Author: Orrymain and special guest co-author, Mama Bear!
Category: Slash, Angst, Drama, Romance, Holiday, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Season: Beyond the Series - March 24 - April 5, August 12, 2010
Written: February 22-24, March 5-6, 2005, August 14-16,21,26,29-31, September 2-4,6,8-17,20-27, October 11-12,15-17,19,29, November 3-4,14-15, December 4, 2006, February 3-4, 2007
Summary: Jonny and Little Danny are missing. Can their parents find them before they fall upon the evil of the night?
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't. A gal can dream though!
1) “Mr. Little Grasshopper” written by Lil Bear.
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), “Munchkin Mardi Gras” and “Murphy's Law Redeux”
5) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better: Claudia, Robert, Jodi, QuinGem!
by Orrymain and Mama Bear
“Jonny, not right now,” Daniel called out from the kitchen.
“Like rain,” the three-and-a-half year old said as he tried to open the patio door.
Daniel hurried to the door, taking hold of his son's hand and stating, “Jonny, see how windy it is? This isn't just a light rain; we're in for a big storm, so you can't go outside today.”
“Pooh,” the boy whined, turning around, and then running over to David, who was sitting on the floor with a bunch of military-type toys. “Can I play?”
“Sure. Here, you can be G.I. Joe,” David offered, handing his brother one of the action figures.
“Who that?” the toddler asked, pointing to an action figure identical to the one he now held, except that it was brunette, instead of blond.
“G.I. ... David,” the youngster ingeniously replied.
Daniel smiled, happy Jonny's disappointment at not being able to play outside was short-lived.
“Lucy, we're hoooooome,” Jack semi-shouted, shaking off the rain from the poncho he was wearing.
“Yeaaaaaa,” Jonny cheered, jumping up to greet Little Danny and Aislinn. “We playing soldiers. Come on,” he urged them.
Jack helped Little Danny and Aislinn take off their raincoats, then watched as Jonny led them back to where David was.
“Hey,” Daniel greeted softly as he approached his husband and shared a tender welcome home kiss.
“By the way, Jack, my name is *not* Lucy,” Daniel reminded with an admonishing smile.
Jack chuckled, then moved onward, commenting, “Danny, the rain is really starting to come down. Where are the girls?” he asked, looking around for the two beagles.
“Upstairs with Jen and Noa,” the younger man answered, automatically looking down the hallway towards the stairs that led up to Jennifer's room. “How was the outing?”
“Good. Ash had her picture taken with Bozo the Clown. She kept saying, 'my dad a bozo, too'. Now where did she get that from?” Jack asked incredulously.
Daniel gave his lover a closed smile, but said nothing.
Jack sighed and nodded, “That's what I thought. Little Danny made friends with Big Bird.”
“They had fun then?” the archaeologist asked.
“Big time fun,” Jack affirmed. Looking over at his namesake, he asked, “How about Jonny? Did he get over not being able to go?”
Jonny was getting over a cold, and Doctor Sylvia Preston, their family physician, had recommended that he stay home for a few more days yet. When Jack had left without him, Jonny had been convinced that Sylvia was just trying to get revenge on him for the loss of her stethoscope.
~No mean drop it in toilet. Just wanted hear toilet flush,~ the little sandy-blond haired boy had thought, watching his dad and siblings leave the house. ~She getting even.~
Daniel answered, “He pouted for about three minutes, and then Jen took him upstairs to read him a story or something.”
“Jen read Jonny a story? Which one?”
Daniel cocked his head to the side and shrugged as he responded, “I don't know. She didn't tell me, and neither did Jonny. He just said it was a good story, and he liked it a lot.”
“Oh,” Jack said, though he wondered what story it had been. “Listen, Danny, I better call Sara about Thursday.”
“I thought you called her last night,” Daniel replied.
“We got ... distracted, remember?” Jack asked, a note of pride in his voice as he winked.
“Oh ... yeah, we, uh, did,” Daniel agreed as he blushed. “Give her my love.”
Although Daniel was not a shy or hesitant lover behind closed doors, even the recollection of a night of passion shared with Jack was enough to make his cheeks redden.
“I *so* love it when you do that,” Jack remarked, smiling unabashedly at his Love's rosy cheeks.
“And I love to hate it when you make me do that,” the younger man mused.
Jack and Daniel exchanged another kiss 'just because', and then Jack went to the study to place the call.
“Sara, how's it going?” Jack inquired as he sat back in the deluxe desk chair Daniel had gifted him with a few years earlier.
“Hanging in there. Is it storming in your area?” the blonde asked curiously as she relaxed on her sofa.
“Raining; it just started getting heavier,” Jack replied, glancing out the window.
“It's horrible here. Wow -- hear that?” Sara asked after a huge clap of thunder exploded in her area.
“Yeah,” Jack affirmed. “Crazy how different the weather can be.”
“Within just a few miles, too.”
“Want me to hang up?” the general asked, knowing how dangerous it could be to talk over the phone during a thunderstorm because of the danger of lightning striking the pole and the electricity traveling through the line to the holder of the receiver.
“No, but if it'll make you feel better, I'll switch it to speaker,” Sara offered.
“Why don't you do that,” Jack agreed. While Sara hit the speaker switch and placed the earpiece on the end table, her ex-husband continued, “They say we're in for a bad storm, but you know these weather jockeys -- they'll predict sunshine, and it rains. Then they say this may be the worst storm we've had in years, and I look outside and see nothing but sunshine.”
“I know what you mean. Mike said it rained pretty bad last night at the Creek; windy, too,” Sara intoned. “He lost power for a little while, but not for long.”
“Weather jockeys reported some power outages, but we've got their rain now,” Jack replied.
“Sara?” Jack responded in a teasing mock voice.
“We're talking about the weather!”
“No, we aren't,” Jack denied.
“Rain, wind -- what do you call that?” Sara challenged.
Jack pondered the question for a moment, then answered, “Cosmic karma.” As laughter came through the airwaves, he asked, “How are Angie and Maddy?”
“Jack, Madeline is six-weeks-old. Can't you wait a year or two before you give her a nickname?”
Jack chuckled, then responded, “Maddy's a good name; goes well with Angie.”
“You'll never change,” Sara mused, shaking her head in remembrance of a thousand nicknames heard over several years of knowing her ex-husband.
“Seriously, Sara, how's the little squirt and her big sis doing?”
Smiling, Sara answered, “She's beautiful. I hold Maddy, and ...”
“Maddy?” Jack asked, pleased that even though 'Angie' had never caught on, it was different with 'Maddy', as both Mark and Sara had already used the name at least once in his presence.
“Be quiet, Jack,” Sara laughed.
“Go on,” the nicknaming man urged. ~Score one for the ex!~
“Oh, I'm just a mother rambling on.”
“Ramble on,” Jack sincerely encouraged. “I want to hear it. I can hear how happy you are, Sara. Geez, I ... well, you know.”
“Yes, I do.”
“So, tell me,” the silver-gray haired man requested.
“Okay, as I was saying, when I hold her ...”
For the next fifteen minutes, Jack and Sara talked about Sara's new baby. She had been born premature, but was healthy and had gained weight quickly. In fact, she had only needed to stay in the hospital an extra two weeks before going home with her proud parents.
“So, what's up?” Sara finally asked, inquiring why Jack had phoned her at that particular time.
Jack responded, “Danny and I are going out of town.”
“Way out?” Sara questioned, amusement in her voice.
“Yeah,” Jack chuckled, getting a kick out of Sara's chosen phrase and its true meaning. “It's scheduled for Thursday. Jen has school, and David is going to the Lomaricas for a Mexican history lesson, but the rest of the brood needs a good home for the day.”
“That works out well, Jack. Mark is off for a couple of days. He hates it when he doesn't see much of the kids, and he's been gone the last few times they've all been together.”
After the plans were finalized, Sara added, “Oh, Jack, Mark and I are changing our phone number.”
“We can't get rid of those pesky calls I told you about a while back. Someone used our phone number to avoid their obligations, and we're getting a constant influx of calls from creditors,” Sara explained. “It's been going on for months, and ...”
“I remember you mentioning it. Is it really that bad?” Jack asked. ~Hmm. May have to check on this.~
“Well, we got rid of most of them, but a few think we're lying or something, and, frankly, we're just tired of it.”
“When does the new number kick in?” Jack inquired.
Sara answered, “In a day or two. I'm not sure yet what the new number will be, but I'll let you know when I do.”
“Okay,” Jack responded. “By the way, Danny sends his love.”
“He's such a sweetheart,” Sara intoned lovingly.
“Yeah, and I think I'll go ...” Jack began.
Quickly, Sara interjected, “Don't say it, Jack.”
Grinning, Jack stated affectionately, “Take care, Sara.”
Jack chuckled, hanging up the phone. He paused for a moment, just enjoying the fact that Sara was still a happy part of his life. He trusted her now just as much as he ever had. For a moment, he reflected on his incredibly good fortune.
~Not many guys end up being best friends with their ex-wives and their husbands. You're a real gem, Sara,~ Jack thought. Then he glanced over at a picture of Daniel. ~And you're beautiful, Love.~
The next morning, Jennifer was in school, and David had gone to the library with the Lomarica family to do some research for their upcoming Mexican history lesson. The Lomaricas were part of the Adventure Guides, and, in the course of conversation, Jack had learned that Tommy Lomarica's parents, Maria and Carlos, homeschooled their three children. Since then, they had done some joint activities and shared some of the teaching.
Jack was putting the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher when he heard the six younger kids laughing. He walked into the living room and smiled. The kids were watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Unable to resist, he joined the youngsters and sat down on the floor to watch Bugs and Elmer Fudd face off in a battle of wits, a battle which always ended with Bugs getting the better of Elmer.
“Dad, bunny funny,” Jenny observed as she scooted over to sit in Jack’s lap.
“Yes, he is; almost as funny as Dad,” Daniel teased just after entering the room.
The archaeologist had been in his den, talking with Yazid Awad about the next business venture between J-O Enterprises and Passion Incorporated, the company Yazid worked for.
“Cute, Danny,” Jack responded dryly.
“Thank you, Love,” Daniel replied as he sat down on the floor next to Jack.
The older man smiled at his husband's comment and promptly gave his lover a kiss on the cheek, causing a round of giggles from all the children.
“Can we have bunny, Daddy?” Aislinn asked as she scooted onto Daniel's lap.
“Can we?” Ricky added, pouting for effect as he sat up on his knees and hunched forward eagerly.
**Ricky definitely has your genes, Danny. Look at that pout,** the older man observed via their special non-verbal communication that they both considered a treasure and a gift.
**Mine? You're not above pouting when you want to get your way, either, Babe,** Daniel replied.
**You're the expert pouter, though.**
**Jack, I do not pout,** Daniel refuted.
**Yes, you ...**
Interrupting the silent chatter, the brood suddenly began a chant of, “We want bunny!”
“We’ll talk about it at the next family meeting,” Jack sighed, trying to defer being hissed and booed at when he vetoed the idea. ~Not a chance in Netu,~ he thought. **No more pets, Danny.**
**You tell them.**
Jack mentally sighed, **Maybe they'll forget.**
**Talk about your chances in Netu,** Daniel mused. **You know they won't.**
**We don't need another critter around here. First, the girls had to befriend that darn cat, then Jonny insisted on getting a lizard, and we never know what Little Danny is gonna find. Now you want to add a rabbit to the mix? Aren't we flirting with the boundaries of nature?** Jack inquired.
As he smiled at Aislinn, Daniel replied, **It's a bunny, Jack, not a mouse.**
**It's the principle of the thing.**
“Want bunny,” Aislinn sighed.
Jack just shook his head and ignored the final whine. Then the parents enjoyed a morning of watching cartoons with their six youngest children. With the bunny chant concluded, it was a fun morning of more Bugs, Sylvester and Tweety, and the always-speedy Road Runner.
**I'm surprised they don't want a coyote,** Jack smirked.
**I wouldn't bring it up, Babe,** Daniel warned as Wile E. Coyote set a trap for the Road Runner. **Look at Jonny.**
“He smart, Little Danny,” Jonny opined.
“But he bad. Tryin' get Road Runner,” Little Danny pointed out.
“Has goodeas, though,” Jonny responded.
Jack frowned, then whispered, “What did he just say?”
Daniel quietly chucked, “Good ideas.”
“That's my linguist,” Jack chuckled, sharing a brief kiss as the cartoon-watching continued.
On Thursday morning, Daniel was helping the six youngest Jackson-O’Neills when Jack walked into the boys' room and asked, “Danny, do you need help getting them dressed?”
It was fifteen minutes before eight, and Jack had just returned from dropping David off at the Lomaricas for a homeschooling session on Mexico's struggle for independence. He'd also checked in with Carolyn Ferretti on the drive back, wanting to check on the oldest member of the brood.
Jennifer had spent the night with the Ferrettis and their adopted daughter, Trina. Carolyn was taking both girls to their schools, and she'd be picking them both up that afternoon as well, since Jennifer would be staying over for dinner. Lou would then bring the teenager home in the evening between eight and eight-thirty.
“No need help, Dad, not baby,” Little Danny said sternly.
“Pardon me. I’ll just go get breakfast ready,” Jack replied with a smile, giving Daniel a quick kiss.
A chorus of 'Froot Loops' rang out as Jack left the room.
Though Jack grinned, Daniel just shook his head and called out in a raised voice, “You've corrupted our children, Jack.”
The reply to Daniel's statement was laughter from his husband.
“We not 'rupted,” Jonny argued. “What 'rupted?”
Daniel laughed as he pulled down Jonny's shirt and replied, “Never mind.”
A few moments later, an-all-too-familiar sound was heard. It was a bear growl, and it was coming from Jack.
“What now?” Daniel rhetorically spoke. “Stay here,” he instructed, leaving the children and rushing downstairs.
“What's wrong?” Daniel asked as he entered the kitchen, though the question didn't need to be answered once he looked down. The kitchen floor was covered with shredded paper towels. ~Oops! Not the way to make friends with my husband.~
Just then, the kids came into the kitchen, all curious to know why their older father had growled like a bear again.
Daniel considered chastising the brood for not staying upstairs, but decided not to. After all, they were all used to the emergence of the grizzly bear, and the children were a very curious group.
“Bad Mittens,” Little Danny admonished, seeing the mess on the floor.
**Jack, remember the children,** Daniel urged, adding, **And I love Mittens, and so do you.**
Jack took a calming breath and then bent down in front of Daniel's namesake, gently correcting, “Mittens isn't bad. She's a cat, and she does cat things.” He looked up and saw the surprise on Daniel's face. **It’s like you said, Angel: you and the kids love Mittens, and ... okay, I do, too.**
“I clean Dad. Mittens my ‘sponsility,” Little Danny announced, starting to pick up the mess.
“Mine, too,” Jonny added.
The other four kids repeated, “Me, too. Mittens family.”
Jack and Daniel watched with pride as the children cleaned up the mess. With all of them working diligently, the kitchen was back to normal in just a few minutes.
**Jack, about getting a …**
**No, Danny, *NO* rabbit,** the general decreed, refusing to give in.
**They just proved they're responsible,** Daniel opined.
**No! No! No! NO!**
Daniel glared at his lover as he intoned, **You don't have to shout.**
**I'M NOT SHOUTING, I'M ... thinking loudly,** Jack relayed via their special communication before grumbling something indistinguishable and going to the cabinet to get the bowls for Froot Loops.
Daniel suppressed a chuckle. A rabbit was on the horizon; it was only a matter of time before his husband caved. His theory was that the children were being extra responsible in cleaning up after their family cat, because none of them had forgotten about wanting a bunny.
~They're sharp, our children,~ the archaeologist mused proudly. Then he grew more serious, thinking, ~Definitely have to keep an eye on them.~
After a quick Froot Loops breakfast, Mark and Sara arrived at Jack and Daniel's right on time -- 8:30 a.m.
