Hard Lessons

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Angst, H/C of the Mental Kind, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  NC-17 (for intense subject matter)
Season:  Beyond the Series - May 2012
Spoilers:  None
Size:  213kb
Written:  May 30-31, June 1-8,11-12,16, July 2-3,6-8,12, August 5,7-9, 2007 Revised for consistency: September 17, 2007
Summary:  A diplomatic mission has a surprising end for SG-1's archaeologist, who is forced to relive some hard lessons.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) This fic is for Kelly, by special request.
2) 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.**
3) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
4) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s), “Gifts of a Lifetime,” “A Christmas Miracle,” “Ten Months,” and “It's Raining ... Kids?”
5) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Sara, Claudia, Linda!

Hard Lessons
by Orrymain

“Boo!” Daniel called out with a smile as he peered over the crib of JD Jackson-O'Neill, the youngest child in his and Jack's brood.

JD laughed, happy when his younger father picked him up and hugged him.

“Okay, well, today you get to spend some quality time with your Aunt Suzanna,” Daniel spoke about his foster sibling, Suzanna Simpson.

The baby let out a gurgling noise as Daniel bounced him in his arms.

“I'll assume that's a sign of approval,” Daniel chuckled.  “Time to get dressed,” he said as he gently placed the four-month old on the changing table.  “Oh, patty cake time?” he laughed when the little boy reached out and seemed to high-five the archaeologist.  “Okay, I'll play,” he agreed, beginning the famous rhyme as he played with the boy's hands.  “Patty cake, patty cake, baker's man ...”

JD laughed at his father and his touches.  He was content to play for a few minutes, until his rear end didn't feel so good.  He let out a cry to air his discontent.

“Okay, enough games,” Daniel announced as he removed the dirty diaper and tended to the infant.

====

Just as Daniel was putting on JD's maroon top that had a picture of a racing car on the front, Jonny came hurrying into the nursery.  The five-and-a-half-year-old youngster was gasping and agitated.

“Jonny, what's wrong?”

“I think Mittens ate Bogey!” the boy exclaimed, referring to one of the family's cats and his pet lizard.

“What?” Daniel called out.  He didn't even want to imagine how the children would react if one of their pets really had eaten another, though he also doubted their cats could actually eat Bogey since the creature wasn't actually that tiny.  Picking up JD, he motioned forward and said, “Show me.”

Jonny turned and walked, at a pace just short of running, back to the bedroom he shared with his brothers, Little Danny and Ricky.

“Ut oh!  Where'd Mittens go?” Jonny asked as he began to scurry around his room, looking for the cat.

“Jonny, tell me what happened,” Daniel requested as he walked over to the lizard's cage, examining the inside carefully to make sure the lizard wasn't just hiding among the decor of the cage.

“I was playing with Bogey, and I put him on the bed, and then Mittens came in when I was getting my book, and I turned around, and Bogey was gone, and Mittens was licking her chops,” the little boy bewailed in one huge gulping sentence as he looked under his bed for the missing feline.

**Jack, have you seen Mittens?**

**Nope, but I have an arm full of Calico,** Jack replied about the family's other cat.

**Just an arm?**

**It's complicated.**

**We may have a ...** Daniel paused, seeing something curious.  **I'll get back to you.**  Walking forward, he said, “Jonny, did you move your rug?”

The sandy-haired boy looked up from his spot by Ricky's bed.  He was on his knees, having just checked under his brother's bed for his beloved pet.  He looked over at the small rug that lay near his bed.

“Daddy, the rug is moving!” Jonny called out.

Daniel watched the slight movement of the 'Lightning McQueen' rug as something moved beneath it and then instructed, “Be careful where you walk, Jonny, and lift up the rug.”

Having done as requested, Jonny cheered, “Daddy, it's Bogey!” as he held up the lizard and grinned at his father.

“Okay, put Bogey back in his cage, and go downstairs.”

“Yes, Daddy,” Jonny said.  “Bogey, don't scare me like that.  I thought Mittens ate you!”

As he carried JD out of the room, Daniel shook his head, chuckling inwardly at the near crisis.

**Danny, Mittens just walked in.**

**It's okay, Babe.  She didn't have lizard for breakfast after all,** Daniel mused.

Downstairs, Jack grimaced and responded, **That's good.**

Just as Daniel reached the jog in the long hallway that transitioned the newer part of the renovated home with the older, he heard a loud, grumpy groan.  Turning around, he saw his tomboy daughter and smiled.

“Daddy, do you believe it?” Brianna whined as she held out a baseball bat in her hands.  “It just cracked.  Look at it!  It's brand new, Daddy.  I used *all* my allowance on this piece of ... rubbish.”

“Is that the one you just purchased last week with Dad?”

“Yeah, and I only used it a couple of times.  I was taking a practice swing or two just now in my roo...”  Brianna gulped, knowing she'd just stuck her foot in her mouth.  “...m,” she finished.

“Bri, you know the rules,” the father chastised.

“I wasn't trying to hit anything, Daddy,” the blonde rationalized.  “I just swung the bat a couple of times while working on my stance.  I didn't hit anything.”

~We'll discuss it later,~ Daniel decided inwardly.  “Did you keep the receipt?”

Brianna smiled, answering, “You told me to always keep my receipts.”

Daniel narrowed his eyes for a second, then repeated, “Did you keep the receipt?”

“Yes ... I mean, well, I think I have it,” Brianna chuckled nervously.

“Put the bat in your room, and see if you can find the receipt.  If you can, either Dad or I will take you to the sporting goods store tomorrow and make sure it gets replaced.”

“Thanks, Daddy,” Brianna replied, turning to do as her father requested.

Daniel looked at JD and smirked, “Just another day, JD, and it's only seven!”

====

“We'll be just fine, Daniel,” Suzanna assured as she held JD in her arms.

“Jeff and Jen will be home as soon as school lets out,” Jack advised.  “Right?” he asked the two teenagers pointedly.

“Right,” both Jeff and Jennifer responded.

Looking at Suzanna, Jack teased, “It's not too late to run for the hills.”

Jack and Daniel were headed to the SGC for what was now an infrequent off-world excursion.  While they were gone, Suzanna would be babysitting the brood, although, like always, some of the children would be in and out for a while. Little Danny was going to the library with one of his friends later in the morning, both Chenoa and Lulu had a dance lesson in the afternoon, and the Spitfires were attending a gymnastics camp all week that lasted several hours each day.  Fortunately, the parents had arranged for their kids to be picked up and brought home by others, leaving Suzanna clear to deal just with the children who were at home.

“What am I -- chopped liver?” Brianna asked, sounding very much like Jack.

Jack chuckled, “Of course not, Bri.”  With a smirk, he added, “Pork loin all the way.”

“Daaaaaad!” the girl whined as Jack drew her into a hug.

“I'll get it,” David said when the phone rang, though he waited for the parental nod of approval before actually picking up the phone.  “Hello.  Jackson-O'Neill residence.”

“Is that you, David?” a young male voice on the other end of the telephone asked.

With wide eyes, David responded enthusiastically, “Danny?  Wow!  I was just thinking about you last night.”

“Yeah, it's me,” the voice confirmed.

On the phone was Danny Hopkins Jenkins, the boy Jack had befriended at a holiday skating rink back in 2002.  The boy's parents and cat had been killed in a fire a year earlier, and he had been placed in foster homes.  From a distance, Daniel had recognized the signs of a child having a troubled existence in foster care.  Unable to shake the truth of his lover's fears, Jack had made it his mission to find young Danny a home.  He had succeeded, thanks to his old friends, Dave and Julie Jenkins, who had immediately come for a visit and fallen in love with the boy.

Now, Danny, aged sixteen, was a happy teenager, living with his family in Baltimore, Maryland.  Jack was still his best friend, and Daniel was a trusted confidante.  He'd been to Colorado for numerous visits over the years, and Jack and Daniel had also made a point of visiting the boy at his home as well.

“Guess what I did in the baseball game?”

“I'm all ears, Dude,” Danny replied.

“I hit a grand slam home run!  Do you believe it, Danny?  I've never hit a grand slam before!” David exclaimed excitedly.

“That's solid, David.  I remember when I hit my first home run.  Man, Jack was there, beaming, right along with my dad.”

“It was awesome,” David recalled, beaming with pride from ear-to-ear about his successful at bat.

“I'm proud of ya.  Keep it up!  Hey, I need to talk to Daniel.  Is he around?”

“Just a second,” David requested.  “Daddy, it's Danny, and he wants to talk to you.”

“What am I -- chopped liver?” Jack whined at not being the teenager's first choice to talk to.

Brianna hugged her older father and teased, “No, you're pork loin, all the way, Dad.”

Jack laughed as he placed a kiss on the top of Brianna's head.

“Hey, Danny, it's Daniel.”

“Daniel, I need your advice about ...”

As Daniel talked to Danny on the phone, Jack tended to a crisis with the family dancers, both of whom couldn't find their dance shoes.  They'd looked everywhere for their rehearsal shoes -- in their bedroom, in the dance studio, in the hall closet.  Calmly, Jack suggested they check their dance bags.

“Oh,” both girls giggled, realizing that's exactly where they were.

Crisis averted, Jack tuned back into the conversation his husband was having on the phone.

“Glad I could help.  How's the ... yeah?  Good.  No, not a clue,” Daniel said, smiling smugly in the direction of his lover.  “Sure.  It was good to talk to you, Danny.”  He held the phone out towards the older man and said, “It's for you.”

“Finally!” Jack exclaimed as he walked towards his lover to get the phone.  “And what is it I don't have a clue about?”

“Haven't a clue, Babe,” Daniel chuckled as he released the phone into Jack's hand and walked over towards the fish tank, where Jenny was fish-watching.

“Danny, me boy!” Jack greeted cheerfully over the phone as he began to chat with the teenager.

At that point, Jennifer walked over to her younger father and remarked, “Danny's a neat kid.  Is he coming out again this summer?”

“That's the plan, Jen,” Daniel answered, while, at the same time, being amused by Jenny's focus on the swimming fish.

“Daddy, why didn't you and Dad adopt Danny when he was a little boy?” Jennifer inquired.

Daniel was thrown a bit by the question, but then he replied, “The timing was wrong, Jen.  We weren't even married then.”

“Dad really worked hard, though, to find him a home, right?”

With a nod, Daniel confirmed, “Yes, he did.  He ... saw me in Danny, I think.  I ... saw me in him.”  He smiled when Jennifer placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and smiled supportively.  “I'm not sure what would have happened if the Jenkins hadn't adopted him, except Jack was very determined to give Danny a happy ending.”

“He did,” Jennifer chuckled.  “How many kids do the Jenkins have now?”

“Seven,” Daniel chuckled.  “They're really happy.”

“And it all started with Danny,” Jennifer responded.  “It reminds me of what Aunt Sam was talking about.”

“Aunt Sam?”

“She was trying to teach me some algebraic thingamajig the other day and was talking about how things expand exponentially.  If you look at this as a human equation, Danny was the catalyst for human expansion.  The Jenkins family multiplied ... exponentially,” the teenager stated with a smile.

Daniel stared at the young woman and replied, “I guess they did.”

“You wouldn't have let him stay in foster care, Daddy.  Just like with us, the Mouseketeers.  You couldn't do it.”

Smiling, the archaeologist nodded and agreed, “No, we couldn't leave you, and we couldn't leave Danny, either.  Maybe Jack could have adopted him, if the need was there, but it wasn't.”

“What?” Jennifer asked, sensing a sadness in her younger father.

“Oh, I was just thinking about ... David, help Aunt Suz, please,” Daniel called out, noticing that his foster sibling was currently overloaded with an armful of JD and his rattle that had fallen onto the chair they were standing by.  “Sorry, uh, where was I?  Oh, yeah.  There was a boy that I met at one of the shelters a long time ago.  I befriended him for a while.  Then things happened, and I couldn't get there for a few months.  When I did get back, he was gone, and I've always wondered what happened to him.”

“Why don't you find out?” Jennifer encouraged.

“It was a long time ago now, Jen.”

“Daddy, think about who you work for, and I'm not talking about J-O.  Geez, I bet Aunt Sam could tap in and ...”

Daniel glared lightly at the girl in admonishment.

“Oh, Daddy, don't act like you and Dad have never used Aunt Sam to find out things the average person couldn't know.  You have everyone checked out,” Jennifer spoke coyly.

~Geez, she's good,~ Daniel thought, feeling a bit guilty about his admonishment, considering that Jennifer was totally right.

“So, do some research.”

“Maybe, I will,” Daniel stated.  “Oops!  Ash!  Put Shortcake back in her cage,” he ordered, seeing the youngest Munchkin holding one of her guinea pigs.

“But ...”

“Ash, the cats are around, and there's too much going on.  Now, please, put her back.”

“Yes, Daddy,” Aislinn sighed as she turned around and headed dejectedly upstairs.  “I'm sorry, Shortcake.  We'll play later, though.”

====

“... and right before we left, Ptolemy started chasing Jack around the rec room because he was holding her food hostage,” Daniel told Sam as they entered the gate room.

The archaeologist was referring to the family's majestic hyacinth macaw bird.  The intelligent bird and Jack were always sparring, and the amazing thing was that Jack rarely won their verbal battles.

“I was not!” Jack refuted from his spot behind Daniel and Sam.  “The dang bird was attacking me.”

With a quick glance back at his husband, Daniel maintained, “Jack, you took her food and said, and I quote, 'Bite me, Bird, if you want this food'.  Ptolemy was just doing what you asked her to do.”

“Indeed, O'Neill, Ptolemy is a queen.  She would not chase you without cause,” Teal'c asserted as he stood next to his commanding officer.

Jack gave his friend a look of reproach and was about to snap back with a retort when a voice over the tannoy stopped him.

“SG-1, you have a 'go'.  Give my regards to Ardyl and Garshaw,” Hammond requested, referring to the leaders of the Hedronix and the Tok'ra, both of whom were Earth's allies.  “Godspeed.”

With a nod, SG-1 headed through the Stargate to PI9-905, the planet that had been designated as a meeting place for the three allies to discuss the current 'state of the universe', as Jack referred to it.  The planet was the home to a race that were friends of the Tok'ra.  The gathering place was located just two miles from the Stargate and was easily accessible by a tyrenium road.

“What's this stuff called again, Carter?” Jack asked as he stepped onto the road.

“Tyrenium, Sir.  It's their version of asphalt, only it doesn't crack or degrade.  This road has been here for thousands of years.”

“What do they do if they want to remodel?” Daniel asked curiously as he stared down at the road.

“They have a solvent that breaks it down.”

“Shouldn't we be trying to get some of this stuff?” Jack asked.

“We've tried, General, but these people are a bit ...”

“Stingy?” Jack put forth.  With a sarcastic nod, he added, “They *are* friends of the Tok'ra, after all.”

“They prefer to stay neutral,” Sam noted diplomatically about their hosts.

“Just what we need -- the Switzerland of the universe,” the general bemoaned about the planet's government.

====

After the successful meeting concluded, SG-1 was headed back towards the Stargate when Daniel noticed an old building in the distance. He became curious about it because the architecture was different to that of the other buildings they'd seen on the planet.

~Nope, we're going home.  I have plans!~ Jack thought when he saw his husband stop and study the building.  ~Gotta nip this in the bud.  Yep, just nip it in the bud right now.~  Firmly, he began “Daniel, we're not here to ... Daniel!”

“I'm just ... gonna go check it out,” the archaeologist stated as he walked backwards a few steps, pointing towards the structure.

Jack watched his lover turn and continue down the off-road path.

“Sir?” Sam questioned.

“You know, Carter.  I just had a strange case of deja vu,” Jack spoke.

“You have done this before, O'Neill?” Teal'c asked.

Taking a breath as he tapped his P-90, the general replied, “On about seventy-percent of our missions, Teal'c.  Let's go.”

Sam and Teal'c shared a knowing look, then followed the leader of SG-1 as he followed the team's archaeologist.

====

“Would you wait a minute?” Jack called out as he sprinted forward to catch up with his husband.

“Yes, Jack?”

“Daniel, after all these years, you'd think you'd know procedure,” Jack groused.

“I do, Jack.  I lead, you follow, you catch up, you go in, I explore.  Did I miss anything?”

“Yeah, the part where my hair turns grayer,” the older man griped, becoming even more frustrated by the smirk on Daniel's face.

Letting out a groan, Jack moved around his lover and cautiously entered the building.  Looking around, he didn't notice anything that seemed harmful, at least not obviously so.

“This is ... interesting,” Daniel commented when he walked inside the building, followed by his other two teammates.

“Teal'c, check the perimeter, just to be sure,” Jack ordered, getting a small nod from the Jaffa, who turned and walked back outside to check the area.

“Daniel, look at this,” Sam requested, motioning to some symbols that were written on a slab that protruded from one wall.  The slab was just three inches in depth, but ran across two-thirds of the side wall.  When the linguist reached her side and began to examine the writings, she asked, “Do you recognize it?”

“No, not really.  I mean, uh, it looks a little bit like cuneiform, but it's ... not,” Daniel answered.

“That's helpful,” Jack quipped, earning him a brief glare from his lover.  He walked around the room, which was about the size of the briefing room at the SGC.  “What's with the floor drawing?” he asked, looking down.

“What?” Daniel asked as he moved to where Jack stood.  Kneeling down, he lightly touched the colorful circles that were drawn there.  “Looks like ... chalk,” he said as he held his hand in front of his face and rubbed his fingers together, evaluating the chalky residue that dropped from his hand.  “Feels like chalk, too.”

“Looks like a bunch of squiggly lines to me,” Jack observed.

Daniel sighed, knowing Jack was talking about the drawing itself and not what was used to create the drawing.  His lover was right, though.  Aside from a few circles, the drawing did appear to be just a mass of squiggly lines, some intersecting, some not.  There was no pattern that the archaeologist could detect; it all seemed perfectly random.

“Sir,” Sam called out as she looked up at the ceiling.

As Jack and Daniel approached the blonde, five small openings in the roof became visible to them.

“Are those ... star-shaped?” Daniel questioned as he observed the openings.

“What's that green stuff?” Jack asked, raising his right hand high into the air.

Filtering through the star openings was a fine green mist that then hovered just a few inches below the holes.  The amount of mist was growing, but it was doing so very slowly.

“I have no idea,” Daniel answered.

~I have a bad feeling about this place,~ Jack's gut instinct told him.  “Okay, Kids, let's go home.  Hammond can send a team back if he wants to know more.”

“Jack ...”

“Daniel, do you see anything here that even remotely connects to the Goa'uld or any of the known bad guys in our universe?” the general questioned.

“No, but ...”

“But?” Jack asked sarcastically.

“What is this place, Jack?  What's that mist, and why is it just ... hovering like that?  It *has* to mean something.  This building ...”

“... is an old building with some weird green stuff floating around, and I think we should get the heck out of here.  Let's go,” Jack ordered, heading for the exit and then going outside.

“He's right, Daniel,” Sam opined.  “I'm curious, too, but ...”

“But it's nothing crucial to the survival of Earth, so why should we stick around and waste time, right?” Daniel intoned dryly.

Sam smiled and reminded, “You have other priorities now.”

Daniel stared at his friend and then smiled in return.  He knew she was right.  While he was eager to explore, he and his husband had agreed long ago to leave unknown, off-world mysteries to other SGC teams.  Now he understood why Jack was eager to leave.  It wasn't that there wasn't anything to explore; it was the potential danger of the unknown.  After all, they had a family now, and that had to be their number one priority.

With a grin, the archaeologist let out a tiny chuckle and agreed, “You're right, Sam.”

While Sam nodded and headed for the exit, Daniel looked up one last time and, only slightly regretfully, uttered, “Sorry.”

Outside the structure, Jack was looking forward to getting home.  He just wanted to spend some time with their children, tuck them all into bed, and cuddle up with Daniel on the sofa to plan their date night for Friday.

~Come on, Daniel.  Let's get out of here,~ the major general thought.  ~I don't like this place.~

As Sam reached the doorway, she looked out, seeing the frown on her CO's face as he stood a few yards away, his hand tapping his P-90.  She sensed he was about to let a huge growl any second now.

“Daniel, I think we'd better get out of here.  The general's gonna turn into a grizzly any minute,” she chuckled.

“Yeah, right,” Daniel acknowledged.  He was about to walk away when the green mist suddenly began to move around.  “Uh, Sam?” the archaeologist called out.

The blonde colonel looked up and saw the swirling green array uniting and beginning to move downward.
 
“Daniel, let's go,” Sam ordered a little more seriously.

“Uh, yeah,” Daniel agreed.  “I'm ...”

“DANIEL!”

Hearing Sam scream Daniel's name in a panic, Jack turned, his heart pounding.  He immediately ran back inside the structure, with Teal'c right on his heels.

“Carter, what's ...” Jack began, stunned when he saw his lover surrounded by the vaporous green mist.  Automatically, he raised his weapon, but there was nothing to aim for.  “Daniel?”

The archaeologist was looking upwards and was unable to move.  His first thoughts when the mist surrounded him were how cool he felt and how pleasurable the sensation was of being enveloped by the vaporous material.  After a few seconds, those thoughts disappeared.

“*Daniel!*” Jack shouted, sprinting forward and jerking his lover from the mist.

Sam stared in shock, seeing the green mist float upward, separate, and return to its original position.

“Daniel, are you okay?” Jack asked, his arms moving around to help support his lover's weight.

Daniel tensed, abruptly pulling himself from Jack's hold and backing away.  His eyes were wide, and his whole body was shaking.  He stared at Jack and Sam, seeing the guns, knives, and other dangerous looking things he didn't recognize.

~What are they going to do to me?~ the frightened man inwardly cried as he backed away even further.

The young man's eyes, full of panic and distress, darted round the room, finally landing on Teal'c.  He let out a strangled cry, breathing hard and raising his arms in a feeble attempt to protect himself.

“What the ...?” Jack began.  Taking a tentative step forward and reaching out his hand, he called out, “Daniel?”

~No, please, no!~  Daniel flinched and scurried all the way back to the wall in order to avoid the strange man's touch.  His hands were at his side, his palms flat against the wall as he tried to meld into it.  ~No!.~

Jack's heart was in his mouth, choking him with confusion and fear at his husband's behavior.  His own hands were shaking as he slowly pulled them back, deeply alarmed by what he could see in his lover's eyes.

