Jack-of-All-Trades

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - August 16, 2017
Spoilers:  None
Size:  73kb
Written:  August 9-19, October 10-11, 2017
Summary:  Jack-of-All-Trades, master of none, definitely does not apply to Jack Jackson-O'Neill, who masters much for many in an average day.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
2) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s):  “The Right Stuff”

Jack-of-All-Trades
by Orrymain

“Jack, it's good to see you,” General Hank Landry greeted as he stood and walked over to shake his fellow general's hand.

“You, too, Hank.  What's up?” Jack asked as he sat down in a chair in front of Landry's desk.

As the current base commander at Cheyenne Mountain took his seat, he began, “Thanks for coming in, especially at this hour.”

It was definitely early, just five in the morning, the call having gone out to the retired general at 4 a.m. to report in at Stargate Command.

“What else was I going to do, sleep?” Jack teased.

“We have a situation and I would like your input.”

“I take it SG-1 had history with this situation.”

“With the government, yes,” Landry affirmed.  “Do you remember Pangera?”

“Pangera,” Jack echoed.  “Yeah.  They're the ones that held the Tok'ra mom and forced her to kick out babies like squeezing out ketchup from a tube and killed her in the process.”

Landry gave a light chuckle and responded, “That might be a little harsh.”

“Nope.”  Jack leaned forward in his chair.  “Look, I hate the snakeheads, and the Tok'ra were always playing their own game, but the Queen was okay.  What the Pangerans did killed her.  There's no other way of looking at it, Hank.”  He returned to a more erect position and spoke, “Okay, we all made nice in the end, so what's happening now?”

“They've had a change in power.  A Commander Tegar has taken over.”

“Tegar: loudmouth, tough, a lot of bark.”  Jack smiled as he admitted, “But he only wanted to protect his world.  I understood him, even though I didn't like him much.”

“This is his son.”

“Don't know him then.  We never met any of their families.  Actually, Hank, we didn't meet many of the citizens.  Daniel dealt with one of their archaeologists.”

“I read about that in Daniel's mission report.  Her name was Doctor Zenna Valk.”

“Sounds right.”

“She was one of several leading officials on Pangera who were assassinated this year.”

“What?  Why?”  Jack sighed as he thought, ~Daniel's going to be sad about that.  He respected her work.~  Curious and feeling a bit more invested now, he urged, “Hank, get to the point.”

“We're not sure how, but the Pangerans were finally able to use their Stargate to make contact with some other worlds, one of which apparently became sanctuary to a few Goa'ulds.”

“There aren't many out there.  We got most of them, didn't we?”

“Yes, Jack, but every now and then one rears his ugly head.”

“You do chop them off?”

“We handle it,” Landry responded, not getting into specifics but with a tone and expression that conveyed to the other general that the situations were dealt with efficiently and swiftly.  “We don't have the address to this planet.  What Intel we've learned has been from undercover operatives on Pangera.”

“Hank, don't tell me the CIA is now part of the SGC?”

“No.  We have our own special teams now for covert operations.”

“Wow,” Jack said, taking a big breath.  “So the Pangerans have met the Goa'uld?”

“Maybe in a way we don't want to contemplate.”

“You think Tegar's been taken as a host?”

“We think that's a possibility, but he's not showing the typical signs.  The problem is that we're at a standoff with the Pangerans.”

“Hank, they're a little planet.  We've had the Tretonin for years, so ...”

“Pangera's been developing another drug, Jack, and this one could be really big, for the world.  We need it and the President is insisting we get the red tape resolved quickly.”

“Red tape as in Tegar and the Goa'uld.”

“That's right.”

“Okay, but why am I here?”

“Commander Tegar, the man you met in 2003 is alive, though his son believes he was killed a few months ago, along with Doctor Valk and three other heads of state.  He's here, Jack, and I'd like you to talk to him, see what you can find out, and if the information he's given us is correct.”

“Whatever he's told you, you don't believe.”

“Let's just say we have questions, and we don't have time for wild goose chases.  Will you talk to him?”

“Sure,” Jack agreed as he stood up.  “But, Hank, that was a long time ago, and I'm a little out of the loop.”

Landry gave a wave to a man standing outside of his office, who immediately entered.

“General,” Colonel Paul Davis greeted.

“Colonel,” Jack acknowledged cordially.

“Colonel Davis will brief you and answer any questions you have.  He'll escort you to Tegar's accommodations.”  Landry paused and added, “Just tell me your gut feeling when you're through and give me your best recommendation based on what you hear.  I need your input, Jack.  The Pangerans have been cooperative but secretive over the years.”

With a nod, Jack exited the office with Davis.  After being brought up to speed on Pangera and given more detail regarding the current situation, Jack met with the Tegar he'd met over a decade earlier.  The man was far from the accusatory, ardent, and arrogant persona he once was and now was downtrodden, fidgety, and fearful.  He remembered Jack and recalled the connection they had as military warriors doing their best for their worlds.

Jack spent a half-hour with the Pangeran before returning to Landry's office.  He gave his opinion, commenting on Tegar's love of his world and distress over what was happened there politically over the last decade, suggested a course of action, and left the Mountain, happy to return to the peace of being a civilian.  There was a time he might have insisted on getting more involved, but nowadays, his life with his family came first.  He and Daniel were retired and, for the most part, the government was finally leaving them alone.

Truth be told, Jack didn't mind meetings like this, when his knowledge and expertise were helpful, but that old urge to jump in and be on the front lines was gone.  Was it age or family, or maybe a mix of both?  Jack didn't know.  He just wanted to get home in time for the usual breakfast craziness and all that came after.

====

When Jack arrived home, he whistled his way into the hospitality room where he saw David struggling with the breakfast meal.  The young man was not the best cook and was often teased about not having the cooking gene.  More often than not, he was one of the assistants for the cook, but every now and then, out of fairness, he had to be given the primary meal responsibilities as was the case today.

The father saw the assistants, Aislinn and Jenny, hanging in the background, exchanging nervous glances.

“Girls, are you helping your brother?”

“He hasn't told us what he wants us to do, Dad,” Aislinn answered quietly.

“Yeah, and we've asked him.  He keeps saying he doesn't know.”

“Help!” Aislinn pleaded, bringing her hands together in a prayer pose for a few seconds and whispering the plea a second time.

“Never fear, Dad is here,” Jack quipped with a smile as he patted Jenny, who was closest to him, on the shoulder before going deeper inside the room.  “Son.”

“Hi, Dad,” David greeted as he stared intently at the recipe that was in front of him.

“How's it going?”

“Fine.”

“Son, I don't see anything cooking, but I see a skillet of ... something in the sink.”

“I burned it,” the boy admitted.  “Don't worry, Dad.  I'll get it done,” he insisted as he added more ingredients to a different skillet.

“Sugar?  Are you sure that recipe calls for sugar?”

“Sugar?  Um ... well, I ...” David stammered before letting out a huge sigh.

“Hey, take a breath,” Jack urged as he rubbed David's back for a few seconds.  “You can do this.”

“Dad, I'm a horrible cook.  I understand what Aunt Sam is talking about, most of the time, but I don't understand how to follow a recipe.  What's wrong with me?”

“Nothing.  Now, remember, you have two assistants over there who are ready to help you and they both know how to cook.  I suggest you make good use of your resources.  Get them going on your side dishes.  Go.”

Nodding, David called out to his sisters and requested they ready the muffins, applesauce, and oranges.  When he returned to where his dad was standing, he reached for the tablet to restart his main dish.

“Whoa, David.  Let's think about this.  I know some of your brothers and sisters are great cooks, and we all agree that not all of us can match them.”

“You can say it, Dad.  I suck at cooking.”

“That's calling a spade a spade *except* that I know you can do it.”

“No, I can't.”

“Sure, you can, but you have to play to your strengths instead of stacking the deck against you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look at this recipe.  Yeah, it looks like it would taste great, but it has a boatload of ingredients and an equal amount of steps.”  Jack shifted the tablet to another page, one he'd found while the cook was speaking with his sous-chefs.  “This one utilizes a third of the ingredients and has only a few steps.”

