Egyptian Erotica: Another Ten Months

Author: Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Action/Adventure, Drama, Angst, H/C, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - October 16, 2007 - August 15, 2008
Spoilers:  The Nox, Cold Lazarus, The Serpent's Lair, The Curse, Chimera
Size:  684kb Total
--Chapter One:  83kb
--Chapter Two:  40kb
--Chapter Three:  53kb Revised for consistency: September 11, 2010
--Chapter Four:  60kb
--Chapter Five:  75kb Revised for consistency: September 11, 2010
--Chapter Six:  48kb
--Chapter Seven:  140kb
--Chapter Eight:  43kb Revised: January 14, 2008
--Chapter Nine:  95kb
--Chapter Ten:  47kb
Written:  February 28, March 6-10, July 31, August 1-5,19,21-22,24,28,31, September 1-2,8,10,12-13, October 23, November 1,6,12-14,18-22, 2004  Revised:  July 30-31, August 1-6, 2007
Summary:  The Jackson-O'Neills suffer a loss just as they prepare for their first family dig in Egypt.  What mysteries will be uncovered as they excavate Abydos, and what person from their past will endanger their family?
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Hanky warnings, so I've been told, and potentially sensitive material in chapter five regarding a minor character!
2) For more information on Mehen and Senet, check out:  http://www.xmission.com/~psneeley/Shareware/Mehen.htm
3) For more information on the legend of Hercules, check out: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Herakles/bio.html
4) For more information on the Hercules Constellation, check out: http://www.seds.org/Maps/Stars_en/Fig/hercules.html
5) 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.**
6) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
7) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my past fics, “The Truth Within,” “Detour,” “Just When You Thought You Knew Jack ...,” “Sharpshooter Secret,” “Echoes of the Past,” “Ten Months,” “Forever and Always,” “Brothers,” “Goofy and the Boys,” and “Transitions: The Next Ten Months”
8) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Claudia, Suzanna, Charlotte, QuinGem, Drdjlover, Linda, Melissa, Carol!

Egyptian Erotica: Another Ten Months
by Orrymain

====
-- Chapter One:  We Have Clearance, Jackson-O'Neill Style!
====

~What a day!~

Jack plopped down onto the sofa, wishing he could sink into the soft cushions.  This was the first minute in his hectic day when he could actually spend a moment alone, in peace and quiet.  Unfortunately for him, it didn't last long as the phone rang almost before his rear end hit the sofa cushion.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” Jack bellowed, hurrying over to the phone, not wanting the ringing phone to disturb the babies in case they were asleep.  “Jackson-O'Neill residence, and it had better be good!”

“General O'Neill, this is Sergeant Johansen.  General Armstrong would like you at the SGC within the hour.”

“Isn't that nice,” Jack responded sarcastically.  ~Hasn't he retired yet?~.  Verbally, he answered with a very strong, “No!”

“Excuse me, Sir?”

“No.  It's spelled N-O, and it means not on your life.  And if you're going to call me, get the name right: it's Jackson-O'Neill!” Jack corrected sternly.

The retired Air Force brigadier general hung up the phone and returned to the sofa, bringing the cordless phone with him.  He sighed, looking at his watch.

~Two minutes,~ Jack calculated.  Sure enough, almost exactly to the second, the phone rang again.  He released a breath, knowing that this time the ringing phone would have a higher ranking general on the other end of it.  ~Not that I care, but that idiot won't stop calling,~ he thought.  Resigned, he raised the phone, staring at it as if it were his enemy.  “Hello,” he intoned.

“General O'Neill, this is General Armstrong.  You are to report to Cheyenne Mountain immediately.  Doctor Jackson is also required to report.”

General Franklin Armstrong had first invaded Jack's and Daniel's lives in the fall of 2002 when he'd ordered Jack to lead a rescue mission in Iraq.  Things had gone south during the mission, however, and the then-colonel was reported killed.  Two-and-a-half years later, he'd been part of a major push in getting the lovers to un-retire after Daniel had been seriously injured off-world during what was to have been the couple's last mission for the SGC.  He was not one of their favorite people.

“General, do we have to do this again?  I'm retired - R-E-T-R ...”

“I know how to spell the word,” Armstrong interrupted.  “You have your orders; within the hour, General!”

“General, does the word 'babysitter' mean anything to you?” Jack asked.

“NOW, GENERAL O'NEILL!”

A click came over the line, followed by a dial tone.

Jack stared at the phone receiver in his hand, wishing they hadn't paid the phone bill, and groused, “Fine, you moron!”

====

Upstairs, Jack smiled as reached the doorway of the nursery.  He leaned against the doorway, his hands in his pockets, as he watched Daniel rocking their youngest daughter, Jenny, in his arms.  It was a wondrous sight in his opinion.

“She's precious, isn't she?” Jack spoke quietly.

Without looking up, Daniel smiled his agreement, replying, “All of our children are.”

“You're right,” Jack agreed.  Then he sighed, knowing they didn't have time to procrastinate.  “Danny, Love, gather up the Munchkins, the twins, and the Mouseketeers.  We're going on a family outing.”

“What are you talking about?” Daniel asked, finally taking his eyes off their youngest daughter.

“We've been *ordered* to the SGC.”

“You're kidding me?  Didn't you tell them ...”

“It was Armstrong, and, as usual, he wasn't listening.”

“Jack, we can't.”

“Why not?  Let's show the troops where Dad and Daddy met,” Jack suggested a bit enthusiastically.  Hearing his lover's sigh and seeing his scowl, the older man added, “We don't have a choice, Danny.  If we don't go, they'll just come get us, hound us, like always.”

“Gawd.  Why can't they leave us alone?”

“Probably that saving the world thing we have going.  We did it so well they don't think anyone else can do it.”

“Then again, I guess we haven't done that great of a job of cutting them off either,” Daniel admitted.

The archaeologist missed exploring planets and meeting new peoples, but as he held Jenny in his arms, he knew there was nothing in the world that he'd trade for this moment and others like it.  His family was first, and it was a life Daniel loved, so saving the world had to be second to raising his family.

Jack nodded.  He felt the same as Daniel did about their work for the SGC, although probably not quite as strongly.  Of course, he also realized that a big part of his feelings on the subject were jaded by 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'.  He would never hide his relationship with Daniel again, and the fact that he had had to for so many years greatly rankled him.

Jack sighed as he suggested, “We could, you know.”

“It would really end it,” Daniel pointed out.  “There'd be no going back.”

“Which is why we won't,” Jack snorted.

Jack gave his soulmate a reluctant smile.  Their feelings about exploring new worlds aside, they'd done a horrible job at severing their ties with the SGC, primarily because each had come to realize that they still wanted to keep in touch, to be on the fringe in case they really were needed.  The problem with that was that it meant the Pentagon often bullied them into participating in occasional missions, even now that they were parents.

Daniel stood and walked over to his husband with Jenny in his arms.  He leaned in and kissed Jack.

Jenny laughed at the funny sound of the kiss.

“Hey, what's funny about a kiss, Precious, huh?” Jack asked, a huge smile on his face as he placed a kiss on his baby's cheek.

“Okay, Babe, let's go,” Daniel reluctantly agreed.

The Jackson-O'Neills gathered up their eight children, climbed into their SUV, and headed for the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.

====

“This is exciting!” Jennifer commented from her seat at the rear of the vehicle.  “We're going to NORAD, right?”

“Ah, NORAD is there, yes, but we'll be going beneath that part of the Mountain,” Jack answered.

“Daddy, can we see artifacts?” David asked enthusiastically.

“I don't know.  We have to wait and see what they want first,” Daniel answered, glancing back at the six-year-old boy.

“Please, Daddy.”

“I'll ... find one,” Daniel replied, sure he could find something in one of his old colleague's offices to show the eager young boy.

Already multi-lingual, David was a bit of a genius, though he'd never been tested.  Daniel didn't want the young boy to have that kind of label attached to him, and neither did Jack.

As the family headed for Cheyenne Mountain, Daniel recalled discussing the IQ issue recently with his lover.

//Flashback//
“Jack, do you think we should have David's IQ tested?  I mean, he speaks three languages extremely well, dabbles in at least two others, and is at least three grades above children his own age.  Should we find out?” Daniel questioned as he sat on the comfortable old sofa in the study.

“I don't know, Love,” Jack replied as he began to evaluate the pros and cons in his mind.  “Sooner or later, he'll be taking those entrance tests and things.  I'm not sure I want to stick the name 'genius' on him at this stage of his life, even though I'm proud as can be.  I want him to enjoy learning because he wants to, not because a number says he should have to.”  He glanced at Daniel, smiling.  “You're the real genius.  What do you think?”

“It's funny, in a strange sort of way.  I don't remember ever not being called a genius,” the archaeologist revealed.  “When I was a toddler in Egypt, everyone talked about how smart I was.  My parents had me tested very early, and ... I always did ... well.”

“Well?” Jack questioned, his eyes having an accusing shine in them, knowing 'well' meant 'off the charts' or something close.

“Jack, for you, being a genius was something that pleased your mother.  It was just a number, right?”

“You got it.”

“For me, it was always part of who I was, who I am,” Daniel confided.  “It places a huge responsibility on a little child's shoulders.”

~Label,~ Jack cursed silently as he stood up from his desk chair and walked over to his husband, taking the younger man's hands in his own.  He sighed and then spoke from his heart, shaking his head as he began, “Danny, we don't like labels, right?”

“Right,” Daniel affirmed softly.

“Let's let our son be our son.  If he wants to learn more languages or follow in your footsteps, then let's let him.”

“But without the obligation or the label,” Daniel replied.

“Yeah.  If he wants to know, asks about it, then we can talk about it again,” Jack said.  “Some kids do want to know their IQs.  If David is one of them, we can consider having him tested.”

Daniel smiled brightly as he said, “But until then, we let him grow up, be who he is, study, *and* play in his own wonderful way.”

“That's my genius,” Jack said as he pulled Daniel in for a long kiss.
//End of Flashback//

Daniel was happy with the decision he and Jack had made.  He knew David was a genius; he didn't need to see the numbers to know that, but their priority was for their extremely intelligent son to have a balanced life, the best of all worlds, which meant that they'd both encourage David's quest for knowledge and help him to be the youngster he was and to grow naturally, without labels, into the man he was to become.

~I'll find him an artifact or two to examine and answer his questions, and then when we get home, we'll play with the trains, or ... maybe ping pong,~ Daniel thought.

Unlike Daniel, David would grow up knowing what it meant to be a child.  He'd also know that he was loved for himself and not for his intellect.

“Carter will help find something, if necessary,” Jack said reassuringly as he drove.

“What?  Oh, yeah, right,” Daniel responded, Jack's words drawing him back into the present.  “Don't worry, David.  There's a lot to explore at the SGC.”

“Yeah, rocks, rocks, and more rocks,” Jack teased.

“Jack!” Daniel chastised.

“Dad!” David whined.

Laughter spread through the vehicle as the family continued on towards the Mountain.

====

“They had better show up, General Hammond,” the bald-headed Franklin bellowed as he paced Hammond's office.

“General Armstrong, General O'Neill is retired.  Doctor Jackson isn't even military.  It wouldn't surprise me if ...” Hammond began, privately thinking that his fellow general gave bald-headed men a bad name.

“No worries here, Sir,” Jack said, walking into the briefing room, holding Jonny with one arm and holding one of Chenoa's small hands in his right.

Daniel had their specially built stroller in front of him.  It was filled with the other two one-year-old Munchkins and the five-week-old twins.

The family had a few different kinds of strollers, depending upon their plans and needs of the day, including a double stroller just for the twins and a triplet stroller for the Munchkins that was vertical in shape so that the babies were lined up one behind the other.  The one they were using today, however, had been especially made for them.  Jack called it the QuintMobile since all five of their babies used it.  It was horizontal, the triplets in the back row and the twins in the front row.  It had all kinds of neat features, thanks to Sam and some other 'whiz kids' who had helped to build and/or modify it.

Jennifer, holding David's hand, walked in behind Daniel.  All the children had been told to stick together.

“Oh, wow!” David exclaimed, slipping his hand from Jennifer's hold and running to the large window to look out at the Stargate.  “What's that?”

“Oh, wow!” Jennifer echoed in surprise, taking a few steps closer to the window.

“It's called the Stargate, Jen,” Daniel answered calmly.  He'd seen the shocked looked on Armstrong's face, but he truly didn't care.  If they were going to be summoned to the SGC against their will, then the government was simply going to have to start making allowances for their large family.  ~Choiceless,~ he smirked about Armstrong, using one his lover's favorite words.

“General O'Neill, what's the meaning of this?” Armstrong questioned impatiently.

“Babysitters, General.  It's all about babysitters.  Have you ever tried to find a last minute babysitter for *eight* children?” Jack smirked.  ~So, we didn't even try.  Sue us.~

Jack knew he had just achieved his goal with Armstrong.  He had, after all, tried to warn the three-star general.  It wasn't Jack's fault if the man wouldn't listen.

Jack let go of Chenoa's hand when Jonny made a little noise; he wanted to take a better look at his son and make sure he was okay.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Chenoa climb up on a chair and look out through the window at the Stargate.  He chuckled as he watched her, knowing she had no clue what she was staring at.

Just then, the klaxons blared.  Jack and Daniel exchanged a look, but before they could panic, General Hammond remarked, “It's just SG-11, returning from ...” the general looked at the oldest children present and then continued, “... from their mission.”

“Daddy, look!” Chenoa exclaimed as the Stargate began to turn.

Jennifer and David watched wide-eyed as the Stargate made its loud noises.  When the kawoosh blasted colorfully above the ramp, both jumped back.

With perfect timing, however, Jack and Daniel had blocked the toddler's view, moving in front of the chair that she was standing on.  Both were afraid the loud noise and spectacle of the Stargate opening might frighten Chenoa.

“Loud,” Chenoa said, looking around anxiously.  She climbed off the chair and went back to Jack, taking hold of his hand as she leaned against his leg.  “Scary.”

**Geez, she's adorable,** Jack communicated, just loving the trust the curly-haired girl was putting in him.

**The noise scared her, Jack.**

**Yeah, but she's fine,** Jack replied as he squeezed her hand reassuringly.

Now that the Stargate had calmed to show the stabilized event horizon, Jack led Chenoa to the window where they watched the waiting Marines and the returning SG team.

“It looks like water,” David commented, his hands pressed against the large windowpane as he studied the strange, circular object.

“That's what most people say.  It's referred to as an event horizon,” Daniel explained.

“Where are they coming from?” Jennifer asked.

“That's ... a long story, and it's a good one, but, uh, not for right now,” Daniel answered.

“T!  It's TEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” Chenoa shouted, surprising all three of the generals in the room, as well as Daniel.  “TEEEEEEE,” the little girl yelled again.

In the gate room, Teal'c happened to look up and was surprised to see the Jackson-O'Neills staring down at him.  He cocked his head sideways in amazement.

“Dad, it's T!” the young girl said again.

Without warning, Chenoa finagled herself out of Jack's loose grip, catching him off-guard.  With astonishing speed for a toddler, she ran out of the room in search of her friend.  

“DANIEL!” Jack called out.

“Oh, gawd,” Daniel expressed, looking over just in time to see Chenoa scooting out the door.  He followed after her, finally catching her as she ran into a Marine. “Noa!”

“Ouch!” the toddler said as she fell to the cold surface, her rear end making solid contact with the hard, concrete floor.  She twisted her body to one side so that she could run her hand against her behind, rubbing it and saying, “Ow.”

“Chenoa Lynn, you know better than to run out like that!”

Daniel leaned over and picked her up so that she stood on her own two feet again.  He quickly checked her to make sure she wasn't hurt.

“It's T, Daddy!”

“I know, but you also know the rules.  Tell me,” the archaeologist instructed.

“But, Daddy ...”

“Chenoa!”

Just then Teal'c and the rest of SG-11 entered the corridor.  Daniel saw the Jaffa was about to speak and move towards the young child, but he raised his hand, indicating for Teal'c to stop.

“Tell me, Chenoa.”

“Not run 'way.  Stay you,” the little girl sighed, adding enthusiastically with more volume, “Daddy, it's T!”

“ChenoaJacksonO'Neill, you must obey your parents, or I will not be able to see you,” Teal'c intoned sternly.

Chenoa looked horrified as she twisted her body around to look at the tall Jaffa.

“Daddy not let you?”

The little girl started to cry.  It broke Daniel's heart, but he had to be firm.  This was an important lesson that all their children had to learn.  Jack and Daniel had too much history, too many enemies who might one day try and track them down in the hope of extracting some form of sick revenge, to allow their children to break rules designed to protect them.

“No, that is not correct.  Have you not promised your fathers to follow the rules?” Teal'c asked, waiting for the little girl to answer.  When she nodded, he questioned, “Are you honorable?”

“Hon...hon...hon'ble?”

“He means do you keep your promises?” Daniel asked, knowing the toddler didn't know what the word 'honorable' meant.

“Yes,” Chenoa responded quickly now that she understood the question.

“Then, you are honorable.  I have respect for those with honor.  They are my friends.  If you have honor, then you, too, are my friend; but if you disobey your parents, if you are without honor, then you are not my friend,” Teal'c explained, looking down at the child.

Stunned, Chenoa sniffled some more and turned to Daniel, saying, “Noa sorry, Daddy.”

“I know, Sweetie,” Daniel replied, softening with a smile on his face.

“Noa ... hon'ble.  Want Teeeee,” Chenoa pleaded, turning to look at the Jaffa.

“It's okay, Noa.”  Daniel picked up his daughter and held her close.  “You don't understand.  What we do, the rules we make, they keep you safe.  You have to trust us to know what's best for you because we love you so much!”

“Love Daddy,” Chenoa sniffled.  “See T now?”

“Okay,” Daniel agreed, putting his daughter down.

Chenoa immediately ran to Teal'c, who didn't hesitate to pick her up.

Oblivious to the several Marines watching, the small girl asked loudly, “T have tea party?”

Teal'c ignored the snickering Marines, some of whom made funny faces as they watched the alien with the little girl.

With pride, the Jaffa responded, “It would be my pleasure to have tea with you.” He brought up an invisible cup and said, “This is just how you like it.”

“Thank you, T,” Chenoa said with a smile, taking the imaginary cup.  “Yours,” she said as she handed a pretend cup to Teal'c.  “Hot,” she added.

Teal'c bowed his head, using his free hand to take the cup that wasn't there and drink it.  He made an “Mmmm” sound.

“Indeed, it was very hot,” Teal'c agreed.  He smiled and added, “It was the best tea I have ever had.”

“We'd better get back inside,” Daniel suggested, motioning with his head towards the briefing room and the lieutenant general's office.

After Teal'c put the youngster down, Daniel mouthed a “thank you,” took his daughter's hand, and returned to General Hammond's office.

Teal'c turned towards the still-snickering servicemen.  In a moment's time, he stared down the laughing Marines, who quickly sobered and dispersed without saying a word.

====

General Armstrong had no choice but to deal with the children's presence.  He figured it couldn't hurt to make a tiny fuss over them, so he mussed up David's hair (which the boy instantly tried to straighten), made some inane comment about Jennifer's outfit (at which she rolled her eyes in disbelief as soon as he turned away, much to Jack's pride and delight), and then he went over to the baby carriage.  He reached his hand in to touch one of the babies when he felt something sharp against his hand.

“GRRRRRRRRR!”

“GRRUFFFFFF!”

The harsh sounds were followed by a succession of loud, warning-like “Woof's” from both Bijou and Katie, who now stood on all-fours as they protected their charges.

Jack beamed with pride as he softly spoke, “Geez, I love those girls!”

“Why you ... mutt!”

The visiting general snatched his hand away, clutching at his fingers which had just had a close encounter with some canine teeth.

Bijou growled harshly as she considered jumping out after the man with the strange hand.  She felt negative vibes emitting from him and would do whatever was necessary to keep the babies safe.

“Down, Bijou,” Daniel ordered, immediately adding with a smile, “Good girl.”  He looked at Katie and smiled at her, too, as he praised, “You did good.”

Daniel petted the mama beagle's head gently and then did the same to Katie.  He glanced over at the mark on Armstrong's finger and shook his head.  He started to say something, but Jack beat him to the punch.

“Don't worry, General.  Unlike some others I know, she's had all of her shots.  Besides, she's finicky about what she eats,” Jack quipped smugly.

“General Hammond, I want these ... these ...”

“Careful, General,” Jack interrupted.  “If you want our help for something, I wouldn't go around badmouthing my children, any of them.”

“They're *dogs*!” Armstrong spat angrily.

“They're our children,” Daniel corrected.

There wasn't a smile on the archaeologist's face.  He was totally serious, and it was that sincerity that stopped General Armstrong dead in his tracks.

Sitting behind his desk, Hammond looked down to hide his amusement.  He'd wondered why Daniel had left so quickly to follow Chenoa without first making sure someone was watching the stroller, even if Jack was in the same room.  Now, he knew.

The two beagles might be small, but they were fierce protectors of their 'siblings'.  The lieutenant general was not the least bit surprised that Jack and Daniel had brought the dogs with them to the SGC to help guard their children.  It was crazy, offbeat, and right down their alley.

Placing his hands behind his back, Armstrong spoke firmly, “We have a situation, and, yes, we need your help.  I do not believe, however, that you would want your children to hear what I have to say.”

Jack and Daniel exchanged a glance.  This was one thing they actually agreed with Armstrong about.

“Sir,” Jack said turning to Hammond.  “May I suggest you call Colonel Carter and Teal'c to ... baby-sit?”

“Some days, it pays to stay in bed,” their friend said before picking up the phone to call the rest of SG-1 to his office.

Meanwhile, Jennifer and David began asking a load of questions:

“What's an event horizon?”
“Where did the men come from?”
“Why is it so loud?”
“Is that what you and Dad did all the time?”
“Is it dangerous?”
“Does Sam do it, too?”
“What do those symbols mean?”
“What makes it turn like that?”
“Why are so many soldiers there with guns?”

On and on the questions went, and as they continued, the angrier Armstrong became.  Jack and Daniel continued to ignore the red face of the three-star general and did their best to deflect or partially answer their children's questions.

Finally, Sam entered the general's office, Teal'c following a minute or so after her.  The two took the children and the beagles to Sam's lab, while Jack and Daniel stayed with Armstrong and Hammond in the briefing room.

====

“There's been an incident that is threatening the alliance with both the Hedronix and the Nox.”

“Not again,” Jack said flippantly.  “What did you do now?”

The accusation in Jack's voice was evident, and had Armstrong not needed the retired general's help, he would have retorted in kind.

“As part of our ongoing exchange, the Hedronix let us borrow a device they call a visper.”

“Visper?” Jack asked, looking at Daniel expectantly.

“It means, uh, clear,” Daniel said with a shrug.

“Exactly, Doctor Jackson.  The device is a transporter of sorts,” Armstrong acknowledged.

“Beam us up, Scotty?” Jack asked.

“Yes.”

“So what's the problem?  No Scotty to figure it out for you?” Jack questioned flippantly.

Armstrong glared at Jack, wondering how the man had ever been promoted to a brigadier, and answered, “The visper is constructed of certain properties that potentially make it more powerful than a simple transportation tool.”

“So,” Daniel jumped in, “what you're saying is that you took this device which you told the Hedronix you wanted to study for the purposes of transportation, but, in fact, you are really using it to do something else, something the Hedronix wouldn't like.”

Seeing Armstrong flinch, Jack smirked, “I think you hit the nail on the head, Danny.”

Daniel added, “And the Hedronix have found out about it and aren't happy with us ... again.”

Armstrong refused to flinch this time, taking an arrogant stance in front of Jack and Daniel as he stated, “Both the Hedronix and the Nox are threatening to end our alliance if we don't return the device.”

“So return it,” Jack suggested sternly.

“They can't, Jack.  They've ... lost it,” Daniel guessed successfully.

Armstrong elaborated, “The visper was being studied on Kennedaria.”

“Kennedaria?” Jack queried, his face twisted in confusion.

“Jack, since you've retired, the SGC has branched out,” Hammond explained.

“You mean we're taking over planets,” Daniel challenged, his disappointment in the SGC's CO evident.

“Uninhabited planets, Doctor Jackson,” Hammond clarified.  “This particular one has medical research as its main purpose.”

“Medical research?  General, excuse me, but the visper is not a medical device ... is it?” Daniel asked, the frustration in his voice evident.

“I'm aware of that, Doctor Jackson.  I was also *unaware* of any of this until General Armstrong told me what was happening this morning,” Hammond noted in an exasperated tone, turning to glare at his colleague.

“Okay,” Jack said as he walked a foot or two towards Armstrong.  “What happened on Kenawhatever?”

“It was stolen by the Goa'uld.  They somehow found out about Kennedaria and what we had there.  Three Marines were killed and five others injured, including two of the medical staff assigned there.”

Jack and Daniel exchanged a look of disbelief.

His arms folded across his chest, Daniel spoke tersely, “So you endangered the lives of medical personnel while doing something you had no business doing.”

“Doctor, I don't need your attitude.”

“You must need something or my husband and I wouldn't be here along with our *ten* children,” the archaeologist retorted, blinking one time and tilting his head just slightly as he held his ground against the three-star officer standing in front of him.

**Ten children.  Good one, Danny,** Jack praised.

**Let him make something of Bij and Katie being called our children,** Daniel replied.

Jack smiled inwardly, getting a charge out of his lover's snarkiness.

Armstrong bristled, but ignored the challenge and stated, “We believe the Goa'uld have taken the visper to PRJ-010.  We need SG-1 to get the visper back and then return it to Hedry and make sure they don't sever our alliance.”

Daniel laughed in a combination of disbelief at the total absurdity of the situation and the government's inability to understand interplanetary relations.

“How about keeping your promises?  The Hedronix believe in honor.  They aren't going to work with us if you keep lying to them.  They are willing to help us, and freely.  I don't understand.  Why couldn't you use the brain God gave you and think ... be a little patient?”

“This is the military, Daniel.  They don't think,” Jack opined, surprising both Hammond and Armstrong.

“General O'Neill, you can believe whatever you like, just as long as you do as ordered,” Armstrong snapped.

“Ordered?”  Jack looked at Daniel and then said, “I don't do orders anymore.”

**That's my line, Love.**

**You steal mine all the time,** the silver-haired man rationalized.

**That's different.**

**Why?** Jack questioned.

**Because ... oh, I don't know.  Listen to the know-it-all-general,** Daniel responded, not having an answer.

**Score one for the Fly Boy.**

**Jaaaaack!**

Jack and Daniel hid their private smiles and returned to their ongoing verbal conversation.

“Jack,” Hammond interjected, allowing his fondness for his irreverent ex-2IC to show in the softness of his voice.  “We need you on this one.”

The couple shared another look.  Each sighed, knowing they'd just been roped in -- again.

“It's not an order, but a request, contingent, of course, on finding a babysitter for your children,” Hammond stated.

“Your children will be looked after ...” Armstrong began, but his words were instantly cut off.

“NO!” Jack and Daniel spoke in unison.

“Understand this, *General*,” Jack said with disdain.  “Our children don't stay just anywhere.  We need Carter and Teal'c for this mission, so whether we go or not, depends on the availability of my ex-wife.  If she's busy, you're out of luck.”

“Your ex-wife?” Armstrong questioned in complete disbelief.

Daniel almost laughed at the astonished look on Armstrong's face.  He knew the general couldn't believe what he had just heard.  As his husband picked up the phone to call Sara, Daniel couldn't resist.

“Jack, let me.”

Jack shrugged, handed the receiver to the younger man, and walked away from the phone.  He exchanged an amused glance with Hammond as Daniel dialed the number.

“Hi, Sara, it's Daniel ... They're great.  You'll see for yourself next week at dinner ... <laughter> ... He's the usual grizzly bear ... you know me, I know how to control him.”

“Hey, I don't need controlling.”

“Oh, yes, you do, Babe; you knew who we were talking about, didn't you? ... what, Sara? ... <loud laughter> ... I usually just give him a little massage below ... yeah, right there ...”

“DOCTOR JACKSON!” Armstrong shouted.

Daniel laughed.  He'd just made another point with the very-opinionated Armstrong.

“Sorry, Sara. We're at the, uh, work ... yeah, apparently they need us, no one else will do, yadda yadda ... could you? ... Are you sure?  I mean this is the entire clan, including the girls ... thanks, Sara.  We'll bring them by in about an hour ... thanks ... Love you, too!”  Daniel returned the receiver to its cradle and smiled at Armstrong.  “The ex-Mrs. O'Neill is a wonderful person.  She loves me, by the way.  We ... share an understanding.”

Jack was trying not to laugh, seeing the consternation on Armstrong's face.  He had known exactly what Daniel had been up to from the start, and while he managed to control his laughter, he couldn't hide his smile.

~That's my Space Monkey.~

“We'll have a car take the ...” Armstrong began.

“No, you won't,” Daniel interrupted.  “Jack and I will take our children to Sara's, and then we'll be back.”

“We don't have time for this,” Armstrong groused.

“General Armstrong, with all due disrespect, Jack and I are not going through that Stargate,” Daniel pointed emphatically out the window, “without being one-hundred percent sure that our children are safe with Sara, and not until we've had time to ...”

Daniel looked at Jack, his snarkiness now gone in face of the reality of the words he was speaking.

“We'll be back.  Take it or leave it,” Jack said staunchly.

“General O'Neill ...”

“We'll take it.  Take care of your children, General, Doctor,” Hammond said sincerely, maintaining a formality he wished he didn't have to since he thought of the Jackson-O'Neill children as his grandkids.

“Thank you, Sir.”

“We just have one thing we have to do first,” Daniel spoke, nodding his head, which was all he needed to do to remind his husband about their promise to their science-oriented son.

“Right,” Jack agreed.

“We cannot afford delays.  Leave now or ...” Armstrong threatened, his eyes bulging from the anger he felt.

“Or what?” Jack smirked.  “You came to us, Armstrong; it wasn't the other way around.  Daniel,” he beckoned as they turned and walked out, leaving the visiting general fit to be tied.

“That was beautiful, Babe,” Daniel complimented as the lovers headed for the elevator.

“I just don't like the man, Daniel.”

“Uh, don't forget ...”

“Don't remind me,” Jack chuckled since he, too, was 'the man'.

Before leaving, the parents honored their promise to David, showing off a bowl and tablet acquired from a dig on PR9-220 that Doctor Lee had in his office.

====

“The Stargate is so neat.  Can we go back, Dad?” David asked, a huge smile on his face as he practically jumped up and down in excitement.  

“The Stargate?” Sara repeated quizzically, shocked to hear that word come out of the young boy's mouth.

**Jack, she has a right to know,” Daniel opined.  **She should have been told years ago.  I don't want to lie to her anymore.  She's ... family.**

**It's top secret.  They won't be happy.**

**Who's going to tell them?** the archaeologist questioned.

**Good point!**

“All right, you two.  You're doing that telepathic stuff again.  Can we use the spoken language, please?” Sara asked, shaking her head at the two men.

With a nod, Jack requested, “Jen, will you take the kids to Angela's playroom, please?”  He looked over at Sara, asking, “Is that okay?”

“Of course.”

Seeing Sara's nod and hearing her response, Jennifer said a quick “Sure, Dad” and then took her siblings and Angela to the playroom.

As she watched Jennifer push the stroller, Sara chuckled, “Good thing you had that stroller made.”

“With our brood, the QuintMobile is a matter of survival,” Jack responded, smiling.  “Sara ...” he began seriously, though he paused.

Looking around the room, Jack decided to err on the side of caution.  He gently took Sara by the elbow and escorted her outside to the middle of her large backyard.  Daniel followed.

“Sara, we don't have time for detailed explanations.  Long story short, the Stargate is a ... transporter.  We walk through, and we're on some other planet.  That copy of me way back when was an alien life form that was able to take my shape after we came into contact with it.  It was trying to learn more about me.”

“The Stargate,” Sara stated simply as she stared at her ex-husband, looking deeply into his eyes.  She glanced over at Daniel and saw the same sincerity in his eyes as she had just seen in Jack's.  “You're absolutely serious?” she asked a moment later.

“Dead serious.”

“Okay, then ... oh my.”  Sara turned to Daniel, a realization having just occurred to her.  “Your wife was kidnapped ... by an alien?”

Daniel nodded and answered, “I guess you could say my wife was an alien.”  He paused, crossing his arms across his chest.  He'd never totally let go of the guilt he felt about the beautiful Abydonian woman he had married.  “Sha're was from a planet called Abydos.”

“Abydos is in Egypt.”

“No, not that Abydos, although the name probably came from ... uh, never mind.  It's a ... a planet.  It's complicated, Sara.”

“I'll bet.”

“Sara, the fewer people you tell, the safer you are,” Jack said, a warning quality in his voice.

Sara studied her ex-husband's eyes carefully and said, “Answer a question for me.  Why now?  Why did you tell me about this now, Jack?  All those years, and if I even knew where you were, I was lucky.”

“Not the same guy anymore,” Jack admitted.  Sighing, he added, “Besides, the kids: we had to take them to the SGC today ...”

“The SGC?”

“Stargate Command.  It's at Cheyenne Mountain, and it's top secret, Sara.  You can't tell anyone,” Jack instructed.

“You took the children?  Jack, they're kids; they'll talk,” Sara advised, concern in her voice.

“Like you said, Sara, they're kids.  If they do talk about it, no one will listen to them,” Jack put forth.

“And we'll be talking to them about it later,” the younger man remarked.

“Sara, all they really know is that there is this big thing that spins around and makes a lot of noise,” Jack pointed out, trying to allay the woman's fears.

“The Stargate?”

“Yes,” Jack confirmed.

Suddenly a bit frightened, Sara surmised, “You really do risk your life all the time, don't you?”

“Most of the time it's a piece of cake,” Jack said, not wanting Sara to worry.

“You're full of blarney, Jack O'Neill,” Sara said as she threw her arms around her ex-husband.  “My word, Jack, I had no idea.  I thought ... planes and bombs and things.”

“Yeah, those are there too,” Jack replied as he embraced her tightly.  “It's not that bad.”

“Bull.”  Sara needed to get a hold on her emotions.  Divorced or not, she had a remarkable relationship with her ex-husband, and she loved him dearly.  A tear in her eye, she pleaded, “Take care of yourself, Jack.”

“I will,” Jack promised tenderly as they pulled away from each other.

“And you too, Daniel,” Sara requested as she embraced the younger man.  “And I'm so sorry about Sha're.  I have a feeling whatever happened to her wasn't very pleasant,” she said, squeezing him tightly to her, feeling him tense at the subject.

“No, it wasn't,” Daniel whispered as he pulled back.  “She was a wonderful person, Sara.  You would have liked her.”

“I'm sure I would have,” Sara said, a poignant smile on her face.

“We need to go,” Jack interjected.  “Sara, I know you don't need me to say this ...”

“Then don't, Jack.  I knew the moment you brought me out here.  You think it's actually possible my house could be bugged?” the woman questioned.

“Anything is possible.  Look, when we get back, we'll check it out, okay?”

“Do you want me to keep this from Mark?” Sara asked, not wanting to lie to her husband, but also not wanting to endanger her ex-husband.

Jack and Daniel once again exchanged another look.  They hadn't discussed any of this beforehand.

It was Daniel who responded, saying, “We want you to be safe.  You decide for yourself, and whatever you choose, we'll support it.”

“But if you do tell him, do it ...” Jack trailed off as he gestured at the place where they stood.

Sara nodded in response and said, “Thank you for letting it be my decision.  You'd better go say goodbye to your children.  I'll take good care of them for you both.”

“We know you will,” Jack said with a smile.

Jack reached out for Daniel's hand and led him inside and into the playroom for final hugs with their children as well as adding a brief warning about the Stargate.

“David,” Daniel began quietly, “you can't talk about anything you saw today.  I need you to understand that.  Don't even discuss it with Sara or Mark or anyone ... ever, except for Jack and I, and only when we're at home.”

“Not hon'rble?” Chenoa asked.

“Not really.  Teal'c wouldn't be happy, so shhh, okay?” Daniel answered lightly, smiling at their curly-haired wonder.

“Promise, Daddy!” the toddler said with a smile.

“Bij, Katie, you two going to behave for the Wilsons?” Jack asked as he held them both.  A face full of beagle licks was his answer.  “Love you both.”

====

Minutes later, all eight children and two dogs hugged, Jack and Daniel were back in their SUV and headed for the Mountain.

“Jack, do you think we made a mistake?”

“Taking the kids to the Mountain, or telling Sara?” the older man responded.

“Both.”

Jack shook his head, not really knowing the answer, but saying, “Depends.  Do you think we're ever really going to sever our ties completely with the SGC?”  He looked over at his Love for a second, adding, “I guess the real question is, do you want to?”

Daniel sighed, “No.  I guess I want that door open.”

Jack smiled, saying, “Me, too, but I only want that door open a crack.  The problem is our family comes first.  How are we going to lie to them?”

“We aren't.  No lies, Jack, not ever,” Daniel insisted.

“Exactly, so why not wean them in now?”

“And Sara?”

“I should have told her after that crystal thing,” Jack conceded.  “Like you said, she deserves to know the truth, and she is family.  Besides, the kids will know she knows the scoop, so they'll have someone to talk to if it becomes necessary.”

“If it becomes necessary,” Daniel echoed softly.  After a moment, he asked, “Do you think she'll tell Mark?”

“I'm not going to ask, and I doubt she'll tell if she does.” Jack smiled and reassured, “It'll be okay, Danny.”

Daniel nodded his agreement, and the couple continued their trek to the SGC.

====

Jack and Daniel shared a resigned look as they arrived on PRJ-010.  They were not looking forward to this.

“Ferretti, make sure your team doesn't stick too tight.  We don't want all our eggs in one basket.”

“Wouldn't want that, Jack.  Poached Marines for lunch?  Not a pretty sight,” Lou quipped.

“Yeah, right.”  Jack snorted and looked over at SG-3, being commanded on this mission by his friend, Jeff Cornell.  “Cornell, cover our six.”  He turned to the newest leader of SG-13 and ordered, “Wells, guard the Gate.”

The SG teams worked their way through the woods that fringed the Goa'uld stronghold.  With Lou Ferretti's SG-2 team taking the rear, SG-1 took the lead.  Jeff Cornell's team remained about a mile behind them.

With several feet between them, SG-1 entered the building which intel believed contained the visper.  Jack and Sam were in the lead, Daniel and Teal'c bringing up the rear.  Jack heard the Jaffa in their heavy armored suits walking the hallways.  They waited for the passageway to be clear, and then moved down, in and out of the rooms, searching for the visper.

“General,” Sam called out quietly from a doorway.  She nodded toward the device at the end of the room.  “That's it, Sir.”

“Sweet,” Jack said, noting the presence of several Goa'uld and Jaffa in the large room.

The aliens were clearly experimenting with the device.  Jack watched as a zat gun was teleported from one end of the room to the other.

“Cornell, report,” Jack whispered over the radio.

“We're outside the buildings, General.”

“Large room, south side: it's full of Jaffa.  We have to go in, Jeff.  Be ready.”  Jack clicked the radio again.  “Ferretti, report.”

“In position, General.  On your go.”  Jack looked at his team, pausing a moment to gaze at his husband.  **Daniel, why didn't you check out a P-90?**

Daniel glanced down at his old, steadfast Beretta and answered, **I ... don't know.  I guess I just ... I don't know.**

Jack took a deep breath, wondering why he hadn't noticed that lack of firepower in his lover's possession until now, either.

~Old habits,~ Jack thought.  ~The warrior; he doesn't like being that person, and I don't want him being that person, either; unless it saves his life,~ he thought.  **I love you, Danny.**

**I love you, too, but please keep your mind on the job.**

“Let's go,” Jack ordered, speaking both to SG-1 and over the radio to the other SG teams.

Jack ducked a staff weapon blast to his right, kneeling down behind a table.  Daniel took cover behind a chair, and Sam was crouched down on the opposite side of the table from Jack.  SG-2 stormed in from the outside while Jeff Cornell's team drew the fire of other Goa'uld inside the complex who were trying to get to the area where the fight was occurring.

The sound of P-90s, Daniel's Beretta, staff weapons, and zat guns echoed in the room.  Following their plan, Daniel carefully worked his way around the room, finally getting the visper in his hands.  He slowly edged his way back to the door where SG-1 had entered.

“Jack, I got it.  Let's go,” Daniel called out.

“Oh for ... crap,” Jack said as the impact of a staff blast knocked him onto his knees.

“JACK!”

“I'm fine.  Let's get the heck out of here,” Jack said.  He began to get up when a Goa'uld pushed him back down.  Their foe held a zat gun to Jack's head.  “Crap!”

“STOP, OR I WILL KILL HIM NOW!” the Goa'uld threatened.  Slowly, the sound of gunfire ceased, and silence filled the room.  “Lay down your weapons, and return the visper.”

“Daniel get out of here, and take that with you.  GO!” Jack ordered.

“I *will* kill him,” the Goa'uld spoke as his eyes glowed.

Sam and Teal'c watched Daniel carefully.  Lou's team was focused on the archaeologist as well.  Outside, the sounds of gunfire continued as Jeff's team battled the Goa'uld and Jaffa.

**Go, Daniel.  There's more at stake here than me.  Go.**

**No, Jack!**
 
**Danny, please.**
 
**I'm not leaving you!**

Everyone waited to see what Daniel would do.  He might as well be the President of the United States because he would be dictating their next move.

“LAY DOWN YOUR WEAPONS.”

“We can't do that,” Daniel responded.  “Sam, get out.  Go now!  LOU -- BACK OFF!” Daniel ordered in the most authoritative voice anyone had ever heard come from him.

The Goa'uld saw what Daniel was offering.  The Tau'ri would not disarm themselves, but they would leave the area.  Still, it wasn't good enough.

“You will lay down your weapons or ...” the Goa'uld spoke as he calmly zatted Jack.

“Aggggg,” Jack reacted, rolling over on the floor.

Daniel closed his eyes.  One zat stunned; two would kill.  His chest visibly rising up and down, he put down his Beretta and then the visper.  Sam, Teal'c, and SG-2 followed suit, slowly placing their weapons on the floor.

The Goa'uld pushed Jack's stunned body towards a wall and walked to where Daniel stood.  He leaned forward to pick up the visper.

As the Goa'uld stood upright, Daniel quickly pulled out the dagger Jack had taught him to use years earlier and held the weapon to the Goa'uld's throat.

“Sam, get our weapons.  Teal'c, get Jack.”  Nonplussed by the Goa'uld's glare, Daniel threatened, “Move, and you're dead.”  Carefully, the archaeologist shifted his position to make it more secure.  He grabbed hold of his enemy's neck and then twisted his body around so that he was behind the Goa'uld, still holding the dagger to his throat.  He felt his enemy shift and warned, “I told you not to move.”

“I know of you, Doctor Jackson.  Murder is not your way,” the Goa'uld spoke confidently.

“Maybe you don't know me as well as you think you do.”

Daniel kept the knife solidly in place under the Goa'uld's chin, digging it in a little to make his point.  He noticed with relief that Jack was coming around.

“Let's get out of here, Daniel,” Jack said, once again gripping his P-90 despite his injury.

Jack reached out and grabbed the visper from the angry Goa'uld.  He backed off, the visper in one arm, the P-90 aimed at their adversary with the other.

“I guess it's your lucky day,” Daniel said as he released the Goa'uld, pushing him forward slightly while he backed away.

Jack handed Daniel the visper and motioned for him to go.  The archaeologist headed out, making sure his husband was right behind him.

The teams battled their way out of the building, joining up with SG-3. They headed for the Gate, the Jaffa on their tail.

“Carter, dial!” Jack ordered when they reached the Stargate.

“Go!  Go!  Go!” Jack shouted at the teams as he continued to fire.

As fast as they could, the SG teams leaped through the Stargate, many rolling or falling onto the ramp.

The brigadier general looked towards the event horizon and saw his archaeologist waiting for him, but all Jack cared about at that moment was making sure his lover was safe.

“Go Daniel!”

“Right, Jack,” Daniel spoke, reaching out and grabbing Jack's arm, literally pulling him through the Gate with him.

“Close the Iris,” Jack yelled when he came through.  Taking a breath and knowing they were now safe, he looked at his husband and shouted, “DANIEL, WHAT IN NETU DID YOU THINK YOU WERE DOING?”

“Making sure my husband was safe,” Daniel answered calmly as he stood up.  “Medic!  We need a medic here!” he called out.

Jack sighed as he was surrounded by SGC medical personnel, while Daniel stood off to the side, watching as he tried to control his rising anger.  He couldn't believe Jack had told him to leave him behind; and he was livid with the Pentagon's narrow-minded views that had made the dangerous mission to the planet necessary in the first place.

Her curiosity mounting, Sam approached her friend, asking, “Daniel, where'd you get that dagger?  It's not standard issue.”

Daniel shrugged, saying nonchalantly, “Jack and I have carried them for years.”

“Oh.  You ... certainly seemed to know how to use it.”

Daniel looked Sam straight in the eye, answering matter-of-factly, “I do, and very well,” after which he walked away.

A bit stunned, Sam watched the archaeologist join the retired general.  Her science twin was definitely not that mild-mannered geek she had first met on Abydos years before.  When threatened, he was a mighty force to be reckoned with, and she knew that if he had to fight to keep Jack and his family safe, then he would.

Sam was amazed that there was always something more to learn about her friends.  Daniel had been very cool and collected on the planet, his reactions top-notch, but she had no idea he had ever been trained to perform the skills he had exhibited there, or to use the specialized knife.

~No one could have done it better, Daniel.~

The blonde colonel wondered what else Daniel had been taught, or what other mysteries there were still left to learn about both Jack and Daniel.

====

“Daniel, you are *not* going through the Stargate without me,” Jack stated sternly.

“You're injured,” Daniel said, looking at the shoulder wound.

“It's a tiny little scratch.  Hardly notice it,” Jack said lightly, ignoring the pain of the staff blast.

Daniel glared at his lover for a moment and then argued, “We're just going to return the visper and negotiate.  You know how you hate that, boring and all of that.”

“You're not going alone, Daniel.  End of discussion.”

“Jack, it's routine.  Hedry is the Hedronix capitol.  You remember how nice it is there.”

“We thought the Nox planet was safe, too, and we all died, remember?” Jack pointed out.

“Jack ...”

“End of discussion, Daniel,” Jack said, bolting up from the infirmary cot and putting on his green BDU jacket.  “Oh for ... OUCH!”

Daniel rolled his eyes as he walked over to Jack and said, “Here, let me help.”

“I can do it.”

“Fine.  Do it,” Daniel said, staring at his lover, who painfully buttoned his jacket.  “Feel better now?” he asked as Jack involuntarily flinched after securing the last button.

“No, and I won't until we get home.”

“General O'Neill,” General Armstrong called out as he entered the infirmary. “Are you ready to return the device to Hedry?”

“Yes, Sir.”

At his lover's response, Daniel looked away, his arms folded tightly across his chest.

“You have a problem, Doctor Jackson?”

“Daniel, let it go,” Jack ordered.

“Jack ...”

“Daniel!”

The younger man wasn't happy, but he faced Armstrong and answered, “No, no problem.  Let's get this over with.”

Walking by his lover without even giving him a glance, Daniel left the medical area and headed towards the elevator that would take him to Level 28.

“I think it's gas,” Jack quipped about Daniel's attitude.  “I told him not to eat those beans this morning,” he added, turning and hurrying after his husband.

====

SG-1 led the way through the Stargate with only SG-3 as backup.  Lou's team had sustained a number of injuries while recovering the visper, and as Hedry was categorized as a safe world, they were not really needed anyway.  After all, the Hedronix had all kinds of superior weaponry.  SG-3 remained at the Gate as SG-1 moved forward to meet with the Hedronix.

As the team approached Hedry, they were greeted by Ardyl and his counsel.  Daniel presented the Hedronix leader with the visper, uttering an apology for the actions of the Tau'ri as he did so.  Ardyl invited them to stay for refreshments, but insisted the alliance with Earth was over.

“Your leaders cannot be trusted,” Ardyl said regretfully.

Daniel simply nodded.  He didn't trust the Pentagon so he certainly couldn't expect their off-world allies to.  Actually, he would have been disappointed if they did.

As the group walked to the leader's chambers, a band of Jaffa suddenly appeared from atop the buildings and the wooded area.  The fighting was on again, only this time, SG-1 was severely outnumbered.  Still, the flagship team of the SGC did their best.

Jack shoved Ardyl down to the ground as a blast came his way, making contact with Jack's shoulder.

~Once is enough already,~ Jack groaned as he felt the impact of the alien weapon.

Teal'c fought off three Jaffa before a zat blast forced him to the ground. Nonetheless, he fought to stand.  As the attackers took aim at Ardyl's chief associate, Teal'c stood in front of him, taking the blast that had been fired.  The former first prime of Apophis got off another round, killing the Jaffa who had just shot him before collapsing to the ground.

Sam fired her P-90 repeatedly, felling four Jaffa before a staff blast ripped into her leg.  She began to bleed profusely and had no time to tend to her injury.  As two Jaffa approached, she weakly grabbed a grenade, using as much of her strength as she could to toss it at the advancing enemy, killing them.

Daniel ran to Jack and Ardyl.  His Beretta was a pale weapon compared to a P-90 and the Jaffa's staff weapons, but he continued to fire.

“Ardyl, get inside,” Jack ordered.

The leader began a run towards the safety of the chambers, but another small band of Jaffa cut across the area.

Jack cried out, “Get down” and moved to cover the alien leader.  While his first injury had been a minor blow to his shoulder, this blast was to his chest and brought him immediately to the ground.

Daniel cried out, “JACK!” but his cry was lost in the echo of the blast.  The archaeologist changed his position in order to reach out towards his lover.  He grabbed Jack's P-90 and surprised the band of attackers by firing a barrage of bullets at them.  The final Jaffa to fall fired a zat blast, the energy pushing Daniel back into Jack's bloodied body.  “J'ck,” he said weakly.  “I love you.”

A second blast of the zat silenced Daniel and his Heart, both men taking their last breaths as they had so often spoken together -- in unison.

The final Jaffa left standing was then cut down by Teal'c before he, too, collapsed into unconsciousness.

Ardyl looked around in shock.  More than a dozen Jaffa lay dead, as did two of the heroic members of the SG-1 whom had saved the lives of him and his counsel.  The other two members of SG-1 lay unconscious and wounded.  It was a sad day in Hedry.

====

Daniel blinked several times.  He looked down at his body and realized he was breathing and seemingly unharmed.  Given that he remembered being struck by two blasts from a zat, that seemed odd.  He moved over to the body next to his and nudged it gently.

When she began to rouse, Daniel spoke softly, “Sam, I don't mean to sound like a rerun, but, uh, wasn't I dead?”

“Oh, yeah.  Definitely.”

All of a sudden, Daniel startled as all of his memories returned.  Alarmed, he looked around, wanting and needing to see one very important face, that of his lover.

“Jack?  Where's Jack?”  Daniel jumped up, panicked.  He and Sam were the only two in the small room.  “JACK?  JACK, WHERE ARE YOU?”

“Daniel ...” Sam began, getting up and wanting to calm her friend.

“JACK?”

“Hey, right here, Danny.”

Hearing his lover's voice, Jack sprinted into the room and over to his husband.

“Jack?”

“That would be me, Love,” the older man said as the two joined together in a loving embrace.

“Oh, gawd, Jack, we ...”

Daniel held on tight.  He so didn't need this new nightmare, to think about them dying yet again.

“Yep.”

“The Nox?” Daniel pulled back, looking into his husband's eyes.

“Courtesy of Nafrayu and Lya.  That's where I was a minute ago -- talking with them outside.  They were here visiting with Ardyl when the fight broke out.  They saw it all from his chambers.”

“Teal'c?”

“Just fine.  He's outside.”

“Oh, Jack,” Daniel sighed in relief as he leaned into his Love's hold once again.  “I really don't want to die anymore.”

“Me, either.  I'm just glad the Nox were around this time.  Let's go home, Danny.”  He felt his soulmate's nod, and then looked over at Sam.  “Are you okay, Carter?”

“Just fine, Sir.”

The three members of the Tau'ri joined Teal'c outside, who stood next to Ardyl.

“We will continue our alliance with the Tau'ri,” Ardyl announced.

“Why?” Jack had to ask.  “What changed?”

“You were willing to die for us, even though you knew we would not continue to ally with your people.  You could have saved yourselves, but instead, you risked your lives for us.  You could have died.”

“We did die,” Jack said.

“Yes, and that is why we will continue our alliance with the Tau'ri.  You have regained our trust.”

“Thank you, Ardyl,” Daniel replied.

Daniel sighed.  He knew he should be happy that they had saved the alliance, but he wasn't convinced that sooner or later there wouldn't be a repeat of these events.  In fact, he had to quash the temptation to warn Ardyl that the Pentagon wasn't always trustworthy, but he didn't feel he had the right to deprive Earth of a valuable ally.  He sighed again.  In the end, it didn't matter.  He was tired, and he wanted to go home and hug his children.  He wanted the worst problem in his life to be indecision over whether to dig in Katie's play yard or read Chenoa a story.  Yet, he knew they needed to stay a while.  So, without discussion, he followed Ardyl and the others into the chambers where they were also greeted by the two Nox who had saved their lives again.

It was good to see Lya again, especially since she passed on greetings from their friends on Xanadu, the planet where Jack and Daniel had once been stranded together.

Time passed.  Daniel chatted with their allies, all sharing more about their cultures.  Jack smiled as he watched, knowing how much Daniel liked the Hedronix and how he adored the Nox.  He was sure his husband was enjoying this chance to visit with their friends, which is why he was surprised to hear the silent plea.

**Jack, please take me home.  I really need to go home.**

Even though it seemed unusual to him, the general didn't need a second request to make Daniel's wish happen, so he interjected, “Listen, folks, it's been swell, but it's time to call it a day.”

“You are welcome to stay the night.”

“No, normally that would be peachy, but you see ...” Jack paused as he stared at Ardyl.  He had been about to launch into a full scale fluffy lie, but then he remembered these were a people that valued honor.  He also recalled the last time Earth messed up with the Hedronix, the thing that had gotten the Tau'ri out of the proverbial doghouse was their devotion to the family unit, specifically Jack and Daniel's.  “Ardyl, I'm not going to lie to you.  The truth is, Daniel and I are tired.  We have eight children and two dogs at home that we are anxious to see.  It's been a long, long day.”

Ardyl smiled, and somehow Jack knew the leader admired and appreciated the truth.  He bowed his head.

“It is good to honor your family, General, and ...” the leader looked at Daniel, “the wishes of those you care most about.”

Daniel was taken aback and stammered, “Did ... I mean ...”

Ardyl smiled and explained, “The Hedronix have a finely tuned skill of sensing emotion, but only the very strongest of emotions.  Never fear, we cannot read your minds, but sometimes, if the feeling is strong, we can sense it, and I sense, Doctor Jackson, that you have a need of your own at the moment.”

Daniel smiled shyly, glancing at his husband, and admitted, “I ... I, uh, I do.”

“Be well, and we will meet again.”

“I hope so, Ardyl.  Thank you,” Daniel spoke, nodding his head in acknowledgement and appreciation.

====

“We saved the day again, General,” Jack said as he walked down the ramp.  “We died for it, too, so if you don't mind, we're going to shower and go home.  Carter and Teal'c can fill you in on the finer points.  If you want, Daniel and I will come in later this week.”

“General, you need ...”

“General Armstrong, I don't need to do anything but go home and make love to my husband,” Jack interrupted, having had enough of the intrusion into their lives.  He saw Armstrong's discomfort and added, “... which I intend to do, by the way, all night, and maybe in the morning ...”

“Jack, he gets the idea,” Daniel whispered, a smile on his face at the obvious discomfort Armstrong was showing because of Jack’s comments.

“Yeah, but he's so easy, Danny.”

Daniel had to laugh.  It was true.

“Let's go home, Jack.”

====

For the next week, Jack and Daniel reveled in their home life.  They answered a slew of questions about the Stargate from their eldest children and managed to squelch Jennifer's and David's questions without saying much.  They also impressed upon them the importance of not discussing it outside of their home and with no one other than themselves, unless it was an absolute emergency in which case they were allowed to talk to Sara about it.

Jack was strongly chastised for telling Daniel to leave him behind, which was followed by serious apologies and making up (which involved lots of touching, fondling, and chocolate).  The two also tried to come to terms with almost losing each other, yet again (which also involved lots of touching, fondling, and chocolate).
 
Finally, the Jackson-O'Neills returned to a semblance of normalcy, the usual daily crises ruling their lives, none of which had anything to do with the Goa'uld or Stargates.

On this day, Daniel walked into the study where Jack was on the computer reading about archaeology.

“Studying?” Daniel asked, smiling as he did so.

“Hey, it's my life now,” Jack replied, wearing a smile of his own.

“Quiz time, Babe,” Daniel announced, walking to the sofa and sitting down.

“Quiz?”

Jack stood and joined his husband on the sofa.  They were separated by a couple of feet, but seated so that they were leaning towards each other.

Daniel had several papers in his hand and explained, “I have the inventory sheets for some of the basic tools we need.  You tell me what they are.”

“I hate quizzes.”

“But you love me,” Daniel winked, “and if we are really going to go on digs, Jack, you need to know this stuff.”

“Hit me with your best shot!” Jack challenged confidently.

“We'll start simple,” Daniel began.  “We ordered a dozen tool boxes.  What goes in one of those?”

“My fishing tackle.”

“Jack!”

Jack laughed, ebbing into his answer: “We put all our little trinkets in there, and the good stuff.”

“Good stuff?”

“Your stash of Starbuck's and my Froot Loops; and we can sit on them, too.”

Daniel grinned.  Jack had answered in his own style, but, essentially, the answer was correct.

The archaeologist began to ask his next question, but Jack interrupted him by reaching out and taking his hand, saying, “I have an idea, Love.”

“Should I mark it on the calendar?” Daniel teased lovingly.

“Cute, Daniel, real cute.”

“Thank you, Babe.  I'm glad you think so.”

Jack laughed and then leaned forward to kiss his lover.  He slipped his tongue inside Daniel's mouth and explored freely.  It was a long kiss, one that had caught the younger man a bit off-guard.  He heard the tender moan and smiled as the kiss ended.

“Let's continue this later tonight.”

“Tonight?  Why?”  Suddenly, Daniel looked at Jack with a bit of distrust.  “Jack, no fair studying just because ...”

“Nope, I won't.  I promise,” Jack pledged, crossing his heart and raising his hand in a symbolic gesture.  “I just have an idea.  Tonight, after the kids are asleep.”

“Okay, but if you cheat ...”

“I won't cheat,” Jack insisted and then leaned in for another kiss, this one deeper and longer than the first.

It threatened to take them to an erotic and passionate zone that wasn't possible at this time of the day, at least not in the study where their children could walk in at any moment.

“Jack, we have children now,” Daniel regretfully reminded his sexy lover as the kiss ended with a promise of a new one on the horizon.

“Oh, yeah.  Tonight, Danny.  Quiz me tonight.”

Jack winked, kissed his husband one more time, and then got up to return to what he had been doing.

Daniel remained on the sofa, smiling.  He didn't know what Jack had planned, but what he did know was that he loved that Silver Fox of his, and right now, he thought he'd just sit and watch him for a while, which is exactly what he did.

====

“Okay, we also ordered two dozen leaf trowels.”

Daniel had begun his questioning.  It was 10:15 p.m., and all of the children were sound asleep, except for Jennifer who had permission to stay up late to study for a test the next day.  The appropriate monitors were on, and Jack had locked their bedroom door.  Daniel still didn't quite understand why.  After all, this was a quiz, not a romantic rendezvous.

“Easy.”  Jack grinned confidently at Daniel, who sat at the head of the bed, on Jack's side, his back against the headboard.  Jack stood smugly, leaning against their dresser.  He raised his eyebrows a few times, and answered proudly, “They are for the finer work, like excavating bones.”

Daniel had a bright smile on his face.  Seeing that, Jack, too, was smiling, inside and out.  He knew he was pleasing Daniel with his new knowledge, and he lived for that, making his husband happy.

“Good.  Okay, next we ...”

“Not so fast, Dannyboy.”

“Huh?”

“Every time I get one right, you strip,” Jack said playfully.

“Oh?” Daniel asked, his voice low.  He was a genius, and he'd just figured out the game.  “And, uh, if you miss one?”

“I strip.  We keep going until one of us is naked.”

“And then what?” Daniel asked, not really needing to.

“The winner gets his way with the loser.”

“Oh,” Daniel chuckled.  It was a win-win, which is why it was so fun.  He nodded and challenged, “You're on, Fly Boy.  Let's just see how much you've retained.”

“Hit me with your best shot.”

“Okay, well ...” Daniel began.

“Whoa, Danny.  You already owe me a piece of clothing.”

Daniel laughed as he unfastened his belt and tossed it teasingly onto the floor.  Then he continued with the next question.

“We ordered two dozen of another item also, for the finest work, for skulls and jewelry.  What are those called?”

“Danny, I think I deserve a kiss for each correct answer, too,” Jack said as he walked to the bed, sat down, and leaned forward, but Daniel held out his hand.

“You haven't answered the question yet.”

“Technicality.”

“Then tell me what it's called,” the archaeologist demanded.

“A dental pick.  Now kiss me.”

Daniel gave his lover a warm kiss, and then had his own idea, saying “I'm tired, Love.  Asking *all* these questions is *so* exhausting.  I need you to take off my shoes.”

Jack smiled and removed his lover's shoes.  He started to take off his socks, too, but Daniel objected.

Extending his finger and shaking both it and his head, the younger man said, “Ut.  Ut.  Not so fast, my sly fox.”

“Just trying to hurry things along.”

“Next question,” Daniel said, smiling as he looked at the inventory listing.  “What do we use bulldog clips for?”

“They attach the tape measures to the arrows that we use to section off a string line.”

“Close enough,” Daniel said as he wiggled his feet in invitation to his husband.

Jack obeyed happily, slipping off the black socks and massaging Daniel's feet for a moment.

Then Jack maneuvered his way back up towards the headboard and requested, “Kiss me.”

Daniel did as asked, his tongue waltzing with Jack's before he continued the pop quiz, asking, “We had to get a Dutch hoe.  Why?”

“Vacuum.”

“Vacuum?”

“Yeah, for when we're done.  It cleans up the site.  Kiss me.”

“Don't miss any, O'Neill,” Daniel whispered as he put his arms around his husband for a passionate kiss, one that lasted two minutes.

Jack pulled off Daniel's tan pants, adding them to the growing pile of items on the floor near the nightstand.

“I like your quizzes, Danny,” Jack crooned as his right hand slid and glided over the inside of the younger man's left leg.

“Quizzes?  Oh ... yeah,” Daniel leaned back and again looked at his papers.  “We got in a supply of these tools, too.  They are what we use to make life-size drawings of small items.”

“Like to scale, you mean?”  Daniel nodded.  “It's one of those gauges.”

“Not good enough.  Strip!”

Jack removed his gray sweatshirt, revealing his silver-gray chest hairs.  Daniel's eyes widened.  Nothing was sexier or made Daniel go more wild than the hairs on Jack's chest, except maybe the silver-gray hair on his head.  Still, through the lust and desire he could see in his husband's eyes, Jack also saw the slight disappointment that he hadn't answered correctly.

The retired general reached into the back of his mind, and finally, he took hold of the answer:  “Vemier gauge!”

Daniel grinned and leaped at Jack for another round of kissing.  Jack pulled off his lover's shirt anxiously.

“Danny, let's forget the quiz.”

“Oh, yeah ... let's.”

As they began to get lost in each other, Jack and Daniel heard a knock.

“What?” both asked with frustration, though both immediately felt remorse.

“Danny, here,” the older man said as he threw the comforter over his husband.  He added, “Cover up,” and then hurried to the door.

“Sorry,” Jennifer apologized.  “I just checked on the babies.  They're all sound asleep.  So's Noa, but I ... I don't want to tell tales, but David's still up, reading a book.  He said he has a book report due, but he wouldn't say when.  I think he's just engrossed in it and doesn't want to put it down.  He never takes care of himself like he should.”

“I thought he was asleep,” Daniel said.

“He woke up.  Anyway, I thought you'd ...”

The pre-teen paused, suddenly realizing how high up the comforter was over her father's very nervous body, and then she saw her older father fidgeting as he stood, and, of course, Jack's shirt was off.  One thing she had learned was that neither man tended to walk around shirtless unless they were changing clothes or unless they were involved in hanky panky.

It was the 'or' that thundered through the girl's mind.

“Oh, geez, not again.  Honestly, I can't believe it.  Parents!  You're going to do it again, aren't you?  Ewww!  I'm going back to my room, to *sleep*.  Give me strength.  Do you two ever *not* do it?”

“Jennifer Renee!” Jack chastised.

“Don't worry; I'm leaving.  Geez.”

“You just do that, young lady,” Jack said as Jennifer turned around and walked down the stairs.  As he went to close and lock the door, he could hear her chuckling.  “Typical almost teenager.”

“Jack, maybe we should check on David.”

“He's fine.  Likes to read.  Reading is good.  We'll worry if he starts doing it every night.  Besides, we have more urgent needs right now,” Jack stated.

“Oh ... yeah ... urgent!  Definitely urgent.  Get over here ... *now*!”

Jack rushed to the bed and pounced on his lover.

“A-plus,” Daniel said in the afterglow of their lovemaking.  “A-plus, plus, plus.”

Jack smiled and soon the two fell asleep, secure in their nation of two, and knowing each made the grade on everything that truly mattered in their lives.

====
-- Chapter Two:  Egypt Calling!
====

“They grow so fast,” Kayla commented as she sat on the patio steps watching all the Jackson-O'Neill children at play.

“They sure do,” Jack responded as he sat next to her.  “You have everything packed?”

“Everything I need.  I admit I'm going to miss them, more than I thought I would.”

“Kayla, Daniel and I are serious.  You are welcome to be as much a part of their lives as you want to,” Jack expressed from his heart.

Kayla touched Jack's forearm, smiling as she replied, “I know that, and I thank you for it, but they are your children, and the line between parents and giving birth needs to be distinct for them.  Besides, I still have so much I want to do for myself right now.  I do love them, Jack.  Please don't doubt that.”  She looked out at the youngsters and said softly, “They are beautiful children.”

“They adore you,” Jack replied.  After a moment, he looked at the adventuresome young woman and added, “So do we, by the way.”

“Feeling is mutual, General.  I'd better go, or I might miss my plane.”

“Two months in the spoils of the Caribbean Islands?  Can't have you missing your plane.”

Standing, Kayla laughed, “It's a needed change of scenery, and it will give me the distance I need to finish my book.”

“Hmm, I don't quite understand that, but then I leave the intellectual stuff to Danny,” the retired general quipped.

“Jack, I've spent almost two years now working on my great American novel.  It's a real adventure story, a story of courage, and I need to make sure the ending is as majestic as the rest of it, but to do that, I need to make sure I can see clearly.  I'm just worried I'm a bit too close to the subject at the moment.  A bit of distance will help me to make sure my focus is as sharp as I need it to be.”

“Leaving?” Daniel asked as he approached from his spot in the yard, having seen Kayla stand up.

“Yes.  My plane leaves in ninety minutes, and I'm cutting it close as it is.  I am really going to miss you guys!”  Kayla leaned forward and exchanged hugs with both Jack and Daniel.  “Do you mind?” she asked, motioning over towards the children.

“Of course not,” both Jack and Daniel said at the same time.

Daniel walked a couple a steps to stand beside Jack, and they placed their arms around each other's waists as the watched the mother of their children saying goodbye to their brood.

“We chose well, Jack.”

“We sure did, Love.”

====

A couple of days later, Jack walked into the den and closed the door.  He'd already made sure Jennifer and David were watching the younger Jackson-O'Neill children and that the monitors were on in full force in case anything happened.

“Danny, you've been distracted all day.  What's going on?”

Daniel had been staring at his computer for the past twenty minutes.  He wasn't even sure anymore what he was staring at.  When Jack walked in, it had almost startled the younger man.  He took a deep breath as he watched his soulmate sit on the recliner, but instead of leaning back to relax in it, Jack was sitting forward, hands clasped together.

Swiveling his desk chair around to face his husband, Daniel finally answered, “Jack, I've made some contacts on behalf of J-O Enterprises recently, and ... there's this project coming up that would mean so much to us if we could nab the contract.”

“So the problem is ...?”

Daniel stood, folding his arms around his chest, and began pacing all around the room.

“It's what we've been waiting for, Jack.  This is it.  I, uh, I just feel it.  This company ... you'll love the name,” Daniel paused and smiled before continuing, “Passion Incorporated.”

