Blowout

Author: Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, H/C of the Mental Kind, Holiday, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  NC-17
Season:  Beyond the Series - April 2009 - November 2009
Spoilers:  Emancipation (very minor)
Size:  1300kb
---Chapter One - April:  141kb --Revised January 31, 2018
---Chapter Two - May:  251kb --Revised for consistency December 8, 2017
---Chapter Three - June:  96kb
---Chapter Four - July:  181kb
---Chapter Five - August:  96kb
---Chapter Six - September:  81kb
---Chapter Seven - October:  221kb
---Chapter Eight - November:  233kb -- Tweaked November 13, 2007
Written:  November 27, December 5,8-9,26,29,31, 2004, January 4-6,14-16,21-23,25, February 11,13,15-16, 24-27, March 2-6,14-17,20, April 15-18,25-30, May 2-16,18-24,26-30, June 1-20,24, July 1-7, 2005  Revised:  August 13-27-30, 2007  Tweaked per above
Summary:  A plethora of fires blaze for the Jackson-O'Neills, including prejudice, secrets from their pasts, and educational choices.  Will Jack and Daniel able to put out the fires before the blowout overwhelms them, or will the fires' combustion consume them?
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Hanky warning for some chapters, so I've been told!
2) Arithmetic Rummy games and instructions can be found at http://www.cdm.org/kids_activities/MathCards/MathCardsIndex.html
3) 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.**
4) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
5) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fics, “Dad Versus Daddy,” “Hoops,” “Egyptian Erotica: Another Ten Months,” “Stargate,” “Murphy's Law Redeux,” “Delusions of Love,” “Just When You Thought You Knew Jack,” “Final Justice,” “Brothers,” “Hand in Hand,” “Love Lost,” “Out of the Fire, Into Our Souls,” “Boys at Play,” “Beach Blanket Blond,” “The Last Mission,” and “Room for One More?”
6) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Claudia, Linda, QuinGem, Tamara, Kat, Arawa, Alison, Robert, Allexandrya, Cassiopeia, Melissa, Carol, Mair!  Special thanks to Robert, Jack and Daniel's 'real life' designer!

Blowout
by Orrymain

====
--April - Winds of Change
====

It was a typical day at the Jackson-O'Neill residence and that meant there was the usual amount of bedlam and madness going on.  Gone were the days of spontaneous strip poker and sleeping in for Jack and Daniel and in their place were 6 a.m. toddler wake-up calls and family games of hide-and-go-seek.

On this particular day, the first day of April, Daniel and the oldest children were out of house, leaving Jack with the Munchkins and the twins.  It was nap time and things weren't going as planned.  While the twins peacefully acceded to a midday rest, the triplets were rebelling.  It was spoiling Jack's April Fool's Day fun.

“Big boy,” Jonny proclaimed, poking himself in the chest.

“Yeah,” Little Danny asserted, nodding his head vigorously.

“Yeah,” Aislinn echoed.

“You're a big boy?” Jack asked, raising his eyebrows at his daughter.

“Oops,” the little girl giggled.  “I big girl.”

Smiling as he picked Aislinn up and put her in the extra-large crib she was still sleeping in, Jack replied, “And big girls need their beauty sleep.”

While rubbing his hand slowly over the youngest Munchkin's abdomen, Jack did a big yawn in her face.  The next thing he knew, Aislinn was yawning, too.

“Need ... <yawn> ... sleep,” Aislinn agreed, her small hands rubbing her blue eyes tiredly as she yawned once more before sleep overtook her.

“Sweet dreams, Princess,” Jack whispered, his lips barely touching her forehead as he kissed her.  ~One down, two to go,~ he thought.  “Now, as for you two,” he began, turning around and raising his eyebrows at his two sons' mutinous faces that were staring back up at him.

“Not sleepy,” Jonny maintained, stepping back from his father, a look of fiery determination on his small face.  ~No take nap!~

“Yea...<yawn>h ... not sleepy,” Little Danny eked out, his hand reaching up to cover his mouth as he yawned again.

Picking up Little Danny, Jack bounced him a bit in his arms, softly caressing his back.  He smiled inwardly as memories of rubbing Daniel's back to lull him to sleep came to the forefront of his mind.

~Yeah, Little Danny, you remind me of your Daddy so much.  I'll always protect you, Son, just like My Danny.~  Jack told the rebellious toddler, “You're a big boy, and you don't need naps.  You sure don't.  Imagine me saying that you needed a nap.”

Jack's tone was soft and melodic.  In a few more seconds, Little Danny joined his sister in slumberland, his head resting on father's shoulder.  Full of love, Jack carefully placed the sleeping youngster next to Aislinn in the crib, making sure the soft powder blue blanket covered them both.

“No work on me,” Jonny argued, rebelliously turning and running out of the nursery at full kilter.

Jack started to yell, but then remembered that if he did, he would wake his four sleeping successes.  Instead, he quickly followed his wayward toddler out of the room and down the stairs, catching up to him by the sofa.

“Jonathan, stop right there.  Not another step!” Jack commanded, his sharp general's voice, the one that stopped errant airmen in their tracks, shining through.

The toddler immediately turned, recognizing the seriousness in his father's voice.  Still, Jonny wasn't ready to yield just yet.  Defiantly, he put his hands on his hips and scowled as he looked up at his much taller opponent.

“No take nap.” Jonny maintained stubbornly.

“Oh, yes, you are, young man,” Jack calmly but insistently told his namesake.

“No!” Jonny shouted, stamping his foot on the floor.

“Yes!” Jack replied sternly.

“No!” the toddler repeated again.

“Ye...what the heck am I doing?” Jack asked himself incredulously.  ~I'm the dad!~  Commandingly, he ordered, “Jonny, you get up those stairs right now and ...”

“No!” Jonny said again, backing away from his dad.

“Last chance!” Jack warned, his patience waning.

“No, and I ... I hold breath, if make me,” Jonny threatened, his brown eyes full of childish warning.

“Right,” Jack lightly chuckled, slightly taken aback.  ~Wonder who he learned that from?  Danny always looks so adorable when he's blue -- should be a law - 'Doctor Daniel Jackson-O'Neill must wear at least one item of blue clothing'.~

Jack momentarily looked away to try and hide his laughter and when he turned around, he saw his young son standing as straight as he could, holding his breath, his fists clenched at his sides.

“Jonny, stop acting like a baby,” Jack chastised.  He waited, sure Jonny's tantrum would end in a big puff of air.  “Jonny, you are in big trouble,” he warned again.

Waiting once again, Jack grumbled as Jonny remained unmoving in the same spot.  Shaking his head in shocked bewilderment, he decided on another tactic.

Turning around, the crafty general picked up the newspaper that was on the coffee table.  He sat down with a sigh and pretended to ignore Jonny's temper tantrum.  A few seconds later, he looked over, amazed Jonny was still holding his breath, but then the boy's eyes grew wide with fear.

“Jonny?” Jack called out, concern marring his voice as he saw the change in his namesake's demeanor.

The little boy gasped and then fell to the floor with a soft thud.

“Jonny!” Jack all but screamed.

The worried father leaped up and ran to where Jonny lay on the carpet.  Falling to his knees, his fingers automatically went to the pulse point on the little boy's neck.  When he located a steady thrumming of the small heart's reassuring beat, Jack let out his own lung-full of air which he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

~Geez!~  Jack let out a short laugh, tinged with hysteria, and then he shook the child lightly.  “Jonny?  Wake up!  Please wake-up, Baby,” he pleaded.

“Not baby,” Jonny whined as he opened his eyelids, screwing his eyes up at the bright light of day which shone through the patio doors.

“Geez,” Jack said again, tears prickling his eyes.  ~Always my baby; always.~

Jack smiled in relief, picking up his son and squeezing him tightly to his chest.  He ran his fingers through Jonny's soft golden blond hair, needing reassurance that the oldest Munchkin was really okay.

“Dad, no breathe,” Jonny pointed out in a small voice, tears running freely down his own face.

“Yeah, I know and ... oh, geez.”  Jack pulled back to lighten his hold and looked into his son's eyes.  He cupped the left side of the boy's face with one hand while his thumb gently wiped the tears away.  Then he wiped away the tears on the other side of his son's face.  “Jonny, I love you, but you are in big, big trouble.”

“No want take nap,” Jonny pleaded, showing a resilience that only children have, the ability to be scared one moment and then be over it the next.

“But you're going to, right now, and for disobeying me, there won't be any ice cream for you tonight,” Jack advised, wincing at the look of dismay on the eldest triplet's face.  ~This parent stuff is tough.  Crap, I'd forgotten this part.~

“Not fair,” Jonny whined, wanting to be part of the family's nightly ice cream attack.

“You broke the rules,” Jack told the youngster in a matter-of-fact tone.  “And you have to learn that you can't do that.  Now, you're going to take your nap or no ice cream for *two* days.”

Jack carried Jonny, cradled tightly in his arms, upstairs.  Ignoring the grumbling, he put the boy into the crib and watched as the tired-but-stubborn youngster fell asleep.  He leaned lightly on the rail of the crib, staring at Jonny, watching his chest rise and fall.  Terrifying images of his firstborn son lying in a hospital bed came to his mind.  He stood there for so long, lost in his thoughts of Charlie and watching Jonny's rhythmic breathing, that he never heard Daniel call his name.

“Jack, how's it going?” Daniel whispered, walking into the nursery.

“Danny?” Jack called out, turning around to face his husband, quickly wiping the wetness of the tears from his face that he hadn't even realized had fallen.

“Hey,” Daniel said with a smile, not yet noticing Jack's distress.  He looked at the sleeping toddlers, once again counting his blessings at how his life had turned around for the better.  “Wow, this doesn't happen often.”  Looking up into the older man's face, he was taken aback when he saw the remains of tears on Jack's face.  Reaching up, he brushed his thumb gently over Jack's eye and asked, “Babe, what's wrong?”

“Our son had a temper tantrum.  He didn't want to take a nap,” Jack explained quietly, looking back down at the eldest triplet.

Daniel followed Jack's eyes, questioning, “Jonny?”  Seeing Jack's nod, he still wondered what had upset him.  “And?” he prodded.

“He held his breath,” Jack answered, gently reaching down inside the crib, touching over Jonny's mouth, getting reassurance from the light puffs of breath against his fingers.

“I've been known to do that,” Daniel joked, rubbing over Jack's back with his hand, feeling the tenseness in his muscles.

“He passed out, Danny,” Jack confessed, feeling extremely guilty about the incident.  Looking over at his lover and seeing the other man's eyes go wide, he quickly continued, “But only for a second.  One minute he was reminding me of you and the next, he was on the floor.  Danny, my heart stopped.”  He cringed and recalled, ~Just like it did on Hadante when you passed out after that goon got to you.~

Daniel turned Jack to face him, cupping his face in his hands, an action that reminded Jack of the one he used on Jonny earlier.

The younger man drew his distraught husband into his arms.  While holding Jack, he could see Jonny, and now he understood why his husband had been so focused on the child when he had first walked in.  Daniel rubbed Jack's back, easing the tense muscles and kissed the side of his neck.

“He's okay, Babe,” Daniel promised.

“I told him he couldn't have ice cream tonight,” Jack sighed, pulling out of the embrace, but leaving his arms on the other man's while gently caressing.

“Ouch.  I bet he didn't like that,” Daniel responded, knowing how punishing a child could make a parent feel guilty.

“No, he's not a happy camper.  Danny?” Jack queried, at the thoughtful look on Daniel's face.

“I'm not questioning your decision, Love,” Daniel assured.  “You definitely did the right thing.  We've told them over and over again how important it is to follow our rules.  If they don't on something this simple, and we don't punish them, then how will they know that it's important to follow the bigger rules?”  He took a breath and continued, “And I do mean 'they', Jack. This is not just about Jonny.  This is about our presenting a united front to our brood and being consistent.  Our rules, and the consequences for breaking them, have to stand, or ... or we're inviting ...”

Daniel struggled to find the word he was looking for.

“Mutiny?” Jack asked with a smile.

“Yeah, something like that.  Gawd, it's so hard to punish them, but I know if we don't, then we're not being responsible parents.”

“We've broken a few rules in our time,” Jack reminded, raising his eyebrows knowingly.

Daniel smiled, let out a tiny laugh, and replied, “And I'm sure we will again; so will Jonny and the others, but they still have to learn about ... regulations.”

Jack quirked a grin at the military term, prompting his soulmate to smile in return.

“I was going to call Syl, but I couldn't walk away,” Jack admitted about the family's doctor as he glanced over at Jonny again.

“He's fine, Jack,” Daniel observed while gently tugging his husband away from the sleeping children.  “Come on.  On my way up, David told me he needs help with his telescope.”

Jack took a deep breath, nodded, and, after another look at Jonny, left the nursery to go downstairs and help the Mouseketeer.

Remaining behind for a moment, Daniel walked to the crib and stared at the Munchkins and then over at the twins.

“You're all so precious.  You have to follow the rules.  Someday, we'll explain why, but we just can't afford to take chances.  We love you.  We love you so much.”

====

Later that night, while the rest of the family was downstairs, Jonny sat on Chenoa's three-quarter-sized bed in the nursery, his back against the wall and his arms folded.

“Not fair,” the toddler whined.

Jack walked in and, after sitting down on the edge of the bed, spoke apologetically, “I'm sorry, Son,” as he leaned over the bed to stroke Jonny's hair.

“No like naps, Dad,” Jonny stated firmly, leaning into his father's touch.

~I'm not sure who he reminds me of most, me or Danny; we both definitely have the stubborn streak,~ Jack pondered while he smiled at the resilience with which the young boy was attacking the subject.  “And when you're a little older, you won't have to take them anymore, but right now, you still need them.  If you didn't, you wouldn't have fallen asleep just a few seconds after hitting the mattress,” he explained.

“Punish me 'cuz I no agree,” Jonny groused, looking up at his dad.

“No, that's not true.  You're being punished because you ran down the stairs and disobeyed me, not because you said you didn't want to take a nap.  You know you aren't supposed to go downstairs on your own unless you have permission, but you did it anyway,” Jack explained gently but firmly.

“Like ice cream,” Jonny murmured.

“So do I,” a smiling Jack replied.

“I sorry,” the toddler mumbled, looking down at his hands.

“Me, too, and I do love you, very much.”

“I have ice cream now?” Jonny asked, his hopeful eyes staring up at his father.

~Gawd, they do know how to tug at the ole heartstrings, don't they?  C'mon, O'Neill, gotta be strong.~  Jack ran his hand across Jonny's forehead, gently scooting back the sandy blond bangs.  “No,” he answered firmly.  ~I really hate punishing the kids -- feels like I'm kicking a puppy.  I just wish they understood that we're trying to protect them.~

“Not fair,” Jonny griped as he pouted in a pose eerily reminiscent of Daniel's infamous pouts.

“Life isn't always fair,” Jack returned, giving his son a kiss and then scooting across the bed to sit next to Jonny, so that now both father and son had their backs against the wall.

“You have ice cream already?” Jonny asked sadly.

“No, I thought I'd come sit with you instead,” Jack replied, pulling Jonny gently onto his lap and holding him loosely.

Jonny smiled briefly at Jack's boycott of the cool treat, but then resumed his pout.

~Geez, he does that almost as well as Little Danny does.  Ash has it down, too.  Three of 'em, armed with the Danny pout.  If they ever do it together, I am *so* doomed.~

====

Almost two weeks and a multitude of crises later, Jack came downstairs from checking on the twins, who were asleep, and the triplets, who were quietly playing in the nursery for a little while before their parents insisted on 'lights out', and looked around for his husband.

It was after 9 p.m., and all of the other Jackson-O'Neills were accounted for.  Chenoa was spending the night with her best friend, Angela Wilson, the daughter of Jack's ex-wife, Sara, and her husband, Mark.  Thirteen-year-old Jennifer was helping her brother, David, with a creative writing assignment, the two sitting on barstools at the counter that separated the dining nook and kitchen from the living room.  On the other side of the room, the family's two adorable and much-loved beagles, Bijou and Katie, were lying peacefully in their beanbag by the fireplace.

~He's gotta be around here somewhere,~ Jack thought.  “Jen, have you seen Daddy?”

“Hmm.  You know, Dad, I think he went outside.”  Seeing her older father head for the backyard, the teenager clarified, “No, I mean out front, but that was a while ago.”

“Thanks, Jen.  Keep an eye on things; let us know if you need us for anything,” Jack spoke, kissing the top of her head as he passed.

Glancing up at the starry night in appreciation of the twinkling lights he saw, Jack smiled as he stood on the porch.  Then he looked towards the street and was surprised to see his soulmate just sitting on the edge of the lawn, staring forlornly at their house.

~Hmm.  He usually does the house-staring thing in the backyard,~ Jack noted, not really worried about his Love, but curious.  “Danny, are you okay?” he asked as he sat down in front of Daniel and reached out to caress his cheek.  “Angel, what's wrong?”

“I love this house, Jack.  It's the only place I've ever known as home.  I just ... I can't imagine leaving, ever,” Daniel answered through a cracked voice.

Through the dark, Jack could see his husband's falling tears.  He tried to wipe them away, but there were too many.

“Danny, the house isn't going anywhere, and I'm certainly not planning on leaving, so unless there's something you're not telling me, we're not leaving.”

“We have to,” the younger man stunned his husband by saying.

“What are you talking about?”

“I've been thinking about it for a while, but even more so since that crazy day last month when everything went wrong ... again.”  The archaeologist let out a bemoaning sigh.  “Jack, we have eight children, and we're talking about more.  Where are we going to put them ... in the garage?”

“We'll ...” Jack began to answer, his words quieted by the man sitting across from him.

Daniel raised his right hand, putting his fingers to Jack's lips to silence him, and spoke, “Room, Jack.  I'm not thinking single rooms.”  His gaze returned to their country-style home.  “This house: it's beautiful, but it's not meant for so many people.  We don't have a choice.  It's just not fair to our children.”

“We can remodel again,” Jack suggested in an upbeat tone, taking his husband's face back in his hands.

Daniel shook his head, saying, “I've checked the zoning laws; we can't add another level.  If we go any further into the backyard, there won't be a backyard big enough for the children to ... to play in.  We can't raise children without a yard.  We have to ... gawd, we have to move, and I ... that's going to ... I ...”

The younger man paused as tears flowed even more freely from his eyes.  In a flash, he stood up and started to run into the house, but just as suddenly, he stopped, realizing he might disturb their children.  He turned, and, while staring at Jack, extended his arms helplessly out to his sides.

Twisting his body to look all around, Daniel cried softly, “There's nowhere to go.  It's too small for us.  Our home, Jack it's ... it's just too small.”

Jack hurried to his lover, but Daniel shook him off.  He did a little shaking motion, as if trying to rid his body of anything negative, stopping the tears in the process.

“I need to go for a walk, okay?” Daniel asked quietly.

“We'll ...”

“No, just me.  I'll be back in a little while.  Don't worry, Babe.  It'll be okay.  *I'll* be okay,” Daniel claimed, trying to sound as positive as he could.  “We'll ... we'll build our dream house somewhere, and it'll be big enough for our brood.”  He smiled, hoping his face was smiling and not crying, which is what he really felt like doing.  “I love you, Jack.  I love you so much.”

Daniel gently kissed his lover and turned away.  He walked a few steps and then ran from Jack's sight.

Jack looked around, trying to fend off his own tears.  He walked to the street and looked back at their house.  It was a simple place with a country feel to it, and it seemed so large when he purchased it over a decade earlier.  Of course, when he'd first bought it, he never imagined that he would one day have a family again, let alone a family of eight.  Ten people living in a small house, and that didn't include the pets, was a lot.

~We've come a long, long way, Danny.  You leaving like that used to mean we were in jeopardy.  Not anymore, though.  You just need a few minutes of being alone with your own thoughts and feelings, and you said you loved me before you left.  Yeah, we're gonna be okay; *all* of the Jackson-O'Neills are going to be just fine.  We'll figure this out, but I could sure use a bit of help on this one.~

Jack looked up at the Heavens, unafraid to make his plea out loud.

“Hey, I know we keep You busy, but, uh, Danny ... I just don't think he can handle leaving here.  He's a good man.  Look, I'm not good at this, at, uh, talking with You, but, uh, Danny's right.  I've looked at options myself recently and the prospects aren't good, so, if You have a second to make a little miracle happen, I'd appreciate it.  Thanks.”

The major general looked around, wondering if any neighbors might have seen his public prayer, but he didn't see anyone.

~And what if someone did hear?  Doesn't matter; I'm not ashamed to ask for some help from time to time.~

After staring at the cherished house for a minute or two longer, Jack sat down on the steps of the front porch and hunched forward.  He clasped his hands together and kept his head bowed.  His mind raced with options.

Jack hated the thought of selling the house, but the truth was he'd be happy anywhere as long as Daniel was with him.  His lover, though, had never known what a home was until he saw this one the night Jack brought him home from the SGC when Daniel reminded Jack more of a lost puppy than anything else.  He remembered how Daniel got out of the truck and stared with longing at the brown house with the log-like exterior.  A move, any move, would be very difficult for the younger man to handle; to him, it would be like losing a family member.

~There has to be a way; there has to be something we can do,~ Jack thought as he pondered options that weren't there.

====

Twenty-five minutes later, Jack was still sitting in the same pose, shaking his head, frustrated at not being able to think of a solution.

~That is definitely the downside to having saved the whole friggin' planet's six.  After a while, you begin to think that nothing is impossible.~  Sneaking one eye skyward, Jack smirked.  ~Well, yeah, I guess You did have something to do with it, too; sorry.~  He sighed as he looked over at the abundance of plants and greenery that lined the outside of the plant room.  He'd planted many of those bushes himself, shortly after moving in.  ~I'd be happy anywhere with you, Danny, but I don't want to move, either.~

The general's mind was still desperately trying to figure out a solution when a quiet voice drew his attention.  Instantly,a smile appeared on Jack's face.

“Jack, I'm sorry I ran off,” Daniel apologized.

Jack looked up as Daniel walked over and sat down next to him.

“You needed some space,” Jack spoke soothingly as he looked into Daniel's red-rimmed eyes.

“Not from you,” Daniel replied, taking Jack's hand in his.  He took a big breath and leaned his head against his husband's shoulder.  “I don't want to leave here, but what counts is that we have each other.  I think we should start looking.  The Munchkins need space to grow.  We've been lucky that it hasn't caused any problems yet, but sooner or later, it will.  I mean, they aren't babies anymore.”

“Danny, maybe we can buy some land and move the house,” Jack suggested out of desperation as he tried to solve the problem.

“That won't really make it easier.  We'll still be somewhere ... somewhere else. Our home is more than a few rooms, Babe.”  Daniel squeezed Jack's hand gently.  “I'm going to check on the Munchkins; it's past their bedtime.  I'm, uh, afraid that Ash might be coming down with something.  She was fussy today.”

“Okay,” Jack acknowledged softly, leaning forward to share a kiss.  Their hands remained joined as Daniel stood, Jack's arm extending outward as the archaeologist was still hunched over slightly.  Both men needed each other's touch for just a few moments longer.  “I love you, Danny.”

“You're my home, Jack.  This is just a house of walls.”

With a weak smile on his face, Daniel walked inside the house, leaving Jack alone on the steps.

Again, Jack looked at the Heavens and spoke aloud, saying, “He just lied.  The other house, our office, that's the house of walls.  This place isn't.  It's more than wood and nails; it's heart, soul, and permanence.  Please, and You know I don't say that much, but, okay, I'll say it, I can't do this on my own.  Danny always says I'm his personal fix-it man, but I can't fix this.  I guess I'm asking You to be my fix-it ... for Danny ... please.”

====

In the nursery, Jonny and Little Danny were quietly playing with some toy soldiers on the floor, happy and surprised that their younger father hadn't insisted on them going to bed yet.  They didn't know why, but they didn't care, either.

Meanwhile, Daniel held Aislinn close to him as he sat in the rocker, gently moving back and forth.  Aislinn's head was resting comfortably against her father, while he ran his fingers through her blondish-brown hair.

The female Munchkin wasn't feeling well and even though she only had a slight temperature, Aislinn didn't want to sleep.  She was content, though, to let Daniel hold her.

~Ash, I wish you could live here forever; well, I mean until some man steals you away from us.  This is such a comfortable and tranquil place to be.  I'm going to miss it.~  Daniel placed a kiss atop her head.  ~You're so young; you won't even remember this house in a year.~

Feeling melancholy, Daniel continued to sit quietly, rocking his beautiful daughter.

====

“It's been a good home,” Daniel spoke quietly as he sat up in bed, his hands on his bent knees as he watched his lover walk out of the bathroom.

With just his pajama bottoms on, Jack took the towel that was around his neck and dried the base of his neck a little.  His hair was still damp from the shower he'd just taken.

“Don't bury it yet, Danny.”

“I think we're out of 'or's', Babe.”

“No such thing,” Jack refuted, walking over and sitting down on his lover's side of the bed.  “Danny, I do know what you're talking about.  I also know the kids need room to run and play, and I know we can't expect the Munchkins to keep sleeping in that oversized crib.”  He looked deep into the eyes of his Heart and asserted, “But I refuse to believe there isn't a doable 'or' out there waiting to be found.”

“Okay, I'll make you a deal,” Daniel offered.

“I'll take door number three,” Jack mused, loving the fact that his husband let out a brief chuckle.

“You keep searching for the 'or' and I'll be practical and start searching for a real estate agent.”

“Danny ...”

“Jack, I'm tired,” Daniel sighed, leaning over a placing a small kiss on his lover's lips.  Then he sank down under the covers.  “I want to go to sleep.”

“I love you, Angel,” Jack expressed.

“Love you, too.”

With a regretful sigh, Jack stood and walked over to the dresser.  He stared at himself in the mirror, eventually looking past his reflection and over to Daniel's in the bed.

~Please ... I really need that 'or', and fast.~

====

“I'll see you at noon.  You sure you don't want me to help chauffeur?” Jack asked early the next morning as he pulled on his jacket.

“No, Babe, I'll be fine,” Daniel answered.  “You have that meeting with the general in an hour.  Just make sure Sam gets started on that research.  We need to be sure of our facts before we meet with the Hedronix again.”

“Okay.  Love you,” Jack vowed, leaning forward for a kiss and then heading for the door.  He stopped short, however, looking around to make sure there were no little ears to overhear them, and whispered, “Danny, have you thought any more about David's birthday?”

“Maybe, uh, well, maybe we should let him choose.  I'm not really sure what he'd prefer -- to take a couple of friends up in Jo or go to the exhibit in Denver.”

“Why don't we ask him now?”

“Later.  You're going to be late, Love, if you don't leave now, and I don't want you driving too fast,” Daniel warned.

“Such a mother hen,” Jack smirked and then quickly ducked to avoid the towel Daniel threw at him.  “I love you.”

“Get out of here, and ... I love you, too,” Daniel responded, smiling brightly at his soulmate.

Jack made a smacking kiss noise, winked, and finally walked outside, getting into his Ford F-350 truck.  A minute later, he backed into the street.  He'd only gone a few yards when he slammed on the brakes.  Pulling over and putting the truck in 'park', he got out and walked to the lawn of the house next door to his.  He stood there, not moving, staring at the object on the lawn for over two minutes as his mind raced with possibilities.

“*Yes*!” Jack shouted from the depths of his soul, raising both hands, clenching his fists, and pulling them downward dramatically.  Grinning, he looked up to the Heavens and said, “You're good -- very good!”  With a happy sigh, he added, “Thank you.  That'll work just fine.”

The enthused man picked up the object that captured his attention and walked to his neighbor's front door and ringing the bell.

“General O'Neill!” exclaimed the woman at the door.

The greeting came from Carla McLamore.  She and her husband, Daryl, had lived next door to Jack and Daniel for several years, but they'd never really gotten to know each other very well.

“Mrs. McLamore, how are you this morning?” Jack inquired politely.

Motioning at the sign in Jack's hands, the woman responded, “I'm just fine, General, but, uh, why are you holding that?”

“You're moving, Mrs. McLamore?” Jack asked, ignoring the question.

“Yes.  Daryl and I have purchased property in Florida.  We've decided we want to retire in a place with a little more sun and a little less snow to brush off our cars,” Carla laughed.

Jack held up the 'For Sale' sign in his hands as he excitedly announced, “Sold!”

“Excuse me?” Carla asked.

Shocked at Jack's announcement, the neighbor instinctively opened the door wider and moved closer to the edge of the step.

“How much do you want?” Jack inquired.

“Um, General, I ...”

“You name it, you've got it,” was the next sentence out of Jack's mouth.  ~Not the smartest thing I've ever said,~ he opined.  ~On second thought, yes, it was.  Any amount is worth it to make Danny happy.~

The woman was stunned.  Her husband only put the for sale sign on their lawn an hour ago after learning their purchase of a condominium in Florida went through the night before.  After much debate, they decided to sell their home in Colorado Springs themselves, without the use of a real estate agent.  Neither of them expected the process to be this easy.

“Why don't you come in, General.  We can have some coffee while we discuss this,” Carla invited cheerfully as she opened the door to its fullest.

After parking the truck in the neighbor's driveway, Jack made a quick call to General Hammond, advising he'd be late.  Then in joined Carla inside the McLamore home and went about the process of seeing to it that his number one priority -- keeping Daniel happy -- was fulfilled.

====

“Jack, I swear, you look like the cat that swallowed the canary.  What have you done?” Daniel asked, smiling as he stepped out of his sports car upon arriving home at the end of the work day.

Jack was leaning against his truck, arms folded, and with a huge grin pasted across his face.  He couldn't wait to give his lover the news and, in fact, barely got through their day at the SGC without telling him.  Fortunately, he convinced Daniel to come home early, insisting he needed to talk to him before they picked up their children from the various babysitters of the day.

“Jack?” Daniel questioned, a little concerned over the fact his husband was grinning almost manically.

Jack closed the gap and kissed his lover, his hands wrapping around Daniel's waist and pulling him close.

“I love you,” Jack declared softly.

“I love you, too, but what's going on?”

“Curious?”

“As the proverbial cat,” Daniel affirmed while his hands warmed the small of Jack's back.

“Come here.”  Holding Daniel's right hand, Jack led him to the McLamore's and spoke, “Nice house, don't you think?”

“I suppose so, but it's not like ours,” Daniel commented resolutely.  ~There's nowhere that would be as nice and safe as our home.~

“What if we owned this land?” Jack asked.

Daniel looked at his husband, a quizzical expression on his face as he questioned, “Owned it?”

“Daniel, we can't build up, but we can build sideways,” Jack stated excitedly.

“But ... we don't own the land and we're not going to do anything crazy to ...”

“Oh, but you're wrong, my doubting archaeologist,” the older man chuckled.  “We *do* own it; that is, we will, when we sign the papers.”

Daniel looked at his husband, a look of both hope and fear in his eyes as he stuttered, “Wha...what are you talking about?”

“A miracle, Love,” Jack responded.  “That 'or' I was looking for almost hit me in the face this morning.”

“What?”

“The McLamores are moving to Florida.  I saw the 'For Sale' sign this morning; pulled the thing up from the lawn, and made them an offer they couldn't refuse,” Jack proudly stated, his internal 'Mr. Fix-it' beaming.

Daniel's breathing increased, his chest expanding up and down at the news.  It sounded too good to be true.  Was it really possible for his family to stay in the only home he'd ever known, the one he loved in a way that words could never describe?  He looked at the McLamore house and then at their own treasured home.

“We can ... gawd, Jack.  We can tear it down and ... add on,” Daniel observed, mentally piecing together the two land plots.

“With the properties combined, the kids would have a huge backyard.  I don't want to increase the size of our house more than we have to ...”

“But we could add a few rooms for the children and another bathroom or two.  Jack, it's perfect.”  Daniel walked a few feet in front of his husband and stood staring for a minute.  Then he turned and said very softly, as if questioning the truth of the words “We don't have to move.”

“Nope.”  Seeing Jack's happy grin, Daniel knew the words were true.  They'd be able to stay in the house that was so much more than a house of walls.  Needing to hear the words again, he repeated more firmly, “We don't have to move.”

“No, Love, we don't.  We're not going to build our dream house somewhere else because this *is* our dream house.  All we have to do is enhance it a little.”

“More like a lot, but it's ... it's our house,” the younger man spoke emotionally. All of a sudden, his expression lost the tenderness of a moment before.  “Jack, this is going to be very expensive.  I mean, it'll cost more than buying a new house.”

“We can afford it,” Jack promised.  ~Gotta love the stock market, good investments, and generals' salaries, not to mention good looking geeks' salaries -- beats mine by a landslide.~

“Yeah, I guess we can.”  Daniel gazed into his soulmate's shining eyes.  With his own eyes widened in amazement, speaking very clearly and in an airy voice, he said, “You fixed it.”

~Geez, how he makes me feel when he looks at me like that.~  Jack's eyebrows rose at Daniel's mystical tone and expression and teased suspiciously, “Thor, is that you lurking in my lover's body?”  Seeing his Love's wicked grin, he chuckled, “I'm a bad influence on you, aren't I, Danny?”  He loved seeing Daniel happy, especially when his eyes sparkled with such joy as they now were.  ~Much better than last night.~

“We're so lucky, Jack,” Daniel said more seriously.  Looking up, he mouthed, “Thank you,” and then he faced his husband and said, “I love you, Jack.”

“If it's just a quarter as much as I love you, I'm the luckiest man in the whole friggin' universe,” Jack opined, happiness emanating from his heart and soul.

Daniel's smile was broad, his eyes shining with life, just the way Jack loved to see them.  He'd do anything in the world to keep that look on his husband's face and that light glowing in his eyes.  He truly believed he had some help with this fix-it job, though, and once again, his heart uttered a sincere thanks to whatever power above continued to watch over them.

====

The next morning, Daniel and Sam were in her lab at the Mountain.  The linguist wasn't scheduled to work, but he decided to drop by and check on SG-9's visit the day before with a new potential ally.  While he was at the SGC, he dropped by and asked Sam to join him for lunch.  As often was the case, though, she was too busy working on a project to eat a full meal.  She did have time to chat for a few minutes, so Daniel took the opportunity to tell her about buying the property next door to he and his husband.

“Wow, Daniel, that sounds like a big project,” Sam commented, a bit overwhelmed herself at the magnitude of her friends' plans.

“It will be, but, Sam, the Munchkins are still in that crib.  I mean, it's big, but not that big.  They need their own beds, their own ... place, and so do the twins, and Noa; they all deserve space; and, uh, Jack and I have decided to go ahead and adopt another child soon,” Daniel revealed.

“I'm happy for you,” Sam replied as she moved forward and gave her friend a hug.

“Thanks.  We're still working on the details, figuring out exactly how many rooms and such.”

“Plan ahead, Daniel.  Didn't you tell me that you want to adopt two more children?”

“Hopefully.”

With a smile, Sam warned, “Well, remember, if they're girls, you need both rooms and bathrooms.”

“Of course, but ...”  Daniel saw Sam's look of warning and quickly corrected himself.  “Girls -- rooms and ... bathrooms.  Right.”

Sam chuckled, “And make sure they have a big mirror.”  Seeing a bit of a smirk on the archaeologist's face, she chastised, “Don't laugh, Daniel.  This is important stuff for the female gender.”

“Right,” Daniel acknowledged.  “Rooms, bathrooms, large mirror.”

“Okay, ignore me,” Sam joked.  “Have you told the brood about the plans?”

“Not yet; tonight probably.  We wanted to make sure everything was completely worked out with the McLamores first.”

“Uh, Daniel ...” Sam began, looking down at the scattered papers on her worktable.

“Have fun with Pete tonight, and ... thanks, Sam,” Daniel spoke as he headed for the door.

====

“In other words, we're open to suggestions,” Jack explained to the brood that was gathered together in the living room for their nightly family meeting.  “We won't be going overboard, but if there's something you'd like us to consider, this is the time to tell us.”

Daniel continued, “We'll be meeting with the architect next Tuesday.  We want to move quickly on this because we know it will take several months, going into the wintertime.”

“And,” Jack added, “Daddy and I are thinking about an addition to our family.  We've mentioned that before, but we're hoping to adopt another child soon.”

“Are you still okay with that?” Daniel asked earnestly, his eyes carefully searching those of the brood.

“Sure, Daddy,” Jennifer responded.  “The more the merrier,” she chuckled.  “Oops!  Sorry, Dad.  I know that's a cliché.”

After a laugh, the lovers saw the nods from the other children and smiled at each other in relief.  It was important for them to have their brood be supportive of adding a new addition to their family.

“Okay,” Jack said.  “Remember, nothing outrageous, but we'll consider any legitimate ideas.”

“Big'r play yard for Katie,” Little Danny requested.

Jack and Daniel exchanged a soft look.  It was just like their son to think of the dogs before himself.

“Woof!” Katie barked enthusiastically.

“Oh, you agree, huh?” Jack asked.

There were several more “woofs” of agreement.  Both Bijou and Katie would be pleased to have Katie's play area extended.

“I think we can handle that,” Daniel agreed, leaning over to rub the youngest beagle's ears.

====

The next day, Daniel was in his den, working on some research for J-O Enterprises and a prospective survey to be done in Arkansas.  Earlier, he read an article in one of his archaeology magazines which triggered some ideas that he wanted to follow up on.  While he was taking care of business, Jack was riding herd over their children.

“Daddy.”

David tapped on the den door, prompting Daniel to swing around in his chair.

“What is it, David?” Daniel asked a little distractedly.

“I have some questions about my new rocks,” the young boy stated as he adjusted his wire-rim glasses while walking forward a few feet.

“I'm a little busy right now, but ...”  Daniel shuffled through the stacks of things on his desk, pulling out the magazine from earlier.  He handed it to David and stated, “This is the latest issue, and I noticed it had a very interesting article on the importance of rocks and minerals in our everyday lives.  Why don't you read it; then we can talk about it later, and I'll help you understand your new pieces better, too.”

“Thanks, Daddy,” David replied, smiling and already leafing through the magazine as he walked out of the den.

Daniel smiled as he wondered if David would one day become a geologist since his interest in rocks of all types was  increasing.  This was evidenced by David's choice of birthday presents -- a trip for himself and two of his friends to the museum where they were featuring a collection of meteorites, gemstones, ore samples, and rare minerals that were on loan from the Manchester Natural History Museum in England.  It was a rare opportunity to see this particular assemblage of objects.

Daniel grinned as he mused, ~Poor Jack: another museum lover in the family.~

====

“Where this piece go?” Little Danny asked his big brother.

It was later in the day, and David was helping Little Danny to build a model airplane.  The older boy was doing most of the work and it was a fairly simple plane, but Little Danny was focused on the project and trying to help as best he could.

“That's the right wing, so it goes here,” David answered, pointing to the specific spot on the plane.

“Glue?” Little Danny asked.

“I'd better do it.  This is special glue.”

“Stick fingers together?”

“Right, so you watch and maybe you can do it next time,” David offered, hoping to placate his young brother.

Jack smiled as he watched at the doorway.  He liked David's answer to Little Danny, and he hated to interrupt, but David wasn't being given much leeway in fulfilling his family obligations these days; at least, not since he destroyed the microwave with a series of experiments last month.  Jack and Daniel weren't letting the mishap interfere with their son's upcoming birthday, but as far as everything else went, David was pretty much having to toe the line for a while.

“David,” Jack called out, tapping his watch with purpose.  “You have a chore to do.”

“Oh, sorry, Dad.  We'll finish later, Little Danny,” David promised.  “I have to take out the garbage cans now.”

“Little Danny, let's go downstairs,” Jack suggested.

“Stay.  Study plane,” Little Danny told his father, staring at the unfinished model.

~Study?  Geez.~  Jack fidgeted as he considered it.  Still, his baby wasn't exactly a baby anymore.  “Okay, but don't get into David's things and don't use that glue.”

With a sign of impatience in his demeanor, Little Danny shook his head and sighed, “Not baby, Dad.  Know not use glue.”

“Forgive me; my fault,” Jack responded, trying not to laugh.  He walked downstairs and saw Bijou and Katie rolling on the carpet.  “Hey, Girls, Little Danny is alone in David's room.  Would one of you ...”

“Woof!” Katie acknowledged, not waiting for Jack to finish.

As he watched the youngest beagle run up the stairs, Jack laughed, “Sometimes, I'm not sure you're really dogs.”

Bijou stared at the general, shook her entire body, and then used the dog door to go outside where the rest of the children were.

“Sometimes, I'm not sure at all,” Jack repeated, laughing and then growing serious as he pondered his words.  Shaking his head as if to rid his mind of ridiculous thoughts, he uttered a disbelieving, “Nah,” and went on his way.

====

“Dad, I have a suggestion for the new addition to the house,” Jennifer told her father.

“Sit down, and tell me about it,” Jack eagerly invited his daughter.

Jack was in his study going over the latest figures for J-O Enterprises and also reviewing Megan's comments about some of the employees who were due for their annual performance appraisals.

“Can we have a place that's like a ... a quiet room?” Jennifer requested.

“A quiet room?” Jack asked, not really understanding what she meant.

“Well, sometimes it's hard to find a place to go when we need to be alone for a little bit.  I mean, there's so many of us.  I know I have my own room, but there's always so much happening, and it really doesn't matter whether or not I close my door.”

“Do we need better rules, Jen?”

“No, not about that, not really,” Jennifer answered.  “I just thought it would be neat if we all had a place where we could go if we needed just a few minutes to read a book or listen to music or even work on homework.”  The teenager let out an exasperated sigh, throwing her hands in the air.  “Oh, I don't know what I mean, but just like today, I was trying to study, but there was always someone interrupting me, even with my door closed.  I don't want the brood to see my closed door and be afraid to knock, but if we had a special place, this one room, well ... well, maybe that place could have rules about it.”  She sighed again, and quietly said, “I don't know what I mean.”

Leaning forward, Jack tapped Jennifer's right hand lightly and soothed, “I think I do.  Daddy has his den, I have my study, and what you're saying is that you guys need a quiet room with no interruptions.”

“Yeah, like a sanctuary,” Jennifer confirmed, glad her father had been able to clarify her jumbled thoughts into a concept that made sense.

“I'll talk to Daniel,” Jack promised.

“Thanks, Dad.”

Smiling, Jennifer got up and left Jack to continue with his tasks.

====

It was dinnertime on the same day, and the family was gathered around.

“Sheila tried so hard, Daddy,” Jennifer said, telling a story about one of her friends and a difficulty she was having with a teacher.  “She tried to convince him to give her another chance, but he just wouldn't budge.”

“Budge,” Little Danny giggled.

Jack and Daniel looked at their young son, curious why he was laughing.

“What's so funny?” Jack asked.

“Budge funny,” the budding genius responded patiently.

“Uh, why do you think the word is funny?” Daniel questioned curiously.

“Budge funny name.”

“Name?” Daniel asked.  His immediate thoughts went to Sir Wallis Budge whose works many regarded as being the bible of Egyptologists, while to others, the books were simply great door jams. He couldn't recall ever mentioning Budge in front of Little Danny, though he surmised he must have.  Daniel nodded, not sure where this unexpected turn of conversation was leading.  “Yeah, I guess it's a funny name.”

Little Danny scrunched his nose tight.  He took a bite of his stew, then put down his spoon.

“Budge old.”

“Old?” Daniel asked hesitantly.

“Not useful,” the little boy clarified.

“Son, what are you talking about?” Jack asked directly.

“Budge, Dad.  He's old,” Little Danny said, wrinkling his nose in distaste.

“He's dead,” Jack intoned, shrugging while his lover stared at him for the unusual interjection.

“Not man, books,” Little Danny corrected his father.

“How, uh, um, how do you know?” Daniel asked, his puzzlement growing.

“Mag'zine.  It say Budge use old system, not keep up.  Books un'liable.”

Jack and Daniel stared at each other.

**Danny, I know he knows how to read storybooks a little, but a magazine?**

**I ... I guess he ... does.**  Daniel shrugged and returned his attention to his son's words.  “Un'liable ... unreliable?” Daniel asked.

Little Danny nodded as he drank some of his milk.

“You read about Budge?” a surprised Jack queried.

Little Danny nodded, then said, “Daddy's mag'zine in David's room.”

“Oh,” Daniel expressed quietly.

“What else did it say, Little Danny?” David asked.

Suddenly, it was like Little Danny switched gears, seemingly turning into an adult from a little boy, as he answered, “It said people shouldn't use Budge, outdated.  I didn't understand -- lex'graphy.  What's that?”

~Gawd, he's learning quicker than we thought.  He almost pronounced lexicography correctly, and he just used contractions, too.  I don't get it; I wonder if he does?~  A bit nervously, Daniel explained, “Uh, lexicography, and that's, uh, the process of making a dictionary, how it's put together and edited.”

“Budge not good at that; didn't use new stuff.  Books have good pictures, lots of inf'mation, but say wrong things.”

“Like Dad,” Jonny said extremely seriously.

“Excuse me?” Jack asked.

“Daddy say you say wrong things 'lot,” Jonny stated.

“I do?”  Jack ignored Jennifer and David's sniggers and stared at Daniel, his eyebrows raised.  “Daniel?”

The archaeologist smiled and said, “More stew, Love?”

====

That night, sitting on the roof deck, the lovers talked some more about Little Danny's reading surprise.  Jack was leaning against the house, and Daniel was in front of him, sitting between Jack's legs.  His head rested against Jack's left shoulder while Jack's hands warmed Daniel's abdomen after snaking under his maroon-colored shirt.

“Danny, if I don't understand that Budge mumbo jumbo, how can Little Danny?” Jack asked, feeling a tad perplexed.

“He's taught himself, Jack.”

“We know he's a genius, but he's just two-and-a-half,” Jack stated.

“I'm guessing you didn't hear the news last night,” the younger man spoke, turning his head slightly to look at his husband for a second.

“What are you talking about?” Jack inquired, confused as to why Daniel had changed the subject.

“A couple in Washington had their three-year-old tested.  His IQ is 137, and he's been accepted into Mensa.  Jack, he's teaching his parents how to spell backwards.  What Little Danny is doing is ... incredible.  We can't ignore his intelligence.”

“We won't, Love, but we're keeping him a kid,” Jack insisted as he squeezed Daniel to him.

“We have to, Jack,” Daniel sighed.  “I ... I learned way too late that being a kid was okay.  I'm glad Little Danny is ... that he's ... well ...”

“Taking after his daddy?” Jack asked with pride.

“After both of us, Jack.  Don't start that,” Daniel spoke, his voice pleading to keep on topic and not veer off to Jack putting himself down, something that always upset him.

“Sorry,” Jack whispered sincerely and then placed a kiss at the side of his lover's neck.

“It's just I'm excited for him and all the possibilities that lie ahead for him, and at the same time, I'm scared stiff,” Daniel confided, leaning further back into Jack's embrace.

“He's staying a kid, Daniel.  We'll make sure of it,” Jack reassured confidently.

~He sounds so sure.~  Daniel twisted around to look into Jack's eyes.  He saw how they shone with love, and Jack's calm did make Daniel feel better.  He smiled.  “I guess if you can teach me how to play ...”

“Angel, you knew how to play; you just forgot.  Our brood won't have a chance to forget,” Jack swore with a firm voice and a twinkle in his eye.

“Not with you as their dad,” Daniel chuckled, returning to his previous position.

“Hey!” Jack reacted, acting miffed.

“The biggest kid of them all!” Daniel teased.

Jack laughed as his hands warmed Daniel's abdomen.  They settled back in together, and neither spoke for a couple of minutes.

“We'll just need to make sure we stay on top of it and keep Little Danny challenged,” Daniel finally spoke again.

“He'll be okay, but Budge?” Jack asked, still disbelieving that the little boy had read the article.

Daniel chuckled, and then they began to talk about other things.

====

“Jack, I have a totally insane idea,” Daniel said as the couple changed for bed a few nights later.

“Which means we should probably do it.”  Jack heard Daniel laugh and looked up to see his lover slip on his flannel pajamas, the red pair with pharaohs on them that he'd given the younger man for Christmas one year.  The pajamas were a tradition; every year, Jack found some unique design to gift his lover with. “Come here, my *not* so little pharaoh.”

Daniel happily honored the request, and the two kissed, their hands roaming each other's bodies.

“Gawd, we're so ridiculously happy,” Daniel giggled helplessly.

“I love you, Angel.  Now, what's your idea?” Jack inquired, backtracking to Daniel's previous comment.

“Earlier today, Chenoa wanted me to read her a story, and as I was going through some of our books, I found 'The Polar Express', and it just popped into my head,” Daniel explained, though he didn't really explain his idea, which, of course, confused Jack.

“What did?”

“My idea,” Daniel answered, his voice a bit higher pitched than usual.

“Which is?” Jack wondered.

“Crazy, silly, ridiculous.  We really shouldn't do it, but then again, why not, Jack? We're building this house, and I know we don't want to overdo it, but why not?”

“Daniel, I'll be happy to give you my opinion,” Jack spoke with a grin.  ~*If* you ever tell me.  I love him when he does this.  It's so cute, although I'd better not tell him that.~

“Good.  What is it?” Daniel asked, earnestly wanting to know.

“What's what?” Jack questioned.

“Your opinion,” Daniel answered, getting a little annoyed with the older man.

“To what?”

“To my idea.  I'm listening, Jack,” Daniel said, raising an eyebrow expectedly.

Jack laughed, “Angel, you haven't told me what it is yet.”

“Oh,” Daniel expressed shyly.  “I guess I haven't, but it's ...”

“*Daniel!*” the older man exclaimed.  “What's your idea?”

Smiling, the hesitant archaeologist answered, “Let's build a train room.  We can leave our train sets out all the time.  The children can use them when we're around to supervise, or maybe we can have our family time in there sometimes.  Uh, it'll be off-limits without permission.  It takes so long to set up the tracks; this would save so much time.  What do you think?” Daniel queried excitedly.

“I think you're brilliant,” Jack said softly, sliding his right hand up to Daniel's cheek and caressing it and then leaning leaned forward and kissing Daniel's nose.

“I was hoping for something more than my nose,” Daniel teased.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“A train room: I love the idea,” Jack said, happily.

“I know; I've come a long way,” Daniel commented as his hands slipped inside Jack's pajamas.

“Danny, I know we just changed, but I say we ...”

“Oh, yeah, me, too,” Daniel agreed as he smiled wickedly.

====

“So let's review,” Byron Stone, the architect, said as he studied his notes and sketches.  “For the add-on portion of the home, you want at least four rooms upstairs with one bathroom, and you want three larger rooms and another bathroom downstairs.”

“Right,” Jack confirmed.  “We also need to work around this area,” he said, pointing to the roof deck.

“We need you to work with the landscape designer, too,” Daniel reminded.  “We're going to take this opportunity to redesign the yard a little.”

“Fine.  When can I come out and take a look?” the architect inquired.

“How's now?” Jack asked eagerly.

“I have an appointment in an hour, but what about this afternoon, say around three-ish?” Byron asked as he looked at his day planner.

“The children will be home, but if you don't mind a bit of a madhouse, that would be fine,” Daniel said, a smile on his face.

“I'll see you then,” Byron said as he wrote down his new appointment.

====

“I go up in Jo, not yucky 'seum,” Jonny commented.

“Me go dolly store,” Aislinn stated.

“Zoo!” Ricky exclaimed.

“Yeah, zoo!” Jenny agreed cheerfully.

“You might like the museum,” Sara offered, getting strange looks from the four young children now staring up at her.  They'd been discussing David's birthday the day before and the boy's special trip to the museum.  “Okay, well, anyway, your parents should be here soon, so time to pack it in.”

“Yes, Aunt Sara,” Aislinn spoke on behalf of the Munchkins and the twins.

Jennifer and David were at school, and Chenoa was at one of her Kinder Camp groups.

“Where's Little Danny?” Sara wondered, looking around for the toddler.

“He went with Ang'la downstairs,” Jonny answered.

“Okay, stay here.  I'll be back in a minute.”  Sara went downstairs in search of her daughter and the middle triplet.  ~Okay, where are you two?~  “A-ha, there you are!”

“Mommy, Little Danny smart,” Angela informed, smiling at the realization.

Sara smiled back as she answered, “Yes, I know.  Angela, do me a favor and go upstairs with the rest of the kids, okay?”

“'Kay, Mom.”

Sara leaned over and kissed her daughter on the forehead and said, “I love you!”

“Love you oodles, Mommy,” Angela replied as she walked towards the stairs.

“And what have you been doing, young man?” Sara asked as she crouched down beside Little Danny.

“Playing school with Ang'la,” Little Danny answered gleefully.

Little Danny handed Sara a piece of paper.  She had found the two youngsters in her family room, where, earlier in the day, she'd been reading an educational magazine on testing children's intelligence.

“Did Angela take this test?” Sara asked as she perused the answers.

Sara was proud of her daughter.  The test was a sample Mensa evaluation for youngsters.  It was only ten questions and was only meant to show potential, not actual IQ.  Still, as she reviewed the questions and answers, it was clear Angela might be more intelligent than she had realized.  Angela was five, but her answers were at least one year ahead of her age group.

“No.  Ang'la teach'r.  Danny student,” the boy said as he smiled up at Sara.

Sara stared at the shaggy-haired boy, astounded by what she'd just heard.

“You answered these?”  Seeing Little Danny's nod, Sara plopped down on the nearest chair.  “You didn't ask Angela about any of the answers?”

Little Danny shook his head, looking a trifle indignant.

Sara could swear she had just seen just a trace of what Jack called 'the Danny Pout' cross his little face.  She resisted the urge to smile, but not by much.

“Ang'la wants teach, like you,” Little Danny stated.  With a smile, he commented, “I like tests.”

“I can understand why,” Sara responded, her voice full of astonishment as she stared at the paper.  For Angela, the results would have been above average, a wonder, but for Little Danny, who was more than two years younger, it was phenomenal.  “You did very well, Danny.”

The youngster's smile was huge as he enjoyed the praise from his aunt.

“Don't know this,” Little Danny stated as he pointed at some odd shapes.  “Not know what s'pose to do.”

Sara examined the section and explained, “They want you to look at all the shapes and decide which one doesn't fit; which one is not like the others.  Perhaps they're all circular, except for one that's square, or ...”

“Oh ... this one,” the little genius correctly deduced, pointing at the only figure that had four sides to it and not three.

“That's ... right; very good, Danny.”  Again, Sara witnessed the boy's big grin.  “You'd better get ready to go.  Your parents will be here soon.”  She watched him walk quickly out of the room.  ~I knew you were smart, but this is astounding ... and almost scary.~

====

“Daniel,” Sara beckoned to Daniel as he was halfway from her porch to the SUV.

The parents were collecting their brood and were getting them settled into the family's SUV.

“Be right there, Jack,” Daniel said, walking back to the porch where Sara stood.

“Look at this,” Sara requested, handing Daniel the test.  “Little Danny took this today.”

“What?” Daniel asked as he looked at the piece of paper.

“He and Angela were playing school.  Daniel, this is a Mensa test,” Sara told him, her voice still full of surprise.

“Wow,” Daniel remarked, not really knowing what to say.

“I know you and Jack don't want a label put on him, that you want to keep him a kid, and I'm not arguing against that, but for his own good, to help him meet his potential, you might want to back down and have him tested,” Sara advised.

“Maybe.  I just don't know.”  Daniel studied the tests and looked at the scoring system.  He did the calculations in his head.  “Gawd.”

“The danger is that when he starts school, he's going to be too far ahead, and he might get bored.  I'm betting that you know what it can be like from personal experience, and I've seen it with some of my students in the past.  You and Jack have to be very careful with this precious gift,” the elementary school teacher warned.

Daniel did know what it was like.  How many times had he gotten lost in his mind, creating theories that drown out the voices of his teachers and fellow classmates because he was so far ahead of them?  Even though he had advanced quickly, sometimes, it still took a while before they noticed just how advanced he'd really been.  Now, the scholar had other considerations.  The triplets were very close, and he wanted that to be a plus and not a minus.  He and Jack wanted the trio to remain together as much as possible, at least for a while yet.

“Sara, they'll want to move him ahead.  He'll be so much younger than the others.  Jonny and Ash are smart, too.  They might move them up a year, but ... Little Danny ...”

Daniel shook his head, confused as what to do about the situation.

“Hey, what's going on?” Jack shouted as he stood by the SUV.  “We're ready to go.”

“Be there in a minute, Jack,” Daniel responded, glancing back at his lover.

“Daniel, I realize you two have tried to ... well, avoid thinking too much about Little Danny's intelligence, but avoiding his intelligence isn't going to work anymore.”

“Apparently not,” Daniel responded dryly.  “We've focused so much on making sure he plays and has fun because, well ...”

“Because all you did was study?” Sara successfully guessed from past discussions.

“Yeah.”

Sara suggested, “Maybe you could find a private school that will still allow them to be together, like the one David is going to.”

“We'll check that out,” Daniel responded, appreciative of Sara's interest.  “I'd better go.”

“I hope I wasn't butting in,” the woman spoke a bit apologetically.

“No, of course, you weren't.”  Daniel hugged Sara and added, “We need to think about this.  Thank you, Sara.”

Once Daniel rejoined his family, Jack inquired, “What was that all about?”

“We'll talk about it later,” Daniel said as he affixed his seatbelt.  He twisted around to look at the children and asked, “How was your day with Aunt Sara?”

It was music to Jack's and Daniel's ears -- five children all talking at once about the fun they had had at Aunt Sara's.

====

“Sara has a point,” Jack said as the lovers snuggled together in their bed later that night.

“I'm going to make some inquiries.  I'll start with David's school and go from there,” Daniel stated.

Sensing there was something more going on in his husband's mind, Jack prodded, “What?”

“I think his IQ is off the chart, Jack,” Daniel said, both worry and pride etched in his voice.

“Do you want to have him tested?” Jack asked, adjusting his head slightly to look over at Daniel.

“Want to?  No, but maybe we should think about it.  Maybe our own prejudices are causing us to overreact to something that could be beneficial in guiding Little Danny's education.”

Jack stared at Daniel, trying to determine if he really believed that or not, and then responded, “Let's not overreact in either direction; let's see what you can find out about the schools.  Danny, it's not like we need to rush anything.  We have plenty of time to make sure that whatever we do is best for all our children.”

“You're right.”

“Angel, do you really believe that, about our own experiences blinding us to what's best for Little Danny?”

“I don't know.  I just ... I just don't want us to make assumptions that end up hurting him.  We've been passive and complacent.”

“Because we haven't wanted to deal with it?” Jack asked.

Daniel shrugged as he said, “Maybe.”

There weren't any answers yet, but the couple knew they had to become more aggressive in their search for the best way to deal with Little Danny's genius.

====

The next day, Daniel began his research on the education issue, making a slew of phone calls to various educational institutions, but he wasn't happy with the answers he was getting.  The private school would be a solution for part of the problem, making sure the Munchkins weren't bored, but they would still be separated more than Jack and Daniel would want.

Daniel was also worried about the social problems Little Danny would face in the school environment.  He knew from personal experience that it was particularly difficult to make friends with classmates when you were younger and smarter than they were.  He really didn't want his son to have his academic needs met at the cost of his social needs.

~Okay, Jack says there is always an 'or', so ... alternatives?~

The concerned parent decided to take his quest for a solution to the internet.  He powered up the computer and began a search for educational alternatives.  A few minutes later, he was smiling.

~I think this is it.  We could do this.  It would be a challenge, but the benefits would be well worth the effort and time.  We can make sure that the kids are stimulated both academically and socially.~  Daniel sat back in his chair, looking over at a photo of his husband that sat on his desk.  “I wonder how Jack would feel about it?  It's a big commitment and ... lots of paperwork.~

Daniel continued his research, wanting to know as much as possible before broaching the subject with his spouse.

====

As school ended the next afternoon, Jennifer was hanging out with a group of girls for a while before heading home.

“No, my parents still won't let me date,” the teenager sighed.  “I don't know what their problem is.”

“They just don't trust you, Jen,” Cari Wedemeyer responded.

“That's not it,” Sheila said.  “Jen, you know what they've told you before.”

“Yeah, I need to know myself first.  I *know* myself already.  I want to date!” Jennifer demanded, letting out a huge groan and rolling her eyes.

Other students were milling about the campus, some waiting for rides home, others just visiting, and some participating in various after school activities.  Many others, though, were starting to set up for the annual school carnival.

“Are you guys coming to the carnival tonight?” Cari asked, noticing some students starting to quickly put up one of the booths.

“I am,” Sheila answered eagerly, though she then sighed in annoyance, adding, “along with my pesky little brothers.  What about you, Jen?”

“Yes.  I'm not sure what the final count will be though.  You just never know what's going to happen at my house,” Jennifer stated with a smile.  “And I'd better go.  Dad gets all wigged out if I'm not home when I say I'll be.”

“Later, Jen,” Sheila said as her friend walked away.

====

“Cot'n candy,” Aislinn requested excitedly.

“Love cot candy,” Jenny said, jumping up and down in front of her parents.

“Okay, okay,” Jack agreed.  “Ten cotton candies,” he ordered.

“Ten?” the school student asked, looking around and seeing all the children looking up at him with expectant faces.  He gulped.  “It'll take a few minutes, Sir.”

“No problem,” Jack spoke, smiling.

As they waited, the family talked good-naturedly about how much fun they were having at the school carnival thus far.  A moment later, Jack and Daniel laughed when Jenny took her first bite of cotton candy, and it stuck to all parts of her face.  Jennifer leaned over to help her sister.

Jack casually put his hand on Daniel's back and leaned in to whisper something sweet.

Off to the side, at another booth, a classmate of Jennifer's, Mary Beth, was with her father and younger sister.  She saw Jack and Daniel's closeness and the children.

“Dad, that's them -- Jennifer's parents,” Mary Beth whispered.

“Jennifer?”

“Remember, I told you about them.  They both took Jennifer to the father and daughter dance in November,” Mary Beth informed with a sneer.  With a scowl, she accused, “And she's the reason I got in trouble yesterday.”

“The queers,” the man said with distaste in his voice.  “They shouldn't have children, and if they do, they should teach them better manners.”

“Like not to lie,” Mary Beth said, egging her father on.  The girl resented Jennifer's popularity with both students and teachers.  The day before, she'd been making rude remarks about Jennifer's parents, hoping to get a rise out of her classmate.  Unfortunately for her, a teacher had overheard and given her detention.  Now she was ready to get some payback, something her muscle-heavy father was willing to try and provide.  “Just look at them, Dad.”

“Where's the principal?  They shouldn't be allowed here where we have our children roaming around.  Look at those kids around them.  They have some nerve,” the man complained, getting angrier by the second.

“Those are Jennifer's brothers and sisters, I think.  She said they had a big family.  One of them goes to Craig's school,” Mary Beth stated.

Mary Beth's brother, Craig, heard his name and began to pay attention to the conversation between his older sister and his father.

“What?” the girl's father questioned as his anger grew stronger.  “They adopted kids?”  Seeing his daughter shrug, he called out loudly, “Degenerates!”

“It's positively sickening,” Mary Beth added boisterously, not trying to hide her feelings, either.

Jennifer heard the girl's voice and immediately recognized it.  She glared at the other girl, aware of Mary Beth's evil expression.  She also observed the man staring at her parents, the hatred in his eyes unmistakable.

The teenager looked over at all her brothers and sisters and decided they'd be better off elsewhere, so she suggested, “Why don't we go see the exhibits in the photography lab?”

“No have cot'n candy yet,” Jonny complained.

“We can get some later.  Let's go,” Jennifer urged, trying to protect her family.

“Jen, hold on,” Jack said.  “We're not in any rush.”

“We have plenty of time to see everything you want, Jen,” Daniel added with a smile.

Jennifer glanced over at Mary Beth and saw the girl's father had started talking to another man.  Neither looked happy and were still looking over at the Jackson-O'Neills.

“Jen, what's wrong?” Jack asked, becoming aware of the girl's skittishness.

“Um ...” Jennifer glanced over to the side, and both Jack and Daniel followed her line of sight, finally seeing the two men and the looks being directed at them.

“Mister, here's another one,” the student said, holding out a cotton candy.

“Thank you,” Daniel said, giving the pink fuzzy sweet to Jonny who grinned.

“Just ignore them,” Jack urged softly, squeezing Jennifer's shoulder in reassurance.

Jennifer gave her father a worried smile, wanting to let her concern go, but having a funny feeling in the pit of her stomach that Mary Beth and her father were going to ruin the carnival for her family.

“It's not right,” one of the men said loudly.

“How's the cotton candy?” Jack asked the Munchkins, twins, and Chenoa, all of whom were enjoying their treats.

“Mmmssogood,” came a bunch of scrambled, mumbled, and muttered responses.

Daniel handed the next cotton candy cone to David.

“Three more to go,” the student said, wishing he got a commission from the sale and that the money didn't just go to the school's sports' fund.

“We're going to have fun putting them to bed tonight,” Daniel said with a woeful smile on his face.

“Sugar High Syndrome?” Jack asked, laughing at the same time.

“Yes, and you've spoiled them with that nightly ice cream,” Daniel chastised teasingly.

“Me?” Jack responded, bringing his right hand to his chest.  “I'm ... wounded.  I don't you see pushing the ice cream away or saying 'no'!”

Daniel grumbled slightly, knowing he was as much at fault as Jack for the 'ice cream ritual' that occurred on most nights in the Jackson-O'Neill home.

“Well, not tonight, Jack, or they'll never go to sleep.”

“No ice cream?  Daniel!” Jack said.

Unfortunately, Jack's comment was loud enough for the youngest children to hear, and all them came up to him, pouting about their ice cream.

Daniel stood back, trying to hide his chuckle that the children were blaming his lover and not him.

Raising his hands to fend off the objections, Jack took a step or two back and spoke, “No, I mean, yes, we'll have ice cream tonight,” happen when the uprising was averted.  As the kids spread out a bit again, he looked at Daniel and blamed, “That was all your fault!”

Daniel laughed, but before he could respond, he heard unpleasant sounds.  Both he and Jack looked over towards the noises, just in time to see the angry men were headed in their direction.  Their merriment instantly ended, replaced by concern for their children.

“Jennifer, no matter what, keep the children with you,” Daniel ordered sternly as he looked over at her.  “David ... David,” he said more sternly, getting his son's full attention.  “Help Jennifer.”

“Yes, Daddy,” David answered, not understanding the sudden urgency in his younger father's voice.

**We need to get out of here, Jack.**

“Let's go,” Jack instructed, paying the student for the ten cotton candies, even though they were still waiting on three.

The parents had no desire to get into a confrontation, especially in front of the children, so their plan was to simply move on, which is what they were trying to do.

“Hold on there!” Mary Beth's father called out.

The family kept going, trying to ignore the two angry parents who were following them.

“We said stop!” Mary Beth's father called out a few seconds later.

“Jennifer, David, go to the photo lab ... now!” Jack ordered.  Then, he and Daniel stopped and waited for the men.  “What's your problem?” he asked when the two angry men reached them.

“You and your kind,” Mary Beth's father answered angrily.

“Look,” Daniel said, trying to remain calm.  “We're just enjoying the carnival like everyone else.  Why don't you do the same, and leave us alone?”

“You pollute the air,” the second man spat, his face an ugly contortion of hate.

While Daniel shook his head at the strange comment, his lover had moved forward to stand in the man's personal space.  The two men were about the same height, so they were eyeball to eyeball.

“Mister,” Jack began forcefully, “if you want to pick a fight, here, in front of children, then you're the pollutant, if you ask me.”

“Babe, careful,” Daniel interjected.  “You might breathe 'gay cooties' on him.”

Jack smiled, stared directly at the man, and dramatically blew a big puff of air on him.

“What will you do now?” Jack questioned, his smile fading.  He sighed, “Back off, and let's get back to the carnival before you do something you're going to regret.”