~That's the look Charlie had when he saw that bear, and it's how Little Danny looked when he thought that car had hit Katie.  It's ... fear.~

“Daniel, it's us,” Sam called out gently.  She stepped forward and looked into her friend's eyes.  With a friendly smile, she asked, “Don't you know us?”

Daniel immediately brought his arms up, as if willing the woman to come no closer.  His head jerked to the right and then to the left.  He was biting down on his lip and making tiny, indistinguishable sounds.

“Who ... are you?” Daniel finally asked in a near whisper.  “Where are my ...”  He sniffled, cautiously lowering his hands.  He had recalled the answer to his question even before finishing it.  His parents were dead.  He closed his eyes tightly, tears stinging behind his eyelids, threatening his fragile control.  All of sudden, the last two, painful years became clear in his mind.  He began to chant, “Go along; just go along.”

~Go along?~ Jack echoed in his mind.  He'd heard that phrase before, but he couldn't recall where or when.  He took another careful step forward toward his life partner, gently requesting, “Daniel, look at me.”

~Don't hit me.  Please don't hit me,~ Daniel thought as he slid sideways along the wall and looked at Jack with timid eyes.  “Are you my new f…foster dad?”

“Am I ... what?” Jack asked incredulously, his legs feeling weak as a wave of sickening fear drifted over him.

“Sir,” Sam interjected gently, sharing a concerned look with Teal'c.  She could see her CO was struggling to make sense of the situation, but she had a hunch and decided to act on it.  “Daniel, how old are you?”

Still biting his lower lip, Daniel swayed back and forth a little, finally answering, “T...ten.”

~No way,~ Jack thought.  ~Not buying it!  No, no, no!~ he exclaimed, not wanting to process what he was hearing.

“Sir, I think you should get Daniel back to the SGC,” Sam suggested, glancing at Daniel and back to Jack.  Receiving no sign that her CO had heard her, she repeated, “Sir, Teal'c and I will go back to the town and see what we can find out about this place, but you need to get Daniel back to the SGC *now*,” she ordered.

Jack blinked and looked at his second-in-command.  He nodded, grateful for her taking charge.

~Keep it together, O'Neill.~  Taking a deep breath, he shook his head, burying the terrified husband behind necessary walls and putting the general firmly back under control.  “Find out what in Netu that green stuff is, Carter,” Jack ordered.

“Yes, Sir,” Sam acknowledged, giving Daniel a supportive smile before she and Teal'c exited the building and headed off towards the town.

Jack lowered his head for a second, preparing himself for whatever was to come.

“Daniel, we have to go,” the silver-haired man instructed.  Hearing no movement from his partner, he turned to face the younger man.  Instantly, his expression softened.  He felt his heart swell and his strength waver at seeing the unshed tears in his lover's eyes.  ~Oh, Angel,~ he lamented, desperate to take his husband into his arms.  He took a step forward, but Daniel once again slid further away along the wall.  Jack could see the man's fists were semi-closed, as if trying to grip the wall for security.  ~Gawd, he's afraid of me,~ he realized with a heavy heart.  “It's okay, Danny,” he assured softly, unable to keep the shakiness from his voice.  “You're safe with me, I promise.”

~Not safe, ~Daniel thought.  ~Never safe now.~  He looked up at the man with brown eyes that were aimed in his direction.  ~He's so tall, and he has that big gun.~

The 'child' hated guns; he'd already learned more about them than he wanted to. People with guns scared him, and Jack was holding that gun like it was part of his body.

“Danny, please,” Jack encouraged.  He could see his lover was hesitant and frightened, so he patiently remained perfectly still.  ~He's like a frightened animal,~ he lamented.

 ~He doesn't seem mean,~ Daniel supposed.

“Trust me,” Jack requested, maintaining eye contact.

After a few seconds and with a hesitant nod, Daniel began to follow Jack outside, though he stayed several steps behind the man.

As the two men made their way back to  the Stargate, Jack noticed a few things about his lover.  First, despite his evident nervousness, Daniel was fascinated by everything.  He shot a lot of covert glances at things, and his eyes grew wide with wonder at things he didn't understand, especially the Stargate.  Second, Daniel was definitely afraid of him, doing exactly what he said, when he said it.  His head was frequently bowed, and his eyes lowered whenever he looked at him.  Third, Daniel was quiet.  He said nothing unless spoken to.  Even then, his answers were short and cryptic, if he answered at all.  Mostly, he just shrugged.

When the Stargate activated, the 'child' Daniel jumped back, but then, with his arms protectively wrapped around himself, he slowly moved forward, his curiosity overtaking his fear.

“It's a piece of cake,” Jack assured, trying to summon a friendly smile as they stood at the platform in front of the event horizon when inside he felt like screaming and rebelling against the universe.

Daniel said nothing, not even making eye contact with the general.

Knowing that more information might help calm the younger man, Jack explained, “This is called a Stargate.  We have one on Earth that was discovered in Egypt by archaeologists.”

Daniel looked up, strangely comforted at hearing the name of his parent's profession and the place that was ‘home' for so long.  Suddenly, though, he frowned and began to look all around him.

“No, we're not on Earth,” Jack confirmed, seeing Daniel's head jerk towards him.  “As you always say, it's a long story, but a good one,” he said, smiling.  When Daniel's nose scrunched in confusion, the familiar expression tore at Jack; his body fighting between wanting to laugh and cry.  ~Keep a hold on your emotions, O'Neill.~

The archaeologist's attention drifted to the substance in the Stargate, and, in a barely audible tone, he asked, “Is that ... water?”

“No.  The Stargate creates a wormhole and allows us to travel from one planet to another, and we have to go through it now,” Jack elaborated, gesturing to the shimmering puddle as they walked up to the circular object.  “Just walk through,” he encouraged, slowly raising his hand to take Daniel's.

~Just walk through,~ Daniel repeated to himself, staring at the event horizon.  Unfortunately, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the man's hand reach out to him, and he quickly took a step back, his arms automatically going up to protect himself.  ~No, please.~

~Crap!~  Jack took a breath and tried to smile as he promised, “Danny, it's okay.  I'm not going to hit you or hurt you in any way.  It's okay.  This is just a wormhole.”  He knew he needed to lighten up, so he sing-songed, “You know, lots of worms circling around, all slimy and gooey.  We're gonna walk through.”

The younger man almost cracked a smile at Jack's erroneous description of the Stargate.

~Okay, there's hope here,~ Jack thought, seeing the very brief attempt at a smile.  “Take my hand, and we'll go see some friends.”

~Friends?~  Daniel didn't feel like he knew what a friend was.  Well, he did, but he hadn't had one since he was in Egypt, which, even though his mind knew was just two years ago, seemed like a lifetime ago.  He was very scared, but there was something in Jack's brown eyes that calmed him, too.  Deciding to give the stranger a chance, he slowly extended his hand, letting Jack take hold of it.  ~Just go along.~

“Okay, on three,” Jack began.  “One ... two ... three.”

====

Jack and Daniel had been back at the SGC for five hours.  The archaeologist continued to be quiet, rarely speaking.  Jack had stayed with him the whole time, but despite numerous attempts to get Daniel to communicate more, he'd only answered questions with a nod or a shake of his head, speaking just a handful of words.  The confused 'child' had allowed Janet to perform her tests without incident, but he still wouldn't tolerate anyone else's touch, including Jack's.

At the moment, Daniel was in ISO-2, being watched over by Casey Hemmings, one of the most trusted nurses at the SGC in Jack's and Daniel's opinions.

Meanwhile, General Hammond, Jack, and Janet were just sitting down in the conference room with Sam and Teal'c, who had returned from the planet a few minutes earlier.

“Doctor,” Hammond prompted with a nod of his head.

“Well, I've run every test I can think of, General, and everything is fine.  Daniel's perfectly healthy ... physically,” Janet stated, placing her file folder on the table.  “Emotionally, however, he's a frightened little boy.  He's obedient almost to a fault, and getting him to talk is like pulling teeth.”

Jack's hands were clenched, his knuckles turning white, but he said nothing, focusing intently on the physician as he listened to her comments.

~Just keep it together, O'Neill.~

“Daniel believes he's ten-years old.  From what I can tell, when he looks in the mirror, he sees himself as a little boy.  I'm not sure how he sees us or how his mind is processing our size compared to his true size.  Maybe the brain is compensating somehow,” Janet theorized with a shrug.

A few minutes later, as Sam finished giving her report on what she and Teal'c had learned from talking to the residents of the planet, Hammond questioned, “Did you find anything to indicate how to reverse what's happened to Doctor Jackson?”

“No, nothing,” Sam answered solemnly.  “They're very tight-lipped about the structure.”

“They are much like the Tok'ra,” Teal'c added.

“Oh, for crying out loud!” Jack exclaimed, slamming his fists on the table.  “I'd like to stuff the Tok'ra and kick their collective behinds up their ...”

“General!” Hammond chastised, barking out the reprimand.  He couldn't begin to imagine how hard this was on Jack, but they needed to keep calm and have clear heads if they were to have any chance of getting Daniel back to his correct age.  Giving Jack a chance to calm himself, he looked at the others and questioned, “So, where do we stand?”

“I recommend we take a medical team back to the planet and try to get a sample of that mist that enveloped Daniel,” Janet responded.

“I'm not sure there's a way of doing that, Janet,” Sam replied, her doubt evident.  “But I agree we need to take some tests and try to determine what it is.”

“I will go back to the town and speak with their leaders.  Perhaps I can *encourage* their cooperation,” Teal'c spoke.

General Hammond spared a brief glance at his second-in-command.  Jack had his eyes closed, but the general could see the distress and worry etched on his face.

Not knowing how to help ease the pain, Hammond stated, “We'll set up a VIP room for Doctor Jackson.”

Looking up and opening his eyes, Jack said quietly, “No.”  Seeing the confused faces of his friends, he sighed, “I'm taking him home.”

“Jack,” Hammond spoke gently, his voice rich with emotion.  He leaned over and addressed Jack directly and in such a quiet tone that the others could barely hear. “I'm not sure you're thinking clearly.”  As Jack looked up, the three-star general continued, “I can see you're only hanging on by a thread, Son.”

~Just keep it together, O'Neill,~ Jack repeated to himself as he swallowed hard and blinked back tears.  Taking a deep breath and continuing to look at the table, he began quietly, “We don't know how long he's going to be like this, right?”

Janet shook her head solemnly, “No, Sir, we don't.”

“And he's fine -- physically, right?”

“Yes,” the redhead confirmed.

“And he's not contagious, nor is it harmful for him to leave the SGC, right?” Jack queried.  When he saw the concerned expressions on the others' faces, he added, “All I'm saying is that staying here isn't really any safer than taking him home.  Am I right, or am I wrong?”

Janet sighed, “Sir, think about the children.”

“I am, Janet,” Jack stated more forcefully, finally looking his friend in the eye.  “They're expecting us home anytime.  What am I going to tell them if I go home without him?  They know we were going off-world today.”  He let out a tiny snort and said, “Little Danny would pick up on a lie in thirty seconds.  He has a sense about our missions.”

Sam bowed her head with a smile of acknowledgement.  She recalled several times in the past when Little Danny had sensed if something had gone wrong on an off-world trip.  It was nearly impossible to get anything by him.

“What do you suggest?” Hammond asked his fellow general.

Pausing for a moment, Jack gathered his thoughts, and, although not entirely convinced of the merit of his own decision, he explained, “The truth.  The kids need to see what can happen off-world.  They think of it as a magical playground.  Maybe it's not a bad thing for them to see the flip side.”

“I think you're right, Sir,” Sam agreed.  “Besides, what if it's perman...”

“It won't be!” Jack interjected sharply.  ~There has to be an 'or'.  There just has to be,~ he lamented silently.

“Yes, Sir,” Sam responded guiltily.

“If you need us, call, but I'm taking Daniel home.  He needs us, and we need him,” Jack asserted.

“Very well,” Hammond agreed.  Looking at the others, he said, “Doctor Fraiser, Colonel Carter, Teal'c, you have a 'go'.  Dismissed.”

“Sir,” Janet interrupted as they all rose to leave.  “I recommend you keep Daniel at home and limit his contact with anyone outside the family.  We don't know what kind of damage might be caused from ... well, some kind of culture shock.  It's for his own protection.”

“Okay,” Jack agreed.  Following his teammates and Janet towards the doorway, he stopped suddenly and looked back in the direction of Hammond's office.  Thinking for a moment, he turned and approached the office, tapping lightly on the door.  “General?”

Hammond looked up from behind his desk and answered, “Yes, Jack?”

“There is one thing I should mention before taking Daniel home,” Jack began.

“And that would be?” Hammond asked.

Walking inside the office, Jack inquired, “Do you remember Suzanna Simpson, Daniel's foster sister?”

“Of course.  She's a lovely lady,” the bald-headed man spoke about the woman he'd met at several family functions over the years.

“She's in town,” Jack explained.  Scratching the side of his cheek with one finger several times, just below his right ear, he added, “In fact, she's at the house, babysitting.”

“I see.”

“General, I may have to tell her about the Stargate.  I'm not sure I'll be able to skirt around it since the kids will assume something happened off-world.  I'd try to cover, but I need her to help out with the brood.”

Hammond leaned back in his chair for a moment, then asked, “I assume you checked her out.”

“Years ago.  I trust her, Sir, or she wouldn't be in our home and with our kids,” Jack declared.

“Okay, Jack.  I trust your judgment, but let's try to keep it to a minimum,” Hammond requested.

“Understood.  Thank you, Sir,” Jack spoke before turning and heading for the door.

“Jack?” Hammond called out softly, clearly transforming from the commanding officer to the concerned grandfather.  “If there's anything I can do ...” he trailed off.

“Thank you,” Jack replied quietly, staring down at his feet.

“You look after our boy, Jack,” the bald-headed man instructed.

“Yes, Sir,” Jack promised as he smiled faintly before heading for the infirmary.

====

“Doctor Fraiser,” Casey Hemmings called out, jogging over to the physician as she entered the infirmary.  Taking a quick look to ensure no one else was around, he led Janet over to a quiet corner of the room and softly whispered, “Daniel gave me this.”

“His wedding ring,” Janet sighed sadly as she took the gold band and caressed it between her fingers.

“Daniel waited until General O'Neill had left before giving it to me,” Casey explained.  “I have no idea how, but he doesn't seem to realize that he was wearing the ring.  In his mind, he found it and he thought perhaps General O'Neill had lost it.  He was afraid he might be in trouble for having it.”

Knowing what she needed to do, Janet smiled and said, “Thank you, Casey.  I'll deal with it from here.”

Casey nodded before heading back to ISO-2 to wait with Daniel.
 
====

Jack took a deep breath, not really knowing what to expect as he approached the isolation room.

~Just keep it together,~ the worried man chanted, standing up straight.

“General O'Neill,” Janet called out as she ran down the corridor, her high heels clicking on the concrete floor.

“Doc,” Jack acknowledged, turning to face the petite woman.

“I need to speak with you, Sir, in private,” Janet requested.

A little confused by the sudden request, Jack muttered, “Uh, okay,” as he followed Janet back towards her office.

“It will only take a minute,” Janet stated.  Closing the door behind them, she turned towards Jack, unsure of where to start.  She paused before beginning, “I know all this is hard for you, General ...”

“Yeah, well, you know how it is,” Jack replied, interrupting Janet, his voice accented with forced sarcasm.  “We can't go off-world without someone or something having designs on our archaeologist.”

“He does seem to have that ... magnetism,” Janet concurred with a knowing smile.  “Well, as you know, while we were in the briefing, Casey's been sitting with Daniel, and he came to see me just now.”

“What's up, Doc?” Jack asked, frowning at his unintentional pun that might otherwise make him laugh.

“I thought I should give this to you for ... safekeeping,” the petite physician explained, holding out Daniel's wedding band in the palm of her hand.

Jack just stared, unmoving.  After a few seconds, he very slowly reached out a shaking hand to take the gold ring.

“General?” Janet prompted when she saw her friend go very pale.  “Jack!” she called out more frantically as the man stumbled backwards a step until he was flat against the wall.  Realizing exactly what was happening, she encouraged, “Relax, and take a breath.  Slow and easy, Sir.”

“What's hap...happening?” Jack choked out.

“You're hyperventilating.  Take slow, deep breaths.”

Jack tried his hardest to obey the instructions, and after a few minutes, he slowly managed to get his breathing under control.  He slid down the wall until he was sitting on the floor, his knees bent up.

Being given Daniel's wedding ring had cracked the thin level of control the general had in place.  The full force of what was happening and what it might mean had just come crashing down on him.  He read the inscription engraved inside his husband's wedding band, -- Jack and Daniel, always and forever -- and it gave him strength.

“Hyperventilating:  I'm losing it,” Jack bemoaned.  “Why?” he muttered, not really conscious of the fact he was speaking aloud, and that Janet was listening.

Reassuringly, Janet comforted, “General, you're not in the field.  You aren't worried about your archaeologist; you're worried about your husband.  Times have changed, and none of us are the same people we were fifteen years ago.”

Not yet convinced and still struggling a bit for breaths, Jack refuted, “I'm a friggin' general, Special Ops trained; I'm not supposed to break down.”

“You haven't, Sir.  You had a shock reaction to an unanticipated situation.  It's normal, and there's nothing wrong with you or your command ability.”

Jack looked at 'Little Napoleon' as Janet was affectionately known.  Somehow, she didn't seem very scary at the moment, and she'd just been remarkably intuitive because she'd correctly realized that he hadn't gone over the line and had totally lost his edge.  He wondered how she'd come to know him so well.  When had he let down so many walls in front of her?  He let out a tiny snort, realizing exactly when -- November 16, 2003, the day he and Daniel had become husband and husband.

“He's your husband, Jack, and you have a family together.  You're entitled to let go for a minute,” Janet offered supportively, kneeling on the floor beside her anguished friend and laying a supportive hand on his shoulder.

“Minute's up,” Jack declared, accepting of his friend's comfort but needing to be strong once again.  Beginning to regain control of his body, he refocused on the gold ring and confided, “Geez, Janet, he never wanted to take this off, ever again.”

“I know, Jack.  We'll find a way to fix this,” the physician added as confidently as she could.  At Jack's silence, she added, “You need to stay positive and strong.  Daniel needs you, and so do your children.”

Jack looked up at Janet with an expression of gratitude and sighed, “Yeah,”.  His emotional strength returning, he ordered, ~Pull it together, O'Neill,~ as he stood back up, offering his hand to help Janet off the floor.

“Why did Hemmings have the ring?” Jack asked.

Janet shook her head, clarifying, “Apparently, Daniel just gave it to him; claimed he'd found it.”

“But he was wearing it,” Jack responded in a raspy voice.

“Jack, we don't know how Daniel is perceiving us.  Wearing a ring doesn't fit his image of the ten-year-old child he believes himself to be.  He probably realized he was wearing a ring, and his mind compensated.  He doesn't know he was wearing it.  He probably thinks it was on one of the hospital beds or maybe on the floor.”

“This is creepy, Doc.”

“I know, but I'm going to continue to run tests, and Sam and Teal'c are going to keep after our allies for information.  Give it time.”

Patience was not one of Jack's strong suits, but he knew he didn't have much of a choice.

“I'd better go and get Danny,” Jack said as he smiled weakly, taking a deep breath.  “And work out how I'm going to explain all this to the brood,” he added, the general now firmly back in control.

“Yes, Sir,” Janet said, returning her friend's smile and opening her office door.

Just as Jack reached the doorway, he paused, leaning over and kissing Janet on the cheek before heading directly for ISO-2.

====

“You okay?” Casey asked Daniel as they sat quietly at the table.

Daniel nodded slowly, glancing up at the friendly nurse, who had been sitting with him while Jack and the doctor were gone.

“Did you enjoy our game of chess?” Casey asked.

Daniel nodded again.  He liked to play chess.  It was a quiet game, which meant he didn't have to talk much, if at all.

“Can you keep a secret?” Casey questioned with a mischievous grin, leaning closer to Daniel.  “I'm not used to losing at chess.  You're a really good player.”

Daniel looked up again and offered a shy smile.  Over the last hour, he'd become a little more comfortable with Casey's presence and had even begun to tentatively ask a few questions.  Unfortunately, the nurse was under orders not to discuss anything to do with the Stargate or the current ‘situation' with Daniel.

Casey knew that, as a child, Daniel had lost his parents and grown up in the foster care system, but he was unaware of the more horrific details of Daniel's past.  To ease the silence, he had tried to get Daniel to talk about Egypt, what he liked to do, and whether he had any hobbies.

Daniel, however, had remained subdued and answered by simply shrugging his shoulders or replying, “I don't know.”

When the game ended, Daniel moved over to the bed, sitting on the edge of the mattress.  He couldn't help but feel scared and confused at what was going on.

~Did I imagine the big ring with water in it?  How did I get here?  And why won't anyone talk to me about anything?~ the 'child' Daniel asked himself.

“You'll like the general,” Casey spoke lightly, seeing his companion was becoming more nervous.  Packing away the chess board, he added, “He's a great guy.”

Assuming that Jack was his new foster father, Daniel thought, ~Everyone keeps calling him ‘General'; he must be really important.  I wonder what I'm supposed to call him,~ he mused.

Just then, the door opened, and Daniel instinctively scooted back on the bad, curling his legs up underneath him.

As he entered the isolation room, Jack acknowledged Casey with a nod and then turned to Daniel and called out gently, “Hey, Daniel.  Ready to go home?”

Daniel's response was a barely audible mumble.

“What was that?” Jack questioned lightly, taking a small step forward.

“Yes, General Jack,” Daniel said a little louder.

Jack chuckled at the answer.  It was just the kind of thing Jonny and Little Danny would say.

“Just Jack is fine, Daniel,” the older man corrected.

Daniel nodded, looking down again at the bedspread and picking at a loose thread.

“Daniel, listen to me,” Jack stated, his voice quiet and calm as he walked very slowly to sit on the bed.  “I know this is hard for you to understand, but where we're going, there are a lot of children who love you.”