“You're kidding?  This is archaeology?”

Daniel nodded, admitting the odd name fit as he replied, “It's a crazy name for a mainstream business, but the owner, Abayomi Sharif, is a businessman who lives life with a passion, so that's what he named his company.”

“So you've talked to this Abracadabra guy?”

Daniel rolled his eyes, knowing Jack had massacred Abayomi's name deliberately.

“Abayomi.  It means to bring joy.”

Jack closed his eyes and coughed before responding, “Daniel, I don't really care what his name means.  What I do care about is that he obviously has something to do with this funk you've been in.  Keep talking.”

“I haven't been in a funk.”

“Have, too.”

“Have not,” the archaeologist claimed.

“Have, too!”  Jack saw Daniel roll his eyes, an obvious sign that he was not in the mood to play their bantering game.  He dropped the joking and urged, “Come on, Danny.  Tell me.”

With a fiery excitement in his eyes, Daniel spoke, “Jack, Abayomi is building a new hotel in Egypt.  They need a watching brief done,” he noted, referring to the process of observing and investigating a specific area where there is the possibility of archaeological finds being located.  “Actually, he already strongly suspects that there may be something there.  Jack, this could lead to a dig, the kind I've ... well, it has the potential to lead to a lot of things.”

“And the problem with that is ...?”

Daniel shook his head as he answered, “It could lead to other jobs.  If J-O, if we, could prove ourselves with this, we'd be established.  And ... Abayomi has other jobs on the books for the future.  This smaller job is kind of, well it's almost an audition for other things in the future.”

“So this guy owns a hotel?” Jack asked, carefully observing his husband, who had shown more life in the last two minutes than he had in two days.  ~He's excited about this.  His eyes and his voice remind me of when we were on Ernest's Planet.~

“He does a lot of different things, owns a lot of companies all over the world, and one of his passions is archaeology,” Daniel answered.  “He wants to do it right.  He wants to explore, and he wants to preserve whatever he finds.  He's made millions with his various business interests, and now he wants to explore some of his passions more fully.”

“Danny, you haven't found out about all of this from a brochure.”

Daniel sighed and looked down at the carpet, suddenly finding it fascinating.  His demeanor was uncertain and dispirited, one Jack hadn't seen his husband exhibit in a very long time.

“No,” the younger man admitted.  “We've exchanged some emails.  Jack, the thing is, this would be perfect for us.  It would get us solidly in the door for anything else that might come up.”

“Daniel,” Jack's tone was getting more frustrated, “This all sounds perfect so what is the problem here?”

Jack just didn't understand what was bugging Daniel.  They wanted J-O to succeed, and this sounded like something that would help with that.  He was obviously fired up about the gig, so why on Earth was he sounding so down and frustrated about something they'd been working so hard for?

As Jack's gaze focused on his lover, Daniel answered, “It's a dig, Jack; a major dig. We couldn't palm this off on Megan.  We'd have to go ourselves.”

~I don't get it, Danny.  That's why we're in business, isn't it?~ Jack thought.  With a wave of his right hand, he replied, “Okay.  Isn't that what we've been planning on?”

“Yes ... with one baby, maybe two, and then eventually three or four children, but eight?  Jack, we'd have to go to Egypt for six to eight weeks, maybe longer, if this plays out the way I think it's going to.”

“AND THE PROBLEM IS?”

Jack was losing patience as his confusion mounted.  He still didn't understand why Daniel was being so hesitant over something that sounded perfect.

“We have *eight* children, Jack.  We're a freakin' television show.  *Eight*, and I love them all.  You *know* that, but eight children, five of whom ... *five* are babies, and a sixth is still a toddler.  How can we possibly go off on an archaeological dig?  We couldn't leave them with anyone we didn't know, and ... I don't think I could leave them for that long anyway.”  Daniel turned and kicked the edge of his desk.  “This is crazy.  We can't even think about it.”

The agonizing archaeologist turned his back to Jack and walked to the corner of the den, again staring at nothing.

For a minute, Jack just watched his lover as he despaired over a disappointment that was tugging at his heart.  He stood and walked to his husband, putting his arms around him.

“Danny, one, two, eight kids: what's the difference?  We go, do the dig.  It's a great vacation.”

“But it's *not* a vacation,” Daniel argued as he turned and stared at his spouse.  “Don't you understand, Jack?  We'd have to be working ... working hard.  It would be spring, maybe even summer, and it would be hot, and they've never experienced that before; and what are we supposed to do with them while we're working?  Do you really think either of us could walk off at daylight and leave our babies, our precious babies, with strangers?”

Daniel's eyes were now intensely focused on Jack's.  He'd been talking rapidly, his words a mixture of fear and enthusiasm at the prospect of the job.

“There's always an 'or', Love,” Jack tried to suggest.

Shaking his head, Daniel refuted, “If we did this, J-O would have to come first, and not just over there, but here, for a while.  There would be a lot of preparation, including shorter trips to meet with the other people involved, smaller surveys to be done ...”

“Danny, we can figure this out,” the older man maintained.

Once again, Daniel shook his head and bolted from his position near Jack.  He stood near the doorframe and when he spoke, his tone was chillingly calm as he resigned himself to reality.  There was one big fact he just couldn't run from.

“No, we can't.  I can't leave our children with strangers, and the one fact we can't escape from is that we'd have to, for hours and hours during the day.  Strangers,” Daniel said quietly, nearly shuddering as he processed the thought.  “I can't leave our babies with people they don't know and love, people whom we don't know well enough to trust.  This isn't the little dig we talked about.  Jack, with one child, even two, we could easily have kept them with us.”  He let out a despairing sigh.  “We can't do that with five babies, and I can't leave them here for two months ... and I won't.”

“Danny ...”

“I love you, Jack,” Daniel said, as he walked back over to his husband, leaning in to kiss the older man.  “We made choices, and I don't regret any of them.  We just can't do this particular thing, that's all.  We may have to rethink our future with J-O Enterprises.”

Sadly, Daniel ambled slowly out of the den, leaving Jack frustrated and unsure of what to do next.  He was certain of two things, though.  One, Daniel was right about their children, and two, Daniel wanted this assignment, and he wanted it desperately.

====

“Thank you, Jack, for coming by to handle this little situation,” General Hammond greeted, a smile on his face as he stood up to shake Jack's hand.  The two were in the lieutenant general's office reviewing the results of a training exercise that Jack had just assisted with.  “No one can scare airmen into using their brains better than you can.”

“Thank you, Sir ... I think.”

As the two men headed for the office door, and Jack opened it, Hammond inquired, “How are the children, Jack?”

“Adorable, General; perfect, even,” Jack boasted.

“Of course,” the general laughed.  “And Doctor Jackson?”  He became concerned when Jack looked down, sighing.  “Is something wrong?”

“No, not really.  We have a chance to get our business off the ground, but Daniel thinks it would mean at least two months in Egypt.”

Hammond was an old pro when it came to family sacrifices.  He didn't need any more information to know what the problem was.

“The children,” Hammond surmised a bit matter-of-factly, nodding as well.

Jack gave his friend and former CO a wry smile and then elaborated, “Yeah.  He doesn't want us to rely on strangers, and, frankly, neither do I.  We won't leave our brood here for that long, and even if we took them, we'd have to be at the dig sites for hours at a time.”

“It certainly wouldn't be easy.”

“The problem, Sir, is that Daniel wants this ... bad.  I've been racking my brain trying to think of a way to make it happen, but so far, there's nothing.  We've gone round and round talking about it the last couple of days, but, like Daniel said to me yesterday, it's not as if we could just pick up the phone and call you or Sara or any of our friends to come baby-sit for a while.”

“How about a nanny?”

“It's a bit late for that, but I'm not sure that would work anyway.  They'd still be a stranger,” Jack stated.  “General, remember Ernest's Planet and that room full of knowledge with the symbols flying around?”  After seeing Hammond's nod of acknowledgment, he leaned forward and shared, “He was so passionate about that, because it was at the heart of who he is.  A universal language; that's what archaeology is to Daniel, one great big language to communicate between yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  He wants this, Sir, as badly as he wanted to stay on the planet.  It's in his eyes; it's in his blood.  He hasn't been able to get those hands of his in the dirt for years.  I just wish ...”

Jack's words trailed off.  It was useless, or at least it felt that way.

“Good luck, Jack.”

“I'll need it,” Jack said as he exited the office.

As Jack departed, his mind working feverishly at finding a solution to his dilemma, he failed to see Sam, who had been standing just outside the room and had unintentionally heard every word.

“Colonel Carter, did you need something?” Hammond inquired, seeing the blonde loitering a bit.

“Yes, Sir.  I have those test results ...” Sam responded, entering the general's office to discuss the results of a device found by SG-5 on a recent mission.

====

The next evening, Chenoa was bouncing up and down on the sofa in the living room.  She was wearing one of her best dresses, the pink one with the white lace trim.  She had on a petite pearl necklace, and her curly hair had been meticulously combed and set in place.  She was, however, impatient.

“Chenoa Lynn, that's enough!” Daniel chastised as he walked into the living room from the kitchen.  He was holding a bowl of snack mix that he set on the coffee table.  ~She's so excited.~

“T?  Soon, Daddy?” the little girl asked as she continued her bouncing.

“Chenoa,” Daniel again said sternly.

“Sorry,” the toddler said contritely, stopping her up and down motions on the sofa and putting her hands in front of her.  “T here soon?”

Daniel smiled and answered, “Yes, Teal'c will be here soon.”  He chuckled seeing his daughter's face light up.  She had the biggest crush on the Jaffa, and everyone knew it, including Teal'c.  ~Teal'c attending tea parties and combing a little girl's hair; it's just ... amazing.~

“But, Dad, he's just fourteen, not eighteen, for crying out loud,” Jennifer argued as she followed Jack down the stairs.

Jack had a large photo album in his hands, and the twelve-year-old girl was carrying Little Danny.

“I don't care how old he is, you're too young to be dating,” Jack stated forcefully.

“It's just a party.”

“No, Jennifer!”

“But ...”

“What part of 'no' don't you understand, Jennifer -- the 'N' or the 'O'?” Jack questioned as he placed the album on the coffee table near the bowl of mix Daniel had already placed there.

“Jennifer,” the girl repeated sharply, knowing that meant she was fighting a losing battle.

Jennifer turned around in a huff and went back upstairs with her sibling, muttering as she walked about the unfairness of overprotective fathers.

“Problems?” Daniel asked.

“I have it under control,” Jack responded confidently.

“You do?”

“Without a doubt, I do.  If she argues, we lock her in her room until she's at least twenty-one.  See?  Problem solved!”

Daniel laughed.  Jack's solution to everything was locking their children in their rooms.

“Dad, T come soon,” Chenoa stated unnecessarily.

As the little girl beamed from her spot on the sofa, Jack thought she looked like a little princess.  He walked over and knelt down in front of her.  His smile was loving and bright.

“He sure is, Noa, and look at you.  What a beautiful princess you are.  T's a lucky man to have you waiting for him like this.”  The little girl's smile became even bigger as she listened to her older father.  Jack leaned forward and gave his daughter a peck on the cheek.  “I love you,” he said before standing back up.

“Danny,” Jack looked at his watch, “how about I throw together my special salsa mix?”

“Sounds yummy.”

“Not as yummy as you, Love,” Jack spoke, sauntering over to his husband and giving him a kiss.  “Have I told you that I love you today?”

“That's nice to know, but, uh, what about tomorrow, and the day after, and the day ...”

“Crazy geek,” the older man chuckled.

“I love you, too, Jack,” Daniel said as he rubbed his thumb gently along his soulmate's cheek.  “The words are wonderful, but you tell me every day in a thousand ways without ever speaking.”

Jack leaned his head against Daniel's forehead.  It was just a few seconds, but it said more than they'd had a chance to say all day, up until now, anyway.  They both wished they had time to say more, to hold each other, but Sam and Teal'c were due anytime for dinner.  Since Sam was going to Aspen and Teal'c to Chulak during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, this was their chance to spend some time together, all being grateful for their long-lasting friendship.

“I, uh,” Daniel sighed pulling away before he lost himself in his husband, “I'm going to check on the Munchkins and the twins.”

“Okay,” Jack replied reluctantly.

The older man began to smile as he watched his lover going up the stairs.  Sensing eyes were on him, Daniel stopped about midway up and turned around, confirming that feeling of being watched.

Looking at his husband questioningly, the curious man asked, “Jack, what are you doing?”

“Just watching your six, Love.  Just ... watching your six.”

On the verge of blushing, Daniel continued up the stairs.

====

As Jack worked on his salsa, Chenoa was waiting patiently on the couch.  Then it happened: the clapper on the door banged against it three times.

“TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” the little girl exclaimed, running to the door, anxious to answer it.

Jack burst into the room, afraid Chenoa would forget that she wasn't allowed to answer the door without permission, but he was pleased to see the young girl jumping up and down on her feet, her hands not touching the door handle.

“Dad!  Dad!  It's T!  Open?  Pleeeeeease?”

Jack waited until he was in the entranceway, covertly glanced out to make sure who was at the door, and then nodded as he answered, “Go ahead.”

Carefully, Chenoa unlocked the door and opened it, exclaiming a jubilant, “TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” as she held up her arms expectantly.

Teal'c bent down and picked up the little girl, saying, “Indeed!  It is good to see you again, ChenoaJacksonO'Neill!”

Chenoa giggled at the sound of her name run together like that.  It was one of the reasons she loved Teal'c so much.  She threw her hands around his big neck and hugged him tightly.

“I think she likes you, Teal'c,” Sam chuckled, walking by Teal'c and over to her former CO.  “Hello, Sir.”

“Sam, I'm retired, remember?  It's just Jack.”

“Right.  Sir, I mean, Jack, do you think we'll ever be comfortable calling each other by our first names?”

“Hey, Sam, Teal'c.”  Daniel approached and exchanged hugs before continuing their conversation.  “I've tried for years to get you two to call each other by your first names.”

“Military training,” Jack sighed.  “Well, I'm retired now, for crying out loud.  Let's see if we can do it, at least for tonight,” he suggested with a smile.  “Okay, Car...Sam?”

“Anything you say, S...Jack.”

Knowing it was a lost cause, the adults all laughed and then made their way to the living room to visit for a while.

====

“So, Daniel, how are things with J-O?” Sam asked innocently as she fed Aislinn dinner, while Daniel fed Jonny just a couple of feet away in the kitchen, the babies sitting in high chairs

Jack was on the other side of the room, in the dining nook area, tending to the twins, while Jennifer and David were working on getting Little Danny to eat, though he wasn't being very co-operative.  Teal'c and Chenoa were having a private tea party in the backyard with Bijou and Katie as chaperones.

“Dad!  Little Danny won't eat,” Jennifer complained.

“Of course, he won't,” Jack sighed.  He got up and walked across the room to where Daniel sat.  “I need to borrow our son.”

“Um ... why?”

“Because Little Danny is just like you.”  As Daniel crossed his eyes, not understanding, Jack explained, “He won't eat.”

“Gawd,” Daniel said softly.

Daniel watched as Jack carefully picked up the high chair with the oldest Munchkin in it and placed it next to the middle Munchkin.  Once Jonny was in the baby's sight, Little Danny ate without arguing, his eyes fixed on his brother.

“He's eating now,” Jennifer laughed.  Still chuckling, she asked, “Why does he do that?”

“It's in his genes,” Jack answered, glancing over at Daniel, who simply shrugged.

Now babyless, Daniel watched Sam with Aislinn and finally answered her question about J-O Enterprises.

“Amazingly well, but ...”

“What?”

“There's this opportunity.  Gawd, Sam, it's perfect.  It would mean several weeks in Egypt.”

“On a dig?” the blonde asked.  ~This must be what the general was talking about with the general.  Gee, too many generals.~

“Yeah.  Of course, it's only speculation at this point, and we'd still have to make the winning bid on the project,” Daniel answered.

“You do bids on projects?”

“We do on this one.  It's not just a job.  It's kinda complicated, but, uh, if we got it, it would solidify J-O.  We put this job on our resume, and we'd be a major player from now on.  But ...”

Sam watched as her friend struggled with his thoughts and then she questioned, “But it's not about the job, is it?”

“Hey,” Daniel said as he tried to perk up.  “Let's not talk about this.  I want to hear about you!”

Sam let Daniel change the subject, but she hadn't missed the look in his eyes when he had talked about the dig.  She was certain now that this had been the topic of the conversation she'd overheard in Hammond's office, and she knew Jack had been right in his assessment of Daniel's desires.  Daniel was happy, but she could see the longing in his soul for more.

~Sure wish I could help you, Daniel,~ Sam expressed silently.  A sudden not-so-pleasant smell Sam from her thoughts.  “Oops!” she chuckled.  “New diaper time.”

“I'll do it,” Daniel said, picking up Aislinn.  “So, tell me the latest,” he requested.

“Okay, well ...” Sam began, relaying the latest events in her life to her dear friend as they climbed the stairs to go to the nursery to get Aislinn a fresh diaper.

====

Jennifer returned the book she had borrowed to its place on the shelf in the study.  She turned to leave when the various photos and diplomas on the wall captured her attention.  She'd glanced at them before, but it suddenly occurred to her that she had never truly looked at them.  The girl smiled at the myriad of diplomas and degrees that both her fathers had received.

~Who would have thought Dad was a genius?  Bet he was in trouble that night!~

The pre-teen had heard the story about how Jack had never told Daniel he had an IQ equal to that of a genius, or that he had accumulated a bunch of degrees.  Daniel had found out accidentally while helping his lover to clean out his office at the SGC when Jack had finally retired for real.

“Wow.  Interesting.”

“What is?” Jack asked, entering the study at that precise moment.

“Hey, Dad.”

“Hey, yourself.  So what's interesting?”

Jack sat down at his desk and turned on the computer.  He had some research to do on the computer for J-O Enterprises.  He leaned back in his chair for a minute while the computer booted up, waiting to hear his daughter's response.

“This photo.  This kid looks almost like you as a boy, and ... Dad, it's crazy, but this other boy looks a little like Charlie.  I don't think it is, but ... he does look like Charlie.  They both do a little bit.”

Jack nodded, but said nothing, a small smile on his face.

“Is this you?  I mean, if it is you, then obviously it's not Charlie.  See what I mean?  It's a crazy photo.  I don't get it; there's something ... geez, Dad, it's just really bugging me.  I want to say it's you, or it's Daddy, or it's Charlie, but I know it can't be.  I mean, it would be impossible because of the age differences,” Jennifer stated curiously.

“Hey!” Jack acted hurt at the implication of Jennifer's comment.

“Sorry, Dad, but you are a little older than Daddy.”

“Yeah, yeah.  Don't you have something to do?”

As Jennifer laughed and exited the study, Jack looked over at the photo with affection, remembering that fun-filled week when he and his lover had thought they were brothers.  He was glad he had somehow evaded Jennifer's questions about the picture, not really sure how he'd explain it.

~What a week, Danny,~ Jack thought with a smile before finally turning his attention back to his J-O Enterprises business.

====

“Samantha, you asked to see me?” Teal'c asked as he walked into Sam's lab, his arms now clasped behind him as he stood.

“Um, yes, Teal'c.  I've been thinking,” Sam said as she stood up from the stool she'd been sitting on at her worktable and walked towards the Jaffa.

“O'Neill used to say thinking was dangerous to ...”

“Yes, Teal'c, I know,” Sam responded as she reached Teal'c's position.  “I've been thinking about taking a sort of ... leave of absence, and I'd like to get your thoughts about it.”

Teal'c raised an eyebrow as he watched Sam turn around, her hands fidgeting in front of her.  She turned back to face Teal'c.

“You see, I can't take this leave unless you agree.  Sit down, Teal'c,” Sam requested, seeing the questioning look on her friend's face.  “Let me explain.”

====

That night, Jack and Daniel sat on the sofa.  Jack had Aislinn sitting on his lap and was holding Ricky, feeding him a bottle.  Daniel held his namesake and Jonny.  Both men had become experts at handling more than one child at a time.  It was “necessary for survival,” according to Jack.

Baby Jenny was asleep in the crib that always stayed somewhere in the living room.  At the moment, it was placed just beyond the sofa.  As he sat in Jack's favorite chair, David was able to see the infant sleeping.  He loved standing watch over the babies, even if it was slightly from afar.  Chenoa was sitting on the chair opposite from David and closest to the crib.  Katie was next to her, lying, paws in the air, while having her belly rubbed.

It was family time, a part of the day when no matter what, the Jackson-O'Neills sat down for a few minutes just to talk about whatever they wanted to talk about.  Problems, needs, bad feelings: anything was open for discussion during their family time.

“But why can't I date?” Jennifer asked from her spot on the floor.  She was sitting on a large pillow, Bijou in her lap enjoying the massage the girl was giving her.  “And please don't tell me I'm too young.”

“But you are, Jen,” Daniel said.  “There's this big world out there, and you've barely seen the tip of it.  You need to learn more about who you are before you start worrying about making some boy happy.”

“Maybe I want to make a girl happy,” Jennifer smirked.

Jack and Daniel exchanged a look.  They hadn't seen that one coming.

“Jen,” Daniel began, “If that's what you want, then when you are older, and I do mean *way* older, we'll support you.  Love is ... it's very precious.  You have no idea what Jack and I have lived through.”  He paused, gathering his thoughts carefully.  “What Jack and I are to each other, it's because that's who we are.  We didn't look for this.  One day, it was just there.  We were both dying in our own ways, and somehow, we ...”

“... We saved each other,” Jack interjected.  “People fall in love, Jen, and what Daniel and I learned is that you don't ignore love when you find it.”

“... Because real love is hard to find.  So, whomever you fall in love with, for real, the important thing is just to make sure that love is true.  It's not about what is easy; it's about what is in your heart and soul.  When you find that magic within yourself ... well, when that happens, what gender they are,” Daniel shrugged and looked at Jack with that magic showing in his eyes, “just doesn't matter.”

Jennifer lowered her head for a moment, then admitted, “I'm sorry.  I was being a smart mouth, and I have a hunch you both knew that, but ... I know what you mean.  I'll try and remember that, but you still haven't told me why you think I'm too young to date.  My friends are dating.”

“And their parents have their reasons.  We have ours,” Jack said.  “Among those reasons are that you need to know yourself a little more first, and as much as you think you do right now, you don't.  That's what Daniel was trying to say a minute ago.  I was married, Jen.  I had a son.  I was career Air Force military and I ... I've done things that I'm not proud of.  When I met Danny, I was forty-three.  You don't think I thought I knew who I was?  You wouldn't recognize that man as me if he was standing right in front of you.  Trust me on this.  You aren't even close to understanding yourself.”

When Ricky finished his bottle, Jack took it, placing it on the coffee table in front of him.  Then he put the infant on his shoulder to burp him.  Aislinn was trying to climb over him as he gently patted the youngest Jackson-O'Neill's back.

“Settle down, Princess,” Jack said just before glancing over at Daniel, who was staring at him, mouth open.  “Daniel, you have that guppy look.  Why?”

“What did you just say?” Daniel asked, wondering if he'd heard correctly.

“Weren't you listening?”

“You were ...” Daniel began, his words cut off by the knock at the door.

“I'll get it,” Jack said.

The older man helped Aislinn scoot off the sofa and motioned for Jennifer to take her, which she did.  Still holding Ricky, he headed for the door.  When he opened it, he was surprised to see Sam rush by, a big plastic water gun in her hands, held as if it were a P-90.

“It's okay now, Sir.  It's SG-1 to the rescue!”

“ColonelCarter is correct, O'Neill,” Teal'c said, walking into the living room as he carried a large water rifle in his hand.  “We are here to rescue you.”

“TEEEEEEEEEE!” Chenoa exclaimed, jumping out of her chair and running to her boyfriend.

“Woof!” Katie whined at the exodus of the warm body.

Daniel laughed and said, “Sorry, Katie.  It's Teal'c, and you know how Noa feels about him.”

“Woof,” the youngest beagle responded, lying down in the chair and spreading her body along the left side of the warm furniture.

“ChenoaJacksonO'Neill, you are looking well.”

The little girl smiled as she hugged Teal'c's right leg.

“Where are they?”  Sam looked around, as if looking for Goa'uld.  She rushed over to where Jennifer and Aislinn were.  Looking down, she asked seriously, “Have you seen them?”

“Um, who?” Jennifer asked, both confused and amused by what she was seeing.

“Those pesky competitors?”

“Sam?” Daniel asked, totally confused by the odd behavior.

“We have to eliminate them,” Sam stated.  “They're jeopardizing our plans!”

“What plans?” Jack asked, equally as confused as Daniel.  “Maybe we should call the Doc,” he spoke softly as he looked at his husband.

Sam looked at Teal'c, and then both looked over at Jack and Daniel as she answered, “Our plans to go to Egypt.  You're paying, right?”

Jack and Daniel looked at each other.  Daniel in particular was staring at Jack as if expecting him to explain what was going on.

“Don't look at me, Love.”

“You *are* paying?” Sam questioned again.

“Carter, have you lost your mind?” Jack asked incredulously.  “I think I am going to call Fraiser.”

Sam laughed, putting down the water rifle she carried, and explained, “Not necessary, Sir.  Teal'c and I have come in search of a job.”

“Carter, what the blazes are you talking about?”

“Well, General, once J-O Enterprises secures that project, you'll need a couple of reliable babysitters.  Teal'c and I are available ... for a price.”

“A price?” Jack asked.

“Yes, Sir.”

Jack coughed, glancing at his husband for a second, and then asked, “How much?”

“We were thinking a minimum of five, Sir.”

“Five what?” Jack asked, eyes wide open, visions of thousand-dollar bills floating in front of his eyes.  ~Do they make thousand-dollar bills?~

“Five hugs per day from each child, Sir,” Sam answered.  “I mean, think about it. Eight children at five hugs each.  That's a whopping forty hugs per day.  Who could ever need more than that?” she asked, her blue eyes sparkling.

“Yeah,” Jack said, looking at Daniel who smiled.

“Yeah,” the archaeologist agreed.

“Boy, I hope someone knows what this conversation is about because right now MTV makes more sense than you guys do,” Jennifer lamented.

“Seriously, Sir, Daniel.  We've talked with General Hammond, and he's agreed.  So, if you want us, we'd very much like to accompany the CEOs of J-O Enterprises to, well, wherever this job takes you, and while you two are doing your thing, Teal'c and I will look after the children.”

Jack stared at his former 2IC and then at Teal'c.  He looked over at Daniel who was speechless.  In fact, Daniel was looking overwhelmed.

“Ut oh,” Jennifer said.  She gently pushed Bijou off her lap and got up.  “Stay right there,” she said to Aislinn.

Jennifer walked over to Daniel, taking Jonny from him and putting him in the chair next to David.  She did the same thing with Little Danny, placing him on the other side of her younger brother.

David's grin was huge.  He loved it anytime he was asked to take responsibility for the babies.  He put his arms protectively around the toddlers.

“Now, Jonny, you stay right there,” David said.  Then he looked to his left and said, “And you stay right here, Little Danny.  I'll take care of you.”

Jennifer saw the huge smile on David's face.  She looked over at Jack and received an approving nod.  Before returning to her spot on the pillow, she went back over to Daniel and placed a kiss on his cheek.

“Daddy, I have no clue what is going on, but I have a funny feeling that whatever it is will make you very happy, and so whatever that is, I'm in favor of it.”

Daniel smiled, amazed his daughter had read him so well and tended to the children without being asked.

Jennifer sat back down, making sure Aislinn was secure in her lap.  Bijou snuggled back up to Jennifer's left leg.

Taking her cue from the almost teenager, Sam went to Jack and took Ricky from him, saying, “Hi, there, Ricky,” to the growing infant.

“Thanks ... Sam,” Jack said, before doing what everyone was more or less waiting for him to do:  he went to Daniel, pulled him up, and took him into his arms.

“Did you know about this?” Daniel asked softly.

“Not a clue, but I'm sure they'll tell us the details in a minute.  Danny, you want this.  You know you do, and so do I.  The kids will love it!  With Carter and Teal'c with us, they'll be safe.”

“We still have to win the project.”

“We will, Angel.  We will,” Jack spoke confidently, holding his lover close.

Jack could feel his husband's need to get back to his roots, just for awhile, and this would be their chance.

“Yep, SG-1 is back in action,” Sam commented with a smile.

“Indeed,” Teal'c agreed as he knelt down to smile at Chenoa.

====

“Jack, there's going to be stiff competition for this,” Daniel said as he sat down on the sofa just before the clock struck seven.

“That's okay; we'll get it,” Jack said from his position at the kitchen counter as he tossed a salad.

“You seem awfully confident.”

“I am.  It's meant to be,” Jack replied.

“I wish I had your faith,” Daniel sighed.

“Angel, all our dreams, all our hopes, they all come true, because I have you.”

“My poet,” Daniel remarked as he smiled, watching his lover prepare dinner.

As he sat watching his husband, the archaeologist thought there wasn't anyone sexier than Jack anywhere in the universe, and his love for the man swelled within him.  Still, Daniel thought wryly, they did have one little piece of unfinished business, and he figured they'd settle that soon enough.

====
-- Chapter Three:  Just When You Thought You Knew Jack ... Again!
====

Jack was whistling cheerfully as he walked into his home.  He had been out running some errands and then had dropped by the office to confer with Megan about a watching brief that needed to be completed by tomorrow.  He had told Daniel he'd by home at 1700 hours, and, sure enough, it was 5 p.m. on the dot when he walked through the front door.

However, the silver-haired man was surprised not to hear the familiar sounds of pitter-pattering feet, near-teenage angst, or crying babies.  In fact, he didn't even hear a barking dog.  Slowly, he put away his keys and looked around.  Nothing seemed out of kilter, but something just didn't feel right.  He looked out the patio doors, confirming that neither Bijou or Katie were around.

**Daniel?**

Jack scouted the entire downstairs and couldn't find a single family member.  He checked Jennifer's room above the garage and then went to the other side of the house.  The nursery was empty, as was David's room.  He was beginning to become alarmed, especially since his lover hadn't responded to his silent call.  Finding the master bedroom empty, too, he walked into Daniel's den.

“Daniel?” Jack called out curiously when he saw, seated calmly in the recliner, his husband staring sternly at him.  Walking a few steps closer as he looked around out of habit, he asked, “Danny, why didn't you answer me?  What's going on, and where are the kids?”

His fingers tapping on the arms of the recliner, the archaeologist answered, “The Munchkins are with Janet, the twins and Noa are with Sara, and Jen and David are with General Hammond.”

“And the girls?”

“Mrs. Valissi.”

Jack sighed, cocking his head to the side as he surmised, “I'm not going to like this, am I?”

“I doubt it, Jack, but it's a new year, and we want to get it off to a good and honest start,” Daniel said as he continued to glare at his soulmate.

“Fighting is starting out the new year right?” Jack questioned doubtfully.

Ignoring the question, Daniel stood up, walked calmly to Jack, and said, “Let's go downstairs.”

Jack felt like he was marching to his death.  He understood now why the house had been cleared.  Daniel had done this before on the few occasions when they were about to have a scheduled fight.  He sighed as he reached the bottom of the stairs.  He was clueless about the reason for this particular argument and just hoped his Love would clue him in quickly.

Daniel stood, arms folded across his chest, in front of the fireplace.

Jack gulped, but quickly bit the bullet, asking, “What did I do?”

“Jack, how old were you when we met?”

The older man shrugged, mumbling, “How old was I?  Danny, what does ...”

“How old were you, Jack?” Daniel repeated coldly.

“I don't know.  Geez, I hate numbers.”

“You're a freakin' genius, Jack, and better at math than I am, so ANSWER THE FREAKIN' QUESTION!”

Jack saw metaphorical flames bursting from his husband's eyes and responded, “I don't know.  I guess ... thirty-nine?”  He stared at the younger man, who was doing nothing but staring back at him.  Finally, he asked, “Did I pass?”

“Thirty-nine?  Like Jack Benny thirty-nine?”

“Daniel, we're a little too old for games, don't you think?”  Watching Daniel's eyes widen and the pointed expression in response to such an incredulous question being asked by the epitome of an adult 'child', he thought for a moment and clarified, “What I meant was, can we not play games here?  This morning, everything was fine.  What is going on?”

“No, it wasn't fine.  This discussion was simply postponed due to other more important situations,” Daniel explained.

“Wait a minute.  This is a fight that has been in the making for awhile, but you put it off because ...?”

“Children, the SGC, the bid for the Egypt project, the holidays -- things like that,” Daniel acknowledged.

“So today is a slow day?” the retired general smirked.

“Very funny, Jack,” Daniel replied, clearly not amused by the quip.  “No, today I was reminded.”

“Reminded how?”

“I was looking for some notes about Abydos, the planet, not the city, and I happened to read part of my journal, and that reminded me,” Daniel answered.

“Okay, I'll bite.  It ...”

“No biting today, Jack, or ... anything ... close,” Daniel interjected.

Groaning, Jack tried again, asking, “Your journal reminded you of what?”

“How old were you when we met?” Daniel asked again.

“Didn't I just answer that?”

“Yes, which is why I'm giving you a second chance to get it right.”

~Crap.~  Jack swallowed hard, realizing now that he had messed up.  The light bulb was flickering in his mind.  He closed his eyes.  ~Double crap even.~

“Coming back to you, Jack?  Are you perhaps remembering a recent conversation with our children about when we met?” Daniel questioned sharply.

“The guppy look,” Jack said as he ran his left hand through the thin strands of hair and walked towards the patio.

“Make it good, Jack.”

“Danny ...” Jack looked at his husband.  He hated arguing with him, especially over dumb things like this, and yet he knew it was all his fault, again.  He was the only one to blame.  It had been a lie of his making, a lie he never thought would go on for so long.  “You never really asked me how old I was.”

“No, I didn't, but you let me believe my guess was right.”

Jack recalled a night not quite a decade earlier.  It was right after the mission to Chulak.  SG-1 had been officially formed, and the next day would be the team's first regular day at work, if there was ever such a thing as a regular day at work for those employed by the SGC.

After spending a year on the planet of Abydos, Daniel had been staying with Jack while he readjusted to being back on Earth.  After enjoying a Chinese meal, they'd gotten a bit tipsy and had shared more feelings than Jack had thought he'd ever be able to share with anyone, thoughts about their original mission and even their personal tragedies.  It was late, just after they'd made a toast to friendship.

//Flashback//
“I'll never forget it, Daniel.  The way you put those smug scientists in their place last year just made my day,” Jack said before taking another swig of yet another beer.  “They looked like they were going to have a fit right there on the spot.”

Daniel drank a sip of beer and smiled shyly while thinking, ~Hate this stuff, but right now I don't care that I hate it.  That doesn't make sense.  Oh ... stop thinking so much, Jackson, and get back to the conversation.  Hmm ... what did Jack say?  Oh, yeah.~  “I just ... looked at it, that's all.”

Jack roared, laughing more loudly than usual, the effects of multiple beers, and remarked, “Danny, you looked like a freakin' twelve-year-old boy, and you set those pompous preppies on their rears!”

“It's Daniel, and I wasn't twelve.”

“But you looked like it. How old are you anyway?”

“Thirty-one,” the archaeologist answered.

“See?  A baby!  Means you were just thirty when you set them on their ears,” Jack boasted for his friend.

“I'm not a baby.  Besides, you aren't that much older than me.”  Hearing Jack snicker before taking another drink of his beer, Daniel urged, “Come on, Jack.  How old are you?”

“I don't discuss age.  My grandmother said it was all in the mind,” the colonel stated.

“Thirty-six?  Not more than thirty-nine, that's for sure.”

“Yeah,” Jack answered, clearing his throat right afterwards.  “Just like Jack Benny -- thirty-nine.  Geez, it's late.  Time to hit the hay.”
//End of Flashback//

Jack coughed nervously.  At the time, he had realized that Daniel had taken him literally, believing he was indeed thirty-nine-years old.  It was an assumption he had never bothered to clear up, and Daniel being so trusting, had apparently never bothered to look that closely at the few official documents they had shared over the years.

“Daniel, you're beautiful and sexy,” Jack smiled as he talked, “and simply everything anyone could ever want.  When we first had that discussion, it didn't seem important.  We were drunk, and I was just being my usual cynical self.  Then I fell in love with you -- the essence of everything -- you.”

“Jack, don't try to sweet talk your way out of this.”

“I'm not,” Jack denied.  “I'm trying to explain.  I was wrong,” he sighed.  Looking down, he admitted, “I'm always wrong, but I was afraid.”

“Jack, do you want me to just pull out our argument over the lie about being a genius and insert it here?  Would it save us some time?  What else is there that you haven't told me?”

“Nothing!  Daniel, you don't understand.”

“I understand that you've lied to me ... again!” the younger man exclaimed harshly.

“Yes, I lied.  You want a divorce?” Jack asked glibly.

Daniel felt hurt at his husband's comment.  This was a disagreement, a fight, not the end of their marriage.

“Don't go there, Jack.  We've never done that.  Why'd you just say that?”  The more he asked the question, the angrier Daniel became.  “You know we don't tease about that kind of thing.  WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?”

“Geez!  You're acting like it's the end of the world or something.  I made a flip comment, and now, all of a sudden, you want to make it a declaration of war or something.”

Even as he spoke, Jack wondered what he was doing.  It had been a stupid comment to make, and he felt guilty seeing the hurt that he'd just inflicted on his lover.  Going into this offensive mode never helped matters, yet he seemed unable to stop himself.

“All of a sudden?” Daniel responded, his ire stirring even more now.  “Jack, I just found out about this, and it wasn't because you decided to tell me the truth, but because you let your guard down, and it slipped out while you were talking to our daughter.  It's not the age factor, and you know it.  The point is that you lied to me, and what upsets me is that you obviously don't see anything wrong with that.”

“Oh, for crying out loud, Daniel, don't make a federal case out of this.  I hate it when you do that,” Jack said, walking towards the counter and waving his hand as if to dismiss the entire matter.

Holding his ground but following his lover's movement, Daniel snapped, “So sorry, Jack, if my desire to discuss a serious matter with you is taking up too much of your precious time.”

Jack turned, extending his right hand out for moment as he questioned, “Serious matter?  Come on, Love.  With all the stuff we've been through, a little embellishment of my age is considered serious?”

“Jack, you are driving me crazy.  It's *not* your age.  It's that you keep lying to me!”

“Daniel, for the tenth time, I was joking when I told you I was thirty-nine.  It wasn't a deliberate lie to put you off the scent.  We weren't together.  Heck, we barely knew each other.  I just didn't think it was important.”

Daniel sighed, feeling extremely frustrated.  Jack wasn't hearing him and that more than anything angered him.

“If you can't see anything wrong with lying to your husband, then I guess I don't know you as well as I thought I did,” Daniel sighed, bowing his head as he turned and walked over to stare at the fish as they swam in their deluxe fish tank.

Jack made a jabbing motion with his hands, as if he were about to reach out and strangle the love of his life.

“Oh for ... DANIEL!”  Jack turned around and paced in a circle for a minute, wondering why he was making their fight even worse.  All he had to do was admit the truth, but the more they fought, the harder it became.  Just as Daniel turned back around to face him, Jack spoke, “Will you please stop being a drama queen?”

“Drama queen?  DRAMA QUEEN?” the younger man shouted.

“Wrong thing to say?” Jack asked glibly.  ~Dumb question by a dumb general,~ he thought.

“I'm going for a walk.”

“Oh, no you don't,” Jack called out, blocking Daniel's path.  “You are so not running from this.  You started it, and I'm sure as Netu going to make sure you finish it so we can move forward.  Come on, Danny.  What's the real problem here?”

“For the tenth time, YOU FREAKIN' LIED TO ME -- AGAIN!”

“I DID NOT!!  I JUST DIDN'T TELL YOU THE TRUTH!” Jack argued.

Jack knew as he spoke the words that there wasn't a difference, and he knew that Daniel knew it, too.  He again wondered why they let themselves fall into these stupid self-perpetuating arguments.  Then he remembered the make-up sex.  He decided a good harmless fight every now and then wasn't such a bad idea after all.

“WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?  NOT TELLING THE TRUTH IS THE SAME AS LYING.  HOW MANY OTHER THINGS HAVE YOU NOT TOLD THE TRUTH ABOUT?” Daniel shouted.

“Now you're trying to have an argument about things that don't exist.  I come home, tired and hungry, and wanting to be with my family.  Instead, I get Theatrics 101, and now *I'm the one* who wants to walk out of here,” Jack argued.

“Now who's being melodramatic.  The truth hurts, doesn't it, Jack?  You want to walk out of here, go right ahead, but don't be surprised if the door is locked when you decide to come running back.”

“Oh, so it's okay for you to go for a walk but not for me?  You can leave a fight, but I can't?” Jack asked in anger.

“THIS IS NOT A FIGHT!”

“It's not?  Then why are you shouting?” Jack questioned in a raised voice.

Daniel sighed as he walked over to the sofa, leaning against the edge and sighing, “Gawd, this *is* a fight.”

“Yep, it is, a pretty big one apparently,” Jack responded.

Jack knew they had just turned the corner.  He could sense the make-up sex was just a few minutes away.  He wanted to smile, but he was afraid that might mess it up.

“I'm sorry, Jack.  I didn't want it to be a fight, not like this.  I just ... it got out of hand.”  Daniel walked to within a foot of where Jack stood.  “I don't want to fight.  I only want to know why you lied to me, that's all.  Please.  Why can't you tell me why you lied to me, why you haven't ever set the record straight?  Why?”

Jack flinched.  It was time to fess up, as he always did.  He still didn't understand why he hadn't just told Daniel the truth years ago, but better late than never he decided.

“Because I don't have a logical answer except that I was scared.  Danny, remember how afraid you were?  You've told me over and over that you thought I'd leave you.”

“I really believed you would,” Daniel replied.

“Never.  Would never happen, but what has always been difficult for you to understand, to really comprehend, is that I was more scared than you were,” Jack responded.

Not believing his lover, Daniel shook his head.

“Angel.”  Jack placed his hands on his Love's upper arms and rubbing gently.  With tears in his eyes, he confided, “I've never been good enough for you.  I know you don't believe that, but it's the honest truth.  You are a thousand times better than me in every way that exists, but you have never realized that truth the way I have.  I love you, and the harder I fell, the more I needed you.  When you finally said you loved me, I was in Heaven.”

Daniel was focusing intently on Jack, his eyes locked on his lover's, trying desperately to understand what he was trying to say.  It didn't make sense to him, though.

“Jack, that's rubbish, and you know it.”

“No, it's not.  I 'joked' about being the run-down colonel, but I ... that's how I felt next to you.  I couldn't believe that you'd want me, and as we got closer, I worried about keeping up with you.  You're so energetic and vibrant -- my energizer bunny, my Danny.”  He slid his hands to rest on Daniel's shoulders, still rubbing gently.  “Danny, there aren't just nine or ten years between us.”  Jack gulped and confessed, “I was born in 1952.  That's a twelve to thirteen year gap.  I thought if you knew, you'd run.”

“YOU IDIOT!”  Daniel walked away from Jack, pacing over towards the kitchen counter.  “AFTER ALL WE'VE BEEN THROUGH?  GIVE ME A BREAK!”

“But it wasn't like that at the beginning, and you know it!  We both had insecurities, and that was one of mine,” Jack insisted.

“WAS?  THEN WHY HAVEN'T YOU TOLD ME THE TRUTH SINCE THEN?  Like, for example,” Daniel tried to calm himself, “when we got married ... or when we had our children ... ANY OF THEM?”

Jack shook his head.  He'd blown it again, but he wouldn't make it worse.  He was telling the truth, and just had to hope that his soulmate would see into his soul and know that it was the truth.

“I don't have an excuse.  I'm sorry,” Jack said as he walked over to the sofa and sat down.  He leaned forward, rubbing his face in his hands.  “Thirteen years, Danny.  That's a big difference.  We're not even in the same decade.  I was afraid that one day you'd think about that, about how it might be when we're ... older.”

“Jack, you are so full of it,” Daniel accused in exasperation.

“You're forty-two, Daniel.  I'm fifty-five.  Don't tell me that doesn't matter,” the older man sighed with regret.

Daniel shook his head incredulously as he challenged, “Has it?  Do you really think it matters?”  He stared at his lover, watching Jack shake his head.  “Of course it doesn't matter.  It would never matter.  I love you.  Gawd, Jack, love has no age limits and no boundaries.  I thought you knew that.”  He sighed and said softly, “You could be sixty-four, and I'd still love you.  Why can't you trust me on that?”

Jack sighed as he answered, “Because I'm ...”

“Afraid?”  Daniel moved back in front of his husband, kneeling down on his haunches.  He took Jack's hands and said, “Jack, come on.  We've been through life and death and ... death for years now.  We're ... our nation of two ... it's not about age, and it never was.”

“I know that.  Most of me knows that, anyway.  I'm sorry.  I was occupied trying to ... never mind.  I was wrong,” the silver-haired man admitted.

Daniel stood back up and began to pace as he struggled with the conversation they were having.  He was missing something here, and Jack certainly wasn't going to fill him in so, as usual, when it came to his husband's fears, it was up to him to figure it out.  He thought back through the years of their love and their evolution as a couple.  It was true that in their first two years together, both were very insecure. Daniel hadn't fully been aware of Jack's fears about losing him upon Sha're's return until after her death.

As Daniel took a deep breath and continued to pace, Jack remained silent on the sofa, his mind reflecting on their past.  The older man had never been good at expressing his own fears, especially his worst fear -- losing Daniel.

The archaeologist had always been so youthful and energetic, so much so that Jack considered Daniel to be his energizer bunny.  He was faster than Jack, and had more endurance.  Jack wasn't worried as much about losing Daniel now, but back then, when it was still new and Sha're was alive, he had lived with a silent fear, one he kept to himself as much as he could.  The honest truth was Jack just didn't have time to be concerned about his own worries.  He had Daniel to take care of, and Daniel had always, and would always, come first.

As the younger man paced, he thought back to their first year together as a couple, when Jack had begun to turn gray.  Some of Jack's statements from tonight could easily relate back to that time; but what did his lover mean about being occupied?  Daniel closed his eyes, the revelation finally coming to him.

Glancing over at Jack, Daniel acknowledged, “You were too busy taking care of me -- my doubts, my insecurities, my fears -- to take care of your own.  That's what you were going to say, wasn't it?”

Jack swallowed and nodded his head.

Daniel walked over to the sofa and sat down next to Jack.  He pulled the other man back and put his arm around him, pulling Jack into his shoulder; then he kissed the top of Jack's head and smiled.

“I'm sorry, Jack.  I didn't do a very good job back then of taking care of you.”

“It's not your fault, Danny.”

Daniel looked upwards, trying to stop the tears that were about to fall, and replied, “No, no fault.  It's not about fault.  It's about being aware, and I tried, but ... I thought you'd get tired of me.  I had so many issues, so much to overcome, and you never wavered.  You were always there to get me through, to make us stronger.”  He rubbed his cheek against Jack's hair and closed his eyes for a moment, wanting to simply enjoy their closeness.  “I was high maintenance, and I still am.”

“So am I.”

“That's true,” Daniel teased, chuckling just a little.  He smiled when Jack chuckled at the comment as well.  “But the point is, you've always put yourself second, Jack.  There hasn't been one time in our entire relationship when you've put yourself first, not once.”

“I like making you happy.”

“Gawd, Jack.  I like making you happy, too.”

“You do, Angel.  You make me so incredibly happy,” Jack stated with a smile.

“I couldn't even tell you that for so long.  Jack, you took such good care of me.  You got me through all the nightmares.”  Daniel's tears were falling hard and fast now.  “You went with me to the museum; made me realize that what mattered was my parent's lives and their love, not how they died.  You helped me find them, and you ... gawd, Jack, you gave them a home with our Charlie.”

Daniel sniffled as he talked, and Jack was crying now, too, as he listened.

“You helped me remember about Carrie and to realize that bloody nightmare wasn't my fault.  You taught me that I didn't need to hug myself anymore, because you would always be there to hug me.  You've showered me with love.”  Daniel squeezed Jack as he kissed his head again.  “You've hiked up every mountain of pain from my past, and you've taught me how to laugh.  We laugh so much now.  You've given me everything, Jack.”

“Angel ...”

“And Angel ... Gawd, you think I'm an angel.  What kind of angel am I to not see your fears -- your pain?”

“Danny ... no!”  Jack raised his head and moved his right hand to caress Daniel's moistened cheek.  “You *are* my angel.  You take care of me every day in ways you don't even know.”

“I missed it, Jack.  I missed seeing that you were so afraid.  You shouldn't have been.  I love you so much.  I don't care how old you are. It's like,” Daniel swallowed hard, tears falling even harder, “... like with Sha're and how I didn't tell you for so long how I really felt, that I had chosen you from the beginning.  I should have told you that, Jack.  I should have made you un...understand.”

Daniel could barely talk.  His anger at Jack was long forgotten, and now he was drowning in pain and guilt about not recognizing that Jack had had fears and doubts, too.  He hated himself now, realizing fully for the first time that while Jack had always tended to these emotions in Daniel, somehow, he had let Jack's slip through the cracks, at least most of the time.

“Danny, don't go back there.  That was a long time ago.  Shhh,” Jack whispered soothingly, brushing his lips gently against Daniel's.  “It's okay, Danny.  You had reasons.  I mean, Sha're was your wife and ...”

“Gawd, stop!”  Daniel bolted up off the sofa and moved to the bookshelves.  His hands used the edge of the shelves to brace himself again, and still the tears fell. He was having a hard time breathing.  ~I didn't take care of him.  How selfish can I be?~

“Daniel ...” Jack didn't care about anything anymore, he just wanted to ease his husband's pain.  He got up and started to walk towards his spouse, but Daniel sensed it and turned, holding his hands up in a stopping motion.

“Jack, you're doing it again.  You're putting me first, taking care of me ... that's what you always do.”

“And it's what I will always do.  It's why I was born.  I believe that more than I believe anything else.”  Jack began slowly moving towards Daniel again.  “I was born to love you, to make you happy.  I told you ... my mission in life is to make you laugh and smile.”  Reaching his lover, he cupped Daniel's face and declared, “I love you, Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.  You will always come first with me.”

“Jack, you're first with me, too, but I haven't shown you that.”

“Yes, you have, over and over again.  Danny, we're different.  Our pasts are different.  It may seem to you like ...”

“Like you're always having to take care of me?”

“Or something,” Jack admitted.  “Your life was a nightmare, Daniel.  I wanted to erase those memories.”

“You have.”

“Good,” Jack brushed his lips against Daniel's, savoring the taste of the moist lips.

“But you were scared, Jack, and that was my fault because I didn't let you know that it never mattered to me what color your hair was or how many scars you have or how blasted old you are.  I need you, you idiot.  I wouldn't be able to breathe without you.”

“Angel,” Jack said, as he wrapped Daniel in his arms.  “I'm sorry, Danny.  I'm so sorry.  I just never thought I was good enough, so I had to convince you I was, even if I didn't really believe it.”

“You're an idiot, O'Neill.”

“I know.”  Jack's cracked voice was muffled as he buried his chin into Daniel's neck.  Their hold on each other was extremely tight.  “Do you forgive me, Danny? I should have told you the truth a long time ago.”

“Jack, I'm the one who needs to be asking for forgiveness, for not showing you how much you matter, and how much you mean to me.”

“I'll make you deal,” the older man offered.

“What?”

Jack pulled back to look into Daniel's eyes, kissed him, and suggested, “How about we forgive each other and go remind ourselves how much fun we can have together?”

“Fun?” Daniel finally smiled and chuckled.  It was a look and sound that Jack treasured above all else in life.  “Mmmm.”

“Well, after all, Love, you did such a great job of making sure we'd be alone,” Jack reminded with an eager leer, his brown eyes melting into his lover's soul.

“I didn't want the children to hear us fighting.”

“And ...”

Daniel smiled, a devilish expression as he added, “And I knew we'd make up.”

Jack laughed loudly, “Now that's My Danny -- always one step ahead.”

“Well, it's not like I didn't know you'd have a reason.”

“And then you'd forgive me because you always forgive me,” Jack assumed happily.

“Because I love you.”

“And that's the real miracle of my existence,” Jack said, adding, “... that you love me, no matter what.”

“It's unconditional, Jack.  I wish you'd get that through your thick skull.  There's nothing you could do or say, nothing about you, now or in the past, that would change the love I have for you.  Don't you know that by now?” the younger man asked with hope.

“Yes.  I just always find my luck incredibly ... incredible,” Jack spoke with a lightness in his voice.  “You could have anyone, Daniel.”

“So could you.  Gawd, you just don't know how desirable you are, Jack.  I'm going to work a little harder at making sure you know that from now on, but as for me, I have the one I want, Jack.  I have the man who means the universe to me.  You've given me life.  No one else could have done what you did.  No one else cared.”

“I love you, Angel.”

“Love you, too.  Now, how about that make-up 'you know'?”

Jack chuckled, "Don't ever change, Danny.”  He gave his lover a lingering kiss, a prelude to what would be happening for the rest of the night and into the wee hours of the morning.  “How long is the brood gone for?” he asked, his smile morphing into a happy grin when he saw his lover's own big grin.  He just couldn't believe his luck.  “Geez, Danny.  All night?”

“Until 9 a.m. tomorrow morning, it's just ... us,” Daniel informed.

“Angel, I love the way you think!”

“Is that all you love?”

“I'll make an itemized list upstairs,” Jack offered.

“In triplicate,” Daniel ordered as he kissed his husband.

Hand in hand, the couple headed upstairs to physically renew their love once again.

====

“I hate this waiting,” Jack complained as he roamed the backyard.

“Jack, we may not hear anything for hours,” Daniel reminded.  “Sit down or ... or clip the hedges or something instead of wearing down the grass.”

“Wearing down the grass?” Jack asked curiously.  “Don't tell me you aren't nervous, Love.  Wearing down the grass,” he repeated, chuckling as he shook his head.  “The Abracadabra guy said he'd decide today, right?”

Daniel laughed at Jack's insistence at getting the man's name wrong and corrected, “Abayomi.”

“Whatever.”

“Jack.”

“I'm just ... I want this, Daniel,” the older man admitted, leaning over and picking up one of Katie's toys and tossing it into her play yard.

Daniel rose from the patio steps on which he had been sitting and walked to his husband, putting his arms around Jack's neck and gently caressing the skin.

“You do, don't you?” the younger man asked, feeling an incredible joy at knowing that Jack truly was excited by the prospect of going on a dig with him to Egypt.

“Why is that such a surprise?”

“I don't know.  It's just ... when we met ...”

“When we met, I was an idiot,” Jack put forth as his hands rubbed the small of his soulmate's back.

“Oh, Jack,” Daniel spoke softly and then nibbled on Jack's upper lip, following that up with a full-blown kiss.

“Oh, geez, not again,” Jennifer said walking outside.

Chenoa giggled as she began her childhood taunt, “Dad and Daddy, kissing on the lawn.”

“Noa, stop being silly,” the pre-teen chastised.  Then she looked back at her parents, stating, “Daddy, I need help with a history paper.  Do you have some time?”

“Sure, Jen.”  Daniel kissed Jack again and whispered, “I'll be back.”

“Oh brother,” Jennifer lamented with rolling eyes while turning around and heading for her bedroom.

====

When Daniel returned outside a half-hour later, Jack was in Katie's play yard.

“What are you doing?”

“Katie wanted to go on a dig,” Jack answered.

“Oh.  Find anything exciting?” the archaeologist inquired.

“Actually, yes,” Jack said, sitting up on his knees.  “A fifty cent piece,” he informed, holding up the coin and flipping it back and forth in his hand.

“Are you serious?”

“Yep.  Okay, Girl, that's enough for me,” Jack said, patting Katie and then standing and walking to his husband, wanting a kiss and a hug.

Daniel backed away, holding both hands up as he said, “Oh, no, not until you wash up.”

“Wait one 'doh' minute,” Jack argued.  “You, the king of dirt, are telling me that I can't hug and kiss you because I'm too dirty?”

“That's, uh, about right,” Daniel confirmed, nodding.

“That's so not fair, Danny.”

“Take it, or leave, Babe,” the younger man replied, a big smirk on his face.

Jack glared, grunted, and groaned, but since he desperately wanted to snuggle, he decided against arguing and headed inside.

Daniel chuckled and walked over to Katie, bending down to play plug tug-a-war with her for a moment.

“Jack is so easy,” the archaeologist laughed as he played with the beagle.

====

When the retired general returned downstairs several minutes later, Daniel was lying on the sofa with Bijou on his chest, laughing and petting the mama beagle.  Jack shook his head.  His lover was so beautiful, and any time he saw him with their kids, human or canine, he just couldn't describe the warmth that he felt at the sight.

Jack crossed the floor to the sofa and chose not to disturb Bijou, settling in at the end of the couch, raising Daniel's feet and placing them on his lap.  He removed Daniel's shoes and socks and began a tender massage.

“That feels so good, Babe.  Thank you,” Daniel responded in appreciation.

“Believe me, Love, this is my pleasure,” Jack assured as he continued his soothing magic.  When the phone rang a couple of minutes later, he reluctantly left his spot to answer it.  “Jackson-O'Neill residence ... hold on one minute please.”  He pushed the mute button on the cordless phone as he walked towards the sofa and said, “I think this is it.  Here ...” he handed the phone to Daniel, who had risen from the couch after gently placing Bijou on the floor.

“Hello, this is Daniel Jackson-O'Neill ... yes ... yes ...”

Jack listened as Daniel began to speak Arabic.  After ten minutes, the conversation ended.

“Well?” the general-turned-archaeology student asked anxiously as Daniel placed the phone on its pad.  “Daniel?  What's the verdict?”  When his lover sighed, Jack did, too, fearing bad news.  “Danny?”

With a stoic expression and tone, Daniel answered, “Well, they said it was close, very close.  It came down to us and some other company out of Chicago.”

“And?  Daniel, for crying out loud, what did they say?”

“They said ...”  Daniel looked down, an air of dejection all around him.  “They said we're hired!” he exclaimed with a cheery grin.

“Hired?  Really?”  When Daniel nodded, Jack shouted, “YES!”.  He went to his husband and lifted him up into the air, actually spinning him around in a circle.  “We got the job, Danny!”

“Jack, one of these days, you're going to break your back, and then I'll be very unhappy.”

“WOOF!  WOOF!” Bijou said excitedly as she danced happily around Jack and Daniel.

“I love you, Angel.  We're hired!” the older man exclaimed as he returned Daniel to the carpeted floor.

“I love you, too.  Jack, I really have a good feeling about this.  I think there's more there than meets the eye.  The watching brief will show that,” Daniel stated with confidence.

“And then we go to Egypt,” Jack said happily.  Bending over and patting Bijou, he cheered, “We got it, Bij, we got it.”

“WOOF!” the mama beagle barked, her tail wagging.

“Finally ... our dig.  It's our dream,” Daniel spoke softly.

“That it is, Angel,” Jack agreed.  “Our dream,” he echoed as he pulled his lover closer and kissed him tenderly.

“We have a lot to do,” Daniel said, even as their lips had barely parted.  “We should talk about it tonight during our family time,” he suggested, a smile still on his face.

“Everything is going to work out, but maybe we should wait to tell the kids until we know more details.”

“You're probably right, but Jen already knows something is up because of Sam and Teal'c's little show a while back.”

“Good friends,” Jack said softly.

“Yeah.  Oh, and we should call Megan.  She'll want to know,” the archaeologist stated.

“Let's do that ... later,” Jack said, having a more urgent need for Daniel's attention, one the younger man was happy to oblige.

“I love the way you think, my Silver Fox,” Daniel replied just before his and his husband's lips met again.

Smiling, Bijou used the doggie door to go outside and join her daughter in a dig, leaving the couple alone to enjoy some precious private time.

====

“Megan, don't worry about the expense on this,” Daniel spoke over the phone a few days later.  “We need to get some solid shots from the air so we can evaluate where something might be ... if something is there, of course.”

“I've already contacted a couple of photographers in Cairo.  I think we'll be able to get some top-notch aerial photos from them.”

“Keep me posted,” the archaeologist requested.

“I will.  Daniel, this is so exciting!  I hope it pans out for us,” Megan stated enthusiastically.

“Me, too.  Bye.”

====

Around 8:30 p.m. that night, Jack took an insomniac Chenoa to the roof deck to show her his telescope.

“This was a gift from Daddy when we got married.  I never look through it without thinking about him,” Jack stated as he looked at the item affectionately.

“What is it?”

“It's called a telescope, and when you look through it, you can see the stars.”

Chenoa looked up at the night sky and smiled, her voice enthused as she said, “Noa see stars.”

Jack laughed, then said, “Wanna look?”

When the toddler nodded, Jack showed her how to look through the scope and then he let her gaze through the lens up at the night stars, thus demonstrating the difference between looking up at the sky and looking up at it through the telescope.

“Fun!”

“Yeah, but you know something, Noa, nothing beats this, just looking at the stars.  Come here,” Jack said.

Jack held the curly blonde's hand and walked over to the spot where he and Daniel so often sat.  He leaned back against the wall and slid down.  The toddler continued to stand, Jack maintaining a secure hold on both her arms.  She was a bit bouncy as she stood, which amused him.

The amateur astronomer looked upwards and made a visual recon of the stars.

~That'll work,~ Jack thought.  Smiling, he asked, “Noa, remember Hercules?”  The toddler had watched the Disney video several times.  When she nodded her affirmation, he continued, “Okay, now, follow my hand and look up ... riiiiiight ... there!”


“Stars!”

“Yeah, that's Hercules.”

“Herc is stars?” the little girl asked.

“Hercules is a lot of things, including a legend and a constellation.  That's what that group of stars is called -- a constellation.”

“Con'lation?”

“Con-stel-la-tion,” Jack enunciated clearly.  “We'll practice that.  It's a long word.”  When Chenoa nodded, he teased, “Long words should be banned from the English language.”

“Banned,” Chenoa echoed, laughing.

Jack pulled his daughter to sit on his lap and began to tell her about the story of Hercules, telling, “His father was Zeus, the greatest god of them all.  Of course, if you weren't a child of Zeus, you pretty much didn't exist.  Anyway, old Herc was a great warrior, so great that Zeus honored him by putting his image in the night sky so that he'd always be remembered.”

“HerCULessssss,” Chenoa laughed.

“Right.  He was once a slave according to the legend,” Jack informed.

“Slav'ry bad.  T says so,” Chenoa replied.

“T is right, but this was a sort of self-imposed penance.”

“Pen-nuts?” the toddler questioned, making a funny face as she looked back at her dad.

Jack chuckled and explained, “Penance means doing something to make up for something bad.  Let's see.  Remember last week when you ate David's piece of pie without asking?”

“Noa bad,” Chenoa admitted softly.

“Not bad, Princess, just hungry, but that was David's, and you knew that and ate it anyway, right?”

“Hungry,” Chenoa agreed, looking down as guilt flowed through her tiny body over having taken her brother's food because she'd still been hungry.

“And when David found out, he ...”

“David sad.”

“Yes, he was.  He was studying hard, doing his homework, and wanted the pie as his treat before going to bed,” Jack reminded.  “Okay, so remember what you did the next day?”

The toddler smiled and answered, “Noa give cupcake.”

“That's right.  You gave up your cupcake so that David could have it.  You wanted to say you were sorry by doing something so that he would know you were really sorry and wouldn't do it again.”

“Never 'gain.”

“So, just like with you and David, Hercules had done a very bad thing, and he needed to do something to show that he was sorry, even though he only did it because Hera caused him to go insane for a little while.”

“What's insane?” Chenoa asked.

“Crazy, bananas, nuts, not in your right mind,” Jack sing-songed in answer.

“Like 'nanas and nuts.”

Jack laughed, “Insane means you can't think clearly, and sometimes you do silly things that you wouldn't normally do.”

“Noa not ... 'nanas.”

“No, you're not, Sweetheart,” Jack chuckled, squeezing her lovingly.  “So, Hera, who was the wife of Zeus, made Hercules a little crazy, and as a result, he did a very bad thing.”

“What he do?”

“Hmmmm ... not tonight, Chenoa.  We'll save that for another time, but just know that when Hercules realized what he had done, he felt very bad.  He knew it was wrong, so he went to the great Oracle of Delphi and sought advice.”

“What's an or'go?” the youngster inquired.

“Oracle.  An oracle is a very wise person or shrine that was supposed to represent the gods, like an advisor,” the silver-haired man answered.  ~This is like being in school, but ain't it grand?~

“God?”

~Oops.~  Jack paused.  This one was a little trickier to make sure she understood.  “No, Honey, not the God you pray to, and it's important not to confuse the two.  We've talked about that before, right?  About the God who loves us and helps us and how that's different from regular people who pretend to be something they aren't.”

It was simplifying the difference, but Chenoa was still just a toddler, and Jack didn't think she could grasp anything more than what he had already said.  She nodded that she understood, so Jack continued on.

“So the oracle told Hercules that to make up for the bad thing he did he had to become a slave to Eurystheus.  They were,” Jack hesitated, “kinda like cousins.  That's another long part of the story, but the point is, Eurystheus didn't like Herc, so he made him work really hard, putting Hercules into danger for twelve long years.”

“Long time.”

“Very, especially when Eurystheus gave Herc tasks to complete that were almost impossible, and in order to be free again and to be cleansed of the bad thing he did, Hercules had to complete all of these tasks,” Jack stated.

--

At that moment, David had gone into the master bedroom to say goodnight to his dad.  He saw the door to the roof deck was open, and he could hear Jack talking.  It sounded interesting so he quietly moved out to the roof deck and sat down just outside the doorway to listen in.  He saw both his father and little sister looking up at the sky.

--

Jack continued, “One of the things Hercules had to do was retrieve the golden apples.”

“Golden apples?” Chenoa asked curiously.

“Yep, they were very special, and were kept in a garden a long way from where Eurystheus lived.  Herc traveled a long ways and then captured a prophet; that's, uh, someone who is good about guessing at things.  So, this guy was able to tell Herc where the garden was.”

“We eat gold apples, Dad?”

“Not those,” Jack spoke.  “They weren't edible.  You'd lose all your teeth,” he chuckled.

“Ewwww.  Need teeth.”

“Yes, we do, but, anyway, those apples were made of gold,” the storyteller said.

“Herc'les get apples?”

“It took a while, and he had to travel far, through several countries, but eventually, he did.  There's some differing opinions on how he got them.  Some say he stole them by ... uh, sneaking past the snake that was guarding them, and others say he sort of tricked Atlas into getting them for him.”

“Atlas?  Book?”

“No,” Jack chuckled.  “Atlas holds the world on his shoulders.”

“Heavy,” the toddler said, grimacing as she feigned trying to hold a great big world on her shoulders.

~She's priceless,~ Jack chuckled.  “You got that right.  So, however he got them, Hercules brought the apples back to his master, and then, probably to protect his own skin from the wrath of Zeus, Eurystheus gave the apples to Hercules to keep.”

“Why?”

“Because it wasn't lawful to have the apples.  I think he thought Zeus would find out and punish Hercules.”

“Herc'les keep apples?”

Shaking his head, the father answered, “He gave them to Athena, and she returned them to the garden for safe keeping, or maybe she gave them to Atlas to return.  Again, different people think different things, but the apples were returned to their home.”

--

Downstairs, Jennifer had asked Daniel if she could attend a concert in the park the next day.  He had told her that he didn't have a problem with it, but to check with Jack in case he had plans and needed her home for some reason.  The pre-teen headed upstairs, and, like her brother, heard Jack telling Chenoa the tale of Hercules.  She found herself enthralled, and, smiling at David, sat down next to him, both still undetected by the retired Air Force general.

--

“What hap'ned Herc'les?”

“He was freed.  Once Hercules successfully finished his labors, the tasks he was assigned, he was a free man and had done his penance.”

“He go home?”

Jack tilted his head slightly and answered, “Well, he went to a lot of places and had a lot of adventures.  He rescued the princess of Troy from a hungry sea monster, and he helped Zeus save Olympus from a bunch of big bad giants”

“What's limpus?”

“Olympus.  It was the headquarters for the gods.  Zeus' big palace.  If you were a god, you lived in Olympus.”

At that point, Chenoa yawned and rubbed her eyes.  She turned and snuggled up against Jack.

“Princess, you ready for bed now?”  Just as the little girl nodded, Jack looked over and saw Jennifer and David.  “How long have you two been here?”

“A while.  You're a good storyteller, Dad,” Jennifer complimented.

“Left out a few things though,” David interjected.

“Yeah, well, Noa doesn't need to know all the finer points just yet,” Jack said as he carefully stood up, the toddler in his arms.  “She's asleep.”

