Checkmate

Author: Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Mini-Angst, Humor, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - January 10 - March 19, 2011
Spoilers:  None
Size:  35kb, short story
Written:  March 6-7,9-10,14, July 18,30, August 1, 2005  Revised for consistency: September 4-5,14, 2007
Summary:  Jack checks, but it's Little Danny who gets the king, or is it?
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) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Claudia, QuinGem, Cassiopeia, Linda!

Checkmate
by Orrymain

With their children all out of the house, either at school or with friends for the afternoon, Jack and Daniel were enjoying one of their favorite pastimes.  Like their Friday night dates, this was something they absolutely insisted on doing at least once a week, if not more.  Lately, they'd been playing even more, a result of Jack having been injured in an avalanche the month before.

“Danny, someday I'm going to beat you at this game,” Jack promised, staring at the board.

Daniel had just won their latest game of chess.  Still, at least today, Jack had given him a run for his money, or so he thought.

The archaeologist chuckled, “Babe, you win ... sometimes.”

“Yeah, usually when you're distracted,” Jack teased.

Daniel winked as he retorted, “Then distract me, Big Hunk.  Show me your ... pawn!”

Their chess game forgotten, the lovers managed to sneak a quickie round of lovemaking before the first of their children arrived back home.

====

“Morning, ragamuffins,” Jack said, yawning as he walked into the living room.  He was surprised that Jonny and Little Danny were both up so early, especially since no one else was. “What are you two doing?”

The boys were still in their 'Superman' pajamas, their hair mussed from having not been combed yet.

“We're playing chess,” Jonny answered, moving a pawn over a queen.

“I'm winning,” Little Danny announced as he studied the board with great intensity.

“Are not,” Jonny argued.

“Am, too,” Little Danny insisted, looking up to face his brother.

“Not,” the little boy retorted.

“Too.”

~Geez, I'm in a rerun of ... Danny and me,~ Jack mused and then yawned.  ~Coffee.  I need coffee.~

Jack shook his head and headed for the kitchen to put on his much-needed caffeine drink.  He sneaked frequent peeks at the boys in the living room, neither of whom really knew what they were doing, though Little Danny was scrunching his nose a lot, as if trying to figure out a real move.  He laughed silently as he watched, especially at the next exchange of conversation.

“King me, Little Danny,” Jonny requested when he moved a piece to the other side of the board.

“Not checkers, Jonny,” Little Danny sighed.  “No king you.”

“But I there,” Jonny said, pointing to his rook.

“Only one king in chess,” Little Danny told him.

“Then what you do?” the oldest Munchkin asked his brother.

“Checkmate!” Little Danny exclaimed in answer, moving his Queen to Jonny's side of the board.

“No lose just 'cause I say wrong word,” Jonny pouted, crossing his arms defiantly.

“We both win then,” Little Danny suggested, peacefully ending the almost-skirmish.

“Okay.  Let's go play Bij 'n' Katie,” Jonny suggested, standing up.

“Uh, how about getting dressed first?” Jack interceded, stopping the two before they made it to the patio doors.

The two boys looked themselves up and down and then stared at each other.

“We dressed,” the children stated at the same time.

“You know what I mean.  Go ... now!” Jack ordered.  As the two boys quickly turned and ran upstairs, their older father chuckled as he sipped his freshly brewed coffee.  Then he looked down at the chess board and smiled.  “King me,” he chuckled.  “That's my boy!”

====

“Danny, they were so cute,” Jack explained to his lover later that day when they had a few minutes to chat.  “They kept moving the chess pieces and saying 'checkmate' every ten seconds; well, actually, Little Danny was saying 'checkmate', and Jonny was saying 'king me'.”

“Who won?” Daniel inquired curiously while he flipped through a folder, looking for some papers he needed for J-O Enterprises.

“They both did.”

“Really?” Daniel asked.

