Gifts of a Lifetime

Author: Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Angst, Drama, Romance, Holiday, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  6 - December 3-21, 2002
Spoilers:  None
Size:  46kb
Written:  November 30, December 6, 2003  Revised:  January 24, February 1-2, March 18, 2005, February 23, March 20, May 9,12-14, July 9, 2007  Revised for timeline:  March 22, April 8,20, May 7, 2008
Summary:  It's Christmastime, and Jack gives a small child a gift of a lifetime, one that deeply affects Daniel.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Drdjlover, StarShadow, Claudia, Jodi, Linda, Sara, Lissa, Melissa, Jo!

Gifts of a Lifetime
by Orrymain

Jack laughed loudly and said boisterously, “Yeah, same to you.  Thanks for the help.”  He walked outside the small shop in the local neighborhood mall and called out to his soulmate.  “Danny, I got it!  It took some doing, but I managed to charm that gal into letting me have the last one.”

The silver-haired man was feeling very pleased with himself.  The two lovers were Christmas shopping and had just found the most adorable holiday figurine.  It was a pretty blonde standing by her motorcycle, holding her helmet in her hand, and had several small holiday packages loaded on the back of the cycle.

//Flashback//
“Danny, we *have* to get that for Carter,” Jack chuckled as he pointed to an object on the top shelf.  “She's 'one' with motorcycles.”

Moving closer, Daniel chuckled, agreeing, “Yeah.  It's definitely appropriate.  She feels about motorcycles the way you do about fishing.”

“And you about artifacts,” Jack quipped, getting a nod of affirmation from his lover.

Having agreed the figurine would make a great gift for Sam, Jack reached for the object, the only one of its kind on the shelf, but was cut off by a woman in her thirties, who snapped the item up.

“Hey!” Jack objected gruffly.

“What?” the woman responded sharply.

“That's ours,” Jack insisted, turning to face the woman head on.  “It's a gift for a friend.”

“It wasn't in your hands; it was on the shelf.  Sorry,” the woman spoke insincerely, keeping the item in her protective hold

“No, you're not.  You're just being a ...” the colonel began angrily.

“Jack, let it go,” Daniel said, tapping his lover on the upper arm.  “It's Christmas. We'll find something else for Sam.”

“But we saw it first,” Jack argued.  “And nothing else we find will be as perfect for Carter as this thing.”

“Maybe, but she picked it up first.”

“Daniel, I want that gift.”

Having witnessed lots of frustrated, silly arguments amongst customers throughout the day, Daniel hadn't felt like arguing over the potential present.

“This is supposed to be a fun time of year, Jack.  Arguing is not fun.  I'm going outside.”  Daniel faced the woman and said, “Ma'am, if you really want it, that's okay.  We'll find something else.”  Looking at his lover again, he warned sternly, “Don't be a jerk, Jack,” and then walked away, leaving Jack to see if he could convince the woman to let them have the present.

~I want that present.  Okay, let's try the charm,~ Jack decided.  When turned around, he saw the woman was almost at the end of the aisle.  He paused just a moment, then put on his Irish grin and went to work.  Sprinting forward, he called out, “Ma'am, just a wee mo' of your time, if you dinna mind.”
//End of Flashback//

Outside the store, relishing his victory, Jack noticed Daniel wasn't really paying attention.  In fact, he was self-hugging and watching something very intently.

“Danny, what's wrong?”

“Nothing,” Daniel replied softly.

Jack looked around, trying to determine what his lover was so focused on.  He noticed the archaeologist was looking in the direction of a small outdoor skating rink that was set up for the holidays.  It was very festive, surrounded by snowmen and decorated Christmas trees.  At the far end, there was even a North Pole complete with a throne, Santa, and elves, along with a polar bear and a couple of penguins.

Parents were watching their kids of all ages skating, some doing nothing more than falling down a lot.  He could hear the laughter and see the smiles of the skaters and their caregivers.  It was the complete opposite of the intense atmosphere in the strip mall.  Out here, things were joyful, just like the holidays should be.

Jack looked again at Daniel in an effort to pinpoint the precise location where his lover's eyes were focused.  He followed the path carefully, and then he saw what had captured his soulmate's attention.

~How'd I miss that?~ Jack wondered upon realizing the reason for the younger man's current emotional state.

Though they were in the Springs, in an area frequented by friends and co-workers who lived out that way, Jack decided, ~to heck with it,~ and put his left arm around Daniel's waist, tugging him close.  He placed a quick kiss on his cheek.  In that moment, his need to comfort his lover outweighed the risk of being discovered.

It was all Jack dared to do, but he hoped it would be enough to let his lover know that he wasn't alone and that he understood.  Daniel smiled for a moment before turning his head back and sighing in sadness.

