Digging Deep

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - May 21 - August 18, 2013
Spoilers:  None
Size:  65kb
Written:  February 13-17,21-22,25,27, March 9-10,30, 2008
Summary:  Jennifer's graduation from high school brings about some interesting surprises for her and the Jackson-O'Neills.
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), “Unexpected Miracle - Chapter 4,” “Egyptian Erotica: Another Ten Months,” “Rocks and Sons,” and “Hard Lessons”
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Tammy, Irina, Tonya, Lissa, Jo, Melissa, Keri, Linda, Carol, Ali!

Digging Deep
by Orrymain

====
--May 2013
====

“You look beautiful, Princess,” Jack praised, smiling happily at his daughter, who was about walk into the stadium and receive her high school diploma, along with the rest of the 2013 high school graduates.

“Absolutely beautiful,” Daniel agreed.

“We love you,” the older man said, drawing the young woman into a three-way hug.

“I can't believe this is finally happening,” Jennifer squealed in excitement.

“I can,” a voice from the doorway spoke.

“Peter!” Jennifer exclaimed excitedly, her face lighting up like a full moon shining brightly over the Earth.  ~I can't believe he's here,~ she thought, taken aback by the surprise of his presence.

Dressed in casual, yet smart attire, Peter Hamilton walked forward, a bright bouquet of flowers that included gerbera daisies, iris, solidago, spray roses, statice, leatherleaf, and curly willows in his left hand.

Handing the bouquet to Jennifer, the young man grinned and said, “You're so beautiful.”  He leaned forward and placed a kiss on her cheek.  As she beamed, he added, “It's so good to see you.”

For several seconds, the young people just stared at each other, both with tender expressions on their faces.

Jack and Daniel exchanged a look, both reflecting back on how Peter had come into their lives.

Peter Hamilton was Jennifer's first love, but the wealthy teenager had made the mistake of thinking that she was just like all the other girls, when the truth was that she was the only one who really cared about him and not about his money.  He'd gotten overzealous on their one and only official date, and Jennifer had called her parents to pick her up in front of the posh Hamilton estate.  Watching her walk away that night, her head held up proudly, Peter had realized his folly.

The event caused the teenager to face some bitter truths about his lifestyle and feelings for the opposite sex.  The big surprise, though, was the ally who'd been advising him, since that emotional night, on the virtue of being a man, admitting the truth about yourself, and making amends.  That ally was Jack.

Both Jack and Daniel still had their doubts, especially Daniel who had been the one to pick up their daughter from the Broadmoor Bluffs mansion and had witnessed her agony in those first tumultuous moments of a love gone wrong, but Peter had become a man.  He'd faced Jennifer's parents with courage, and they were both giving him a second chance, since Jennifer seemed to want it.

Though Peter wanted to date the girl again, Jennifer maintained that they would only be friends, and he'd honored her wishes without ever having applied any pressure to the contrary.  They'd kept in touch with phone calls, emails, letters, and the occasional in-person visit when Peter came to town.

The telltale sign for Jack and Daniel that things were not as Jennifer claimed, though, was that she hadn't ever really dated since that experience.  She'd gone out on some group dates, and she'd chatted about boys constantly with her friends and around the house, saying she liked this boy or that one, but her actions never quite matched her words.

On this very important milestone in Jennifer's life, Jack had convinced Daniel that they should invite Peter to attend the graduation ceremonies and attend the family party afterwards.  In fact, if their daughter so desired, they would agree to let Peter escort her to the various grad parties.

“I can't believe you're here.  I thought you were going to stay at Oxford for a summer session,” Jennifer finally spoke.

“Things change,” Peter replied with a sweet smile.  He looked over at the girl's parents, shook their hands, and greeted, “General Jackson-O'Neill, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, thank you for allowing me to come.”

Daniel simply nodded.  For a moment, he was transported back in time, to the minutes when his heart had hardened against the young man of whom he was now standing opposite.

//Flashback//
Daniel drove up the long driveway to the huge mansion in Broadmoor Bluffs, one of the most exclusive parts of Colorado Springs.

~Wow.  The Hamiltons sure aren't hungry for hamburger,~ Daniel thought as he stopped the car in front of the huge entrance.

Jennifer was sitting on the front steps, her arms crossed in front of her.  Seeing Daniel in his sports car, she stood, adjusting her sweater.  When Daniel stopped, she walked to the car, like a queen ascending to her throne.  She glided in effortlessly, like a woman in complete and utter control of herself and everything around her.

For just a moment, Daniel stared at her, taking in every inch that he could see of her and her dress.  Then he drove away.

After a couple of minutes, Daniel quietly asked, “Are you okay, Jen?”

Jennifer nodded as she looked blankly out the window, eventually answering, “I'm fine, Daddy.”  Hurting inside, but just wanting to forget the night had ever happened, she added politely, “Thank you for coming to get me.”

“Thank you for calling,” Daniel softly replied, grateful that their daughter felt secure enough to trust them in this way.

The remainder of the ride home was done in silence.
//End of Flashback//

Daniel knew that Jennifer hadn't wanted Peter to see her cry.  She'd kept herself poised and in control, though he knew she was far from it on the inside.  Suddenly, a voice drew the archaeologist from his momentary flashback in time.

“Nice tan,” Jack spoke wryly to Peter Hamilton.

“Oh, Dad,” Jennifer whined.

Just then, the call came to line up.  Peter smiled, but he backed away, giving the parents room to hug their daughter again and send her to join her classmates.  It was a gesture of respect that even Daniel, with his bias against the young man, acknowledged with a nod.

“The brood is with the rest of the family,” Jack stated as he and Daniel motioned for Peter to walk with them.

“General, Doctor, when you get a chance, I'd like to speak with you about something.”

“No, you can't marry her,” Jack groused somewhat lightly.

Peter couldn't help but chuckle, “Sir, I'd marry Jennifer in a second, but she's made it clear that we're only friends.  I'm respecting her decision, and even if that wasn't the case, I know she has goals she wants to achieve before getting married.”

**Gawd, are you sure this is the *same* Peter Hamilton who broke Jen's heart two years ago?** Daniel asked.

**He's not, Danny.  He's not that person at all anymore.  Give him a chance,** Jack requested calmly.  ~This is just about the only person Danny's ever held a grudge against.  I guess I can't blame him.  He says he'll never forget the expression on Jen's face that night.~

“We can talk at the family party, or tomorrow, if you like,” Daniel responded.

“Thank you, Sir,” Peter responded.

~Why does he want to talk to us?~ Daniel pondered with an inaudible sigh.  ~Come on, Jackson.  Let it go.~  Even as he urged himself to move forward, he knew he couldn't.  ~It was her face:  I can't forget her expression that night.~

====

Cheers erupted and hugs abounded in the Class of 2013 when the ceremonies ended.  Jennifer and her best friend, Sheila, hugged each other tightly, both ecstatic at having completed their public education.  Then they exchanged shouts of joy and hugs of happiness with several of their other friends, including Amber and Nicki.

Turning around, Jennifer caught sight of Peter standing alongside her parents and brothers and sisters, not to mention a wealth of other family members.  She felt a joy she'd never known before.  She didn't have a clue what it meant, but she was happy.  Inside, she wished she could capture this moment and keep it forever.

