Category: Slash, Drama, Romance, Holiday, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Season: Beyond the Series - October 30, 2016 - January 30, 2017
Written: September 30, October 1-2,17-24,31, November 6-9,12-15,18, December 18-21, 2009 Revised: February 8, 2010
Summary: While Jeff and David contemplate their futures, Jack and Daniel are losing their minds. Can Hernando's Hideway help save them, and what does the new year have in store for the two oldest male members of the brood?
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't. A gal can dream though!
1) After some spoken foreign words or phrases used for the first time, the English translation appears in italics, such as “Nai.” [No]
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) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better: Robert, Irina, Tammy, Becca, Navi, Claudia, MamaBear!
Daniel yawned as he led the way into the master bedroom, shuffling his
feet as they barely cooperated with him. Two nights ago, he and
Jack had dined at the Dennisons. Last night, Paul Davis and Marc
Reynolds had been over for dinner. Tonight, the family had
watched a movie together, “The Pajama Game,” and then enjoyed some ice
cream before calling it a night. He eagerly wanted to sleep,
especially since tomorrow was Halloween. It would be a full day
of pumpkin activities and trick or treating.
~One thing you can rely on in this house: there's never a dull moment.~
It was late, and the couple had just completed their nightly rounds and were ready to get a much-needed good night's sleep. Suddenly, Jack grabbed hold of his soulmate, spinning him around and starting a lively tango.
“Jack,” Daniel laughed, not resisting the dramatic moves across the carpet and even dipped down when led to by his husband.
“Hush,” Jack returned, his posture erect and stern. “We're going to Hernando's.”
“Hernando's?” Daniel questioned uncertainly.
“To the hideaway so we can ... hide,” Jack explained in a deep sensuous voice as he twirled his partner.
Daniel began to laugh even more as his lover drew him close.
“Thee tahngo eez a seerrrious dahnce,” Jack asserted with an Argentine flair.
“Gawd,” the younger man responded, his head falling against his Love's shoulder.
“That's it; that's the sound that is music to my ears,” Jack whispered as his hold on Daniel shifted to a tender embrace.
“What?” Daniel queried, looking up into delicious brown ovals. “Have I been that bad?”
“Not you, us,” Jack corrected, yawning just as he was about to kiss his husband.
“Okay, now that's a new low,” Daniel complained.
With a groan, Jack pulled away and walked over to the bed, collapsing on it while remarking, “We've gotten old.”
“No, no, we haven't,” Daniel negated. “We're just ... tired.”
With a curious stare, Jack challenged, “We weren't this tired ten years ago.”
“Ten years ago we weren't driving our children all over town, supervising doll clubs, cheerleading events, playtime, and ... I can't even remember everything we do in a day now.”
Even though Jennifer, Jeff, and Brianna each had their driver's license, Jack and Daniel were adamant that their older children not become chauffeurs or babysitters to their younger siblings beyond reasonable expectations. The lovers took pride in being good parents and they didn't abdicate any part of that responsibility.
With a burst of energy, Daniel added, “*And* that doesn't include homeschooling and J-O.”
“Daniel, haven't we been having this conversation a lot lately?”
Bobbing his head up and down a few times while he contemplated the question, the archaeologist affirmed, “A few, just a ... a few times.”
Shaking off that weird feeling of tiredness, or being too old, whichever the truth was, Jack stood back up and swayed over to his husband, taking him into the proper position for the tango.
“Hernando's?” Daniel asked as seriously as he could.
“Hernando's,” Jack confirmed as he again led his sexy soulmate around the room.
~For my sanity, I'm retreating. It's Saturday, and I'm entitled to five friggin' minutes all to myself. How hard of a request is that?~
Wanting and needing a few minutes of peace and quiet, Jack headed for his study, only to be surprised at finding David and two of his friends occupying the space while conversing about a school project that the visitors were working on. David was more adept at the physical sciences, so he was helping the other boys.
“Hey, Dad,” David greeted as he realized there was another presence in the room.
With a nod, Jack greeted, “Son.” He looked at the other boys and acknowledged, “Mike, Garrett.”
“Hello, General Jackson-O'Neill,” the boys greeted, though their words stepped on each other's.
“Did you need your study, Dad?” David asked hastily. “We couldn't find anywhere else to talk where there was a computer and Daddy said it would be okay, but if you need your study ...”
“No, it's okay. I'll find a hole around here somewhere,” Jack mused, internally lamenting his first failed attempt at finding a quiet place. “Carry on,” he instructed as he turned around.
Passing through the living room, Jack smiled at Ricky and his friends as they played some video games on their Wii console. They were having such a fierce multi-player match with lots of whoops and hollers that they only had the time to nod back at Jack. He suspected he was lucky to get that much.
Walking through the kitchen, the general nodded at Jenny and her flour-smudged friends, who were busy making brownies, cookies, and other treats for a party. He reminded the redhead not to turn on the cooking appliances without one of her older siblings present.
~I think those girls will be able to open a pastry shop the way they are baking up a storm today.~
Entering the recreation room, Jack scooted around Little Danny as he tended to his regular chore of cleaning out Ptolemy's cage. Two of his friends were helping the child prodigy and having a great time playing with the beautiful hyacinth macaw.
Seeing Jack, Ptolemy couldn't help but perch on her favorite spot -- Jack's shoulder.
Feeling the extra weight, Jack smiled as he turned his head towards the bird and chimed, “Hey, Polly.”
“Dad!” Little Danny objected.
“Wanna a cracker?” Ptolemy asked, causing Jack and the kids to just stare at the bird and her mockery.
Laughing, Jack shrugged his shoulders, effectively getting the hyacinth macaw to take flight, and then praised, “Good one, Polly.”
In response, the bird squawked and stated regally, “Ptolemy queen.”
Jack was still chuckling as he walked outside to the Pod, waving as he made a quick turn. His plan to sit there and relax was foiled by Jennifer and two of her friends, who were chattering away about things Jack didn't want to know his oldest daughter ever discussed. He started for the gazebo, letting out a groan when he had to stop and change directions again. Cassandra's children were sitting in the gazebo with their mother, just enjoying the day. They did that a lot since the Luca home didn't have much of a backyard.
Jack glanced over towards the pool area, but he knew the Shanahans were there. Their son, Kevin, was making enormous strides battling his autism, and they'd been advised by his therapist that now was a good time to make sure he was confident in the water and aware of water safety issues.
Next, Jack tried the garage, but the sounds of the washers and dryers going reminded him that today was laundry day, even with all the family visitors. Obviously, the children had all done their duties thus far. Though he considered shutting off the appliances, he opted not to because he didn't want to throw off the cleaning schedule.
~I don't know if we're the cleanest family on the block or the dirtiest. Either way, I don't dare shut down the laundry. We have two huge capacity sets and they hardly ever stop.~
Back in the house, Jack figured he might as well check out the game room since he'd already seen so many of his children in other places throughout the home and yard. He quickly realized, however, that the game room was occupied by his good friend, Lou Ferretti and some of his family.
Actually, Lou was doing the Jackson-O'Neills a favor by fixing the foosball game that had been damaged recently. While he was doing that, his daughter Trina was playing with two of Lou's grandchildren. That was a story in itself, but the gist of it was that Lou had become an instant grandfather of four when his oldest daughter had wed a widower.
Heading for the dance studio, Jack simply waved to Lulu as she danced flowingly to the music. He didn't bother to go into the projects room because he already knew that his neighbor, Mitzi Miller, was there with her son, Calvin, working on a surprise present for her husband's upcoming birthday. Like Jack, Mitzi liked to work with clay and she knew her way around a kiln, which is why Jack had offered to let her use it today to make the special present.
Jack walked to the guest room and paused to chat a few minutes with Suzanne, Daniel's foster sister who was visiting. She had her laptop out and was taking care of some business that she needed to finish before joining the family for any activities they might take part in together.
Going upstairs, Jack went to JD's room, listening as Grandpa, better known as Retired Lieutenant General George Hammond, told the little boy a story that had JD's eyes wide and mouth agape. After eavesdropping for a few minutes, just enjoying the warmth coming from Hammond and JD, Jack then walked through the jog that connected the old and new parts of the home. He checked on Jonny and his friends, who were busy playing some kind of no-weapons war game in the boys' room. In the next room, Aislinn and some of her girlfriends were playing a board game on the floor.
The next room, belonging to Chenoa and Lulu, had just been repainted that morning to accommodate the pre-teen girls' desire to have a bit more color on their walls. Thus, until the final coat dried it wasn't accessible. That was the same reason why David's room was inaccessible.
In fact, earlier in the day, before the house had been inundated with visitors, painting projects had been started in Jennifer's and Jeff's bedrooms before spreading to a few of the other rooms, including the train room, which was going to have a new mural painted by the children themselves added to one wall. In a couple of hours, after the visitors departed, the family would complete their project and restore the individual rooms to their productive norms, with the exception of the train room. The mural wouldn't be done until the following day.
Jack peeked inside Brianna's room, but backed off quickly. The tomboy was on the phone with her long-distance boyfriend and didn't want to share her conversation with her father.
Across the hall, Jack was certain he'd find the answer to his alone-time quest, only then he heard the rat-tat-tat of the sewing machine. Chenoa was deeply involved in making something that she didn't want Jack to see, so he quickly went on his way.
~Note to self: find out what the Curly Top is up to at her sewing machine, but not now, later.~
The wandering father checked the computer room and sat down. He didn't stay long, though, because it was a small room and the chairs just didn't allow him to relax the way he wanted to at the moment. He vetoed the music room for the same reason. The Bird's Nest was out because he was the wrong sex.
A minute or two later, the general walked out onto the roof deck. He loved the wooden deck and the Aerie which was a level higher, but the deck chairs weren't what he needed right now. Feeling a bit frustrated, he considered just flopping down on the bed in the master bedroom, but even that wasn't what he was looking for.
Finally, Jack went to the one place he was certain there wouldn't be another living soul. He smiled as he approached the quiet room, thinking that maybe the beanbag inside the small room would offer him a comforting compromise. That's when he realized the door was closed, although there wasn't a sign to indicate who was inside. That was a no-no.
Opening the door, Jack was prepared to chastise the occupant, until he saw the person sitting in the beanbag.
“Quick! Close the door,” the archaeologist instructed.
“You, too?” Jack asked, sensing the younger man had been in need of a quiet spot in which to kick back for a while.
“There's not one inch of this house, Jack, that doesn't have a human being in it,” Daniel sighed.
“The backyard is booked, too,” Jack added as he sat down at the chair by the desk. “We've got a full house.”
“You do know that we can't stay in here very long,” Daniel lamented.
“Yeah,” Jack affirmed. “I was just hoping for ten minutes to read just one article without little fingers interfering.”
Daniel stared at the National Geographic his lover was holding up and teased, “You just want to look at the pictures.”
“There's that,” Jack chuckled. Looking at the clock on the wall, he observed, “It's slow.”
Daniel looked up questioning and asked, “Slow?”
“By fifteen minutes.”
“By fif...oh, crap,” the archaeologist whined, getting up in a hurry. “I have that conference call. Why didn't Karissa call me?”
“Maybe because she's getting everyone on the call,” Jack mused.
“Don't let the children burn down the house,” Daniel remarked, leaning over for a kiss before hurrying upstairs to his den to conduct a bit of business for J-O Enterprises.
Leaning back in his chair, Jack opened the magazine to the page he wanted with a sigh. About to enjoy his reprieve, he heard a distinct shout of “Dad!” reverberate down the hall. The hope that it was his imagination was dashed when the call of “Dad” came again, causing the frazzled father to lose his faith of ever getting ten minutes of peace. Getting out of the chair with a groan, he reluctantly went to see what the problem was.
“What a day,” the silver-haired man mumbled, wishing for a swift end to the day. ~There's no more silver in my hair; it's just gray, grayer, and grayest. Is that a word?~
The next afternoon, things were quieter in the Jackson-O'Neill household, though there were still plenty of activity going on throughout the home, including the train room mural which had been half completed that morning and was on schedule to be worked on again in a couple of hours.
At the moment, however, Jack and Daniel were enjoying what they anticipated would be a thirty-minute reprieve from their parental obligations and chores. Together, they sat on the comfy sofa in the study. Jack's arm was around his husband's shoulders, with Daniel leaning against his Love. They were just enjoying being close and, by agreement, were talking about anything except their children.
As so often happened, the couple's plans didn't work out as just five minutes into their escape, fifteen-year-old David walked in, carrying a notebook that was open and had a lot of writing in it. Post-its and paper clips were visible at the edges, and it was obvious that some of the information had been highlighted in yellow or green.
“Are you busy?” the teenager inquired from the doorway.
“Nope,” Daniel replied without moving out of Jack's embrace.
“What's up?” Jack questioned, content to stay where he was for the moment.
David entered, closed the door behind him, and pulled the stool out from the corner, bringing it over so he could sit in front of his parents.
As soon as the couple saw the door being closed, they sat up straighter, pulling out of their romantic hold. Obviously, they were in for a serious discussion.
“I've been thinking about this for a while. I wasn't absolutely sure, though, until yesterday when I helped my friends with their homework. It was so ... different, skill-wise. I don't want to sound cocky, but I'm pretty sure I'm right.”
“Right about what?” Jack questioned curiously.
**Grades,** Daniel surmised, having a feeling where the conversation was headed.
“It sounds so vain, and I don't want to sound that way, but I've always been, uh, well ...”
“Smart,” Daniel completed for his son. **I remember when he was so shy and not confident at all. He lived in his own world.**
**He's confident now, Angel. I have a gut feeling we're about to find out just how confident he is.**
“Yeah, smart,” David acknowledged. “Dad, Daddy, I'm doing college work for homeschooling, aren't I?”
Daniel glanced at Jack briefly and then leaned forward slightly. This was a serious discussion. While Little Danny was the acknowledged child prodigy of the family and often overshadowed the rest of the brood, several of the other children were extremely intelligent as well. From the beginning, they'd known that David was a child genius. He had taught himself several languages, long before being adopted by Jack and Daniel.
With a nod, Daniel affirmed, “Yes, Son, you are. You've been doing college level work in all areas for the last few months.”
“I thought so,” David returned, smiling out of satisfaction.
“We're very proud of you,” Jack added with a smile of his own.
“David, let me explain why we didn't say anything,” Daniel began, his head bowed for a moment.
“I know why.”
“You do?” the archaeologist asked, his eyebrows raised in surprise.
“You want us to develop and grow at our own speed. You don't want us to stand out. You especially don't want to put pressure on any of us.”
At this point, Jack and Daniel stared at each other in utter amazement at how spot on David's assumptions were. They'd discussed the situation long and hard before ultimately deciding to simply up the ante on David's studies without actually telling him he was essentially a high school graduate.
“Mostly, Daddy, you don't want any of us to feel like we're different, to go through what you did, graduating so early, attending college as a kid practically, without any support.”
Jack's hand took hold of his husband's, though his eyes remained focused on their teenage son.
“I respect all of that, and I agree with it, so I'm cool about it. I really am,” David claimed, sounding sincere and even a little tender about his understanding statement. “If I wasn't, I would have said something when I first started to wonder about the difficulty level, so don't feel bad. I'm not upset.”
“But ...” Jack prodded.
“But I think what you're waiting for is just what I'm doing now, speaking up and letting you know that I'm ready, and I want to go to college, for real. I asked Jen to pick up some information for me a while ago, just in case. She just thought I was starting to think about college choices. Anyway, I want to be a geologist and I can't learn that at home.”
“What are you suggesting?” Daniel asked carefully.
“I would like for us to do whatever it is we're supposed to do so I can get my diploma and take the SAT exam. If it's done in time, I'd like to take some classes next term at UCCS. I can make sure that my schedule fits with Jen's. She said she'd take me. I could take the bus, too. I know you guys aren't very fond of that idea, but I'm not, well ...”
“You're not a little boy anymore,” Jack interjected, interrupting the wannabe college student from pointing out something that could have been difficult to confront his parents about. “That's true about the bus. We'd have to think about that one.”
“Ah, we'll have to get special permission from UCCS because of your age, but I doubt that would be a problem,” Daniel noted. His hands now clasped together as he continued to sit forward, he thoughtfully stated, “David, being fifteen and in college is not easy. Your studies won't be the point of contention, but your professors might be skeptical of your right to be there and certainly, some of the student body will doubt your knowledge and probably be jealous. There won't be a class that you're in that you aren't going to be stared at and maybe even looked down upon. Being assigned to work in groups, you'll have to prove yourself, do the grunt part of the projects, and ... you may still be made fun of; perhaps ridiculed, even if you do the whole task yourself. You, ah, look a lot like I did when I was doing the same thing.”
“I'll be okay,” the teen insisted, confident in his coping abilities.
“Daddy knows first hand what he's talking about,” Jack reminded David, wishing Daniel didn't have to think about that difficult time in his life.
“But there's a crucial difference, remember?” David prodded, looking straight into the archaeologist's eyes. “Daddy, you were alone. I'm not alone. I have you and the brood, not to mention Aunt Sam and Teal'c and, well, everyone; and even though being in college as a teenager was lonely for you, wasn't it also what saved your sanity because you *were* alone?”
Daniel jerked his head like he had been splashed with cold water.
“I'm sorry, Daddy, I shouldn't have said that,” David quickly apologized. “I didn't mean to hurt you.”
“No, you haven't,” Daniel assured. “You were right on. It was just an observation I hadn't really made for myself; at least not in that way. I've spent so much time getting over all the negatives of my past, I never thought about what the alternative might have been without my advanced studies, even though I buried myself in them. I never really considered that I may not have survived to overcome my past without academia as my shield.”
David was quiet, still feeling bad that he'd said what he had. It had just slipped out.
To lighten the mood and let his son know it was okay to continue, Daniel teased “You sure you don't want to be a psychologist?” With a nod, he beckoned, “Go on with what you were saying.”
Feeling a tad better, David smiled and continued, “Well, the point is that I'm not alone, and I know that you will help me deal with whatever crap comes up at college. I'd like you to really consider letting me do this. I can get a lot of my basic studies done here and maybe transfer when I'm older. I was thinking about Yale or Harvard. They both have great geology programs.”
The parents couldn't help feeling proud, even if they were still concerned.
“What's in the notebook?” Daniel inquired inquisitively as he extended his arm towards the object.
“I made notes about some of the classes I'd like to take. I was hoping you had time to do a quick review now?”
“We're all yours,” Jack responded, knowing Daniel would agree. ~So much for cuddle time.~
**We'll make up for it later,** Daniel communicated, eavesdropping on his husband's mind.
**Yeahsureyabetcha,** Daniel mimicked mentally.
“Oh, there is one more thing,” David sighed a bit hesitantly. “I, well, I'd really like to work at J-O Enterprises, part time, for real, like Jen. Maybe you'll want me to wait until I'm sixteen when I can drive, but otherwise, maybe I can work when you work, or on Jen's schedule, but I'd really like to be a part of the business, and if I'm going to start college, I'd like to start paying my own way.” He laughed, “I guess it's still coming from you anyway, but ...”
“It would be coming from the company,” Jack interjected. “Daddy and I will talk about it and let you know.”
“Do you have an idea of just exactly what you'd like to do?” Daniel queried.
“I don't want favoritism. I want to work my way up. I guess I would like you to help me get my foot in the door, but after that, I want to be on my own. I trust you to let that happen.”
**Was I doubting his confidence level, Babe?** Daniel asked.
**My bad,** Daniel quipped humorously. “Dad and I will discuss a few things, talk to Jen, and we'll meet to consider the possibilities later. For right now, let's talk about college. Okay?”
“Okay and thanks,” David responded and then turned to the first page he wanted his parents to see. “UCCS doesn't have a big geology program. However, they do have a few really good courses that I can take while getting core studies out of the way. That way, I can complete my undergraduate courses and still have a head start on my major program.”
Their cuddle time reprieve having evaporated, Jack and Daniel devoted the next twenty minutes to their teenage son, each impressed with the preliminary research the boy had done. If they allowed him to go to college and work at J-O, it would be a huge transition for the family, though it would be more of a psychological change than anything else. They wondered if they were ready to start the letting go process with David. They'd already had to with Jennifer and Jeff, and now David wanted to spread his wings in his own way as well.
“Gawd, Jack, they keep growing up,” Daniel sighed as he slipped on a lightweight sweatshirt that night as they were getting ready for bed.
“Ya gotta admit, Danny, he's smart to realize he's doing college work.”
“I'm not really surprised, but I guess I was hoping he wouldn't say anything for a while yet.”
“Like until he's eighteen?” Jack questioned pointedly as he took off his shoes and socks.
“Something like that,” Daniel admitted as he got into bed, removing his glasses and setting them on the nightstand. “Do you remember when we first saw him? He had this huge chip on his shoulder and he looked just like me.”
Standing up to put his shirt in the hamper, Jack returned, “I wasn't there, but from what you said at the time, he did have an attitude.”
“He talked to me in Arabic, spouting insults and just lashing out. You should have seen his face when I replied back to what he said. Jack, he taught himself Arabic. Do you realize how hard that is?”
“Don't forget Russian,” Jack added, amused by his lover's first encounter with their son.
“That's nearly impossible to learn on your own, but he did it.”
“He's a genius, Danny. We've known that all along,” Jack replied. “He could be an astronomer, if he were interested in that.” Smiling with pride, he noted, “He picked that up so fast. He's good. He remembers everything I've ever taught him.”
“You were afraid to buy him a telescope. Remember that?”
“Lack of confidence, mine,” Jack recalled. “I thought he was all about your world. I didn't know then that your world would become such a part of my world.”
“We have to encourage him, Jack. You know that,” Daniel opined.
“Yeah, I know,” Jack agreed reluctantly as he slipped into bed next to his lover.
The two scooted under the sheets, turning to face each other, each leaning on one of their hands as they continued to talk.
“There aren't many limits on what he could do for J-O.”
“You checked the labor laws?”
“Yeah, while you and the kids were singing up a storm in the music room,” Jack elaborated. “We're in the clear except for some of the heavier machinery we use occasionally and he can't work with chemicals, but we're not big on those anyway.”
“Did you happen to check on ...”
“Testing?” Jack interrupted. “We're too late for the November test, but there's another one the first Saturday in December. We'd have to pay a late fee. That doesn't give him long to study up.”
“So, no pressure then.”
Jack chuckled but then responded seriously, “That's up to David. We let him know that he doesn't have to take the test now, but if he does then he won't have room to fail and retake. Scores are available by the end of December.”
“He'll pass. We can help him study, Jack.”
“That's a given,” the older man assented. “Even if he sails through the exam, we can't be sure UCCS will admit him with late registration.”
“Well, he does have other options, if he's serious about attending college now. Besides, being local, UCCS doesn't have to worry about dorm space or financial aid. It's whether or not they have space for another body in classes. *My* concern is David's scores are likely to test him out of most of his freshman basics, English comp, Western Civ; he's already doing calculus.”
“Math isn't his strongest suit,” Jack interjected. Seeing his husband's stare, he nodded and conceded, “But he's still good enough to go to the head of the class.”
“The truth is that he's still not pushing himself full tilt, and I don't want him to, but one of the reasons we homeschooled our brood was so they could progress at their own rate, whatever that might be.” Daniel paused and then asked a key question. “Jack, are we ready to have David graduate college at eighteen? It's likely to happen, you know.”
“You're right,” Jack acknowledged, after which a minute of silence occurred.
“So, we let him work and go to college?” Daniel asked, breaking the noiseless aura that had been surrounding the lovers. “At whatever pace he can handle,” he added as both a question and a statement.
“Limited class schedule and part time work. Karissa can find him a gopher slot,” Jack supposed. “What do we do when he's handling everything well and gets bored? We can't give him the freedom to graduate high school at fifteen and expect him to put on the brakes because it makes us feel old. What can we do but love him, encourage him, and let him achieve what he is capable of doing?”
“He knows we'll always be there for him,” Daniel returned. He blinked as a sudden thought occurred to him. “He'll need a car.”
“The driveway is crowded as it is,” Jack chuckled. “When he gets his license and a car, maybe we should ask Alex to design an underground parking garage.”
Ignoring his lover's jest about the parking redeux, Daniel frowned a little as he said, “Bri hasn't been real interested in having her own car.”
“She loves Jeff's truck.”
“You think ...”
“I'm guessing Jeff will be willing to let her have it at some point. I don't think Chely's that fond of the truck,” Jack chuckled.
“She's fond of Jeff.”
“Oh, yeah,” Jack acknowledged without hesitation. Leaning closer to his Love, he proclaimed, “And I'm fond of you.”
“Deeply?” Daniel questioned beckoningly.
“Deep as deep can go, and all wet, too.”
“You're such a sweet talker,” the younger man teased.
“I've used up all my good lines.”
“Oh, well then, goodnight,” Daniel spoke dryly, rolling over to face the other wall.