“Look at him, Jack,” Daniel stated sadly.  “I recognize that look; I ... I know what it means.”

Since he had walked out of the store, Daniel had been watching a young boy, standing all alone by the rink.  He remembered having seen the youngster when they had first arrived, standing in the exact same position.  The child looked to be six or seven-years-old and had that same light brown, almost a dark blond, shaggy hair that Daniel had as a young boy.

No one had talked to the child, who was dressed all-too-lightly, considering the light snow that was falling.  The boys' arms were wrapped around himself, not unlike Daniel's were as he and Jack looked on.

“Danny, you don't know that for sure,” Jack stated, trying to be positive.

Daniel walked a few steps away, frustrated, not so much at Jack, but at Jack's perception and outlook, one that was often costly for little boys and girls like the one they were watching, and one that was typical of almost everyone.

“Don't say that, Jack.  Gawd, do you know how many times people walked away from me?  They probably said the same thing you are now.  'Oh, no, there can't be anything wrong.  He's probably just waiting for someone, and then he'll go on the ride ... and ... and then he'll smile'.”  Daniel paused.  “I know that look.  He's waiting for someone all right, but I doubt he'll get to ride or smile.  Let's go home, Jack.”

Daniel walked towards Jack's F-350 vehicle, which was parked halfway down the long parking aisle.

Jack watched as Daniel moved away, his shoulders slightly slumped from the despair he was feeling.

~Geez, I hate it when he's right,~ Jack sighed as he turned to look at the boy again.  ~I've cursed those people who ignored Danny, so how can I ignore that little boy?~  Taking a deep breath, his packages still in his hands, he started towards the rink, not stopping until he was standing next to the boy, looking out at the merry kids skating on the ice.  “Looks like fun.”

“I guess so,” the child agreed timidly as he looked up at the tall man.

“You guess?  Haven't you been skating before?”  When the boy shook his head, Jack sighed again, realizing his lover was right.  Refusing to sound sad, though, he spoke enthusiastically, “Well, trust me, it's lots of fun.  There's nothing like falling on your butt a few times to get your juices flowing.”

The boy laughed, not a big laugh, but, nevertheless, it was enough to make Jack smile.

“You're funny.”

~There we go,~ Jack thought with a smile.  “I've been told that.  Where are your folks?”

The boy's brief smile faded as he looked back over the ice and answered, “Mrs. Smith is inside with Brian and Margaret.”

“Mrs. Smith?”

Quietly, the boy answered, “She takes care of me.  My parents died last year in a fire.”  Even more quietly, he added, “Fluffy died, too.”

~Fluffy?  Not a dog, unless it was a poodle,~ Jack thought.  “Your cat?”

The boy nodded, his hands moving up to wipe away a tear he tried to hide from Jack.  Always observant, though, Jack had seen it.  He put down his packages and knelt down.

Taking out a handkerchief, Jack wiped away the boy's tears as he spoke, “I had a cat once, too.  Never liked it, but darn if I didn't cry like a baby when he died.”

“You did?” the boy asked, his expression full of surprise.  “Mrs. Smith said little boys shouldn't cry.”

“Well, I'm sure she means well, but, she's wrong,” Jack stated as the youngster let out a sniffle.  “I cry all the time, and I'm in the United States Air Force.”

The boy's eyes widened in awe, and he asked, “You are?  Do you fly those big planes?”

~Aha!  A pilot in the making!~  Smiling, Jack answered, “I have; not so much lately, but I still get in the cockpit sometimes.  See, look,” he said as he showed the boy his handkerchief.

For Christmas last year, Daniel had gifted his lover with a specially made present -- a set of three white handkerchiefs, embroidered with F-15's in blue on one side and the Air Force emblem on the other.

“Wow, that's neat,” the boy raved.

Jack had treasured the simple gift.  One of the handkerchiefs had been bloodied and destroyed on a trip through the Stargate in July, and another had been torn and stained during one of their nightmarish times on Earth.  This was his last one.  He had vowed to keep the cherished gift with him always.

“Here, you take it,” Jack offered, feeling the boy's need for emotional nourishing was more important than his personal need for the memento.

His mouth open in astonishment, the boy gasped, “You ... you mean it?”

“Yeah, keep it to dry those tears.  I can get another,” Jack reassured the boy.

“Thank you, Mister,” the boy said as he took the item and gazed at it as if it were his most prized possession.

“Jack.  My name is Jack.  What's yours?”

“Danny.  Danny Hopkins.”

Jack glanced away, the name almost doing him in, but then he smiled and replied, “Well, Danny, it's nice to meet you.  Wanna go skating while we wait for Mrs. Smith?”