The man's eyes turned even colder with anger as he responded harshly, “You don't belong here.  Get out, or we'll throw you out!”

Carnival-goers nearby began to take notice of the conflict, most unsure of exactly what was happening.

“I don't think so.  This is our daughter's school, and we have a perfect right to be here, so ...” Daniel began.

Right then, and without any further warning, the other man took a swing at Daniel.  Upon seeing the action, Mary Beth's father attempted to slug Jack as well.

Daniel blocked the first punch, but then the man hit him in the groin, making a crude comment at the same time.

From a distance, the Jackson-O'Neill children heard the fight.

“Mens fighting Dad 'n' Daddy,” Aislinn gasped.

“We help!” Jonny exclaimed.

When the Munchkins started to run back, Jennifer cut them off and ordered, “No, you have to wait here.”

“NO, JEN!  HAFTA HELP; NV'R LEAVE ANYONE BEHIND,” Jonny yelled desperately.

“Need us, Jen,” Little Danny protested at being held in place.

“David, get the twins,” Jennifer ordered, seeing Ricky and Jenny starting to run towards their parents as well.

“Hey, you two,” a woman said, standing in front of Ricky and Jenny.  She knelt down and smiled.  “Is that your sister?” she asked, pointing back at Jennifer.

Right then, David arrived on the run, and, having heard the question, he answered, “Yes, Ma'am.  Thank you for stopping them.”

“David, man hit daddy,” Jenny said, crying.

The woman picked her up and tried to calm Jenny, saying, “Your daddy will be just fine.”

The woman was joined by a man and two teenagers.  The man took in the scene, nodded to the woman, and went to where Jack and Daniel were.  The two teenagers stayed with the woman.

“Kelly, Diane, let's take these children back to their sister,” the woman ordered.

Protectively, the female protector guided the group back to where Jennifer stood with the Munchkins.

Meanwhile, Daniel had fallen to the ground from the hit.  As his attacker moved to sit on him, he rolled away, got up, and evaded the full impact of another blow, though his adversary's hand grazed the left side of his face.

Jack had managed to duck, causing his opponent to miss him completely.  He grabbed the man's arm and had him in a choke hold, one hand holding the man's arms while his other arm was around the man's neck, pinning him close to his body.

--

The group of gawkers stood by, no one doing anything to help, but all curious as to what was happening.  The murmuring of some of the teenagers and their parents could be heard.

“Those are the gay parents.”

“They have a lot of nerve flaunting it in front of children.”

“I'm glad they're not my parents.”

“The long-haired one must be the woman of the relationship.”

Still, among the rude and prejudiced remarks, there were other comments that were more tolerant and more understanding.

“They're no different than anyone else.”

“Help them, Herb.”

“I saw it from the beginning; they didn't start it.  It was Mary Beth's father.”

“Jen says her parents are very caring; they've always been nice and polite to me.”

--

“Daniel!” Jack called out, having his attacker fully under control now.

“No problem, Babe,” Daniel responded as he twisted around so he was behind his attacker and able to put him in a similar hold.

At that moment, the man who had accompanied the woman who stopped the twins approached and questioned, “What's going on?”

“Just a little difference of opinion,” Jack said.  “Now, Mister Whoever-You-Are, we're here with our family.  We have every right in the world to be here, and we don't intend to let you spoil it.  If you have a problem with us being in the same place as you are, *you* are welcome to leave.”

Jack released the man, pushing him away.

Daniel followed suit, pleading, “Just leave us alone.”

“You two queers don't belong here,” Mary Beth's father said.

The angered man started to move towards Jack again when the new man on the scene butted in.

“I wouldn't advise that,” the man said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a badge.  “These gentlemen are not breaking any laws.  They do, however, have a right to charge both of you with assault.”

“That's not fair,” the second man whined, sounding like a five-year-old spoiled brat.

“Life isn't fair,” Daniel said.  “Stay away from us.”  Looking over at the man with a badge, he added a sincere, “Thank you.”

Jack walked to Daniel's side and asked, “Are you okay?”  Seeing his lover's nod, he said, “Excuse us.  We still have some cotton candy to get.”

Jack nodded to the man with the badge as he and Daniel headed for their family.

“Let me go!” Jonny demanded, seeing his fathers hurrying towards them.

In a flash, Jack and Daniel found themselves surrounded by eight scared children.  Chenoa, Aislinn, Jenny, and Ricky were all crying, but Jonny and Little Danny were more mad than anything else.

“BAD MENS!” Jonny shouted, glaring at the two men in the distance.

“Yeah, BAD MENS!” Little Danny repeated.

The woman leaned over between the two and commented, “Boys, it's okay.  I think your fathers took care of the problem.  Besides, you two are big boys, and it looks to me like they could use some help with your brothers and sisters.”

“Ash!” both Jonny and Little Danny said at the same time, running back the few steps that were needed to join the others.

Little Danny stopped short, looked back at the woman, and said, “Thank you, Lady.”

The female protector smiled and continued to watch as Jack and Daniel calmed their children, assuring them that everything was all right.

A minute later, the man with the badge approached the couple and their children and asked the woman, “How's it going over here?”

“Just fine, Dear.  Did you take care of those idiots?”

“I did my best.  Principle Braun is talking to them now,” the man answered.

Just then, Jack and Daniel became aware of the man's presence.  They stood up.  Jack was holding a still-crying Aislinn, her head burrowed into his neck.  Daniel held Jenny, who was sobbing, but not as much as earlier.  Jennifer picked up Ricky, while David hugged Chenoa close.  Jonny and Little Danny stood in front of their parents protectively.

“We want to thank you for your help,” Jack said to the man.

“Uh, and I want to thank you,” Jennifer said to the woman and then looked at her fathers.  “She helped me.  The twins got away from me, but she stopped them.”

“We're grateful to you, too,” Daniel added, bouncing Jenny a bit in his arms.

“I'm Darren McRae,” the man introduced.  “This is my wife, Donna, and our daughters, Kelly and Diane.”

“Thanks, Kelly, Diane,” Jennifer spoke, smiling at the two.  She'd seen the girls at school, but had never had the opportunity to talk with them, nor did she have any classes with them.  She thought they might be a year or two ahead of her, but she still thought, ~I wonder if they want to be friends.~

“Jack Jackson-O'Neill.  This is my husband, Daniel, and these are our children.”

“I've heard about you two,” Darren replied.

“You're a policeman?” Daniel inquired.

“Detective, and a friend of Pete Shanahan's,” Darren informed, smiling.

“Ah, Pete,” Jack said.

“Anyway, I told those two clowns to back off, or I'd arrest them.”

“I don't even know who they are,” Jack said.  He glanced over Jennifer expectantly as he called out, “Jen?”

“I think one of them was Mary Beth's father.  I don't know who the other one was.”

Suddenly, Darren felt a tug on his pant leg.

“Thank you for helping my fathers,” Chenoa said softly.

Darren knelt down and smiled as he asked, “And what's your name?”

“Chenoa.”

“Well, Chenoa, those men were wrong, and it was my pleasure to help out.”

The curly haired girl smiled and threw her arms around the man.  He returned her hug and then stood back up.

The new acquaintances chatted a minute longer, and then Jack and Daniel continued to comfort their youngest children.  It took a little while, and Aislinn didn't want Jack to put her down, so he didn't.  They returned for their three cotton candies, and then walked around the carnival some more, enjoying much of what was offered.  By the time they left, even Aislinn was smiling, though still in her father's arms.

====

“Being different isn't bad; it's just ... different,” Daniel explained during their family meeting when they got home.

“Men ign'rant?” Chenoa asked, adding, “Like lady in Egypt?”

Chenoa was referring to Sarah Gardner, who had reacted poorly to learning about Jack and Daniel's relationship when the family had run into her in Egypt.  They had talked to their children afterwards, explaining that some people were just ignorant and didn't understand something that was different to them, like same-sex couples.

“That's right, Noa,” Daniel affirmed, smiling and pleased that she understood.

Jack walked back into the living room where the family meeting was taking place and handed Daniel an ice pack for his eye.

**Jack, I don't need that.  He just barely hit me,** Daniel communicated.

**Humor me, Angel,** Jack requested, wanting to make sure his lover's beautiful eyes didn't suffer from a bigot's lucky shot.

**I always do, Love.**

Daniel smiled and took the ice pack from his husband, gently putting it on his eye.

“We need to talk about one more thing,” Jack said.  “Jonny, Little Danny, all of you ... when your daddy or I, or Jennifer or David, tell you to stay, you need to stay.”

“Needed our help,” Little Danny pouted.

“I love you, Son,” Daniel said, “but it's our job to protect you.  This is one of our big rules.  It's very important.  Hopefully, we'll never have to worry about it again, but if something does happen, we need to know you're all safe.”

“'Kay,” Little Danny said reluctantly, crossing his fingers behind his back.

“Jonny?” Daniel asked.

Little Danny punched his brother gently on his upper arm.

“Ouch,” Jonny scowled, rubbing the affected area.

“Say 'kay', Jonny,” Little Danny said, motioning with his head towards his fingers.

“'Kay,” Jonny agreed, after crossing his fingers, too.

The boys had learned from their friends on the block that lies didn't mean anything if your fingers were crossed when you said them.  Likewise, promises made while crossing your fingers were disregarded.  The little trick had come in handy a few times, like now.

**I think we've been had, Danny.**

**Probably.**

Jack looked at his son skeptically.  Surely, Jonny wasn't old enough to make innuendo-like comments.  No way could his 'Okay' be to Little Danny telling him to say 'Okay' instead of not promising to not run off again.

~Nah; he's too young ... I think.~  Jack wanted to be convinced, but these were their children, after all, and, well, he knew better.  ~Sneaky little devils.~  Shaking off his doubts, he asked, “Are you all okay, or do you want to talk some more?”

“Tired, Dad,” Jenny said.

Jack smiled and picked up the redhead, saying, “Bedtime.”

As the family stood up, Daniel spoke, “Just remember, we love you, and if you ever get scared or want to talk about our family and what other people think, then tell us.”

====

Other obligations handled, baths taken, prayers said, and all the other nighttime rituals completed, the children, except for Jennifer, settled down to sleep.

Jennifer had changed into a pair of sweats and was going to listen to music and relax for a while, but she couldn't focus.  The music wasn't comforting or distracting enough.  She kept seeing and hearing Aislinn's tears, and those of Chenoa, Jenny, and Ricky.  She knew they were better, but something called to her.  Turning off her music, she prepared her bed for what she had in mind.

Because of the day's events, the children were sleeping in different places than normally.  David had all three of his brothers crowded into his bed.  They'd told their parents that they were doing 'men talk' before going to sleep.  Meanwhile, Chenoa and Aislinn were in the nursery, huddled together in Chenoa's bed.

“Hey, you two still awake?” Jennifer asked as she sat on the edge of the bed.

Four eyes popped open in a flash, and two heads nodded in response.

“I was thinking.  I'm feeling a little lonely tonight.  Would you two like to come and sleep with me in my room?” Jennifer invited, smiling reassuringly at the two girls.

“I would,” Aislinn answered.

“Me, too,” Chenoa agreed.

“Where's Jenny?” the teenager inquired, noticing the youngest Jackson-O'Neill female wasn't in the room.

“Right here,” Daniel said, holding his daughter.  “We went for a little walk.  What's going on?”

“Daddy, Noa and Ash are going to sleep in my room tonight.  Jenny, would you like to sleep with us, too?”  Seeing Jenny nod without saying a word, Jennifer instructed, “Okay, let's go.  Come on.  Scoot.”

Daniel put Jenny down and watched as she ran after Chenoa and Aislinn.  He looked at Jennifer, but didn't say anything.

“I'm just so angry, Daddy, that's all.  It's not like those men just picked on you and Dad, but they did in front of them,” Jennifer spoke harshly, pointing at the backs of her sisters.  “That's not right; it's just not right.”

Jennifer gave her father a kiss and a hug and then hurried to catch up with her sisters.

“No, it's not,” Daniel lamented, crossing his arms as he remained still for a few moments.

====

“How's your eye, Love?” Jack asked, concerned about his lover.

Daniel slid into bed and onto his Jack pillow.  Once settled, he let out a sad sigh over recent events before finally answering, “He didn't hit me very hard, Jack.  Stop worrying so much.”  Shaking his head against his lover's hairy chest, he remarked with regret, “That was a horrible thing for our children to see.”

The archaeologist grimaced, thinking about what their brood had witnessed during what was otherwise a fun-filled family outing.

“Danny, we both know it's going to happen sometimes,” Jack responded, trying to placate his husband, although he believed that what they had experienced should never happen to anyone.

“Maybe we were wrong to stay.  I mean, as soon as we saw them, we should have left,” Daniel said, tightening his hold.

“We tried. Those two weren't going to back off, and my first thought was to get the kids away as quickly as possible.”

“Ash is still scared,” Daniel lamented, anger marring his voice.

“I know.”  After a second, Jack added, “I'm proud of Jen.  She handled herself well.”

“You should have seen her eyes when she gathered the girls together; she was so angry,” Daniel said.

“She's our daughter,” Jack said, kissing the top of Daniel's head.  “Our Munchkins,” he chuckled as he tried to look at the positive things.  “Did you hear what Jen said about them?”

“Yeah, they were going to come help us.  Jonny didn't like being stopped, either.”

“Neither did Little Danny and the twins.  Who'd they learn this from?” Jack asked as if he really didn't know.

Daniel raised his head to look at Jack in mock accusation as he asked pointedly, “Who do you think?”

Jack smiled, having to admit that their family was growing up just the way he and Daniel both wanted.

“Yeah, I guess,” Jack chuckled, willing to take the blame as he rubbed his soulmate's back.

“Gawd, you're hopeless,” Daniel said as he went back to his previous position.

Jack grew serious again, saying, “I'm glad Teal'c is still teaching them some basic defense moves.”

Daniel chuckled lightly, “Have you watched Ash and Noa try to do some of those little kicks?”

“Yeah; they may not be able to execute the moves yet, but they are learning what to look out for, and that's a big help.”

“Jonny does well, though.  He's very coordinated, always has been.  Do you remember, Jack, how he started to move around when he was just a month old?”

Daniel smiled at the memories of Jonny's attempts to move on his own and explore.  He'd surprised everyone, including their family doctor, with his motor skills.

“He was the inspiration for ToddlerTown, not that it helped,” Jack laughed.

“No matter what we do, he finds a way to break out, but the point is, his motor skills are advanced.  He is learning those moves,” Daniel commented.

“He makes Little Danny try harder,” Jack observed.

“Jen and David are doing great.  I'm glad Teal'c is teaching them,” Daniel added.

“Yeah.  We're teaching them, too, but they really do get a kick out of learning from the big guy.”  For a moment, the lovers enjoyed the silence and calm of just being together.  “Bad mens,” Jack chuckled.  “I love our brood.”

Daniel placed a kiss on his lover's chest and then said, “The McRaes were very nice.”

“Ole Pete's been talking about us,” Jack commented conspiratorially.

“Everybody talks about us, Jack.”

“We're famous,” the older man chuckled.

“Famous and ... <yawn> ... tired.  Night, My Love,” Daniel spoke and then yawned as he snuggled deeper into his Jack Pillow.

“Night, Angel.”

“Love you so much, Jack.”

“Ditto ... forever,” Jack promised, kissing his own personal Angel lightly on the head.

====

The following Sunday, things seemed to be back to normal at the Jackson-O'Neill homestead.

“Mittens?”  Little Danny stood at the edge of the living room carpet and looked into the kitchen for their new kitten.  “Mittens?” he called out again.

“Little Danny, whatcha' doing?” Jack asked, walking into the living room.

“Can't find Mittens,” Little Danny said, looking under the coffee table.

“She's in the study,” Jack answered.  ~I can't seem to get rid of her.~

Jack watched as his son ran off to find the new kitten they had recently rescued.  He shook his head, still not liking the fact that their family had just increased, but he was a softie where his children were involved, and no way could he stop them from keeping the abandoned creature that they'd found at the park.  He found it incredibly ironic, however, that of all the people in their family, Mittens, seemed to love him the most.

~When she's not following me everywhere, that darn cat thinks I'm her personal scratch pole,~ the general whined.

Jack walked outside and sat down on the patio steps, watching his husband play Tag with Jonny, Aislinn, Jenny, and Ricky.  They were all running around, laughing and screaming as they tried to evade being caught.

~Perfection.  Life cannot get any better than this.~

Jack laughed out loud as Daniel fell to the ground and was overrun by the four children.

“Dad, look okay?” Chenoa asked with wide eyes.

Jack turned around and smiled brightly, immediately saying, “Princess, you look like a princess, and you are a princess.”  He reached up, pulling her down slightly into a hug.  “A very beautiful princess, *indeed*.

Chenoa chuckled at the sound of her father mimicking Teal'c.

“Thank you for new dress!” Chenoa said appreciatively, beaming at the same time.

“Have to keep my girl looking good for her boyfriend,” Jack teased.

Chenoa blushed.  Earlier that day, Jack had gone shopping at a department store for a couple of shirts for the boys.  As he had passed through the various departments, he saw a yellow, satin dress with white lace.  Chenoa's image instantly popped into his mind.  Knowing she had a big 'date' with Teal'c that afternoon, he'd purchased it.  The little girl may be only three-and-a-half, but her crush on Teal'c equaled that of any teenager.

Jack stood and picked up the little girl, saying, “You're beautiful, Noa.”  He loved the bright smile he got in return.  “Do you want anything special for your tea party?”

“Show T Mittens?” Chenoa asked hopefully.

“Of course, you can do that.”

“Wow, what an angel,” Daniel complimented as he approached, surrounded by the other children.

“Pretty, Noa,” Jenny said.  “Love dress.”

“You look good,” Jonny added.  “Dad, where's Little Danny?”

“In the study, playing with Mittens,” Jack answered, watching as Jonny ran inside to find his brother.  “No running!” he called out, giving the boy a nod when he turned and shrugged his apology.

“I'm going to go clean up.  Love you,” Daniel said to both Jack and Chenoa.

A minute later, the door knocker pounded against the front door.  Hearing it, Chenoa took a big breath, preparing herself for the big moment.

“Dad, T here now!” Chenoa exclaimed, bouncing up and down excitedly.

Jack put the child down and helped her straighten out her dress.  They hurried to the door and verified that the visitor was the Jaffa.

“Okay, Princess, he's all yours.”

“Yay!”  With her father's approval, Chenoa opened the door.  “Teeeeeee!” she exclaimed, her face about to burst from happiness at seeing her 'boyfriend'.

“ChenoaJacksonO'Neill, you are more lovely than the snows of the Alma Rime,” Teal'c said, bowing his head.

Chenoa had no idea what or where Alma Rime was, but nor did she care.  Teal'c thought she was lovely, and she knew that was good.

“Dad bought new dress,” the little girl said as she twirled around to show it off.  She saw the Jaffa's approving look and then watched as he pulled out a small bouquet of daisies and handed it to her.  She gasped in surprise.  “For me?” she asked, putting her hand to her chest.

Chenoa smelled the daisies and smiled even brighter.  She looked up at the Jaffa who nodded and smiled at her.

“Where shall we have our tea?” Teal'c asked, essentially ignoring Jack as he talked to the little girl.

Chenoa reached for Teal'c's strong hand and led him to her room where the tea party would be held.  It was a little small, and the little girl had often wished they had someplace special for their teas.

“Hi, Teal'c,” Daniel said at the top stairs.

“Yes, hello, Teal'c,” Jack intoned, bristling slightly at having been ignored.

“DanielJacksonO'Neill, it is good to see you.  Chenoa and I are about to party in tea,” Teal'c informed.  Hearing Jack clear his voice, the Jaffa finally looked at the SG-1 leader and greeted, “O'Neill.”

“Teal'c,” Jack responded.

Daniel laughed, not only at his lover's behavior, but also at the word twist, and then smiled at his daughter as he spoke, “Noa, I have a special surprise for you.  It's a special occasion surprise, okay?”

“Love surprises, Daddy,” Chenoa said, excitement bubbling from her.

“Well, Dad and I thought you might like to have tea with Teal'c someplace different today.”

“Where?” the young girl asked as she waited in suspense.

“On the roof deck,” Daniel revealed, happy to see her reaction.

The little girl was stunned.  She never got to go out there unless her parents were with her.  It was 'Dad and Daddy's special place', so to her, it was like Daniel had just gifted her with a magical present.

“Oh, Daddy!” Chenoa breathed in amazement.

“It's all set up, but remember, you have to pay special attention and not wander around.  You have to stay with Teal'c.”

Chenoa's smile was even bigger, if that was possible.  Staying close to Teal'c was a dream to her.

“Always stay with Teal'c,” the happy youngster said.  “Love Teal'c.”

Daniel looked at the Jaffa and smiled.  He and Jack had already discussed their idea with Teal'c that morning when they'd verified that he was able to come over.  Thus, Teal'c was prepared and knew how much of a treat this was for the little girl.

“This way,” Daniel said, leading them to the roof deck.

“Oh, Daddy,” Chenoa said when she went outside.  “Pretty.”

Jack and Daniel had decorated the roof deck to look like a little bistro, very quaint and frilly.  Chenoa gave Daniel a big hug.

“Don't forget, Dad helped, too,” Daniel reminded her.

“Hug Dad later.  Teal'c, tea time,” Chenoa said as she took hold of the Jaffa's large hand.

Daniel smiled and backed off the roof deck.  He watched for a moment, just loving how easy it was to make the little princess feel special and loved.

~Children don't need much; they just need love.~

====

“She's still smiling,” Jack remarked as he walked into his lover's den late that night.

Spinning his chair around, Daniel twirled his pen in his hands as he responded, “She had a perfect afternoon with her best friend.”

“I'm not sure the Big Guy really understands how hooked our little girl is on him,” Jack spoke as he sat down on the recliner, though he leaned forward instead of relaxing back into the chair.

“I wonder what Apophis would say if he could see his former First Prime sipping tea with Noa.”

“Nothing we'd want to hear,” Daniel responded.  “Oh, Babe, while you were cleaning, Darren McRae called.”

“The carnival cop?” Jack questioned.

“Learn his name, Love, because he invited us to dinner on Saturday.  I told him I'd check with you and get back to him.”

“Us as in ...”

“Us, you and me.”

“Do you want to go?”

“He helped us out, Jack, as did his wife.  I think it would be nice to acknowledge that by accepting their invitation.”

Jack nodded and then started talking about the comic strips he'd read in the paper that morning.

====

“Danny, I'm gonna head out and pick up David from school,” Jack announced the following Tuesday afternoon.

“Wait a minute, Jack.  You have a little time yet, and I want to see what you think about something.”

A squeal drew Daniel's attention.  He went to the door and shook his head.  Jenny was running away from Jonny.

“Jonathan Charles, put that spider back ... wherever you found it -- now!” Daniel ordered sternly, having observed the creature and knowing it was a harmless everyday spider that his son had probably found crawling around outside.

“But ...” Jonny argued, a pout forming on his face.

“No 'buts'.”

Grumbling, Jonny ceased terrorizing his sister and put the spider down.

“Gee, Jenny.  Just spider,” Jonny said exasperatingly.

“Humph!” the little girl responded, turning to play with Aislinn.

“What a group,” Daniel said.

“They'll keep us young,” Jack mused as he took a seat at the counter where both he and Daniel could keep an eye out on their playful offspring.

“Jack, what would you think about homeschooling our children?” Daniel asked as he fiddled with his cup.

“Homeschooling?  I don't know.  I've never thought about it,” Jack answered as he considered the idea.

“I've been doing some research, and if we took this road, there would be so many possibilities for us.  We'd be able to control their learning experience.”

“Our little genius wouldn't get bored,” Jack stated, warming to the idea.

“There would be quite a bit of work, and we'd have to prepare, but it's not really that complicated.  We'd have to make use of that teaching degree of yours.”

“Daniel, I've never used it.  I did the course work, but the only real teaching I've done was the student teaching, and that was in ...” Jack paused, trying to remember, “Virginia.”

“Virginia?” Daniel asked, confused.

“Military, remember?  I had ... training, the secret stuff, and they gave me a waiver to do the classroom time there since I was scheduled to go overseas after the ... training.”

“Yeah, well, anyway, we'd need to develop a study system for home as well as a curriculum, and, uh, well, I ...”

“Daniel, what?”

“UD has a program,” Daniel explained.  “Jack, in nine months, I could have a teaching certificate.”

“Nine months?  That's quick.”

“It's an intense study program for people who already have their bachelor's degree.  I'd ... need some time to do my own studying, though.”

“Student teaching,” Jack said.

“Think about it, Babe.  We could really make our world the classroom for our children,” the younger man suggested.

Jack heard the lilt in his lover's voice, and the sparkle in his eyes was unmistakable.

“You're excited about this,” Jack said, Daniel's excitement stirring his own.

“It could work, Jack, and it would be so much easier for J-O,” Daniel noted, acknowledging yet another benefit of homeschooling.

“Good point,” the silver-gray haired man acknowledged.

“Look, we have time for me to start the TEP program in Denver.  I'd be done before the Munchkins are due to start.  In the meantime, you could begin in the fall with Noa,” Daniel stated.

“What about Jen and David?” Jack asked, wondering if they should force the older two to join the private Jackson-O'Neill School District.

“It has to be their choice.  David loves his school, so I'm not sure.  I think Jen's going to want to stay in regular school, and I think we should let her.”

“I agree there, on both counts.  You have,” Jack rolled his eyes, “literature for me to read, don't you?”

“A lot,” the teacher-to-be admitted.

“Homeschooling,” Jack repeated.

“You'd be surprised how many people are doing that now, and a lot of them are here, in Colorado Springs.  They have support groups, online groups, co-ops, websites.  Jack, we can meet other homeschooling parents and ... teach each other's children.  It's not like we'd be in this alone.”

“The world is their classroom, as is the Stargate,” Jack spoke happily.

“Think of the possibilities on how we can educate them,” Daniel added, his eyes shining at the prospects in front of them.

“I hate to admit it, but the idea is growing on me; it's even exciting,” Jack chimed.  “Right now, though, I'd better go get David.”

“I love you, Jack.”

“I love you, Angel, to the moon and back and beyond.”

“What about the stars?” Daniel teased about his lover's poetic declaration that often included the stars.

“I'm in a hurry,” Jack joked.

As the lovers kissed, they heard the familiar giggle.  They knew what was coming because it had become almost routine.

“Dad and Daddy kissing 'gain,” Aislinn sing-songed.

Jack and Daniel laughed and then continued their day, Jack heading off to get David and Daniel needing to make a phone call to Megan regarding J-O Enterprises business.

====

As soon as he saw his father's vehicle, David walked quickly to the truck and got in.  That was unusual.  Typically, he was chattering a mile-a-minute to two or three of his friends as he climbed into whichever Jackson-O'Neill vehicle was pressed into taxi service, calling out shouts of 'Call you later' or 'See you tomorrow!'  Today, however, he was silent and avoiding Jack's gaze.

Jack studied his eldest son for a moment with the practiced eye of the Special Ops colonel.

David's hair was neatly combed, but wet, as if it had been stuck under a faucet.  His trousers had large spots that were not quite dry.  His shirt, too, was damp, damp all over, in fact, and wrinkled.  It was as if it had been removed, rinsed, and wrung out, leaving lines even permanent press couldn't hide.  Of extreme concern to Jack was a scrape which dressed David's left cheek.  It was a bright pinkish-red smear, stopping abruptly in a long thin scab that was still sticky-shiny.

“I'd ask how your day was, but I think it's obvious.  Want to tell me about it?” Jack questioned gently.

Still avoiding his father's stare, David looked out the window as he answered, “'Bout what?”

“Your rock collection?”

Surprised, David finally looked at Jack who gave him a knowing look in return.

“Son, whatever happened to you, happened not too long ago.  Your clothes are wet and that cut,” Jack said, pointing to the mark, “wasn't there this morning.  How many of them were there?”

Still not wanting to admit the truth, David folded his arms and again stared out the window.

Jack noticed his son blinked several times and suddenly looked down.  Looking over, he saw two boys laughing and acting boisterously.

“David, how many?” Jack asked again.

“How many what?” David queried with a quivering upper lip.

Jack placed his right hand on David's shoulder supportively.

“David, your old man has been in too many fights not to notice the signs; and it might surprise you to know, that he was outnumbered in most of them, too, so I repeat, how many?”  Seeing David buckle a little, he added soothingly, “It's okay, Son.  Tell me.”

David threw himself face down in his father's lap and sobbed.  Jack rubbed his son's back with his right hand, occasionally raising it to finger comfortingly through the boy's shaggy hair.  Finally, he revealed the truth.

“We finished our work, so class was dismissed a few minutes early.  That happens a lot.  When I went into the hallway where my locker is, they ganged up on me.”

The release was too much for the young boy, and he cried unabashedly into his father's lap for five minutes.

Continuing his gentle movements, Jack didn't pressure the boy, speaking calming words instead.

“It's okay.  Let it all out.  You're safe now.  I love you, David.”

Eventually, David sat up, wiped his eyes on the tissue Jack handed him, and composed himself so he could finish telling Jack what had happened.

“These three older boys I don't know came up to me and started saying things to me.”

~Bet I can guess,~ Jack thought.  “You said you don't know them, so they weren't from your class?”

“No.  Must have been another class that got out early, too.  A lot of classes get out early, Dad.  It's like a reward for doing good,” David stated.

Jack nodded.  He'd known that.  It was one of ways teachers rewarded their classes for a job well done.  It gave students a chance to get a snack, visit, or sometimes get a head start on some of their individual study courses; or, in the case of the last class of the day, it gave them a chance to make an early exit from school, something a lot of parents who picked up their children appreciated.

“What kind of things did they say?” Jack questioned.

“Bad things.  They said that you and Daddy were ... that 'F' word,” David said hesitantly.

The boy had heard it before, and Jack and Daniel had told him to ignore it.  It was just ignorance and fear, being expressed by people who don't know how to deal with a lifestyle that's different from their own.

“The, uh, 'mag' word?”

“Yeah, that one; well, uh, 'maggot', to be accurate, and Daddy always says to be accurate,” David said a bit vulnerably.

Jack and Daniel had certainly heard the word many times, and they'd dealt with it, but now they had a family, and they had rules.  Though both, especially Jack, had done their share of swearing over the years and using bad words, they'd promised to keep it out of their house as much as possible.  It wasn't always easy; they didn't always succeed, but they tried, and that meant sometimes using 'the rhyming game' to talk about inappropriate terms.

“Okay, and ...” Jack urged his son on.

“And they said that since you couldn't have children, you had to recruit young boys, or your kind would die out eventually, since most people in this country had lost the nerve to kill outright scum,” David whispered, hating having to repeat the words, but hating that the words had been spoken even more.

Jack's hands gripped the steering wheel with force as anger filled his body.

David continued, “They called me a 'boy toy' and shoved me on the floor.  They were teasing me, too, about my hair and my even my glasses.  They ... they called me a 'teacher's pet' because I always do well.  I don't know how they know that, Dad.  They aren't in my group.”

“You're in the top two percent of your class, Son.  They probably saw the list,” Jack reasoned, albeit very proudly.

“I don't think they really cared about that, though,” David said as he bowed his head.

Jack sighed, “Go on.  What happened next?”

“I fought my way up, and two more joined them.  They tried to stuff me in my locker; that's how I got this,” David said, pointing to his scrape.

~Okay, I shouldn't be proud, but ...~  “So it took five of them to do this to you?” Jack asked.  ~Daniel would kill me if I encouraged you to fight, so I can't tell you how proud I am, but I am.~

David shrugged.  He hated fighting, but both of his parents had told him to protect himself and his siblings, if the need ever arose.

Jack was stunned at what he had just heard.  David was enrolled in a private school where things like this should never happen.  The students were supposed to be closely supervised, and in the past, they hadn't had any problems.  The boy loved the school, his teachers, and his friends there, all of whom were close to his IQ.

“Then what?”

“I remembered something Daddy said once about using size to your advantage.  I don't even know what he was talking about, but I decided to use my size, since they're bigger than me.  I ducked down and pushed my way through two of them; they weren't expecting that.  I ran, Dad.  I was scared, and I ran all the way out of the building, afraid they'd chase me.  I guess they didn't, because when I looked back, they weren't there.  I ... I just sat down on the grass.  I'm sorry, Dad; the lawn was wet.  I forgot they watered this morning.”

“That's not important, Son,” Jack responded gently.

“After a couple of minutes, I went back inside to the bathroom and tried to clean up a little.”

“There's more,” the father stated.

“One of them came into the bathroom.  I didn't see him at first.  He pushed me down towards the sink, called me a name, and then left.”

“That's why your hair and shirt are soaked,” Jack sighed.

“Yes,” David confirmed.  “I think the only reason he didn't try and do more is because the final bell rang.”

“First things first,” Jack spoke.  “Besides those scrapes, are you hurt?  Any pain?  Your stomach or ...”

“No, I'm fine.”

~I hate that phrase,~ Jack opined, knowing his son's pride had been hurt more than anything else.  “Come on, David,” he said, opening the door to the truck.

While he had considered leaving his son in the truck, Jack thought better of it, especially since he'd noticed that the two boys were still laughing and making sneering expressions over at his son.

====

The principal's secretary was insistent that he had gone home.  As Jack watched, she tidied her desk and said she was going to lock up.

“Aren't you going to turn out the lights in Principal Deavers' office?” Jack asked, trying to mask the anger in his voice.  ~She's just doing her job, but, frankly, I don't friggin' care right now.~

The secretary looked confused.  Obviously used to intimidating the students, she didn't know how to deal with the calm but resolute man standing in front of her.

After five minutes of awkward silence, the principal opened the door.

“My apologies.  Carol was only doing as I had asked.  It's my wedding anniversary, and I was hoping to get out of here at a decent time today.”  With a motion of his hand, Deavers said, “Please come in, General Jackson-O'Neill.”

Jack refused the offer of a seat, but David sat down in a chair near the door, and the principal sat down in his leather chair.

“Happy anniversary; many more,” Jack said, half-sincerely and half-annoyingly.  “Look, I know you want to get home; so do I, but look at my son's face.”  He pointed to the cut and stated forcefully, “I want to know who did this and what's being done about it; and I want to know *now*.”

“I was hoping to address this tomorrow when, hopefully, we would have all the facts.  I've found that cooler heads often prevail just twenty-four hours later.”  Deavers sighed, “I would have been gone when you walked in if I hadn't taken a phone call from the school system superintendent.”

“Want to call your wife?” Jack asked sarcastically.

Deavers glared at Jack.  It wasn't that he didn't care, but his wife was not going to be happy.  He hadn't made it home on time for weeks, and it had been three years since he had successfully gotten home in time for their anniversary celebration.

“I'm sorry,” the principal said, trying to placate Jack.

“I don't care if you're sorry or not.  Look at my son.  It took *five* older boys to do this to David.”

“We don't encourage fighting.  David was late ...”

“Whoa!  Don't try and tell me my son started it, and I don't care how late he may have been to class.  Who are the boys?” Jack demanded sternly.

“I'd rather get verification of ...”

“Oh, no!”  Jack smelled a cover-up in the making.  For a minute, it had felt like the old days, and he was talking to some Pentagon pencil pusher instead of David's principal.  “I don't know whose kids you are protecting, but let me assure you, I don't care how rich or how well connected they are.  I have resources that are out of this world.”  He looked over at David, who smiled coyly at the reference.  “All I am asking is for my son to have the same protection against violence that every other kid in this school has.  We pay a healthy tuition for him to attend school here and have as many rights as any other family.”

“I'm not saying you don't, General.  I'd just like time to sort it all out and speak to the parents involved; find out what happened.”

“You *know* what happened,” Jack said, working hard to keep the fuse simmering and not exploding.  “I find it hard to believe that no one saw anything that could support the truth.”

“I know what David claims ...”

“Not claims, Deavers; happened.  *Happened*,” Jack emphasized.  “I'm not sure exactly why you are trying to conceal this, and right now, I'm even starting to doubt this anniversary story, but you want time?  Fine, you can have it.  Trust me,” he said, using his best general-glare, “this is not over yet.”

Reaching down and taking David's hand, Jack marched him out of the office and back outside.  On the sidewalk, he took several deep breaths to calm his anger.

When Jack felt he had his emotions under control, he looked over at his son and asked calmly, “David, you sure you don't know any of those boys?” Jack asked calmly.

“I've never seen them.  Uh, I thought I heard one of them say something about his sister and the carnival.”

“Okay,” Jack said.  “Let's go home.”

====

Dinner that evening was rather subdued.  Jack had called Sara and Mark and asked them to babysit for a few hours while Daniel and Jack took Jennifer and David out to eat at O'Malley's.  It was the easiest way to make sure they had a chance to talk without upsetting the younger children.

Jennifer confided that last week, before the events of the carnival, Mary Beth and a couple of her friends had cornered her in the girls' bathroom and were making derogatory remarks about what her two dads did in the privacy of their bedroom.

“What did you say, Jen?” Daniel asked.

“I said it was odd that she would dwell on something so private.  I don't think about what you guys do.  I mean, not anymore than any teenager thinks about what their parents do.  Yuck,” the teen shivered.  “None of us want to think about what anybody's parents do, and it has nothing to do with what,” Jennifer paused, looking around from their corner booth, “gender.  Show me anyone who wants to think about their parents in that way.  I certainly didn't about Mom and Dad.  I mean, geez ...”

“We know, Jen,” Daniel said reassuringly.

“Well, anyway, I suggested perhaps she needed to speak with a guidance counselor,” Jennifer continued.

“What did she say?” both men chorused, amazed at their daughter's snarky retort.

“Well, both of her friends giggled.  You should have seen the look on Mary Beth's face; she was furious.  She turned around, glared at them, and took a swing at me.  Don't panic,” Jennifer spoke softly after seeing the concerned looks.  “It was easy to duck the punch.  She rammed her fist into the concrete block wall!”

“What happened then?” Jack inquired, eager to know the rest of the tale.

“One of the teachers walked in and saw her crouching on the floor, holding her right hand in her left.  I was still backed up against the wall because she was on the floor in front of me, and her friends were right behind her.  When the teacher asked what was going on, Mary Beth tried to tell her that I had hurt her.  Miss Crenshaw, the teacher, didn't buy it.  She looked at all of us and said, 'Let me get this straight.  With her back flat against the wall, she took your fist and rammed it into the wall while your two friends just stood there and watched her do it?  Yeah, right.  Three days detention for the three of you.”  Jennifer paused.  “I should add that Miss Crenshaw is also one of the deans, and she works closely with the vice-principal on this stuff, so she knew she could assign the detention without talking to anyone else.”

“Bad luck for Mary Beth,” Jack smirked.

“Mary Beth got beet red and called me a ... a ...”  The teenager motioned for Jack to lean close and whispered a very derogatory word in his ear.  “That,” she said, sitting up straight again.

Jack coughed and relayed the word silently to Daniel, who immediately registered his disdain on his face.

Jennifer continued, “Then she told the teacher that her dad would see to it that she lost her job for favoring the illegitimate offspring of deviants over the children of decent families.”

The older man's heart skipped a beat as he turned to Daniel and said, “I had no idea it would be this bad, none at all.”  With their silent communication, he added, **I'd love to have Thor repeat the 'examination' he did on that contractor's brother on those two hate-mongers.  I'd like to see them convince the world that we were in league with aliens!**

**Jack, we can't do that.  Those children are victims, too.  They are trying to win their parents approval by espousing their prejudices.  We don't have the right to ruin their lives because they are acting out their parents ignorance, even if I would like to see them battle an Unas!**

**Daniel!**  Jack was unsuccessful in hiding his prideful smirk.  After a moment, he silently added, **You're right, as usual.**

**Of course.  Thank you, Babe.**

**Snarky, snarky!**

Getting serious again, Jack asked, “Jen, why didn't you tell us about what happened last week?”

“Why didn't the school tell us?” Daniel asked pointedly.

“Well, actually, they, uh, did.  It was on Thursday, but I got distracted and then there was the mess at the carnival.  I have the note at home.  You're supposed to sign it to acknowledge being informed.  I forgot.”

“Forgot?” Jack asked sharply.  “Okay, well, tonight we want to see it.”

“Yes, Dad,” Jennifer agreed timidly.

“And Jennifer,” Jack added, capturing her attention with his strong tone and demanding eyes.  “I'm not happy that you didn't tell us about this right away.”

“I'm sorry, Dad.”

“You could have been hurt,” Jack pointed out.

“I was fine,” Jennifer argued.

“Jen ...”

“Jack, she knows.”  Daniel smiled softly.  He looked over at the teenager and stated, “He's scared for you; so am I.”

“I know, but ...”

“No 'buts', Jen,” Jack refuted.

“Dad, you aren't going to go 'postal', are you and ...”

“Postal?” Jack questioned, his eyebrows raised.  He had actually sat back a bit at the question.  “Me?  Just because I'd like to get those girls and ...”

“Jack!” Daniel chastised in a lowered but raised voice.  “Let it go.”

“How can you be so calm?” Jack asked his husband.

“Because if I'm not, you'll go 'postal',” Daniel answered simply.

Jack cocked his head a little and nodded at the truthfulness of the answer.  He wasn't pleased that someone had cornered his daughter like that, but more important than his displeasure and anger at the moment, were making sure their children were safe and able to protect themselves.  Before he could say anything further, Daniel had moved the conversation forward.

“David, I know you said you didn't know those boys that attacked you, but was there anything at all familiar about them?” Daniel asked.

“No, just what I told Dad earlier,” the boy responded.

“What was that?” Daniel asked.

“One of them said something about the carnival and his sister,” David answered.

“Oh, geez,” Jennifer said urgently.  “Mary Beth has a little brother, and he does go to a private school, but I ... I don't know which.”

“We know now,” Jack said.

“Not for sure,” Daniel responded.

“Daniel.”

“Jack!  Let's wait to see what Principal Deavers says,” Daniel suggested before turning and smiling at David.  “David, if you want to transfer, we can find another school.”

“No!  I mean, please don't.  I like it there.  These were older kids.  They normally aren't even around us.  Please, Daddy, I like my teachers and my friends,” David pleaded.

“Okay, but if you change your mind, you tell us,” Daniel requested, a smile on his face.

“I'll see what I can find out, too,” Jennifer said.

“Jen,” Jack warned, wanting her to be careful.

“Don't worry, Dad.  Special Ops is in the blood; uh, well, in the heart anyway,” the teen said, smiling.

The conversation turned to other, more lighthearted things.  Afterwards, Jack and Daniel took their oldest children bowling.  It made for a fun outing for the foursome.

====

That night, in bed, Jack remarked, “Wish we could do more to protect Jennifer and David, and I don't mean emotionally.  Those were close calls, Danny.”

“Actually, uh, I've been thinking about that,” Daniel replied.  “You know, there's a part of me that wants to teach all the children who are picked on self-defense and make sure everyone knows it, but, Jack, if we did that, that puts a target on their backs.”

“It could intimidate the bullies,” Jack stated thoughtfully.

“It could also come across as a dare.  I know we could pull it off, Babe, and all those children would be better off for it, generally, but there's going to be someone out there who wants to have the point proven to them, and it's not so much our children, or the others who would be taught, that I'm afraid for, but the bullies.”

“The bullies who would end up being splat against the surface of some wall?”

“Yes.”  Daniel sighed, “For a minute, I indulged in the selfish satisfaction it would give me, but I think what we need to do is just make sure Jen and David continue their training.  David handled himself well, and he knows it's okay to fight back.  He just ...”

“Doesn't like to fight,” Jack interjected, completing Daniel's sentence.

“No, he doesn't.  He looks for alternatives,” Daniel stated.

“Reminds me of someone else I know,” the older man intimated, chuckling at his Love's shy smile in response.  “Danny, I think we could definitely *pull* it off.”

“But ... Jack!” Daniel exclaimed.

Daniel willingly and happily succumbed as Jack pulled off his pajamas, and the two began a loving romp to lead them into their night's slumber.

====
--May - Moving On Out
====

“Okay, so we would set up a curriculum and teach the kids about four hours a day?” Jack asked.

“Well, that's what it should average out to,” Daniel confirmed, twirling his pen in his hand.  “The great thing is that our brood will get so much more individualized attention in fewer hours than they ever would receive in a regular school.”

“That's a big plus,” Jack noted.

“We have to keep a detailed record; that's not hard,” Daniel continued as the couple discussed the possibility of homeschooling their eight children, or at least the majority of them.  “There are testing requirements and evaluations, but nothing we can't handle.”

“Field trips; lots of field trips,” Jack said, his mind already whirling with possibilities of how to turn trips to area attractions into learning sessions.  “Danny, I like it, but we also have to make sure their socialization skills continue to build and that we put them in situations where they can make friends.”

“That's one of the good things about the co-op, or just getting to know some of the other homeschoolers; it's a built-in network of friends, and we can align with a school, if we want.  They actually have programs that include students who are taught at home,” Daniel informed, referring to the research he had conducted.

“And I guess we can keep signing them up for programs they like,” Jack replied as he flicked through the papers he held.  “Noa really enjoys all these sessions we've signed her up for.”

“Jack, they've all got friends, and you're right about Noa,” Daniel replied.  “She loves the play groups and the learning groups.  All of her little classes have been very positive experiences for her.”

“Okay, what about as they get older?  Didn't that literature you gave me talk about you being licensed for elementary?”

“Right, but we're already set because you have your degree which takes us through the eighth grade, and besides, after I finish the elementary program, I can do the secondary.  I'll probably have to take a few weeks off from the SGC, but, uh, I'm not sure about that yet.  If we arrange it so we aren't going off-world, it could still work,” the archaeologist commented excitedly.

“And J-O?” Jack inquired about their blossoming company.

With determination coloring his voice, Daniel answered, “Our company is sailing along, Jack; we just make sure we don't commit to any ventures that require us to go out of town while I'm fulfilling the student teaching obligations.”

“Confirm this for me.  We set up the program; teach what we want, when we want.  The kids just have to pass the tests at the appropriate times; oh, and we have to log their attendance so they meet the requirement,” Jack finished.

“That's about it.  Um, we even have options on the testing.  If we don't want to test them, we don't have to, but they would have to be evaluated at some point.  I think it's once per year, but I'm not sure.”

“Evaluated by who?” Jack questioned a bit skeptically.

“A certified teacher, a psychologist, anyone with a degree in education: there are other possibilities.”

“Sara?” Jack asked with hope, liking the idea of his ex-wife, whom he knew was an excellent and caring educator evaluating the brood.

“It's possible.  I need to reread the state law and ask a few questions of some of the parents in the co-op, or maybe ask some of them in one of the online groups. They're all pretty supportive,” Daniel stated as he made a note on his pad to follow through with checking on evaluator requirements.

“So we really do control this,” Jack stated, almost as if it was a question and he was not sure he believed they could have this much control over their children's education.

“That's what is so exciting.  Jack, our children are blessings, and we've been very lucky that they ... well, they're healthy, and they're very intelligent,” Daniel remarked, unable to hide his prideful smile.  “I wish the public school systems were able to handle them, but they're just not, at least not in most areas; they certainly won't be able to provide the care and attention Little Danny needs in order to keep him stimulated.  I really don't want him skipped ahead and isolated from his peers.  Doing it this way gives us a chance not just to structure their school time appropriately, but we can take advantage of educational opportunities when they arise.”

“Like when we're traveling with J-O,” Jack deduced, though at this precise moment he was on the brink of becoming lost in the enchantment of his lover.  ~My Angel.  Geez, I love it when he gets like this, so full of life and excitement.~

“Exactly,” Daniel confirmed happily.

“This could work,” Jack said thoughtfully.  ~Maybe we can sneak in a midnight escapade.~

“So are you willing to commit to teaching our children at home?” Daniel asked eagerly.  “It, uh, does mean ... paperwork,” Daniel added, cringing slightly.

As he drew Daniel into his arms, the older man chuckled lightheartedly, “Danny, for our children, I'll even do paperwork.”  His eyes were twinkling at all the possibilities ahead of them now.  “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Daniel leaned over and slowly kissed his Silver Fox, soft moans escaping from both as their love sizzled.

~Let's not wait for midnight,~ Jack opined.

Under the spell of his husband, Daniel willingly and eagerly succumbed to some midday hanky panky.

====

The next day, Jack was working in the study, trying various configurations for the 'new' house setup as far as what went where in what room.  The architect had finalized their plans, and they had hired the contractor.  Even paying for a 'rush' job, the renovation of their home would take several months.  In fact, the initial work had already begun next door.

Jack, however, had a sinking feeling that he was missing something.  After all, designing was an entirely new field for him.

“How's it coming?” Daniel inquired, doing a spot check on his husband's progress.

“Danny, I'm used to just tossing the coat on the chair.  This decorating and architect stuff is over my head.  What if I miss something important?” Jack asked and then biting his lip with his teeth as he worried about his ability to complete the task at hand.

“Babe,” Daniel said, a smile on his face as he moved to stand near Jack.  He leaned back against the desk and reached out to touch Jack's cheek.  “This is a 'we' job.  You're just throwing around some ideas.  Then we'll both go over it, and we'll meet with people who do know what they're doing.  We just need some ideas; a ... a framework.  Don't worry so much; just do your best.”

Daniel leaned over for a quick kiss and began to leave the room.  Surprising his lover, the younger man stopped by the doorway.  With his hands on the edge of the doorframe, he looked into Jack's eyes and said, “Besides, I believe in you.”

Jack smiled and was filled with a new resolve, though one look and mis-key on the computer had him swearing silently again just a minute later.  Time was ticking away, and he was feeling the pressure.

With their condo waiting, and the Colorado home having sold so quickly, the McLamores had already headed for Florida.  Jack had pulled in yet another favor, helping to rush through the sale, and thus, the former McLamore house was almost ready to be demolished, the first step in setting up what would be the Jackson-O'Neill dream home.

~We're crazy, but geez, I love this family.~

Originally, the couple hadn't planned on doing all that much, but as they worked on the plans, they realized this was their opportunity to make sure they had the space for the things they needed.  The centerpiece of their new renovated home would be the rec room, a large family room that was the depth of the main part of the house.  It wouldn't feature much furniture, but would include some comfortable sectionals and possibly a game table of some kind.

Thus, using a computer program Daniel had purchased that allowed for home design, Jack was searching for more furniture and accessories, and even decorating ideas.

~Oh, crap, wrong button.  Dang program.  I should let Danny do this.~

“Meow!” Mittens said, jumping up onto the desk, her black tail swinging to and fro.

“I'll meow you,” Jack threatened, attempting to shoo the cat away.

Mittens had other ideas, though.  She again slid up to Jack's arm, and again, he pushed her away.

“Look, I'm a dog lover.  You're here because I love my kids, and they seem to want you, so ... go play with them,” Jack told the feline firmly.  He attempted to redo part of his decorating design.  “Oh, for crying out loud!”  The general scowled at the computer as he leaned back in his chair for a moment.  ~This is such a waste of my time.  The things I do for Love.~  With a happy chuckle, he thought, ~Who am I kidding?  I'd do anything for my Angel.~

Jack knew his husband was relying on him to have a tentative layout for the new rooms by that night and to have suggestions for specific pieces.

~You have too much faith in me, Danny.  What's that?  Wha...what?  Oh, geez.~  Jack scowled at the intrusive kitten and acquiesced, “Fine, just stay out of my sight.”

Mittens had jumped up to lay on top of the monitor.  She was lying lengthwise, stretched out on the hard surface as if it were a royal bed of feathers.  She licked a paw and then settled down to watch Jack.

====

Twenty minutes later, Jack whistled, happy that he was about to complete his goal.  Mittens was still stretched out on the monitor, just observing.  Suddenly, he froze, and, in an instant, his blood pressure rose.

“I'm going to kill this thing,” Jack said.  “What is wrong with it?”  Hitting the side of the keyboard in frustration, he glared.  ~I *hate* these infernal boxes.~

Jack's diagram had gone completely askew.  None of the rooms were right, and his design was completely gone.  He sat frozen, trying to figure out what to do.  He'd worked so hard to get the exact layout, and he was just about done.

“Crap.  All that for nothing.”  The frustrated general sighed as his doubts returned, overshadowing his anger.  ~Maybe that's a good thing.  I don't want to disappoint Danny.~

Just then Mittens jumped onto the keyboard.  One of her front paws hit the 'back' key, and suddenly, Jack's floor design reappeared.  In a flash, he hit save.  Looking down, he saw the tiny kitten looking up at him.

“Meow!” Mittens mewed, her dark eyes staring at Jack expectantly.

“Okay, I suppose you want me to believe you did that on purpose?” Jack barked mildly.

“Meeeeeow,” was Mittens response, after which she slid out her tongue to lick her lips.

“Right, like you know what I'm doing.”

“Meeeoooow.”

“Uh-huh.  Well, I guess you want me to say 'thank you',” Jack spoke dryly.

“Meow!” Mittens loudly agreed.

Jack stared at the little creature, mellowing with each passing second, and finally gave in, saying, “Ooooookay, thanks.  Come on.”  He picked up the kitten to get her a treat.  ~It's the least I can do.~  He carried Mittens into the living room and pulled out a treat from the new Kitty Treat Jar that sat next to the Doggie Treat Jar on the counter.  “Here you go.”

“Meow,” Mittens responded to being fed the treat.

Jack walked to the sofa and picked up the newspaper that he hadn't had a chance to read yet.  He sat down and began to scan the sports section.  Mittens sat on his lap, and he almost immediately, he began to absentmindedly pet the young creature.

As Jack caressed the black and white kitten, she leaned into his gentle touch and began to purr loudly.

At that moment, Daniel walked into the living room and smiled at the sight in front of him.

“Jack?” the younger man asked, unsuccessfully trying not to grin.

“Hmm?” Jack mumbled, his eyes still on the article about his favorite hockey team.

“How are things going?” Daniel inquired as he leaned against the sofa.

“Good. Good,” Jack replied absently.

“Glad to hear it,” Daniel barely got out without releasing the laughter he felt bubbling up inside him.

Daniel was about to bust out laughing when Jack looked up and saw his lover's smirk.

“What?” Jack asked, a single eyebrow raising, mimicking a certain Jaffa.

“You ... and Mittens?” Daniel responded, motioning to the feline.

“That little pest?” Jack scowled, although he didn't actually seem to pull it off, his vocal tone betraying his words.

“Yeah, the one on your lap that you're petting.  She's, uh, purring, Jack,” Daniel informed him gently.

“Purring?” Jack looked down and realized he'd been caught. “Bij and Katie may never forgive me,” he groaned.

Daniel laughed, “They love Mittens, and so do you.”  ~Your secret's out, Love.  Besides, I knew you loved Mittens.  You're a softie at heart.~

“Daniel, she's a ...” Jack sighed.  “Don't you *dare* tell a soul.”

“I don't need to,” Daniel said as he nodded over to the patio window where all the children were standing and watching with big grins on their faces.

“Oh, for crying out loud!” Jack groused, knowing he would never here the end of it now.

Mittens purr got louder as she moved her face to rub against Jack's hand.

“Geez,” Jack said, finally letting out a laugh.  ~Okay, I give,~ he thought as he smiled at Mittens.

As he headed for the kitchen, the younger man mused, “Face it, Babe.  You're a kitty-magnet.  Even the McRae's cat loved you.”

Jack and Daniel had enjoyed dinner with Darren and Donna McRae the night before.  While the McRae's children were out, allowing the adults to interact, their cat, Something Cool, was very present, having attached herself to Jack's pant leg almost from the start of the evening.

“Don't remind me,” Jack sighed.  “I thought Siamese cats were supposed to be standoffish.”

“They are, with everyone except silver-haired foxes apparently,” Daniel said as he disappeared from sight.

“I still prefer dogs,” Jack said, looking at the kitten.

“Meow,” Mittens replied.

“Meeeeeoooooow backatcha,” Jack responded, sighing as he continued to pat the animal.

====

Later that evening, Jack was poring over the plans for the remodeling he had printed out, while Daniel sipped a cup of his favorite Starbuck's elixir, Arabian Mocha, and murmured encouragement.  Jack, however, was unusually full of doubt about his efforts.

“Daniel, I just don't think we've hit the mark.  We're going to have a lot more space when we've finished building, but danged if I know if it's going to work the way we want it to when it's all done,” Jack said, shaking his head.

“Neither one of us has experience in this area, Babe.  We're doing the best we can,” Daniel spoke reassuringly.

“I have a hunch we're the doctor cutting out our own appendix.”

“Ouch,” Daniel said, fidgeting a little.

“Sorry, Love.”  Jack winced at his poor use of words, reminding both men of the time when Daniel had suffered from an attack of Appendicitis.  ~Open mouth, insert foot.~

“Next time, try comparing us to ... to lawyers defending themselves in court.”  Jack nodded, but Daniel could sense his distress.  “Jack, we hired an architect, one of the best.”

“And how much guidance did he give us?” Jack challenged.

“We didn't ask for any,” Daniel said pointedly.  “You remember us, Doctor and General Independence, We Can Do Anything, We'll Call You, Don't Call Us?”

Jack chuckled and sighed at the truth of the statement.  The architect had devised the main plans according to the couple's wishes, but all offers of using one of the firm's designers had been rebuffed by Jack and Daniel.  They had also instructed Byron that they knew exactly what they wanted, and all he needed to do was make sure it was structurally feasible and make sure the contractors followed the plans.

“Maybe this time we should have asked,” Jack moaned regrettably, having realized that they may have overstepped their knowledge base.

“So call Byron.  He said to call if we had any questions.”  Daniel motioned towards the folder sitting on the edge of Jack's desk.  “His number is on the plans and the contract.”

“My genius,” Jack said with a grin as he perused the folder for the phone number and dialed.

After explaining their concerns to Byron, the architect responded, “Jack, everybody gets cold feet before a project, especially one of this size.  You and Daniel seemed so sure of what you wanted and needed.”

“Yeah, well, we are, and we aren't.  This is a huge expenditure, and we'd like to make sure we do it right,” Jack stated.  ~Just don't ask why we didn't let you do this from the start.~

“Will you and Daniel be home this evening?” Byron inquired.

“Yeah, along with our brood,” Jack said, adding, “Uh, that's our eight children, plus the animal menagerie.”

“How about I drop by around eight with a new associate.  I think he may be able to help us.”

Jack whispered to Daniel, “Eight?  Byron and some associate of his?”

“Here?” Daniel asked quietly.  Seeing Jack's nod, he shrugged and said, “Okay.”

The arrangements made, Jack powered down the computer.  He'd seen enough house designs for a while.

====

The sound of the door knocker at the Jackson-O'Neill home resonated precisely at eight o'clock that night.

True to his word, Byron was accompanied by a very attractive young man who looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties.  The man had a light olive complexion, high cheekbones and sculptured features, accented by a razor-sharp mustache and beard that were pencil thin.  Piercing eyes of pure emerald completed his face.  He was immaculately groomed and wore white linen slacks, a shirt the color of his eyes, and a ruby red tie.

“Jack, Daniel, this is Alex Dennison.  Alex is an interior designer with extensive training in structural mechanics.  He is also well versed in lighting and building maintenance.  Interior design is now considered an integral part of most building projects, and we just hired Alex to assist in moving our firm in that direction,” Byron remarked informatively.

**Geez, I hope he's better than those two old ladies that other architect tried to push on us,** Jack silently told Daniel, referring to their original search for an architect.

The couple's search had taken them to a very respectable, long-time firm, but they were very 'old school', something that became evident when the architect and two decorators, whom Jack had dubbed 'The Ironpants Twins', had met for the first time to discuss the plans.

**They did seem to be pretty clueless.**

**Ya think?  Even that architect was embarrassed when the one old gal said, 'Now you boys can each have your own rooms.'  She kept insisting that 'the ladies' would adore flowered chintz.**

Daniel grinned at the memory of the look on his husband's face when he realized the two 'decorators' thought that the two men were just 'batching' it until they found the right women and would remarry.

**In all fairness to that architect, Jack, he did warn us in advance about the ladies and their, uh, um ... well ...**

**Living in the Stone Age?**  Jack chuckled inwardly.  **I think we made the right choice going with Byron, unless this guy wants to decorate the rooms in nothing but pink and lavender.**

**Gawd, Jack.  Just ... focus, please!**

“Gentlemen,” Alex began, wasting little time.  “I understand time is of the essence.  Truthfully, most of the clients I've had in the past thought I was a pain to work with.  I pushed their buttons and challenged their assumptions, but each and every one of them ended up with a completed project that exceeded their expectations.  I have a list of satisfied clients ...”

“As long as your leg,” Byron chimed in, smiling.  “I called most of them.”

**He's a confident son-of-a-gun,** Jack silently communicated.  **Who does he think he is -- the savior of interior design?**

**Jack, we need him, and don't make assumptions.**

**I don't have to, Danny.  He may look sharp, but he's smug as a bug in a rug.**

**Bugs aren't smug,** Daniel replied.

**How do you know?** Jack smirked.

“Dad!” Jenny toddled over to the entranceway, her arms raised towards her father and effectively ending the mental exchange between her parents.

“Hey, Munchkin,” Jack responded, leaning over to pick up the little girl.

“Dad, I not Munchkin,” Jenny corrected with a frown.  “That Jonny, Little Danny, and Ash.”

“Just testing, Princess,” Jack apologized, earning him a smile from the redhead.

“Doing a funny?” the redhead asked.

“Yeahsureyabetcha,” the general said enthusiastically.  He whispered, “It's a covert test to make sure you're you.”

Jenny giggled, “Silly Daddy.”

“That's ... hey!”

“Jenny do 'vert test, too,” the redhead laughed.

The general chuckled and gave Jenny a loving kiss.  He was about to say something further when the sound of Jenny's twin prevented his words.

“Daddy, no fair!” Ricky whined, having followed his twin sister.

“Children.”  Daniel smiled after his mildly stern rebuff and picked up the whining boy.  “We have company,” he told them, gesturing to their guests with his head.

“Oh,” both children said at the same time, each looking over at the two men.

“Come on in,” Jack said to Byron and Alex.  After the introductions were made, Jack asked, “Where do we start?”

Alex glanced around the living room, then answered, “First, would you show me around?”

“I'll do it,” Jack volunteered.  He had two reasons for doing so which he mulled over in his mind.  ~Not sure I trust anyone who looks that good,~ his Mr. Jealousy bristled slightly.  ~And he looks *that* good; let's just keep Danny down here with the kids.~

“No, I think you both should,” Alex stated decisively.

Jack considered arguing, but before he had said anything, Daniel shrugged and said, “That's not a problem, is it, Jack?”

“No problem,” Jack reluctantly agreed.  **You think this will take long?**

**To show him the house?  I'm sure we'll be done in a few minutes.**

**Half-hour tops,** Jack agreed.

“Byron, you don't need to stay unless you want to,” Alex stated confidently.

“Actually, I do have some phone calls to make, but,” Byron faced his clients, “Jack, Daniel, it's up to you.  If you'd prefer I stay, then ...”

“No, that's okay,” Daniel said.  “Thank you for coming over.”

“I'll be in touch,” Byron promised and then shook both men's hands.

With that, Byron left, and Jack and Daniel began their tour of their beloved home.

====

“We could do wonders in here,” Alex commented as he entered the master bedroom.

**We already do wonders in here, every night,** Jack communicated, winking at his lover.

**Jack!**

Daniel tried desperately not to blush at Jack's innuendo and instead replied, “Uh, actually, we don't really intend to do anything in here.”

**I do, in about three hours.  I'll start by ...**

**Jack, so help me!**

Jack laughed suddenly, drawing a funny look from Alex.  When the general simply shrugged in a dismissive manner, Alex returned to his task, staring at the closet quizzically.

“I can't believe you don't have a walk-in closet,” Alex remarked in a near-scandalizing tone.

“We've talked about it,” Jack admitted, finally getting serious about the tour.

“Actually, it would be great, but, uh, we ... we aren't going to change anything.”  **Jack, we can't let any work be done near the closet because of the gun cabinet and how Sam hooked it up in the den.**

**I know; she put in that false back in our closet.  It sure would be nice, though.**

“I have an inspiration.  We bring the closet out and ...” Alex began, not getting any further before Daniel cut off his words.

“Alex, I'm sorry.  I don't mean to interrupt, but Jack and I aren't going to alter the closet.  Uh, why don't you follow us, and we'll show you the nursery next.”

Daniel motioned to the door, trying to divert the young man's attention from the closet, and led the way out.

Alex shrugged, the air of disappointment all around him, but he moved towards the door.

~Too bad; plenty of room in here for a great walk-in job,~ the designer silently lamented.  As he approached Jack at the doorway, he took another look back.  “Are you absolutely sure?  Picture the closet pulled out and your bathroom enlarged accordingly.  You two are big guys ...”

~Don't you know it, and proud of it, too, bucko,~ Jack silently smirked.

Alex continued his sentence, unaware of Jack's private thoughts, saying, “And that small bathroom could easily be enlarged.”

“No, thanks, Alex.”

“Okay,” Alex reluctantly agreed, shaking his head as if to say 'Your loss'.

Jack looked into the master bedroom and pondered, “A bigger bathroom?  Maybe an indoor spa.  What we could do under the rain,” he whispered, 'rain' being a metaphor for an improved showerhead.  ~Big.  Oh, yeah.  Definitely big.~

“Jack, what are you doing?” Daniel called out.

“Sorry, Danny,” Jack said, hurrying to join Daniel and Alex in the nursery.  Staring at Alex, he challenged silently, ~Let's see what you come up with, Alex, ole boy.  If you're worth your salt, maybe we'll make a little private deal.~

====

Two hours later, Jack was a bit surprised that they, including Alex, were all sitting around the living room, eating ice cream and laughing.

~You get along well with the kids; that's a point in your favor, but what I'm not sure of is what you got out of the tour of the house.  Geez, we haven't even discussed the renovation since sitting down in here.~

Soon, the Munchkins and twins passed out on various pieces of living room furniture, the long day and night getting the best of them.

“Not sure we should have let them stay up, but they really enjoyed meeting you, Alex,” Jack said.  ~And I can learn a lot from our kids; they've proven to be great judges of character.~

“Jen, David, would you two start taking them upstairs, please,” Daniel requested as Chenoa lay asleep in his own arms.

“I hope I didn't overstay my welcome,” Alex commented.

“No, of course not.  We just need to get them to bed now,” Daniel said, gently stroking Chenoa's curly blonde hair.

“I'll be back in two days, around seven, if that's okay,” Alex inquired as he stood up.

Jack and Daniel looked at each other, then over at Alex and said, “Fine.”

Alex chuckled at yet another simultaneous comment.  He'd been privy to several over the last couple of hours.  It was one of numerous tidbits he'd picked up about the loving twosome that would come in handy as he saw to their needs.

Smiling, the young man said, “Thank you.  I'll let myself out.”

====

After the children were in bed, Jack and Daniel were doing some spot cleaning as they walked through the house.  As they worked, they discussed Alex and his visit.

“What was that all about?  Seems like a nice guy, but he never took a single measurement,” Jack noted suspiciously as he picked up a few of Jonny's Lego bricks that had been missed in the corner of the living room.  ~Wonder if Alex noticed these were here?~

“He asked a lot of questions, though, especially of the children,” Daniel pointed out as he lightly wiped the coffee table.  Looking up, he chuckled, “Noa liked him. Teal'c needs to watch out.”

“A jealous Jaffa,” Jack quipped while checking the fish feeder for food.  “Been there, done that.  We'd have to hire bodyguards.”

Laughing, Daniel added, “Bijou and Katie liked him, too.”

“Yeah,” Jack laughed.  “They slobbered all over him.”  Looking around, he observed, “Danny, it's clean.  Let's go upstairs.”