“That fell flat,” Jack sighed.
“Flat's a good word for it,” the archaeologist grumbled.
Slowly, a grin formed on Jack's face. He spooned in close to his soulmate, placing a kiss on the side of his neck.
“La Mio Bello Stella Cadente,” Jack crooned, happy to hear the romantic sigh that escaped from Daniel's mouth after his words.
“Caro mio,” Daniel replied, rolling over again to kiss his husband.
~An oldie but goodie,~ Jack mused even as he kissed Daniel.
“Concentrate on the moment, Jack, or something else is gonna be flat in about two seconds.”
“I'm concentrating, I'm concentrating,” the older man insisted.
Daniel must have believed his lover because the only thing heard for the next hour were gasps, moans, and muted shouts of adoration and godhood.
“I'm glad you called, Billy,” Jack spoke over the phone to his older brother who was living in Australia with his wife and some of their children. “You have great timing; we just got in.”
“That's me, Bro, the man with the crackerjack timing,” Billy laughed.
“Happy as a lark, which makes me happy as a lark, too,” the man responded. “Wish we could come for Christmas.”
“Me, too, but soon!”
A silence loomed and then Billy asked reverently, “Did you remember the day?”
“Yeah,” Jack sighed, his mind going back to old war buddies. “I've lost a lot of friends in action over the years, Billy.” Not wanting to get stuck in the melancholy of the situation, he offered more lightheartedly, “Danny and I took the brood to the parade this morning and then we went to visit a friend of mine, Dale Rancolini. He had some old buddies and their families over for a picnic lunch and flag raising.” Back to being more somber, he added, “We had a moment of silence for those who couldn't be there.”
“Kids respectful?” Billy inquired. “Do they understand?”
“Yeah. They get it.”
“Jack, I wish we could talk longer, but I'm glad I caught ya today. I love you.”
“Love you, too, Billy.”
“Give my love to Daniel and the kids and tell 'em we'll call soon when we can all catch up.”
“Have one for the veterans down under for me,” Jack requested.
Though the call was short, the two brothers, both veterans of war, had been happy to reach out to the other. While neither wanted to make a big fuss about their own involvement, they both needed to make time to remember.
Tapping on the phone just after he'd hung up, Jack spoke quietly, “Happy Veterans Day, Billy. Geez, I'm glad we're both still here.” He closed his eyes and sighed, “And here's to those who should be, but aren't.”
That evening for their date night, Jack and Daniel lived it up at their favorite hangout, O'Malley's. They'd had a nice dinner together and then, by prearrangement, Pete Shanahan, Lou Ferretti, and Jeff Cornell had showed up to join the couple for a round or two of drinks and to play some pool.
The group was having fun, laughing, joking, and just letting their male testosterone run free. It was the kind of fun Jack and Daniel hadn't had in a while. Jack's beer intake at home was practically nil these days, and colorful stories and even the lightest profanity was outlawed within the boundaries of the Jackson-O'Neill homestead.
In the middle of one of Ferretti's more flamboyant stories, Daniel was chalking his cue stick. He was about to set up his next shot when he just stopped. It took a minute for the others to realize that the archaeologist had zoned out.
“Danny?” Jack called out as he approached his husband.
“What?” Daniel asked flatly.
“You have that 'deer in the headlights' look.”
“I know what we need,” Daniel responded. “It's so simple. Why didn't we think of this before?”
“Oh, I don't know,” Jack answered with a shrug. “Maybe because I don't have a friggin' clue what it is that *we* just thought of.”
“Hernando,” Daniel informed his husband cryptically.
“Who's Fernando?” Pete asked, the noise of the bar causing him to misunderstand the name, especially since the men at the next table had just erupted into a joyful cheer at the apparent conclusion of their pool contest.
“Lamas?” Ferretti chuckled about the famous Argentinian actor as he laughed in Pete's direction.
“You rlook ... mahvelous,” Pete mused right down to the 'r' in front of 'look' as he imitated Billy Crystal's exaggerated characterization of noted Latino actor Fernando Lamas, a routine the comic had often performed on the television series, “Saturday Night Live.”
“Pete, I'm worried about you,” Jeff stated dryly, backing away mockingly.
The three laughed, but they could tell that their friends weren't talking about Fernando Lamas or Crystal's homage to him.
Jack groaned at the three men and pointed out, “Danny said *Her*nando, not *Fer*nando.”
“Thank you, Mister 'I always get the name right',” Lou retorted at Jack's stoic expression. His grin faded as he grew serious and asked, “Hey, who's Hernando?”
As Daniel's eyes bore into his soulmate's, Jack answered, “He's a man with a hideaway.”
“Pajama Game!” Pete exclaimed enthusiastically, drawing funny looks from Lou and Jeff. “Sam loves romantic comedies,” he explained with a helpless shrug.
As their friends amused themselves while trying to figure out what the topic of discussion was, Jack was still clueless as to what his lover was thinking.
“Danny, what's going on in that mind of yours?” the general questioned curiously.
“Pete just said it,” Daniel returned. “Hernando's Hideaway. 'The Pajama Game'.” It was obvious to the archaeologist that his husband wasn't getting his idea. “Jack, we need a hideaway, a place for you and me, and ... and them,” he explained, waving over at their friends.
“A hideaway, in our house?” Jack asked while slowly piecing together the idea. “Danny, we don't have room for a hideaway.”
“A hideaway?” Jeff chuckled. “That hacienda of yours is huge. What do you need a hideaway for?”
“No, Jeff, you're wrong,” Daniel refuted. “We have a *lot* of places for the children, places for us to teach and spend time with the children, for them to pursue their interests entertain their friends. We have a few places for us to work or relax when we just want a moment to ourselves, provided we aren't booted out of them because the house is overflowing with people we love and adore, but we really don't have a place for, for this.”
Jack watched his husband make a circling motion that included the five men present, the beer bottles, and the pool table.
“There's no place for us to have a half-hour or an hour of guy time,” Daniel put forth as he continued. “Jack, we need guy time. *That's* what we've been missing for months now.”
Jack took in his life partner's words for a few seconds before remarking, “Daniel, I realize this won't be a surprise, but, geez, you're right.”
There was a silence as the lovers simply stared at each other, giving little nods of agreement and sharing smiles that said this had indeed been the itch they'd both been feeling for a long time now.
“I'm glad you two have come to this enlightenment, but what exactly are you talking about?” Ferretti questioned lightly, knowing from experience that if he waited long enough, he'd find out just what his two friends were talking about.
“Danny, we don't have room to build anywhere. There's no more space,” Jack stated, ignoring his friend's question.
“Alex,” Daniel stated with a smile that grew as did the brightness in his eyes.
“Is he back?” Pete inquired about the designer.
“Yeah,” Jack answered. “They have a baby now, too,” he added.
“A girl,” Daniel elaborated.
“Cool,” Pete responded.
“It couldn't hurt to call,” Daniel suggested, shining bright eyes at his lover.
Playfully and with a comedic accent, Jack replied, “Eet coulden't herrt.” He motioned towards the pool table and instructed, “Take your shot, Danny.”
Feeling a bit freer than he had in some time, Daniel lined up his shot and grinned when he made it.
“We're in trouble now,” Jack observed dryly. “Shark!”
“Thanks for coming,” Daniel greeted Alex Dennison as he stepped into the entranceway.
“Especially on a Sunday,” Jack chimed appreciatively.
“Sunny insisted,” Alex explained. “We still owe you for us being together.”
“No, Alex, you don't,” Daniel responded seriously. “That was all the two of you. All I did was butt in a few times.”
“Alex, we know you're still on a leave of absence from Archonics. We're willing to wait until the first of the year, but ...”
“But,” Daniel interrupted, glancing over at his husband for a second, “we need to know if there's anything we can do, or if we're just ...”
“Blowing wind,” Jack interrupted, avoiding his husband's stare for the choice of his words.
“What is it that you have in mind?” Alex asked, almost dreading the answer. The couple's needs always challenged his architectural skills to the maximum. While he thrived on challenges, he was often afraid that the latest request would be the one that truly was impossible, and he'd have to disappoint them . ~So make it something in the ballpark, guys.~
“Well,” Daniel began, motioning for Alex to follow him towards the recreation room.
A few minutes later, Alex had heard the tale of two family men who were quite happy in their paradise, but yet still needed a place of their own, a place to let out their proverbial manhood and a place to just be guys.
“What you're saying is you want to add a pool hall to your home,” Alex surmised.
“Well ...” Daniel began, though pausing after uttering the single word.
“Ah ...” Jack began at the same time, he, too, pausing.
“Yes,” the couple answered together with equal strength.
Alex stood and walked around the recreation room. Hearing lighter footsteps, he turned around and saw nine-year-old budding architect Ricky Jackson-O'Neill walking into the large room.
“Alex!” Ricky exclaimed, beaming at seeing the designer.
“Hey, Little Man,” Alex greeted, actually picking up the boy to hug him.
**That's an Alex who didn't exist when we met him,** Jack observed, smiling at the picture the designer and his son made.
**I know,** Daniel concurred just as Ricky was lowered down to the floor.
“Are we building something new?” Ricky asked, looking at his parents as soon as his feet hit the wood floor again.
“Maybe,” Daniel sighed, swinging hopeful eyes to the designer. “If we can figure out a place to add on.”
“We might be able to extend out that way,” Alex imagined, pointing eastward, towards Mrs. Sophia Valissi's property.
“There's not a lot of room there, Alex,” Daniel pointed out.
“You couldn't entertain,” Alex responded, essentially agreeing with the archaeologist.
“Except that's the whole point,” Daniel asserted. “We need a place with a little room, for the pool table, the chairs, a,” he looked at Ricky, but then shrugged and decided to go ahead with his comment, “a bar.”
“You can do it,” Ricky interjected confidently.
“We need to talk about measurements,” Alex told the boy, knowing Ricky was young, but believing he could already realize that his parents' stated requests simply weren't possible in the not-so-many feet that existed between the end of the home and the property line dividing this home from Mrs. Valissi's.
“But you can, Alex,” Ricky insisted. “I know you can.”
“How?” a curious Alex asked.
“Two floors, like at the lodge,” Ricky explained, referring to the unique design of the family compound in Minnesota.
“Two ... a bi-level design,” Alex theorized, a smile forming on his face. “But what about the emergency exit upstairs? We can't close that off.”
“Don't have to,” Ricky replied as he smiled coyly.
Alex ran possibilities through his mind at warp speed until he hit upon the one he knew his young apprentice had in mind.
“Good job,” the designer praised. ~Now why didn't I think of that? Dennison, you've been away from the game for too long.~ Curious, he inquired of the beaming child, “How did you think of that?”
“Jeff and me talked,” Ricky announced with a smile as he rocked back and forth on his heels.
**Jack, he must have heard us talking this over with Jeff the other day,** Daniel communicated privately.
**Guess so,** Jack agreed. **It's not like it's a big secret or anything.**
“What did Jeff say?” Alex probed inquisitively.
“I asked him about digging a basement,” Ricky answered. “He said that wasn't practical because our house is already built.”
“He showed me pictures of insides of houses. One was of a family room behind a garage. They didn't have room for pool table, so they opened up space on top of the garage so that it looked down into the family room. The ceiling was slanted, but it was okay and now they had room for the pool table, so if the loft were overlooking a halfway sunken basement ...”
~I think he's really a forty-year-old midget,~ the stunned designer thought as he listened to the boy.
“Alex?” Daniel called out as the designer stood quiet and still. “Uh, Alex,” he prodded again.
With a chuckle, Jack responded, “You really zoned out there. Checking in with your fearless leaders on another planet?”
Turning to the couple, Alex ignored the tease and requested, “Do you mind if I call Sunny for a moment?”
“No, sure, go ahead,” Jack permitted politely.
Alex walked over to an unoccupied part of the room and called his wife. Though she had been the one to encourage him to respond to Jack and Daniel's request in the first place, he didn't want to chip into another day without her consent. The two were technically still honeymooning and neither of them had planned on returning to work until after the first of the year.
“I promise, Darling, just a few hours in the afternoon,” Alex told his wife with a smile after having explained what he had in mind. “I love you,” he declared a moment later to her unhesitating agreement. “Give our girls a kiss,” he requested, adding, “I'll be home soon.”
With his call finished, Alex put his cell phone back into his pocket and returned to his clients.
“Jack, Daniel, would you mind if Ricky accompanied me to Archonics tomorrow afternoon? I'd like to have a conference call there that includes Jeff.”
“Jeff?” Jack asked.
“If you would give me the name of his design professor, I think I might be able to arrange for Jeff to receive credit for his design work on this project.”
Ricky looked expectantly at his parents, hoping they'd say 'yes' to the proposition.
Jack and Daniel looked at each other and saw no objections in the other's eyes, so they gave a nod of assent in response to the query.
“Yay!” Ricky exclaimed and then skipped his way out of the room to seek out his siblings and tell them about what had just happened.
“What was that about?” Jack asked the designer, sensing there was even more to the man's words than what had been spoken.
“I didn't want to use PG words in front of him,” Alex answered. He saw the puzzled looks on his clients' faces. “PG as in 'prodigy' and 'genius'. Do you realize he is combining abstract concepts and translating them into concrete applications? Even I wasn't doing that at his age. Jack, Daniel, your son, Ricky, is quite possibly another Leonardo Da Vinci. Do you realize that?” the designer queried, almost bouncing in excitement where he stood.
“Da Vinci?” Jack echoed, amazed by Alex's excitement. “He's an artist.”
“So is your son, not with paints and canvas maybe, not yet anyway, but with design, certainly,” Alex asserted. “And DaVinci was more than an artist. He was an inventor, an engineer, an architect, and a sculptor as well as a painter. We don't know what marvels he still held in his brain when he died. He was ahead of his time, for sure.”
Jack stared at his husband, who just shrugged, having no clue how to respond to this new information about their Spitfire. Neither did Jack.
“Beer?” was the only thing Jack could come up with.
Alex chuckled, “No, thanks, Jack. I'll call later to finalize the time and make sure that Jeff is available.”
Alex and Ricky sat on stools at a large, high table at Archonics. They were just beginning their video conference with Jeff, who was in his dorm room at the University of Cincinnati.
“Hey, Bro,” Jeff greeted his young sibling as he adjusted his chair and smiled at the assembled group. “Hello, Alex,” he added.
“Jeff,” Alex returned, smiling as he looked down at the eager child sitting next to him, who was waving his little arm off at the screen.
“When Dad and Daddy called me last night to see if I was available, they didn't tell me much,” Jeff advised. “What's happening?”
“For one thing, the Little Man here is about to bounce off his stool,” Alex laughed. “Have you heard from your professor?”
“Which one?” Jeff asked, wondering which one of his professors had to do with this call.
“Professor Renaldi is the one I spoke with,” Alex replied.
“I've been gone all morning. Let me check my email,” Jeff requested, his eyes focusing downward as he worked the keyboard. “Here's a message. Give me a sec.” He began to read the teacher's communication. “Wow! I'm getting credit for this conversation.” Looking up into the webcam, he mused, “I guess we aren't just catching up.”
“No, this is business,” Alex confirmed.
“Well, thanks for the credit.”
“You're welcome. In my view, all design work in school should be based on real work with real clients.”
“So, what's the project?” Jeff asked.
“A pool hall,” Ricky answered, getting a funny look from his older brother.
“Not exactly,” Alex chuckled.
Upon hearing the specifics, Jeff opined, “That's great. Dad and Daddy do need their own space. We keep them on their toes, don't we, Bro?”
Ricky giggled in response, remembering all of the hide and seek that had gone on that morning, sending his parents into a frustrating tizzy as they tried to find all of the children.
“Thanks to Ricky, we have the basic concept of the hideaway for your parents.” Alex paused and then hit 'send' on the machine behind him. “Jeff, you need those.”
Jeff turned to hear the sound of his fax machine going off and quickly retrieved his copies of the documents.
“You'll note a daylight basement with a loft suspended for a pool table,” Alex continued. “The purpose of this conference is to refine the design. I'll start so I can contribute something before all the good ideas are spoken for,” he stated half-seriously and half-jokingly. “I would like to do a built-in sunken seating area covered with leather.”
“Why sunken?” Jeff questioned.
“We're short on time today, so I won't quiz you like I normally would,” Alex returned.
~Thank goodness,~ the student sighed silently.
“We want to use a big screen TV, and we want it to have a cozy, intimate feel, but not be cramped or crowded, so we dig the seating area a few feet deeper, having it be accessible by a small set of stairs. It creates a feeling of separation from the bar and card playing area without isolating it. The base of the built-in sofa will also provide a place to hide the sub-woofers for the surround sound system and some drawers for storing board games, overflow DVDs, game controllers, etc.”
“I can't believe how you think of all this stuff ahead of time, Alex,” Jeff praised his mentor.
“Gotta plan ahead,” Ricky interjected. “Less problems, if you do.”
Alex smiled and nodded while affirming, “Listen to your brother, Jeff. Ricky's absolutely correct. The more you can plan ahead, the smoother the project goes and the happier the client is. It comes with practice. I quiz you a lot because I want you to have a shorter learning curve than most designers do in the first few years.”
“You must have skipped right past those mistakes, Alex. Your first book was published when you were about my age, right?”
“Yes, but that doesn't mean I didn't make my share of mistakes,” Alex related pointedly. He glanced sideways at Ricky to indicate he didn't want to share his past foibles in front of a walking four-foot audio recorder with no 'off' or 'edit' switch. “I'm still learning.”
“Okay, well,” Jeff began, leaning out of the camera angle to get some papers. “I'm not sure why I did this, and I need to alter it a little now, but when Ricky told me what he'd overheard about the pool room, I started playing around with some ideas myself. Give me a second to redo this and make this rectangle more precise.”
Alex and Ricky waited, filling up the time by playing an impromptu game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Alex chuckled inwardly. It was a personal moment of 'I can't believe I'm doing this' along with a happy feeling inside that his life was so much richer and fuller now because these days he did pause to play games with children and dogs.
~All for the better. I don't think I would recognize the person I once was today,~ Alex opined. When the game was over and he'd lost, he declared, “I want a rematch.”
Ricky giggled, slowly stopping when he noticed his brother was ready to talk.
“Alex, I'm concerned about two things, well, three actually,” Jeff began. “First and foremost is the loss of the fire escape and the block and tackle on the flagpole for moving furniture up to the second floor. Dad and Daddy might actually change the furniture someday, especially with the kids growing up.” He smiled through the webcam at Ricky, suddenly aware of just how much the Spitfire had grown in the last few years. “Second, I'm not so sure about the floating loft for a pool table. Won't that make people uneasy to feel like they are walking on air?”
“Hmm,” Alex contemplated, drumming his fingers on the table.
“Hmm,” Ricky echoed, mimicking his mentor's action.
Jeff and Alex both looked away to avoid laughing out loud.
“And number three?” the designer prodded quickly to help stifle his desire to laugh at the praise of being imitated.
“The sunken viewing area sounds great, but people at the bar, card playing, and pool table areas won't be able to see the screen,” Jeff stated.
“Gentleman, I acknowledge those issues as valid. How are we going to solve them? I have a few thoughts already, but what are yours?”
“Well,” Jeff began, stroking his chin thoughtfully.
“Well,” repeated his pint-size protege who also stroked his chin while looking deep in thought.
~This is too much,~ Alex observed about Ricky's actions. ~If Jeff doesn't say something in a hurry, I just might burst.~
The designer was surprised, though, when it was Ricky who spoke up, asking, “How come they have to be on the same level? They don't need the poker table to watch TV.”
Once again, Alex was floored by the youngster's sense of awareness of architectural design. The boy's gestures had been flattering and almost caused Alex to forget why Ricky was being included in this session.
“Ricky, that's a good point,” Alex replied, mentally reassessing the layout to incorporate Ricky's idea.
“It sure is, Bro. Way to go,” Jeff complimented as he studied his design. “Alex, we've been looking at three actual levels, although one is just the landing for the split stairwell. What if we did as Ricky suggested and place the bar and poker table underneath the level of the balcony? That would allow for a high ceiling, and the fire escape and the pole can be shifted to the opposite side.”
“Did you forget about the cabana?”
“Oops. Well, how about we use a catwalk like you did for the Aerie? Use an extendable ramp to get something onto the catwalk; then wheel it down to the upstairs door. If we do that, the pole is unnecessary.”
“Excellent. Go on,” Alex prompted, anxious to see if Jeff could complete the plan without his assistance.
“A half flight of stairs down will lead to the TV area and a half flight up to the pool table area which can have a taller ceiling because it's on top. The pool table area will be raised, but only by half a level, making it feel more connected to the rest of the space.”
“Superb, Jeff. You have really done well,” Alex hailed, looking down at Ricky and seeing a confused look on his face. ~Still a child, Ricky. That's okay. It's a good thing to be a child when you're young.~ After a moment, he smiled internally as he added, “And even when you're older.~
“Alex, I didn't have all this down on paper. It started flowing when you pointed out I'd forgotten about the cabana.”
“Jeff, you are on your way. When the limitations of the job start inspiring you, then you are developing the mindset of a great designer. You will never, hear me, Jeff, *never* be stumped or stymied because your creativity is ignited and refined by the design parameters.”
Though not sure what his brother and Alex were talking about, Ricky was fidgeting and tugging Alex's sleeve. He had his own concern that he hadn't heard either of them mention as yet.
“Yes, Little Man?” Alex inquired after yet another tug to his sleeve.
“Alex, what about the outside?”
“What about the outside, Ricky?”
“It has to look nice, too,” Ricky reminded. “We spend a lot of time outside, and Mrs. Valissi is right next door. It's gotta be nice for her, too.”
With a nod of understanding, Alex inquired, “What did you have in mind?”
“I want it to look like it's supposed to be there; not stuck on.”
“Very good,” Alex responded.
Jeff's face brightened, and he ran his index finger over his eyebrow, but he caught Alex's subtle upraised palm to let his younger brother have the moment.
Ricky thought for a second or two as an idea came to him and stated, “I like the window in the Bird's Nest.” With a little gasp, he quickly put his hands over his mouth and grinned sheepishly. “We're not supposed to go in there, but I did, just once,” he admitted. “Jeff, please don't tell on me.”
Jeff laughed as he soothed, “No, Bro, I won't tell. I think we've all gone in at least once, just for a look.” His laugh was subsiding as he pointed out, “But, Ricky, you could have just said you liked how it looked from the outside. You didn't have to tell us you've seen it from the inside, too.”
“Oops,” Ricky giggled. “It's pretty, though.” Re-focusing on the problem at hand, he asked, “Can we use another window like that one?”
“It's unanimous then,” Alex stated. “We'll install a large eyebrow dormer in the upper level where the pool table will be. It will provide the room with a lot of natural light. Jeff, I am going to place you in charge of drawing this up. You will be paid as an Archonics' intern and I'll supervise.”
“Paid? As in real cash?” Jeff queried.
“Check, actually, just like Jennifer receives as a consultant for the company.”
“It doesn't quite seem fair; I mean, getting paid for working on my own house,” Jeff returned a bit anxiously.
“You are getting an education so you can earn a living, Jeff. What you are doing and learning ties into your studies, so I'm quite confident that Professor Renaldi will be willing to apply the proper classroom credit. He indicated as much when we spoke. Meanwhile, you are also working under me as an intern. At the same time, your fathers are paying Archonics for this work, and Archonics is paying you for your portion of that work.”
“It's not that I'm not willing, but Dad and Daddy ...”
“Our clients are fully aware of this arrangement. I spoke with them about it this morning and they agreed to go along with my decision on the matter,” Alex interrupted, trying to assuage the young man.
“What if I mess up?” Jeff asked, feeling a little uncertain.
“You'll have me as your safety net, which is why this is a really good project to start off with. However, this is the real world, Jeff. No matter how much you love what you do and how good you are, you are using other people's money. That's why it is so important to listen and to pay attention to what clients say and don't say. You'll be fine.”
“Dad and Daddy need a place to play chess,” Ricky interjected eagerly, a bit bored by the adult discussion going on, especially when he didn't really understand why Jeff was complaining about being paid. ~It was my idea in the first place,~ he sighed inwardly.
“Talk to the man, there,” Alex advised Ricky while pointing in Jeff's direction. “We'll meet in two weeks to check your progress.” He looked at the pint-sized architect and asked, “How about lunch at the Blue Moo, Ricky?”
“Yay!” the Spitfire exclaimed as he threw his hands up in excitement.
“Alex, thanks for everything. I don't know what to say,” Jeff responded from the other side of the computer.
“You're welcome. I know you'll do fine. Talk to you in two weeks,” Alex stated. Then speaking up quickly before Jeff signed off, he requested, “Send me an email and let me know the dates of your next college break is. In the meantime, I'll talk to our clients and see how soon they want to break ground. Bye, Jeff.”