“Yeah, Little Danny played peaceful negotiator and said that Jonny's 'king me' equaled his 'checkmate', so they both won.  Frankly, they didn't care about who really won, anyway.”  After a moment, Jack grew serious, saying, “Angel, it's not like this is a surprise, but watching them, it reminded me how much of an example we are to them.”

~Work can wait.~  Daniel leaned forward, tossing the folder onto the coffee table, and then snuggled into Jack.  “They mimic us,” he observed.

“They were into that game.  Jonny was suggesting they play gin, and Little Danny was 'checkmating' all over the place,” Jack commented, smiling as he remembered his sons' antics.

“Do they know how to play gin?” Daniel inquired.

“Probably about as well as they play chess,” Jack smirked.

“Oh,” Daniel chuckled.  Then a bit more seriously, he spoke, “It's a big responsibility; I mean, raising children the right way.”

“We're doing okay,” Jack said, leaning in for a kiss.

“Peaceful negotiator, huh?” Daniel questioned.

“Yeah.”

“Hmmm,” Daniel responded thoughtfully.

“You're right about how they mimic what they see, and what they see is you, My Love, keeping the peace and seeing both sides of every problem.”

“You're giving me too much credit,” Daniel responded shyly.

“No, I'm not,” Jack refuted.  “When Little Danny said, 'We both win', I was really proud of them.  I've seen kids and adults fight over a lot less, but they just smiled and went about their business.  We're doing okay, Danny.”

As Daniel smiled, the lovers continued to snuggle as they talked about their children.

====

Several days later, Jack was setting up the chess game for another match with his husband when Little Danny came in.  He held up his arms, causing Jack to smile.  He picked up his son and bounced him on his knee.

“Gonna help me beat Daddy?” Jack asked, putting the last pieces in place on the board.

“You never beat Daddy,” Little Danny giggled.

“I do at gin,” Jack replied a bit defensively.

The little boy smiled as he looked at the table and observed, “Not playing gin.”

“My little lawyer,” Jack laughed, giving his son a kiss on the side of his forehead.

“Table set up?” Daniel queried as he walked into the living room.

“Ready to go, Love,” Jack replied, adding, “And you'd better watch out because I have my good luck charm here.”

“What good luck charm?” the little boy asked curiously.

“You,” the silver-haired father answered jovially, prompting Little Danny to grin.

“Oh, good, finally a real challenge!” Daniel quipped as he sat down.

**Very funny, Daniel.**

Daniel snickered, and the game was on.

====

Thirty minutes later, Jack was struggling to make a move.  Little Danny was studying the board carefully, while one of the twins, Jenny, who had come in a few minutes earlier, was standing, watching the action, or rather, the inaction, as well.

“Dad, gotta move,” Jenny urged impatiently.

“Critics,” Jack whined.  He picked up his knight, jumped over a rook, and moved one space to the right.  “I still say it looks like a horse,” he remarked about how the knight chess piece resembled a horse.

“Oops,” Little Danny sighed as he shook his head.  He looked at Jenny, who closed her eyes and had an expression that said, 'Not good'.

Daniel responded by moving his bishop across to take the knight, which caused Little Danny to smile.

“What are you smiling at?” Jack asked his son.  The little boy shrugged, and Jack refocused on the game.  He reached for his rook, but Little Danny shook his head.  ~What's he thinking?  He doesn't know how to play this game.~  The general reached for the chess piece again and made his move, shifting the rook forward four spaces.  “There we go.”

Little Danny sighed, and Jenny looked disgusted.  Jack decided he was being paranoid.

After ten more minutes of game play, Daniel had a smile on his face as he made his last move.

“Don't look so cocky.  I've got you now, Dannyboy,” Jack boasted, about to pick up his rook and place it in one of the squares to its left.

Suddenly, Little Danny spoke up and warned, “Dad, no!  If you move castle there, Daddy get your queen.”

Jack and Daniel stared at each other, and then at their son.

“Dad not good at chess,” Jenny commented, turning and running out of the room and up the stairs.

Jack leaned forward a little to watch her flee; then turned his attention back to his son, asking, “How do you know?”