“So, don't try to do more than I'm capable of.”

“Today, but master this, David, and then stretch yourself.  You have to start at the beginning.  Don't worry about the rest of the brood.  You concentrate on this, like you did when you first learned Arabic, one phrase at a time.”

“That's not exactly how I learned it, Dad,” David replied, “but I understand what you're saying.”

“Okay.  Do you want some help?”

“No, thank you.  I got this.”

“I know you do.”

Smiling, Jack left his son to hopefully master the breakfast meal, especially since his hunger was growing.  Fortuntely, the morning meal was served a half-hour later and the cook received rave reviews.  There was actually hope now for the boy's future ability to cook for himself, and the family.

====

After breakfast, Jack headed for the study to do some research on a project he and Daniel were considering.  About twenty minutes into his task, Aislinn walked in and stood quietly by her father's desk.

“Did you want something, Princess?”

“Yes.”

“Care to share?”

“Would you come outside in the front yard and watch us?”

“Watch who?”

“The Curly Tops, the Munchkins, and the Spitfires.”

“All seven of you?  What do you want to do?”

“Play.”

“Can't you play in the back?”

“We could.”

“But you're feeling a hankering to be out front?”

“Change of pace, Dad.”

With a chuckle, Jack responded, “Give me five minutes to finish up and you can have up to an hour out front.  Fair?”

“Yes, Sir.  Thank you,” Aislinn responded with a smile.

~So formal sometimes,~ Jack thought about the youngest of the triplets.  Then he focused on finishing up his research before leaving the study and joining the kids in the living room.  “Okay, kids.  Let's go.”

“Thanks, Dad,” several voices rang out as the children headed for the front door.

Walking leisurely into the front yard and watching as the children began to run around on the grass, Jack looked to his right and was surprised to see Jeff standing in front of his 2005 Ford truck.  The college student was shaking his head with a rag hanging from his hand.

Jack sauntered over and asked, “Problem?”

“Yeah.  Dad, you know whenever I leave for college, I like to make sure my truck is running right for Bri, but I can't figure this out.”

“What's going on?”

“A couple of things.  It's stalled out a few times since I've been home and I've had trouble getting it started in the mornings.”

“Let me get in there,” the father requested, switching places with his son.  “And keep an eye out on the kids.”

Jeff nodded, though his focus was mostly on the truck.  He glanced over at the brood now and then and could hear their voices, each one distinct.  If he didn't hear a certain sound regularly, he looked over to see what was happening before letting his eyes revert back to his dad checking out the engine.

“Ah!” Jack exclaimed.

“What'd you find?”

“Take a look,” the father instructed.

Leaning over the engine, the young man wasn't sure what he was supposed to be seeing.

“I'm missing it, Dad.”

“Look at the spark plugs.  Notice the ...”

“There's a gap there.”

“Yeah.  I don't see anything else of concern, so I'd say this is just normal erosion. What's the mileage?”

“It's over a hundred-thousand now.”

“That makes sense then.”

“So I need new plugs?”

“That's my bet.  It looks like a classic case of ignition coil failure and that means plugs.”

“I've never changed out plugs before, Dad.  Can you help me?”

Jack smiled and sent his son to auto supply store for a set of new spark plugs.  Then he watched the children play for a while before calling them over.

“Okay, kids, Jeff will be back in few and we have some work to do on his truck, so playtime moves inside or to the backyard.  Anyone interested in being a helper?”

The opportunity was available for the entire brood, but Jack knew who would be eager to help.  Instantly, Jenny stepped forward, indicating her interest.

“Me, too, Dad,” Jonny added.

“Helpers, with me, and the rest of you, move out.”

Aislinn giggled, “Dad is always such a general.”

“I heard that.”

“It's not a secret, Dad,” the girl countered.

“Such a smartie.”

“Like you, Dad.”

Jack let out a small growl, but smiled before heading for the garage with Jonny and Jenny.

“Jonny, I need the air compressor.  Red, get me a ratchet with a spark plug socket,” Jack requested as he retrieved a few other items.

Once Jeff returned, father and son went to work with the helpers watching and ready to jump in at any time, though both knew they probably weren't going to do anything more than observe.  Jack had his oldest son pull out the owners manual so they could check to see how much torque was recommended.

Jack went through the instructions with Jeff as he worked on the first spark plug.  He removed the bolt, the electrical connector, and then the coil that provided the electricity to the spark plug and gave it the voltage to create the spark.  He handed the coil to Jenny, who inspected it closely.

“Jonny, Jenny, watch Jeff closely,” Jack called out.  “Jeff, take the air compressor and blow out all the dirt and crud in the slot where the coil goes.”

Jeff gave a few quick squeezes at first and then held down the level to let the air do a good job of clearing out the hole of debris.  He pulled back.

“Not yet,” Jack spoke.  “You need to get all around the area, so move the air compressor so you're getting all sides.  You did a great job going straight in, but you have to move it around.”

“Okay, Dad.”

“Good job, Son,” Jack praised when the job was done.  “Now get the flashlight and check the hole out thoroughly.  If you miss a rock, it'll do one heck of a number on the engine later, and your bank account won't like it, either.”

With the hole completely clear,  Jack took the ratchet and removed the spark plug.

“Here's the new plug,” Jeff said as he removed it from the box.

“Gapped?”

“Just like you told me to get,” Jeff answered.

“Good.  The key here,” Jack began as he tightened the plug in place, “is to feel for any resistance, and back off, if you do.  You don't want to damage the threads.  That's bad news for your pocketbook.  This is where the torque comes in.  You want to be spot on with the manual.  There we go.”

“What's next?” the college student required when that job was done.

“Get the ignition coil from your sister and place it right over the spark plug,” the father advised, letting his oldest son put the coil in place.  “Place it down gently.”  As he continued to work on the task, he explained, “Put the bolt back in place.  It needs to be nice and tight.  Reconnect the electrical connector.”

Once the final steps were done, the children smiled.

“One down,” Jack stated.  “Jeff, I want you to do the next one completely on your own.”  He looked at Jonny and Jenny and instructed, “Kids, watch closely.”

Jack guided his son through the process again, making sure he didn't miss any steps and that it was done correctly.

“Two down,” Jeff noted brightly.

“Jonny, you're up.”

“Huh?”

“Have you been paying attention?”

“Wow!” the happy Munchkin expressed.

“Jeff, you're turn to guide your brother.  I'll watch and step in, if necessary, but you teach him and make sure everything's done correctly.”

Jeff and Jonny worked together as Jack and Jenny watched.  The redhead was completely focused.  She was determined to learn all she could for when she grew up and could work on her own car.

“Nice!” Jeff exclaimed when Jonny was done with the third spark plug.

“Number four coming up,” Jack said.  “Red.”

“What, Dad?”

“You're turn.”

“Me?” Jenny questioned, her eyes as bright as they'd ever been.

Jack retrieved a step stool he'd placed by the garage earlier and brought it to the side of the truck.  He made a sweeping motion with his right arm, inviting the Spitfire to step up so she could lean over the engine properly since she wasn't as tall as the Munchkin, who didn't need the step stool to see.

The father took the position next to Jenny to monitor her work closely.  He assisted here and there, especially when placing the spark plug in place to the correct torque, ensuring the coil was in the correct position, and tightening the bolt.

“Well done, Princess.”

“You did great, Sis,” Jeff stated.

It took longer than it would have since the kids were being taught and assisted in the replacement process, but two hours later, the job was done.

“Turn on the ignition,” Jack ordered.

Jeff jumped in the truck and turned on the motor.

“Sounds good to me,” Jenny opined.

“Hop in.  Let's drive around for a few minutes,” Jeff suggested.

Jack agreed with the idea, so he and the kids took their seats and went for a fifteen-minute ride.  Jeff was convinced his truck problem was solved since the ride was smooth and without any stalling or misfires.