“Dad, you aren't mad at us for listening and being ... here, are you?” Jennifer asked, knowing that the brood wasn't allowed on the roof deck without permission.

“I stayed right here, Dad,” David quickly interjected.  “It was ... well, it's not comfortable in the door, and I wanted to see the stars, too.”

Jack smiled and said, “We'll let it go this time.”

“Thanks, Dad,” the young boy said, happy not to be in trouble.  “I'm tired, so I'm going to bed early, okay?”

Jack nodded.  He put his daughter to bed and hugged David goodnight, as did Jennifer, and then the two walked down the stairs together.

“Dad, how long are you going to hedge on those finer points?” the girl asked curiously.

Jack took a breath and turned to face his daughter as he answered, “Jen, there's enough reality in this world to go around.  Noa isn't even three yet.  Old Herc can afford to be thought of as a simple hero and warrior until some of the reality hits her in the face.”

“I'm not complaining, Dad.  I kinda like your edited version better myself.  There's so much death and violence in mythology, not that it isn't interesting, but like you said, we see it on the news every night.”  Jennifer leaned forward and placed a kiss on Jack's cheek.  “Let Hercules be a hero for as long as you can, Dad, and I'll try to help with that, too.”

“Deal.”

“Oh, the reason I came upstairs.  There's a concert in the park tomorrow afternoon, and Daddy said I could go if you didn't need me for anything.”

“Jen, I always need you, but you can go.  Details?”

Jennifer smiled and proceeded to give Jack all the answers he needed about the upcoming event.

====

A few days later, Jack spread various black and white photos down onto the table and asked, “Daniel, what do these photos tell you?”

The photos had just arrived via courier, and the two owners of J-O Enterprises were meeting at the office so that they could leave the photos for Megan to work with the following day.  It was early evening, about 6 p.m., and Sara and Mark were babysitting the children since Jack and Daniel had some shopping to do.

“That if there is something there, it's probably here, near the cliffs.  It's a protector thing,” the experienced archaeologist answered.

“Protector thing?” Jack asked.

“Um, yeah, protection against the enemy.  The cliffs would have meant a means of protection for whoever lived there.”  Daniel saw Jack's understanding nod and continued, “Abayomi's hotel site can be built in any of this area,” he pointed to a large square on the biggest photograph, “but this spot right here is his first choice.”

“By the cliffs.”

“Yeah, so we need more information,” Daniel asserted.  “I'm going to have Megan order a sweep with a magnetometer.”

“That's the thing that measures ground density, right?”

“Exactly.  It will help us more accurately determine if there are building foundations and other structures.  Sometimes, the sweep will even show a path.” Daniel paused as he considered options and then expressed, “Jack, it's expensive, but I'd like to send one of our people to do this.”

“Which one?”

“James.  He's shown some expertise with this, and I'd rather keep as much as possible of what we do in the family, so to speak.”

“Okay, we'll send him,” the older man agreed.

“I have another idea, and this is extremely serious,” Daniel spoke, his face solemn.

“Okay, I'm braced.  Hit me with it.”

“Well,” Daniel said, facing his lover.

Jack was pleasantly surprised by a loving smile and then a passionate kiss that took his breath away.

“I love your ideas,” Jack said, grinning.

“I thought you might, Babe.”

Daniel proceeded to ravish his husband, their love as powerful and all-consuming as ever.  Shopping would wait for another day, or night.

====
-- Chapter Four:  The Return of Mr. Jealousy!
====

“Welcome home, Kayla,” Daniel greeted, reaching over to grab her bags.

“Thanks, Daniel.  How is everyone?”

“Growing like weeds.  You'll see them all at dinner later tonight, if you're up to it.”

“Dinner?”

“Please say you'll come.  The children have really missed you, and I think Jen could use some female counsel from someone who hasn't been around lately.”

As the two walked through the airport towards the exit, Kayla asked, “You mean Janet and Sam have already tried and failed?”

“And Sara, too,” Daniel admitted.  “We're hoping you'll be the one to have the golden words of wisdom.”

The young woman laughed again, then asked, “What's his name?”

“Which one?  Jack's about to blow a gasket.  She's too young to date, and she knows we won't let her, but she's really popular.”

“She's a beautiful girl; she has those blue eyes of yours.”

“Well, not mine.”

“Maybe not technically, but two of those three have blue eyes, Daniel, and David is a snarky little genius, like you,” Kayla pointed out.

“Snarky?  You've been talking to Jack again.”

“Well, it certainly hasn't been through email.  I think the last one he responded to was about two years ago.”

Daniel chuckled as they walked the broad crosswalk to the temporary parking lot where his 1999 Shelby-American was parked.  Seeing the small car, Kayla smiled.

“I love that little car.  I'm glad you brought it.”

“I love it, too,” Daniel said with a blush highlighting his fair face.

“You love the person it reminds you of,” the woman noted, smiling at her close friend as he put her luggage in the vehicle.

“Yeah, that's true,” the archaeologist responded.  Opening the door for Kayla, he said, “Great tan.”

“Thanks.  Two months in the sun does wonders for a woman's vanity,” Kayla laughed as she got in.  Just before Daniel closed the door, she added, “By the way, I'd love to come to dinner.  “What time?”

“We thought around six ... so you can see all the brood before they start bailing on us for the night.”

Once Daniel had gone around the car and sat down inside, Kayla replied, “Bailing?  Aren't they a little young to bail, Daniel?”

“Uh, sorry.  Hanging around Jack too much.  Jen will want to get on the phone or the internet; David has two different documentaries he's been wanting to watch, even though it's past his bedtime, but he's been pestering us nonstop about it; Noa and the babies?  They'll just fall asleep.”

“Wow.  Daniel, did you ever think you'd have eight children?”

“Not in a million years.  The only time I thought I might have a child was with Sha're, but it didn't happen, and looking back on it, that was a good thing.”

“Butting in here, but I'm curious.  Would she approve, or would she be shocked by your life now?” Kayla asked curiously.

“No, I think she knew,” Daniel spoke softly, pausing for a moment in reflection, before smiling and glancing at his passenger as he started the car and began to pull out of the parking space.

“Knew?  How?”

“I talked about Jack a lot the year I lived with Sha're.  It's funny to think back on it now.  I hadn't known him that long, but I guess the seed was planted the day we met.  So, when the mission was over, and Jack was gone, I felt this loss.  Sha're knew.  She always knew.”

“Did you two ever talk about Jack?  I mean, about how ... oh, I don't know what I mean,” Kayla said, shaking her head at the vague question.

“Well, it's like I said.  I talked a lot about home, wondering what Jack was doing.  He, uh, was at sort of a critical time in his life, and ...”

“Charlie,” Kayla stated, adding, “He told me once, very briefly, that losing Charlie almost killed him ... literally.  He didn't expand on it, Daniel, but I had the impression that he meant it ... literally.”

“Sha're knew I was thinking about him, about home.  There was this place where she lived, uh, where we lived, that had this room full of mysteries waiting to be discovered.  I didn't find it until after Jack had left, but once I did, I practically lived in there because ...”

“Because those mysteries reminded you of Jack?”

“Yeah, I think so.  I didn't realize it at the time, of course.  It wasn't until two years later that I realized the truth, and when I did, it hit me like a wildfire that couldn't be contained.  We told you about that, didn't we?  Short version, anyway.”

“Yes, you did.  It's very romantic, you being Jack's falling star.”

“He told you about that?”  Daniel glanced over at the birth mother of his babies, a look of surprise on his face.  If he weren't driving, he just knew he'd turn tomato red and shrivel up in embarrassment.  “I mean, we usually keep that kind of stuff ... private.”

“I think you'd be surprised, Daniel.  Jack Jackson-O'Neill is one very much in love man.  I exaggerated about those emails.  He's not a frequent writer, but he keeps up -- eventually, and when he starts talking about you, well, he's proud, Daniel.  He's proud of you, your love, your family.  He told me once that as much as he loved the military, it was harder than anyone knew to exist for years living a lie.  You know, um, he said even you don't really realize.”

“That's crazy,” Daniel responded.  “Of course, I know.  We talked about it a lot.”

“You talked a lot about when to retire.  I know he stayed in for you.  He never let on, did he, just how much he wanted out because of his desire to be with you?”

Daniel pulled off the road for a moment and looked at Kayla.  He shook his head.

“It's true he stayed for me.  We had ... things we needed to accomplish, but Jack wanted those things, too.”

“Sure, he did, but more than anything else, he wanted you.  Jack said you were a man on a journey, and that journey might never end.  It was a quest to make a difference in the world.”

“Oh, gawd, he's right.  I always wanted to contribute, to do something wonderful.  For a long time, I didn't believe I had, not ever.”

“And now?”

“And now I know better, because of Jack.  I guess ... gawd, I always knew he wanted out, but, maybe I never truly realized just how hard it was on him to stay in.”

“It wasn't hard, Daniel.  I mean it was, but it wasn't.”  Kayla noticed Daniel's face scrunching, trying to figure out her words.  “What I mean is that it was hard, yes, to continue the lie, but every day you two went to work, every time there was a new ... quest,” she smiled as she spoke, “he knew you were happy, following your journey.  The one thing I don't think you really understand is that making you happy makes Jack happy.”

Daniel let out a small snorting laugh and replied, “Sara said something like that to me once.”

“Accept it, Daniel.  You're *it* for Jack, as he so happily and simply puts it.  He lights up when he talks about you, even in an email.  You're his falling star, and keeping you shining brightly is all he lives for.”

“Gawd, I love him,” Daniel expressed, looking out his side view mirror as he prepared to reenter traffic.

“It's definitely mutual.”  Kayla smiled and then took a deep breath, exhaling loudly.  She let out a tiny laugh and said, “You know, Daniel, someday, I think I'd like to be someone's falling star.”

“Kayla, that's the first time I've heard you say anything like that.”

“You and Jack -- you two are inspiring me.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm still a free spirit, but lately, I've wondered if it wouldn't be cool to have a Mister Free Spirit to roam the world with.”

“I hope you find him.”

“Me, too.  By the way, six is good for dinner,” Kayla belatedly agreed.

“Good,” Daniel replied.  “So, how was your Christmas?  We missed having you here.”

“I'll be honest, Daniel.  I almost got on a plane and flew home to be here, but ...” Kayla began.

“You should have.”

“No, not yet; maybe next year, but I think it's really important for you and Jack to establish your holiday traditions with the babies without me,” Kayla spoke with an understanding that touched Daniel's heart.

“You're family.”

“You know something, Daniel?  I believe you, and for that, I am sincerely grateful.  Now, let me tell you about this really neat little adventure I had.  You know me, always looking for a story; well ...”

Daniel was happy Kayla was home.  The family had missed her, but he was glad she had had such an enjoyable trip, and found new adventures to write about.

====

“This was a fun evening.  Kayla looked great.  Love that tan,” Jack said as he undressed.

“Mmm-hmm,” Daniel said from his spot on their bed, already in his pajama bottoms, but not wearing a top.

“Checked on the Munchkins and the twins ... all sound asleep; monitors are on,” the older man noted as he put on his pajamas.

“Mmm-hmm,” Daniel replied, his eyes focused on Jack.

“Did a Mouseketeer check, too; even Jen is asleep.  I think it must have been all that boy-watching she did at that basketball game this afternoon,” Jack said as he sat down on the bed.

“Mmm-hmm,” Daniel responded.

Jack turned his body to look at his husband and spoke, “Danny, you haven't said anything but 'mmm-hmm' in over thirty minutes.  Don't you have anything else to say?”

“Mmm-hmm,” Daniel said with a grin, suddenly pulling Jack down to him and engulfing him with his body.

Jack didn't know if Daniel ever said anything else because a minute later, he was totally lost in his lover as Daniel ravished him to satiation. He would have made a note to ask his husband about the sudden attack, but his brain cells weren't working enough for him to remember, so he stopped thinking about it and chose to go with the flow of their bodies as they made love.

====

“Abayomi wants to meet and discuss the project in more detail,” Daniel informed his lover as the two stood in the nursery a few days later.

“When?” Jack questioned as he bounced Ricky in his arms.

Daniel put Jenny down for her nap and answered softly, “This weekend.”

“We'll have pizza,” Jack joked as he walked closer and prepared to lay Ricky down next to his twin.

“Jack, he's going to be in New York City for the weekend.  He wants us to meet him there.”

“Danny, we can't do that on such short notice.  I mean, I know Carter and Sara have been extremely understanding, but ...”

“Well, I think maybe just one of us ...”

“Just one, and, of course, that's not me,” Jack said, practically sulking.

“I don't want to go without you, but it's the only way,” Daniel said, looking down at the babies and smiling at them as they both began to settle into sleep.

“Sure.”

“Jack.”

“No, Danny,” Jack responded, sighing and knowing this would be a reality he'd have to come to terms with and fast.  “I may not like it, but I know this kind of thing is going to happen from time to time.  We're business owners, and that's going to require both of us making trips from time to time.  I'm okay with it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Jack responded as the couple walked out of the nursery.

It was the truth.  Jack didn't like the idea of the lovers being separated for any reason, but he did understand the need, and he truly wanted their company to be a success, because it was *their* company.

Daniel paused about halfway down the steps, just watching his soulmate.

Realizing he was now walking alone, Jack stopped, turned around, and asked, “What?”

Walking the five more steps it took to reach his husband, Daniel spoke, “I love you more than I can ever say.”

“I love you, too, Angel,” Jack said just before the two shared a kiss and then continued on with their day.

====

“I am so excited!  Mister Corning, the publisher, loves the manuscript I submitted.  He wants me to do one more draft and have it edited, so I need to work on that, but he says it has great potential,” Kayla reported excitedly the next evening as she visited with the family for a while.

“We're so happy for you, Kayla,” Daniel said as he poured some champagne in her glass.

“So when do we get to read this novel?  You've been putting us off from the beginning,” Jack asked, smiling as his lover poured some of the bubbly into his glass.

“To Kayla and the success of her best-selling novel,” the archaeologist toasted.

After letting let their glasses touch together, the three each took a sip of their drink.

“The novel which we *still* haven't read,” Jack whined.

Kayla grinned, took another small sip of her drink, and answered, “Very soon, Jack.  You and Daniel will be the first two to read it once I have it edited.  You know,” she paused as she sat down in the general's favorite chair in the living room, “I realize I've said this before, but I have learned so much from this experience.”

“Writing can be very spiritual,” Daniel offered, sitting down on the sofa.

“Yes, but what I learned is so much more than that.  I can't thank you guys enough for making my dream come true, and this book, it is absolutely everything I wanted it to be.  I know it's an overused phrase, but this *is* my great American novel, and I could not have done it without the both of you.”

“We didn't do anything,” Daniel said shyly.

Kayla looked over at the twins, who were in the downstairs crib and smiled, saying, “Yes, you did -- much more than you know.  Now, where are the Munchkins?”

====

After a visit with the children, Kayla was saying her good-byes to Jack and Daniel as the stood outside by her car.

**Jack?**

**It's a great idea, Love,** Jack agreed.

“Kayla,” Daniel began, having gotten the agreement of his lover.  “I was wondering.”

“*We* were wondering,” Jack interjected with a smile.

“We,” Daniel acknowledged.  “There's a chance; it's not definite.  We have to see what happens with the watching brief, but if we do, we'll, I mean all of us, will be going to Egypt for a couple of months in the summer.  Sam and Teal'c are coming along to watch the children while Jack and I work.  Would you like to join us?  You wouldn't have to stay the whole time, but I think you'd really enjoy it.”

“Wow!  I've always been fascinated by that part of the world.  This is work?” Kayla asked.

“Well, it will be if the brief shows what we think it will,” Jack confirmed.  “We won't know for a while.”

“You wouldn't have to baby-sit or anything ...” Daniel stated.

“Oh, no you don't.  I love those little ones of yours, all of them!  I would love to go and help Sam and Teal'c take care of them while you guys do your thing.  Thank you so much for asking me.”  Kayla hugged her friends again and said, “I have to say this.  I really do love you two, and your children, and I feel very blessed to be a part of your extended family.”

“Kayla, we love you, too.  Our dreams couldn't have come true without you,” Daniel replied sincerely.

“You're a peach, Kayla!” Jack exclaimed happily.  More seriously, he added, “You've changed our lives in ways you can't imagine.  Daniel's the linguist, but I think he'd agree that the words don't exist to say what we feel in our hearts.”

Jack and Daniel saw the mistiness in Kayla's eyes, so they pulled her in for another group hug.

“You're family, Kayla, and you always will be,” Daniel stated firmly.

“Thank you,” Kayla replied emotionally.  She chuckled, “I always wanted to be all ripe and juicy like a peach.”  She used a tissue to wipe her eyes and then spoke from her heart.  “That means a lot to me, that you both feel that way.  You've made my dreams come true, too, made me feel something about life I never thought I would.  Thank you.”  Smiling, she sighed, “I'd better go.  Goodnight you two,” she said, getting into her car.  Seeing the couple linger, she laughed, “Go on.  You'd better get back to those little ones.  Who knows what they're doing while you're out here.”

“Could be scary,” Jack laughed in agreement.  “Goodnight.”

“Take care, Kayla.  I'll call you tomorrow.”

Jack and Daniel took a step back and watched as Kayla turned on the engine.

Kayla waved the two on as she settled inside her vehicle, buckling her seatbelt and making a routine check out of her rearview mirror.  Then, the young woman turned on the radio and smiled when she heard Celine Dion's “Because You Loved Me” playing.  She had heard the stories about Jack's and Daniel's first wedding, and she'd been at their second wedding when Celine sang it for them in person.

Smiling and still misty-eyed, Kayla watched Jack and Daniel walk back to their house.  The two were arm in arm, laughing.  She saw Jack turn just as they reached the steps and pull Daniel to him, and then kiss his husband.  She saw Daniel's arms caressing his spouse's back and then cup his face for yet another kiss.  She watched as they laughed some more and then walked into their house.

“You two are very special ... very special,” Kayla said as she put the car in 'drive' and headed for home, ready for a good night's sleep.

====

“When Daddy home?” Chenoa asked as she fidgeted in the chair she was sitting in while she watched her father cooking.

“In two days, Noa,” Jack answered.

“Where Daddy go?” Chenoa questioned.

“New York City.”

“Where's Nu 'Ork Ity?” the girl asked anxiously.

“New York City, and it's on the other side of the country; far away.  Here, I'll show you.”  Jack wiped his hands and walked into the living room, where he pulled out an Atlas from one of the bookshelves and thumbed through it until he found the appropriate page.  Sitting down on the edge of the sofa, he motioned for Chenoa to come closer to him.  “See, it's way over here,” he said, pointing to the metropolitan city on the map.  Suddenly, he noticed the toddler was frowning.  “Hey,” Jack said as he pulled his daughter in for a hug.  “It's not really that far, and he'll be back before you know it.”

“No, now,” the little girl said sadly, pulling away from her father and then walking up the stairs to her room as if she were marching to her death.

Jack sighed.  He missed Daniel, too, and he'd only been gone twelve hours.

“Dad, why did Daddy leave us?”

“He didn't leave us, David.  He went on a business trip.  Daddy and I own our own business, and that means that sometimes we have to take short trips.  It will never be more than a few days at a time though.”

“But I wanted him to help me with my Arabic,” the boy complained.

“I could give it a shot.  I do know the language a little, though not as well as Daddy,” Jack offered.

“No, that's okay,” David responded, letting out a huge sigh as he walked over to the sofa and plopped down.

“I've got an idea,” Jack spoke enthusiastically.  “How about we find a game on TV.  We could fix some snacks and watch it together.”

“No, thank you,” David answered politely, letting out an even bigger sigh.

“Just like your daddy,” Jack whined, though he refused to give up in his quest to make the boy feel better.  “How about a documentary on the Discovery Channel?”

For a moment, Jack thought that would work, but then David sank down further against the cushion, saying, “No, thank you.  Daddy's not here to answer my questions, and I always have questions.  I think I'll just go to my room.”

Jack watched sadly as David also did the 'death march' up the stairs.  Letting out a groan, he looked around, trying to think of something he could do for the unhappy children.  Unable to think of anything right then, he returned to the kitchen to finish the cake he was baking.

“Dad?  I really need to talk to Daddy.”

~Another country heard from,~ Jack sighed internally.  “Come on, Jen.  He's only been gone for half a day, for crying out loud.”

“I know, but I miss him.  He's never been gone before ... I mean, by himself, and I really do need to talk to him.  It's very important, Dad.”

“Can't I help?”  Jennifer's silence answered that question, and Jack sighed disappointedly in response.  ~They always want the parent that's not around.~  “Life or death?”

“Kinda.”

“He'll probably call tonight, and I'll make sure you get some phone time with him, okay?”

“But Dad ...”

“Jen, give me a break here,” Jack requested.  “Why don't you clean up the nursery for me?”

“Sweet,” the pre-teen said as she turned and walked away.

Jack didn't know if he should be flattered at her use of one of his trademark words or insulted.  What he did know is that their Mouseketeers were definitely unhappy campers.

~Who needs an electric beater?~ Jack thought, putting down the appliance and taking out his frustration on the cake batter, mixing it by hand with great intensity.

====

Three hours later, the eldest children were still moping around the house.  Jack had the triplets downstairs in their playpen, though it was more of a large squared off play area than an actual playpen.  Bijou and Katie were inside with the babies, playing.

All of a sudden, Jonny began to cry and then Little Danny broke into sobs.  Mere seconds later, the smallest of the triplets, Aislinn, broke into tears.

“Oh, come on, Munchkins.  He'll be back!” Jack assured.  Still, the babies cried ... and cried ... and cried.  “I don't believe this.”  ~At least the twins are asleep upstairs.~  With the cries continuing, the retired general gave in, walking over to the phone, mumbling every step of the way.  “That man is never leaving this house again.  I swear, if I have to ... Daniel Jackson-O'Neill's room, please.”

The next thing Jack heard was laughter, lots of it, and from his lover.  Then he heard words in Arabic, but the only thing he could pick out was “Very handsome, Yazid.”

“Very handsome, my foot.  DANIEL, PAY ATTENTION TO THE DANG PHONE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!”

“Jack?”

“Well, who did you think it would be?  Besides, don't you say hello anymore when you answer the phone?” the older man questioned angrily.

“Oh, sorry, actually I was just picking it up to order room service,” Daniel explained.

“Room service?”

“Yeah, it's been a long day so I thought Yazid and I ...”

“Yazid?” Jack asked.  “Who in Netu is Yazzzzzzeeeeeed?”

“Jack, calm down.  He's Yazid Awad, Abayomi's executive assistant,” Daniel answered.  Hearing some sobs in the background, the concerned archaeologist asked, “Jack, why are the Munchkins crying?”

“They're doing their vocal exercises,” Jack snarked.  In a near growl, he added, “Why do you think they're crying?  They *miss* you, and they won't stop crying.”

“Maybe they're just ...”

“Daniel, they've eaten, bathed, eaten, slept, and all the things they normally do.  They miss their daddy.  Now *talk* to them, blast it!”  Jack cursed as he walked over to the babies, not caring whether Daniel heard him or not.  “Here's Jonny.”

“Jonny, how's Daddy's big boy?  I miss you.”  Jonny's sobs turned to sniffles as he heard his younger father's voice.  “Now remember, you have to take good care of Little Danny and Ash.  You know how Little Danny gets.  He needs you to be strong for him.  I'll be home soon.  I love you, Jonny.”

With Jonny's sniffles all but gone, Jack moved the phone over to Daniel's namesake and said, “Here's Danny.”

“Hi, Danny.  Are you having a tough night?  It's okay.  I promise, it's okay.  I'll bet Jonny's crying upset you, but he just got a little frightened.  It happens sometimes, but he'll always take care of you, and you need to take care of your little sister.  She looks up to you.  Love you so much, Little Danny.”

Little Danny's tears stopped as he rolled over into Jonny slightly.

Jack moved towards Aislinn, saying, “Here's Ash.”

“Hi, Sweetie.  Are you feeling better tonight?  I wish I could be there to hold you and make sure you're feeling better, but Dad will do that for me, okay?  You keep your brothers in line.  I miss you, Ash, and I love you loads and loads,” Daniel spoke soothingly.

Aislinn scooted over to be closer to her brothers, her tears now silenced.

“Geez, look at the little things, quiet as church mice all of sudden,” Jack laughed.

“What?” Daniel asked.

Shaking his head at what he was seeing, Jack elaborated, “They're sitting down, playing contently as if nothing ever happened.”

“Woof!” came a stern bark.

“Oops.  Hold on for the girls,” the amazed man instructed.

Daniel chuckled until he heard the next bark.

“Woof!  Woof!  Woof!”

“Katie, did you find your pull toy?  You make Jack go outside and find it for you.  After all, he's the one who wasn't paying attention when he tossed it who knows where.  Don't let him off the hook!” Daniel spoke sternly.

“Not fair, Daniel!” Jack called out.

The young man heard the shout and smiled as he continued, “Love you Katie.  Is Bij there?”

“Woooof!”

“Hi, Girl!  I wish you could have come with me,” Daniel opined, meaning every word.

“Woof!  Woooooof!”

The archaeologist cocked his and said, “Okay, we'll talk about it.  Maybe next time.”

“Dad, is that Daddy?” Jennifer asked anxiously as she entered the living room.

“Danny, the rest of the brood just bounded down...”

“Daddy, I needed to talk to you,” Jennifer said urgently, grabbing the phone from Jack.

“...stairs,” Jack said.  ~I was talking to my husband ... wasn't I?~ Jack thought, stared at his empty hand that had been holding the phone and then back over at his oldest daughter.  ~I could swear I had the phone right in the palm of my hand,~ he thought, though he was beginning to wonder.  Jennifer's quick action had taken him quite by surprise.  ~I need an aspirin.~

“What's wrong, Jen?” Daniel asked over the phone.

“It's important, Daddy.  I asked Dad to call, but he wouldn't,” the pre-teen tattled.

“He couldn't have reached me until just now, Jen.  What's wrong?” Daniel questioned.

“It's just ... when you left, I forgot to tell you something,” Jennifer stated, looking down at the carpet and swaying a bit as she stood.

“Do you want to tell me now?”

“Yes.”

“Okay,” Daniel replied expectantly.  After a long pause, he called out, “Jen?”

“I love you, Daddy.  I wish you'd come home soon; that's all.”

“Jen, I ...”

“Danny, it's me.  She just ran upstairs,” the older man reported.  “Didn't you say goodbye to her before you left?”

“Of course, I did, but she was ... Jack, remember it got a bit crazy.”

“Next time we take precautions.  I didn't realize that's why she was upset.  She wouldn't tell me,” Jack informed.

“I'll talk to her when I get home.”

“Here's David,” Jack said.  ~Geez, I sound like Ed McMahon on 'The Tonight Show' -- here'ssssssssssssssssss ...~  He stopped his thought, sighing, ~I miss him, too.~

David hastily took the phone and began rattling off Arabic words so fast that Jack had no way of keeping up, but a minute later, the young scholar was all smiles as he handed the phone to Chenoa.

Jack heard the one-sided conversation and knew Daniel's heart was both breaking and swelling.

“Miss you, Daddy ... Home now ... No, now, Daddy ... <sniffles> ... Don't want T, want you ... home, Daddy, please ... <sob> ... Love T, want you,” Chenoa sniffled, visibly shaking.  “Pleeeeeease hoooommmme,” she cried, dropping the cordless phone, unable to hold back a full-scale crying attack.

David hugged his sister and began to murmur reassurances to her, while Jack took the phone and headed upstairs, not saying anything as he hurried away from his very upset daughter.

“Jack?” Daniel called out, desperate to know what was happening.

“Sorry, I wanted to get out of the room.  Noa's been like that all day, but it'll be okay.  Kids are like that.  They miss you.  So do I, by the way.  And the twins do, too, but they're too busy eating, sleeping and ...”

“I know the routine, Jack.”

“I love you, Danny.”

“I love you, too.  I'll call you later.  Go check on Noa, okay?” Daniel urged, not wanting the little toddler to be so upset.

“She's probably happily playing with her dolls by now.  You stay focused,” Jack encouraged.  “I've got things covered here.”

“Right.”

“Bye, Angel.”

“Bye.”

====

Much to Jack's dismay, when he returned to the children, Chenoa wasn't happily playing with her dolls.  Instead, both she and David were curled up on the couch together, just staring into space.

“Are you two okay?”

“We're fine, Dad,” David replied.

Chenoa's only reply was another sniffle.

~Sure, you are, David.  You're as fine as Danny used to be when he used that line.~  Jack picked up his daughter and said, “Come on, Pumpkin.  Bedtime for you.”  ~And hopefully you'll feel better in the morning.~

====

Jack tossed and turned in his large bed, unable to sleep alone comfortably.  He missed his human blanket more than he could express.

“Oh for crying out loud.  Danny!  Geez, I'm a grown man.  I should be able to sleep without you for a couple of nights.”  Jack snorted, “Yeah, right.”  With a sigh, he spoke softly.  “You're part of me.  I need you.”  Turning to his side and banging his pillow, he thought, ~Okay, O'Neill.  Suck it up.  If he can sleep tonight, then so can I.~

====

An hour later, however, Jack was still restless.  He groaned and again exclaimed, “Dannnny!”

Jack decided to give up on sleeping, so he sat up and pulled out a book to read.  He had barely opened it when he heard a tiny knock on his door.  He looked at the clock, prepared to read the riot act, if necessary, to the Mouseketeer who was still up in the middle of the night.

“Come in.”

“Dad,” the little girl sniffled, looking even smaller than she actually was against the door of the master bedroom.

The riot act was immediately forgotten as Jack patted the side of the bed and invited, “Come here, Sweetheart.”

Chenoa climbed up onto her father's lap and cried, “I miss ... <sniffle> ... Da...<sniffle>dddyyyyyy.”

“He'll be home soon,” Jack reassured as he held the upset girl close to him.

“Want Daddy,” Chenoa cried.

“Dad, can I ... oh, Noa?”

“She's fine, David.  Come on in, and pick out a spot.”

“It's okay, Noa,” David said calmly as he climbed onto the bed and settled close to Jack and Chenoa.  He rubbed her arm, promising, “Daddy will be home real soon.”

“Want ... <sniffle> ... Da...Da...ddyyyyy ... <sniffle> ... now.”

Jack took a deep breath as he tried to soothe the young girl.

“Dad?  Oh ... since they're here, can I ...” Jennifer began as she walked through the doorway.

“Sure, Jen.  Find a spot.”

“You probably think I'm being juvenile,” the twelve-year-old girl said as she, too, found a good spot.  She leaned over to rub her sister's back and said softly, “It'll be okay, Noa.”  Looking up at their father, she stated, “I don't mean to be a child, and I don't want you to think that ...”

“Not at all, Jen.”

“It's just ... that's what happened ...”

As Jennifer trailed off and looked away for a moment, Jack's internal alarms began to blare.  If his arms weren't full of children, he would have thumped himself on the head for not realizing earlier that there had to be a connection between Daniel's trip and something in the Mouseketeer's past.

“Jen?” Jack prodded.

“Did Mrs. O'Hanlon tell you what happened to our parents, I mean, our birth parents?”

“Just that they had died a couple of months before we met you guys,” Jack answered reverently.

Taking a breath for encouragement, the pre-teen explained, “Mommy hadn't been feeling very well for a long time.  I think she was sick, but they never told me anything for sure.  Then she got better, and Daddy surprised her with a trip to New York City.  She'd always wanted to go there.  I told them goodbye, but I forgot to say that I ... I loved them.”

Jack saw the tears falling, and he reached for some Kleenex to hand to Jennifer, managing to do so without disturbing Chenoa much.  The toddler was still sniffling in his ear as he held her close.

“There was a car accident on a freeway -- one of those chain reaction things like you see on the news.  A semi-truck jack-knifed, and their rental car was stuck in the middle of several others.  We never saw them again, except at the funeral.  I think maybe Noa remembers the name ...” Jennifer mouthed 'New York City' then resumed a normal voice, “somehow.  I know she knows where it is; Mommy showed her on the map.”

Jack wanted to vanish into the woodwork.  He felt horrible, even though he knew it was an innocent and unavoidable faux pas on his part.

~New York City -- when I showed her the map in the Atlas.~  Jack sighed, remembering how Chenoa had seemed to deflate all of a sudden when he'd pointed out where Daniel had gone.  ~I'm so friggin' stupid.~

“Dad?” Jennifer asked, concerned at Jack's pained expression.

“Earlier, I took out the atlas and showed Noa where NYC is,” Jack explained.  Shaking his head, he groaned, “I shouldn't have done that.”

Sympathically, Jennifer comforted, “You couldn't have known, Dad.  Besides, who knew she'd remember.  She wasn't even two then.”

Jack smiled at his daughter and nodded as he said a soft, “Thank you.”  Then he placed a kiss on Chenoa's forehead, assuring, “Daddy's okay, Noa.”

“Want Daddy hoooooome,” the toddler wailed, unable to be calmed by words.

Jack went through an internal battle.  He knew what he'd want Daniel to do if the situation were reversed and he'd been the one out of town.  He smiled softly, certain his husband would shoot him if he didn't follow through and tell him the situation.  If they lost the deal for their company, they'd find another one.  Their children came first.

“We weren't like this when you've been gone before.  It's just ... NYC,” the girl said, continuing to use the city's acronym to try and keep Chenoa from getting more upset.

“Danny isn't very fond of NYC either.”  Jack picked up the phone from the nightstand and dialed.  Once connected to the correct room, he heard the phone ring five times.  “I can't believe he's asleep.”  A couple more rings later, Jack heard a gasp, as if the person was out of breath.  Then, he heard laughter, “... that was great, Yazid.  Never felt like that before.”

“FELT LIKE WHAT BEFORE?”  Jack saw the startled looks on his kids' faces.  “Sorry ... ignore that,” he whispered.

“Jack?”

“Will you *please* answer the phone next time?  And what exactly are you doing that has you out of breath at ... at ... geez, Danny, 2 a.m. in the morning?”

“Jack, calm down.”

“Daniel, just answer the question.”

“Yazid is a chiropractor.  He ...” the archaeologist began.

“EXCUSE ME? Daniel, don't say another word.”  Jack gently scooted Chenoa off of him, stood up, and looked at the children on his bed.  “Everything's okay.  Stay there.  I'll be right back.”  He walked into the hallway and talked in a quiet yet annoyed voice, saying, “Daniel, it's two in the friggin' morning, and you have some stranger in your hotel room doing what?”

“Jack, you're going to blow a fuse.  Just ...”

“I don't want to *just*,” Jack argued.  “I called because your children need you.  I guess we're lucky you had time to answer the friggin' phone!”

“Jack, what's wrong?”

“What's wrong, Daniel, is that you have a strange man in your room at 2 A.M. IN THE FRIGGIN' MORNING.  THAT'S what's wrong.”

“Jack, will you stop?  Count to ten,” Daniel ordered, becoming increasingly more agitated as the conversation progressed.

“I DON'T WANT TO COUNT TO TEN.  I WANT YOU TO COME HOME ... NOW!  AND NO, NOT FOR ME, FOR THE,” Jack closed his eyes for a moment, calming himself as he didn't want to be overheard, “... for our children. I'll explain when you get here ... just get here!”

“Why?  What's the matter with them?  Jack, I have meetings ...”

“Your children need you, Daniel, but if you don't care about that then forget it!” Jack barked, his hostility evident by the tone of his voice.

“Jack ... Jack ...”

Daniel sighed when he heard nothing but a dial tone.

Caught up in his anger, Jack began stomping back to the bedroom and then sighed, shaking his head.

~Daniel was right; I should have counted to ten.  I hate it when I overreact.~

Dialing again, Jack was again connected to Daniel's room, and this time, the younger man did answer the phone with a very subdued, “Hello.”

“Danny, I'm sorry.  I ... I'm sorry, but I meant what I said about the kids,” Jack said, his sincerity immediately reaching his lover's soul.

“What's wrong?”

“Noa is crying her eyes out, but there's a reason, and it's something we should have been told.  Maybe we were and we forgot, but I don't remember,” Jack said before explaining the situation in detail.

“Gawd, Jack.”

“Yeah.  Are you ...”

“Oh, yeah.  I'll call you soon,” Daniel stated.

“Okay.  Danny?”

“Yes?”

“I love you.”

~What's a man going to do?~ Daniel thought as he smiled.  Jack would never change, but he'd keep hoping.  “I love you, too, but we *are* going to have a discussion about this, Jack.”

“That's okay.”

“It is?” Daniel questioned in surprise.

“When we're discussing it, you'll be here where you belong.”

Daniel smiled again, not really sure he wanted his spouse to change, and then teased, “You're so incorrigible, Jack.  Let me make the calls.”

“Call Davis.  Commercial flights won't leave for hours.  See if you can pull some strings.”

Daniel didn't like calling in favors for personal use too often, but he decided this was an appropriate time to make an exception.  After all, their children came first in everything.  He smiled, too, knowing how his lover felt about Paul Davis, even now that he knew Paul was involved with Colonel Marc Reynolds.  The fact that his lover would put aside his feelings for the welfare of their children meant the world to the archaeologist.

“Okay, I'll do that.  Love you.”

====

“Yazid, I apologize, but we'll have to postpone the rest of the meetings.  I have to go home,” Daniel spoke as soon as he hung up the phone in his hotel room.

“Is something wrong, Daniel?  We have very important meetings scheduled.  Abayomi does not like those who change their plans,” Yazid responded.

“I know.  Look, tell Abayomi we can meet in a couple of weeks, but it can't be in New York.  Um ... I'm sorry, I need to make this phone call.”

“Do you want me to leave, my friend?”

Yazid saw that Daniel was visibly shaken, so he was sure whatever was happening was important.  Still, while his employer was understanding, he did have a few pet peeves, one of which was unexpected schedule changes.  He'd ceased doing business with numerous companies over the years because of CEOs or their subordinates who were constantly rearranging their plans.

“No, hold on a second.”  Daniel dialed Major Paul Davis' townhouse located just outside of Washington D.C.  “Paul, it's Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.”

“Daniel, what ... what time is it?”

“Um, almost two-thirty in the morning,” Daniel answered apologetically.

“Where's the Goa'uld?”

“Good one,” Daniel said, smiling and even chuckling for a split second at the response.  After all, why else would Daniel be phoning him?  “No, it's not that.  Paul, did you know Jack and I adopted three more children recently?”

“I heard rumors.  It's true?”

“Yeah, and the problem is, one of them is just a little girl.  Paul, I'm in New York on business for J-O, but I came here not realizing that their birth parents were killed here, and our littlest, well, she's having a really hard time.  Paul, I need a favor.”

“Transport?” the major questioned as he sat up in his bed, turning on the light and reaching for a notepad.

“I know it's not exactly high priority for the Air Force, but ...”

“Little girl, eh?”

“Yeah, her name is Chenoa.  She's been crying all day, afraid I won't come home.  Paul, I'd consider it a personal favor if you could get me on something, anything, headed for the Springs.”

“Let me check and see what's out there.  Give me your number.”

After giving Paul the information about where he was staying, Daniel hung up and returned to his conversation with Yazid, asking, “Did you hear what I told Paul?”

“I did, my friend.”

“Yazid, this deal means a lot.  It could make J-O Enterprises a success for years to come.  I love what I do.  I ... gawd, I miss being there, on the spot, on a dig, and that's another reason why I've worked so hard to make sure we had the very best bid we could.  I, we, want this job.”

“But?”

“But not at the expense of my daughter,” Daniel sighed.  “I do apologize, but I have to go.  If Abayomi thinks that changing my plans because of my little girl isn't a good enough reason, then I'm sorry.  He'll have to get another company, and, uh, like I said, I can't come back here.  I know Abayomi likes to conduct business here, but I can't, I won't come back.  I'm sorry.  We'll, uh, even reimburse Passion for the time you've ... wasted on us.  I think ...”

The phone rang, interrupting the archaeologist.  He quickly reached for the phone and answered it.

“Daniel, it's Paul.”

“Any luck?”

“Transport is leaving in one hour for the Springs.  I've arranged for a car to pick you up in fifteen minutes.  Is that too early?” the major questioned.

“Gawd, no.  I'll be waiting.”  Daniel paused.  What were the odds on a transport being scheduled to leave at 3:30 a.m.?  With gratitude, he said, “Paul, whatever you did to arrange this, thank you.”

“Can't disappoint a little girl.  Good luck, Daniel.”

“Thanks.”

Daniel hung up and made a quick call to the front desk, explaining that he was checking out immediately.  Then, he began to pack, only as he did, Yazid noticed he hadn't really unpacked much.

“You have a strange way of unpacking, Daniel,” the Arab commented.

“Yeah, well, I guess if I didn't unpack, it made it seem like I wasn't really gone.”

As the new friends talked, Daniel packed up his laptop, briefcase, and the few clothes he had taken out of his suitcase.

Yazid sat on a chair and continued to watch, observing, “You do not like being away from your family.”

“No, I don't, but business doesn't always happen in Colorado Springs.”

“I will speak with Abayomi.  I think he will understand this,” Yazid spoke with a tiny nod.

“I hope so.  We really want this dig, Yazid.”

“You are a hard worker, Daniel.  Since arriving here, you have done nothing but work on the project.”

With a bit of a chuckle, Daniel admitted, “I've always been a workaholic.  At least, that's what Jack says.”

“But I've sensed there was more to it.”

Daniel hesitated, but then decided he might as well speak the truth and confided, “You're right.  You see, in the past, my work was my life.  Not sleeping, even not eating, was normal for me because I'd get so wrapped up in what I was doing that I would literally forget.  I didn't care.  What mattered was the research or the translation I had my hands on.  Then, I met Jack, and life changed.  It took a long time, but now, while I still have those workaholic tendencies, my life isn't my work.  Work is one piece of it, but my family -- that's my life.  Jack, our children, our home in Colorado Springs -- that's my life, Yazid.”

Daniel locked his suitcase and walked around the hotel room, conducting a final check to make sure he wasn't leaving anything behind.

“I guess it sounds a little like being tied down, or maybe you or others think it's ... not masculine, but when I got here and knew that with the schedule as hectic as it was today that I wouldn't even have a minute to call and talk to them, well ... I threw myself into the work.  It's what I'm here for, to get the job done, and the sooner I accomplished that, the sooner I could get home.”

“And that is why you suggested we continue to work late,” Yazid replied.

“Yes.  I knew I wouldn't sleep.  I'd be listening to baby monitors that aren't here or for barking dogs that are on the other side of the country, or ... maybe mostly for that grizzly bear I'm married to.”  Daniel looked down for a moment, then sighed, “I don't care what anyone thinks or what term they use to describe it, but I have no desire to spend a single hour away from my home.  Maybe it's because it took me so long to find it, but now that I have, gawd ... it just hurts to leave it.”

For the next few minutes, Daniel chatted about his home and his family, telling Yazid more about the Mouseketeers, and especially Chenoa.  Then they left the hotel room, entering the hallway.

“Jack thinks she's a princess,” Daniel said with a smile as they headed for the elevator.

“And you, my friend?”

“I *know* she's a princess.”

The two men laughed.  In the lobby, Daniel finished checking out and walked to the lobby door in perfect time to see the blue Air Force vehicle pull up, an airman quickly exiting the driver's side.

“Doctor Jackson-O'Neill?”

“Yes,” Daniel answered, happy to hear the hyphenated name.

“This way, Sir,” the airman said, taking his bags and putting them in the car.

“One moment, please.”  Daniel turned to Yazid and extended his hand.  He spoke firmly, “Thank you again for this opportunity.  I'm sorry about this, but ...”

“You have already explained, my friend.  Do not worry.”

“Goodbye,” Daniel said and then he climbed into the car to begin his trip back home.

====

Jack did his best to calm the Mouseketeers as the night progressed.  Chenoa cried herself to sleep while David clung to Jack's left leg.  Jennifer lay with her head next to David's back trying to make him feel secure.

Daniel had called from the car after leaving the hotel to let his husband know that he had secured a flight, but Jack decided not to tell the kids he was coming home just in case there were delays.

It was 7:20 a.m. when Daniel walked through the front door.  All the babies were downstairs in the crib and playpen, and David was sitting quietly reading a book with Jennifer sitting next to him.  The girl had her arm protectively around her brother.  When they didn't notice him walk in, Daniel knew they were still caught up in the tragic memories of their past.

Just as Daniel looked towards the kitchen, he saw his husband entering the living room while holding Chenoa firmly in his arms.  Jack's and Daniel's eyes met, speaking of a love stronger than anything else in the universe.  They both gave soft, closed smiles to the other, another acknowledgement of their love.  Then Daniel focused on Chenoa and heard her sniffling, even though her face was buried in Jack's neck.

“Noa,” Daniel called out quietly.

“Daddy?” the little girl cried into Jack's shoulder.

“Yeah, Daddy's home.  Go get him,” Jack said emotionally as he put their little princess down.

Jack smiled as Chenoa ran to Daniel, her arms outstretched.  In fact, he almost cried, feeling the relief in the little girl's essence.

“Daddy,” Jennifer and David echoed as they leaped to their feet, running to him, too, though they both let their little sister have time with Daniel first.

The younger father knelt down and scooped Chenoa up into his arms.  Holding her as tightly as he could, he reassured the toddler.  He felt so many emotions, but he knew he needed to concentrate on helping her to feel safe.

Speaking as lovingly as he could, Daniel said, “Noa, Sweetie, I missed you so much, and I love you so much.”

“Noa scared, Daddy,” the toddler confided as her tiny arms gripped Daniel's neck as much as they could.

“I know, but I'm home now, and there's no reason to be afraid anymore,” Daniel spoke with a steady voice.

“Daddy, no go Nu 'Ork Ity 'gain,” Chenoa ordered, shaking her head emphatically.

“I won't.  No more.  I'm here, Noa.”  Daniel looked up at the other two Mouseketeers and greeted, “Hey,” as he reached out with one hand to touch them, gently rubbing their arms and then briefly holding their hands.

“We were scared.  I guess I should've told you,” Jennifer sighed.

“It's okay, Jen.  We know now.”

Daniel gathered all his children around him, and, as Jack watched, he spent the next hour making sure each child knew their daddy was home, safe and sound.

====

With Jennifer watching over the clan, an exhausted Jack followed an equally exhausted Daniel upstairs.

“Danny?”

“I don't want to fight, Jack.  Gawd, they were so scared,” Daniel remarked.

“I know.”  Jack walked to his lover and embraced him, confessing, “And I was jealous.”

“Why, Jack?  I don't want anyone but you.  You know that,” Daniel spoke with exasperation.

“I go crazy when we're apart.”

“What am I going to do with you?” Daniel sighed.

“I have a few ideas on that,” Jack smirked.

Daniel relaxed into Jack's hold, telling him, “I fell.”

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

“I was loaded down with books and things, and I guess I wasn't paying attention.  I thought I really broke something, but Yazid ...”

“... is a chiropractor,” Jack completed.

“Yes, and he pressed something, and it didn't hurt anymore.”

“Angel, I'm so sorry.  Maybe we should have the Doc check you out.”

“No, I just need this.”  Daniel closed his eyes and let his body lean into Jack's.

Jack supported his Love totally, gently holding his husband close as he thought, ~Why am I always such an idiot?~

“Only you, Jack,” Daniel proclaimed.  “Just you, even when you're an idiot.”

~Did he hear me just now?~ Jack chuckled lightly as he gave Daniel what he needed.  “I'm sorry because I know I am an idiot sometimes.”

“Well, at least I know you still lust after me.  Just don't go deporting people or anything crazy, okay?”

“Deal.  You want to sleep?” Jack asked.

“Want you to hold me,” a very weary Daniel spoke, barely stifling a yawn.

“I am.”

“Happy,” Daniel sighed, unable to stop the next yawn.

“Me, too, Angel.  Me, too.”

====

“Daniel, there is definitely something there,” Megan chimed energetically on the first hump day in February.  “Look at the mapping.  It's underground.  This layer here, and the soil samples back it up.”

“A tomb?” Daniel questioned.  ~That would be ... groovy,~ he chuckled inwardly, being anxious to really put his skills to use in his professional passion for the first time in a long while.

“Maybe.  We need to go there,” Megan urged.

Daniel grinned, practically hopping up and down as he roamed excitedly around the office, saying, “I knew it.  I knew it before we even won the bid.  I need to call Abayomi and Yazid.”

Jack and Daniel had been pleased when Abayomi had phoned them a few days after the meetings in New York City with some good news.

//Flashback//
“Yazid explained the situation to my satisfaction.  I am not inflexible.  Family is important.  We will go forward,” Abayomi assured both Jack and Daniel over the phone.

“Abayomi, did Yazid mention that we can't meet in New York anymore?” Daniel asked hesitantly, glancing over at his lover, his heart beating a bit faster at the prospect that J-O Enterprises may still have their dream project.

“Yes, he did,” the foreign CEO answered.  “Daniel, my businesses take me to many places.  I prefer New York because I have offices there, but there are other cities where we can meet and conduct our business.  I do not see this as a problem.”

“Thank you, Abayomi,” Daniel spoke gratefully.

“We appreciate it, Abayomi,” Jack added, being careful to enunciate the man's name correctly since he so often 'abused' it in private.

“We must make plans to make up the lost time,” the man said, getting down to business.

“Of course,” Daniel acknowledged, looking at his husband briefly and then opening a file on his desk.
//End of Flashback//

Now, Megan waited anxiously in her office while Daniel relayed the information.  She'd been waiting for a project like this one and was just as eager as her employers to check it out.  Of course, they would still have tests to run, and they'd need clearance from the Egyptian government, but she knew once they got verification and the go-ahead, they'd be able to excavate.

Finally, Daniel walked into her office, saying, “Megan, they have to check out a few things.  Abayomi or Yazid will let me know the status in a couple of hours.  I'm going home, and I'll let you know when I know.”

“It's going to happen, Daniel. I feel it,” Megan responded.

Smiling and hoping he didn't regret the optimism, Daniel replied, “Me, too.”

====

Megan waited impatiently at the office.  She had left the SGC to work for J-O Enterprises and had never regretted it.  J-O was small, but it was the best.  She had faith in her employers, and in their employees, and now, she knew this particular job could solidify the company and give it stature in the industry.  When the phone finally rang again, she lost no time in picking it up.

“This might take a while,” Daniel sighed.

“How long?” a disappointed Megan inquired.

“A couple of months.  Apparently, Abayomi has a few possible sites for the hotel, so he hasn't gotten all the clearances he needs for this particular area.  He's going to have to negotiate with the government and come to an agreement about whatever we might find before he'll authorize the expenditure.”

“So it might not happen,” Megan sighed dejectedly.

“It'll happen, Megan,” Daniel encouraged.  “He's thrilled, but he wasn't counting on us being this sure so soon about what might be there.  In the meantime, we still have evaluations and studies to do.  The more we find out ahead of time, the better prepared we'll be for what we do find there.”

“Of course,” the woman replied, feeling more hopeful now.

“Megan, I'd like you to contact the university for me.  Tell them about the project.  Have them verify our interns' international status.  We want to make sure they'll be able to go.”

“It would be horrible to miss an opportunity like this,” Megan stated as she jotted down her notes.

“Definitely, so if we need to make changes, we want to do it now.  It looks like it'll be summertime, so our current interns may have other plans.  Check that out as thoroughly as possible, okay?”

“Will do.  Gee, Daniel, this is so exciting,” Megan responded, feeling even better as they discussed the steps that would lead to the big dig in Egypt.

“It's the one we've been waiting for to make a name for ourselves.  Thanks, Megan, for being patient with us.”

“I'm where I want to be!”

“Me, too.”  Daniel smiled as he hung up the cordless phone in the living room and looked at his family playing happily together in the backyard.  “Me, too.”

====
-- Chapter Five:  Mortality and Heroes
====

“Jack, I can't believe we're out of Pampers again.  They sure do go through those things fast.”

Jack chuckled and commented happily, “Our kids are healthy, Daniel.”

Both men wished they had renewed the diaper service their friends had subscribed them to the previous year, but somehow, it had fallen through the cracks, so now they were making do with lots and lots of Pampers.

“We're out of Froot Loops, too, so ...” the younger man began.

“WHAT?  Who ate the rest of the box?  There was enough left for breakfast tomorrow.  I made sure of that,” Jack groused.

“Don't blame me, Love.  It was your son.”

“Which one?”  When Daniel glared at him incredulously, Jack responded, “Oh, David.”

“Well, it wasn't Jonny, Little Danny, or Ricky, that's for sure.  You've corrupted David.  He won't touch any other cereal now.”

Jack beamed with pride, smugness evident in his reply, “He won't, will he?”

“Oh, for crying out loud, don't look so pleased with yourself.  Listen, I'm going to run to the store.  I'll get the Loops and the Pampers and a few other things we need, okay?”

“Okay, Angel.”

Daniel brushed his lips against Jack's and headed for the door.

“Danny?”

“What?” the archaeologist responded.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Daniel said, grinning.

====

One hour later, Daniel returned from the store with a variety of groceries.  They spent the rest of the night attending to their children, but at 10:45 p.m., the couple sat down for some quality cuddling time on the sofa before heading for bed.

“Oh, be right back,” Daniel said as he got up and went to the kitchen.  He returned a minute later, smiling.  Sitting down next to his husband, he said, “This is for you.”

“A present from the kitchen?  Hmm, must be tasty,” Jack mused.

“Maybe.  Open it,” Daniel instructed about the small box he had handed Jack.

Jack opened the box and asked, “Keys?  What did you buy?”

“I didn't buy it, but I rented it from of friend of Dale Rancolini's,” Daniel responded.

“Rented what?”

“A cabin in Lake Tahoe.  Jack, take me flying in Jo, and let's take a night for ourselves.  We love Jo, but with the children, we just haven't had a chance to go up very much.”

“Thank you, Danny,” Jack said, leaning over for a kiss.  “We don't really have time, though, with J-O ...”

Daniel put his hand over Jack's mouth and refuted, “We do have time.  We always have time to do what we love.  We're going flying, and we've never gone to Lake Tahoe before, so I thought it would be something new for us.  We need time and new things for us, Jack.  You taught me that when the Munchkins were born, remember?”

“I remember, Love.”

Daniel saw the smile on Jack's face grow and the sparkle in his eyes.  He knew he had done the right thing.  They still had their weekly date nights, and they'd managed to squeeze in their share of romance, but the getaways were the toughest.  Still, they worked hard to make those times happen, and Daniel was determined that now, just before things got too crazy with the plans for Egypt, would be one of those times.

“We'll have a picnic by the lake and go for a walk, and then we can hang out at the cabin and ... you know.”  The gleam in his eyes was undeniable.  Jack didn't need convincing, especially when the young man continued, “Sam will be back from Atlantis soon, and I already talked with Sara, We just need to decide which weekend we want to go.”

“Angel, thank you.”

Daniel moved his hand to caress Jack's cheek, saying, “I can't wait for you to take me flying again.”

“You don't need me.  You can fly yourself now,” Jack replied.

“I know, but I like it best when you fly.  It's ... part of you, Jack -- being up there among the clouds.  Take me flying,” Daniel requested softly, leading into a passionate kiss.

====

After making out for a while on the couch, the lovers decided to call it a night.

“Bijou, Katie, do you two want to snuggle with us tonight or go outside?” Daniel asked.

The two beagles ran up the stairs to the master bedroom.

“I guess that answers that, Love,” Jack chuckled.

“They love sleeping with us,” Daniel commented.

“Quality beagle cuddling time,” Jack laughed.  “It's been one of our better ideas, to make sure they get their own time with us, too.”

The couple was on the third stair when they heard the sound of the clapper banging against their door.  Bijou and Katie came running down in alarm mode.  It was late for visitors, but as they sniffed around the door, they relaxed and went to sit in their beanbag.

“Must be friendly,” Jack teased as he looked out the window.  “Janet,” he said, as he moved to open the door.  “Hey, Doc.  Come on in,” he invited, holding the front door open for the diminutive redheaded physician.

“I'm sorry if I'm intruding, but I thought you'd want to know, and I just couldn't do this over the phone,” Janet said as she walked into the entranceway, though she only went forward far enough to allow the door to be closed behind her.

Both men heard the tremor in Janet's normally steady voice.  Her red eyes also suggested she had been crying for quite some time.  The two looked at each other, a sinking feeling growing in their stomachs.

“Janet, what's wrong?” Daniel asked gently, reaching out and rubbing her arm in support.

“There was an accident earlier this evening.  There was nothing anyone could do; a drunk driver according to the witnesses.”

“We need tougher laws,” Jack said.  “Doc?  Was someone hurt?”  He knew, even as he asked the question what her response would be.  For Janet to be this upset, someone had to have been very badly hurt.  “Cassie?”

Janet shook her head and saw the two relax slightly.  Tears began to well in her eyes again.  She looked up at Jack, then over at Daniel.

~How can I find the words?  This is going to be so hard on them.~  “I'm so sorry. They say it was instantaneous.  The drunk driver was in one of those heavy-duty hummers.  His vehicle crossed the line.  It was a head-on collision.  He died a while ago.”

“Janet?” Daniel asked again as that terrible sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach was growing.

“It's ... Kayla.  She never had a chance,” Janet cried.

“NO!”  Daniel backed away several steps, bumping into the entranceway wall.  Jack immediately went to him, pulling Daniel into a warm embrace.  “She can't be dead, Jack.  She's going to Egypt with us.”

Jack had no words to fix this, so he just held his lover.  He didn't mean to, but his back was to Janet as he supported his grief stricken husband, who had now collapsed into his arms.

“I just thought you'd want to know.  I need to get home,” Janet said, trying not to cry, but unable not to.  “Cassie is there.  She was very upset when she heard the news.  Fortunately, Dominic was with her.”

“Janet,” Jack said as he turned to face her, releasing his tight hold on Daniel.  “Is there anything we can do?”

“No.  I'll call you tomorrow about the services.”

Jack made sure Daniel was standing on his own, then went to their friend and hugged her.

From his spot against the wall, Daniel's breathing hastened.  He swallowed hard, and seeing what Jack had done, he, too, went to Janet and hugged her.

The diminutive doctor could feel the trembling of the man holding her.  With all the losses he had suffered in his life, she knew it would be quite some time before Daniel healed from this tragedy.

“I'm so sorry, Daniel.”

Daniel couldn't speak, and when Janet backed away, a tiny smile on her face, he only nodded and backed away, again hitting the wall where he stood silently.  He was holding on, but not by much.

Jack hated to leave his husband, even for a moment, but he felt it was the thing to do.  He also knew it was what Daniel would want him to do, so he walked Janet to her car, again offering his condolences.  He watched as she safely drove away and then he quickly returned to his husband.

~Oh, Danny.~

Jack wasn't feeling so great himself, but seeing Daniel hurting just tore his heart out.  When he returned to their house and closed the door, he saw that Daniel had slid down to the floor.  His knees had been half brought up towards his chest, but Katie had somehow managed to squeeze her way onto his lap and was acting as a furry handkerchief, absorbing Daniel's tears.  Daniel's left arm was half wrapped around his legs while his right stroked Bijou who was curled up beside him.  Jack could see Daniel's head shaking back and forth in denial of the news they'd been told.

When Jack closed the front door, the two beagles gave him a look before disentangling themselves from Daniel and trotting up the stairs.

~Going to keep an eye on the babies, aren't you, Girls.  Geez, I love you two furries.~

Jack knelt down and enveloped Daniel with his own body.  He felt his lover's arms go around his neck as Daniel moved his face to Jack's shoulder and neck.

“She can't be dead,” Daniel repeated in a mournful sob as Jack held him.

“At least it was quick,” Jack said, surprised his own voice was barely there.

Jack didn't realize until that moment that he was crying, too, and he found himself firmly burying his chin in Daniel's shoulder.  He rocked his soulmate back and forth gently in his arms.  He would have said something, but what was there to say?  A beautiful young woman, the birth mother of their children, the human being who had generously given of herself to make their dreams come true beyond their wildest imaginations was dead, her spirit snuffed out by someone who thought the bottle was their friend and didn't care squat about themselves or others.

So, in a silence broken only by sobs and sniffles, the two men held each other, each rubbing the other's back in an attempt to soothe and comfort, while rocking gently to try and make the world not seem so bad.

“Can't be ... has to ... be a mistake,” Daniel cried out a few minutes later.

Jack shook his head against his aching soulmate's shoulders and whispered, “I wish it were.  Come on, Love.  Let's go upstairs.”

Gently, Jack nudged his husband into more of a sitting position, and the two pulled each other up in tandem.  Clinging to each other, not sure who was holding who up, they went upstairs to their master bedroom.

Hearing Jack and Daniel, the two beagles left the nursery and followed the couple into the bedroom to offer what comfort they could.

The lovers lay down on their bed, Daniel held snugly in Jack's embrace.  The younger man needed to be held, and no one knew that more than his husband.  At the end of the bed, Bijou and Katie lay quietly, their sorry eyes staring at Daniel.  Jack smiled at them, knowing they would be extra watchful over the younger man until they were convinced things were okay again, or at least as okay as they could be.

Jack continued to hold Daniel, his own tears mixing with his lover's as their faces sought comfort next to the other's.

“I just talked to her this morning,” Daniel said.  “She was so excited about Egypt. Jack, I think she wanted to spend time with the children, much more than she'd let on.  She loves them.”

Jack nodded, whispering, “I know.”

“She just didn't want to interfere, Jack.”

“She never would.  Kayla made us a promise,” Jack responded, his voice cracking.

“But she loved them.  Jack, she gave us five beautiful children,” Daniel sniffled.

“A quintet of perfection,” Jack softly spoke.  ~Crap, why Kayla?~

“She can't be dead.”

“At least she didn't feel it,” Jack spoke.  It was about the only comforting thought Jack could think of.  In the end, it wasn't really of much comfort at all.  ~I loved her, too.  Our babies are here because of her.~

“She's with Charlie now,” Daniel spoke emotionally, trying to think of anything that could be positive.

“And your folks.”

“Jack, she told me she wanted to be someone's falling star ... be...because of us.  Gawd, Jack, she was too young to die.”

“I know,” Jack agreed, “but she had a good life, Danny, even though it was way too short.  She really lived each day.  She wasn't passive.  We have to remember that, that she never wasted a moment.”

The sad lovers continued to mourn, tears falling, as they remembered the wonderful young woman who had made their dreams happen.  As they talked, Bijou and Katie snuggled up next to Daniel, lying lengthwise against his legs.  Both were as close to him as they could be.

Before he finally fell asleep, Daniel said, “Surrounded by love.”

“What, Love?”

“Just like before.  You, Bij, and Katie ... all surrounding me with your love.”

“Forever, Angel,” Jack vowed and then kissed Daniel on the forehead.

Finally, minutes later, both men fell into a light sleep, though it wouldn't be long before they'd wake, the tragic death churning within them making a peaceful rest impossible at the moment.  Each woke with a nightmare at some point, and neither could truly rest knowing their extended family now had a gaping hole in it that could never be filled.

====

“What's for breakfast?” Jennifer chirped the next morning as she walked into the kitchen where Jack was busy preparing a meal for David and Chenoa.

The two children were huddling together quietly on the sofa reading a book.  David kept glancing towards Jack as if trying to work out why the house seemed to be so subdued this morning.

“Whatever you'd like, Princess,” Jack answered quietly, not a hint of his usual jovial demeanor.

“Anything is fine.  I'm starved!”

Jennifer was all smiles, but she couldn't understand why Jack was so sullen, nor why her siblings weren't chattering away at her entrance into the living room.

“How about oatmeal?” Jack asked very calmly.

“Okay,” the pre-teen agreed, looking over again at her brother and sister.  “I'll be back in a couple of minutes.”

“Sure, Honey.”

Jennifer went upstairs, wanting to greet the youngest members of the family, but instead of entering the nursery, she stopped at the corner of the doorway, taken aback by the sight she beheld.  Daniel was cradling Jenny in his arms as he sat in the middle of the three-quarter-size bed that Chenoa slept in.  Ricky was at Daniel's side, and the Munchkins were giggling and playing all around the bed.

The scene would have been cute and tender if Daniel hadn't looked so sad and forlorn.  It was his expression and demeanor that had Jennifer keeping the silent doorway vigil as she watched her younger father hold as many of the babies as close to him as he could.  There was a poignancy to his hold, something that caused her to become alarmed.

Jennifer felt a knot forming in her stomach.  Slowly, she went back downstairs.  She detoured by her own bedroom to follow through on an idea, and when she returned to the living room, she approached her siblings.

“David, you know how you're always bugging me to use my computer to play that game you like so much?”

“Yeah, but you hardly ever let me,” the boy complained.

“Yeah, well, take Chenoa with you, and you can use it now.”

“I can?” David asked eagerly as he sat up straight on the edge of the sofa in surprise, the weirdness in the house forgotten.

“Yes; I already turned the computer on and loaded the game for you.”

“Thanks, Jen!  Come on, Noa.”

David led his sister away just as Jack stuck his head over the counter to call the youngest for breakfast.

“Jen, where are the kids?” Jack asked, surprised not to see them there.

“Dad, what's wrong with Daddy?” Jennifer asked, walking towards the kitchen.

Jack put the food down on the counter and walked over to his oldest daughter, meeting her halfway.

“He's okay.”

“No, he's not,” Jennifer refuted.  “Please don't treat me like a child.”

Jack sighed, nodding his head, and stated, “Jen, there was a car accident last night.”

“Someone died, didn't they?”  Before Jack could even nod, Jennifer knew.  It made perfect sense to her now, why Daniel was clinging to the five babies.  “No, not Kayla, Dad.  It can't be Kayla.”  Seeing her father's eyes become misty, Jennifer leaned in for a hug.  “I'm sorry, Dad.”

“Me, too.  The only good news is that the doctors say she never felt a thing; probably never even knew what hit her.  Jen, what is Danny doing?”

“He's just ...” Jennifer shrugged, “holding the babies.  He's ... crying.”  Jack looked back towards the kitchen.  “I can make my own breakfast, okay?”

“Okay.  Thanks.”

Jack headed upstairs, but stopped, turning back towards Jennifer.  She knew what he needed to know without him asking the question.

“They're in my room on the computer.  Should I tell them?” Jennifer asked.

“No, we'll tell them together in a little while.  Thanks, Jen.”

====

“Hey,” Jack greeted softly as he walked into the nursery.

“Hey,” Daniel said, not looking up at his spouse and not even trying to suppress the sniffle that accompanied his greeting.

Jack picked up Little Danny, asking, “How's my boy this morning?”

The baby smiled, but didn't respond verbally.

“He doesn't say much, does he?” Daniel commented, a dread in his voice.

“Daniel, he's seventeen-months old.  Give the kid a break.  He's an observer, just like you.”

“Just like me,” Daniel echoed as he held Jenny, rocking her gently.

Jack saw that Ricky was sleeping so he reached over and took him, whispering, “He's sleeping, Angel.  I'm going to put him in the crib.”

Daniel nodded, focusing again on Jenny.  Slowly, Jack put the triplets in their extra-large crib, too, and then gently, he walked back to the bed and sat on the edge.  He reached over and caressed his infant daughter's forehead.

“Why don't we put her down, too?”

The younger man said nothing as his husband took the baby and placed her next to her brother.

As Jack started to return to Daniel, Little Danny started to cry, so he picked him up and brought him over to the bed with him.

Daniel took the child immediately, holding on to him with a need Jack hadn't seen before.

“Danny ...”

“She had so much to live for.  It's not fair, Jack.”

Jack was dying inside from his soulmate's torment, and Daniel was in pieces from suffering a loss he didn't quite know how to handle.  Losing Kayla was different than the losses of the past.  All had been nightmares, and this one was no exception, but this one had its own set of emotional repercussions that he had never anticipated nor was prepared for.

~So many losses.  So ... so many,~ Daniel cried to himself.

Daniel had only a few really close people in his life.  As a very young boy, he'd been loved and adored by his parents.  He was a happy little archaeologist-in-training, their little Pharaoh, and then, in a flash, Melburn and Claire Jackson lost their lives, and Daniel lost almost everything.

The orphaned boy had endured years worth of neglect and abandonment after the coverstone collapsed on his parents in that New York museum.  It had begun with his grandfather, who hadn't even cared enough to let Daniel be adopted.  In the end, Daniel had been so traumatized that he hadn't spoken much of anything for over a year.  He had gone from foster home to foster home, suffering abuse from people who were supposed to love him, but instead cared more about greenbacks and having a slave for a child.

The one solace for the younger man had been Suzanna Simpson, the only foster sibling to truly care about him.  She was his only ray of sunshine from a decade of foster homes, and he truly considered her a sister, even though they weren't able to stay in touch as much as they would have liked to.