“They're all yours for the day,” Jack teased lovingly as he and Daniel said their good-byes.
“Time to go, Girls,” Daniel called out to the beagles, already in their harnesses.
“This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of in my entire life,” Jack commented as he opened the door.
“Grrrrr,” Bijou responded.
“Okay, okay, it's not ridiculous,” Jack soothed, rolling his eyes as the he walked out onto the patio. ~It's insane.~
Jack and Daniel were taking Bijou and Katie, their two beagles, to Pam Lawrence's for a day of pampering at her dog-grooming salon, which was next to her veterinary practice. It had been Chenoa's idea after watching a dog show on the Animal Channel.
“Bij and Katie need a fun day,” the little girl had told her parents.
“They have lots of fun, Princess,” Jack had responded.
“Girls need a girls day out,” Chenoa had replied emphatically, nodding her head, causing her curly blonde locks to bounce up and down.
“Jack, it's a great idea,” Daniel had interrupted. “Pam has a grooming service. The girls can ... go to the spa for the day,” he suggested with a disarming smile.
Jack had rolled his eyes and put his hands up in defeat, after which he had turned around and left the room, mumbling, “Girls day out ... for dogs?”
“You're just jealous, Babe,” Daniel teased as they reached their vehicle with the canines.
“Jealous of what?”
“Being pampered,” Daniel answered slyly.
“Well ... if beagles can be pampered, why can't generals?” Jack asked.
“You are, Babe, every time we let you get away with one of your jokes,” Daniel responded.
“What does that mean?” Jack asked.
“It means ...” Daniel paused, then leaning against the top of the vehicle, he arched his eyebrows as he smiled and said, “It means I'll pamper you later.”
Daniel disappeared inside the vehicle, leaving Jack somewhat excited.
~Down, boy. Now is not the time,~ Jack told himself as he quelled his excitement. ~It's gonna be a long day.~ He knew that with the day's schedule that any pampering couldn't begin until at least nine or ten that night. ~But tonight ... yeah, me, Danny, and lots of pampering!~
The Wilsons piled the children into the mini-van which they had recently purchased, in part, because it made it easier to take the brood with them. Sara's father, Mike, had moved shortly before Madeline's birth, buying a home in the country. In fact, his backyard was practically a forest. His ranch-style house was near North Cheyenne Creek and bordered the Pike National Forest. The place didn't even have a proper fence up at the moment, having just a small, rope fence in place that went from post to post along the sides of the yard. Adding a fence was one of the things Mike intended to do before the summer months arrived.
The house was just one story, but was rectangular in shape and included a fairly large living room, kitchen, and what had been a trophy room for the prior owner, though Mike still hadn't decided exactly what he'd be using the room for. He was considering using it as a media room for music, movies, and tv. At the moment, it was storage space for furniture, clothing, and a lifetime's worth of memorabilia.
There were three bedrooms, one for Mike, another for Sara and Mark, and a third one for the children whenever they or their parents stayed over. It was 'L'-shaped and held three sets of bunks left by the previous owners, plus a double bed, leaving only walking space between the beds and dressers. The closet was a walk-in that shaped the rectangle into the 'L'. It looked like two smaller bedrooms, and their closets had been configured into a type of dormitory room. Knowing his daughter and son-in-law's surrogate-parent status with the brood, he decided to leave it as it was.
The dining room was moderately-sized, and there was a laundry room, two bathrooms, and a small study.
Overall, the house was a bit of a fixer-upper, but that was one of the reasons the man was able to purchase the otherwise expensive property. Besides, he didn't mind spending his time puttering around the home, doing repairs. He'd always liked working with his hands. In fact, he was the one who taught Sara all she knew about automobiles, and Sara was known for her ability to do most of her own vehicle maintenance and repairs.
Mike was sure fixing up this house would take him the rest of his life, and then he'd leave it to his daughter, who could use it as a summer place, if she wanted. No matter what, he knew his grandchildren would enjoy frequent visits to the countryside. He was even considering getting some livestock to add to the flavor of the area, though he hadn't decided for sure about that yet.
Jonny was completely over his cold now, so Jack and Daniel had agreed that it would be okay to take their children to visit with Mike. The brood liked Sara's father, and they'd been to his new house once before, just after Mike had moved in. The kids had really enjoyed playing in the outdoors and pretending that they were growing up in the wilds of Minnesota, as they were sure their older father had. The other reason for going was that Mike hadn't had much of a chance to visit with his new granddaughter, and this appeared to be a good day for that.
The Wilsons' plan was to spend the morning at Mike's and have lunch there before leaving about 1 p.m. They'd then pick up David between three and three-thirty, after which they'd drop by Pam's grooming salon to get the girls by four. From there, they'd return to the Jackson-O'Neill residence for dinner, so that they'd be there when Jennifer arrived home from the Ferretti's. Angela would be spending the night, staying with Chenoa, but once Jack and Daniel returned home, Sara, Mark, and Madeline would return to their own home.
“Hi, Mike,” the kids chimed as they eagerly ran inside the house at ten-thirty in the morning.
Mike had insisted all the children use his first name. It was easier for the young children to say than something more formal.
“Hello ...” Mike began to list off all their names. When he got to Sara, he laughed. “You know, Jack and Daniel are just shy a baseball team.”
“Don't tell them that; you're liable to give them ideas,” Sara chuckled as she leaned forward to kiss her father while still holding Madeline in her arms.
“There's my darling,” Mike said, taking the baby from her mother as they followed the Jackson-O'Neill kids inside.
After enjoying some cookie treats and chatting for a little bit with Mike, the kids began to play outside. At the moment, Mark had Angela, Chenoa, and Aislinn at the side of the yard where they were bird watching. He had borrowed Mike's binoculars to point out the various bird species to the girls, who were all enjoying their lesson.
Sara was playing ball with Jonny, Little Danny, Ricky, and Jenny. There were no rules: they were just tossing, rolling, or mildly kicking the ball around. Mike, meanwhile, was inside the house, loving the opportunity to spend some time with his newest granddaughter.
It was a bit cool out, so all the children had on their spring coats, but aside from the chill, it was a nice day, and the sun was out. According to the weather forecasts, this was to be the day between the rains for this part of Colorado. It had rained off and on the last couple of days, and more downpours were on the horizon.
Little Danny was about to go over and comfort Jenny, too, and maybe
sneak a peek at the bug, when Jonny grabbed his arm, pointing towards
Without warning, a big grasshopper jumped onto Jenny's arm as she
waited for her next turn with the rubber ball. She screamed and
started to cry, having never had that happen before. Her shock
was fueled by her having never liked the strange creatures, anyway.
“BUG ... HELP!” Jenny shouted hysterically.
Sara hurried to the toddler, shooed the grasshopper away, and then tried to soothe the still-crying youngster.
Ricky, too, had his arm around her, patting her back as he said, “Jus' big bug. No hurt you, Jenny.”
With awe in his voice, the eldest Munchkin observed, “Look, Little Danny, it's Bugs Bunny.”
“Wow!” Little Danny gasped in delight, his eyes growing wide at the sight of the brown rabbit sunning itself at the edge of the tree line. Excitedly, he wished, “Maybe Dad let us have that bunny.”
“We go get him,” Jonny suggested.
“Yeah,” Little Danny agreed.
Since the Wilsons were both occupied with the other children, they didn't see the two boys slipping away, ducking under the roped fence and heading into the dangers of Pike National Forest.
“It was just a grasshopper, Red,” Mark calmed, using the nickname he sometimes called the redheaded girl. “You've seen them before.”
“No like gra'hoppers,” Jenny replied, shivering.
“I don't, either,” Sara said, adding, “but they can't hurt you.”
“My turn,” Jenny responded, now completely recovered from her trauma and running to the ball.
~Kids are so resilient.~ Sara smiled, glad the crisis was over. As Mark and his charges returned to their bird-watching perch, Sara and the other children returned to their previous spots to resume playing ball. Sara began to say, “Okay, let's ...” and that's when her heart stopped. “Jonny? Little Danny?” She looked all around. “Ricky, Jenny, where are your brothers?” Seeing two shrugs, she ran to the other side of the large yard and spun around in a circle. “JONNY? LITTLE DANNY, WHERE ARE YOU?” She waited a minute, running further out and then turning back to take in the ranch house and the large, open area behind it. “ANSWER ME!” she demanded.
Mark heard Sara's shouts, spying her out in the distance, obviously looking for the boys.
“Go over with your brother and sister, and stay there,” Mark instructed, making sure the girls did as they were told, and then running to reach his panicked wife. “Sara, what's wrong?”
Anxiously, the woman asked, “Where are they, Mark? They were right there. We were playing. Mark, where are they?” She ran several yards further, going past the tree line and into the forest. “JONNY AND LITTLE DANNY, GET BACK HERE. I MEAN BUSINESS.” She waited, then pleaded, “PLEASE, ANSWER ME!”
Sensing Sara's panic, the brood became alarmed, though they didn't really understand why she was so upset. Their brothers loved to explore, and they were sure they would be back in a minute or two.
Calmly, Mark went back to where the children were, gathered them together, and instructed, “Listen very carefully. When's the last time you saw Jonny and Little Danny?”
“Playing,” Jenny said softly.
Ricky added, “Gra'hopper jump on Jenny. She cry. We make her feel better. Jonny 'n' Li'l Danny gone.”
“What's going on?” Mike asked as he approached Mark and the children. Having heard the commotion, he had run outside just as soon as he had made sure Madeline was secure. “Madeline's asleep in the crib in the living room,” he added, knowing Mark would want to hear that.
Mark answered, “Jonny and Little Danny are missing.” Motioning to Angela and the remaining Jackson-O’Neill children, he asked, “Mike, can you watch the kids, so we can start searching?”
“Of course,” Mike agreed. Looking at the children, he motioned towards the door and said, “Let's go inside.”
Mike took all of the children inside while Mark ran to join his wife. She was still shouting out the boys' names when Mark grabbed her arms.
“Sara, stop, and listen to me,” Mark requested urgently, shaking her shoulders just slightly to try and get her attention.
“Mark, they're gone,” Sara spoke frantically.
Remaining positive and steady-sounding, Mark replied, “We're going to find them. They couldn't have gone far. Mike is watching the other children. We have to be calm.”
Sara nodded, then sighed, “Calm. Okay.”
“Why don't you go that way, and I'll go this way. Do you have your cell?” Mark asked.
“It's in Maddy's diaper bag,” Sara answered, shaking her head.
“We'll get it, and then we'll find the boys,” Mark intoned, squeezing his wife's hand in reassurance.
After making sure they both had their cell phones and letting Mike know what they were doing, the couple took off in search of the two wayward little boys.
Unaware of the concern over their disappearance, Jonny and Little Danny followed the rabbit deeper into the woods. They were excited and eager to be on the hunt for a potential new pet.
“Where he go?” Jonny asked.
“In hole!” Little Danny answered, pointing at a hole in the ground.
“Why go there?” Jonny questioned.
“Hide,” the other boy answered.
“We no hurt bunny,” the older boy commented.
“He no know that. Maybe he hide from ot'er an'mal,” Little Danny theorized.
“We get him; take him home. He be safe,” Jonny decided.
As they moved forward, Little Danny stopped suddenly and looked behind him.
“I no see bunny,” Jonny commented, sitting on his haunches and looking in the hole.
“Jonny,” Little Danny said, grabbing his brother’s arm and ignoring their chase for the bunny. “Aunt Sara calling us.”
Jonny stood up and listened intently, hearing the woman's calls in the distance.
“We better go back,” Little Danny stated, taking a couple of steps towards Mike's yard.
Jonny glanced with regret at the hole, wanting to find the elusive rabbit, but he regrouped and commanded, “I be leader,” as he ran ahead of his brother, wanting to lead the way back to Mike's house. ~I oldest.~
After walking for almost a half-hour, Jonny began to realize they were going the wrong way. They couldn't hear the voice of their Aunt Sara anymore, either.
“Li'l Danny, we walk long time. Should be at Mike's house now. Me think we go wrong way,” Jonny admitted.
Both boys stopped walking and looked all around. Nothing looked familiar to either of them.
“Which way we go now?” the middle Munchkin asked.
“I think ... this way,” Jonny declared as he started walking ninety degrees to the left of the way they had been walking.
Unfortunately, the way the oldest Munchkin had chosen took the two boys even further into the woods and away from Mike's house.
“Mark, any sign of them?” Sara asked anxiously while she continued to walk, ducking low to check some bushes as they talked on the cell phone.
The Wilsons had been searching for over an hour with no sign of the boys.
“No, none,” Mark responded. With a sigh, he opined, “Sara, I think we should call General Hammond and have him contact Jack and Daniel.”
“I'll meet you back at the house,” Sara agreed, ending the call and putting her cell phone in her jeans' pocket.
Crying uncontrollably, Sara walked back into the yard and into Mark's arms. He had beaten her back to the area by only a couple of minutes.
For a moment, Mark comforted her. He really didn't want to let go, not with his wife trembling and frightened as she was, but he knew the missing children had to come first.
“Sara, we need to call General Hammond. The sooner we get some help out here, the sooner we'll find those two little scamps,” Mark gently reminded his wife.
“Shouldn't we call the police?” the blonde questioned.
“We'll ask the general what he thinks,” Mark responded.
Sara nodded, backing away and beginning to self-hug, her pose somewhat reminiscent of Daniel's traditional pose for so many years. She knew she had to gain control of herself, if only for the sake of the children waiting for them inside the house. It was almost time to nurse Madeline again, too, and she needed to be as calm as possible for that.
Mark took out his cell phone, dialing the Mountain.
“I'm sorry, Sir, General Hammond is unavailable at the moment,” the base operator stated, having been instructed not to forward any calls to the general's staff at the moment.
“Look, I really need to speak to him. Tell him it's Mark Wilson, Sara *O'Neill's* husband,” Mark requested.
The man allowed some of the frustration and worry he was feeling to seep into his voice. He figured that using the O'Neill name would get the operator's attention.
Sara looked up, having heard the stern tone in her spouse's voice. She understood exactly what Mark was doing and agreed with it totally.
“One moment,” the operator requested. She then began to transfer the call to a technician in the command area of the SGC. ~I worked too hard to get assigned here to be transferred out. O'Neill's a pretty tough son-of-a-gun, and I've heard the stories. Nosireebob, I ain't no fool.~ “Sergeant, I'm transferring a call for General Hammond.”
“We're not taking calls. We're ...”
“It's General O'Neill's ex-wife, and it sounds urgent. Do you really want to suffer the consequences if this is really an emergency and you *don't* take the call?” the operator asked.
~Ex-wives are a pain,~ the technician thought, agreeing to take the call. Once connected, he discovered it was actually the ex-wife's current husband on the line. ~Probably some custody thing,~ the man assumed. “General Hammond is in a briefing,” the technician explained to Mark.
“This is an emergency,” Mark replied in disbelief at how long he'd been kept waiting to speak with the general.
“I'm sorry, Sir, but the briefing should be over within the hour,” the technician replied. ~I'm not going to get myself transferred to some wasteland for some silly squabble or something.~
“Did I mention my wife was married to Jack O'Neill? *MAJOR GENERAL* Jack O'Neill? And did I mention this is an emergency and that if you don't interrupt General Hammond right now, you'll probably end up peeling potatoes or whatever they do to idiots in the military these days?”
Sara shook her head at her husband. He was furious at the delay. Rarely did Mark let this side of him come out. Unfortunately, she knew that meant he was really concerned about Jonny and Little Danny. The last time Mark had been so forceful and threatening was when they thought Angela had run away from home the year before. As it turned out, Angela had just gone shopping to the local market, even taking her play money with her to pay for her purchases.
“You were busy, Mommy,” Angela had explained when she was found.