Back at home, the group put away the tools and equipment and then returned to the interior of the house to clean up before lunch.

====

While Jennifer prepared lunch with her assistants, Little Danny and JD, Jack decided it was time for something special.  He entered his lover's den, locking the door behind him.

“Hey,” the general greeted as he leaned down to kiss the man who totally owned his heart and soul.

“Hey back,” Daniel chuckled.

“How's it coming?”

“Good.  We need to discuss team leaders,” the archaeologist mentioned in reference to J-O Enterprises' project teams.

“Later,” Jack replied, surprising his soulmate when he turned on the stereo to one of their favorite songs.  He returned to his husband and pulled him up.  “Now, we dance.”

“Gawd,” Daniel responded.  “Romantic before lunch?”

“Romantic all the time, just thwarted more times than not by brood plus zoo,” Jack mused.

“I like this,” Daniel spoke with a contented sigh as he leaned his head against Jack's shoulder.

“Me, too.  I feel your heart.”

“I love you so much, Jack.  All the years, the love just keeps growing.  That's, uh, pretty amazing.”

The younger man was silly putty in Jack's hold, and he knew it.  He also knew how he could seal the deal.  His game plan in mind, Jack sang softly and could physically feel Daniel succumbing to the lure.  He never thought his voice was all that much, but his husband was all-in whenever Jack broke down and sang to him.

The next thing the archaeologist knew, he was divested of his clothing for a quickie expression of love between he and his husband.  Jack was over the moon.  Making love with Daniel was always joyous and satisfying.  It never got old and while they weren't able to join in the union as much as they once did because of the presence of the brood and a house-full of animals, times like now were frequent and cherished.

“Geez, what you do to me,” Jack said as the lovers kissed again.

Then there was a tap on the door, accompanied by a loud cough, and then a “Lunch is ready, and we're not waiting” announced from their oldest daughter, who obviously sensed what was happening on the other side of the door.

“I don't even want to think about what she knows,” Jack groaned as he stood up and reached for his clothes.

“Babe, after that horrifying moment when she saw us, I don't think about what she knows.  If I do, I'll never look at her again.”

The lovers chuckled and dressed, sneaked into the master bedroom to clean up for a couple of minutes, redressed, and finally joined lunch, in progress.

====

After lunch, Jack and Daniel discussed J-O Enterprises for a while and then turned their attention to another matter.

“It worked for the Munchkins, not that they didn't kick and scream their objections,” Jack reminded.

“I wasn't sure we were going to survive it,” Daniel admitted while leaning against his desk while his lover was sitting in the recliner next to it.

“It worked, and it worked it again with the Spitfires.”

“I know, and it was needed, both times, for the children to grow up healthy.”

The parents were referring back to when the brood members in question were in their first five years of life.  The Munchkins were very close, as they were to this day, but they never did anything apart.  Eventually, Jack and Daniel forced a break up, having Jonny go out on a play date with a friend without the other two triplets and then doing the same with Little Danny and Aislinn.  It was sometimes heartbreaking and always difficult to feel the pain and sadness the three felt when they weren't together.  That said, as months passed, the triplets began to develop bonds with friends away from their siblings and they realized they couldn't be together every second of the day.

The Spitfires had a similar issue, though not as pronounced.  The parents repeated the process with the twins with the same happy success.

Now, with the Munchkins five weeks away from their eleventh birthday and the Spitfires three weeks out from turning ten-years-old, all five children had plenty of mutual friends and individual buddies.  They were well rounded with a broad circle of friends, and all were as close and secure as ever with their siblings.

The issue never occurred with the Mouseketeers or the Mavericks as groups, but at the moment, the parents were somewhat concerned about the youngest members of those two groups, Chenoa and Lulu.  Lovers of dance and both with the same style of curly hair though with different hues, blonde for Chenoa and black for Lulu, the two girls had no secrets from the other.  They talked dance non-stop and were almost always in the dance studio when not required to be elsewhere.

Daniel continued, “They do socialize, Jack.  Angela and Noa are very close.”

“Yeah, but I talked to Sara last week and she mentioned Angela has asked Noa to come over a few times recently and the reason Noa's given her for not coming was because she was working on a dance routine with Lulu.”

“They aren't babies, though,” the archaeologist reminded, referring to Chenoa being eleven-and-a-half and Lulu one-year older than that.  “I'm not sure if there's really a problem.”

“Danny, the girls don't have any problem separating when they're with us or other members of the brood, but I don't think Lulu has a single friend that is outside of the brood's friends.  I think we've missed something important here.”

Daniel sighed and began to pace around his den, processing all he'd learned about parenting and realizing that in this case, he knew too little.

“She is very connected to Noa.  Remember when she created an imaginary friend to compensate for Noa's lack of social behavior?”

“Yeah, it took a long time for Noa to get over being dumped by a Jaffa for one of her aunts,” Jack recalled about Teal'c's relationship with Janet, something no one found out about until the couple became engaged.

“But they are bright, normal, happy children,” Daniel put forth.

“Do nothing and let it go?”

“I don't know.  Maybe ... maybe we should try to get them talking about other things.”

“They do, or they say they do, and they talk about other things with the family.”

“All ado about nothing?” Daniel suggested.

“Let's think on it some more.”

“Okay, well, I'm going downstairs and spend some time with David.  He's interested in digging into the deeper aspects of Egyptology.”

“And I have English class, but I'm keeping it short, sweet, and fun.”

The parents chatted for a few more minutes before moving forward with their tasks.

====

“Kids, we're doing something a little different today,” Jack announced at the beginning of the homeschooling session.  “Let's have some fun with words, specifically with clichés because we all know how much I love clichés.”  Laughter ensued for several seconds, after which he continued, “What is a cliché?”

“A generic term,” Chenoa called out.

“It's a stereotyped expression,” Little Danny stated.

“An unoriginal idea,” Aislinn interjected.

“Predictable,” Ricky said.

“Something we've heard a thousand times,” Jenny put forth.

“Good,” Jack responded.  “Give me some synonyms of cliché.”

“Common,” Jonny piped up eagerly.

“Does adage work?” Lulu asked.

“Yes, it does,” Jack answered.  “Any others?”

“Bromide,” Little Danny added, prompting several looks from his siblings.

“I thought that was a chemical or something,” Jenny replied.

“It's part of salt,” Little Danny confirmed, “but it's also a trite saying, or a platitude, or a cliché.”

“So a cliché is old, maybe overused, and something we've heard a lot,” Jack summarized.  “Can you tell me something positive about a cliché?  Is there a useful purpose for using those old, familiar sayings?”

“I know!” JD explained.

“Out with it,” Jack encouraged.

“It helps you to explain something to someone else,” the youngest brood member asserted.

“JD's right,” Lulu opined.  “We use clichés to educate one another, like being so hungry you can eat a horse.”

“Lulu!”

“Oops!” the black-haired Curly Top giggled.  “Sorry, Noa, but you know what I mean.”

“Or thinking outside the box,” Little Danny offered.

“There's no place like home,” Aislinn spoke, smiling as she thought about its meaning.

“Don't rock the boat,” Ricky added.  “I think it's fun to rock the boat,” he chuckled.

“Nice job,” Jack responded.  “Using those expressions communicate clearly what we want to say and most folks will know immediately what you're trying to get across, so while a cliché may be old hat, it has a place.”  After a pause, he instructed, “Here's what I'd like you to do.  As a team, I want you to get together and come up with a cliché that piques your interest.  Research the agreed upon cliché and come up with various ways to use it.  Use your imaginations for this unstructured class assignment.  How long you work on this is totally up to you.  Before dinner, you'll give a short presentation on your cliché for Daddy, me, and the rest of the brood.  Got it?”

“Got it,” Jonny responded on behalf of his brothers and sisters.

“Okay, get going.”