“He's right, Jack,” Daniel confirmed, looking at his son in awe.

Jack studied the board and sighed, having to admit the tiny genius was definitely correct.

“'Cause Daddy's black square bishop is here,” Little Danny answered, pointing to the board.  He looked at Jack and obviously thought his father needed the situation explained a little more.  “Need to leave castle, p'tect queen,” he said, showing Jack the chess pieces he was talking about.

“Little Danny, do you ... know how to play chess?” Daniel asked hesitantly.  ~Maybe that's a dumb question.~

The little boy nodded.

“But when you were playing with Jonny, you were just making silly moves,” the older father noted.

“Jonny not know how to play.  Jenny does, though,” Little Danny informed.

“She does?” an astounded Jack asked.  Again, the boy nodded, prompting him to inquire, “Daniel, have you been teaching them how to play chess?”  Mentally, he begged, **Please say yes.**

**Sorry, Babe,** Daniel communicated as he shook his head.

Little Danny shook his head, too, and then explained, “It's easy, Dad.  We watch you 'n' Daddy.  Daddy show us how to play, and Dad show how not to play.”

While the younger man sniggered, Jack looked both affronted and stunned and stated expectantly, “Daniel?”

“What?”

“Our children know how to play chess,” Jack announced quietly.  ~Geez, Little Danny isn't even four-and-a-half, and Jenny's even younger.  How'd they learn so fast without us teaching them?  Wow!  Maybe chocolate is brain food!~

“Oh, well, we should get them a chess board then,” Daniel suggested.

“Lewis set?” Little Danny asked hopefully as he brightened at the thought.

“Lewis set?  What do you know about a Lewis set?” Jack questioned.

As the little boy did so often when employing a combination of his genius and photographic memory, Little Danny began to prattle in a more adult-like speech, mixed in with his age-level speech pattern, something that continued to baffle both of his parents, especially Jack.

“Lewis set medieval from twelfth century.  Chess pieces made in Norway from walrus ivory or whale teeth; poor walrus' and whales,” the boy said, shaking his head.  “All the pieces are human figures 'cept pawns.  They look like gravestones.  Knights are on little horsies, holding spears and shields.  They got lost 'til someone found them in small room.”

Jack was amazed, but asked, “I don't suppose you know why we call them the Lewis set?”

Little Danny smiled as he answered, “They found on west coast of someplace called Isle of Lewis.  Daddy, no know where that is.  You show me?” the little boy requested politely.

“Uh, sure.”

Daniel got up to get an atlas and located the Isle of Lewis, which was one of the Outer Hebrides, on one of the pages.

Little Danny studied the map; then said, “Thanks, Daddy.”

“You're welcome, Son,” Daniel replied as he put the atlas back on the shelf.

“We get Lewis set?” Little Danny asked, his eyes relaying the hope he felt.

Jack nodded, not knowing what else to say.

Out of the blue, Little Danny said, “Someday I find something like that.”

“What?” Jack asked, surprise in his voice.

“Gonna dig in dirt like Daddy.  David help.  We like to dig,” Little Danny said, his adult prattling now forgotten.

Daniel stared at his son.  His heart just did a flip-flop that he couldn't explain.

“I be back.  Gonna tell Jenny 'bout new chess set,” Little Danny said happily before running upstairs.

Jack looked at Daniel and, observing the unusual expression on his face, asked, “Danny, are you okay?”

“Did ... did he just say that ...” Daniel stuttered, pointing to the direction his namesake had just ran.

Jack smiled.  He knew what this was.  He'd felt exactly the same way the first time Charlie had said, 'Dad, I want to be a pilot just like you'.  He stood and leaned down to grab his husband's hand, pulling him up with it to face him.

“He wants to be like you, just like you.  He's going to be an archaeologist, probably take over J-O when we're old and gray, or old, gray, and grayer,” Jack joked.