Peter waved at the graduate, who grinned and waved back excitedly before being distracted by another one of her friends.

====

The party at the Jackson-O'Neill home was in high gear.  Jennifer was spending the first couple hours of what would be a very long night with her family.

“Do you want to have that little chat now?” Jack asked Peter, who was watching Jennifer enjoy her party.

“Now would be fine, Sir,” Peter agreed.

Jack nodded to Daniel, who excused himself from the conversation he was having with Mrs. Sophia Valissi, their neighbor, and headed for the study, closing the door for the discussion that was about to take place.

Peter sat down on the sofa, as did Jack.  Daniel hung back, sitting on the edge of his lover's desk with his arms folded across his chest.

“Sirs, as you know, my parents are loaded.  They really want me to graduate from Oxford.  I'm in the top ten percent of my class there, but it's not me.  What my father wants for me isn't what I want.  To be honest, I'm not sure what I want, but I need to find out.”

“That sounds like a good thing to do,” Daniel spoke quietly.

“Last week, I had another big fight with my father.  He's everything I hate and everything I don't want to become,” Peter confided, his hands clenched together tightly as he stared down at them.  “Jennifer mentioned that your company, J-O Enterprises, is a good company.  Of course, it's a good company.  You two, ah, oh, I ...”

“Peter, just speak your mind,” Jack requested, well aware of the young man's sudden nervousness.

“I need a job.  I'm not talking about an office job.  I've had it easy my whole life, and I don't want it easy anymore.  I don't know anything about archaeology, but I'm not afraid of the dirt or hard work.  Jen's told me about some of the places your family has gone on ... uh, digs, she called them.  Please, I'm asking for a job.  I'll do anything -- dig ditches, run errands -- anything you need.  I really need a job.”

Jack and Daniel looked at each other, both surprised by the request.

“You could end up traveling quite a bit,” Jack responded.  “And you wouldn't be sleeping on silk sheets.”

“Dig sites are cold, damp, and full of bugs,” Daniel added as he began a list of the harsh realities of a field archaeologist's life.

Once again, Daniel found himself lapsed back in time, his mind recalling another event from that same night when he'd brought his heartbroken daughter home from the palace-like residence at Broadmoor Bluffs.  Janet had come over to help Jennifer through her ordeal, and the two were in the Bird's Nest, a part of the Jackson-O'Neill home that was on the second floor and was reserved just for the girls.  Males simply weren't allowed in the small, intimate space, but on this night, Daniel had made a special surprise and respectfully interrupted the private conversation of his good friend and oldest daughter.

//Flashback//
A few minutes later, Daniel quietly climbed the steps to the Bird's Nest and said, “Knock, knock.”

“Daddy!” Jennifer said, a tiny smile on her face.

“I'll turn around and leave if ...”

“No, Daddy, please don't,” Jennifer said, standing up and walking to her father.  She gave him a kiss on the cheek and, seeing the tray he carried, asked, “What's that?”

“Heaven in your mouth,” Daniel replied.

“What?” the teenager quizzed.

“Daniel, Tiramisu?” Janet asked hopefully.

“Yes,” Daniel confirmed.

Having served a portion to each of them, Daniel urged his daughter to take a bite.

“Oooooooh, mmmmmm, gawd!” Jennifer exclaimed.  “Oh, that's ...”

“Heavenly,” all three said at the same time.

Daniel stayed for a few minutes before excusing himself, but as he started to go down the stairs, Jennifer called out and ran after him.  Throwing her arms around him, the teen said, “Thank you for loving me and trusting me.  I don't know how you've kept Dad under control, but thank you so much, Daddy.”

Daniel embraced her, pulling her close and rubbing her back in soothing circles as he quietly replied, “You're welcome.  If you need us ...”

“Daddy, I always need you and Dad,” Jennifer promised with a smile.

“Goodnight, Princess,” Daniel said, smiling as he backed away.
//End of Flashback//

The younger father would never forget the tear-stained face of his beautiful daughter, or the vulnerability in her voice.  That had been the final blow for him.  Peter Hamilton was persona non gratis to Daniel Jackson-O'Neill, considered worse in his heart than any System Lord he'd ever faced down.

Now, Daniel watched that same boy, two years older, asking him for a job.  It seemed ironic in a sense.  Still, he was a compassionate man.  He was just having a hard time being compassionate in this one instance.

“I'm asking for a chance.  If I can't cut it, you can fire me.”  Peter looked beseechingly into Daniel's eyes.  “Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, I know you have concerns about me.  I hurt Jennifer, and you can't forget that.  I'm not asking you to forget the past, but I am asking you to give me a chance to find my way.  Maybe that's not fair, but I don't know where else to turn right now.  I need to get away from my father.  I'm admitting that.  I want to make my own way and be my own person, and I need your help to do it.”

Daniel stared at the young man, still wanting not to like him, but having to acknowledge the earnestness of his comments and his speaking truthfully.  He saw Jack looking at him and knew the decision was his.  Part of him wanted to turn and walk away, but his hardened heart suddenly found a soft spot, of sorts.

“Gopher.  You're going to do the dirty work.  You'll be the bottom of the totem pole, and that means a lot of long, hot or cold days, depending on where we send you, and not very much sleep.  On a dig, there's no such thing as sleeping in when people are counting on you to do your job on time.  You'll start at minimum wage,” Daniel stated a bit formally and having not budged from his stern pose at the edge of his lover's desk.

“Thank you, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill.”

“You'll need to go by the office to fill out the forms.  Ask for Karissa Lewis.  She'll run you through the procedures, and you'll report to her when not in the field.  Obviously, your passport is up to date.”

“Yes,” Peter affirmed.

“Two weeks from now you'll go with our team to Malaysia.  Karissa will make sure you get all the required shots.”

Peter listened as Daniel continued to pronounce his 'sentence' with J-O Enterprises, but he was quietly thrilled with the verdict.  He knew the archaeologist was skeptical about his intentions, and he was determined to prove him wrong.  He'd never done anything like this before, but if he were ever to breakaway from his parents, it had to be now.

====

“Jack, come back to bed,” Daniel urged, seeing his lover pacing the width of their bedroom.

“She's not home yet.”

“Babe, she's eighteen.  She's an adult.  We told her she could do the party thing with her friends, and we gave her an 8 a.m. curfew.  It's only six.  She made every check-in call like she promised us she'd do.  Peter called when they took that one detour, and Sheila's parents confirmed they were there and being supervised when you broke down and called at two.  Now come back to bed before the brood gets up.”

Yawning, Daniel patted his husband's side of the bed expectantly.

Reluctantly, Jack returned to the bed, though he only sat down on it as he replied, “Our daughter is an adult, Danny.  What if they eloped?”

Daniel sighed, “Jack, they did not elope.  Lay down.”

“What if ...”

“Jack, lay down,” the younger man ordered.  “I want my Jack-pillow.”

“Dictator.”

“Right,” Daniel said amid a yawn, closing his eyes as his arm wrapped around his lover's chest, pinning him to the bed.

====

Towards late afternoon, Jennifer awoke from her sleep and sauntered downstairs to chat with her family.  Her graduation had been perfect, and she was still on cloud nine as a result.  She'd loved seeing Peter, and she was pleased that her parents had hired him to work for their company.