Mark heard the technician gulp in response to his outburst, the airman finally realizing that a real crisis was brewing. The technician's tone changed dramatically. If Mark hadn't been so worried about the two missing boys, he would have found the reaction amusing.
“Ah, I'll get the general for you,” the man finally said.
“Thank you,” Mark intoned, rolling his eyes and letting out a deep sigh as he waited for General Hammond's voice to come over the line.
Fortunately, Mark didn't have long to wait.
“Mark? General Hammond here,” the surprised lieutenant general announced. Mark Wilson was just about the last person he would have expected to insist on speaking with him. ~Something must be wrong with the children.~
“I apologize for interrupting, General, but Jonny and Little Danny are missing,” Mark spoke succinctly, not wanting to waste time. “We're at Sara's father's place, and we need help to search Pike Forest.”
“Fill me in,” Hammond requested. “How long have they been AWOL?”
Mark looked at his watch and began, “We've been looking for them for a little over an hour, and it's 12:30 now.”
As Mark explained the situation to Hammond, Sara pulled herself together and went inside to check on the rest of the children.
“Sir, do you think we should call the police?” Mark inquired once Hammond had been told all the facts.
“Mark, in the military, we take care of our own. If General O'Neill and Doctor Jackson choose to call them in later, they can do so. I'm assigning ...” Hammond spoke, filling Mark in on what would be happening next.
When he hung up, Hammond walked out of his office to the control room where Sergeant Walter Davis was on duty.
“Sergeant, I want the status of all SG units on my desk within five minutes. I also want a list of all non-unit personnel currently on duty. Have Doctor Fraiser report to my office immediately,” Hammond stated, turning and heading back to the briefing room. Without sitting down, he said, “I think we've covered everything, and a situation has occurred that needs my immediate attention. Dismissed.”
“Yes, Sir,” a chorus of voices acknowledged.
Returning to his office, Hammond sat down at his desk and picked up a picture of the Jackson-O'Neill kids, who he considered to be his grandchildren. Looking at Jonny and Little Danny in the picture, arms around each others shoulders, Hammond chuckled, “You two are exactly like your fathers, always making me worry.”
Having finished his phone conversation, Mark entered the house and found his wife sitting at the kitchen table. He sat down on a chair next to her.
In the living room, the kids were watching cartoons, with Mike looking after them.
“General Hammond is contacting Jack and Daniel right now. He's also sending a few teams to start a search. With any luck, the boys will be found before Jack and Daniel even get here,” Mark stated informatively.
“I can't just sit here, Mark. I'm going back out to look for them,” Sara said, getting up quickly and heading for the door.
Standing and walking towards his wife, Mark refuted, “Sara, General Hammond suggested we stay right here and wait for the teams to arrive, so we can tell them the area you were in and where they might have entered the woods. We can do more good by staying put.”
“Mark, I ...”
The man took his wife into his arms and held her as she cried. He knew she was blaming herself, and no words would convince her otherwise right now. Tenderly, he held the woman he loved as they waited for the SGC teams to arrive.
“Besides, Darling, don't you have something that you need to do?” Mark asked a minute or so later, his eyes smiling with the gentle prodding.
“She'll be demanding it soon,” Sara acknowledged through her tears.
“Let it out now, Sara, and then we have to stay in control for the rest of the brood,” Mark reminded.
“I know that,” Sara sighed. “They haven't figured out yet how serious this is,” she commented as she pulled back slightly.
Mark smiled as he wiped away the blonde's tears and promised, “The boys will be home soon.” After his wife nodded, he suggested, “Let's go check on Madeline.”
“Mark, maybe we should move the crib into one of the bedrooms,” Sara suggested.
“That's a good idea, Darling,” Mark agreed as the two headed into the living room.
“Sir, here's the information you wanted,” Sergeant Davis stated, handing over the paperwork. “Doctor Fraiser is in surgery. Lieutenant McGuire says she could be several hours.”
“Thank you, Sergeant,” Hammond replied, glancing over the status report of the SG teams. “Call SG-3 and SG-4 to the briefing room immediately, and when SG-2 returns, have Colonel Ferretti report to my office.”
“Yes, Sir,” Davis acknowledged, aware that the lieutenant general wasn't looking at him since he was busy reviewing the information.
Just as the sergeant reached the doorway, Hammond called him back, having noticed something on the status sheet.
“SG-9 is off-duty, but I see Major Davis is on the base,” the general noted.
“Yes, Sir. He's working on the negotiations with the Alkaths,” the sergeant elaborated.
“That can wait. Ask Major Davis to join the briefing,” Hammond ordered, returning to his review.
“Jonny, we lost,” Little Danny declared as the boys reached a cliff.
“We jus' go wrong way,” Jonny sighed, not willing to admit that they were truly lost. “We s'pose go that way,” he said, pointing to the right.
The two set off again in a different direction that took them even further away from Mike's house. They'd been taught by Jack that the human tendency is to walk in circles when lost, so Jonny was careful to make sure that they never reversed course or changed direction more than ninety degrees. Unfortunately, this meant they were walking a 'drunkard's path', their course like stairs, taking them ever further away from safety.
As SG-1 traveled to their destination on the alien planet, Teal'c had taken point with Sam just a couple of steps behind him. The two were being watchful, but they were also discussing the motivations of various characters in the 'Harry Potter' novels since the Jaffa had just read the series for the first time. Several yards behind, Jack and Daniel were involved in their own deep debate.
“Jack, that's crazy; he's a coyote,” Daniel argued, jumping over a tree root as he spoke.
“It's not crazy, Daniel,” Jack refuted. “He had to get money from somewhere to be able to buy all those contraptions. He *had* to have a job,” he theorized logically as he routinely looked over to his left at the terrain.
“Wile E. Coyote is a cartoon; a cartoon, Jack. Just like you, cartoons don't always make sense,” the archaeologist opined snarkily. “He *didn't* have a job,” he insisted.
The Air Force general scowled at the dig, but chose to ignore it in favor of the current argument, maintaining forcefully, “Yes, he did.”
“No, he didn't,” Daniel stated, glancing back at the direction they'd come as part of his normal custom when on an alien planet. “He's an animal.”
“Did,” Jack spat back quickly, turning around and stopping in his tracks, which automatically caused Daniel's forward momentum to bring them nose to nose.
“Did you, uh, have something to add, Jack, or did you just want to break my nose for the fun of it?” Daniel asked, taking a step backwards and rubbing his nose for emphasis.
“All I'm saying is that Wile E. did have a job. I know that for a fact,” Jack spoke smugly.
“How do you know?” the younger man questioned curiously.
“I just know,” Jack maintained without providing further proof.
“Uh huh. Well, he was just a cartoon character, and it's all silliness, anyway. I think you're wrong,” Daniel said, moving around his soulmate and continuing his trek towards their destination.
“Daniel, I'm telling you, he's a pop culture icon,” the older man asserted and then sprinted forward to catch up.
“An icon?” Daniel chuckled. “And you know this how?” the skeptical man asked. ~Go ahead, Babe. Dig a hole. See how deep you can make it. A cartoon coyote with a job,~ he disputed inwardly.
Reaching forward and grabbing his lover's arm, Jack stopped Daniel from continuing as he answered, “It's true, Daniel. Wile's a legend in his own right. Both he and the Road Runner are.”
“They are?” Daniel questioned.
“Yes!” Jack insisted. “They've made commercials with them for car companies and for *your* favorite, Pepsi. McDonald's has used them and so has a famous cereal brand, that shall remain nameless since they aren't Froot Loops and are therefore unworthy of having its name spoken aloud.”
“Gawd!” Daniel chuckled at his husband's obsession with the cereal.
“Wile E. and the Runner have been in video games and movies, too. In 'Armageddon', the NASA guys dubbed a maneuver after them. Now that's an icon! And if that's not good enough for you,” the older man continued, “they've even had political cartoons rendered in their likeness. How more iconic can a cartoon get?”
“Jack, you're getting way too worked up over this.”
“I'm not close to being done, Daniel. Yvan Cournoyer was nicknamed after the Road Runner because of his speed, and ...”
“Who?” Daniel asked, not having a clue who Yvan Cournoyer was.
Jack looked taken aback as he stared at his lover for a moment, but then explained, “Yvan Cournoyer -- he played for the Montreal Canadiens from '63 to '79.”
“Oh,” Daniel expressed in amusement. “Right. Shame on me for not knowing,” he said as he rolled his eyes and shook his head in a combination of amusement and disbelief.
Ignoring the dig, the general continued, “Other cartoons use or copy their antics, like 'Scooby' and 'Spiderman'. TV shows from 'Cheers' to 'Family Guy' have spoofed them. They've even been in *four* episodes of 'The Simpsons', for cryin' out loud,” the worked-up colonel panted, stopping for a breath or two.
Daniel stood there with his mouth hanging open, wondering why his husband was so looney over a cartoon. Of course, he knew Jack was a kid at heart, but he was beginning to wonder when Jack had attained so much detailed knowledge of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner so he could so easily ramble on about them. In fact, he was about to jokingly accuse his lover of prattling, but before he could, Jack plowed on.
“Four episodes, Daniel, of *my* 'Simpsons', which, by the way, were very funny additions. For the record, Wile *did*, too, have a job. I'll have you know that he was a beta tester for Acme. How do you think he got all those things he used? Must've got a good discount, working for the company.”
~He's out of his mind ... again,~ Daniel thought silently. ~Commercials? Sports players? Okay, Jack, just how do you know all of this?~
Finally noticing his lover doing the guppy look, Jack paused, realizing he just might have given himself away.
~Hmmm.~ Daniel was still staring, trying to figure out the puzzle. ~Research. Geez, he's researched the cartoons. That has to be it.~
“Daniel, are you going to say something?”
“Yes, where did you acquire this information, Jack? It's certainly not in your fishing or flying magazines, so where ...” Daniel trailed off as he started to put two and two together. His eyes narrowed as the light dawned. ~I don't believe it.~
The older man lowered his head, beginning to fidget under the scrutiny of his lover. He really didn't want this to get out.
~I'm a big blabbermouth,~ Jack thought. ~Yep, that's what I am. Think, O'Neill.~ He sighed as his mind sought for a way out. “Uh, Danny, I can explain,” he began.
“Please do, Jack. I'm waiting to be enlightened,” the younger man requested, folding his arms across his chest. ~Research. He's researched them. I'm sure of it.~
“Well, the kids were watching cartoons and talking about the things that Wile E used. They started asking questions, so I wondered if they had any info on the web about him and his feathered friend. Daniel, you wouldn't believe all the stuff they have on the internet about cartoons. It's cool,” Jack espoused with eager, wide eyes. Trying to make his research sound more viable, he added, “It's really very educational, learning about cartoon history and development. We *are* trying to teach our kids a variety of subjects, right?”
For a moment, Daniel just stared, causing Jack to fidget, uncertain as to how his argument was going to be received.
Letting out a snort, the archaeologist responded, “Save it, Jack. You didn't look up Wile for his educational value.”
“Well, no,” Jack admitted.
“Gawd, who knew -- you and the internet becoming so intimate. Maybe you'd like to spend some quality time with the computer, Jack. That can be arranged, you know,” the younger man teased.
“No, Love, I'd rather be intimate with you,” Jack said with a smile.
“Why didn't you just tell me the truth?” Daniel asked, hating it whenever Jack played the dumb colonel card. ~Admitting you researched and used the internet isn't a bad thing, Jack. Geez,~ he lamented, knowing that was the truth of the matter, that Jack didn't want to admit to having used the internet for his own educational purposes, especially for a cartoon.
“It's a cartoon,” Jack answered with a shrug.
“Exactly my point!” Letting his lover off the hook and laughing a deep belly laugh, Daniel held onto the older man's arms and gently shook him, saying, “Relax, Babe, I'm only kidding, partially, anyway.” Still chuckling, he observed, “Oh, Jack, your face ... priceless!”
“Daniel, you led me on!”
“Me? You duped me into arguing, and you knew the answers already! You're the one who researched a coyote ... a *cartoon* coyote,” Daniel reminded.
“For the kids,” the not-so-innocent general insisted.
“Jack, this is crazy,” Daniel replied, looking ahead at Sam and Teal'c, who were still walking and were, by now, a good distance ahead of their teammates. “We're arguing over a cartoon animal,” he reminded, hoping that his husband would cease the current discussion.
“Daniel, he ... mmmmphhh.”
Daniel had cut off Jack's next words with a kiss, and it wasn't just any kiss, but the 'Danny Special' that always sent his lover's heart fluttering faster than the speed of light.
“You win,” Jack acquiesced with a smile. “More,” he lovingly demanded as he leaned in for another kiss.
“Later,” Daniel responded as he turned to follow his teammates who were ahead of them.
Jack whistled a few bars of 'Some Day My Prince Will Come' from Disney's “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” having just watched it a few nights ago with his lover and the brood. Then, skipping a few steps in front of the object of his desire, he slowed to a brisk pace, purposely wiggling his six for Daniel's benefit. Then he began to whistle as they continued their journey.
Daniel smiled at his victory and followed his soulmate down the well-traveled path as they quickened their pace to catch up with their teammates.
After the briefing, Hammond went into the control room and spoke over the tannoy, “This is General Hammond. All off-duty personnel willing to volunteer for a search and rescue mission for two lost little boys, report to the rec room in ten minutes. Major Davis will brief you. You will be going off-base, so gear up appropriately. Hammond out.”
“Sir?” Sergeant Walter Davis asked, not yet knowing the details.
“Jonny and Little Danny Jackson-O'Neill are missing, Sergeant. We're going to be spread thin for a while. I'm postponing all non-essential missions scheduled for the next forty-eight hours and assigning those teams to the search,” Hammond explained.
“What about the general and Doctor Jackson?” the sergeant inquired.
“SG-4 departs in five minutes to extract them. Contact all off-duty personnel not on the base. This is strictly volunteer, Sergeant. Have anyone willing to help out report to the Mountain ASAP. I'll be in my office,” Hammond spoke, turning and walking away.
SG-4, under the command of Major Enrique Fredricks, walked through the Stargate onto PR9-227. As soon as they were clear of the wormhole, Fredricks attempted to contact SG-1, eager to get in touch with them and inform the two parents about the missing boys. As anticipated, however, there was no response.
Hammond had informed the team that the planet had a strange magnetic field and that they would probably have to go in search of SG-1, if the radio transmissions weren't received. The control room staff had already made several attempts to communicate with SG-1 through the open Stargate, but had not had any success.
“Let's move out,” Major Fredricks ordered. “Double time!” he added, knowing they needed to move faster than SG-1 in order to catch up with them.
Not quite two hours after his phone call to General Hammond, Mark heard the sounds of cars approaching. Because of the open area, they pulled around towards the back of the house, following the dirt path that led in that direction.
“They made good time,” Mark observed as he looked out the rear kitchen window.
Mike's house was remote and a good ninety-minute drive from the Mountain. Considering the SG teams had to be assembled and gather their equipment together, that meant they had probably traveled to the house beyond the posted speed limits.
The Wilsons went outside to greet the SGC personnel. They watched as two men exited the lead vehicle and hurried towards them.
“Sir, Ma'am, we're from Cheyenne Mountain. General Hammond said you'd be expecting us,” the man in charge spoke.
“Yes,” Mark confirmed with a nod.
“I'm Colonel Reynolds, and this is Major Davis. I'll be leading the search until General Jackson-O'Neill and Doctor Jackson-O'Neill get here,” Reynolds spoke, using the couple's married name out of respect for them.
Colonel Marc Reynolds and Major Paul Davis were also a couple and had been for almost as long as Jack and Daniel. The members of SG-1 were among the few people who knew about Paul and Marc's romantic relationship.
“I'm Mark Wilson, and this is my wife, Sara.”