Daniel smiled slightly, still a bit overwhelmed, and replied, “It just feels so ... to see that beautiful little life who is here just because of us and hear him say ... I mean ...”

“I know what you mean, Danny.  C'mere.”  Jack held his Love close as he spoke, “He's just like you, and I couldn't be happier or prouder.”

“Jonny is going to be Special Ops, you know,” Daniel stated.

“Yeah,” Jack responded, letting out a tiny snort.  “I kinda figured that out when he started breaking out of ToddlerTown that we were heading that way.”

“I feel so ... I don't have words,” Daniel admitted as an emotion he hadn't really felt before swept through him.

The lovers held each other, reveling in the magic of parenthood and their next generation.

====

The next week, Jack and Daniel sat down for another game of chess.  It wasn't long before Little Danny stopped playing trucks with Jonny and Ricky and walked over to the chess game.  He patted his older father's thigh, and, again, he ended up sitting on Jack's knee as the game progressed.

**You know, Love.  Now that I think about it, Little Danny's been sitting on my knee, watching us play chess since he could walk.**

With a slight nod, Daniel responded, **Jenny doesn't do it as often, but she watches sometimes, too.**

Jack moved his bishop diagonally three squares to the right.

“Interesting,” Daniel noted, glancing up at his lover and smiling.

Jack smirked confidently, “I think so.”

Little Danny said nothing, but continued to watch every move closely.

“I think I'll do ... this,” Daniel said, moving his queen three squares towards Jack's knight, effectively setting up his pieces so that on his next move he would be able to take either his lover's bishop or his knight.

“Hey, no fair,” Jack argued.

“Gotta pay attention, Babe,” Daniel responded, clearly proud of his move.

“Yeah, Dad, pay 'tention,” Little Danny chastised.

“Critics,” Jack growled and then studied the board as he decided on his next move.  He reached for a pawn, hoping to at least protect his bishop, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw his son shaking his head.  “Okay, what would you do?”

Little Danny shrugged.

Jack reviewed his options again.  He decided on a different move and leaned over to pick up one of his rooks, but, once again, the little boy shook his head.

“Little Danny, stop that,” Jack demanded, grinding his teeth in frustration.

“Itches,” the little boy responded, reaching up and scratching his nose.

Jack barely held on to a scream that was threatening to come out.  A bit frustrated, he made his next play, moving his knight so that it protected his queen.  He didn't realize that he'd just made a monumental mistake until he saw his opponent looking a little stunned.

As Jack looked back at the board, Daniel calmly moved one of his rooks forward so that it was level with Jack's king.

“Thank you, Love,” Daniel said with a smile.  “Checkmate.”

Little Danny sniggered, “Did good, Daddy.”  He scooted off his father's lap, saying, “Dad, need practice more.”

“I need to ...”

“Jack!” Daniel warned.

“Let's play gin,” Jack suggested, earning a room full of giggles and snickers from the children.

====

As the first day of February ticked onward, Jack arrived home from a business meeting at the residential office for J-O Enterprises, which was just twelve minutes away.  In his hand was a box, gift-wrapped.

“Hello there,” Jack greeted his son as he entered Little Danny's bedroom.

The little boy was reading a rather large book that captured Jack's interest.

“Hi, Dad!”

“What is that?” Jack asked, bemused.

“'Cyclopedia.  Has lots info'mation,” Little Danny answered.

Jack sat down next to Little Danny and said, “That's why we have a set, for you to learn with.”

“Dad, you think I funny?” Little Danny asked nonchalantly.

“Funny?”  Jack started to say something silly, but all of a sudden, he got a strange feeling about the question.  “Son, what do you mean by funny?”

“Me read 'cyclopedia: that funny?  Jonny no read it.  Ash can, but no want to,” the little boy explained, continuing his use of broken toddler speak, something he'd done a lot recently.

~I wonder if he's doing it intentionally to fit in?~  Jack checked out what his son was reading and shook his head in amazement.  “Ash can read this?”  He was taken aback when his son nodded.  Aislinn was definitely smart, but he had no idea she could read anywhere close to Little Danny's level.  “Uh, well, everyone is different.”