“She'll get mad,” the young Danny said, staring down at his new handkerchief.

“I'll take care of it.  Do you trust me?”

The boy considered the question a moment as he continued to look down at the gift, and then he looked back up at Jack.  After a moment, he let loose with a giant grin and nodded.

“Good,” Jack responded as he took the boy's hand and headed for the booth.

Jack bought two tickets and rented skates for both of them.  He left his packages at the ticket counter, where they had a special section set up for customers to leave their bags while they skated.

When the two were ready to hit the ice, Jack advised, “Okay, just hang on, and remember, falling down is a sign that you're learning.  I do it all the time.”

“They'll laugh at me,” the boy commented as he watched all of the other kids in the rink, their parents lining the rails of the rink.

“Danny, listen to me.  Never worry about what other people think, not ever.  The only one you have to think about is *you*, making sure that whatever happens, it's the right thing for you.  If they laugh, it just shows their ignorance.  If you fall, stand up, laugh it off, and try it again.  Okay?”

“Okay, Jack, I'll try.  I ... I trust you.”

Jack's heart swelled at the words as he thought, ~What is it about little boys named Danny anyway?~

====

“Forward ho!” Jack encouraged as he released the youngster to skate solo for the first time.

“Ouch!” Danny cried as he landed on his butt after going just a few feet.

A few of the kids who had witnessed the fall laughed as Danny slowly struggled to get up.

Jack glared at the kids as he considered skating out to help Danny get up, but then he decided against it.  ~He has to learn on his own.  C'mon, Son!~

It took a minute, but when he got up, Danny smiled and skated the few feet to where Jack stood.

“Way to go, Danny.  You did great!”

“I fell down, Jack, but I did just what you said!” the boy said, beaming with pride.

“You sure did,” Jack acknowledged.  “You got right back up.  You keep doing that, in everything, not just skating.  No matter what you do in life, when you fall down, just smile, and get right back up.”

“I like you, Jack.  I wish ... never mind.  I'm going to try again,” Danny stated as he slowly skated away.

Jack took a sad breath as he watched.  If it hadn't been for Daniel pointing this Danny out, he knew he would have ignored this little boy, just like people had ignored Daniel as a young boy.

~Crap, Danny, I wish you weren't always right.~  Jack smiled at the boy.  “I wish ... too,” he said softly.

“DANNY HOPKINS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT THERE?  YOU GET OVER HERE THIS INSTANT,” a harsh yell called out from a stern looking woman.

Danny fell at the sound of the shrill voice.  He wanted to cry, but he looked over at his friend, Jack.

~He's having a good time, Lady,~ Jack replied in his mind.  Seeing Danny's look, he nodded and mouthed, “Remember what I said.”

Danny nodded, got back up, and skated to the exit, all on his own.  He took off the skates, leaving them at the booth at the exit.

The woman shouted, “WHAT DID YOU THINK YOU WERE DOING?  HOW'D YOU PAY FOR THAT?  SO HELP ME, DANNY, IF YOU TOOK MONEY OUT OF MY PURSE, I'LL ...”

“Excuse me, Ma'am, I paid for the boy's admission,” Jack interrupted.  ~Making a scene over the boy skating?  What kind of woman are you?~

“And what right did you have to do that?” the woman asked nastily, her expression matching her tone.  “He's not your son.”

“He's not yours, either,” Jack refuted sternly.

Scowling, the woman ordered, “Danny, carry these bags, and get in the car.  MOVE, or I'll tan your hide but good.”

Danny picked up all the bags, which were way too heavy for a boy his size.  He fell down, causing Mrs. Smith to look at him angrily; but then the child looked at Jack.  He blew out a breath of air, smiled, got up, and again picked up the bags.  Using his strength of will, he walked to Mrs. Smith's car, stopping for a moment to look wistfully back at his new friend.

“I'll thank you to stay out of my business.  In this day and age, you think you'd know better than to play with small boys you don't know, or is that your game?” Mrs. Smith accused.

~Lady, you've got your nerve.~  Jack didn't flinch.  He stared Mrs. Smith in the eye, his look icy and chilling.  “When's the last time you played with that boy, or just gave him a hug?  Have you ever allowed him to do anything but be your slave, or is child labor *your* game?”  He turned and walked away, leaving the shocked and angry woman behind.  He walked swiftly, but stopped suddenly, seeing Daniel standing at the edge of the rink.  With a sigh, he said, “Danny, I'm sorry, I ...”

“I know.  I saw ... and I heard.  Thank you, Jack.  You gave him something.  Maybe it'll be enough.  Please, let's just go home.”

