Changes

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - January 7 - February 17, 2015
Spoilers:  None
Size:  57kb
Written:  December 31, 2009, January 1,5-6,10,13,16, April 11-12, 2010
Summary:  Memories of India and the realities of poverty bring on changes within the Jackson-O'Neill family.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s):  “It's Time”
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Ali, Tammy, Navi, Irina, Robert, Claudia!

Changes
by Orrymain

That was a great dinner, Sis,” David complimented Brianna as the family sat around the long table in the hospitality room.

“Didn't think a tomboy could cook, did ya, Bro?” Brianna chuckled, teasing her brother.

“Unless you are giving up on ever getting married, you gotta have something going for you besides your batting average,” David retorted.

“I can bat my eyes,” the athletic teen put forth, causing her siblings to laugh at her exaggerated sultry look.

**Chill, Jack, she's teasing,** Daniel warned his husband, amused at how easily agitated Jack became when it came to their children dating.

Brianna often cooked family meals, but for some reason tonight, she'd felt like testing out some new recipes she'd seen on television.  She hadn't been the one to turn on the cooking shows, but covertly, she had become intrigued by some of the cooking challenges she'd witnessed.

With Chenoa and Lulu acting as her sous chefs, Brianna had prepared an amazingly elegant dinner for her family.  Her only faux pas was making too much of just about everything, which was hard to do considering the size of the Jackson-O'Neill family.  Still, she'd had to double and sometimes triple certain recipes while downgrading a few of the reception-sized ones.  The end result was even more food than this large family normally ate in one sitting.

“Dishes,” Jack called out, signaling for the children to begin the cleanup activities.

What followed was the usual madcap action as the brood gathered their dishes from the table to take over to the dishwasher, or sink depending on the dirtiness of their dishes.  There was plenty of chatter as the kids followed through on their task.  Then Jack caught sight of something and nudged his husband, who paused en route to the sink to look at Jack and then over in the direction where the older man was looking.

After a quick glance back at his lover, Daniel called out, “Sproglet, is something wrong?”

Little Danny looked up for a moment, but then bowed his head.  His hands were clasped together on his lap, and he looked super sad as he remained sitting at the table, his dishes still in front of him.

“Little Danny, what's wrong?” Aislinn asked with concern, putting down her dishes on the table and running over to her fellow Munchkin.

“I'm sad.”

“How come?” Jonny questioned, having already placed his dishes in the dishwasher, and now taking up the spot next to Aislinn.

“So much food.”

Daniel again looked at his husband, gave him his dishes, which Jack almost dropped, and then walked around to the other side of the table where his namesake was sitting.  He kneeled down on his haunches and looked up into the boy's downcast face.

Jonny and Aislinn remained on the other side of their brother's chair, giving him moral support for whatever the problem was.

“Tell me what you're thinking,” Daniel urged calmly.

“There's so much food left over,” the little boy explained, his eyes darting back and forth at the table full of plates and bowls of untouched nourishment.

“We'll eat the leftovers,” the worried boy's younger father replied.

“Um, we can't eat all of it, Daddy,” Brianna interjected as she'd stepped forward.  She'd already put her dishes in the dishwasher, so her hands were free to wrap around the back of one of the chairs at the table.  “I'm not sure some of this ... cuisine will be edible later.  It's pretty fancy stuff.  Some of it might go off,” she put forth with a shrug and wrinkle of her nose.  ~I wish I could make him feel better, but I don't want us all to get food poisoning, either.~

“I'm sure we can figure it out,” Jack assured.

“But that's not the point, is it?” Daniel coaxed, smiling at the middle triplet.

“I was just thinking about those people we saw on the news tonight.”

“The families living by the Ralston building,” Daniel clarified, seeing his son nod.

A few years back, Ralston Place was supposed to be a sparkling new apartment complex designed to revitalize an older, neglected section of Colorado Springs.  Unfortunately, the funding had run out, and the backers had bailed from the project, meaning that the building had never been completed.  Abandoned, there had even been a couple of fires at the location.  Homeless people, including some families, were illegally living inside the incomplete building.  It had been an ongoing problem for some time.

The neighborhood in which Ralston Place was located was rundown, so there weren't that many complaints made about indigents living there, but whenever there was a spot of vandalism or violence that brought the area to the attention of the media, the ensuing public protests would force the police to act.  Then they would simply raid the area and kick everyone out.  Within a few months, though, the vicinity would be full of the homeless and needy once again.

The neighborhood included some struggling businesses and a lot of small homes that probably looked better on the outside than they were safe on the inside.  That was the topic of the brief news story the family had seen earlier in the evening.

Every now and then when a local TV station had time to fill, they'd do a 'can we revitalize this or that area' story.  In the on-air tidbit earlier that evening, a few neighborhood locals and some of the homeless had been interviewed.  They weren't bad people; they were just down on their luck.

“It's cold out, Daddy, and they don't have food to eat, and we have so much.  Why can't we share what we have?  I mean, we're not even like the Seshadris.  They had nothing and still fed us.  We have a lot.  We're never hungry, not like they were or those other people we met in India.”

“Little Danny's right,” Aislinn stated supportively.  “We tried not to eat very much, but I still think we ate enough food to equal at least two days for them.  I watched Ramya.  She didn't have much to cook with in the first place.”

“I felt bad just eating a biscuit,” Ricky sighed, remembering their trip to India and their visit with the poor Indian family.

Again, Jack and Daniel shared a look, while noticing the nods of affirmation coming from the brood.

“We just have so much,” Little Danny repeated.  Being such a sensitive soul, his emotions easily showed.  ~It's not right.~

“Okay, Danny,” Daniel began, “what are you suggesting?

Little Danny smiled.  He never minded being called 'Little Danny'.  It was his name, and he was proud of it.  Still, when his parents left off the 'Little', he knew he was being taken extra seriously, and it made him feel good.

“I'll bet Bri can heat this up, and we could take it over to Ralston Place,” the sensitive youngster put forth to his father, two pairs of blue eyes communicating with much love and compassion.

“I think that's a wonderful idea,” Daniel replied, smiling as he caressed his son's cheek.  He looked over at his husband and asked, “What do you think?”