“Am I different?” Little Danny asked quietly, his head bowed.

“Put that down for a minute,” Jack requested, helping his son to put down the encyclopedia.  Then he picked the boy up, sitting him on his lap so that they were facing each other.  “Danny,” he began, purposely leaving out the 'little' that so often preceded his name.  “You are not different; you are special, very special.  You have a gift.”

“Mean I smart?” the boy genius asked quietly.

~Geez, how could we think he hadn't noticed how different he is from his siblings and playmates?  Dumb, dumb, dumb!~ Jack self-chastised.  “You're very smart, but being smart is only part of who you are.  You have so much to learn about life.”

“But Jerry no read like me,” Little Danny said about one of his friends.  He continued on, comparing himself to others.  “Angela older and Noa ...”

“Danny, everyone grows at their pace.  For some reason, your gift is kicking in a little sooner.  What we all have to be careful of is that you always remember that there's more to life than being smart, and just because Jerry, your other friends, or your brothers and sisters may not know about ... about the Lewis chess set and its history, doesn't mean you are better than they are.  It means they're ignorant about that one thing at this very minute,” Jack explained.

“Ig'rant not bad, right?”

“No, I mean, you're right.  Many times people say ignorance is a bad thing, but ignorant just means you don't know or understand something.  It's lacking a skill or knowledge, like, well, me.  For a long time, I was ignorant about Daddy's job.”

“Arc'ol'gist?” Little Danny questioned.

Jack paused, stopping himself from correcting the boy.  This wasn't a time for correcting; there was more at stake here than proper pronunciation.  Besides, Little Danny had pronounced the word much better in the past.  The issue at hand went way beyond speech.

“Exactly.  When Daddy worked, I used to get frustrated.  It seemed like he was just playing with rocks and digging for old plates.  It didn't mean anything to me.”

“Now you arc'ol'gist, too!”

“Well, not really, but I'm learning.  I'll never know as much as Daddy does, and I'll never be anywhere near as good as he is at it, but I'm not as ignorant as I used to be.  Daddy taught me, about the tools and how to dig, and he showed me just what that old plate meant to a world that existed centuries ago, and how it affects us, today,” Jack said, smiling with pride in his husband.

“Not ign'rant anymore,” the boy deduced.

“Not as much.  So the point is, while you may know a lot more about chess or rocks or,” Jack chuckled lightly, “whatever it is you're reading about, it doesn't mean Noa isn't smart; it only means she's never read that or hasn't been taught about it yet.”

“So I not different?” Little Danny asked his father.

Jack sighed.  It was a tough question, and honestly, he wasn't sure how to answer it.

“Son, right now, in comparison with children your age, you are more intelligent.  You learn fast, and you've got your daddy's talking gene.”

The little boy laughed, “No such thing.”

“I'm not convinced,” Jack teased, running his right hand through his son's shaggy hair.  “Danny, you're a little boy, and for as long as it's appropriate, you're going to stay a little boy.  That may not make much sense, but someday, you'll understand.”

Little Danny thought about his father's words for a minute, and then he questioned, “Dad, do I show off?”

“Who said that?” Jack asked, frowning.

“Jonny,” Little Danny answered, quickly adding, “but he just teasing.”

“Yeah, he was.  No, Son, you don't show off.  Don't change one thing; right now, you're perfect, and I'm very proud of you.”

Little Danny smiled and leaned forward to hug his father, saying, “Love you, Dad.”

“And I love you,” Jack replied a bit emotionally.  He wondered if someone had said something to his son to trigger this conversation, or if the boy had just begun to notice how much more advanced he was.  He also hoped Daniel wouldn't be upset at his choice to be as honest with Little Danny as he could be.  “Hey, I almost forgot.  I brought you something.”

“Present?” the boy asked excitedly, moving his body to try and see the gift.