Reynolds nodded and looked over at an area a few yards from where they were standing. He glanced around at the surroundings and then back at the house.
“We'd like to set up a command center back here,” Reynolds requested.
“Please do anything you need to do to find the boys,” Sara replied.
“Major, set up the command center there,” Reynolds ordered, pointing at the spot he'd chosen. Looking back at the Wilsons, “Where did you see the boys last?”
While the Wilsons briefed Reynolds on all the pertinent information, Davis carried out his orders. Following his instructions, personnel set up a large, green canvas canopy. Several tables and chairs were arranged underneath it, and their equipment, including a ham radio, a combination copy machine/FAX unit, and several computers, was hooked up to the portable generators they had brought with them. Once connected, checks were done to ensure all of the machinery was working properly.
“Rescue One to Bald Eagle, this is a test. Come in, please,” the radio operator spoke over the microphone.
“Rescue One, this is Bald Eagle. Transmission received. Eagle requests status reports every hour on the hour,” a technician at the SGC replied.
“Acknowledged, Bald Eagle. Standby for phone test,” the radio operator spoke, nodding over to a second technician, who wore a headset and was using a land line to connect to the Mountain.
Rather than tie up Mike's only line, the search and rescue personnel had brought with them a huge reel of sheathed cable and strung it up over the house and down the front yard, and then directly to a telephone pole that was conveniently situated right next to the road. In minutes, someone had shinnied up the pole and spliced the line into the local carrier's network.
~Bless you, Walter, for thinking of this and checking the location of the poles in the area,~ the technician at Mike's house thought about Walter Davis, who was also a good friend of his.
“This is Bald Eagle,” the SGC technician reported, having answered the specially-assigned phone a few moments later.
“Bald Eagle, this is Rescue Two, checking in,” the second operator spoke.
Meanwhile, Major Davis placed a large corkboard with its easel stand on one side of command center and pinned a map of the area to it. As he was dividing the sectors into search areas, Reynolds walked over to him and pinned a piece of paper to the corkboard next to the map.
“Is that what they were wearing?” Davis asked after glancing at the paper.
“According to Mrs. Wilson, yes, and she was very detailed,” Reynolds responded.
“What about pictures?” Davis asked.
“Myers is making copies of them now, as well as copies of the area map,” Reynolds replied, looking over at Major John Myers, his second-in-command of SG-3, who was in charge of printing out the copies.
“They've been gone awhile,” Davis noted, checking his watch.
“Major Davis, I think you need to see this,” Airman Russell called out.
Clifton Russell was stationed at a computer that was set up with a satellite uplink to the national weather service. It provided the rescuers with the most up-to-date information on the weather, including periodic forecasts and any warnings issued. They also had their own radar and Doppler hook-ups.
“Be right back, Sir,” Davis stated. He went over to the airman, who was monitoring the weather, and spoke with him for a couple of minutes before returning to Reynolds' position. “Colonel, a storm is moving in, and it looks like it is going to be a big one. Doppler includes lightning warnings beginning at 2200.”
“We can't wait for General Jackson-O'Neill,” Reynolds observed. “Get the personnel together,” he ordered.
With SG teams 3, 14, 25, and 28 gathered together in the command center, Reynolds broke them up into teams of two and then assigned each team to a sector. As Myers handed out copies of the boys' photos (pictures Sara had kept in her wallet) and the maps, Reynolds addressed the teams.
“Listen up. Normally, we would have the help of the search and rescue dogs , but all five dog teams are unavailable. Three teams are helping to search for survivors in the Arapahoe avalanche. The other two teams are at a training seminar in Dallas. It's a big forest, and the boys are small and can hide almost anywhere. Refer to the information beneath the pictures of the boys,” Reynolds instructed. “There you'll find descriptions of what each boy was wearing when last seen. The boys names are Jonny and Little Danny. Jonny is wearing a long-sleeve white tee-shirt with a clown on it and khaki pants. Little Danny is wea...”
“Little Danny?” a voice snickered in the background.
Reynolds couldn't tell who had made the remark, but he stopped talking and looked out at the personnel with a stern warning on his face that matched the severity of his voice as he spoke, “The boy's name is Daniel. Like many boys named Daniel, he goes by the nickname of Danny, and since one of his fathers is named Daniel as well, the boy is known as Little Danny. *And* it's a good thing I don't know who made the comment, or his name would be MUD. Does anyone else care to comment?” The command center was deathly quiet. “I didn't think so,” the colonel stated. Taking a breath, he continued, “Little Danny is wearing a purple shirt with the words 'Gotta Have Beads' printed on it along with navy blue denim pants. Both boys were wearing plain white socks and Reebok athletic shoes.”
“They must like purple,” one Marine commented.
“According to their aunt, the children went to Mardi Gras last month. The shirts were purchased there,” Davis responded.
Reynolds continued, “You've all been assigned sectors. Remember, these boys are only three, but they've had enough time to travel quite a distance. They only have their light spring jackets with them, and ...” He paused and looked over at Davis, having noticed a glaring omission on one of the handouts. “Davis, what colors are the jackets?”
Davis reviewed the descriptions that had just been disseminated, realizing that information had accidentally been omitted. He made a note to update the handout, in case the search lasted long enough that replacement personnel were needed.
“Jonny's jacket is orange, and Little Danny's jacket is navy blue,” Davis answered. “Make a note of that on your copies,” he requested.
Reynolds nodded, then reminded, “In certain areas, the terrain is rugged. Watch your step, and keep your eyes open. The forecast is for thunderstorms to move into this area around 2200. Also, it's been raining off and on in this area for the last two days, so some parts of the area are very damp and muddy. The creeks and waterways are going to be running more rapidly than usual. We need to find Jonny and Little Danny -- fast.”
“One more thing,” Davis interjected. “The photos are from Christmas. Mrs. Wilson noted that both Jonny and Little Danny have grown at least an inch since then, and Little Danny's hair is longer than in the picture.”
“May I say something?” Sara asked, entering the command center after having listened to the briefing.
“Go ahead, Ma'am,” Reynolds said, nodding towards her.
Her hands joined tightly together in front of her as she walked to the center of the area, Sara smiled nervously as she spoke, “Jonny will be the leader. He's the oldest, by a couple of minutes. He ... he thinks he's just like his older father.”
“That's General Jackson-O'Neill,” Reynolds reminded the search teams.
“Please -- they've learned from Jack. They could be hiding or ... or just trying to protect themselves. They're very ingenious little boys. They've have some camping experience and have been taught basic survival skills. Little Danny is ... he's just like Daniel,” the blonde sighed emotionally.
“So, he'll be holding Jonny up?” one of the Marines smirked. Seeing the stares, he added, “No offense, Ma'am, I only meant Doctor Jackson has a reputation where the general is concerned.”
“Yes, I know,” Sara replied. “I believe the term is ... pain in the mikta.” After a bit of laughter, she concluded, “I just wanted you to know that both boys are very much like their fathers. They don't know this area, though. Today is only the second time they have been here, but they're very smart. Please find th...”
Unable to continue, Sara turned and fled the area, her husband following her.
Reynolds looked out over the personnel, making eye contact with several of them for a second or two, and ordered, “Check-in every fifteen minutes. MOVE OUT!”
Quickly and determinedly, the teams headed out in different directions while Reynolds and Davis remained at the command center. Their intention was to stay there until Jack and Daniel arrived. Once the couple was briefed, Reynolds, hoped to join the rescue effort in the field, leaving Davis in charge of the command center. For now, though, they would both coordinate the teams' efforts, marking off the sectors as they were searched.
Major Myers also remained behind to assist his team leader as necessary and to help coordinate between the command center and the SGC.
Inside Mike's house, Aislinn approached Sara, climbing up onto her lap.
“No worry, Aunt Sara,” Aislinn stated with a smile. “Jonny 'n' Little Danny okay.”
Sara ran her hand down Aislinn's long hair, smiled, and replied, “I'm sure you're right.”
“I know. We Munchkins; we always know 'bout each other,” Aislinn announced as she moved to hug the upset blonde. ~I hope we find soon.~
~I hope so, Ash,~ Sara thought as she held the little girl. Silently, she hoped Aislinn's connection with the boys was strong and that her sense that her brothers were safe from harm was correct. ~Be right, Ash.~
“Jonny, see that?” Little Danny asked as he pointed towards a crevice in a tree.
“In tree, somethin' look at me,” Little Danny explained, taking a couple of steps towards the tree until Jonny grabbed his arm, stopping him.
“'Member what Dad say? Wild an'mals bite if scared. Daddy say stay 'way, look from dis'nce,” Jonny reminded.
“It gone; went up inside tree,” Little Danny stated sadly while looking intently at the crevice in the tree.
“Let's go; gotta get back Mike's,” Jonny encouraged, turning and continuing onward.
“'Kay,” Little Danny agreed, following his brother, but glancing over his shoulder, hoping to catch one more glimpse of the small creature.
Two hours later, on the alien world, SG-4 finally spotted SG-1. Fredricks tried the radio, but even though the flagship team was only about a half-mile ahead of them, across a very large meadow, the radios still did not work. They tried shouting, but the sound wasn't carrying far enough. Finally, Fredricks fired his weapon into the air once to get the team's attention.
“What was that?” Sam stated, turning all around to try and find the shooter, her weapon poised for a battle.
Jack, Daniel, and Sam had instinctively lowered themselves to the ground, trying to determine what was happening.
“Gun fire,” Jack stated, one knee on the ground and his P-90 aimed in the direction of the noise.
“It was just one shot,” Daniel commented.
Jack nodded as he relaxed slightly and took out his binoculars to spy on their potential enemies.
“I do not believe they intended to harm us,” Teal'c observed, still standing as he looked around in all directions.
“You're right, Big Guy,” Jack said, lowering his binoculars and standing. “It's just Major Fredricks and his team,” he explained as he put his binoculars away.
“Why are they here?” Daniel asked, a nasty feeling coming over him.
“Daniel, let's not borrow trouble. This isn't the first time another team has been sent in for any one of a thousand reasons,” Jack noted, knowing exactly what Daniel was thinking since it was what he was thinking, too.
“And how many times has that happened since we've ... retired?” Daniel inquired pointedly.
Jack took a breath and replied, “We won't know until we talk to them, and, obviously, they want to talk to us. Let's go.”
Meeting SG-4 at the halfway mark, Jack ordered, “Major, report.”
“Sir, General Hammond sent us to bring you back to Earth. Two of your sons are missing,” Fredricks reported with concern in his voice.
“I knew it,” Daniel responded anxiously as he stared at his husband, as if blaming Jack for the occurrence.
Jack glared at Daniel and then asked Fredricks, “Is that all you know?”
“No, Sir,” Fredricks responded. “The general told me to tell you that Jonny and Little Danny wandered off into the woods at Mike's place. He's dispatching search and rescue teams. That's it.”
“Carter, why don't you and ...” Jack began, though he trailed off seeing the stubborn expression on his 2IC's face.
“We should get back, Sir,” Sam replied.
“O'Neill, is not time of the essence in cases such as these?” Teal'c asked.
**They're staying with us, Jack. Let's not waste time,** Daniel communicated, anxious to get moving. Then, as if he was in charge of the mission, he looked at Fredricks and ordered, “Major, two of your team need to continue on to the rendezvous. Hacamak, the leader, is expecting us. There's no danger. Just tell him ... tell him, 'Nix poc di comraqdik.'”
“Sir?” Fredricks asked, certain he'd never remember that.
“Daniel, write it down,” Sam urged, handing her friend a notepad.
“Thanks, Sam,” Daniel acknowledged, hastily writing the note and then handing it to Fredricks. “Give this to him. It's, uh, in his language and writing, so he will be able to read it. Tell him we're sorry, and we'll be in touch just as soon as we can.” Daniel looked at the commander of SG-1 and stated, “Jack.”
Jack just stared at the team's archaeologist and replied a bit sarcastically, “No, you go ahead. You're doing very well.”
“Jack, don't be an ...”
“Move out!” Jack ordered, cutting off the insult, which he knew he had earned by his comment. ~Why's he mad at me?~
Five minutes later, with Jack and Daniel following Fredricks and the other member of SG-4, and with Sam and Teal'c trailing several feet behind them, Daniel spoke quietly, “Jack, I'm sorry.”
“My reaction, back there,” Daniel clarified. “When I heard what Major Fredricks said, my heart stopped. I was a little ... glib.”
“It's okay, Danny,” Jack spoke. “I don't think I reacted with my best self, either.”
“I should have asked you to send the men to meet with Hacamak instead of just taking over.”
“Like Teal'c said, time's of the essence,” Jack replied. “Besides, we're equal out here now. You know that.”
Daniel smiled as he nodded; then he admitted, “I'm just scared, Jack. Our boys are ... they're lost.”
Jack twisted around, seeing their teammates behind them, and then responded, “By the time we get back, the little rugrats will be back safe and sound.”
“I hope so,” Daniel softly intoned.
The older man sighed. He regretted that they didn't have time to stop and console each other. As much as he wanted to hold his husband, he had to admit that he wanted to be held just as badly, too. He was a bit more experienced in the kids-becoming-lost department, but their boys were so young, and they were someplace strange and unfamiliar to them.
~Should have taught them more survival skills,~ Jack lamented.
“I thought you said they'd be home before we got back to Earth,” Daniel replied, having heard his lover's silent lament.
“Danny, I ...”
“I know, Babe,” the younger man spoke. “You're as scared as I am, so ... let's not pretend with each other, okay?”
“Okay,” Jack agreed. He called out, “Fredricks, let's step up the pace.”
“Yes, Sir,” the major responded, having already increased his walking speed.
Sara had just finished feeding Madeline and putting her down for a nap. She walked into the kitchen to get a much-needed cup of coffee and smiled weakly at the sight of her husband sitting quietly at the table.
“You're as worried as I am, aren't you, Dear?” Sara asked.
“It's a big forest, Sara, and those are two very small boys,” Mark admitted.
Sara nodded as she poured the coffee into her mug. She turned around and leaned against the kitchen counter. After a moment, she took a sip of the black brew.
“They'll be fine,” Mark promised, a small smile on his face.
“I wish Jennifer and ...”
Sara stood up straight, a stunned expression on her face. Seeing this, Mark suddenly sat up taller in his seat.
At the same time, the Wilsons spoke, “David!”
“What time is it?” Sara asked in alarm.
“Three-ten,” Mark answered, quickly moving to the phone and placing another call.
“Thank you, Sir,” Mark said as he hung up. He looked at his wife and stated, “He's sending a car for him.”
“David shouldn't come here,” Sara opined.
“He's not. General Hammond is having him driven to the SGC,” Mark revealed. “Janet's still in surgery, but once she gets out, David can be with her.”
Sara nodded, but then shook her head as despair began to fill her once again. She began to cry, and didn't even notice when, moments later, her coffee mug fell onto the tiled floor below.
Quickly, Mark ran to her, taking the blonde into his arms, comforting, “It's not your fault, Sara. Jonny and Little Danny will be back here in no time.”
“I love them, Mark,” Sara cried. “I can't lose another child,” the desolate woman sobbed as the pain of Charlie's death came flooding back.
Mark held his wife, knowing she did indeed love the missing boys so much that a part of her thought of them as her own. He couldn't blame her. He loved them that much, too.
“Nyan,” General Hammond stated, entering the alien's lab that was now located across the way and a few yards down from Daniel's enlarged office.
“General Hammond,” Nyan greeted, wiping his hands on the tail end of his long, brown shirt.
“I need a favor,” the general began. “Do you know Jennifer and David Jackson-O'Neill?”
“I've never met them, Sir, but I've heard a lot about them from their little brothers and sisters,” Nyan responded, recalling several conversations he'd had during babysitting duties he'd performed.
“I'd like to do this myself, but I can't leave the base at the moment,” the bald man stated.
