Category: Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Season: Beyond the Series - October 7 - November 10, 2014
Written: August 14-28,31, September 1-2,5-6,8,12-13, October 3-5,7-8, November 11,20-23,27, December 9,13-14,26, 2009, January 8,14,16,24-26, 2010
Summary: It's time for Jack and Daniel to honor their promise to Kayla Armentrout. How will the brood react when they see how those in a third world country live?
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 brackets, 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) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s), Email Education
5) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better: Tammy, Navi, Ali, Becca, Irina, Robert, Claudia, Mama Bear! Also thanks to Sara and Lori for providing valuable insight into India and their experiences there, and thanks to Cest and friend for some technical assistance, too.
JD Jackson-O'Neill, less than three months away from his third birthday, stared out the back window, his facial expression going to one of surprise with wide eyes and his little mouth puckered like an 'O' when he saw a big bolt of lightning push down from the dark and stormy night sky. A loud thunderclap reverberated moments after.
Traveling down the roads, the family saw the bright colors and varied activities of people going about their daily lives.
The Jackson-O'Neills took in all kinds of sights. Beggars were everywhere they went, but so were decent, hardworking Indian people. They saw firework displays, went to a puppet show, and visited temples, and even there, at holy places, the brood witnessed unholy situations, like the man who called himself a priest and began to bless the children and then requested a donation from the family.
In his older father's arms, JD pointed and called out, “Sofa! Why is that man on a sofa outside?”
The woman nodded, but she remained serious and concentrated on her task.
“How are you doing, Son?” Jack asked Jeff just after the amateur photographer had snapped a shot of David sitting on a rock overlooking the Himalayas.
“Hey, Sport, what are you doing over here?” Jack questioned, scooping up the toddler from his perch on the windowsill.
“Lightening, Dad!” the boy exclaimed as his little chubby hand pointed towards the sky.
“That's lightning,” the father corrected. “Worst storm we've had in a couple of years,” he added as he carried the boy into the recreation room. “How about we watch a movie?”
JD smiled and requested, “Lighten...Lightning McQueen!”
“'Cars', it is,” Jack agreed. He looked over at Jenny and decided it would be advisable to go the wireless route. “We'll use the headsets,” he whispered to his young son.
The headset remark stemmed from the fact that Jenny was practicing her cheerleading. Jack had brought in a mat for her to use since the weather was too severe for her to run her routines on the grass in the backyard, which was her norm.
The little redhead loved to cheer, and while she wasn't going to a public school, she still had a lot of opportunities to strut her stuff, like during football games played by personnel from Cheyenne Mountain, one of which was coming up within two weeks, and for one of the local private schools that welcomed homeschoolers' participation.
Determined to be at her best, Jenny was practicing while a specially-made CD of cheer music was playing.
In the garage, David was working on a carpentry project. It was meant to be a surprise for the recipient, and he was on a deadline.
“David, watch the cord,” Jennifer advised.
“I've got lots of room, Sis,” David responded, though he checked anyway, just to be sure.
“When are you going to tell me what you're making?”
“Not now,” the teenager answered with exaggerated patience, blowing off some sawdust.
“Ah, come on, Bro,” Jennifer whined. “Just a hint?”
“Okay, well, who are making it for?” the inquisitive young woman queried with a coy smile.
“No comment,” the amateur carpenter replied, not falling for that old trick.
“Sis, I'm trying to work here,” David interrupted. “You just read your book and be quiet while you ... supervise me,” he laughed as he shook his head in amusement.
“Here I am doing you a favor and you won't even tell me what it's for or who it's for.”
“Jen, shut up.”
“I'm gonna tell Dad and Daddy you said that,” Jennifer teased. Then she broke out into a huge laugh and opined, “Gee, I sounded like I'm about five, didn't I?”
“More like two,” David chuckled.
In the dance studio, Chenoa stopped tapping and began stomping her feet instead.
“Noa!” Lulu exclaimed in frustration, turning off the music.
“I can't get the step right, Lulu.”
“You're not stepping back fast enough. It goes like this.” Lulu demonstrated the dance step for her sister and then had an idea. “I know, Noa. Just pretend you step back on three-and-a-half instead of four.”
~That might work.~ Chenoa smiled at the suggestion and returned to her position, nodding at Lulu that she was ready to continue. “We have to get this right. The performance is this Saturday.”
“I know,” Lulu responded encouragingly as she restarted the music. “We'll get it.”
Little Danny scurried into the kitchen and called out, “Daddy, is the mail here yet?”
“Not yet, Son,” Daniel replied, looking over at the bouncing boy as he continued to make preparations for dinner that night.
“I wish it would hurry.”
With a chuckle, the archaeologist asked, “Why are you so anxious?”
“Today's Geo Day, Daddy. There's supposed to be a big story on Egypt and ...”
“Oh, yeah -- the dig,” Daniel acknowledged, thinking about a dig that had occurred a year ago and which had recently released several important and interesting pictures of artifacts from the event. “It'll be here soon, Sproglet.”
The little boy sighed. Soon just wasn't soon enough, especially since a special DVD was supposed to be included as a bonus.
Sitting at the computer in Jeff's room, Ricky was talking all things architecture with his oldest brother over the webcam. Jeff was in Cincinnati, attending college, but he was in between classes at the moment.
“I wish I could go to school with you everyday, Jeff,” the Spitfire spoke excitedly from his seat.
~You probably could keep some of my professors on their toes, Squirt,~ Jeff thought as he smiled at his webcam. “You might not say that every day, Ricky,” he replied. “Right now it's kinda boring. We're memorizing a lot of details of different architectural styles.”
“Like Dooric, I'nick, and 'rinthin?” Ricky asked curiously.
~How does he know this stuff before I do?~ Jeff mused, stunned by his younger brother's technical vocabulary. “That's right, Ricky. Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian are the three major orders of Greek architecture. You may graduate ahead of me, if you keep this up.”
“What's a major order?”
“That just means ...” Jeff continued, happy to share his growing knowledge with his little brother.
Downstairs in the living room, Jonny was playing one of his favorite Wii games, Lego Star Wars. It was an old game, but he never tired of it. The action was intense as he was on his way to beating his personal best record and getting to a previously unreached stage of the game.
Earlier, the oldest of the Munchkins had struck out in his efforts to get to a new level of Super Mario Bros Galaxy. He played that one a lot, too,but often ended up getting stuck in the same place. He vowed that one day he'd get the upper hand.
~Not today, though,~ Jonny had thought as he switched over to Lego Star Wars, confident this was his day to exceed his prior level of play. Now well into his current game play, he was focused and determined. ~Come on! You're *so* mine, Death Star! The Force is strong with me today!~
Using the TV in Brianna's room, Aislinn had just put on a brand new DVD of Celtic Woman. It was a special edition, one that had only been released in Ireland. Family friend Sean O'Reilly had acquired it personally for his skylark, as he'd nicknamed Aislinn. This would be the young girl's first chance to hear the concert, and she was as enthused as any fan could be.
As for Brianna, she was in the library working on a priority science project. It was a college course which she'd been given permission to take though she was still at the high school level. Since the tomboy had her heart set on being a marine biologist, she had to work extra hard on her sciences. She had an exam scheduled for the next day, and it was crucial that she get in as much studying as she could.
Brianna had two different computers on, one on a graphics display she was working on, and the other being used to surf for research information.
“Okay, now to save th...NOOOOO!”
Just that fast, the Jackson-O'Neill home went dark. Brianna banged her head against the table. It wasn't all that bad. She'd only lost the last ten minutes of work, she hoped. Everything else had been saved, but it was still agony because it had taken her that last ten minutes to figure out the perfect wording for the most crucial paragraph of an essay that would be part of her project associated with the big test tomorrow.
Brianna's groaning scream as her head hit the table wasn't the only one reverberating through the home.
“Rah Rah ... hey, I need light!” Jenny shouted on the mat in the recreation room, her pompoms resting limply against her hips.
“Dad, the Wii won't work,” Jonny shouted from the living room.
“Dad, get the generator going,” David ordered as he walked into the recreation room, feeling his way with his hands. “I *have* to get this project done.”
“Daddy!” Aislinn screeched as she hurried into the room, letting out a tiny 'ouch' when she bumped into the narrow, oblong accent table that was near the wall. “The DVD stopped!” she exclaimed, her startling screech turning into a whine. “I *have* to watch Chloe,” she added about her favorite member of Celtic Woman.
“Where's Lightning?” JD asked his older father a bit forcefully as he put his hands on his hips, something he'd seen his brother Jonny do many times. “I wanna see Lightning.”
“Daddy, turn on the generator. The mail's here, and I know the Geo is there. I want to see what the archaeologists found,” Little Danny insisted.
“Jeff got cut off,” Ricky complained as he ran into the rec room, using his big brother's flashlight that was always kept on the nightstand.
“No running,” Daniel chastised as his eyes adjusted more to the dark.
“But Jeff got cut off right when he was telling me about ...”
“Dad, Daddy!” both Chenoa and Lulu shouted from the doorway of the dance studio, their voices so loud that Ricky's complaint had been drowned out. “We need to practice!”
“What harmony,” Jack quipped sarcastically while rolling his eyes at all of the complaints.
Within two minutes, the entire brood, sans Jeff of course, gathered together in the rec room. Most had used flashlights that were kept in their rooms to make their way through the house, though a couple of the children, like Aislinn, had forgotten and simply used their hands to make their way down to the recreation room.
The dogs were barking, the cats meowing, and Ptolemy was squawking, all of which sent Jack over the edge, so much so that he let out a thunderous whistle that instantly turned the noisy home into a sanctuary where you could hear a pin drop.
“That's better,” Jack commented. “Now, calmly, what's the problem? It's not like we've never had a power outage before.”
It took all of two seconds for eleven children to start chattering like there was no tomorrow. They were demanding the generator be turned on immediately or their lives would be ruined.
Jack motioned to his lover that he was going outside to the mechanical room to get the backup generator going. Meanwhile, the children continued their verbal assault on their younger father.
~Now I know what a sonic boom sounds like -- my children,~ Daniel sighed, eyes closed as he listened to the cacophony that was the brood.
A few minutes later when Jack returned, nearly soaked from his trip outside in spite of having used an umbrella, the children were still protesting their unhappy lot. Daniel was standing still, quietly absorbing the onslaught of 'must have' attitudes.
~This is not looking good,~ Jack opined about what he was hearing and seeing.
“It's not on!” Chenoa cried out when the house lights refused to turn on, driving her point home when she continued to flicker a nearby light switch.
“Sorry, kids, but we're out of gas,” Jack reported. He looked over at Daniel and said, “I forgot to get a new supply after the last time we used that thing. Sorry.”
Daniel was about to say that it was okay, that the family would survive their first substantial blackout in years, only before he could utter a single word, the children were throwing their arms up in the air as they whined, screamed, yelled, shouted, and otherwise communicated how miserable their current situation was and how everything had gone wrong. With dramatic flair, each indicated their young lives were over with for sure now.
David couldn't finish his surprise, Jenny would suck at her cheers, Little Danny would be deprived of much needed cultural knowledge, Jonny's mojo would be lost and he'd never beat his old record and complete the entire game, the dancing divas would fail at their big show, Ricky's whole future as an architect would crumble, and Aislinn would be so upset that she'd never sing again.
JD would never be the same unless he could watch “Cars” for the two-hundredth time. Lightning McQueen needed his support, after all. Worse in Brianna's mind, her dream of being a marine biologist would fizzle with her failing grade from tomorrow's examination.
As for Jennifer, she didn't really have a reason to be part of the shouting match, but she felt obligated to support her siblings. Since she didn't have the proper light to finish reading the book, she complained about ruining her eyes. It was, she claimed, vitally important to get through the last chapter so she could find out whether or not the heroine got her man.
~Lame, but it's the best I can do,~ the college student admitted to herself. ~If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.~
With Jack growling and the children shouting, it was a quiet voice that shut the brood down in a split second.
“I'm very disappointed in all of you.”
A hush fell over the room. Daniel Jackson-O'Neill's simple statement had hit the children like a ton of bricks.
“I want all of you to go to your rooms and think about what you've just said. That's it. Go -- now!”
There was no further discussion. Without a word, Aislinn took JD, a silent promise to look after her littlest brother upstairs. Even the dogs and cats followed the human children out, and when Jack looked over at Ptolemy, the majestic bird was contently standing in her cage with not a squawk in her squawker.
“What the heck was that?” Jack asked, walking away and reaching his hand up to rub the back of his neck. “I've never seen them act that way before.”
“Neither have I,” Daniel sighed. With the thunder sounding outside, he walked slowly through the kitchen, his arms folded across his chest. It wasn't quite a self-hug, but it was as close as he'd been to one in a while. Reaching the carpet of the living room, he shook his head. “Did you hear them, Jack?”
“Oh, I heard them all right.”
“They've been getting a little ... unruly lately,” Daniel stated.
“Maybe we have too much going on, Danny. Maybe they need more of our time,” Jack put forth.
“Babe, they get an enormous amount of our time. Our children are not deprived of our love or attention at all, and we both know it,” the archaeologist returned strongly. “That's the one thing we've made sure of from the beginning.” Daniel paused in contemplation and then began to shake his head. “No, I don't believe they're feeling deprived of our attention.”
“They aren't deprived of anything,” Jack conceded in an offhanded way, one that unintentionally drove the stake in deep, right to the heart of the matter.
All of a sudden, the two men stared into the other's eyes. The same thought had occurred to them at the same time.
“It's time,” Daniel put forth straightforwardly.
Jack nodded as he concurred, “It's time; maybe past time.”
With a blink of his eyes, Daniel sought out the photograph he had his heart and mind centered on at that moment. Seeing it, he ambled towards the mantle and gazed at the portrait of a young woman who had changed his life forever.
“We made her a promise, Jack, and ... and I think we've waited too long,” Daniel bemoaned as he replayed parts of the past silently within him. “Why? Why did we always say it wasn't the right time?”
“We wanted the kids to be old enough to understand,” Jack answered. “There's J-O, and JD's so young. Then there's ...”
“Always another excuse,” Daniel interjected, cutting off his husband's words. He took hold of the photograph and drew it close. “She begged us to take the children to India if they ever showed signs of taking things for granted. Jack, you just said it. Our brood isn't deprived of anything. In fact, they're spoiled. We know that; they know that, but ...”
“But they're good kids,” Jack completed for his soulmate as his arms wrapped around Daniel's waist supportively, Daniel's arms dropping from their previous position to land on top of his husband's.
Resting his chin on his Angel's shoulder, Jack gazed lovingly at the photo of the mother of their children.
“Yes, they are. They have huge hearts, but as much as they do to help others, and that's a lot,” Daniel acknowledged with a nod. “I mean, uh, we have a turkey sanctuary and a post-fire pet program and March First Day and ... well, we have a lot we do, but our children still know that when they come home, they have big rooms with music and computers; they have an endless supply of ice cream to eat. Intellectually, they know how lucky they are, but at the same time I don't think they feel it in their hearts. In spite of all we've done, they're taking this life for granted.”
Jack sighed as in took in his lover's comments. Every word Daniel had spoken about their brood was true. They were a generous bunch, but what had happened in the recreation room a few minutes earlier proved that generous or not, the kids had developed certain expectations. They were demanding that life be a certain way, their way, and they couldn't even deal with a little bit of inconvenience for one day.
“They've been taking it for granted for quite a while,” Jack admitted. “I don't think I realized how much until just now.”
“Jack, even their donations,” the younger man began. “They ask us for money to do things, good things, and we say 'okay' because it is a good thing. Maybe they work for it with some chores, and maybe they don't, but we just hand it over because ...”
“Because it's a good thing,” Jack sighed with a nod of realization.
“It's not about us having some advantages,” Daniel asserted thoughtfully. “It's about them understanding and being aware of just how much we do have. I had nothing growing up, and you were middle class. We know how fortunate we are to have what we do, and the truth is, we don't even need any of this. We both know that.”
“Xanadu,” Jack whispered as he caressed his Love's cheek, remembering a special place where the couple had been stranded for months and at which they'd been deliriously happy with nothing but each other and a primitive hut they'd built for shelter.
“There's not a single *thing* I need in this house,” Daniel reiterated emotionally. “Our children, I don't expect them to feel this as deeply as I ...”
“We,” Jack corrected quietly.
“I don't expect them to feel this as deeply as *we* do, but I want them to feel something that shows they are aware of how easy their lives are because of all,” Daniel looked around the room, “this. They aren't selfish, Jack, but I've been seeing signs lately that they aren't ... they ...”
“They know they've got a good deal and that no matter what they do, they're going to continue having a good deal.”
“A week without a computer isn't much when you know you'll have the computer after that,” Daniel elaborated. “It's just too ... easy for them.” He paused in contemplation but suggesting, “They need to learn that being able to turn on a light switch is a luxury, that being able to eat charred steak is a gift ...”
“Hey,” Jack objected lightly with a smile.
“They need to understand more than they do now that everything inside this house, every toy they have, every piece of clothing they wear, that it's ... that it's a blessing. They know the difference between being poor and rich, between compassion and selfishness, but they've lost sight of the fact that just having this house, having this land, clean water, access to medical help is an amazingly wonderful gift to be cherished. Not everyone is blessed with these simple amenities.”
Jack nodded, being in complete agreement with Daniel. What they wanted the brood to learn, to feel, to know, to be aware of, they couldn't teach or preach. The children had to find the emotion and knowledge from deep inside themselves, and there was only one way of accomplishing that.
“Even Bri and Lulu are forgetting,” Jack commented after a moment of plaintive silence, referring to the fact that both Brianna and Lulu had come from deprived environments.
Daniel let out a little sound that was more happy than not. He looked down, a smile forming on his face. At first, Jack was confused by his lover's reaction, but then he got it.
“Yeah, that's a good thing, isn't it?” the general questioned, his mood lightening somewhat.
“It is, Jack,” Daniel affirmed as he looked at his husband. “Their backgrounds are so tarnished, but now they're ...”
Daniel wasn't able to speak. He was becoming very emotional over something that wasn't a direct part of the issue at hand; but he couldn't help it. The lovers had worked with Jennifer to make sure she had a normal teenage upbringing and didn't feel like a mother to her siblings. They'd accomplished that goal.
Along with that, the parents wanted Brianna to break free of her mother's drug-depraved lifestyle, to break down the hostile wall she'd thrown up to protect herself from being hurt, both physically and mentally.
As for Lulu, she'd been abused in unthinkable and unimaginable ways. Her foster parents had treated her horridly, the result of which was a very timid, shy little girl who was often afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Jack and Daniel wanted that fear of making a mistake and then paying for it physically to disappear.
“They may still have issues, Danny, but knowing they're loved and protected isn't one of them,” Jack spoke in a pleased tone.
“In their way, in an odd and ... good way, they've become accustomed to all this,” Daniel looked around, extending his arms out and motioning all around the area, “and, like the rest of the children, are placing too much importance on it. It is a good thing, but at the same time, I think they need to learn Kayla's message, too.”
There was silence as the parents pondered the situation for a minute, both considering all that had happened this evening as well as Kayla's wishes and what was best for the brood.
Reaching his own decision, Jack suggested, “Danny, there's nothing crucial going on at J-O. Let's pull Jeff out of that fancy university for a couple of weeks and just go.”
“No fancy hotels, Jack,” Daniel responded with strength of conviction. “No best anything, not this time.”
“Agreed,” Jack replied, giving his Heart in his arms a tight, reassuring squeeze.
Daniel turned around, the picture of Kayla Armentrout, the birth mother of the Munchkins and the Spitfires and the honorary mother of the entire brood, still in his hands.
“She only asked this one thing of us, Jack, and we almost let her down by refusing to see what we never wanted to see.”
“Human nature, Love,” Jack replied. “A couple of weeks in India and our brood won't take anything for granted again.”
“They are good children,” Daniel asserted, looking to Jack for reassurance.
“You betcha' they are,” Jack stated enthusiastically. “They just need a little tweaking.”
Daniel chuckled, “A tune up.”
“More like they just need to tune in to reality,” Jack returned. “Nightly ice cream has become routine to them. They don't get how much that ritual would be an extravagant luxury in other parts of the world; heck, on the other side of town.”
The couple shared a kiss and then Daniel put the photo of Kayla back on the mantle.
“We're going, Kayla. We'll get them back on the right track,” Daniel vowed.
“We have a lot of planning to do, Danny,” Jack stated. “Let's go find the one-stars and plan out our trip,” he suggested, referring to low-priced, no frills hotels.
“Uh, no power, Babe,” Daniel stated, pointing to the lone flashlight that was lighting the room.
“We have maps, travel guides, an atlas, and flashlights with batteries,” Jack reminded, a smirk gracing his face.
“Good thinking, General.”
“It happens,” Jack joked as the couple walked with their arms around each other's waist.
“Uh, maybe we should let the brood out of room arrest,” Daniel suggested.
“It's only been a few minutes, Danny,” Jack negated. “It won't hurt them to stew a little bit longer.”
“I wonder if any of them understand why I reacted so harshly,” Daniel sighed. “And we should talk to Bri; she had the most grounds to complain, but at the same time, she needs to understand that being able to even try to be a marine biologist is a luxury and more than some people have, especially at her age.”
“Isn't that why we're planning this trip, so the kids will understand?” Jack questioned as the couple turned the corner into the hallway.
“There's hope for you yet, O'Neill,” Daniel teased, leaning in for a kiss and then moving forward towards the study.
“Good to know,” Jack quipped quietly, smiling a second before following his lover. “Doctor Jackson, I think it's time I showed you some of the lesser known uses for flashlights.”
“Does that mean we're going to 'flash' each other, General O'Neill?” the younger man questioned playfully as the two turned the corner into the hallway that led to Jack's study.
“By golly, I think you are beginning to see the light,” Jack laughed seductively.
Turning around, walking backwards into the study, Daniel reached out and pulled his husband inside. His hands gripped Jack's shirt as he tugged him close, while he used his left foot to kick the door closed.
“Shut up and kiss me you fool,” Daniel demanded, lunging himself tightly against his Love's body while reaching behind Jack and locking the door.
“Always with the de...mands,” Jack gasped before verbal conversation was replaced by that of the physical.
The romance of the night before was missing with the dawn of a new day as the lovers were disagreeing on one very important part of the upcoming trip to India and that was the mode of transportation. The bickering lovers were in the bathroom, preparing for the day ahead.
“Daniel, we have a Learjet, and it's just made for this,” Jack bellowed in between gargling sounds.
Stepping out of the shower and wrapping his towel around his waist, Daniel argued, “It defeats the purpose of the trip. We're taking the children to India so they won't take luxuries for granted. What kind of message are we sending if we fly there and back on a ... on a designer plane?”
“One that says we aren't going to have to try and control twelve kids running around the airport,” Jack responded. Though his words had been sharp, silently he was lusting, his stare hiding his inward gaze of desire. ~Crap. I'd like some of that right now, but dang, we're fighting. He's still the most beautiful sight in the world.~
“It doesn't make sense.”
“Daniel, flying commercial to India takes almost a full day, minimum. That's twenty-two-plus hours of just you and me trying to keep our large brood of twelve confined to whatever waiting area we might be in, not to mention making sure they don't pull any surprises on the flight attendants, or rig any other surprises that our creative children can think of.” Jack sighed as he added, “Jonny will want to go see the captain and then he'll want to touch the controls in the cockpit.”
Daniel couldn't help but chuckle. Hearing Jonny's name brought back a memory from their last commercial flight when Jonny had taken out his very real looking but fake black widow spider, put it on his food tray, and then very innocently showed it to the flight attendant, whose scream was still resonating in his head.
“Yeah, that!” Jack pointed out, knowing from his Love's expression what image had just popped into his head.
“He's older now,” Daniel responded defensively.
“By four months,” Jack replied with a scowl. Finishing his bit in the bathroom, he turned to see his husband still standing in his towel beside the bathroom door. “Daniel, you know that our family, when all together, intentionally or not, create utter chaos.”
Daniel could do nothing but chuckle as he went down memory lane regarding their family's store incidences in the past, including a bookstore and their never ending fun when shopping at the supermarket. His soulmate was right. There was something about the synergy of the entire family that often exploded into all kinds of craziness when shopping or traveling. He wasn't sure he'd ever be able to forget that trip to the White House just after JD was born.
