the love of his friends and neighbors was filling his soul with goodness. “All is calm, all is bright,” he murmured. His hands ran along David's shoulders as the youngster stood in front of him. ~This is too hard. Jack, help me.~
Neighbors now surrounded the family. What had begun with Mrs. Valissi and the Svensons caroling along the suburban area had grown to just about everyone on the block and even several from adjoining streets. It wasn't planned, but spontaneously, the chorus of carolers had found themselves stopped in front of the Jackson-O'Neill home. Like a magnet holding a prized paperclip, the home held the singing neighbors in front of it.
Adults and children alike were filled with both sorrow and hope. Their singing had suddenly become more than caroling; it was now an anthem of love and inspiration for a family they'd grown to love and admire over the years.
Jack and Daniel's children gathered on the sidewalk with the impromptu choir, their voices becoming louder as even more of the neighbors walked outside to join in.
Then, one couple brought out candles, and one by one, they lit them. Even several of the children held tiny lights. Daniel couldn't speak, realizing the extent of this outpouring of love for his family. Christmas carols had become a vigil for his husband.
The neighbors lined the sidewalk and were huddled together, even sticking out a bit into the street.
Clark Peterson and his wife Myrna had heard the singing and came out to participate as well. They were new to the neighborhood and hadn't met the Jackson-O'Neills yet. Another neighbor briefly informed the Petersons that one of the Jackson-O'Neills had been in a tragic accident and was missing, but that was all they had said as the singing grew in strength again, and it was difficult to carry on a conversation amid the songs of the season.
“Round yon Virgin Mother and Child,” Daniel mouthed, almost nothing escaping from his vocal chords. He was so touched and so moved, but he still felt lost. His grip on David tightened as he tried with all his might to remain in control, to not break down and cave in to the loss that was causing darkness to fill his soul. “Holy Infant so tender and mild,” he whispered, closing his eyes and saying a silent prayer.
Daniel had spoken so many prayers, to every deity he could think of, and he really wasn't sure he'd be able to go on. He wasn't even sure he was still breathing, or that his heart was beating. He wondered if he even had a pulse. The whole world was going in slow motion as life ebbed from him. It was how he felt, standing there alone, surrounded by friends and neighbors.
“Sleep in heavenly peace,” Daniel spoke, not even able to attempt to be melodic. A tear flowing down his cheek, his cracked voice repeated, “Sleep in heavenly peace.”
The group continued to sing. Jenny began to cry, so Jennifer picked her up and sang softly to her.
“Silent night, holy night,” the teenager sang, smiling at her sister. “Sing Jenny. Sing for Dad. He needs to hear us, just like ... like if were celebrating him home.”
Jeff knelt down next to Lulu and smiled. They were both fairly new to this family, but they were as much a part of it as any of the Jackson-O'Neill children.
“I want him to come home, Jeff,” Lulu sniffled.
“Me, too. Let's sing. Let's sing so loud that Dad can't help but hear us!” Jeff encouraged.
The budding ballerina nodded, and together, they sang, “Shepherds quake at the sight.”
The carolers crooned, “Glories stream from heaven afar, Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!”
“You can do it, Jenny. Sing with me ... for Dad,” Jennifer urged, and then the little girl sang as best she could, “Christ, the Saviour is born.”
“That's right, Jenny.” Jennifer gulped, placing a kiss on the child's cheek, and then sang, “Christ, the Saviour is born.”
At that moment, Megan Williams and Karissa Lewis joined the group. They'd parked a few houses down, not wanting to interrupt the large group of songsters. They'd come by to check on the family. Megan was J-O Enterprises's Director of Operations, and Karissa was her assistant. All the children loved Megan, and Little Danny had a huge crush on Karissa.
The little boy looked through the crowd and saw the two women. He broke free of Mrs. Valissi's hold and ran to them.
“'Rissa, Dad still gone,” Little Danny cried as tears streamed down his face.
The woman picked him up and said, “I know, but you have to keep the faith.”
“Sad, 'Rissa,” the child spoke as he lay his head on her shoulder.
“I know, Little Danny, but your father would want you to keep fighting. Remember what he says -- you never give up because there's always ... always what, Danny?”
“An 'or'; always an 'or',” Little Danny answered firmly.
“Right, so let's sing with the others, and wherever he is, your Dad can feel our strength, and somehow, he'll find the 'or' he needs to come back home.”
Little Danny sniffled, but joined back in with the singing, his little voice trembling as he sang, “Silent night, holy night.”
“Let him hear you, Little Danny,” Karissa said, feeling it was her responsibility now to get the youngster through the holidays. ~He's counting on me, and he's so adorable. If only he was two decades older. Someday, you cutie, one very lucky female is going to be soooo lucky to have you love her. I feel lucky you picked me for your first crush.~
Karissa smiled and placed a kiss on the little boy's cheek.
The kiss made Little Danny smile, so he sang a little louder, “Son of God, love's pure light.”
“That's good,” Karissa said as she joined in the singing with, “Radiant beams from Thy holy face.”
Carl Ramirez brought candles over and handed one each to Megan and Karissa, both of whom smiled their acknowledgements.
Chenoa, Brianna, Aislinn, and Ricky joined together in a circle, holding hands.
“Dad will be back,” Brianna said. “No silly mountain can defeat him. He's tough, just like the Great Gretzky.”
The latest arrivals walked up, hugging Daniel and the children. Then Sam and Pete began to sing. They looked to their right, not the least bit surprised to see General Hammond arriving with his granddaughters, Tessa and Kayla. The next thing Daniel knew, the Ferrettis, Cornells, and Rancolinis had joined the carolers.
~We really do have a lot of friends, Jack.~
“We sing for Dad,” Chenoa said, having overheard Karissa's words to Little Danny moments earlier; and they did, singing, “With the dawn of redeeming grace.”
Teal'c's arrival made the group complete. Chenoa ran to him, and he instantly picked her up.
“Caroling is a Tau'ri tradition,” the Jaffa told the young girl.
“You sing with us, T?” Chenoa requested.
“O'Neill would insist,” the Jaffa said, surprising the neighbors with his strong baritone voice.
Another car drove up onto the street. Seeing the crowd, the Wilsons parked a few houses up from Jack and Daniel's home. They could hear the singing as the first verse repeated: “Silent night, holy night.”
Gingerly, Jack stepped out of the car. He stared at the crowd of people. Nothing seemed familiar. He'd accepted the loss of Charlie and Sara, as much as he could, and he knew that there was something important about the name 'Daniel'; yet, the answers, his memory, his life were out of his reach.
“I wonder what's going on, Sara,” Mark remarked.
“Sounds like they're caroling,” Sara answered as they moved towards the crowd.
“Must be the entire block or ... several blocks,” Mark commented about the large gathering.
~I know that.~ Jack heard the song being sung; it was so familiar. He mumbled the words, “All is calm, all is bright” as they walked.
David brushed a tear from his eye. He felt he was too old to cry, but he couldn't help it. He'd lost his birth parents; he just couldn't stand the thought of losing Jack, too.
Struggling, the boy managed to warble, “Round yon Virgin Mother and Child.” He felt Daniel's hands on his shoulder, two supportive pats, and then a strong grip. He sang more forcefully, “Holy Infant so tender and mild.”
Daniel sighed, not knowing how much longer he could stand, or breathe; but then, something began to churn inside him. He wasn't sure for a moment what it was, but then ...
**Jack? Are you there?**
Daniel was sure he could feel the man who was his heart, but not getting any response, he fell back into sadness, believing it to be only his imagination and deep desire to see his soulmate again.
“Sleep in heavenly peace,” David sang weakly, and at that moment, he heard Jonny, who had been standing to his right as they faced the cheery house that was full of everything but cheer.
“*Dad!* It's Dad!” Jonny exclaimed, running in front of Daniel towards Jack.
“Sleep ... in ...” Daniel turned his head towards the place where Jonny was running “hea...venly ...” His breath hitched “peace,” he spoke as he lay his eyes on Jack for the first time in almost two weeks. “Jack?” he whispered.
Jonny threw his arms around Jack's legs, but Jack only looked down, staring at the unknown yet somehow familiar little boy. Reflexively, he placed his hands on the boys' head. He felt strange, but he still didn't remember.
Daniel watched in shock as David ran over to his dad and exclaimed, “Dad, you're alive! I knew you would be!”
The boy's grin was so big that his face hurt. He threw his arms around Jack and Jonny.
Soon, Jack was surrounded by all of his children as the neighbors buzzed in excitement.
Sara looked at Daniel, still standing in the distance, as if he didn't believe his eyes. She smiled weakly, afraid he'd be hurt by Jack's lack of memory. It had been the blonde's hope that seeing the familiar house and street might trigger its return, but so far, it hadn't. Now, she was questioning the wisdom of just bringing Jack around without warning Daniel or the children.
~Silent night celebrate me home,~ Jack's mind thought. ~This is the place, but what is it? Who ... heart; there's that heart again.~
Daniel couldn't move, frozen in place by the feeling warming inside of him as he saw the man of his dreams.
**Jack?** There was no response. ~I'm seeing things.~ **Jack? Is that you?** No response was sent. ~Maybe I died. Doesn't matter, as long as Jack's really here.~
Slowly, Daniel moved towards his lover. The neighbors made way for him as he walked. Sara and Mark stood together to Jack's left. When Jack saw the archaeologist for the first time, his heart began to beat faster for some unknown reason.
~Man. Heart. I ...~ Jack's mind tried to process everything that was happening.
The children, not understanding why their older father wasn't responding to them, stared up at Jack, questions in their eyes, but Jack's eyes were fixed on Daniel. He couldn't stop staring at the younger man. He moved forward, breaking through the circle of children.
The neighbors were slowly trailing Daniel, and some of the children ran to Daniel, to walk by his side as he made his way towards an image that looked an awful lot like Jack Jackson-O'Neill.
Jack's soul began to come alive with each step he took towards Daniel. Sensing something, Daniel began to jog, then he sprinted, as did Jack.
“It's like the movies,” one of the neighborhood children said.
~Heart ... geez ... Dannnnnnnnnny!~ Jack remembered Daniel in a split second as he ran towards the man he loved more than life, the man who was his heart and soul, and the man who made the universe a great place to exist in.
In one long second of time, Jack and Daniel ran to each other and kissed. Their hands went around the other's waist and roamed freely up and down the other's back, Jack's lowering to Daniel's right buttocks and squeezing his lover to him. Their tongues danced together as they reacquainted themselves, and their bodies were like Velcro strips, pressed together with no room for air.
Air was something they didn't need right now, so their mouths stayed suctioned together, their moans deep and expressive.
They were never this open in public. They often kissed lightly, and they loved to hold hands or walk with their arms around each other, but to kiss so passionately in front of everyone on the street was a rarity.
With happy tears streaming down her face, Aislinn cried happily, “Dad and Daddy kissing in the street!”
“Amen,” Jennifer responded, running a finger of her right hand under her eyes, trying to stop her own tears.
“I told you guys that Dad was too tough to bite the bullet,” Brianna said confidently, masking the tears of relief she was crying inside.
The neighbors began to clap, and the neighborhood children cheered. There was laughter and happy voices. Megan and Karissa both had tears in their eyes as they moved to stand next to Mrs. Valissi, who also was crying from joy.
Jonny was standing next to Christa Svenson when the new neighbor groaned. He looked up at the man.
The neighbor spoke loudly, not caring who heard, saying, “That's disgusting. How can you all stand around and let these f-ing queers do this?”
Jonny heard the man's cruel words, and he saw the look of disgust on his face. In a flash, the young boy scowled and kicked the man in the shins.
“What the ...”
“Those my parents; not ... that word. You mean,” Jonny accused, walking away.
“Brat!” the new neighbor called out.
“To the contrary, Mister Peterson, Jonny Jackson-O'Neill is a remarkable young man, and one with manners. Perhaps you could learn from him,” Christa said as she and her husband Jacob walked away from the rude man.
“Jonny, you shouldn't have done that,” Jennifer chastised after having witnessed her brother's actions and moving towards Jonny to handle it.
“Bad man said bad things 'bout Dad and Daddy.”
Jennifer sighed. She could easily guess what he had said, but Jonny had to remember what was more important.
“Jonny, Dad's home now, and what would he say?” the teenager challenged.
“He'd beat bad man up,” Jonny said proudly.
“Jonny!” Jennifer warned again. ~Though you're probably right.~
“Daddy talk him out of it,” the eldest Munchkin admitted.
“Jonny!” Jennifer urged, waiting expectantly for her brother to do the proper thing.
“Oh ... all right.” The little boy turned around, stormed back over to the prejudiced neighbor, and said, “I 'plogize, but you bad man to say that 'bout my parents!”
Jonny went back to Jennifer, who smiled at him as she took his hand. As she led him away, however, she glanced back and glared at Peterson.
“Jonny ...” Jennifer began to comment.
“Got him good, Sis!” Jonny said.
Jennifer laughed, even though she knew she shouldn't.
Having heard the entire exchange, Jeff walked over to Mister Peterson who was still griping, both about Jack and Daniel and their 'brat' of a son.
“I should sue,” Peterson said about non-existent injuries.
“Mister, I don't know who you are, but those two men are two of the best people on this planet. I don't care whether you believe that or not, because I know it, but what I will tell you is that this is my family, and we protect each other. You stay away from my brothers and sisters,” Jeff told him sternly.
“Or what?” the man growled.
Jeff smiled confidently and replied, “Or I'll call my grandfather, the lieutenant general of Cheyenne Mountain. You wouldn't want to deal with him. He has clout; it's called the United States military. Maybe you've heard of it.”
Jeff walked away, smirking. He hadn't seen Hammond's arrival a few minutes earlier.
“Like that means anything,” Peterson said sarcastically.
“Why don't you find out,” Carl said. “Better yet, why not put your house up for sale. The Jackson-O'Neills are probably the most popular family in this entire neighborhood. Look around you. Quite a turnout. Do you think anyone would do the same for your family if you were missing?”
Carl walked away, moving to stand by Jeff in support. When he glanced back, the Petersons were headed back towards their house.
“I would advise you not to come near this family again,” Teal'c intoned.
The Petersons turned around, surprised to see the muscular man staring them down.
“And, uh, who are ... you?”
“I am their friend,” Teal'c stated bluntly.
“He's my boyfriend,” Chenoa said, her arms hanging around Teal'c's neck.
The Jaffa dared the Petersons to laugh.
“You can't control what I do in my own neighborhood,” Clark responded.
“I do not wish to control you; I wish to let you know that you are not welcome at the Jackson-O'Neill's. Should you do anything to hurt them, I would have to ...” Teal'c paused to look at Chenoa briefly, then stated, “discuss that with you. I promise you, you would not find such a discussion pleasant.”
Teal'c didn't wait for a response. He turned around and moved briskly back to the crowd, so that Chenoa could be part of the family reunion.
Amused, and having heard everything, Hammond was the next to approach the unsuspecting couple, saying, “It is amazing what people will do for people they love. Sometimes, there are no limits. By the way, I'm Lieutenant General George Hammond, United States Air Force. Those are my grandchildren.” Suddenly, his smile disappeared. He turned and looked the man square in the eyes as he stated, “There are no limits to what I would do for my grandchildren.”
Not waiting for, or even expecting, a response, Hammond walked over to join his family. He'd delivered his message, and he knew it had been received, loud and clear.
Meanwhile, Jack and Daniel were still lip-locked, and both were gasping for air, but not giving any ground to their pleading lungs. Moans were audible to all, and everyone could see their heavy breathing. Finally, they surfaced, their eyes locking on the other.
“I love you, Jack. Gawd, I love you so much.”
The two held on to each other tightly. Jack buried his head into Daniel's neck while Daniel's right hand moved to hold Jack to him. Both were crying, and neither cared that everyone on the block could see and hear them.
“Love you, Danny,” Jack's cracked voice said.
It went on for a couple more minutes. Jack kissed Daniel's nape, and then they gazed into each other's eyes, and then they kissed ... and kissed ... and kissed again. Daniel's fingers ran through Jack's dingy silver-gray hair and the strange beard while Jack's hand found its way under Daniel's red sweater. They murmured their love over and over again.
Finally, it was Aislinn, their first little miracle, who tugged on Jack's pants.
“Dad? Love you,” the miracle Munchkin said.
Daniel sniffled, “The children, Jack.”
“Chil...children?” He looked down at the little girl, and then over at Sara. “Charlie's ... dead.”
Tears in her eyes, Sara nodded and leaned into Mark for support.