Having been denied the nurturing that normally comes from a gentle touch or a kind word, Daniel's life became the written word, the ancient artifact, and the life of cultures he thought he'd never really know.  The young man had worked hard to learn, to educate himself.  In the end, it had been both a curse and a blessing.

Daniel had developed a theory, but no one wanted to listen, and in a very short span of time, he lost the respect and acclaim that should have come from his peers and colleagues.  He was again left with nothing -- no family who cared, no career of note, and no money.

Could there have been more?  Unfortunately, the answer was yes.  Daniel had lived a dream, going through the Stargate and finding love and life with the beautiful Sha're, only to have her taken from him by a creature most could only imagine from science fiction books and movies.  Then, she had a baby; not his, but that of her abductor.  Finally, the Abydonian woman, his wife, died.  It didn't matter that by then Daniel had discovered what eternal love really was, thanks to Jack; the point was, Sha're's life had ended early, and Daniel blamed himself.

~Why now?  Not now.  No, it's just another nightmare,~ Daniel continued to cry, holding his namesake closely as Jack kept a close eye on both.

Finally, when he had reached the age of thirty-eight, Daniel had found true joy again.  He could say 'I'm happy' and mean it, and mean it for more than mere seconds or minutes.  He no longer got up in the morning and dreaded the day, because now, each day had Jack O'Neill in it; he didn't need to self-hug anymore because his husband was more than willing to hug the bejeebies out of him whenever he wanted; and he didn't need to wonder what it would be like to have dreams come true because every minute of every day he saw five precious miracles, babies and toddlers with his DNA and that of his husband's, and they were theirs, all theirs, because of the gift of Kayla Armentrout.

Now, that miracle-giver was gone.  Daniel had let her in, grown to love her as a dear friend, and trusted that she'd be there forever.  He hadn't expected this, to lose someone now.  It was a cruel joke of the Fates, and he wasn't sure how to go on.  His heart cried for her in a way that belonged only to Kayla.

Kayla wasn't a friend who was considered family, like Sam and Janet.  She wasn't a sister like Suzanna.  She wasn't some other extended family member, or even a colleague like Robert Rothman.  She was the mother of his and Jack's children. There was no word for her.

~Yes, there is.  Love.  Gift.  Sacrifice.  Miracle ... Kayla!~ Daniel thought lovingly.

“I know, Danny.  She should have grown old and written a hundred novels,” Jack expressed sadly.

“She gave us our family, our little miracles.  We wouldn't have them without ... with ... without her,” Daniel cried, though he tried to smile at the toddler he held.

“Da-Da-dy,” Little Danny said.  “Da-dy.”

Daniel Michael Jackson-O'Neill had finally spoken his first stuttered words.

“Jack?”

The emotion was almost too much.  In the nightmare of life, a new blessing, a new joy to be rejoiced and cherished had just occurred.

Daniel held his son closely in reward.

“See, Love.  He was just observing,” Jack stated.  ~Way to go, Son.  You have the best timing in the entire universe.  You wouldn't want to do that again, would you?  Come on, Little Danny.  Once more.~

“He'll never know her,” Daniel lamented.

“Danny, she made those tapes, and we'll tell them,” Jack reminded, referring to videotapes Kayla had made during her pregnancy with the Munchkins and then again with the twins that chronicled her pregnancy and also told the children something about her.

“It's not the same.”

“No, it's not, but it's something.”

“Not enough,” Daniel insisted, shaking his head.

Just as Jack choked out, “No, it's not,” in agreement, Little Danny's hands went up to Daniel's reddened face and moved as if to wipe away the tears.

“Da-dy,” the middle Munckin repeated.

“I love you, Little Danny,” the boy's daddy barely managed to get out.

~Good job, Son,~ Jack thought as his hand brushed against the back of the toddler's head.  ~Good job.~

====

The day trudged on, a quiet solemnness in the air as the family went about its daily activities.

Janet called and discussed the arrangements for the services with Jack. They agreed that a memorial would be held in two days, and, per Kayla's request, it would be brief and a celebration of her life, not a mourning of her death.

Jennifer watched as Daniel clung to the five babies as much as he could.  She watched, too, as Jack tried to comfort the younger man, but he wasn't having much luck.  Daniel seemed inconsolable.

Eventually, the couple shared the news of Kayla's death with David and Chenoa, and their usual family time was spent more in hugging and expressing love than with the usual business of the day.

As night fell, the teenager could still see Daniel's pain, and her heart ached for her father.  She also realized how hard it was on Jack.  She saw him trying to take care of everyone, but no one was taking care of him.  Daniel was trying, but he was too much of a mess himself to have much success, especially with all the children around to interfere.

====

The next morning, when things were the same, Jennifer remembered some of the stories she'd heard since becoming a member of this unique family, stories about Jack dragging Daniel off to eat lunch, about Jack forcing Daniel to go on vacation because he needed time away, about Jack not letting Daniel walk away because he'd always loved him.  All these stories had a common theme.  Jennifer went to the phone and dialed.

“Sam Carter.”

“Hi, Sam, it's Jennifer.”

“Hi, Jen,” Sam sighed, well aware of the tragedy that had occurred and fully realizing how Jack and Daniel had to be feeling.  “How's it going?”

“Well ... it's been better.”

“Yeah, I know. I talked with Janet a little to make sure she was okay. It's really a sad time, but ... What can I do for you?”

“You can come over and help me baby-sit,” the girl asked, surprising the blonde colonel.

“Baby-sit?”

“Sam, isn't it true that whenever something horrible happens my dad takes my daddy someplace, or they do something, just the two of them to, well, sorta get through it?”

Sam tilted her head a little as she thought for a moment and then responded, “Yeah, I guess so, though I hadn't really thought about it until now.”

“Daddy's not too good ... I mean, well.  I thought maybe if you came over, we could convince Dad to ...”

Sam laughed a little, not a boastful laugh, just a knowing one, that Jennifer was right.

“... to kidnap Daniel and ...” Sam continued, her words cut off by the hopeful girl on the other end of the phone.

“... and make it all better.  I mean, as better as it can be.  Please, Sam.  I know you're at work, but ... he's ...”

Sam didn't need the teenager to tell her.  She knew her friend and how he'd react to such a loss.  Kayla had gotten inside Daniel's very tight family circle, and she'd given him something he had never thought he'd have, something he may not have ever had if it weren't for her.

“Jen, it's a little slow right now, so I think I can swing it.  Let me talk with General Hammond, and then I'll be there as soon as I can.”

“Thanks.  I really appreciate it.”

====

Two hours later, Sam arrived, having finally been able to get some unscheduled downtime after having spoken with Hammond.

Letting Sam in and then hugging her, Jennifer spoke, “Thank you for coming over, Sam,” her voice shaking just a tad.  “Daddy's so upset, and so is Dad.  They need each other, Sam.”

“I'm glad you called.  Where is everyone?”

“Well, the twins and Noa are upstairs.  David is playing on my computer, and Daddy is ... holding the Munchkins.”

“All three of them?”

Jennifer nodded, and then added, “Daddy's been hovering over all the babies all morning, and Dad is just sort of ... watching.  They're outside on the lawn.  Daddy likes it out there a lot.”

Sam ambled through the living room and looked through the patio door. Just as Jennifer had said, Daniel had the three Munchkins close to him, somehow managing to keep the three contained within his arms, just hugging and cuddling them mostly.  They sat on the lawn in the center of the backyard.

Jack was seated on the patio steps, watching his family closely.  Just feet away from Daniel and the Munchkins, Bijou was also watching Daniel with a keen eye, and Katie seemed to be focused on the three babies, both dogs ready to react if necessary.

~The family Jackson-O'Neill, all watching each other, trying to keep each other safe.  Geez, I love them all.  Okay, Samantha, you can't be emotional and help them, so toughen up.~  Sam took a deep breath and walked outside.  “General,” she said as calmly as she could.

“Carter ...” Jack began, though he stopped himself at hearing his greeting.  He sighed and shook his head at the formality.  This was a family time, and not even years of military regulations and old habits would interfere.  “No, today it's Sam.  What are you doing here ... Sam?” Jack asked as he got up and hugged his former 2IC.

“Just wanted to express my sympathies ... Jack.”

“Thanks.  It was quite a shock.”

Sam looked at Daniel, who hadn't even registered her presence yet, and inquired, “How's he doing?”

“He's mourning, for all of us,” the retired general answered quietly.

~Okay; time to get 'er done,~ Sam thought as she let out a puff of air.  “Excuse me,” she said, walking by Jack and moving towards the end of the porch.

“Sam?” Jack asked, still waiting for the answer to his question.  Instead, he saw Sam stop and look over at Jennifer who stood near the patio door.  Jack stared at the teenager who evaded his glance, folding her arms and looking off to the side.  He looked at Sam and asked more sternly, “What's going on?”

Sam returned to a more formal tone as she explained more, then asked, “Sir, don't you think it's time you do what you usually do?”

Not waiting for a response, Sam walked across the lawn and knelt down in front of Daniel and the triplets.  He wasn't forcing them to stay in his grasp exactly, but they weren't being allowed to wander either.

“Hey, Munchkins!”  Sam reached over and touched each of the babies, all smiling when they saw her.  “Daniel.”

“Hi, Sam.”

“You don't mind if I say a proper hello to the Munchkins, do you?”  Seeing Daniel shake his head, Sam picked up Jonny.  “Goodness, Jonny. You keep growing like this and you'll be taller than your dad.”

“Where are you going?” Daniel asked, seeing Sam begin to walk away with Jonny.

“He's tired, Daniel.  It's time for a nap,” the blonde caregiver answered with a warm smile.  She took Jonny and handed him to Jennifer, who in turn took him upstairs.  She glanced at Jack briefly as she walked by, noticing that he wasn't interfering.  ~You know what needs to happen, don't you, Sir, or you'd be saying something.  Just let me handle this part of it, and then you can do your thing with Daniel.~

As she approached Daniel and the toddlers again, Sam couldn't help but chuckle at the expression on Aislinn's face.  The little girl was eager to visit with her.

“Uppy,” the little one requested.

“I think I can handle that,” Sam said as she picked up the toddler.

“Are you taking her, too?” Daniel asked, not moving, not fighting, but not necessarily happy about it, either.

“For a little while, Daniel.  Okay?”

Sam noticed Daniel's hold on his namesake had tightened, but he didn't say 'no' so she headed back towards the patio.  As she passed him on the patio, she again briefly looked at Jack who calmly met her gaze.  Just as she walked through the door, Jennifer appeared.

“Did you get David?” Sam asked Jennifer as she handed Aislinn to her.

“Yes, he's in the nursery now.”

“Okay.”

Sam smiled at Jack as she prepared for the hardest maneuver since her arrival.  This time, Jack nodded, and Sam clearly saw the approval in his eyes, but before she reached the porch steps, the retired general spoke softly.

“Good luck, Sam.  Little Danny finally spoke yesterday morning for the first time.  Since then, Daniel hasn't let go of him for very long.”

“Sweet,” Sam spoke, imitating her former CO.

Sam again knelt down in front of her friend and the child who was so much like him.  Early on, Little Danny had been afraid of the dark.  He'd grown out of that with nurturing and reassurance from his parents, especially from Daniel who had realized that it was his own silent fears of losing his now near-perfect life that had probably fueled his baby's fears.

The middle of the three triplets, Little Danny had also been the last to start talking.  Daniel had worried about that, even though he knew that logically babies start talking anywhere from twelve to seventeen months on the norm.  Still, Aislinn had spoken very early, several months ago, and Jonny had said his first words at thirteen months.

Finally, Little Danny often had an urgent need to be with the eldest of the triplets, Jonny.  Somehow, Daniel's need for Jack seemed to be duplicated in some form with Little Danny displaying a similar desire to be near his big brother.

Sam was glad to know that the baby had finally spoken.  She also knew prying him out of his father's hold at the moment might be difficult.  She reached out, and Little Danny took her finger.

Sam smiled and said, “Hi, Little Danny.”  Her eyes lifted to look at Daniel.  “Let me take him, Daniel.  Please.”

Daniel turned his namesake around to face him.  He gave his son a kiss, causing Little Danny to laugh.

“Daddy,” Little Danny spoke, his word the clearest one yet.

Daniel smiled and nodded, saying a soft, “Yes, that's who I am.”  He brought the baby close to him and held him, swaying back and forth lightly.  “He's a miracle, Sam.  All the Munchkins are ... and the twins.  They're all our miracles.”

“Precious miracles,” Sam agreed, barely able to talk herself.  “Let me take him, Daniel.  Please.”

“He's mine, Sam.”

“He sure is,” Sam agreed, her voice trembling from a myriad of emotions she was feeling.

“He'll never know her.  Videos and books ... it's not the same as this,” Daniel said pulling his son into a hug.  “He'll never know what it was like to touch her or to see her smile when she looked at him.  She loved him.  She loved them all.”

Sam wanted to break into sobs, but if she lost control, her mission would be a failure.  Still, tears streamed down her face.

“Daniel, please; let me take him.  It's the right thing for right now,” Sam urged softly.

Reluctantly, Daniel released his hold.

“Thank you,” Sam responded, on the verge of losing control of all her emotions.  “Daniel, we don't say this stuff enough, but you're family to me, and I ... I love you.  I'm going to take Little Danny inside now.”

The woman stood, smiling down at the archaeologist.

Just as Sam started to turn, she heard Daniel say in an extremely tiny voice, “I love you, too, Sam.  Don't die, okay?”

The vulnerability in Daniel's voice bore into Sam's soul, ripping it apart. She bounced the toddler in her arms and looked away, more tears now running down her face.

Her voice cracked, she replied, “I'll do my best not to.”  Taking a deep breath, necessary before she fell apart completely, Sam then carried the baby towards the house.  She stopped by Jack.  “I have an overnight bag, Sir.”

“What?”

Jack tore his eyes off Daniel, who without the Munchkins near him seemed to have closed in on himself.  He was now sitting with his knees pulled up to his chest, arms wrapped around them, staring blankly at the ground.  At Sam's words, the older man gave her a surprised look.  He hadn't realized the plan was that elaborate.

“Dad.”  Jack turned to look at Jennifer.  “I'll be here with Sam all day and night to help.”

“Jen, you have that party tonight.”

Jennifer shook her head, and replied, “No, I'd rather be home.”

“Jen ...”

“Dad, Kayla told me once that the one thing that really amazed her about you and Daddy was how you could get each other through anything.  Daddy needs you.  This is just one little party; there'll be lots of others.”

“I love you, Jen,” Jack said as he kissed his daughter on the forehead, his hands rubbing up and down her forearms gently.  “You sure you don't mind?”

“No, I really don't.”

“Okay, because I know just the thing.  I need to make a couple of quick phone calls.”  Jack turned to face Sam and smiled.  He'd heard the words she and Daniel had spoken, carrying through the air, and, of course, he could see her tears.  He knew she was barely holding it together.  Still, he couldn't not say it because if not today, when family was everything, then when?  “Sam, we owe you again, and uh, I ... love you, too, but don't get emotional on me,” he said as he hurried inside to avoid anything more emotional.

“Gawd, they're incorrigible.  How's my makeup?” Sam asked Jennifer.

“Let's just say you probably shouldn't have put any on before you came over,” Jennifer answered.

“That bad?”

Jennifer nodded, confirming, “That bad.”

“I'm going to take this little guy upstairs, Jen, and make sure everyone is settled. Why don't you go sit with Daniel until the general gets done with his calls?”

Jennifer nodded and slowly made her way over to her younger father, sitting down in front of him and asking, “Daddy, dumb question, but are you okay?”

Daniel shook his head and said softly, “No, not yet.”

Jennifer moved closer.  She put her arm around his shoulders and placed a kiss on his cheek.

“I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too, Jen.”

Jennifer leaned her head against Daniel's shoulder, but never removed her arm, doing her best to comfort him.  She smiled as she felt Daniel's arm pulling her closer as they offered silent comfort to each other.

====

When he returned to the backyard, Jack saw Jennifer's protective hold on Daniel and smiled.  She saw him on the porch and nodded.

“I'm going inside, Daddy, to help Sam with the kids.  I love you,” Jennifer said again.

A few moments later, Jack reached out and grabbed Jennifer's hand as she walked past him.  He smiled at her, but didn't say a word.  She smiled back, and then continued on, going into the house.  With a sigh, Jack approached his lover and sat down next to him so that they were side by side.  Within seconds, he had pulled his husband close.

After a couple of minutes, Jack said, “We're leaving for a little while, Angel.”

“We can't leave; we have children,” Daniel reminded.

“Carter's here.”

“Oh,” the younger man replied, his mind not functioning on all thrusters at the moment.

“Come on, Love,” Jack said softly.

“Just Sam?”

“Danny, Jen can help, and Sam can call Teal'c or Mrs. Valissi or Christa and Jacob; she has a lot of people she can call if she needs to.”

Jack stood up and pulled Daniel to him.  The young man was simply shell shocked, having been totally unprepared to lose someone he had grown to love so much.  After decades of tragedy, the last few years had been a virtual cakewalk for him.  He had Jack, their children, and their girls.  He had a home he loved, and he didn't have to hide anymore.  It was paradise, but now, in a blink of an eye, now the reality of death and loss had returned.

Daniel simply hadn't seen the tragedy coming.  He didn't argue with Jack because he knew he was lost and that his husband was the only one who could ground him back to their nation of two.

Once inside the house, Jack placed his compliant lover on the sofa, requesting, “Wait here, okay?”

Daniel nodded, and just as Jack was about to call their beloved beagles, Bijou and Katie suddenly appeared, each taking one side.

“Surrounded by love,” Daniel echoed his words from two nights before as the beagles snuggled close.

“Thanks, Girls.  I'll be right back, Angel.”  Jack went upstairs and into the nursery.  “Okay, I need to do a couple of things.  Daniel's downstairs on the sofa with Bij and Katie, so would one of you mind ...”

“I'll go,” David said, practically running downstairs.

“He wants to tell Daddy ...”

“Tell him what, Jen?”

“Daddy's worried the babies won't remember her, but they will, because we won't let them forget her, none of us will, just like you and Daddy are helping to keep Mom and Dad alive for David and Noa.”  Jennifer suddenly choked up.  She folded her arms and tears began to fall.  “Gawd, Dad, why does life have to have so much pain in it?  It's not fair?  Mom and Dad were good people.  Daddy's parents were good, weren't they?”

“The best,” Jack answered softly.

“So was Kayla.  Why Dad?  Why does Daddy or Janet or any of us have to go through this?  Why?” Jennifer asked as she broke down, sobbing.

Jack rushed to her, taking Jennifer into his arms as he answered, “I wish I had the answer to that, Jen.  Geez, I wish I did.”  Jack kissed her neck and held her securely.  “Jen, when Charlie died, I asked all those questions, and for a long time, I didn't think life mattered.  I almost killed myself.”

~What did he say?~  The pre-teen backed away slightly so she could look at her father's face. Incredulously, she asked, “What?”

“I asked those same questions.  Why?  I put my heart and soul into loving my son, and I couldn't understand why he was gone.  I shut down.  I treated Sara like crap.”

“I don't understand that.”

“I know, but I did.  I turned on her and the world.  The pain ate away at me until the only thing that existed was my body.  There was no heart.”

“What ... what happened, Dad?”

“Your daddy -- Daniel happened.  He came into my life in a totally unexpected way, and the next thing I knew, I discovered my heart was beating again.”

“Is that when you two fell in love?”

“No, yes.  You know, we've never quite figured that out, but the point is, that 'why' question will kill you.  Jen, if I had gone through with my plan, I never would have met Daniel, we wouldn't have gotten married, we wouldn't have the Munchkins or the twins, and geez, Jen ...”

“And Noa would be adopted, and David would be doing chores, and I'd be ... who knows where.  Dad, the last time Kayla took me shopping, we stopped by Janet's for a little while,” Jennifer stated.

“I remember.”

“Janet took a picture of the two of us.  It's a nice photo.  Do you think maybe if we put a copy of it in here, for the babies to see that ...”

“I think that's a great idea.  Listen, I need to pack a couple of bags.  Are you okay?”  After Jennifer nodded, he spoke, “I love you, Jen.”

“I love you, too, Dad.”

Jack started to exit when he suddenly remembered something.  He cocked his head and tightened his face a little as he turned and saw Sam over by the cribs, standing quietly.

“Carter, you ... knew all that, didn't you?”

“Not so much in words, Sir, but ... I, uh, knew,” Sam acknowledged with a supportive smile and nod.

“Good.  Good.  Uh ...”

“Already forgotten, Sir,” the blonde assured, knowing she'd just been privy to one of those rare insightful moments that Jack usually reserved for just Daniel.

“Good.  Good,” Jack repeated as he walked out.

“Sam, why do you keep calling Dad 'Sir'?” Jennifer questioned curiously.

“The same reason he keeps calling me 'Carter',” the colonel chuckled.

“And that is?”

“Beats me if I know,” Sam admitted and then went to check on Ricky, who had just woken from a nap.  “Oh, nope, false alarm,” she chuckled, realizing the infant had simply shifted, crying for a few seconds before falling back into his peaceful sleep.  “Jen, names are just names.  The general and I met in a command structure; that's not easy to move away from.”

“Sam, does it ...” Jennifer paused, then took a breath and said, “Does it feel funny having the younger kids call you 'Aunt Sam'?”

Jack and Daniel most always referred to the blonde as 'Aunt Sam' when talking to the Munchkins and the twins, and very early on after the Mouseketeers had become part of the family, Chenoa had started using the term.  Just in the last couple of months, David, too, had also begun referring to Sam as his aunt.  They were doing the same thing with Janet, too.

Sam smiled thoughtfully, an expression that grew as she contemplated the last couple of years.

“You know, Jen.  My brother has kids, but I don't see them very often.  I'm their auntie, but as funny as it sounds, I feel closer to you and Ricky and ... well, all of you, then I do to them,” Sam confided.  “It was a little funny at first.  I remember the first time Daniel used the phrase 'Aunt Sam' with the Munchkins.  It kinda freaked me out, but it was only for a second.  Besides ...” her smile grew as she teased, “It beats being 'Mom'.”

Jennifer laughed and then responded, “Don't you think you'll have kids one day?”

~Not if I make sure the general and Daniel live long, healthy lives,~ Sam said silently.  With a shrug, she answered, “I doubt it.”

“Um, Sam ...”

“Yes?”

“Would it ... freak you out if ... a twelve-year-old girl called you ... aunt?” the pre-teen asked hesitantly, hope in her eyes.  ~I'd like to.~

Sam walked over to Jennifer and smiled as she said, “Not one bit.”

Jennifer grinned and said, “Thanks ... Aunt Sam.”

====

After packing two small overnight bags, Jack went outside and put them in the truck.  When he returned, he retrieved his husband from the sofa, pulling him into his arms for a minute.

“Time to go, Angel.”

“Children?”

“Everything's taken care of.  We just need to go and hug them, okay?”

A minute later, Daniel quietly hugged each of his children goodbye and gave them all a kiss.  He whispered his love to each and every one, and then walked downstairs to the door.

Jack had followed him in the nursery, also giving hugs and speaking words of love to each of the children.  He was about to follow Daniel downstairs when Jennifer called out.

“Dad?”

“He'll be okay,” Jack promised as he reached out and touched Jennifer's cheek.  “You did good.  We'll be back sometime tomorrow.”

“Where are you going, Sir?” Sam asked, having come upstairs to check on the twins.

“Lake Tahoe.  Danny surprised me by renting a cabin there from a friend of Dale's.  I just checked, and it's all clear, so we're taking Jo and heading out.  Gawd, Carter, he just didn't know at the time he arranged for this weekend just how needed this little trip would be.”

“I'm sure he was hoping for something a little more romantic,” Sam commented.

“Yeah.  Anyway, I left the itinerary on the desk in the study, and I have my cell, but I'm not letting Danny take his.  If you need anything, call me, not Daniel.”

Sam nodded, and then Jack went downstairs where Daniel was standing by the door, one hand on the knob, his forehead leaning against the wooden object.

~Geez, Danny.~

Gently, Jack touched his lover's arm.  Daniel turned his head just slightly and gave a small smile.  In a second, Jack eased his lover into his arms and held him.  Pulling back, he kissed Daniel tenderly.

“It'll be okay.  I promise.”

“Are you going to fix it, Jack?” an unusually small and vulnerable voice asked, coming from the mouth of Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.

Misty-eyed, Jack smiled and nodded, awed as usual by the complete and utter faith Daniel placed in him.  He was Daniel's personal 'Mister Fix-it' and had been from the beginning of their relationship, and no way was Jack going to disappoint his husband now.

“Yes, Angel, I'm going to fix it,” Jack said with love as he caressed Daniel’s left cheek.

====

En route to the airport, Jack came to a realization.  Lake Tahoe would be good, but there was somewhere else that was more poignant and appropriate -- Bryce Canyon.  Daniel had surprised Jack with a trip there in a rental plane years ago, and after the Munchkins had been born, they had taken their first overnight trip away from the family there.  The canyon had a special place in their hearts and now, going to Utah seemed the thing to do.  They'd save Lake Tahoe for another time.

~Yeah, Bryce Canyon.  That's where we need to go,~ Jack said, pulling out his cell phone and making a phone call to notify Sam and Jennifer of the change in plans.

====

“I like it up here.”  Daniel's words were soft and quiet as he sat beside Jack in their small plane looking out at the clear blue horizon.  “There's nothing here but ... quiet ... peace.”

“It's like being one with the universe.”

“I zoned out,” Daniel stated, still not quite together, but feeling better.

“It's only natural, Love.”

“You didn't.”

“You just beat me to it, that's all,” the older man replied.

“I love you, Jack.”

“I love you, too, Angel.”

====

“It's so beautiful here,” Jack opined some time later.

“The sun will set soon; love watching that here,” Daniel responded.

“Me, too.  It's going to be heavenly,” Jack spoke softly as he leaned against a tree.

Daniel sat in front of his fix-it man, leaning against his chest.  Jack was rubbing the young man's abdomen in short caresses as he had done for most of the afternoon.

“She was so young, and she gave us so much,” Daniel spoke quietly, unable to stop thinking about the tragic loss of Kayla Armentrout.

“We'll never forget her, and we'll make sure the kids know her and what she did to make us a family.  Angel, she did a great job with those little books and videos she made.  It'll help a lot.”

“Jack, Kayla's book.  We have to make sure it gets published.”

“We'll talk to Janet.”

Jack knew that would be a priority.  It was Kayla's dream, and they had promised to make her dream come true just as she had made theirs a reality.  Somehow, they'd make sure the young woman's great American novel found its way to bookstores, even if they had to finance it themselves.

~I promise, Kayla.  Your book will make it to market,~ Jack vowed.

Minutes passed, and finally a majestic sunset appeared in front of the couple's eyes with shades of oranges and purples.  It was breathtaking.  Daniel never looked away from the setting sun and its beauty.  As for Jack, he never took his eyes off the most beautiful thing ever created -- his Daniel.

The older man kissed Daniel's temple and whispered, “Forever and always, Angel.”

“Forever and always,” Daniel pledged in barely a whisper.

As the afternoon had passed, Jack knew Bryce Canyon had been the right place to come.  He'd made reservations a little earlier at a hotel and figured it was probably time to go there.

After a few more minutes, Jack said, “It's getting cold, Danny.  Why don't we go check in at the hotel?”

“I'm scared, Jack,” Daniel confided, his voice cracked and his vulnerability was obvious.

“Scared of what?”

“The Fates; that they'll do it again.  They'll start taking everything away,” Daniel confided.

“No, they won't.  I won't let them.”  Jack's grip on Daniel strengthened as he promised, “Nothing will happen.  We're safe, and so is our brood.”

“Kayla ... she was innocent.  She was only there because ...”

“No, Daniel, I won't let you do that.  She's Janet's niece.  She came and went for years before we even met her.  She could have been there at any time and had the same thing happen.  There's no blame here, Love ... except for that which belongs to the drunk driver.”

“The Fates don't like me very much,” the younger man sighed.

“Sure they do, Angel.”  Jack snuggled into his lover just as close as he could get.  “Think about everything we have.  We have each other, and then we got the girls. Danny, look at all the love those two beagles brought into our lives.  They were and are such a cherished blessing.”

“Training,” Daniel tried to tease.

“Probably, and then we got the Munchkins, three perfect, beautiful, healthy babies; and before we knew what hit us, wow, there were the Mouseketeers.  Geez, Danny, I never thought we could pull it off, but we found a way; and then came the twins.  Eight beautiful, wonderful children, and the girls.  Tell me again how the Fates don't like us.”

Daniel turned around, sliding out of Jack's hold.  His eyes gazed into Jack's, searching for truth.  Then the tears fell, not the mournful sobs from earlier, but those of a gentle rain realizing that after the rain, there would be a sunrise with a rainbow.  He didn't know how, but Jack had managed to rid him of the paralyzing fear that had consumed him since hearing of Kayla's death.

“I love you, Jack.  Thank you for bringing me here, and ... for fixing it ... again.”  Daniel smiled as Jack took his hand, leaned over, and kissed the wedding band he was wearing.  “I guess the Fates haven't been so bad, all things considered.”

“All things considered,” Jack repeated.

“Make love to me, Jack.”

“Let's go to the hotel.”

“No, here,” the younger man demanded, needing their physical bonding right here and now.

“It's cold out here, Love.”

“Please, Jack.  I want you to make love to me here.”

Jack melted.  Daniel's soulful blue eyes were too much too resist.  Besides, they'd warm up quickly enough, so, under the clear night sky of Utah, Jack and Daniel made love.

====

The next morning, Jack and Daniel flew home in Jo, their Meyers 200A aircraft, painted blue to show off Daniel's own blue eyes.

Daniel stared at Jack as he piloted the plane, reveling in his love for the older man.

~No, the Fates haven't been so bad.  They gave me you, and that's everything, so all things considered, I wouldn't change a thing.~

====

Daniel took Sam aside, thanking her for taking care of the children, and then he spent time with Jennifer, thanking her for forgoing the party she had been looking forward to.

“I'm just glad you're feeling better, Daddy.  You are, aren't you?” Jennifer asked hopefully.

“Yes, much,” Daniel answered, giving her a smile as well.  “Jack ... he always knows how to make me feel better.  Did you have any problems while we were gone?”

“No,” Jennifer answered.  “Well, the can opener wouldn't work, but Aunt Sam fixed it.”

Daniel smiled, looking at his daughter as he questioned, “*Aunt* Sam?”

Smiling, Jennifer replied, “She said it would be okay, and I asked Aunt Janet if I could call her that, too.  It's just ... they're family, right?”

“That's right,” Daniel affirmed, still smiling.  “It's ... hard to let people in sometimes, Jen, but it's worth it when you do.”

Daniel sighed, looking away and becoming lost in thought.

“You're thinking about Kayla, aren't you?” the girl asked.

“Jen, because of my history, I've been pretty guarded about who I let into my life. I've ... kept some people at a distance; Dad's been the same way, but for different reasons.  I, we, hope that you and your brothers and sisters will be a little more ... open.  I'm proud of you for talking to S...Aunt Sam and Aunt Janet and letting them in like this.”

Daniel leaned over and kissed his daughter on the cheek.

“Oh, Daddy, I almost forgot,” Jennifer stated.  “Aunt Janet wants you to call her about the service, just to verify a couple of things she said.”

“Okay,” Daniel acknowledged.  “Tell Dad I'll be in the den,” he requested, kissing the girl before going to the den to place the call.

The service was scheduled for later that afternoon.  It would be difficult, but at least now, Daniel could focus again, thanks to his loving husband, his attentive pre-teen daughter, and one very good friend.

====

The memorial was short and upbeat, just as Kayla had requested.  Sara and Mark were babysitting the babies, but the Mouseketeers insisted on attending.

“You need us to be there with you, and we want to be there with you,” Jennifer had told her parents, and it was the truth.

The three children provided both Jack and Daniel with mounds of strength as they struggled to get through the service.

Towards the end of the service, the pastor asked if anyone else would care to speak.  Jennifer looked at her parents, surprising them by standing up and walking to Kayla's coffin.  She didn't look at the mourners, just at the photo of the smiling, energetic, and vivacious woman who lay dead inside the black vessel.

“My brothers and sisters and I were very fortunate to have you in our lives.  You were a great friend, and we'll miss you ... a lot.”  After a moment, Jennifer took a rose that the pastor offered her and set it upon Kayla's coffin.  Her hand rubbing the coffin as she fought back tears, Jennifer spoke softly, “Mom, this is from all of your children, all eight of us.  Be safe.  We'll see you again someday.”

**Gawd, Jack.**

**That's our daughter.**

The two men were full of pride at their daughter's actions, and were surprised and proud again when David and Chenoa each mimicked Jennifer's actions.

David said, “Mom, this is for the Munchkins.  Thank you for bringing them into the world.  Little Danny is talking now.  I wish you could hear him.”

The boy placed his flower on the coffin, next to the one Jennifer had placed there.

Then Chenoa wobbled a little as she stood, but said firmly, “Love you, Mom.”

The toddler looked up at Jennifer and tugged on her skirt.  Everyone waited as the girl leaned over and listened for almost a minute to the talking toddler.  Then they saw the smile on Jennifer's face as she kissed her sister.

“Noa isn't quite old enough to say all that is in her heart, but what she wants to say is that this flower is for the twins, and ...” Jennifer brushed back another tear, “and Mom, Noa was wondering if you could say 'hi' to our birth mother and father.  Let them know we're okay because we have really great fathers who love us.  Noa ... well, all of us, miss them.”

Jennifer nodded at her younger sister and motioned towards the coffin.  The toddler then leaned up on her tip-toes to place her flower next to the one David had just laid down a couple of minutes earlier.

Jennifer leaned over and hugged her siblings, whispering, “You two did great.  Someday, we'll tell our brothers and sisters about how we said goodbye to our mother for them, okay?”

Two nods were the children's answer, and quickly, the trio returned to their parents and found themselves swallowed up in a large family hug.

“You didn't have to do that,” Daniel choked out.

“Yes, we did,” Jennifer said, not leaving a speck of doubt in her voice.

Daniel nodded and then leaned into Jack as they listened to a final song as the service ended.

Afterwards, there was a short reception, which was almost harder for the couple to get through, but once again, the Mouseketeers provided them with unending strength and courage to persevere.  Finally, though, they returned home to continue their mourning in private and to move forward with their lives together.

====

A few days later, Janet phoned and spoke with Jack.  She had a favor to ask of him, one she knew might be difficult, but she was in a bind.  Jack agreed and went to the den to speak with his husband about the call.  If Daniel couldn't participate, he'd handle it alone.

“Cassie has a presentation to make, and she wants Janet with her.  She's feeling a little ...”

“Kayla's death hit her hard,” Daniel interjected, bowing his head as he spent a moment remembering Kayla.

“Yeah, so Janet wants to go and spend time with her and be there for the presentation, but she had been planning to clean out Kayla's apartment this weekend.  She wanted to know if we'd do it, take the things to her house, make sure everything was out.”

“We could just pay the rent for another month,” the younger man suggested.

“Yes, we could, if that's what you want to do,” Jack responded.  ~I'll give him a second to think about it.  Maybe it's too early for him.~

“No, I just ... I still keep looking for an email from her talking about some tribal custom somewhere,” the archaeologist spoke, glancing over at his computer.

“How about if I call Sam or Sara and see if one of them can take the brood?” Jack asked.

“Okay.”

====

“Look, Danny -- her photos from Africa.  Look at this one: she's right next to an elephant.  It reminds me of the photo of you on the camel,” Jack said fondly.

Daniel walked up and smiled at the picture, recalling, “She had such a good time there.”  He moved away, studying other things in Kayla's apartment.  He stopped at the desk and stared at the package.  The female adventurer had obviously opened it and then loosely re-wrapped it.  “Jack, come here.”  As his lover joined him, he said, “This is from the publisher.  Look at the date.”

“She said she finished the draft.  He just wanted it edited.”

Daniel pulled out the manuscript and walked over to the sofa, reading as he did so.  He turned to the first page and read, getting more and more engrossed in it.  He knew he didn't have time to read it in detail, but continued to skim chapter after chapter to get the feel of the novel.

Jack considered bringing Daniel back to reality, but he couldn't.  Whatever Daniel was reading had to be powerful.  He could see the expression on Daniel's face -- focused, intense, involved.  He puttered around the apartment, boxing things quietly and reverently.

====

An hour later, Jack heard Daniel exclaim, “Oh gawd.”

“Danny?”

Jack rushed to the sofa and sat down next to him, leaning forward and sideways to face Daniel.

“It's ... it's us,” Daniel revealed.

“What?”

“Her great American novel ... is about us.  Jack, I thought it was just coincidence. I mean, as I've been reading, I kept thinking how much it sounded like us, but I didn't think it could be, but it is.  We're her novel, Jack.  The story she waited her whole life to write ... and it's us.”

Jack leaned over Daniel's shoulder.  Daniel had gone back to the first page and together, they spent the next few hours reading Kayla's novel.  When they were done, both had tears running down their cheeks.  They were touched beyond belief.

Kayla's goal had been to write a great adventure story, like some of the greatest literary talents throughout time had done.  She had always anticipated that her journeys around the globe would be the setting for her story.  Instead, she had found her story in her dear friends, Jack and Daniel.

The writer's story had evolved from the tale of a wandering journalist to that of a close-to-retirement-age Air Force general and a brilliant archaeologist who had fallen in love, but had been forced to hide their relationship because of military regulations.  The story of the two men hadn't been the major plot, but as the adventure continued, it was the story of the enormous love and the courage of the two men that took over the book.  It was the proverbial sub-plot that ended up being the big story.

The tale told of the hard realities of living a life together when most people, including family and friends, didn't have a clue about the relationship, not because the lovers hadn't wanted to share their love, but because they couldn't risk the careers of those friends if they did find out.  The book showed in vivid detail how the misconceptions of a society could inflict so much pain on two people who wanted only to love without being condemned for it.

Through pictures and glimpses of their lives, Kayla's book took the reader on the emotional rollercoaster of a same-sex couple surviving in a world where they were often laughed at, where they were looked at as being deviants, and where they couldn't reveal their love for fear of one of them being prosecuted professionally.  It was an essay about Americana in a time of change, and of two people, who had never sought this life, but had found it, and wanted only to be together in peace.

“Jack, it's my computer diaries.  I showed them to her.  I mean ... without the alien stuff.  We talked about it, about why people don't understand us.  Gawd, Jack, I just wanted to love you, that's all.”

“Angel,” Jack kissed his husband on the temple and pulled him close as he spoke. “She did a good job.  Geez, I thought she was writing about India.”

“Me, too.  Jack, everything I was trying to say in those diaries, about our love and having to hide it ... a...about how that felt ... it's all here.  She's made it so ... so ...”

“All the pain and all the love ... on a few hundred pages of manuscript.”

“She didn't tell us.”

“She wanted it to be a surprise, Love,” Jack replied.

“It is.  I wish we could hug her.”

Jack sighed, but then he got a thought.  He moved slightly, reaching in his pocket, but not finding what he wanted.

“I guess we should pack this place up,” Daniel finally said, getting up off the sofa while trying not to lose his composure any more than he had.  He went to a shelf and began to take out the books, but when he looked back towards Jack, he noticed that his lover was back on the sofa, writing something.  “What are you doing?”

Daniel sat back down, trying to figure out what his husband was doing.

A moment later, Jack turned the manuscript so Daniel could see what he had written and commented, “More poignant like this ...”

As he looked, Daniel saw a new sentence in place of an old one, and it was better. He watched as Jack made a few more notes, correcting some grammar and rewording things.  Each correction or each enhancement was an improvement on the overall piece.

Seeing his lover staring at him, Jack sighed, “Okay.  Danny, remember once we were having a big fight, and I asked how you would feel if I said that I had a teaching certificate?”

“Oh, gawd.”

“I thought it was too much.  You were so angry at me for all the degrees.  I started to tell you, obviously, but ... it just felt like too much.  It's a secondary credential that went hand in hand with my English Lit degree.”  Jack paused, sighing.  “Are we going to fight, Danny?”

Shaking his head, Daniel smiled, answering, “No.  I don't think I'll ever know all of you, but that's okay.  I'm getting used to being surprised.  It ... keeps things exciting.”

Jack put the manuscript aside for a moment and twisted his body around to look at Daniel squarely.  He cupped his husband's face, his thumbs gently caressing his cheeks.  He gazed lovingly, but intensely into Daniel's blue eyes, needing and wanting Daniel to understand something very important.

“Angel, I *promise* you.  You know *everything* that's really important.  These things, the ridiculous IQ that means squat, the degrees that are basically paper only, my age, they're ...”

“... small fries,” Daniel said as he smiled, using Jack's terminology from a fight years before.

“Yeah.  They don't mean anything.  There's nothing from Iraq or Special Ops or ... that time.  I mean ...”

Daniel put his hand over Jack's mouth, silencing him as he spoke, “I know what you mean.  So what if there are a few little facts I don't know.  There's probably things about me we've never talked about, too, but it doesn't matter.  What does is that we're one heart and one soul ...”

“Forever and always,” both said in unison.

Then the soulmates kissed.  Jack returned to his previous position, picking up the manuscript and reviewing the pages.

A minute later, Daniel pulled out his pen and asked, “Jack, what about this?” as he made a few changes.

Jack smiled in response, agreeing, “Yeah, that works.”

The two kept going, hour after hour, until they had made notes throughout the entire manuscript.  They looked at each other, and Jack nodded.

“If Corning doesn't publish it ...”

“Then we will,” Daniel stated determinedly.

“Then we will,” Jack echoed.  “She should have more copies in the desk.  Let's make sure, and then we need to make copies of this and go through it again, paragraph by paragraph.”

“I'll bet she has this on disk, Jack.  I can make the changes easily if she does,” Daniel said as he stood and looked through the desk, coming up with the item he was after.

“How about manuscripts?” Jack questioned.

Daniel pulled open the bottom drawer and answered, “Yes, four copies, and a few of her earlier drafts.  And ...”

As Jack joined his husband, Daniel held a file that had written on it, “No matter what draft we end up with, this is the dedication for it.”  

They opened it and read the words in Kayla's handwriting:

“For J and D, unknown heroes of the greatest kind, not for their professions, but because they dare to love in a way that risks all, and in doing so, have made my dreams come true.  You are truly my heroes, and I love you both!”

Jack took the envelopes and files Daniel had in his hand and put them down.  Then he cupped Daniel's face, his thumbs again rubbing lovingly along the skin.

“You're my dream, Angel,” Jack said, and then leaned in for a kiss of passion that went on for a few minutes.  “I love you, Danny.”

“Love you, too,” Daniel said before leaning into Jack's hold.

The couple stood for quite a while until a look at the clock revealed that they needed to head home.

“We didn't get much done here today, apartment-wise, did we?” Jack asked.

“No, but I think we finally found a way to say thank you and ... and to say goodbye.”

Jack nodded, and a few minutes later, with Jack carrying a box that contained the copies of Kayla's transcripts and the computer disks she'd worked on, Kayla's heroes went home to their family, determined to make sure that Kayla's dream would be published.

====
-- Chapter Six:  Jack Cubed!
====

“Idiotic red tape.  *Daniel*?” Jack bellowed from his study where he had just gotten off the phone with Yazid.

“Jack, we have children.  You can't bellow like that anymore.  You'll scare them,” the archaeologist warned as he entered the study.

Jack looked over at the Munchkins, all happily playing in the playpen he had moved to the room earlier, and opined, “They look normal to me.”

“Jack!”

“Yes, Dear.”

“*Jack!*” Daniel admonished with cold eyes.

Jack laughed, then grew serious again, saying, “Danny, we have a problem.”

“When do we not have a problem?” Daniel smirked as he smiled at the Munchkins.  ~Jonny, you are not breaking out of the playpen,~ he thought as he watched the oldest baby studying the corner of his enclosure with curiosity.

Jack decided to ignore that comment since it was all too true and informed, “Anyway, we have a problem.  Yazid said he can't get an okay for the girls to be at the dig site.”

Daniel wasn't really surprised.  He'd done some research over the last couple of months and knew there could be complications, but he was determined they would prevail.

“Jonny, look,” Daniel spoke, distracting the boy with one of Jack's model airplanes.  “Cool, isn't it?”  He made a humming noise as he pretended to fly the plane, successfully getting Jonny to move away from his 'escape' zone.

“Escape?” Jack asked.

“He was working on it,” Daniel said with a smile as he put the plane back on its shelf, happy when Jonny began playing with the other two Munchkins.  Turning back to face his love, he folded his arms in a dramatic show of strength and said, “About the girls, Jack, technically, it's against the rules, but we aren't going without them.”

“I was hoping you'd say that,” Jack said, eager to see what his lover would come up with, and he knew Daniel would come up with something.

“I have an idea.  I'll call Yazid and see if he can broker something for me.”

“Here, have a seat and a phone,” Jack offered as he got up and made a grand sweeping motion for his husband to take his chair.  “I'll take over the wardenship,” he chuckled, intending to sit down on the sofa and keep an eye on the playing triplets.

Daniel laughed as he took Jack's place, but he requested, “Babe, would you check on Jenny for me?  She was a little fussy this morning.  She might be coming down with something.”

“Yeah, I noticed that.  I'll go take a peek.  Good luck, and better keep a close watch,” the Special Ops expert pointed out, noticing that Jonny was glancing over at the corner of the playpen again.

“Definitely,” Daniel agreed, shaking his head at Jonny's unique skill.

====

Twenty minutes later, Daniel walked into the nursery looking for Jack.  He saw Jenny wasn't in the crib so he assumed Jack had her with him.  He checked the master bedroom and then he heard his lover in the den.

“Yeah, that's what I thought, Syl.  One of us will bring her ... you can?  Are you nuts?  With our brood, that'll get you in the will!  See you soon.”

“What's going on?” Daniel questioned.

“I think Jenny has an ear infection.  See how she's tugging on that ear, and it, ewww, smells.”

“Yeah, that's ... bad,” Daniel agreed, his face scrunching from the bad odor.  “Is Sylvia making a house call?”

“Isn't she great?” Jack said, beaming at their luck in having such a devoted family physician.

“Makes life easier,” Daniel agreed as Jenny began to cry.

“Don't cry, Princess.  It'll be better soon,” Jack promised soothingly.

“Sing to her, Jack.”

“Nah.”

“Trust me.  It'll make her feel better,” Daniel urged with a sweet smile.

As Daniel listened, Jack sang a soft lullaby to their baby daughter, and soon she was asleep in his arms.

“Everyone's a critic,” Jack whispered as he kissed Jenny's forehead.

“It's so powerful, Jack.”

“What is?” the older man questioned.

“Love.  Being able to make your child feel safe and loved by something so simple as a song or a touch.”

“Have I told you lately that I happen to love you?” Jack asked.

“Every second of every day,” Daniel answered, completely serious.

The two stood, gazing into each other's eyes, for what seemed like forever to them.

“Geez,” Jack spoke, finally breaking the spell.  “What, uh, did Yazid say?” he struggled to ask.

“Um ...”  Daniel struggled himself.  The connection he had with his husband was so strong that sometimes it threatened to overwhelm him, as had been the case just now.  “He's, uh, going to propose a couple of ideas and see if any of them make the Department of Antiquities happy.”

“What kind of ideas?”

“Several.  One was ... whoops,” Daniel paused, looking towards the door upon hearing raised voices from downstairs.  “I'd better go see what the commotion is about.  Love you,” he spoke as he exited the den and went to check on their other children.

====

“Yazid's plane arrives in ninety minutes, Jack.  I don't want to be late,” Daniel stated.  He was happy the morning had gone off without a hitch, all of the Jackson-O'Neill children successfully taken to either school or dropped off at various friend's houses for a visit.  ~We have so much to do.~

“Geez, Danny, you sound like you're meeting ... me!”

“Jack, please put Mr. Jealousy away.  We have a full schedule and can't afford distractions.  Please ...” Daniel walked to his husband.  He put his hands on Jack's neck, gently caressing, sliding his fingertips along the warm skin there.  He nibbled on Jack's lower lip and then used his tongue to tickle Jack's lips.  The two kissed gently, and then powerfully.  “All yours, Love, forever.  I promise.”

“Mine,” Jack whispered.  “You don't need to promise.  I know.  I just get ...”

“... possessive.”

“Yeah.  I'll try to be good,” Jack spoke.

“You are good, Babe,” Daniel opined.  “Believe me, you're good, very good; in fact, better than good.”

“Daniel, you keep looking at me like that and we are so going to be late.”

“Let's be late,” Daniel whispered into Jack's mouth.

Before long, the happy couple were making love, rapid-fire style.

====

“Wow, that may have been quick, but it definitely had a kick to it,” Jack mused cheerfully as they walked down their front steps.

“You make it sound like a shot of tequila,” Daniel responded, nodding at their neighbor, Mitzi Miller, as she drove by.

“Oh, no, Angel, you're much better than tequila.”

“Gee, thanks, Jack.”

The lovers laughed as they climbed into Jack's truck and headed for Denver to pick up Yazid.

====

“It's good to meet you, Yazid,” Megan nodded as she was introduced to the man at the J-O Enterprises office.  ~Hot!  It's definitely hot in here.~

J-O Enterprises' Director of Operations couldn't help but notice the Egyptian's good looks.  He was well built, about six-feet, three-inches tall, had thick, wavy brown hair with piercing brown, almost black eyes.  His smile was incredible and was accented by a pair of delectable dimples.  She knew the man was forty-five years old, but her thoughts as she welcomed him was that he looked a gorgeous thirty-five.

“It is my pleasure,” Yazid responded, taking her hand and kissing it.

**Daniel, I sense sparkage,** Jack communicated, pleased that Megan seemed to have taken a liking to the man, especially if it kept Yazid away from Daniel.

**She's just being nice,** the younger man replied, though he had to admit he'd never quite seen Megan as smiley as she was right now.  In fact, as he listened to her exchanging more pleasantries with their guest, he noticed a slight blush in response to the compliments being tossed her way.  There was also something she was doing with her eyes, but he couldn't quite figure out what it was.  ~Or not,~ he added, hearing the woman giggle coyly in response to one of Yazid's comments.

“Let me show you our office,” Megan offered.  “Please, follow me.”

“To follow such a lovely rose will indeed be a joy,” Yazid replied charmingly.

As Megan blushed again, she began the tour of the house that served as the office for the archaeological company.

**Sparkage, Daniel; definitely sparkage,** Jack reiterated, getting a nod and a sigh from his husband as they followed the two.

~Why does he look that way?  Why the dejected sigh?  Megan's a good looking woman, so why shouldn't she like the man.  Jealous, Daniel?  I'll ...~  Jack took a breath and urged, ~Calm down, O'Neill.  Daniel doesn't need your jealousy right now ... but crap, that man is better looking than I thought he would be, and he was giving Daniel a massage?  I don't ...~

**Jack, cut it out.  You just said there was sparkage between them, so why are you doing this?  *Stop,* and ... I love you.**

Jack gulped at being overheard and responded, **Sorry, Love.  It's the first time I've actually seen him.**

**And I guess he's good looking enough, but he's not my sexy, charming grizzly bear.  Now, stay on task, please.**

**Yes, Love ... and, Danny, I love you, too.**

====

Eventually, with the office tour concluded, the four associates sat down to discuss the specifics of the upcoming dig.

“I am pleased to tell you, Daniel, that I have made arrangements to allow Miss Bijou and Miss Katie to be with you at the site,” Yazid announced.

“Do we have to give away our first born?” Jack quipped.

“Jack, behave.”

Yazid smiled at Jack's humor, responding, “No, General, but Mister Farouk would be pleased if you, Daniel, would assist on a project that has given our government some difficulty recently.”

“What kind of project?”

“Translations,” Yazid answered.  He elaborated, “Their linguists are not as proficient as you in ancient languages.  Of course, those are my words, Daniel, and not theirs.”

“Of course,” Daniel acknowledged quietly.

“They have had difficulty with their work.  If you would be willing to assist while in Egypt, they will ... look the other way.”

Jack and Daniel smiled.  They knew all about looking the other way.  They thanked Yazid, and Daniel agreed to help while he was there.

====

Over the next couple of days, J-O Enterprises worked closely with Yazid as they formulated a plan on how to continue with the project.  Though the preliminary evaluation and mapping was promising, they needed more information.  J-O had also been given permission to do a more detailed exploration.  Megan and two others would travel to Egypt and do a watching brief that would provide more detail than the assessments done previously.

Yazid would also be on site acting as a coordinator between Megan and the local authorities.

“I look forward to showing you my villa,” Yazid spoke as he prepared to leave for the airport.  “There are many delights I wish to share with you.”

“It'll be my pleasure, Yazid,” Megan replied, smiling as the man again kissed her hand.

Jack and Daniel looked at each other, smiled, and mentally expressed in unison, **Sparkage!**

====

The Jackson-O'Neills gathered around for their family time.  They all loved this part of their daily life when they gathered together to share both the good and bad of the day.  On this Saturday night, though, Jack and Daniel had a surprise for the children.

“Daddy and I have something to tell you,” Jack began.

“We're going on a trip, all of us,” Daniel said.

“Cool.  A vacation!” Jennifer exclaimed.

“Actually, it's more than that, Jen,” Jack stated.  “We'll do some sightseeing, but this is also a business trip.”

“Business?” the girl questioned.

“A dig?” David asked excitedly.

“A dig,” Daniel smiled as he answered his son's question.

“Where to, Daddy?” Jennifer asked.

“Egypt,” the younger man announced.

“Wow!” both of the older children exclaimed.

Daniel expounded, “We'll be going to a place called Abydos.  It's one of Egypt's oldest cities.  It's the burial site of many kings, and it's full of ancient temples and ruins.”

“Is there a tennis court?” David asked.

“Cute, David,” Jack smirked, knowing the little boy was teasing.  “This is going to be like a giant camping trip -- no extras and no frills.  We'll be living in a big tent for several weeks.”

“Oh ... wow,” Jennifer said a bit less enthusiastically.

“You can bring some books and music and ... well, you ask, and we'll let you know if it's okay.  Jen,” Jack said, “we'll be counting on you a lot.  Daddy and I are going to be very busy working.”

“Full-time babysitting, huh?  Do I get paid?”  The pre-teen saw the scowls and sighed, “I'm just kidding.”

“Jen,” Daniel leaned forward, “I know we're asking a lot, but we need to be able to count on you.”

“You can.  I promise.”

“Dad's going to bring his telescope, so we're going to spend some time as a family learning about astronomy, and you're probably going to learn more about Egypt than you want to, but I have a lot to tell you about the places we'll be going,” Daniel stated as the children listened closely.

“And we will be doing some vacationing,” Jack added.  “We're going to start out with a cruise down the Nile and see some history before we go to the dig site.  If we have time, we'll do little getaways while we're there.”

Smiling, Daniel informed, “And Aunt Sam and Teal'c will both be coming with us.”

“T?” Chenoa repeated brightly.

Jack laughed as he informed his daughter, “He's all yours, Noa, for weeks.”

“Yeaaaaaaaaaaah!  TEEEEEE!”

Jack and Daniel smiled.  Chenoa's crush for the Jaffa had grown.  She thought he could do no wrong.

“Oh, does this have something to do with when they came here, acting all crazy with those water guns?” Jennifer questioned.

Daniel smiled and nodded, explaining, “This trip wouldn't be possible without them.  We owe them ... a lot.”

Then Jack stated, “Jen, the schedule isn't firm yet, but there's a chance we might be leaving before the end of the school term.  We've already spoken with the school, and, if necessary, your teachers are willing to let you take finals early.”

“Peachy,” the girl responded, mimicking her father.

Daniel laughed, then added, “And we've spoken with your school, too, David.  It's not a problem with them, either.  You won't have finals, but there's a science project we'll need to make sure you complete before we go.”

“Okay, Daddy.”

Chenoa giggled.

“What's so funny, Princess?” Jack asked.

“T mine!” the toddler laughed, clapping her hands together excitedly.

Jack and Daniel resisted the urge to laugh.

**I wonder what the legal marrying age is on Chulak?** Jack questioned.

**No idea, Jack, and I don't think we want to find out!** Daniel answered.
 
====

The month of March had ended and, after enjoying some April Fools Day hijinks, the plans for Egypt were progressing, both on a business and a personal front.

“What are you doing, Dad?” David asked when he entered the garage and saw his father bringing down a few boxes from the rafters.

“I'm trying to find some camping items I want to take with us on our trip.  Daniel has told me for years that I should label these boxes, but I never have.”  Jack paused and looked at the boy.  “Son, if you learn nothing else from Daddy, learn that he is always right.  The sooner you learn that, the easier life will be.  Besides, if you learn that, you'll learn a lot because you'll never go wrong doing what he says.”

David smiled as he acknowledged, “Daddy's very smart.”

“Daddy is a genius,” Jack stated assuredly.  “He acts very shy about it, but he has degrees and doctorates all over the place.  He's a thinker, a problem solver, and a great negotiator.  That man could think his way out of most anything ... and he has.”

“Dad, I don't see any camping equipment in this box,” David pointed out, trying to help his father by opening up one of the boxes and going through it.  “But there's a baseball glove and some toys and things.”

“Oh, that's, uh, Charlie's,” Jack said, pausing to look over at the items in the box.

David knew who Charlie was.  The boy's picture was on the mantle and in Daniel's Tree of Love.  He was talked about quite a bit, never forgotten.  The young boy was curious about the brother he had never had the opportunity to meet.

“How did Charlie die?”

Jack answered honestly, saying, “He accidentally shot himself.”

“Wow.  Hhhow?” David asked a bit hesitantly, stuttering a bit from his surprise.

~I was stupid.~  Jack sighed at the sad memory, the regret still there at the huge and costly mistake he had made.  Softly, he answered, “He found my gun.”

“I didn't know you had a gun.”

Jack looked David straight in the eye and spoke firmly, “Exactly, and you won't see one in this house, either.”

“I'm sorry Charlie died.”

“Me, too, but he's here, in our hearts and our spirits.  He's here, Son.”

David held the baseball glove in his hand, observing, “It's too big for me.”

“Not for long,” Jack spoke softly, sporting a cautious smile and returning to his search.

“I'll bet Charlie was good at sports.”

“He sure was.  Football, hockey, soccer -- you name it, he played it, but baseball was his favorite.”

The difference between a decade earlier and now was that back then the sheer mention of Charlie's death would have spun Jack into a cold, sulking depression. Now, while still regretting what had happened, he could move on and focus on the good memories he had of his son.

Jack smiled, remembering the games of catch and trips to the ice rink with his first born.  He laughed for a second as he recalled the first time Charlie had hit a ball through a window in the second story of their home.  Sara hadn't been happy about that, but he'd just shrugged and said, “He hit a home run.”

“I'm not very good at sports,” the youngster said, looking down at the glove.

“Not everyone is, but everyone has their own niche, David.  Some are good at science, others at history, some are great in making crafts; everyone is good at different things.  You know how I was just talking about Daddy's brilliance?”  After David nodded, Jack stated, “He is lousy at math, though.  It drives him crazy.”

“I'm not very good at math, either.”

Jack laughed, “You're just like Daddy; that's a good thing.”

“I could try to play baseball if you wanted me to,” David said eagerly.

“David, what I want is for you to be yourself.  Hey, here they are.  Mission accomplished,” Jack spoke happily, finding the items he was after.

====

“General Jackson-O'Neill, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, please come in and have a seat.  I have to talk with one of the clerks for a moment, but I'll be right back, and then we can get started.”

The greeting came from Bernard Capeshaw, a young lawyer they'd received a cryptic phone call from a few days earlier.  They weren't sure why they were there except that it had something to do with Kayla.  As they entered, the couple was surprised to see Janet already seated.  Seeing them, the doctor rose and walked to them.

“Janet,” Daniel greeted softly, hugging her.

“Hi, Daniel.  How are you?”

“Better, thanks.”

“How ya doing, Doc?” Jack asked as he moved forward to hug Janet.

“It's been a little rough, but I'm okay.  I'm still going through Kayla's things.  Almost done, though.  By the way, thank you for boxing everything and bringing it over.  I know it wasn't easy.”

“No, it wasn't, but ... I'm glad we did it, Janet.  It was a bit like saying goodbye, and I'm glad we found her novel,” the archaeologist replied.

“You guys did a great job with it.  I know Kayla would be proud.”

“Uh, do you know what this is about?” Daniel asked.

“You two don't know?”

“No, this guy called a few days ago, but it was kinda hectic,” Jack explained.  “About all we know is it has something to do with Kayla.”

“It's her will, Jack,” Janet explained.

“Oh,” Daniel expressed, sinking down into a chair.

Jack sat down next to him, saying, “Danny?”

“I think I'm glad I didn't know.”  Looking at Jack, Daniel gave him a small smile, assuring, “I'm okay, Jack.  It's just ... you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jack said, taking Daniel's hand in his.

“I'm sorry for the delay,” the lawyer said as he returned, closed the door, and then sat down at his desk.  “Let me make sure I have everything ... yes ... yes, okay.”  He looked up and smiled.  “Thank you again for coming.  This is essentially the reading of Kayla's will.”

“I didn't even know she had one,” Daniel said.

“Actually, it's a living trust, and she's had it for some time,” Capeshaw spoke.  “Kayla was an amazing woman.  She didn't have much in terms of finances or material things, but what she did have was meaningful.”

“Mister Capeshaw, did you know her ... I mean, well?” Daniel asked, thinking the man's comments were more personal than those of simply an attorney hired to make a will.

“Yes, I did,” the man acknowledged.  “We met in Brazil several years ago.  At the time, I was living in Montana.”

“I'm just surprised she never mentioned you, since you live here.”

“Oh, no, I don't.  I reside in Washington State,” Capeshaw informed.

“This isn't your office?” Jack asked, looking around the office suite.

“No, I'm sorry if I gave you that impression.  The 'Capeshaw' on the door is a cousin.  He's letting me use the office.  You see, Kayla and I were good friends.  She asked me that if something ever happened to her that I talk to the three of you in person.  I ... I missed the funeral,” the man sighed.  “Family matters of my own, but ... she was a special spirit on this Earth.”

“Yes, she was,” Jack agreed.

“Janet,” the lawyer said, nodding for her to proceed.

“Okay, Guys, like Bernard said, this is a living trust.  He's basically just helping me to get through the legal side of it.  I guess you could say I'm the administrator.  She requested I follow through on her wishes, and that's what I'm trying to do.”

Since Janet was choking up a little bit, Daniel reached out and took her shaking hand, offering, “We can do this later.”

“No, Daniel, it'll never be any easier to do this.  You know Kayla.  She'd want us to move forward as fast as we could.”  Janet took a cleansing breath.  With a smile and a nod, she reached for the papers the lawyer had.  “First, she wanted me to have her photographs from Africa.  I've always admired her ability to make nature look ... natural, and I've complimented her on several of the pictures she took there.  You know she had some of them published in the National Geographic, but ...”

“Yeah, I saw those in an issue last year.  They were fantastic.  Kayla was one talented woman.”  Jack paused, bowing his head.  “Sorry, Janet, I didn't mean to interrupt.”

“That's all right.  The photos were all wonderful.”  The physician paused, then asked, “Did you two know Gina Marconi?”

“Her best friend,” Daniel replied.  “We never met her, but Kayla talked about her and her son.”

“Yes.  Gina has a passion for art so Kayla thought she might enjoy the few sculptures she had collected over the years -- that bronze thing and ...”

Jack laughed, “... and that thing that looks like an elevator meeting a train wreck?”

“Jack!”

“Yes, that one, too,” Janet said, smiled.  Then she continued, “She always wanted Bernard to have her collection of audiotapes, mostly music from around the world, some chants and really unique stuff.”

“I'm a music buff,” the man explained, “especially sounds of the world.  As she traveled, Kayla picked up some truly wonderful samples of song.”

“The rest of her things, for the most part, she said I could dispose of as I wanted, with a few provisos for some sentimental items that she wanted to go to ... um ...”

“Janet?” Jack asked, seeing the physician tearing up.

“They meant so much to her.  I saw how much those children changed her.  She loved her life, but she was actually thinking about changing it. I think she was considering having a family of her own.”

“She had one; she had us,” Daniel said firmly.  “I ... know what you mean, though.  She said something like that to me shortly before she ...”

Jack caressed Daniel's hand which he still held, his thumb running soothingly over the back of it.

“You know what she told me the day before the accident?” Janet asked quickly, saving Daniel from having to finish his sentence.  “She said 'Janet, I think I might find myself a man, get married, and don't faint, but I think I want to have a baby -- my own this time, and if I'm lucky, that man will love me just half as much as Jack and Daniel love each other, and if I'm even luckier, my baby will get to grow up knowing his or her half-siblings and share in all that love.'  That's what she said.  I about fell off my stool.  I never thought I'd hear words like that from her.”

“I wish she could have ... could have ...” Daniel sighed, bowing his head.

Jack squeezed Daniel's hand, earning him a small smile from his husband.

“There are things she wants the children to have -- little mementos,” Janet continued, glancing at the papers, not wanting to forget anything.  “I've already boxed some of those things up, but we can go over those later.  Right now, there is one bigger thing that needs to be addressed.”

“What?” Jack asked.

“Several publishers have already purchased some of her articles and photo essays that she completed before ...”  Janet paused and tried to hide a tear.  Quickly, Daniel pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to her.  She smiled in gratitude as she dabbed the moisture from her eyes. A moment later, she continued.  “Kayla took that money and put it into a small account.  It was a special account.  She wanted any monies from anything we might sell of hers to be added to it, and,” she smiled as she sighed, “She also requested that any proceeds from her book, should it be published, go into this account.”

“She must have known we'd see to it that it was,” Jack said.

“That's my hunch.  Jack, Daniel, it was her wish that you use those funds to take the children to India.  She said you'd know why.  Um, Bernard, you're making them a copy of the trust so they can read what Kayla wrote, right?” Janet questioned.

“Yes.  Sorry they weren't done before you arrived, but I'll have Sally run the copies before you leave.”

“Thank you,” Daniel said.  Turning to face his soulmate, he smiled and said, “India.”

“Remember, Love, when she talked about India in her email?  It was very important to her that the kids value the things they have, that no matter how much we spoil them, they know what really matters,” Jack spoke.

“I remember, Jack.  When they get older, we'll take them.”

“She wrote letters,” Janet added, handing a large manila envelope to Daniel.

“Oh, gawd.  Jack,” Daniel said after he opened the package and looked through the pile of letters that were inside.  “There's one for each of the Munchkins ... and the twins ... Jen ... gawd, all the Mouseketeers ... you and me ... and ...”

Daniel shook his head, unable to continue speaking.  He held up the last envelope so Jack could see.

“To our girls.  Geez, I knew Kayla was the right one,” Jack said, thinking back about their choice to ask her to be birth mother of their children.

“Ah, there is one thing that she requested that be given to the two of you as soon as possible,” the petite woman stated.

Janet stood and walked over to the wall where a bag was on the floor.  She took the bag and handed it to Daniel who really wasn't sure he could take much more.

“Jack, it's ... it can't be ...”  Daniel looked up at Janet for confirmation of what he was thinking.  “Janet?  Is this ...”

Smiling, Janet nodded, answering, “Bobette, or as she was better known, Bobo.”

“The stuffed monkey,” Jack said softly staring at Kayla's plush toy.

“But it wasn't at her apartment when we cleared it out,” Daniel commented.

“No, it was in Cassie's care.”

“Janet ...” Daniel began, not wanting to take a precious memento from Cassandra.

“Daniel, it was on loan.  Cassie is fine with it; better than fine actually.  This is Kayla's wish, and she wants to honor it,” Janet reassured.

Daniel nodded and smiled at the stuffed animal, all the while wishing Kayla were here so he could tease her about it.

The group talked some more about the letters and then finished all the business obligations they needed to discuss about the account for India.

====

Back at home, Jack and Daniel enjoyed a quiet night with their family.  Not really in the mood for their normal nightly activities, they decided to retire to their bedroom earlier than usual, knowing they had things to talk about.  They changed into their pajamas and then took their positions on the bed, sitting up against the headboard as they looked at the letters Kayla had written.

“Danny, I think we should have a family meeting, tell the kids about the letters, and let it be their choice if and when they read them.”

“They'll want to read them, Jack.  It's just a question of ...”

“... when,” the men spoke together.

“And if they should read them ...” Jack began.

“... alone,” the lovers said in unison.

“Or with one or both of ...” Daniel began.

“... us ... there,” the two said at the same time.

Sighing, Daniel suggested, “I guess we should read ours now.”

“We could wait.”