Knowing he and his husband were getting off topic, the archaeologist refocused his mind at the argument at hand.
The multi-million-dollar Learjet wasn't used on a regular basis. The family often flew commercial airlines. However, when all of the brood was going on a trip and their destination was particularly distant from their hometown, they did tend to take the jet. After all, that's why their best client and dear friend, Abayomi Sharif, had given them the custom-built plane in the first place.
Having been contoured for Sharif's long international flights with multiple guests and associates, one of the good things about the jet was that it had extra capacity for fuel, when desired. Another plus was that it was built so that the passengers would be able to relax and sleep comfortably while in the air.
“All I'm saying is that this isn't a normal trip,” Daniel countered. “We should start out right, from the beginning.”
“We will, when we get to India,” the older man stated as he walked past his lover and went into the bedroom to dress.
Daniel shook his head as he walked over to the sink and picked up his toothbrush. He smiled as he thought of something he was certain would change the other man's mind.
“Think about the fuel costs,” the archaeologist urged in a raised voice. “Round trip, roughly seventy-thousand pounds of fuel, and that's probably on the light side,” he added with a bit of a facial smirk. ~He'll do the math.~
“Let me do the math,” Jack sighed as he slid on his briefs. Clearing his throat, he mumbled, “Fourteen people, round trip commercial, last minute tickets - fifteen-hundred times four adults; kids ...” He quietly did his calculations, approximating the cost of tickets. With a groan, he muttered, “At least ten-thousand gallons of fuel.” He grimaced as he pulled up his pants and zipped them. “Ah, crap.”
Inside the bathroom, Daniel chuckled, ~Got him!~ Attempting to close the deal, he suggested, “And think about the carbon footprint. Using the Learjet on this trip isn't exactly being green.”
“We're not frogs,” Jack groused, letting his shoes plop down onto the carpet. “Okay, so we'll be a little brown on this trip,” he replied more loudly, still reeling from his cost comparison and the realization that the economical thing to do was to fly commercial. ~Darn that geek; he's right again.~
Daniel joined his husband in the bedroom and began to dress as well while at the same time continuing to support his choice for travel.
“We have to go commercial.”
“Daniel, I'm old,” Jack argued, ignoring his lover's look of contempt. “I'll concede the financial element, but do me a favor and humor me this once. I do not want to be in an airport and on a plane for a full day *each way* with twelve fidgeting kids. Add getting through customs entering and leaving India and we're talking three days tied up in just travel and that's assuming we can even get fourteen tickets at the last minute, and allowing that nothing, absolutely nothing goes even a little bit wrong, and we've just spent way too much time in the travel zone.”
~And he says I talk fast without taking a breath?~ Daniel mused inwardly at his lover's prolonged argument. Outwardly, however, he simply replied, “It's the wrong message.”
“Let the message start when we step off of our nice, comfy plane at the New Delhi Airport,” Jack proposed sternly.
“Think about this,” Daniel beckoned, looking downward as he took on his next point of the debate. “It's a long flight regardless. We can probably get a direct flight with just a single connection, or maybe just two or three; if we fly the Learjet, even with using the extra tank, we're going to be making refueling stops.”
“I'll give you that one, but even if we have to stop three or four ...”
“That's light. With normal fuel capacity, it's double that. Remember, there are fourteen of us, plus luggage, and regardless of how much we limit what we take, just by all of us going, we'll be full.”
“Give me a break,” Jack requested pointedly. “We're doing this off the cuff, without checking the specifics, so, okay, worse case scenario, eight stops, twenty minutes each to refuel, that's an extra two-and-a-half, three hours tops. I dare you to find a commercial flight that's going to get there faster.”
“Danny, please. Let's make one part of this trip easy because you know that once we get there, it's gonna be rough. The kids won't give it a thought.”
“You're wrong, Babe.”
“Then let me be wrong,” Jack pleaded, truly not wanting to go through the commercial grind of getting the family to India. “The lesson is about how fortunate we are compared to most of the world. Most of the people in rural India couldn't afford to fly as baggage. Not to be cruel, Daniel, but this trip is about showing our kids the contrast between their lives and most of the world. The people in India are not going to care how we get there. Traveling on commercial flights is only going to exhaust us, and the kids, and eat up valuable time during which we could be accomplishing our goal. You are misapplying a lesson where it has the least relevance.”
~For a man of few words, he sure is using a bundle. I get it: he really doesn't want to fly commercially, but I have to take issue with what he just said,~ the archaeologist opined. ~*I* am misapplying a lesson? I don't think so, Love. However, I don't think I'll take you to task on that right now. Later, maybe, but not tonight.~
Though his instincts still said they should travel commercially, Daniel did understand his husband's hesitation to do so. It would be a long trip. Their Learjet was not only more comfortable, but had games and such that would entertain the brood in flight.
“Wrong message,” Daniel sighed, looking downward and knowing that even his own thoughts about having things to keep the children occupied was going against the very purpose of the trip.
Jack approached, taking his lover in his arms for a quick kiss. Still holding him, he pled his case for the last time.
“Danny, make it a test. See if the kids figure it out on the trip home,” Jack beseeched, trying a new tactic with his husband. “I don't want to deal with the airports and all the hassles that going on a regular flight entails. Let's make at least one thing about this trip easy on us, because you know that this is not going to be an easy trip.”
“You already said that,” Daniel pointed out.
“It's a good argument,” Jack rationalized as he shrugged with an innocent smile.
The younger man stared into his soulmate's eyes and then let out a reluctant, “Okay.”
“Thank you,” Jack acknowledged, smiling at Daniel and then reaching for his shirt.
“But it's still wrong,” Daniel reiterated as he opened the drawer to retrieve a clean pair of underwear.
Jack groaned, pausing his buttoning of the shirt for just a few seconds before opting not to reply at all. He'd gotten his way, and he wasn't about to risk it by starting the conversation up again.
~O'Neill, remember what Grandma said: 'You can be right, or you can be happy, but you can't be both. The last word is never a sweet one. Let sleeping dogs lie, or pack your bags for the doghouse'.~ The general chuckled silently. ~Grandma, no one can beat a cliché like you.~
After breakfast, Daniel pulled his namesake aside, taking him outside to the gazebo to have a private chat. The father and son sat on opposite benches, smiling at each other. The archaeologist hunched forward, clasping his hands together as he searched for the words to begin the discussion.
“What did you want to talk about, Daddy?” Little Danny asked, having an acute awareness that there was a definite topic to be discussed.
“In a little while, we're having a family meeting, and I just wanted to talk to you for a minute about what's happening.”
Little Danny's expression grew concerned, his blue eyes becoming worried as he pursed his lips.
“No one's in trouble,” Daniel assured his son quickly. ~Maybe I should have waited until after the family meeting to have this conversation,~ he wondered as doubt about the discussion began to creep into his mind. “Uh, we're going to take a trip, a very special trip to a place where life is ... well, it's a lot different than here in America.”
“Where are we going?”
“That's far away.”
“Yes,” Daniel affirmed with a nod. “Yes, it is, and we'll talk in the meeting a little bit about why we're going.”
“Daddy, why do you look so worried?”
Daniel smiled as he sighed. He feared he didn't have the words, and even if he could find them, how could he possibly prepare the sensitive soul that was the middle Munchkin for what they'd be seeing in an impoverished, third-world country.
“What I want you to know is that it's not the same everywhere in the world. Some people have a lot, and some don't. For much of its existence, India hasn't had a whole lot. They've actually made a lot of growth over the last few decades, which is, uh, pretty astounding, but the fact of the matter is that people still have it ... hard there. I want you to be prepared for that.”
“I don't understand,” the emotional child responded, having a perplexed look on his face.
“I know,” Daniel sighed. He stood and moved over to the other bench and sat down next to his namesake. He put his arms protectively around the boy's shoulder and kissed the top of Little Danny's brown hair. “It's just ... from the day you were born, you've always been so sensitive to people and animals. This trip isn't going to be easy, Son, but we'll all be there together and we'll return home together, safe and sound.”
Little Danny leaned into his father, who had pulled him into his supportive hold. He was, however, very confused. He didn't really understand what his daddy was trying to tell him.
“Little Danny, when we get to India, just remember that as much as we'd like to, we can't control how other people live. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Daddy. Can I go play now?”
“Yeah, sure,” Daniel permitted, sighing as he watched the boy head back into the house. ~Well, that was a giant mistake.~
As he sat and contemplated the failed conversation, Daniel heard the sound of the patio door opening again. Then he saw his very handsome husband ambling towards him.
His hands braced on both sides of the gazebo archway, Jack questioned, “How'd it go?”
“Let's just say it wasn't one of my better ideas,” Daniel remarked, letting loose a deep sigh as he ran his hands down his face.
With a nod, the general sat down across from his lover and inquired, “He didn't understand?”
“Of course not,” Daniel replied with a hint of sarcasm. “How could he understand what I couldn't communicate?” Leaning back, he lamented, “I wasn't able to say what I was thinking. If I find it difficult seeing and knowing that there is so much poverty in the world when we have so much, how is Little Danny going to take it? Jack, he's so sensitive, and I'm ... scared about how he might react to what we could see, will almost certainly see, in India, but I don't know how to prep him for that.”
“Maybe he just needs to see it.”
“We have to be prepared, Jack. On this one thing, we have to be prepared.”
“Danny, all we can do is answer his questions and make sure he knows our world is secure,” Jack put forth.
“Knowing our world is secure isn't going to help him in this, Jack. In fact, it's probably going to make him feel guilty that he has a secure world when so many people in the world don't. He finds it hard enough accepting that there are homeless people in America and there is only so much we can do to help. He ...”
Daniel shook his head, fighting off strong emotions that centered around his namesake's ability to handle the reality of life in India.
“Hey,” Jack spoke softly, reaching out and taking his Love's hands in his. “He'll be okay. It may be hard, okay, it will be hard for him, but we can't shield him forever. If we keep him in that protective bubble we've talked about so much, he won't be living life.”
“I know, but ... he's sensitive, Jack.”
“Like his daddy,” the general returned with a soft and knowing smile. “You don't do so well yourself when you see injustice.”
“I guess we can't prepare him,” Daniel repined sadly. “He's going to be heartbroken when he sees how they live. He's not going to understand.”
“It's not like we haven't studied life in other countries,” Jack put forth, referring to their homeschool studies.
“Knowing something in your head is one thing, but seeing it, *feeling* it ... that's something else.” Daniel sighed, “But you're right. We can't shelter him forever, and the reason for this trip is ... important.”
“Daniel, if the reason for this trip is just to make our children feel guilty, we can do that without leaving home. Giving away everything we have is not going to even make a ding in the poverty of the world. It's about realizing that they are fortunate, appreciating what they have, and being good stewards of all we've been blessed with.” Jack paused and added confidently, “He'll be okay.” Moving over to sit beside Daniel, he put his arm around his husband, who instantly relaxed his head upon Jack's shoulder. “We'll all be okay.”
“I shouldn't have tried to talk to him about it,” the younger man bemoaned. “All I did was confuse him, maybe even scare him. Why can't I ever find the right words when I need them? I'm a linguist for crying out loud.”
“Hey, that's my line,” Jack reproached lightly, raising a faint smile from his soulmate. "And he's not scared. He walked into the house a minute ago, all smiles and anxious to play Battleship with Jonny.”
“Oh, well, that's good.” Daniel laughed ruefully. “I guess it's a good thing my little conversation was only traumatic for me.”
Jack chuckled and hugged Daniel tighter. Then they both took a deep breath and shared a kiss.
“As for finding the right words, you always do, Danny, only sometimes there are no right words; that doesn't mean we should stay silent. Sometimes it's worse to stay silent. Little Danny might be confused now, but when we get to India he'll understand what you were trying to tell him and love you for trying to prepare him, just like I do.”
“And people think I'm the linguist,” Daniel chortled as he shook his head and smiled.
“You are, Angel. Haven't you noticed that I only find the right words when I'm talking to you?” Jack asked with a grin as Daniel sat back and looked at him in disbelief.
“So I guess those conversations I've heard you having with the brood, Sam, Kayla, and Janet, just to name a few, were just figments of my imagination.”
“Yep! Come on, Love,” Jack urged cheerfully, standing and pulling his husband up. “Let's take care of the first few items on our checklist and then have our family meeting.”
“I think I'll let you handle it,” Daniel decided. “I'm not sure this is my day for important talks.”
“Danny, no matter what day it is, no one talks like you.”
“Is that an insult?” the archaeologist questioned as the lovers exited the gazebo and headed for the house.
“Would *I* ever insult you?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?”
“No,” Jack laughed. “I love you, Angel.”
“Count your blessings, Babe.”
“I do, but what does that mean?”
“It means we all have our curses to deal with and for me, it's loving you, forever and always.”
With a smile, Daniel walked swiftly to the patio deck and opened the door, leaving Jack to ponder the quip.
“Curse? Hey!” Jack hastened his pace, determined to reach his lover before either was pulled away by their children. ~Curse? Well, hey, if I'm a curse, he could do a lot worse.~ He grimaced at his rhyme. ~Ewww. Bad, O'Neill, very bad.~
That night in bed, Daniel took his husband to task over his earlier remark, asking, “What did you mean when you said that *I* was misapplying a lesson?”
“Daniel, the overall objective of this trip is not going to be affected one way or the other by how we travel to India. You want to fly commercial and make *all* the travel arrangements, be my guest. I'm done talking.”
The next day Daniel was on the phone with a travel agent.
“Yes, Sir, that is correct. Fourteen round trip fares from Colorado Springs to New Delhi ... No, we're not a sports team ... Uh, no, some of us are not willing to take another flight.” While the travel agent checked on more flights, Daniel sighed, ~This is not going to be easy.~
After nearly fifteen minutes, the agent came back on the line and excitedly stated, “Sir, I can do it! If you're willing to fly out of Denver, I can get you all on a jumbo jet in first class.”
“Isn't there anything in coach?”
“Well, I can get you eight seats in coach, but they aren't together; in fact, four of them are singles. I'm sorry, Sir, it's the best I can do on such short notice. If you wanted to book two or three months out, I can get you all together and give you a much better rate.”
“No, that's not an option. Thank you for your time. Please hold the seats, and I'll call you back within a couple of hours.”
The archaeologist tracked down his husband and filled him in on the possibilities.
“Whatever you think, Daniel. I said it was up to you and I would go along. If you think first-class seating, in-flight movies, and catered meals sends a better message to the brood than flying a private jet, by all means, book the flight.”
“Fine, I will,” Daniel shouted over his shoulder as he turned around and walked indignantly out of the room. ~Could've shown me a *little* sympathy.~
“Book 'em, Dano!” Jack teased loud enough for his archaeologist to hear.
After booking their flight, Daniel found his husband in the kitchen, starting a pot of soup for their meal.
“All set?” Jack asked brightly.
~He sure seems happy, happy and relieved. Why do I feel like my stomach just boarded the Titanic?~ Daniel asked himself and then gave his husband the details of the booking. “Jack, how are we getting to Denver?”
“I don't know, my darling little travel agent. How *are* we getting to Denver?” the general queried as sweetly as a barracuda.
“I guess we'll drive and leave the SUV in parking.”
“That'll be a nice parking fee for the airport,” Jack quipped as he threw in some vegetables into the pot. “What about our luggage?”
“Yeah,you know, those cases with straps and handles we use to carry our toothbrushes and underwear? We could always use plastic bags if you think luggage sends the wrong message.”
Daniel feigned a smile while thinking, ~If I kill him now, I'll be the one honoring Kayla's promise as a single parent. He can be so infuriating. Of course, what I'm really mad about is I couldn't leave well enough alone and take the Lear.~
Feeling he'd made his point, Jack put forth, “I guess we can try and tie them down on top of the SUV, but you know we barely have room for all of us in there.”
“We'll have to take the truck, too,” Daniel added, knowing that even taking a minimal amount of necessities, the family would need more space for their things.
“Double the parking fees: cool.”
“Right,” Daniel responded dryly. “I'm going to take a nap.”
Kissing his soulmate, Jack replied, “I'll call you when it's soup.”
Finally, the trip time had arrived, and the Jackson-O'Neills were at the Denver International Airport, only things hadn't gone as planned.
Daniel was being detained and questioned by airport security, as was Jack, separately. Jonny had made a careless remark that contained the phrase 'covert ops' and immediately, the family had been surrounded by security guards with guns pointed at them. After having been cuffed in the terminal, they were led away and were now being questioned.
No one seemed to care about Jack's and Daniel's connections or that Jack was a general in the Air Force. Their IDs were being scrutinized as if drawn on Ricky's Etch-a-Sketch.
Then the door opened and another interrogator entered. It was none other than Senator Kinsey himself. Daniel jumped up from his seat and was forced back down by the two guards.
“Daniel! Danny, wake up! You're having a nightmare!” Jack called out, gently shaking and patting the back of his husband.
“Huh? What? Where's Jonny? Is the brood all right?” Daniel called out as his head jerked upward.
“Danny, everyone is okay,” Jack assured with a calm voice.
“Oh, geez,” Daniel sighed, realizing he'd had a nightmare.
“What the heck were you dreaming about?” Jack asked. With a disbelieving chuckle, “You were mumbling something about Kinsey.”
“Kinsey?” Daniel rolled his eyes. “He's dead.”
“Which begs the question of why you were dreaming about him.”
“I was *not* dreaming about him,” Daniel refuted as he looked down at his life partner. “He was in my nightmare.” A look of realization spread across his face. “Oh, no! Oh, come on, Jack! *Tell me* you're not jealous of Kinsey! Not only is he dead, but, gawd, Kinsey? I'd rather sleep with ... with ... I don't know, but Kinsey?” A look or revolt on his face, he contended, “That's just sick.”
“Sue me. I love you,” Jack responded with a light shrug. Moving forward, he asked, “So what was the dream ... correction, nightmare about?”
“Jack, what did we have for dinner last night?” Daniel inquired, his mind trying to think back.
“Not in this reality,” Jack teased.
“I didn't ask you about why you said I was misapplying a lesson to the children?”
Jack stared at his husband, finding the question odd, but then answered, “Danny, I know I said that, but that's only because I really don't believe that flying the Learjet to India is sending a wrong message. Look, if you really think it does, I'm willing to reconsider our plans. I'm sure we can get a flight out of Denver.”
“No ... no, Jack, let's just keep it as we agreed this,” Daniel sighed, realizing the lateness of the hour and that they'd gone to another day, “I mean, yesterday morning.”
“Anything you say, Love,” Jack replied, happy when his soulmate settled back down as his warm blanket once again.
“We were at the Denver Airport and Jonny said something about covert ops,” Daniel revealed about his nightmare.
“Not just guards, Black Ops, everywhere, with guns aimed at our children. Then Kinsey showed up as an interrogator.”
“That's a nightmare all right,” Jack chuckled as the couple began to allow sleep to come to them once again.
Over the next few days, Jack and Daniel cleared their schedules and those of the brood, not all of which went over very well with the kids. Jeff had to make special arrangements with some of his professors and agree to do a special report on Indian architecture. Jennifer also had to do some workarounds for her college schedule, but it was Chenoa and Lulu who took the hardest hit in leaving on this spontaneous trek to another part of the world since they'd had to withdraw from their dance performance.
The family also took time to celebrate Brianna's birthday. No matter what, birthdays were always special and given a lot of attention, so this celebration went on as originally planned.
Then ready or not and happy or not, the Jackson-O'Neills boarded their Learjet.
“Jack, I'm still not sure we made the right decision in taking the Learjet, but when I think about getting the brood through all the security checkpoints in three different airports, well, I guess I'm okay with this after all,” Daniel stated as he entered the cockpit, wanting to put an end to the one bone of contention that had been between he and his lover in planning the trip.
Jack smiled as he followed his Love into the cockpit and replied, “This is going to be a long trip, but it sure is great that we have Jeff and Jen to help us.”
Both Jack and Daniel were licensed to fly the jet and they'd outlined a schedule whereby they would alternate turns flying and resting.
While unlicensed in the Learjet, Jennifer and Jeff were now licensed to fly small aircraft. Naturally, the two oldest children had each had the opportunity to observe and learn the controls of the Learjet as well. As a precautionary measure, when Jeff had arrived from Cincinnati, he and Jennifer had spent a couple of hours in a flight simulator. It was one of those times when Jack's stars had come in handy in getting the spontaneous use of the simulator.
In case of an emergency, the two young adults were as prepared as they could be to take over the controls.
Luggage wise, the family was traveling lighter than they'd done on their trip across America. Each child had one duffel bag allotted to them, and there were essentially no extras allowed on the trip, except for two items given to them by their parents.
The first was a journal in which the children could write their daily reflections or make any notes they felt necessary. The second was a disposable camera with which they could take their pictures, if moved to do so. These cameras would be passed out by Jack and Daniel as necessary throughout the family's trek. Both the journal, camera, and daily essentials would be kept in the children's backpacks, which would remain as light as possible since they would be toted at all times.
Jack and Daniel had also brought along a laptop so that they could stop at internet cafes and check in on their zoo back home as well as the office, and Jeff was allowed to bring his camera to commemorate the trip in pictures. All cell phones and other electronic devices were prohibited on the journey, except for the parents' cell phones, of course.
Though none of the family liked leaving behind their precious animal kingdom, the critters were being well taken care by the Shanahans, as well as Janet and Teal'c. The Jaffa had actually undergone a lecture from Little Danny about the proper treatment of cats. He hadn't forgotten the last time Teal'c had been responsible for Mittens and Calico. Poor Mittens had hidden under the bed for two days, and Calico had sought refuge inside Lulu's closet, climbing inside an empty shoe box for safety.
The brood didn't really know what they were about to experience. To them, it sounded like nothing more than a big camping trip. It would be a piece of cake. They thought it was odd that they'd been given buddy assignments, not by their natural grouping, like Munchkins and Spitfires, but by age, one older and one younger child. They were ordered, not requested, to hold the hand of their assigned sibling or face the holy wrath of unhappy parents that would include more punishments than they could ever imagine once the family returned to Colorado Springs. Jack and Daniel would tell them when it was okay to release their hands.
Jack and Daniel had taken other precautions as well. Unfortunately, Thor and the Asgard were unavailable to provide outer space protection with what everyone referred to as the Thor patch. Instead, each child had a locator beacon sewn into their backpacks. It wasn't full proof, but it something.
With the children secured in the plane, Jack and Daniel began their pre-flight check, making sure they didn't overlook any potential danger. Once that was done, Jack took the pilot's chair with Daniel at his side, and the Jackson-O'Neill family was on their way to India, a trip that would take a good sixteen hours, not counting the refueling stops.
“How fast are we going, Daddy?” Jonny inquired inquisitively when Daniel joined the children, intending to get a bit of sleep before his next piloting shift.
“Let Daddy sleep,” Jeff advised the children as he headed to the cockpit to sit in the co-pilot's seat while Jack flew the jet.
“Thanks, Son,” Daniel replied, though his words turned into a yawn. Closing his eyes, he chose to answer the eldest Munchkin's question. “Uh, about 500 miles per hour, give or take a few.”
“Wow, that's fast,” Lulu commented. “It's gonna be nighttime when we get there. We won't be able to see anything.”
“Actually, Lil' Bit, we're flying direct and with the time difference between home and New Delhi, it should be bright and early in the morning,” Daniel explained.
“What's the time difference?” Jonny asked.
His eyes still closed, Daniel was about to answer when a younger voice interjected on his behalf.
“It's an eleven-and-a-half hours difference, Jonny,” Little Danny told his sibling. “So even though it's daytime now, when we land it'll still be daytime.”
“Thanks, Little Danny.”
“Thanks, Sproglet,” Daniel added, yawning again.
“Daddy, you're supposed to be sleeping,” Jonny admonished.
Daniel opened his eyes and stared at the sandy-haired boy. He smiled and gave a slight nod.