Curious, the alien inquired, “Is something wrong?”
“Yes, Nyan, I'm afraid something is very wrong,” Hammond confirmed as he explained the situation to the alien refugee from P2X-416, better known as Bedrosia.
Several minutes later, SG-2 walked down the ramp, the Stargate shutting down and the iris closing behind them.
“Now that was a sweet mission,” Lou joked with one of his teammates.
The man was about to reply when a voice called out to the gate room.
“Colonel Ferretti, General Hammond wants to see you in his office right away,” Sergeant Davis stated.
Lou nodded and, after turning over his weapon to one of the armory technicians of the day, ordered his team to the infirmary for their post-mission exams.
“Are you going to tell the general about Senorita ChiChi?” one of the teammates asked in jest.
“Just keep your ChiChi jokes to yourself,” Lou teased as he headed for the exit. ~It's gonna make one fun debriefing, though. Jack's gonna regret not having gone on this mission.~
A minute later, Lou tapped on the doorframe of General Hammond's office and called out, “You wanted to see me, Sir?”
“Yes, Colonel, come in,” Hammond invited.
Entering the office, the colonel began,“The mission was an eye-popping one, General. We ...”
“Later, Colonel,” the general interrupted, the firmness of his tone immediately silencing the sometimes boisterous military officer. “Jonny and Little Danny are missing. I have ...”
“Missing, Sir? Where? How? When? Have Jack and ...” Lou questioned, not pausing between the many queries he had sputtered.
“Slow down, Colonel,” Hammond interjected, holding up his hand in a stopping motion. “I sent SG-4 to extract Jack and Daniel,” he explained.
Once he had been informed of the facts, ending with the car that was en route to pick up David, the colonel asked, “Sir, may I make a suggestion?”
“Of course,” Hammond answered.
“I think that David might feel more comfortable if you sent him to my house with Jen,” Lou proposed. “You know how tight those kids are.”
Hammond thought for a moment and agreed, “You're right, Colonel. We have so much going on here today that I'd have to restrict David to one of the VIP rooms and wouldn't be able to give him much of my time. I'll call Nyan with the change in plans, if you're sure your wife won't object.”
“I'm sure she won't. In fact, she would probably make me sleep on the couch if I didn't suggest it, Sir,” Lou commented with a smirk.
Hammond chuckled lightly, “Maybe so, but maybe you'd better check with her, just in case.”
“It'll just take a moment,” Lou stated. “May I use your phone, General?”
Two minutes later, the call had been concluded, Carolyn Ferretti having immediately agreed to having David sent to their home.
“Colonel, SG-2's debriefing will be postponed until after the boys have been found. After your post-mission exam, I want you to take charge of the search and rescue mission,” Hammond ordered.
“Yes, Sir. Who's in charge now?”
“Colonel Reynolds,” the lieutenant general answered. He continued, “Check with the rest of your team. Since they've just returned from a mission and are scheduled to go off-duty by 2000 hours, joining the search is strictly voluntary.”
“Understood, Sir,” Lou responded. ~They'll volunteer, or they'll be off my team before the next mission.~
Lou went straight to the infirmary for his post-mission exam and was pleased that all three of his teammates volunteered to join the search efforts without any pressure needing to be applied.
~Those are my boys,~ Lou thought proudly as SG-2 prepared for the trip to Mike's place.
“Mrs. Lomarica, my name is Nyan. General Hammond from Cheyenne Mountain requested I pick up David,” Nyan spoke.
“Hello, Nyan. Yes, General Hammond phoned and told me that you would be coming. Any word on the children yet?” Maria asked with concern as she opened the door to let Nyan in.
“I don't believe so,” Nyan responded as he entered the home.
“David, your ride is here,” Maria called out. “Um, I haven't told him. I wasn't sure whether they wanted him to know about the missing boys or not,” she quietly added.
Within moments, David and his friend, Tommy, emerged from the kitchen. David already had his backpack on, eager to get home. Seeing Nyan, David stopped, curious who the man was.
“David, my name is Nyan, and I'm a friend of your fathers and ...”
“Oh, I know you! You take care my brothers and sisters sometimes, when Dad and Daddy are busy at the Mountain,” David interjected.
“That's right. Your grandfather asked me to come and pick you up,” Nyan explained.
“My grandfather? Where's Dad and Daddy? What's happened?” David asked anxiously, realizing that something serious must have happened to cause a change in plans like this.
“They're fine, I promise,” Nyan assured, reaching out and putting his hand on the boy's shoulder.
“David, your grandfather did call a while ago and told me Nyan would be picking you up today. He was called away from the phone, though, before he was able to talk with you personally,” Maria stated, knowing the Jackson-O'Neills were very security conscious.
“We're going to Colonel Ferretti's,” Nyan added.
“Oh, that's where Jen is,” David responded. He frowned, then stated quietly, “Something is wrong, or you wouldn't be here.” Suddenly, he gasped, “Where's Aunt Sara? Has something happened to her?”
“David,” Nyan said with a calm voice. He kneeled down to be eye-level with the youngster and said, “This morning, Jonny and Little Danny wandered off while playing. I don't know more than that, just that your grandfather and your parents are trying to find them.”
David's heart pounded loudly as he processed the information.
“Did you ever get lost?” Nyan asked, trying to keep the boy calm.
“Once,” David admitted. “I didn't mean to, though. I was little, and Dad was helping Mommy with Noa. She's my sister. She was just a baby. I saw some rocks I'd never seen before. I like rocks.”
“Me, too. I study them,” Nyan replied.
“Dad found me, but I was lost for a little while. Mommy was crying. I didn't mean to scare her,” David intoned.
“That's probably what's happened to your brothers. They'll find them soon,” Nyan stated confidently.
With David now calmer, Nyan thanked Maria and then took his young charge outside to the waiting car and driver.
As they headed for the Ferretti's home, the phone inside the Air Force vehicle rang. The airman driving answered it and then stated, “Sir, General Hammond is on the phone and would like to speak with his grandson.”
“Thank you,” Nyan replied, picking up the phone and handing it to the boy.
“Hello?” David questioned.
“David, this is Grandpa.”
“Hi, Grandpa. Did you find Jonny and Little Danny?” David asked hopefully.
“Not yet, but we will. I have my best people on it,” Hammond assured, resulting in a small smile appearing on David's face. “Is Nyan with you?”
“Yes. He's very nice,” David stated, looking at the alien.
“Yes, he is. He's going to accompany you to Colonel Ferretti's house. Jennifer is there, and you two are to stay with Mrs. Ferretti until your fathers contact you,” Hammond stated a bit more formally than he might normally, but there was so much going on that he didn't really have a lot of time for chitchat. Still, he had wanted to talk to David personally and make sure he felt comfortable with Nyan. “Jen will need you to be strong,” he added, sensing a need to get the boy to focus on something other than the missing boys.
“I'll take care of her, Grandpa,” David responded.
“Thank you, David. I have a call I have to take. If you or your sister need anything, call me at the Mountain,” Hammond advised.
“Don't worry, Son,” Hammond spoke reassuringly.
“Okay,” David responded in a tone that told anyone who could hear that he was worrying and would continue to do so until his brothers were found.
Their call concluded, David turned to Nyan and began to talk to him about a variety of things, including their shared interest in rocks. By the time the driver pulled into the Ferretti's driveway, he felt like he knew Nyan pretty well.
While the driver remained in the vehicle, Nyan walked David to the door.
As they approached the porch, David asked, “Where are you from, Nyan?”
“Toronto,” Nyan answered, using the cover story that had been set up by the government shortly after his arrival on Earth.
David chuckled, stopped walking, and looked up at him, asking, “No, I mean where are you *really* from?” He saw Nyan look at him questioningly. David had been through the Stargate, and he just had a sense about Nyan. “Never mind. You probably can't talk about it, but I know you're an alien. I like aliens.”
“David!” Jennifer called out as she waved from an open window.
“Jen!” David called back as he began to run to the door, shouting back over his shoulder, “Bye, Nyan, and thanks for the ride!”
Nyan watched David meet Jennifer at the door. The two hugged and disappeared inside the house. He turned to go back to the car when Carolyn Ferretti called out to him.
“Are you Nyan?” Carolyn inquired.
“Yes, Ma'am,” Nyan confirmed, turning back to face the friendly Italian woman.
“How was David on the ride over from the Lomarica's?” Carolyn asked when she reached Nyan's position just beyond the porch.
“He's worried, but he'll be okay. I think it's good for him to be with his sister,” Nyan opined.
“Yes,” Carolyn agreed. “Please ask General Hammond to keep me informed about Jonny and Little Danny. Those two are such good boys.”
Nyan nodded and then bid good-bye to the woman as he headed back to Cheyenne Mountain.
Inside the Ferretti home, Jennifer and David were huddled together.
“Jen, what happened?” David asked as his sister helped him take off his backpack.
“Aunt Sara said they were playing ball. A grasshopper jumped on Jenny ...”
“Jenny hates anything that crawls and jumps on her,” David interjected.
“She's never liked grasshoppers. I don't even think she knows what they're called, but this was a big one, apparently. It just sat there on her, and she started to cry. The next thing Aunt Sara knew, Jonny and Little Danny were gone.”
“We should go help them look,” David suggested.
“I agree, but Grandpa says Uncle Mark and Aunt Sara have their hands full and ...”
“We'd just be in the way,” the astute boy answered.
“He didn't put it like that, but that's what he meant,” Jennifer confirmed. “I tried saying I could help take care of the brood, but he asked me to stay here, for now, anyway. I think it's more that there is a lot going on there, and we'd be two less to worry about being here.”
“They'll be fine,” Jennifer said, pulling David into her embrace.
“They're our brothers, Jen. I'm scared,” the boy confessed.
“So am I, but you know how determined Dad and Daddy can be. They'll find them,” Jennifer soothed.
“It feels like ...” David trailed off, thoughts of his birth parents and their deaths filling him.
“Mom and Dad will help keep them safe, David. You have to believe that,” Jennifer urged, knowing exactly what her little brother was thinking.
“I'll try, Jen. I'll ... try,” David promised, his sight blurring with the tears welling in his eyes.
Shortly after 5 p.m., the brood and Angela were huddled together in the living room. Angela was protectively holding Chenoa's hand in an effort to comfort her best friend. The cartoons were still on, but no one was paying attention to them. Instead, everyone was sitting silently, some sniffling and some just lost in their thoughts.
“We no sit here!” Aislinn suddenly announced, standing up in front of her siblings. “We find Jonny and Little Danny.”
“Yeah!” Jenny agreed, standing up, too.
“We go,” Ricky added, toddling over towards the door.
“Whoa there, Beaver,” Mark called out, quickly stopping Ricky by picking him up.
“Unca Mark, we haffa find bro'ers,” Ricky stated.
“There are a lot of people out there and ...” Mark stopped, seeing two new vehicles driving up as he looked out the large window. “And even more coming.” He looked over at Sara and asked, “Sara, isn't that Lou Ferretti?”
Sara joined her husband and looked out the window, watching as the colonel checked in with Reynolds and Davis.
“I guess he outranks Reynolds, since Reynolds just saluted,” Mark observed.
“I think Lou is a full colonel, Dear,” Sara commented. Then she smiled, seeing the officer nod and head for the house. She twisted around and stated, “Children, Uncle Lou is here.”
Mark put Ricky down, and he joined the rest of the brood as they bolted from their positions. By the time Lou reached the door, they were all excitedly jumping up at him.
“Did I win the lottery or something?” Lou asked, picking up both Jenny and Aislinn, holding one in each arm. He kissed both on their cheeks. “How you guys doin'?”
Aislinn, Ricky, Jenny, and Chenoa all began speaking at once, each telling their story of what happened.
“No like gra'hoppers,” Jenny concluded, repeating how her tale had begun.
“Did you get all that?” Sara asked with a tiny smile on her face.
“Yeah, Jonny and Little Danny went exploring, like Zebulon Pike,” Lou extrapolated from all the details.
“Who that?” Aislinn asked.
Lou walked over to the sofa and sat down, the brood herd following him every step of the way. Jenny remained on his lap with Aislinn sitting slightly to the side. Chenoa was right in front of him, the palms of her hands leaning against his knees.
“Zebulon Pike was an explorer. In November of 1806, he explored Colorado Springs. Pike's Peak is named after him,” Lou explained.
“You gonna find bro'ers?” Ricky asked, quickly ending the brief history lesson.
“Now, listen up. Jonny and Little Danny are just fine. I've got my buddies from the SGC doing a full-scale search for them, and these guys are good. You know how I know?”
“How?” Chenoa asked with a tiny voice.
“Your dad and Teal'c trained them; that's how I know,” Lou explained.
“Then they good,” Aislinn surmised.
“Darn tootin'!” Lou affirmed. “Your parents should be here soon. I want you all to stay here, mind Uncle Mark and Aunt Sara, and wait for them. I'm gonna go find those pesky rascals.”
“Jonny 'n' Li'l Danny?” Ricky asked.
“Yeah, dem rascals,” Lou spoke, keeping his tone lighthearted. He gently stood, moving Jenny out of his lap and patting each of the children encouragingly. He nodded towards the door to Mark and Sara and joined them there. “Jack and Daniel are hard to reach, if you know what I mean.”
“We do,” Mark responded.
“Based on our estimation, they should just about be hitting the SGC now. Oh, and David is at my place,” Lou advised.
“Oh, that's a much better place for him than Cheyenne Mountain,” Sara replied.
“General Hammond had a driver and Nyan ... do you know Nyan?” Seeing both Sara and Mark shake their heads, he explained, “He's from way out, but he's a good kid, and the Munchkins and the twins love him. I'm not sure David's met him, but he'll know who he is. Anyway, the general sent Nyan with the driver to pick him up. When I got back from ... way out,” he said, smiling, “I suggested they divert to my place.”
“I'm so glad,” an emotional Sara intoned.
“Yeah, he and Jen can be together,” Lou agreed. “Besides, the infirmary is loaded with patients today. Doc Fraiser's been in surgery for most of the day, from what I've heard.”
Just then, Sara's cell phone rang. She answered and let out a gasp when Pam Lawrence apologized for calling, but was using the number Jack and Daniel had given her that morning in case of an emergency. She was worried because no one had come for the beagles or even checked on them, which was highly unusual for the Jackson-O'Neills or their family of friends.
“What is it?” Mark asked, placing his hand on Sara's arm.
“The girls -- we forgot about them,” Sara sighed, realizing it was over an hour since they were supposed to have picked up the canines from the vet's. “Hold on, Pam,” she requested.
“The girls?” Lou asked.
After Sara explained about Bijou and Katie and their day of pampering. Lou smiled reassuringly and then pulled out his cell phone and made another call to his wife.
“It's all settled,” Lou advised a quick minute later. “Carolyn and the kids will go pick up the girls, if the vet can wait another half-hour for them to get there.”
“Pam, Carolyn Ferretti will be there in a half-hour. Is that all right?” Sara inquired.
“No problem, Mrs. Wilson. Is everything okay?” the vet asked.
“I hope so. Thank you for your patience, and I apologize for not being there to get Bijou and Katie,” Sara spoke quietly, not wanting the other children to become upset by her having forgotten about the dogs.
“Don't give it another thought,” Pam spoke. “The girls are holding court; it's really cute.”
A minute later, Sara disconnected the call and then thanked Lou for his solution.
“The girls are family,” Lou responded. He paused, then revealed, “I'm joining the search.” He pulled out a paper and wrote down a phone number. “I have my radio, but here's my cell phone number. Call me when Jack and Daniel get here and if you need anything at all.”
“Thank you, Lou,” Sara intoned, a slight tremble in her voice.
Lou reached out and touched Sara's elbow, saying, “Italians have big families. We're always losing kids. We always find them, too.”