“Bye, Jeff. See you later,” Ricky quickly interjected as he waved once again.
“In a while, crocodile! Later, Bro.” As the screen went blank, the college student thought, ~I've got to call Chel and tell her the good news. I'm being paid to design an addition to my own house. That's totally awesome.~
In Colorado Springs, an architect and a young boy child headed for a local restaurant in a red Jaguar.
~I guess lunch with Alex is my pay,~ Ricky commented. ~That works.~
“We're more than okay with it, Jeff,” Daniel told his son over the phone that evening. “Ah, that is, as long as you are.”
“I think it's great.”
“How about your studies? The one thing we don't want is for this to interfere with your classes.”
“You know how it is, Daddy. I have a lot to do. I'm part of a team redesigning the office space of a land developer downtown and that's taking a lot of time and energy, but I won't let this interfere with that.”
“Jeff, there's no rush with the pool room,” Daniel stated strongly, not wanting this to compound Jeff's already large college work load.
Jeff understood the stern quality of his father's tone and assured, “I promise, Daddy. If I can't get it done in two weeks like Alex wants, I'll tell him to go ahead without me.”
“No, just do it when you can. Look, Alex isn't supposed to be working until after the new year anyway, so take your time and do it right.”
With a relieved chuckle, Jeff replied, “Okay, I will. Besides, I'll be home for Christmas break.”
“That starts on,” Daniel hit a key on his keyboard to call up the family schedule, “December 12th, right?”
“I'll be home that weekend, maybe earlier depending on the final exams.”
“Jeff, you'll have plenty of time to talk with Alex then, if your classes don't allow you to do so beforehand.”
Though his father couldn't see him, Jeff nodded his assent and then spoke somewhat enthusiastically, “Oh, Daddy, I don't know how much Archonics is planning on paying me, but I believe that Ricky has earned some of that money.”
“I'd say that's your call,” Daniel responded, though proud of Jeff's opinion on the subject.
“He has,” Jeff maintained. “Will you help me figure out how much is fair after I see what I get paid?”
“Of course, I will.”
“Thanks, Daddy. I have to go. I have a study group in twenty minutes,” Jeff advised.
“I love you, Jeff.”
“Love you, too, Daddy. Tell everyone 'hi' and that I miss them.”
“Ricky, time to go,” Jack called out, clapping his hands together a few times to emphasize the urgency.
“Do I have to go, Dad?” the Spitfire asked, still concentrating intently on what he was doing.
“Have to?” a bewildered Jack questioned. “We're talking two-scoop ice cream surprise.”
“I know, but I'm not done, and Jeff says he needs my ideas by tomorrow.”
Jack walked over to his son's desk and leaned over to see what exactly the child was working on so diligently.
“Looks good to me,” Jack observed.
“Dad, the chess table is too close to the pool table,” Ricky whined. “I think it needs to go by the card table, but that's not right, either.”
“How about between the two chairs?” Jack suggested. “Daddy and I can kick back, drink a beer, watch TV, and make moves during the commercials.”
“Maybe,” Ricky sighed.
“Not buyin' it, eh?”
“You don't watch TV when you play chess.”
“You're right, we don't,” Jack affirmed. Looking down at the frustrated boy, Jack couldn't help but chuckle as he thought of an 'or'. “How about we bring home a double-decker for you, with rainbow sprinkles?”
“Would you, Dad?” Ricky asked eagerly with hope and gratitude lining his voice.
“Sure,” Jack replied, patting the Spitfire on his shoulder. “I'll let Jen know you're staying home.”
Jack walked away, amazed. This was the very first time in Ricky's entire life that he'd turned down the chance to go out for ice cream, and the fact that it was two-scoop night made it even more incredible. Though the children were growing up, ice cream was still treated as a sacred ritual for the Jackson-O'Neills.
“Do you really know what all those lines and things mean?” Jenny asked her twin a few nights later.
“What's that one mean?” the redhead queried, pointing to a line.
“That's the balcony,” Ricky answered.
“Balcony?” Jenny repeated incredulously. “Dad and Daddy are going to have a balcony in their pool room?”
“Not a balcony,” Ricky responded cryptically. He took a breath and explained, “That's just what they call the top of the landing.”
“Landing? What's that?”
“It's at the top of the stairs.”
“Oh, well, then why don't they just call it the landing?” Jenny inquired curiously, wondering about the confusing terminology.
“'Cause it's called a balcony,” Ricky returned. “It has a railing so you can look out over it and down.”
“What's this?” Jenny probed, pointing to another spot on the diagram.
“That's the TV.”
Jenny stared at her brother in confusion and then pointed to yet another dot and asked, “And that?”
With a huff, the redhead stated, “Ricky, Dad and Daddy don't need *three* TVs.”
“Yes, they do.”
“No, they don't,” Jenny insisted.
“They do so.”
“You're making that up,” Jenny accused, hands fisted on her hips as her huffiness increased.
“Hey, what's going on in here?” Jack asked, walking in with an armful of Calico the cat.
“Ricky says you're going to have *three* TVs in your pool room. That's not true, is it, Dad?” Jenny questioned, facing her brother smugly as she was certain of the response.
“Actually, Red, there's going to be four TVs in the Man Cave,” Jack admitted, suddenly aware how that sounded. ~Crap.~
“Four?” Jenny echoed, not believing her ears.
“Three of them are small,” Jack rationalized, trying to ease the truth of his words. ~It's all this dang cat's fault. If I didn't have to chase her to this part of the house so I can give her a bath after she got my cologne all over her, I wouldn't have been drawn into this conversation in the first place.~
“Why do you need four, Dad? We can't even have *one* in our room,” Jenny pointed out about the girls' room.
“It's a man thing,” Jack responded, knowing there was no way he was going to be able to explain it to his daughter's satisfaction. “And for the record, Daddy and I don't have a TV in our bedroom, either.” With a nervous smile, he instructed, “Carry on,” and turned around to exit the room, his fingers still gently patting the cat.
“A man thing?” Jenny echoed with redheaded ire, turning around to face her brother, a skeptical expression on her face. “And what's a Man Cave?”
“Don't look at me, Jenny. I'm still a boy,” Ricky justified with a nod to excuse his clueless response.
With a humph, Jenny turned and fled, leaving the architect-in-the-making to his task.
Life had been pretty peaceful over the last few days as the family had celebrated Thanksgiving. Then tonight, a week after Jenny's discovery about the televisions to be placed in the to-be-built Man Cave, Jack, Daniel, and the kids were having their nightly meeting. So far, it had gone smoothly, but something told Jack and Daniel that all was not as it seemed. They suspected that the cute smiles and happy voices being directed at them were false indicators of what was actually happening. Indeed, inwardly the duo suspected this was just the calm before the storm.
“Okay, well, if there isn't anything else ...” Daniel began, cringing when he saw Jenny's hand go up in the air. There was a look in his daughter's eyes that indicated an Irish rebellion was in the works. “Jenny,” he called out hesitantly, afraid of what was coming.
The redhead stood, her posture erect and formal. She glanced back at her siblings, receiving nods of encouragement from Ricky, the Munchkins, and the Curly Tops.
“Dad, Daddy, we don't think it's fair that your new Man Cave has four televisions when we don't even get to have *one* in our rooms. We're not little anymore, and we've always respected the rules, just like you've taught us. We believe that we've earned the right to have TVs in our rooms.”
“One for us boys, one for the girls' room, and one for the Curly Tops,” Jonny elaborated with a firm nod of his head. “We all think that's fair.”
The last statement was followed by nods from the rest of the brood.
“You do?” Daniel asked a bit capriciously as he saw the bobs of the heads.
“Jen, Jeff, Bri, and David all have little TVs in their rooms now, and we put forth that we've shown that we are as responsible as they are with the rules,” Jenny debated, showing great statesmanship in her arguments.
“Red, we have a big TV in the rec room and the one in the living room,” Jack responded. “We just don't want you to spend your time watching television in your rooms.”
Little Danny raised his hand, receiving a nod of permission to speak from his younger father. The child prodigy stood next to Jenny, smiling at her before he presented his own opinion on the subject.
“Dad, Daddy, we all have computers, right?”
Jack and Daniel reluctantly answered, “Yes.”
**He's got us,** Daniel sighed.
“We've had computers since we were real little, right?” Little Danny questioned, letting his case slowly build.
“Right,” both men agreed in unison.
“Since we were little, have any of us *ever* broken the computer rules?”
Jack grimaced, while Daniel dropped his head. The conversation was going just as they knew it would.
“No,” Jack answered reluctantly.
“Ever?” Little Danny quizzed more pointedly.
“Not ever,” Daniel conceded.
“I submit that our computer use is proof that we can and would obey the new TV rules that you would give us for our new TVs,” the prodigy stated triumphantly. Then, just to drive home his opinion, he delved right into the heart of the matter. “Is there a reason that you think we'd disobey you?”
**Doomed,** Jack relayed to his soulmate.
Daniel looked at the older man, his eyes communicating that they didn't have one single good rebuke to the case made by the children.
David couldn't help himself and snickered, “They've got you.”
“It's all because of the four TVs in the Man Cave,” Brianna noted, enjoying her fathers’ discomfort. “If you didn't pig out with needing a view of the television from every angle in there, Jenny wouldn't have been so mad.”
To hopefully further the cause, Jenny took a step forward and stated, “Besides, we live every day as an adventure, like Mommy told us to do, and we don't take anything for granted. We would never go against Mommy's wishes, and it hurts us that you think we would.”
Jack thumped his hand against his chest dramatically and cried out, as if in pain. With a flair, he acted as if he were pulling something from his body.
“Woe unto me,” Jack mocked in Shakespearian undertones. “T'is the dagger hath done me in.”
“Jack,” Daniel reprimanded sternly. He looked at the younger children and noticed that some were grinning at Jack's theatrics, though a couple of them were dead serious and hadn't appreciated the mocking action. He sighed as he made a decision, and after his lover's mocking actions, he figured Jack would just have to go along with it. “Jenny, you're correct. Dad and I have gone a little overboard with the plans for the Man Cave.”
Softening as she sensed her daddy's regret, Jenny interjected, “Daddy, it's okay that you have your Man Cave. You and Dad deserve a special place of your own. It's just that we want what we deserve, too, and sometimes I want to lay on my bed and watch the Disney Channel, especially if I'm not feeling well.”
Daniel smiled at the redhead and her sensitivity, appreciating just how much the Spitfires, and all of the younger children, had grown up.
“You're right again, and that's why Dad and I are going to agree to your demand for TVs in each of your rooms.”
“We are?” Jack asked, surprised.
“Yes, we are,” Daniel stated firmly in a tone that told his husband not to challenge him or he'd be sorry.
“Yes, we are,” Jack repeated as he looked at the brood, knowing this battle was lost now that Daniel had spoken up as he had. ~D'oh!~
The children broke out into applause and began congratulating Jenny and Little Danny for making their presentation successfully.
“Kids,” Jack interrupted their little victory session, waiting for them focus on him again. “Listen, I didn't mean to disrespect your mother. You know sometimes my sense of humor gets out of whack. I love Kayla and I ...” He broke off, actually becoming a little emotional. A second later, he smiled at the spunky Spitfire who had just thrown her arms around him. “You made a good case, Jenny,” he praised. “When you brought up Mommy, it made me realize that we've been slighting you, and I reacted the wrong way at that realization.”
Jack kissed the mop of red hair in apology as he hugged the Spitfire close.
“It's okay, Dad. We've learned to live with it.”
“Yeah, we decided we'd keep you way back when you lost the big bet,” Jonny teased.
“Oh,” Jack responded, not really sure what to say next. ~They are never going to let me forget that.~
While the kids, and Daniel, laughed, Jack sighed and then began to laugh himself.
“Okay, Ricky, you tell Jeff to add three more appropriately sized TVs to the order,” Jack instructed. “We'll get a better price if we get all of them together. Make sure he knows they're for your rooms.”
“Okay, Dad,” Ricky acknowledged, loving the responsibility that his older father had just placed on his shoulders.
**Jack,** Daniel called out mentally. **Look at JD.**
**Danny, he's too young.**
**Is that his fault? He'll be the only one without a TV.**
Before the parents could finish their conversation, Jonny stood up and took the position where Jenny and Little Danny had stood before. It was the oldest Munchkin who had always looked out for JD. He'd once told the boy that he, Jonny, would always be his best biggest brother and would always protect him.
“Dad, Daddy, I have something to say, too,” Jonny began. When his parents were looking at him, he continued, “I know JD is still real young, but I don't think it's fair for him to be the only one without a TV in his room. He can have different TV rules because he's so little, but he shouldn't be penalized because he's little. It's not his fault he's so little.”
**Told you so,** Daniel commented amusingly.
“Ricky, a TV for JD, too, please,” Jack ordered. **Look at that grin on JD's face.**
**He would have felt left out, Babe. This is the right thing to do,** Daniel asserted. “Anything else for the family meeting?”
Little Danny raised his hand and without waiting for permission said, “We think you're the best dad and daddy in the whole world because we always have meetings and get to say what we want, and you listen to us.”
In seconds, the surprised but happy parents found themselves engulfed in a family hug. It wasn't about the TVs, though the kids were happy to have won, but rather, it was because over the years these meetings had always given them a chance to be honest and open with one another, and their parents really did listen to what they had to say.
“Ice cream!” Chenoa called out happily since ice cream was almost always the next event after a family meeting.
All smiles, the Jackson-O'Neills headed for the recreation room, though Jack and Daniel lagged behind.
“Am I in the doghouse?” Jack asked quietly, hesitantly grabbing Daniel's fingers.
“Yes, but it's a very nice doghouse, and if you are a very good doggie, I'll lick you all over and give you a nice big juicy bone.”
Jack dropped to his haunches and raised his forearms with his wrists flopped down and panted eagerly.
“Down, Boy. Heel!” Daniel commanded. Though the moment was fun, the timing was all off. Laughing, he ordered, “Jack, get up -- the brood.”
Standing, Jack whispered, “I love it when you get like that.”
“Just keeping you on your paws,” the younger man quipped.
“I remember when you couldn't even say the word sss...”
Jack saw the stern look and knew it was time to let the playful suggestiveness go until they could act upon it and so he returned to his response to Jenny's argument involving her mother.
“Danny, about what I said to Jenny. It was a gut reaction,” Jack confided, explaining his 'dagger' response to Jenny's remarks. “I knew she had us at that point.”
“They understand, and so do I.” Moving forward, going a few steps in front of his lover, Daniel looked back and teased, “Besides, I had to decide during the bet whether or not I was going to keep you, too.” With a smirk, he added, “You're still here. I just have to make sure you get your shots.”
Jack's smile was sappy and happy as he trailed the family to the dessert area.
~I am a lucky man. They're keeping me!~
“Jonny, come on,” Felipe Cardoza called out eagerly.
“What are they doing?” the sandy-haired boy questioned curiously about the action in front of him.
“Practicing for the next event,” Felipe answered.
Jonny sat next to his friend, watching with great fascination. He'd never seen anything like this before. Felipe's parents and some other adults were dressed in medieval costumes, using some very interesting accessories for weapons. They were reenacting an ancient battle and having a great time doing so.
The Cardozas were brand new to the Jackson-O'Neill neighborhood. Still part of their routine, Jack and Daniel had run a check on the family before allowing any of the brood to play with the four Cardoza children. Felipe, at age nine, was the youngest.
When the practice was over, Mrs. Cardoza smiled at her youngest son and his guest. While the immigrants were fluent in English and always spoke it when out and about, when at home, they preferred to speak Spanish. The parents didn't want their children to forget their heritage. They'd been thrilled to discover that all of the Jackson-O'Neills, except for JD, of course, were extremely adroit in Spanish and were happy to speak it when visiting the Cardozas in their home.
“Os gustaría que os hiciera una limonada?” [Would you like me to make you two some lemonade] Felipe's mother asked the two boys.
“Sí, por favor. Mamá, podemos jugar con las armas?” [Yes, please. Can we play with the weapons]
“Sí, podéis, pero recuerda las reglas y asegúrate que Jonny las comprende antes de que comencéis.” [Yes, you may, but remember the rules and make sure that Jonny understands before you begin] Elena turned to her seventeen-year-old son to request that he remain with the younger boys and watch over them while they played. “Enrique, por favor quédate con Felipe y Jonny mientras juegan con las armas.”
“Vale, Mamá.” [Okay, Mom]
Though he wanted to play desperately, Jonny knew that he'd better not and sighed with regret, “Creo que mejor no.” [I don't think I'd better]
“Son muy seguras,” [They're very safe] Elena Cardoza assured.
“Gracias, pero mejor les pregunto antes a Papá y a Papi,” [Thank you, but I'd better ask Dad and Daddy first] Jonny replied even as he looked longingly at the weapons.
“Eres un buen chico,” Mrs. Cardoza praised, telling the Munchkin that he was a good boy.
“Hice una promesa,” Jonny replied sincerely, not getting specific but telling his friend's mother that he'd made a promise.
With a smile, the beautiful Spanish senora nodded and replied, “Haré vuestra limonada.” [I will make your lemonade]
Jonny's visit with the Cardozas lasted for a couple more hours. He had a lot of questions to ask them about what he'd just witnessed.
That night, Jack and Daniel were nestled together in bed. It was about eleven-thirty, and they were both on the verge of falling asleep when there was a tap, tap, tap on the door of the master bedroom.
“Jonny?” Jack asked his Love as he loosened his embrace.
“We knew he had something on his mind,” Daniel answered as he turned on the light and sat up in bed.
“Enter the sanctum,” the general called out playfully as he, too, sat up.
Jonny opened the door and jumped up onto the bed, settling in between his parents and announcing, “I want to talk about something.”
“I had no clue,” Jack teased as he ran his hand through his namesake's already-mussed hair. “What's the subject?”
“Do you know what role playing is?” Jonny questioned, getting straight to the point.
“We have an idea,” Daniel answered, stifling a smirk at all the erotic role playing he and Jack had done over the years.
“The Cardozas role play, like way back in ancient times. They were practicing today in the backyard.”
For a second, Jonny's parents worried that something inappropriate had gone on. Both continued listening very attentively to what their son said as well as paying close attention to his body language.
“Kids can't play, though, unless their parents do,” Jonny continued. “Felipe and I watched for a long time.”
“I'm curious about this role playing,” Jack stated in a leading manner. “Tell me what you heard and saw.”
Jonny related pretty much everything he could remember about the characters the Cardozas were playing and the scene that they acted out.
**Sounds harmless, Jack.**
**Yeah. I'm not sensing that he's holding anything back,** Jack responded.
“But that's not what I wanted to talk about, exactly,” Jonny revealed.
“Oh,” Daniel chuckled. “Tell us.”
“It's the weapons.”
Jonny shifted around, wanting to look at his parents, especially his dad.
“Weapons?” Jack prompted.
“Yeah, they're really neat. They make these things out of pipe, foam, and duct tape,” Jonny stated, grinning at the last major ingredient. “Gray duct tape,” he clarified. “They're really safe because of the foam and how they are made to size, my size.”
“Did you play with them?” Daniel inquired inquisitively.
“Na-huh. I wasn't sure if they're part of my promise, and I knew we'd never seen them before, so I told Mrs. Cardoza that I had to ask you first.”
“And what did she say to that?” Jack inquired.
“She told me I was a good boy and then she went and got us some lemonade. She makes great lemonade, from scratch,” the boy said, beaming as he licked his lips in recollection. “I think we could have fun playing war with those. We could play medieval war, with costumes and everything.” He sighed, “It's hard to play without any ... you know.”
Jack reached out and picked up the growing child, who was definitely not tiny anymore.
“When I was growing up, the kids in my neighborhood, including me, played war regularly,” Jack confided. “Uncle Billy even joined in sometimes. I want you to know that I appreciate that you didn't play with these duct tape weapons until Daddy and I could talk about it, and I appreciate that you're respecting your promise to us about guns. We both know it's not easy.”
“It's okay, really, but I just thought maybe these would be okay, and we could play better. What do you think?”
Jack looked at Daniel, who gave him a supportive nod, prompting the general to answer, “Here's what we'll do. We'll talk with the Cardozas and find out some more about this role playing they're doing and the weapons. Then we'll see.”
“Okay, thanks, Dad,” Jonny responded, leaning in for another goodnight kiss. He leaned over to kiss Daniel again, too, and then climbed off the bed. “You could make us special rules for playing with them. Mrs. Cardoza wasn't going to let us play with them alone, either. She asked Enrique to watch us.”
As Jonny left, shutting the door behind him, Daniel shrugged and commented, “It doesn't sound like a bad thing. How do you feel about it?”
“I want to see it,” Jack answered. “Danny, I think the Doc has done this kind of thing before.”
Daniel searched his memory and extracted a recall about one lone remark Janet had made a few years ago about medieval reenactments.
“We can talk to her, too,” the archaeologist agreed. After a yawn, he added, “But not tonight.”
Daniel shut off the light, and the lovers snuggled back together, peacefully drifting off to sleep.
“They have swords made from specially crafted foam,” Daniel stated as he worked on dinner a few days later.
“They bend and break,” Jack responded. “I talked to Mitzi. She says they've gone through a box load of those things with Calvin.”
“Junk,” Jack affirmed. “Did you get a chance to research those medieval weapons?”
“They have a solid reputation with no serious injuries, but ...”
“But?” an intrigued Jack questioned.
Daniel put aside the towel he was wiping his hands on and turned to face his husband as he explained, “But Janet mentioned the medieval weapon bit to Sam, and Sam has an idea that I think we'll both like. Of course, it's, uh ...”
“Alien?” Jack surmised in a combination of groan and sigh.
“Alien,” Daniel confirmed. “It's a metal alloy from PCX-007.”
“Double-O seven?” Jack mused.
“That's how the computer assigned it,” Daniel responded.
“Funny computer,” Jack quipped lightly.
“As I was saying, the alloy's been around for a few years in abundance. NASA's been using it for a while now,” Daniel advised his Love.
“Of course they have.”
“The point is that Sam says using this alloy is even safer than using the already-safe foamed piping. We'd make the weapons the same way, but we'd use this metal instead. In theory, we could actually make several of these weapons for the brood and their friends and be assured that there is minimal risk, probably no more than the use of any child's toy.”
“What do we tell our friends that this stuff is made out of?” Jack queried pointedly. “We can't supply them to everyone.”
“Actually, Babe, Sam says that because of the wide range of everyday uses of the alloy and its potential economic impact, the government is planning on declassifying it within the next couple of months,” Daniel advised. “It's slated to be released to the market place sometime next year.” With a confident smile, he added, “If it did get to be an issue, we do have connections; our friends know that, which is why they probably wouldn't question it in the first place.”
“I suppose you have a point,” the general conceded.
“Well, and they'd have to completely take apart the weapon to examine the metal to even notice a difference, and Sam says that from looking at it, you can't tell it's any different. It's the functional elements that are different.” Daniel examined his husband's studious expression. “Jack, they won't know it not's PVC piping unless we tell them. *I* won't say a word. How about you?”
Jack grinned and tapped his nose as he agreed, “Mum's the word.”
“Danny, what do you think; I mean really think?”
“I think Jonny's right, that it's hard to play a war game when you're a child and you aren't allowed to even play with a water pistol. I think he's done a great job of convincing his friends to play war tag and all kinds of creative games with him.” With more of a sigh, Daniel continued, “I also think he wants to join the Air Force one day and when he does, he'll have all the weapons he wants to ... play with.”
“So you're saying we shouldn't make these things?”
Daniel shifted, turning ninety degrees so that he was now leaning against the kitchen counter while folding his arms across his chest.
“No, I'm saying that everything we've learned over the last several days has been positive. Janet and Sam both believe it's a healthy way to play, and I think that Jonny has earned the right to play with something more concrete than a sponge that he throws at someone to say, 'you're hit'.”
Jack nodded and assumed the identical position as his husband was currently displaying. He thought for a moment before pursing his lips together for a second and then letting out a definitive release of air.
“So?” Daniel prodded.
“Ash wants to learn how to fence,” Jack revealed out of nowhere.
“She's ... mentioned that a time or two,” Daniel responded.
“So does Jenny.”
“Ricky, too.” After a few seconds, Daniel asked, “Are we changing the subject in order to avoid making a decision?”
“No, I just thought we might want to think about fencing lessons while we're thinking about medieval weaponry,” Jack answered. Suddenly, with conviction, he stated, “Danny, I'm for it. I don't even know why I've hesitated. I played with more dangerous stuff as a kid than anyone. It's natural for a young boy to want to play war. It doesn't mean he wants to start shooting up the block or join the military. It's just a game.” More sensitively, he added, “I still don't want our kids around guns, but that's my past talking. I vote we let them learn how to fence and play war like they did back in the day, sans anything resembling a gun.”