Jack saw Little Danny's anxious look.  His little boy's eyes were like his husband's, full of soul.  He just couldn't disappoint the special little Munchkin that was so like his husband.

“I think we should get the show on the road.”  Jack took over like the general he was.  “Bri, start warming up the food.  Noa, David, give her a hand.  Lulu, we have some hot dogs we can cook before we go as well.  Jonny, let's take some plastic utensils and extra napkins with us.  You know where they are.  Jen, do a review of the food and see what condiments we need to take with us ... and pull out the fast food packets; we must have a ton of catsup, mustard, and dipping sauce.”

As Jack continued to dole out orders to their 'troops', Daniel patted Little Danny on the thigh and declared quietly, “Thank you for reminding us of lessons learned in India.  I'm very proud of you.”

“Me, too,” Aislinn added, bending over and kissing her brother on the cheek, causing him to grin widely.

====

Taking Jack's truck as well as the SUV, the Jackson-O'Neills showed up at the Ralston building just before eight o'clock in the evening.  They could see a few people lurking in corners, staring at them with curiosity.  Most were trying to stay warm in the thirty-degree outdoor temperature.

As the couple stood next to each other, looking out at the sight before them, Jack groaned, “He's gonna want us to go get blankets; he'll probably raid the guest room.”

With a smile, Daniel replied quietly, “Careful, Babe.  He might invite them over to sleep *in* the guest room.”  The archaeologist's smug smile faded when he saw Jack's scowl.  Both knew the depth of their prodigy's sensitivity, and the truth was they didn't mind it, unless it threatened their family in same way.  “Okay,” he piped brightly, rubbing his hands again to shake off the blanket and guest room topic.  “So how are we going to do this?”

Before the general could answer with his plan to rally the troops, Little Danny ran several yards towards the area and announced, “Hi.  I'm Little Danny Jackson-O'Neill, and,” waving behind him at his parents and siblings, “that's my family.  We brought some food and drinks for you.  The food's real hot; well, it's as hot as we could keep it in the car.  My sister, Brianna, cooked most of it.  It's really good.  Please come get some.  We just want to share.”  Just then, he saw a disheveled man shivering by the door.  Sensing the man's caution, the Munchkin called out, “If you want, we can just leave it here, but we'd love to meet you.  Please come and say hello.”

~He could use a little backup.~  Jack walked over by Little Danny and made eye contact with the man.  He smiled, too, as he placed his hand on his son's shoulders.  “I understand being cautious,” he called out.  “We'll bring it to the steps, and you can help yourselves.  As my son said, we just want to share what we have.”  He patted the boy's shoulders and requested quietly, “Help us with the food.”

“Brood, let's take everything up to the steps and ...” Daniel's words were cut off by a family of four walking towards them.  “Hello.”

“We have hot dogs,” Jonny called out enticingly to the kids.

“Help yourselves,” Daniel beckoned, gesturing towards the food.

The Jackson-O'Neills had prepared several plates of food, wrapping them in foil to keep them as hot as possible.  Jennifer had separated the packets of condiments and placed them into bowls for people to take, and the utensils were still in a box the family hadn't opened yet.

“Bless you,” the woman cried with tears in her eyes.  Her hungry children looked up to her for permission.  She nodded, watching as the kids took their first bites, savoring every mouthful.  “Bless you,” she repeated emotionally.

“Here's a plate for you,” Jennifer returned, her eyes moist from the sincerity she felt as she extended out her hands with a plate of food for the mother.

The woman smiled with gratitude and then motioned for her kids to clear the area so that the other people approaching could easily receive their own warm meals.

====

Thirty minutes later, everything the Jackson-O'Neills had brought with them was gone.  They visited with some of the homeless and also with those who did have homes nearby, but didn't have electricity or money for groceries.

The people thanked the family and began to walk away, returning to their homes or the unlawful, unheated, and often dirty apartments they were living in.  The kindness of the Jackson-O'Neill's made their burdens a little bit lighter that night.

~We're so lucky.~  Despite knowing his family had helped all these people tonight, Little Danny couldn't help feeling they still hadn't done enough.  All of a sudden, his heart was pumping so fast that he just had to say something.  He hadn't checked with his parents, but he just couldn't help himself.  He ran forward a few yards and shouted, “We'll come back tomorrow.  We'll bring more food.  We promise.”

Smiles and more words of thanks followed until Little Danny finally turned around.  He hadn't even heard the brood packing their things up and getting into the vehicles.  Now only his parents were there, both looking down at him.

“Are you mad at me?” Little Danny asked with trepidation.

“Now why would you think that?” Jack asked, walking forward and kneeling down.

“I couldn't help it, Dad.  They need our help.  Can we come back tomorrow night?  Please?”

“You made a promise, and a Jackson-O'Neill always keeps his promises.”

Little Danny grinned, throwing his arms around his older father.  It was an act witnessed by many of the homeless.

“I love you,” Jack declared warmly, hugging the boy tightly.  “Tomorrow night, we'll be better prepared.”

====

The next evening, the family returned to Ralston Place, sharing not only leftovers and hot dogs, but some specially prepared food as well.  Jack and Daniel had also gone out and purchased several thermoses to fill with soup and/or coffee.  For the kids, they'd bought some individual packages of Twinkies.  It was another night in which the entire family was touched by the people they met and the enormous basic needs which those people had.

~I wish we could do this every night,~ Little Danny thought as the family prepared to leave.  He knew his parents and siblings had a busy schedule; in fact, both David and Jenny had backed out of activities with friends that had been scheduled for this night so they could help with the special project.  While his heart was desperate to return again tomorrow, intellectually, he realized it wasn't possible to come every night.  ~I wish we could, though.~

====

A few mornings later, Jack and Daniel were greeted by a bustling brood whose chatter was non-stop and very excitable.  In fact, the boisterous group had walked right into the master bedroom, doing only a very quick 'tap-tap-tap' on the door.

“Whoa!” Jack called out, happy the children hadn't burst in on the master bedroom fifteen minutes earlier when he and Daniel would have been caught in a rather compromising situation.  “You know you wait for an answer before walking into other people's bedrooms.”