====

For the next hour, Jack partook in his revised neo-ritual.  Back in the day, his ritual meant enjoying a beer and some chips while reading the latest issue of National Geographic from cover to cover with jazz music in the background.  These days, the ritual was enjoying a soda with some nuts while reading his favorite publication with jazz playing in the background for as he could get away with it.  If he were lucky, he'd get half-way through the magazine before being disturbed.  Most of the time, though, he felt lucky to read two articles in full before being called away.  This, though, was a good day and the general actually made it through the entire ritual.

When he surfaced from the study, Jack checked in with his lover, who was outside with a few of the children.

“Danny, I'm gonna take a walk.”

“Okay, Babe,” Daniel acknowledged and enjoyed a quick kiss with his Love.

“Dad, can I go with you?”

“Sure,” Jack agreed as he smiled at JD.

“Have fun,” Daniel told the youngster as he joined the silver-haired man for a walk in the neighborhood.

====

“... and we can play cowboys and Indians,” JD suggested.  “We'll have a big pow wow and all be friends.”

“Works for me.  Hey, how about we put up some teepees in the backyard and have a campout?”

“Wow, Dad, awesome!”

JD was proposing a party, a just-because party for friends, which Jack was amenable to, subject to Daniel's approval as well.

Suddenly, Jack's pace slowed and he took hold of JD's hand.  His eyes focused on a van parked in a driveway across from where he and JD were walking.  He frowned as he contemplated the view.  Then he looked around and spotted the car belonging to Shelly McClain.

“JD, listen carefully,” Jack began as he kneeled down.  “I want you to go to Ms. McClain's house.  Show me which one it is.”  He nodded when the boy pointed it out correctly.  “That's right.  Go there and tell her I'll be right there to get you, but that I need her to let you stay with her for a few minutes.”

“Is something wrong, Dad?”

“I hope not.  Go.  Don't cross the street or go anywhere else.  I'm watching.”

“Okay, Dad.”

JD took off in a run to the home that Shelly shared with her husband, Bob Stevens, and their children.  He knocked on the door and delivered his father's message to the woman, who immediately invited the youngster inside her home.

With JD secured, Jack pulled out his phone.  He was glad he'd brought it with him, something he didn't do much of the time.

“My name is General Jack Jackson-O'Neill,” Jack began when he called 9-1-1.  He advised the operator that he believed the home of an elderly neighbor, Hamilton Mason, was being robbed.  He'd witnessed a stranger to the area carrying a TV into a van and was fearful for the safety of Mason, a widower whose only son moved away roughly a year ago.  “Mason doesn't leave his house much.”

With the call ended and police en route, Jack kept watch.  Minutes passed without the arrival of the police.  He couldn't stand by any longer.  He made his way across the street and took a position at the side of the house.  He peered through the window and saw no sign of his neighbor.  He did see two men gathering things from the house.  Spying the gate, Jack checked to see if he could gain access, which he could.  He went around to back and eventually all the way around the home, looking in windows at every opportunity.  He never caught a glimpse of Mason.  The general returned to the front of the home, taking cover when the two men appeared outside with some boxes and the stereo system.  Once they disappeared from view, Jack took off and returned to the other side of the street.

About then, the police finally showed up, cordoning off the street and catching the men when they next came outside, one carrying a computer and the other with a large jewelry box in his hands.

When the action was over, Jack identified himself to the officers and requested they do a thorough search for Hamilton Mason.  They did and found no sign of the man.  Then Jack mentioned the man's son and provided the police with the limited information he knew about the son's whereabouts.  After that, a detective arrived on the scene and questioned the general for several minutes.

Just when the police were done with Jack, word came that the son was located and his father was with him.  Apparently, Mason's son surprised him with a visit and they were on a four-day trip.

Jack was relieved Mason was safe, but his gut was telling him that something was hinky.  The situation was not in his control and what mattered most was that Mason was safe.

With the crisis over, Jack retrieved his son from the McClain-Stevens residence and continued onward.

====

Sometime later, Jack ran a couple of errands and was on his street when he noticed one of the neighbors looking perplexed outside her home.  Her two young children were running around with their black lab riding herd over them.  Jack pulled over to the curb, exited his truck, and crossed the street.  He pulled off his sunglasses as he heard the barking of the dog.

“Hey, Delilah,” the general greeted, bending over to pat the dog.  He waved at the children, Meryl and Russell, who called out hellos to General Jack, and then he approached their mother.  “Monica, do you need some help?”

“Oh, Jack, I'm no good with anything mechanical or ... whatever this is.”

“Leaky pipe?” Jack asked as he lowered himself to his haunches and examined the pipe, spying a large pool of water that was starting to run down the driveway from the leak.

“Earl's away for a couple of days.  I guess I'll have to call a plumber.”

“Nah,” Jack responded.  “Does Earl have any piping?”

Monica stared at Jack with a 'You've got to be kidding' expression because she was totally clueless about her husband's tools and anything related to mechanics, plumbing, and electrical.

“Do you want to take a look?”

“Yeah.”  Jack waited as Monica engaged the garage door opener and then entered.  He was impressed with the range of tools and spare items the man had, but there wasn't any piping or plumbing epoxy.  He did see something of interest, though.  “This should do it.”

“Duct tape?”

“You'd be amazed what you can do with duct tape, Monica.  I need some rags.”

After turning off the water and with the children and their dog watching closely, Jack began to dry the pipes.  Once he was satisfied, he tightly wrapped the duct tape around the pipe to cover up the leak.

“Monica, this won't last long term, but it should get you through until Earl gets home.  If it doesn't, give me a call.”

“Thank you, Jack.”

Jack nodded and said his goodbyes before returning to his truck.  He glanced back and chuckled at how the black lab acted almost like a sheepdog with sheep with the kids.  The lab was trained to keep the children from venturing near the edge of the lawn and even to the other side of lawn by the neighbor's home.  Jack started the truck and headed home.

====
 
At home again, Jack quickly found himself involved with the brood, one at a time.  Every time he thought he'd have a moment to review the mail, one of the kids wanted his attention.  It began with Jenny.

“Dad, I need you to watch me cheer.  Something's off, but I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong.”

“Lead the way,” the father requested.

Jenny enjoyed doing her cheers on the front lawn, so that's where she went.  With her pompoms in her hand, the Spitfire began her countdown and then ran through her cheer.  She was poised and energetic, but at the end, she frowned.

“It doesn't feel right, Dad.”

“Red, I think it's the arch at the end.  You know, that stance before the last hand movements when you do this.”  Jack actually took the pose he was thinking of it, doing it as best he could.  “You're not arching your back.  It's too straight.”

“Hmmm,” Jenny responded.  “I'll try it again.”  Jenny ran through her routine one more time and on this second try, she made a conscious effort to arch her back as her dad suggested.  “Yeah, that's it.”

“Feel better?”

“You're the best coach ever,” Jenny praised, giving her dad a hug before running inside the house.

~Never thought I'd be a cheerleader coach,~ Jack mused.

Just as the general picked up the mail again, Ricky entered and asked, “Dad, can you help me?”

“I can try.  What's the problem?”

Ricky looked all around to make sure they were alone and confided, “I'm making a present for Jenny for our birthday.  Come see.”

The boy led Jack into the projects room and to his lump of clay.

“It won't go into the shape I want it to.  I keep trying, but it won't stay.”

“What are you trying to make?”

In a hushed tone, the Spitfire answered, “I'm making her a doll.”

“A doll of clay?”

“Yeah.  No one else will think to make her a doll, and she loves dolls, and this doll will be extra special.”

“Because you made it,” Jack surmised with a smile.

“No, because it will look like her.” Ricky pulled out notes he'd printed out from the computer.  “See, this shows how to make a clay doll and I want it to look like Jenny.”

“You have a ways to go,” Jack teased as he picked up the lump of clay.

“I've tried five times.  Will you help me, Dad?”

“Let's take a look at the instructions,” the father agreed as he sat down at the worktable.