As the young adult helped prepare dinner, she chatted away about graduation and the parties to anyone who would listen.  She was so happy that her parents had trusted her to stay out all night with her friends, and that they'd allowed Peter to be her escort.  She knew Jack had slipped up with the one phone call to Sheila's parents, but she loved him for caring so much.  She would have been worried if he hadn't called at least once.

In the middle of the conversation, Daniel returned from running an errand and joined in on the happy musings.

“Thirty-five minutes, and the casserole will be ready,” Jennifer announced.

“Thanks, Jen,” Daniel responded.  “Uh, Sweetie, I left something outside by my car.  Would you go get it for me?”

“Sure, Daddy.  What is it?” Jennifer asked as she headed out of the kitchen.

“It's by my car,” Daniel repeated nonchalantly.  “Let's go,” he urged after the girl had gotten a far enough lead, hurrying to the front of the house and being followed by the rest of the family.

“Daddy, I don't see anything,” Jennifer responded.  “Um, wow, neat car.  Do we have company?” she asked about the green 2008 Mini-Cooper convertible that was next to Daniel's silver sports car.

“Happy graduation,” Daniel said as he walked to his daughter, giving her a kiss and handing her the keys.

Jack followed, saying, “Jen, we know you said you wanted to buy your own car and that you weren't that anxious for it, but you're going to be commuting to college now in addition to your job.  You need a car, and Daddy and I wanted to help.”

“We heard you talking with Sheila one day about cars, and you mentioned the Mini-Cooper,” Daniel expounded.

“It's what I've been saving for.  Oh, Dad, Daddy, thank you so much!” Jennifer exclaimed, hugging her parents.  “Come look at my new car,” she urged her siblings.

“It's used, obviously,” Daniel elaborated, “but it only has twenty thousand miles on it.  Lots of extras, too.”

“Take it out for a drive,” Jack suggested, enjoying the delighted expressions running across his daughter's face.

“Wow!  Thanks!” Jennifer exclaimed.  Looking at her siblings, she asked, “Who wants to come with me?”

“Car-seaters are not eligible,” Jack quipped, getting a lot of groans in response from the youngest family members.

Once David, Brianna, and Jeff were settled into their seats, Jennifer drove her new car down the street for the very first time.

“Back inside,” Jack ordered the rest of the children.  He looked over, seeing Daniel standing quietly by his car.  “Penny for your thoughts, Angel.”

“It feels so odd, Jack.  It's just a car.  Jeff's had a truck for a year, but now Jen's all grown up.”  Daniel let out a sigh, confiding, “I feel like she just drove away from us for good and not just for a quick spin around the block with her siblings.”

“She's still our princess, and she's not going anywhere yet,” Jack assured, putting his arm around Daniel's waist.

“She likes Peter.  I don't care how much she says they're *just* friends, she likes him, and it's obvious he cares about her.”

“Danny, I know you aren't certain about the kid, and I'm not saying I'm convinced, but he faced the music with Jen, and he's done a complete turnaround with us.  He's earned a shot.”

“I'm ... giving him one,” Daniel acknowledged reluctantly as the lovers shared a quick kiss and then walked inside their home.

====

“I think I can pay the insurance and cover all the maintenance and pay you fifty-dollars a month.  I know that's not much, but I really want to do it, and I want to give you this up front,” Jennifer said, handing over a check for two thousand dollars.  She'd spent the evening evaluating her budget and also figuring out how much she'd need for books, gas, and other expenses once she started college in the fall.  “This is how much I've saved for a car, and I want you to have it.”

“You don't have to do this, Jen,” Daniel responded.

“I know, and maybe once I start going to college, I won't be able to pay you every month, but this is important to me.  I've worked hard to save this money.  Please,” the young woman pleaded, pushing the check towards her younger father.

“Okay,” Daniel stated somewhat reluctantly, proud of the responsibility the girl was showing.

“Goodnight,” Jennifer said, giving her parents a kiss before walking out of the room.

“She's so grown up,” the younger man sighed.

“Don't remind me,” Jack responded, finally breaking out with a smile.  “What are you going to do with that?” he asked about the check.

“I think we should invest it.”

“We've had great luck with our investments.”

“Not for us, Babe,” Daniel said, a bit of a smirk on his face as he stood up.  Leaning over, he whispered, “For our grandchild,” and then turned and walked out.

“Yeah, that sounds ... our *what*?” Jack yelled.  “Danny?  *Danny*?” he called out, running after his teasing husband.

====

The next morning, Jack found Daniel in the Pod, which was a small porch just outside the recreation room that had a seven-foot overhang with two facing swings affixed to it.  Jennifer and her friends often sat there when studying together or just hanging out.

“Hey,” the general called to his archaeologist as he approached and sat down opposite his Love.

“Hey,” Daniel responded quietly as he reverently closed the book he was holding.

Jack recognized the tome, acknowledging, “Kayla's book.”

Kayla Armentrout was the birth mother to the triplets and the twins, and she'd died tragically at the hands of a drunk driver several years earlier.  She'd been an adventurer as well as a freelance photographer, and she'd written her version of the great American novel, which Jack and Daniel had published after her death.

“'Journey of the Heart',” Daniel confirmed.  “Our story.  Jack, it's time.”

The older man smiled, knowing what his lover meant.  They'd never read the novel to the five children, saving it for a time when they could explain the book and the youngsters could understand its meaning.  They knew Jennifer had read it, and Brianna had mentioned reading it one day, but they weren't sure if any of the other older children had ever picked it up or not.

“No time like the present,” Jack responded.  “Let's round them up.”

“They aren't cattle, Babe,” Daniel chuckled as he disembarked the swing.

“I take the fifth,” Jack stated wryly, following his life partner.  When his lover stared back at him, the older man retorted, “Danny, we live in a zoo, a happy zoo, but still a zoo.”

“Okay, yeah, well, maybe, but, uh, what does that have to do with treating our children like cattle?”

“Nothing,” Jack laughed, patting his lover on the rear end as he headed for the door.

“Very funny, Jack,” Daniel groaned, shaking his head and then following his husband inside the house.

====

“We like story time,” Jenny said happily.

Jack and Daniel, along with the five young children, were seated on the floor of the boys' room.  They were in a circle, with the parents facing each other.

“Today we're going to begin a very special story,” Daniel began, looking at each one of the eager faces sitting near him.  “It's a story about love, and it's written with love.”  He smiled and then said, “I want to read the first couple of pages to you, and then Dad and I want to discuss it before we go on.”

Without mentioning the title or letting the children see the book's cover, the archaeologist began reading.  Almost immediately, Jack noticed the Munchkins beginning to squirm, while the Spitfires stared at each other conspiratorially.  Just a couple of paragraphs into the story, Daniel looked up and caught a glimpse of the children fidgeting slightly.  Something was amiss.

Closing the book, the younger father asked, “Okay, what's wrong?”

The children all exchanged looks, staring at one another as they wondered whether or not they should say anything.

“Daddy just asked you a question,” Jack interjected sternly.

“That's Mommy's book,” Aislinn answered, after which the other four children nodded.

“'Journey of the Heart',” Little Danny stated.

“It's about you and Dad,” Jenny added.

“I like the part when ...” Ricky began telling about one section of the story that he always liked, when Daniel had gone skydiving for the first time.

While Ricky told the tale, his parents simply stared at each other, both stunned.  They'd missed something along the way, and neither knew what to think about what they were hearing.