As he locked the patio door, the archaeologist agreed.

====

A few minutes later, Jack and Daniel were upstairs, preparing for bed.  They'd talked about Jennifer's upcoming birthday for a couple of minutes and then debated the correct answer to a crossword puzzle that Jack was very slowly completing.

“Babe, are you sure you don't want to go with my answer?  I mean, uh, the last time you ignored me, you ended up ...”

“Don't say it, Daniel.”

“Frozen; stiff as a Popsicle; rigid ...”

“I get the idea,” Jack said, quickly filling in Daniel's answer and groaning as he realized it was the correct word.  He ignored his lover's smirk and walked over to the edge of the bed and sat down.  He let out a shiver, recalling the icy Antarctic cold Daniel had referred to.  ~Note to self: don't argue with Daniel over crossword puzzles.~  Leaning forward to remove his shoes, he once again pondered the designer for a moment and said, “I'm going to have Carter check him out.”

“He?  Oh, Alex,” Daniel responded, realizing Jack was back to fretting over their visitor that night.

“He didn't act like any designer I know.”

“Jack, you don't know any designers,” Daniel replied pointedly as he removed his shirt while sitting next to Jack at the foot of their bed.

“That's beside the point.  Look, Danny, he seemed nice; the kids liked him; but tell me one thing he did, besides talking about the closet, that had to do with the renovation.  Just one thing, one comment, one question, one quip, one ...”

“I get the idea,” Daniel sighed.  He replayed Alex's visit in his mind and then finally shook his head.  “I admit he asked more about us and the children than the house, but, Jack, do we really have to pry into ...”  He stopped, seeing his lover's stare.  He bobbed his head up and down slightly, preparing to give in.  “We can't take chances, not with our brood.”

His shoes and socks removed, Jack sat back and put his arm around his husband's bare shoulders, his left hand caressing the spot where it rested.

“We checked out Byron, and if Alex is going to be around a little, we need to check him out, too,” Jack responded, soothing his husband's doubts.

“Especially because of Noa.  You're right, Babe,” Daniel he replied, nodding. ~We have to protect our family; that's the most important thing.~

“I wish we didn't have to, Danny,” Jack said as his fingers made a loving caress across the top of Daniel's forehead.  “But the moment we let down our guard, we might regret it.”

“Too much history.”

“I wouldn't change a thing, though,” Jack commented, smiling.

“I would.”

“You would?”  Jack was alarmed, and a frown appeared on his face.  “What would you change?”

“You'd shut up and you know,” Daniel laughed, his eyes sparkling with desire and sexual mischief.

“I can do that!” Jack exclaimed, grinning and more-than-willing to get with Daniel's program.

“You're still talking,” Daniel chastised lovingly, raising a finger and wiggling it in front of Jack's nose.

Jack zipped his lips and then pressed them to Daniel's, beginning a tender, yet passionate exchange of their enduring love.

====

“Carrie, why you crying?”

Little Danny sat down in the sandbox next to Carrie Lapierre.  She was a few months younger than he, and like the Munchkins, was attending a two-week play camp.  It was purely for fun, basically just arts and crafts types of things, and lasted four hours Monday through Friday.  So far today, until this play break, they'd been working on projects in celebration of Cinco de Mayo.

The young boy liked Carrie.  She looked a little bit like Aislinn, and she was very giving in nature, frequently giving up her toy of choice to a younger child, sharing her mid-afternoon snack, and things of that nature.  Today, though, she had been very quiet, and when outdoor play time came, she had gone to the sandbox and sat alone with her head bowed.

Walking over to her, Little Danny could hear tiny sobs.

“We have to move,” Carrie told him, wiping her eyes with her hand.

“From your house?”  When Carrie nodded, the little boy inquired, “Where you going?”

“Car.”

“Where car take you?”

Carrie wiped her eyes and shrugged, sniffling, “Nowhere.”

“I no understand, Carrie,” Little Danny replied.

“Mommy and Daddy no work.  We no have home 'nmore; live in car,” Carrie explained.

“Car too small, Carrie,” Little Danny said, rubbing her back lightly.  ~It make me feel good when Dad 'n' Daddy rub my back.~

“No have money.  Have to ... <sob> ... give 'way Tito,” Carrie cried, tears flowing down her face again.

“Who Tito?” Little Danny asked, sniffling himself as he felt his little friend's sadness.

“My doggie,” Carrie sobbed.  “Love Tito.  No one love Tito like me!”

Little Danny moved closer and put his arm around her, tears of sympathy in his own eyes as he imagined having to give away Bijou, Katie, or Mittens.  He stayed close as she cried and shared her sadness with him.

====

“Danny, where's Little Danny?” Jack called out from the living room the next evening.

“In the nursery.  Why?” Daniel asked as he looked up at Jack.

“I told him we were having ice cream for a treat earlier and for him to come into the kitchen when the 'Sesame Street' tape ended, but he was a no show,” Jack said with a frown on his face.

“Jonny and Ash?” Daniel questioned.

“And Ricky and Jenny, all present and accounted for,” Jack answered.

With the Mouseketeers out with Janet for the night, that accounted for the family.

Daniel sighed, “Jack, Little Danny barely touched his dinner.”

“He didn't eat much last night, either.  In fact, he came home from the play camp different,” Jack commented, concern etched in his tone and facial expression.

“Different?” Daniel echoed in question.

“He wasn't talking a mile-a-minute,” Jack semi-teased.  Little Danny may have been the last of the triplets to start talking, but he had quickly made up for his earlier silence.  “Sick?” he queried.

“You stay with the ice cream brigade, and I'll go check on him,” Daniel stated.  “Oh, by the way, that was Alex on the phone.”

“Is he coming over?”

“He had an unexpected visitor from out of town; an old friend or something. Plus, he said he was waiting to hear back about an idea of his; he wouldn't tell me what, but the short story is that he asked if he could drop by the day after tomorrow instead of tonight,” Daniel said, repeating the conversation he'd had with the designer.

“Fine with me as long as it doesn't delay us in the long run.”

Daniel smiled and replied, “That's what I told him.  I'll be right back.”

The archaeologist walked upstairs and found the boy in question sitting on the rocker holding Bobette, nicknamed Bobo, the stuffed monkey that had once belonged to Kayla, his birth mother.  It was the first time Daniel had seen him clinging to it.

“Little Danny, it's time for ice cream,” Daniel called out quietly so as not to startle the toddler.

“No, thank you,” Little Danny answered in a subdued tone, his arms clutching tighter to Bobo.

“Hey,” Daniel said, walking to the rocker and kneeling down.  “Are you okay?”

“I fine.  We lucky, Daddy; have lots.”

“Yes, we are.”  Daniel reached out to brush the shaggy bangs away from Little Danny's eyes and to touch the skin in a covert check for warmth.  ~Normal.~  “Is there something you'd like to talk about?”  When the little boy shook his head, he asked, “Bobo helping you to feel better?”

“Little.  Mommy loved Bobo,” Little Danny told his father.

“Yes, she did, very much.”

Daniel smiled, remembering the young woman who had given them so much by making their dreams of fatherhood come true.

“Why tear down house?” the toddler asked suddenly, a small frown appearing on his face.

“Because we don't need it, and we want to make our house bigger so we don't have to move.  You don't want to live somewhere else, do you?” Daniel inquired, gently stroking his namesake's shaggy hair.

“No.”

“Come have some ice cream?”

“No, thank you,” Little Danny said again as he shook his head while cuddling the stuffed monkey.

“Well, if you change your mind, come downstairs, okay?” Daniel spoke, worried by Little Danny's quiet demeanor.

Seeing the little boy's nod, Daniel rose, gave him a kiss on the forehead, and said, “I love you.”

====

“Any luck?” Jack asked a minute later when his lover had joined him downstairs.

The two had moved to the living room where they could both keep an eye on their children as they enjoyed their ice cream in the dining nook and talk without being overheard.

“I think he's missing Kayla.  He's affixed himself to Bobo,” Daniel reported with a watery smile.

“That could be it.  He's probably seeing a lot of moms at the play camp,” Jack stated, taking his husband's hand in his.

“Maybe it's time to show him another one of Kayla's tapes,” Daniel wondered.

Jack smiled as he thought about the tapes Kayla had made before she died. In them, her birth children could see and hear her, not just look at still images.

“Those tapes are a blessing for our brood, Love.  Let's do that tomorrow,” Jack agreed.

After Daniel nodded, the lovers rejoined their children and enjoyed their own ice cream treat.

====

Just before Jack and Daniel were about to retire for the night, they did a last check on the children.  With the Mouseketeers away, Little Danny was sleeping in Chenoa's bed, while Jonny was in David's.  That left Aislinn by herself as she slept in the very-outdated crib, one of the main reasons they were doing the renovation on the house.

Jack walked into David's room to check on Jonny, while Daniel checked the nursery.  He was about to walk out when he heard a sniffle.  Turning around, he returned to the bed and sat down.  With his right hand, he turned Little Danny over from his side onto his back.  The small boy had a very tear-stained face and was clutching a rather tear-soaked Katie to his chest.  He'd been crying a long time.  Katie gave Daniel a grateful but worried look and shook her head as she climbed down to find her mother.

“Sproglet, what's wrong?” Daniel asked, fear clutching at his stomach as to why the little boy was so upset.

Little Danny leaped into his father's arms and sobbed, “No fair.  We blowing house up; Carrie need house.  Have to lose Tito.  Live car.  No ... <sob> ... fair.”

“What?” Daniel asked, trying hard to decipher the young boy's story.  “Hey, shhh,” he calmed as his namesake leaped up into his arms, crying into his neck.  “Take a deep breath; whatever it is, we'll fix it.”  Daniel rocked his son for a minute and held him tight.  He gave the boy a chance to settle before continuing. “Okay,” he said, pulling back a bit to look into the boy's eyes.  “Tell me, one thing at a time.”

Little Danny sobbed, but then took a big breath.  He waited a moment; then did his best to explain.

“Gov'ment taking Carrie's house.  They gonna live in their car; have to give 'way dog.  Daddy, not fair.  Can't give Bij or Katie 'way.  Why we blow up house?  Carrie need house.”

The boy's blue eyes flooded over in tears, and once again, Daniel held him close.  Hearing a noise, he looked up and saw his husband standing in the doorway.

“It's okay, Sproglet,” Daniel soothed, trying to reassure the youngster.

“Not 'kay.  Not fair,” Little Danny sobbed.

“Okay, we'll talk about it.  First, who's Carrie?” Daniel asked softly.

“She like Ash.  Like her,” the toddler said firmly through his continuing sniffles and cries.  “Met her at play camp,” he explained.

“She's a friend of Ash's?”

“No, yes,” Little Danny gasped, knowing his younger father wasn't understanding.  “She look like Ash; she real nice, Daddy.”

“Okay, get some sleep, and tomorrow, we'll talk about Carrie and what's bothering you,” the archaeologist suggested.

“Blow up house; Carrie need house,” the little boy cried.  “No fair,” he said again.

Daniel sighed, looking up at his lover.  Their sensitive young son was extremely upset.  He kept repeating the same thing over and over again, and they couldn't figure out what the crux of the problem was.  Finally, Daniel tried just to get the little boy to sleep.  Tomorrow, they'd try again, when he was calmer.

It did take a while, but, eventually, Little Danny succumbed to the sandman.  His hold on Daniel was tight, his hands in a fist as they latched on to Daniel's tan shirt.

Jack sat down next to his lover and the sleeping child, the couple shifting to lean back against the wall.

“It has nothing to do with Kayla,” Jack said, reaching over to move Little Danny's bangs away from his warm forehead.

“I don't know about that.  It has to do with love and caring.  He's upset about ... Carrie and what's happening to her, but he didn't know how to tell us, so he told his mother, through Bobo,” Daniel surmised.

“Long way around.”

“Maybe, but he's only a toddler,” Daniel reminded, his body swaying slightly as he continued to hold his namesake in his arms.

“Danny, don't shoot me, but sometimes I forget.  It's that brain of his,” Jack said as he wore a proud smile and looked at Little Danny.

Daniel chuckled, “I know.  We do the same thing with David sometimes.  Anyway, have you heard any of the Munchkins mention Carrie before?”

“No,” Jack answered.  He stared at the sleeping boy and added, “But I think we need to find out what we can tomorrow.”  He smiled slightly as he noted, “If Little Danny is comparing her to Ash, she must be pretty special.”

“I agree.  Jack ...”

“Danny, they're still working on the preparation for the demolition.  Let's not rush into anything.  We don't even know what's really going on,” Jack advised quietly.

“I know, but ... let's make sure.”

“Okay, first thing in the morning, I'll call Byron and make sure they don't demolish the house before checking with us.”

“It's just we keep pushing them to move as fast as they can,” Daniel sighed.  Placing a kiss on Little Danny's forehead as he rocked him, he sighed, “We need to find out what's going on first.”  He rested his chin against his son's head and lamented, “He's been so upset.”

“Tomorrow, we'll ...”

“Jack ...”

“Daniel, tomorrow isn't far away.  There's nothing else we can do tonight, so let's get some sleep,” the older man suggested.  Hearing his Love's sigh, he added, “Look, I'm just as worried as you are, but we can't do anything tonight.”

“You're right,” Daniel sighed.

“It happens,” Jack said, leaning over for a kiss.

“Jack ...” Daniel's eyes spoke more than his voice.  ~I can't leave him alone right now.~

Jack smiled as he scooted off the bed and said, “I'll keep the bed warm.”

“I'm counting on that.”

“Good night, Love,” Jack spoke softly, moving to the doorway and turning out the lights.

Jack watched for a moment as Daniel shifted to lie down on the three-quarter-sized bed.

Little Danny never woke up, but he never let go of his father, either, as Daniel settled them into a more relaxing position.

Jack sighed inwardly.  Tomorrow, Mr. Fix-it would have to put in another appearance, not just for Daniel's sake, but for their son's.

====

“Have a good day,” Daniel spoke as he dropped the Munchkins off for the afternoon session the following day.  Quickly, Jonny and Aislinn toddled away, but Little Danny stayed and stared at his father.  Knowing what the boy was thinking, he spoke, “Dad and I promised, Little Danny, and Dad already called the architect.”

“No blow up house?”

“Not yet,” Daniel said.  “I need to talk with Mrs. Archer.  You go play, okay?”

“Hafta find Carrie; no like her cry, Daddy,” the boy sighed.

Daniel smiled and watched as the youngster turn and went in search of his friend.  After a moment, he turned and headed for the main office.

====

“Mrs. Archer, do you have a moment?” Daniel asked as he spotted the woman talking to a couple of the children.

“Of course.  Please, come into my office,” the head of the play camp said as she bent over and said something to the kids, making them smile before they hurried away.

“How can I help you, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill?” Mrs. Archer asked as she motioned for Daniel to have a seat while she sat down in her own chair.

Daniel informed the woman about what he had learned from Little Danny the night before.  From her expression, he knew Mrs. Archer was aware of the situation.

“I'm not asking you to break any confidences, but is there anything you can tell me?” Daniel requested.

The woman sighed as she leaned back in her chair, pondering what to say or not say.

“I know the Lapierres.  Grace and Stu are friends of mine; that's why Carrie and her siblings are here.”

“Siblings?” Daniel asked, not aware that Carrie had brothers and/or sisters attending the play camp.

Mrs. Archer nodded as she told Daniel that, “Carrie is one of four children.  Michael is only five, and the twins are just a year old.”

“Twins?” Daniel asked, automatically thinking about Ricky and Jenny.

“Stu's in construction, but he's been laid off several times.  His employer is having a hard time staying afloat, and the industry is so tight that it's tough to find a steady job right now.  He hasn't been able to cover the bills.  Grace was working as a waitress until the twins were born, but with Stu's situation, they couldn't afford daycare, so she stopped,” Mrs. Archer explained sadly.  “They're losing their house, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill.  They have to be out at the end of the month. I told them to let me watch the children for them while they try and find something, but they have no resources.  It's very sad.”

“Yes, it is,” Daniel agreed, hating that any family would have to endure such a fate.  “Are the twins here?”

The woman smiled and got up.  She led Daniel to the office next door where her assistant was watching over them.

Daniel smiled as he looked down at the babies.  His heart went back to Ricky and Jenny when they were that age.  They hadn't a care in the world.

Shocked and even appalled, Daniel asked, “How can they live in a car with four children?”

With a shrug, the woman sighed, “They don't want to lose their children, and they're afraid that's going to happen anyway.”

Daniel closed his eyes at the thought of the separation.  His heart was saddened by the situation.

After talking for a few more minutes, Daniel asked if Mrs. Archer minded if he checked on Little Danny.  She had no objection, so he headed for the play room.  Even though Little Danny had gone in search of his friend, Daniel was expecting to see the Munchkins huddled together.  Instead, he saw his namesake with his arm around a little girl, who did indeed resemble Aislinn.  Moving in a bit closer, but making sure the children couldn't see him, he listened to their conversation.

“It be okay, Carrie,” Little Danny promised confidently.

Carrie nodded and gave the little boy a small smile.

“You good friend, Little Danny.”

“Not 'lone, Carrie,” the boy assured.  “My dad 'n' daddy workin' on it; they help.  You see.”

“I scared for Tito.  No one love him like me,” Carrie sniffled into Little Danny's shoulder.

“Tito be okay,” the little boy promised, although he didn't know how to keep that promise, except that he believed in his parents, and both of them had told him that everything would be okay.  ~They fix it.  They good fixin' things.~

Not wanting to interrupt or eavesdrop any longer, Daniel turned and left.  As he walked to the truck, he couldn't help but be touched by the boy's faith in him and Jack.  He just hoped they could make Little Danny's words the truth.

As soon as he climbed into the truck, Daniel took out his cell phone and made a call.

“Hello,” the familiar voice greeted.

“Sam, I need a rush check.”

“Again?” the blonde colonel chuckled.

“Sorry, but this is important,” Daniel said with urgency.  “Uh, hello, by the way,” he spoke, realizing he'd just dived into his need without the courtesy of a greeting.

“Hello to you, too,” Sam chuckled.  “So, name, rank, and serial number?” she teased, knowing her friend was apparently anxious about something, or someone.

“I don't know much, Sam.  Their names are Stu and Grace Lapierre.  They have four children and a dog.  He's in construction, and she's a waitress; or rather, they were.”

“Do they live in the Springs?” Sam asked, writing down the information Daniel had just given her.

“Yes.  Sam, get back to me as soon as you know anything, okay?”

“I will, but ... Daniel, are you okay?” Sam asked, concerned by Daniel's tenseness and the alarm she heard in his voice.

“Yeah.”  Daniel paused as he reflected.  “I'm just very lucky, Sam,” he sighed with relief at the fact.

Hearing the strong emotion in her friend's voice, Sam stated, “I'll get on this right away.”

“Thanks.”

====

“Guys, this is what I found out,” Sam said early that evening.

With the children all in other parts of the house, Sam was free to talk with the couple without upsetting the kids.  The story was pretty much as Mrs. Archer had relayed it to Daniel.  The Lapierres were hardworking people, but had simply fallen on bad luck.  The twins hadn't been planned for, and when Stu had been laid off so frequently, they weren't able to keep up with the rising costs of caring for their children.  Both had taken odd jobs consistently throughout the past two years, but they'd finally run out of luck.

Unable to stand still, Daniel began to pace the living room.  He picked up a rubber band that had been left on the counter and twisted it around in his hands.

“They only have until the twentieth, though they've been granted a grace period to the end of the month.  After that, they're gone,” Sam said, adding, “from the house, I mean.”

“April,” Daniel said softly, stopping his movement.

“Danny?” Jack questioned in confusion.  ~What does April have to do with anything?~

“Taxes.  Jack ... Jack!” Daniel exclaimed, physically jumping and moving forward a foot or so.

“Uh oh, he's got that look,” Jack observed, smiling at the expression, though he was still confused.

“Not now, Jack.  Listen.  What if ... wha...what if we moved the house?” Daniel asked excitedly.  “Gawd, just like you said; we'll move the house!”

“What?  You said you didn't want to move the house,” the older man spoke in confusion.

“Not this house, the McLamore house,” the younger man spoke enthusiastically.  “It's so simple; why didn't we think of this before.”

“Danny, I admit we're ...”

“No, Jack, not us, us, but us?” Daniel clarified, his upper body leaning forward slightly and both hands in front of him, gesturing to emphasize his fast-thinking brain.

“Daniel, you're worrying me,” Jack commented as he faced his husband.  ~I'm more confused than ever now.~

“J-O.  Jack, we had a great year, and things are looking great for this fiscal year, too.  If we move the McLamore house to a new location instead of just demolishing it, *donating* it ...”  Daniel paused, giving Jack a chance to catch up to his idea.  Seeing a glimmer of idea recognition, he continued, “We could sure use one big tax write-off, and this could be it.”

“A charity donation?  You're suggesting we move the house instead of demolishing it, and that we give this house to the Lapierres?”  It was more of a rhetorical question as Jack mulled over the idea.  He walked around for a minute as Daniel waited eagerly for his husband's opinion.  Finally, he smiled.  He liked the idea, but it was still a big expenditure, and he wasn't sure J-O was in a position to be quite that generous.  “Danny, I don't know.  We have a house, but where do we move it to?”

“I don't know.  Timbuktu or somewhere; come on, Jack, it's a start.  Think!” Daniel implored.

Sam chuckled, “Guys, it sounds like you have everything under control, or will, so, if you need me, call.  I've gotta go, though.  Hot date.”

“Tell Pete 'hi',” Jack smirked.

Sam blushed and left the house, leaving the couple to ponder their new idea.

“Danny, it's a good idea, but we don't have the land.  Even if we did, they still have to be able to pay the bills,” Jack responded with a tone of despondency.

“Gawd, Jack, where's that positive disposition of yours?  It's a start.”

“Okay, well, you keep thinking, and while you're doing that, I need to check with Megan about the latest survey reports for that warehouse in Missouri.”

“Okay, Babe,” Daniel responded as he paced the floor some more and was clearly already lost in thought.

Jack shook his head as he walked out of the room, thoroughly amazed at his lover's mind.  He agreed they were onto something, but the solution still needed a lot of work.

====

Five minutes later, Jack reappeared, unaware he was about to provide the answer to the kink in Daniel's solution.

“Danny, Megan talked to Yazid and ...”

“Yazid!” Daniel exclaimed, smiling.  “Jack, Babe, you're gorgeous, and I love you to pieces,” he declared happily, surprising his lover with a huge hug and kiss that left Jack all tingly and definitely wanting more.  “Don't go away.  I'll be right back.”

“Wait!  Where are you go...ing?”  Jack stood, perplexed, but happily so, as his husband fled the room.  “Whatever I said, I hope I say it again,” he told the now-empty room.

====

Daniel practically bounced down the stairs fifteen minutes later.  Looking around, he saw Jack had gone outside where all eight of their children were enjoying the early evening.

~Oh, yeah, I am a lucky man,~ Daniel observed before going outside.

“How'd it go?” Jack asked as he played catch with David.

“Good.  I'll tell you about it later; waiting for a confirmation phone call.”

The call came an hour later, after the parents had put their younger children to bed.  Thirty minutes after that, Daniel was on the phone with Mrs. Archer, asking her to arrange a meeting with the Lapierres as soon as possible.  As he did that, Jack was on the phone with the contractor, confirming that the demolition preparation be placed on hold and that the workers focus on other things instead until further notice.

“Daddy, what doing?” Little Danny asked, rubbing his eyes as he stood in the doorway of the den.

Seeing his child's reddened eyes, Daniel knew his namesake had been crying, again.

“Come here, Sproglet,” the younger father urged, twisting his chair around and extending his arms.  With Little Danny firmly in place on his lap, he asked, “Thinking about Carrie?”

The little boy nodded and said sadly, “Not fair,” his eyes drooping as he spoke.

“Well, we may have a solution,” Daniel said.  ~We have to tell him, even if it's not set yet.~

Little Danny brightened and asked, “Give Carrie house?”

Daniel smiled as he wiped away the last of his son's tears, amazed that his son had come up with the solution, too.

“We're going to try.  It's not for sure yet, and you can't say anything to her, but we are to going to try,” Daniel promised, his heart brightening at the look of happiness on the little boys face.

“Carrie need house,” Little Danny state matter-of-factly.

“I know.”

“She live next to us?” the toddler asked with widened and bright eyes.

“Uh, no, Son.  We need the property to enlarge our home so we don't have to move, but what we're hoping to do, is move the McLamore house to a new piece of land that Carrie's family could live on.”

“How move house?” Little Danny asked, confused as to how an entire house could be moved.

“It's not easy,” Daniel began.  “They raise up the foundation and cut it into two or three big pieces.  Using a big truck, they move it to an empty lot.  Then they put the house back together.”

“Wow!” Little Danny said with his eyes widened.

“Remember Abayomi?”

Little Danny nodded as he said, “Yazid's boss.”

“Right.  Well, he said if we can find some land, that he'll buy it and donate it to Carrie's parents.  If that happens, then J-O Enterprises will pay for the move, and our whole family will donate the house itself.”

Little Danny put his arms around Daniel and gave him a big kiss.

“I love you, Daddy.  Thank you fix it,” Little Danny said, awed by his father.

“Hey, Dad and I are just following your lead.  This was your idea.  You said we had a house, and Carrie needed one.”

“I go give Dad hug, too,” Little Danny decided, climbing off Daniel's lap.

Daniel smiled as the little boy toddled off to find Jack and called out, “Hey, be careful going down the stairs.  Dad's in the study.”

“'Kay,” Little Danny responded from the hallway.

~Like Jack says, it just doesn't get any better,~ Daniel thought, his heart warmed by the love of his son.

====

Alex called early the next day to confirm his appointment at seven that evening.

Being in an especially good mood, Jack said lightly, “Make it six-fifteen, and we'll feed you.”  The Special Ops military man felt confident in inviting the man to dinner since he'd passed Sam's background check with flying colors.  ~Besides, the sooner you're gone, the sooner I get my Danny into bed!~

“Done!” exclaimed Alex, once again unaware of Jack's true motives.

====

The door knocker banged at ten minutes after six.  Immediately, Chenoa headed for the entranceway, stopping just short of the door.  She looked up at Jennifer with smiling eyes.

Jennifer checked the blinds to see who it was.

“Okay, Noa, you can open it,” the teenager instructed.

Having received permission, Chenoa opened the door and smiled at their guest.

In the kitchen, Daniel was dishing up chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes and gravy, hot biscuits, and creamy coleslaw.  The deep-dish apple cobbler was cooling on the counter.  Hearing the giggles, he moved into the entranceway where he caught a glimpse of both girls' faces as they turned sideways to let Alex enter.

Daniel remembered a sappy 'Gidget' movie Jack made him watch once.  The James Darren character had this stupefying effect on any female within a ten-foot radius.  He chuckled as he struggled to remember the character's silly nickname.

~What was that name?  Oh, yeah -- Moondoggie!~  Daniel shuddered, opining, ~Think I'll stick with Space Monkey.  Why am I thinking about this?~  As he moved closer to the entranceway, he was stifling a chuckle.  ~Jack would have a cow if he could see this.  It's the return of Moondoggie, and our teenage 'Gidget' is entranced.~  Finally in everyone's sight, he advised, “Close the door, Jen.”  ~And close your mouth while you're at it.  You too, Noa.~  “Hello, Alex; come on in.  Jack's doing some last minute shopping, but, uh, he should be back in a few minutes.”

The two men shook hands and eased into the living room, the girls still gawking at Alex.

~If Jack sees this, his teasing about sending Jen to boarding school might become serious.  Gawd, I'm not even sure he was entirely joking about taking resumes from the fathers of potential suitors, either!  It could be worse, of course.  Any young man willing to face down two System Lord slayers for the hand of one of our daughters will have to be made of pretty stern stuff, and~ Daniel silently chuckled, ~that doesn't even count Sam, Janet, and General Hammond, and let's not forget Teal'c!  Remember him, Noa?~

“Thanks for extending me the extra time,” Alex said, referring to the postponement of their original meeting day.

“No problem.  Our only concern was a potential holdup, and, uh, actually, we had some things going on here, too.”

“Nothing serious, I hope,” Alex asked, genuinely concerned.  ~I like this family.~

“There's always something going on,” Jennifer responded with a schoolgirl grin on her face.  “We call this place a madhouse for a reason.”

As Alex laughed, Daniel silently warned, ~Don't even think about it, Jen.  He's too old for you.  If I were you, or your sisters, I'd plan on being single.  Jack is *so* not going to like this!~

====

Jack breezed in a few minutes later amid shouts of 'Dad's home!', 'Hi, Dad; look Alex is here!', 'Woof woof!', 'Alex got drawn's for new house!', and 'Meow'.  The last comment came from Mittens who had left Alex's side to rub against Jack's legs.  At the same time, Little Danny tugged at Jack's pant leg.

“Hold the fort a minute.  Let me put this down,” Jack said, crossing the room to the counter so he could put down the bag of groceries he'd brought home. “Hey, Love,” he smiled at Daniel.  “Alex,” Jack greeted, extending his hand.

“Hello, Jack.  Thanks for the invite,” Alex said as they shook hands.

Little Danny had followed his father and watched the exchange.  He tugged again on Jack's pants.

“Hey, you, what's going on?” Jack asked, bending down to look at the toddler.

“What wrong, Dad?” Little Danny demanded.

“Nothing's wrong, Sproglet.”

“Na-uh.  You always kiss Daddy, say 'Love you' when come home,” Little Danny reminded.

Jack looked at Alex, who looked back at Jack with twinkling eyes and said, “I've seen your bedroom, remember, and I'm designing your house.  Byron assured you of client privilege, didn't he?  Think of me as a family doctor.”

~Family doctor?~

Jack chuckled, walked into the kitchen, took Daniel into his arms, and gave him an audible lip-smacking kiss amid loud resounding expressions of 'Yay!' and 'Woof, woof'.  Jonny spiked an imaginary ball and emitted a, 'Yesssss!'

**Where did he learn that?** both men asked at the same time, though each knew the answer.

“Dinner's ready,” Daniel announced.

“Not done yet, Dad!” Little Danny said.

“We're not?”  Jack saw the shaking head and the stare.  “Oh.  Sorry.” He looked at Daniel and expressed tenderly, “I love you.”

Daniel smiled and responded, “Love you, too,” and the two shared another quick kiss.  The younger man looked down at his namesake who was now all smiles and completely satisfied.  Looking over at Alex, he noted, “We're, uh, sappy around here.”

“Nothing wrong with good, honest sap.  They're happy,” Alex commented about the children.

“And starved, and so am I, by the way.  Let's eat,” Jack said, rubbing his hands together.

====

The food was wonderful, and everyone had been hungry as witnessed by the ultra clean plates at the end of the meal.  Afterwards, Jennifer and David cleared the table while the conversation continued.

Alex remarked, “I miss this kind of food.”

“It's just food; nothing special,” Daniel noted as the three sat down, Alex at the head of the sofa, and Jack and Daniel on the other end.

“That's the beauty of it, Daniel.  I'm accustomed to eating in five-star restaurants.  Clients frequently take me out for meals, and the rest of them are usually at a drive-through.  Having an actual home-cooked meal was wonderful; thank you for inviting me.”

~Nice transition,~ Jack thought, so although he already knew the answer due to Sam's background check, the inquiring general asked, “Do you come from a large family, Alex?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do.  I am one of eleven born, eight still living.”  A look of intense pain flashed across the young man's face.  With the children around, the topic was on the verge of being too intense, so quickly, he changed the subject.  “But, you want to talk about your new house.”

“Of course,” Daniel responded.

**That's an abrupt change of subject,** the general observed.

**Jack, everyone has a past.  Obviously, whatever he just thought of wasn't pleasant.  Besides, he's here to talk about our house, not his family.**

Alex continued, “The first thing to do is to see if I have read your needs correctly, even the ones you haven't thought of yet.  I really see my job as one of helping you understand now how your house needs to function in five, ten, even fifteen years from now.  Okay?”

“Fire away,” Jack said, shielding his few random doubts about the designer with a small smile.

“The first flaw I see with the plans is an inadequate kitchen and dining area.”

“First?” Jack asked, his eyes widening.  “How many flaws are there?”

Alex didn't answer the question, but explained, “There is not enough space to make a large enough kitchen and include everything else you need.  The expense would be enormous, way too much of the budget, and while I can sense the well may be deep, it is not limitless, I'm sure.”

“The well?” Daniel asked, curious what Alex meant.

Alex looked over, but it was Jack who bailed his husband out with a silent, **Money, Love.**

“Oh,” Daniel expressed as he smiled nervously.  “Of ... of course.  No, it's not endless.”

“It's not even deep,” Jack said, wanting to keep the designer in check.  ~I don't know if he's just sharp and straight forward, or arrogant and gutsy.~

~That general is a smart cookie.  I'm not trying to rob you; I'm trying to make your home a castle, an efficient castle,~ Alex thought.  “A dining room is not the answer,” he continued.  “To be big enough, it would occupy too much space for the amount of time it would be used.  Another more conventional option would be a sun room, but again, it would not provide enough room or versatility.”

“We pretty much know what we want,” Jack said.  ~And it didn't include remodeling our kitchen.  We're doing just fine, thank you.~

“We think,” Daniel added.

“Well, we're pretty sure,” Jack reiterated.  ~At least, we haven't talked about remodeling our kitchen.~

“At least, we think we're sure,” Daniel said as he leaned back against the sofa, his arms folded in front of him and his head nodding up and down just slightly.

Jack smiled, Daniel squirmed, the children giggled, and Alex shook his head, wondering if he was really awake.

~Just keep it moving, Alex,~ the designer told himself.  “The key to a successful design project lies in first understanding the types of spaces needed and their interrelation to each other.  Too many people want to draw everything down to the last detail right away, without doing enough emotional analysis.  When that happens, you end up with a completed project that leaves you saying 'woulda, coulda, shoulda'.”

“Not yadda, yadda?” Jack asked, trying to pretend he wasn't at the SGC listening to a lecture.

“Excuse me?” Alex asked, totally confused.

“Ignore him,” Daniel urged.  “He's really just six-years old.”

“Oooookay,” Alex responded, not sure if he should just continue or not.  He saw Jack give his lover an odd look, but there wasn't a verbal response.  ~Just keep going, Alex,~ the designer told himself again.  “As I was saying, that is my job, to make sure there is a minimum of 'woulda, coulda, shoulda'.”  Seeing Jack's smile, he added, “Or ... yadda, yadda, yadda.”

**Got him,** Jack laughed, as did the children who were also gathered round.

**Jack, behave.  This is important.**

**He prattles on like Carter,** the older man replied.  ~Maybe he's okay, after all.~

**Think of it this way, Babe.  Sam will save your life; Alex will save your wallet.**

In a flash, Jack looked back over at Alex and said, “And you were saying?”

Having Jack's attention again, and knowing he had always had Daniel's, Alex continued, “What your family needs, Jack and Daniel, are two very large multi-purpose spaces, complemented by a variety of smaller customized spaces which will be occupied by one to four family members at any given time.  Before I continue, do you have questions for me?  Is there anything you'd like to add or discuss?”

“Dessert anyone?” Jack questioned, standing up to serve the still-warm apple-cobbler.  “Daniel made dessert,” he pointed out as he nodded to Jennifer to get the ice cream.  “Sorry, Alex, but I sense a rebellion by our Mouseketeers if we don't get to the dessert in a hurry.”

~This is definitely an interesting family,~ Alex thought, noting how well-behaved the children were.  ~Usually, young children like this do nothing but interrupt.  I like them,~ he decided yet again.

“Daddy makes a great cobbler; Dad is better at cake, though,” David said.

Jack just shrugged, while Daniel chuckled inwardly at the comment.  Neither he nor Jack had been great cooks when they met, but over the years, for survival purposes, they'd evolved into decent chefs, in his opinion.

“Jen, now would be good,” Daniel nudged.  The teenage girl smiled, not at Daniel, but at Alex.  ~Give it a rest, Jen.  If Jack sees, you're in trouble.~

**I heard that, and I already noticed.**

**Oops!**

Everyone opted for their cobbler a la mode, but before they were finished, Jonny piped up with, “Still have ice cream b'fore bed?”

“Yes, but only a little bit, and *only* if you go to bed the first time you are asked with no fussing and no stalling.”  Alex looked horrified, realizing he'd just answered the question.  He turned bright red in embarrassment.  “Oops! I am so sorry.  I just felt so at home I forgot I wasn't.  Please forgive me.”

“There's nothing to forgive; we're glad you're comfortable with us,” Daniel replied as he glanced quickly at his lover.

Alex smiled, feeling relieved, and took a bite of his dessert.

Jack returned Daniel's glance, but quickly refocused on their guest.  It was his nature to question, and with Alex, he already had a long list of questions waiting anxiously for answers.

~Okay, one of eleven, and you are definitely used to being around small children. There's a story there, Dennison.  I'd sure like to know what it is.~

====

“Please, Alex, go on with what you were saying.  I'm curious as to how you're going to pull this off,” Daniel said after dessert had been devoured and the dishes rinsed and then placed in the dishwasher.

Having acquired a Munchkin, Alex continued with Aislinn sitting on his lap.

~Gee, she's lucky.  I'd sure like to sit on his lap,~ Jennifer thought as she sat, making sure she had a clear view of the snappily-dressed visitor.  ~I love his voice, too.  It's just dreamy.  Hmm, is he part Italian?  Sometimes I feel like I'm hearing a hint of an accent.  Doesn't matter.  Go on, Alex,~ she sighed.  ~Talk to me.~

**Daniel ...**

**Yes, Jack, I see our daughter with a dreamy-eyed look and on the verge of drooling over Alex.  Just be calm; she'll get over it.**

**She'd better!**

**Look at it this way, Babe.  Better Jen, then me,** the archaeologist quipped.

Jack suddenly growled, the audible release an attention getter.

“Something wrong, Dad?” Jennifer asked, actually diverting her eyes from Alex for a moment.

“No, Jen, I'm fine.  Alex?” Jack stated more than asked, indicating for the man to continue his comments.

“What I have done with these new plans is to take the space set aside for a dining room, a breakfast room, and a sun room and combined them into a space I call the hospitality room.”

“Hospitality room?” Daniel echoed.

“Mealtime is an important family time,” Alex explained.  “You have a full table now, but just wait a few years when Jonny invites the entire soccer team the same night Chenoa invites her drama troupe to stay for dinner.”

“I 'vite dolly club,” Aislinn said.  “We play Barbies.”

Smiling at her, Alex stated, “And Aislinn invites her dolly club over.  Add to that a couple of musicians and study buddies, and you have a very full house.”

“We have madhouse,” Aislinn said proudly, earning a chuckle out of Alex.

“Uh, I can take her if ...” Daniel began.

“No, we're fine,” Alex said quickly.  ~The triplets remind me ... no, stop.  You're making a presentation, Alex.  Stay in touch with the reason you're here,~ he chided himself for a moment.  The mental rebuke wasn't noticeable to the family as the designer stated, “You have eight children, and I understand from Byron that there may be another one or two added later.  A house is for living.  You should be able to handle things like that routinely, in your stride, without blinking an eye.”

“I get it,” Jack said, as if figuring out the puzzle.  “The hospitality room is where we're hospitable.”

“Jack!”

“I'm just trying to be helpful,” Jack semi-whined.

“Dad, Alex is explaining about the house,” Jennifer chastised without even looking at her father.

**Danny ...**

**Jack, he's way too old for her.  She's just enjoying the view tonight. Remember, she did the same thing when she met Yazid,** Daniel reminded.

**Don't remind me!  Egyptian chiropractors,** the older man silently complained.

**Jack, don't go there,** Daniel warned.  **You like Yazid.**

**I can like him and still be jealous.**

**Gawd!**

Jack smiled deviously, asked seriously, **Danny, you really think Jen's 'condition' is just temporary?**

**Positive.  Tomorrow, she'll be chattering away about Mike Garnet again.**

**Mike who?** Jack shouted silently.

**Oops!**  Daniel smiled coyly at Jack, then refocused on their guest.  “Like I said, six-years old,” Daniel said.

“Jonny, can you hand me that?” Alex asked the toddler, who sat on the floor next to Bijou.

“Here go,” Jonny said, holding up the cardboard tube with both hands.

“Thank you,” Alex acknowledged as he smiled warmly and took possession of the object.  “Careful, Aislinn,” he added as he shifted to open the tube that he had brought with him to the house.

Aislinn smiled.  No one called her by her full name, so she felt special when Alex used it.  Jack and Daniel had both started to correct the designer, but then they each saw their daughter's reaction, so both sat back, remaining quiet.

Alex pulled out a blueprint of the room he had just described, but realized he needed more room, so he began, “Uh, Aislinn, I'm sorry, but ...”

The intelligent little girl could see the man needed to 'play' with his sketch, so she obediently crawled down and scooted over to sit next to Jonny and Bijou.

Alex placed his creation on the coffee table so Jack and Daniel could review it.  The center of the drawing had a lift-up flap.  The table and chairs represented on the flap accounted for ten people, two on each end, and three on each side. The drawing underneath the flap, on the sheet itself, showed the table lengthened to accommodate twenty-four.  Along one wall of the room was a full-service kitchen, including all necessary appliances.

Seeing a confused look on both of his hosts' faces, Alex took the lead in dispelling any rising doubts.

“The dishes would be kept here, in the cabinets, making it easy to set the table.  The dishwasher and disposal are here, making clean-up a snap, and everything goes right back here.”

Jennifer took advantage of an opening near Daniel and peeked in to get a closer look.

“The hospitality room is a big kitchen,” the teenager commented.

With a smile, Alex responded, “In a sense.  It complements the kitchen and gives you more options.  While preparation and clean-up are taking place here, nothing interferes with what is occurring in the kitchen.  The counter also serves as a bar.  You don't strike me as drinkers per se, but you might want to serve a cocktail occasionally, and the liquor cabinet is easier to keep locked and watched in a room that is active and open.”

“No giggly juice here,” Aislinn interjected, earning her an odd look from Alex.

“Uh, I'm not sure where she got that from, though I have my suspicions,” Daniel said, glancing over at Jack who evaded his husband's look.  “You're right, though.  We don't really keep much here, mostly wine and a few favorites of our close friends.”

“This will make it even easier then to safeguard,” Alex responded.  Looking at the general, he added, “I also heard you like to grill out, and while outdoor kitchens are all the rage, they are horrendously expensive.  I included a triple indoor downdraft cooktop in the countertop near the doors.  It converts to conventional burners as well.  Bacon and eggs for twenty after a sleepover will be a snap.”

“It's a brilliant idea, Alex.  Jack, this gives us so many possibilities,” Daniel babbled excitedly.  “Alex, it's brilliant.  I love it.”

“And it's brilliant, right, Daniel?” Jack chuckled.

“Vewwy owigino, Jaack,” Daniel spoke, using an Elmer Fudd accent, something that pleased Jack to no end.

In years past, Daniel would never have felt free to let go like this, especially not in front of a guest.  He still didn't do it regularly, but when he felt comfortable with someone, he'd finally learned to stop censoring his every move and spoken word.  In this case, a bit of his inner child had just popped out for all to see, and he didn't care in the slightest.

Suddenly, the younger man looked at his husband and smiled while acknowledging, **I know; I've come a long way.**

“Daddy funny,” Jonny commented as he petted Bijou.  “Dad still burn steaks?”

“Hey!” Jack responded, sitting up straighter.

Jonny giggled, and then all the children laughed.

Daniel answered, “Don't worry.  This is just another way to cook.  Dad's ... charcoal steaks will still be on our outdoor barbecue.”

“I resemble that remark,” Jack said.

“You sure do, Babe!”

Once the latest round of chuckling subsided, Alex further explained his ideas, saying, “This room was the litmus test.  If you liked it, then I knew we were on the same page.”

“Ice maker in the second fridge?” Jack asked.

“No, they can't keep up with the demands of a family this size.  It's under the counter, right here.  You'll *never* run out of ice.”

“We run out now; in fact, we buy ice at the store and the gas station.”

“Not for much longer,” Alex said, a bit pleased with himself on his room invention and how much easier he knew it would make life for the large family surrounding him.

~He's got us pegged; hope that's just Alex being very good at his job.~  Jack looked at his soulmate.  “Daniel, I think we have just hired ourselves a design consultant.”

“I agree.  When can we see the rest of it?” Daniel asked.

“In a day or two, at your office, if that's okay.  You mentioned it's nearby, correct?”

**Our office?** Just as Jack had begun to feel at ease with the suave designer, his internal alarms had begun to go off again.  ~Why does he want to see the office?~

**He's trying to get to know us, and the office is an extension of us.**

**No kids,** Jack assumed, though it was obvious Alex liked and got along well with their brood.  Deciding to go along for the time being, he agreed, “Yes, it's twelve minutes from here, and that works for us.”

~Twelve?~ Alex mused.  ~Not ten or fifteen, but precisely twelve.  Interesting.~

With the business concluded for the night, Alex returned his design to its cardboard tube, and seconds later, found himself holding Aislinn again.  He remained for another thirty minutes, just visiting with the family and privately observing their interactions, knowing that the better he knew them, the better he would be at servicing their renovation needs.

Alex silently observed, ~They live for these children.  I need to make sure they take advantage of all the opportunities this renovation presents.  Aislinn is adorable.  I'd like to see her grow up in a home she can be proud of.~

====

“He's dreamy,” Jennifer swooned after Jack had closed the door.

“He's also too old for you,” Jack groused.

“I don't think so,” the teenager said with a grin.

“Jennifer ...” Jack began.

With a schoolgirl sigh, the teenager rubbed the charm on her necklace and said, “I think I'll go dream about Alex.  Night, Dad.  Night, Daddy.”

Just as Jack was about to follow his oldest daughter and protest her desired dream, David asked him if they could do some stargazing for a while.  Unable to deny the boy, he allowed himself to be distracted.

Daniel, however, followed the teen towards her bedroom, calling out, “Jen.”

Laughing, Jennifer turned around and said, “Daddy, I'm only teasing.  Alex is dreamy, but Dad's right.  He's too old for me.”

“But ...” Daniel prodded, seeing some deviousness in his daughter's eyes.

“But,” Jennifer giggled, “Dad is sooooo easy.”

Daniel dropped his head into a bowed position, trying not to laugh, but unable not to.  He finally looked at the girl and let out an acknowledging smile.

Placing a kiss on Daniel's cheek, Jennifer said, “I love you, Daddy,” and then continued towards her room.

The archaeologist shook his head, thinking that in a few year's time, the games between Jack and Jennifer were going to be astounding.

~She has your number, Babe, and you aren't going to like it,~ Daniel mused as he turned around to rejoin the rest of the family.

====

Jack and Daniel's meeting with the Lapierres happened the next day at the J-O Enterprises' office, and it was a good one.  Both men had been impressed by the struggling couple, especially since Stu and Grace each expressed eager desires to find steady employment.  They'd met their children as well, and they, too, seemed like well-behaved youngsters.  Even Tito, the children's loveable basset hound, managed to worm his way into Jack's and Daniel's hearts.

“You want to ... *give* us a house?” Grace asked, not believing the miracle being presented to her family.

“It's just going to become a pile of rubble otherwise,” Jack answered.

“Consider it ... recycling,” Daniel suggested with a smile.  He added, “I know this isn't the area you live in now, but I've checked it out, and it's a good one.”

“Lots of kids in the area, too,” Jack added.

“I don't know what to say,” Grace spoke, blinking to hold back her tears.  She looked over at her husband, who was too emotional to say anything.  “Stu, I know it's too much, but the kids; we have to think about them.  We might lose them, if we don't accept this kindness.”

Stu nodded.  It went against his grain to accept something so grand as a gift, but his wife was right.  If he didn't take the miracle being presented to him, he'd lose his family.  It would only be a matter of time before the State would intervene and take their precious children away.  No, he couldn't let that happen.  They'd take the gift, and, somehow, someway, someday, he'd pay back the Jackson-O'Neills.

“We'll pay you back.  I don't know how, or when, but we will,” Stu stated firmly.

“Don't worry about it,” Daniel spoke.

“You're saving lumber from its worst fear,” Jack expressed as he shook Stu's hand.  Seeing the confused looks, he added, “From becoming sawdust.”

Daniel groaned, “Forgive him; he's two,” and then smiled when the Lapierres laughed.

The meeting went so well that before leaving, Jack and Daniel invited the couple over for dinner, kids and all, that night.  All the children hit it off, and Bijou and Katie were gracious hosts to Tito, too, though Mittens chose to hide upstairs under Chenoa's bed during Tito's visit.

During the evening, Jack and Daniel learned more about the Lapierre's history and their string of bad luck.  The more they heard, the more determined they became to make their solution work.

====

The next morning, Jack was in the study, getting ready to call the contractor yet again when Jonny and Little Danny both entered the study, wanting to play with their older father.

“Wait until I make this call,” Jack requested.  “I need to talk with the contractor for a few minutes.”

The boys sat down right at their father's feet.  Suddenly, as Jack began to dial, Little Danny gasped as he looked at his brother.  He pursed his lips for a minute as his idea formulated.  Quickly, he whispered something into his brother's ear.  Jonny nodded in response.

Then, speaking louder than he normally would when someone was on the phone, Little Danny stated, “Jonny, Mis'r Lap'er need job.  He build things.  Dad calling man who build things, too?”

“Need help,” Jonny said, nodding his head.

“Bet Mis'r Lap'er good at building things,” Little Danny said, glancing up at Jack as nonchalantly as he could and smiling inside when he saw he had his father's attention.

Jonny added, “He do good job our house.”

Having stopped dialing, Jack smiled, leaning over to muss the boys' hair, and said, “I get the message; now go play.  I'll be out in a bit.”

With smiles on their faces, the Munchkins left the study.

~Little con artists; just like their old man, er, old men.~

====

“The contractor agreed?” Daniel asked when his lover told him about the boys' idea later that night.

The two men were catching up with their day as they got ready for bed.  At the moment, they were in the bathroom.

“He's going to check Stu's credentials and talk to his old employer.  He said he's always looking for good men, so if Stu checks out, he said he'd be happy to hire him.”

“That's great, Babe,” Daniel responded.

Inspired by their children's idea, Jack inquired, “Angel, doesn't Mitzi work for a department store?”

Daniel turned, looking at his lover, and grinned a she answered, “Yeah.  In fact, she's the manager of the Shoe Department.”

“How different can serving food be from serving shoes?” the older man questioned.

“No tips, but better hours and salary,” the younger man answered.

“Race you to the phone,” Jack challenged as the two ran from the bathroom to the phone by the bed.  “We old-timers still have it,” he teased, having reached the phone first.

“Actually, I have 'it',” Daniel said, letting his hand press against Jack's groin.

“Hold that ... thought for five minutes,” Jack gasped.

“Oh, I'll do more than that,” Daniel said as his fingers gripped the object in question.

Jack groaned, “Danny, you keep doing that and no way am I calling Mitzi.”

“Consider it a challenge. You make it through the call, and I'll let you have your way with me,” Daniel flirted outrageously.

“And if I don't?” the older man asked with a grin.

“I get to have my way with you.”

“Geez, I love how you think.”

Daniel laughed triumphantly and exclaimed, “I knew it!”

“Knew what?” a confused Jack asked.

“You married me for my brain!”

Laughing, and trying not to be distracted, Jack made the call.  It was a bit late for a call, but this was important.  Fortunately, the Millers were known to be night owls and receptive to late night calls.

====

Right on schedule the next day, Jack, Daniel, and Alex stood hunched over the large conference table at the office of J-O Enterprises.

“The point of this meeting is to agree on the number and type of rooms or spaces to be built,” Alex began.  “Certain things are cast in stone at the outset.  Several other defining parameters join them early in the design process. There will be disappointments and compromises along the way, but there are in every project.”

“This recreation room is a large space,” Daniel pointed out.

“It's big, that's for sure,” Jack agreed.  ~Someone's going to have to polish the floor.  Ewww!~

“Jack, Daniel, you're thinking about your children always being the size they are now.  They're growing every day.  You're going to have six high school and two college age children before you know it, and they are going to have friends, study pals, teammates.  You have an opportunity here to create the place where all your kid's friends will want to hang out, and that means your kids are home more than they are anywhere else,” Alex explained.

Jack staggered back, as if hit in the chest, and teased, “Ya got me, right here.  No here,” he corrected himself as he clutched his wallet pocket.

Jack switched back and forth, touching his chest, then his pocket, then his chest, then his pocket; he was about to go further, until Daniel looked at him.

“Ten thousand comics lined up to be on Jay Leno, and you want to be funny?  Try again, Babe.”

“I like the idea of having the kids close by.  It's a nasty world out there,” Jack said soberly.  ~Point for the designer!~

“This room also houses the home theater system,” Alex stated.  “It drops down from the ceiling.  I noticed that intermixed with your 'Simpsons' collection,” Alex chuckled, “that you had an interesting assortment of DVDs so I figured you'd like this.”

Daniel looked at Jack accusingly, but Jack just shrugged and asked, “What?”

“No, Jack, the answer is, 'D'oh!” Daniel chimed, pleased with himself for the response.

“Everyone's a critic,” Jack refuted.  ~Another point for the designer.  Geez, he is observant; maybe too observant.~

Alex laughed as he continued, “You will have wonderful movie-watching get-togethers in this room.  The TV will be piped in for major news events, but I am assuming this would be for special occasions and not everyday viewing.”

Jack and Daniel looked at each other and smiled, both liking the plans thus far.

“We were thinking of a wood floor in there.  What do you think?” Daniel asked.

“I was thinking along the lines of a wood floor that will be inexpensive, attractive, and durable.  It's a solution I have used in several commercial projects.  All the scraps of two-by lumber are saved and cut to a depth of three inches.  Then they are stood on end onto a sound deadening board and tapped together.  The ends are stained and sealed.  You can actually nail into it, and it won't leave visible holes.”

“Why would we want to nail into our floor?” Jack asked, actually visualizing Jonny and Ricky doing it.

“Imagine being able to have backdrops for plays standing up solidly, then just pulling the nails and taking them down.”

“Plays?” the archaeologist asked.

“Daniel, you have eight children.  They haven't done any play acting yet?” Alex asked, clearly surprised.

“Well ... gawd, I hadn't thought about it.”

“That's what I mean; we need to think ahead to the future.  It's my job to make sure you at least consider needs you may not even have imagined.”

“You're good,” Jack said with an approving smile.

“Wait 'til you get the bill,” Alex retorted.

“Don't remind me.  Even with what you just saved us on the floor, this project is costing a fortune.  I may have to hock my telescope!”

“Jack!” Daniel said, nudging his lover with his elbow and getting a mock 'ow' in response.

With each new suggestion, the lovers were impressed at Alex's insight, competence, and thoroughness.

~Maybe he is just *that* good,~ Jack thought.

In addition to a laundry room downstairs, there was to be large walk-in closet and a clothes pantry for sorting and folding upstairs.  Alex cut off the questions by forging ahead with his explanation.

“Whatever the work required to do laundry now, it will only increase.  School clothes, play clothes, team uniforms, not to mention bedding and table linens. The aversion to soap and water they have now won't last; in their teens, they can't get enough.  You'll never have enough towels.  You need a place to separate the color and the fiber segregated loads back into piles belonging to each child to fold and hang up, and you need a place to set up a sewing machine.”

“A sewing machine?” Alex's clients chorused.

“Do you honestly mean to tell me you are going to pitch every ripped shirt and every pair of jeans with torn knees?  Are you going to buy summer shorts and shirts every year when the school clothes which will not fit next fall anyway can be so easily lengthened or shortened?”

“Hey, we sew,” Jack responded defensively while at the same time looking at his needle-jabbed fingers.

“Uh, you know, Jack, we do have a huge pile of clothes that need to be mended.  It might make things easier,” Daniel stated.

“Daniel, I am *not* learning how to use a sewing machine, and the day I walk into the house, and you're sitting at some rat-a-tat-tat machine with your foot on some pedal making Noa a dress, is the day I buy you a wig and a bra!”

“JACK!” Daniel shouted, quite annoyed by his husband's attitude.

“Hey, that hurt,” Jack whined to the harder jab he'd just received, courtesy of Daniel's elbow.

“You deserved it,” Daniel said as he glared.

Just then Alex's cell phone rang.  He recognized the number; it was a call he really needed to take.

“Would you two mind if I took this call?”

“No, go ahead.  If you want privacy, you can go into the room across the hall,” Jack offered.

“Thank you,” Alex said, moving to the other room, leaving Jack and Daniel alone.

“Jack, do you realize what you said?” Daniel asked quietly.

“I said the day ...”

“I know what you said.  Do you?” Daniel challenged, folding his arms.

Jack looked at his lover with questioning eyes as he replayed the conversation and his words in his mind.

“Oh.”  Jack shrugged and then spoke, “Come on, Danny, it was a joke; you know that.”

“I know that, Love, and I'm sure Alex does, too, but ...”

Daniel trailed off, his mind processing their situation and their responsibility to society.

“But what?” Jack asked.

“I think we of all people need to be a little more aware of what we say.”

“Watch the jokes?” Jack queried.

“More like make sure the joke is really a joke, or that everyone within hearing range understands it's a joke.”

Jack fidgeted lightly, grimacing at the impression he may have given the designer, and then said, “In other words, we don't know Alex that well, and he might get the wrong idea.”

“It's possible.”

“I guess I made it sound like a man who sews isn't much of a man,” the general said with a hint of regret in his tone.
 
“Yep, you sure did, Babe.  We do sew, Jack, and, uh, just suppose, because you never know, that one of our boys wanted to learn to sew?” Daniel put forth.

“You mean without turning himself into a pin cushion?” Jack asked as he once again stared at his hands.
 
“It's just ... the other day, when I met with one of Abayomi's associates, he had one of those sitcoms on the TV.  The stereotypes on some of those shows just aren't fair, Jack.  People aren't like that, but the people who put those kinds of shows on the air don't care.  They're going for the laugh.”

“You're cutting out my heart here,” Jack mocked, his love of television feeling threatened.

“Jack, I'm not pulling the plug on the television, but we've agreed that we don't like labels, generalities, and stereotypes.”

“And my little joke was a classic stereotypical label that generalized an entire gender,” Jack observed intellectually.

Daniel chuckled and leaned over for a kiss, after which he said, “I'm sorry, Love.  I guess I'm feeling a little sensitive about ... that, considering everything that's happened lately.”

“Don't apologize, Danny; you're right.  I love a good joke, but I went a little far in this instance.”

“Just a little,” Daniel lovingly agreed.

“I'm so sorry I took so long,” Alex said, re-entering the room as the two lovers were smiling at each other.

“No problem,” Daniel responded.

“Now, we were discussing a sewing machine.”
 
“We're not learning to sew,” Jack maintained.  Seeing his husband's look, one that wondered if their just-ended conversation had been for naught, he added, “What I mean is that we have too much else going on.  We sew, Danny, because we have to.  An investment like this, and the time it takes to do the job right, is more than we have to give.  *And* I don't like to sew.  Do you?”

“No,” Daniel admitted.

“Then I repeat, nix on the sewing bit.”

“How about Jen?” Megan interjected, peeking in the doorway.  Seeing the surprised looks, she smiled.  “Sorry.  I didn't mean to eavesdrop or interrupt, but, well ...”

“What's up, Megan?” Jack asked.

“The courier is here to take the bid for the Austin job, but I thought you should see this,” Megan said, holding up a document in her hand.

“Excuse us a minute, Alex,” Daniel requested as he and Jack stood and walked over to examine what Megan was showing them.  After a moment, the archaeologist said, “That's a great idea.  Let's go with that, Megan.”

“Good job,” Jack added.

“As much as I'd love to take the credit, that's why I wanted you to see it.  It was Karissa's idea, and I agree that it's a great one,” Megan complimented.

“Really?” Daniel asked.

“She has a knack for these proposals, Daniel.  I think we should think about giving her more responsibility.  She's eager to do more, and I think the time is coming when we can send her out as a team leader.  She's good.”

“Jack, we considered that in Mexico, remember?”

The general nodded, saying, “Yeah.  I'm for it.”

“Okay, let's talk about it later,” Daniel noted, having already considered giving the hard-working assistant more responsibility.

“Thanks.  I'll get this out now,” Megan stated and then started to walk out.

As Jack and Daniel returned to the table, the older man suddenly spun around, waving his hand in front of him as he called out, “Whoa, Megan.”

“Yes,” the woman responded, making a quick turn to face Jack.

“Why Jen ... about the sewing machine?”

“Her mother sewed, remember?  She told me a while back she misses it,” Megan said, a sad smile on her face.

“You're kidding?” Daniel reflexively answered.  It still amazed him how much he didn't know about the Mouseketeers.  He also wished Jennifer had told them this before.  “I didn't know that.”

“Female talk,” Megan stated, dismissing the obvious concern in her employer's voice.  “I'd better get this out before the courier takes off without it.”

**Jack, we should have known about this.**

**We'll talk about it at home, Love.**

**Okay.**

“Sorry for the interruption, Alex.  Go ahead,” Jack instructed, motioning towards the plans sprawled out on the table.

“No problem.  Any questions thus far?”

“Yeah,” Jack said.  “What's this enormous closet for?”

Alex chuckled, answering a bit jovially, “Oh, it's just for eight winter coats, eight windbreakers, eight ski parkas, eight rain slickers, sweaters, leggings, gloves, stocking caps, mittens, gloves, mufflers, ice skates, roller skates, plus swim suits and trunks, swim fins ...”

“Enough!  I surrender,” Jack joshed, holding up his hands and smiling.  “Danny, I was right.”

“That'll make the second time this decade,” Daniel quipped.

“Funny.”

“Just teasing, Babe.  Right about what?”

“We were *way*out of our league when we tried to do this on our own,” Jack opined.

As the conversation continued, the designer and his clients talked about the various rooms, mixing the couple's original plans that had previously been finalized with Byron and the new ideas presented by Alex.  The upstairs would have four rather large bedrooms with walk-in closets and two compartmented bathrooms to accommodate multiple users.  The possibility of a second stairwell was one they were devoutly wishing for, although it was still too early to determine whether or not that would be feasible.

The downstairs would include the train room, a kids' sanctuary (or quiet room), and a spare room that would basically be a storage room.  If needed, they'd put in a bed and use it as a bedroom.  Mostly, though, it was just going to be a catch-all type of room for whatever was needed.  There would also be the new laundry room, the spacious family/recreation room, and the hospitality room.  In addition, the parents had arranged for a special surprise room that they were keeping top secret from their children.

“I'm exhausted, I'm elated, and I'm hungry.  What do you say to lunch, our treat?” Jack asked, partly to thank the designer for some very creative and much appreciated input and partly to learn more about the man that was so observant and aware.

“Are you working on the toys from Mickey D's or Burger King?” countered Alex, apparently knowing Jack even better than the general had anticipated.

“Oh, gawd,” Daniel laughed as Jack and Alex engaged in a discussion about the current toys being offered at various fast food chains.  ~My husband:  the ninth child.~

====

With the plans for the renovation moving forward, Jack and Daniel were having to make even more decisions that would impact their family for a substantial length of time.  At the moment, they were in the living in the room, seated on the sofa with their copy of the plans lying flat on the coffee table.

As his lover stuffed a glazed donut into his mouth, Daniel commented, “We'll have to rent a house, Jack.  Looking at these plans, I'd say we need to be out of here for at least two, maybe three months while the construction workers do the heavy part of this.”

Jack nodded his agreement and responded, “We don't want to risk the kids getting hurt by getting into something they aren't supposed to.”

Daniel chuckled, “They're so inquisitive.”  Then he sighed, “Any ideas where to rent?”

“They like to touch things, too.  I wonder where they get that from,” Jack said with a wink and then downed another full-half of his breakfast treat.

“Very funny, Love.  I seem to recall someone touching something that made the building fall down on us …”

“Ooayny, thygitothus,” Jack spoke in a drawn out and confusing sentence.

“Babe, don't talk with your mouth full.  That's it.  Chew it slowly, so you don't choke.  Slooooowly.  Good boy.  Next time, try smaller bites,” Daniel instructed.  ~He really is my ninth child.~

“I'm hungry,” Jack complained.

“It's not my fault you joined the Munchkins in their Loops rebellion,” Daniel spoke.

“You're the one who was being the tyrant,” Jack whined.

“Jack, we've had this discussion before.  At least twice a week, our children *will* eat something *other* than Froot Loops for breakfast.  This morning was one of those days.”

“Meanie,” Jack groused.

“At least the Munchkins finally gave in, but you ...”

“It was the principle of the thing,” Jack claimed.

“Right, Jack,” Daniel responded dryly.  “Let's move on.  What was it you were saying?”

“I forgot;  Oh, yeah, touching things.”

“Jack!”

“Okay, Danny, I give!  They get their touchy genes from both of us,” Jack acquiesced, a slight smile highlighting his firm facial features.

“Good, because it was *you* who touched the ...”

“Daniel, I gave in, remember?”

The archaeological explorer was referring to a time when they had been examining a maze-like building, and Jack touched a spot on the wall, after which the entire building fell down around them.  Jack had been trapped, and Daniel was unable to reach him.  Eventually, they had been rescued by Sam and Teal’c.

After a brief chuckle, Daniel suggested, “Jack, let's get back to the topic of where we are going to live during the renovations.  Any ideas?”

“Preferably, someplace close, if we can find something.  I don't think we can impose on anyone.”

“No way, not with our brood.  Even if they offer, Jack, it's too much.”

“Definitely.”

====

“David, what doing?” Little Danny asked, walking into the study that afternoon.  “Here, apple,” he said, putting the apple on Jack's desk.

“Looking up Mittens on the computer; and thanks.”

“Mittens with Noa.”

“I know, but I don't know much about cats, Little Danny, so I thought I'd see what was online.  I asked Daddy, and he found a couple of pages I could read.”

The toddler climbed up onto David's lap and watched as the boy surfed the pages Daniel had bookmarked for him earlier.

“David, Little Danny, Daddy says time go,” Aislinn said, running into the study several minutes later.  She had a huge smile on her face.  “Ice cream,” she spoke enticingly, running her tongue across her lips.  “Hu'ry; time to go.”

“'Kay, Ash,” Little Danny said, sliding off his older brother.

“Tell Daddy I'll be right there,” David requested, quickly finishing one final paragraph before shutting down the computer.

====

“Happy birthday, Jen.”

“Thanks, Daddy,” the teen responded, getting off her bed to hug both of her fathers.  “Dad, are you okay?  You seem ... tense?” she asked as she moved back and put on her robe.

It was early, just 6 a.m., when Jack and Daniel had tapped on their daughter's door.  Her alarm had just gone off so she hadn't even gotten up out of bed yet.

“Um, hey, wait, my birthday isn't until Monday,” Jennifer said, suddenly realizing that today was only Friday.

“Yeah, we know,” Daniel said, a smile on his face and his arms folded across his chest, “but we, uh, have something to ... well, give you now.”

Jennifer was about to celebrate her fourteenth birthday, and she was very excited, but as she looked at Jack, she wondered if her parents were really celebrating her birthday or if they were actually mourning it.

“Dad, you don't look very happy.”

“Jack!” Daniel warned, jabbing his husband with his elbow.

“I ... heard you,” the older man said reluctantly.

“You haven't heard me say anything.  Go on, tell her,” Daniel insisted.

“Tell me what?” the teenager asked.

Jack coughed and moved his hands out of his pockets to a pose resembling that of his lover, only his stance was more defensive, almost a self-hug while Daniel's was simply a casual standing position at the moment.

“Jack!” Daniel warned his lover.

“I'm getting to it,” Jack sighed, each word slowly spoken as if he could hold back time.

“Now's good.”

“Danny ...”

