Fire Drill

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - May 28 - August 30, 2014
Spoilers:  None
Size:  102kb
Written:  March 19-21,27-31, April 1,10,12,24-25, 2018
Summary:  Jack and Daniel conduct a fire drill at home, but the drill takes an unexpected direction before it even gets started.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~

Fire Drill
by Orrymain

Jack and Daniel were watching the clock, waiting until they felt it was the right time.  It was late evening on the twenty-eighth of May.  The weather was pleasant out and their neighbor, Mrs. Sophia Valissi, was away in Italy visiting her son, something she was fortunate to do quite frequently.  Her absence assured she wouldn't be disturbed in any way by what was about to happen.

The entire brood was asleep.  The younger children went to bed hours ago and the older ones, weary from a full day of activities, ambled up to their rooms earlier than normal and were confirmed to have been asleep for at least two hours, if not more.

This is what the parents wanted, their children sound asleep.  The danger tonight would be imagined, but they never knew when it might be real.  Ever since the house went through an extensive renovation in 2009, Jack and Daniel periodically held fire drills.  They tried to mix it up in terms of conditions so they could test the brood's reactions in different scenarios and at various times of the day and night.  Tonight would be only the third nighttime drill in which the kids would be awakened.

“Now, Babe.”

Jack pushed the button on the intercom that sounded throughout the entire house and announced, “This is a drill.  *Fire drill*.  This is a drill.  Get out of those beds and move it!  The house could be on fire.  Lives could in danger.  *Go!  Go!  Go!*  This is a drill.  Get your butts out of those beds now!  Fire drill!”  Looking at his husband and seeing a surprised stare, he asked, “What?”

“Are you sure they got the message?”

“Kids.  Sleep.  I want them awake and up for action, but I don't want them waking up and not realizing it's just a drill.”

Upstairs, Jack's camera recorded the children as they entered the hallway that led to the emergency exit.  Later, he and Daniel planned to review the footage and see if there were concerns or issues they needed to address to better their emergency plan.

In their rooms, the children rose, some faster than others.  Bijou and Katie helped to nudge the kids they were sleeping with into action.  Calico scrammed away from her corner of the nursery to a place unknown to the humans.  Ptolemy squawked and flapped her wings from her perch where she'd been resting.

In the boys' room, Little Danny awoke with Mittens on his chest.  In a flash, his whole body shook.  He hopped up, Mittens in his arms, and ran out into the hall, but he stopped short of getting to the exit door where Brianna was about to key in the security code to open the door where the kids' escape was to be made.

“Wait!  Don't open the door!” Little Danny called out.  Then he returned to his room and ran to the intercom.  Not knowing where his parents were, he also hit the button that would carry his voice to every part of the house.  “Dad, Daddy, don't do the drill.  We need a family meeting.  Urgent!  Rec room, please.”

Jack and Daniel were stunned to hear their seven-and-a-half-year-old son call a halt to the fire drill and insist on a family meeting.

“Daniel?”

With a sigh, Daniel leaned over the intercom and announced, “Brood, rec room.  Apparently, we're having a meeting.”

“Wow!”

The parents turned to see Jennifer standing behind them.  Jeff was just entering the living room where they were as well.

“Any ideas?” Jack asked his oldest children.

“Nope,” Jennifer replied, yawning mid-word.

Quietly, the four entered the rec room and were quickly joined by the rest of the family.  Everyone sat on either the sofa sectionals, ottomans, or on the floor cushions.

“Okay, son.  Go!” Jack ordered the child prodigy.

“We can't have a fire drill,” Little Danny stated.

“And why not?” Jack questioned.

“Because the whole family isn't taken care of in our plan.”

“They're not?”

Little Danny stood and walked over to his silver-haired father.  He handed him Mittens and just stared.

**Oh, crap!** Jack whined to his husband via their unique communication ability which neither understood nor questioned.

**I know where this is headed,** Daniel responded.  “Jack, we have to take care of the zoo, too.”

Jack sighed, “Little Danny, when there's an emergency, we have to get out of the house fast.  We have exit points and you have to move.  You can't wait.”

“I'm not waiting.  I'm getting the zoo.”

**Daniel, a little help,** Jack beckoned.

“Little Danny,” Daniel began, “if we can, we'll always take the zoo out with us.”

“We need a plan.  You taught us how to get out, but we forgot the zoo.”  The Munchkin paused.  “What about Ptolemy?  Her home is downstairs, in her cage, locked up, and by herself.”

Neither Jack nor Daniel knew how to respond, especially when the hyacinth macaw squawked at that precise moment, after which Mittens let out a big hiss.

“We can't leave Mittens behind,” Little Danny declared.

“Oh, Calico!” Lulu, who would turn ten on her next birthday, exclaimed.  She jumped up and called out loudly, “Calico?  Here, Calico!  Callie, where are you?”

Happily, Lulu's cat sauntered into the room and was swiftly scooped up by the girl.

“Son, if you're upstairs when a fire starts, you have to use the emergency exit.  You can't risk going downstairs,” Jack instructed.

The middle Munchkin challenged, “If you were upstairs and I was downstairs, wouldn't you come get me?”

**You're going to lose this battle, Jack.**
 
“Of course I would.”

“And if Bijou or Katie were downstairs, wouldn't you go get them?”

**Daniel!**

**Stop it, Jack.  I don't know what to say, either.**

“Little Danny ...” Jack began.

Jack didn't get any further words out because his son threw his arms around him and said, “I love you, Dad.  I know you'll fix it.”  Little Danny stood straight again. “Fix it, okay?”  He gave Daniel a hug, too, and when he pulled back, the boy pleaded, “Please fix it, Daddy.  We can't leave the zoo behind.  Fix it and then we'll have our fire drill and we'll all be safe.”

“I love you, too, Sproglet.  It'll be okay.”

As Little Danny walked out, the entire brood followed him, except for Jennifer, who paused long enough to say, “No pressure.”

“Yeah, no pressure.  Go back to bed, Princess,” Jack responded, watching as Jennifer walked away.  “Danny, we've done these drills for five years.  Why now?”

“He's older; this drill was at night and it's scarier at night; and remember, I did my rounds after you and as I was leaving, Mittens walked in and jumped on his bed.  My guess is that when he woke up, Mittens was right there and something clicked.  I mean, he believes Bijou and Katie will follow him anywhere, but Mittens?  She's a question mark.  He just didn't think about it before.  None of us did, Jack.”

“That probably explains it, but how are we going to fix this one?  Daniel, the cats could be anywhere when a fire breaks out, and the zoo is scattered around the house.  We can't let Polly fly around all night.  What are we supposed to do?”

“I don't know, but what I do know is that I don't think I'm going to get any sleep tonight.”  Standing, Daniel announced, “I'm putting on coffee.  Do you want some?”

“Yeah, thanks.  I'll be there in a minute.  Maybe we can figure something out.”

“That's what our children are expecting,” Daniel replied as he walked away.  He only ventured forward a few feet when he turned and reminded, “Jack, I told our son it would be okay.”

“It will.”

The soulmates' eyes never veered away and yet, their hearts were full of uncertainty.  Was Daniel's promise a lie and right now were they only trying to make each other feel better with empty words?

Daniel nodded and headed for the kitchen.

Jack stared at Mittens and held her close as he spoke, “Listen, you know that if anything happened, I'd do my best to get to you and the rest of the zoo, but you have to understand, I have to protect my kids first.  That doesn't mean you aren't important.”

“Meow.”

“Thanks, I think.”

Jack put Mittens down and watched her trot away, only she stopped and looked back at him, adding another, “Meow.”

“I'll try my best, but you have to do your part, too.”

Mittens stared for another few seconds before disappearing from Jack's sight.  The general had no idea where the cat went to and that was the problem.  The cats lived all over the house and they didn't respond like the beagles did.

~Boy did this night tank.~

====

The lovers were seated at the table in the kitchen nook, mugs full of coffee in front of them.

“Okay, so, we need an escape plan for the zoo,” Daniel put forth.

“And how are we supposed to do that?”

“I have no idea.”

“Danny, I love the zoo.  I don't want to sacrifice them anymore than you do, or Little Danny, but our kids come first.  Are you arguing with me about that?”

“No; no, of course not, but maybe there's a way.”

“I'm all ears.”

“I don't know, Jack.  I've never even thought about it.  I mean, uh, Bij and Katie respond to verbal commands and they just ... they, I mean ...”

“Yeah, they act more like humans than most humans,” Jack agreed.  “I'd go back for them.  I'd go back for all of them, but we aren't talking about me, or you.  We're talking about our kids.”

“Okay, wait.  We're letting this overwhelm us.  We need to stop for a second, back away from the emotional aspect, and find a, a starting point.”

“Tell me what that is.”

“I don't know, but ...”

“Yeah?”

“Maybe that's what the Internet is for.”

Jack nodded and then both men stood.  Carrying their mugs with them, they went to the study.

“You do it,” Jack suggested, motioning for his soulmate to take his seat at the desk and operate the computer.  “What are you going to search for?”

“Um, maybe, pet safety or something like that.”

 Jack pulled around a chair that normally was positioned in front of his desk and placed it to the left of where Daniel was sitting.  This promised to be a long night and he at least wanted to be comfortable, if that was even possible.

====

“When's the last time we did an all-nighter like this when one of the kids wasn't sick?” Jack asked as dawn approached.

“SGC, I think.”  Daniel leaned back, his eyes still focused on the final computer screen that was full of reference information.  He and Jack spent the last several hours investigating and searching for answers.  Luckiily, they found some and now had a list of goals for the next day or two to assist with the developing of a revised emergency escape plan for the family, which now included the zoo.  “Okay, so, I'll call Pam this morning.”

“I'll drop by our local fire department and I'll hit up the neighbors.”

“Jack, we need to make a decision on the Knox Box.”

Standing up and stretching, Jack walked over to the photograph of him and Daniel as little boys from when they'd been turned into youngsters while on a mission.  He could still remember the fun they had.  Neither had a care in the world during that time.