Jack followed his lover to their vehicle, sensing the tremendous emotion flowing through the younger man.  The little boy at the rink was obviously in a miserable situation, and they were just walking away.  Of course, neither knew what else they could do.

~There's nothing we can do,~ Jack thought as he placed his bags in the truck.  Looking up, he caught Mrs. Smith driving away.  Gazing at the back window, a sad smile on his face, was Danny Hopkins, waving.  ~He looks like Danny did.~

Jack's heart was ripping in two.  For the first time in a long time, he felt helpless, and that was a feeling he didn't like at all.

Even though Jack and Daniel didn't talk about the incident at the rink any further, neither could forget the lost little boy they'd found.

====

A few nights later, Jack found himself drawn to a box of items belonging to Daniel that was kept in the garage, up on the rafters.  He took the box of memories down and went through it, looking at photos of Daniel as a child with his loving parents.  He saw a happy, contented boy, full of life and passion.

There were also a handful of pictures of Daniel growing up with various foster families.  Daniel's eyes didn't shine in those photos.  He was sad, lost, and alone.

~No one did a thing.  What could they do?~

Shaking his head from a nasty realization, Jack tossed the photos and memorabilia back into the box and returned it to its perch on the rafters.

~Make the call; butt in; speak up,~ Jack thought as he walked to his study.  ~That's what they could have done.~  Pulling out an old address book, he sought out the name and phone number he needed.  ~And that's what I *am* going to do.~

Determined, Jack dialed a number and waited for a voice to answer.  As he waited on hold for the busy operator, he opened the top drawer of his desk and pulled out a photo he kept there of himself and his lover.

~How many people did what I did a few days ago, Danny?  How many saw you, let their hearts go out, but then just walked away?  I can't do that.  I can't let that little boy suffer like you did.~  Finally, the operator answered, and Jack closed the drawer as he focused on the phone call at hand.  “Annie Glenn, please.  Tell her it's Jack O'Neill.”

Jack tapped a pencil on the desk as he waited.  Fortunately, the wait wasn't long.

“Hey, Annie, it's Jack ... Yeah, I know, years come and go quicker than I'd like, and I have the gray hair to prove it ... No, not kidding, it's gray all right! ... <laughter> ... Really? That's great! ... Listen, Annie, are you still working with Child Welfare? ... Really?  Good for you.  Annie, I'd like to talk with you about something, or rather someone -- a small boy.  His name is Danny Hopkins, and all I really know is that he either lives in the Springs or somewhere close, and he's living with some woman named Smith, who has two other kids ... No, I don't know if they are hers or foster kids like Danny ... Yeah, I know you can't say much, but can we meet, and I'll explain then? ... Thanks, Annie.  I'll be there.”

Jack hung up the phone.  His feeling of helplessness was fading.  It wasn't going to be an easy road, but he was taking action.

====

“The lunch was great, Jack, and you may be gray, but you certainly haven't lost your charm,” the redheaded woman spoke enchantingly.

Smiling, Jack responded, “Glad to hear it.  Sometimes, charm is the only thing I have working for me.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” Annie refuted, patting her lips with her napkin for a moment before lying it down on the table.  “Okay, Jack, enough catching up with old times.  What's your concern about Danny Hopkins?”

“He's an unhappy little boy,” the man responded pointedly.

“Mrs. Smith is a qualified foster parent, Jack.  I checked her out.”

“Check her out again,” Jack instructed a bit harshly.  “Sorry, but you didn't see what I did,” he said and then explained about the incident at the small ice rink.

“Maybe she was just having a bad day,” Annie spoke as she sat back in her chair.

“No, I don't think so,” Jack replied.  “Tell me something, Annie.  Is Danny eligible for adoption?”

Cocking her head slightly, Annie replied curiously, “Yes, he is, but so many families want babies, and Danny is so quiet that they ...”

“I know,” Jack intoned, shaking his head as he clasped his hands together atop the table where his plate had once sat.  “They think there's something wrong.  They don't see he's just a scared little boy who's been abandoned and wants nothing more than to love and to be loved in return.”

~Goodness!~  Annie sat in amazement at Jack's insights.  She remembered the man as being a bit of a jokester, but also very serious.  She knew he loved children, but she didn't remember him being quite so passionate about kids in the system.  “Jack, I don't know what to say.”

“I don't want you to say anything.  What I want you to do is get that boy out of that home and placed somewhere where he can smile and be a little boy,” Jack responded with forcefulness.

“That's easier said than done,” Annie spoke politely.  She sighed, “He's already been in four foster homes.”

“Stop.  I know the story.”  Jack got up, taking out his wallet to leave money to cover the check.  “Annie, there comes a time when someone has to stand up and say enough is enough.  I'm telling you that boy needs a family.  He's a boy, Annie, not a baggage handler.  He should be playing, not beckoning to the calls of a cow.”