“Have you read the book?” Jack questioned, wondering if their kids were even more advanced than he'd thought.  ~Maybe we should just jump straight to a college curriculum.~

“Na-huh,” Ricky answered.

“I've read it,” Little Danny admitted, surprising no one when he raised his hand.

“Did you read it to your brothers and sisters?” Daniel asked, seeing his namesake shake his head.  ~Then how could ... oh.~

“Okay, out with ...” Jack began at the exact same time that his husband had figured out the answer to the question.

“Jack,” Daniel interrupted, shaking his head, not wanting to put the children on the spot.  “Would you like to hear the story again?”

“Yeah!” the children exclaimed happily, a couple of them clapping excitedly.

“Okay, I'll start again.”

“Can we ask questions?” Jonny asked.  “I wanna know some stuff.”

“Sure,” Daniel answered a bit nervously.

**Watch out, Love.**

**No problem, Babe.  You can field the hard ones.**

**Hard ones are my favorite kind,** the older man retorted playfully.

Rolling his eyes at his husband's inappropriate thoughts for the moment, Daniel opened the book again and began reading.

====

About an hour later, when story time was over and the lovers had checked on the rest of their children, the couple walked into the kitchen where Jennifer was wiping down the counter.

“Jen,” Daniel called out as he walked to her position in front of the sink and stopped, with Jack positioned behind him.  “Uh, Dad and I just had a little surprise.”

“Oh, yeah.  What?”

“We decided to start reading 'Journey of the Heart' to the Munchkins and the Spitfires,” Jack answered.  “We figured they were old enough to understand it now.”

Jennifer's eyes widened just a tad, but she said nothing, though she let out a tiny gasp-like noise as she looked down at the edge of the counter and continued to wipe it, albeit very slowly.

“Only it seems they've already heard it,” Daniel revealed.  “Not only that, but they have a lot of questions they've just been waiting to ask.”  He pulled the book up from his side, showing it to the recent high school graduate and asked, “How long?”

Jennifer sighed, “A long time.  Um, after we got back from Egypt.”  She paused and then explained, “Knowing their mother is important.  They were babies when she died.  I didn't want them to forget, and I wanted them to see that she loved you both, so much that she wrote this wonderful adventure story about you.  By the way, except for Ash, that very first time, I never told them it was about you.  They figured it out on their own, one by one.”

“They did?” Daniel asked, twisting around to glance back at his husband.

“Yeah.  They're smart, you know,” Jennifer teased with a smile.

Daniel smiled and drew his daughter in for a warm hug, something repeated by Jack a moment later.

“Of course, it could be the fact that Kayla used 'Space Monkey' in her novel that gave it away,” Jennifer teased.

Daniel groaned, while Jack looked pleasingly proud of himself.

Recovering from the thought, Daniel stated, “We're proud of you.  Thank you.”

“You aren't mad?”

“Of course not,” the younger man replied.

“Jen, that was a great thing you did.  Maybe we should have done it ourselves sooner,” Jack put forth.

“I'm glad you didn't,” Jennifer confessed.  “I enjoyed those times, seeing their faces react, and hearing their thoughts.  I guess I cheated you out of that, but ...”

“We weren't ready, Jen,” Jack admitted truthfully.  Kayla's death had hit both men very hard.  “You did good.”

“You did excellent,” Daniel corrected.

“I just ... I loved her, too, and I sort of promised her that night when Ash was playing with Bobo that I'd do everything I could to make sure the little ones remembered her.”

“Well ...”

Before her older father could continue his thought, the young adult confided, “You know I dreamed that she thanked me.”  Her eyes downward as she made a prolonged swiping pass at the counter's edge, she elaborated, “In my dream, I was just going to sleep when I felt this energy, and I looked over where I have some of my pictures, and she was there, staring at them.  She looked over at me and said, 'Thank you for helping them to remember', and then she faded.  Then I woke up.”

“Dreams are very powerful,” Daniel commented.

“The funny thing is, well, it seemed real, kinda like us just standing here, talking, and I felt like I do when we send up the balloons.”  Jennifer laughed nervously and then said, “It was just a dream.”

Daniel reached out to caress his daughter's back as he replied, “Maybe, but we've all seen too much to discount Kayla's thanks.”

With misting eyes, Jennifer smiled as she asked, “You don't think I'm a little nuts?”

Jack laughed, “Princess, we're all a little nuts, but that doesn't mean we're crazy, and it doesn't mean Kayla didn't find a way to send you a message.  Daddy's right -- we've experienced too much to discount it.”

“It felt good.  It was a long time ago, but it made me follow through with what I'd started,” Jennifer responded.

“Excellent job, Jen,” Jack said, moving forward to place a kiss on her cheek.

“Thanks.”  As the parents turned to leave, Jennifer called out, “By the way, the entire brood has read it.”

Turning, Jack responded, “Yeah?”

“Yeah, and, um, I've ... read it to JD already, too.”

Chuckling, Jack gave his soulmate a light tap on the upper arm and said, “Come on, Love.  We're way behind the times here.”

“Way, way, *way* behind the times,” Daniel mused, nodding at the young woman who continued to amaze him with her perceptiveness.  ~Beautiful girl and not our little girl anymore.~

====
--August 2013
====

J-O Enterprises was in the middle of a three month project in Bhutan.  Two teams of specialists, led by long-time employee Bibreanay Appleton, had been spearheading the efforts.  Now, Jack, Daniel, and a few of their children -- Jennifer, Brianna, David, Jonny, and Little Danny -- had arrived at the site to monitor the progress in person for a week or so.  The rest of the brood had remained behind with their Aunt Suzanna looking after them.

“I still think we should buy a plane like this one,” Jonny stated, equating the cost of the Lear jet that Abayomi Sharif, J-O's best client, had given them to use for their flight to and from South Asia to a toy.

“Danny, remind me to thank Abbyyammy for the use of his jet.  He could have just sent a boat -- we already own one of those,” the older man teased, sighing at the non-stop campaign for the couple to buy a similar jet.

“Abayomi,” Daniel chastised.  “You knew his name two months ago,” referring to a time when Jack had asked the Egyptian for the loan of a plane.

Jack had wanted to get the children to Utah quickly because Daniel had been severely injured in a car accident.  Abayomi immediately had one of his Lear jets pick up the children.  The general had been so grateful that he had correctly spoken the man's first name, something he seldom did.  He liked and respected Abayomi a great deal, but goofing up names was one of Jack's favorite verbal games.

“Two months ago was different,” Jack pointed out.

“Jack,” the younger man warned with an exasperated look on his face.

“Okay, okay,” Jack groused, without saying the name correctly, causing his lover to smile.

====

Traveling to the dig site, Daniel reminded the children of the rules for their few days in the foreign country.

“We're not doing any sightseeing this trip.  This dig is very involved.  All of you said you wanted to work, and that's what you'll be expected to do.  This is a work dig.  No extras this time; that's why we couldn't bring the entire family.”

“We know.  I wanna find a fossil, Daddy,” Little Danny spoke eagerly.

Jonny just shook his head as he looked away.

Jack let out a tiny chuckle as he thought, ~He's just here to take care of his brother.  Geez, what a pair.~

“Daddy, what does Bhutan mean?” David asked.