Sara smiled weakly as she nodded gratefully at the remark. She felt Mark's arm around her waist as the couple watched Lou return to the command center.
Along with Lou, the two new vehicles had contained the rest of SG-2, along with SG-5 and SG-7. While Lou had been talking to the Jackson-O'Neill children and then the Wilsons, Reynolds had divided them into teams of two and given them sectors to search.
“Sir, everyone has been briefed and assigned search sectors,” Reynolds told Lou as he approached the command center.
“They all have copies of these,” Davis added, handing Lou a copy of the paperwork, which included the updated description of the boys' jackets, so he would also know what the boys had on, clothing-wise, and what areas were being searched.
“Jonny loves that orange jacket,” Lou commented. Wryly, he added, “I gave it to him for Christmas. It was too big then.”
After a moment, Lou snapped out of his reverie and walked over to the map, taking note of the areas already searched.
“You're doing a good job here,” Lou commented.
“We're getting a lot of volunteers in addition to the teams that General Hammond is assigning,” Reynolds pointed out.
“Jack and Daniel will be happy to know that,” Lou responded. His review of the map completed, he turned to look at Reynolds and stated, “Colonel, I'm joining the search. You're to remain in charge here until Jack and Daniel arrive.”
“Yes, Sir,” Reynolds responded.
“Let's move out,” Lou commanded the new search teams.
As Davis and Reynolds watched the new teams enter the forest, Aislinn came running out of the house, heading towards the woods.
“Where's she going?” Reynolds wondered aloud.
“After her Uncle Lou,” Davis answered. “I'll get her,” he called out as he ran after the little girl, catching Aislinn by the shoulders just before she disappeared into a grove of trees.
“Let me go! I gotta find my bro'ers,” the little girl yelled as she squirmed to get out of the major's hold. “Unc' Lou!” she shouted.
Davis squatted down to eye level and said, “Calm down. Your Uncle Lou can't hear you; he's already too far away. Trust me, there are a lot of people out there looking for Jonny and Little Danny, and your fathers will be here soon to look for them, too,” Davis reminded the worried little girl. He picked her up and began walking back towards the canopy where Reynolds was. “You're Aislinn, right?” After the little girl nodded, he calmly spoke, “My name's Major Davis.” He squinted, reconsidering what he'd said and added, “Why don't we just make that Paul.”
“I miss Jonny and Li'l Danny; gotta find them,” Aislinn spoke sadly, her words a bit slurred from her emotional state at the moment.
“Do you know how many people are out there, searching for them right now?” Not waiting for an answer, he carried Aislinn over to the map. “Look at this,” he instructed. “This is the forest, and we've divided it up into sections.”
“What pins and string mean?” Aislinn asked the major, accidentally pulling out one pin with a string on it.
“The pins and string tell us which areas have been searched, and the pins without strings mean that those areas still need to be searched,” Paul Davis explained as he took the pin and placed it back into position.
Reynolds walked over and put string around more pins. He smiled at the little girl.
“Aislinn, this is Colonel Marc Reynolds. Colonel, this is Aislinn,” Paul said, introducing the little girl to his significant other.
“Hi, Aislinn,” Marc greeted.
Just then, Sara came running out of the house, shouting the little girl's name.
“I here, Aunt Sara,” Aislinn called out.
Relieved but frantic, Sara ran over to where the major was still holding the little girl and asked, “Ash, why did you leave the house?”
“I want find Jonny and Little Danny,” Aislinn answered, feeling a bit calmer now.
As Davis explained what had happened, Sara reached out to take Aislinn into her arms. She held her closely, her heart still pounding from the scare. The woman had already begun to doubt herself and her abilities to be a good mother when Jonny and Little Danny disappeared, and Aislinn's running off only exacerbated those doubts.
“Ash, please don't go running off again. Your brothers are already lost, and we don't want to lose you, too,” Sara stated, trying to be calm and not upset Aislinn further.
Inside, though, Sara was a wreck, having been scared to death again when she discovered that the youngest Munchkin was also missing.
Sensing her aunt's nervousness, Aislinn promised, “Ash sorry, Aunt Sara; no run off 'gain.”
“Let's go back in the house,” Sara suggested, letting out a huge sigh of gratitude that the girl was safe. “Thank you, Major Davis.”
“My pleasure, Ma'am,” Davis replied with a smile.
“Thank you for showing me map, Paul,” Aislinn said.
“You're welcome, Aislinn, and we'll find your brothers soon,” the major confidently reassured.
Aislinn waved to Paul Davis over Sara's shoulder as they went back to Mike's house. She still wanted to help find her siblings, but she didn't want her Aunt Sara to be scared, so she decided she would stay inside with her other siblings, for now, anyway.
Davis looked at his lover and, noticing Reynolds smiling at him, asked, “What?”
Reynolds took a step closer and lowered his voice to a whisper as he teased, “Looks like I have some competition.”
“Major Davis,” Airman Russell called out from his computer where he was monitoring the weather and the storm that was coming in.
“Be right there, Airman,” Paul replied, a bit frustrated at the interruption of the personal moment that was being shared. ~Priorities, Paul,~ he reminded himself.
A moment later, after exchanging their own special smiles, Davis walked over to the airman to check the progress of the storm.
“Sir?” Daniel asked anxiously as he hurried down the ramp in the gate room of the SGC.
“General, any news?” Jack asked at the same time.
Hammond shook his head, answering, “There's nothing new.” He nodded toward the exit and began walking that way, quickly followed by SG-1, while the remaining members of SG-4 took their weapons, and those of SG-1, back to the armory. Normally, someone would have been there to take the arms from the teams, but the SGC was short-staffed at the moment because of the manpower being used to find the boys, something the lieutenant general explained as they headed for the locker room. “The boys went missing at 1130 hours. Colonel Reynolds has been in charge of the search and rescue operation, but he may have been relieved by Colonel Ferretti by now,” he noted, checking his watch. “Jack, Daniel, I'm sending one more round of replacements -- SG teams 17, 22, and 30, two of our scientific lab teams, and one of our security teams -- when they come on duty in thirty minutes, but that's our limit until 1000 hours tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Daniel emotionally acknowledged.
Hammond looked at the two men and added, “There are a lot of volunteers there, searching on their own time. In fact, most off-duty personnel who could be reached are helping out.”
“That's ...” Daniel shook his head as his statement faded into nothingness, but his gratitude was obvious by his expression.
Hammond drew himself to his full height, looking Jack and Daniel square in the eye as he spoke, “We owe you. This entire planet owes you its very existence. Almost no one out there looking for your boys knows that; they're doing it for you because that's the kind of respect you've earned, but *I* know the full debt of what we all owe you. The least I can do on behalf of this sorry little planet is use the resources at my disposal to find Jonny and Little Danny.” After a beat of silence, the general added softly, “They're my grandsons.”
Jack and Daniel nodded their thanks, afraid to speak for fear they would both break down.
“I have transportation waiting,” Hammond intoned, resuming his military bearing. “Walter will fill you in on the details and have more information once you've changed. I ... I wish I could be there.”
“Someone has to keep this place running,” Jack replied, placing his hand on Hammond's upper arm.
It was rare for such physical contact to happen, especially at the SGC, but this wasn't a normal situation, and since spoken words weren't much of an option, this was all Jack could think of to do. Hammond nodded, then backed away from the lovers.
“Sir?” Sam asked the SGC commander.
“Colonel Carter, Teal'c, you're assigned to the rescue mission,” Hammond answered, getting grateful nods from both SG-1 members. “Keep an eye on them,” he quietly added as he walked by them.
“We will,” Sam replied. “Thank you, Sir.”
“Indeed,” the Jaffa added.
“I hear a noise,” Chenoa stated a few minutes after six. It was getting dark out now; sunset would be in an hour, and the children had all eaten dinner, or at least nibbled on some food Mike had prepared for them. “It's loud!” she exclaimed, running to the large window at the back of the house.
Everyone followed the four-and-a-half-year-old girl, watching to see what was happening. Beyond the command center, between the canopy and the forest, was a large range of meadowland, and that's where the noise was coming from. Suddenly, Sara smiled, then began crying.
“IT'S DAD 'N' DADDY!” Aislinn cried out excitedly.
“Teeeee!” Chenoa cried out, seeing her favorite Jaffa.
“Aunt Sam,” Ricky observed, jumping up and down eagerly upon seeing Sam in the distance, too.
In a flash, the kids started to run towards the door, intending to greet their parents and SG family.
“Hold it! You have to wait until either the blades stop or the helicopter takes off again,” Mark sternly told the eager brood.
The kids fidgeted as they watched out the window, having little patience while SG-1 completely disembarked from the helicopter and headed towards the house. It seemed like forever until the blades came to a halt and the four were in the clear.
Finally, Sara and Mark nodded their permission for the children to go outside. As soon as they did, Aislinn, Ricky, Jenny, and Chenoa ran out the door. Angela paused, looking at her parents briefly, then ran after her best friend.
“Sara, it's not your fault,” Mark reminded.
~Don't hate me, Jack,~ Sara inwardly requested as her worries intensified upon seeing her ex-husband and his spouse.
“Hey!” Jack greeted, picking up Ricky and squeezing him close.
“Daddy, they gone!” Aislinn sniffled as she buried her face into her younger father's neck.
“Not for long, Ash,” Daniel soothed as he held her close. He put her down and picked up Chenoa, noticing that Jack was 'exchanging' children, too, picking up Jenny after putting Ricky back down on the ground. “How ya doing, Princess?”
“Scared, Daddy. It been long time,” Chenoa sniffled.
“Your brothers are very smart,” Daniel reminded. He looked in the distance, seeing the Wilsons approach. He could see the anguish on the woman's face, and her reddened eyes couldn't be hidden. **Jack, she's scared.**
At first, Jack thought Daniel meant Chenoa; that is, until he focused on Sara. He'd seen that expression before. It was one of doom, regret, and loss.
~No, Sara, we're not losing them,~ Jack thought, putting Jenny down. He moved forward, patting Angela on the head and smiling at her for a moment before walking on by. As he closed in, he could see Sara swallow. The pain and guilt on her face was evident. “Sara.”
“Jack, I'm ...”
Before Sara got out another word, Jack took her into his arms, saying, “They're little boys, adventurers, and they can't resist temptation.”
“They were my responsibility,” Sara replied as her arms wrapped around Jack, her head resting on his shoulder as she released more tears.
“Little kids sometimes get lost; we'll find them,” Jack refuted, his confidence high that they would find Jonny and Little Danny.
“But ...” the woman began, her sadness and guilt surfacing big time in the tone of her voice.
“No.” Jack pulled back and cupped Sara's face. He stared deeply into her eyes as he stated, “Charlie ran away once, remember?”
“That was on my watch, but it didn't make me a bad parent, and what happened this morning, doesn't make you a bad parent, either,” Jack intoned firmly. “I trust ... Sara, look at me,” he insisted after Sara had looked down. “I *trust* you with my life and the lives of my husband and my children. Do you understand that? I trust *you*.”
Sara cried into her ex-lover's shoulder for a full minute before she felt the tugs of the brood around her.
“Not your fault,” the children kept saying.
“We like 'plore,” Ricky noted.
“They come back soon,” Chenoa stated.
Sara made eye contact with Daniel and took a breath.
The archaeologist smiled and said, “I trust you, too, Sara, and we *will* find them.”
“And, I'm keeping you from doing that,” Sara said, backing away and nodding. She wiped away her tears and said, “You need to focus on Jonny and Little Danny, not some ...”
“Woman who cares about our children as if they were her own?” Daniel completed.
“Mark,” Jack spoke, shaking hands with Sara's husband.
“Jack, I'm sorry, too,” Mark apologized. “The girls and I were bird watching and ...”
“No guilt trips, Mark. I'm counting on you to make sure your wife stops blaming herself. Jonny and Little Danny will be mad at you, at both of you, if you keep blaming yourselves for their mistakes,” the general intoned, getting nods of understanding from both of them.
“Sam, Teal'c, would you take the children back inside the house, please?” Daniel requested. “Dad and I will be back with your brothers as soon as we can,” he told the children as he hugged each one of them one more time.
After hugging the children as well, Jack looked at Sara and Mark, commenting, “Don't apologize; don't blame yourselves. Tell us everything you know.”
When the Wilsons were done filling Jack and Daniel in on what had happened, the fathers headed towards the makeshift search and rescue base, having asked Sara and Mark to send Sam and Teal'c out as quickly as possible.
“Ouch!” Little Danny cried out as he tripped over a fallen tree branch that was on the ground.
Jonny immediately turned around and helped Little Danny stand up, asking, “You okay?”
“I hurt knee,” the younger Munchkin informed his brother, adding, “too dark; no see where walkin'.”
“It tore hole,” Jonny observed about his younger brother's clothing. “It hurt?” he asked, seeing some blood trickling down Little Danny's knee.
“I fine,” Little Danny answered, not wanting to admit that it did sting a little.
“Here,” Jonny stated, pulling out his small handkerchief and applying some pressure to the other boy's knee. “This what Dad 'n' Daddy do lots,” he commented.
The boys waited a little while, giving the open wound a chance to clot and stop bleeding.
“We keep going, Jonny,” Little Danny finally said. “No bleed now.”
“We go slower,” the older Munchkin instructed, looking up as he talked. The trees were so thick in the area that they were in he couldn't even see the stars. “Where stars?” he asked.
The boy's head was leaning so far back as he sought out the twinkling lights in the sky that he actually fell down, mumbling to himself, “Cryin' out loud.” As he quickly stood up, he rubbed his behind, dropping his handkerchief to the ground and frowning at the extra mud and dampness on his rear end.
“Over trees; it dark,” Little Danny answered at the same time his brother fell. “You 'kay, Jonny?”
“No more fall down,” Jonny ordered both of them. “We keep going,” Jonny instructed, moving forward. After just a few seconds, he realized his brother wasn't keeping up and stopped. Looking back, he saw the boy staring at an interesting looking rock. Putting his hands on his hips, he ordered, “Little Danny, no stare rocks. We go now.”
“Oooookay,” the little boy lamented, giving the rock one more look before following his brother out of the area and deeper into the woods.
Suddenly, Jonny stopped, saying, “I f'got hankchief. Let go when go boom. We need?”
“No,” Little Danny answered. “It all dirty now.”
Nodding, Jonny and Little Danny continued their trek, hoping to find their family soon.
As Jack and Daniel approached the command center, both Reynolds and Davis saluted.
“Reynolds, Davis, drop the salute business, and fill us in on the search,” Jack requested.
“Yes, Sir,” Reynolds responded, leading the couple over to the map. He explained what they'd done, gave them a copy of the paperwork that had been disseminated to the searchers, and then explained which of the grid patterns had been searched and those that still needed to be. “Teams are working five hour shifts, then resting for two and going back out.”
Davis added, “General, I realize we're making this a military operation, but considering how much area we need to cover, I was wondering if you wanted us to call in the local authorities.”
“Jack, it's been over seven hours,” Daniel put forth, believing that the time factor was a definite consideration in how they chose to proceed.
“Excuse us,” Jack requested, motioning for Daniel to follow him far enough away that no one could hear. “Danny, it'll mean publicity. We would be putting the brood out there on display. I'm not sure we can afford to do that.”
“And I'm not sure we can't. Jack,” Daniel said, looking around to make sure no one was approaching, “this isn't about our privacy. I know we have to be careful. We will *always* have to be careful, but we agreed years ago, before the children, that we wouldn't live in a bubble. We're in a forest, a big, huge, gigantic forest. We need all the help we can get,” he spoke, his eyes pleading with his lover's.
“TV, reporters hovering around ...”
“They're our babies,” Daniel reminded emotionally.
“I'm not saying we shouldn't, Danny, but ...”
“Look, how about this,” the archaeologist began, his negotiator persona coming out. “We have Paul contact the authorities, confer with them about what we're doing, and we follow their advice, whatever it might be.”