Jack remembered Daniel, but the children were still strangers, except then his vision began to rewind in his head.
“We ... we have ...”
“Children,” Daniel said softly, smiling at his lover.
There was a pause as another door opened in Jack's brain.
“TV show,” Jack said, trying to remember his life which was coming through in scattered pieces.
“Eight is enough,” Daniel whispered.
“Eight.” Jack looked at Aislinn, and then slowly picked out the triplets. He saw Little Danny and then Jonny. “Munchkins,” he said softly.
“Just like in Oz,” Daniel said, loving the children's special nickname.
Jack looked at Daniel, still struggling to remember.
Daniel helped his soulmate along, recalling the birth mother of their youngest children, saying, “Kayla ... she ... liked multiples.”
“The twins,” Jack acknowledged as the memory of their birth returned.
“That's us,” Jenny said, pointing to her and Ricky.
“And we're the Mouseketeers, Dad,” Jennifer said, picking up on Jack's amnesia.
“Mickey's pride,” Jack said softly, reaching out to touch her cheek. “You ... we fell in love with you. Mol...Molly's.” He looked at his husband and grimaced. “Something wasn't right. We needed them.” He was continuing to strive to put all the pieces in order. He knew he loved the Mouseketeers. They were their children, too, but there were more. “Danny?”
“Eight wasn't enough,” Daniel said with a loving smile. “Molly ambushed us, and we went willingly; uh, that is, once I stopped hyperventilating. Then, uh, General Hammond did the same thing and ...”
“Stray,” Jack said. “Jonny ...”
Daniel chuckled lightly as tears still welled in his eyes, explaining, “He and Little Danny brought home a stray, and we fell in love again,” as he looked over at Lulu.
Jack smiled as he searched his brain and the accumulation of children. He nodded as the memories began to return. They had begun with three and then, suddenly, they had eight children. In an equal flash, eight had grown to eleven, and they couldn't be happier.
“Jeff,” Jack spoke, seeing his oldest son. Then he spotted Brianna, still trying to be so brave. “Gretzky's greatest fan,” Jack said quietly. He saw the huge grin on Brianna's face, and it warmed his heart. “More ... where's ... there she is ... our little lulu of a Lulu.” Lulu ran up to Jack, and he picked her up without hesitating. “I love you, Lulu.”
“And Calico!” the little girl reminded.
“Cats. Geez, yes, we have ... cats,” Jack mocked. His mind flashed to the street sign. “Bijou ... and Katie,” he whispered. “We have dogs, too,” he added in a normal tone.
“Our girls,” Daniel acknowledged.
Jack looked at Lulu, getting a nod of affirmation from her that he was right.
“Love you, Dad,” Aislinn said again.
Jack put Lulu down and then sat down onto his haunches, remembering at that point that he had bad knees, only they weren't as bad as he had thought they'd be.
“And I ... I ... love you ... Ash,” he stuttered as his memory came flooding back in a succession of thunderous flashes. He picked her up. “Our miracle. You were a surprise, a complete, total surprise, and you were so tiny.”
“Not tiny now, Dad.”
“I love you, Ash,” Jack said, and then one by one, he reunited with his children.
Daniel went into a self-hug as he watched, trying not to cry like a baby. Sara moved to his side and placed her hand on his arm.
“Are you okay?” Sara asked, unafraid of Daniel seeing her own tears.
Daniel looked at her, a thousand questions in his eyes, as he asked, “He, uh, how, Sara?”
“I'm not sure. He said he remembered Charlie. Somehow, he found the house.”
Daniel looked at Mark and, seeing the discolored eye, asked, “Did Jack do that?”
“'Fraid so,” Mark responded.
“He ... thought you were still married?”
“At first, but as soon as we mentioned your name, he latched onto it. He didn't remember exactly, but he kept saying it. He knew, Daniel, that you were his connection. He just had to find you,” Mark explained.
“He's home,” Daniel said, unable to stop his emotions from overtaking him.
“Oh, Daniel,” Sara instantly responded, taking him into her arms. “He's home, and he's safe now.”
“Hey, that's my husband you're cavorting with,” Jack said.
Sara nodded as she backed away, and Jack took Daniel into his arms.
“I love you, Danny.”
“I love you, too, Jack.”
The party had moved inside the Jackson-O'Neill home. Jack was surrounded constantly by his eleven children, two dogs, two cats, and, of course, his husband.
Janet was biding her time. Normally, she would have insisted Jack go to the hospital immediately, but deep in her soul, she knew what he needed most right now was exactly what he was getting: the love of his family and friends. Thus, she waited, and would continue to do so for another thirty minutes, until she saw Jack waver in his strength, what little of it there was.
“Okay, that's it,” she said to General Hammond, who stood next to her. She'd already called the infirmary to alert the staff. Now, she nodded to Lou and Teal'c who both stood and walked to where Jack stood, surrounded by his family. “Jack, it's time,” Janet said, hoping he wouldn't force her to spell it out.
Jack blinked at her, and then he smiled.
“Little Napoleon,” the major general spoke affectionately. Seeing Lou and Teal'c, he added, “And her merry men.”
“Jack, she's right. You're hurt; you need attention,” Daniel urged.
“I need this,” Jack said, kissing Daniel again.
“And that's why I've stood by as long as I have, but now, General, you're mine. Let's go,” Janet ordered.
Before Jack could say another word, Teal'c moved in and literally picked him up.
“Hey, I'm your leader,” Jack complained.
“You are Chenoa's father. She wants you alive, O'Neill,” Teal'c spoke emphatically without missing a step.
“Sam?” Daniel pleaded, even though he knew it meant his friend sacrificing her holiday.
“Go on, Daniel,” Sam urged.
“Get out of here,” Pete quickly seconded.
With quick smiles and hugs, Daniel ran after Janet and Jack, leaving the house full of family and friends behind.
“I'm going to call Yazid now,” Megan said.
Karissa looked at her friend with big eyes and asked, “Yazid?”
“He's been very worried,” Megan explained.
“I didn't know he knew,” Karissa replied.
“Oh, well, I ... I just ... mentioned it,” Megan said, suddenly feeling embarrassed.
“Megan, we don't have any work with Passion, Inc. right now.”
Yazid Awad was the executive assistant to the CEO and owner of Passion Incorporated, a firm that had given J-O Enterprises their first major contract in the archaeological business. Since their first dig in Egypt, J-O had done several jobs for Passion, Inc., but at the moment, nothing was on the books.
“Megan, you're blushing.” The light dawned on the young woman. “You like him, don't you?” Karissa said teasingly.
“We've been ... talking,” Megan shyly admitted.
Megan just smiled and said, “I'm going to call Yazid now.”
Karissa laughed, pulling out her own cell phone to call some of her worried co-workers. All would be relieved to learn of Jack's return home.
“Cassie, no want to sleep,” Jenny said.
“No sleep,” Jenny argued.
“Okay, just lay here,” Cassandra suggested coyly.
“We did it,” Jenny yawned.
“Did what, Sweet Pea?” Cassandra asked as she ran her hand along the side of Jenny's head.
“We sang Dad home.”
From her bed, Aislinn smiled and added, “We did good, Jenny. Celebrate Dad hoooo ...”
Cassandra's classic reverse psychology was working. Within three minutes, Aislinn and Jenny were both asleep. Five minutes after that, she had the three youngest boys slumbering in their beds. Lulu and Chenoa lasted just ten minutes longer.
None of the children had had a solid night's sleep since Jack's disappearance, but now, their hearts were alive again, which allowed the sandman to come in peace, helping them to rest until the following day.
Daniel sat on the side of Jack's bed. Janet had arranged for him to be in ISO-2 so he and Daniel could have some privacy. At the moment, she was checking some test results in her office.
The younger man squeezed Jack's right hand which he was holding onto with both of his hands. Each of Jack's hands were bandaged, though part of the backs of his hands were visible. He brought the hand to his mouth and kissed the bare skin, his eyes never leaving his lover's.
“I missed you so much.”
“I didn't remember anything. It's still ... fuzzy,” Jack said, blinking as he tried to focus on the memories.
“What do you remember?” Daniel asked.
“Skiing. Snow. Lots and lots of snow.”
“There was an avalanche,” Daniel stated.
“Those lost kids: did they find them?” Jack asked, genuinely concerned as he remembered why he had been caught up in the mountain of snow.
Daniel nodded as he continued to stroke Jack's hand and answered, “It was touch and go for them, but they'll be fine. Um, one of them lost a toe from frostbite, but they were lucky.”
“David must have been scared,” Jack assumed.
“He was ... a little, but he was very proud of you, too.”
“Me? I didn't do anything,” Jack scoffed.
“Jack, outside of the really dumb move of going in the 'no ski' zone alone without backup, which, by the way, you'd better not try ever again, what you did was try to save a couple of lives.”
“Snowmobile,” Jack said suddenly.
“I heard a snowmobile. I think that's what set it off. It was racing along the mountainside. Stupid.”
“Jack, I don't think they know that,” Daniel responded. “I'll call Sue in the morning.”
“Sue Hendricks. She led the rescue teams at the lodge. We have a lot of friends. General Hammond had half the base up there.”
“Grandpa comes through again,” Jack said with a smile.
“Do you know what happened after the avalanche?”
“Flashes,” Jack sighed, raising one hand to his forehead as he worked on recalling the disastrous event. “It was dark. I couldn't see a blasted thing,” Jack grimaced at the gruesome memory.
“We suspected you fell into one of those abandoned mines,” Daniel informed him.
Jack shuddered as he said, “I thought I'd never get out of there.”
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Janet said, walking to the foot of Jack's bed.
Daniel stood up to face her, but continued to hold Jack's hand in his own. He was nowhere near ready to relinquish contact with his soulmate.
“What's the verdict, Doc?” Jack asked.
“You'll live,” Janet said seriously.
“Good, I think I'll ...”
Jack made a move to get up, but it didn't last long as Daniel pushed his shoulders back down.
“You listen to me, Jack Jackson-O'Neill. You just scared me and your children half-to-death. You're sick, and you're injured, and we need you safe and healthy. You are going to lay there and do whatever Janet says. Do you understand me?”
“I love you, too,” Jack whispered in reply, earning him a smile from Daniel.
Daniel again turned to face Janet and inquired, “So how is he?”
“I think you said it pretty well. He's sick, and he's injured.” Janet smiled and moved to stand opposite Daniel. “In no particular order, General, you have a concussion which is what has been responsible for your blurred vision and probably the amnesia as well. You also have a sprained ankle, sprained wrist, a couple of fractured ribs, multiple cuts, bruises, and abrasions, an infection from one of the cuts on your knee, a temperature of one-hundred point two degrees, and bronchitis. I probably shouldn't have let you mingle with your children.”
“Try keeping me away from those kids, Doc, and you won't get far.” Jack looked at Daniel, expecting him to object, but Daniel just smiled. “You aren't going to argue?”
“Children get sick,” Daniel said. “Jack, they never would have understood if we had separated you from them two seconds after you came home. No, I'm not going to argue.”
Janet continued her medical commentary, explaining, “And I know I don't need to say that you've lost a great deal of weight. You're in need of fluids and nourishment as well as a steady dose of antibiotics, which is why you're going to spend a couple of days hooked up to Mary Jo here.”
“Mary Jo?” Jack laughed.
Janet shrugged, saying, “You always like nicknames; I thought I'd give your IV one since you're going to be 'one' with it until I say otherwise.”
“Good idea, Janet.” Daniel grinned, but then he grew serious. “Um, Janet, what about the amnesia?”
Janet looked over at Jack and, motioning to Daniel, quipped, “Who's this guy?”
“The most beautiful man in the universe, Doc,” Jack responded seriously.
“Jack,” Daniel said shyly.
Janet chuckled, “Seriously, we've tested him for the basics, Daniel, and his memory seems to be coming back. As he regains his strength and rests, I think he'll be just fine.”
“You aren't going to forget anything important, are you, Babe?”
“What I wish is that some of these memories didn't come back. I've got a few holes, but they're coming back. Once I saw you, Danny, touched you, and talked to the kids, it was like the floodgates to a dam opening. It all came back in a rush.”
“There's no permanent damage?” the archaeologist asked Janet.
“Tests are all coming back negative. We'll do some more later.”
“And now, General, you need to sleep, and because I don't trust you to sleep while Daniel is here, and because I know Daniel isn't about to leave, I'm going slip you a Mickey.”
Jack's attempt to object was too late. Janet had already started to inject the tranquilizer into his IV when she had spoken her words.
“I figure you have about five minutes to say goodnight to each other, and then, General, you're going to be asleep for several hours.”
“Devious dictator,” Jack mumbled.
“I'll leave you two alone.” She looked at Daniel. “Daniel, I'm serious. He's going to be out a minimum of twelve hours and maybe more. You might want to go home and have breakfast with your children, but that's up to you.”
As soon as Janet was out of ISO-2, Jack said, “Danny, come here.”
“What?” the younger man asked as he sat back down on the bed.
Daniel smiled and leaned over to indulge his lover.
“I never stopped believing, Jack, and neither did the children. You'll be so proud of them when I tell you how they got through these last couple of weeks.”
“I'm always proud of them.”
“They sent out their love to you every day,” the younger man informed.
“Danny, I think I heard them. They ... Danny, were they singing?” Jack questioned.
“Yes,” Daniel answered as he gulped. “It, uh, was a song that Jennifer thought ...”
“'Celebrate Me Home',” Jack said.
Daniel nodded and hesitantly asked, “Did you hear?”
“I didn't know who they were, and I couldn't distinguish much; it never lasted long, but there were times when their singing was all that kept me going.”
“I'm not surprised,” Daniel replied.
“I heard you, too, Danny, but I didn't know it was you. Geez, I'm not making any sense,” Jack said, taking a big breath, his words slowing as the IV took effect.
“Babe, we have all the time in the world to figure this out. Right now, you need to rest,” Daniel said tenderly.
“Angel, I know you want to stay, and I selfishly want you to stay, for a while, but ...”
“I'll stay here for a little bit, and then I'll do what Janet suggested and go home, eat breakfast with the brood; then I'll come back.”
“Will you, uh, call Mark and apologize for me? I hit him, Danny.”
“I know,” Daniel said, smiling.
“I thought I was still married to Sara,” Jack explained as another yawn escaped. “Charlie. He was alive, in my mind.”
Jack's eyelids were beginning to flutter. Daniel moved his left hand to caress Jack's forehead, making short strokes as they talked.
“I love you, Jack, so much, and I need you. I was ... cold while you were gone.”
“When I ... <yawn> ... get out of here, I'm going to warm you up.”
“I'm counting on that, Love. Sleep now.”
“Love you, Danny.”
“And I love you, Jack Jackson-O'Neill.”
As Daniel continued to make gentle touches, caressing his lover, Jack fell asleep.
“You're my life, Jack. I needed you to find your way home, and you did. Just like always, you fixed it. My hero, my love, my ... everything. Sleep well.”
Daniel leaned down, his head now resting over Jack's heartbeat.
~Strong. Don't stop beating. Every beat fills my soul. Gawd, I've missed this.~
--Day 17: Saturday, December 25
“Daddy!” a chorus of eleven cheerful voices rang out, all now stampeding towards their father who had just walked in the door.
Daniel immediately knelt down and accepted hug after hug. He felt good, seeing the smiles on his children's faces, and hearing the lightness back in their voices. He had sat with his husband all night, unable to tear himself away from the steady sound of Jack's beating heart.
“Dad sends his love. He wishes he could be home, but Aunt Janet thinks he should stay in the infirmary for a couple of days,” Daniel told the children.
“We go see Dad?” Jenny asked.
Daniel reached out to touch her cheek as he responded, “No, Sweetie, we can't, but he'll be home very soon. He's going to be just fine, and ... I know, he'll call home and talk to all of you later tonight.”
“Yeah!” the children said, jumping up and prancing happily all around.
Daniel stood and walked to Cassandra, hugging her. He gave her a gentle squeeze, then pulled back.
“Cassie, Jack and I love you like you were our own daughter,” Daniel told her.
Cassandra beamed. She'd felt that, but this was really the first time either Jack or Daniel had spoken the words to her.
Daniel continued, “Thank you for watching the children, but today is Christmas, and you have a wonderful young man out there wanting to spend this day with you.”
“But you need me,” Cassandra argued.
“Cass, trust me, I have *everything* I need now. Please, go spend time with that man you love. It's Christmas, Cassie,” Daniel pleaded, his eyes misting.