“You're right,” the archaeologist replied. ~Gawd, I love them.~
Slightly behind schedule due to some heavier wind conditions than anticipated, Daniel, again at the controls with Jack in the co-pilot's seat, set down the Learjet at the Indira Gandhi International Airport near terminal 1B at 6:03 a.m. It would take them a while before they'd be able to leave the airport since, not only did they have to clear customs, but they had to secure their plane. They also needed to check in with Sam, to let her know that they'd arrived safely.
Looking around their surroundings, the familiar hustle and bustle of an airport was evident. However, the multitude of cultures and languages spoken at once gave rise to an interesting melody of noise.
“Namaste; welcome to India, Sir,” an Indian man with short black hair and dark brown eyes greeted the Jackson-O'Neills as they began their long process through customs.
Finally, the large family made their way out of the customs area and into the main terminal. They happened to come across a tour that was arriving and being greeted by women in festive dress. They were doing something the children were curious about.
“What's that?” Aislinn dared to ask as the woman finished her task on the last of the tour members.
“It is a bindi,” the Indian woman in the red, beaded outfit responded. “See, like mine,” she added, pointing to the red dot that was on her forehead, between her eyebrows.
“Does it hurt?” Ricky questioned.
“Nai,” the woman answered with a shake of her head. “This is just a powder.”
“What's it for?” Chenoa asked looking curiously at the woman in front of her.
“I know!” Little Danny chimed in as he joined the conversation.
“Do you?” the woman inquired, amused by the youngster. “Tell me then, young one.”
“It's the sixth chakra for concealed wisdom. It helps the wearer to keep their energy, strength, and concentration.”
“You are a smart one,” the woman replied. “The bindi also protects us against bad luck.”
As Little Danny nodded, the woman began talking to the others. Apparently, there were a few more tourists who had been late joining their group.
With the Jackson-O'Neills nearing the exit, they heard a voice calling out, “Wait, curious ones!”
“Is that us?” Aislinn asked, looking up at her parents.
Jack, Daniel, and the brood stopped walking and turned around to see the woman and two others following.
“Would you like to have a bindi?”
“Can we?” Lulu implored, looking up at her parents with a bright smile and eager eyes.
“Please!” came the plea from more than one of the children.
“Sure,” Daniel answered with a nod.
Standing away from the exiting passengers, the woman smiled and motioned for the kids to line up in order.
“Welcome to India,” the greeter spoke as she used her finger to apply a red bindi to Aislinn's forehead. It was perfectly round and took but a second to put on. “May your visit be joyful,” she told Jenny as she applied another bindi. When she worked her way through the girls, she looked at Little Danny and asked, “What about you, smart one?”
“I'm a boy.”
The woman laughed and responded, “For you, we have the tilak.”
“What's that?” Ricky queried.
“It is a mark for the men of my country. Sometimes it is a blessing. Here, it will cool you and help you to concentrate and meditate.”
“Okay,” Little Danny agreed without any hesitation, the genius realizing he hadn't done as much research on India as he should have before leaving America. He smiled happily as the woman painted a line down his forehead. ~That tickles.~
When she was done, the woman smiled and backed away quietly with her friends.
“She was nice,” Little Danny opined, with the rest of the family agreeing with him.
“Let's get going,” Jack instructed, rounding up the brood and giving a nod of thanks to the Indian women who were smiling as they watched the family leave.
The family embarked from the airport terminal into the city of New Delhi. People were everywhere. It was loud, the noise something the children hadn't expected. It was a cacophony of cars rumbling and people shouting in a multitude of dialects. It was overwhelming and instinctively, they all crunched together, grabbing the nearest family hand.
“Buddy up,” Jack ordered. “Daniel, take point.”
“Jack, we're not on a mission.”
“Tell that to them,” Jack responded, seeing the onlookers staring at the large family with dollar signs in their eyes. “Let's go.”
“Brood, it's probably a good idea not to respond to anyone right now,” Daniel advised the children.
“Well ...” Daniel began just as a man approached Brianna and offered to carry her duffel bag. “Nai, ap tik hain,” [No, we're fine] he interjected sternly, breaking his own rule and chastising himself silently for it. “Eyes on me. Move out.”
“Daniel, we're not on a mission,” Jack parroted back to his husband.
Daniel turned, glared at his husband and refuted, “We are until we get checked in.” Heading away from the airport doors and towards their transportation, he warned, **Time and place, Jack.**
**Don't get your hackles up, Love,** Jack reassured. ~Touchy, touchy, and not in the best ways of ... touchy.~
The family crowded into four motorized rickshaws, one adult in each of them. It would be one of the few times they didn't follow their buddy system as they traveled.
Oddly, it was a rather silent ride in all four of the motorized transporters. The children were simply too stunned to say anything. They stared, gaped, and gasped at the things they saw during their twenty-five minute ride.
“Daddy, cows!” JD called out, pointing to the large animals he'd just seen on a side road they were passing.
“You'll be seeing a lot of those, JD,” Daniel responded. “Cows are sacred in India and in the Hindu culture. They're allowed to go wherever they want.”
Arriving at their destination, the children stood agape at what would be their place of residence for much of the duration of their stay in India. They were used to camping out in the mountains, during archaeological digs, and at the more basic setting of their cabin compound in Minnesota, but when on vacations as they were now, the brood was used to staying at first class hotels. None of them quite knew how to respond to what they were seeing at this moment.
“The YMCA?” David questioned in surprise, while holding Aislinn's hand.
“I've never stayed at the YMCA before,” Aislinn stated somewhat tentatively. She looked over at her parents and asked, “Are you sure it's okay? I'm not a man.”
“There's a first time for everything,” Jack responded, suppressing a chuckle.
“It's okay, Ash,” Daniel assured the worried girl.
The family entered the New Delhi YMCA Tourist Hostel. It wasn't fancy, but it had been remodeled several years earlier and was clean and organized with a large lobby at its center.
Three rooms were being paid for by Jack and Daniel. One would house Jennifer and her sisters, one would be for Jeff and all but one of his brothers, and Jack and Daniel would share the third, keeping JD with them.
“Find a spot,” Jack announced to his daughters. “You'll be sharing these three beds however you want it to work out,” he announced, pointing at the double beds in the rather simple room.
“Is our room like this, too?” Jonny asked. ~The bunkhouse is better than this,~ he thought about their rather simple bed setups at the Minnesota compound.
The rooms were meant for those traveling on a very tight budget. There was a small TV, a writing table, the beds, and a lamp in the kids' rooms. Jack and Daniel's room had just one double bed in it and included two chairs and a table, along with the TV.
“Where's the restroom?” Jenny asked tentatively, still astonished at her surroundings.
“You're lucky,” Daniel answered, getting quizzical looks from his children. “Until they remodeled, it was down the hall.”
“Oh,” Jenny responded nervously.
“'Oh' is right,” Jennifer sighed, walking forward and looking around at the bare bones decor and the rather bland coloring of the walls and furniture. Only the bedspreads had color in them. “I'm glad we're lucky.”
“Luckier than you realize ... yet,” Daniel stated as he showed the girls the location of the restroom.
After settling in and allowing JD time for a nap, the Jackson-O'Neills set out for their first excursion. They weren't going any place in particular as they strolled leisurely around, acclimating themselves to New Delhi and to the older part of the city as well. With the buddy system invoked, they were taking their time walking the streets.
“Noa, are you afraid?” Jonny asked his assigned buddy.
The two kids were holding each other's hands tightly as they walked in the middle of the family pack.
“No,” Chenoa answered hesitantly, her eyes shifting around her surroundings.
“There's a man following us,” Jonny reported quietly. “He's been following us for ten minutes, even when we turned corners.”
“I think we should tell Dad and Daddy.”
Jonny looked back, but the man was gone now. He made a note that if the man returned he would tell his parents. He just felt funny about it, and this was a strange place.
What the two young children had missed was that Jack, who was taking up the rear of the family pack, had also noticed the man. He'd stopped and given the Indian such a death glare that the Indian had quickly backed away and disappeared around a corner.
~We should have found a way to bring Teal'c,~ Jack had opined before facing forward and catching up with his family.
“Bri, what's that smell?” Ricky inquired of his buddy as they walked a yard or so ahead of Jonny and Chenoa.
“You don't want to know, Ricky,” Brianna responded, trying her best not to look repulsed by the unpleasant odors that filled the crowded streets.
“Is it the garbage?”
“Yeah, Ricky; it's the garbage,” Brianna confirmed. ~Human garbage.~
“I can't believe they live like this,” Jeff observed. “Trash is everywhere,” he told his buddy, Jenny, as they strolled on just ahead of Brianna and Ricky.
“Don't they have trash cans, Jeff?”
“I ...” Jeff paused and shrugged. “I don't know, Jenny.”
A couple of feet in front of Jeff and Jenny, Little Danny was giving Lulu a lecture about the history of India from the research he'd done before leaving home. He glanced down an alley and caught a glimpse of a sight that made him shudder. Two Indian boys were throwing rocks at a dog. Not caring about punishment, the animal advocate tugged Lulu with him as he screamed at the boys.
In a flash, Jeff called out, alerting the entire family, and they all turned to follow.
“Stop it!” Little Danny shouted at the boys. He ran hard, breaking free of his older sister and called out, “Ruko!”
Hearing the Hindi word for 'stop', the local boys turned around for a second, but they weren't deterred.
“No!” Little Danny screamed, running between the boys and the dog. He held out his hands, actually touching them and ordering, “Nai! Don't hit the dog.” Just then Daniel ran up, looking the situation over. “Daddy, tell them not to hit the dog.”
Daniel knew some basic Hindi, but he wasn't sure exactly what the correct phrase was that he needed right now. Not only were there several Indian dialects, a few of which he had that same basic knowledge of, but it had been a long time since he'd spoken anything but a basic 'hello'. Thus, it was natural that he might forget a few of the rules of language, if not some of the language itself.
“Khuta na maro,” [Don't hit the dog] the linguist stated firmly. ~Oh gawd. I think that's Punjabi, not Hindi.~
“He's just a dog. Why are you hurting him?” Little Danny challenged the boys, who just laughed; that is, until Little Danny was surrounded by all of his siblings, all looking incredibly fierce, even though they were all really scared inside.
“Bhag jao,” Daniel told the boys, his order for them to go away strong and intense.
Without hesitating, the boys decided it was best to make a quick retreat and ran swiftly from the area.
Little Danny turned around, looking for the dog, but he couldn't see him. Tears were streaming down his face.
“Where is he?”
“He ran off, Son,” Jack answered, his heart going out to his sensitive son.
Little Danny ran all around, tears falling and sobs sounding from his confused heart.
Daniel picked up his namesake and held him close, rubbing his back and whispering, “It's okay. Shhh! It's okay.”
“They were killing him, Daddy. Why?” the boy sobbed in despair. “We saw other dogs. They're starving,“ Little Danny cried.
“I know you're upset,” Daniel replied. “We all are, but we're in a foreign country now, and they have their own culture. I know it's hard, but that's part of being a student of culture.” He sighed, ~Crap, that sounds so cold.~
Little Danny's sobs were so emotional that by now, most of his siblings were crying, too. It was all the older ones could do to not have the entire family making a scene, not that they weren't attracting their fair share of attention anyway.
“He's just a little dog,” the fragile voice returned.
“I know, Danny. I'm sorry,” Daniel spoke quietly, still stroking his son's back and holding him securely. “Let's keep going.”
“Can't we look for him?” Little Danny begged with a sniffle as his father put him down and took his hand, intending to be his buddy for a while. “He needs help.”
“We'd never find him,” Daniel asserted, motioning for the family to start walking again.
Just a few yards later, though, the archaeologist saw Little Danny looking back. Gasps of sobs still came from the child's throat and devastation was written all over his young face.
“Jack!” Daniel called out urgently.
Jack walked over and stared at his lover, knowing the reason for the call. They didn't need speak, verbally or non-verbally. Their course of action was apparent.
“Kids, about face,” Jack ordered. “We have a dog to find.”
Incredibly, it only took a few minutes to find the injured dog, frightened and scared just a few blocks away.
“There he is!” Little Danny called out, once again finding the strength to break away from his buddy, which was still Daniel temporarily.
“How is he doing that?” Daniel asked complainingly, annoyed that even he couldn't keep Little Danny from doing what he felt he needed to do.
“How do you do it?” Jack responded, giving his husband a telling look that reflected back on their past.
Both fathers ran to try and stop Little Danny from catching the dog.
“Don't ...” the fathers pleaded at the same time, both stopping their shouts because it was too late.
**He is *so* your son.**
**Shut up, Jack.**
**He never listens. That dog could bite him and ...**
**Jack, what part of 'shut up' don't you understand?** Daniel questioned harshly, his sympathies totally with his namesake and not being interested in his soulmate's whining at the moment.
**Princesses and animals: geez!** Jack communicated as he knelt down slowly to get a better look at the animal and make sure the middle Munchkin would be safe. “See, he's okay,” he tried to pretend. “Let's ...”
“Dad, he needs a vet,” Little Danny claimed, kneeling down and hugging the dirty, injured dog close to his chest.
“He'll be okay. Now let's go,” Jack ordered. Then he made the mistake of looking at his son. The puppy eyes with water streaming down them were too much for the tough-as-nails general. He let out a resigned sigh and then queried, “Daniel, how do we find a vet?”
“I love you, Dad!” Little Danny exclaimed, starting to pick up the beaten dog.
“I'll carry him,” Jack insisted, gently taking the dog from the boy and automatically petting the dog. He whispered quietly, “Don't worry, Biscuit. You'll be okay.”
An hour later, the dog had been treated by a local veterinarian, who fortunately spoke English, something Jack and Daniel had been very grateful to discover.
“Little Danny, we can't keep the dog,” Jack stated strongly.
“Son, you know we can't take the dog with us,” Daniel added, supporting his lover's statement.
“He needs a home,” the little boy sighed dejectedly.
Jack couldn't stand it, so he looked at the vet and asked, “Can you get this dog a home?”
~A home?~ The vet was already looking at the Americans as though he thought they were crazy and now he looked at Jack as though he were a raving lunatic. Skeptically, he answered, “I do not know.”
Having already exchanged American dollars for Indian rupees, the general pulled out roughly five-thousand rupees and stated, “Find the dog a good home.”
“He'll be safe, right?” the young prodigy asked hopefully.
“I will get him a home,” the vet responded, not really answering the question. He was not going to make a promise he wasn't sure he could keep. ~They'll be gone; no worries on their part.~
Little Danny grinned, hugged the dog goodbye, and then started out with the rest of his family, except for Jack, who lagged behind.
With his family out of hearing range, Jack placed another five-thousand rupees on the counter, adding one of his J-O Enterprise's business cards to the Indian money.
“Here's the deal. You find the dog, *this* dog, a good home. Take a picture and send it to me, and I'll send you the equivalent of another five-thousand rupees. Next month, you have that family send me another picture of the dog in its happy home, and you'll get another five-thousand. You'll get five-thousand rupees every month that I get a picture of the dog, *this* dog, happy, healthy, alive.” Jack smiled and said, “Make sure the date is on the photo; include a copy of day's newspaper.”
“Five-thousand rupees *every* month?” the astonished vet asked, now really thinking the man in front of him completely off his rocker. ~Does this man know how much money he is throwing around for just a dog?~
“For *this* dog, and this dog only.”
“Why do you want this?”
“Because I love my son, and he's going to hound me to dea...” Jack smiled, realizing his choice of words wasn't the best, “pieces, wanting to know how this dog is. I want him to see, every month, that this dog is doing just fine. Look, even if you split it with the new owner, that's a lot of money just for taking a picture and giving the dog a home.”
The man nodded, putting the business card in his wallet, and acknowledged, “The dog will live a long and happy life. I shall make sure of it.”
“You do that.”
Jack smiled at the dog, petting it a couple of times before joining his family.
“Jack?” Daniel called out questioningly about why Jack had lagged behind.
“Just making sure we can sleep once we get home,” the older man answered cryptically.
A couple of hours later, the family was well on their way back to the YMCA when several of the kids began to complain about being hungry. The plan to eat at the YMCA was being impeded by the numerous street vendors. The brood had no idea what the food was being offered, but their stomachs were growling and they were anxious to try anything that was edible.
The children filled their bellies with new foods, including sarson ka sag, mutton sag, gol gappa, and dalma rice. Their parents tried to ration the food, but every time they turned around, another one of the children was gulping down something else. The only strict 'no no' was water. Jack and Daniel refused to let their children drink anything but bottled water while out.
“Hold your nose and swallow,” Lulu had advised some of her siblings at one point.
Then it happened, and it happened without warning. The Spitfires were all fired up with street food and not in a good way. With their tasting of the ultra sweet orange Jalabi, which was deep-fried in butter oil, their bodies rebelled. In an instant, most of what they'd ingested was all over the street, and the rest of the brood weren't feeling all that stable on their feet, either. Only JD had been completely spared, having stayed put with his daddy.
“What a day,” Daniel sighed as the family entered the YMCA's lobby.
“I thought it was a nightmare,” Jack joked, shaking his head at the afternoon's events. “Sit on the toilet and have it come out both ways; not a good experience. What did that lady call it?”
“Delhi belly,” Daniel answered.
“I don't think they'll forget this day.”
“Neither will we,” the younger man responded dryly.
“You'll feel better in the morning,” Jack assured the girls. “Sleep tight. Daddy will come say goodnight in a few minutes.”
Jack had been with his soulmate, doing their modified rounds with their children, until a couple of minutes ago. They'd been in the boys' room and were about to leave when Little Danny had started to cry. He'd sprung up out of bed and run into his daddy's arms.
~We can't shelter him, or they'll eat him up in this world,~ the general thought, wanting to keep his precious son safe and yet knowing that encouraging the little boy to wear blinders wouldn't be the healthy thing to do. ~I wonder how it's going in there.~
“This is what you meant, isn't it, Daddy?” Little Danny sniffled as he nestled snuggly into his father's arms.
The youngster hadn't understood it at the time, but now the conversation his younger father had had with him in Colorado was beginning to make sense.
“Partially, yes,” Daniel affirmed, rubbing his son's back in reassurance.
“I've never been so sad, except when Mommy died,” the child revealed.
“I know, and it's okay to be sad. It makes me sad, too, to know that some people and countries have so little and others have so much, but remember that if you want to be an archaeologist or an anthropologist, you have to be prepared to see all kinds of lifestyles, and some of them might be ones that you either don't approve of personally or can't condone as a human being. You have to be open and understanding of how others live.”
“I can't, Daddy, not when it hurts other people or animals. Being cruel to animals isn't okay and I can't understand how people can be so horrible. Will the little dog be okay?”
Daniel smiled and promised, “Dad took care of it. The dog is going to have a happy home.”
“I'm glad,” Little Danny replied with a yawn, though he was still holding on to his daddy tightly. ~I'm not sure I like it here. Maybe I won't be an archaeologist. I don't want to see places like this. It's too sad.~
With his head lying gently atop his son's, Daniel rocked his young son for several minutes until Little Danny fell asleep. He stood up slowly and carried his namesake back to the bed, carefully placing him on the mattress, while being careful not to wake up the other boys, who were all sound asleep already.
“I love you,” Daniel whispered, pulling the blanket up snugly to Little Danny's neck and placing a kiss on his forehead. “We can't shelter you from the darkness in the world. I wish we could, but we can't.”
With a resigned smile and a final look of compassion, Daniel looked over at Jeff and nodded. Quietly, Jeff locked the door behind his father, who was now eager to say his goodnights to the girls and get to bed himself. It had been a very long, emotional day, and he was ready for it to be over.
“Wh...wha...what's that?” Daniel called out as he leaped up, out of his lover's arms.
“Danny, what's wrong?” Jack asked, shivering at the loss of his Danny blanket.
“That noise,” Daniel. “There!”
Jack listened and then laughed, “Angel, it's a rooster.”
“Why is it up so early?” the weary archaeologist yawned.
“Because it's daylight, and that's when roosters get up. Rise and shine. Time to lay those eggs,” the older man teased.
“Aw, crap,” Daniel complained, falling back down onto his Love's hairy chest.
Jack chuckled and warmed his soulmate's back.
“Tell him to be quiet,” Daniel ordered when the rooster sounded off again. He tried to bury he head in his lover's shoulder, trying to block the sound out. ~Oh, shut up!~
“He'll be done in a minute. Go back to sleep,” the older man promised, looking over at JD, who was 'adventure sleeping' on the two chairs that had been pushed together. ~Crazy kid. He could have had the bed.~
“Rooster stew,” the younger man mumbled as he started to fall back to sleep. “Jack, roosters don't lay eggs.”
Amused, Jack chuckled while thinking, ~My Danny will never be a morning person. Geez, he's sounding more like me every day. Rooster stew?~
Laughing some more, Jack knew he wouldn't fall back to sleep, so he simply relaxed, soothing his sleeping husband and being grateful that Daniel was his.
After a less spicy and sweeter breakfast that morning in the cafeteria-style dining hall at the YMCA, the Jackson-O'Neills were walking through the lobby when a voice called out across the room.
“Daniel Bhaiya!” [Daniel Brother]
With JD in his arms, the archaeologist turned around and sought out the face of the caller. There was something about the voice that he recognized. He saw a middle-aged Indian man wearing loose brown slacks and a light orange shirt hurrying towards the family. His short black hair swayed from his fast pace, a twinkle of recognition smiling in his brown eyes.
“Taksheel!” Daniel exclaimed, smiling when he recognized his old friend. “Jack,” he said quietly, handing off the toddler to the older man and then meeting up with the Indian man midway in the lobby. “It's good to see you,” he greeted as they shook hands.
“Wah bhai wa! [Oh my gosh!] You are different, my friend,” Taksheel observed. “You have more,” he laughed, making muscle gestures with his arms, “and less hair.”
“Uh, well, yes, I guess,” Daniel conceded, laughing himself while scratching the back of his head.
“You are here on a dig, my friend?”
“Well, actually, no, Taksheel,” Daniel answered. “We're here to,” he looked back at his family, “explore.”
“You brought students?” the Indian man queried, nodding to the brood as they shifted behind their parents.
Daniel chuckled and corrected, “No, those are my children.”
Taksheel looked over at the brood and questioned in disbelief, “All of them?”
“All of them,” Daniel affirmed proudly.
“You and your wife have been very busy, Daniel. Where is she?”
“Wife?” Daniel smiled tentatively while he struggled for the proper answer. ~Moment of truth.~
The problem was Indian law and culture. Up until mid-2009, homosexuality was not just a taboo, but was against the law of the land. In fact, you couldn't even talk about it in public. While things had lightened noticeably over the last few years, it was still a sensitive subject and not to be taken lightly. He had to consider the brood before he responded.
The archaeologist looked around. There were a lot of people gathering and many could overhear his conversation with Taksheel. He wasn't comfortable telling Taksheel the truth; at least, not yet.
“Dead,” Daniel answered. ~Well, that is the truth; it's just not the whole truth.~
“I am so sorry, Daniel,” Taksheel replied, his sorrow making Daniel feel even guiltier than he already did for the lie.
While Daniel's statement hadn't technically been a lie, it was an insidious one. He'd intentionally misled his old friend that his late wife, Sha're, was the mother of the children. That's where the archaeologist's guilt stemmed from, along with the fact that he felt like he was betraying Jack simply by allowing Taksheel to make the erroneous assumption. Not only that, but Daniel felt like he was dishonoring Sha're by using her memory in this selfish manner.
“How so?” the Indian man inquired, politely asking how Sha're had passed.
~Okay, that's why lying never works,~ Daniel thought. ~I can't exactly tell him she was killed by a Jaffa staff blast after being taken as a host by the Goa'uld.~ His brain was weighing his options and then realized what he had to say. ~Sorry, Sha're.~ He cocked his head to the side for a moment and answered, “Drunk driver. She never knew what hit her.”
Jack was getting more curious about the ongoing conversation and decided it was time to get involved, so he casually walked over and called out, “Daniel?”
“Jack,” the archaeologist returned quickly. “Jack, this is Taksheel Wadekar. He worked with me when I was here on a dig a long ... long time ago. Taksheel, this is Jack ... O'Neill, my ... best friend.”
“Yes, that's me,” Jack agreed, shaking the Indian's hand.
**I'm sorry, Love, but ...**
**It's okay, Angel. We talked about this possibility back home, and I agree that it just isn't worth the risk,** Jack responded, cutting off his husband's apology and explanation.
