Blowout (continued)
by Orrymain

====
--August - Beware of Hormones
====

“Daddy, need new shirt,” Little Danny said, running into his parent's bedroom.

The little boy was shirtless, but wearing a nice pair of blue shorts.  Clutched in his hand was the shirt that had been left out for him to wear.  He waved the piece of clothing in front of himself.

“What's wrong with that one?” Jack asked, buttoning his own shirt.

“Not good 'nuff,” Little Danny announced, looking at the shirt with a frown.

“Why not?” Jack queried, holding his hand out for the shirt.

Daniel looked at Jack in amusement.  He, too, was curious as to what was wrong with the shirt.  It wasn't that old.

“See 'Rissa today.  Need new shirt,” the toddler said emphatically.

Jack was unable to suppress a smile, while Daniel tried his best not to laugh.  Unfortunately, the younger man lost his battle and had to make a quick dash to the bathroom.  Closing the door, he let out a bubble of laughter before reclaiming his calm demeanor.  When he walked back in, Jack was seated on the end of the bed, examining the boy's shirt.

“This is a nice shirt,” Jack reasoned calmly.

“Not nice 'nuff,” Little Danny maintained, crossing his arms across his chest and doing a darn good imitation of the patented 'Danny Pout' in Jack's estimation.

Daniel grinned at Jack as he said, “Nooooo, Babe.  He's seeing 'Rissa today.  You should know better.”

“Yeah, Dad,” Little Danny seconded in a chastisement.

“Come on, Sproglet.  *I'll* help you pick out something more appropriate,” Daniel offered.

Little Danny gave his Daddy an enormous smile and ran out of the room.

“Danny, I don't know who's worse: Noa and Teal'c, or Little Danny and Karissa.”

“Don't ask me; I've found my man,” Daniel chuckled, walking over and giving his husband a kiss.  “Meet you downstairs.”

Jack and Daniel had a mission off-world, and with Sara out of the babysitting loop at the moment, that meant they had to rely on Megan and Karissa.  They'd be dropping the children off at the office before heading to the Mountain.  This would also be Dora's first chance to meet the remainder of the brood and deal with all eight children at once.

After rummaging through the Munchkin's entire wardrobe to make sure Little Danny was wearing something to his liking, Daniel and Little Danny went downstairs to join the rest of the family for breakfast, after which they headed to J-O Enterprises.  Once the children were settled in, and having introduced Dora to all their brood, Jack and Daniel headed for the SGC.

As they drove to work in Daniel's sporty car, Jack decided to bring up a potential change to their master bedroom.  He had discussed it with Alex a few times, and the designer had indicated that it was a simple change that they could do fairly easily when installing Daniel's surprise.

“Danny, I've been thinking we should make a change,” Jack stated carefully.

“Uh, we are,” Daniel chuckled.  “Quite a few of them actually.  What now?”

“Our bedroom,” Jack answered, hoping Daniel wouldn't think his request was overly odd.

“What about it?” Daniel asked, concerned Jack wanted to totally revamp it.

“We're putting in the walk-in closet and that's going to change the shape and look of the space we have.  Since we're losing our windows, and Alex is putting in that long window over the roof deck wall, why don't we move our door?” Jack suggested, watching his soulmate's reaction carefully.

“Our door?” Daniel asked, scrunching his face.  “Jack, why would we move our door?”

“We'd be closer to the nursery,” Jack suggested.

“Babe, the babies are growing up.  It's probably just going to be Noa in there now,” Daniel rebutted.

“Maybe we'll have another one,” Jack said, winking when Daniel looked over at him.

“You are insane,” Daniel stated, although he smiled at the look on Jack's face.

“But you love me,” Jack said confidently.

“I'm insane,” Daniel wisecracked as he made the turn onto the winding road that headed up to Cheyenne Mountain.  “You really want to move the door?”

“Do you have any objections?”

“No, not really,” Daniel responded as he shrugged slightly.

Jack smiled as he mentally checked off one potential obstacle to their new dream bedroom.

====

SG-1 had been on PQ2-794 for three hours.  The planet was called Nescia, and its inhabitants were definitely alien in appearance.  The mature beings topped out at five feet tall; their skin was scaly and lavender in color.  Although their appendages were the same as humans - two arms, two legs, with five fingers and five toes each, their voices were melodic, their words even pitched with a soft timber.

The adult aliens all had blonde hair which was shoulder-length for the females and crew cut-like for the males.  There was very little variation to that, but the alien children, those equivalent to twenty Earth years and under, had either green or peach colored hair that underwent a transition to blonde within six months of what would be their twenty-first birthday.

The Nescialas, as they called themselves, had first been visited by SG-13.  Oddly enough, that team's archaeologist had reported finding Egyptian hieroglyphs in ruins not far from the Stargate.  Yet, the inhabitants clearly didn't resemble humans, nor could Daniel find any tie-in to the Tau'ri culture.  Somewhere along the line, he deduced, there had been a separation of societies.  If Ra or another System Lord had brought these people to Nescia originally, perhaps, he had brought some Tau'ri as well, but something happened to those descendants.  Daniel had a wealth of questions and was hoping to find some answers.

“Time to noon,” Fidulgo, their local host, said to SG-1 as he looked up at the very large sun that shone down on the planet.

“Noon?” Sam asked.

“I know this one,” Jack said.  “Eat, right?”

“Eat, yes,” Fidulgo acknowledged.  “This way.”

“Noon,” Daniel whispered to Jack as they followed their host from the ruins back to the homestead.

“Old west stuff.  They used to say it was time to noon when it was time to eat because the sun was straight up,” Jack explained.  ~I knew watching all those old westerns would come in handy one day.~

“Oh, that's ... interesting.”

Daniel had even more questions now than he'd had when he arrived. This civilization was such a strange mix of cultures.  Somewhere, somehow, different peoples and their societies had to have merged, and somewhere along the line, the Goa'uld had abandoned Nescia.

“It's just the old west, like those stagecoaches.  Daniel, why do a people that don't look anything like us, but have Egyptian ruins, have traces of the old west, too?” Jack asked, perplexed.  “I mean that's crazy.”

“I don't know.  The Goa'uld were long gone by that era, Jack,” Daniel replied, trying to think of a reason for the similarities.

“Coincidence?” Jack suggested.

Daniel just shrugged, and they continued their mile-long journey to Fidulgo's homestead.

====

SG-1 was enjoying a passable meal that reminded them of porridge with a twist.

“It's kinda like oatmeal,” Jack said.

“With cinnamon,” Sam added.

“And, uh, I think this is ... crab, or something like ... crab,” Daniel commented.

“You're not eating, Teal'c,” Jack said, motioning to the untouched food in front of the Jaffa.

Teal'c looked at the strange food and just stared at Jack.  At that point, Fidulgo and his wife, Helgish, entered.

“Helgish has prepared dessert,” Fidulgo announced, glancing at his wife with a strange look on his face.

“Great, bring it ... on,” Jack said, only he hesitated, seeing Fidulgo's odd expression.

“Here,” Helgish said, placing a glob of orange ... something ... on their plates. “Eat hearty; there is more.”

Daniel smiled shyly, then looked down at the stringy substance.  He picked up a bite with his fork and brought it to his nose, smelling it.  He coughed dramatically, nearly dropping the fork onto the table.

“Now that's strong,” Jack said, practically mimicking Daniel's actions.

“You must eat,” Fidulgo warned, his eyes darting over at Helgish nervously.

“I will be bring more,” Helgish informed the diners before sweeping out of the room.

Jack watched the female and noticed something odd.

“I thought all the women were blonde,” Jack inquired, looking up at Fidulgo questioningly.

“That is correct, O'Neill.”

That's when the team realized that Helgish's hair had turned dark red, almost maroon in color, and it had happened as they had watched her leave.

“It is the kikish,” Fidulgo explained.  “No matter what, you must go along.  Do not upset her.”

“Kikish?” Daniel repeated.

“Yes, it is the female time,” Fidulgo said, leaning into the table, almost whispering.

“Female time,” Jack said, looking at Sam accusingly.

“What?  It's not my ... I mean, I'm not ... oh, gawd,” Sam stammered as she blushed.

“Jack,” Daniel muttered.

“I didn't say anything,” Jack smirked, feeling quite pleased with himself.

“What, uh, exactly happens during the ... kikish?” Daniel inquired.

“Daniel, I think we know that,” Jack said.

“You do?” Sam challenged.  “Tell us, Sir.”

Jack coughed, looked back at Fidulgo, and said, “So what happens during the kiki?”

“Kikish.  It happens once every quarter moon,” Fidulgo informed them.

“For how long?” Daniel asked.

“Eight moons,” Fidulgo said a bit distractedly as he looked around for his wife.

“Well, I think I'm ... full,” Sam said, again examining the food.

“No, you must eat,” Fidulgo hastened sharply.

There was a note of panic in Fidulgo's voice as he eyed the uneaten food.

**Danny, how long is eight moons on this planet?** Jack inquired curiously.

**Uhhh, it's ... eight nights,** Daniel responded with a tiny smirk.

“Here is more,” Helgish said, placing new platters of food on the table.  “You have not finished.”

“We're, uh, not very hungry,” Daniel offered.

Helgish started to glare, and then she insisted, “You must eat.”  She looked at her husband and ordered, “Fidu, they must eat.”

“I have tried,” Fidulgo stated, taking one step back from his wife.

“Try again,” Helgish ordered vehemently.

“I did,” Fidulgo promised, taking yet another step back.

Suddenly, the maroon hair brightened to a near-florescent hue.  The female lifted her hands, her fingernails lengthening.

Fidulgo's eyes widened in alarm.

“I must go,” Fidulgo said, turning and running.

Helgish followed.

“Should we ...” Daniel asked, motioning towards the fleeing couple.

“No, I don't think so,” Jack said.

“Sir?” Sam asked, confused.

“Carter!” Jack whined in a raised voice.

Jack stood and picked up his plate.  He found a window, opened it, and dumped the food out.  Teal'c stood and did the same.

“Sam!” Daniel stated, surprised when the blonde colonel did the same thing.

“Daniel, I tasted it.  It's ... worse than plastic,” Sam informed him, scrunching her nose up in distaste.

“Oh,” Daniel grimaced, eyeing the oddly-colored food.

A bit nervously, Daniel looked around, and then repeated the actions of his teammates.

====

An hour later, a disheveled looking Fidulgo returned.

“Are you all right?” Sam asked, twisting around in her seat.

“Yes, I am fine,” Fidulgo assured as he straightened his hair with his fingers.

“She caught you?” Jack asked, trying to contain his smirk.

“Yes.  During the kikish, it is always an emotional time, and the females are ...”

“Libidinous?” Sam asked.

“I do not know that word,” Fidulgo stated.

“Sex-crazed,” Jack clarified.

“Yes, and emotional; very temperamental.”

“Does that have to do with the change in hair color?  I mean, does it happen that quickly?” Daniel inquired.

“Yes, in a blink of time.  When the hair changes, it is best to do whatever the female says,” Fidulgo warned, panic still in his voice.

“Even, uh ...” Jack waved his hand as he eyed Fidulgo's unkempt appearance.

“Yes, though it can be ... risky.  The females during the kikish are unlike any other time.  It is hard for the male to keep up.”

“That's nothing new,” Sam quipped, earning her three intense glares from her teammates.  “I was just saying ...”

“I wouldn't, Carter.”

====

“That was wild,” Sam said as the team was returning to the Stargate.  Giggling she asked, “Did you see Helgish chasing Fidulgo with the frying pan?”

“Did you see Fidulgo two hours after she caught him?” Daniel asked, a smirky smile on his face.

“Talk about raging hormones,” Sam remarked.

“Women and their hormones,” Jack said, shaking his head.

“Men and their testosterone,” Sam retaliated.

“We don't get headaches,” Jack countered.

“We don't have to buff it up to impress the opposite sex,” Sam retorted.

“Oh, yeah?”  Jack stopped and walked to face Sam.  Calculatingly, he challenged, “Pumps.”

“Excuse me, Sir?” Sam asked as she faced the general.

“Women.  Cleavage.  Mini-skirts.  Pumps.  Suggest anything to you, Carter?”

“Jack!” Daniel chastised.

Pleased with the exchange, Jack turned, smiled at his husband, and continued walking while speaking, “I'm just saying that women do it more than men.”

“We do not,” Sam argued fiercely.  “Men see another guy and have to be tougher, show more muscles, see who's more macho.”

“And women ...”

Daniel laughed at the two warring teammates.  It made for an interesting debate as they returned to the Stargate; yet, something was beginning to dawn on him.  A crazy thought was developing.  It didn't totally make sense, but, still, he wondered.

====

The next day, Jack brought his truck to a stop and looked at the Wilson's tranquil home.

~Hope it's still peaceful in five minutes.~

Feeling more nervous than he ever had when facing the Goa'uld, the ex-husband braced himself, walked up to the front door, and rang the doorbell.

“Go away, Jack,” Sara said, slamming the door abruptly and walking away from it.

The woman had made one key mistake, and Jack noticed it immediately.

“I can't do that,” Jack responded, opening the unlocked door to the Wilson home and walking in.  “Where are Mark and Angela?”

~He always did have a lot of guile,~ Sara thought as she stared at her ex-husband, debating whether to let him stay or call the police.  “Mark took Angela to a matinee,” she said coldly.

“Sara, I'm sorry.  I don't know what else I can say, but it's time to let this go.”  Jack paused, inwardly observing, ~She's still so beautiful, but what is with this get-up?~  Staring at the getup, he just had to ask, so he did.  “Is that new?”

The woman was wearing a frumpy black blouse that seemed to swallow her up in its material.  It was polyester, a material she didn't often wear, and it was long, hanging down far over her ratty denim jeans.  Not only that, but it was August, and it seemed unusual for her to be wearing something so warm.

“My clothing is none of your concern, Jack,” Sara scowled.

“Okay, listen, I messed up.  How can I fix it?”  Unfortunately, Jack saw nothing but Sara's cold eyes.  “Sara, Danny loves you.  The children love you.  They miss you, a lot, and whether you believe it or not, so do I.  It's time for this to end.”

“Get out of my house, Jack.”

Sara turned and stalked into another room, leaving Jack behind.  He had no choice but to leave.

====

“I tried, Danny.  She won't talk to me.  I just don't get it.  I know I hurt her.  I'm not arguing any of that, but it's been what ... two, three months?  How long does she expect me to grovel?” Jack asked, feeling like there was no hope.

“Eight moons,” Daniel said distractedly, as he recalled the idea that had occurred to him on PQ2-794.  ~Maybe it's not as crazy as I thought.~

“What?” Jack asked.  ~That man never ceases to confuse me, but a wonderful confusion he is.~

“Nothing,” Daniel spoke, not ready to share his idea with his husband.  “Jack, I have an errand to run.  I'll be back as soon as I can, okay?”

“Okay,” Jack agreed, standing up.

Daniel kissed his husband and headed off on his own mission, while Jack looked after their brood, which involved Little Danny still raving on about Karissa.

====

Roughly ninety minutes later, Daniel parked his 1999 Shelby-American on the street in front of the Wilson's home.  He had made a couple of stops on his way, including to his home that was still undergoing renovation.  There was something he had needed to pick up there.

~I hope I'm right; if not, I'm about to look like an idiot.~  Daniel chuckled just slightly.  ~Okay, can't be worse than that lecture that 'ended' my career in Academia.  Gawd, that seems like another lifetime.~  He chuckled again.  “It was another lifetime,” he said, smiling.

The linguist got out of his car, reaching back to pull out the bags he had brought with him, and then locked the car before heading to the door.  He hoped he would find the right words to reason with Sara.

Mark Wilson opened the door and smiled as he welcomed their visitor.

“Hello, Daniel.”

“Hi, Mark.  I'd like to talk with Sara, if it's okay.”

“Jack was by,” Mark stated as he opened the door all the way and invited Daniel in.  “I don't know how receptive she's going to be to seeing you here.”

“I know, and I don't mean to impose on your privacy, but, Mark, this is important.  Anything you can do to get her to talk to me would really be helpful,” Daniel implored.

“She's upstairs with Angela.  Give me a couple of minutes,” the businessman requested as he headed for the stairs.

“Thanks.”

Daniel walked around the living room for a couple of minutes as he waited.  He placed the bags in a chair and took the time to study some of the family photos that graced the walls of the room.

“Daniel, do we really have to go through this?” Sara asked, walking into the room.

“Photographs.  Pictures say what words don't,” Daniel explained, pointing over to the photos.

Sara shook her head in confusion and asked, “What?”

“Your parents, your grandparents.  Mark's parents, his grandparents.  Lots of relatives.  Mike and Charlie.  Look at this one,” Daniel said, pointing to one.  “It's right here, with all the rest.”

Sara's eyes betrayed her, looking at the picture of the eight Jackson-O'Neill children.

“Jack and I are their parents, and Kayla was their mother, and you know something, Sara?  So are you and Sam; Janet, too.  Other than Jack and me, the three of you have spent more time with our children than anyone else.  You're helping to raise them.”

Daniel walked away from the wall and moved towards Sara.

“On your own, you built a nursery for the Munchkins.  We didn't ask you to, but you wanted it to be comfortable for them.  Jen told me how you befriended her.  She was ready to hate you.  She didn't understand how you could be a happy part of our lives,” Daniel stated.  “Now, when she has a problem, and it needs a female touch, it's you and Sam she turns to, with our blessing.  I know you didn't ask for it, but you've got nine children, Sara, and Angela has eight brothers and sisters.”

“Nine,” Sara corrected.  She needed something to fend off the absolute sincerity and knowing eyes of Daniel.  “Nine,” she repeated.

“Charlie,” Daniel acknowledged.  “He's always here, and he'll never be forgotten, not ever,” he promised.

“I know.  They talk about him sometimes,” Sara said, smiling as she remembered some of her conversations with the brood about their older brother.

“We encourage that,” Daniel remarked.

“I know, and I'm grateful for that, Daniel.”

Daniel paused, and after a moment, he went to the chair and picked up the two bags.  One was pink and the other was blue.  He held them up for Sara to see.

“Sara, in one of these bags are memories of the past, good and bad.  They're all we are, and everything that shaped our lives until today.  In the other bag, is our future, full of uncertainty, fears, hopes, and lots and lots of love,” Daniel informed her cryptically.

“Small bags for a future,” Sara spoke snarkily.

Daniel put the bags down and walked to her again, saying, “It's none of my business, but ... No, it *is* my business, because you're my friend, and a virtual mother to my children.  Sara, you can't be this mad at Jack unless there's more to it.”

“What more could there be?” Sara asked, dismissing any truth to the man's statements.

“Something physical?” Daniel suggested.

“I'm just fine, Daniel,” Sara said as she turned her back on Daniel, walking several feet away.

“Are you?” Daniel queried, moving to within a foot of her.  “Is there something wrong?  You're scared, Sara.  I don't know why I didn't see it before.”

“Daniel, please leave me alone,” Sara requested as she turned around.

“Have you been to a doctor?” Daniel inquired with as much care as he could.

“I don't need a doctor,” Sara maintained.

“You should go,” Daniel suggested gently.

“Go?  *Why*?” Sara shouted.

“In case there's something wrong,” Daniel responded gently.

“Daniel, I appreciate that you care, but I don't need some overworked physician to tell me the meaning of ...”  Sara physically shook, and walked away.  “I don't need a doctor.  Please leave now.”

“Okay,” Daniel agreed, though he walked up to her again, putting his hand on her shoulder, which is something he never could have done years earlier.  “Open the bags, and, Sara, don't assume.  And, uh, I think you're wearing the wrong color.”

“What?” Sara questioned as she turned around, her face scrunching in confusion.

“I don't think it's a time to wear black.  Open the bags,” Daniel instructed.

Hesitantly, Sara walked to the chair, sensing Daniel wouldn't leave until she played out whatever game they were playing at the moment.  She sat down, moving the bags to her lap.

“Which one?” the blonde asked.

“The past,” Daniel said confidently.

“But which one?” Sara asked, having no clue which bag to open.

Daniel shrugged.

~That's not helpful, Daniel.~  A bit frustrated, Sara opened the blue bag.  “What's this?” she asked, pulling out the bag's contents.

“Our past, what was, what is: that kind of thing.”

Sara let out a snort of confusion as she reviewed the contents -- “It's a rattle, and ... a photo of Charlie ... baby socks?”

“Open the other one,” Daniel told Sara.

“Our future,” the blonde deduced.

“All our futures,” Daniel clarified.

Sara opened the pink bag, taking out all the items.  She shook her head.  The packages were completely identical.

Frustrated, Sara barked, “I don't understand.”

Daniel knelt down in front of the blonde, taking her hands in his as he spoke, “Ten years ago, I could never have done this, be like this, with you.  I love Jack more than life.  He's mine, and I have no doubts about that.  Part of him, a part of his heart, though, will always be yours, and Charlie's.  He hated hurting you.  He just doesn't understand that some of us care about pieces of paper, like diplomas,” he said as he looked down, shaking his head as he snickered lightly.

In a smaller voice, Sara spoke, “Daniel, I still don't know what you're trying to say.”

“He loved you, Sara.  You don't really doubt that, do you?” Daniel asked seriously, his cerulean blue eyes begging her heart to be honest.

“No, I guess not,” Sara conceded.

~Okay, she's listening -- sort of.  You have to ask; this is your chance, Jackson!~ Daniel smiled and then questioned, “Why, uh, are you wearing that ... frumpy black blouse?”

“Gee whiz, a girl gains a little weight, and everyone makes a big deal out of it,” Sara answered, now evading Daniel's probing eyes.

“Sara, I'm about to say something that is a little out of line, but I hope you'll understand that it's because you're family, and I love you.”

“What is it?”

“Jenny's allergies were acting up last week, and I took her in to see Sylvia.”  Daniel saw Sara register the name, and in that second, he knew he was right.  “She, uh, mentioned, just in passing, that you hadn't been feeling well.”

Sara stood, pulling her hands from Daniel. She folded her arms across her chest as she went to look out at the backyard.

Angered, Sara complained, “She has no right to be talking about me.”

“Sara, she said something totally meaningless, but you know me, my brain takes a hold of this stuff and ... I never know when something will hit.”

“And what did Doctor Bigmouth say?” Sara asked sarcastically.

~Sarcasm?  From Sara?  Okay, Danny, you're on the right track.  Take a breath, and go for it,~ the archaeologist told himself.  “That you had made some crazy joke about women having hot flashes.  Okay, I think she was a little worried and was hoping Jack and I would be able to ... I don't know, give you some support.  Sara, I'm not real good at this, but I think she was trying to hint that you thought you were entering menopause and ...”

“THAT'S RIDICULOUS!” Sara shouted in anger.

“I think so,” Daniel agreed.  Motioning towards her outfit, he added, “especially when you're wearing frumpy black things.”

“What?”

“I think you're wrong,” Daniel said calmly.

Exasperated, Sara quipped, “Daniel, Jack sometimes says you drive him crazy.  Right now, I agree.”

Though exasperated, Sara had spoken warmly, the first truly calm and friendly statement from her during the entire conversation.

Daniel laughed at the woman's comments, further disarming the woman, and then stated, “You said Angela had nine brothers and sisters.  I'm thinking it's ten.”  Walking over to Sara and placing a kiss on her cheek, he advised, “Keep the bags.  The past, the present, the future:  they all blend together to make us whole.  We love you, Sara.  Come home.  The brood is dying to see you.”

Daniel smiled and walked out the door, leaving Sara in shock and holding her hands against her abdomen.  She walked to a mirror and stared at her image, shaking her head.

“He's ... wrong, isn't he?” Sara asked her image, uncertain as to the answer.

====

“Are you going to tell me where you went?” Jack asked for the third time.

“No, at least not tonight.  How's the study plan coming along?” Daniel asked.

“Let me show you.”  Jack pulled out his notes and charts.  “You know, Danny, I haven't done this much paperwork voluntarily since ... never!”

Daniel laughed as he looked over the study plan and expressed, “I like it.”

Jack suggested, “Maybe we could have a trial run; get the kids used to studying with us.”

“Good idea.”

“It happens,” Jack quipped.

“I love you, Jack.”

Jack smiled at his lover suspiciously, saying, “That's nice to know, but any particular reason you're saying it right now?”

“No, I just ... love you, that's all,” Daniel answered as his hands caressed Jack's back.

“I love you, too, Angel,” Jack said, kissing his husband.

====

Several days later, some of the brood were enjoying time with their grandfather. Jennifer, David, Jonny, Ricky, and Chenoa were sitting in the kitchen, the children enjoying a mid-afternoon treat of cookies and milk, except for Jennifer, who was making herself a sandwich.  The rest of the children were outside with Jack, while Daniel was in Denver for a class.

“Have you always been in the military, Grandpa?” David asked.

“Yes, Son, I have.  It's been a family tradition.”

“Trad'ion?” Ricky asked.

“Tradition,” Hammond spoke.  “That means that my father was a military man, as was his father, and his father before him.  It goes way back, hundreds of years.”

“Like Loops, Ricky,” Jonny reminded.

“Oh, yeah, 'dition!” the youngest Jackson-O'Neill male acknowledged.

“Wow.  Did they all fly planes?” David asked in awe of his grandfather's military heritage.

As Hammond chuckled, Mittens jumped onto the table, purring as she stretched out against Hammond's arm.

“No.  My father was a pilot, but his father was in the Navy.  The Hammonds have always been in the military, but not always in the same branch,” the three-star general told the children.

“Branch?  You climb trees, Gran'pa?” Chenoa asked.

Hammond chuckled, “No, Noa, I'm talking about what branch of the service they were in.  I'm in the Air Force, as was my father, but my grandfather was in the Navy, and his father was a foot soldier in the Army.”

“They get medals like you have?” Jonny asked, oblivious to the milk moustache he had from his latest downpour of milk.

“As a matter of fact they did,” Hammond told his captive audience.  “I have some of them in the attic.  In fact, I even have some of their uniforms.”

“Wow,” Jennifer said, sitting down to eat her sandwich.  “You really have their old uniforms?”

“They aren't in the best condition, but they've been passed down over the generations.”

“Can we see?” David asked eagerly.

With a nod, the bald-headed man stated, “I'll see if I can find them.  You kids stay here.”

“Want some help, Grandpa?” Jennifer asked.

“That would be nice.  Thank you,” Hammond responded.

====

Hammond's attic was full of things: boxes and memorabilia, old furniture, and even some paintings.

“A lot of these things belonged to my wife,” the general explained, pushing aside a clothes carrier.

“I'll bet she was awesome.”

Sadly, Hammond answered, “Yes, she was.”

“You still miss her, don't you, Grandpa?” Jennifer asked softly.

“Every second of every day.  Cancer took her from me right when we should have started to enjoy our senior years together,” Hammond answered, not even trying to hide his sadness and longing from the teenager.

“Is that why you never retired?”

Hammond looked at Jennifer, a bit surprised.

The teenager explained, “Dad said you were going to retire, but ended up heading the SGC.”

Hammond nodded, responding, “She'd been gone too long, and I didn't see anything worth ... worthwhile.  I was going to live in memories and watch Kayla and Tessa grow up,” Hammond confided.

Jennifer smiled and surmised, “The SGC became a second family, huh?”

“I gained a lot, like you,” Hammond replied, smiling and getting a lovely smile from Jennifer in return.  “I think they're in one of these,” he commented, moving a box out of the way to reveal a large and very old trunk.

Jennifer glanced around the room as she waited when something caught her eye.  It was a foot, or rather, a picture of a foot.  Over it was a cloth cover which she assumed was to protect it.  Casually, she walked over to it.  The item was standing vertically, but wasn't as tall as she.  Carefully, she pulled back the cloth.

“Oh my gosh.  It's Dad and Daddy when they were little boys.”

Hammond looked over, floored that Jennifer knew who they were and didn't seem the least bit phased by it.

The teenager answered the unspoken question, saying, “Oh, um, there's a photo in the study of them.  No one else has put it together.  I recognized them, though, and that's when they first told me about the Stargate and how they'd been turned into little boys for a week.”  She smiled as she remarked, “They said you were the best grandfather ever.  It really meant a lot to them that you were going to adopt them.”

The military man coughed, not wanting to become too emotional.

“They were a handful,” Hammond admitted, smiling as he recalled the memories of young Jack and Daniel.  ~In a crazy way, I miss those boys.~

“And you loved them,” Jennifer stated confidently.  She saw Hammond's nod, and then she looked at the cutouts again.  “They didn't tell me about these.  Will you tell me about them, Grandpa?”

“It was a thank you for a party.  They had ...”

Hammond told Jennifer all about the party the SGC personnel had given the then boys.  Jack had been ten and Daniel eight.  The two were so appreciative and had such a good time that, to show their gratitude, they had drawn two life-size figures of themselves.  In the drawings, Jack and Daniel were smiling widely.  Bubbles showed their thoughts, one of them saying thanks, the other saying they loved their friends at the SGC.

“I had the cutouts put in the commissary so everyone could see them, especially Jack and Daniel.  They were so proud of their work,” Hammond told the teenager.

“They did a pretty good job,” Jennifer observed as she ran her hand along the cutouts.

“Yes, they did,” Hammond said, an odd-sounding pride in his voice.

“And you kept these?” Jennifer asked as her smile grew.  Hammond didn't say anything, but he didn't need to.  She gently covered up the cutouts and returned to where Hammond had just opened the trunk, several uniforms clearly visible.  “Grandpa?”

“Yes, Jen?”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.  Help me take these downstairs.”

Jennifer assisted the general as they carried the uniforms to the living room, where all the children ended up studying them.

Later that night, as the family sat around after dinner, Hammond gave in to the multitude of requests and ended up telling several stories about his family's past.  As he spoke, the eight Jackson-O'Neill children hung on every word, as did Jack and Daniel, who sat holding Bijou and Katie in their laps.

====

“Jen, how's it going?” Jack asked.

Jack and Daniel were continuing their tradition of checking in on their children and visiting with them individually before they went to bed.  They were especially anxious to speak with Jennifer privately because for the last couple of days she'd been unusually quiet, having kept to herself quite a bit as well.  Jennifer wasn't in bed yet, but all her siblings were.  At the moment, she was sitting in the kitchen, though she wasn't eating or drinking anything.

“Fine,” the teenager answered without much emotion in her voice.

“We're a little worried,” Daniel commented.  “You seem down.”  He saw his daughter give a half-hearted shrug.  ~Something's bothering her.~  “Jen, talk to us,” he pleaded.

Jennifer looked at her parents and sighed, “Not here.  Too many ears.”

“They're asleep,” Daniel said informatively.

“Look again,” Jennifer coaxed her parents with a smile, nodding over towards the door.

“Daddy, no can sleep,” Chenoa whined, her arms reaching up for Daniel.

“Aw, Sweetie, are you okay?” Daniel asked as he reached over and picked up the curly-haired girl.

“Need Daddy,” the little girl responded and then yawned as she leaned her head on Daniel's shoulder.

“She probably had a nightmare,” Jennifer guessed.

Concerned, Jack asked, “Why do you think that?”

“Because she's had a few this summer, since the carnival,” Jennifer admitted.

“Why haven't you told us?” Jack inquired, not happy about the sisterly secret.

“She's fine,” Jennifer maintained, not looking at Jack but at her curly-haired sister.

Jack wasn't satisfied with the answer, but at the same time, he knew what it was.  Chenoa hadn't wanted to bother her parents, and Jennifer had been taking care of her when the nightmares happened.

**Jack, we're not going to get any answers here tonight,** Daniel communicated.

**Lunch tomorrow?**

After his husband nodded, Jack spoke, “Jen, tomorrow we're doing lunch, just the three of us.”

“Okay,” Jennifer agreed quietly.  “Daddy, take care of Noa.  I'm tired.  I'm going to bed, okay?”

“Okay, Princess,” Daniel responded.  “We love you, Jen.”

“Love you, too,” the teenager called out in response.

====

“Talk to us, Jen,” Daniel urged as they ate their lunch at the Steakhouse the next afternoon.

The parents had made sure their table was in a quiet place, in the back of the restaurant and near a corner.

Jennifer just sat there, totally silent as Jack and Daniel waited for her to shed some light on her increasing moodiness.  Her face simultaneously darkened and lit up with anger as she exploded, her tone full of anger and indignation.

“It's just ... gawd, I hate them.  I hate them all,” Jennifer spat, hating herself at the same time for feeling such strong negative emotions.

Jack and Daniel looked at each other as they shared the same silent question: 'Who is this, and what has she done with our daughter?'  Jennifer had never used the word 'hate' before as related to another human being; at least, not seriously, so this was cause for concern to both of them.

“Who, Jen?” Jack asked.

“Mary Beth, her father, the boys who beat up David, that ... that sicko with the effigies ... all of them; I hate all of them!” Jennifer repeated, nearly shouting.

“Jen ...”

The teenager cut off her dad with a stressful and aggressive-sounding, “I wish they'd all go away, just vanish -- disappear.  The world would be better off without them.  I wish ... I ... I wish they didn't exist anymore.”

Jack reached out and softly stroked his daughter's cheek with the back of his fingers and then took her left hand.  He smiled.

Quietly, and with his voice as tender as his touch, Jack responded, “Jen, take a minute.  Think about what you just said, and then tell me who you just sounded like?”

Jennifer looked down, her words running through her mind.  She felt Jack's hand squeeze hers gently.  Then, as if a knife had just been jabbed into her abdomen, she jumped.  A look of horror crossed her face.

“Oh, gawd, Dad, Daddy.  I sound just like Mary Beth and her dad.  I don't want to be like them; I really don't, but I hate what they have done!” the teenager exclaimed, tears of anger in her eyes.

“And that's okay, Sweetie,” Daniel said, rubbing his hand against her upper arm. “You should hate what they have done because ... because what they've done is very, very wrong, even cruel; but that is entirely different from hating them as human beings.  We can forgive them their shortcomings while still holding them accountable for their actions.”

“I don't know if I can forgive them, Daddy.”

“Jen, a long time ago, when Sara and I were married, there was a horrible accident.  Not far from where we lived, at an intersection, two boys were drag racing.  It was early evening, about five, but it was a Saturday, so there weren't many cars around.  There only needed to be one.  A station wagon pulled out to turn onto the road.  It was full of five boys going to nearby park to jog; they were all track stars for their high school,” Jack stated.

“They got hit, didn't they?” Jennifer asked in anticipation of where the story was going.

“Yes, they did.  One car swerved and missed, but the other slammed into the station wagon.  Jen, four of the five boys in that car were killed.  The fifth was seriously injured, but he survived.  The drag racers weren't injured at all.  The irony is that they all knew each other, and, in fact, one of the boys killed was one the driver's best friends.”

“Wow.”

The older man continued, “The memorial brought out half the town.  It tugged on everyone's heart.  I'll never forget what the priest said.  With a packed house, and people standing outside, desperate to hear words of comfort, the priest asked everyone to forgive the two drag racers, especially the one that hit the station wagon.  Jen, you could feel the tension.  No one in that church wanted to forgive him.  These were good kids, and the anger at the driver that killed them was tremendous.”

“Did they ... forgive him?” Jennifer asked quietly.

Jack sighed as he responded, “I think so because the priest talked about the purgatory the driver would be living in for the rest of his life.  Aside from the criminal charges and whatever might happen to him, this boy was in high school, just like those that died.  For the rest of his life, he'd have to live with the knowledge that not only was he responsible for four deaths, but one of those was his best friend, someone he'd grown up with.  That's a lot to live with for the rest of your life, especially when you're just a teenager, and the only things that you should be thinking about is what college to go to or which girl you want to take to the prom.  I heard he had a hard time of it.  No one wanted to talk to him in high school; his girlfriend dumped him.”

“I would have, too,” Jennifer said.

“I don't know what's become of him now, but living with my past, I have a feeling, life hasn't been easy for him.  The point, Jen, is that God does the judging; hate, any kind of hate, hurts us as much as it does anyone.”

“Forgiveness isn't easy,” Jennifer said, staring down at her plate.

“No one ever said it was, Jen,” Daniel replied.

~I hate them.~  The three were quiet as Jennifer mulled it over.  She shook her head and muttered, “Drunk drivers.”

“What?” Jack asked, glancing at Daniel to see if he had a clue, which he didn't.

“Are we suppose to forgive that ... that person who killed Kayla?” Jennifer asked, staring across the table, but not really focusing on anything.

“Jen,” Daniel began, “we have to.  Anger and hate breed anger and hate, and they can consume you if you allow them to.  If Jack and I let ourselves dwell on how Kayla died instead of how she lived, if we allowed feelings of hatred and, I don't know, maybe even thoughts of revenge, rule us, that's the example we'd set for our children.  I don't want the Munchkins and the twins to grow up automatically associating thoughts of Kayla with her death and feelings of hatred.”

“Neither do I,” Jack said.  “Look, I'm the first one to go after someone that hurts my family, but I can't let my feelings for that idiot stay at the front.  The kids imitate us.”

“When we talk about Kayla, we remember love, goodness, and a wonderful and remarkable young woman who gave us five little miracles, and when those miracles talk about her, they remember their mother and how much she loved them.  Hate and revenge would mar that.”

“So have you forgiven the person who killed her?” Jennifer asked pointedly.

Nodding, Daniel said, “Yes, I have.”

“Dad?”

“I'm not a saint, Jen.  I don't have any good thoughts for that moron, but I keep it in check.”

The table became quiet again.  Jack and Daniel quietly sipped their coffee, while Jennifer twisted her soda glass around in her hands.

Finally, Jennifer asked, “So, you want me to do like Dad did?  I mean, this is a different situation from the story you told me, and it's nothing like what killed Kayla, but what you're saying is that this is like when Dad forgave Jonny for disobeying, but he still couldn't have ice cream?”

“Yes,” Jack answered.  “I never stopped loving him for a split-second, but I would not suspend the consequences just because he was sorry.  There's too much at stake.”

“Does that mean that punishments always have to be carried out?” the teenager asked in earnest.

Daniel quickly responded, “No, there is always room for mercy, for exceptions to the rule, but as human beings, we have to learn to control our impulses, or civilization cannot survive.  Think of it this way.  We start out as children obeying rules because we fear the consequences if we don't.  Some people never get beyond that.  Their sole motivation is not being punished.  Then we move to a stage where it is just easier to go along.”

“Compromise fits in here somewhere,” Jack interjected.  “We can't all be happy all the time.”

“Right,” Daniel continued.  “It's an important stage because we wouldn't get anything accomplished if every waking moment we were contemplating what we could get away with.  There isn't always going to be someone watching.  Your true character is what you do when no one is looking.  Some people get lost at this stage. They won't go against the majority opinion even when it is morally wrong because they refuse to think for themselves.  A lot of political and religious mumbo-jumbo has been used to justify horrible things.”

“Like what?”

Daniel rattled off a list of quick examples: “The holocaust, the inquisition, the Salem witch trials, the Crusades ...”

“Daniel, she gets the idea,” Jack said, raising an eyebrow.

“Sorry,” Daniel shyly responded.

“Slavery, too?” the long-haired brunette asked.

“Good one, Jen,” Jack said.

“And there are less extreme examples, too,” Daniel stated.  “Like apartheid.  Some people do reach a stage where they develop the discernment to know what is right and wrong for themselves, without hurting or devaluing others, and some, a rare few, actually go beyond that to where they feel the pain of others and are willing to sacrifice of themselves to help them and heal their hurts.”

“Like Little Danny,” Jennifer observed.

Jack grinned ruefully and said, “Yeah, like Little Danny.  He's a special case.  He was born giving.”  He paused, sitting back and sighing.  “I don't know how, but, for his own good, we're going to have to find a way to get him to slow down and learn those first steps Danny mentioned.”
 
“I think he's terrific just how he is.  He gets us all to think.  I mean, wow, he really felt for the LaPierres, and he barely knew Carrie,” Jennifer spoke, impressed by her young brother.

“He knew her pain, Jen,” Jack said.

“He doesn't really understand it yet, does he?”

“The chain reaction?” Daniel asked.

“Yeah, that his caring started the entire neighborhood caring,” Jennifer said.  “I mean that was incredible to watch happen.”

“I think he's getting there, but he's still a little young for that,” Daniel replied.

“Is he?  Little Danny's a genius.  They all are,” Jennifer stated casually.

~I hate labels, and, yes, hate is the right word.~  Daniel grew concerned.  He leaned forward, a tiny frown on his face, and asked, “Jen, does it bother you when Little Danny or one of the others starts ... well ...”

“Showing off?” the teen laughed.  “Nah.  I'm a little jealous, but just a little.  I mean it's pretty bad when your baby brother can spell insidious and you can't!”

Jack and Daniel chuckled.

“Did that happen?” Jack asked.

“Yes, when I was working on a term paper for finals.  He heard me moaning about not knowing how to spell it.  I was reaching for the dictionary when he told me.  I could have crapped in my pants when I saw he was right.  Oh, didn't mean that,” Jennifer giggled about her comment after seeing her parents' funny looks.  “That's when I knew he was a genius.”

“He has a photographic memory, too, Jen,” Jack explained.  “That helps a lot, too.”

“What's Jenny's excuse?” Jennifer asked out of curiosity.

“Jenny?” both Jack and Daniel asked in question and then looked at each other, startled by the question and its implication.

Jennifer laughed, “You guys better pay closer attention.  The Munchkins and the twins?  They are all out of this world on the brain scale.  I know Daddy's IQ is off the scale, but, Dad, I bet yours is, too.”

Jack coughed, raised his hand in the air, and called out a desperate sounding, “Check!”

Jennifer laughed, as did Daniel.

Still smiling, the teen said, “Thanks for lunch, Dad, Daddy.  I learned a lot.”

“Talk to us, Jen,” Daniel reminded her.  “Please don't hold things like this in.”

Having gotten the waitress' attention for the check, Jack returned his focus to the conversation and questioned, “Jen, what about Noa's nightmares?”

“There haven't been that many, really.  She's just worried something will happen to you two,” the teenage girl explained.

“Maybe we need to spend some extra time with her,” Jack suggested.

“I think that would be a good idea,” Jennifer agreed.  Then she added, “You see, we have the best parents, and, just like you just did for me, I know that a few extra minutes with Noa would have her feeling better, like I do.”

“We love you so much, Jen,” Daniel did, reaching over to rub against her forearm for a moment and smiling as he did so.

“Don't start getting mushy, Daddy,” Jennifer smiled.  “Now, about going out on another date ...”

“Whoa!” Jack exclaimed, putting his hands up.

Laughter filled the air as lunch ended, having been a special time for the parents and their eldest daughter.

====

As early evening ticked away, Jack and Daniel were in the living room, seated a foot or so apart, watching the news.  General Hammond was telling the three youngest boys a story.  Jennifer was in her room, talking on the phone to her girlfriend, Sheila, while David was working on a science experiment just outside the house.  Chenoa was acting as his assistant.  Both children were visible through the window.  On the living room floor, Aislinn and Jenny were playing house with their Barbie and Ken dolls.

With the local news continuing, Jack half-listened as he also tried to read an article in Flight Magazine.  Daniel was doing double duty as well, trying to flip through a new paper just republished that had some interesting comments about Egyptian mythology as it related to today's world.

“The oldest child, a twelve-year-old girl, managed to get out the smoldering front door, but two younger children, Devon, aged six, and Kyle, aged four, were found clustered together in the corner of an upstairs room.  The family had a smoke alarm, but it reportedly did not go off.  The children had no other route out of the burning home and were trapped upstairs,” the news anchor reported.

Daniel had looked up from his magazine reading upon hearing the words, 'clustered together'.  When the anchor said, 'did not go off', he had put the magazine down and leaned forward.  At the same time, Jack responded in kind.

“The Fire Department reports that lack of having proper evacuation procedures and working smoke detectors cause the majority of fatalities in these types of occurrences,” the news anchor continued.

Jack and Daniel looked at each other and then at their children, who were visible from their location.

“I'll call Byron,” Jack said, getting up and heading for the stairs, wanting to make the call out of earshot from the children.

“General, uh, would you ... I mean, I have to ...”  Daniel pointed nervously towards his husband, who was walking up the stairs.  “Watch the children, please?”

Hurriedly, Daniel followed Jack up the stairs to the bedroom they shared at Hammond's roomy home.  When he walked in, Jack had just begun his conversation.

“Byron, something's come up, and it's urgent that we meet with you and Alex about the house,” Jack explained.

“I'm afraid to ask,” Byron responded.

“Then don't.  When can we meet?”

“If it's urgent, and Alex is available, we can drop by General Hammond's in ... two hours.”

“Believe me it's urgent,” Jack responded forcefully.  More gently, he added, “Thank you.  We'd appreciate that.”

“Jack, what brought this on?”

“The news,” Jack answered flatly.

Jack clicked off his phone, and then he and Daniel began to discuss options.

====

Right after hanging up with Jack, Byron had called Alex, but was only able to leave a message on the young designer's voicemail.

“Let me guess, Jack and Daniel,” Alex surmised as soon as his boss answered the phone roughly twenty minutes later.

“You're good, Alex,” Byron chuckled and then relayed the cryptic information he had received from the elder Jackson-O'Neill.

Having watched the news himself, the designer responded, “Byron, I think I know what their concern is.  I'm ready for them.  Am I driving or you?”

Seventy minutes later, Byron and Alex arrived at Hammond's home.  Jack was outside at the moment, while Daniel was taking the triplets upstairs.

“Daddy was gonna read us a story,” Aislinn pouted when she saw the two men in suits threatening to take her daddy away from her.

“We're a little early,” Byron acknowledged.

“Byron?” Alex asked.

“We can wait,” the architect agreed.

“Aislinn, would it be all right if I read you and your brothers a bedtime story?”

Aislinn responded, “Just minute,” and huddled together with her fellow Munchkins.

As the adults watched, unable to make out the mutterings, it was all they could do not to laugh.

Finally, the adults heard a loud, “Munchkin Power,” and then Aislinn returned and said, “It okay with us.  Daddy?”

Afraid if he'd open his mouth that he'd laugh, Daniel only nodded and motioned for the Munchkins to take Alex upstairs.

Alex smiled fondly at the Munchkins and said, “Lead on.”

~Munchkin Power?~ Daniel pondered, still trying not to laugh.

“Where's Jack?” Byron inquired.

“Uh, he's outside.  Just go through the kitchen.”

Daniel went upstairs and listened in on the quick story Alex told the children.  He was quite impressed with the designer's tone of voice and vocal dramatics while reading to the children.

A few minutes later, the Munchkins had happily fallen asleep.

“You have the touch,” Daniel remarked when Alex approached the doorway.

“Thank you,” Alex responded melancholically and then headed into the hallway to go downstairs.

The linguist walked over to the sleeping triplets, making sure they were all tucked in.

“I love you,” the loving father whispered before kissing each child goodnight one more time.

====

Jack, Daniel, Byron, and Alex all sat down in Hammond's study to begin their meeting.

“Daniel and I were watching the news tonight,” Jack began.

“We've missed something,” Daniel added.

“And what's that?” Byron inquired.

“Fire,” both parents responded in unison.

“Fire?” Byron echoed, though he noticed a small smile on Alex's face.

“We're adding much more space than we had planned,” Daniel stated.  “There's a lot of ground to be covered upstairs, and only one way down -- the stairs.  What if there is a fire?”

“We've already arranged for the best alarms and detectors we can get, but that doesn't help our brood in getting out of the house fast, if they have to.  We need a plan, preferably two plans,” Jack said, now speaking in his general voice.

“Uh, you mean, something like this?” Alex said, swiftly shuffling through some plans he had brought with him until he found the one he wanted and displayed it to the concerned parents.

Jack smiled and nodded as he said, “Yeah, like that.”

Alex's design showed an attractive fire escape balcony with curved wrought iron balusters and steps that would be accessible from the far end of the house, the side that faced their closest neighbor, Mrs. Valissi.  It would be accessed by a locked door at the very end of the hallway.

“How do we make sure the children don't open it?” Daniel asked.

“Deadbolt lock on the door,” Jack answered his husband.

Alex stated, “You can install a security pad, high up enough so that the younger children can't reach it.  You don't want anything complex, but maybe just three digits that the two of you and perhaps Jennifer and David would know.  Enter the code and that unlocks the door.”

“That'll work,” Jack said, feeling good about the solution Alex had presented.

“Except,” Daniel interjected hesitantly.

“Except what, Danny?” the older man asked.

“What if there's a fire and Jen and David aren't here?  Or what if they're separated from the others?  I mean, Jen's room isn't even in this part of the house,” the archaeologist pointed out.

“Your only other option is to include a regular lock at the kids' level with an alarm that sounds if the door is opened,” Alex replied.  “We can rig it so that the lock overrides the security pad.”

“Why do both then?” Jack questioned.

“For the convenience of size,” Alex answered.  “The lock can be down low.  As the kids grow up and get taller, they'll appreciate being able to use the pad instead of bending down so low.  When time counts, it could be the difference in saving lives.”

“It seems a little redundant,” Daniel commented.  “But, uh, then again, we do backups of backups,” he said, a small smile on his face.  Growing serious again, he asked, “Alex, if the lower lock overrides the security pad, what happens if they just use the security pad?”

“The pad will be the dominant component; it will automatically unlock the lower lock when the code is keyed.”

“Two for one,” the archaeologist spoke thoughtfully.  “So, just to clarify, if one of the children uses the lower lock, an alarm will sound, and it will override the key pad, opening the door.”  Getting a nod from Alex, he continued, “And, if the code is keyed into the security pad, it will automatically unlock the lower lock as well as open the door.”

“Correct.”

“Does the alarm go off if the pad is used?” Jack questioned curiously.

“That's up to you,” Alex responded.  “We can rig the alarm anyway that you'd like.”

“Danny, I think we have to do it.”

“Okay, we'll go with both, the security pad and the lower lock,” Daniel agreed.

“And the alarms,” Jack added.  ~Just in case someone tries to slip in a boyfriend or girlfriend,~ he thought, grimacing at the notion even as he thought of it.

With that issue resolved, the archaeologist inquired, “So, uh, we'll have stairs at the side of the house?”

The archaeologist was curious how that would affect the look of the house aesthetically, not to mention the potential for injury if children played on them.

“No, Daniel,” Alex explained.  He pulled out a more detailed drawing.  “The stairs are retractable and are weight sensitive.  When the keypad activates, the door unlocks.  Step out onto the balcony that will be there and nestled underneath it will be these stairs.  Drop them down and begin the climb down.  As soon as someone steps off, the stairs automatically retract upward, unless someone else has already begun to climb down.”

“Oh,” Daniel said as he wore a closed smile.

“If we go with this, I have another option for you to consider,” Alex stated.  “Guys, have you thought about how you're going to get all the new furniture into the new section of the house?”

“I'm really trying not to,” Daniel responded, knowing it was going to be a nightmarish experience.

Byron and Alex both laughed.

“Alex mentioned this to me a few weeks ago, but since you vetoed the stairs originally, it wouldn't work.  With the fire escape present, now it would,” Byron stated.  “Alex.”

“Right here,” Alex said, pointing to the image of the balcony and the door that would be at the end of the hallway.  “Above the door, or here to the side, whichever you prefer, would be the bracket.  All we need to add is the six-to-eight foot rod and we'll have a fully functional block-and-tackle assembly that you can use to pull furniture and large pieces up.  It will be a boon, Guys. Just drop a furniture cover over a piece, wrap the ropes around it and hoist away.  It will save your walls and woodwork a ton of damage.”

“The rod is there all the time?” Daniel asked.

“No. I'd suggest keeping it in the storage closet that is closest to this end of the house.  That way, it's easy to retrieve whenever you want it.”

Jack studied the sketch Alex had made of the proposed apparatus and nodded thoughtfully as he weighed the pros and cons of the addition.

“It's good,” Jack said.  “And you're good, Alex,” he added, letting out a rare compliment as he looked at Alex.

“See, Guys, when we work together, we can make a lot of progress in a short amount of time,” Alex responded.

“How about some pie?” Jack asked.  “General Hammond made a yummy cherry pie this afternoon.”

“I'd love some,” Alex answered. “Byron?”

“I'm game,” the architect replied.

The foursome exited the study, and, joined by Hammond and a couple of the children who were still up, enjoyed some homemade pie.

====

“Happy teaching,” Daniel said before he kissed Jack goodbye.  He leaned over and kissed each of the Munchkins goodbye.  “Be good, and learn well,” he admonished as they left for their first school lesson with their father.

Today was the couple's first attempt at homeschooling, and while Jack attempted to teach the Munchkins a little about science, Daniel was going to review arithmetic with Chenoa.  She already had a strong handle on basic math, but she'd been having trouble understanding fractions.  Even though that was an advanced topic, the little girl had often sat with David while he'd been doing his homework.  She'd learned a lot that way, and he'd tried to teach her as he learned.

Still, fractions had been very difficult for the curly-haired girl, and she'd been fretting over her struggles with it, so her parents decided it would be a good place to start, especially since if they were successful, it would show off to Chenoa how she could learn in a fun way.  Later, they'd go back and make sure the basic math calculations were covered in full.

Though Chenoa was really the only one approaching regular school age, the couple figured it would be easier to teach all of their young children together, making education a regular part of their children's daily activities, but ensuring that it be a happy learning experience.  Besides, parents today were putting their toddlers into pre-schools.

“We're an everything school,” Jack had teased when the couple had discussed their choice.

“And if we make it a game ...”

“We'll have happy, learning kiddies,” Jack had completed.

Jennifer and David were upstairs watching over the twins.  Daniel had already explained that this was to be a special time with Chenoa, and that anytime Jack or Daniel was homeschooling, they weren't to be interrupted unless it was an emergency.  While David was also going to be homeschooled, the parents wanted to make this trial run with his younger siblings.

With the noisy Munchkins gone, Daniel turned to Chenoa and smiled at the young girl's expectant expression.  While she hadn't been overjoyed at the idea of having to learn, she was looking forward to spending time with just her Daddy.

“What we learning today, Daddy?” the youngster asked.

“What *are* we learning today,” Daniel corrected.  He led her into the kitchen and placed an apple and a piece of paper in front of her.  “What do we get if we divide one by eight?” he asked, writing the sum down for her.  He saw her scrunch her nose in confusion.  ~Slow it down.~  “Let's take this one step at a time.  How many apples are there?”

“Silly, Daddy,” Chenoa giggled.

“Just humor me.  How many apples are on the table?”

“One,” the little girl answered, rolling the apple over a few times.

“Good.  That's one apple.  We call that one-hundred percent.  Another way of writing it is one over one.”  Next, he took a knife and cut the apple into two pieces of equal size.  “Now, how many pieces do we have?”

“Two,” Chenoa answered, nodding at the same time.

“Right.  Each piece of the apple is how much?”

Chenoa thought for a second, and then replied, “Half.”

“Exactly.  This piece,” Daniel held up one section, “is fifty-percent or one-half of the apple.  He picked up the other section and held it up in his other hand.  “And this piece is fifty percent or one-half of the apple.”  Daniel put the pieces down.  “Noa, show me one-hundred percent of the apple.”

~I know this.~  The little girl smiled.  “These,” she said, putting the two pieces together.

“That's my girl,” Daniel praised.  “Now show me fifty-percent of the apple.”

“Fifty?” Chenoa mumbled to herself.  “Half apple,” she said, pointing to one.

“Okay, now, what happens when we do this?”  Daniel sliced each of the apple pieces in half.  “How many pieces do we have now?”

“Four,” Chenoa answered as she quietly counted the pieces out loud, pointing to each with her finger.

“Do you know what we call each of these pieces?”  Daniel saw her shake her head, Chenoa's blonde, curly locks moving in the air as she did so.  “Okay, you said there were four pieces, so each one would be one-fourth, or twenty-five percent.  What happens if we put all four of these pieces together?”

“Whole apple.”

“That's right.  We'd have one apple.  When we divided it into two pieces, each piece was ...”

“Half,” Chenoa finished for her father.

“And now we've divided into four pieces, and that's ...”

“Fourth,” Chenoa said, happy she was pleasing her daddy.

“One-fourth; and how many of these pieces does it take to make the apple whole again?” Daniel asked, holding up a single section.

Chenoa fidgeted a little in her seat, but then she lit up and said, “Four.”

“Well done.”  Daniel again divided the apple, so that now there were eight pieces of apple.  He then took a single piece and held it up.  “Noa, how many pieces like this do we have now?”

Studying the apple pieces and again using her finger to count, Chenoa proudly answered, “Eight!”

“That's right.  Each piece is called one-eighth of the apple.  How many pieces of apple does it take to make the apple whole?”

“Eight,” the young girl replied back quickly.

“What if I only want half an apple?  How many eighths make half the apple?”

Chenoa looked down, a sad expression on her face.

“Hey,” Daniel reached over and patted her back.  “We're learning.  That means we make mistakes sometimes, and it takes time.”

Daniel grouped the apple into two sections, each containing four pieces.

“Half,” Chenoa volunteered, pointing to one side.

“Right,” Daniel responded, smiling.  “What's this?”

“Half, too,” Chenoa answered quickly.

“You're right.  How many pieces in each half?” Daniel quizzed.

“Four,” Chenoa answered after quietly counting out loud.

Daniel put the apple back together again and asked, “How many apples?”

“One.”

“How many pieces make the apple whole?”

Counting with her finger again, Chenoa correctly answered, “Eight.”

~That's my girl.~  Daniel held up a piece of apple.  “If this is one-half,” he said, pointing to half the apple, “and this is one-fourth,” he added, separating the sections again, “then what is this?”

“One ... one ... um, one-eighth?” Chenoa asked hesitantly, trying to remember what they had just gone over.

Daniel grinned, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and said, “Correct!”

Chenoa giggled in delight and grabbed the eighth of an apple out of Daniel's hand.

“Hey!” Daniel objected.

Chenoa just grinned as she munched on the apple slice.

“Okay, Apple Thief, how much of the apple do we have left?” the archaeologist turned educator asked.

Chenoa looked at the remaining pieces of apple and thought out, “Uh ... one, two ... seven!”

Daniel raised an eyebrow and then said, “Seven pieces of apple, yes, but we had eight to start with so how much of the original apple do we have now?”

“Seven ... one-eighths?”

“Technically, that's right, but it's not how we answer it.  Each piece is what?” Daniel asked, his mind willing the young girl to answer correctly.

“One-eighth.”

“Okay, so add up the pieces,” Daniel lovingly instructed.

“Seven pieces.”  Chenoa thought and thought as Daniel waited patiently.  Then she almost bounced in her seat with excitement as she answered, “Seven-eighths?”

Once again, Daniel smiled and praised, “That's right, Noa.  You've done very well this morning.  We'll keep working on it, but let's take a little break.”

“Daddy, I do good?” Chenoa asked hopefully, her eyes praying for a positive response.

“Noa, you did great.  Math can be tough, but we'll learn it together,” Daniel said, reaching out to gently caress the side of her head.

“Just us?” Chenoa asked excitedly.

“Sometimes, and sometimes Dad will help.”

Chenoa smiled.  Learning one-on-one with her fathers was fun.

“Love you, Daddy,” the little girl said, grabbing another piece of apple to munch on.

Daniel laughed as he said, “Love you, too, Apple Thief!”

====

“We go flying?” Jonny asked excitedly.

“If we have time,” Jack answered as he and the Munchkins headed for the airport and Jo, their Meyers 200A aircraft.

“What we doing, Dad?” Aislinn asked.

Jack answered, “We're going to study science.”

“Study?” the youngest Munchkin asked.

“Like school,” Jack informed his children.

“We no go school,” Jonny said authoritatively.

“The entire world is a school, Son.  You don't have to be in a classroom to learn.  We're going to be outside, in the sun, and while we're enjoying Jo, we're going to learn.”

Jack smiled at his children's confusion, but soon, he hoped they'd understand.

====

“So let's say Katie buries three bones,” Daniel proposed as he and Chenoa knelt in the play yard.  Of course, it wasn't really her play yard but a portable sandbox Jack had purchased one day in July to help keep Katie active and out of the general's flower beds during their stay at General Hammond's.  “Here, Girl, bury 'em.”

Daniel counted down as they watched.

“That was one bone.”  The archaeological beagle dug another hole.  “There's a second bone.”  Another minute passed.  “That's the third bone.”  When Katie was done, Daniel asked, “Now, how many bones did she bury?”

“Three,” Chenoa correctly answered.

“And what if I want one-third of what she buried to give to Bij?” Daniel quizzed.

Chenoa thought for a minute, and then she smiled as she replied, “One?”

“Very good, Noa.”

“Give to Bij now?” the young girl asked enthusiastically.

“Okay, let's give Bijou one-third of Katie's bones.”  Daniel looked at the youngest beagle.  “Is that okay, Girl?”

“Woof!” Katie responded, wagging her tail.

====

“Okay, Munchkins,” Jack stood in front of Jo and patted the nose of the plane, “today we're going to learn how planes fly.”

“Poor L'ardo,” Little Danny said, looking at Jo's wings.

“Who L'ardo?” Jonny asked.

“L'ardo da Vinci.  He tried to make people fly.  Thought wings had to move,” Little Danny said, shaking his head.
 
Jack stared at his son in astonishment, finally asking, “How do you know about Leonardo da Vinci, Danny?”

“Book David was reading.  Talked 'bout how planes fly.  Can I read Jo's manual?” Little Danny politely requested.

~You just had to volunteer to take the Munchkins, didn't you, Jack?~  Jack looked at Little Danny's hopeful face and sighed.  “Okay, it's fairly technical though; you probably won't understand that much of it.”  ~Right.  Your son is a brain.~  “And I want you to still pay attention to what I'm telling Ash and Jonny.”

Five minutes later, Little Danny was happily devouring Jo's flight manual and demonstrating that he was quite capable of doing so while listening to Jack.

“So, there are four basic forces that act on an airplane in flight,” Jack began.

“Thrust, lift, drag, and weight,” Little Danny piped up.  He looked at the manual in his lap and then at his father.  Jack gave him a nod and an encouraging smile so the little boy continued explaining.  “Lift and thrust get Jo off the ground.  Jo can only take off if lift and thrust are more than weight and drag.  Weight is the same as grav'ty, right, Dad?”

Jack nodded, almost afraid to speak.  He knew his son was a genius, but he never failed to be amazed, especially when Little Danny's photographic memory kicked in.

“They do pretty much mean the same thing.  Let's talk a little about lift and why Jo's wings are the shape they are.”

====

Later that night, Jack and Daniel compared notes about their brief foray into combining fun with learning at home.

“I have a lot to learn,” Jack said.  “A couple of times I started to talk like I was teaching recruits, and if we're not careful, Little Danny will take over the show, not that I mind, but we need to make sure he's really learning and not reciting.”

“That's a good point,” Daniel agreed.  “Just because he can rattle off what he sees doesn't mean he really understands it.”

Thoughtfully, Jack suggested, “Danny, I think maybe we need to have some standbys ready for our little smarty pants, just to make sure.”

“You mean ways to make sure he's really learning and not just repeating what he's seen or read?” Daniel asked.

“Yeah,” Jack responded.

Daniel nodded and placed a kiss on the palm of Jack's hand that had moved to caress his arm.

“I have a lot to learn about this homeschooling, too,” the younger man stated.  “It's so easy to expect more from them than they are ready for, but I think it's the right thing.  They love the time with us.”

“That they do, Love.  The Munchkins had a great time, but they learned a lot in the process.”

“Yeah, Jonny was telling Ricky about lift when they were playing after dinner,” Daniel mused.

“Noa kept asking me for one-eighth of my pizza,” Jack chuckled.  “I tried giving her a third, but she just stared at me.  'Has to be half or eighth' she informed me.”

Daniel laughed, “Sorry, Babe, but we only covered thirds for a couple of minutes; Katie kept running off with my props.”

“Next time then,” Jack chuckled.

Daniel sighed, “Well, it was a first attempt.  We had to start somewhere.”

“Getting our feet wet,” Jack teased.

“I think we'll be okay when we buy some more materials, but I also think we should continue to try and personalize it.  Learning is not only more fun when it's familiar, like Katie's bones, but showing the children how they can apply it in their daily lives will be more meaningful.”