“Jack!”

“I'm sorry, but I'm not sorry.  When's this friggin' system going to change?  You have *no* idea what that boy's life is going to turn out to be if you don't do something, and soon,” the colonel barked.

Stunned, Annie stood and asked, “Jack, why is this so important to you?”

“Because I know someone who used to be that little boy, Annie, and I just don't understand a world where little boys can be ... Crap,” Jack sighed, turning misty eyed and hating himself for it.  Still, he was unable to stop a single tear from falling.  “I've turned into a sentimental slob,” he said as he wiped the tear away.

“Jack, it's obvious that you care about that little boy,” the woman spoke.

Breathing deeply as he tried to regain control of his emotions, Jack replied, “Annie, all I'm saying is that little boy deserves more than he's getting.  Obviously, you can't help me.  I have to go.  Thanks for your time.”

Jack strode off, not giving Annie a chance to say anything more.

~You've changed, Jack.  Somehow, I don't think that's a bad thing,~ Annie thought as she put on her jacket and picked up her purse.  As she walked out of the restaurant, she saw Jack in the distance, getting into his Ford truck.  ~Danny Hopkins got under your skin, Jack.  I wonder why?~

====

“Danny, whatcha' doing?” Jack asked as he entered the master bedroom.

“Geez, O'Neill!” Daniel barked, quickly throwing his body over the gift he was wrapping.

“Oh, am I inter...rupting?” Jack asked, arching his feet to try and peek over Daniel's shoulder.

“Out!” the younger man commanded.

“But ...”

“O - U - T as in OUT OF HERE NOW!” Daniel ordered forcefully.

“Grouch!” Jack argued.

“Snoop!” Daniel retorted.

Jack chuckled and backed out of the room.  Christmas was always a fun time of year, and he loved seeing how much Daniel was finally enjoying the holiday.

~You've come so far, Danny.~  Jack sighed, his thoughts going to the little boy Danny that he'd met at the mall.  He remembered how the Hopkins boy had lit up during their brief time on the ice and how he had taken to heart the words Jack had spoken.  Now at the bottom of the stairs, Jack glanced up towards the master bedroom.  **Danny, I love you.**

Jack moved to the patio doors and walked outside.  It was cool, but pleasant.  A moment later, he felt arms wrap around his waist and warm lips kiss his neck.

“I love you, Danny,” Jack stated tenderly.

“And I love you.  What's wrong?” the archaeologist asked, full of concern for his life partner.

“Wrong?  What makes you think anything's wrong?”

“Because I love you, and I know you, and you're ... sad, I think.  Why?” Daniel questioned.

Jack turned and looked into his soulmate's eyes.  With Daniel's hands at his waist, Jack brought his to the base of Daniel's neck, gingerly caressing as he gazed.

With a sigh, the older man answered, “I just wish everyone had a happy ending.”

“Me, too, but would you like to be a little more specific?”

Smiling, Jack replied, “I love you, Angel.  I just ... love you.”  He kissed the man who was his heart, the man who had survived a childhood that no boy or girl should have to live through, the man who made him feel like a king.  “So what did you get me?”

“You'll find out on Christmas,” Daniel smirked.

“I want to know now,” Jack's inner child beckoned.

“No.”

“Yes,” Jack argued.

“Na-huh, but, uh, I'll ... give you a preview of one of your presents now, if you want,” Daniel teased, his eyes darkened and his eyebrows arched.

Jack grinned, recognizing the seductive mischievousness in Daniel's eyes, and responded, “You're on.”

“Catch me!” Daniel challenged, running back inside the house, disappearing up the stairs.

Jack gave chase, knowing that Daniel would let him find him.  The chase was only half the fun, but the real pleasure came afterwards, in the merging and fusion of their bodies.

“Can't hide from me, Dannyboy!” Jack shouted in delight as he ran up the stairs to their heaven.

====

Two days after his meeting with Annie Glenn, Jack came home to a message on his answering machine.

“Jack, it's Annie.  I just wanted to say thank you for bringing this case to my attention and to let you know that the child in question has been moved to another home.  I wish I could say that this will solve the problem, but if it means anything at all, Mrs. Smith has been dropped from the list of approved foster parents.”

Jack erased the message, took a beer from the refrigerator, and plopped down in his favorite chair, his head turned towards the mantle and the picture of Daniel with his parents in Egypt.

“Crap!” the colonel exclaimed in a frustrated tone.  “It's not enough; it's just not enough.”  He opened the beer and drank it hastily.  ~Okay, it's time for Plan B,~ he determined, getting up, placing the empty beer bottle on the counter, and then walking to his study.