“No one knows for sure,” Daniel answered.  “It's possible it comes from the Sanskrit word 'Bhota-ant', which means 'the end of Bhot'.  Bhot is the same as Tibet, which Bhutan is just south of.  It could also mean highlands.”

“I wish we were going to India, too,” Jennifer said since Bhutan was between India and China.  “Kayla loved India.”

Jonny and Little Danny both smiled at the mention of Kayla Armentrout, the woman who had given birth to the Munchkins and the Spitfires.

“One day, we will,” Jack answered.

“But we want the whole family for that trip, Jen, and we just couldn't swing it this time.”

“You just came because you wanna see Peter,” Jonny teased.

“I did not,” Jennifer refuted, groaning at Jonny's giggles.  “How's he been doing?” she suddenly asked her parents, having managed not to ask about him since his job had begun.  She'd gotten a couple of letters from him, but that had only given her his point of view.  ~I hope he's doing okay.~

“Bibi says he's working hard,” Jack answered, giving his husband a look that said, 'I told you he'd do good'.

“Jen liiiiikes Peeeeeter,” the oldest Munchkin taunted.

“Jonny,” Daniel warned.

“She does,” Jonny insisted.

“He's a good friend, and that's all,” Jennifer maintained.  “How long until we get to Punakha?” she asked, changing the subject as she asked about the one-time capital of the small country.

“We're not actually going to Punakha,” Daniel answered.  ~Nice diversion, Princess.~  “Our site is west of there.”

====

At the site, Jennifer grabbed her duffel bag, nonchalantly looking around at a few of the excavation holes that had been dug.  She wondered if Peter was in one of them.

“Jen,” a familiar voice called out from behind her.

“Peter,” Jennifer replied as she spun around, smiling brightly.  “Oh ... wow.”

Peter was dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, wearing standard athletic shoes.  He wore a scarf around his neck and his head.  He looked a bit sweaty, and he was carrying a box.

“Not exactly my best look,” Peter responded, knowing that was what the young woman had reacted to.

“I think you look wonderful.”

“My father wouldn't think so,” Peter responded.  “General, Doctor,” he greeted, seeing the parents and walking over to them.  Then he saw the children with them and smiled, saying, “Hi, David, Jonny, Little D.”

“Little D?” Jonny giggled.

“Works for me,” Jack teased.

Little Danny just shrugged, not sure yet whether or not he liked the moniker.

“Uh, I hope we can talk later, but I need to get these things over there,” Peter spoke.

“Where's Bibi?” Daniel inquired.

“I think she's in the supply tent.”

“Thanks,” the archaeologist acknowledged with a smile as the boy walked away. ~Okay, he looks like he's been working hard, but looks can be deceiving.~

====

“Dad, I'll stand guard with you, okay?” Jonny asked in the middle of the family's third day in Bhutan.

“Guard?”

“That's what we do,” the general's namesake replied without hesitation.

Jack chuckled and picked his son up, getting him situated on his lap.  Together, the two looked over at a dig hole where Daniel and Little Danny were hard at work.

“There you go,” Daniel encouraged, watching as his namesake continued to gently rub away dirt in search for an artifact.  ~He's working just as hard as anyone else.  I hope he finds something.~

Smiling, the archaeologist focused on his own area and went back to work.

====

“Peter, you have to eat,” Jennifer stated after she and her family had already eaten.

“I have, or I will,” the young man responded.  “I just need to finish cleaning these tools.”

“You're not a slave, you know.”

“I'm an employee.  Jen, this equipment has to be in its best condition for them to do their jobs well.  It's my responsibility.”

“You still have to eat,” Jennifer responded.

“I'll get something when I'm done,” Peter replied easily.

Sighing, Jennifer turned around and walked away.  As she progressed, her pace increased, as did her fury.  Finally, she stormed into the family tent, not stopping until she was standing in front of her parents.

Folding her arms, Jennifer stated sternly, “You *have* to do something.”

“About what?” Daniel asked.

“Peter!” Jennifer exclaimed, extending out her arm as she relaxed her stance a bit.  “You're working him to death!”

“Jen, calm down.”

“Daddy, he's working longer hours than anyone else out here.  He hasn't even eaten yet.  Instead, he's out there giving a bath to some toothpick that's just going to get dirty again tomorrow anyway.”

“Toothpick,” Jack chuckled.  ~Okay, not laughing,~ he thought, removing the smile on his face upon seeing his lover's disapproving glare.

“Jen, we're in the middle of nowhere.  Everyone has a job to do, and that includes Peter,” Daniel answered.

“Daddy, he *has* to eat!”

“I'm sure he's eating, Jen.”

“It's your fault, you know,” the young woman accused.

“Jen, let's watch the attitude,” Jack interjected with a warning glance.

“Well, it is.  You won't forgive him.  *I've* forgiven him, Daddy, and if *I* can do that, then you should be able to.  I'm not complaining because he's working hard. I'm complaining because you're letting him, and I don't think you'd do that if it were anyone else out there.”

In a huff, Jennifer turned and walked out, heading for the mess tent to prepare a meal that she was determined to make Peter eat.

Jack looked at Brianna and the three boys, giving them a look that said they needed to go to the other side of the family tent and stay there.  It wasn't like having a separate room, but it at least gave the married couple the illusion of being alone.

Talking quietly, Jack said, “Danny, she is right.”

“I know,” Daniel acknowledged as he silently began to think over the last few days.  Uncharacteristically, he'd sent Peter running back and forth across the dig locale on errands, some of which weren't even necessary at that specific moment. The young man had been kept hopping, with assignments from sunup to sundown, and beyond.  “Jack, I don't understand.”

“What?”

“Why I've never forgiven him.  He's done everything right since he finally woke up to his arrogance.  It's not like me to act this way.  Why?”

“You're a father, and he hurt your little girl.  He crushed her, Danny.  He turned her first love into a disaster,” Jack answered quietly.  He paused, taking his soulmate's hand in his before continuing.  “You saw that hurt up close when you picked her up and later that night when you took that dessert to her and the Doc in the Bird's Nest.  You can't forget that.”

“But you can?”

“Danny, I saw our daughter being brave.  I didn't see her when she was still shattered.”

“Like that makes a difference,” the younger man refuted, slipping his hand out of his Heart's tender hold and standing up, walking away a few steps.

“Okay,” Jack acquiesced, hunching forward as he lightly clasped his hands together.  “Danny, I don't know why I'm giving him a break.  That night, the only break I wanted was to break his neck.”  He sighed, remembering how his husband had drastically altered his life.  “Danny, my life changed when I met you. I think Peter's life changed after that night, because of Jen.”

“You empathize with him?” Daniel asked incredulously as he spun around to face his husband.

“In an odd sort of way,” Jack acknowledged, standing up and walking over to his lover.

“That's odd.”

“That's what I said.”

“No, I mean that we've switched our roles,” Daniel mused lightly.  Taking a breath, he confided, “Jack, I've had Bibi work him hard during the entire dig, and the two jobs he did before here, I ... gawd, I sound like a Goa'uld.”

Jack smiled, reaching out and rubbing his husband's shoulders lovingly as he negated, “No, Love.  You're just being human.  It's just a little crack in that normally forgiving persona of yours.”

“A little crack?”