“I agree, Danny.  I wasn't sure Ash would pick up some of the things I was trying to teach them, but when I showed her how they helped to make Jo work, and she could see it in action when we took off, it really made a difference.”

“How'd Little Danny do, I mean, over all?”  He heard his husband's laughter.  “Don't tell me.”

“After I showed him the manual, I wasn't sure who was teaching Jonny and Ash -- me or Little Danny, but I think he understood the basics,” Jack said, pleased with how the day had gone.

Daniel chuckled as he rested on his lover's chest.  They loved this time of day, the time before they went to sleep, when they could snuggle and talk about whatever needed to be talked about.

“Jack, have you seen any sign in him that he knows he's ... well ...” Daniel trailed off, hating to use the terms that would label their young son.

“A genius?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“No.  Besides, all our children are smart.  They all have their moments,” Jack factually stated.

“When we start homeschooling daily, we really need to make sure that all the children have their time.  We have to be careful, very careful with Little Danny.”

Jack kissed the top of Daniel's head and spoke, “He's going to be okay, Danny.  We know what to look for.”

“Being smart, Jack, it ... saved me, and at the same time, it's what ... it's a big part of what made me different, made everything so much harder, in the first place.  He's so much like ...”

“So much like you.  I know, Love.  It'll be okay,” Jack said, feeling sure about the future of their young genius.  “I talked to David, and we thought we'd add astronomy to our studies.”

“That's making it fun, Babe.”

“I wanted to make sure he really was okay with not being part of our test run,” the older man stated.

“Jack, maybe we could use him as a teacher's aide sometimes, especially with Noa,” Daniel suggested.

“He'd love that, and that's a great idea, considering how far ahead of the younger ones he is.”

“Hey, guess what General Hammond did earlier?” Daniel asked, having just remembered.

“What?”

“He played the piano for Ricky and Jenny,” Daniel said, smiling.

“You're kidding?” Jack replied, totally awed by the fact.

“No.  He's pretty good, Jack.  I've never heard him play before.”

“There's a lot we don't know about the old goat,” Jack remarked.

“We know the most important thing, though,” Daniel said assuredly.

“What's that?” Jack asked.

“He's the best grandfather in the universe,” the younger man stated proudly.

“You can say that again.”

“He's the best grandfather in the universe,” Daniel chuckled as Jack slapped him on the rear end beginning a tickling and giggling session that lasted until both fell asleep.

====

On the last day of August, there was a knock at General Hammond's door.  The general smiled as he saw the person responsible for the knock.

“Come on in,” Hammond invited, leading his guest to the backyard where the entire Jackson-O'Neill clan was assembled.

“Aunt Sara!” Aislinn exclaimed, dropping the ball she was holding and running to the door.

“Aunt Sara!” Chenoa shouted, putting down the toy she had been playing with and also heading for the door.

Within seconds, Sara was surrounded by all eight children, all eager for hugs, and she gave them plenty.

“You not mad at us anymore?” Chenoa asked.

“I was never mad at you, Sweetheart,” Sara responded, placing a kiss on the little girl's cheek.

“Miss Angela,” Chenoa complained softly.

“Well, maybe you can come over tomorrow and play; that is, if your fathers don't mind,” Sara said, looking up at Jack and Daniel.

“Please, Dad and Daddy.  Can I go play with Angela?” Chenoa pleaded.

“Of course, you can,” Jack said quietly.

“We come, too?” Little Danny asked.  “We missed you.”

“And I've missed you, so very, very much.”  Sara looked at all the children and stated, “I need to talk with your Dad and Daddy for a few minutes, but after that, maybe we can play for a while, and ... well, if they say it's okay, then maybe all of you can come over for a while.”

Jack and Daniel were treated to a chorus of “Can we?” and “Please” from all of their children.

“Say 'yes',” Jennifer requested of her parents.  She looked at Sara and confided, “I really want your opinion about something.  I've talked to Sam, but I'm still not sure.”

Sara smiled and looked at Jack and Daniel, a request in her eyes.  The three needed to talk, without the children under foot.

“Brood, give Aunt Sara some room, and we'll talk in a little while,” Jack said, shooing away the disappointed children.

“Can, uh, we go over there maybe?” Sara asked, standing up and nodding off towards the left to give them a little more privacy.

“Don't worry, Jack, Daniel.  I'll watch the kids,” Hammond offered as he headed over to where the youngest children were.

Jack, Daniel, and Sara ambled peacefully over to a quieter spot.  All three could still see the children, and Jennifer had switched to her babysitter role, too, knowing her parents would be distracted for a bit.

“Um, this isn't easy.  Jack, I owe you an apology,” Sara admitted, her sincerity showing in her expression and the softness of her voice.

“No ...”

“Yes.  I was very angry with you.  You lied to me, and, yes, I know it wasn't to hurt me, or even to keep something from me intentionally; it's just the way you are, or were.  I ... I did let it get the better of me.  My mind wondered for a while if our life together was a lie,” Sara confessed quietly.

“You know better, Sara.  I loved you, very much,” Jack said, his voice charged with emotion.  “I still love you.  Danny knows that.”

“Like he loves Sha're,” Sara said in comparison.

Jack and Daniel exchanged a look and a nod, after which Jack affirmed, “Yes.”

“Jack, we had so much, and it ended so badly.  Neither of us did all we could, and ...”

“That's wrong, Sara.  I ran.  I shut down, and I excluded you.  That was my fault.  You did everything you could,” Jack stated emphatically.

“I didn't want to give up on us.  I didn't, Jack, for a very long time,” the blonde confided.

“Neither did I.”

Sara smiled and looked at Daniel as she spoke, “Please don't misunderstand.  We've had this conversation before.  I'm very happy with Mark; we're perfect together, and I know you and Jack are meant to be.  It's just ... there were so many years, and I began to wonder if they had been wasted on a lie, not about gender, but if the emotion wasn't a pretense from the start.”

Jack moved to Sara and cupped her face.  He stared deeply into her eyes, wanting desperately for her to understand and believe.

“I ... loved ... you, and what we had was incredible.  I messed up, not you.  It was real; I swear to you, Sara.  It was totally real.  I wasn't living a charade.  Everything we had, everything we shared and did together, was one-hundred percent genuine, and I truly believed it would never end.”

Tears began to stream down Sara's face, and she nodded.  She reached up and took hold of Jack's left hand that rested against her cheek.

“We were good together, and that's what made it so hard, to think that I had fooled myself into believing a fairytale.  I know better now,” Sara told her ex-husband.

Jack nodded in acknowledgement as he lowered his hands and walked backwards, again standing at Daniel's side.

“So, you see, my anger led to a bout of paranoia, and that just fueled my anger.  And then, um ...” the blonde trailed off, her words ebbing to silence.

“Then what, Sara?” Jack asked.

Sara took a breath and looked at her ex-husband.  She knew he wouldn't be pleased with what she was about to say.

“Jack, I was pregnant.”

“Was?” Jack asked, suddenly turning cold.

“I had just found out a couple of days before your move.  I hadn't even told Mark.  Considering my age, I wanted to make sure.”

“Blast it, Sara, what were you doing helping us to pack if you were pregnant?” Jack nearly shouted in frustration.

~Oh, Jack.~  Sara smiled at Jack's caring.  She knew now that it was real and always had been.  Softly, she explained, “I didn't carry anything heavy, in case you didn't notice, which, obviously, you didn't.”

Daniel interjected, “You know, now that I think about it, I did notice.  You took a lot of breaks.  I just ... I didn't even think about it.  We were ...”

“Busy,” Sara stated understandingly.

“You said 'was'?” Jack asked.

“I miscarried,” Sara informed the twosome.  She saw Jack's anger as his face tightened.  “Jack, calm down.  It wasn't anything I did to help you move.”

“The arguments ...”

“No, Jack.  It was just one of those things that happen.  My OB/GYN said there was nothing and no one to blame.”

“There's more, isn't there?” Daniel asked, his perception right on as usual.

“I was angry with you, Jack, and then I was depressed over the miscarriage.  Mark was upset I hadn't told him when I first found out I was pregnant, so we fought for a while.  It just complicated everything, and then, my doctor said she didn't think I could get pregnant again.  My mind took that a step further.”  She looked at Daniel.  “That's when I talked to Sylvia.  I was trying, unsuccessfully, to get her opinion.”

Jack looked at Daniel and asked sharply, “Opinion on what, and why is she looking at you?”

“You didn't tell him?” Sara asked Daniel.

“No.  I figured, or rather, I was hoping you'd ... show up.”

“Jack, it's not that involved.  Like I said, I wanted to get Sylvia's opinion because I thought ... well, I thought maybe I was entering menopause.”

“That's crazy, Sara; you're too young,” Jack stated firmly.

“No, I'm not.  You'd be amazed at how many women begin menopause who are even younger than I am.”

“But you're not,” Jack insisted.

Sara smiled and replied, “No, I'm not, but I thought I was.  It turns out I had that virus that was going around, and in my emotional state, I thought it was ... hot flashes, and ... it sounds so stupid now.”

“It's not hot flashes,” Daniel said with a smile.

“I don't know how you knew,” Sara said, her face alight with wonder.

“Helgish,” Daniel said with a lighthearted voice, as if the single word explained everything.

“What?” a confused Sara asked.

“Actually, what's a who,” Daniel spoke.

“Who's a what?” Sara responded.

Jack laughed, “See what I live with!”

“Jack!” Daniel chastised lightly.  With a smile, he clarified, “Helgish is a woman we met recently.”

“Daniel, what are you talking about?” Jack inquired impatiently.

“Remember the kikish?” Daniel asked, his eyes inviting Jack to remember the woman they'd met on another planet recently.

“Yeah, but what does have to do with Sara?” Jack asked, wondering if he'd ever understand anything again in his lifetime.  He saw his husband raise his eyebrows.  ~I guess I'm supposed to figure this out.~  He shook his head in little motions and looked at Sara in question.  Finally, he said, “I got nothing.”

Sara laughed, “Well, I don't know anything about this ... Helgish, but it seems that I'm pregnant again.  I'm not quite through the first trimester yet, but almost.”

“Pregnant?” Jack asked.  Happily, he saw Sara nod, a big smile on her face.  “Yeah? Really?”  Seeing another affirming nod, he shouted, “ALLLL RIGHT!” and picked her up, spinning her around.  He gave her a big kiss afterwards.  “Uh, you don't ... I mean ...”

“I love you, Jack Jackson-O'Neill.  It means so much to me that you can be so excited for me now.”

“I am, Sara,” Jack said, happier than he could express.  “I know how long you've waited to have another child.”

“Sara, I'm so happy for you,” Daniel said, moving forward to hug the woman.

“Daniel, thank you for the reminder of how much the past and present lend to the future.  I still don't understand how you knew.  I didn't even know,” Sara confided, shaking her head in wonder.

“Just a feeling.  We, uh, met this woman from a different culture and she was acting so different from normal.  I mean, it's normal for them.  Anyway, someone said something about hormones, and that got me thinking that maybe ...”

“I was hormonal?” Sara chuckled.

“Should I answer that?” Daniel asked, laughing.

“I love you, Daniel.  Thank you for being such a good friend, and I'm so sorry about all those horrible things I said to you when we argued.”

“It's okay,” Daniel said softly, accepting Sara's apology.

“No, it's not, but at least you understand.”  Sara took a deep breath, and then she reached out and took Daniel's right hand and Jack's left hand in hers.  “First, I was angry.  Then, I was paranoid.  Then I was depressed and angry.  For a while, I thought I'd lost my dream, and then I just let it all merge together.  I had gotten so used to being angry, that I forgot why I was mad in the first place.”

Sara looked over by the lake where the children were with the general and the two dogs.  She let out a little noise and wiped away a tear.

“And I missed them, and the more I missed them, the more I blamed you for making this happen in the first place.  My mind was a mess, Jack.  I don't know what happened to me.  Everything got all jumbled.”

“Hormones,” Jack said, putting together all the pieces at last.

“Yes,” Sara replied simply.  “When Daniel hinted that I was pregnant, I looked in the mirror for the first time in a long time.  I mean I really looked, and I ... I saw my body when I was in my first trimester with both Charlie and Angela.  It was like a light bulb went off.  I lost a baby and got pregnant again right away.  It's a prayer come true,” Sara told them, more tears springing to her eyes.

“We're just glad you're back.  You ... are back?” Daniel asked.

“Oh, yes, and when I did go to see Sylvia, she did some tests and found out that I really did have an hormonal imbalance, though she really believes most of it was just the stress I had put myself under.”

“Sara, don't do that again,” Jack warned in a caring tone.  “Even if you never talk to me again, don't shut Mark out.  That was ... that was my mistake.”

“Oh, Jack.  Thank you.  Sylvia recommended a slight change in diet, and we're watching it.  Mark knows what to look for.  I'll be fine,” Sara assured Jack.

“The brood is going to be ecstatic,” Jack stated, glancing over at them.

“I've missed those children ... and I've missed you two.  Once I got the confirmation from Sylvia about the pregnancy and had a chance to talk with Mark, to get things clear in my mind, we told Angela, and then I came here.”

“I bet she's happy to get a new brother or sister,” Jack said happily.

“She sure is.  Guys, how about a big Wilson-Jackson-O'Neill party tomorrow at my house?  I know it's short notice, but ...”

“We'll be there,” Jack said quickly.

“When's the baby due?” Daniel asked excitedly.

Sara smiled; then laughed.  It felt good to laugh with these two men she considered to be family.

“March twenty-sixth.  Gee, I just thought I had gained a few pounds.”

“You're gaining a life,” Jack said.

“We all are.”  Sara looked at Daniel and said, “Because we're all family.”

There were more hugs and kisses, and then the adults went to play with the children.

For the first time in three months, the extended family of the Jackson-O'Neill's was healthy, happy, and whole once again.

====
--September – A House In A Tree
====

“Hey, Lou, how was the holiday?” Jack asked Ferretti as they rode the elevator up to Level 18.

“It was great,” Lou answered, beaming with pleasure.  “Trina loved the beach, and Carolyn loved the shops.”

“What about you?”

“I loved the siestas!” Lou mused enthusiastically.

Jack chuckled.  For the past week, ending with the Labor Day weekend, the Ferrettis, now including Trina, had gone on their first official family vacation together to Puerto Vallarta.  Even the Ferretti's older children had gone.

“How's the Doc?” Lou inquired about Daniel.

“Doing good,” Jack answered jovially.

“We brought something back for the twins,” the colonel informed.  “Hated to miss their party,” he lamented, referring to the twins birthday party the day before.

“They loved getting your telegram,” Jack chuckled.  “The Munchkins were jealous,” he laughed.

“Didn't want them mad at me, thinking we'd forgotten it.  They're two now, Jack; kids remember,” Lou warned with a hint of amusement.

“That they do,” the general agreed.

“Say, Jack, when I got home I noticed cleaner air around the ole homestead,” Lou informed coyly, raising his eyebrow at Jack expectantly.

“New scum filter?” Jack asked innocently.

“Something like that.  Eglund's gone.  There's a 'sold' sign on the lawn.  Sure happened fast.  Don't suppose you know anything about that?” Lou smirked.

Jack smiled slyly, but said, “Not a thing, Lou.”  After the elevator doors opened, and just before exiting the elevator, he paused and looked at his long-time friend.  He put his hand on Lou's left shoulder and said, “Welcome home, Lou.”

“Thanks, Pal!” Lou said, nodding as the doors closed.

The major general whistled as he headed to Daniel's office.  Walking in, he immediately closed the door and glanced at the camera.  It was habit now, more than anything else since the security equipment in the office was always off unless the base reached DEFCON 3.

“Lou's back,” Jack reported.

“How was the trip?” Daniel asked, looking up.

“Fantastic!” the older man answered, picking up a strange looking 'rock' with markings on it.

“That's good.  Jack, about P...” Daniel started, searching for the preliminary report.

“Whoa, news first,” the silver-haired general interrupted.

“What news?” Daniel inquired, once again looking up.

“Eglund's gone,” Jack stated, smiling smugly.

“Jack, what did you do?” Daniel questioned suspiciously.

“I told you about my contact,” Jack reminded his husband.

“Yes,” Daniel said, remembering his lover talking about the mysterious man.

“And I told you what he found out,” Jack continued.

“Yes, and I agree, Eglund's capable of hurting our children, but ...” Daniel stared up at the other man, wondering what he had asked to be done to the man.  “What did you tell him to do?”

“All I did was say I'd prefer it if he were out of the state,” Jack said, shrugging and juggling the object he was holding.

Daniel gave his husband a look full of skepticism and then stated, “It couldn't have been that easy.”

“He wasn't paying child support.  I have a hunch the court may have found him, and he high-tailed it out of here,” Jack stated, his eyes focused on his juggling.

“How can you be sure he moved out of state?” Daniel asked, wondering if Jack was hiding anything and also still concerned about the safety of their children.

“Old contacts,” the older man answered simply.

“But he's safe?” Daniel asked pointed.

“Danny, if something happens to that moron, it is not because of anything done by me or my contacts,” Jack promised.

Daniel nodded, relieved that they no longer had to worry about Lou's bigoted neighbor every time they went to the Ferretti's.

“Now, about P92-111 ...” Daniel began.

“Prattle on!” Jack chimed happily, ready to listen to the melodic voice of his husband.

“Jack!” Daniel exclaimed in exasperation.

The older man just smiled as his lover glared at him and then finally began his 'lecture mode' discussion about this new world SG-13 had just visited.

====

“Hi, Daniel.  Come on in,” Sara invited graciously while opening her door.

It was mid-September, a Sunday, and Daniel had been out running a few errands, while Jack was with the children at Hammond's home.  He had just made his last stop when he'd gotten a call on his cell phone from Sara, asking him to drop by for a few minutes.

“Is anything wrong?” the archaeologist inquired.

“No, I just wanted to talk,” Sara assured.

“Sara, if this about our argument, you don't need to say anything.”

“But I do, Daniel.  Please, sit down.  Can I get you some coffee?” Sara offered with a smile.

Daniel nodded appreciatively, so Sara went to the kitchen and returned a minute later with a cup of coffee for her guest and some juice for her.  Sitting down across from the archaeologist, she took a breath.

“I know I apologized, and that you accepted that apology, but I've come to realize that I had a lot of pent up anger that I never knew I had.”  The blonde paused to reflect and then continued, “For a while, I tried to blame all of that on my depression, the miscarriage, and my paranoia; I even think I was afraid to look deep inside and find out the truth.”

“Why would you be afraid?”

Sara twisted her glass in her hands as she thought, trying to be certain of her words, and finally answered, “I think because I wasn't sure how Mark would feel, or Jack, or for that matter, even you.  Daniel, Jack is a completely different person with you than he was with me.  He's more open about his feelings; he shares himself more freely.  I,” she paused, looking down at her drink for a moment, “I think I had a part of Jack, but you have all of him.  Do you understand what I'm saying?”

Daniel nodded and answered softly, “Yes, I think so, but it wasn't always easy.  I mean, it took time.”

“Daniel, you don't have to defend yourself, or Jack, for that matter.  I know times change and so do people.  Charlie's death was an insurmountable obstacle for him and me, but at first, after I saw how close you two are, I think a part of me resented you,” Sara explained.  “Jack wouldn't let me in, not all the way.  As good as we were, and we were good, there was always this secret shield of armor between the two of us, and it didn't take me very long to see that with you, that armor didn't exist.”  She sighed as she considered her raw emotions when she had discovered Jack's romance with the younger man.  “I wanted to hate you, you know -- that first day at Pike's Peak.”

“I was sure you did.  It was, uh, awkward,” Daniel commented, fidgeting slightly as he replayed in his mind the time when Sara had caught the two lovers about to make love in a secluded area of Pike's Peak.

“But I couldn't.  As much as I wanted to paint you as some, forgive me, strange weirdo who had stolen and corrupted my husband into some sort of freak, I knew that wasn't the case.  Still, over the years, I've watched him, and I see how he opens up to you.”  Sara paused, taking a sip from her glass before continuing, “Can you understand, just a little, what it was like for me, loving him so much, and wanting him to let me in?  Even at our happiest, there was always a wall between us, and when Charlie died, Jack put up a barrier that no one could tear down, until you.”

“I think maybe it was just timing,” Daniel suggested.

Sara smiled and shook her head.  The man in front of her was so understanding, even now.  No, she knew the truth, and she wasn't about to let Daniel rationalize or explain way what had really happened.  Whatever it was, however it had happened, Sara knew that he was the only person on Earth who could have reached Jack, and there was a reason for that.

“Don't sell yourself short for me.  I know now that what Jack and I had was good, but we were never soulmates, not in the truest and purest sense of the word.”

Sara smiled at Daniel's worried expression and shook her head to try and reassure him.  It had taken her a long time to truly accept the fact that while she and Jack had loved each other and had a good life together, they had not been the other half of each other like Jack and Daniel were for each other.

“Sara ...” Daniel started, afraid the blonde was despondent or still not understanding of their complicated history.

“Daniel, Jack and I each needed to deal with our grief differently.  Maybe it was that mission; maybe it changed Jack or more likely you did.  I don't know, but whatever it was, you were able to punch a hole in that armor, and eventually, it eroded and turned to dust.”

“It didn't happen overnight,” Daniel said quietly.

“You two are soulmates, Daniel, and that's something to celebrate.”  Sara smiled, prompting the archaeologist to smile, too.  “We can't turn back the clock, and I wouldn't want to, but I needed you to know that I've finally faced that truth.”

“Sara, it's natural to feel that way,” Daniel gently assured.  “I, uh, used to have nightmares, about you and Jack.  I had one once that was so real.  He was just using me to get you back, and when you came back, he threw me out.”

“Oh, Daniel, he could never do that,” Sara responded compassionately, not realizing the young man had had issues with her, too.

“I know that now, but when I had those nightmares, I wasn't so sure,” Daniel shyly confided.

~I never knew he doubted himself with Jack, not about me, anyway.~  Sara smiled a bit whimsically as she pondered the human dynamic.  “I guess we all have our insecurities,” she remarked.

The two talked for several more minutes until Daniel said he had to get home.  They hugged, and Sara walked Daniel to his car.

“Thank you for coming by and for being a good, good friend,” Sara said, taking hold of Daniel's hand for a moment.

“Anytime,” Daniel replied gently.  He pulled Sara close, and they hugged again. “I'm glad you're back in our lives, Sara,” he spoke softly.

Taking a huge breath, as if to give a final release of everything nasty and tragic that was in her past, Sara contently sighed, “It's nice to have a big family.”

As he pulled back, Daniel nodded, affirming, “We are family, Sara.”

“Give Jack and the kids my love,” Sara requested, her hands on her abdomen.

“I will.  Oh, next Wednesday, can you take the children all day instead of just the afternoon?” Daniel asked hopefully.  “Our plans changed, and we'll be ... out of town,” he explained with a secretive smile.

“I look forward to it,” Sara agreed, smiling at the off-world terminology which was now familiar to her.

Daniel drove away, feeling more at peace with Sara than ever.

Back at the Wilson home, Sara smiled.  She hadn't been aware of her hidden anger at Daniel, but she was glad that she'd finally realized her feelings and dealt with them.  She wasn't happy they had argued, and she still hated the harsh words she'd yelled at him, but now, she knew their extended family was solidified.

The future was looking bright, for both families.

====

The following Friday, in the early evening of September 18th, Jack prepared to surprise his husband with something he was sure Daniel would love but never expect.  To that end, he'd arranged for babysitters for all of the kids so that he and Daniel could have the night all to themselves.

Jennifer was sleeping over at the Ferretti’s.  David, Bijou, Katie, and Mittens were staying with General Hammond.  The Munchkins and Chenoa were at Sara’s, and the twins were with Sam.

“You ready, Danny?” Jack asked as he entered the general's house.

“Where did you go, Jack?” Daniel asked his husband.

“I had an errand to run.  Are you ready?” Jack repeated.

“Yes,” Daniel answered as he grabbed a bag from the coffee table.

“What’s in the bag?” Jack asked as they walked up to the truck.

“You’ll see … later,” Daniel answered mysteriously, having his own surprise for his husband.

The happy twosome climbed into the truck and, just as Daniel finished fastening his seatbelt, he felt Jack grab his glasses.

“Hey!”  Daniel was stunned.  “Okay, Jack, what kind of kinky maneuver are you up to now?” he asked as his lover put a blindfold on him.

“Humor me, Love.  I have a surprise for you.”

“Jack, I always humor you even when I know I shouldn't.”  Absentmindedly, Daniel looked out the window.  ~I can't see anything.  Of course not, Jackson, you're wearing a blindfold!~  He wished he could see out, wanting the distraction.  He realized, though, that it probably wouldn't have mattered.  He was fixated on the surprise that was waiting for him.  “Jack, what have you done now?” he asked, unable to curtail his curiosity.

“You’ll see.  Patience, Danny.”

The two continued to tease and talk until finally Jack pulled into the driveway of their house.  The workers were all gone since it was already dark.  Jack got out and went to Daniel's side of the truck.  He opened the door and helped his husband out.

“Don't forget the bag,” Daniel reminded, quickly adding, “And *no* peeking.”

“Peek?  Who me?” Jack asked as if he were as innocent as a newborn.

“Jack!”

“Not looking.  Here ...”

Jack took the bag, placing it in Daniel's left hand while he held the right in order to lead him to the surprise.  As they entered their huge backyard, he positioned his husband in just exactly the right spot for the unveiling of his surprise.

“Now just wait right there for a minute, Danny,” Jack instructed his soulmate as he moved away to light some candles.  He'd been tempted to do it earlier, but hadn't wanted to leave burning candles unattended.  His task finished, he returned to Daniel and removed the blindfold.  “Happy second wedding, third anniversary, Angel.”

“Jack, it's … it's … wow, Jack,” was all Daniel could say.

“Come on, let’s go up,” Jack urged, loving the awestruck look on his soulmate's face.

With Daniel's hand in his, Jack led the younger man to the special staircase that wrapped around the massive trunk of the oak tree that stood in the middle of their yard.  The two climbed the stairs to the entrance of their new tree house.

Daniel chuckled, “It's like your combo food orders, Babe.”

“Huh?”

“Super-sized!”

Jack laughed as he took the last step to the balcony that surrounded the tree house.  When Daniel stepped up, the lovers kissed, moaning from their love and lust.  For a moment, they simply gazed into each other's eyes as their hands danced a happy caress, and then finally, they were ready to explore their new playground.

As the lovers entered the tree house, Daniel sighed contently at the aroma of the lilac-scented candles that were carefully spread throughout.  He smiled as he saw the bottle of St. Julien's wine chilling in a bucket of ice, and he shivered in anticipation of utilizing the blue blanket that was spread out on the floor.

Jack had the tree house fully prepared, and Daniel quickly took note of the snack food items, including some cheese and crackers and several Godiva truffles.  Scattered all around the room were an abundance of stuffed Winnie the Pooh characters as well.

The tree house was large enough for an adult to stand up straight, and big enough for Jack, Daniel, all eight of their kids, the girls, and Mittens to fit into at the same time, with extra space to accommodate any future Jackson-O’Neill children.  It was a gigantic tree house, something worthy of Swiss Family Jackson-O'Neill.

“Wow, Jack,” Daniel said, emotion coloring his voice, as he placed the bag on the floor next to the door.  “Is this why you made me promise not to come to the house for a while?”

Jack explained, “I didn't want you to see this until it was finished.”  Jack was happy seeing the smile on his husband's face as Daniel perused the new place.  “Danny, do you remember when we were decorating the nursery and we were talking about Winnie the Pooh, and tree houses?”

~Gawd, I love him,~ Daniel expressed in amazement of his husband's latest surprise.  “You had this built for me because over three years ago I said I liked tree houses?” he asked in disbelief.  ~No way.~

“I told you that night that you were going to have a tree house.  You asked me if I was going to build you one,” Jack reminded.  ~I never forget anything that makes you happy, Danny.~

“You built this?” Daniel asked, totally amazed.  “It's where you've been disappearing to for the last few weeks.”  ~He did; he built it just for me.~

“I tried not to make it too obvious.  You weren't worried, were you?” Jack asked, knowing he had done his best to cover his tracks without giving his husband any legitimate reason to be concerned.

“No, I knew you were up to something, but ... I never imagined this.  I love it, Babe,” Daniel said as he leaned into Jack.

“I built this just for you, Angel,” Jack revealed truthfully.

Daniel kissed Jack, and as their passion grew, he lowered them to the floor of the tree house.  They made love, drank some wine, ate some snacks, and then made love again.  Staying in their friends' houses, the couple had been unable to make love as much as they had wanted to over the last few months, their lovemaking limited, for the most part, to their regular date nights.  Thus, this night in Daniel's new tree house was ultra special.

====

When Daniel awoke atop his Jack-pillow a couple hours later, he could tell that Jack was already awake.

“Jack, when did you have time to build this?” Daniel asked as he ran his fingers through his husband's chest hairs.  “I mean, even when you were gone, you weren't gone that long.  I just thought there were problems with the house, and you were trying to keep me from being upset.”

Jack loved it.  His plan had worked.  Most of the things he had done when Daniel was home had been cleanup, getting things organized for the next day, buying supplies, and things along those lines, plus touching up areas worked on earlier. The real work had been done when Daniel was away.

“While you were at your classes, Sara would watch the kids, and I would come here.”  Jack grinned at the elaborateness of his plan.  “And you know how the last few days I told you I had to go to the SGC to train recruits?  Well, I was really here, working on the tree house.”

“Sara?”  Daniel questioned with a pleased smile.  “It feels good, Jack; I mean, having her back.”

“It sure does, Angel.  I hesitated for a second in asking her, and she about chewed my head off,” Jack said, smiling at Sara's feisty nature.

Daniel let out a chuckle, not just at Sara's actions, but at everything Jack had told him.

~Okay, maybe I wasn't as smart as I thought,~ Jack wondered suddenly.  He had a hunch and asked, “I wasn't so smart, was I, Danny?”

Daniel moved upwards to kiss his husband.  His thumb traced Jack's lips, and Jack kissed it, taking it into his mouth and gently stroking it with his tongue for several seconds before he removed it.

“Training recruits?  Well, the problem was that, by accident, I found out the training schedule,” Daniel explained apologetically.

“By accident?” Jack queried suspiciously.

Daniel grinned; then explained, “I knew you were up to something when you made me promise not to come here.  Like I said, I figured there was a problem you didn't want me to know about, or, and, uh, I kinda figured it was the 'or', and you were doing something for our anniversary.”

“But you didn't know it was a tree house?” Jack asked, hoping his surprise really was a surprise.

“No, Babe.  I had no idea you were doing this; I just knew you were doing something.”

Daniel smiled at the look of satisfied relief on Jack's face.

“I've been wanting to do this for a long time, Danny,” Jack confided in between a few tender kisses.

“A lot of work went into this tree house, Jack.  How many of the workers helped you?” Daniel inquired.

“None.”

“None?” the younger man asked, surprised.

Jack wasn't boasting, but this gift was special.  No one did one thing to assist him, except for Lou who had helped him move the lumber and other supplies, but only his hands went into the building of Daniel's tree house.

“I wanted my gift to you to be totally from me, so I built the whole thing by myself.  I had to plan out the day in exact detail, and it wasn't easy to make sure I stayed on schedule, but I did it.  It was a labor of love, for my Love,” Jack said truthfully.

Jack could feel Daniel's tears on his chest.  He rolled them over so Daniel was lying on his back and then tenderly wiped the moisture away.  He leaned down and kissed his husband for several minutes.

“Have I said thank you?” Daniel asked, his words mixed in with the sniffles of his tears.

“No,” Jack teased, earning him a laugh from his Love.  “There's nothing like hearing you laugh, Danny.”

For a moment, they held their gaze, and then Daniel moved to grab the bag he had brought.

“I have something for you, Jack.  I hope you like it.”

Daniel handed Jack the bag and sat down next to his soulmate.  Jack sat up and opened the bag.  He pulled out an Avalanche hockey jersey that was signed by every member of the hockey team.  On the back, over the number '2', was the name Jackson-O’Neill.

“Danny … I … how?” Jack stuttered, totally floored by the gift.

“I have connections, Love,” Daniel responded, smiling.

“With hockey?  Have you been holding out on me?” Jack teased.

“Hardly.”

Daniel raised his eyebrows a few times; it was a promise of other 'hard' things to come.

“It’s perfect,” Jack said, folding it up and carefully putting it back in the bag.

Soon, the two were kissing again, their hands roaming each other's bodies.  Daniel's 'hardened' promise was in the making, and just like that, for the third time since they had entered the tree house, they made love.

====

“Daniel, I need to get something to protect this,” Jack said, having sat up and taken the jersey out of the bag to study it more closely.

“Jack, don't I always cover your six?” Daniel asked seductively.

“Oh, yeah, and my twelve o'clock.  Love it when you ...”

“Jack, behave,” the younger man admonished as he tried not to laugh.

“But it's more fun not to,” Jack chuckled, as did Daniel.

“Anyway, get dressed, and follow me.”

Jack folded the jersey and again placed it carefully in the bag.

====

“Take a look,” Daniel requested as the lovers walked into the study.

Jack's mouth opened as he walked forward.  Built into the wall was a glass case with a partial mannequin.

Walking past his lover to the wall, Daniel pressed a button on the outside of the case, causing a light to go on.  He pressed another button, causing the mannequin to slowly turn around in a circle.

“Jack, you put the shirt on the mannequin and it rotates around so the whole shirt can be displayed, like this, or you can just leave it stationary so only one side is displayed.”

Daniel pressed a button again and the rotating stopped.  He then turned the light off.

“Sweet.  How'd you pull this off?” Jack questioned, putting his arms around Daniel's waist.

“How?  More like *who*,” Daniel replied.

“Carter and her never-ending toys,” Jack guessed.

Daniel laughed, “I told her what I had in mind, and she came over and installed it.  Um, I sort of didn't have one of those classes I said I did.”

“Danny ...”

“No, I didn't come here, but I met with Sam.”

Jack thought for a moment, suddenly realizing something, and sighed, “That's why she's been looking at me funny.  She must have been here when I was ...”

“Well, that, or maybe she was ...”

“Daniel ...” Jack interrupted.

“I just wanted to make sure they weren't destroying the roof deck or Katie's play yard.  She didn't tell me anything.  She just ... smiled a lot,” Daniel revealed.

The lovers kissed for several minutes, and then returned to the tree house.

====

As he walked in, Jack couldn't resist and pulled the shirt out of the bag and looked at it again.  He wasn't going to leave this special gift in their home with all the workers milling around, so he'd brought it back outside with him.  He would make sure it stayed protected until they returned to their home for good.

“Great number, Danny,” Jack praised, running his fingers over it.

“Nation of Two,” they both spoke simultaneously.

“I love you, Angel.”

“Love you, too, my Silver Fox,” Daniel said as he drew his lover to him.

The couple kissed again, cleaned up the leftovers from their little tree house picnic, and made sure all the candles were out.  Jack folded up the blanket and put it into a chest that was against the wall, making a note to wash it at the earliest possible moment.  He grabbed the bag with his jersey in it and took it back to the Hammond's house to keep it safe until they moved back into their home.

====

The next day, Jack and Daniel brought their children to the house which was still being renovated.  They had decided not to wait to unveil the tree house since the house wouldn't be done for at least another month and possibly longer.  They carefully led the children up the ladder and inside the roomy structure, showing off all the features of the tree house.

More importantly, the parents went over the rules associated with the new facet of their large backyard.  The two main rules were that no one was allowed to go into the tree house without permission, and when Jack and/or Daniel are in the tree house alone, no one is allowed to go near it unless it is an emergency.

“You mean, you want to ... in the tree house,” Jennifer smirked.

“Jennifer Renee,” Jack threatened lightly.

“Dad and Daddy kissing in Pooh's tree house,” Aislinn sing-songed.

“Yeah, let's do that,” Jack said, leaning over to kiss Daniel.

“I'm guessing it was already initiated last night,” Jennifer smirked a little too knowingly for Jack's liking.

“Okay, enough about us ...”

Jack looked at Daniel who ignored him.

“So those are the rules.  If anyone breaks the rules, they'll be punished.  It's too dangerous to be up here alone without supervision,” Daniel informed the children seriously.

The couple had already discussed other precautions.  They would be installing motion alarms and lasers to the tree house and its stairs, just like they would for the new pool.

“We woulda helped, Dad,” Jenny said.  “I like build things.”

“Me, too,” Little Danny said.

Jack picked up Jenny and reached out to touch Little Danny's cheek as he spoke, “I know, but this was Dad's special surprise to Daddy, because when Daddy was a little boy, he never had a tree house, and I wanted him to have one now.”

“This Daddy's tree house?” Aislinn asked.

Daniel jumped in, answering, “It's our family's tree house.”  **Thank you, Babe.**

The family was all smiles as they continued to explore and enjoy their morning at their brand new tree house.

====

A couple of days later, as the sun set in Colorado Springs, General Hammond handed the phone to Jack and informed, “It's your architect.”

~Now what?~ Daniel thought as he looked at Jack.

~Crap!~ Jack silently exclaimed as he hesitantly took the phone.  For Byron to be calling in the early evening on a Sunday had to mean disaster.  “What's up, Byron?” he questioned, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible.

“Relax, Jack,” Byron said, hearing through the casual comment.  “It's just time to make a few more decisions.”

Jack groaned audibly and, pushing the mute button, he informed his husband that “Byron needs us to make some decisions.”

“How much time will this take?” Daniel asked a bit reluctantly, remembering the last marathon session at Byron's office when he and Jack had been taken to task for making changes with Gordon, the contractor, and not clearing them with the architect.

Jack repeated the question into the phone.

“Not that long, really; in fact, if you guys have about an hour, we, that is you, Daniel, me and Alex, could clear a lot of this stuff up over the phone,” Byron explained.

Jack brightened at the possibility of avoiding a visit to the office.  He looked over at Hammond.

“Watch the brood for an hour, Sir, while we do a conference call?” Jack requested.

Hammond nodded, relieved that he was not going to be abandoned to the not so tender mercies of his grandchildren and tied to his chair like last time.

“Give us a couple of minutes, Byron, to get ourselves organized,” Jack stated.

“I'm putting you on speaker, Jack.  Just let us know when you two are ready.”

Jack and Daniel excused themselves and went upstairs to the room they were sharing.  They sat down on the bed, Jack holding the cordless phone and Daniel a notepad and pen.

“Okay, Byron, Alex, let 'er rip,” Jack announced, having turned the volume up so Daniel could hear the two men on the other end of the line.

Alex began, “Here's the deal.  We have to make a few decisions about the mechanical systems in the house.  Basically, I need the go ahead on five or six issues.”

“Is that all?” Jack quipped.

“Steady, Jack.  I'm sure we could easily come up with more,” Byron teased.

“Five or six is fine,” Jack said as Daniel just shook his head.

“First on the list is an emergency back-up generator.  I forgot to ask, but I am assuming you want one,” Alex said, pausing for a few seconds.  “It will power a few emergency lights, let you cycle the refrigerators and freezers, and intermittently run the furnace blowers.  The lights have battery back-up in case you run out of gas.”

“Sounds good,” the two men chorused.

Daniel fidgeted slightly, communicating, **Hope it's all this easy.**

**Me, too, Danny.**

“Now comes the 'or' of the five or six I mentioned, and it does relate to energy conservation as well as surviving off the power grid,” the designer stated.

**Always an 'or', right, Danny?**

**Jack, pay attention!**

**You're too distracting, and I'm too broke to pay attention!**

“Guys, anybody there?” Alex asked, not getting any response from his spaced-out clients.

“Go ahead, Alex,” Daniel responded, covertly slapping his lover in the shin.

“Ouch!”

“Jack, are you all right?” Alex queried, having heard the cry of pain.

“Just fine.  You were about to explain an 'or',” Jack said, rubbing his shin and glaring at his innocent-looking lover.

“Okay, well, we discussed the solar tubes in between the closets upstairs to pipe sunlight into the game and rec rooms.  You remember -- the ones with low-voltage controlled irises?”

“We love the idea of natural light.  Daniel and I wish we could do that all over the house,” Jack told the designer.

Stunned at not having to convince, persuade, or sell an idea to these wonderful but stubborn clients, Alex was speechless, and it was Jack's turn to say, “Alex?  Earth to Alex!  D'oh!”

Daniel shook his head at Jack's 'Simpson's' reference, but Alex just smiled on his side of the phone.

~Unbelieveable!~  Rather than one-up the couple by saying he had already thought of it, Alex composed himself and said, “That's a great idea and easily done.  The entire house, except for the kitchen, music room, and half of the entry hall, can be lit with these things.  You won't be burning a lot of light bulbs, and unless it is a very gloomy day, you won't need any artificial light before sunset. Good thinking, Jack.”  Silently, he thought, ~If only it was always this easy.~

“So what was the 'or'?” Daniel inquired loud enough for Byron and Alex to hear.

“To ask if you wanted to put a couple in the garage and one in the front stoop overhang,” Alex sidestepped adroitly.

“We have no issues with depriving the electric conspiracy, uh, company of as much of our money as possible,” Jack responded without hesitation.

Alex chuckled, “Moving right along, the wholesaler we buy our cabinets and appliances from informed me today that we are very close to another price break.  If we increase our order, we get a slightly bigger discount.”

Jack laughed, “What do they think we are, a money factory?”

“I don't know, Jack,” Daniel said quietly.  “This project has mushroomed so much that we've spent more than we ever thought we would as it is.”

“You can say that again,” Jack sighed.

“Fellas?” Alex spoke over the phone, sensing he'd lost his clients' attention again.

“Alex, we're all for saving money, but what else could we use that would make it worth spending more to save more?” the general inquired.

“I know we weren't going to touch the existing kitchen, but hear me out,” Alex requested.  The designer went on to suggest updating the existing kitchen by adding more efficient cabinets and appliances, including a new refrigerator, dishwasher, sink, disposal, and oven.  “It won't look that much different, but it will work much more efficiently.  Even with all the space you're adding, the existing kitchen will still be the hub of the house.”

“And the cost?” Daniel asked.

“Daniel, it's the labor you'd be paying for.  The discount on the entire purchase virtually pays for the new appliances and cabinets.”

“Why a new oven?” Jack asked.  “The one we have isn't that old.”

“I understand that, but once you use that thirty-inch gas convection oven, you'll wish you had two,” Alex assured.

Byron interjected, “It won't really delay things more than a day or two.  I really believe that the more efficient use of space and the energy savings will be worth it.”

“The oven we have now is electric,” Daniel responded, making sure he spoke loud enough for the men on the phone to hear.

Byron acknowledged, “Yes, it is, and it uses a lot of electricity.”

Alex explained, “The gas oven will free up a thirty-amp circuit to take the strain off the existing circuit breakers.  Plus, you guys will not fight over which one gets stuck cooking on the electric.  Trust me it would happen.”

“Give me one really good reason why we should,” Jack mused.

“Fourteen trays of chocolate chip cookies at a one time?” Alex responded, certain the men would make use of the opportunity to cook sevens tray in each of the two ovens, resulting in fourteen trays of goodies for their large brood.

“Sold!” both men cried at once as they laughed.

Quickly, though, Daniel grew somber, saying, “Jack, I'm not sure.  I don't like the idea of a gas unit while our children are so young.  It makes me uneasy,” Daniel said, squirming as he sat and suddenly exhibiting a frown.

“Fourteen trays of chippers, Danny,” Jack enticed.

“I don't know,” Daniel said softly.  “I know the products are a world better than they used to be, but, uh, I ... I don't know.”

**Danny?**

**Nasty story; not me, Jack.  There was a fluke accident that happened to a boy that lived next door to me when I was a boy.  I know it was a fluke, and I know it was an accident, but I'd just rather not.**

Jack reached out with his free hand to caress his lover's cheek for a moment. Then he smiled.

“Byron, Alex, we're going to hold off on switching to gas.  Benefits or not, we're not one-hundred percent comfortable with it,” Jack informed the two men at the other end of the phone.

“I think you're making a mistake,” Alex warned firmly.

“Wouldn't be the first time,” Jack said, his head cocking to the side a bit as he looked at Daniel.  “Alex, can we get an electric super-duper convict oven?”

“That's con*vec*tion,” Alex chuckled.

“Geez, Jack,” Daniel said softly, shaking his head in disbelief.  “You've been hanging around Jonny too much.”

Jack grinned and raised his eyebrows as he listened to Alex's comments.

“And the answer is yes,” the designer spoke over the phone.  “Do you want to go with it?  It can still hold seven trays,” he said, hoping for an affirmative response.

Daniel looked at Jack who was almost slobbering at the thought of cranking out cookies like a factory.  Of course, the idea appealed to Daniel as well, and he nodded his assent quickly.

“Oh, yeah.  Put it on the list.  What's next?” Jack asked, eager to get the business finished.

Alex answered, “You get snowed in here in the Springs occasionally, right?”

“Ya think?” Jack quipped.  “We've had our chilly, snow up to our necks days,” Jack added, including a sound effect at the end.  “Burrrrrrrr.”

“Picture being snowed in with eight children and no hot water,” Alex suggested, hoping the visualization would work.

“We'd rather not,” Jack said firmly, shuddering at the thought.

“Well, we'd like to make sure it doesn't happen, either,” Alex said.  He went on to explain the benefits of on-demand gas water heaters, saying, “With water-flow activated ignitions, they're totally non-electric and battery free.  The on-demand units save the trouble and expense of piping hot water long distances.  Just think, when the power goes out, you'll have enough light in the bathrooms to see and hot water to shower.”

Daniel nodded, and Jack passed on their agreement.

Byron picked up the conversation for the fourth issue to be discussed.

“We've covered this before, but never made a decision.  I'm advocating a geothermal heating and cooling system, supplemented by a waste heat recycling system and an evaporative air conditioner.”

**Danny, I feel like I'm in a briefing, and Carter is prattling,** Jack whined.

**It's not that bad.**

**Close!**

**We're almost done, Jack.**

**I'd rather be undressing you and ...** the older man began, his eyes beginning to sparkle in anticipation.

**Jack, not now!**

“What?  Uh, Byron, I'm sorry, there was a ... screech outside.  Could you repeat that?” Jack asked, trying to cover his absence from the conversation.

“I reminded you that the dual utility bills would run an extra two-hundred dollars per month.  However, I think we can keep the whole cost of electricity, gas, water, and sewage at six-hundred per month, or less, for the entire house, including the pool.  It means no fluorocarbons in the air, greatly reduced dependence on fossil fuels, and much lower electric bills.”

“Six-hundred?” Daniel asked skeptically.

“Six-hundred,” Byron replied firmly.

Jack inquired, “What's the downside?”

“None, really.  The backhoe that digs the pool will dig the deep trench for the water furnace loop.  The equipment is not much more expensive.  You start saving right away, especially with the price of natural gas going up twice a year.”

**Danny, I've got plenty of nat...**

**Jack, don't you dare!**

“Are we agreed?” Byron asked.

“Sounds good, Jack,” Daniel opined.

“Agreed,” Jack said, nodding.

“Before we leave the topic of utilities, there are three more items I'd like to interject,” Alex stated.

“Don't believe in leave 'em wanting more?” the general quipped, earning him a glare from Daniel and a complete lack of response from the designer, who simply continued talking.

“Since you're agreed on the geothermal heating system, I'd like to supplement it with solar collectors to augment the water heating for both the on-demand units and heating the house, but its biggest benefit will be keeping the pool at a comfortable temperature.  It will mean the pool will not increase your gas bill much, if at all.”

**What's not to like?** Jack questioned in his husband's direction.

**Agreed,**Daniel assented.

“It's a go, Alex.  What's next?” Jack asked, eager to move this call to its conclusion.

“Photovoltaics.”

~Maybe he's related to Carter,~ Jack pondered.

“Go ahead, Alex,” Daniel interjected to break the momentary silence.

“Cells that convert sun to electricity have been around a long time.  They sit unobtrusively on the roof and blend in with the shingles.  It still is not practical to go completely off the power grid for 110-volt power; however, it's eminently practical to use it for the ceiling fans, the attic fans, the solar tube irises, and some on the indoor lighting.  It can provide enough one-ten current to cycle the refrigerators, and in the event of a power failure, you have the generator.  The savings in a house this size will be tremendous.”

Both men just looked at each other and nodded.

“Done.  What's the third item?” Jack inquired.

“I know you guys are touchy about gas appliances, but hear me out.  With the size of your family, you obviously need a freezer in the garage and a spare fridge, even with side-by-side units in both the kitchen and the hospitality room.”

“Your point?” Daniel asked, fidgeting as he wondered how Hammond was doing with the brood downstairs.

“We can make those units gas powered.  They'll be very cheap to operate, *and* if the worst possible blizzard snows you in, even if it's too dark for the photo cells to work and you run out of gas for the generator, you will still be able to feed your family until you can dig your way out.”

“Give us a minute, Alex,” Jack requested, hitting the 'mute' button.  “What do you think, Danny?”

“I guess it would be all right; I mean, it's not like the brood would be playing in the garage and we're not talking about an appliance that's as volatile as a stove,” Daniel spoke thoughtfully as he worked it through in his mind.

“The dryer is gas,” Jack pointed out, not really trying to sway his lover in any direction, but just issuing the reminder.

“Right,” Daniel acknowledged.  His real concern over gas appliances was with a range.  He nodded, agreeing, “Okay.”

“We'll go with it,” Jack agreed, having hit the 'mute' button again so that Byron and Alex could hear them.

“Jack, Daniel, Alex surprised me with these last items, so I'll have to lower my estimate for the utilities,” Byron informed.

“How much lower?” both men questioned at the same time.

“Probably close to two-hundred dollars lower.  Your neighbors will be even more jealous,” Byron chuckled.

“That seems ... incredible,” Daniel spoke cautiously.

“Very sci-fi...ish,” Jack added, looking at the architect.

“Believe it, Guys,” Byron assured.

As Jack and Daniel nodded, Alex moved on to the next item on his agenda, saying, “The last issue we need to discuss this evening, and I promise it is the last issue, for now,” the designer clarified, “is about cleaning.  In a house this size, you will eventually have five or six vacuums because one just isn't enough. The average vacuum simply was not engineered to cope with the amount of use it will get here, plus it's always somewhere other than where you need it.  I had previously mentioned a central vac system.  I strongly encourage you to go ahead with it.  It's efficient, quiet, great for allergies, and you'll never need to buy a vacuum again.”

“Hold the phone a second,” Jack said, pressing the mute button.  Looking at Daniel, he asked, “What do you think?”

“Well, Alex hasn't steered us wrong yet, and Ash and Jenny still have allergy problems sometimes, so, uh, I'm for it.  I think it would help.”

Jack nodded, pressed the mute button again, and announced, “Alex, it's a go.”

“Great!  Now we just need to finish the upstairs.”

“When?”Jack asked.

“Sometime in the next two weeks.  Don't worry, Jack,” Byron said, once again sensing Jack's dread through the telephone lines.  “It won't be nearly as bad as last time.”

“By the way, I have some great pieces designed for the kids' rooms,” Alex interjected.

“We look forward to hearing about that.  How long do you think that session should take?” Daniel inquired, excited to see what he had come up with.

Alex answered, “About two hours to review all the fabrics, paints, fixtures, and ... well, everything.”

Byron chuckled lightly, “The light's at the end of the tunnel.”

“GENERAL O'NEILL!  DOCTOR JACKSON!  GETTTTTTTTT DOWN HERE NOOOOOOOOOW!”

“That was Hammond,” Jack said, a feeling of dread sweeping over him.

“Oh, gawd, what did they do now?” Daniel panicked, tossing aside the notepad and heading for the door.

“GET DOWN HERE, AND UNTIE ME!” General Hammond shouted.

Jack gulped and said, “Alex, Byron, we'll call you later.  Bye.”

Quickly, Jack disconnected the call and ran after Daniel.

--

Byron stared at his employee and said, “I guess we're done.”

“I'm betting on the Munchkins, Byron.”

“That their responsible, or that they'll get away with doing, whatever it was they've done?” the architect queried.

“Both,” Alex laughed as he reviewed his notes to make sure nothing had been overlooked during the conference call with Jack and Daniel.

====

“Jonathan Charles!  Daniel Michael!  What are you two doing?” Daniel asked.  “General, I'm sorry,” he said as he began to untie the chain of sheets that had been tied together and roped around the bald-headed man.

“I Chief Wampums!” Jonny exclaimed as he stood erect in an Indian stance with his arms in front of his chest, one atop the other, in the stereotypical Indian pose.

“I Chief, too,” Little Danny added enthusiastically as he proudly stood by his brother.

“Yeah, he Chief Wampums the Second!” Jonny exclaimed as Little Danny beamed.

“I'll wampum you,” Jack barked.  “Didn't we tell you two *never* to tie up your grandfather again?”

“He not Grandpa.  He dinner.  We stew him,” Jonny insisted, still deep in play mode.

“Jack, no more westerns for a while,” Daniel instructed, giving his husband a glare for the recent cowboy movie marathon Jack had treated the boys to.  “This is tied pretty well.  Did you two have help?” he asked suspiciously.

Trying to act normally, both boys glanced towards the kitchen, but then back at their fathers.

Jack coughed and walked to the edge of the kitchen and threatened, “This is CHIEF BIG CHEESE, and if you value ice cream and video games, you'll show yourself pronto!”

David crawled out from his cubbyhole hiding place and smiled as he claimed, “We were just playing, Dad.”

“Move!” Jack ordered, pointing to the living room.

“I'm so sorry,” Daniel said again as the last sheet was removed.

Hammond stood up and shook his arms as he growled at the experience.  He stared at the children, clearly displeased.

“You mad at us, Grandpa?” Little Danny asked with a small voice.  “I sorry.  Don't want you be mad.”

“We playing Indians.  Needed stew.  You heap big stew, Grandpa,” Jonny said.

Daniel cringed, and Jack shuddered.  They were sure they were about to be evicted.  Then, suddenly, Hammond began to laugh.  It was slow at first, and then it built into a loud and steady noise.

Jonny smiled, seeing his jolly Grandpa George being jolly.

“No, I'm not mad, Boys.  Come here,” Hammond encouraged, leaning over a bit and extending his arms.

The two young boys ran to him and threw their arms around him.

“What would happen if two Indians didn't have something to stew?” Hammond asked the two Indian braves.

“They be hungry,” Jonny answered.

“And we can't have that.  Did I ever you tell you the story about Big Ed Bryant?” The two boys shook their head.  “Well, now, he was the biggest, baddest, brawniest cowboy there ever was ...”

Jack and Daniel exchanged looks of relief as Hammond steered the boys upstairs, all the while telling them a story about the old west.

“Are we in trouble?” David asked, assuming that while Jonny and Little Danny seemed to be forgiven, as the oldest child involved, he probably wasn't.

“How did you do that?” Jack asked.

“You mean tie up Grandpa?” David asked, not really wanting to answer.

“That's exactly what I mean,” Jack said sternly.

“It wasn't easy.  Little Danny was the diversion, Jonny did the covert ops, and I helped ring him in,” the young boy explained.

“I don't even want to know,” Jack said, then sternly adding, “Never again.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir.  Am I on KP?” David asked, grimacing at the thought.

Jack and Daniel exchanged a look.

“Not this time,” Daniel said, though he added, “But we're serious, David.  Jonny and Little Danny look up to you.  You need to help us teach them how to behave.”

“And we know they were playing, but this is the second time for this little number, and that's two times too many,” Jack stated strongly.

“I understand.”

“Okay, go on,” Jack said, dismissing the boy.  As soon as he was out of range, Jack began to laugh.  “Geez, I can't believe that.”

“Jack, don't laugh,” Daniel said, beginning to chuckle himself.

It was too late, and, in a few more seconds, the lovers were laughing as they snuggled on the sofa.

====

It was the first day of a six-week Kinder Camp program that Chenoa had asked to attend.  Daniel was dropping her off in the Silver Fox.  He gave her a hug good-bye after signing her in and then watched for a moment as she hurried to join other young children assembling for this first session.

“There's that girl,” an older child said, seeing Chenoa.

Daniel heard the tone and saw the nasty expression on the girl's face.  He assumed that she was probably one of the children who had upset his daughter in the previous session.  For a moment, he considered taking Chenoa home.

“Noa!” another girl called out, but her tone and expression were the total opposite, full of gaiety and enthusiasm.

“Hi, Jody,” Chenoa responded with a smile.

The two girls hugged, and each had smiles on their faces.

“I can't believe she's back,” the oldest taunter said nastily.

Chenoa and Jody stared at the girl, and Chenoa said, “You just ignorant.  I sorry for you.  Maybe you learn when you grow up.  Come on, Jody, let's go play.”

Chenoa held out her hand to Jody who took it, and then they ran off to play, leaving the ignorance of others behind.  Watching, Daniel smiled, though his smile faded when he saw Mrs. Barnes approach the heckling child.

“Alison, didn't your mother talk to you about Chenoa?” Mrs. Barnes asked sternly.

“Yes,” the girl admitted, sighing.

“Well, then, you have a choice to make.  If you like, you can stay and participate, like your mother wants you to, and that means you treat every child here with respect, or I can call your mother and tell her that you've decided you'd rather not be here,” Mrs. Barnes offered.

“Please don't do that.  She'll get mad at me,” the girl pleaded.

“What you are telling me then, is that you'd like to stay?” the woman questioned intently.

“Yes, Ma'am,” the taunting child answered contritely.

“Very well.  I'd like you to go and apologize to Noa.”

“But ...”  The girl saw Mrs. Barnes' expression.  No apology meant her mother would be called, and clearly, that meant trouble for her at home.  “Yes, Mrs. Barnes.”

The director of the Kinder Camp program watched as Alison went outside to where Chenoa and Jody were.  She knew Alison wasn't happy, but she listened to make sure the girl followed through.

“I apologize, Chenoa,” Alison said in one long regretful sigh.

“It okay.  You learn,” Chenoa said, smiling.

Alison turned and walked away.

From the doorway, Mrs. Barnes shook her head.

“It's a start,” Daniel commented as he stood beside her.

“Oh, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, you startled me.”

“I'm sorry.  I, uh, wanted to make sure Noa was okay,” Daniel explained.

“It looks to me like she's grown up a lot in the last few months,” Mrs. Barnes said admiringly.

“She sure has.  Maybe that little girl will learn, too, I hope.”

“With time.  I hope so, too,” the director of the Kinder Camp stated.

====

“Jack, are you sure you want me here?” General Hammond asked before sitting down in his armchair.

“Sir, you don't have to, but you are their grandfather,” Jack said with a smile.  “I'm sure it would mean a lot to the kids.”

With a firm nod, Hammond sat down.  At various points in the living room, all eight of the Jackson-O'Neill children were seated.  Even the pets were gathered, snuggled in among them.

“Is everyone ... oh, yes, you are,” Daniel said, walking into the living room, a tape visible in his left hand.  “Are we ready?” he asked his husband.

Jack nodded and sat down between Aislinn and David on the sofa while Daniel put the tape they had selected earlier into the VCR.  Daniel turned back around and smiled at the brood.

“Okay, this, uh, is one of the tapes your mother made,” Daniel explained.

“I miss her,” David said sadly, bowing his head.

“We all do,” Jack said, raising his hand to ruffle the young boy's hair slightly.

“Mommy on tape?” Jenny asked, squirming just a tad in her spot.

“Yes, Jenny,” Daniel answered.

Eager to see Kayla, the toddler moved closer to the TV, saying, “I want to see her,” Jenny explained.

“This tape,” Daniel began, “is about love and how sometimes love isn't easy.  I know that sounds confusing, but listen to Mommy.  She, uh, explains it really well.”

Daniel put in the tape and sat down on the floor next to Jenny, who immediately climbed into his lap.  He kissed the top of her head and put his arms around her, sighing as Kayla's image came on the screen.

“Hey, my beautiful Munchkins!  Where are the twins?” Kayla's soft voice inquired, a beautiful smile gracing her face.

“We here!” Ricky shouted, climbing off the sofa where he had been next to Aislinn and moving to sit by Daniel.  “We here, Mommy,” he said again.

“Oh, there you are,” Kayla acknowledged, right on cue.

“Mouseketeers?  Roll call!”

~Geez, I miss her,~ Jack thought, knowing the young woman had done that for his benefit.

“Jennifer,” the teenager responded with a cracked voice.

“David,” the boy announced proudly.

“Noa!” Chenoa added confidently.  “We all here.”

“Good,” Kayla said.  “I wish I was there, too, but since I'm not, I want to tell you a story or two about some things that happened to me when I grew up.  Aunt Janet, are you there, too?”

The doorbell rang, and, grabbing the remote, Daniel hit pause.  Hammond went to the door, and a moment later, Janet hurried in.

“I'm sorry I'm late.  The surgery was a little more involved than I thought it would be.  Hi, Brood!” Janet greeted.

“Mommy ask for you,” Little Danny said.

~Oh, Kayla.~  Janet looked at the screen and smiled at her niece.  “She's beautiful,” she said more to herself than anyone else.  With a sigh, Janet sat down on the sofa where Ricky had been.  “Okay, ready,” she said.

With everyone settled once again, Daniel resumed the playback on the VCR.

“Hi, Aunt Janet,” Kayla said through the tape, a huge smile on her face.  “Okay, Brood, you all know how much I love Aunt Janet.  Well, there was a time when we had a big, big, *big* fight.  Remember?”

“Boy, do I.  I was ready to kick her all the way to China,” Janet said boisterously.

“You were ready to send me packing to Timbuckto,” Kayla said over the tape.

“Close,” Janet laughed.

“Let me tell you what happened ...”

The children listened attentively as Kayla told her story about when she was ten years old and staying with Janet's family.  Always a free spirit, Kayla had tested the boundaries of Janet's patience on this particular visit, and they'd had a big fight as a result.

“I never thought she'd forgive me,” Kayla spoke on the tape.  “I invaded her privacy, used her things without permission, and butted in where I didn't belong.  I don't know if I ever said it, Aunt Janet, but I'm sorry, and I love you very much.”

“You were a little girl, Kayla,” Janet said softly, a smile on her face, but with a few tears running down her cheeks.  ~And I love you, too.~

“What I'm hoping all of you get from this is that loving someone doesn't mean you won't get mad at them sometimes.  Jonny, Little Danny, Ash, Ricky, and Jenny, you are all precious.  Remember to say you're sorry when you say hurtful things, and don't be afraid to say, 'I love you' every night to your brothers and sisters.  I don't care what your friends think about how you are or what you do.  They are your friends, but your brothers and sisters are your family, and family is the most important thing ever.”

Little Danny chose that moment to climb up onto Hammond's lap.  He was quickly joined by Jonny.

“Boys, you're responsible for protecting your sisters.  Hold their hands when strangers are around, or when they're scared.  Boys, hold each other's hand, too, when strangers are around, or when you're scared, and yes, boys do get scared, and that's okay,” Kayla spoke firmly.  “I don't want to ever hear that you didn't protect each other because you didn't want to show your affection and caring.  You are all each other has in this world, and you have to rely on one another, along with your parents, of course.”

“I no 'fraid to hold Little Danny's hand,” Jonny said.

“Mine?” Ricky looked up.

“You my bro'her.  I hold your hand, too, and David's.  Mommy right,” Jonny pronounced, earning nods from all the boys.

Daniel had pressed 'pause' as soon as Jonny had interrupted.  Sensing they were ready to move on, he pressed 'play' once again.

“Jen, David, Noa, I'm counting on you to lead the way.  You *are* the oldest, and the Munchkins and the twins learn from you.  Hey, let me tell you about this photo,” Kayla said suddenly.

The woman changed the subject, going on for several minutes about a photo taken on her trip to France.

“Well, that's all for right now, but I can't wait to talk to you all some more.  I love you, all of you, and that includes you, Jack and Daniel.  Thank you again for letting me be a mother.  Sleep well, my babies.”

“She was an amazing woman,” Hammond spoke quietly.

“She our mother,” Jonny said, full of pride.

“And a good one, too,” Hammond acknowledged, smiling.

“Aunt Janet, were you really that mad at Ka...Mom?” Jennifer asked.