“Jack, no.  I need this to be over.”  Looking upwards, he begged, “Please, Kayla, wherever you are, don't misunderstand.  It's just ... Egypt is coming up and ...”  He sighed, glancing at his soulmate.  “Jack, I loved her.  I really loved her.”

“I know, Angel; me, too,” Jack said as he placed a kiss on Daniel's cheek.  “So ...” he said, not sure how Daniel wanted to do the reading.

Whatever his lover did, Jack would follow his lead.  He considered offering to leave the bedroom in case Daniel wanted to be alone, but just as he was about to say something, Daniel shifted closer.

Taking his letter and opening it, Daniel requested, “Hold me, Jack.”

It wasn't really a planned move, but as Daniel shifted and then Jack moved, the younger man ended up in the pose they usually reserved for intimate moments on the roof deck.  Jack's back was to the headboard and Daniel was now seated completely in front of him on his lap and between his legs.  The younger man leaned back against the older, Jack's arms wrapping around Daniel's abdomen, pulling up his shirt to touch and caress the skin there.

“Don't let go, okay?” Daniel requested once they were firmly in place.

“I won't, Angel,” Jack promised, placing a kiss on Daniel's head.

With a sigh, Daniel focused on the letter.  He took a calming breath then began to read it aloud.

Dearest Daniel,

If you're reading this, I know your heart is sad, but please don't be.  I've had the most amazing adventures, and the best was the gift that you and Jack gave me.  Yes, I know, you think it was me who gave you a gift.  Well, my friend, you're wrong.

You and Jack have shown me what love is really about.  I may even have my own family now as a result.  What a gift, Daniel.  Wow.  Five beautiful babies.  I brought life into this world.  Can you imagine that?  Me, mom of five.  I've held those precious gifts in my arms, and, Daniel, I can't thank you enough for letting me do that.


The letter continued, and Daniel struggled to finish reading it aloud, but, finally, he came to the end:

I love you.  Be happy, Daniel.

Shalom!

Kayla


Quietly, Daniel folded the letter and put it back into its envelope.

Jack placed a kiss on his husband's shaggy hair and then moved a little so he could open his letter.

Dear Jack,

Well, I've gone and done it.  I'm sorry.  Trust me, whatever happened, I definitely didn't want it to, but listen, you take care of Daniel.  Please don't let him mourn me.  I want to be remembered, but in good ways, as the birth mother of your kids.

Jack read on, chuckling when Kayla wrote about him not being such a tough guy.

So you see, you can't hide the truth.  The tough old general is Gomer Pyle in disguise.

“Gomer Pyle?” Jack questioned with wide eyes.

Daniel actually chuckled and then replied quietly, “She knows you.”

“Well, goooooolly shazam,” Jack chuckled before refocusing on the letter.

The general read on, feeling Daniel against his shoulder nuzzling in closer.  He had a hard time getting through the section about loving Daniel.  It read in part:

Take care of Daniel.  It's probably the one thing I have the most faith in.  You don't sacrifice, Jack, you give, so much so that the very act brings the happiness right back to you.  I can't imagine what it feels like to have someone feel about me the way you feel about Daniel.  He's a lucky man; but then, so are you, because he loves you in just the same way.

Kayla wrote more about other things and then she made a request:

And Bobette.  Jack, if you and Daniel are okay with it, could you give her to the children?  Just put Bobette in the nursery and see if any of them take a shine to her.  She doesn't require any food or care; she only needs love.

Goodbye, Jack.  My love to you, and your Space Monkey, and all your very wonderful children.

Kayla


Jack swallowed hard as he put the letter away.  Then, by silent agreement, the lovers lay down on their bed, and rested.  They wouldn't sleep quite yet; for now, they needed only to hold on to each other.

====

Daniel awoke at 3:25 a.m., surprised not to find Jack in bed.  After reading the letters and comforting each other in their bed for a couple of hours, Jenny's cries had forced them back to the land of the living.  It had been midnight when they finally returned to their room and went to sleep for the night.

The younger man walked out onto the roof deck and was again surprised not to find Jack.  His second choice was the winner.  Jack was in the nursery, staring at the twins.

“Hey,” Daniel said as he moved to stand on the other side of crib.

“We're taking these kids to India, Danny, and when we do, we're going to tell them why.  She didn't have to do this.  What's even crazier is that I think if we had asked her ...”

“She would have done it again.”

“Yeah, that's what I think,” Jack said.  “Daniel, Kayla believed in living life to the fullest, in life being a big adventure, right?”

“Right.”

“Then we keep on living our dream because that is the greatest adventure there is.  No more tears, Angel.  When we remember her, when we tell our kids about her, it's with ... fun.  It's what she wanted,” Jack spoke with a steady voice, his tone lighter than it had been since their meeting with Capeshaw.

~He's right.~  Daniel took a deep breath, knowing Kayla wouldn't want them to mourn like they'd been doing.  It would be hard, but they would do as she wanted.  “Okay.  Every day, we remember the gifts she gave us, not that we could forget, but every day, we remember the giver of the gift, too.”

“Deal.”

“Jack, where's Bobette?”

Jack motioned to the rocker, and Daniel softly chuckled as he saw the stuffed monkey sitting in the rocker, Bijou leaning up against it.

“Okay,” Daniel said, not really to his husband, but to himself.  It was time to move forward.  They had plans.  “Okay,” he said again.  He nodded, looking down at the twins, and then he looked over at the sleeping Munchkins.  One more time, he spoke, “Okay.”  Each 'okay' gave him strength and courage to move forward.  Looking back at Jack, he smiled and spoke, “Okay.  We have a birthday party to plan for David.  Let's get to it.”

“I love you, Danny.”

“I love you, too ... you old puppy dog.”

Smiles on their faces, the lovers returned to their bedroom to move forward with their lives.  The party wasn't for a while yet, but planning for it was a happy distraction from harsh reality, and that's what they needed to help them over the hump -- to dwell on happy events, such as David's upcoming seventh birthday.

====

The week before their Mouseketeer son's birthday, Jack and Daniel took advantage of some free time to go shopping.  With the children scattered among three of their regular caregivers, the parents had plenty of time to search for just the right gifts.

“Are you going to buy that?” Daniel asked.

“I don't know,” the older man responded.

“Why are you hesitating, Jack?  You've been staring at it for ten minutes,” Daniel observed, sensing his lover wanted to buy the item in question.

“Astronomy is my thing, Daniel.  David is more like you.  He wants those scientific toys you have in that cart there.”

“Maybe he just needs an introduction to it.  Is this a good telescope for a beginner?” Daniel questioned as he examined the box more closely.

“Yes.”

“We don't want the children unsupervised on the roof deck yet, but we could set something up on the patio for him; call it his astronomy corner or something,” the archaeologist suggested, remembering a conversation from the night they brought the Morgan children home.

//Flashback//
“Our telescope?” David asked hopefully.

Jack and Daniel had shown the newest additions to the family around the house, and when David had seen the telescope on the roof deck, Daniel had thought the six-year-old boy might actually start drooling.  Jack had been only to happy to show it off, and Daniel could picture the two spending many nights on the roof deck gazing up at the stars.

“Our telescope,” Jack confirmed with a smile.
//End of Flashback//

“Jack, just think about it,” Daniel requested.  “He was excited when he saw the telescope that first night.  Maybe he's just waiting for you to invite him into your world.  Giving him his telescope and setting up his own spot would open the door.”

Jack smiled at the notion, secretly wanting it, but afraid to inflict his desires on his rock-loving son.

“Nah, he was just being polite; he'd rather have those gizmos you have there,” Jack opined.  “Come on, Danny.  We need to hit Toys 'R Us and get a few common things to remind him he's still a child.”

“Funny, Jack.”

====

The couple put their bags in the truck and headed for the famous toy store, where they selected a collection of non-scientific toys for their son -- a remote control racing car, his own train set, a model airplane, a Rubik's cube, and after much discussion, the latest PlayStation bundle.

“Babe, there's something I really want to get.  I'll find you in a few minutes,” Daniel said as he separated from Jack to pick out one more thing: a set of books on Bible stories.  When he finally found Jack again, it was in the sports aisle, where his lover was staring at baseball equipment.  “Are we adding a glove to the cart?”

“No, David doesn't like sports.  He's like you,” Jack said, words Daniel was starting not to like because it put a wall up between them somehow.  He started to say something, but Jack cut him off before even a word escaped.  “Bible stories?”

“Well, yeah.  I think we should give them the full exposure.  They can make their own decision.  If he doesn't want to read them, he doesn't have to, but if he gets curious and wants to, they'll be there.  Are you okay with that?” the younger man asked.

“Yeah, it's fine.”  Looking at the crammed shopping cart, Jack asked, “You don't think we went overboard, do you?”

“Overboard?  Jack, we exceeded overboard at the Discovery shop two hours ago.  We've pretty much hit the ridiculous level at this point.”

“Should we put something back?”  Realizing Daniel was staring at him as if he were from another planet, Jack laughed, “Yeah, I know.  We'll spoil all of our kids rotten.”

“Spoil, yes, but they have to stay grounded.  Jack, if they ever get too invested in this stuff ...”

“Then it stops, and we get tough,” Jack stated strongly.

“India, remember?” Daniel asked.

“Yeah, Love.  Kayla was right about that.”

Daniel nodded and, as the two headed for the counter, admitted, “I miss her, Jack.”

This time, though, Daniel's words hadn't been the mournful cry of days earlier, but instead had been a tribute to someone they both loved.

“Me, too.  Hey, how about we stop for an ice cream before heading home?”

“Sounds like fun,” Daniel agreed.  “Two scoops.”

“Three,” Jack said with a smile.

====

“Oh, for crying out loud,” Jack said in frustration.  He leaned forward in his spot on the sofa, holding the cause of his consternation in his hands.  “This is ridiculous.”

“What's ridiculous?” Daniel asked as he entered the study after checking on all the children and ensuring they were all safely occupied in whatever they were doing.  Then he saw the reason for his husband's comment.  Daniel sighed.  “Jack, that's for ...” he paused, looked around, then back at Jack, speaking more softly, “David.”

“I ... couldn't resist.  I never could get the hang of these things,” Jack whined, continuing to turn the colored blocks of the Rubik's cube in various directions.  “Oh ... crap!”

Daniel shook his head and walked to Jack, sitting down next to him on the sofa.

“That's David's,” Daniel repeated.

“He can have it; I just thought I'd learn the shortcut, so I could ... teach him,” Jack replied, hoping his husband would accept the excuse.

“How long did it take you to come up that excuse for opening one of his presents?”

~Crap.~  “I thought of it at the store,” Jack admitted with a chuckle.

“May I?” Daniel asked, a twinkle in his eye, as he held out his right hand.

“Good luck,” Jack expressed mockingly, placing the game of skill in the palm of Daniel's hand.  “Those things are tough.  I've been in here for thirty minutes just trying to get one row lined up.  I think this one is defective.  Who is that Rubik's guy anyway?  It's gotta be defective.  I think I'll take it ba...back ...”  He stopped mid-sentence, stunned.  In the short amount of time that he'd been talking, his lover had solved the puzzle of the cube.  “Cute, Daniel; real cute.”

“Thank you, Babe,” the younger man replied, leaning forward and kissing his spouse.  He handed the puzzle back to Jack, got up, and walked to the doorway.  Stopping, he turned around, smiling as he instructed, “Now mix it back up, and put that back in the box and wrap it up, Jack ... *now*!”

Daniel walked out of the study, leaving Jack alone.

“Smarty pants.”

**I heard that.**

**Danny?**

**Yes, Love?**

**Have you done that before?** Jack questioned curiously as he stared at the colorful cube.

**How do you think I paid for those digs I went on in college?**

**You're a ... Rubik's shark!** the older man exclaimed while putting the cube back into its box, trying to hide the fact that it had been opened.

**With very big teeth, Jack,** Daniel jested.

**Gonna eat me?**

**Just as soon as we get the children to bed,** Daniel promised.

**Be right there!** the older man said eagerly, prepared to jump up and run to their bedroom.

**Down, Boy,** Daniel calmed.  **It's only six o'clock.**

**Oh.  Drats,** Jack chuckled as he settled back into his chair.

**I love you, Jack.**

**Love you, Angel, but, uh, you will ... later, right?**

**Promise!**

Jack grinned as he finished putting David's present away and thought, ~Gotta love that man of mine!~

====
-- Chapter Seven:  A Family Divided?
====

“Geez, Danny,” Jack said, leaning back in his chair.  He held a piece of paper with lots of figures on it in his left hand.  He raised his right hand to rub nervously against his forehead, his fingers messing with strands of his silver-gray hair.  “I had no idea this was going to cost us a small fortune.”

“It's an international flight, Jack.”

“I don't think J-O can handle the family expense.  Look at these calculations,” Jack stated, holding out the paper for Daniel to take.

The couple was in the den, with Jack seated at the desk while Daniel was in the recliner next to it.  Daniel reached out and took the paper.

After studying the numbers for a moment, Daniel replied, “I agree.  We'll need to pay for the children ourselves.”

“So much for your diamonds and fur,” Jack teased, his face bright with laughter.

“Funny, Jack.”

The two had been pricing plane fares for the past two hours.  Even with the babies flying free, it would cost thousands of dollars to take the entire family on this extended work trip.

“I like the Denver to London to Cairo option the best,” Jack opined.  “What about you?”

“Me, too.  It's the shortest overall.  I still wish the girls didn't have to be down in the cargo hold,” the archaeologist sighed.

“I know some people who should be kept in the hold, but not our girls,” Jack spoke.

“We need to get a new crate for them, Jack.  This is too long of a flight for them to use the one we have now,” Daniel noted.

“I'll take care of that when I restock their dog food,” the older man stated.

“Thanks, Babe,” Daniel spoke as he stood up and stretched.

“Do we need two crates, Danny?” Jack asked thoughtfully.

“I think we can squeak by with one, which will be better because they'll be together, but we need to weigh Bij and Katie before you go shopping.”  Daniel walked over and massaged his husband's shoulders for several seconds before leaning forward and kissing Jack on the cheek.  “You keep looking for the best deal.  I'd better go check on the children.  I love you, Jack.”

“Love you, too, Angel.”

====

Sometime after midnight, Jennifer awoke and decided to go to the kitchen to get an apple to curb her hunger.  Having assumed everyone else would be asleep, she was surprised to hear her brother's voice as she walked quietly down the hallway.

David was in the living room, sitting Indian style in front of the fireplace.  He held in his hand the photograph of Charlie that was usually on the mantle.  Next to him, asleep on their beanbag, were Bijou and Katie.

“He misses you,” the boy said quietly.  “Dad likes sports a lot.  I wish I were good at sports.  I can't even hit a baseball.  Everyone at the shelter made fun of me because I was so bad at it.  I don't want to be you, Charlie; I can't be.  I just want to ... I don't know.  I'm sorry you died.  Do you know my parents?”

When the young boy wiped away a tear, Jennifer almost ran to him, wanting to comfort her brother, but something held her back.

“Dad says I'm like Daddy.  I like being like Daddy, but ... I want to make Dad proud of me, too.  I'd like to learn baseball, but I'd only disappoint him.  I tried to tell him.  He told me to be myself, to be like Daddy.  Why can't I be like both of them?” David asked sadly.

Slowly, Jennifer turned around and returned to her bedroom, her brother's words circulating through her mind.

====

“DANIEL!  DANIEL, COME DOWN HERE!” Jack yelled from the entranceway.

“Jack, you just woke up the Munchkins,” Daniel said in despair.

“Oh, I'm sorry, but they'll be okay.”

Daniel was in shock at his husband's cavalier attitude and was about to argue when Jack kissed him and said, “Yell at me later.  Look what came in the mail.”

Jack held out one of the five hardbound arrivals that they had just received.

“It's Kayla's novel,” Daniel observed softly, taking the copy held out to him.

“Hot off the presses, Love, and about to head out to bookstores across the country,” Jack piped in cheerfully.

“She'd be so happy.”  Daniel took the book to the sofa and sat down to flip through it.  “Jack, they are sending us a couple of cases, aren't they?”

“Yep.  Next week.”

“Good.”  Daniel turned the book over to look at the back and let his fingers trace over Kayla's photo.  “We won't forget you, Kayla, and neither will ... your children.”

Daniel looked to Jack, who nodded his approval of the remark.

“What's happening?” Jennifer asked as she entered the living room.

“Kayla's book just arrived,” Jack answered.

“Cool.  Can I read it now?”

“Yes,” Daniel said, standing and handing the novel to his daughter.  He walked over to Jack and kissed him.  “I love you so much, so darn much, Jack.”

“There aren't enough words to say how much, Angel,” Jack replied before the couple kissed again, their arms wrapping around each other.

“Are you two going to get all mushy again?  Geez!  Kiss, kiss, kiss.  Get a room already!” the pre-teen whined.

“Now that's a good idea, just as soon as we get the Munchkins settled down again,” Jack agreed as he winked at his daughter, then led Daniel up the stairs, leaving Jennifer downstairs to read Kayla's novel.

~Hmm.  'Journey of the Heart'.  I bet it's about her adventures in Africa or India. She used to talk about her heart still being there, with the children and the native citizens.  She sure went to a lot of places,~ Jennifer thought.  She opened the book and read the dedication to her parents.  ~Wow.~

Taking a breath, the pre-teen turned to Chapter One and began to read.

====

The family was outside enjoying a fairly warm day for mid-April.  Jack sat quietly on the patio steps where Daniel joined him, putting his arm through Jack's.

“Lots of love for your thoughts,” Daniel offered softly.

“Baseball season is here.  Just ... thinking about baseball.”

“Buy him the glove, Jack.”

“Glove?”  Jack looked at his lover, surprised he was surprised that Daniel knew what he'd been thinking about.  With a sigh, he looked forward again as he stated, “I don't want him to think I'm trying to make him out to be Charlie.  He doesn't like sports.”

“You don't know that, Love, and neither does he.”  Daniel watched David as he played with Katie in her play yard.  “What David knows is that he's just not very good at baseball ... yet.”

“Daniel, if his father never taught him, maybe that's because David never showed any interest in baseball or any other sport.  He'd just be doing it to please me,” Jack opined.

“Jack, we don't know the details.  The Mouseketeers haven't wanted to talk much about their parents, and we haven't forced it, except to encourage Jennifer to share her memories with David and Noa, and she's done that, but what I'm saying is that we don't really know what their life was like.  Besides, he's only six.  I think you should give him the option, unless ...”

“Unless what?” Jack asked, looking at Daniel after he'd paused his thoughts.

“Unless you really don't want to.”

“Danny, I swear, the only thing I don't want to do is make David think that in order to be accepted he has to become an astronomer and a sports addict.  The phone,” Jack said, looking over his shoulder at the ringing device.  “I'll get it.”

Jack got up and walked into the house leaving Daniel alone on the steps.  

**I don't know, Jack.  Sports may not be my thing, but then again, my dad wasn't into sports, at least, I don't think he was.  I wasn't seeking his approval when I began to follow him around the dig sites.  I just wanted to know why he loved it so much, and then I realized that I loved it, too.  When we went to New York, he told me we were going to go see the Yankees play.  I didn't even know what he was talking about, if we were going because we were in New York and that was a 'must do' or if maybe he really loved baseball and just hadn't had a chance to share that with me because we were always outside the country.  Actually, uh, I didn't know what baseball was until after they died.  The point is, I wanted to share the Yankees, whatever that was, with Daddy because he was ... Daddy.  I just don't know.  I think you're wrong, Love.**

Daniel didn't know if his silent communication was received or not, and before he had a chance to check it out, Little Danny began to cry, demanding his attention.

====

It was the night before David's birthday, and Jennifer couldn't sleep.  She looked at the clock -- 2 a.m.

~Gee, it *is* David's birthday,~ the girl thought as she struggled with her decision.  ~You have to tell them.~

A force inside the pre-teen was keeping Jennifer awake, eventually forcing her up out of bed.  Slipping on her robe, she yawned as she made her way through the house to her parent's master bedroom.

~Oh, why tonight?~ Jennifer sighed, seeing the door closed.  Sometimes, the parents left the door slightly ajar or open, signaling to their children that it was okay to come in, but when the door was closed, it meant they might be engaged in things Jennifer just didn't want to think about it.  ~Maybe I'll just go back to bed, and ...~

That strange force wouldn't let her move.  She had an obligation, one made from love and caring.

~I have to tell them; it's important.~  Bravely, the pre-teen knocked on the door, calling out quietly, “Dad?  Daddy?  I need to talk to you.  Please?”

After a minute, Jack opened the door, sleepily rubbing his eyes as he asked, “Jen, are you okay?”

“Yes, I'm sorry, but this is really important.  Can I come in?”

“Come on in, Sweetheart,” Jack opened the door all the way and moved back to bed, climbing back in and getting under the covers, though he leaned up against the headboard.

“Jen?” Daniel said groggily.

“Give him a minute,” Jack chuckled.  “He's never been a quick one to wake up.”

“J'ck, shut up.”

“See!”  Jack put his arm around Daniel to shake him gently.  “Wake up, Danny.  Jen needs to talk to us.”

“I'm awake ... I think.”

Daniel's eyes darted around the room as he tried to wake up and focus.  He blinked several times as he scooted up to lean against the headboard, automatically leaning over against his husband.

“Gla...glasses,” the younger man mumbled to himself.

Jack leaned over Daniel and retrieved the wire-rimmed glasses from the nightstand.

“Here, Love.”

“Ah, thanks,” Daniel said, putting the glasses on and seeing the bedroom finally come into focus.

“I'm really sorry,” Jennifer said, sitting down on the edge of the bed.

“It's okay ... <yawn> ... What's ... <yawn> ... up?”

“Um, well, David's birthday is tomorrow, or I should say today.”

“We know that.  We've got it covered, big time,” Jack said as he smiled proudly, pleased with their birthday plans for the youngster.

“I don't think you do.  I helped you bring in the bags, remember?”

“That's true,” Daniel said as he realized that she had helped them to hide the gifts from her brother.

“Dad, I don't know how you feel about this, and I think it's important that you don't do anything just because of what I'm about to tell you, but I also know how sensitive you are ...”

“Sensitive?  Me?” Jack asked, shocked.

“Jack, you're a marshmallow and a softie to anyone you decide to let know you.  For years, that was limited to me.  Now we have children, and they see that you are more of a teddy bear than grizzly bear,” Daniel stated authoritatively.

Daniel yawned again as Jack shrugged.

Jennifer continued, “Anyway, a couple of nights ago, I woke up and was going to get something to eat ...”  She relayed what she'd seen and heard, about David's holding Charlie's picture and wondering why he couldn't be like both of his parents.  “So ... I just thought you should know, that's all.”

“Thanks, Jen.  We appreciate you're telling us,” Daniel spoke softly, leaning forward to hug the teenager.  “Go back to bed, okay?  Everything will be just fine.”

“Did I do the right thing ... telling you?”

“Yes,” Jack answered simply, his eyes a bit misty from the story she had shared.

After the girl nodded and left the room, Jack sighed, “You know, I told David that if he didn't learn anything else from us, he should learn that you are always right.”  He paused.  “I heard what you said, Danny, about your dad and the Yankees.  Maybe it is as simple as just not knowing because he's never really been exposed the right way.”  He nodded, affirming his decision to himself.  Then he looked at Daniel who smiled, but hadn't said anything verbally.  Of course, he didn't have to.  “I love you, Angel.”

“I love you, too.”

====

David's birthday party was a big success.  In the morning, Jack and Daniel allowed him to invite over five friends.  The six were treated to the standard birthday party, complete with goodies and games.

“Remember playing this at the SGC, Danny?  You looked so cute, all dressed up,” Jack whispered to Daniel as they watched the six children playing the chocolate game.

Daniel blushed and smiled as he watched David, dressed up in sunglasses, winter gloves, a boonie hat, and a scarf, guzzle down as much chocolate as possible before the next person had a turn.

The archaeologist shook his head and opined, “You were much cuter than I was, Jack, and so is David.”

~Nope, don't think so, Dannyboy.  Our son is awfully cute, but no one could possibly be as cute as you.~

After the party, there was a private affair just for the family.  Of course, this included their extended family.  Sam, Teal'c, Janet, Cassandra and Dominic, Lou and Carolyn, and Megan were all in attendance.  David had taken a shine to Megan when she volunteered at the shelter, so Jack and Daniel decided he might like to have her at the party, and they were right.  His face lit up when she arrived.

David was treated to his second birthday cake of the day and a mound full of presents, including some from a few people who hadn't been able to come to the party.  He looked like a very happy little boy.  The only thing he regretted was that his Grandpa George wasn't there because of work obligations.  Other than that, his day had been terrific.

That evening, well after dinner, when David was alone in his room, Jack tapped lightly on the closed door.

“Come in.”

“Hi, Son.  Did you have fun today?” Jack asked as he entered the room.

David nodded and smiled, but there was a light missing from his smile.  He didn't see the box Jack had behind his back.

“There was one more thing I wanted to give you, but I wanted to do it when we were alone because I thought we should talk about it first,” Jack stated.

“Okay,” David responded as he sat on his bed, Indian-style, staring down at several of his presents.

“You do like these?” Jack asked about the various kits, rocks and science doodads Daniel had purchased.

“They're great, Dad; I love them,” David answered sincerely.

“If you don't, we can take them back.”

“No!  I can't wait until Daddy shows me how to use most of these; I can do lots of experiments, and there's so much to learn.”

“He's pretty happy that you are interested in archaeology and some of the things that he is, too.”

“I am, Dad, especially mythology, lithology, and anthropology.”

“However, there is more to life than ...” Jack waved his free hand over the assortment of rocks, looking the collection over carefully, “... rocks, and I'm living proof of that.  I thought you might like this.”

Jack handed the package to David.

“What is it?”

“Open it and find out,” Jack instructed with a smile.

Very carefully, David unwrapped the packaging.  When he saw what was inside, his mouth opened, his eyes widened, and he gasped.

Pushing a few of the gifts to one side, Jack sat down near the boy and spoke, “Son, listen to me because this is important.  I meant exactly what I said that day in the garage.  I want you to be yourself.  I made the mistake of assuming that all you wanted to be was a science nut, like my Danny; but your genius daddy reminded me that I didn't have a right to make that assumption.  Your sister also pointed out the error of my ways,” he added with a grin.  Turning serious again, he continued, “There's no reason, David, that you can't play baseball or hockey or whatever sport you want and still be a full-fledged ...”

Jack paused, struggling to find the word he wanted.

“Geek?” David spoke up brightly, causing Jack to laugh and bob his head.

“Yeah, geek.”

“I can be like you *and* Daddy if I want to?” the boy asked eagerly, his torso arched forward towards his father as he hoped for the answer he wanted.

“Yes, you can, and that's up to you, but it's also important for you to know that you can be anything you want.  You don't have to be like either of us if you don't want to.  Maybe you like music or erecting buildings or ... I don't know.  It doesn't matter.  Just be who you are,” Jack advised.

“I'm not very good at sports, though.  You might be ... disappointed.”

David's body language showed his insecurity.  His body was now more hunched as he sat, and his eyes looked downward at the gifts on the bed.  When he had spoken, his voice was soft and tone tentative.

“No, I won't be disappointed; I'll be proud, Son.  David, I'm proud of you now for being the boy you are,” Jack stated with a reassuring smile.  He saw David look up with such hope in his young eyes.  ~I'd almost forgotten what it felt like to have a child's eyes look at me like that.  I miss you, Charlie.~  After a moment, he added, “David, you aren't Charlie, and the truth is, I don't want you to even try to be him.  He was my first born, and I ... I won't ever forget him.  I loved Charlie more than life, and he'll always be a part of me, but I love you just as much, because you're you, and the really exciting thing is that you have years and years to figure out just exactly who you are.”

“Are you sure he'd want me to have this?” David asked, holding up Charlie's old baseball glove.

Without hesitating, Jack nodded and opined, “I think he'd be proud to share it with you.”

“It's still too big.”

“I know, but you'll grow into it soon,” Jack stated.  “Tell you what.  Until that fits just right, we'll go to the sporting goods store and buy you one that fits you right now.”

“Really?”  David's smile was huge, but then it dimmed.  Tentatively, he asked, “What if I'm not any good, Dad?  Do you want me to give it back?”

“No, this is yours now.  If you decide you don't like sports, you don't have to play, but you can keep this as a reminder to be yourself.”

“And to remember Charlie?”

“I know he'd like that,” the silver-haired man stated.

“Dad, will you teach me how to catch?  I'm not very good.  I duck.  I don't mean to, but I do, and if I don't duck, the ball always falls out of my glove.  Can you help me to catch better?”

“Sure.”

“Now?” David asked eagerly.

“It's a bit late, David,” Jack responded, but he couldn't stand the look of disappointment on his son's face.  “Nah, it's not that late.  Okay, let's go.”

As the two stood up to leave, Daniel appeared at the door and said to his lover, “I didn't know you were up here.”

“Yeah, had another present for David here.”

“Look, Daddy,” David said as he exhibited the glove, a broad smile on his face.

“I see.”  Daniel smiled at David's happiness and then knelt down.  “David, remember the pinata at Molly's shelter?  I want you to remember what I said that night.  If you fall down, just get back up.”

David thought and then deduced, “So if I drop the ball, try again?”

“Yes, as long as you are having fun, you do it, and don't let anyone stop you or tell you can't.”

“Daddy, tomorrow will you help me set up my rock collection?  I don't understand all the words yet,” David said.

“Yes, we can do that.  Oh, and your dad had one more present he forgot to give you.”

“I did?” Jack asked, surprised.

“Yes, you did.”

“Another present?” the boy asked, his eyes bright with wonder.  He'd never had a birthday like this before.  ~This is lots of fun.~

“This is for you,” Daniel said, giving David a rather large box which the boy quickly unwrapped.

“Oh wow!  I really wanted one of these.  Oh, Dad, thank you.  Will you tell me about the stars tonight after we play catch for a while?”

Jack nodded, unable to speak.

Daniel reached over and caressed his husband's right cheek for a moment as he communicated, **Never assume.  Our little boy has so much love for both of us.  Let's let him decide where his passions are.**

**Thank you, Angel.**

“Daddy, will you come watch Dad and I play catch?”

“Of course, I will.  I need to check on the Munchkins and the twins first, and then I'll be right down, okay?”

“Okay.  I love you, Daddy,” David declared as he jumped up and reached out to embrace his younger father.  “I love you, too, Dad” he added, reaching out for Jack's hand.  “Come on, Dad.”

“And we love you,” Jack responded, grinning.  “Okay, let's play ball!”

====

David had a difficult time learning how to throw and catch the baseball, but with the encouragement of his parents, he soon discovered that he did like to play catch.  More than anything though, he loved that he had two parents who loved him so much that he knew he could be anything he wanted to be, and they'd still love him, no matter what.

Late that night, the exhausted little boy closed his eyes and fell asleep with a big smile on his face.

Jack and Daniel stood with their arms around each other's waists, their heads leaning against each other's as they watched their sleeping son.

Daniel whispered, “Be whoever you want to be, David.”

Jack added, “And no matter who that is, know that we love you.”

The lovers turned around and went downstairs to spend some time snuggling while watching a special on the History Channel that Daniel wanted to see.

====

“Jack?” Daniel asked as the couple was preparing for bed.

“Yes, Love.”

“Lou's off for a couple of days, isn't he?”

“Yeah.  Why?” the older man asked curiously.

“Sam's coming over tomorrow to watch the brood while we go to lunch with Megan,” Daniel stated as he finished buttoning his pajama top.

“And?” Jack prodded, glancing down to make sure the baby monitor by the nightstand was on and functioning.

“And ... what if we took an extended lunch and dropped by Lou's?”

Jack looked over at his lover and questioned, “Daniel, what's going on in that beautiful, crazy head of yours?”

As he picked up a pair of hand weights and began to lift them up and down, the archaeologist smiled shyly and answered, “It's been a while.  I kinda forgot.”

“Forgot what?”

“Basketball.  Do you think we can ... shoot some hoops?” Daniel asked.

Jack grinned as he scooped his husband into his arms and kissed him.

“Hey, be careful of the weights,” Daniel chuckled, his hands hanging down at his sides during their kiss and embrace.

Not worried about being hit by the weights, Jack spoke heartily, “You did like it during that crazy week.”

Daniel nodded, saying, “Of course, I did, and that night, when we dropped by the Ferretti's, I ... I had fun.  I'm not very good at basketball, but ...”

“You're better than you think,” Jack refuted.  “But the important thing is that you had fun.”

“Yeah,” Daniel affirmed with a nod.

“I'll call Lou in the morning and see what his plans are,” Jack said.  “Maybe we can go by for an hour or so after lunch,” he added as he walked to his side of the bed and got under the covers.

Resuming his exercise with the hand weights, Daniel said, “I don't ever want to forget, Jack.  I learned so much that week, but sometimes, it seems like nothing more than a dream.”

The couple had been talking about the week when they had become children and believed they were brothers, courtesy of an alien device that served to remind adults of the value of play.  It had been a magical time, and during that week, Daniel had learned to play basketball, courtesy of Lou Ferretti.  Now, the younger man wanted to honor the lessons he had learned, and doing that meant playing basketball, even if he wasn't the best player in the world, or even on the block.

“Just as long as you remember,” Jack replied.

“It's hard to forget, Babe, with that picture on the wall in the study,” Daniel chuckled, putting the hand weights away.  “It's a permanent reminder that the week did happen, and I'm glad it did.”

“Me, too,” Jack said amidst a yawn as his husband climbed into the bed, removing his glasses and turning off the light.  “Night, Love.”

“Night, Babe.  Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

====

Jack and Daniel's lunch with Megan had been nice and relaxing, while their workout playing basketball with Lou had been energetic and robust.  After coming home, they'd taken showers and tended to household business.

Sam had mentioned that Aislinn had been fussy, so the couple had checked on the youngest Munchkin and diagnosed an ear infection.  After having phoned their family physician, Doctor Sylvia Preston, she had made a house call and soon thereafter, verified the infection.  She had written a prescription while instructing the worried parents about how much infant Tylenol to give Aislinn for the pain.

Late in the afternoon, Daniel walked into the living room from the backyard, Katie on his heels, immediately hearing Ricky start to cry.  He diverted his path to walk over to the crib.

“Hungry, I'll bet,” the archaeologist surmised as he picked up the baby.  He got Ricky's bottle and took the infant over to the sofa and sat down to begin feeding him.  “Yep, that was it,” he chuckled, wishing some of his translations at the SGC had been as easy as this 'translation' had been.

“Anything exciting happening down here?” Jack chirped as he entered the living room, carrying Aislinn in his arms.

“Just feeding our son,” Daniel responded with a smile.  “How is she?” Daniel nodded towards Aislinn.

“Ah, she's fine.  Those antibiotics do the trick every time,” Jack responded.

“I hate it when she gets an ear infection.  She seems to be sensitive to them,” Daniel sighed, especially since it was hard to leave any of their children, even for five minutes, when they were sick.

“That reminds me,” Jack stated.  “When Syl was here earlier and you left to end the Mouseketeer war over the TV, I asked her about the ear infections and the trip.”

“I was going to ask her, but then the, uh ... war broke out,” Daniel admitted, amused over Jack's term for the children's disagreement over what to watch.  “I don't want our children to suffer because we're out of the country.”

“But we can't stay home and be ...”

“... hermits,” Daniel sighed.  “I know.  People go to work, we live life, it's just ... when they're sick ...”

“I know, Love,” Jack spoke tenderly.  “Anyway, she says it's not a problem.  She'll give us a small supply of antibiotics and one of those thingys to look in their ears in case something happens while we're there, and she made me promise to call if we had any questions at all, regardless of the time.”

“She's a good friend.”

“Yeah, because she knows we'll do it, too,” Jack chuckled as he took a seat in his favorite chair, holding Aislinn so she could watch Daniel with Ricky.

Daniel laughed, nodding his head in agreement, then said, “Babe, one problem. I don't know how to use one of those ... ear thingys.”

“Me, either.  She'll show us how when we go to pick it up,” Jack responded.

“That'll work,” the younger man replied with a tiny smile.

“Danny, your trip ...” Jack began.

“Ash is fine; she'll be fine,” Daniel stated in a chant-like tone.  He smiled, “It should be easier to leave them.  I mean, uh, we, I, should be used to the idea, but it's ...”

Jack smiled in understanding and offered, “I can go instead, but ...”

“... but I need to.  You're learning so much, Babe, and I'm so very proud of all the hard work you're putting in, but I need to handle this.  On our next big project, you can do the prep,” Daniel said, smiling confidently at his lover.

====

“Not Nu 'Ork Ity?” Noa asked, her eyes wide with fright as she looked at Daniel who was holding her.

“No, we won't go back there.  This is closer.  I'll be in Los Angeles for four days.  Is that okay?”

Chenoa nodded her head and then rested it against Daniel's shoulder.  He held her closely.  He'd had to make two other short two-day trips since the New York fiasco, but those were just one night jaunts, once to Salt Lake City and once to Dallas.  This would be a longer separation.  He was to meet Abayomi and Yazid for four days in Los Angeles.

The children had been fine while he'd been gone, but they always needed to be reassured that Daniel hadn't gone to New York City again, and it seemed to be the hardest on Chenoa.  Despite her youth, some part of her mind held on to the loss she'd suffered when her parents had died.

“Daddy, can I talk to you for a minute?” Jennifer asked.

“Sure, Honey.”

“Alone.”

Sensing Chenoa still needed some support, Daniel handed her to Jack and then accompanied Jennifer to the study.

“What's on your mind, Jen?”

“Daddy, I was just thinking.  Actually, I thought about it earlier, and David and I discussed it.”

Daniel waited patiently as Jennifer worked out how to express her idea. He could tell she had thought whatever it was out and was searching diligently for the right way to discuss it.

“It's just ... I think Chenoa needs a bit of extra reassurance.  She was the youngest and just a baby when our parents died, but we don't really know what children remember.  I've read about that and ... I don't mean to presume, Daddy. I mean, I'm not suggesting this just for me or anything.”

“Jen, come here,” Daniel requested as he patted the vacant spot next to him on the sofa.  When she sat down, he reached out and took her hand.  “Now, just tell me what you're thinking.”

“David said he was okay with it.  He wouldn't feel left out or anything, and I believe him.  Daddy, Noa needs to see where you go and what you do when you leave.  She gets frightened sometimes and just needs to know you're safe.  I thought maybe we, she and I, could go with you to Los Angeles.  I'd watch her while you had your meetings, but if she was there, with you, she could see that it's okay.”

Daniel nodded, responding, “Interesting idea.”

“Daddy, you don't have to take me.  I think it would be great if just Noa could go just with you, but since it's business, I thought you might be more open to it if I suggested that we both go so I could take care of her, but really, it's Noa who needs to be there.”

Daniel leaned over and gave the wise pre-teen a kiss, saying, “I'll talk to Dad, okay?”

“Okay.”

====

Daniel and Chenoa had been gone three very long nights and almost four full days, so when the door opened, signaling their return home from California, Jack was elated.

“Hey, there's my girl.”  Jack beamed at the sight of Chenoa, who ran to him.  ~Mouse ears?~  He lifted her into his arms and hugged her tightly.  “Did you have a good time?”

“Fun!  Saw Mickeeeeey!”

“You did?  You saw Mickey Mouse?” Jack asked, smiling at the toddler, who was wearing her Mickey Mouse ears.

As Jack looked at him for an explanation, Daniel shrugged and said, “We were in Los Angeles, Jack, and we had a little bit of time this morning, so how could I not take her to see Mickey?”

~Makes sense to me,~ the older man thought.  “Did you see Goofy?” he asked the little girl.  **I'll never forget that day with Goofy, Danny.**

**Gawd, it was embarrassing.**

**You were adorable.**

**Yeah, well, next time he can pick you up,** Daniel communicated dryly.

As Chenoa nodded her answer, Jack laughed at his memory of a trip he and Daniel had taken to Disneyland almost a decade earlier, timing it with something his daughter had said about her adventure with Goofy.

Chenoa cheerfully spent the next several minutes telling Jack about her adventures in Mickey's park.  While she did that, Jack saw Daniel motion that he was going upstairs to see the babies.  He nodded in acknowledgement and continued to listen to Chenoa tell him about her big trip.  She was still chattering away when Daniel returned several minutes later.

Finally, Chenoa took a much needed breath.

“I'm glad you had a good time, Sweetheart.  I missed you tons, though.”

Chenoa grinned broadly and then she went upstairs to find Jennifer and David and tell them more about her special trip with their daddy.

“Hey,” Jack said, finally able to take Daniel into his arms now that they were alone for a minute.

“Hey,” Daniel echoed.

For a moment, the two simply gazed into each other's eyes, and then they kissed.

“I missed you, Angel.”

“I hate being apart from you, even for a day,” Daniel replied.

Jack held Daniel in his arms and each caressed the other's back.  It felt good to touch and be touched.  They spent a few minutes letting their bodies speak, and then as they cuddled on the sofa, they discussed the trip.

“Was it difficult having Noa with you?” the older man inquired.

“Not really,” Daniel answered.  “Yazid loved her, and she was the perfect young lady.  She did exactly what I asked, when I asked it.  Jack, was Jen disappointed that she didn't get to come with us?”

With a shake of his head, Jack answered, “No, she was fine.  She assured me that she only offered to go because she thought it would make it easier for you to take Noa.  She was happy to stay here. In fact, I let her stay over at Sheila's Friday night.”

“A reward?”

“She's a good kid, Danny.  She looks out for everyone, and even though I'd like to keep her locked up in her room forever where she'd be safe, I know we can't do that.  Unless she messes up, she deserves our trust and leeway as much as possible,” Jack spoke, showing remarkable perceptiveness at the moment.

“You're right, and I'm glad she didn't mind.  I worried about that a little, but I think we made the right choice.  I had Noa with me the entire time, and I think it'll be easier on her from now on when one of us has to go on a business trip.”

“She sure is happy; looks great in Mickey's ears.”

“Jack, I had to take Noa to Disneyland,” Daniel spoke with a bit of regret.  “She saw flyers in the suite, and she'd been so well behaved and ...”

“I think it was a marvelous idea,” Jack interrupted.

“We were going to have one last meeting with Abayomi earlier, but he was called back to New York, so since we had the time, I thought it would be something special for her after sitting through some boring meetings like a perfect princess,” Daniel expounded.  “I didn't like not letting you share that, but ...” he sighed.

“I know, Angel.  It's okay,” Jack said, kissing Daniel's temple.  “Daniel ... *boring* meetings?” he smirked.

“For her, Jack,” Daniel responded, giving his lover a mock glare.  “Oh, Jack, guess what?  I was talking to Yazid about the plane trip to Egypt, and he solved the problem for us.”

“He did?”

“Abayomi has a private jet we can use.  Isn't that great?  I mean, we can go exactly when we want to, and it'll just be us, and the girls won't have to be alone in a cargo hold.  It's very generous of him.”

“Yeah, generous,” Jack spoke sarcastically, feeling less than enthused about Yazid having come to the family's rescue.

“Jack?”

“It's great, Love.  I'm glad Abracadabra agreed.”

“Abayomi, Jack,” Daniel corrected while giving his husband a disapproving look.  “Besides, it was really Yazid who deserves the credit.  He really loved Noa.  I think that's what did it.  At Disneyland, he ...”

“Whoa!”  Jack moved off the sofa to a standing position.  “Yazza went to Disneyland with *my* daughter?”

“Yazid,” the archaeologist reminded sternly.  “And, yes, he heard me talking to her about it and asked if he could go.  I didn't see why not.”

“You didn't?”

“No,” Daniel answered as he stood.  “Jack, what's the problem?”

“You took a strange man to Disneyland with *my* daughter?”

“Our daughter, and he's not strange.”

“Didn't he have to go back to New York with Abybanawana?” the older man groused, his brown eyes thoroughly green at the moment.

“No, he didn't, and, Jack, I don't understand the problem here,” Daniel stated, still perfectly calm, even as Jack's ire rose and his abuse of Abayomi's first name continued.

“Never mind.  I'm going to go talk to Chenoa some more.”

“Jack.”  Daniel stared at Jack's backside as the older man moved swiftly towards the hallway.  “Jack!”

Daniel shook his head and decided to make himself a cup of coffee.  Hopefully, whatever was bothering his husband would disappear as quickly as it had surfaced.

====

Later that night, Daniel filled Jack in on some of the arrangements that he had made with Yazid.

“Yazid has a contact with a company there, and they've agreed to loan us some of the bigger pieces of equipment we may need.  By renting from them, we avoid the cost and hassle of moving it, and he's gotten us a great deal.  It's amazing the people he knows.”

“Amazing,” Jack repeated.

“We might have one problem.  The main site where I think we're going to unearth some real treasures is awfully close to the heart of Abydos.  There is the possibility that other companies might want to claim it or argue our right to dig there.  Yazid made some calls over the weekend, though, and he thinks it'll be okay.  Still, I'm not sure if that site or this one,” Daniel pointed to a spot on the map, “will end up yielding the most telling finds.”

“Why multiple sites?”

“Well, the main hotel is here, but Abayomi wants to build a couple of smaller motels or inns in a few other locations, but this one is so close to the other sites that it's the only one he has chosen for sure thus far,” the archaeologist explained.

“Maybe we should just concentrate on one job at a time,” Jack suggested.

“Probably, but it's a great chance to excavate a site right in Abydos.  If Yazid can pull this off, it would be a great opportunity for us.”

“Sweet.”

Jack didn't like how Yazid was so helpful to Daniel, nor did he like the increasing number of phone calls between the two, especially since they often spoke in Arabic.  He knew some Arabic, but not enough to follow along when the two were prattling away, talking a mile a minute.  He was beginning to wonder if this trip to Egypt was a good thing or not.

====

All night, all the next day, and the entire day after that, Chenoa ranted about her time in Los Angeles with her Daddy and Daddy's friend Yazid.  She told Jack about their dinners together, how Yazid taught her a few words in Arabic, and how he went on some of the rides with her at Disneyland.

Jack wondered for a moment if Chenoa's apparent crush on Yazid had sent Teal'c packing, until the Jaffa had phoned to check on his young friend and she had gushed for hours about her phone call.  Still, she had a lot to say about Yazid, none of which was helping Jack's ego.

Yazid had called several times, asking about things they might need on the flight over to accommodate the babies and the beagles, and once he even talked to Chenoa for a couple of minutes.

Jack was not a happy camper.  His Mr. Jealousy was surfacing again, and now that Chenoa was an added piece to the puzzle, it just made him more upset.  Daniel was upset, too, that Jack was carrying on silently about being upset.  They hadn't argued, but both were tense, Jack because of his anger and jealousy, and Daniel because Jack wasn't telling him what was wrong, although he suspected that his husband was indeed jealous again.

Finally, Daniel decided they had to clear the air.  They couldn't go on pretending everything was fine when both knew something was off.  It wasn't just themselves now, but the children, too.  With the babies asleep, Jennifer and David in school, and Chenoa happily playing in the backyard with Bijou and Katie, he approached Jack as he was reading a magazine in the study.

“Jack.”

“Daniel.”

The young man rolled his eyes at the formality in their voices and then demanded, “Okay, Jack, let's hear it.”

“Hear what?” Jack asked cooly.

“Hear whatever has you stewing,” Daniel clarified, his arms crossed in front of his chest.

“Stewing?  The kitchen is that direction,” Jack said as he pointed his fingers towards the room in question.

“Jack, you're upset.”

“No kidding?  Geez, you're sharp!”

“Like a razor, Love, and that means I know you're upset about something, and while I can pretty much guess what it is, I'd prefer you actually tell me.”

“Since you just admitted you're a mind reader, Daniel,” Jack rose from his spot on the sofa, “then we don't need to have this little discussion, do we?”

Jack walked past Daniel and out of the study, leaving his spouse standing there in shock.  They hadn't argued, but they hadn't settled a thing, either.  It was a ridiculous situation.

“Jack,” Daniel called out.  He hurried after his spouse, catching up to him by the stairs in the living room.  “We have to talk about this.”

“What's to talk about?  Abracadabra is solving all our problems.  The Great Yazza is the Heaven's gift to archaeologists, and my daughter thinks he's the best thing since Teal'c.  What could be wrong?”

“Don't you think ...”

“Actually, I'm trying not to think about it,” Jack interrupted curtly.  “Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go and see if I can remind my daughter that Dad might just know how to show her a good time, too!”

====

Three more days passed, and the tension between the married couple hadn't diminished, though both tried to pretend everything was normal when they were around their children.  Daniel spent hours on the phone with Yazid making preparations for the trip abroad and arrangements for the J-O Enterprises personnel.  They also discussed some local Egyptians who would be hired to assist in the project.

Jack felt like a third wheel.  He had learned a lot about his new occupation, but he didn't yet know enough to be on the front lines in arranging the organizational details of the evaluations and excavations. Mostly, he spent his time sulking about Yazid.

Chenoa loved it whenever the Egyptian asked to speak with her, and each time she came away with a new word he had taught her.  When the toddler wasn't ranting about Teal'c or Yazid, she was going on and on about her daddy and their special time together in Los Angeles.

Daniel was angry, though admittedly, he wasn't sure why.  He figured it was because Jack was stewing instead of talking to him, but he didn't want to fight either, so he hadn't pressed the issue.  Quietly, he kept hoping Jack would get whatever it was out of his system, or at least talk to him, and they'd get back to normal.  He was sure they would.

~We just need to talk, calmly, that's all.  We can do it.  No arguments -- just ... talking.~

So, on and on the somewhat estranged lovers continued in their silent nightmare.

Jack didn't fully understand his feelings, which only increased his frustration.

~I don't want to argue, Danny, but I feel so helpless.  Maybe it's silly, but it is how I feel.  I'm ... angry, but I love you and our family.  Time.  Maybe time will help.~

Jack didn't want to argue, so he hadn't.

It was a vicious circle -- Daniel knew Jack was upset, but couldn't understand why, and it hurt that his husband wouldn't open up to him about whatever was wrong.  He didn't want to argue.  Jack was upset, but didn't want to rock the boat.  He didn't want to argue, either.  The unrelenting circle of anger and misunderstanding flowed like a dangerous undercurrent in their daily family life.

As a result, Jack's and Daniel's days were spent working on business or acting normal in front of their children.  Their nights were spent going through the motions.  They weren't sleeping as they normally did.  Jack wasn't Daniel's pillow, nor was Daniel his lover's warm blanket.  Instead, they slept with their backs to each other, on their sides, each looking at a barren wall.

Translation: both were miserable, neither slept well, and they were both tired and irritable.

Bijou and Katie, sensing the tension, decided to stay out of this non-argument and had spent the last couple of nights in with the Munchkins.

As for the children, as usually happens in situations like this, they knew something was wrong, in spite of their parent's best efforts.

Finally, when the awkwardness continued into its third day, Jennifer decided it was time to intervene.  She opted to start with Jack and a simple inquiry, and see if she could learn anything useful.

“Dad,” Jennifer called out as she walked slowly into the study.

“What's up?”

“Are you okay?”

“Sure, why wouldn't I be?” Jack asked as he reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a tennis ball, and began to squeeze it.

“Because you're quiet, and one thing you never are is quiet,” the girl answered.

“I'm thinking; trying to be more like Daniel.  He thinks a lot,” Jack stated, certain he was doing a good job of covering his true feelings.

~Not a good start,~ Jennifer sighed to herself.  “Playing tennis?” she asked, seeing the ball.

“Ah, no, just don't want to forget to take it outside.  Katie brought it in the other day,” Jack answered, but then, inexplicably, he opened his desk drawer, putting the tennis ball back inside the drawer.  As he was about to close it, something else got his attention.  ~Yeah, right,~ he thought, picking up the once treasured object.

“Oh,” Jennifer responded.  ~Come on, Jennifer.  You came in here for a reason.  Don't lose your nerve,~ she encouraged.  ~Hmm, wonder what Dad is holding now.  He seems really intense all of a sudden.~  Walking closer to the desk, she asked, “What's that?”

Jack continued to stare at the item, rolling it around in his hands a few times and then finally answering, “It's nothing; just a piece of junk.”

Jack tossed the item into the trash can, got up, and walked out of the study.

Once her father was gone, Jennifer retrieved the object, knowing it had to be anything but a piece of junk.  She hadn't missed the mistiness in her father's eyes nor the gentleness with which he had rubbed the object.

~Okay, well, Jen, you accomplished nothing.  Maybe they'll fix this on their own.  I think I'd better hold on to this, though.~

====

After a quiet dinner, Jennifer went upstairs to work on homework.  After a while, though, she became stumped on a math problem and went downstairs to ask Jack for help.  From the hallway, she heard her fathers talking in the living room.

“Daniel, I don't want to argue,” the older man said sharply.

“Neither do I.”

“Good, then we agree.”

“We don't agree on anything, Jack,” Daniel refuted, the edge in his voice obvious.

“Why don't you call Yazid?  I'm sure he'll agree with you to your satisfaction,” Jack said snarkily, throwing his hands up into the air and walking to the furthest corner of the room.

“Jack, stop being paranoid.”

Daniel stood firmly in place, just behind the sofa, near the fish tank.  His arms were folded across his chest.

“I'm not going to argue, Daniel.  Arguing just gets us into trouble.  There's nothing wrong, okay?  You're right, just like always, so let's just not argue,” Jack stated intensely.

“Jack, what planet are you living on?”

“Daniel, everything is fine.”  Moving towards the stairs, Jack stated, “Excuse me. I'm going to go check on the babies.”

Turning that direction, Daniel flung his arms out in exasperation as he spoke, “Jack, we can't avoid this.”

“What?  You want to argue?” the older man asked incredulously.

“I want you to tell me what's wrong,” Daniel answered agitatedly.

“If you don't know, then it doesn't matter, does it?”

“Jack.”  Daniel sighed as he watched Jack head up the stairs.  “Maybe this was a mistake,” he spoke aloud softly.  “Maybe we shouldn't be doing this.”  After a moment, he faced the fish and swore in a foreign language.  Then he whispered, “Homer, if anyone wants me, I'll be outside getting a breath of fresh air.”  He walked to the patio door and then stopped.  Leaning his head against the glass as he closed his eyes for a few seconds, he said quietly, “Gawd, now I'm talking to the fish,” before finally going outside.

At that point, Jennifer emerged from the hallway, sad and confused at what she had heard.  She looked up the stairs for a moment, but then decided to talk to Daniel.

~Geez, I don't want to lose my parents ... again.~

====

Outside, Daniel stopped for a moment to pet Bijou and Katie and then aimlessly roamed the yard, his arms again crossed tightly across his chest.

~I hate this.  Gawd, Jack, we should know better.  How did we let this get the better of us?~

Lost in his despair, Daniel was standing still near the beagle's large doghouse when Jennifer approached him cautiously and asked, “Daddy, are you and Dad getting a divorce?”

The question caught Daniel totally off guard.  He suddenly felt cold, frozen even, and he was sure his heart had stopped beating.  As he turned to face his daughter, he stuttered his response.

“A ... a what?”

“You haven't been very happy lately, and I heard you say it was a mistake, and, um ... wait here.  I'll be right back.”  Quickly, Jennifer ran to her room, got the object Jack had thrown away, and returned to the backyard.  Daniel hadn't moved, not even an inch.  She extended out her hand, displaying the object she had retrieved from the garbage can.  “I think this is important, but earlier today, Dad just threw it away.”

There was a slight tremor in her voice as she handed Daniel the object.

~Now I get it,~ Daniel thought.

The item basically confirmed for Daniel what was wrong.  He felt numb now, knowing things had taken a nasty turn in their happy home life, but slowly, as he held the item, his strength and determination were reborn.  The object he held was a reminder of his nation of two with Jack, and he wouldn't let anything interfere with their union.

“Daddy, what is that?”

“It's called an Odo Nnyew Fie Kwan,” Daniel answered about the three-by-three inch squared object that looked like granite.  “It's an African symbol for love.  Uh, it literally means love never loses its way home.”

“Oh,” Jennifer expressed softly, not really understanding.

“It's the power of love, Jen.  I gave it to Dad a few years ago when we almost split up,” Daniel explained.  He looked up at the frightened girl and spoke reassuringly, “But that isn't what's happening now.  We ... Dad gets jealous, and I get caught up in work, and sometimes we clash.”

“You need to have a good old fashioned fight,” the pre-teen surmised with clarity of mind.

“Need to fight?”  Daniel chuckled lightly, agreeing, “Maybe we do.  We're both trying so hard not to because ...”

~Geez, this is so simple,~ Jennifer realized internally.  “Because of us.  Daddy, don't you see?  You and Dad can't stop fighting just because you have children now.  Sam and Kayla,” she paused, remembering the young woman who was no longer alive, but who would always be a part of their lives, “... they've both told me that you two argued from the day you met, that it was just part of who you are.  If you stop being who you are, then maybe that's why ...”

“... Maybe that's why we're stuck in limbo, trying not to fight, and making ourselves miserable in the process because what we really need to do is ...” Daniel began.

“... yell and get it out of your systems so you can kiss and make up.  Dad likes to make up.  I'm just guessing, of course.”

“Right.”  Daniel blushed seeing the knowing smile on his daughter's face.  He embraced her, assuring, “It's going to be okay.  Jack and I love each other very much.  We can't live without each other.  I promise you that.”

“Daddy, we won't fall apart if we hear you arguing sometimes.  It's normal.  Our birth parents fought sometimes, but they always made up.  We all fight, but it doesn't mean we don't love each other.  Look at the brood: we've all fought at some point.  Just because I disagree with you or don't like the way Dad treats a male friend of mine or something ... well, it doesn't mean I don't love you both ... or vice versa, right?”

Daniel nodded at the wisdom of his daughter, saying, “We just wanted to protect all of you.”

“Then don't you have to do what you keep telling us and be yourselves?  Daddy, if we know it's normal, and we see the love that you and Dad have for each other, and believe me, we do.  I mean, boy oh boy do we see it.  Geez, it's excessive, positively embarrassing.  I mean every time I turn around, you guys are kissing and making out.  Honestly, sometimes ...”

“Jen, I get the idea,” Daniel said, smiling.

Chuckling, Jennifer concluded, “Daddy, my point is, that we won't crumble if you argue sometimes, because that's just part of being human, right?  And isn't that showing us how life is, that you fight, then you make up, and it's okay?  Besides, most of the time, what we see is love.”

Daniel looked at his daughter with amazement.  He brought his hand up and touched the side of her face.

“Have I told you, Jen, how proud I am that you're my daughter?”

“Aw, Daddy, don't go getting mushy on me.”

“It's a father's prerogative to get mushy on occasion.  I love you, Jen.  Thanks,” Daniel spoke appreciatively.

“I love you, too, and Dad is positively bonkers about you.”

“Don't worry, Jen.  I'm ... bonkers about him, too.  Everything will be okay now.” Daniel took a cleansing breath.  He and Jack had a lot to talk about, but he knew this was just a tiny dent, easily repaired with time and love, and they had plenty of that.  “Hey, it's cold out here.  Let's go inside.”

Daniel put his arm around his daughter's shoulder and walked her inside the house, Bijou and Katie following them.

====

Three hours later with all the obligations for the day done and the children asleep, Daniel walked into the master bedroom, putting an envelope down on the dresser.  Jack was already in bed, facing the wall that adjoined the roof deck.  His eyes were closed.

Daniel changed into his pajamas, but instead of climbing into bed, he walked to Jack's side and sat down.  He ran his fingers through the fine strands of his lover's hair, reveling in the feel of them.

Jack tensed at the touch, but he didn't flinch.

Daniel then took the object Jack had thrown away and placed it in his lover's hand as he whispered, “I got the message.”

~Danny.~  Jack opened his eyes, cringing at the realization Daniel had found something that had been treasured between them, something he'd thrown away. He immediately gave it back to Daniel, not able to deal with the sentimentality involved.  Then, in a casual tone, as if to dismiss any relevance the object had to whatever was going on between them now, he said, “You haven't been a workaholic.”

“No, I haven't, but I haven't done a good job of including you on the talks with Yazid, and I should have.”

“I don't speak Arabic well enough to keep up with you two.”

“I know, and that's my fault,” Daniel sighed.  “I didn't realize I was shutting you out like that.  I admit that, but I hope you also know that your jealousy is about to go out of control again, and that there's no basis for it.”

Jack rolled over to lay on his back, rubbing his fingers against his forehead.

“Jack,” Daniel chastised.  “You're my husband.  I love you, only you.”

The older man let out a heavy sigh and a tiny groan, and finally said, “Yes, I know, but I go crazy watching you with other people, especially ones who look like Yazid.”

“He's just a business associate.”

“Our daughter seems to think he's the next best thing to Mickey Mouse,” Jack whined.

“Noa loves you.  You're her father, Jack.  No one else can be you to her,” Daniel reminded forcefully.

“Tell that to Teal'c ... or Yazid.”

“She loves your stories about the stars.  Don't you see how her little eyes light up when you walk into the room?”

“Do they?” Jack asked, looking into his husband's eyes for the first time during the conversation.

“Gawd, Jack.  She's our daughter.  Look at her next time.  There's no comparison.”

Jack took a breath and said softly, “I just feel like I'm on the outside.  I'm sorry.”

“I bought you something,” Daniel said.  He stood, went to the dresser, and returned with an envelope, which he handed it to his lover.  “This is for you.”

“What's in there?”

“Open it and find out.”

Jack sat up, leaning against the headboard of their large bed.  He looked at Daniel and then ripped open the white envelope, pulling out a confirmation form and other information.

“Hotel reservations?  Tickets to Disneyland?”

“I realize it'll be a quick trip, and it's pushing it considering we're leaving for Egypt on Sunday, but this is important.  I thought you could take the Mouseketeers to Disneyland.  You could leave first thing in the morning and have most of tomorrow, tomorrow night, and a good part of Saturday before coming back.”

“Danny, that's putting a lot of pressure on you for the trip overseas.  We still have a lot to do,” Jack responded.

“I know, but I can handle it.  Jack, Jen, David, and Noa would love for you to take them flying in Jo, and they'd have a great time with you at the Magic Kingdom.  You know, we were only at Disneyland for a few hours, and Noa didn't get to do as much as she wanted.  Jen and David have never been there at all.  I really want you to take them.  I thought ...”

“It might make me feel better?” Jack asked.

“Something like that.  Jack, we're Noa's parents now, not Yazid or Teal'c.  She's a little girl, and little girls have crushes.”

“She has one on you.”

“I'm one of her fathers, and she has one on you, too, but you're too ...”

“Jealous?” the older man questioned, knowing the answer deep within his soul.

“Jealous,” Daniel agreed as he continued, “to see it.  Maybe this will help.”

“Danny, I love you.  You know that.”

“And I love you.”  Daniel paused, looking down at his hands.  “Jack, we needed to argue.”

“I didn't want to argue.”

“Neither did I, but we kept it inside, and that was worse.  I didn't want to rock the boat, so I didn't press you even though I knew I should have.”

“Arguing isn't healthy, at least that's what they say.”

“That's wrong, Jack.  I don't know who the 'they' is who said that, but arguing is healthy.  It's keeping things inside that makes people bitter and even makes them sick.  Arguing helps us vent and clear the air, and for us; gawd, Jack, for us, it's almost second nature.”  Daniel thought for a moment, looking downward before looking back into Jack's eyes.  “A long time ago, you told me that we would always argue.  I think maybe the problem is that sometimes we think we shouldn't, maybe even because we're living our dream now that somehow we think we shouldn't push our luck.”

“Sounds logical.  We say things when we argue, Danny ... things that hurt.”

“But keeping things bottled up hurts, too.”  Daniel shook his head, shivering at the remembrance, and informed, “Jack, our daughter asked me tonight if we were getting a divorce.”

“*What*?”  Jack looked at Daniel in disbelief.  “What did you say?”

“Exactly what you think I said.  She's a wise one, Love.  She told me that we needed to be ourselves, that we shouldn't change just because we have children now.”  Daniel let out a small chuckle.  “She informed me that none of our children would fall apart if we argued from time to time because we're so ... in love,” he said with a smile, his eyes rolling from side to side as he thought about the words Jennifer had spoken in the backyard only a few hours earlier.

“She's a pretty sharp cookie, isn't she?  We are talking about Jen?” Jack asked, knowing he'd feel horrible if it had been Chenoa who had asked the question about getting a divorce, even though he knew she was probably too young to ask such a question in the first place.

“Yes, Jen.  She was scared.  She's the one who found this and gave it to me.”  Daniel saw his husband cringe again, looking away for a moment.  “You threw it away, Jack.  I guess that told me more than anything else that I needed to step back and open my eyes.”

“The power of love.  That's what you said it represented.  You told me to give it to you if ...” Jack began.

“... If I ever forgot my priorities.  I don't think I've done that exactly, but I was shutting you out in ways I wasn't aware of.  I apologize for that, and I intend to fix it.”

“You're just doing what's best for J-O Enterprises.  I don't know enough technically to do what you're doing, Danny.”

“What's best for our company is for us to love each other.  I love you, Jack.  I've missed you.”

“Angel, I'm sorry.  You know me, I'm such a jerk sometimes, but you're so right.  I should have told you what was bugging me, but Danny, I knew it was dumb from the beginning.”

“That's it, isn't it?  You knew Mr. Jealousy was lurking, but that ...”

“That there was no basis for it, but ...”

Daniel smiled, his hand caressing Jack's cheek as he interjected, “Jack, you stopped yourself from exploding in rage, from letting Mr. Jealousy convince you of something you knew wasn't true, but still, you felt left out.  My Love, your feelings matter, even if you think they are dumb.  You can't hold back; you have to share those feelings with me, so we can work through them ... together.”

“They were dumb feelings, Danny,” the silver-haired man sighed.

“Jack, remember how I felt after that foothold situation at the SGC?”

Jack nodded, remembering the time Daniel had tried to run from him because he'd felt abandoned.  That feeling was made worse by the fact that Daniel knew it was dumb but felt it nonetheless.

“Yeah, I remember.”

“Feelings matter, Love.  Even if they don't make sense, you need to tell me how you feel.”  Daniel put the object in the palm of Jack's hand and then he closed his hand over Jack's.  “Keep this.  Use it again if you have to, but never give up on us, Jack, and whatever you do, don't shut me out like that again, not ever.”

“I love you, Danny,” Jack said as he leaned in for a kiss.

The lovers' first kiss in days resulted in their bodies immediately reacting to the powerful sensation of their union.

“Oh, gawd,” Daniel gasped.

Daniel pounced on his husband, desperate for his touch.  It had been days, and it was time for some serious make-up sex.

====

“Jen, where's Dad and Daddy?” David asked early the next morning.

“They're asleep,” Jennifer answered, smiling.

“Still?  It's eight o'clock.  Dad's always up by now,” David stated as he started to go upstairs.

“David, get back here.  Leave them alone.  They're ... tired.  They need to ... sleep,” the girl said.

“But what about breakfast?”

“I'll fix it in a minute.  You watch the babies, okay?  I'm going to go upstairs and see what's keeping Noa.”

Jennifer walked into the nursery where Chenoa was trying to put on her Mickey Mouse blouse that Daniel had purchased during their journey through Mickey's playground, but she wasn't doing well.  She chuckled as her sister attempted to put her head through one of the sleeves.

“Here, Noa, let me help.”

“Thank you, Jen,” Noa said when she was finally dressed.  “Noa hungry.”

“Go on downstairs, and I'll make breakfast.  Go on -- scoot.”

Jennifer saw a few things of David's in the nursery, so she decided to put them away quickly.  She picked up the various items and carried them into David's room.  

====

“Danny,” Jack called out, shaking his lover.  “Angel, it's almost ten,” he informed.

Waking up just slightly, Daniel responded, “Go ba'k sl'p.”

Jack smiled, saying, “I can take the kids to see Mickey after Egypt.”

Suddenly, Daniel shot up, got his glasses, and focused on the clock, saying, “No, Babe.  Go. Just get ready, and I'll go tell the Mouseketeers.”

“But we'll be getting there ...”

“Jack, it doesn't take that long to fly to LA.  Now get up.”

====

After tending to calls of nature, the lovers agreed to check in on their babies before Jack dressed and Daniel helped their oldest children pack for their out-of-the-blue trip.

“Daniel, our kids are missing,” Jack stated, looking all around the nursery and not seeing a child in sight.

“I doubt that,” Daniel replied.  “I'm guessing Jen has them downstairs.  Look, the monitor is off.”

“Why would she do that?”

“Um, well, she said something about us ... making up,” Daniel answered shyly, a blush emerging on his face.

“Oh.”  Jack smiled as he took a blushing Daniel into his arms again.  “Thank you, Love, for getting us back on track.”

“You're welcome.”