“Uncle Daniel, I asked Mom if she was okay with this, and she said she was, so will you and Uncle Jack walk me down the aisle?”
“Oh, Cassie, it should just be Jack. I mean ...”
“I love you both, Uncle Daniel. Please!” the engaged woman asked.
“We'd love to,” Daniel answered, emotion clouding the clarity of his answer.
The two talked for a few more minutes and then Cassandra said goodbye to the children and left.
For the first time in days, Daniel was alone with his children, though he knew it wouldn't last long. He'd already been informed of the day's rotating shift.
Sam and Pete would be by for a few hours, then General Hammond, and Janet had the night shift. He smiled, amazed at how he hadn't had to worry about his children being alone. Someone they trusted was always there.
Again, Daniel was grateful for their wonderful family of friends who once again had gone beyond the call to help the Jackson-O'Neills through a difficult time.
“Hey, let's sit down and talk about Dad. I'll tell you what Aunt Janet said about his injuries,” Daniel said as he sat down on the large sectional.
With the children settled in, mostly lying on the floor comforters, Daniel filled them in, answering as many of their questions as possible.
“He heard you,” Daniel told them as he mentioned their twice daily sending of love.
“Dad hear us sing?” Aislinn asked brightly.
“He sure did,” Daniel said, smiling. All the children had huge smiles on their faces, and he knew they felt like they had played a real part of their father's return. ~And you did. I don't understand how this happens, but I think ... I believe you brought him to us.~
A bit later and right on schedule, Sam and Pete arrived, joining in the family discussion.
“Hey, anyone hungry?” Daniel asked, realizing that he hadn't fixed breakfast, something not one of the children mentioned.
The kids had been too interested in hearing about Jack and seeing their daddy happy again to care about food, though once he mentioned it, a cry of hunger erupted.
Laughing, Daniel stood and headed for the kitchen, but before he got far, Jennifer stopped him, offering to do it herself.
“I'll make breakfast, Daddy,” Jennifer said quietly. “Sit with the little ones,” she suggested.
The teenage girl was becoming quite a good cook, and she knew Daniel probably wanted to spend more time with the others, not to mention taking a shower and changing his clothes, which he did quickly before returning to the rec room and being with the brood.
After the meal was enthusiastically consumed, and everyone was again assembled in the family room for no reason other than that they all wanted to be together, Daniel stood next to Sam.
“Sam, you and Pete don't have to be here. I'll stay. I mean, they are my children. Besides,” Daniel said, looking at the children who were gathered around, “it's Christmas, and Santa's been here.”
Jonny was the first to speak up, shaking his head as he said, “Santa wait for Dad.”
Ricky added, “No presents.”
“Not till Dad home,” Jenny said.
“Daddy, we want to have Christmas with all of us together,” Brianna informed him. “We had a little meeting last night.”
“Yeah,” David interrupted. “We knew you'd want us to open presents, but Daddy, it's not Christmas without Dad.”
Daniel soaked up all the love. All the children chimed in, all wanting the same thing: Christmas, when the entire family was together.
“Okay, then ... we'll celebrate when Dad gets home. I'm so proud of you, all of you. I want you to know that. You've helped so much, and I ... I ...”
“We love you, too, Daddy,” Jeff said, moving to hug his father and setting off a hug fest that lasted several minutes.
“Are you guys sure?” Daniel asked one last time about an hour later, though he already held his keys in his hand and had his jacket on.
“Can't leave Dad alone,” Jonny said firmly.
Nodding to Sam and Pete, Daniel looked at the children and said, “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Daddy,” the children all responded cheerfully.
Smiling, Daniel finally left for the SGC. He hated leaving his children, but his heart belonged to Jack, and he so needed to be at his side, to feel Jack's skin against own, and he needed to hear the heartbeat of his special pillow. It was that beat that kept the air flowing through Daniel's lungs.
**I'm on my way, Jack. I love you.** Daniel knew Jack was still asleep, but he just had to say the words. **I love you so much, Jack.**
“Hey, Beautiful,” Daniel said when Jack finally awoke about 7 p.m. that night.
“Stealing my lines again, Danny,” Jack said, his voice low and coarse as he woke.
“You're so beautiful to me. I've never seen anyone or anything as beautiful and sexy as you, Jack,” Daniel spoke lovingly.
“Now I know why you blush so much,” Jack said softly, just before the two shared their first kiss of the night. “How's the brood?”
“Awesome. They send their love and can't wait for you to come home. They, uh, demanded that we postpone Christmas until you can be home, too.”
“Yeah?” Jack asked, feeling warm inside upon hearing the news.
“We have great children, Jack,” Daniel spoke as he stated the obvious.
“The best. Tell me about them, Danny. Don't leave anything out,” the older man requested.
Since they were alone, Daniel laid next to his husband in the hospital bed and spent the next hour telling him all about the children. When he was through, piece by piece, Jack told his Love what he remembered of his 'homeless life on the street' experience. Mostly, the couple simply enjoyed each other's touches.
Jack was so exhausted and weak, though, that he soon fell asleep again, leaving Daniel to enjoy the soothing sound of his husband's heartbeat.
--Day 18: Sunday, December 26
The rotating shift of the Jackson-O'Neill family of friends continued their caregiver services on Monday (and the next day, too), allowing Daniel to stay at the infirmary with Jack, except for breakfast time which he spent at home with the children.
Jack spent Sunday morning lamenting not being able to see the children, especially on Christmas.
“I missed Christmas,” the older man complained to his husband, though he knew he had slept through most of the day anyway.
“You've talked to them,” Daniel pointed out, referring to numerous telephone calls that had occurred between Jack and the brood as the day progressed.
“They don't count,” Jack whined.
Daniel just grinned as he held his lover's hand and declared, “I love you.”
Jack smiled and swallowed hard, whispering, “I love you, too, My Angel.”
That night, with a skeleton crew on duty due to the holidays, Sam drove up to the front gate in the SUV. Behind her was Lou Ferretti in his mini-van. The two parked side-by-side.
“This is so insane,” Sam said.
“Yeah, ain't it fun?” Lou laughed.
Each opened the doors, gathering the children together.
“Now remember, quiet. Absolute quiet, and stay together,” Sam reminded the almost-giggling children
“We got clearance,” Little Danny said.
Sam chuckled in spite of herself as she said, “I know, but you aren't supposed to be in the infirmary, now shhh,” she instructed, placing two fingers in front of her lips.
The group had successfully changed elevators on the eleventh floor and as the elevator stopped on Level 18, the doors slid open to reveal a rather familiar figure. He stared at the elevator full of smiling children and two very guilty-looking colonels. Suddenly, the man turned around and moved away several steps.
“Wonder what happened to the elevator?” the man asked the wall, grateful when the elevator doors closed.
Inside the moving lift, Jenny tugged on Jennifer's skirt.
“What is it, Jenny?”
“Why Gran'pa look funny?”
“Because we're not supposed to be here,” Jennifer answered.
Sam and Lou rolled their eyes, each wondering when to expect their court-martials.
Sam tapped twice on the door to ISO-2, waited two seconds, and tapped three more times.
Covertly, Daniel opened it.
“Where's Janet?” Sam asked.
“I'm not sure. Hey, get in here,” Daniel said to his children, ushering them inside the room as quickly as possible.
The brood ran inside and over to Jack amid Daniel's cautions to be careful of the IV.
“Ah, Danny, the brood is here,” Jack said a bit uncertainly.
Daniel explained to their children that Jack was tired and told them what the IV was for and how it worked. Jack was awake, but he was a bit slow with his responses at the moment. Still, he was happy to see the children that were his world.
For several minutes while Sam and Lou nervously kept watch, the children visited with Jack, who was grinning from ear to ear, listening to them tell all about their day. They also mentioned about seeing Hammond in the elevator.
“Close call,” Daniel said.
“Daniel, we were caught,” Sam reminded.
Daniel shook his head, saying, “He was still waiting for the elevator.”
Sam smiled, seeing Daniel's mischievous expression. Jack laughed too, knowing what Daniel had thought.
“Could be worse than Hammond,” Jack said.
“Janet,” all the adults said at the same time.
From her office, Janet just shook her head and spoke aloud, “You're slipping, fellas; you forgot to turn off the monitor.”
Janet hadn't been keeping the monitor on all the time, but occasionally, she would turn it on to view Jack's physical appearance, looking for signs of any change in his condition. By monitoring the medical equipment and using the monitor, she didn't have to disturb the lovers as much as she would have had to otherwise. She had, in fact, only turned it on a few moments before the children's arrival.
“DoctorFraiser, are you ready?”
“Teal'c, you owe me ten dollars,” Janet said as she turned to face the Jaffa.
Teal'c looked at the monitor after Janet pointed to it.
“Indeed,” the Jaffa replied, reaching into his pocket to pull out a ten dollar bill.
The two friends had placed a bet. Janet had been positive Daniel would sneak in the kids; Teal'c didn't think he'd be able to find a way to do it.
“Thank you, Teal'c. Your place or mine?” the SGC doctor asked as she turned off the monitor and closed the file on her desk.
“Mine,” the Jaffa said, leading her out of the office.
--Day 19: Monday, December 27
Janet was pleased with Jack's recovery while also pleasantly surprised that for the first time ever, neither Jack nor Daniel had argued with her over his treatment. His fever was down to an even hundred by mid-day, and his cough had ceased altogether. He had already gained back a bit of weight, and his skin tone was rosier.
It was early evening when Janet walked into ISO-2.
“Hey, Doc,” Jack said, feeling more chipper than he had in weeks.
“Hi, Janet,” Daniel said, smiling at their friend.
“Get out of here,” Janet ordered.
“What?” Jack said, glancing over at Daniel.
Janet walked to the side of the bed and smiled as she explained, “Jack, I've got you going again. All you need to do is follow the rules. Can you do that?”
“And go home?” Jack asked eagerly.
“And go home,” Janet repeated softly.
“You serious, Doc?”
“Something tells me that a day or two at home will go a lot further than a whole week here,” Janet suggested.
“Doc, you're beautiful,” Jack said, a grin breaking out on his face.
Janet moved to unhook the IV and told the younger man, “Daniel, I've written out some instructions and written some prescriptions. I'm also sending some medication home with you. Uh, watch the brood. He's not contagious, of course, but remember, they were around him when he was pretty sick a couple of days ago.”
“Dad! Jen, it's Dad!” Chenoa shouted, looking out the front window. She had heard a noise and went to look. Not waiting for permission, she unlocked the door and ran outside to her parents. “Dad!”
“Noa!” Jack exclaimed as the little girl embraced him. He wished he could kneel down, but with his ankle and aching body, he couldn't. “Love you,” he said, leaning down to kiss the top of her head.
Suddenly, eleven children were on the front lawn, along with Mark who had child-sitting duties for a few hours.
“Mark?” Jack asked, a bit surprised.
“Welcome home, Jack,” Mark said, extending his hand out to shake Jack's.
The two men, having the common bond of loving Sara, held the contact for several seconds. It said all they needed to say. Finally, Jack nodded, and the shake ended.
“Exhausted. Maddy kept her up almost all of last night. I had an important meeting this afternoon, so she wouldn't let me help, so this morning I offered to do her ... shift,” he laughed.
“Thank you,” Daniel said.
A few minutes later, Mark left, and Jack and Daniel spent some precious time with their children.
At 8:15 p.m., Daniel interrupted the conversations, instructing, “It's time for bed.”
“Yeah, and no arguing,” Jack said to the Munchkins and the twins just as Jonny opened his mouth.
“Right, and I'm glad you said that, Babe, because it's your bedtime, too,” Daniel ordered.
“What?” the recovering man refuted. Hearing the giggles of the children, Jack looked at them, his facial expression one of surprise. “It's not my bedtime.”
“No arguing,” Little Danny said, standing up.
“You heard our son. Time for bed, Love,” Daniel said, not bothering to hide his amusement.
“Slave drivers,” Jack teased his children.
It had been a good welcome home, one in which the family decided to celebrate Christmas on New Year's Day. That way, Jack would have more time to heal and then get back into the swing of things. His memory was just about all back now, but his physical injuries were still healing, and he needed to regain more of his strength.
The couple also decided to do some of their usual holiday traditions during the upcoming week, things that had been ignored because of Jack's disappearance, and it was Little Danny who suggested they go to the orphanage again and give 'Happy New Year's Christmas' toys.
Jack reveled in the generosity of their children, and more than anything, when he looked into Daniel's eyes, he was full of happiness. Without the memory of Daniel, he'd been an empty shell. He was a very lucky man, and he knew it.
“Hey, how are you feeling?” Daniel asked after doing his nightly check on the children.
Though ordered to bed, Jack was sitting up against the headboard, reading the latest issue of National Geographic that Daniel had left for him on the nightstand.
“Danny, do you know how long it's been since I could actually read an entire article without an interruption?”
Daniel sat on the edge of the bed, on Jack's side, and smiled as he answered, “I'm guessing it's been a few years.”
“Can I tell you a secret?”
“Always,” Daniel said, running his hand along the side of Jack's cheek.
“I like being interrupted,” Jack confessed
Daniel laughed and leaned in for a tender kiss, after which he whispered, “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Angel. Danny, I'm cold. Can you get one of my sweatshirts for me?”
“It's not ... okay.” Daniel stood and went to the dresser. The heat was already up, and mid-sentence, he had figured out what was happening. Jack's chill was psychological, a result of days in the damp mine shaft and then on the mountainside amid the frozen snow. “Here you go, Love. Let me help you.”
Carefully, Daniel slid the warm burgundy sweatshirt over his lover's head.
“Ow,” Jack reacted to the movement.
“Not your fault, Danny. It's these dang ribs.”
“Yeah, it's gonna hurt for a little while,” Daniel sadly agreed.
“I don't care about that,” Jack said, an ache in his eyes.
“You want to pick up the children,” Daniel observed.
“I need to hold them. Crap, anything but the ribs.”
“Not anything, Babe,” Daniel said with a loving leer on his face.
“Oh, yeah, you're right.”
“Aren't I always?” Daniel smirked.
Jack chuckled and replied, “When it counts, Danny; always when it counts.”
--Day 20: Tuesday, December 28
Jack and Daniel were in the kitchen, both seated at the round wooden table. They were holding hands on the tabletop, their fingers actively caressing the other's. Their eyes were fixed on each other's, shining with love and gratitude that they were together.
Jack's chill was still evident from the double layer of clothing he was wearing. He had on two pairs of heavy socks, and on top of his turtleneck, he had on a v-neck sweater. Even with that, he wore a matching cardigan and still, he was cold.
“It'll take a few days,” Daniel tried to assure his soulmate.
“I just feel cold,” Jack complained.
“It's natural, Jack.”
“I suppose so, but try not to let me act too weird in front of the kids.”
“Jack, they'll understand,” Daniel said as his hand moved briefly to warm Jack's forearms, rubbing back and forth gently.
“I'm just so cold.”
“I'll warm you up real soon,” the younger man smiled, lustful mischief in his sparkling eyes.
“Now that's worth waiting for,” Jack said, his chilly whine turned into an eager flicker of heat.
“I'm, uh, thinking we'll start with a nice, warm bath, just you and me, some bubbles and candles, lavender scent maybe.”
“Oh, I want that,” Jack said, his eyes coming to life.
“A very ... slow, lingering ... bath. I won't ... miss ... an ... inch,” Daniel promised in a slow and drawn speech pattern, each word following a glance at one of his lover's sexy body parts.
Daniel's desire was already having an effect on Jack, much more than he let on as he responded, “I love the way you think. I'm feeling warmer all ready.” ~And that's an understatement, and speaking of under, let's go get under the covers, and you can start doing some of that stuff you're teasing me with.~
Daniel smiled as his fingers gently rubbed against his lover's. Their gaze was so deep that it felt as if they were getting inside the other. Their connection was strong again.
~Oh, yeah, Angel, undercover time, just you and me. Yeah, I'm warming up, not to mention hardening up.~
“Jack?” Daniel said seductively.
“Mmmm, uh, yeah?”
“We're in the kitchen, and we have eleven children.”
“Huh?” Jack was still lost in the magic of their mental fusion. He almost jumped back in his chair when Daniel's message sank in. “Children,” Jack repeated, nodding.
“Children who could, and probably will, walk in at any minute.”
“I love you, Danny,” Jack said, wanting to say the words over and over again to make up for the days of not being able to say them.
“You're my heart, Jack. Gawd, I didn't know what I was going to do. I was so scared.”