“Yeh kon hai?” [Who is this?] Taksheel asked, referring to the toddler in Jack's arms.
JD looked at the Indian man curiously while a little hand clutched tightly to Jack's burgundy polo shirt.
“This is my youngest, JD,” Daniel introduced. He turned around and pointed out all of the children to his friend, concluding with, “... and that's Jennifer, my oldest.”
“Wanna see cow,” JD requested as he looked through the window and saw another cow just walking down the street.
With JD squirming around and wanting to get down, Jack set the child on the ground and instructed him to go to Jeff, who was watching his parents converse with the native Indian. The toddler obeyed and went to his big brother, who picked him up and walked closer to the window where he could get a better look at the passing bovine.
“You have a fine looking family, Daniel. Where will you be exploring?”
“Actually, we're playing that by ear,” Daniel responded. “We've been thinking about hiring a guide, but ...”
“A guide?” Taksheel questioned. He reared his head back and laughed, “Daniel, I am a guide. I am yours. Where would you like to go?”
Just then, Jonny called, “Dad, can I ...”
Daniel coughed and turned around quickly, requesting, “Jonny, please be quiet until ... I'll be there in a minute. Jennifer, please keep everyone quiet.”
The kids squirmed, sensing something was off-kilter. Their younger father had his arms folded across his chest in a defensive posture, while their dad's hands were in his pockets and he was bobbing up and down a little as he shifted from standing on the balls of his feet to the heels.
Over the next couple of minutes, Jack and Daniel talked with Taksheel and made arrangements for him to take them on a special tour of places surrounding New Delhi. As it turned out, Taksheel owned his own tour company and had the perfect mini-bus to take the entire family wherever they wanted to go. He had to rearrange one part of his day, but agreed to meet the 'Jackson' family in three hours to begin a multi-day trip.
When Taksheel walked away, Daniel looked at his husband and admonished, to himself as much as Jack, “We should have had this discussion with the brood at home.”
“Denial, Daniel. We were both denying that we'd have to pretend,” Jack theorized.
“You know something, Jack? For two supposed geniuses, sometimes we're pretty dumb,” Daniel sighed and then began the walk back over to the children.
“Yep, that about nails it right on the ole hammerhead,” Jack groaned, cocking his head to the right and smacking his lips one time before following his husband.
Sometimes, as Jack and Daniel had just discovered, denial was a very harmful thing, especially when it meant that the children were in for a big, nasty surprise in just a few minutes.
“What?” Brianna asked, her shock showing in her wide eyes and open mouth. She was stunned at what her parents were saying. ~I don't believe this.~
Jack and Daniel were trying to explain the situation to their children as best they could in the safety of their YMCA room.
“Kids, listen,” Jack continued. “This is serious. I don't want to hear a single name correction. When we're out in public, when Taksheel is with us, I'm 'Jack', and Daddy is ... Daddy. You're his children. Now that's not a lie.”
“Why do we have to lie about you, Dad?” Aislinn inquired, not happy about what was being said.
Jack rose from the chair he'd been sitting on and walked over to the bed, lifting up Aislinn, taking her seat on the bed, and then placing her gently in his lap.
“Princess, we're in a foreign country, and we have to respect their way of living and their beliefs. We'll be safe as long as we don't cause any public disturbances. We didn't tell you, but we checked in here under the Jackson name. Well, I signed in as O'Neill. Daddy and I *are* best friends, so that's not a lie, and it's not a lie that he's your father. There's no reason why any of you have to lie at all.”
“We know it's hard,” Daniel interjected, taking over for his husband. “However, there's a safety factor here. We have to consider the risk to you, and to us. More than that, we have to respect India's laws and customs, just like we want them to respect our laws and customs when they come to the United States.”
“So, no name corrections. If you forget and call me 'Dad', Daddy's going to answer; at least, for now.”
“I don't think I like it here,” Aislinn sighed, leaning her head against her dad's shoulder.
“Me, either,” Chenoa sighed sadly, walking over to Daniel for comfort. As he picked her up, she sniffled. “They hurt dogs for no reason, and they go to the bathroom on the street.”
“It smells,” Ricky noted. “It's scary to walk by all that junk.”
“It sure is noisy, too,” David chimed. “It's hard to think.”
“Everyone stares at us. They poke at us, wanting us to give them money,” Jenny stated. “I'd give it to them, if I had it.”
“Me, too,” Little Danny agreed. “They throw rocks at little, defenseless dogs,” he mumbled, wiping the tears that started to flow again.
“Can we go home?” Lulu asked, her brown, tearful eyes pleading with all their might.
“No, we can't,” Daniel answered firmly. “We brought you here for a reason, and part of that was to keep a promise to Kayla.”
“Mommy would understand that we don't like it here,” Jonny reasoned.
“Mommy wanted you to see India,” Daniel refuted without elaborating. “We've only seen a very small part of Delhi. Starting this afternoon, we'll see more, and after a while, you'll understand. Well, I hope you will.”
“I thought it would be fun, but I'm not having fun,” Aislinn admitted sadly.
Jack and Daniel looked at each other. For a second, they were about to crumble, but if they relented, their brood wouldn't learn the lesson they'd been brought to this country to learn. It would all have been a waste; plus, they would be breaking their promise to Kayla Armentrout, and that was something they just couldn't do.
“It'll get better,” Daniel promised.
“Daddy's right. We're tough. This is a piece of cake compared to what we've been through as a family. Think about that,” Jack put forth.
“Okay, pack your duffel bags. We have to be ready to check out when Taksheel gets back,” Daniel advised.
While the kids packed and with Jennifer watching JD, Jack and Daniel retreated to their room to talk for a minute.
“Danny, that was hard,” Jack admitted, hugging his Heart tightly in his arms.
“Gawd, it was horrible,” Daniel agreed. “But we made the right decision, Jack.”
Jack let out a groan and added, “Buck up, Love. If we cave now, we'll just have to do it all over again with a brood who knows what's coming. This is the better choice.”
Loosening their hold on each other, the lovers stood there for a moment, holding hands. With their foreheads resting against each other, the couple sighed before letting go.
Jack went to pack his own duffel bag, as did Daniel.
“Danny, how well do you know this Taksheel?”
“Not very,” Daniel answered. “I was only here for one week of the dig. He was one of the locals who helped out, running errands and doing whatever we needed done. I guess you could say we hit it off. You know I ... I wasn't all that sociable back then, but he seemed to see through that.”
“Can we trust him?”
“I think so.”
“With the truth?” the older man probed.
Daniel slowly put his journal into his backpack. He took a deep breath and sat down on the edge of the bed.
“Jack, it's not that simple. If we tell him, we put him at risk,” Daniel stated. “Look, for us, including the children, it's an inconvenience; maybe a frustration, but to Taksheel, it's more. India has come so far, but they aren't close to being what it's like back home. Do we have the right to tell him the truth just to make it easy on ourselves?”
The conversation ebbed to silence. There really wasn't any more to say on the subject.
It was close to a six-hour drive to Mandawa, which would be the first official stop of this particular tour of India. There wasn't a whole lot to see during the ride except for farmland.
Along the way, the group stopped to use the facilities, and that's when the brood made another unpleasant discovery about this eastern land they were traveling through.
“Daddy, someone stole the toilet!” Aislinn shouted as she ran out of the bathroom.
“Ah, no, Sweetie,” Daniel responded while trying to decide how to tactfully respond to Aislinn's statement.
“Daddy, I *hafta* go, but there's no toilet seat!”
“Jen!” Daniel instructed quietly.
The young woman understood her father's unspoken request and took action immediately.
“Come on, Ash. I'll show you,” Jennifer stated, taking her sister's hand.
The oldest of the children had already learned about the 'hole in the ground' toilets that were prevalent throughout India. While there were now more western style toilets than ever before, the prevailing restroom was one where users basically squatted and went into a hole.
A couple of minutes later, Aislinn walked out, looked at Daniel with a glare, and stated, “I don't like it here.”
“I'm sorry,” Daniel sighed. He saw Aislinn telling her sisters about the primitive bathroom and observed their grimaces. “Jen, make sure they all use it. We don't want to stop again because they're ...”
“Rebelling?” Jennifer surmised, slightly amused.
“Sure, yes, rebelling; that works.”
While Jennifer forced her sisters into taking care of business, Jeff had the privilege of showing the boys.
“Jeff, I can't 'go'; it's dark in here,” Jonny protested.
“So what? Your butt's always in the dark anyway,” Jeff replied humorously, laughing even louder when he heard David's snort of laughter as well. “Come on, guys. Let's finish up,” he encouraged.
When the children all returned, there were a lot of evil glares given to their parents, but Jack noticed traces of a grin on Jeff's and David's faces. The question on Jack's face prompted Jeff to tell his older father about Jonny's complaint and his response.
“Good one, Jeff,” Jack chuckled. “Inside,” he ordered the brood, something Taksheel took note of as he stood off to the side, unnoticed.
“They're not exactly happy,” Daniel sighed as he approached his lover.
“Danny, this is gonna get harder before it gets easier.”
“It is what it is,” Jack jested, turning to get inside the bus.
That's when Daniel turned and saw Taksheel, looking over at him.
“As you wish, Daniel,” a smiling Taksheel replied.
Traveling down the main street of Mandawa, the brood didn't really know what to expect. It was a small place with old buildings and a lot of dirt on the street. The men were dressed as normally as any American might be, but the women were wearing colorful saris and Indian suits.
“It's beautiful,” Aislinn observed, looking at one particular building as if she'd never seen anything so lovely before.
“It's a haveli,” Jeff noted eagerly.
“What's a haveli, Jeff?” Chenoa inquired with true curiosity running through her.
“It's a mansion,” the budding designer answered simplistically. “Private mansion, to be precise. A lot of them in Pakistan and here in India are in the tradition of the Islamic style. Those have a large courtyard and a fountain at the center. Some of the older havelis in India are in the Mughal-style, though.”
“This one has been restored,” Taksheel told his passengers. “Most have not,” he added. He pulled the mini-bus over and suggested, “Come. Let me give you a better view.”
The family got out and followed their guide to the terrace of one of the havelis.
“Here, you can see the havelis of Mandawa. It is a sad sight,” Taksheel sighed. “The frescoes have been ignored.”
“What's that?” Jonny asked.
“The paintings on the walls,” Taksheel answered.
The children understood better when they went for a walk and were able to compare the restored haveli and its frescoes with the majority of the abandoned or deteriorating havelis where the frescoes were in near ruin.
“Do you like camels?” the guide surprised the family in asking.
“They aren't my favorite animals in the world,” Jack responded dryly.
“That's because of what happened in Egypt, D...Jack,” Jennifer stated.
“It is almost sunset; the perfect time for a ride,” Taksheel announced, beckoning the family to follow him.
Sometime later in the desert outside of the noise of Mandawa, the traveling family found themselves in the middle of a paradise. The air was silent, and as they looked around, all they saw were golden spikes of grain shooting up from the ground and a tree that mimicked the biblical Tree of Life. The oranges and purples of the sunset brought a sense of awe to the travelers. Some of the children took pictures, but none of them said a word, not even JD.
“I don't understand,” Aislinn finally spoke. “How can it be so beautiful here and so dirty in the village?”
The question went unanswered except for the coughing sound of the camel which reminded many of a donkey's honk.
“Kids, think about how you feel right now, here, in this spot in the middle of an Indian desert,” Jack urged from behind where the children were all staring out at the sunset. “What do you feel?” He walked around to be in front of them and knelt down on his haunches. He picked up some sand and ran it through his hands. “It's been a hard couple of days, but we're only visiting this country. Taksheel lives here. All those people we've bumped into in Delhi and those villagers back in Mandawa -- this is their home; their reality.”
“Why can't they make it better?” Little Danny pleaded in what was an emotionally charged question. “Why doesn't somebody help them?”
“They will,” Daniel answered from behind the children. “Actually, they are. They have a long way to go, but what you're seeing here and even in the rundown areas we've seen are improvements over the way it was just ten years ago. Sure, many homes and buildings are still in need of repair and better sanitation and certainly there is a tremendous need for fresh water, clean food, and medical care for the citizens, but this is ... better.”
“They need to try to be better...er,” Jonny declared strongly.
“It is time to return to Mandawa,” the owner of the camels called out.
The man was quite a bit behind the family and couldn't hear their conversation.
Daniel twisted his torso around to nod and acknowledge the call and then he turned back and suggested, “I hope you all try to process your feelings about what it's been like for the last twenty minutes or so and then write about them tonight in your journals. You don't have to share your thoughts, but I hope you record them, honestly.”
“Saddle up,” Jack ordered as he stood.
There weren't enough camels for all the children, so they'd rotated who rode on the way out of town and now switched over to the others as they prepared to return.
“You sure you don't want to ride a camel, Jack?” Daniel asked with a sly smile.
“Ha, ha, ha ... no,” Jack responded with a snarl.
“Just thought I'd ask,” the younger man mused, his dimples showing brightly as he looked at his snarling husband.
After a night's rest at the Mandawa Castle, once a fortress and now a restored hotel, the family and Taksheel ate breakfast and then continued their journey. It lasted for several days and confused the children even more.
Little Danny was all smiles as he watched black-faced monkeys climbing through the trees. It had been his most joyful part of the trip thus far. Noticing this, Jeff made a point to take as many photographs as he could, including his brother in the periphery of the image when possible. Later on, monkeys actually came right up to the vehicle and took food from the hands of the children. They had all of them giggling, filling their parents' hearts with some glee for the moment.
For the child prodigy whose heart was much too sensitive, the monkeys were a much-needed relief after seeing so much of what he considered to be despair and sadness.
The children were getting used to the hole-in-the-ground toilets, but when they stayed some place with a western toilet, they were very happy campers. After surviving their first screaming discovery of the creatures, the girls didn't even mind the geckos, which seemed to like hanging out in the bathrooms.
Cows were everywhere the Jackson-O'Neills went, and the creatures were left to do whatever they wanted to do. No one dared disturb a cow, even if the animal walked up to their front door, which some of them did.
The long drives between their destinations were the worst part for the brood. It was still hot and dusty in the region, though it was supposed to be cooling as the season changed. The roads were bumpy and very dangerous. It wasn't uncommon to see overturned trucks and dented vehicles along the roadside. There were even a couple of narrow escapes from drivers Jack called 'out of their mind, loco as in way out crazy, lunatics'. Adding to the difficulties, many of the roads were single lanes with an abundance of potholes.
For some of the children as well, it was strange to be driving on the 'wrong' side of the road, meaning that India, having been part of the British Empire, still drove on what the Americans considered to be the incorrect side of the road. In the cities, cars swerved in and out of so-called lanes and came from out of nowhere. Apparently, everyone thought they had the right of way, if there even was a right of way anywhere in the country.
~It's like playing 'Chicken',~ Jack had thought a few times when the mini-bus was being confronted by other trucks or even smaller transports like mopeds. ~It's beyond being fast and furious.~
Now the family was in Agra for a full day that would include one of the 'must see' sites in India, regardless of the purpose for being in the country. This was the home of the magnificent Taj Mahal. Jeff especially was looking forward to seeing the world famous mausoleum, which was considered the finest example of Mughal architecture.
Jack and Daniel roused the children before dawn. They'd heard how the sunrise lit up the Taj Mahal, and they wanted their children to see that beauty. They weren't disappointed, either.
“It takes my breath away,” Jennifer observed in awe. “It's just so pretty to watch.”
“These pictures are going to be a great addition to my report,” Jeff opined as he clicked away, taking dozens of photos of the great building.
The mini-bus was parked in one of the designated parking lots, and the family approached this wonder of the world by electric bus. Security precautions meant they could only take a few things inside with them, but once there, they could see and absorb just about everything the great site had to experience.
The family started their visit from the relatively new visitor's center in one of the courtyards. From that point on, it was a full day of curiosity, history, and fun. By the end of the long day, the children were exhausted but happy. They'd seen the best of India.
The smiles continued the following day when the family toured The Keoladeo National Park, once known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, a relatively small national park, but one that was a delightful waterfowl habitat with a huge array of flora and fauna.
The family's next stop was the Welded Tuff in Jodhpur. This was a geological site that was especially exciting for David, who was intent on being a geologist. For him, the site was full of discovery and wonder. He could have stayed there for a week without being bored for a single second.
From there, it was on to the Pink City, Jaipur, for a couple of days. This short stay was the most normal for the children because they stayed at a regular hotel and had the aura of being like any other family vacation. They enjoyed their time in the bustling city, especially since they celebrated Jack's birthday during their stay.
When Jack, Daniel, and their brood returned to Delhi, it was an instant reality check of all the sadness, cruelty, poverty, and criminal elements that they'd witnessed earlier. By the time they checked back into the YMCA, the kids were happy to be inside.
With Jennifer and Jeff watching the children, Jack and Daniel went for a walk.
“Do you think we made a mistake?” Daniel asked his husband as he walked with his arms crossed in front of his chest.
“No,” Jack answered quietly. “Look, Danny, this hasn't been easy on them. Heck, it hasn't been easy on me. We've seen a lot of the worst of India, but you know as well as I do that there's more.”
“We could take them to see the Projects, but I'm not sure we should.” Daniel sighed as he thought. “Jack, I don't think we're accomplishing our mission. Yes, they've seen things that should make them appreciate more what they have back home, but we're ... we're not there, not yet.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I'm not sure,” Daniel responded, his arms uncrossing and his hands finding their way into his pockets. His head was down as he searched for the answer he needed. “Jack, Taksheel has connections. He said he could take us to some of the homes for the elderly, the ones in the Projects.”
“Is that what you want to do?”
His nod gaining force, the younger man affirmed, “Yes, yes, I ... I do.” He took a breath and then shook his head negatively. “No, I ... I don't know.” He gathered his composure and looked into his lover's chocolate brown eyes. “What do you think we should do?”
“There's a lot more of India to see, Danny. Let's take it a day at time.”
Jack shrugged and answered, “Let's catch a train and go wherever it goes.”
The next morning, the family had breakfast and caught some of the morning news before heading for the train station, which was an experience in its own right. Once on board the train, they settled into their compartments, though it wasn't long before they all simply squeezed into the largest compartment so they could be together.
“Daddy, what was that demonstration about that we saw on the news this morning?” David questioned inquisitively.
“It was about some man named Andy or something,” Ricky pointed out. He laughed, “They showed his picture and he was wearing a diaper.”
“Ricky, that wasn't a diaper,” Daniel responded, eyes alight with mirth as he stared at the little Spitfire.
“It looked like a diaper,” the Spitfire returned.
“It's called a dhoti, and it's traditional Indian attire for men,” Daniel informed the children.
“It is?” Jonny asked, cringing at the thought of wearing the getup which he also thought looked like a diaper.
“Yes,” Daniel affirmed. “It's, uh, it's a rectangular cloth that men wrap around their waist and legs and then tie at the waist.”
“Sounds like a diaper to me,” Jenny opined.
“I'd rather wear jeans,” Ricky quickly added.
“Me, too,” Jonny agreed wholeheartedly.
“And the man's name is Gandhi, not Andy,” Jack interjected, correcting Ricky's misnomer. ~I'm the only one that gets to play around with names, thank you.~
“Gandhi should have gone shopping at the mall,” Chenoa giggled.
Daniel chuckled, but quickly pointed out, “Noa, that wasn't possible.”
“How come?” the curly-haired girl asked.
**Lesson time, Love. Wanna take the lead, or shall I?** Jack questioned via the couple's unique communication ability.
**We'll swap the lead,** Daniel replied. **This should help to bridge some of the cultural gaps.**
**Or at least spark some interest in India's history,** Jack suggested hopefully. He looked around and called out, “Kids, listen up. We're going to have a discussion about one of India's great leaders and you'll see how it ties into that demonstration we saw on the news this morning,” he announced, gathering together the children that hadn't been a part of the initial discussion and closing the doors to give them some privacy.
After making sure everyone was up to date on the topic, Jack nodded to his lover, the indication for Daniel to begin the impromptu lesson.
“Brood, this is going to be a brief overview and maybe later or when we get home and get back to our studies, we can research and discuss it further,” Daniel began. “How many of you have heard of Mohandas Gandhi?” No hands went up, so Daniel rephrased the question. “How many have heard of Mahatma Gandhi?” This time a few hands went up, primarily those of the older children, and Little Danny's, of course. “They are the same person.”
“They are?” Jenny question. “Why does he have two names?”
“Nickname,” JD giggled, surprising his parents.
“Give me five,” Jack requested of the young toddler, the boy slapping his older father's palm enthusiastically. “Yeah!”
“That's ... pretty close,” Daniel stated, brightly smiling at his youngest. “Gandhi was born Mohandas, but as he grew as a leader in India, some began to call him Mahatma, which means great soul. It stuck, and most of the world uses Mahatma when talking about him. In India, the name Gandhi is equivalent to what ... well, the name Kennedy back home, only here, Gandhi represents much more than politics and influence.”
“I've read that Gandhi was Martin Luther King's inspiration, or one of them,” Jennifer remarked.
“Yes,” Daniel affirmed with an upbeat tone. He was delighted to have the children engaging in the conversation already. “In our social studies, we've talked a bit about the civil rights movement and Doctor Martin Luther King. What do you remember about Doctor King?”
“I know,” Lulu called out, getting the nod to state her answer. “He wanted people to march in protest, but not to riot and hurt each other.”
“Good job, Little Bit,” Daniel praised. “What else?”
“Like Lulu said, he was a proponent of marches, but he believed in peaceful protest,” Jeff pointed out.
“Actually, Jeff, Doctor King was more into passive resistance,” David corrected. Then he smiled and shrugged, conceding, “I guess it's the same thing.”
“As Jen said, Gandhi inspired Doctor King. In fact, Doctor King's belief about passive resistance came directly from Mahatma Gandhi,” Daniel informed the children while studying their faces and feeling pleased with the level of interest he saw there. “The world is really a very small place with great men learning from other great men.”
“I still don't know why Gandhi would wear a diaper,” Jonny stated.
“It's a dhoti, Jonny,” Little Danny chastised.
“Whatever,” the sandy-haired boy sighed with a shrug of his shoulders.
“Careful,” Jack warned about his namesake's snarkiness, prompting Jonny to sit up a little straighter and silently to reconsider his attitude.
Daniel continued, “Gandhi was instrumental in bringing about civil rights for Indians living in South Africa.”
“Were their cowboys there, too?” Ricky asked enthusiastically.
“Daddy's not talking about those kind of Indians, Ricky,” Jenny informed her twin. “He means people born in India.”
“Your sister is correct,” Jack advised. “Daniel.”
“Okay, so Gandhi spent much of his life working for India to be independent of the British.”
“The British?” Chenoa asked in confusion. “I thought we were talking about India.”
“Uh, let's back up a step. India was originally under British rule. It belonged to England,” Daniel explained.
“Wow,” Chenoa commented. “England was big 'cause they owned us, too, right?”
“At first, yes,” Daniel confirmed. “Gandhi felt that India should be a separate entity.”
“So was Gandhi a patriot like John Adams and the Minute Men?” Aislinn questioned.
“In a sense. He did lead the Indian National Congress for quite some time,” Daniel responded. “Gandhi stands out, however, because he lived with a dedication to his beliefs and principles that was unheard of, even back then. He would fast for days, sometimes weeks, to bring about an end to one conflict or another. He was very beloved by his people, so much so that the British government was afraid that if Gandhi died during one of his fasts, especially during a time when he was imprisoned, that the entire country would rise up in rebellion and they would lose control.”
“It's funny,” Jennifer began seriously. “We've been here for almost two weeks and this is really the first time I've thought about Gandhi. I mean really thought about him. We've studied the history, but what we're talking about is more just history. Here we are, standing in a country that is free because one man lived his life with such purpose.”
“That's why he's called the great soul and even the father of this nation,” Daniel explained.
“He even has his own holiday,” Jack pointed out.
“October 2nd, which is his birthday,” Daniel elaborated.
“Better known around the world as the International Day of Non-Violence,” Jack informed the brood.
“Daddy, I thought we were going to talk about those demonstrations we saw on the news?” Jonny asked, curious about the fighting.