“Jack, we talked about this,” Daniel said, his eyes boring into Jack's.

“Talked about *what*?” Jennifer questioned, her curiosity peeked.

Jack cleared his throat.

“JACK!”

“Okay, okay!  Geez, give a man a chance.”

Daniel shook his head and again smiled at Jennifer as he explained, “This is hard on him.”

“I guess,” Jennifer responded, shrugging from confusion.

“Jack, would you prefer we keep Jen home from school until you feel up to telling her about her ... present?”

Jack grumbled.

“Yeah, that would be a great present!  No school today!” Jennifer exclaimed enthusiastically.

Jack grumbled louder, knowing his daughter had a geography exam today, and advised, “Don't even think about it, young lady.”

“Well, okay, but ... Dad?”

“Jack, come on.  Tell her.”

The older man took a breath and then blurted out, “So help me if you aren't home by nine, I'm going to drag you home.”

“JACK!” Daniel warned as he gave his lover an intense glare.

“Ten.  Okay?”

“Jack?”

Jack grumbled and then acquiesced, “Eleven.”

“Daddy, what's going on?” the teenager begged, not having a clue what was being discussed.  ~If you can call this a discussion,~ she thought.

Daniel smiled; Jack groaned; and Jennifer remained confused as her question went unanswered.

“Collingsworth -- eleven ... ON THE DOT, Jennifer Renee, and you follow every single rule we give you,” Jack warned sternly.

~It can't be true,~ Jennifer thought.  She began to smile as she processed the strange conversation.  ~Oh, please, is he really saying I can ... that I can ... I can go on a ...~

“Date.  No hanky panky.  He so much as touches you ...” the general began.

“Jack!”

“NO KISSING ... or ... or ... touching.”

“You're letting me date?  *Really*?” Jennifer asked in disbelief.

“*One date*, and only one,” Jack insisted.  “And if you don't behave, it'll be your last one until you're ninety!”

Daniel laughed, shaking his head.  He was just happy his soulmate had finally gotten out the words, in a round about sort of way.

“Oh, Dad, thank you,” Jennifer said, getting up and throwing her arms around him.  Her smile was huge, and she was unable to contain her excitement.  She moved to Daniel and hugged him.  “Daddy, thank you so much.”

Jennifer had wanted to date for a long time, but both Jack and Daniel had been stone walls in her quest.

“Jen, we're not saying you can date all the time, but this is your birthday.  We know Jimmy and his parents, and he dropped by last week to ask us if he could take you ...” Daniel began.

“To dinner and the new Brad Pitt movie?” Jennifer asked hopefully.

“Yeah,” Jack grumbled, once again self-hugging.  “Tomorrow night.”

“So, we spoke with Jimmy's parents, and Mister Collingsworth is going to chaperone,” Daniel explained.

“CHAPERONE?  BUT, DADDY!” the teenager objected.

“It's him or Dad,” Daniel said quietly, raising his eyebrows and nodding at the girl, trying to convey the message that Mister Collingsworth would be much more preferable than her Special Ops older father.  When he saw just the glimmer of understanding on her part, he continued, “He'll be providing the transportation, but he won't be underfoot.  This isn't negotiable, Jen,” he added.  “You've been watching the news, so I know you are aware that there's been some ... unpleasantness.”

Jennifer sighed, knowing what Daniel was talking about.  Two teenage girls had been abducted and raped within the last six months, both taken from the parking lots of local malls.

Daniel continued, “So, you agree to our rules, or the date is off.”

“Okay, what are the rules?” Jennifer inquired, plopping down on her bed to listen.

“Well, we'll discuss them again later, but basically, Mister Collingsworth will drive you to the restaurant of your choice and make sure you two get inside safely.  Jimmy has a cell phone, just like you do, and a few minutes before you're ready to leave, he'll call his dad, who will make sure you two get to the theater.”

“So, he won't be eating with us?” the teen asked hopefully.

“Didn't I say he wouldn't be underfoot?” Daniel asked his lover.

“I do recall you saying that, Love,” Jack answered.

“Okay, okay,” Jennifer acknowledged.

The younger father continued, “You're on your own time schedule.  You and Jimmy can sit and chat, play the arcade, or watch the movie twice.  We don't care, but you are to be where we expect you to be.  When you're ready to leave, Jimmy will call, and Mister Collingsworth will bring you home.  No detours without his permission; no leaving the restaurant or the theater *unless* Jimmy's dad takes you.  You *know* what we're talking about.  If anything happens, you get sick, Mister Collingsworth's car breaks down, or … anything, you can always call home, and one of us will come and get you and Jimmy.”

Jack blurted out, “We're trusting you, Jennifer, but I mean what I say.  You can call me whatever you want, but if you break the rules, you will not be dating again for a very *long* time.”

Jack looked at Daniel.  He was half expecting his better half to object, but he smiled when Daniel simply nodded.

“Jack's right.  We've talked this over, and we're rewarding you for making very smart, responsible choices over the past year, but we won't take chances with your life or wellbeing, so it's the chaperone, or no go.  It's up to you,” Daniel stated.

Jennifer smiled and then said, “It's a go.”  She paused, shaking her head.  “Geez, a chaperone.  I'll never live it down.”

“But you'll live,” Jack said, arching his eyebrows and nodding his head pointedly at his daughter.

“Okay, Dad,” Jennifer agreed, nodding.

“It could be worse, Jen,” Daniel said.

“How?”

Daniel leaned forward and whispered, though not so softly that his lover couldn't hear, “Jack was threatening to follow you with his big, honkin' weapon.  I talked him out of it.”

“Dad, you wouldn't?”  The teenager watched her older father shrug and walk out of the room.  “Daddy, he wouldn't?”

Daniel gave her a kiss on the cheek and answered, “Follow the rules, Jen.  Happy birthday!”

Jennifer groaned as her younger father left the room.  Glancing at her watch, she picked up the phone and dialed.

“Sheila, I get to go out on a date with Jimmy tomorrow night!”

====

Daniel found Jack in his den, staring at the Jackson-O'Neill Tree of Love, his wedding present to Daniel at the time of their first wedding back in 2003.  It was full of photos of their family.  He looked at the one of Jennifer, David, and Chenoa, taken not long after they were adopted.

Going to Jack's side, Daniel put one arm around Jack's waist and then rested his head against Jack's shoulder.

“We can't keep her locked up,” Daniel gently told his husband.

“I said 'okay',” Jack snapped.

“I know.”

After taking a huge, audible breath, Jack said, “I'm sorry, Danny, I didn't mean to snap.  I'm just ...”

“Worried, but she's going to be fourteen, and we're not exactly giving her a free rein here.  She's our daughter, Jack.”

“It's dangerous out there.”

The dangers were obvious, but the parents knew they had to let go, just a little bit, as Jennifer grew up.  Daniel sighed, rubbed Jack's back, and kissed the side of his neck.

Jack chuckled in spite of himself, since Daniel had picked one of Jack's ticklish areas.

“Tease,” Jack accused lovingly.

Daniel laughed and focused again on their Tree of Love, telling his husband, “She'll be okay.  Jimmy's a nice boy.”

“He's fifteen, Daniel.  Don't you remember what it was like to be fifteen?” Jack barked.

Daniel looked down, trying to hide a laugh.  All things considered, he really didn't know.  He had spent his teenage years hidden in books, though, there was a point where curiosity and testosterone won out.

“Jack, how many times did you go to the home of a girl's parents and ask permission to date her?”

“That's beside the point,” Jack said, dismissing the point.

“Right.  It was a very brave thing for him to do,” Daniel stated.  Then he chuckled, “It was especially brave, since he was facing the 'General Jackson-O'Neill' stare.  Now, we already talked about this, and we agreed.  Jennifer knows what we expect, and we'll review it with her again tonight.”

Jack groaned.

“Jack, come on.  You had Sam check out the Collingsworths.  They're good people.”  Hearing a noise from the nursery, Daniel spoke, “The Munchkins are up.  Come on.”

“Danny,” Jack said, reaching out to take his spouse's hand.  “You're going to have to help me through this.  I'm sorry; I'm trying, but my natural instinct is to get the P-90 and not let anyone near her.”

Daniel nodded, then assured his spouse that, “We'll get through it.  Let's go.”

Jack took a deep breath and let Daniel pull him out of the den.  Then, he stopped suddenly.

“What?” Daniel questioned.

“Daniel.”

“Yes, Babe?”

“Maybe the Doc could give me a tranquilizer,” the general suggested.

“Oh, for crying out loud, Jack!”

Jack shrugged; then smiled nervously as the two went to tend to their other children.

====

The next day, several of the neighbors and their children were out enjoying a pleasant Saturday afternoon together.  The children had grouped together in front of the Jackson-O'Neill home, so their parents had also congregated near the front porch, visiting with Jack and Daniel while the children played, or more appropriately, conducted an impromptu meeting, spearheaded by Jonny.

“It only one gumdrop a day,” Jonny said to the group of children.

“No have money, but Mommy bought me new shoes; have old ones,” one youngster said.

Another added, “Aunt Harriet bought me yucky color shoes; give those.”

Aislinn interjected, “That okay, but I want give pretty things.”

“I no need gumdrops,” Little Danny decided.  “I give all 'lowance whole month.  Carrie need new shoes she like.”

“Jack, Daniel,” Mitzi Miller said.  “Do you have any idea what those kids are talking about?”

“Not a one,” Jack replied, watching the youngsters, who were standing next to the garden that ran parallel to the plant room.

“That scares me,” Shelly McClain commented.  “Any time my children are gathered round like that instead of playing, I begin to panic.”

Mitzi and her husband, John, lived next to Mrs. Valissi. They had three children, Max, age fourteen, six-year-old Calvin, who was part of the current huddle, and Linden, better known as Lindy.

Shelly McClain lived nearby with her significant other, Bob Stevens, and the couple had two children. River, a seven-year-boy, and Melinda, who was four and was also part of the assemblage of youngsters in the 'meeting'.

After a while, Jonny led the group over to where the parents were and announced, “We had meeting.”

“We all 'greed,” Little Danny added.

“Not easy, either,” one of the neighbor's children said, though quickly adding, “but it right thing.”

“Okay, young ones.  What was it you agreed on?” Mitzi asked curiously.

“We all give 'lowance; buy new shoes and toys for La'per's,” Jonny answered.

Mitzi smiled.  Grace Lapierre had already been hired, but hadn't started working yet because she still needed to get adequate daycare for her children, something that was still proving to be a stumbling block.

“You know what?  At the store, I can get the shoes at a discount, too,” Mitzi told them.

“Good shoes,” Jonny demanded.

“Good shoes,” Mitzi confirmed.  “Are you all sure?”

A bunch of nods was her answer, and then seriously, Little Danny stated, “We lucky; have lots.  Miss Froot Loops, but have next month.”

Mitzi wasn't sure what that meant except that she assumed it was a sacrifice.

“What are they talking about?” one of the other parents asked.

Not all the parents visiting there that day had been told about the Lapierres, but once they were, their hearts opened.

“I had no idea,” the parent said, having heard the tale of woe.  She looked at her daughter and said, “Lisa, let's go over here and talk for a minute.”

All the parents did the same, making sure their kids understood what they had agreed to.  All individually reaffirmed their commitment, and some even insisted on breaking into their piggy banks.  Of course, the parents were going to have to do a lot of filling in to make up the difference between the amount actually needed to honor the pledges and the total money donated by the children, but silently, each parent agreed to do so.

When the kids finally went back to play, Shelly asked Mitzi, “When does Grace start working?”

“As soon as she can find daycare for her kids.  We're holding the job open for her.”

“Jack?” Daniel asked.

“You've got to be kidding,” Jack responded.  ~He's not *that* crazy, I hope.~

“Not us, but maybe at the office,” Daniel suggested.

“Wait,” Shelly interrupted.  “How about we do a co-op for a month or two?” she asked, looking around at the various adults present.

“Shelly, you're a genius,” Carl Rameriz, one of the other neighbors said.  “Stop with the funny looks,” he spoke in response to the amused faces.  “It's a great idea.  I'm off for a week, so I can help Maria.  I'm sure she won't mind.”

“And I can take them for a couple of hours every day,” Shelly stated confidently since she regularly worked part time.

“I bet a lot of the parents would help out.  We could make a schedule,” Daniel suggested.  “Jack?”

“We're in,” Jack confirmed with a nod.

“It's only for two months,” Mitzi said.  “We can make that work.”  Then she added, “I don't know if we mentioned it, but Jack convinced the contractor doing their renovation to hire Stu.  He's started already, hasn't he?”

“Yes, he has, and he's doing well from what I've heard,” Jack answered.

“Why couldn't they get their house back?” Carl asked curiously.

“Government,” Jack said with disdain.  “They wouldn't give them any more time.”

“But now they won't owe anything on their new home,” Daniel pointed out.  “This is really giving them a chance for a clean start.”

“Wouldn't I like to have one of those,” Mitzi chimed, shaking her head.

“Do they need anything else?” Carl inquired.

“Well ...”

Suddenly, the Jackson-O'Neill's neighborhood was alight with excitement at helping others, people who were essentially strangers to them, and it had all begun with one young boy whose heart cried for a little girl's sadness.

Jack looked over at Little Danny and sighed.  It had all begun with his caring.  Because of the sensitive child, the Lapierres had a home without a mortgage and new jobs.  Now, they were also being gifted with various necessities of life that would take them from a near homeless state to one of a hopeful and secure future.

~All because of you, Son,~ the general thought before being drawn back into the parents' conversation.

====

“Jack, stop looking at your watch,” the archaeologist ordered, tired of seeing his husband glance at his wrist every two minutes.  “And stop pacing.  You'll wear out the carpet.”

Looking down, the older man responded, “We'll get new carpet.”

“Jack!”

Jennifer and Jimmy were out on their big date, and Jack was having a hard time not being a spy.

“Come on, Love,” Daniel spoke, putting aside the personnel files he'd been reviewing and standing up.  “We haven't had a chance to talk to David about homeschooling.  Now's a good time.”

“Daniel ...”

“Now's a good time,” Daniel repeated forcefully, reaching out for his lover's hand.

“Dictator,” Jack whined as he put his hand in his soulmate's.

“Just call me Dick,” Daniel chuckled as the two headed up the stairs.

====

“David, we'd like to talk with you,” Jack and Daniel said, entering the boy's room as the youngster was doing his homework.

“Sure,” the boy said, putting down his pen and swiveling his desk chair around to face his parents, who both sat down at the foot of David's bed.

“We've made a decision about the Munchkins and the twins, and also for Noa, but we're going to let you and Jen decide for yourselves what you prefer to do,” Daniel explained.

“What is it, Daddy?”

“Son,” Jack began, “I don't know if you've noticed about Little Danny and how he ...”  He grumbled, unhappy with himself.  Neither he nor Daniel wanted to single out any of their children from the others, nor did they want labels attached to them.  He realized he may have started the conversation from the wrong angle.  ~It's that Collingsworth kid; he's distracting me.~

“You mean that he's a brain,” David commented.

Daniel sighed, shrugging slightly as he responded, “Well ...”

“Come on, Daddy.  He's a toddler, and sometimes he's smarter than me, and I'm ... well, I'm not so dumb myself,” David admitted shyly, adding, “so it's kinda obvious about Little Danny, you know?”

“I guess it is,” Daniel said softly.  “The point is, all of you are very intelligent, and we've been struggling to determine how best to help you, all of you, achieve your potential, in all areas.”

“David, what's important to your daddy and me is that all of you balance education and play,” Jack spoke straightforwardly.

Daniel quickly interjected, “And we want you to be together.  I mean, the triplets and the twins.  I'm not saying this well.  How'd I ever get to be a linguist?”

Jack chuckled and put his arm around Daniel's waist as he placed a kiss on his cheek while answering, “You just care so much, Danny, that you want it to be right, and sometimes, you over-correct.”

“You mean I get paranoid?” Daniel clarified.

“Something like that,” Jack responded.  Then he returned his attention back to David.  Leaning forward with his hands clapped together, he continued.  “In school, Little Danny, and maybe some of the others, might not get the attention they need.  The school will probably want to move one of them ahead, and not the others, or put them all in different grades.”

“You could put them in private school, like me,” David suggested earnestly.

“Yes, we could,” Daniel acknowledged, nodding twice in agreement.  “The problem with that, though, is there would still be more separation than we'd like, and ...”  He paused, looking at Jack.  “Frankly, David, the focus would be too much on IQ.  I've been there, and I don't want you to think your IQ is the be-all and end-all of everything, and I think that could be a problem, especially for Little Danny.”

“I know what you mean.”

“You do?” Daniel asked, a little surprised.

“Like when I was all wrapped up in that report, and you made me stop and play with the trains,” David recalled.

Daniel smiled warmly, pleased the boy genius did understand.

“Exactly.  Son, I learned the hard way that education will get you far, but if that's all you have ...”  The archaeologist paused again, looking at Jack, and when he continued, his voice was soft, full of emotion.  “Well, if that's all you have, then you don't really have much at all.”

“I understand, I think,” David responded.

“Good.”

Jack continued, “Okay, so what Daddy and I have decided is that we'd like to do is homeschool your younger brothers and sisters.”

“Homeschool?  Wow!” David said, impressed by the idea.

“With J-O Enterprises, and the traveling we need to do in the future, it will be more convenient, too,” Daniel added.  “There ... are just a lot of plusses to it.”

“But, David, whether we homeschool you, or you stay at your current school is up to you.  You've made a lot of friends at school, and we know you like your teachers, so we don't want to pull you out unless it's what you want,” the older man put forth.

“In fact,” Daniel added, “if you want to try homeschooling, but don't like it, we'll let you go back to the private school, but you don't have to try it, if you don't want to.”

“And you don't have to decide right now, either” Jack stated.  “It's an important decision.”

“Okay, I'll think about it,” David promised.

“Good,” Jack said.  “We'll be making the same offer to Jen tonight when she gets home.”

David let out a snort and mumbled something as he laughed.

“What's so funny?” Jack asked.

“Jen ... leave all those boys, especially now that you let her actually date one of them?  I don't think so!”

Jack and Daniel exchanged a look, shook their heads at the truthfulness of the comment, and left the room.

====

“Well, that sounds ... interesting.”

Jack laughed, “Jen, we just want you to know you have the option.”

The teenager smiled, but said firmly, “I'd really rather stay in public school, if that's okay.”

“Boys,” Daniel sighed.

Jennifer's smile was unmistakable.  Her first date had been a delight, and she was still beaming from the adventure.

“Nothing personal, Daddy, but you're already taken,” the teen replied with a broad smile.

Jack laughed as he leaned over and gave Jennifer a kiss, saying, “Just remember, if you ever do want to give it a try, you can.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

As the parents walked to the door, Jack stopped and looked over at the maturing young girl.

“You had a good time?” Jack asked softly.

Jennifer walked over to her older father and placed a kiss on his cheek.  Then she gave him a big hug.

When she pulled back, the teenager spoke tenderly, “I'll always be your daughter, Dad.”

Jack smiled, caressing her cheek.  He nodded, then backed away and began down the stairs.

“Yours, too, Daddy,” Jennifer spoke.

“I know, Jen.  You know he's gonna have a hard time as you get older,” Daniel stated.

With a confident smile, the girl responded, “I can handle him.”

“I'll remind you that you said that when he grounds you for kissing a boy,” Daniel chuckled and then turned.  He was going to move forward when a horrid thought jumped out at him.  Quickly, he faced his daughter again and began, “Jen, you ...”

“Daddy, no!  I don't kiss on the first date.”

“I would hope that you're not kissing at all,” the archaeologist opined.  “Right,” he spoke dryly when the girl just smiled at him.  “Night, Jen.”

“Goodnight, Daddy,” Jennifer chuckled as she closed the door to her room.

====

“What took you so long?” Jack asked when his husband finally caught up to him in the kitchen.

“Just talking with Jen,” Daniel answered.

Suddenly, Jack let out a laugh.  He pursed his lips together as he grinned, lost in some past thought.

“What?” Daniel inquired curiously.

“I remember back at Molly's shelter, you were considered ... hot!”

“I was?” Daniel asked.  After a moment, he cocked his head and asked with a devilish smile, “Well, aren't I?”

“Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, are you trying to start something?”

Daniel backed away two steps, teased, “Not trying, doing,” and then took off running through the house.

Jack gave chase, the two men actually running down the hallway, back into the kitchen, through the dining nook, and then into the living room before the general caught his archaeologist near the sofa.

“Caught ya!” the victorious silver fox exclaimed.

“Because I wanted you to,” Daniel said slyly.

Jack lowered the two to the sofa where they kissed, and kissed, and kissed before their passion became too strong and they adjourned to their bedroom and made love.

====

“Jen, remember ...” Jack began, looking intently into his daughter's eyes.

“I know, Dad. I'm representing Earth, and they don't understand video games or rap music on Uchia,” the teenager responded, feeling a tad annoyed at the reminder. ~I've been doing these for a little while now. Geeeeez.~

“But they do understand teenagers,” Daniel said.  “This will be the first real test of your idea, Jen; I mean, with a new ally.  The Uchen are friends of the Hedronix and the Nox, so it's very important that we do our jobs well.”

“You're giving me a lot of trust,” the teenager responded.

“You deserve it,” Jack said.  “The exchanges we've done with our allies on the Land of Light and Hedry have been very beneficial.”

“And so will this one,” Jennifer said confidently.

The teenager had gone through the Stargate three times thus far, so this would be her fourth trip, and the first to a brand new world.  It was a place Jack and Daniel had been to twice, and having been assured of the Uchen loyalty and honor system by the Hedronix and the Nox, they weren't really worried about allowing Jennifer to visit the planet and speak to the teens there about Earth.  If things went well, they'd arrange an exchange with one or two of the Uchen teenagers.

Daniel had gone over the customs of Uchia in great detail with Jennifer over the last few weeks.  This was really her biggest test to date, and she was bearing a great deal of responsibility for the success of the mission.

SG-1, plus one, walked through the Stargate to the sunny world of Uchia.

“Wow, it's like walking into a rainbow,” Jennifer commented.

“Like Oz,” Jack added.

The sky was a luscious violet color and featured two moderately-sized suns, one orange and one red.  Palm-like trees with narrow trunks that were shades of purple and yellow lined a pink and white colored road.  On their first visit to the planet, Daniel hadn't been able to stop Jack from singing, 'Follow the pink'n'white Road'.

Scattered among the trees were bushes with weeping willow-type branches, their strands varying colors of yellow, gold, silver, green, and fuchsia.  The tips of each bush had a fuzzy one-inch ball of edible fruit on it.  The fruit was called rima and tasted a bit like oranges.

“What's this ground made of?” Jennifer asked, bending down to touch it.  “It looks like clay, but it feels like satin.”

“They call it lentack.  It's a smooth surface that apparently can't be damaged for at least one hundred years.  They say you can do your best, but it's so strong that not even a jackhammer can dent it until its natural erosion begins,” Daniel explained, then adding, “not that they have jackhammers here, but that's what the scientific team put into their report, which is neither here nor there.”

Daniel smiled, sensing he had been on the verge of launching into a very long explanation of something that really needed nothing but a simple response.

“In a hundred years, Daddy?”  Daniel nodded.  “Wow.”

“Okay, we'd better get going.  Teal'c, lead the way.”

The group would have a thirty-five minute walk before reaching the main city, Fesma, which was the closest city to the Stargate.

====

Halfway there, Jennifer scooted up to walk alongside Teal'c.  He glanced over at her, seeing her at his side.

“JenniferJacksonO'Neill, is there something you wish to discuss?” Teal'c asked, seeing the serious look on the girl's face.

“Well, uh, actually, yes, Teal'c,” Jennifer responded, looking up into the Jaffa's dark eyes.

“I am, as O'Neill says, all ears.”

Jennifer chuckled at the comment and then explained, “Well, I feel duty bound to ask this.”

“Then you must ask,” Teal'c stated in a straight-forward manner.

“Well, it's because I'm the oldest.  I have responsibilities,” Jennifer said, momentarily looking down at the ground as they walked.

“I understand.”

Clearing her throat and looking sideways so she could stare straight into the tall alien's eyes, Jennifer asked, “Teal'c, exactly what are your intentions towards Chenoa?”

Teal'c actually stopped walking.  Turning to face the teenager, who looked deadly serious, Teal'c raised both eyebrows.

Jennifer tried to hold it in, but she just couldn't stand it anymore.  The more Teal'c stared, the worse it got until finally an eruption of laughter flowed from her.

“Oh, Teal'c, you should see the look on your face,” the teenager said as she burst into a roar of laughter, a roar quickly followed by Jack's hysterics as well.

“Jack,” Daniel said, poking his elbow into his husband's side.

“I've wanted to ask that for so long,” Jack laughed, sounding more and more like a hyena every second.

“Oh, come on.  You put Jen up to it, Jack, and you know it,” Daniel said, trying not to smile.

“That would be my guess,” Sam deduced.

Teal'c looked at the group, which had now caught up with him.  Jennifer was having a full-tilt laughing attack, and Jack was still snickering.  Daniel was trying not to laugh, but not succeeding very well, and Sam was smiling brightly.

“My intentions are ... honorable,” Teal'c said, nodding his head, and then proceeding down the road with quiet dignity.

“Good girl, Jen,” Jack said, patting her on the back as they continued their trek.

====

Jennifer took a deep breath, telling herself, ~I can do this.~  She walked up the steps of the stage.  Waiting to greet her and SG-1 were Miska, best described as the mayor of the town, his associate Nimbu, and Tamla, a teenager chosen to represent the young people of Fesma.  Stopping exactly three-feet in front of them, Jennifer nodded, waited two seconds, and then dropped to her knees.  With her head bowed, she said, “We, the people of the Tau'ri, are honored to visit your kind city of Fesma.  Peace unto all of us.”

**That was perfect.  Wasn't it, Danny?  I mean, she was perfect, right?** Jack asked as SG-1 followed the teenager's lead and knelt down.

Jack was beaming with pride at the successful greeting their daughter had just done.

**Perfect, Babe!**

**That's our girl!**

“We, the people of Fesma, welcome the Tau'ri as our honored guests.  Peace unto all of us,” Miska said, a smile on his face.

Jennifer rose, as did the members of SG-1, and then the introductions were made.  Miska led the way into the meeting hall.  It was an odd-looking building, seven stories tall, the smallest floor on the bottom. It was like an inverted pyramid, with the widest floor on the top, braced up by columns.

“This is an interesting building structure,” Jennifer observed as they approached the hall.  I've never seen one built like this before.”

Nimbu explained, “It is a reminder that we are the small, and She Above is the wiser.”

“She Above?” Jennifer inquired.

“Our creator.  We do not use the top floors, only the bottom two.”

Jack cocked his head as he observed the building.  He shook his head in uncertainty and asked, “Then why build them?”

“A tribute, a reminder,” Nimbu answered.

“To ... She Above,” Daniel deduced.

“Yes.”

Jennifer noted, “We have sacred places; sometimes we call them holy places, where no one can enter, or only those specially chosen can.”

“You must share more of that with Tamla and the others.  It is important to understand how we are different,” Miska requested courteously.

“And the same,” Jennifer said, a smile on her face.

Miska smiled and nodded; then he looked at Jack and Daniel and said of their daughter, “She is wise.”

**Yes!** Jack exclaimed to his husband as he beamed even more at Jennifer's success thus far.

**Calm down, Jack.**

**What, you aren't excited?**

**I'm about ready to explode, but we have to be calm here.**

**Sometimes, Danny, you're no fun.**

After some preliminary discussion, Jennifer walked with Tamla to the podium at the front of the room.  They chatted for a few minutes, and then the room filled with several teenagers and their parents.  Miska reminded them why they were meeting and introduced SG-1.  Then, he turned the meeting over to Jennifer.

A bit nervously at first, the teenager walked to the podium.  She started to speak, but then she backed away.

**Oh no.  Danny, what's wrong?**

**Jack, will you please calm down?  Look.**

Jennifer moved in front of the podium and walked to the edge of the platform that was the stage.

“Hi, my name is Jennifer, and I'm from a place called Earth.  You folks know us as the Tau'ri.  I, uh, hope you don't mind me talking to you from here instead of from behind there, but the idea is for us to be friends, and to talk.  This isn't a lecture or school.  Actually, I don't even know if you understand our concept of school.  For us, school is what we call a place of education.  Children go to schools while they grow up.  I'm still in school.  Do you have ... school?” she asked a bit nervously.

The citizens looked at each other, trying to understand.

Finally, one member of the audience stood up and asked, “Education is learning?”

“Yes.  Learning -- history, science, math, reading, art, sports.”

“We have education.  It is called Umia.  We must go for three cycles of our ... grow up?” the person responded.

Jennifer smiled and asked, “Cycles?  We have years, divided into days ...”

Jack and Daniel smiled at the way in which Jennifer was communicating with the inhabitants.  They listened with pride for forty minutes as she talked with, not to, those present.

“So, what we're hoping, is that a few of you would like to come and visit our world for a weekend; that's, uh, two or three of our days.  It would be a ... sunla, for you,” Jennifer said, having learned a bit about how the Uchen divided their time.  “And at the same time, we're hoping that you would extend the warm honor and graciousness that you've shown us today to a few of my friends.  We could learn so much more about each other.  Of course, we'd have to make a few arrangements.  For example, we need sleep to function, so we'd have to beg your patience as we rested for part of your day, and those who visited us, would have to be tolerant of that as well, but we could arrange things for you to do while the host families slept.  There's always something going on.”

The room buzzed, and Tamla moved to stand by Jennifer.  The two females shared a smile.

Then, enthusiastically, Tamla stated, “I, for one, wish to ask the honor of my parents for permission to visit the Tau'ri.”

Tamla's words opened the floodgates to many of Fesma's teenagers who wished to participate in the program.

====

Two hours later, it was time to leave.

Jennifer bowed down and again followed protocol, saying, “We, the people of the Tau'ri, have been welcomed with heart and honor.  We thank you and would be pleased to come again.  Peace unto all of us.”

Miska nodded as Jennifer looked up.  He extended his hand to her, helping her up.

With a smile, Miska responded, “We, the citizens of Fesma, on behalf of our world, thank you for your spirit and your honor.  Come again.  Peace unto all of us.”

With final good-byes and nods, SG-1, plus one, headed back to the Stargate.

“Jen,” Daniel said as they walked.

“Yes, Daddy.”

“We're very proud of you.  You did great,” Daniel praised, helping his daughter's self-esteem to jump about three levels, as evidenced by her happy and positively beaming expression.

“Great?  You were fan*tas*tic!” Jack retorted.

Jennifer beamed even brighter, her step light and free, as they continued their walk.

====

Standing at the edge of their driveway the following morning, Daniel held his namesake in his arms and said, “See that, Son.  This is all because of you, because you cared.  I'm very proud of you.”

“They put house back 'gether?” Little Danny asked.

“Yes, just like we showed you.  We can go watch when they get all three pieces there.  Would you like that?”

Little Danny grinned as he nodded.  He looked back as the truck began to pull the first big section of what used to be the McLamore house away.  It was headed to a lot about twenty minutes away that Abayomi's company had purchased.

“We all helped, Daddy,” Little Danny commented after a while.

“Because of you, Sproglet.  You convinced Dad and me that someone needed to care, that we had something to give that Carrie's family needed.  Then I convinced Abayomi that he could help someone, too; and then Dad convinced the contractor that he could help as well.”

“Jonny convince kids!”

“That's right, and then the kids convinced their parents.  Do you understand, Little Danny?  One person, you, cared sooooo much, that it started a great big chain of events, and because of that, one family has a new start.  It's all because of you, that you cared.  I'm very proud of you, very proud.”

Little Danny lay his head against Daniel's shoulder as the truck moved out of view.  He felt warm inside.  Giving was so easy.  He wanted to do it again.  His young mind was trying to understand all the words his daddy had just spoken, but even if his mind didn't comprehend them all yet, his heart did.

====

The rest of the day had been full for the Jackson-O'Neills.  They'd taken Little Danny to see the McLamore house at the new property, and then they'd had a big party for Jennifer that evening since today was her actual birthday.  The archaeologist had noted, however, that his general had been a little bit on the subdued side.  He'd partied hard with the rest of the family, but there was something bothering him.  Daniel was certain of it.

Very late that night, Daniel slowly crept up behind his lover, intending to ensnare him in an embrace.

Jack was watching the Munchkins sleep, something both men did often, but tonight, he was hugging himself, the way Daniel used to do.  Not only that, but tears were silently streaming down his face.  He looked in the room from the doorway and looked down, hugging himself even tighter, as if he couldn't look anymore.

Puzzled, Daniel encircled his Love in his arms from behind and whispered, “Hey, Jack, what's wrong?”

Jack just stared and mutely shook his head as more tears fell.

“C'mon, they're fine, Love.  Let's go to our room where we can be alone and talk,” the younger man suggested.

Jack pressed his lips, closed his eyes tightly, and managed a couple of jerks of his head up and down.

Once inside their private sanctuary, Daniel didn't question his soulmate; instead, he pulled him close and whispered, “It's okay, I'm here.”

Jack's head dropped to his lover's shoulder, and his sobs were audible now.

All Daniel could do was rub his partner's back and murmur, “That's it; let it all out; I love you, Babe.”

~Get a grip,~ Jack told himself after a few minutes of being comforted by his husband.  He looked his lover in the eye and asked, “I don't suppose you'd believe me if I said nothing's wrong?”

“As much as I'd believe you hate Froot Loops,” Daniel answered.  “Tell me,” he requested.

Jack sighed and sat down on the bed, hunched over.  He patted the space next to him for Daniel to sit down.

“Jack?”

“Okay, okay, it's Little Danny.”

“He's fine,” Daniel assured.  “He's great, in fact.  He is so excited about Carrie getting the McLamore's house.  He loved watching them move it and put it back together.”  Smiling, he pointed out, “You're an even bigger hero to him now.”

“I know, Danny, and that's just it,” Jack said, his hand rubbing his hair distractedly.

“What's it?  I don't understand.”

Jack sighed, a deep sigh that said he was out of tears for the moment.

“Danny, our Little Danny is so special; all our kids are, but his heart is something else.  I'll never understand how that little heart of his can hold more love than any six adults.”

“Yeah, he feels things deeply,” Daniel sighed, being both pleased and concerned at the same time.

“And that's why I'm afraid for him.  You know this better than anyone, Angel.  The world just isn't kind to people like him.  He's just like you in a mini-you way.”

“A mini-me?” Daniel teased lightly.

“He's a pint-sized caped avenger, shaking that tiny fist at every injustice and unkindness he sees in the world.  He can't fix everything, Danny; neither can I.”

The light bulb snapped on in Daniel's mind, and he was suddenly aware of exactly what had made Jack so upset.

“So this is about you not being able to fix everything and having to disappoint him some day?”  Daniel had a closed smile on his face, one that spoke of love and understanding.  “Come here, Babe,” he lured, pulling his unresisting Special Ops general over to him.

Jack had always been Daniel's personal 'Mr. Fix-it', and now, he was that to their entire brood.  It was a heavy responsibility.

“You've never disappointed me,” Daniel stated.  “Somehow, you've always found a way to make things better.”

“I'm glad you feel that way, but this situation is a little different,” Jack insisted.

“It's not just me anymore, but eight children, too,” Daniel responded in understanding.

“I'm not complaining; I wouldn't change a thing,” Jack spoke with an airiness in his voice.

“Whatever the future holds for us, Jack, we'll face it together.”

“I know we will.  It's just that I look at that tiny, innocent little boy, and I realize that out of all the things we've faced together -- the System Lords, Kinsey, the NID, Replicators, all the nasty bad guys out there -- out of all those nightmares, what I dread more than anything is that one day I'll have to look at that precious little soul and say, 'I'm sorry, Son, but I can't fix it.'  It's bound to happen.  I can't keep fixing everything forever.”

“Who says you have to?” Daniel questioned.  “Jack, we never knew if we were going to succeed or not.  We've taken everything as it came up, dealing with it as best we could, and depending on no one but each other, and, uh, Sam and Teal'c, of course.  We did the best we could, and somehow it's always been enough.  You, we, succeeded this time.  What a miracle we have in our brood.”

“They're growing up, Angel, taking on their own identities and fighting for what they want.”

“That's what scares you,” Daniel deduced perceptively.

“They're our kids; I want to keep them safe.”

“They are.  Our brood is together, warm, safe, and, most important of all, they know that there are people who care, and they are passing that on, just like we hoped they would, and as a result, a family that would have become one more statistic now has a home; that counts for something.  I'm so glad Stu didn't let his pride get in the way of accepting help for his family.”

“I'm so proud of how our kids pulled this off,” Jack said, his eyes twinkling with approval.

“Me, too.  I do know what you mean about Little Danny, Jack.  He gave us the courage and the inspiration to change the world, for one family.  That's just as important as saving it in my book.”

“He's going to get hurt, Danny.  Someday, someone is going to slam the door in his face,” Jack said discouragingly.

“Probably, but he'll never be alone.  Either we, or his brothers and sisters, will be around to help him through it.  Getting hurt occasionally is a part of life, and it's a life he never would have had without us.  Don't you see that *you* started this whole series of events because you wanted me to be happy in the only real home I've ever known?”

Jack let out a deep breath and said, “All I ever wanted, Danny, was for you to be happy.”

“Gawd, am I happy!  Mission accomplished, General.  It took a ton of patience, more effort than anyone could ever have imagined, and a bunch of years, but you succeeded.  I still remember when you brought home Bij and Katie, and how we sat out on the lawn, and for the first time, I looked around, and everything was so perfect.  It was the first time I realized that I was happy ... all the time, not just in scattered pieces, and that's all because of you, My Love.”

“I'd do it all over again,” Jack promised.

“You are, and you do; every day with our children.  Jack, our children are who they are because of who we are.  We've taught them to believe in themselves, to use logic, but to follow their hearts.  Little Danny is very tender-hearted because he can be.  He has more love in his little life than ... than a roomful of adults, and he has us to protect him.  He knows if he falls down, we'll be there to pick him up.  Not many people get the chance to grow up surrounded by that kind of love.  I didn't, not after my parents died.”

“Or Charlie.”

“Fate steps in, and changes things; we can't control that, but we can try and shape their lives while they're young and make sure they're not just learning, but having fun.”

Jack couldn't help but let out a little happy snort.

“Imagine that, Daniel Jackson-O'Neill talking about children having fun and not just keeping their noses in books,” the older man teased.

“I've learned a lot, from you.”  Daniel kissed the side of Jack's neck and then sighed.  “Let Little Danny enjoy it, Jack, and let's enjoy him.  The monsters he sees are not nearly as bad as the monsters we've had to face.  That's why we fought so hard to save this crazy mixed-up planet, so our brood and other children like them could have a chance to make it better.”  Smiling, and with a bit of pride, he added, “We've done good, Jack, we've done real good.”

Jack gazed into his heart's eyes.  He felt like another weight had just been lifted from his shoulders.

“Do you ever not know just what to say?” Jack asked, amazed at how his lover could always make him feel so cherished and loved.

“Well, I don't know about that, but I do know when to shut up; and, uh, Babe, I have something for you to fix, and believe me, only you can fix this!”

With that, Daniel kissed his lover deeply and started tugging his shirt off.  The time for verbal communication was over, but the time for touching, fondling, and sharing physically was just beginning.

“Just call me your fix-it man,” Jack said, his heart and soul renewed by Daniel's strength, love, and belief in him.

“Hmm, fix me, Love, fix me.”

====

Three hours later, the lovers were enjoying the aftermath of their union.  It was one of those times when Daniel was the pillow and Jack was the blanket.  Gently, the younger man's fingers caressed Jack's back in soothing circles, moving up and down the range of Jack's back, almost like a massage.

“Jack?”

“Love you, Danny,” Jack said as his right hand rubbed gently against Daniel's left side.

“I don't really mean to, but I realize now that I've come to expect your Mr. Fix-it to fix, well, everything.”

“I like fixing things for you,” Jack responded as he smiled and then placed a kiss against the smooth skin.

“But it's just not me anymore, Babe, and that's the problem.  I expect you to fix everything, and sub-consciously, or maybe even consciously, my faith in you ... no, faith isn't the right word ... my expectation that you'll fix everything is being passed on to our children.  They know I rely on you; they sense it, and they can see it.  I'm sorry, Jack, it's not fair to you that I expect you to solve everything.”

“Danny,” Jack said, raising himself up to look into his soulmate's eyes, “I want to fix things.”

Daniel smiled, and the palms of his hands traced Jack's skin, up the length of his back to his neck.  They slid around, his thumbs caressing the edge of Jack's cheeks.

“I like it, too, but it's not right for me to expect it with such certainty that now you expect it, too.  Jack, you're stressing yourself out trying to make everything perfect, not just for me, but for our brood.  I ...”

“I can't stop, Danny,” Jack interrupted, looking intensely at Daniel and shaking his head.  “Protecting you and the kids means making you happy and ...”

“You make me happy by loving me.  Look, all I'm saying is that I don't want you to ... to ... Jack, stress isn't good for you.”

Jack pulled back just a tad, realizing Daniel was worried in more ways than the obvious, and responded, “Angel, I'm in perfect health, except for the knees, and they aren't even acting up these days.”

“And I want you to stay that way,” Daniel said with a small voice.  “I love you, and I need you, and ... Jack, I think I'll always expect you to fix it, no matter what *it* is at the time, even knowing that I shouldn't.  It's just ... I do, and you do, and it's just too hard to let go of that.  But I need you to promise me that you won't put pressure on yourself that isn't there.”

Jack sighed as he moved his head back down to its resting position, enjoying the sound of Daniel's heartbeat as it beat soundly.

“Danny, I don't ...”

“Yes, you do, and here's the prime example.  Jack, I needed you desperately to find a solution so we didn't have to move.  Gawd, you did it, and that has filled me with such peace that I can't even describe it, but, Babe, the layout of the new house, what furniture we get, where to put what room -- all of that ... mess -- those decisions are just that, decisions.  I don't need you to 'fix' a decision.  I need you to help me make it, but it's not the end of the world if this room or that room isn't quite what we imagined, or if we make a mistake and buy something that doesn't fit the design.  Do you understand what I'm trying to say?”

“You love me,” Jack spoke quietly.

“More than life.  Be my fix-it man, Jack, but don't make Mr. Fix-it overwork himself, okay?  I mean, I need him more often than I'd like to admit, so I want him to rest and let go of the small stuff.  Promise me, Jack.  Please, promise me.”

Jack repositioned himself so that he was more atop his lover now.  He placed another kiss at the center of Daniel's chest and began to work his way down.

“Jack, I'm ...”

“Angel,” Jack interrupted, looking up at his husband.  “Thank you.  I get it.  Mr. Fix-it comes out for the things that matter, and for the rest of it, we ... discuss.” With a grin, he expressed zestily, “I love you, forever and always.”

“Forever and always, I love you, Jack,” Daniel said, his eyes moist.

“Now, it's not Mr. Fix-it, but Mr. Fix-it's stand-in, and he needs to attend to some business.  Any objections?”

“Gawd, no, and, uh, hurry!”

Jack smiled and began another, unexpected, but pleasurable round of lovemaking.

====

“How'd it go today?” Jack asked as he stood by the truck in front of David's school.

“It was great.  Mrs. Campton said I could do my final project on geological formations and their water-bearing characteristics for rocks in this area.  I'll have to do a lot of research, Dad.  Can we take some trips to the mountains so I can compare?”

“Sure.  Let's go ...”

“General Jackson-O'Neill,” Principal Deavers called out, checking the drive before crossing to where Jack and David were standing by the truck.  “I wanted to talk with you, if you have a few minutes.”

With his hand on David's shoulder, Jack nodded, and the three returned to the man's office.

With David waiting in the outer office, Deavers talked to Jack about the earlier incident where David had been beaten up by five boys.

“All of the boys have been identified and their parents have all been in for meetings.  We've expelled one of the boys because his attitude was unrepentant, as were those of his parents.  The other four have been put on probation.  As you know, we're a private school and operate a bit differently from a regular school.  The four boys realize that the slightest infraction over the next year will result in their expulsion as well.”

“That's it?  They beat my kid up, and your way of dealing with it is a slap on the wrist?” Jack asked, his blood pressure rising.

“No.  The boys will be working around the school over the summer, essentially giving up much of their free time to work on the campus.  We have some rooms in need of a paint job, and there's always cleaning.  In addition, each child is writing a formal letter of apology to David.”

“Right,” Jack responded sarcastically.

“General, they're boys.”

“They *beat* up my son,” Jack argued loudly.

“I realize that.  What is it you'd have me to do?”

Jack sighed and shook his head.  Deavers continued talking about the boys, his meetings with the parents, and the boys' community-like service that they'd be performing over the summer.

Finally, Jack asked the big question in his mind.

“I want to make sure David is safe.  What are you doing about that?” Jack challenged, holding Deavers captive with intense eye contact until the man couldn't stand it anymore and looked down to answer the question.

“We're doing all we can to ...”

“Why has it taken you so long to act on this?  You knew that day who was involved; you said as much.”

“That's correct, but the Board had to be consulted and ...”

“Consulted and what?” Jack snapped.

“General, this isn't an easy situation; it takes time to decide upon the best course of action.”

“To keep the enrollment status quo,” Jack dared in accusation.

“I don't know what you mean.”

“Sure, you do.  Why were those boys allowed to gang up on him in the first place?”

“That wasn't exactly ...”

Jack cut off the principal as he asked pointedly, “What I'd really like to know is what would have happened to those boys if they had attacked David because of ethnic differences?”

“I'm not sure what you're getting at, General, but if it's what I think, I'm not impressed.”

“I'm not here to impress you, Deavers.  What I want to know is what you would have done if Daniel and I were Jewish, Hispanic, Afro-American, anything other than Anglo-Saxon Caucasian?  What would the response toward those boys and their parents have been?  Tell me that.”

Taking Jack's words as the personal affront that they were, Deavers replied, “We don't tolerate any sort of bigotry here.”

Jack snorted, “Yes, you do, and you *are* tolerating it.  I refuse to believe that not one teacher or teacher's aide saw what happened to him.  David was assaulted because of the assumptions people make about Daniel and me, and the faculty here turned a blind eye because they either don't approve or are afraid of losing popularity with some of the other parents if they stand up for us and our children.”

“And who is making assumptions now, General?”

“Prove me wrong.  All you have to do is make me understand how this slap-on-the-hand punishment these children are receiving and those insincere letters of apology deal with the real issue.  Go on -- show me!”

“We've handled the situation the best we can under the circumstances,” Deavers insisted.

“Geez, you're so full of it,” Jack said, turning his body slightly towards the door and bringing his right hand up to run through his hair.  “I have a sinking feeling that the kids who did this belong to influential families at this school.”

“I resent that.”

“Tell me who they are,” Jack requested.

“The Board doesn't feel ...”

“Principal Deavers, we could press charges.”

Deavers hesitated, but only for a moment.  He knew he had to stop the Jackson-O'Neills from going forward with any kind of lawsuit, or the resulting publicity would be a nightmare for the school.  He decided to try and turn the tables a bit.

“And how does that help your son as he continues here at the school?  You have to consider David and how he'd be looked upon if you make this situation worse, General.”

~Oh no you don't.  You're not playing in the minor leagues here,~ Jack thought as he took two steps towards the man.  “You're such a hypocrite.  You wouldn't excuse this aggression by shrugging your shoulders and saying, 'They're boys,' if it had been committed against the children of any other, what should I say, minority?  Daniel and I do not remotely resemble what most people define as gay.  We're totally committed to each other and have been completely faithful to each other for the ten-plus years we've been together.  Got any kids here screwed up by divorce, Principal Deavers?” he inquired.

Deavers squirmed.  The divorce rate had done nothing but rise over the years.  He knew the man in front of him was right.  The Jackson-O'Neills had one of the closest knit and healthiest families in the private school.  In fact, searching his mind for friends and families, at least sixty-percent of them were divorced.  He didn't like the accusation, and his defenses heightened as he tried to skirt the issue.
 
“Again, we have excellent staffing which ...”

“In the classroom, but not outside it.”

“Our policy is ...”

“Your policy stinks!” Jack informed him.  He turned around and walked out of Deavers' office.  Seeing David sitting quietly in one of the chairs in the outer office, he walked over to him, gently laid a hand on his shoulder, and said quietly, “Let's go home, Son.”

Not looking back at Deavers, Jack followed his eldest son out of the office.

“Is everything okay, Dad?”

“Hard question to answer, David.”

“You don't like Principal Deavers, do you?”

“I don't know the man well enough to know whether or not I like him, but I do know I don't like the politics behind this place.  We can talk about it some more at home, if you want.”

“Okay, Dad.”

====

“... so the Morrison Formation is very distinct, Dad.  You can tell it's the Morrison by its gray, purple, and green color scheme and its slope-forming habit.  The Grand Monocline at Colorado National Monument is an example of it.  It's really important because ...”

“David, I'd like to talk to you about something,” Jack said, interrupting his son's oration on his school project.

“Sure, Dad.  What?”

“The choice is still yours, but have you thought about homeschooling?”

David sighed, “I don't want to run away.”

Jack stopped the truck after pulling over to the side of the road.  He twisted his body around to face the young boy.

“You mean from the bullies who beat you up?” Jack guessed.

“Yes.  I'm not a geeky wimp, no matter what they said,” David said confidently.

“No, Son, you're not.”

“You want me to quit school, huh?”

“No.  David, as much as Daddy and I would like to protect you from situations like this, we can't be there all the time.  Those boys may go away, but there'll always be someone else around the corner, waiting to take their place.  What's important is that you recognize them and their actions for what they are: ignorant bullies and crap.”

David smiled and teased, “Daddy doesn't like you to use that word.”

“Daddy doesn't like it when I use words that are a whole lot worse than crap,” Jack said, smiling.  ~However, Daddy sure can use them when he wants to!~

“To be honest, Dad, I do love my teachers, but it might be kind of fun to try homeschooling.  Can I help teach the Munchkins and Noa?” David asked.

“Hey, we're a family, aren't we?  We learn together, but David, why?  I know I started this conversation, but I don't want you running away, either.”

“I'm not.  If I were running, I never would have gone back, and ... Dad, I want to finish the term, so I'm not really running.  Besides, those boys aren't even in my group.  I'd already decided I wanted to try homeschooling; I just hadn't told you yet.  You said I can change my mind, right?”

“Yes.  If you don't like it, you can go back.”

“Principal Deavers isn't a bad man, Dad.”

“You're right, he's not, but while I can't prove it, my gut tells me there's some politics at play in his decisions.  It shouldn't be like that in any school.”

“But especially not a private one, right?” David asked.

“That's why I asked the question.  My problem, David, isn't with the bullies, but with the example being set for them.  I might have suggested trying a different school, but that would be your choice, too.”

“I'd hate to give up my summer having to work at school,” David said, thinking about the punishment his attackers were getting.

“Me, too.”

“What else should have happened to them?” David asked, curious why Jack was as upset as he was.

“I'm not really sure.  Daddy is the one with all the answers,” Jack responded.  Jack paused as he thought.  “What I wish they could have done, Son, is have those boys learn from this.  The truth is that children learn prejudice from their parents.  Maybe they could have researched prejudice in the annals of history and see just how many of this planet's worst nightmares were started because one bigot couldn't keep his mouth shut and his hands to himself.”

David smiled as he said, “You sound a little like Daddy.”

Jack let out a snort and said, “That's when I'm at my best.  Daddy's a very good man, David.”

“I need to ask Daddy about unconformities,” David said, his mind shifting back to his homework.

“Unconformities?”

“Yes.  That's when gaps from one formation accumulate on the eroded surface of another, but I'm having some trouble recognizing it.”

“Well, if it's rocks you want to know about, Daddy's the one to ask!  He's an expert on rocks.  Rocks, rocks, and more rocks!”

Jack shook his head in mock-horror as he started the truck and headed for their home.

====

“Megan!” the Munchkins cheered as they ran into her office at J-O Enterprises.

The office was actually a house Daniel had purchased several years ago.  It was near their home, so they had it converted into an office for their company.  Still, the office had a playroom for the children as well as a swing set and other toys in the backyard.

“Where's Rissa?” Little Danny asked eagerly, his body twisting all around as he looked for his 'girlfriend'.

“She'll be in later.  She had some research to do this morning,” Megan answered.

“Oh,” Little Danny pouted.

Daniel and Megan exchanged a look and chuckled.  Little Danny's crush on Karissa was second only to Chenoa's love for Teal'c.

“Megan, I'm sorry to do this to you, but we've got a little problem.  Jack and I both have to be at the SGC today, and our ... well, what we normally had planned ...” Daniel sighed with relief as Megan nodded.  “Thanks.”

“It's not a problem, as long as you realize we aren't going to get a lot done around here today.”

“I know.  Um, Chenoa is at Mrs. Payne's home this morning.  Then this afternoon, she has Kinder Camp.  Mrs. Payne will drop her off here about three.  David needs to be picked up at three-fifteen, and Jennifer should be accounted for by four-thirty.”

“I have all the numbers, unless something's changed,” Megan assured.

“No, nothing's changed.  General Hammond will be here by six.  Don't let the children go unless he's here.  I mean ...”

“I know, Daniel.”

“We can never be too careful,” Daniel explained.

“I understand.  I spoke with Karissa before she left for the survey site, and she volunteered to stay late with me.”

“Little Danny will like that,” Daniel commented with a smile.  “I have to go.”

“Good luck with ... whatever it is you're doing today.”

“Thanks!”

====

“So, we had finally found a house to rent and we were just about to sign the papers when the idiots say 'no pets'.  Now we're back to square one, General.”

Jack leaned back in his chair.  He had been in Hammond's office to talk about the exchange program, but at the end of the session, the three-star general had asked about the renovation project.  The two-star general had then told him much more than he wanted to know -- twenty minutes' worth, in fact.

“We've got to be out of the house by Memorial Day because they're knocking down the wall.  We may have to divvy up the kids if we can't find a suitable place to live for a while, and that would be ... argh.”

“Jack, I have the solution,” Hammond chirped decisively.

“You do?” Jack asked, sitting up straight.

“Come stay with me,” the bald-headed man offered.

“Wi...with ... y...you, Sir?” Jack stuttered, reminding himself of his sometimes flustered husband.

“The house is big enough, and I don't have a 'no pet' clause.”

“I ... are you sure, General?  No, we couldn't do that to you.”

“Jack, those are my grandkids,” Hammond said with a smile.  “It's just me there, so tell me one good reason why you shouldn't.”

“Let me call Daniel.”  Jack reached over to use Hammond's phone.  ~He's smarter than me; he'll have a reason -- I hope.”

====

“Hey, what's up?” Daniel questioned lightheartedly as he entered Hammond's office.

“The general has just made us an offer,” Jack explained.

“Offer?”  Daniel looked at Hammond; then back at Jack.  “What kind of offer?”

**Hold on to your hat, Dannyboy.**

“Jack told me about your housing difficulties,” Hammond stated.

“Yeah, I don't know what we're going ... to ... do,” Daniel said, taking a seat besides his husband.  **Jack?**

**Bingo.**

“Why don't you bring your family to my place while the work is being done on your home?”

“General, we wouldn't want to intrude,” Daniel responded.  **Jack?**

**I don't know how to say 'no', Danny.  All yours.**

**Coward.**

**He's Grandpa.  You tell him 'no'.**

**You tell him.  You're older,** Daniel snarked, having no intention of telling their friend, the lieutenant general, no.

“As you know, there's plenty of room, and the kids love the lake.  You can move in anytime.  I'll have some keys made,” Hammond stated, smiling as he made a couple of reminders for himself on a pad on his desk.

“Yes, Sir.”

**Danny?**

**I'm not going to turn him down.  *You* turn him down,** the archaeologist advised.

**NO!**

**Ditto.**

**So?**

**So ... we're staying with ... Grandpa.**  Daniel smiled gratefully and said, “Thank you, Sir.  That's, uh, very generous of you.  We do insist on paying expenses. You have no idea how much it costs to feed this brood.”

“We can discuss the details later, Son.”

====

“Carter, cut it out,” Jack said in a semi-raised voice thirty minutes later.

“I can't help it,” Sam laughed boisterously.

“You can't help it *what*?” Jack groused.

“I can't help it ... Sir!”

Sam was doubled over in laughter.  She had just found out that Jack, Daniel, eight children, two dogs, one cat, a lizard, and a tank-full of fish were about to move in with General Hammond for at least three months, maybe more.

“We couldn't get out of it, Sam,” Daniel explained from his spot near the closed door of her lab.

“Ever try saying 'no'?”

“Carter, when's the last time you said 'no' to a three-star general?”

“You have a point ... Sir,” the blonde snickered.

“It's not that we aren't grateful,” Daniel said as he ambled towards the colonel's worktable.  “I mean, he's a wonderful friend; he's our ... grandfather; he's our children's grandfather, but ... well, it's just ... he's ... he's ...”

“He's *the* general!” Jack exclaimed, wondering how they had gotten into this fix.

“Yeah,” Daniel sighed.

“I'm not sure he knows what he's in for,” the older man added.

“He'll find out soon enough,” Sam said, grinning.

“Careful, Carter; you could be next.”

Sam gulped, deciding a change of subject was appropriate, and questioned, “So, any last minute changes to our mission?”

====

“Mmmm, I do love you,” Jack swooned as he and Daniel kissed under the moonlight at their Colorado rental cabin.

It was their Friday night date, and the two had decided to make it a prolonged date night.  It would most likely be their last chance for such a romantic getaway for months.

With Sam and Janet making it another one of their 'girls' night out' parties as they both watched over the children, Jack and Daniel had ventured to the cabin for an overnight stay.  The two had left Friday afternoon and had already made love twice.  They'd had a cozy moonlit picnic under the stars, and now were fondling and crooning as they lay side by side on the grass.

Their hands were constantly moving, either interlaced or exploring the other, and the lovers leaned over frequently to share kisses, some short and quick and others long and lingering.

“I'm so glad you figured that out,” Daniel teased about Jack's declaration of love.

“Are you mocking me?” Jack asked, pretending to be insulted.

Daniel was feeling playful.  The fingertips of his right hand tickled Jack's palm.

Ignoring his lover's question, Daniel rolled over onto his side.

“I have a surprise for you.”

“Danny, your eyes are full of mischief.”

“We've only just begun, Babe.”

“What are you up to?” Jack questioned a bit suspiciously.

“I'm not up ... yet,” Daniel teased as his finger slowly moved from under Jack's chin, down the middle of his chest, and then slipped just inside Jack's jeans.

“You may not be, but I'm about to be,” Jack said lustfully.

“Soon, but first, my surprise, and it's ... just ... for ... you.”

Daniel leaned down and planted one of his best seductive kisses on his soulmate.

“I want you to wait right here,” Daniel stated.  He kissed Jack again, his fingers still toying at Jack's waistline, threatening to go lower inside the jeans, but not yet having done so.  “Fifteen minutes, Babe, and then I'm allllll yours.”

“Why fifteen minutes?”

“It's your surprise,” Daniel replied sultrily.  “Don't come in any earlier.  That would make you a bad, bad boy, and then I'd have to punish you.”

“Danny, you're not going dominatrix on me, are you?”

Daniel raised his eyebrows and smiled, but he didn't answer Jack's question. Instead, he kissed him again and stood up.

“Fifteen minutes, and not one second earlier.”

“What do I get for being a good boy and not going in earlier?” Jack asked, imitating Daniel and batting his eyelashes.

Daniel surprised Jack by turning around and mooning him while saying, “You get my three and my six ... and every other ... number.”

“Fifteen minutes,” Jack drooled in acknowledgement.

====

Jack paced the width of the cabin as the seconds ticked away.

~What in Netu is he doing in there?  He's never been into that bondage stuff. I wonder ... nah.~

Inside the cabin, Daniel was glad he'd practiced preparing for his surprise several times, though it hadn't been easy finding the time or the privacy he needed.  Somehow, though, he did, and as he stared at himself in the mirror, he thought he'd done a pretty good job of it.

Walking from the bathroom to the main room of the cabin, Daniel began to have second thoughts.  Quickly, he grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels Whiskey that he had first opened after leaving Jack outside, and, rather uncharacteristically, downed a few swigs straight from the bottle.  Then he took some more.

“Nothing wrong with an occasional drink of courage.  I only do it once or twice a decade.”  Daniel began to put the bottle away, but then he downed three more swigs.  “Need just a little more courage.”

“Daniel?” Jack shouted from the doorstep.

Daniel gulped, wondering if maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.  Taking one more swig, he moved towards the door.  He checked his attire one last time.

“Jack, Love ... Come on in.  I have a *big* surprise for my *big* hunk.”

~Oh, geez.  This might just be fun.~  Jack's body was already near the 'running up the flagpole' stage.  Eagerly, he hurried inside the cabin, ready to pounce, or be pounced on.  “Dannyboy, I'm all ... yours.”

Jack's jaw wasn't the only thing that went south.  He stared in total and utter shock at the 'man' he had twice-married.
 
“D...D...Danny?”

“Danielle,” Daniel spoke in a high voice.

“Daniel, you've lost your friggin' mind.  What do you think you're doing?” Jack asked, totally floored by his husband's get-up.  ~At least, I think that's Danny.  Maybe he's ... No, it's him, I think.~
 
“Giving you a *big* surprise, Jackieboy,” Daniel said flirtatiously, using his hand to accentuate coyness.

“Jackieboy?”  Jack did a double-take.  “Danny, do you feel okay?  Maybe we should call the Doc,” Jack offered, definitely concerned about Daniel's mental state.

“Oh, I feel just fine.”  Daniel swayed into Jack's personal space.  He had to move an extra step forward because Jack was actually so taken aback, that he stepped backwards.  Taking Jack's hand and putting it to his well-padded chest, Daniel said, “Here, feel for yourself.”

Jack was dumbfounded as he thought, ~He can't seriously think I'd like this?~  He closed his eyes for a second, hoping he was just having a nightmare, but when he opened them again, Daniel was still dressed in drag.  “Danny, I'm calling Janet.”

“A threesome?  Think you can handle more than me?” crooned Daniel, sliding his hand over his hip.  “No way, Lover.  I'm much too much for one *little* man!”

“DANIEL!”  Jack sniffed Daniel's mouth.  “Danny, have you been drinking?”

“Gawd, yes.  You think I could do this without some help?”  Daniel's eyes widened, and he suddenly let out with a huge smile.  “In fact, I'll take some more.”

Daniel moved towards the kitchen area where the bottle was still on the counter. Halfway there, he tripped on the high heels he was wearing.

“Dang heels,” Daniel muttered.  “How do they walk in these things anyway?”

Jack quickly cut his lover off, saying sternly, “I think you've had enough.”

Daniel cozied up to Jack, his padded chest bouncing off Jack.

“Oops,” Daniel chuckled.  Then he winked at his spouse, his expression having turned lustful.  “Jackieboy, I'm all yours.  What are you waiting for?  Wanna feel me again?”

“Uh, Daniel, let's discuss this in the morning.”  ~I am *so* out of the mood.~

Jack was wondering how Daniel had gotten drunk so fast, but glancing at the bottle, he saw it was already a third empty.  It had been full when they arrived earlier that day.

~Daniel doesn't drink, not like this.  What's wrong with him?~

“And here I thought you were a man of action,” Daniel spoke in his higher-pitched Danielle voice.  “I'm so disappointed in my *big* hunkahunk.”

“Daniel, you've lost your mind.  Why the heck are you ...”

Jack paused for a second, flashing back to their conversation about sewing machines.

~I should have just come clean and admitted I'm not quite as done with this macho crap as I like to think I am.~  A scowl ran across Jack's face.  “Daniel, so help me, if this is your way of trying to teach me a lesson.”

Daniel began to laugh.  He tossed his red boa around his neck, his head moving back as he did so.

“Actually, Babe, I just wanted to see the look on your face.  Gawd, it was priceless.”

“This is a joke?” Jack asked in a raised voice.

“You'd rather I was serious?  I could go to Sweden and ...”

Jack jumped forward and placed his hand over Daniel's mouth, stating, “First, they don't have to go to Sweden anymore.”

“I know that, Jack,” Daniel said, amused that Jack's humor had somewhat fled the building.
 
Jack stared at Daniel.  In fact, he stared at him for three minutes, actually backing away and walking all around his lover.

“I don't know what's worse -- you or Boy George!” Jack quipped.

“Boy who?” Daniel asked.

“Never mind,” Jack replied as he continued to stare at Daniel's insane outfit.

Along with the boa, Daniel was wearing a provocative orange satin top with a sequined leather skirt.

“Hmm, not bad, not bad at all.  If we just add a few designer clothes, just the right bling-bling, and Carter's lipstick that never comes off ... mmm ... yes, I think that would work,” Jack said, bringing his right hand to his chin in contemplation.

“Bling-bling?” Daniel asked as he grimaced.

“I'll make the call,” Jack decided.

“Janet?” Daniel queried.

“Sweden!” the other man clarified as seriously as he could.

“Sweden?  Jack, are you ...”  Daniel sighed as he stared at Jack.  “Very funny.”

Jack broke into a grin and then a laugh.  Daniel, too, began to laugh.  Soon, they were both in hysterics, their bodies in spasms from their laughter, causing Jack to sink to the floor.  Daniel fell off his spike heels and onto his six, making his skirt hike up and leaving his legs in the air.

“Slut!” Jack barely managed to gasp, holding his ribs.  Both men shook in tension, relieving amusement until tears blurred their vision.  “Daniel,” Jack sighed, wiping his eyes.  “I want you to know that I do realize that my comment about men sewing was wrong, and that it's important that we teach our children to be open-minded and not make judgments based on gender alone.”

“Thank you, Babe.  I thought this demonstration might help to drive home our little chat about that.”

“I do need you to know one more thing, though.”

“What's that?” Daniel asked as he blew a feather from the boa out of his mouth.

“I'm not touching you until you get out of that ridiculous get-up,” Jack stated firmly.

“Babe, I don't exactly plan on staying in it.  You could, uh, help me out of it.”

“Danny, I don't even want to touch that stuff you're wearing.  Eww,” Jack said as he shivered from the thought.

Daniel stood up, wiggled his hips, and taunted, “No help, no six, and definitely, no three.”

As if shot out of a cannon, Jack stood and began to help his lover out of the female attire.

“Makeup.  You're wearing makeup,” Jack groaned.

“Had to look my best for my hunkahunk,” Daniel responded seductively, batting his eyelashes that actually had mascara on them.

“I'll hunkahunk you!”

“Promises, promises,” Daniel teased and then teetered slightly.

“Needed some courage for this little gag,” Jack laughed.

“Wouldn't you?”

“Trust me, Danny, I would *never* try this gag,” the military man vowed.

“Well, I understand that you're a man's man.”

“What does that mean?” Jack asked.

As Daniel shed the last of his clothing and then wiped off the makeup, he led Jack into the bedroom.

“I brought you another surprise!”

Daniel wiggled his six as he bent over and reached inside his duffel bag.  He tossed Jack a small bottle.

Jack had barely refrained from attacking his lover as he had bent over.  Now, he stared at the bottle.

“VIAGRA?  I'LL GET YOU!  VIAGRA, YOUR BUTT!” Jack hollered indignantly.

As Daniel laughed, Jack chased him to the other side of the room before jumping on him and pushing them both onto the bed.  Amid laughter and kisses, their passion blossomed, exploding repeatedly during the night.

====

In the morning, when both were completely satiated and exhausted from their lovemaking marathon, Jack stood up, took the bottle of Viagra, and flushed its contents down the toilet.

“Don't need it,” the well-loved and long-loving man said, slipping back into bed.

“No, Babe, you're definitely up and running,” Daniel agreed as he carefully studied his soulmate's 'asset'.