~He's not making sense.~  Daniel scrunched his nose, not understanding what the man was saying.  ~I don't have any friends.  I don't even know what's going on.~

“Trust me, it's going to be okay.  These kids will help you, and so will I,” Jack promised.

Daniel blinked.  Jack seemed nicer than most of the people he'd been in contact with recently.  Still, the last two years had been brutal, and he was afraid it was nothing but an act, that once he got to this place with the kids, the unpleasant truth would kick in.

“Come on,” Jack called out, standing up and encouraging Daniel to follow him.  “It's okay.”

Slowly, the younger man got off the bed and trailed behind Jack as they walked to the locker room.

“Put these on,” Jack instructed, handing Daniel his street clothes.

“Too b...” Daniel began, though he stopped and bit his lip.  ~Go along; just go along.~

Jack smiled and said, “Try them.  I'll bet you'll be surprised.”

Daniel nodded, though he thought the man was crazy.  A couple minutes later, though, he was shocked that the clothes fit.

~They looked like they were too big,~ the 'child' Daniel thought once he had the clothes on and saw that they fit him just fine.  ~I don't understand.~

Jack slipped on his jacket, having watched Daniel's reaction to the clothes.

~He sees himself as a kid, but he knows something is a little off.  I can see his mind moving, trying to figure it out,~ Jack thought.  Closing his locker, he asked, “Ready?”

Daniel nodded and followed Jack through the corridors of the SGC and past the security points.  Since he was looking down, he missed the questioning looks being directed his way.

However, Jack had seen the strange looks, surmising, ~People probably think we've had a huge fight or something.  I wish that was all this was; then I could fix it in a heartbeat.~

====

“Stay here,” Jack ordered lightly, after a very compliant Daniel had climbed into the passenger seat of the truck.  He closed the door, making his way around to the other side.  Before getting inside, though, he pulled out his cell phone.  He'd been thinking hard about how he was going to approach this situation and how to explain everything to the brood.  He pressed the speed dial number for Jennifer's cell phone.  ~Pick up, Jen,~ he demanded mentally after a few rings, not wanting to be ignored as Jennifer had once done a long time ago.  ~Geez, O'Neill, can it.  She's grown up a lot in the last year.~

Jack made sure he could keep one eye on his husband through the window, though he stayed far enough away that the archaeologist wouldn't be able to hear his conversation.

“Dad?” the teenager asked worriedly.  “Is everything okay?  Shouldn't you be home by now?”

Jack could hear the concern and spoke calmly when he replied, “Jen, I need to make this fast, so listen up.  I want you to gather the kids together and stay in Bri's room until I say so.  Daddy and I will be home soon, but I need to talk to everyone first.”

“Wouldn't it be easier if we stayed in the rec room or ...”

“No, and I'd like you to ask Aunt Suz to stay with JD in the nursery until I can talk to her alone.  Jen, I need your help here to do *exactly* as I've asked.  Tell Jeff and Bri that I'm relying on them to keep the younger ones' curiosity from getting out of control.  Also, I'd like you to be downstairs when we get home, but you need to go along with whatever I say.  I'll explain everything later.”

“Dad ... is Daddy ...?”

“He's okay, but there is a little problem.  Help me out, Jen.  We're leaving the Mountain now, so in thirty minutes, I want everyone in their rooms and all of the zoo in their homes, except for Bijou and Katie,” Jack informed.

“Where do you want them?”

“On their beanbag in the living room.”

Jennifer chuckled nervously, “You trust them to handle whatever this is, don't you, Dad?”

Jack let out an emotional sigh and nodded as he responded, “Yeah, they'll know.  One more thing.  Take a quick sweep of the living room and the rec room, and take the family photos, or anything of Daddy and me together, and put them in the den.”

“The den?” Jennifer asked, her anxiety growing now.

“Please, Jen.  I'm counting on you,” Jack stated.  After a moment, when there hadn't been a response, he called out, “Jen?”

“I'll make sure it's exactly how you want it, Dad, although I might have to lock Little Danny in his room.  He's already anxious about you both but trying not to let on to anyone.  I promise I'll do my best though.  Tell Daddy I love him, okay?”

“You can tell him yourself later.  I love you, Jen.”

“Love you, too, Dad.”

Jack disconnected the call and looked through the window of his truck.  He hoped he was making the right call.  It was a little unorthodox, and he wasn't totally sure how Daniel would feel about it.

~I have to go with my gut, Danny, and my gut says you belong at home.  It also says our kids can handle it.~  Slipping the cell phone into his jacket, Jack said, “Gut, you'd better not let me down.”

====

~Wow, look at this truck.  What is all this?  I've never seen anything like this before,~ Daniel thought about the various features of the Ford truck.  As he looked out the passenger window, he realized, too, that there were a lot of fancy gizmos that he'd never seen before.  ~New York didn't look like this.~

Jack glanced over at the curious person sitting next to him.  He could sense the wonderment.

~Crap.  He's living in the 1970's, and this is 2012.  One step at a time, O'Neill.  Take it slow.~

====

“Little Danny, it's time to go upstairs,” Jennifer sighed, seeing her brother staring out the front window.

The rest of the children were already in Brianna's room, or headed in that direction, and Suzanna was just finishing feeding JD the rest of his bottle before going to the nursery with the infant.

Jennifer was about to begin rounding up the personal belongings Jack had requested when she'd noticed the middle Munchkin peering out the blinds.

“Jen, what's wrong?” the perceptive youngster asked, looking up at his oldest sister.

The teenager knelt down and smiled at the boy as she took his hands in hers.  It was obvious his sixth sense was kicking in.

“Daddy's okay, and I don't know the details, but they'll be home soon.  I think Dad just wants to talk to everyone together, and he ...”

“He doesn't want us to see Daddy,” Little Danny spoke sadly.

“Maybe just for a couple of minutes.  Little Danny, Dad promised me that Daddy was okay.”

“Something happened off-world, Jen,” the child prodigy whispered, knowing that Suzanna had no knowledge of the Stargate or life on other planets.

“But nothing too bad.  It'll be okay.  Remember, we're explorers, and sometimes we have to deal with the unexpected.  Daddy's told us that we have to face the unknown head on and study it.”

“I don't want to study Daddy, Jen.  I want Daddy to be Daddy,” the boy sniffled.

Squeezing her brother's hands, Jennifer assured, “Dad wouldn't bring Daddy home if he wasn't okay, now would he?  There's probably just some little something that happened, and he doesn't want to scare us.”

“Really?”

“I think we have to trust Dad,” Jennifer opined.

“Me, too,” Little Danny agreed.

“Okay, I have to do something that Dad asked me to do, so I need you to go upstairs and make sure everyone stays together.  Will you do that for me?”

Little Danny nodded, then turned and hurried upstairs.

Standing up, the teenager sighed, ~I don't know how he figures this stuff out, but he does.  Geez, I'm scared.  I hope I wasn't lying to him just now.~

====

Like a well-trained puppy, Daniel followed Jack into the house.  He liked the feel of the place.  Something about it seemed homey and even comforting; yet, he was sure the nightmare he'd been living in for the last two years was just on pause.  Soon, the world would turn dark for him again.

“Hi, Dad.  Hi Da...”

“Jennifer,” Jack called out, shaking his head.

The 'child' Daniel had crossed his arms around his chest and was looking down, having been lost in his own thoughts until he heard Jack say the girl's name.  He didn't know who the girl was, but he thought she was very pretty.  He also thought maybe it was the man's wife, although there seemed to be a rather large age gap between them.

“Jen, this is Daniel,” Jack spoke, the forced calm in his voice unmistakable to the teenager.

“Uh, hello,” Jennifer greeted, remembering the words of her older father on the phone to follow his lead.

“Woof!” Bijou called out, having sat up in her beanbag.  She cocked her head to the side and frowned.  Then she let out a smaller, “Woof” and nudged her puppy awake.

“Girls, come,” Jack ordered.  “Daniel, this is Bijou and Katie.  You can play with them.  In fact, I suspect they love you already and will probably follow you around everywhere.  Right, Girls?”

Katie stared at Daniel and then at her mother.  Then she moved forward, rubbing against Daniel's feet.

The confused younger man looked over at Jack.

Smiling, Jack instructed, “Go ahead; play with the beagles.  Uh, why don't you sit down on the sofa.”

Hesitantly, Daniel walked over to the sofa and sat down.  Immediately, the two beagles jumped up, one taking a spot on each side of him.  Instantly, Daniel gasped, and his breathing hitched as he looked over at Jack.

~No, not on the furniture,~ Daniel thought.

“Daniel, it's okay,” Jack soothed, seeing his lover's anxiety level.  “They're allowed just about everywhere.  Girls,” he said with a nod and a smile that told the beagles to stick to Daniel like glue.

Jack nodded for Jennifer to walk with him towards the entranceway.  He didn't want Daniel to hear their conversation, but he still wanted to keep an eye on him.

“Dad, what's going on?” Jennifer asked with a trembling voice.

“You know we went off-world.”

“Yes, but it ... you said it was just some diplomatic thing,” Jennifer replied.

“It was, but your daddy being your daddy, on the way back, something caught his eye -- an old building.  We went inside to investigate, and this green vapor stuff came down on him.  Jen, he thinks he's ten-years old.  He doesn't know me,” Jack stated sadly.

“Oh my gosh,” Jennifer responded, her eyes wide in amazement and concern as she brought her hands up to touch her face, covering her mouth.

“Everyone is doing what they can, but I didn't want to leave him on the base.  Jen, am I out of my mind, or can your brothers and sisters handle this?” Jack asked.

~Wow!~  Jennifer was about to answer 'yes' almost without thinking, but then she saw the trust in her father's eyes.  Jack was uncertain, and he was searching for validation.  He needed her.  She also knew she had to be honest, so she paused and glanced over at Daniel, who was happily, though in a constrained kind of way, playing with the dogs.  “Dad, I think they can.  They all know weird things can happen, and I think if you explain it to them, they'll be able to ... adapt.”

“I couldn't leave him,” Jack confided emotionally.

“The brood wouldn't want you to,” the maturing girl insisted.  She paused for a moment, fighting back her tears.  “What do you want me to do now?” she sniffled.

Wiping away his daughter's tears with his thumb, Jack softly answered, “Stay with him.  Jen, you know a little bit about Danny's past in foster care.  It wasn't pretty.”

“That's why he's acting so funny, isn't it?  It's not because he thinks he's a child, but it's because of what he remembers about foster care.”

“Yeah,” Jack affirmed as he nodded while patting the teen on the shoulder.  “You okay?” he asked with a faint smile.

Jennifer nodded slowly and leaned in to hug her older father tightly, both needing the emotional support.

After one more smile and a nod of strength that said they'd get through this, Jack returned to the living room and said, “Daniel, I'm going upstairs for a few minutes.  Jennifer and the girls will stay here with you.  Okay?”

Daniel just nodded and continued to pat Katie's ears and Bijou's belly.

Jennifer walked over, planning on sitting down next to her younger father, but then she realized how skittish Daniel was.  She decided space would be a better idea, so she sat down in Jack's favorite armchair instead.

“Dad was right.  They love you,” Jennifer stated quietly, a smile on her face.

“Dad?  You aren't his wife?”

Jennifer almost burst into laughter, but she managed to stop herself.  She shook her head several times until she had her emotions under control.  Then, as she thought about it, she realized that to a young boy, everyone bigger seemed older.

~It makes sense.  It's weird, but it makes sense,~ Jennifer thought.  “He's my father.  He's going upstairs to talk with my brothers and sisters.”  Seeing Daniel's questioning expression, she added, “There's ... a lot of us.  You'll see.”

~I guess he needs more kids like me to keep this big place clean.  I bet I have to clean the garage; probably sleep there, too,~ Daniel sighed as he looked at the beagles in sadness.

~I wonder what he's thinking,~ Jennifer pondered as she sat quietly and watched her equally quiet younger father get to know the beagles, who were such an important part of his family.

====

Jack's first stop was to the nursery.  He greeted Suzanna and took hold of his youngest son, hugging him tightly.

“Jack, what's wrong?  Why did you ask me to wait up here, and why ...”

“Suz, sit down.  I'm about to tell you a story that's going to sound incredible, but it's true,” Jack stated, motioning for her to sit down on the three-quarter-sized bed that was against the wall.  He walked over and sat down, still holding JD in his arms.  “You've heard of the gods that the Egyptians and Romans believed in?”

“Egyptian gods?” Suzanna repeated, a frown on her face from the puzzlement she was feeling.

“Suz, they're real.  They're called the Goa'uld, and it's because of them we're here like this today,” Jack stated.

“Jack, you're not making sense.”

“No, I'm not,” Jack sighed.  “Danny does this better than me.  Okay, there's this big circle ...”

For the next ten minutes, Suzanna was astounded by what her brother-in-law was telling her.  It sounded like a movie, and, at first, she was certain Jack was playing a trick on her, only the shadows in his eyes indicated he was entirely serious.

“You're serious,” Suzanna spoke, stunned by what she'd heard.  “You're telling me that beneath the old Norad facility is this ... Stargate?”

“Yes.”

“Jack, I remember reading about the consolidation of Norad into another air base, and ...” Suzanna mentioned.

“We needed more room,” Jack interrupted.  “They lost the coin toss,” he tried to muse.

Shaking her head, Suzanna noted, “There was no mention of a Stargate in anything I read about Norad.”

“Top secret and classified.  Actually, Norad still has some operations there, but we took over several of the floors they used to occupy,” Jack explained.

“Okay, so why are you telling me all this now, and where is Daniel?” an alarmed Suzanna asked.

“Daniel's downstairs, but he's not exactly as you remember him from this morning,” Jack said as he began to explain the situation.

Five minutes later, Suzanna was shaking her head, not sure what to make of the tale she'd just been told.

“Jack, we were the second home Daniel stayed in.  He'd remember me,” Suzanna theorized.

“You've grown a little,” Jack pointed out.  “He's a genius, but that's a lot for him to put together.  Look,” he said, standing and handing JD to the woman.  “I need to talk to the kids, and I'd like you there.  I know you just heard a story out of 'The Twilight Zone', but it's very real.”

Standing, Suzanna asked, “He'll be okay.”  Suddenly, she called out, “Wait!”  When Jack turned, she questioned, “What are you going to tell the kids?”

Jack sighed, “The truth,” as he stared deep into the woman's eyes.

“They know?”

Nodding, the general quipped, “Just call us the Space Family Jackson-O'Neills.”  His smile fading, he added, “They're good at keeping important secrets.”

“Now that's an understatement,” the woman responded, totally amazed.  “Well, like I said, he'll be okay.”

“Yes, he will,” Jack said as he turned around and headed out of the room.  ~He has to be.~

====

Jack quietly made his way downstairs to check on Daniel and Jennifer.  He paused at the entrance to the living room, undetected by either of them.  He stood, listening for a while as Jennifer asked her younger father a few simple questions and stood up and knelt down in front of Daniel.  She petted the dogs for a moment.

Jack's pride in his daughter soared when he heard her softly say, “You don't have to be frightened here, Danny.  We'll all look after you, especially Dad.  This is a safe and happy place.”

Daniel nodded, and Jack even heard the sweet sound of him giggling when Katie rolled over and stuck her feet in the air.

~Keep it together, O'Neill.~

Taking a deep breath, Jack left the sitting room as quietly as he'd arrived and made his way to Brianna's bedroom.  He hadn't realized just how much he needed his children right now until he was inundated with hugs and enthusiastic greetings as soon as he'd stepped through the bedroom door.

With the greetings done, Jack stood in front of the children and carefully reviewed each one of their curious faces.  Little Danny had stayed close and was gazing at him with troubled eyes, while the rest of the brood were scattered, some sitting on Brianna's bed, a couple standing up, and the rest on the floor in front of the bed.  A few feet away from Jack, Suzanna stood, holding JD.

“Something happened today when Daddy and I were off-world,” Jack began.  Seeing the glances over at Suzanna, he quickly added, “I've told Aunt Suzanna about the Stargate Program, *but* that doesn't mean you're allowed to talk about it with her.  It's still a secret, but she needed to know today.”

Several of the kids nodded their understanding, so Jack continued, “After our meeting, we were headed back for the Stargate.  Daddy saw something that he thought we should take a closer look at.  We did.  We were about to leave, when something strange came down from the ceiling and circled around Daddy.  When I got Daddy away, he was fine except for one thing.”  Faced with ten worried and tearful little faces, he quickly added, “Now, listen to me.  Daddy is okay, but that 'thing' has affected his mind.”

“How, Dad?” Brianna asked solemnly.

After a moment of silence, Jack sighed, “Daddy thinks he's a little boy.”

“But ... but how?” Little Danny cried, his blue eyes filling with tears.

Picking the middle Munchkin up and hugging him close, Jack explained, “I know this is going to be hard for all of you to understand, but Aunt Janet has done a whole load of tests, and Aunt Sam and Teal'c have gone back to the planet to try and find out what's going on.  I brought Daddy home because ... well, because I couldn't leave him there, and I think he's better off here with his family.”

“You made the right decision, Dad,” Jeff reassured.  “Is Daddy downstairs?”

“Yes, he's with Jen and the girls.”

Jack spent the next few minutes answering the children's questions.  As he talked, Brianna pulled out a new box of Kleenex, which was passed from child to child, to help dry their tears.  Then Jack knelt down on his haunches, wanting to be closer to the children.  He still had Little Danny plastered to his side, and the remaining Munchkins and Spitfires, along with Lulu and Chenoa, all shuffled closer.

~Now comes the really hard part,~ the silver-haired man sighed.  “Do you remember what Daddy has told you about what his life was like as a little boy?”

“You mean before Grandma and Grandpa died?” Aislinn asked.

“No, Honey.  After,” Jack clarified.

Lulu bowed her head and whispered, “He was like me.”

Beckoning his young daughter with open arms, Lulu gratefully fell into her father's comforting embrace.

Gently stroking her hair away from her eyes, Jack said, “I love you, Lulu.”

Lulu smiled and proclaimed, “We'll make Daddy feel better, Dad.”

“You sure will,” Jack agreed, hugging her a little tighter.  He looked out over all their children and up at Suzanna and JD.  “You all will,” he said confidently.

“What can we do to help, Dad?” Jeff asked.

“Just be yourselves, but you need to understand that he's scared.  He's that little boy whose life was turned upside down.  In his mind, that was only two years ago, and everything that has happened to him since his parents died has been a nightmare, except for when he was with the Simpsons.”

Jack and Suzanna shared a smile and then Jack turned back to the children and advised, “Expect Bijou and Katie to be stuck to Daddy like glue, okay?”

“They have special way of helping Daddy, right Dad?” Jenny asked.

“Yeah, very special,” Jack spoke softly with a loving smile.

Checking to ensure all the children understood what had been said so far, Jack explained that he felt it would be best if they went down a few at a time to ‘meet' Daniel, so as not to overwhelm the frightened man.

“I know this is going to be difficult for everyone; but you'll need to remember not to call Daddy, 'Daddy',” Jack reminded, which started off a few fresh tears in the younger children.

“But ... he is ... Daddy,” Aislinn cried as Chenoa scooted closer to hug her sister.

“I know, Princess,” Jack choked out.  ~I know.~

After a few seconds of silence punctuated by the occasional sniffle, Jonny called out, “We can do it,” in an attempt to ‘rally the troops' for the upcoming challenge.

“That's right,” Jeff encouraged.  “We're the Jackson-O'Neills.”

“And together, we're ...” Brianna began, prompting the others to continue with the family's motto.

“Unbeatable,” everyone spoke in unison, with a little enthusiastic gurgle from JD.

Just then, Little Danny sat up and let out a cross between a laugh and a cry.

“What's the matter, Little Danny?” Ricky asked worriedly.

As he held up the now-empty box, the little boy sniffed, “Need more tissues.”

====

Jack had taken the Munchkins downstairs, deciding they were the logical choice to start with.  When they left Brianna's room, the children all looked at Suzanna.

“Aunt Suz, what was Daddy like when he lived with you?” Chenoa asked.

As she held JD, the woman smiled and began to recall a time many years before.

“Well, he was quiet.  I think that's because he was mourning the death of his parents.  He was so sad,” Suzanna sighed.  “But, we were close.  My parents loved him so much.  They knew that with love, he'd be just fine in time.  He was so curious about everything, and they loved answering his questions.  I guess that was a bit of a funny thing.  He wasn't saying a lot, not when it was just talking, but get him curious about something, and he had a thousand questions.”

“What did you and Daddy play?” Jenny queried.

“All the normal kid games.  I had to be the leader and prod him into things, but I think that helped me become the person I am today.  He just needed confidence and to know he wasn't alone.  I think we were making progress, but ...”

“Nick,” David said with a frown.

Suzanna nodded, adding, “He wouldn't let Daniel be adopted, and foster care was never long term.”

“What happened when they took him?” Brianna asked, a bit of distance in her voice, which Suzanna knew was part of the tomboy's own defensive mechanism from her experiences.

After adjusting JD, who had fallen asleep in her arms, Suzanna sighed, “It was horrible. My father was being transferred, and he notified Social Services. We still had some time, though, but, one day, out of the blue, they came and insisted on taking Daniel. I remember hearing my parents pleading with the social services people to let them keep him just a little while longer, trying to explain that we didn't have to leave for another month or so, but they said no. They wouldn't even let him take the clothes and things he'd been given since living with us. I watched his face when that woman took him from my mother. All the progress, all the life that he'd gotten back with us, just ... drained from him. I ran to my room and cried for hours. I couldn't watch anymore.”

“Here, Aunt Suz,” Jeff said, handing the crying woman a tissue from the fresh box of Kleenex Jenny had retrieved from her room.

“His life could have been so different, if not for that ...”

“We hate Nick, too,” Chenoa said.  “Dad and Daddy don't like us to hate people, but we hate Nick, and Dad never says anything because he hates Nick, too.”

“Hate isn't a good thing to feel towards anyone, Noa.  Nick ... he just didn't understand,” Suzanna rationalized, though she could see none of the children were buying her manufactured sympathy.  “Okay, let's forget about Nick.”

====

Over the next hour or so, Jack introduced a very shy and hesitant Daniel to the brood.  He'd said very little to the children, but he looked at all of them carefully.  Finally, Jack brought Suzanna and JD down.