“Well, you had a few decades of forgiving everyone for everything they had to make up for,” Jack said with understanding, his hands sliding down Daniel's arms until he lost physical contact with his lover.  “This time, you held your ground because, this time, it was your child that was at stake.”

“I never knew being a parent meant losing sight of what's right,” Daniel sighed as he returned to the bed and sat down again.

“It doesn't, and that's not what you've done.  All you've done is protect Jennifer from more hurt, and there's nothing wrong with that,” Jack insisted as he sat down next to his lover again.

“But I've gone overboard.”  Daniel stared at his lover, who hadn't refuted his claim.  “Jack?” he chastised pointedly.

“Sorry, Babe, but you've got me there,” the older man admitted with a loving smile.

After an initial glare, Daniel bobbed his head a couple of times, knowing Jack was right, and replied, “He's really proven himself.”

“Karissa told me that all of the project leaders have nothing but high praise for Peter,” Jack stated.  “He's done everything he's been asked without flinching.”

“Jack, tell me the truth.  You know how I've treated Peter and about the assignments he's had.  Why haven't you said anything?”

The older man sighed, looking down for a moment as he began to smile and then answer, “It was a path you created.  I couldn't tell you, Danny.  You had to figure it out for yourself.”  He watched with curiosity as the younger man nodded and stood back up, taking a few steps towards the exit of the tent.  “Where are you going?”

“To free myself,” the archaeologist responded as he walked out, leaving Jack with a quizzical look on his face.

====

Daniel heard two voices, laughing, as he approached the supply tent where he expected Peter to be working.  He peeked in and saw his daughter and his employee working together, side by side.  He saw their hands brush by the other's, and he observed the tender look in Jennifer's eyes.  She was living in the present and not the past, and it was time for him to do the same thing.

“Hey,” Daniel spoke as he entered the tent.

“Did you need ...” Peter began.

“No,” Daniel interrupted, holding out his hand to keep Peter from getting up.  He walked over to a crate and sat down on it, looking across the space at the two young people.  “Peter, I'd like to talk to you for a minute.”

“I'll ...”

“Jen, stay, please,” Daniel spoke, interrupting his daughter as she had begun to stand up and leave the two alone.  Leaning forward, he continued, “Peter, I owe you an apology.”

“No, Sir, you don't.”

“Yes, I do,” Daniel insisted.

“I'm just doing my job, like everyone else.”

Daniel smiled.  The man sitting across from him clearly recognized the extra duties he'd been given, but his tone was still respectful and sincere.  Still, the hard worker was wrong in his assumption about his duties.

“You are, but that's not what I'm apologizing for.”

“It's not?” Jennifer asked curiously.

“Peter, you hurt my daughter.  Uh, actually, that's not true,” Daniel corrected, surprising both of the young people he was speaking with.  “You *devastated* her for ... for a long, long time.  Now, Jack let go of that pain a long time ago.  He saw that you weren't that spoiled, arrogant, juvenile kid anymore.  I, however, chose not to recognize that change, and I took advantage of having you working for my company to get a bit of ... payback.”

“Sir, with all due respect, there's nothing you could put me through that would ever make up for the pain I caused Jennifer.  I was an unthoughtful, disrespectful brat, and I tried to force myself on her.  I didn't see how special she is and how egotistical I was.  Man, I thought I was it,” Peter sighed remorsefully, hanging his head in shame.  Looking up again, he added, “You could keep me cleaning equipment and raking muck for the rest of my life, and I still wouldn't forgive myself.”

“Peter ...” the young woman began.

“No, Jen.  I was there, remember?  I know what I did and how disappointed you were.  I'm sorry, but sorry doesn't say that much because it can't erase what happened.  More than that, sorry doesn't give us back the years that we could have had together but didn't because of my stupidity.”

Daniel stood and walked over to the young man, extending out his hand as he stated, “Peter, you're not that person anymore, and I'm happy to have you as an employee of J-O Enterprises.”  As he shook Peter's hand, he added, “You're not an arrogant boy anymore, you're a man.  What happens between you and Jennifer from here on out is between the two of you.  I want you to know that if she ever decides to change the course of your relationship, you'd have our support and approval, for whatever that's worth.”

“It's worth a lot, Sir.”

Daniel nodded, smiling down at his daughter, who brushed away a tear.

Standing up, Jennifer hugged her younger father, saying, “I love you, Daddy.  Thank you.”  As they pulled apart, she maintained, “But, honestly, we're friends.  Peter knows where I stand, and I mean it.”

“Okay,” the archaeologist responded, giving her a kiss before leaving.  Outside the tent, he paused, looking back through the open flap.  Laughter erupted again from the two young people he'd just left.  ~You're lying to yourself, Jen.  Crap, I feel like Jack.  Where's the P-90?~

====

“Hold me,” Daniel requested as soon as he caught sight of his lover.

“Your wish,” Jack began, standing and walking to his lover.  “... is my command,” he concluded as he held Daniel close.  “How'd it go?”

“You were right, and I was wrong.”

“Where's the camcorder?” Jack teased as he looked around the tent.

“Jack, stop,” Daniel chuckled.  “Jack, I really think Jen ...”

“Don't say that.  I don't even want to think that.”

“I didn't say anything yet.”

“Good,” Jack responded, wanting not to think too much about what he was certain was the inevitable where Jennifer and Peter were concerned.

“I feel like a heel,” the younger man admitted with a sigh of regret.

“No, Love, you're just a father protecting his child,” Jack soothed.

“I don't like my dark side.”

“No one likes their dark side, but we all have one,” the older man replied.  “But I don't think this was much of a dark side moment.  You didn't enslave the kid, Danny.  He worked for us.”

“Jack, I made sure he had the worst jobs possible and that he had the longest days.”

“Nothing we haven't all done at one time or another.  Angel, you're being too hard on yourself.  I'm not saying you didn't push the limits a little, but you weren't hurting him.  In fact, I think it was actually good for him.”

“You're just trying to make me feel better,” Daniel mused lightly.

“That's my job,” Jack responded, smiling.  “Is it working?”

“A little,” Daniel acknowledged with a slight chuckle.

“Good.  Let's go say goodnight to our kids and then we can talk some more, if you want,” Jack suggested, walking with his lover as they went to the other half of the tent to tend to the younger members of their brood.

“Jack Jackson-O'Neill, volunteering to talk,” the younger man mused.

“For you, I'd do anything,” Jack declared.  “I love you to the moon and the stars and beyond.”

“And back again,” Daniel replied sappily.  “I love you, too.”

====

Two days later, with everyone hard at work, a jeep being driven by a local native pulled up with an angry man in its passenger seat.

“*Peter!  Peter Hamilton!*” the man shouted, his Armani suit being very out of place for the remote location of the dig site.

Peter looked over at the man who was disembarking the jeep and hung his head, not looking forward to the altercation that was about to take place.

“Can I help you?” Jack asked, wiping his hands with a towel as he jumped out of the hole he'd been working in.

“Where's my son?”

“Your son?”

“Peter Hamilton.  You've kidnapped my boy, and I want him back.”

“Kidnapped?” Jack laughed.  “Mister Hamilton ...”

“Mister Hamilton,” Daniel spoke, interrupting his lover with his louder salutation.  “Your *boy* is a man, and he's an employee of our company.  We didn't kidnap anyone.  He has a valid passport, and he's of age.”