Father and son worked together for quite a while and then Ricky put his hands over his eyes and admitted, “This is the part where I always mess up.”

Jack chuckled, “It's okay, Son.  I'll take care of the ... anatomy.”

“Tell me when I can look,” Ricky requested as he continued to shield his eyes, though at one point, he spread his fingers apart for a split second before putting them solidly back together.

~Aha, that's the problem.  It wasn't the clay, it was his insecurity about his sister's tiny boobs,~ Jack mused.  “Open your eyes, Ricky,” he instructed.  “Look, this is just a vague impression here.  There's nothing wrong with anatomy.  You aren't doing anything wrong by giving this doll a tiny bust.”

“I'm a boy.”

“A respectful boy, and that's a good thing.  This is a toy.  Don't be ashamed of your anatomy or Jenny's.  Just stay respectful.  You know where the boundaries are, right?”

“Yes, Dad.”

“Okay, we've gotten over the anatomy trouble spot.  Are you ready to continue on your own?”

“Thanks, Dad,” the boy answered while bobbing his head up and down.

“Great.  Have fun.”

Jack left the projects room and headed for the study to finally look at the mail when Brianna saw him and encouraged him to join her and some of the other kids in a round of catch.  Unable to deny some baseball fun, he happily went into the backyard and imbibed in a round of catch with Brianna, David, Jonny, Little Danny, and Jenny.

Twenty minutes later, Jack met up with his husband to do a time check.  He wanted to make sure Daniel was ready to watch the children's presentation on clichés.  They agreed on gathering the kids together in thirty minutes.

Jack opted to use the intercom to announce, “For those working on today's homeschooling cliché challenge, this is your thirty minute warning.  Thirty minutes to go and then everyone is to meet in the rec room.  Dad out.”

After that, the general make his way to the study, grabbed the mail, and sat down on the old sofa against the wall.  He thumbed through the first two pieces when Chenoa entered.

“Hey, Dad, do you have a minute?”

“Always, Princess,” Jack responded, patting the spot next to him with his left hand while placing the stack of mail between his thigh and the inner edge of the couch.

“I have a problem.”

“I'm here.”

“Well, I think Angela's mad at me,” Chenoa sighed as she thought about Angela Wilson, her best friend.

“Why would you think that?”

“I called her earlier to see if we could do a date with our ponies.  She said she had to go and wouldn't talk to me.  She hung up, so I called back and Aunt Sara said Angela couldn't talk right now.  Dad, why would Angela be mad at me?”

“Maybe she's not mad.”

“I think she is.”

“Okay, you tell me.  Why would Angie be upset with you?”

“I don't know.”

“Think hard.”

“Well, we talk all the time.”

“That's good for best friends.”

Chenoa sighed, “I've been busy with our dance routines lately.”

“Honey, I love you, and you and Lulu are a great team.  You're very creative, merging your preferred dance styles.”

“But?”

“You tell me.”

“I have to work on our dances.”

“If you say so.”

“Dad, I miss Angela.”

“Princess, Angie isn't going to be there at your beck and call if you aren't there for her.”

“I am.”

“Are you?  The way I hear it, Angie's invited you over to play several times, and you've turned her down.”

“Lulu and I were working on our routines.”

“And that's a choice you're free to make, but when you make it, you need to be aware of how Angie feels.”

“Kinda like I feel right now?”

“I'd say that's a good bet.  Noa, your dancing is important to you, and you and Lulu are great friends as well as sisters, but both of you need to have your own individual lives, with your own friends.  You and Angela are best friends.  If you ignore that because of your dancing or your love for Lulu, the friendship may not last.  Do you want Angie to be your best friend?”

“Yes, Dad, of course.  That's a silly question.”

“Maybe, but right now, I'm not sure Angie's feeling like she is your best friend.”

“She is, Dad, I swear.  What do I do?”

“You're old enough to figure that out on your own.  Why don't you give it a big think and see what you come up with.”

“Okay.”  The young girl sighed, “I wish she liked dance.”

“Noa, I like to create pottery.  Daddy doesn't like it that much.  Daddy likes to play the piano.  I'm not really a piano guy, but you know what?”

“What?”

“Sometimes, Daddy and I spend time on pottery together and sometimes I fiddle with the piano, with Daddy.  A lot of times, I do my pottery on my own and a lot of times, he plays the piano on his own.  What I'm trying to say is that when someone you care about has other interests, it's always a good idea to enjoy it with them, occasionally, and let them have their time to enjoy their hobby on their own the rest of time.  When you share, you show you care.  You and Lulu love dance and share that together all the time, but what do you do when you're apart?  More specifically to your reason for this chat, you and Angie share a love of horses, but what else is there?”

“Lots of things.”

“I'll accept that.  Tell me, Princess, when's the last time you and Angie just played or shared one of those other things, something not horse related?  You see, if you're too busy to spend time with your best friend except for when the ponies need a visit, well ... you think about that.”

“I've been horrible, haven't I?”

“No, you're just growing up, Noa, and that means you're time is going to be more limited.  It also means you have to make right choices.  Aunt Sara and Uncle Mark, just like Daddy and me, have always said we'll do whatever we can to get you and Angie time together, and that still stands, but you have to want to spend time together, and not just when it's convenient for you.  Do you understand?”

“I think so.  Thanks, Dad.”

“You're welcome.”

Chenoa rose and left the study, moving slowly as she contemplated her dad's words.  Life was getting more complicated, but Angela was her best friend and she was determined to make things right.

Jack thought for a moment about his daughter's dilemma and how it tied into the earlier conversation he'd had with his husband.  He now felt even stronger that they were right to let the girls figure it out themselves, though he also believed they may need to subtly insert Lulu into social situations without her sister nearby.

~Nothing severe, but not unlike what we did with the Munchkins and the Spitfires.  I bet we can come up with something.~

Once again, Jack picked up the mail.  He managed to sort through three pieces when Jeff walked in and asked for a minute of his time.

“Sure.”

The college student sat down on the sofa.  He leaned forward and clasped his hands together.  A minute passed and then another.

“Son, I tend to be a man of few words, but if you want my help, you're going to have to say at least a few words.”

“I know, Dad.  I'm sorry; I'm just ... on the edge and I don't know what I to do, or even should do.”

“What's the topic?”

“Graduation,” Jeff answered.  The young man was about to enter his final year at the University of Cincinnati.  He would graduate with a degree in architecture from their College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.  As part of the program, students spent some semesters actually on the job for various firms.  For some, a good semester led to jobs with these firms and sometimes in positions that were higher up than entry level.  “I've gotten a couple of offers for after I graduate.”

“Hey, that's great.”

“Maybe.  It's just, one of them is for a Canadian division of the firm I worked for which would mean moving to Toronto.  Another one is in Cincinnati.”

“Are they wanting an answer now?”

“No, but they will soon, or they're offer the positions to other graduates or go the usual route for open opportunities.”

“What do you want to know from me?”

“I'm ... confused.  I think I owe Alex and Archonics for all the faith they've had in me.  Alex and Byron have been wonderful.  They've offered me a job, too.  Actually, they offered me a job before I even started college, but both Alex and Byron have mentioned it to me, and not too long ago.  Byron told me I don't need to feel obligated, and I don't, except I do, and I'd love to work for them.  If I do work for them, it means I'd be here, and this is home.  I don't know that I want to leave home, Dad.”

“Leaving home is never easy, Jeff.  I remember when I left Chicago for good.  My parents were great, but it was hard.”

“But you left.”

With a nod, Jack answered, “Yes.  I was in the Air Force and I'd met Sara.  My life wasn't in Chicago anymore.  It was in fighter jets and when I wasn't there, it was with the woman of my dreams.  That's life, Son.  We adjust and do our best not to forget those years of our childhood and the people who love us.”

“I ... think about Chely, too.  I don't know that I have a right to take her away from her family; um, well, assuming we ...”

“It's a matter of time, isn't it, Jeff?  You and Chely will do okay, wherever you are, as long as you're real with each other, and in love ... with each other.”