“I vote the same,” Daniel replied calmly. “You sure?”
“Yeah, I'm sure. Like Jonny told us that night, we make the rules, and every bone in my body tells me that our kids will respect any rules we lay out.”
“I love you, Jack.”
The lovers kissed and as they pulled back, Jack declared, “Love you, Angel, more than anything in this universe.”
“Mmm, good,” Daniel sighed contently after another kiss. “Have you talked to Alex recently?”
“Daniel, since when does kissing me remind you of Alex?” Jack questioned in a highly scandalized voice.
The archaeologist let out a laugh as he backed away and continued with his kitchen duties while answering, “It doesn't, but we don't have time to do anything more than what we just did, and I thought we'd get the Man Cave business out of the way before we're surrounded by little feet.”
“Good idea,” Jack agreed. “Ah, but, no, not yet. I feel like we've flopped roles.”
Daniel laughed again as he agreed, “I don't think we've ever been in a situation when Alex was wanting to get a job done now while we're the ones saying we want to wait a little bit.”
“Well, I think we should stick to our guns,” Jack opined. “I don't want to be worrying about remodeling issues over the holidays.”
“Me, either,” Daniel concurred. “Let's send him a Christmas present.”
“A box that says he's already received his present -- time,” Jack chuckled.
“How about a grandfather clock?” Jack suggested as he picked up three apples from the basket on the counter and started juggling them.
“I think that's a great gift for you and Daddy,” Jennifer opined, walking into the kitchen and having heard the last few comments by her parents, “since you may be a grandfather soon.”
Ever since Jennifer and Peter Hamilton had become an official couple, though they were not yet actually engaged, the young woman had taken to teasing her older father with comments of being in a family way. This time, however, Jennifer didn't have her usual 'I am kidding' smile on her face.
The apples hit the floor, and Jack stood with arms still in the air, staring bug-eyed, slack-jawed, and unable to breathe at Jennifer.
“Jennifer Renee,” Daniel reprimanded.
“Dad, I'm kidding. Really nothing is going to happen till after the wedding, I promise,” Jennifer apologized sincerely, giving her speechless older father a kiss on the cheek.
“I knew that,” Jack stated, although he knew that both his husband and their daughter knew he didn't.
Jennifer picked up the apples and handed them to her dad, saying, “I just came in to get a soda, but I couldn't let the opportunity to tease you pass by.”
“You got me good that time,” Jack conceded, knowing he'd been had. **Daniel, don't our kids know my hair is already totally gray.**
**Not totally, Babe. I still see a few strands of brown left.**
“I'm going to call Peter now,” Jennifer told her parents and then cheerfully left the room with the soda she had retrieved from the refrigerator.
“I wished she'd stop doing that,” Jack sighed.
“Well, if you would stop falling for it every time she teased you, Jen would probably stop doing it,” Daniel concluded.
“Now what fun would that be,” Jack questioned as a statement as he placed the apples back into the basket.
“Jack, those apples are bruised. They'll be mushy by tomorrow. Have Noa give them to the horses, unless you want to bake a pie?”
“How about if I ask Noa to bake a pie?” Jack countered. “She loves to bake.”
“Good idea, Babe. No sense throwing away good flour, sugar, and shortening after bad apples.”
The lovers continued on with their day, returning to their fun discussion of how to surprise Alex about their gift of time.
“Peter's great,” Jennifer answered as she walked across the college campus while talking on her cell phone to her brother, who was doing the exact same thing states away on his University of Cincinnati campus.
“To tell you the truth, Jen, I thought you two would have been married by now. I thought after Dad's accident ...” Jeff began.
“We thought about it,” Jennifer confided as she moved out of the way of an oncoming biker.
“We don't have any doubts, Jeff, but we decided the responsible thing to do was to finish our education first. Besides, Dad was still recovering and we didn't want to rock his world.”
“He loves Peter now,” Jeff reminded gently, clearly remembering the rocky start Peter had had with both of their fathers.
“Losing his little girl, though,” Jennifer sighed. “I couldn't do it to him, not after all he'd gone through after the accident.”
“Yeah, Chely and I ... ah,” the young man stammered, his words drying up.
“You and Chely what?” Jennifer probed intently. “Jeff, are you holding out on us?”
Stopping in front of the student library, Jeff confided, “Dad's accident last year made us both realize how precious time is, Jen. I didn't want to waste a second.”
“No, we aren't married, but we came real close. I would have done it, Jen, but Chely didn't want to disrespect Dad and Daddy, and she believed that we'd be doing that if we got married without them knowing about it, not to mention them not actually being there.”
Jennifer smiled and surmised, “She is the one then.”
“Yeahsureyabetcha,” Jeff chimed, laughing afterwards. “Dad's accident really drew the truth of that out,” he elaborated. “I want to marry her.”
“Have you told Dad and Daddy that?”
“Not in so many words, but I'm sure they know. It was rocky my first semester here, but now, everything is really clear in my mind.”
Laughing, Jennifer teased, “Maybe we'll have a double wedding. It might be the kindest thing for Dad.”
“Yeah, it just might.”
There was a pause as both young adults secretly contemplated the intriguing idea, though neither was prepared to discuss it any further at the moment.
With the campus bookstore in sight, Jennifer changed the subject and asked, “Is everything set for the new Man Cave?” She chuckled, “Gee, that sounds so ... prehistoric.”
“You have to be a guy to get it, Jen,” Jeff put forth, “but, yeah, we've finalized everything. Alex really wants to get it done, but Dad and Daddy won't budge.”
“They just don't want anything disrupting the holidays,” Jennifer returned. Speaking seriously, she added, “Jeff, they want to enjoy spending time with you when you're home, when the family is all together again because ...”
Jeff sighed, “Because of what we were just talking about.”
“Yes,” Jennifer affirmed. “Our family is changing, whether we want it to or not, and they know that. They have lots of plans for us during the holidays.” With a big burst of energy in her voice, the young woman inquired, “Jeff, do you and Chely have a lot of plans for the Christmas break?”
~Not anymore.~ Jeff cleared his throat and responded, “I'll talk to her. She'll understand. I take it Peter is already prepared.”
With a smile as she stopped at the front doors of the bookstore, Jennifer confirmed, “Yes, and he's okay with it. Well, not okay, okay, but, you know.”
“I'm glad you mentioned it, Jen,” Jeff replied. With a near solemn undertone, he continued, “This could be one of our last Christmas' together with the entire family, couldn't it?”
Wiping a tear away, Jennifer returned, “I'm getting depressed.” Shaking her head while forcing herself to be upbeat, she opined, “We'll always be together, one way or another.” Taking another breath to keep herself from falling apart from the wave of emotion that had just hit her like a ton of bricks, the college girl suggested humorously, “I think you and Alex should just show up and get the Man Cave built. It gets so crazy with Dad and Daddy whenever they do something like this.”
“You're right. It's never calm when ...”
Jeff was trailing off into a crazy fantasy where the Man Cave would build itself overnight. The fantasy dissipated when Jennifer jumped in, advising her brother that she needed to attend to her shopping.
“I love you, Jen. Talk to you later.”
“Love you, Bro. Take care,” Jennifer replied, disconnecting the call. ~Jennifer, it's okay. Your family is together. I demand you stop yourself from crying and getting all upset over nothing but your imagination about the future.~ As another tear fell, she did a frustrated hop and dance as she let out a small, muffled scream. “Darn it.” With a sigh, she opened the door to the bookstore and ordered herself, ~Okay, I just need to hold it together long enough to get my supplies.~
That night, feeling eyes on her, Jennifer awakened to the sight of three Munchkins, all staring down at her with big smiles on their faces. It was almost midnight, so the children were in their pajamas and should have been asleep.
“Well, you're smiling,” Jennifer began as she rolled over and sat up, reaching over to turn on her lamp. “What's going on?”
“We want to give Dad and Daddy a really special present,” Aislinn announced.
“Do you need a loan?” Jennifer saw three shaking heads. “You want me to take you shopping at the mall or ...?” Again, heads shook. “What then?”
“We need to go through the Stargate,” Little Danny announced as if it were the most natural request in the world.
“The Stargate?” Though she'd been sleepy-eyed, the young woman was now wide awake. “Okay, Munchkins, start talking.”
“Okay, well ...” Aislinn began.
Just after breakfast the next morning, Jennifer walked casually into the kitchen, feeling a little uncertain about how she was going to pull off her plan. On the plus side, today was a scheduled day for her to be at Cheyenne Mountain for the Teen Gaters Program which she continued to oversee, though David was taking on more of the leadership role as time passed.
With the Munchkins at the kitchen table, all secretly ready to go, Jennifer cleared her throat a bit nervously. This was going to take finesse. Even then, she had an idea that her parents would know something was up.
“Dad, Daddy, would you mind if I drove the SUV this morning?” Jennifer asked. She knew there was minimal chauffeuring on the schedule for the day. “And, um, I thought I'd take the Munchkins shopping. Is that okay? Good. Kids, let's go.”
Jennifer made a rapid about face and a hasty exit.
Jack and Daniel stared at each other, hearing the sounds of the triplets scooting their chairs in and out in seconds and calling out good-byes as they scrambled to catch up to their older sister.
“Did we say 'yes'?” Daniel inquired of his lover, a little confused about the abrupt turn of events.
“We must have. They just flew out of here like there's no tomorrow.”
“Our mouths must have moved then,” the archaeologist offered with a straight face.
“We'd better clean out our ears; apparently, we've lost our hearing because I didn't hear us say 'yes',” Jack noted.
“I don't think we should think about it,” Jack responded quickly. ~Sometimes we're better off not knowing.~
“You do know they have an agenda that isn't as simple as shopping,” Daniel pointed out.
“Yep,” Jack acknowledged. “Carrot?” he asked, holding up the orange food.
“Thank you,” Daniel returned, taking the carrot and biting into it. “You do realize you handed me a vegetable that is a phallic symbol?”
“And your point would be?” Jack questioned as he licked his carrot lewdly.
“Beats a power bar,” Daniel mused with a shrug of this shoulders.
Just then, the couple heard the front door closing. Each was still chewing on a carrot, though they quickly left behind their phallic pondering in favor of pondering what their children were up to with their errand.
“So,” Daniel sighed.
“We promised the girls some playtime,” Jack reminded about their beloved beagles.
“Now's good,” Daniel agreed, shaking off the feeling that something weird was happening and heading for the recreation room where the beagles were sprawled out, listening to Ptolemy's orations about life as a beautiful bird.
Jennifer tapped on General Hank Landry's door. He looked up from his desk and smiled, waving for her to enter.
“Hello, General,” Jennifer greeted as she walked inside.
“Jennifer, are you going through the Gate this morning?” the general asked, having stood up for a moment and then retaking his seat.
“Um, well, actually, there's ...” Jennifer paused, letting out a sigh. “Excuse me a minute, Sir.” She walked to the door and shook her head. “Little Danny, stop asking Major McNeal about those artifacts. Jonny, Uncle Lou has a mission. Ash, will you please get your brothers in here?”
Landry smiled politely when the young woman returned to her spot. Obviously, she wasn't alone and that fact might just account for Jennifer's uncharacteristic stammering of a moment ago. Finally, the sound of scampering feet in the corridor could be heard. A few seconds later, the Munchkins were standing in front of their older sister, smiling innocently at the major general.
“Hi, General Hank,” Jonny called out enthusiastically, giving the man a loose salute.
“Jonny,” Landry acknowledged. “Little Danny, Aislinn. You all look very energetic this morning. How can I help you?”
Aislinn giggled, “We want to make an intergalactic phone call, please.” She laughed some more, explaining, “That's what Noa calls it sometimes.”
“Yes, I know,” Landry returned, thinking about Chenoa's occasional communications through the Stargate with Teal'c's grandson, K'hang. However, those calls were always expected and set up from the other end as well. The general wasn't sure how a surprise ‘phone call’ might work. ~And I don't think I want to find out, either.~ He pasted a smile on his face as he stared at the children. “Who did you want to ... call?” he asked politely, highly amused that the Stargate had been turned into a phone network. ~Good thing AT&T doesn't know about it. The long distance rates would be five digits at least.~
“Lya,” Little Danny answered with a huge smile on his face.
“The Nox,” Jonny stated at the very same time.
“The Nox aren't fond of phone calls without a very strong purpose,” Landry advised the brood.
“They won't mind us calling,” Little Danny stated, clearly unaffected by the warning.
“They love us,” Aislinn added.
“Sir, the Nox really do have an affinity for our family. I know this unusual, but the Munchkins need to contact Lya without our fathers knowing.”
Landry stared at Jennifer, intrigued with the way she'd worded her response, as if Jack and Daniel had some other way of getting in touch with the Nox, other than through the Stargate.
~Ridiculous; there's no way,~ Landry told himself, unwilling to continue that line of thought.
“Please, General Hank,” Aislinn requested, batting her eyelashes and smiling as adorably as she could.
~Woman's wiles,~ Landry joked silently. He stood up and motioned for the children to follow him into the control room. “Sergeant, dial the Nox planet.”
Chief Master Sergeant Walter Davis stared at the children for a moment, but he'd seen so much over two-plus decades with the Stargate Program that he just didn't question anything anymore.
“Yes, Sir,” the technician called out. “Chevron one ... encoded.”
“Now what?” Landry asked when the kawoosh thundered a few moments later.
“I'll be right back,” Jennifer answered. “Munchkins, stay here.”
“Can't we go?” Little Danny asked eagerly.
“Absolutely not,” Jennifer stated firmly. “You should know better than to ask. Stay here, and no wandering around.”
In a flash, Jennifer hurried to the gate room and walked briskly through the event horizon. Moments later, the Gate shut down.
“I wanted to go,” Jonny sighed, crossing his arms over his chest.
“She's right, Jonny. It's one thing for her to bring us here without Dad and Daddy knowing, but to go through the event horizon is something else. It's more serious,” Little Danny explained.
“I know,” Jonny acknowledged. “But I still wanted to go,” he admitted with a smile.
On the Nox home world, Jennifer walked down the steps and called out, “Lya? Anteaus? Tyna?” Walking forward a few yards, she shouted in a friendly tone, “It's Jennifer Jackson-O'Neill. It's not an emergency or anything, but if you have a minute ...”
“Jennifer,” Tyna greeted as she appeared in the meadow.
“Tyna, how are you?” Jennifer asked as she and the Nox teenager hugged warmly. They'd met when Jennifer had first gone through the Stargate several years ago. In fact, Jennifer was the only Tau'ri to have ever visited the Nox city in the sky. “I've missed you.”
“We are well. You came through the Stargate?”
“Well, it's a long story. Actually, the Munchkins want to surprise our parents, and they need to talk to Lya. Is she around?”
“Come,” Tyna invited, placing one hand on Jennifer's forearm and transporting herself and Jennifer to the Nox city.
“What's taking so long?” Jonny asked impatiently after ten minutes had passed.
“She has to find Lya,” Little Danny replied.
Landry stood behind the triplets, knowing the Nox world was safe but still unable to keep that military side of him from worrying a tad that he might have made a mistake in allowing Jennifer to go on an unscheduled and unofficial mission off-world. Then again, the President had made it clear that the Jackson-O'Neills were to receive special latitude on any request they made at Cheyenne Mountain.
Of course, if anything happened to Jennifer, it wouldn't be the President that Landry had to worry about. He wondered who would disembowel him first: Jack, Daniel, Teal’c, Sam Carter, Lou Ferretti, or maybe even Janet Fraiser, whose Little Napoleon nickname was no joke.
~Best not to think about it, Hank,~ the general told himself.
“Off-world activation,” Davis announced as the Stargate began to engage.
Landry automatically checked on the Munchkins, wondering if he should pull them out of the control room. However, looking at the triplets, he didn't think that would be an option at this point.
As the SFs got into position, Davis continued to check, waiting for a GDO code.
“Sir?” the sergeant asked as something occurred to him.
“Right,” Landry responded with a sigh, realizing Jennifer had gone through the Stargate without a GDO device. ~Of course.~
Landry was about to issue the order to open the iris when out of the blue Lya and Jennifer appeared on the ramp. He was amazed and relieved.
“Stand down,” the general ordered the SFs. “Lya, welcome to Cheyenne Mountain. Please come up to my office.”
A minute later, with the doors shut, Landry, Jennifer, the Munchkins, and Lya were in the base commander's office. Jennifer and Lya sat in chairs while the triplets were perched on the edge of Landry's desk, facing Lya, eager to ask her their favor. The general rolled his chair over slightly so that he could at least peer in between Jonny and Aislinn to see his alien guest.
“It is good to see you again, friends,” Lya greeted the Munchkins with a warm smile. “Jennifer told me that you wished to see me.”
“We want to ask you a big favor,” Aislinn responded.
Suddenly, the youngest Munchkin gasped and used her finger to get her sister's attention. With Jennifer leaning in close, Aislinn whispered her concern.
Chuckling lightly, Jennifer rose up and responded, “Ash, I'm sure General Landry knows all about it.”
“It's okay to talk in front of him?” Aislinn answered, still unsure.
“I know!” Little Danny exclaimed, hopping off the desk and going up to Lya. He leaned closed, cupping his hand to her ear, and whispered, “Lya, we want to talk about Xanadu. Is it okay?”
Lya smiled and nodded as she said, “You may speak of it in general terms.”
“What does that mean?” Jonny asked.
“I'll tell you what,” Landry interjected, getting the gist of where this conversation was headed. Standing, he presented his solution to the Munchkins' dilemma. “I have to check today's schedule. I'll be in the control room.”
“Thanks, General Hank,” Aislinn called out.
Jennifer shrugged at the understanding general, who cocked his head in amusement as he left the room. Still, Landry couldn't help but wonder why the children might think they knew more than he did.
~That's impossible! Right?~ Landry questioned within himself.
“Please, tell me your wish,” Lya requested once Landry had left the room.
“Dad and Daddy love Xanadu, wherever that is,” Aislinn advised.
“They don't talk about it in front of us,” Little Danny added.
“But I heard them talking a couple of times. They really want to go there for a few days, for peace and quiet,” Aislinn expounded.
“We get kinda noisy,” Jonny explained.
“I see,” Lya responded. “Your fathers are welcome to visit Xanadu anytime.”
The youngsters beamed and continued to discuss their special present with Lya for several minutes more.
“Dad, Daddy!” Aislinn called out as she hurried through the house.
“Running,” Jack warned as he appeared behind the happy Munchkins.
“Where's Daddy?” Aislinn asked over her shoulder. She saw the sternness on her dad's face and sighed, “I'm sorry for running. Where's Daddy?”
“Right here,” Daniel interjected as he came down the stairs holding JD.
“Come ...” Little Danny looked around the room for the right spot and walked swiftly to the large Christmas tree in the corner. “... here,” the boy requested. “Please,” he added, which was the magic word that had his fathers responding to his wish.
“Munchkins,” Jonny called out with big eyes. When his siblings joined him in a huddle, Jonny sighed, “Daddy's holding JD. JD doesn't even know about the Stargate yet.”
“Oh,” Little Danny and Aislinn sighed.
“What do we do?” Aislinn asked. “We can't make him feel bad.”
“By the way, where's your sister?” Jack called out to the still-huddled triplets.
“She parked the SUV in the driveway, Dad,” Jonny called out. “I have the keys. She made sure we got in the house and then she took Coop.”
“I think she went back to ... I mean I think she ... I don't know where she went,” Little Danny stumbled verbally. ~Oh, no. That didn't go well.~
**Our children are horrible liars,** Daniel communicated.
**Yeah,** Jack affirmed with a grin.
“We have a problem, Daddy, and I don't think we have time to fix it,” Little Danny said dejectedly.
“Can you tell us what the problem is?” Daniel questioned, seeing how deflated the children had become.
“Please don't be mad at us,” Aislinn requested.
“We just wanted to surprise you,” Jonny added.
“Okay, kids, it's time to ...” Jack began, stopping when he saw a sort of ripple in space a few feet in front of him.
“Wow!” JD exclaimed, holding his daddy's shirt tightly.
“Jack, is it just me or is there a ...”
“... ripple?” Jack suggested, blinking his eyes a couple of times.
“Yes, ripple, that works. Is there a ripple in our living room?” Daniel asked. Then he broke out into a smile. “Lya.”
“Daniel, Jack, it is very good to see you again,” Lya spoke with her usual warm and friendly flair. “Who is this?” she asked as she approached the youngest child, who was watching her with curious eyes.
**The problem,** Daniel sighed, realizing what the Munchkins were about to tell them.
“This is JD. He's our youngest,” Jack introduced. ~In for a penny, in for a pound.~
Daniel bent down a little so JD and Lya could be introduced at eye level. Happily, JD wasn't phased by the fact that a stranger seemed to have just appeared in front of him like magic.
“JD, this is Lya. She's a ... a very good friend,” Daniel stated happily.
“Lya,” the almost-five-year-old repeated, tilting his head to the side. “Are you dressed up for Halloween?”
Daniel's head dropped and Jack coughed, both a little embarrassed by the question, afraid that Lya might be offended.
“Lya,” Little Danny called out. “JD doesn't know about the Stargate yet. He's never met an alien before.”
“Except for Teal'c and Cassie, but he doesn't know they're aliens,” Aislinn stated.
“He does now,” Jack stated sternly, giving the Munchkins a look of warning.
“Dad, that's Stargate 101. You have to tell him now,” Jonny spoke in a bit of a whine at the rebuke. “JD will love you, just like we do, Lya.” He looked up at JD and said, “JD, Lya's one of the Nox.”
“What's a Nox?”
“I am a Nox,” Lya answered. “If you like, you may come and visit the Nox as your brothers and sisters have before you.”
“Thank you,” Daniel acknowledged, appreciating the woman's grace at all that had just happened.
All of a sudden, JD let out a gasp, as if he had figured something out.
“I know! I know!” the little boy exclaimed. “Are you a friend of Uncle Thor's? I'm named after him.”
“He's named after everybody,” Aislinn giggled.
“Thor?” Lya echoed. “Commander of the Asgard's most respected ship, the Daniel Jackson?”
“That's Daddy!” JD chuckled.
“Yes, that Thor,” Daniel affirmed, still feeling funny about the ship being named after him.
“Yes, I know ... Uncle Thor,” Lya told JD. “He is a very good friend.”
“Ah, listen, we can get JD up to speed a little later,” Daniel stated, kneeling to put the boy down. “JD, would you do me a favor?”
“We left Patch upstairs. Why don't you go get him so you can show him to Lya?”
As the boy toddled off, Daniel stood back up and said, “We have about a minute, maybe two. Is something wrong?”
“We ruined it,” Aislinn sighed, upset her surprise wasn't going as planned.
“Hey,” Jack called out gently. “I'm sure nothing's that wrong, and Daddy and I aren't mad, so let's take advantage of our minute and how about you three tell us why Lya is here.”
“It's for Christmas,” Little Danny explained, taking a deep breath to try and brighten himself up.
“Christmas?” the general echoed.
“Friends, the Munchkins have told me that you would like to return to Xanadu for a few days, and I am here to let you know that you are most welcome. I have spoken with Korsha, and he is most excited that you will return.”
“Xanadu,” both men whispered at the same time. There was a brief pause, but as if they were afraid the offer would be retracted, the couple both called out, “Yes,” at the same time.
“When?” Daniel asked, amazed that their fantasy trip to paradise was coming true.
“Xanadu is still protected. With its rotation, your visit must be completed within fourteen of your days,” Lya responded.
“We have to make arrangements for the brood,” Daniel replied.
Lya gave a nod and returned, “You know how to reach the Nox.”
“Here's Patch,” JD called out, though he was still on the stairs. “Lya, Uncle Thor gave me Patch.”
As JD held up Patch for the Nox woman to examine, Lya responded warmly, “Patch is most welcome to come with you to meet the Nox.” She turned back to Jack and Daniel and advised, “Now I must go.”
“Always a pleasure,” Jack spoke pleasantly.
“Thank you,” Daniel added sincerely with a nod.
Lya turned and looked at the Munchkins, smiling as she acknowledged them before closing her eyes and making a wave of her hand.
“And there she goes,” Jack observed as the ripple reoccurred and then Lya disappeared.
“Dad, Daddy,” Little Danny sighed.
“It's okay,” Daniel acknowledged as he scooped JD up in his arms. “JD, we have a lot to talk about tonight during our family meeting.”
“Aliens?” the boy asked with extreme serenity.
“You know, Son, being an alien depends on where you are. When you go to visit Lya and the Nox, you'll be the alien,” Daniel stated as he headed into the kitchen. “Lya's great. You see, the Nox believe in peace and ...”
At that point, Daniel and JD disappeared from sight, leaving Jack and the triplets staring after them. Jack could tell the children were truly upset that they hadn't thought out their plan fully.