Daniel stared at Suzanna for a long time.  He loved her eyes.  They were soft, caring, and understanding.  Of course, he wasn't processing that information, except that he felt strangely drawn to her, and, when he looked into her eyes, he was reminded of the only friend he'd had since his parents had died.

Finally, for the first time since being introduced to the long line of children, Daniel asked, “What's your name again?”

“Suzanna.”

“I ... I knew a Suzanna ... on...once,” Daniel stated, his eyes giving away his emotion of the remembrance.

“Yeah?” the woman replied, a little uncomfortably.

“She was really nice,” Daniel remarked, letting out a brief smile.  ~I never wanted to leave.  Why did they have to take me away?~

“Oh,” Suzanna choked out, desperately holding on to her fragile emotions.

“You look like her a little, except, well, you're all grown up,” Daniel added shyly, feeling more comfortable with Suzanna because of the similarities he saw and felt.

“I hope looking like her is a good thing,” Suzanna replied, her voice low as she struggled to remain composed.

Daniel let out a small smile and said, “She was gonna be my sis...”  He stopped, looking down, mourning the loss of the little girl he'd grown to love and the two adults who had been so kind to him.  He hadn't even been allowed to contact them since the day he was taken away.  It seemed like the social workers never listened to him or answered his questions, so he'd finally stopped asking about the Simpson family.  “It's good,” he finally answered.

Suzanna smiled, but turned around quickly.  She was about to lose control, something she was certain to do if she continued to look at Daniel without taking a break to compose herself.

~Okay, diversion time,~ Jack thought, rubbing his hands together rapidly for a moment. “Daniel, are you hungry?” he interjected in his attempt to distract his husband, knowing that neither of them had eaten a decent meal since returning to Earth that afternoon.

Daniel nodded insecurely.

“Da...Danny, I bet you like waffles.  I know how to make waffles.  Wanna have waffles with me?” Little Danny asked.

The children were all struggling a little with calling their Daddy 'Daniel' or 'Danny', but they were managing with only a few small slip-ups.

“Jack, we did have an early meal, and it was fairly light -- salad and tacos,” Suzanna interjected, realizing the general was about to ask why the children hadn't already eaten dinner.

“Waffles for dinner?” Jack chuckled, realizing from the looks of the children that they were eager to spend time with their younger father, hungry or not. ~Maybe a full house Jackson-O'Neill breakfast 'dinner' is what we need.~

“Can we, Dad?”

“Sure, if Da...niel wants some,” Jack agreed.  “And let me guess -- ice cream for dessert?”

“Yay!” Several children exclaimed at once.

“Wanna have waffles and ice cream with me?” Little Danny asked his younger father.

Since Daniel nodded, Jennifer said, “I'll help.”

As Daniel and the children headed for the kitchen, the 'child' Daniel looked over at Suzanna and asked, “Is she his wife?”

“She's our aunt,” Aislinn answered.

“Oh,” Daniel expressed in surprise. ~His sister then.~

When Jack lagged behind and walked over to her, Suzanna smiled weakly and apologized, “I'm sorry.  I'm falling apart here.”

“You're doing *great*, Suz,” Jack praised. “You sure they aren't too stuffed for a second meal?”

“They have hearty stomachs, Jack; I think they'll be fine,” the woman opined.

“Ready for waffles then?” the general asked with a little smile.

Suzanna responded, “Waffles and ice cream for a late dinner, or is that dessert? Or maybe it's a snack?” She and Jack shared a subdued chuckle; then she sighed in amusement, “Who can argue with that?”

Jack put his arm around Suzanna's waist.  Immediately, she rested her head on his shoulder for a moment, gathering strength.  Then he led her to the kitchen to join the rest of the family.

====

“Thanks for staying, Suz,” Jack said later that night as Suzanna settled into the guestroom.

“How could I leave, Jack?  Goodness, this is all so hard, for everyone, and ... he's scared.  I want, no, I *need* to be here,” Suzanna replied, her voice soft and unsteady from the emotion she felt.

“Well, thanks all the same,” Jack responded.

“We're family, Jack,” Suzanna stated, drawing the man in for a hug.

Trying to keep himself together, Jack nodded and then left Suzanna alone.

The weary general walked upstairs to the boys' bedroom, where Daniel would be sleeping.  As there were so many mementos of the lovers in their bedroom, the older man thought it was safer for Daniel to be in another room.  Plus, there was no way he could have adequately explained why Daniel was in the master bedroom.  Thus, Jonny and Little Danny were staying with Jeff in his room, while Ricky shared David's quarters for the night.

“You doing okay?” Jack asked his soulmate, making sure to stand back and give him plenty of room.

Daniel just nodded.

“Danny, can I come and sit down on the bed?” Jack asked.

Seeing another nod, Jack walked over and sat down at the edge of the bed.  He reached over and patted Bijou for a moment as she stood watch at the end of the bed, near Daniel's feet.  Katie was nestled against Daniel's arm, closest to the wall, with her head resting on his chest.

Daniel was dressed in his pajamas that had the pharaohs on them, and he had the covers pulled up to his waist.

“Listen, I know you're scared, that you don't understand where we found you or why things are so crazy, like the medical equipment or my truck.  I also know you've had a tough couple of years since your folks died,” Jack spoke compassionately.  He paused, then continued, “Danny, you're safe here.  Everything's a little mixed up right now, but you are safe.  You can talk.  In fact, we like it when you talk.  You have a beautiful voice.”

Daniel swallowed and then blinked.  He pursed his lips as if he was going to speak, but then stopped.

“The kids love you,” Jack continued.  “Yeah, I know.  You just met them, except the truth is, and this is gonna sound crazy, but you do know them, and they *do* love you.  No one here is going to hurt you.”  He looked at Katie and smiled.  “The girls know you, and they'll keep you safe, too.  I know you love them.”

Instinctively, Daniel reached for Katie and drew her up closer so she was on his chest.  She gave him a slew of kisses, causing him to laugh, which, in turn, made Jack smile.

~What is he talking about?  I ... I've never met these people before.  Where was that place with the big circle of water?  May...maybe I've been sick or something. Funny, though.  I don't think he's lying.  I ... I don't think,~ a confused and a somewhat frightened 'child' Daniel thought as he held Katie close.  ~Like holding her.~

“If you need anything, but are afraid to get up, you can send Bij or Katie to get me.  Just tell them to 'get Jack', and they'll understand.  Trust me; trust them.  Goodnight, Danny,” Jack said softly, smiling as he stood and walked to the door.  He looked back and asked, “On or off?” about the lights.

“On...on, please,” Daniel answered meekly.

“Okay,” Jack said, nodding, leaving the door ajar as he left the room.

====

Having stood silently outside the boys' room for quite some time, Jack reluctantly forced himself to walk away.  As he slowly entered the master bedroom he shared with Daniel, he tried to ignore the large empty bed and headed straight to the bathroom, hoping a shower might make him feel a little better.  

~Now that's a dumb thought -- feeling better while my husband is in our sons' room, thinking he's not much older than them.~

Standing beneath the hot water, his head down and his eyes closed, Jack leaned against the wall.  He was doing everything he could think of, utilizing every technique he'd ever been taught, to maintain control.

~Crap, I'm getting old and way too emotional.~  Jack could still feel the prickle of threatening tears as he took a few deep breaths to force the agonizing emotions back down.  ~It's Danny's fault.  He's turned me into this mess; I just can't turn off my emotions as easily as I used to.  Danny ... Angel.~

With a sigh, Jack stood up straight and reached over to the dispenser, letting droplets of shampoo fill his hand.  Not really thinking about what he was doing, he began to wash his hair, his fingers scrubbing and rubbing against the silver-gray strands.  Mere seconds later, he abruptly dropped his arms to his sides, no longer having the will to cleanse his hair.  Instead, he let the spray wash away the shampoo as he stood motionless, eyes closed, lost in memories of showering with his husband.

Though stoic on the outside, inside, Jack was weeping; crying emotional tears for his husband, for their children, for himself, and for the unknown future.  They'd faced a lot in their past, but things were different now.  They were living their dream life, so for something as crazy as his husband thinking he's a child to interfere in that daily joy of just being the Jackson-O'Neills was almost too much for him to bear.

~This just can't be happening.  It's a friggin' nightmare.  Danny, please come back to me.~

====

After his shower, Jack crawled into an old pair of sweats and sat heavily on the bed.  Everywhere he looked, he was reminded of Daniel: his toothbrush next to Jack's in the bathroom, his pajamas in a pile on the floor where he had dropped them that morning, and a novel he'd been reading left open on the nightstand with the golden pyramid book light marking the spot where he'd left off.  Then there were the numerous family pictures -- their wedding, their children, and special times in their lives, including a picture from their honeymoon in Australia.

Jack stood and picked up his pants that were draped over a chair.  He reached inside the pocket and tenderly pulled out Daniel's wedding band.  He lie back down on the bed, pulling his legs up into a fetal position, remaining there for nearly a half-hour as he caressed his soulmate's wedding ring.

~The circle of our love: it's forever, Danny.~

With a deep melancholy sigh, Jack rolled over, his head at the edge of Daniel's pillow.  Taking in his husband's scent, he buried his face in his husband's pillow, taking comfort in the familiar aroma.

~It's lonely here, Love.  I could never get used to this, sleeping alone again.  I need you, Danny.~

Suddenly, Jack felt a weight on the bed.  He turned slightly, seeing Bijou slowly making her way up to him.  She sat down near his head and tilted her head to one side as if examining him; then she lain down and began gently licking the tears from his face.

~Tears?  When did I start to cry?~ Jack pondered, realizing what the mama beagle was doing.  “I love you, Bij.”

Having left Katie to look after Daniel, Bijou stayed to comfort Jack for a while.  It wasn't just Daniel she and her pup were protective of, and she knew Jack needed her, too.

Although exhausted, the weary man still couldn't sleep.  In the past, both he and Daniel had had to spend time away from each other and their children, but they always knew the other was coming back.  It's not that those times had been easier, but the outcome had always been known.

Now, Jack's mind was assaulted with memories of his archaeologist, missing and hurt during SG-1's prime years, when their missions were those of dangerous recons and explorations, daring rescues, and first contacts that sometimes didn't go as well as planned.  He tried to remind himself that Daniel was still alive, safe, and only in a room down the hall, but he struggled with the fear that he may never have *his* Daniel, his husband, back as his life partner, his better half. again.

~You're still my better half, even if you think you're ten,~ Jack sighed.  ~What about the brood, Danny?~ he asked, conceding that he was also frightened about how the children would cope if their daddy suddenly became their brother.  Right now, he felt despair for a loss that could never be replaced, but before he could sink into the bitterness of darkness, he felt the warmth of fur against his skin.  “Bij,” he whispered.

“Rrrrrr,” Bijou whined quietly, trying to lend her support, happy when Jack gave her a weak smile.

A few minutes later, Jack let out a deep sigh and uttered a grateful, “Thanks, Bij,” as he continued to stroke the mama beagle with one hand, while keeping a strong grip on Daniel's wedding band with the other .  “I'm okay, Girl.  You can go back to Danny.  He needs you.”

Bijou rested her head against Jack's for a moment and gave him a few more kisses before hopping off the bed.  She stopped briefly in the doorway, taking a final look at Jack, before heading back to be with Daniel.

====

Another hour passed, and Jack had barely moved since Bijou's exit.  He also hadn't slept at all.  He was daydreaming about a past trip to Bryce Canyon, Utah, one of the lovers' favorite romantic getaway spots, when a tiny voice pulled him out of his remembrances.

“Dad?” came the voice from the doorway.

For the first time, Jack realized that he'd left the door open.  Not even Bijou's 'visit' had caused him to realize it.  He rolled over and saw Jonny, Aislinn, Ricky, Jenny, Chenoa, and Lulu all standing sheepishly by the bedroom door.

“Hey,” Jack called out softly in the darkened room.  “What's up?” he tried to asked nonchalantly.

As several sniffles filtered their way through the room, Jonny spoke for all his siblings, answering, “We couldn't sleep, Dad.”

“We m...miss Daddy,” Jenny stuttered around her tears.

“C'mere,” Jack invited, scooting over to the center of the bed and patting the mattress.  He stared at the ring in his hand and slipped it on one of his fingers for the time being.  It wasn't a perfect fit, but it was secure, and that was the important thing.  ~Danny won't mind.  It feels like he's with me, in an odd sort of way.~

Jack was surprised Little Danny wasn't with the brood that was seeking out comfort, but he figured that his lover's namesake had exhausted himself so much by worrying over his younger father that he'd fallen asleep.

All six children jumped up onto the bed, crawling under the covers, and settling themselves around their older father.  Jack physically had his arms round Chenoa and Lulu, hugging them tightly.  Jenny snuggled up to Ricky, and Jonny protectively put his arm around Aislinn.

“Daddy and I love you,” Jack spoke tenderly.  “We're all going to be okay.”  Glancing at the children all huddled together on the bed, he mused, ~All we need is a thunderstorm and Julie Andrews to sing 'My Favorite Things'.~

Within five minutes, all seven Jackson-O'Neills fell into a relaxed sleep, taking strength and comfort from each other's presence.

====

Three hours later, Daniel started to toss and turn in his bed.  Bijou and Katie began to stir, concerned.

“No!  Please don't!” Daniel spoke agitatedly.  Suddenly, he flung his arms to the side and cried, “No!  Please, please, please, you can't ... not that ... no!”

“It's okay, Katie,” Little Danny spoke as he climbed up on the bed.  “Daddy!  Daddy, wake up!” he called out as he shook his younger father.

“Hurts ... why are you doing that?” Daniel questioned the tormentor in his nightmare as his body thrashed lightly on the bed.

“Daddy!” Little Danny called out a bit louder as he sat on Daniel's chest and pushed against it.

“Wha...what?” Daniel gasped when his eyelids finally fluttered open.

“You were having a nightmare,” Little Danny said.  “It's okay, Danny,” the little genius assured, using his father's given name now that he was awake.

“What ... why are you ... in here?” Daniel squeaked out.

“I wanted to sleep in here with you.  I've been over there,” Little Danny informed as he pointed to his bed.  “That's my bed.  I'm s'pose to be with Jeff, but I wanted to be with you.  Is that okay?”

“I guess so,” Daniel answered quietly.  “Um ... can you get off of me?”

“I'm sorry, but you wouldn't wake up.  What were you dreaming about?” Little Danny asked as he scooted to the side of the bed.

Daniel just shook his head, not wanting to repeat the memory.

Little Danny settled in next to his younger father and said, “Jonny and me sleep together sometimes, especially if we get scared.  We always tell each other our secrets.  You can tell me your secrets.  I won't tell anyone, not even Dad, if you don't want me to.”

“It's not nice, my dream, I mean,” Daniel stated quietly.

“I lay here, and you can tell me.  Bij and Katie will stay.  Lay down, Girls,” Little Danny called out.

Seeing the little boy had things safely in hand, Katie returned to Daniel's side and Bijou to her spot at the foot of the bed, only now, she was a bit more on alert.  She'd come close to racing after Jack when Daniel had had his nightmare.  Now, though, she felt calmer again.

Daniel looked at the child next to him.  In his mind, he was just a few inches taller than the boy.  Other than that, he even thought they looked a lot alike.

“It was Bruce.  He's older, and he never liked me.  He ... he hit me, just because I was in his room, but that's where Mister Cale told me to go.  And he'd hit me.  It hurt ... a lot,” Daniel whispered and then let go with several sniffles.

Little Danny turned to lean in towards his father, throwing his arm around him protectively.

“Bruce isn't here.  It's okay now.  No one will hurt you anymore, Danny.”

“We ... have the same name,” Daniel pointed out.

“Danny's a good name.  My daddy's name is Danny, too,” Little Danny said.

“I thought your daddy was Jack,” Daniel replied.

“Jack is my dad.  Danny is my daddy,” Little Danny clarified and then yawned.  “We go to sleep now.  You sleep, Danny.  Everything will be better in the morning.”

Daniel didn't say anything, but he liked having the other boy be so protective of him.  It made him feel more secure.

“Love you, Daddy,” Little Danny yawned just before going to sleep.

Though the 'child' Daniel thought it odd that the youngster had called him 'Daddy', it also seemed strangely right.  He didn't understand it, but neither did he worry about it.  In his mind, the words 'Danny' and 'Daddy' were one.  It was confusing, but it was the reality he was currently living through.

--

From the doorway, Jack smiled at his lover and the small boy.  He saw Bijou look at him, and he nodded at her.  He'd sensed his soulmate's distress and had come running, but had stopped in the doorway, seeing Little Danny comforting Daniel.

~I should have known,~ Jack thought with a tiny smile.  ~This explains why he wasn't with the other kids earlier.  I wonder how long he's been in there?~  He smiled again as he answered his own question.  ~Probably from the moment I left.~

After watching for a little while and ensuring that both of his 'Dannys' were asleep, Jack began to make his way back to the master bedroom and the much loved small heap of slumbering children.  As he passed the den, he was drawn inside and soon found himself looking at the Jackson-O'Neill Tree of Love, a framed group of photos that had been his wedding present to Daniel back in 2003.  He felt a little better now, having garnered strength from Bijou, their children, and their Tree of Love.

~We'll get through this, and you'll come back to me, Angel.  We need you.  *I* need you so friggin' much.~

====

Early the next morning, Jack finished dressing quietly and stood for a moment to lovingly gaze at his ‘lumpy mattress' as Daniel had once called it.  He smiled at their six precious children.  Ricky's tiny little hand was poking out from under the blanket, and Lulu was now so tightly cuddled up to Aislinn that you could barely tell where one started and the other stopped.  Jack caught sight of a little foot sneaking out from under the covers.

~I think that might be Jonny's,~ the smiling father thought.

All of the children who had come in during the night were still sleeping soundly in their parents' bed.

As Jack adjusted the comforter around Jenny so her head wasn't covered up, he reminded himself that he needed to be strong for his children, and for his husband.  That thought alone gave him strength.

~I can do this for them, Danny, and for you,~ Jack determined as he glanced up at one of the photographs of he and Daniel together.  Slowly, he walked out of the room, carefully leaving the door ajar for when the kids woke up.  He turned, immediately bumping into Jennifer and Jeff in the hall.  “Morning,” he greeted quietly with a smile.

“Morning, Dad,” Jennifer replied.

“Uh, you guys okay?” Jack asked the two teenagers standing in front of him, as neither had said a word or moved for a few seconds.

“Yeah, just a bit tired, that's all,” Jeff answered.  “I woke up last night to find everyone was gone,” he spoke about his younger siblings.

“You had to go a ways to find that out,” Jack chuckled since both teenagers had bedrooms at the front of the house, away from their siblings' bedrooms.

“Well, I just thought ...” Jeff began.

“You, too?” Jack interrupted, looking at his oldest daughter.

“I was kinda expecting Noa and some of the other ones to wake me up,” the teen confided.  “When they didn't, I ... well, I guess I woke myself up.”

“After we realized where everyone was, we ended up in David's room for a while, then we went back to our own rooms and went to sleep,” Jeff added.

“What about Bri?” Jack asked.

“I guess she slept through the night,” Jennifer spoke.

“I did not,” Brianna refuted as she came about the trio in the hallway, letting out a big yawn just as she reached them.  “I tossed and turned all night.  Did I miss a party?”

“Bri, you should have come to my room,” Jennifer stated.

“I was afraid of waking up the little ones, so I figured I'd ...”

“Be tough,” Jack said, hugging the tomboy.

Brianna smiled then kept walking, saying, “I need my morning energy drink.”  She paused, looking at her father, and asked, “Any change?”

“No,” Jack answered quietly.

Brianna nodded then disappeared downstairs.

“Dad, are they still sleeping?” Jennifer asked about the other kids.

With a chuckle, he answered, “Yeah.  They're all cocooned under the blankets.”

Jennifer giggled, “I wish I was small enough to still climb into bed with my parents.  I felt pretty lonely last night after Jeff and David went back to sleep,” she added, her smile fading.

Jack put his arm around his daughter's shoulders and gently comforted, “You'll never be too big, Jen.  You'll always be welcome ... but you may struggle to find a space.”

“Jen, you should have said you didn't want to be alone.  I ...” Jeff began.

“You'd think we'd learn,” Jennifer sighed.  “I'll bet David didn't get much sleep, either.”

“Probably not.  How is Daddy?” Jeff inquired.

“The same, I guess.  I checked on him just a little while ago, and he was still asleep, curled up with Little Danny,” Jack spoke with a smile..

“How are you doing?” Jennifer bravely asked her older father.

“I'm fine,” Jack replied, knowing his ‘fine' was about as believable as Daniel's.  “We're all going to be fine,” he assured with a grin, putting his other arm around Jeff's shoulders, too.

“Of course, we will,” Jennifer agreed.  “After all, we're Jackson-O'Neills, and we always make it through the tough times.”

Nodding and on the verge of losing control, Jack placed a kiss on the side of Jennifer's head and then announced, “I was just about to start breakfast.”

“Now I *know* I can help you with that,” Jennifer stated as cheerfully as she could.

“Jen, you, Jeff, and the rest of your brothers and sisters help Daddy and me all the time, just by being yourselves.  Still, I'll let you make the hash browns.”

“Gee, thanks, Dad,” Jennifer chuckled, knowing that her father was well aware that hash browns were not her favorite food to prepare.

“I'll help ya, Jen,” Jeff offered as she began down the stairs.

====

About half an hour later, the rest of the Jackson-O'Neill children began to filter into the hospitality room.

Jack's breath hitched slightly at the sight of his husband as he entered the room.  Daniel was still visibly nervous and appeared to be sticking very close to Little Danny as he sat at the table, while Bijou and Katie took positions at his feet.  The children were eerily quiet as they filed into their seats.

Pulling himself together and drawing his eyes away from his husband, Jack took a deep breath.  He surveyed all the children, seeing their nervous glances, and he decided that laughter was what his children needed right now.

~Laughter is the best medicine,~ Jack quoted to himself.  He stood in front of his ‘audience', his legs wide apart, and his hands on his hips.  He winked at Jennifer as she gave him a knowing smile.  “Brood, I am in need of your assistance,” he began jovially, receiving a few giggles at his eccentric performance.  “I cannot serve the morning delights of the most important meal of the day for free; I require payment ... in the form of giggles!”