“I love you, Angel.”

“I love you, too, so much.”

====

The Jackson-O'Neill household was buzzing with activity.  Anything not being taken with them to Hammond's house had to be stored.  Some items could stay in place, but others needed covering, and some, because of their value and fragility, were being packed up and placed in storage.  Other items had to be moved due to the work being done on the west side of the home.

Jack had also taken all the guns and other gear kept in the gun cabinet that Sam had made for them and placed it in a special storage locker which his friend Andy, the former sheriff of Colorado Springs, agreed to keep for him.  Jack had considered storing the items at the base, but didn't want to have to explain any of the items in the collection, and in the end, decided it was too risky.  He had also pondered the possibility of taking the storage cabinet to the cabin, but he didn't like the idea of it being unattended.

The one-time sheriff didn't have any children at home, and he also had a large, metal cabinet that was lockable in his garage so the gun cabinet would be extra safe.  The other good thing about Andy was that he was fully aware of Jack's Special Ops history, and that Jack still held the rank of a general in the Air Force so no explanation of the weapons was needed.

Both Jack and Daniel felt safe with Andy having the locker for the time being, and with that issue solved, they had proceeded with the rest of their moving chores.
 
This was moving day.  Lou and Carolyn Ferretti, Sam, Janet and Cassandra, Jeff and Margaret Cornell, Dale and Nancy Rancolini, Teal'c, Sara Wilson, and Mrs. Valissi were all assisting in one capacity or the other.  Three large Ryder trucks were being used: one to take needed items to the general's residence, one to Lou's, and one to Sam's.  Both Lou and Sam had agreed to store some of the treasured and/or valuable items for the family.  Some furniture remained after being covered for the duration of the family's absence.

The men were busy moving the heavy furniture while most of the women organized the boxes, which Jack and Daniel had gone to great pains to mark appropriately.  Cassandra was attempting to baby-sit the children who didn't make it easy on her.

“We could help, Cassie!” Jonny kept insisting.

The young woman had her hands full, but thus far, with Jennifer's help, was managing to keep the children in line.  Cassandra was also making sure Bijou, Katie, and Mittens were securely guarded.

“They're liable to end up in a box, if you don't watch them,” Jack had reminded Cassandra.

The young woman had laughed, having heard about the girls' adventure in Jack's duffel bag several weeks earlier.

Midday, they took a break.  Cassandra had taken the children to Mrs. Valissi's for a couple of hours since the youngest ones were getting whiny and showing signs of needing a nap, so only the adults were at the house.

Janet had brought some sandwiches and chips, Dale some beer, and Margaret various snack foods to get the group through the day.

“So, anyway, we're going to try homeschooling,” Daniel explained.  “I think it'll be a real challenge, but we're looking forward to it.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Margaret said.

“I think it's fabulous,” Sara added.  “Daniel, I didn't know you had a teaching certificate.”

Daniel was chewing on a sandwich, and suddenly, he was eating it in slow motion as the meaning of Sara's question sank in.

Without thinking, Jack answered, “He doesn't, but he's getting one; some special deal from Denver, so we're using mine for the initial paperwork.”

**Jack?** Daniel questioned while still slow-chewing as he looked into Sara's eyes.

**What, Love?**

**She doesn't know, does she?**

**Know what?**

“Jack, using your what?” Sara asked.

“My ...”  **Uh-oh.**

**You never told her about all those degrees, did you?**

**Not ... all of them.**  “Uh, Sara, you remember those courses I was taking?” Jack reminded in question.

“I remember when you got a degree in English Lit,” Sara answered, nodding at the same time.

Jack smiled, looking a bit uncomfortable, and Sam picked up on the change in atmosphere.

“Jack, you have a degree in English Lit?  How ... dapper,” Lou teased.

“Jack?” Sara said seriously.

“Sara, on one of those long-term, out-of-town assignments, I finished my credential.  I have a teaching certificate.”

“Oh, I see,” Sara responded, an invisible wall going up as she listened, not really wanting to hear or think about what it could all mean.

“Sara ...”

“No, Jack, it's ... fine.  I didn't have a clue, but then, it ... it was a long time ago,” Sara responded and then ate a bite of sandwich -- slowly, Daniel noticed.

**She's upset, Jack.**

**I should have told her.**

**You should have told me; I mean, sooner than you did; actually, you didn't; I discovered it all on my own; and come to ...**

**Daniel, not now.**

“So,” Sam said, trying to get the group past the awkward moment, “Sara, what's new with Angela?”

Sara smiled and began to talk about her daughter.  After a while, the group continued its task, though Sara seemed a bit quieter than was normal.

====

Two hours later, the group was still hard at work.

“Daniel, this box isn't marked for any of the trucks, but it's packed.  Where is it supposed to go?” Sara asked.

Daniel looked at the box and responded, “Oh, that's just a few things from my den.  I don't need them at the general's, and they really aren't that valuable.  Um, just put them in the study.”

Sara nodded and carried the box into the room.  As odd as it might sound to some, she'd only been in the study a couple of times and usually just for a quick moment to announce her arrival or departure.  Normally, she was in the main part of the house, or in the backyard.

The blonde placed it in a corner and started to walk out when she stopped abruptly.  Turning, Sara stared at the various diplomas and certificates that adorned one of the walls.  Slowly, she walked towards them, studying each one.

Sara wasn't at all surprised to see the various papers with Daniel's name on them, but she was floored that so many of the degrees had her ex-husband's name on them.

--

Meanwhile, in the living room, as he was about to help Jack move their dining table, Daniel suddenly lowered his half of the table to the carpet.

“Daniel, what the ...” Jack began.

“Jack, I sent her into the study,” the younger man spoke with wide eyes.

“So?  And who is she?” Jack asked impatiently.

“So ... she'll see the ... the ... the ... on the wall.”

“Daniel, what are you babbling about?”

“Sara.”

“Sara?” Jack questioned.  Finally putting the stuttered speech together and connecting the dots, he exclaimed inwardly, ~Oh, crap!~  “Be right back,” he said, quickly turning and walking into the study.

--

Sprinting inside the study, Jack saw Sara staring at the degrees.  He walked in slowly, putting his hands in his pants' pockets.

“Sara ...”

“You lied to me, Jack,” Sara spoke calmly, though her voice was etched in pain.

“I just didn't tell you,” Jack replied lamely, knowing he was using words to play with the truth.

Sara turned her head to face Jack, staring at him in utter disbelief as she spoke, “We're not talking national security.  This is ...” she pointed at the various degrees, “your education.  Why was that a secret?”

“It wasn't, not really, but they're just papers.”

“Jack, these took years to get.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Jack conceded hesitantly.

“You have ... masters degrees and a PhD.  You're a friggin' doctor, like Daniel.”

“No, I'm nothing like Daniel,” Jack said softly.  “Daniel's a genius; I'm just someone who ...”

“Lies?  Is that the word you're looking for?” Sara challenged harshly.

“Sara ...”

“Thirteen years, Jack.  We were married for thirteen years, and that's when you got all of these; all of them,” Sara repeated, looking in both anger and wonder at the wall.

“Sara, at first, I studied for the Air Force, so I could be an officer.”

“That much I know,” Sara said a bit antagonistically.  “But this goes beyond that, and you became an officer very quickly, Jack; and you only needed one of these, to do that.”

“I did it for us,” Jack tried to explain.

“For us?”  Sara turned and accused, “WHAT US?”

“Sara, you don't understand.”

“When did you tell Daniel?”

~What?~  The question shocked Jack.  It seemed an odd transition to him.  He blinked a couple of times and shook his head as he questioned, “Daniel?”

“WHEN DID YOU TELL DANIEL?” Sara shouted.

“I didn't, not really.”

“You lied to him, too?”  Sara walked a few steps to another part of the room and crossed her arms.  “I can't believe you lied to him, but he obviously found out.”

“When I retired.  Sara, it just doesn't mean anything to me; it never did.  Being a Mensan, getting the degrees, none of it ...”  Jack sighed, seeing the stare.  He'd slipped up again.  ~I don't belong in the Air Force anymore; I'm rotten at covering up with people I care about these days.~

“*Mensa*, as in being a genius?” Sara questioned, shocked by the words she was hearing.

“On paper, that's it,” Jack said, wishing he'd never even gone to school in the first place.

“Oh, no, General.”  Sara walked into Jack's personal space and stared intensely at her ex-husband.  When she spoke it was harsh and pointed.  “You *really* are a genius.  You managed to lie to me for years.  I believed you, Jack.  I believed it when you said you were born in Chicago.  I believed you when you said you graduated from the University there.  I believed you when you said you just wanted to take a few courses so you could advance.  I believed you when you said you loved me, that you'd never leave me.  I believed you when you said being a genius was something for nerds and scientists.  And you know what else, Jack?  I believed you when you said we had no secrets, at least none that weren't classified.  That's what you said, or don't you remember that?  We were in bed at the time.  I believed you, Jack.  I believed everything you said, but now I can't help but wonder if everything you ever said wasn't anything but ... a lie, and I believed them, all of them.  What does that make me?”

“Sara, don't make this out to be more than it is,” Jack pleaded.  ~I like having you in my life, Sara.  Please don't blow this out of proportion.~

“YOU LIED TO ME, JACK.  OUR WHOLE MARRIAGE WAS A LIE, WASN'T IT?”  Sara shook her head.  “Don't bother to answer.  Just ... leave me alone.”

Briskly, Sara hurried out of the study.  She saw Daniel standing with a worried expression on his face in the hallway.  His arms were folded as he looked at her.

“If I were you, Daniel, I'd wonder what else he hasn't told you!” the upset woman warned.

“Sara, it's not like that,” Daniel said in defense of his husband.

Daniel knew why Sara was hurt.  He, himself, had been upset with Jack when he'd discovered his husband had 'not told' him things; but over time, he'd realized that it wasn't done consciously.  Jack really just didn't see these things as important.

Sara turned, her soul full of anger and hurt, and yelled, “I DON'T CARE, DANIEL.  HE MADE A JOKE OUT OF OUR MARRIAGE.  HE'S A GENIUS, HE'S A PHD.  DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY JOKES HE USED TO MAKE ABOUT ...”  She looked away, tears in her eyes.  “He's not who I thought he was.  Maybe he never was.”

“Sara, please, let me explain,” Jack pleaded as he approached Daniel.

“NO.  I'VE HEARD ENOUGH LIES FROM YOU TO LAST ME A LIFETIME,” Sara loudly informed her ex-husband.

“Sara,” Jack pleaded, moving forward a few steps.

“I HATE YOU, JACK.  I DON'T EVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN!” Sara screamed.

Sara turned, and to her horror, there stood all eight of the Jackson-O'Neill children.  Tears flowing down her face, she ran past them.

“Aunt Sara?” Little Danny called out.  He turned to look at his parents.  “Aunt Sara mad?”

“At me, not at you, not at any of you,” Jack said.  “Excuse me,” he said as he walked by his friends and children and headed upstairs for some privacy.

“Daniel?” Sam asked.

“Excuse me,” Daniel replied, following his husband.

Although he knew he should probably stay and reassure his children, Daniel needed to make sure his soulmate was okay first.

Sam, Janet, and Cassandra looked around, not sure what to do.  Some of the younger children were visibly upset.

“Cassie, is Mrs. Valissi still at home?” Janet asked.

“Um, yes, she said she'd be right down, Mom.”

“Well, why don't we take the children back to her house for a little while,” Janet suggested, leaning down to pick up Aislinn.

“Aunt Sara sad?” the little girl asked.

“Aunt Sara will be fine,” Janet replied calmly, smiling to try and comfort the young girl.

Sam picked up Ricky, and Margaret took hold of Chenoa.  Lou picked up Jenny who hugged him tight.

“Hey, baby girl, don't you fret it.  Everything's gonna be just fine,” Lou promised the upset toddler.

====

From the doorway of their bedroom, Daniel looked at the sad expression on his lover's face.  He could feel the heavy heart and sighs of regret over a past that couldn't be changed.

Jack sat on his end of the bed, hunched forward, his eyes focused on nothing but air.

“I hurt her, Danny; not just today, but when we were married.  You know her.  She didn't deserve the crap I laid on her.”

“You didn't mean to, Jack,” Daniel said, trying to soothe the pain away.

“No, I never meant to hurt her, but I did.”  Jack looked over at his lover, adding, “Just like I hurt you.”

Daniel gave a closed smile and small nod; then moved to sit next to Jack.  He made sure their shoulders were touching.  Taking a deep breath, he tried to comfort his soulmate.

“Jack, see, the problem we have is that it's hard for us to realize that ... numbers and degrees don't really mean anything to you.  For years, my IQ and the education I sought were all I had.  I'm ... modest about it, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't proud of it.  I don't advertise it, but I know that without it, I wouldn't be here.  Sara ... she's an educator.  She can't imagine it, either, that it mattered so little to you that at some point in time you wouldn't have mentioned it.  I mean, Babe, you actually taught in schools for your student teaching.  Think about how that makes Sara feel.”

“I know how it feels.  She feels betrayed.”  Jack buried his head in his hands, saying, “She thinks I never loved her.  Danny, Charlie was conceived in love.  *I loved her*.  I don't want her ...”

Jack stopped, shaking his head.

Daniel reached over and put his hand on the back of Jack's head.  He caressed gently, letting his hand rub Jack's neck.  He didn't really know what to say.  Sara was right.  His soulmate had a lot of secrets, and every now and then, one slipped out, but he'd learned to live with that; in part, because he knew that he, too, had secrets.

~Not really secrets, just things we haven't talked about yet.  That's what this is.  We live in the moment, not in our pasts.~  Daniel continued to caress his lover as he spoke, “It'll be okay, Love.  Give Sara a chance to assimilate what she learned today.  She'll listen; she's a great listener.”

“She hates me,” Jack responded, looking over at Daniel whose hand rubbed against his earlobe.

“No, she doesn't.  Jack, if you recall, I got a little angry myself.”

“Yeah, I remember, but what if she won't forgive me?  It's crazy, Danny, but I didn't really see Sara for years, and then we saw her that day at Pike's Peak, and, bam, she's back in my life.  I love her.  I mean ... crap.  Danny, tell me you know what I mean.”

“I do, Babe; I understand.  Give her some time; it'll be okay.”  Jack sighed, and Daniel leaned in for a tender kiss.  He cupped Jack's face and smiled.  “I love you; this is just a ... tiny roadblock.”

“More like a mudslide, and I'm the mud,” Jack said despondently.

“I'll clean you up,” Daniel responded lightly.

“You always do.  I love you so much, Danny.”

“I know.”  Daniel took a cleansing breath, one to revitalize him a bit.  “Jack, we need to check on the children.”

“Did you see their faces?” Jack asked, full of guilt about that, too.

“Yes,” Daniel answered softly.  “We need to make sure they understand that it's just a little disagreement.”

“Danny, she and Carter, even the Doc, are like mothers to our brood.  If I've messed that up, I'll never forgive myself.”

“Let's not overreact, Jack.  She got angry; she vented.  You'll talk to her, and then, we'll be okay again.”

“I hope you're right.”

“I always am,” Daniel said with a grin.

“Cocky.”

“Later ... without the 'y',” Daniel smirked, a glint in his eye.

“Daniel!”

Daniel laughed, gave Jack a kiss, and then stood up, suggesting, “Let's go check on the children.”

Jack started to follow his lover out when all of a sudden, he stopped, practically frozen in place.  He'd never felt so afraid.

“DANIEL!”

“What?” the young man asked, seeing the strange look on Jack's face.

“We can't!”

“Can't what?” Daniel asked.

“You know.”

“No, I don't know.  What can't we do?” Daniel asked cluelessly.

“We can't ... you know at the general's,” Jack explained.

“Oh, gawd.”  Daniel became pale as the realization sank in.  “Oh, Jack.”

“It's going to be a long, hot summer,” Jack lamented.

“With lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots ...”

“Daniel!”

“... and lots of cold, icy showers.”

With a pout on his face, Daniel turned around and headed downstairs, followed by an equally unhappy Jack.

====

It had taken a lot of time and effort, but just as the clock struck ten, the Jackson-O'Neills were settled into their places at General Hammond's.  They'd stored possessions at both Lou's and Sam's, after which they unloaded several items at Hammond's home.  Dinner consisted of pizza and ice cream, much to the delight of the children, and time had been spent making sure the animals got acquainted with their new surroundings and felt at home.

For the duration of their stay, Bijou and Katie would be staying with Jack and Daniel in their room, Bogey the lizard would be in with the triplets, while Mittens would be sharing a room with Jennifer and Chenoa.  The twins were in yet another room, and David had lucked out by getting his own room.  The fish were given space for their large tank in Hammond's study.

Some time was spent reassuring the children about Sara as well.  All of them, especially Little Danny who was always very sensitive about things, had been upset by what they had witnessed.

Daniel buttoned his pajama top as he walked from the bathroom to the bedroom.  He saw Jack was on the phone.

“Thanks, Mark.  I'd appreciate it,” Jack sighed and then hung up the phone.

“She wouldn't talk to you?” Daniel asked.

“No.  Mark says she's still angry,” Jack sighed regretfully.

“He's not mad?” Daniel asked hopefully.

Shaking his head, Jack answered, “No, he's upset because Sara's upset.”

“Patience, Babe.  You have to give her time.”

“I guess a few hours isn't long enough,” Jack remarked.

“Be ... patient.”

Jack got up, walked to his husband, and said, “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“I wish we could ...” Jack began with lust in his heart.

“Jack, don't start, or we'll both be taking showers, cold ones ... alone!”

“Good point.  Let's go to bed.”

“And ... sleep,” Daniel stated dejectedly.

====

“Grandpa, it's 'dition,” Ricky said, pushing the bowl across the breakfast table.

“Dition?” Hammond asked.

“I, uh, think he means tradition, Sir,” Jack translated with a smile.

“Jack, we're at home.  I suggest we keep it informal here.”

“Yes, Sir ... George.”

“Eat, Grandpa,” Jonny instructed.

“Sorry, Gen...George, but Jack has spoiled them rotten,” Daniel explained.

“Have to eat Loops, Grandpa,” Jonny insisted.

“It's required,” Little Danny added.

Outnumbered, Hammond pushed aside his plate of sausage, eggs, and hash browns and ate his Froot Loops.

Jack and Daniel smiled in empathy.

====

Jack knocked on the front door; then put his hands in his pockets.  It was just after nine in the morning on Memorial Day.  He wasn't sure what the Wilson's plans were for the day, but their cars were in the driveway, so he knew they were home.  Nervously, he waited for the door to open.

“I have nothing to say to you, Jack,” Sara coldly told Jack when she saw who was at her door.

“Sara, you have to hear me out.”

“Oh, now you want to talk.  I spent months trying to get you to talk, but all you did was sit in that bedroom.  You shut me out cold, Jack, and *now* you want to talk?”

“Sara, don't go there,” Jack pleaded.  ~We've gone through that.~

“What do you want?”

“I want you to listen,” Jack requested as sincerely as he knew how.

“I listened to you yesterday.  Do you have anything to add?” Sara asked pointedly, not giving up one inch of ground to the man at her door.

“I'm sorry.”

“No, you're not.  You're not sorry you lied; you're only sorry I found out.”

“It was a long time ago.  Why are you so angry about this?” a confused Jack inquired.

Jack's answer was the door slamming in his face.  With a sigh, he left the Wilson home.

====

“Any luck?” Daniel asked after kissing his lover 'hello'.

“Stone cold,” Jack answered.

“Well, it's a holiday, Babe, and the children are looking forward to fun; not to mention, half the SGC will probably be by, so let's try not to let it ruin the day.”

“I'm with you, Love,” Jack agreed, taking a deep breath as he transitioned from a sad ex-husband to a happy husband and father.  “Okay, where's the grill?” he asked with pep, rubbing his hands together as he sought out Hammond.

====

Hammond was seated in his chair in the living room.  Several of the children had been playing for a while after dinner had been finished.  Even with all the day's visitors and excitement, they were all still wide awake.

Suddenly, Little Danny went over to the bookshelves.  He ran his hand along the books and stopped at a red one.  He pulled it out, walked over to Hammond, climbed up onto his lap, and handed him the book.

“Will you read us a story, Grandpa?  Daddy said you read this to him once?” the little boy asked.

Hammond glanced at Daniel, smiling, and then responded, “I'd be happy to, Little Danny.”

Ricky and Aislinn both managed to get up on Hammond's lap, too.

“It's a little crowded there,” Jack observed.

“We'll manage,” Hammond said assuredly.

Jack and Daniel sat down to relax on the sofa and enjoy the story.  In a flash, they were surrounded by the other children in the room.  Jenny sat on Jack's lap, Chenoa on Daniel's, and between them were Jonny and David.

Just as Hammond started to read, Jennifer walked in and asked, “Hey, what's going on?  Am I missing a family meeting or something?”

“Grandpa is going to read us a story, Jen,” Little Danny answered.

“Well, I don't want to miss that.”

Actually, it wasn't necessarily something Jennifer felt she needed to be a part of, except the faces of her brothers and sisters were so alight with wonder that she couldn't turn around and walk out.  Instead, she sat down next to Hammond's chair on the floor and was quickly surrounded by Bijou and Katie.

Mittens remained disinterested, playing alone on her cat perch.

“Are we ready?” the surrogate grandfather asked.

“Ready!” came many replies.

“A Bear Called Paddington.  Chapter One.  Please Look After this Bear.”

Hammond continued reading, and when he read, “I'm a very rare sort of bear,” Jack grinned at Daniel, just as he had done once before, only this time, there was nothing brotherly about the look.

Daniel almost blushed.

**You're a rare sort of bear, Danny, and I love you madly,** Jack declared.

**I love you, too.  Jack, do you remember how it felt?** Daniel asked.

**Yeah, we snuggled in just like those three are doing.**

**I wonder what he did with those cardboard cut-outs?**

**I'm not going to ask him.**

Daniel chuckled slightly, causing a few of the children to look at him.  He shrugged and then smiled at Jack.

**You're a chicken, Babe.**

**So are you, Angel.**

**Let's listen to the story,** Daniel requested, loving all the love that was in the room.

====

The next day, Chenoa was at her Kinder Camp program that she'd recently begun.  They'd spent the first hour working on academic subjects - basic math and spelling.  Now they were having a recess, and when they resumed their class, they'd be concentrating on recreational things for the next hour - dance and gymnastics.

The curly-haired blonde walked outside where all the other children were.  She saw a group of kids playing hopscotch and decided that might be fun to do.  The five girls playing the game weren't her normal playmates.  They were older, about five or six years of age, but she decided to go up to them anyway.

“Hi.”

“Stay away,” one of the girls said.

“I want to play, too,” Chenoa said.

“Ewww,” another girl said. “You stay away; you have cooties!”

“No, I don't!” Chenoa responded defensively.

Another girl cackled, “Yes, you do.  It's your weirdo parents.”

“My parents aren't ... that.”

“My mommy says your parents are strange.  You can't play with us,” one of the girls said rudely as she swayed back and forth just a little.

Another added, “Yeah, I'm not allowed to play with you.”

The first girl added, “Your daddies are sickos.”

The second girl laughed harshly as she arrogantly stated, “My daddy says yours are 'generites.”

Chenoa didn't know what the children were saying, but they all kept on, teasing her, insulting her parents, saying words she not only didn't understand, but that they couldn't even say properly.  

One of the assistants named Donna walked by and heard the laughter.

“Is everything all right here, girls?” Donna inquired, overlooking the obvious.

Her voice trembling, Chenoa looked up at Donna and asked, “Dad and Daddy sick?”

The other girls kept laughing, and Donna had heard the murmurs.  One girl said, “Sickos.  My dad says they should seg'ated.”

“No, your fathers are fine, Chenoa,” Donna stated.  ~Fine for a couple of homosexuals.  It's not right; it's just not right.~  The adult chastised, “Now, stop your crying, Chenoa.  There's no reason for it.  Be a big girl and not a crybaby.”

After Donna walked away, the girls increased their taunts until finally, Chenoa ran away from them.  She went to the corner of the lot and sat down, crying.  Finally, when the bell rang, she dried her eyes and went back inside, immediately seeing nasty stares from all five girls.

Ignoring them, Chenoa did her best to get through the rest of the Kinder Camp day.

====

At the very end of the session, as the children gathered their belongings and waited for their parents to arrive, two of the taunting girls decided to tease Chenoa some more.

“You have cooties, like your daddies,” one of the girls taunted.

“Mommy says they are queer,” another girl said.

“Warped!” the first girl said with disdain.

“You're a sicko like they are,” the second girl added, sticking out her tongue and making an ugly face when she was finished.

Chenoa shouted, “I AM NOT!”

“Chenoa, we don't shout inside,” Donna said in an angry tone.

“But ...”

“No shouting.  You know the rules, and if you're bad, I'll have to notify your parents,” Donna threatened.

Just like before, Donna walked away, leaving Chenoa to fend for herself.

The two girls cackled at the turn of events, pleased that they'd gotten Chenoa in trouble.

“Noa's gonna get in troubbbbbble,” the taunters sang as they walked outside.

Chenoa cried some more as she put on her coat.  She walked outside to the spot where she always waited for whoever was picking her up.  Just as she sat down, Daniel drove up in his sporty silver racing car.

Betty Ringly, the librarian, had monitor duty today.  Her job as monitor was to make sure all the children were safe until their parents picked them up. She saw Chenoa was crying and started to walk over to her, but noticing Daniel had just pulled up, thought it was best for her father to comfort her, so she turned her attention to two boys who were running and causing a small disturbance.

Daniel saw Chenoa's head was bowed, and he saw her run her hand across her eyes.  Concerned, he got out of the car and went up to her.  He knelt down.

“Hey, Sweetie.  Are you okay?” Daniel asked, stroking her hair.

“Daddy sick?” Chenoa asked in a tiny voice and her eyes full of fear.

“No, Noa, I'm just fine; so's Dad.”  Chenoa threw her arms around him, and he picked her up.  Her hold was tight, and he could feel hot tears on his neck. “Noa, what's wrong?”

“Not sick?”

“No, not sick.  Let's go home,” Daniel suggested.

Chenoa sniffled into his neck, and Daniel rubbed her back reassuringly.  He reached down to grab her backpack when he saw a girl he figured was eight or nine staring at him.

“I know what happened,” the girl said quietly.  “I should have helped, but I was afraid.”

“What?” Daniel inquired gently.

The girl looked around nervously as she quietly explained, “Some of the girls were teasing Chenoa about ... you.”

“About me?”

“They said a lot of bad things, and they kept repeating words they didn't even understand, things they'd heard from their parents.  I know they don't know what they were saying.  I ... I just know.  I was going to say something, but Donna walked by.  I thought she'd fix it, but she didn't.  She just scolded Chenoa for crying and walked away.”

“She ...” Daniel stopped himself from saying anything.  He was angry, and he knew from his daughter's increasing tears as she had heard the girl's story that it was accurate.  “What's your name?” he asked with a warm smile on his face and a tender tone to his voice.

“Jody.”

“Thank you, Jody.”

Jody smiled shyly and watched as Daniel picked up his daughter's backpack and then walked inside the building, going to the director's office.

The director, Wilma Barnes, was in a meeting with some of her staff, but Daniel barged in anyway.

“I'm sorry, but we need to talk,” Daniel said pointedly, still holding Chenoa.

“Doctor Jackson, this isn't a good time.”

“O'Neill,” Chenoa sniffled, though it was only audible to Daniel.

“Jackson-O'Neill.  Mrs. Barnes, I'm taking my daughter home, but I'll back in one hour, and then, we *are* going to talk,” Daniel stated angrily.

Daniel turned, only to be stopped by the director's concerned voice.

“Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, I'm sorry.  What's the matter?”

“Maybe you'd better ask your staff.  I'll be back,” Daniel informed.

“Doctor, please!” the woman pleaded.

Daniel took a breath.  He turned and faced the woman, ignoring the rest of the people in the room.

“Mrs. Barnes, education should be about educating, not about bigotry.  Teachers, and their staff, have responsibilities to their students, and they must have our trust, but right now, I'm about out of that.  I'm taking Chenoa home, and then I'll be back.”

Daniel exited in a hurry, the door not closing behind him.

Mrs. Barnes turned to the staff members present and asked, “Do any of you know what that was about?”

Everyone shook their heads, including Donna.  Just then, Jody stuck her head in around the door.  She looked terrified, but determined at the sight of all the adults staring at her.  She tried not to look at Donna.

“Mrs. Barnes, can I talk to you for a moment?  It's important,” Jody asked bravely.

The director walked outside and knelt down, listening as the little girl whispered into her ear for a few minutes.

“Thank you for telling me, Jody.  There's your mother.”

Jody started to walk away, but she stopped, turning around to ask, “Was it wrong to tell you?”

“No, Dear, you did the right thing.  Go on now.”

Mrs. Barnes returned to her office and addressed her staff, saying, “We'll continue this meeting tomorrow.  You can all help the children who are still waiting for their parents.  Thank you.”  As the staff members stood, she stated, “Donna, I'd like you to stay a moment, and close the door, please.”

====

“Dad, I get ice cream!” Chenoa exclaimed as she ran to greet her father inside Hammond's house.

“You do?” Jack asked, surprised since it was so early in the day.

**Jack, I have to go back to the school.  We'll talk later, but something happened there.**

**Danny, her eyes are all red.**

**Exactly.  Ice cream, Babe.**

**Maybe I should go with you.**

**No, Jack.  You'll ...**

**Bang their heads in?**

Daniel nodded at his husband and verbally responded, “I'll be back in a little bit.  Save some ice cream for me, Noa.”

“'Kay, Daddy.”

====

Daniel walked into the school where the Kinder Camp was held.  The children were all gone now, and only a couple of adults remained as they set up equipment and supplies for the next day's session.  He headed for Mrs. Barnes' office.  Her door was open.

“I'm sorry you feel that way, Mrs. Kenyon, but that's the policy of this school.  I'll be happy to send you a refund for half the semester if you wish to pull Darla out of the program ... Fine ... Do you want to come by and pick up her crafts? ... I'll have them ready to go ... Good evening.”

“Mrs. Barnes.”

“Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, please sit down, and first, let me apologize for not using your correct name earlier.  I was involved with some plans and trying to hammer out a solution to a problem, and I'm afraid I just wasn't thinking.  I don't offer that as an excuse, just a rationale, but it was wrong, especially in front of your daughter,” the woman apologized.

“Apology accepted, but we need to talk about what happened today.”

“Yes,” she agreed regretfully.  “I know all about it.”

“You do?” Daniel asked, a bit surprised.

“When you left, one of our older students told me what she had witnessed.”

“A little girl, eight or nine, with long, brown hair and lots of freckles?”

Mrs. Barnes smiled and answered, “Yes, that's her.  Her name is Jody.”

“That's right; that's what she told me,” Daniel stated.

Mrs. Barnes continued, “She mentioned having told you about what had transpired, and when you came inside, she saw you talking to me.  She felt she should tell me what she knew.”

“My daughter had been crying, Mrs. Barnes, and from the looks of it, for quite a while.  The actual incident aside, what I want to know is why no one bothered to take care of her?” Daniel asked demandingly.

Daniel's tone was sharp.  The incident had been bad enough, but then for Chenoa to have been overlooked and even scolded when she had obviously been crying was beyond his comprehension.

“Yes, and while an apology is not sufficient, I am offering you one.  I've fired one of my staff.  She apparently has views of ... intolerance and prejudice.  I wasn't aware of that until today.  I must admit that in the past she's been vocal about her opinions, but until today, it's never interfered with her job.”

“That you know of.”

Mrs. Barnes bowed her head momentarily, nodding as she acknowledged, “Yes, that I know of.”

“Frankly, Mrs. Barnes, I don't care about her job; I care about my daughter,” Daniel said firmly.

“I understand that,” the director nodded.  She took a deep breath.  “Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, I wish the world was a more tolerant and peaceful place.  I know I don't need to be more specific.”  She saw Daniel's understanding nod. “All I can do is try to make sure the children in my care learn that here, we are accepting of differences.  The problem is that the children learn from their parents, and,” she sighed, “not all parents agree that we should live in a tolerant world.”

“I just want my daughter protected.”

Mrs. Barnes smiled compassionately and continued, “It's a cruel world, and children can be the cruelest.  It's a strange dichotomy, because they are also the purest of our hearts, but when they are mean and nasty, it's hard to outdo them. Today, a few of them ganged up on Chenoa.  As you know, several of our students attend the same programs, just like Noa was in our last section as well as this current session.”

“I understand that, Mrs. Barnes, but how does that apply here?” Daniel question.

“From what I've learned, several of the parents remember Chenoa from one of our sections a few months ago,” the woman explained.  “The recital?” she prompted.

“Yes, that recital was very important to her,” Daniel recalled.

“Some of the students in this session were part of that group as well, and their parents have seen Chenoa here.”

“Mrs. Barnes ...”

“Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, those parents have put two and two together about you and your husband, and they've been vocal about it at home.”

“Vocal,” Daniel lamented.  “Jack and I didn't do anything wrong at that recital. We simply supported our daughter.  Look, we don't have to be as careful as we are, but we try to be respectful of the fact that parents do have a right to control what their young children are exposed to and when.  We're not trying to interfere with that.  All we did at that recital was tell Chenoa how proud we were of her.”

“I'm aware of that, but some of the parents overheard or witnessed that moment.  When they inquired who you were, some of the children and staff who knew, told them that you were Chenoa's parents.  Fortunately, nothing happened then, but ...”

“We will always support our children, Mrs. Barnes.”

“As you should, and I don't want that to change,” Mrs. Barnes said in agreement. She paused for a moment in contemplation.  “It's another irony because today, Chenoa was reaching out to a group of children she doesn't normally play with.  We've been encouraging the children to go beyond what is normal or safe, to test the waters, to get to know others, to be curious.  Chenoa approached the girls, wanting to join in their game, but they refused and began calling her names and saying things about you and your husband.”

“When I picked her up, the first thing she asked me was if I was sick,” Daniel remembered.

“I'm sure you get the idea of what the girls were saying to her.”

“Unfortunately, I know exactly what they were saying, Mrs. Barnes.”

“Chenoa began to cry, and that's when Donna walked up to them,” Mrs. Barnes explained.

“Donna is one of the assistants?”

“Was.  She's the one I fired.  According to Jody, and as I've now been able to confirm by talking with some others, Donna reprimanded Chenoa for crying, and later, right before you arrived, there was another incident with a couple of the same girls, and in that situation, Donna said nothing to the girls who had started the argument, but reprimanded Chenoa for shouting.”

“Shouting?”  Daniel leaned forward in his chair.  “Are you saying Chenoa was arguing with them?”

“As I understand it, she was simply denying what they were saying.  The point is, Donna failed in multiple ways today, so as I've said I've fired her.  I've also phoned the parents involved.  Three of them said they would talk to their children.  They, uh, aren't changing their views, but they have assured me that they would talk to their children about what is or isn't appropriate behavior here at the school.  One hasn't decided yet what they are going to do, and one is pulling her daughter out.  I hope, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, that you will continue to let Chenoa be a part of our program here.”

“I'll need to discuss that with my husband and Chenoa,” Daniel said.

Mrs. Barnes nodded and then became pensive, apparently debating about something.  After her internal debate, which lasted several seconds, the director leaned forward against her desk, her hands clasped together as she spoke.

“Doctor, Jody's parents are in a similar situation.  Her mothers have had a great deal of difficulty with their families in the past.  They've only recently moved here, hoping to get a fresh start.  That's one of the reasons Jody was hesitant to speak up at first.”

Daniel was surprised, shifting a bit in his chair as Mrs. Barnes continued.

“Don't you see?  I know it's difficult for Chenoa sometimes, just like it is for Jody, but if we keep our children sheltered, they won't gain the strength they need to move forward in this ... cruel world of ours.  I can't teach right and wrong, but I can try and instill tolerance in these children, and having Jody, Chenoa, and,” she smiled, “a couple others in our class is healthy.  They learn from one another.”

“Yes, they do.”

“As I said, Jody has had some hard times.  What she did today was a giant step forward for her.  I regret that it came at Chenoa's expense, but in the future, I think she can help your daughter here.  Please give us a chance,” Mrs. Barnes requested.

Seeing the woman's sincerity, Daniel nodded, and the two continued to talk about the situation more.

====

“So what do you think we should do?” Jack asked later that day.

When Daniel had explained what had happened, Jack had been livid but extremely proud of the way his husband had dealt with the matter.

“The program only goes for another six weeks.  I think we should talk to her and keep her in the program unless she has a serious aversion to it.”

“The real world and all that crap?” Jack questioned.

“Jack, it was five *little* girls, all following the bad example of their parents.  Mrs. Barnes and the rest of the staff will be keeping a close eye on Noa and Jody. Do you want Noa running away from adversity?”

“No, I want her to not have to deal with it.”  Seeing his lover's stare, he sighed, “I know; not a reality.  Okay, let's talk to her.”

====

“Don't know what they said, just felt bad,” Chenoa said softly as she leaned back into Daniel's strong hold.

Jack sat next to them, and he reached over and took his daughter's hand before saying, “Noa, when people say mean things, you need to remember that they're ...”

Daniel interjected, “They're just scared, Noa.  People get scared of things they don't know and understand.”

“Why scared of you and Dad?” Chenoa asked in a small voice.

“Because we're different.”

Chenoa blinked and bluntly asked, “'Cuz not Mommy and Daddy?”

“Right,” Daniel affirmed.  “We're ... Dad and Daddy, and that's different from what a lot of them know, so they get scared.”

“Oh.”

“Noa, when those girls, or anyone, tease you about us, you just hold your head up high.  You know that we love you, and being different doesn't mean we're bad.”

“Not bad!” Chenoa said definitively.

Jack smiled and replied, “No, we're not.”

“Noa,” Daniel said, “if you don't want to go back to the Kinder Camp, we won't make you.”

“Like Mrs. Barnes, and Julie and ...”  The young girl ran off a bunch of names, and then added, “and tomorrow is crafts day.”  She smiled and said, “Can't miss crafts day.”

“Okay,” Jack said.  “Just remember, you're our daughter, and that makes you very, very special.”

“Hold head up,” Chenoa repeated.

“Always,” Jack said.

“More ice cream?” the little girl requested.

Daniel laughed, knowing he was being had, and said, “Okay, but no taking advantage, young lady.”

**Don't take advantage?**

**Quiet, Jack.**

**Silly putty, Angel.**

**Where?** Daniel asked silently as he looked around.

**You!  Silly putty in our daughter's hands.**

Daniel smiled, and he and Jack shared a kiss before getting Chenoa her ice cream.

====

That night, after the children were all in bed, Jack and Daniel were in the living room, talking with Hammond.  They'd discussed a lot of things, but the topic at hand was what had happened with Chenoa at school.

“You want to be able to shield them even if that's impossible,” the three-star general stated.

“We can try,” Jack said.  After a beat, he nodded, adding, “You're right, but they're our children, and ...”

“And you wish we could protect them from the world, but we can't, Jack,” Daniel interrupted.  “They're growing up, and when they get teased because of us, it's going to hurt, and the only way to keep that from happening is to keep them in a plastic bubble, and that's no way to live.”

“It sure isn't,” Hammond agreed as he sipped his wine in his big leather chair.  After a sigh, he opined, “Raising a child is never easy, but you two have even more problems. You have to keep it in perspective for them because that plastic bubble doesn't exist.  No matter what you do, somewhere, somehow, someone is going to say something about who their parents are.”

Jack and Daniel looked at each other, both hating the truthfulness of the statement.

“The incident at the carnival and now this,” Jack said, shaking his head.  “I guess we just thought we had more time.”

“Time to do what, Jack?” Hammond asked.  “Unless you seriously intend to keep them under lock and key, all you can do is what you've been doing -- talking to them, letting them discover the good and the bad as it comes, and making sure that when the bad happens, they have a lot of support.  You can't handicap them, Jack.  Believe me, I know,” the bald man said, looking as if he were remembering something from back long ago.

“I don't want to keep them prisoner, George; I just don't want them to ...”  Jack snorted, shaking his head.  “I just thought there was more time to prepare them. They are way too young for this.”

“Parents always think they have time to explain what is difficult, Jack, and we always think our kids are too young to face the harsher trials of life.  But your brood is smart.  It's not like you can hide that your family is a little different from most of their friends.”

“We don't want to hide,” Jack said.  “We *so don't* want to hide.  I've had all the hiding I can stand.  No, Sir, no more hiding; never ...”

“Jack!” Daniel warned, arching his eyebrows.

“I was just saying we're not interested in hiding anything,” Jack finished.

Daniel chuckled lightly.  He looked over at Hammond who also had a small smile on his face.

“General, when did you know about us?” Daniel asked as curiosity got the best of him.

Hammond's look became thoughtful.  His eyes looked downward as he reviewed their history.  He let out a puff of air and then sipped his wine again.

“For sure, when you rode that bicycle in the SGC, and I think long before that, except I didn't have the luxury of being able to think about it, so I didn't.”

“Our good friend, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell',” Daniel lamented.

Hammond nodded as he explained, “I couldn't because I couldn't afford to lose the two of you.”

“I'm sure you had days when you wish we hadn't been around, or me, anyway.” Jack said jokingly.

The bald man let out a snort and responded, “Jack, you were a handful, but it was an honor then, and still is now, to work with you and Daniel.”  Smiles were on all three men's faces.  “Would you two like some more wine?”

“Thank you, Sir,” Daniel said, holding out his glass for the general.

“Thank you, George,” Jack said as Hammond gave him a full glass.

====

A few days later, Daniel walked outside where Jack was watching the Munchkins play.  Cassandra was still in the Springs, so she was babysitting the twins simply because she wanted to spend some extra time with them.  Janet and Sam had taken Jennifer shopping, Chenoa was at her Kinder Camp, and David was playing at a friend's house for the afternoon.  The beagles and Mittens were all inside the house, napping.

Daniel sat down across from Jack at the picnic table.  He had several papers in his hand.

“Jack, I feel really good about this.”

“Good.  About what?”

Daniel laughed as he began, “I know we already made the decision, but there's so much to learn and explore.  I've done more investigating about homeschooling, and I've reviewed the law again for Colorado.  I've even done some surfing on the internet.  Look at these classes that parents have set up.  I mean, there's something for everyone, and it sets up a social network for them as well.”

“What about the schools?  I read something about working with them?” Jack questioned.

Daniel smiled.  Apparently, his lover had been covertly researching the topic as well.

~That's my Jack,~ the archaeologist thought proudly.  “Some of them have programs that homeschoolers can participate in, like plays and recitals.  Jack, there's so much.  I'm more convinced than ever that we've made the right decision.”

“That's good since you've signed up for courses already.”

“Yeah, it's going to be hard around here.”  Daniel looked over where the triplets were playing.  “They're asking about her.”

“Daniel, I've tried.  She won't talk to me,” Jack spoke, his eyes mirroring the sadness in his voice.

“I know she was hurt, but we can't give up, Jack.  They love her; we love her.”

Jack sighed heavily.  He had never liked lying to Sara, and right now, he wasn't sure why he hadn't been honest with her about his education.  There really wasn't a reason to have kept it from her.

~Habit, I guess,~ Jack thought as he sighed heavily.  “I'll keep trying.”

====

The last day of May was ticking on.  It had been a hectic month for the Jackson-O'Neills, especially the last couple of weeks.  Getting used to living at General Hammond's home was taking some time for the twosome, though the children were having no problem at all.  They adored their surrogate grandfather and were thoroughly enjoying this opportunity to spend a lot of time with him.

Jack wasn't having any luck reaching Sara, who was simply refusing to talk to him.  He had gone to the Wilson's home a second time, and Mark had tried to get his wife to talk to him, but just like before, she refused, slamming the door in his face.

Today, Jack and Daniel were relaxing, or trying to.  Jennifer, David, and Chenoa were with the Ferrettis for the day, so it was just them and the five toddlers since Hammond was at the base.

Hammond's house was a nice one, and he lived on a lake.  For Jack and Daniel, it was like being at their cabin, only with nicer accommodations, and the children loved having the lake as their backyard, though it required making sure the younger ones were always in view of an adult or one of the older children.

“They're going to be spoiled,” Daniel said as they watched the children playing outside.

“We're not building a pool,” Jack laughed.

“A pool in Colorado Springs.  Hmm ... swimsuits.”

“Daniel!”

“I didn't say a thing, Jack,” the younger man smirked.

“Sure, you didn't.”  Jack paused and then said, “Be right back.”  He got up from the lawn and went to where Jonny and Jenny were building a fort.  “Hey, you two, you're a little too close to the edge of the water.”

“Like water,” Jenny said.

“Yeah, Dad; it's fun,” Jonny agreed.

“Yes, it is, when you're at a safe distance.  You're too close,” the silver-haired man stated strongly.

“He's got gen'rl eyes, Jenny,” Jonny said.

“Yeah.  We move, Dad,” the redhead agreed.

“Thank you.”

Jack watched as the children moved their fort back several feet.  When they looked at him, he gave them a loving glare.  They moved it back further.  Then he smiled and went back to sit with his lover.

“Good job, Babe.  I was about to do that myself,” Daniel stated.

“Jonny said I had, let me see if I can say this right, 'gen'rl eyes'.”

Daniel laughed and said, “They have your number, Jack; they know when they can push it and when they can't.”

“That's not such a bad thing.”

“No, it's not.  Now, about the pool ...”

“Daniel!”

====
--June - Where's the Off Button?
====

“Here you go, Son -- one ham and cheese sandwich, with catsup, just the way you like it.”

Jack shuddered.  He wasn't sure just how or when Little Danny got the idea to try a ham and cheese with catsup, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know either; the thought of it was not something he enjoyed.

“Shukran,” the little boy said.

Jack blinked and smiled.  He left the boy alone to eat the sandwich and walked into the living room.

“Daniel, have you been talking with Yazid recently?” Jack inquired of his husband.

“A few days ago.  Why?” Daniel replied, his eyes never leaving the papers he was reading.

“Your son just thanked me for his sandwich in Arabic,” Jack informed dryly.

Daniel sighed, put the sheets down, and looked up, saying,  “Jack, will you please stop calling him 'my' son whenever he, uh, well, when he ...”

“When he shows off those genius brain cells of yours,” the older man teased.

“Jack!” Daniel warned in a slightly raised voice.

“Oh, Danny, come on.  I'm just ...” Jack began.

“I don't care what you just,” Daniel told him firmly.  “You're a genius, too, and I'm really tired of you putting yourself down, even subtly.  Stop it, Jack. I mean it,” his tone indicative of just how serious he felt about the subject.

With a nod, Jack sighed and stated, “Well, *our* son just thanked me in Arabic, and last night he mumbled something in French.”

“Oh, well, I was helping David with his French lessons.  Now that I think about it, Little Danny and Jenny were in the room for a while,” Daniel recalled.

“We have to have him tested.  I hate that,” Jack said moodily.

“No, we don't.  I've been thinking about it, Jack, and since we're going to homeschool, all we need to do is make sure we keep challenging him,” Daniel stated thoughtfully.  “Okay, he's picking up on the languages, so we need to work with that.  He's obviously interested in them, so we start teaching him ... *and* don't you start looking at me like it's a 'me-only' thing, Jack. You know more Arabic than you like to let on, and you know Italian, and ... gawd, who knows what *else* you know that you haven't told me,” he teased.

Jack smiled and shrugged, silently thinking, ~Okay, so I know a few languages.~

“I *heard* that!” Daniel laughed, not having actually heard it but making an assumption instead.  He walked towards his husband and slipped his arms up around Jack's neck, using his hands to play with Jack's collar as he said, “I'm right, aren't I?  You know more languages than you've let on.”

“It's that old dumb colonel bit,” Jack admitted a bit reluctantly.

“Well, our son comes first, so if you see him picking up on something, we'll need to add it to our lesson plans,” Daniel insisted, his eyes giving Jack the message that the dumb act needed to give way to the teaching parent.

“Daniel, I do have one concern about homeschooling our kids, especially Little Danny,” Jack spoke, his hands gently rubbing the small of his lover's back.

“You do?  What is it?” Daniel asked, a bit surprised by the statement.

“I think it would be easy for us to let him jump around too much.  He's interested in so many things.  He needs depth in at least a few things, as well as having a lot of interests.  What would be an in-depth study for the average kid, he could memorize at lightning speed.  We need to make sure we really are challenging him, not just ourselves to keep up with him,” Jack stated.

“That's a good point, Love,” Daniel said, smiling at his husband's observation.

“It happens,” Jack said smugly.

“No.  Seriously, this is new for us, and we may need to remind ourselves of our goals from time to time.  As far as what we teach, we control the curriculum, and we need to make sure we stick to it.”  Taking a breath, Daniel continued, “It'll be fun, but it's still school, not just play time.  The challenges have to be there, and we can follow their lead a lot, but we also have to make sure we cover the subjects they may not like as well, too.”

“Lesson plans, Angel.  We outline the basics for their grade level, and then we can intersperse their interests with that,” Jack suggested.  “You may not believe this, but I was good at lesson plans.”

Daniel blinked several times before responding with, “Jack, lesson plans require paperwork.”

“Miracles happen,” Jack responded wryly.  After he and his lover both chuckled for a second, he added, “It's strategy.”

“What?” Daniel asked, not understanding reason behind the remark.

The older man explained, “Lesson plans are strategy.  It may be on paper and with a book and pen, but the principle is the same as if I were planning a rescue mission with men and weapons.  You review the situation, evaluate what you have, determine what you need, and figure out how to meet your objective.”

“Gawd.  You've just turned education into a battlefield,” Daniel said, shaking his head.

“It worked!”

Daniel smiled and said, “Okay, well, your right about making the lesson plans, and we have to be willing to rely more on outside sources if any one of our brood manages to advance in areas where we can't do justice to them.”

“I agree,” Jack said.  “As far as Little Danny goes, he likes Arabic, so let's start with that.  Hey, David can be included on that, too, since he speaks the language a bit.”

“Little Danny likes Arabic because he hears me talking to Yazid.”  Daniel smiled.  “Our children watch us, Jack.  Part of what we have to do is figure out what is mimicry versus what they truly love.”

“I know what I truly love,” Jack smirked, pulling his lover in for a tender kiss. “Geez, I miss you.”

“I'm right here,” Daniel lulled, carding his fingers through Jack's silver hair.

“Yeah, but ... you know what I mean,” the general whispered, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

“We're paranoid,” Daniel said, half teasing and half totally seriously.

“Very,” Jack agreed.  “Let's go out.”

“Date night,” Daniel said softly.

“Friday.”

“Oh, yeah -- Friday!” Daniel exclaimed happily.

Their passion was flaring, but Jack and Daniel knew they couldn't act on it while living at General Hammond's home, so regrettably, they pulled away and went on with their day.  It wasn't that there was any rule against making love at Hammond's house, but it's just that it *was* Hammond's house.  The couple had actually attempted it during their first week at the lakeside home, but both stopped at almost the exact same time, visions of the general interrupting them effectively killing the mood.

“Danny, the twins are about to grow out of their clothes.  They're getting so big.” Jack laughed.  “I think I'm both happy and sad about that,” he added.

“Yeah, me, too,” Daniel sighed in a melancholy way, happy that the twins were growing up happy and healthy, but regretting that they were not babies anymore.

“Anyway,” Jack continued.  “I know that they have the Munchkins' hand-me-downs, but Jenny and Ricky should have some new things, too.”

“Yeah, they're all growing up,” Daniel responded a bit sadly.

“Children do that, Love,” Jack chuckled, taking Daniel's hand and gently rubbing it.

“I know, but I miss those little babies that used to wake up in the middle of the night,” Daniel said longingly.

“Yeah, me, too,” Jack agreed.

The parents smiled, knowing that almost miraculously, they had survived having five infants in their home at the same time.  It had almost driven them insane, but the love they had for all of them was tremendous, and now, with the twins on the verge of being twenty-one months old, the days of diapers and bottles were pretty much over, while the times of waking up in the middle of the night were already gone.

“I think I'll take Ricky and Jenny shopping today,” Jack stated a moment later.

“They'll like that,” Daniel responded, though he added a quick warning.  “But behave, Jack.”

“Behave?” Jack asked questioningly, a 'who me' look on his face.

“Yes, no more 'Homer says D'oh' T-shirts,” Daniel reprimanded.

“Spoilsport,” Jack laughed before giving his husband a kiss and heading upstairs to get the twins ready for their shopping excursion.

====

Meanwhile, Daniel entered the kitchen.  He saw his namesake still munching away on his sandwich, catsup running down Little Danny's chin.  He shook his head at the picture of innocence sitting before him and then shivered at the food combination.

“Marhaba,” Daniel said, leaning against the counter across from the toddler.

Little Danny smiled and said, albeit with a mouth full of ham and cheese, “Marhaba.”

“Kheif halak?” the linguist questioned.

“Bikhair,” Little Danny replied, after finishing his mouth full.

Daniel swallowed.  He really hadn't expected a response, but he had asked his son how he was, and the youngster had just replied that he was doing well.

~Okay, let's up the ante a little.~  Daniel asked, “Ma ismikai?” not entirely sure whether his son would understand him.

Little Danny laughed, “You funny, Daddy,” and then he took a drink from his glass of milk.

“I am?  Why?”

“You know my name!” Little Danny explained, shaking his head as he laughed again.

~Where has he learned that?~ Daniel pondered.  “With a nod, he responded, “Yes, I do, but what if I didn't?”

Little Danny sighed, “Ismee Danny.”

Smiling as he sat down at the table, Daniel asked, “Do you know how to count in Arabic?”  When the little boy shook his head, he asked, “Uh, do you want to?”

“Be fun,” Little Danny said as he nodded.

“Okay, let's count to five in Arabic,” Daniel suggested.  “One is wahid, two is ithnan, three is thalatha, four is arbaa, and five is khamsa.”  He saw his son thinking hard.  “Is something wrong?”

“Write it down?” Little Danny asked.

“Sure.” Daniel got up and found some paper and a pen. He returned to the table and wrote out the Arabic words as well as their symbols and English equivalent. “Here we go. Wahid ...”

After reviewing them one time, Little Danny smiled and said, “Thanks, Daddy.”  The little boy pushed the paper away and took another bite out of his sandwich.  “What's six?” he asked a few moments later.

“Well, let's just master one through five first,” Daniel said, moving to push the piece of paper back in front of Little Danny.

“Know them,” the boy mumbled, pushing the paper back towards his father.

“You do?” Daniel asked surprised, sitting back in his chair.

“Wahid one, ithnan two ...” Little Danny recited.

Daniel sat, stunned yet again at how quickly the boy was picking things up.  He knew, too, that Little Danny did have a photographic memory; that's why he'd wanted to see the words on paper.

“Six is sitta,” Daniel said, writing it out at the same time.

Just then, Jack walked in and announced, “Danny, the twins and I should be back by five.”

“Khamsa,” Little Danny said, staring up at Jack.

“Khamsa,” Jack repeated, adding, “sitta at the latest.”

Looking over his older father, Little Danny asked, “What's seven?”

Jack looked at Daniel, who also smiled and pointed out the piece of paper, instructing his husband, “Write it down for him, Jack.”

“Okay.” The older man leaned forward and, seeing what his soulmate had done, wrote down the word, plus the Arabic number and its English equivalent. He tilted the paper towards the boy and said, “The word for seven is sabaa.”

“Sabaa.  You home by sabaa?” Little Danny asked.

“Definitely.  Uh, aiwa,” Jack corrected himself.

Little Danny scrunched his nose.

“You don't know that word?” Daniel asked in surprise.

“Aiwa mean 'yes',” Little Danny said, looking up at Daniel.

“Then why do you look,” Daniel pointed to his face, “all, uh, well ...”

“Nose itches,” Little Danny answered, scrunching his nose up again in annoyance.

Jack broke out into laughter and accommodated the middle Munchkin by scratching his itchy nose.

“Thank you, Dad,” the little boy said.

“You're welcome, Son,” Jack acknowledged.  He then gave Little Danny a kiss on top of his head and did the same for Daniel.  “I'll ...”

“Excuse me!” Daniel exclaimed, staring Jack down with a 'sleep on the sofa' look.

Chuckling, Jack gave his husband a proper kiss good-bye and asked, “Better?”

“Mmm-mmm.  Much,” Daniel answered, happily lost in the tingly after effects of the lingering kiss.

Still chuckling, Jack exited the kitchen, calling out, “I love you both,” as he walked away.

“We love him, too, don't we?” Daniel asked.  Seeing the boy's grin, he wrote another word on the piece of paper.  “Nohibokom.”

“Nohibokom,” Little Danny repeated.

====

“Pretty,” Jenny said as she twirled around in the red dress she had just put on.

Jack chuckled, “You look like Annie.”

“Annie?” the little girl asked, not having a clue who her father was talking about.

“Annie was a comic strip character, and she had red hair just like you do.  I'll show you when we get home.”  Jack straightened the dress a little.  “You're a lot prettier, though,” he told her confidently.

Jenny grinned modestly, happy her father was doting over her.

“Let's try these,” Jack suggested, picking up a couple of other outfits for his daughter.

====

The shopping excursion didn't take Jack as long as he had thought it would.  Both children had been very well behaved, and the stores weren't crowded.

“We made good time,” Jack noted as he checked his watch.

When Ricky grinned and Jenny smiled while almost biting her lip, Jack swallowed.  He cocked his head slightly as he looked down at the twins.

“Okay, what are you two up to?” Jack asked suspiciously.

“Zoo!” Ricky said eagerly, his eyes big and bright with wonder.

“Yeah, zoo,” Jenny added, bouncing slightly as she spoke.

~Look at them.  That's why they were so well-behaved in there.  I should have known.~  Jack chuckled.  ~Why not?  They earned it.~  His chuckle settled into a smile as he advised, “Well, okay, but by the time we get there, we'll only have a little while.”

“Feed 'rafts,” Jenny said eagerly.

Jack chuckled, said, “That's giraffes, Honey,” gave her a kiss, and then prepared his children for the ride to the zoo.

====

“Hey, look at these,” Jack said, pointing out the little red wagons the zoo had just acquired.

The wagons were for kids 'too old' for strollers.  Parents could pull the wagons with their toddlers sitting in them.

“Can we, Dad?” Ricky asked, liking the look of the wagons.

“Sure, why not,” Jack agreed, paying for a wagon rental.

With his kids secured in the wagon, they set off for their zoo adventure.

“Peanuts, Dad!” Ricky demanded.

“And crackers!” Jenny requested.

Jack bought a few bags for the children to munch on as they journeyed through the zoo.  Jenny was having a great time, but every time Jack looked at Ricky, his son was looking down, munching on the nuts.

~I don't know if he's liking this or not.  Maybe Jenny was the one who really wanted to go to the zoo.  Or maybe he's a nut junkie,~ Jack chuckled inwardly.  ~I hope Danny is planning on a late dinner; he's going to shoot me for ruining their appetites.~

As time passed, Jack glanced at his watch.  They had time for just two more areas, so he chose the giraffes first, to make sure the children were able to feed the long-necked creatures, which Jenny had especially wanted to do. Then they went to see the elephants.  Once again, Ricky seemed disinterested, though he was glued to the bag of peanuts.

“Kids, time to go,” Jack announced.

Jack happened to be looking at Ricky.  He about burst into laughter when all of a sudden, his son looked up, waved at the animals in the enclosure, and said, “Bye, bye, elephants,” and then, lickity split, went back to munching on his peanuts.

~Kids; they keep me young.~

====

The next morning, Jack found a secluded corner of the Hammond's backyard and pulled out his cell phone.  He didn't want to be seen making the call, nor risk being overheard.  To cover his activities, he had covertly taken one of Ricky's toys.  The youngest boy of the brood had been going through a lot of forgetful behavior lately, as in leaving his toys out and not putting them away, and sometimes losing toys because he couldn't remember where he'd left them.

“Alex,” Jack whispered.  “How's it coming?”

“The plans are ready for you to look at.  When can you meet me?” the designer inquired, hoping to meet as soon as possible.

“I'm playing chauffeur for Jen and a few of her friends this morning.”

“Matinee?”

“Mall,” Jack answered.  ~Malls and teenagers, kinda like waffles and maple syrup -- they just seem to go together.  At least the waffles won't empty my wallet, Jen on the other hand ...~

Alex chuckled, “Turning a bunch of teens loose in the mall could loosen your wallet, General.”

“She's on a budget.  Will you be at the house all morning?” Jack asked, going back to the original point of the conversation.

“Yes.  I need to review some measurements and discuss plans with Gordon, so I'll be there pretty much all day,” Alex assured.

Seeing Daniel walking outside, Jack quickly said, “See you there,” and flipped off his cell phone.  “Hey, Angel,” he called out, holding up an object.  “Look, I found Ricky's dump truck!”

“Babe, we're going to have to get stricter about Ricky leaving his toys out.”

Jack nodded, silently thinking, ~Don't worry, Ricky.  I know Dad took your truck, but he'll make it worth your while.~

====

“What do you think, General?” Alex asked.

“Keep it to 'Jack', Alex; no need to be formal around here.  I like it,” Jack said, reviewing the plans in the master bedroom.  “Danny will love this.”

“I realize you and Daniel have said 'no' to this before, but I wouldn't be worth my salary if I didn't try and convince you to turn that closet into a walk-in.”

“Trust me, Alex, it's something we'd like to do, but, sorry, no,” Jack finished, thinking of the false wall of the gun cabinet.

Alex nodded; then said, “You realize that you'll have to shift the furniture around, or there won't be enough clearance between the end of the bed and the new wall to get around.”

“It'll be an adjustment, but I don't think Danny will mind once he gets used to it. So, the new wall will go about ...” Jack walked to a spot and said, “... here.”

“Correct,” Alex affirmed with a nod.

“Hmm, so our door is going to be banging into the wall,” Jack observed.

“We can make sure you don't bang up the new paint job,” Alex commented.

“Okay.  Alex, you have a 'go',”  Jack instructed, using a military expression, one that many a SG team had heard.

“A ... 'go'.”  Alex chuckled, “Thank you, General ... Jack.”

====

Two days later, Chenoa, the Munchkins, and the twins were gathered together in General Hammond's garden, talking quietly, while David was inside the house, watching cartoons.

“Miss her,” Jonny told his three brothers and two sisters.

“Hafta find out what we did wrong,” Chenoa said sadly.

“Me.  My fault,” Aislinn said softly.

“No, Ash,” Jonny and Little Danny said together, both getting up to hug their fellow triplet.

“But I ate too much pie; got sick; messed up Aunt Sara's new carpet,” Aislinn argued, bowing her head.

“Aunt Sara loves you.  Carpet no matter,” Chenoa replied.

“No matter, Ash,” Jenny said, shaking her head in agreement.

“Be back.  Stay,” Little Danny ordered his siblings as he stood up and quietly walked away from them.

Since the children weren't by the lake, Jack and Daniel didn't need to be as guarded and could be a little more relaxed in their vigilance.  They were snuggling at the moment while watching their brood.

“They're up to something, Jack,” Daniel opined as he glanced over at the children.

“When aren't they?” the older man replied.

The couple refocused on the lake.  They were also able to relax a little because Jennifer was outside, too, keeping an eye on her siblings while reading the latest issue of 'Elle Girl' magazine.

A minute later, Little Danny motioned for his siblings to come closer to him.  Covertly, he pulled out the cordless phone.  He had taken the phone from the patio table next to Jennifer.  She had placed it there, expecting a call from Sheila. Engrossed in reading an article about make-up, and with Little Danny pulling off his slight-of-phone extremely quietly, the teenager didn't notice the phone's disappearance.

“Gonna call Aunt Sara,” Little Danny whispered.

“Dad 'n' Daddy not like,” Jenny warned.

“Hafta do it,” Jonny answered, stamping his foot down in agreement with his brother.  “N'ver leave behind.”

“Yeah,” Little Danny said as he carefully pressed the buttons, saying the numbers in a whisper as he did so.

Chenoa and the Munchkins all knew the four most important numbers -- their home, Hammond's, Sam's, and Sara's.

“Hello,” Sara answered.

“Hi, Aunt Sara!” Little Danny greeted, happy at hearing his beloved aunt's voice.  “It's me!”

Sara tensed slightly.  She loved these children deeply, but right now, she needed some space.

“Hello, Little Danny.  How are you?” Sara inquired formally.

“Miss you ... lots!  When we see you 'gain?” the little boy asked, urgency in his tone.

“Well, I ... I ...” Sara stammered.  This was hard.  For a moment, she wanted to say she'd be right over, but then she remembered Jack, and all of her anger returned.  “I miss all of you, too, very much, but ...”

“Don't you love us anymore?” Little Danny asked with a trembling voice.

“I love you *very* much,” Sara answered truthfully, trying not to break down into tears.

“Love you, too!  Miss you!” Little Danny exclaimed.

Each of the children took their turns on the phone, each telling Sara how much they loved and missed her.  The noise volume rose dramatically.

“Jack, what are they ... Jack, they've got the phone,” Daniel said, jumping up and running toward the garden with Jack following close behind.

“What's going on?” Daniel demanded, holding out his hand for the phone.

“Uh oh.  In trub'le now,” Jonny said as he held the phone.  “Love us?”

“Very much, Jonny,” Sara answered.

“Play us soon,” the oldest Munchkin said.

“Give me the phone,” Daniel insisted.  Putting it to his ear, he asked, “This is Doctor Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.  Who am I talking to?”

“Hello, Daniel,” Sara answered, a bit relieved not to be talking to the children any longer.

“Sara?  Gawd, I'm sorry,” Daniel spoke, looking over at the children and then moving away from them.

Now aware of who was on the phone Jack's anger flared and he barked, “Inside,” at the kids.  “Now!”

“Gen'rl eyes,” Ricky said.

“NOW!” Jack reiterated loudly as he pointed towards the house at the same time. All six of the children hurried inside.  “Jennifer, watch them ... like a hawk!” he ordered, seeing that the teenager had come over to see what the commotion was about.

“Yes, Sir,” Jennifer replied, going inside to join her siblings.

“No, Jack's just ... upset that they bothered you,” Daniel said to Sara, hoping that she didn't think they'd put the kids up to this.

“I don't mind, Daniel.  Little Danny has your genius, and besides, they're children; they don't understand,” Sara sighed.  ~Heaven help me, I'm not sure I do, either.~

“To be honest, Sara, I don't, either.  I mean, I know what he did; believe me, I know, but ...” Daniel began, trying to be supportive of his husband.

“Daniel, I don't want to discuss it.  Please tell the children I love them.  I'm sorry, I have to go now.”

“Sa...” Daniel heard the click of the phone, “...ra.”

“Did she hang up?” Jack asked, looking at the ground, not needing to hear Daniel's answer.

“Yes.  Apparently, Little Danny was the instigator, or at least he was the one who talked to her first.  They miss her, Jack.  We have to fix this,” Daniel implored.  ~Don't give up, Jack; it's too important.~

“How?  The woman won't talk to me, or to you, apparently!” Jack said, upset at Sara and the situation.

Daniel sighed.  He looked at the sad faces staring at them through the glass patio doors.

“Don't yell at them, Jack,” the younger man warned.  “This isn't their fault; they are only doing what we've taught them -- to stand up for their family.  Sara's family.”

Jack looked over at his brood and sighed, “I ... didn't mean to.  I was yelling at me,” he trailed off.

“You know that, and I know that, but they don't,” Daniel chastised.

“I'll take care of it.  I love you,” Jack said, exchanging a quick kiss before walking inside the house to square things with his children.

====

The following Saturday, Jack was at the SGC when a crisis occurred. The truth was he had barely arrived at the facility when he had been called to handle yet another of Doctor Lee's experiments gone wrong.  Since General Hammond was in Washington, D.C. for several days, Jack had agreed to put in some extra time at the military base.