“Scoot down.”  Once Little Danny got off and moved to stand by the edge of the bed, Jack stated, “This is for you, and for your brothers and sisters.”

“Wow, present?”

“Open her up,” Jack urged.

Little Danny worked hard to unwrap the package.  When he saw the gift, a Lewis Chess Set, he broke out into a huge grin.

“Oh, wow!  Thank you, Dad!” the budding chess player exclaimed.

“Thank Daddy, too.  He ordered it; I just picked it up.”

“I go thank him now,” the youngster said, putting the chess set carefully down on the bed and then turning and running out of his room.

“Don't run!” Jack admonished.

A second later, Little Danny looked back inside his room.

“Sorry, no run; I walk fast.”

With a smile, the little boy turned and hurried, but didn't run, to find his daddy.

Jack picked up the gift wrap, crumbling it into a ball, and tossed it into the wastebasket.  Then he picked up the chess set and carried it downstairs, placing it next to the set that he and Daniel played with.  As he looked outside the patio doors, he saw Daniel and Little Danny hugging, the little boy speaking a mile a minute.  His heart was full of joy, though he was also a little concerned for Daniel's namesake.  He was smart, too smart for this age.

~You're going to stay a little boy even if we have to move to a new planet,~ the general vowed.

**Jack, what's wrong?** Daniel asked, having sensed his lover's discontent.

**Nothing, Love.  We'll talk about it later.**

**You sure?**

**Little Danny's a genius,** Jack relayed.

**We know that,** Daniel replied.

**So does he,** the older man revealed.

**Oh.**

Reflexively, Daniel turned to stare through the patio doors.  He saw Jack's look and nodded.  Silently, both men vowed that somehow, no matter what, none of their children would suffer through the nightmares Daniel had.  Both also knew they'd have to be especially diligent with Little Danny.

====

The following weekend, Jack and Daniel were hard at play with another game of chess, and, to Jack's left, so were Little Danny and Jonny.  Of course, Jonny still didn't know how to play, and their parents noticed that Little Danny was frequently looking over to observe their game.

**He's learning what not to do,** Jack chuckled.

**You're a good chess player, Jack.**

**Tell that to Little Danny.  Ah ...** the older man expressed excitedly.  “Checkmate!”

Daniel stood up, staring in disbelief as he exclaimed, “Jack!”

“What?” the older man asked, innocently raising an eyebrow.

“You took my queen and ... I ...” Daniel stuttered.

“Don't stand there with your mouth open like a guppy, Danny.  I won!”

Grinning, Jack looked over at Little Danny, who seemed to mirror his daddy's expression.

“Dad won, Daddy?” the toddler asked, wide-eyed.

Daniel nodded and said, “Dad won ... this time.”

**You were distracted.**

**Not that much,** Daniel admitted.  “Jack, you've come a long way in chess.  That was a good move.”

“Thank you, Love,” Jack responded with an air of smugness.

The lovers kissed and put away their chess pieces, while Little Danny and Jonny continued to play their mock game.

====

The next morning, Jack came downstairs.  It was only six-thirty, so he didn't expect to see anyone else up; thus, he was surprised when he heard voices from coming from the living room.  Stopping a couple of stairs from the bottom, he listened in.

“Good move, Little Danny,” Jenny praised.  “I do this.”

“That good move, too, Jenny.  I do this now,” Little Danny announced, moving his piece.

“Uh oh.  Don't have move,” Jenny said, thinking she was stuck.

“Sure, you do,” Little Danny said encouragingly.

Jenny stared at the board, but shook her head, saying, “No see move.”

“Here, I show you,” Little Danny spoke as he pointed out her next move.

The little redhead smiled at him in return, saying, “Thank you,” as she moved her chess piece.

Quietly, Jack continued to watch.  Unlike the game Little Danny and Jonny had played, which was mostly pretend, this game was real.  He could see their moves, and each piece was being moved correctly.  What amazed him, too, was their speed of play.

“Jack.”