“We are,” Daniel replied. “Let's go back to Noa's comment about the malls first. Actually, there weren't any malls in Gandhi's day. His dhoti was home spun; he made it himself, which was something he hoped all of his people would do.”
“Like Jen weaves stuff for Alex?” Lulu questioned.
“It was economics,” Jack interjected. “England exported a lot of cloth to India, and by not purchasing the cloth and spinning their own thread for their dhotis, it hurt the British economy.”
“It's just like with us,” David interjected. “Jen sews for us and she makes a lot of accessories for the house.”
“The new doormat,” Chenoa pointed out proudly, sharing a three-way smile among the Mouseketeers.
“Jen's saved us a lot of money by making things for us,” Jack agreed. He smiled at Chenoa, Aislinn, and Jenny, who were most active in assisting their older sister and learning how to sew and use the loom, and added, “And so have her helpers.”
Jennifer let out a little gasp as she made a connection.
“Jen?” Jack called out.
“That's just weird. I have something in common with Mahatma Gandhi,” the young woman commented.
As the family calmed from their shared chuckle over Jennifer's excitement, Daniel continued the lesson, telling the children that, “As a result of Gandhi's influence, India became an even bigger headache for England.”
“Your daddy knows all about causing headaches,” Jack heard himself say. Feeling the glaring eyes boring down on him without even looking, the general smiled weakly and claimed, “I'm just kidding.”
“And someone we know has a warped sense of humor,” Daniel accused dryly, his stare aimed pointedly at his husband.
“I get no respect,” Jack droned.
Shaking off the questionable merriment, Daniel continued, “Getting back to the subject at hand, what we just discussed is a very oversimplified account of events as to why Gandhi and his supporters were weavers. Now, as to the demonstrations, Pakistan was not a separate country from India. The major religion was, and still is, Hinduism, and the second was and is Islam. The leader of the Muslim League, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, insisted on partition; that is, on dividing India into two countries because he felt the Muslims would always be second-class citizens in India. The largest Muslim populations were on the far sides of India, so Pakistan was divided into two completely separate areas. Millions of people were resettled, millions of angry people passing each other into what had been just weeks before, their home soil. The sad part is that Gandhi offered to step down and order his party to essentially step aside and allow Mister Jinnah's party to form the first Indian government, but Mister Jinnah was very much into power and ego and refused.”
“I don't understand,” Aislinn admitted. “If the government would have been independent, why wouldn't he agree?”
“They would still be a part of India, so even though Mister Jinnah's group would be leading, they'd still be a part of a bigger whole, and he didn't want that,” Daniel answered. “He had his own dream, Pakistan, and that was more important to him than keeping India unified.”
“What happened when the people left?” Little Danny queried.
Daniel closed his eyes and answered solemnly, “Over a million people killed each other in the riots that took place in the space of a hundred days or so.”
Everyone was still for a few moments, lost in their own thoughts.
“So, they're still arguing about religion,” David surmised as he reflected on the news story that had begun the family's discussion.
“I'm afraid so, Son,” Daniel replied. “In his personal writings, Gandhi prophesied the division of India would be the cause of four wars between India and Pakistan.”
“How many have there been?” Brianna questioned, the budding marine biologist having been drawn in by her younger father's synopsis of the life of a man who died long before she was ever born.
“I'll tell you what,” Jack interrupted. “There's a lot to be discussed and studied about India, and Pakistan, so why don't we save the rest of this until we get home?”
“Okay,” Brianna agreed.
“Why don't you write down questions you have or subjects you'd like to discuss in your journal so that you have them when we talk at home,” Daniel suggested, getting nods of agreement from the brood.
**I'm impressed, Danny. They were really into this,** Jack communicated.
**Gandhi is a very important figure in history. I hope the children will end up appreciating his sacrifices and will respect what he lived for and accomplished.**
Jack nodded and then turned his attention to JD, who was pointing at something through the window.
David approached his younger father and asked, “Daddy, isn't there a museum for Gandhi in New Delhi?”
“Yes, there is, and before you ask, it's on the agenda for the next time we're there.”
The young boy smiled and replied, “Good. I really want to learn more about Mahatma Gandhi now. Thanks for the lesson.”
“You're welcome, David.”
“Carter?” Jack called out in surprise over his cell phone a few days later.
The children all looked at the cell phone and their father in disbelief. All were wondering why their Aunt Sam was calling them in India . The group had paused in their trek through another village, when the cell phone had made its presence known. Local villagers were sneaking glances at the family, curious as to what they were doing.
“Sir, I'm sorry to interrupt your trip, but I've found something,” Sam advised with a sense of urgency.
“What is it?” the general asked, walking away from his children for privacy and motioning for Daniel to keep the brood with him.
“I think you'll want to see it, as soon as possible,” Sam expounded without really explaining. “Where can I send this so you'll get it?”
Jack glared at a mirage he'd just pulled up of his former 2IC. Clearly, she had no intention of telling him what would be in the package, only that he needed to receive it.
~Grrr. Stubborn 2IC,~ Jack growled in frustration. “We've been tooling around via the train for the last few days. We should be back at the YMCA in New Delhi in two days.”
“Keep it quiet, Sir -- just you and Daniel,” Sam instructed urgently.
“Carter, just ...”
“Sorry, Sir, I have to go,” the blonde said, ending the call abruptly.
“I could still send you to Elmendorf,” Jack barked in frustration. Then he grunted when he heard nothing but silence through the communication device. ~If I didn't hate paperwork so much, I'd do it, for crying out loud.~
“Jack?” Daniel called out, sensing the disgruntled thoughts from his husband.
“It's nothing,” Jack answered as he returned to his family. “Carter's time of the month.”
“Jack!” Daniel exclaimed in objection.
“Eww!” several of the children called out, cringing from the remark.
Two days later, the family was back in Delhi, doing more sightseeing, including visiting the Gandhi Museum.
“Jack, did you see Jennifer's eyes light up over those Chakras?” Seeing his husband's confusion, he elaborated, “The small fold-up spinning wheels?”
“Already crossed off Santa's list. It will be waiting at Mrs. V's when we get back.”
The big priority for Jack and Daniel at the moment, however, was the package they'd received from Sam. In fact, the unexpected contents stunned them into speechlessness for quite a while.
“She found a way,” Daniel finally spoke as he leaned against his husband's shoulder as they sat up in bed.
At that moment Daniel needed the comfort Jack always gave him without reserve.
“That she did,” Jack agreed as both men continued to gaze at the contents of the box in awe.
“You know what we have to do, Jack.”
Jack rose and stated, “I'm going to go see if I can make the arrangements.” He sighed, “Danny, you're onboard with all this, right?”
“It's why we came, Babe. This whole trip is an uncomfortable and long vacation if we can't accomplish our goal.”
“Our goal,” Jack sighed in disappointment while shaking his head. “We were so far off.”
“I know, but we're still here, so it's not too late.”
With a nod, Jack headed for the door, but stopped short to ask, “Do you want me to get JD when I'm done or ...”
“Yeah, that would be good,” Daniel concurred, picking up one of the objects and staring it at them some more. “I'll ... call Taksheel.”
“They do not like outsiders to see,” Taksheel commented quietly as he led the Jackson-O'Neill family down a long corridor.
It had rained the night before and the concrete passage had remnants of water still present. It was a little like walking on the edge of a beach with the water coming halfway up the boots the children were wearing.
Hushed, the brood looked to the right and to their left. People were living inside these tiny rooms. Laundry was hung on lines, and families were staring at them as they passed. When they emerged from this group of so-called homes, they saw a street that made them gasp and cringe.
Old, failing wooden homes lined the sad slum of India. The buildings were crowded together and looked like they could fall down at any moment. Debris lined the muddy streets, and the unpleasant smell was unlike anything they'd experienced before. Wires that carried erratic and unreliable electricity dangled and drooped from building to building, screaming out 'hazard warning'. It was a primitive lifestyle the arguably wealthy American children had never seen before.
The Jackson-O'Neills became the focus of the slum dwellers. Some followed the family as they walked.
“Do not worry,” Taksheel stated, noticing the concerned glances of the family. “They are only curious.”
Indeed, the Indian people smiled at the foreigners. Unlike many of those in the city, there were no requests for handouts. No one asked for food or money. The people just watched.
~It's amazing,~ Jennifer thought. ~This place is so disgusting, but look at the people. They're so clean. These kids are surrounded by filth, but they're not dirty.~
Meanwhile, Jeff was studying the rundown buildings and lamenting, ~Why isn't someone rebuilding these homes? Man, I feel funny calling those homes. Look at that. That's the third house we've passed where I've counted at least ten people inside. How can they live in such crowded quarters?~
The architectural college student wondered how any of what he was seeing could even be called architecture. He'd seen Lego structures that looked better than these homes. Jeff took more photographs, planning to use them in his report to show the contrast between the Taj Mahal and the way people lived here.
Little Danny was about to cry. These people had only the bare essentials, if that. The poverty level was unthinkable and beyond his imagination. Even the poorest people he knew in America had more than what he was seeing. In his young eyes, the closest he could compare these people to were the homeless who lived in tents at the encampment by Monument Creek. There were so many Indians here, though, and his mind just couldn't comprehend the depth of their
“He wants to rest,” Jack answered simply as he lowered his son's pointing finger. He smiled at the man, who was grinning, though he had only a few teeth showing. ~Sofas on the front porch: okay, we haven't seen that since the hills of Kentucky.~
The family continued walking, saying virtually nothing aloud. It was a couple of minutes later when their guide broke the silence.
“They have tried to make things better, but hundreds of these settlements still exist,” Taksheel explained about the government and the living conditions.
All of a sudden, a little girl in pigtails caught the boy's eye. She was wearing a plain light green Indian suit which had faint dirt stains in odd places. She had the brightest smile, one that was contagious, causing Little Danny to smile, too. He watched as said something to her mother, or at least, Little Danny assumed it was her mother. Then the strangest thing happened. She ran over to Little Danny and began speaking to him, though he hadn't a clue what she was saying.
“Bhaiya, aap khel na hai?” [Brother, you want to play?] the little girl asked, bouncing as she waited for a response.
“Uh, she wants to know if you want to play,” Daniel translated, placing an encouraging hand on the Munchkin's shoulder.
“Play?” Little Danny questioned, his big blue eyes blinking back at his father in slight confusion. ~How can you play here?~
Jack looked at the little genius and stated, “You know, play, as in run, laugh, have fun.”
Daniel heard Taksheel speaking to the woman, and the next thing he knew, the family was being drawn over to her home. It was a tri-level structure in which the children slept in the top level. The parents' bedroom occupied the middle level, and the living and cooking areas took up the first floor. It was very clean and, in fact, peaceful. As was the custom for Indian people, this area was a place of reflection and one of religious significance.
“Aajo, aap ki khaan na kahlo,” [Come and eat] the woman beckoned warmly.
“Haan, shukriya,” [Yes, thank you] Daniel responded with equal warmth to the woman, grateful he'd spent some time in the evenings refreshing his knowledge of the language. Plus, now that he'd heard and been surrounded by the culture for a while, he was naturally recalling much of what he'd learned decades ago. The linguist looked over at his lover's confused face and translated, “We've been invited to dinner.”
For the next few hours, Jack, Daniel, their children, and Taksheel were treated as family members of Kama and Ramya Seshadri. Though the slum-dwelling family hadn't much, they gave of their lot freely, insisting that their guests enjoy to their delight.
Jack and Daniel were proud of their brood during the meal. For the most part, their dinner consisted of curry, biscuits, and tea. No one complained.
Neither of the Seshadris spoke English, but that didn't matter. Their children found ways of communicating with the brood as they played and taught each other scattered words of their home language. Little Danny in particular was soaking up phrases like a sponge.
As the two families enjoyed the evening, they began to share more about themselves. Kama was a rickshaw driver. Though he now used a bicycle, when he was young, he'd been a 'human horse', a man pulling the rickshaw and running along the streets in his bare feet to take Indians and tourists wherever they wanted to go.
“You pulled a rickshaw by running?” Little Danny echoed in horror, waiting anxiously for his question to be translated. The response was affirmative and that Kama had done the job with honor. He was pleased to have been able to do his job well. “Pleased?” the confused youngster questioned.
The response was too much for the sensitive child. He got up and ran outside. He found himself in the middle of the street, turning around and around, staring at a horror he'd never imagined in his young life. Tears were flowing down his cheeks and he felt as if his heart was breaking.
The somewhat bewildered Seshadris followed as the Jackson-O'Neills all hurried out after the middle Munchkin. Daniel waved them off as he reached his namesake and picked him up, holding him close.
“It's not right, Daddy,” Little Danny and his moral compass proclaimed while burying his head into Daniel's shoulder, shudders running through his little body.
“That's why they don't do it anymore, Sproglet. Several years ago, the government outlawed human beings pulling rickshaws. That's why they have the bicycles and the motorized vehicles now,” Daniel explained, stroking his son's hair in comfort.
“Why?” Little Danny sniffled into his father's collar.
“Why would he want to pull people in a rickshaw? Why would people want him to?”
Daniel placed his son back on the muddy ground and knelt down to look into the boy's soulful blue eyes. He placed his hands along Little Danny's arms, gently trying to comfort the boy with his soothing motions.
“Little Danny, I know this is difficult. The act of being a ... a human horse is barbaric to the majority of the world; that's why the government here finally stopped it. India is still considered a third world country, but it's a developing one and it's thriving as it grows. The leaders of the country didn't want the rest of the world looking in and calling them on the horror of the rickshaw puller, but,” Daniel paused, taking a breath, “if you're one of the rickshaw pullers, that's who you are. You know how we take pride in making a grid, extracting a prized relic, and restoring it so that it's pristine and can be appreciated by the world? We take pride in what we do. It's important to us.”
“But he was like a slave, Daddy,” Little Danny rebutted, still not understanding. “Why would he want to do that?”
“It was his job, Danny, and it really is just that simple,” the father answered concisely. “He did it to take care of himself and his family, and he chose that work rather than to beg on the streets. I'll tell you something else, Son. If pulling a rickshaw were all I could do to take care of you and your siblings, I'd do it without hesitation, and so would Dad.”
“Couldn't he do something else?” the boy asked quietly.
“Maybe, maybe not. I'm pretty sure Kama didn't have a lot of career options to choose from and pulling a rickshaw in the tradition of his own father is what he chose to do.” Daniel thought for a moment, trying to find the right words to help his young son to understand. “Think about this,” he urged. “By putting yourself above him, by demeaning what he did, by acting like it ... like it was so abominable that you'd never let him take you anywhere, you're dishonoring him.”
Daniel held his namesake's hand in his as he smiled sympathetically and continued his attempt to explain.
“Danny, how much money you have and where you live does not define who you are. What makes a person special is their ability to make the best of what they have and always to strive to be the best they can be. It's not about being superior, it's about knowing that you've done your best. Kama took pride in being the top income earner of the group in which he worked. He brought in more income than anyone else and he did that by working hard. Granted, his job wasn't one that we approve of, but it's not for us to approve of his job. It's our place to respect who he is and what he's accomplished.”
Little Danny's sniffles and his sad expression showed that he wasn't quite onboard with his father's explanation.
Daniel looked around and spotted some children playing outside.
“Son, look.” Once Little Danny was focused on the children, Daniel tried again to make his point. “Those children are no different from you and your brothers and sisters. Look at their faces. They're happy. Think about tonight and how the Seshadris have treated us this afternoon. Little Danny, they aren't ashamed of their home or this street or what they do to survive. Aren't we being unfair by placing our values on them?”
“They don't have food, not like we do,” Little Danny replied in a near-still voice. “It feels wrong that we have so much and the people here don't. I feel so guilty that we have so much and they have so little.”
“Think of it this way, Danny. What's important in life?” Daniel asked. He blinked a couple of times as his heart beat a little faster. This was it. It was the key. If his son could comprehend this, then the other children would understand as well. “Is it about the things we have?”
“Tell me, Danny. What makes life a wonderful thing?”
Little Danny thought for a minute. He bit his lip and blinked several times as he thought. He knew it was an important question, and he needed to think it out before answering.
“Life is wonderful when ... when ... when you're happy, Daddy; when ... when you feel good inside and you're full of ... of ... of joy.”
“Yes,” Daniel acknowledged as a tear fell from his eye. “When you look at the Seshadris, what do you see? From your heart, Son, not from your head.”
Little Danny looked through his tear-filled eyes and saw Kama and Ramya sharing a look. He'd seen it before, in his parents' eyes when they looked at each other during tender moments. He remembered earlier today when Kama had greeted Ramya upon returning home from his labors. He thought about how she'd tended to his needs and fussed over him. He visualized how the family's three children ran up to their father, calling out to him joyfully. He'd picked them up, hugging them, just like Jack and Daniel had done with the brood thousands of times.
The more he thought, the more the compassionate child made the connections. His mouth opened and his eyes widened as he put it together. The Seshadris were as happy in this cesspool of a slum as his family was in their somewhat luxurious country-style home in Colorado Springs. It wasn't about the material things, it was about the very act of living and being together.
The middle Munchkin recalled conversations he'd had with Yazid Awad, a friend of the family's. Yazid had once told the youngster that although he had the lifestyle many people dreamed of -- wealth, freedom to do absolutely anything he pleased, prestige -- it was not until he met his fiancée, Megan Williams, that he'd known true happiness.
“I see love and joy,” Little Danny answered with a final sniffle.
“That's right,” Daniel affirmed. “Respect who these people are, Little Danny. You don't have to agree or approve of their way of life, but you do have to accept and honor it.”
“It's hard, Daddy; it all just seems wrong.”
“I know, but it's not about us, is it?” Daniel pulled out his handkerchief, using it to dry the young boy's wet face. “Kama is *proud* of his heritage. It's not right for us to tell him that his pride is misplaced. It's not.”
Little Danny looked back over at the Indian family and then at his own loving family. They really were the same. It still hurt to think of someone being abused as a human horse, but as he processed all he'd witnessed, he saw only determination and resolve in Kama's eyes. His father was right. Besides, times were changing. Maybe when he grew up some more, he could help these people.
~Help them, not change them,~ Little Danny told himself. He turned back to Daniel and smiled. “I understand now, Daddy,” he stated, leaning in for another hug.
“I love you so much,” Daniel declared.
“I love you, too, Daddy.”
“So, do you think you can help your brothers and sisters to understand what we've talked about?”
Little Danny nodded and answered, “I think so.”
Sensing a change in the scene he was watching, Jack walked over to his husband and son and asked, “How we doin'?”
Little Danny looked up and answered, “I wish it were different, but they're really just like us, lucky in the ways that really matter.”
“You're right,” Jack acknowledged with a smile.
Suddenly, Little Danny ran over to Kama and hugged him. He knew his words wouldn't be understood, but a hug would say everything words could. In fact, it could convey his feelings better than any verbal utterances.
Kama hugged the sweet child back tightly, acknowledging what Little Danny was offering. He looked over to his wife and children lovingly, knowing he was truly blessed with everything he had in his life.
**I think they're gonna be okay, Danny,** Jack communicated as he gazed proudly and lovingly at Little Danny. ~He's their moral compass and values leader,~ he thought about the middle Munchkin and the brood.
**I think you're right, Babe,** the younger man concurred.
That night, Taksheel had returned home to his family, while the Americans stayed with the Seshadris, who shared their humble home and what little they had with smiles. It didn't matter to the Indians that their guests were rich westerners, not to mention virtual strangers. It was just their way to share, even if all they had to share were crumbs.
During the night, the Jackson-O'Neills huddled together on the first level floor, with blankets to cover them. A fire was lit in the pit to help keep them warm.
“I've never adventure camped like this before,” Jonny chuckled as he tried to get comfortable on the cold cement slab that was the floor.
“We've slept on worse,” Jack responded, adjusting his blanket while thinking, ~My back is going to hate me tomorrow.~
“No, we haven't,” Daniel teased.
“How about those ... or ... well, there was ...” Jack sighed as he ran through the past quickly in his mind. “There's a first time for everything, Son.”
“Good comeback, Jack.”
“Thank you, Daniel.”
The chuckles turned into yawns as the family began to slip into slumber.
“Shubh raati,” Daniel called out quietly to everyone as mumbles of returning ‘goodnights’ were heard around the dim glow of the fire.
The next morning, the children shared their power bars and assorted other snacks that they'd placed in their backpacks with their hosts. It wasn't much, either, but it was something.
The Jackson-O'Neills had actually tried to back away from having breakfast with the Indian family, but the Seshadris had insisted they share. Jack and Daniel couldn't be rude and refuse, but inside they were a jumble of emotions, knowing the family couldn't have much food left after feeding their group of fourteen. Again, they were full of pride as their children ate tiny portions, sharing biscuits, and then acted like they were full.
**Jack, do you think Little Danny said something to the others?** Daniel questioned via their special link.
**Maybe,** the older man replied. **But let's not sell the rest of our brood short, Love. They're all pretty smart.**
**You're right. I'm just ... you know.**
**Yeah,** Jack sighed, his heart full of gratitude that the kids were being so considerate.
With breakfast finished, Ramya introduced the family to more of her neighbors, and Little Danny and his siblings observed the same love and joy in them that they'd seen in the Seshadris and that they knew existed within their own family. The brood had seen poverty as never before, but it was no longer the first thing they thought about.
As their Indian education continued, the children began to equate what they observed to life in the United States. They remembered the people on the river who were homeless but had helped their father when he had amnesia. Those people had pride, too. They were just a little down and out, and they still helped one another to survive.
It took a while, but the children were finally learning what Jack and Daniel had hoped. Actually, they were learning what Kayla had hoped. As far as Jack and Daniel went, they'd been a little off-center, something they hadn't realized until receiving Sam's package.
Waking up at the YMCA two days after meeting the Seshadris, the children were informed that they were about to embark on a big time hiking trip. They weren't rushed for time, so they'd go slow, but this was going to be a very special trek with a surprise at the end.
Naturally, the children were curious, but their questions were going unanswered.
“This little trek up the Himalayas isn't going to be that easy, Danny,” Jack put forth as they talked privately for a few minutes after breakfast.
“We've gone hiking before.”
“Daniel, this is the Himalayas.”
“Do you want to back out? I suppose we can tell them about the package here as well as there.”
Jack sighed, shook his head, and gave a nod as he uttered a somewhat contrite, “I'm just saying.”
“Time to go, Babe,” Daniel stated, giving his husband a quick kiss. “Our brood will be fine. They're strong, and we're in no rush. We have all the supplies we need and a superb guide.”
“Yes, there is no end to Taksheel's expertise, is there?” Jack proclaimed sarcastically.
Daniel laughed, “Jack, he's doing us a favor.”
“Yes, isn't he?”
The younger man shook his head in amusement and responded, “Babe, please don't tell me you're jealous of a man I knew for all of five days decades ago when I was in college; a man who is married and has five children?”
“I wouldn't say that I was ... jealous, exactly,” the silver-haired fox replied hesitantly, cocking his head to the right as he grimaced at the awareness that had just been thrown in his face. ~Crap, he's right.~
“Good,” Daniel interrupted, ending the conversation. “Let's get the children and go.”
“Yes, let's,” Jack sing-songed, throwing his duffel bag over his shoulder and following his lover out the door of their YMCA room.
Taksheel and his oldest son, Manu, were acting as guides for the Jackson-O'Neill family. With them were six donkeys. Though Taksheel had assured Little Danny that four donkeys would have no problems in carrying the heavy loads that the journey required, the young animal lover, backed by his fellow Munchkins, the Spitfires, Chenoa, and even JD, remained firm, insisting that not four but six donkeys be used. The children had stood in a V-pattern, as if planes on a mission, their feet slightly apart and hands on their hips. It was almost scary to see how precise and military the children had looked during their debate with the Indian.
Jack had finally intervened and convinced Taksheel that arguing with the brood on this matter was a lost cause and they'd need six donkeys. Quietly, he had also added that they were lucky Little Danny hadn't argued for one donkey per child and adult.
For the most part, the six donkeys carried the tents, sleeping bags, clothing, personal hygiene products, food, cooking utensils, the advanced first aid kit, and water for several days. This meant that the backpacks worn by each child contained mostly snack food and water for consumption during their daily hike, their journals, their cameras, and a basic first aid kit.