“Kids, this will teach you to always think ahead about what might happen. If you think about the alternative scenarios, you'll never be surprised. Think about that. However, to tell you the truth, I'm surprised it hasn't slipped out before now, especially with visits from Uncle Thor.”
“Thor is normal to JD, Dad,” Little Danny put forth. “He doesn't know he's an alien because he doesn't know about aliens.”
“We didn't even think about Thor earlier when we talked about Teal'c and Cassie,” Aislinn realized.
“To JD, Thor is just ... Uncle Thor,” Little Danny added.
“And that's how the world should be,” Jack agreed with a bit of lightness to his voice. He opened his arms out and gestured with his fingers for the Munchkins to come to him. He smiled as they all ran in for the joint hug. “Thank you for Xanadu. That's a wonderful present. Let's sit down and you can fill your old man in on exactly what went down at the Mountain, which is where I assume Jennifer took you this morning.”
“Well, it started a while ago,” Aislinn began as the four headed for the sofa. “Remember when I signed my Munchkin Rules contract for singing with Jonny? That's when I heard you and Daddy talking about Xanadu. Well ...”
“Stargate 101,” Daniel chuckled that night from his side of the bed as he took off his socks.
“He knows now,” Jack responded, also getting ready for bed after their nightly rounds. “He's fine with it.”
“Babe, did you notice that JD didn't really ask a lot of questions? I mean, uh, it's like he knew. That's crazy. Isn't it?”
Jack shrugged and responded, “Honestly, Daniel, I'm not sure what *Uncle* Thor's been telling him all these years.”
“Yes, but Unc...Thor hasn't been here all that often,” Daniel refuted.
“That we know of,” Jack pointed out with raised eyebrows.
“I'll talk to Hank about taking JD to visit the Nox,” Jack stated. He caught a glimpse of a funny look on his husband's face. “Danny?”
“When we were talking about Thor and his ... ship, JD didn't react much,” Daniel noted, his eyes focused on nothing really as his powerful mind tried to process its thought.
“He got it,” Jack stated with a shrug, wondering what could be wrong with that. “What's to react?”
“Jack,” Daniel spoke with a tad of alarm as he stood and turned slowly to look at his soulmate. “Jack. Oh, gawd.”
“Danny, what?” Jack asked, going to his husband and reaching out to hold his shoulders.
“We were talking about Thor and the ship and then JD said Aunt Sam's was bigger but not better.”
“Yeah, well Carter does have a ... crap!”
“He knew,” Daniel stated with a bit of alarm and panic. “Jack, he knew.”
“That little gray butt!” Jack exclaimed accusingly. “Thor? *Thor, get your little gray butt in this room now*.”
“O'Neill,” Thor stated firmly, appearing as a hologram as he sat in his command chair.
“You took our son into outer space,” Jack accused with a glare.
“Little Thor wished to see his daddy's ship,” Thor stated unabashedly.
“You didn't have our permission,” Jack barked angrily.
“Thor, just how much have you told JD about outer space and aliens and the Goa'uld?” Daniel inquired calmly, though he was inwardly as angry as his husband was at their ally.
“He knows only of the Asgard and of our great friendship with the Tau'ri. He knows our world is grateful to your planet for its assistance as we struggle to survive.”
“Thor, is everything okay?” Daniel queried, suddenly losing the bit of anger that had built up.
“Our situation worsens. O'Neill, Doctor Jackson, it is your progeny who can save us. This is why I have nurtured Little Thor's thirst for knowledge. We are in a race against time, and I do not know if we will win.” The alien blinked sadly as he looked down for a brief second. Recovering from his temporary emotional letdown, he looked straight ahead and stated, “JD has a gift, a great gift. He is our hope.”
“He's only four years old,” Jack replied incredulously while still glaring at the Asgard.
“Today.” Thor stared at his human friends and realized they did not understand. “Little Thor will save the Asgard, or we will die. He has the Ancient genes. He can and will do great things. You must guide him as he learns. Do not be afraid to let him guide you, even as you guide him.”
“Whoa!” Jack exclaimed. “I've got that advanced gene; so does Sheppard.”
Stunned, Jack looked over to Daniel.
“Are you saying that JD is ... beyond that?” the archaeologist questioned cautiously.
“He is the next evolution,” the alien acknowledged.
“Thor ...” Daniel began.
“I must go. I assure you that Little Thor has never been in danger. He has been only on my ship while in your galaxy.” As emotionally as any Asgard ever got, he concluded, “He is our only hope.” Just before the hologram ended, he added, “And he is in my heart.”
“Well, that was unexpected,” Jack responded to the information the couple had just received. He let out a light sound of amazement and then whispered almost reverently, “The next evolution.”
“Jack, what do we do?” a somewhat desperate-sounding Daniel asked, uncertain about what he'd heard.
“We go to bed.”
“Danny, what Thor said about the Asgard isn't anything new. Okay, it's getting more serious and apparently JD is more than a chip off the ole block, he's an upgrade; and maybe he might do something to help one day, but it's not going to be tonight or tomorrow. We can't treat him any differently than we do the rest of the brood. Right?”
“Right,” Daniel agreed. “He's been on the ship, Jack.”
“Mine was first.”
Daniel laughed at his Love's indignant remark. Indeed, the O'Neill had been Thor's first Tau'ri-named vessel. Only it had been destroyed even before having its maiden flight. The Daniel Jackson was the replacement vessel. It had been upgraded and overhauled twice. There was also the Samantha Carter, a bigger ship than the one named for Daniel that was geared towards the scientific endeavors of the Asgard, leaving the Daniel Jackson still the shining light of the Asgard fleet.
“Let's go to bed, Love,” Jack suggested. “We'll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.”
Daniel nodded and headed for the bathroom, only he stopped abruptly and turned back to face his husband.
“Jack, I agree with everything you've said, but without the help of the Asgard, I don't think we'd be here today. We can't just sit back. We *have* to do something. I don't know what it is exactly, but we need to make sure someone is still working on the Asgard problem. I don't want us to be so nonchalant about their plight that we wake up one day and realize they're gone.”
“Let's drop by the Mountain this week; find out what's happening,” Jack suggested, also concerned about their little gray butt friends.
“And we can't ignore what we know now about JD being on Thor's ship,” Daniel added. He raised his hand to stop his soulmate's impending remark about whose ship was bigger. “We need to talk to JD and let him know that we know. How did he keep this a secret from us?”
“He's a Jackson-O'Neill,” Jack answered simply. With a cock of his head, he added, “Besides, it never occurred to us to ask so he never had to lie.”
“Good point,” Daniel agreed.
“We'll tell him that Uncle Thor has told us about the visit to the ship.”
“Or ... visits,” Daniel dared to correct. “And we need to talk about security, *his* security. Jack, it's not about lying or not lying, but what if a stranger ...”
“Danny, it'll be okay. JD's the best of both of us,” Jack reassured. “We'll have the brood give JD a lesson in people safety. We've been through this; we know what to do.”
“Those, too,” Jack acknowledged. ~Okay, he's off the stranger abduction and kid safety thing.~
“Jack, Thor didn't say Ancient 'gene', he used the plural, 'genes', and he said JD was the next evolution.”
“You have the Ancient gene, just like Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Beckett. You're the only ones who were able to operate the chair in Atlantis. With time, they were able to manipulate the gene and inject a retrovirus into many of the Atlantis personnel which allowed them to operate some of the Ancient technology, like opening doors and operating the puddle jumpers, but that's it.”
“Okay, so?” Jack responded, gesturing with his hand to tell his husband to get to the point.
“So Thor said JD had Ancient *genes*. That might explain all of this. Babe, maybe somehow he has ... gawd, I don't want to think about this,” Daniel stated, his initial enthusiasm now turning into major concern.
“Danny, what's the big deal if he has more than one of these Ancient genes?” Jack asked. “Besides, how could he have more than one?”
“Maybe it skips every hundred generations; how do I know?” Daniel responded glibly. “The point is that we have a good idea what having one gene means, but we don't know what having multiple genes, or being the ... upgrade might mean.”
“Maybe having more than one gene is what makes JD the upgrade.”
“What does that mean?” Daniel whispered, his mind focused on the puzzle and struggling to determine how to proceed now.
“Okay, our kid *might* have a couple of Ancient genes,” Jack acknowledged, trying to keep things as simple as possible. “Do we want to make a big deal out of that?”
“No,” Daniel answered, looking very solemn. “And we *can't* share this information. Jack, we can't let anyone know.”
“Crap,” Jack sighed, realizing that if the government found out, their lives, and especially JD's life, could end up being even more of a classified mess.
“Jack,” a vulnerable Daniel spoke, panic lacing his voice as the archaeologist began to shake.
“Hey,” Jack spoke calmly and tenderly. He walked over and took his soulmate into his arms. “He's our son, and he's safe here. We'll protect him.”
“If they find out, they'll want to test him and keep testing him. Jack, it won't end, ever,” Daniel surmised with a trembling voice.
Jack held on tightly to his husband, sharing his fears. He knew what the United States government was capable of, but it would be over his dead body if anyone ever tried to make a guinea pig or exhibit out of JD.
“We won't let it happen,” Jack promised with strong conviction.
“What if Thor says something to General Landry?”
“We'll make sure he doesn't,” Jack answered, his hands soothing the archaeologist's back. “No one else will ever know.”
“Jack, we have to make sure,” Daniel insisted as he pulled back, slightly panicked.
Jack nodded and again called out, “Thor, get back here.”
“O'Neill, I have much to do,” Thor announced as soon as he appeared, looking slightly disgruntled.
“And you say you don't have this place bugged,” Jack accused lightly.
“I will save time,” Thor responded. “Little Thor is our most protected being. His life is our most guarded. No harm will come to him. He is our only hope.”
“Thor,” Daniel began, walking forward. “The SGC, the President ...”
“No one knows of Little Thor's uniqueness,” Thor revealed. “The Asgard will protect this knowledge with our lives.”
“Thank you,” a relieved Daniel sighed, feeling slightly better by the reassurance. “Thor, what about ... the Asgard?”
“Loki,” Jack put forth, grunting at the memory of how Loki had replaced him with a malfunctioning clone once upon a time.
“Little Thor is cherished. No Asgard will interfere in his upbringing or advancement. To do so would mean banishment from this galaxy. You have my word and the promise of the Council.”
“We'll take that,” Daniel replied in a tone that suggested he would hold the great race to that pledge.
Thor nodded and quickly vanished.
“He's got this place bugged,” Jack groused.
“I don't care,” the archaeologist admitted, letting out a whiff of air. “Jack, we need to talk to Janet and make sure we know what they're scanning for these days when you go through the Gate.”
“Piece of cake.”
“Everything is food with you,” Daniel groaned with a roll of his eyes, although his husband's confidence was exactly what he had needed.
“Do we have any more of that apple pie left?” Jack asked, rubbing his abdomen.
“You're hopeless,” Daniel teased.
“Hopelessly in love with you.”
Daniel chuckled and then went into the bathroom, leaving Jack alone in the bedroom.
~I just hope we can save the Asgard. I may be angry at the little gray butt, but Danny's right. They've saved our sixes more than once. We owe them, but we don't owe them JD. He'll be safe, Love. He's a normal little boy, and he's going to stay that way.~
Finally in bed, the lovers cozied against each other, happy to be together and in love. Their conversation now turned to happier topics, the couple leaving behind the earlier drama of the night.
“Three whole days in Xanadu,” Jack spoke out of the blue with elation.
“Lya couldn't turn down the Munchkins,” Daniel laughed, knowing when their brood was determined, nothing could stop them.
“Just you, me, and about a thousand konkeys.”
“Paradise, Danny. We're going back to paradise.”
As the couple drifted off to sleep that night, they had dreams filled with forests, flowers, and lots of Filgrun running amok.
“That's great,” Sam praised. She was assisting in the brood's home studies as they worked on science. She approached the end of the table where JD was. He wasn't part in this homework session as it was way above his head, but he still wanted to sit at the table with his siblings and draw. She looked at the child's drawing curiously. “JD, what's that?”
“I don't know,” the boy answered, continuing his work.
“Can I have this when your done?”
“Angel, I talked to the Doc this afternoon,” Jack reported to his husband that evening as the two caught up on their day in the study.
“We're covered. I have a hunch she knew what I was getting at, but she didn't ask any questions and was sure not to get specific with her answers.”
“You didn't talk to her at the Mountain?”
“No, I met her for lunch. She says we have nothing to worry about.”
“She said we have nothing to worry about,” Daniel echoed. “What did she think we had to worry about?”
“Nothing, because she didn't ask.”
“So, we're okay.”
“We're okay,” the general verified assuredly.
“Okay,” Daniel acknowledged, still thinking it over.
“Okay. What's your news?”
“Oh, well, Sam ...”
Daniel spent the next few minutes relaying the conversation he'd had with Sam earlier that day. He also showed Jack the paper on which JD had written the unknown technobabble type of doodling.
“She said what?”
“She says it's some scientific equation, but she's not sure for what. Jack, it reminded her of when you created that gigantic equation in Base 8 math.”
“I have no idea what I did.”
“And neither does JD, right now,” Daniel stated. “Jack, I think we should let Sam start teaching JD science. He doesn't have the vocabulary or the knowledge to know what he's doing. Now, I'm not saying we go school-happy with him, but I think we should just let her start at the beginning and see what happens. What do you think?”
Jack thought about it for a few seconds and then nodded, “Okay, JD goes to technobabble school, unless he doesn't like that class.”
“Agreed. Sam won't push, and she won't say anything to anyone else.”
“As sure as you are of Janet,” Daniel related.
The covert world of SG-1 was complicated, its complex structure one that few understood. A simple word or phrase had numerous layers of context to it. Just as Jack had been able to convey a certain need of secrecy for his coded discussion with Janet, Daniel had had a similar talk with Sam. No specifics were given, but none were needed.
While Janet hadn't known the details of the concerns Jack had presented and Sam had been surprised by JD's doodling and Daniel's calm acceptance of the discovery, both had clearly received the message that it was a topic of silent stealth. Neither woman would mention it to another living soul.
“She really has no clue what this is?” Jack asked his husband as he studied the paper.
“No, but she believes it's something, or will be something someday,” Daniel answered. “We should probably show it to Thor.”
“The next time the little gray butt drops in with a news flash,” Jack started snarkily.
With a sigh, Daniel lamented, “I really thought our people would have done more than they have.”
“And since we're not really in danger right now ...”
“No reason to extend ourselves,” Jack completed in disgust.
While researchers on the scientific site off-world were still working on the Asgard problem, only a minimal team had been assigned and they only had a small piece of the budget with which to fund their research.
“I wonder if we can do something about that?”
“Fund it ourselves?”
“Jack, we're comfortable, but we don't have that kind of money, and you know it,” Daniel responded a bit tersely.
“I was just kidding. What are you thinking?”
“Noa, our little ambassador. Jack, General Landry made a lot of comments to us recently about our family's continued involved with the Program.”
“Yes, I remember,” Jack responded unhappily, having not been thrilled with the demands placed on the brood by the United States government.
“So, we demand back,” the archaeologist replied simply.
Jack grinned while saying, “The great thing about government, Danny, is that the right hand wants what the left hand has, and they keep going back and forth.”
“They demand, we demand,” Daniel agreed.
“Geez, how I love your brain,” Jack mused as he went to his husband and kissed his forehead.
“Just my brain?”
Wiggling his ears and raising his eyebrows like Groucho Marx, Jack locked the already closed door and seductively approached his archaeologist. A moment later, Daniel gasped as Jack kissed another, previously covered body part, thereby ending all verbal discussion for the time being.
The next evening the family was gathered together for their family meeting. Actually, this one was on the verge of being extremely short. No one had any complaints or issues to discuss, which wasn't uncommon. While some family discussions lasted an hour or longer, others like this one were only a few minutes long.
As Daniel was finishing up a quick reassignment of chores, Jack heard Sam approaching from the backyard. She'd called a half-hour earlier, wanting to borrow some sugar. It was corny, but true.
“Sorry. It's been one of those days,” the blonde sighed as she walked in and took possession of the bag of sugar. “I, um, don't need the whole bag.”
“Carter, we buy things by the crate,” Jack exaggerated. “Trust me, no one will miss it.”
The family chuckled and waved to their aunt.
“You guys have a good night,” Sam called out, turning to leave.
Aware the family meeting was going to be one of the short ones, Brianna decided to spice things up a bit and beckoned, “Aunt Sam, wait a second.”
“Hey, Bri,” Sam greeted individually, smiling at the teenager.
“Maybe you can help some of us to understand something,” Brianna requested.
Jack motioned to his 2IC to take his chair, which she did, grinning that he was left standing up. Every now and then, it was good to know that he remembered she was a woman and acted with chivalry.
~Wow, I've changed,~ Sam opined with wonder. “How can I help?”
“It's the Man Cave.”
Jack saw Jenny smile, and he immediately grew suspicious. This was going to be another rebellion; he just knew it. At the same time, he noticed Jennifer trying not to laugh, so obviously, she knew what was coming as well. In fact, all of the girls looked like they were in on whatever the big topic was to be, but the boys looked positively clueless.
“What about the Man Cave?” Jack asked cautiously.
“*Man* Cave?” Brianna questioned directly.
“It is a little sexist, Dad,” Jennifer mused.
“How come it's not a Person Cave?” Jenny interrogated more abruptly than her sisters' previous remarks.
“I'm not a man,” Chenoa added. “Does that mean I can't see it?”
“Okay, okay,” Daniel interjected, his hands outward, palms toward the brood.
“Aunt Sam, isn't a Man Cave sexist?” Brianna challenged. ~This is fun. Look at Dad.~
“No censuring, Dad,” Aislinn corrected. “This is a family meeting and everyone can say what they want.”
“Jack, Ash is right. Sam can ... say whatever she wants,” Daniel asserted, a part of him wishing he wasn't agreeing with the observation of the littlest Munchkin.
“Just keep hormones out of it,” Jack told Sam.
Most of the children made funny faces at their older father's comment, not having a clue what he was talking about. They could tell it meant something, though, because of how their aunt blushed and looked down for a minute.
“Guys, I'm a woman who has spent most of my time living in what the world said was a man's world. Is it a man's world? I don't know, but I do know that I succeed at what I do, and I'm not the only woman to have success in this so-called man's world. Actually, it's definitely *not* a man's world. However, reality being the way it is, even today, there are a lot of obstacles to women being able to do what they want, even though we are just as capable of doing them as any man is.”
“Carter, this isn't a conference. There's ice cream waiting,” Jack interrupted, sensing this could be a long speech otherwise.
“Yes, Sir,” Sam acknowledged. “Kids, your fathers just want a place to themselves sometimes. It's not a den or a study to work or read in; it's just a place where they can tell some off-color jokes, have some beers, and be guys.”
“But they are guys. They're always guys,” Lulu responded.
“What's off-color?” Chenoa asked.
Daniel glanced over at Sam, curious as to how she was going to answer this question.
“It's something that you're too young to hear,” Sam advised the children. “Look, you guys are smart, very smart. It's like this. Just like women like to sit around, try on clothes, help one another with new hair styles, talk about boys, and gossip, men like to sit around, drink beer, watch sports and swear, tell bad jokes, and ... gossip, only they never call it gossip. Instead of going to a bar to do that, your dads are building a bar here. It's like going to O'Malley's, only now they can be home in case they're needed. You see, Dad and Daddy are your parents first. You matter to them so much that over the years they've put aside their own needs to have those nights when they can just be men.”
“Dad and Daddy don't swear,” Aislinn responded.
“Not in front of us,” Chenoa agreed.
“But they're almost always in front of at least one of us,” Jenny stated thoughtfully.
“They hardly ever drink beer, Aunt Sam,” Lulu pointed out.
“Brood, Dad and Daddy love beer,” Jenny told her siblings.
“Uh, Dad loves beer,” Daniel interjected. “I just ... pretend to love beer.”
“Pretend?” Jack disputed. “Well, My Love, you sure have pretended well over the years,” he accused with a facetious smile.
Daniel cocked his head, shrugged, and smiled coyly.
“Girls, the question is, does it really matter what they call it? Your fathers have never mistreated a woman. They've been fair at the Mountain and, from what I know, at J-O Enterprises. I mean, look at who's running things.”
“Excuse me?” Jack butted in.
“All I'm saying is that Megan and Karissa are in charge. Aren't they?” Sam smiled and then after a beat added, “At least, when you're not there.”
“Which is a lot,” Daniel conceded.
“I really have to go,” Sam stated as she stood up. “Kids, your dad knows I'm not afraid to stand up as a woman. I challenged him the first time we met. That's what he was referring to when I first sat down. That said, pick your battles and when you do, make sure it's really a battle and not just a ...”
“... not just an excuse to pick on Dad and Daddy because the family meeting was going to be a short one?” Brianna confessed apologetically.
“That works!” Daniel exclaimed, smiling at his daughter.
After seeing Sam out, Jack returned to his seat.
“Bri and the girls have a point, though,” David stated before anyone else could say anything. “I'm not starting anything, but when the Man Cave first came up, I researched it a little bit because I thought about that, that the name might be untoward to women,” he looked down for a second, “and to my sisters.”
“What did you find out?” Aislinn asked curiously.
“It's just a name, like Aunt Sam said. Men, fathers, used to have dens or studies, just like Daddy and Dad have theirs. A Man Cave is just an extension of that. There was a time when the concept was ... inappropriate.”
“How?” Jenny questioned.
David looked to his parents, both of whom nodded their consent, indicating their trust that he would handle the inquiry appropriately.
“Well, Sis, they'd have dates in their Man Caves. Now, though, most Man Caves are more like hobby places, like a Man Cave that looks like a golf green or one that has nothing but Avalanche gear and maybe even a small ice rink.”
“No, Jack,” Daniel answered, not even looking at his hockey-obsessed husband.
“But ...” Jack began, the idea of having Colorado Avalanche oriented Man Cave appealing to him.
“No!” Still not looking at his Heart, Daniel instructed David, “You were saying.”
David chuckled and continued, “Most Man Caves are designed around a theme.”
“Dad and Daddy want a place to play pool and cards, where they don't have to worry about us hearing something they don't want us to hear.”
“Something off-color?” Jenny questioned.
“Yeah, Sis,” Jennifer confirmed. “When they're around us, it's like they're always on their best behavior. That's because they love us, by the way, and they want us raised right.”
“Not like the McCleary's,” Ricky stated.
The McClearys had been part of the homeschool co-op for a while, but Jack and Daniel had learned early on not to allow their children to go to the McCleary home. Unfortunately, swearing was common place with that family. In fact, when their two children had been unable to stop swearing during lessons and such, Jack and Daniel had removed their children from co-op events; that is, until the McClearys ended up withdrawing from the co-op on their own.
“Oh! Bad words,” Aislinn realized, nodding emphatically. “But if you don't say bad words in front of us, why do you say them at all? Why do you need a place where you can say them?”
Daniel thought a moment and replied, “Let me see if I can explain. There are some privileges which are reserved for adults, like consuming alcohol. Some people abuse it by getting drunk a lot and making fools of themselves. Profanity in very small, measured doses, with the right inflection and in the right context, can 'season' a man's or woman's speech, like the right spices in a recipe. Too much spoils it. A lot of men think it's manly to swear every other word. It's not. It's crude, and it shows a lack of vocabulary.”
“And a lot of women think they have to swear up a storm to keep up with the men; to be accepted. Sometimes, that's sadly true, but it shouldn't be,” Jack interjected.
“But some people don't drink at all,” Lulu observed.
“That's true,” Daniel agreed. “Now, remember, we don't believe in stereotypes. There are more than just two slots for people to slide into. Uh, for example, there are those who don't drink alcohol because of religious beliefs.”
“Mormons, like the Ketterings,” Lulu acknowledged about a family that lived in the neighborhood.
“Right,” Daniel acknowledged. “And there are some people who drink to escape. They find ... solace in whiskey or some other alcohol so they'll forget whatever bad has or is happening in their lives.”
“Like Box Car Frank,” Jonny interjected, about a hobo the family had met down by the creek where a lot of homeless people tended to gather.
“I hope he's okay,” Jack interposed with a sigh, his mind wishing that the train-hopping man would find some peace. ~Hard life and no one who cares worth a dime.~ He saw the sad faces of his children. ~Except for the brood.~
“Exactly,” Daniel affirmed quietly. “Box Car Frank drinks to forget what he's lost and what he's missing from his life today.” There was a silent pause, each member of the family independently sending up a prayer for their friend. “Okay, so, what I'm talking about are patterns. It's been said that you can assign a person to one of two groups: those who don't drink because they think it makes them morally superior to people who do and those who don't drink because that's just who they are, and they don't feel a need to judge or condemn those who do drink.”
“What about recovering alcoholics?” Brianna questioned curiously, the teenager eager to hear more of her daddy's thoughts on the subject.