At the moment, the two-star general was headed to his office to check the status reports.  He wanted to know what teams were off-world and what the mission plans were for the week.

“General,” Sergeant Davis called out as he hurried towards Jack's position in the corridor outside his office.

“Walter?” Jack asked, worried by the look on the Sergeant's face.

“We've got a problem,” the white-haired sergeant said, handing Jack a readout of the transmission.

Jack read it, a frown quickly appearing on his face, and then ordered, “I want SG-3 ready to go in one hour, and ... where's Carter?”

“She's off-world, Sir, with SG-19,” Davis reported.

“Teal'c?”

“He's with SG-7.”

“Can they be reached?” Jack asked, glancing at the transmission again.

“I think so, Sir, but it might take a while,” the master sergeant responded.

“Do it.”  Davis began to walk away when Jack called after him.  “Walter, tell Colonel Cornell he's in charge until I get back.”

“Get back, Sir?” Davis questioned, clearly confused.

“I have something I have to do.  Call me on my cell if anything changes,” Jack ordered already heading for the elevator.

====

“What is it?” Daniel asked Jenny about the drawing she had given him.

“Daddy!” the little girl chastised in frustration, not understanding that her father didn't have a clue as to what the drawing depicted.

“Um, it's very nice Jenny, but ... well ... what is it?” Daniel asked carefully.

“Dad feeding the rafts!” Jenny informed him proudly.

“Giraffes.”  ~Of course it's giraffes!  Silly me, be careful, Jackson, very careful.~  Daniel chuckled inwardly.

“Yeah!” Jenny smiled happily.

Daniel smiled, but the smile disappeared when Jack unexpectedly walked in, looking very anxious, even though he was trying to hide it.

“Dad, picture!” Jenny said, grabbing the drawing from Daniel and running to her other father.

“It's beautiful, Jenny,” Jack praised, though he'd only given the artwork a cursory look.  “Where's Jennifer?”

“Upstairs.”

Without saying another word, Jack picked up the redhead and took her upstairs where he found Jennifer, Chenoa, and the Munchkins.  Moments later, working on instinct, Daniel brought David and Ricky upstairs, too.

“You guys stay here for a few minutes.  I need to talk to Daddy,” Jack said, giving Jennifer an unmistakable look that said to keep the brood together.

====

Once downstairs, Daniel began to ask Jack what was wrong, but he only got out a single word when Jack interrupted him.

“SG-2 was on a recon to PRX-959 when they were attacked by the locals.  Apparently, they aren't interested in being friends,” Jack stated quickly, knowing time was of the essence.

“SG-2,” Daniel said softly.

“Robertson's dead.  He was wounded and left to die, but he made it back to the Stargate and managed to dial in with the MALP.  He said the others were dragged off.  He said he heard something about some crazy ritual being held tonight, at the end of which our guys would be killed.  He died before we could find out anything more,” Jack reported, bowing his head at the loss of another man.

“How long are the days and nights?  I mean, is there time?” Daniel asked, concerned for the team and their leader, Lou Ferretti.

“Yeah, we have a few hours.  Their days are twenty hours long, and the nights ten.  We have time.”

Daniel stared at Jack.  He was self-hugging now, and for a moment, he looked upstairs in the direction where he knew their children were.

“I have to go, Danny,” Jack told his husband firmly but gently.

“No, Jack,” Daniel said, shaking his head.

“Daniel ...” Jack interrupted, not wanting to argue with his husband, but knowing they probably would.

“*We* have to go,” Daniel reiterated just as firmly.

“You can't.”

“Yes, I can.  We go together, remember?” Daniel reminded, referring to their vow, pledge, and pact.

“Daniel, Sam and Teal'c are both off-world.  Walter's trying to pull them back in, but I don't know if we can wait for them or not.  Even if we can wait, I need them on the extraction team.  Megan and Karissa, along with half our staff, are working the site in Arkansas.  Cassie's not in town; Janet's at a seminar; Nyan's on vacation ...”  Jack groaned at the realization they were plain out of caregivers for their children.  “There's no one, Danny; no one to take care of our brood if we both go.”

“Yes, there is.”

Jack stared at Daniel in disbelief, shaking his head as he said, “She won't do it.”

“Yes, she will.  She loves them, Jack, and she won't abandon them.”

“I tried talking to her three days ago with the same results,” Jack sighed, running his hands through his hair in frustration.

“There's always an 'or', Jack.”  Daniel closed the gap between he and his soulmate.  With great passion, he cupped Jack's face and kissed him hard.  “We have to go, and we both know it.”

“If it weren't Lou ...” Jack began.

“But it is Lou, and we owe him.  Now, let's get the children together, and take them to Sara's,” Daniel all but ordered his lover.

“Are we going to call first?” Jack asked, agreeing that taking the children to Sara's was probably was their only course of action.

“No.”

Jack was perplexed, and time was of the essence.

“What if she says 'no'?  We don't have time to waste, Danny.”

“Then, we'd better go,” Daniel responded flatly as he headed for the stairs, praying he wasn't misjudging Sara.  ~But I'm not.  I trust you, Sara O'Neill Wilson, and I know you love our children.  No way in Netu would you let them down in this situation.  No way!~

====

The children were excited.  Their parents had done the acting job of their lives to convince them that everything was fine.  They told them they had to go out of town for a little while, maybe just a few hours, or maybe longer, but in the meantime, Aunt Sara was looking forward to taking care of them again -- they hoped.

Jack nervously tapped on the door.

**Jack, do not let her close the door.**

Jack was in the front of their huddle, the eight children crowding around him with Daniel bringing up the rear.

“Yes, how can I ... what is going on?” Sara demanded of her ex-husband, as soon as she caught sight of him.

“Aunt Sara!” the brood erupted, charging by their dad and running excitedly inside the house.

Sara hadn't even had time to react, and since she didn't have a choice, she knelt down and welcomed the children.  Besides, no matter how angry she was with Jack, she loved the eight children who were hugging and kissing her warmly.

~I knew it, Sara.  You'll take care of them,~ Daniel thought as he watched the group hug.  He focused on Sara's eyes for a moment.  Her anger at Jack had not dissipated, but her love for the Jackson-O'Neill children came first.  ~Thank you for loving them.~

“Sara, we need to talk,” Jack asked calmly, hoping she would listen.

The blonde looked at Jack, and then at Daniel, and without needing to hear a word, she knew there was serious trouble.  She nodded and led the way back outside.

“You have a lot of nerve, Jack,” Sara accused tersely.

“It's Lou Ferretti, Sara,” Jack explained, immediately noting a change in her demeanor: hardness being replaced by concern.  “His team was off-world when they were attacked.”

“Lou's been taken prisoner, Sara.  They're going to kill him.  I'm sorry to do this to you, but we have to go, and we have to leave them with you,” Daniel stated, his eyes misting as he looked away.

“Of course,” the blonde responded, unable to say no in this situation.

“Thank you, Sara.  We have to go,” Jack said.

“What do they know?” Sara inquired, not wanting to say something to the children she shouldn't.

“Nothing.  We didn't ... we don't have time to ... gawd, I promised myself we'd never do this to them,” Daniel answered, his voice hitched as he looked away.

Knowing the horror that was disturbing him, Sara walked to Daniel and embraced him while assuring, “Daniel, they'll be fine, and so will you.”

Sara smiled at Daniel, but, still angry at her ex-husband, only glared at Jack before walking back inside her house.

A few minutes later, after doing another great acting job as they said good-bye to their children, Jack and Daniel headed towards the SGC.

====

“Sir,” Sam called out, meeting Jack and Daniel at the elevators and falling into step with them as they strode towards the control room to get the latest update.

“Glad you made it back, Carter.  What about Teal'c?” Jack asked after his Jaffa teammate.

“He's in the gear-up room,” the blonde colonel answered.

“Good.  Anything new?”

“No.  The MALP shows the Stargate is clear,” Sam responded, picking up her pace to keep up with the agitated general who was walking faster than his normal 'fast' pace.

“What about the UAV?” Jack asked brusquely.

“They shot it down, Sir.”

“Of course they did,” the general quipped, scowling.

“Jack, maybe we should take another team,” Daniel suggested as they entered the control room where Davis was seated at his usual position.

“Yeah, Walter ...” Jack began to call out.

“Sir,” Sam interrupted.  “SG-19 has volunteered to go.”

“Aren't they still on ...”  Jack struggled for the destination.  ~Way too many dang numbers to remember.~

“P92-148,” Davis completed.

“No, Sir.  The mission was completed when we got the call.  They're in the gear-up room with Teal'c, waiting for your permission to join the rescue team,” Sam reported.

“Okay.”

Jack nodded at Davis, who picked up the phone to notify the team of Jack's decision.

As Jack reviewed the details of SG-2's mission, Sam glanced at Daniel and asked quietly, “Daniel, what about the kids?”

“They're at Sara's.”

Daniel saw Sam's questioning look, but he just shook his head.

Sam thought that was odd, all things considered, but right now, she needed to focus on the job at hand.

As she worked though possible options, Sam looked over at Jack and suggested, “Maybe SG-3 and ...”

Daniel interrupted his friend, saying, “Sam, we have to go.  You know why.”

Sam nodded.  Lou Ferretti had been more than a teammate to Jack and Daniel since the original mission to Abydos, and over time, he had become one of their inner circle, a very close friend.  There was no way the couple could turn their backs on Lou.  After all, he had always been there when they had called, something they both had done over the years.

When Graham Simmons had gone after Jack, using Daniel as a lure, drugging and torturing both men, Lou had been there in a flash, doing anything and everything Jack had asked, and when Paul Duncan had stalked Daniel, again, Lou was there without question, providing support and doing some of the very nasty cleanup for the couple.

Now, it was Jack's and Daniel's turn to help their friend, and they would not turn their backs on him.

Before heading to the gear-up room themselves, Jack ordered, “Walter, I want someone with Carolyn Ferretti, and not just a green recruit, either.  She knows Lou was due back in time for dinner. ”

“Grace,” Daniel suggested.

Jack nodded at Davis, who again picked up the phone to call Grace Satterfield to the control room.  Though now a captain, and a fine soldier for the SGC, one of the things Jack and Daniel loved about her was her extreme compassion.  She would be in a unique position to offer Lou's wife more than a military presence, but understanding and support as well.

====

Thirty minutes later, SG-1, SG-3, SG-19, and SG-12 stepped through the Stargate to PRX-959.  They had decided that it would be smart to leave a team at the Stargate, so at the last minute, Jack had ordered SG-12 to come along and guard the Gate.

“It reminds me of Abydos,” Daniel said absently as he scanned the seemingly endless desert.

“How far?” Jack asked.

“Six clicks to the east, Sir,” Sam replied, indicating how far it was to the locals' encampment.

====

Halfway to their destination, with the sand kicking up, Jack ordered the teams to put on goggles.

“I never thought I'd say this, but I miss trees,” Jack mused.

It was an all too brief moment of levity as the SGC personnel continued their trek.  The closer they came, though, the worse the conditions became.

“It's a sandstorm, Jack.  I remember these very well.  We need to find shelter,” Daniel advised.

“Shelter?  I don't see a Hilton anywhere, do you?” Jack asked sarcastically.

Daniel scowled at his husband as he responded, “Jack, you've been through these.  We won't be able to help Lou or anyone if we get buried in this storm.”

“He's right, Sir,” Sam said, shielding her face from a sudden gust of sand.

“O'Neill!  There!” Teal'c shouted, his deep voice sounding faraway to Jack.

Standing on a rise, Teal'c pointed towards a rock formation about a half-mile to the north.  It was off their path, but it was also the only shelter they could see.

Jack moved to the rise and used his binoculars to study the formation for a moment.  Reluctantly, he gave the order, and the teams headed for the site.

“Maybe there'll be a cave in those rocks,” Colonel Marc Reynolds, leader of SG-3, offered.

“Maybe,” Jack said as they walked, not at all sure today would be their lucky day.

====

To Jack's surprise, and delight, Reynolds had been right, and they found a cave in the rocks that was quite large, giving the three teams plenty of room to settle in while they waited out the storm.

The teams had been there forty-five minutes when Jack got up to walk around a bit.  The storm was still going full-throttle with no signs of letting up.  He was worried.  If what Robertson had said was true, Lou and the others were running out of time.

Jack knelt down on his haunches next to a fire.  To his right was Reynolds.

“So, how's Major Davis?” Jack asked as he extended his arms forward to warm his hands near the fire.

“Good; very good, in fact.  This long-distance thing isn't easy, though,” Reynolds replied softly, looking around to make sure no one could overhear.

“I could never do it; would drive me crazy.”  Jack looked at the colonel sympathetically and suggested, “You could always transfer.”

“We've talked about it, or Paul trying to work a transfer here.  Don't suppose you could help with that?” Reynolds asked, feeling both hopeful and desperate.

Jack almost choked.  He'd spent years keeping Paul Davis out of his hair, or rather, out of Daniel's hair, as much as possible.  For most of that time, he'd been jealous of the man and was always letting his imagination get the best of him.  Not long ago, though, he'd discovered that Paul was involved in a long-term relationship with Reynolds, one that went back almost as long as Jack's love affair with Daniel.  It seemed ironic to Jack that now he might actually help get Paul Davis transferred to the SGC on a permanent basis.

Jack coughed, bringing his hands up to his mouth.

“Are you okay, General?” Reynolds asked, concerned about the mission commander.

“Something just went down the wrong way,” Jack responded as he nodded.

Without answering the original question, Jack stood and walked back over to where Daniel was sitting against the cave wall.  He sighed as he scooted down the wall to sit next to his husband.

“Danny, if this storm doesn't end soon ...”

Jack didn't finish his sentence, because the outcome didn't bare thinking about.

“I know,” Daniel replied, his hands clasped together as his arms rested on his knees and his head bowed.

“No way to fight a sandstorm,” Jack lamented.

“None,” Daniel confirmed.

“We could chance it anyway,” Jack said, hating the waiting.

“Jack, that sand is so thick outside.  We wouldn't even be able to see where we were going.”

“Daniel, if we can't see, neither can they,” Jack said suddenly as the realization hit him.

Daniel looked up, a hint of a smile on his face, and responded, “If the ritual is performed outside, but ...”

“But if it's not ...” Jack began, though he didn't finish his sentence.  The lovers quieted, and several minutes passed before he related, “Davis wants to transfer to the SGC.”

“What?”

Jack nodded over towards Reynolds and said, “Long distance isn't easy.”

“Oh,” Daniel chuckled lightly as he glanced at the former Area 51 scientist.  “I couldn't do it.”

“That's what I said,” Jack noted.  With a sigh, he added, “Reynolds asked if I could help.”

“He did?”  Daniel glanced over at the colonel and then turned his bowed head to face Jack.  “Are you going to?”  Hearing his lover's groan, the younger man smiled in realization.  “You are, aren't you?”

“I feel like I sort of owe him, you know?” Jack responded.  ~Heaven help me.~

“All those years of Mr. Jealousy for nothing?” Daniel teased, only half seriously.

Jack grimaced, remembering many arguments with his lover over Paul Davis, none of them remotely necessary as it had turned out.

**I love you, Jack.**

**I love you, too.**

====

Two long hours passed before the sandstorm eased, but once it did, the search and rescue teams were once again headed to the locals' encampment.

Finally, the rescuers came to the last rise.  Lying down on the hot sand, Jack used his binoculars to survey the site.  There really wasn't much to see, just a few worn-down buildings made of wood and a few tented areas, scattered throughout an area of approximately half a mile.

“Are you sure this is the place, Carter?” Jack asked his 2IC.

“According to the UAV, it's the only ... village in this sector of the region.  There's nothing else for miles.  It has to be the place,” Sam said.  ~I hope.~

“General, there, on the left,” Reynolds pointed out, looking through his own binoculars.

On the far left of the encampment, two men exited one of the tents.  They had weapons flung over their shoulders.  Three others emerged moments later, and then the five walked to a wooden building, that wasn't much more than a shack, a few yards away.

“They remind me of the, uh ...” Jack struggled to remember the name he sought.  “Danny, what was the name of those people that dressed Carter up to look like she was going to a masquerade ball.”

“Very funny, Sir,” Sam acknowledged with a bit of a grimace.  ~Paybacks, General, and I can do that now.  I have leverage -- eight of them!~

Sam gave her CO a mock glare only to receive a smirk in return.

“The Shavadai, descendents of a Mongol tribe,” Daniel answered.

“Well, don't they look like them?”

“Actually ... they, uh, do,” Daniel said, a slight smile on his face as he remembered Sam's outrage at being dressed like a Barbie doll.

“I don't see any women down there,” Sam observed.

“They're in the tents cooking, cleaning, and having babies,” Jack quipped.

“Jack!”

Jack merely shrugged in response.

Aside from the five men, several others were milling around in the rest of the village.

“Okay, here's what ...” Jack began his outline of the rescue plan.

“Sir, look,” Sam interrupted, pointing to the area behind the tent that the five men had exited.

A man had crawled out under the tent.

“That's Magnetti,” Reynolds stated.  “He's injured, General,” he added, observing a bloodied scarf wrapped around the man's head.

“Where's he going?” Sam asked.

Just then, a sixth man walking towards the five glanced at Magnetti's movements.  He yelled out in his native language, and, within seconds, all six were chasing down the SG-2 team member.

Jack closed his eyes after witnessing several shots exploding into the man.  There was no doubt now: he was dead.

~I'm getting too old for this crap; too many deaths, and for what?  Focus, O'Neill.  We have to get Lou out of this place and fast.~

The next few minutes were spent discussing their plan of attack.  As always, Jack simplified it.  Plan A: attempt a diversion on the right side of the encampment while others extracted Lou and the remaining survivor of SG-2. If Plan A failed, Plan B was simple: “Send 'em all to Netu.”

“Everyone know what to do?”  Seeing the nods or 'yes' expressions on the teams' faces, Jack ordered, “Let's move out.”

The teams began to follow their plan, but for a moment Jack and Daniel paused, looking into each other's eyes.  It was their only communication, but it was all they needed.  A moment later, both focused on their tasks and headed towards the encampment.

====

The four members of SG-19 -- Watson, Spearshead, Moore, and Johnson -- headed for the eastern portion of the village.  It was their task to create the diversion.

SG-3 was moving around to the rear of the town.  They would be moving forward from a rear position to provide cover fire when and where it was needed.

SG-1 was making a beeline for the tent where they believed the surviving two members of SG-2 were being held hostage.

Closing in on their objective, SG-1 stopped for a moment behind a sand dune.

“Daniel, what about this ritual?”

“I have no idea,” the archaeologist answered.  Daniel risked a glance over the dune, but couldn't see anything significantly ritualistic.  “They don't seem to be doing anything, Jack.”

“Some of the villagers seem to be gathering there in the center, O'Neill,” Teal'c announced somberly.

“What's that he's carrying?” Daniel asked, more to himself than to anyone else as he watched one of the locals move towards the center of the village.

“Looks like bamboo,” Jack observed as he watched the people below.

“There are more,” Teal'c pointed out, as other villagers began to appear carrying bales of bamboo.

As Jack observed the villagers tying the bamboo together, he stated quietly, “I don't like this.”

“What are they doing?” Sam asked.

“They're making a bonfire,” Jack observed.

“And SG-2 are the pigs?” Daniel asked, earning him a glare from Jack.

“Daniel, pigs aren't cooked in bonfires.”

“Neither are people, Jack.”  Daniel winced as he added, “Except Guy Fawkes ... and witches ... and heretics ...”

“And SG-2,” Sam said, motioning back towards the villagers whom had just began to build a small base at the foot of the bonfire they had just erected.

“Reynolds, are you in position?” Jack questioned over the radio.

“Give us two more minutes, General,” Reynolds crackling voice requested.

“Ferretti and Richardson may not have two more minutes, Reynolds.  Get your people in position.”  Jack clicked on the radio again, asking, “Watson, are you ready to go?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“We're ready, General,” Reynolds announced.

“Jack!” Daniel called out, motioning towards the tent in the distance.

The five men were still standing between the tent and the small shack, but they had been joined by a sixth man carrying dynamite.

“What do they want dynamite for?” Jack asked.

“That's one heck of a way to start a bonfire,” Daniel said, again gaining a funny look from his husband to which he just shrugged.

As the men began to make movements back towards the tent, Jack gave the order to move out.  A minute later, SG-19 set an empty tent on the right side of the village on fire.  It didn't take long for the locals to discover the blaze, and immediately the majority moved towards the area to attempt to put it out.  The six men by the tent and shack, however, remained where they were.  Meanwhile, SG-19 covertly moved around to provide backup for SG-3 as they advanced forward.

Jack and Sam moved in from behind the tent while Daniel and Teal'c protected the front.  If the six men moved in, they'd have to stop them.

Sam knelt to the ground and pulled up the bottom of the tent, looking inside. Tied up on two chairs were Lou and the other surviving member of SG-2.  They had been severely beaten, their faces bloodied and their heads drooping from weakness.  Sam moved forward, and Jack followed her in.

As Jack kept his P-90 at the ready, Sam untied the two weakened men.

“Ferretti, Richardson, can you two walk?” Sam asked in a whisper.

The rescued men were groggy, and when Lou stood, he fell to the ground.  The thump was heard outside the tent, arousing suspicion amongst the six men outside.  Daniel watched one of them, looking in the direction of the tent.  He nudged another, and then, three of them, with their weapons readied, walked slowly towards the tent.  They looked at Daniel and Teal'c for a moment, then opened fire.

“Jack, they're coming in,” Daniel radioed and then returned fire, killing the man closest to the tent.

SG-3 moved in as gunfire erupted.  Locals from the other side of the encampment began to move towards the firefight, but SG-19 opened fire.  Spearshead was hit in the shoulder.

“I'm on fire.  Help me!”

“General,” Watson called out on the radio.  “Their weapons fire some kind of mini-fireballs.  They aren't bullets.  If they hit you, you'll catch on fire.  I've never seen anything like it.  It ... it, oh gawd, it burns you from the inside.”

“I get the idea,” Jack responded, hearing the horror in Watson's voice.

“Spearshead's dead,” Watson announced quietly, having no time to mourn for his fallen comrade.

The battle raged on.  Teal'c managed to shoot the second man in the group of six. Jack appeared at the front of the tent.  A man took aim.

“Jack, behind you,” Daniel yelled.

Jack turned, immediately opening fire and killing a third man.  Reynolds got the fourth, and at that point, a few of the locals had managed to slip by SG-19 and were approaching the far left side of the camp.

“I need help,” Sam called out over the radio as neither Ferretti nor Richardson could walk.

“Moore,” Jack yelled as he continued to fire.

Lieutenant Moore ran inside the tent and assisted Sam in helping Ferretti and Richardson.  They went out the back, ducking under the flap and headed for the dune.

“DanielJackson!” Teal'c called, pointing out another band of locals coming at them from their right.

The team fired, causing the on-comers to scatter.  One of them ducked inside another tent, coming out on the other side, behind Johnson.

“Johnson!” Daniel yelled in warning, but it was too late.

The Marine was hit, screaming in pain as the fireball exploded inside him and began to burn away.  There was nothing anyone could do.

“Let's get out of here,” Jack ordered, firing and killing another of the locals.

Pulling back, SG-1 headed for the dune which was the first available cover, providing cover fire for SG-3 and SG-19 as they went.  Reynolds led his team, continuing to fire, forcing the locals off to the right to back away.  SG-19 scooted around to the other side of SG-3, effectively blocking the locals from moving forward.

Hitting the fifth of the six men who had been guarding Ferretti and Richardson, Reynolds then led his team out of the encampment.  Watson's team followed close behind.

A small band of the locals followed, but the dune gave the search and rescue teams what they needed -- protection and a defensive position.  Having regrouped behind the dune, when the locals got within a few yards, the teams opened fire, killing their attackers.

“None of the other villagers are following, O'Neill,” Teal'c reported a moment later.

“Let's get back to the Stargate.”  Jack clicked on his radio, contacting SG-12 at the Gate.  “We're on the way back.  Keep an eye out.”

====

“Aunt Sara, can we talk?” Jennifer asked tentatively.

Sara was on the sofa, reading a book.  For most of the day, the Jackson-O'Neill children had hovered near her, but as time passed, they had drifted away to play. At the moment, all were engaged in activities, either in the living room or upstairs in Angela's playroom.

“Sure, Jen,” Sara agreed as she patted the sofa cushion invitingly.

Jennifer happily sat down and spoke, “Well, I need to talk to you about something.”

“What's his name?” Sara asked with a knowing smile.

Jennifer smiled, happy that Sara was interested, and confided, “Well, his name is Peter and ...”

Twenty minutes later, Jennifer had shared her excitement and concern over the mysterious Peter Hamilton, and Sara had done her best to pass on the wisdom of her youth and experiences.

“Trust your instincts, Jen.  Down deep, you know the truth.  You may not want to accept it, but you'll know,” Sara advised.

“But he says ...”

“It doesn't matter what he says, Honey.  What does matter is you.  You have to stay true to yourself.  Don't let your fathers overprotectiveness or your desire to be cool and popular goad you into doing something you don't really want to do, or in being someone you aren't,” Sara pronounced, stroking Jennifer's hair lovingly.

“He likes me,” Jennifer opined softly.

“Does he?” Sara asked probingly, her eyes daring Jennifer to find the truth within herself.

“I think so,” Jennifer murmured in an unconvincing but hopeful tone.

Sara smiled and nodded as she responded, “Okay, if that's what your gut is telling you.”

Jennifer sighed and then more hesitantly said, “Well, I think he does.”

“Maybe you'd better be sure before you risk Jack going after him with a shotgun,” Sara only half joked.

Jennifer chuckled, both frustrated at the possibility and yet finding it a bit amusing.  She didn't have all her answers, but talking with Sara had helped.

“I miss you, Aunt Sara,” Jennifer said quietly.

“I miss you, too.”

“Then why don't ...”

“Jen, I can't talk about that.  I'm sorry.”  Sara stood up and stated, “I'm going to check on the children upstairs.  Watch the Munchkins for me?”

Jennifer looked over where the triplets were playing and smiled.  She smiled and watched as Sara went upstairs.

~I need you, Aunt Sara.  Please work this out with Dad and Daddy soon.~

====

On PRX-959, approximately three-quarters of a mile from the Stargate, the locals were spotted again, chasing down the SG teams on horseback.

“Move it!” Jack commanded.  “SG-12, we're under attack.  Dial the Gate.”

Running as fast as they could, the teams forged ahead, but they were hampered by their injured teammates.

“Teal'c,” Jack called out, nodding towards Ferretti.

Teal'c moved from his position at point to help Lou, freeing Sam from the task and speeding up their progress a little.  He was practically carrying Lou, and Watson was doing the same for Richardson.

“We have to get out of here,” Sam urged, seeing the locals gaining on them.

“We're almost there; keep moving.”  Moments later, the Stargate was in sight, the shimmering event horizon a welcome sight.

“We're not going to make it,” Reynolds shouted.

“Stop the negativity, Reynolds, and run!” Jack responded.

Just then, a group of Marines appeared from behind the Stargate.  They lobbed a couple of grenades over the heads of the rescue teams, the resulting explosions successfully forcing the oncoming locals to stop their chase and calm their horses.

The SG teams dashed through the Stargate, all out of breath, and all grateful to be alive.

“Who ordered that extra team?” Jack asked harshly as he walked down the ramp.

“Um, I did,” Daniel admitted.

“You?” Jack asked in disbelief.

“Me,” Daniel confirmed, softly.  “I ... spoke with Walter and suggested that if another SG-team volunteered that they might come in handy.  I ... guess a team did, and, uh, they did.”

“Since when do you give orders around here?” Jack demanded, annoyed yet glad his lover had gone behind his back.

“Uh, well, uh, since I convinced Catherine I could get you to Abydos and back,” Daniel said with a sly smile on his face.  He turned to check on Lou and asked, “How's he doing?”

“He'll be in the infirmary for a few days, but I think he'll be fine; Richardson, too. Let's move it, People,” Doctor Warner ordered the staff, who quickly removed the injured to the infirmary.

Slowly, the gate room emptied until only SG-1 remained.

“Kinda like old times, Sir,” Sam remarked.

“Yeah, I miss being shot at.  Good job,” Jack congratulated.

The team headed for the exit, except for Daniel, who was still standing by the foot of the ramp, looking down at the floor.

Jack motioned for Sam and Teal'c to continue and then he walked back to his husband, asking, “Daniel, you okay?” while putting his hand on his lover's shoulder.

The archaeologist sighed as he looked up at his lover and confided, “It was like the old days; there's a part of me that almost misses that.”

“I'm guessing it's a small part.”

“Yeah,” Daniel said, turning to look at the Stargate.  “I'm glad we're back, I mean, working here, meeting new allies, but I learned something today.”

“What's that?” Jack asked, smiling sweetly at him.

“I don't miss being shot at, even though those first recon missions had an ... exhilaration about them.  We have too much to live for, Jack; maybe that's selfish, but this ... this mission reaffirms for me our decision not to be on the front lines.  I just ... I just don't want to risk it anymore, not when we know what we have waiting for us when we drive away from here.”

“Have I mentioned that I love you?” the older man asked.

“Frequently, but, uh, not in the last few hours,” Daniel said with a smile, hoping Jack got the message, which he always did.

“I love you, Danny.”

“I love you, too.”

“Let's get changed and get the briefing over with.  Like you said, we have a lot waiting for us.”

====

“Thank you, Jack, for coming by,” Carolyn Ferretti spoke appreciatively.

“I didn't want you to worry, Carolyn.  Grace will take you to the Mountain so you can see him,” Jack told Lou's wife reassuringly.

Grace Satterfield stood in the background and gave a nod to acknowledge Jack's orders.

“If there's anything we can do while Lou is laid up, please let us know,” Daniel added, reaching out to rub the end of his finger against her upper arm.

“You two saved him, didn't you?”  Relief flooded through her, and full of gratitude, Carolyn launched herself at Jack and Daniel, pulling both in for an emotional hug.  “Thank you,” she whispered, choking back a sob.  “Thank you.”

Jack and Daniel exchanged a look, but said nothing.  They really couldn't say much anyway, and, fortunately, Carolyn, like Sara, knew better than to ask anything more specific.

Carolyn smiled as she stood back and brushed back her hair.  Then she reassured the two men standing in front of her.

“Don't worry.  I haven't a clue what you all really do, but I know enough to know when my man's life has been on the line, and knowing that, and knowing the two of you, there's no doubt in my mind that you've brought him back to me,” Carolyn said gratefully.

“And to me.  Thank you,” Trina said.

“How are you doing, Trina?” Daniel asked.

“Better, thanks to Lou and Carolyn.”

Trina was the Ferretti's foster child and a friend of Jennifer's.  She still had issues to work through, having been in some abusive situations before Lou and Carolyn came into the picture, but from her smile and the reports Jennifer was giving them, Jack and Daniel felt fairly confident that with more time and love, the girl would turn out just fine.

“We have to go, but we'll give you a call tomorrow,” Jack said and then placed a kiss on her cheek.

Daniel moved in for a quick hug and gave Carolyn a reassuring smile, and then the couple waved good-bye and headed for Sara's to pick up their children.

====

“Mark,” Jack greeted, walking into the Wilson home.

Mark closed the door behind Jack and Daniel and asked with genuine concern,
“Everything okay?”

“Yeah, we got lucky,” Jack said.  “Sorry about dropping the brood off, but we didn't have a choice.”

“Sara told me the situation.  They're all outside,” Mark informed, motioning towards the backyard.

“Thanks,” Jack said.

The lovers headed for the backyard, thrilled to see their children were all huddled around Sara who was reading them a story.  All their faces were happy ones.

“We have to fix this, Jack,” Daniel said as they watched for a few moments.

“I want to,” Jack said sadly.

“Give her time, Jack,” Mark requested.  “She just doesn't understand why you didn't tell her about all those degrees.”

Nodding in understanding, Daniel spoke, “I know how she feels, but, at the same time, it was a long time ago.  Mark, I don't mean to discount the choices Jack made, but why should it be so important to Sara now?”

Mark walked a few steps closer to the patio door, staring out at his wife.  He shook his head, biting his lip just slightly.  Taking a big breath, he finally answered the question.

“I don't know.  To be honest, she's been a little moody lately anyway, but I've never seen her so unyielding before.”

“Dad and Daddy are back,” David said, spotting the three men standing just inside the house.

“We've been discovered,” Jack observed, quickly opening the doors and walking outside.  “Hey!” he greeted, happier than ever to see their children.

Jack and Daniel were greeted with eight happy smiles.  They hugged and kissed, and then answered a few simple questions.  All the while, Sara stayed in the background, just standing and watching Jack.  She never said a word.

====

“Say goodbye to Aunt Sara,” Daniel instructed a few minutes later.

“We love you, Aunt Sara,” Aislinn said.

“Please let us come see you again,” David requested.

“We sorry,” Jonny said, hanging his head.

“Yeah, sorry, we bad,” Ricky added.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Sara said, stooping down to hug as many of the children as she could.  She placed her hands on them, going from child to child, looking in their faces.  “I love you all very much.  What's wrong has nothing to do with you.  I promise you.”

“Don't go 'way,” Jenny sniffled, throwing her little arms around the blonde.  “Love you.”

“Love you, Aunt Sara,” all the children said in a mixed harmony.

Sara had tears rolling down her cheeks and really didn't know what to say to the brood.

“Kids, let's go,” Jack said, peeling off the brood, one by one.

Sara stood, folding her arms.  She looked at Jack and shook her head, and then ran into the house, going right by Mark without saying anything.

“Why she mad?” Jonny asked Jack.

Jack took a deep, frustrated breath, hating the question and the answer to it.

“It's time to go home,” Daniel said.

“No,” Jack said.  He knelt down on one knee and leaned forward slightly.  “You know that once, a very long time ago, Sara and I were married.”  After the kids all nodded, he continued, “Well, I lied to her about something, and she just found out, so she's a little upset.”

“Dad no tell lies,” Jonny said stubbornly, folding his arms, closing his eyes, and shaking his head vehemently.

“Not intentionally.  Kids, listen.  Listen and learn.  We're all human, and that means we make mistakes.  Sara and I had a good marriage, but it ended because I made a bunch of mistakes, and I hurt her.  Now, I didn't mean to.  I didn't really tell her a lie, but I didn't tell her something, something that as my wife, she had a right to know.”

“Why didn't you tell her, Dad?” Jennifer asked.

“I wish I had a good answer for that.  In my mind, the things I didn't tell didn't matter.  They weren't important to me.  They were facts, but Sara's right.  She was my wife, and because of that, she should have known, and I should have told her.  I just didn't think it was important.”

Jack looked at Daniel who gave him a supportive smile.

“Why no tell Aunt Sara?” Chenoa asked.

“Noa, I don't have a good reason.  I don't really have any reason, and ...” Jack took a breath.  “Kids, Daddy didn't know for a long time, either, and when he found out, he was angry with me, too.”

Daniel interjected, “And see?  Everything's fine now.”

“I'll bet that was a big fight,” Jennifer commented, a wry smile on her face.

“Yes, it was,” Daniel affirmed.  “Look, people are who they are, and your dad just doesn't think about this stuff.”

“What stuff?” David asked directly.

“David, when I was just an airman in the Air Force, I wanted very much to advance, and I also wanted a backup plan in case something happened, and I left the Air Force.  One of the ways to do that was to get an education.  What I did was quietly study like a dog, but I didn't tell Sara.  She knew I was taking some courses, and she knew I had an English Lit degree, and that's what got me promoted to being an officer, but after that, I held out on her.  I have a couple of degrees, but I only got them as a backup, in case something happened to me in the service.”

“But you didn't tell her?” David asked.

“No, I didn't, and she figured it out the day she was helping us pack,” Jack explained.

“The diplomas on the wall,” Jennifer correctly assumed.

“Right, and one thing led to another, and we had a fight.”

“Aunt Sara f'give you,” Jenny said.

“I hope so, but right now, she needs some time.  She's hurt, and she has every right to be.”  Jack worked hard to look at each one of his children.  “Lies, whether they are lies you tell or lies you don't tell because you say nothing, are no good.  Lies can hurt, even the ones you keep to yourself.  I thought it was nothing.  No, I knew it was there.  I just chose to keep it to myself.”

“I'll bet you had a reason,” David said.

“Yes, I did, but it was still wrong.  The point is, what's happening is between Aunt Sara and me.  It has nothing to do with any of you.  She loves you all so much.”

“We miss her,” Little Danny said softly.

“Fix it, Dad,” Aislinn said strongly, reminding him of the trust Daniel always placed in Jack.

“I'm trying, and I'll keep trying.  I promise you guys that, okay?”

“Time to go,” Daniel said again.

The parents watched as the children said good-bye to Mark and Angela and then ran in the house to get their things.

“Are you okay?” Daniel asked his husband.

“That was hard.  I was wrong, Danny, wasn't I?  I just rationalized it all in my mind that those pieces of paper meant nothing,” Jack said, shaking and bowing his head at his actions.

“The paper doesn't matter, Jack; it's the accomplishment.  Sara wanted to be proud of you, to share in that success, but you never gave her a chance to, just like you didn't with me.”

“I'm sorry, Danny.”

“I know.  We got through this a long time ago.”

“We'd better get out of here.”

====

Exactly one week later, on a warm Saturday that was far less hectic than the last one, the Jackson-O'Neills were enjoying some time by the lake at Hammond's home.  Jack and Daniel were both lying on hammocks as they watched the glistening water.

“This is nice,” Daniel said, practically crooning.

“Yes.”

“You, me, the children, the girls, the ...” Daniel recited.

“Daniel, I know the head count,” Jack responded.  ~No way, Danny.~

“All I'm saying is that this is nice.”

“We're not building a pool,” Jack maintained.

“I didn't say anything,” Daniel responded calmly, letting out a tiny moan, the kind that made Jack 'eager' in more ways than one.

“Sure, you didn't.”  Jack groaned as he saw the deceptive smile on his lover's face.  “We're not building a pool.”

“Of course, we aren't,” Daniel said, shifting his body just slightly.  “I didn't say anything about cool, refreshing, sparkling water.”

~Not gonna work.  I'm not looking.  I'm ... not ... No ... I'm ... geez, he's beautiful.~  Jack groaned as he fought off the growing urge to jump his sexy soulmate on the spot.  ~Focus!~  “We live in the friggin' snow half the time.”

“That's very observant of you,” Daniel smirked.

“Daniel,” Jack admonished.  ~I'm not giving in.~

“Jack,” Daniel replied innocently.  ~I love you; keep fighting; it won't hurt.~

“Want a beer?”

“Thanks, Love.”

====

“It's looking good, General.  We're right on schedule,” Gordon Leviwitz, the contractor in charge of the renovation reported.

Jack and Daniel had been out of town for four days, celebrating the anniversary of their very first union.  Naturally, they had missed their brood, but both took full advantage of their time alone together.  By mutual, unspoken agreement, they had left all their problems behind and instead focused fully on their nation of two.  It had been a much-needed vacation, considering how they were having to curb their physical needs for each other while staying at General Hammond's home.

Now they were back home, and the first thing on their business agenda was to make sure the house was progressing as planned.

“And it's not a problem to make the changes we asked for last week and still stay on schedule?” Daniel asked.

“No, Sir, not a problem.  The architect was out yesterday, and everything is in line.  We have an inspector coming out to look at the new electrical hookup this afternoon, and the building inspector should be here any time to review the entire setup.  As long as we don't have any unexpected weather delays, it'll just take a couple of extra days.”

“Good.  Uh, excuse me for a moment,” Daniel said, leaving Jack to speak with a couple of the workers in the backyard.

Jack finished up with Gordon, then walked to the patio and stared out at Daniel with the workers.  They were motioning towards a particular spot in the yard, and then Daniel pointed over towards the columns from the original remodeling.

With his hands in his pants pockets, Jack watched, curious what the discussion was about, although he had his suspicions.

After a couple of minutes, Daniel left the workers and saw Jack.  He smiled and joined his husband on the patio.

“Problem?” Jack asked.

“No,” Daniel said, smiling.

“No,” Jack said as a statement of fact.

“Hot out here, isn't it?” Daniel commented as he walked back inside the house.

Jack twisted his body around to watch his lover and did a double check when Daniel wiggled his butt at him.

“No, Daniel,” Jack repeated, turning to follow the younger man.  “Daniel!”

Daniel stopped walking, turned around, and grinned.

“Danny, the snow ...”

“I love you, Jack,” Daniel said and then placed a tender kiss on his husband's lips.

“I've already lost the argument,” Jack groaned, accepting the fact.

“Babe, we never argued,” Daniel spoke softly.

“When's it being put in?” Jack asked.

“Three weeks,” Daniel responded before kissing his Love again.  “You don't really mind, do you?”

“Well, not as long as you wear the blue swim trunks,” Jack teased, his eyes twinkling with lust already.

“Actually, Jack,” Daniel said with a low voice.  He nibbled on Jack's lower lip. “I was thinking about wearing my birthday suit.”

Daniel smacked his lover a kiss, turned around, gave his butt another wiggle, and walked out.

“He so doesn't play fair,” Jack groaned.  Then he grinned.  “Birthday suit, eh?”  As he rubbed his hands together, a grin on his face, he spoke, “I can handle that, and I will.”

“Did you say something, General O'Neill?” the contractor asked, having entered the room.

“Yes.  You're doing a great job.  Make sure that pool gets built on time.”

“Not a problem.”

Jack nodded, then left to join Daniel in the Silver Fox.

====

Later that morning, the building inspector turned to Alex, shaking his head.

“I'm sorry, Mister Dennison, but the building code is very clear.  You cannot have a soil stack in that location.  You really should have a full bath in this part of the house, based simply on the square footage and the fact that this one room could be used as a bedroom.  However, I am willing to consider the possibility of having a one-half bath if you can resolve the other issues satisfactorily.  You have to have at least one, if not two soil stacks, in the new upstairs addition.  There's one existing for the current master bath which you cannot tear out.”

“Or we'd forfeit the grandfather clause,” Alex sighed.

“Correct.  You'd have to tear out the entire height and length and replace it to comply with the updated code.  You cannot tie any existing vents or drains into the new pipes.”

Alex had been hoping to give his clients a decent laundry room.  Doing laundry for their brood was enough of a chore without having to do it in the garage, something that was common in homes of that era.

~I guess I'll test the waters with Daniel.  If he yells, maybe I'll just quit.  I sure don't want to face Jack.~

When he was finished with the building inspector, Alex phoned Byron to update him, and then he dialed Daniel's cell phone.

“Hello.”

“Daniel, it's Alex.  I really need to speak with you about the house.  Are you free for lunch?” Alex asked, sounding a bit despondent.

“Uh, yes, we're free.”

“Look, Daniel, something's come up, and I just would rather speak to you first about this.  Is that possible?”

~Jack's scared another one.  Wonder when that happened, or if it's just the general thing?~ the archaeologist wondered.  “Well, one of us needs to stay with the children anyway.”

“Great!  Thank you, Daniel.”

“Fine, I'll see you at Luigi's at two.  Uh, just so you know, the taxi service kicks in at three-fifteen.”

Alex chuckled, “I'm sure we'll be done with our business by then.”

====

Seeing Daniel enter the restaurant, Byron waved so Daniel could see them.

~Byron?  Alex didn't mention he'd be here.  Maybe this is more serious than I thought; that would explain him being afraid of Jack, too.~

Byron and Alex had their heads together, talking right up until the moment that Daniel reached their table.  As he did so, Byron stood and extended out his hand.

“Nice to see you again, Daniel,” Byron greeted.

“Likewise.  So ... what's up?” Daniel asked, getting straight to the point.

“I feel like I've let you down.  I was sure we could pull this off, and it was my job to make sure I was doing my job competently.  Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to become completely familiar with the building code of the state,” the designer spoke.

“I accept full responsibility, Daniel,” Byron said.  “It's my firm, and Alex is my employee.”

“I appreciate the acceptance of responsibility, but, uh, what are we talking about ... exactly?” Daniel questioned, now more alarmed than ever.

Byron explained the building codes and the limitations of not being able to tie the existing drain lines to the new.

“So, what does this mean?” Daniel inquired, wanting clarification.

“It means we have some issues to solve.  The laundry has to stay in the garage,” Alex sighed.

“The laundry ... has to stay ... in the garage?” Daniel said, searching both men's eyes to be certain he was hearing correctly.

“I'm very sorry.  I made you a promise and ...”

Daniel chuckled, “Is that it?” as he interrupted the designer's apology.

“I acted in haste in suggesting it,” Alex stated contritely.

Relief filled Daniel who, for a minute or two, envisioned their dream house turning into a dream nightmare.  This was nothing.

“Alex, it's okay.  We've been using the garage forever.  It's not a big deal ... really,” Daniel promised, smiling.

Alex looked relieved, but was still concerned and asked, “What about Jack?”

Daniel laughed lightly as he answered, “Alex, trust me, the laundry being in the garage is nothing.  You want to get a reaction out of Jack, then mess with the original house.  Doing the laundry as we have been, though, isn't an issue for us.”

Alex sighed, “But it is a big deal because I should have looked up the code.”

~He cares.  We made a good choice,~ Daniel thought to himself.  “Alex, you already thought of the clothes pantry.  That'll make a huge difference.  Please, don't worry about this.  It's fine.”

“I don't have the solution to the bath problem, though.”

“You don't have the solution *yet*,” Daniel encouraged.  “You will, Alex.  Jack and I have been very pleased with everything you've shown us so far.”

“So you definitely want Alex to stay on the job?” Byron asked.

Daniel was shocked by the question and quickly responded, “Of course!  Byron, everyone makes mistakes.  This isn't a big one.”

“Thank you, Daniel,” Alex said gratefully.

Their business concluded, the three enjoyed the rest of their lunch before Daniel had to begin his part of the afternoon's taxi run.

====

“He was going to fire him for that?” Jack asked, surprised as his lover filled him in about the late afternoon meeting.

“Not fire him from the company, but take him off the job.  You agree with me, right?” Daniel asked as he sipped his after-dinner coffee.

“Of course, I do.  Look, it would have been nice to have the upstairs laundry, but we're doing just fine the way we are.”

“That's what I said,” Daniel said as the lovers discussed the meeting after dinner that night.

“What about the bath thing?” Jack inquired and then took a drink of his beer.

“Byron will help him work out a solution for the plumbing,” Daniel replied.

“We have confidence,” Jack teased.

“Yes, we do,” Daniel said, snuggling up to his husband.  “I, uh, have confidence in you, too.”

“To do what?”

“Kiss me until I forget my name,” Daniel said, his eyes shining with love, lust, and need.

“Is that a challenge, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill?”

“You bet your ... you know!”

Jack laughed before the couple finished their drinks and then made out, in PG fashion, briefly on the sofa, though both were still very cognizant they were in Hammond's home.

====

“Bummer,” Jennifer said an hour or so later when the family gathered together for their nightly meeting.  “I was looking forward to the laundry being upstairs.”

“Yeah, we were, too, but there's no way around it because of the soil stacks,” Jack explained as the family ate breakfast the next morning.

“Daddy, what's a soil stack?” David inquired.

Daniel explained, “Oh, well, a soil stack is about four-inches in diameter.  It's a vertical pipe that carries the water and waste to the sewer.  The vent is the same pipe, and the gases rise out the roof vent.  I guess there are rules about how close the stacks can be, and according to the building inspection, there are restrictions on how far a toilet can be from its soil stack, and that's usually about ten feet.”

“We have similar problems with the bathrooms we want to add,” Jack said, continuing the topic.  “The building code regulates how many baths are required for a given amount of square footage, and the bathrooms have to be fairly close to the bedrooms.”

“We can't change what's already there because it would be a huge expense.  Right now, the grandfather clause applies ...”

“Huh?” Chenoa asked, not really understanding the discussion, but being totally confused by the word just used.  She looked around and asked, “Where Grandpa?”

Jack chuckled, “He's at work, Princess, and that's not what we mean.  Sometimes the rules say we have to replace the old stuff with the new, but, if we leave the old stuff alone, because it was already here before the rule, then they say it's okay.”

“They call it a grandfather clause, because it applies to old things,” Daniel tried to clarify.

“Grandpa not old,” Jonny whined.

“No, of course not,” Daniel chuckled.  “But the pipes in the house are old, and if they put any additional strain on them, like what new soil stacks or other equipment might do, then the old pipes might break and wouldn't work properly.”

“And then it would be one ugly mess,” Jack spoke as he grimaced.

“Grandpa not old and ugly,” Jenny argued.

Daniel laughed, and Jack worked on trying to explain things to their youngest daughter.

**Danny?**

**All yours, Babe.**

“Gonna call Grandpa,” Ricky said.

“Oh, no you don't,” Jack said, reaching out to stop the boy from moving.  “Let me try to explain again ...”  ~I can hear Hammond now.  This time I'll be the one stationed at Elmendorf!  Chilly!~

====

The next day, Jack was mindlessly patting Mittens as he read the daily paper.  They were in the living room, enjoying a rare minute of peace and quiet as most of the children were out with friends.

Jack and Daniel were making a conscious effort to make sure that the Munchkins developed interests and friends of their own and didn't always do things together.  They'd met some protests at first with Jonny and Little Danny, but then the two boys had discovered it wasn't such a bad idea, especially when Jonny realized it meant not having to watch his brother play chess, and Little Danny realized he didn't have to go to football games all the time.

Both boys liked chess and football, but not as much as the other, so making new friends and going to events with others, opened up more opportunities for them, while still allowing them to enjoy those passions together sometimes.
 
Right now, only Little Danny and the twins were home.  Bijou and Katie were sunning themselves outside.

“The twins are out like a light,” Daniel said, smiling when he walked into the living room holding Little Danny's hand.  “I think that trip to the park exhausted them.”

“I see it didn't exhaust everyone,” Jack smirked, looking at the young boy.

“Big Sproglet; too old for nap,” Little Danny proclaimed, even suppressing a yawn as he did so.

**I thought I'd try a little reverse psychology.  He really insisted he doesn't want to take a nap,** Daniel communicated.

**Ah, yes, psychology.**

“What reading?” the youngster asked as he moved away from Daniel and climbed up onto the sofa, moving to sit as close as he could get to Jack.

Little Danny patted Mittens, who began to purr.

“Just the newspaper,” Jack answered.

“I'm betting on the sports section,” Daniel guessed.

“Isn't that the newspaper?” Jack quipped dryly.

“There's also a front section; Jack, there's even an editorial section.  That's why they call it a newspaper and not a sportspaper,” Daniel teased.

“Really?” Jack asked, feigning shock.

“You're so bad,” Daniel proclaimed, laughing.

“Dad not bad,” Little Danny jumped in.

“See.  That's my boy,” Jack praised, temporarily lying the paper down to ruffle his son's hair.

“Dad really bad,” Little Danny said with an evil grin.

Daniel chuckled, and Jack narrowed his eyes in mock anger.

Little Danny decided perhaps a distraction was in order and asked, “Av'lanche win?”

“Well, let's find out,” Jack answered, beaming.

Daniel shuddered.  His children were going to be a hockey team; there was no way around it.  Jack had begun teaching the Munchkins hockey a year ago.

~Hockey: the brood's first homeschooled subject,~ the archaeologist mused.

Daniel pulled out one of the books from Hammond's shelves to read.  He sat down in Hammond's favorite chair, sighed, and then smiled.

**What?** Jack asked.

**What?** Daniel responded.

**Danny, you sighed, and you look real ... sappy.**

**Just remembering Grandpa reading us a story.**

Jack grinned.  Even all these years later, Hammond's chair still gave the younger man a feeling of goodness.

Settling in, Daniel opened the book and began to read.

Meanwhile, with Little Danny at Jack's side, still protesting the need for a nap, Jack continued to read the paper, with Mittens providing the background noise.

“Geez, what do you think you are, a stereo?” Jack asked the growing kitten.

“She cat,” the little boy corrected.

“I know that, Son.  She's just purring a mile-a-minute,” Jack stated, glancing over when his lover chuckled.  “I heard that.  Why does she do that, anyway?”

“Means kitty happy,” Litte Danny answered.

“I always thought that was a myth,” Jack responded, again looking over at Daniel, who just shrugged.

“Maybe,” Little Danny said as he continued to pet the cat.  “Pet doctors say might be stress.”

“Stress?” Jack asked his genius son.  He looked down at the relaxed cat on his lap and then asked in disbelief, “How can a cat be stressed?”

All of a sudden, the little boy's photographic memory and natural genius kicked into gear.

“Cats purr when upset, like going to vet, but not to Pam, 'cuz Pam a nice and gentle vet, but other vets not so nice.  Cats get stressed.  Helps bones, too, and ... and purring make sick cats better, but I no un'erstand that part.  Daddy 'plain it later, 'kay?” the boy asked as he slipped back into pure toddler speak.

Daniel nodded, having no idea what Little Danny was talking about.

The boy genius continued, “Something do with sound.  An'way, purring probably make Mittens feel better 'n' help her talk, too.”

“Oh, well, that's ...” Jack started to say, but Little Danny continued.

“Interesting how cats purr, too.”  The little boy shifted.  He folded his arms across his chest and scrunched his nose.  He was squinting a little and appeared to be thinking hard.  “Maybe blood going through big vein in the chest cause purring, or vocal chords open and close could cause it, too.”  Little Danny thought a moment, then as if chastising the scientists, his head moving emphatically as he spoke, he said, “They *don't* know.”

“Well ...” Jack started to say, but again, he was cut off.

Jack shook his head.  He leaned over for his coffee cup to take a few sips of the hot drink.

“They know 'bout claws.  Kittens knead on mama cat's breast to stim'late milk production,” the boy stated.

Jack spit out his coffee, and Daniel dropped his book onto his lap, but it bounced and hit the floor.  His mouth opened wide, matching Jack's widening eyes.

Little Danny continued as if he hadn't noticed, and he hadn't.

“Sometimes kitties salivate 'cuz they want it lots.  Kitten purrs same time they knead.  Kittens think we their mommies, and we resting, so they jump up on us and start to knead and purr, 'cuz they want milk and think we have it.”

“Son,” Jack tried to interrupt, but he coughed, giving the boy the leeway he needed to continue talking.

“'Course, cats use claws on furn'ture, too.  Pet doctor say cats are marking their ter'tory.  No un'erstand all that.  S'thing 'bout glands and smells.  They claw just to stretch, too.”  Little Danny looked at his still-stunned younger father and asked, “Daddy, what stim'late and glands?”

“Uh, well ...” Daniel stuttered, grateful when Jack interrupted.

“Son,” Jack said strongly, causing the boy to look at him and away from Daniel.  “Why don't we forget about cats and think about dogs for a while?”

“Bij and Katie beautiful.  Katie tickles my tummy.  They good dogs.  No jump up like some.  Dad, you know why dogs jump?”

Jack was about to open his mouth, but his son kept talking.

“They jump to say 'hi'.  They just want 'tention.  It's 'stintive 'cuz they want to say 'hi' to us.  Puppies greet their mommies by jumping up.  Puppies grow up, still say 'hi'.  People train them not to jump, but they still want to.  'dult dogs jump ... no, not jump, hunch ... no know right word ... when girl doggies in heat.  Then they make puppies.  You know how they make puppies, Dad?  They ...”

Jack put his hand over Little Danny's mouth, just lightly, and asked his husband, “Daniel, where's the off-switch?”  He looked down at his little boy and smiled, moving his hand away.  “How about some ice cream?”

“Okay,” Little Danny agreed, climbing down off the couch.

~Works every time.~  Jack got up, relieved the conversation had stopped.  Smugly, he looked at his husband and said, “Found the switch; it's labeled 'ice cream'.”

“Then I tell you 'bout how dogs have puppies,” Little Danny told his father happily.

“Daniel ...” Jack begged.

Daniel shook his head, leaned over to pick up his book, and then hid behind it so Jack couldn't see him.

“Traitor,” Jack hissed.

As Little Danny led his somewhat red-faced older father out of the room, Daniel was heard snickering.  Of course, inside, he was breathing a sigh of relief.

====
--July - Boiling Over
====

It was early Thursday afternoon and Daniel was on his way back to the Jackson-O’Neill’s temporary home at General Hammond's when he suddenly got a bad feeling.  After a moment's analysis, he identified the feeling as being connected with their house and decided to take a quick detour to check on the renovations.

As he walked around, checking on the progress, everything seemed to be going fine; yet, Daniel still couldn't shake the bad feeling that had settled in the pit of his stomach.

~It must be ... paranoia.~  Still, the homeowner kept walking around the enlarged lot, double checking the area.  As he went into the backyard, he froze.  “STOP!” Daniel yelled.

Hearing the note of panic in the warning, the worker ceased his efforts.

Daniel jogged up to the male worker and asked pointedly, “Just what do you think you are doing?”  His voice was harsher than normal, but there was a reason for that -- the worker was about to cut his heart in two.  ~Gawd, another second and ... gawd!~
 
“My job, Doctor Jackson-O’Neill,” the worker answered, having recognized Daniel from a brief introduction days before.

“Your job does not include touching the roof deck.  We, my husband and I, were very clear about that.  The roof deck is to be left alone, as in untouched.  Is that clear?” Daniel questioned, sounding like Jack in full-general mode.

“Anything you say, but I was just following the instructions of my supervisor,” the man responded.

“Where is he?” Daniel asked.

The worker pointed to the supervisor, who was busy conferring with the sub-contractor for the pool.

“Thanks, and do *not* touch that deck,” Daniel ordered.

Daniel walked over to the man in question, introducing himself to the supervisor, Larry Wolenski.

“See, this is what the plan shows,” Larry said, spreading out the plans and pointing to the spot that was the roof decks.  “And this is what Garrett told us to work on today,” he added as he held up the daily worksheet, clearly showing the demolition of the edge of the roof deck.

“There's been a major mistake.  Under *no* condition are you to touch one inch of that deck.  Do you understand?” Daniel asked, demanding an answer.

The man groaned, but answered in the affirmative, though he added as an addendum, “I'll have to call Garrett or Gordon and see what they say.”

“You will *not* touch that deck,” Daniel ordered, imitating the patented 'Jack Jackson-O'Neill' glare.

“Whatever you say, Doctor,” the man agreed, actually taking a step back from the determined doctor.

“Thank you,” Daniel said in a calmer tone.  “I'm sure there's just been a simple mistake, but no matter what, you leave that deck alone,” he reiterated as he continued to stare the man down.

“Fine, but I hope you realize that unless I talk to ...”

Daniel cut the man off, strongly saying, “Look, I have to go, but if anyone touches the roof deck, there'll be dire consequences.”  ~Gawd, I wish I could be Jack and just threaten him outright with being fired.  That's our deck; gawd!~

“I understand.  We'll stop the job until I talk to Garrett or Gordon,” the man promised.

“Fine,” Daniel said, certain the delay would be minimal.  Moving away from Larry, he pulled out his cell phone, flicking it open.  “Gordon, it's Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.  I'm, uh, sorry you didn't answer, but there's been a big mess up at the house with the roof deck.  I just need to make sure that your men understand they are not, repeat *not* to change, alter, or in any way touch that roof deck.  Alex has the plans.  We'll get in touch with him to find out where the problem is, but please make sure your men understand that we will not be happy if they do anything to change or destroy it.  Thank you.”

Taking a deep breath after putting his cell phone away, Daniel looked back at the house.  He closed his eyes and gave thanks that he had followed his hunch.

~Okay; it's over now.  Be calm. The deck is okay.~  Daniel opened his eyes and nodded.  ~I am way too attached to this house and that deck, but ... I can't help it.  It's home; it's my heart; it's ... it's Jack.  They will not touch that deck.~

====

“Hey, Babe,” Daniel said, walking outside upon returning home.

“Hi, Love,” Jack replied, moving up to accept the warm kiss offered by his husband.

“Daddy!” the triplets chorused happily.

“Hey, Munchkins,” Daniel called out, smiling and waving.  All the other children acknowledged Daniel's return, too, from their spots in the backyard.  “They're having fun,” he said.

“Yeah, they really like the lake.”  Jack paused, finally admitting, “The pool was a good idea, Danny.”

Daniel grabbed one of the lawn chairs and sat next to his soulmate.  Since moving in with Hammond, they'd spent most of their time outside. The children loved to play in the big yard, and the lake made it all very peaceful and serene looking.  Jennifer and David loved their frequent swims, and all the children had been great about following the rules their protective parents had laid down.  They'd had only a few minor incidents.

“Yeah, about the pool, well, uh, not really about the pool, but, Jack, I've been thinking,” Daniel began a tad hesitantly.  “We have so many things to deal with in getting the house done.  Maybe, uh, we should hold off on the landscaping for a while.”

Jack smiled.  He'd actually been wondering about the same thing.  The lovers had intended to landscape their yard while doing the renovation, but they just hadn't found the time to sit down and really come up with a plan.  As a result, their landscaper kept asking questions they honestly didn't have the answers to yet.

“Funny you should mention that, Danny, but I've been thinking the same thing.  We haven't had a chance to think about where to put the gazebo or how big we want that to be.”

“Or how much bigger to make Katie's play yard and what kind of flowers we want to plant,” Daniel added, rattling off the first two things that came to mind.

“Do we want to put in a dog run or some stone steps?” Jack asked rhetorically.

“More or less trees,” Daniel said, bobbing his head to and fro.

“Yadda, yadda,” Jack concluded, earning a smile from his lover.  “Angel, why don't we just get the house done and do the landscaping later, maybe next year?”

“That's a good idea, Babe,” Daniel smirked.  “So glad I thought of it.”

Jack laughed, and the two continued to take in the serenity of the day.

After a few minutes of chitchat about other things, Daniel returned the conversation to that of their home and confided, “Jack, I was worried for a while that we were overdoing the renovation.”

“But now?” Jack asked, grinning.

“This is our chance, Jack.  We're not building a mansion, uh, at least, not ... not really,” Daniel stuttered, aware that their small house renovation had grown bigger than what they had planned on, becoming a bit larger than either could have ever imagined.  “But we have super children, and they deserve a home that gives them as much as possible.”

“Just as long as they never lose sight of the basics,” Jack reminded, though he also knew he was worse than Daniel when it came to spoiling their children.

“We have to watch that,” the younger man agreed.  “We spoil them rotten, but I don't care about that as long as they understand what's important and treat each other and their friends with respect and generosity.”

“They're getting older, Danny.  Maybe we should extend our Christmas rules to Thanksgiving now,” Jack suggested.

Daniel smiled his agreement and stated, “Yeah, another example that giving is every day, not just once a year.”  Daniel looked over at the Munchkins and remembered the agony their son had gone through a couple of months earlier when one of his friends was going to be homeless.  “We have to be careful with Little Danny though.  He's likely to feel guilty about having more than other people.”

“Daddy!” the boy in question called out as he came running up, the look of excitement on his face.

“Hi, Sproglet,” Daniel greeted, picking up his namesake.  “What are you up to?”

“Jonny made raft; I made oar,” Little Danny said proudly.

“You did?” both Jack and Daniel said at the same time.

“What raft?” Jack asked, leaning forward in his chair with concern.  A moment later, he stood and called out, “Jonny?”

Little Danny snickered, mumbling, “Jonny owes me nickel.”

“Excuse me?” Daniel asked the toddler.

“Jonny said Dad no worry 'bout raft.  I said Dad do gen'rl eyes,” Little Danny gloated, smirking at Jonny.

“I'll general eyes you, young man,” Jack said sternly.

“Dad worry too much,” Little Danny announced, shaking his head.

“Yeah, well, I learned that from taking care of Daddy,” Jack responded, smiling at his lover.

“Jack!” Daniel objected in a high voice.

“What?” Jack barked teasingly, trying to look innocent.

Daniel rolled his eyes and then, looking at Little Danny, he asked, “So there's no raft?”

“Tiny one, 'bout this big,” the toddler said, holding his hands out about four inches.

Jack grumbled and sat back down.  Two seconds later, Little Danny took off to rejoin his sibling.  As he did so, Daniel laughed, earning him a glare from his husband.

“Now what was the point of that?” Jack grumbled.

“They're just testing,” Daniel observed.

“Testing what?” Jack asked.

“Jack, you're the one who taught me this.  They know we're watching all the time, and even though they act like they don't like it, they do.  I came home, took your attention away, and they just wanted to get it back for a minute, that's all.”

Jack snorted; then he yelled, “No rafts, Jonny ... unless I get to help!”

From his spot near the lake, Jonny jumped up excitedly and shouted out, “We make raft, Dad?”

Daniel nudged Jack on the arm, smiling knowingly.

“This weekend,” Jack answered.

“Yay!”  The boy looked at his brother and stated excitedly, “We get to make raft, Little Danny!”

“Jack, I think you should take Jonny flying again soon,” Daniel suggested thoughtfully.

Jack looked over at his husband and inquired, “Am I missing something?”

“No, not really, but I think he wants some alone time with you.  I don't think anything's wrong; I just think he loves you and wants to have you all to himself for a little while.”

Jack thought about it a minute and then inquired, “Do you have classes or studying to do Sunday afternoon?”

“No,” Daniel responded.

“Saturday we build a raft; Sunday, I'll take Jonny up in Jo,” Jack announced, having thought it all out.

“That'll work,” Daniel acknowledged.  “Jack, we have to talk about something.”

“I'm all ears.”

“I went by the house.  They're still on schedule, but there's a problem that affects the roof deck.”  Daniel told Jack about his bad feeling and how he had stopped the worker just in time to save the roof deck.  “Apparently, when you vetoed the hall at the front of the house, Gordon assumed that meant we wanted the hallway running perpendicular to the deck.  Jack, it would totally wall it in.”

“Not a chance in Netu, Danny.” Jack said forcefully.  “I'll call ...”

“Call Byron, Jack,” Daniel said at the same time, interrupting his lover.  “He made the plans, and if there's a mistake, we need to fix the whole thing, not just the deck.  We told them we wanted to save the deck.  Jack ...”

“Angel, I promise you.  Whatever is going on, I'll get to the bottom of it.  We're not losing that deck!” Jack pronounced, reassuring his husband by taking his hand and stroking it gently.

“I came on pretty strong with the worker; just pretended I was you,” Daniel admitted.  As his husband chuckled lightly, Daniel smiled weakly, hoping Jack could fix the problem.  “I think it's just a problem with the plans; that has to be it,” he said.

The original plans had already been changed at least twice.  As Jack and Daniel believed it to be, the current plans had the hallway in an U-shape, going to the back of the house.  The construction worker, however, was under the impression that the hallway would come up by the existing roof deck.  Daniel was sure someone had simply looked at old plans or something simple like that.

Jack nodded his agreement and went inside the house, anxious to get the situation remedied.  He picked up the phone and called Alex, but got the designer's voicemail.

“Alex, this Jack Jackson-O'Neill.  Daniel went by the house today, and there's a misunderstanding by the crew about where the hallway goes.  We're going with what we last agreed on, so make sure no one does anything to the roof deck. It remains as is; non-negotiable, and I'll make the man who messes with it regret it in a hurry.  Make sure the error gets straightened out ASAP.  Thanks.”

Jack hung up and was about to call Byron when he heard a sweet voice directed his way.

“Dad, look what I got!” Jonny said, holding up a cricket.

“That's terrific, Son,” Jack responded with a smile on his face.

“I find more.  Come see!” Jonny said hopefully.

Jack decided his call to Byron could wait a few minutes, so he followed his son to explore the great cricket find.

====

Meanwhile, outside, Daniel had his own call to attention.

“Daddy!”

“Hi, Ash,” Daniel greeted, picking up his daughter.

“Daddy, tell me story,” Aislinn requested, her eyes shining and looking at her father with complete adoration.