“At the time, yes, but being angry is part of life.  What's important is what she told you.  Get the anger out, say you're sorry, and move forward,” Janet counseled.

“We watch more?” Jenny pleaded, looking up at Daniel with hopeful eyes.

“Well ...” Daniel faltered.

“Please?” Ricky added.

“Yeah, want to see Mommy,” Chenoa added.

Soon, all of the brood was heard from.  Everyone wanted to see and hear more of Kayla, through the wonderful tapes she'd made.

Jennifer smiled brightly as she requested, “I think we'd like to see the next part of the tape.”

**What's next on this tape, Angel?**

**Uh, I think it's just talking about her love of photography.  It's a short segment.  She did a great job with these, Jack.**

**Let's let it play.**

“Okay,” Daniel said.  “One more segment.”

“Yay!” came the happy cries as the children settled down to listen again to the woman who was their mother, if not by birth, then by the sheer volume of love they shared.

====

“Babe, I think we should have the tapes transferred to DVD and copies made for all the brood,” Daniel opined after the viewing session had come to a close and Janet had left for her home.

“Yeah, these tapes will mean even more to them when they're older,” Jack agreed as he put the tape that had been listened to this evening away.  “I didn't realize until we watched these how much she'd included.  I thought all she'd done was a video diary of her pregnancy.”

“Yeah,” Daniel replied softly.  “I wonder ...”

“Wonder what?” Jack asked, looking at his lover, who had grown silent and reflective.

“I don't know, but when she gave the tapes to us, that's what she said, that they were just her thoughts about the pregnancy, but they're ... they're just so much more than that.  I ... just wonder if somehow, she ... she knew.”

“I don't think so, Angel.  I don't buy into that 'I know I'm gonna die too young' business.”

“I guess, and she certainly wasn't acting like that, but it's such a gift for the children.”

“That's exactly what it was, Danny, a wonderful gift.  I'll have the transfers to DVD done, and we'll keep copies in our safe deposit box, too.”

Daniel smiled.  The lovers would always have backups for their backups, especially for something so important as making sure their children would never forget the woman who had brought them into the world.

====

The weather was warm this Friday afternoon, but Jack and Daniel still made sure the children were properly bundled up and wearing their helmets.  They were going for a neighborhood bike ride, something the Munchkins had been eagerly pushing for all day since they'd each gotten new bicycles for their third birthday the day the day before and were anxious to try them out.

Jennifer had a ten-speed, as did Daniel, whose bicycle was one of the latest deluxe versions.  Jack, who also had a deluxe ten-speed at home, was today riding a tandem bicycle, with Ricky in a seat behind him, since the boy hadn't quite been able to master the tricycle on his own yet.  His steering and pedaling coordination wasn't quite there yet.

“Everyone all set?” Jack asked, looking back at their eight children.  Seeing a group of nods, he said, “Off we go!”

“Into idle blue under,” Ricky sang as he sat in the second position, pretending to steer the bike.

“Ricky, it's wild blue under,” Jenny corrected as she looked down at her feet that rested on the pedals of her tricycle.

Jenny was more curious than her twin about how bicycles worked, and she was a little more advanced in her motor skills.  She was still a tad shaky with steering, but was doing well enough that her parents were allowing her to ride her new tricycle.  Ricky wasn't upset at all about not being allowed to ride his new tricycle.  In fact, he liked that he got to be with his older father on the tandem bike, thinking it was really cool.

“Actually, you guys, it's the wild blue yonder,” David said, moving his bike carefully alongside Jenny's bike, having quietly promised his parents that he'd keep a close watch on Jenny.

“What's a yonder?” Ricky asked.

“It means over there,” David answered.

“Where?” Ricky questioned, not understanding the response.

“Anywhere!” David replied.

“No make sense,” Jenny said, pedaling faster to go ahead of David into the 'yonder' that she didn't quite understand.

Jack continued to lead the way, and Daniel brought up the rear.  They weren't setting any pace records with the younger kids being part of the caravan, but they were having a great time.  Jennifer and David sometimes went out ahead, but always circled back before getting too far in front of the group.

“Johanna, who are they?” Andrea Bryson asked.  “I've never seen them before.”

The two women were standing by the front porch of Johanna's home, just visiting.  Johanna had come outside to get her mail, which she was holding in her hand, just as Andrea had returned home from running some errands.  Simple greetings had evolved in a long gabfest that was still going strong.

Johanna Severson responded, “Uh, what were their names?  Oh, yes, Jackson-O'Neill.  They're staying at the General's house.”

“George Hammond's?” Andrea asked.

“Yes.”  Johanna gasped with realization.  “Oh, you've never seen them before?  I forgot you've been living at your summer place in Florida.”

“Where are their wives?” Andrea asked, admiring the two handsome men.

“Well, I'm not sure which one is the 'wife',” Johanna answer cattily.

“Excuse me?” the woman asked, giving Johanna a strange look.

“The two men are ... well, you know what they are,” Johanna whispered.  “They seem quite nice, and the general raves about them, but, I don't know which one is the female.”

Andrea turned bleached white and with wide eyes asked, “You mean they're ...”

“Mmm...mmm,” Johanna said, her head bobbing up and down in a factual manner.

By now, the Jackson-O'Neills were right in front of Johanna's house where the two women were gawking and gossiping.

“Daddy, bike no go,” Chenoa said, stopping and getting off her tiny Disney princess bike.

“Jack, wait up!” Daniel called out, causing a chain reaction of braking motions from the children up ahead.

Daniel got off his ten-speed and parked it.  He walked up to Chenoa, who was holding up her bike.

“Sweetie, it's just the chain.  I can fix that,” Daniel told her as he moved back to his bike to get a couple of things he needed.

Chenoa had a big grin on her face and said, “Daddy fix anything!”

Daniel chuckled, “Actually, Dad can fix anything, but I try hard, too.”

As Daniel began to work on the chain, one by one, the other children began to circle around.

Jack hung back, giving the kids space to still ride around in while staying within his line of sight.

Jonny and Little Danny stopped riding around in circles, each wanting to watch Daniel fix Chenoa's bicycle.  They rode their bikes as close as they could, but both wanted to see better.  Jonny pulled his Bumper camouflage bike, which was the most sophisticated of all the younger children's bicycles due to his advanced motor skills, to the curb and got off, while his Munchkin brother did the same with his Schwinn tiger bike.



Side-by-side, Jonny and Little Danny walked over behind Daniel to watch him fix their sister's bicycle.

“How in the world did they get those children?” Andrea asked Johanna.

“I don't know.  Sometimes I wonder why we even have Social Services.”

“Aren't there laws about this?” Andrea asked nastily, looking a bit like the Wicked Witch in 'The Wizard of Oz' in Jack's mind.

Johanna shrugged and, waving her hand with the mail in it towards Hammond's home, said, “It amazes me that the general is associating with those types, being in the military and all.”

“Those poor children.  They are the victims, to have two ... two ... gay men as parents?  Tsk tsk tsk.”

Jonny looked over at the two women and glared.  The women may have talking quietly, but in the stillness of the day, their voices carried.

“Me no un'erstand all, Little Danny, but they make fun of us!” Jonny told his brother.

“They just ig'rant, Jonny,” Little Danny said, recalling all the lessons learned over the summer.

“Look at those two boys, Andrea.  They are adorable,” Johanna commented, unable to contain a small smile from breaking out.

“Yes, they are,” Andrea agreed, ignoring the glares.  In fact, she smiled towards Jonny and Little Danny.  “It's just so sad, Johanna.  I pity them and their life.  I would think that the one fixing the bike would be the woman.  He has that ... look.  The other one is more rugged.”

“He sure is handsome,” Johanna acknowledged about Jack.  “What a shame he's not a real man, if you know what I mean.”

Jonny tugged on Little Danny's arm, and the two marched up to the two gossipers.

“We know you ig'rant; no know better, but you shouldn't say bad things.  You no even know us,” Jonny reprimanded, pointing his finger up at the women and jabbing it into the air several times as he spoke.

“We lucky,” Little Danny said.  “Dad 'n' Daddy love us; we have good home, not live in cars.  Jonny right; it's not nice to say bad things 'bout people.  We f'give you being ig'rant.  You do better, 'kay?”

“Jonny, Little Danny!” Jack called out.  He could see looks of astonishment on the faces of the two stunned women, who watched in silence as the two boys returned to their bicycles.  He stared at the women; then smiled and greeted, “Hello, Ladies.”

Having completed his task, Daniel stood.  He pulled out a handkerchief to wipe his hands, and, as he did so, he, too, stared at the women.

“They ig'rant, Daddy, but we teach them,” Little Danny said with pride.

“We try, Daddy,” Jonny said.  “We ride bikes now?”

“Yes, Son.  Get on your bikes, please.”  Daniel looked back at the two women, who were so taken aback that they didn't know what to do.  He smiled and said, “I think he's handsome, too.  Have a good day!”

Johanna and Andrea turned red, realizing that apparently their entire conversation had been overheard by all of the family.  Seeing the looks on the other children's faces, they looked away.

“Jen, they don't seem mean,” David said.

“They probably aren't, David.  They are who they are.  They don't know us, and they're judging us because of what they don't know.”

David considered Jennifer's words which were in line with things Jack and Daniel had been saying for a long time.  He also knew that the only way to get rid of ignorance is by education, and sometimes, the young boy had learned, education did not come from books.

“Let's go, Brood,” Jack called out.

“One second, Dad,” David requested, riding his bike up Johanna's driveway.  He smiled as he stopped, got off his bike, and walked up to the women.  “Hi, I'm David Morgan Jackson-O'Neill.  I'm looking to earn some money, and I was wondering if you had any chores I could do this weekend.  I promise I'll work hard, and one of my fathers would be with me, at least to drop me off and pick me up.  You could ... get to know us a little.  We're staying with General Hammond.  Everyone knows him; he's our grandpa.  Well, not really, but ... well, yes, he is,” David reaffirmed.

“Well, I ...” Johanna hesitated.

Daniel had ridden up the driveway part way, looking to see if David was forcing the conversation.  His eyes connected with the woman.

Johanna smiled, looking out over the children, then at Jack, and back at Daniel.

“I'm a good worker,” David added, eager to both earn some money and to change the women's mind.

“Sir, are you David's father?” Johanna asked Daniel, knowing the answer, but needing an opening.

“I'm one of them.  I'm Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.  That's my husband, Jack,” Daniel said, nodding over at his sexy Silver Fox.

“I do have a few things David could do to earn some money. There's a shed in the back that needs to be cleaned out, the patio needs to be washed down and the railings cleaned, and my car could use a good washing.  If he wants, and you agree, I'd like to have him do those chores; maybe a few more.”

“Johanna!” Andrea exclaimed in shocked disapproval.

“Andrea, those boys are right.  We don't know them, and maybe before condemning them, we should at least know their names.”

“I ... excuse me,” Andrea said, turning around and quickly returning to her own home, puzzled by her neighbor's sudden change of heart.

Johanna smiled, feeling ashamed of her conversation with Andrea, and sighed, “I know you overheard, and I sincerely apologize.  You have some very ... brave children, Mister Jackson-O'Neill.”

~They're perfect!~  Daniel smiled as he looked at their brood and then responded, “Uh, tomorrow would be good.  Any particular time?”

“Nine-ish?” Johanna suggested.

“David?” Daniel asked.

“Okay,” the young boy responded.

“Mrs ...”

“Severson, but please call me Johanna.”

“And I'm Daniel.  Uh, please understand, that one of us, me or Jack, uh, that's Jack,” Daniel said, again pointing out his husband, “will be with David because, uh ...”

Johanna wore a warm smile and completed Daniel's sentence by saying, “Because you're a good parent who isn't about to let his son go to a stranger's home alone.”

“Something like that,” Daniel agreed with a shrug.

“I'm sorry, Daniel, for what I said.  I would very much like to get to know you and your family.  Please, let David come over and feel free to come yourself, or Jack.”

“Thank you.  One of us will bring David over around nine on Saturday.  It was good to meet you, Johanna.”

“And you, too, Daniel!” Johanna exclaimed.  With a last glance and smile, she returned to the inside of her home and called out a final “Bye,” as she closed her door.

“David, you did good,” Jonny praised.

“We proud of you,” Little Danny said.

“Nah, I didn't do anything special, but I'm proud of you two.  Mommy's smiling right now.”

Jonny and Little Danny lit up like Christmas trees as they rode over towards Jack to tell him what David had said.

“What you did was a big something, David, and Mommy's proud of you, too,” Daniel said.

“They learn from us, and I learn from them,” David said as he, too, moved towards the front of the bike line.

A minute later, the Jackson-O'Neills were back on the biking road.

**You did good, Angel.**

**It wasn't me.  She heard what Jonny and Little Danny said, and then David putting himself on the line like that.  It was our children setting the example.  I'm so proud of them.**

**Me, too.**

“Jack, watch out!” Daniel shouted.

“Yikes!” Jack cried out as he swerved, just managing to miss a car.

“Dad, no hit car!” Aislinn said, chastising her father for his close miss.

“Watch where you going, Dad!” Chenoa called out.

“Everyone's a critic,” Jack laughed as he focused at what was ahead of him.

So far, it had been a really good day for the Jackson-O'Neill clan.
 
====

A few days later, Jack was the only adult at the Hammond home with the Munchkins.  All the other children and family members were away at the moment.

“Nap time,” Jack announced.

Within a couple of minutes, Aislinn and Little Danny were asleep.  Jack looked at Jonny who was standing by his bed.

“Dad, I no want to take nap,” Jonny stated calmly.  As Jack started to tell him he had to, the boy spoke up, suggesting, “I sit here and color, okay?”

Jack smiled at his namesake, nodded, and agreed, “Okay, no noise.”

“No noise.  I big boy.  No need nap today,” the toddler informed his father.

“You certainly are a big boy,” Jack agreed.  ~And learning, which is good.  You're growing up -- too fast, Jonny,~ the silver-haired man silently lamented.

Jack watched Jonny settle down onto his bed and begin to color.  After a couple of minutes, he turned to walk out.

“Dad?” Jonny called out.

“Yes, Son?” Jack asked as he turned back around.

“Maybe I take nap in few minutes,” Jonny said as he yawned.

Jack chuckled and said, “Okay, that would be good, if that's what you want to do.”

Jonny smiled and said, “I think so.  Dad, you sit with me?”

~Geez, how they make me feel,~ Jack thought.  “I can do that,” he said, moving to the bed.  He sat down next to his son and watched his son draw a picture of a house full of people, all of whom had smiles on their stick bodies.  ~Box of crayons - four bucks; college education - way too much money; sitting here watching my son color - priceless!~

“Love you, Dad,” Jonny said after several minutes.

“I love you, too,” Jack responded, kissing his son on the head.

“I sleep now.”

“Okay,” Jack replied, tucking his son in and giving him a kiss.  “Sleep tight, Son.”

====

The scene in place now was similar to one that had occurred months before, Jack was standing at the doorway, just watching Jonny breathing.  He never heard Daniel arrive home with the Mouseketeers and the twins.

“Jack, is something wrong?” Daniel asked, a bit concerned.

“No, but you know something, Angel?” Jack asked as he took Daniel into his arms.

“What?”

“Jonny's a big boy now.”  Jack gave his husband a kiss, then asked, “So what's the latest crisis?”

“Well, Jen thinks we should let her go to that party, and David wants ...”

Jack smiled.  Life without a child crisis going on just wasn't life.

====
--October – Flare-up
====

The first week-plus of October had gone along smoothly.  The family had celebrated another birthday on the sixth, when Chenoa turned four.  The affair had been hosted by Angela Wilson and had been quite elaborate because, as Sara had explained it, “Angela really wanted to make sure Noa knew how much she'd missed her when Mommy was kinda nutty.”

“Wow, it's so much bigger,” Jennifer commented as she stepped out of Jack's truck and surveyed the extensions to their home.

Jack and Daniel had agreed to come by in order to review a few things with Alex.  While the rest of the children were with various friends, Little Danny had asked to come with them.  He missed their home and even though he'd been there briefly in September to see the tree house, he still wanted to go.  Jack and Daniel had asked Jennifer to come along as well to keep an eye on the toddler in case their meeting with Alex became more involved than anticipated.

“Ya think?” Jack asked, closing his door.  “That was the *general* idea,” he boasted, pulling his shirt out with his thumbs, like imaginary suspenders.

“PU, Jack, that was really bad!” Daniel responded, pinching his nose.

“Dad not smell bad!” exclaimed Little Danny.

“No, sometimes his jokes sure do,” Daniel teased, a sly smile on his face.  He could almost hear the gears whirring furiously as his namesake tried to process his comment.  Genius though he was, Little Danny was still a toddler and hadn't grasped the concepts of sarcasm and exaggeration -- yet.  “Never mind, Sproglet. Dad and Daddy were just being silly.  Let's get a closer look at our new house.”

“It look diff'rent,” Little Danny said as Daniel took hold of his hand and they walked forward.

“Just the new part.  It's still our home,” the archaeologist responded.

“Jen, make sure you're holding one of Little Danny's hands at all times,” Jack instructed.

“Yes, Dad,” Jennifer said, shaking her head at Jack's unnecessary instructions.

“Roll your eyes if you want to, Jen, just keep him close,” Daniel stated strongly, handing over his son's hand to the teenager.  Hearing Little Danny sigh, he knelt down and spoke, “I know you're a big boy, but right now, there's a lot happening here that can be dangerous, especially to a small boy.  You promised to stay with Jen, remember?”

“I be good,” Little Danny promised again.  Carefully, they made their way around the house to the backyard.  “There Mis'er La'per,” he called out excitedly.

Jack and Daniel looked, spotting the man working hard at his labor.

“Stu, how's it going?” Jack yelled out.

“Just great, Jack.  Thanks!” Stuart Lapierre responded, waving his right hand as he paused briefly from his work.

As Jack and Daniel moved towards the other side of the yard, Jennifer and Little Danny trailed behind, eventually sitting down on the patio steps.

====

Allowing their children to remain in the backyard, Jack and Daniel met up with Alex inside the new part of the house.  They were awestruck at the spaces taking shape within the structure.  The walls were still bare studs, with wires and pipes running through the interior cavities, but it was obvious that the progress of the house was picking up speed.

The well-organized designer reviewed the switch and outlet locations and had Jack and Daniel confirm all the finish selections, including decorative hardware and surface mount light fixtures.

“If there's anything you want to change, now is the time to do it; decorative changes are easy to make at this point, but there will be no time to redo something you decide you don't like once it is up,” Alex pointed out.

“What are those white tubes running through almost every wall?” Daniel asked, curious about most everything going on.

“That's the tubing for your central vac system.  Here, let me show you.”

Alex led the two men over to a wall that had a section of drywall up.  He lifted up a small plastic cover that was roughly three-inches wide by seven-inches tall and then pulled a vacuum hose out of the wall until a huge pile of hose lay coiled at his feet.

“It's a snake,” Jack teased.

Daniel just shook his head, ignoring his childish husband to watch what Alex was doing.

The designer flipped a small lever in the cavity and picked up a hollow black plastic closed loop handle with a metal tube sticking out of one end.  He inserted the plastic end into the flexible cuff on the hose.

Grinning, Alex said, “You are going to be so glad you listened to me on this.”

“Are we placing bets?” Jack quipped.

Standing with his arms folded across his chest as he listened, Daniel chastised “Jack,” while nudging his lover with his elbow.

The designer spoke, “Let me explain how this works.  The lever locks the hose so that it is not sucked back into the tube when the system is activated.  In this type of central vac system, the tubes are large enough that hose is actually stored inside them, so there are no long hoses to lug around and store.  The on/off function of the main power unit is activated by radio control, by the buttons on the handle.  There are no electric wires in the inlets, or the hose, which is why the carpet cleaning nozzles with rotating brushes are either battery powered, or turbine driven by the suction of the system.”

With that, Alex pushed a button on the handle and a whoosh of air started just as he offered the opening at the end of the tube to Jack, who immediately covered the opening with his palm.

“Holy Suck...tion!” Jack exclaimed.  **That's some suction!**

**I know what you're thinking, Babe.**

**I don't think so.**

**I do,** Daniel replied confidently.

**Daniel!**

**Jack, it's me or the hose.**

**There's a lot of power in this thing, Danny.**

**Are you saying it's better than me?** Daniel asked silently, but without looking at his lover, something he knew would be a big mistake.

**No way, but maybe in a pinch,** the older man teased in return, disappointed when Daniel evaded his glare.  ~Chicken!~ he thought, knowing he could turn his husband crimson red if he could engage Daniel's cerulean blue eyes for even a moment.

**I'll pinch you ...**

**Promises, promises, that's ...** Jack began.

“Jack, Daniel, are you two with me?” Alex asked, sensing the two were no longer paying attention.  ~Where do they go when they zone out like that anyway?~

“What?” both men asked at the same time, each with innocent and wide-eyed looks on their faces.

Alex shook his head as he observed, “Sometimes, it just seems like you guys are on another planet or something.”

“Another planet?” Jack questioned, glancing at his lover and this time delighting in seeing the soulful blue eyes he adored.  “What an idea.”

“Can't imagine,” Daniel teased, hanging his head as he tried not to laugh.

“Guys?” Alex chastised, trying to regain some control over the meeting.

“Sorry,” Daniel replied only a bit contritely.  “Where were we?”

“Jack, are you going to keep playing with that?” Alex asked, seeing how the general was continuing to push his palm against the vacuum, creating loud suction noises.

Jack grinned and shut it off as he spoke wryly, “I was just thinking about the possibilities for this baby.”

“Possibilities?” Alex questioned.

“Never mind,” Daniel said.  **Jack, shut up.**

**Yes, Angel,** Jack communicated compliantly.

“Jack, turn it back on for a second, and I'll show you how the hose stores,” Alex instructed.  With the unit on again, he stated, “Now, just pull the handle out of the hose.  Leave the unit on ... that's it.  Now flip that lever in the wall opening back the other way.”

Jack and Daniel watched the entire length of hose retract and disappear into the wall in ten seconds.  Immediately after that, Alex nodded for Jack to the unit shut off.  

“Sweet!” Jack remarked.

“Isn't that ... dangerous?” the archaeologist questioned.

“It can be,” Alex confirmed.  “That's why I wanted to demonstrate for you what happens when you don't hang on to the end.  By the way, the radio control in the handle will turn the system on or off, even if it is not inserted in the end of the hose.”

“That works,” Daniel acknowledged.

“One more thing about the system,” Alex interjected.  “You can't damage the motor by leaving it run without an open inlet.  The thermal cut off kicks in if it gets too hot.”

“I like that,” the archaeologist said with a nod.

Alex continued, “There are a total of eight of these throughout the house, including one in the garage.  You'll be able to use four ...”

“What's next, Alex?” Daniel asked.  “I mean, I'm sorry, but it's ...”

“Captain Crunch time,” Jack teased, interrupting his lover.  “We get the idea, and we're watching the clock again.”

“It's all in the manual anyway; make sure you read it,” Alex remarked before moving on to the next thing.  “All right, remember I talked about a granite countertop for the hospitality room?  Here are some samples.”

“It's kinda pricey,” Jack stated, fidgeting with the samples the designer had just placed on the table.  “We're already way over the budget.”

**What budget?** the younger man questioned.

**Just thought it sounded good,** Jack admitted, knowing the couple had never ever discussed a budget for the huge undertaking being done.  His entire goal was to keep Daniel happy.  He'd give every penny he had, and so much more, for that end.  “Expensive,” he repeated.

“Yes, it is, Jack,” Alex responded.  “It's also very durable and very beautiful.  The kitchen is too hidden to warrant the expense there, but this room is highly visible and will do double duty as an indoor-outdoor serving area.  It will go well with the tile and the crown molding you have picked. You'll love it once it's in.”

**Danny?**  Jack saw his husband shrug as he exhibited a very cute and confident smile on his face.  “Looks like you win again, Alex.”

“No, you guys win,” Alex corrected.  “It's a great choice.”

====

As Jack and Daniel continued to work their way through Alex's list of decisions to be made, making great progress in a short amount of time, events in the backyard had taken a nastier turn.

It had begun the instant Jack and Stu had said their hellos.  As soon as Jack and Daniel had disappeared inside the house with Alex, when the trouble escalated.

“Kissing up to the weirdos, Lapierre?” a worker said sarcastically, pursing his lips and making a smacking sound.

“They're good people,” Stu responded.

“If I had known they were queers, I never would have taken this job,” the man said, twisting his facial features in disgust.

“So leave,” Stu challenged.

Stuart Lapierre had been working for the contractor for a few months now, and his bosses were very happy with his work ethic and the quality of his labor.  He was generally well liked, except by a few of his coworkers who resented how easily he had been hired.  The complainers had other friends who had been laid off, and they were unhappy that Jack and Daniel's influence had gotten Lapierre the job.

The dissenters had kept quiet, until now.  Bolstered by two temporary workers, who were taking the place of two men injured while working on another job, the dissenters became a little braver.  The temps were working on the install of the specialized HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system.  At the moment, they were on break, sitting off on their own, but close to where Lapierre and some others were working on the house.

The workmen were careful to keep their voices low enough so that Alex, Jack, and Daniel wouldn't hear them from inside the house.  Jennifer and Little Danny, however, were watching all the activity as they remained in the background, Jennifer sitting on the patio steps with her brother in her lap.  They had heard the exchange between Lapierre and the others.

“Jen, why they no like Mis'er La'per?” Little Danny asked with sad eyes as he looked over his shoulder at his sister.

~I can't believe they'd say those things, knowing we're here.~  Jennifer frowned, displeased that her brother had witnessed the exchange.  “It's not him they don't like, Little Danny.”

The toddler thought and thought, and then asked, “What 'queer' mean?”  After Jennifer wrapped her arms tighter around him, he commented, “We hear that word lots.”

“It's a bad word in the way that man used it.  Remember the carnival?” the teenager asked as she tried to get the little boy to understand.

The comparison worked as Little Danny concluded, “Bad mens say bad things.”

“Danny, there will always be people like that out there.  We just have to do our best to ignore them,” Jennifer replied softly as she ran her hand along the back of Little Danny's head.

The middle Munchkin looked back over at the workers.  He still didn't understand why the men didn't like Carrie's father, but he had heard his sister's words and decided to ignore the men, focusing instead on a squirrel that was running along the fence.

====

A minute later, at the front of the homestead, a huge truck pulled onto the site, backing up as close to the house as possible.  Plywood had been laid in a makeshift sidewalk to cut down on the amount of mud tracked into the house.

Garrett, the foreman, used his bullhorn to get everyone's attention and call them to help with the unloading.  All of the new appliances and cabinetry were in the truck and had to be taken into the house.

Stu Lapierre had a loaded dolly, and Bill, another crew member, was guiding and helping steady the load.

“You sure your wrists ain't too limp for that man's work, Stuie?” Bill cracked.

“Bill, what is your problem?” Stu asked pointedly.  “You and I have been just fine for three months, and now, all of a sudden, you're making all kinds of insinuations.  What is up with that?”

“I'd never cotton up to a couple of their kind just to get a job,” Bill sneered.

There was a bottleneck in the line of cartons going into the house, and progress was halted while more room was made inside for them.

Stu set the dolly upright and took the opportunity to speak directly to Bill, explaining, “I was down and out, Bill.  I lost my house and was about to live in my car with my wife and four kids.  I was about to tell my little Carrie that we were going to have to give her dog away.”

“I'm crying,” the man mocked, making an ugly face as he did so.

“Look, I've never felt so worthless in my life as I did at that moment, but I got lucky, and I admit it was luck.  Their Little Danny cried for my Carrie and told his parents about us, and for reasons I'll never understand but will always be grateful for, those two men moved the house that sat right over there and allowed me and my family to move into it rather than see it torn down.”

“Lousy do-gooders.”

“Do you have a brain?  Don't you get that what those two men did for my family is more than I'll ever be able to repay?”  Stu took a breath, amazed at the truth as he continued, “And they didn't stop there.  Yeah, okay, they got me this job, but I've worked hard every second.  I've earned my paycheck.”

“Someone else's paycheck,” Bill spat.

“Give me a break.  What would you do?” Stu asked as he threw his hands up in the air.

“I wouldn't take nothin' from no queers, that's for sure,” Bill argued.

“Wouldn't you?  Are you really that much of a moron that you'd let your family starve and live on the streets because of someone else's sexual preference?  Are you that much of a bigot, Bill, that your family's welfare is second to your opinions?” Stu questioned, surprised at his co-worker's continued lack of understanding.

“Watch the name-calling,” Bill challenged.

“*Me*?”  Stu calmed himself, deciding to try and just move on.  “Look, I'm sorry those guys got laid off, but I can't help them.  I didn't take one of their jobs.”  He sighed and then continued, “You and me are lucky; we have jobs, for now, anyway.  You don't have to like me, but you do have to work with me.  Now, let's get busy so we can make sure we keep the jobs we're so fortunate to have, okay?”

Stu hoped he had made his point, but down deep, he knew he hadn't.  He was a bit relieved when Bill walked away to focus on another task.

Unfortunately, all Bill heard was the reference to Jack and Daniel as parents. Over the next twenty minutes, he glanced over at Stu frequently as he complained to other workers about the man.  Once, he stared at Jennifer and Little Danny.

~Not your fault, but you are what you are.  Queers begat queers.~

====

“You two doing okay?” Daniel asked, coming over to check on the children.

“Just fine, Daddy,” Jennifer said.

“Daddy, see squirrels,” Little Danny pointed towards the fence.

Daniel turned and smiled, seeing three squirrels chasing each other up and around a pole.

“Yeah, friends, I guess.”  Daniel knelt down and smiled again.  “We're stuck helping to make a bunch of decisions we didn't know we needed to make today.  It's going to be a little longer.  You okay with that?” he asked, reaching out to tickle his namesake in the abdomen.

Little Danny giggled as he leaned into Jennifer and said, “We okay.  Right, Jen?”

“We're having a great time,” the oldest of the Jackson-O'Neill children agreed.

“You sure?” Daniel asked, placing his hand on her shoulder supportively.

“Actually,” Jennifer said, taking a big breath, “it's really nice to be here.”

“Okay, Dad and I are going to be inside the new addition for a little while.”

“Okay, Daddy,” Jennifer responded.

Daniel stood up and ruffled Little Danny's hair, earning him another smile and giggle from the little boy.  As he walked away, he felt a joy run through him.  There was nothing better than seeing a smile and hearing a laugh from his children, except maybe for the sanctity of his nation of two with his soulmate.

====

After the truck was unloaded, Garrett called a twenty-minute break, during which Frank, the more vocal of the two HVAC temps, sauntered up to Stu and walked around to ogle his backside.

Frank hooted loudly, “Dunno boys.  Don't look like there's enough there to pay for a house, does it?”

Raw, raucous laughter rippled through the group of men.

“Knock it off, Frank,” Stu said agitatedly.  “Geez, I don't really know them all that well.  They felt sorry for my kids, okay, and helped me out, all right?”

“Queerlover,” Frank said, his face contorting in an ugly expression as he spoke.  “You disgust me,” Frank responded rudely.

~I've had enough of this bum.~  Stu sarcastically responded, “Yeah, well the feeling's mutual.  You're welcome to leave anytime.  Don't let the doorknob hit ya where the good Lord split ya.”

“I wouldn't be talkin' 'bout bein' split if I was you.  The one guy looks like he's packin',” Frank quipped.

More raucous laughter broke out among the workers as they relaxed.

“Yeah, Stuie, it takes a lot of playin' 'Hide the Salami' to pay for a friggin' house, don't it, boys?” taunted Carl, the other HVAC temp, mimicking Frank.

“General O'Neill and Doctor Jackson have never ...”

“Of course, you could get lucky and be the one whose salami they want to hide,” Frank laughed, terribly impressed with his humor.

Stu had come a very long way in a few months in terms of learning tolerance and acceptance, but he still worked in a trade where love between two men was considered weak and disgusting, and the worst insult one man could hurl at another was to imply or declare that he desired the touch of another man.  Stu's veins stood out on his neck like blue ropes.

“All riled up and not man enough to do anything about it, Mister Lah Dee Dah Lapierre?” Frank challenged.  He saw Stu take a step forward and then hesitate.  “Bring it on, Queerlover, or are your wrists too limp to fight?”

Bill taunted, “Maybe he needs to get his nails done, Frank!”

“Yeah.  What's your favorite shade -- 'Feel Me Pink' or 'Do Me Red'?” Frank hissed.

Stu's control was ripped from his grasp, and with a roar, he launched himself on top of Frank.  He got off three good punches, one to the left eye, one to the nose, and one to the jaw, before Garrett pulled him up.

“Break it up!” Garrett yelled as he ran in the middle of the two fighting men.  The anger was far from over, though, and the men continued to try and get to the other.  “I said break it up!”  When the men stilled slightly, the foreman inquired angrily, “What's going on here?”  When neither man answered, he looked at Stu and said, “Stu, I never expected any trouble out of you?  What happened?”

“He's just defending the honor of his two new boyfriends,” Frank spat, along with a mouthful of mucous, spit, and blood.

Garrett pulled Stu back and said tersely, “Let it go.  For your own good, let it go.”

Stu bristled a little at the injustice of the situation, but knew that he had no choice except to drop the matter.  He didn't want to cause more problems himself; besides, he needed this job and didn't want to risk losing it.

--

“Jen?”

There was a small quaver in Little Danny's voice as he looked up at Jennifer, and tears were welling up in his eyes.  He wanted to go and help his friend's father.

“No, stay here,” the teenager ordered, making sure her grip was tight.  She knew Little Danny would go get in the middle of things if she didn't maintain a tight hold on the wriggling boy and somehow reassure him.  The two had seen and heard the entire run-in between the construction workers.  “Mister Lapierre is okay.”

Just then Daniel called out from inside the house, “Jen, Little Danny, come here.” When the two approached, he informed, “Dad has to talk to Alex for a few more minutes, and while he's doing that, I need to make a call.  It's a little noisy here, though, so let's go out front and wait for Dad in the truck.”

“Daddy ...” Jen began, worried about her little brother who seemed to have withdrawn into himself.

From the new addition, Jack called out, “Daniel, don't forget to call Megan.  We can't miss that deadline.”

“Okay.”  Daniel looked apologetically at Jennifer as he asked, “Can it wait a few minutes, Jen?”

The teenager nodded and quietly followed Daniel and Little Danny outside, where she sat with her brother in the truck, waiting for their younger father to finish his business with Megan.

--

“You gonna cause me problems?” Garrett asked Stu, happy when the man shook his head.  Nodding, he turned and walked up to Frank.  “Look, if you can't or don't want to finish your job, you're welcome to leave.  It wouldn't look very professional for you to quit right now, but if you can't ...”

“You're a queer lover, Garr*ette*?” Frank teased nastily.  “Or, la-dee-dah,” he said as he moved in a contemptuous parody of feminine manner, “are you one of them?”

Garrett maintained his calm and ignored the accusation, forcefully stating, “Those two 'queers' as you put it are paying your salary and mine.”

“I know it, and it ain't right that they should be allowed to have it better off than us,” Frank replied hotly.

“*Us*?  I certainly don't place myself in the same category as you.  You're a highly specialized HVAC technician.”  ~Though how you managed that is beyond me,~ Garrett wondered silently.  “Your hourly wage exceeds that of every other man on this job, including myself.  If you choose to gamble and drink it away, that's your business, not mine.  What *is* my business is keeping this job on schedule and on budget.  Now, will you finish your job without any more trouble or not?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, but according to union regs, you gotta give him at least three days suspension without pay.  It's the minimum punishment you can get by with,” Frank stated smugly.

Garrett turned to face Stuart Lapierre and sighed, “Unfortunately, he's right, Stu. The letter of the law is on his side, but listen to me.  He'll be gone when you come back, and I do want you back.  You're a good worker, and more than that, you're a good man.  That jerk will never set foot on any job site that I run, ever.  Go on home, Stu, and try to forget about this, and be sure to come back.  You're welcome here.”

“Yeah, right,” Stu replied, angry and frustrated at the day's events.  He backed away, trying to ignore Bill's challenging glare.  ~Geez, I hate this industry sometimes.~

====

“No goof ups, Alex,” Jack called out as he began to walk away.

“Get out of here,” Alex responded in jest, laughing jovially, ~before you think of more changes.~

Jack laughed, too, as he continued to the front of the house.  He and Alex had been talking about an additional piece of remodeling, something that was being done as a surprise for his husband.

~He's gonna love it!  Heck, I'm going to love it,~ the general opined as he walked to the door.

Just as he got to the front of the house, Jack felt Stu storm by him.  The motion had been so forceful that he'd nearly run Jack over, especially since Stu was glancing back towards the rear of the house where Bill and the others were.

“They'd rather we starve to death,” Stu muttered under his breath.

Although Jack didn't hear the angry comment, he did notice the tight grip Stu had on his lunch pail and toolbox, and the way that anger seemed to be radiating off the man.

“Hey there, Stu.  Have a good one!” Jack offered amicably.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Stu replied abruptly, not even looking at Jack.

Jack looked after the man quizzically and called out, “Stu?  STU!”  Ignoring the Air Force general, Lapierre got into his car and sped off.  ~Wonder what that was all about?~  Getting into his Ford truck, Jack said, “Daniel, I just had the strangest thing happen with Stu Lapierre.”

Daniel held up his hand, his cell phone still to his ear.

“No, Megan, don't use them.  I wasn't happy with the equipment they gave us the last time.  Find another source for the equipment we need, and let me know what you come up with ... Thanks!”

“Problem?”

Daniel hung up the phone and replied, “We need to talk about J-O purchasing some specialized equipment.  We've got too many jobs going on now to keep renting what we need from others.”

“Oooo ...”

“Dad, Daddy,” Jennifer interrupted, figuring this was as good a time as any.  “I really need to talk to you ...”

Jack's cell phone chirped, followed by Daniel's.  They both turned to look at Jennifer, eyebrows raised, silently asking if what she had to say was important enough for them to ignore the phones.

Since she figured there was no real urgency to the situation, Jennifer rolled her eyes and waved at them to answer their individual cell phones.

“Later, Princess,” both men said in unison, each reaching for the devices in question to answer the calls.

Within two miles of leaving their dream home in the making, Little Danny was asleep, his head leaning against Jennifer's shoulder as he sat in his booster car seat.

The rest of the day and evening was filled with making and eating dinner, getting the Munchkins and the twins ready for bed, preparations for school on Monday, and dealing with a complication at J-O Enterprises.  Neither man noticed that Little Danny was quieter than usual probably because Jonny, who had managed to find and consume an entire block of chocolate, expended enough energy for both of them.

With all the daily brouhaha, Jennifer gave up trying to tell Jack and Daniel what had happened to Stu, especially since she had a slumber party to go to that night.  It would be her first slumber party in quite a while, so she was looking forward to it.

====

“That's right, Alex, breakfast on me.  I'll pick you up at the old homestead at eight in the morning.”  Hanging up the phone, Jack turned to his husband.  “Alex has been working like a dog.  The least I can do is buy him a decent meal.”

“Nice try, Babe,” Daniel smirked knowingly.

“What's that mean?” Jack asked, feigning innocence.

“Jack, you just want to nose around and talk to Stu.”

~He knows me too well.~  Jack nodded as he explained, “I've just got that feeling that something happened this afternoon that we should know about.”

“Don't grill him, Jack.  Remember, you aren't interrogating an airman,” Daniel commented, his eyes relaying the message even more firmly than his voice.

“I'll try to remember that,” Jack said, jumping onto the bed.  He lay on his belly, his eyes level with Daniel's chest.  Since Daniel was shirtless as he lay on the bed, he was a tempting sight to the older man.  “Enough about that.  We have more important business,” he said just before he began to place kiss after kiss on his lover's abdomen.

“That's business?” Daniel asked as he gazed at his lover.

“Yeah.  Monkey business.  Make that, Space Monkey business.”

“Gawd,” Daniel laughed as the lovers began an intense snuggling and fondling session, which was the furthest they were comfortable going in General Hammond's house at the moment.

====

~This has been so much fun,~ Jennifer thought.  “Sheila, are you still awake?” she asked her best friend who was beginning to slouch a little from their spots on the floor.

“Mmm.  Of course.  I'm not going to be the first one to fall asleep.  Besides, the next movie is starting.”

The two girls giggled.  It was 3:30 a.m., and with it being a weekend, none of the girls at Amber Nelson's slumber party wanted to be the first to fall asleep.  They'd been watching a string of heartthrob movie classics, beginning with 'Sleepless in Seattle' and continuing with 'Casablanca', 'Ghost', 'Dirty Dancing', and they were about to start watching 'Titanic'.  The girls had enjoyed their popcorn and soda while swooning over the male hunks and crying over the poignant moments of the films.

Approximately one-third of the way through the famous disaster film, Jennifer yawned loudly.  She was so tired she no longer cared about winning the prize for staying up the longest.  Her eyelids were like lead.  Sheila and all the others had all been taken hostage by the sandman, and it was now down to her and Amber.

~Maybe I should freshen up; that'll wake me up.~  Another yawn, and the teenager realized she was simply too sleepy to move.  ~I'll just stay here.~

“Jen, are you awake?” Amber asked.

“Just barely,” Jennifer answered, yawning again.

“I'm going to change movies.  Do you mind?”

“No, go ahead.”

“It's one of my favorite horror flicks,” Amber noted as she got up.

“Horror?”

“Come on, Jen.  You aren't going to wimp out on me, are you?” Amber challenged good-naturedly.

“Hey, I love horror films,” Jennifer rebutted.  ~When I'm at home with my Dad and Daddy to protect me.  Better yet, when I'm with Peter,~ she inwardly sighed about Peter Hamilton, a boy at school that Jennifer was in-like with.  “What's the movie?”

“I just love it.  It's called 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers.'”

“The original?  My dad loves that one,” Jennifer commented amid another yawn.

“That's where I first saw it -- with my dad, I mean.”

The two girls cozied up together and watched the movie, though eventually, both finally began to lose the battle to stay awake.

Jennifer blinked several times as she fought the onslaught of sleep, just like the heroine was doing as she fought being taken over by the alien pods.  The teenager's eyes closed again, just for a second, as images from the movie and real life began to blur.

Because she was so tired, Jennifer's mind began to wander in free association, and she remembered how dreamy Alex looked when he was trying to convince her two fathers to include a second stairwell in the addition to the house.  She began to imagine the second stairwell in her own home and remembered the basement stairs that appeared earlier in the film.  Her eyes opened and closed again, and she saw the stairs on the Titantic behind doors.  She started a yawn, but suddenly, her yawn stifled, and her eyes flew open.

~Wow!  What an idea!  I wonder if ... oh, geez, that would be so cool!  Stairs behind doors!~  Jennifer was convinced she had come up with a brilliant idea, one that just might solve a problem her two fathers had been discussing for weeks.  “YES, THAT'S IT!” she exclaimed.  ~If there can be secret passageways, then why not se...~

“What's it?” Amber asked, yawning, interrupting Jennifer's silent thought processes.

“Oh, uh, the butler did it,” Jennifer said quietly, knowing Amber was too far gone to care what the response was.

“Oh, goooood,” Amber said, falling back to sleep.

Way too excited to sleep, Jennifer sat up and thought about having a house with stairs behind doors.

====
 
The next morning, at a restaurant located about ten minutes from the Jackson-O'Neill residence, Alex ate like a man starved.

“I think this 'all you can eat' buffet is losing money on you today,” Jack chuckled.

“This is soooo good, Jack.  Thank you,” Alex said, totally focused on his plate full of morning foods.

~I think he's hungry,~ Jack silently chuckled as Alex devoured his meal.  “Daniel and I appreciate all the hard work you've done at the house.  You've put in a lot of extra time lately.  Maybe you need to slow down a bit.”

“Can't, Jack.  Things are on the upswing as we finish things off with the carpentry, electrical systems, and such.  We're less than six weeks from closing,” Alex said as he stuffed another huge spoonful of eggs into his mouth.

~I can't wait!  Back in our own house, our own room, yes,~ Jack thought, enjoying the anticipation of a return to their home.

“Jack?  Anyone there?  Jack?” the designer asked as he waved his fork in front of Jack to get his attention.

Jack laughed, “Sorry, Alex.  What were you saying?”

“Just that you are really pushing things to get the master bath done before closing.”

“I've got confidence in you,” Jack stated and then changed the subject.  “Alex, do you know Stu Lapierre?  He's one of the construction workers.”

“I think I know who he is.  Why?” Alex asked.

“I was just wondering how he's doing,” Jack asked nonchalantly as he looked out the restaurant window.

“I'm sure he's doing just fine.  Garrett's crew has been top-notch.  He hates having to use those HVAC temps.”

“What temps?” Jack bellowed loudly enough for a few heads to turn.  “Never mind.  Finish up, Alex; I'll get the check.”

~But I'm not done!~ the designer silently argued.

Alex crammed down more food as he waited for his client to return.

====

Jack sped back to their partially renovated house, jumped out of the truck, and raced to the front door, finding it locked.

~Like it's supposed to be, Jack!~  He fished his keys out of his jeans pocket and unlocked the door.  With a loud bellow, Jack shouted, “GARRETT! GARRRRRETT, where are you?  GARRETT, front and center, NOW!”

Garrett, the foreman of the construction crew, appeared at the foot of the staircase and folded his arms.

Clearing his throat to get Jack's attention, he calmly scolded, “General Jackson-O'Neill, I've got three subs and four helpers upstairs working on double-time, which, may I remind you, you are paying for.  I could be home cutting my grass and watching football.  And, General, I am *not* in the military.  I'm not accustomed to being yelled at, not even by my wife or my boss.  Now, I assume I won't have to remind you of that again.”  The man sighed and walked a couple of steps towards Jack.  “You obviously have something important on your mind, so let's step outside and discuss it.”

Garrett headed outside, leaving Jack standing silently to ponder his dressing down.

“I was just saying ...” Jack quietly spoke to the now-empty room.  Slightly calmer now, Jack walked through the house, admiring the new spaces and imagining how nice it would be when the Jackson-O'Neills were settled in their home again.  He had time to take a few deep breaths.  ~Okay, O'Neill, let's try it again; maybe a little more like Danny would handle it.~  He let out a snort while thinking, ~Like I could ever manage the understanding and tact my Danny shows.~  Once outside, in what would soon resemble a backyard again, he folded his arms and said, “Tell me about the HVAC temps.”

Garrett replied, “The two techs we usually use for this type of work were injured on a commercial job; they're still in the hospital, recuperating.”

“Don't you have other qualified men to finish their work without going the temp route?” Jack asked, feeling uneasy about having temporary workers.

Garrett wasn't aware of it, but the entire construction crew, even those not assigned to this job, had undergone a basic security check prior to being hired.  Temporary workers hired from outside Gordon's employ obviously had not been screened, something that made Jack nervous.

“General, the systems you are installing are not your everyday, average furnace and A/C units.  Quite frankly, I'm a bit jealous.  Your heating and cooling bills will probably be lower than mine.  Anyway, the system has to know when to switch from the waste heat recycler to the geothermal unit, and from the geothermal unit to the evaporative cooler; otherwise, you'll boil in the winter and freeze in the summer.  We have to have this system up and running at least two weeks minimum before you move in.”
 
Jack opened his mouth to speak, but Garrett cut him off with a wave of his hand and continued.

“This HVAC system requires very specialized skills to install and adjust.  We're about done with the install and are getting ready to start it up and see how it responds to varying thermal loads.  Not just anyone can do this job.”

Not happy about the situation in the slightest, Jack sighed, “So the two injured men are the only two on your regular crew who can handle this job?”

“That's correct.”  Seeing Jack's obvious dissatisfaction, Garrett added, “Jack, I did confer with Gordon on this, and we both felt that we didn't have a choice, not if you want to keep the house on schedule.”

Nodding in acceptance but not agreement, Jack asked, “How much longer?”

“Through Tuesday,” Garrett answered.

~Tuesday.  Maybe.~  Jack wasn't sure yet whether or not he wanted to press the issue.  If his suspicions were correct, it might be better to get off schedule, as much as he hated the notion of doing so.  “Tell me about Stu Lapierre,” he requested, his tone and eyes indicating that he wasn't asking about Stu's job skills.

Garrett winced at the realization that Jack must have heard about the incident and a bit defensively asked, “He called you?”

“No, but something happened here, and I want to know what.  Details, Garrett,” Jack replied firmly.

The foreman explained, “He started a fight, Jack.  No, let me rephrase that.  I don't think he started it, but he threw the first punch; plenty of witnesses which means three days suspension according to Union regs.”

~Ouch!~  Jack twisted his body around to glance at the backyard, noticing several of the workers engaged in their tasks.  He noticed one watching him, though the man had tried to look away quickly.  ~Too late.~  He looked back at Garrett and inquired, “Who'd he punch, and why?”

“That jerk,” Garrett said as he pointed his thumb behind him towards the area where the worker in question was at the moment.

~Big surprise,~ Jack thought, noting it was the same man who had unsuccessfully tried to watch Jack.  “That's the who; now what about the why,” Jack asked again, basically wanting a confirmation that his suspicions were correct.

“I'm not sure.”

“Garrett!” Jack warned sharply, his eyes clearly conveying that he expected an answer.

Garrett nodded and sighed, “It was all pretty vague.  I didn't question the guys as much as I should have.  I thought it'd blow over.”

“What would blow over?” Jack asked a bit more forcefully.

“Frank, that's the jerk, said something to me about being a 'queer lover'.  I suspect he made similar statements, and probably worse, to Stu.”

Jack ground his teeth as anger began to overtake him again, harshly asking, “Why didn't you fire him?”

“Look, in this business, there are a lot of gruff characters.  Usually, differences can be resolved simply by reminding the guys who is paying their salary.  I did that and told Frank to keep his mouth shut from now on.”

Jack scoffed, “If this guy feels the way he does, what's to keep him from intentionally doing a bad job?”

Garrett shook his head firmly as he refuted, “He can't afford to screw up the installation, Jack.  He's only able to find work because of his specialty.  He doesn't work well with others.”

~Another big surprise,~ the general sighed.  “What about the guy with him?”

“Carl?  Cut from the same cloth, but not quite as mouthy.  He just parrots whatever Frank says.”  There was a pause, and then Garrett walked a little closer, just to make sure no one could hear them.  “There's a reason these two work as a team, General.  They're extremely good at what they do, but they're troublemakers.  There's not a company within two-hundred miles that will hire either of them as full-timers, but in a pinch, they get the job done.”

Silently, Jack mulled over what he had learned.  It was clear to him that Frank was the instigator of the fight with Stu.

~A man can only take so much before he fights back,~ Jack thought, his own history proof of his belief.  The general's impression of Stu Lapierre was that he wouldn't engage in a brawl, especially on the job, unless pushed beyond his limit, and there was no doubt in his mind that Stu had been pushed by the temporary HVAC worker.  ~Union regs.~

“General, is there anything else?” Garrett asked, eager to get his work done for the day so he could go home to his family.

“Yes,” Jack answered.  “About the suspension, is that with pay?”  He let out a disapproving sound when he saw Garrett shake his head.  ~Danny wouldn't like that, either.~  Looking directly at the contractor, he issued an edict.  “Fix that.  I don't care how, but fix it.  Stu Lapierre can't afford three days without pay.  Do you understand?”

It was Garrett's turn to stare at Jack, and what he saw was little room for compromise.  He looked away as he tried to work out a plan.

“General, I'd have to clear this with Gordon, but, uh, if, uh, you and Daniel would consider a *bonus*, I think we ...”

“We can swing a bonus that would be equal to one man's salary for, say, three days.  How's that?” Jack proposed.

“That would work,” Garrett acknowledged, quickly adding, “if Gordon agrees.”

“Don't worry about Gordon,” Jack stated.  “And not a word about how Stu Lapierre managed to get a full check.  Okay, go back to work.”  He started to walk away, but then he stopped and sighed.  He looked back at Garrett who hadn't moved.  ~Crap, Jack.  This isn't the military.~

Garrett crossed his arms and looked at Jack with disdain as he said, “As difficult as you might find this to believe, people in civilian occupations *do* understand the concept of discretion, *General*.”

Jack sighed, “Of course, they do.  I had no business assuming otherwise. Please accept my apologies.  You've done an outstanding job here.  Habits.  I'm sorry.”

“Good enough,” Garrett said as he returned to work.

====

At the front of the house, Jack stood by his truck, debating the correct course of action.  If there was a way, he decided Frank had to go, even if it meant a delay in the work.  Pulling out his cell phone, Jack dialed Gordon Leviwitz, the contractor.

“Gordon, it's Jack Jackson-O'Neill.  I'm sorry to bother you on a Sunday, but we've got a problem.”

“Your problems are mine, Jack.  What's up?” Gordon inquired.

“Garrett says you're aware of the HVAC temps?”

The contractor responded, “Jack, I know you're fussy about security, but our hands were tied.”

“It's their hands that need to be tied,” Jack snapped.

“What?” Gordon asked, not having heard about the scuffle.

“One of those temps provoked a fight, and Stu Lapierre got suspended because he threw the first punch.”

~Why didn't Garrett tell me about that?~  Gordon reacted quickly to the punishment for striking a co-worker.  “Ouch.  Union regs are strict about that -- three day suspension, no pay.”

“I've already handled that; uh, a bonus,” Jack explained slyly.

“Clever,” Gordon asked, admiring the solution and pulling out a notebook to make the appropriate notation about the bonus.

“Garrett says no one else can do this job.”

Gordon quickly pulled out a folder and began fanning through it as Jack continued to explain that he was unhappy with these two men working on his house.

“Jack,” Gordon interrupted the general after a minute or so, “I was just reviewing our notes on this.  These guys do a highly specialized job and ...”

“I've already heard that spiel, Gordon,” Jack interrupted sharply.  “Tell me something new.”

“There isn't anyone else we can get to fill in until ... let's see ... next month.  Are you sure you want to wait that long?”

Jack groaned.  A delay of that length would mean not moving in until Christmas at the earliest.

~There has to be an 'or'.  Think, O'Neill.  What if ...~  “Gordon, under proper supervision, could two non-specialists do the job?”

“Depends on the workers,” Gordon answered honestly.

“Are there two men available who could do it?”

Gordon reviewed his staff and answered, “Maybe, with someone there to hold their hands and guide them through certain key areas, but ...”

Jack interrupted, “Okay, then is it possible for the injured guys to tell someone else what to do.  I'll pay them their going rate just to sit around and make sure everything is done right.”

“Jack, that's a little dicey.”

“I don't care,” Jack barked.  “I don't want those morons on my property any longer than necessary.  Do you understand?”

“Okay, Jack.  I'll see what I can do and will get back to you later today.”

“Make it an hour,” the general ordered, snapping his cell phone shut.
 
====

An hour later, with their doctor's okay and under strict orders to simply observe and teach from their seats, the two injured techs had agreed to show up the next day, even though they were both still on crutches.

“General!” Garrett called out as he saw Jack practically strolling through the backyard.  “What are you doing back here?” the foreman asked.

“Watch and learn, my good man.  Watch and learn,” Jack smirked.

Whistling and leaving Garrett behind, Jack walked over to the men who were checking wiring for the HVAC system.  He recognized the regular workers who were assisting or working in the area, and Garrett had pointed Frank out earlier, though his appearance would easily give him away without having been identified.  By process of elimination, he deduced the other man helping Frank was Carl.  The two temp workers were talking in another language -- BTU's, dampers, CFM's, degree days.  It might as well have been incantations to Jack.

“Hello, General.  How are you?” Frank asked insincerely, sporting a shiny black eye and swollen lip.

Jack smirked, “I don't think you care how I am, and frankly, I don't care that you don't care.”

“What?” Frank asked, confused and a little scared at the expression on Jack's face.

“Let's skip the unpleasantries, and get right to it.  You're fired!”

Frank snickered, “That's a good joke.”

“Who's joking?” Jack asked as he glared at the HVAC temp.

No longer laughing, the worker challenged, “You can't do that.”

“I can, and I am!”

“Why?” Frank asked as he tossed down some equipment he had been holding.

“What did you say to Stu Lapierre?” Jack asked sharply.

The question essentially answered Frank's question.  In an instant, the bigot riled even more as he deduced the jig was up.

“Nothing you'd want to hear,” Frank said disgustingly, his tone dramatically different from his greeting of a minute earlier.

“Try me,” Jack coaxed.

“We had words.  He did this over a difference of opinion,” Frank accused, pointing to his face.  ~I should sue him.~

“Sweet,” Jack said, silently applauding Stu's good punching job.

“Excuse me?”

“Do you need your hearing checked?  I said -- You're fired!” Jack spoke.  ~Now that feels good.~

Bill opened his mouth, but immediately thought better of it and walked away.  Carl quickly followed, though he didn't get far.

“Hold it!” Jack shouted to Carl, who reluctantly turned around.  “This goes for you, too.”  He ordered, “Get your gear, and get off my property -- both of you!”

“Frickin' queers,” Frank spat as he turned.

Jack shook his head.  Most of the workers had walked away to avoid being involved in the dispute, but a few were still milling around nearby.

Not caring who heard, and speaking to no one in particular, the general noted, “A man who is secure in his own sexuality and his own masculinity doesn't need to concern himself with what other people do behind closed doors.”

Frank snorted, but didn't turn around.  Instead, he looked over at Carl and said, “I bet that little boy's a queer already, too.”  The words were meant to incite, and they did.  Frank only got two feet before he felt himself pulled up against the closest tree where he was pinned by one very strong Special Ops military man.  “What do you think you're doing?”

“Nothing ... yet, but trust me, I can do a lot; now if I were you, and I wanted to keep working anywhere in Colorado, I'd do the smart thing.”

“Yeah, like what?” Frank asked sarcastically.

“Get off this property, and don't ever come back,” Jack told the man.

“Or what?”

Jack smiled, but it wasn't the one that denoted his Irish charm, but rather, it was sinister and self-assured.

“Or I'll break your neck,” Jack whispered while smiling, speaking so low that only Frank could hear.  Leaning in even closer, he added, “And if you really want to know what it feels like to be a woman, I'll arrange a meeting with Lorena Bobbett.  That's not a threat; it's a promise.”

Dusting the man off slightly, Jack backed away.  No one had heard the threat except for Frank, so if it came down to it, it would be a troublemaker's word against that of a major general's.

“Get off my property; you're creating slime for the worms,” Jack commanded.  Without another word, he spun around and walked away.  He walked by Garrett and smiled.  “There's always an 'or', Garrett.  Give Gordon a call; he'll fill you in.  As for those two, if they aren't gone in ten minutes, call the cops.”

Garrett stood in stunned amazement as Jack left the premises.

~Always an 'or'.~

The foreman watched as the two temps got their things together and left, bellowing to their co-workers the entire time.  When they were gone, the workers were heard saying a mixture of things, such as, “Someone finally gave it to that hotshot!” “Better him than me,” “Good riddance,” “Sure glad I didn't open my big mouth and get fired,” and “Maybe now we can get some work done.”

No matter what their personal opinions, most were relieved to see Frank and Carl go, and that included Bill, who was overheard to say, “I almost let that idiot get me fired.  Crud; gotta learn to let folks live their own lives.  Live and let live as my Mrs. says.”  He snorted to a co-worker, “She tells me I have a big mouth, and one of these days, she's gonna wash it out with soap for me.  I think maybe she's right.  Time to zip it up, and I'm not talking about my pants.”

Garrett pondered the words he had overheard as the men returned to their tasks.

~Bill's grateful he didn't get canned, too.  He's a good worker; maybe this'll keep him out of trouble in the future.~  Garrett pulled out his cell to give Gordon a call and find out the scoop.  ~Always an 'or',~ he thought again.  ~I'm going to remember that, General.~

====

Jack knocked at the door of the Lapierre home that used to sit next door to his when it belonged to the McLamores.

Grace answered the door and stepped outside on the stoop as she spoke, “General O'Neill, what an unexpected surprise.”  She leaned in close and whispered, “I'm sorry, but Stu isn't seeing anyone.  He came home from work a bit early yesterday and hasn't left our bedroom.  He mumbled something about not being needed anymore.”

“He didn't tell you what happened?”

“No, not really; just that he hadn't been fired, but then he started making phone calls to people about finding a job.  I don't understand it, General.  He seemed so happy to go to work everyday.  Can you tell me what happened?” Grace asked, deeply concerned about her husband.

“Grace, I'm still trying to piece it together myself.  Can I talk to him?”

“Of course.  Please, come in.”  After seating Jack in the kitchen and pouring him a cup of coffee, Grace went down the hall and knocked on the bedroom door.  “Stu, General O'Neill is here.  He wants to see you.”

“Tell him to go away.”

Jack yelled, “What's for dinner, Grace?  I'm not leaving, Stu, not until you talk to me.  Danny has the kids.  I have all the time in the world.  I'll sleep on the couch if I have to, so you might as well talk to me now.”

Stuart Lapierre shuffled into the kitchen from his bedroom wearing a beat-up terry cloth bathrobe.  He felt like a loser.  His family had been given a great gift, but in a moment of anger, he'd blown it.  Stu was certain he would be fired eventually, and then they'd lose the house and be back where they started.

~I've got one of those robes, too.  It must be a universal guy thing.  We trade in our teddy bears on these ragged pieces of frayed comfort.~

Looking down at his feet, Stu commented, “I guess you heard I got suspended.”

“I heard all about it, and those morons have been fired,” Jack informed.  He saw Stu look up in surprise and elaborated, “They're known troublemakers, Stu; I don't want them around my house.”

“That's nice,” Stu responded, not knowing what else to say.

“By the way, Garrett told me there's a company clause regarding involuntary suspensions not of the worker's doing.  He'd forgotten about it until he talked to Gordon,” Jack said, fudging the truth.  “You're going to be paid for these three days.”

~Clause?  Nice try, General, but there's no such puppy.~  A look of anger crossed Stu's face as he barked, “I don't need you to babysit me and run around fixing my mistakes.  No wonder they think that ...”

“Think what, Stu?” Jack questioned.

“Never mind.  Just go.  I don't mean to be rude ...”

“It's a little late for that,” Jack volleyed.

“Look, I am deeply grateful for what you have done for my family.  It is more than I can ever repay in three lifetimes, but it's enough already.  I just can't go back there.  I'll find another job.  I'll be fine; we'll all be fine.  Now, please, General, just go,” Stu requested, wanting the whole situation to just disappear.

====

Jack walked into the Hammond home where he was greeted by his husband with a kiss.

“You were gone longer than breakfast,” Daniel noted.  “What happened?”

“Long story.  It's lunchtime.  Shouldn't we be ...”

“General Hammond is making sandwiches, or I should say that he's supervising the twins making lunch.”

“What?”

“They're big people now; they can make their own lunch,” Daniel informed his husband with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye.

Jack rolled his eyes and asked, “What gave them that idea?”

“I think it was one of those old TV shows you played for them last night.”

“Oh, well ...” Jack began, not finishing the sentence and looking at his lover a bit sheepishly.

“Mmm-mmm,” Daniel smirked.  Then he smiled as he suggested they sit on the sofa and relax for a few minutes.  “So, what happened?”

Jack related the entire morning's events and then commented, “Danny, they feel indebted to us.”

“To the point that it's a bad thing,” Daniel clarified.

“Not just bad, but a burden.  Stu's old school.  He's a man, and ...”

“Big, tough, macho, I don't need any help kind of man.  Is that what you mean?” Daniel asked with attitude.

“Yes, except he loves his family, and it's that love that let him put his wife and kids in front of his pride.  I'm not so sure that he doesn't regret his choice.”

“Are you serious?”

“Dead serious.  I have a hunch that the fight at the house and his current attitude are related.”

“Do you think ...” Daniel began, only to be cut off but a human thunderbolt, bursting into the room.

“Dad! Daddy!” Jennifer said excitedly as she hurried into the living room.

“Hey, Jen!  How was the sleep over?” Jack asked.

“Hi, Jen,” Daniel greeted, having stood, as did Jack, to hug and kiss their daughter.

“It was great, and I have a really terrific, neato idea for the house,” Jennifer announced, bouncing on the balls of her feet.

“Neato?” Jack and Daniel both asked in unison.