“Their advice?” a surprised Jack questioned.
“Jack, these people,” Daniel said, pointing at the command center, but referring to everyone in the search, “are military. Yes, they're used to recons and fighting the Goa'uld. They're used to saving their teammates and walking into danger, but they aren't experts on lost children. What if someone finds Jonny and Little Danny? What if they don't know that they're missing? What if our boys are hurt and can't tell them anything? Are you willing to take that chance with Jonny's and Little Danny's lives?”
With a sigh, Jack shook his head and headed back to the command center, Daniel following just a couple of seconds behind him.
“Sir?” Davis asked, seeing the couple approach.
“Davis, contact the authorities and give them the information about Jonny and Little Danny. Tell them we would prefer to keep this as low profile as possible. We're not asking for help in the search, but ...” Jack paused.
“We don't want the situation exploited,” Daniel sighed, hating that they even had to worry about such a thing. “We want to keep control, but we may need to get their pictures out there.” He looked at Jack, who nodded. “Use your own judgment, and work with the local police when you feel it's necessary,” he stated.
“I understand,” Davis acknowledged.
Jack glanced around the command center, noticing how well organized everything was.
“General, request permission to join the search and leave Major Davis in charge of the command center,” Reynolds asked.
“Granted, Colonel,” Jack agreed. He faced the major and ordered, “Davis, you're in charge. Make sure you handle the situation with the authorities and the media, if necessary.” He looked casually at the staff, observing that the technicians there had heard his order. Then he added, “Davis, more teams will be arriving within the hour. Talk with the helicopter pilot and make sure he knows where you want him to search. We only have the chopper until the storm moves in, so make good use of it.”
“Understood, Sir,” Davis responded, moving away to carry out the order.
“Myers, you're with me,” Reynolds commanded.
“Yes, Sir,” Myers answered quickly, grabbing a flashlight and the information about the boys.
Reynolds reviewed the map and stated, “If it meets with your approval, General, we'll search sector twenty-two, and you and Doctor Jackson-O'Neill can take this one.”
“T, did you find Jonny and Little Danny?” Chenoa asked as tears rolled down her face.
Teal'c picked curly haired girl up, and she immediately threw her arms around the big Jaffa.
Hugging the little girl back, Teal'c replied, “Do not worry, ChenoaJacksonO'Neill, we will find JonnyJacksonO'Neill and LittleDannyJacksonO'Neill. Once they are back, we will have a talk about honor and not wandering off.”
“And making me cry,” Chenoa sniffled.
“Indeed,” Teal'c acknowledged.
For the next several minutes, Chenoa cried into Teal'c's shoulder, while Sam comforted the other children.
“Aunt Sam find them,” Ricky spoke positively as the blonde held him in her arms.
“I'm going to try,” Sam replied. “Speaking of which, Teal'c and I need to go.”
Having heard Sam's words, Teal'c spoke, “Chenoa, I must go now and find your brothers,” after which he hugged her again before setting her down on the floor.
“Okay,” Chenoa sniffled, looking up at the tall Jaffa.
After spending a couple more minutes with the children, Sam and Teal'c headed outside to join the search for the missing boys.
“Sam?” Daniel called out, seeing Sam and Teal'c approaching.
“They're as fine as they can be under the circumstances,” Sam reported about the children.
“ChenoaJacksonO'Neill is not fine, ColonelCarter. Did you not hear her cry?” Teal'c corrected.
Sam cocked her head, saying, “All of the kids are upset, Teal'c.”
“They'll be okay when we find their brothers,” Jack interrupted.
At that point, Sam and Teal'c were briefed, given copies of the handouts, and assigned a sector to search.
With the sectors agreed upon, Reynolds updated the map, motioning to Davis that he was doing so.
“Sirs!” Davis called out. “That storm should be here within the next three hours,” he reminded.
His message acknowledged, Davis returned to his discussion with the helicopter pilot, wanting to get him in the air as soon as possible before weather conditions would prohibit the helicopter from participating in the search.
Meanwhile, Reynolds and Myers moved out, as did Sam and Teal'c.
“Jack, I want to talk to Jenny for a minute. Why don't you go ahead, and I'll catch up with you,” the archaeologist suggested.
“Jack, go!” Daniel ordered. “I'll only be a few minutes. We have radios and our cell phones. Please.”
“Okay,” Jack hesitantly acquiesced, heading out at a slower pace than normal.
Following a hunch, Daniel returned to the house and sought out their youngest daughter. He took her aside, placing her on his lap and holding her.
“Jenny, are you okay?”
“Jenny fine,” the little girl answered, her eyes lowered.
“You know, your brothers love to explore; that's what they're doing now,” Daniel stated. “They just went the wrong way by accident, but we're going to find them, and then everything will be okay,” he promised.
Suddenly, the little girl began to cry, throwing her arms around her younger father as she confessed, “I 'fraid of 'hopper. My fault.”
“No, it's not, Sweetie,” Daniel sighed, holding her tightly. “They could have wandered off at any time.”
Jenny looked into Daniel's eyes and sniffled, “But me 'fraid of ... of big gra'hopper.”
Daniel wiped away her tears and said, “Face your fears, Jenny. A grasshopper is just another living creature, and I'll bet that grasshopper was just as afraid as you were. He probably meant to jump away from you, not onto you.”
“He make 'stake?” Jenny asked.
“Maybe, or maybe he just wanted a closer look at your beautiful hair,” Daniel commented as he ran his right hand along the toddler's hair. “Why don't you pretend you're the grasshopper. Put yourself in his place.”
“He be she,” Jenny logically countered.
Daniel laughed, saying, “Yeah, in her place. Jenny, it's okay to be afraid of things, but don't let your fears defeat you, not ever. Look that grasshopper in the eye, learn about him, er, her, and then I bet you won't even be afraid anymore.”
“Jenny try,” the redhead agreed.
“That's all Dad and I ever ask of you, Jenny, that you try,” Daniel replied, giving the little girl a kiss and a hug. “I have to go.”
“Daddy find them?”
“We'll find your brothers,” Daniel assured again.
“Good,” Jenny said curtly. ~Then I get them for scaring me,~ she thought in toddler speak.
Daniel smiled and gave Jenny another hug before getting up and saying one more good-bye to the other children, Mike, and the Wilsons. Then he returned to the command center, gathered up his backpack, and sprinted onward to catch up with his husband.
“Jonny, I thirsty. Need drink,” Little Danny said.
It was now about quarter of eight and dark, sunset having been at 7:17 p.m. The boys had been lost for over eight hours and had been walking most of that time.
“Me thirsty, too,” Jonny admitted. “Need find ri'er.”
“No ri'er here, Jonny,” Little Danny corrected.
~River, creek, whatever; just need water,~ Jonny thought in child speak. He grimaced and a bit frustratingly acquiesced, “Creek!”
Nonplussed by his brother's glare at him, Little Danny reminded, “Dad say when go camping, li'ten for sound water.”
Both boys stopped walking and listened carefully for a few moments.
“No hear water, just 'rickets,” Jonny noted.
“We walk and li'ten. Maybe not close 'nough to hear water,” Little Danny surmised.
“Jonny, we lost,” Little Danny sighed, sitting down in defeat.
It was roughly forty-five minutes later, at eight-thirty at night, and the boys were both exhausted. They still hadn't found water and were beginning to lose hope. Both were scared, but neither wanted to admit it, just yet.
“We not lost,” Jonny insisted, sitting next to his brother as they leaned against a tall tree. “We jus' no know where we are.”
Little Danny stared at his brother and reiterated, “That means we lost.”
“Oh,” Jonny reluctantly agreed. “I'm hungry.”
Little Danny brightened, pulling out a half of a Hershey chocolate bar and saying, “David gave me.”
Jonny grinned, happily taking his half of the half of a candy bar. Both boys downed it quickly and then frowned.
“No milk,” Jonny griped.
“Need milk,” Little Danny agreed.
“We find water,” the oldest Munchkin responded, standing up and more determined than ever to find some liquid refreshment.
Little Danny nodded and stood up, after which the two continued their search for Mike's house, or water, either of which would make them happy at the moment.
The boys walked into a small meadow about twenty minutes later, no longer as hungry as they were, but still eager to find water.
“Little Danny, still no see stars,” Jonny observed, looking up at the sky.
“Too many clouds, gon'a rain,” Little Danny deduced.
“Li'ten, I hear water. This way!” Jonny exclaimed as he ran towards the sound, Little Danny following close behind him.
The boys came to a stop at the side of a small creek. Jonny kneeled down and stuck his hand in the stream, pulling it out quickly.
“Water cold,” the oldest Munchkin explained.
“Gotta put hand in; nut'in else to use,” Little Danny reminded, sticking his hand in the water and scooping some up. He drank it the way his older father had shown him on their camping trip. “Put hand in coat poc'et to get warm aft'a drink.”
Jonny smiled at his younger brother's quick solution to their cold hands problem and followed suit.
“Li'l Danny, we s'pose to 'member s'thing 'bout water,” Jonny stated as he scrunched his face to recall another lesson learned from their parents.
“What we 'member?” Little Danny asked as he stared down at something colorful in the creek. He didn't know what Jonny was referring to, but at the moment, the orange color in the water was getting his attention. Still on his knees, he scooted forward a bit, intrigued by the water. ~Wanna know what it is,~ he thought.
“I no 'member,” Jonny sighed. “We go ... LI'L DANNY!”
Jonny's warning was too late. As his brother had moved forward, he'd slipped and fallen into the water. With all the rains, the water was higher than normal. It was rough, too, but since they were at a point where the creek was turning, it wasn't as fast as it was in other places. He ran to the edge.
“JONNY, GONNA DROWNDED,” a very frightened Little Danny yelled as his arms flailed about in the water.
“Hold on rock!” Jonny ordered about a nearby rock. “Daddy say 'stay calm' if fall in,” he shouted a moment later. “You good swimmer.” He took a breath, encouraging, “'Member les'ns.”
Little Danny nodded and calmed himself, managing to move to the nearby rock while he regrouped. They had a pool at home, and all the children had taken swimming lessons. The youngster just needed a bit of encouragement from his sibling to help him get over the shock of having fallen in.
~No panic,~ Little Danny reminded himself as he held onto the rock. ~I know how swim; it not far to Jonny.~
The boy's confidence waned quickly as he realized he was weighted down by his clothes. Full of water, they pulled and tugged at him, making each stroke of his arms heavy and each kick of his legs slow. His shoes felt like they were lead.
~No can swim in clothes, gonna drownded,~ the young boy thought.
Jonny shouted words of encouragement from the edge of the creek, urging, “C'mon Danny, you can do it!” over and over again. ~Help him, Charlie, please. He our broth'r. Ash nevah f'give me if he drown'd.~
The older Munchkin almost made a leap into the water, wanting nothing more than to help his brother survive, the idea of living without him too awful to think about, but a voice in his head stopped him.
Forcefully, the voice said, “No! wait!”
Out in the water, Little Danny felt as if larger stronger arms and legs laid themselves over his and moved them with powerful strokes and kicks. He put everything he had into moving his three-and-a-half-year-old body forward, toward his brother, who was anxiously running and shouting at the water's edge. Finally, he felt Jonny grab hold of his hand and pull him out to safety, coughing and sputtering.
“Li'l Danny, not su'pose drown,” Jonny chastised as his brother was still heaving for breath.
“Not want drown,” Little Danny gasped.
After several minutes as he regained his strength and was merely panting, Little Danny looked at his worried brother and laughed, “I have 'nough water now.”
Jonny laughed, and then the two hugged, happy to be together.
~Where rock?~ the middle Munchkin asked himself suddenly about his favorite rock, smiling when he felt it still snuggly secured in his pocket.
“We go now,” Jonny commanded.
“I cold,” Little Danny said, his teeth beginning to chatter.
Remembering what they'd been taught from their fathers, the drier boy instructed, “Take off jacket and shirt, like me. Hurry up.”
Once they were both shirtless, Jonny gave his soaked brother his dry shirt and jacket to put on. He then took the wet shirt and wrung it as dry as he could, before putting it on.
“I warm, dry shirt,” Jonny said as he picked up the wet jacket and spun it over his head. “Use centf'g'l force to dry jacket.”
“Use what?” Little Danny questioned.
Jonny shrugged as he said, “No know word, but it what Dad 'n' Daddy say do.”
The nylon fabric and polyester filling dried out under the pressure of the laws of physics. When he stopped twirling the jacket, and it was merely damp, Jonny put his dry jacket back on over Little Danny's wet shirt and gave his brother back his own jacket to put on over Jonny's dry shirt. Turning their attention to Little Danny's wet lower half, they removed his jeans and underwear long enough to wring them out, then did the same with his socks. Then Jonny gave his brother his dry shoes and took his wet ones.
Having survived a near tragedy, the brothers again set off to find their family.
“Time for bed,” Sara told the children, who were half-asleep already, except for Jenny.
“Aunt Sara, write story,” the little girl requested. “Jenny no write good.”
“In the morning,” Sara responded.
“Hafta do now. Pleeeeeease,” Jenny requested.
“Go ahead, Dear,” Mark urged. “Mike and I will take care of the others.”
Sara smiled appreciatively and took Jenny into Mike's office. She took out some paper, made sure Jenny was settled onto a chair, and then sat down herself.
“Okay, dictate away,” Sara instructed.
“Sorry,” Sara replied with a smile. “Tell me your story.”
Shortly after the helicopter had taken off earlier that evening, the new teams and more volunteers had arrived. After having been briefed, they had headed out to search their assigned areas.
Now, as 9 p.m. was about to strike and Davis was getting an update on the weather, Reynolds called on the radio, stating, “Paul, no signs of the boys in this sector, either. Where do you want us to go next?”
Davis grabbed his radio from the table, replying, “Hold on, Marc. I'm getting a weather update.” He shook his head and grimaced as the latest forecast came through. Changing frequencies so that his message would go out to everyone, he called out, “All search and rescue teams, we have updated information on the weather.”
Throughout the forested area, the search teams stopped to listen to Davis' announcement.
“I'll bet it's not good,” Daniel sighed.
“We're going to find them,” Jack spoke confidently.
“I know, but ...”
“*Alive* and well, Danny,” the older man interjected, refusing to allow his lover to get dejected.
Daniel nodded, tuning back into the words coming over the radio.
“It's now 2100, and the storm is still estimated to be here by 2200. The forecast is calling for heavy downpours and violent lightning,” Davis stated over the radio. Then he paused, sighing, “It's going to be a bad one.”
“Jack ...” Daniel called out automatically as they listened to the report.
“Our boys are smart, Danny,” Jack stated. ~I hope they're using those smarts. They're so dang young.~
~I know they're smart, but they're little boys,~ Daniel quietly thought.
Davis continued, “Keep in mind that the boys are only three, and they may hide somewhere to keep dry or because they're afraid of the thunder and lightning. We'll be losing the helicopter when the lightning moves in,” he informed the personnel.
A round of acknowledgements was heard from all the teams, after which Davis went to the map, updating the information received from Reynolds.
“Marc,” Davis called out, changing back to the original frequency he was on, “search sector twenty-seven.”
“Acknowledged,” Reynolds replied as he and his teammate headed for the designated area.
“Paul's right,” Daniel said with a little panic in his voice. “The boys will hide when it starts to rain.”
“Daniel,” Jack began, closing the gap between himself and his soulmate. “If they're hiding or snuggled in somewhere for shelter, and they hear their names, they'll come out,” he calmly stated.
“We've gone camping,” the younger man responded.
“They're good listeners,” Jack spoke. “We have to have faith in them.”
“Gawd, you sound like ... like I should,” Daniel lamented.
Giving his husband a brief smile, the older man confidently intoned, “Let's move out. The sooner we find them, the sooner we can hug them and then ground them until they're thirty for wandering off.”