Jack brought Daniel's right hand to his mouth and kissed its palm. The two had so much to say, and only part of it was verbal.
Meanwhile, as her parents continued their reunion, it was Aislinn who was the first child to come downstairs. She yawned as she rubbed her eyes at the bottom of the stairs. Before getting to the kitchen, her blue fuzzy slipper came off her right foot, and she stopped to put it back on.
Still seated at the table in the dining nook area, just off the kitchen, Daniel sighed, “We need to start breakfast for the children.”
Jack nodded, and regretfully, Daniel severed their physical connection. At that moment, Aislinn moved forward, just in time to see Jack grab Daniel's hand and pull him down onto his lap.
“Jack!” Daniel laughed as Jack's arms went around his waist.
“I love you, Danny. You're everything and more.”
The lovers kissed as Daniel's hand caressed just behind Jack's ear.
“Mmmm. Gawd, I love you. I wish we could just stay in bed,” Daniel said longingly as he took in Jack's scent. ~He smells so good; oh, Jack, what would I have done if you hadn't come home?~
“We can't leave the kids yet,” Jack responded, though he was desperate to spend quality time alone with Daniel.
“I know. I just need you so much,” Daniel stated, his voice full of need.
“Ditto, Love. Believe me, that is soooooo a ditto.”
As Aislinn watched, the lovers kissed again, and then Daniel got up to begin the meal.
“Hi, Dad,” Aislinn finally said, walking over to her father at the table.
“Hey, Munchkin,” Jack replied, picking her up so that she sat on his lap. He groaned and grimaced, having forgotten about his ribs. ~Crap!~
**Danny, geez. Ouch!**
**Want me to take her?**
**No, I feel better already. She's such a princess.**
Jack squeezed the youngest of the triplets and smiled at her. He studied every inch of her face.
“Daddy!” Aislinn exclaimed.
“Morning, Ash,” Daniel said, moving to give her a kiss. She reached up with both hands to give him a great, big smacking kiss. He smiled. “I love you.”
Aislinn grinned and leaned back into Jack's hold, still wanting the security of knowing her dad was home.
Jack continued his study of his daughter and questioned, **Danny, do you think she has Kayla's ears?**
Daniel smiled, pausing his food preparation only long enough to take a quick look at their daughter, and replied, **Yes, I think so, and, uh, Babe, just when did you notice Kayla's ears?**
**She was the mother of our children. It was my duty to notice everything,** Jack maintained as he tickled their daughter.
**Everything?** Daniel asked as he loudly banged the egg beater against the mixing bowl.
**Hey, she was a looker. Are you going to tell me you didn't notice?**
**That's ... beside the point. You noticed her ears, Jack!**
Jack grinned; in fact, it was a grin Daniel felt without looking at his husband.
**Gawd, you're incorrigible, Jack.**
**And you're jealous, and I love you.**
**I am not jealous, and I love you, too.** Daniel continued to beat the eggs for a few more seconds. **Kayla was a beautiful woman, Jack, and I see a little of her in all of the Munchkins and the twins. Don't you?**
**Seriously, Danny, yeah, I do, and I'm glad. What about you?**
Daniel looked over at Jack and smiled. Their children resembled the two of them greatly, and inwardly, they were both happy about that. No one would ever doubt that the five youngest children were born to them. Yet, they realized they were happy that some of Kayla's features had been passed on as well.
**Yes, Jack, I am glad.**
Jack nodded and continued to play with their squiggling and giggling daughter.
As the minutes passed, some of the other children made their way downstairs. Jack chuckled at Ricky when he walked in.
“Son, we need to review color coordination.”
“Color cor...what?” the three-year-old asked.
“I'll explain it to you later,” Jack answered, smiling at his son's unique outfit.
The boy had put on a bright yellow top with horizontal orange stripes, a pair dark green pants, bright red socks, and, to complete his ensemble, tan shoes.
“Color clash,” Chenoa said.
“You laugh at me?” Ricky inquired, putting his hands on his hips.
The little girl chuckled, “No. Laugh at clothes.”
“Oh. Okay,” Ricky said, relaxing. “Dad, when we go lake 'gain?”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a quick glance before Jack answered, “It's wintertime, Son, but next summer, we'll go a lot, okay?”
“Okay,” the brown-haired boy said, accepting his father's answer without question.
A few moments later, Jennifer entered the living room. She stopped to say 'hi' to the fish and enjoy their swimming show for a minute or two. In the kitchen, Aislinn could hear her. She scooted off Jack who pretended to look all hurt and wounded that she was abandoning him, but the little girl ignored Jack's mock whines and ran into the living room to see her older sister.
“Jen! Need help.”
Jennifer knelt down and asked, “With what, Ash?”
The little girl leaned over, whispering into Jennifer's ear, “Dad 'n' Daddy need 'mantic time.”
Jennifer almost coughed. She looked at Aislinn who nodded.
“Um, I'm sure they'll find some time to spend together.” Jennifer's eyes grew wide as Aislinn emphatically shook her head. “Did ... you have something in mind, Ash?”
As she nodded, the little girl said, “We su'prise them.”
“Hey, what's going on?” Brianna asked, seeing her sisters huddled together.
“Bri, Dad 'n' Daddy need 'mantic time. We su'prise them.”
Brianna smiled as she responded, “Now, that's a cool idea. Let's do it.”
Jonny scooted off his chair in the kitchen and went into the living room. He stuck his nose in the little huddle made by the three girls.
“Secret?” Jonny asked. Aislinn repeated what was happening. “Be back,” Jonny told them, going into the kitchen to get his brother. “Little Danny, come here.”
Jonny whispered into his ear, causing Little Danny to smile.
Little Danny, in turn, looked over at Lulu and Chenoa and requested, “Lulu, Noa, come with us.” The group ran into the living room, slightly out of sight of their dad. A second later, though, Little Danny ran into the kitchen area again. He looked all around, finally looking under the dining table. “There you are. Ricky, come here.”
Jack leaned his body over to look under the table, surprised to find their youngest child sitting on the floor, eating a piece of bread.
“When did you get under there?” Jack asked.
“Bread fell off,” Ricky explained while chewing.
“Give me that,” Jack ordered as he reached out to take the bread. “When you come back, you can get a clean piece.”
“We don't eat off the floor, Ricky,” Daniel explained.
The boy just shrugged in response.
**It wasn't me!**
Daniel looked at Jack skeptically.
**Danny, it's just a child thing.**
Daniel burst into laughter and returned to what he was doing.
**You're right, Babe. It's just usually a 'Jack thing',** the younger man thought, loving the lighthearted banter that was going back and forth between them. ~I feel so alive again.~
**I'll show you my thing and ...**
**Gawd, I wish you could,** the younger man expressed with desire.
**I followed your orders, Danny.**
**I didn't break anything important,** Jack mused.
The two fathers chuckled, remembering the conversation from over two weeks ago about Jack not breaking any important body parts.
“Ricky, hurry,” Little Danny urged, taking the child's hand and pulling him into the living room.
Jack and Daniel both became a bit alarmed at their children's actions.
“Have we missed something?” Jack asked.
“Apparently,” Daniel replied, as he slowly walked to the edge of the dining area, leaning his body over to the right to try and see what the children were up to.
“Jeff, over here,” Chenoa said when she saw the boy walking down the stairs.
“Daniel, do you think we should break up that little ... whatever it is?”
“No, they're just ... no.”
“We definitely need to keep a close eye on them today,” Jack suggested, his internal 'Child Up To Something' alert sounding.
“Very close,” Daniel agreed, returning to the refrigerator to get another egg.
A moment later, Jack, who could see the huddled mound of young bodies in the living room, said, “Well, they're all present and accounted for, so whatever is going on includes the entire brood.”
“Aunt Sam, it's Jen,” the oldest of the children spoke quietly over the phone.
“Hey, Jen. Everything okay over there?” Sam asked.
“Sure. The madhouse is back. Um, we need your help,” Jennifer informed her confidante.
“I'll try. What's up?”
Jennifer explained the plans the children had devised.
“Jen, I'd love to, but I can't today, or tomorrow. I'm working on something really important that can't be put off. I mean, I'm way behind schedule.”
Jennifer knew she was imposing, and it wasn't fair given all Sam had done for them over the last two weeks, but ... well, she had to.
“But this is important, too,” Jennifer pleaded.
“I have an idea. I'd suggest Janet, but she's helping me, and General Hammond is tied up with meetings. What about Sara?”
Jennifer sighed as she leaned against the end of the sofa. Glancing over her shoulder to make sure Jack and Daniel weren't close by, she explained, “She and Mark are out of town, doing what we want Dad and Daddy to do.”
Sam coughed, then said, “Don't worry, Jen; I have complete confidence in your parents' ability to, uh, well ...”
“You know?” Jennifer stated as she smiled.
“Um, hold a second, Sam.” Jennifer held her hand to the phone. “I need reinforcements. She says she can't, and not even Janet can come.”
“Give me,” Aislinn said, reaching up for the phone.
“Good luck,” Jennifer whispered, looking over towards the kitchen again. She smiled, seeing Jack's curious stare. “Hey, Dad.”
The Special Ops trained general looked a little suspicious, but only nodded in response to her greeting, so Jennifer returned her focus to the phone conversation.
“It's 'portant, Aunt Sam ... no, not next week, now!”
Little Danny grabbed the phone and said, “We need you, Aunt Sam.”
The boy handed the phone to Jonny who said, “Aunt Sam, you can't leave us b'hind; against rules!”
Chenoa was next to speak, coming up with her own plan as she asked, “Can Teal'c take us?” The Munchkins all slapped her gently in retribution. She smiled innocently and then begged, “Please, Aunt Sam.”
David took the phone and mumbled, “Sisters with crushes.”
“Not a crush!” Chenoa argued.
“Aunt Sam, Dad and Daddy deserve time together. Dad was in the infirmary, and now they have all of us. Please help us.” David turned to Jeff and handed him the phone. “Your turn.”
“Hey, Aunt Sam,” the teen greeted.
“Jeff, this is so not fair,” Sam responded over the phone.
“Yeah, I know, but you're the only one who can help us get what we want, unless Aunt Janet can help. Come on, be a pal.” Jeff covered the mouthpiece of the phone and knelt down in front of Jenny, Ricky, and Lulu. He whispered, “You've got to really lay it on her. Big time guilt trip. Good luck.”
“Don't you love us anymore, Aunt Sam?” Ricky asked.
“We need you,” Jenny said, faking a sniffle while smiling.
“Oh, geez, Guys,” Sam whined.
Finally, Lulu picked up the phone, her tiny voice vibrating against Sam's soul as she spoke, “This is my first chance to surprise them. *I* need you, Aunt Sam.”
Jenny, Aislinn, and Chenoa all leaned over Lulu and spoke at the same time.
“Please, Aunt Sam.”
“Need you, Aunt Sam.”
“Please ... <sniffle> ... help!”
~Geez, we're good!~ Jennifer took the phone. “Well?” she asked smugly.
“Jennifer, did you happen to tape that little performance?”
“Because I need you to repeat it for General Hammond in about five minutes when he files court-martial papers against me.”
“Oh, we can handle Grandpa George,” Jennifer said confidently.
“Are you sure about that?”
Jennifer looked at her grinning siblings, who were already hatching up just exactly how to lure in their grandpa.
“Positive. He'll be calling you in five minutes. See you in an hour, Aunt Sam.”
Jennifer hung up and huddled with her siblings. From the kitchen, Jack and Daniel grew more wary of their actions.
“Danny, I think we should find out what's going on.”
“They aren't really doing anything wrong, Jack,” Daniel said in the children's defense. ~Yet, anyway. Innocent until proven guilty.~ Daniel gulped. ~No, think positive.~
“Maybe; I'm not sure,” Jack refuted.
“Eat your Froot Loops, Babe,” Daniel ordered, sitting down at the table.
Laughter broke out in the living room just as the archaeologist reached for his coffee.
“Jack, be calm; they're right in front of us. What kind of trouble could they be getting into?” Jack gave Daniel a look of 'you've got to be kidding'. “Forget I said that,” he said and then took a sip of his coffee.
In the living room, Jennifer had picked up the phone again.
“Okay, you guys know what to do?”
“Tears ... <sniffle> ... ready,” Jenny told her big sister.
Jennifer dialed the base and at first was told that her grandfather was in a meeting. Not willing to give up, she decided to go for it full force.
“Well, uh, this is ... sort of ... an ... emergency.”
“Who's calling?” the sergeant asked.
“Hold on, please.”
“He is *so* going to kill us,” Jennifer said.
“It's for a good cause, Jen,” David chuckled.
“Right.” Moments later, Jennifer heard her surrogate grandfather's voice. “Hi, Grandpa, it's Jen ... well, um ... hold on.” She looked at the chosen family representatives. “Okay, you guys, you're on, and remember, lots of tears, and don't give him time to think about it. Jenny, you're first.”
“Grannnnn...paaaaaaa ... <sniffle> ... need to 'prise ... <sniffle> ... Dad 'n' ... <sniffle> ... Daddy. You help? ... <sniffle> ...”
“Jenny?” Hammond asked over the phone. “Jenny, what's wrong?”
“Grandpa, only you can help! We need Aunt Sam. Please help!” Lulu said.
“ ... <sniffle> ... <sniffle> ... We need ... <sniffle> ... Aunt Sam ... <sniffle> ... Please send ... <sniffle> ... Aunt Sam ... <sniffle> ...” Ricky requested emotionally.
“Go in for the kill, Ash,” Brianna urged, nudging her sister. “You can do it!”
“Don't you ... <sniffle> ... love us ... <sniffle> ... Grannnnd ... <sniffle> ... pa?”
“Hi, Grandpa,” Jennifer said, her smugness evident in her tone.
“We need Aunt Sam, all day.”
Hammond knew he was being had. He'd been around the 'crying children' corner many times over the years, but he was still a sucker for their tears.
~Well, Colonel Carter's project is already late, and these children have had a tough time of it lately. One more day isn't going to make that much of a difference.~ The leader of the SGC turned all soft and gooey, though he attempted to keep a tough exterior. “One day, Jennifer, and then I have to insist Colonel Carter return to regular duty.”
“Thanks, Grandpa! We love you!” The teenager hung up the phone and eagerly exclaimed, “We did it!”
Cheers went up in the living room.
“Danny ...” Jack said, his body willing him to move.
“Don't think about it, Babe. It's safer that way!”
“Colonel Carter,” Hammond said, entering Sam's lab, always a sign of something unusual happening.
“How's your progress with the new generator model coming along?”
“We're making progress. I still need Doctor Fraiser to help me with some of the medical calculations, but we should be able to test it out in a day or two.”
“Make it three.”
“Three?” Sam quizzed. ~Holy Hannah, they did it!~
“Three days. You're ... dismissed for today,” Hammond said.
Sam stared at the general, then broke out into a smile, unable to contain herself.
“They got to you, didn't they?” the colonel asked.
“The little con artists. I want a detailed report, Colonel.”
“I want to know exactly what those little dickens are up to that warranted all this trouble to get you off duty, and I'm guessing their fathers don't have a clue,” the general guessed.
“That would be a safe bet,” Sam laughed. “Oh, General, could I take Janet? I think I might need her for ... whatever it is they have planned.”
Hammond nodded and then headed for the door. He paused and looked back at Sam.
“Details, Colonel. This has to be good,” Hammond noted with a smile.
“Morning, Sir, Daniel,” Sam said, walking into their house.
“Carter, don't take this wrong, because you know I love you like a sister, but haven't you been here enough lately?” the general asked as he opened the door and saw his 2IC.
“I was summoned,” Sam explained, turning around as she heard Jennifer approaching.
“Yes, she was,” Jennifer said.
Jack started to shut the door.
“Uh, excuse me,” Janet said, pushing the door back.
“Doc, I'm fine. You didn't need to make a house call.”
“I'm with her,” Janet said, pointing at Sam and smiling.
“Excuse us, Dad, Daddy. Come with me,” Jennifer told Sam and Janet, taking the two women upstairs to Jeff's bedroom where all of the children had gathered.
“Danny, they are definitely up to something,” Jack speculated, bouncing on his feet slightly.
“Yes, I know.”
“Aren't you worried?”
“Jack, to be absolutely honest, I get worried when they *aren't* up to something.” Daniel saw another grimace on Jack's face. “Are you okay?”
“Just a little stiff.” As the lovers walked back to the sofa, Jack commented, “Danny, we have to do something for Carter and the Doc, and for everyone who pitched in.”