“Kids are innocent, but we have to protect them,” Jack commented while still taking in the memories of the photograph.

“We have enemies.  We *still* have enemies out there.”

Turning to face his husband, Jack responded, “Danny, if our only history was J-O Enterprises, I'd put one of those boxes up without question, but our enemies could open that box thing in a second and gain access to our kids.  We might not even know until it was too late.”

“I know,” Daniel sighed as he continued to contemplate the issue.

“And we have to consider that a key to that box would be with the fire department.”

“More access and easily acquired by our enemies.”  Daniel looked at the computer screen for a few seconds, reading the words about how to care for animals after a rescue.  His mind continued to debate all aspects of the situation.  “But we are talking about the lives of our children as well the zoo, Jack.  If we weren't here and something happened, they could be trapped inside and, uh ...”

“What?”

“They wouldn't leave one another.  We both know that.”

Jack didn't want to think about a truth where the children endangered themselves, but he knew Daniel was right.  It was more than his mantra about never leaving anyone behind.  It was the kinship among the brood.  Unless absolutely forced, the children would stay together.

“Sorry, Babe.  We need to stay focused on what we're trying to do with the new plan,” Daniel asserted.  After a moment, he added, “What about Sam?”

“Carter?” Jack asked, almost excited as he thought of the possibilities.

“Maybe she could ...”

Turning around, Jack suggested, “... use her doohickeys to come up with something.”  He took a sip of his coffee and proposed, “Danny, maybe she could rig something like she did for the gun cabinet.”

“A Knox Box that doesn't look like a Knox Box?”

“And rigged to our security system.”

“Then we could include the key and the list of our zoo and where they usually hang out.  That's the main thing, right, helping the first responders to find the zoo and know how many we have.”

“Yep.”

“I'll talk to Sam,” Daniel stated.

“We have an idea of a plan now,” Jack put forward.  “Let's see how it pans out.”

“Okay.”

“The sun's coming up.  How about we start on breakfast?”

“And put on a pound or two?” Daniel asked with a grin.

“After a mental workout like this, I need me some man food.”

Chuckling, Daniel stood and walked over to his husband.  He put his arms around Jack's neck and engaged in a three-minute kissing session.

“I wish we had time to take this a step further.”

“Just a step?” the blue-eyed man queried with his eyebrows arched.

“A staircase of steps, but the kids are going to get up soon.”

“Breakfast,” Daniel vocalized in resignation.

“With all the fixings.”

“For my big man.”

The lovers stared longingly into each other's eyes before separating and heading to the kitchen.  For now, their lust would have to be for food and their bodies would have to wait for a more appropriate time to hook up.

====

Breakfast was a big hit with the kids because they were able to have most anything they wanted.  With his husband's assistance, Jack prepared a man breakfast that included ham, bacon, sausage, eggs sunny side up, hashed browns, cinnamon muffins, Belgian waffles, and French toast souffle.  He also made a fruit mix that contained strawberries, apples, pears, bananas, and blueberries.  Yogurt was available, if desired.  Beverages included milk, juice, and, for the adults, coffee.

Midway through the meal, Daniel noticed that his namesake was only picking at his food.  He stood and walked over to the boy's chair.  He kneeled down so that he was actually looking up at his son.  With his right hand he took Little Danny's hand in his.

“Son, listen.  Dad and I are going to do everything we can to ... fix the situation.  We think we have a plan, but it needs some work and we have to talk to some people.  All I can promise you at this moment is that we're trying.  We need you to go on with your day, eat a good breakfast, and have fun with your brothers and sisters, and the zoo.  We won't forget.  I promise you that.  We just need a few days.  Okay?”

Little Danny thought about it for several seconds and then he smiled, nodded, and replied, “Okay, Daddy.”

“Thank you.  Eat!”

The boy nodded again and finally enjoyed some of his dad's special man breakfast.

====

Later that morning, Jack tapped on the main door of the fire station responsible for protecting his residential area.  He was greeted with smiles from the men and women staffing the station.

“I bet you'd like to see the engines,” one firefighter said to Jonny, Little Danny, and Ricky.

All three boys sported excited smiles as they followed the firefighter into the bay.

“If you have a few minutes, I'd like to discuss an escape plan,” Jack told the captain of the station.

“That's what we're here for.”

“Good.  How are you with emergency pet roundups?”

The captain smiled and requested, “Follow me to my office.”

“My kids?”

“We take good care of our children visitors, Mister ...”

“Jackson-O'Neill.  Just call me Jack.”

“It's good to meet you, Jack.”

====

Back at the house, Daniel made sure the kids were all engaged in activities before he entered the den and closed his door.  He did not want to be overheard, so he also requested that Jennifer and Jeff watch over the girls and JD, especially since David left to go to movies with his friend, Calvin Miller.  Calvin's big brother, Max, was taking the two with him and afterward, they were going to grab a burger somewhere.

“Pam, it's Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.”

“Good morning, Daniel.  How are you today?” the veterinarian inquired.

“Good, thanks.  You?”

“What is it Jack says?  I'm *egg*cellent.”

Daniel laughed in acknowledgement of his lover's use of the phrase and then asked, “Pam, I'm sure you have clients, but do you have a few minutes?”

“For you, Daniel, I always have time.  The Jackson-O'Neills are my best customers,” Pam laughed.  “Which animal is in need today?”

“All of them.”

“I'm listening.”

====

“Danny?” Jack called out when he and the boys returned home.

“He's in the garage,” Jennifer responded.

“Thanks, Jen.”  Jack entered the garage and saw his lover was staring up at the rafters.  “Looking for something?”

“Don't we have some extra leashes and collars around here somewhere?”

Jack thought and answered, “We may have a couple, but they could be anywhere.”  Now that he was near his husband, he leaned in for a kiss and greeted, “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” Daniel vowed with shining eyes.  “How'd it go?”

“Good.  I took pictures of the boys on the truck.”

“They had a good time?”

“You're really asking about Little Danny, and the answer is yes.  He turned on the sirens and pretended to drive the truck.  He loved it.”

“Okay, that's good.”

“The captain gave me some tips and we discussed our concerns about the Knox Box, too.  How about you?”

“Pam offered some good suggestions.  Uh, I wasn't able to talk to Sam.  She was in a staff meeting at the SGC.  I'll try to catch her later.”

“She's having a hard time handing over command,” Jack mused about his 2IC who was expecting twins by summer's end.

“She's ... hormonal,” a teasing Daniel replied.  “Mood swings.  It's normal.”

“Not for Carter and letting go of her baby, her SGC baby,” Jack spoke about the science department overseen by the woman, “isn't going to be pleasant.”

“It will be.”

“Ya think?”

“She's having a baby, two of them actually.”

Jack chuckled, “I still wish I could have seen her face when the doc told her she was carrying a twosome.”

“Pete said she went into shock; just sat there, staring at the monitor, mouth open but totally speechless.”  The men shared a tender smile as they remembered the surprises of the multiple births they'd witnessed when the triplets and twins were born.  They didn't have a clue either time that more than one baby was coming.  “She'll be a good mom, Jack.”

“Yeah.  Hey, how about lunch?”

“You're hungry after all the food you ate at breakfast?”

“It's noon.”

“You and food, Jack.  I'm not sure what it is, but sometimes it scares me.”

The general shrugged nonchalantly and led the way out of the garage.

====

After lunch, Jack continued to develop the plan.  He started with the Millers who lived next door to Mrs. Valissi.  It was Mitzi's day off and John was on vacation for the week and enjoying puttering around the house before the family went on a weekend retreat to Idaho where they had family.

“Would you like some coffee?” Mitzi asked when Jack entered the home.

“No, thanks, Mitz.  Is John around?”

“He's outside, pretending to whack the weeds.”

Jack laughed and explained, “If you have a few minutes, I'd like to have a chat about something.  Actually, I want to ask a favor.”

“No problem.  I'll get John.  Have a seat and make yourself at home,” Mitzi invited as she headed for the door.

“Mitz, are you kids home?”

“That serious?”

“Potentially sensitive.”

“You're in luck then,” Mitzi responded lightly.  “They're all out.”

When the Millers returned to their living room, they were curious about the favor their neighbor wanted.

“What do you need, Jack?” John Miller questioned.

“Hopefully, nothing, ever, but just maybe, the family might need your help.”

Jack explained the situation, made his request, and was pleased to get an affirmative response.

“Mitzi and I should probably do some planning of our own,” John opined at the end of the conversation.

“You never think it will happen to you,” Mitzi pointed out.  “That's human nature, I guess.”

“If you ever need us, we'll do everything we can,” Jack added.

“Jack, you were a good neighbor from the day you moved in,” Mitzi stated, smiling.  “You were quiet and kept to yourself a lot, but we always sensed we could rely on you.”

“And Daniel and your brood couldn't be better neighbors and friends,” John put forward.

“Thank you and we feel the same way.”

Jack and the Millers chatted for a few minutes about life in general before Jack left the home.  Afterward, he made a few more visits at other neighboring residences before concluding his mission.

====

Meanwhile, with Jennifer and Brianna watching most of the brood, Daniel took Jeff, David, Aislinn, Jenny, and the beagles with him to the local pet store.  They needed both dog and cat food, but more than that, he wanted to check out a few products, which he managed to do covertly while the children were distracted watching a dog training session held in the middle of the store.

====

That evening, Daniel called Sam, who began to vent about things at Stargate Command.  Soon, though, the archaeologist altered the course of the conversation.

“Uh, Sam, could I come over for a few minutes?”

“Sure,” the woman responded, though a bit confused.  Normally, she was summoned to the Jackson-O'Neill home when something was up and from her friend's tone, she had a feeling that there was definitely something going on.  “The kids are still up.  Do you want me to have Pete keep them occupied?”

“Yeah, could you?  The brood is one of the reasons I'd rather come to you.  I'll explain when I get there.”

“Okay.  Give me a few minutes to maneuver Kevin and Susie upstairs.”

“Thanks, Sam.”

After ending the call, the archaeologist went downstairs to the rec room.  Ptolemy was flying around and immediately landed on his shoulder.