A few giggles began to permeate the room.

~Dad is so good at this,~ Jennifer opined silently.  ~I hope when I have kids I'm just half as good at parenting as he and Daddy are.~

“Munchkins, are you ready for breakfast?” Jack called out theatrically.

“Yaaaayyy!” came the response from Jonny, Little Danny, and Aislinn.

“Spitfires, are you ready for breakfast?”

“Yaaaayyy!” Ricky and Jenny cheered, laughing and even clapping their hands a couple of times.

“Mouseketeers, are you ready?” Jack asked, his eyes shining to match his upbeat tone of voice.

While Chenoa had let out an excited cheer immediately, David's had been more restrained.

~Okay, follow Dad's example.  This is killing him.  I need to do my part,~ Jennifer opined.  Summoning all her willpower, she grinned and answered, “Bring it on, Dad.  I'm hunnnnngry!”

~That's my girl,~ Jack thought, subtly nodding in gratitude at the teenager.  “Mavericks, are you ready?”

Jeff and Brianna, also realizing their leadership roles, both joined in the fun and called out an enthusiastic, “Yes, Dad!”

Lulu, however, remained silent, and her head was bowed as her eyes focused on her two hands that were tightly clasped together.

“Lulu, honey,” Jack began, standing up straight again.  “Are you ready for some breakfast?” he asked a little more seriously.  ~Come on, Little Bit.  I know this is hard, but ...~

Though Lulu didn't answer right away, she interrupted her older father's silent thoughts by turning to her younger father and asking, “Would you like to be a Maverick, too, Danny?”

“A ... a Maverick?” Daniel asked tentatively.

“Yeah, Jeff, Bri, and me, we're the Mavericks.  We'd like you to be one of us, too .. if ... if you want.”

“That's a great idea, Lulu,” Jeff praised.

“It sure is,” Brianna added.  “Be a Maverick, Dad...Danny, okay?”

~They ... want me?~  Looking around the room at all the smiling faces, Daniel began to relax just a little.  ~Maybe I will like living here,~ he thought.  Looking at Jack, he observed, ~He's kinda funny, not scary like ... no, don't think 'bout them now.~  Turning back to Lulu, he answered quietly, “Yes, please.”

“Dad,” Lulu called out to her older father, grinning widely.  “Ask us again.”

Swallowing past the lump in his throat at his daughter's thoughtfulness, Jack re-took his theatrical stance, cleared his throat loudly and called out, “Mavericks, are you ready for breakfast?”

“Yayyyyyyyy” came the response from all three mavericks and their honorary member.

====

Just as Jack had served up bowls of Froot Loops to some of the children and plates of pancakes, layered in butter and syrup to others, Suzanna walked in carrying her four-month-old charge.

“JD, my little co-star!” Jack exclaimed, giving Suzanna a kiss on the cheek and then taking JD into his arms.  “You ready for your breakfast, JD?” he asked, bouncing the youngster in his arms.  Receiving an array of gurgles and giggles as a reply, he laughed, “That's good enough for me,” and passed JD back to Suzanna.

====

As the brood finished their breakfast, Little Danny excitedly asked, “Danny, you wanna come play with us?”

“Yeah,” Jonny added.  “You can come play with us.  We have lots of fun playing.”

“You can play with my toys,” Ricky offered.

The invitation was soon taken up by the whole brood, and Daniel was dragged up from the table and out towards the game room.

As the hospitality room quickly emptied, Jack let down his guard a little and leaned against the table, his head down, trying to control his breathing.

~Geez, Danny, this is so hard,~ the general thought.

“Jack, are you okay?” Suzanna asked quietly, having returned to the area after leaving JD with Jennifer.

“Yeah, I'm fine,” Jack sighed, looking up at his sister-in-law.  “It's just ... you know.”  He took a deep breath, admitting, “It's difficult.”

“I know, Jack.  Like you told the kids though, I'm sure Janet and Sam will find an answer,” Suzanna reassured as she put her arm around Jack's waist.

“Thanks.”

“You mean you're actually listening to me?” Suzanna teased.

“I always listen to The Simpsons,” Jack chuckled.

Suzanna groaned, “That's bad, Jack.”

“Thanks, *Marge*,” Jack laughed as he ducked a swipe from Suzanna.

====

Meanwhile, in the game room, Daniel was hesitant, afraid of breaking whatever game or toy he chose, but the kids kept encouraging him.  Almost against his will, he found himself playing air hockey and winning.

“You're good at air hockey,” Jenny said.  “Daddy ... I mean, Danny, come see Muffin,” she requested as she took Daniel's hand and led him over to the huge stuffed dinosaur that stood at the back corner of the room and was almost as tall as the ceiling.  “This is Muffin.  I named him.”

“Don't remind me,” Jonny muttered as he rolled his eyes and walked to another part of the room.

“I like to sit here,” Jenny said, plopping down between the huge dinosaur's legs. “You can sit here, too; there's room.”

Quietly, Daniel sat down next to the little redhead.  The two beagles sat at his feet.  True to Jack's words, the dogs had barely left Daniel's side since 'meeting' him.

“What would you like to play now?” David asked as he held a basketball in his hands.

Daniel just shrugged.

“Ah, c'mon, Danny.  Tell us what you want to play,” Brianna challenged.

“Whatever you want,” Daniel replied timidly.

“We want to play whatever you want to play,” Aislinn pointed out.

“Why?” Daniel inquired.  ~No one's wanted to do that except for Suzanna.~

“Because it's your turn,” Chenoa explained.  “We always take turns.”

“Oh.  Well, I'd like to play ... marbles, but I don't have any,” Daniel spoke dejectedly.

“I do!  I have lots of marbles.  I'll be right back, and then we can play,” Jonny said.  As he hurried out, he said, “Little Danny, come help me carry my marbles.”

“Okay,” the middle Munchkin agreed.

“Wow,” Daniel expressed, totally shocked.

“Why are you so surprised?” David asked.

“Usually, no one wants to play with me,” Daniel admitted.  “I ... I read a lot.”

“So do we,” Jenny said.  “We love to read.”

“But we love to play, too!” Aislinn giggled.

====

A little later, with the children still playing happily, Jack sat alone in the study.  He had some business for J-O Enterprises that needed to be handled, but first, he wanted to check in with the Mountain.

When the phone call ended, the general felt totally helpless.  There'd been virtually no news, though everyone was working diligently on Daniel's behalf.

“This is ridiculous,” Jack sighed, getting up from his desk and walking over to look at some of the family photos that were on the wall.

“Any news?” Suzanna asked, standing in the doorway.

“No, nothing new,” Jack answered quietly, beginning to lose his delicate thread of hope.  ~Danny, you're not allowed to be a child without me,~ he lamented as he looked at the photo of he and Daniel as children from a few years earlier.

“That's you and Daniel, isn't it?” Suzanna asked, moving to stand next to Jack.  “I don't know how it could possibly be the two of you, but my gut tells me that picture is of you and Daniel.”

“Yeah, yeah, it is,” Jack confirmed.

“I recognize him.  He looks just like he did when he came to live with us,” the woman added.  “He was very cute.”

“Yeah, he was,” Jack agreed.  “He still is,” he added with a grin.

“Yeah,” Suzanna agreed.  “Maybe sometime you two can tell me about that,” she said, smiling and squeezing Jack's arm in support before leaving him alone.

~I can't do this without you, Danny,~ Jack sighed as he sat down on the sofa, leaning all the way back.  He brought his hands to his face, running them over his eyes.  “Angel, come back to me.  I need you in the here and now.  I love you so much, Danny.”

====

Jack wandered into the game room, taking a break from his J-O business obligations.  As he stood in the door observing the games, he couldn't help but stare at his husband, his Daniel.  He was still a little nervous, but he was laughing.  He watched the children, how they involved Daniel and made sure he was happy.

Thinking back on his phone call with the SGC, Jack began to think, ~Okay, if this is going to be our future, we'll make it work.  This is your home, Danny.  Our kids are making us proud.~  He looked down and smiled.  ~But we are going to find a way to reverse this thing.  Carter always says we're SG-1, and SG-1 always finds a way back.  She's right.  We'll find an ‘or'.~

Glancing at his watch and knowing he had to be part of a conference call in five minutes, Jack made his way back to his study, somehow feeling more in control that he had since the beginning of this nightmare.

====

A while later, a few of the children and Daniel were in the kitchen as Suzanna and Jennifer worked on preparing lunch.

In the dining nook area, Daniel sat contently, listening to Brianna talk about dolphins.  He had his elbow resting on the table with his chin in his hand.

~They sure are happy,~ Daniel mused as he covertly glanced around the area.

From his spot, the archaeologist could see Little Danny and Jenny engrossed in a game of chess in the living room.  Looking down, he could see Jonny still playing with his marbles, being careful not to trip anyone as he sat on the floor at the edge of where the slick floor of the nook met the living room carpet.  Across from him, Aislinn was drawing pictures of rainbows, the family at the park, and her newest doll.  Looking behind him, he could see Suzanna and Jennifer, who were chatting away as they worked on the midday meal.  Though he couldn't see them, he could hear Chenoa, Lulu, and Ricky laughing while playing in the rec room.

“... And I went on vacation with Megan and swam with the dolphins.  It was incredible,” Brianna spoke excitedly.

Daniel couldn't help but smile at how the girl's face lit up.

Just then, Jeff and David walked in.  They'd been in the projects room when the smell of lunch, or maybe it was just their internal body clocks, lured them into the kitchen.

“Hey, Danny,” Jeff greeted his younger father.  Having heard the topic of conversation, he teased, “I hope you're soaking up everything Bri tells you.  There'll be a test later.”

“Jeffff,” Brianna chuckled, jumping up and chasing Jeff into the living room, where he fell back on the sofa.

“No running, Bri!” Jonny chastised.  “You almost stepped on my marbles.”

As Jeff and Brianna wrestled lightly, both were also laughing heartily.

“Sorry, Jonny,” Brianna spoke as she continued to wrestle and laugh with her older brother.

Daniel was sure the two athletic siblings would get in trouble, but Suzanna just laughed and called out, “Hey, you two; better remember the rules.  Wrestle outside.”

“Can't catch me!” Jeff teased as he hurried out the patio door with Brianna giving chase, stopping only to close the door behind her.

~I wish I could stay here,~ Daniel sighed, sending his wish out to whoever might be listening.  All of the children had been so kind to him, and they'd shared all their games.  None of them had been mean at all.  ~Jack seems nice too,~ he thought.  ~They aren't afraid of him, or anything.  He kinda reminds me of Daddy. Daddy used to carry me the way he carried Ricky earlier.  I think he loves all his kids a lot.~

The adult-child again glanced around the room, taking in all the happy activity.  He looked over at the chess players and then twisted around to see Jeff and Brianna still wrestling outside.  He grinned, unable to shake the feeling that he somehow belonged here.

“Danny, could you get the milk out for me, please,” Jennifer asked, having walked over to the table with dinnerware for those eating at that table.  “Ash, time to put away your crayons and paper.  Jonny, pick up your marbles, and come sit down.”

The teenager's request pulled Daniel from his thoughts and desires.  Getting up from the table, he walked over and opened the refrigerator door.

“Which one?” Daniel asked, seeing three different cartons.

“The two-percent,” Jennifer answered.

Pulling out the correct half gallon container, Daniel turned around to walk over and give the milk carton to Jennifer.

“I love milk,” Suzanna commented innocently from behind her foster sibling as she headed for the dining nook area as well.

Daniel turned around, intending to respond, but when he did, he saw Suzanna walking towards him, holding a hot skillet of meat and vegetables.

“*No!*” Daniel cried out suddenly, dropping the milk carton to the floor and backing into the wall nearest the backyard.  “Don't burn me again!  Please don't!” he cried, putting his arms up over his face and sinking down to the floor.  “I'll be good.  I'll go along.  I promise!”

“Oh, gawd!” Suzanna exclaimed, stunned by her brother's frantic pleas and by what he was saying.  “Daniel!” she called out, only she couldn't move forward to reassure the man because of the skillet in her hands.  “Drat!” she swore, turning to put the skillet back onto the stove as quickly as she could.

“No, please, please, I'll be good,” Daniel continued to cry out, his face twisting with distress.

The kids were stunned into silence, immediately abandoning all their games.  Little Danny and Jenny came running into the room, as did the three children who had been in the rec room.  They now stood totally still, shocked by the look of such paralyzing fear in Daniel's eyes.  The younger ones instantly reached out for each other, all breaking into tears as they watched the sobs wrack their father's body.

Just as Jeff and Brianna ran in, having heard the disturbance from outside as well, Bijou ran out of the kitchen as fast as she could, heading for the study where she knew Jack was, while Katie hurried protectively to Daniel's side.

--

In the study, Jack had turned on one of his favorite operas to listen to while he worked.  He always found peace listening to the tales of great love and woe, and they were a distraction to whatever real life mess was happening.  Because of the intensity of the music, and the volume, he hadn't heard the disturbance in the kitchen.

“Wwoofgrrrrrwooof!” Bijou called out, running into the study and jumping up at Jack's right leg.

“What's wrong, Bij?” Jack questioned, immediately turning down the volume.

Speedily, the mama beagle ran back to the door and repeated her frantic request for him to follow her.

“Show me!” Jack ordered, knowing immediately that something was very wrong and following the beagle without hesitation.

--

In the kitchen, Suzanna walked forward tentatively and said, “Daniel, I ...”

“Nooooo!  Don't!  Please, I'll be real good,” Daniel pleaded, turning his head.  “Go along,” he muttered.  “I will ... I'll ... just ... go along.”

The adult-child was crying hard, fighting for breath, and raising his arms to protect himself.

At that moment, Jack sprinted into the room, with Bijou on his heels.  His heart was beating rapidly from the run, but as soon as he caught sight of his husband, he could have sworn his heart stopped beating.  In an instant, it was like time had slowed down.  Daniel was curled into himself, sobbing out the same words, “Please, no, I'll be good, please.”

Jack felt his heart breaking with every passing second.  He quickly surveyed the room, seeing Suzanna frozen in place, her hands covering her mouth in shock, tears falling down her cheeks.  He looked over at all his children, many of them crying and clinging to each other.  Turning his eyes back to his distraught husband, he was about to take a step forward when Lulu's movements stopped him.

Lulu knelt down and slowly crawled the last few feet to where Daniel was huddled.  She gently reached out her hand and laid it softly on her father's arm, sitting for a moment in silence.

Very slowly, Daniel lowered his hands at Lulu's gentle touch, his breath hitching as his tears fell.  The young girl bravely looked straight into her father's haunted eyes and took a deep breath to calm her shaking voice.

“I know what it's like, Daddy,” Lulu finally choked out, almost in a whisper. “Kevin used to do things like that to me, too,” she admitted, wiping away her tears.

“No,” Daniel cried, both for himself and for the little girl.  He could see his own tortured look reflected in her eyes.  ~No!~

Jack's soul cried out for his husband and daughter.  He wrapped his arms around his middle in an attempt to stop himself running forward and taking both Lulu and Daniel into his arms.  He could see Lulu's tiny little hand stroking Daniel's strong arm; it was a level of support, shared experiences, and understanding that he'd only ever seen in battle.

“What are you afraid of, Daddy?” Lulu questioned gently.
 
Daniel shook his head, not wanting to answer.  He raised his arms back up to cover his face, pulling his knees even closer to his body.

“No, Daddy, don't do that,” Lulu said as she reached for Daniel's arm, pulling it down.

“Have to,” Daniel spoke, his hands visibly shaking.  “Go along.  Have to ... go along to live.”

~What's that he just said?~ Jack was about to lose his mind.  He'd heard that phrase before.  He'd always known that there was a story behind it, but he'd never pushed his soulmate to tell him what it meant.  He'd never imagined that it stemmed from an actual fear of dying.  ~If I ever find who did this to him, I'll kill them.~

“No, Daddy, you don't have to,” Lulu refuted with certainty, her voice calm and steady as she looked straight into Daniel's eyes.

While Jack was reeling at his husband's words, Lulu, however, had barely flinched, even though her siblings had all gasped in shock.

“I wanted to hide once too,” the curly-haired girl explained.  “I ran away because Kevin did lots and lots of bad things to me.”

“R...ran away?” Daniel stuttered.  ~That's hard to do; she must be very brave,~ he cried inwardly as Lulu nodded her answer slowly.

Pulling his knees even tighter to his body, Daniel glanced up for a moment at Suzanna, finally noticing that the skillet was no longer in her hands.

Seeing her father's frightened look at his sister, Lulu assured, “Aunt Suzanna loves you; she loves all of us.  She'd never hurt you.”

Looking back at Lulu, Daniel searched her eyes, seeing the truth in her words, and he gave a barely visible nod of understanding.

Closing her eyes, tears began to fall down Lulu's face.  She cried for the cruelty inflicted on her Daddy, for what she'd had to endure, and for the pain they'd both needlessly suffered at the hands of people who were supposed to love them.  Those were feelings she didn't have the words to express yet, but it was what she felt deep down inside.

Daniel instinctively reached down and pulled Katie into his lap, squeezing her tightly and drying his tears on her fur.

Looking up, Lulu once again stared straight into her younger father's eyes.  With each tear, her resolve strengthened, and she knew what she had to do.

~I'm the only one who can help Daddy now,~ the little girl realized.

Lulu felt afraid, afraid of talking about her own experiences, and afraid of asking her daddy what she knew she had to ask him.  More than ever, she was afraid of what his answers would be.  Shuffling a little closer, she placed both her hands on Daniel's arm.  She could feel the warmth seeping through his sweater.

Squeezing his arm gently, Lulu calmly questioned, “Daddy, who hurt you?”

Daniel blinked and opened his mouth to answer, but, suddenly, he squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head forcefully, crying internally, ~No, I can't.~

“Please, Daddy, it's okay,” Lulu encouraged.  “Who hurt you?”

The little therapist's voice was once again calm and steady, and she was still looking straight into her younger father's eyes.

Daniel blinked, the tears streaming down his face, and stuttered, “Mis...ter Ba...Baker.”

Jack looked around, aware for the first time that all of their children were now present in the kitchen.  Only JD, who was asleep in his nursery, wasn't here to witness Daniel's pain.

“What did Mister Baker do?  It's okay to tell us.  It's good to tell us.  It'll help you get better.  I promise it will,” Lulu proclaimed.

“Nnnnooo,” Daniel stuttered.  “He ... he'll kkk...hurt me.”

~If he's alive, he's about to be dead,~ Jack vowed as he watched silently, his stomach currently in his throat.

Lulu sighed, “Kevin used to get a metal hanger.  He'd put it in the fireplace and get it real hot.  If I didn't do what he wanted, he'd ... he'd hit me with it.  Sometimes he put it where he touched me, and he wasn't suppose to tt...touch me in those pp...places,” she choked out, her face crumbling as her tears fell again.  “It hurt; Daddy, it hurt so much,” the little girl cried.

Instinctively, Daniel slowly reached out his hand and raised it to the little girl's cheek, lovingly stroking her tears away with his thumb.

Jack stood by, his own tears falling unchecked down his face.  He desperately wanted to make everything better, to be the Mister Fix-it that his soulmate said he was, but he realized that right now, Lulu was the medicine the archaeologist needed.  He glanced around the room again, and his heart ached at the sight of all his children.

At hearing the details of Lulu's tragic past, some of the children were struggling as the sobs shaked their little bodies.  Jack wanted to reach out to them all, but his arms refused to let go of their self-hug, as if holding on was the only thing keeping him standing.

Through Jonny's tears, Jack could see the look of fierce determination in his eyes. He recognized it as the same one he was undoubtedly mirroring at the moment.  He took a deep breath, not really wanting his namesake to feel such strong hate like he was feeling now for the previously unknown Mister Baker; yet, he knew it was inevitable.

Having comforted her sister in the past, Jennifer had suspected that the little girl had gone through this kind of torment at the hands of her foster father.  She'd confided a few things to her in the past, but nothing this graphic or invasive. Hearing the little girl tell it in her own words, though, had shaken the strong young woman, and tears were running freely down her face.

Chenoa stood quietly.  She was standing a little closer to Lulu and Daniel, wanting to be nearby if her sister needed her.  She and Lulu didn't have any secrets, and she was the only one who had previously heard everything about what Lulu had suffered.  She had comforted Lulu after her nightmares, and they had cried together at night as Lulu had described her past treatment.  They were more than sisters; they were best friends, and Chenoa was determined to be strong for Lulu now.

Jeff sniffed back his tears and picked up a box of tissues from the counter that separated the kitchen dining nook from the living room.  Having taken one for himself, the box was passed around the whole family to help dry the multitude of tears.

As the box reached Little Danny, he reached for a tissue and then stared at the box in his hands for several seconds.  He looked over at Jack with tear-filled eyes, as if asking for permission, before he very slowly moved closer to his younger father, placing the box gently by his side.

Jack was about to crumble as he stood at the doorway.  His children would never cease to amaze him with their unending sacrifice and selflessness.  He moved his gaze back to his husband and daughter, his stomach in knots as he hoped that he was making the right choice.  He would never forgive himself if Lulu was going through the pain of re-living her time with her monster of a foster father unnecessarily.

Lulu dried her eyes with a tissue and took one big breath to stop her crying.

Looking up again at her father, Lulu sniffed and asked, “What did Mister Baker do, Daddy?”

There was a short pause of dread that filled the room.  No one knew for sure what was coming, but they all knew they weren't going to like it.

“When he got mad at me,” Daniel sniffled as he began, taking big breaths between his words, “he'd yell.  If I moved, he'd get madder, and yell louder.  He'd ... he'd throw things at me.  If I said anything, he'd get more mad.  I was bad.  He said I was.”  Daniel nodded.  “Yeah, I was bad.”

“No, Daddy,” Lulu corrected forcefully.  “That's what Kevin said I was.  He said I was bad, but I wasn't bad.  I was just doing what I had to do to survive.  I was good; he was bad.  Mister Baker was bad, not you.”

“He ... he was?” Daniel questioned as he looked up at Lulu.