Daniel agreed, saying, “I never had to worry, Jack. They were always here. I ... Jack, I never had to ask, not once.”
“Good friends,” Jack remarked softly.
“What?” Jack asked, completely surprised at his lover's negative response.
“Family. They're family, Jack.”
The two kissed and then sat down to ponder what kind of trouble their brood was getting into.
Sam and Janet were smiling as they listened to the children's plans.
“Hafta to be su'prise,” Aislinn explained.
“Need pedals,” Ricky said. “Daddy likes pedals.”
“Pedals?” Sam shook her head and gave Janet a questioning look.
“He means rose petals,” Jennifer clarified. “Daddy loves roses, and Dad loves to give them to him. I think he spreads them around.”
“Oh,” Janet responded. “Jack really is a romantic, isn't he?”
“Dad's very romantic,” Jennifer said, adding, “Daddy is, too.”
“There's a new opera CD Dad's been talking about; he said it's a really poignant story. I bet it would be romantic,” Brianna said. Then she snorted. “Opera, eww, but he likes it.”
“Okay, well, Janet and I can go shopping and ...”
“No, Aunt Sam,” Brianna objected. “We want to go.”
Jeff explained, “All of us. We want you to take us shopping so we can buy some things, and then we want you to get Dad and Daddy out of the house so we can set it up.”
“Then you get spend night with us at your house,” Little Danny said, a huge smile on his face, clearly expecting the females to be thrilled at the idea.
“Oh, well, that's ...” Sam paused. ~Pete's gonna kill me; it's his only night off this week.~ “I can't imagine anything else I'd rather do.”
The group discussed their goals for the shopping excursion, and several minutes later, Sam and Janet went downstairs with the children. Sam and Janet just stood by the stairs, smiling a tad nervously at the two men, while the children went to the closet and put on their jackets, snow boots, and gloves since it was snowing. A couple even put on ski hats to block the falling snow.
Jack's and Daniel's eyes widened as they watched. They kept waiting for Sam and Janet to explain what was happening, but the women just stood there.
“Going somewhere?” Jack finally asked quizzically.
“Um, well, the children,” Sam started to explain, but then she stopped. “Jen?”
“Coward,” Jennifer accused as she returned to Sam's side just as she finished putting on her white gloves.
“He's your father, but he's my boss,” Sam stated firmly.
Jennifer chuckled and then looked at her parents as she explained, “Dad, Daddy, we have something very important we need to do, and Aunt Sam and Aunt Janet have agreed to help, and we really need to go. We'll be back in ...” she looked at Sam and Janet, guessing, “um, two hours?”
The lovers looked at each other and shrugged. They trusted Sam and Janet not to let the brood get up to too much mischief, and they really didn't want to object when it would give them precious time alone.
“Okay, have fun, be safe, and don't cause your aunts any problems,” Daniel warned.
Giggling, the children left the house with their surrogate aunts.
“I know. We'll find out soon enough.”
“You don't think they're going to bring home another kid or something?” Jack inquired, his mind going way overboard in trying to figure out what the children were up to.
“Daniel, I don't put anything past that brood of ours. They may have an entire orphanage out there they want us to save.”
“Me, neither,” the younger man chuckled as he rested his head against Jack's shoulder. “An entire orphanage?” he suddenly questioned, raising his head to look at Jack. “No,” he shook his head in short jerks. “Definitely ... not.”
“I just think ...”
“Two hours. We have two hours to cuddle.”
“Was I about to talk about the kids?” Jack saw Daniel's affirmative nod. “What kids? What I really meant to say is ...”
Jack spoke with his lips and tongue, kissing his lover soundly.
In one of the mall stores, the kids were eagerly searching for what they wanted.
Jonny found something he was sure Jack would like. He tugged on a man's pants and asked, “Please hand me,” while pointing to the object he'd found.
“Here you go,” the man said, smiling.
“Thank you,” Jonny responded as he ran over to Janet.
The man chuckled as he watched, then returned to his own shopping.
“Aunt Janet, get this. Dad likes candles.”
~Oh, boy.~ Janet coughed. “Uh, well, I'm sure he does, but how about we select something more appropriate?”
“Well, it's good for listening to a baseball game.” Janet returned to the candle section, placing the novelty candle of a baseball mitt back on the shelf. Studying her options, she pulled out a lavender-scented candle. “How about this one? It will smell really nice.”
“Need lots,” Jonny informed her.
Janet put six candles into the shopping basket, unable to convince Jonny that they didn't really need that many.
In another part of the store, Sam noticed Aislinn was totally engrossed with something.
“What are you looking at, Ash?”
“It perfect. Hafta get, Aunt Sam,” the little girl said, unable to take her eyes off the object.
Sam looked at the glass figurines. There were two beagles tugging on a large bone. Sam smiled.
“Okay, we'll add this to the cart.”
Sam picked it up. It wasn't a cheap figurine by any means, but she wanted to make the children happy.
“No, Aunt Sam. I buy. Wanna give Dad 'n' Daddy special present.”
At the house, Jennifer had explained that the children wanted to pay for this surprise for their parents. They had already pooled their money, and Sam figured it would pretty much cover the basics, but it wouldn't pay for the collector's piece Aislinn wanted to get.
“Ash, this is pretty expensive. Let me get it, okay?” Sam asked.
“No, me buy. Want to,” Aislinn pleaded, her blue eyes so expressive in her want to do this.
“You don't have enough money, Ash.”
Aislinn looked down. She was so sad, even on the verge of crying.
~Okay, Samantha. The girl needs money, so ... “I have an idea. What if I loan you the money?”
“What is loan?” Aislinn asked.
“That means I let you use my money. It's just like you using your own.”
“No want your money; want my money.”
Sam took a deep breath. She hated this, taking money from a little girl she thought of as a daughter.
“Okay, Ash. When someone loans someone else money, it means that you have to pay them back, so today you use my money, but then you pay me back when you can.”
Aislinn's face brightened as she realized a loan was like doing chores and getting her allowance.
“I earn money; pay you back!” the little girl promised.
“Right. Shall we do that?” Sam asked hopefully.
Aislinn threw her arms around Sam, and they hugged.
“Love you this much, Aunt Sam,” the happy little girl said after they pulled apart, spreading her hands out as wide as she could.
At the house, Jack and Daniel were in the rec room, on the largest piece of the sectional sofa. It was roomier than the living room sofa, and the sunlight beaming through the large windows brightened the room almost as much as their love was doing.
The lovers were lying down, Daniel lightly lying on his Jack pillow with his head resting on Jack's left shoulder. His left hand was caressing Jack's neck and upper part of his torso. Jack's fingers were running through Daniel's moderately long hair. It wasn't as long as the shag he'd had years ago, but it was long enough for Jack to really feel a silky sensation as his fingers carded through the brown locks.
“I love you, Angel.”
“I was so scared.”
“No need to be now,” Jack said right before leaning his cheek against the top of Daniel's head and rubbing back and forth a few times. He knew Daniel must have been more scared than ever because so far, anytime they had discussed recent events, one of the first things Daniel had admitted was how afraid he had been. ~I'm back now. No more tears, Angel, and no more fears. I'm here.~
“I was so empty when you were gone. Your love, Jack, it truly does give me life. I love you so freakin' much.”
“My Angel,” Jack whispered. He took a breath, and very softly, just loud enough for Daniel to hear, he began to sing to his husband, a simple act that always touched Daniel's heart because it was gift Jack gave to him only occasionally.
Just give me your hand,
Tabhair dom do lámh.
Just give me your hand
And I'll walk with you,
Through the streets of our land,
Through the mountains so grand.
If you give me your hand.
Just give me your hand,
And come along with me.
Will you give me your hand,
And the world it can see,
That we can be free,
In peace and harmony?
From the north to the south.
From the east to the west.
Every mountain, every valley,
Every bush and birds nest!
By day and night,
Through all struggle and strife,
And beside you, to guide you,
Forever, my love.
For love's not for one,
But for both of us to share.
For our country so fair,
For our world and what's there.
Just give me your hand,
Tabhair dom do lámh.
Just give me your hand,
For the world it is ours.
All the sea and the land,
To destroy or command,
If you give me your hand.
Just give me your hand,
In a gesture of peace.
Will you give me your hand
And all troubles will cease,
For the strong and the weak,
For the rich and the poor?
All peoples and creeds,
Let's meet their needs.
With a passion, we can fashion,
A new world of love!
By day and night,
Through all struggle and strife,
And beside you, to guide you,
Forever, my love.
For love's not for one,
But for both of us to share.
For our country so fair,
For our world and what's there.
“You gave me the strength to come home, Danny. My brain may have been wacky, but I knew there was something, someone. I was incomplete out there.” It hurt a bit, but Jack rolled Daniel over onto his back so he could gaze into Daniel's beautiful blue eyes. They were misty as baubles of moisture wetted Daniel's cheeks. “Give me your hand, Angel, for all time and eternity, for the Simpsons and Egyptian pyramids, be it at the cabin, in the woods, or here in our renovated paradise. Will you marry me, Danny?”
“Yeah, again,” Jack said, speaking totally sincerely.
“Jack, you're crazy,” Daniel responded, though his eyes were sparkling and his heart beating rapidly.
“Answer my question. Will you give me your hand for our nation of two and beyond?”
“Yes, always,” Daniel answered.
Jack leaned down and kissed his soulmate thoroughly.
Daniel was swept up with emotion and requested, “Play our song, Jack.”
After another kiss, Jack put on Celine Dion's “Because You Loved Me” and together, they danced, though Jack still moved a bit gingerly. Their fingers caressed and touched, and their eyes drank in the other. Neither could imagine any two people being more in love than they.
“These pretty,” Little Danny said, picking out the most expensive red roses in the flower shop. “I buy these.”
“Okay, Sweetie,” Janet said, motioning to the florist. “How many, Little Danny?”
“... Dozen,” the little boy finished.
Janet coughed. That definitely wasn't in the children's budget, but Little Danny didn't seem to share Aislinn's concern about the money. Either that, or his math was about as good as Daniel's, meaning that for these two geniuses, math was just not their thing.
“Okay, you guys, have we got everything?” Sam asked.
Everyone was gathered in the parking lot, in between the SUV and Janet's car.
“I think we have everything,” Jeff said, “but now we have to get Dad and Daddy out of the house.”
“Ideas?” Janet asked.
“Grandpa?” David suggested.
“Actually, Janet, I don't think they'd buy that. I mean, didn't you tell them the general was to stay home for a few days?”
“You mean they listen to me?” Jennifer chuckled. “What?” the petite doctor asked.
“They do ... sometimes.”
Janet sighed, “Okay, I know what I can do, but he's not going to like it.”
Janet walked into the entranceway of the Jackson-O'Neill home and called out, “Is it safe?”
“No, we're naked,” Jack yelled out.
“Right,” Janet responded dryly.
“Hey, I said we were naked,” Jack teased when he saw Janet approaching.
“Don't worry, General, I've seen it all ... in detail ... every inch.” Seeing the general glare, Janet commented, “Of course, some are bigger than others. I've always thought ...”
“Doc, where are my kids?” Jack asked, eager to change the discussion.
“Outside. Sir, I need you and Daniel to come with me.”
“Hi, Janet,” Daniel said, returning from the kitchen. “Where are the children?”
“Outside, with Sam.”
“I came in first to make you watch your language,” Janet told Jack.
“Janet, what's going on?” Daniel asked.
“I got a call from the lab. The PET scan I did showed some questionable areas. I don't think it's anything, but I don't want to take any chances, either.”
A look of panic entered Daniel's eyes, and Janet winced. She really didn't want to worry either man so she was rather relieved when a thoughtful expression replaced Daniel's panicked one.
Jack obviously had no doubt that she was overreacting and whined, “Doc, do we have to do this now?”
“Janet ...” the archaeologist pleaded.
“Daniel, don't argue,” Janet ordered as she nodded towards the door, her 'Little Napoleon' face on.
**Jack, she's getting us out of the house.**
**I figured that out. What do you think?**
**I think we should let them do whatever they're going to do. Play along, Babe.**
“Okay, Doc, all yours.”
Surprised at the easy capitulation, but unwilling to look a gift horse in the mouth, Janet quickly ushered the two out.
While Janet kept Jack and Daniel occupied at the SGC, Sam helped the children set everything up. While it wasn't a traditional or perfect romantic set up, it was just the way the children wanted it to be.
“Thank you, Aunt Sam,” Aislinn said.
Sam placed the call, letting Janet know they were ready.
Janet approached the lovers, a chart held close to her chest as she spoke, “Okay, guys, here's the deal.”
“You mean we can go home now?”
Lowering her head, Janet laughed, “I wish I could have thought of something more convincing, but the children didn't give us much notice.”
“You put me through a PET scan for nothing?” the general whined.
“No, I was going to have Daniel bring you in on Friday for a new one anyway.” Janet paused. “Look, I'm supposed to somehow beat you home, so how about we skip the road race, and you two just lag behind about ten minutes, then go home?”
“What are they doing?” Jack asked.
“Jack, no,” Daniel stated firmly.
Daniel looked at Janet, then back at his lover, as he answered, “No, let's not ask her. Our children have apparently gone to a good deal of trouble to do something. I don't want to know what it is; I mean, let's not ruin it for them.”
“You're right, as usual.” Jack looked at Janet and said, “See you at the house.” After she hurried out, Jack had to asked again, “Any idea what they're up to?”
“Not a clue, but I am curious,” the younger man admitted.
“Where's the SUV?” Jack asked as Daniel pulled into the driveway.
“Well, I guess Sam must have gone somewhere else.”
“I thought they'd be here.” Getting out of Daniel's vehicle, Jack looked around. “I don't see the Doc's car either.”
Daniel shrugged, knowing they'd find out soon enough anyway, and asked, “You doing okay?”
“Stop being a worrywart.”
“Can't help it,” Daniel admitted. Jack smiled, and, slowly, the two headed for the front door. “Jack, look.”
A sign, placed on the wooden door, read:
Welcome to the Paradise Inn
“Paradise Inn?” Jack questioned.
“I think it's paradise,” Daniel commented, earning him a kiss from his husband.
They opened the door and instantly smelled the aroma of lavender and roses.
“Jack, wow, and uh, lavender.”
Daniel looked at the streamers that were hung from the ceiling and all over the room. The children seemed to have gone somewhat overboard since every inch of the room had been covered. He chuckled at the overabundance of crepe paper, but thought it was sweet nonetheless. Little signs with arrows drawn on them pointed towards the stairs.
“Danny, the girls are gone,” Jack observed about their beloved beagles.
“Must be with Sam,” Daniel responded. “Do you hear music?”
The lovers went up the stairs, following both the signs and the sound of music. Tacked onto the door of their master bedroom was a huge red cardboard heart with “Jack and Daniel” written across the center in black crayon. Opening the door, they saw the room was laden with rose petals. Six candles were safely placed in various locations and were lit. The new CD was playing, and helium-filled Mylar balloon hearts were scattered around the room. On the bed was a huge block of chocolate, a packet of candy hearts, and a note:
Dear Dad and Daddy,
We want you to have a night alone together, to be, as Ash said, romantic. Jonny and Little Danny insisted you'd need the chocolate for energy. We talked them out of sprinkling coffee grounds among the rose petals. We're all at Aunt Sam's, including the girls, Mittens, and Calico. We took the SUV.
Have fun. We love you and will be home after breakfast tomorrow morning.
Each of the eleven children had signed the note to the best of their ability.
“Romantic,” Daniel said, showing Jack the note.
“Love those kids. We're getting the honeymoon before the wedding.”
Daniel chuckled, “We'll, uh, do both.”
“I do love how you think.”
“Warm bath,” Daniel suggested.
“How about a massage, too?” Jack queried.
“I think I can handle that, and, uh, a lot more.”
“I'm not so cold anymore,” Jack said softly.
“Jack, you're still stiff, and those ribs are sore. I'm doing all the work.”
Happier than ever, Jack and Daniel made tender love, soaking in their togetherness during a very romantic night together.
--Day 21: Wednesday, December 29
The next day was full of joy for the Jackson-O'Neills. The children were happy that their parents had enjoyed their night at the Paradise Inn, and now Jack was making a full recovery, helped by their eager children who were feeding him constantly.
“Eat more Loops, Dad,” Chenoa said, pushing a spoonful of Froot Loops into Jack's mouth for breakfast.
“Time for snack. Eat apple,” Jonny insisted just two hours later.
“Not 'n'uff, Dad. Need more 'tatos,” Jenny argued at lunchtime.