David's things put away, Jennifer was headed for the stairs when she heard her parents' voices.  She grinned as she entered the room and saw Jack and Daniel with their arms around each other, kissing and caressing.

“Make-up sex?”

“Jennifer Renee Jackson-O'Neill, not in front of the babies,” Jack spoke in a mock anger, his statement all the more ridiculous because there weren't any babies in the room.

The girl laughed, especially seeing the blush on Daniel's face, and asked, “Everything is okay now?”  She observed her parents as they looked at each other, both with sloppy grins on their faces, their eyes positively shining with love.  “Oh, yeah, everything is okay,” she said, answering her own question.

“Yeah, it is,” Daniel confirmed.  After one more kiss, he instructed, “Babe, get ready.”  Walking over to his daughter, he said, “Jen, there's been a change of plans for the day.”

====

“Thanks, Cass, for agreeing to ... fish-sit!” Daniel chuckled at his choice of words.

“No problem, Uncle Daniel.  School's almost out so it's not going to be a problem, and if I need to, I can have Mom help.  You guys have a great time.”

“We will.  Give Janet our love,” Daniel requested.

“I will.  Bye.”

“Bye.”  Daniel hung up the phone.  He looked around and asked, “Are we ready?”

“As ready as we are ever going to be.  The limos here yet?” Jack asked.

The couple had decided prior to the trip that with such a large number of children, five of whom were babies, as well as two dogs, that they wanted to make things as easy as possible, so they had arranged for limousines or other private transportation for most of their trip.  They had briefly considered mini-buses, but decided against it since it was easier to strap baby seats into limos.

Daniel walked to the window, saw the two black cars approaching, and answered, “Just driving up now.”

“Okay kids, let's go!”

The Jackson-O'Neills, together with Sam and Teal'c, were on their way to Egypt at last.

====

During the long flight, Jack and Daniel smiled, watching their children sleep.

“Danny, we haven't had a chance to talk much about the trip to Disney.”

“I know the Mouseketeers had a great time, Jack.  Their smiles were huge when they were talking about their adventure before going to sleep last night,” Daniel responded.

“It definitely wasn't long enough; we need to schedule a vacation there; maybe for next summer, if not sooner,” Jack suggested.

Daniel nodded, but he had the feeling there was something more on his lover's mind.

“Babe, what are you thinking?”

With a sigh, the older man confessed, “I hate to admit it, Danny, but I felt like I wasn't just second choice with Noa, but way down on the list.  I know that's crazy, but ...”

“But it's how you felt.  You can't deny your own feelings; they're important,” Daniel asserted quietly.

Jack nodded his agreement, saying, “Yes, they are.”

“Jack, I think maybe we should both take little trips with our children as well as the big family trips,” Daniel put forth.  “I loved my time with Noa, and I know you felt that with the Mouseketeers.”

“Special downtimes for all of us,” Jack responded, nodding his head.

Chuckling, Daniel said, “We're a family, not a military unit.  We go on vacations and trips, not missions and downtimes.”

“Yes, Sir, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, Sir,” the general teased.

“You're so incorrigible, Jack,” Daniel mused.  Growing serious again, though, he asked, “But ... do you know what I mean, about the little trips?”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Jack answered.  “We can take weekend trips, so that each of our brood has their own time with us and ...”

“...and us with them, which is just as important, Jack.”

“You're right,” Jack acknowledged as the two settled into a silence as they watched their sleeping brood and contemplated special trips with each of them.

====

Sixteen hours after taking off, Abayomi's private jet touched down in Cairo.  Somehow, everyone had survived the long flight, though they were all tired.  A few of the staff from J-O had flown over as well and headed off on vacations before the dig began.  The Jackson-O'Neills would be doing the same thing.  They had ten days scheduled to explore Egypt before reporting to the main site near Abydos.

The first stop, however, was the Nile Hilton.  Jack and Daniel had booked four connecting suites on the tenth floor.  Teal'c had the room on one end, then Sam, and then the children, and finally Jack and Daniel.  They had arranged for three extra-large cribs, one in each of the adult's rooms, so they wouldn't have to move them back and forth, plus the couple had two additional 'regular' cribs in their room as well.  It would be a tight fit, but for this short stay, the youngest Jackson-O'Neills would have to make do with slightly cramped sleeping arrangements.

It took quite a while to get everyone settled, but once the troops were in place, Sam hooked up the baby monitors so that no matter what room they were in, when turned on, the babies could be heard.

The sun was setting, and Daniel stood out on the balcony of the master suite.  He felt Jack's arms wrap around his waist, so Daniel placed his hands on Jack's and leaned back into his husband's body.

“I can't believe we're really here.”

“Believe it, Angel.”  Jack looked out at the Nile River that flowed before their eyes.  “It does seem a little miraculous though, doesn't it?”

“A little.  Eight children, two dogs, two dear friends ... it's a dream.  Jack, this has to work.  If J-O can pull this off, we'll be well on our way.”

“We'll do it.”

“I love you, Jack.”

“I love you, too, Angel.  Come on.  We're exhausted, and we have some full days ahead of us.  Why don't we try to sleep?”

“Where are the girls?” the archaeologist inquired.

Smiling, Jack answered, “They're in with the twins.  They aren't sure about this place yet.”

“Our little protectors.”

“Let's go to bed,” Jack suggested.

====

“Tickles.  Danny?  Stop that!”

“Mmm ... what?”

Jack jerked up, and chuckled, “Oh, it's you!” as Bijou once again licked his foot which was sticking out from under the covers.

“Woof!”

“That time, eh?  Okay.  I'm coming.  Be right back, Danny.”

“Mmm ...”

Jack chuckled as he put on his pants and a thin white shirt.  He put the harnesses on the two beagles, and then leaned over to kiss his husband.

“Be right back, Love.  The girls need to go outside,” Jack stated quietly.

“Mmm ... wha?”

Daniel snuggled into his pillow and groaned slightly.

Jack shook his head.  His poor husband was still on the exhausted side.  As it had worked out, he had managed to get quite a bit of sleep on the plane, as had their friends, but Daniel being Daniel, he had worried a little more about the children, including the beagles, and just hadn't been able to sleep much on the long flight from America to Egypt.

~That's my Angel.  It's okay now, Love.  Everyone is safe.  Sleep.~

Jack placed another kiss on Daniel's forehead, smiling when he saw his Love reflexively smiling at the tender touch; he checked the babies and then headed outside.

====

When Jack and the beagles returned fifteen minutes later, Daniel still hadn't moved, so Jack tossed off his clothes and got back into bed.

“I love you, Danny.”

“Mmm ... wha?”

Smiling, Jack held his lover close and then let himself fall asleep for a bit longer.

====

“Okay, that's done.”  Jack sat down by Daniel on the love seat after doing a check on the twins.  “Listen, why don't you take David across the street to the Egyptian Museum?”

“I'll never get him out of there,” Daniel mused.

“We can go back quite a bit since it's right across the street,” Jack pointed out.

“Maybe I should take ...”

“No, this should be one of those special times we talked about.  David is just like you, Danny.  Let him experience what that museum has to offer with someone who can help him see it with special eyes.”

Daniel ran his hand along Jack's left cheek, saying, “I love you.  We'll be back in a couple of hours.”

They shared a tender kiss, and then another, and another before Daniel finally tore himself away from his husband and went to get David, who was in Teal'c's room, for their excursion.

====

“Did you buy out the gift shops?” Jack asked, seeing his oldest daughter walking into the suite, carrying several bags.

Sam and Chenoa were right behind the pre-teen, both carrying bags, too.

“Hardly,” Jennifer answered as she went over and kissed her father.  “Thank you, Dad, for letting me buy a few things.”

“No problem.  Did you stick to the budget?”

Jennifer smiled, acknowledging, “Nothing more than fifteen dollars, and we came in six-dollars under our maximum.”

“Way to go, Jen!”

As Jack picked up the toddler, he asked, “How'd you do, Princess?”

“Pretty,” Chenoa said, holding out a bag proudly.

“We found a beautiful child's sarong.  She looks adorable in it, Sir,” Sam commented.

“Daddy and David still gone?”

With a snort, Jack responded, “Oh yeah.  I figure if they show up by dinner, we'll be doing good.”

“Sir, didn't you say they were just going to the museum for a couple of hours?”

“That's what Daniel said,” Jack spoke wryly.

“Oh, I see,” Sam expressed, trying to suppress a chuckle.

====

Two hours later, David burst excitedly into the master suite, with his younger father trailing behind him.

“Dad!  Jen!  Noa!  Wow, you just have to see this place.  It's awesome!”

“Hey, Son.”  Jack picked up the enthusiastic boy, smiling at Daniel who walked in a bit sheepishly behind him.  “So you had a good time?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Tell me all about it.”  Jack carried David over to the bed and tossed him down, and then sat down himself.  “Go on, I'm listening.”

“It was great.  Most of the really fun stuff is on the upper floor.”

“Fun stuff?”

“They have mummies there, lots of them, but they even had dogs and that ...”  David looked at Bijou and Katie who were lying on one of their beanbags on the floor.  “Um, I didn't like that part very much.”

“Understandable, Son, but what about the fun stuff?” Jack questioned, wanting to share in the excitement.

“Oh, The Tutankamun Galleries were great.”

“King Tut is always good for a bit of fun,” Jack said.

“Tut?” Chenoa asked.

His words tumbling out a mile a minute, David responded, “He was a young Pharaoh, but he only ruled for nine years.  They found his tomb in 1922.  They had these big statues of Tutankhamun, his wig box ...”

“Wigs?  Pharoahs wore wigs.  Those hippies,” Jack teased, only to see David scowl.  “You know, he really is just like you,” he said to Daniel, who rolled his eyes but still said nothing.

“Dad!”

“Okay, I'm sorry.  Go on.”

“They had a lion throne and a solid gold death mask.  It was great!” David exclaimed.  He took a breath and then rambled on for several more minutes about things he had seen.  “... and there was a Jewelry Room that had belts, necklaces, and all kinds of things.  They had this golden headband that Daddy liked a lot.”


“Sounds like it was a big day.”

“Daddy said I should ask you ...”

“I think I'll go check on the babies,” Daniel interrupted suddenly after not saying anything since David's ecstatic oration had begun.

“Daniel, stay,” Jack ordered.  Something in Daniel's expression and tone told Jack not to let his lover get away with walking out of the room.  ~I don't know what it is, but something is up.~  “What did Daddy tell you to ask me?”

“They have this shrine.  It's supposed to be really cool, but Daddy wouldn't take me in.  He said I should ask you to take me.  He said it could be more of our special time.”

“I really should ...” Daniel began, pointing towards the bedroom door.

“Daniel, don't move.”

Realizing he didn't have an out, Daniel did the next best thing and moved as far away from Jack as he could.

“I really want to go see it, Dad.  Can we?  Just you and me?” the eager seven-year-old boy asked.

Daniel was looking very nervous, something Jack noticed.

“Exactly what is this shrine?” the older father asked.

Grinning, David answered, “It's for a beautiful goddess.  Her name is, uh, Hathor.”

“Hathor,” Jack gulped.  He looked across at his husband to make sure Daniel was really okay.  Seeing that his lover was looking sheepish more than anything, he relaxed.  “Daniel, Love?”

“Yes, Jack.”

“Paybacks,” Jack said.  “Count on it.”

Daniel smiled, backed away, waving his left hand towards the other room as he spoke, “I'm going to go check on the babies now.”

“You do that.”

Sam failed in her attempt to not laugh, drawing Jennifer's attention.

“There's a story here,” Jennifer said.  “I can't wait to hear it.”

“Not in your lifetime, Jennifer,” Jack spoke sternly, causing Sam to laugh even harder.

~I'll find out; just give me time,~ the pre-teen determined silently.

====

“Jack, I'm sorry I lost track of the time,” Daniel said as he snuggled into his Jack pillow at the end of the day.

“Don't worry, Love.  I knew you would.  I was prepared.”

“You were?”

“Yep, had the day planned both ways.  It worked out just fine for all of us, and David needed that time with you.”

“I'm sorry about the Hathor thing, too.  I just ... wasn't quite sure what to say to David, and I ... I didn't want to go in there.”

Jack's hold on Daniel tightened slightly, but his tone was light as he responded, “Never fear, Angel.”  Snickering, he added, “Paybacks.”

“Jack!”

“I love you, Danny.”

“Jack.”

“Go to sleep,” the older man said.

“But ...”

“Sleep,” Jack reiterated.

“Jack, this time it's important.”  Daniel moved to look at Jack.  “The whole dead goddess thing ... I see it in your eyes, the uncertainty, so I want you to understand.”

“I'm listening.”

“Hathor was a long time ago.  She's a horrible part of our past, but she is the past.  I ... I don't want to go and see the shrine, though.  I don't want to go there or anywhere near anything that has anything to do with her because ... I hate her, and I just don't want to be close to anything that reminds me of that nightmare, but that being said, I'm really and truly fine.”  Daniel smiled reassuringly.  “You don't have to worry, Babe, but thank you for worrying anyway.”

Jack looked deeply into Daniel's eyes.  They were the portals to his soul, and what Jack saw was love and happiness.  There wasn't a trace of that old dead goddess.  He understood Daniel just didn't want the reminder of the nightmare.  It was in their past, and he didn't want to have to answer David's inevitable questions about the goddess that had once raped him.

“Okay,” Jack acknowledged.

Daniel relaxed and moved back to his position.  Jack's hold was still tight, but he didn't mind.  He knew Jack would always protect him, and would always worry.  It came with Jack's love.  Then he heard the firm voice speaking.

“But I will get my revenge, Daniel.  You just wait and see,” Jack cackled.

Humor was always Jack's best defense, and Daniel chuckled, knowing they were good to go.

“I'm sure you will, Babe.  Goodnight.”

“Love you.”

“Love you, too, so much.”

====

“It will be fine, DanielJackson.  I am experienced now with diaper changing of a Tau'ri,” Teal'c intoned.

“Okay, Teal'c.  Sam will be back with the Munchkins in a few hours,” Daniel replied.

Jack, Daniel, and Sam headed out with the Mouseketeers and the Munchkins, leaving Teal'c with the twins and the two beagles.  They were headed for the Fish Garden in Zamalek.

Jennifer marveled at the walkways that were paved with marble and the collection of six different kinds of palm trees that were at the entrance.  The group discovered that the park had almost fallen to ruin before being restored in the early 2000's.



Over the next couple of hours, the party visited as many as they could of the forty-seven aquariums that featured Nile fish and imported species, some of which were extremely rare.  Chenoa loved the colorful swimmers, and the Munchkins cooed at the fish quite a bit.  Little Danny, in particular, seemed to be entranced by them.

“Sam, are you sure you can navigate the Munchkins okay?”

“Daniel, did anyone ever tell you that you worry too much?”  As the young man shrugged, Sam laughed, “Okay, be paranoid, if you like.  You have your cell.  Just try to wait at least five minutes between phone calls.”

“I'm not that bad.”  Seeing the woman's stare, he asked hesitantly, “Am I?”

Sam smiled, kissed her friend on the cheek, waved goodbye to her former CO and the Mouseketeers, and then headed back to the hotel with the Munchkins without directly answering Daniel's question.

Looking at his husband, Daniel asked, “Am I?”

“Not anymore than I am.  Let's go.”

“Good,” Daniel responded, starting to move forward.  Then he stopped, realizing that Sam had been talking to both of them.  ~I really thought we were doing better.  Well ... maybe when they're grown up and married,~ he mused.
 
====

“This is great, Danny,” Jack commented just before he placed a kiss on Daniel's temple.

It was the next day, and the family was sailing on a barge down a network of canals in Doctor Ragab's Pharonic Village, a theme park which brought Ancient Egypt to life.  In the recreated village, more than one hundred actors brought history alive for the travelers.  The performers recreated all parts of Egyptian life, including industries, games, arts, and moments from history and legend.  Nothing of modern Egypt was present in the village.

The Mouseketeers loved the village recreations.  Jennifer was fascinated by the pottery, sculpture, and weaving that was demonstrated, but Chenoa's favorite part was the playground.  David's favorite part was the building of boats by the shipwrights, though he also liked watching the artisans work on temple paintings.


Jack and Daniel enjoyed the many exhibits that the village offered for exploration, from the King Tut tomb recreation to the Alexandria and Ptolemies exhibit.

It was a fun but full day.  By the time they got back to the hotel, David and Chenoa barely had the energy to eat before collapsing into their beds.  Jennifer helped to get her siblings to bed and then decided to read a book she had bought on life in Ancient Egypt.

“Carter?” Jack called out, knocking on Sam's door after dinner.

“Sir?”

“Would you mind watching the troops for a while?  I'd like to take my husband for a little stroll along the Nile.”

Sam smiled, replying, “I'm sure he'd like that.”

“Thank you.”

Jack walked back to the master bedroom.  Daniel was typing away on the laptop, working on something, but Jack didn't know what.  He hit the save button.

“Hey!” Daniel objected.

“Backatcha,” Jack said as he quickly closed the laptop and pulled Daniel to him for a kiss.  He whispered, “Let's go for a walk.”

“Jack, we walked all day,” Daniel whined.

“Oh, okay,” Jack relented, disappointment evident in his voice as he headed for the bed.

“Where'd you want to go?”

“Stroll along the Nile.  We don't have to go far,” Jack stated, his chocolate brown eyes now sparkling with hope of taking the walk with his lover.  “It's a beautiful night, Danny.”

Daniel perked up a little at that and asked, “What about ...”

“It's covered.”

The younger man held out his hand, and Jack quickly took hold of it.

====

The lovers strolled contently along the banks of the famous river.  There was a full moon out, and the setting couldn't be more romantic if it were in a novel.  After a while, they found a secluded spot and sat, holding hands as they watched the river flow.

“The moonlight dances off your hair.  It's so beautiful,” Jack spoke lovingly.

“Gawd, Jack,” Daniel responded, blushing.

“Can I help it if I'm madly in love with my husband?”

“You'd better be,” Daniel responded with a smile, leaning in for a kiss.

“Let's go back.  You're tired, and tomorrow is going to be even crazier than today was.”

“I feel so old,” Daniel laughed, realizing he was truly exhausted.

“I don't even want to think about it,” Jack teased as they returned to the hotel for a peaceful night's sleep.

====

“Okay, campers, this is going to be a big day and an exciting one.  We're off to see the pyramids!” Jack exclaimed bright and early the next morning.

Jack and Daniel loaded up the limo with their brood and their friends.  Even the girls were going on this special trip.  The work that Daniel had done for the Egyptian government to get permission for the beagles to accompany them to the dig site had been so gratefully received that department of Antiquities had given them permission to take the girls onto any of the archeological sites while they were there.


As they drove up to the Giza Plateau, Daniel was in full lecture mode, though he tried to keep his comments as simple as possible, saying, “This is where the fourth dynasty kings, back in, um, well a long time ago, built three large pyramids and eight smaller ones along the edge of what is now Cairo.  The ancient Egyptians called this place 'kher neter' or 'The West'.  The Great Pyramid of Khufu is here.  For thousands and thousands of years, Khufu's pyramid stood as the highest man-made structure in the world surpassed only in 1888.”

“Wow, Daddy.  This is so neat.” David said, getting out of the limo.

“It sure is.  I can never get over the greatness of this place.  It was built with such incredible accuracy -- alignment, geometrical shape and proportions, and level to within a few millimeters.  It's just ... amazing how it was constructed.  It is the largest pyramid in Egypt.

**Betcha it was one big mother ship that landed here,** Jack communicated.

Daniel looked at Jack and smiled as he responded, **Definitely.**

“Big,” Chenoa said in a tiny voice.

Jack smiled as Teal'c picked up the toddler and said, “There is nothing to fear ChenoaJackson-O'Neill.  It is big, to be respected, but not to be feared.”

The young girl rested her head against Teal'c's strong shoulder.  He would hold her for most of the day as she remained awed by the magnitude of the giant structures.

As they gazed at the great Sphinx, Daniel's lecture continued, “This is called the Great Sphinx, and if you look over here,” he pointed, “you can see where the nose used to be.  It's been ...”

“... altered?” Jack suggested the word.

“I guess you could say that ... back in the twelfth century.  They think it was hacked off with some type of bar.  The area beneath the headdress was done during the mid 1920's.  The sphinx is sixty-five-feet high and over one-hundred, sixty-four-feet long.”

“Funny,” Chenoa said.

No one noticed a husband and wife who had joined the Jackson-O'Neills, interested in hearing what Daniel had to say.

Daniel chuckled at Chenoa's comment, knowing how it must look to a child, but before he could respond, they were approached by a man who said, “I can tell you everything about the sphinx.”

“No, thank you.  We really don't ...” Daniel began, his words cut off.

“Little girl, this is ...” the man began.

“It's supposed to be part man and part lion,” Jack stated dryly.

“That's right,” the man said.  “The shapes are carved ...”

“... Directly into the limestone plateau.  You can see the layering across the body,” Daniel interjected.

Undaunted, the guide-wannabe pushed forward, saying, “Something unique about the Sphinx is that for a great part of its existence, it's been ...”

“... Covered up to its neck in sand,” Daniel completed the sentence, unaware that a few more people had gathered around their small group.  “In fact, it was covered up until the 1920's.  There are many ancient writings that talk about the Sphinx being covered and having to be dug out eventually.”

The Jackson-O'Neills moved on.  Jack finally noticed they had a following.  There were at least three of the guides in the pack.  In fact, they seemed to be working hard to try and get some of the group to veer off, but the small crowd stayed intact.  He grinned.  Quite unintentionally, Daniel had captured the attention of the people around him.

~That's my Danny.~

“And this,” Daniel said to his family, “is Khafre's pyramid.  He was Khufu's son and ruled Egypt for twenty-six years.  He meticulously built his pyramid almost thirty-three feet higher on the plateau than his father's, and it's actually just shy of ten-feet shorter.  It's the only pyramid at Giza that has some casing stone remaining.”

“So it's bigger?” David asked.

“No, Son,” Jack answered.  “See, he just built it on higher ground so that it looked bigger, but it's really not.”

“Oh, that wasn't nice.”

“There was a lot of competition in the days of the Pharaohs.  Each wanted to be greater than all others,” Daniel explained.

“They all seem so haunting.  What are the pyramids for?” Jennifer asked.

**Gawd, Jack.**

**Grin and bear it, Love.  Go with the story.**

Daniel took a breath.  One of the guides figured this was his opportunity to jump in.

“I can tell you all ... for a price.”

“Really, there isn't anything you can tell us that ...” Daniel tried to speak.

“But there is.  Your friend, he does not know why ...”

Daniel sighed as he reluctantly insisted, “But I do.  Some five-thousand years ago, Giza became the burial ground for Memphis which was then the Egyptian capital.  During the fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, successive generations built the pyramids to serve as tombs for their dead kings.  The king's close family and royal court were buried nearby.”  He saw the glare of the guide.

Before the archaeologist could react, a lady asked him, “Which pyramid is the oldest?”

Daniel was surprised at the question.  This was the first time he noticed the crowd of people surrounding them.

“Um, actually the oldest is also the largest.  It's called the Great Pyramid and was built by Khufu, uh, circa 2589 to about 2566 BC,” Daniel answered.

A college student in the crowd commented as he looked at the pyramids, “You know, I have never been able to accept the idea that all those years ago, the Egyptians were able to simply ... build these massive structures, and all just to bury their dead kings?  It doesn't make sense to me, and I've been studying Ancient Egypt in college for the last couple of years.”

“Well, there has been speculation that because of the precise placement of the tombs and the individual stones that perhaps the pyramids were built by some other, uh, gr...group,” Daniel answered and then cleared his throat nervously.

“Oh, I've heard that,” a man stated.  “Angels or even devils.  I even heard that aliens built the pyramids.”

Jack and Daniel exchanged a look that said 'not going there', something Sam and Teal'c did as well.

“Why would aliens build pyramids on Earth?” the college student asked.

“Oh, I know,” David surprised his parents as he spoke up enthusiastically.  “Pyramids were really built to be landing strips for the alien spaceships.  They land on top of them.  That's why they are built so precisely.  Isn't that right, Daddy?”

Daniel thought he might actually faint.  His eyes bulged, as did Jack's.

“Son, where did you hear that?” Jack asked with overwhelming curiosity.

“I read it on the internet.  Daddy wrote it as a theory a long time ago. Daniel Jackson.  Isn't that you, Daddy?” David asked, looking up at his younger father.

“Oh, gawd.”

Daniel looked at the surprised group.  Sam was trying not to laugh, and Teal'c was looking as inscrutable as usual.

“Alien landing strips?” the guides roared in laughter.

“HEY, IT'S POSSIBLE!” Jennifer shouted at the laughing men.  She had no idea what her brother was talking about, but no way were strangers going to laugh at her father, and if her father said the pyramids were built by aliens to be landing strips, then they were, and that was that.  ~So there!~

“Actually, that makes more sense than anything else I've read,” the college student said thoughtfully.

“Why, though?” a woman questioned.

“Wh...wh...why?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, why would aliens build these great things and then ... disappear?”

“Maybe they haven't, Ma'am,” Jack answered.  “Maybe they just left for a while.”

“Look at all the UFO's that have been seen over the years,” another man commented as the guides continued to laugh.

“I believe in UFO's,” yet another woman said.

“So, these ships would land on the pyramids, full of aliens.  That would explain the advanced technology.”

The college student was thinking seriously about the concept.

“It ... could,” Daniel said shyly.

“Where is this paper?” the student asked.

“I don't remember.  I was just playing around on the computer and found it,” David answered.

“But, Sir,” a man asked, “you wrote this paper?”

“Me?” Daniel asked, feeling very odd at the moment with all the attention and focus on the paper that had gotten him laughed out of Academia.

When the man nodded, Daniel gave a nervous affirmative nod.

Reaching into his pocket, the man extended his hand, offering, “Here's my card.  I'd be interested in reading it, if you could send me a copy sometime.”

“Me, too,” the college student said, writing down his information on a piece of paper.

By the time the crowd dispersed, a very stunned Daniel had twelve cards and addresses in his hand.

**Jack, what do I do?**

**The paper is public domain, Danny.  Send it,** the older man encouraged.

**But ...**

**Daniel, your theory is right.  You aren't betraying anyone or anything by sending out copies of a theory you wrote more than a decade ago.  Send it.  Let them ask questions.**

**I love you.**

**Me, too.**

**You know something ironic?  Years ago, I couldn't pay anyone to listen to my theory, and now, here we are, and people are practically begging me to read it ... it's ... it's just kinda funny.**

**I'm proud of you.**

A question prevented Daniel from saying anything more at the moment, but he was truly stunned, and touched, by what had just occurred.

After some more lecture-mode type of information, Jack asked, “Danny, are you going to tell them?”

“Jack.”

“Tell us what, Daddy?” Jennifer asked.

“Come on, Daniel.  If you don't, I will.”

“I sort of, kind of ... climbed it once.”

“YOU CLIMBED THE PYRAMID?” David shouted.

“Shhh!” Daniel said, looking around to see if anyone was looking.  “I was ... well, yes, I did.”

“Daddy, I thought that was against the rules.”

“Yeah, well, I was young and ... I broke the rules.  It was an experience I'll never forget,” Daniel said, gazing off at the large site.

“Daddy, what about that photo of you on the camel?” Jennifer asked.

“That was in front of the Great Pyramid.  I really wasn't supposed to be there, either.”

Jennifer smiled and Daniel shrugged, and then the family continued their trek through the Pyramids.  They took photos for their family album as they explored, one of the highlights being their foray inside the Great Pyramid.

“Not much here to see, but this is like Indiana Jones,” David had said enthusiastically.

Jennifer had climbed up some of the steps on the triangle of the pyramid, posing for a photo.

“It's incredibly awesome,” she had shouted before the photo was snapped.

The real highlight, in a less serious venue, was the camel race.  It was a spur of the moment venture, one finagled by Jack.  They had spotted two men selling camel rides, and after letting the Mouseketeers each take a ride, Jack slipped the men some extra money.

“Okay, Dannyboy, let's see your stuff.”

“Excuse me?”

“Race you to the Pyramid,” Jack challenged.

“Jack, you've got to be kidding.”

“Afraid, Daniel?  Remember, your children are watching.”

Daniel looked at the brood, all sporting giggles.  He rolled his eyes as he moved to get on the camel closest to him.

“Jack, have you ever in your life been on a camel?”

“I've been on a horse.  What's the difference?”

Daniel shook his head, a smirk on his face as he spoke, “Hey, there, Fella.  Go at your own pace.  How about we visit the Pyramid?”  He talked calmly to the humped creature while at the same time trying to stop from laughing as Jack struggled to get on the creature assigned to him.  “Don't mind him; this is just the two of us,” he said with a steady voice.

“Okay.  Here we go.  Now would be good.  I've got money riding on this race.  Giddy up, camel.  Giddy ... oh for crying out loud, get up!” Jack ordered loudly.

~He's so funny sometimes,~ Daniel thought after having looked back over his shoulder at his partner's still-kneeling on the ground camel.  He sighed at his husband's antics, then talked to his own camel some more.  “That's it, Boy.  Nice day for a jaunt, isn't it?  Amazingly clear.  It's not usually like this.”

“Watch your back, Dannyboy, ole Jack is about to ... hey ... why'd you stop?  Whoa, Boy!”

“Jack, be careful!” Daniel shouted out as Jack's camel took a spin around in a circle.

“The Pyramid is that way, you beast!” Jack cackled annoyingly as he pointed to his right.  In response, the camel laid down.  “Get up you mangy beast.”

Jack grumbled as he struggled to convince the camel to get up and continue their journey.

Meanwhile, Daniel moved forward, enjoying the early evening air as he spoke softly to the animal, saying, “Soon, the lights will come on.  This place is so reverent at night.  I remember how sacred it felt to just stand out here and watch.”

“I'm on your six, Dannnnnnnnnnnnnnn...yboy.”

Daniel turned, and called out in alarm, “Jack?”

“Who knew,” Jack laughed, “this thing was a bronco bull?”

Daniel turned his camel and they trotted over to Jack's position, the older man now flat on his back on the sandy surface.  He ordered his camel down and gently got off.  He hurried to his husband.

“Jack, you didn't break anything ... important, did you?”

Jack's laughter roared through the air as he answered, “Nothing important, Love.  Help me up!”  Daniel helped Jack to stand and clean off the desert sand from his clothes.  “Those creatures are ornery, Daniel.”

“You just have to be nice to them.”

“I'll be nice to you instead,” Jack said, pulling Daniel in for a kiss.  The two turned and stared at the huge Pyramid in front of them.  “It's just ... incredible, Danny.”

Daniel leaned his head against Jack's shoulder as he quietly echoed the word, “Incredible.”

“You won the race, My Love.  What do you claim for your prize?”

Daniel turned to face Jack.  He ran his hands up and down his lover's chest, and then he leaned forward for a kiss.

“You ... for eternity.”

“Done.”

It had been another full day that had left all the children, and their parents, exhausted.  They returned to the hotel, and after a nice dinner, settled down for a long night's sleep.

====

“This is going to be fun,” Jennifer said as she boarded the barge.  “What is this called again, Dad?”

“A felucca.  Royal feluccas like this one bore a larger-than-life image of the Pharaoh, seated on a throne.  Big guy wanted everyone to know he was present in everything.  The idea is he was keeping watch over the people even if he wasn't here in person.”

“It was called his 'ka' which means spirit,” Daniel added.

“So the barges carried the spirit of the Pharaoh?” Jennifer asked.

“That was the idea,” Jack answered.  “They really revered these things. The very first one is still around here somewhere.”


Jack and Daniel had rented the Royal Cleopatra royal barge for a private cruise down the Nile.  They boarded the vessel in Cairo and began by settling into the two cabins the vessel offered.  The sailing ship was sixty-two feet long and twenty-four and one-half feet wide.  The two cabins normally hosted a maximum of six adults, but they had brought along two cribs for the babies.  Again, it would be cramped, but it was that, or nothing.

The parents had a queen-size bed in their room, while Sam and Teal'c each had double beds in the second cabin.  There was also a sofa that opened into a bed.  After some discussion, the adults decided that the Mouseketeers would share the sofa bed in Sam and Teal'c's room, while the babies would be with Jack and Daniel.

“Okay, Girls,” Jack addressed Bijou and Katie, “You can pretty much go with whom you want at night, but I don't want you out on your own.  Believe me, it would be way too easy to lose you ...”

“Lose?” Chenoa sniffled.

“No,” Daniel went to his daughter and picked her up.  She immediately threw her arms around him.  “We're not going to lose them.  Jack ...” he warned.

“What?  I didn't mean ...” Jack bent down to talk to the beagles.  “You two want to stay in here with the babies or in the other room?”

Bijou looked into the other room and considered Jack's words.  She didn't want to get lost.  She nudged Katie and the two of them jumped up onto Jack and Daniel's bed.

Jack smiled as he walked over and picked up the dogs, promising, “Don't worry.  We won't lose you.”

“They'll be safe, Noa,” Daniel reassured his daughter.

In front of the cabins was a lounge area with plenty of seating and a bar.  Upstairs on the sun deck were chaise lounges and a seating area with tables for their use.

The family spent most of the day just settling in, getting used to the vessel.  This first day of their cruise would end as they traveled toward Al-Badrashein.  That night, as Jack and the others slept, Daniel wrote in his journal.

//Excerpt from Daniel's Private Journal//
I have to chuckle.  Bijou and Katie are practically glued to Jack and have been all day.  I think he scared them with that line about losing them.  This is so new for the girls, but they are being real troopers.  I hope they are having as much fun as I am.

It's been magical, but I'm a little afraid, too.  I wonder if Jack knows that inside there is a small piece of me that's scared about our destination.  So many memories.  I've learned to remember my parents with joy and gratitude for the time we did have as a family, but this place we're headed for tomorrow is where we spent so much time together.

When we went there, it was the beginning of the end of my life as a child.  It was where they found that fatal coverstone, and it was the last time we were together as a family before going to New York City.

Part of me doesn't want to go back, and yet, I want to.  It's just ... I don't.  Stay close to me, Jack.  Please.  We haven't talked about this.  I think you think we've excised all those ghosts, and we have.  This is just residue.  One more time, Jack. Please catch me and make sure I don't fall.  I have everything now.  I couldn't bear to lose any of it.
//End of Daniel's Journal Entry//

Daniel looked over at their sleeping babies, thinking, ~They're all mine, mine and Jack's.  All that love.~  He looked at Jack and smiled.  ~Mine.  All mine.  Forever mine.~  Then, he felt a lick on his hand.  It was Bijou.  “I love you, too, Bij.  I count on you a lot,” he said as he put his journal on the nightstand and picked up the mama beagle, holding her close.  ~You knew that, Bij, didn't you?  That's why you're here right this second.  Love you.~

Daniel kissed the beagle as he held her.  He leaned back against the headboard of the bed and thought about all his joys and blessings.  He felt happy and lucky.  He only wished he wasn't dreading what was coming.

====

“Where are we going first, Daddy?” David asked as the family disembarked the Royal Cleopatra and headed for the waiting vehicle they had hired in advance.

“Saqqara.  You'll love it, David.  It has the stepped pyramid of Netjerykhet Djoser which was the first monumental stone structure in human history.”


“Danny, aren't there fourteen or fifteen pyramids there?” Jack asked.

“Sixteen actually, which is more than anywhere else in Egypt,” Daniel responded.

“Climb?” Chenoa asked innocently.

“They aren't that kind of steps, Noa,” the archaeologist explained.  “They built the pyramid, and then they made it bigger.  Each time they expanded it, it's called a step because you can see where the new part meets with the old.”

“Oh,” Chenoa yawned.

Jack suppressed a laugh at Chenoa's response to Daniel's comments and then apologized, “Sorry, Danny.”

Ignoring his daughter's yawn and Jack's smugness, Daniel continued, “We won't have time to see all sixteen pyramids, but I think we need to visit the step pyramid because of its importance.”

====


“What did you say this place was called?” Jack asked, not liking what he'd thought he'd just heard his lover say.

Daniel smiled as he answered, “The Pyramid of the Unas.  It's actually the smallest of all the pyramids here.”

“What's an unas?” Chenoa asked.

**Daniel?**

Daniel just smiled and shook his head at Jack, and then explained, “Unas was the last king of the fifth dynasty.  His burial chamber actually has spells written on it that were intended to help him ascend to the heavens.  They call those spells the Pyramid Texts.”

“It doesn't look like much compared to the others,” David noted.

“I know, and today it's known more for the Pyramid Texts than anything else, but once it was considered ... well, they called it 'Beautiful are Places of Unas'.  It wasn't always ... rubble,” Daniel said.

“Okay, time to go,” Jack said.  **Don't like anything even remotely associated with an Unas.**

**Jack, geez.**

**Move along, Love.**

====

After cramming in as much as possible in Saqqara, they headed for Dahshur.  Daniel rambled on as much as he could about the history of the place.  He talked about the Black Pyramid of Amememhet III where only the mudbrick slumped core remains, and he mentioned Sneferu's North Pyramid, explaining that it's also called the Red Pyramid, getting its name from the color of its locally quarried limestone.  He also told his children that the casing of the Pyramid is almost totally gone.

As the end of the day approached, the family stood in front of Sneferu's South Pyramid.

Daniel was again in full lecture mode, informing, “The Bent Pyramid is a truly remarkable structure.  It was built by Sneferu, father of Khufu, and is most notable for its bent shape, about halfway up, and has the most intact casings of all the pyramids in Egypt. There are two entrances, one on the north that visitors can access.  It's above ground level.  A descending corridor behind it opens into an underground chamber.  There's a short passageway in the southeast that gives access to a vertical shaft, though it's partly destroyed now.  The shaft is called the chimney because it's aligned precisely with the vertical axis of the pyramid.”

As Daniel talked, the children continued to listen.  As the children listened, Jack continued to watch.

“The second entrance is on the western face of the pyramid.  It's a lot higher above ground.  It has another descending corridor behind it.  There ... I mean, it ... ends in the upper chamber.  Some believe that Sneferu was buried in that chamber.”

Daniel took a breath as he stared at the looming pyramid and concluded, “Just south of the south side, but still on the pyramid axis, stands a small cult pyramid. The entrance, at ground level, is on the north side. It leads into a descending corridor, then ascends and comes out into a small corbel vaulted room.  Some think this was a model for the Great Pyramid itself, but ... back to this one, the Bent Pyramid, there's a small chapel in the middle of it.  Uh, I should say, on the eastern side, in the middle.”

“Have you been here before, Daddy?” David asked.

Daniel nodded, affirming, “A very long time ago.  Daddy ... my daddy ... he, uh ...” he suddenly lost his voice, but then he felt Jack's arms around him, supporting him.  ~I love you, Jack.~

“You'll love this story,” Jack said to the children.  “It's a hoot.  Your daddy here was what ... six, maybe seven?  He got scared by a camel and went running out here buck naked.”

“Oh, Daniel, really?” Sam asked.

Daniel blushed as he confirmed, “It was very embarrassing. I thought Daddy would be angry.  It interrupted his work, but he wasn't.  He picked me up and held me.  I'll never forget his smile at that moment.”

“And then he put Daniel on the same camel that had scared him.”

“I like that picture at home of Daddy on the camel,” David said.

Chenoa laughed and agreed, “Daddy and camel funny.”

“I was a lot older when that one was taken.”

It was time.  Jack saw the faraway look in his husband's eyes.  He'd been watching Daniel closely all day, waiting for that look, though he suspected it would be here when it happened.  He just didn't know when exactly he'd have to put his plan into effect.  Now, seeing the look and being so close to his Love that he could feel the increase of Daniel's heartbeat, he put his plans into action.

Jack motioned to Sam and Teal'c, a simple nod that said all it needed to.  Sam placed the container she knew Jack wanted on the ground, and then she and Teal'c quietly steered all the children and the girls away.

The younger man didn't notice Jack's motion or the departure of his friends and children.  He was still staring at the pyramid too intensely to be aware of much else.  The past was taunting him.

Jack's hands caressed Daniel's abdomen as he kissed the side of Daniel's neck.

“No ghosts, Danny.  Your parents loved you so much.  They're here, remember?  With Charlie.”

“What?”  Daniel looked at Jack, his face turned to his side since Jack was behind him.  He spoke so softly when he admitted, “I didn't think it would be this hard.  I really didn't.”

“I know, but it's okay.  This place is symbolic, Love.  It's happiness, but a happiness that was cut short.  Tell me a story.”

“A ... story?”

“Yeah,” Jack said with a warm smile.  “Tell me a story.  I know about the camel.  What else happened here?”

Daniel looked straight ahead, focusing on the pyramid again, so many thoughts beginning to rumble through his mind.

“I remember ... I ...”

“Easy, Love.  It was a good time.  You and your folks, a few camels,” Jack chuckled, “friends.  Tell me.”

Jack squeezed his husband tightly.  He wanted to make sure Daniel knew he was surrounded by all the love he had to offer.  He held him close, his hands continuing to caress Daniel's abdomen as the younger man talked.

“I remember one night, Mommy and Daddy took me for a walk.  Daddy said the pyramids were great things, maybe the greatest things in the universe.  Mommy laughed and said he was wrong.  They got in this ... fight.  Finally, Daddy said well if the pyramids aren't the greatest things in the universe, then what was?  Mommy smiled the sweetest smile, Jack.”

“What did she say?”

“She said,” Daniel paused, closing his eyes, “Our little Pharaoh, Mel.”  

Daniel bowed his head, unable to stop the tears.

Jack held his husband very close, speaking, “For what's it worth, I agree, Love.”

Daniel turned around to face his husband, telling him, “Daddy laughed, not a funny one, but a 'you got me' one.  He picked me up and held me above his head and said Mommy was right, that nothing was greater than me.”

Jack pulled Daniel to him, his hands moving up and down his lover's back and buttocks.

“I love you, Angel.”

“Jack, where are the children and the girls?”

“Carter and Teal'c have them all corralled.  They're going back to the felucca,” the older man informed.

“What about us?”

“You and I are going to stay here and share some more memories,” Jack stated gently, bringing his hand up to caress his lover's cheek.

“We are?”

“Yep, we are.  I have a little picnic dinner here, and we'll just pick a spot and ... remember.”

Daniel pulled back for a moment and said in realization, “You knew?  You planned it, didn't you?”

“Knew what?”

“How I'd react.  I thought ... I mean ...”

Jack's hands cupped Daniel's face, his thumbs gently rubbing the tear tracks as he said, “Danny, I know you better than I know myself, and I know you need time here, so yes, I guess you can say I planned it.  The kids knew, too.”

“They did?  What did you tell them?”

“That you spent time here with your parents and needed a little while to ... talk about it.”

“Do you think they understood?”

“Yeah.  Actually, David equated it to the how they feel about their parents; you know, being some place where you spent happy times with your parents, remembering the good and the bad.  Daniel, he asked if sometime we could go back to their old house.”

“You mean the Morgan house?” Daniel questioned.

“Yeah.  He said one day they were there, the next they weren't,” Jack stated.

“They never got to say goodbye?”

“No, it was done for them, just like with you.”

With a deep sigh, Daniel said, “We need to take them there, Jack.  They need to go there.”

“We will, but right now,” Jack took Daniel by the hand, picking up the picnic basket with the other, and started to walk, “we spend some time with Melburn and Claire and their little Pharaoh, their Danny, the greatest thing in all the universe for all of us.”

“I love you so much, Jack.”

“I love you, too, Angel.”

//Excerpt from Daniel's Private Journal//
Gawd, why was I surprised?  My heart, My Jack, knows me so well.  He makes everything better.  He always knows the perfect thing to do.  How does he know that?  I don't care.  I'm just happy he loves me.

It was perfect.  I cried.  I always cry, but my wonderful husband, he held me, and the tears stopped, and then we laughed.  I remembered some stories tonight that I hadn't recalled in years.  Happy stories about Mommy and Daddy.  I know Jack has memorized them.  He remembers everything I tell him about my parents.  He won't let me forget, and I'm so grateful for that.

I love you, Jack.  I love you.  I think -- I think I'll show you right now.
//End of Daniel's Journal Entry//

“Jack?” Daniel called out just before he kissed his sleeping husband.

“Wha'?  Something wrong?” Jack asked groggily.

“No.  Come here.”

Daniel got up out of bed.  When Bijou and Katie looked up from their spot on the corner of the bed, he put his finger in front of his lips and hushed a quiet, “Shhh.”  He then turned on the baby monitors (one was never enough for the overly cautious couple), took his husband's hand, and led a very sleepy Jack into the bathroom.

“Danny, wha...mmmmph.”

Jack had been on the edge of sleep when he felt the ravishing coming from his husband.

Daniel wasted no time in answering all of his lover's questions about why he'd been awakened in the middle of the night.  He answered all of them with one long, lingering, full-of-desire kiss, which was followed by another and then another until soon, Jack and Daniel held each other's sweating bodies in support.

“I didn't ... think ... we'd have a ... chance to do ... this ... here,” Jack gasped.

“Love ... show ... thank,” was all Daniel could say.

The younger man's brain cells were fried, and Jack considered that quite an accomplishment considering the small space they were in.

Jack prided himself in the language of Daniel, but he wasn't quite sure why he was being thanked.  It didn't matter though.  The only thing that did matter was that he had the greatest thing in the universe -- his Daniel, happy and satiated in his arms.

A short time later, just before Daniel fell asleep on his Jack pillow, he whispered, “Thank you for helping me remember the happy moments I spent at the pyramid with my parents.  I needed that, so much.”

“Angel, you don't have to thank me for loving you,” Jack spoke with love, now understanding why he was being thanked in the bathroom.

Then the happy twosome fell into a peaceful sleep wrapped in each other’s love.

====

The next day, the Jackson-O'Neills lounged on the sun deck.

“ChenoaJacksonO'Neill, David...”

“Teal'c, why don't you call them what we do?” Jack asked.  “It's a time saver,” he chuckled.

After thinking it over, the Jaffa called out, “MouseketeersJacksonO'Neill, would you like me to teach you a game that they used to play in ancient times?”

“Cool,” Jennifer answered.

Teal'c and the children sat down at one of the tables, and he explained the game of Hounds and Jackals.

“Your father and I have played this many times.”

“Which one?” Jennifer asked with a smile, uncertain whether Teal'c meant Jack or Daniel.

Teal'c considered his response; then smiled and said, “The cute one.”

Jack spit out his beer, responding, “Geez, Big Guy, warn a guy before you say something like that.”

“Is DanielJacksonO'Neill not cute, O'Neill?” the tall alien questioned stoically.

“Oh, he's cute; adorable even; sexy, in fact.”

“Jack!”

Deciding he wanted some of that cute, adorable, and sexy body later, Jack decided he had better behave.  He excused himself and went to change shirts and get a fresh beer.

“What happened to you, Sir?” Sam asked as she emerged from her cabin holding Jenny in her arms.

“Teal'c just called Daniel cute.”

“He is, Sir,” Sam agreed.

“I know that, Carter, but Teal'c said it.”

Sam laughed, “Actually, maybe I shouldn't say anything, but I heard Jennifer and Teal'c talking last night.  She bet him five dollars he wouldn't say it.”

“Oh, did she now?” Jack asked with heightened interest.

“She was sure Teal'c was too afraid of you to do it.  Imagine that ... Teal'c afraid of you,” the blonde teased.

“Yeah, imagine,” Jack snipped.

Sam gulped and decided to make her exit, saying, “I think I'll take Jenny topside now, Sir.  Excuse me.”

“Paybacks,” Jack muttered loud enough for Sam to hear before he went about his business.

====

The next day, the barge stopped at Beni Hasan, a small village, south of el-Minya. The plan was to visit the area where a group of rock-cut tombs were carved into the high limestone cliffs on the east bank of the Nile.  

Jack was on the deck with most of the family eating breakfast, while Daniel was still in the cabin with Aislinn.

“I wonder what's taking him so long,” the general pondered.

“Do you want me to go check, Dad?” Jennifer asked.

“No, I'll do it.  Watch the babies,” Jack requested, standing and going downstairs.  He opened the cabin door and asked, “Hey, what's going on?”

Daniel was holding the crying baby in his arms as he answered, “She's been restless all morning, and now she won't stop crying.  I used the otoscope Sylvia gave us, and it looks like she has another ear infection.  Her eardrum is red and the other symptoms are there.”

“Hey, Ash.  Not feeling so good?”  Jack kissed his daughter on her forehead.  “Do you want me to call Syl or just go ahead and give her some of the antibiotic she gave us?”

“I don't know.  I'm ... not a doctor,” Daniel said nervously.

Jack reached for his cell phone and dialed as Daniel continued to try and soothe their daughter.

“Thanks, Syl,” Jack said at the conclusion of the call.  Flipping the phone shut, he looked at Daniel and said, “She thinks we should give her the medicine and ...”

“... that I worry too much?”

“Don't change, Danny; you're perfect,” Jack said, standing and kissing his lover before going to the suitcase that had Aislinn's medication in it and getting it out.

“Jack, we can't take her to the tombs.”

“I'll stay,” the older man offered.

Daniel sighed.  He didn't want to go without Jack, but he had promised the others, David especially, that he'd show them the tombs.  He didn't know what else to do.  As he pondered the situation, Jack went upstairs to inform everyone what was happening.

--

“O'Neill, perhaps I should stay with your daughter so that you may accompany the rest of your family.”

“I ... I'd hate for you to miss this, Teal'c.”

“Stay with T?” Chenoa asked eagerly as she ran over to the Jaffa, tugging on his pants leg.

Teal'c picked her up and smiled, making it clear he had no objections to the toddler remaining with him.

“You've really improved with the smile, Teal'c,” Jack observed lightheartedly.  “I'll be back.  I want to talk to Danny.”

--

Returning to his lover, Jack told Daniel about Teal'c's offer and Chenoa's request. After some additional discussion, it was decided that Teal'c would stay on the barge with Chenoa, Aislinn, and the twins.  The rest of the family would continue on as planned.

====

“Wow, that's steep,” Sam remarked, looking up towards the top of the hill were the tombs were.

“Danny, I'll stay with the Munchkins.  Why don't you and the others go up?” Jack suggested.

“Okay.”

After he kissed Jack and their babies, Daniel led Jennifer, David, and Sam up the long steep flight of stone steps to the top.  Once there, they were treated to a magnificent view of the river valley.

“This is awesome,” Sam sighed.

“It is ... incredible,” Daniel agreed, smiling at his friend.

Afterwards, the sightseers visited another group of cliff tombs at Tell Al-Amana before returning to the barge.  Jack and Daniel were happy that Aislinn seemed much better when they returned, the antibiotic and Tylenol she'd been given throughout the day doing their jobs well.  They hoped she'd be good as new in a couple of days.

As the cruise down the Nile continued, the Jackson-O'Neill party saw the green fields alongside the historic channel where there was irrigation and periodic flooding, and beyond it the harshness of the desert.  Until they reached their destination, the rest of their time on the Royal Cleopatra would be spent relaxing and enjoying the feel of being on the Nile.

====

“Daddy, what's this game?”

It was evening time.  Teal'c was with the babies and the beagles, while Jack, Daniel, Sam, and the Mouseketeers were in the barge's library.  There were many books there and some ancient Egyptian games.  Daniel looked at the one Jennifer had pulled out.

“It's Mehen, Jen.  The name means ‘coiled one'.  It was played on a spiral game board, usually in the form of a snake, with several slots or squares to be played on, six sets of differently colored marbles that were the playing pieces, and six special playing pieces in the form of a predatory animal, most often lions, but sometimes just dogs or even hippos,” Daniel explained.

“It looks like we could all play,” Jennifer stated as she studied the game.

“You're right,” the younger father agreed.  “This is actually the only multi-player ancient Egyptian board game we know about.  The funny thing is the ancient Egyptians stopped playing the game just after 2000 BC., and no one really knows why, at least not for sure, though it may tie in with the Sun Cult.”

“Sun Cult?  What's that, Daddy?” David inquired.

“Well, the people at that time worshipped Ra, who was the sun god.  Mehen was the name for the serpent god.  They, the people, believed Mehen was a huge serpent who wrapped Ra in its coils when he set in the west and protected him on his journey, on the river of night, from the evil forces of the underworld.  Somehow, though, the game and the god seemed to merge, and the game took on religious aspects.  So, people began to look at the game and wonder.  For example, the cuts that are on the snake's back on the game board would appear to actually kill the snake, and to those of the Sun Cult, that would be a bad thing.”

Jennifer thumbed through the book that accompanied the game and commented, “This guy, Tim Kendall.  He says, 'Mehen's role was essential, for if Re ...'”  She paused, asking, “Daddy, didn't you say 'Ra' and not 'Re'?”

“Same person, Jen,” Daniel answered.

“Oh, okay, well,” the girl responded, returning to what she was reading.  “Anyway, he says, 'Mehen's role was essential, for if Re were not protected from these enemies, he might not rise in the morning, which would result in the cessation of all life.  In Egyptian belief, ‘life’ applied not only to the living but also to the dead, who were believed to travel with the sun and to rise, reborn, with him at dawn'.”

“That's exactly it, so they stopped playing the game called Mehen and the serpent god became associated with a different game called Senet,” Daniel replied.

“I have an idea,” Jack spoke up.  “How about a game of gin?”

“Works for me, Dad.”

Jennifer handed the book to Daniel as she went to sit down next to her siblings at the table.

While David began shuffling the cards, Jack got up and walked over next to Daniel and asked, “Whatcha looking at, Love?”

“The game table for Mehen.”


**Whoa!  Looks a little bit like a DHD, doesn't it?** Jack observed in surprise.

**Yeah, it does.  I wonder if there's a connection.** Daniel replied a bit hesitantly.

“How about we play some gin?”  Jack took the book and stuck it back on the shelf.  **We're on vacation.  Actually, we're retired!**

“I love you, Jack.”

“Oh, no.  Are we going to play, or are you two going to make out again?”

“Make out?  Us?  Imagine that!” Jack laughed, guiding Daniel over to the table for a friendly game of gin.

====

It was the family's last night aboard the barge.  It had been a pleasant evening, everyone chatting and playing games.  The children had all gone downstairs, Sam and Teal'c keeping watch over them with the assistance of the two beagles.

Jack and Daniel had taken just five minutes to stand together watching the Nile.  They hadn't had much time alone, and they knew once they got to the dig site, they would have even less for the duration of the dig if, indeed, they managed any.


A bit sadly, the couple agreed they needed to get to their cabin and free up Sam and Teal'c so the two could do whatever they wanted to for the night.  They kissed, then walked down the stairs and opened their cabin door.

“Jack, where's the crib?” Daniel asked as he began to panic.

“Calm down, Love.  Look,” Jack urged as he picked up the note that had been left on their bed.

“Dear Dad and Daddy,

It's our last night, and I know how much you both love the Nile.  You told us about your trip here years ago, and I thought you should have one night to yourselves.  We've all squeezed into Sam and Teal'c's cabin.  Please let us stay there.  We're fine, and yes, if Ash's ear infection acts up I'll come get you, but let us give you this gift of time.  Enjoy the night, the entire night.

Signed with loads of Love,

The Mouseketeers, The Munchkins, The Twins, The Girls, Sam, and Teal'c”

“Wow,” Daniel expressed.

“And I'm not going to argue.  Come on,” Jack suggested.

“Jack, we really shouldn't.”

“But we *so* are.”

Jack took Daniel's hand and led him back up to a corner of the barge, where they cuddled together as the vessel continued its journey.

“It's better than the first time.”

“We're happier,” Daniel remarked, referring to their first Egyptian cruise years earlier.  “I didn't know it was possible to be this happy.”

“Amen to that,” Jack said before he kissed Daniel.

The two spent hours on the deck and then returned to their cabin where for the first time and only time on their cruise, they locked their cabin door and made love until they were too exhausted to move.  When they awoke the next morning, they felt refreshed and thankful for their family, and their family of friends.

====

After breakfast the next morning, the Jackson-O'Neills thanked the captain of the barge, gathered up their belongings, and disembarked at Al-Balyana.  Waiting for them was Megan Williams and a few of the J-O Enterprises employees.  The family divided up into groups for the short trip to the dig site.  They traveled a little over six miles in the four-wheel drive vehicles.

“This is it,” Megan said, getting out of the Pajero.

“You ready, Danny?” Jack asked, taking Daniel's hand and squeezing it gently.

“Ready.”

Exiting the vehicles, Jack and Daniel looked over the dig site, greeted the workers that had already arrived, and prepared for their first truly big adventure as CEO's of J-O Enterprises.

====
-- Chapter Eight:  Knock, Knock!
====

Standing next to the four-wheel drive vehicles they had arrived in, Jack and Daniel stood and surveyed the expanse before them.  The area of their investigation was about two-hundred eighteen yards from the next closest dig.  Although it was by no means a certainty that they would uncover substantial finds here, they knew the potential for it was high.

The site where Abayomi wanted to build his hotel was southwest of those excavations, just beyond some cliffs.  Abayomi had thought it would be a great marketing device for the new luxury hotel.  According to Yazid, the owner's marketing slogan was going to be, “Come relax and overlook the ruins of Ancient Egypt.”

“Is everyone here, Megan?” Daniel asked.

“Almost.  We have a couple of stragglers, mostly due to flight delays.  Most of the equipment is here, but Yazid called this morning to let us know that a few of the bigger pieces won't be here until tomorrow around noon.”

“Okay,” Daniel acknowledged.  “Jack and I want to take the children on a short tour of Abydos today before we get to work, and since we aren't quite ready to go, let's let everyone have a day to get settled.  We'll get the tents up now and then give everyone twenty-four hours personal time to get settled or look around.”

“Sounds great; they'll be pleasantly surprised,” Megan responded about the employees.

“Well, there's always an abundant curiosity about our surroundings.  Jack and I just believe that if we give everyone time to explore what interests them, then they'll be more ready to dig into what we need them to as a company,” Daniel expounded.

“I do love this company,” Megan said, smiling and then walking with her bosses to the area where the tents would be set up.

Jack and Daniel worked with their crew to set up the work area.  There was a large white tent that would serve as a mess tent where everyone would eat their meals.  Another tent, a bit smaller, would serve as a supply area, with the majority of tools and equipment being kept there. Yet another moderately sized tent was erected in which to catalog and analyze artifacts retrieved during the excavation.

There were three large green tents tied together which Jack and Daniel had modified to be their tent house.  It included a small kitchenette area, something they decided they needed because of the children.  The couple had a private chamber, not that they expected to have any privacy while at the site.  Another section was for the babies and another for the older children.  Teal'c would be staying with the older kids in their part of the tent house while Sam watched over the younger Jackson-O'Neills.

Bijou and Katie had beanbags in each section of the tent house so they could roam according to their moods.

Aside from SG-1 and the children, there would be fifteen team workers, nine employees from J-O Enterprises coming from the United States and six local residents hired by J-O to assist.  The fifteen people would be sharing four moderately sized tents.  A smaller, though still nice-sized tent was set aside for Megan who as J-O's Director of Operations was given a tent of her own and one a bit nicer than the average worker.

“A perk?” Megan had asked, beaming when Jack had told her about the special tent.

“There you go.  A perk that's perkier than coffee,” Jack had quipped in reply.

“Don't let Daniel hear you say that.”

“Never,” Jack had laughed.

Tent One would be Megan's and was quickly dubbed “the office” since she was keeping all the records and logs with her.

Tent Two would be shared by J-O employees Kelly Tatem and Bibreanay Appleton, along with locals Pili Gohar and Ramla Nassir.

Tent Three would be shared by J-O employees Ty Harper and James Zaller, along with locals Manu Kenawy and Oba Diab.

Tent Four would be shared by J-O employees Karissa Lewis and Nellie Landon (one of the interns from the university), along with locals Layla Al-Hadidy and Tabia Ezzat.

Tent Five would be shared by J-O employees Jeff Leonard and Kyle Ambrose (the second intern from the university), along with local Tau Abdul, who was also the representative of the Egyptian Government.  A spot was set aside in this tent for Yazid, who planned to come and go from the site throughout the duration of the dig.

Satisfied that the main part of the set up was complete, Sam, Teal'c, and the Jackson-O'Neills loaded the children into the largest of the trucks and headed for Abydos.

====

“This is the Temple of Seti I, also known as the Cenotaph or the Great Temple of Seti I,” Daniel stated as his family looked at the previously excavated site.  “It's largely a limestone structure, and the really unique thing about it is that instead of being built in the traditional rectangular shape, it's L-shaped.”

“Where's the entrance, Daddy?” David asked as he studied the temple, looking for a door.

“See over there,” Daniel said as he pointed in the appropriate direction.  “There were two courts built by Ramses II and a pylon that led inside, but as you can see, they've been almost totally destroyed.  The way it was constructed, it gave the illusion that the entrance sloped upwards.  Inside, there are several sanctuaries for the gods, the most notable of which is ...” he paused, looking at Jack as he spoke, “the one for Osiris.  It opens out at the back to spread across the width of the temple.  To the left of the sanctuaries is a corridor known as the Gallery of the Kings.”

“Are there pictures there?” the boy asked.

“Carved figures, David, of Seti, Ramses, and ... too many to name or we'd be here all day.  In fact, we'd better go,” Daniel urged.

The family headed for the next site Daniel wanted to show them, the Osireion, which was located directly behind Seti's temple.

Jack looked at Daniel as if he were crazy to be bringing them to this particular place, even though he knew that the site was important in the history and excavation of Abydos.

“This place is believed to be a cenotaph to Osiris,” Daniel spoke.

“Daddy, I don't mean to interrupt, but what exactly is a cenotaph?  I've never heard that word before,” Jennifer questioned.

“Sorry, Jen.  A cenotaph is a monument, like this place, that is erected in honor of some dead person, but it's not meant to be a tomb or anything because the honoree's remains are elsewhere.  In fact, most of the temples and monuments here don't have any, uh, residents.  Mostly, Abydos is just a big honorary place because it was such a powerful city.”

“Oh, okay,” Jennifer said as nodded her understanding.

Daniel continued, “Actually, though, this particular cenotaph has a burial chamber that has a fake sarcophagus in it.”

“Sarcough-a-what?” Jennifer asked.

“Coffin,” Jack clarified, using the simplest term he could think of using.

“Eww,” Jennifer expressed, grimacing.

“Cool,” David responded at the same time, though he was grinning.

“The coffin is usually made of stone and has some kind of decoration or inscription on it, too,” Daniel added.  “Anyway, this one was originally surrounded by water.  It's totally submerged now because of the rising water table.  Okay, one more place to see today.”

As the family headed for their vehicle, a voice call out.

“Daniel?  Daniel, is that you?”

“I don't believe it,” Jack moaned sarcastically to Sam and Teal'c.  ~Wish we'd managed to zat her when she was still Osiris.~

“Sarah?” Daniel asked, his voice tentative.

“Who's that, Daddy?” Jennifer asked, thinking the woman was beautiful and loving the all-white outfit she was wearing.

“Uh, Sarah; Sarah Gardner.  We ... went to the university together ... for a while,” Daniel answered, also noticing the woman's attire but thinking it was eerily reminiscent of the outfit she'd worn that last time he'd seen her in Egypt.

“Small world, isn't it?” the tall blonde spoke with her still-thick British accent once she'd reached the family's position.  She walked over to Daniel and embraced him.  Then she looked at Jack and greeted him.  “Colonel O'Neill, how are you?”

“He's a general,” David correctly proudly.

~If she went to college with Daddy, how come she knows Dad?~ Jennifer wondered.  Looking at her older father, she observed, ~And why is Dad acting so funny?~

“Really?” Sarah questioned with a bit of an arrogant tone.  “Pardon me, then.  *General* O'Neill, how are you?”

“Oh, just hunky dory; and you?” Jack asked in a flippant and condescending tone.

Daniel shot his soulmate a warning glare that Jack ignored as the conversation continued.

“And who are these beautiful children?” the woman asked.

“Ours,” Jack said as he protectively held David to him with a hand on his shoulder.  He also shot Jennifer a look that she correctly interpreted as 'stay right here, young lady'.  ~Just don't trust her.~

Acknowledging the look, the teenager reached for Chenoa, taking her hand and holding it securely.

Teal'c had moved in front of the specially-made stroller that held the Munchkins and the twins, apparently sharing Jack's concern.

“Yours, General?”

Daniel knew what was coming.  Though he had helped Sarah adjust to life after having the Goa'uld symbiote of Osiris removed from her, they hadn't stayed in touch.  She had no clue about his relationship with Jack.

Daniel also knew that Jack didn't like the woman.  It had little to do with her time as a host, but more because of her brief two-month tenure as Daniel's girlfriend.  It wasn't jealousy that angered Jack, but Sarah's callous treatment of the younger man when his theories had been scorned by the archaeological community, not to mention that he was convinced she had only been interested in Daniel in the first place because of his ties to Professor Jordan.

“Ours, Daniel's *and* mine.”

“Yours?” a confused Sarah queried.  She stared at the two men, and then at the children.  Finally, she said, “I don't understand.”

Jack again ignored the warning stare from his husband as he held up his left hand and then grabbed Daniel's left hand, prominently displaying their matching gold wedding bands.

“Ours.  His and mine, as in together, forever, in fact.  It's permanent, no going back.  Married ... with a capital M, thank you, Ma'am.”

Daniel rolled his eyes.

“M...m...married?”  Stunned to stuttering, Sarah looked at the archaeologist and replied, “I don't believe it.  Daniel, you wouldn't!”

For a moment, Daniel wanted to give Jack some grief, but their entire family was present, and he was afraid that the children might not understand any hesitation on his or Jack's part.  He knew this was a shock for Sarah, and Jack wasn't helping.

“Yes, I would, and I did, marry Jack, that is, almost five-years ago now.”

Jack eagerly added, “But we've been together for almost ten years.”

Sarah was astonished, but not in a pleasant way.  Her face had an ugly, twisted look on it.

“Really?  I can't believe you'd subject children to such a ... lifestyle.  I ... I don't know what to say.  I'm ... shocked.  I never took you for one of those ...”

“Hey, back off,” Jack ordered loudly.

“Daddy?” Chenoa called out as she pulled free from Jennifer's hold and anxiously went to her younger father, putting her arms around his leg.

The act effectively silenced Sarah, who had opened her mouth to say more.

“Hey, come here,” Daniel said as he picked the toddler up.

Chenoa didn't understand what was happening, but she felt uncomfortable around the strange woman, and she could sense that her parents were upset.

“Wrong?” Chenoa asked.

“No, Sweetie.  Nothing's wrong.”

“How can you say that?  Look at you ... married to a ...” Sarah looked around, as if trying to hide her words, “man.”

Chenoa didn't like Sarah.  The woman frightened her, so much so that the toddler held on to Daniel even tighter and began to sniffle.

Seeing the uncertainty in his daughter's expression and how she was now clinging to Daniel, Jack's anger peaked and he said firmly, “Not nice seeing you again.  Daniel, let's go.”

Daniel glared at Sarah as he walked swiftly by her.  He'd expected more from her, if not as a friend, then as a scientist who knew and accepted that ancient cultures had differing ways of life.  For Sarah to condemn him now was, at the very least, disappointing.

“Daniel, wait,” Sarah pleaded.  “I didn't mean it the way it sounded.”

Still holding his daughter who was on the verge of tears, Daniel spoke strongly, “Look, I know it's a surprise, and a shock I guess, but these are our children, and right now, you're upsetting them.  Goodbye, Sarah.”

Daniel turned and quickly caught up with Jack.  Just behind the two, Sam was pushing the stroller.  Behind her, Jennifer, David, and the girls walked.  They all heard Sarah call out one more time.

“You have to admit it's a bit of a surprise, Daniel, though maybe it explains ...”

~She may be pretty on the outside, but she's not so great on the inside,~ Jennifer sighed as she looked back at the British woman one last time.

“DanielJacksonO'Neill is not interested in what you think his marriage explains,” Teal'c said as he stood tall and menacing in front of the thin woman.  “Please, stay back.”

Teal'c rejoined the family, shooting Sarah a parting glance of warning as Jack began driving towards their next destination.

====

Inside the vehicle, Teal'c saw how upset the older children were.

Jennifer was seething.  She understood exactly what Sarah was saying.

David was a child genius.  He understood the words, too, but he was also a little confused.  He was happy with his new parents, didn't have a problem with them being the same gender, and truly didn't understand why Sarah did.  Love is love, after all.  Still, the words had disturbed him.

Little Chenoa was sniffling, not sure what had happened, but she just really didn't like that lady who had upset her fathers.

“La...dy ... <sniffle> ... bad?” the toddler asked Daniel.

“Not bad, but she, uh ... she just doesn't like that Dad and I are married.  It surprised her,” Daniel answered.

“Marr'ed good.”

“You got that right, Sweetheart,” Jack said firmly as he drove.