“Same thing. Some abstain because they realize that's what they need to do to make themselves healthy again and ... well, to live a full and rich life,” Daniel answered. “I believe there are also some who do it because it's the politically correct thing to do and by doing so, they think it makes them better than others.”
“So, some people don't swear because that's who they are and some don't because they think it makes them better than people who do?” Aislinn queried.
“Kids, there's also the peer pressure angle,” Jack noted. “You get a bunch of military guys together and sometimes you feel like you have to be more colorful in your language. It's like to be a part of the group, you'd better be able to dish out those swear words. I've used my quota, primarily during my Special Ops days.”
“Like being in a gang,” Jennifer stated, looking over at her younger siblings. “You've seen them.”
“They're scary,” Aislinn admitted.
“They're just trying to fit in and be cool,” Little Danny told his sister.
“Too often being cool means swearing, and worse,” Daniel stated. “And, uh, in contrast to Dad, because I was an academic and on my own, I've never been a big swearer.”
“What Daddy has said has always been pretty mild,” Jack advised the brood. “You hear worse on TV.”
“Does Uncle Lou swear?” Aislinn asked.
“And Grandpa?” Ricky sought out as well.
Jack grinned as he answered, “Uncle Lou has many choice words of ... color in his vocabulary, and Grandpa's been known to let out a few fine cuss words to let his displeasure be known.”
“Oh,” Aislinn expressed in surprise. “They just don't swear in front of us.”
“Or any children. Aunt Carolyn didn't let Uncle Lou swear around their kids when they were young, either,” Jack pointed out. “Remember what I said.”
“The gang mentality,” David reiterated, seeing his older father's nod.
“But how do you know what's right for you?” Jenny questioned.
“As you grow up, you'll know,” the archaeologist responded. “Just don't judge someone for the choices they make.”
“We've tried to teach you to respect the choices of others,” Jack told the brood, pleased to see nods of awareness from the kids.
“One more example,” Daniel stated. “Jokes.”
“We love jokes,” Jonny chimed in since he was one of the family's biggest joke tellers.
“Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, a joke is just a lot funnier with a single swear word than it is without it. So, if you're someone who swears, you just tell it. If it fits and the joke is funny, people will laugh. Now, a person who doesn't swear at all because that's just them wouldn't tell that joke.”
“And there's nothing wrong with that,” Jack pointed out. “There are millions of jokes out there.”
“Now someone who has a superior attitude or just wants to be the center of attention might try to tell the joke without the swear word.”
“But that changes the joke, and if the swear word is the key to the joke, big fizz,” Jack stated.
“Right. In the end, it's all about choices and who you are inside. It's also about respect for others.” Daniel looked at Jonny and asked, “Say you had a great joke, with one swear word, a mild one. You're at a party, and the Ketterings are there. Do you tell the joke, or not?”
“The Ketterings are fun and ...” David began, stopping when Daniel stretched out his hand and shook his hand, an indication to let the oldest Munchkin answer the question.
“I wouldn't tell it, not with them there,” Jonny answered. “I can always tell the joke later to the others.” He brightened and with a zap of enthusiasm suggested, “Or I could tell another joke. I know lots of jokes.”
“That's the spirit,” Jack responded approvingly.
Jonny scrunched his nose and added, “But I don't know if I want to swear at all. Those words are ugly.”
Jack and Daniel shared a look, their eyes communicating that the conversation had probably run long enough for the moment.
“Okay, so about the Man Cave, we're open to another name,” Daniel advised the children. “The name is something that just evolved on its own. It's just a name; it's only a name. If you are really opposed to it ...”
“I'm not,” Brianna responded.
“Person Cave sounds funny,” Chenoa commented.
“People Cave is weird, too,” Lulu added.
“Human Cave?” David mused.
“I think we should just let Dad and Daddy call it a Man Cave,” Jennifer suggested. “It's not like we can't go inside and play pool as a family,” she looked at her parents, “right?”
“Absolutely,” Daniel consented.
“Of course,” Jack agreed, his words overlapping Daniel's. “Kids, it's a room. Now, yes, it's like the Bird's Nest in that it's mostly for Daddy and myself and because there will be a bar inside, you won't be able to go in by yourselves.”
“What about Aunt Sam?” Jenny queried.
“Aunt Sam is welcome in the Man Cave,” Jack put forth.
“And Aunt Suzanna,” Daniel added about his foster sister. “She loves pool.”
“It's an adult playroom,” Ricky commented, like we have the game room.
“Alright, family vote,” Jack stated. “All opposed to the name of 'Man Cave', raise your hands?” He chuckled at JD raising his hand, but said nothing. “All in favor of using the term 'Man Cave', raise your hands.” He counted. “That's eleven.”
“JD, you voted twice,” Daniel mused.
JD shrugged and answered, “I don't know what you're talking about.”
As the family laughed, Daniel called out, “Meeting's adjourned.”
“Ice cream in the rec room,” Jack added, walking over and picking up the youngest member of the family. “You're so cute,” he opined, kissing his laughing son.
Jeff was happy to be home from college for the Christmas break. He had just over three weeks before he'd begin the second term of his junior year. Time was marching along. The young man vowed to himself that he would make the best of this break since his conversation with Jennifer still lay heavily in the back of his mind.
Their time on Xanadu flew by and now Jack and Daniel were on their way home after three-plus serene and passionate days. The faraway planet had once again been a private paradise which had nurtured their nation of two and allowed it to thrive in supreme beauty. Back on Earth, however, the immediate beauty in their line of sight was the archaeologist's sleek silver sports car in which they were sailing along.
“Danny, I'll never forget the last few days,” Jack sighed contentedly.
“It was perfect,” Daniel opined. “It was great to see Korsha and everyone, but what I loved best was our time in our little makeshift cabin.”
Jack reached over to pat his lover's thigh as he declared, “You're all I ever need, Angel. You and me in alone on that tiny piece of ground was heaven.”
“Paradise,” Daniel agreed, reaching down to squeeze his Heart's hand for a moment.
“Still,” both men said together, causing both to laugh.
“I missed them.”
“Even that dang bird,” Jack admitted with a fond smile.
“I want this to be a perfect week, Babe,” Daniel stated. “Everyone will be home.”
“You think it'll be the last time?” Jack queried quietly.
“I think we have two children in college who are both very much in love with terrific people. They're doing something right now that most of their friends aren't doing.”
“Waiting to get their degrees before getting married,” Jack replied with a nod.
“I'm not sure we can rely on them continuing to wait, and I'm not sure that if they ask us about it that we should interfere at all.”
The general stared curiously at his archaeologist and asked, “Is there something I should know?”
Daniel chuckled, though it sounded very much like a sigh, “No, Babe, I don't think so, but it's the holidays and engagements tend to happen on Christmas Eve.”
“They wouldn't dare.”
“I hope you're right, for selfish reasons,” Daniel confessed. “I'm not ready to let go of Jen or Jeff. The time's going by too fast.”
Jack reached over and caressed the side of his Love's cheek for a moment and then tenderly replied, “Danny.”
“I know. They're already gone, but I don't have to act like I know that this year. I just want another year; maybe even two.”
There was a pause and then both laughed, “For selfish reasons.”
“Okay, Son, are you ready to see your scores?” Jack asked as he sat at his computer in the study.
“Yes,” David responded, though he was clearly was nervous.
Daniel, who stood behind David as they looked over Jack's shoulder, put his hands on David supportively and said, “No matter what, we love you and are proud of you. If you don't have the results you need, there's always another day.”
“I know, Daddy,” the Mouseketeer replied as he steeled himself for his results.
“Okay, here we go,” Jack stated as he typed on the keyboard.
This would determine David's immediate future. His SAT scores could be the key as to whether or not UCCS, or any college for that matter, accepted him. He took a breath. He'd been fairly confident that he'd done well, but sometimes after studying so hard for such an important test, perceptions failed.
“Way to go, Son!” Jack exclaimed when the scores came up.
“I did it!” David spoke almost in disbelief.
“You certainly did. In fact ...”
“You aced it,” Jack praised, looking up at the teenager for a moment. “Danny, look what our boy did.”
“I see,” Daniel observed as he continued to review the report, his hands patting David's shoulders proudly.
“Critical reading: 760, mathematics: 652, and writing: 693,” Jack read aloud. “Well done. Danny, this calls for a party.”
“It sure does.”
“I can go to college,” David spoke rhetorically, the emotion getting to him.
“You can do anything, David,” Daniel asserted. “The door's open now.”
David nodded and then shared hugs with his parents. He felt incredibly good about what he'd accomplished and that his dad and daddy were so proud of him.
Compared with all other students who took their SATs, the teenager's reading score was in the top ninety-ninth percentile, while his math score put him in the top eighty-eighth percent. His writing results were good enough to place him in the ninety-fifth percentile.
A few minutes later, the three left the study and gathered the rest of the family together for a huge party. They called their extended family and even though it was a weeknight and just a few days before Christmas, just about everyone showed up for at least a few minutes to share in the joy.
“David, we'd like you to open this now,” Daniel said at the height of the party while retrieving a gift from under the tree.
“It seems appropriate,” the archaeologist replied, looking over and smiling at his husband.
“Okay,” David agreed willingly and then began to rip off the festive reindeer Christmas wrap. The paper revealed a rather slim box. He smiled as most do right before removing the top of the box. Then he pushed back the red tissue paper and grinned. Removing the object, he let the box and remaining gift wrap fall to the floor. “Wow! This is so cool. Thank you.”
“What is it, David?” Jennifer asked curiously.
“A diploma,” David answered in awe, turning the diploma-mounted picture around to show everyone. “I didn't think I'd get one.”
“Of course, you get one,” Jack returned as he beamed at his son. “It's as real as any piece of paper any kid gets.”
“I love it. Thank you, Dad and Daddy,” David responded, holding the black frame close to his chest and then moving to give his parents a hug.
“David, let me see,” Chenoa requested, wanting a proper look. “He's my brother,” she stated happily after reviewing the appreciated document.
That kicked the party into an even higher gear and, for the time being, the diploma was placed on the mantel, in easy view of all.
The next morning, shortly after breakfast, Jeff hurried to his room to covertly check his email. He was hoping to have a response waiting for him in his inbox. Getting an affirmative reply to his request, he smiled, finished up his drawing, and then made the call, courtesy of the webcam.
“Hello, Jeff,” Alex greeted from the comfort of his condominium office. It was quite sophisticated and lavish and was getting even more so since he anticipated working at home more in order to be with his family. “What's up?”
“Thanks for the meeting, Alex,” Jeff stated from his much-less comfortable chair in front of his computer in his bedroom. “If Dad and Daddy knew I was talking to you right now, they wouldn't be happy.”
“Holidays?” the designer queried.
“Yeah. They're really on a kick this year about Jen and I being a part of everything.”
“You're a grown man now, Jeff. They know that and want to cherish every moment they still have with you.” Alex chuckled and confided, “A few months ago, I'm not sure I would have understood that, but now with Ella, I do.” Growing serious, he suggested, “Let's get to the point so you can rejoin your family.”
“Alex, have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with a design idea that just won't let go?”
“Some of my best,” the architect/designer chuckled. “I presume this has to do with the Man Cave?”
As he nodded, Jeff explained, “I want to push the west wall further west by six or seven feet. I haven't forgotten about the cabana; in fact, that is precisely *why* I want to do this. The back counter of the bar will be substantially smaller; the wall of the cabana is there at a forty-five-degree angle. I want to cut a door in the wall so there is access to the two bathrooms there from the Man Cave. We can cut down on the size of the one dressing room and closet a little to create the passageway. Like this.”
Jeff hit the button on his printer/scanner/fax machine to transmit his drawing to his mentor.
Receiving the paper, Alex reviewed the proposed floor plan. The back counter was indeed smaller. It housed a built-in refrigerator below and a second sink. The front edge of the counter was longer than the back edge due to the angle of the wall it butted up against.
“So you included a separate under-the-counter fridge in addition to the refrigerated drawers?”
“Yes, because there wasn't enough cold beverage storage. I know they love their beer. Well, Dad loves it, and Daddy goes along, or so he says.” Jeff chuckled, “I've heard a few stories from Uncle Lou, but don't tell them that.”
“Your secret is safe with me,” Alex mused as he continued to look over Jeff's plans.
“Anyway, Dad and Daddy aren't going to drink enough beer to keep a keg on tap all the time. The drawers will be nice to keep snacks and cold cuts for sandwiches, but they need space to keep a case or two on hand and that goes for soft drinks, too.”
“Yeah. They have their own version of the soda drink wars,” Jeff explained, grinning as he remembered a particular soda spat. “Daddy swears by Pepsi, and Dad is totally into Coke.”
“Where do you stand?” Alex asked, amused.
“I'm with Daddy on this one. Anyway, they might let some of the brood in sometimes, and even if they don't, Dad and Daddy probably won't always want something alcoholic.”
“Okay, you sold me. You know this makes the room larger.”
“I know, Alex, but it allows the six seats to be spread out in one semi-circle. I moved the love seat to the back. I was going to move everything down to the west further to resolve the conflict with access to the mechanical room, but what I did instead is put a set of stairs behind a door here, right next to the main part of the house. It cuts a few feet off the corner of the theater room, but it won't be missed. It allows the pool deck to be fifteen-feet deep with five feet of playing space all around the table, and it opens up the space with five feet of open space looking across into the bar and straight down into the theater room from the pool deck.”
“Jeff, I am really very impressed. You have refined the design every step of the way. It's important to see how and why a design evolves. It's also important to realize how one change can affect an entire area.”
“It's been a series of compromises. To do regular fold-down theater seats with just one love seat seems insulting to guests and to go to even eight is beyond the scope of this room's function,” Jeff explained. He sighed, “But with the extra width in the room, the floor can be poured almost completely on one level. If this wasn't strictly for the Man Cave, I'd say more is better because our family is only going to get bigger. In fact, I thought about making a separate theater room ...”
“Enough!” Alex laughed, sitting up straight and holding up his hand. “I am extremely proud of you, Jeff. You have the passion that even recruits your subconscious into working while you sleep. You incorporated the addition in a way that is better and provides easier bathroom access; and you are still mentally refining and considering alternatives for the design. You trust your instincts. Very, very good; excellent, in fact. Does everything else stay as before?”
“Yes, except in the theater area. I want to pour the foundation like this, so we have better viewing from the love seat in back for Dad and Daddy; then the semi circle row of six seats.
“Send me the revised blueprints when you have them. Now, when your parents aren't looking, you need to get together with the Little Man and inform him of the changes.”
“I will, *after* today's fun and games. I really am having a good time. I didn't mean to make it sound like I was upset about it or anything,” Jeff stated. “It's just I wish I could be here to see the Man Cave take shape.”
“I understand, but take it from someone who missed a lot of life by doing nothing but work, enjoy the holidays. It's great that you acted on your sleep idea, but we have time here since your parents aren't going forward until after the first of the year. It's Christmas. Enjoy it.”
“I will, Alex. Thank you. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas to you, too.”
That afternoon, Jack and Daniel made a spontaneous decision to talk with Little Danny about David's advancement to college. The young prodigy had made an offhand remark during lunch about how cool it was that his brother was going to experience college and expand his education.
The couple decided to hold the chat outside in the Pod, since that was where their genius was quietly reading, “Oliver Twist.”
**That's senior high school reading, Jack.**
The family had an extensive reading library and several classics were included there. The children were free to read any of the books that were in their part of the library.
“Sproglet, Dad and I want to talk a minute about your education and what your brother ...”
“David,” Jack clarified.
“Right, David,” Daniel agreed. “You know, he -- David -- has ... well, he ...”
“What Daddy is trying to say is that he's a pretty smart cookie, David, that is. Well, Daddy is, too, but we're talking about David.”
“Actually, we're talking about you,” the archaeologist corrected lightheartedly. “Little Danny, what we're trying to say is that education is important and it's a serious matter ...”
“Very important and very serious,” Jack interjected.
“Exactly, but so is playing and being a little boy. We, Dad and me, had serious discussions about whether or not to allow David to take his SATs and apply to college. It's, uh, well, it's ...”
“It wasn't an easy decision,” Jack admitted. “In fact, he came to us.”
“Yes, yes, he did.”
Little Danny watched his parents continue to stumble about as they talked to him. His curious blue eyes went back and forth as if he were in a car watching pieces of scenery racing by, second after second. He listened as they continued on in this manner for another couple of minutes, and then he just felt like it was time for him to say something.
“Dad, Daddy, I don't want to go to college yet. I'm too little, and I want to be a kid.”
“What?” Daniel asked with widened eyes.
“Son, you're reading a high school book right now,” Jack pointed out.
“Is that okay?”
“Of course it is,” Daniel responded. “It's just ...” Daniel let out a huge sigh, realizing he and Jack had botched the entire discussion. “All we're trying to say is that we could accelerate your studies, if you wanted to. We've tried very hard to let you and your brothers and sisters each learn at your own pace with just little nudges.”
“We like that,” Little Danny responded.
“You aren't ... bothered about David's advancement?” Daniel inquired. “I mean, uh, at lunch you sounded a little ...”
“... envious,” both parents stated together.
“I'm not envious,” the boy denied. “I'm happy for him and one day, I wanna go to college, too, but not now. I like the way you teach us.”
“I still have more languages to learn from you, Daddy, and you need to teach me more about history and strategy, Dad. I can learn more about life and knowledge and experience from you than I can from books. And as David learns more at college, I can learn from him, too. I'm gonna ask if he'll let me read his books.” Little Danny took a breath and continued, “I wouldn't mind going on more digs and working for J-O, but I know I'm still too little for that, too. No one would take me seriously, and I have heaps of time to do everything. I don't need to rush.” He looked up at them with a hopeful face as he suggested, “You could give me more translations and take me through the Stargate more, but that wouldn't be fair to the rest of the brood 'cause we all love going through the Gate. I can learn lots about other cultures just from reading. I'm really happy and I'm learning lots of stuff every day. Do I *have* to learn faster and go to college now?”
“No!” came the firm and concrete response from the grateful adults.
“Forget we said anything,” Daniel replied lightly.
“Don't give it another thought,” Jack added happily.
“I'm glad we had this talk,” Little Danny said, mimicking his parents. “I'm gonna go play now, okay?”
“Go. Play,” Jack permitted, waving his hand outward toward the yard.
As their son ran off, carrying his book with him, the parents leaned back on the swing and crossed their arms in front of them while rocking slowly.
“How is it we continue to have these discussions with Little Danny where it feels more like he's teaching us rather than us teaching him?”
“Because he is?”
“That's what I thought,” Daniel returned, rolling his eyes.
As the sun continued to move east, Jack and Daniel remained in the Pod, just swinging and pondering their amazing children.
Less than twenty-four hours later, merriment was in the air.
“Elves! Elves, where are you?” Jack called out over the intercom.
Knowing what was coming, eight children scampered down the stairs as quickly as they could. The four oldest of the brood were on their way as well, but not quite with that same 'have to get there now' feeling that young kids everywhere feel when it comes to presents.
**Geez, I love Christmas,** Jack communicated to his lover as he looked at all the bright, happy faces.
**Me, too,** Daniel concurred as he made a funny face at JD, causing him to giggle.
“It's time for the Christmas gift race,” Jack announced, adjusting his red Santa hat.
The children cheered, clapped, and some even jumped up and down in excitement.
“Race?” Brianna asked, amused at the idea.
“We're going to put you into teams of three,” Daniel explained. “Your goal is to find the clues that will lead you to Santa's surprise.”
“Whatever team gets there first not only gets to share in the surprise, but gets to open one of their presents right now,” Jack elaborated.
More excited cheers went up, along with a raised hand.
“Yes, Lulu?” Daniel called out.
“Do we still get to open a present tonight, even if we don't win the race?”
“Yes,” Daniel affirmed. “We always open one present tonight. That's not changing.”
“What are the teams?” Jonny queried, his mind already thinking of strategies on how to win the race.
“That's what this bowl is for,” Jack replied as he picked up the bowl from the counter that separated the kitchen nook from the living room.
“We're gonna draw,” Jenny surmised, seeing some folded papers in the bowl.
“With one exception,” Daniel returned. “After three-fourths of the teams are drawn, one from each team will draw a name out of this bag,” he explained as he picked up a small gift bag.
“I know!” Chenoa exclaimed.
“What?” Daniel asked curiously.
“That's gonna be Jen and Jeff and Bri and David because they're older,” Chenoa giggled.
“That's absolutely correct,” Daniel affirmed, smiling at the exuberant Curly Top. “They're going to be guides and they will help.”
Jack and Daniel both looked at their four eldest children, their eyes communicating that they were to help and be a part of the team, but should not steal the show. This race was really for the eight youngest children.
“Pick me,” David interjected. “I'm a better guide than this one,” he said, lightly jabbing Brianna in the arm.
“I don't think so. I can guide better than all three of you put together,” Brianna claimed as she jutted out her chin.
“Okay, enough smack,” Jack called out, reigning in the troops. Let's draw.”
“Wait, Dad!” Little Danny interjected. “The teams will be uneven.”
Jack thought, mentally adding in his mind, and then responded, “Nope. Twelve kids, four teams, three on a team. That's even.”
“What about Bij and Katie?”
“Oh, well, they helped us to plan the race, so they can't participate,” the crafty general answered.
“Okay,” the child prodigy acknowledged, totally accepting the answer.
“Here we go!” Daniel stated with a smile.
“On your mark,” Jack called out excitedly.
“Get ready,” Daniel added.
With robust enthusiasm, the general encouraged, “Ho, ho, ho, gooooo!”
This was one of the few times, running and scurrying through the house was permitted, as long as the children didn't hit or block their siblings so that it became dangerous. The quest for clues could take them anywhere inside or outside the house, though that wasn't specifically stated. Fortunately, the weather was cooperating so going outdoors wasn't prohibited. Sometimes to get their clues, the children would have to solve puzzles or complete a challenge.
The first team was made up of Jenny, Little Danny, and Jennifer, while the second team consisted of Jonny, Aislinn, and Brianna. JD, Lulu, and Jeff were team three, meaning that the fourth team was comprised of Chenoa, Ricky, and David.
The kids raced to the table in the hospitality area. Spread out on the table were a banana, a pear, a red pepper, and a cantaloupe. There were also an assortment of condiments like mayonnaise, catsup, pickles, olives, and whip cream. A cardboard plaque on the table provided directions on how to proceed.
“Make a Santa Claus from a food on this table and get it to stand up. Then show it to Dad in order to get your next clue.”
Little Danny snatched the banana immediately and led the decorating charge, but it was Jonny's team that finished first, making a Santa Claus out of the red pepper.
“Love the pickle eyes,” Jack laughed as he handed the winning team the next clue.
“Take a ride on the slide and run like mad or Little Miss Katie might bury your clue in China.”
“Her sandbox,” Aislinn whispered as the group headed outside.
“The slide!” Brianna called out, reminding the Munchkins on her team that they had to go down the slide first.
“You're being a good sport, Katie,” Daniel praised the beagle as he held her in his arms.
The beagle was watching in a quandary as her private play yard was invaded by the brood.
“Remember, you're being paid for letting the children dig around a little,” the archaeologist assured Katie.
Enthusiastically, Katie licked Daniel's face, causing him to laugh. Then she barked excitedly a few times, giving the brood her canine encouragement.
“Got it!” David called out, crawling away from the ongoing action. When his team had gathered around, he opened the envelop. “Okay, let's see.”
Ten minutes into the contest, two of the teams were working the current clue, which was, “Walk the plank and find your treasure.”
“Plank?” Jonny asked. “We don't have a plank here.”
“There's a plank at the cabin,” Aislinn responded.
“We can't go to Minnesota now, Ash,” Jonny complained.
“C'mon, guys. Where's your imagination?” Brianna challenged. “What's a plank?”
“A piece of wood,” Aislinn answered without hesitation.
“Na-huh,” Jonny refuted as he suddenly figured out the clue. “Come on.”
Aislinn and Brianna followed Jonny into the pool area, where he pointed at the diving board and observed, “It's a plank!”
“I hope they have the heat on,” Aislinn chuckled.
“We don't have our suits,” Jonny stated.
“There they are,” Brianna called out, heading over to the spot where four suits were laid out, the names of the four oldest children atop of each. The message was loud and clear. “Oh, well, I guess I'm going swimming. Be right back.”
“Dad and Daddy don't trust us,” Jonny whined, throwing his hands up.
“Maybe the heat's not on,” Aislinn giggled.
As the younger children wondered if it was lack of trust or a joke on the older children, Brianna changed into her suit.
“Walk the plank, Bri,” Aislinn giggled again.
“It had better be warm,” Brianna muttered as she stood on the diving board.
At the pool's bottom were four bundles of gold coins. Diving in, the tomboy went straight to the bottom, picked up her team's bundle, and surfaced.