“Hello, Ptolemy,” Daniel greeted.

“Hello, Dan'l,” the intelligent bird replied.

“Who's winning?” Daniel called out to some of the children who were playing cards at the game table.

“Me!” David piped up happily.

“But I'm closing in,” a happy Lulu added.

“Only for another hand,” a confident Jeff chimed.  “You're all toast.”

Sitting on the floor cushions, Jonny, Little Danny, and Aislinn were quietly chatting.

Jack saw his husband about to say something to the Munchkins and interrupted, “I wouldn't do that.”

“Uh ... why?”

“Munchkin business, they said.”

“Oh.”  Daniel blinked his eyes a couple of times as he contemplated what the trio could be discussing, but then he took a deep breath and opted to let it go.  The triplets and the twins both often huddled together to discuss whatever was on their minds and much of the time, the parents never knew what they were actually discussing.  They considered it a byproduct of being born in multiples.  “Uh, Jack, Sam wants to talk to me about something, so I'm going over to her house for a little bit, unless you need me here for something.”

Jack knew his lover just told a little white lie, but it was necessary.  Neither man wanted to get the children thinking about the emergency plans with the animals until the plan was solidly put together.

“Nah.  You go!  Prattle with Carter!”

“We don't prattle.”

“Oh, but you do, My Love.”

“Jack, we discuss.”

“Prattle.”

“Do not.”

“Do; you definitely do.”

“Not.”

“Do!”

“Not!”

“Do!”

Daniel's mouth formed another rebuttal, but instead he smiled and advised, “I'll be back.”

“Counting on it.”

Staring down for a brief moment with the smile still on his face, Daniel leaned over to kiss his soulmate and declared, “I love you, Jack,” before doing so.

“I love you, too, Angel.”

The couple kissed again, after which Aislinn sang out, “Dad and Daddy kissing and kissing again.”

“I'll be back,” Daniel repeated before he left the house via the patio door.  From there, he crossed his backyard to the gate that connected his house from the Shanahan home.  ~Gawd, how I do love that man,~ he sighed, still thinking about the silly exchange from a minute earlier.

“Hi, Daniel,” Sam greeted as she opened her patio door that led to her backyard.

Daniel closed the security gate and turned his focus to the need of the moment, doling out his own greeting before going inside to speak with Sam.

====

“Is there anything you can do?” Daniel asked his dear friend after explaining the situation about the pets and the concern over the Knox Box concept.  He saw the upturn on Sam's mouth and the rosiness that developed on her cheeks.  “Sam?”

“Yeah,” the scientist replied with a bob of her head.  “How do you feel about getting a new front door?”

“Whatever you have to do.”

“Daniel, I'll need access.”

“Sam, if you put together a plan, you can have all the access you need.  Jack and I are going to have a meeting with the brood to tell them our plan, once we have it firmed up.  This isn't going to an instantaneous solution.  It's going to take time.”

“Meaning they'll know why I'm there.”

“Yes.  We're only keeping everything quiet right now until we know what we're doing.  Little Danny ...”

“I know,” Sam interrupted sympathetically.  “He takes things to heart and wears his emotions on his sleeve, like his daddy.”

“Yeah.  So, uh, no pressure, but when do you think you can get started?”

“Pete and I have plans for tomorrow, but how about Saturday?”

“That would be great.  Um, if you need any help ...”

“Siler?” Sam questioned, aware the sergeant helped out Jack and Daniel with their home a few times in the past.

“He'd work.”  With an appreciative reverence, Daniel spoke, “Thanks, Sam.”

“No problem.”

“And, listen, if, uh, if it's too much or ...”

Seeing her friend staring at her belly, Sam interrupted, “Daniel, I can still function even though I'm pregnant.”

“I know.  I just ...”  Daniel sensed if he pushed his genuine concern that the blonde's mood might take a turn for the worst.  “Never mind.  We trust you; we've always trusted you.”

“Good.  How about a cookie?  I made a fresh batch before dinner.”

Inside, Daniel tried not to laugh, but he couldn't help it.  Sam, who once faced Jack and discussed the placement of her reproductive parts, just went from career woman to homemaker mom.  It tickled him, but it didn't surprise him at all.

“Uh, yes, I'd love one.”

With the business out of the way, the friends shared a couple of cookies while talking about other things.  Before leaving, Daniel also went upstairs to say hello to Pete, Kevin, and Susie.

====

Friday afternoon Jack and Daniel called a family meeting.  Normally held after dinner, this session was being conducted early because the parents were headed out for one of their date nights.  The family assembled in the rec room where the brood spread out per usual with some on the sofa sectionals, others on the ottomans, and some on the floor pillows.  Various members of the zoo were scattered around as well.

“Kids, Daddy and I wanted to bring you up to date on the emergency escape plan where the zoo is concerned.  We've made a lot of headway, but we want to make something perfectly clear,” Jack stated.

“We're doing our best, but animals are what they are.  They roam, they get scared, and they hide, and in an emergency situation, there's not a lot of time to fight against that.  We cannot promise you that if the worst happened, they'd all get out safely.  You *know* Dad and I will always protect you and do our very best to protect the zoo, too.  We love them, each and every one, as much as you do.”

“Understood?”

Jack and Daniel watched the heads bob up and down, but the silence was positively deafening.

“We have a lot to cover,” Jack told the brood.

“First, we're going to have Ptolemy, Bagel, and Cream Cheese microchipped,” Daniel announced.

“Why not Strawberry and Shortcake?” Aislinn inquired.

“Honey, the truth is most people just don't think to have guinea pigs chipped and if ... *when* they are found, they don't think to check for chips,” Jack answered.

“But someone might,” the little girl argued.

“Ash ...”

“Okay, we'll get them chipped,” Daniel conceded for more reasons than Aislinn's challenging look.  **Jack, even though what we just said was true, there's more to our decision and the truth is, I don't want to tell her that the guinea pigs probably won't be with us in a couple of years.  Do you?**

**Chipped, it is,** Jack agreed.  “In the case of fire, the smoke alarms will go off. Bij and Katie will alert and they'll be with us.  *If* you are upstairs, you have seconds to grab hold of a pet,” Jack explained.  “We're going to get some small carry cases for the smaller zoo members.  We'll keep those ready to go next to their cages.  They'll be assembled.  You'll have seconds to remove the animal from its large cage and put them in one of the smaller ones.  Snatch the animal, put it in the small cage, and go, go, go!”  He paused and ordered, “Say it with me.”

Led by their father, the brood repeated, “Snatch the animal, put it in the small cage, and go, go, go!”

“Perfect,” Jack praised.

“We're going to have ropes that can attach to the cages so they can be lowered down.  This is especially important if there isn't anyone to help the younger children down the ladder.”  Daniel paused.  He leaned forward and smiled tenderly at the Curly Tops, Munchkins, Spitfires, and JD.  “Listen, I know you might want to carry the cages yourself, but you have to focus on getting safely down to the ground.  Carrying a cage that could move if the pet is moving could cause you to fall.  Please, please, please listen to me on this.  Let one of your older siblings take charge of the cages and lower the pets to the ground while you are climbing down the ladder.”

“We'll include that in a drill or two, but not very often,” Jack said.  “We don't want to scare the zoo and they could be frightened by our drills.  As a result, most of the time, we'll just use the cages with stuffed animals in them.”

“We could each be responsible for one of the zoo,” David suggested.

“On the surface, that makes sense, David,” Daniel began.  “The problem is that we never know when a fire or dangerous situation could occur.  Not all of you may be home and if you are, you could be scattered throughout the house when an emergency happens.  You'll have to work as a team as swiftly as you can to get yourselves and the zoo out of harm's way.”

The parents told the kids about various additions to the emergency plans.  Once the animals were safe, if the family needed to evacuate their home for more than hours, caregivers were secured.  Neighbors close by agreed to take in one or two of the animals for a day or two until the animals could be transported with supplies to someone who would take care of them for an extended basis.

“For example,” Jack spoke, “the Millers can home the fish for a while, but then Grandpa will take them in.”

“The Portmans said they'd be happy to give Mittens and Calico a safe place to stay for a couple of days, but after that, Aunt Sara will be their caregivers.”

“Aunt Sara used to have a cat,” Chenoa interjected.  “Her picture is in one of her albums.”

“You're right, Noa.  I've seen the picture,” Jennifer confirmed.  “Cleo was her name.”

“And that's why Aunt Sara is a perfect choice for Mittens and Calico to stay with for a while, if needed,” Daniel concluded.

“We've made a list you can look at so you know where the zoo would be if a crisis occurs,” Jack informed the kids.  “We'll also be keeping an abundance of supplies for the entire zoo in Betsy.”

Betsy was the nickname for the family's RV that was kept at the airport with their planes and motorcycles.

“We'll keep the RV full of food, treats, and every supply we can think of that they might need in a hurry.”

“Also,” Daniel began, “Aunt Sam is going to be here in the morning to start work on an addition to our security system.  This will involve an automatic locking/unlocking mechanism and a variation on a Knox Box.”

“What's that?” Jonny asked.

Jack answered, “It's a box that goes on the front door.  A key to the box is kept with the fire department.  First responders arrive with the key and open the box.  Most people put a key to their house inside and other vital information ...”

“... which in our case will include a list of the zoo and where we believe they might be.”

“So, they'd know where Ptolemy's cage is,” Little Danny surmised.

“And that Bogey is in my room,” Jonny added.

“Yes,” Daniel confirmed.  “And that we have two cats; we'll include a diagram that actually shows them our floor plan.”  He looked at his namesake and pointed out, “Anytime you take in a stray that needs our help, we can include that and say a bird or squirrel that has been injured is in a cage by the pool, or wherever.”

“Thanks, Daddy,” the genius acknowledged with a satisfied expression.

“Ultimately, but we're not totally sure how this will work until Aunt Sam has a chance to determine the best way to make everything work, the Knox Box will be tied into our security system.  The smoke alarm would go off and if not deactivated in a short amount of time, the front door would automatically unlock and so would the Knox Box.  The first responders would come, open the box, and get the information they need.  The house is already open for them to do their jobs.”