“Dad, Aunt Janet said you have to eat. Here's a banana,” Lulu said in the afternoon.
“Here, Dad. You eat my peas,” Little Danny said, emptying his plate of leftover vegetables onto Jack's plate at suppertime, although since Little Danny wasn't particularly fond of peas, Jack suspected the little devil was killing two birds with one stone.
“Dad, I brought you a caramel ice cream sundae,” Brianna said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. Jack reached out for it. “Um, I'd better make sure it's not poisoned or anything first,” she said, stealing two bites before handing over the rest to her dad.
Jack thought he was finally safe by 8:30 p.m. when the youngest children were finally in bed. Of course, assumptions are often wrong, as was this one.
“Dad, forgot,” Aislinn said, scampering into the master bedroom holding an artistically-made sandwich.
Jack stared at the creation. If he was guessing right, the sandwich was a combination peanut butter, olive, pickle, mustard, catsup, and turkey delight. He smiled, his lips closed.
“Eat, Dad. It 'portant,” Aislinn insisted.
Jack saw the hopeful smile on Aislinn's face, and, like any good parent, he took a bite, forcing himself to grin as he chewed.
**Danny, I may die from this concoction.**
**Careful, Babe. She's watching your every chew.**
“Ash, this is the ... the most ... unique sandwich I've ever had,” Jack said in a tone that said he absolutely loved it.
Aislinn grinned, her eyes shining with happiness.
**How bad is it, Jack?**
Jack looked at Aislinn and responded, **Truthfully?**
**It's the best sandwich I've ever had, Danny.** Jack smiled and reached out to touch his daughter's cheek. “Thanks, Ash, this is just what the doctor ordered.”
“Okay, young lady, back to bed.” Daniel looked at Jack. “I'll be right back.” With Aislinn safely ahead of him, Daniel whispered, “I, uh, think I'd better check out the kitchen.”
Not to be outdone by the human children, Katie suddenly appeared on Jack's bed, depositing one of her bones on his lap.
“Uh, Katie, I love you, but really, I don't think this is a Doc Fraiser-approved food.”
The youngest beagle lay down, her head on her paws. She looked so sad.
“It's a dog bone, Girl.”
“Oh, for crying out loud.”
Two minutes later, Daniel walked into the bedroom and burst into laughter.
“Jack, what are you doing?”
Daniel looked at a smiling Katie, tail wagging as she stood with her front paws on Jack's left thigh.
Jack took out the bone he'd had in his mouth.
“Katie wanted to feed me, too.”
Daniel doubled over in laughter once again when Jack put the bone back in his mouth.
“Woof, wooooof, woooooof!” Katie said as jumped around the bed, full of excitement.
--Day 22: Thursday, December 30
Thursday would be a busy day for the Jackson-O'Neills, beginning with their trip to the mall. Daniel was taking the children to do some post-Christmas shopping for their upcoming trip to the shelter and nursing home. The children all wanted to buy this second gift themselves, so Jack and Daniel made agreements with them that they could each do chores to earn extra money. The kids had wanted Jack to go, but after Janet explained he wasn't well enough to go shopping and make the outings to the shelter and nursing home, they decided it was okay if Jack missed the shopping excursion.
The children wrapped their gifts, and that afternoon, Jack and Daniel drove them to the shelter. At first, the workers weren't sure about accepting the gifts, afraid that if there were only a few things, it would be unfair to those children who missed out, but then they saw what the family had brought -- general equipment for playtime at the orphanage, things that could be used by all the children, like different sized baseball mitts, some rubber balls, and a new free-standing basketball hoop. There were several sets of jacks, crayons, and materials for painting and other art work.
“Thank you so much,” the director of the selected shelter said to Jack and Daniel.
“Don't thank us, Ma'am; thank our brood. This was their idea,” Jack said, grinning with pride.
“Thank you, children. You've done a lot of good today.”
The children beamed as they huddled together around their parents, and they were even happier when the director asked if they'd like to present their gifts at a special assembly.
Afterwards, the family headed to the same nursing home they'd visited before Christmas. Their last visit had been overshadowed by the worry and grief of Jack's disappearance. This time, though, eleven very cheerful young people visited with as many of the senior citizens as they could. The manager there was overjoyed.
“No one comes unless it's a holiday,” the manager stated.
“We come not on holidays,” Little Danny said. He looked at his parents. “We come 'gain not on holiday?”
Daniel nodded, promising, “Yes, we will.”
“You have some real treasures here,” the woman said to Jack and Daniel.
“Don't we know it,” Jack said, filled with love. ~I don't know how we're getting this so right, but thank Heavens we are.~
The family returned home about three in the afternoon, but the day was still young, and they had lots to do. The rest of the day was spent following various holiday traditions. They sang some songs, talked about Christmas' around the world and how the holiday is celebrated in different ways from land to land, and spent hours cooking holiday treats.
Because this was their Christmas holiday, Jack and Daniel were allowing the children to stay up a little later than normal. Actually, they were allowed to stay up until they wanted to go to bed. It was an extra holiday treat good only for three days.
Thus, when the phone rang at almost nine o'clock, most of the children were still up. Only Chenoa and Ricky had gone to bed, though little Jenny's eyes were fluttering, and Daniel felt it was only a matter of minutes before he'd be carrying her up the stairs.
“Hello,” Daniel said as he picked up the cordless phone.
“Hi, Daniel, it's Sam.”
“How are things at the Mountain?” the archaeologist inquired.
“Busy; boy are they busy, but I finally got the project done, about ten minutes ago.”
The colonel sounded relieved and tired, but her tone was jovial.
“That's good. I feel bad about keeping you from your work for so long.”
“It was a happy ending, Daniel, so it was worth it. I know it's late, but I couldn't call until I finished this. Is Ash still up by any chance?” Sam inquired.
“Ash? Um, sure. Hold on.”
Sam knew about the special present of staying up late, so wasn't too surprised with Daniel's response, especially since she knew Aislinn was waiting anxiously for her phone call.
Daniel looked around the house, finding Ash with Jennifer and Lulu in the game room. They were playing air hockey, toddler-style.
“Ash, Aunt Sam is on the phone.”
“Oh,” Aislinn said cheerfully, bouncing a couple of steps from excitement. “Aunt Sam?”
“Hey, Ash ...”
Daniel watched as Aislinn nodded, “oooohed,” and listened to the conversation. He was very curious.
“Eight 'clock ... I check.” Aislinn lowered the phone, looked up at her younger father, and requested, “I go Aunt Sam's 'morrow, 'kay, Daddy?”
“Um, well, why?” Daniel asked his daughter.
“It's 'portant,” Aislinn answered simply.
“Um, let me talk ...” the archaeologist began.
Aislinn stepped back, keeping the phone to her as she implored, “It's 'portant. Secret, just me and Aunt Sam. Pleeeeeeeeease, Daddy.”
Daniel gave in, trusting that Sam knew what she was doing, and said, “Okay.”
“Aunt Sam, Daddy say okay.”
Daniel remained curious as Aislinn finished her conversation.
The little girl handed Daniel the phone and went back to her game, telling her sisters, “Hafta go bed, get sleep when we done this game.”
“Daniel, I'll be there at eight to pick Ash up.”
“I don't suppose you want to tell me what this is about?” Daniel asked quietly after he had walked out of the recreation room.
“I can't. It's a secret.”
“Okay, Sam. Where are you taking her, or is that part of the secret, too?” the father questioned.
“She'll be with me at my house all day,” Sam answered.
“Is that okay?” Sam asked.
“Um, sure, I guess,” Daniel's confusion seeping through his words.
Sam laughed, “It's okay, Daniel; I promise. I'll talk to you in the morning.”
Daniel hung up the phone and informed Jack of their daughter's plans.
“I wonder what she's up to,” Jack said.
“They have secrets now,” Daniel lamented.
Jack laughed and hugged his lover reassuringly as he spoke, “Danny, so far every secret they've kept from us has been something for us. Have you noticed that?”
Daniel smiled at his husband's keen observation and acknowledged, “You're right, Jack.”
Daniel felt relieved. It wasn't that he wanted their children to bestow endless gifts on them; he just didn't want his children growing up to the point that they kept secrets from their parents, secrets about their lives, wants, desires. He knew it would happen eventually, but it was way too early for it to start happening in his book.
A bit later, as they prepared for bed, Jack and Daniel reviewed their blessings of love and happiness, a beautiful forever, and eleven cherished bundle of joys.
“And you guys, too,” Jack said as he played with Bijou and Katie on the bed.
As the lovers reflected on the events of the last several hours, they knew it had not just been a very good day, but they had a very good life.
“I'm surprised Jennifer remembered that song,” Jack commented as the lovers lay together, the beagles atop them.
“It turned out to be something that held them together, Jack,” Daniel observed. “I was gone a lot of the time, but Sam, Janet ... well, everyone, said that after the first time, when all they did was cry, they'd put on the song and sing with all of their hearts. They wanted you to hear. They cried later, lots, but when they were united in that circle, their little hearts thought of just one thing -- bringing you home.”
“Geez, Danny, I thought I was out of my mind, but somehow, it gave me strength. I'm so proud of our kids. Ricky's idea to get things for the entire shelter was perfect.”
“You nudged him, Babe,” Daniel teased.
“All I did was tell him a little story.”
Daniel chuckled, “Yeah, about how when you were a little boy, you were the only one not to get a present at the school party.”
Jack laughed, “Well, that was until they found the present hidden in Julia Marie Rappashaw's desk.” Jack kissed Daniel as he laughed, too. “Seems Julia wanted some of this action, too,” Jack quipped, raising his eyebrows several times.
“Let's celebrate your being home, Love,” Daniel crooned.
“Girls, love ya, but ...”
“Woof!” Bijou said to Katie, nudging the little beagle towards the door.
“Geez, they're smart,” Jack laughed before focusing on his Heart for yet another welcome home celebration.
--Day 23: Friday, December 31
“So how about if we make some cookies and ...” Sam began.
“No! Aunt Sam, hafta earn money.”
Sam sighed, “Ash, I need these cookies baked, and then we can eat some and ...”
“Want to do work. I buy present,” the four-year-old said sadly, walking into the living room and climbing up on the sofa.
As Sam entered the living room, she saw Aislinn, her head hung low, rubbing a tear from her eye. It had been Sam's intention to let Aislinn earn the money by doing easy things, like baking cookies they'd eat later and listening to music to decide which song was best to use at the birthday party for a co-worker's niece. She realized now that she was wrong. Aislinn had come to work, and she expected to work.
“Okay, Ash,” Sam said, kneeling down. “I'm sorry. I have a lot you can do.” Aislinn sniffled as she listened to Sam who took a deep breath before outlining the day. “We'll start with the laundry. I need all the whites separated from the color clothes, and when that's done, they need to be folded and put away. While the laundry is on, you can help me clean off the patio in the backyard. It needs to be swept and washed down. We'll take it from there, okay?”
Still sniffling, but a smile now on her face, the little girl said, “'Kay. Where's laundry?”
“This way,” Sam said, standing and reaching out so Aislinn could hold her hand, which she did. Aislinn was looking up at Sam with such purity that Sam just stared. “You're a beautiful little girl, Ash. I wish I had a little girl just like you.”
“Don't need little girl; have me,” Aislinn told her aunt.
Sam nodded, and then they went off to start their chores.
“Dad, do you have a minute?” Jeff asked Jack who was relaxing on the comfortable sofa in the rec room.
“Have a pillow,” Jack said with a smile as he closed the magazine he was reading.
Jeff continued to stand, however, as he asked, “Uh, do you remember asking me if I wanted to go back to my old neighborhood?”
“Are you ready?” Jack asked as he shifted a bit to get more comfortable.
“Dad, I didn't want to hurt you,” the boy admitted a bit hesitantly.
“Jeff, your life before here doesn't just disappear,” Jack responded. “You're not hurting me by pretending it doesn't exist; you're hurting yourself.”
“It's just that I feel so lucky to be here and so grateful that you and Daddy took me in.”
Jack sighed, wishing he and his husband had somehow found more time to talk with Jeff when he had first moved in. They had talked, but adjustments took time.
“Son, we're lucky to have you, and it's Daddy and I who are grateful and blessed that you decided to join our family.”
Jeff smiled and looked down at the wood floor shyly.
“Jennifer and I have talked a lot; I've wanted to believe her, but ...”
“You don't need to explain, just start standing up for yourself and letting us know your needs and wants, not that you're going to get them all,” Jack teased.
Jeff walked to the sofa and sat down on the other end as he chuckled, “I'd like to go back to my old neighborhood.”
Jack nodded steadily, feeling the boy's uneasiness lessen. He replied “Sounds like a plan. When you're ready, you can go.”
“I've made a lot of new friends, but I would like to see some of the guys I use to pal around with, and, uh, I'd like you and Daddy to meet them.”
“You sure about that?” Jack asked pointedly.
“If they can't handle it, they aren't my friends, and I don't need them. Jen helped me to understand that while you were gone.”
Jack smiled, sensing the growing bond between the two teenagers.
“We can go anytime,” Jack told Jeff.
“Dad, when you were missing, it felt like ... it was just like ... like losing him all over again. I ...” Jeff stopped, losing himself in emotion.
“I love you, Jeff. In this house, it's okay to cry.”
“And hug,” Jeff said. “I like that.”
“Then come give your old man a hug,” Jack said softly.
“I could take a lot of guff for this,” Jeff responded as they embraced.
“Not me,” Jeff said, smiling as he scooted over a few feet and fell into a warm hug with his father.
“Macho is good, but love is better. Don't ever forget that, Jeff. This, what we feel right now, that will sustain us long after our rowdy buddies who are afraid of touch have disappeared. The jokes and good times won't get you through stressful moments, but, hopefully, these moments will, because they'll help you to know that you're not alone, Jeff. You have me, Daddy, and a long list of siblings and extended family who will never let you forget that you're a wanted member of this brood of ours.”
“Does that mean we make hugging a habit?” Jeff asked as the hug continued.
“Hey, not unless you make sure to wear deodorant, and we'll need to talk quality after shave when you get older.”
Jeff laughed as the hug ended. As the laughter subsided, Jeff made another request, one he had wanted to make for a while.
“Dad, you worked with my dad, my birth dad, right?”
“Can you tell me what that was like? Tell me about how he was on missions.”
Jack smiled. He had a few stories he could share. He hadn't known Jeff's father well, but there were a few incidents, and since Jeff had become their son, Jack had asked around, learning as much as he could about Jeff's father. He knew that every fact and every tale would be of interest to Jeff one day, and this was one of those days.
“Let me tell you about your dad's first mission at the SGC. I wasn't there, but ...”
Jeff listened with keen interest as Jack shared the story. The teenager felt more at peace than he ever imagined he could. He liked being a Jackson-O'Neill.
“Thank you, Dad, for telling me the stories,” Jeff said sometime later when Jack had finished his fourth story about Jeff's dad. “You know what I like best about being a Jackson-O'Neill?”
Jack shook his head and said, “Tell me.”
“I didn't realize it at first, not until Jen and I talked while you were gone, but being a Jackson-O'Neill means I'm adding a family, not subtracting my past. I'm still Jeff Hunter, but now, I'm even more than that.”
“You sure are, Son,” Jack replied softly. After a moment, Jack added, “Jeff, I hope you didn't change your name because you felt you had to. Daniel and I have no problem with you going by 'Hunter' if you want to.”
“I know that now; I'm not sure I knew that before, but I like being a Jackson-O'Neill, and I don't think Dad would mind,” Jeff said, referring to his birth father, “because like I said, I'm adding, not subtracting, and I won't ever forget him.”
“No, you won't,” Jack emotionally agreed.
“Jack?” Daniel walked in, holding Jenny in his arms. He immediately sensed the conversation taking place was a serious one. “Should we come back?”
“No, Daddy. I was just asking Dad if you and he would take me back to my old neighborhood so I could introduce you to some of my friends.”
Daniel looked at Jack, who had a smug look on his face, and asked, “What about next weekend?”
“I'll make some calls.” Jeff stood up and walked by Daniel. He stopped and finger-played with Jenny for a moment, and then he looked back at Jack. “Thanks, Dad.”
“Everything okay?” Daniel asked when Jeff had walked out.
“Peachy. How's Jenny?”
“Want Dad,” Jack's little princess said, squirming in Daniel's arms.
**She needs a little reassurance.**
**That's what I'm here for,** the older man acknowledged. “Come here, Princess.”
Daniel watched as Jack and Jenny played. He took a deep breath, thankful for the peace that circulated within him. It had been too close this time; just too close.