“Yeah!  Just wait until you hear this,” Jennifer told her parents as she took a seat in Hammond's big leather chair while her parents returned to their spot on the sofa.  “I couldn't believe how it just came to me.  One second I was watching the pods, and then ...”

“Pods?” Daniel questioned.

“Oh, uh, 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers',” the teenager clarified.

“Classic!” Jack said.

“Yeah, and that's when it hit me.  It would solve the problem.”

“What problem?” Daniel queried.

“Well, you said that with the house increasing in size so much that it's too bad there wasn't a second way to get to the second floor.”

“Jen, we've already thought of stairs,” Jack replied.  “We're not comfortable, though, with the little ones having another stairway to hurt themselves in.  We don't feel we can adequately protect them.”

“Right, I know that, but ...”  Jennifer's eyes were bright with excitement, her cheeks bold as if smiling, and, for a moment, she pursed her lips as she looked at her parents. “It's perfect; it's just ...”

“Jen!” Jack exclaimed, nodding slightly and looking at her with a 'get on with it' stare.

“Oh, well, here it is -- a secret stairway!  What if you could open and close it at will, so that if we're in that part of the house, you could just, I don't know, use a remote or something, or press a button, or move some bookends, and voila, instant stairwell?”

**Jack, you have to stop the sci-fi marathons!**

**I can't help it if our children love TV, too.**

“Well, what do you think?” Jennifer asked anxiously.

“I think it's a good idea, Jen, but I think it's too late for something like that,” Daniel responded.

Jack remarked, “Byron and Alex have made it clear that we're over that 'we can make changes and additions' hump.”

“But it's a perfect idea,” Jennifer semi-pleaded.

“Yes, it is, but I'm not sure it would be a smart thing for us to do.  The Munchkins and twins are so young ...” Daniel began.

“But they're growing up, Daddy.  Please think about it,” the teen begged.

“We will.  We promise,” Daniel said.  “Now, tell us about the slumber party.”

“What a blast!  I was the winner of who could stay up the latest, so geez, I'm tired, but it was worth it!  We ...”

Jack and Daniel listened happily as Jennifer told them about the highlights of her evening at Amber's.

“And then ...”  Jennifer was interrupted when her cell phone rang.  She checked the caller ID.  “It's Amber.  Is it okay if ...”

“Go on,” Jack said.  “You can tell us the rest later.”

“Thanks.  I love you both,” Jennifer said with a big smile as she stood, answered her phone, and darted upstairs to her room.

“Teenagers,” Jack mused.

“Yeah, teenagers,” Daniel said, with a loving smile on his face just before stealing a kiss from his husband.

====

Little Danny wandered into the kitchen, the smell of lunch meat drawing him towards the counter where General Hammond stood.

“Hungry, Grandpa.  What making for lunch?” the toddler asked, peering up at the bald man.

“Well, Son, I think you might prefer bologna, but you are welcome to try my summer sausage,” Hammond offered, holding out a slice.

“What that?” the boy asked curiously.

“It's a type of salami.”

“Sal'mi?” Little Daniel said, frowning.  “You hide it?” he asked, remembering the workman's comments from his visit to the house.

“What?” a confused General Hammond said.

“I talk to Dad 'n' Daddy,” the youngster announced, spinning around and marching out of the kitchen.  ~No un'erstand why Mis'er La'per left.  He look mad.  Gotta make sure Carrie okay.~

~Someday I may understand children, but I doubt it,~ Hammond silently chuckled as he continued his meal preparations.

====

Little Danny found his parents in the living room, still seated on the sofa.  He raised his arms to be picked up, and Jack quickly obliged, smiling as the child settled into his lap.

“What's up, Sproglet?” Jack asked.

With a bit of a frown on his face, and tilting his head slightly as he spoke, Little Danny asked, “We give house to Carrie and Mis'er 'n' Mrs. La'per, right?”

“Yes, we did,” Jack answered.

“Why you 'n' Daddy make Mis'er La'per play game to pay for house?  He no want to play.”

Jack looked over at his lover in confusion and questioned, **Daniel, do you have any clue what he is talking about?**

Daniel twisted around, sitting a bit sideways to face Jack and Little Danny.

“Little Danny, we didn't make the Lapierres play anything for the house.  It was a present, and you know that because it was your idea.  What game are you talking about?” Daniel asked.

Little Danny answered, “Hide Sal'mi”

**No clue, Jack.**

Jack struggled to think what his son could be talking about and queried, “Do you mean Hide and Seek?”

Little Danny shook his head steadily, answering, “No, Dad.  It's Hide Sal'mi.  When you 'n' Daddy talk with Alex, Jen and I see mens with Mis'er La'per.  They say he have to play 'Hide Sal'mi' to pay for house.  Mis'er La'per get real mad and hit the man.  No make Carrie's daddy pay for house.  We give house, right?”

Little Danny looked worried and needed more reassurance that the house had been a gift for Carrie's family.

Moments later, Daniel's eyes widened as he pieced together their son's words.

**Jack, Hide Sal'mi -- Hide the Salami.  Jack, you know, they were talking about 'you know'.**

**Oh, for crying out loud.  I'm glad I already fired that loudmouth, Frank, and his sidekick, Carl, Danny; otherwise I'd be over there killing the lot of them right now.  Geez, they don't even deserve real names.  Tweedledum and Tweedledumber is more like it.**

Little Danny was tugging on his father's shirt, waiting for an answer.

“Yes, Sproglet, we gave them the house,” Jack said again.

“They no pay?” Little Danny asked anxiously.

“Not a dime.  It was a gift,” Jack reassured, tousling the boy's hair.

Little Danny's face relaxed, and he smiled as he responded, “Good,” the toddler said, feeling much better.  In fact, he felt a lot better.  “Hungry now.  Catsup on san'ich?” he asked as he scooted off of Jack.

“Exactly what does he have against mustard?” Jack laughed as he and Daniel stood to follow the boy into the kitchen.

“Everything okay in here, Sir?” Jack asked.

“Just fine,” Hammond said with a smile.

“Well, we'll be upstairs.  Call if they mutiny,” Jack teased.

“Don't worry, Jack.  Chef Hammond has it under control,” the three-star general said with pride.

“What chef?” Ricky asked.

“That's your grandpa when he does the cooking.”

“Oh.  Chef Gran'pa?” Ricky asked.

Hammond chuckled as the other children filed in, the calls of rumbling stomachs telling them it was lunchtime.

====

Upstairs in their room, Jack stated sorrowfully, “Geez, Danny, he's just a kid.”

“Those two obviously didn't know anyone was watching.  Those men were just being typical boorish, ignorant, bigots -- your average construction worker.” Daniel sighed.  “Forget I said that.  I'm just ...”

“Upset at what our children witnessed at our own house,” Jack stated, throwing himself down on the bed, putting his hands behind his head.

“Exactly.”

“Danny, they did know, or at least Frank did.”

Jack had left out the part about his threat to Frank after his comment about Little Danny.  Now, he filled Daniel in on that, too, completing the tale about his visit to their home that morning.

“They probably thought the children couldn't hear them,” Daniel said, his compassion and kind nature still trying to give the workers some benefit of the doubt.  His thoughts on that took a second seat, though, once he finished connecting the dots.  “Jack, wait a second.  Little Danny said Jen saw everything. Why didn't she say anything to us about what happened?” Daniel asked as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“I think she tried.  I know she told me three or four times she needed to talk to me,” Jack commented upon reflection.

“Yeah, now that you mention it, she did ask to talk to me, too, but I was dealing with the equipment problem at J-O.  I guess I thought you had talked to her.  Jack, we didn't pay attention.”  Daniel glanced back over his shoulder at his soulmate.  “We promised ourselves we'd never let that happen.”

“Angel,” Jack said, scooting forward to sit next to Daniel, “We're not perfect. We're human, and we've got a lot going on right now.”

“They're our children, and that means, they are always our *first* priority.”

Jack nodded and took a moment to run his fingers up and down Daniel's arm before he replied, “So we learn and do better in the future.”

“We need to talk to Little Danny about that phrase.  We don't need him repeating that somewhere,” Daniel told his lover.

Jack sighed, “But he only brought it up because he was concerned about the Lapierres having to pay for the house.  I think the best thing is not to bring it up or make a big deal out of it unless he does.”

Daniel shook his head as he said a soft, “No.”  With his hand on Jack's thigh, he continued, “Little Danny loves to talk, and he's so smart.  Not knowing the phrase is inappropriate, he might say it to the wrong person.  He might even try to learn more about it and ...”

“You're right,” Jack interrupted.  “Let's talk to him before bed, explain that it's a bad phrase, but not dwell on it any longer than we have to.  He'll understand when we tell him not to repeat it,” Jack suggested.

“What about Stu?  Gawd, Jack, I don't want him feeling the way he does now.”

“I'm not sure what to do, Angel,” Jack admitted.

“Jack, they accused him of being in bed with us, something that, understandably, he's not thrilled with.”

“What I want to know is how those jerks got wind of this anyway?  I don't see a man like Stu telling anyone that the house he's living in was charity.  How'd they find out?”

“I have no idea,” Daniel replied with a sigh.

“We'll ask him,” Jack said decisively, “when Stu and Grace come over for dinner.”

“What?” Daniel asked, surprised.

“I'll okay it with Hammond, but first, how about running to the store and picking up a roast for dinner?  While you're doing that, I'll call Grace.  I'm going to tell her that she has to get them all over here tonight, even if she has to threaten Stu with sleeping on the couch for the rest of his life.”

“Okay, I'll be back in a half-hour and put a meal together,” Daniel agreed.

The younger man's exit was delayed, however, when Jack slouched on the end of the bed, looking dejected.

“We screened everyone as carefully as we could, Danny, but it didn't help in the end,” Jack said glumly.

“That's not true, Jack,” Daniel countered.  “Those two were temps.  As for the others, we screened out the obvious troublemakers and security risks, but you can't screen for prejudices because people don't usually wear them on their sleeves.  We can't screen a person's mind or their heart, and I'm not sure we should try.”

“But jerks like that Frank ...”

“Babe, Frank only went as far as he did because he found he had a receptive audience.  Everyone else was afraid to tell him to shut up for fear of being tarred with the same brush, so he just kept spouting off.  Another day, another less receptive group, and nothing might have happened.”

Jack groaned, “Enough of that.  We're having company, and we need to be ready to greet them.”  He sighed, “How are we going to fix this, Danny?”

“We're not going to fix it, Jack.  We can't change what other people think and feel.  All we can do is be who we are and allow them to accept or reject us as they choose.”

“Mmmm, my genius,” Jack murmured through lips pressed against his husband's.

====

Roughly forty minutes later, Daniel sighed as he took the roast out of the shopping bag.  Cooking was not on his list of top fifty things to do at the moment.  Still, someone had to do it.

“Okay, Roast, prepare to be cooked!” the archaeologist quipped.  “Let's see, what else would be good with you?”

“I'll take care of that, Daniel,” Hammond said, entering the kitchen.

Daniel stood up a little straighter, his voice duplicating the question in his eyes as he questioned, “Sir?”

“I talked with Jack while you were out.  You two have more important things on your mind than cooking.  I'll handle this,” Hammond said, moving between Daniel and the counter and starting to prepare the roast.

“General, I ...” Daniel started to object.

“Go on, Son,” Hammond said with a smile.  “Bet you didn't know cooking is actually a hobby of mine,” he said.

“Thank you, General.”

Hammond turned his attention to the meal, and Daniel walked to the doorway.  Daniel stopped and watched Hammond, happily becoming their chef yet again.

“Sir?”

“Yes, Son?” the general said as he turned to look at the archaeologist.

“In case I haven't said it lately, thank you ... Grandpa.”  Daniel blinked just once.  ~That was more natural, more real, more ... the truth than it was that time I called Nick that.  Gawd, Hammond is more my grandfather than Nick ever was.~

Hammond's grin was wide, and that filled Daniel with a warmth that he treasured.

“You're welcome.”

Daniel nodded and left to join his husband.

====

“The roast in?” Jack asked when Daniel entered their bedroom.

“General Hammond is going to be our chef tonight, Jack.”

“He is?” Jack asked, leaning forward in his seat upon hearing the words.

“No, I take that back.  It's not General Hammond,” Daniel said, backtracking on his words.

“It's not?” a very confused Jack asked.

With a warm smile and a soft voice, Daniel explained, “No, it's Grandpa.  He's being our chef.”  He melted at Jack's touch when the older man reached over to caress his cheek.  They could easily get distracted, but that was something they didn't have time for right now.  “Did you call Grace?” he inquired, interrupting their interlude.

Jack sighed, “Tried to.  Phone was busy the first three times.  I'll try again now.”  He began to dial, but was interrupted by a kiss.  “What was that for?” a pleasantly surprised Jack asked.

“I don't know.  I just felt like it,” Daniel answered.

Jack smiled and said, “Please, Sir, may I have another?”  After Daniel willingly obliged, he spoke tenderly, “I love you, Danny.”

“I love you, too.  Make that call.”

====

Jack kissed his husband on his way to answer the door, regretfully saying, “That's it until they leave.”

“We agreed, Jack.  No, uh, anything, not even a look, until they're gone.”

“It's like the old days,” Jack growled, though he agreed with their decision.

“We want to clear up their discomfort, not add to it.  Now answer the door before Stu bolts for the car,” Daniel gently ordered his lover.  “I'm going to make sure the children are settled.”

“Right, Love.  Crap, I mean, right, Daniel,” Jack said, growling for a moment.

Straightening his posture and having given himself a final reminder to be more formal this evening, Jack opened the door.

Grace stood there, smiling, though she gave off an aura of apprehension, like someone seeking solace, but doubtful of finding it.  Stu stood behind her, studying his shoes.

“Grace, Stu, come on in.  It was good of you to come on such short notice,” Jack said cheerfully.

“Uh, well, Grace, she can be very, uh, persuasive,” Stu mumbled.

“Where are the children?  Little Danny was so excited about seeing Carrie,” Jack asked.

“We left them at the neighbors.  Stu ... we thought it best,” Grace stuttered, looking away slightly.

Trying to set the couple at ease, Jack nonchalantly noted, “Well, our brood is set to watch 'The Little Mermaid' for the millionth time.  I'm afraid 'Harry Potter' lost the toss, so they'll be busy while we visit.”

Jack led the couple into the living room.  Within seconds, General Hammond popped around the corner with a tray holding four glasses and a pitcher of frozen margaritas and a plate with a few hors d'oeuvres.

“My timing's a bit off tonight,” Hammond said, winking at Jack.  “Dinner is still a half-hour away, so why don't you all sit down, relax with a drink, and let me finish getting dinner on the table.  Then I have an appointment to see the 'Little Mermaid' for the fiftieth time,” he added, letting the Lapierres know he was not going to be privy to their discussion with Jack and Daniel.

Jack nodded, silently thinking, ~You sly dog, George.  I know that roast was ready a half an hour ago, but your timing is perfect.  We really owe you big time for this.~

“Hi Grace, Stu,” Daniel said, entering the living room.  “Sorry, I wanted to make sure the children were settled.  Where are your children?  Little Danny was ...”

“We've been through this, Danny.  Grace and Stu left them with neighbors.”  **Our problem is bigger than we thought.**

**Apparently.**  Daniel smiled and stated, “Little Danny will be very disappointed, but, uh, maybe we can set up a play date for them later.”

“Yes, maybe,” Grace said, thankful she didn't have to talk about it further.

Hammond excused himself and then, as Jack and Daniel sat down with their guests, Stu downed his drink in a few gulps, to the utter astonishment of his wife.

“Honey?” Grace asked quizzically.

“Those are frozen, Stu.  At that rate, you'll have a headache now and later,” Grace observed.

Jack refilled Stu's glass, inwardly thinking, ~Attaboy, Stu!  A couple more and you should be relaxed enough for us to get to the bottom of this mess.~  “Stu,” Jack began, “just hear me out before you say anything.”

Halfway through his second margarita, Stu nodded then raised his glass again.

Jack held his drink in his hand as he leaned forward.  He twisted the glass around in his hand a few times.

After a moment, Jack looked straight at Stu and stated, “We have a pretty good idea what that jerk Frank said to you.  Two of our kids, Jen and Little Danny, witnessed the whole thing.”

Stu was uncomfortable at the words and had been about to bolt until he heard about Jennifer and Little Danny.  Suddenly, his self-concern dwindled, replaced by worry for the two children.

“Oh, no.  No, no, no.  I am so sorry, General,” Stu bleated, half wishing Frank was around so he could finish the job he had begun.

“It's not your fault at all, and it's Jack, by the way.  What we can't figure out is how they knew you didn't have to pay for the house.”

Jack was careful to avoid the phrase, 'we gave it to you.'

“I ... I told one guy, and he blabbed it all over the place,” Stu griped contritely.

“But why tell anyone?” Daniel inquired.

“He was on my case about, uh, not hating, uh ... what you and ... well, what I mean is ... I  wanted to explain that ... I mean I know that you're not, uh, you know ... even though you are ... I just wanted them to know that you two are really decent people,” Stu stuttered.

Stu felt like an idiot.  Quickly, he took a big swallow of his drink.  He had more to say; he just couldn't.

“Let me get this straight,” Jack began.  “What you're really saying is that you told a loud-mouth, pea-brain bigot about the house because you were defending Daniel and me; and what you ended up doing was putting bullets in his gun and painting a big, fat target on yourself.  Does that pretty much cover it, Stu?” he questioned bluntly.

“Jack, you're being a little harsh,” Daniel interjected, concerned the construction worker might react negatively to such a direct approach.

“No, he's not,” Stu spoke.  “He's telling it like it was.”  He shook his head; then lowered it for a moment, taking in the entire conversation thus far.  Finally, he admitted, “I know I shouldn't have hit him.  I got out of control because they thought I was, uh, that is they, I mean, I ...” Stu stammered, unable to finish the remark.

“They called your masculinity into question because you accepted help from a couple of queers?” Jack answered for Stu.

Stu hung his head.  These people had saved his family, maybe even his life, and he hated himself for having any ambivalent feelings about them at all.

Hestitantly, Stu affirmed, “Yeah.”

“You have nothing to be ashamed of, Stu,” Daniel said sincerely.

“Dinner is served,” Chef Hammond called from the kitchen just as Stu drained his third margarita.

“I don't know what's gotten into you tonight, Stuart, but I am definitely driving home,” Grace declared firmly.

**Good thing she said that, Danny.  No way was I going to let him walk away with the keys to his car.**

**I agree.  He's dealing with a lot of issues right now, Babe.  We don't need extra hassles during the night.**

====

During dinner Stu seemed to relax a bit more, talking about how much he liked working on the house and how good it had felt to be back at work in general.  Grace mentioned how happy Carrie was to still have her beloved Bassett hound, Tito.

“She talks about your Little Danny all the time,” Grace continued.

“As one father to another, I have to ask you two: what are your son's intentions toward my daughter?” Stu inquired with a grin.

**Hey, he has a sense of humor, Danny.**

**That's a good sign.  It's not us, Jack; it's the situation and being confronted with something he's never had to deal with before.**

**Angel, I know what he's feeling.**

**The macho male meets the other side of life.**  Daniel chuckled as he returned to the spoken conversation.  “I hate to break it to her, Stu, but she's already lost the object of her affection to an older woman.”

“You're kidding,” Grace said with a smile.

“Little Danny has a huge crush on one of our employees, Karissa.”  Daniel smiled as he thought about it.  “He adores her.”

As the conversation continued, they enjoyed Jell-O for dessert, which was one of the brood's favorite treats.

“Uh, I hope you don't mind me asking, but, uh, does General Hammond always serve you dinner?” Grace asked.

Jack almost spit out his bite of Jell-O, and he was immensely grateful that the general had already returned to another part of the house to be with the children.

“No.  Definitely, no,” Daniel answered, equally taken aback by the question.  “He just wanted to help this evening.  He, uh, likes to cook.”

“Although he tries to hide that from the folks at the base,” Jack chuckled.

====

The two couples had returned to the living room, Stu feeling especially relaxed after three glasses of wine to follow his three margaritas.  He looked relaxed enough to listen, but not enough to fall asleep.

**Jack, we have about *maybe* thirty minutes before he goes to la-la land.**

**Time to march on, Danny.**  Jack made eye contact with their guests and began.  “Grace, Stuart, Daniel and I wanted you to have the house.  Look at it from our point of view.  We had a house that was going to be torn down.  It would have ended up being a bunch of broken lumber and recycled metal. By giving it to you, the house becomes useful.”

Daniel continued, “An associate of ours donated the land, and, trust me, he can afford it.  He's a multi-millionaire, and one of his goals at this stage in his life is to not only continue making money, but to give back a little of what he's gotten in his lifetime.  He invests in all kinds of things all over the world and is very successful with his return.  Giving back is one way he says thanks for his successes.”

Jack picked up their position, saying, “Lastly, our company, J-O Enterprises, is growing beyond our expectations. We had a few write-offs this year, things we quietly did for the community and various shelters, but we realize that with the rate of growth we're experiencing, that we'll need more tax write-offs, and bigger even, for the upcoming year, so this benefited us, too.”

Daniel sighed, “We never intended for you to trade one burden for another.” He leaned forward, speaking pointedly to the Lapierres as he said, “Stu, Grace, this was not charity.  I know it's easy to think of it in that way, but it's not.  Okay, it's lending a hand, but I have to tell you, there was a time when I desperately needed someone to give me a hand.”

“I think we've all been there, in some way, shape, or form in our lifetimes,” Jack added.

“We know that, and we're so grateful,” Grace said, her eyes misting from the mere thought of the generosity of the couple serving as their hosts for the evening.

Daniel continued, “But we don't want you to be grateful.  I mean ... what I mean is that it made sense.  Look, many societies in the past didn't use money.  They bartered and traded, and some civilizations had systems where absolutely nothing went to waste.  If a man didn't need something anymore, he passed it on to one who did; and when that man didn't need it anymore, he gave it to someone else who did.  That's all we did.  We passed on something that we couldn't use anymore.”

Jack wanted to be even more specific.  Stu was a man of pride and dignity.  He needed to understand that there was no obligation and why.

“Let me point out, Stu, that we aren't supporting you,” Jack stated.  ”Okay, a house isn't your normal gift, but like I said, our company is benefiting from the transaction.  Aside from that, though, yeah, we helped you and Grace get jobs and handle the childcare for a while, but if you weren't a good worker, Gordon would not have hired you, and trust me, Grace, our neighbors are very discerning.  You wouldn't still have your job if you weren't pulling your weight.”

Stu perked up, “They've already promoted her.”

“Stu,” Grace spoke bashfully, her smile disappearing into her husband's shoulder as she nuzzled into him.

“They have?  Congratulations!” Jack exclaimed.

“Well, they are trying something new,” Grace explained.  “There are a couple of us working part time, and our hours compliment each other.  We're co-managers of the children's clothing department.  I'm pretty excited about it.”

“We're happy for you, Grace, and that's our point,” Daniel said.  “We opened doors, but you both had to walk through and keep making progress on your own.”

“They're right, Honey,” Grace said to her husband, her hand rubbing against his arm as she spoke.

Just then, someone new joined the conversation.

“Where Carrie?” Little Danny asked, looking all around the room for his friend.

“Hey, Son,” Jack said with a smile as the boy approached.

Little Danny went up to Jack, leaning against his legs, and greeted, “Hi Mis'er 'n' Mrs. La'per.  You okay, Mis'er La'per?”  After Stu smiled, signaling he was okay, Little Danny asked again, “Where Carrie?”

“Uh, she's with a friend,” Grace hesitantly stammered.

“Oh.  Tell her 'hi', 'kay?” Little Danny requested.

“I'll do that,” Grace said, smiling at the little boy.

“Come here, Sproglet,” Daniel said, an idea forming in his head.  When the boy walked over to him, he picked him up, placing his namesake in his lap.  He looked at the Lapierres and said, “Jack accuses me of prattling, and sometimes I do.  As adults, we get weighed down in our perceptions of obligation and duty, and we forget how simple it all can be if we just listen to our hearts.  I think Little Danny can explain it better than I ever could.”

“Me?” the little boy asked.

Daniel turned his namesake part way around on his lap to face him and asked, “Little Danny, remember when you first found out from Carrie that the Lapierres were losing their house?”  Seeing a nod, he continued, “One night, very soon after that, I heard you crying.  Can you tell us why you cried?”

“Daddy, we have house we tear down.  It good house, but we no need it.  Carrie need house.  She cry 'cuz they hafta give her doggie away.”  Little Danny's eyes began to glisten at the thought.  “I cry too if hafta lose Bij, Katie, or Mittens.  Tito family like Bij 'n' Katie.  And ... and they hafta  live in a car.  Carrie say she might lose Mommy 'n' Daddy, too, 'cuz of gov'ment.  I no un'erstand why gov'ment take her 'way.  No un'erstand why gov'ment take their house, but we have house, and Carrie need house.  I was sad.”

“Thanks, Son,” Daniel whispered, squeezing him in a hug-like fashion.

Grace wiped a tear from her eye as she spoke with a quivering voice, “We were terrified of losing our kids because we couldn't provide adequately for them.  We didn't know she had overheard us.  Stu, she never told us.”

“I had no idea Carrie heard us, Grace,” Stu said, equally shocked that their young daughter had overheard the conversation.

“I feel so bad.  What that poor child must have been going through.”

“Grace, let's go home and reassure them,” Stu suggested urgently, his upset over his daughter sobering him quickly.

“That's all we ask, Stu,” Jack said.  “Love and cherish your family everyday. Don't allow what we are fortunate enough to be able to share with you to get in the way of what's really important.”

“I still want to pay you guys back somehow,” Stu insisted.

Just then Little Danny turned around and climbed off Daniel's lap.  He walked over to Stu and raised his arms to be picked up.  Stu smiled and after a look over to Jack and Daniel, he picked up Little Danny.  Little Danny turned around to face Stu as he sat in his lap.

“No pay Dad 'n' Daddy back, Mis'er La'per; help someone else.  See, we help you; we feel good; smile inside.  Now you help someone who need something you have; give to them; smile inside, too.  They do same thing.  Everyone feel good; everyone smile.  We all help each other; that how it s'pose to be,” Little Danny stated with the wisdom of a generous adult.  “Daddy say so 'n' I 'gree.”

**Seal of approval, Love.**

**It's the best kind of approval, Babe,** Daniel communicated emotionally.

Stu was thunderstruck as he stared into the little boy's eyes.  He nodded as the words sank in, and then an incredible feeling of relief flowed through his body until pure joy broke out over his face.  He hugged Little Danny and rested his chin on his shoulder, silent tears streaming down his face.  He was not alone.

Four other sets of adult eyes were either crying or misting as well, Jack, Daniel, Grace, and, from the hallway where he'd come to track down the child, General Hammond.

~And I thought Little Danny might be disturbing Jack and Daniel's guests.  We should all be so disturbed.~  Hammond quietly slipped back into the family room where the other children were gathered.  ~That little boy is an example for all of us.~

From her spot on the sofa, Grace beckoned, “Come here, you little angel.”  She, too, held Little Danny close, her cheeks wet.  “Out of the mouths of babes,” she whispered as she caressed his cheek with the back of her fingers.

“Not baby,” Little Danny said.

“No, you're not, but you are an angel.”

Little Danny smiled and said, “That what Dad call Daddy.”

**Oops**

**I think it's okay now, Danny.**

Jack wiped his eyes with his fingers until Grace passed around tissues she had dug out of her purse.  Meanwhile, Little Danny had resettled himself on Daniel's lap and let out a big yawn.

Daniel whispered, “I'm so proud of you.”

“It what you taught me when they take house 'way.  'Member?” the little boy asked, yawning again.

“Yes, I do.”  Daniel looked over at Stu and Grace.  “The world doesn't need more money.  What it does need are the riches of the heart -- love, compassion, understanding, and ...”

“More angels like your son,” Grace interjected, smiling at Little Danny.

“Thank you, but you have all those things, too, in your children, and in the love that you two share.  We didn't teach Little Danny compassion or love; like all children, he was born with both in abundance.  All we did was respond when he showed us how much compassion he had for Carrie.  If anything, we learned from him.  We, uh, had a number of things in our house that we were just going to take to the dump, but now we realize how wrong that would be.”

“We get new 'fridge,” Little Danny said.  “Someone need one, right, Daddy?” Little Danny asked, leaning sideways to look up at Daniel.

“That's right, and so we're giving away things that we'd otherwise take to the dump.”

“Stu, the house was going to be demolished.  All we're asking, of the both of you, is to take our son's advice and pass it on to someone else in need.  Consider any and all debt that you might feel to Daniel and me paid in full,” Jack said firmly.

Stu nodded, regaining his inner strength as he responded, “I'll be back at work when my suspension's up, Jack.  I don't care what those bigoted, narrow-minded ...”

“Let it go, Stu.  Let it all go because the truth is that they aren't worth troubling yourself over.”

“Ignore bad mens.  Jus' ig'rant,” Little Danny added confidently, earning him smiles of approval from everyone in the room.

“You're right.  It was Rosalind Russell who said, 'Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.'  I think I understand now what she meant.”

“I think so, too,” Jack said softly, but then he grinned.  “Stu, are you a movie buff?”

“Oh, please, don't get him started,” Grace chuckled.  “Besides, we need to get home and talk to Carrie.”

“Carrie come play?” Little Danny asked hopefully.

“Uh, Son ...”

“We'll find a good time when she can come over, if your parents don't mind,” Stu answered, interrupting Daniel and earning him a loving smile from his wife.

They all stood up and walked to the door.  Stu sighed as he turned to face Jack and Daniel.  He looked at Little Danny as Daniel held him.

“Don't ever change,” Stu told the boy.  “And if you decide to dump Karissa, I think Carrie'd be interested.”

Little Danny's face brightened as he replied, “I love 'Rissa.  She beautiful!  Carrie very nice, but I love 'Rissa!” the toddler exclaimed devotedly.

The adults all chuckled, and Jack communicated with amusement, **Ain't first love grand, Danny?**

“I need to say this before we leave, but I am ... I'm very sorry for some of the things I've been thinking.  When I told Bill about your gift to me, I didn't care what he thought of you guys.  Of course, I didn't know he'd blab it to all the other guys, but ... well, mainly, I just didn't want anyone to think I was like you.”  Stu grinned and let out a laughter-like snort.  “The funny thing is, now, I don't think you guys are so different from me and mine.”

“We family,” Little Danny said.

Stu reached out, touched Little Danny's face, and said, “I see that.”

Stu had so much more he wanted to say in that moment, but he was too overcome with emotion.  He wasn't a prejudiced man, but he'd never been exposed to a same-sex relationship up close and personal before.  This experience had been an education, and one he was happy to have received.

“Stu, I don't think I've ever been more proud of you,” Grace whispered, her eyes shining with love for her husband.

Stu smiled at his wife, grateful she was his, and more importantly, that she allowed him to be hers.

“Goodnight, and, uh, Grace, what about next Saturday?” Stu asked his wife.

Grace smiled as she asked, “You two will come over for dinner?  Bring the entire family ... and the general!”

“Uh, that's quite a handful,” Jack warned.

“We insist,” Stu said, feeling better than he had in weeks.  “Next Saturday?”

“We'd love to,” Daniel answered.  “Thank you.”

“Yay!  Get to see Carrie,” Little Danny said as he yawned.

“Bedtime for you,” Jack said.

Little Danny nodded; he'd had a long day.

“He's not arguing; that says a lot,” Grace commented.  “Goodnight.”

“Bye!” Little Danny said, waving to Stu and Grace as they left.

After making sure Grace was indeed doing the driving, Jack locked up and turned to Daniel and Little Danny.

“In case I haven't said it lately,” the silver-gray-haired man began, “I love all my angels.”

“Me, too,” Daniel said.

“Me ... <yawn> ... too,” Little Danny tried to say.

“Bedtime!” both parents exclaimed together and then went to round up all their children.

It had been a wonderful evening, and Jack and Daniel were both full of love and pride for each other and their children.

====

The following Tuesday, Daniel was out running some errands.  On a whim, he decided to drop by and see Mrs. Sophia Valissi, their neighbor.  Since they'd been at Hammond's, they'd only seen her a couple of times, and Daniel felt a little guilty about it, especially as today was the anniversary of her husband's death.  Mrs. Valissi was a strong woman, but if she ever had a bad day, it was this one.

Daniel stepped out of his silver Shelby-American sports car and walked to the door.  He knocked, and soon the senior citizen answered the door, a huge smile appearing on her face as soon as she saw who it was.

“Oh, Daniel!” the Italian woman exclaimed through saddened eyes.

“Mrs. Valissi, I've missed you,” Daniel said and then pulled out a dozen red roses.  “These are for you, from Jack and me.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Valissi replied softly.  “They're so lovely.  Thank you, Daniel.”

Daniel walked in and gave Mrs. Valissi a hug.  He knew she'd had a bad day, and even though it had meant leaving the clothes at the cleaners one more day, he was happy with his decision.  He held her a long time and could feel her fighting to regain her normal strength.

“Please don't, Mrs. Valissi.  I finally learned that it's okay to show your emotions. If it's okay for me, it's okay for you,” Daniel assured.

The kindly older woman tried to pull away, but Daniel whispered, “It's okay.  There's no shame to having a few tears left for someone you love.”

Mrs. Valissi sagged against the younger man, softly speaking, “I miss him so much, Daniel.  I thought it would get easier, and I have such a wonderful life, but he's in my heart, you know,” she said, tears springing to her eyes.

“Yes, I do know,” Daniel said, rubbing her arms.

Sophia Valissi let Daniel shut the door while she went to pour glasses of her fabulous fresh raspberry lemonade and put some freshly baked biscotti on a plate, knowing Daniel had a weakness for both.

While the woman was in the kitchen, Daniel was struck by how quiet her house was.

~It's nice for a break, but I wouldn't trade my life for anything.~

As he listened to the sounds of a very still house, Daniel noticed a peculiar sound in the background.  It was a soft whirring that came and went.  When the whirr was audible, it was overlaid with a staccato tat-tat-tat, like a tiny mallet.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Valissi, like most women of her generation, relished a chance to show a little hospitality, especially her culinary skills, and in her kitchen, she took great care to make sure the refreshments were just right.

~He's such a dear man; I hope these are up to par.  I've just felt so poorly today,~ Mrs. Valissi thought as she returned to the living room with her tempting treats.

Seeing the tasty delights, Daniel teased, “You really are trying to spoil my dinner, aren't you?”

Daniel's heart was filled with joy at seeing her smile.

Her sadness forgotten for the moment, Mrs. Valissi laughingly regaled Daniel with stories of her culinary ineptitude as a young bride and her attempts to live up to her mother-in-law's prowess in the kitchen.  With a wicked grin, she told Daniel how, in the middle of enduring a thinly veiled critique of her efforts from her husband's mother, her beloved bridegroom had told everyone present that, unlike his father, he did not choose a bride whose warmth was all from the stove.

Papa Valissi had made everyone howl when he said, “Way to go, Son.”

Mama Valissi, however, was not the least bit amused.

Daniel chuckled and blushed at the tale, but he was not surprised.  Mrs. Valissi was still a good-looking woman, and she was full of spirit and goodness.

Catching their breath in the companionable silence, Daniel heard the whirr with the tat-tat-tat again.

“Are you breaking elf-labor laws in your back bedroom?” Daniel chuckled.

“That's my new toy, Daniel.  Come see,” Sophia invited, crooking her finger and leading Daniel into a spare bedroom that had been transformed into a sewing room.

In the middle of the room was a large table with a sewing machine.

“It's, uh, sewing all by itself,” Daniel observed a bit nervously.

“It's embroidering, Dear,” Mrs. Valissi explained, pointing out the design in the large rectangular hoop.  “It's just about time to change colors.”

With a click, the machine stopped its mysterious motion and pulled the needle up out of the fabric.  Mrs. Valissi sat at the machine for a few minutes and fiddled with the thread; then she stood up as she pressed a button.  The wondrous machine resumed its whirr tat-tat.

Daniel pointed at the machine, saying, “Uh, as crazy as it sounds, Jack and I have been considering getting a sewing machine.  If it's not too personal, uh, how much does one of these things cost?”

Mrs. Valissi laughed and said, “I don't think I should tell you - you're not sitting down.  Besides, this is way too much for a starter machine, especially for you and the general.”

“Well, we're, uh, thinking one of the kids might want to learn.  I really can't talk about that yet.”

Mrs. Valissi nodded and commented, “You'll definitely want something a little simpler.  I actually keep my older machine set up to sew on while this one embroiders.”

“I didn't even know you sew,” Daniel said softly, realizing that as much as they loved their neighbor, they didn't know as much as they should about her hobbies and interests.  ~We have to do better.  She's a wonderful woman, and she relies on us.~

“I donate a lot of items to charity bazaars,” the talented seamstress added. “It keeps me out of the bars and off the streets,” she teased.

“Jack and I have seen machines at Wal-Mart for under two-hundred dollars.”

“That's too far the other direction, unless all you want to do is occasional mending.  If you really want to encourage one of your dear ones to sew, you need a machine that is easy to work on without being a hindrance.  Think in terms of six-hundred to one-thousand dollars, if you two are really serious.”

“Wow.  We had no idea it would cost that much, or be that complicated.”

“A good sewing machine will outlast a vehicle.  It's matter of perspective, Dear,” the senior citizen stated.  Then she offered, “When you're ready, I'll be happy to help you select one.  I've done business at Faye's Fiber Emporium for decades.  Al does all the sewing machine repair work that comes in, and he sells two good brands.  I've brought him a lot of business over the years, and I'm sure he'll treat you fairly.”

Daniel thanked Mrs. Valissi for her thoughtfulness and her hospitality.  He worried about her slipping back into her melancholy state of mind, but he knew there was nothing he could do to make the day other than what it was. Even after all the happiness he had with Jack and the children, Daniel still had twinges of sadness on the anniversary of his parents' death.

Gratefully, Mrs. Valissi smiled at the man she thought of as a son and said, “Thank you for coming by.”

“It won't be long now.  We're hoping to be back in the house in a few weeks,” the archaeologist spoke.

“And now we'll truly be neighbors,” the grinning woman pointed out.

Daniel smiled, gave her a hug, and said, “You know, I think I'll go by and check things out while I'm here.  There's always something going on there.”

The friends said their good-byes, and Daniel headed for the house that was still under renovation.

====

Mrs. Valissi had barely closed the door when her phone rang.

“Mrs. V, you sweet thing you!” Jack said, his Irish charm exuded over the phone line.

“Aw, General, you're such a devil!  Your beloved was just here and ...”

“Daniel?  Daniel was there?” Jack interrupted abruptly.

“He's such a sweetheart.  He wanted to make sure I was okay,” the woman answered as she smiled at the roses.

“So he's gone now?” Jack asked, a bit of alarm in his voice.

“Yes.  He'll be home soon, I'm sure,” Mrs. Valissi said, certain Jack was just anxious to see his husband.  “He mentioned going by your house for a few minutes ...”

“The house?  Mrs. V, I love ya, and I'll call you back later.”

“All ... right?” Mrs. Valissi moved the phone away from her ear and stared at the ear piece.  “Well, he is anxious!”

====

“Alex, how's it going?” Daniel asked, meeting up with Alex who was in the backyard.

“On schedule -- barely,” Alex responded as they shook hands.  “I was just going over some of the wiring, making sure we hadn't missed anything.”

“Too late for changes, huh?” Daniel asked timidly.

“Daniel!” Alex said, a warning in his tone.

“Don't worry.  We, uh, told Jen it was too late,” the archaeologist assured the designer.

Alex's curiosity got the better of him so a moment later, after crossing his arms, he said, “Okay, I'll bite.  Too late for what?”

“Well, you know how we talked about the second stairway.”

“Yes, the one I tried to talk you into two months ago.”  Alex said evenly while trying to look calm.  ~I'm positive a jury of all designers would acquit me!~ he thought idly.

Daniel cleared his throat and looked away for a second before responding, “Yeah, that one.  She came up with the crazy idea of making it a secret stairway, something we could control with a remote or something.”

“A remote control stairway?” Alex asked, a bit intrigued, almost to the point of trying to figure out how to include it in his final plans for the house.

Daniel explained, “She was watching an old movie with a secret passageway in it, and it just hit her.”

“Hmmm.”  Alex fidgeted slightly.  ~What are you thinking?  STOP IT, ALEX!  Absolutely not~

“Like I said, we told her it was too late, but, uh, Alex, there is one thing,” Daniel said, even more timidly than before.

“Daniel!”  ~The 'dozer is still here.  I could say I never saw him ...~ Alex thought, still working on looking calm.

“Please hear me out,” Daniel requested.  “Alex?”  ~Is he listening to me?~  “*Alex!*”

Back from his murderous thoughts, Alex responded, “I'll listen, but don't hold your breath, unless you want to move back into the house in January and spend thousands of ...”

“Alex, it's just ... it's something I can't get out of my mind.”

There was something in Daniel's eyes that Alex couldn't argue with.  He could tell that whatever Daniel was about to mention, it was coming from an emotional place.  This wasn't going to be another 'pool' story.

~ Whoa!  If this is about karma, I must have really been a rotten so-and-so my last lifetime,~ Alex surmised.  “Okay.  I'm sorry. Go ahead.”

“The Munchkins and the twins ... they, uh, Kayla ... I mean, their mother ... oh, geez ...” Daniel began.

“You used a surrogate?” Alex asked, simply out of curiosity.

Daniel smiled and nodded as he answered, “Her name was Kayla, and she was an awesome human being.”

“Was?” Alex asked, dreading the answer from the look of sadness that appeared on Daniel's face.

“She was, uh, the victim of a car accident a couple of years ago; a drunk driver.  She left ...” Daniel looked away, unprepared for how hard it would be to talk about the mother of his children with a virtual stranger.  “I'm sorry, um ... Kayla wrote letters, just in case.  She ... she said a lot of really ...”

“Daniel, what did she say?”

“The obvious, that Jack and I are men, and no matter how hard we try, we'll never be able to change that.  Her point was that girls need things that we may not always understand or comprehend, especially in a large family where privacy is not always easy to find.”

Alex looked up as a light went off in his mind.

~Just yesterday I was thinking it was a shame to waste that space.  Wait!  No! No, No, NO! These guys have driven me absolutely bonkers with their changes.  It has to stop!~  Alex sighed, “Privacy.  What is it you want?”

“A space; a tiny space, Alex; just a little spot, a corner, a cubbyhole, a ... a ... a I don't know,” Daniel stated desperately.  “Just somewhere that Jen and her sisters can go when they think we uncomprehending males are going to make their lives miserable forever.”

“Daniel, I'm sympathetic, but it's too late.  There's no way,” the creative designer stated firmly, trying to smack his creative side into letting go of the idea that was already forming and being tweaked in his mind.

“Alex, Kayla was so sure that the girls would need this.  Can't we cut a corner out of a room or ...”

“It would be a closet, Daniel, and nothing more.  I'm sorry, but I know these plans backwards and forwards.  There's just no way,” Alex stated decisively.  ~It was an accident, I swear.  I've always wanted to drive a bulldozer, ever since I was a kid.  I never even saw him.  I thought I was alone behind the house.  Please, you have to believe me!  ... Oh, cut it out, Alex!  You've seen too many episodes of 'Perry Mason'.~

“Okay,” Daniel said softly.  “It's just ... we can't be their mother, Alex.”  He was angry with himself for not remembering and following up on Kayla's comments earlier.  He swallowed hard before elaborating, “We have so much love to give them, but we can't replace Kayla, and, well, Jen has so much pressure on her to be a mom.  There's just no place for a girl to ... be a girl without being surrounded by us.  We can't be her mom, but I was just hoping that maybe she and Ash and Jenny and Noa ... that they'd all have a place to go when they need their mom.  I'm sorry.  You're right.  It's my fault for not thinking of it sooner.  I'll, uh ... I have to go.  Goodnight.”

Alex stared at the archaeologist as he walked away, heading into the house, with his head hung low.  His eyes had been misty, and his voice soft during his last comments.

~There's no way.  Just no way.~  Alex stared at the plans.  ~Those two want miracles all the time.  Well, I'm sorry, there's just ... no way.~  Alex's eyes focused on the design plans.  ~Unless ... well ... just ... maybe.~

====

“Megan, red alert.  Listen quick.  I need you to call Daniel *right now*, and get him away from the renovation,” Jack ordered urgently.

“How?  Why?” Megan asked, her mind already working on options.

“Just do it.  Create an emergency -- *now*!” the general shouted.  “I'll explain later.”

Megan hung up and devised a disaster -- a misplaced survey report that needed to be express-mailed this evening.

Meanwhile, Jack placed a second call.  When the phone was answered, he talked quickly.

“DO NOT SAY WHO IS ON THIS PHONE,” Jack all but yelled.  “Alex, is Daniel with you?”

“Uh, he just walked ... *inside*.  Oh, dang it!  I'm on it, Jack,” Alex promised as he began to move.

“You *will* be if you let him ...” Jack began to threaten.

“Gotta go!” Alex said, sliding the phone back onto his belt clip and jogging to see how far inside the house Daniel had gone.

====

Daniel stared at the living room, so empty of life.  Only a few pieces of furniture were in the room, and they were covered with protective cloths.  He walked to the mantle and ran his hand across it, his mind remembering where each family photo belonged.

“I'm sorry, Kayla.  I didn't think quickly enough, and I should have.  I'm sorry.  I ... I let you down,” Daniel whispered.

Just then, Daniel's phone rang.

“Daniel, it's Megan.  I really need you to come over to the office ASAP.”

“Uh, okay, I just want to check out the upstairs and ...”

“Daniel!” Alex shouted, stopping his employer just as he had taken his third step up the stairs leading to the second floor.

“Uh, Megan, hold on,” the shaggy-haired man requested.

“Daniel, this can't wait.  I don't know what happened to it, but the report ... Daniel, I need you now!” Megan pleaded.

“Okay, I'll be right there.”  Daniel clicked off the phone and stated, “Alex, I need to go, but did you need something?”

“Uh, well, I just wanted to let you know that I'll think about it, the space for the girls.”

“Thanks,” the archaeologist stated as he moved off the stairs, “but I know we're asking too much.  You've done so much for us already.  It was my fault.  I have to go.”

Alex felt like a heel as he watched Daniel leave.  He was relieved Jack's surprise was safe, but Alex had heard Daniel's words to Kayla.

~Okay, Alex, you call yourself the best designer in Colorado.  Well, time to prove it.  Find one more miracle for the miracle-hunters!~

Alex spun around and returned to his plans, knowing he couldn't let go of the solution that had barged into his consciousness.  He had to find a way to make this work.

“I truly must be insane,” the designer said aloud.  “New rule, Alex, ole buddy, never take on clients crazier than you are,” he added, chuckling as he focused on the challenge he had set for himself.

====

“Everyone settled?” Jack asked.

It was time for their nightly family meeting, and the Jackson-O'Neills were seated on the lawn just outside Hammond's kitchen.

“We ready,” Jonny said.

“Okay, well, it's been a busy week, and a lot has gone on,” Daniel began.  “Dad and I believe in talking about both the good things and the bad, so, uh, well, we know some of you are aware of what happened at our house with Mister Lapierre and some of the construction workers.”

Jack and Daniel spent the next few minutes discussing the events and letting the children share their views.  They were also happy that Little Danny had not mentioned the 'bad phrase' he'd overheard at the house.

**Looks like our request for him to forget that phrase worked, Babe.**

**I don't think he's forgotten, Danny; he's just proving that he understands when we say something is not appropriate to be shared.**

As the discussion continued, Jack made a flip comment, stating, “If it were up to me, that Frank would never work again, at least not around here.”

Jennifer added, “I'd just as soon not see him again.  That other guy wasn't so bad, but Frank was a jerk.”

Seeing David squirm a bit in his chair, Daniel asked, “David, what are you thinking?”

The boy was a bit hesitant, but he had a lot of trust in their family meetings, so he decided to speak his mind.

“Dad, did Frank do a good job?”

Jack looked at Daniel, shrugged, and then admitted, “From what I understand, he did okay.”

“Even though he knew about ... about our family.  He still did a good job.”

“What's your point, David?” Jack asked.

“Aren't you always telling us to be tolerant of others, even if we don't agree?” David asked, his eyes slowly making their way upward to meet Jack's powerful brown eyes.

Jack was about to argue, but then he stopped as David continued, stating, “Frank doesn't like us; maybe he even hates us, but he still did his job, right?”

“That's right,” Jack had to agree.

“So ... why not hire him again?” David challenged.  “I mean, if we want people to leave us alone, then shouldn't we leave others alone?”

Little Danny frowned as he tried to process the conversation, finally concluding, “He hurt Mis'er Lap'er.  He no do that 'gain.”

David nodded, then said, “But can't you just tell him to not say bad things?  If we don't hire him just because of what he thinks, aren't we as bad as he is?”

Jack sighed, closing his eyes as he did so, and silently swearing.

Daniel nodded, then said, “He's right, Jack.  You know he's right.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jack said a bit off-handedly.  He looked at David.  “You know something, Son?”

“What?”

“Like Daddy said just now, you're right.  Sometimes we fall into the trap of doing what's easy.  I got carried away with my resentment of his attitude, and I let it overrule the facts.  As a matter of fact, Garrett told me Frank's work was well done.  They still have to do the final inspection, but from the looks of it, the work was above-average.”

Jack paused for a moment to process just how much he wanted to say to the children.

**Danny, I didn't like Frank's comment about Little Danny.  That was the last straw for me.**

**But you fired him before that.  It's that overprotective side of you.**

**I guess I could have just had Carter check him out.**

**Babe, he did start a fight, but maybe David is right.  Maybe we could have given him a warning, a chance to get his act together before firing him.**

Making sure David was looking into his eyes, Jack said, “You're absolutely right, David.  We can't expect others to move beyond their prejudice if we insist on wallowing in ours.  Thank you for the reminder.”

**Jack, did you, uh, make any calls about ...**

**I'll undo it tomorrow.  Geez, I thought we were supposed to teach them,** Jack replied.

**I don't know, Love.  I seem to learn from our children everyday.**

**Who'd have thunk it, Danny?**

The couple moved on to other topics as their nightly family time continued, but tomorrow, Jack would undo his potential 'blacklisting' of Frank and Carl.  He wasn't ready to let them return to work on anything in their home, but he wouldn't stop them from working for Gordon or anyone else in the future.

====

A few days later, as Jack and Daniel made their way to Cheyenne Mountain, Daniel insisted on swinging by to see the house.  He just had to look at it again. The drudgery and exhaustion of the long project was taking its toll, but at the same time, they were just beginning to glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel.

Jack knew the detour would severely alter the plans for the day; after all, the house was forty minutes from the Mountain, but still, it hadn't taken much to persuade him.  As a result, he made a left turn instead of a right one, thus heading towards the couple's former and soon-to-be-current-again homestead.

When they arrived, the lovers walked around to the backyard and over towards the new part of their enlarged home.  Suddenly, both stopped and glanced at each other, surprised to see Alex.

The designer was hunched over a laptop and mouse, using an appliance carton as a makeshift desk.  He was deep in concentration, the mouse in one hand and his cell phone in the other.

“Yes, that's right.  I need them in thirty minutes ... Great!  I'll be right over to pick them up,” Alex said, hitting the send key and powering down the laptop.

“To pick what up?” Jack asked.
 
Startled, Alex jumped a foot, his voice a higher pitch as he said, “Geez, you gave me a heart attack.  I wasn't expecting you.”

“No kidding?” Jack teased.  “Daniel and I just couldn't stay away.  We came by for another peek.”

“Oh,” Alex expressed.  ~Geez, they were just here yesterday.  I hope they stay together, that way neither one of them will try to sneak upstairs.  Well, I have just the thing to distract them.~

“What do you have to pick up in thirty minutes?” Jack asked again, insisting on an answer.

“Some drawings at Kinkos.  It was faster to email them there.  There's one not too far from here,” Alex said informatively.

“Gee, I didn't know that,” Jack jested.

“Sorry, I forgot.  You live here,” Alex sighed, sitting back and trying to wake himself up.

“We did, and the goal is to live here again just as soon as we can,” Jack said.

“What's the rush, Alex?” Daniel asked about the copies.

“I'll pretend I didn't hear that,” Alex responded, giving both men an exasperated look.  “But it might have something to do with getting you and yours back in here as soon as possible.”

Jack smiled as he said, “That's a good plan.”

“A very good plan,” Daniel echoed, smiling as well, though he wondered what was so important it could cause the intensity they had witnessed upon approaching Alex a few minutes earlier.
 
Alex Dennison was always impeccably and immaculately groomed, but not this morning.  He had stubble on his cheeks and chin, his hair was uncombed, and his eyes were bloodshot.  What's more, Alex's clothes were wrinkled.

~Come to think of it, he was wearing the same clothes yesterday.  That's my kind of employee,~ Jack silently approved, although he was very curious about the all-nighter Alex had obviously just pulled.

All in all, this was not the man Jack and Daniel had known for the last few months.  He looked, in both their minds, messy.

“So did you stay up all night?” Daniel asked, knowing the answer before Alex even spoke.

“No, I just thought I'd try a more casual look today,” Alex snapped.  He paused and shook his head.  “I'm sorry.  I'm just tired, and I desperately need a shower, a shave, a fresh change of clothing, some coffee, some food, and a few hours sleep, not necessarily in that order.”

“Well, we can't solve all your problems, but there is a coffee shop near Kinkos.  Our treat!” Jack offered with a perky voice.

“Deal,” Alex replied, standing and reaching for his jacket.  “But we need to stop and get those drawings first.”

“Danny, I'll call Hammond.  Meet you at the truck.”

Daniel nodded and walked with Alex to the front of the house while Jack reached for his cell phone and called Hammond.

“Sorry, Sir, house stuff.  It'll be a couple of hours.”

“Don't get lost, Jack.  We need to discuss the next phase of Jennifer's next exchange program.”

“She'll be thrilled if we get this set up.”

“That she will.  Report to my office as soon as you get to the base,” Hammond ordered.

“Yes, Sir,” Jack responded and then disconnected the call.

Jack smiled as he thought about the program the SGC was running where alien and a few select Earth children, who had been granted security clearance, visited other cultures for various periods of time.  It had been Jennifer's brain child, and it had been very successful in bridging some problematic cultural gaps.

~That's my girl,~ Jack thought as he made his way to the truck.

====

Jack and Daniel had already eaten, so they just had coffee while treating Alex to a full-fledged breakfast.
 
Finishing a bite of his eggs, Alex stated, “You do know that I am out of miracles, and you are out of time to make any further changes.”

Jack's heart jumped to his throat as he bewailed, ~Does he mean the master bath won't be done?~

At the same time, Daniel lamented, ~I spoke up too late; now, the girls won't have their special hideaway.  I'm so sorry, Girls; it's my fault.~

The reappearance of their waitress to check on Alex's meal and dish out coffee refills, derailed the conversation, so the topic switched to other things.  After a while, Daniel excused himself to visit the restroom, thus giving Jack his opportunity to find out about the master bath.

“Alex, what's happened with the bath?” Jack asked quietly.

“Jack, it's fine.  The bath is nearly done.”

“I thought from your earlier comment that something had gone wrong,” Jack told the hungry man.

“No, no, it's fine.  Relax.”

Jack sat back and sipped his coffee.  He was about to ask why Alex made the comment about miracles when the designer began rambling on about the decor for the new rec room.  Soon, Daniel returned and joined in the conversation.

It didn't take Alex long to notice that while Jack seemed more upbeat now, Daniel was clearly downbeat.

~Okay, okay.  These two guys are not the patient type.~  Alex smiled at his clients, but focused more on the archaeologist.  “Daniel, I figured it out.”

“You did?”  Daniel's mouth opened as hope began to flood his being.  “You mean the girl's hideaway?”  His spirits soared as he saw the affirmative nod Alex gave him.  “That's great, Alex.  Thank you so much.  I know it was last minute, and that was really all my fault.  That's why you pulled the all-nighter.  I'm so sorry about that, but I'm so grateful you did.  It means so much.  I just, I mean ...”

Jack reached over and placed his hand over Daniel's mouth.  Smiling, he said, “Danny, you're babbling.”

Daniel cocked his head slightly in acknowledgement while also lowering Jack's hand away from his mouth.

Alex grinned and then said, “Daniel, don't sweat it.  I'm just doing my job.”

“Alex, you've gone above and beyond you're job.  Thank you so much,” Daniel said, speaking from his heart.  “How'd you do it?  Where did ...”

Alex laughed and raised his hands to halt the flow of questions.  He was enjoying this moment and decided to add to the delight with a hint of more good news.

“I have another surprise for you two dudes,” Alex spoke, his face bright with pleasure.  This was definitely the fun part of his job, the part that made him stay up all night -- making the little dreams come true as well as the big ones.  “The stairwell.”

“The stairwell!” both Jack and Daniel exclaimed.

“We thought that was a no go,” Jack said.

“Just call me the miracle maker, but first things first.  Let's talk about the little hideaway for the girls.”

Alex pulled out the cardboard tube they'd picked up from Kinkos shortly before their trip to the coffee shop, where they now were.

“Some miracles do happen, but you have to approve these changes quickly, Guys. I don't know who is more insane, you for asking for these changes, me for designing them, or Gordon for putting his crew on double-time to build them.”  Pushing his plate aside, Alex laid out the plans on the table and explained them.  “If you'll look at this elevation ...”

“What?” Jack asked.

“Sorry.  An elevation is a drawing of one facade, or one side, of a building,” the designer patiently defined.

“I thought that was a perspective,” Jack questioned, remembering past drawings Alex had shown him.

“Close, Jack.  A perspective is a corner view of two facades.”

“I knew that,” Jack responded casually.

“Right,” Daniel said with a drawn-out tone of voice.  “Drink your coffee, Jack, and let Alex talk.”

Alex chuckled as he looked down at the elevation, or drawing, of the front of the house.  He pointed at the area depicting a dormer in an upraised curve, with a short series of windows that followed the curve where he wanted Jack and Daniel to focus.

“This dormer projecting from the roof ...” Alex began before being interrupted.

“What's that?” Jack and Daniel asked at the same time.

“The technical name for it is an eyebrow dormer.  The space sits above the plasma TV that is above the rec room ceiling.  It was going to be wasted space anyway.  The structure will support it, and it's really a simple matter to open the roof and insert the pre-built frame.”

The result was that a long expanse of roof looked less imposing.  It did look like an eyebrow.  It almost looked like the house was winking at you.

“Danny, this is cool!” Jack exclaimed, loving how magical their house was becoming.

“I love it, too, Jack,” Daniel added, smiling in gratitude at Alex.

The two men turned to the designer and asked in stereo, “How soon?”

“Then it's a go?” Alex asked, using Jack's frequent terminology.

“Ya think?” Jack quipped.

Alex pressed a button on speed dial, stated, “Garrett, it's a go,” and then snapped his phone shut almost as quickly as he had opened it.
 
“What's a go?” Daniel asked, glancing briefly at Jack.

“Oh, nothing much.  I just had the eyebrow pre-built last night.  I managed to twist a few arms into some double-time and a half.  It's ready to set into place.  By this time tomorrow, it will look as if it has always been there, window seat and all,” Alex informed.

“Geez, I bet Byron was fit to be tied.  How did you arm wrestle him, Garrett, and Gordon into this, or did it take more than arm wrestling?” Jack jested.

Alex blew on his nails, rubbing them in a polishing motion on his shirt, and then replied, “Guys, I'm shocked you would suspect me of using violence. Anybody can get into a fist fight.  It takes a real man to pitch a hissy fit.”

Jack snorted, and Daniel chuckled.

“We definitely hired the right man for the job,” Jack said confidently.  ~I admit it; I was wrong about him.  He knows how to do his job very well.~

“Come on back to the house.  I have an idea I want to show you for the stairwell,” Alex said.

As Jack stood, pulling out his wallet to pay for the breakfast and coffees, he commented, “We have to do this fast, Alex.  Daniel and I have to get to Mountain pronto.”

“It won't take that long.”

====
 
Standing in the large recreation room, Alex addressed the two men, firmly speaking, “You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs.”

“We're going to cook on the floor?” Jack joked, his eyebrows arched.  **Sometimes, this guy reminds me of Oma, Danny.**

“Gawd, Jack,” Daniel said in response to both comments, slapping Jack lightly on the arm.  “Will you just listen to Alex, please.”

“He's the one who brought up food,” Jack whined, pouting like his namesake often did.

Daniel shook his head and rolled his eyes as he replied, “Ignore him, Alex.  Please, go on.”

“What I propose is this,” Alex began.  “The rec room is long enough that you'll never miss three-and-a-half-feet off the end.  That's the width of the stairs plus the wall thickness.  Then we'll create a sine wave ...”  He paused, seeing Jack's face scrunch.  “Sorry, curved wall with a concave and a convex curve end-to-end over the wall enclosing the stairs.  We'll pad the wall and cover it in an acoustic fabric.  Both the fabric and shape will deaden sound.  Upstairs, we'll fudge the closet and the sew...”  He smiled coyly before correcting his wording.  “I mean, clothing pantry to accommodate the width of the stairs.  A bookcase will conceal the opening from the upper hall, just like in the movies.”

“So we give our rec room a bit of curvature?” Jack asked.

“Yes,” Alex answered.  “One of the benefits of this wall and using this type of fabric is that you'll have a huge gallery to hang the kids' artwork.  All you have to do is pin their artwork, report cards, photos, or whatever right into the fabric.”

“The Jackson-O'Neill Children's Museum,” Daniel mused in approval.

“Exactly.  Those two fridges are not going to hold all the children's artwork, plus all their ribbons, certificates, and whatnot that you'll want to display over the years.”

“Okay,” Daniel acknowledged, still thinking about the sine wave.  “Uh, does curve run vertically or ...”

“It runs parallel to the floor; in other words, if you drew it on the floor, and extended it up into real space, that would be the sine wave,” Alex clarified.

“Let's discuss the door,” Jack requested, ready to move on.

One of the reasons Jack and Daniel had turned down the second stairway initially was for the security of the children.  They liked the idea of a second set of stairs, but their children were still so young that they were afraid it could lead to accidents.

Alex happily explained, “The door to the stairwell is totally concealed.  In fact, it doesn't even look like a door at all.  The opening isn't even directly in front of the stairs, but off to the side a bit, and it just looks like nothing more than a  panel of acoustic fabric.”

“And how do we make sure the children don't use it without our permission?” Daniel asked, wanting to like the idea, but still worried about their younger children.

“Miracle maker at your command,” Alex said with a smile.  “You wanted a secure door panel, and you've got one ... at a price, of course.”

“The price was never the issue,” Daniel stated firmly.

“We can install a security keypad on the wall.  Now, you can cover that up with something or leave it out in the open.  You can also make it so that it can be remote operated as well, if you're willing to pay the price.  I know,” Alex said, holding up his hand.  “Price isn't the issue.”

“And where does this lead to exactly, upstairs?  I mean, we need to keep the children from using either entrance without our permission,” Daniel asked.

“Well ...”

“And what if one of the little dickens ...” Jack started to suggest before being interrupted by his soulmate.

“Jonny,” Daniel said, interjecting and clarifying the specific child that was of concern.

Jack coughed and continued, “What if one of them gets in, and the door closes?  They could be stuck there.”

“That could be a disaster,” Daniel said, on the verge of panicking just thinking about it.

“The stairs have track lighting that will automatically go on when the doors open,” Alex noted.

“And if they close?” Daniel asked.

“There's rope lighting along the edge of each stair, easily visible in the dark.”

“And going back to my question,” Jack stated sternly.  “What if they get stuck in there?”

“Install a panic button,” Alex answered.  “Put one at the top and the bottom. You'll have to instruct the children on what it's for and not to abuse it, of course, but we can rig it so that it will set off an alarm inside the house.  You hear that alarm, you know someone is where they aren't supposed to be.”

“That works,” Daniel said.  “But, uh, what about the upstairs?  This fabric doesn't go with the decor, does it?”

“The fabric is just for the downstairs wall.  The stairwell itself will be regular drywall, just like the hallway upstairs.  The door there will swing open.”