“I'm returning all of Dad's and Daddy's presents,” Brianna whined in a shiver. “The heat isn't on.”
Jonny and Aislinn laughed loudly as they waved their sister over. Once she was out of the pool and wrapped in a warm towel, they opened the bundle. Inside a Ziploc bag was their next clue.
“Now that you've claimed your gold doubloons and after your guide has changed back into his/her warm clothing, hand the gold over to Egypt's son, for whom once is not enough. ”
“Oh crumb bunnies,” Aislinn sighed when two other teams entered the pool area. “We're gonna lose our lead. Think, Jonny.”
“I *am* thinking. My brain hurts because I'm thinking so hard,” the boy complained as his hands pressed against the sides of his head.
“David loves Egypt,” Brianna mentioned.
“So does Little Danny. It must have something to do with Little Danny,” Jonny surmised as he watched his fellow triplet urging his own team forward.
A minute later, on the other side of the pool, Jennifer dried her hair and left Jenny and Little Danny to try and figure out the clue's solution while she changed out of her bathing suit.
Little Danny paced back and forth, wondering what about himself might be the answer to the clue. Just as Jennifer returned, he let out a gasp.
“What?” Jenny called out.
Little Danny had already started to leave the pool area, but then he came back to grab his fellow teammates and instructed, “Follow me.”
Jennifer and Jenny exchanged a shrug but then followed the middle Munchkin, wondering why he had headed back outside and toward the rear quarter gate.
“Hey, we aren't supposed to go to Aunt Sam's through the gate without her knowing,” Jennifer warned.
“She knows,” Little Danny stated confidently. “Watch. It'll be open.”
“Through the gate,” Jennifer chuckled as the team reached their objective. ~Now that's funny.~
Sure enough, the gate between the Shanahan backyard and that of the Jackson-O'Neill's was just a tad ajar. No one could tell unless they were almost right in front of it.
“Close it almost all the way,” Jenny told her oldest sister. “We don't want them to see us.”
With the bundle of gold coins in his hand, Little Danny ran over to where Sam and Kevin were playing, the two seated on a pad on the back patio.
“Hi, Aunt Sam. Hi, Kevin,” Little Danny called out.
“Merry Christmas,” Sam greeted, smiling at the first group to tumble into this part of the game.
Little Danny extended his gold bundle towards Kevin and said, “Kevin, here's the gold for Egypt's son. Do you have my clue?”
“Gold for Egypt's son,” the autistic youngster repeated. “Clue for gold.”
Kevin had made a lot of progress over the years. He was smiling now as he reached out to take the gold bundle, and then he reached into his pocket and handed over an envelope to Little Danny.
“Thanks, Kevin. We'll play later, okay?”
“Play with Little Danny later, Mommy?”
“Sure,” Sam agreed.
“Okay, we play later,” Kevin told the Munchkin.
“Bye, Aunt Sam, Kevin,” Jennifer called out.
“Bye!” Jenny echoed, running and waving behind her at the same time.
Sam grinned and continued to play with her son, watching, too, to make sure the eager racing team didn't close the gate completely. She was so happy with Kevin's progress. The exchange that had just occurred would have been impossible before the family had gone to Egypt with the Jackson-O'Neills a couple of years ago. Since then, Kevin's improvement had skyrocketed.
Meanwhile, the race for the extra present opening privilege continued.
The lead changed several times throughout the twenty-minute long chase, and as the last clue was handed out, it was anyone's race to win.
“You've accomplished so much and you have so much. The answer is here and the solution elsewhere. When you figure out the next move, you will have completed the race.”
“What does that mean?” Jenny asked her team.
Huddling together as they opened their clue, Aislinn stated in confusion, “I don't get it.”
Lulu and her team stared around the living room. This is where the race had begun. Decorations were everywhere, and the tree was so beautiful. Beneath the tree and all around it were presents. Many more were in the recreation room beneath the tree that had been placed in that room.
“We're missing something,” Little Danny whispered to his team, breaking away from them to examine every inch of the living room.
“Ricky, what do you think it means?” Chenoa asked her little brother, who just shrugged.
The four oldest had actually figured it out, but this was a time for their younger siblings to shine and from exchanging looks with their parents, they all knew their job would be only to confirm, if asked.
“Missing something,” Little Danny mumbled as he looked at the mantle where he saw his mother gazing down at him. ~Mommy's so pretty,~ he thought. “Mommy,” he mumbled, putting his hand over his mouth and hoping no one else had heard him. Then he saw it. It was right next to the photograph of Kayla Armentrout.
'It' was a note from Molly O'Hanlon who, with some friends, had started a very small shelter for children in Ireland. It wasn't anything like the place she had run in Colorado Springs, but it did provide warmth and comfort to about a dozen orphans. According to Molly, being around the children was making her feel alive in her senior years. However, the kids there were in need of clothes and accessories. It was too late to send Christmas presents, but many had birthdays coming up.
“Hurry!” Little Danny called out to his team, leading them upstairs.
“Huh?” Jonny called out.
Suddenly, Chenoa gasped and waved her team over.
“Oh, geez,” Jonny whined dejectedly as Chenoa's team ran up the stairs.
“Jonny, I know!” Aislinn called out.
Lulu shrugged and picked up JD, saying, “I'm sorry, JD. I don't know what the answer is.”
“Love you, Lulu,” JD responded, giving her a hug. “It's okay; we're having fun.”
As she held on to her little brother, that's when Lulu saw Molly's note and remembered what it said. Her parents had read it to the children a couple of times during the past week.
“JD, I do know. Let's go.”
As they hurried up the stairs, Jenny and Little Danny were coming down the stairs.
“Jen, hurry,” Jenny shouted.
“Here I come,” Jennifer called out as she rounded the corner.
With big, exhausted smiles, Jenny, Little Danny, and Jennifer stood before their parents, each holding three items.
“Now I know why you didn't want us to open these yet,” Jenny chuckled while still catching her breath.
“Thank you,” Daniel acknowledged. “Put them on the coffee table, please.”
Soon, the rest of the teams had returned, stacking their items atop the coffee table as instructed.
“We have a lot, so we needed to give some of what we have to Mrs. O'Hanlon,” Little Danny stated when the entire brood was done.
After receiving Molly's letter, the Jackson-O'Neills had gone shopping, only the kids hadn't been told why. They just thought they were replacing old clothes and accessories. While they were, Jack and Daniel had intentionally purchased more than what their children needed. However, each of the kids had chosen a game, toy, or electronic gizmo. This would really be their sacrifice because they had only purchased one of these.
“It's okay, Major Matt,” Jenny giggled at the latest version of the Major Matt Mason doll that had just hit the market for the holidays. “I'll save up and buy one of your cousins.”
“Okay, well, the winners are Jenny, Little Danny, and Jennifer,” Daniel declared.
“Yah!” Jenny and Little Danny cheered.
“High five,” Jennifer requested, exchanging enthusiastic victory slaps with her siblings.
“Thanks to you, Molly's kids will have some new clothes, scarves, jewelry, and ... shoes,” Daniel announced as he reviewed the stacked items.
“And a lot of toys for their birthdays this year,” Jack added. Then he smiled and asked, “Did everyone have fun?”
Katie beat the kids to the punch, woofing and wagging her tail.
“Admit it,” Jack began. “It's your new toys for your play yard that's getting you all excited.”
“And that big bone,” Daniel mused about the bone that was at the beagle's feet.
Happily, Katie picked up her bone and paraded it around the room. She seemed to be saying that the family could borrow her play yard any time for rewards like the ones she'd been given today.
After the winning team had opened their presents, Chenoa asked her parents, “What now?” as she wondered what was next on the schedule.
“Well, Dad and I are going to put these gifts in some boxes so we can take them to be properly packaged and mailed after Christmas, but we were thinking that you might want to write a note to the child in Ireland who might get your gifts.”
Chenoa smiled and said, “I'll tell her why I picked green,” and then hurried up to her room, eager to write her letter.
As the children scattered to write their letters, Jack and Daniel shared a quick kiss. They were proud of their brood, who loved to give just as much as they did to receive. There hadn't been one sour face or pouty expression. There had been no sighs or sounds of discontent, not even from the three losing teams.
“We have a lot to celebrate, Angel,” Jack opined.
“We sure do, Babe,” Daniel concurred, hugging his lover for a moment. “I'll get the boxes.”
“I'll separate these by category,” Jack advised and then began to sort through the donated items. “I love Christmas.”
It wasn't but four minutes later when JD toddled downstairs and stared at his parents as they worked on the separating and boxing.
“JD, do you need help with your letter?” Daniel asked.
As the little boy shook his head, Jack and Daniel saw the Munchkins, the Spitfires, and the Curly Tops gathering behind JD. Almost apologetically, David and Brianna also stood behind the children. Obviously, there had a been a partial meeting of the brood upstairs and somehow or another, JD was the leader of this particular congregational gathering.
“Okay, what's happening?” Daniel inquired somewhat hesitantly.
JD answered, “We have a question.”
“Hit us with it,” Jack urged, getting down on his haunches to talk to JD.
“We're giving all of that,” JD answered, pointing to all the presents being sorted on the table. “What are *you* giving?”
The other children all stared at their parents with pointed expressions on their faces. It didn't matter that Jack and Daniel had paid for these gifts earlier in the week. They had been gifts given to the brood fair and square. Now they wanted to know what sacrifice their parents were going to give.
“Ah, well ...” Daniel began, turning to look at Jack.
“We're paying to mail this,” Jack offered, hoping the brood would accept that answer.
“Doesn't count,” Little Danny responded, his arms crossed in front of his chest.
“Well, we did buy a new blanket for the bed, Jack. They need it more than we do,” Daniel put forth to his husband. **Nice try, Husband mine, but the children have got us yet again.**
“I doubt Molly has the kids in a king bed,” Jack refuted as he stood back up.
“No, no, I'm sure she doesn't, but think of the fun they could have watching TV together, or something,” Daniel suggested brightly.
“Peanuts?” Jack offered, referring to a case of peanuts he'd purchased.
“Dad!” Jonny rebuked. He glared and reminded, “I'm giving up my brand new karate suit *and* my build-a-fort kit.”
“Okay, okay. I'll send a case of Froot Loops,” Jack offered with a sigh. He muttered to his husband, “This is a tough group.”
Satisfied, JD turned and began back up the stairs to finish his letter. His siblings followed suit until Brianna was the only one left.
With a smirk, the tomboy called out, “You know what they say, Dad -- give until it hurts.”
“Cheeky brat,” Jack returned, breaking out into a smile. “Was that all JD's idea?”
“Yeah,” an amazed Brianna affirmed before heading back to her room.
“Scary,” Daniel chuckled, proud of JD.
“A whole case of my Loops, Danny,” Jack whined half-heartedly.
“Jack, it's okay,” Daniel assured, placing his hand on his Love's shoulder. “We can buy more. The Froot Loops fairy told me so.”
As Daniel chuckled and Jack sighed, the clock ticked onward. Soon it would be time for dinner and then for the children to open their Christmas Eve presents. The real fun would come the next morning with Santa's visit. Christmas at the Jackson-O'Neills was always a spectacle of fun and warmth, and this year would not be any different.
Most of the kids had opened their Christmas Eve presents when Jack pulled out an envelope that was festively covered with holiday gift wrap.
“Jeff, I have no clue what this is, but it arrived by special messenger this morning with a request to give this to you tonight,” Jack advised as he extended out his hand which held the thin, eight-by-eleven envelope.
Taking possession of the envelope, Jeff looked it over. There wasn't a 'To/From' tag on it. He gently tore off the Christmas wrap, but still there were no markings to indicate who it was from or what it was. With a shrug, he lifted up the clasp and then ran his fingers along the inside of the flap to open it up. With great curiosity, he removed the documents that were inside and began to read them. Now and then a smile would flash across his face as he read the papers, and at one point even a pleased chuckle escaped from his throat.
“Okay, we've been patient enough. Spill!” Jack ordered, wanting in on the surprise.
“It's from UC. My work assignment has changed for next semester,” Jeff stated.
“Not Kansas City?” Daniel questioned, knowing that was where Jeff had been assigned to work for an A-class architectural firm for several months.
“No, it's someplace much more exciting than that,” Jeff answered, beaming even as he became a bit emotional. “Wow.”
“Son, we're waiting,” Jack reminded impatiently.
“I've been reassigned this term to work for Archonics Ltd. in Colorado Springs, Colorado,” the young man announced. Holding up a note that had been included from Bryon Stone's partner, Alex Dennison, he added excitedly, “And my first assignment from Archonics is the Man Cave.”
**He's going to be home, Jack.**
The parents hugged their son tightly as they rejoiced. They knew Jeff was all grown up now, but they just wanted a little more time with their oldest son. The clock was ticking. Someday very soon, Jennifer and Jeff would strike off on their own and even though there would still be ten other children home, the house would become very quiet with their absences.
While the children continued to cheer and look over Jeff's shoulder as he read and re-read every line of the note, Jack quietly went into his study for a minute to send a text message. At the same time, Daniel headed for the kitchen, ostensibly to bring out some more cookies. However, he, too, sent off a text message.
In another part of Colorado Springs, Alex laughed and called out, “Sunny, come here.”
“What's so funny?” Sunny asked, wiping her hands on a dish towel as she was washing baby bottles.
“Jeff must have opened his present,” Alex deduced. “Look, two messages from Jack and Daniel, seconds apart.”
Sunny sat down, reclining into her husband's loving hold as she read the messages with them.
“Alex, I know you probably won't understand this, but thanks for Jeff's gift. I think it probably means more to me than it does to him. I'm very grateful.”
“Daniel is so sweet. What does Jack's say?” Sunny asked curiously.
“Thx. Jeff's gft = more a gift 2me than 2him. Jst thx.”
“That's Jack, Mister Abbreviation,” Alex mused.
“I know having Jeff work for Archonics is going to be great for the company, but it sounds like it's going to be great for the Jackson-O'Neills, too,” Sunny purported.
“Family's important. Jeff really wanted to see this job through, and Byron's been impressed with what I've shown him. We might just hire him one day.”
Sunny gave her husband a kiss and got up to return to her previous task, but then she stopped and slowly turned back around. She suddenly had the feeling that there was something more to the story.
“Alex, did you do this for Archonics, or for Jack and Daniel?”
“Both,” Alex answered with a confident smile. “I wanted him to work on the Man Cave, and ...”
“Sunny, we, *I*, owe Jack and Daniel so much. Jeff is going to be an asset for Archonics. He'll learn, but ...”
“You're so wicked, Alex,” Sunny accused lovingly. Smiling, she returned to her true love to give him a kiss. “I'm so proud of you.”
“It's a sound business decision,” Alex insisted, tightening his hold on his soulmate.
“And a sound emotional one, too,” Sunny maintained, loving the smile that was on her conniving spouse's face. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Sweetheart.”
The new year had begun with a bang, literally, as the sounds of a bulldozer had begun work outside the Jackson-O'Neill home. Christmas had been everything the lovers had hoped for and with Jeff home working for Archonics and supervising the Man Cave construction, 2017 was starting out great.
One weekend, the family accompanied the Cardozas to a medieval role playing event. Jennifer, Chenoa, and Jenny had made some quick costumes for the family. Since attending the game had been a relatively last minute decision, the costumes weren't up to the girls' usual sewing standards, but it was enough to allow everyone to fit in.
The Jackson-O'Neills passed muster at the check-in, and their weapons were also approved, as was mandatory at all of these events. No one knew that the metal being used was anything but PVC piping.
The children had a great time hamming it up, especially Jonny, who finally had a weapon he could use in playtime. Brianna, David, Aislinn, and the Spitfires all took to the medieval fighting and role playing and asked their parents if they could attend further sessions with the Cardozas, something their parents said they'd consider.
Finally, though, it was time for the grand unveiling of the latest addition to the Jackson-O'Neill home. Jeff was proud of his work, but he was equally proud of the assistance he'd received from his Spitfire brother. For that reason, he wanted Ricky to have the shining moment in leading the family inside. The two brothers and Alex had just completed their own final walk-through and felt it was time to show off their creation.
Quietly, Jeff had rounded up the rest of the brood, including Bijou and Katie, positioning them in the recreation room.
“Now, Alex?” Ricky asked excitedly, his enthusiasm bubbling over now that the children were gathered together.
“Now, Little Man,” Alex affirmed with a nod, glancing over at Jeff, who was all smiles.
Ignoring the house rule about no running, the youngster tore through the house, running upstairs to his daddy's den. He knew that's where both of his parents were, and he couldn't wait to get their attention.
“Dad, Daddy, I have something to show you,” Ricky called out, beckoning for them to follow him. “Hurry!” he exclaimed as he scooted down the stairs as fast as he could.
“Are we supposed to ignore the fact that he obviously ran up the stairs?” Jack questioned his husband, watching the Spitfire leave a literal smoke trail in his wake.
“I think so,” Daniel responded, putting down his pen and pushing back his chair. “Let's go see what's so important.” As he stood, he asked, “Babe, why did we put in an elaborate intercom system when no one uses it?”
“Because Alex told us to, thinking we'd actually use it?” Jack responded lightly.
“I suppose that's reasonable,” Daniel mused dryly as the couple walked into the hallway and proceeded downstairs.
The couple thought the Man Cave was at least another three or four days from being complete, so they had no reason to suspect that it was in any way responsible for Ricky's exuberance.
Obediently, Jack and Daniel followed the vaporizing trail of the Spitfire. When they walked into the recreation room, they discovered that all of the children were gathered in front of the art wall, all wearing big smiles.
“This way,” Ricky instructed, leading the way inside the game room.
Walking inside the play area, which had been off limits for the past few weeks while the Man Cave was being constructed, Jack immediately noticed something new.
“Daniel, we have French doors,” Jack observed brightly, nudging his lover.
“You have a Man Cave,” Ricky stated, making his voice sound as huge as it could possibly be. “Look!” he exclaimed, opening the doors and walking inside the new room.
With the rest of their children standing back and waiting, the lovers approached the newly opened French doors and entered slowly, as if afraid their new retreat would vanish into the mist like the mythical city of Brigadoon.
“Whoa!” Jack exclaimed.
“You can say that again,” Daniel responded, looking around in awe.
“Whoa!” Jack repeated with a pleased smirk, enjoying the roll of eyes that his husband gave him.
The room looked and felt like an old British country club bar. The flooring was obviously not new. It didn't have the smooth shine of the rec room floor; rather, it was dark with the patina of age and weather.
There was an eight-sided card table with five chairs on casters around it. At the moment, it was open to display its poker table usage, complete with a recessed playing area covered with green felt, each side having its own recesses for poker chips and a cup holder. The edge and the rim of the tables were covered in deep, deep forest green-aged leather. The chairs looked and were remarkably comfortable. They had open backs and arms covered in the same leather as the seats, the same luxurious supple dark green leather as the table edges.
Nearby on display was the removable smooth surface that could be placed atop the poker table to transform it into a simple flat table for other uses.
Across the room was another set of French doors leading to the outside and to the left was the bar.
The bar began three feet away from the wall that contained the entrance into the Man Cave. It went several feet toward the opposite wall, curved ninety degrees to the left, and continued until it touched the side wall. The open passageway continued to a door at a forty-five-degree angle which led into the cabana, allowing easy access to the two bathrooms and the swimming pool area.
Behind the bar was a wall that looked almost like it had been transplanted right out of O'Malley's. The wood had that same 'old world' feeling. The walls had crown molding along with wainscoting, raised moldings, and baseboards. The upper walls were covered in rich hunter green and cranberry paisley striped wallpaper. At the very back of the room, behind the seating at the 'L' of the bar, there was a professional electronic scoring dart set. The beams overhead were heavy timbers.
Jack was eager to see the setup behind the bar. Of note was a small double sink with three bottle brushes inverted in one side.
“That's for you to keep the glasses washed,” Daniel teased as he joined his lover.
“We'll flip for it,” Jack compromised teasingly.
The wand that dispensed soft drinks, water, and club soda was there, along with three beer taps.
“Danny, watch.” Jack noticed that there were an assortment of shot glasses, mugs, highball, and whiskey tumblers on pullout trays. He took three shot glasses and began to juggle them, causing the children to laugh. “I've still got it,” he mused happily.
“Break one, and I'll have to return your Christmas present,” Daniel pointed out.
“Wouldn't want that,” Jack laughed, bringing the three shot glasses to a safe landing and putting them back where they belonged.
The couple examined the white and red wine stemware that hung from overhead racks, along with martini goblets and champagne flutes.
The appliances included a narrow dishwasher with racks to hold lots of glasses and snack plates, two refrigerated and two warming drawers, an espresso machine, and a professional style blender built into the countertop.
“Jack, I don't remember discussing appliances, except to say we didn't want to go overboard with a third full service kitchen,” Daniel remarked.
“No stove, no full-size fridge,” Jack observed. With a shrug, he concluded, “I guess this qualifies as 'not overboard'.”
Looking around some more, the couple noticed the thirty-two-inch TV that was above the back bar.
“Cable bill's going up,” Jack sighed.
“Times four,” Daniel reminded, knowing there were two smaller units in the pool room, not to mention the large screen in the theater area, which they'd yet to see in this big reveal of the Man Cave.
“Brood alert,” the general mumbled. “We told them these were going to be little TVs.”
“We?” Daniel questioned quietly as the unplanned marital huddle continued.
“Angel, you aren't going to leave me stranded, all alone on the TV boat, are you?” Jack asked, his bottom lip quivering, giving Daniel a puppy-eyed look.
“Yeahsureyabetcha,” the archaeologist smirked, handing his spouse an invisible paddle and then walking away.
“Traitor,” Jack groaned, looking over and seeing Jenny's glare. ~I sense a re-negotiation coming.~
“Dad, Daddy, you need to see this,” Jeff called out, pointing towards another area.
The stairs next to the wall led down to the theater area. Jeff led them up the stairs next to those, to a room that was fifteen-feet wide and twenty-two-feet long. Before they even stepped up onto the third level, Jack and Daniel were awed by the absolutely stunning pool table of professional quality before them. With approximately five feet of playing room all the way around the table, it was really quite spacious.
The couple gaped, speechless as they ran their fingers over the smooth gorgeous cherrywood. There was a dark green cloth that made up the playing surface of the nine-foot-long pool table.
“Olhausen,” Jack noted. “Great choice.” Mentally, he communicated, **We have a pretty sneaky brood, Danny. When did they manage to get all this furniture in here, and how?**
**I sense a co-conspirator or two, or three, or six.**
**Ah! Those meetings Landry and Karissa called for things that could have been handled over the phone, or even by fax?**
**I offered to help Pete move some things around the other day, and he did everything but physically block me from going into their garage,** Daniel noted, surmising that the Shanahans and maybe even Mrs. Valissi had loaned out their garage space for delivery and storage of Man Cave furniture and equipment.
**But there aren't any tire or foot tracks,** the covert operations specialist pointed out.
**You've been checking?**
**Don't even pretend you haven't,** Jack returned pointedly.
**Okay, I won't.**
**Thor!** both men thought in unison, suppressing giggles at the visual of the little gray butt alien with a mug of beer, a cigar, and a pool cue.
**Only our kids would think to use an alien to deliver furniture,** Jack mused.
**I wonder how Jeff notes that on his expense sheet.**
**Pay to the order of Thor, Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet. Yep, works for me.**
Facing into the room from the stairwell, recessed in the wall to their right, all the way back to the corner was a niche two steps up. It was a booth just big enough for two, and the table in between the one-person upholstered bench seats was inlaid with a chessboard.
Jack sat down and motioned for Daniel to sit opposite him. The wall had a shelf to hold two glasses and a small tray of snacks. Daniel hit the light switch and a light came on that illumined only the square of the chessboard. The seats were extremely comfortable and obviously designed for long periods of use. They had contours for posteriors and thighs, and lumbar supports for the lower back.
“I can't wait to use this,” Jack sighed contentedly.
“Me, too, but ...”
“Eyes, Danny, lots of eyes,” Jack whispered about their peering children.
“Soon,” Daniel promised as the couple slid out of the booth.
At the other end of the room in each corner was a small square table and two leather chairs on casters, so that if there was a long rotation at the pool table, guests could sit down, sip their drink and talk while they waited their turns. The pool cue rack was mounted on the wall between chairs and tables. This was the outer wall that was closest to Mrs. Valissi's home.
The transparent inside wall was a just over four-feet tall with a three-inch-thick wood top. It was convenient to lean on, but tall enough to be safe for children and pets who might sneak in unnoticed, like the two beagles that were currently peering around the new space along with the children.
From the bar level, looking up you could see the pool table level, while looking down you saw the theater room. This made it easy for those on the mid and upper levels to lean on the railings and converse with people on the different levels.
Looking out to the front lawn was a large eyebrow dormer which spanned most of the room's twenty-two feet.
“This is absolutely wonderful,” Daniel praised.