The children had just a hint of apology on their faces, but their bubbly countenances indicated that the reason for the intrusion and ignoring of house rules was more important.

“Uh, what's happening?” Daniel asked, also happy that the timing of the break-in wasn't a few minutes earlier.  In fact, he looked down to make sure his pants were zipped.  ~Gawd, they don't usually do this.~

“Dad, Daddy, we have an idea,” Jonny stated as the official spokesman for the children.

“You do?” both parents questioned in unison.

“We want to keep helping the seekers,” Jonny explained.

“The ... seekers?” a confused Jack asked.

“That's what we decided to call the needy people at Ralston Place,” Little Danny elaborated.

“Why ... seekers?” Daniel queried curiously.

“Because they're all seeking something: jobs, homes, food, clothing,” Chenoa explained.  “David came up with the name,” she boasted proudly, smiling at her brother.

Jack and Daniel exchanged looks and spoke simultaneously, “Makes sense.”

“We know we can't bring food to them all the time, but we thought we could try and go once a week,” Jonny told the adults.

“And we want to really sacrifice something to do it,” Jenny interjected, wanting to support her siblings.

“Yeah.  We don't want you to do it for us, not all the way, anyway,” Chenoa added with a smile.

“How?” Jack asked cautiously.  ~This should be interesting.  No allowances for a week?~

“One day a week, instead of having a big meal like we normally do, we want to eat a little meal,” Jonny stated.  “Then you can use the money we didn't spend on food that night to buy food for the people.”

“Instead of giving them our leftovers,” Ricky clarified.  “They shouldn't have to eat leftovers,” he stated emphatically, shaking his head at the same time.

“Dad, Daddy, I did some calculating for the brood,” Jennifer chimed in, having stayed in the background to let her siblings lead the charge.  “These are rough estimates because I don't know exactly what our monthly food bill is, but we're all ... very healthy and we eat ... well.”  She smiled, trying her best not to actually say that they pretty much ate what they wanted, when they wanted, and that included a lot of food luxuries.  “Now the brood voted to donate the majority of their food money for one day a week, and that includes breakfast and lunch, not just dinner.”

“We need to save as much money as we can,” Jonny pointed out.

“We can just have peanut butter sandwiches for lunch,” Ricky suggested.

“Or bologna,” Lulu added.

“And for breakfast, we can have cereal,” Little Danny suggested.

“Without milk.  It costs a lot,” Chenoa added.

“They do want their ice cream treats, though,” Jennifer chuckled, coughing when the brood shot her immediate glares of disapproval.  “I wanted to keep the ice cream, too,” she admitted, thankful all she got from the brood in retaliation had been glares.

“Tell them, Jen,” Jonny instructed, groaning about the ice cream comment.  ~She didn't have to say that.  I don't think it's wrong for us to still have our ice cream.~

“Okay, well, breaking it down, and I included the two of you in this,” Jennifer advised, smiling coyly at her parents, “I figure we spend $125 a day in food, not including snacks, ice cream, cleaning supplies, paper products, soft drinks, or dog food and treats.  I did not do any calculations for guests because it sort of balances out.  We all have people join us for meals, but then we accept invitations out as well. The $125 per day doesn't take into account the higher cost of meals out, either.”

“Wow!” Aislinn gasped.  “That's a fortune.”

“Just to feed us?” Jonny asked, twisting around to look at his oldest sister.

“Now maybe we'll get some appreciation around here,” Jack stated dryly, staring pointedly at the brood.  “Food isn't cheap, and neither are you guys.”

“Jen, are you sure?” Ricky asked.  “That's like ... a real lot.”

Chuckling, Jennifer nodded and explained, “Yes.  If you want the approximate numbers, it costs about seven dollars a day for JD, about nine dollars for the twins and Munchkins ...”

“She means *each* of you,” Jack pointed out with a nod to the groups mentioned.

“Dad's right,” Jennifer confirmed.  “Let's see,” she said to herself, looking at her notes, “I figured ten dollars each for Noa and Lulu, eleven bucks for David, and Bri and I are both ten dollars as well.”

“What about Jeff?” David inquired.

“Well, I didn't count him since he's away at college, but he'd be in the eleven dollar bracket, too,” the young woman stated.  “So, what that means ...”

“You didn't say how much Dad and Daddy are worth,” Aislinn called out.

“They're priceless,” Jennifer responded as she smiled brightly, shrugging when her parents gave her a 'nice try' look.  “Eleven dollars each,” she answered.  “So that's a total of $125.  Now we still have to use some of that for the light meals, but if we decide to eat bulk foods, you know, food staples that we have on hand and that aren't costly, I figure we can allot about eighty-percent of the total towards the seekers.”

“A hundred dollars,” Little Danny clarified with a nod.  ~That’s really good.~

“We can feed a lot of the seekers on a hundred dollars,” Brianna asserted, “especially if we can get some deals.”

“What deals?” Daniel inquired.

“At the store.  If we tell them who we're buying for, maybe they'll sell us food at cost,” Brianna answered.  “We do bring them a lot of business.”

“Good point,” Daniel returned with a smile as he sat down on the edge of the bed. “There is one very important thing.”

“What, Daddy?” Little Danny inquired.

“We may not always be able to go once a week.  I don't want to commit to something we might not be able to do all the time.  Now I think we can do it often, but we all have a lot going on.”

“We know, but even if we only did this twice a month, that's two days when the seekers get hot food.”

“Two days,” Daniel sighed, looking up at Jack.  “How selfish did I just sound?”

“Danny, you're not selfish.  None of us are,” Jack asserted strongly.  “We're human, and we have lives to live.”  He paused, letting out a groan.  “That sounded just as bad.”

“Dad, Daddy, why don't we just take it one week at a time,” Little Danny suggested, not wanting his fathers to feel bad.  “That way, we won't have to worry about it being an obligation.  It'll just be something we do to help people who need help when we can.”

“It'll be fun,” Jenny chimed, looking around at her brothers and sisters, all of who were nodding and piping in with words of agreement.