“He's a child in man's clothing, and ... there you are!” the man spoke, incensed by the dirty look of the 'boy'.  “Peter, come here.”

“Father, stop!  I'm not a boy,” Peter stated as he walked over to him.

“You're coming home with me,” the elder Hamilton ordered.  “A son of mine, the heir to a fortune, the future CEO of all our companies, digging in ditches in some ridiculous little country full of peons and nobodies.”

“Stop it, Father.  I've met some of these people, and they may not have Hamilton money, but they have something a Hamilton has never had -- love.  Leave them out of this,” Peter shouted, breathing heavily from the anger he felt within him.

“All this because of some teenage tart!” the man spat as his eyes widened in anger.

Jack was about to hit the man in the nose.  In fact, Jonny was climbing out of the hole where he'd been with Little Danny, determined to give the bad man a swift kick in the shin.  The child didn't know what 'teenage tart' meant, but he knew it wasn't good.  However, Peter beat both Jackson-O'Neills to it, punching his father in the nose.

Standing over his father, Peter harshly spoke, “I'm ashamed to be your son, and if you ever disrespect Jennifer again, you'll be sorry that I am your son.”  Backing away, he added, “Get up, Father, and leave.  You're not welcome here.”

Hamilton stood, glaring at his son as he rebelled against him.

“You're going to regret this, Son,” the man replied, straightening his no-longer-pristine blazer and then turning and heading for his vehicle.

“Actually, this is one of the very few things involving you that I *don't* regret,” Peter said to his father, who glared at him as he was driven away.  After taking a calming breath, he turned to his employers and apologized.  “I'm sorry about my father and for causing a scene.  If you want to fire me, I'd understand.”

“Are you okay, Peter?” Jennifer asked after running over to him.

“I'm fine, Jen,” Peter assured with a small smile.

“No one is firing anyone,” Jack interjected, seeing the relief in the young man's demeanor.

“Jack's right.  Why don't you take a break?” Daniel suggested as the other employees returned to work now that the disturbance was over.

“No, thank you.  I have a lot to do,” Peter said, smiling one more time at Jennifer before returning to his work area.

“So that's Royce Hamilton,” Jack said, shaking his head at the financial mogul.

“Peter's parents aren't exactly the best parents in the world,” Jennifer replied sadly.  “He's afraid he'll end up like them.”

“Jen, that's not going to happen,” Daniel opined strongly.  “Not after what we just saw.”

With a slight nod, Jennifer returned to the tent.

“What?” Jack questioned, seeing a funny look on his soulmate's face.

“Now I really feel like a heel.”

“What do you mean?”

“Jack, there's always a reason for behavior, and I've always been the first one to look for that, but I didn't with Peter.  All I saw was the surface.  I'm not excusing his actions, but I can see now that we have a lot to learn about him.”

Jack nodded, the two men looking over at the young man in question as he toiled away at his task.

====

“Hot day,” Jack said the following afternoon, sitting down next to Peter, who was boxing up some of the artifacts discovered during the dig.  ~Danny's right.  We have a lot to learn about this guy, and we'd better start now before ... Bite your tongue, O'Neill.~

“It's not too bad,” Peter responded.

“So, your old man is a powerhouse.”

“Sir, I really wouldn't know what my father is or isn't.  I don't know him anymore than he knows me, but I do know I don't want to be like him.  All he cares about are profits, his image, and making sure he's in Forbes every year.”

“What about your mother?”

“All she cares about is being the best dressed wherever she goes that and making sure that she never misses a social event,” Peter responded dispassionately.

“That's why you've been on your own so much.”

“There's always a board meeting and cause-of-the-week meeting to go to,” the young man responded, not missing a beat in his packing.

“But you're their son,” Jennifer spoke, unable to believe two parents could be so self-centered as to ignore their child the way Peter had been.

“Me?  All either of them care about is that I dress properly, go to the right schools, marry a debutante, and carry on the family business just like my father,” Peter sighed.  Looking over at the long-haired brunette, he admitted, “I'm surprised my father even came here.  Where's the profit for him in Bhutan?”

“Maybe you're the profit?” the general suggested.

“No, Sir,” Peter responded, stopping his task to look at the general.  “I'm the symbol and the successor, the heir to the Hamilton riches, as well as the stuffy suits, insincere board members, boring conversation, and being picture perfect.”

“Not my type of folks,” Jack admitted.

“Not mine, either,” Peter spoke.

“Still, he did come here,” the young woman reminded.

“Because I left him a message on his voicemail that I wasn't going back to Oxford this fall.  He's not happy about that.”

“Peter, education is important,” Jack responded.

“I'm not disagreeing with you, but at this point, shouldn't I be learning something that will be relevant to my life?”  Returning to work, he confided, “I don't want to take over the companies.  I don't want to be someone who spends more time in an airplane than with my family.  I'm surprised he even recognized me.”

“Any chance you're being a little hard on him?” Jack queried.

“You met him, General.  What do you think?” Peter asked pointedly, staring Jack in the eye.

“I think I'm gonna get back to work,” Jack responded, getting up and walking for the exit.  He glanced back and sighed inwardly.  ~This explains a lot.~

====

Later that evening, Daniel was taking a walk, reviewing the work done at the site in his mind.  At one point, he sat down on the ground, just to enjoy the night.  A couple of minutes later, he heard two voices.  He looked around, realizing that the two were on the other side of the tent he was near.

“... but I believe in you, Peter.  I know your father wants you to go to Oxford for his own reasons, but it is a good school.  You have friends there, and you said you liked your professors.”

“I do, but what I'm learning there doesn't apply to me.  Jen, I don't know what I want to do in my life, and going to Oxford makes me feel like I'm being smothered.”

“Maybe you could take other courses,” Jennifer suggested.

“He'd know,” Peter sighed.  “Maybe I should just give in and go along with what he wants.”

“Peter Hamilton, stop that,” the young woman chastised.  “I don't care what you do as long you don't give up and just go along.  Going along is a really sad, bad thing to do,” she said emotionally, the phrase reminding her of a recent, very traumatic event for the family when the family had learned just how much Daniel had 'gone along' during his adolescence.  “If you decide to do what your father wants, then do it, but don't go along just to go along.  You have to do what is right for you, and only you can make that decision.”

“What do you call doing something just because he wants me to do it then?”

“Wanting to make him happy, or learning while you discover what you really want to do.  That's what I'm doing.  I'm majoring in business because I can imagine it would come in useful to me at some point, but I don't really know yet what I want to do with my life.  Well, I do, kind of, but I'm not sure I'm good enough, or have the right skills for it.  My point is, there's nothing wrong with taking your time, but don't stop going to Oxford just because you aren't certain about your future.  Make it work for you, Peter.  Take classes you want, or at least some.  I'll bet you can do it.  In fact, I'm sure you can.”

“Why do you have so much faith in me?”

Jennifer smiled and shrugged as she answered, “I just do.”

“The truth, Jen, is that I don't like being so far away from you.  Don't say it.  I know.  You don't care about me like that anymore.  I know, but we're friends, right?  And, well, you're really my only friend.”

“Peter, is that because you can't make friends, or because you're not trying?”

“I don't know.”

“I do.  Stop hiding behind your absentee parents, using them as an excuse for all that's bad in your world, and make some real friends.  Maybe I can come visit some time, and, if I do, I'd want to meet them.”