At 4 p.m., Sam got a call from Sergeant Siler. There was a crisis that needed to be handled. It wasn't anything major, but it would take an hour or two of her time. She had tried to get Aislinn to stop her work, but the little girl didn't understand. She wanted to finish all the chores so she had earned all the money and could give her parents their special Christmas gift.
Sam looked at her watch and calculated her options. She needed to get to the Mountain and make it home in time to spend New Year's Eve with Pete. She called Daniel and asked if he could pick his daughter up at 5 p.m.
“Ash, your daddy will be here any minute,” Sam spoke, her heart hoping the little girl would stop working soon.
“Almost done,” Aislinn said as she knelt down near the bushes.
A few minutes before five, Daniel drove up in the Silver Fox. He was surprised to see Sam standing at the edge of the lawn just watching his daughter.
“Sam, is she pulling weeds?” Daniel asked, his surprise evident in his slightly sharpened tone.
Sam sighed. It was bad enough that she'd let the gardening go for so long that even in winter, there were dead weeds needing to be attended to; she certainly didn't need to feel any guiltier than she already did about Aislinn's dedication to working in the garden.
“Daniel, don't give me a hard time. Ash needed to earn some money. I tried to get her to ... bake cookies and draw me new art for the den, but she wouldn't have it. That little girl has slaved away the entire day, only stopping for lunch and two breaks to earn money for ...”
“Don't tell me, Sam.”
Daniel was teary-eyed just listening to Sam who was also teary-eyed.
“Today, Daniel, I really wished she was mine. Do you know what I mean? She ... she did it all, because it was important that her gift was her own.”
Daniel rubbed the small of Sam's back as she looked away and shook her head, trying not to succumb any further to her emotions.
“I'll never know what it's like, Daniel, to ... to ...” Sam shook her head. “It's ... it's just about too late for me.”
“You're wrong, Sam. Even if you didn't give birth to them, you have eleven children.”
The woman sighed, trying not to lose control as she saw Daniel's tender smile, and replied, “Dang, I hate it when I get like this.”
“It's okay, Sam,” Daniel comforted.
“She made the bed, washed the dishes, helped me with laundry, cleaned the patio: Daniel, I felt like such a heel all day, but every time I tried to get her to do something simple, she'd cry. This is *so* important to her.”
Daniel looked over at his daughter who was just standing up. She closed up the bag of weeds and pulled it along towards the house. He instinctively began to move to help her, but Sam grabbed his arm. She smiled and shook her head.
Suddenly understanding just how difficult this day had been for Sam, to watch Aislinn work so hard while refusing to accept help, Daniel squeezed his friend's shoulder in silent gratitude. He waited and watched, and when Aislinn put the bag at the side of the house, she came running over to her daddy.
The youngest Munchkin had the biggest smile on her face as she stated, “Aunt Sam, all done now.”
Sam nodded. She really couldn't speak. Instead, she hugged the little girl, locked up her house, and sped off in her car.
“Aunt Sam crying, Daddy?”
“Is she sad?” Aislinn asked.
“No, Sweetie, she's happy; she's happy because you're such a wonderful little girl, and she loves you very much.” Daniel picked up Aislinn, holding her close as he spoke, “I love you, too, Ash. Let's go home.”
As Daniel got in his car, he stared at the package Sam had handed him before leaving. It contained the special gift, except, looking at his daughter, he knew the really priceless gift was the little life looking up at him with an overwhelming amount of love.
“Jack, you should have seen her face when she tugged that bag to the side of the house.”
“You sure about this, Danny?” Jack asked.
“Jack, do not ruin this for her by getting angry. She worked so hard today, for us. She's so proud of herself.”
“She's a little girl,” Jack argued.
“She's our little girl. Gawd, Jack, she's doing exactly what we've hoped our children would do, to be who we want them be. She ... she showed respect and honor and responsibility. I don't know what she worked so hard for, but whatever it is, I ... I ...” Daniel trailed off, his emotions taking over.
“Hey, come here.”
Jack drew Daniel into his arms. They were on the roof deck for some quiet time together before meeting with the brood downstairs for their Christmas Eve tradition of opening one present each.
“Carter really cried?” Jack asked, surprised. ~She's a super woman, but she just doesn't cry that much.~
“Big time, Jack. This day was harder on her than any of us.”
“Maybe I'll have Ash fix her one of those special sandwiches,” Jack teased.
Daniel chuckled, burying his head against Jack's neck, and said, “I love you, Jack.”
“I love you, too, Angel. Happy New Year.”
“And Merry Christmas,” Daniel cheerfully added.
With dinner concluded and the day's holiday festivities done, except for the gift opening, the entire family, including the animals, were assembled around the large Christmas tree in the living room.
“Who wants to be Santa's elf?” Jack asked.
“Me!” Jonny volunteered, pushing himself up.
“Me, too,” Lulu said.
Carefully, the two children pulled out the gifts selected by Jack and Daniel to be opened now and placed the appropriate present in front of the receiver, and then one by one, they would open their gifts. This was the controlled present time. In the morning, when Santa came, it was every man, er, child, for him or herself.
“Okay, Bij, who goes first?” Jack asked.
Bijou looked around and ran to Lulu.
“Looks like you're up, Lulu. Open 'er up,” Jack instructed cheerfully.
Thus, it began, and when they were done, there were smiles all around. Lulu was putting on her new ballet tu-tu, Jonny was wearing his space suit, Ricky was building a house (at least that's what he said it was) with his Lincoln Logs, David was studying the new additions to his rock collection, Jennifer was holding her gift certificate to The Gap as if it were gold, Jeff was reading the directions for his new stereo, Chenoa was wearing her new shoes, Jenny was playing with her toy laptop, Little Danny was playing with his remote-control car, and Brianna was holding the tickets to the hockey game that she and Jack would be going to.
The lovers saw all their children smiling, except for one.
Aislinn hugged the life-size doll. It was perfect, exactly the one she wanted, but she wasn't smiling. She was holding the doll as if she'd never be able to hold her again. Then she put the doll back in its box, carefully wrapping it back in the tissue. It took all her strength, but she lifted the box and took it to where Jack was.
“Ash, honey, what are you doing?” Jack inquired, full of concern over the action.
“Give dolly back,” Aislinn answered, stifling a sniffle.
“Don't you like it?” Jack asked, totally shocked.
“Promised Santa I'd give her back if Dad come home.”
“Oh, Sweetie, no,” Daniel said, putting down his drink on the carpet next to him. He pulled Aislinn to him so she was sitting on his lap, facing Jack. “Ash, listen to me. Santa knows you meant what you said. He's very proud of you, and so are we, but he wants you to have this.”
“I promised, Daddy.”
The room quieted. All the children suddenly remembered that they, too, had promised similar things in their letters to Santa Claus.
“I promised, too,” Jenny said, boxing up her laptop.
**Jack, what do we do?**
Jack reached out and touched Aislinn's hand. When he looked up, all the children were putting away their presents. Even Bijou and Katie deposited their new toys at Jack's feet as if to say 'We promised, too'. He looked around at their brood. He could hear voices saying, “Dad all I want,” “Have to give back,” and “Just need Dad and Daddy.”
“Whoa, brood, hold up there,” the general said in desperation. “I want you to know that while I was in the infirmary, I ... talked to Santa.”
“You did?” Jenny asked, her eyes widened.
“I sure did,” Jack said, picking her up and holding her in his lap. He rolled his eyes, afraid to even look at Daniel. He was about to pull a fast one, but Christmas was at stake. “Santa told me what you all did, and I asked him if he'd deliver your presents anyway. I told him that you'd all been so good all year that it would be my Christmas present if all of you could keep yours. I also promised him that as a family, we'd make a donation to a charity in Santa's name for all the help he gave you while I was gone.”
“Give money for Santa?” Chenoa asked.
“Yeah, uh, to a ... family in need. You know how the woman at the nursing home said people only come during the holidays? Well, I suggested that we surprise a family for ... March First Day,” Jack quickly invented, cocking his head slightly.
Jennifer sat behind the others, smiling and thinking, ~Gee, he's good!~
“What's March First Day?” David asked.
“That's the day we, as a family, help a homeless family. There are a lot of them.” Jack's little fib suddenly found a light, a way to make the fib okay, in an odd sort of way. “Someday, if Daddy agrees,” he said, finally looking at his lover, “we're going to go down by Monument Creek, just outside of town. We're very, very, very lucky, all of us, but there are people who aren't so lucky, so we're going to go there, and I want you to see them. Then on March First Day, we're going to make it Christmas for at least one family there. Santa really liked that idea a lot, and he said it was okay for you to keep your presents.”
“March First Day,” Aislinn said quietly. Then she looked at Daniel and asked, “You sure, Daddy? I promised.”
~Our little miracle; gawd, what beautiful hearts our angels have.~ Daniel stroked her hair and nodded. “I have an idea,” he began. “This dolly is yours. She's family, and she belongs here, but as part of March First Day, we'll get one for a little girl who probably has never even had a dolly before. How about that?”
Aislinn smiled. Then she sighed and looked around at her siblings.
“What you think, Jenny?” Aislinn asked.
“Not sure.” Jenny shrugged as she considered it. A few moments later, she looked over at Little Danny and asked, “Lil' Danny, it okay?”
Little Danny scrunched his nose as he thought it out. He began to nod as he processed the information.
“We make promise to Santa; Dad talk to Santa. Dad our gift, but we Dad's gifts, too.”
Jack and Daniel couldn't help but be in awe of their young son and how he could reason things together, both logically and emotionally.
Little Danny continued, “We give lot to help others; we not being greedy. Santa say it okay. Santa like Dad 'n' Daddy -- doesn't lie.” With one final and firm nod of his head, the boy stated, “It okay. Jenny keep laptop, Lulu keep skirt, Ash keep dolly, we all keep, and then we have March First Day. It okay,” he repeated.
**Our genius,** both lovers thought at the same time, and then their family began to laugh and play the night away.
“Jen, we give special present to Dad 'n' Daddy now?” Jonny asked a while later.
“Sure. Let me get them.”
“Jen, where are you going?” Jack asked, seeing her head towards the hallway.
“Uh, these are special. They wouldn't fit under the tree. Anyone want to help me?” Jennifer asked.
“I will,” Brianna volunteered, knowing about the special gifts.
“Me, too,” David said.
A couple minutes later, the three returned, each carrying a large, wrapped package.
“Okay, Munchkins, you're up,” Jen called out.
“These special presents,” Aislinn said, standing in front of her gift that David held.
“Not very good though,” Jonny said with a slight frown while shaking his head.
As he stood in front of Jennifer, Little Danny said, “Jen say you love them. We had fun; hope you like them.”
Jack and Daniel looked at each other and shrugged, neither having a clue about the big packages. Meanwhile, Jennifer, Brianna, and David helped the Munchkins take their gifts over to where Jack and Daniel sat.
“You might want to open these at the same time,” Jennifer suggested.
“We'll need some help. We only have four hands,” Jack laughed.
Aislinn pushed her gift towards Daniel while Jonny gave his to Jack. By agreement, Jennifer and the triplets all worked to unwrap Little Danny's.
“Jack, oh my gosh, Jack, look!” Daniel exclaimed cheerfully as the face of their youngest miracle appeared through the Christmas wrapping paper.
Jack chuckled, “Danny, it's our escape artist.”
“I no escape; I covert ops,” Jonny said with pride.
“Look,” Daniel said, reaching out to examine the image of his namesake.
The special gifts were cardboard cutouts of the three Munchkins. Jennifer had gotten the idea when she saw the ones of her parents at General Hammond's house. The two men had made them during a crazy but wonderful week when they had been transformed into little boys and believed Hammond was their grandfather for real.
“These are wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” Daniel gulped in speaking.
“Perfect,” Jack added.
“Not perfect, Dad. Look. I went outside the line,” Jonny complained about his imperfection.
“Son, it's perfect. Thank you so much. Danny, how about we put these on the wall in the study?” Jack suggested.
Daniel beamed, loving the idea.
“Really?” Aislinn asked, feeling important that her parents would display the cutouts.
“Really,” Jack said. “We'll do it in the morning.”
“Those neat gifts,” Ricky said. “Someday we make, too, 'kay, Jenny?”
Jenny nodded happily.
“And when you do,” Daniel said, “They'll go in the study, next to the Munchkins.”
“Thank you so much, Munchkins,” Daniel said, reaching out and managing to pull all three to him. “I love you; love you all.”
Little Danny's hold suddenly tightened around Daniel's neck when he felt moisture against his cheek during the hug.
“You crying, Daddy?”
“I'm just so happy; all of you make me so happy,” Daniel said in an emotionally charged moment.
In seconds, the younger father was surrounded by eleven children, all reaffirming just how much love was there.
A few minutes later, the family was still sitting in the living room, just relaxing and enjoying being together.
“We all got what we really wanted Jack -- you, home, safe and in one piece,” Daniel sighed as he snuggled up to his husband.
“I didn't know any of you while I was missing, but you all believed in me enough to ...”
Jack's comment was interrupted by music filling the air. Jack and Daniel looked over to see Jennifer smiling and singing through tears. The teenager had just put on the CD, 'Celebrate Me Home' by Kenny Loggins. With their hearts overflowing, it only took a moment for all eleven Jackson-O'Neill children to begin singing the song as if it were the most sacred hymn ever written. For them, it was and always would be.
Home for the holidays,
I believe I’ve missed each and every face,
Come on and play my music,
Let’s turn on the love light in the place
It’s time I found myself,
Totally surrounded in your circles
Whoa, my friends
Please, celebrate me home,
Give me a number,
Please, celebrate me home
Play me one more song,
That I’ll always remember,
And I can recall,
Whenever I find myself too all alone,
I can sing me home.
As tears wet his cheeks, Daniel said, “The children and I never missed a day of sending our love out to you while this song played.”
It was too much for Jack. Removing his arm from Daniel's shoulder, he fell forward to his knees in front of the beautiful Christmas tree. Surrounded by all his children, Jack let loose a flood of tears that washed away all his confusion of the last two weeks and all his darkest fears of not belonging.
“Dad, love you,” the children chorused.
One by one, each child hugged their dad and cradled his head on their shoulder while the other ten huddled in close and touched him with an outstretched hand. It was a spontaneous outpouring of love that healed Jack emotionally and warmed him clear through his soul, all the way to the marrow of his bones.
Daniel watched, tears flooding his face. He wanted to comfort Jack, but he knew Jack needed exactly what he was getting at the moment -- the uninhibited, unabashed, unending love of their eleven children.
When Jack could speak, he said tenderly, “Hey, Brood, I want you to know I heard you. I wasn't sure what it was; geez, I thought for a while I'd lost my mind, but I kept seeing flashes or your faces, and every day, I could see and hear you stronger and stronger. It felt like if I could just somehow have grabbed ahold of the music, it would have pulled me through into your midst. Your love saved me; I have no doubt of that. I couldn't have held on without it,” Jack tearfully told his children.
“Dad, did you really see us?” David asked curiously.
Truthfully, Jack responded, “Scattered images. It wasn't so much your faces, as your essence.”
“No un'erstand,” Ricky said.
“Your heart,” Jack said softly. “I could see your heart.”
Ricky smiled as his father peered over at him lovingly.
“You know, it began with colors. I haven't figured that out yet.”
“Colors?” Daniel asked.
“Reds, oranges, violets ...”
“The rec room,” Daniel interrupted.
“Dad,” Jennifer said, catching on. “That's where we were. We sat in a circle in the recreation room. We held hands and sang the song, and then we'd talk and laugh and ... well, we remembered all the good times.”
Jack nodded as he processed the information. His eyes were still misty as he put it together.
“That's it, Jen. It was the colors of the rec room that I saw, and then the colors gave way to the voices, your voices.”
Jennifer smiled and embraced her father again.
“Aunt Janet smart!” Little Danny said.
“Janet?” Jack asked.
David explained, “I think she sort of started it by telling us stories. She told us to think good things, and Daddy told us to send you our love.”
“We did both,” Jennifer added. “The important thing was that it worked. We love you, Dad.”
The youngsters hugged their father one more time and then settled down to play some more.
As he leaned back, snuggling once again with his soulmate, Jack said, “It just doesn't get any better than this.”
“No, it doesn't,” Daniel agreed as he cuddled into Jack.
~Only one thing could make this day even more complete.~ Jack kissed his husband tenderly and whispered, “Angel, let's get married tonight.”