“What if no one is home to help the zoo?” Aislinn queried.

“Sweetie, they'll have the list.”

Jack added, “Ash, the captain *promised* me that they *do* look at the information inside the boxes and they do their very best to save all life, animals included.”  He saw the kids exchanging uncertain looks and added, “Princess, the captain told me he has three cats, two birds, a hamster, and a pregnant dog at home.  He knows how we feel.”

The parents sensed their children relaxing.  They felt better knowing that first responders had zoos of their own and could comprehend how animals were part of a family.

Daniel continued, “We'll make sure our mobile phone numbers are with the information we leave so they can contact us easily.”

“Danny, let's put J-O Enterprises' number on the list, too.”

“Good idea, Babe.  We'll do that.”

“Dad, Daddy,” Jennifer interjected as she leaned forward, “what if not everyone upstairs can reach the emergency exit and the living room is on fire?”

“Jen, that's a great question and it's one we haven't dealt with in our fire drills before,” Daniel responded, “but thanks to this process, we discovered that loophole and we think we've figured out one thing to help.”

“We're going to talk to Alex about adding a couple of drop-down ladders for the short balcony outside of David's room,” Jack advised.  “If a fire begins in the long hallway by your bedrooms or you can't reach that exit ...”

“... or if something disastrous starts in our room or the downstairs is blocked as Jennifer suggested, it's possible we might need to go out to the backyard via that little balcony.”

“We don't have the code,” Jenny reminded.

The balcony, originally intended to replace the roof deck, was added during the initial remodel in 2006 when the nursery and small bedroom were built.  Not spacious, it overlooked the backyard and circled around the back of the room to the hallway.  The gated door to the balcony was armed with a keypad and kept locked at all times.  It was the only way to get to the wooden deck.

“I know, Sweetie,” Daniel acknowledged.  “As you get older, you will.  For now, things are staying the same.  Jen, Jeff, Bri, and David have the codes.”  With a pensive look, he looked down for a few seconds and then turned to his husband.  “Jack?”

Nodding, Jack replied, “Yeah, you may have a point.”

“Daddy didn't say anything,” Ricky sighed in confusion.

“Son, after a time, when you know someone so well, words aren't always necessary,” the general offered.

“Agreed?”

“Agreed.”

Daniel looked at Lulu and stated, “Li'l Bit, we were going to give you the code on your birthday.”

“That's in December.”

“We know,” the archaeologist said with a smile.  “But we're going to give it to you now, if you agree you're ready for it.”

“I am,” Lulu assured.  “Why?” she asked curiously.

“Well, Jennifer and Jeff are separated from all of you and Jeff's going away to college next fall; and David's room is closer to us.  Excluding Bri, you're the oldest of those in the new addition.  Dad and I believe it's smart to give the code to at least two of you if the rest of us are separated from you and can't reach that door to input the code.”

“You ready for it?” Jack asked directly.  “It's a big responsibility and the same rules apply.  You do not *ever* open that door unless you have permission or it's an emergency.”

“I understand, Dad.  I can do it.”

“That's my girl,” Jack complicated.  “We'll talk about the code more and give it to you later.”

“Okay.”

“Age discrim'ation,” the female Spitfire claimed.

“Deal with it, Red,” Jack teased with a smile.  “And the word is discrimination.”

“I was close.”

For the first time during the meeting, chuckles were heard and that meant the tension was lessening.  The interaction helped with the parents listening to and welcoming their kids' input and responses.

“Let's talk cats,” Jack suggested.  “Cats aren't known for responding to their names as much as dogs, but they can be trained, not only to come when called, but to respond to sounds.  We're going to start an intensive training routine with Mittens and Calico.  All of you will be involved.  You'll get tired and want to ignore the rules, but if an emergency comes, what we accomplish in the training may save their lives.  We're going to drill and drill again.  After that, we'll drill some more.  It has to become second nature for us and for them to respond when they hear their names and/or the alarm sounds.”

“When Mittens and Calico hear the smoke alarms, we want them to go to one of two areas: the emergency door or the front door.  Just like with you, if you're upstairs, go to the emergency exit.  If you're downstairs, you'll head to the front door.”

Daniel paused his remarks.  He could sense the refusal without hearing a word.  The kids wanted to go upstairs, or downstairs, to save their pets.  He couldn't fight it, so he said nothing.  Noteable to the archaeologist was the fact that Jack didn't argue with the kids, either.  Both already tried to make the point that their lives came first, but the brood wasn't having any of it.  Daniel moved on with the emergency plan.

“We've never used a leash and harness on Ptolemy because we don't take her outside, but we're going to get the best equipment for her and just like with our training for Mittens and Calico, we are *all* going to spend a lot of time getting comfortable with using the bird harness and leash.  *If* you have time in an emergency, you can quickly put on the harness and leash to help Ptolemy get to safety.  If you don't have time, you need to free her and let her fly.”

“Kids, remember, we want Polly to be safe.  Letting her fly away is better than having her stay in a house on fire.”

“We know that's hard ...” Daniel began.

“... but it's better for her,” Little Danny sighed in reluctant agreement.

“We can train Polly, too,” Jack advised.  “More drilling and more hard work, but if you mean what you say, no one will argue.  Pam has agreed to assist and I spoke with the lead pet trainer at our favorite cash and weep store,” he teased about the merchant they most often patronized for pet supplies, “and he has also agreed to help us.  We can schedule sessions with him as necessary.”

“Jeff, we need photos of the zoo,” Daniel requested.  “Maybe a collage with their names and where they're housed.  The firefighters will probably get more from the floor plan, but if someone else comes around, the pictures might help.”

“Do they really look for pets, Dad?” Ricky asked.  He heard his father's comment to his sister earlier, but he wanted to hear it one more time.  “Are you really sure?”

**Didn't we just go over this?**

**He needs reassurance, Jack.  Go through it again.**

Not missing a beat, Jack answered, “Yes, Ricky, I'm sure.  I personally verified that when we were at the fire department.  If they know animals are in a home, they'll search for them, just like they will for people, but we can make their job easier if they have an idea of what to look for and where.”

“Is that what Aunt Sam is doing tomorrow?” Chenoa questioned.  “Making it easier?”

“That's our hope,” Daniel affirmed.  “Let's see,” he said softly while mentally reviewing the list.  “Oh, yes, we, uh, we're going to buy a pet oxygen kit, or two.”

“The fire captain mentioned that not all trucks carry the kits, which is a shame because smoke inhalation is often more deadly than fires.  Plus, with our large zoo, we may need multiple masks and the fire engine probably only carries one.”

“Dad, can we buy one for the fire department and donate it?” David asked.  “It seems like a good thing to do, since we're thinking about this.”

Jack looked at Daniel, who nodded, so he responded, “We can.”

Daniel corrected, “We will,” getting an affirmative nod from his soulmate.  

“Okay, kids, that's about it.  Daddy and I are open to any ideas you may have or if you think we've left something out, come to us.”

“Little Danny, thank you for reminding of us that we should have considered the zoo in our drills from the beginning.  We're doing everything we can to keep them safe.”

“I know, Daddy.  Thank you.”

====

Refreshed from their date night, Jack and Daniel began Saturday by gathering up the children.  They were about to head out on a shopping trip, leaving Sam to do her thing with the security system when the blonde called the parents over.

“Problems?” Jack queried.

“No, Sir, but I had an idea and wanted to know what you thought about it.”

“Okay,” Daniel responded with a quick nod.

“Technology is evolving.”

“Carter, forget the speech.  Just tell us.”

“I want to change out your locks to a touch pad system.”

“Like the palm scanners,” Daniel surmised.

“Yes, but much more intricate and I'm not talking about anything big.  What I have in mind I can do so that it won't stand out.  You won't actually even have to touch the pad.  In fact, it's not actually a pad.  It's more of a ... peep hole.”

“Not of this world stuff,” Jack deduced.

Sam simply grinned and then put forth, “We can use your prints and all the brood, or whoever you want.  I can keep the traditional key lock, too, so you have control over who has access to the touch pad.”

“But it's not an actual touch pad?” the archaeologist sought to verify.

“Nope,” a happy Sam replied.  Her juices were really going on this project and she wanted to make everything she did unobtrusive.  “You'd have a master code, of course, that would let you add, remove, or alter the programming and who has access.”

Jack and Daniel looked at each other and both shrugged in a “why not” manner, which Sam understood without any actual verbal acknowledgement.

“Also, I can tie the controls into your smartphones, and into anyone else's smartphone you approve of.”

“An app?” Daniel questioned uncertainly.

“Yes, but not one accessible to anyone but you.  I know you're afraid of hacking, but I can put in very specialized safeguards.  Guys, it would let you protect the brood and your home faster than normal methods.”

Again, the two men turned their faces to look at the other.  More shrugs occurred.

“Do it,” Jack permitted firmly.

“Jen, Jeff, Bri, and David for the palm prints,” Daniel added.  “We can add the others when we think they're ready, right?”

“Absolutely.  Two minutes tops, once the program is in place.”

“The house is yours.  Do whatever you think secures the safety of our kids,” Jack instructed.

Sam nodded and smiled while she watched the couple return to their children and exit the home.  As perhaps the most trusted person in the lovers' lives, she had carte blanche with the home and its security system and to make the new facets of the system work as quickly as possible.

====

Entering the pet store, Jack called out, “Everyone grab a cart.”  Seeing JD toddling for one, he sprinted forward and said, “Not you,” as he picked up the two-year-old and placed him safely in the top part of a cart and made sure he was secure there.

“Signs up,” Daniel instructed.

Each of the children had a sign made with the name of the pet their cart was designated for.  As the family selected items, they would be put into the proper cart, which would make storing the items in the RV easier and quicker to do.

Jack did a spot check and whispered to his lover, “Is this it?  Seems like we're missing one.”

“We are, Jack.  Your better bottom.”