On this first day of their travels in the Himalayan mountain range, the group saw mostly forests and woods. It was a secluded feeling, until they came upon something that seemed strange to them.
“What's that?” Lulu called out as she looked beyond the hiking group and spied an edifice that seemed to almost drop into the ground.
“It is a school, Lulu,” Taksheel answered.
“A school way out here?” Jennifer questioned, feeling that it was an odd place to have any type of building, let alone an educational building.
Taksheel waved at a lady in the distance while telling the family that she was the school's teacher.
As it turned out, young children, roughly the age of those who attended elementary school in the United States, attended classes there, many of them walking long distances daily to get their education.
“They *live* here, in the mountains?” Aislinn questioned in wide eyes.
“Further away for most,” Taksheel explained as he walked the curious family towards the school. “They will be happy for your visit.”
Taksheel was right. The teacher and students were all excited to meet the Americans. While Taksheel helped to translate between the teacher and Jack and Daniel, Jeff and Jennifer wandered over into the main building.
“What's this?” Jennifer questioned, a frown on her face as she took in the rundown room.
“It can't be their classroom,” Jeff responded in disbelief, walking across one of three boards that ran across the room from the rear to the front. Each board was about two-feet wide and was elevated via the use of three-inch pieces of wood every few feet. “Jen, these boards must be to let the kids keep their feet dry.”
Jennifer walked forward, though not on one of the wooden planks, but on the cold concrete. There was nothing polished about it. It was dirty and scuffed. In fact, that's how the entire room was.
“Jeff, I can't imagine trying to learn in a place like this.” Jennifer looked at the wall in front of her which was largely occupied by a big blackboard. “This must be more than twenty years old. How can they even use it?”
“They must be studying vegetables,” Jeff commented, having noted a hanging display of various foods.
Jennifer nodded, seeing only one other piece of display, a poster of Indian landmarks.
“Two little windows,” the young woman noted as she walked over to one of the windows, which was open. “How do they learn anything in this place?”
“They must really want to,” Jeff replied.
“Jeff, Jen, come see ...” Brianna paused, shocked by what she was seeing. “Is this ...”
“Yeah,” Jennifer affirmed, still trying to absorb it all.
Just then, Jack whistled loudly and called out, “Kids, gather round.” With the brood all together a minute later, he advised, “We're about to be part of today's education.”
The Indian instructor called out to her students, motioning where they were to gather. In four different rows, the little children squatted down, their bottoms very close to the concrete slab and yet not touching it.
Thinking it would be appropriate to do the same, one by one, the brood attempted to squat as low as their peers, only as the minutes passed, one by one they all either fell backwards or just collapsed down.
“How do you do that?” Jenny called out, interrupting the teacher while she also rubbed her derriere.
The teacher and her students chuckled and with a nod of permission, some of the Indian children ran over to their guests and tried to show them.
“This is hard,” Jonny opined, though determined not to fall a second time.
Over the next hour, the American children taught their new friends to speak a few words of English, and vice versa.
After the students sang a few songs as a farewell gift to the visitors, the Jackson-O'Neills were back in line and starting to walk away. Before they'd gone more than three yards, Little Danny ran forward, jumping out of position to reach his younger father at the head of the pack.
“Daddy, the kids don't have much to write or draw with, and I have some extra pencils, so can I give them some?”
Hearing the question, Jonny chimed in, “I have a notebook I haven't used. I'm writing everything in my journal.”
“I have some pencils, too,” Lulu offered.
“Jack, Taksheel,” Daniel called out, motioning for them to come forward. He explained what the kids had in mind and asked, “Do you think they'd accept them?”
“I am sure.”
“Uh, look, if we'd known they were here, we would have brought more. Do you think we can leave her some rupees to purchase supplies? We don't want to offend her,” Daniel stated.
“I have known Manjusha for many years. She will appreciate your gesture, and she will use the rupees for the children,” Taksheel assured.
Manjusha, the instructor, was humbled and pleased by the family's gesture, and her happy smile when the students received some of their new treasures was all the assurance that Jack and Daniel needed to know that the rupees they were leaving behind would be appropriately used.
Waving enthusiastically and sending out lots of 'byes', the travelers went on their way, having made some new friends in India.
Sometime later, the hikers came to a long, wooden bridge, one that didn't look all that secure to the parents.
“It's safe, right?” Daniel asked, looking over the rickety bridge that sagged down in a couple of places.
“There is nothing to worry about, Daniel. Many cross this bridge every day,” Taksheel assured.
“But it's safe, right?” Jack questioned, not convinced.
“It is the only way to get across the river,” Taksheel pointed out to the parents. “We must cross it before we can continue our climb.”
“Don't be chicken, General Jack,” Jonny chimed, tugging on the shoulder straps of his backpack. The eldest Munchkin hadn't quite been able to pull off the 'Jack' name by its own, but if he added the rank in front of it, he could get it out in a believable manner. “We're wasting daylight.”
“Yeah, we're not gonna turn around, are we, General Jack?” Jenny challenged, also using the rank moniker when speaking to her dad.
In fact, after having heard Jonny call their father 'General Jack' the first time, all of the children had started doing it. It had become like a secret code that only they could use. By making their older father 'General Jack', something no one else would call him, it was helping them to survive the ordeal of not being allowed to refer to him as 'Dad'. Psychologically, it was the reprieve the children needed to survive, and it was working.
“It's just a bridge,” David pointed out eagerly.
“We'll go first, if you're afraid,” Ricky teased.
Jack and Daniel slowly turned to face each other. Apparently, their concerns over the suspended bridge weren't shared by their overly confident children.
“We've seen worse,” Jack finally stated.
“When?” Daniel challenged.
“We must have.”
“I don't think so,” the younger man responded.
“Come, we must go,” Taksheel urged, wanting to take advantage of the daylight.
“Come on, General Jack!” Jonny called out, beckoning his father towards the rickety object.
With a shrug, Jack sprinted forward a few steps. He certainly wasn't going to let Daniel or any of the children try the bridge out first. As he took the first few steps, hearing the creaks and feeling the sway, he paused, just wanting to make sure of his footing.
“Ah, don't be a sissy,” Jonny teased.
“Sissy? Me?” Jack glared, his eyes squinting as he turned his head to look back at his namesake. “I'll show you sissy, boyo.”
The kids began to roar and howl as their father, the general, skipped his way across the bridge.
“He's a nut,” Daniel mumbled, shaking his head before organizing the children and ordering them *not* to do as their older father had just done.
“But ...” Jonny pleaded. Daniel's version of general eyes bore into the boy's hopeful pupils. “Okay, Daddy.”
With the children safely across, Daniel, the guides, and the donkeys followed.
When it came time to camp for the night, Jenny looked around anxiously and then ran up to Daniel and whispered into his ear.
Daniel smiled and pointed over to a spot beyond some trees and said, “See where Jeff and Taksheel are digging.”
Jenny's eyes widened as Daniel nodded, answering the unspoken question.
“It's a hole in the ground, Jenny, with a cover over it. That's what people do out here,” Daniel advised.
Her head bowed, Jenny sauntered reluctantly towards the makeshift bathroom while muttering, “I'll never take our bathrooms for granted again.”
Daniel lowered his head and turned to avoid laughter while thinking, ~Well, we wanted the brood to learn not to take things for granted. I guess the bathroom is as good a starting point as anything else.~
As they forged onward the next day, the hikers came upon a woman and her children on the bank of a creek.
“Namaste,” Daniel greeted.
“What's she doing?” Chenoa asked innocently.
“Her laundry,” Brianna answered.
“She doesn't have a washing machine?” the curly-haired tap dancer questioned.
“Sure, she does,” Jack returned. “Her hands,” he explained, raising his hands in front of his body and shaking them lightly to dramatize his words.
While the woman intently concentrated on her duties, her children were curious about the Americans and freely interacted with them, even posing for pictures.
Chenoa, though, walked away from them and went over to the woman, kneeling down across from her and actually leaning low with her body to get the Indian woman's attention.
“Can I help you?” the sweet girl asked. “I'll help, okay?”
Removing her backpack, Chenoa reached over and took a shirt, still watching the woman even as the woman was watching her. Carefully, Chenoa reached for a soapstone from the woman's pan and then imitated her cleaning action against the rock.
**Jack,** Daniel called out to his husband, who was closest to their helpful daughter.
**I'll keep an eye on her,** Jack advised, walking closer but not interfering. After all, this was part of what he and Daniel wanted, for the children to start to understand that appliances like washers and dryers weren't standard equipment everywhere in the world. ~I'm proud of you, Noa.~
The concern of the parents wasn't because Chenoa was helping a stranger, but because she was on a large rock that was at the edge of a creek. They just needed to make sure she didn't put herself in danger of falling in the water and hurting herself.
Several minutes later, the Indian woman gathered her things and stood up. She looked at Chenoa and for the first time, she smiled.
“Aap tha madad beh, shukriya beti. Tum bahut khoobsoorat hoon,” [Thank you, daughter. You are very beautiful] the woman told Chenoa.
Without any further warning, the woman called for her children and they disappeared eastward into the mountains.
Chenoa carefully backed off the rock and re-secured her backpack, smiling when Jack surprised her by assisting her. She looked around and saw Manu was nearby, which reminded her that her dad had to be called by his given name.
“General Jack, do they live up here?”
“I doubt they come way out here just to do the laundry,” Jack answered. “They probably live over that rise.” He smiled down at his princess and praised, “I'm proud of you for helping her. Let's get going.”
With a smile on her face, Chenoa rejoined her siblings, and the family continued their trek.
On average, the group was traveling between four and five miles per day, which was pretty good considering the ages of the children. Only JD had it easy, being carried much of the way by Jack and Daniel, who rotated the loving duty of tending to their youngest child. Sometimes JD traveled by riding one of the donkeys, which he loved doing. On this third day, however, the rest of the brood began to rebel.
“Daddy, my feet hurt,” Aislinn called out.
“Mine, too,” Chenoa agreed.
“And mine,” Jennifer admitted. She smiled sheepishly when Jack glanced back at her with a scowl. “Well, they do.”
“Break!” Daniel exclaimed, sensing a mutiny if the family didn't stop for at least a few minutes.
Half of the brood sighed in relief as they immediately slumped down to the rocky ground.
“When are we gonna get there?” Jonny whined as he took off his backpack and reclined on the ground, using the backpack as a pillow.
“We've been walking forever,” Ricky complained.
“How much farther is it?” Lulu inquired. Though she was trying not to complain, she really did want to know. ~My feet hurt, too.~
“Okay, kids, listen up,” Jack encouraged as he sat down on the ground. “I know you're tired, but it'll be worth it when we get to the top.”
“But my feet hurt,” Jenny decried.
“And I'm bored just walking and walking and walking and ...” Jonny gulped from looking over at his older father and seeing his glare. “Walking is boring,” he stated flatly.
“We've been walking forever,” Aislinn stated.
“When are we going to get there?” Little Danny asked quietly, not really wanting to whine but feeling sorry for the donkeys. He figured that if his brothers and sisters all had sore feet then the donkeys probably did as well, especially since they were carrying all the equipment. He also figured that maybe he should support his siblings. ~We always have to stick together, even when we're hiking.~
“Brood,” Daniel began, looking down to gather his thoughts for a moment, “We know this isn't an easy trip, but not everything in life is easy. In fact, some of the most worthwhile things take the most effort. Now, I know you're feet hurt, but that's temporary. We're taking lots of breaks, and if anyone was really having a physical problem, we'd stop.”
“In other words, deal with it,” Jack stated more clearly. He looked at his namesake and added, “If any of you are thinking about joining the military one day, well, maybe you'd better reconsider. Walking is part of the deal. If you can't handle it now, at this pace, you'll never make it when you're older.”
Instantly, Jonny sat up and stated defiantly, “I can handle it.”
Calmly, Jack responded, “I know you can. You just needed a little reminder.”
“Aw, Da...General Jack!” Jonny gulped at his slip, looking around to see where Taksheel and Manu were and breathing a sigh of relief when he saw they had gone over to check the donkeys and their packs. “Sorry,” he sighed.
“It's okay,” Jack assured. “Just try to keep the rules in mind.”
Jonny nodded his understanding while chiding himself for not being a better soldier. He shouldn't have made that slip. He was an expert at covert operations; well, he'd thought he was. Maybe he still had a lot to learn after all.
“I'd like all of you to take a look around,” Daniel requested, unaware of the oldest Munchkin's internal turmoil at his near slip of calling Jack 'Dad' when he knew they weren't supposed to while in India. “This is a beautiful place. It's unlike anywhere else in the world. I'm sorry if some of you feel that being here is boring, but for me, it's exhilarating.”
“I like it, too, Daddy,” Little Danny admitted truthfully.
“I'm just tired of walking all day,” Aislinn confided honestly.
“I know, Princess, but try to take this in while it's happening, because once we get there and then go back home, it'll be done. This experience will be nothing but a memory, and if you don't use this opportunity to absorb what we're seeing and feeling, you might only have a picture and nothing more to remember,” the archaeologist asserted with a calm passion.
“I guess my feet don't hurt that much,” Aislinn responded as she reached for her water bottle.
Daniel smiled his encouragement at his daughter and then a few minutes later the hikers continued on their way.
“Hey, it's a village,” David called out, pointing in the distance.
Sure enough, as they traveled the next day, the Jackson-O'Neill party happened upon a mountain village. It was small, but was apparently home to several Indians.
“Mera naam Little Danny hai,” [My name is Little Danny] the child prodigy told two of the children. “You can leave out the 'little', if it's easier.”
Of course, the native children didn't speak English, but once again, Jack and Daniel watched as the magic of innocence made a spoken language unnecessary. Their brood laughed and played with the village children for a half-hour or so, communicating through laughter and rudimentary sign language.
After taking some pictures, the family continued on their way, getting shouts of good-byes, smiles, and hand waving as they left the village behind them.
Twenty-four hours later, the travelers were almost at their destination. The family was hiking along the narrow mountain path in single file with Jack at point, just in front of Taksheel, and Daniel taking up the rear, though Manu and the donkeys were still several yards behind him. At the moment, JD was riding piggyback on the general's back, happily playing with his father's hair.
All of a sudden, Aislinn began to giggle and then began to sing. At first the others just stared at her questioningly, but then, one by one, they got the joke.
The next thing a confused Taksheel and Manu knew, the hills were alive with the sound of music as the Jackson-O'Neills flamboyantly sang the inspirational and rousing “Climb Every Mountain” from the hit musical.
“Woh kya gana gadhe hai, Papa?” [What song are they singing, Papa] Manu asked while motioning towards the singing family.
“Patha nai!” [Don't know] Taksheel responded jovially, amused at the family's antics.
“That's us, the Family Von Jackson,” Jack quipped, almost slipping and adding the hyphened O'Neill.
“This has to be the place,” Daniel opined to his soulmate, believing that they'd found the exact spot indicated in Sam's package.
“Oh, yeah,” Jack agreed as he double-checked his compass and GPS before giving his surroundings a really good look. “This is the place.”
“Wow!” Jennifer gasped at the wondrous sight. “It's so beautiful.”
To the young woman, the breathless view was like something straight out of National Geographic.
“When the sun sets, you shall see true beauty,” Taksheel advised. “Let us arrange our tents now.”
Daniel looked over at Jack and then back at his old friend. He saw that Manu was busy tending to the donkeys and their supplies.
The family had left their duffel bags at Taksheel's home in New Delhi and now carried just backpacks, which were fuller than before, thanks in part to the addition of essential backup clothing and a few personal hygiene items.
Now was as good of a time as any for Daniel to pull his old friend aside and make a request.
“Taksheel,” the archaeologist began, walking over to the man and steering him away from the brood. He rubbed his thumb against his chin as he looked downward. “Uh, I need a favor.”
“What is it, Daniel?”
“I told you that there was a special reason that we needed to come here, to this precise spot.” Daniel saw Taksheel give him a nod of acknowledgement. “The reason is ... very personal, and, well, the children need to be able to, to respond, to act freely.” With a cock of his head to the side, he admitted, “I know that doesn't make sense.”
Taksheel smiled and observed lightheartedly, “The little ones, many of them have your eyes, Daniel Bhaiya.” He paused, ensuring he had his friend's attention. “Some have your Jack's chin.”
Daniel's eyes widened at the comment.
“You cannot hide what is in your soul, Daniel. The children have done well in their pretense, but they lie when they look at Jack and call him by name. It is not natural for them. The pain of their hearts is on their faces and in their voices. The little ones, they are yours and Jack's.”
The archaeologist nodded and confirmed the truth, explaining that the older children were adopted. Nervously, he began to rationalize his lie with his old friend, but Taksheel shook his head and interrupted his words.
“I thank you for your kindness, my friend. I do not fear retribution for myself, and I am grateful for your concern,” Taksheel spoke, sincerity pouring forth from his eyes.
“Thank you, Taksheel.”
“You wish me to allow your family to be private tonight, yes?”
With a nod, Daniel answered, “I know it's rude of me to ask, but this is important to them.”
“Manu and I shall make our camp over there,” Taksheel announced, pointing downward and to the left. “If you need me, I am nearby. If not, we shall return in the morning.”
“That would be terrific,” Daniel responded gratefully. “I ...”
“Do not worry, Daniel Bhaiya,” Taksheel interrupted. “I am behind in my meditations. You are doing me a favor.”
“Thank you,” Daniel expressed appreciatively.
“When the tents are arranged and you are settled, we will go,” the guide promised, referring to himself and his son.
Daniel nodded as Taksheel walked towards his son to assist with getting the gear off the donkeys. The archaeologist looked back at the spot where his friend had indicated he'd make camp that night. It was a good location, one that would be out of sight and would allow the Jackson-O'Neills to have their privacy.
“Jeff, are you okay?” Jennifer asked, seeing her brother having difficulty breathing. Taking hold of Jeff's arm, she glanced to her right where her parents were setting up the tents and called out, “Daddy!”
The parents, along with Taksheel, who had heard the young woman's urgent shout, hurried over to the young man.
“I'm okay,” Jeff insisted. “I'm ... just a little ... out of ... breath.”
“It is the altitude,” Taksheel surmised. “Take steady breaths.”
“Why don't you sit down,” Daniel suggested to his son.
“Really, I'm ...”
“Jeff, just relax for a bit. Do you feel dizzy or have a headache?” Jack asked as Jeff reluctantly collapsed down to the ground.
“No, and I'm feeling better now.”
“Jeff, were you having problems while we were hiking?” Daniel inquired.
“Just for the last hour or so, but not like this,” Jeff admitted.
Placing his head between his knees, Jeff continued to take deep steady breaths, feeling slightly better now.
“You'll be okay,” Daniel assured, patting Jeff on the shoulder. “The oxygen levels are reduced the higher up we go, so being out of breath isn't unexpected. We'll finish putting up the tents.” He looked at his soulmate and suggested, **Babe, let's do a covert check on the brood and make sure they're okay.**
**Sounds like a plan,** Jack agreed. “Jen, stay with your brother for a few minutes, just to be safe.”
“General Jack,” Jeff objected, not wanting to be treated any differently than the others.
“No arguments,” the general responded as he and Daniel walked over to their other children for a bit of undercover observation.
Jeff would be fine and would adjust to the altitude more as time passed. He just needed to be careful. Fortunately, the rest of the children were just fine.
With their tents arranged, Jack and Daniel gathered the children around the already made campfire. They wanted to begin by reviewing their experiences in India, focusing on the good elements.
“Who wants to share a positive memory they'll never forget?” Daniel questioned, looking into the eyes of his children.
“Welded Tuff,” David answered first, his smile bright from the memory of the geologist centerpiece.
“That's natural,” Jeff stated, amused at his brother's predictable reply.
“I liked the Gandhi Museum, too,” David offered.
“You would,” Jennifer teased, tapping her baby brother's shoulder with her own.
“Well, what did you like?” David challenged his sister.
“The Lotus Temple,” Jennifer answered. “It was so quiet there; peaceful.” She sighed, “I think it was because things were so loud outside on the streets, but then we went inside and here was this place where the chirping of a bird was so serene.”
“I liked the monks at McLoud Ganj,” Jonny piped up.
“You liked trying to get them to talk when they were supposed to be silent,” Jenny corrected, causing the Munchkin to let out an unapologetic shrug.
“I liked the boat ride up the Ganges,” Chenoa put forth.
“Me, too, Noa,” Jeff interjected. “I don't think I'll ever forget seeing the glowing funeral pyres along the riverbank.”
“Yeah that was really something,” Jennifer agreed. “Especially when the evening prayer calls went out.”
“And all the floating candles drifting down stream behind us,” Jeff added.
“There were hundreds of them,” Ricky noted. “I know 'cause I tried to count them. I didn't know numbers went up that high,” he stated, causing his family to laugh.
“I cried,” Jennifer admitted, staring sorrowfully into the campfire.
“Me, too, Sis,” David sighed, leaning against his big sister in comfort and support.
“The trains were fun,” Ricky opined, switching from the melancholy topic.
“That depended on where we were,” Brianna put forth. “Did you notice how different it was between classes? I guess it's not much different than flying by plane, but it was so hot back in third class. People were crammed in there like sardines, sitting on wooden seats, but in first class, it was super cool and very comfortable.”
“That's normal, Bri,” Jeff replied. “At least they were clean.”
“I liked hiding behind the curtains,” Ricky giggled.
“I remember,” Jack returned, giving his son a mock glare as he recalled how the Spitfire had hid during an impromptu game of hide and seek during their first train trip. “That was when we went second class with the upper and lower bunks.”
“It was like camping out,” David remarked. “A place to stretch out, a blanket, and a pillow.”
“The comforts of home,” Jack proclaimed with a smile.
“I've never brushed my teeth with bottled water before,” Aislinn noted, thinking back on doing so during the family's time on the train.
“Those porters were a lot stronger than they looked,” Jeff remarked.
“I'll say,” Jennifer agreed. “Some of them were carrying two bags *on* their heads.”
“What did you like, Daddy?” Lulu questioned curiously.
“Mmmm,” Daniel began thoughtfully. “It has to be the dal and naan bread we had at the hotel in Amritsar.” He closed his eyes as he smiled and sighed in happy reflection. “It was stuffed with potatoes and onions that were *so* good.” He let out another happy sigh. “Oh, and that makkhan,” he crooned about the whipped butter. “Scoop up that dal with the naan bread, and it was heaven.”
~Look at that face,~ Jack thought silently, amused by what had been said, but also lost in the beauty of his Love's features.
~Huh?~ As the children giggled, Daniel opened his eyes. It took him a second to realize that he'd just zoned out over food. ~Geez, now I'm really thinking like Jack -- food, food, and ... more food.~ A bit defensively, he explained, “I'm just saying the food there was really good.”
“Is that what you were saying?” Jack teased, getting more laughter from the children. **Orgasmic Indian food,** he jested privately.
**You should see yourself just thinking about it,** Jack responded. **I suppose we'll have to find a good Indian restaurant in the Springs now. Chang won't be happy.**
**Chang has nothing to worry about,** Daniel refuted, referring to the owner of his favorite Chinese restaurant. ~It wouldn't hurt to find an Indian restaurant, though.~
“I have to figure out what to do with my new collection,” Jonny stated, inadvertently stopping the non-verbal banter between his parents, which pleased the reddening Daniel greatly.
“What collection?” David asked, prying with innocent brotherly affection.
“This one,” Jonny answered, reaching into his backpack and pulling out about twenty business cards. “People keep handing me these.”
Little Danny chimed in quietly, “I remember seeing the view. It was like a postcard with things all pretty on one side and all ugly on the other.”
Jack and Daniel shared a look. They really didn't want this discussion to take a sad turn. They knew the place their son was speaking about. Taksheel had taken the family to a spot that was a true dichotomy. Standing in this spot, a person could look to their right and see the skyscrapers and modern look of the big city, but a simple turn of the head to the left revealed the muck and poverty of India's poorest. It had been quite the moment, looking from the new to the old and realizing how close they were physically, but yet how far apart they were emotionally.
Before his parents could intercede, the middle Munchkin let out a cleansing sigh and stated, “I think the people on the ugly side of the postcard are the luckiest Indians.”