**Gawd, I feel like a heel,** Daniel sighed, looking over the determined faces of his children.

**Takes two heels to equal ... a pair of shoes?**

When Daniel chuckled, the children all stared at each other in confusion.

“Sorry, it's something Dad said,” Daniel explained.

“But Dad didn't say anything,” Lulu pointed out.

“Right.”  Taking a breath, the archaeologist continued, “One day at a time, beginning with Tuesday.  That's a clear day,” he looked at Jack, “isn't it?”

“We'll double-check the calendar and confirm later.”

“Can Jen take us to the market to talk to Mister Rick about getting some food at cost?” Jonny asked, wanting to start this project as soon as possible.

“Sure,” Daniel agreed.  “But not until Dad and I review the calendar.  Jen, is this afternoon okay for you?”

“Yeah, it is,” the young woman agreed.

When the kids finally left the room, Jack sat down next to his lover.  Daniel leaned his head over, meeting that of his soulmate's.

“They want to give and we're prattling about being busy,” the younger man sighed.

“It's normal, Danny.”  Contemplative for a moment, Jack asked, “Danny, don't we need a few gopher types for the Clanton job?”

Daniel looked up and returned, “In New Mexico?  Uh, yeah, about ... five, but it's not just gopher positions.  We're shorthanded there.  We need some grids ... Jack, are you suggesting ...”

“It's an additional expense, but we took on Clanton's job at the last minute as a favor.  He knows we're obligated to other projects first.  He'd probably be willing to shell out a little extra if we can get his job done quicker than we promised.”

“We could use five men, or women,” Daniel stated thoughtfully.  “There's no reason we couldn't put them through some training here for a few days and then send them down.”  He smiled and leaned in for a kiss.  “Nice thinking, Babe.”

“You would have come up with it if you still weren't mortified by our close call.”

“Don't remind me,” Daniel requested, falling back onto the bed and covering his face.  “Ten minutes earlier.”

Jack laughed as he leaned back, settling on his elbow as he looked down at his husband.

“We have great kids, Danny.”

“I know.  I'm just ... Jack, there should be another word.  Proud just doesn't cover it.”

“You'll have to invent one.”  Jack kissed his Heart tenderly; then patted his abdomen and stated brightly as he sat up, “Come on, Love.  Time to eat breakfast, and we have to check the calendar.”

“Yeah.  Eleven dollars a day,” Daniel mused about his daily cost of living, food wise.

“The kids have a clue now; it's worth it just for that,” Jack asserted as he walked into the hallway.

“Geez, I love my family,” Daniel declared into the air, smiling at his good fortune and then getting up to move forward with the day.

====  

“What are we studying this morning?” Lulu questioned her fellow homeschooling brood members as they gathered round the table in the hospitality room.

“We didn't know what to bring downstairs with us,” Jonny complained, not wanting to have to go back upstairs to dig out his books.

Standing at the head of the table, Jack announced, “This morning we're going to learn about how we can make our world more sustainable.”  He smiled as he stared at his teenage son and added, “And David is going to tell us how.  The floor's yours, Son.”

Jack walked to the other end of the table, taking a seat next to his husband.  They had no idea what David was going to discuss.  This particular lesson's roots had begun in India, towards the end of their trip when David had gained an increased awareness of the environment and how it was up to each individual to do their part to make a difference in protecting the planet.

Overlooking the vast beauty of India at the end of the family's trip, David had made a wish known to Daniel that he wanted to make environmental changes for the better, starting with himself and then his family and spreading out to their extended family and their neighbors, and then beyond that to anyone who would listen and participate.  Daniel had told him right there and then that he and Jack would support David's efforts, including allowing him to teach the brood.  That's what was happening now.

“Thanks, Dad,” David began as he stood, facing his seated siblings.  “We already do a lot as a family to recycle.  We give away old things to shelters, and we recycle probably seventy percent of our paper, plastic, and aluminum, but even with all of that, there's a lot more we can do.  When we were in India, we saw the worst of the world, but we also saw incredible beauty.  Part of the beauty was the view we had up Mom's mountain, but the reality is that the clarity and crispness of the skies we saw there used to be visible from everywhere in the United States, too.”

Mom's mountain is how the children now talked about the mountain they'd climbed towards the end of their long visit in India.  Kayla Armentrout, the birth mother of the triplets and the twins, had been there, and it had become a very special place for the Jackson-O'Neills.  There was one spot, an overhang of sorts, where the family had witnessed the most magnificent sunset and morning view.  That had been the catalyst for the awakenings felt by multiple members of the clan, including David's quest to make 'living green' more than a slogan.

“As we've grown technologically, we've also been slowly killing ourselves.  We can't stand by and do nothing, and while we can't force others to do anything, we can be accountable for what we do.  So, Dad and Daddy let me do a lot of research and gave me permission to make my lesson plan to teach us how to be better citizens of the world.  That's what we're going to be learning today.”

Jack and Daniel both gave nods of encouragement to their son, who had a handout prepared.  David gave some sheets of paper to both Little Danny and Jenny, who were seated closest to him and opposite each other.  They took copies and then passed the remainder on down the line.

“Uh, Dad, Daddy, I also prepared a lot of suggestions for J-O Enterprises.  I'm actually suggesting that you either hire a part-time staff member or assign someone to manage a full-fledged environmental office program for the company. There are a lot of things you can do.  For example, J-O is using goldenrod envelopes.”

“Aren't they all goldenrod?” Jack asked naively, glancing at Daniel, who just shrugged.

“Traditionally, they've been the most prevalent,” David acknowledged.  “But did you know that they aren't recyclable?”

“They're paper,” Jack responded in shock.

“Paper used with a dye that makes it un-recyclable.  We may take all those goldenrod manila envelopes to the recycling places, but they end up in the trash, in a landfill.”

“What's gold-rod?” JD questioned from his end of the table.

“That's gold*en*rod, JD, and it's this color,” David answered, holding up an offending envelope to illustrate.

“I recommend J-O switch over to white or cream-colored envelopes, or better still, paper products that are already at least seventy percent recycled,” David stated.  “If you hire someone or assign someone to focus on eco-friendly products and management, you'll help save Colorado for all of us.”

“There's that much to do?” Daniel questioned, amazed how one little detail could ricochet into David's growing project.