“Mmm-mmm,” Lulu affirmed with a bob of her head.  “What else did he do to you, Daddy?” the little girl asked, trying hard to keep her tears at bay.  Seeing that her younger father was frightened to recount exactly what Mister Baker had done, she encouraged, “If you say it, it'll make it feel better.  I didn't wanna tell Doctor Cooper anything, even though she said it would help, but when I did, she was right, and I felt better.  She helped me understand that I was a ... a victim, she says.  I was afraid she'd get mad at me, but when I told her, she held my hand and said it wasn't my fault.”

Jack was on the verge of losing his composure entirely.  Doctor Corinne Cooper was Lulu's therapist and had been almost from the moment Jack and Daniel had adopted the little girl.  He wished she was here to see this.  Lulu had never shown such complete control and understanding of her traumatic past as a foster child as she was right now.

“What else did Mister Baker do?” Lulu asked again as she reached out and held Daniel's hand.

Jack felt like his knees were going to give way.  Their little girl, who had been so despicably abused, was being so strong for her father.

~She's stronger than I am,~ Jack acknowledged proudly as he struggled to face his own fears.

The military man loved his archaeologist so much, and he was scared to hear what his husband was about to say.  Of course, Jack had seen some horrific things during his career, but looking over at his children, he would never understand how anyone could purposefully harm a child.  He wasn't sure he could handle hearing what his beloved Danny had suffered at the hands of this Mister Baker.  However, Lulu's selfless bravery and Daniel's courage gave him the strength he needed to listen to the atrocities inflicted on someone so small and helpless.

“He ... he called me names,” Daniel spoke, his breath hitching.  “He had a s...son who died, and he blamed mmm...me,” Daniel spoke.

“Why?”

“I don't know.  He died before I moved in,” Daniel whispered.  “He said I should be dead, and his son should be alive.  I don't know why he did ... what he did ... I ... I don't know why he'd chase me.  He hated me.  He ... he'd hh...hit me with the hh...hot skillet.  He'd ... spa...spank me...me with it.”

“Oh, gawd,” Jennifer responded, unable to refrain from saying something, bringing her hands to her face and crying into her palms.

Jeff immediately walked over to his sister and drew her into a hug.  As they all continued to listen, Jonny and Little Danny found their Munchkin sister in-between them, and each boy held one of her hands.  At the same time, Ricky took Jenny's hand, and David automatically put his hands on Chenoa's shoulders, keeping her close.  Brianna was next to David, rubbing his upper arm in support.  Suzanna walked over to Jack, standing close enough that their shoulders were touching.  It was like the entire family needed to link together for strength.

“Sometimes ... he made me ss...s...sit on it.  It hurt so bad,” Daniel cried.  “Ifff I ... mooo...ved, he'd hit me with ... with a towel or some...something.  Or ... he ... he ... he tiiiii...ed me uppp on...once, too.”

~Oh, Angel,~ Jack cried, hearing what had happened all those years ago.

Jack could hear his children's sobs and sniffs along with his own.  Why hide it?  To not cry at this torture would be inhuman.

Bijou whimpered as she moved closer to Daniel, not that it was possible for her to get much closer.  She was practically 'one' with the archaeologist, and Katie was still held tightly in Daniel's lap.

“Then he'd take off my clothes and ... and ...”

Jack's heart was pounding as he forced himself to lift his eyes from his husband and, instead, concentrate on their children and their expressions.  Maybe now he should interfere, stop them from hearing what Daniel was about to say.  Only if he did that, he was afraid he'd do more harm than good.  He felt like he was in a no-win situation.  He had to make a choice now, and he hoped it would be the right one.

For better or worse, Jack was going to let Daniel continue, and he just prayed their children could handle whatever was about to be spoken.

The younger man continued, “... and he'd rub lo...lotion or ... al..cohol where it was burnt.  It hu...hurt so much.  Sometimes, he ... he made me sit in water, or on ice.  I didn't like it.  I cried, but then he'd just yell at how bad I was.”

~Had to hurt bad.~  Lulu was again crying freely, her strength having left her. Knowing her own experiences had required her to see a doctor, she choked out, “Didn't you h..have to go to the hospital?”

“No,” Daniel whispered, shaking his head slowly.  “He'd wait until it was better before he'd tt...touch me again.”

Lulu couldn't hold on.  She threw herself at her father, wrapping her arms around him and hugging him tightly.

“Mister B...Baker and Kevin are bad men,” Lulu stated angrily.

Giving way to the little girl, Katie climbed off Daniel and sat as close to Bijou as she could.

Lulu pulled back slightly, practically sitting in Daniel's lap.  She placed her small hands either side of her father's face, looking intently into his eyes.

“I love you s…so much, Daddy,” Lulu cried, launching herself back into his arms.

Daniel broke down completely, his sobs echoing around the room as he pulled Lulu closer and hugged her tightly.

All talking had ceased now as the family wept and grieved together.  The Munchkins and the Spitfires had moved closer together, all holding on to one another as if their lives depended on it.  Jeff held Jennifer tightly as they both cried for what their father had been through, and David and Brianna were now hugging, the usually tough young tomboy giving in to her tears and needing the support from her younger brother that she'd been giving him just a few minutes earlier.

Chenoa continued to stand in front of the hugging David and Brianna.  She'd moved forward a bit, though, out of David's reach.  Her tears were silent and strong as she waited.  She wanted to take her sister into her arms and hug her tightly.  Chenoa was so proud of her sister, and she understood the importance of what Lulu had done today.

Suzanna laid her head on Jack's shoulder as she cried for what could have been, if only Daniel had been allowed to stay with the Simpsons.

Jack stood still and silent.  He felt like he was in shock.  He had known that his husband had suffered greatly while growing up in the foster care system, but he'd never dreamed, never wanted to believe, that Daniel had been abused so severely where he'd actually feared for his life.

“I ... I th...thought he'd kk...kill me, but I did...didn't want to ... to die, so I just ... just went along.  Go a...along; just ... go along,” Daniel sobbed into Lulu's neck.

Sadly, Jack began to realize now just why Daniel had always been able to endure torture so capably over the years with SG-1.  For a civilian with no formal military training, the archaeologist had been able to withstand pain and injury, whether it be at the hands of the Goa'uld or South American rebels, better than anyone Jack had worked with in Special Ops.

~He was tortured at nine-years old, for crying out loud,~ Jack cried, his tears falling once again.

Jack's silent thoughts repeated over and over, ~How could anyone do such a thing?~ as he instinctively put his arm around Suzanna and pulled her close, feeling her tears seep through his shirt.

Her hand on her abdomen, though, Suzanna couldn't stand anymore and choked out, “I'm glad my parents died before Daniel and I really reconnected as adults.”

“Why?”

“Because this would kill them.  To know what he went through at just one home would *kill* them, Jack.  They loved Daniel, and they never forgot him.  They always wondered if they should have fought harder.  I never told him that, Jack; I mean, not how much it stayed with them over the years.  I didn't want him to wonder, to hurt knowing how much we wanted him, but couldn't have him.  They always wondered,” Suzanna cried.  “I ... gawd, I'm going to be sick,” she said, raising her hand to her mouth and running out of the kitchen and to the nearest bathroom where she did vomit.

“Bri,” Jack called out.  “Go check on Suz, please,” he choked out.

Crying, Brianna could only nod as she hurried after her aunt.

Jack wasn't sure what the next move was.  It was almost eerie being in the kitchen right now.  Then, though, the sound of JD crying over the monitor slowly crept through Jack's senses.  He wasn't sure where Suzanna had gone, so he scrubbed at his eyes, nodded at Jennifer, who had turned to look at him upon hearing the baby's cries, and then took a lingering look at Daniel to ensure he was as okay as possible before quietly retreating from the room.

====

“Hey, JD, it's okay,” Jack comforted as he lifted the crying baby from his crib.  Having determined the infant wasn't in need of a diaper change and not interested in eating, either, he surmised, “I guess you heard all the commotion, huh, Buddy?”  He bounced his young son in his arms, this miracle that he and Daniel had made together.  “Yeah, you're sensing it.  Don't ask me how I know, but your dad just does.  You know something's wrong.  Don't cry, Son.  Shhh; it's okay.”  His tears still quietly falling, he turned back towards the door, all the while chanting, “Daddy's gonna be just fine.  Shhh, it's okay JD.”

====

As Jack re-entered the kitchen, he could tell that everyone had calmed a little bit.  The sobs of before had been reduced to more controlled tears.  JD had stopped crying, too, but was looking all around the room, confused by his sibling's sad faces.  He cuddled into Jack's chest, gripping Jack's shirt tightly in his tiny fingers.

Daniel was still huddled in the corner with Lulu hugged to his chest and Bijou and Katie by his side.

Jack was continually impressed by his children.  They had begun to move closer to Daniel, but they weren't crowding their younger father; they were simply showing him they were there.  A moment later, he felt a presence by his side, and he watched as Brianna walked over to stand near David and Chenoa again.

“You okay?” Jack asked the woman.

“Are you?” Suzanna asked, her eyes reddened by her tears.

Jack sighed, turning his head to refocus on his lover.

“Not bad?” Daniel finally choked out, his face still buried in Lulu's shoulder.

“Not us,” Lulu verified confidently, pulling back again to look into Daniel's eyes. “Kevin and Mister Baker were bad.”

The little girl watched as Daniel seemed to slowly accept her words as truth, his head nodding slowly in understanding.

Suddenly, Daniel frowned and sat up a little straighter.  He began to look around the room at the children, a look of confusion on his face at all the tears on everyone's faces.

“Jack?” Daniel called out, his eyes frantically searching out his husband.

“Danny?” Jack spoke in a cracked voice.  With his heart in his mouth, he handed JD to Suzanna and moved forward, breaking through the children's protective circle.  “Danny, is that you?”

“Gawd, Jack, what happened?” the younger man asked as his husband knelt down in front of him.  Seeing Jack's red-rimmed eyes and fresh tears rolling down his cheeks, Daniel raised his hand to touch Jack's face and whispered, “Jack?”

Daniel's words were cut off as he was suddenly pulled into his lover's arms, the two beagles backing away just slightly to give the couple more room.  He could barely breathe with the force of Jack's embrace, but he reveled in the feeling of safety washing over him.  Instinctively, he raised his arms around the older man's neck and began playing lightly with the strands of silver-gray hair that felt like home to him.

“Danny, geez!” Jack exclaimed, his chin buried in his Love's neck.  “Is it really you?”

“Babe, I ...”  Daniel paused, not knowing what to say or what was going on.  For a minute, he just took in the joy of being in his soulmate's embrace.  Then, as Jack's grip loosened and he finally let go, he repeated, “Jack, what happened?  We were ... that green mist ...”

“Must be more than a mist,” Jack tried to comment, though his voice cracked with emotion.

Jack couldn't help but smile -- his Danny was back.  When his lover looked up into eyes and returned the smile, he felt like he could fly.

Suddenly, though, Daniel's face dropped, and he closed his eyes tightly, as if in pain.  After a few seconds, he took a gasping breath and called out for Lulu.  As Jack moved back a bit, the little girl came forward and was instantly folded into Daniel's arms.

“Lulu, oh, Lulu,” Daniel sighed, rocking her gently.  “It's all ... coming back,” he revealed as he looked at Jack and each of their children.  ~So many tears.~

Just then, the phone rang, interrupting the conversation.

“I'll get it,” Jennifer volunteered quietly, heading for the living room.

“Lulu, are you all right?” Daniel questioned, his memory of the little girl's confessions along with his own having returned.

Lulu simply nodded against Daniel's chest.

“Dad, it's Aunt Sam.  She says it's urgent,” Jennifer stated, handing the cordless phone to her older father.

“She always has great timing,” Jack quipped as he took the phone.  Looking down for just a moment, he answered, “Carter?”

“Sir, the Tok'ra were finally able to get some information on that structure we were in.  It's an experimental facility,” Sam explained, barely taking time to breathe.  “They wouldn't say much, but then Ardyl got involved and threatened to cancel the talks.  They finally admitted that the mist was designed to infiltrate a person's mind and locate a past experience or trauma that the person never faced or fully recovered from.  As they explained it to us, the mist has a sort of hypnotic effect and sends them back to the time the trauma occurred.  Until they face and deal with the trauma, the effects of the mist remain.  They insisted it's not physically harmful to us, other than the mental regression.”  She paused before continuing, “Sir, you need to figure out what trauma or experience Daniel needs to face.  It's the only way to get him back.”

“Thanks, Carter, but don't worry.”

“Sir?”

“Daniel just faced his demons and came out fighting,” Jack explained to their friend.

“He's okay?” Sam asked in astonishment.

“You're timing remains impeccable,” Jack teased quietly.

“It is?”

“Yep,” Jack affirmed, feeling a bit lighthearted for the first time since the green mist had enveloped his husband.  “He literally came back to us just a minute ago.”

“Oh,” Sam expressed, sounding an odd combination of relieved and doubtful.

More seriously than before, Jack replied, “He seems fine, Car...Sam, and you did great.  I know you and T have stayed on top of this thing, and that it wasn't easy dealing with those folks.  I appreciate that.”

Sam smiled, having been worried that her friend had been disappointed in her.

~I should have known better; he always teases and gets sarcastic when he means just the opposite,~ Sam reminded herself.  “Thank you, Sir ... Jack.”

The general could hear a voice in the background, and he recognized it instantly.  He, therefore, wasn't surprised by Sam's next comment.

“Uh, Janet would like to examine Daniel again, just as a precaution.”

“Thanks, Carter.  We'll be in touch,” Jack said, laughing once again at his second-in-command's impeccable timing as he handed the phone back to Jennifer.

“What'd she say?” the archaeologist asked, looking up at his soulmate.

“I'll explain it all later, but, needless to say, you're gonna be fine,” Jack answered.

“Oh,” Daniel expressed, smiling.  Looking around at all his children, he stated sincerely, “Um, I'm sorry I've upset all of you.”

All of a sudden, the younger man was inundated by eleven young voices.

“It's all right, Daddy,” Ricky assured, giving a loud sniff.

“You don't need to say sorry, Daddy,” Little Danny said at the same time, still holding Aislinn's hand as she refused to let go.

“We're okay, Daddy,” David assured, smiling faintly even as a few tears still rolled down several of the children's faces.

“Daddy, you were only little, and you could never be bad,” Jenny added firmly.

Daniel smiled as he reached out with one hand to caress the little girl, his fingers sliding through her red hair.

“Thank you, Princess,” Daniel replied softly.

Choking back his own emotions, Jack called out, “Okay, Brood!  How about we get Daddy off the floor, and we can all go and sit in the rec room.  I think we could all do with a bit of family time.”

A bit reluctantly, the children stood up, none of them wanting to be far from Daniel right now.  As they slowly headed for the door, they turned back at the sound of their younger father.

“Oh,” Daniel suddenly spoke.

“Angel?”  Jack frowned, holding out his hand and pulling Daniel to his feet.  “What's wrong?” he asked worriedly.

Daniel sniffed, looked at Jack with a thoroughly pitiful expression, held up the box, and uttered, “We're gonna need more tissues, Jack."

====

The Jackson-O'Neills made their way through the kitchen to the rec room.  Purposefully lagging behind, Jack took the opportunity to put a supportive arm around his husband.

**Angel, can you hear me?** the older man tried to communicate.

**Of course, Jack,** Daniel replied, a little surprised by the question.  Suddenly, he stopped, realizing just why his lover had asked him that.  Facing his Love, he reached up his hand and caressed Jack's face, saying, “I'm so sorry, Jack.  I can't imagine how hard this has been for you.  I should never have gone into that building,” he chastised himself, the guilt flooding through him at putting his family through so much heartache.  “Your instincts were telling you we should leave, and I should have listened to you,” he added, still caressing Jack's face as his eyes filled with unshed tears once again.  “Anything could have happened, Jack.  It was a stupid risk.”

Jack stood silently for a moment staring into the other man's eyes.  Then he slowly leaned forward and kissed his husband deeply, his kiss speaking of love, relief, and forgiveness.  No words were needed.

“I love you, Danny,” Jack finally choked out, leaning their foreheads together in what had always been a sign of their love and unity.

“I love you, too, Jack, so much,” Daniel declared.

Jack and Daniel were pulled from their embrace by Aislinn's giggle.  She'd returned to the kitchen, wondering why her fathers hadn't joined them yet.

“We're coming, Princess,” Jack stated as he smiled down at their daughter.

Most of the children were seated on the floor, either on the comfy floor pillows or quilts they'd pulled out of the ottomans.  When Jack and Daniel finally entered and Daniel sat down, the brood shuffled closer, all wanting to remain as close to their younger father as possible.

Jack felt a little envious of Bijou and Katie, as they were able to easily creep through the mass of children to reach Daniel's side, whereas he had to sit a few feet away.  He didn't really mind, though, as his position allowed him to keep an eye on everyone, especially his lover.

Carrying JD, Suzanna walked over to sit beside the older man and stated, “He knows something's up, Jack.  He's very clingy.”

As Jack took the infant, he smiled.  Instantly, JD snuggled into his chest, pulling at his shirt and burying his little face in it.

“Hey, JD,” Jack spoke quietly.  “It's okay, shhh,” he crooned while gently stroking the baby's little back.  He rested his cheek on the top of his son's head, absorbing that precious baby smell.  It wasn't long before JD fell back to sleep, secured by his father's strong arms and calming voice.  “That's it.  Sleep.  Our world's safe again.”

“Um,” Daniel began.  “I just wanted to say that I'm sorry again for putting you all through this,” he mumbled, staring at his hands that were clenched together in his lap.  This time the children remained quiet, waiting for their father to continue.  “I know what I said in the kitchen was hard to hear,” he added, raising his head to look at all his children.  “Do you have any questions about it?”

“What happened to Mister Baker?” Chenoa asked quietly as she and Lulu sat close together, their arms entertwined.

“I don't know, Sweetie.  I was there a few months and then placed in another home.  Foster care was ... like a revolving door for me.  Some places, I was only there for a couple of weeks.”

Jonny called out, “Daddy, why didn't you tell a grown up about what that bad man did to you?”

Daniel leaned his head back against the sofa cushion and answered, “Things were different when I was a little boy.  The truth, Jonny, is that I was afraid.  I didn't talk a lot.  I kept everything inside.  The truth is ... I always thought I should have been able to stop my parents from dying,” he spoke, his tone so quiet that it was actually hard to hear him.  “I ... I guess I thought I deserved whatever happened to me.”

“No!” David interjected.  “Daddy, they were grownups.  They made their own choices.”

“My head knew that, but my heart didn't, David.  For a long time, I replayed their deaths in my mind.  When I got older, I would go to the museum where they died and try to figure out what I could have done to have prevented it.  I guess ... I guess a part of me believed Mister Baker, that I ... I should have been dead.”

Daniel was speaking from a part of his soul that he never had before.  As a result, his voice was low, quiet, and fraught with emotion that made it cracked and trembled at times.

“The difference, Jonny, between then and now is that then, I was alone.  Now, I have all of you, and that's everything,” Daniel stated, smiling down at Katie, who had placed her head on his thigh.  “Katie.”  He looked up and asked, “Where's ... oh, there you are,” smiling at Bijou who poked her head around Jeff so Daniel could see her.

'Katie':  It was just a word, a name, but Jack knew what it meant.  There was so much love for their children and for their beagles.

Daniel looked up and offered a reassuring smile to Suzanna.  He guessed that Jack had had to tell her a little about the Stargate Program and thought at least he could be more truthful about his work with her now.  His gaze drifted over to Jack, their eyes speaking a thousand words as they stared at one another for several seconds.

Aislinn got up from her place between Jonny and Little Danny and walked over to her older father.  Smiling at his daughter, Jack shifted along the sofa, so she could climb up and sit between him and Suzanna.  She snuggled into his side, her hand coming up to rest on his arm.

“Daddy, where did you go after Mister Baker's?” Little Danny asked.

“Uhhhh, that would with the Mrs. Canyon.  She wasn't too bad.  She just ... ignored me.  I was money to her, and that's all,” Daniel spoke.

--

“Uh, so the Heltons weren't really ... attentive.  It ... almost felt like a zoo; they had a revolving door of foster kids, but that was better than the Molinas.  I was with that family later.  They gave the ... wrong kind of attention to ... well, it wasn't the right kind of attention,” Daniel commented, closing his eyes at one more painful recollection.

Jack looked down at Aislinn and then at JD.  He wasn't sure how long they'd been talking about Daniel's nightmare time in foster care, but he did know it was going to be a while before the children's questions were through.  He continued to listen with pride as his husband answered each and every one.

====

That night, Jack stood at the doorway to the roof deck, leaning against the frame with his hands in his pockets.  He smiled as he watched Daniel sitting peacefully, both his hands distractedly stroking the two dogs who still hadn't left the archaeologist's side.

After answering the myriad of questions tossed his way, Daniel had called Janet, promising her that he'd come in for a checkup tomorrow.  After speaking with her for quite a while and sounding like his old self, she'd agreed.

Since lunch had been a washout, the family had enjoyed an early dinner, a delicious meal prepared by Suzanna and Jennifer.  Afterwards, they'd put back all of the photographs and memorabilia that Jennifer had removed at Jack's request.  When that was done, they'd enjoyed family time, during which they'd sung songs and told jokes.  The day had been so traumatic that by then, everyone had just wanted to laugh and have a good time for a while.  Jack had even performed a pantomime for his family that he'd learned back in college.

The couple had convinced Suzanna to stay in town for another couple of days.  It hadn't been hard to do.

Then, at Daniel's urging, Jack made a few late evening phone calls to Sam, Teal'c, and General Hammond to give them a progress report, reassuring them that his husband was indeed his old self again.  While Jack was doing that, the younger man decided to get some air and enjoy the night sky for a few minutes.  Of course, Bijou and Katie were still following him around, just to be sure everything was okay.  It was rare that they were allowed on the decking, but Daniel hadn't had the heart to tell them to stay in the house.

“Hey,” Jack called out gently.

“Hey,” Daniel replied, smiling up at his husband.

Jack left his spot by the door and slid down to sit on the deck, leaning back against the house and opening his arms in invitation for Daniel to join him.