====

“Jack, what are you doing?”

Later that day, Daniel walked into the study, concerned that his lover had been missing in action for over three hours.  Considering they only had a twenty-four hour downtime, that was a bit unusual.

“Oh, nothing, Danny,” Jack answered as he placed his address book back in the desk drawer.  ~Just Plan B.  I'll tell you later, if it works, and it will.  It has to.~

“Writing cards?  I thought you did that already?” Daniel asked, having noticed the stack of cards on the end of the desk.

“Yeah, well, I forgot a few people,” the older man answered.  ~Very select group; I'll express mail these before they close this afternoon,~ he thought as he glanced at the tiny clock on his desk.

“Jack,” Daniel began, suspicious of his lover, but before he could say more, Jack rose and scooped Daniel up for a kiss, a Jack O'Neill Special, the one that fried Daniel's brain cells.

Daniel forgot about the cards as he and Jack celebrated the holidays in their own unique way.

====

Returning home several days later, Daniel found a rather garbled message on the answering machine:

“... so don't be late, Jack.  They only have a short amount of time they can be here.  The plane arrives this afternoon at four, and the meeting will take place right after that.  Jack, if we pull this off, you are buying me the *biggest* lobster dinner we can find!”

Daniel couldn't figure out what the message meant.  He played it over and over, but it didn't make any sense.  The first part of the message indicated that whatever it was, Jack didn't have advance warning, and the caller obviously didn't know Jack was working late at the SGC.  Making his decision, Daniel picked up the phone and called his lover's private number.

“O'Neill.”

“Jack, there's a message on the machine for you,” Daniel reported.

“Hello to you, too.”

“I don't understand it, Jack,” Daniel stated, ignoring Jack's jovial mood.

“Okay, what's it say?” Jack asked.

Daniel relayed the message in its entirety and then inquired, “What's it about?”

~Nothing like short notice.~  Jack looked at his watch, his eyes widening at the time.  His short notice was even shorter than he thought.  “Geez, Danny, it's 1530.  I need to run.  Thanks for calling.  I'll explain later.”

“But ...”  Daniel heard the click, flinching briefly.  He wondered if he should be worried, but decided it must just be some Air Force thing.  “I hope,” he muttered aloud.

====

It was only a few days before Christmas, and Jack and Daniel had made their holiday season as bright as possible, as they always did.  Jack had managed to evade Daniel's questions about the phone message, but it wasn't that hard since Daniel concluded it was military-related and had, more or less, let the subject drop, especially since Jack hadn't done or said anything else to garner suspicion.

~Nope, you've been present and accounted for, My Love, and I have the body to prove it!  Gawd, I love you.~

====

“Jack, I thought we were going to see 'The Nutcracker'?” Daniel asked, glancing over at his lover.

“We've seen it,” Jack responded, smiling at the question.  ~This is gonna be great!~

“But it's a tradition, and if we aren't going to see it, then where *are* we going?”

“You'll see,” Jack answered with a grin.

It was that big Irish grin that always reached deep into Daniel's heart.  Something was up, and if he kept thinking about that smile, he knew something else that would be 'up', too.

“The mall?  Jack, I don't want to go into that zoo again,” Daniel whined.

Christmas shopping had been a rather trying experience this year, the crowds and rudeness almost making Daniel long for the days when Christmas was just another day -- almost.

“We aren't, Love,” Jack refuted as they got out of the truck and began walking a couple of feet.  Cheerfully, he nodded and instructed, “Look!”

Daniel looked in the direction his partner had nodded towards, where the small ice rink was.  His nose scrunched as he took a couple of steps forward and recognition set in.

“Jack, isn't that the same little boy we saw before?”

“Danny,” Jack stated, bouncing on his feet at the happiness he felt in his heart.

“What?” Daniel questioned, glancing over at his lover curiously.

Jack laughed, “No, his name is Danny, Danny Hopkins, soon to be Danny Hopkins Jenkins.  Now how's that for a name?”

“I don't ...”

“Come on,” Jack urged as he tugged his confused lover towards the rink.

“Jack!” the little boy yelled as he ran towards the man, jumping excitedly into his arms.

“Hey there, Slugger!” Jack greeted enthusiastically.  “How's it going tonight?”

“Just great.  I get to go on a plane.  It's not an F-15, though,” the boy sighed as Jack bounced him in his arm once.

Jack laughed, “Well, who knows.  Maybe someday you'll grow up and fly one.”

“Wow, that would be so cool, Jack,” Danny expressed, his whole face smiling.

“Evening, Jack,” the redhead spoke, a smile on her face.

“Hi, Annie,” Jack greeted.  He turned towards the smiling couple that stood next to Annie and spoke, “Julie, Dave, it's good to see you again.”