“She's going to have a lot of offers, too, Dad.”

“Maybe you go where she goes then.  That's not unheard of.  You will have to make that decision together, if that time comes.”  Jack paused and then continued, “Look, you don't have to make a decision today, so don't stress out over it now.  You want my advice?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Follow your gut, and you'll make the best choice for you, and Chely.”

“I know you're right, and I do have time.”

“Jeff, you don't need to make a choice during the school term.  You know what?  If those firms want you, they'll wait for you.  Graduate, see what happens with Chely, and move forward when you're ready.  You'll know, when you need to know.”

“Thank you, Dad.  Daddy said the same thing, but in different words.”

“It's great to know we're on the same page,” Jack mused.

“Hey, isn't it time for the kids' presentation?”

“Right-O,” Jack responded.  He picked up the mail and carried it with him to the rec room, where Daniel was already seated on the sofa.  He tossed down the pile of mail onto his lover's lap and announced, “You're turn.  I've had no luck with it today.”

Daniel laughed with compassion and complete comprehension as he straightened the pile and put it to the side to handle later.

====

Jack and Daniel were side-by-side on the sofa with Katie on Daniel's lap and Ptolemy atop Jack's left shoulder.  Jeff and Jennifer both sat on floor pillows with Mittens meowing as Jeff played with her.  Brianna was on the floor, her back to the sofa.  Her right hand was massaging the back of Bijou's head as the beagle was lying down beside her.

Sitting around the circular table at the other end of the room were the Munchkins and the Spitfires.  On a nearby ottoman sat JD, who was playing with Calico.  The Curly Tops were standing behind Jonny.

“Here I am!” David exclaimed as he walked into the room.  “Sorry I'm late.”

“Take a seat,” Jack instructed.  “Okay, kids, you're on.”

The participating children lined up in order of age and began their presentation, one line per child.

As the oldest, Lulu began, “The word cliché is taken from the French word and dates back to 1825.”

Chenoa continued, “Cliché began by meaning electrotype and stereotype.”

It was Jonny's turn and he added, “It was used by printers to mean a stereotype block and referred to an echo-like sound that happened when a mold struck molten metal.”

“Cliché eventually came to mean a trite phrase and a worn-out expression and was first used in that manner in 1888,” Little Danny informed.

“Nowadays, cliché refers to something predictable, overused, or expected,” Aislinn told her listeners.

“Clichés can be facts and they can be used in humorous ways,” Jenny noted.

“Clichés are vivid and they help us to communicate and understand in a very simple way,” Ricky put forth.

“There are lots of clichés, but the one we want to share is ...” JD began.

After a three second pause, all eight of the younger brood said together, “Jack-of-all-trades!”

Jack laughed, as did his lover and the older children.  David even whistled his approval.

“A Jack-of-all-trades, hyphenated between all words, by the way, means a man who is good at a lot of things,” Lulu informed her family.  “It wasn't named after any one man and it's not the only fictional Jack name that is included in our history.”

Different children quickly uttered many other examples:

“Jack Sprat.”

“Little Jack Horner.”

“Jack the Lad.”

“Jack Frost.”

“Jack Robinson.”

Little Danny took over and advised, “Jack is a very popular name and has been used more frequently than any other name in the English language.  This may be because Jack is a frequent nickname for John, which doesn't really make sense to me, but that's how it's been for hundreds of years.  Jack is the common man, so in that regard, it makes sense that Jack is part of so many sayings and clichés that relate to everyday things.  It goes back to the fourteenth century, so common Jack phrases have survived the test of time.”

“Somehow, the use of Jack-of-all-trades has taken a negative term, especially when the added line of 'master of none' is added to it,” Jenny noted.  “The intent is basically that Jack knows how to do so many things that he doesn't do anything well.  He's mediocre.”

Jonny picked up the presentation with, “This perception of Jack being the common guy may explain why we have names like steeplejacks, Jack-tars, and lumberjacks.  Average men doing average jobs: a this or that -jack.”

“Not everyone may know this,” Jenny piped up, “but there are a lot of jacks in the world of tools and objects, such as a Jack-plane and a Jack-screw.”

“My favorite is a jack o' lantern,” a smiling JD interjected.  “Oh, and I like my Jack-in-the-Box, too.”

“I'd rather eat there,” Ricky quipped, enjoying the chuckles that broke out among the family.

“And I like Jack and Jill.  No, not the nursery rhyme characters,” Aislinn clarified, “but the phrase that means a young couple.  It's so romantic, all those Jacks ... and Jills, too,” she giggled.

“The actual use of Jack-of-all-trades in literature was in 1612 when Geffray Minshull, and I admit I don't know who he is except I guess he was in prison for something, but, anyway, he wrote a book and used the phrase in it,” Ricky stated. He looked at his notes and read the actual quotation, “Some broken Cittizen, who hath plaid Jack of all trades.”

Aislinn continued, “In the eighteenth century, the negative phrase was often added.  We have lots of examples, but they aren't believed to be all that accurate.  In fact, a lot of those common Jacks were actually master of their trades.”

“It may be true,” Chenoa began, “that doing a lot of things only so-so isn't a good idea, but a lot of people often are masters of one or more things and still are really good at a lot of other things.”

Lulu commented, “We may not totally understand why Johns are Jacks.”

“We don't even truly know why Jack is considered common, except that when a lot of the phrases we've mention were created, Jack was one of the most used names of that time,” Chenoa continued.

“We do know that a Jack-of-all-trades is someone who knows how to do a lot of different things,” Jonny remarked.

“And while the cliché takes on a negative tone when 'master of none' is added to it, we follow those who say it's inaccurate and that many of these jacks are, in fact, masters of their trades and other things, too,” the middle Munchkin proclaimed.

“People still talk about a Jack-of-all-trades so it's a tried and true cliché,” Aislinn stated.

“We also know one really important thing about this presumed old, predictable, and expected expression,” Jenny announced.

“And it's the only thing that matters to us, the brood,” Ricky chimed happily.

With a huge grin, JD concluded, “We know that our dad is the best ever Jack-of-all-trades.”

“A master of many things, that's our dad, our Jack-of-all-things,” all the children stated loudly, before bowing.

Jack let out a whistle, Daniel applauded, as did the older members of the brood.  They all stood and exchanged hugs, compliments, smiles, and even some laughs.

“A-plus for everyone,” Jack announced to the cheers of the younger brood.

When the presentation over, the family focused on dinner.  The scheduled chef was Jeff, with Chenoa and Jonny as his assistants.

Jack checked his watch and looked over his husband, who smiled.  They were in sync.  After making sure all the pets were properly secured, the parents surprised the children by going out for dinner, at Jack-in-the-Box.

====

On the trip home, the family was delayed when Jack pulled over upon seeing a woman with a flat tire.  Naturally, he, with an assist from Jeff, changed the tire and then endured several damsel in distress jokes, especially since the brood was well aware that their younger father was known for rescuing women in need when off-world.

Once in the house, the family split up.  The children were free to play or do whatever they wanted until their family meeting time, after which the younger ones would be going to bed.  Some of the children began playing board games in the recreation room.  A few entered the game room to play, while a couple went to their rooms to read, do homework, or play.  A couple rounded up some of the zoo to play and/or snuggle with for a while.

Jack and Daniel rotated, joining their children as they played and participating as invited.  At one point, Jack was losing at Monopoly to Jennifer, Jeff, and Jonny, while Daniel was engaged in a creative round of spontaneous storytelling with Aislinn, Jenny, and Ricky as they sat at the round table in the kitchen nook.  A knock on the front door was heard, interrupting the impromptu story in progress.

The archaeologist immediately stood up and went to the door.  When he opened it, he saw a woman and a boy he didn't recognize.  He also noticed a look of disappointment on the two's faces and was aware the youngster was holding a plastic shopping bag in his left hand.

“Hi. Can I help you?” Daniel inquired.