As Daniel stood up, Bijou walked over to Jack and sat in his lap.

“Sorry, Bij, this spot is reserved.  How about here?” Jack asked, patting the wooden flooring next to him.

Bijou grumbled, but only slightly before moving to the spot Jack had indicated.  Within seconds, Daniel sat down, shuffling back into the older man's embrace, Jack wrapping his arms and legs around his husband, squeezing him tightly and resting his chin on Daniel's shoulder.  This was their usual position on the roof deck, when nothing mattered but their nation of two.

As Katie positioned herself on the opposite side from Bijou, Daniel teased, “We're a beagle sandwich.”

Jack chuckled, “And we're the filling.”

“The cream of the crop?” Daniel asked.

“The 're' of the Oreo,” Jack quipped.

“I think we'll stop there,” Daniel stated dryly.

Jack nodded, then spoke, “Never letting go, Danny, not ever.”

“That's what you say now, but just wait until you need to go to the bathroom,” the younger man teased, eliciting another chuckle from his husband.

The lovers sat in peaceful silence for several minutes, reveling in each other's presence and touch.

“Jack,” Daniel finally spoke.  “Do you know how proud I am of our children?” he asked, his eyes beginning to well up with tears.

“Yeah.  About as proud as I am of them, and you,” the older man whispered, squeezing his Love a little tighter.  “Danny, I made choices to bring you home and to tell them the truth.  It was risky, but ...”

“But we're a family, and I would have done the same thing,” Daniel assured.

Growing silent again, the couple gazed up at the stars, enjoying the warm spring breeze.

“I liked how you answered their questions,” Jack stated after a while.  “That Baker jerk deserves to be boiled alive, but you had so many more nightmares, Love.”

“I tried to be honest without adding to their nightmares,” Daniel sighed.  “Fortunately, they didn't ask for a chronological history ... exactly.  I almost told them about Carrie,” he added, referring to one of his foster sisters who had actually died from abuse, “but I couldn't, Jack.”

“The door's open now, Angel.  Even with everything they heard today, I'm not sure they were ready to hear about her, either,” the older man agreed.  “Maybe someday.”

“Maybe someday,” the archaeologist sighed, leaning his head back to rest on the older man's shoulder.  There were so many sad stories from his youth, and while the kids now knew the worst of some of their younger father's experiences, they still hadn't heard every story.  Carrie's death and other harsh realities were there to be told, later, as the kids grew up and perhaps asked more questions.  “Jack, if they ask ...”

“It's up to you, Danny, but ...”

“No lies,” Daniel spoke.

“No lies,” Jack concurred, agreeing that, if the kids ever did ask their younger father more questions about his life in foster care, Daniel would answer with the truth, if that's what he felt was appropriate at the time.

After another couple of minutes, Daniel spoke, “We need to talk to Lulu before she goes to sleep.”

“Yeah, yeah, we do,” Jack agreed, placing a small kiss on the side of Daniel's neck.  “Danny, I ...” he began, taking a calming breath before continuing.  “I couldn't believe what she was saying.  Geez, her past gives *me* nightmares, but she was so focused.”

“I feel like she's finally really healing,” Daniel opined.

“We need to call Corinne and fill her in on what happened,” Jack responded.  “I think it would be what the medical folk call a major breakthrough for our princess.”

“She'll be so proud of our Little Bit,” Daniel remarked, smiling.

“Yeah,” Jack agreed.

After a few more minutes of sitting quietly together, Daniel announced, “I want to go and tuck our children in, Jack.”

The archaeologist stood and reached out his hand to help his husband up.  With a slightly confused expression, Daniel looked down at their feet.  He was barefoot and Jack was wearing shoes, so it made his lover several inches taller as they stood face to face.

“I thought I'd shrunk,” Daniel quipped, standing up a bit on his tiptoes and kissing Jack soundly, wrapping his arms around his lover's neck.
 
After the long kiss, Jack pulled back slightly and gazed into Daniel's eyes.

“I believe this is yours, Angel,” Jack said, smiling and pulling out the velvet pouch where he'd kept his husband's wedding band.  Slipping it on the younger man's ring finger, he spoke, “Forever and always, I love you, Danny.”

The words were their special ones, spoken at their wedding, and many times since.  Knowing Jack still had on his ring, Daniel simply brought his lover's hand to his mouth and kissed his palm and then the ring.

“Forever and always, I *love* you, Jack.”

Once again leaning their foreheads together, Jack asked, “Danny, did you know you were ... you?  What I'm asking is that sometimes the kids called you 'Daddy' instead of 'Danny'.”

“Yeah, I thought that was kinda odd, but, even though I knew it wasn't right, there was something in me that didn't let me ... argue with them; and when Lulu was talking, it just seemed ... right.  Gawd, it was weird, almost surreal, but I guess that was ... my head starting to clear as I faced what had happened.”

“My heart was breaking for you and for her,” Jack stated, almost choking up again.

“I know, Babe, I know,” Daniel sighed.

“That 'go along' business,” Jack began.  “I've heard you use that phrase before, in the past.”

“In the past,” Daniel confirmed.  “It was something I had to do in order to survive.  I had to ... go along.”

“That followed you into adulthood, Danny,” Jack spoke intuitively, his voice on edge.

“Shhh,” Daniel soothed, raising his hand to caress his lover's cheek.  “I stopped going along a long time ago.”

“I don't know how you lived through all that,” Jack admitted.

Daniel shrugged and suggested, “Maybe somewhere deep inside, I knew there had to be a better tomorrow.  I had to believe that, or I think maybe I wouldn't have fought back.”

“You'd have given up?” Jack asked, tears coming to his eyes at the thought.

“What did I have to live for, Jack?  I had nothing but myself, so I had to believe I'd survive ... for something.”  Daniel smiled, then kissed his Heart.  “I know now that something is you.”

“Geez, I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Daniel replied, kissing his lover again.  “Before we get distracted ...”

“The kids,” Jack spoke.

“Tucking them ...”

“... in,” both men said together, smiling.

“Girls,” Daniel called out, prompting Bijou and Katie to get up, both stretching after getting up on all fours.

Jack followed his lover and their beagles back inside.  Just inside their bedroom, which led out to the roof deck, Daniel stopped.  He put his hand on his soulmate's chest and gave him a wistful smile.

“Babe, please don't go looking for someone to kill.  It's over, and they're all probably dead or living in their own hell.  I don't need you to get revenge, okay?”

“You know me too well,” Jack replied.

“It's all in the past, Jack.  I don't think about it at all anymore.  It took me a long time, and I had to learn a lot of hard lessons on survival and ... going along in the process, but I did survive, and I'm here, and I'm so freakin' ridiculously happy now with our life together that there's no time to even remember those days.  Please, stay with me, here, in our wonderful present.  Okay?  Promise me,” Daniel pleaded.

Jack studied his Love for a moment, then agreed, “Okay, Angel.  I prefer the present over the past myself.”

“Promise?”

“I promise, Danny,” Jack spoke from his heart.

The lovers shared a kiss as their beagles waited for them in the hallway and then they headed to the boys' room to begin their evening rounds.

====

“Thank you for helping me,” a smiling Daniel told Jonny, Little Danny, and Ricky.  He walked over to Little Danny's bed and gave him a kiss.  “And thank you for not letting me be alone last night.”

Little Danny grinned and said, “We're never alone, Daddy.  We have each other, remember?”

“I sure do,” Daniel spoke.

“No nightmares,” Jack ordered with a smile.

“We're big boys, Dad.  We won't have nightmares,” Jonny insisted.

“Hey,” Daniel interjected.  “I still have nightmares sometimes, and ...”

“Me, too,” Jack admitted, with a nod to his namesake, who seemed to doubt the fact for a minute.

“... And so does Dad.  We both have bad dreams sometimes, and what you heard today wasn't a movie, and it was very close to home.  There were a lot of sad, nasty, bad ...”

“Very bad,” Jack interjected.

Daniel shrugged his shoulders and continued, “... very, very bad things talked about, so, if you do have a nightmare, it's understandable.”

“Dad, we hafta find Mister Baker and tell him off for hurting Daddy.  Maybe Thor can put him on an empty planet, with no ice cream for life,” Jonny announced angrily with a frown on his face.

**He's just like you, Jack,** Daniel commented as he smiled up at his husband, receiving a ‘who, me?' look in return.

“Yeah,” Ricky agreed, moving to stand next to his brother and mimicking his frown.  “No ice cream.”

“Jonny, Ricky,” Daniel began, beckoning the oldest Munchkin and the youngest Spitfire over to him.  Pulling them onto his lap, he explained, “I understand how you feel, but two wrongs don't make a right.  Hurting Mister Baker now is not going to change what he did to me before.  Do you understand?” he questioned gently.

“Yes, Daddy,” Ricky replied dejectedly.

“But we protect each other and ...” Jonny argued.

Jack interrupted, “Son, there's a difference between protecting each other and hurting someone who doesn't matter.”

“Don't you want to punish Mister Baker, Dad?”

~Ouch!~ Jack exclaimed internally.  For a moment, he considered lying, but that wasn't what their family was about.  “Yes, Son, I do, but that's my emotions and my love for Daddy causing that.  Part of me wants to make him suffer.”

“We find him and ...” Jonny began with a nod.

“No, Jonny.  Let me finish.  What Daddy said a while ago is absolutely correct.  Two wrongs don't make a right.  Mister Baker definitely did wrong, but if I hurt him now, that's wrong, too.”

“How come?” Jonny questioned, his eyes focused intently on his older father as he desperately tried to understand.

“I'd have to live with myself.  Jonny, I have a hunch Mister Baker's lived a miserable life.  I don't think he's had a moment of peace or happiness.  He's also a very old man now.  Hurting him wouldn't solve anything.  It wouldn't take away what he did to Daddy.  It wouldn't make Daddy feel better; in fact, he'd feel worse, because Daddy believes in understanding and trying to figure out why people are the way they are.  He ... believes in people,” he spoke softly, looking over at his husband and smiling.

Jonny sighed, trying to understand.

“Jonny, getting revenge and hurting someone who isn't as strong as you and who isn't even capable of understanding happiness, doesn't make you a man.  Accepting that people have weaknesses and make mistakes and being able to let go of your anger as a result, that makes you a man,” Jack opined seriously.

Seeing the boy's thoughtful expression, Daniel interjected, “Jonny, worry about yourself, what is inside of you and your heart, not about the shortcomings of others.  I know that's not easy to understand at your age, but please try.  I don't want Dad, or you, to be filled with hate for Mister Baker or anyone.  Hating creates a dark spot in the soul.  I'd rather have that spot filled with love and good things.  Do you understand what I'm saying?”

After a moment, the boy smiled and nodded as he responded, “Yeah, I understand, Daddy.  Mister Baker is very bad for hurting you, but I'd be bad too if I hurt him back,” Jonny reiterated.

“You will never be bad like Mister Baker Jonny, but you're right.  Revenge is not the answer.  It stops here, with us,” Daniel stated firmly, but with an understanding smile.  “It's all in the past, and I am *so* happy now.  I've got Dad and you, and all your brothers and sisters, and the girls ...”

“Danny, the boys won't be getting any sleep if you list off the entire zoo,” Jack quipped.

“Right,” Daniel agreed wryly.  “The point is that I'm very happy, and I'm very a-okay.”

“Daddy, what's the difference between revenge and justice?” Little Danny, the couple's child prodigy, asked seriously.

“That's not always so simple to answer, Little Danny,” the archaeologist responded.  “Justice is fairness, answering to the legal system of the land, providing a deterrent to others ...”

“How come we don't get justice for Mister Baker's hurting you?” Little Danny asked curiously.

**There's no hate in his heart, Danny.  Look at his eyes.  He's just wanting to understand and learn,** Jack communicated.

**Yeah, I know, but it's not an easy question to answer, either, Babe,** Daniel responded, blinking a couple of times as he thought about what he was going to say to their children.  “Revenge is done with a cold heart or a hot head, without thought to what's right or wrong.  It's only done with a desire to get an eye for an eye.  Justice, though, is done with the hope that some good will come of the action.  Maybe the punishment will stop others from doing the same thing, or maybe the 'bad man' will be rehabilitated and learn to be better.  It doesn't make the bad go away, but it helps us to ... to close the door, but with a hopeful heart and not one full of nothing but hate.”

“So, can we get justice against Mister Baker?” Little Danny questioned.

Neither Jack nor Daniel missed the way Jonny's eyes lit up at that thought.

Daniel shook his head, saying, “I think it's too late for that, Little Danny.  We're talking about something that happened almost forty years ago.  Bringing Mister Baker to account for his crimes now isn't going to change either his behavior or anyone else's.”

The boy frowned, responding, “But I read in the encyclopedia that war criminals of World War II were still prosecuted years and years after the war was over; they were really old, too.”

“What's a war criminal?” Jonny asked.  Then he made a face and quickly added, “What's a world war?”

“We can talk about both more in depth during one of our homeschooling sessions, Jonny,” Daniel answered.  “We've already talked about the revolutionary war and the civil war, remember?”

“And I was Johnny Shiloh in one of our plays,” Jonny recalled with a smile.

“And you were great,” Jack expressed.

“A world war is a bigger war than either of those,” Daniel spoke.  “Instead of two big groups arguing with each other within one country, or one country fighting another, a world wide war means many countries are at war with one another.  We've had two of those ...”

“... officially,” both parents said at the same time.

“And what's a war criminal?” Jonny inquired.

“Someone who does extra bad things that goes even deeper against humanity.  Jonny, we'll have to cover that later.  It's complex, but, Little Danny, to answer your question, in our world, there are always exceptions.  We need to make decisions based on individual situations.  We have to try to be as fair as we can.  I'm not sure that hunting down war criminals achieves anything other than giving those who were hurt some sort of satisfaction for the horrible crimes that had been committed.  In ways, it hinges on revenge.  I understand it, but it's not really a deterrent, I don't think.”

“It does send a message, though,” Jack interjected.  “It tells other countries that it can't get away with those inhumane crimes.  It might take decades, but those who don't follow common decency in war, will pay.”

Jonny groaned, trying to make sense of what his parents were saying.  He was angry at Mister Baker, and he wanted him to pay.  He didn't really care if it was justice or revenge.  He just knew that his daddy had been wronged, and the person responsible should be punished.  He scratched the side of his head, much as his older father so often did, which made his confusion even more evident.

“But weren't the things Mister Baker did as bad as things war criminals do?” Little Danny asked.

**He's right, Danny,** Jack communicated.

As far as Jack was concerned, crimes against children were as much of a crime against humanity as war crimes were.

**I know, but I think I know how to satisfy him,** the younger man replied.  “The things that Mister Baker did were bad, Little Danny, but given that he is an old man now, he isn't going to do them again.  So, punishing him isn't going to act as a deterrent for him.”

“But it might on other people,” Jonny interjected, not wanting to give up on making sure Mister Baker paid a price for what he'd done.

“True,” Daniel agreed.  “And that would be the only reason to bring Mister Baker to justice, but I think there are better ways to deter people from hurting children like joining an organization that campaigns against child abuse.”

“Okay,” Little Danny said thoughtfully, his nose scrunching as he processed the answer.  “Daddy, what if a child is hungry, and they steal food?  They're stealing because they're hungry, so is it justice to punish them?”

~So many questions, and none with easy answers,~ Daniel sighed.  Being careful of Jonny's position on his lap, he leaned forward and reached out to touch the boy's face gently.  “The child has to learn that it's wrong to steal, but we'd be wrong to get justice blindly.  What we need to look at is why is the child hungry?  We'd need to fix that.  There's no revenge to be gained here, and justice needs to be flexible while also making sure the child understands.”

“So ...”

“Whoa!” Jack interrupted.  “This is a very long, debatable subject, and it's late.  “We can pick up our talk tomorrow, if you want, but you need to get some sleep.”

“Okay, Dad,” Little Danny agreed.

“It's confusing,” Jonny sighed.

“Yes, it is,” Daniel said with a nod.  “The important thing, Jonny, is that I don't need Mister Baker to suffer for me.  He's not important anymore.  *You* are important, and I want your heart to be filled with good things and good memories, and not old hurts and pains that ... that just don't matter.  Our family is what matters, all of us, in the here and now.  Try to focus on our world today, okay?”

“Okay,” the little boy agreed.  “I love you, Daddy,” Jonny added, putting his arms around his younger father's neck.

“Me, too,” Ricky added.

“Me, three,” Little Danny giggled, moving closer to join the group hug.

“Hey, can I join in?” Jack laughed as he walked over and tried to put his arms around Daniel and all three children.

After much laughter and cuddles, the three little boys smiled as their fathers tucked them in and gave them a kiss goodnight.

--

“Dad, Daddy, we need to adopt more kids,” Jenny ordered anxiously, kneeling up in her bed.

Jack coughed and Daniel stood by the doorway, looking like a guppy, his mouth open.

“Huh?” Jack uttered.

“We're sad, Dad,” Aislinn cried, tears forming in her eyes.

His heart melting, Jack immediately moved into the room and sat on Aislinn's bed, pulling her into his arms as he inquired, “Why are you sad, Sweetheart?”

“'Cause there's ... more kids out th...there like Daddy and Lulu,” Aislinn cried.  “We have to h...help them.”

“Oh, Ash,” Daniel spoke gently, kneeling down in front of their daughter.  “It's okay to feel sorrow and to hurt at the thought that children are suffering, but you can't feel guilty for what is out of your control, Princess.”

“Daddy's right, Ash.  However much we wish we could, we simply can't adopt everyone,” Jack tried to explain, his words thick with regret.

“But, we have to do something,” Jenny countered sadly, coming over and sitting beside Daniel.

Looking between their two upset daughters, Daniel frowned.

**Danny, I can hear your brain churning,** Jack communicated.  **And if it's about adopting more children, you're telling Carter!**

Smiling up at Jack, Daniel turned back to their daughters, and said, “Tell you what.  How about you two come up with some ideas about how we can help,” he challenged.  “You know what our lives are like, so you'll need to do some research and think hard to keep your ideas realistic.  Write them all down, and Dad and I will take a look.  Even if we can only do something small, perhaps we can encourage others to do something small, too.  Then, maybe, all together, we can make a big difference.  Okay?”

“Like we do on our special Un-day?”

“Yeah, like that,” Daniel responded a bit emotionally.

Just a couple of years ago, the family had started a new tradition.  Jack had been hurt and, while suffering from amnesia, had ended up at a homeless encampment on the edge of the city.  A woman had taken him in and cared for him.  When he'd finally regained his memory and made a full recovery, the Jackson-O'Neill family returned to the encampment, bearing gifts of life as thanks for the life that had been returned to them, in part, due to the kindness of the underprivileged at the encampment.  The kids now referred to it as their special Un-day because it wasn't a birthday or holiday, but just a regular day when they would make their trek to the area.

Two smiling faces were Daniel's response as both Aislinn and Jenny launched themselves at their younger father.

**That's my genius,** Jack communicated proudly.

“I love you, Daddy,” Aislinn sniffed.

“Me, too,” Jenny added, squeezing her arms around Daniel's chest.

“Hey, is some of that love coming my way?” Jack asked with a smile.

“Love you, Dad,” Aislinn assured as she wrapped her arms around the older man's neck.

“Thanks, Ash,” a grinning Jack spoke, enjoying the cuddle before prompting her to lay back down in her bed.  “Time to go to sleep.”

“Daddy?” Jenny asked, as Daniel put her into her own bed and pulled the covers up to tuck her in.

“Yes, Princess.”

“My eyes hurt,” the redhead confided.

“That's just because you've been crying a lot today, Jenny,” Daniel chuckled, stroking his hand over Jenny's cheek.  “My eyes are feeling a bit sore too.  You'll feel better in the morning,” he assured.

“We love you,” Jack added as he turned out the light.

Walking away, Jack looked at his lover and said, “Don't even think it.”

“I'm not thinking anything, Babe,” Daniel responded, grinning.

“Of course, you're not,” Jack grumbled.  ~Like our zoo isn't big enough?~

“Jack, we had a conversation like that once.  Do you remember?” the archaeologist questioned.

Jack nodded and said, “Yeah.  We were trying to decide our future.”

“We said then that we couldn't cure the world, but we could make it better for a few.”

“I think the number was four,” Jack chuckled.

“Four,” Daniel stated in disbelief, looking downward.  Shaking his head, he looked up and asked in earnest, “Jack, what would we do if we only had ... four?”

Jack stared into his lover's eyes and almost began to cry again, finally responding, “I don't know, Angel.  I wouldn't change one blessed thing about our brood.”

Smiling, Daniel replied, “Me, neither.”

As they headed for the next room, Jack suddenly let out a laugh, surprising his husband.

“What?” Daniel asked.

“Nothing, Angel,” Jack replied.  ~I guess there's always room for one more.~

--

“I learned something today,” Brianna revealed as she sat Indian-style on her bed.

“What was that, Bri?” Daniel asked.

“That people are amazing; that Lulu is amazing.  I always thought what I went through was bad.  I really had no idea she'd suffered so much.  You never told us,” the tomboy expressed quietly.

“Even we didn't know it all, Bri.  Besides, it's up to you to share how much, or how little, of your past with your brothers and sisters.  It's that way for all of them, too.  There are things we share as a family, and then there are things we bring with us to make us a family,” Daniel spoke.

“Courage,” Brianna stated.  “Lulu ran away to the zoo, and that took courage.  Jonny and Little Danny found her and hid her in your car to sneak her home, and that took courage.”  The girl smiled and added, “You two fell in love and got married, and that took courage.”

“You took a chance on us, on love, and that took courage,” Daniel stated.

“I think all of us have brought courage to our family,” Brianna opined.  “It's not all the same, but it helps to make us strong.”

“Yeah, I think you're right, Bri,” Jack responded, nodding his head.

“Dad, you were courageous today, too.”

“Who, me?” Jack asked, trying to sound lighthearted.

“Yeah, I saw you watching all of us.  I think it was hard for you to let us hear what Daddy had gone through, but you did, and I think it was the right thing to do.”

Jack couldn't speak.  He had his stomach in his mouth, and he wasn't sure what would come out if tried to say anything.

“We're so proud of all of you,” Daniel responded sincerely.