“We owe you,” Julie said, holding back a tear.

“Jack, Julie says maybe we can come back and visit sometime.  Can I?” Danny asked anxiously.

“Anytime you want, Slugger.”

“Jack?” Daniel finally called out, feeling totally confused by everything he'd seen and heard.

The older man smiled, then introduced, “Slugger, this is Danny, my friend I've talked about.”

“We have the same name,” the little boy Danny commented as he smiled.

Daniel returned the smile, although he was still confused about what was happening, and replied, “Hi, Danny.  It's good to meet you.  I didn't know you and Jack had become such good friends.”

Danny threw his arms around Jack and hugged him tight as he exclaimed, “He's my best friend in the whole wide world!”

“Ah, just wait until you get settled in Baltimore,” Jack responded, lowering the boy to the ground.  “You're going to meet so many kids your age that you'll forget me in no time.”

As Jack tugged on the boy's coat, fastening a button that had come undone, Danny shook his head and stated emphatically, “Na-huh, not ever, Jack.”

Jack smiled, unable to deny the boy's sincerity.  He stood up and turned his attention back to Daniel.

“Daniel, this is Dave and Julie Jenkins.  Dave and I went to college together.  He's a civil engineer now.”

“Oh.  Uh, hello,” Daniel stated with a nod.

Like the Cheshire cat, Jack grinned and added, “And they're going to adopt Danny.”

“A...adopt?” Daniel asked, an airiness in his voice.  His eyes were wide and suddenly a little misty, too.  ~What did he do?~

“Yep,” Jack affirmed.  “The paperwork is in the mill, and it's going to go through with a breeze.”

“Well, it's never quite that easy or quick,” Annie chimed.  Seeing Danny's worried look, she smiled and added, “But it will go through.  Don't you worry, Danny.  Dave and Julie *are* going to be your new parents.”

Danny grinned as Dave kneeled down and seconded, “You're already our son in our hearts.”

After the new father and son hugged, Julie suggested, “Why don't we go skating?  Danny says he loves to skate.”

“Sounds like fun.  C'mon, Danny, let's go get those skates,” Jack urged enthusiastically.

By habit, not only did the child Danny start to follow, but so did Daniel, until he stopped himself and blushed, looking sheepishly at the Jenkins and Annie.

“He ... um ... well, sometimes, he calls me 'Danny'.”

“It's a good name,” Jack chuckled.

“We need skates, too, so let's tag along,” Dave stated, putting his arm around his wife's waist.

~Wow!  I can't believe what Jack did.  How'd he do it?~ Daniel pondered as he followed his soulmate and a little boy whose life had been changed, even more than the boy would ever know.  **I love you, Jack.**

**Love you, too, Angel.**

====

The group had spent an hour at the rink and then gone out to dinner at a nearby restaurant.  Afterwards, they'd returned to the hotel where Dave and Julie were staying and popped in a video -- “The Thunderbirds” -- that Danny had asked to see.

An hour later, little Danny fell asleep in Julie's arms.  She smiled as she kissed his forehead.

“He's a beautiful little boy.  He just insisted on getting a video with planes in it,” Julie spoke softly.

“Yeah, we're going to have a pilot for a son,” Dave said to his wife.

“I'd better put him to bed,” Julie said, standing up.

Suddenly, Jack stood and asked, “Would it be all right if I ...”

Julie smiled as she answered, “Of course, Jack.  I wish you could see us off tomorrow.”

“Me, too,” Jack responded.  Looking at Daniel, he added, “But we're going to be out of town for the next two days.”

Jack took little Danny to the bedroom and tucked him in.  Just as he was getting ready to leave, he heard the tiny voice.

“Jack?” the little boy said.

“Hey, you're supposed to be asleep,” the colonel spoke quietly as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Will I see you again?”

“I hope so, Danny.  You know where I am.  If you ever need anything, I'll be here, and so will my friend, Daniel; but Dave and Julie, they love you so much, and I just know they'll give you everything you need.”

“New parents,” Danny said with a smile.  “Jack, do I have to forget my real mommy and daddy?”

“No, never, and don't be afraid to talk to Dave and Julie about them.  They have all your old stuff, whenever you want to look at it, and they promised me they'd help you to always remember the parents that brought you into this world.  In a way, you're very lucky.”

Danny smiled as he repeated what he'd already been told previously, “Because I have two sets of parents who love me!”

“Yeah, that's right.  Now go to sleep, and be happy.  Okay?”

“I love you, Jack,” Danny spoke earnestly.

“I love you, too, Danny,” Jack replied as he choked up.  He hugged the little boy tightly as Danny leaped into his arms, resting his head on his shoulder.  ~Geez.  Little boys -- they're so easy to love.~

“Jack, take care of Big Danny, too, okay?  I think he needs a hug, too,” the little boy observed.