Daniel looked up at Jack, his eyes shining, but yet full of surprise.
“Wedding?” Chenoa asked before Daniel could say a word.
The children began to cheer, urging Daniel to agree, which, of course, he already had the first time Jack had asked. The archaeologist had just assumed they'd plan some nice event later in a month or two, maybe for Valentine's Day. He certainly wasn't expecting to get married for the third time at night during a snow storm, which was actually a possibility according to the weather reports for the day.
“Isn't tonight a little fast?” Daniel asked.
“I think we've known each long enough,” Jack teased.
Daniel laughed as he said, “You're insane, O'Neill, and I love you so much.”
“Then let's call all our friends and marry each other tonight in our backyard.”
Daniel couldn't say no, nor did he want to, so he happily began calling their extended family and asked them to be at their home at 8 p.m. The younger man also discussed an idea he had, one that Jack thought was terrific. As they prepared, they worked out the details, not only to Daniel's idea, but to the vows they would soon speak.
“Looks like most of the guests are here,” Daniel announced as he walked to his lover for a kiss.
They were dressed now, their vows prepared, and a plan firmly in their minds about what would transpire in the next few minutes.
“Let's get this show ...”
A flash of light drew the lovers attention.
“... on the road,” Jack said, finishing his sentence. “Thor! Crashing our wedding?”
“It is good to see you well, O'Neill. Daniel, my apologies for being unavailable. There was a crisis in the far reaches of ...”
“It's okay, Thor. We got him back,” Daniel said softly, a smile on his face as his arm wrapped around Jack's.
“O'Neill, you must be more careful in the future, or I'll shall have to attach a glyneck.”
Thor blinked once, very slowly, then responded, “A homing beacon. I have returned to many cries for help. You must not alarm your children by being so careless.”
“I was not careless,” Jack argued. Seeing Thor's piercing eyes and also glancing over at Daniel's stern but unspoken 'Oh, yes, you were' look, Jack coughed and went for a diversion. “You do have our house bugged!” Jack accused.
“I do not bug!”
In a flash, Thor beamed himself back to his ship, confident that Jack was fine.
“He has the house bugged, Danny. It's some kind of little gray butt thing.”
Daniel laughed and said, “And if he does?”
“I just hope he learns something,” the older man mused.
Jack laughed, leaned in for a kiss, and then said, “Come on, Angel. Let's go get married.”
“It's becoming a habit,” Daniel said, about their impending third ceremony.
“It's the best habit in the world,” Jack said, smiling.
With one more tender touch, and another lingering kiss, the soulmates headed downstairs to proclaim their life partnership that extended beyond mortal terms to all their guests.
“This is so much fun,” Jennifer said as she stood outside in the snow shortly after eight o'clock.
“Yeah, but Jen, it's cold out here,” Jeff responded.
“Not for long. Dad and Daddy have the best weddings.” She saw Jeff's funny expression. “I've only been to one of them, but I've heard a lot about their first one.”
“We ready, Jen,” Chenoa called out from the patio doors.
Jennifer reached over and turned on the CD player. The gentle sounds of harps began to fill the air. A few seconds later, Chenoa, wearing her prettiest dress, walked outside, her 'beau', a very tall Jaffa, at her side. As she walked, she dropped handmade star flakes on the ground.
Next came the twins, holding their hands, grinning from ear to ear. They were followed by Bijou and Katie, being held by Sara and Mark.
The three Munchkins, also dressed in their finest, giggled their way down the carpet, each tossing mistletoe on the ground.
“Dad and Daddy kissing all the time,” Aislinn said as she tossed the mistletoe to the ground.
“This is interesting. I wonder who planned this?” Sam asked Janet.
“No idea,” an amazed Janet answered. “Sam, how long have you known about this?”
Sam checked her watch and answered, “Two hours.”
Janet laughed, shaking her head as she looked down at her small handbag which she clutched in her hands, “That's when they called me, too.”
Dominic stood behind Janet, his gaze at his Love, Cassandra, unending.
“Dominic, you're going to make me blush,” Cassandra said shyly, unable to prevent herself from giggling.
“I don't care. You're beautiful, Cass.”
“Dom, stop it,” Cassandra giggled some more, feeling warm inside.
Several others had gotten a last minute phone call and were also standing in the falling snow. Among them were Mrs. Valissi, Megan, Yazid who interestingly enough was in town, apparently to visit Megan, the Svensons, Dale and Nancy Rancolini, the Lapierres and all of their children, Karissa, and the Ferrettis, including Trina. Unfortunately, not everyone was able to attend, but considering it was a holiday and last minute invite, the gathering was impressive.
Lulu appeared at the patio steps. She looked back, extending her hand. Jack took it. Right behind him was Brianna who was holding Daniel's hand. Both Jack and Daniel were wearing their wedding outfits, natural-colored barongs, even though it meant being cold.
“That man never follows orders,” Janet whined about Jack. “Watch him come down with pneumonia,” she said, shaking her head and causing Sam to laugh.
Lulu and Brianna escorted their fathers to where Jennifer and Jeff stood. Both teenagers were smiling. Within sixty seconds, General Hammond hurried in. He'd been detained on SGC business and wasn't sure he'd make it, but he did, to a rousing welcome by the Jackson-O'Neills.
“Well, I guess we're all here,” Jennifer said. “As everyone knows, Dad and Daddy do things their own way. This is their third wedding, and they say they have a surprise for us. We love surprises, but more than anything, we just love them.”
Jennifer shrugged and went down to her seat.
“Um, well, I'm sort of new around here,” Jeff stated, “but it feels like I've been a part of this family forever. I don't know all of you that well, but the fact that Dad and Daddy called you less than two hours ago, and so many of you are here now, says a lot. Thanks for coming. Jen said Dad and Daddy really know how to throw a wedding, so ... it's all yours,” Jeff said, moving to his seat.
Jack and Daniel each leaned over to kiss their escorts and waited until Lulu and Brianna had sat down. Then they took each other's hands and gazed into the other's eyes.
“Time stopped when I thought I'd lost you,” Daniel spoke as their hands tightened. “I'd marry you every day without hesitation because you are all that beats inside me. I respect you, honor you, trust you, and I love you with all my heart, and all my soul, forever and always, in this life, in whatever is beyond, until ... until all that is left is just ... us, and then I'll fall in love with you all over again.”
Jack stole a quick kiss from his soulmate before he began to speak.
“I didn't know what I had until I found it again. You've given me your heart and your soul, and mine is yours, too. Marrying you isn't habit; it's a blessing. We don't need laws, Danny, or a piece of paper to tell us that our love is true. We don't need anything because our souls are united in a way that still astounds me. I respect and admire you more than anyone, I honor you, trust you, and I love you so much, with all my heart and soul, in this life, in the next, until time stops; but then, Angel, our nation of two will never end; we sustain each other, nurture each other, and protect each other. Forever and always, I love you.”
With snow covering their heads as they kissed, the children cheered and applauded. Jack and Daniel pulled back just slightly.
“I love you, Jack Jackson-O'Neill, and tonight, I reaffirm every vow, oath, and pledge I've made to you, on this night, during our first wedding, and our second. You are everything, and I am yours, and you are mine.”
“I love you, Danny Jackson-O'Neill, and tonight, I reaffirm every vow, oath, and pledge I've made to you, on his night, during our first wedding, and our second. You are everything, and I am yours, and you are mine.”
The soulmates shared another kiss, and then they looked out at their gathered family of friends.
In exact unison, Jack and Daniel said, “We now pronounce us a nation of two, always and forever, forever and always, for time and all eternity.”
“And, before you go nuts,” Jack quickly added. “We have a surprise. Kids, get up here.”
Jennifer looked back at her siblings. She shrugged as she looked at David, neither having a clue what was happening.
Jack and Daniel arranged their children in a circle as they stood inside.
“Hold hands,” Daniel instructed. “Love is like a circle. It is unending. It flows, around, and around, and around.” As he had spoken, Jack and Daniel, holding hands themselves, had walked in a circle so they could look at every child. “Dad and I call ourselves a nation of two, but what we also are, all of us, is a circle. There is no beginning. You see, Jonny, maybe you're the beginning, but maybe you're the middle because David is love, and he's over here. He feels your love, and he gives it back.”
“We're all love,” Jack said, adding, “And we're a family that will never be separated no matter what. We're different, but that's not a bad thing. We never expected all of you. We set out to have one child.”
“And got us,” Aislinn chimed, a big grin on her face.
“We sure did, Princess.” Jack turned towards the twins. “Then we decided we wanted more love.”
“And had us,” Ricky said excitedly.
“But then we came into the picture,” Jennifer said, picking up the story.
“And we couldn't let you go,” Jack answered, looking at Jennifer, David, and Chenoa.
Daniel continued, “And with so much love, we wanted to share more.” He walked over to Lulu and knelt down. She smiled so big her cheeks hurt. “We found you.”
“And you, Bri, and Jeff, and we're a family, all of us. Where did it begin? We don't know anymore,” Jack said almost in a whisper.
“What we do know,” Daniel continued, making a three-hundred-sixty-degree turn as he spoke, “is that you are our loves, and this celebration tonight is not just a wedding for Dad and I, it's a union, a fusion, a blending of all of us. We are one, and the synergy we create is so far better than anything we could do on our own.”
“What 'syngy?” Jenny asked.
Jack looked at her and answered, “In this case, Sweetheart, it's goodness.”
Jack and Daniel looked at each other and then each joined the circle. Again, in unison, they spoke, “We now pronounce us a circle of unending love, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, in bad times and in good times. We are the Jackson-O'Neills, and together, we are unbeatable.”
The children began to jump and up and down, breaking the circle.
“We married?” Jonny asked Jack.
“Uh, we're a family,” Jack answered.
“One big, happy family,” Daniel clarified. “Get back in the circle,” he instructed, temporarily removing himself from it. He looked out at their friends. “Most of you probably know about the circle of love that our children created twice a day while Jack was lost to us.” He took a breath, trying not to become lost in the emotion of the nightmare. “What you may not know is that Jack heard the song they sang; he heard some of their words. I know, it's not logical, and maybe you don't believe it, but for us, it just validated that love is stronger than anything.”
“We believe in synergy and the power of love,” Jack added quietly.
Daniel nodded as he smiled and said to their guests, “You're all more than friends to us, and Jack and I and our children would like to invite you to join our circle of love. You don't have to, but we love you all, and we want you to know, you're all welcome.”
In a flash, Angela Wilson ran to where Chenoa was and broke into the circle. Trina Ferretti was next, moving to stand by Jennifer. Sam moved and took a spot in between Ricky and Aislinn, while Janet stood between Teal'c and Jeff. General Hammond took a place between David and Jeff. Lou and Carolyn, and all the others, came up and joined the circle until no one was left, and the circle had grown to the width of the entire backyard.
“Jack, this has been a wonderful ceremony, but my head's getting cold,” Hammond teased after several minutes.
Jack laughed as he moved to get Daniel, and after they returned to the center of the circle, he said, “Our nation of two is stronger than ever now because the circle that surrounds us, strengthens us.”
“Our nation of two is more than a nation. It's the embodiment of all we treasure and cherish, and the bond of our nation is more than us, it's our children, and our wonderful family of friends. I love you, Jack, forever and always.”
“I love you, Danny, forever and always.” They shared a final kiss and smiled at the still-joined circle. “Ice cream!” Jack announced.
“Just what we need in the snow,” Janet chuckled, leading the charge back inside the house.
Jack and Daniel remained behind, their arms wrapped around each other's backs. Soon, they were alone. They kissed again.
“It was a beautiful ceremony, Jack. Thank you for asking me to marry you again.”
“Thank you for saying yes, and coming up this idea to include the brood and our friends,” Jack acknowledged.
“We're very lucky.”
“Dad, Daddy,” Brianna called out, walking towards them slowly.
“Hey, Bri,” Jack responded.
“I just ... well, thank you. It felt ... good, being married like that,” Brianna chuckled, not really knowing what to call the ceremony.
“Family isn't about how long you've been in a place, Bri,” Daniel stated. “It's about the love you give and receive.”
“No love shortage here,” Brianna replied, beaming. “You'd better hurry if you want some ice cream. Noa may eat it all!”
“We're coming,” Jack said.
The lovers took one more moment for themselves.
“Happy third wedding, Babe,” Daniel said softly.
“Happy Danny Day.”
“Danny Day?” a confused Daniel asked.
“Every day with you is wonderful, so every day is a Danny Day,” Jack told his lover.
“Jack, you're getting a bit soft in the head.”
“Love, soft is so *not* the word,” Jack teased only half seriously.
Jack laughed, kissed his soulmate, and then led him inside for a continuation of their wedding celebration.
Shortly before midnight, with their guests gone and the children asleep, Jack and Daniel sat on the roof deck. They were side by side, their hands joined, and their heads leaning together. Both were looking up at the stars. They had a portable radio on, listening to the countdown.
Fireworks exploded in the distance, decorating the sky with a multitude of colors.
“Happy New Year, Love,” Daniel said.
“Merry Christmas, Danny,” Jack responded.
The couple kissed and brought in the new year sipping champagne and then retired to their bedroom where they made love.
--Day 24: Saturday, January 1
Santa had visited the Jackson-O'Neill home big time. The living room was full of gifts and surprises, and by seven in the morning, the gifts had been discovered.
“Jack, wake up.”
“Huh? Danny, I thought you were the one who liked to sleep in.”
Daniel leaned over and gave his husband a kiss on the cheek.
“It's Christmas, Babe, and I don't know about you, but this is one Christmas, I don't want to miss. Can't you hear them?”
Just then there was a knock on the door.
“Hey, you two, the Munchkins found Santa's presents. You'd better hurry,” Jennifer said, yawning at the end and then heading downstairs.
“Daniel, this Santa business ... do you think next year we can rent one to do all the hard work?”
Daniel laughed. Between gift wrapping the children's presents and assembling those that needed assembling, the lovers hadn't made it to bed until 5:30 a.m., meaning they'd only been asleep for ninety minutes before the Munchkins had discovered Christmas.
A few minutes later, Jack and Daniel walked downstairs and stood, arms around each other's waist. They watched as only parents can as their children became lost in a volume of Christmas wrapping, Calico and Mittens diving and pouncing on the discarded paper and ribbons. Even Bagel was enjoying exploring, and munching on, the paper maze. It was a morning of laughter and goodness.
With Santa's presents opened, and breakfast eaten, the family sat down to open presents they were giving to each other. The last gift was Aislinn's present to Jack and Daniel.
“This for you because I love you lots.”
Jack and Daniel both smiled, and, together, they opened the package.
“Oh, Jack, look.”
“It's perfect, Ash,” Jack opined. He had a collection of beagle figurines, but this one would be the centerpiece. “Danny, let's put this one right on the mantle.”
“That's a great idea, Babe. That way we can see it all the time.”
Jack pulled his daughter close, holding her hands. He looked into her eyes.
“And every time we look at this beautiful figurine and see those beautiful beagles, we'll think of our beautiful little angel; we'll think of you.”
Aislinn's grin couldn't be any bigger without her face cracking.
“Thank you so much, Ash,” Daniel said. He stood up and took her from Jack, carrying her to the mantle. He handed the figurine to her. “Here, let's put it right in the center because I don't ever want it to get lost behind anything.”
Carefully, the little girl put the figurine in place, and then Daniel hugged her, so very grateful for his little miracle.
“It pretty, Ash,” Little Danny said.
The family all stood for a moment just admiring the figurine.
Katie didn't appreciate being ignored for an inanimate beagle, and Little Danny instantly sat down to dote on her.
“Love you, Katie. This best Christmas ever.” The little boy looked at Aislinn and grinned. “Now when we see Bij 'n' Katie junior, we always 'member Santa bringing back Dad.”
A chorus of agreement met that statement, and Daniel hugged Jack a little closer, which led to the two exchanging a kiss.
“Geez, they're not even under the mistletoe,” Jennifer said, rolling her eyes.
Then a mischievous grin crossed her face, and she beckoned her siblings over to the tree. A moment later, the two lovers were pelted with wrapping paper balls.
The paper ball fight was soon taken outside to become a snowball fight as their Christmas continued. Though the rest of the world was celebrating the new year, the Jackson-O'Neills were celebrating the magic of Christmas, for in this year, the gifts they were given were far greater than any other they'd ever received. They'd received a miracle: their husband, their father, their friend -- Jack was home, and to Daniel and the children, that was truly a Christmas miracle!
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