“She shouldn't have said all those things,” David said a bit dejectedly.

“DavidJacksonO'Neill, what other people think or say is of little importance.  You must follow your heart and what you know within yourself to be true.  It is the only way to live with honor.”

David thought for a moment and then replied, “I know I love my Dad and my Daddy, and they love each other, and we're ... we're a family.”

“Then that is all that matters.”

“Honr'ble,” Chenoa sniffled.

“Don't think about what that lady said, Noa,” Jennifer added.  “She's just ignorant.  She doesn't understand what love really is, that's all.”

“That's right, Jen,” Sam confirmed.

“What ig'rant?” Chenoa asked in a whisper into Daniel's ear.

“It means she doesn't understand,” Daniel answered.

“Oh.”

Disgusted by how the woman had upset her siblings, Jennifer suggested, “Maybe we should tell her so she'll understand.”

“Some people ...” Jack had begun, in a tone that indicated he was about to rip into Sarah big time.

“Jack ...” Daniel spoke firmly.  **Don't go off on Sarah.  This isn't the time.**

**You're right, Love, even if she is a ...**

**Jack!**

**Sorry, Danny.**

“What was Dad going to say?” David asked.

Jack sighed, “I was just going to say that some people ... take longer than others to embrace things that are different.  Maybe she just needs a little time to adjust to the situation.”

**Thank you, Jack.**

**She's still a witch with a capital B.**

Daniel rolled his eyes at the silent comment, but said nothing.

====

Soon the family arrived at their next destination, and it was time to put aside the incident with Sarah and concentrate on the excavated locale.

“We had to come here for Dad,” Daniel explained.

“For me?” Jack asked with his eyebrows arched.

Daniel smiled as he explained, “You'll see.  This is the temple of Ramses II.  It's of better quality than most of the other temples dedicated to Ramses.”

“Looks pretty ... ruined for ruins,” David said.

“Yes, it is, but in the time of Napoleon it was still pretty much intact.  It's sad to see the state it's in now, but still there are some very colorful images that we can see.  It also has some hieroglyphs of ancient aircraft.”

“Aircraft?” both Jack and Jennifer asked at the same time.

“That's what they believe,” Daniel answered without missing a beat, though chuckling slightly.  “They are on the ceiling.  There's one that looks so much like a helicopter that it's almost frightening.”

“This I've got to see.  Lead on,” Jack directed.

“Wow!” Jennifer exclaimed as they studied the hieroglyphs.

“Awesome, Dad.  It does look like a helicopter, and that looks like a submarine.”


“Sure does,” Jack responded.  “I guess you could make a case here for gliders and blimps, too.  It's just incredible.”


After spending a bit more time in conversation, Jack looked at his watch and indicated it was time to go.

“Maybe we can come back and see some of the other sites another day ... if you guys would like that,” Daniel suggested, not really sure if he was boring his family or not.

Daniel's fears were quickly put to rest by a round of affirmative remarks and smiles.  He enjoyed showing his loved ones these special places, and it meant a lot to him that they all seemed to be enjoying it.

====

“Ready, Love?” Jack asked as he held Daniel close.

The couple had eaten breakfast and visited with all their children, and in a moment, they'd be walking outside and beginning the real work.  Both were excited ... and nervous.

“Yes.  Jack ...”

“It's going to be everything you want it to be, Danny.  I feel it.”

Jack kissed his husband, and Daniel allowed himself a moment to rest his head against Jack's shoulder.

“Jack, do you have regrets?  I mean, we could be ... building airplanes or something?”

“Nope, not a single regret in my body.”  Jack rubbed Daniel's back, and felt the tension there.  “Relax, Love.  These are all our employees.  We have nothing to prove to them, or to anyone.  We're here to do a job, that's all.”

“That's all,” Daniel chuckled, knowing so much of their professional futures rested on the success of this dig.

“That's all, Danny.  Angel, remember, if you fall, just get back up.”

Daniel pulled back and looked into Jack's eyes, declaring, “Gawd, I love you, so freakin' much, Jack.  You always say the perfect thing.”

“It's easy.  I happen to love you.”

“Makes me pretty lucky, doesn't it?” Daniel asked, smiling.

“I'm the lucky one,” Jack insisted.  “Come on.  We don't want to be late on our first day, right?  It's time to walk the yellow brick road to our Emerald City.”

Daniel laughed and then led the way outside their tent.  The workers were waiting, as requested, for the order to begin their work.  The air was full of excitement, anticipation, and curiosity.  What would they find, and what new discoveries would they make?  They knew deep within themselves there would be something; it was only a question of what and when.

“Okay.  We don't know what we'll find for sure, but let's just do our jobs as well as we can.  Karissa and James, I'd like you two to start on the northwest corner ...” Daniel began.

Jack smiled as he watched his husband walk the workers around the camp, placing each in their assigned area and making sure everyone understood their tasks.  There was no sign of Daniel's tension or nervousness.  To the crew, he was calm, reassuring, and all-knowing (in a good way).

**Doing great, Love.  I'm here if you need me.**  Jack continued to watch, smiling when Daniel looked at him and returned the smile, his blue eyes shining.  ~Life is good!~

====

“Jack, something feels off,” Daniel stated as he looked down at their work area.  “Can you check the site plan?  I don't know ... I just ... I think the grid is off.”

“Okay, let's see ...”

Jack pulled out the site plan that had been prepared based on the proton magnetometer survey results.  He walked the site, comparing the printout with the grid that had been laid out with the use of stakes and cord.

“This is wrong.  What happened here?” Jack studied the southwest corner of the excavation area.  “This needs to be four-feet north,” he mumbled to himself.

Jack had a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach.  He and Daniel had directed the layout of the grid themselves.  He knew they hadn't plotted this area.  He bent down, kneeling as he looked at the stakes and cords.

“Jack, did you find out something?” Daniel asked as he approached.

“Danny, we didn't do this,” Jack responded, a bit of alarm in his voice.

Daniel looked around, realizing Jack was right, but not wanting to think about what that might mean.

“Jack, we ... we must have.”

“No, we didn't.”  Jack stood up and addressed two of the employees working in that particular spot.  “Oba and Jeff, we need to relocate this.”

Jack exchanged a look with Daniel and then made sure the new excavation trench was begun in the correct area.

====

A few minutes later, Jack went to the family tent, asking Sam and Teal'c, “How's it going?”

“Just fine, Sir.”

“Dad, is something wrong?  You're scowling,” Jennifer asked.

“Of course not,” Jack answered.  “Carter ...” he said with nod, leading her outside.

“Sir?”

Looking around for a second and then at his former second-in-command, Jack asked quietly, “You ever have one of those feelings that things aren't as right as they seem to be?”

“Sometimes.”

“I've got one,” Jack explained.  “Watch my kids, Carter.  Watch them close.”

“Yes, Sir.  General ...”

“I don't know what to tell you, Carter ... it's ... just a feeling.”

====

The next day, Jennifer was writing a letter to a friend in the United States.  She had been unusually quiet all day.

“Jen, is everything all right?” Sam asked.

“Peachy,” the girl answered drolly.

“Okay, just checking.  I'll leave you alone,” Sam responded.

“Thanks, Sam.”

Sam walked outside, a smile on her face as she walked to the larger mess tent.

“Well, Carter?” Jack asked.

“Hasn't a clue.  She's moping around, positive everyone has forgotten.”

“Never,” Jack said with a smile.  He looked around.  “Where's that husband of mine?”

“Three guesses.”

“In a hole?”  He saw the blonde's 'of course' expression on her face and shook his head.  ~Of course.~  “Carter, finish wrapping this for me, okay?  I need to go pull Daniel out of the ground.”

Sam laughed as she watched Jack leave the tent.  Some things would never change, and one of those things was Jack having to pull Daniel away from work.

====

“Danny?”

“Hi, Jack.”

“It's time,” the older man announced.

“That's good, Jack.”

“You're going to miss it,” Jack warned.

“I'll get it later,” Daniel responded as he crossed his eyes, not sure what they were talking about.

Jack nodded and replied, “Okay.  I'll tell Jen that you're out in a hole and wish her a happy birthday for you.”

“Thanks, Babe,” the still-distracted archaeologist spoke as he worked.

“No problem, Love.”  Jack walked away, whistling.  After he'd gone a few feet, he turned and looked at his watch, counting down as he did so:  “Five ... Four ... Three ... Two ...”

“Jack, wait!”

The older man laughed as his archaeologist practically leaped out of the hole he'd been working in and ran to him, gasping for breath.

“Gawd, Jack, couldn't you have just reminded me.”

“I did,” Jack chuckled.  “Come on, you have two minutes to get cleaned up.”

“Two whole minutes?”

“One minute and fifty-nine seconds ... fifty-eight ...”

“Smart-aleck,” Daniel said as he quickly made his way towards the closest shower that wasn't part of the family tent.

====

Five minutes later, Sam walked back inside the tent, calling out, “Jen?  Hey, Jen, where are you?”

Jennifer emerged from her area of the tent, asking, “Yes, Sam?”

“Your fathers want you to join them for dinner in the big tent.”

“Okay,” the girl quietly responded and did as requested.

Sam and Teal'c smiled as they gathered up the babies and headed for the tent as well.

As soon as Jennifer entered the mess tent, she heard, “SURPRISE!”  The entire crew was present in the festively decorated tent.

“Let the party begin,” Jack shouted, turning on the Miley Cyrus CD.  ~Hannah Montana: what a name,~ he mused.  Then he smiled, ~But she keeps her clothes on and isn't pregnant at fifteen.~

Megan, who apart from being J-O's Director of Operations was also considered the best chef on the crew, had prepared a special birthday cake for the teenager, who was celebrating her thirteenth birthday.  It was a carrot cake in the shape of a pyramid.

“That's so cool, Megan.  Thank you.”

The party lasted for two hours before most called it a night.  Everyone was on a similar schedule, and they needed to be up early to begin working the next day.  Jennifer hugged her fathers and thanked them for her surprise.

“We'd never forget.”

“I thought maybe because we were here and everyone was so busy and ... and, I don't know,” Jennifer spoke, shrugging her shoulders.

“Birthdays are special, Sweetheart.  They are to be celebrated, all of them,” Jack responded.

“We wish we could have done more,” Daniel said.  “Uh, in fact, we do have a surprise for you.”  He looked at his husband, nudging him on the arm.  “Jack,” he prodded.

“Okay, here's the deal.  When we get home, the next time that Hannah girl or someone you really like a lot is giving a concert anywhere close, we'll round up a couple of folks, maybe Carter ...”

“And Cassie, probably,” Daniel interjected, getting a nod from his lover.

“And you guys can go shopping, get a new outfit, and go the concert,” Jack concluded.

“Really?”  Her eyes wide, Jennifer actually jumped up and down as she asked to verify, “You mean I can go see Alicia or ...”

“Or anyone within reason,” Jack answered, knowing he did have limits and wouldn't allow the teen to attend anything that was too over the top.

“Wow!  Thanks!” the girl exclaimed, hugging both of her parents.

====

Forty-five minutes later, Daniel snuggled into Jack's warm embrace in their moderately comfortable bed.

“Birthdays are special,” Daniel said softly, remembering all the special things Jack had done for him over the years to celebrate his own special day.

“I'm still not sure about the concert,” Jack admitted.

“She's proven herself to be very responsible, Jack,” Daniel responded.  “Concerts are a big part of her friends' lives.  With Sam along, nothing will happen, except our daughter will have fun.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Jack said with a groan.  “At least she's into other singers more now.”

“You're thinking about Britney Spears.”

“Danny, I hope that Oops girl has gotten some help by now, but I'm proud of Jen for moving forward.”

“Yeah.  When she took the poster off her bedroom room earlier this year, it wasn't easy for her.  Jack, she still plays Britney's music, and some of her friends still really like Britney, but I guess I'm proud of her, too, for letting go of all that teen idol business.”

“It's never easy to let go of a fallen idol,” Jack stated.

“Maybe she'll rebound some day,” Daniel said about Britney with a yawn.  Settling in for sleep, he added, “I love you, Jack.”

“I love you, too, Angel.  Sweet Dreams.”

====

Two days later, Jack pleaded, “Danny, come on, let me try.”

“Jack, you are one of the least patient people I know.  This is ... meticulously tedious work.”

“But, Angel ...”

“Okay,” Daniel agreed as he rolled his eyes in submission.  He walked over to the small trench at the center of the site.  After he jumped in, Jack followed.  “Here are the tools of our trade.  Now, I know you recognize these, and we've discussed their use in digs before, but you have to decide which tool is right for the area you are digging.  So, here's some dental picks, a shovel, a trowel, and a knife.”

“Where should I start?”

“Anywhere,” Daniel answered.  He elaborated, “No one has found anything in this area of the site.  Of course, there may not be anything to find, but the point is, you can pick your spot.”

Jack picked up a trowel and began to carefully pick at the dirt to his left.  Daniel was positive Jack wouldn't last more than five minutes, but thirty minutes later, they were still at it, and Jack hadn't whined or complained once.

“Danny, is this something?”

Daniel raised his eyebrows as he peered over Jack's shoulder and answered, “It might be.  Okay, whatever it is, or isn't, it's small; could be fragile.”

“Dental pick time?”

“And not to clean your teeth either,” Daniel teased.  “But, Jack, we don't just dig the things out.  We need to ...”

“... log it, record it, photograph it, yadda, yadda,” Jack completed.

“Yadda, yadda, Love.”

Daniel sat back and let Jack work.  He continued to be surprised at the diligence and care Jack used in doing the work properly.  He answered questions and guided him when necessary.

Sometime later, Jack held the prized possession in his hand.  It turned out to be larger than originally thought as only the tail-end of it had been protruding.  He looked at the item, a frown appearing on his face as he recognized it.

“Daniel, we can't log this.”

“Why not?” Daniel asked as he walked over.

Jack sighed and showed the object to his husband, saying, “It would be hard to explain a Goa'uld ribbon device.”

Alarmed, Daniel responded, “Jack, if there is a tomb here ...”

“Knock, knock, who's there?”

“Maybe we're overreacting.  You know, too many years seeing a Goa'uld around every corner.”

“Maybe, but we still can't log this,” Jack said regretfully.

“I know,” Daniel agreed, looking around to make sure no one was approaching.

“We'll lock it away in our tent and hope this is just a fluke.”

“Jack, I'm proud of you.”

“What?” the older man asked with surprise.

“It's ... the way you worked today.”  Daniel walked to Jack just as the older man concealed the device in his clothing.  Putting his hands around his soulmate's neck, he spoke softly, “I kept waiting for you to get impatient, to make some joke, but you didn't.  You worked so hard, Babe.  I almost think you enjoyed it.”

“I did, Danny.  Crazy as it sounds, I did.”

“You make me so happy, Jack,” Daniel spoke, after which he kissed his husband, their tongues waltzing together for several minutes before they decided they should stop and go spend some time with their children.

====

“Doctor Jackson!” Oba called out.

Daniel ran over to the area where Oba had been working and asked, “What is it?”

“Look!  There are many items here.”

Daniel examined the area Oba had unearthed.  There were clearly many items to be documented and removed.  They were definitely onto something.  Many of the workers near this portion of the excavation had been discovering artifacts as well.  Most were still cataloging them.  He was excited and couldn't wait to examine the finds more closely.

The month of June, which had just begun, promised to be an exciting one.

====

“Daniel, this looks interesting,” Jack called out as he held up the item he had just found in the small hole he was excavating, or attempting to excavate.  He wasn't really sure what he was doing, but he was trying.  ~It's really not that bad.~

Daniel was getting a kick out of watching Jack 'playing'.  He actually thought it was a natural fit since kids love to play in the dirt, and his lover was actually just one big kid.

Responding to the older man now, Daniel warned, “You might want to put that down, Jack.”

“Why?” Jack was studying the object.  “You know, if this was a bit more round, it would make a great juggling ball.”

“Jack, put it down,” Daniel said, unable to suppress his laughter as he spoke.

“Daniel, what's so funny?”

“That's coprolite.”


“Okay, and that is ...” Jack prodded as he made an expectant face.

“Preserved dung.”

“Preserved ... dung?” Jack gulped, his eyes blinking several times as he looked around to see if anyone was watching.  He dropped the item to the ground, and climbed out of the hole.  “Eww, Danny.  Why would anyone preserve dung?”

“Actually, that's just fossilized, but I'll have James preserve it.  You see, researchers do that to learn about the diets of humans from ancient times,” Daniel explained.

“How ... exciting,” Jack said.

Daniel laughed, shaking his head, as he returned to what he had been doing before the interruption.

====

As mid-June approached, Jack looked across to see Daniel examining an item in his hand.

“Danny, you have that look,” Jack said, walking over to stand next to his spouse at a table that had been placed next to the areas where several items had been dug up.

“It's Amun-Re, or the symbol for him anyway,” the archaeologist informed.

“Almond who?”

Daniel smiled and shook his head.  Jack would never change, and that was okay with him.

“Amun-Re, also known as Amun, Ammon with various spellings.  Self-created, he is believed to be the physical father of all the Pharaohs.”

“Like Zeus?”

Daniel chuckled, “Kind of.”

“So who exactly is this ... Amun-Re dude?” Jack questioned.

“Some think he's mostly modern within the context of ancient Egyptian religion.  He's, uh, only documented in history from the eleventh dynasty when the temple at Thebes was dedicated to him.  Amun-Re replaced Montu, the war god, as the principle god of Thebes during Egypt's New Kingdom.  Actually, that's when he became a universal god.”

“Big claim to fame.”

“Well, Egypt was one of the most influential parts of the world, Jack, so any god of Egypt would be deemed to have great power.  It's funny that you compared him to Zeus because by the twenty-fifth dynasty, that's really pretty accurate,” Daniel stated.

“Danny, how could he be the father of all the Pharaohs if he's so new?” Jack questioned curiously.

“Because he's actually mentioned in the Pyramid Text from the Old Kingdom, fifth dynasty.  That shows him to be a primeval deity and a symbol of creative force.  So ... he's been around a while, and the more his power grew, the more he overtook the other gods who became mere manifestations of Amun-Re's powers.”

“So this ram here is all you need to know that this stuff is Amun-Re's?”

“No, not just this.  Look, Jack ...” Daniel walked to one side of the table.  He began by holding up the item he had been holding in his hand.  “This piece of granite, not sure what it is exactly, but it has the picture of the ram on it.  Uh, Amun-Re was originally associated with the goose, but in later times, it was the ram, a symbol of fertility.”

“Fertility,” Jack repeated.

“Yeah, he had a thing about procreation, but this is the kicker.”  Daniel picked up another item.  “This is a piece of bronze, and on it is the image of Amun-Re.  See, he's wearing plumes which was something frequently associated with him, and he has a beard, and here again is the ram, sitting next to him.”


“What's that self-created business you mentioned earlier?”

“That's what the myth says.  They believed he could regenerate himself by becoming a snake and shedding his skin.”

“Great -- another snake.”

The hair on the back of Jack's neck was beginning to stand up.  That feeling was back again.

====

“Daniel!  Daniel, wake up!” Megan called excitedly out from outside Jack and Daniel's tent.  “It's important.  Daniel!”

“Danny, you're being paged,” Jack said as he shook his husband.

“Sleeping,” came the barely audible response.

Jack got up and walked to the tent opening, peeking his head through the opening.

“A little early, isn't it, Megan?”

“I'm sorry, Jack, but we just made a major find.  He'll want to see it,” Megan responded.

“I'll see what I can do,” Jack said, stretching one time before he turned around and went back inside.  He walked over to the bed and ran his hand along Daniel's cheek.  He loved the feel of his lover's skin.  “Beautiful perfection,” he said softly, and then he leaned over and nibbled on Daniel's upper lip.

Daniel sighed contently as Jack traced his lips with his tongue and then kissed him.  Almost on automatic, Daniel granted Jack access, lifting his arms to go around Jack's neck.

“Mmmm.”

“Mmmm, yourself.  Hey, I'd love to take this further, but not only do we have children nearby, but Megan says they've uncovered something you just have to see.”

“Want to uncover you,” Daniel whispered, still mostly asleep.

“Works for me.”

Jack kissed his husband a bit more passionately until suddenly Daniel awoke.

“Find?  What find?”

“I don't know.  Why don't you take a shower, get dressed, and go find out?” the older man suggested.

“I'd rather do this first.”  Daniel cupped Jack's face and brought him down for another kiss.  “You're always first, Jack.  I won't ever let you forget that again.”

“I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

====

Ten minutes later, Daniel found Megan near one of the middle excavation trenches.

“Morning, Megan.  What did you find?”

“Good morning, Daniel.  Sorry to disturb you so early, but take a look,” the woman spoke.

Daniel's eyes grew wide as he saw what the find was.  He leaped down into the hole, looking at what appeared to be a wall.

“Cobra heads.”

“Exactly,” Megan responded.

“There has to be a tomb here. The cobra heads are protectors of the gods.  There has to be a tomb, has to be.”

Daniel's mind was moving swiftly.  He knew they were close.

====

Meanwhile, Jack still had that feeling, a feeling stirred up even more when he went to check on the ribbon device and other items they had locked away.  Since they'd found other Goa'uld or questionable items, the lovers had decided to keep the items in a locked box in the supply tent, rather than in their family tent, especially since they had eight very curious children roaming around their living area.

In the supply tent now, Jack reviewed the box, observing that while it was still locked, it had been moved.  He knew Sam and Teal'c wouldn't have touched it.  Something was going on, but he didn't have any proof and really had no clue exactly what it was.  He was relieved when he opened the box and saw that everything was still in place, but that funny feeling in the pit of his stomach was stronger than ever.

~Maybe I'm getting paranoid, but I don't like it, whatever it is,~ Jack groused inwardly as he returned to the family tent.

Making sure the children were set for the morning and that Sam and Teal'c were up babysitting, Jack joined Daniel and learned about the find.  As they talked, they heard Daniel's name being called.  It came from the back of the site, where Ty and Tabia were working.

--

“Doctor Jackson, it *is* a tomb!” Karissa called out as soon as she saw Jack, Daniel, and Megan sprinting towards the area.

Everything was beginning to happen quickly.  Jack and Daniel exchanged a look.  Each had the ribbon device in the back of their minds, but neither wanted to believe that every time they turned around, they would run into a Goa'uld.

Then again ...

====
-- Chapter Nine:  Love in the Desert!
====

Jack stood off in the distance, his eyes glued on his lover.

Daniel was working late, again.  He was standing in one of the trenches so that he was only visible from the shoulders up.  It was warm out, and the night was clear.

Jack looked up at the stars, studying for a moment the various constellations that he could make out.  Finally, he decided it was time to reclaim his husband from the depths of archaeology.

“Hey,” Jack spoke softly, his hands in his pockets as he stood watching Daniel.

“Look at this, Jack.”  Daniel held up a small object.  “It's a funerary statue.  Amazing how intact it is.  Dust it off, and it's ... perfect.”

“Danny, come here, please.”

Daniel looked up.  He wanted to catalog the item and make sure it was properly put away, so he climbed out of the hole and walked to the lab table.  Jack watched as Daniel made some notations and tagged the object.  Then, Daniel locked it away with several other of their more precious finds.  The archaeologist started to return to his work, when Jack stood in his path, his left hand blocking Daniel's movement as he raised it to touch the young man's chest.

“Jack, I need to get back to work.”

“It's late.  Everyone else is asleep,” Jack spoke firmly, but quietly.

“It's just so exciting,” the eager archaeologist spoke, his eyes alight with his passion.  “Every day we find so much more.  We're going to learn a lot about Amun-Re.”

“Daniel, not tonight.”

“But, Jack, I ...”

“No, Danny.  Let's go.”

“Jack, I have to ...”

Daniel's words were cut off by a long, passionate kiss.  Daniel wanted to resist.  He had work to do, but Jack's tongue was inside his mouth, and he was melting from the taste of the kiss.  He struggled to regain his concentration.

“Jack, this is important.  We won't be here that much lon...”

Again, the younger man's words were silenced by his lover's desire.  Daniel's arms rose to wrap around Jack's neck, and his fingers found themselves fondling the silver-gray hair he loved so much.  The kiss deepened.

“We have something to do,” Jack said.

“But ...”

One more time, Jack showed Daniel an alternative to work.  The younger man's body seemed to be rebelling against his mind.  His entire being was pressed as close to Jack's as it could be.  He moaned from the sensation of the kiss.

“We have something to do,” Jack reiterated.  “Say it.”

“We have something to do,” Daniel echoed, his mind giving in to his body, and his heart.  “Where are we going?” Daniel he asked when instead of taking him to their tent, Jack led him to a jeep.

“You'll see.”

“I assume ...”

“The kids are covered,” Jack smiled, “... and just in case ...” he held up a walkie talkie.

Daniel returned Jack's smile.  If they were needed, Sam could reach them quickly, so he decided to just go along with whatever his husband had in mind.

“Are we just going for a drive?” Daniel wondered.

“Patience, Daniel.”  Jack drove roughly one mile away from the camp and stopped.  Twisting around a bit, he instructed, “Stay here, and close your eyes.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”  Jack took a minute to make sure everything was in place and then took Daniel by the hand.  “Keep your eyes closed.”  A minute later, he had Daniel right where he wanted him.  “Okay, you can look now.”

“Oh, wow.  Jack ...”

Jack grinned, seeing his soulmate with one of his sweet smiles, the one that said, 'For me?'

The older man had set up a full-size Aerobed, though Daniel had no clue where Jack had gotten it.  There was a bucket of ice, and, as he looked closer, he saw that it was his favorite wine, St. Julien's.  He hadn't had any since they had left home.

“Jack, how'd you do this?”

“Motivation, Love.”

There were a couple of blankets and pillows on the bed which was laden with flower petals.  Again, Daniel wondered how Jack had accomplished that feat considering where they were.  His heart was singing with love, and even more so when he saw, sitting in the middle of the bed on a tray, the heart-shaped box of Godiva chocolates.

Jack took Daniel's hand to lead him to the bed.

“Um, geez, I'm sort of ... filthy.”

Daniel regretted his current state.  Of course, it wouldn't necessarily affect anything, but he just wished he didn't feel so grimy.

“I can fix that,” Jack said with a large grin, going to the jeep and pulling out some supplies.

Daniel looked a bit confused, but, at this point, he was game for whatever Jack had in mind.

Jack walked Daniel away from the bed to another spot and kissed him, simply because he liked kissing his husband, and it was as good a time as any to kiss him again.  He placed a big towel on the ground and then began to unbutton Daniel's shirt.

The younger man started to assist, but Jack swatted him, ordering, “Let me.”

Jack removed all of Daniel's clothing, piece by piece and then instructed his lover to lie on the towel, chest to the ground.  When Daniel was in place, he straddled him, and using the scented soap, bathed his husband in loving strokes.  He caressed softly as he cleaned the Egyptian dirt and soil from every part of Daniel's body.

“Close your eyes, Danny.  Just drift.  I'll take care of you,” Jack lulled.

The soothing sound of Jack's voice had the younger man in the clouds, daydreaming about their lives together as well as the intriguing artifacts they had uncovered so far.  Daniel felt Jack's hands and the damp cloth rub the dirt from his back and legs.  The motion took him back to the Nile, cruising slowly down the river, just he and his husband.

Then Jack turned him over gently and began to wash Daniel's face, chest, arms, and every other portion of his body.

“Drift with happy thoughts, Love.  No work.  Just you and me, the Munchkins, the twins, the Mouseketeers, the girls, the stars, our home, all the love we have ... just drift with everything good.”

Jack spoke with such a calming voice that Daniel was afraid he'd fall asleep, but he didn't, especially after Jack blew a tiny breath of air into his ear.

Daniel's Silver Fox whispered, “Think of us, Angel, and our forever.”  The tone and pitch of his lover's voice made the naked archaeologist shiver.  His imaginary ride on the Nile continued as Jack tenderly washed him.  It was soothing and warm, and he could swear the waters were lightly rippling over his body.  “You and me, together, just us, for always,” Jack crooned in sync with the motions of his fingers.

After Jack had put the soap and washcloth away, he began to massage Daniel with herbal oil, scented with cinnamon and nutmeg, to help his lover's tired muscles relax.  His warm hands applied the scented oil on every part of Daniel's body.

“That feels so good, Babe.  Thank you.”

Daniel loved the touches, so caring and soft.  Jack didn't miss a spot as he rubbed the oil over Daniel's body, taking his time, knowing they had all night.  When he was done, Jack pulled out clean clothes for his husband and handed them to him.

“Feel better now?”

“Much,” Daniel said as he pulled over the lightweight tee Jack had given him.  “But I smell so good that if anyone walks by, they're going to ask questions.”

“Don't worry, I'll protect you.”

After he was dressed, Daniel followed his husband to the bed, and they lay down on their backs.  He leaned his head on Jack's left shoulder, and, for a while, they just looked up at the stars.

“Jack, when did you first realize you loved astronomy?”

Jack sighed as he thought back, answering, “I was about five or six I think.  My family used to go on a lot of camp outs.  Sometimes, we'd just pitch a tent in the backyard.  I always liked the stars, and you know me, TV, and the movies.  We had all those sci-fi things.  I always wondered if they could be true.”

Daniel chuckled, “The Blob That Ate Chicago!”

Jack laughed as he countered, “More like 'Mom, I Want a Zoonie, Too!”

“A Zoonie?”

“'Fireball XL-5'.  Steve Zodiac was the commander.  Ship's doctor was Doctor Venus.  She and Steve were in looooove,” Jack chuckled as he continued on.  “Ole Venus had a pet called a lazoon.  They all called him Zoonie.  Loved Zoonie.”

“Sorry I asked.”


“Anyway, one day my grandmother took me to the park.  We were sitting on a bench, and as people would walk by, she'd say, 'I wonder what their story is.'  I asked her what she meant, and she told me that everyone has a story.  Everyone is going somewhere, doing something.  They have a family, a job, a past.  She said it was interesting to watch someone walk by and ponder where they had been and where they were going.  'Everyone has a story, Jack', she said to me again.  That night I slept outside under the stars and wondered if they had a story, too.  The next morning I asked my grandmother, and she said 'Of course, they do', and then she took me to the library, and we checked out some books about stars and constellations.”

“She sounds like she was a really great lady,” Daniel remarked.

“She was.  My whole family was.  I wish you could have known them, Danny, for real,” Jack spoke.

“I have that memory of them; they were terrific.”

“Yes, they were, and if you think they loved you as a little boy, they'd be so crazy about you now.”

“Jack ...”

“They'd love you,” the older man insisted.  “There isn't a doubting bone in my body that they'd accept us.”

Jack placed a kiss on his lover's head as he rubbed Daniel's arm with his hand.

“Every star has a story,” Daniel said softly.  “All I really know is the Big Dipper.”

“Ursa Major, the Big Bear.”

“The Big Dipper is Ursa Major?”  Daniel chuckled.  “I know as much about astronomy, Jack, as I do astrophysics.”

“It's part of it.  The handle is the bear's tail; the bowl or cup is part of the flank.  The handle tip is Alkaid.  Then there's Alcor and Mizar together.  Alioth is next and then the edge of the bowl is Megrez.  Go south to Phecda, east to Merak, and up north to Dubha and that's the dipper.  If you look real close, you can see that Mizar is actually four stars.”

“All I see is one.”

“Look sharp, Love.  You can't see the little stars that make up Mizar, but where the handle begins to dip down, you can see the group of Mizar and another star.  That's Alcor.”

“Constellations 101.”

“Actually, the dippers aren't constellations.  They're asterisms -- a group of distinctive stars -- but the big guy, the Bear, Ursa Major, that's a constellation,” Jack explained.

“My genius.”

“And my little anthropologist, you might be interested to know that Native American legend says that the bowl is the bear, and the stars of the handle are the warriors chasing it.  Ursa Major is low in the autumn evening sky so the legend says that the hunters injured the bear and it's the blood from the bear that caused the trees to change in color to red.”

“Wow, I'm impressed,” a smiling Daniel replied.

“I love to impress you,” Jack responded as his fingers combed through Daniel's long locks, appreciating the feel.  “I'm glad you grew it back.”

“Me, too.”

“You ready for some wine?”

“Mmm-mmm.”

The two lovers sat up, and Jack poured each of them a glass of wine.  They hooked their arms together and drank a sip or two, and then they kissed.

“This is so romantic, Love,” Daniel said with smiling eyes.  “Thank you for thinking of it.”

“I aim to please, and speaking of pleasing ...”  Jack grabbed a truffle.  “Want your own or ...”

“The 'or' please,” Daniel requested, and then the two shared a truffle, kissing and eating at the same time.  “I love that,” he said when the chocolate had dissolved.

“The best way to eat chocolate,” Jack said and then leaned over to kiss a spot on the side of Daniel's mouth where a bit of melted chocolate had settled.  “Mmmm ... yummy.”

The soulmates talked some more about inconsequential things as they drank their wine and shared another truffle.  Then they resumed their previous positions on the Aerobed.

“Jack, tell me some more about the dipper,” the contented younger man requested.

“Let's see.”  Jack thought for a moment.  “It played a big part in American history, during the days of slavery and the Underground Railroad.  The slaves used the dipper to guide them.  They even sang songs about the 'drinking gourd' that would lead them to freedom and a better life.”

“I think I remember that from history in school.  The dipper pointed northward, toward Canada.”

“Yeah, because the end of the dipper points towards the North Star,” Jack explained.

“We should camp out in our backyard, Jack.  Just lie down like this and watch the stars, and you can tell me all about them.  Can we do that sometime?”

“Sure we can.”  For several minutes the two settled into a comfortable silence as they nuzzled together under the night sky.  Then Jack spoke softly.  “Happy anniversary, Love.”

“Happy anni...” Daniel froze, then leaped out his spot and turned to face Jack, essentially straddling him.  He was panicked, his eyes wide and alarmed.  “Oh, gawd, Jack ...”

“Shhh, Angel, it's okay.”

Today was the twenty-sixth of June, the tenth anniversary of when Jack and Daniel first became lovers after having saved the world from Apophis and the Goa'uld for what some might call the first time.

“No, it's not,” Daniel said urgently.  He kissed his husband with as much urgently as his words had just been spoken.  “So sorry.”

Jack's hands cupped Daniel's face, his fingers going back and forth from caressing the skin and walking through the silky locks of hair.

Daniel's kisses were deep as their tongues mingled together, and his hands were on Jack's neck.

“Jack, I'm sorry,” Daniel gasped between kisses.

“It's okay, Danny.”

Daniel's kisses were desperate and full of power.  He left Jack gasping for breath after five minutes of their intensive union.  Daniel placed his head against Jack's right shoulder.

“It's so not okay, Jack.  I forgot.  I actually forgot our anniversary.”

Jack heard the trembling of his lover's voice, and felt the sudden tension in his body.  He raised Daniel's head so they were looking at each other.

“Listen to me, Space Monkey,” Jack requested, smiling at the sound of the nickname.  “It *is* okay.  I'm not upset.  I don't feel neglected or forgotten.  These last few weeks have been heaven.  You've been able to do something you love that you haven't had a chance to do for a long time.  It's like a playground, and I've loved watching you.  The look on your face, the sound of your voice, the sparkle in your eyes.  You don't even know what day of the week it is, let alone the date; and right now, Angel, that's okay.”

“It's not, Jack.  You're first.  I love this, the dig, I do; but you're first.  June 26th,” Daniel whispered.  “I'll never forget this day in time.  I love you,” he spoke with eyes that were glistening with unshed tears.

“I know that.  Danny, hear me.  I *know* that, and it's really okay.”  Jack kissed his shaken lover.  “I love you so friggin' much.  La Mio Bello Stella Cadente, forever and always.”

“Oh, Jack,” Daniel expressed as he kissed Jack more passionately than ever.

The younger man then proceeded to make sure his lover knew just how much he loved him.  Their lovemaking was intense, powerful, and lasted for hours until both finally succumbed to sleep just before dawn.

====

When the lovers awoke just two hours later, they dressed and kissed for several minutes.  Then they put their belongings back into the jeep.

“You coming?” Jack called out as he stood by the jeep.

Daniel was standing, looking off into the sky as he spoke, “There's an ancient proverb.  'Everyone finds himself in the world where he belongs.  The essential thing is to have a fixed point from which to check its reality now and then.'   It's important to know your center, your fixed point, that place you belong.”  He looked at Jack and smiled.  He walked into his lover's arms and traced Jack's lips before kissing him.  As his hands gently ran up and down his Heart's chest, Daniel softly spoke, “That's you -- my center, my fixed point, my home -- just you, Jack.  I love you so much.  Happy anniversary.”

“Happy anniversary, Angel.  Love you, too, to the stars and beyond.  You're my home, you know ... just you.”

After a few more gentle kisses, the couple returned to camp.

====

Returning to their family tent, Jack and Daniel took a quick shower and spent some time with their children before heading to the area where Daniel had stopped working last night.

Daniel was positively basking in Jack's love.  He tried not to think about their night together, but he couldn't help it.  He couldn't stop smiling.  He tried to focus on the tasks in front of him.  They had work to do after all, not to mention he didn't want anyone noticing that he'd ~just had an awesome night of mind-blowing sex and love,~ as he thought of it.

Certainly, people couldn't see that Daniel had just had that nightlong love fest, he hoped.  He continued to smile as he studied the objects being found.  He looked over at Jack frequently.  He'd see the sexy smile that made him melt and would watch as Jack logged notes for the workers.  His whole face spoke of love and devotion.

“He looks positively sappy,” Karissa noted at one point.  “Look in his eyes, Megan. It just makes me all ... misty.”

Megan laughed, “The general looks pretty happy himself.”

“I saw them drive off in a jeep last night,” Karissa reported quietly.

Megan smiled cautiously as she said, “I don't think we need to speculate about what they did.”

“Who's speculating.  Just look at Daniel.  If ever anyone had that 'just ...”

“I get the idea, Karissa,” Megan interrupted before laughing.

The couple was the talk of the camp.  By the end of the day, Daniel knew everyone knew.  It was in their faces.  Lots of looks and stares in his direction.  Jack knew, too, and took it as a compliment as he strutted around the camp happily.  He wanted everyone to know that he had given Daniel that look, and he was proud of it, too!  Of course, he realized he looked a bit on the 'gone' side as well, but he didn't care.  Being in love and happy was worth a few looks and stares.

====

The workers had spent long hours digging out the tomb, but it was a slow process.  They had also unearthed boxes of old relics, and everyone was keeping very long hours.

On the last day of June, Jack woke very early.  He dressed and went outside.  He was stretching, his arms over his head when he heard a noise coming from the tent now being used to store their precious finds.

Slowly, the general made his way towards the tent, knowing that no one should be in there.  Covertly, he flung open the flap and immediately saw the back of a man's head.  The man had a raised hammer-like tool in his hand.  To Jack, it looked like the stranger was about to destroy the artifacts in the box.

“HEY!  BACK OFF.”

Startled, the man turned, throwing the tool towards Jack, who had to duck to his left in order to avoid it.  The man charged Jack and pushed him over as he scrambled out of the tent.

“TEAL'C!  CARTER!” Jack shouted, giving chase.

The camp buzzed to life, but by the time they caught up with Jack, the man was long gone.

Jack bent over, out of breath as he moaned, “Dang knees.  Can't run like that anymore.”  ~Or maybe I'm just not a spring chicken anymore.~

“Jack!  Jack, are you all right?” Daniel asked as he pushed through the group to find his husband, his hands wrapping around Jack's back and shoulders.

“Yeah, I'm fine.  Danny, someone was in the tent.  They were about to destroy some of the artifacts.”

“Destroy?”

Daniel's question was echoed by the others as whispers filled the air.  None of them could understand why someone would want to destroy precious artifacts, steal perhaps, but not destroy.

“That's what it looked like, but when I tried to stop him, he threw that hammer or whatever it was at me and pushed me out of the way.  I couldn't catch him, Danny.”

“Sir, maybe we should ...”

Hearing Sam's voice and seeing Teal'c out of the corner of his eye, Jack pounced up, exclaiming, “The kids!”

Jack ran on his aching knees back to their large tent, Daniel and everyone else behind him.  Hurrying inside, he closed his eyes in relief at seeing the entire brood safe.

“Dad, what's wrong?” Jennifer asked, standing up from the bed and putting down the book she'd been reading.

“Nothing, Jen ... just ...”

Jack shook his head, turned and walked out, his shoulder brushing against Daniel's as he passed.

“Daddy?”

“It's okay, Jennifer.  Watch the children,” Daniel instructed, quickly going outside to find Jack.

~Jennifer?  Oh wow, something must be wrong.~  The teenager noticed David had just sat up in his bed, but Chenoa had slept through the disturbance.  “David, make sure Noa stays by you today, okay?”

“Okay, Sis.”

Jennifer checked on the sleeping babies were.  She smiled at Bijou and Katie, who had also awakened and were now 'on watch', apparently aware of potential danger as well.

“Good girls,” the teenager praised, reaching in the cribs to pet each of the beagles before returning to her bed, picking up her book, and then selecting a more central spot to sit down where she could keep an eye on all of her siblings.

====

Outside, Daniel caught up with his lover just as he was 'talking' with Sam, though his tone was harsher than normal.

“Carter, I don't want them left alone, not for one second.  Do you understand?” Jack spoke in command tone.

“Yes, Sir.  Excuse me,” Sam acknowledged and then walked inside to do as Jack wished.

“Jack, maybe it was just a scavenger.”

Megan stood beside her bosses, interjecting, “Maybe, except would a scavenger ...”

“Yeah, I know.  A scavenger would steal, not destroy,” Jack sighed, hating the thoughts floating around his subconscious, thoughts that spoke of more devious and intentional wrongdoing.

Daniel saw the anxiety in his lover.  He took his hand and led him to the tent where the relics were kept under the pretense of checking the items.  He wanted to do that anyway, but right now, what he really wanted to do was hold Jack and reassure him.  He could feel Jack's heart beating rapidly.  He wanted to calm him, which he did as soon as they were in the tent.

“It'll be okay, Jack,” Daniel said, holding Jack's hand and staring deeply into his eyes.

“Hey, remember me?  The old hard-as-nails general.”

“Right now you're my husband, and you're scared,” Daniel refuted.

“Danny, I can't be that man right now.”

“But you are.  Come here,” Daniel ordered, taking his husband into his arms.  “You'll protect us; you always do, but right now, I'm going to protect you.  No arguments, Love.”

Jack relented, thinking, ~I'm getting soft.  Geez, I need this.~  He nuzzled into Daniel, letting the younger man surround him with love, shielding him from all the bad in the world.  “I love you, Danny.”

“I love you, too.”

For the next thirty minutes, Daniel comforted his protector, giving Jack more strength and resolve to make sure he kept his family safe.  He had everything he had ever dreamed of now, as did Daniel, and he wouldn't risk losing them.

====

Much of the main tomb wall had been excavated successfully by the end of the third work day in July, though no one was sure yet how much of the tomb was intact.

It was evening, and nearly everyone was eating in the mess tent.  Jennifer excused herself to use the facilities.  When she got outside, she walked over to the tomb.  Her curiosity got the better of her as she jumped down in front of the structure.

“Jennifer!” Sam called out, having gone out to check on the teen at Jack's behest

“It's really fascinating, Aunt Sam,” Jennifer opined.  “I mean, I'm not really into this stuff like David and Daddy, but it is intriguing.  Look at the detail,” she said as she traced some of the etchings with her fingers.

Sam jumped in and went to stand beside the teenager, saying, “Yes, it is, but I think your fathers would be more comfortable if you were back inside.”

“They've been so paranoid recently.”  After the incident of a few days ago, Jack and Daniel had insisted on keeping their guard up.  Sam or Teal'c, or occasionally Megan, was always with the teenager, and Jennifer was beginning to feel it was a bit ridiculous.  She assumed it had just been a scavenger, and her parents were now overreacting to the situation.  “I don't have any privacy anymore,” she whined.

“They have their reasons.” Sam said, motioning for Jennifer to follow her out of the excavated area.

“Hey, look at this.”  Jennifer pointed at an area that had carved writing on it.  “Looks like buttons.”

“Jen, don't ...”

Sam's words were too late.  Jennifer had randomly pressed a combination of four buttons, triggering a transportation device.  Fearing for the teenager, Sam lunged towards the girl, and at the precise second of contact, both disappeared.

====

Five minutes later, Jack and Daniel went in search of their daughter and their friend, but didn't find a trace of them.  Frustrated, Daniel stared towards the tomb, his mind rapidly processing the symbols and their positions.

“Jack?”

Jack heard the soft voice a few feet from him and turned, asking, “What is it?”

“Look,” Daniel instructed.  He pointed at the area on the tomb where the carvings were.  He could tell they had shifted, and that some were now raised.  “Something's happened.  Those weren't like that earlier.  Jack?”

Jack walked over and put his arm around Daniel's waist as he said, “It'll be okay, Danny.  Let's not overreact and make assumptions.  We need to do a full search of the campsite.”

“They're gone.  I feel it.  Our daughter ... she's ...”

“She's temporarily ... misplaced, but we'll find her.”

“Misplaced?”

“Okay, lost.”

“Maybe taken,” Daniel stated.

“I thought I was supposed to be Mister Positive,” Jack said, attempting to not be as negative as his gut told him to be.

Daniel looked nervously at the tomb and expressed sadly, “She's gone, Jack.”

“We'll find her, but we need to do this logically, okay?”

“Okay,” Daniel agreed, though he wasn't really sure he did agree.

====

Jack walked into the family tent and immediately sought out the beagles, saying, “Girls, we've got a problem.  Time to be on alert.  We're a little short on manpower so I need you, okay?”

“Woof!  Woof!  Woof!” came the firm replies from Bijou and Katie.

“You know what to do,” Jack added, watching as the dogs immediately trotted over to the cribs.

“Woof!  Wooooooof!”

“Oh, okay.  Good idea, Bij,” Jack said, lifting Bijou into the crib with the Munchkins and then placing Katie into the crib holding the twins.  “You two need anything, you holler.  The baby monitors are on, so we *will* hear you.”

“Woof!”

The general walked to the opening of their tent where Daniel was nervously standing, self-hugging for the first time in quite a while.  He put an arm around his lover.

“We're going to find them.”

“General,” Megan began, reverting to rank and protocol, “um, the dogs?”

“Trust me, Megan, they understood every word, and those two ...” Jack looked over at the precious beagles “... will protect our babies.”

“They will,” Daniel echoed confidently, having no doubts about that at all, though at the same time, he worried about the girls being hurt, too.

Before heading on their search, and, just as a precautionary backup, they also asked Karissa to baby-sit, which she was happy to do.

====

The workers had searched everywhere, going as far as twenty miles in all directions of the camp, but they hadn't found a trace of either Jennifer or Sam.  Knowing the answer was in the tomb, Daniel had insisted on returning there.  Jack had agreed, being out of other options.

“Jack, the answer is here, on this wall.  I have to find it.”

“You will; just don't touch anything,” Jack instructed forcefully.

“It's here ... the sequence; has to be in the sequence.”  Daniel's fingers moved to the carvings as he spoke.  “Has to be ...”

“Daniel ... don't,” Jack said as his hand intercepted Daniel's.

“She's our daughter!” Daniel shouted in frustration, pulling his hand away from his husband and also backing up two steps.

“I *know* that, but we don't know what's happened.  It could be that man who tried to destroy the relics.  We'll call Hammond.  Get backup.”

“We're retired, Jack.”

“He'll help, and you know it.  I'll be right back.”

Daniel watched Jack walk towards their tent.  He knew Jack was right, but he didn't think they could afford to wait for backup to arrive.

**I love you, Jack.**

Jack turned in alarm, saw Daniel pressing the raised lettering, and yelled, “DANIEL ... NO!”

Seconds later, Daniel disappeared, leaving Jack angry, frustrated, and more desperate than ever.  The mode by which Daniel had disappeared left little doubt that they were dealing with alien technology.

====

Daniel looked around the strange surroundings.  He was standing in a small room with two doorways leading out of it.  The walls were full of images of Amun-Re.

“I'm inside the tomb.”

“The whiz kid strikes again.”

Daniel spun around, his recognition of the person in front of him sending a chill down his spine.

“Steven?”

“Like I said, sharp as ever,” Steven Raynor responded.

“What are you doing here?  In here?”

Steven smiled, but it was an evil smile, one that sent a deathly shockwave through Daniel's body.

“Where's Sam and my daughter?”

“I have them,” the other man responded cryptically.

~What does he want?~  Daniel shook his head, asking, “How'd you get in here?”

“Easy.  Watched the girl.  She's pretty.”

“You touch her, Steven, and I'll ...” Daniel began, willing to back up his unspoken threat.

“You'll what,” Steven smirked.  “Lecture me to death?”

Confused, Daniel questioned, “I don't understand.  Why are you so ... hostile?”

“You just don't get it, do you?  I hate you, Daniel, and I'm tired of playing second fiddle to you.  *This* is my revenge for everything you've cost me.”

“Cost you?  What are you talking about?”

“This job would have saved my company, but you stole it from me, just like you stole Sarah and just like you pushed your way in with Professor Jordan.”

“I don't know what you're talking about.”

“I'm tired of finishing second to you, Daniel.  It ends now.”  Steven pulled out a dagger.  “You're going to die, and then I'll ... express my sympathies to your ... daughter?  Queer.  I always knew you were funny.  You embarrassed Sarah.”

“Steven, put the knife down,” Daniel stated as he cautiously raised his hands in a self-protective stance.

Steven cackled, his eyes crazed as he focused intently on Daniel.

“You're insane, Steven,” Daniel spoke, noticing the unusually unkempt look of the usually well-dressed and groomed archaeologist.

“Maybe, but revenge is mine ... sayeth me,” Steven laughed crazily and then lunged at Daniel.

Daniel dodged to his right, narrowly escaping the cut of the dagger.  Again, Steven charged his adversary.  This time, Daniel managed to grab hold of Steven's left arm, tossing him over his shoulder.  The dagger fell to the ground.  Daniel ran for the weapon, but the other man reached over, grabbing it just before Daniel was about to pick it up.

Daniel leaned over to try and force it from Steven's hand, but the crazed man grabbed a hold of his adversary's leg and pulled on it, causing Daniel to fall.  The two continued to struggle until Steven held the knife to Daniel's throat.  With both of his hands, Daniel fought to push Steven back.

Unfortunately, it seemed as though Steven's lunacy had given him a burst of strength.  Daniel wondered if the man was on drugs since even using all the maneuvers Jack had taught him, he was unable to shift the slightly larger man.

“Revenge ... is mine,” Steven said as he was about to impale the knife into Daniel's throat.

“No!  This is my place.  It is sacred.  I will not allow your sacrilege here.”

A ribbon device forced Steven to the wall, the dagger falling by Daniel's side.  Daniel was breathing hard as he studied the being.

“Amun-Re,” he whispered.  ~A Goa'uld.  Why did it have to be a Goa'uld?  Aren't there any ancient Egyptian gods that weren't ... snakeheads?~

“You,” the ancient god said, pointing to Daniel.  “Who are you?”

“I'm ... I'm Daniel Jackson, um, I mean, I'm Daniel Jackson-O'Neill,” Daniel answered, standing up slowly.

“You will bow to your god.”

“Um, actually, no, I won't,” Daniel answered. ~Feels like a bad rerun.~  “Do you know where my daughter is?”

“She is ripe for implantation,” the false god stated.

“Implantation?” Daniel echoed.  ~I don't think so; just take that fertility of yours elsewhere.~  “Uh, no.  She's too young.”

“She is ready.  She will bring forth the strong,” the arrogant, self-proclaimed god argued.

“She's a child, and I won't let you touch her.”

Daniel began to walk towards the being, but with a raise of his hand with the ribbon device, Amun-Re sent Daniel sprawling backwards to within a foot or two of Steven.

The ancient god approached, looking down on the two men with disdain as he spat, “You are stubborn, impudent creatures.”

“She is my daughter.  I won't let you harm her.”

Daniel wiped his hand against his mouth as he sat up cautiously.

“You are ... pretty.  I like your shimmering hair.”

Daniel said nothing as he silently evaluated the situation.  He realized that for a god, Amun-Re seemed to be alone.  He would have expected the Goa'uld to have at least a couple of others with him, but all Amun-Re seemed to have at his disposal was the ribbon device.

“Where are your guards?” Daniel asked, bravely or foolishly, he hadn't decided which yet.  He saw the daggers in Amun-Re's eyes directed towards him, and yet again, either bravely or foolishly, Daniel challenged, “You don't have any guards, do you?”

“I have all I need.”

Amun-Re used the ribbon device on Daniel again.  The archaeologist fell back, closing his eyes.  The world faded as he succumbed to the effects of the alien weapon.

====

“Daddy, are you okay?”

Daniel struggled to revive himself as his daughter's anxious voice filtered through to his waking consciousness.  His head hurt, and it took a while to focus.  He realized he was seated on a stone bench, slumped back against the wall.  He tried to focus, but in his grogginess, it took him a moment to realize his glasses were missing.  Although his hands were tied behind his back he could feel hieroglyphs carved into the wall behind them.

Turning slightly to his left he managed to make out Jennifer's blurry outline.  Her hands were also tied behind her back, and he could hear her rapid breathing.  She was obviously scared, and he couldn't blame her.

With all the strength he could muster at the moment, Daniel asked, “Jen, did he hurt you?”

“No, Daddy, I'm fine.  He just tied my hands behind my back.”

“Sam?  Where's Sam?” Daniel asked, looking all around for the blonde woman.

“I don't know.  He took her.”

“What about Steven?  Um, another man about my age,” the archaeologist inquired.

“I don't know, Daddy.  He just brought you here.”

“Can you see my glasses?” Daniel asked hopefully.
 
Jennifer sighed, “That man took them.”

“Everything's going to be all right, Jen.  You have to stay strong.”

“Daddy, his eyes glow, and ... his voice is weird,” Jennifer spoke, her voice trembling a bit from fear.

“I know.  It'll be okay,” Daniel reassured.

“Daddy, where are we?”

“Inside the tomb I think.  I wish I had my glasses.  Everything's a bit blurry without them.  Jen, are you sure he didn't hurt you?”

Daniel struggled to think clearly.  He thought he was getting used to the Goa'uld ribbon devices, and yet, each time it got worse.  His head was pounding, but he had to protect his daughter at all costs.

“Yes, but he keeps looking at me funny.  He looked at Sam that way, too.”

“Interesting these ... glasses,” Amun-Re spoke as he entered the room. “They seem useless to me.”

“But not to me.”

Daniel watched as Amun-Re strutted around the room, or rather, the blurry image of the ancient god did.  The supposedly powerful deity wasn't acting normally for a Goa'uld.

Finally, Daniel asked, “Why are you holding us here?”

“You will show me the way out,” Amun-Re demanded.

“What?”

“You will show me the way out of this prison.”

“Your tomb is a prison?” Daniel questioned.

“I was enslaved here by those jealous of my powers, but now, you will give me my freedom,” the entombed prisoner spoke.

“I don't think so.”

“Then I will have your daughter,” Amun-Re said, his eyes glowing.

“I don't think so.”

“Daddy.”

“Be quiet, Jennifer,” Daniel instructed in a firm tone.  “Let my daughter go, and we can ... talk,” he offered.

“There is nothing to talk about.  I will return your glasses, and you will show me the way out,” the Goa'uld countered.

“I will not,” Daniel responded, after which he felt the ribbon device warming his head.

“Daddy?  DADDY?”  Jennifer screamed.  She looked towards the Goa'uld.  “STOP IT!  PLEASE!”

When Amun-Re ceased his hold on Daniel with the device, the young man slumped sideways, away from his daughter.

“Daddy?”  Jennifer turned again to the man with the strange voice, begging, “Please let me go to him.”

Amun-Re laughed, uncaring about anything but himself, and said, “I may keep you anyway.”

Leaving the father and daughter alone, Amun-Re turned and walked out.

====

“Doctor Raynor, what are you doing here?” Sam asked when Steven finally awoke.

The blonde peered down at the groggy archaeologist from her perch on a plain stone sarcophagus.

“Who are you?” Steven asked.

“Oh, I guess you don't remember.”

“No, I ... wait.  You were with Daniel,” Steven said as he rubbed his head slowly.

“Yes, I was.”

“I always knew he was lying.”

Sam decided to ignore that comment and go back to her original question, asking, “What are you doing here?”

Laughing evilly, Steven answered, “Revenge.  He took everything from me.  It's time to make him pay.”

“Daniel?”

“This dig should have been mine.  I had the best bid.”

“The bids for the project were kept secret; at least, that's what I've been told.”

“I had the best bid,” Steven repeated.  “I knew I came in the lowest.  I wanted to see who robbed me of my chance to make my company a success.”

“Your company?  I didn't know you had one.”

“Since when are you an expert on me, and who the heck are you anyway?” the man asked angrily.

“Colonel Samantha Carter, United States Air Force.  I work in ... deep space telemetry.”

“Sure you do.  And this,” Steven nodded at their surroundings, “is a space station or something?  Give it up, Blondie.”

Sam flinched at the condescending nickname and replied, “Space station, eh?  I wondered what it was.”

“Give it up.  I don't know what that ... man is, but he's no space monster.”

Sam nodded, saying nothing.  She hadn't thought much of Steven the first time she'd met him, and he certainly hadn't improved any with age.

The two were enclosed in a small room that was very colorful and decorative.  Under different circumstances, she would have found the room quite interesting.  The walls were covered in painted and carved hieroglyphs.  There were several stone columns supporting the roof of the tomb, and an ornate sarcophagus lined one wall.  Sam was really hoping it was empty.

Unlike Daniel and Jennifer, Sam and Steven had not been tied up, but there was only one way out, and that door was sealed.  She had tried various means of getting the door to open with no success.

“Is Sarah in on this ... revenge thing of yours?” the female colonel inquired.

“Sarah?”

“We saw her recently at a temple in Abydos.  She didn't come with you?” Sam questioned.

“Sarah is dead.  What are you trying to pull?”

“No, she's alive,” Sam insisted.  “She went back to Chicago once we ... found her.”

“You're lying.  I would have known if ...”

Just then the door opened, and Amun-Re walked in.  He looked at the two and spoke fiercely.

“You will show me the way out.”

“Sorry, clueless,” Sam replied, shrugging her shoulders.

“Then you will die.”

“Where is my friend?” Sam asked about Jennifer.

“She is with her father.”

Sam wanted to ask which one, but decided she should say nothing, not knowing how much the Goa'uld or Steven knew.

“Daniel.  He's a creepin' homo.  I saw those kids; he should be tarred and feathered for pretending to be a father,” Steven responded with disdain.

“You're sick,” Sam said forcibly.

“That's what Daniel said.  No, insane was his word.  I don't care what I am as long as he pays for what he's done to me.”

“He didn't do anything to you.  In fact, he saved your life.”

“He stole my position, my girlfriend, and now my company.”

“He hasn't done any of that,” Sam denied forcibly.

“STOP!” Amun-Re ordered.  “You will be silent.  I care not about your silly ways.  I wish only to know the way out.  You will show me,” he demanded.

“Sorry,” Sam responded innocently, shrugging.  “I told you.  I haven't a clue.”

“I know the way out.  I'll show you,” Steven promised.

“Raynor, you don't know what you're doing,” Sam warned.

“Give me Daniel, and I'll show you anything you want.”

Amun-Re smiled as only a Goa'uld could smile and motioned for Steven to follow him.

Sam tilted her head in disbelief.  She hadn't felt this helpless in a very long time.  It had been at least ten hours since they had been transported inside the tomb, and she began to wonder if she would die where she sat.

====

“I'm going to blast the thing open,” a frustrated Jack spoke after all attempts to get inside the tomb had failed.

“If you do that, O'Neill, you may kill all who are inside,” Teal'c stated.

~That's not the goal,~ Jack sighed, shaking his head as he did so.  He looked at Megan, his eyes begging as he pleaded, “You *have* to figure this out.”

“I'm sorry, Sir,” Megan apologized.  “Daniel's the expert with this type of thing.  I can barely make out the writings.  There are so many questions.”

“Forget the questions.  Tell me what we know.”

Megan looked down thoughtfully for a moment and then answered, “We know that a combination of these buttons when pressed will transport someone to another place, probably inside the tomb.”

“Start pressing buttons.”

“Sir, I understand you're anxious, but there could be thousands of combinations.  We need an expert.”

“Daniel's the expert, and he's ... gone.  Teal'c, are any of the markings familiar to you?”  Jack sighed when the Jaffa shook his head.  “Do your best, Megan.  I'm ... going to check on my kids.”

Teal'c accompanied Jack back to the large tent.

“They are all well, General,” Yazid spoke.  “They are frightened, but they are safe.”

Yazid, the latest of several 'babysitters' to watch over the children, nodded and quickly walked off before Jack could say a word of thanks.  

At the moment, most of the children were huddled in the one area of the tent.

“Teal'c?” a small, sniffling voice was heard from the corner.

Teal'c walked over and picked up Chenoa.

“Want Daddy and Jen,” the toddler said, pouting.

“You must be brave.”

“Br...brave,” Chenoa sniffled, but then she sobbed, “Dad ...”

“O'Neill,” Teal'c called out.

Jack quickly made his way to his daughter and took her in his arms.  If he'd ever wanted an indication that he was Chenoa's father and came first over Teal'c and Yazid, all he had to do was remember this moment.  Chenoa latched on to him like she'd never done before.  No one else could comfort her right now.

“Shhh, Noa.  Daddy and Jen will be home soon, and that's a promise.”

Chenoa's hold on Jack was extremely tight.  He knew she was afraid.  She had lost her birth parents only a year ago, and now her sister and new father were in danger.  Knowing she needed reassurance, he held on to her just as tightly as she was holding on to him.

David, meanwhile, held Little Danny in his arms on one of the beds.  Jack heard the sniffling baby and was torn.  His daughter was trembling, trying to be strong, but it was obvious she needed him.  At the same time, his infant son was afraid as well.

“He's been restless all day, Dad.  I think he knows,” David said as he rocked his brother slowly.

Jack was proud of David.  His son's eyes showed the fear he felt for Daniel, Jennifer, and Sam; yet, he remained calm and focused on reassuring his younger brothers and sisters.

“Da-da,” Little Danny cried.

Chenoa looked over at her little brother and rubbed her eyes.  Then she looked up at Jack and sniffled loudly.

“TEEEEE,” Chenoa requested, her arms reaching out for the Jaffa.

“My brave little girl,” Jack whispered emotionally.  “You need me, too.”

Jack still felt torn, wishing now for a clone that could comfort each of his children during this difficult time.

“Noa brave.  Promise,” Chenoa sniffled, counting on her older father to fulfill his promise to her.

Jack hugged her, whispered, “I love you, Noa,” and then handed her to Teal'c.  A moment later, he was holding Daniel's namesake in his arms.  “You're worried, huh?  Well, trust me, your daddy has been in a lot worse situations.  This is a cakewalk.”  He kissed his son on his forehead.  “Relax, little one, your daddy and sister will be home soon.  I'll bring them home.”

Little Danny settled a bit, so after a few minutes Jack handed him back to David.

“He ...”

“I know, Dad.  I'll keep telling him that everything will be okay,” David interrupted.

“Thank you, Son.”  Jack smiled, leaned over, and kissed David on the head.  Then, he went to check on the twins and the other two Munchkins.  When he heard Little Danny start to cry again, he reached in and pulled Jonny out of the crib, taking him to David on the bed.  “Son, do you think you can handle both of them?  Little Danny always feels better when Jonny is around.”

After David nodded, Teal'c assured, “I will supervise.”

Jack nodded and picked up the youngest Munchkin, saying, “Ash, how about you watch over the twins?  They are so young.  They know things are a little amiss, too.  They could use their older sister to reassure them.”

“Ash see babies.”

Jack placed his daughter with the youngest family members.  He nodded at their blessings, and was amazed at Aislinn's growing vocabulary.  Actually, that had been her biggest sentence ever, a whopping three words that were actually a sentence.  He was proud. He only regretted that he didn't have time to really show her how pleased he was, and that Daniel hadn't been there to hear it.

“How's it going, Katie?”  As the beagle looked up at Jack with a sad expression on her face, he said, “I'll find him.  You know I will.”  As Katie lay down next to Jenny, Jack looked around and asked, “David, where's Bijou?”

Just then Jack heard a growl from the back of the tent.  It was followed up by a nasty shout.

“GET AWAY FROM ME, YOU MUTT!”

Jack ran to the sounds, calling out, “Bijou ... good girl ... keep it up.”  He pulled out his gun and once in position, stated, “Okay, Bij, I've got it.  David could use some help watching the Munchkins.”

“Woof!”

Bijou returned to the large tent, leaving Jack holding a gun on the stranger, the same man who he had caught about to destroy several of the artifacts they had uncovered.

Jack pointed his gun and cocked the trigger as he asked, “Who are you?”

The man laughed, and his arrogance made Jack hate him even more.

“Let me ask you one more time,” Jack said.  “I promise.  It'll be the last time.  Who are you?”

“Doctor Steven Raynor.”

Jack's face contorted as the name registered in his mind, but his aim held firm as he inquired, “Where's Daniel?”

With a crazed quality, Steven laughed, “Where you won't find him.”

“Then I guess I'll just go ahead and kill you now.”

Steven had never met Jack O'Neill, and it was Jack O'Neill, the Special Operations trained general, he was facing now.

“You wouldn't dare,” Steven replied.  “You'd go to prison.”

“If you've hurt Daniel, I'm already there.  I'll make it easy on both of us.  I'll count to three.  Three will be the last word you'll ever hear.”  Jack's outstretched arm held the gun directly at Steven's head.  He didn't flinch as he calmly counted, “One ... Two ...”

Steven searched Jack's eyes and realized that the man wasn't kidding.  Believing he was about to die if he didn't tell Jack what he wanted to know, he spoke quickly.

“Okay, okay.  He's in the tomb.”

“Show me ... *now*!”  Jack walked Steven over to the tomb, keeping his weapon aimed at the man.  “Megan, stand aside,” he ordered, motioning for her to climb out.  Once she had cleared the area, Jack nodded to Steven.  “Go on.  Get down there.”  Steven jumped down inside, as did Jack, masking the pain the jump had caused in his knees.  “Press the buttons.”

“I'll show you.”

“No, press the buttons,” the general ordered.  Reluctantly, Steven did as Jack requested ordered, resulting in both men being transported inside the tomb.  Jack looked around for a moment and then questioned, “Where is he?”

Steven led Jack down a short passage and into the room where Amun-Re had granted his demand.

The archaeologist from Chicago had been frustrated that the Goa'uld had refused to let him kill Daniel, but, apparently, the ancient god had plans of his own for Steven's adversary.  Steven was happy that he had an understanding with the imprisoned god, one that allowed him to come and go in his request to get revenge.  Though he was sure he had the upper hand, the Goa'uld felt the same way.  Their arrogant ways had them both playing a game of cat and mouse, both believing they were the cat.

Steven pointed to a cubbyhole.  Jack's heart stopped beating when he saw Daniel was curled up in it, totally still.

“Get over there.  MOVE!”

Jack's voice was chilled, so Steven moved with haste to where Jack directed him.  Jack reached into his jacket for some cord.  He had put it there weeks ago while they were outlining the grids for the excavation. He was glad now that he had lazily forgotten to remove it and put it away.  He hogtied Steven.

“Hey, that hurts.”

“If he's dead, it won't matter, because you'll be dead.”

With Steven secured, Jack hurried over to Daniel, saying, “Danny.  Danny, please be alive.”  He rolled his husband over.  His heart broke at the sight of Daniel's red and swollen face.  He had been beaten.  Blood had dried at the side of his mouth.  His shirt had blood on it, too, and when Jack lifted the clothing, he saw the early signs of bruising.  “Danny, wake up.  Please, Danny.”

Daniel coughed several times as he struggled to awaken.

“Shhh, Angel.  I'm here now.”

Jack pulled his lover up, cradling him in his arms.  He leaned over and placed a kiss on Daniel's forehead.

“Sick.  You two freaks are ...”

“Shut up!”  Jack turned sharply and aimed the gun at Steven's head.  With anger evident in his voice, he warned, “One more word, and I'll blow your friggin' head off ...” he slowly moved his aim down Steven’s body, “... both of them.”  

Steven's heart did a flip-flop.  He saw murder in the eyes of Jack Jackson-O'Neill.  He decided to refrain from further commentary until Amun-Re returned and freed him.  He wondered where the man had gone and really hoped he came back before Jack could get Daniel out.  He wanted to finish the job he had started; he wanted to beat Daniel to death.

Calming, Jack put his gun down and focused again on his husband, urging, “Danny, wake up.”

As Jack ran his fingers through Daniel's hair, he heard his lover's voice.