“How does this ... bookshelf upstairs work?” Daniel questioned.

“I've got this covered,” Jack spoke confidently, waving his hand to prevent Alex from answering.  “Danny, the upstairs door is a bookshelf.”

“That's been established, Jack,” Daniel stated.

“I know that,” Jack grumbled, glaring when his husband let out a tiny smile.  ~He's playing with me, that sexy geek.~  “The bookcase pops open when triggered by the security pad, or the remote, right, Alex?” he questioned, a confident grin on his face.

“And inside, on the back of the bookshelf, they'll be a regular door handle,” Alex informed.

“A bookshelf for a door,” Daniel spoke thoughtfully.  “Okay, I'll go along.”

“Asthetically, it'll look better,” Alex added.

Daniel nodded, and then Jack added, “It's a great solution, especially since we only want the kids using this when we're all downstairs in the rec room or nearby.  We don't want them shortcutting just for the heck of it.”

“Right, and we need to be able to control the door, er, bookshelf opening because if one of the children is by the ... bookshelf, and it just suddenly opened, they might fall or something,” Daniel commented.

“So having the remote unlock the door might be preferable than having it actually open.  Both doors operate at the same time.  Open one, and you open both, but you can make it so that the door or bookshelf pops open just enough for it to be pushed or swung open.”

**Danny, we can probably get Carter to come up something to make this even more secure.  I think it's worth a go.**

**Yeah, but one thing ...**  Daniel turned his silent thought to a vocal one.  “Um, I hate to ask this,” he said as a new question popped into his head.  “It sounds horrible, but with eight, sometimes we lose track of one.  What if we miscount and ...”

“This is a little beyond me, but I imagine our security people could easily install sensors that could override the system.”

**Carter could plug in lasers and gizmos so that if one of the brood is even inside the stairwell, we could know it.**

**That works, Babe!**  Daniel thought of one more issue.  “Jack, even though we don't want the children using this freely right now, what if there is an emergency?”

Alex offered, “Guys, why not go ahead and put in a security pad?  You can probably find a way to conceal, if desired, but as your brood grows up, they can learn the code.”

Jack nodded as he said, “I think that's a good idea.  Jen and David would know the code.  It'll be like the hallway door for the fire escape.”

“And we need a way to activate it from our bedroom,” Daniel stated firmly.

“Not a problem,” Alex responded.

“Besides, Jack, the children are growing up.  One day we won't need to be so careful about the stairs.”

“When they are all older, we just keep the doors unlocked,” Jack agreed.

With all the potential stumbling blocks accounted for, Jack and Daniel were impressed by the man in front of them.

Sincerely, Daniel said, “Alex, thank you for your efforts.  You took something that was impossible and incorporated it in such a way that it looks like it belonged there from the beginning.  It's great, and we, uh ... well, thanks!”

“So it's a go?” the designer asked.

“It's a definite go!” Daniel said, seeing Jack's nod.  “But, uh, about the security ...”

“Yes, you've been putting me off about a good security system, but this would tie right in with that.  We really need to discuss it.”

“Not now, Alex.  We don't have time,” Jack stated evasively.

“Okay, that'll take a while to work out all the details on anyway.  Now, Guys, seriously, no more changes to the structure,” Alex informed them sternly.

“Understood,” both contritely spoke within seconds of each other.

“I did have just a couple of cosmetic issues to discuss,” Alex mentioned casually.

“Alex, we really need to go,” Jack repeated.  “Hammond's going to start growing his hair back, Danny.”

“This will just take a minute,” the designer promised.

Seeing his lover shrug, Jack advised, “Ten minutes, Alex, and then we've got to go.”

“Okay, I'll talk fast,” Alex said, prepared to put his vocal cords in speed mode.

“That I'm used to.  After all, I'm married to the original motor mouth,” Jack quipped.  Daniel stared at Jack who suddenly realized what he had said.  He smiled weakly.  ~I am so dead.~  Jack desperately tried to retract his statement, saying, “Angel, I just meant ...”

Daniel folded his arms as he replied, “I know what you meant, Jack.”  **And don't call me 'Angel' in front of Alex.**  Looking at Alex, he said, “Go ahead.”

Alex nodded and began, “I know you are attached to the living room and entry hall as it is.  All I am suggesting is a fresh coat of paint, new carpet, and a nice ceramic job in the entry hall.  Otherwise, those areas will look dingy in comparison to the rest of the house.”

“Dingy?” Jack challenged lightly.

“Dingy,” Alex repeated firmly.  “Also, I think if you updated the light fixtures over the fireplace with some recessed lighting, it'll do wonders, *and* can we *please* replace those hideous lights in the entry?”

“You don't like them?” Daniel asked, sounding like a child who had just been told his favorite toy was trash.

“Come on,” Alex pleased, staring at the two men.  “You can't possibly be emotionally attached to those ... those lights!  We can find something attractive with a country feel.”

Daniel looked at Jack who shrugged, but still, Daniel was on guard.  This was his home, and a part of him was afraid they'd regret making so many changes.

~Maybe we should have just moved,~ Daniel's heart cried silently.

Alex sensed Daniel's distress.  He smiled and tried a little different tactic.

“Jack, Daniel, what you're doing is a spruce-up job, so that the old part of the house doesn't look old when compared to all the shiny new areas of the house.  The original section, the entryway and living room, are the first things people see when they walk in.”  Alex went back and forth with his eyes, looking at the two.  ~Okay, let's try one more level of appeal.~  “The workmen are already here, and you won't be spending noticeably more by doing this.”

“I've heard that before,” Jack remarked automatically.

**Jack, I didn't want to change that part of the house.**

**Sooner or later, we'd have to paint anyway.  It makes sense, and I don't want to be the one to paint it.**

**I'd rather paint you ... remember?**

Daniel tried to hide his lustful leer from Alex, but Jack definitely saw it and was now wishing they didn't have to go to the Mountain at all that day.  Daniel was an excellent body painter, as was Jack.

**Babe, I remember!**  “Alex, we're okay with the paint job.  What about the carpet, Danny?”

“I'm fine with that, but I'm not sure about the lighting or the ceramic entryway.  Our home has always had a country feel to it, and that starts with the entranceway.  I don't want that to change.”

“Daniel, I know that,” Alex said.  “In several of our discussions, you've mentioned how you love the original look and the country style.  Hey, Guys, cut me a little slack here.  I need some sleep, and as a result, I didn't adequately explain my thoughts.”

“Trust me, Alex, I know all about sleep deprivation,” Daniel said coyly, refusing to look at Jack who was smirking his agreement.

“The flooring I have in mind is ceramic, but it's this very nice looking country-stone ceramic.”

“I need to see what it looks like,” Daniel stated firmly.

“We can do that, if you can schedule me some time later today or tomorrow morning.  What about the lighting?”

“I don't know, Alex.  Our fireplace is ... it's special.  We, uh, have a lot of ... cozy memories there,” Daniel said, smiling shyly at his soulmate.

“I'm not talking about ripping out the fireplace.  Guys, your lights are thirty years old.  It's time for a change.  Come on, Daniel!  Home Depot has a great selection.  At least go shopping with me; let me try and show you what I'm thinking.”

“Okay,” Daniel said, nodding.  “We can do that.”

====

On the following Thursday morning, the family was relaxing and enjoying some time together.

Over the past few days, Daniel had met with Alex, and, after some discussion, had agreed to go ahead with the country-stone ceramic entranceway and up-to-date lighting as well as adding some very subdued, recessed lighting near the fireplace that would barely be noticeable.

Jack had been out of town for two days on J-O Enterprises business, leaving Sam and Alex strict orders to make sure Daniel did not discover his surprise at the renovated home.  They were to do whatever was necessary to keep him away.  Although they had a few close shaves, they were ultimately successful, largely thanks to Megan, who managed to keep Daniel running around with mock crisis after mock crisis at the office.

Sara and Janet both pitched in, too, by simply being 'unavailable' a few times when Daniel had called for help.  Even Hammond was in on it, conveniently having plans with his granddaughters while Jack was gone.

The worst part about the general's traveling arrangements was that he'd been gone on his birthday, or most of it, not arriving home until after 9 p.m.  Of course, the lovers did do a little late night celebrating, but, since they were still living at Hammond's house, Daniel hadn't been able to give Jack his favorite and most traditional birthday present -- a passionate round of lovemaking.  Still, they enjoyed a quiet time together outside by the lake, enjoying what was now a rare beer and lots of cuddling.

“Next year, watch out,” Daniel had promised.  “You're going to have one whopper of a birthday.”

“I can't wait,” Jack had responded and then taken the opportunity to share another kiss with his husband.

As a consequence of Jack's absence, Daniel was so tired that once he'd fallen asleep after their brief romantic rendezvous by the lake, that he'd slept in an extra thirty-minutes the next morning; that is, until Aislinn had served him breakfast in bed.

Today, though, the couple was sitting back and watching their children at play.

“Hey, Jeff Gordon,” Jack yelled.  “Watch your six.  Earnhardt is about to nail your bumper.”

Little Danny looked behind him and said, “No catch me!”

The little boy was driving his Little People's racing car, outfitted to resemble NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon's famous number twenty-four Chevrolet.  Jonny, meanwhile, had his own Little People's car made to look like Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s current race car.  They were racing over the lawn in Hammond's large yard, away from the lake.

“Dad!” Jonny exclaimed unhappily as he stopped.  He looked over and glared at his father.  Sternly, he complained, “No help comption!”

Jack stared and cocked his head slightly.

From the lawn chair seated next to Jack's, Daniel said, “Competition.”

“Oh.”  Jack looked over at Jonny and said, “Sorry.”

Jonny scowled.  Just then, Aislinn flew past him, laughing.  She was in her own Little People's car, although it wasn't a racing car, but just a standard toy car for toddlers.  It was pink and had white and yellow daisies on it.

“Gonna be number one, Jonny!” Aislinn called out.  “I coming, Little Danny.”

“No catch me,” Little Danny shouted back as he made the turn onto their pretend racetrack.

“Girls!” Jonny scowled again as he hurried to catch up.  “Girl no win!”

“That boy has a lot to learn,” Jack whispered to his husband.

“I'll do my best to teach him,” Daniel teased, glancing at Jack.

“Hey, what am I ... chopped liver?” the older man inquired indignantly.

Daniel looked over at Mittens who was licking her paws and smirked, “Nope, or I don't think there'd be much of you left.”

“Wise guy.”

“Thank you for admitting that,” Daniel spoke dryly.

“Very cute, Daniel,” Jack smirked.

“Why, Jack, are you flirting with me out here in the open?” Daniel teased.

“Daniel, cut it out!”

“Okay.  What is it you want me to cut out?”

“Your brain!”

Daniel laughed as he tried to refocus on the book he was reading.  He didn't get far when he heard a disturbance just a foot or so away.  They looked up to see a rather irate toddler glaring at Jack.

“No fair, Dad!” Jonny complained.  “You tell Little Danny I b'ind him.”  Jonny had his hands on his hips.  “No do that 'gain!”

Jack gulped, saying, “Aye, aye, Sir,” as he saluted the upset toddler.

Jonny made a face, folded his arms across his chest, and argued, “I woulda won!”

Jack picked up his angry son, who resisted slightly, and spoke seriously, “Hey, you, listen up.  You and your brothers and sisters are just playing.  This was a game.”

“Woulda won!” the angry boy repeated sharply.

Daniel leaned forward, placing his book at his side, sensing a disturbing change in attitude in their son.

“Jonny,” Jack continued.  “You are a winner.”

Jonny looked at his father, full of doubt, and scowled, “I lost.  Little Danny won, and girl beat me!”

“That girl,” Jack said firmly, “is your sister, and her name is Aislinn.  Did you congratulate her?”

“No!” the little boy pouted.

Daniel watched both Jack and Jonny carefully.  This was the first time Jonny had acted like this, and Daniel wanted to nip it in the bud before it became habit.  He hoped Jack was going to try and curb the behavior now, too.

“Then I'm very disappointed in you.  In fact, I think I don't even want to talk to you right now.”

Jack put Jonny down and got up.  He gave Daniel a little look indicating he had the situation under control, and then he headed for the house.

Jonny stood silently for a moment, frowning and watching his father.  He made a little grunting noise.  Suddenly, he ran after Jack.

“Dad!  Dad, wait!  No ... <sniffle> ... want you be d'pointed.  Daaaaad!”

As he reached the sliding glass door, Jack turned and looked down at the youngster as he caught up to him.  Jonny was crying now.  Jack knelt down and reached out to dry the tears.

“Son, it's important to know that a game is just a game.  We can't win all the time, and that's okay.  The fun is in the playing, not in the winning.”

“I like win,” Jonny sniffled in response.

“So do I,” Jack admitted.  “But Daddy likes to win, too.  When we play chess, he usually does win, so if I acted like you when Daddy beats me, I'd be mad at him.  Do you want me to be mad at Daddy?”

“Nooooo!  You love Daddy!”

“Oh, yeah.  I love Daddy with all my heart, and he loves me.  When we play, we both try to win, but only one of us can get a 'checkmate'.”

“That mean win, right?”

“That's right.”  Jack took Jonny's hands in his as they talked.  “Now, I didn't mean to ruin your plan to win.  I was just watching my children having a fun time running a race.  Maybe I shouldn't have said anything, and for that, I'm sorry.  But, and this is a big but, Son, what you could have done is just keep on racing, and if you had done that, maybe you could have caught up with your brother before the end of the race, and maybe, just maybe, your sister wouldn't have raced by you while you were standing still, being angry at me.”

Jonny blinked as he absorbed the lesson, explaining, “I was mad.”

“I know, but you stopped, and you should have just kept going, and then at the end of the race, you could have come over to me and told me why you were mad.”

“I sorry,” Jonny sincerely apologized.

“Little Danny beat you fair and square, and so did Ash,” Jack told his son.

Jonny shuffled around a little bit and said, “I s'pose to win.  I big bro'her.”

“You *are* their big brother, and because you are, they look to you to set the example for them.  What if Little Danny and Ash were racing some of your friends and lost, would you want them to act like you did just now?” Jack inquired, brushing the sandy brown bangs from Jonny's eyes.

“No.”

“What should you do?”

“Say 'sorry'?” Jonny guessed, though he knew there was more.

“You could.  What do you usually say to someone who wins something?”

“I know,” Jonny admitted with a sigh.

“Wanna show me?” Jack urged tenderly.

Jonny nodded and started to walk away, but then he turned back and asked, “Mad at me?” the toddler asked.

Jack smiled and shook his head as he answered, “I love you, and I'm very proud of you.  Son, winning doesn't make you a champion.  Being a good sport, knowing how to lose, and being your best at all times -- that is a champion.”  He paused; then said, “You know, Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr. are teammates now.  They didn't used to be.  They were rivals.  Now, they have to work together.  They both still want to win; they race each other hard every week, but they also support each other.  Do you know why they do that?”

“They on same team,” the oldest Munchkin answered.

“That's right.  Jeff Gordon is one of the greatest drivers ever to race, and the reason for that isn't just because he's won so many races and championships; it's because he wins races and championships *and* he knows how to act gracefully when he loses, too.  He's a class act.  He's a champion, and, Jonny, that's what I want for you and your brothers and sisters, for all of you to be champions, on and off the track, or wherever you go.  Do you understand?”

“I champion,” Jonny said, regaining his belief in himself.  He turned and ran over to where Little Danny and Aislinn were telling Chenoa all about the race.  “Little Danny, you did good!  I win next time.”

“I no let you,” Little Danny said playfully.

“I try best, though.”  Jonny looked to his sister and surprised her with a hug. “You good, Ash.  I proud of you.”

Daniel smiled as he watched the interplay.  He looked over to Jack who was making his way back to the lawn chairs.

“How'd I do?” Jack asked.

“Great.  In fact, I'm proud of you.”

Jack sat down and sighed, “Looks like they've worked it out.”

“Jack,” Daniel said as he reached over and took his husband's hand.  “That was tough.  You knew what you had to do, and you did it, even when he cried.”

“The one thing our kids have always wanted from us is love and pride.  I'm not sure where they got the pride thing from, but telling our brood that we're disappointed in them is like ... like ...”

“Like driving a stake through their hearts,” Daniel said, squeezing Jack's hand.  “He'll remember, Jack.”

Daniel leaned over and shared a tender kiss, full of love and pride for his soulmate.

“Dad!” Jonny called out, leading his fellow Munchkins to where their parents sat.  “Ash really good.  She need 'ficial race car.”  Jonny reached out and took Aislinn's hand.  “She want car that be number one.  We get her car?”

Daniel chuckled, but tried to hide it as he opined, **Good job, Jack.  So good, in fact, that's it going to cost us money now.**

**You want me to say 'no'?**

**No way.**

“How about we go on a shopping trip this weekend?” Jack called out.

“Yay!” the trio rang out and then went back to their play.

“We race 'gain.  Bet you do good 'gain, Ash!” Jonny encouraged his sister.

“You know what, Jack?” Daniel asked as the triplets ran back to their cars.

“What, Love?”

“We're the winners, you and I win, hands down.”

“Amen,” Jack said as he and Daniel watched the children begin a new race.

====

That afternoon, things weren't quite as peaceful and relaxing as the morning had been.  It had grown much more hectic once Daniel had headed for the offices of J-O Enterprises.  Now, the sound of the telephone ringing threatened to make the day even crazier.

Jack stumbled over the toys strewn across the floor to reach the phone.  He had just gotten the twins down for a nap, and, as an added bonus, the Munchkins had drifted off while watching cartoons.

~Stop ringing, blast it!~  Jack managed to pick up the receiver just at the edge of the second ring.  “Hello,” he whispered hoarsely.

“Jack, it's Alex.  Did I catch you at a bad time?” the designer questioned, wondering why the general was speaking so softly.

“No, not at all.  I just got five little tykes down for a nap.  What's on your mind?” Jack asked, walking out of the family room.

“I'm impressed.  That's no mean feat,” Alex commented.  Refocusing, he explained the reason for the call.  “Jack, you've dodged my questions about security systems every time I broach the subject.”

Jack audibly sighed, but said nothing.

Alex stated matter-of-factly, “I just wanted to let you know it's okay.”

“It is?” Jack asked, a bit confused.  ~What the heck is he referring to?~

“Of course.  As I'm sure you are aware, we don't install security equipment ourselves; we sub-contract it out.”

“Yeah, we figured that.”

Alex continued, “But, obviously, you have someone else you'd rather use.”

“Uhhhhh ...”

Alex chuckled slightly, “Jack, using someone else on this doesn't hurt my feelings.  Security is a touchy matter.  You don't want someone you don't know knowing how to override the system.”

“Uh, yeah.”  ~Geez, Louise, but he's good.~  “You're right on, Alex.  How'd you figure it out?”

“The on-site security is *way* tighter than normal, and you are much more involved than most clients in telling Gordon who will work on your house and who won't.  It doesn't add up that you and Daniel would forfeit this opportunity to make your home as safe as possible.  I wouldn't be surprised if you checked me, Byron, and the company out before hiring us, and I don't just mean checking with the contractor's board.”

The silence on the other end of the phone confirmed Alex's suspicions.  While the designer was a bit amused at all the extra precautions, Jack's Special Ops alarms were tingling just a bit.  It was very true that everyone working at their house had undergone security checks by Sam, and even more than that, the house was frequently watched by various 'associates' of Jack's as a precaution.

Jack and Daniel were not normal people, no matter how much they wished they were.  It wasn't so much vandals and thieves they worried about, but old NID enemies who occasionally reared their ugly heads.  Still, the secret surveillance and other precautions were being carefully handled.  For Alex to have seen through it, made Jack second guess his recent conclusion that Alex was simply good at his chosen profession.  Now, the Special Ops trained officer wondered if there was more to the designer than a basic security check had revealed.

“Why are you telling me all this?  What difference does it make to you?” Jack questioned sharply.

“Relax, Jack,” Alex said in a calming tone.  “I just want to save whoever is going to do the install from digging through fresh drywall and threading wire through the walls.  It's common courtesy for us to make life simpler for another sub, even if we did not hire him.”

~Maybe.  I'm calling Carter when we're through with this call.~  “What do you need from us?” Jack asked, still uneasy at the turn this conversation had taken.

“Just this.  Talk to your sub and ask how many of each kind of wire he wants run, and to which locations.  I figured one ethernet line, one coaxial cable, one small fiber optic bundle, one standard telephone cable, one one-hundred-twenty volt, uh, that's a twelve gauge, and two twelve volt lines.  If that is not correct, just tell us what you want, and what kind of wall terminals, if any, you want installed. No one will think anything is amiss.  This is commonplace.”

“I'll get back to you in an hour or so, maybe sooner.”

“That'll be fine.”

“Whoa, uh, tell me what each of those wires are, and,” Jack coughed, “spell them.”

Alex chuckled and complied.

====

After hanging up with Alex, Jack immediately dialed Sam's number and asked, “Are you sure you checked this guy out, Carter?”

“Yes, Sir, I did,” the blonde colonel stated confidently.  “He's squeaky clean.  He's never given anyone a minute's trouble; um, not even one parking ticket.”

“Check him again, and dig deeper.”

Curious, Sam asked, “Why; what's he done?”

“Hopefully, just his job, Carter, and extraordinarily well,” Jack answered and then repeated the conversation he'd just had with the designer.

“That would make my job *so* much easier, Sir.  Just make sure the ethernet cable is dedicated to security, and the line voltage needs to run to the backup generator and then to the battery as well.  That should do it.”

“Will do.”

“Uh, General?” Sam said coyly.

“What?” Jack asked, not seeing what was coming.

“How many times did he have to explain the lines to you?” Sam chuckled.

“Goodbye, Carter.”

Hearing her laughter grow, Jack hung up the phone.

====

Jack called Alex and relayed Sam's information back to him.  He was still a bit concerned, but then, he was pretty sure it was just old habits causing his wariness.  Still, he was happy he'd ordered a recheck.  Looking at the sleeping children, he knew he couldn't be too careful.

~Invasion of privacy or not, no one will hurt our children, Danny.  I hope he's just one darn good designer whose overly observant, but I can't, and I won't, take chances.~

Jack felt good about one thing Sam had shared with him.  With the head start they had just been given, the security systems would be operational from day one.

~Gotta love that!~

Smiling, Jack dialed Daniel's cell phone to share the good news and make sure he concurred with Jack's decisions.

====

“Jack, everything you've talked about is fine,” Daniel said over the phone, adding, “Except I think you're wrong about Alex.”

“Danny, he says things.  He's ...”

“We've discussed this, Babe.  He's just good at his job.  He hasn't done one thing to warrant a second-level probe,” Daniel responded.

“He's in our home and with our kids,” Jack refuted.

“Jack, if Alex were up to something ... covert,” the younger man said a bit flippantly, “then he wouldn't slip up by saying things about our security or our children.  Alex is too smart to show his hand that way.”

“Precisely!” Jack exclaimed through the earpiece.

“Excuse me?” Daniel asked.

“Danny, Alex is smart, so smart that he'd show his hand but not show it.  It's a ruse, to get us thinking he wouldn't he slip up like that when he's really doing it to throw us off the track.”

Daniel blinked a few times, trying to decipher what the heck his husband had just said.  Finally, he decided to ignore it and just issue the verdict.

“No, Jack,” Daniel protested.  “Let it go.”

Jack growled silently, but somberly spoke, “I can't, Danny.  Please don't ask me to.”

There was an audible sigh over the phone.

“Jack, listen to me.  I'm all for protecting our children, for doing checks on anyone with access to them on a regular basis, and I let you talk me into an elaborate security system.  I, uh, suspect it would make James Bond proud,” Daniel said wryly about their covert system.  “But, uh, people have a right to their privacy, and you're digging deep into Alex's past for no real reason.”

“Daniel, if you insist, I'll call Carter back, but I'm asking you not to.”

~What am I going to do with him?  This is wrong, but his intentions are good.~  Yet another sigh came over the phone.  ~It's all that Special Ops training of his.~  “Okay, Jack, but this isn't going to be a habit.  Do you understand what I'm saying?”

“I love you, Angel.”

“I love you, too, very much.”

The 'argument' over, Jack and Daniel spoke of their love for a couple of minutes before hanging up, each looking forward to 'welcome home' kisses when reunited in another couple of hours.

====

Sam reviewed her notes and the sources and systems she'd used to check on Alex's past the first time.

~Okay, basic family.  One of eleven.  Whoa, and I thought the general and Daniel had a big family.  Nothing unusual really.  Father died of a heart attack; mom remarried.  I don't have the ages of his siblings.  Hmm.  Well, not important.  Alex never got into trouble that I can tell.~  Sam took a drink of her coffee.  ~Let's see -- education?  Check.  Graduated high school at sixteen, BA's in interior design and structural engineering at twenty.~

Everything lined up, so the inquiring mind moved on to Alex's career resume.

~First job with Wesson and Hingle in Dover; no problems there.  Two more 'climbing the ladder' jobs in ... yes, Cleveland and then Reno.  Excellent references, employer's verified his history, and no complaints.  Hmmm, no reason why he left the job in St. Louis, but, uh, there's no gaps of consequence between any of his positions and his current job.  Check.~

Sam then took note of the various honors and achievements in Alex's resume.

~Published his first book at twenty-three.  Not bad.  What's the title?  Here it is ... 'The Aesthetic Ethic, Designing with Beauty and Responsibility'.~  Sam laughed.  ~Just wish I had time to decorate.  Forget aesthetics; I just need a new look.~  Almost forgetting her tasks, she got up and stretched for a minute before returning to her notes.  ~Nothing concealed here; no criminal record; no unaccounted for time.  Okay.  All the ducks are lined up in row, so let's take it to the next level.  Time to talk to former co-workers and friends.~

Sam made a few calls and then checked her schedule at the SGC.

~Yep; should be able to pull this off tomorrow.~

Minutes later, Sam had her airline ticket purchased.  Checking her watch, she jumped up.

“Oh my gosh, Pete!” Sam exclaimed, jumping up from her chair.

Taking a moment to check her makeup and hair, Sam hurried to the main entrance of the SGC where Pete was waiting to take her out for a late lunch.

====

“Game time,” Daniel said the next morning.  “Jack, you have the cards?”

“Right here, Love.  Munchkins, you come with me over here,” Jack requested.

“And you two follow me over there,” Daniel instructed the twins as he pointed to the other end of the room.

“And I've got David and Noa,” Jennifer stated, enjoying her teacher's aide role at home, though she knew David was smarter than her in a number of areas. “We'll stay here.”

Daniel sat down on the floor with Ricky and Jenny.  He took out the deck of cards they'd had specially-made for their children.  He gave each of the twins a set of cards, all the same.

“Okay, we're going to play, 'Match Me'.  I'm going to pull out one of my cards and say the number.  Then I want each of you to find the same card in your deck.  The first card is ...” Daniel pulled a card and looked at it.  “Four.”  He placed the card on the carpet.  On each of the cards, along with the numbers, were beads that matched the number of the card.  “Look at this.  See?  There are four beads on the card.  One ... two ... three ... four,” he said, counting each of the beads.  “And look at this.”

Daniel reached over and pulled the lid off a bowl he had brought with them.  The children smiled and clapped.

“'corn!” Jenny exclaimed.

Daniel placed two plastic plates in front of each child.  Then he laid out four pieces of popcorn on each plate and counted them with the children.

“Okay, find me your number four card,” the archaeologist requested.

“One ...”

“Three ...”

“Here mine,” Ricky said.  “I eat 'corn now?”

“If you want,” Daniel answered, smiling.

“Four!” Jenny said happily as she placed her card in front of Daniel.

“Good job!  Munch away,” Daniel told the youngsters.  “Next card is ... eight.”

The threesome continued their game.

--

Over on the other end of the room, Jack and the Munchkins were playing their own math game called 'Number Memory'.  Jack had taken two sets of the numbered cards and randomly placed them on the carpet.

“Here's how we play.  The idea is to match up two of the same cards, but you have to remember where you saw the card.  For example,” Jack said, reaching over and picking up a card.  “This is a three.  Now, I need to find the other three.”  He picked up another card.  “Darn.  This is an eight.  Now, to make a match, the next player needs to find a three to match with that three, or an eight to go with this eight.  If you match, you get to keep the cards, and whoever has the most at the end of the game, wins.”

“What we win?” Aislinn asked.

“Ice cream before bed,” Jack replied, trying to entice the children.

“We get that anyway,” Jonny said.

“You're right.  Let's play.  Ash, you go first.”

The Munchkins were pretty sharp, especially Little Danny whose photographic memory gave him a distinct advantage, and soon they were all getting matches, except for the last few cards.

“No un'erstand,” Little Danny said.  “That six.  That four.  That nine.”  The little boy had correctly pointed to all those cards.  “That 'nother four and that 'nother six.  Where other nine?”

Jack coughed and reminded, “Son, you're not supposed to tell your competition where all the matches are.”

“But where other nine?” Little Danny asked, frowning.

“It has to be here somewhere,” Jack said.  Then he felt something strange at his ankle.  He looked down and stared at Jonny.  “Jonny, what are you doing?”

“Dad, your foot on card!” Jonny reprimanded, pointing at Jack's foot and a card that could barely be seen.

Jack stepped back and smiled as he apologized, “Sorry about that.  I was just seeing if you were paying attention.”  He looked at the Munchkins and spoke, “Not buying it, huh?”  Seeing their skeptical expressions, he sighed, “Okay, it was a mistake.  I didn't know I was standing on the card.”

“We want ice cream!” Aislinn demanded.

“Later.  Let's play one more game and make it a little more difficult by adding another set of cards.”

The triplets picked up the cards and watched as Jack shuffled and randomly placed them on the carpet again.

--

In the kitchen, Jennifer, David, and Chenoa were playing a mixture of two other math games.

David had one goal while Chenoa had another.  For David, he had a successful hand, if in his cards, he had a true math statement, such as a nine, six, and three.  He could play, having the equation, “Nine minus six equals three.”

Chenoa's goal, however, was just to get a group of cards that added up to eighteen.  Since the two children were on such different playing levels, Jack and Daniel had devised this combination of two different games and taught it to Jennifer to teach them.

David smiled at Jennifer.  He knew this game was more for Chenoa's sake than his own.  He was already much more advanced than the level of play of either game, but he still had fun.  Jack and Daniel had told him that he was being a teacher's aide by participating in some of these activities with his younger siblings, and that made David feel good, knowing he was helping to teach his brothers and sisters.

“Eighteen!” Chenoa announced, showing her cards.

“That's great.  Let's add them up and make sure,” Jennifer said.  After she verified the total, she smiled and said, “She's got you beat this time, David.”

Chenoa beamed.  She scooted off her chair and ran into the living room, announcing proudly that she had beaten David for the first time.  She received hugs and smiles in return.

--

“That's it for today.  You can go outside and play, if you want,” Daniel told the twins.  He heard Jack telling the Munchkins the same thing.  Soon, all eight children were busy playing or doing other things.  “Jack, I'm really glad we're doing this.”

“They're learning and having fun.  Of course, tomorrow, they might not be so happy,” Jack half chuckled.

Daniel grimaced as he asked, “History?”

“As in sticking their noses into books for a while,” Jack said.  “But right now, why don't we ...”

“Woof!”

Jack looked over at Bijou and Katie and asked, “Now?”

The two beagles went to the table where there harnesses and leashes were.

“That's a 'yes', Jack.”

“Hold this thought,” Jack spoke, kissing his lover passionately.  “We'll pick up this conversation later.”

“I'm looking forward to it except I have to study tonight,” Daniel told his lover apologetically.

“Daniel!”

“Jack, I have my own test coming up,” the scholar stated.

Jack sighed, “Okay, we'll pick it up tomorrow night.”

“We're having dinner with Megan and the representatives from the museum, remember?”

“Crap, I forgot.”

“Don't worry, Babe.  It'll be Friday night soon.”

“Not soon enough,” Jack muttered as he went to take the dogs for a neighborhood walk.

====

Earlier that same day, Sam had taken an uneventful flight from Denver to St. Louis where she would continue her detailed background check on Alex.

“Samantha Carter to see Serena Malone,” Sam announced to a receptionist.

A few minutes later, Serena Malone ushered Sam into her office.

“You have fifteen minutes, Colonel Carter.  What is this all about?  I can't imagine Alex being in any trouble.”

“He's not.  I just need to do a background check before he can work on a government project.  What can you tell me about him?” Sam asked, taking a seat in front of Serena's desk.

“He worked here immediately after his book was published.  We were lucky to have him.  He's an absolutely brilliant designer and a first-class engineer, a rare combination.”

“So you worked with him?”

Nodding, Serena confirmed, “Mmm, yes, on a few projects.  He had some innovative ideas for the time.”

“Inventive,” Sam confirmed.

“He's a math whiz, an absolute genius; a master of both the aesthetic and pragmatic aspects of design.”

“Was there anything between the two of you?”

“Don't I wish,” Serena said, smiling as she flung her head back at the idea.  “He's to die for, but he was too wrapped up in caring for his younger siblings to even notice me.”

“Do you know why he left the company?” Sam asked.

“I'm not sure.  I do know he'd gone through a lot with his family.”

“Like what?” Sam questioned curiously.

“He rarely talked about it, but I do know that one of his younger brothers was very troubled.”

“Troubled?”

“Oh, you know, truant from school, vandalism, drugs, all of it.  Alex tried, but he couldn't get through to him.  He was in juvenile detention for years.  The last I heard, he refused to even talk to Alex,” Serena confided.

“Anything else?”

Serena sighed and fidgeted with a few papers as she asked, “Is this absolutely necessary?”

“Yes,” Sam answered.  “It's important for us to know as much as we can about potential employees.”

“There was that horrible business with the three youngest children in his family.  I'm still not sure of the exact events.”

~That doesn't sound good,~ Sam thought.  “What happened?”

“The three youngest were triplets, two boys and a girl.”

~That sounds familiar,~ Sam thought, remembering how Jack had told her that Alex seemed especially fond of the triplets.

Serena continued, “At the age of thirteen, they attempted suicide, along with a cousin, another girl.”

Sam was horrified as she asked in disbelief, “You're kidding?  Why would they do that?”

“I wish I knew.  Their mother found them in the garage, motor running in her car.”

“Where was she?”

“Like I said, I don't know the exact details.  All I know is that it set off a chain of events that led to Alex leaving the company.  He barely even gave us two weeks notice,” Serena informed Sam.

“Can you tell me anything else that happened in this chain of events?”

“His stepfather died, and the triplets disappeared.”

“Disappeared?” Sam asked, thinking that sounded odd.

“That's all I know,” Serena responded with a sigh.

“Thank you for your time,” Sam stated, standing up and shaking hands with Serena.

“I hope I was helpful.”

“You have been,” Sam assured with a friendly smile.

“Colonel Carter, if you see Alex.  Tell him ... tell him he's always welcome here.”

Sam nodded, then turned and left, wondering why she'd missed this in her initial check of Alex's family.

====

Sam's next stop was the library.  She'd found the headlines about the suicide attempt, but there was very little concrete information.  There was some innuendo, however, about the stability of the mother as well as some undetailed implications about the stepfather.

~There has to be more to this.  Let's try a different tack.  Let's find Mom.~

Using her laptop, Sam began her search.  Her initial check had been on Alex, and it had just skimmed his family background.  Now, though, Sam was actively searching for specifics on the family, and in particular, Alex's mother.

“Oh, wow,” Sam said aloud, having found the obituary for Elyse Dennison Steele. The problem came in that it wasn't just an obituary, but a news story.  “Woman Hangs Self After Children Botch Suicide” was the headline in the local paper.  ~Wow.~

The news article revealed very little, except for one very odd thing.  The triplets involved in the attempted suicide had disappeared.  The home had been cleared of all their belongings.  In fact, there wasn't a single item or piece of paper on hand to even suggest they'd been born.

~I don't know what to make of this.  Where was Alex during all of this?~

Sam pulled out the information she'd previously collected on the designer's family.

Alexander Benicio Dennison was thirty years old.  He was one-eighth Italian, one-eighth Arabic, and the rest, ~yummy hunky Caucasion male.~

Six of his siblings were older.  In fact, there was a six-year gap between Alex and his next oldest sibling, and the bridge between Alex and the triplets was a whopping thirteen-and-a-half years.

~Those triplets must have been one heck of a surprise!~  Sam shuddered at the thought of being older and giving birth to three children at one time.  ~Okay, his older brothers and sisters were long gone by the time this happened.~

Alex's younger brother was the one with the problems, and the triplets had been just three years old when their father died.  Elyse had remarried within a year of her first husband's heart attack.

~One year?  After all those years?  Okay, she's either one of those women who need a man around all the time, or there's more to this love affair than a spontaneous romance.  Who is this second husband anyway?  Okay, his name was Edward Steele.  Let's just see what his story is.~

Edward Steele's story wasn't pleasant.  Prior to marrying Alex's mother, he had three arrests in as many states for child molesting with one conviction.  He'd lucked out when a plea bargain reduced his prison time to a few years.

~Great!  A child molester cons Elyse into marrying him, and she's sitting at home with three four year olds.  I don't like where this is headed.~

====

Upon her return from St. Louis, Sam dropped by General Hammond's home.  After all the hugs and kisses with the children were taken care of, she got Jack and Daniel aside and relayed what she'd learned.

“What happened to the triplets, Sam?” Daniel asked.

“I don't know.  I checked with Social Services, and they know absolutely nothing.  I had Pete do some checking, too, using the old police files.  You know, a cop to cop favor.  Anyway, the scuttlebutt is that the kids were molested by Steele.  When Elyse found out, after the suicide attempt, she wigged out.  She tossed Steele out of the house.”

“A little late,” Jack bemoaned.

“General, she didn't know,” Sam said in Elyse's defense.

“Yes, she did,” Jack maintained dryly.

Sam gulped in regretful acknowledgement and then added, “So, the kids did a one-nighter in the local hospital and were released to their parents.”

“I take it they didn't tell the authorities about the molestation,” Daniel said as he stood with his arms folded across his chest.

“Not a word,” Sam confirmed.  “They probably told Elyse when they got home, and that's when she threw Steele out.  Uh, it gets worse.”

“How?” Daniel asked incredulously.

“Police think she hid the triplets away somewhere, or gave them to someone to take care of, or ... maybe even worse.”

“Carter, she wouldn't kill her own kids,” Jack responded almost harshly, shocked by the notion a mother could cause any kind of harm to her children at all.  ~Although looking the other way, even if you aren't certain what's really happening, constitutes harm.  I just don't want to think that she could've ...~

“They disappeared without a trace, Sir.  The police couldn't buy a lead.  And, uh, Steele's body turned up a week after the suicide attempt.”

“Body?” Jack asked.

“He went out in someone's trash.  They don't know what happened to him.”

Jack and Daniel exchanged a nervous look, and then the older man queried, “Where was Alex during all of this?”

“He was in Tahiti for a seminar that he was combining with his first vacation in three years.  The police did question him, but they verified every minute of his time there.”

“Gawd, he came home to ... to what, Sam?” Daniel asked, thinking about how distraught Alex must have been.

“He left two days before the attempted suicide.  His mother didn't tell him.  When he got back fourteen days later, his brothers and sister were gone, his stepfather was a murder victim, and his mother had hung herself.  According to Social Services, he tried everything he could to find the triplets, but they just didn't have any information to give him.”

“What else?”

“General, there isn't anything else.  Most of what I've told you is culled from scantily written police notes and gossip.  Elyse's dead, Steele is dead, and Alex's older siblings are completely removed from the situation, aside from mourning for their mother.  There's been no sign of the triplets.”

“Carter, they didn't just fall off the face of the Earth.”

“Jack, let it go,” Daniel urged.  “Look.  We know why Alex's affection for the Munchkins is a little more than normal now.  He sees them, and he remembers his own family.  He's also a little more perceptive about our needs because he comes from a big family.”

Sam gave them a quizzical look, saying, “From what you two have told me, he really hasn't done anything bad.  Has he?”

“No,” Jack admitted.

“Okay, then,” Daniel said.  “Jack, Alex has had enough sadness in his life; this is none of our business, and it's time we butted out of his private life.”

Jack looked down, his hands in his pockets.  He looked off towards the living room where the children were.

Quietly, Jack said, “I just want to make sure our kids are safe.”

“You still think there's something else we need to know?” Daniel asked, surprised.

“No.  I just don't like loose ends.  Thanks, Carter, for finding out what you could.”

“Anytime.  I'll see you two later.  Goodnight!”

====

Jack and Daniel dropped by the house a few days later to make sure everything was on track.  Alex had known they'd be by, so he'd taken preventative measures to stop Daniel from discovering Jack's surprise, coming up with structural reasons as to why they couldn't check the upstairs.  Just in case, he'd place a huge pile of construction 'debris' in front of the stairs.

**Jack, I haven't checked the upstairs in a while.  Maybe we should ...**

**I checked it yesterday, Love.  It's fine.**

**Okay.**

The couple watched as Alex chatted and played with the triplets for awhile.  This time, when the Munchkins ran back to their parents, the parents saw a sadness in Alex's eyes they'd never been aware of before.

“Jack, I need to review these final specs,” the designer called out.

“Daddy, hungry,” Aislinn whined.

“Angel, why don't you take them to Mickey D's while I finish up with Alex?” Jack suggested.

“You don't mind?” Daniel asked.

“Nah, it's been a long day; they're hungry.”

**Yeah, and you're going fishing,** the younger man accused.

**What?**

Daniel shook his head and requested, **Just be gentle, Jack.  Please.**

Jack nodded, and Daniel collected their children, saying, “Let's go, Munchkins.”

====

With Daniel and the children gone, Jack and Alex conducted the review.  When that was done, Jack stood by a bit uncomfortably.

“Jack, what's on your mind?” Alex inquired, sensing there was something going on.

“The Munchkins like you,” Jack spoke offhandedly.

“It's mutual,” Alex professed with a smile.

“You're a natural with kids; pretty good at handling more than one at a time, too.”

“Experience,” Alex commented.

“That's right.  You said you came from a large family.”

“There were eleven of us, but it was a split family.  I was almost the baby of one side, and then I was the mentor of the second group,” the designer responded.

“Yeah,” Jack said, bowing his head and staring at the floor as he stood with his hands in his pockets.

“What do you want to know?” Alex asked, his voice low.  “You had me checked out.  I heard about it.”

“Heard?” Jack asked, surprised by the revelation.

“Serena Malone.  She's an old friend and co-worker.  She tracked me down over the weekend.  All you had to do was ask, Jack.”

Jack explained without remorse, “I don't take chances with my children.”

“You have more questions,” Alex stated, realizing Jack's reason for staying behind and not dining with Daniel and the Munchkins.

“A book's worth, but Daniel's right.  It's none of our business,” the general stated.  ~But if you have nothing to hide, why not talk?~

“No, it's not, but you'd feel better if you had the answers,” Alex surmised.

“I can't deny that,” Jack answered truthfully.

“You tell me what you know, and I'll fill in the blanks; then, Jack, I don't ever want to talk about this again.  Deal?”

“Deal.”

====

“Jack, I hope you didn't upset him,” the archaeologist spoke that night.

“Danny, I told him he didn't have to say anything.  Anyway, he figured it out,” Jack responded while he tapped his pen against the table where he'd been making some study notes for their homeschooling.

“How?”

“Serena somebody called him.  She's one of the people Carter spoke to.”

“Oh,” Daniel said, calming slightly.

“So do you want to know?” Jack questioned.

~Of course.~  Daniel sighed.  He wanted to say no, but he couldn't.  “Okay, Jack, tell me,” he said as he sat across from his husband at the kitchen table.

“Alex found out quite a bit from his cousin, the girl who had attempted suicide with the triplets.”

“Was she raped, too?” Daniel asked quietly.

“Yes, and it was a regular occurrence with threats of not just death but mutilation if anyone told.  They all knew it was happening, and one day, the oldest boy said they had to end it.  Danny, what kind of a sick human being was that Steele to molest all four of those kids?  Sick, twisted, sorry excuse for a man.”

“I agree.  I don't understand it, Jack.  I never did, and I never will.”

Jack reached out and took his husband's hand as he continued Alex's story, saying, “When the suicide attempt failed, the kids told Alex's mother because they figured they had nothing to lose.”

“Steele was mad at them?”

“They knew it wouldn't stop; that he'd follow through on his threats.  They told Elyse, and, according to Alex's cousin, she reacted badly.  Flipped out.  The niece said a few days later, she went over to the house, and it was like a nightmare.  Elyse acted like the triplets didn't exist.  When the girl told her own mother, the mother called Elyse.”

“That was her sister, right?”

“Yep.  Things went psycho.  Elyse was talking like she'd never had children.  The sister tried to get through to her for a few days.  She even tried to contact Alex at the conference, but they had him down under the wrong name and couldn't find him.  Then Steele's body was found.  The sister was scared stiff.”

“She thought Elyse did it?” Daniel inquired.

“Her sister was acting like a paranoid schizophrenic.  She didn't know what to think.”

“So why didn't she call someone for help,” Daniel asked.

“She kept wanting to deny the seriousness of the situation.  She finally did call the authorities, but it was too late.  When the police arrived, Elyse had already hung herself.  She took the triplets whereabouts with her,” Jack said, a sympathetic sadness in his tone.

“Did Elyse kill Steele?” Daniel asked.

“Alex says he doesn't know.  What he does know is that one day he got on a plane, and at that moment, he had a mother, a stepfather, and ten siblings.  Two weeks later, he stepped off a plane, and his family had disintegrated.  He had to get away.  When it became clear the police weren't going to help him find the triplets, he left St. Louis.”

“What does he really think happened to them?” the younger man inquired.

“He hopes they're alive, but he really doesn't know.  He said that is the hardest part, the not knowing.  The hospital only kept them overnight.  Alex is afraid they may have suffered brain damage due to oxygen deprivation, or worse.”

“It's so sad,” Daniel opined, not even realizing he'd spoken aloud.

“They could be anywhere across the globe.  Alex thinks they were probably split up, because three would be harder to keep inconspicuous.  Geez, I feel like a heel for making him have to dredge all this up again.  The Munchkins only helped him to remember good times; that's why he's been so interested in them.”

A bit harshly, Daniel asked, “Are you satisfied now, Jack?”

“Danny ...”

“I'm sorry.  I know you're trying to protect all of us, but I'm not sure I really wanted to know this story.  Gawd, sometimes, Jack, I just don't understand why people ... why they ... I ...” Daniel said, standing and walking over to look out at the darkened sky.

Jack stood and walked to his lover, encircling him with his arms.  He knew his lover was right.  Sometimes, Jack's zeal to know all in the name of protecting his family pushed the limits.  This was one of those times.

“We both do have to do, Danny.  Sometimes, we cross the line, but we can't second guess the decisions we make when it comes to the brood,” Jack put forth.

“I know,” Daniel agreed.  “I just wish our need to feel safe didn't mean that Alex had to relive a nightmare.”

Jack could only nod and continue to hold his Love as the night wore on.
 
====

“No, Jack, I don't want the entranceway to be redone in blue,” Daniel argued two days later.

“I didn't say that!” Jack shouted.

“You might as well have.  Look, I'm glad you think I'm ... that blue is ... that ... gawd, you know what, but Jack, you're *obsessed*!”

“All I said is that I thought we could paint the bathrooms blue.”

“Jack, the children don't want blue, and it's their bathroom.”

“They'll learn to love it.”

“Gawd!” Daniel said, raising his hands and turning a full three-hundred-sixty degree circle in frustration.

The lovers were tired and getting on each other's nerves.  It had been May when they had last enjoyed the comfort and privacy of their own home, and as November was fast approaching, the stress was finally showing.

Currently, the couple had been sitting in their temporary bedroom in Hammond's home for longer than either of them wanted to think about, bickering over color schemes, room decor for the children, and what to have for dinner.  Finally, Daniel had gotten up to stretch when their bickering began to escalate.

“Daniel, you're overreacting to a little comment,” Jack responded as he continued to sit on the edge of the bed.

“Little is the right word for it,” Daniel said a bit harshly.

“Okay, let's forget the bathroom.  Let's get back to the television question.”

“No,” Daniel said sternly.

“No?”

“I mean, no, they don't need televisions in their bedrooms,” Daniel maintained.

“Small ones, Danny.  That way they can play in their rooms and still watch the tube.”

Folding his arms as the verbal battle intensified, Daniel stated crisply, “Jack, our children are not going to become social outcasts because all they do is sit in their rooms and watch TV.”

“Letting them have a small TV isn't going to make them social outcasts.”

“Look, Jack, I know you grew up watching television, but I also believe that television has been the downfall of the American family.  Studies have shown ...”

“Daniel,” Jack said as he stood.  “This isn't one of your friggin' lectures.  We're talking about *our* children and *our* home.”

“And our children don't need to have TVs in their rooms,” Daniel asserted.

“There's nothing wrong with ...”

Daniel cut his husband off, saying, “They already have a lot of things, Jack.  We're putting a computer corner in each of their bedrooms, and they'll have a good stereo system.  They just don't need a TV, too.”

“I think they do,” Jack said defiantly.

“And I say they don't!” Daniel argued.

“Sometimes, Danny, you're as stubborn as a goat!” an exasperated Jack tossed out.

“You should know!” Daniel snorted back.

“And what is *that* supposed to mean?” Jack asked, his voice growing louder.

“It means what it sounds like it means,” Daniel responded.

“Oh, that's very helpful!” Jack whined sarcastically.

“I'm so glad,” the younger man retorted as he moved to put on his jacket.

“Where are you going?”

“I have a class, remember?” the archaeologist stated.

“Now that's just great.  You were supposed to go by the house to check those specs with Alex,” Jack complained.

“*Me*?  I thought you were going.”

“I went yesterday, and the day before that, *and* the day before that.”

“What?  This is a contest?  Jack, we share in this household.  While you were at the house with Alex, I was taking care of the children.”

“It's not exactly next door.  It's *your* turn,” Jack snapped angrily.

“I have class!” Daniel shouted.

“Skip it!” Jack shouted back.

“*No*!” Daniel argued, adjusting his jacket slightly.

“Fine.  This will be my chance to make a few changes,” Jack baited, heading for the door.

“Jack, stop acting like a child!”

Jack turned around sharply and fired, “AND YOU STOP TREATING ME LIKE ONE!”

Taking three steps towards his husband, Daniel heatedly replied, “I'm *not*.  You're the one having a cow about going to the house.  I obviously can't go because I have class.”

“And I have eight children to watch.  You remember the kids.  Oh, wait, you've had classes every day this week.  Let me show you their pictures,” Jack stated angrily as he pulled out his wallet to get the photographs.

“That's enough, Jack.”

“You've been gone all week, Danny,” Jack said with a bit of a pout.

“I have freakin' classes so I can get the freakin' degree so we can homeschool our children.  Do you have a problem with that?”

“When it you keeps you from being my husband, I sure do,” Jack hollered.

“How is attending class stopping me from being your husband?” the younger man questioned incredulously.

“You're *not* here!” Jack accused.

“I HAVE CLASS!  GAWD!” Daniel yelled, feeling totally aggravated.

“And what about the house?  Do you want me take the kids there with all the stuff that's lying around in harm's way?”

“You know what, Jack?  You do whatever you want!”

Daniel stormed out of the room and down the stairs of the lakeside house.

“DANIEL, COME BACK HERE!” Jack ordered.

“Dad, what's wrong?” David asked, coming out of his room.

“Nothing.”  Jack quickened his pace.  “DANIEL!”

“Daddy, what's happening?” Jennifer asked, hearing the shouts from the living room.

“I have class, Jen.  Tell your dad I'll be home late.”

“He's right here,” Jennifer said, pointing to her father.

“Is he?” Daniel asked a bit childishly, glaring at Jack and then walking out the door.

“DANIEL!” Jack yelled, running outside.

The older man grabbed Daniel's elbow, but Daniel yanked it free.

“DON'T ... let me repeat this to be absolutely clear ... DO ... NOT ... TOUCH ME!”

The glare was lethal.  Jack stood in place as he watched his husband drive away in his classic sports car.

“Grrrrrr ...”

====

“Jen, why Dad 'n' Daddy yell?” Jenny asked.

“They're just having a little spat, Jenny.  Let's go finish our story.”

Jennifer returned to her spot on the sofa.  She was surrounded by three worried Munchkins, a pair of concerned twins, an upset Chenoa, and a curious David, who decided to stay downstairs after the ruckus.

“Jen, they fight,” Ricky whined.

Jennifer smiled and then worked to calm her siblings, telling them, “Don't you know by now that Dad and Daddy love each other soooo much that sometimes they use each other to vent?”

“Vent?  No un'erstand,” Jenny said.

“It means they have so much love that they trust each other.  I mean, they can yell and scream at each other and know it'll be okay.”

“Jen, I no un'erstand,” Ricky said.

“It's complicated.  You see, Dad and Daddy have been doing a lot lately.  Think about it.  They're rebuilding our house into a magical kingdom, running their business, and Daddy's going to school so that both he and Dad can homeschool all of you.  Dad has to prepare lessons, and you know how he feels about paperwork, and Daddy has to study.  You guys have seen me when I study.  Sometimes, I'm practically pulling my hair out, trying to figure something out, and then I get interrupted.  It's hard to concentrate.  Daddy has to study while taking care of the new house, the business, and all of us.”

“That 'lot of stuff,” Chenoa said.

“Right, and then the contractors have all kinds of things they need Dad and Daddy to make decisions about.  I've noticed that in the last several weeks, Dad and Daddy have been going to the house a lot to check on things and answer questions from the contractors.”  Jennifer paused.  “There's just a lot going on right now, and our parents are under a lot of pressure, especially to make sure the house gets done on time.  After a while, all that pressure just builds up.”

Little Danny brightened as he said, “Like a 'cano 'rupting!”

Jennifer laughed, “Exactly.  The good news is that Dad and Daddy get it all out, and then they make up.”

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

“You know it!” Jennifer said.  “Look, you know that Dad and Daddy love each other loads.  We're very lucky.  By the end of the day, they'll be snuggling and doing all that stuff that makes us go ewwww.”

“I like it when they kiss!” Jonny said.  “They 'pose to kiss, Jen.”

“Well, okay.  I guess not wanting to see parents get all mushy and kiss is a teenager thing,” Jennifer laughed.  With a serious look, she scanned her siblings. “Have I explained this good enough?  I mean, trust me, this is normal.  It's when they don't fight for a long time that we have to worry.  Everything's okay.”

“It good,” Chenoa said.  “Finish story, Jen.”

Seeing the children were satisfied, Jennifer continued the story -- “Okay, so the bandit was ...”

From the hallway, Jack stood and smiled as he thought, ~She's got us pegged.~  **Angel, in case this thing is working long distance, I love you.**  He waited a moment and lamented, ~Didn't think so.  Okay, Jackson-O'Neill, time to steal your husband away for a romantic splurge.  Who to terrorize?  The Doc, I think!~

Jack moved to phone and dialed.  As he waited for it to ring, he heard a delightful phrase.

**I love you, too, Goat!**

Jack grinned and continued with his plans.

====

It was almost nine o'clock when Daniel pulled into Hammond's driveway.  He was wearing his brown leather jacket because it was cold out.  As he approached the door and was about to put his key in the lock, he heard a voice from behind.

“Don't move, or I'll jump your bones right on the spot,” Jack said seductively.

Daniel chuckled in relief as he turned around to see his lover standing there and asked, “Where were you, hiding in the bushes?”

“How'd you guess?”

“Just lucky,” Daniel said, a small smile in his voice.

Jack moved forward, placing his hands on Daniel's waist, and replied, “I'm the lucky one.  I have the most wonderful husband in the universe, and I love him, you.”

Daniel chuckled as he leaned in closer and raised his hands to go around Jack's neck, asking, “You have more than one husband?”

“Couldn't handle more than one,” Jack teased.  “Danny, I'm sorry.”

“No, I'm sorry.  I'm just so tired, Jack.  The last couple of months have been excruciating in so many ways.”

As Jack's hands ran up and down Daniel's sides, he wisely deduced, “I think our volcano erupted.”

“What?”

“Just something Little Danny said.  I'll tell you later.  The point is we've been pushed to the limit, and it's time to fly away.”

“What do you mean?” a baffled Daniel asked.

“I know, we can't really fly away, but I think we need to go home.”

“Jack, what ...”

Jack silenced his soulmate with a sizzling kiss and then spoke, “The children are under the watchful eye of General Hammond tonight, and in the morning, Janet is going to take them.  I've told Alex to give everyone a day off.”

“I bet he wasn't happy about that,” the younger man replied.

“That's an understatement.  I didn't know he knew those kinds of words.” After the lovers shared a laugh, Jack continued, “Did you know he's been practically living at the house lately?”

“He takes his job seriously,” Daniel stated.
 
“But tonight, Love, he's at his own place, and in a little while, we'll be at ours.”

“Let's go,” Daniel said eagerly.

“Not so fast,” Jack said, wanting and getting another kiss before they left.

====

“Jack, it's a little cold to camp out,” Daniel said as he stepped out of the truck.

“We're camping out on the roof deck, and if we can't take it, we can use the tree house.  We'll keep each other warm,” Jack promised, raising his eyebrows up and down several times.

“Babe, it's October.  It's coooold!  I need my husband, not Groucho Marx!”

Jack chuckled and then said, “Trust me,” taking his soulmate's hand and walking inside their still-being-renovated home.

“Looks like a cyclone hit it.”

“One more month, Danny, and it's all ours again.”

“I miss it,” the younger man sighed, anxious to get back to their own home permanently.

“Me, too.  Come on.”

Jack and Daniel made their way through to the roof deck, and seeing the unusual sight in front of them, Daniel laughed, “Jack, you're out of your mind, but, gawd, I love you.”

Jack had put up a small tent.  Inside were all the finer parts of life, at least if you're name was Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.  There was Starbuck's coffee in a thermos, a bottle of St. Julien's wine, Godiva truffles, strawberries and whipped cream, and chocolate walnut cookies.  Of course, there was also a tray of finger foods, some fruits, and healthier snack items, but the stash was sufficient for the lovers to snack the night away.

The tent held one double-size sleeping bag as well as several pillows and blankets.

“We could stay in our room, but ...” Jack began.

“No, I like it out here.”

“We'll be cold,” Jack said in warning, but happy with Daniel's decision.

Daniel smiled and responded, “Oh, no we won't!”

“Now that's what I wanted to hear!” Jack said, scooping up his lover for a kiss that ignited their internal fires.

The two men moved inside their tent, where they quickly made a cold night extremely hot.

====

The next morning, Jack and Daniel watched the birth of a new day, and then began that day their favorite way, by making love.  Eventually, they toured their home, Jack kissing Daniel senseless to distract him from seeing the surprise bathroom.  They had made a silent agreement not to get sidetracked into construction issues, and instead, they simply admired the progress.  Their tour ended in the original living room, by the fireplace.

“I'm so glad we held our ground, Jack.  I don't want this changed.  I ... I need this place to be what it was the first time I ever walked in here.”

Daniel's hands traced the edge of the mantle, though the photos that normally graced it were in storage.  Jack came up from behind and placed a kiss at the base of his lover's neck.

“I know we could have done more.  Alex wanted us to totally redo our bedroom, and ...”

“No!”  Daniel turned around and placed a demanding and even needy kiss on Jack's lips.  “I mean ... Jack, I don't mind a change in decor.  I ... I agree with the few changes we decided on, but ... I ... I ...”

“Angel, I know.  This is our home, and what's the point of doing all we've done if we end up gutting it out and making it all new?”

“Exactly.”  Daniel let out a contented sigh.  He leaned his head forward, and Jack's forehead met his.  It was a sign of unity that they had begun a decade earlier.  A minute passed before Daniel spoke again.  “The one thing I count on most in this universe is you, and next to you, it's knowing our home is ... our home.  Alex doesn't understand that, Jack.”

“He doesn't have to, Danny.  He's done his job.  He's pushed for things he believes make sense, but, Love, sometimes home and heart aren't meant to make sense,” Jack mused.

“You're being a poet again, Jack,” Daniel spoke as he traced Jack's lips with his fingers.

“Like I say, you always bring it out in me.”

“I, uh, would like to bring something else out ...” Daniel said leadingly, his eyes gazing at Jack's mid-section.

“Oh, it's on its way.”

“Let me give it a little help.”

“Oh, geez, I love how you ... oh, yeah!”

====

“Jack, we shouldn't have put this off for so long,” Daniel told his lover as he purchased the last of the Halloween costumes.  “I hope this fits,” he said about the item he put into the cart.

“We'll make it fit,” Jack responded confidently as the two headed to the checkout counter.

“We should have done this a month ago,” Daniel sighed regretfully.  “We have just have had so much happening, but still ...”

“Hey, we did pretty good!”

“I want to hear you say that after *you* tell Ricky that instead of being a ferocious lion, he gets to be a toddling tortoise.”

“There's nothing wrong with being a tortoise,” Jack insisted.

“Right.”  Daniel pushed the cart up to the counter.  “Just remember, you're telling him, Jack.”

“Why me?”

“Because you're his father,” the younger man rationalized.

“Well, so are you!” Jack argued.

“Yes, but I tried to get you to go shopping for Halloween last week,” Daniel reminded.

“I was busy,” Jack said, bouncing a bit on his heels as he looked down and pursed his lips.

“Right,” Daniel replied dryly.

“It was a critical point.  Bart and Lisa were fighting over who gives off the best ...”

“Jack!”

“... Flatulence,” Jack continued.

Daniel just shook his head, grateful that it was their turn in line.

====

Several hours later, the Jackson-O'Neills prepared to hit the streets of Colorado Springs.  Jack had outlined the entire evening, beginning with Hammond's neighborhood, continuing to homes and neighbors of some of their friends like Janet and Megan Williams, and ending in their own neighborhood.  It would be a long night, so all of the youngest children had taken naps.  Not even Jonny argued, wanting to make sure they could visit as many homes as possible.

“Ricky, you're adorable,” Jennifer said to her little brother as she knelt down to fasten one button.

“Tor'tis.  S'pose to be lion,” the little boy grumbled.

Jennifer chuckled and said, “Well, next year, I'll make sure you have the best lion outfit you've ever seen.”

“Oh, Boy!” Ricky exclaimed.

“Picture time,” Jack called out.

Carefully, the parents began the photo process, taking numerous photographs -- individual shots of the kids, group photos such as the Munchkins together and all the girls together, the kids with their parents, etc.  It took a while, but once that was done, the Jackson-O'Neills headed out.

The family made for an interesting assortment that included Ricky the Tortoise, Little Danny the Werewolf, David the Magician, and Jack the Flying Ace.

“I knock,” Princess Aislinn said as they arrived at the home of Johanna Severson.

When the door opened, nine, make that eight children and one adult, chimed, “Trick or Treat!”

Johanna laughed, “Well, the trick was on me the day I thought there was something wrong with your family.  Turns out I was the one all messed up.  Hello, little ones!”

“Hi, Mrs. Severson,” David greeted with a huge smile.

“Hello, David.  Listen, I have some more chores that need to be done, if you have a free weekend or afternoon coming up.”

“Thanks!  I'm trying to save up for a geology kit!”

“Hi, Johanna,” Daniel said.

As Johanna passed out an ample supply of candy to each child, she greeted Daniel and then Jack, saying, “Jack, you owe me five dollars.”

“I do?”

“Yes.  Our bet about how many commercials would air during the last Sci-Fi channel Twilight Zone marathon.”

Jack growled, “Before long, Johanna, they're going to have more commercials than show.”  He handed over a five-dollar bill, saying, “I never thought it would get so bad that they'd cut out Rod's opening teaser.”

“It's that or Bemis losing his glasses.”

“Thank you,” a chorus of children said when the woman was done.

Chenoa walked up and tugged on Johanna's dress.

The woman bent down and asked, “And what are you supposed to be?”

“I'm a ... it's a secret!”

“Oh, a secret.”

“I'm an alien,” Chenoa confided about her Jaffa makeup and outfit.  She knew she couldn't say the word 'Jaffa' in public, but her parents told her it would be fine for her to be an unnamed alien.  “A friendly alien,” she added.