“I think maybe we've made a mistake,” the woman spoke apologetically.

“No, Mom, I'm positive,” the boy countered.  He pointed toward the driveway and insisted, “I'm sure that was the truck and it was him.  I know it!”

“I don't know, Ricky.”

“I have a son named Ricky, too,” Daniel interjected.

With a smile of acknowledgement, the mother advised, “Um, we're looking for a man.”  She paused and nervously added, “That sounded horrible.”

“No, not at all.  Who are you looking for?”

“Well, he's tall, with, um, gray hair,” the woman answered.  “I don't know his name.”

“He had a little boy with him.  They returned my money clip.”

“Of course,” Daniel acknowledged.  “Come in,” he welcomed the two strangers he now recalled hearing about many months earlier.  “Excuse me.”  He turned away for a moment and went to the intercom.  Pressing the right button, he called out, “Jack, can you come into the living room, please.”  Refocusing on the mother and son, he motioned with his hand towards the living room.  “Please.”

Jack walked in and, instantly recognizing the visitors, called out, “Hello again.”

“See, Mom, that's him!” the boy exclaimed as he beamed a smile in the general's direction.

“Hello,” the woman stated as she smiled at Jack, too.  “My name is Belinda Alvarez and this is my son, Ricky.”

“I remember, Ma'am.  I'm Jack Jackson-O'Neill,” Jack greeted, reaching out and shaking the lady's hand.  “You were headed overseas.”

“Yes, we're doing quite well, but...”

“My grandparents are dying.”

“I'm sorry to hear that,” Jack responded solemnly.

“That's why Ricky and I have come back.  I'm not sure if they're going to be around much longer.”  Belinda took a breath and tried to smile again.  “We're here because Ricky was certain he recognized you earlier today.  I hope you don't mind, but he was so determined, so we followed you here.  I know that sounds weird.”

“Not at all,” Jack assured, not sensing or feeling anything negative or suspicious about the mother and her son.

“My grandparents always ask me if I have the money clip they gave me,” Ricky Alvarez told Jack.  “I have it with me all the time and it reminds me of them.”

“Ricky, and me, too, wanted to thank you again for finding it and returning it to us that day.”

“Ma'am, I can't take the credit for that.  It was my son, Ricky, who insisted on finding the owners.”  Jack turned and shouted, “Ricky, front and center.”

“Jack,” Daniel sighed, wishing his husband used the intercom more frequently, especially when they had guests.

As Belinda chuckled at the tone that she knew to be military since her husband was Army, Jack continued, “Ricky found the money clip on the sidewalk and while I wanted to turn it into the lost and found, he was determined to find the owner that day ourselves.”

“Dad, you called?” Ricky asked as he entered the room.  “I remember you!”

“Thank you,” the other Ricky said, approaching the Spitfire and hugging him.

“You're welcome.  How are your grandparents?”

“Not very good.  That's why we're here and not with Dad.”

“I'm sorry,” Ricky responded, feeling totally sad about the news.

“Mommy says they're probably going to die soon, but I believe in miracles.”

“We do, too,” Ricky chimed eagerly.

Smiling at the Spitfire, Belinda said, “I know we thanked you when you returned my son's money clip, but it's important to us that you know, all these months later, how grateful we continue to be for what you did.”

“It was the right thing to do, Ma'am,” Ricky returned.

“You've raised your son very well,” Belinda told Jack.  Not waiting for a response, she continued, “When Ricky saw you in your truck this afternoon, he wanted to bring you something.  That's why we didn't approach you earlier; that and I wasn't sure it was really you.”  She smiled and admitted, “And I was sure we'd made a mistake when you answered the door.”

Daniel glanced at his lover.  Belinda was a military wife and that could indicate she wouldn't respond favorably to their same-sex relationship.  He and Jack were always careful and considerate when children were around, too.  They always believed it was the right of a parent to determine what and when a child knew about alternative relationships.

The woman smiled and asked, “You sounded very military when you called your son.”

“I'm a general, Ma'am, United States Air Force, Retired.”

“And Daddy's an archaeologist,” Ricky announced proudly, essentially letting the cat out of the bag.

Belinda smiled and responded to Daniel, “It's good to meet you.”

“You, too,” Daniel replied.

“Ricky, go ahead,” the mother encouraged.

“It's not the money in the money clip.”

“We know that,” Jack replied.

“Grandpa and Grandma are in the same room at the hospital and when we came home to see them, we took a picture.”  The boy raised the bag and took out a picture frame.  When he turned it over, the image of him sitting between his grandparents and holding up the money clip with the inscription, “Always remember we love you” visible.  “I love them lots and lots and I thought I'd say thank you by showing you them with me.”

Taking the picture, Jack looked it over carefully.  Belinda's elderly grandparents were smiling, but their fragility was obvious.  Even so, both had their hands on their grandson's hands as he held the money clip up.  He was sure there must be more of a story about the clip and why that was important to the grandparents, but he opted not to pry.

“It's a beautiful picture, Ricky,” Jack told the boy.  As he handed it to his own son, he added, “Thank you very much.”

“It's a great picture.  I'm going to keep it in my room, okay?  On my desk,” the Spitfire stated.

“Don't feel obligated,” Belinda asserted, knowing giving strangers a family picture was probably an odd thing to do, but she did it because that's what her son wanted.

“Oh, no, it's a great reminder to always do the right thing, and there's so much love here.  We're all about love, aren't we, Dad and Daddy?” the Spitfire asked as his head tilted back and he looked up at his parents.

“Yes, we are,” Daniel affirmed.  “We appreciate the reminder and the photograph very much.”

“Well, we need to go now, but I'm glad we found you.”

“We are, too, Ma'am.”

“The last time we met, you thanked us for our service.  Now, it's our turn.  We thank you, General, for what was certainly decades of service.”

Jack nodded his thank you to Belinda and her son.

Jack and Daniel walked the mother and son to the door, chitchatted for a couple more minutes, and then, before the visitors left, allowed the boys to exchange emails so that they could stay in touch, if they wanted.

A happy Ricky first showed off the photograph to his siblings and then did exactly what he'd said he'd do.  He hurried upstairs and placed the photo on his desk.  It would be a reminder to him that taking a minute to do a right thing reaped good feelings inside.  His heart was beating joyfully and his soul was radiating positivity.

====

Later in the evening, the phone rang.

“Hello,” Daniel responded as he greeted the caller.

“Daniel, this is Linden MacRae of Morningside Glen.”

“Yes, Mrs. MacRae,” the archaeologist acknowledged the manager of a new facility in Colorado Springs that provided accommodations for senior citizens and those in need of assisted living apartments.  He and Jack heard about it from Jack's friend, Andy, a past sheriff in the Springs, whose mother was residing  there.  “What can I do for you?”

“Nothing.  I just wanted to thank Jack for his time today.”

“Oh, was he there?”

“Yes, he dropped by to see one of our residents this afternoon.  I wasn't here, but my assistant told me that while here, Jack noticed one of our porch swings was out of commission.  As you know, we're still in a startup phase and are still securing additional funding for the extras, like the swings.  He very kindly fixed the swing that wasn't working and our residents have been enjoying it and smiling all evening.  Sitting on the porch, rocking and swinging in our chairs and porches, gives our residents a feeling of home and peace.  I'm very grateful Jack took it upon himself to fix the swing.  It was so sweet of him to do so and I wanted to express my appreciation personally.”

“I'm glad he could help, Mrs. MacRae.”

“Linden, please.”

“And I'm Daniel,” the archaeologist responded.  “We're happy to help anytime.”

“Thank you for the offer.  You just don't know how much the little things mean to our residents.  Many of them don't have families.”

“I'll let Jack know you called,” Daniel returned.

“Thank you, and good evening.”

“Uh, Linden ...”

“Yes.”

“I'm not sure if Jack told you, but we have twelve children.”

“Twelve?  My goodness.  No, I'd remember if he told me that,” the manager chuckled.