“Daddy, there's a lot to do.  I noticed J-O only has two recycling containers, one in the copy room and one at the end of the first floor.  That's not near enough.  Karissa isn't going to get up and walk downstairs to recycle.  Most people wouldn't.”  He looked at a frowning Little Danny and smiled, “Just for the record, I talked to Karissa about a lot of this.  She's okay with me using her as an example.  She's hoping Dad and Daddy will accept my recommendations.”

“Okay,” Little Danny responded, his frown now a smile since he no longer had to protect or defend Karissa Lewis, perhaps better known as his first love.

“J-O Enterprises has become a leader in the community.  It's known for its fairness and its charity.  I'd like to see it become known as one of the most eco-friendly companies in the state, not just the city.  I think you can do it, if you want to.”

“Oh, a challenge,” Jack retorted with a smirk.  ~Always love a challenge!~

“There's more to think about with J-O, and these are things we'll be talking about here, as a family, too,” David continued.  “We buy a lot of memo pads, and yet we throw away a lot of the bigger sheets of paper we're done with.  Just by using the paper cutter, we could make our own memo pads, using the clean side of a used page, or the bottom unused third of pages we're done with.”

“That's a great idea,” Chenoa chimed in.  “When I write down ideas for our dancing, I usually don't need the whole page.  I throw away a lot.”

“We all do,” Brianna agreed.  “Do you have more ideas like that, David?” she asked, not just out of curiosity but because she'd had her own epiphany in India and really did want to do her part to make Earth safer for everyone in the future.  ~I want my dolphins to be safe, too,~ she thought about the beloved creatures she loved so much and thought of as hers in a broad sense.

“Lots, for J-O and here,” the teenager stated brightly.

“Son, you have our attention,” Jack stated firmly.  “You teach; we'll learn.”

“Thanks,” David responded.  “Okay, what I handed out is a self-audit.  It's like when Dad and Daddy give us quizzes about something we haven't studied yet.  What they're doing is trying to learn what we already know.  That's what this is.  What I'd like everyone to do is complete this form now about what you *think* you do as far as recycling and being environmentally friendly and then during the next week I'd like you to really pay attention to what you do, here and anywhere we go, with paper, plastic, and aluminum.”

Pens and pencils raised as the brood began to complete their self-audits.  Jack and Daniel reviewed the paper and then each filled it out as well.

====

That afternoon, Jack and Daniel went to the office and covertly observed their staff.  What they saw was a horrendous waste of materials.  Not only that, but David was right.  Their recycling bins were only three-quarters full, even though plenty of paper had been discarded in wastebaskets.

Following David's advice, the business owners also took notice of how many publications were being received by their staff.

“Daniel, he's right,” Jack sighed.  “We're subscribing to these magazines and periodicals because they're interesting, but are they necessary?”

“No, they're not.  They're a perk,” Daniel acknowledged.  “David said something about developing a routing list.”

“We can cut down.  Instead of subscribing to fifteen, let's take three and develop routing lists.”

“Let's make it four.  We can put one in the lunchroom.  We might find that we can cut down more if our employees read the magazines on their lunches and break.”

There was another issue the couple noticed.

“Jack, they're printing out everything, even memos we've already passed out that we're only alluding to in email,” Daniel observed quietly about the growing amount of paper shuffling.

“We need to start asking ourselves 'do we really need this?'” Jack offered.

“Maybe we don't need memos, not if they're going to print out hard copies of our reminders.  We should consider giving our key employees an iPad to store what they think is important.”

“Flash sticks for everyone else,” Jack added, well aware that the USB devices only cost a few dollars each and would be sufficient for the majority of their personnel.

“I have a hunch investing in flash sticks would pay for itself in reduced paper costs over time.”

“Yep,” Jack agreed.  As the lovers backed over to the wall, standing in front of the window, he queried, “So what do we do to make sure they recycle?  I don't want this waste I'm seeing to continue.”

Daniel looked around and sighed, “I don't know the answer, but I'll bet David does.  Actually, he already gave it to us.”

“A recycling manager?”

“Karissa has plenty to do, but I think we need to meet with her and then decide if this responsibility should be added to someone's current job description or if we need to bring in someone  new to focus solely on getting us in shape.”

“Daniel, I think there's a lot more to this than just adding recycling bins.”

“I agree.”  The archaeologist sighed, “Jack, we have twelve children.  I want their future and our grandchildren's future to be as bright as it can.  Let's do this.  Let's commit to doing what David said, to being a leader in the state.”

“Why stop there?”

“One step at a time, Love,” Daniel replied.  “We need to play catchup first.”

Jack nodded and then the lovers headed upstairs to chat with Karissa about the possibilities.

====

The next morning, homeschooling was again in session.  The brood had shared much of their initial self-audit initial reports, and Jack and Daniel had reported that after speaking with Karissa, the odds were good that they would be assigning someone to be a program coordinator.  Since J-O offered several college internships, the current plan was to be on the lookout for someone majoring in environmental issues to handle the position or at least take point on the task with the assistance of a full-time employee.  Details would be worked out over the coming weeks.

“I'm glad you're on board,” David praised, feeling positive about his parents taking action on his advice.  ~They really do believe in this.~

“Daniel, I sense a 'but' coming,” Jack noted, giving their son a pointed stare.

“I spoke with Alex a couple of weeks ago, and he says that while we're ahead of the game for most residences that there is still more we can do at home to be our eco-best.”

“Such as?” Jack questioned, dollar signs dancing in front of him.  ~It's good thing I made general.  I need that additional pension.~

“Well, we can add a wind generator, or maybe even two generators, and before anyone complains about how it might look, they have some cool ways of making them these days.  Some of them almost look like sculpture or something.”

“Wow,” Jonny responded, thinking that sounded cool.

“It's doable and would cut back even more on our electrical costs,” David expounded.  “We could upgrade the blowers in the heating and air system, too, and windows have advanced a little since we remodeled.  He also suggested adding a heat recovery system that would go in the garage.”

“What's that?” Jenny asked.

“It's a unit that recovers eighty-five percent of heat that would be lost otherwise,” David informed the Spitfire.