“That's a very unique costume.  I love the decal on your forehead.”

“Mrs. Sev'son, can I have an extra piece?  It for my friend, T,” Chenoa requested politely.

“Surely, Noa,” Johanna said, giving the girl not one but four extra candies.

Chenoa smiled brightly as she backed away.

“Why doesn't Teal'c get his own candy?” Jack asked his husband.

“I think it's a dowry or something,” Daniel teased.

“Daniel!”

“Jack, I'm just kidding.”  ~I think.~

====

Several hours later, the exhausted family made one last stop.  Because half the children were falling asleep, Jack stayed with them in the SUV while Daniel took their loaded bags of goodies inside.

“Everything checks out, Daniel,” Casey Hemmings, the male nurse on duty, stated.

Daniel lamented, “I hate that we have to do this, but we hit so many homes tonight, and we didn't know all the people.”

“It's the smart thing to do,” Casey said, turning the machine off.  “How's the general?”

“Still growling.”

“Just how you like it, right?” Casey teased, raising his eyebrows several times in rapid succession.

“Casey, I don't know why you and Jack aren't better friends.  You sure do think alike.  Goodnight,” Daniel said as he gathered up the treats and exited the infirmary.

As he watched the archaeologist leave, Casey thought, ~We have similar taste, too, Daniel.  Too bad that I never stood a chance with you while the general was around. Jiminy, I still don't think you know how I lusted after you.  Your eyes have always focused on Jack.  Lucky man.  Now, if I could just find someone with some style and class to make a life with myself, I'd be a happy nurse.~

===

As Daniel got into the vehicle and put on his seatbelt, he looked back at the children and smiled.

**Jack?**

**I know, Danny.  It just doesn't get any better than this.**

“I love you.  Let's go home,” Daniel said.

Jack leaned over for a tender kiss and whispered, “Forever and always, Love.”

Smiles on their faces, whether sleeping or awake, the Jackson-O'Neills headed back to General Hammond's.  For them, life wasn't just a banquet, it was a feast, and on this night, it was a feast of loving treats.

====
--November - Home, Sweet, Home
====

“General, we'll be gone about three hours,” Daniel said as he put on his jacket.  “Are you sure you don't mind watching the brood?”

Hammond chuckled, and he would have gotten up to walk his friends to the door, only he was sitting in his favorite leather chair, surrounded by Ricky, Jenny, and Aislinn, who were all eagerly listening to another story about their Grandpa George's adventures.  Jennifer was keeping a close eye on Jonny and Little Danny upstairs, while David was in his room, reading a book.  Chenoa was at a friend's house.

“We just need to pick up a survey from the office, and we're going to go by the house and check some dimensions in the study,” Jack added.  They were considering getting a desk armoire for the study, but since it was quite long, they wanted to check and see if they really had room for it or not.  “Like Danny said, with travel time, about three hours, maybe a little less.”

“No problem, Jack.”

Jack and Daniel waved goodbye to their children who were downstairs, having already done so with those upstairs, and then headed for the door.

“Uh, Jack?”

“Hmm, I see.”

“Grrrrruff!” Bijou said as she sat, blocking the front door.

“Woooooof!” Katie added, holding her harness in her mouth.

While staying at Hammond's the two beagles' harnesses had been kept in a bin under an entryway table.  It was very easy for either beagle to grab their harnesses to help make their desires clear, as they were now doing.

“Do you think they know where we're going?” Daniel asked as he stood with his hands on his hips.

“Probably.”

“Woooooof!” Katie repeated, while Bijou glared at Jack and Daniel.

“I think they miss it, Jack.”

“We'd have to hold them the entire time,” Jack said, still looking at the dogs.

“Woof!” Bijou said, standing, seemingly understanding Jack's comment.

Jack turned around and let Hammond know that Bijou and Katie had demanded to go with them on the excursion.  The twins and Aislinn all pleaded their cases, too, but Jack teased, “First woof, first gruff.”

Daniel faced his lover, trying to decipher the strange phrase, but he finally determined it was hopeless.

“But ...” the children began to object.

The younger man used a bit of psychology in his response, saying, “Soon, we'll all get to go home.  If I were you, I'd want to take advantage of the time you have now to listen to Grandpa's stories.”

The three siblings grumbled, but only for a few obligatory seconds.  By the time Jack and Daniel had the harnesses on and leashes affixed, Aislinn and the twins were nestled around Hammond, thoroughly engrossed in the tale being told.

With smiles on their faces, Jack, Daniel, Bijou, and Katie headed for the truck.

“J-O first?” Jack asked.

“Yeah,” Daniel agreed.

====

Gordon laughed as he saw Jack, holding the mama beagle, and Daniel, with Katie nestled in his arms, walking towards the house.  Both dogs were looking all around and wagging their tails.

“Nice looking pups!”

“Yeah, we think so,” Jack said proudly as he patted Bijou's head.

“Woof!” Katie said in thanks, her eyes sparkling.

“Anything going on inside the house at the moment?” Daniel asked.  “We just need to take a few measurements.”

“Nah, everyone's at lunch, and most of the cleanup is done.”

“How's the fence?” Daniel inquired.

“Sorry, Pups, but it's not back up yet,” Gordon said, smiling at Bijou and Katie.

“Grrrrr,” Bijou responded.

“If I didn't know better, General, I'd say that dog just complained that the fence wasn't back up.”

“Grrrrrr,” times two was the response as both Bijou and Katie growled.

Jack and Daniel both laughed as they moved past the contractor, with Jack calling out, “Wouldn't be a bit surprised, Gordo; not one bit.”

====

Inside the house, Jack and Daniel took the measurements they needed, while Bijou and Katie obediently waited on the sofa.

“Not enough room, Babe; sorry,” Daniel said as he retracted the measuring tape.

“That's okay, Danny.  I didn't need it that badly,” Jack replied, taking a minute to write down the measurements for future use.

“Would have been convenient though.”

“Maybe we can find a smaller one,” Jack suggested, still thinking it would be something he'd enjoy having in his study.

“We'll keep looking,” Daniel agreed, adding confidently, “We'll find something you like eventually.”

Jack smacked his head and said, “D'oh!” in imitation of Homer Simpson.

Daniel looked at his husband in confusion and then the light bulb went on in his brain, too.  He nodded at Jack and grinned foolishly.

The couple had hired a designer who continued to amaze them with his abilities.  All they had to do was ask Alex.  They'd let him do the looking.

Their entire exchange had taken place solely with Jack's single utterance and the lovers' single look at each other.

“Might as well go.  Girls, want a sneak peek at the new big yard?  It's big with a capital B - I - G,” Jack said with a grin.

“Woooof,” came the two happy responses.

Picking up the beagles, Jack and Daniel carried them to the backyard.  They walked to the edge of the patio steps and stood, reviewing the progress.

====

“Danny, look at their eyes,” the older man said as he smiled at the canines.

“They're going to have a lot of fun here,” Daniel said as he rubbed Katie just under her snout.  He noticed Katie eyeing her play yard.  “See, Girl, it's still there, and we're getting a whole bunch of new artifacts for you to discover.”

“Woof!  Woof!  Woof!  Woof!” the youngest beagle barked approvingly.

“Time to go,” Jack said.

====

Back in the truck, heading back for Hammond's home, Jack and Daniel chuckled lightly about the dogs' responses to Gordon and seeing the backyard.

“You know something, Babe?”

“What, Love?”

“I think maybe, just like Little Danny did last month, that the girls just needed to know the house was still there.”

“I think you're right,” Jack commented.

“I can't wait to get back home.”

“That makes a brood of us,” Jack laughed.

Daniel rolled his eyes, but laughed at his lover's quip in spite of himself.

====

“For a long time, the Egyptian language was lost,” Daniel explained to his namesake that afternoon.

“I read about that,” David stated as he, too, participated in this lesson.  “Theodosius the First closed all the temples.”

“Who is Theodosius?” Little Danny asked, surprising Daniel a little by correctly pronouncing the name.

The little boy also had inserted the intransitive verb, something he was doing more and more of late.

Daniel answered, “He was an emperor in the Byzantine Empire.  We'll talk more about that later, but, basically, it was the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor.  David, open the atlas, and show Little Danny the area I'm talking about, please.”

David did as Daniel requested, and Little Danny studied the area for a minute.  Daniel knew that with his son's photographic memory that when they discussed the area and the Byzantine Empire more thoroughly, Little Danny would remember the map.

“So, because the temples were closed for fifteen-hundred years, we almost lost the ability to learn about the Egyptian society,” Daniel explained.

“Someone opened the temples?” Little Danny asked.

~Past tense.  Hmmm, you're on a roll, Son.~  Daniel answered, “Yes, sort of, and then we really learned a great deal about Egypt.  What we're going to concentrate on today is Egyptian writing.”

“Hieroglyphics!” David exclaimed, a smile on his face.

“I know what that means,” Little Danny said.

“You do?” Daniel asked.

“Writing.  You do that,” Little Danny said.

“Yes, I do.  Egyptians considered hieroglyphs to be the words of their gods, but remember ...”

“I know,” David interrupted.  “Those were false gods, not like God God.”

“We no pray to those gods; they just people,” Little Danny added, having remembered this discussion from the past.

“That's right,” Daniel said.  ~Well, your grammar is still lagging behind, but that's okay, Sproglet.  You're growing up fast enough as it is.~

“Hieroglyphs took a lot of effort.  They were used mainly by the priests, and were painstakingly drawn on walls.”  Daniel saw his young son frown.  “What is it, Little Danny?”

“They write on walls?  How you read notes?”

Daniel smiled, amused at his namesake's thirst for, and capacity to absorb, knowledge, coupled with his 'toddler-speak'.

“Hieroglyphs were great for decorating the walls of temples and imparting information, but for everyday activities, they used another type of writing called hieratic.  They also used picture signs that were abbreviated, uh, that means shortened, not as complex as the ones done in the temples, so they were easier and quicker to write.”

Daniel went on to explain more about the characteristics of hieroglyphs and eventually pulled out a map of some common Egyptian symbols.

“Can I write my name?” Little Danny asked.

“Well, remember, they don't have vowels in the traditional sense like we do, but we can improvise, uh, that means ...”

“Cheat,” Jack chimed as he walked into the kitchen where the lesson was occurring.

“Jack!”

Jack laughed and sat down, asking, “How's it going?”

“It fun, Dad,” Little Danny said.  “I wanna write my name in hieroglyphs.”

Jack looked at his husband, who was already starting to draw the names.

“Now, remember,” Daniel said, “this isn't exact.  We're *improvising*, and that doesn't mean cheating, but it means ... uh ...”

Jack was trying not to laugh, but wasn't having much luck.  Daniel gave the older man a look of 'behave', but Jack simply shrugged in response.

“Never mind,” Daniel said as he finished the drawing and showed it to his sons.

“I'm a lion?”

“Actually, that's a sphinx,” Daniel said.

“I write now,” Little Danny said, picking up his pencil and working arduously to copy the symbols.  When he was done, he beamed.  “This is me, Dad!” he said, picking up the paper.



“And you're terrific!” Jack remarked jovially.  He looked over at David.  “Can you do your name?”

“Sure, I think.  Daddy, help me ... improvise,” David chuckled.

Daniel glared at Jack, before helping David to make the hieroglyphs that represented his name.



“I have hand in my name, too,” Little Danny said as he looked at David's written name.  “Daddy, will you write Carrie's name for me.  I give it to her when we play.”

“Sure, I'll ...”

“And 'Rissa, too?” Little Danny asked eagerly.

“Okay,” Daniel said, drawing the two names.  **I wonder if Karissa has competition.**

**Nah.  His little eyes lit up when he said her name.  Carrie's a buddy, and Karissa is 'Rissa.**

  


Daniel presented both name drawings to Little Danny for safekeeping.  The boy had a huge smile on his face as he looked at them, especially the one for Karissa.

“Daddy, how do you know if the picture represents a word or a sound?” David asked.

“Well ...”

David and Little Danny continued to listen attentively to Daniel's explanation, while Jack simply gazed at his husband.

~You're my hieroglyph, Angel, and you mean love, happiness, and forever.  Geez, I love you.~

As an afterthought Jack wondered, ~Is there a hieroglyph for 'you know'?~

Daniel flushed slightly, stuttering over what he was explaining to the children.

**Jack, watch how you think in front of the children, or I'll have to wash your mind out with soap.**

**In the first place, stop eavesdropping in my mind,** the older man communicated.  **In the second place, bring it on, Lover, because to do that, you'll have to shower with me!**

**No, Babe, I'll just hose you down, and you'd better stop.**

Jack was about to burst with laughter as he responded, **Can't stand the heat?**

**Oh, I can stand it all right, but if we lose control here, *you* are going to be the one to explain it to Little Danny and David.**

“Hey, you know what?” Jack said, interrupting the educational conversation that was being spoken.  Looking at his children, he said, “This would be a good time for your dear old dad to sweep out the garage.”

Jack didn't wait for a comment.  Instead, he simply smiled and then made a hasty exit.

**Good decision, Love.**  Daniel smiled and resumed his lesson with the children, teaching, “Now in the later Egyptian periods ...”

====

The next day was a busy one for the archaeologist.  He had several things to attend to at J-O Enterprises, while his lover was home with the children.  However, he had one thing on his mind that he had to make time for.  He wasn't sure how to make his desires known, but he had to find a way.  It was just too important to forget about.

~I need to get the ball rolling on this, or it'll be too late,~ Daniel opined.  He laughed out loud while thinking, ~Right.  Like Alex isn't already going to laugh at me for that thought.~  He picked up the phone and hit the appropriate button on the speed dial.  ~Just say it.  Don't think about what you're saying; just ... say it.~

Alex Dennison's cell phone rang, his caller ID indicating that Daniel Jackson-O'Neill was calling.

~These two are something else!  I just got off the phone with Jack, checking on the progress of the bath again.~

“Yes, Daniel?” Alex questioned.  ~Please don't tell me you want any more last minute changes.~

“Uh, Alex, it's, uh, Daniel.”

“That's why I said, 'Yes, Daniel',” the designer chuckled.

“Oh, yeah, caller ID.”

“What can I do for you?” Alex asked professionally.

“Well, uh, I really need to talk to you about something.”

“Okay,” Alex acknowledged, waiting to hear the reason for the call, but getting only silences.  ~Is he still there?~  “Daniel?”

“Yes?”

“Um, go ahead, Daniel; I'm listening,” Alex encouraged.

“Well, it's pers...personal, uh, kind of private, just, uh, well, I'd rather not discuss it over the phone.”

~This sounds intriguing,~ the designer thought.  “Late breakfast or early lunch?” he asked, assuming from the caller's tone of voice that the matter was of some urgency.

“Early lunch would work better for me, and, could you meet me at the park behind Pike's Peak?  Do you know where that is?”

“I've driven by there a couple of times.”

“There's a zoo there,” Daniel informed.  “Meet me near the entrance at eleven?”

“That works for me.  I'll stop by Subway and pick up a couple of sandwiches and something to drink.  I'm driving the company mini-van with the logo on it, so look for me.”
 
“Thanks, Alex.  I really appreciate this.”

“No problem,” Alex spoke and then disconnected the call.  ~Not again.  What is it about designing people's bedrooms and baths that makes them want to confide in their designers?  Maybe it has to do with knowing what people do in those spaces.~  The talented professional often felt like some type of confessor.  ~Clients tell me stuff they would never tell the person making the dent in the mattress next to them.~

Alex was curious about the phone call, though.  He'd discerned that Jack and Daniel were two very private people from their actions and behaviors, and he really hadn't anticipated having to be the 'confessor' during this project.

--

Back at his office at J-O Enterprises, Daniel breathed a sigh of relief as he thought, ~Well, it's a start.  Now for the hard part.~

====

After picking up the luncheon goodies, the designer's mind searched the obvious possibilities for Daniel's cryptic request as he drove to the zoo.

~Jack and Daniel seem too much in love for either of them to be having an affair. They don't seem the type of couple to be looking for a threesome.  Neither of them show any signs of excessive drinking, and I know they both hate drugs.  No financial worries, not according to their credit rating and all the bonuses they've already forked over.  They're too law abiding to be involved in insider trading.  Hmmm, I'm stumped.~

Finally arriving at his destination and finding a place to park, Alex walked to the zoo entrance.  He chuckled as he saw Daniel, pacing back and forth, self-hugging, and his head bowed.

~He's early.  Good thing because I'm curious.  Guess I'll know the problem soon enough.~

Waving hello, Alex gestured with his head toward a picnic table in the shade. Daniel nodded, and the two sat down across from each other.  Alex took the food from the bags as he and Daniel exchanged the usual pleasantries.

“Which would you prefer -- chicken with bacon or chicken without?” Alex asked.

“Without, unless you want it,” Daniel answered, though his mind wasn't on food.

“No, I'm fine.  Here you go,” Alex spoke as he handed the appropriate sandwich over to the other man.

“This is Coke and ...”

“Pepsi?” Daniel asked hopefully.

“Uh, Diet Coke.”

“Oh.”

“Sorry.  I should have asked,” Alex said.

“No, that's okay.  Jack loves coke, but I'm a Pepsi addict, second only to coffee, of course,” the archaeologist revealed.

“Of course,” Alex chuckled and then began to eat, though he noticed Daniel was just staring at his.  ~That's one nervous man.  Okay, let's find out what's happening.~  Finishing up a bite, he prompted, “So, Daniel, what's on your mind?”

Daniel blushed and looked off towards some kids playing.

It took a moment, but finally, he managed to stammer, “Uh, well, um, it's ... it's about the ... the, uh, the bedroom.”

~Okay, this will be intriguing.~  Daniel wasn't making eye contact with Alex, and that amused the designer somewhat.  “Daniel, whatever you tell me is confidential.  I select beds and bedding and am well aware that people do more than sleep there.”

Daniel's blush deepened, and his eyes just couldn't make contact with Alex's.

“So this is about the 'more than sleep' part?” Alex asked.

“Uh, yeah.”

~He's going to need some help here,~ Alex decided.  Keeping his tone businesslike, he said, “Well, let's see.  What's your pleasure -- vibrating beds, mirror on the ceiling, certain, shall we say, bond and chain equipment, secret hiding places.  Daniel, you name it, I've probably ordered and installed it for someone.”  Seeing the other man's shocked expression, he smiled and explained, “Daniel, it's obvious that any couple in love who have a healthy relationship are going to have sex, including my favorite archaeologist and general.”

Daniel's blush turned to crimson, and a tiny, “Oh, gawd,” escaped from his throat.

~He needs a little distraction, so he can work into this,~ Alex chuckled again, deciding to give Daniel a moment to get himself together.  “Hey, you've got to hear this.  When I was in design school, I had to make presentations on a regular basis.  It wasn't a big deal for me, but as it happened, I was the only dude among a class of dudettes.”

“Dudettes,” Daniel chuckled.  “That sounds like something Jack would say.”

“I knew there was a reason I liked him.”

“I'll tell him you said that,” Daniel quipped mischievously.

“Oh, no, please don't.  Then he'll expect me to keep up with him, firing off barb after barb.”

After Daniel's affirmative nod and a moment of shared laughter, Alex continued, “These giggling dudettes had a hard time standing up there and confidently presenting their projects.  I let them giggle at me being a part of their class, but I always got their attention with my presentations, which were always very well organized and prepared.  Well, just my luck, I bit myself in the behind.”

“Excuse me?” Daniel asked, clearly confused.

“One day I was making a presentation, and my mind wandered.  I was talking about the layout of this one room when I suddenly realized that the girls were all giggling and looking ... girly.  I began to wonder if my 'fly' was open or something, and then it hit me.  I had just referred to a multi-piece sectional sofa as a 'sexual' sofa.”

“Oh,” Daniel laughed, feeling embarrassed for the youthful designer.

“Yeah, it was quite embarrassing,” Alex agreed.  “I managed to ramble out three concluding sentences and make a hasty retreat to my seat.”  The two men smiled, and then Alex sighed as he got back to the reason for the meeting.  “Trust me, Daniel.  Whatever it is you're looking for in the bedroom, it won't surprise me, or even shock me.  My only concern is can it, whatever it is, be done within the time frame we have left to finish the house.”

The humorous anecdote worked slightly as Daniel managed to at least get out the essence of his thoughts before coming to a stammering halt.

“Well, you see, uh, it's uh a matter of ... I mean, Jack has always been so, uh, ro...rom...roman...romantic, and our time alone is really, well...” Daniel stammered, all of his linguistic skills deserting him.

Alex laughed and said, “Daniel, at this rate, you'll be moved back in before you spit out what it is you want.”  The designer looked at the archaeologist and saw how ill at ease he was.  “Look, I'm sorry.  I'm making this more difficult, and I don't mean to.”

“No, it's just that sometimes, for a linguist, I don't know the English language well at all,” Daniel stated, sighing a regretful sigh.

“I understand,” Alex responded with a smile.  He hadn't met many men like Daniel, especially in today's blunt and overt world.  Speaking softly, he stated, “You're shy about se...romantic things, Daniel, but that's not a bad thing.”

Daniel chuckled, “I can bore you to pieces about the rituals and rites of ancient cultures, but when it comes to ... to ...”

“I understand,” Alex responded again.  “You're not embarrassed; you just have a lot of love in your heart, and how that love is expressed is private and rooted in your soul.  It's not for publication, gossip, or education.  Embracing love the way you do is a rare gift.”

“Thanks for understanding, Alex,” Daniel spoke quietly.  ~You're a wise man, too.~

“I've just heard a lot of things.  It's easy to become jaded, especially with all the things I've seen.  Okay, let's just slow this down and try an entirely different approach. Why don't you just tell me why you want to do whatever it is you want to do.  Tell me about Jack.”

~Just tell him the why, and maybe the what will come,~ Daniel thought as he nodded, believing it was worth a shot.  “Jack has done so many wonderful things for me.  I hardly know where to start.”

“How about at the beginning?”

“I was a puppy,” Daniel said as he reflected back on his early meetings with his lover.

“A puppy?” Alex questioned, chuckling at the statement.  ~This should be good.~

“Long story short, I was recruited to work on a government project, and Jack was the leader of the team.  The, uh, project was a success, and we went our own ways, but a little over a year later, things happened, and we had to work together again.  At that point, I had nowhere to go and not a penny to my name, at least until the government paid up on my back salary.  Don't ask; it's a long story.”

“Sounds like it.”

“The point is that I was lost, and Jack found me.  He drove me crazy,” Daniel commented with a smile.  His eyes were sparkling and his cheeks rosy from blushing as he remembered their early days.  “Let's just say I had a chip on my shoulder, and Jack knocked it off.  Trust me, that, uh, wasn't an easy task.  I had ... issues, a lot of issues.”

“Everyone does, Daniel.”  Alex suddenly brightened.  “You know, I just realized something.  Jack is the only one I've ever heard call you 'Danny'.”

“He's a nickname freak,” Daniel explained.  “No, that's not it.  It was part of that big chip.  I had a lot of defenses, including my name.”

“So how'd you get together?”

“We were best friends, and then we were more.”

Daniel's expression was soft.  Love was emanating from him, so much so that Alex felt like he could reach out and touch it.

“Jack, he ... he never gave up, and he never let me run, and finally, we knew what we had was forever.  I proposed and ...”

“You did?” Alex interrupted, a bit surprised.

Daniel chuckled, “Yes, and to answer the question you're not asking, it took all night.”

“But you got it out,” Alex spoke, amusement coloring his tone.

“Mmm-mmm.  We got married in Canada, but for a long time, we couldn't tell anyone.”

“Because of the military,” Alex surmised.

“Exactly, but when Jack retired, we told the world.  We never expected to have children until it just ... happened.  We were just talking, and the next thing we knew, we'd decided to adopt, and, uh, then we decided to try surrogacy.  Um, let's just say, we got lucky, and instead of one or two children like we had discussed, we ended up with eight beautiful blessings.  We had a second wedding here in the Springs, too, so that our friends could come.  We have some wonderful friends.”

“But we're not talking about your friends,” Alex reminded.  “Tell me about Jack.”

“He's everything, and he's spoiled me rotten, Alex.  Somehow, he's always found a way to make me feel like I'm the most special person to have ever lived.  Jack's buddies from his military career, and the recruits he's trained, they see this hardened soldier, but with me, he's ... Alex, he's a romantic fool.  You wouldn't believe the things he's done, little things like making sure we always have my favorite wine on hand or enduring a slew of Chinese meals; then there are the bigger things like spontaneous trips, sometimes just overnight and sometimes two weeks.  He gave me a home and a family when he brought home Bijou and Katie for my birthday one year.  I know that sounds strange.”

“No, it doesn't.”

“You're being polite, but it's the truth,” Daniel continued.  “Our girls, the beagles, they ... without them, Alex, I'm not sure Jack and I would be married, and I doubt we'd have children.  Our girls, they ... they gave us permanence in a way we didn't have before.”

“Whatever you have in mind for the bedroom, you want Jack to feel the way you do when he does those things for you,” Alex surmised, now having a better understanding of why Daniel had asked for this meeting.

“Exactly.  Because of our histories, it sounds horrible, but it's always been easier for Jack, but I want to do something now to remind him that what I feel for him is every bit as strong as what he feels for me.”

“You're one lucky dude, Daniel,” Alex said.  ~Wish that would happen to me.~

“Yes, I am,” Daniel agreed, blushing again.  “Jack thinks it's the other way around; he's wrong, and with what I have in mind, I'm hoping he'll finally get the message.”

“Well, let's just see how psychic your designer really is.”

“Designer, space-saver, therapist, and now a psychic?” Daniel mused lightheartedly.

Alex laughed, “I should send out bills for each occupation.”

“You probably should,” Daniel said, looking down and twisting the sandwich around in his hands.

Closing his eyes and framing them with his thumbs and forefingers, Alex said in a TV psychic's spooky voice, “I'm seeing a room, a room that is verrrry erotic and sexy, but not in a tacky or sleazy sort of way; it's a room of excitement, romance, and love, a room that exists only for two, that reveals its secrets only to them.  It's a room that says, 'I love you and only you, and I know you love me and only me, forever and always'.”

Alex and Daniel laughed together at the psychic-like reading.

“That's pretty accurate,” Daniel admitted.  “You got the why, the who, the what, but ...”

“The how?  That's my job, Daniel.  Hear me out.  We're about to create the perfect romantic bedroom for you and your husband.”

Daniel listened, frequently blushing at some of the suggestions, but he felt more at ease in talking about the room than he had anticipated.  Finally, he got up the nerve to say what he wanted, almost.

“Uh, you know, I saw this ... picture.  It had to do with lights and ...”

As Alex smiled encouragingly, Daniel's courage came to the forefront, and, along with Alex, he was able to lay down plans for what he'd like to do to the master bedroom that would communicate to Jack just how cherished he was.

“Can you do that and stay on time with the house?” the archaeologist asked when they were through outlining the plans.

“Sure can.”

“Here's the big question.  Can you keep Jack out of the bedroom so that it will really be a surprise?”

“Trust me, Daniel.  I can cover the job we're doing with a few fibs, if you don't mind.  It'll be easy enough to cover anything Jack might see by linking it to the new addition to the house.”

“He's very savvy, Alex.”

“I've noticed.  I can handle it,” the designer assured confidently.

“Thank you, Alex.  Listen, I've got to get back to work,” Daniel spoke as he stood up.  “I really appreciate your meeting with me and helping me out with this.”

“My pleasure.”

“Uh, I think I'll take this with me,” Daniel smiled, holding up the uneaten sandwich.

After shaking hands with Alex, Daniel ran to his car.  He felt like a kid without a care in the world.  He was happy and excited about this daring move.

~I hope you like it, Jack,~ the archaeologist sighed as he started up the Silver Fox.  ~Well, it's done.  Wow, that was hard, but, in a way, it wasn't.  Alex made it easier than I thought it would be.~

Hearing his cell phone ring, Daniel answered and continued on with his day.

====

'Soon' had finally arrived, and Jack was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning who knew he was getting just what he wanted.  At long last, they were in the final stretch, the finish line within reach.  While it wasn't yet moving day, it was the beginning of the end of their much-too-long separation from their home.  In about an hour, he and Daniel would be doing the final walk-through when the final punch list would be checked to see if any tiny details had been left undone in their newly-renovated home.

Today was Tuesday, and Thanksgiving was just around the corner.  Sam was due to complete her security setup on Sunday and Monday; the kids were scheduled to see the finished house on the following Tuesday; and then, if everything was on plan, the Jackson-O'Neills would commence moving back in as soon as possible -- Tuesday evening.

“Gawd, Jack, you tossed and turned all night.  I may never sleep with you again,” Daniel whined, his sleep having been affected by his lover's restlessness.

Daniel knew that Jack knew he was teasing, but he pulled the blankets down from his head and cracked one eye.  Jack was standing there trying to imitate 'The Danny Pout'.  He had his arms folded, his head tilted down and to the side, and his lower lip extended way out; his eyes were partly squinted, but in his excitement, he just couldn't stand still.

“Nice try, Babe, but right now you look more like a bulldog who needs to 'go' really badly but can't find the fire hydrant.  Seriously, look in the mirror!”

Jack turned a bit to see his reflection in the mirror and burst out laughing, as did Daniel.  He turned a lustful gaze on his husband, and they both got the look of disappointment at the same time.

~We're not home,~ they each thought at the same time.

When they had first moved their brood into General Hammond's home, Jack and Daniel were fearful of being interrupted in the midst of intimate moments, so they limited their romantic interludes to their Friday date nights and stolen times at the cabin.  It had not been easy to quell their need and desire for each other, but they'd made a promise to themselves, and they'd kept it, for the most part.  Just like when they were off-world, there were exceptions to every rule, including this one, but it wasn't anywhere close to what their 'normal' love life was like.

The lovers were looking forward to having their sanctuary again where they could celebrate their nation of two with joy -- frequently.

“It's funny, Jack, but remember how hard it used to seem to find those stolen moments at home when we could ... you know?”

“Yeah, seems like a piece of cake now.”

“I can't wait,” Daniel said, his voice low and eager with anticipation.

“That makes two of us,” Jack replied, anticipation flooding through his body.

After a few moments of shared longing, Daniel sighed and yawned at the same time, urging, “Let's get this show on the road.”

“Stop that, Daniel!  It's cohn-taige-houss,” Jack responded, returning the yawn.

Daniel chuckled as the two began to prepare for their long day.  He stared lustfully at his husband as Jack took off his clothes to shower.

“What?” Jack asked.

“You're beautiful, and sexy, and I want you.  Gawd, I want you.”

“Danny ...”

“I know,” Daniel interjected, raising his hand.  “We can't finish anything we start.  I just wanted you to know.”

Jack smiled, feeling good inside that Daniel had spoken the words.  The older man was always too focused on his age, and it had been a cause of many internal struggles and doubts over the years.  He was thirteen years 'wiser' than Daniel; he had often felt old and run down, and, yet, the younger man lusted after him.

~My Danny, who could have anyone he wanted, wants run-down me,~ Jack thought happily as he walked into the bathroom.  **Thank you, Angel.**

**Jack, stop that.  Gawd, that's infuriating.  I want your body, and you know it!**

**It's yours.  Trust me.**

**I do, Babe, and always will.**  Daniel sat at the edge of the bed as Jack began his shower.  ~You're more desirable to me today than the first night.  You've just gotten sexier and sexier.  I could just kick you when you get on the old-age kick, Jack.  You make me feel things I ... geez, I'm blushing just thinking about what you do to me.  I hope you like my surprise.  You see, I want you, and I want to see you.  I can't believe I asked Alex to ...~

“Danny, I forgot,” Jack shouted from the bathroom.

“Forgot what?”

“Jenny was sneezing last night.  I thought we'd call Syl and make sure it's not an allergic reaction to something.”

“We'll check on her before we leave.  We can always call Sylvia from the truck,” the younger man responded.

“My genius.”

Daniel smiled.  He liked being Jack's, and he loved that Jack was his in return.

~I'm going to show you, Babe.  I made a promise to keep those romantic surprises coming.  You spoil me rotten; well, this one is for you.  Okay, so it's for me, too.  Gawd, I can't wait for that first ... oh, gawd ... down, Jackson, down!~

====

Downstairs, the Jackson-O'Neill children were preparing for their various activities.  Jennifer, of course, would be going to school.  David was going on a field trip with a group of homeschooled junior geologists and would be gone until Friday evening.

Chenoa was spending the next three days with her best friend, Angela, at Sara and Mark's home.  Because of both the distance between Hammond's home and that of the Wilson's, and the prolonged argument between Sara and Jack over the summer, the two little girls hadn't been able to see each other nearly as much as they'd wanted to.  When Sara suggested the mini-vacation for Chenoa, Jack and Daniel were all for it.

The Munchkins were going to the office of J-O Enterprises where Karissa, and Megan, bolstered by Cassandra and Dominic, were going to attempt to keep them occupied.  Unbeknownst to Dominic, his potential parenting skills were going to be scrutinized by the three women.  Of course, Cassandra had been watching him with the children for a long time, but something inside her told her to pay closer attention.  Time was passing, and the young woman knew that soon they'd have to make a decision about their future, one way or the other.

As for the twins, they would be watched by Hammond, who was taking a scheduled day off.  His granddaughters were coming by as backup as well.  If Sylvia needed to see Jenny, or had special instructions, Jack and Daniel would make the appropriate arrangements.

The two men spent a few minutes with each child, talking, laughing, and hugging.  None of their children left that morning without knowing how much they were loved and would be missed until they were all gathered together again, either later that day or on Friday.

Finally, it was just the two men in Jack's truck, headed for their home-to-be again.

Daniel phoned Sylvia and discussed Jenny's sneezing.  The physician opined that it was just the temporary settling of dust or something similar since Jenny hadn't sneezed at all in the morning and from all reports was fine.  She did say to give her a call if there was any change.  Daniel relayed the message to Hammond, who assured them Jenny was playing happily and peacefully with her brother, exhibiting no signs of either a cold or an allergic reaction.

Minutes later, Jack's stomach rumbled, causing Daniel to laugh.

“Pleeeeeeze, Danny, can't we stop at IHOP on the way?” Jack pleaded, his stomach growling right on cue once again.
 
~My ninth child,~ Daniel laughed.  “I told you to eat breakfast instead of painting with Ricky.”

“He wanted to see whose feet were bigger,” Jack rationalized in his own defense.

“I think you could have demonstrated the point without painting his feet blue and yours purple.”

“But he understands now,” Jack responded in a pride-filled tone.

“Right.  Keep driving.  We're meeting with Gordon, Garrett, Byron, and Alex, and we can't be late for this.”

“It won't take that long.  Just a few pancakes, a couple of eggs, some ...”

“Jack, we did not spend six months in exile, imposing on General Hammond, spending tens of thousands of dollars more than we intended, and driving everyone we know, especially each other, absolutely screaming bonkers to do a sloppy final walk-through.  Now tell your stomach to be quiet, and drive!”

Jack grumbled, then smirked, “Well, I guess that's the way the cookie crumbles.”

“It's better than crying over spilt milk,” Daniel retorted.

“I wouldn't want to bite off more than I could chew,” Jack responded.

“Chewing wouldn't work, but, uh, if you change that a bit, it might give the same effect as melting in your mouth,” Daniel teased.

“Now you're talking!  I'd never bite the hand that feeds me, but I might bite ...”

“No biting, Jack!”

“Okay, but I'll drain the cup.”

“Eat, drink, and be merry,” Daniel quipped.

Their mildly seductive banter continued as Jack and Daniel headed anxiously for their renovated home.

====

As soon as Jack opened the front door, he and Daniel were captivated by the incredible aromas of freshly prepared breakfast foods circulating through the house.  They quickly walked through the living room and the original kitchen, into the rec room, and then entered the brand new area called the hospitality room.

Seeing them, Alex stood, smiling.  He was wearing a white apron, while Garrett, Gordon, and Byron were nearby, talking amiably.  The custom table was set in its smallest configuration, with three places set along each of the longer sides.

Alex opened the warming drawers and pulled out casserole dishes of western scrambled eggs, sausage, hash browns, crisp Belgian waffles, and a boat of syrup.  Not a pan or skillet was in sight.  He scooped up a bucket of ice from the ice maker, set it next to large pitchers of cranberry and orange juice, and then moved to a thermal beverage dispenser.

“Hmmm, coffee,” Daniel said, taking in the scent of fresh Starbuck's Cafe Vienna.

“One of the first things I learned about you, Daniel, was to always have Starbuck's nearby,” Alex commented as he handed Daniel a cup.

As Daniel enjoyed a sip of his coffee, Jack laughed, “I guess that's called keeping your clients happy.”  ~He's still a pretty gutsy guy, inaugurating our hospitality room without our permission.~

“You could say that,” Alex responded.

“Coffee and rocks.  Give either one to Daniel and he's yours to ...”  Jack suddenly realized he was staring into the cold, stone face of his husband.  There was a warning there.  He cleared his throat and cocked his head slightly as he reached for a chair.  “Never mind.  Just a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease.”

“Sit down and dig in, everyone,” Alex spoke, trying not to laugh at the silent reprimand he'd just witnessed.  Addressing his two clients, he stated, “I hope you don't mind, but I wanted to give the hospitality room a test drive.”

Just then the timer on the oven dinged, and the designer went to retrieve the food.  The aroma that escaped from the door was enough to turn a hungry man's knees to water.

~Hmm.  Fresh cinnamon rolls,~ Jack thought, his stomach eager to try out the hot rolls.

While everyone seated themselves and poured juice and coffee, Chef Alex drizzled icing on the rolls and set the trays on the counter to cool.

“Uh, Alex, where did you get the dinnerware and ...” the archaeologist asked curiously, waving his hand not only at the place settings, but also over towards the utensils and cooking essentials.

“Consider it a housewarming gift,” Alex answered.  “I knew your pots and pans and dishes were in storage, so this is a gift from Archonics.”

“Nice,” Jack quipped with a smile.

Even as they ravished their breakfast, the group was anticipating the final walk-through of the house.  For Byron and Alex, as designers, it was a rite of passage, where they would say goodbye to their beloved child and bequeath it over to the owners who would say hello to their new castle.  For Jack and Daniel, it simply meant they were days away from returning to the home they loved so much.

====

Alex was just finishing cleaning up their breakfast dishes when Jack silently admired how quickly he had managed to get the hospitality room back in order.

~A maid would be nice.~  Jack looked over at Byron and quipped, “How much to throw Alex into the deal?”

“Jack?” Daniel asked in a high-pitched voice, not having a clue what his lover meant.

“He's the perfect maid, Danny.”  Jack looked at Alex and explained, “That's a compliment.”

Alex laughed, “I know what you meant, Jack.”

Byron smiled as he said, “No sale.  I've got plans for Alex.”

Drying his hands, Alex paused as he questioned, “Plans?”

“Plans,” Byron echoed firmly.  “To be honest, Alex, when I called your references I thought they were laying it on a bit thick.”

“Too good to be true?” Jack said in a knowing tone.

“Exactly,” Byron agreed.  “But I don't think that anymore.  You've exceeded any and all expectations I had for you, on this job and the others you've done for Archonics over the last few months.”

“Wait!  Alex actually had time to do other jobs over the last few months,” Jack teased.

“Jack,” Daniel warned.

Seeing the look in his lover's eyes at his interrupting the designers poignant moment, Jack quickly stuffed another roll into his mouth.

“Thank you, Byron,” Alex responded, a slight blush on his face.

“In fact, I have a new assignment for you that's going to be a big challenge; it could lead to good things.  We'll talk about it Thursday at the office.”

“Not tomorrow?” an eager and curious Alex questioned.

“Tomorrow's a holiday, Alex.  Archonics, Ltd. always observes Veteran's Day,” Byron explained.

“Well, if you come in, I will be there.  I have to review the plans for the condominium project,” the designer stated.

“Alex, it's a holiday,” Byron stated firmly.

“Every day's a work day, Boss,” Alex attempted to quip, making it obvious he intended to work tomorrow, whether or not Byron approved.

Alex noted a look of disapproval, but he was a workaholic with a lot to do.  People counted on him to do his best, so he had no time to waste.  Now, though, he needed to focus on completing his current obligation.

Clapping his hands together, Alex announced, “Shall we begin the walk-through?”

Everyone stood and began to group together, with Alex charging forward into the recreation room.

Daniel, always curious, whispered to Byron, “I know it's, uh, none of my business, but is there another set of difficult clients like us for Alex to contend with?”

Byron chuckled and held Daniel back for a moment.  He wanted to surprise Alex with the news and his thoughts privately, so he talked quietly with the archaeologist.

“We just won a bid for a big job in Florida, a day care facility.  I know Alex would do a great job there, even though he's not officially an architect.”

“We certainly have no complaints,” Daniel stated.

“And that's what I like to hear, not just today, but next week, and next year, after you've lived in your new space for a while.”

“I'm sure Alex will do a great job for you,” Daniel spoke confidently.

Byron glanced over to make sure Alex wasn't in listening range and then confided, “Just between us, for now, I've been looking for someone to partner with, and I think Alex is on the road to being perfect partner material.”

“Hey, you guys coming?” Alex called out from where he and the others stood.

“Sorry; my fault,” Daniel said, taking full blame for their tardiness and then catching up with the others.

====

“We might as well start by reviewing this room,” Alex said as the group stood, looking back at the hospitality room.

“It was a great idea, Alex,” Daniel said, now that he'd seen it in use.

“It's incredible,” echoed Jack.  “It's everything you promised, and I have to admit, I had my doubts.”

“He's, uh, the skeptical type,” Daniel teased, though it was the truth.

Jack laughed, adding, “He's right, but this room will come in handy, especially with our brood.”

“Jen's helping out a lot now with meals; she's going to love this,” Daniel added.

“Yeah,” Jack acknowledged as he examined some of the room's features more closely.  “Our brood will keep it full.  They'll love this,” he spoke, walking back into the room and taking ice from the ice maker.

“I'm sure they will,” replied Alex.

“Jack, don't you ... dare!” Daniel threatened, beginning to step backwards a little as his lover approached, but it was too late.

Daniel had spoken his warning at the same time Alex had made his comment.  In a quick move, Jack had grabbed the ice and darted towards his husband.  The next thing Daniel knew, he had ice down his shirt.

“You're so dead, O'Neill!”

Jack chuckled, **You can get your revenge later.**

“Count on it,” Daniel responded out loud, forgetting the thought was silent.

“Excuse me?” Alex asked.

“Uh, nothing,” Daniel said, still squirming as he tried to remove the ice.  **I'll get you, Jack.**

**I'm counting on it, Danny,** Jack smirked.

Eventually, Jack and Daniel refocused on the house tour and, more specifically, the hospitality room.  They'd already seen how the room functioned, courtesy of Alex's excellent breakfast, so after touching upon a few more points, the six men turned their attention to the recreation room, which would now be the centerpiece of the first floor.

The large room was breathtaking.  The floor was a kaleidoscope of colors and textures, ranging from deep violet reds, winding through muddy rusts, and topping out in golden yellows.  One wall was wrapped in sine wave of beige-padded acoustic fabric.

“I never imagined the floor would look like this.  From the way you described it, I was almost afraid it might be, uh, tacky.  How many colors are there?” Daniel asked.

“Twenty-eight, not counting the mixing of the last of the cans,” Alex laughed.  “The pieces were stained everyday after the previous day's scraps were cut up.  It was the only way we could keep up.  Then I laid out the pattern on a computer program.”

“It is impressive,” Byron commented.  Proudly, he added, “It used scrap lumber which would otherwise have been thrown away.  Very efficient, Alex.”

Alex smiled at the praise and continued his tour, saying, “I love this,” as he reached out and tapped on one section of the fabric.  With his touch, a door popped open, revealing a stairwell.  “It's ready for your security person.”

“Where's the TV?” Jack asked eagerly, rubbing his hands together.

“Right here, Jack,” Byron answered, handing over the remote control.  The inveterate Simpson's fan began clicking on the buttons, raising and lowering the large sixty-inch plasma screen.  “Homer, are we going to have fun with this.”

“Give me that,” Daniel said, grabbing the remote from his husband.

**It's awesome, Danny.**

**If you're good, you can play with it later,** Daniel responded, feeling once again like he was talking to his ninth child.

“I love this space,” Jack said, having 'grown up' for the moment.  “It's huge.”

“I was worried it would be too dark with the fabric,” Daniel commented.  “This is light and airy, though, just like I hoped it would be.  Uh, nice job.”

“Thank you,” Byron acknowledged.  Then he added, “Your patio windows help with that lighter look.”

“Along with the multiple solar tubes,” Alex noted.  “You will be so glad you installed them throughout the existing structure as well as the new.  You shouldn't need any artificial light unless it is dark outside.  Just keep quiet about what your utility bills are, or your neighbors will be squawking.”

**He has more of a point than he realizes, Danny.  We don't want to attract any attention to the house, aside from the fact that it's gorgeous.  We don't need anybody nosing around asking questions for any reason.**

**I'm with you there, Babe.**

“This is a great place to hold our family meetings,” Jack added.

Daniel nodded and felt Jack's hand suddenly take hold of us.  He looked over and smiled.

“We're home,” Daniel said softly.

“Almost,” Jack said.

“Jack, Daniel, I have an idea,” Alex spoke.  “Why don't you two take your time walking through the house.  Byron and I can do our walk-through for the technical stuff, and that way we won't bore you with shop talk.  Just make note of any questions you have for us, and we can review those when you're through.  That'll free up Garrett and Gordon to get back to work sooner.  What do you say?”

“That works,” Jack agreed, getting a nod from his husband.

====

While the four professionals continued through the remodeled home, looking for even the tiniest flaw, Jack and Daniel quietly reveled in the newness of their home.  The lovers walked quietly, hand-in-hand, around the perimeter of their new rooms.  One by one, the rest of the lower spaces were inspected, each one bedecked with its fresh coat of paint and pristine trim, waiting eagerly to begin acquiring the scuffs and bruises of everyday living.
 
“Danny, I can't believe we did this.  For lack of a better phrase, I feel almost like we've given birth.”

“Well, in a way, we have.  We've given birth to a place that will hold our family close.  To me, it feels almost like a ... a sanctuary.  I guess our home has always been that to me, and, well, now it's just a little bigger.”

“We have room, Angel.”

“And room to grow, too,” Daniel pointed out as he smiled, knowing that one day their family of eight children would be a family of ten.

Jack nodded in silent agreement.

--

Meanwhile, Garrett and Gordon were relieved that less than a half dozen nail pops in the drywall had surfaced since their last inspection a week ago.  One door needed to be planed and straightened in its frame.  Two cabinet doors, one drawer, and a few closet shelves needed attention as well.  All in all, it was a very short and minor list of items requiring attention, considering the scope of the project and the speed with which it was built.

====

“Jack, Daniel, are you ready to take a look at the upstairs?” Alex shouted down.

“Be right up,” Jack responded.

The two homeowners walked up the new stairs which connected to the hallway that was now in between the original bedrooms and the new ones.

“The kids are going to love this,” Jack stated as he and Daniel checked out each of the four new bedrooms.

The highlight of the upstairs, though, was the little hideaway for the girls.  Perched atop the enclosure for the plasma TV, it was reached by a short staircase.  The amply padded window seat looked inviting.  There was room enough on the floor for two people to sit on pillows, facing the window seat, and a small nook held a rocking chair.  A very small skylight drizzled sunlight over the rocker.  A quilt rack was present, though without its quilt.  That was coming later.

“Jack, this will be great for the girls.  It's what Kayla was talking about,” Daniel sighed contentedly.  ~Thank you, Alex, for coming through for us on this.~

Jack placed his arm around his husband's waist and caressed his side lovingly for a moment as he mused, “I can hear them now, chattering away about boys ...”

“Whispering about their first kiss,” Daniel said.

“Wondering if *he's* the one to marry,” Jack said wistfully.

“Complaining about their dad and his shotgun.”

“Now that's the truth,” Jack mused.

“The boys stay out of here, Jack.  We have to make sure of that.  This space is for our girls.”

“They'll be chirping away,” Jack himself chirped, making little bird noises.

“And loving it.”

“Okay, theeeeee Bird's Nest is for our girls,” the older man proclaimed.

“Bird's nest?”

“Chirping birdies!” the older man said, clearly pleased with himself at having come up with the name.

“Jack, I don't know how you think of this ... stuff.”

“It's a gift,” Jack replied, winking at his soulmate.

“Oh, I thought maybe it was a disease.”

“Very funny.”  Jack looked over at Alex and gave him a thumbs-up.  “Good job.”

Jack and Daniel were obviously pleased with this new space, now dubbed the Bird's Nest.  It was the ideal place within the confines of their home for their girls to gather together and reminisce, dream, or even cry, and it was far away from testosterone-poisoned males, who while very sweet, just don't understand the essence of being a female, especially an adolescent one.

With the new portion of the home reviewed, Byron suggested that just Alex remain to go over the other elements of the newly remodeled home.  They all walked downstairs where, one by one, Gordon, Garrett, and Byron turned in their keys to the house and shook hands with Jack and Daniel.

Arrangements were made for two workmen to come by and take care of the final few repairs and touch-ups to the house, and Jack and Daniel each made sure to thank all the men for their tremendous efforts and willingness to do a very large job in about one-third of the normal time, especially since it had been done so well.

After that, Jack and Daniel, along with Alex, saw Byron, Gordon, and Garrett to the front door.  They turned and took in their newly decorated front hall.

Daniel approved of the country stone tile entryway floor.  They had actually extended it, removing the carpet that used to go from the entranceway down to the 'end' of the house where a second door to the kitchen was.  Now, the entire hallway, from the entrance foyer to the kitchen, was graced with the tile.  He hadn't been sure he'd like that, but Jack had fought for it; it was a battle Daniel was now glad he had lost.

The new lights didn't look new, but as if they had always been there, something that was very important to Daniel.

“Alex, will you excuse us for a minute?  We'll, uh, meet you back in the kitchen,” Daniel said.

Alex nodded and headed to the kitchen while Jack again put his arm around his lover's waist.

“What is it, Danny?”

Daniel took in the entranceway one more time and answered, “It's just ... Jack, I know we're still both very private, but we have children now, and we need to realize that they need for us to *not* be so private.”

“Friends, sleepovers, all that stuff,” Jack offered.

“Yes.  We've never said it that directly before, but it is the truth.  Jack, I want our house to be where our children and all their friends *want* to play.”

“I know what you mean, Angel.  It's easier to watch them,” Jack said, his security common sense ruling his reaction.

“That's true, Babe, but ... but that's not just it.  I want our children to know that home is a good place, and that we love them, even when they make mistakes.  If they want to play here, that'll mean we've achieved our goal, or at least, one of them.”

“I remember Charlie always wanted to play at the Gibson's.  Mrs. Gibson made the best cookies on the block, but more than that, she always had a smile on her face.  Her boys were well grounded.”

Nodding, Daniel explained, “I guess all I wanted to say was that when I see this space, it feels like it's talking.”

“Talking?” Jack said.  He stared and stared at the tile entranceway.  Finally, he put his hand to his left ear and made a listening-type of motion.  “Danny, I get nothing.”  As Daniel laughed, Jack squeezed his husband to him and asked, “What's it saying?”

“It's saying ... 'Welcome to our happy home'.”

After sharing a happy kiss, Jack crooned, “This is the happiest home that ever was.”

“I think so,” Daniel said unabashedly.  After stealing another kiss, he said, “We'd better join Alex in the kitchen.”

====

Entering the remodeled kitchen, Jack exclaimed, “Wow, Danny, look at this place!”

Jack began opening all the cabinets, peering at all the space-saving configurations.

“We might actually learn to cook with this set up,” Daniel smirked.

“Hey, speak for yourself.  I'm a great cook!”

“I'll tell that to the next burned steak you serve me,” Daniel teased, though he knew the truth was that over the years, out of necessity, both he and Jack had become pretty decent chefs; still, the bantering was always fun.

“I do *not* burn the steaks,” Jack refuted, trying to look insulted and hurt.

“Right,” Daniel responded, not buying into Jack's act.

“Daniel!”

“I'm thinking crispy.”

“You like 'em well done,” Jack put forth.

“Sometimes, but there's a difference, Babe, between well done and eating cinders and ash,” Daniel stated pointedly.

“Wise guy.”

“Thank you,” Daniel smirked as he moved to examine the new garbage disposal.  After looking around some more, he commented, “I'm glad I was worried for nothing.”

“What?” Jack asked.

“I was afraid we'd lose our home; you know, how it feels, but Byron and Alex did a great job, transforming what we had, not into something new and strange, but into just a ... a ... well, a better old.  I'm not making any sense,” Daniel said, staring down at the floor.

“I know what you mean, Danny, and I agree.”  The two men hugged, and as Jack looked beyond his lover, he could see Alex in the new hospitality room.  His eyes followed the perimeter of tile which was identical to that in the entranceway.  “Danny, look.”

With their embrace over, Daniel turned around, shrugged, and questioned, “What?”

“Look down.  What do you see?” the older man asked.

“Uh, the floor,” the younger man answered.

“Daniel, look over where Alex is putting the dishes away, and look down.  Keep looking down as you get to where we're standing.”

Daniel's eyes did as Jack had requested.  He moved into the entranceway that led to the kitchen.  He looked down their hallway, past the front door and beyond.  The new country-stone tile looked fabulous!  After a few moments, he returned to the kitchen and walked to the edge of the rec room, admiring its beautiful flooring.  Looking beyond it, he smiled at the fresh-looking tile of the hospitality room, accented with its border of tiles with folkloric Egyptian hieroglyphs.  Several of these same tiles were also placed in the backsplash behind the countertop.

~I'll never tire of this room.  It's brand new, but it feels like home,~ the archaeologist opined.

With a sigh, Daniel turned to face Jack.  Then, he took one more glance at the entranceway and one more at the rec and hospitality rooms.  His expression turned to a closed smile as he looked down at the old tile of the original kitchen floor.

Jack stared at his husband, his eyebrows arched slightly.

“Floor,” both men said at the same time, each coming to the same conclusion, that new and old don't always mix, and this was one of those occasions.  “ALEX!” they exclaimed in unison.

Alex had just finished putting the last dish away.  He smiled wryly as he walked over to where his clients stood.

“Uh, we wanted to ask you about, well, we realize it's terribly last minute,” Daniel began to stutter.

Jack tapped his feet on the floor as he opined, “Entranceway looks sharp.”

“And the floor of the hospitality room is really impressive with that hint of Egyptian folklore in those accent tiles.  Thank you for finding them, by the way.”

“I aim to keep my clients happy,” Alex responded, pleased at how Jack and Daniel had taken to the newly renovated home.

“Rec room,” Jack said, shaking his head in an odd motion, “is great with that wood floor.  Really unique.”

“And sharp,” Daniel added.

Alex laughed as he asked, “And?”

The couple both looked down at the floor, each hemming and hawing.

As Jack coughed, Daniel stammered, “Well, uh, it's, uh, just that we ... we ...”  He looked over at his husband and prodded, “Jack?”

“Chicken!”

Suddenly, Alex grinned like the Cheshire cat, his emerald eyes dancing.

“What?” Jack and Daniel both asked, each grateful for the distraction.

~I knew it.~  Alex pulled out his cell phone and pushed a few buttons.  As he waited for an answer, he said, “Guys, there's enough cartons in the garage to do the kitchen and ... one moment here ... Brent, it's Alex ... <laughter> ... it's called 'knowing your clients' ... <laughter> ... Right, the tile job in the kitchen is a go.  You can start it tonight at about six; that way, the grout can be sealed before Saturday.  Any problems with that? ... Great ... one second, Brent.”  He clicked the mute, smiling as he inquired, “Does that cover it?”

“Smart aleck,” Jack teased.

“Thank you, Alex; that's exactly what we wanted,” Daniel said appreciatively.

“You're welcome.”  Alex returned to the call.  “Okay, Brent.  I'll meet you at the job site, and I appreciate this,” he said, saying goodbye and then flipping his phone shut and putting it back into his shirt pocket.

“You're good,” Daniel stated.

“Just doing what you pay me for.”  Alex walked by the two towards the living room.  “Ready to see the upstairs remodeling?”

“Of course,” Daniel said innocently, adding, “but, uh, we didn't do anything much to this side.”  ~Except for one little, minute, change, of course,~ he thought, referring to his romantic and somewhat erotic bedroom request.  ~I must have been out of my mind.  What if Jack hates it?~

“Well, you never know, Danny,” Jack said about the master bedroom.  “Maybe it turned into a pumpkin or something.”  Silently, he thought, ~Geez, I hope he likes my surprise.~

“Jack, I think you need a rest.  I seriously doubt our bedroom is now a pumpkin.”

Alex was confident that both men would enjoy their surprises and opined, ~Heaven knows I would.  I have to find me a significant other -- and soon; that is, if I can schedule it into my work schedule.~

“Guys, I need to go.  We've reviewed everything we need to.  Just remember, if there are any problems, or you have any questions, please don't hesitate to call.”

Knowing each had a surprise for the other, neither Jack nor Daniel questioned Alex's statement.  Both wanted to share their surprise in private.

“It's been great working with you both,” the designer continued.  “Thank you for sharing so much of your crazy, yet very rich and full lives with me.”  With a sparkle in his eyes, and perhaps even a hint of mist, Alex said softly, “The Munchkins brought back memories of happier times.”
 
Alex reached out and dropped his key to the Jackson-O'Neill home in Daniel's hand.  He shook Jack's hand, and then Daniel's.

“Alex, I know we're the clients, but, uh, well, Jack and I really appreciate all you did to make our home, our home.  I know that sounds funny, but, what I'm really trying to say is that ... well ...”  Daniel sighed.

Jack laughed, “He's trying to say thank you.”

“You're welcome,” Alex responded warmly.

“No, it's more than that,” Daniel stated.  “This is our home, and you'll always be welcome here.  You made dreams we didn't know we had come alive, and you did it without sacrificing ... well, things you may not realize that were ... are ... important to me.  If you ever need anything, please call us.”

“Thanks again.  It's nice to know my work is appreciated,” the grateful designer replied.  “I do have one small favor to ask before I leave.”

“Anything,” Jack and Daniel said in unison.

“Would you walk me out through the garage?”

It was a toss-up as to which man was more puzzled, but Jack shrugged and grinned as he responded, “Sure.”  Chuckling, he added, “Doesn't take much to keep you happy, does it, Alex?”

“I'm easy,” Alex said good-naturedly.

“Well, we can't let you go without a little celebration first,” Jack said.

“Celebration?” Alex asked.

“It's a requirement.”

“It is?” Daniel asked, confused.

“Follow me,” Jack instructed.

Alex looked at Daniel, who just shrugged and hurried to catch up with his lover, calling out, “Jack, we don't have any...thing ... oh.”

Daniel displayed a tiny smile on his face as his husband reached into a cabinet and pulled out a bucket of ice with the neck of a bottle of champagne sticking out of it.

“You think that 'be prepared' stuff is just words?” Jack quipped cockily, pulling the bottle out of the ice.

“Glasses?” Daniel asked.

“I come prepared,” Jack said, opening the cabinet to display four glasses.  “I didn't know if Byron would still be here or not,” he said as he took out the glasses.

“Jack, how did you do that?” Daniel queried, still confused as to how and when Jack had done that.

“I'd like to know the same thing.  We've been here all morning,” a confused Alex inquired.

“Ah!” Jack said, raising his finger.  “Never question a man of the military.  We have secrets.”

Daniel frowned as he silently communicated, **Thor, right?**
 
Jack ignored the question as he raised his glass and toasted, “To Alex and a job well done.”

“Here, here!” Daniel added.

The three took sips of their champagne, and then Alex said, “Guys, I really do have to go.  C'mon, walk me out through the garage.”

====

With his hand on the knob to the door that led to the garage, Alex turned to his clients and said, “It's corny, but would you mind closing your eyes?”

Jack and Daniel both shrugged; then complied.  While curious as to what Alex had in store for them, at the same time, each was suddenly very anxious to have their final visitor gone so they could reveal their respective surprises.

The designer helped each man step down into the garage, making sure they kept their eyes closed.  He then stood the two side by side, facing the laundry area.

“Remember when I promised you a decent laundry area?  Well, here it is.  Go ahead, and take a look,” Alex informed happily.

“Wow!” Daniel exclaimed after opening his eyes.

“Sweet,” Jack said at the same time.

Directly in front of the couple were two large-capacity stacked front-load washer and dryer sets, and in between them was a laundry sink.

“Check this out,” Alex said, pointing at the sink.  “I knew you'd need a place to soak stains.”  Though the dryer was stacked on top of the washer, it was not directly atop it.  Instead, there was a sliding shelf the depth of the machines, which were twenty-seven inches.  He pulled out a board and then flipped it open, essentially doubling its length to fifty-four inches, revealing a countertop.  The slide-out shelf also had two flat tabs to extended out to keep the shelf from sagging.  “You can take clothes out of the dryer and put them in baskets, or fold them, or place them on hangers.  There's one in the other stack, too.”

There was a cabinet for the laundry supplies and a rod for hanging clothes, too.  It sure beat their old system of kneeling on the floor with lots of plastic bins for sorting.

“This is great.  Thank you again, Alex,” Daniel said.
 
After another round of handshakes and well wishes, Jack opened the garage door to let Alex out.

“He really did a terrific job, Jack.”

“Yes, he did,” Jack agreed, closing the door and walking to within a foot of his husband.

The mood was changing, and fast.

“Well, we, uh, have a house tour to finish, don't we?” Daniel asked with a leer that made Jack tingle just thinking about it.

“Patience, Love, patience.  We still have champagne to drink.”

====

Jack poured he and his lover each another glass of champagne, their third, as they stood leaning against the counter of the newly remodeled, yet oh-so-familiar kitchen.

The new hospitality room was waiting, but not for them, it seemed.  Just a short while ago, it had welcomed and embraced a group of people, but now that it was just a nation of two present, the smaller and more intimate kitchen was the place to be.

“You know,” Daniel began softly, “as a designer, you learn a lot of interesting things.”

“You do?” Jack queried.

“Yeah, Alex told me that the predecessor to the modern day kitchen was called 'the keeping room'.  A fire was always kept burning, so that the house was kept warm, and then endless pots of soup and loaves of bread were kept at the ready.”

“For the guests that dropped by in the middle of the night,” Jack said.

“Anytime,” Daniel clarified.  “It's true, though, Jack.  All you have to do is research a few societies, and odds are you'll see that commonality.  The desire people often have now to gather in the kitchen is the same instinct our ancestors had to huddle around the fire.  It keeps us warm, makes us feel safe, and keeps the monsters, er, predators, at bay.”

“Monsters,” Jack sighed.  “The night and the world are full of monsters. Children know it instinctively; they just need to turn them into something smaller and more manageable behind the closet door or under the bed, but they know.  That's why they turn to us, because we've managed to live through it.”

After a slight pause, Daniel commented, “I said something like that to Alex, about us being our children's hope.  The truth is they are our hope, too, that their world will have fewer monsters to deal with.”

When he was done, Daniel wore a faraway expression on his face as he became lost in thought.

“Danny, is something wrong?” Jack asked, slightly alarmed.

“No, it's just ... Jack, you slew all my monsters.  It took a really long time, but all my monsters are ... they're gone now.”

“And?” Jack urged, knowing there was more.

“I think Alex still has his.  It's none of our business, but when we were talking about this, I recognized the look on his face.  I knew that inside he was struggling.”

“He's got some demons to battle,” Jack responded a bit sadly.  “He feels responsible for what happened to his brothers and sister.”

“Like he could control something like that?  I know first-hand that he couldn't have changed a thing.”

There was silence for a moment as Jack and Daniel shared a grateful moment that Daniel's past of abuse and abandonment had been overcome. The self-hugs were almost non-existent now, the nightmares were rare, and Daniel laughed.  He was free, and that freedom came with the love of Jack O'Neill.

“Jack, did Alex ever talk to you anymore about them?”

“The triplets?  Yeah, once, just a couple days ago, in fact.”

//Flashback//
“Alex, this new master bath is heaven-sent.  We should have done this a long time ago,” Jack said as Alex showed him the progress on the remodeled bathroom.