“Our children get great joy from visiting with people.  If you don't have any objections, we'd love to introduce them to your residents.  Uh, they could do a little show, if your like.”

“A show?”

“They love to put on productions, sometimes a play or just a concert.  They're very personable.  We've visited nursing homes, children shelters, and even the homeless.”

“Daniel, you let us know when you want to visit, and believe me, our residents will be happy to have you and your family here.”

“Okay, I'll talk to Jack and our brood ... uh, that's what we call them, the brood.”

“That seems appropriate,” Linden mused.

“We'll be in touch.”

“Thank you so much.”

“It's our pleasure, trust me.”

A few minutes later, Jack strolled out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his midsection as he ran another towel over his hair.

“Gawd, Jack, don't do that to me before we make rounds,” Daniel spoke with a husky voice.

“Sorry, Love.”

“No, you're not.”

“Of course, I'm not,” Jack smirked as he walked to lover, who was standing near the door.  With his left foot, he kicked the door the shut and then pulled his husband into his embrace.  “I love you.”

The soulmates kissed for several minutes and both were tempted to forget the nightly rounds, but that wasn't true to their characters.  Their children, all of them, regardless of age, liked the traditional visits, the private time, they had with their parents.

“I'll get you for this, O'Neill.”

“I can't wait,” Jack replied, kissing his Heart one more time before reaching for some clothes to put on.

“Oh, Babe, Linden MacRae called,” Daniel began.  “She told me you were there today.”

“Yeah, I went to see Andy's mom.  He's having a hard time getting out there, so I thought I'd go by.”

“How is Andy?”

“He's fighting,” Jack responded, referring to former sheriff's ongoing battle with lung cancer.

“That's ... It's one of the most tragic things, Jack.  I mean, Andy's not a smoker.”

“Nope, but he grew up in a family full of manly men who thought smoking three packs a day was an approved masculine habit.  Then he chose a career where he was surrounded by smoking, not so much as a habit, but a stress reliever.”

“He's a victim of environmental tobacco smoke,” Daniel sighed.

“Geez, I'm glad I never got into that.”

“Me, too, for both of us.”  Daniel looked at his lover and asked, “Were you ever tempted?”

“Eighth grade, believe it or not.  Some greaser kid was hanging out around our school.  Real tough guy, in his own mind.  He was trying to come off as some hero to the kids, offering cigs to any kid he could convince.”

“You took one?”

“Crap, Danny, it was peer pressure.  I was, I don't know, twelve, maybe thirteen, and I went along, for about fifteen seconds.  I took one puff of that thing, wheezed like heck, and told the greaser he was out of his mind.  I got my nerve up and told him if he came back to our campus, I was going straight to the principal.”  With a laugh, Jack confided, “I was scared to death, but the guy tried to out-stare me, and one thing I've always been good at is staring.”

“I know a lot of former airmen who would agree,” Daniel teased.

“It was the end of the greaser's heyday anyway.  He walked away and I never saw him again.  I told the kids to trash the cigs, and they did.”

“Did you tell your parents?”

“Not that day, but I did later.  Hey, did Mrs. MacRae need something?”

“No, she called to say thanks for fixing the swing on the porch.  The residents are having a good time tonight with it working again.”  With a smile, Daniel praised, “That was sweet of you, Babe.”

“Nah, as Ricky's been saying so much, it was the right thing to do.”

“And so is taking the brood to Morningside Glen so they can put on a little show for the residents.”

“I love the way you think, Angel.”

“And I love the things you do to help people, and you never make a big deal out of it, no matter what.”

“Just helping out.”

“I love you, Jack,” the younger man declared as he approached his lover and gave him an enticing kiss that presented a lot of promise for what would occur after their rounds were concluded.

“Love you, too.  Let's get rounds over so we can ...”

“Yeah, let's.”

====

As Jack and Daniel made their rounds, they told the children about Morningside Glen while also checking in to see what was happening in the lives of their children.  By the end of the day, most of the brood knew about the events of their parents' day.  The result was a lot of pride by the kids.

“Dad, you've never shown me how to change a tire,” Jonny said at one point.  “When I get older, I want to be able to help like you did earlier.”

“We can have a training day one day soon, if you want.”

“Me, too, Dad,” Little Danny called out from his bed.

--

“Dad, will you sing a song with me when we perform for Sheriff Andy's mom and her new friends?” Aislinn asked.

“Princess, your old man doesn't sing that well.”

“Yes, you do, but that's not the point.  Sheriff Andy's mom knows you and she'd like it.  The song I'm thinking about is called 'Faraway Places'.  Will you sing it with me?  Please.”

“Okay, Princess.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

--

“You know, Dad, what you did today for the senior facility was pretty cool, but I don't get why they didn't have anyway to repair it themselves,” Jeff put forward.

“It's a place like Molly's shelter used to be, Jeff.  It's owned by a couple who convinced some friends to pitch it.  They received some funding for their operational expenses, but most of what they're doing at this point is coming out of their pockets.  They're working on getting sponsorships from city leaders and business types.”

“Dad, have they contacted Archonics?”

“I don't know.”

“Do you think it would be okay if I talked to Byron about it?  Maybe he could send someone over to help out sometimes, or just donate.”

“I'd say you're free to ask.”

“I have some ideas.  I wish I could be here when the family performs, so I could get a good look at it.”

“I can give you the lowdown now that I've been out there a couple of times.”

“Great!”  With a pleased expression, Jeff added, “Dad, I don't know that we, meaning the brood, say this kind of thing enough, but, you know how much we all love you and Daddy, but it's really important that you both know how much we respect you, too.  I don't know how to describe all the things we've learned, not by your words, but with your examples.  When I think about what I'm aware of that happened today, I'm so full of pride that you're my dad, and I know Daddy's doing the same things you are, and neither one of you boast about it.  You just do it.  I guess I want you both to know that we're watching and learning, and we couldn't be more lucky having you as our parents.”

“Speechless,” Jack said as he leaned in for a hug.

--

“Dad, will you take me to Angela's tomorrow?”

“I didn't know you talked with her today.”

“I didn't, but I need to apologize to her in person, not on the phone.  I've been thinking, Dad, and I didn't mean to make her feel unimportant, or like she was second to my dancing.  I love Angela and she's my best friend.  I have to tell her that,” Chenoa insisted with intensity.

“Okay, I'll call Aunt Sara in the morning and if they're going to be home, I'll drive you over and you can surprise Angie.”

“Thanks, Dad,” the Curly Top spoke with gratitude.

====

“Done?” Jack asked when he entered the master bedroom.

“I love this time with our children, Jack.  It keeps us connected,” Daniel replied as he approached his soulmate.

“It was one of our better ideas,” Jack agreed as he took his Love into his arms.  “They know they can talk to us, no matter what.  Somehow, we did that right.”

“So, uh,” Daniel began as he pulled off his husband's shirt, “the brood says you're a Jack-of-all-trades.”

“A cliché.”

“A wonderful example for the children to learn and live by, but, the brood aside, there is one thing that I personally can vouch for.”

“What's that, Danny?”

“That master of none business,” the younger man said before kissing Jack seductively.

“What about it?”

“As the British say, it's rubbish.”

“Is it now?” Jack queried in a husky Irish brogue.

“Definitely, because not only are you an expert at saving the world, scaring recruits, raising our children, helping our neighbors, and so many other things, but ... well, there is one more, very, very important thing you're an expert at.”

“Which is?”

Daniel grinned and then pulled Jack over and onto the bed.

“This,” the archaeologist answered.  “You're my Jack-of-all-trades, now and forever,” he declared before getting lost in a passionate night of lovemaking.

The day was long and pretty much an average day for the Jackson-O'Neills, and it was one of the reasons why their family was so happy.  They believed in the power of love and lived their lives accordingly.  With the moon shining high above, the entire clan slept with goodness in their hearts, thankful that life in Colorado Springs continued to bring sunshine to all of them.

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

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