Jack stared in utter blankness for a moment, before he realized Daniel was referring to Jack, the donkey recently adopted by the family.  However, Jack was living in Bennett, a town roughly sixty miles northeast of the Springs.

“Before we start, Calvin, we want to thank you for joining us and helping out with our emergency plan stock up trip,” Daniel told the Miller's son.

It wasn't that every cart was going to be full, but with JD too young to push a cart, the family needed one more shopper.  Excluding the donkey, there were thirteen pets currently comprising the zoo: Bijou, Katie, the fish as a group and led by Homer II, Bogey, Mittens, Bagel, Calico, Strawberry, Shortcake, Ptolemy, Hot, Chocolate, and Cream Cheese.

The reason a fourteenth cart was necessary was to cover Little Danny's collection of injured stray animals.  In his seven-plus years of life, he'd cared for birds, squirrels, chipmunks, frogs, and even a skunk.  His parents were often wary, but the hurt critters seemed to migrate toward the Munchkin and trusted him.  As a result, Little Danny's cart was devoted to the odd assortment of foods and equipment needed to keep whatever breed of creature might be under the boy's care at a moment of crisis.  Hence, Calvin was along to take over a cart for one of the thirteen zoo members.

“You're welcome, Sir, but my parents are hoping I'll learn something.  They're really curious about all of this.”

“Learn away, my boy,” Jack returned playfully with a slight bow of his head.  “Leaders, do you have your lists?”

“Yes, Sir,” came the affirmations from Jennifer, Jeff, and Brianna.

“Very well.  Move out with your groups.”  Jack looked over and saw his husband's amused expression and bowed head.  “What?”

“Once a general, always a general.”

“Complaints?”

“Nope, only chuckles.”

Jack grinned and then the family separated into groups and began shopping.  If they stayed together, it would take much longer than necessary to complete their task.  Not only that, but having so many carts together would create a blockage within the store.

Jennifer headed out with Aislinn and Jenny.  The three as a group were shopping for the fish and the guinea pigs.  Jeff's unit consisted of Lulu and Chenoa.  Their focus was on Ptolemy and the two Shetland ponies, though much of what was needed for them would be acquired elsewhere.  Brianna and her group, David and Jonny, set out to get supplies for Mittens, Calico, and Bogey.  Meanwhile, Jack (with JD in his cart) and Daniel were shopping for Bijou and Katie.  Little Danny went with them as he shopped for the strays.  Ricky and Calvin also stayed with the soulmates while putting the appropriate items for Bagel and Cream Cheese in their carts.

Before Jack's crew headed out, the store's assistant manager inquired, “Sir, are you sure you really need all those carts?”

“Are you sure you only want to have one register open?  You might want to get a few more hands on deck.  Twenty minutes,” the general estimated as he walked away.

Daniel smiled and introduced himself before asking, “You're new here?”

“I just transferred to this location.”

“Welcome.  Uh, you have to forgive my husband.  He can get a little ... overbearing sometimes, but we have a large family and we're about to make a lot of purchases.  We're making it a little easier on us.  I hope you don't mind.”

Before the man could respond, a voice called out, “Daniel, where are Bijou and Katie?”

“At home.  Hello, Greg.”

Greg Holmstead was the manager of the store and was well acquainted with his regular shoppers, including the Jackson-O'Neills.

“Have you met my new assistant manager, Lyle Smith?”

“Just now, yes.  Uh, I need to catch up with Jack and the children.  We're stocking up today and we're all here.  It shouldn't take us more than twenty minutes.”

“Jack organized the shopping?”

“Like a mission,” Daniel teased.

“Daniel!” the shout was heard from aisles away.

“Uh ...”

“Lyle, make sure we have three more registers open to accommodate the Jackson-O'Neills.  Keep at least one open for our other customers, too.”

“Of course.”

“Thank you,” Daniel spoke before hurrying after his husband.

“They all have carts, Greg,” Lyle advised, as if tattling on the shoppers.

“They're our best customers, Lyle,” Greg responded.  “They have a house full of pets and they tend to buy the best.  Like all of our customers, they get our best service.  Get those service lanes open and make sure we have staff on the floor to assist, if necessary.  This is an inquisitive family.  I want our best people out there *now*.”

“Right away.”

====

Throughout the store, the voices of the Jackson-O'Neills could be heard.

“This expires in two months.  I bet there are bags with later expirations in the back,” Jonny stated as he began to remove box after box from the shelves.

Seeing this, a store associate asked, “Is there a problem?”

“We need this,” Jonny held up the package, “with a longer expiration date.”

“Let me check in the back.”

“Jonny, put the boxes back.  She'll bring out a box for us,” Brianna ordered.

With a nod, the Munchkin restored the shelf to its order.

--

“What's wrong, Jeff?” Chenoa asked.

“I don't like this leash for Ptolemy.”

“I don't see any others that are different,” the Curly Top observed as she viewed the shelf.

“Me, either.”  Jeff put back the item he was reviewing and stated, “We'll try the bird store.  They probably have better ones.”

--

“Excuse me,” Jenny called out while tugging on the arm of a store associate who was facing the other direction.

“Hi, Jenny.”

“Hi, Mary.”

“It looks like you're doing a lot of shopping today.  How can I help you?”

“We need another one of those small cages.”

“Let me see.”  Mary walked over to where Aislinn was standing and holding the last product on the shelf.  “Hello, Ash.”

“Hi, Mary.”

Mary reviewed the box and sighed, “I'm not sure we have any more.  I'll take a look.  Be right back.”

Before walking away, Mary nodded and smiled at Jennifer, who was a bit further down the long aisle.  When she returned, she smiled and kneeled down to face the sisters.

“Girls, I'm sorry, but that's a discontinued item.  Can we look at some of these other ones?”

“It has to be this one,” Jenny insisted.

“Can you tell me why?”

“You can close this one so Strawberry and Shortcake can't see out.”

“And that's important?” Mary asked, quickly seeing the definitive nods.

“It's for our emergency evacuation plan for the zoo,” Jennifer explained as Mary looked up at her.

Standing, Mary suggested, “Maybe I can find one at another store.”

“Could you?” Jenny asked.

“It would be so cool if you could find one.  Please, Mary,” Aislinn pleaded.

“Give me a few minutes.”  Mary faced the oldest sister and added, “Keep shopping.  I'll find you guys.”

“Thanks, Mary.”

--

“We need a box of this, too,” Little Danny told his father.

“Son, you've had one skunk with a problem and that was ...”  Jack saw the pout.  He looked over at his lover, who overheard the exchange from yards away.  He was going to lose the battle.  “Okay, one box for any potential stinkers.”

====

“So close,” Jack remarked as he checked his watch.  The family was three minutes off his predicted shop time.  “Next time,” he mused.

“Jack, Daniel, can you line up at these registers?” the manager requested.

“Sure thing, Greg,” Jack responded.  “Kids, you heard the man.”

Just as the filled carts were in place, Mary returned.

“Jenny, Ash, I found one more of the guinea pig carriers at a store.  I can have it here this evening.”

“That works,” Jenny replied.  She looked up at her parents asked, “We can come back tonight?”

“Of course,” Daniel replied.

“Daniel, if you like, you can pay for it now.  When it comes in, I'll have it waiting in my office,” Greg stated.

“Thank you.”

Daniel paid for the purchases and the family left the store.

“Greg, I don't understand.  We can't get the carrier here the same day,” Lyle put forward.

“Mary, which store did you find the carrier at?”

“All the nearby ones were sold out, but our store in Monument has it.  I thought I'd pick it up during my lunch hour.”

“Pick it up before or after your lunch, Mary,” Greg advised.

“Thanks, Greg.”

“Why don't you get going.  I'd love to call Jack and Daniel and let them know it's here early.  You're sure they have the precise one they need?”

“I spoke with their store manager and he visually made sure the item was there.”

“Go ahead,” Greg instructed.

“Lyle, I understand they are good customers, but ...”

“You nurture customers, Lyle.  It's an old proverb, but treat customers the same way you want to be treated when you shop, keeps them coming back and spending money.  Did you see how much they spent this morning?  This is out of our way and will cost us a little, but we've already gotten it back.”

“Would we really do it for anyone?”

“I hope we would.  Mary's an exemplary employee who cares about customers and their animals.  She's extended herself before.  I can name you several of our regulars who were first time buyers until Mary went out of her way to make them happy.  Excuse me.”

Lyle nodded and went about his job.  His last store experience wasn't anything like this, but he planned to learn from it.  He also attempted to paint a mental image of the Jackson-O'Neill family to ensure he would remember to give them excellent service whenever they shopped at the retailer.

====

In the days that followed, Jack, Daniel, and their brood focused much of their time on bird and cat training.  They received assistance from the family vet, a macaw expert, and the pet trainer at the store.  The local fire department even came out.

One day, Pam Lawrence, the vet, trained the entire family, except for JD who was too young, how to use their new oxygen kit.

“Careful, Jonny.  You don't want to smother the rabbits or the guinea pigs with the mask,” Pam advised.

“Why is it so big?”

“This is a basic kit to administer aid to a variety of small animals.  It's simply not practical to produce kits for specific animals in this type of situation.”

“Fire engines only have so much room, Sport,” Jack added.

“Do they really work?” Lulu questioned.

“Yes, they do,” Pam responded.  “Please remember that we don't always have success stories.  Time is vital and the sooner the animal is treated, the better.”

“Animals die like people,” Ricky sighed, his head down.

“Like our mommy,” Aislinn spoke softly.

“And Mister and Mrs. Svenson,” Chenoa added.

“Hey, guys, remember last year when Grandpa had his heart attack?  We saved him,” Jennifer reminded.  ~I don't usually like to word it that way, but the brood needs a quick pick-me-up.~  She smiled and continued, “We all worked together and we did CPR.”

“I remember the medics put a mask on Grandpa right away,” Jonny interjected.

“Right.  Like Pam said, they work.”

“Go on, Pam,” Daniel requested, feeling the children were ready for her to move forward with her lesson.