“Okay, let me see.  Once upon a time, there was a beautiful little doggie, and her name was ...”

“Bijou?  K'tie?” Aislinn asked, her face bright with wonder.

Daniel smiled, kissed his daughter, and answered, “Yeah, there were two beautiful little doggies, and their names were Bijou and Katie.  Well, one day ...”

====

“Love you, Jenny,” Daniel said, pulling up the blanket over the redheaded little girl that night.

“Feel bad, Daddy,” the little girl told him, rubbing her eyes tiredly.

“You do?  Where?” Daniel asked, sitting down on the twin bed.

“Head.”

Daniel touched his hand to Jenny's forehead and announced, “You don't feel hot.”

“Not hot; ache.  As'rin?” Jenny requested.

“I'll be right back,” Daniel told her softly.

====

“Jack, where's the children's Tylenol?  It wasn't in the cabinet,” Daniel said after checking the bathroom.

“Sorry, Love.  I have it here.  Jonny had a ...”

“Headache?” Daniel asked, his voice having a concerned edge to it.

“Yeah.  Which one?” Jack inquired, a frown on his face as he realized more than one of their children weren't feeling well.

“Jenny,” Daniel replied, his face scrunched in concern at the same realization.

“Maybe they're all coming down with something,” Jack wondered.

“She said it's a headache.”

“They were outside a long time today,” Jack explained, adding, “And they skipped their naps.  They're fine.”

“Yeah, I know.  It's just the sun.  We might need to keep them inside more, or put up a cabana tent so they can be out of the direct sunlight.”

As Jack nodded, Daniel returned to Jenny, aspirin in hand.

Though still concerned, both men decided it was nothing to worry about; and yet, where their children were concerned, both Jack and Daniel were always on alert, and both silently thought it odd that two of the children were experiencing the same symptom at the same time.

====

The next morning, Jack placed another call to Alex, but once again, he only got the man's voice mail.  After leaving another message, he phoned Byron.

“I'm sorry, General, but he's out of town for a couple of days.  Can I take a message?” Byron's secretary asked.

“Yes, and it's important.”  Jack explained the situation and then provided more information.  “Tell Byron I'm going by the house myself in a few minutes.  I'm going to make sure they aren't touching the roof deck, and I may even tack up a sign that warns of death and doom if anyone does.”

Jack told the secretary that he'd left messages for Alex that had not been returned and that Gordon, in an earlier conversation with Daniel, was insisting that the plans he had were accurate.

“They are *not* accurate,” Jack barked.

“I'll be sure to give him the message.”

“Please do, and tell him we're real busy right now and don't have time to check back on this every day.  I'll consider the matter handled per our wishes.  Understood?” Jack demanded, his general persona shining through.

“Yes, General,” the secretary responded dutifully.

“Good.”

Jack disconnected the call and headed for the house where he left the sign he had 'threatened' to do during his conversation with the secretary.  He also spoke to Gordon on the phone for a couple of minutes and placed a final call to Alex, who still hadn't answered.

Figuring the situation would be resolved once Byron returned, Jack continued with his day, returning home to his family.

====

When Jack had told his children that they'd build a raft on Saturday, he'd forgotten it was the Independence Day holiday weekend and that meant Saturday was the day of General Hammond's annual Fourth-of-July party.

“You promised, Dad!” Jonny exclaimed.

“Yeah,” Little Danny agreed, unhappy about the change in plans.

“Want raft,” Aislinn agreed.

As his husband looked at him for some kind of help, Daniel responded, “There's just one thing to do, Babe.”

“And what's that?”

“Build the raft,” Daniel answered.

As the children cheered, Jack stared at his lover in disbelief and began to complain, “Danny ...”

“Jack, use your resources,” the younger man smirked.  A totally confused and clueless general watched as his lover smiled at the children and suggested, “Why don't you go ask some of the others if they want to help?”

“Raft building party?” Jonny questioned.

“That's the idea!” Daniel affirmed.

Jack watched in admiration as the children ran off to wrangle help from several of their family of friends in attendance.

“And now, Babe, you can do your thing and get some of the others to help, too,” Daniel stated with a smug expression .

“You're just full of yourself for that idea, aren't ya, Love?”

The younger man laughed, placed a quick kiss on his husband's lips, and said, “You did promise, and this way, it becomes part of the party instead of us having to ignore it.”

“My genius,” Jack said proudly as he headed towards a grouping of SGC workers that included Colonel Reynolds.  ~It's his first Hammond barbecue; this should make it memorable.  He can do the grunt work.~

Along with the brood's 'please help us' requests, the Air Force general's innocent 'what's a father to do after promising his children?' shrug and grin actually enticed many of his SGC co-workers and their families into helping without coercion.

By the time the sun had set, the party-goers had built a magnificent raft, and all the children had taken turns on it.  It had been a long, full day, enjoyed by all.

====

“Jack, you didn't have to treat him like an airman,” Daniel chastised.

“He's young,” Jack rationalized.

Daniel rolled his eyes and reminded, “It was a party.  Building the raft with so many people should have been fun.”

“It was,” Jack stated.

“For everyone but Marc,” Daniel pointed out.

“He had a great time, and Hammond will invite him back again next year.”

“Jack,” the archaeologist groaned.

“Someone had to cut the lumber and carry it to where we were building it.”

“Babe, you were coordinating the thing,” Daniel stated.  “Why'd you set up the lumber cutting on the other side of the yard.  You made Marc go six times further back and forth than he needed to.”

Jack grinned, causing Daniel to groan even more.

“I had a great time today, Danny.”

“You're making him pay because of Paul,” the younger man accused.

“Do you have any idea how much paperwork I have to do to get Davis out here?”  As Daniel stared at him incredulously, the older man shrugged and said, “Well, there is a lot of paperwork.”

“Oh, for crying out loud,” Daniel expressed, realizing his lover would never admit outright that he was getting a bit of payback for dealing with the so-called aggravation of having Paul Davis transferred from the Pentagon to Cheyenne Mountain, even though Jack hadn't actually acted on the request yet.  “I'm going to have a glass of wine.  Care to join me?”

“Always, Love.”

====

Sunday was an equally busy day, filled with other holiday activities as well as cleanup, which Jack and Daniel insisted on helping with.  Much to Jonny's delight, his older father even managed to squeeze in enough time to take the eldest Munchkin for a quick flight in Jo, as he'd promised.

Today was Monday, and the family was again outside, relaxing, sunning, and playing.  The lovers both assumed that the situation with the roof deck at their house was resolved.  With everything going smoothly, Jack and Daniel took in the calmness of the day.

Both Jenny and Jonny seemed fine now, though Aislinn had complained of an upset stomach, and Chenoa was overly tired.  Still, the children were playing happily at the moment.

Daniel was studying one of his courses in the TEP program he had begun in June, while Jack was working on a first month's curriculum.  He still had a few weeks before they were going to start the actual homeschooling routine, but next month, they planned to start getting the children used to a new schedule that included work periods.

Technically, the parents didn't even need to start homeschooling this year, but their children were very bright, and both had agreed that it would be best to start feeding those hungry young minds with educational nourishment as soon as possible.

Over at the side of the house, Mittens began to dig in the dirt.  Normally, the young kitten stayed in the house or near the door, unless being held by one of the children, but she had ventured away, being lured to the area.

The young cat wasn't making enough progress to satisfy her so she ran over to Jack, who shooed her away.  Spying Bijou and Katie resting by a tree, Mittens ran over and pawed them.  Katie immediately rolled over onto her tummy, debating whether to chase Mittens for having the nerve to wake her up or perhaps enjoy the tiny kitten for a meal.

“Meeeeeeeow,” the feisty feline said, starting to move back towards the house.

Bijou sat up, her nose sniffing.

Just then, Jack's cell phone rang.  He'd actually forgotten that he had it in his pants pocket.  He snatched it up and answered.

“Jack, I'm glad I finally got you.  This is Alex, and we really need to talk,” the designer stated urgently.

“Woof!” Bijou barked lightly.

Mittens took off towards the house, Bijou and Katie following her.

Jack and Daniel were both focused on their animals, though Jack was distracted by the phone call.

“Yeah, uh, right,” Jack responded to Alex.  “You got the hallway goof rectified, so what's the ...”

“Meeeeeeow,” Mittens insisted, clawing the dirt.

The cat's sounds were so loud that Jack couldn't concentrate fully on the call.

Bijou studied the cat; then let her nose guide her again.

“Woo...woof,” Katie said suddenly, beginning to dig.

“Grrrr...woof!” Bijou barked, only this time it was alarmingly loud.

Jack and Daniel saw Bijou pushing Katie out of the way and then Mittens.  Then Bijou turned to the couple and barked again, her back and tail straight and pointed.

“Jack, something's wrong,” Daniel announced, fear gripping his belly at the odd actions of the animals.

“Alex, gotta go,” Jack stated abruptly.  “Keep up the good work,” he said as he flipped his cell phone shut.

The couple stood up and hurried over to the area.  When they did, Jenny and Aislinn ran in their direction, but seeing them, Bijou, Katie, and Mittens all ran to the girls, barking and meowing.

“Daniel, get the kids,” Jack said.

Daniel whistled loudly to get the children's attention and then called out, “Jen, David, get the babies.”

“Not baby,” Jonny started to yell.  Then he saw Daniel's expression.  Turning to his brother, he said, “Danny, Daddy has gen'rl eyes now.”

“What's going on?” Jennifer asked in a raised voice.

“Go over by Jen.  Now!” Daniel instructed Jenny and Aislinn, who quickly did as they were told.

The animals ran back to where Jack was kneeling down by the dirt.  All three began to dig, looking up at Jack occasionally.

Suddenly, Jack got a whiff and ordered, “Out -- now!”

Bijou and Katie ran to the children, while Jack picked up Mittens, who was still digging.

“Daniel, where's Hammond?”

“Upstairs,” the younger man answered.

“Here,” Jack said, handing Mittens to his lover.  He warned, “Keep the kids away from the house, far away.”

“Jack ...”

Jack disappeared inside the house, while Daniel nervously joined his children.  When Ricky started to move towards the house, Bijou moved in front of him, growling.

“Ricky, stay right here,” Daniel ordered.  “Good girl, Bij.  Thanks.”  He waited for what seemed like an eternity for Jack to return.  When he looked down at the beagles, he saw both girls were on alert, carefully watching the younger children.  “Good girls,” he said again, a smile on his face.

Finally, Jack and Hammond reappeared, and Jack showed him the spot he was concerned about.  Seconds later, they were walking towards Daniel and the children, the lieutenant general pulling out his cell phone as they approached.

“Jack?” Daniel asked, not sure quite what was happening.

“I think it's a gas leak. The more you dig, the worse it gets,” Jack informed, wiping his hands on his pants.

“The headaches,” Daniel stated, making the connection between their kids feeling bad and the gas leak.

“Yeah,” Jack said as he nodded.

“This is George Hammond.  I believe there may be a gas leak at my residence,” the lieutenant general spoke.

Everyone waited for Hammond to conclude the call, and when he did, he announced that the utilities company would be sending someone out as soon as possible, but they had been advised to not go back inside the house.

“Danny, any ideas?” Jack asked.

“Sam?” the archaeologist suggested.

“She's ...” Jack looked at their younger children, “out of town, remember?”

“I forgot.  Um, Janet's on vacation in Hawaii,” Daniel said as he frowned, desperately trying to think of another alternative.

“Hotel?”

“I guess so.  Uh, we promised Lou we'd drop by, so why don't we do that, then ... Jack, we can't do a hotel.”

Daniel's hands bobbed, displaying Mittens as one of the reasons they couldn't stay at a hotel, and then Jack looked down at the girls, who were two more reasons.

“Okay, we'll figure out something, but right now, I think we should get them away from here.  General?” Jack asked.

“I'll stay with my daughter, if it's necessary.”

Hammond wrote down his daughter's phone number for Jack, since he figured the number wasn't in the man's cell phone, and then the three made tentative plans.  They would be in limbo until they found out about the significance of the odor and whether or not it truly was a gas leak.  If it was, they could be in further limbo, depending on what action would need to be taken and how long it would take to rectify the situation.

“I'll call as soon as I know anything,” Hammond said as they parted.

Quickly, but calmly, Jack and Daniel ushered their children and the animals to the SUV.  While Jack got them fastened in, Daniel backed the Silver Fox and Jack's truck into the street, hoping to protect them in case the worst happened.

**So where to?** Jack questioned.

**I don't know, Jack.  The brood is hungry, so why don't we start with lunch,** Daniel answered.

**And then what?**

**And then ... we'll go by Lou's for a few minutes,** Daniel responded.

**And then what?** Jack asked again.

**And then ... we'll figure out what we're going to do tonight, if we can't get back in .**

**And th...**

**Jack, shut up and drive.**

**Dictator,** Jack chuckled as he headed the SUV toward the nearest McDonald's.  ~Glad I never sold that stock; at least we're getting something back from all the money we put into the place.~

====  

“I'm fine, now.  Warner says I can go back to full duty in a couple of days,” Lou said with a contented smile.

“Glad to hear it, Lou.  You had us worried,” Jack said.

“Yeah, Carolyn, too.  Who'd guess I'd end up getting pneumonia after that mess?”

“I think you just wanted a reason to goof off a little longer,” Jack teased.

“Slave drivers at the SGC.  You know how they are, Jack,” Lou stated, giving his friend a teasing look.

“Right.”

“Hey, where's Daniel?” Lou asked.

“He's in the car.  We had a little problem,” Jack explained with a sigh.

“Oh, yeah, what?”  Lou listened as Jack filled him in on what had happened earlier that day.  “That's a bummer,” he commented.

“Ya think?  I just hope it's a quick fix.”

“I'm sure it is,” Lou spoke.

“Yeah,” Jack spoke a bit dejectedly.  Seeing his friend's questioning look, he added,  “Hey, if it were just me, I'd camp out on the dock, but we're talking eight children, two dogs, a cat, the ... geez, the fish ... and Jonny's lizard.  Oh, crap!”  Utilizing the couple's non-verbal communication, he said, **Danny, the blasted fish and Bogey.**

**I know.  I already thought of them.**

**I'm sorry, Love.**

**Let's not bury them yet, Jack.**

At that moment, Jack's phone rang and he pulled out the cell phone to see who it was.

“Sorry, Lou.  Ah, it's Hammond.”  Jack put the phone to his ear and asked, “Sir, what's the bad news?”

Lou walked out of the room a minute while Jack finished his call.  The news wasn't good.  In fact, about the only thing that was good was that due to the potential risk of explosion, the gas company had reached Hammond's home quickly.

====

His call concluded, Jack walked into the next room just as Lou was telling Carolyn that he loved her.  The words made Jack smile.

“Sorry to interrupt you two lovebirds, but, Lou, I have to go.”  Jack paused, noticing Carolyn had smiled and then left the two men alone.  “There's a leak, possibly even two.  We're going to have to find some place to go for at least a week.  You know what's funny?”  He paused for effect and then sighed, “We owe our lives to a cat.  Do you believe that?  A cat!”

Shaking his head, Jack gave Lou a quick wave goodbye and headed for the front door.

“Jack, where do you think you're going?” Carolyn asked, emerging from a hallway, carrying several bedding items.

“Danny's outside with the kids.  We have to find a home for the brood.”

“What's wrong with here?” Lou asked, a grin on his face.

“Lou, you're out of your mind,” Jack remarked, his eyes big with wonder at the suggestion.

“Nonsense, Jack,” Carolyn said.  “I'll be insulted if you don't stay with us until you can return to the general's home.”  ~As if I could ever repay you for saving my husband; this is a small inconvenience to pay for that wondrous gift.~

“Carolyn ...” Jack began.

“Don't you like my cooking?” Carolyn questioned coyly, pretending to look hurt.

Jack snorted lightheartedly, “Eight kids, two dogs, a cat, and I think we saved the fish and the lizard.”

“If the kids don't mind tight quarters for a few days ...”

“Might be as long as a week or two,” Jack warned.

“We have all that's important, Jack,” Carolyn stated firmly.

Jack looked at Lou and then back at Carolyn, who looked for a second as if she might be on the verge of tears.  He saw Trina walk into the room with an eager smile, her arms also full of bedding supplies.

“Yes, you do,” Jack said as he nodded.  “Be right back.”  He jogged out to the SUV, communicating, **Danny, first, Hammond already thought of the animal kingdom.  He insisted on removing them, so he got some help.  They're all present and accounted for.  We just have to go pick them up.**

**Thanks, Jack.**

**No, thank Grandpa; he's the one who thought of them first.**

Daniel smiled, certain that his husband would have handled the situation if he'd had to.

Jack chuckled at the brood, the children all chuckling and chattering away as if they didn't have a care in the world.  He leaned in the passenger side of the SUV, resting his arms on the window rim.  When he spoke it was quiet, so as to not disturb the children.

“Danny, Lou and Carolyn want us to stay here,” Jack informed.

“Jack, we couldn't,” Daniel replied.  He hated the imposition it would be on their friends, but he also realized, they didn't have much choice.  “Could we?”

“Choiceless, Babe,” Jack responded.  Then he groaned, seeing a spot on Aislinn's shirt.  The spot reminded him of a crucial ingredient for daily living.  “Danny, clothes.  We can't get back into Hammond's.”

“Sam and Janet both have clothes for the brood; you and I can go pick up a few things.”

“Danny, Carter and the Doc are gone, remember?”

“Babe, we have keys, remember?” Daniel pointed out.

“There's that,” Jack mused.  “You know we could ...”

“No, Jack, we're not moving into Sam's house.”

“She could room with the Doc; you know how they *love* to girl chat.”

“Jack, no.  N-O,” Daniel reiterated forcefully.  “We'll get clothing for the brood, buy a couple of things for ourselves, and stay here with the Ferrettis, who have *invited* us to stay with them.  We'll get by.”

Though they'd rarely had a need to use them, Jack and Daniel had long had house keys for Sam's, Janet's, Hammond's, and the Wilson's homes.  The couple would never take advantage of the privilege of being trusted with their friends' keys, not even now when they were without a house to live in.

While Daniel was adamant about not moving into the temporarily vacated premises, retrieving clothing for their children was an acceptable reason for using the keys, especially since the brood all had one week's worth of clothing with all four of those caregivers.

Realizing the issue of storming Sam's house was vetoed, the older man moved forward to the next task at hand and commanded, “Brood, listen up.”  Once he had the youngsters' full attention, he smiled and said, “We're home!”

====

Though cramped, the Jackson-O'Neill kids were having a great time at the Ferretti's.  Jennifer was staying with Trina in her room, which meant they got to gossip almost nonstop, and the five toddlers loved sharing one big bed in another room.  David, meanwhile, was camping out in a tent on the enclosed patio, while Chenoa was sleeping on a cot in the same room as the toddlers.  Jack and Daniel were taking up residence in the guest room.

The fish were in the living room, along with Bogey the lizard.  Mittens was spending her nights with Chenoa on the cot, while Bijou and Katie often split their time between the toddlers and David.

As it turned out, General Hammond's home had suffered two major blows that had gone undetected for a period of time.  There was a gas leak caused by old piping that had corroded.  It was that smell that Mittens and the beagles had sniffed out.  However, in the course of checking out the property, it had been discovered that there were pockets of carbon monoxide present as well.  They'd found two potential sources of the buildup -- a cracked furnace pipe and a clogged exhaust vent that was attached to the clothes dryer.

It was the carbon monoxide that had caused the children to have headaches and flu-like symptoms the day or two prior to the discovery of the gas leak.

Unfortunately, it was going to take a couple of weeks to do the repairs, since the general decided to replace some of the piping in the home.  Hopefully, that would prevent any dangerous leaks from occurring in the future.

Today was Daniel's birthday, and Jack was frustrated and disappointed that the surprise birthday trip he'd planned for Daniel had had to be postponed.  There was no way the two of them could leave town now.  He hated having to cancel the plans, but vowed to surprise his husband sometime in the future.

It wasn't the same, in Jack's view, but the Ferrettis prepared a large cake to celebrate the birthday.

“Little Danny, what's wrong?” Carolyn asked when the youngster only picked at his piece of cake.

“It Katie's birthday, too,” the youngster stated.

“We always celebrate all the birthdays,” Daniel explained almost apologetically.

“She had big cake in Egypt,” Little Danny said, totally surprising his parents at his recall of the event, considering he'd only been a year-and-a-half at the time of the trip.

“Well, I can't be upstaged by some desert creation,” Carolyn boasted.  “Come with me,” she ordered, taking Little Danny's hand and leading him into the kitchen.

====

Less than an hour later, Little Danny led the way from the kitchen to the dining room while Carolyn carried in a small vanilla cake in the shape of a dog biscuit.

“Katie, it your cake,” the middle Munchkin stated happily.

Jack looked at the woman and smiled while mouthing a heart-felt, “Thank you.”

Still, it was a bit of a quiet party, but Daniel treasured the efforts made on his behalf, as did Katie, whose tail wagged as she enjoyed her birthday cake.

====

Several days later, after returning home from his Monday morning classes in Denver, Daniel took Aislinn and Jenny to the mall to get some new clothes.

“It seems like we're going shopping every month, Jack,” Daniel had remarked as he prepared for the outing.

“There's a good reason for that, Daniel.”

“What's that?”

“We are,” Jack had said with a grin.  ~The mall should give us frequent buyer miles!~

“Oh.  That's why it feels so familiar,” Daniel had chuckled and then kissed his spouse good-bye.

So far, the shopping excursion was a rousing success.  Daniel had found three new dresses for each girl, plus an assortment of shirts, pants, socks, shoes, and underwear.

The shoppers had eaten lunch at the McDonald's in the mall, stopped by Barnes and Noble where they'd picked up a book on geology studies in Colorado for David, and then had gone to a jeweler's to pick out a bracelet as a surprise present for Chenoa for having done so well in her Kinder Camp class, in spite of the incidents that could have easily jaded or distracted the young girl from her interests and goals.

The family's last stop was to a clothing shop to pick up a dress for Jennifer.  She had put it on layaway a couple of months earlier, and Jack and Daniel had decided to surprise her by making the final payment themselves.  She'd worked hard to earn the money, and she rarely complained about all the babysitting she had to do, so from time to time, her parents liked to do little things to help her out.

As he held the dress out in front of him, shaking his head as he did so, Daniel asked the clerk, “This is a dress?”

“It's the latest thing,” the perky clerk said enthusiastically.

~Jack will never let her out of the house in it,~ Daniel opined.  “Okay, well, it's ... it's, uh, interesting.”

The clerk went to answer the phone as Daniel prepared to put the dress back in the box, though he was still holding it in his hands, the dress hanging down in front of him.

“I don't think it's your size, you wuss,” a man said suddenly.

Daniel looked up, immediately recognizing the man as being Mick Eglund, a fairly new addition to Lou's neighborhood.  The man was an obvious bigot and had said some unkind things to Jack and Daniel after witnessing a friendly basketball game played at the Ferretti's a few months back.

Aislinn looked up at the man, her head tilted slightly.  She said nothing, but the man confused her.  Jenny instinctively moved closer to Daniel, clinging to his left leg.

After glancing at the man, Daniel returned his focus to the dress, putting it back in the box.  Once done, he scooted the box away slightly so that it was closer to the clerk's part of the register counter.

“Nothing to say ... lady,” Mick sniped, not masking his barb as anything but the sarcastic insult it was supposed to be.

Aislinn looked up at Daniel and asked, “Daddy, who that man?”

“No one, Sweetie.  Just ignore him.”

Daniel smiled at Aislinn, using his right hand to rub against the back of her head, wanting her to feel his presence and support.  He looked over to his left and, since Jenny was shorter than her sister and not as tall, gently ruffled the hair on top of Jenny's head.  His hope was that if he didn't respond to Eglund, the man would go away.  They were in a public place, and he didn't want to make a scene, especially in front of his children.

“Daddy?” the man questioned, sneering.

Daniel ignored the man and continued to reassure his children with supportive touches.  Unfortunately, Eglund refused to let the matter drop and moved closer to the archaeologist, a look of hatred on the man's face.

“I'm talking to you, Freak,” the man spat.

Daniel sighed and faced the man with what Jonny and Little Danny would call 'gen'rl eyes'.

“Look, we're shopping; we don't want any trouble, so why don't you go do whatever it is you came here to do, and leave us alone,” Daniel suggested strongly.

It wasn't a question, but a forcefully made request, one that Eglund chose to ignore.

“Your kind are ruining this country.  I'm sick and tired of it,” the man said, moving further forward, his body language indicating aggression.

Daniel felt Jenny's hold on his leg tighten, and Aislinn raised her hand to clutch a handful of shirt at his back.

“Look,” Daniel said as calmly as he could.  “I'm shopping with my daughters.  If you have a problem with me, that's okay.  You're entitled to your opinion, but my children are here, and surely you can understand ...”

“I understand that perverts like yourself shouldn't have kids, let alone be shopping with them,” Eglund said, his voice rising even more.

The clerk was still on the phone, but hearing the raised voices, she looked around the store until she found the person she wanted.  She motioned for the security guard to come to the counter.

Pointing at Eglund, the worker mouthed, “That man is harassing my customer.”

“Listen, I'm minding my own business.  Stay out of my way,” Daniel said a bit more forcefully.

“You immoral piece of ...” Englund loudly hissed, walking closer to Daniel and the two scared girls.

“That's enough,” the guard said, stepping in and stopping Eglund from finishing his comments or possibly attacking Daniel and the girls.

Daniel breathed a sigh of relief.  He knew he could handle Eglund, but he didn't want to end up in a brawl in front of Aislinn and Jenny.

The guard put his hand in front of Eglund and pushed him back a step or two.

“Sir, is there a problem?” the guard asked Daniel without looking back at him.  ~Not taking my eyes off this one.~

“Not if he leaves us alone,” Daniel responded.

“Thank you, Aaron,” the clerk said, returning from her phone conversation.  “I'm so sorry for the wait, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill.  I'll ring this up now.”

“Thank you.”

“Why don't you move along?” the guard suggested to Eglund, who was still glaring at Daniel.

“Reprobate scum like you don't belong in our society,” Eglund spat in disgust.

“Sir, if you don't back off now, I'll have to detain you,” Aaron the guard warned.

“I'm going.”

Giving Daniel an evil look, his face a dark scowling expression, Eglund left the store.

“Thank you, Aaron,” Daniel said when the guard turned back towards him.

Aaron nodded, gave a smile to the two girls, and returned to making rounds in the large store.

“Daddy?” Jenny called, tugging on his pants leg.

Daniel leaned over, picking up the girl as he soothed, “Everything is okay, Jenny,” while gently rubbing her back.

“Why he no like us?” Jenny asked sadly.

“No, no, no,” the clerk interjected, surprising Daniel.  “That man has problems.  He doesn't even know you, so how can he not like you, especially a little girl with such fiery red hair?”

Jenny giggled, her head nuzzling into Daniel.

“He say bad things,” Aislinn said, looking at the clerk.

“Well, what we need to think about is what's happened to him to make him so angry at the world, because he can't be angry at you.  You're too pretty,” the clerk said, smiling down at the youngest Munchkin.

Aislinn smiled, twisting her body a bit.  Daniel noticed she seemed to relax, moving away just slightly from him.

“Hey, how would you girls like a cinnamon stick?”  The clerk looked at Daniel and asked, “Is it okay?”

“Sure,” the archaeologist agreed.

The clerk reached over to a glass jar near her register for two of the treats.  Then she leaned over the counter and handed one each to Aislinn and Jenny.

“What do you say?” Daniel coaxed.

“Thank you,” both girls said.

“From me, too,” Daniel added, smiling at the clerk, not just with his mouth, but with his eyes.

“It's nothing, but this,” the clerk chuckled, holding up the box with Jennifer's dress in it, “will cost you another thirty-five dollars.”

Daniel laughed out loud.  Checking with Jenny, and seeing she was okay now, he put her down so he could pay the clerk.

====

“Why didn't you tell me when you got home?” Jack asked, a tinge of angry frustration in his voice.

The lovers were in bed, talking very quietly.

“Two reasons,” Daniel answered as they snuggled.

“Which were?” Jack asked, anger still marring his voice.

“Well, the children were around us all night, and I didn't want to upset Lou,” the younger man explained.

“I don't think I could have kept my cool like you did,” Jack said, inwardly agreeing his lover's reasons were good ones.

“Yes, you would have.”

“You're awfully confident, Love,” Jack said, his tone a bit gentler now.

“Jack, if you had Jenny gripping your leg like there was no tomorrow, and Ash about to meld with your right side, you would have kept your cool, too, because losing it would have scared them and hurt them even worse.”

Jack gave a reluctant sigh, saying, “Geez, I hope I would have.”

Daniel rolled over to face Jack.  He put his hand under Jack's chin, his fingers gliding along the skin there.

“You would have,” Daniel assured his lover, and then he kissed the older man, his tongue slipping inside Jack's mouth, causing Jack to let out a delighted sound of desire.

“Danny ...”

“Not here, Jack.”

“We have our own room.”

“No!” Daniel maintained.

“Spoilsport,” Jack teased as Daniel settled onto his chest.  “That clerk deserves a raise.”

“She was great, Jack.  She saw the girls were frightened, I guess.”

“We should put in a good word for her.  Did you get her name?”

“Her tag said Dora; she's probably a college student,” Daniel assumed.

“Speaking of college, how'd class go this morning?” Jack inquired.

“Well, uh, to be honest ...”

“You don't really need these classes, do ya?” Jack observed sharply.

“The law says I do, and I am learning about different teaching techniques,” Daniel finished somewhat lamely, knowing Jack was probably right.

“Like I said, you don't really need them.”

Daniel chuckled, and the two continued their late night discussion.

====

The front door of the Ferretti home opened.  It was barely 6 a.m., but Daniel had another early class.  The lovers were the first ones up and about, though they could hear Jennifer stirring.

“Have a good day at school,” Jack spoke, half seriously and half teasing, his eyes sparkling.

“Careful, Jack.”

Jack chuckled and kissed his husband good-bye, watching as Daniel walked outside and headed for the Silver Fox.  As he started to close the door, something caught his eye.  Suddenly, his eyes flamed.  He ran outside, stopping just a foot or so from Daniel, who had stopped moving from the shock of what he saw.  Silently, the couple stared at the hand-painted signs and disgusting effigies that were strewn near their vehicles.

The pictures were crude, and the words filthy.  All over the Ferretti's yard, the images were present.

Jack looked across the street.  Standing on his front porch was Mick Eglund, a smug look on his face.  Jack was about to run over there when a voice stopped him.

“Hey, Dad, can I ...”  Jennifer stopped still in her tracks, totally unprepared for the filth in front of her.  “Oh, gawd,” she said.

“Jennifer, in the house -- *now!*” Jack barked.

“Jen, keep the children inside and away from the windows, and knock on Lou and Carolyn's door and ...” Daniel instructed, upset the teenager had seen the signs.

“Yes, Daddy,” Jennifer responded, not waiting for him to finish.  She backed away several steps, asking no one in particular, “What kind of monster would do this?”

Tears in her eyes, Jennifer turned and ran into the house, closing the door.

“A monster who deserves to die,” Jack answered now that Jennifer was safely inside the house.  He began to cross the street, saying, “And I may just accommodate him.”

“No!”  Quickly, Daniel sprinted forward to stand in his husband's path.  “Jack, don't,” he begged, his hands raising to the other man's chest to stop him.

“Daniel, I'm not going to kill him; I'm just going to ...” Jack trailed off as his lover finished the sentence for him

“Break his neck, and where would that leave me and the children?” Daniel asked, his eyes imploring his angry soulmate to listen to reason.

Full or rage and wanting justice, Jack argumentatively began, “Daniel, this stuff is ...”

“I *know* what it is.  Let's ... let's just clean it up,” Daniel spoke, full of disgust. “Please, Jack.  I need you.”

A minute passed.  A minute in which Jack glared at the laughing Eglund.  A minute in which he killed the man over and over again in his mind.  A minute in which he plotted a covert murder, one no one ever had to know about but himself.  A minute in which he finally took a breath and looked back into his Heart's eyes.  A minute that concluded with him knowing that above all else, he had to make sure Daniel was happy.

“You have a class to go to,” Jack reminded his soulmate.

“Go, Doc,” Lou urge as he came outside, shaking his head at what he saw.  “Some people have no respect.”

“Danny, go to class,” Jack said firmly.

“No,” Daniel argued, afraid his husband would commit some horror to the cackling man standing arrogantly across the street from them now.

“Doc, it's early.  Jack and I can get this cleaned up in no time.  What are you going to tell your kids if you don't go?”

“Get out of here,” Jack ordered mildly.

“Jack, promise me you won't ...”

“Break his neck?”  Jack sighed, “Fine.  I won't say anything.”

“I'm counting on you, Jack.”

“I won't let you down, Danny,” the older man promised.

Daniel hesitated, but finally he walked towards his car.

Jack nodded slightly and smiled as much as he could, given his urge to throttle the bigot across the street.

Walking to the center of the lawn, Eglund watched Daniel drive away and then taunted, “Wifey leaving you all alone?”

Jack took one step forward, but stopped, remembering his promise and the fact that his children would be up soon.

“Jack, let's get this stuff out of here,” Lou said, placing his hand on Jack's arm.

“Lou, I'm sorry about this,” Jack apologized, truly sorry for having brought this type of filth to the Ferretti home.

“Hey, you're not the moron,” Lou spoke, making sure his voice was loud enough for Eglund to hear.

“Wifey is sooooo pretty,” Eglund taunted, smacking his lips.  “You must be hard up, hard up ... getting hard.  He, excuse me, she must not be able to do much.”

Jack mumbled and cursed silently as he worked with his friend to rid the yard of the sickening trash.  Looking at two male dolls, arranged in a suggestive fashion, his anger was turning his face red.  He could feel his insides tightening.

“You two don't belong here.  Get out before we run you out,” Eglund yelled from across the street.

“Mick, shut your trap,” Lou shouted.

“You hiding a little secret, LouISE?” Eglund taunted.

“Louise,” Lou mumbled to himself, shaking his head.  Like Jack, he'd just as soon clobber the jerk, but he knew if a fight started, it would end with Eglund being seriously injured at the hands of the Special Ops general.  “Jack, he's dirt.  Not worth the bruise you'd get on your knuckles.”

“Yeah,” Jack said a bit contrarily.

Jack spotted something by the tire of the SUV.  He went to the edge of the driveway, and seeing the item in full view, his blood boiled over.  The effigy had two males and several children, nooses around all of their necks.  Written haphazardly were the words, “Like perverse swine, like worthless swinelets.”

Jack turned and walked purposely across the street, his promise to Daniel swimming in his mind.

“Bring it on ...” Eglund challenged.

Those were the last words the lawbreaking bigot spoke for quite a while.  Saying nothing, Jack decked him with one, well-loaded punch.

Returning to Lou's, Jack said calmly, “I promised Daniel I wouldn't say anything. I didn't say a word.”

“No, Jack, you didn't, and frankly, I couldn't have not said it any better,” Lou said, giving his friend a wry grin.

====

When they were finished, the two men went inside, feeling a little better that there was no danger that the rest of the children would see any of the mess.

“Dad?” Jennifer asked.

“Nothing to worry about, Jen, except ...”

“Watch the kids,” the teenager said softly.

“Yeah, I don't want them out front alone ... ever,” Jack instructed.

“Not a problem, Dad,” the teenager agreed, her eyes indicative that she was as concerned as the adults were.

Jack looked straight at his daughter and sternly stated, “Jen, that means you, too.”

The teenager wanted to argue, and she bit her lip to keep from responding.

“Jen, Ash wants you,” Trina called out, walking into the living room.

“You okay, Sweetcakes?” Lou asked his foster daughter as Jennifer left the room.

“Yes, I only saw a little, from the window.  Jen's a little scared, though,” Trina said hesitantly.

Lou nodded, glanced at Jack, and then headed for the kitchen to check on his wife.  He gave Trina a supportive pat when he walked by her.

“General O'Neill?” Trina asked.

“How many times have I told you to call me 'Jack'?” the general asked, temporarily setting aside his boiling anger.  Seeing her chuckle and shrug, he asked, “What?”

“Mister Eglund is a jerk,” Trina stated in a frustrated tone.

~That's not all he is,~ Jack thought, though he chuckled in agreement with Trina's comment.  “Yes, Trina, he is.”  Sighing, he added, “Thanks for looking after my kids.”

“I like little kids.”

“You doing okay here?” Jack inquired quietly as the two stood a few feet opposite from each other.

“Yeah, I really like it a lot.  Lou, he's the first man who ... who acts like a father; I mean a real father, who doesn't expect or ...”

The girl turned away, the horror of her past threatening to overtake the warmth she felt for the Ferrettis.

“Hey, don't get all misty-eyed on me,” Jack tried to tease.

Turning back around, Trina smiled and commented, “Carolyn, she teaches me things.  They don't treat me like I'm junk.”

“You're not junk, Trina.  You're a beautiful young girl; you deserve good stuff.”

“Do I?” Trina asked, clearly unsure of herself.

“Sure, you do.”

“I wish I could stay here forever,” the young girl said softly and walking over to a table where pictures of the Ferretti family were situated.  “I met their children last month.”

“The Ferrettiettes?” Jack asked, referring to Lou's college-aged children.

“They came home after Lou was hurt.  I really liked them; they, uh, accepted me,” Trina said, smiling so much at the memory that her cheeks were tinged with red.

“Of course, they did.  Lou's kids are tops, *all* of them,” Jack said, giving the teenager an intense stare that said she was one of them, too.  Changing the subject, he asked, “Hey, don't you have a birthday coming up?”

“Yes, in a couple of months.”

“The big one-three!” Jack teased.

Trina smiled shyly; then she almost whispered, “Life wasn't much fun until I met you and Jen, and you found the Ferrettis for me.  I kinda want to forget my first eleven years, especially being eleven.  Eleven was ... it was ...” Trina trailed off again, tears springing to her eyes.

“I know, Trina.”

“Twelve hasn't been so bad, though.  It doesn't hurt so much to wake up in the morning anymore.  You know, they don't let me get away with stuff, but I think maybe they ... like me, a little,” the almost-teenager said hopefully, looking up for reassurance from Jack.

“Trina, Lou and Carolyn *love* you,” Jack stated pointedly while looking the girl directly in the eye.

“I hope so.”

“Big breakfast brewing,” Lou said, smiling as he returned to the room.  “What'd I miss?”

“Just gossiping, Lou,” Jack teased, winking at Trina before excusing himself to check on his children.

====

Alone for the moment, Jack took out his cell phone and dialed a number.  It belonged to an old contact, one he'd used before, though it had been a few years since their last communication.

“Carlton, Jack O'Neill, actually Jackson-O'Neill.”

“I heard about your, uh, marriage, Jack,” the man intentionally stuttered.

“Is that a problem?” Jack asked frankly.

“Nah, what do you need?”

“For now, information.  I don't want you to do anything, yet, but I need you to check out an idiot named Mick Eglund.”

Jack gave Carlton Eglund's address and description.

“What'd he'd do, or shouldn't I ask?” Carlton laughed.

“He just threatened my family.”

“Call me in twenty-four,” Carlton responded soberly.

====

“Jack, what if he files charges?” Daniel asked, consumed with concern, not long after having returned home from his class.

“He doesn't have the guts to.  I know his type, Daniel: he's a coward.”

“Are you sure none of the children saw?” Daniel asked quietly, looking to make sure their bedroom door was still closed.

“Only Jen and Trina,” Jack assured, hating the memory of the two girls having witnessed such an atrocity, but grateful none of their other very curious kids had gotten a glimpse of the effigies.

Daniel sat on the bed, while Jack stood a few feet away, leaning against the wall.

“We have to keep the children inside,” Daniel said firmly.  “Uh, except for the backyard, of course.”

“I agree, and I already told Jen that, too,” Jack noted.

“I didn't see any damage to the house or yard.”

“There wasn't any.  Lou and I checked it out,” Jack informed his husband.

Daniel responded softly, “If there was somewhere else to go ...”

“Danny, this kind of thing is going to happen.  It's like we talked about with Hammond after the carnival.  The older the brood gets, the more they are going to be exposed to it.”

“They're ...”  Daniel saw Jack cock his head a tad, questioning Daniel's words even before he had spoken them.  He sighed, “They're not babies anymore, but they're still so young.  You're right, so we teach them proper responses *by example*.”

“I tried, Danny.”

“Jack ...” Daniel began, though his words were cut off.

“No, Daniel, if you ...”

The younger man interrupted, insisting, “Jack, I would have done the same thing.”

“I doubt it,” Jack replied, feeling both satisfied that he had hit Eglund and upset that he hadn't resisted the urge.

“Don't be so sure.”

Jack nodded doubtfully and then said, “I tell ya, Danny, I could have killed that idiot.  That picture: children, Danny -- our children.”

Daniel stood and walked over to his husband, putting his hands on Jack's chest and caressing lovingly.

“Hey, our children are safe, and we're going to keep them that way.  One of us has to always be here.  What's the latest on General Hammond's house?”

“I talked to him about an hour ago.  Looks like the gas company hit a snag; might be a few extra days.”

“We'll be okay; the Ferrettis are good people; we just ... make sure our children are protected,” Daniel stated.

Jack nodded and drew his lover into a hug.

“Jack, we could call the police,” Daniel commented.

“I thought of that, but I don't think he's the type to back off because of being arrested.”

“And ...” Daniel pulled back to look at Jack, “... you're taking care of it, aren't you?”

“I'm having him checked out,” Jack responded, a certain coldness in his eyes.

“It's not Sam, is it?” Daniel asked, having become aware that his husband was utilizing one of his Special Ops contacts from the past, something he was certain Jack did when he felt it was necessary.

“Danny, I'm just having him checked out so that we know what we're dealing with.  Okay?”

Daniel nodded and leaned in to the safe haven of his soulmate's arms.

====

The next morning, Jack made a call as he drove to work.

“'Flight of the Phoenix', seven plus one.”

The Special Ops general groaned at the message on Carlton's voicemail.  It was a code.  Carlton wasn't going to be available for over a week.  He was tempted to take another approach with the Eglund situation, but he decided against it.

~He wouldn't let me down.  The man's a snake, but he knows I'd cut off his rattles if he didn't come through.~

As he mulled over Carlton's behavior, he truly believed the man would have contacted him had the news on Eglund been severe enough to warrant it.

~Okay, Carlton.  Seven plus one, but if that moron harms my family in the meantime, I'm coming after you.~

The Special Ops general pulled into the driveway of J-O Enterprises, quickly putting away his military persona and transforming into the company's co-owner.

~I need to review that survey.~  Walking towards the door, Jack laughed, ~And then I need to have Megan make sure I reviewed it correctly.~

====

“In here, you rugrats,” Jack called out to David, Jonny, Little Danny, and Ricky.

It was just after 10 a.m., and the five were going to a little league baseball game, but on the way, Jack stopped off at the mall to buy some socks for David.  As they were leaving, his eye caught the clothing shop where the incident with Daniel and Eglund had occurred a few of days earlier.

On a whim, Jack and the boys walked inside.  Being a Saturday, it was already quite busy.

“Dad, this is for girls,” David said, a shudder in his voice.

Jack chuckled, “Don't worry, Son, I won't tell, if you don't.”

As he glanced around, Jack found his target.  Grabbing a shirt as an icebreaker, he walked up to the clerk.

“Do you think this would fit a very hip teenager of the day?” Jack asked, squirming slightly at his question.

The clerk laughed and responded, “Depends on her size, Sir.”

“Dad, this is embarrassing,” David sighed.

“You'll learn to live with it, David,” Jack advised.  Looking at the clerk, he admitted, “Listen, I don't really want the shirt.”

“You don't?” the female clerk asked, clearly confused.

“No, I don't.  To be honest, I saw your nametag,” Jack confessed, pointing to the small black platelet with the girl's name printed in white, capital letters.

“Oh,” the young woman said, just a tad alarmed.

Jack explained, “My husband was in here a few days ago, with two of our daughters.”

Jack watched the young lady closely for any signs of shock or phoniness, but there were none.

Instead, Dora lit up and said, “The little redheaded girl and her sister?  They were adorable.”

“Yes, they are,” Jack said with pride.

“Are these your kids, too?”

“He's our dad,” Jonny said with pride of his own.

“Yeah, ours,” Little Danny repeated.

“They're so cute,” the still-perky clerk commented.

“Awwww.  Boys not cute,” Jonny refuted.

“My mistake.  How about handsome?  Very, very handsome even?” the clerk asked.

The two youngest boys smiled modestly.

“Better,” Jonny answered.

“And humble, too,” Jack teased as he looked down at his namesake.

“I don't think they've had that lesson yet, Dad,” David said.

Jack shrugged.

“Um, I don't mean to be rude or anything, but,” the clerk leaned forward, “we're really busy, and Mrs. Cousins watches the temporary help like we're about to run off with the silver; that is, if there were any.”

“So this isn't your regular job?” Jack inquired.

“Summer job to help pay for tuition.”

“Denver?”  Jack saw the clerk nod and asked, “Mind if I ask what your major is?”

“Dance.  I'd like to be a dancer, or at least work in some form of musical arts.”

“No summer jobs for dancers?”

“They don't pay enough, not that this does either, but until I get that degree, I have to make sure I get the degree.  Does that make sense?” the clerk questioned.

“Completely.  Tell me something.  How do you feel about rocks?”

“Rocks?” the confused girl asked.

“Not rocks, Dad,” Little Danny admonished as he glared at his father.  “Art'facts.”

Jack grinned at his son as he thought, ~A real chip off the ole Dannyblock!~  “Pardon me,” he apologized.  He looked back at the clerk and explained, “Artifacts -- learning about them, cataloguing them, being a gopher.”

“Do I have to see my shadow?” Dora asked.

~She's a fun one.~  Jack smiled.  Liking the clerk, he quickly, pulled out his card and stated, “The name is Jack Jackson-O'Neill.  The man with the two little girls was Daniel, my husband.  You're okay with that?”

“Not my thing, but neither is golf,” Dora quipped.

Jack laughed and elaborated, “We have an archaeological firm.  If you're willing to learn, work hard, and start out doing some of the gopher errands, you've got a job.”

Dora's mouth opened wide as she listened to Jack.

“We pay well, and we believe in supporting college students, so you can work around your class schedule if you want to continue when your courses resume.”

“This isn't a joke?” Dora asked quietly, standing back just a little from the counter.

Jack smiled and shook his head, adding, “I will warn you that sometimes, the gopher baby-sits.”

“Not babies,” Little Danny argued.

“Sorry, child-sits,” Jack corrected himself, adding, “so it means a thorough background check.  No one stays with our brood without us making sure they're okay, so if you're interested, give that number a call and ask for Megan.  She's our Director of Operations.  You can fill out the application and give her a resume for the folder; we'll do the check; and you're hired.”

“Just like that?  I mean, all I know about rocks is that they're ...”  Dora paused as she noticed Little Danny's frown.  She smiled and completed her sentence.  “... artifacts?”

“You want to learn?” Jack asked, watching Dora carefully.

“Yes, I'd like that,” Dora answered sincerely.

“Give Megan a call.”

“Thank you, Mister, uh,” Dora looked at the card again, “Jackson-O'Neill.”  He smiled, then it was like a light bulb went off in her head.  “Oh, so one of you is Jackson and the other O'Neill.”

“We were, but now we're both J-Os.”

Dora grinned, looking again at the card and observing, “J-O, like the name of the company on the card.”  She chuckled and then spoke appreciatively, “Thank you, Mister Jackson-O'Neill.  I'll give Megan a call, and I won't let you down.”

Jack nodded and then left with his children for the baseball game.

“Bye!” Little Danny said, twisting his body around to wave at the young woman.

“Bye!” Dora said, waving and smiling in return.

====

The next day, the Ferrettis were giving a 'thank you' barbecue to Lou's co-workers.  Of course, Carolyn didn't know exactly who had done what or the specifics, but she'd insisted they do something to thank the personnel for their actions and caring.  They'd invited some other friends over, too, but there was a predominance of well-built Marines who would be attending.

At the moment, Jack and Daniel, who had been helping to get the place organized all morning, were washing their vehicles, all three of them.  As the older children supervised the younger ones in the backyard, the couple went about their task, beginning with the SUV that was parked behind Lou's MonsterMobile truck in the driveway.

After a while, Jonny nudged his fellow triplets and suggested, “Let's go help Dad 'n' Daddy.”

The Munchkins toddled out the side gate, taking advantage of Jennifer and David's preoccupation with Ricky, who had just fallen over and started to cry.

“He okay,” Little Danny observed.

“We go hug him?” Aislinn asked.

Jonny was the deciding vote.  He was about to agree that they should check on Ricky, when he noticed Jenny making him laugh.

“He 'kay, Ash.  Let's go,” the oldest Munchkin directed.

As the triplets came around the side, Aislinn saw Mick Eglund pulling up in his driveway.  He got out of his car and glared at Jack and Daniel.

“That's that mean man,” Aislinn informed her brothers.

“From the store?” Little Danny asked.

Seeing her nod, Jonny stood up straight, gently pushed Aislinn to the side of the house, and said, “Ash, stay.  C'mon, Little Danny.”

At the precise moment that Jonny and Little Danny stormed past their parents, the walkie talkie that Jack had affixed to his belt beeped.

“The Munchkins just went out the gate, Dad,” Jennifer reported.

“Ten-four, Jen.  I see 'em.  Thanks,” Jack chimed.

Daniel was about to call out to the two boys, afraid they were going to run into the street, when the two stopped, right on the edge of the lawn.

“Hey, you!” Jonny yelled, waiting for Mick to look at them.  “You bad man; scared sisters.  You no do that again!” he ordered, pointing his hand at the man and waving it.

“Yeah!” Little Danny shouted.  “Leave sisters alone!” he ordered.

“Not nice!” Jonny added.

“Yeah!” Little Danny added.

“You stay 'way.  They no hurt you.  Why you hurt them?” Jonny challenged.

“Not right,” Little Danny agreed, his finger waving vehemently at the man.

“No scare them 'again, Bad Man!” Jonny ordered firmly.  “You mean!”

“And we no like you!” Little Danny added, as if that would upset Eglund terribly.

“Shut up, you brats!” Eglund shouted.

“Okay, you two,” Daniel said, one hand now securely on each boy.  He looked across at Eglund, who simply smirked and went inside his house.  “That's enough.”

“Hafta 'tect Ash 'n' Jenny from bad mens,” Jonny informed his father in a very firm tone.

“Dad and I will protect them, and you, too.  Where's Ash?” Daniel asked.

“She's over here, Danny,” Jack called out, holding his daughter in his arms.

Daniel smiled as Jack approached with Aislinn.  He knelt down to be eye level with the two boys.  He still had one hand on each boy.

“I love you both so much, but you have to let Dad and I take care of this.  That man is ...”

“Ig'rant,” Aislinn interrupted.

“Yes,” Daniel answered, looking up at her, and then back at the boys.

“Hafta 'tect sisters,” Jonny insisted.

~He's as stubborn as his father.~  Daniel sighed and nodded.  “Okay, you three ...”

“Excuse me,” a man said, walking up to the couple and their children.  “My name is Greg Summerville, and I live over there.  Lou told me he had friends staying with him for a while, and, um, I don't mean to be nosy, but I was wondering what that was all about.”

“Bad man scare sisters,” Jonny answered.

“Jonny,” Jack said in a stern tone.

“It truth,” Little Danny insisted.

“They're very protective of their sisters,” Daniel explained as he stood up. “Munchkins, go back to the backyard, please.”

Jonny started to argue, but he saw Daniel's firm look and whispered loud enough for everyone to hear, “Daddy have gen'rl eyes.”

“Yeah,” Little Danny agreed as he and Jonny headed for the backyard.

“Are you okay, Ash?” Jack asked.  Seeing her nod, he put her down and instructed, “Go back with the others.”

“Okay, Dad,” the little girl said as she headed towards the backyard.

Quietly, but without going into too much detail, Jack gave the neighbor an outline of what Eglund had been up to.

Summerville shook his head and responded, “Look, I'll be honest.  I can't say I like the idea of what you two are doing.  I don't understand, and I don't want to, but I don't abide hurting kids.  Whatever choices people like you make are your own, but they're innocent and didn't ask for it.  That's how I feel.  Eglund's a jerk,” he concluded, glancing across the street at the man's house.

Just then, the Munchkins returned, although this time, Jennifer was right behind them.

“I'm sorry, Dad, Daddy, but they really wanted to say something to you,” Jennifer explained.

“We sorry,” Jonny said.  “Gotta 'tect Ash 'n' Jenny, though.”

“Yeah,” Little Danny agreed.

“We know; it's okay,” Daniel said softly.

“Jonny, look!” Little Danny exclaimed, extending out his arm to point something out.

The two boys ran over to a bush, looking at a bug that captured their interest.

“Eww,” Aislinn responded, although she followed them.

Jennifer smiled and shrugged lightly as she turned to move where the Munchkins were.

Summerville complimented, “Cute kids.”

“Thanks,” Jack and Daniel both said at the same time, and then glanced at each other.

Jack added, “We thank you for your honesty.”

“I saw what Eglund did the other day,” Summerville said a bit hesitantly, looking across the street.  “Got up early.  That wasn't right, either.  If you want to press charges, I'll be a witness.  I admit I didn't see the details, but I saw him around the house and vehicles, enough to help the cops take care of him”  He shook his head again.  “Kids shouldn't be hurt in our messes.”

“Thank you again,” Daniel said, “but we aren't going to press charges.  Men like Eglund don't learn from that.”

Summerville nodded; then added, “We'll keep an eye out; can't promise anything, though.”

“He bad man; scared Jenny,” Jonny said, having returned to his parents' side.

“Ash, too,” Little Danny added, watching the bug which he had brought with him and was now resting in the palm of his hand.

Little Danny sighed as the bug flew off.

Summerville smiled at the two boys and advised, “It's good to protect your siblings, but you two should stay away from that man.  He's trouble.  You let your ... parents handle it.”

“That's an order,” Jack said firmly.

“No like orders,” Little Danny whined, folding his arms.

“Neither does your daddy, but this one, you'll follow.  Go on -- go play,” Jack ordered yet again.

“I don't know if you noticed, but I wasn't the only one who heard what your boys said; Eglund isn't very popular around here anyway.  Like I said, we'll do what we can.”

“Thank you,” Daniel said.

Summerville backed away, returning across the street to his home.

“That I can deal with,” Jack said.

“Jack, we really have to do something about ... no, forget that.”

Jack chuckled, “They'll always protect each other, Danny.  You don't really want it any other way, do you?”

“No, but I don't want them to get hurt, either,” Daniel spoke with concern.

“They won't; we'll make sure of it.  Back to work, Love, or we'll still be cleaning when Lou's guests arrive.”

Daniel nodded, and the two returned to their tasks.

====

Late that afternoon and into the early evening, the Ferretti's barbecue took place.  Many of the SGC's finest were in attendance.  At one point, some of them decided to shoot some hoops.  It wasn't a formal game, just some action on the driveway court.

As the play continued, Mick Eglund walked out to his driveway.  Jonny glared at the man from his spot on the Ferretti's front porch, but he didn't move.

Teal'c saw the frowning boy and quietly walked away from the game and to the Munchkin, asking, “What is wrong, JonnyJacksonO'Neill?”

“He bad man,” Jonny scowled.

Earlier that afternoon, Teal'c had heard the story of Mick Eglund from Aislinn, who had told him everything that had happened in the store.  As she had spoken, she'd held on to the Jaffa tightly.  He also remembered the man from their basketball game in April.  He had not been impressed.
 
“Is he the one responsible for your sisters being upset?” Teal'c asked.

While Jonny nodded, Jack called out, “Hey, T, you playing?”

“Momentarily, O'Neill.”

Teal'c nodded to a Marine, who nodded to another, who nodded to another.  It was a domino effect that reached from the front of the home to the backyard.  Within a minute, the edge of the Ferretti lawn and driveway was lined with rough and tough looking Marines, standing 'at ease', eyes all staring at Mick Eglund.  It was a plan Teal'c had arranged earlier after learning about Eglund's continued bad behavior from Aislinn.

Jack and Daniel knew nothing about the plan.  They'd mentioned the incidents about the store and effigies to Sam and Teal'c, and to General Hammond, but only as part of their normal conversation, and they had no idea that Aislinn had been talking to Teal'c about it that day.

Eglund looked extremely uncomfortable as the stare down continued.  He had intended to wash his car, but changed his mind.  As he moved towards his front door, a basketball rolled intentionally onto his lawn, having been thrown there by Colonel Reynolds.

As Jack and Daniel looked at each other in surprise, Teal'c casually walked across the street.  He usually avoided such casual interaction with people.

**Jack, what is he doing?**

**I'd say he's protecting our children.**

**Oh.  Should we ...** Daniel began.

**Does he look like he needs our help?** Jack interrupted.

**No.**

“I believe you have our ball,” Teal'c said to the man.

Eglund gulped at the sight of Teal'c, his muscles evident due to the sleeveless shirt he wore.

Eglund picked up the ball that had settled by his feet and tossed it to Teal'c.  The Jaffa nodded, but instead of retreating, he walked into the man's personal space.

“I am a man of few words, but hear this.  If any harm comes to my friends, or to their children, you will not see the light of this world again,” Teal'c promised.

“Are you threatening to kill me?” Eglund challenged, though his voice wasn't nearly as strong as the words he'd spoken.

“That would be against the law.  I merely said you would not see the light of this world again.  My friends,” he looked over at the Marines, “are fond of the Ferrettis and the Jackson-O'Neills.  We would take it unkindly should they be injured or upset in any way.  I hope we have reached an understanding.”

The look in Teal'c's eyes made the man step back.  It was clear that Teal'c meant what he said.  Eglund might not be the brightest or wisest man in the world, but he wasn't foolish enough to believe the man's veiled warning to be an empty threat.  He also saw the determination in the faces of the Marines, all of whom stood fiercely at ease, their hands behind their backs as they stared straight at Eglund.  It was an intimidating sight.

“Good,” the Jaffa said, a smug smile on his face as he turned and returned to the Ferrettis.  “O'Neill, it is your shot.”

Jack caught the tossed ball and nodded, saying, “Thank you, Big Guy.”

Teal'c nodded and then glanced at Daniel who also nodded and communicated to his lover, **Gawd, we have good friends, Jack.**

**Something tells me we don't need to worry about that moron anymore.**

“Yay, T!” Jonny exclaimed, clapping, the incorrigible little Munchkin having slipped away from his caregivers yet again, thanks to Little Danny playing decoy.

Teal'c nodded and then refocused his attention on the basketball game.

“Colonel Reynolds,” General Hammond called out sternly, having come to the front yard just in time to see his men lined up at the lawn's edge.

“Yes, Sir,” Reynolds replied respectfully.

“What was that about?”

“Just ... exercising, Sir,” Reynolds responded, a smile on his face.

Hammond knew the truth.  He'd heard rumblings about it all afternoon.

“Well done,” Hammond praised.

“Thank you, Sir,” Reynolds responded, looking over at Teal'c and smiling.

Hammond nodded, then looked at Jack and Daniel and asked, “Where's that wayward grandson of mine?”

“Here, Gran'pa,” Jonny said, jumping up and running to Hammond, who picked him up.

“I have a story to tell you.  Once upon ...”

Hammond disappeared into the backyard as he told the story.

**Geez, I love that man, Danny.**

**Yeah, me, too.**

====

“Lou, you and Carolyn have been the greatest,” Jack said as the four adults sat in the Ferretti living room the following Thursday.

“It's been our pleasure, Jack,” Lou stated happily.

“Trina is going to miss having Jennifer around all the time,” Carolyn commented.

Jack caught Lou smiling and began, “Hey ...”

“Ah, just thinkin' about Trina.  She's come so far in the last few months.”  The Italian took hold of Carolyn's hand and spoke, “It's been good, yes?”

“She's a delight; loves to help me with all those Italian dishes,” Carolyn said as she smiled with the pride of a mother.

“She loves you guys,” Jack said.

“I hope so.  I wish ... nah, my brain thinks too much,” Lou said, dismissing his hopeful dreams.

“Lou, have you two thought about adopting her?” Jack inquired, well aware of Trina's wishes in that regard.

“She wouldn't want that.  We can't offer her that much,” Lou sighed sadly, looking around their moderately-sized home.

“You're wrong,” Daniel remarked.  “You've given her exactly what she needs.  Trust me, I know.”

“She's been through so much, Daniel,” Carolyn said softly.  “She has nightmares, and sometimes, when men approach her, I can see the pain and the fear in her eyes.  I'm still afraid we don't have what it takes.”

“Carolyn, do you love her?” Daniel asked, cutting to the real heart of the matter.

“Now that's a silly question.  I love her as much as if I'd given birth to her,” Carolyn responded, her eyes misting slightly with the sincerity of her words.

“She knows that, and knowing that, that someone really cares, that's ... that's everything.”  Daniel looked over at his husband and said, “It's hard to let go of the pain from your past, but when you find someone who knows all the good, and all the bad, and they love you anyway, it makes you strong, and somehow, that pain just floats away.”

Jack smiled and, looking over at Lou, confided, “She wants to stay with you guys.  I actually think she's afraid you'll send her away.”

“What?” Lou sat back in surprise.  “Us send Sweetcakes away?  No way.  No way, right, Peaches?” he asked, using his nickname for Carolyn.

Carolyn's smile was huge as she replied, “We would never do that.”  The loving woman paused for a moment as she mulled over something.  “Lou, let's talk some more with Trina's counselor, and see what she thinks,” she suggested, her heart beating faster with the thought of making Trina truly theirs.

“Okay, but you know something, no counselor can change the fact that Trina is ... well, she is ...”

“She's what, Lou?” Jack asked, knowing his friend just needed a little nudge.

“She's our daughter, Jack.”

“Then tell her that,” Jack advised.

“Darn if I won't,” Lou agreed, getting up and walking into the hallway.  He yelled out, “Sweetcakes?”

“Yes, Lou?” Trina asked, hurrying into the hallway.

“Um, hey, what do you say we skip that 'Lou' business; switch it to something like Dad or Father or Emperor?” Lou nervously quipped to cover up his fear of being rejected.

“Emperor?” Trina asked a bit nervously.

“Personally, I prefer Dad, but ...” Lou began.

“Dad?” the young girl asked, her eyes moistening and her hands fidgeting as she clasped them together in front of her.

“Well, if you want, that is?” Lou asked with uncertainty.

“I knew it!”  Jennifer stood behind Trina, tears suddenly rolling down her cheeks.  “I told you, Trina.  I told you.  Go on,” she encouraged, nudging her friend.

Slowly, Trina walked to Lou, and then, standing in front of him, she shyly asked, “Dad?”

“That's my daughter!” Lou said, his grin evident in the bounce of his words, as he opened his arms wide.

“Oh, Dad,” the once-abused teenager said, jumping into Lou's arms.

“And that makes me Mom, or whatever you want to call me,” Carolyn said, joining in their hug.

“I like Mom.  I mean, I ... I love you, Mom,” Trina stammered, a warmth filling her that she never ever thought she'd feel again.

“And we love you.”

Jack and Daniel reached out to hold each other's hand.  They looked up and saw Jennifer quietly move towards them, sitting down next to Daniel.

“You know, in case I never really said it, thank you for adopting us,” Jennifer said, not even trying to mask her happy tears.

“We drew the short end of the stick,” Jack teased, earning him a poke in the ribs from Daniel after letting go of his hand.

“Don't give Dad a hard time, Daddy.  When he teases and jokes like that, it just means he loves you more than life,” Jennifer stated gleefully.

“I love you, Jen,” Jack said.

“I love you, too, Dad ... and you, too, Daddy.”

The Jackson-O'Neills last night at the Ferretti's turned into a celebration.  The next day, Lou and Carolyn would begin the process to officially adopt Trina.

====

The next morning, as he loaded another suitcase into the truck, Jack's cell phone rang.

“Welcome to Oz.”

“Cute, Jack.”

Hearing Carlton's voice, the Special Ops general walked towards the street, making sure he was out of everyone's range of hearing, and quietly inquired, “Enjoy the Phoenix?”

“It couldn't be helped, Jack, but my preliminary intel didn't cause me to worry,” Carlton reported.

“I'm so glad I didn't cause you to worry,” Jack snarked.  “What'd you find out?”

“Average loud-mouthed jerk.  Did a stint in the Navy, was dishonorably discharged for striking a superior officer, then was a trucker for a while, after which he did a stint in jail for petty theft.”

“Really?”

“He was married for a while; walked out on his wife and two-year-old daughter about six years ago.  Hasn't paid a dime in alimony or support; hasn't even seen the kid,” Carlton said with disgust.

“I'm not surprised,” Jack responded, smiling over at Jennifer as she brought her suitcase out to the SUV.  “Anything else?”

“He's got memberships in a couple of questionable organizations.”

“Questionable?” the general queried, wanting more details.

“You know, Jack -- groups that think they are kings and everyone else is inferior.”

“Any history of violence?” Jack questioned, glancing over at Eglund's home, happy the man wasn't outside at the moment.

“Yeah.  Five years ago, he got into a fight at a local bar.  Made a deal; no charges were filed.”

Jack nodded.  He wasn't surprised at this, but as he watched Daniel helping the Munchkins out with their little suitcases, he knew one thing: his family came first.

A voice stirred Jack from his protective thoughts as Carlton finally asked the million dollar question.

“Jack, what is it you want?”

~I want him dead, shredded into tiny pieces, and fed to the lions,~ Jack thought. Watching Jonny and Little Danny working together to carry out one of Daniel's suitcases and fending off their younger father's attempts at helping them, he smiled and sighed, knowing how he had to answer Carlton's question.  “I want him out of Colorado, as far away as possible, and as soon as possible.”

“That all?” the voice over the phone asked with surprise.

Jack smiled again when he saw Ricky and Jenny holding hands, running around in a circle.  They were laughing as both fell down and continued to laugh even as they rubbed their sore behinds.  Part of Jack wanted to make certain this one threat would go away and never resurface, but he was a different man today than he was when he was active in Special Ops.  He couldn't order a death unless it was absolutely the last possibility.

**Jack, what's going on?**

**Taking care of business.**

**Don't do anything stupid,** the archaeologist advised straightforwardly.

Jack looked over at his husband.  It was the last reminder that he had to do what was right, which wasn't necessarily what he wanted.

“Yeah, that's all,” Jack confirmed.

“Consider it done,” Carlton stated.

“Thanks.  I owe you one.”

“I'll remember that, Jack.”

Jack put his cell back into his jacket pocket and walked back to the truck.

**Jack?**

**I promise, Danny; it's okay.  We'll talk later.**

====

Back at Hammond's home after a two-week stay at the Ferretti's, July was soon coming to a close, and the family was grateful for it.  They were happy to be back to living by the lake, something that was second nature to them, considering all the time spent at their cabins over the years.  Once again, Jack was grateful they were having a pool installed at their own home.

~Danny was sure right on that call.~  Jack laughed, ~When is Daniel not right?  Don't answer that, Self.~

Since it was Sunday, the family had agreed in advance to sleep in.  The last couple of weeks had been very difficult, and moving everyone back to Hammond's place had been hectic and tiring.  They were all ready for a little extra sleeping time.

Jack and Daniel were snuggled together, their hands interlaced as they slept, each dreaming of the other with smiles on their faces until a loud ring disturbed their slumbering paradise.  Always on alert, Jack jumped at the first ring, especially since he wanted to avoid waking anyone else.

“Sorry, Babe,” Jack said, realizing his quick move had awoken his lover.