Peter grinned, asking, “You'd really come to visit me?”

“I might,” Jennifer replied, as she began to walk away.  Looking back, she smiled a bit coyly and added, “... if I knew you had some friends to introduce me to.”

The voices drifted off, leaving Daniel looking up at the stars and thinking, ~I'm so proud of her, and she is *so* lying to herself.~

====

“Karissa, I just wanted you to know we've taken off.  Bibi's right on schedule, so please let Megan know she can schedule her on the Chad project in September,” Daniel spoke on the cell phone.

“Will do.  Anything else?”

Daniel nodded as he looked over at his daughter, who was chatting with her siblings.

“Yeah.  Peter Hamilton is to be put on a learning internship, if he wants.  Let him learn the ropes if he decides to keep working for us.  Uh, one more thing, raise his salary so that it's on par with our other field gophers and interns.”

“Not the low man on the totem pole anymore?” Karissa asked, well aware the young man had been given the worst jobs possible during his few months of employment with the firm.

The long-time employee was happy to not have to find a way to broach the obviously touchy subject of Daniel's treatment of Peter with her boss.

“Far from it, Karissa.  Uh, he may be going back to Oxford.  Let him know our internship options, if he does.  I don't know if archaeology is his interest or not, but make him the offer, and you and Megan can handle it accordingly.  Okay?”

“Okay, Daniel,” Karissa responded softly, realizing something good must have occurred between Daniel and Peter during the past week.

====

“Abayomi!” Daniel called out in surprise as the family disembarked the Lear jet at the Colorado Springs airport.

“Daniel, my friend,” the Egyptian called out in greeting.

“Hi, Mister Abayomi, Sir,” Jonny spoke enthusiastically upon seeing the man.

“Little General Jonny, how are you today?” Abayomi questioned, always amused by the youngster.

“I'm great.  I love your plane.  I wanna fly it when I get older.  I wish we had one,” Jonny sighed.

Abayomi laughed, “It shall be so.”

“What's that mean?” the oldest Munchkin asked.

“Don't go putting ideas into his head,” Jack interrupted.  “Abayomi,” he greeted, extending his hand out.

“The boy loves to fly, yes?” the foreigner asked as he shook Jack's hand.

“Yes, but we aren't buying a Lear jet,” Jack answered, looking down at the sandy-haired boy.

“No.  Why buy what it is already yours?”

Jack stared at the billionaire curiously before replying, “I'm sorry.  Mine?”

“A gift, for all you have done for Passion, Incorporated,” Abayomi stated, referring to his company.

“Uh, we can't accept a jet as a ... a gift,” Daniel responded nervously.

“It is not a new plane, and I normally replenish my fleet every few years.  Your company has been true, and you need a way to take your family to my places, yes?”

“Abayomi, this jet's only five years old,” Jack pointed out.

“Yes, very old.  Its replacement is there,” the wealthy man said, pointing to another plane in the distance.

“Yazid has the papers.  He will present them to you when next he meets with you. I have arranged for a hangar, there,” Abayomi spoke, pointing over towards some rental hangars.  “My pilot will see to its safety.  I must go now, but I wanted to give you this gift in person, as my thanks for our continued association.”

“It's a great gift, but ...” Jack began, loving the gesture but realizing it was just too much for the family, or the company, to accept.

“Thank you,” Daniel spoke earnestly, shaking the man's hand.

“I look forward to the riches of Bhutan,” Abayomi responded with a nod before walking away.

“We have a jet!” Jonny cheered.

“Danny ...”

“Jack, we would have offended him by not accepting his gift.”

“Like accepting Sha're?” the older man questioned with raised eyebrows.

“Something like that,” Daniel replied.  “Jack, he came here, just to give us this plane.  We had to accept it, or it would have been a slap in the face.”

“Wouldn't want to do that,” Jack stated a bit sarcastically.  “Daniel, it's a *Lear* jet!” he exclaimed a bit argumentatively.

“Babe, to us it's a Lear jet.  To Abayomi, it's a penny.”

Jack looked back at what was apparently the family's new plane and shrugged, saying, “Shoulda asked for a dime.  Maybe we coulda gotten the pilot thrown in the deal.”

Chuckling, the couple gathered their family together, made sure their new jet was properly secured, and then headed for home.

====

“I found an old tool,” Little Danny said proudly to his siblings and Aunt Suzanna who hadn't gone on the trip.  “And Jonny found a bone.”

“Jonny played in the dirt?” Lulu giggled.

“I was bored,” the boy said, looking down and away evasively.

From the edge of the game room, Jack and Daniel watched their children at play, both men laughing at the current conversation a moment before heading to the living room.

Sitting down, each man quickly found himself with a lap full of beagle.

“We missed you both, too,” Daniel said, smiling as he patted Katie.

“Wooooof,” Jack said, going nose to nose with Bijou playfully.

“Tomorrow's the big day.”

“Every day's a big day when I'm with you,” Jack said lovingly.

“Geez, I love you,” Daniel spoke.

“That's my line,” Jack said, pretending to be miffed.

“Gonna make something of it?” the younger man challenged playfully.

“Nah.  I'm just gonna kiss you.”

“Oh,” Daniel chuckled before the two shared a deep kiss, their hands still patting their beagles affectionately.

“What's big about tomorrow?” Jack questioned.

“Jen's first day of college classes,” Daniel answered.

“She'll be fine.”

“I know.  I know that more than ever now.  She's all grown up, Babe.”

“No, I'm not, but I'm glad you think I am,” Jennifer mused as she walked in from the hallway.  “I have a lot to learn.”  Walking to the sofa and stopping just in front of the coffee table, she spoke softly, “Daddy, thank you for forgiving Peter, and, Dad, thank you for supporting him all along, even when I wasn't ready to forgive him yet.  I think he and I will always be friends.”

“I think you will, too,” Daniel agreed.

“Friends,” Jack said, nodding.  ~And stuff I *so* don't want to think about.~

“Are the kids in the game room?” Jennifer asked.

“Playing and catching up,” Jack affirmed, watching as the young woman who just a few months ago was just a teenager in his eyes walked away.  “Angel?”

“Yes, Babe?”

“Where's the P-90?”

Daniel chuckled and leaned into his husband.  He looked at Katie and smiled as he rubbed her floppy ears.  Life was changing for him and his husband.  Their oldest princess was becoming a woman, swiftly leaving childhood behind and entering a new life as an adult; and, despite her protestations, he was also certain she cared more for her first love than she was admitting.  He knew Jack shared that opinion.  He also knew he was becoming way too serious than he wanted to be at the moment; in fact, he was almost melancholic as he thought about Jennifer's future away from their family as she matured.

“Jack?”

“Yes, Love?”

“Mine's bigger than yours,” the archaeologist boasted.

“What?”

“Neener, neener,” the young lover teased, suddenly coaxing Katie off of him and then sprinting upstairs.

“A challenge?” Jack asked.

“An invitation,” Daniel chuckled as he hurried up the top of the stairs.

“Geez, I love him,” Jack said to Bijou, gently pushing her off of him and then following his lover upstairs for a quick round of fondling and whatever might follow.

Though life was changing as their family evolved, Jack's and Daniel's need for each other was stronger than ever.  That was one thing that would never diminish.

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