“How come?” Chenoa questioned curiously.
“They're happier with who they are,” Little Danny answered. “I thought it was fun to play on the roofs.”
“Yeah, me, too,” Jonny agreed. “All the kids played on their roofs. If we lived there, we could set up a communication system.”
Jack grinned, while Daniel shook his head, feeling somewhat amused by the idea.
“We could really be covert at the Seshadris,” Jonny added, his mind thinking of all kinds of secret games the children could play there.
“You sure have to make sure you catch the baseball,” David chuckled as he reflected on the number of kids he had seen playing catch on their roofs.
“Daddy, why do they play on their roofs?” Jenny queried inquisitively.
“Think about the streets,” Daniel answered.
“Oh,” Jenny responded with a tiny gasp. “It was all muddy and dirty.”
“That's right,” Daniel affirmed. “It's cleaner up on the roof and probably a little less hectic than it is on the street, too.”
“The Bharatanatyam dancers were great,” Lulu stated enthusiastically about the unique style of dance she'd witnessed during the trip. Her mind drifted back to the intricate colorful costumes and the performers who created magic on the stage with their dance. ~They were beautiful.~
“Can we take Bharatanatyam lessons when we get home?” Chenoa added quickly, holding her breath for the answer.
“I'm sure we can arrange something,” Jack agreed, getting a nod from his husband.
“Yes!” both Chenoa and Lulu exclaimed, mimicking their older father by doing a fist pump as they cheered.
After some laughter, it was Aislinn who next opined, “It was fun being henna'd. I can still see mine a little.”
Aislinn leaned forward, pulling down her socks to verify that a hint of her body painting was still visible. It wouldn't be for much longer.
“It sure itched,” Jenny pointed out, scratching her ankles as a reflex while thinking back on the paste when it began to crack a couple of hours after having been applied. “I peeled mine off fast.”
“So did I,” Lulu acknowledged empathetically.
Thinking of her best friend, Jennifer giggled, “Sheila would have died to see my hands all tattooed.”
“No tattoos,” Jack warned sternly. He'd been reluctant to allow the children to adorn themselves with henna art, but since it was just a paste, his husband had thought it was okay. So, one day back in New Delhi at an open market, a teenage Indian girl had applied an array of designs on the children's feet, ankles, legs, and hands. Faces, backs, and other body parts were prohibited by their parents. ~I love art as much as the next guy, but it belongs on canvas and not on my kid's bodies.~
“I liked Fred,” Little Danny announced.
Jack laughed, seeing Daniel's chagrin. Fred was the rooster that had awakened everyone each morning of their stay at the YMCA in New Delhi.
“He crows all day, once he starts,” Jonny observed.
“I thought roosters were only supposed to crow at sunrise,” Lulu commented.
“Na-huh, Sis,” Little Danny negated. “They crow all day.”
“I know,” Daniel interjected dryly. ~Gawd, did I say that out loud?~
“Daddy's not fond of those wake up calls,” Jack informed the brood, grinning all the while.
“We have to honor who Fred is, Daddy,” Little Danny declared, looking dead serious; that is, for all of five seconds until he broke out into laughter, causing Daniel to laugh as well.
“The prayer wheels were neat,” Brianna remarked.
Jonny snickered, earning him a host of glares.
“Jonny, you weren't supposed to go running around, spinning them so fast,” Little Danny admonished.
“But it was fun.”
Little Danny sighed and rolled his eyes. It had taken Daniel stepping in with general eyes that were usually reserved for Jack to stop the sandy-haired boy's playful game. Then, of course, Jonny had had to go and apologize to every monk in the vicinity and to all the strangers who were visiting the monastery at the time.
“I had to say 'Mujhe maaf kardo' [Please forgive me] to people I didn't even know,” Jonny whined. ~And I kept messing up the words.~
“And why was that?” Daniel quizzed, his eyes almost as forceful as they'd been during the 'crime'.
Jonny gulped and admitted, “Because I was ruining their special time there and abusing the privilege of visiting India.”
“And?” the archaeologist prodded.
“And being disrespectful,” Jonny conceded contritely.
“That'll work,” Jack interjected. ~I would have done the same thing at his age.~
**And that's why *I* had to step in,** Daniel argued via the couple's special communications.
**Yeahsureyoubetcha!** Daniel quipped with vim and vigor and not the least bit of guilt or shame.
“You could have given us all bad karma, Jonny,” Aislinn complained.
“Yeah!” Jenny and Ricky spoke at the same time.
All of a sudden, Aislinn stood up and ran forward, getting a better look at the setting sun. Her heart was so full. She'd never seen such a majestic sight in all of her young life. It made her soul sing.
It took less than a minute for the entire family to congregate in a semi-circle and watch the most incredible sunset they'd ever seen.
“Daddy, does God live here?” Little Danny asked with a near-still voice.
Before Daniel could respond, Aislinn gently batted her brother's elbow as she corrected, “God lives everywhere, Little Danny. You know that.”
“I'll bet this is where He sleeps, though,” the child prodigy responded quietly.
“Yeah,” Chenoa agreed.
In the developing silence, the travelers enjoyed the view. One by one, they sat down on the ground, their eyes glued to the grand picture that was before them. Some of the brood snapped images to capture the moment, but then they put their cameras back in their backpacks and just sat back and reveled in the majestic view.
Amid the continuing hush a gasp was heard, and Aislinn instinctively raised her hand to her left cheek. A moment later, Little Danny did the same thing. It was like a domino effect, a tender wind touching the cheeks of the Munchkins and the Spitfires.
Everyone looked over when JD giggled and slapped both of his cheeks.
“Kiss,” the youngest family member said gaily.
“It was a kiss,” Aislinn whispered to herself. Standing, she called out, “Munchkins!”
Quickly, the Munchkins ran forward a few yards and circled together into their familiar huddle, something that was always a curiosity to the rest of the family.
“What do you think they talk about in those huddles?” Brianna asked Jennifer quietly.
“Fashion trends,” Jennifer responded before breaking out into a shared laugh with the tomboy.
“Spitfires!” Jonny called out in a command voice, resulting in Jenny and Ricky hurrying over and joining in the huddle.
“Oh to be a fly on the ... nearest rock,” Jack mused to his husband, who was still holding JD.
Daniel had a funny feeling and he held onto JD a bit more tightly. His hunch would mean the younger children were talking about their mother, and if that were true, JD should be a part of it since it was Kayla's name on his birth certificate.
Suddenly, Aislinn ran over and smiled at the toddler.
“Daddy, we need JD,” the youngest triplet announced, not really waiting for permission as she started to take the little boy from her father. “You're so big now, JD,” she laughed as she carried the boy over to the huddle.
**Worried?** Jack asked his husband, sensing there had been some distress.
**You know, Angel, one of these days we're going to have to tell JD the truth about his birth.**
**I know, but it won't be for a while yet. He's too young,** Daniel opined. **He doesn't even know about the Stargate.**
**Crash course,** the older man sighed.
A minute or so later, the huddle ended, and the younger children walked back to their family.
As she sat down on her knees, Aislinn stated, “Mommy's here.” Looking around at her brothers and sisters, she smiled brightly. “She is,” the littlest Munchkin reiterated.
“Mommy?” Chenoa called out quietly in surprise, suddenly looking sad.
“Noa, what's ...”
Jack's question was stopped by Chenoa's big breath and bright eyes.
“Mommy!” Chenoa exclaimed happily.
“What's going on?” David asked, suddenly rubbing his cheek and going into deep thought.
Jennifer smiled as a light breeze blew by her, prompting her to reply, ~I miss you Kayla.~
Brianna sighed and shrugged as she looked over at Jeff, who was looking over at Lulu. They were the Mavericks, and they'd become Jackson-O'Neills after Kayla Armentrout had been killed by a drunk driver. All they knew of her were a few stories, her pictures scattered throughout the home, the videotapes that she'd left for the children she'd bore as a surrogate mother, and of course the book that Kayla had written which all the children, sans JD, had read on their own at least once.
~It's not like I believe all of this, but ... holy cow,~ Brianna thought as she reacted to the breeze lingering on her cheek. ~Kayla?~ She watched as both Jeff and Lulu had similar reactions. ~Okay, this is officially weird.~
“Daddy, you told us that Mommy wanted us to come here,” Little Danny stated, recalling one line Daniel had said early on in the family's trek to India. “Mommy was here, right here, wasn't she?”
Jack and Daniel exchanged an 'it's time' look, meaning the time had come to let the children in on the real reason they'd come to this exact spot in the Himalayas. Daniel reached around for his backpack and pulled out a package, though he didn't yet tell the brood what the contents of the bulky package were.
“You're right, Ash,” Daniel began. “Mommy spent about eight months in India a couple of years before we met her. She emailed Dad and me about it. She told us then that we should bring our children here someday. She, uh, actually made us promise.” He looked at his lover and smiled, his thoughts remembering the adventurous Kayla and her charming personality. “You know that your mother was a very good freelance photographer and that a lot of her work was published. Sometimes she wrote articles to go with them. When she was here, she did some of that. What we didn't know until a few days ago, is that she came here more than once.”
Jack took over and told the children, “That phone call from Aunt Sam was to tell us about this,” he pointed over at the package his husband was holding, “except she didn't tell me what was in it, just that we needed to be somewhere where we could get the package. Carter's good,” he said practically to himself.
“Apparently, Aunt Sam decided to do some research,” Daniel informed the brood. Staring down at the package, he was grateful for all the things that Sam had been able to pull off for them. ~You're a great friend, Sam.~
“Woman's intuition she called it,” Jack interjected. “She found something, made a few calls, and then brought Aunt Janet in on it because Mommy was Aunt Janet's niece. Just so you know, this is a copy. The real thing is back home, and there will be copies for all of you on CD, if you want one.”
“What is it, Dad?” Aislinn asked in a near whisper.
Pulling out a blown up picture, Daniel handed it to Aislinn and affirmed again that “Mommy was here, right where we are now. She saw that exact same view.”
“It *is* this place,” Aislinn said in awe. “God's place.”
Jack and Daniel watched as the photograph made the rounds. Gasps and murmurs of appreciation flowed through the children.
“There's more,” Daniel stated reverently, pulling out a cassette recorder and tape which Sam had sent with the photograph and a few other things.
“What's that thing?” Ricky asked curiously about the device Daniel had just placed on the ground.
Jack groaned at the query, feeling so very old that something which had been so commonplace to him for most of his life wasn't the least bit familiar to his children.
Daniel chuckled at his Heart's expression and answered, “It's a tape recorder. It records audio, just like a VCR recorder records audio and video.”
“They used those in pioneer days,” Ricky told his sister.
“Oh, okay,” Jenny acknowledged.
**Now we're pioneers,** the older man bemoaned as he began to feel even older than he had a minute ago.
**They only know what a VCR is because of all those tapes you have, Babe; otherwise, it's a digital world now,** Daniel responded to his soulmate.
“Are you going to play us a tape, Daddy?” Lulu inquired.
“Uh, yes,” Daniel answered. He looked down for a minute, staring at the electronic device as he gathered his thoughts. “Mommy was traveling with a friend of hers named Bob. He worked with her sometimes. They were on assignment, and she ... well, she just felt like she needed to come back here, so they did, just to climb to this spot. That's when she snapped that picture and that's when she made some notes ...”
“Mommy's on the tape?” Little Danny questioned as his heart began to flutter in anticipation.
Daniel nodded. The children were all quiet, even the older ones. The entire family had been drawn in to this exciting find.
“She's talking to Bob,” Jack stated, nodding for Daniel to start the tape.
Pressing 'play', Daniel put the cassette player on the ground, in the middle of the family huddle so everyone could hear.
“I think you've got it, Kay.”
Clanging and clacking was heard in the background. It sounded like a pot and cooking utensils being jostled around.
“Not yet. This is so amazing. It's better than the last time. Almost ... there!”
The clicking of a camera was faintly heard. It went off several times.
“That's the money shot,” the female voice said with satisfaction. There was a pause and then there was a lightness, an airy-like quality to the woman when next she spoke. “Bob, this is so incredible. It's like ... God's here, resting up for another day of the world's madness.”
Aislinn smiled. She felt so connected to her mother at that point. In fact, she could feel Kayla soaring in her heart. It felt so good to the young Munchkin to have her mother that close to her.
“I want them to see this, to understand what it means.”
“Them?” Bob asked as the sizzle of a fire could be heard.
“My ... some children I know,” Kayla answered, apparently not having moved from the same spot where she'd taken her last photograph. “They're very special to me. I love them. They need to know this feeling.”
“Maybe their parents will bring them here.”
“They will. They promised me, and I know they'll do it. They're so beautiful, my kids.”
“Your kids?” Bob questioned, the sound of his voice surprised while at the same time, the peripheral noises stopped suddenly.
“What?” Kayla responded. There was a pause and then she continued, “I gave birth to the children for a very special couple.”
“You're a mom?”
“Bob, don't look so shocked.”
“It's just hard to imagine, Kay,” Bob replied. “You've always been so independent; you know, not tied down or anything.”
“I'm still not,” Kayla asserted, though her conviction was lacking a bit.
“You said children?”
“I was pregnant twice.”
“The mom of two?” Bob questioned, laughing.
“What's so funny?”
“Kay, you've told me for years that you weren't mom material, that all you wanted to do was see the world, like we're doing now.”
“Okay,” Kayla sighed. “All I did was let my body do what the couple needed so they could have a family. They wanted children. I gave them children. End of story.”
There was silence on the tape for more than two minutes and then the woman spoke again, only this time she was closer to the microphone.
“I love them, Bob. I love all of them, even the ones I didn't give birth to.”
“Huh? You've lost me, Kay.”
“The little dove,” Kayla spoke, giggling afterwards.
Chenoa sat up straighter. Kayla was talking about her. Chenoa's name meant dove in the American Native culture. The more Kayla spoke, the broader Chenoa's smile became.
“She's so precious. She's going to make a wonderful big sister for the little ones. She has a great smile; pure innocence.” There was another pause of several seconds. “David. Maybe I'll take him on a big adventure some day, to the lava beds maybe, or ... or, oh, I know. I'll take him hiking inside the Grand Canyon. I can show him places his parents couldn't on a family trip.”
David looked over at Jennifer, who smiled at him. Both knew that trip would have been a budding geologist's dream. The teenager had no idea Kayla would ever consider taking him anywhere, let alone on a dream trip like that. Then Jennifer realized that Kayla was talking about her, the oldest sister.
“I don't think she knows what she wants yet. She's still learning how to be a teenager again.”
“I don't get it.”
“It's just her history,” Kayla explained cryptically. “Those three will the lead the way for my, for the children. They make a great family.”
“Kay, stop saying 'the' children,” Bob grouched. “They're yours. Why aren't you there, with them?”
“It's not my place,” Kayla responded quietly. “They belong to the couple.”
“They won't let you in?”
“Are you kidding?” Kayla laughed. “If they had their way, I'd live with them, all the time.”
Jack and Daniel turned their heads to look into each other's eyes. Kayla wasn't far from the truth, if at all. Any distance that existed between them and the surrogate mother had been of her own doing, not theirs. Of course, they knew she was doing it for them, but still, she was the mother of their youngest children, and they loved her deeply.
“Don't look like that, Bob,” the woman chastised. “They are a great couple, good people, both of them. They'd do anything in the world for me, I know that, but ... the children, okay, my kids, they're ... their kids, and I don't want anything to interfere with that. I want the children to know who their parents are and not be confused.”
“Why would they be confused?”
“Circumstances, and please don't ask. It's just ... better this way. I want to be in their lives, and I'm going to be. They ... want me to be Mommy, so I'm going to be, but the kids will know that I'm not the one calling the shots, that their real love and nurturing comes from their very special parents, who love them so, so much.”
“Like their birth mother,” Bob put forth. “Look at you, Kay. Don't try telling me you aren't their mom.”
Silence returned, only now there was the occasional clanging of the cookware again, and in the distance, the clicking of the camera was heard.
“They need to come here, Bob. This is life. I want my children to understand that life and passion go together, that you can have nothing materialistically and yet have everything that matters, as long as you have love. I want them to see that the people in the bustees of Calcutta may be living in filth, in what Dominique Lapierre calls the cesspool, but that they aren't limited in any way. They may have not and own not, but they have all and everything because the joy is in their very beings. I don't want my children taking life for granted. I want them to realize the pleasure of the light bulb and the convenience of the flushing toilet doesn't make life wonderful. What makes life wonderful is having one another, the little dove and the Munchkins; the babies, all of them, loving and living. I want every day to be an adventure for my children. I don't want a single day to go by where their lives are nothing but technology and video games. I want them out here, seeing where God sleeps, to know and feel that no matter who they are in the hustle and bustle of the city, whether they're kings or queens or the poorest of the poor, when they're standing here before this magnificent place that all they are is one of billions, no greater than one another. The people honking their horns and wanting payment for their cars are no better than those dying of AIDS in the bustees. I want them to know life is in their hearts and their souls. I want them to feel like I do and to insist on having that each and every day. Oh, for crying out loud,” Kayla laughed and cried at the same time, “I just want ... I want them to live, Bob, with passion and joy, never taking life for granted.”
“Don't ever say you're not a mom, Kay,” Bob spoke quietly, a rustling noise accompanying his words. When his voice was heard again, it was more distant, as if he'd walked over to Kayla. “I always knew you were a spark in this world, but now I know you're the brightest spark on the planet.”
A muffled laughter was heard, as if Kayla were laughing into Bob's shirt.
“Those kids are darn lucky to have you as a mom. Kay, you have to be there for the kids, all of them. If the parents are so great, like you say, then you butt in and stay in. Teach your kids. I can't believe the parents would object.”
“I'm changing, Bob, and that scares me a little.”
“You don't have to change, Kay. Just add 'Mommy' to your definition of independence.”
“They go together?”
“You're here, aren't you?”
“Much as they wish I weren't,” Kayla chuckled, her voice growing stronger again. “I guess I'm trying to figure it out. I never thought I'd feel this way. Bob, I meant what I told them and what I'm saying to you. I don't ever want to step on their toes. They are the parents.”
“But there's a part of me that loves those kids so much that I'm not sure I can keep leaving them; that's what's scaring me. I'm having trouble drawing the line, and I didn't used to have that problem.” After a few seconds, Kayla added, “Even Jennifer needs me, and I love her as if she were mine, too. We're more like sisters, but she needs me.”
“Be there, Kay,” Bob urged. “Think about this. The last time we were here, it was for eight months. It was great. This time, we're here for a week.”
“Smaller trips?” Kayla asked. “Oh, maybe as they grow up, their parents would let me take them, sometimes, for trips like this. Oh, Bob, do you think ...” She laughed. “I know they would. Maybe I ... maybe I could share my passion with them, and maybe guide them, just a little.”
“You'll work it out.”
“I can't believe I got so emotional,” Kayla stated as she sniffled and took in an audible breath. Her voice seemed to be further away from Bob's again. “I never get like this, but it's being here.” Another click of the camera went off. “Please bring them here.”
Bob's sigh was heard. It was as if he knew Kayla had put back up her shield. No matter how much she might want to be a part of the children's life, she was a surrogate mother, and she had no intention of butting in or interfering, no matter what.
There was a muttered sound, like a voice speaking out of the side of his mouth. It was doubtful Kayla could hear what was said. It was barely able to be heard on the tape at all.
“You're stubborn, Kay, and you're going to deprive those kids of your aura for no reason. Dumb, and you're too intelligent for that. They've got your genes. They're gonna want to go on adventures with you. I'll bet they ...”
The rest of the words weren't distinguishable.
“Bob, let's make some notes for the accompaniment to the photographs. The hues are ...”
Jack leaned forward and turned off the tape, saying, “There's more at the beginning and more here, but it's about the pictures. You can listen to that at home.”
“Dad, you would have let Mommy take us places, huh?” Jonny asked expectantly.
“Absolutely,” both Jack and Daniel stated together and with a firm conviction to their voices.
“We always wanted Mommy to be a part of our lives, and she would have been,” Jack began.
“She still is,” Daniel interjected. “She ... was trying to protect us, but as the years passed, I think we would have convinced her to be a part of our lives every day.”
“She's right,” Jennifer spoke up. “I did need her, a lot more than I realized at the time.”
“I thought we were just kids to her,” David admitted. “I knew she liked us, but, wow, she wanted to take me to the Grand Canyon.”
“I knew she loved us,” Chenoa chimed in with a tremulous smile. “She's one of my mommies. My real mommy doesn't mind.”
“No, she doesn't,” Jennifer affirmed with a nod and an approving gaze.
Little Danny stood up and ran forward a few yards, looking at the night view. The sun had long since set and now it was the stars twinkling above that lent magic to the mountaintop.
“I was upset because I couldn't read the magazine right away,” the child prodigy stated, turning back to face his family. “Remember? Remember how we were?”
The children all thought back to what was now almost a month ago, back to the power outage when their demands had reached unpleasant heights.
“I was mad because I couldn't listen to Chloe right away,” Aislinn sighed. “I could have waited until the next day.”
One by one, the children realized their impatience. Even Jennifer admitted to her whine.
“Sis, you're kidding?” Jeff laughed in bewilderment.
“I didn't want to be left out, so I whined to whine,” Jennifer confessed sheepishly. “I was wrong,” she sighed. “I should have helped Daddy to calm them down.” Looking over at Daniel, she added, “I'm sorry, Daddy.”
“It's okay ... now.”
“That's why you brought us here, huh?” Little Danny asked his parents.
“It was time,” Daniel answered gently.
“Way past time,” Jack asserted softly, not wanting to break the spell of this magical place.
A couple of hours later, the children were all nestled together in their sleeping bags inside the tents. They'd had an emotional afternoon and evening, but it had also been worthwhile. The children had all learned something about themselves and the young woman who had been such an influential part of their lives, until her own life was snuffed out by an unfeeling human being who chose to drive while under the influence of alcohol.
Jack and Daniel were standing where they could get the best view and had their arms around each other's waist.
“It is amazing,” Jack observed, looking over the dark twinkling sky.
“We were so far off, Jack,” Daniel sighed. “In all of her emails, in all of our conversations with Kayla, we missed the point. Why didn't we hear her?”
“We heard that phrase.”
“Taking things for granted?”
“Yeah, that one,” Jack affirmed. “We plugged that in and decided she was talking about all the gadgets. We just didn't go far enough.”
“The joy of living,” Daniel spoke softly, leaning into his Love. “We should have picked up on it. Babe, that's who Kayla was. She was about,” he waved his hand outward, “this -- life. That's why we asked her to be our surrogate. Gawd, sometimes I don't think we're as good at listening as we think we are.”
“We're human, Danny,” Jack countered. “We get it now, and that's the important thing.”
“No,” Daniel refuted, looking at his husband. He twisted around and nodded toward the tents. “*They* get it, and *that's* the important thing.”
“You're right, as usual,” the silver-haired man acknowledged. “We owe Carter and the Doc big time for digging up that tape from the magazine editor.”
“Jack, maybe we should try to find this Bob. He might know things the children would like to know,” Daniel put forth calmly. “We could contact the editor and see if he has Bob's address or even just an email.”
“Let's think about it,” Jack suggested, pulling his Heart to him and gazing into his blue eyes. “Angel, we've done a great job with our kids. I think Kayla is okay with the way things have gone. The children love her.”
“They understand her even more now. Jack, I ... if Kayla had lived ...”
“I know, Danny. She'd have her own place in our place,” Jack laughed. “We were winning her over.”
“She was, *is* family.”
“Yeah, big time,” Jack concurred.
The two kissed and then turned to face the great expanse in front of them.
“She kissed JD earlier,” Daniel acknowledged. “She's okay with what we've said and done with his birth records.”
“Yeah,” Jack replied. “You're a good woman, Kayla Armentrout,” he said to the darkened sky. “Whoa!” he exclaimed, stepping back when a solid blast of the breeze smacked him in the cheek.
“Jack, are you ...” Daniel paused, blinking as he brought his hand up to his cheek where a gentler breeze connected with his cheek. “Thank you,” he whispered.
“Hey,” Jack barked, looking up and around expectantly. “That's better,” he added after a more gentle breeze connected with him. “We love you, too.”