“Parents don't often pamper themselves like they should.”

“The only reason we did any remodeling was because of the Munchkins.  They really changed our lives.  Those three are such characters.  I only wish Charlie was here to see them.”  Jack stopped, noticing Alex was fidgeting slightly.  ~Foot-in-mouth again, O'Neill.~  He had mentioned Charlie to Alex in conversation before, so the designer was aware that Charlie had died.  “I'm sorry, Alex.  Believe me, I understand how hard this is.  I didn't mean to remind you about, uh, things.”

“Don't be,” Alex said, taking in a big breath.  “I'm the one who's sorry.  I should have a better handle on it by now, but seeing your Munchkins ...”  He smiled, then chuckled, thinking about the Jackson-O'Neill triplets.  “They are characters, and so were my brothers and sister.  It's not your fault, Jack, but I can't help thinking about them, even now.  I should have seen what was happening.”

“How, Alex?” Jack said, automatically going into a bit of protector mode.  He'd had experience with this, with both himself and Daniel.  “Explain that to me.”

“I should have known, somehow, but I trusted Mom.  She was a great mom, and after Dad died, she did all right by us older kids.  I should have done something more, though, but I was busy graduating at sixteen, and going off to college.  I couldn't wait to get there.  I had a full-ride engineering scholarship.  It's how I managed to get an education; never could have afforded it otherwise.”

“You learned well,” Jack complimented.

“Thanks, but it was more than just my education.  After that, I was wrapped up in writing my book and my own life.  My friends were my world.  I thought Steele would protect them.  He seemed to be a good man, said all the right things, and he didn't flinch at marrying mom, knowing there were three young children at home.  He was a loaded gun, and I left him in an open drawer,” Alex finished bitterly.

A lance of searing, white-hot pain shot through Jack's heart, leaving a frown across his forehead, like a jet trail across a cloudless sky.  While Alex had known Charlie died, Jack never told him the circumstances of the young boy's death.

A look of puzzlement answered the one of pain as Alex asked, “Did I say something wrong?”

“Uh, remember my son, Charlie?” Jack questioned.  “I mentioned he died.”

“Yes, but you never mention ...”  Suddenly, Alex's expression turned to one of shock and despair as he made the connection between his words and Charlie's death.  “Jack, he didn't?”

“Yeah, he did.  Alex, there was a time, when I couldn't talk about this, and when my monsters controlled my life.  I could be wrong, but I think your monsters are still controlling yours.”

“They aren't easy to get rid of,” Alex spoke despondently.

Jack continued, “It took a lot of years, and the love of a good man to finally change that.  Charlie was a good kid, a happy kid, and now, now I remember his smile when we talk about him.”  It was the truth, every word.  He'd learned to find such abundant joy in living again that the pain and the guilt about how Charlie died shrank to tiny shadows of their former selves.  “I hope one day, you can talk about your younger brothers and sister, and not only have the monsters be gone, but be able to smile and laugh at all the things you love about them.”

“To find peace you mean?”  Alex saw Jack's affirmative nod and responded, “That would be great,” and then looked away.  It was clear his pain was still controlling him. ~It just hurts; I shouldn't have gone away.~

“I still remember the pain and the guilt still kicks in from time to time,” Jack confided.  “Those times are now, but they do come.  The good thing is that now, when the hurt gets to be too much, it suddenly passes.  All I have to do is now is look at Danny, our girls, the children ...”

“The girls?  You mean ...”

“Yeah, Bij and Katie.  Go ahead, and call us strange, but those two dogs mean as much to us as any of our children.  They were important in Daniel getting over his monsters,” Jack said.

“Life goes on,” Alex stated softly, clearly not really believing it.  ~Maybe if I just get a couple of beagles, my cares will disappear, just like taking a Calgon bath.~

“Alex, do you like movies, and I'm not talking about these dumb, brainless comedies, but the classics?”

“Sure.  I watch 'Independence Day' and ...”

Jack coughed, and Alex chuckled.

“It's good to know you haven't lost your sense of humor,” Jack said.

“Survival,” Alex responded.

“That I understand.”  Growing serious, Jack asked Alex if he was acquainted with 'Gone with the Wind'.  When Alex nodded, Jack continued, “After the war, when the South is rebuilding, Scarlett comforts Ashley Wilkes with a hug.  She says something there that is good stuff -- 'Don't look back.  It saddens your heart until you can't do anything but look back'.”

“Good advice,” Alex said with a nod, knowing it was true.

“Yeah.”  Jack felt a bit like a mentor at this point.  He was a man who had survived the tragedy and pain of a nightmare, and Alex was someone still struggling to move forward and let the past be the past.  “Look ahead, Alex.  Show Byron what you can do and that what you did here was just the tip of the iceberg of your talents; and while you're doing that, find a way to make the lives of children better.  Daniel and I regularly volunteer at shelters.”

“How do you find the time?” Alex asked incredulously.

“We make it.  Sometimes, it's just an hour, and sometimes it's more than that, but we refuse to give that up.  We can't adopt the entire world, but we can help, a little, and helping them makes our lives even richer.”

“You're a smart man, General,” Alex said.

Jack hunched down, looked around as if the walls had ears, put his finger to his pursed lips, and said in a hushed tone, “Don't spread it around.”  Returning to a normal posture and tone of voice he continued, “One more thing.  Don't let that pain stop you from feeling good.  If you find your someone special, that someone who can't wait until you walk through the door, the one who warms you with a glance and  makes every sappy movie and song come true -- if you find that someone, don't hesitate.  Do it for yourself and for all the lives you'll touch as a couple.  You never know what miracles are beyond that love.”

“Thank you, Jack.  I'll try.”

“Don't try, do it, Alex.”

“I just don't know what really happened to them.”

“I understand that, but you have to live for them, as much as for yourself; otherwise, monsters like Steele win.”

Alex nodded as the conversation ebbed and eventually returned to the subject of the house.
//End of Flashback//

“I'm impressed, Jack,” Daniel said.

“Impressed?”

“You really opened up to him.”

Jack shrugged.  He and Daniel were so closed to others about personal things.  Jack, of course, hadn't told his lover that he and Alex had been reviewing the new bath, but he had relayed all of the relevant conversation about Alex and the children.

“Alex is young, Danny; he has a full life ahead of him.  I'd like to see him know more than how to design a house.”

“Me, too.”  Daniel reached out and put his hand on Jack's cheek, saying, “I am proud of you for sharing a little with him.  I know that's hard for you.”

“He seems like a friend,” Jack admitted.  ~I'd do it again, but, okay, I feel a little guilty for prying into his past.~

“I love you, Jack.”

“And that keeps me alive, Danny,” the older man spoke with an unending emotion.  The lovers kissed, each still holding their glasses which still had some of the bubbly drink in them.  “Let's go upstairs.”

“Jack!”

Jack kissed his soulmate again, smiling when he heard his Love release a tiny moan of pleasure, and questioned, “Are you going to argue?”

“Mmm ... let me think a minute,” the younger man teased.

“Daniel!”

“You're so easy,” Daniel laughed as he put down his glass.  He took Jack's hand, saying, “Come on, Babe.”

“I'm not easy, I'm ...”

“... addicted to sex?” Daniel chuckled.

“Addicted to you,” Jack corrected tenderly, earning him a sweet kiss and the promise of a very passionate round of lovemaking.

====

Jack and Daniel walked up the stairs with their arms around each other's waists.  In his free hand, Jack trailed the ice bucket with the second bottle of champagne.

Daniel chuckled, “It seems strange to walk to the left instead of to the right now to get to our bedroom.”

“Change is sometimes good,” Jack said cheerfully.

In front of the new bedroom door, Daniel reached out and put his hand over his husband's, softly saying, “Wait, Jack; I have a surprise for you.”

“You sneaky geek,” Jack laughed.  “I have a surprise for you, too!”

Feeling giddy with champagne and romance, the lovers kissed.

“Well, let's both keep our eyes closed.  Just don't take too big of steps,” Daniel suggested.

The lovers now knew that each had a surprise for the other, and at the same time, neither had seen their refinished furniture.  Alex had talked them into 'spiffing up' the room a little, guaranteeing they'd be happy with it, or 'no charge!'.  The couple had laid down a few ground rules for the designer, but then turned him loose to do a few 'minor' enhancements within the framework given.

When the couple knew they'd be coming today to see the house, Alex had insisted on moving the furniture back into place himself with some of the crew.

“I want you to enjoy the room as it should be seen,” Alex had told each of them privately, which is why neither Jack nor Daniel argued about it.

Thus, while not all the amenities were present, their furniture was back in place inside the revitalized master bedroom.

Putting the champagne bucket down, Jack entered first, and keeping his eyes closed, he held onto Daniel's hand and helped him into the bedroom next to himself.

“We open our eyes together, on three, okay?” Daniel stated in question.

“Okay, on three,” Jack said.

“One ... two ... *three*!” they spoke in unison.

Two mouths gaped open, and four eyes popped wide as the lovers took in their revamped master bedroom.

Looking down, the carpet was a perfect shade of cerulean blue. Twelve inches out from the perimeter of the bed, a six-inch-wide band of deep burgundy with gold-colored Egyptian symbols was perfectly seamed.  The headboard, dresser, and nightstands stood in their usual positions, though the dresser was closer to the bed because of the enlarged bathroom.  They were the same beloved pieces, but with a deep, rich, and expensive finish.  Overhead, a four-inch crown molding in the same wood tone completed the room.

The bed was set off by a five-inch-wide plank applied to the wall on each side.  Alex had referred to them as 'pilasters' when discussing Daniel's little surprise for Jack.  They were integrated into the five-inch crown molding and six-inch baseboard with perfect miter joints, all executed in the same rich finish as the furniture.

“It seems we both kept Alex busy,” Jack mused.

“That's an understatement,” Daniel responded.  “What did you do, Jack?” he asked, noticing their room design had shifted.

“First things first, what did *you* do?” Jack asked.

“Gawd, look at this,” Daniel said, ignoring the question to take in the newly refinished decor.

“This looks even better than Alex said it would,” Jack said as he examined the furniture, running his hand along it.  “It even *feels* expensive.”  He brought his hand up to his face, rubbing his fingers together as if still feeling the lush finish of the furniture.  Then he looked at Daniel and smiled.  “Love, what are ... lights?” he asked, his eyes sparkling as he looked first at the ceiling and then at his husband.

There were eight small lights arranged in an arc outside the bed and four positioned over the bed.  The openings were sloped into the rim of the fixture so that they were hardly noticeable.

“Um ...”  Daniel moved to stand in front of Jack.  He ran his right hand up and down his lover's chest.  His eyes following his hand's movement.  “Jack,” he said as he looked up, gazing into his Love's eyes.  “I made you a promise a while back.  It was a promise that said I'd never let you forget, not just how much I love you and need you, but how much I want and desire you.”

“Danny, you ...”

“Shhh, I'm talking,” Daniel silenced, smiling.  He leaned in for a brief kiss, taking a moment to nibble on Jack's lower lip.  “I know it seems like a long time ago when I sat in my den and took that silly quiz, and, yes, Jack, I know it was just a silly, meaningless quiz, but I did learn something.  Babe, you've turned me into a new person.  I mean, you've freed me.  I was in a prison when we met.  All my emotions, my needs, those little things that I longed to hear and feel -- all of that and more was buried so deep that I never thought they'd come out.”

“Angel, you just needed to know you were loved and safe,” Jack commented, his hands gently holding Daniel's waist, making pleasing touches and caresses as they stood together.

“And you did that, but you need to know that, too, and taking that silly quiz, I realized that all the pampering and things you did to spoil me, helped to free me. I always wanted to do the same for you.”

“You do, Danny,” Jack replied, his voice cracking.  “What more could you ever do than love me?”

Daniel's eyes were moist as his hands moved up to Jack's face.  They ran gently along Jack's jaw line, Daniel's thumbs making the slightest indents against his lover's cheeks.

“This.  Make you feel everything I do when you touch me.  Your touch turns me to Jell-O; my knees go weak; my heart pounds -- and it's because of you.  Jack, you do that to me.  You're the sexiest man on the planet.”

“Just on the planet,” Jack managed to tease, barely getting the words out because of the lump forming in his throat.

“In the whole freakin' universe.  Your, uh, Mr. Jealousy never ever needed to speak up because, I swear, Jack, I've never even noticed anyone else.  Why would I?  It sounds corny, but you're my destiny, and maybe, back in those early years, if I had done more of what I'm doing now, you'd really know.”

“I do know.”

“But you didn't, not really, not way down deep inside your soul.”  Daniel swallowed as so many emotions flowed through him.  His hands continued to massage Jack's neck and cheeks.  “You happen to have a few years on me, so you think you're old.  Your knees weren't so good, but they're a little better now, right?”

“Yeah,” Jack answered with a smile, bending his knees slightly as he looked down at them for a minute.  “Still don't understand that, but go on.”

Jack's knees had been a liability for him for years.  He'd undergone a few surgeries on them, but all of a sudden, in the last year or so, they'd stopped aching, and he'd been able to move more freely without pain.  It was a minor miracle both were grateful for.

“Well, your eyes.  I love how they sparkle -- chocolate brown nuggets that speak silently to me.  You know I go totally crazy because of your silver-gray hair.  You're my Silver Fox, so sly and trim.”  As he spoke, Daniel's fingers trickled through the short strands of his spouse's hair.  “Gawd, I can't breathe sometimes when I think about what you do to me.”

“Come on, Danny, I'm not ...”

“You *are*, Jack; to me, you are.  Every body part excites me.”

“Even my nose?” the older man challenged playfully.

Daniel chuckled, then leaned in to place a kiss on Jack's nose.

“I always thought it might be a little too big,” Jack remarked, reaching up to rub the arch of his nose.

“It's perfect.”

“I'm not a little too fat?” Jack commented, patting his abdomen.

Daniel shook his head, unable to refrain from laughing as he responded, “You're slender as a fox.  Jack, see this new carpet,” he stated as he looked down at the center.

“Yeah.  We're talking rugs now?” Jack asked, semi-pouting at the change in conversation.

“I told Alex that it absolutely had to have some burgundy in it, and, uh, notice the pillows.  They have a hint of burgundy, too.”

“You have a burgundy fetish,” Jack quizzed lightheartedly.

“I have a secret,” Daniel readily admitted.

“Oh, and what's that?” Jack asked, managing to push Daniel closer to him with his hands as they slid along the younger man's rear end.

“The way you feel about me in blue?” Daniel spoke.

“It's a must,” Jack answered unwaveringly.

“That's how I feel about you in burgundy,” the archaeologist revealed.

“What?” Jack questioned, totally astonished by what he'd just heard.  Daniel had never told him of this particular preference.  Sure, now that he thought about it, Daniel was always a bit ...  “Wow!  You do!”  In the space of a few seconds, he'd replayed years, remembering his lover's actions and responses to him whenever he had worn either burgundy or maroon.  “Daniel, you never told me!”

“I'm telling you now.  I love you in gray and emerald, too, but burgundy really turns me on, and, Jack, we're going shopping tomorrow, and we're buying a whole lot of burgundy, just for you.”

Jack grinned, seeing the lust and wanton need in Daniel's eyes, and wondered, ~Geez, how'd I miss this?~

“You missed it,” Daniel said, hearing Jack's silent thoughts, “because you think you're old and because you don't understand that I hunger for you every second of every day; part of the blame for that is on me.  Years ago, I didn't tell you that I knew my love for you was forever.  I let you think that there would be a decision to be made if we had saved Sha're.”

“Danny, don't go back there.  It's old news.  You explained all of that at the cabin.”

“I know, but, Babe, if I had told you from the start, from the moment when I realized that we were ... forever, then you would have known that you weren't some passing fancy.  I'm so sorry, Jack.  I knew when we broke up after that first week; I *knew* then, but I didn't tell you.”

“You were scared.  It's okay.”

“I know,” Daniel choked out smiling.  They'd hashed all of this out years ago, but Daniel was bringing it up for a reason.  “Everything has a cause and an effect.  My failure to make sure you knew how much I loved you and how committed I was caused you to doubt yourself.  All these battle scars,” he sniffled; then leaned in to kiss one of the scars that was visible at the side of his lover's neck.  “These scars are you, your character, your strength, your passion -- I love them all.”

“You love crazy things.”

“I love you,” Daniel chuckled quickly.

“Like I said ...” Jack said, chuckling as well.

After the chuckles settled, Daniel's eyes bore into his husband's as he spoke, “I lust after you, all the time.  I long for you without cessation.  Watching you, your body, makes me shiver.  It's not just your touch, Jack, it's you.  Your arms, elbows, wrists ...”  His hands had slid down Jack's arm, his eyes following.  “And, uh, well, every part.”

Daniel's hand traveled over Jack's groin and squeezed just slightly.

“Oh, Baby ...”

“Don't call me 'Baby', Jack,” Daniel warned, earning a smile and chuckle from Jack.

“Sorry, my bad.”

“The baddest,” Daniel agreed.  “And you're mine, all mine.  I own you, Jack, heart, soul, and most definitely, body, and the reason that's okay, is because you own me.  My heart, my soul, and oh, yeah, my body is yours -- lock, stock, and barrel.  I want you, and I want to see you.  And that's why, I had Alex do this.”

Daniel placed a moist kiss on Jack's lips, and then reluctantly backed away.  He looked over at the nightstand that sat next to his side of the bed.

~The remote; sure glad Alex gave me that cardboard replica so I could become acquainted with it.~

Picking up the remote, Daniel quickly pressed the button he wanted.  All the lights in the room went on, including the new overhead lights that surrounded the bed, the ones over the bed, and a few that washed the walls in soft amber light.

Jack looked up and automatically began to walk towards, and then all around, the bed, taking in the new lights.

Daniel pressed a button, and the two lamps on the nightstand turned off.  With the pushing of yet another button, the lamp on the dresser turned off, so that now the only lights on in the room were those overhead.

At the moment, Jack was standing near the headboard on his side of the bed. With his hands in his pockets, he stared at the lights.  They didn't stand out, but were subtle and recessed.  In fact, walking into the room, they were barely noticeable unless you looked up.

“Jack ...”

Jack looked over at his smiling lover.  The smile was full of surprise, and it grew to a big grin.

The coy lover pressed another button, and the lights over the bed brightened while the ones around the bed faded to black, leaving the walls awash in subdued light.

“Oh, yeah, Danny,” Jack crooned, his mind exploring the possibilities that the lights would add to some of their erotic moments.

“The show's just beginning,” Daniel promised, pressing another button.  There was a soft whirr, and all the sunlight in the room was gone.  “They're custom fitted,” he said, referring to the motorized room-darkening blinds installed at the windows.

Jack instantly smiled, a big, broad expression.  He began to move again, walking under the lights, looking over at the bed occasionally, and finally at Daniel.  As Jack moved, Daniel continued to use the buttons on the remote to change the lighting.  It was mood lighting at its most sophisticated.  The wall washing lights faded out, and the lights over the bed joined them, as the lights that arced around the bed came up full.

The older man smiled, not really feeling old anymore.  He looked at Daniel and felt a joy he'd never felt before, and that was incredible to Jack, because Daniel had given Jack all the joy he'd ever known.

“How could there be more?” Jack's cracked voice asked.

“What?” Daniel asked.

“Love.  More ...”

Jack couldn't speak, but he didn't need to, for moments later, Daniel engulfed him with a kiss of passion that said all it needed to.

“There's more,” Daniel said.  He reached for the remote again.  “Curtain,” he spoke softly.

With the depressing of one button, the right pilaster popped open, and a soft sheer black panel slid out, moving around the bed inside the oval formed by the recessed lights.  Daniel reversed the lighting a few times, alternately dimming and brightening the ones outside the sheer curtain and the ones over the bed.

“How'd you do that?” Jack asked with a smirk.

“I didn't.  Alex did with a little help from Sam I think.  That was, uh, really very ... embarrassing.”  Daniel was blushing just thinking about how he had made his request.  It hadn't been one of his easier days.  “The real fun comes when we, uh, you know.”

“Boy, do I know!”

“Jack, I really, really, really, really want to try this out, but, uh, there's this wall where we used to have floor space.  What did you do?” Daniel asked as his curiosity got the better of him and his hunger for Jack's flesh.

“Okay, surprise first, and then we ...”

“Definitely,” Daniel agreed.  “I'm, uh ... about ready to explode,” he admitted.

“We'll do it together.”

“Deal.  Now what is that?” Daniel queried, looking over at the remodeled space which had eaten away at the space that had been between the foot of the bed and the wall.

Now they had only a couple of feet there, so Daniel was curious what Jack had done.

“Close your eyes, and stand still a minute,” Jack instructed.  He lifted Daniel's feet one at a time and took off his shoes and socks, and then took his hand to lead him to his surprise.  “Just a few more steps.”

“Uh, wow, that feels good,” Daniel commented as he wiggled his toes against the plush cerulean carpet.  Taking another step, one foot stepped on tile, only it wasn't cold.  “Jack, the tile's warm.”

“I know.  Isn't it great?  You can open your eyes now, Love.”
 
Daniel's jaw dropped for the second time in ten minutes as he took in their new bathroom which had been extended a few feet into the bedroom. The major portion of the extension was occupied by a corner shower enclosure equipped with body spray heads, two cascade waterfall spigots, one above head height and one at ankle height.

“Danny, I've never tried the ankle thing, but I've been told that nothing beats that rush of water over your feet,” Jack noted as his lover was examining the lower spigot.

“Sure you have, Babe,” Daniel refuted.  “Remember that time on P3T-742; you know, the planet with the rainbow sky and the ...”

“... waterfall parks.  Never thought anything could be Old Faithful, but those babies sure did,” the older man recalled.

“And remember when we ...” Daniel prodded, purposely not completing his sentence.

“Yeah,” Jack said, grinning.  “Can't beat those ankle waterfalls.”

“I can't believe you forgot.”

“It was the sex, Danny; overshadowed the water,” Jack pointed out.

“Oh,” the younger man expressed, almost giggling.

A sophisticated shower massage head on a flexible extensor arm and a hand held shower completed the water emitting accoutrements.

“We'll, uh, enjoy this ... a lot,” Daniel said after examining the shower and its 'exciting' extras.

“Count on it, Babe,” Jack said.  “There's one more surprise in here,” he said as he flipped a switch on the wall outside the shower.  ~Alex sure was sharp to think to give me that drawing of where everything was.  Looks like ... yep, everything is where I imagined it.~

From three feet off the floor inside the shower, a flat head on the wall activated, filling the chamber quickly with wonderful, hot, moist, and relaxing steam.  A fan overhead whooshed to life, pulling the visible clouds out of the room.

“Wow, wha...what?”

“It's motion and moisture activated; turns off automatically,” Jack informed, beaming at the device.

“Sweet,” Daniel said, quoting his husband.  “Hey, the tub looks different.”

“It is.  Look.”

Jack opened a door in the side of the new tub, revealing contoured seats molded into each end.  Jets were strategically placed for the neck and shoulders, the small of the back, the thighs, the calves, and the soles of the feet.  It was neck deep for a six-foot-tall man, or two.

Daniel noticed that there were two drains instead of one and asked, “Two drains?”

Jack explained, “You have to drain it before you open the door, or else crawl over the top.”

“Very funny, Jack.”

Daniel's eyes grew big as he contemplated the sybaritic array of fixtures.  The countertop was tall man height, with the basin set on top of the counter.

“Sure will make it easier to shave.”

“No more stooping.  I know.  I'm not old, but oh my ...” Jack began.

“Jack, I don't want to hear about your aching back because it doesn't exist.”

Jack chuckled, kissed his lover on the cheek, and said, “Just teasing.”

Daniel ran his hand along the new transparent glass basin of cobalt blue.  It was set atop a white granite countertop with laminate open shelves below to hold fresh towels.

“Look at these, Danny,” Jack said, pointing out the new towels he'd ordered.

The towels were deep and plush, white, and had a big 'J-O' emblem embroidered in blue and burgundy on them.

“Burgundy?” Daniel questioned as he took in the fresh scent of one of the newly-stacked towels.

“I didn't know.  Actually, now that I think about it, Alex suggested it.”  Jack cocked his head slightly as he reflected on that odd coincidence, and as he did so, he saw Daniel grin, obviously happy about the inclusion of burgundy in their new bathroom.  “I swear, Angel, I'm still not sure about him.”

Daniel's grin turned to laughter as he explained, “I told him about the burgundy.”

“I know that, but it's still a little unnerving.”

Quietly, Daniel observed other changes that had been made.  The mirror pulled back to reveal a huge medicine cabinet in the wall cavity; the toilet was now a quiet water-conserving model; and above the tank was a wall-hung pantry for cleaning supplies and bathroom tissue.  All in all, it was the perfect spa retreat.

“This was an awesome surprise, Jack.  Thank you,” Daniel said, turning his head to face Jack as the two were standing side-by-side, looking in the mirror.

“I like my surprise, too.  So ... which do you want to try first?” the older man asked, raising his eyebrows in a flirtatious manner.

“There's a choice?  Jack, the bathroom, of course!” Daniel joked; then made an evasive move out of the bathroom into the bedroom.

“Why you ...” Jack called out, giving chase.

Daniel fled the bathroom with Jack in pursuit, or so he thought, but Jack turned and went out to the hall to retrieve the champagne bucket and glasses.

When he wasn't tackled, a puzzled Daniel looked around, calling out, “Jack?”

A moment later, Jack re-emerged into the bedroom, smiling as he carried the celebratory items.

With a glint in his eyes, Jack said, “We've got some celebrating to do!”

“Gawd, I thought I was going to die, Jack,” Daniel spoke sincerely.

“Ain't that the truth?” Jack said, doing a mock shiver just thinking about their months of stolen and all-too-brief lovemaking sessions.

“Yeah,” Daniel agreed as he grinned.  “No more celibating for us.”

Jack stared suspiciously at his lover and then said, “That was really bad, Daniel.”

“You're just jealous you didn't say it first,” Daniel smirked.

“Yeah, you're right,” Jack admitted, leaning over for a kiss.  He set the bucket on the floor by the bed and poured two glasses of champagne.  He handed his husband one and said, “To us.”

Daniel smiled, nodded, and, taking his glass, responded, “To us.”

The soulmates moved toward each other, interlocking arms as they raised their glasses, toasting each other and their love.

Setting their glasses on the dresser, they embraced, each automatically lying his head on the other's shoulder.  Both sighed contently.  It had been way too long since they'd been able to do this in the privacy of their home.

“Jack, I love you.”

“I love you, too, Angel, so friggin much.”

The two lovers kissed slowly at first, then more urgently, each kiss growing into deeper, more passionate exchanges.

“Babe, I know we've got all this stuff to try out, but right now, I just want to ...”

“Me, too, and how!” Jack exclaimed, smiling in anticipation of the impending union of their bodies.

Anxious fingers undid button after button, and then it happened.  Jack's cell phone began to ring.  Seconds later, Daniel's followed suit.

“Nooooo!” Daniel cried out.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” Jack complained.

Their bodies deflated, but their frustration high, Jack and Daniel both answered their phones.

“This had better be good,” Jack barked without checking to see who the caller was.

Daniel, however, checked his caller ID and immediately became concerned, answering, “Sylvia, what's wrong?”

“What?” both men questioned at the same time, each turning to face each other.

“We're on our way,” Jack spoke a minute later.

“No, Sylvia, I really don't think so.  We actually had a separate inspection done just a couple of weeks ago, so I'm sure it's not connected to the gas leak at all ... We're on our way now.”

Flipping their phones shut, the lovers shared a quick glance.  Saying nothing, they made sure they hurriedly made sure they were presentable and left the house.

“Hammond said the attack came on without warning; she was playing with Ricky and then, boom,” Jack reported as he drove.

“Sylvia was just checking to make sure there wasn't a tie-in with the gas leak.  She really didn't think so, but she'd hadn't thought to ask the general about it when they were talking,” Daniel reported, adding that the doctor had called them since her return call to Hammond had resulted in a busy signal, one caused by Hammond's call to Jack's cell line.

“Okay, Danny, let's think.  Have we bought anything new?”

As they headed for the medical clinic where Sylvia's office was, the lovers reviewed everything they knew of that was in Hammond's home.  Jenny had been susceptible to allergies from the day she'd been born.  Aislinn had been as well, but hadn't had any kind of allergy attack since she was a baby.  She got an occasional earache still, but that wasn't related to the allergy situation at all.

From the sounds of it, this attack was pretty bad.  In a very short period of time, the twin had begun wheezing and had broken out in a rash.

As Jack pulled into the clinic parking lot, Daniel spoke, “Jack, there's nothing.  We've been living there for months, and she's been fine.  I don't understand.”

“We'll find out soon enough.”

After parking the truck, the concerned parents sprinted into the emergency area, both searching for signs of Sylvia, Hammond, and/or their daughter.

“Jack!”

Jack and Daniel stopped, turning around and seeing a very contrite Kayla, Hammond's oldest granddaughter.

“I am *so* sorry; it's my fault,” Kayla spoke.

“Sis, it is not,” Tessa spoke as she approached.  “Hi, Jack, Daniel.  Kayla's playing the blame game, but how could she have known?”

“Where's Jenny?” Daniel asked, wanting to know what happened, but more interested in being with his daughter at the moment.

“She's ...” Kayla began before being interrupted.

“Jack, Daniel!” Hammond called out as he held Ricky in his arms.

The lovers turned around again, immediately walked towards the three-star general.

“Dad, Daddy, Jenny got sick,” Ricky reported.

Taking the boy into his arms, Jack said, “So, we've heard.  Sir?” he asked, looking at Hammond.

“She's fine.”

“But it's my fault, Grandpa.  I feel like yuck,” Kayla sighed.

“Kayla, I could have bought that polish myself,” Hammond said, trying to comfort his granddaughter.  “She's right through there,” he then told the worried parents, who quickly entered the small examination room.

“Syl,” Jack called out.

“Daddy, it itched,” Jenny whined.

“I'm sure it did, Princess,” Daniel said, giving the little redhead a reassuring smile.

“She's doing very well now.”

“Jenny, better?” Ricky asked his twin.

“Wanna play,” Jenny responded.

Jack and Daniel looked at Sylvia for an explanation.  The doctor asked them to give her a minute to check the results of a test that had just come in.

“Oh, you can let him sit with her; it's okay,” Sylvia said, motioning for Jack to let Ricky sit with his sister.

Taking the couple over to the corner, Sylvia smiled and said, “Ricky insisted on being in here while I examined her.  We didn't let him, though, until we figured out the problem.”

“Must have been a quick fix,” Jack spoke.  “Syl, we ran through everything we could think of on the way over ...”

“Not Kayla's wonderful new furniture polish, the one on that infomercial every hour on the hour during the night.”

“What?” both Jack and Daniel questioned.

“It's a great cleaner, but one of the ingredients doesn't set well with Jenny.  We're still determining which ingredient; in fact, that may take a while, but I believe a process of elimination and a few allergy tests during her next checkup will give us the answer,” Sylvia stated.

As their clinic stay wore on, Jack and Daniel learned that Kayla had decided to do some cleaning for her grandfather.  She'd driven to Colorado Springs from her home and had remembered that she had some of the cleaner in her car.  Jenny had offered to help Kayla, and the reaction had been soon after she'd finished polishing the table.

After placing the call to Sylvia, Kayla had made the realization that Jenny must have had an allergic reaction to the cleaner.  So far, all evidence was backing up that deduction.

“Can we take her home?” Daniel asked.

“I'd like her to stay for another hour or so, just to make sure,” Sylvia answered.

“What about the polish?” Daniel questioned, quickly clarifying, “I mean, the table with the polish on it.”

“My hunch is that it's the direct contact with the polish.  She was rubbing the table pretty hard, really wanting to get it to shine.  She had some residue of the polish on her hand, and I think that's what did it.  Still, you might want to minimize her exposure to any furniture pieces that were cleaned with that polish,” the doctor reported.

Laughter drew the adults' attention.  The twins were in hysterics over something, so they knew Jenny was truly feeling better.  Poignantly, however, they smiled as Ricky continued to hold his sister's hand.

“We operate,” Jenny said suddenly.

“You be doctor, Jenny; I nurse,” Ricky spoke.

“Why you not doctor?” Jenny queried.

“I no like blood,” Ricky said, scrunching his nose and resulting in laughter from the adults.

====

“What a day,” Jack sighed several hours later.

It was almost midnight, and the lovers were sitting on the grass in front of the lake.  It was cold out, but the moon was shining above, and Jack and Daniel needed a few minutes of being alone after their unexpected trip to the clinic.

“Kayla still feels bad, Jack,” Daniel spoke with regret.  “It wasn't her fault, and I don't want her to feel bad.”

“We've both talked to her, as did Syl, and Hammond ...”

“And Tessa,” Daniel chuckled.  “She was really on Kayla's case about the guilt trip.”

“She'll learn,” Jack responded.  “Look at us,” he stated, getting a questioning look from his soulmate.  “Danny, the first time Jenny had an attack, we were basket cases for days.  Now ...”

“Now we've learned to fake it,” the younger man mused.

“Jenny's fine, and Kayla only polished the dining table and one entry table, and we tested that already.  Jenny didn't even flinch.”

“No, she didn't,” Daniel agreed.  “I just hate that she may always have to be careful with something new.”

“Everyone has something in life; if that's the worst thing Jenny has to deal with ...”

“I know,” Daniel agreed, interrupting his lover's sentence.  “We, uh ... you know.”

“Danny, I was ready.  I mean, I was ready!”

“Me, too,” Daniel chuckled.  “Jack, Friday night?”

“David's coming home on Friday night,” Jack said as both a statement and a question.

“I'm betting he'll be home early,” the archaeologist said.

“It's a date,” Jack agreed, leaning over to kiss his lover.  “Let's go check on our princess.”

“On all our princesses,” Daniel corrected.

“And our princes, too.”

The parents stood, stretched, and then returned inside the Hammond home, where they made sure all their children were resting peacefully.  They really weren't surprised when they found Ricky had joined his twin in her bed.

“Babe, Ricky is still holding her hand.”

“It was a nasty attack; he was a little scared,” Jack pointed out.

“Should we let him stay there?”

“Jenny has a smile on her face; she feels safe.  Yeah, Danny, let's let him stay,” Jack answered.

Quietly, the lovers backed away and then returned to their room and retired for the evening.

====

As so often happened, the best made plans fizzled when Alex called and informed them that there was still more things happening at the house.  It would all be finished over the weekend, but they'd had an unanticipated parts delay that had slowed the progress.

The lovers weren't sure what Alex was referring to; the house had looked wonderful to them during the walk-through, but they didn't question it, especially since Sam was still doing her security job.  Finally, though, in the early afternoon on Monday, both Sam and Alex had called to report their jobs were one-hundred percent completed.

“Danny, the coast is clear,” Jack had spoken enticingly to his lover at J-O Enterprises.

“Jack, we have work to day.”

“Danny, you, me, lights, shower, champagne -- *no kids*.”

“No ... kids?” Daniel questioned, suddenly letting his pen drop to the desktop.

“Not until six o'clock tonight.  If we leave now, that gives us ...”

“Shut up, and let's go,” Daniel said, flying past his lover.

“Boy, when he's motivated ...”

“JACK, MOVE IT!”

“... he's motivated,” Jack chuckled as he sped-walk to meet up with his eager husband.

====

In their newly-remodeled master bedroom, the lovers had toasted their love, their family, their health, their wealth in being able to have their renovated home, Alex, life, and anything else they could think of.  Finally, they were at the same point they had been days before when Jenny's allergy attack had brought their revved-up body motors to a crashing halt.

Today, though, there would be no such interruption.  Eager kisses and touches quickly grew in passion and desire.  Two shirts were pulled off and tossed together.  Daniel's feet were already bare when he spun Jack around and sat him on the bed.  In a flash, the younger man was on his knees, removing his husband's shoes and socks.

No sooner had Daniel stood up than Jack reached for his belt buckle and unzipped his pants, pulling them below his knees.  He kicked off his pants and removed Jack's even more quickly.  They were clearly in a hurry.

Now, standing in their tented undershorts, Daniel said hoarsely, “Wait, I have to do this.”

Reaching for the remote, Daniel retracted the curtain and dimmed the lights over the bed to candlelight level.

“You're hot in any light,” Jack whispered, tackling his lover and pinning him to the bed.

The two men kissed and groped passionately, sliding their underwear off.  Their desire grew until they were riding a rhythm of sweaty bodies, sensuously sliding together.

Two needy and longing lengths rubbed against their flat abdomens, tension rising, and finally spiking at a fever pitch.  Weeks of unsated desire rose to the forefront, blotting out conscious thought as they fused their bodies together, crying out their pleasure and love.

Finally, release overtook the two men in wave upon wave of thudding pleasure.

“Oh, Jack, yes, oh yes!  Gawd, I love you!”

“Danny, what you do to me,” Jack said held his soulmate in his arms as their muscles calmed.

“My Jack pillow,” Daniel sighed happily.

“Love my Danny blanket,” Jack responded, a blissful smile on his face.

The contented soulmates continued to cuddle and kiss for several minutes, just taking in the sweet sensation of the other.

“Home.  We're home.”

“Almost,” Jack responded.  “It's going to be fun trying out these gadgets later.”

“One at a time, and then over and over and over again.”

“That's my Energizer Bunny,” Jack quipped.

After a few more minutes of cuddling, and knowing they didn't have all day and night to indulge themselves, the lovers said at the same time, “Sticky!”  They laughed as Daniel raised his head to look into Jack's eyes.  Daniel raised his eyebrows, and Jack grinned.  “Shower!” they exclaimed eagerly as they sat up.

Round two was on the horizon.

===

“Careful, Jack; don't get anything on the new comforter,” the younger man warned.

Jack chuckled, “So much for being prepared.”

“We, uh, had other things on our minds.”

“Oh, yeah, things that are way more important than bedding, new or not.”

The two men had just made love on their brand-new custom bedding ensemble.  Finding themselves awash in the copious release of their pent up desire, they carefully squirmed off the bed and hurried to the bathroom, doing their best to keep their new carpeting clean as well.  They crossed over onto the tile like it was a finish line, knowing they would be under a hot cleansing shower in mere seconds.

Jack reached in the shower and started the hot water.  The temperature was instantly perfect.  For a brief moment, he mentally thanked Alex for his suggestions and insistence that they follow through with certain things in the renovation, such as the on-demand heaters which didn't need to pipe water long distances, and thus, the cleansing stream was endless.

The two men stepped into their new water playground, Daniel going first.  His eyes were agog at all the nozzles and sprays.  Jack, his eyes dancing with glee, followed his husband inside and closed the door.

“Stand here, Love,” Jack requested as he positioned Daniel and turned a handle.

The shower spray trickled off and was replaced by a small cascading waterfall that poured over Daniel, drenching him, much to his delight.  Jack turned the same handle in the opposite direction and the cascade stopped, replaced by two columns of spray heads which sprang to life, pulsating down each side of Daniel's back from shoulder to buttocks.

“Jack, this is absolutely fantastic.  I feel so relaxed,” Daniel spoke softly, almost moaning from the heavenly feeling within him.

“How relaxed?” Jack asked in a not-so-subtle voice.

“Mmm, well, let's just say you can have your way with me, and I won't put up a struggle.”

“You struggle?  Hmm, I don't recall you having done that before.  I must have blinked.”

Daniel chuckled as he soaked in the massaging waves of water.  This had always been a treasured time for him, being with Jack in the shower, especially under the soothing sensation of water against his skin, but he had never felt anything like this.  He was in heaven.

“Well, struggle with this,” Jack teased.

The body spray gave way to a torrent from the large pulsating head mounted on a flexible arm.  Jack put the shower nozzle through its paces, moving it up, down, and from side to side as he made it pulse from slow to fast and from gentle to invigorating.  As the water tapped against their skin, Daniel danced under the spray, allowing his every muscle to receive the delightful tension-relieving treatment.

The water therapist, otherwise known as Jack, grinned wickedly as he turned the water off.

“Jack!” the spoiled patient, otherwise known as Daniel, whined,  Quickly, the 'patient' flashed his infamous 'Danny Pout'.  “Please tell me we're not done.”

“Not even close, Angel; just saving something for the finale,” Jack spoke as he grabbed the handheld shower and started the spray, though with a much gentler pulsation this time, gentle enough to be used on a most sensitive area.

“Fwhoosh,” was Daniel's intake of breath.

The sensation was exquisite, and even in front of Jack, Daniel blushed.  He and Jack had never used any sort of 'toys'.  In all their years together, their separations had been managed without either of them resorting to relieving their own tensions. They were indeed a nation of two.  For a moment, the blood in his veins struggled, trying to move both up and down.  Physiology won over emotion as his need grew as much as his length.

“It's okay, Angel,” Jack said, knowing his lover's thoughts.  “It's me, Love, just me, and this is no more than applying lube -- or paint,” he whispered.

Jack's reassurance in words and expression put Daniel at ease.  The younger man's arousal increased even more as he remembered their last 'painting' session.

The silver-haired man turned the main shower head on gentle pulsating rain and then turned to face his husband, saying, “This is just the beginning.”

Daniel leaned into his Love and kissed him tenderly, but full of longing, need, and want.

“Jack, I am so turned on; I mean, gawd, every nerve is twitching.  That ... that was incredible.”

“So are you.  Now enough talk.”

“But it felt so good,” Daniel responded.

“Daniel, I love you.  Now shut up, and kiss me again,” Jack said demandingly, but with the sparkling of wanton lust in his eyes.

Daniel complied, his tongue dancing with Jack's -- probing, pushing, welcoming -- as their mouths vibrated with involuntary moans.  Jack released a sufficient amount of lube from the new dispenser and proceeded to apply it to Daniel, using great care so as not to send him over the edge and lose that beautiful velvet steel.

The young lover watched, his mind noting the dispenser, but his love and need for Jack was too great to let anything interfere with the union that was about to occur.

“Convenience,” Jack said with a smile as he finished prepping his lover.  Then Jack 'assumed the position', facing into the corner, bending over from the waist, bracing himself with one hand on each wall.  He looked over his shoulder at his husband, grinning with lust, egging him on with, “Forget your moves, there, Airman?”

“Just enjoying the view, Babe.”

“Enjoy the view after you explore the terrain,” Jack urged.

“My pleasure,” Daniel said with a smile.  “Would you like the Mercedes Benz version, or the rickshaw bumpy road route?”

“Daniel, get on with it.”

Daniel chuckled for a moment.  How he loved Jack, and it had been so long since they could really 'play' like this.

Still not fully registering the fact that there was a dispenser full of lube in their bathroom, Daniel squeezed some of the lubricant along his middle finger and sent it through his personal 'Stargate' several times.  After lovingly checking for readiness and hearing urgent grunts in response, Daniel fulfilled Jack's expectations as he moved inside him with his eager and 'armed' length.

Patience warred with urgency as fleshly protuberance and tight, moist heat welcomed each other in their familiar, but long denied dance.  It was no contest, urgency was clearly going to win.

The lovers were a perfect fit, moving in a perfect rhythm, and with perfect timing as their passion flared in unison, rising to a plateau of white heat.  It was too perfect to end and too intense to last -- a dance on the edge of a sword.

All of a sudden the smoothness of his length inside Jack caused Daniel's mind to return to the lube dispenser.  He slowed as his brain attempted to process the information more completely than when he had first seen it and been lost in his husband's entrancing gaze.

~Lube?  In a dispenser?  In the bathroom?  How'd it get here?  Jack said it was a surprise?  Convenience?~

“Danny, what's the hold up?  Let's go!”

“Wha...oh, sorry.”

The blood supply to Daniel's brain was returned to a more insistent organ, and his curiosity faded, replaced by the once-again urgent need of his body.  He hadn't fought it; rather, he gratefully surrendered to his appointed task.

One of Daniel's arms wrapped around his lover's waist as his other hand found its home, its destiny, its rhythm, and its purpose.  Their satisfaction gave way to deeper need, then more fiery satisfaction, round and round again, spiraling, until at the apex of desire and need, they melded into one another.

“Feels sooo goood, Jack.  Love you, want you, need you -- now.”

“Love you, Danny ... yes, that's it ...  so ... gawd, so good ... harder, Babe ... *do* it ... yesssss,” Jack reacted to his soulmate's loving dance inside him.

“Can...can't ... wait longer ... Jack ... nnn...NOW!”

A strong pelvis thrust against a firm set of buttocks with force, as one hand shook out a fast staccato rhythm.

Their culmination was so intense that their spasms made them sink to their knees, still joined.  They knelt together, breathing as one, their feelings so intense they couldn't move for a few minutes, nor did they want to.

Slowly, over the course of several minutes, their white heat cooled.  As vision and awareness returned, they reluctantly became separate individuals again, at least in the physical sense.  So transported by their shared pleasure, they washed each other in silent reverence, each man knowing what the other was feeling and had felt during their electrifying fusion.

With extreme tenderness, Jack and Daniel kissed and touched under the gentle rain, exalting in the ongoing spell that was renewed with each glance.  Unable to stop staring, as if they truly had never seen each other before, they exited the shower and dried each other with their new soft fluffy towels.

In sweet exhaustion, the blissfully happy lovers clung together as they walked to their bed.  They fell onto it, quickly moving into their preferred positions of 'Danny blanket' and 'Jack pillow'.

“We have to get going before long, Jack.  Brent, the tile guy, will be here in a few hours,” Daniel reminded.

“Until then, all I want to do is sleep next to you.  We're almost home, Love; we're almost home,” Jack sighed happily.

“Next to you has always been home ... <yawn> ... Jack.  Mmmmzzz.”

====

A sleeping bliss was interrupted when Jack's cell phone chirped insistently.

“Crap.  Double crap.  Double dog crap,” Jack muttered as his consciousness was jarred from its warm snugness and rose resentfully into half-awake mode.

Thankfully, the lights over the bed were still at candlelight dimness.  Shuffling his feet, Jack made his way around the bed, using his squeaky clean toes as a cane to feel for obstacles.  He found his hastily discarded jeans and stooped to pick them up.  The cell phone was ringing its way through its third set of chirps.

~Persistent devils; it had better be good.  Maybe it's Hammond.  The kids?  No, not again.~  With a touch of anxiety the once peacefully sleeping general growled into the phone.  “Hello?”

“Sir, I'm sorry to interrupt, but ...”

“Carter, you're record is intact,” Jack groused.

“Record?”

“Bad timing,” the general complained.

“Oh, well, I just wanted to tell you that I forgot about one more setup I need to complete on the security system.”

“Do it tomorrow,” Jack suggested.

“I will be checking all the systems over the next week, doing several test runs, but this is tied in to the gun cabinet.”

Jack groaned, “Okay.”

“Great.  Uh ...”

“Carter, you're outside, aren't you?”

“I'll go get something to eat and then come back ... Sir.”

“Good idea,” Jack sighed as he hung up the phone.  ~Amazing timing that woman.~  He returned to their bed and stood admiring his lover.  He found himself thinking about Daniel talking to Alex about the lights that were now part of their bedroom.  ~What I would have given to see Daniel explaining why he wanted these lights and that curtain installed.  Red; deep, dark red,~ he chuckled.  “Beautiful; absolutely beautiful.  Nothing in the universe is as beautiful as you, Angel,” he whispered as he gazed at the love of his life.

The young man, who was lying on his back with Jack's pillow now held closely to his chest, made a noise, but didn't sound like he was going to wake up.

“Sorry, Love, no choice!”  Jack ran his fingers along the base of Daniel's neck.  Then he leaned in close to Daniel's left ear and whispered, “Angel, time to wake up.  Our brood is waiting, and Carter needs to ... doohickey something.”

“J'ck?”

“You got the name right, and after what we did a while ago, you'd better get it right,” Jack snickered.

Daniel looked up at his husband, whispering a soft, “I love you.”

“I love you, too, Angel,” Jack replied, leaning down for a quick kiss.

Daniel sat up in bed and looked around.  He was home in bed, in the bedroom he shared with his husband, but something was off.

Jack picked up Daniel's glasses and gently placed them on his lover's face.

For Daniel, the world became clearer, and he smiled, gazing into his lover's eyes.

“Did you say something about Sam?” the archaeologist inquired.

“She needs to work on the security system; I guess it's not as done as she thought it was.  We need to scoot, Danny.”

Daniel nodded, stood up, and stretched, making sure Jack took in the best parts of his 'birthday suit'.

Jack grinned in delight at the 'show'.  Daniel was sheer perfection in his opinion.

~Too bad you're putting those clothes back on,~ the lustful older lover lamented.

Knowing he was being ogled, Daniel wiggled his butt toward Jack and made an exaggerated show of grabbing his briefs which he very slowly put on.  He smiled alluringly at Jack as he moved his hands down in front of the briefs and 'adjusted'... and 'adjusted' ... and 'adjusted' some more, just for Jack's benefit.

“You *so* do not play fair, Danny.  You really know how to hurt a guy.”

“Pain don't hurt, Babe,” Daniel retorted, stretching once again just to lovingly torment his soulmate.

“That's the last time I let you watch 'Road House' with me,” Jack responded, adding, “but, uh, I'd be happy to *lick* your wounds.”

“Jack, you're sick,” Daniel said as he picked up his clothing.

Jack ignored the comment and glanced at his watch, advising, “Ten-minute warning.”

Daniel scrambled into his jeans and shirt and went into the bathroom to wash his face.  Stepping into the new space, he marveled at all the amenities that were now at their fingertips, and he admired their vanity countertop that was now a foot taller than normal.

Inwardly chuckling, the archaeologist thought, ~Blue!  It figures, but it does look nice!~

Daniel started the water in the sink and grabbed a washcloth.  Wringing out the cloth, he wiped his face.

~That feels good,~ Daniel thought as he began to feel refreshed.  Turning around, he took in the new tub with its many jets.  ~Can't wait to try that!~ He smiled at the shower and all the different settings.  ~We're going to get a lot of use out of that.  Look at all those options.~

Daniel smiled just thinking about the waterfall setting, and the massaging option made him tingle in anticipation.  The adjustable shower head and pulsating hand held device just added to the luxurious feeling he was getting.

~And there are dispensers for everything, even the lube.~  Daniel stopped breathing a second.  No longer in the middle of a lovemaking session, his mind fully processed the presence of the dispenser at long last.  “Lube?  A dispenser for ... lube?”  He blinked a few times as he considered the possible implications.  Had Jack not really been surprised by the lights that were installed as a surprise?  With a raised voice, in a panicked calm, he called out, “Jack, come in here, please?”

“You rang, Angel?” Jack responded a few seconds later.

“Yeah, um, you really seemed surprised at the lights in the bedroom.”

“I was, Love -- totally surprised,” Jack responded.

Daniel thought about his husband's answer and played back Jack's reaction upon entering the bedroom.  His husband would not lie to him.

~He *was* surprised, but how did the lube get here?~  Daniel cocked his head slightly as he looked at his soulmate.  “Jack, there was lube in the dispenser.”

“Great idea, dontcha' think?”

“Yes, it is, but, Jack, there was *lube* in the dispenser!” the younger man spoke more loudly, desperate to get his point across, but failing to do so.

“Daniel, we've established that fact.”

“Jack, how did it get there?”

~Crap!~ Jack exclaimed, suddenly understanding his lover's train of thought.  “I bought it.”

“I realize you bought it.  What I want to know is how it got there,” Daniel demanded, pointing as he spoke the last word.

Jack glanced over at the dispenser and began a tale, saying, “Well, first you take the dispenser out of the package and ...”

“Jack!”

“Daniel?”

Daniel glared and then decided to give his lover another chance to explain by pointing to the item and asking directly, “Jack, how did the dispenser get ... here?”

“I bought it, and I brought it here.  Gee, it's getting late; maybe ...”

“Babe,” Daniel interrupted.  “Don't get me wrong.  I think a lube dispenser in the shower is a great idea, but how did that particular amenity get there ... now?”  He added quickly, “And I don't mean how it was installed!”

~Evasive maneuvers,~ the general advised himself.  “Danny, Carter is ...”

“Did you install the dispenser and fill it up yourself?” Daniel asked pointedly, ignoring Jack's attempts to stop the conversation.

“I was going to, but I couldn't get past Alex,” Jack hesitantly admitted, looking away from Daniel as he silently recalled what had happened.

//Flashback//
Jack pulled up to the almost-completed house, immediately noticing that not only was Alex there, but so was Sam.

~Crap.  She's working on the security system.  I do *not* want to run into her right now, not with what I need to accomplish.~

Carrying a sack from Home Depot and one from The Body Shop, Jack went towards the front door of the house.

The Home Depot sack held a four spigot liquid dispenser that affixed to the wall with strong suction cups while the other sack contained bottles of shampoo, hair conditioner, and body wash.  Upon entering the house, Jack headed straight to the garage.

~Where'd we stash it?~  The general looked over in the corner where some household items were being kept in a box on a shelf.  “Aha!” he exclaimed as he pulled out a plastic bottle.

Neither Jack nor Daniel cared for adult bookstores, but it was the only place they could buy their preferred brand of lube, one they used frequently for special occasions or more sensual unions.  They used several different brands, but this one had that 'X-factor', as Jack called it.  Thus, over a year ago on a trip to Denver, he'd purchased several bottles to refill a small pump dispenser, knowing they'd be set for at least a year, maybe two.  Now, they would have a dispenser in their new water playground, and it would be filled with this particular favorite.

Jack placed the bottle in the sack from The Body Shop and moved towards the garage door that led to the hallway inside the house.  Just as he reached for the door, it opened.

~Crap!  It's Alex.  Doesn't he ever go home?  The house is supposed to be done.  Why is there always 'one more thing'?~

“Jack, what are you doing here this afternoon?” the designer asked.

“I used to live here, and I hope to again, soon, very soon in fact,” Jack responded a bit gruffly.  He was actually in a hurry, and he didn't want to spend time discussing the house or, for that matter, explaining his own presence in his house.  “What are *you* doing here?”

~Sometimes he doesn't make this easy.~  Answering frankly, Alex said, “Expediting your return home.  There are just a couple of loose ends to fix up, and having you here isn't going to expedite me doing my job.  Anything I can help you with?”

“No.  I just want to pop something into the bathroom.  I know Daniel's already seen the bathroom, but this is an additional surprise for him,” Jack said, briskly brushing by Alex and moving down the hallway.

“Jack, seriously, like I told you and Daniel on the phone the other day, Brent had a couple of problems, and Ben found a couple of issues we missed on the walk-through.  I'm trying to get everything wrapped up this weekend.  It would really be best if you'd just let me get things finished here.”

“Alex, is my house about to explode or something?” Jack asked suspiciously.

“No,” the designer asked.  “Look, I'm restricted in movement as it is by your friend doing the security, or at least, that's what I assume she's doing.  So, is there something I can do for you, so that you can get out of here, so that I can get back to my job, and try to get this house done for once and for all?”

~I have a headache,~ Jack thought, trying to take in the designer's very long and winding answer to his question.  “Alex, I don't have a lot of time here; I'm expected for a meeting, and I'd really prefer to do this myself.”

Jack walked past Alex, who shrugged and simply hoped whatever his client was going to do didn't result in additional headaches.  The house was so close to being one-hundred percent done.  Just another couple of hours, in fact.

“Sir,” Sam called out from the top of the stairs.

“Carter, I ...” Jack began, walking up a couple of steps but then finding himself with a face full blonde colonel.

Having come down the stairs hurriedly, Sam informed, “You can't come upstairs, not while I'm still working on ...”  Sam glanced at Alex and then completed her sentence.  “... things.”

~Things?~ Alex silently thought.  ~I know it's security, but I have to admit I'm curious about the extent of it.  She doesn't even want to discuss the basics, even in passing.  I wonder if ... Shut up, Alex; it's none of your business.~

“Carter, I only need to be up there for a couple of minutes, and ...”

Sam tugged on Jack's arm, pulling him towards the entranceway of the home as she quietly told him, “General, let me walk you to your truck ... please.”

As Sam was walking Jack to the door, Alex walked over and asked, “Jack, did you want me to handle ... that, whatever that is?”

Though he wasn't fond of the idea, Jack really did have to get to a meeting.  He also didn't want to get into the specifics with Sam standing there.

“Yeah, here.  Do your best,” Jack stated, handing over the bags to the designer.  “It's a dispenser and ...”

“I'll take care of it.  Soap, right?”

“Soap, shampoo ...”

“Good.  No problem,” Alex stated as he turned and headed for the kitchen where he'd been working before realizing Jack had arrived at the home.

“Don't worry, Jack.  Whatever this is, I'm sure I can figure it out and get it in place for you,” Alex spoke.

“Right,” Jack replied, feeling himself being pulled towards the front door. “Carter, why are you pulling on me?”

“Because you aren't moving,” Sam answered.

Jack let out a growl, but allowed himself to be ushered towards his Ford truck.

While her CO got into his vehicle, Sam explained, “I'm sorry for pushing you out, but I've been trying to get rid of Alex for over an hour.  I've got a circuit cross-wired some place, and I can't test the sensitivity of the motion sensors with anyone else moving around.  Go home, Sir, so I can get Alex out of here.”

“I'd love to, but I have a meeting to go to.”

“Frankly, Sir, I don't really care where you go, just as long as you go.”  Seeing Jack's glare, Sam added, “That ... didn't really come out right.”

“I get it, Carter.  However, about that dispenser ...”

Sam interrupted, “Alex will have time to do whatever he needs to for himself and for you.  I'll give him some time tomorrow morning to do what he needs to.  Now, I have several hours work ahead of me, so if you don't mind, would you, uh ...”

“Get lost?”

“Something like that,” Sam said, smiling.

“Later,” Jack said, starting the engine and backing out of the driveway.  Suddenly, a look of horror ran over his face.  ~The lube is with the ... oh crap!  Well, Alex is an open-minded adult, but ... crap!~

Jack didn't want to think about Alex finding the lube, though he did hope the designer followed through, installing the dispenser and filling the compartments appropriately.  Beyond that, he didn't even want to think about the possibility that Alex would fill the dispenser with lube.
//End of Flashback//

“Jack, if you didn't install the dispenser and fill it, who did?”  Daniel's answer came in the form of a meek look from his husband.  “Gawd, it was Alex.  Alex filled it up ... he ... he put in the lube. Didn't he, Jack?  Didn't ... oh, gawd!”

A distinct line of red started at the base of Daniel's neck and crept upward over his cheeks, his nose, his forehead, clear up to his scalp line.  The more he thought about it, the deeper his blush became.

Jack couldn't help himself as he remarked, “Danny, you're redder than the Kremlin!”  Seeing how speechless his lover was, Jack came to his own defense.  “Daniel, he knows we're married and what we do.”

“What we do?  Oh, gawd,” Daniel would have grown even redder, but his skin was already at its maximum.

Jack was chuckling slightly, feeling pretty good now that he was certain Daniel would let the subject drop.

“How could you do that, Jack?” Daniel suddenly asked as he tried to get a grip on the situation.  It might not seem like much to most people, but his personal life was, well, personal, and the thought of anyone even speculating about what he and Jack did embarrassed him.  “The freakin' lube?” he said in a tone of disbelief.

Daniel was so freaked he bolted from the bathroom and returned to the bedroom, Jack following a few steps behind.  While Jack felt the heat about to be redirected in his direction, he had already devised the answer -- deflect back.

“Danny, Love, about these lights and that curtain ...”  Jack's eyes were sparkling with mischief.  “Just how did you make this little addition happen?”

“I, uh, I ... I talked to ... oh, gawd.”

“Alex?  And you just said, 'Alex, I want some theater lights and a seductive curtain?”

Daniel was on the verge of turning three shades of red again, and his complexion was only now returning to its normal skin-tone.

~Oh, no you don't, O'Neill!~  Daniel forced himself to focus on Jack's actions and not his own.  “Jack, don't change the subject.”

~Crap.  Deflection failed.~  Jack attempted simple avoidance.  “It's not important, Danny.  We don't need to talk about it anymore.”

“Yes, we do.  What exactly did you tell Alex about the ... the lube?” Daniel questioned.

Smiling and refusing to give up, the older man decided to fight fire with fire.

“Love,” Jack 'the spider' said to Daniel 'the fly'.  “What did you say to Alex about what this curtain was for, and, for that matter, how sheer did you ask for this curtain to be, and why?” he asked, walking over to the pilaster that concealed the curtain.

~He can be so infuriating,~ Daniel whined inwardly before reverting to a Jack tactic himself.  “I don't want to talk about this,” he said, fiddling with the belt to his pants as he evaded the conversation.

“Who's talking?” Jack said, his shoulders raising slightly as he spoke.

“Not you, but you're going to,” Daniel said.  “Jack, why didn't you just bring the lube with you this afternoon, and what did *you* say to Alex about why you wanted an entire section of the dispenser filled with it?”

Jack's collar felt like it was strangling him.  He reached up to loosen it, until he realized his shirt wasn't even buttoned at the top.  Things were heating up, only not the way he wanted.

“Jack?”

“Daniel.”

“Jack!”

“Daniel.”

“JACK!”

Just then the two men heard the sound of the door chime.  They'd never had a doorbell before, only the door knocker.

Jack smiled as he happily said, “Saved by the bell,” and moved towards the bedroom doorway.

Fastening his shirt, Daniel retorted, “Your bell is cracked.”

Unable to resist, Jack returned to his lover, kissed him, and said, “You can fill my crack anytime.”

Immensely pleased with himself, Jack hurried down the stairs, leaving Daniel just shaking his head.

“He's so bad,” Daniel spoke aloud.  Smiling, he added, “And he's so mine, and I so want him.  My Silver Fox ...”

“Daniel, are you coming?”

“Not the way I'd like to be,” Daniel stated softly as he approached the stairs.  “Be right there,” he yelled.  Their afternoon of romance was over, for today. ~Just another day, maybe two, and we're home for good.~

====

“General, where are the children?” Daniel asked as he walked into the living room.

It was late afternoon on Wednesday, and, after a couple more unexpected delays, this was the day when Jack and Daniel were going to show off their renovated home to the children.

“Jack took them out front; they're excited,” Hammond answered.

Daniel sighed, “It's been a long time, Sir.  I think we're all excited.”

“They're going to love their surprise; it sounds fabulous, Son; you'll have your hands full once they see that.”

“We hope so,” Daniel responded.  “Have a good evening, General.”

Hammond nodded and watched as Daniel turned and walked outside.  The brood were already seated in the SUV, anxiously waiting.

“Hurry, Daddy,” Aislinn called out.  “Wanna see my new room!”

“There's no furniture or anything in there yet, Ash,” Jack reminded her.

The majority of the renovated section of house was not yet furnished.  While Sam's installation of the security system was completed, she still needed to do one final check of the very complex and secretive security system.

“Want to see my new room!” the toddler insisted.

“You will, Ash,” Daniel said as he climbed inside and put on his seatbelt.  “Hit the road, Jack,” Daniel said, looking over at Jack with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Funny, Daniel.”

Daniel chuckled as Jack started the SUV.  The children cheered as they began what was, in their eyes, the all-too-long, journey home.  Their September visit hadn't included the inside of the house, nor had they been allowed to explore any of the backyard.  All they had seen at that time was the new tree  house Jack had built for Daniel.

“Woof!”

Hearing the familiar sound, Daniel looked back.  Safely situated in the SUV were Bijou, Katie, and Mittens.

Daniel looked over at Jack, who shrugged in submission.  He hadn't been able to refuse his children's request that the 'whole' family go for the walk-through.

“Didn't you bring Bogey?” Jack questioned curiously as he began to back out of the driveway.

“I have Bogey,” Jonny responded, holding up a small travel cage that held his beloved lizard.

“I have Homer,” Jenny added, holding a small fish bowl containing the colorful fish.

The younger kids were disappointed that they couldn't bring all the fish, but Jack had reached a compromise and agreed they could pick one fish to take with them.  Then that fish could tell all the other fish about the new house when they got back.  The brood unanimously agreed that Homer was the fish to take.

“And I have Munk,” Little Danny said, clutching a cardboard box containing the injured chipmunk he had found a few days ago.  He'd insisted that 'Munk' come to see the new house as well, even if the chipmunk was likely to be fully healed and released before they moved back in.  “He excited,” he added enthusiastically.