--

On another day, Valerie Uhlander held a training session at her establishment for the family using a few of her own macaws, including a hyacinth macaw like Ptolemy.

“It will take time, but these birds are not just beautiful, but very intelligent.  They train very well,” Valerie began.  She began her demonstration, talking as she moved through the process.  “Notice how I'm moving, in a steady, somewhat cautious fashion.  If the bird were to be frightened, she could easily get tangled in the harness before you have it on her and injure herself.  Let her see what you're doing by moving in a cautious manner.”

When she was done, Valerie invited the family to give it a try on an individual basis.

“Very good, Little Danny.  Remember, let her see the harness and move your hands forward slowly and gently place it over her neck.  You'll find that the more you do this that she'll start helping you.  Good, very good.  Now remember, those wings are delicate, like flowers.  Gently, slide the harness strap under each feather.  Don't rush it.  Again, the more you do this, the more she'll help.  She'll raise her feathers for you.”

“She will?”

“Ask her to and tell her what you're doing.  Practice.”  Valerie turned to the parents and stated, “I know you're doing this for emergency purposes, but I do suggest you take your hyacinth macaw out in the harness.  You said you haven't done that in the past?”

“That's correct.  She ... flies around the house a lot, but she's an ... indoor macaw,” Daniel affirmed.

“I suggest you take her out.  The excitement and the noise from an actual evacuation could overwhelm her, if she's never been outside.  Once you've mastered using the harness and leash inside the home, take her for walks, just like you would dogs.”

“We take our dogs for walks all the time,” Little Danny told the woman.

“Let Ptolemy tag along.”

--

On yet another day as the weeks past, Jack took the Curly Tops and Little Danny to the pet store for a private session with the lead trainer.  He showed them some simple techniques to use with Mittens and Calico.  He also suggested that if they had difficulties, a behaviorist could assist them.  In fact, the couple decided to take that recommendation and hired Donna Cortelli, who was affiliated with a local shelter.

The family was astounded how quickly Donna was able to get the two felines to respond in the way she wanted them to.  She provided many helpful tips on how to proceed with the training.

--

On one other day, the fire captain brought his truck and squad with him to the Jackson-O'Neill residence.  Though the parents were very private with their home, they decided they were not experts on home evacuation and that it would be important to get input from an expert.  Besides, the family had a surprise for the firefighters.

When the engine and squad arrived, they was the source of immediate attention from the neighbors.  Kids appeared from everywhere and the captain left his team to make little faces happy as they explored the vehicles and their equipment while he accompanied Jack and Daniel for a quick tour of the home.  Jack and Daniel listened carefully to the man's suggestions on egress, the need for a few additional smoke alarms, and potential cleaning agents that should be better placed and/or stored differently.

“Thank you, Captain,” Daniel expressed as the three men headed back outside.  “We'll get started on your suggestions today.”

“Kids,” Jack called out, motioning with his head for the children to get their surprise.  “Captain, if we can have just another minute or two of your time, our kids have a little surprise for you.”

“Unless we get a call, we're all yours, General.”

Within a minute, the brood returned with Jonny in the lead.  Their surprise was concealed for the moment by the way the children were standing in formation.

“Captain, we thank you for your service in saving homes and lives, including helpless animals.  You told our dad that you only have one oxygen kit.  We have a large zoo and a lot of our friends have more than one pet, so in a fire, you might need more than one kit.”

“I wish funds allowed all engines to carry at least two kits, but the funds aren't there,” the captain lamented.

Aislinn stepped forward from out of Jeff's shadow and held out a box in her hands as she spoke, “That's why we're giving this oxygen kit to your engine.  It's from our zoo.”

The engine company applauded as the captain graciously accepted the gift.

“But we wanted to help more because we're lucky and we can,” Ricky stated.

Moving around Jennifer, Jenny presented her box to the captain and said, “So here's another kit for an engine that doesn't have one.”

“And here's one more,” Lulu announced, handing the box to the captain, who turned it over to another firefighter.

“And one more, for another engine,” Brianna announced.

“I don't know what to say,” the captain replied.  “You've saved a lot of pet lives today.  On behalf of the CSFD, I thank you.  I'll make sure the chief gets these and distributes them appropriately.”

“That would be great, but remember, Captain, one of these stays with your engine.  We want you to have two.  That's a requirement of the gift,” Jack advised, all too aware how upper management of any organization too often sees fit to alter situations to their liking instead of the original intent.

By the end of the visit, Jack and Daniel believed their decision to invite the first responders to their home was the right thing to do.  The captain truly helped them to discover previously unknown or unperceived issues with safeguarding their children and pets, thereby ensuring their home was safer and they had a truly thorough emergency evacuation plan in place.

When evening fell that day, small but potentially life-saving changes were made.  A plastic rag bin in the garage was exchanged for a metal bin.  Jennifer's bottle of nail polish remover was moved to her vanity from her bathroom medicine cabinet where she traditionally kept it for quick use before showering.  They reviewed their supplies of household cleaners, both those kept in the storage room and in the garage, and chose to dispose of a few.

In addition, Jack went shopping and returned home with a few new smoke detectors to place where the captain advised during his walk-through of the home.  He also bought some small fire extinguishers.  While he didn't want his children fighting fires, a small fire put out could stop a bigger, more devastating fire from starting.  The children would be trained in usage of the devices and they would be stored strategically throughout the house.

====

On a bright day that followed weeks of zoo training and the kids being taught how to use fire extinguishers, the parents gathered their brood for a short review.

“How long do you have to get out of the house if a fire occurs?” Daniel asked as he stood and faced the children.

“Ten minutes,” Ricky answered, though his shrug showed that his answer was truly nothing but a guess.

“Six minutes?” Chenoa called out.

“Five?” Jonny asserted.

“The answer is ... no one knows for sure.  Noa's right that a lot of people estimate they have six minutes.  That's rarely the case.  According to data, the best guess is three minutes or less, so when Dad says you have seconds to get up, get the pets, and get out the emergency door, he's serious.  You may only have seconds.  I want you think about that.  Every moment counts.  Every second could be the last second.  Don't dawdle.  Once you hear a smoke alarm, you move as fast as you can.”

“Now, let's say we're all separated.  You might be alone.  It could be day or night. You manage to get out of the house.  Where do you go?” Jack questioned.

“Mrs. Valissi's house,” Chenoa piped up.

“Where specifically, Noa?”

“Her front porch or lawn.”

“Good,” Jack complimented.  “Do you ring her bell?”

“Yes,” the little dove answered.

“Even if it's the middle of the night?”

“Yes, because it's an emergency.”

“What if we know Mrs. V is out of town, maybe in Italy visiting her son.  Where do you go?”

“Mrs. Valissi's house,” Chenoa repeated.

“Why?”

“Because that's our designated meeting spot.  If we go somewhere else, you might think we're still in the house.”

“Wonderful, Princess,” Jack returned, smiling at the young girl.  “No matter what time it is, whether you're alone or in groups, or regardless of Mrs. V's location, we meet on her front porch or in the front lawn.  Nowhere else is acceptable.  Is that understood?”

“Yes, Dad,” came the chorus of replies.

Daniel took over once again, stating, “Previously, Dad and I mentioned we were going to talk to Alex about installing a couple of drop-down ladders on the little balcony.  We are still going to do that.  However, when the fire captain was here, he strongly advised that each room have two potential exits.  What's the obvious way out?”

“Our doors,” Brianna replied as a matter-of-fact.

“Right.  Where's the second?”

The brood exchanged glances.  Their rooms were all upstairs, including Jennifer's and Jeff's.

With a scrunched face, Little Danny replied, “Our windows?”

“That's correct.”

“Um, Daddy, I don't mean to thwart the plan, but that's a long way down to jump,” Jennifer pointed out.

“That's why we're having a drop-down ladder installed in all of the rooms in the new addition.  The ladder is attached to ropes that are already latched onto a bar right under the windows.  In the case of emergency and you can't go out the door, you'll pull off the covering, press the lever that releases the rope, open your window, and toss the ladder out.  You can use the inlet that contained the ladder as a step to help you over the sill and onto the ladder.”

“Kids, that's a definite second choice.  That ladder is more wobbly than the emergency exit balcony and you probably won't have any help.  You're on your own.”

“It's pointless for me to ask you not to take your pets with you if they are in the room, but it's ... dangerous.  Please be as careful as possible.  We will practice this escape route many times once we have them installed,” Daniel told the kids.  “Now, tell me what changes might have to be made once the ladder system is put in your room.  Jenny?”

“Well, uh, oh, I know.  We have to move the rabbit hutch.”

“Why?”

“Because it's in front of the window.”

“And why is that important?”  Daniel paused and called out, “Ash?”

“Seconds, Daddy.  We may only have seconds to get out.”

“That's perfect, Sweetie.”  The father addressed the brood and put forth, “From now on, nothing goes under your windows.  Access needs to be free and clear.  Maybe this is a good time to change around your furniture.  Dad and I are open to all your changes and we'll help, of course.  Just make sure the window is kept clear at all times.  Okay?”

“Moving on,” Jack stated.  “If you think you can handle a small, emphasis on small fire, what is the first thing you do?”

“Call 9-1-1,” Lulu answered.

“Then what?”

“Get the fire extinguisher,” David called out.

“And what do you do with it?  Everyone!”

Voices rang out with, “Pull, aim, squeeze, sweep.”

“Again!”

“Pull, aim, squeeze, sweep!”

“Good job,” Jack responded.  “When do you know that small fire is not something you should mess with?”

“When it's already really hot,” Little Danny answered.

“And if there's too much smoke so we can't see or breathe,” Jonny added.

“Correctamundo,” the general affirmed.  “The majority of our fire extinguishers are multi-use, meaning what?”

“They can be used on everyday stuff, like wood and cloth,” Jeff began, “and also on tools and appliances.”

“And grease, too,” Brianna added.  She chuckled, “Chefs beware.”

“One more thing,” Daniel stated.  “What's the plan for the zoo when you hear the smoke alarm go off?  Everyone.”