“Science can explain a lot of things, Babe, but here, I don't really feel very scientific,” Daniel opined.
Jack returned to his husband's side and offered, “That's because this is beyond science. Let's get some rest.”
Pausing for another look and to share a tender kiss, Jack and Daniel hit the hay, amazed at just how unexplainable some things in life were.
The next morning, their tents still in place and leaving Taksheel and Manu back at camp to relax, the Jackson-O'Neills hiked up another fifteen-hundred feet to look around. When they reached the open area after a three-hour hike, they discovered they weren't alone.
“Hello, Mates,” a woman called out as she approached.
“Greetings,” Jack called out in reply.
“Welcome to the top of the mountain,” the hiker welcomed jovially.
“I wish there'd been an elevator to the top of this mountain,” Aislinn sighed, taking the opportunity to sit down and relax, though she really wasn't that tired from the short hike.
“You'd be happier if Scotty just beamed you up,” Jack quipped, adding to chuckles that were already in abundance. ~Hmm, I wonder if I should ...~
**No, Jack, you shouldn't call Thor 'Scotty' the next time you see him.**
**Spoilsport,** Jack whined as he turned his attention back to the hiker.
“Ah, hello. I'm Daniel, and this is Jack.”
“Those are my hiking mates,” the woman stated, pointing over to her friends who were on the other side of mountaintop.
“Hello, over there!” Jack called out, getting smiles, waves, and 'hellos' in response.
“And I'm Sara.” When Jack and Daniel both chuckled, the woman couldn't stop herself from asking, “Is that funny?”
“My ex-wife's name is Sara,” Jack explained.
“And someone I dated ... once was named Sarah,” Daniel pointed out.
“Popular name,” Sara responded lightly. “And the kiddies?”
Jack looked into the woman's eyes, wanting to tell the truth but remembering that he couldn't. Daniel, too, looked a little skittish, though he spoke up and said the children were his, while Jack added his obligatory lie about being a friend of the family. He wondered, though, if it was really necessary to follow through with the deception, considering they were atop a mountain and speaking with a British female.
Sara replied, “I see,” and smiled, one that said she understood the truth, unspoken as it was. After chitchatting with the couple for a few minutes, the British woman asked, “So, do you know where you're headed from here?”
“Yeah, but Daniel doesn't like me to talk about that in front of the children, pitchforks and all.”
“Jack!” Daniel chastised, his elbow jabbing his lover in the abdomen.
“Ow!” the silver-haired man proclaimed loudly, clutching his abdomen in mock pain.
“We plan to spend the day here and then head on down,” Daniel stated, answering the woman's question.
“It's much easier going downhill than uphill, trust me,” Sara mused.
“I hope so,” Lulu interjected, though she had a huge, teasing grin on her face when her parents turned to look at her.
“Smarty-pants,” Jack responded lightly.
Just then Sara's fellow hikers approached and for the next little while, the two sets of travelers visited and talked about the experience of seeing such beauty as was present on the mountain.
“It was nice meeting you,” Daniel told the other group as his family prepared to return to camp.
“And you, too. Take care,” Sara and the others replied as they headed back towards their own camp.
“Have a safe hike down,” Jack called out, ending the farewells.
The rest of the day would be spent at the Jackson-O'Neill camp, enjoying the view, being together, talking about Kayla, and just taking in all that they'd seen thus far on their trip to India.
~Priceless,~ he thought as the two brothers stood, arms around each other, looking out over the majesty that was in front of them. He turned, looking for his husband. “Danny?”
“Good,” Jeff answered. “Dad, what a view he must have from there.”
“Go take a look,” Jack instructed. He pulled out his disposable camera and snapped several shots of Jeff and David from afar.
Daniel looked over and saw the motion calling him over to where his lover stood. Smiling at Aislinn and JD, he walked away to join Jack.
Look at that,” Jack instructed.
“I'll bet that's amazing.”
“Let's check it out,” Jack suggested.
The view from the rock's edge was as fantastic as Jack suspected. Fortunately, it wasn't as 'on the edge' as it appeared from afar. It was safe for the younger kids to climb up with one of the older children or their parents and experience yet another thrilling perspective. So, one by one, the children took in the view.
“Daddy, do you think Mommy came up to this rock, too?” Little Danny asked softly as he sat nestled into his father's lap at the rock's edge.
“I like it here.”
“Me, too,” Daniel agreed, placing a kiss atop his son's head.
“Dad, I'm sorry.”
“For what, Ash?” Jack asked while holding his daughter's hand as they looked over the picturesque scene.
“My feet didn't hurt that much, and I wouldn't have wanted to miss seeing this place. It's pretty.”
“No need to be sorry, Ash. Just remember; that's all Daddy and I want you to do -- remember.”
“Bri, Dad says it's time to come down,” Jennifer called out as she approached her sister, who was taking in the view at the edge of the rock for the third time.
Still looking out, seated with her hands over her drawn-up knees, the tomboy spoke quietly as she replied, “Jen, doesn't it make you feel like there's so much out there that is more important than you? I mean, like there's ... I don't know, something unexplainable that we should try and find?”
Leaning against a smaller rock, Jennifer patted her shoulders to stay warm and responded, “That's what we're doing, Bri. We came here and found Kayla again. I think we'd forgotten her a little. Well, not forgotten, but this place, well, like you said, being here and seeing this, it puts us in our place. I don't think we'll ever see anything like this again.”
“It reminds me of swimming with the dolphins,” Brianna observed. “It's something I respect, that tells me I'm a part of this world, but I'm not the big cheese. You know?” she asked, looking up at the young woman.
“It's hard to find the words,” Jennifer returned.
“That's the problem,” Brianna agreed as she again faced outward. “There's nothing but peace here. It's like a mirror. You can't lie to yourself here.”
“I don't really think we're lying at home. Do you?”
“Jen, what's important?”
“Does it matter if I have the best hockey stick, or Jonny gets a bigger set of drums like he wants, or if you get that new dress you've had your eye on recently?” Brianna let out a huge sigh before she spoke next. “This place is truth. We don't need any of that stuff I mentioned, and that's how we lie to ourselves.” She faced her sister for a moment and then stood up. “We let those things define us. Ash needs the doll of the month or she can't be in the doll club. David needs the latest software to help him say this rock is older than that rock. We all need something, but look at this.” She twisted around, pointing to the sunset that was more beautiful than ever now. “That tells us the real truth, that all we need is one another. I'm scared, Jen. I don't want to go home and forget. I don't ever want to forget that all I need are the clothes on my back, a can of corn or something to eat, and our family. That's the honest truth. I love you, Jen,” she said, closing the small gap that separated them and then hugging her surprised and now weepy sister.
“I love you, too, Bri,” Jennifer responded, hugging back just at tightly.
Taking a last look at nature's grandeur, Brianna shook her head and put forth, “We have so much at home, and we never stop to think about how little we really need it all. What about the people who really don't have anything? I wonder if they care that we get the best steak for Dad's barbecue, my new hockey stick, or your dress?”
Jennifer watched the tomboy head back to camp. She walked forward, taking her own last look before darkness would fall.
“You're right, Sis,” the young woman spoke emotionally. “We can't go home and pretend we've never been here, and I'm pretty sure that none of us want to.”
After breakfast the next morning, the family packed up their things and then each said a quiet and personal good-bye to this special ground. In the process, some had spent a few more minutes at the rock that gave them wondrous views of the world.
With the gear packed and the donkeys ready to go, Jack and Daniel were ready to head on down the mountain, only they were minus one child.
“I'll get him,” Daniel told his husband. He walked over to the rock's edge, where
David was again peering out over the Himalayas. “Hey, time to get going.”
“Only the rocks live forever,” David reiterated solemnly, looking back over the landscape as his ear listened to his daddy's heart.
Daniel blinked a couple of times at the statement and then nodded as he moved forward to stand beside his son, the two of them staring outward. Both had their hands in their pockets and their feet slightly apart as they stood. In fact, they looked like mirror images of the other.
“Where have I heard that?” Daniel inquired.
“That old TV show,” David answer. “You know, Daddy, the one about loving the land, um, 'Centennial' I think it was called.”
The archaeologist thought for a moment and agreed, “Yes, I remember. The Native American Indians made that comment.”
“Everything is perfect here, but back home, we're destroying it,” the wise teenager stated. Nature is ... nature, Daddy. It's an artifact that should be cherished and nurtured, but instead, we're causing it to erode. We take our backyard, not ours, but nature's backyard, and we're letting it turn to dust right in front of us.”
“A lot of people are trying to stop that, Son,” Daniel replied.
“Too few,” David lamented sadly. He turned, prompting Daniel to turn as well so that the two were looking at each other. “Daddy, science is factual, and science says that we should take care of this planet and protect the environment. I want to do more of that now.”
“Okay,” Daniel acknowledged. “What do you have in mind?”
David let out a sigh and turned back to face the honest truth that was in the beauty of nature before him.
“We have to change our society, Daddy, in order to save our world, and that's a big challenge. I'm not sure we can do it, but ... we have to try,” David proclaimed emotionally.
“I agree,” Daniel responded, placing his hand supportively on his son's back and rubbing the area gently to give the boy reassurance. “But one person at a time ...”
“Exactly, Daddy,” David interrupted. “It starts with me, and then with our family, and then our neighbors, and our friends. Most people just don't understand the science. They don't know that the rocks are telling us that time is running out.”
“Do you have a plan?”
“I'm working on it,” David answered, sounding very much like Daniel when in the process of developing a course of action. “All I know for sure right now is that I have to start and then I have to convince you and Dad to do more, and I have to make sure the brood understands. Then I'm not just one anymore, I'm one of fourteen.”
With a smile of encouragement, Daniel replied, “And then we talk to Aunt Sam and Uncle Pete.”
“And to Cassie and Dom,” David added.
“Aunt Janet and Teal'c.”
David felt a pressure jump off his shoulders and disappear. His younger father was on board with his plan.
“Do you think Dad will agree?”
“I know he will,” Daniel affirmed. “I have an idea. Let's make your ideas part of school. You make the lesson plan. You can even teach it, if you like.”
“Do you think the brood will understand?” the teen asked earnestly.
“As long as you teach them from your heart, David. Use your passion and show them what you're feeling. They can't deny your sincerity, and in not denying that, they'll listen. Son, believe me, getting people to listen to you is half the battle.”
“Well, at least I'm not trying to persuade them that the pyramids were built to be landing pads for alien ships,” David teased.
“Very funny,” Daniel intoned dryly before breaking out into a grin and pulling the boy into a hug. “Even if they don't come around at first, you have to keep trying. If this is your path, and you believe in it, you have to fight with all you've got, and you have to keep on fighting no matter what.”
“Only the rocks live forever, Daddy.”
“And we have to make sure the land lives forever, too,” Daniel added solemnly.
When the hug ended, the father and son took another look. It would be the last one for this trip in the Himalayas.
“Are you ready to go home?”
With a nod, David whispered, “I'm ready.”
With his arm around his son's shoulders, Daniel led the environmentally aware teenager away from the rock's edge and back toward their family. He hoped David would follow through because he knew the boy was right.
“I want your children and your grandchildren and all the generations following to know the beauty of this earth, David. Dad and I will support you a hundred percent on this.”
“Everything okay?” Jack asked his husband after David walked by to get his gear for the trip down the mountain.
“We're in for change, Babe,” Daniel responded, proud of his son. “But it's a good change.”
A tad skeptical, Jack asked, “How much is this good change going to cost us?”
“I'm not sure, but whatever it is, it's a change we can't afford not to support,” Daniel asserted. “I love you,” he added and then ambled forward to get his backpack.
“That much,” Jack sighed contemplatively, shaking his head and glad once again for a stock market that seemed to love the Jackson-O'Neills.
As Sara predicted, though the trip up the mountain had taken several days, the reverse trip was easier and faster.
Upon their return to New Delhi, the Jackson-O'Neills spent one final day in the sedulous city treating Taksheel and his family to a dinner out.
As the families said their final farewells, Taksheel pulled Jack and Daniel to the side for a few more words.
“It was a great pleasure showing your family around India, Bhaiya,” the Indian told Daniel. “Your family is always welcome in our home.” Looking at both men, Taksheel corrected, “The Jackson-O'Neill parvar.” [family]
“You're okay, Taksheel,” Jack responded, shaking the man's hand.
With big smiles, the two families vowed to stay in contact.
Bright and early on Monday morning, the family boarded their Learjet and departed as soon as Jack and Daniel had completed their pre-flight check.
During the flight, Little Danny knocked on the cockpit door and was happy to hear the 'come in' response.
“Everything okay?” Daniel inquired from the co-pilot's seat, twisting the swivel seat around so he could face his son.
“Daddy, I made a decision.”
Daniel looked over at Jack, who just shrugged, not having any idea what the decision was about.
“I still want to be an archaeologist, even though it means I might have to see a lot of really sad things,” Little Danny stated.
“Okay,” Daniel acknowledged. “It's your choice, Little Danny.”
“It was the Seshadris,” the boy announced. “That's when I learned that our way isn't the only way. Maybe it's not even the best way.”
Smiling, Daniel responded, “You're right. It's all perspective, and if nothing else, you have to respect the ways of other cultures, even if you don't like what they do or how they do it.”
“It's still sad, Daddy, but it's how we learn and maybe if we learn what isn't so good, we can make it better. I hope it gets better for the Seshadris and the others in the bustees, but even if it doesn't, I won't cry for them anymore because they're happy, like we are.”
“They definitely are.”
“But I still don't think it's okay to be cruel to animals, no matter what else you believe,” the boy stated strongly, his voice full of conviction. Shifting his focus, he looked at the instrument controls and asked, “How high are we flying?”
“About forty-three-thousand feet,” Jack answered.
“Wow! That's high,” Little Danny replied as he looked out the window. “Bad carbon footprint, though.”
“Carbon footprint?” Jack repeated in disbelief.
“Uh-huh,” Little Danny expressed with a nod. “Jenny thinks we should have flown on a regular airplane.”
“Oh,” Daniel replied, choosing not to say much, though he gave a covert smirk to his husband.
“It's easy to say that now, on the way home. If we had, you'd all be whining about the Learjet being so much faster and more comfortable,” Jack huffed.
Little Danny looked at his older father and then whispered something to his younger father, which caused Daniel to laugh.
“What's so funny?” Jack asked.
Daniel looked at his namesake, who grinned his permission, and answered, “Little Danny has deduced that it was your idea to travel by Learjet. He also pointed out, and correctly I might add, that you were the one who would have whined about the comfort and speed, at least on the way back.”
**Are you going to sit there and tell me you could have flown commercial both ways and not once even thought about the comfort and convenience of taking the Lear?**
**That's what I thought.** Satisfed with the results of his silent argument, Jack glanced back at the child prodigy and sighed gruffly, “Smart-aleck.” Then he smiled and praised, “Two points.”
After giggling a few seconds at his dad's admission, Little Danny told his parents, “Jonny wants to know if we can modify our plane to fly on ethanol. Can we do that?”
Blinking a couple of times, Daniel responded, “Jack?”
~Oh, for crying out loud. A Learjet using ethanol? How the heck do I know?~ With a small groan, Jack answered, “Right now, Son, there aren't any alternative fuel sources for jets.”
Little Danny accepted the answer and then replied, “I'll talk to Aunt Sam.”
“You do that,” Jack agreed. With a smirk, he threatened, “Since I'm such a terrible energy wasting ogre for wanting to travel comfortably, I think the thing to do is sell this bucket of bolts when we get home, since none of you in good conscience could ever set foot on it again.”
“You're funny, Dad,” Little Danny chuckled as he headed for the cockpit door and disappeared from sight.
Daniel snickered, earning him a glare from his lover, which prompted the archaeologist to point out, “Nice try, Babe. He saw right through that remark.”
“Yeah, me, too,” Jack returned as he slowly began to chortle at the empty warning he'd made. Then he looked at Daniel and quipped, “You know, Danny, I think I may just feel sorry for Carter.”
“I don't know, Babe,” Daniel began. “Maybe the brood can goad the scientific community into coming up with a way for jets to use something other than gasoline. It has to start somewhere. Why not with Sam?”
Jack shrugged and smiled, amazed at just how far his family had come over the last few weeks, and it had nothing to do with the over seven-thousand miles that separated Colorado from India, either.
With the time difference, and thanks to a great tailwind pushing the Learjet along, the Jackson-O'Neills landed safely at the Colorado Springs Airport at about one in the afternoon the same day.
As soon as they arrived home, the children ran eagerly to see their pets and make sure they were okay. There were lots of hugs, kisses, and playful moments as they reunited with the furry, feathered, scaly, swimming, and nay-ing members of the family.
Little Danny sat down with Bijou and Katie almost immediately as he had something very special to tell them.
“I missed you so much. You wouldn't believe what some dogs go through in India. It's so sad,” the little boy confided, receiving licks of love on his cheeks from Katie, while Bijou lay down and placed a paw over his thigh in support. “We're so lucky to live in America and to have what we do. You have such a nice doghouse.” He wiped a tear from his face and added, “In India, cows are sacred, but to me, you two are sacred. I'll never, ever take you for granted.”
“Doggie love,” Jack whispered to his husband as the animal reunions continued and they watched the middle Munchkin with the girls.
“I plan on pampering them a little myself later,” Daniel admitted. “They're as lucky as we are to live where we do and have all that we have.”
“Amen,” Jack agreed, tugging his husband close, that is until a certain hyacinth macaw squawked demandingly at the general. “Polly, you missed me?” he called out with a smirk as he cocked his head to the side and opened up his arms.
“Secret love,” Ptolemy squawked as she flew up onto Jack's arm.
“Yeah, I'll second that,” Jack affirmed quietly as he ran a finger along the bird's colorful feathers.
With the animals greeted, the family next turned their attention to phone calls to their grandpa and their aunts, not to mention a host of friends. That lasted about ninety minutes, considering that all the kids wanted to talk to everyone about their trip and experiences.
“Wow,” Brianna expressed in awe as she hung up the phone after finishing up the last of the calls.
“What, Sis?” David asked curiously.
“The phone. I never thought of it as a luxury before, but it is,” Brianna opined.
“I felt funny turning on the light switch in our room,” Chenoa commented. “It was so easy.”
“Look at all the room we have,” Aislinn interjected, standing up, extending out her arms, and twirling around and around. “There's so much space, just for me.”
“And the toilets flush!” Jenny exclaimed, causing everyone to laugh and applaud.
“And there are lights in the bathroom,” Jonny piped happily.
Almost in a whisper, Little Danny added, “It's clean, and it smells good.” He paused and then sighed, “Everyone, everywhere should have a clean place that smells good. It's the right thing.”
The family exchanged looks with one another, all agreeing silently that every person was entitled to their space without garbage and unpleasant odors surrounding them.
To break the spell, Jack chimed, “Kids, go unpack. We can talk some more later about what we learned in India.”
Noise once again bounded through the room as the children happily went to their rooms to unpack their duffel bags and settle in. The all-fours animal kingdom followed the brood, happy to have them home.
With the living room clear, Daniel sighed, “They learned.”
“Mission accomplished, Danny.”
Daniel looked over at Kayla's picture on the mantle and smiled. He felt truly blessed to have known the adventurous women.
“Come on, Love. We need to unpack, too.”
“Let's make it fast. I'm hungry,” the archaeologist admitted, his gaze shifting from the young woman to his sexy husband.
“For food or ...”
“Jack! Not now.” With a leer, Daniel added, “Later, when we have time, lots of time.”
“It's a date,” Jack agreed.
With the unpacking done, it was time for Jack and Daniel to prepare dinner. Thanks to Sam, there was fresh food ready to be cooked. As they began discussing what to eat, the Munchkins and Spitfires hurried inside the kitchen, with JD toddling behind them and Brianna taking up the rear.
“Dad, Daddy, can we go outside and play in the tree house for a while?” Jonny asked as the spokesman for the group.
“Bri's gonna watch us because we want JD to come up, too,” Jonny added.
“This sounds important,” Daniel surmised, looking over at the eager eyes.
“We're starting a club,” Aislinn announced.
“The Adventurers,” Jenny added excitedly.
“We're gonna have an adventure every day,” Ricky proclaimed.
“Big 'venture!” JD clarified, spreading his arms out as wide as they could go.
“Can we, please?” Aislinn requested as she held Bobo in her arms.
“Is Bobo going?” Jack asked, nodding at the stuffed monkey that had been passed down to the Munchkins after Kayla's death.
“Bobo's our mascot. She represents Mommy,” Aislinn explained about the monkey that had been her mother's.
“Happy adventuring,” Jack spoke, smiling as he extended his arm towards the door.
“What's the code?” Brianna inquired, well aware that the security codes were frequently changed.
“We haven't changed it,” Daniel answered.
The tomboy chuckled, “Two-four-six-eight, it's time for an adventure.”
As Brianna and the children disappeared outside, Jack saw his husband's questioning expression and shrugged as he commented, “Okay, so it wasn't one of my better moments the last time I programmed it.”
“Apparently not,” Daniel agreed in disbelief over the simple code before refocusing on the food decision.
Late that evening, Jack and Daniel were making their rounds and came upon the girls' room. The door was slightly ajar and they were about to enter, but couldn't help stopping at the sound of the voices inside.
“... and Mommy has such a beautiful voice, Bobo. This was better than the tapes she left us. She was talking about us,” Aislinn whispered to the inanimate monkey.
“Ash, maybe Mommy's watching us through Bobo's eyes,” Jenny suggested as she carefully studied the squeezable animal and it's big, black eyes from her bed.
“Wanna sleep with us, Jenny?” Aislinn asked, scooting over and patting her bed.
All smiles, Jenny climbed out of her bed and settled in with her sister with Bobo in between them.
“Hey,” Jack called out as he and Daniel entered. “Sharing?”
“We both wanna sleep with Bobo,” Aislinn explained.
“Daddy, could Mommy be in Bobo sometimes?” Jenny questioned with pure innocence.
Sitting down on the edge of the bed and pulling up the sheets and comforter, Daniel answered, “Mommy's in your hearts, every second that you take a breath. She's always here.”
“Can we go back to India someday?” Jenny inquired hopefully.
“Yeah, can we?” Aislinn asked. “It's not really a bad place like I used to think.”
“Maybe someday,” the archaeologist answered. “Right now, you need to sleep. It's been a long month.”
“And you have another big adventure tomorrow,” Jack reminded with a smile.
“Every day is an adventure, Dad,” Jenny replied. “Mommy says so.”
“Yeah, she does,” Jack acknowledged, leaning over to kiss the girls.
“We love you,” Daniel averred, giving his young daughters kisses as well. “Night, Bobo,” he added, petting the monkey and causing his girls to giggle.
Back in the hallway, the lovers paused their rounds and kissed, several times, in fact, and more passionately than they'd done in quite a while.
“I've missed this,” Jack declared, his mouth just an inch from his soulmate's.
“I thought we were tired,” Daniel returned, his shining eyes indicating the coyness of his comment.
“Dead tired,” Jack affirmed. “But never *that* tired.”
With anticipatory smiles, the two men happily finished their rounds for the evening and then re-discovered each other's bodies, bodies that had been stilled physically during the trip to India, outside of a few secret kisses and hugs. They hadn't made love, though they'd had some fun fondling moments. Now, back under the familiar safe haven of the Colorado stars, they were free to reunite in their own very special passion, a passion that expanded as their continual nation of two grew in spirit and in strength. For the lovers, it didn't get any more adventurous than that.
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Traveling down the roads, the family saw the bright colors and varied activities of people going about their daily lives.
The Jackson-O'Neills took in all kinds of sights. Beggars were everywhere they went, but so were decent, hardworking Indian people. They saw firework displays, went to a puppet show, and visited temples, and even there, at holy places, the brood witnessed unholy situations, like the man who called himself a priest and began to bless the children and then requested a donation from the family.
In his older father's arms, JD pointed and called out, “Sofa! Why is that man on a sofa outside?”
The woman nodded, but she remained serious and concentrated on her task.
“How are you doing, Son?” Jack asked Jeff just after the amateur photographer had snapped a shot of David sitting on a rock overlooking the Himalayas.