“Hey, we're Jackson-O'Neills, and you know what that means,” Brianna prodded with smile.

In unison, the three spoke the family motto -- “Together, we're unbeatable.”
 
Jack, Daniel, and Brianna all smiled and then continued their goodnights.

--

“Hey, Jeff.  Don't stay up too late,” Jack advised as he and Daniel entered the boy's room.  “We have a big day planned tomorrow with Aunt Suz.”

“I won't.  I ...” the teenager began, turning in his seat to face his fathers.  “I just needed to chill out a bit after today, so I decided to check out the review on this new photo software.”

“I understand, Jeff,” Daniel assured.  “Today has been pretty intense.”

“To the max.”  Jeff smiled and then looked down, biting his lower lip.  Finally, he looked up and spoke, “I'm really sorry you had to go through all that, Daddy.  I know Dad said that your childhood wasn't pretty, but I never imagined ...” he trailed off.

“It's okay, Jeff.  It's all in the past,” Daniel reiterated again, smiling at their eldest son.

Jeff smiled and replied, “I know I'm sixteen now and shouldn't be all mushy, but ... I love you, Daddy.”

Crossing the room in lightning speed, Daniel wrapped his arms around Jeff.  When he pulled back, he cupped the teen's head in his hands, his own unshed tears mirrored in his son's eyes.

“You're never too old for mushy, Jeff,” Daniel chuckled.  “Just look at Dad.  He's the mushiest man I know.”

“Hey!” Jack objected.

Jeff laughed, “I'm definitely too old to be crying, though.”  At that moment, he reached over for a handkerchief and wiped his eyes.  “I feel like I've cried a years worth of tears today.”

Jack walked over to join the sniffling duo and, giving Jeff a one-armed hug, stated, “As I once said to a very special young man, ‘crying is okay.  In fact, there's an official list of reasons for which crying is a good thing'.  I think ‘Daddy enveloped by alien mist, made to think he's ten years old and forced to relive horrific events from his childhood' definitely rates highly on the list.”

Returning the hug, Jeff said, “I love you, Dad, and ... thanks.”

“Goodnight, Son,” Jack said, smiling as he took Daniel's hand and led him out of the teen's bedroom.

--

Jack and Daniel stood in the doorway of Jennifer's room, watching their daughter sitting at her desk and writing in a journal.

“Hey,” Jack said, announcing their presence.
 
“Hey,” the teen responded with a smile, closing her journal slowly.  She tapped the cover, saying, “Just taking a leaf out of Daddy's book.”  She chuckled, “Pardon the pun.”

Smiling at their daughter, Jack walked forward, pulling her in for a tight hug.

“Jen, you really came through for me, and I can't tell you how much appreciate it,” Jack stated.

“I was really scared,” Jennifer admitted as the hug ended.

“Me, too,” Jack spoke.  He looked at Daniel and said, “I asked her to help out in ways she hasn't had to before.  I counted on her, Danny, and she didn't disappoint me at all.”

“I'm not at all surprised,” Daniel responded, smiling at their daughter.

“It's been a pretty emotional day all round really, hasn't it?” Jennifer sighed.

“You can say that again,” Daniel stated as he walked over and sat on the edge of the girl's bed.

“It's been a pretty emotional day all round really, hasn't it?” Jennifer repeated, breaking out into laughter.

“You are so your father's daughter,” Daniel groaned, as Jack grinned smugly.

Moving over to sit beside her younger father, Jennifer's expression turned more serious and she said, “I hate what you went through, Daddy.  I had an idea of what it might have been like for you from talking to Lulu, but ...”

“I know,” Daniel comforted, putting his arm around Jennifer's shoulders.  “It's all in the past.”

“Hearing Lulu tell us what Kevin did, I ...” Jennifer stopped suddenly and took a deep breath.  “It was so hard to hear her having to explain what that man did.  It's unforgivable.”

“You've been so good to Lulu, Jen,” Daniel noted, turning to face his daughter.  “She's needed you and you've been there every step of the way.  I really think today was a turning point for her; she's really starting to heal.”

“We're all so lucky,” Jennifer cried.  “I love you both, so much,” she stated, putting her arms around Daniel.

“We love you too, Princess,” Daniel replied.

--

Walking hand in hand towards David's room, Daniel suddenly stopped.

“Danny, you okay?” Jack questioned, frowning as he moved to stand opposite his husband.  Daniel's face had gone a bit pale and his hands were shaking a little.  “Angel?”

Feeling his insecurities creeping up on him, Daniel closed his eyes and answered, “I don't know Jack.  I'm just tired, I guess.”  He brought his hand up to scrub at his face.  “Our children have been through so much today; so many tears.”

“Hey, where's all this coming from?” Jack questioned, holding his soulmate by the shoulders.  “Danny, our children are happy,” he reassured firmly.

“Are they, Jack?  Are they really?” the archaeologist questioned, looking up into his husband's eyes.  “How can I put them through something like this and have them come out unscathed; all because of a bad judgment call.  I want them to have a safe and secure home, where they can ...” he trailed off.

“Daniel,” Jack began, taking a deep breath.  “Believe me, Angel, our kids are strong.  You're not looking at the big picture, Love.”

“What do you mean?” Daniel questioned quietly.

“Let's recap, shall we,” Jack stated, smiling.  “We had a great evening; the house was full of laughter.”

“You did your panto,” Daniel offered quietly.

“Yeah, you see.  You don't see that very often, do you?  Did you see any sad faces then?” Jack asked.

“No,” Daniel acquiesced.

“Let me see, what else?  Ah, the boys have learned that revenge does not solve their problems.  Although, it can make you feel better,” Jack added with a grin.

“Jaaack,” Daniel chuckled.

“Ash and Jenny are now on a mission to help abused foster kids everywhere,” Jack reminded.  “Today, Bri learned just how amazingly brave our family is.  Together ...”

“We're unbeatable,” Daniel finished.

“Jeff learned that it's okay to cry and be mushy, even at the ripe old age of, phshaw, sixteen, and Jen has finally realized just how much she has helped Lulu heal.”  Jack looked straight into his lover's eyes.  “All of them have said, ‘I love you, Daddy,' numerous times tonight, and we tucked them all in with big smiles on their faces.  Oh, yes, Angel, our kids are happy.”

Daniel couldn't help but smile at his husband's smug grin.

“Now,” Jack announced.  “Let's go tuck in our little genius.”

--

Jack and Daniel walked through their son's bedroom door at the same time and were immediately faced with an armful of David.

“I'm so glad you're you again, Daddy,” David said quietly as he hugged his younger father.

“Me, too,” the younger father agreed, though a little stunned by David's ferocious hug.

Letting go, David walked silently over to his bed, sitting heavily on the mattress.

The boy began, “I ... uh,” but paused, unsure of how to explain his emotions.

“What is it, David?” Jack asked, sitting down beside his son.

“I just wanted to say ... um ... thank you,” David stated, looking down at his hands.

Daniel shared a look with Jack, confused by David's words.

Hearing the uncertainty in his son's voice, Daniel knelt down in front of him and gently questioned, “For what, Son?”

David paused, looking up into Daniel's eyes and then sideways at Jack.

“For adopting us: Jen, Noa, and me.  If you hadn't, we would ... we would have been separated, and, uh ... we could have ended up with someone like Kevin or Mister Baker.”

“You don't need to thank us for that, David,” Daniel assured with a smile.  “Believe me, nothing would have kept us from bringing you three into our family.  We love you, and we'd fight for you every step of the way.”

“Besides,” Jack added, “You thank us a million times every day just by being you.  We're proud of you, Sport.”

“Sport?” David responded, smiling brightly.  He knew that was the nickname Jack had for Charlie.  He'd used it on Jonny a few times and on him, too, but each time was special because it communicated more than just a name.  Looking back down at his hands, though, he muttered, “It's just I ... uh ...”

David stood up suddenly and walked across the small room.  Daniel sat on the bed beside Jack, giving the boy the space he needed to say what he wanted to say.

“I just wanted to say ... I ... no, that's not right,” David mumbled.

The youngster was slightly angry that he couldn't find the words.  He turned and paced back across the room, stopping directly in front of Jack and Daniel.  He made direct eye contact with both his parents.

Jack tightly squeezed Daniel's hand as he held it between their bodies.

“I heard you downstairs,” David admitted gently.  “I was going to get an apple and was on the stairs.  I didn't mean to eavesdrop.”

“It's okay, Son,” Jack assured quietly.

“Anyway, I'm sorry that I haven't told you recently.  I love it here, and I couldn't dream of being anywhere else,” David stated, his gaze passing from Jack to Daniel.  “I love that I'm one of twelve children, two dogs, and a miniature zoo,” he half cried, half chuckled.  “I love this house and my room and my telescope and ... and all my stuff.  I even love it when weird things happen, because it makes us different and special. All the brood feels the same way, Daddy.”

“David,” Daniel choked out.

“I love you, Daddy, and I'm sorry Mister Baker did all those things to you,” David cried, a single tear rolling down his cheek.

Daniel immediately reached forward, pulling David into his arms.  Jack put his arms around both his husband and his son, squeezing tightly.

The three stayed like that for several minutes, until Jack finally said, “I think it's bedtime for our Rock Boy.”

“Daaad,” David whined, but he couldn't help but smile at the nickname.

“Did you still want an apple?” Jack questioned.

“No, I'm okay.”

“Okay, bed,” the general ordered.

Though David was a little too old to be tucked into bed, today he was quite happy to have his two fathers pull up the blankets and tuck in the sides.

“You're not going to stop going through the Stargate, are you?” David asked as he snuggled under the covers.

“Because of this?” Jack exclaimed.  “Nah.  It's just a reminder that we have to be more careful out there.”

“Good.  I'd like to see the Nox again.  Can we visit them soon?” David asked.

“We'll see if we can arrange something,” Daniel answered as Jack gave him a 'sure, why not' shrug of the shoulders.

“Night, David,” Jack whispered as he turned out the light.
 
“Night, Dad.  Love you.”

--

“Come and sleep in my bed tonight, Lulu,” Chenoa beckoned, pulling down the covers for Lulu to slide under.  After the emotional day, the two girls just wanted to be close to each other on this night.  “I'm really proud of you, Lulu,” she stated as they lay facing each other, cocooned under the blanket.  “You feel better?”

“Yeah,” Lulu confided.  “I got to help Daddy,” she added proudly.

Jack and Daniel had saved visiting Chenoa and Lulu until last as they knew they may spend a little longer saying goodnight.  They entered the room to the sound of giggles coming from under the covers of Chenoa's bed.

“Danny, where are Noa and Lulu?” Jack asked with mock curiosity.

“I don't know, Jack,” Daniel answered, going along with the game.  He smiled at the sound of continued giggles as the girls tried unsuccessfully to remain quiet.  “Mmmm.”

“I don't think they're in here, Love, but there's some pretty big lumps in Noa's bed that we should sort out,” Jack stated theatrically.

“Yep, better sit on those lumps to squash them down and make the bed more comfortable,” Daniel added, moving over towards the bed.

Smiling at each other, Jack and Daniel sat on the two ‘lumps', supporting the majority of their own weight so as not to actually hurt their daughters.

“This lump is pretty wriggly,” Jack announced, trying desperately not to laugh.

“Daaaaad!” came a muffled call from under the covers.

“What's that?” Daniel questioned, standing up and pulling off the comforter in one quick motion.

“It's uuuussssss!” Chenoa and Lulu called out together, laughing hard.

“Oh, there you are,” Jack stated with mock surprise, sitting back down on the bed next to his daughters.

“Silly Dad,” Chenoa said, shaking her head and jumping onto Jack's lap.

Daniel sat down too and lifted Lulu onto his lap.

The giggles subsiding, Daniel hugged Lulu tightly and said, “Lulu, I can't tell you how proud Dad and I are of you, and we can't tell you enough how thankful we are that you are our daughter.”

“She's my sister and my best friend,” Chenoa said happily, reaching out her hand to touch Lulu's arm and then giggling again.

“And you, too, Sweetie,” Daniel said to Chenoa.  “I couldn't last a day without you as our daughter.”

Lulu pulled herself up so she was practically kneeling on Daniel's lap, facing him.

“Daddy, do you know now that Mister Baker was the bad man?” Lulu asked earnestly, placing her hands either side of Daniel's face.

As a tear fell from his eye, Daniel nodded and said, “Yes, I know now.  Thank you, Little Bit.”

Lulu grinned what Jack and Daniel both thought might have been the biggest grin they'd ever seen.

“I helped you, didn't I?”

“Oh, yeah, more than you know,” Daniel affirmed, pulling her in for another hug.

After a few minutes, Daniel leaned back and questioned, “Are *you* okay, Lulu?  Today was very difficult.”

“Yes, Daddy,” Lulu answered with a smile.  Fiddling with Daniel's sweater for a few seconds, she added, “I'm happy.  For the first time in ... ages, I'm really happy.  Doctor Cooper always tells me that facing something makes you free.  I feel free now.  I love you, Daddy,” she exclaimed, wrapping her arms around Daniel's neck.

“I love you too, Little Bit,” Daniel cried, rubbing Lulu's back.

“Doctor Cooper will be so proud of you, too,” Jack added, his voice cracking a little.

After a few more hugs, both girls excitedly climbed off their fathers' laps and, still giggling, snuggled together under the blankets.

Daniel leaned over to give Lulu a goodnight kiss and spoke, “You're priceless, Lulu.”  Giving Chenoa a kiss, too, he said, “And you're a gem more valuable than anything.”

“Love you, so much,” Jack added, giving both the girls a kiss goodnight.

“Love you too, Dad,” Chenoa and Lulu called out as Jack turned out the lights by the bed.

--

“He's beautiful, Jack,” Daniel said quietly, leaning his head against his lover's shoulder as they looked down at their precious JD.

Jack and Daniel watched in silent adoration as JD yawned widely in his sleep, letting out the cutest sound as he stretched his little arms and legs.  His tiny fingers bunched into fists and relaxed again before he settled back into stillness.
 
“He's perfect, Danny,” Jack agreed, keeping his voice low.  He leaned over and kissed Daniel tenderly.  Then he cocked his head to one side and chuckled, “I wonder whether he'll grow up looking more like me, or you.”

“You, I hope,” Daniel answered, smiling.
 
“Nah, it's gotta be you,” Jack countered with a smile, kissing Daniel again.

“He'll grow up to be the best of both of us,” Daniel sighed, looking back down at their sleeping son.

“He knew something was going on today,” Jack stated tenderly.

“He's smart, just like the rest of the brood,” Daniel acknowledged quietly.

Jack leaned into the crib and stroked JD's head gently as he opined, “He's a miracle, Angel.  Softly, he added, “Just like all the brood.”  Looking up into the other man's eyes, he smiled and said, “Just like you.”

“Careful, Babe, or I'll be blubbering again,” Daniel warned, his eyes already prickling with tears at the happiness he felt.

Standing up straight again, Jack caressed the side of Daniel's face with his thumb and whispered, “Thank you for coming back to me, Angel.”

Checking JD one more time and kissing him goodnight, Jack slowly pulled Daniel toward the door, glancing back over and smiling at the still slightly giggling Chenoa and Lulu, who, by choice, still shared the nursery with JD.

In the hallway, Jack spoke, “Now I need to tuck my Space Monkey into bed.  It's been a long day.”

“Jaaack,” Daniel chuckled.  His hand on his Love's chest, he smiled and said, “We need to talk to Suz first.

“Right,” Jack affirmed.

====

“You can stop crying now, Suz,” Daniel said as he comforted his foster sister.  He'd been holding her for the last five minutes as she cried.  “Suz, it wasn't that bad.”

“Daniel!” Suzanna admonished harshly as she pulled back from his embrace.

“Okay, it was, but it was another lifetime.  It feels like a life that someone else lived, not me.  I have everything I've ever wanted now,” Daniel declared firmly.

“Daniel, do you remember my parents very much?”

“Suz, they were just about the only kind adults I knew from the moment my parents died until I found a home at the SGC.  Yes, I remember them.  Your mom had the most beautiful, thick black hair.  She had this laughing smile, and she used to call me ... Lug Nut.”  Daniel scrunched his nose and laughed.  “I'd forgotten that.”

“That's because the first day you joined our family, my dad was working on his car, and you found a lug nut and gave it to my mom.  She just thought it was cute,” Suzanna spoke.

“Lug Nut, eh?” Jack repeated.

“Don't start, Jack,” Daniel warned.  He returned his attention to Suzanna and said, “And your dad loved basketball and ... whales.  He had a thing about whales.”

Suzanna laughed gaily, wiping back another tear as she nodded and confirmed, “Yes, he did.”

“Suz, we've talked about your parents before.  Why is this so important now?”

“Because they loved you, Daniel, and I just ... I want to make sure you know that. I know it doesn't make any difference anymore, but please believe me when I say that they never forgot you and that if they had ... if ...”

“Oh, Suz,” Daniel said, taking the woman into his arms again.  “You know what, Suz?  You're the best sister a man could ever have.  I love you.”

Suzanna cried even more.  This was no doubt the most emotional, serious, and heartwarming talk she and Daniel had ever had.  In fact, for the first time, she really felt like they were brother and sister.

“I love you, too, Bro,” Suzanna laughed and cried at the same time.  “So, you've been living a sci-fi movie,” she chuckled as she dried her eyes.

“Yeah, it's pretty incredible,” Daniel agreed.

“And JD,” the woman added.  “I always thought something was special about him, but now I know about the Stargate, other planets, and weird alien mist.”  She shook her head, amazed at the words coming out of her mouth.  Looking up at Jack, she smiled and questioned, “He's your son, isn't he?  I don't know how, but, biologically, he's ... both of yours ... isn't he?” she asked, her gaze turning back to her brother.

Jack and Daniel shared a look.  Jack cocked his head to the side, closing his eyes for a second as he also shrugged ever-so-slightly.

“Yes,” Daniel answered, grinning proudly from ear to ear.  “Uh, the kids know.  You may have heard them mention Toto and Bean Sprout.”

“Only by accident,” Suzanna admitted.  “And when I asked them who Toto was, they started talking about 'The Wizard of Oz', but it never made sense.  If I pressed them about Bean Sprout, they started talking vegetables.  It only happened a couple of times, and ...”  She tilted her head slightly as she recalled the memories.  “... I never knew.  They talked circles around me to protect that baby.  So, who are Toto and Bean Sprout?” she asked curiously.

“Well, there's this planet,” Jack began.

The three adults sat for an hour, talking about how JD came to be, the Stargate, and the very big universe in which they lived.  For Daniel, especially, it meant a great deal to be able to share the miracle of JD's birth with his sister.  Secrets were a part of their lives, but he was happy to finally be able to share this one with Suzanna.

====

Jack pulled Daniel gently through their bedroom door and kissed him soundly, his hands holding his husband securely to him.

“I missed you so much last night, Angel,” Jack whispered.  “I couldn't sleep, and it just felt so wrong you being in another room when you should have been with me.”

“Always, Jack.  I'll always be with you,” Daniel assured.  Pulling back slightly, he smiled and stated, “No more exploring of alien ruins.”

“Angel, you wouldn't be you if you didn't want to explore strange new life and seek out ...”

“Jack, I get it,” Daniel chuckled, walking over to the bed.  “I should have listened to you though.”

“Since when have you ever listened to me?” Jack asked jovially.

“Um ... can't think of a time right this minute, but ... Jaaack!” Daniel chuckled as his soulmate's fingers sought out his ticklish spots.

As they collapsed on the bed, Jack smiled and tenderly declared, “I love you, Danny.  I love everything about you.  No changing allowed.”

“You either, Jack.  Always and forever, remember?” Daniel reminded.

“Yeah,” Jack replied as he grinned.  “Always and forever, and forever and always.”

Just then, both men caught movement out of the corner of their eye and turned their heads to take in the sight of Bijou and Katie, both curled up on their pillows.

“Hey, Girls,” Jack greeted.  “Make yourselves comfortable,” he joked.

====

As Jack finished in the bathroom, Daniel climbed into bed, pulling Katie onto his lap.

“Okay, Girls, it's time ...” Jack began, striding into the room, intending on ushering Bijou and Katie out of the bedroom and either to another bedroom or outside.

“No, wait!” Daniel interrupted.  He gazed into the four canine eyes that were focused on him.  “Bij, Katie, I want to tell you something, and I hope you understand.”  He waited for his husband to crawl into bed next to him before continuing.  “I know our house is full now, and there are only so many hours in a day.  I remember when all I had was this house, Jack, and you two.  You were our world, and then our world expanded, but you're both still our girls.  Just like always, you were right there for me.  I knew it.  You made me feel so safe.  I was scared to death, but having you so near to me gave me strength.  You know what we're going to do?  I'm not sure what day, but one day in the next couple of weeks, Jack, me, and you two are going to go to the park or to the mountains, or somewhere, and we're going to play, just like we did when it was just the four of us.  Would you like that?”

Two wagging tails, four shining eyes, and two eager, “Woofs” was Daniel's answer.

“Good, because I want that, too, and tonight, I want you to stay here and keep us safe.  Would you do that?”

Again, two happy “Woofs” was the response.

“Hey,” Jack expressed with a grin.  “I've got an idea.  We could take the girls in Jo to Bryce Canyon.  They've never been there with us.”

Jo was the family's airplane, a 1960 Meyers 200A aircraft.  Both Jack and Daniel frequently utilized the plane for pleasure trips.

“Jack, that's perfect.  We could have a picnic, and they'd love to explore there for a while.”

“We'll look at the calendar tomorrow,” Jack said as he settled down under the covers.  “Okay, Girls, tonight, he's yours, but tomorrow night, he's all mine.  Deal?”  The deal was sealed by several licks on his face.  Laughing, he replied, “Love you, too, ya mutts!”

“Arf, arf!” Daniel expressed, sticking out his bottom lip.

Jack looked up, burst out into laughter at the sight of his husband and leaned over to kiss the pout off his face.

“Yeah, I love you, too, my biggest mutt,” Jack stated cheerfully.

“Puppy power!” Daniel exclaimed, snuggling under the covers and settling himself against Jack, his head resting on his husband's chest, Katie and Bijou by their sides.

After a traumatic twenty-four hours, life was once again good for the Jackson-O'Neills.

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