“You can recycle heat?” Lulu questioned.  “Wow!”

“That's cool,” Chenoa added.

“Na-huh, Noa,” Jonny interjected.  “That's heat!”

As Chenoa groaned, her siblings chuckled at the correction.

“We'll talk it over,” Daniel told the teenage instructor.

“Would you pass this down?” David requested of Brianna, who was seated at the front of the table closest to the teacher of the moment.  “It's some brochures and additional information,” he advised his parents.

“Thanks,” Jack acknowledged, a half-smile on his face.  ~They must think we're made out of money.~

“This should save us money in the long run,” Daniel stated.

Silently, Jack wondered if the remark was a response to his personal thought.

“Today we're going to look at things we could recycle or do something better with other than throwing them away.  For example, crayons.  Did you know that we could send those old crayons we have, the ones that are down to the end or the colors we just never seem to use, to the National Crayon Recycle Program?”

“There's ... a crayon recycling program?” Jack asked, totally surprised.

“Dad, they've collected tens of thousands of pounds of crayons since they started in 1993.  This is what I'm talking about,” David began, his passion on the subject coming through in his tone and demeanor.  “So much of what we discard doesn't need to be.  We're filling up landfills with reusable materials.  It only takes a little effort and research.”  He sighed, “We just have to take the time to look around and become proactive about it.”

“Okay, we need a box for the projects room,” Daniel stated.  “Who would like to decorate one for us?”

Several hands went up in the air, prompting the kids to work through it themselves, the end result being that Aislinn would be the official maker of the crayon recycling box.

“Don't remove the wrappers.  They need those to help identify the color,” David pointed out, feeling good inside that the entire family was cooperating with the project.  ~Progress: one person and one family at a time.~

====

Applause and cheers broke out in the recreation room.  Aislinn curtsied and Jonny bowed, the two having just concluded a little performance of Irish tunes.  Aislinn had sung while Jonny accompanied her on either the guitar or the bodhran, the latter a gift he'd received from Jared O'Reiilly during the family's road trip in 2012.

“Jonny, you did great,” David praised.

“I agree,” Jack interjected, standing up.  “You've come a long way since Jared gave that to you a couple of years ago.”

“Jared's a good teacher, Dad,” Jonny complimented with a smile, an acknowledgement to the lessons Jared had given him over the internet via the webcam.

“Uh, what time is it?” Daniel added, smiling dubiously at the brood.

“Ice cream?” Ricky questioned, knowing it was a wrong answer.

“Nice try, Sherlock,” Jack quipped.

“Yeah, Ricky, it's only ten-thirty.  You should have waited at least an hour before asking for ice cream,” Lulu teased.

As Jack groaned, Daniel looked pointedly at the children, his eyes an indicator that it was time to get serious.  They'd all enjoyed a wonderful breakfast together before enjoying the short concert by Aislinn and Jonny, but now it was time to move on to the next thing on their weekend checklist.

“Chores,” Little Danny sighed, heading over towards Ptolemy.  “Time to clean your cage, Ptolemy.”

“Clean Queen,” the bird squawked, making everyone chuckle.

The kids nodded and slowly fanned out to do their work, leaving their parents shaking their heads, while also being highly amused.

====

A couple of hours later, Fed-X arrived with two large boxes.

“What's this?” Jack questioned, wiping his hands and then putting the towel in his back pocket.  He'd been doing a routine checkup of Jeff's truck, just making sure it was in shape in case anyone needed to use it.  ~Big boxes.~

“I don't know,” Daniel replied.  He called out, “*Jen!*”

“What, no intercom?” Jack chuckled, taking advantage of Daniel's shout since his husband was normally the one to question why they had an elaborate intercom system in their home that was rarely used.

“Don't push it,” Daniel threatened lightly.

“What is ... oh, they're here!” Jennifer exclaimed, seeing the name on the shipping label.  “Dad, Daddy, will you carry them to the hospitality room for me, please?”

Unable to deny such a pleasant and polite request, each father took possession of one of the nearly forty-pound boxes and carried them to the table for unpacking.

“Jen, what are we unloading?” the general questioned.

“Warming ovens, two of them,” the young woman answered brightly.  “Alex helped me pick them out when he paid me for doing Mrs. Bonahy's bedroom accessories.”

With the first item unwrapped, Daniel surmised, “These aren't cheap.”

“No, Daddy, they weren't, but Archonics pays me very well for what I do.  I know you two decided against using Betsy,” Jennifer remarked, referring to the family's large RV that had a lot of cooking appliances inside it for when it was parked at a campsite or similar lot.

“It's the attention, Jen.  We like what we're doing, but in the first place, Betsy would stand out like a cockroach on a wedding cake; and second, there's not a power hookup there,” Jack stated.

“I know, and that makes sense, but the people at Ralston Place deserve hot food, and the kids should have hot food, especially at this time of year.  Let's be honest. It's warm when we get there, but it's not hot.  Now, it'll be hot.”

“That's our girl, Danny,” a grinning Jack praised, putting his arm around Jennifer's waist and squeezing her encouragingly.

“You're wrong, Babe,” Daniel responded, surprising both Jack and Jennifer.

“That's our daughter, a very caring young woman.”

“Oh, Daddy,” Jennifer nearly cried, taking a few steps forward to share a hug with Daniel.

“Four drawers for each,” Jack observed.

“With AC and DC adapters,” Jennifer pointed out.  “We'll be able to use these wherever we go, even down to the creek for March First Day,” she stated, referring to family's unique holiday when they visited the homeless down near the area where Jack had been taken care of once.  He'd been injured in an avalanche and was suffering from amnesia as well when he'd stumbled upon the encampment.  “I know we tend to take presents then, but why not food, now that we can?”

**You're right again, Love,** Jack sighed.

**About?**

**The word 'proud' just doesn't cut it anymore.**

====

After bringing by food and beverages to the homeless and/or poverty-stricken people of the area for over a month, the Jackson-O'Neills had come to know many of them.  Jack and Daniel had hired eight of those they'd met, providing them with hands-on training for some basic archaeological work.  The key was that the families, having nothing really to bind them to Colorado Springs, were willing to relocate temporarily.