“WHAT THE ... DANIEL, DON'T DO THAT!”  Jack put his hand over his heart, and had turned around one-hundred-eighty degrees.  He closed his eyes and shook his head.  “Don't ever do that.”

“What wrong, Dad?” the two youngsters asked, running up to him.

“Daddy scared me,” Jack accused lightly.

“Jack, all I did was come downstairs,” the archaeologist pointed out.  **You were spying on our children.**

“I was not,” Jack refuted out loud.

“What was you not, Dad?” Little Danny asked.

Daniel laughed.  It was one of the few times he could recall that Jack had slipped and unintentionally responded to a silent question out loud.

“I ... oh, never mind.”  Jack walked over to the chess board and observed, “Looks like a good game.”

“Little Danny beat me, but I get him next time,” Jenny remarked, smiling at her big brother.

“Jenny, let's find Mittens and Calico and play,” Little Danny suggested.

“Okay.”

Just that fast, the two children disappeared upstairs.

“Jack, I'm sorry.  I really thought you heard me,” Daniel apologized.

The older man smiled as he acknowledged, “I know.  I was watching them play.  They're good, Danny.”

“Well, they've been watching us play since they were born.”

“Danny ...” Jack began his voice full of concern.

“They're going to be okay, Jack.  We just have to be diligent.  I think for a long time, we've taken it for granted that they were our babies and assumed that if we didn't make a big deal of things, it'd be okay.  We can't do that anymore. They're intelligent, all of them.  We have to foster that, and at the same time, protect them from themselves as much as from a society that views competition and winning as the be-all and end-all of life.”

“Danny, I think the toddler-speak is a cover,” Jack put forth thoughtfully.

“A cover?”

“I think it's helping Little Danny to stay with his siblings, and I think the others are following him.  When he speaks, uh ...”

“Grown up?” Daniel asked, filling in the blank for his husband.

“Yeah.  When he does that, Jonny and Ash seem to follow.  So do Jenny and Ricky.  It's ... I don't know how to explain what they're doing.”

“I do,” Daniel said with a smile.  “They're protecting each other.  While we've been ignoring the issue, while, by the way, telling ourselves we weren't, the Munchkins and the twins were joining forces, using Little Danny as their guide.  When he felt secure enough to be a genius, they've done the same.  When he talks like a two-year-old, they follow.”

“Unity among the ranks,” Jack whispered, nodding.  Then he sighed, “I told Little Danny that he was going to stay a little boy no matter what.”

“He is.”  Daniel paused, then firmly repeated his statement.  “He is, Jack.”

====

As the last day of winter was about to give way to the oncoming spring, things in the Jackson-O'Neill household had taken an interesting turn.  On this early evening, Jack and Daniel were playing another chess match.  One table down, Little Danny and Jonny were also engaged in a game.  Although Jonny's moves still tended to be rather imaginative, checker-like moves, Little Danny was playing properly.  The latest addition was another chess table, this one occupied by Jenny and David.  Playing chess was fast becoming a Jackson-O'Neill family tradition.

“Checkmate!” Daniel exclaimed happily.

“Checkmate!” Little Danny exclaimed a minute later.

“Checkmate!” Jenny exclaimed a few minutes after that.

“Wow, way to go, Jenny!” David praised enthusiastically.  “I think I should stick with checkers.”

“I teach you, David,” Jonny offered.  “You just do this,” the little boy instructed, demonstrating more checker-like moves.

“Thanks, Jonny.  I'll remember that for next time.”

David smiled at his parents, who were both happy to see that he wasn't bothered by losing the match to his much younger sister.  They were still astounded by how David's love for the younger children meant he was usually content to simply enjoy playing with them.

“Good games!  How about some ice cream?” Jack suggested jovially.

“Love ice cream!” Jenny exclaimed happily.

“Go get the rest of the brood, please,” Daniel asked David.

Chess was over, for now, and the family settled down to enjoy their chilly treat, all chattering about their latest matches and making bold predictions about who would win the next games.

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