~Kids always know more than we give them credit for.~  Danny's perception tugged on Jack's heartstrings.  He patted his back, and spoke from the heart as he answered, “Don't you worry.  Someday, My Danny is going to be happy, too.  I'm going to make sure of that.”

Jack placed a kiss on Danny's forehead and stood.  He turned out the light on the nightstand and walked to the door, where he was surprised to see Daniel, standing with his arms folded across his chest and with a tear in his eye.

“Gawd, Jack.”

“Let's go home, Danny,” Jack said and then walked past his lover, brushing their shoulders together.

The lovers needed to touch, to hold each other, and they couldn't do that where they were.

“Dave, Julie, if he ever needs anything ...” Jack began.

“Jack, you've told us that a thousand times already,” Julie chuckled.

“He just needs love,” Daniel interjected quietly.

“Daniel, he has that in abundance,” Dave promised.

“Thanks, Annie.”

“Lobster, Jack,” the woman said with a grin.  ~I need to find out more about you and Daniel.  I think you've been holding out on me.~

“I'll call ya,” Jack responded, getting a feeling that he was the lobster wasn't the only one who was going to be grilled during that dinner.  ~I think she's figured it out.  She always sharp.~

“Count on it,” Daniel added.  “I'll make sure of it,” he added.  ~I wonder how much Jack told her about us?  About me?~

“He doesn't have to,” Jack chuckled, eager to pay Annie his debt.

The couple said their good-byes to the Jenkins and Annie and headed home, where they made tender love.

====

As they snuggled after their lovemaking, Daniel's head on Jack's shoulder, his fingers playing with Jack's chest hairs, the younger man spoke quietly, “That's what those cards were about.”

“Cards?”

“On your desk, that night when you ... distracted me,” Daniel stated.

“The boy needed a home, and I decided I had to find him one,” Jack confirmed.

“What did you do, write to everyone in your address book?”

“No, only a select few, special people I felt I could trust with someone like Danny.  Plan B -- works most every time,” Jack chuckled.

“Uh, what was Plan A?”

“Annie,” Jack answered.

“Who is she, exactly?” Daniel questioned, curious how Jack knew the woman.

“Old friend of Sara's and mine from way back.  I knew she worked with the foster care program, but now she's the head of the Child Welfare Department.”

“So, Plan A was ...”

“To get her do something about Danny.  She did.  She got him moved to a better home, and the Smiths will never foster another child again,” Jack informed, feeling good about that.  “But I realized it wasn't enough for him to be in a foster home.  I had to do more, so Plan B.”

Daniel placed a kiss on his lover's cheek and asked, “Why didn't you tell me what you were doing?”

Sighing, Jack answered, “I didn't want you to be disappointed.  That little boy was you, Danny, and there was no way in Netu I was going to let you get your hopes up and then have them dashed.  No way.”  He placed a kiss on Daniel's head and then heard a light chuckle coming from his lover.  “What?”

“He trusted you from the start, for virtually no reason, just like ... like I did.”

“It's the uniform,” Jack teased.

Daniel winced, then said, “Oh no, it's not, unless of course, we're talking about your dress blues.  Gawd, you're so sexy in your dress blues.  I could just eat you.”

“And you have,” Jack stated happily.

Daniel chuckled wickedly as he agreed, “Yes, I have.”  He kissed Jack's chest.  “Thank you, Jack, for giving that little boy a home.”

“I didn't do it.  It's Dave and Julie.  They've been trying to have kids for a while.  They called me right away; said they felt like their Christmas had come early and been blessed in a way they could never have imagined.  They'll be good parents.”

“And they'll let him remember?”

Nodding, Jack answered, “Yep, I made sure of that.  Little Danny is going to know that all four of his parents loved him to the ends of the Earth.”

“He's ... happy.”

“Getting there,” Jack agreed.

Thoughtfully, the younger man questioned, “Why did he ask about me?  I mean, he barely met me.”

With a chuckle, Jack answered, “I told him about you.”

Daniel raised his head in question, surprised by the simple answer.

Jack explained, “I told him you were my best friend, that I loved you, and that I understood a little about what he was going through because you had lived through it.  I told him that knowing how hard it had been for you, that I couldn't, and wouldn't, let it happen to him.”

Daniel rested again on his Jack pillow, asking, “What if the adoption doesn't go through?”

“It will.  I'm calling in a favor or two.  It pays to have some old buddies who are generals.  Danny will be a Jenkins by the end of January at the latest.”

“I love you, Jack, so much.”

“And I love you, Danny, for always.”

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