Four of the new hires were working the Clanton job, but others were sent to other locales where added hands were needed.  So far, the reports indicated that while it was slow going, the trainees were hard workers, doing their best to learn something completely new to them.

“Hi, Johnny,” Little Danny greeted the seven-year-old boy at Ralston Place.

“Hi, Little Danny,” the child returned as he blew into his hands to warm them.

“We brought your favorite tonight.”

Johnny McCabe smiled brightly as he asked, “Mac and Cheese?”

Nodding, Little Danny waved, “Come on,” and headed back to Jack's truck to get the food.

Little Danny sat on the ground with his new friend as Johnny ate.  They talked about all kinds of things, and then the child prodigy mentioned a book he'd brought with him.

“I thought you might want to read it,” Little Danny stated, taking a paperback copy of “The Great Brain” out of his jacket and extending his hand out with the intent of handing it over to other boy.

“It's a book,” Johnny observed.  He studied it for a while and then said, “I don't need it.”

“You read it already?  Isn't it great when ...”  Little Danny stopped when he saw Johnny look down and then away from him.  “Johnny, what's wrong?”

Johnny put down his food, stood up, and started to say something, only instead, he just ran inside the building.  Little Danny wanted to follow, but he knew he couldn't.  One of the rules Jack and Daniel had given the brood was that they couldn't go inside the unfinished building.  It was dangerous.

Little Danny sighed.  He picked up the plate and took it to dispose of, grateful that Johnny had almost eaten all of it before having been upset.

“You look sad,” Aislinn observed as she joined her sibling.

“Johnny ran away,” Little Danny sighed.

“He's right there,” Aislinn stated, pointing at the oldest Munchkin.

“Not our Jonny, Johnny McCabe.  I tried to give him this,” Little Danny showed Aislinn the book, “but he ran inside without finishing his dinner.  Why would he run away?”

Aislinn shrugged and then told her brother, “We need to help refill the thermoses.”

“Okay.”

====

It was another cold night as the Jackson-O'Neills returned to Ralston Place in mid February.  Most of the food had already been doled out, and at the moment, Jack and Daniel were standing by the truck, just watching their brood mix and mingle with the seekers.

Jack nudged his lover, nodding over to where Chenoa was chatting animatedly with a father and daughter.

“You don't have to have tap shoes to dance,” the curly-haired girl proclaimed with a smile.  “Look.  Just do this.  Heel -- toe, heel -- toe.  Hear the clicks in your head.”

Jack and Daniel smiled as they saw the young girl next to their daughter do her very first dance move.

“Papa, did you see that?  I can dance!” the youth exclaimed excitedly, following alongside Chenoa as they practiced.

By Jack's truck, Daniel took notice of the Spitfires, who were standing over a woman the parents didn't recognize. This was not new since many people came and went as their situation required.  There was an older female nearby, holding a toddler as she watched the scene.  The first woman was looking down at Jenny as she held her five-month-old baby.

The archaeologist studied the faces of the twins and became aware of a change in their expressions, their smiling faces suddenly looking sad.  He was about to check it out when he saw Ricky whisper in Jenny's ear, after which the redhead nodded adamantly.  Then the boy said something to the woman before darting over in the direction of his parents.

“Jack,” Daniel stated, patting his lover's hand.

“What's up, Ricky?” Jack questioned when the boy reached him.

“They don't have diapers for the baby.  Can't we buy them some diapers?  Jenny and me will pay for it out of our allowances,” Ricky stated.

Daniel looked over at the children and called out, “Jennifer!  David!”

Jennifer finished her conversation and hurried over to her parents, who explained the diaper need.  Halfway through, David joined them and was able to figure out what was happening.

Pulling out a twenty dollar bill, Jack handed it and the keys to the truck to Jennifer.

--

“Let's go, Bro.”

Before driving away, Jennifer retrieved her cell phone from her jacket and handed it to David.

“What's this for?”

“I give Dad about two minutes, maybe less, before he calls.  He'll want to be on the phone with us the entire time,” Jennifer prophesied, as she started the truck and drove away from the building.

“I'm surprised he let us go,” David admitted.

“I think it's because of Ralston Place.  Dad and Daddy feel like they both need to be there; keep all eyes on the brood.  They're trusting us big time since we don't know this neighborhood very well.”

“So we ...”  David laughed when the phone went off.  “Hi, Dad.  We're going under the speed limit and we're almost there.  Would you like me to tell you about the Burgess shale while we buy the diapers?”

--

At Ralston Place, Daniel stared at his husband, seeing a very familiar expression on his face.

“Lecture?” Daniel questioned quietly.

Putting the phone on mute for a few seconds, Jack responded, “Something about a Yoyo Park in British Columbia and an old time fossil.”

The younger man chuckled and, motioning to the phone, replied, “You'd better pay attention, Love.  There might be a quiz.”

Jack let out a groan before returning the phone to his ear.

“Babe,” Daniel called out.  Seeing he had the other man's attention, he chuckled, “You're still on mute.”

With a nod, Jack corrected the situation, interjecting, “Arthropods, right.”

Still wearing a smile, Daniel surveyed the children, pleased to see how they were interacting with the seekers.  Aislinn was tying a girl's hair into pigtails, Lulu was playing checkers with an elderly man, and Brianna was demonstrating something about dolphins to a mother and daughter.  Everywhere he looked, he saw compassion and that filled him with tremendous satisfaction.

~I always wanted to make a difference, and I hoped the brood would feel the same way.  Look at them.  I love them so much.~

====

“Are you mad at me, Johnny?” Little Danny asked when he finally saw his friend emerge from inside Ralston Place.  ~I thought he'd never come out to eat.~

“No.”

“Let's go eat.  I made sure we saved you a plate.”

Little Danny waited for Johnny to finish his entire plate of food.  He didn't want to risk upsetting the boy by saying the wrong thing.  He sat quietly while Johnny ate, looking over and watching curiously when Jennifer and David returned with the diapers and then carried them over to the grateful woman.  The child prodigy smiled when he saw the huge grins on the faces of the Spitfires.  It felt good just knowing something positive had happened.