“I'll second that,” Jack agreed. Looking above the pool cue rack and then back behind him, he spotted the two twenty-five-inch Samsung televisions. “There are the other two money suckers.”
“You wanted the TVs, Babe,” Daniel reminded.
“And we're glad you did, Dad,” Jenny chimed in brightly since she and her siblings were benefiting by getting televisions for their rooms, too.
“Daniel, it's not times four, it's times ...” Shaking his read and realizing he'd been wrong at the additional number of TVs which was actually more than four, Jack sighed, “I don't even want to think about all the cable connections this room has cost us.”
“Good idea, not to think,” Daniel agreed. **Spitfire alert. I think he wants us to notice something; he looks like he's going to burst.**
Jack looked at Ricky, who was practically becoming one with the transparent wall and railings. He looked both proud and sly at the same time.
“Hey, whose idea was it to have this great see-through wall?”
Not really comprehending the big deal about the added televisions and how each new TV meant an additional fee for a connection on the monthly cable bill, Ricky was excited at having been noticed and eager to see his parents' reactions to this particular idea.
The youngster jumped up and down while answering, “Mine. I wanna learn how to play pool.”
“And?” Daniel prompted, walking with his husband over to the enthusiastic child and kneeling down.
“Alex wanted just a railing here, and I thought like me,” Ricky explained cryptically.
“More detail,” Jack requested, raising an eyebrow and enjoying Ricky's excitement.
“Jack, my original idea was to have a simple, yet sophisticated railing that ran along these two spaces. Little Man here pointed out that the kids can be a little rambunctious, even when they don't mean to be,” Alex explained.
“Kids will be kids,” Ricky stated, bobbing his head up and down after having had recited a phrase he'd heard Jack say numerous times.
“And when Ricky brought it up, I started thinking about the cats and the dogs,” Jeff interjected.
Daniel glanced at Jack and then responded by tickling Ricky in the abdomen lightly and congratulating, “Well thought out, Ricky, because you're right. There's no way Dad and I would allow the younger children up here.”
“Will you teach me pool now?” Ricky asked, his eager eyes looking expectantly at his fathers.
“We sure will,” Jack promised proudly as he stood up. “It's good protection for those dang cats, too. They get into places ...”
“They just like to explore, Dad,” Lulu interrupted on behalf of her beloved Calico and the other family cat, Mittens. Then she added with a grin, “They just take after Daddy and Little Danny.”
Snickers were heard around, while Daniel and his namesake shared a closed smile and shrug.
“You know,” Daniel began thoughtfully, his eyes focused on the pool table, “this could actually make a great ... physics lesson.”
“Physics?” Brianna cried out in utter disbelief.
“Actually, Daddy's right,” Jeff concurred.
“I'll talk to Aunt Sam,” Daniel advised the brood. “You can all learn pool as part of your home studies.”
“Get that look of dread off your faces,” Jack ordered. “Think how cool you're going to be with your friends when you tell them that for homework you have to play pool.”
Jonny grinned and said, “I like it when you say it like that, Dad.”
Jack shared his son's grin until his husband glared at him. Fortunately, the general's discomfort ended when the oldest Spitfire spoke up.
“You still haven't seen the coolest part yet,” Ricky interjected. “Even if the wall and the chess nook were *my* ideas,”' he added, his nine-year-old chest puffing with pride.
“And we will certainly enjoy it, Ricky,” Jack assured happily.
“Now I can be more comfortable when I beat Dad at chess,” the younger father chimed.
“You mean *I* can be more comfortable when I let Daddy win,” Jack teased, even though he knew that the reality was that Daniel was a better chess player than he.
The banter continued as the two fathers were escorted to the lower level of their manly paradise.
Going down the stairs, the lovers were impressed with the home theater part of their Man Cave.
“Oh, yeah, baby,” Jack sing-song as he essentially hopped onto the love seat. Patting the other side, he leered lustfully at his husband while beckoning, “Come to daddy.”
“Daddy is Daddy,” JD reminded his silver-haired father, thankfully not understanding the reference.
“Time and place, Jack,” Daniel chastised sternly. “Hey, look at that screen.”
Along with the huge eighty-four-inch Mitshubishi TV screen and the love seat, the home theater level included two three-person seating units which were side-by-side in an arc. The love seat actually rested on a platform that was two steps up and behind these seats. This meant that a total of eight people could comfortably enjoy whatever might be showing on the large screen. Fifteen feet of the room's twenty-foot width was covered by ceiling, which included the pool level high above.
The recliner chairs were made of a soft and durable fabric called CineSuede. It would make any clean up from spills a snap while still providing a very cozy feeling to those using them. For additional comfort, the headrest was adjustable as well. They all had cup holders and arms that could raise or collapse per the preferences of the users.
Jenny shook her head and teased, “Spoiled.” She looked up at the pool level way above and made out the flat-screen TV that was visible on one wall. That was in addition to the other TV located on the other side of the pool area and the one in the bar. ~Hmmm. We have our TVs now, too, but we may need to discuss size and options. Those aren't small TVs, Dad.~
“The sound system is kick-a..., ah, that is the speakers are precisely placed. You can really rock out in here,” Jeff stated as he blushed at his parents, who looked away, stifling giggles at their eldest son's Freudian slip.
**Jack, he's on his own. We can't control what he says away from home, and it's not like we haven't dropped a few good ones in our lifetimes.**
**I know, Angel, and I don't think he uses really bad language. I was just remembering the first time I used profanity in front of my mother. I was twenty-three, and she still slapped my mouth. Dad laughed for a week.**
“What the young man means to say is that the acoustics are solid. You can pump up the volume without bothering anyone in the game room or any other part of the house,” Alex interjected.
“Is this the same type of acoustic paneling that we have in the rec room, Alex?” Daniel inquired as he studied the inner wall.
“You're correct, so you know it works,” Alex replied.
Unlike the plush carpet of the pool area, the theater level had industrial grade carpeting.
“About the colors ...” Alex began.
“They were my idea,” Ricky boasted.
“I wanted taupes and grays, Alex preferred a black, silver, and white combination, Dad wanted the entire Man Cave to be blue, Daddy wanted as much as possible to be burgundy,” Jeff stated, smiling at his parents and their obvious color battle.
Alex chuckled, Jack smirked, and Daniel simply shrugged and rolled his eyes while the rest of the brood let out a collective sigh, having lived with the blue versus burgundy war for much of their lives.
Jack's blue fetish for Daniel was pretty much common knowledge, especially for Little Danny who had worn almost nothing but blue for the first five years of his life. It was the price he paid for being Daniel's namesake and inheriting his younger father's stunning blue eyes.
While Daniel had kept his desire for having his husband adorned in everything burgundy quiet until the big house remodeling, the children now knew all about his preferences. He was always more sedate in his requests, but the smile and expression with which he reacted to seeing Jack in burgundy attire was unmistakable.
“Nice compromise,” Jack observed as he ran his hand across the headrest of the nearest chair to him.
“Very nice, Ricky,” Daniel agreed as he looked around.
The carpet was a rust color with spiral black and gray diamond patterns throughout, while the chairs and love seat were dark tan with the same spiral patterns from the carpet on the custom-made headrest covers, only they were a blended combination of burgundy and rust that melded in nicely with the main furniture hue while also adding just a speck of color to the decor.
On the theater level, there were a couple of waste bins and a small cabinet/table where snacks could be stored or set on so that users didn't have to go all the way upstairs for refills.
“Jack, look,” Daniel called out as he walked over to the DVD unit. He picked up a lone DVD that had been placed strategically atop the machine. “The Pajama Game.”
Full of smiles, the general replied, “Hernando, here we come!”
There was one more area for Jack and Daniel to see and that was what was beyond the French doors on the outer wall. This was back on the ground level of the Man Cave, right across from the game room entrance to the manly room.
Beyond the stylish doors was a ten-foot-wide by fourteen-foot-long patio made of beautifully tiled teak wood. To the right was a luscious outdoor fire pit which was perfect for romantic evenings or just having a fire to roast marshmallows over.
The patio was lit by elegant outdoor park-like lanterns, each of which had four lights per unit.
“Danny, a swing,” Jack observed almost immediately noticing the teak-bench swing that was just beyond the fire pit.
“You can sit there and look up at the stars together,” Ricky pointed out proudly.
“Your idea?” Daniel surmised from the extra twinkle in the Spitfire's eyes.
“Uh-huh,” Ricky acknowledged, beaming since he could tell his parents liked the comfortable swing.
“Just the right size,” Jack opined, putting his arm around his lover's shoulders as they sat and rocked slowly for a minute or two. “Yep, this is the life.”
On the far left hand side of the patio deck was a small table with four chairs around it. Closer to the halfway point were two weather-resistant recliners that looked like they belonged indoors; yet, they were made specifically for the outdoors.
“I like it,” Jack declared.
“I *love* it,” Daniel corrected.
“You just had to outdo me, didn't ya,” the older man teased, acting like he was going to initiate a sparring round with his Love, which prompted the children to laugh.
“We increased the height of the fence a couple of feet for added privacy,” Jeff told his parents.
“Do you like the evergreens?” Ricky questioned curiously. “We weren't sure which bushes to use.”
“They're great,” Jack praised about the new bushes that lined the fence, giving the patio a totally green feel and which also helped in the privacy area.
“I love this rock decor,” Daniel stated, kneeling down for a closer look at the rock lining that essentially encased the entire patio and then ran in an 'S' pattern down the middle.
“That was my idea,” David admitted. “You liked the walkway I did at Grandpa's and even though you didn't need a walkway here, I thought you might like something similar, so I mentioned it to Jeff and this is what he came up with.”
“Good job,” Jack praised, proud of all his sons.
“Wow, this is all just ... just more than I could have imagined,” Daniel remarked, standing and taking another look before heading back inside.
“It's a dream,” Jack agreed.
Jack and Daniel were thrilled by their completed Man Cave. It was everything they'd imagined and more. With the tour over, they hugged Jeff and Ricky and shook Alex's hand in appreciation.
“It's exactly what we ordered, and we didn't even know what we were ordering,” Daniel mused as the family exited the Man Cave.
“Now you and Dad have your own special place,” Aislinn stated happily.
“We sure do, Princess,” Jack agreed. “Alex, Jeff, Ricky, good job. Let's celebrate with ice cream.”
“Yeah!” the children exclaimed.
“Alex, will you stay and join us?”
“Thank you, Jack, but I need to get home to Sunny and Ella.” Seeing Little Danny's mouth opening and certain it was going to be to say something about his English bulldog, Alex added, “and Eleanor. I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to personally see your reaction to the Man Cave.”
“Very satisfied,” Jack stated, ecstatic about the new room. ~Our personal paradise,~ he thought as he looked at his soulmate.
“One more thing. Sam updated the security system to include the Man Cave. I don't know the particulars, for all of the obvious reasons, but she's expecting a call from you this evening so that she can advise you of whatever it is that she did. If you have questions, I'll be in my office most of the day tomorrow.”
“Thanks again, Alex,” Daniel replied, shaking the man's hand.
“I'll see myself out.”
As Alex left the recreation room, Jack called out, “Okay, ice cream!”
The children happily headed for the hospitality room, leaving their parents to share a quick kiss.
“We have ourselves a couple of superb architects, Angel. Maybe we should diversify J-O and add another division.”
“I don't think Byron and Alex would like that,” Daniel laughed.
Jack chuckled, “We can merge.”
Still smiling, the happy couple joined their cheerful family, all feeling great and enjoying this time together.
Two evenings later, the family meeting had gone smoothly, but once again, Jack had that nagging feeling. Things were too calm. The storm was coming.
“If that's all ...” Jack groaned, seeing the stern expression on his daughter's face. “Jenny.”
“Dad, you said you were getting 'small' TVs in the Man Cave. I don't think any of those TVs are small.”
Daniel sat back, shaking his head and holding up his hands when Jack looked at him.
“This one is all yours, Jack,” Daniel stated, totally removing himself from the conversation.
“We're getting you televisions for your rooms,” Jack responded. “Where are they?” he questioned, looking over at Jeff.
“Actually, Dad, when Ricky told me about the family discussion, I did put them on the list, and they are here, but ...” Jeff began.
“I saw this coming, so if you don't mind, the TVs that I ordered come with DVRs, and since we didn't get the smaller fifteen- and twenty-inch models for the Man Cave ...”
“How big?” Jack asked.
“Well, actually ...”
“Jeff!” Jack exclaimed warily. “My bank account is sensing brood robbery coming up.”
The brood were all ears. They hadn't heard about any of this, but they were eager to hear what Jeff had planned.
“Dad, Daddy ...” Jeff tried to explain patiently.
“Leave me out of this,” Daniel stated dryly, though he caved after Jack looked at his mate beseechingly with his chocolate brown eyes. “Okay, I'm in.”
As the children laughed, Jeff continued, “Depending on the room, we have a few choices for placement. I've sketched out what I believe is best for all of the rooms. For most of them, we can install twenty-seven-inch flat screen TVs like portraits on the walls that are opposite from the desk nook and closet. For a couple of the rooms, we can actually hang the TVs from the ceilings. Um, we might want to consider motorized swivels.”
“How much?” Jack sighed as Jenny actually applauded in excitement.
“Actually, Dad, Daddy, not that much more. We were able to bundle our purchase with a commercial order from Archonics, which we could not have done with the smaller TVs.”
“Jeff, it doesn't matter,” Daniel chimed in. “Is this ready to go?”
“What do you mean it doesn't matter?” Jack whined. “It's my bank account.”
“For the record, Jack, it's *our* bank account,” the archaeologist corrected. “Is it ready to go?” Daniel repeated, giving Jack the 'not one word out of you glare'.
“We're ready for the installation, Daddy. We already have the tele...” Jeff paused, seeing Jack's look at the idea that the bigger TVs had already been purchased, “...visions. Alex scheduled the crew for next Wednesday. He figured by then Jenny would have organized the troops.”
“Did he now?” Jack whined, envisioning the couple's bank account going lower and lower.
“Dad, we deserve them,” the redhead argued.
“Hey, wait a minute,” Brianna interrupted. “I'm older and already have a TV, but it's dinky. How come they get these neat big screens and ...”
“Hang on, Sis,” Jeff interrupted, causing Daniel's head to drop instantly.
“Wait one second,” Jack called out, standing up, clearly not liking where this train of thought was going.
“Jack, sit down,” Daniel ordered, reaching up, grabbing a sleeve, and pulling his soulmate down. “Jeff, can I assume that you purchased or put on order enough big screen televisions with DVRs to add and/or upgrade for every room in this house?”
“Every room with a member of the brood, Daddy,” Jeff affirmed to the delight of the other children.
“Next Wednesday will be fine, but I want you to find a good home for the TVs that are being replaced. That's part of your job. Understood?”
“Dad and I will discuss what the TV rules will be. You can anticipate that they will be similar to the computer rules.” Daniel looked at the Spitfire and asked, “Jenny?”
“Thank you, Daddy,” the Spitfire replied brightly.
“Meeting adjourned,” Daniel called out, leading the children into the hospitality room for their nightly ice cream.
Jack looked over at Bijou and quizzed, “What? You don't want a TV for your dog house, do you?”
Bijou's ears went up excitedly and she ran after Jeff.
“Holy crap,” Jack groaned, sinking further down in his chair and covering his face with his hands. A second later, he felt the presence of feline claws. Peeking through his fingers, he responded, “Look, if you can get Jeff to understand, go ahead. Get a TV. It's only money, and I'm going friggin' out of my mind.”
“Meow!” Mittens replied, jumping off the general and bounding towards the family.
Jack closed his eyes and let out a sigh while wondering when he'd lost control of the TV situation.
~I'd say the day I was born,~ Jack mused. ~You win some, you lose some,~ he told himself as he contemplated his situation. “I need ice cream.”
Knowing that regardless of his diminishing finances he was way ahead in the family stakes and the things that mattered, Jack stood and, with a rejuvenated smile, headed over to his family, ready to go on to whatever came next.
The following Monday afternoon, Jeff stood in his younger father's den, holding an envelope in his hand. He stood facing his parents, though they were seated, Daniel in his desk chair and Jack in the recliner.
“Are you sure about this?” Daniel questioned. “Six-hundred dollars is a lot of money for a nine-year-old.”
“For me, too,” Jeff acknowledged. “The fact is that Ricky has earned it,” Jeff asserted. “Look, I'm not discounting that Alex was still the main architect on the Man Cave or that I busted my butt wanting this project to be perfect, not just because it was for you but because it was my first job for Archonics. They had me working almost solely on the Man Cave.”
“Jeff, Ricky's not expecting this kind of recognition,” Jack put forth.
“Whether he is or not isn't the point, Dad,” Jeff replied. “He put in a lot of hours on this. Not only did he sacrifice by giving up ice cream trips and playtime on many occasions, but I watched him -- closely. He has incredible potential. He may not know textures and angles, but he has ideas. He has some problems with scale and measurements, but he's aware of conceptual problems and has an instinct for how to work them out.” Smiling, the young man boasted, “Just think about all he contributed to the Man Cave -- the chess nook, the transparent wall on the pool level, the swing on the private patio -- and those are just the big things. He really did contribute, and I want him to have that recognition.”
“It's still a lot of money,” Daniel responded.
“You're our parents, so ultimately it's up to you to guide Ricky in how the money could be used, but simply because he's nine doesn't mean he didn't earn every penny.” Jeff ran the envelope through his fingers as he looked down on it for a few seconds. “Archonics paid me very well, and it's not that I can't use it for the future, but Ricky has a future, too. I want him to have this.”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look and then both shrugged and nodded their agreement.
“Now?” Jack asked.
Seeing Jeff's nod, Daniel reached for the intercom and called out calmly, “Ricky, would you please come to my den. Dad and I would like to see you for a few minutes.”
“For the record, we couldn't be prouder of your generosity with this,” Jack stated, smiling at his son.
“It's the right thing to do,” Jeff maintained.
“Hi, Jeff,” Ricky greeted as he walked through the open doors. “What's up?” he asked his parents.
“Jeff has something he'd like to give you,” Jack stated.
Ricky turned around to face his brother. He leaned back into Jack's knees and he had a sweet smile on his face.
“Bro, I couldn't have done the Man Cave without you,” Jeff told the Spitfire.
Ricky shook his head, completely confident in his brother's ability to have completed the Man Cave without any assistance.
“Thanks for letting me help, Jeff. It was fun,” Ricky responded.
“Well,” Jeff began, walking forward and tapping the envelope in his hands, “I received my paycheck for the Man Cave project from Archonics Ltd. today, and the first thing I did was deposit it.”
“Are you going to buy something cool?”
“Um, I'm not sure. I have a lot of expenses for college, but it might be nice to buy something special for Chely this Valentine's Day.”
“Girls like diamonds,” Ricky stated in complete seriousness, causing the adults to smile.
“I'll think about that one,” Jeff chuckled. “Anyway, I didn't deposit all of the money. Instead, I had a money order made out for my ... intern.”
“I like money orders,” Ricky giggled, having been the recipient of plenty of those in his lifetime, mainly from some of his extended family such as the Littlefields and his Aunt Suzanna.
Kneeling down, Jeff looked into his brother's eyes and declared, “I love you, Little Man, and you deserve this.”
Curious, Ricky took the envelope and began to open it, even as he replied with, “Love you, too, Jeff.” He ripped open the back flap and pulled out the paper that was in it. “It's a money order made out to me!”
“And it *is* all yours,” Jeff advised with a smile.
Ricky stared at the money order and asked, “I've never had so many zeros on a money order before.” He reared his head backwards, almost falling into his older father as he asked, “Dad, how much money is this?”
“A lot,” Jack answered. “Your brother the architect is paying you a full half of what he made on this project.”
“Wow!” Ricky looked at Jeff and leaned in for a hug. “Thank you, Jeff.”
“You earned it, Ricky. You worked hard and had a lot of good ideas. You know what else?” Jeff asked rhetorically. “You let me bounce ideas off of you, you listened to me whine and groan ...”
“You don't have to pay me for that,” Ricky interrupted, offering the money order back to his brother. “That's what brothers are for, and I liked helping you.”
“I know,” Jeff returned a little emotionally. “I'm not paying you for being my brother and supporting me. I'm paying you for being an architect because, Ricky, that's what you are. You soaked in everything that Alex and I have tried to teach you and you really made the Man Cave the best that it could be. *You* did that, and that's why I'm paying you.”
Ricky grinned and then began to say all the things he was going to buy with his money.
“Whoa there, cowboy,” Jack called out, holding the bouncing Spitfire at arms length. “Let's think about this.”
“I don't get to spend it, do I?” Ricky sighed dejectedly.
“Sure you do,” Jack replied, adding, “when you're older and ready for college.”
“Jack, I think he should get to spend some of it now,” Daniel opined. He looked at Ricky and asked, “What are your priorities?”
“Ice cream,” Ricky stated. “I've missed a lot of ice cream outings. I wanna take the *whole* family, even Grandpa and Aunt Sam and Cassie ...”
“Okay, the entire family,” Daniel chuckled.
“I wanna take everyone for ice cream sundaes. My treat!” Ricky exclaimed.
“That's reasonable,” Jack responded. “It's also generous of you, and Daddy and I are proud of you for thinking about your family.”
“They'd think of me,” Ricky stated, as if taking offense at Jack's suggestion that he might not be generous with the brood.
“Anything else?” Daniel queried.
“I'd like to buy special treats for the zoo, something they don't get all the time so that they know it's special, and from me,” Ricky stated.
“That's reasonable,” Jack repeated.
“Anything else?” Daniel queried once again.
“Can I buy myself a new toy?”
“That's reasonable, too,” Jack agreed lightly, seeing Daniel's nod of agreement as well.
“That's it,” Ricky stated, all done with his list of demands.
“Ricky, all of that will take up about a third of your paycheck. Are you willing to give up that much money?” Daniel questioned in earnest.
“Sure!” the Spitfire exclaimed. “A minute ago I had nothing. Now I have a fortune, even if I do share a lot of it right now. That's what Jeff is doing, isn't it?”
“Yes, yes, he is,” Daniel acknowledged. “Okay, well, the rest we'll put into your college fund.”
**What about a little extra spending money, Danny?** Jack put forth mentally.
**That's reasonable,** Daniel mused, using his soulmate's oft repeated phrase of the conversation..
“And you can keep ten dollars to spend whenever you want,” Jack added.
“Yippee! I'm rich!” Ricky exclaimed. “You'd better keep it safe for me, Daddy,” he requested, handing the money order over to his younger father.
“The bank's still open,” Daniel responded. “How about we deposit it now and go shopping for your present?”
“I'll make some calls and see if I can gather up the family for an ice cream outing this weekend,” Jack stated.
“I'd better change,” Ricky stated, heading for the door.
“Change?” a confused Daniel called out.
“Daddy, I'm in play clothes. I can't deposit that much money in play clothes. I need to wear my dress-up clothes.”
“Oh,” Daniel replied, chuckling when Ricky had disappeared.
“You made his day,” Jack told Jeff.
“He made my day,” Jeff corrected.
Jack looked at Daniel and saw the nod of approval.
“Jeff, we checked the prices of the TVs and it looks like you saved us nearly fifteen-hundred dollars over what we would have spent at retail, so we've decided to give you a little something for that. Here's ten percent of the savings; one-fifty in cash.”
“Wow,” Jeff replied. “Now you've made my day, too. Thanks.”
With a pleased smile, Jeff exited the den.
“I'm not sure who is happier, Ricky at being given what to him is the mint, or Jeff for giving up half of a very hefty paycheck,” Daniel wondered.
“Let's call it a toss up,” Jack suggested, standing and then leaning down to give his husband a kiss. “We've got the best kids, Danny.”
“Yeah, we do.”
The end of 2016 and the first month of 2017 had been full of adventure for the Jackson-O'Neill family and at the forefront of it all was the couple's new Man Cave, a place for them to hang out and enjoy their masculinity and adult time, alone or with friends. Jack and Daniel had already invited a couple of their friends over to inaugurate the room on the first Friday in February.
With the advent of Christmas, Jonny now had safe sword-like weaponry with which to use in playing war games with his friends in the neighborhood. The family kept six of them of different sizes available, and several of the neighbors were becoming interested in the safe weapons.
In addition, David had been accepted at UCCS and was enrolled in classes there. He was also scheduled to begin working at J-O Enterprises early in February.
JD, who along with his entire family including Bijou and Katie had gone through the Stargate and visited the Nox home world during the last week in December, was eagerly becoming a science geek, one who just might save the entire Asgard race one day.
With the new year just a month in the making, it was anyone's guess just what their next adventure would be. What no one had to guess at, though, was that there would be an adventure because this family lived every second of every day to its fullest. They were a nation of two plus brood plus zoo, and whether on Xanadu or in Colorado Springs, life was always better than good.
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