Hearing the announcement, Jack stopped the SUV and communicated, **Danny, are you going to tell him that Munk is a little more than just 'excited' with a cat not two feet away?**

**Jack, behave!**

“Dad, why stop?” Aislinn asked.

**I'm serious, Daniel.  That rat could die of a coronary before we get there,** the older man warned.  “Just taking care of some business, Princess.  Daniel.”

**It's a chipmunk, Jack.**

**It's just a rat in a cuter outfit to me, but it's pheasant under glass to Mittens,** the wise general said pointedly.

Daniel looked at Mittens, who had one paw on Munk's box.  Mittens licked her chops.

“Look, Daddy, Mittens want to pet Munk!”

“*No!*  Don't open that box!” Daniel warned sharply, ignoring the smug expression on his husband's face.  “Here, I'll take Mittens, and, uh, I'll be right back,” he said, heading back to the house as Jack turned off the engine.  He quickly took Mittens inside and placed her in her carrier, thereby preventing any chance of some tragic accident that evening.  “Okay, let's go,” he said upon settling back into his seat.

“Are you sure?” Jack asked with smirk.

“Jack, drive,” Daniel ordered.  **You were right.  Happy now?**

**Thank you, Love,** Jack chuckled, starting the SUV's engine again.

“Mittens no need carrier,” Aislinn both whined and pouted.

“Ash, do you want to risk losing Mittens?  She could jump out of your arms because she wants to explore.  The fence isn't up yet,” Daniel pointed out.

“No, Daddy, love Mittens,” the little girl said, putting her head on the carrier.

“Me, too,” Daniel responded with a smile.  “That's why she's in her carrier.  So ... dogs on leashes, and all other pets contained.  Everybody ready to see our house?”  **Jack, is it our new house, or our old house?** he wondered.

**It's just our house, Danny, and with you and all our children and critters there, it's home.**

~Geez, I love this family,~ Daniel happily and silently chimed.

“Ready!” the children called out in scattered voices.

“Then aaaaaaaawaaaaaaaaaaay, we go!” Jack exclaimed excitedly as he pulled out of the driveway en route to their 'home, sweet home' destination.

====

“We're home!” Jack said enthusiastically as he pulled into the driveway.

Jack and Daniel did their best to contain their children, but the brood was anxious.

“Hey, make sure pet monitors are paying attention,” Jack warned.  He really wasn't worried about Bijou and Katie, but he did have concerns about Mittens and Bogey.  “Jonny, Aislinn, do you hear me?”

“Yes, Dad,” both children answered dutifully as they held their respective pets.

“And Little Danny, you have to keep Munk in his box, or he'll get away, and we'd never find him.”

“Nooooo!”  Little Danny looked down at the box and made sure the lid was secure.  “He here!”

“He still needs a couple more days to heal, Son, so don't even peek inside the box while we're here, okay?”

“Okay, Dad,” Little Danny agreed.

“Here we go,” Daniel said, first entering a security code into the pad at the front door and then unlocking the door and walking inside.

“We home!” Chenoa said, running into the living room and plopping on the sofa.  While the new section of the house was chiefly unfurnished still, the original house still had some of its furniture out.  Conveniently, Alex had uncovered the sofa and some of the furniture pieces earlier so that the children could do exactly what Chenoa had -- walk in and know they were home.  “Hi, Sofa!” she exclaimed lovingly.

“Okay, we have a lot to see,” Jack said.  “We'll start with the upstairs so you can see your new rooms.”

“Careful going up the stairs,” Daniel said to Ricky and Jenny who were moving a bit too fast.  “No running!  Remember the rules!”

====

The children loved their new bedrooms, and Aislinn and Jenny especially loved their new beds, which were actually the two handcrafted toddler beds that the lovers had been gifted with before the birth of the Munchkins.  They'd had them in storage until now.

With the brood having given their seal of approval for the new bedroom arrangements, the parents showed the children the new clothes pantry and then led them to the library room, a small room that would be full of reference books and novels.  There was one table in it with two chairs.  Daniel explained that atop the table would be one laptop and a few writing supplies.  There were also hookups for two more computers or laptops.

As Daniel continued to talk, Jen walked out, returning to the clothes pantry.

Jack followed her inside and teased, “Anxious to the do the laundry, Jen?”

“No, but I was just thinking how perfect this room would be for ...”  Jennifer stopped, suddenly staring down at the floor.  She smiled weakly as she looked up at her father and shrugged.  “I don't know.”

“Jen, Danny and I were considering buying a sewing machine.”

“A sewing machine?” Jennifer asked, her face exuding the smile that was obvious by the form of her mouth.  “Are you serious?”  Jack shook his head, causing the teen to let out a sorrowful sigh.  “Oh, I guess I misunderstood.”

“No, Jen, what I'm shaking my head at is that you didn't tell us that you like to sew.”

“Oh, well, I ... Dad, it's just ... Mom, she ... I didn't ... I mean for a while, I wanted to forget.”

“Your mom was very creative, wasn't she?”

“Very artsy.  She made things all the time -- knitting, crocheting, crafts.  You know how much Noa loves that little unicorn.  We had gifts from Mom all the time -- just little things.  She, um, taught me to sew when I was Noa's age, and we used to do it together all the time.  Mom was very good.  She probably could have been a professional.”

“So you do like to sew?”

“Yes, very much, but after Mom and Dad died, I think that was the one thing I couldn't deal with.  I had my own little sewing machine that sat next to Mom's.”  Jennifer paused as she brought back memories she had shut out of her mind for a few years.  “It's funny to think about, but, at first, when I was really little, all I had was a small toy chain stitch sewing machine.  I spent hours and hours playing with that little Singer machine.  Then they got me a toy lock, um, straight-stitch machine, and after that a portable straight-stitch machine.”

“You moved on up,” Jack commented lightly, just to let Jennifer know he was listening.

“The year before they died, I was so proud because they gave me Mom's full-size zig-zag when she upgraded to a stretch-stitch machine.  Sometimes, I'd look up after finishing a hem, and I'd see Mom smiling at me.”  Jennifer was far away for a moment, recalling happy times with her birth mother.  Back in the moment, she continued, “I have no idea what happened to any of those machines.”

“Someone probably sold them, Jen,” Jack assumed.

“Probably.”  After being silent for a minute, the teenager stated, “I miss it, Dad, but I guess for a while, I just had to keep that between Mom and I.  Does that make any sense?”

“Yes, Princess, it does,” Jack sighed as he moved to embrace his daughter. “Would you like to go shopping with us and pick out a machine that your mom would be proud of?”

“Can I, Dad?” Jennifer asked as she backed slightly.

“You sure can.  Uh, Jen, if you're okay with it, we'd like you to help us do some mending and ...”

“Oh, I'd love to, and can I make some clothes for the brood?  Please, Dad?”

“Sure, but, Princess, if you get tired of it, you tell us.  Promise?” Jack requested.

“I promise.  Thank you, Dad,” Jennifer said, sinking into another warm hug.

“You're welcome.  Come on.  Let's go see what's happening with the others.”

Smiling, both Jack and Jennifer rejoined the rest of the family.

====

Having shown the children almost everything that was in the new upstairs, the lovers were about to guide their kids to the lower level.  They just had to wait for three of them to finish exploring their new bathrooms.

As they waited, Daniel whispered to Jack, “I'm going to show Jen her surprise now, okay?”

“Sure.  I'll keep the brood in the rec room.”

Daniel nodded and moved to stand behind Jennifer who was watching Jonny slide along the vacant wood floor of his new room.  He considered stopping it, but changed his mind.  The carpet for this room had been unexpectedly delayed and would be put in as soon as possible during the week.

~He'll be so disappointed when the ... skating floor is gone!~  Still smiling, Daniel refocused on Jennifer.  He tapped her on the shoulder.  “Jen, would you come with me, please?  I want to show you something.”

“Okay, Daddy.”  Jennifer followed Daniel to a small nook-like area.  “Wow, what's this?”

“Dad's been calling it the Bird's Nest.”

“Bird's Nest?”

Daniel explained, “Well, see, we thought this space might be a special place for you and your sisters, or maybe some girlfriends when they come over.”

Jennifer sat down on the cozy window seat and looked out.  Her view was that of shade trees along their street.  Then she noticed the quilt on the quilt rack.

“Oh, Daddy, this is beautiful,” the girl said as she ran her hands along the item.

Daniel sat down next to his daughter as she took the quilt off the rack and examined it.

“It's handmade,” the archaeologist informed.  “Do you remember I told you about a foster sister I, well, sort of met again a few years ago?” he asked.

“Nellie.  She was a baby when you were in their home.”

“That's right,” Daniel confirmed.  “Since that time, we've exchanged Christmas cards and talked on the phone a few times; not much, but enough to keep some contact.  The last time we talked, I told her about the renovation, and she sent this last week as a sort of housewarming present.  She said it was in remembrance of all things good.”

Jennifer smiled as she held the quilt close and expressed, “Look, Daddy, everything on here, all the images, are good things -- a family, children, books, the sun, a smile.”  She laughed, “It's perfect.  I love it.”

“It's a good place to just be alone or ...”

“Cuddle up to read a good book, let the sunshine in, or ... or just think.  I'm really glad we have it.  Thank you for putting this here, Daddy.”

“I thought you might like a ... a private place.  We have the quiet room, but this is just a ... a ...”

“A bird's nest for all of us chirping birds,” Jennifer deduced correctly.

“Jen, just so you know, it really wasn't my idea, or Dad's.”

“Alex?  Gee, he's the neatest.”

“No, it wasn't him, either, though his contributions to the renovation are incredible,” Daniel noted.

“Then whose idea was it?” the teen inquired.

“Kayla's.”

Jennifer smiled upon hearing the name of the young women who, as a surrogate, had given birth to the Munchkins and the twins, and then later been killed in a tragic car accident.

“How?” the teenager asked, loving the room even more now.

“Remember the letters she wrote to all of us?”

“Oh, yes.  I kept mine.”

“Me, too.  She, uh, said something in one of hers to me.  It was just a reminder that little girls grow up and that they need their own special place,” Daniel explained.

“Kayla was an incredible woman, Daddy.  I hope I can be like her.”

Smiling, Daniel leaned over and placed a kiss on Jennifer's cheek, after which he said, “Jen, you're pretty incredible right now, as yourself.”

“Thanks, Daddy,” Jennifer said as she beamed a bright smile.

“I'll let you show this spot to your sisters, okay?”

“I will.”

“By the way, we'll make sure your brothers know that this room is 'girls only',” Daniel promised.

“Thanks, Daddy,” the teenager spoke appreciatively.  “Something tells me that Jonny won't be to happy about that, though.”

“Life is hard,” Daniel chuckled, thinking he was sounding like his husband again. “We'd better rejoin the others.  Go downstairs and listen for the noise,” he advised with a chuckle.

Jennifer returned the quilt to the rack and hurried to join the rest of her family on the first level of their home.

Daniel leaned forward, his mind wandering, slowly making its way back to the part of Kayla's letter that was the example for the Bird's Nest.

//Exercpt from Kayla's Letter to Daniel//
I know the babies are going to grow up to be wonderful human beings.  You and Jack will see to that.  They're going to be surrounded by love, and that is the most important thing.  Daniel, you and Jack are terrific parents, but try as you might, you're both men, so please, hear what I'm saying with your heart.  You may know what's best for those three precious boys, but Ash and Jenny are girls.  Yes, I know you know that, but you need to understand that girls are different.

Okay, I sound silly, but trust me, they need their own space.  Ask Jen about it sometime.  In another year or two, she'll be screaming for independence, and no matter how much she loves her family, she's going to feel hemmed in.  Give her room.  Find a way, and let her lead the way for Noa, Ash, and Jenny.

If I were there, with you, I'd try to explain it.  Maybe ask Sam or Janet about it sometime before too much time passes.  Oh, and Daniel, it's not about size.  Well, this isn't, but, boy oh boy, other things definitely are!  This, though, is about being a girl and needing a space that's just for her.
//End of Excerpt//

~Thanks, Kayla.~

Daniel stood and moved to rejoin his husband and their family for the rest of the tour of their renovated home.

====

When Daniel caught up with the rest of the family in the rec room, Jack had already lowered the big screen and was explaining that tonight they could all watch a movie while they ate pizza, popcorn, and ice cream.

“Jack!”

**The nation of two is a united front, remember?  Do you want to contradict me now?**

Sixteen eyes, eighteen if you counted Jack's, twenty-two if you counted the dog's, stared at Daniel waiting for the verdict.

**Geez, Jack, even Mittens is looking at me like I'm the executioner, ready to axe their fun.  You are so going to pay.**

**What say ye, Lord High Executioner?** Jack asked cockily.

Daniel took one more look at the pleading eyes.  He could tell how much the children liked the idea of a family night for this evening.

~It's the pizza, popcorn, and ice cream they want,~ Daniel mused silently.  ~Oh, well.~  He smiled, asking, “Okay, how many want pepperoni?”

Daniel counted hands for various toppings and ice cream flavors.  Just then the doorbell rang.

~Doorbell?  What the...?~  Daniel couldn't understand who would be at their door; they weren't moved back in yet; this was just the walk-through for the children.  “I'll get it,” he said.  At the door, he began to look through the peephole, but then remembered their new security system.  Pushing a button on the intercom, he asked, “Who is it, please?”

“UPS.”

“We're not expecting anything.  Who is it from?”

Daniel moved to the side wall of the closet in the front entranceway just outside the kitchen.  On the wall was an innocuous-looking chalkboard and nearby, a separate clear container was mounted for chalk.  Daniel lifted the chalkboard on hidden hinges to a stationary position, revealing some of Sam's best security handiwork -- one large monitor and five smaller ones, along with a console that controlled them.

At the moment, the main monitor was focused on the front porch.  Daniel viewed a man in the usual brown UPS uniform, standing on their stoop with three rather large boxes stacked beside him.

“It's addressed to General and Doctor Jackson-O'Neill.  The label says 'Fabrications, Inc.', care of Alex Dennison.”

“Just a moment, please.”

Daniel pushed a button on the console, and the five tiny screens rotated their images onto the larger one.  Images appeared in five-second intervals as six cameras panned their protective eyes back and forth.

Having left Jennifer in charge of the brood, Jack appeared in the entranceway, asking who was at the door.

“UPS.”

“Tell him we'll pick them up,” the older man instructed.

“It's okay; he's alone.  Everything looks fine,” Daniel said.

Always cautious, Jack asked, “Did you zoom in from each camera?”

“It was sent by Alex, whatever it is.  Speaking of Alex ...”

Jack scanned the screens and, satisfied it really was UPS, said jovially, “Can't keep the man waiting, Danny.  Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night and all that.”

“That's the U.S. *Postal* Service, Jack; he's from United Parcel.”

“Close enough, sort of like dispensers and lights, right?” Jack asked snarkily.

Daniel contemplated his options and sighed as his shoulders slumped in resignation.

“Okay, okay.  We'll both drop it.  Now, answer the freakin' door before he leaves!”

“Always ordering me around,” Jack chuckled as he headed for the door.

“Glad you know who the boss is, Babe,” Daniel said with a coy smile.

Jack considered a retort back, but changed his mind.  The truth was that he was a slave to Daniel's love; it wasn't debatable; it was a simple fact of life for him.

Whistling, Jack opened the door and took the pad from the UPS driver to sign for the three large parcels.

The boxes were large but not heavy.  Jack and Daniel each carried one to the rec room.

“What's in them?  Dad, Daddy?” asked Jennifer.

“We're not really sure.  Something Alex ordered from a place called Fabrications,” Daniel answered.

Jack pulled out his Swiss Army pocket knife and carefully slit the top seam of the box. The contents swelled several inches above the box top.

Inside, folded tightly and crammed, were three quilted comforters six-feet square each along with six slipcovers made out of what appeared to be bed sheets.

The third box was fetched from the front hall.  Its contents and those of the second were identical to the first.

“Danny?” Jack asked as the two men stood close to each other.

“Jack, we made so many decisions.  I vaguely remember a discussion about not putting a rug down and what to do so the brood could lay on the floor and watch TV.  We agreed on something.  Uh, this must be it,” Daniel said with a smile.

“They look comfortable, Daddy,” Jennifer commented.

Jennifer and David had already slipped two of the comforters inside the covers and were working on the third.

“There must be some washing instructions somewhere,” Daniel said.

“Look at the tags,” David stated.  “Machine Wash Medium and Tumble Dry,”

“Gotta love that,” Jack piped.

“Pizza now?” Jenny asked, the thrill of comforters not really exciting the toddler.

“In a little bit, Princess.  Daddy has all the orders, but first, Daddy and I have a special surprise for all of you.”

“S'prise?” Jenny asked, jumping up and down.

All the youngsters couldn't wait to see what their fathers had for them.

“Come on, Kids,” Jack said eagerly.  He was surprised when the cheers and laughs were invaded by a little sob.  He felt his arm being tugged on.  When he turned back, Jennifer had thrown herself into Daniel's arms and was motioning for him to join them in a three-way embrace, which he did.  “What's wrong, Princess?” he asked as he rubbed her back.

With Jack and Daniel now standing side-by-side, Jennifer tried to compose herself to speak, but she was still too overcome with emotion to do so.

As Jack and Daniel had always done with their children, they encouraged her to let everything out, knowing she would be able to express her feelings in a few moments.

“Jen, you sad?” Ricky asked.

While Jack and Daniel were comforting the teenager, the other seven members of their brood had affixed themselves to their parents and their older sister.

Jennifer took a few gulps, then a few breaths, then a few sighs, and finally, she was able to look at her parents with tear-filled eyes.

“I'm not sad, Ricky,” Jennifer answered first.  Then she spoke to her parents.  “You guys are the best parents in the world.  I never thought we would ever have a home at all, let alone anything even close to this.  I was so scared David, Noa, and I would be separated and never see each other again.  We could have ended up like Daddy and been shoved from place to place, with nobody to love us and take care of us.”  She let out a few more quiet sobs as she leaned against Jack; then spoke, “I'm sorry, Daddy, I didn't mean to say all that about ...”

“Jen, that's my past.  It's okay.  Look what I've got now,” Daniel said reassuringly.

The teenager sobbed some more.

“Princess, it's okay.  Daddy and I understand.  You're safe now.  This is your home, and it always will be,” Jack said softly as he cradled his daughter's head against him.  He glanced at the rest of his children and added, “That goes for all of you.”

“We have great home, Jen,” Little Danny opined.

“I know, Little Danny,” Jennifer responded with a smile on her face.

“Feel better now, Princess?” Jack crooned.
 
“Yes, but ...”

“But what, Jen?” Daniel asked, still wrapping one arm around her shoulder.
 
“We are so lucky, Dad, Daddy, to have such loving parents, and such a beautiful home.  I still can't believe you did all this for us.  I feel so sorry for all those kids in the shelters still who don't have a home or parents.  The next time you guys volunteer at the shelter, can I go along and help?”

The entire Jackson-O'Neill clan was still in group-hug mode.  Jack and Daniel looked at each other, seeing mist in each other's eyes.

**Angel, we don't dare break down and cry or our whole brood will be one weepy mess.**

**I'm so proud of Jennifer right now.**

**I am, too.  She's been there, Danny.  I'm glad she wants to give a little something back.**

**It's what we've been trying to teach them; she's going to set a great example for them.**

Jack looked at his daughter square in the eye and said, “We are so proud of you, and I'm sure your mom and dad are, too.”

“So I can volunteer, too?”

Daniel responded, “We'll talk to them the next time we go, see what kind of opportunities are there, and set something up, if you're sure.”

“I'm sure, Daddy; I'm very sure,” Jennifer said through her sniffles.

Daniel nodded as Jack kissed her forehead.

Jack lifted his eyes heavenward and silently said, ~Thank you, for giving us a daughter like this ... well, for all of them, actually!~

“Hey,” Daniel said, feeling it was time to move on.  “Anyone want to see the surprise room?”

Tears forgotten, the brood shouted a chorus of 'yeses' that filled the rec room with happiness.

====

Jack led the family over to one of the rooms in the new part of the house that was just off the rec room.  The door was purposely closed.

Turning to face their brood, Jack smiled and requested, “Everyone, close your eyes.” He shook his head, seeing Daniel had closed his, too.  **Not you, Angel; you've seen this, remember?**

**Oh, sorry, I forgot,** Daniel communicated, trying to hold in a chuckle.

“Everybody join hands,” Jack instructed.

All eight Jackson-O'Neill children filed into the new room, clutching one another's hands in excitement.

“Okay, on the count of three, you can open your eyes.  One ... two ... *three*!  Open your eyes!,” Jack exclaimed with a thrill of anticipation.

Their mouths gaping and eyes popping, the children beheld the game room which Jack and Daniel had created just for them.  There were simultaneous one-word exclamations -- “Wow!” “Whoa!” “Cool!” “Neato!” “Awesome!” “Excellent!” “Tubular!” “Ferocious!”

In one corner of the room, there was an air hockey table, complete with a custom step-stool at each end so even the twins could play.  There was also a game table with a removable top that stored a chess set, checkers, backgammon, and Parcheesi.
 
Along one side of the room, the carpet stopped short of the wall, and there was a long, narrow lane of highly polished wood with bowling decals and duckpins set at one end.

A foosball table stood at the ready.

The final corner of the carpet was occupied by a ferocious-looking seven-and-a-half-foot dinosaur.

**Jack, when did you add the dinosaur?**

**Last night during the ice cream run.  I smuggled him into the garage a few days ago,** Jack answered.

**No wonder you insisted on getting some ice cream for Mrs. Valissi, but, Babe, *why* do we have a ... a giant dinosaur in the game room?** Daniel questioned.

**All boys love dinosaurs.  Remember all the adventures that ...**  While the kids were checking out their new playground, Jack suddenly gave his husband a small smile.  No matter how happy Daniel was now, there would always be the sadness of his youth embedded deep within him.  **You never played with dinosaurs, did you, Danny?**

**No,** Daniel sighed.  His eyes, however, remained focused on his husband.  **I read a few books about them, though.**

**Trust me, Angel, little boys love dinosaurs.  I'm sorry about what I said, er, thought ... I mean ...**

**Jack, it's okay.  That was a long time ago; it's another lifetime.**

Jack nodded and opined, **Gotta have dinosaurs, Love.**

**But a seven ...**

The parents' near-telepathic conversation was interrupted by the middle Munchkin, who had just spied the dinosaur.

Little Danny ran over to it, exclaiming, “It's a Velociraptor!  He's smart, one of the smartest dinosaurs ever!  They hunted 'gether for better 'ficency, and were really fast!  He have very sharp teeth.  Where teeth?” he asked, looking up at the top of the dinosaur.  “There!  See?  Big teeth!  Big brain, too.”

**Danny, where's the off button?  Love him to pieces, but ...**

Daniel chuckled, **Hey, you said they'd love it; looks like Little Danny does.  I have a hunch, Babe, you're about to learn a lot about Velociraptors!**

Jack cocked his head in capitulation, but he didn't mind.  It's what he wanted.  Little boys love dinosaurs, and he knew they'd love this little, ~er, big,~ addition to the game room.

At that point, Jenny looked up and cried at the sight of the green-scaled behemoth towering over her.

“It's okay, Jenny.  He not eat us.  See?” Little Danny said calmly as he hugged the replica's leg, laying his head against it.

Jenny stared with disbelief, expecting her brother to be devoured at any second.  Almost two minutes ticked by, Little Danny still wrapped around the stuffed creature's leg, waiting for his sister to see that it wasn't alive.  Jack and Daniel had said nothing, each choosing to just watch and observe.  Jenny had stopped crying, and while she was still visibly upset, Little Danny was continuing to talk to her, letting her see that the tall creature wasn't a threat.

All of a sudden, Jenny accepted the creature wasn't a danger, and at the same time, she copped an attitude about it.

“He no eat you, Lil' Danny.”

Little Danny smiled, sure he'd convinced his baby sister that the dinosaur was her friend.

“But I no like it,” Jenny said, then turned her back and walked away.

“We like it!” Jonny exclaimed.

In fact, all of the boys loved the tall mascot, and soon, they decided that the dinosaur needed a name.

“Godzilla,” David suggested.

“Killer,” Jonny offered.

“Beast,” Ricky stated.

“I like Barney,” Chenoa said, not really participating in the discussion, but she had heard them talking and decided to throw in her name choice.

“Not Barney,” Jonny responded.  “Barney on TV.”

“How about Dino?” Jack suggested with a smile.

David laughed, “Dino Flintstone, Dad?”

“What's wrong with that?” Jack asked, extending his arms out to the side for a moment.

Ignoring Jack's comment, the four boys continued to toss out names for a minute, but then Little Danny saw Jenny standing over by Daniel.  She didn't seem afraid, but at the same time, she had latched on to Daniel's leg and liked the safety and comfort Daniel gave her by gently caressing the top of her head.

Little Danny told his brothers, “Jenny 'fraid of Dino.”

Jack grinned at Little Danny's usage of his nickname contribution.

“Maybe if she name it, she no be afraid,” Little Danny suggested.

“Okay,” Jonny agreed.

Though David and Ricky nodded their heads in agreement, David warned, “But she might name it 'Barney' or something silly like that.”

“Not 'Barney',” Jonny insisted.

“Hafta let Jenny name him so not be 'fraid,” Little Danny maintained, stamping his foot slightly for emphasis.

Jonny let out a 'hmmph' sound, but went along with their decision.

“Jenny,” Little Danny called out.  “Need you help us.  We no 'gree on a name. You name him for us?”

Jenny looked up at Daniel who smiled and told her, “Go on, Princess.  The boys need you to help.”

Jenny nodded and released her hold on Daniel.  Slowly, she walked back over to the large beast, taking in all seven-and-a-half feet of the green scaled mock predator with its fake razor-like talons and teeth.  She stood there for a good two minutes, evaluating several options silently, until finally, she made her choice.

“Muffin!” Jenny exclaimed.

“Muffin?” Jack mouthed.

The children hadn't noticed, but Daniel had.

**Jack!**

“We call him Muffin!” Jenny stated firmly.

Four young males suppressed a groan.

~Aw, shucks,~ Jonny thought.  ~Muffin no name for Dino!~

~Maybe she think of 'nother name.  Jonny no like calling a big, 'rocious Velociraptor Muffin,~ Little Danny thought.

~That's what we get for trusting a girl,~ David thought.  He and his brothers exchanged another look.  They weren't happy about it, but they knew they had to keep their promise.  “Okay, Muffin it is.  Thank you, Jenny.”

~Muffin! A dinosaur named Muffin!~ Jack thought hysterically.

The older father turned his back to the boys and brought his right hand to his mouth, literally biting on his fist as he worked hard not to laugh out loud.

**Jack, behave!**

**Danny, they named him *Muffin*, for crying out loud.  Geez, what could be worse?**

**Barney?** Daniel offered silently.

Jack was a lost cause.  He drew his hands to his abdomen as he doubled over.  He ached as he tried not to laugh.

“Dad, you sick?” Chenoa asked.

“Noooooo, Prin...cess.”

Jack straightened and managed to regain his composure, in large part due to the continuing glare his husband was giving him.

Fortunately, the boys were oblivious to Jack's behavior.

“Yeah, thanks, Jenny,” Little Danny said.  “Muffin say thanks, too!”

“He does?”  Jenny looked at her brother who was still by Muffin's leg.  She walked to the opposite leg, petted it, and then said, “No 'fraid of you now, Muffin.”

Little Danny smiled, and then he and the others began to take in the rest of their new playroom.
 
The open shelves and cubbyholes held the children's toys and games, with plenty of room for new additions.  There were three different pin ball machines of varying skill levels as well, including one based on 'The Simpsons'.  Plus, the center of the floor was occupied by a pint-size indoor basketball hoop, the carpet having a foul line and a semi-circle inlaid in front of it.

“This is like the best Christmas ever!” David exclaimed, running over to hug Jack and Daniel.

“Speaking of which, you kids remember this at Christmas time.  Daddy and I spent a ton more on the house than we intended, and there are a lot of things we still have to buy for your rooms, so, in a way, the house is an early Christmas to all of us,” Jack said.

“Are we rich?” Chenoa asked, surprising her parents.

**Not any more!** Jack quipped silently.  Then he looked around the room at the eight faces of their children.  In the rec room, he heard Bijou and Katie playing, and he knew the cat and lizard were nearby.  Jack's smile grew as he gazed at his lover.  “I'm the richest man I know,” he said aloud.  “I have Daddy and all of you, plus Bij, Katie, and Mittens.”

“And Bogey!” Jonny piped up.

“And Bogey,” Jack added.

“And Homer 'n' other fishies,” Jenny reminded.

“And all the fishies,” Jack said, smiling down at his youngest daughter.

“And Munk,” Little Danny said, determined that his temporary pet not be left out.

“And Munk,” Jack chuckled as he ruffled his son's hair.  “We're very, very fortunate, each and every one of us.”

“God Bless us, every one?” quoted Daniel.

“Yeah.  Yeah.  You took the words right out of my mouth, Angel.  God Bless us, every one!”

====

With the renovation on their home finally completed, all the security systems checked and double-checked, the fence up to secure the perimeter, and the wayward carpeting in place, the Jackson-O'Neills had spent the last week moving back in.  Most of the same family of friends that had helped them temporarily move out had also assisted in returning things to their proper place within the home.

Jack had retrieved his weaponry from storage at Andy's house.  With the children not having been at home during one morning, he'd taken the opportunity to clean and check each item to make sure they were still fully functional and with appropriate safeties and/or covers attached.  Then he had placed each item into its assigned place in the special cabinet that Sam had designed for them in Daniel's den.

When all was said and done, Jack and Daniel had been relieved that Sam's solution to the gun cabinet move wasn't terribly complicated.  Instead of the opening sliding into the closet of the master bedroom a tad, it now slid into the wall that separated Daniel's den from the new corridor which connected the old and new parts of the house.

Sam had chuckled slightly when she revealed her solution, having said, “Seems a shame to tear up a new wall, but it's necessary, Guys.”

“What do we need to do?” Daniel had asked.

“Tell Alex the wall needs to be double thick, and the corridor ceiling has to be seven-feet tall for the first few feet,” Sam had explained.  “If you need more specifics, have Alex call me.”

“We'll take care of it. Thanks, Carter,” Jack had spoken.

“It's really a wonderful piece of artwork, Sam.  Thank you again for creating it for us,” Daniel had praised.

Thus, with a little covert remodeling of the 'new' wall, the gun cabinet was back in place and fully operational.

Even though the family was still arranging new furniture and decorating so it was a bit daring, Jack and Daniel had decided they wanted to host a large Thanksgiving feast for their closest family of friends.  They had placed several calls of invitation and were thrilled with the response.

Now, the day was here -- Thanksgiving Day, 2009 -- and happiness seemed to be everywhere.

“I can't wait to take a bite of that turkey.  It smells so good, and I'm starved,” Sam said, smiling as she chatted with her fiancé, Pete Shanahan, Janet, and Mrs. Valissi.

Mrs. Valissi laughed and took in the inviting aromas of turkey, stuffing, candied yams, and pumpkin pie that filtered through the air of the kitchen and living room.

“My mouth is watering,” Janet said.  “Are you sure it's really Jack and Daniel cooking?” the petite doctor asked.

“That's a good question.  Knowing the general ...”

“Yes, Carter?” Jack said, having overheard the conversation.  He slid in between her and Pete, placing one arm around each of them.  He smirked at Janet.  “Are you trying to say Daniel and I can't cook a bird?”

“No, Sir, not ... exactly.”

“It's not too late,” Jack stated solemnly.

“Too late?” Sam asked, her face slightly flushed from being caught criticizing her hosts' cooking skills, regardless of whether or not they were accurate.

“KFC is open; Shanahan here could get you two some chicken.  So, Pete, do you like thighs or legs, or do you prefer breasts?”

Pete smiled, raised his glass that had been filled with punch, and asked, “Refill?”

Jack laughed, took his glass, and headed into the dining area of the kitchen to refill Pete's drink.

====

One by one, as the guests arrived, the heavenly scent of the Butterball turkey lured them to the kitchen.  Jack and/or Daniel would shoo them away, but the sniffing noses and grumbling stomachs made it clear that the guests were definitely ready to enjoy a good meal.

“Jack, it's crowded in there,” Daniel said, peeking around his husband into the very-full living room.

“They've forgotten we've enlarged this place!”
 
“That, or they want to eat the bird as soon he's done,” Daniel theorized.

Jack chuckled as his hand warmed Daniel's back and then said, “I'm going to see if I can interest them in a tour of the hospitality room and then move them out onto the patio!”

“We lucked out, Jack.  It's a really nice day.”

“I lucked out,” Jack whispered just before leaning in and kissing his husband.

Daniel melted under the adoration.  He brought his hand to Jack's face, his thumb caressing gently along his lover's strong chin.  His eyes spoke paragraphs as they gazed into Jack's.  Verbally, he said nothing; he didn't need to.

“Um, so, how are you going to move the crowd out?”

“With my usual subtle charm,” the older man replied.

“Oh.  I'd, uh, like to see that.  I mean, subtle isn't a word I'd use to describe how you, uh, take charge,” Daniel responded.

“Watch and learn, Love,” Jack smirked.  Jack walked to the edge of the dining area, standing near the counter.  He rubbed his hands together and bounced slightly on his feet.  Speaking with a raised voice, he said, “Ladies and Germs, what do we have behind Door Number One?”

“What door, Uncle Jack?” Cassandra asked.

“When did you grow up?” Jack questioned with a smile.

Cassandra shrugged.

“I know the answer,” Daniel said, moving forward to stand in sight of their guests, though he was still in the dining area, on the other side of the bar.  “It's a brand new room, created just for, uh, you; well, not exactly.  It was really designed for us, but it's so that we can be more efficient, and the appliances and accoutrements are ...”

“Daniel, why don't I just show them?” Jack interrupted.

“Yes, Jack, why don't you show them?” Daniel questioned.

The guests, picking up on the hint, began to drift towards the couple.  Jack led the way through the kitchen to the new rec room, which also elicited an immediate response.  While some had already had the grand tour, for half the guests, the renovated home was new to them.

“Keep it moving!” Jack mock-ordered.

“Always the general,” Janet teased.

“Always, *Major*,” Jack bristled in jest.  “Now, wait until you see this.  It's the best thing since 'The Simpsons'!”

“Takes a lot to beat Homer, Jack,” Lou commented.

Finally, everyone was gathered, and Jack, with a grand gesture of his arms, said, “Welcome to our hospitality room where we're always hospitable.”

“He's full of himself today,” Daniel whispered to Sam.

“He looks happy.”

“He is.  I am.  We all are,” Daniel stated, smiling.  “It was a long summer, Sam. We have a lot to be thankful for.”

“Hey, no whispers in the back there.  For that matter, get your butt in gear, and help me out.”

Daniel rolled his eyes and smirked, “Yes, Master.”

Everyone laughed as Daniel moved forward to join his lover at the entrance to the hospitality room.  Jack began to really ham it up as he showed off the appliances.  The younger man laughed, but remained quiet, simply pointing things out, opening doors or cabinets, or just smiling as his lover described the features of the new room.
 
“Two dishwashers, Jack?” Janet asked.

“Like two heads, they are better than one,” Jack said, his eyes sparkling with enthusiasm.

~Gawd, he's bad today,~ Daniel opined as he stood by silently, shaking his head.

“With our brood, it makes complete sense,” Jack added.

“I'm sure it'll make it easier for occasions like this,” Janet agreed.

“Of course, Doc, if you prefer the old-fashioned way, we have a pair of latex gloves and lots of Ivory liquid.”

“The only gloves I use, General, are the ones I put on when my fingers go where you don't want to think about,” the spirited physician responded.

“At least not with you, Doc,” Lou teased.

“Oh, gawd!” Daniel heard himself say as he turned a bright shade of red.

“Lou, was that you?” Jack asked, surprised at the tease, but loving every moment of it.

Lou just shrugged and rubbed his arm, a necessary event to ward off the pain his wife had just inflicted on him for being so crude.
 
As Jack and Daniel continued their impersonations of Vanna White, the guests fussed over all the efficient and sometimes luxurious amenities.

“Sounds like you thought of everything,” Carolyn Ferretti remarked when the couple finished their tour.

“Not us, but our designer, Alex Dennison, did.  He thought of things we never even could have imagined,” Daniel raved.

“But we fully intend on *exploring* all the marvels Alex helped us to add to our home,” Jack stated, a hint of seduction in his tone as he thought about the new features of their master bedroom and bathroom that had yet to be fully explored. **Right, Love?**

**Jaaaack, not now.  We can't afford to think about lights and jets with all these people here.**

“Excuse me ... oops!” Suzanna Simpson, Daniel's foster sister, cried as she dropped a bowl of croutons for the salad.  “Oh, no.  I am so sorry and all over your new floor, Daniel.  I'm so sor...”

“It's okay, Suz,” Daniel reassured.  “It's been initiated already, and, uh, don't ask,” he said shyly, risking a gaze towards his soulmate as he remembered how they had jointly caused a 'cleanup' job for their new room already.  “Besides, wait until you see this!”  He went to a tall, narrow cabinet next to the refrigerator and pulled out a strange looking broom, one with rubber fingers instead of bristles.  He began pulling the croutons and crumbs into a pile.

“Where's your dustpan?” Suzanna asked, looking in the tall cabinet, intending to help with the cleanup.

“Right here,” Daniel responded gleefully.  As their guests watched, he kicked his foot under the toe space, and a switch clicked on.  There was a whoosh of air, and the mess was gobbled by an invisible mouth with only minimal assistance from the broom he wielded.  “Cool, isn't it?”

“Sweet,” Jack agreed.

“Wow!  I'd heard of central vacs before, but never imagined anything like this,” Suzanna said.

“I'll take a dozen,” Sam laughed.

“It's come in handy a couple of times already,” Jack added.  “We have inlets like this in the kitchen and entranceway.”

“More, actually,” Daniel noted.

“Alex had to do a good selling job on this one,” Jack stated.

“Well, he's sold me, and I've never met the man.  Lou, I want one,” Carolyn said.

“I second the motion,” Trina spoke up, enthused about her chores being easier in the future.

“Thanks, Pal,” Lou quipped.

“What are friends for?” Jack questioned, not even trying to hide his pleasure from Lou's financial pain.

After the grand tour of the hospitality room was over, Jack successfully managed to get their visitors to drift outside, except for one.  He walked over to General Hammond, who was still admiring the new hospitality room.

“So, what do you think, General?” Jack asked, sweeping his hand to take in the entire room.

“I'd say you have the best set-up for entertaining I have ever seen.”  Hammond paused and then sighed, “My wife would be jealous.”

There was a definite regret in Hammond's tone.  His loving wife had died just as the two were about to embark on their retirement years.  He still missed her deeply.

“We're thrilled with it.  With our brood, it's bound to fill up frequently.”  Jack looked at his friend and smiled.  He didn't normally exceed the 'military' boundaries, but he felt so compelled that he had to.  Putting his hand on Hammond's upper back, he stated, “You're more than my CO, George; you're more than a friend; you're family, and I hope you know that you are always welcome here.”

“Thank you, Jack.”

“I'm serious, George,” Jack said, again using Hammond's given name to accentuate his comments.  “Danny and I are deeply grateful for what you did, giving us a home for what turned out to be months, but even if you hadn't let us stay one night, you'd still be family and as welcome as ever.  I hope you know that.  You're Grandpa.”

The older man couldn't express the gratitude he really felt for Jack and Daniel's friendship and the love he felt for his 'grandchildren'.  Instead, he simply nodded and looked back at the hospitality room.

Jack changed the subject to keep Hammond from getting misty-eyed and inquired, “What are you going to do with all the peace and quiet now that you have your home to yourself again?”

“Actually, Jack, I'm thinking of taking more time for myself and getting more involved in the community and social activities.  I've given the Air Force much of my life, and now I want some of it back.  I've already talked to the President.”

“I can't believe he'd let you go,” Jack commented, adding, “at least, not without a fight.”

Hammond chuckled, “I told him I was going to retire next June.  He wanted me to finish out his term.”

“You couldn't say 'no', could you, Sir?” Jack asked hopefully.

“Hayes is a persuasive man, Jack.  I promised him I'd finish the term with him, but I'm cutting back, and he agreed to that.”  Hammond paused, smiling.  “It's time I started enjoying whatever good years I have left, Jack.  I love the SGC, but I don't want to be buried there.”

“I understand, but it's hard to picture the SGC without you.  Do you have any plans for your retirement, Sir?”

“I'm not waiting, Jack.  Colonel Reynolds is being given more responsibility when you and I aren't around, and I'm not going to be there morning, noon, and night any longer.  I'm going fishing, and I want to play more golf.”  Hammond let out a little laugh as he said, “I can't remember the last time I actually got to play a full eighteen holes.  My phone usually rings by the time I hit the ninth tee.”

“I know what you mean.”

“Regular poker games,” Hammond continued.  “And square dancing.  How we loved to square dance!” he recalled, grinning as he remembered how he and his wife used to go square dancing every weekend when he wasn't out of town for the military.  Drawing himself fully into the present, he looked directly at Jack as he spoke, “You know, Jack, you, Daniel, and your brood didn't impose on me, not really.”

“That's kind of you to say, Sir.”

“It's the truth, Jack.  I feel more alive and needed than I have in years, and I don't want to stop feeling like this.  In fact, I'd like to talk to you about helping out at the shelter where you and Daniel volunteer.  I had a wonderful time helping Molly out.  Do you think there would be a place for a story-reading grandpa at one of the places you work with now?”

“No doubt about it.  What else would you like to do?” Jack inquired, genuinely curious about the man's plans.

Jack knew the SGC could never replace Hammond, but the time was coming for all of them to cut those ties, no matter how difficult it might be.  He also cared for the friend who stood next to him, and by butting in a little, Jack felt like he was making sure Hammond's last years would be fulfilling ones.

Hammond continued, “I might take a few trips, but I've already seen this world, and beyond.”  He chuckled lightly.  “I think I might like to entertain.  You might not believe this, but I enjoyed cooking dinner for your friends and hanging out with the kids.  I have a big house, why not enjoy it?”

“You should, Sir,” Jack urged.

“My daughters have full lives; my grandchildren are here for visits, but their lives are busier than you can imagine.”  Hammond nodded towards the hospitality room.  “I could never justify a set-up like this, but I'm going to have more company; and, Jack,” he said, leaning in closer, “what you said about my being family?  It goes both ways.  Don't stay away too long.”

“We won't, George, thanks,” Jack responded.  “Our brood already miss having Grandpa in the house to tell them a story or give them a cuddle.”

The two men stared at each other in a somewhat awkward silence.

“Sorry, Sir, I have to do this,” Jack said, surrounding Hammond in a warm hug.  Each slapped the other on the back as they laughed, and then he said, “I'd better get out there and make sure the brood aren't hounding our guests.”

“Jack, your brood is adorable.  We all love them, and their parents.”

Jack grinned and nodded his head.  With a cock of his head, he turned and walked outside.  He didn't get too far at first though, as his mind processed the important conversation that had just taken place.

~The SGC won't be the same, General, but I promise you, I'll do my best to make sure a proper replacement is in line.  I know we can't safeguard the world ourselves forever.  It's like I told Danny years ago, at some point, we have to pass on the reins and let go, no matter how hard it may be.  Okay, Sir, we'll plan for that future, and in the meantime, we'll do all we can to make sure you are living that life you want.  Reynolds is a good guy; he might make an excellent leader for the SGC ... in another three years.~

Jack smiled and then moved to join some of their guests.

--

Meanwhile, inside, Hammond took a final look at the new hospitality room.

~She would have loved it,~ Hammond thought about his late wife.  ~I promise you, Dear, that I'll enjoy this time ahead for both us, and then someday, we'll swing and do-si-do together again.~

Smiling in both regret and anticipation, Hammond sighed and then moved outside to visit with the others.

====

Not long thereafter, Daniel had returned to the kitchen, wanting to complete the preparations for the large meal.

“Daniel, can I give you a hand?” Sara asked, having returned inside to give her friend a hand with the large meal.  “Jack has his hands full with the Munchkins at the moment, so I thought you could use some help.”

“Thanks, Sara.  I was just checking Henry.”

“Henry?”

Daniel looked around to make sure they were alone and then explained, “The children are a little sensitive to the fact that we are cooking a turkey. Besides, I banned Jack from the kitchen earlier today when I walked in and caught him doing the Can Can with Henry!”

“What?” Sara asked in a confused chuckle, imagining her ex-husband dancing with a turkey.

“Don't ask.  You don't want to know, but, Sara, it wasn't pretty.”

Sara laughed, “I'm picturing Jack kicking out the turkey legs.”

“Gawd, Sara, it was horrible.  Stuffing was everywhere!  I fed an entire loaf of bread to the central vac!”

“Oh, Daniel,” Sara laughed loudly.  “Tell me you're kidding.”

“I wish.”  Daniel stopped what he was doing and looked at her with a straight face.  He shook his head as he asked, “Would I joke about my husband dancing with a dead bird?”

Sara burst into laughter, saying, “Goodness, no.”

“David walked in while the Can Can was still going on, and I swear, I thought he was going to get a hernia from laughing so hard.  You should have seen Jack, va-vooming the right turkey leg and then tapping around the left one.”  As Sara was about to double over, he concluded, “Honestly, Sara, all he needed was a boa.  It was outrageous.”

“Daniel, I never thought I'd say this,” Sara spoke, “but better you than me.”

“Gee, thanks,” Daniel chuckled.

“He's all yours now, thank goodness; and if you ever come to your senses, he's out of luck because I'm not taking him back.”

Daniel laughed, saying, “I'm glad at least one of us is sane.”

As laughter slowly subsided, Sara said, “He does make life exciting, doesn't he?”

Daniel grinned and nodded as he said, “Yeah, he does.  I wouldn't trade him for anything.”

Sara smiled and looked at the bird Daniel was basting.

“So, how did Henry come to be Henry?  Wait!  Let me guess.  Jack named the turkey Henry.”

“I have no idea where he gets this stuff from,” Daniel said as he put the turkey back in the oven.

“Where does Jack ever get anything from?” Sara laughed.

Daniel cocked his head slightly as he washed his hands and quipped, “The Simpsons?”

“I think I'm glad I missed most of that stage,” she chuckled.  “Well, Henry, I'm sorry your goose is cooked, but you sure do smell good,” Sara said, taking in the aroma of the baking turkey.  “I'm sure we're all going to enjoy you.”

Daniel sighed, “I'm not sure about that.”

“Why?” Sara asked.

“Gawd, that's another nightmare.  The children were watching some show on PBS with live turkeys when Jack walked in from the market with the Butterball.  He walked in and made some crack about eating them all.  Now, that would have been bad enough, since the children got upset over us eating these animals they were learning about on television, but to try and calm them down, Jack tells them this bird isn't any of those birds.  He said, 'This is Henry'.  Guess what the name of the main bird was on the television show?”

“Don't tell me.”

“Henry,” Daniel said with a nod.  “So, for the last few days, Jack's been trying to explain that 'this' Henry isn't the Henry they were watching on television.”

“I'm going to assume it hasn't worked?” the blonde questioned.

“Not for a second.  It's Little Danny I'm the most concerned about.  If he thinks this is 'the' Henry, well, I just don't know,” Daniel confided.

“I'm sure he'll be fine,” Sara replied.

“I hope so.”

“Aunt Sara, come see Mittens 'n' Katie,” Jenny said, tugging on Sara's arm after running into the kitchen.

“Duty calls,” Sara said, letting the redheaded girl tug her away.

Daniel walked to the patio door.  He looked outside at the accumulation of people gathered together.  There were several of the most important people in his life in the now-huge backyard:  Jack, their children, Sam and Pete, the Wilsons, Mrs. Valissi, the Ferrettis, Janet, Cassandra and Dominic, Teal'c, Suzanna Simpson, and, of course, General Hammond, currently holding Ricky in his arms.

The archaeologist blinked and then turned around.  He walked around the living room, which was basically unchanged, and then he went outside to the front yard.  He walked to the edge of the street and took in the sight of their new home.  The builders had done an excellent job in merging the new extensions and the original house.  Daniel took in every inch of the enlarged house, and then he closed his eyes.

The next thing he knew, Jack's arms were around him, and automatically, Daniel leaned in to his husband.  He placed a kiss on Daniel's nape and asked, “You okay?”

“About seven months ago, I came out here and thought we'd have to say good-bye to this place.  Now, when I open my eyes, our house is still here, and I know we'll never have to leave,” Daniel stated a bit emotionally.

“Not ever, Danny.”

“I love this house, Jack.  I love this neighborhood.  I love everything about being here.  The thought of leaving hurt so much.”

“I know.  It turned out good.”

“We overdid it,” Daniel acknowledged.

“Can never have too much space, Danny.  This was our chance, so now, we'll have all the room we could ever need, and when the kids grow up, they'll all have plenty of room.”

“That is important,” the younger man agreed.

“And we have room, too.”

“Yeah, we do.”  Daniel twisted his body to look at Jack's face.  He smiled as he said, “I want to play with the trains this weekend.”

“Yeah, David is excited about that setup.  He wants to play,” Jack reported happily.

“And he will, but I want ...” Daniel chuckled, but it wasn't an amused laugh, but was one of amazement.

“What, Angel?”

“Years ago, I couldn't have said this, especially without feeling guilty, but I want us to break in the train room, just you and me, and then we can let the children in, but the first night, it's for us.”

Jack was about to burst with happiness.  He, too, remembered the Daniel of old, the one who would never say what he wanted or needed, the one who always put himself second, or, more accurately, tenth.

“Okay, we have a private open house, and then we teach the brood,” Jack stated.

As Daniel nestled his head into Jack's neck while continuing to look at the house, he spoke, “We've been given so many blessings.  All those people; all family.”

“Speaking of which, how's Henry?”

“Cooked!  Another thirty minutes, and Jack, you leave that bird alone!” Daniel warned.

Jack laughed, kissed his soulmate, and said, “I love you, Angel.”

“Gawd, that's my salvation.  You're ...”

“Hey, you two.  I don't mean to interrupt, but the natives are getting restless,” Janet said.  “Besides, I need you to talk to Dominic.  I don't like the way he's looking at my daughter.”

Jack laughed as he and Daniel walked towards Janet.

“Now, Doc, Dominic's been around a long time.”

“That's the problem; that testosterone must be on overtime.”

====

In the backyard of the Jackson-O'Neill home, on an amazingly warm November Thanksgiving day, several tables were arranged, with all the guests now seated.  Daniel smiled, seeing how their list of guests, of cherished friends and family, had grown in the last few minutes.

Doctor Sylvia Preston, Christa and Jacob Svensen (their neighbors from across the street), and Megan Williams had all arrived just in time for the turkey dinner.

Jack stood and was about to give a speech when one last guest appeared.

“'Rissa!” Little Danny smiled, running up and hugging the woman.

Jack sighed happily, taking in the group.  All the faces were happy and full of smiles.  Little Danny had a huge grin as Karissa smiled down on him, and Chenoa was dressed in her finest, happy that Teal'c had noticed her latest new dress, purchased just for him.  It was almost too much, too overwhelming.

“Well, words aren't my thing, but ... thank you all for being here and being a part of our lives,” Jack said from a place deep within his heart.

Daniel stood up and spoke from his heart as well, saying, “When I was a little boy, I had the best parents, but they died, and then I didn't have anyone.  I felt so alone.  I ... I was alone, for a ... a very long time.  Then I got lucky.”

“*I* got lucky,” Jack insisted.

“Eventually,” Daniel teased his husband, causing a round of laughter, intensified when Daniel added, “And you may get lucky again tonight if you behave.”

“I'm behaving already!”

“Good boy, Jack,” Lou shouted out.

“I, uh, don't want to make a long speech.”

“Prattle away, Love,” Jack joked.

“Did I say you'd get lucky?” the archaeologist joked.

“Shutting up,” Jack said, locking his lips with an imaginary key, eliciting laughter from their youngest children.

“Anyway, I just wanted to say that it took a long time, and I never really thought I'd know what a home was, or what family meant, but ... Jack changed all of that, and then our children ... gawd, you're all so perfect ... but, uh, all of you ... every one of you is part of our family, and I ... I'm so grateful.  I, uh, we ... We love you all.”

Jack placed a kiss on Daniel's cheek and said, “Happy Thanksgiving.”  A round of 'happy thanksgivings' were shouted out.  Then he continued, “In our home, we have a tradition.  Before we eat our Thanksgiving meal, we each say one or two things we're grateful for.  Me?”  He looked at his lover, his hand warming Daniel's back.  “I'm eternally grateful for the love of the world's most perfect man.”

“Jaaack,” Daniel whispered as a tiny smile formed on his face.  His left hand moved upwards to trace the side of Jack's mouth.  “I love you.”

“I love you,” Jack said, taking the opportunity for a quick kiss.  Looking out at their family of friends, he added, “I'm grateful for our beautiful children and their health and, uh, for all of you.  Danny?” Jack said in a small voice.

“I think I've already spoken too much, but ...”

“Never thought I'd hear ya say that, Doc,” Lou teased, earning him a round of laughter from everyone in the backyard.

“I'm grateful for my family and that includes a bunch of crazy Italians named Ferretti,” Daniel teased.

Daniel looked at Jonny and nodded.

“I grateful T teach us how to fight!” Jonny said enthusiastically.

“I grateful for Dad and Daddy,” Chenoa said next, beaming at her two fathers.

“Aw, Sweetie,” Daniel said as he moved to hug his young daughter with Jack quickly doing the same.

“We all are,” Jennifer said, adding, “And ... well, this year, I'm also for grateful that Aunt Sara is here with us because ... because we need her, and we love her.”

Sara wiped a tear from her eye as Mark put his arm around his wife.

“To Sara for ... well, for everything,” Daniel offered happily as he picked up his glass and raised it in a toast.

“I grateful Carrie's family have home, and I grateful for Bij 'n' Katie 'n' Mittens 'n' Bogey 'n' Munk 'n' ...”

The group chuckled as Little Danny listed off not just their regular pets, but several temporary animal guests like Munk.

Then Little Danny added, “And I grateful for Mommy for carrying us in her tummy so we could be family.”

“To Kayla,” Jack said, raising a glass filled with Martinelli's.

After a sip of their drinks, the grateful comments continued.

“I gra'ful for my blanket; it warm,” Ricky said.

“I gra'ful for Doctor Syl 'n' Aunt Janet; they make me better,” Jenny said, the toddler being the most susceptible to allergies of her entire family.

“I'll second that!  To Sylvia and Janet,” Daniel said, raising his glass for another round of celebratory sips.

“I grateful Cassie comb my hair pretty,” Aislinn said.

Cassandra chuckled and said, “You're pretty no matter how you wear your hair, Ash.  Ah, and by the way, I'm grateful for my mom who has really put up with a lot from me over the years, and for everyone here for all your love and support.”

Some of the other guests added in their thanks, including Hammond, who said, “I'm extremely grateful to these two men who have given my life a new purpose. I not only have two beautiful children and two astonishing grandchildren, but thanks to Jack and Daniel, I have eight wonderful and caring surrogate grandchildren, and, for the record, I love each and every one of you as much as if you were my own blood.”

“We love you, too, Gran'pa,” Jenny said, getting up and running to give her Grandpa George a big hug.

All the other children did the same, so it took a minute or two to regain control and continue with the lines of gratitude.

“Well, if I may tell everyone that today I am especially thankful for a very handsome escort.  He's a terrific date,” Karissa said as she leaned over and gave a beaming Little Danny a kiss on the cheek.

**She's getting a bonus,** Jack communicated to his husband.

**She just got one,** the archaeologist reminded.

**Look at that smile on Little Danny's face.**

Daniel looked at his namesake and commented, **Jack, we can't give her a bonus for liking our son.**

**Of course, not.**  Jack grinned and then observed, **He's so happy.**

**How about we let her take the lead on the next survey?  She's been wanting more responsibility, and she's certainly earned the chance.**

**Sold!**

“I'm grateful that there is forgiveness and understanding in the world.  It's not always easy,” David said as he continued with the family tradition.  “But people do the best they can, and we have to do our best to be our best.”

Jack and Daniel smiled with pride at their son.  It had been a difficult summer, and they were glad to see their lessons of tolerance and acceptance had been understood.

Sam stood up and held out her glass, saying to the children, “I've learned a lot about life from the eight of you.”  She smiled.  “You may not believe that, but you've taught me things about love I never thought I'd understand.  Thank you for letting me be one of your aunts.  I'm very thankful for the Jackson-O'Neills, all of them.”

====

Finally, with the traditional gratitude and blessings moments concluded, it was time to enjoy the Thanksgiving Day feast.

“Grandpa George, how about doing the honors?” Jack asked, holding out the carving knife.

“I'd be honored, Jack.”

As General Hammond began to carve the turkey, tears began to make their way down Little Danny's cheeks.  Karissa, who was sitting next to him, was the first to notice.

“What's wrong, Little Danny?”

“Henry ... we can't eat Henry; be like eating Mittens, or Bogey or Munk,” the little boy sobbed.

Hearing this, Ricky sniffled.  Then Jenny started fighting off tears.  Seconds later, both Chenoa and Aislinn began crying as well.

Daniel glared at Jack, his silent communication thundering inside Jack's head.

**Jack, this is your fault, so ...**

**I know, Love.  Fix it,** Jack surmised.

**And fast!** the younger man ordered.

Jack winced, picked up his crying son, and sat down in Little Danny's chair, pulling his son onto his lap. He had two tactics he could try with the little boy.  Since the child was a prodigy, Jack decided to try the intellectual route first.
 
“Son, there's nothing wrong with eating Henry.  You remember when we talked about the food chain?”  Jack waited for the sniffling child to nod, even as more tears slipped down his cheeks.  “Then you understand why it's okay to eat Henry?”  He knew that if he could persuade Little Danny to eat Henry, the other children would follow suit.  He waited while his son thought about it.  ~Geez, I can practically see his brain ticking.~

“But Henry ... Henry,” the little boy argued.

~Okay, scratch rational thinking.  He's a little boy.  Irrational thinking should do it.~  Jack smiled at his son who still had tears leaking from his eyes.  “Son, this, uh, this isn't really Henry.”

“You said it Henry,” Little Danny said with wide eyes as he looked up at his father.

“Yes, I know I said that, but, uh, well, Dad was just kidding.”  ~Geez, can't even take the blame by saying 'I', O'Neill.~  Jack brushed back Little Danny's hair that was covering his eyes partially.  “See, this is just some old frozen thing I found at the store.  It's not anything at all like Henry or his friends that we saw on TV.”

“Not Henry?” Little Danny asked.

“Nope, definitely not Henry.”

“Oh,” Little Danny said, his mind thinking as fast as it could.  “What turkey's name?”

~Geez!~ Jack expressed.  “Uh, this turkey doesn't have a name.”

“No name?”

“No.  He's just a Butterball I found at the store,” Jack stated, hoping that would take care of the problem.

“Has to have name,” Little Danny insisted.

~Don't waver to logic.  Keep it illogical, O'Neill.~  Jack coughed, “No, Son.  He has a brand because he's meant to be eaten.  He's a bird with no name.”

**Gawd, Jack.**

**Hey, I'm trying here.**

“Why not have name?” Little Danny asked, rubbing his eyes with his fists.

“Because we don't name things you eat.  We brand them, like the Butterball brand.”

“Oh,” Little Danny said, thinking it over.  “Turkey have family?”

**He's not making this easy,** Jack complained.

**You named the bird, Babe,** Daniel chastised.

“No, Little Danny, the Butterball here does not have a family.  This turkey is here for us to eat, and that's the only reason it's here.”

“No mommy and daddy?” the concerned Munchkin inquired.

Jack felt like a heel, but he couldn't stop his irrational argument now.  He was too far into the discussion.

“Son, I promise.  No turkey misses this turkey.  He, uh, it doesn't' have a family.  The Butterball is just a Butterball.”

“Where Henry?”

“He's on the farm,” Jack answered.  “Remember?  On the TV show, he and his family were on the big farm, having a grand old time, eating and eating and eating.”

“He still there?”

**I'm sorry, Danny,** Jack sighed, having run out of 'easy' options.

**Do it, Jack.  He'll learn eventually.**

**I feel like scum; I'm about to lie to him.**

**Well, you don't know for sure Henry isn't still there,** Daniel tried to soothe.

**That's true.  Thanks, Love,** Jack communicated, feeling slightly better.  ~Maybe this isn't a lie.  Yeah, Henry's there.~  “Henry's still there and still having fun with his friends.”

Little Danny considered everything Jack had said.  He also looked over at his siblings, seeing his sister's and Ricky's tear-stained faces looking at him.

“Not Henry?” Little Danny asked one more time.

“Not Henry,” Jack said firmly.

“Lil' Danny, it okay to eat Henry?” Jenny asked her brother in a sniffled-filled question.

“Not Henry, Jenny; we eat Butt'Ball.”

Jack coughed and corrected his son, “Butterball.”

As Little Danny scooted back into his place and Jack returned to his husband's side, the little boy said softly, “No like, but it okay.”

Immediately, the other children smiled, their tears forgotten.  They didn't really understand the Henry versus Butterball scenario, but if Little Danny said it was okay to eat the bird, then it was okay.

**Crisis averted, Angel.**

Daniel watched Little Danny as General Hammond began carving again.  The little boy's eyes were downcast, and he was still quiet when Jennifer and Trina got up to help serve the large meal.

“Uh, excuse me,” a voice called out.

Everyone looked over at the young man, now standing.

“I don't know everyone here that well, but I know this beautiful woman, and I love her, and, uh, well ...”  Dominic knelt down on one knee.  “Cass, I think it's about time we made this official.  Will you marry me?”

Dominic held out a box.

With tears running down her cheeks, Cassandra opened it and beheld a small diamond.

“Oh, Dom!  Yes, I'll marry you.”

As applause broke out, and more tears of happiness flowed, Dominic placed the ring on Cassandra’s finger and then the young lover's hugged and kissed.

Janet whispered to Sam, “I knew something was up.”

“It's about time,” Sam responded.

“Doctor Fraiser, do we have your blessing?” the young man asked.  “I mean, I was going to ask you first, old fashioned or not, but ... I don't know, there's so much love here.  It just felt right, with all of Cassie's family around.”

Janet walked over to Dominic, hugged him, and said, “I just want to know what took you so long.”

The happy young man answered, “We wanted to wait until we were done with college.”

“Gawd, Jack, where'd the time go?” Daniel asked his husband softly.

Jack looked over at their children and reflected, “Time passes.  Look at our brood: little angels, and growing up, just like Cass did.”

“He's here.”  Jack looked at Daniel who added confidently, “I feel him.”

“Me, too.”  Jack looked around.  “Happy Thanksgiving, Charlie.”  Then Jack looked at his soulmate and kissed him.  “Happy Everything, My Love.”

Daniel smiled, his hand moving to trace Jack's lips and then caress his cheek.

“Happy Everything, Jack.  I love you.”

The lovers kissed as their Thanksgiving celebration continued, but Daniel couldn't help but watch his namesake closely throughout dinner.  When dessert was served, Little Danny looked over at his father.  He smiled as his eyes communicated understanding and love.  Slowly, Little Danny smiled, too.

~Not totally buying the Butterball bit, are you, Son?  You aren't even looking at Henry.~

Daniel sighed, but decided he would wait until the following day to let Jack know that Little Danny hadn't eaten any of the turkey.  All the slices he'd been given had been slipped under the table to two very contented beagles.  They'd have to talk about how to handle situations like this in the future, and they'd definitely have to discuss the eating of meat with Little Danny privately.

~We won't force you, Son, to eat meat if you don't want to.  I really do understand, but we'll talk about it and make sure you understand before we make any final decisions about that.~

Cassandra's giggles drew Daniel's attention, and then Jack leaned over for another kiss.  The party was far from over and would last well into the night with even more friends dropping by for a while.  It would be the perfect day of remembrance, of honoring their past, embracing their present, and looking forward to their future.  For the Jackson-O'Neills, surrounded by their family and extended family, it was the best Thanksgiving ever.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
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