After Johnny finished and discarded the plate, he and Little Danny walked a few yards before Little Danny decided to tackle the book issue again.

“Johnny, I thought maybe you just didn't like “The Great Brain,” so I brought you another one, see,” Little Danny stated excitedly, holding out another book.  “Do you like this one?”

Johnny's head dropped down.

“Johnny, I have lots of books.  I like to share.  It's okay for you to take it,” Little Danny assured, thinking maybe that was why his friend refused the book the week before.  “Maybe you've already read it.  Is that it, Johnny?  Have you read this book before?”

“What is it?” Johnny asked in a whisper.

“It's 'James and the Giant Peach,'”  Little Danny advised.  “See?”

“I don't want it.”

“Okay.  I'll bring you another one.”

“No!” the boy spat.  “Reading's a waste of time,” the boy claimed, running off.

Little Danny ran after the youth, calling out, “Johnny, wait!”  He didn't understand why his friend was so upset.  ~What did I say?~

The boy turned around and shouted, “Leave me alone.  I don't want your stupid old books.  I ... I can't read.”  He paused, crying.  “Dad says reading is stupid anyway.”

The child prodigy was stunned and stood, watching his friend disappear into the building.  He stood motionless, feeling guilty about upsetting his friend.  That had been the last thing he'd wanted to do.

“Little Danny, are you okay?” Daniel called out after sprinting over to check on what was happening.

“Daddy, Johnny says he doesn't know how to read, and I don't think his parents do, either.”

Not surprised, Daniel nodded and explained, “Unfortunately, a lot of people don't know how to read.  It's a huge problem in our country.”  He looked over at another family and commented, “I don't think the Medinas are literate, either.”

“We have to help them.”

Little Danny's voice had been so pure and so certain.  How could Daniel say no to that?

====

“Daniel, we're not a school!” Jack barked later that night as the couple discussed Little Danny's experience and latest brainstorm.

“Excuse me?” Daniel asked incredulously, giving his husband a pointed stare.

“You know what I mean,” Jack groaned.

“Actually, Babe, I don't.  We both have teaching certificates.  If we wanted to, we could be hired by any school in this state, elementary or high school, so we are qualified.”

Jack sat down on his side of the bed, one leg crooked beneath him, and sighed.

“Danny, we can't solve the world's problems.”

“I know that, but we can help, one person at a time.  That's all our children are asking us to do.”

“We're not saints, Daniel.  Who do our kids think we are?”

“Well.”  Daniel smiled as he walked over and sat down on the bed, facing his Love.  “Our children believe we're Superman, times two.  They think we can do anything because that's what children believe about their parents; and, well, it's pretty much what we've taught them.  Jack, we never told our brood that they have limits, not ever.  They see injustice, and they want to fight it because that's what we've told them to do, to stand up for what's right, by the law and by their hearts.  Tonight, Little Danny saw a wrong, and he wants us to help right it.”

“We can only do so much.”

“Exactly.  We're already there once a week, so now we stay a little bit longer, and we help anyone who wants to be helped.  A few minutes, Babe; that's all we're asking.”

“We?” Jack questioned.

“Jack, you can sit there and grumble all you want, but you know you're doing it just to argue.”

“I hate it when you're right,” the older man chuckled.

“Babe, I know why you're fighting this.  It's finding the time.”

“No, it's ... it's being afraid of disappointing those kids who keep thinking we can make every wrong we encounter right.  Someday, Angel, they're going to be disappointed.  We'll let them down, and I don't think I can bear that,” Jack admitted with a huge sigh.

Daniel leaned forward and gently kissed his soulmate.  His mouth formed into a smile, and his dimples began to show.  He reached up with his right hand and ran his thumb across his Love's lips.  Then he kissed them again.  His eyes connecting with his lover's, he let the silence settle for a few seconds before speaking again.

“You're wrong, Jack.  As long we try, that's all that matters to them.  From the day they were born, or the day they became ours, we've told the brood that you have to try, that trying is everything.  Do your best to be your best: that's what we've told them we expect, and that's what they expect from us.”

“Expectation leads to failure.”

The younger man smiled as he took Jack's hand and kissed it.

“Are you trying to seduce me?” the older man questioned with an alluring grin.

“Maybe later,” Daniel chuckled before continuing with his thoughts.  “The children won't be let down as long as try our best.”  He blinked quickly a few times as he thought about their brood and how they'd grown up over the years.  “Our brood cares, Jack.  They care about people.  To Little Danny, there's a problem -- his friend can't read.  There's also a simple solution -- we teach him.  That's how he sees it.”

“Life's so easy when you're eight,” Jack remarked with a wistful smile.

“Sometimes,” Daniel chuckled, his hand still holding his husband's.

“Oh, crap,” Jack stated, the light mood shattering slightly as he'd realized what he'd just said.

“Jack, stop,” the archaeologist interrupted.  “What was, was.  We're talking about our children, not my past.”  After a brief pause, Daniel pointed out thoughtfully, “We've tried to teach our children to analyze a situation and, if necessary, come up with a solution.  We can't exactly tell Little Danny that he's right, but we're not in the mood, can we?”

“So we're a catering service that teaches reading and writing, too,” Jack chuckled lightly.  “I'm not sure any of what we're doing is legal.  We probably need a license.”

“Babe?”

“Hmmm?”

“I know a few people.”

Jack laughed, a laugh that grew as he reared his head back, and acknowledged, “I do, too, Love.  I do, too.”  More seriously, he added, "At some point, very soon, we need to explain that the world is not a broken toy to be fixed, and people are not projects to be completed.  The world is what it is, for better and for worse.  It's possible to burn out and become bitter and cynical.  I don't want to see our brood lose the spontaneity and joy of living we've instilled in them, either.”

Nodding thoughtfully, Daniel silently agreed, but he knew that as long as they all had each other, none of them would lose their love of life.

Following through on lessons learned, not just in India, but during their lifetimes, the Jackson-O'Neill brood had set the family on yet another adventurous path, one that had them helping their fellow man in some of the most basic of ways.  They were a family who had much and who always tried to give back even more. Who knew where it might lead or when it would end.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
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