In unison, the brood answered, “Snatch the animal, put it in the small cage, and go, go, go!”

“Ice cream!” Jack exclaimed, earning cheers from all the children.

====

In total, months passed from that night when Little Danny put a stop to the fire drill.  The summer was full of surprises and fun for the family, along with some real life adventure and drama.  The highlight was that Jennifer and her beau, Peter Hamilton, were very much in love and endured a horrible situation wherein Peter was falsely accused of murder.

Over the course of the last three months, in depth, concentrated training was completed, teaching Ptolemy, Mittens, and Calico to respond to the sound of the smoke alarms.  The majestic bird was used to her harness and often accompanied the family on walks with Bijou and Katie.

Sam completed an alteration of the home's security system.  She was able to hook in a smoke alarm feature, so that if the alarms went off, both the front door and the Knox Box attached to it would automatically unlock.  They did not open, but first responders only had to open the door and pull on the Knox Box to gain access.  The Knox Box itself didn't look like the normal metal box most were.  It was decorative and thin, but made with an element not in general use that would protect it from fire and the elements.  The actual box looked like an extension of the door and was not the least bit distracting.  The fire department was advised of the box's existence and told a key would not be required.

Alex Dennison completed the fairly simple installations of the ladders in each room where it was possible.  Some rooms were interior with no outdoor access and some were in spaces that did not allow for the use of the rope ladders because other objects obstructed a safe egress, but wherever possible upstairs, the escape mechanism was now in place.  Mini-drills were conducted, ensuring the children didn't just know how, but were comfortable climbing out of their rooms on the ladders, both with and without a pet cage.  This was due to the parents facing reality.  Arguing with their kids about leaving the zoo behind was fruitless.  Their kids, like they, would face danger to save life, including those of the zoo.

Betsy was well stocked with all manner of food and supplies for the zoo, if necessary.  Everything was organized and easily reached.  The RV would be kept that way unless the family used it for a trip, in which case the items could be removed and stored in the hangar.  A spreadsheet was developed with expiration dates for the stored food.  It became routine to swap out the food in the RV and replace it with fresher food every month or two.

Everyone but JD was well versed in the use of fire extinguishers.  Everything the parents wanted done was done and the time for training over.

“Mrs. Valissi is ready and I talked with all the neighbors today, Jack.  They're okay with this and, uh, actually, I think they'll be watching.”

“They can learn like we did,” Jack replied.  “Ready?”

“Ready.”

“Get 'em going,” Jack told his lover.

Just about three months to the late night, Jack pressed the button on the intercom that spread through the entire house and warned, “This is a drill.  *Fire drill*.  Get out of those beds and move it!  The house could be on fire.  Lives could in danger.  Only seconds available.  Save the zoo.  No stuffed animal substitutes.  *Go!  Go!  Go!*  This is a drill.  Move it!  Move it!  Move it!”

Daniel used the test button to set off various smoke alarms, making it clear there was an imaginary fire downstairs.  Normally, it wasn't something he'd do, but the only way to do a full fire drill with the animals was to set off the alarms.  With Jack off the intercom, he continued to do the same thing.

Jennifer ran downstairs and called out, “Ptolemy, fire!”  She waited with baited breath.  One of the other things Sam set up was an automatic look to the bird cage.  Just like with the front door, when the smoke alarms sound, Ptolemy's home would unlock, but unlike the front door, the cage door also unlatched.  All the bird had to do was nudge it open and fly away.  “Come on, Polly.”

The young woman heard the squawk at the same time Jeff ran to the entryway.  He was heard calling out the names of the cats, just in case they were downstairs.

“There we go, Ptolemy,” Jennifer sighed happily as the bird landed on her outstretched arm.  She hurried to the front door and leaned down where a spare harness and leash were placed and would remain on a regular basis.  “Table,” she commanded.

Instantly, the hyacinth macaw flew to the entryway table.  Jennifer carefully slipped on the harness and strapped it gently under the bird's wings.  She attached the leash.

About the same time, Mittens ran out of the study and meowed.

“Good girl,” Jeff praised.  He put on the cat's harness and affixed the leash.  “Let's go.”

“Wait one,” Jennifer negated.  She saw her parents' stare, but ignored the confused expressions.  “Jennifer and Jeff exiting the house downstairs.  We have Ptolemy and Mittens with us.  Go, Brood!”

Saving conversation for later, Jennifer passed her parents and left the house with her brother and two pets.

Upstairs, Brianna entered the code that opened that permitted access to the emergency door.  She then turned the knob which unlocked once the code was entered.  This caused another alarm to go off, in addition to the smoke alarms.  She secured the door so that it would stay open and walked out onto the small balcony.  She lowered the retractable stairs and turned to the door to await her siblings.

“Bri, I have Strawberry,” Aislinn advised, her guinea pig safely in her cage with the openings covered to protect the creature.

Just then, David was sprinting down the hallway to the balcony of the exit.

“Go on, Ash.  David's here to help with Strawberry.”

The youngest Munchkin was the first to climb over the balcony and onto the steps.  Meanwhile, not sure if anyone had done so, Brianna took out her smartphone and pretended to dial 9-1-1.  She held a pretend conversation until she hung up upon seeing more of her siblings approach.

Jonny put Bogey in his cage down for David to help lower to the ground, but instead of going down the ladder, he retreated inside the home.

~He's not about to go first,~ the tomboy opined.

“We're here,” Lulu called out, her cat wearing the harness with leash attached.

“We need her cage, Lulu,” Brianna announced.

“What do I do?”

“You stay up here and help lower Bogey to the ground and I'll take Calico,” David offered as he took hold of the cat and climbed down.  ~Not the first choice, but I can't let her go back for the carrier.  I hope this is the right thing.~

“Jenny and Shortcake present,” the redhead called out.  She put her guinea pig's cage down and followed Chenoa down the ladder.

On the ground, Aislinn waited for the carrier containing her guinea pig to be lowered to the ground.  She quickly disconnected it, tugging on the rope to indicate it could be pulled up and used for the next pet.  Where she stood now was between her house and Mrs. Valissi's.  She was just outside her own backyard, the fence separating it from the front side of the house.  Carefully holding the carrier to her chest, the Munchkin ran as fast as she could to the front of Mrs. Valissi's house and rang the doorbell.  It wasn't long before the senior citizen opened the door.

“Fire drill, Mrs. Valissi.”

“And cookies for you,” the woman responded as she held out a plate.

“Thank you.”

Back at the house, Ricky put Cream Cheese in her carrier and called out, “Little Danny, coming?”

“In a second,” the middle Munchkin replied as he pulled Bagel out of the hutch.  “Go, Ricky; not supposed to wait.”

Obediently, the Spitfire headed for the emergency exit, only when he did, he was surprised to see his dad standing there with a big sign.  The sign told him that the fire was now in Brianna's room and growing.  He couldn't escape through the emergency door.  The downstairs was on fire as well.  Finally, the sign asked him what was he going to do now.

Ricky thought for a second and then turned, but he only went two steps when he stopped and whined, “I don't have the code.”

“Go!” Jack ordered.

The boy did as instructed and made his way to the gated doorway that separated the hallway near the nursery and David's bedroom from the small balcony.  Sighing, he reached out and was shocked when the door open.  Unbeknowst to the children, Sam's engineering skills also tied in that door with the security system and smoke alarms.

“Gotta go down the ladder, Creamy,” Ricky told the rabbit.  “I'll lower you down first, okay.  Don't worry.  Everything's okay.  It's just a drill.”

Then Ricky remembered that the balcony didn't have ropes for the animals.  He wondered why, but not for long.  The brood's exit training included going down the ladder with and without the carriers.

“Here we go,” Ricky told the bunny as he carefully climbed over the ladder he'd just released and then picked up the carrier.

The Spitfire was a little nervous at the halfway point until he heard a familiar voice.

“You're doing great, Ricky.  One step at a time.  Just like the tortoise, slow and steady often saves lives.”

“Thanks, Daddy.”

Renewed, Ricky safely finished the climb down.

“I'm very proud of you,” Daniel remarked as he hugged his son.  “You okay?”

“I'm good, Daddy.”

“Good.  Okay, go!  The fire drill is still happening.  What do you do now?”

“Bye, Daddy!” Ricky called out as he headed for the gate on the other side of the residence.  Normally, the gate was locked and the boy wondered how he was supposed to open it.  “Look, Creamy, the gate's not locked.”

The unlocked gate was another part of Sam's solution to the family's escape issues.  She found a way to tap in the backyard gate to the security system and the smoke detectors.  Like the front door and the gated door to the little balcony, the gate was also tapped into the system.  It unlocked with the others when the smoke alarms began to sound for more than one minute without being turned off. Like much of the other gadgetry, Jack and Daniel could monitor what was unlocked through the control system and monitors.

Meanwhile, Little Danny finally secured Bagel in her carrier and headed for the door, only he also found Jack holding a card that told him the fire spread.  He could no longer leave through the bedroom door.

Without hesitation, Little Danny went to the window and opened it.  He released the cover from the safety ladder and tossed it over the side.  Carefully, he stepped out with the carrier in his hand and made his way to the ground where he saw his smiling daddy giving him a nod of support.  The boy grinned and hurried for the gate with the carrier safe at his side.

Meanwhile, Jack's watch upstairs was satisfying.  At this point, he knew Jennifer and Jeff exited the house safely with Ptolemy and Mittens.  Aislinn and Jenny both disappeared over the balcony as did the guinea pigs.  He assumed Ricky was down and Little Danny was out of his sight as well.  He didn't see David, but he observed Lulu climbing down the ladder only seconds ago.  He wasn't sure about Chenoa.  His eyes popped when he saw his namesake walking in his direction.

The fire drill was in process and this was not the time to question the boy, so Jack watched as Jonny went into each of the bedrooms along the hallway and then began the walk through the jog.  The general followed, not to overtake his son, but to see what he was doing.  He watched as the little general checked the little balcony, David's room, and then the nursery.  He frowned and finally turned to face his father, who he knew was on his heels.

“What about JD?”