“J'ck?” Daniel called out, letting out a cough as he spoke.

“Right here.”

Summoning all of his strength, Daniel lifted his hand to Jack's arm, clinging to it.  He coughed, the stuttered his message.

“JJJen.  Sam.  They...th...they're here.”

“Where?”

“Don...don't know.  J'ck, Ste...ven ...”

“I know, Daniel.  Did Raynor do this?”

Daniel fell back into unconsciousness, his hand dropping to the ground like a lead weight, before he could answer.

Jack removed his jacket, rolled it up, and then carefully placed Daniel's head down on it against the floor.  He got up and aimed his gun at Steven.

~First things first,~ Jack decided.  “How do we get out of here?”

Steven said nothing, confident Jack wouldn't kill him.

“Do you need me to repeat the question?” the general asked with intensity.

“You'd never do it.  Kill me, and you're stuck here forever.”

“No, only until Daniel wakes up again.  I don't need you.  I can wait for Daniel.  In fact, I'm rather beginning to like the sound of that option.”

Jack again cocked the trigger and smiled, an act which frightened Steven more than the threatening words had.

“It's there ...”  Steven jutted his head outwardly to indicate the direction.  “... a few feet from where we came in.  There's a small panel with hieroglyphs on them. You have to press the same symbols as we did to get in here, only in reverse.”

“Why did you do this?” Jack asked.

“I didn't touch him,” Steven claimed.

Jack put his gun away, walked to Steven, cut one of the ropes that bound the man's hands to his feet, and pulled him up.  He shoved him against a wall and pressed his forearm against Steven's neck, applying pressure to the area.

Steven struggled to breathe.

“Tell me why you did this,” Jack ordered.

“He's taken everything from me,” Steven whined like a spoiled child.

“He hasn't taken squat from you.”

Steven was breathing hard, and he was definitely afraid of Jack.  He didn't hesitate to answer Jack's questions at this point.

“Doctor Jordan ignored my work until Daniel left.  Even with his crazy theories, Daniel was always his favorite.  He was an embarrassment, but still ... still, I ...”

“Still you were scum, second to Daniel.”

“Sarah, he stole her, too,” Steven continued.  “She was mine until he did that innocent, wonder kid act on her.  Then, I was about to get her back, and he shows up again.  I hate him.  Sarah belonged to me.”

“You can have her.”

Steven blinked, and was about to say something about her when Jack spoke again.

“Why didn't you kill Daniel when you had the chance?” Jack questioned.

Jack knew there had to be a reason, and he wanted to know what it was.  It might be important as he searched for Jennifer and Sam.

“That creep with the weird voice wouldn't let me.  I said I would show him the way out of the tomb if I could at least get some revenge,” Steven answered.

“You're sick, Raynor.  Daniel never did anything to hurt you.”

“HE DESTROYED ...”

Jack was done listening.  He verified what he had suspected, that Steven was responsible for Daniel's beating.  He'd deal with that later, but for now, he pulled the archaeologist away from the wall and with a powerful right jab, punched him hard.  Stunned, Steven slumped to the floor.

After Jack put the gun away, he picked up Daniel's limp body, carrying his lover out of the room and back towards the entrance area.  He was relieved when he quickly found the small panel with the carvings.  

“Hey, what about me?” Steven shouted loudly from the small room where Jack had left him, having regained his senses.

“Die for all I care,” Jack said to the air as he carefully pressed the buttons.

“*Wait!* Steven called out, angry when Jack and Daniel disappeared.  ~I hate him; I'll get my revenge,~ he vowed silently.

====

“All right, much better,” Jack uttered when he and Daniel were transported outside the tomb a moment later.  “Teal'c!  Megan!” he shouted.

“O'Neill!” Teal'c called out as he approached and immediately took the archaeologist from Jack's hold and climbed out of the pit.

Several of the crew had come running at Jack's shouts and were watching, at first curious what had happened, and now concerned for Daniel's health.

“Sir, would you like to use my tent?”  Megan volunteered, concern for her friend etched on her face.

Jack began to say yes, but then changed his mind.  Daniel would recover more quickly surrounded by his family, and his family would certainly rest easier knowing he was back.

“Thanks, but take him to our tent.”

“Sir, what happened.”

“Later, Megan.  Keep everyone away from here,” Jack said and then hurried after Teal'c and his husband.

====

“Daddy?”

Chenoa began to cry as she saw Teal'c enter the tent carrying Daniel's limp form.  Jack picked her up, wanting to calm her down as fast as possible.

“Daddy's going to be okay.  He'll just be a little sore for a while,” Jack reassured.

“What happened to Daddy?” David asked.

“A bad man hurt him, but ...”

“Hurt Daddy?” Chenoa asked, even more tears running down her cheeks now.

Jack smiled at his daughter and said as confidently as he could, “I promise you, Noa.  It won't happen again.”

“Jen...ni...fer?”

“She'll be home soon.  Megan ...”

Jack handed Chenoa to the woman as he hurried to Daniel's side.  A minute later, the nurse hired by J-O Enterprises to be on-site in case of injury appeared.  She examined Daniel and tended to his cuts and bruises.

“I don't think there are any internal injuries, but he should see a doctor,” the nurse said.

“He will.  Thank you.”

Teal'c and Megan cleared everyone out of the tent and took the children to Sam's tent to give Jack some privacy.  Bijou, however, took her post at the edge of Daniel's bed.  Jack smiled and petted her for just a moment.

“Danny?  Angel, do you hear me?”

Daniel moved his head slightly, saying, “J'ck?  Lis...lis'en.”

“Shhh, Danny.  You need to ...”

“No.  Lis...listen,” Daniel said as he struggled to speak.  “Amun-Re ... locked in tomb.”

“With our daughter?” Jack asked in alarm.

“J'ck ... other gods jealous ... slaves helped,” Daniel said, then swallowed hard, his head moving from side to side as he fought the pain. “They ... they hel...helped to entomb him at temple; he doesn't know how to get out.”

“You mean he's imprisoned in that thing?” Jack questioned.

“Ye...yes.  Has to stay, J'ck; can't let him out ... wants r'venge on Ear...rrrth.”

“Okay, I understand.  Danny, I'm going back to find Jen and Carter.  I'll be back.  I love you, Angel.”  Jack kissed his groggy husband, gently caressing his cheek before he stood.  “Don't let him move, Bij.”

====

Jack went to a small locker he had packed away in the supply tent.  He got more ammunition for his gun and picked up a dagger he had packed.  He'd been hoping he wouldn't need this equipment.  Truth was, he wasn't sure why he had brought it except that he couldn't ever totally escape his military training.

“You might need this, General.”

Jack jerked around in surprise at hearing Yazid's voice.  He was even more surprised at seeing the high-powered weapon in the man's hands and the other item he held.

“C-4?”

Yazid nodded and explained, “General Hammond said that where his flagship team goes, the Goa'uld follow.  I was happy to, what is it you say, cover your six.”

“General Hammond?” Jack asked curiously as he stood and walked to Yazid, taking the gun and pack of C-4 from him as he continued to ready himself for battle.

“The general is the best friend of my father.  They have ... served together,” the Egyptian explained.

“They have?”

Yazid nodded as he explained, “I am ... affiliated, General.  It is best not to ask more questions.  I am sure you can appreciate the need for ... secrecy.”

Jack shook his head once in amazement, then said, “But you know about the Goa'uld.”

“Yes, but ...”

“... don't ask questions?”  Seeing the man nod, Jack dropped the subject, and said, “Thank you, Yazid.”

Indeed, Jack was truly grateful, now that he was properly armed to handle the situation.  He tucked his pistol inside his shirt, the dagger inside his boot, and the C-4 in his pockets.  Though he wished it was a P-90, Jack was happy to head for the tomb holding an MP-5.

Standing in front of the tomb etchings, Jack took a breath and pressed the combination, transporting him inside once again.

====

Jack looked around, realizing Steven was not where he had left him an hour earlier.  The small room was deserted.  His fear for Jennifer's and Sam's safety heightened.

~Of all the tombs in Egypt to discover, we have to find the one with a Goa'uld,~ Jack thought as he began a detailed search of the tomb for his daughter and 2IC.

====

Fifteen minutes later, Jack reached a long corridor.  It was lined with colorful images of Amun-Re.  At the end of the corridor, he saw a stone door.

“Didn't anyone ever hear of door handles?”

Jack sighed as he examined the door for a means of opening it.  The stone was covered in hieroglyphs.  He recognized some of the symbols as being the same ones he had used to get into the tomb.  Slowly, he pressed them just as he had done before, and as he pushed on the last one the door slowly slid open.

Inside, Sam saw the door moving.  She stood, looking around anxiously, wishing she had something, anything to use as a weapon.  She backed against the wall, prepared to lunge at whoever came through, but then she saw the familiar figure and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Sir, I didn't think I'd ever get out of here.”

“Gotta stop thinking so negatively, Carter.  Where's my daughter?” Jack questioned, seeing the Sam was the only one in the room.

“I haven't seen her, but I did see Steven Raynor,” the blonde colonel informed.

“Yeah, had the unpleasure myself.  Have you seen him lately?” the general asked.

“No, Sir.  It's been hours.  Daniel?”

“He's hurt, thanks to that snake and Raynor.”

“What did Raynor do to him?”

“From what I dragged out of the creep, the snake set the stage and then let Raynor use Daniel as a punching bag.  Daniel will be fine.”  ~But Raynor won't be when I get done with him,~ Jack promised himself.  “He's in our tent.  Let's go,” he said, handing Sam his pistol as they exited.

====

Five minutes later, Jack and Sam came upon another corridor.  Voices could be heard echoing through it, and they could see the open door at the end.

“You allowed the shiny haired one to escape.  If you want to live, you must entertain me,” a voice demanded.

“She's a scrawny kid.  You like her, you can have her.”

“I may take you.”

“Oh, no, you don't.”

A disdainful laugh broke out, and Jack exchanged a look with Sam as they crept towards the room, neither liking the sound of the conversation.  Stealthily, they traversed the long hallway, continuing to listen to the voices.

One voice was recognized as that of Steven; the other was unfamiliar, although it was definitely Goa'uld.

“Look, I kept my part of the bargain.  I showed you the way out.”

“No, you did not.  I told you, I cannot leave that way, and even if I could, I kept my part of the bargain as well.  I let you go.  I gave you the man.  We would be ... even.”

Jennifer was still in the same spot as before, her hands tied behind her back.  She had never been so afraid.

“You're an idiot.  I'm leaving.”

“This body is old.  I require yours,” the Goa'uld spoke.

“What are you talking about?”

Steven's eyes bulged as he saw the symbiote emerge.  Jennifer, too, was shocked, her fear growing by leaps and bounds.

“Look, I don't know what this is about, but ...”

“Hold it right there,” Jack ordered upon entering the room, his gun aimed at Amun-Re.  “Back up.”

The Goa'uld symbiote retreated back inside its host, and then the ancient god did as Jack requested, moving back towards the wall.  At the same time, Sam hurried over to Jennifer and untied her.

“Dad?” the teenager asked nervously.

“Go with Carter, Jen.  Carter, a few feet south of where you came in, there's a small panel with those same carved letterings.  You hit the buttons in this order ... the sun, the goose, the snake, and the ram.  Go!”

“Yes, Sir.”

Sam led Jennifer out, but the teenager turned back, pleading, “Dad, come with us.”

“I'll be right behind you.  GO NOW; DON'T ARGUE!”

Sam tugged on Jennifer's arm, and they left.

Jack backed up until he was standing in the doorway and taunted, “Have a good life.”

“Wait ... you can't leave me in here,” Steven begged.

Jack smiled, replying, “Can't I?  Got news for ya, Doc.  I can do anything I like.  Enjoy your ... eternity!”

Jack pressed the now familiar combination of buttons, and the door closed.  He fired enough bullets at the mechanism to reduce the stone markings to dust.

Wanting backup for his plan, Jack wired C-4 to the door.  If either Amun-Re or Steven tried to get out, the door would explode.  When he was finished, he ran to the main chamber and transported out.

====

“Sir?” Megan said, pleased to see Jack.

“My daughter and Carter?”

“We're here, Dad,” the teenager shouted from a few feet away, Sam at her side.

“Good,” Jack said.  Turning, he fired a clip of bullets into the carved area.  The sound of shots brought the rest of the crew running out.  “Megan, we need to post guards here.  Our ... old work is haunting us.  You, Carter, Teal'c, and I will rotate shifts until Hammond can send an SG team over.”
 
Jack looked at Megan as she stood beside him in the hole and saw she understood.  Not for the first time, he realized the advantages of having a Director of Operations who knew about the Stargate Program.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Take this,” Jack said, handing her the MP-5.  “You might need it.”

Jack saw the question in her eyes, but he was pleased she didn't ask it.  He climbed out of the hole, surprised to see Jennifer standing there.

“Dad, I was so scared,” Jennifer admitted as she ran into Jack's arms.

“I know, but it's all over now,” Jack responded soothingly.

“Where's Daddy?”

“In our tent,” Jennifer answered.  “Go on,” she urged.  “He'll feel better just seeing you.  Carter ...”

“Yes, Sir,” Sam said, putting her arm around the teenager and walking her to the tent.

Jack watched as Karissa instructed the workers to return to what they'd been doing before the interruption.  He was impressed with the young woman, especially since she'd never been exposed to the SGC or anything even close, from what he knew, anyway.

“My friend, what has happened?” Yazid asked as he approached.

“Yazid, tell Abayomi that in the tomb there was some type of poison.  We have to move our work to the secondary site until the tomb has been decontaminated.  Tell him it's a very dangerous toxin, but that I know people who can take care of it.  J-O will pay for the ... clean up.
 
Yazid nodded, saying, “I understand.”

“It shouldn't take more than a couple of days.  Yazid, you don't happen to have a secured line?”

Again, Yazid nodded as he answered, “In my tent.”

“I'll be there shortly.”
 
Jack walked back over to Megan, kneeling down to talk softly, saying, “We're going to shift over to the secondary site for a few days ... that is, the crew ... everyone except you and SG-1.”

Megan smiled at hearing the designation.  She'd always felt safest when the SGC's flagship team was around, and just hearing the name gave her an assurance that everything would turn out okay.

“Who would you recommend to oversee the excavation there?” Jack asked.

“Karissa, General.  She's done an excellent job here.”

Jack smiled, thinking about how he'd just noticed the woman's calm demeanor.  He liked that Megan was on the same page.

“Okay.  Tell her the cover story, and get these people out of here.  I'll send Teal'c to relieve you.  I want everyone gone within two hours.  Understood?”

“Yes, Sir!”

Jack walked to Yazid's tent and saw the man was waiting with the special phone.  Without uttering a word, the Egyptian exited, leaving Jack alone in the tent to make his call.

====

“You've been holding out on me, General ... I really think this is the best way.  If the United States Air Force suddenly shows up here, there'll be more questions than we have answers for ... exactly ... a medical team can bring everything we need and will be accepted here without question or comment ... I'll keep you informed.”

Jack walked outside and saw Yazid drinking from a cup.

“Yazid, Tau Abdul ...”

“The government representative.  Yes, I have already spoken with him about the toxin.  He is agreeable with your decision and delighted with your willingness to cover the expenses.  The nation is grateful.”

Yazid smiled at what he knew was some kind of cover story.

“You're good,” Jack said as he slapped the man gently on the back and went on his way.

====

Jack returned to Daniel's side.  Katie was standing guard at the entrance of the tent, along with Teal'c.  David and Chenoa were huddled next to Jennifer who was next to the babies' cribs, and all of them were at the foot of their younger father's bed, watching the young man sleep.  Bijou was at the head of the bed, sitting next to Daniel's pillow.  She wasn't watching the family, but was focused on other areas of the tent, her protective instincts continuing to rule her actions.

Seeing his family together again, Jack smiled.  He walked over to the bed and took Daniel's hand.  With the other, he carded through the long locks of hair.  He leaned forward and placed a tender kiss on Daniel's lips.

“Mmm.  J'ck?”

The older man smiled again.  It would never get old: hearing Daniel say his name as he woke up.

“Right name again.”

Daniel opened his eyes, gazing at his lover and saying, “Love you.”

“I love you, too.  Everything's okay now,” Jack promised.

“Fix it?” Daniel asked weakly.

“Working on it.  Here, sit up for a minute,” Jack said.  He shifted his body so that he was actually behind his lover, and helped Daniel to sit up, leaning his battered body against Jack.  He reached over to the side table for some water and then slowly brought it to Daniel's lips.  “Here, Angel, drink this.  Just a couple of sips.  Good.”

Daniel moaned as his head flopped back against Jack's shoulders.  The older man kissed his nape, noticing the warmth there.

“Hot,” Daniel said, seeming to know what Jack was thinking before he had even digested the thought.

“David, would you bring me a cloth, please?” Jack asked.

Quickly, the boy pulled a dry cloth out of a bag and started to give it to his dad, but Jack shook his head.

“Take some of that water,” Jack directed, “and pour it on the cloth.”

Carefully, David completed the task.  He smiled at Jack and then at Daniel who weakly smiled back at him.

“Thank you, Son,” Jack said as he took the cloth.  He Jack ran the cloth along Daniel's brow and asked, “Better?”

“Little.”

“Okay, time for you to lie back down,” Jack said regretfully, moving to his previous position as he gently returned Daniel to a supine position.

“J'ck?” Daniel whispered.

“What, Angel?”

“Craaaazy 'pendance day,” the younger man tried to laugh, though he coughed instead.

“Yeah; guess we had fireworks after all,” Jack said as he ran the cloth over the feverish face he loved so much and then leaned down for a kiss.  “Sleep, Danny.”

Full of trust, Daniel closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

“I almost forgot,” David said quietly.

“I *did* forget,” Jennifer said, referring to the Fourth of July holiday.

As the others watched, Jack walked to one of their trunks of personal effects and retrieved a pair of glasses.  Sam smiled, silently wondering just how many pairs Daniel had gone through over the years.

“It's a good thing you brought back-ups, Dad,” Jennifer said.

“Jen, you remember when we took David to the optometrist on a Saturday, on short notice.”

“I remember,” David said enthusiastically.

“I'd almost forgotten,” Jennifer answered.

“This,” Jack held up the glasses, “is why it was so easy.  Danny goes through glasses like I go through ...”

“Froot Loops,” David teased.

Jack laughed, then focused again on his lover.  He placed the glasses on the table by the bed and leaned over for another kiss.

“Sleep, Love, and when we get home, we'll order another ten pairs of glasses.  They should last a year, if we're lucky.  I love you, Angel.”

====

“They just arrived, and we're about to go in ... yes, Sir, I agree.  We can't risk Amun-Re escaping ... I've already taken steps to make sure the few Goa'uld items we uncovered are sent to the SGC, and Megan thinks that once the area is secured that we should continue the excavation ... Right, Sir.  It's better we find the Goa'uld artifacts than some unsuspecting archaeologist ... No, General, I think we'll be able to handle the cover story.  J-O can go back in once the 'toxin' has been cleared ... He's better this morning.  Thank you for asking ... I'll do that, Sir.  Goodbye.”

Jack disconnected the secure phone line that Yazid supplied him with and looked out for a moment over the dig site.  The J-O crew had moved on to the other site the day before, and now SG-3 was in full-gear waiting to enter the tomb and extract the Goa'uld.  Extract wasn't the word exactly, but it was the only word Jack wanted to use until the scenario had played out.  He hadn't been on a search and kill mission in a very long time.

The general looked over at the large tent where Daniel and his children were.  Standing at the entranceway, he saw Megan.  She smiled confidently at him.  He nodded.  He drew a deep breath and approached his teams.

Now armed with his weapon of choice, a P-90 and in full gear himself, Jack asked, “Everyone ready?”

“Jack?”

Jack turned around, surprised to see his husband walking towards him.

“Danny, you need to go lay down,” Jack said, having met his lover halfway.

“I'm coming with you.”

“Daniel, you can barely stand up.”

“I won't let you go alone,” the younger man stated, wincing even as he swayed a bit while standing still.

“I've got ...” Jack paused, smiling.  Any time he was without Daniel, he was alone. “Danny, please ...”

“No ...” Daniel answered as he extended his hand out in expectation.

Jack sighed, “Stubborn,” as he handed his lover the pistol he had once again tucked into his pocket.

“I've learned from the best,” Daniel quipped softly.

Jack caressed Daniel's bruised cheek and then kissed his split lip.

“I love you, Danny.”

“I love you, too.”

Nodding, Jack looked over at the Jaffa and ordered, “Teal'c, stay with the children.  Everyone else, let's move out.”

As Jack passed Sam he gave her a look, not that he needed to.  She nodded subtly.  She would be on Daniel's six the entire way.  If he lagged behind, so would she.  The general had just entrusted her with his most precious love, and just like in the old days, she wouldn't let him down.

====

“Jack, what did you do?” Daniel asked, observing the destruction of the tomb entrance.

“I didn't want them to get out.”

“I can see that.  Uh, how do we get in now?” the archaeologist inquired.

“Carter!”

Quickly, Sam moved forward with a pack of C-4, affixed it to outer wall of the tomb, and moved back to her position near Daniel.  Seconds later, an explosion opened up the tomb.

“That's how,” Jack answered as he climbed through the rubble to enter the tomb.

Daniel bobbed his head up and down a couple of times and mumbled, “I guess that makes sense,” before following his lover.

Not long after the SGC teams had entered the tomb, they heard an explosion.  The ground shook, and rubble fell everywhere.

Jack looked back and saw Sam checking on Daniel, who was nodding his head, indicating that he was okay.

“This way,” Jack said, leading the teams toward the sound of the blast, which he knew was the locked room where he had last left the Goa'uld and Steven.  There was a small opening allowing access to the room.  “Go ... but be careful.”

Two Marines carefully entered the room.  In the middle of it, there was a pile of rubble, with a hand protruding upwards, the fingers slowly moving.  With Sam's weapon aimed at the body, others attempted to unbury the remains.  It took the team several minutes, but, finally, the dying body was revealed.

“Steven?” Daniel said, kneeling down next to Jack.

Jack held his arm back, preventing his lover from getting too close.  If what he suspected was true, Steven was now the host to Amun-Re.

“This guy is dead,” one of the Marines spoke about the body they had found inside the small room.

Eyes glowed from the dying body Jack and Daniel stared down at.

In the Goa'ulded voice the lovers knew all-too-well, they heard, “It is done; I am ... free.”

The eyes dimmed, and then the familiar voice of Steven Raynor spoke, “Daniel, you were right ... again.”

Steven's head flopped to the side, having drawn his last breath acknowledging that his rival had always spoken the truth after all.

“Secure the bodies for transport,” Jack ordered coldly as he stood.  He didn't like Steven, not as a human being, and not as a Goa'uld, and he felt nothing having watched the man die.  He reached down, grabbing his husband's arm, and pulled him up.  Gently, he ordered, “Back to bed for you.”

“Jaaaack, not in front of the Marines.”

“To heck with the Marines,” Jack said just before he kissed his husband, and then personally escorted him outside of the tomb.

====

“This is boring,” Daniel said softly from the chair he sat on.

The injured archaeologist was frustrated at not being able to dig with the others, not to mention that the secondary site wasn't nearly as strewn with relics as the primary site was.  He wished they could return there now, but the cover story would keep them out for a few more days.  The SG teams were covertly guarding the site under the pretense of medical necessity, supposedly the risk of radiation.

“Boring is good,” Jack opined as he slipped his arms around Daniel's waist.  “Sore?”

“A little, but don't move,” Daniel spoke.

Jack kissed Daniel's nape and said, “Anything you say, Love.”

“I don't understand about Steven, Jack.  The last time I saw him he was fine.  We gave him a very realistic cover story.  He believed it; at least, he said he did.”

“Carter did some checking.  Apparently, Raynor's career hit a downward spiral after the incident.  He started SRI eight months ago, hoping to restart his career.  According to Abayomi, he underbid us, but based on Yazid's recommendation, Abayomi decided to go with us,” Jack stated.

“Do you think Sarah's being here was just a coincidence?”

“I don't know, Love.”

“Dad, Daddy,” Jennifer called out as she and David approached.  “We'd like to talk.”

Jack and Daniel exchanged a look; then, simultaneously, both asked, “About what?”

“What are the Goa'uld?” Jennifer questioned.

“And Daddy was right: the pyramids are landing strips for alien ships, real ones, right?  I mean, it's not just a theory, is it?” David questioned, his voice quiet, as if he knew he was talking about something secret.

“Why don't we take a walk?” Jack suggested, reaching out for Daniel's hand.  “You feel up to it, Danny?”

“Yes; not far, though.”

Jack led his family to a secluded area, and there they entered into a serious discussion about the Goa'uld and their threat to the Earth.

“So it is real,” Jennifer said, amazed at what she had heard.  “I wasn't imagining anything I ... saw.”

“Yes, it's real,” Daniel confirmed.

“That's why you're so strict with us,” David said, commenting about the sometimes paranoid parental rules Jack and Daniel had placed on their children.

“Yes,” Daniel answered.  “Just like with what happened here, we never know, and ...”

“... and your daddy and I have had to do some very sensitive things, and not everyone likes us for that,” Jack interjected.  “The rules are there for a reason, and, unfortunately, you both now know a bit more about the why.”

“You can't talk about this to anyone,” Daniel added.

“I know; not even to Noa, huh?” David asked.

“It would only frighten her, David.  Hopefully, she'll never have to know anything about them,” Jack said as he squeezed Daniel's hand.

“Daddy, on the internet, your theory: everyone laughs at it,” David said.

“And we have to let them continue to laugh,” Daniel replied.

“Even those people who asked you to send it to them,” the youngster asked.

“They can draw their own conclusions.  It's good to ask questions.  We just can't ... answer them all.”

“Not yet, anyway,” Jack added to Daniel's response.

“The Stargate?” Jennifer questioned.  “The Goa'uld have something to do with that, to, right?”

“That day at Cheyenne Mountain, when we saw Teal'c come through the Stargate. It's a ... a ...”

“It's a way to go from one place to another,” Daniel answered simply.

“You mean from one world to another,” Jennifer clarified.  As they began to walk back to camp, she deduced, “Teal'c's an alien, isn't he?”

“He's from a planet called Chulak, and he's saved our lives more times than I can count,” Jack answered.

“I knew that emblem wasn't a tattoo,” the teenager responded.

“It was a bad cover,” Daniel said, laughing at the idea.

“When I grow up, I want to go through the Stargate and explore new worlds.  I'll bet there are lots of artifacts out there,” David said eagerly.

“Oh, gawd,” Daniel laughed.

“I told ya, Danny.  He's just like you.”

====

“Happy Birthday, Angel,” Jack spoke softly the next day as he woke his lover.

“I'm getting old, Jack,” Daniel chuckled.

“You're beautiful.”

“I'm bruised,” the younger man refuted.

“Beautiful and sexy,” Jack maintained.

“You're prejudiced.”

“Darn straight,” Jack agreed as he kissed his husband again.

“I wish ...”

“Soon,” Jack promised.  “Speaking of those bruises, how are you feeling?”

“Better.”

“I could have shot that idiot on the spot,” Jack sighed.

“Being entombed with Amun-Re is death enough,” Daniel put forth.

“Danny, I love you.  You shouldn't have gone in there like that.”

“I had to.  Our daughter was there,” Daniel said.  “You would have done the exact same thing if our positions were reversed.”

“What am I going to do with you?” Jack asked softly.

“I have a few suggestions.”

Jack smiled and then kissed his love.  They would spend most of this day touching and being touched, alone in their tent.  Sam, Teal'c, and Megan had promised to keep the children safe so Daniel could have a proper 'private' celebration with his husband, though they did visit together for a while outside with Jack gingerly escorting his lover to an assigned spot at a table in the mess tent.

Daniel smiled seeing the German chocolate cake being brought to him.

“A Pharaoh,” the birthday celebrant whispered.

“My little Pharaoh ... uh, correction, my big, big, bigggggg Pharaoh,” Jack chuckled with seductive eyes.

Daniel laughed and blew out the candles.

“Did you make a wish?” Jack asked.

Daniel reached out and caressed Jack's cheek.  He loved that he could do this freely now, even though they were in a foreign country and had to exercise a certain amount of caution.

“I already have my wish, Jack.  I have you.”

The two shared an intense look for several seconds before Jack broke the spell, clearing his throat and calling out, “So, where's the birthday girl?” he asked.

“Right here,” Jennifer answered as she carried Katie to the spot on the other side of Daniel.

Bijou jumped up to sit next to her youngest baby, ready to celebrate Katie's fifth birthday, that is, in human years.  Daniel smiled, seeing Katie wearing a little birthday hat on her head.

“Jack?” Daniel asked expectantly.

“Coming right up.  Megan?”

“Here it comes, Jack,” Megan responded, walking over with a large cake in the shape of a dog biscuit.

Daniel laughed at the cake, though he noticed that his cake seemed puny when compared to Katie's.  He smiled as Jack sat down next to him.

The older man whispered, “Dogs can't have chocolate, remember?  And we needed enough for everyone, so this giant sheet cake is your basic vanilla.  The chocolate is only for you.”

“Just for me?”

“Just for you.”

Daniel grinned.  How he loved Jack Jackson-O'Neill, the man who always knew just how to make him feel extra special.

~I'm keeping him -- definitely keeping him!~

Three days later, J-O Enterprises was back in action at the main site.  While the tomb was considered 'closed indefinitely' from the risk of contamination, the rest of the site was buzzing with activity as they cleared it of as many artifacts as they could.  There were plenty of items to keep the Egyptian government happy, and Abayomi's site had been approved for building with a slight move westward.  Anything Goa'uld in origin was covertly being tagged by Megan and Daniel and would be taken back to the United States by SG-3 with their 'medical' supplies.

Four days after that, J-O Enterprises packed up, their excavation completed.

“It's been wonderful, Daniel,” the Director of Operations spoke.  “I can't believe we've accomplished so much, and ... it's been so much fun.”

“We couldn't have done it without you, Megan,” Daniel said, leaning forward and giving her a kiss on the cheek.  “Thank you for all you've done.”

“I was just doing my job,” the woman claimed.

“Fighting the Goa'uld isn't your job,” Jack jested quietly.  “You're a peach, Megan.”

Megan smiled and looked around, saying, “It seems so vacant now.”

“It won't be for long,” Daniel responded, certain Abayomi would be able to go ahead and use the land for his project.  “We'll see you back in the Springs next week.”

“Take care!” Megan said, smiling as she turned and got into the Pajero that was waiting for her.

“Are you ready, Sir?” Sam asked.

“In a minute, Carter,” Jack said, leading his lover over to what had been the middle of the work grid.  “We did it, Angel.”

Daniel turned around in a circle, taking a final look at the site, and responded, “Yes, we did, and it's going to change our lives as far as J-O is concerned.”

Jack looked at his lover and said, “I can't wait for the next dig.”

Grinning, Daniel said, “It's the dung, right?”

“Gotta find more crap,” Jack laughed, leaning forward and kissing his husband.

“There's plenty of crap to go around, Babe,” Daniel assured as they headed towards their vehicle.

“Crap enough to fill a trench hole with,” Jack responded.

“It's crap to find crap,” Daniel teased.

Laughing, the couple shared one last kiss and took one final look before getting into the car and heading back to Cairo.

====
-- Chapter Ten:  A Nation of Two!
====

Back in Cairo with their family to enjoy some additional sights for a few days, Jack and Daniel had just finished a dinner alone together at a local restaurant when they were surprised to see Sarah walking towards them.

“Trouble at five o'clock,” Jack mumbled, taking the last sip of his wine.

“Daniel, have you seen Steven?” Sarah asked, not even greeting the twosome.

“It's good to see you, too ... not,” Jack interjected.  “I'm fine; thanks for asking.”

Daniel laughed while Sarah just stared; but then he responded, “Steven?  Raynor?”  As Sarah glared at his feigned amnesia, he looked down and took a final sip of his wine before answering, “No, I haven't seen him ... lately.”

“Are you sure?  I was supposed to meet him in Abydos three days ago, but he never showed up.”

“Tis a pity,” Jack smirked, standing up and taking out cash to pay the bill.

“Well, if you see him ...”

“I doubt I will.  Steven is probably ... covered up with ... work,” Daniel said, smiling as he stood up and walked away from his one-time girlfriend.

“Daniel ...”

“Excuse us, we have a life to live,” Jack spoke.

====

As they walked, Jack observed a change in his lover.  Daniel was frowning and had become quiet.

“Danny, what's wrong?”

Daniel sighed, “Sam told me that when she was in the tomb with Steven, they talked about Sarah.”

“And?”

“He claimed he didn't know she was alive.  Why would he say that?” the archaeologist asked out of curiosity and concern.

“Raynor wouldn't know the truth if it stood up and screamed his name.”

“She said he was pretty convincing, but if Sarah was supposed to meet him, then ...”

Jack stopped and grabbed hold of Daniel's elbow to stop him.  He placed his hands on Daniel's shoulders.

“Daniel, Raynor was a liar and a thief, and those were his good points.  He came after us because we had a better bid than he did.  That's not only lame, it's sick.  Maybe, and I know you aren't going to like this, but ...”

Daniel blinked, knowing what Jack was going to say.  He looked down and sighed, and then finished Jack's sentence for him.

“Maybe she was in on it,” the younger man wondered.

“That's a possibility, or maybe it was Raynor's way of protecting her.”

“What do you mean?”

Cocking his head just slightly, Jack answered, “Whether she was or wasn't a part of this, he obviously had been in touch with her.  They were close, right?”

“Yes.”

“So maybe by pretending he didn't know she was alive, he thought he was covering his bases.”

The lovers returned to their walk as Daniel replied, “You mean if Sarah is in on it, that she might come after us, and he pretended that he didn't know about her being alive, so that we wouldn't suspect anything.”

“In his mind, we wouldn't be on guard, and maybe if he failed at his little game, he was hoping Sarah would pick up where he left off.”

“Jack, you're going to have Sarah watched, aren't you?”

Nodding, the older man confirmed, “I might just recommend to Hammond that she's still a security risk and see if the government can keep taps on her.  It might not be a bad idea.”

“You think she's close enough to Steven that she'd want revenge for his death?”  Daniel shook his head, doubting the idea.  “Jack, she'll never know what happened to him.”

“Maybe, maybe not, but she will know he disappeared, here, in Egypt, and just coincidentally, at a time when we were here, too.  What do you think she's going to think?”

“I don't want to think about it,” Daniel sighed.

“Then, let's not, not now anyway.  Like I said, we have a life to live!” Jack exclaimed, his arm going around his lover's shoulder, patting his back a couple of times in support as they enjoyed their walk back to the hotel.

The two men had to be careful not to be too overt in public in a foreign land, so their actions mirrored what any two good friends might do while walking.

“A wonderful life,” Daniel agreed, leaning his head into his lover's shoulder for a moment before separating just slightly.

====

“I'm glad we detoured to Aswan,” Daniel commented, leaning back against Jack.

The lovers were alone at King Fouad’s Corner, a terrace built especially for watching the sunset at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt's southernmost city.

“It was a nice surprise and a great way to end the trip,” Jack said.

As a special treat, Sam and Teal'c had arranged for this side trip for the couple while they remained with the children in Cairo.

“This is the most perfect spot in the world for watching the sunset,” Daniel spoke melodically, his hands intertwined with his husband's.

“This whole place is beautiful.  I thought our view of the Nile was great in Cairo, but this ... I don't even know how to describe it,” Jack sighed contentedly.

This area did indeed feature one the best views of the historic river.  It was wide, green, and sprinkled with pretty islands, with high desert hills topped with the Aga Khan’s Mausoleum as a dramatic backdrop.

“It's very romantic.”

“I love you, Angel.”

“Hmm.”

“Hmm?”

“Happy.  I'm so happy, Jack.”

“Music to my ears,” Jack whispered, kissing Daniel on the side of his head.

In the morning, the lovers would be reunited with their family, and while they missed their children terribly, they savored their time together, watching the setting sun reflect on the Nile, feeling peaceful, happy, and totally serene.  Soon, they took their happy feelings to their suite and joined themselves together in celebration of their love and never-ending nation of two.

====

It was the Jackson-O'Neills last afternoon in the foreign land.  Jack and Daniel had their entire brood, along with Sam and Teal'c, with them as they walked Kheiymiya Street which was full of tradesmen and shops.  Known as The Applique, the craftsmen who worked there honed beautiful decorative accessories such as quilts which they put on display and hoped to sell.


“The art was brought to Egypt centuries ago, but it was used mainly for making tents, Daniel explained.  “The, uh, demand for tents isn't what it used to be so now they make these quilts and wall hangings.”

“It looks hard,” Jennifer opined.

“You have to be very patient and a good artist.  Look, watch him.”  Daniel pointed out one of the workers in his shop as he worked on a quilt.  “See, he's already drawn his design on the fabric.  He used charcoal, but some make tiny pinholes and use that as their outline.  Then they cut their patterns in various colors and stitch them.”


“Not exactly up my alley, that's for sure,” Sam said as she looked at the items. “They are incredibly pretty, though.  You know, I think I'll buy one for Janet.”

One of the reasons the group had gone to the market was to pick up some souvenirs for various friends and family.  They wanted something unique, and Daniel knew they'd find some possibilities on Kheiymiya Street.

“They're very colorful,” Jennifer noticed.

“They seem to like birds and Pharaohs,” Teal'c observed.

“According to a vendor I spoke with earlier, Egyptians used to decorate with the fabrics, but they don't anymore,” Daniel stated.

“We've corrupted them,” Jack interjected.

Daniel cocked his head a little and replied, “I don't know that I'd go that far, but apparently, they like to decorate in a western motif now, so most of the business here now is from tourism.  The vendor said the best selling designs are Pharaohs, birds, peasants, and things related to folklore.”

“Daddy, how long has this place been here?  It looks ... old,” David said.

“A long time, since the mid-sixteen hundreds.  It's a shame it's being forgotten now.”

Sam purchased a few decorative items, as did Teal'c, and Jack and Daniel, of course, and then they continued their excursion.

====

A bit later as the family walked, a child looking to be ten or eleven approached David and Chenoa, greeting, “Welcome.  Camel?”

“Daddy!” Chenoa exclaimed, seeing the toy camel.  She reached out for it, and the Egyptian child handed it to her.  “Daddy, camel.  Funny.”

Chenoa was remembering the picture of Daniel on the camel that was in their house.  She hugged the camel.

“It's cute,” David said.  “Dad, can we get one?”

“Noa love camel,” Chenoa gigged as she held the toy.

“We have plenty.  One for each, yes?” the Egyptian youngster asked enthusiastically.

Before they knew it, the Jackson-O'Neills were besieged by three other children, all bringing over toy camels, handing one to each child.

“You, too, yes?” the first child beckoned, holding out one of the items to Jennifer.

“Well, yes,” the teenager said, taking one, looking both embarrassed and pleased at the same time.  “Um, can we, Daddy?”

Jack leaned over and whispered to his husband, “We're about to be taken, Daniel.”

“I know, but it's okay this one time.”

“The quality doesn't look so great.  Maybe we should give them back,” Jack commented.

“Daddy ride?” the toddler asked, holding her camel up to Daniel.

“Sweetie, that one is a little small for me.  Why don't you just hold on him to for me,” Daniel mused with a smile.

Chenoa gave her father a brilliant smile.

“Jack?” Daniel called out, a warning to not disappoint their children.

“I'm paying.  Geez,” Jack whined as he handed over what he believed to be a ransom, until he realized that all of their children seemed to be loving their Egyptian mascots.  “Oh, well, Love.  How could we come to Egypt and leave without souvenir camels?”

“It would have been wrong,” Daniel laughed.  “Careful, Little Danny.  Let's make sure Katie can still breathe,” he said, seeing the camel accidentally being placed on the beagle's head.

“Woof!” Katie said.

“You're welcome,” Daniel smiled.

====

“Did you guys have fun?” Jack asked.

“This has been an awesome experience, Dad,” Jennifer said, hugging her father.  “Thank you for bringing us with you.”

“Where else would you be except with us?” Jack asked honestly, rewarded by a bright smile on his children's faces.

“What did you like best?” Daniel asked after he had knelt down to be eye level with Chenoa.

“Funny camel,” the toddler answered.

“I liked crawling through the pyramid,” David said, adding, “and seeing the sarcophagus.  That was cool.”

Jack and Daniel exchanged looks and shrugs.

“I thought that henna tattoo was awesome.  Too bad it doesn't last,” Jennifer spoke.

Jack glared at the teenager and spoke sternly, “Don't get any ideas, Jennifer.  My children do not get tattoos.”

“They're very popular,” the girl refuted.

“Jen,” Daniel interjected, “if I were you ...”

“I know.  Grounded for life,” Jennifer sighed.

“Life plus thirty,” Jack stated in a cold warning tone.

“So, anyway, it was neat.  Those girls did a beautiful job painting it on my ankle,” the teenager said as she admired the job.

“Me like boat,” Aislinn spoke.

“Jack, she said a sentence.”

“Uh, she did one before, too,” Jack said, realizing he'd forgotten to tell Daniel about it.

“They're growing up,” Daniel said happily.

“Juice,” Chenoa stated.

“Are you thirsty, Chenoa?” Sam asked.

“Liked cane,” Chenoa said, knowing Sam wasn't understanding.  She looked at Daniel.  “Juice cane.”

“Oh, I know what you mean, Noa.  You liked the sugar cane juice we had,” Daniel translated.

The toddler jumped up and down with excitement, saying, “Juice good.”

“I do not understand what is so special about this juice, DanielJackson.”

“O'Neill,” the Mouseketeers and Jack all said at the same time.

Daniel smiled and laughed softly, almost beaming at the way everyone jumped in.

“Indeed.  Nevertheless, I do not understand the value of this juice,” the Jaffa stated.

“It's just really good, Teal'c,” Daniel explained.  “It's made to order by machine and not really that sweet.”

“I liked the Stella.”

“Jack, you'd like anything that calls itself beer,” Daniel teased.

Jack ignored his husband's comment and continued, “They know how to serve it, in bottles big enough for two.”

The older man smiled at his lover, remembering how they had shared one of the drinks.  The younger man returned the smile.

“So, we all had fun, even with the, uh, uh, the, uh ...” Daniel began.

“We all had fun even though the bad guys tried to mess it up,” Jack said in assistance of his stuttering husband.

“What you said,” Daniel responded.

It was agreed.  The trip had been a success for J-O Enterprises and for the family. Now, after nearly three months in Egypt, the Jackson-O'Neills were heading home.

====

“Dad, Sheila asked if I could come over and spend the night so we can catch up,” Jennifer said as she entered the study.

It was only their second day back from Egypt.  The first night had been spent catching up on sleep, essential shopping, and doing a bit of household cleaning to make sure the house was in shape.

“What did Daniel say?”

“Well, he said 'yes' but ... I don't know,” the teenager responded, shrugging and staring down at the carpet.

“What's wrong?”

“I think maybe he'd rather I stay home for the next six months or so,” Jennifer said with a smile.

Jack smiled, too, then offered a suggestion: “How about a compromise?  If you want to stay overnight, and Daddy said it's okay, then I have no objection.  Sheila's a nice girl with responsible parents, but if you feel funny about it, how about going over there for dinner and one of those gabfests.  Stay a few hours, and then come home.”

“Wouldn't be much of a gabfest.  I'd have to come home by ...”

“Nah, it's a special night.  Tell you what,” Jack began.  “You can make up your mind there.  You call here by eleven, tell me what you want to do.  If you want to come home, I'll come get you.”

“Even that late?” the girl asked.

“Sure, but if you want to stay, that's okay, too; you just have to call home and tell us what you've decided to do so we won't worry.”

“Dad, I really want to see Sheila, but ... Daddy ... I think I'd feel better if I were home by the time you guys went to bed.  He'd feel better.”

“Love you, Jen, for caring so much.”

“He's my father.  I love him, and he just needs to know everyone is okay for a while.  I understand that.  I was a little overprotective of David and Noa once.”

“I seem to remember that,” Jack smirked, lovingly.  “It's natural, Jen, to want to protect the people you love, especially when threatened.”

“I'll call Sheila and see what she says.”

The teenager started to walk out when she remembered something.  She turned and walked over to where the diplomas were.  In the middle was the photo of the two boys.  She smiled.

“Dad?”

“Yes, Jen.”

“This is you and Daddy,” Jennifer stated with certainty.  “I don't know how, but I'm guessing it has something to do with the Stargate, but this is you, both of you, isn't it?” she asked, turning and looking at her father.

Jack looked pensive and sighed, “Jen, there's a big universe out there with technologies and wonders that we often can't fathom or understand.”

“And one of those made that picture happen, right?”

“Jen.”

“Classified?”

“Jennifer ...”

“I'm sorry.  It's just ... I know it's you and Daddy, but you can't be more than maybe two years older than Daddy here, or three max, and, well, I know you're ... older ... not that you look older or anything, but you did tell me ... remember?”

The teenager gulped.  Somehow, she'd just stuck her foot in her mouth. Jack and Daniel had told the children their ages, so she knew Jack was several years older than his husband, not just two or three.  Yet she was confident the photo was of her new parents.  She was positive.

Jack considered snapping off a wisecrack, but then he sat back in his chair, deciding, ~Not a time for jokes.~  He thought for a moment.  ~What the heck.  She's already met a snakehead.~  “One year difference.  I was nine, Daniel was eight.  It was a few years ago, and we were on a pl...”  ~Maybe not that much info.~

“On a planet?  Like ... Chulak?” the teenager surmised, confident she was right.

“What's going on?” Daniel asked as he walked in with Aislinn in his arms and observed the thoughtful expressions on his husband and oldest daughter.  “I heard Chulak mentioned.”

“I was looking at the photo of you and Dad.”

“Which one?” Daniel asked.  He watched Jennifer point at the picture of the two young boys and expressed, “Oh.”

**I decided I couldn't lie to her, Danny.**

**Yeah, she already knows about the Stargate and the Goa'uld.**

Jack continued, “We were on a planet that valued play.”

“It was a lesson I needed to learn,” Daniel added.

“So the next thing we knew, we were kids,” Jack stated.

“Brothers actually.”

“Wow.  Can you tell me about it?” Jennifer asked hopefully.

**Maybe just the short version, Danny?** Jack communicated.

**I don't know.  Maybe.**

**We don't have to get too specific.**

**Right.  Oh, we just sat down and suddenly, we were children?  Next story,** Daniel quipped.

**Crazy, I know, but look at her, Angel.  She knows the truth.  Not telling her won't accomplish anything except to make her even more curious, and she'd probably ask even more questions.**

**You're right about that, Jack, but we have to be careful what we do tell her, and we need to make sure she realizes how important it is for her not to discuss it with anyone,** Daniel replied.

“Excuse me!”  Once Jack and Daniel turned in unison to look at their daughter, Jennifer spoke, “I don't mean to interrupt, but remember me?  You two sure do that ... that ... silent thing a lot.”

“Sorry,” Daniel responded shyly.

“No, we're not,” Jack said with a smile.

Daniel looked at him and bobbed his head back and forth a few times, saying, “He's right.  We're not.”
 
“Jen, you can't talk about anything we might tell you.  This stuff is going to sound like a bad B-movie, but it's very real, and anything, absolutely anything you hear us say, has to stay in this house.  Do you understand that?” Jack asked, his eyes piercing hers with great intensity.

Jack's glare was enough to actually make her back up a step as she stood near the wall, bumping into it slightly.  It wasn't fear, but the look was so focused, so strong that her body reacted before her mind could.

~Wow, that must be the tough general I keep hearing about, the one who scares the recruits witless.  I don't think I want to know him.  I'll stick with Dad.  He's a teddy bear.~

Glancing at Daniel, Jennifer noticed his look was equally intimidating.

~Whoa, Daddy has the same death glare.  I wonder if Dad gave him lessons.  Daddy's so gentle.  I guess whatever they've gone through, they've had to be tough, but wow, I've never seen that before.  I mean, he's been determined, so has Dad, but this is ... wow.~

“Jen?” Jack asked.

“Oh, sorry.”  The teenager nodded and said, “Yes, I understand.”

“Sit down,” Jack requested.

“You start, Jack.  I think I'd better put Ash down for a nap,” Daniel commented as Aislinn made a sleeping noise against his shoulder.

As Daniel walked out, Jack got up and walked over to the sofa, sitting down next to his daughter.

“Okay, so like I said, we went to ...”

Jennifer listened to what sounded like a magical fairytale, amazed at the secret lives her fathers had lived.  She wondered if she should be frightened by all she had learned in Egypt and what she was hearing now.  After all, she'd seen a snake-like creature living within a human being.  It still gave her the creeps, but in the end, she realized it was fascinating.  She surprised herself by not being all that afraid.  Knowing her parents would always do whatever they could to protect her and her siblings, her fear was minimal.  To the contrary, she found it all very exciting.

~Maybe someday I'll go through the Stargate, too.~

====

The Jackson-O'Neill children, all eight of the human variety as well as the two canine versions, were playing merrily in the backyard under the watchful eye of their parents who sat side by side on the patio steps, their hands joined together. It was Friday night, and, though they'd been home almost a week, this had really been their first day to just kick back and relax together as a family.

Normally, this would be the lovers' date night, but this week, their Friday night date night was happening on Saturday, since Sam had a big date herself tonight with her beau, Pete Shanahan.  Besides, the couple was enjoying this last day of scheduled leisure with their children.

“It was a great trip, wasn't it, Danny?”

“Yes, it was.”

“Abracadabra got his hotel, Yazid turned out to be an okay guy, we saved the world from another Goa'uld, and J-O Enterprises added a great notch on the resume,” Jack summarized playfully.

“*Abayomi*,” Daniel emphasized the name, “has other projects for us, and when I checked in with Megan, she said there have already been some inquiries from other companies for projects both here and abroad.”

“So we accomplished our goal for our business, and we had a wonderful vacation, too.”

“The children loved it, most of it anyway.  Jack, do you think Jen and David can handle everything we told them?”

“They're smart, and they're Jackson-O'Neills.  You better believe they can,” Jack answered, his words firm and strong.  He smiled as he pulled Daniel towards him for a warm kiss.  “Hey, I checked our messages while I was inside.  Kayla's book is doing very well.”

“That's great.”  Daniel smiled, happy and yet sad at the same time.  Softly, he added, “I'm glad, Jack.  It's her testament to life, even if we are the subjects.”

“Not exactly a best seller, but the publisher is pleased and said sales are steady, and the feedback has been promising.  He thinks it might continue to sell for quite a while,” Jack noted.

“'Journey of the Heart' -- her great American novel ... us.”  Daniel's words were again soft.  “She loved our children.”

Jack brought Daniel's hand to his mouth and kissed it.

“Danny, I was thinking.  Maybe when we take the kids to India, we can do something there in Kayla's name.  I don't know what, but something that would be a memorial to her.”

“By helping others,” Daniel said quietly.  “I like that idea, Jack.  Maybe we'll let the children decide.  They'll be old enough to think of ideas by then.”

Jack nodded his agreement as the two continued to watch their family, their hands joined, each finger caressing or rubbing gently against the skin of the other.

After several minutes, Jack spoke softly, “I love these kids.  I love them more than I thought imaginable.”

“Me, too.  I can't even imagine life without them anymore.”

“Me, either,” Jack agreed.  ~Except ... I can.  I wonder if you'd hate me if you knew.  I don't want anything to change.  I wouldn't give up any of them, and yet, I miss us, all that freedom we used to have.~  “Hey, what do you want to do on our date night?”  Seeing his Love's smirky grin, Jack responded, “That's a given, Daniel.  What else?” he asked, chuckling.

“I just want to snuggle and ... maybe dance, that's all.  You?”

“Sounds perfect, Love.”

“I'm going to go make some phone calls,” the younger man stated.

“Not business?”

Laughing, Daniel said, “No, not today.  I still haven't been able to talk with Nellie personally,” he noted, referring to Nellie Montgomery, who had been just a baby when Daniel had been a foster child in her house.

Daniel had sought the girl out a few years earlier after recalling a nightmarish incident he'd previously kept buried.  Since then, they'd written occasionally and called each other even less.  He didn't want to lose touch with her, so when he and Jack had returned home from running errands a couple days ago and found a message from her, wishing them 'welcome home' from their trip overseas, he'd called her back, getting just her voicemail.

“Phone tag?”

“Yeah, and we don't talk that much, so since she called to say 'welcome home', I really want to respond.  I wish we'd been home,” Daniel spoke.  “Will you be okay out here?” he asked.

“I'll yell if they stage an uprising,” Jack joked.

“You do that, Babe,” Daniel laughed.

The two kissed and then Daniel went upstairs to his den to make his calls.

Jack focused again on his children, his mind going back to the talk of life with their children.

~I love them, each and every one.  They're mine and Danny's, and we cherish them.  I'll protect them all for as long as I live.  Oh, Angel, that's the thing.  I realized that again in Egypt.  I stopped breathing when I thought you had.  I'm sorry, but I know the answer.  I want you to live, My Love, but if something happens to you, I'll make sure the brood are set, that Sam and Sara are prepared.  I'll do all those things on that list you made.  I love them.  Heaven knows I love them, but you are my life, Danny.  Please don't hate me.~

Jack tossed a ball back towards Chenoa that had come his way.  He smiled.

~Our kids are beautiful.  The time we have with them is so amazing and precious; but I do miss the strip poker nights and that little striptease you'd do from time to time.  We can't do that stuff anymore.  We're not as free as we used to be.  Not complaining, just being honest that I miss it.  I wonder if Danny would understand that.~

“Dad, catch!”

David threw the football, which Jack caught and threw back energetically.  The young boy caught it perfectly, and Jack cheered in support.  The smile on David's face warmed his heart.  His boy did like sports, and he was getting better at throwing and catching, too.

~I put that smile there, just now, on David's face.  It makes me prouder than I can say to know I, we, make such a difference, but ... I'm so sorry, Danny; gawd, I'm sorry, but you are my breath, my heart, my lungs, my blood ... you're all of it.  I couldn't go on without you.  I know you'd be so disappointed in me if I told you that.~~

One minute later, Jack felt Daniel's touch as his lover sat back down next to him.  Daniel took Jack's hand and then kissed him tenderly, a long and telling kiss.

“I'm not complaining, but I thought you were making calls?”

“I started to, but I got Nellie's voicemail again, so I just hung up,” the younger man explained.

“Did I miss something?”

“Yes, that I love you, that you're my life, and that I can't live without you, either, not even now.”

“Geez, Danny, you heard me?”  Jack had a surprised look on his face.  “I'll never understand this connection of ours.”

“I don't think we're supposed to,” Daniel pointed out.

“Danny, when you were in that tomb and I thought I'd lost you again, I knew.  I knew for sure.”

“Knew what?”

“Our pact.  These kids mean everything, but I can't go on without you, because without you, there is no me.  If that makes me a bad parent, than so be it, but ...”

“Our nation of two is stronger than ever,” Daniel spoke, equally hushed.

“Our vows, Angel.  You are my heart and soul.  Every breath I take, it's still for you.”

Daniel moved his hand to wipe away the tears threatening to moisten Jack's cheeks as he said, “I know.”

“I don't want you to hate me, Danny.”

“I could never do that.  I feel the same, Jack ... exactly the same way.”

The two leaned their foreheads together and closed their eyes in a silent union of their essence.  Then, they kissed again and spoke their words of love and devotion, in unison -- “Forever and always, I love you.”

“Are you guys through being mushy yet?” David asked, football in hand.

“Are you okay, Dad?” Jennifer asked, seeing the misty brown eyes.

“I'm ... terrific.  I have the greatest family ever, and the most beautiful husband in the world.  What could ever be wrong when I have so much?” Jack questioned in reply.

“I love you, Jack.”

“Love you, too,” Jack said, swallowing hard a moment later.  Then he regrouped and addressed the entire family.  “Hey, how about we go raid Baskin Robbins and have some double cones?”

“I'cream!  Love I'cream!” Chenoa said, jumping up and down.

“Cream ... yeah!” the Munchkins cheered together.

“Choc'lat,” Little Danny added.

“He's definitely your son,” Jack said, chuckling at his husband.

“Str'bury,” Aislinn requested.

“Nooooo,” Jonny said, trying to stomp his foot and falling down on his rear.  Everyone looked, but it was clear nothing was hurt but his toddler pride.  “'Nilla!” he insisted.

“I vote we get a scoop of each flavor,” David stated democratically.

“One of each?” Daniel asked skeptically.

“I'cream!” Chenoa cheered again, running to Jonny to help him up.  “I'cream, J'ny!”

“Nilla!” the oldest of the triplets said again.

“Str'bury,” Aislinn said, tapping her brother on the arm.

“Choc'lat,” Little Danny said with a smile.

Jonny had stood up again and was looking at Aislinn, trying to stare her down.

Instead, Aislinn smiled and repeated her desire:  “Str'bury.”

Jonny plopped down to the ground again and at the same time said in a resigned tone with a sarcastic edge, “Str'bury.”

“Gawd, Jack,” Daniel snorted, burying his face in Jack's arm.

“That's just too cute, Danny,” Jack chuckled as he leaned his face against Daniel's hair.  “She's gonna rule the roost.”

“Choc'lat!” Little Danny said, holding firm.

Daniel was barely able to say, “Except where chocolate is concerned.”

Jennifer picked up the chocolate king and said, “Chocolate?  Are you sure?  They have thirty-one different flavors.  You might want to try ...”

“Choc'lat!” the toddler said again.

“I think he's pretty firm on chocolate,” the teenager said to her parents.

“Ice cream, Love?” Jack asked his soulmate.

“Ice cream all around,” Daniel agreed.

With life back to normal, the Jackson-O'Neills headed for the ice cream parlor to enjoy some more quality time together.  Every moment was treasured, and never taken for granted.  Whatever would come in the future, would come, but one thing would never change -- Jack and Daniel, forever in love, always 'one' in their nation of two.

====

Two weeks later, proof of their 'normal' life played out in front of Daniel's horrified eyes.  Well, not really horrified, maybe just dreaded.  No, maybe it was just fate.

“Okay, Jonny, now you pay close attention.  You, too, Ash.  Just because you're a girl doesn't mean you can't excel here.”

Jack took the middle Munchkin to stand a few feet away and said, “Okay, Son.  There's the goal; let's get this puppy right through the middle.”

“Mitle,” Little Danny tried to say.

“Yeah ... the mittle,” Jack teased.  He took the small stick and helped the toddler to hold it.  As he moved the stick in Little Danny's hands, he said, “Here we go ... right through the middle.”

Jack helped Little Danny to swing the hockey stick, making contact with the foam ball that was serving as the makeshift hockey puck.  He watched as the ball went right through the middle of the two small pillows that he was using for the net.  Though he had a street hockey set, he felt the plastic was too hard and dangerous for the triplets to be using at the moment, so was using alternative materials.

“YES!” Jack shouted, raising Little Danny's hands up into the air, still grasping the hockey stick.  “He shoots, and he scores!  My hockey star!”

Daniel stood at the patio door inside the house, holding Ricky in his arms.  He shook his head, a smile on his face.

“Something wrong, Daddy?” Jennifer asked as she entered the living room.

“Your father is attempting to teach the Munchkins how to play hockey,” Daniel answered, shaking his head.

“Aren't they a little young?”

“Apparently not,” Daniel answered laughingly as he watched Jack put Little Danny back into the playpen.  “Oh, gawd,” he laughed again as Jack picked up Aislinn.  “He's even teaching Ash.”

“Hey, what's wrong with that?  Girls play hockey.  Look at Angela James.”

“Angela James?” Daniel turned to face his teenage daughter.  He walked a few steps in her direction.  “Who is Angela James?”

Jennifer answered, “She's a famous women's hockey player from Canada.  She was their leading scorer at the World Championship's in 1990, an All-Star player in 1992, and continued to be a top-scoring threat at the World Championships in 1994 and 1997.  After she retired in 2001, she was actually placed on the ballot for the Hockey Hall of Fame.”

“Nice report,” Daniel commented as he stared at his daughter while bouncing the infant in his arms.  “Jack's gotten to you, hasn't he?  What did you get for memorizing that ... profile?”

Jennifer looked over at the fish, evading her father's stare.

“Jennifer?” Daniel prompted.

“Um, well, for indulging Dad's hockey fetish, I got that new hot pink skirt and that blue halter-top.  Of course, he hasn't let me actually wear them yet, but,” she picked up steam, her voice becoming more energetic, “it's in my closet, and I think if I can actually make a couple of goals next weekend, then ...”

“You can stop there,” Daniel said in disbelief, returning to his place at the patio door to see what was happening outside at the moment.

Jack was grinning with pride, saying, “That's my hockey star.  You can be like Chandra Gunn.  She's a good one to model your hockey career after.”

Daniel twisted his body towards his oldest daughter and asked, “Who is Chandra Gunn?”

“I don't know.”  Jennifer grinned as she got a scathingly good idea.  She added, “But maybe if I find out, I can get some shoes to match my skirt.”

Daniel let out a little snort as he shook his head, but before he said anything else, Ricky began to act up a little.

“Hungry, Ricky?  Oops, no, a change I think.”

“I'll do it, Daddy,” Jennifer offered, reaching out for the baby.

“Thanks, Sweetie,” Daniel replied, handing his son over to his daughter, who took Ricky upstairs.

Daniel walked outside and approached his husband who was encouraging the youngest triplet.

“Way to go, Ash.  Great goal!”  Hearing Daniel laugh, Jack looked over at his husband.  “What's so funny?”

**You're doing most of the work here, Love.**

Choosing to answer verbally, Jack proclaimed enthusiastically, “She's a champion.  All our kids are champions, aren't ya, Munchkins?”

Jack led the triplets in a cheer that made Daniel laugh again.

“Jack, who's Chandra ...”

“Chandra Gunn.  She's been one of the top women's hockey players in the USA.  She's had some injuries, but that's what makes her so special, Danny.  She keeps on trying, and she's had success.  She's a great player, but in addition to that, she's a humanitarian.  She teaches youth groups, has done a lot of fund-raising for people in need -- stuff like that.”

“A good role model,” Daniel said softly.  “But don't you think they're a little young for ...”

“You're never too young for hockey,” Jack stated firmly.

“Hokey,” Little Danny laughed.

“That's hockey, Son ... Hoc - key ... H - O - C - K - E - Y.”

“Jack, they're only twenty-three months old.”

“That old?  We're behind schedule.”  The older man smiled, a devilish expression on his face.  “Okay, Ash, let's show Daddy your stuff again.”

“Stuff ... shoots ... scoooooooooooores!” the toddler exclaimed.

Watching Jack continue to hockey-train their Munchkins, Daniel felt happy.  Hockey was never his thing, but his spouse loved it, and he also knew Jack wouldn't force hockey, or any sport, on their children; but, at the same time, as his Love had told him previously, it doesn't hurt to let them know what they'd be missing, even if the toddlers were still learning their physical skills and co-ordination.

~They aren't missing a thing, Babe.  They have the best father in the whole universe.  Gawd, I love you.~

Jack looked up and smiled as he asked, “Did I miss something, Angel?”

“No, go on.  I'm just going to watch you teach our Munchkins all about hockey.”

Daniel moved over to the patio steps and sat down, drinking in the sight in front of him.  He smiled, inside and out, to know he really did have everything that was important in life.

“Score!” Aislinn shouted.

“Score!” Little Danny repeated, reaching up for his Dad.  “Me!  Me!  Me!”

“Oh, gawd.  He's going to be a hockey player!”

Jack laughed, hearing Daniel's words, and said, “I knew he had it in him.”

The silver-haired father of eight picked up Little Danny for another shot at making a goal.

Daniel looked at Jonny and Aislinn and shook his head.  Their eyes were glued to Jack's actions.  He stood up and started to go inside.

“Hey, where are you going?” Jack called out.

“To check on the price of hockey lessons, uniforms, and ... whatever else we're going to need.  You've corrupted our children!”

Both men laughed, and then Jack returned to the Munchkins, and Daniel went inside to check on the twins.

====

Mid-August had rolled around, and the family had settled back into their full routines.

“Boo?”

“No, Ash,” Jennifer said.  “Not Boo.  Her name is Bobette, but we call her Bobo because that's what Mommy called her.”

“Mommy,” Ash repeated, and then pointed to a photo on the wall in the nursery.

It was the photo of Jennifer and Kayla that had been taken at Janet's home shortly before Kayla's death.

The rest of the children were downstairs with their parents, but Jennifer had taken Aislinn upstairs to change her clothes after a messy play session outside.  After having changed the little girl's clothing, she took her into the den, picked up a book, and returned to the nursery.  She had placed Aislinn on the bed and picked up the stuffed monkey that had been sitting in the rocker.

Having scooted across to sit next to Aislinn on the bed, Jennifer had placed the stuffed animal in front of her sister and then opened the book.

“Right.  Mommy's name was Kayla, and she gave birth to you,” Jennifer stated.

“Mommy,” Aislinn repeated more firmly.

“Exactly.  She was a very nice lady, and she loved you very much.  Bobette was hers when she was a little girl, and now Bobette belongs to you and Little Danny and Jonny and Jenny and Ricky.  And this,” Jennifer showed her sister the book, “is the book that Mommy wrote about Dad and Daddy.”

“Dad!  Daddy!” Aislinn repeated, a giant smile on her face.

“Yeah, they're pretty cool, aren't they?”

“Cooooool,” Aislinn giggled, clapping her hands in front of her.

“Okay, well, I know you won't understand it now, Ash, but I want to read this to you because it's important, and maybe some day, it'll make sense.  See, we have very special parents, and, well, they don't give themselves the credit they should, so ... I'm going to make sure that all you Munchkins and the twins understand what Mommy wanted the world to understand.  Geez, you have no idea what I'm saying, do you?”

Aislinn giggled and squeezed the stuffed monkey in a hug.  It was really the first time she'd held the monkey.

“That's okay, Ash, but you will know.  I made a little promise to Mommy at her funeral, and I know how important promises are to Dad and Daddy so ...”

Quietly, unbeknownst to her parents, Jennifer read passages from Kayla's novel to Aislinn.  They were passages she recognized as being the story of Jack and Daniel's love, and the courage it had taken to nurture that love over the years.  The teenager knew Aislinn wasn't able to understand the words yet, but she also knew that if nothing else, Aislinn would feel the love she was talking about.

~And I'm going to keep reading this to you, and to our brothers and sisters, as you grow up so that one day, you will understand; it's important.~

Jennifer had a private resolve.  She was thankful for the new lives Jack and Daniel had given to her, David, and Chenoa.  Her natural parents had been the best, but when they had died in a car accident, she was afraid for her future and that of her siblings.  Now, though, she felt extremely blessed that they were members of this unique family, and having read Kayla's novel more than once over the few months, and having become aware first-hand in Egypt of the very real perils her parents had faced in their careers, she was determined to make sure that the youngest Jackson-O'Neills knew just how lucky they were, too.

Jennifer read on:

“The two men gazed into each other's eyes, brown and blue united in a private universe.  Were they both feeling what they thought they were?  Their hearts pounded and swelled within them.  Both had feared the other was dead, but now they were within inches of the other, and they could hear their beating hearts.  The intensity was too great to be squashed or ignored.  Their secret passion couldn't be withheld, even though servicemen surrounded them.  In an instant, the strong Air Force colonel took the caring archaeologist in his arms.  'Space Monkey, yeah!' he exclaimed.”

Aislinn giggled, and Jennifer smiled as she explained, “Space Monkey is Daddy.”

“Daddy mo'ky.”

Jennifer laughed, gave Aislinn a kiss on her forehead, and then continued to read from Kayla's novel.

--

Downstairs, Daniel looked over at Jack who had a funny look on his face after putting Ricky down in his crib.

“Something wrong, Babe?” Daniel asked, approaching his husband.

Jack took Daniel into his arms, kissed him, and hugged him closely.

“Hey, not complaining, but ...” the younger man asked.

“Are your ears burning, Danny?”

“Huh?  Uh, no.”

“Mine are.  I have this urge to do this again,” Jack said and then kissed his husband again.  “I love you, Space Monkey.”

~Space Monkey?  What brought that on?~  “Jack, not in front of the children.”

“Hey, we kiss in front of the brood.”

“Not that ... you know,” Daniel said, feeling embarrassed as he always did about the silly but endearing nickname.

“You're my Space Monkey, Danny, and you always will be.  I love you,” Jack declared with bright, shining eyes.

“I love you, too.”

With Jack's ears still burning for reasons he didn't understand, Jack and Daniel continued their courageous journey of their hearts, loving openly, and living life to the fullest with their eight children and two wonderful beagles in Colorado Springs, where each day was an adventure and each moment a treasure to be cherished.

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