“Mmm,” was Daniel's response as he turned over onto his back and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.  Yawning, he asked, “Who's on the phone?”  Suddenly, he felt as if he'd been blinded.  “Gawd,” he gasped, grabbing his pillow and pulling it over his face to avoid the bright daylight spilling in through the window.  ~I miss our wonderful, magical room darkening shades at home.~

~You used to be able to sleep through anything,~ Jack mused.

It was true.  Raising five infants into toddlerhood had made Daniel much more sensitive to noise than he used to be.  There was a time when he would have been able to sleep through a hurricane.  Life as a parent had many benefits, but sleeping in was rarely one of them.

“Jack?  Hello?  Is someone there?”

“Just a minute,” Jack requested quietly as he sat up.  “Who's calling?”

“Whoever it is should be in church, or better yet, in bed!” Daniel said a bit loudly, unappreciative of the intrusion that interrupted their 'sleeping in' deal.

Jack laughed; then surprised his husband by walking out of their bedroom as he listened to the caller speak.  However, he'd nodded at Daniel and held up his free index finger indicating for Daniel to be patient.

“Don't mind him.  He's just snarky on Sunday mornings,” Jack informed the caller.

“Jack, I heard that!” Daniel called out to his absent husband.

When Jack returned a minute later, he had one of the cordless phones which he handed over to Daniel.

“Jack, for crying out loud, I want to go back to sleep.”

“Sorry, Love,” Jack said as he shrugged and sat back down on the bed.  “It's Byron; says he needs to talk to both of us, that's it urgent.”

“Gawd, did the house collapse or something?”  Suddenly, Daniel sat up straighter, the snarkiness of his sleep disappearing as he realized something must be wrong for their architect to be calling this early on a Sunday morning.  ~And he said it's urgent.  Maybe they destroyed the roof deck!~

Internal panic began to flow through him until Jack leaned over for a quick kiss.

“Whatever it is, we'll get it fixed,” Jack reassured, getting a smile from the younger man.

“Hello, Byron.  What's up?” Daniel asked, feeling a little less panicked now.

“Jack?  Daniel?”

“We're both here,” Jack answered.  “What's the problem?”

“Good.  I've been wanting to speak to both of you.  I did not become one of the most prominent architects in the area by tiptoeing with clients, and I'm not going to start now.  Alex tells me you've had to back out of several appointments with him recently.”

Daniel answered, “Not by choice, but we've had some issues to deal with recently.  The timing was always wrong.”

“We were going to call tomorrow,” Jack offered.  “Things have eased up again.”

“Gentlemen, listen to me,” Byron demanded.  “The house is at a critical stage. There are crucial decisions to be made that affect the timetable.  If you want to be in the house by Thanksgving, you two need to spend some serious time meeting with Alex and me to hammer out these issues.  Now, how soon can you block out a minimum of four hours with us?”

“Fo...four hours?” Daniel asked in disbelief.

“Not one minute less,” Byron replied sternly.

**Jack, I feel like a kid being slapped by the teacher with a ruler.**

**He's doing his job, Danny -- getting our attention.**

**Oh, well, he's got it now.**

“Hold on a second, Byron,” Jack said as he pressed the 'mute' button, motioning for Daniel to do the same.  “Hammond had plans for later this morning, didn't he?”

“I think so.  Maybe Sam ... or Janet?”

Jack returned to the phone, asking, “Can we call you back in few minutes? We might be able to do it today, or ...”

“Today would be preferable.  I know it's Sunday, but if we can get these issues handled, there's a good chance we can be back on schedule by the end of the week.”

“Ba...back on schedule?” Daniel stuttered.

“When did we get off schedule?” Jack quizzed in annoyance.

“If you two had met with Alex, you'd know the answer to that,” Byron responded sharply.

**Ouch!**

**I felt that one, too, Angel.**

Byron continued, “I realize you two are busy, but you've hired me to do a job, and I can't do that job if you're not available for consultations.  Now, as a result, we *are* lagging behind.”

“We'll call you back,” Jack said as he hung up the phone a bit abruptly.  Once Daniel had done the same, the general stated, “I don't like being talked down to.”

“He wasn't doing that.  He was giving us a wake-up call,” Daniel explained.

“Danny, we haven't ignored the house.”

“We did while we were at Lou's,” Daniel conceded.  “We had ... distractions while we were there, and we let convenience, or rather the inconvenience rule.  Lou's further out, and we didn't want to sacrifice the time to meet with Alex, and his other obligations prevented him from coming to us.  The truth, Jack, is that we didn't want to leave our children with Eglund so close.  We let a few things slide.”

“We had business with J-O to handle, too, Danny,” Jack offered, trying to rationalize their actions.

“Jack,” Daniel said, leaning in for a kiss.  “Don't get defensive.  Byron was doing what he had to just now to get our attention; that's all.  We could have hired someone less competent who might have let everything get way off schedule or just given up; and who knows what would have happened to the house then.  Let's just accept that we made a mistake, and now let's go fix it.”

Jack smiled; then teased, “Still the negotiator.”

Daniel chuckled, and the two shared another kiss before working on securing babysitters for their children.

====
 
Already dressed, Jack was pacing in the bedroom while talking to Daniel as the archaeologist dressed.

The archaeologist chuckled and then shook his head as Jack glared at Daniel's chosen outfit -- loose-fitting jeans and a brown and tan plaid shirt.

“Geek,” Jack said with a frown.

“We don't need you being distracted at Byron's office,” Daniel teased.

“I'm not talking distraction, but do you have to ...”

“Dress like I did when we met?  Oh, yeah,” Daniel expressed with a smile.  Growing serious, Daniel stated, “You know, Babe, thinking back on Alex's phone calls, he did say he needed to talk to us about several things.  I remember the last conversation he sounded a little upset, but I just wasn't listening.  He said something like, 'Daniel, I'm *not* talking about paint chips here.'  It was just such bad timing for us.”

“I'm just a little worried,” Jack admitted.  “Geez, Danny, I just want it to be done so we can be in our own home, settled in our own room, and 'you know' more than just once a week on Friday nights.”

Daniel walked to his lover and put his arms up around his neck.  He ran his fingers up and down the middle of Jack's neck and then under the collar of Jack's black shirt.

“That's what is really bothering you.”

“Angel, for years, it was just us, and we never had to worry.  Then we had the Munchkins, and for a while, I thought we'd never be together again.”

“Sorry,” Daniel said apologetically, remembering how his paranoia about the children had put a bit of a wedge between him and his husband after the triplets came home from the hospital.

Jack smiled as his hands glided down Daniel's back, settling on his rear end and pushing Daniel into him.  They kissed.

“You made up for it.”

“Jack, now is not a time to say 'up'.”

Jack laughed, “Anyway, for a while, we thought it would only be Friday nights.  I love our date nights, and we need to always keep them, but we found a way.  Angel, we may not be able to do it as much as we used to, but we got the spontaneity back, and ...”

“Jack, you just want some,” Daniel teased.

“I want it all,” Jack replied happily.

“We'll be in our home again soon,” Daniel promised as his hands continued to caress Jack's upper back and neck.

“I love you, Danny.”

“I love you, too.”

====

“Daniel, I'm so sorry.  Pete and I are headed for Aspen.  We're almost there,” Sam said apologetically as she spoke into her cell phone.

“That's okay, Sam.  Have a good time.”

--

“You've reached the Doc, and, if you dare, leave a message, but be forewarned.  If I don't like what you say, I have a needle with your name on it.  Beep!”

Jack grumbled as he hung up the phone.  He dialed Cassandra on the hopes she was home.

“Sorry, Uncle Jack.  Mom's with Teal'c.  I don't know where they went, just that they're together.”

“The Doc and Teal'c?” Jack questioned with raised eyebrows.

“Don't go spreading rumors, Uncle Jack, though,” Cassandra chuckled, “don't be surprised, either.  Remember, they caught the garters at your second wedding.”

“Good point.  What about you?”

“I don't need a garter; I have Dominic,” Cassandra answered happily.

“Not about that; the brood!” Jack exclaimed, raising his eyes to the Heavens at the young woman's response.

“Oh, I can't.  Dominic is taking me on a picnic.  I guess if it's an emergency ...”

“No, Cass, you two have fun.  I know school keeps you apart.”

“Summer's almost over.  You sure you don't mind?” Cassandra asked with trepidation, knowing that if Jack asked her one more time, she'd cave and babysit.

“Not at all.  Tell him 'hello' and to remember the shotgun is always loaded!”

“Uncle Jack!”

--

“Sir, we know you had plans, but ...” Jack began.

Daniel interrupted his husband as the two stood before the leader of the SGC.  He was fidgeting with his hands as he searched for the right words to speak.

“General Hammond, the situation is such that, well, sometimes things, uh, get to a point where it's crunch time, and problems happen, and then, of course, we all have to pitch in and try and avoid those in the future, and, well, decision-making sometimes, uh, gets put aside, like what happened during the last few weeks.  It wasn't our intention to let things slide,” Daniel said as he glanced briefly at Jack. With a sigh, he admitted, “But things did slide, and now we're in this spot, and we're very sorry.  It really shouldn't have happened.  It's amazing how easily people get distracted.  There was a study once where ...”

“Doctor Jackson!” General Hammond barked, effectively silencing the archaeologist.  Then he smiled and requested, “Daniel, get to the point, please.”

“Oh, yes, well, I'm sorry, it's just the architect called, and things have sort of gotten behind, and, it's our fault really.  The thing is Sam, Janet, and Cassie are all unavailable.  You can't blame them, short notice, after all.  I guess Jack and I are a great example of the human condition; I mean, putting things off in spite of what we really want.  There was ...”

“DANIEL!” both Hammond and Jack called out at the same time.

Nervously, Daniel gulped and explained, “Long story short.  General Hammond, Jack and I need to meet with the architect, now, as in thirty minutes, and, if we don't, you'll be stuck with ten houseguests and their pets until ...”

“Until Netu freezes over,” Jack completed, trying to drive home their point to Hammond.

“You want me to cancel my plans and stay with the children?” Hammond asked, sounding put out.  ~Let's make you suffer a tad, but, Boys, it'll be my pleasure.~

~Why'd he have to put it so directly like that?~  Daniel now stood with his arms folded.  He took a deep breath as he glanced at Jack and reluctantly answered, “Um, that's about right, Sir.  I'm sorry.”

“All right.  Go on; get out of here,” the three-star general said, still playing the 'put out' game.

“They haven't had breakfast, Sir,” Jack said with a hesitant smile.  ~Neither have we.  Maybe a quick stop at IHOP's.~

**Forget it, Jack.**

**Eavesdropper!**

“I'll take care of it,” Hammond said, referring to the children's morning meal.

“We really appreciate this, General,” Daniel said.

“Anything to get rid of you two,” Hammond said.  He saw the two stunned looks, Jack and Daniel both looking like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming speeding car.  Shaking his head, Hammond smiled and said, “Boys, the pleasure is mine.  Go on.”

The lovers exited the kitchen to call Byron and confirm their appointment, and then to say goodbye to their children for the morning.

~We've got to sort things out with Sara,~ Daniel thought as they drove to their meeting.

“Hammond was joking, Danny,” Jack commented.

“I know, or I ... I think I know,” Daniel responded, a closed smile on his face.

====

Jack and Daniel pulled into a parking space at Archonics Ltd. where Byron met them at the door and ushered them into a comfortable conference room which featured a large screen at the far end.  At the near end of the conference table was a laptop plugged into a projector.  A round table surrounded by four chairs held a thermal coffee dispenser, a stack of bowls, a large box of Fruit Loops, a pitcher of orange juice, a carton of milk, a basket of fresh muffins and croissants, and a bowl of fresh fruit.

Alex, always his impeccably groomed self, sat perched on a stool, smiling like the cat that ate the canary.

“Gentlemen,” the designer said, standing up and offering his hand.  “It's great to see you.”

“We weren't expecting breakfast,” Jack commented, though his eyes lusted after the food and his tongue licked his lips in anticipation.

In fact, both Jack's and Daniel's stomachs rumbled in hunger at the same time.

“I haven't even had my coffee,” Daniel heard himself say softly.

“Starbuck's in the dispenser,” Alex replied.

“Starbuck's?”

It was too good to be true, but the couple wasted no time in grabbing the food.

Byron chuckled, and Alex smiled warmly as he explained, “We have a lot to do today, but there's no need to do it in the throes of low blood sugar or caffeine deprivation.”

Alex poured the coffee as Daniel sniffed the aroma.

“Arabian Mocha.  I swear I would have drunk office swill.  Thank you,” Daniel practically crooned.

“We try to keep our clients happy.”

Jack observed a bit wryly, “You've learned a lot about us.”

“Just doing my job, Jack,” Alex responded.

“Please sit down,” Byron requested, gesturing to the table.  “There's a lot to do, but we can take a few minutes to eat like civilized people.”  After they sat down and Jack and Daniel had had a chance to eat a few bites of their croissants, the architect spoke sincerely, “First of all, let me apologize for resorting to a full-Nelson to get you here.”

“Well, we deserved it,” Daniel admitted.  “It wasn't intentional; it's just the last couple of weeks have been ... um ...”

“We've had a lot going on,” Jack finished for his husband.  “We understand why you were aggressive on the phone, Byron.  No need to apologize for doing the job we've hired you for.”

Daniel looked over at Alex and said, “Alex, we really thought everything was fine after the incident with the roof deck.”

“Fine?” Alex reacted with surprise, immediately looking at Byron.  ~Are these guys for real?~

“Jack, Daniel, we have a problem, and it's one we've been trying to get resolved since that day you first called us,” Byron explained.

“It was just a drafting error ... wasn't it?” Daniel asked, suddenly feeling like a fish about to be engulfed by an all-too-big ocean.

“No,” Byron and Alex answered forcefully.

Byron continued, “This is one of the major reasons why we've been trying so urgently to get you two to at least call us back.”  He shook his head, seeing two innocent looks.  “Alex, give them the four-one-one.”

The designer took a huge breath.  This was going to be a very long and involved meeting, and while he liked his clients, they could drive a designer crazy with their approach to the renovations taking place.

“Here's the situation,” Alex stated as firmly as he could.  “The clock is ticking, and we absolutely *must* agree on a solution before you leave here today to maintain the schedule.  We're slightly behind our game plan now because for the last two weeks, the construction crew has been virtually still.”

“What?” Jack and Daniel both asked with alarm, looking at each other and then back at Alex.

“What are you talking about?” Jack asked, perturbed by the comment.

Byron answered, “Next time, please return our calls.”

“We did,” Jack insisted.

“I'm sorry, Jack, but, no, you did not,” Byron maintained.

“You never called us back about the roof deck.  I left two messages for Alex, and one for you, including another one with your secretary.  Why didn't you get back to us that day?” Jack questioned, more defensively than anything else.

“Jack, Daniel, you are not the only clients we have.  I was out of town for a few days, and, correct me if I'm wrong, Alex, but you were meeting with the hotel people.”

“That's correct,” Alex affirmed.  “We were in a time-pressure situation.  I was out of town and couldn't take calls for two days, but I did call you back.”

“No, you didn't,” Jack argued.

“Yes, Jack, I did,” Alex maintained, not backing down an inch.

“No, you ...”

“Jack, yes, he did,” Daniel suddenly interrupted.  “Remember when the gas leak happened?”

Jack let out a frustrated breath as the memory returned.  Alex had called, right when the gas leak had been discovered.

“I'm sorry; I'd forgotten with all the crap that was going on,” Jack apologized.

“Are we through playing 'The Shame of Blame Game?” Byron asked.  “If not, let us know, and we can keep trying to shift the blame here on who did or didn't follow through, and, in the meantime, your house will sit, unfinished and in pieces.  What's your pleasure?”

**Snarky architect, isn't he?** Jack thought sarcastically.

**Jack, don't argue.**

**I wasn't going to.**

**Yes, you were.**

**I forgot he called.**

**That's understandable, Babe.  Let's move on,** the archaeologist suggested  “We apologize, Byron, to you, and to Alex.  Please, go ahead and tell us what we need to know so we can make the decisions we need to make to get the work going again.”

“Thank you, Daniel,” Alex said.  “The point is that if we can get this situation resolved now, with the roof deck as well as the other issues, we can still keep on schedule, even allowing a little for unforeseen problems.  We have to fix this problem with the hallway and roof deck and deal with a few other issues.  Then, we can pick up the pace.”

Byron nodded at Alex who got down to the details, saying, “Now, I know you didn't want to cut anything off of Daniel's den; however, if we do not, whether it runs around the front or the rear, you'll end up with over one-hundred feet of convoluted hallway for your children to navigate.”

Daniel sighed, “He's right, Jack; that's too far.  I know some homes have U-shapes like we were going to do, but they're so young.”

Jack nodded, and Alex was pleased that he had the couple's attention at last.

“Exactly, Daniel.  It's not desirable.  Here is what I suggest.  We take the space of, say, a shallow closet and assume it's located on the wall shared by the closet in the master bedroom.  We'll need to shave off an additional eighteen inches or so and then we can cut through to the new upstairs with only one small jog in the hallway.”  Though Jack frowned at the suggestion, Alex ignored his client's expression and continued.  “Daniel keeps his window, although it will have to be moved toward the street a couple of feet, you keep the master bath and the master closet as they are, so we are not moving the dreaded soil stack, and finally, the roof deck remains as it is now.”

**I don't like this, Danny.**

**Just listen, Jack,** Daniel silently implored.

Jack opened his mouth to speak anyway, but Alex cut him off, speaking even more firmly.

“Jack, Daniel, listen to me.  I told you at the outset there would be disappointments and compromises in a project of this size.  You have a number of obstacles to work around.”  The designer's expression changed from stern to grin as he said, “However, sometimes there are compensations that come with the compromises.”

“I'm not sure I want to sacrifice Daniel's den,” Jack said aggressively.

“Jack, please, just listen to Alex.”

Alex clicked the remote, plunging the room into darkness and lighting up the screen, and stated, “Here is the existing roof deck.  I imagine it was more enjoyable before the addition closed it in as much as it is now.”

Now, instead of frowns and discontent, Alex saw loving glances, memories obviously dancing between the two men.

**Angel, remember when ...**

**Not now, Babe, but, oh yeah, I remember!**

~What a change; hope it lasts,~ Alex thought as he watched the two lovers practically mooning at each other.  “Aw, Guys, take a look at this.”  The view shifted to a plan, or bird's eye view, looking down at the roof of the proposed hospitality room.  “See how close the roof of the new structure is to the side of the roof deck?”  With another click of the remote, the view changed to one of the back of the house, showing the hospitality room end-on.  “And see how close the roof peak and the roof deck are in height?”

“What's your point, Alex?” Jack asked, feeling like he was listening to one of Daniel's PowerPoint presentations, but without the luxury of Daniel watching.

“Watch this,” Alex replied confidently.  ~I keep forgetting they're not the patient type.~

The end-on view now had a wrought iron railing enclosing a deck perched atop the hospitality room.  It look like it connected with the existing roof deck by means of a long, narrow deck corridor.  A new plan view confirmed this.  A view from the existing roof deck showed a gate separating the two spaces.  A perspective view showed a solid-looking bench on one side, with a telescope nearby.

“It looks like it is out towards the backyard, away from the house,” Daniel observed.

“Correctomundo,” Alex responded.  “Bigger view of the sky.”

~It's great, but I'm not going to let Daniel sacrifice just so I can look at the stars.~  Still with a frown on his face, Jack asked, “So are you telling us that by sacrificing those feet off of Daniel's den, we get this?”

“Very astute, General,” Alex answered proudly.

“Sounds like designer's blackmail to me,” Jack said.

“Guilty as charged,” Alex replied, smiling widely having remembered Jack discussing the telescope during his very first meeting with the couple at their home.

“Alex, I appreciate this, but ...”

“Alex,” Daniel interrupted his lover.  “What's the bench for?”

Jack stared at Daniel, who was evading his look.

“Telescope storage,” the designer answered.  “The lid has an insulated cover with an airtight seal.  The box is heavily insulated, and the bottom is open to a return air grate in the hospitality room, so your beloved telescope, Jack, is always stored at room temperature and humidity, and yet is still is readily available for stargazing on clear winter nights.  When you are finished, just slip it into its cover, take it off the tripod, set it inside the lined, padded support, place the tripod in the sheath underneath the lid, and lock it down - all protected and secure.”

“You're good,” Jack admitted.

“Guilty as charged,” Alex repeated, smirking.

Jack sighed, shaking his head as he spoke, “I won't give up the space in the den.  No, we have to find another way.”

Daniel saw his husband's determination.  Normally, he'd let it go, but he also saw Alex's expression.  Sometimes, you had to give a little to gain perfection, even if perfection wasn't exactly what you originally had in mind.

The younger man spoke quietly, “Jack, when you gave me the den, it was one of the most generous and thoughtful gifts I've ever received; but neither of us knew then that we'd be the parents of eight wonderful children.  We had no idea our lives would take this turn.”

“Danny ...”

“No, Jack, listen.  We're into this renovation too deep to turn back now, and yes, I lose a few feet off the den, but we get to stay in our home, and we don't have to worry about having quick access to the children if there's an emergency or just some need that a U-shaped hallway would interfere with.  If there were any other way, I'm sure Alex would tell us.”

Daniel glanced at Alex, who nodded and spoke, “I promise you two that if there were another way, I'd tell you.  I've tried and tried to come up with another solution, but this is the only one that really solves the problem and fills the need, short of tearing down the entire existing structure and building all new.”

The archaeologist looked so crestfallen at the mere thought of destroying their house that Jack turned an angry glare on Alex for even voicing the prospect of complete demolition.

**Jack, just be quiet; don't say a word!** Daniel mentally shouted.

Alex continued, “Either that or cutting a door from your bedroom to the new upstairs.”

**Gawd, no Jack; we'd never get to ... to 'you know' until Ricky and Jenny graduated college!**  Daniel nodded at Alex, saying, “I agree; it's a logical solution.”  He looked at his lover and suggested, “Let's bow to the inevitable and move on, Jack.”

~Thank you, Daniel!~ Alex sighed inwardly.

Jack the pragmatic general warred with Jack the incurable romantic.  He felt like he was taking something back that he had given Daniel, until he looked at his husband and took in that reassuring smile telling him it was okay.

**Danny, it's your special space.**

**No, Love.  My special place is in your arms.  The den isn't going away; it's just shrinking a little.**

**You don't think it'll be too crowded with all the bookshelves?  Danny, the recliner will be right up against the bookshelves.**

**Jack, we don't have  a choice, but at least it'll still be there, and there will still be room to walk behind the recliner.  It's okay, Jack, really, but ... gawd, Jack, what about the gun cabinet?**

**Carter will figure out something.**

With Jack's unspoken comment, Daniel knew Jack had seen reason, however reluctantly.  The archaeologist chuckled, earning him a look of surprise from Alex.

In fact, Alex had been staring at the two for a couple of minutes, trying to figure out what was happening.  He'd tried to get Jack's and Daniel's attention, but the two seemed totally engrossed in each other.  Now, all of a sudden, Daniel let out a laugh, and Alex was totally confused.

“Sorry, Alex,” Daniel spoke.  **Jack, Sam is your answer to everything.**

**You don't think she can figure out something?**

**No, I mean, yes.  I mean no.  Gawd, yes, she can do it.**

“Okay,” Jack relented verbally, but he still had another issue and on this, he would not be moved.  “The existing roof deck stays intact and the new roof deck won't slow things down?” he asked suspiciously.

“Yes and no.  The roof deck doesn't need to be touched except to add the connection to the new decking, and no, it won't slow us down because the hallway configuration just got simpler.  We've picked up a full forty-hour week.”

“Gotta love that!” Jack said, anticipating stargazing with his husband.

“Okay, now that we have that resolved, we need to talk about some other issues.  Guys, even without this last near-catastrophe, we were destined to be having this discussion.”

“Why's that?” Jack asked.  He was prepared to hear what Alex had to say, but then he had an inspiration.  “Wait one minute!”  He looked at his soulmate, saying, “Danny, if our closet is being changed anyway, then why not ...”

“Make it a walk-in?” Daniel questioned, a smile on his face.  “Alex, can we still do that?  Uh, I mean, the reason we ... well, can we remodel the closet in the master bedroom?”

“That's an easy fix,” Alex answered.  ~And the drywall will be a good cover up for Jack's surprise in case you make it up to the bedroom when no one is looking.~

“Great.  Jack?”

“Let's do it.  Okay, now go on with what you were going to say.”

Alex nodded and in a serious tone stated, “We were bound to have this little chat today for two reasons -- first, a series of rapid-fire changes which always compounds the inevitable problems which arise as a result; and secondly, the pace of progress you two desire requires more frequent communication.  Even with our miscommunication over the roof deck, all of this is still fixable, so let's see about getting things back on track.”

“Sure, but I gotta have some of this,” Jack said, reaching for a box of cereal.

With the intensity of the roof deck discussion resolved and apologies given and accepted, the four relaxed and enjoyed one another's company.  It had already been a long session, but at this point, Jack and Daniel let go of the tension they had been carrying since they were awakened, the nourishment going a long way in helping with that department.

Though no one had eaten much during the roof deck and hallway debate, as they settled into further business, Jack devoured two bowls of his favorite cereal while Daniel corrected his caffeine deficiency and munched on a croissant.  Byron and Alex ate enough to be polite, but really spent more time engaging their clients and trying to reinforce the concept of two-way communication.

As they moved forward in the meeting, Byron and Alex each explained that the changes Jack and Daniel had individually made and cleared with the contractor in recent weeks created some unforeseen problems.

“Okay, so what we've figured out here is that you two have been assuming everything was fine; not only that, you assumed that I have been in touch with Gordon on a frequent basis and that he was relaying all the changes you've been giving to him to me.”  Byron sighed, “Gentlemen, this is exactly why we're here.  Gordon assumed that everything you've told him had already gone through either Alex or myself.  As you know, that's incorrect.  Therefore, you've been operating on one set of parameters while we've been over here, in a state of flux instead of in synch.”

Jack and Daniel exchanged an accepting look.  Byron was right, and that was exactly the reason why things had taken a negative turn, thus forcing Byron to make his forceful phone call to the couple that morning.

Ready to move on to more specifics, Alex picked up the remote and walked to the end of the conference table.  He stood next to the stool behind the projector, and, with the lights dimmed, displayed the first photo, which was a split screen.  On the right half was the McLamore's house intact.  On the left half was the bare ground before the footers for the foundation of the addition had been dug.

Alex explained, “The physical address of the McLamore's house, like any address, exists by convention.  We agree to call a piece of land '3625 Lollipop Lane'.  It is assessed a value which the owner pays taxes on and to which the utility companies provide service.”

**Lollipop.  Sucking.**

Jack felt a jab on his abdomen and the admonition, **Jack, stay on topic.**

**Spoilsport.**

Alex went on to explain that the computers of the utility companies never talk to the computers of the tax assessor or even to the municipally-owned water companies.  If they did, they would find tens of thousands of 'phantom' addresses.

“Duplexes that have been restored to single family dwellings, houses close by that have been purchased and combined, Mom 'n' Pop businesses that have grown and expanded to cover a city block, et cetera, all created these phantom address.”

“And the point is?” Jack questioned, thinking that Alex could give Daniel a run for his money on lectures.

“The point is that there may only be one dwelling , but you still have to pay taxes on the bare land, all of it, and of key importance, because a piece of land still has an address, it is next to impossible to delete it from the system.”

“Red tape,” Jack quipped.

“Yes,” Alex agreed.  “To wipe it out of the system would take going before zoning boards, city planning commissions, lawyers ...”

“And by the time it got done, it would be the next millennium,” Jack responded, frustrated at the mere thought of paperwork.

“I see you understand.”

“Paperwork isn't exactly Jack's forte,” Daniel acknowledged for his lover.

The men all chuckled briefly, and then Alex continued, “It's a cumbersome process that I won't bore you with, but, in a nutshell, using utilities as an example, a phantom address would be considered 'disconnected', then 'unoccupied', and, finally, 'abandoned'.  If no structure remains, it becomes 'no habitable structure remaining', and, again, the system resists the removal of potential revenue.”

“The address stays,” Daniel stated.

“Correct, and I'm sure you're wondering what this has to do with your house.”

“The thought crossed my mind,” Jack said with a crooked smile.

“You're substantially enlarging a house that is close to thirty years old, adding bedrooms, baths, and a second full service kitchen.  Using the existing utility supplies is creating problems. The solution is simple, so simple it eluded me, in fact.  The McLamore's utilities are shut off, but they remain buried in what is now your yard.  All you have to do is have the connections transferred into your name and moved closer.  You'll pay two sets of utility bills, which comes down to an extra two-hundred dollars a month for your area of the Springs.”

Alex clicked the remote, and the screen showed a diagram consisting of the outline of the finished house.  The new section was in red with yellow, green, orange and purple showing the various hookups through the new section of the house coming from the lot next door.  He paused for a drink of water and to let what he had said sink in before continuing his presentation.

Jack jumped in, stating, “I know you must have a reason for suggesting this. I hope it's a good one.”

Byron responded confidently, “Believe me, it is.  Alex is doing an outstanding job.”

Alex smiled at his boss' words and continued, “Jack, Daniel, your assumption of the McLamore's utilities solves a great many problems.  First of all, you do not have to apply for new services; it's a simple matter to transfer them and have the connections moved.”

The designer went on to discuss technical issues, such as the strain on the system when more than one toilet is flushed at the same time and the current power supply running into the home.

“In a nutshell ...” Alex spoke, his words interrupted by one of his clients.

“Got a squirrel in there?” Jack teased.

Daniel rolled his eyes, explaining, “He's never been good in meetings.  Do you have an artifact he could play with?”

“Very funny,” Jack groaned.  ~Of course, there is that pointer over there, or maybe that piece of ...~

“Just speaking the truth.”  Daniel reached over and grabbed an orange.  “Here, play with this while we listen.”

~...fruit.  Smart aleck geek.~  Jack glared, but took the fruit from his lover.  Byron and Alex both hid chuckles as, sure enough, Jack began to play with the fruit almost instantly, rubbing it in his hands, bouncing it back and forth from hand to hand, and bringing it up to his nose to smell it.  “You were saying?” Jack asked, looking as innocent as he could.

“Um, yes.  Where was I?”

“Money,” Jack said frankly, earning him another jab in his abdomen.

“Daniel!”

“Jack?” Daniel asked with a light and airy voice, his eyes speaking a more direct, 'Behave' warning.

“Nothing.  Alex?” Jack asked, inviting the young designer to continue his thoughts.

“Okay, the nuts and bolts of this is that by allowing the existing connections to serve the existing portion of the house, and by using the new connections to serve the new part of the house, there is no need to tie the two together at all. This relieves a hornet's nest of structural issues.”  Alex couldn't resist teasing, “I could go over them one by one, if you like?”  He heard Daniel's snicker and felt Jack's glare go right through his heart like a piercing sword. “Don't worry guys, it gets easier and more fun,” he chuckled.

As they continued to talk, Alex explained that if the idea he was about to propose was accepted, the couple would save approximately thirty-thousand dollars in construction costs, something that caused Jack to sit up straight and stop fidgeting with the orange.

“Adjusting for inflation, the initial savings from the construction will be consumed by the separate utility bills in roughly twelve years.  More importantly, we are not tampering with the original house.  I do not foresee any problems with the existing water, waste, or electric lines for the next thirty years.  Your house was solidly built.  The next stop for you two will be the nursing home or the cemetery.”

It took Jack and Daniel a moment to realize that Alex had intended to crack a joke. The two men laughed because he had spoken the truth.
 
“Don't quit your day job, Alex,” Byron quipped.

A trifle embarrassed at his faux pas, Alex resumed, “This solution may seem unusual, but it is completely legal, and really, the utility companies don't mind because they make more money.”

Nothing more was said for several minutes as Jack and Daniel reviewed the situation in some reports and statistics Byron had handed them.

“Well, Jack, Daniel, are you in agreement with our proposal?” Byron asked.

“Hmmm,” Jack mused.  “Save thirty-grand up front and lose it back at the rate of two-hundred bucks a month?”

“And keep construction on schedule while preserving the structural integrity of the original house,” Alex said enthusiastically.

“What's the alternative?” Daniel inquired.

“Delays, more inspections, more delays, increasing all the levels of service *into* the existing house and extending them all throughout the new structure, replacing the existing soil stack ...”

“Stop,” Jack barked, holding up his hand to halt the litany.  “Danny, I say we do it.  It makes sense to me.  Two-hundred smackers more a month?  Geez, we spend that on McDonald's.  What do you think?”

“Common sense would have dictated selling our house and moving to a larger one.  Jack, we're bucking common sense here, and I think Alex has found a very practical solution to help us.  I never even thought about only being able to take one shower at a time.”

“Neither did I,” Jack admitted, quickly adding, “And with our brood ...”

“Someone's always in the bathroom,” Daniel said, completing Jack's sentence for him.  Then he continued, “And we're putting in a pool.  I think Byron and Alex have given us good advice.”

“So that's a 'yes'?” Jack asked.

Daniel smiled and affirmed, “Yes.”

“Great!” Byron and Alex said together.  Then they looked at each other, their smiles fading.  “Pool?  What pool?” they asked in unison, their eyes wide with disbelief.

“We didn't mention the pool?” Daniel asked sheepishly, secretly wishing he could hide behind his husband.

“No!” Byron answered sharply, his eyes shooting daggers.

Daniel sighed as he said, “This would be a prime example of that rapid fire change and wanting it done yesterday thing you mentioned a little while ago, wouldn't it?”

“Definitely,” Byron said, bristling.

Alex, too, looked miffed, and that was a rarity.

**Jack, they might fire us.**

**Danny, they can't fire us; we're the clients.  We fire them.**

**Gawd, we can't, or we won't ever have a house to go back to.  Jack, we've messed up, and they aren't happy.  What if they do ... fire us?**

**No way, not with the ridiculous sum we're paying them for this gig.**

“Gentlemen, this is indeed what we're talking about.  Look, we want your business, but you simply cannot keep doing this.”  Byron looked at Alex who was twiddling his thumbs slightly.  “Alex, let's step outside for a few minutes.  Jack, Daniel, if you'll excuse us.”

Jack and Daniel watched Byron and Alex leave the room.  When the door closed, Daniel began to panic some more, asking, “Jack, what are we going to do?”

“Stop taking it for granted that we can have what we want by snapping our fingers,” Jack stated matter-of-factly, something which surprised Daniel greatly.

~Wow!~  Daniel stared at his husband, mouth open and eyes wide, completely stunned by Jack's quick acquiescence to the situation.  After a moment, he looked forward, bobbing his head back and forth ever-so-slightly, and smiled.  “Sounds good.”

====

Ten minutes later, Byron and his wonder designer returned.  There was no small talk; rather, they got right down to business.

“Show us where you want the pool,” Alex requested, calling up a plot plan of the two lots on the screen.

“Well, the contractor said it wouldn't be a problem,” Daniel stated as he pointed to the location where the pool was to be.

“Depends on whether you define delays and additional expense as problems,” Byron responded, reaching for his cell phone.

The contractor and Byron spent several minutes finding out that they had been assuming way too much and communicating too little, something that easily occurs on a project of this size and scope.  Byron and the contractor agreed to touch base daily from now on.

Byron snapped his cell phone shut and leaned on his arms toward Jack and Daniel.

**We're in trouble again, Jack.**

**What was your first clue?** the general asked.

**I think the glare in the eyes.  Reminds me of my favorite general,** Daniel answered.

**Danny ...**

**Shhh!  I feel the lecture coming on.**

“Jack, Daniel, it is imperative that you understand that we want to assist you in getting this done as quickly as possible, but you have to talk to us,” Byron stated sternly.  “As I suspected and mentioned earlier this morning, the contractor and his crews were under the impression that any changes you suggested to them had already been cleared with me.”

Jack and Daniel exchanged looks and both said, “Oops!”

Byron implored, “Guys, work with me here.  I know relinquishing control of something this important is hard for you both, but if you want this project to be your dream, then you need to communicate with me, and I mean on anything that involves the renovation, no matter how big or small.”

“So ... problems?” Daniel asked.

“No, but this meeting should have taken place a good two weeks ago,” Byron answered firmly.  “We need to know now if there are any other changes you want to make.  It's a good thing the house is going up on crawl space or there would be a crew with power hammers right now breaking up the freshly poured slab!  We are reaching the point where changes are not only going to be expensive, but nearly impossible.”

Alex interjected, “We really need to be clear on this.  From now on, changes to the interior configuration of space may or may not be feasible.”

Byron quickly added, “If you have any more *suggestions*, you'll just have to ask us, and we'll let you know what it will cost in time and money, but the exterior walls are set.  Fair enough?”

“Fair enough,” both Jack and Daniel answered simultaneously.

“There are just a few details to look at, and then we can start talking about the colors and the furniture -- the fun stuff,” Alex stated.

“The fun stuff -- oh boy,” Jack deadpanned.

“Yeah, Jack, the fun stuff," Daniel repeated, nudging his partner just for the sheer fun of bedeviling his husband.

“Can't wait,” Jack responded, forcing a smile.  ~Marriage is finding that one special person to annoy for the rest of your life.~

**I heard that, Jack!**

~I was counting on it,~ Jack snickered silently.

Alex clicked the remote, and two new additions projected from the front of the existing house.

“As you can see, the new projection on the new side of the house mirrors the garage.  This would contain the smaller specialized rooms - the train room and the projects room, for openers.  The projects room will be a bit larger and have a sink, and as a bonus, a glassed in projection to the side can house the pottery wheel.  Which one of you is the potter?” Alex inquired curiously.

“Uh, Jack, is.  It would be great to get it out of the garage so he could use it more; it's not very convenient for him right now,” Daniel spoke.  **Jack, that would be perfect.  Pottery relaxes you so much, but there's so much stuff in the garage that you just don't get to do it as much as you'd like.**

**It's a time thing, Danny.  By the time I get the wheel out and get started on something, I get interrupted.**

**So now it'll be ready to go whenever you want.  I'm glad Alex thought of that,** Jack replied.

**He doesn't miss anything, does he?  He's observant enough to be special ops!**

**Jack, some people just really excel at what they do.**

~Maybe,~ Jack silently groused, his mind still speculating about the 'observant' designer.

Continuing on, Alex professed, “Two other problems are solved as well.  The mechanicals will have a room with access from the outside, and a half bath will fit in the hall.”

“Am I correct, then, Alex, that this solves a couple of things that have been bugging you for a while?” asked Daniel as he recalled previous discussions about the bathroom issue.

“And how!” the man exclaimed in relief.  “The major pieces of the puzzle have come together, and a few bonuses have presented themselves.”  Alex smiled as he advised the couple of his ideas. “There will be a spare room to the front for storage or future use.  You could call it that 'catch-all' room you mentioned to Byron initially, though it's smaller than the original plans had it.”

“But, well, I don't understand,” Daniel replied.  “I mean, uh, why is it smaller?  We want a room for storage, but we want a place where we can put up a cot or something, if we need to.  We really don't want it to be that crowded in there.”

“I'll get to that shortly,” Alex answered, adding, “But if you do not approve of what I outline, we can revisit this and enlarge it.”

“Well, okay, I guess,” a reluctant Daniel agreed.

“When we take a break in a few minutes, you will both understand.”

“I look forward to it,” Jack responded a bit snarkily.

Returning to his place in his presentation, Alex continued, “The room nestled here that mirrors the study on the existing side will be the kid's quiet room or sanctuary.  What I am proposing is that the space above these specialized rooms house another bedroom and bath, like Jen's room over the garage.  It's cost effective, looks better, and gives you another more secluded space for at least one of your children as they get older.  You know teenagers, they hunger for their own room,” he said, smiling from personal experience.

Jack shrugged and nodded as he looked at Daniel, who also nodded in agreement.

“What's this?” Daniel inquired, pointing to the smaller second projection that Alex hadn't mentioned yet.

“In a moment,” Alex responded.  “One more thing about what we've already discussed this morning.  Have either of you given any thought about bathroom access in proximity to the pool?”  The blank stares of the two men was all the answer Alex needed.  “Okay, real quick,” the designer said as he pulled out a transparency of the plot plan and made some changes, which he then placed on the slide projector.  “Just a moment.”

A crudely sketched square projected off the corner of the room that they were calling the 'surprise room', something Jack and Daniel were creating for their children.

**Looks like something Ash drew last night,** Jack silently mused about the still-in-progress drawing, though Daniel completely ignored the comment, being more engrossed in Alex's ideas than Jack's commentary at the moment.

His rough sketch finished, Alex explained, “Half bath inside.  Bath, shower area, and changing rooms have access from the pool deck.  Connections are still open, and we can finish it after the rest of the house is complete, if necessary, but it will save your floors and maybe a few unnecessary falls.”

**Gawd, Jack, they're good.  It's obvious we've frustrated them today, and yet in the space of an hour, Alex has already figured out how to make our dream house even better.**

**Angel, I'm getting restless.  Everything Alex says makes sense so how about we make a quick escape to a quiet motel room close by where we'll do unspeakable things to the sheets!**

**Not a chance, Babe!  Alex said the 'fun' stuff was coming up.  Our four hours are only a little more than half over.**

**Hey, what I'm suggesting is fun!**

**Jack, behave.**

**I don't want to!**

Seeing Daniel's lack of response, Jack groaned inwardly just as the lights came up.

“Please, let's take a break,” Byron said, leading the way by standing up.

Within seconds, all were standing; it felt good to get up off the chair for a few minutes.

“Follow me, please,” the designer instructed as he led the way out of the room, across the reception area, and down a short hall where he showed Jack and Daniel two well-appointed bedrooms with private baths that opened off the hall.

“These are nice,” Daniel remarked.

“Thank you,” Byron acknowledged.

Alex explained, “This is the projection you asked about.  It's your option, but I really hope you will include a full-scale guest room and bath.  As your business grows, you will have need for a guest room, and what happens when you are both out of town?  There may be times when the babysitter will need to stay at your home instead of having the children at their home.”

“These do come in handy,” Byron noted.

“And it's okay to add a bath here?” Daniel asked.

Byron explained the soil stack for the guest bath would tie in with the sewer line outside the home.

**Danny, we aren't going to be having business associates in our house.**

**I know, but it would be nice to have some place decent for Sam or Teal'c or Cassie when they stay over; or, who knows, but as the children get older, they might have friends who stay over.**

**Yeah, I suppose that makes sense; some place decent for Carter or whomever to sleep.**  Jack looked at Byron and Alex.  “Okay, we're sold on the guest room.  What's next?”

“Lunch!” Byron chimed, just as a delivery service showed up with food.

Alex commented, “I have some sketches and some sample boards prepared that I'd like to show you as we eat.”

Daniel checked his watch and hesitantly stated, “The time's flown by.  We really can't stay more than another hour.  We've already imposed on a friend, and I don't think we should take advantage.”

As the foursome ate, Alex showed the two men stacks of sketches and material samples for them to choose from.  By the time lunch was over, Jack and Daniel had selected all the fixtures, furnishings, and finishes for everything on the lower level.  The upper level would have to be done at another time.

“We have more to do, but we *are* back on track.  Great job, Gentlemen,” Byron congratulated his clients.

By the time Jack and Daniel left, both their heads were spinning with CFMs, BTUs, PSIs, linear feet, running feet, square feet, square yards, and square inches as well as tones, tints, shades, and hues of color.  Shaker, Mission, Art Deco, Asian, contemporary, traditional, non-traditional, oak, cherry, and Parawood all became a blur.

The couple each had several packets of samples, product literature with items circled, and receipts for special orders of a custom sectional couch, the custom dining table, and window treatments.  It was all a little overwhelming.

The two remodelers sat in Jack's truck holding their packets, shaking their heads.

“Gawd, Jack, I can't believe how many choices are involved in this,” Daniel moaned.

“Me, neither.  I'm exhausted.”

“Jack, Byron and Alex are worth every dime we're paying them.  We haven't been the easiest clients to work with.”

“Ya think?” Jack jested.

“This may be our dream house, but I think we just dreaded making all the decisions,” Daniel accurately pointed out.

“We haven't had time, Danny.  Like always, we're doing things in fast forward mode.”

“This project should take a year or more.”

“Not for us,” Jack said, smiling.

“Well, we don't want decisions being made for us, so from now on, I suggest that when Byron or Alex call, we pay attention.”

“Dannyboy, that's a deal, but I sure thought I was through with these marathon meetings about the color of toilet tissue,” Jack groaned theatrically.

Daniel laughed and leaned over for a kiss, after which he said, “I love you.”

“I love you, too, Angel.”

“We'd better go save the general.  There's no telling what kind of trouble the brood has gotten into,” Daniel said.

“With the general?”  Jack shrugged, asking, “How bad could it be?”

====

“They *what*?” Jack asked, his voice slightly raised in disbelief.

“They tied me to my chair when I fell asleep.  When I woke up, Jonny said they were playing 'Cowboys and Indians', and I'd been captured,” Hammond informed Jack.

“Did you get rescued?” Jack asked hopefully.

“Yes,” Hammond acknowledged.  “By Calamity Aislinn and her assistant, Jenny Oakley.”

Jack laughed, “Geez, I love those kids.”

“Next time, General,” Hammond said, standing up, “*you* be the captive.”

“Yes, Sir,” Jack said, not succeeding in hiding his laugh as Hammond walked away.  ~Danny's gonna love this!~

After his 'brood debriefing' from Hammond, Jack walked outside to share the information with his husband.  It had been an interesting day, and it wasn't even over yet.

====

On the final Friday of July, Daniel's class at the university had ended early when the instructor wasn't feeling well.  With a bit of time to spare, he decided to drop by the Wilson home, hoping to talk to Sara.

Sara had still refused to talk to Jack, and that meant the children hadn't been spending any time with her.  They missed her, asking about the woman daily and sometimes even crying.  Sara, Sam, and Janet were all surrogate mothers to the eight Jackson-O'Neill children, so having any one of them suddenly disappear was very traumatic for the youngsters.  The same would hold true for Cassandra.  The four women were the female role models and caregivers for the brood.

“Daniel,” Sara greeted amicably, though still presenting a rigidity in her stance.

“I would have called, Sara, but I wasn't sure you'd let me come by.”

Sara sighed, and a bit reluctantly, opened the door and waved her arm for Daniel to enter.

“Are you feeling all right?” Daniel asked.

“Actually, no.  I haven't been getting much sleep lately, but my health isn't why you're here,” Sara replied coldly, moving to sit on the sofa.  Sara was in a purple lounger and wearing matching slippers.  She had on tiny diamond earring studs.  “Have a seat,” she said to Daniel.

Daniel tried his best to get through to the blonde, but she didn't seem to want to listen.  After fifteen minutes of rehashing past events and Jack's failure to tell her about Mensa and his degrees, Sara stood up.

“Daniel, I'd like you to leave,” the woman requested.

~Well, this got us nowhere.~  Sadly, Daniel stood and began to walk to the door, but then he stopped.  “Sara, what's really going on?” he asked, being both concerned and a little angry at her attitude.

“What do you mean?” the blonde asked, feigning ignorance.

“I can't believe you're still angry; I mean *this* angry, over a few details.  It doesn't make sense.”

“He lied to me,” Sara answered, her voice hard and eyes steely cold.

“It was a long time ago,” Daniel spoke calmly.

“You don't think I know that?  I was married to him, Daniel.  I spent night after night worrying about him being killed.  I loved him; I mean, I really loved him.”

“And you still do.”

Sara's eyes moistened as she nodded in tiny movements, agreeing, “Of course, I do.  I've never tried to hide that, not from him, or you, or Mark, but it's different now.”

“It's not about the degrees, is it?” Daniel challenged as the realization hit him that there was definitely more to this story than a few lies about education and degrees.

“Daniel, I've asked you to leave.  Please do as I asked,” Sara pleaded.

“No, Sara,” Daniel brazenly refused as he moved forward a step.  “There's something else.”

“He lied.  It's that simple,” Sara firmly stated.  “He lied about everything, about his intelligence, the degrees, teaching ... what else did he lie about?”

“You don't think he loved you,” Daniel said, his voice extremely soft in its accusation.

“It doesn't matter.  I wouldn't know anymore if anything he said was the truth.”

“Sara ...”

“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE,” the angry ex-wife yelled at the top of her lungs.

“Sara, our children love you.  You've been a mother to them, and ...”

“THEY AREN'T MY CHILDREN OR MY RESPONSIBILITY.  LEAVE, OR I'LL CALL THE POLICE,” Sara threatened, shouting.

Daniel was stunned, not understanding this change in Sara.  Yes, he knew she was hurt.  He understood that.  Jack had lied to him, too, but it wasn't the kind of lie that a person let destroy a relationship.  He moved to the door, Sara on his heels, but then he turned around again.

“Sara, tell me what's wrong,” the concerned man begged.

“Tell you?  Ask your husband, the great teller of lies.  Everything he ever said to me was a fairytale.  Why can't you understand how that makes me feel?” Sara questioned, her hands pointing to her chest.

“He loved you,” Daniel spoke, not just with his voice, but with his eyes.

“I don't need your charity, Daniel.  You want him?  He's all yours.  You can raise his children and ease their nightmares.  You can make him feel like he's your world and ignore the lies he tells you, the secrets he keeps from you, covering them up with lie after lie.  You really think you know all there is to know?”

“No, but, I know all I need to,” Daniel answered truthfully.

“Are you sure?” Sara challenged flippantly.

“Yes, I am.”

Sara laughed, “I thought so, too.  What makes us so different?  Jack and I were married in a church, surrounded by our families: our parents.  We swore our love; we made plans, and what happens?  Lies and more lies.”

“Sara, you left him.”

“No, I didn't.”

“Well, it's a ...”

“A what?  What did he tell you?” Sara asked curtly.

“He ...”

“Daniel, I was doing everything I could to keep that marriage burning, but all he did was sit in Charlie's room and mourn, day in and day out.  He wouldn't talk to me; he wouldn't even look at me.  It was like he had a shield of armor surrounding him, and that armor was designed to keep me out.  Do you know what happened after those men came and got him?”

“I ...” Daniel began, but was quickly cut off by the angry and hurt woman arguing with him.

“He got dressed, walked into the living room, and looked at me.  I think maybe it was the first time he'd really looked at me since the funeral.  He said nothing, Daniel, not one single word.  He walked out that door, and when he came home the next day, I begged him to let me in.  All he'd say is that he had to go somewhere.  He came home to tell me he was leaving, but he couldn't, or wouldn't, tell me where he was going, or even how long he'd be gone.  There was no explanation, just an 'I have to go'.”

“He was coming back,” Daniel stated, though he knew that was a lie.  ~Gawd, Jackson, no, he wasn't.~

“Was he?  We both know better.  He stayed that night; I'm not really sure why, but he kissed me.  I know now that it was a kiss good-bye.  He packed a bag, and while I was sleeping, he left the house.  On his pillow was a note.  A note,” Sara cried, trying to stop her tears that were a mixture of anger and sadness.  “I love you.  Good-bye.”  She sniffled, “Now you tell me, Daniel, who left who?”

“I ... I didn't know,” Daniel admitted emotionally.

“I'm not surprised.  We know Jack tells only what he wants to, don't we?” Sara said with contempt.

“Sara, he's not a perfect person.  None of us are,” Daniel tried to rationalize.

“You love him, and you're making excuses for him.  That's okay.  You're married to him.  I'm not, and I don't have to make one single allowance for him anymore.”

“You're angry because he left.”

“I'M ANGRY BECAUSE HE MARRIED ME IN THE FIRST PLACE.  HE SAID HE LOVED ME, THAT WE WERE FOREVER.”  Sara let out a disbelieving snort.  “The man needs to look up the word, because forever sure wasn't very long.”

Daniel was still confused about what was really troubling Sara.  It just didn't make sense for her to have this extreme of a reaction to the news about Jack's education.  It seemed to him like she'd taken that one situation and blown it way out of proportion, and now, in her mind, every part of her life with Jack was a lie.

Sara was a smart woman, though, known for her good common sense, so Daniel was having a hard time believing she would have such a prolonged and angry response.  There had to be more.  The question was what and how to get to the bottom of it.

“What are you angry about?  That he didn't tell you he had a couple of degrees?  Degrees that he got for you, by the way.”

“For me?  I don't think so, Daniel.”

In spite of his efforts, Daniel found himself growing more incensed at Sara's unrelenting anger and harshness.

“Yes, for you.  He wanted to provide for his family, and you were his family, but you know Jack.  He doesn't like fanfare.  Okay, he didn't tell you that his mother insisted he join Mensa.  Jack doesn't think he's smart.  He really doesn't.  He feels like a fraud, Sara.  He's not, but it's how he feels.  The degrees helped him pass the time when he was away from you, and when he finished the courses, he just ... ”

“Just what?  Didn't share the good news?  Don't you think I had a right to know, to share in his accomplishments?” Sara asked pointedly.

“Yes, you did,” Daniel agreed.  ~Gawd, Jack.  Too many secrets.  “I'm not arguing that.”

“Then what are you saying?” Sara asked, her eyes still cold and unfeeling.

“That paper isn't important to Jack.”

“You're right.  Our wedding certificate meant nothing.  The first time anything happened, he ran,” the blonde boldly accused.

“Charlie's death wasn't trivial,” Daniel said gently.

“Don't you stand there and talk about my son to me.  Jack and I had a good marriage until our son died.”

~Get your story straight, Sara.  A second ago, it was all lies; now it was good.  Which is it?~  Daniel bluntly retorted, “But it wasn't good enough.  I don't mean to be insensitive, but if it was meant to be, you two would have found a way.”

“We didn't have a chance.  He was full of grief.  We both were, and when he came back, he never even tried to see me.  You know why?”

“I ...”

“I, I, I ... I is right.  He met you on that mission, and you took him ...”

Sara paused.  She hadn't meant to say that.  She really didn't even believe it, but she wanted Daniel to leave.  Maybe he would now.

“We weren't involved then,” Daniel clarified, shocked by what Sara had said.

“Daniel, I don't really care.  Jack is my past.  Now, please go.”

Reluctantly, Daniel sighed and walked out the door.

“And ... please don't come back,” Sara requested as politely as she could.

Daniel stared, watching her close the door.  He walked to his car and was about to open it when he stopped.

~Why is she so angry?  This is ridiculous,~ the intuitive man opined.  He went back and knocked on the door.  “Sara ...”

Angrily, Sara asked, “Daniel, what do I have to say to get you to leave?”

“I don't know,” Daniel answered, pushing his way back inside the house.  He walked to the living room and turned around.  “Sara, I don't blame you for the hurt, but Jack's lies of omission don't warrant this much anger from you.”

“What right do you have to stand there and tell me how I can feel?”

“I'm not trying to tell you how to feel, but this anger is coming from a place I can't recognize,” Daniel spoke, trying to make her understand.

“Too bad; deal with it, and go.”

“No,” Daniel said, shaking his head.  “Are you angry with me?”

“Why would I be angry at you?” Sara asked a bit more vulnerably as she looked off towards the patio door, evading Daniel's 'too-close' eye contact.

Daniel stared at her for a moment, noticing her refusal to look at him, and observed, “You are.  You're angry with me because Jack told me.  Actually, I found out, and we argued, but ...”

“Daniel, I don't care what Jack does anymore,” Sara replied, moving away from the archaeologist towards the patio.

“Don't you?”

Spinning around, Sara answered, “No, I don't, and I don't appreciate your barging in here and refusing to leave.  You don't have a right to ...”

“You're wrong,” Daniel refuted as he walked into her personal space.  His eyes bore into Sara's.  “You see, you're Jack's ex-wife, the mother of his first-born son, a son he's sharing with me.  You're a mother to our children, and they adore you.  They don't understand why you've abandoned them, but, and here's the most important thing, I'm your friend.  Through some quirk of life, I *am* your friend.  I love you, and I don't want to lose your friendship, anymore than I want Jack to lose you, or the children.”

“I'm sorry, Daniel,” Sara responded quietly, her eyes looking downward.

“I can't help the choices Jack made.  I can't help that Charlie died.  I can't help that he left you that note, but, Sara, I'm telling you the truth when I tell you that Jack truly thought you'd be there when he came back.”

“No.  He would have come after me.  I don't think he ever loved me.  Too many lies and cover-ups.  I never mattered to him.  I gave him a son, and he gave me nothing,” Sara said, needing to deny the words she'd just heard.  ~He couldn't have thought that.  *No*, it's just a lie Jack's told Daniel.~

“Sara ...”

Sara walked toward the stairs and said, “Stay as long as you'd like, Daniel, but I'm going to lie down now.  Good-bye.”

After standing there a minute, Daniel went home to his family, hoping for some refuge from this crazy situation, only it didn't go as he had planned.

====

“You did what?” Jack asked loudly, his eyes already full of fire.

“I just wanted to see if I could mend the fence, Jack.  It's obvious you're hurting; so is Sara, and so are our kids.  I can't simply stand by and watch it anymore.”

“It's not your place, Daniel!”

“Not my *place*,” Daniel repeated snarkily.  “Jack, you're not the only one in pain here,” the younger man confided.  “I'm hurting, too, not just because my family is, but I miss her just like you and the children do.”

The lovers were in Hammond's study, their children being looked after by Hammond and Janet, who was visiting.

“Daniel, just stay out of it.”

“Excuse me?” the archaeologist asked incredulously, his hands on his hips as he stared over at his husband.

“Look, she's angry at me, not you.  This is about what I did, not what you did.  She doesn't need you trying to be some mystical all-knowing emissary to make peace,” Jack spoke harshly.

“Our family is being split apart.  Our children miss Sara.  They're used to seeing her every day, or every other day.  I had to try because I'm not sure you're trying hard enough,” Daniel accused.

“What do you want me to do?  If I call her, she hangs up.  Mark tries, but he can't force her to talk.  I'm trying!”

“Try harder.”

“There's nothing more I can do.  THE WOMAN IS ANGRY, and she's not through being angry yet.  She may *never* stop being angry with me!” Jack exclaimed in a raised voice.

“Jack, keep your voice down,” Daniel requested.

“Daniel, just leave Sara alone.  She's my wife ...” Jack groaned from the misnomer.  “My ex-wife.”  After a moment, he sighed, “Sorry.”

“Oh, maybe that's a Freudian slip,” Daniel accused.

“Don't do that.”

“You're the one who said it, Jack.”

“Daniel, half the world is divorced, and half the world refers to their exes as their wives or husbands.”

“You don't.  You never have, not until now.  Why?” Daniel asked, curious about the comment.

“Why?” Jack asked incredulously.  “Don't go getting all hormonal on me,” he stated flippantly.

“EXCUSE ME?” Daniel said loudly, his own anger having risen to a new height.

“Look, just stay out of this.  Let's go check on the kids.”

“JACK!”

Jack walked by Daniel and headed into the hallway.  Daniel chased after him, grabbing his arm.

“Listen to me, Jack, don't you dare walk out on me like that.  You finally got me to stop running from my issues, and I'm not about to let you start.”

“Don't you go sticking your nose into Sara's life,” the older man warned forcefully.

“Because she's your *wife*?” Daniel asked, throwing his husband's words back at him.

“Because she has her own life, away from us.”

Daniel shook his head, saying, “I wasn't sticking my nose anywhere.  We're married, you idiot.”

“Namecalling?  Isn't that beneath you?” Jack taunted.

“Jack, don't go there!”

“Where?”

“To that sarcastic child that pretends to be dumb and says some of the stupidest things ever heard on the planet, that's where.”

“I am who I am, Daniel, and apparently, that's not good enough for you.”

“Cut the crap, Jack,” Daniel ordered.  “I'm not buying the wounded general bit, either.  You're too smart to try something that juvenile.”

“Juvenile?” Jack questioned.  “Well, forgive me.  I am sooooo sorry if I'm not living up to your expectations.”

Downstairs, Jennifer and David stood up, both having heard the shouting permeating through the house.  They were happy that Hammond and Janet had taken all the younger children outside where there was a cool breeze and no angry parents arguing with each other.

“Don't be ridiculous.  You know better,” Daniel refuted.

“Sometimes I wonder.  Maybe you should go find that male gigolo.  What was his name?” Jack suggested spitefully.

“Who?” Daniel asked, not at all sure whom his husband was talking about.

“That nurse who slobbered all over you in the infirmary,” Jack whined as he looked his husband up and down.

“He didn't slobber,” Daniel responded, now knowing the person being discussed. ~Gawd, I can't believe he's bringing him up.  Well, at least it's a break from Paul, and for Paul.~

“*Oh,* So you know who I'm talking about.”

“Jack, Casey has nothing to do with us.  I'm not going to let you evade the real issue here.”

“I can argue with you about that idiot if I want to,” Jack insisted in a gruff tone.

“That 'idiot' saved my life, Jack.  Remember?” Daniel asked, his eyes boring into Jack's, daring the older man to ignore the facts.  ~This does nothing to resolve the real issue.~

Jack softened for a moment, remembering how Casey Hemmings, one of the SGC's male nurses, had been so nice and helpful to Jack when Daniel had almost died after being injured off-world.

~Crap!  Why'd he have to remind me?~  Refusing to lose his fighting edge, Jack shifted the argument.  “Forget him, and forget Sara.  She wants nothing to do with me anymore.”

“All I'm saying is that you can't give up trying to think of a way to get through to Sara.”

Jack stood, his expression blank for several moments until finally, he snapped, “I got nothing, and that's the end of that.”

Jack turned to walk down the stairs.  He saw the two children standing there, but before he could say anything, Daniel moved to the top stair, his hands leaning on the rail.

“Wait a minute,” Daniel said in wide-eyed astonishment as a surprising realization hit him like a brick being thrown against a wall.  “You're afraid.”

“Excuse me?” Jack responded, wide-eyed.

“You're afraid of what Sara might say.”

“Me?  Afraid?  I'm not afraid of anything,” Jack insisted.

“Aren't you?” Daniel challenged, holding Jack captive with his eyes.

Jack couldn't help but soften, resulting in a milder reply from the older man when he spoke, “Danny, you know what I mean.”

The two lovers exchanged a look of comprehension, and then Daniel stated resolutely, “Fine, but this has to end, Jack.”

“Just leave Sara alone.  I know her a little better then you do, so for the last time, Daniel, *drop* it.”

“Why are you so adamant about not trying to make things right?” Daniel asked, his voice slightly raised.

Jack had continued his descent to the first floor, Daniel quickly following him.  The older man had assumed that upon seeing their children, Daniel would stop the argument.  Jack was wrong.

“Daniel, our children are here,” Jack reminded.

“Yes, and those same children reminded us both not too long ago that if we're angry with each other that we need to go ahead and fight and not hold it in.  Well, I'm angry, so I'm fighting.”

“I can hear that,” Jack replied flatly.

“Good; now answer my question,” Daniel insisted forcefully.

“Your question is dumb.”

“Jack, what are you afraid of?” Daniel bluntly asked.

“The last time I looked, Daniel, your list of degrees didn't include one in psychology, so please quit poking around in my brain.”

“If I were in your brain, I'd know the answer.”  Daniel paused.  “Sara is afraid, too.  Why?  What is it that both of you are afraid of?”

“Daniel, just stay out of it.  I mean it, Daniel.  IF YOU VALUE OUR MARRIAGE, STAY OUT OF IT!” Jack threatened and then turned, storming out of the house.

“Stubborn!” Daniel complained.  ~We don't use our marriage as a pawn, Jack.  Gawd, you can be infuriating!~  He took a deep breath and looked at the two children.  “You guys know that we're okay.  I mean, right now I could break his neck, but I ... I love the guy.”

“We know.  It's not easy listening to your parents argue, but we know Dad will be back,” Jennifer replied calmly.

“I hope he doesn't stay gone too long,” Daniel softly stated as his anger began to dissipate.

“He won't,” David said confidently.

Daniel smiled and then inquired, “How can you be so sure?”

“His keys,” David said, pointing to a table where Jack's keys were.  “He went out to get something in the truck right before you got home, and then he put the keys down to help you bring in the groceries.”

Daniel chuckled at the revelation and then asked, “You two okay?”

“We're fine, Daddy,” Jennifer answered.  “So, Aunt Sara really doesn't want us anymore?”

“Aunt Sara loves you; she just needs a little more time.”

“Aunt Sara will be okay,” David said a bit smugly.

“I'm sure she will, but, uh, why are you so confident?”

David shrugged his answer.

“Well, I guess that's as good a reason as any to believe,” Daniel chuckled.  “Okay, I think I'll go find your dad.”

“Five bucks says he's just sitting on the doorstep,” Jennifer wagered vocally.

“You're on,” David said.  “I think he went for a walk.”

Daniel laughed as he opened the door.  At one time, he feared that his arguments with Jack would upset the children, but somehow, over time, the older ones, if not the younger children yet, had learned the difference between a really major fight and just a squabble.

It wasn't the words, Daniel realized, but the attitude.  Their children felt safe and secure, and they had learned that their two fathers loved each other deeply, but sometimes, fighting was a way of cleansing themselves and getting out frustrations.  He hoped that the younger children would also grow up understanding the difference, perhaps with the aid of their older sibling's experiences and observations.  It was something Jack and Daniel both spent a bit of time discussing with the children from time to time, each wanting to make sure none of the children were ever truly upset by one of their more vocal 'discussions'.

“Who won, Daddy?” David called out.

“Neither.  He's sitting on the lawn,” Daniel informed them, a closed smile on his face.

“Oh crap,” David said, earning him a glare from Daniel.  “Sorry.  Dad told me not to say that.”

“That'll cost you one dollar,” Daniel said in total seriousness.  “Next time, you'll remember.”

“But, Daddy ...”

David grumbled, but he knew if he said another word, he was liable to lose more money, so he decided to cap his losses while he could.

Meanwhile, Daniel went outside, sitting down on the lawn across from his husband.

“I'm sorry, Danny,” Jack immediately apologized.  “I don't know why I got so hot under the collar.”

“It's okay.”

“No, it's not.  In the first place, I did something you and I have promised each other not to do.  I just wanted to ...”

“Shut me up?” Daniel answered for his lover.

Jack regretfully nodded and stated, “Angel, never stop telling me how you feel.  I know you value our marriage.  Geez, I'm sorrier than I can say that I lost my temper like that.”

“Thank you for apologizing, and I understand, but ...”

“But,” Jack interjected.  “There's the rest of what we discussed,” Jack said as his eyebrows arched slightly.  “You're right; I am scared, but I'm not sure what of.  Danny, I swear to you, those ... lies ... they aren't even in my brain. I think what I'm afraid of is that she'll find something else, and it'll just make it worse.”

“We can't live in 'ifs', Jack, and Sara is part of our family.  We can't give up on her.”

“I haven't tried as hard as I could have; you're right about that, too.” Jack affirmed regretfully.

Daniel reached out and held Jack's hand.  They were in the front yard, and they didn't want to be too overt, but they still had the need to touch right now.

“Jack, I keep thinking there is something else that has her so upset, but I don't know what it is.”

“I don't know, Angel, but, tomorrow, I'm going to try and find out,” Jack promised as he gained strength from his husband's resolve and caring.

“Let's give her a couple of days.  I really pushed it today, Jack,” Daniel noted.

“Held your breath, did ya?” Jack teased.

“Very funny, Jack.”

“I love you, Danny, and I'm sorry for yelling at you.”

“I'm sorry, too.  It's been a hot month; maybe it's just worn us out a little.”

“Now that we've boiled over, how about we fan the flames?” Daniel asked as he wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.

“What?”  Jack leaned in and kissed his husband.  “Oh, fanning the flames.  Yeah, I like that!  Friday night.”  After another tender kiss, he queried, “Do you know what you want to do on our date night?”

“Fan those flames, Babe.  Fan ... those ... flames!” Daniel eagerly answered.

As July came to a boiling close, the lovers lit their own fire and then prepared to try and reunite their estranged family.
----On to August ...

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
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