“He's sleeping,” Jack responded.  “Assume that Daddy has him.”

“And Bij and Katie?”

“They're with me.”  Jack looked down and indeed the two beagles were next to him.  ~Good girls.~

Jonny nodded and then ran back to the emergency exit.  The retractable stairs were up, so he lowered them again and made his way to safety.

====

“Thanks, Mrs. V.  You're a peach,” Jack said before giving the woman a kiss on the cheek.

“We really appreciate you're letting us do this, especially considering the time,” Daniel added.

“I was happy to help, and Andie loved the extra treats the brood gave her while waiting for you.”

“Ruff,” the shepherd-collie mix with beautiful yellowish-gold fur agreed as she stood by the woman's side.

“You're welcome,” Jack told the dog as he leaned over and scratched gently behind her ears.

As Jack and Daniel were walking down the driveway, John Miller called out, “How'd it go?”

“Great, John,” Jack responded.  “I hope we didn't wake you and Mitzi.”

“Nah.  We wanted to watch.  We're going to start our own fire drills soon; should have done it years ago.  Could we ask you two for advice?”

“Anytime,” Daniel replied.

“Night.”

“Goodnight,” John returned, waving at the couple and their children before returning to the warmth of his house.

====

“Everyone comfy?” Jack asked, getting nods and affirmative verbal responses.  “Good.  The purpose of this meeting is to talk about last night's fire drill.”

The brood listened attentively.  They'd had a good breakfast and a bit of playtime before their parents called them to the rec room for the family meeting.

“First off, Dad and I are very happy with how you conducted the fire drill.  Everyone was focused and while not completely following the plan, you all worked hard and moved with caution.”

“Let's talk about Jen's ad lib,” Jack began.

“You mean when she called out over the intercom?” Brianna inquired.

“Exactly,” Daniel confirmed.

“I liked it,” Chenoa opined.

“So did we,” Jack put forth.  “We realized that by announcing over the intercom who was with her and what members of the zoo they had probably kept you from worrying.”

“It did me,” Little Danny agreed.

“So, we'll add this note to our emergency exit plan.  If and when you are *safely* able and have time, go ahead and use the intercom to inform others in the house that you're okay.  Remember, you may not even know who is home when a fire breaks out.”

“Daddy, if there's time maybe whoever is manning the balcony exit could use the intercom to call out who's safely evacuated.”

“You can do that, if there's time, but don't run back to your room just for that.  We are assuming everyone will use the balcony.  It's probably more important for anyone *not* using the upstairs emergency exit to use the intercom.”

“Bri, it's not a bad idea, but the excitement might impede your recall.”

“I could leave out a kid?”

“Or a pet,” Aislinn said with a nod.

“I see what you mean.”

“We'll tinker with the idea and include it in future drills to see how it works,” Jack told the brood as he saw a nod of agreement from his soulmate.

“Uh, next on the list: animals not in a cage,” Daniel stated.

“Sorry.  I was excited and wanted to get out fast,” Lulu lamented as she bowed her head and her eyes drooped.

Jack was quick to soothe, “Hey, that's what these drills are for.  We want your reactions to become second-nature for you.”

“Everything you do should be automatic, a habit, like brushing your teeth after you eat.”

“Did I do the right thing?” David inquired, wanting to know if his decision to take Calico down the ladder himself and leave Lulu on the balcony to help.

“Yes,” both parents replied.

“Whew!”

“Lulu is old enough to lower the cages,” Jack spoke.  He smiled at the youngster and praised, “You did a great job.”

Both parents were glad to see the little girl's sad face brighten.

“We'll keep practicing, Li'l Bit, and next time, we're confident you'll remember to put Calico in her carrier before going to the balcony,” Jack stated.

Daniel commented, “David, it was the smart choice.  With Calico not in a carrier or wearing a harness, she could have been frightened and tried to jump.  Lulu could have been injured.  You're bigger and stronger, so your decision was the best at the moment.  You and Calico safely evacuated and so did Lulu once the other animals were lowered to the ground.  We'll do more drills with both Lulu and Noa lowering the carriers, just in case there's no choice or time to put the animals in their carriers.”

“While we're on the subject of the zoo, we watched Mittens bound for the front door when the fire drill occurred.  She responded to Jeff's call as well.”

“Ptolemy's cage unlocked with the other doors Aunt Sam programmed into our security system.  She flew right to Jen when called.”

“Kudos, kids, on an excellent job with training the zoo over the past few months.  You've worked hard.”

“So, we don't need to continue training the pets, right?” Daniel prompted.

“Wrong!” Jonny responded.  “We have to keep practicing, so it's automatic for them, like it is for us.”

“We don't want them to forget,” Little Danny added.

“That's right,” Daniel responded with a pleased smile.

“If you're curious, the security system's modifications worked like a charm.  Every new element activated as it should, complete with an automatic notification to the fire department.”

“But there weren't any fire trucks,” Ricky noted.

“That's because we told the fire department what we were doing,” Jeff interjected.

“Jeff's correct,” Daniel told his children.  “And to make sure, I gave them a call when the alarm was triggered.”

“Aunt Sam did good,” Chenoa put forth.

“It's her niche,” Jack replied.

“Huh?” the Curly Top questioned.

“She's good with doohickeys.”

Chenoa shrugged, still not sure what a doohickey was and even more confused what a doohickey had to do with the security system.

“Dad, Daddy, I have a question.”  Ricky waited until his parents were looking at him.  “Why don't we have a rope for the zoo when we're using the little balcony's exit?”

“Oh, that's a good idea,” Little Danny piped up.  “Or in our rooms with the escape ladders?”

Jack sighed, “Daniel, we missed something.”

“We did.”

“Kids, we're going to fix that.  It's an easy addition to the little balcony outside David's room.  It might be a little more involved for the bedrooms, but the need is definitely there.”  Silently, he mused, **Where was Alex?  He usually thinks of these things?**

**He has other things on his mind these days.**

**Slipping!  Slipping!**

**Love does crazy things to logic, Babe,** Daniel communicated in the belief that Alex was involved in a serious relationship with Soncirria 'Sunny' Suvulpo and might have more things on his mind these days than architecture and design.

**Yeah, there's that.**  Then Jack ordered, “Jonny, front and center.”

Jonny rose and marched over to his dad.  He gave him a salute which he didn't release until Jack saluted him in return.

Before his dad could utter a word, Jonny explained, “Never leave anyone behind, Sir, not even in fire drills; and if you don't know where everyone is, you have to be sure.  I made sure, as sure as I could.”

Jack looked over at Daniel and saw the resignation.  He felt it, too.

“You're right, but use good judgment, Son.  You don't want to sacrifice your life unnecessarily.”  Jack caressed his namesake's cheek and instructed, “Rejoin the troops.”

“Yes, Sir.”

**He won't change, Jack, and I don't really want him to.**

**Agreed.**

“I have a question,” Little Danny advised.

“We're listening.”

“If we go in the backyard, why aren't we going to Aunt Sam's house?”

“That's, uh, that's a good question,” Daniel responded.  “Jack?”

“It is a good question, but what if she's not home?  We have to have one place where everyone can go.  If we continue with the assumption that most will go out via the emergency door, we have to stick with Mrs. Valissi's home as our gathering point.”

“Dad and I are going to take this under consideration.”

“We are?”

“Yes, we are.  For example, what if the house is engulfed in flames?  What if the fire is too close to the backyard gate?”

“Yep,” Jack responded, his head nodding as his heels lifted him higher for a couple of seconds.  “Nice job, Son,” he praised the middle Munchkin.  “Daddy and I will talk about it and consult with Aunt Sam.”

“Okay, that's about it.  You all have worked hard and done a great job.  If you think of ways we can make our emergency plan better, tell us.”

“Meeting adjourned.  Go forth and play!” Jack exclaimed jovially.

“Jen, Jeff, Bri, and David, please stay for a few minutes.”  Daniel watched as the other children headed out.  He noticed Lulu glancing back a few times.  “And Lulu. We need you, too, Sweetie.”

Lulu lit up like a Christmas tree as she hurried over.

**Danny?**

**Jack, she wants to be included.  Let's trust her with the codes.  I think she's old enough.**

**I'm not sure about old enough, but she wants and that's good enough for me.  Good call, Angel.**

Though the security system now included automatic responses when the smoke alarms activated, the parents still wanted the back up of their older children having the security codes.  Besides, there could always be some kind of emergency other than fire that could require emergency egress and in those cases, the codes would have to be used.  As for the smartphone app created by Sam, for now, only the parents had it on their phones.

====

A few minutes later, Little Danny hurried into the kitchen where his parents were having a cup of coffee at the table in the nook.

“Dad, Daddy, I forgot something.”

“What are you looking for, Little Danny?” Daniel questioned.

“You.”  The little boy went to his daddy and hugged him super tight.  Then he went to his dad and did the same.  When he pulled back, he was smiling, even if a few tears rolled down his cheek.  “You fixed it.  I knew you would.  You fixed everything and now the zoo is safe, too.  Thank you, Dad and Daddy, for helping us to help the zoo.  I love you.”

“We love you, Son,” Jack replied in a cracked voice.

After Little Danny disappeared around the corner, Daniel placed a tender kiss on his Love's lips.

“You did fix it, Jack.  Thank you.”

“Hey, we both fixed it.  This was two-man fix, with an assist from Carter and Alex.”

“I, uh, do feel better, knowing the animals are part of the plan.  We shouldn't have missed that in the first place.”

“We were focused on the kids,” Jack conceded.

“And they were focused on the animals.”

“I think we've done the best we could do, for now.  On to the next.”

“The next what?”

“The next adventure, Love.”

“Oh, of course, and with our brood, Babe, every day is a new adventure.”

“Geez, I love you.”

“I love you, too, Jack, so freakin' much.”

The lovers ended the fire drill adventure with a kiss.  They'd done all they could to protect their family, human and animal, and now they were simply enjoying the connection of their souls and lips.  For Jack and Daniel, life in Colorado Springs was a forever adventure that would never end.

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

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