Daniel chuckled, albeit nervously, and the two continued their search.
“Jen, are you okay?” Trina Ferretti asked, turning over in the bed and seeing the teenager's eyes wide open and staring up at the ceiling.
Being best friends, and the Ferrettis only having three bedrooms, Jennifer and Trina were sharing her room, sleeping in the same bed. David had the other room to himself.
“David's afraid of losing more family,” Jennifer confided quietly. “I'll bet Noa's afraid, too. I don't like being away from her right now. She needs me. She needs reassurance.” She looked over at Trina and continued, “They haven't forgotten how it felt when our Mom and Dad died.”
“Neither have you,” Trina pointed out.
“No, but I'm fine. I'm just concerned because I know they're scared,” Jennifer said, staring up at the ceiling again.
“Don't kid a kidder, Jen,” Trina spoke intuitively, tapping the other girl's arm a couple of times playfully. When Jennifer looked over at her questioningly, Trina continued, “You're scared, Jen. Sure, you're worried about David and Noa, but you're scared, too. All those little ones -- they're as much your family as David and Noa, and you're scared for yourself.”
“I love them, Trina. They're so little, and the thing is ... well ... Jonny and Little Danny think they can do anything. They aren't afraid of anything, and, even if they are, they don't stop. They're lost in some huge forest, and ... I know them, Trina. They ... I want them to be safe; that's all,” Jennifer admitted tearfully.
A knock on the door interrupted the conversation.
“Jen? Jen, it's me,” a quiet little voice called out from beyond the door.
“It's a big bed, Jen,” Trina spoke with a smile, getting up to open the door for David. “Hey, David. How would you like to keep two silly and worried girls company tonight?”
“Yeah, we've just been talking about how much we could use a strong shoulder to make us feel better,” Jennifer added.
“I have a strong shoulder,” David replied, sitting down on the foot of the bed. “I'll stay, if it will make you feel better, but where would I ...?”
Jennifer and Trina shared a knowing smile, realizing that David felt too old to sleep between his sister and her friend. Trina scrambled out of bed and went out to the hall closet, returning with an air mattress and what looked like a miniature hair dryer. She plugged it in and inserted the nozzle into the spout on the flexible plastic. In about two minutes, the inflated mattress was in place on the floor, at the foot of the double bed.
“You can pull the covers off the bed in the guest room,” Trina suggested.
After returning with his covers, David lay down on the makeshift bed, grateful to not be alone. After a few minutes of talking, the three settled down to a restless night.
It was after 10 p.m., and the rain had started right on schedule. The command center had been moved into Mike's living room not long after Davis had given his updated weather report the hour before.
The children, now including Jenny, were sleeping in the multi-bedrooms, so the SGC personnel had been told to be as quiet as possible.
Sara walked into the living room and, seeing Davis updating the map, asked, “Major, any word?”
“Sorry, Mrs. Wilson, nothing yet,” Davis replied as he finished marking off another sector.
Sara looked around at all the personnel and equipment, thankful that so many men and women from the SGC had volunteered to help find the two lost Munchkins.
“Ma'am, why don't you go get some rest. If the boys are found, I will personally come and tell you,” Davis urged, seeing how tired Sara looked.
Sara nodded and began to walk out of the room. She stopped, though, and turned around.
“Is there anything you need?” Davis inquired.
“I just wanted to say thank you,” Sara paused, glancing at each of the personnel, some of which were focused on her, “thanks to *all* of you for helping.”
Before anyone could respond, the blonde turned and ran to the bedroom Mark and her daughters were resting in.
Roughly fifteen minutes later, the rain was coming down in full force, and thunder and lightning had begun to move into the area.
The boys had just crossed a rather large meadow and were about to reenter the forest when Little Danny stopped walking and said, “Jonny, li'ten.”
“I hear, too. Sound like hel'coper,” Jonny related as he stopped a couple of steps ahead of his brother.
“There it is,” Little Danny yelled, pointing in the direction they had just come from.
Inside the helicopter, the co-pilot watched the infared screen, hoping for signs of the boys. They'd already had a few false alarms, the red spots turning out to be animals.
“Major Davis, come in. This is Captain Kahne,” the pilot spoke into his headset.
“Go ahead, Captain Kahne,” Paul answered, already knowing the reason why the captain was calling in.
“I'm sorry, Sir, but I have to return to base. The lightning is too dangerous to continue searching,” the pilot informed.
“Noted. Thanks for your help, Captain,” Davis responded.
“Hey, where you goin'?” Jonny asked the helicopter as it turned and headed away from them.
Just then a bright flash of lightning lit up the whole meadow, quickly followed by a loud bang of thunder.
“Come back, get us,” Jonny ordered the now-out-of-sight aircraft.
“Jonny, not safe for hel'coper fly in lightning. 'Member? Dad told us that,” Little Danny reminded.
“I 'member now,” Jonny answered.
Paul Davis picked up the radio, calling out, “General Jackson-O'Neill, this is Major Davis.”
“O'Neill, go ahead, Davis,” Jack responded.
“Sir, we just lost the helicopter,” Davis stated.
“Thank you, Major,” Jack acknowledged, sighing as he looked at his sorrowful looking lover.
A bit later, Jonny and Little Danny were huddled by a tree, both boys cold, tired, and still hungry, their earlier chocolate intake not filling them up at all. Because of the heavy rain, Jonny's clothes were now nearly as wet as his brothers. The lightning was very bright, even through the dense foliage of the tree canopy. They'd been there for a while, their weary legs not wanting to carry their small bodies any further.
“We stay close,” Jonny advised, wrapping his arms around his brother.
“Snug like Dad 'n' Daddy,” Little Danny replied as he, too, wrapped his arms around his brother.
“Hafta stay warm,” Jonny stated. “Want hot choc'late.”
“Want Bij 'n' Katie,” Little Danny expressed as he thought longingly of the warmth that the two little beagles could generate. Then he began thinking of other warm things, like being on a beach in the warmth of the sun and said, “Wanna go beach.”
“Build cas'le,” Jonny said.
“Oz,” Little Danny replied, somehow connecting a castle with the movie they'd watch the night before -- “The Wizard of Oz.”
“No wick witch,” the other boy responded.
“Jus' Total,” Little Danny intoned.
“Toto, not Total,” Jonny corrected.
“Dor'thy's dog,” the oldest boy recalled.
“Want Bij 'n' Katie,” Little Danny sniffled.
“We no lion,” Jonny stated sternly, referring to the Cowardly Lion character.
“I 'fraid,” Little Danny admitted.
“No be. We 'kay,” the older boy responded.
“Jonny, we lost. Want Dad 'n' Daddy,” the younger boy sniffled again.
Jonny released his hold and stood up, letting the rain fall on him He stared at his little brother for just a moment and put his tiny hands on his hips.
“We no lost. We on mission,” Jonny stated. He looked up, saying, “We find stars. We go now.”
Little Danny sighed, but got up and began to follow his determined brother, though all he really wanted to do was lay down and sleep.
“Jack, where are they?” Daniel asked in desperation. “It's after midnight. Do you realize how long they've been gone?”
The rain slid down the archaeologist's poncho as a bright streak of lightning flashed nearby. It was followed by a very loud clap of thunder.
Jack approached his lover and pulled him into a comforting hug. Both were frightened, but the older man knew he had to remain calm.
~Distance. This is a search and rescue, O'Neill. Focus.~ Jack pulled back and, motioning onward, said simply, “Let's go.”
As he'd done several times before that evening, Daniel simply nodded and followed his lover deeper into the forest.
Sometime after midnight, the lost boys were tired and very wet. The rain had slowed to a light sprinkle, at least for the moment. They'd just come out of the woods and were walking across a moderately sized clearing.
“Li'l Danny, look -- stars,” Jonny excitedly announced, pointing to a small clearing in the clouds that exposed the faraway suns.
The middle Munchkin looked up, seeing the stars and the well-known constellation, and stated, “That big dipper.”
“Where li'l dipper?” Jonny asked, searching the skies. After a minute or two of stargazing, he ordered, “We keep going.”
As Jonny and Little Danny continued walking, they were still looking at the stars. While in the woods, they hadn't been able to see them, and both youngsters hadn't liked that. Stopping suddenly, though, Jonny realized they were dangerously close to a steep incline.
When his brother stopped walking, Little Danny stopped as well. Seeing Jonny staring, he also realized that they were headed towards a drop off.
“We no go that way; go this way,” Jonny ordered, pointing to the left.
Curious, though, Little Danny slowly began to walk towards the edge of the steep incline, wanting to see what was below.
Jonny grabbed his brother's arm and, pointing towards the dangerous drop-off, reminded, “Li'l Danny, 'member what Dad say when watch Wile E. Coyote. Wile cartoon, no get hurt, not real. We real, get hurt if fall.”
“I 'member,” Little Danny said, backing away and then following his brother across the clearing and back into the woods.
Unable to sleep or relax, Sara left her children in Mark's care and decided to check in on the Jackson-O'Neill brood. She expected all of them to be asleep, but as she looked in on them, she heard one tiny voice, reverently whispering.
“Please, Charlie,” Aislinn whispered. “Dad 'n' Daddy 'lways say you watch us. Jonny 'n' Li'l Danny lost. You find, 'kay? Keep safe. Bring home? Please?”
Sara's heart broke, and before she lost control of her emotions, she hurried into the bathroom, closing the door behind her and sinking down to the cold tile floor. Her tears erupted as her worry for her ex-husband's children combined with left over grief from their son's tragic death, so many years before.
“Jonny, look worms!” Little Danny exclaimed, kneeling down to study a couple of brown, squiggling worms that were crawling along near a tree.
“Danny, no time for worms,” Jonny responded curtly. “We go,” the boy insisted, believing they needed to keep moving.
“Come see,” Little Danny insisted.
Jonny rolled his eyes, but walked over to view the critters. Normally, he'd be happy to play with them, but his thoughts right now were focused on finding a warm place to sleep and getting some food. He was hungrier and more tired than he wanted to admit. He was also very wet and very cold, the heavy rain having returned.
The oldest Munchkin gave his brother a moment, then walked a few steps away, saying, “Time we go.”
Little Danny was about to follow when a huge noise caused both boys to jump.
“RUN!” Jonny shouted just as the bolt of lightning hit a large tree nearby, causing it to catch on fire as it began to tumble.
The brothers ran as hard and as fast as they could. They were breathing heavily as they hurried to leave the burning tree far behind them.
Jonny fell, his hand slapping hard against a rock and causing it to hurt.
“Cry' out loud,” the youngster whined as he got right back up and kept running. “KEEP RUNNING!”
Little Danny was moving as swiftly as his small legs would take him. He never looked back until he finally felt they were safe.
~Darn! Lost rock,~ the small boy said, realizing he had lost his favorite rock. He was kneeling down for a moment to catch his breath when he discovered the rock wasn't in his pocket any longer. ~It my special rock.~
Then, though, the youngster blinked, suddenly aware his lost rock wasn't his worst problem. He stood up as his heart began to beat faster again.
“JONNY, WHERE YOU?” Little Danny turned around in a circle, yelling as loudly as he could, “JONNY? JONNNNNNNNNY!”
Jonny slowed his running, convinced he and his brother had escaped the danger. With confidence, he turned around and opened his mouth to speak; instead, his eyes widened. He ran back several yards.
“LI'L DANNY, WHERE YOU?” Jonny ran in several directions, only going a few yards at a time. Then he stopped and shouted, “DANNY?”
The oldest Munchkin did a three-hundred- sixty-degree turn as he muttered, “Now we in big tr'ble.”
“Jack!” Daniel called out, running to his husband, who had been a few yards ahead of him.
“Dang knees,” Jack bemoaned, grimacing as he gave in and sank to the muddy ground, not caring whether or not the poncho he was wearing protected him from the watery dirt or not. “This is a lousy time for them to act up.”
“It's been a long day, Babe,” Daniel soothed, sitting on his haunches and extending out his left hand to caress his lover's cheek. “It's actually the next day, and we've had no sleep. We've done nothing but walk since we left home this ... well, yesterday morning.” He looked up at the falling rain and added, “With this rain and the mud, it's not making it easy on you.”
“Danny, my knees haven't really bothered me in a long time,” Jack stated.
“I know, and they're just ... tired. We need to rest,” Daniel stated.
“Our children are out there,” Jack exclaimed rebelliously.
“We'll find them. Look, you ordered Sam and Teal'c to take their break a couple of hours ago. Now, I'm ... ordering you,” Daniel intoned softly.
“Since when do *you* give the orders?”
“Hmmm ... I think maybe since the day we met,” the archaeologist teased with a sly smile. “Care to challenge that?”
“Geeks,” Jack whined, letting his head fall back to look up at the light show in the sky that the bad weather was producing. He sighed, then said, “I'm not going back to the house.”
“I'm not suggesting we do,” Daniel replied. “All I'm saying is that we just ... stay here for a half-hour or so and ... rest.”
“In the mud,” Jack grumbled.
“Or we could follow General Hammond's orders and ...”
“Go back to the house,” Jack reluctantly agreed, standing.
The two headed back towards Mike's place in silence, each lost in their fears of losing their precious babies, something neither man thought they could endure, but which both silently feared they might have to do for the sake of their brood.
“Mac, tell me again why we're sitting out here in the rain, getting our butts wet?” Sergeant Matt Bliss asked as he munched on a candy bar.
Licking the cheese off his fingers as he finished up his Cheetos, Sergeant Mac Hamlin grinned as he answered, “Elementary, Blister! It's brownie points. Look, we're supposed to be out here chasing down two little brats, sons of Queereneral O'Neill and Homoctor Jackson. Get on their good side, and we get some light duty. It looks good. Baldie likes it, too. We can't lose; and it's not like we actually have to look for the little pip-squeaks.” He looked around, mumbling, “Where's my beer?”
“Yeah, Easy Street. Besides, I saw the map. There's lots of gullies and overlooks around here. Those kids are probably splattered all over the rocks at the bottom of a gully by now,” Bliss agreed.
“Pancakes!” Bliss laughed.
“Just like that coyote when he's chasing the Road Runner,” Mac cackled.
The man then whistled like something was falling, then clapped his hands together for effect.
“Splat!” both men laughed.
“I'm gonna kill them!” Jack threatened forcefully, quickly heading towards the two.
Unbeknownst to Bliss and Hamlin, on their way to Mike's house, Jack and Daniel had come across the two lounging Air Force personnel, just sitting in the rain, making light of the boys' disappearance. Tired and frustrated, Jack was in no mood for their goldbricking or their sick humor. He sprang out of the woods, picked Hamlin up from his seated position, and hit him.
“JACK! STOP!” Daniel shouted out as he ran after his lover. “Jack, wait!” he exclaimed, pulling on the older man to keep him from beating the wisecracking Hamlin any further. “This isn't what you want to do,” he shouted, his eyes imploring his soulmate to hear him. “They're just a couple of jerks, Jack. We have more important things to be doing, like finding our sons.”
“You don't scare me,” Hamlin spat as he got back up, swore at Jack, and then took a swing at him, though all the general had to do was duck to miss the poorly aimed jab.
Jack landed another blow across the man's face, knocking him to the ground.
Meanwhile, Bliss stood, not sure what to do. He considered running away from the scene, but he didn't want to leave his buddy. Finally, he decided to join in the fray and made a move as if he were going to attack Daniel.
The archaeologist, however, saw Bliss' movement towards him. He hated to do it, but he had his priorities of the moment. Employing skills learned from his lover years ago, he surprised Bliss by striking first, hitting him in the eye.
Daniel looked down at him, shouting, “NOW IS NOT A GOOD TIME TO TEST ME.” Lowering his voice, he added coldly, “Stay right there, or you'll have more than just a black eye in the morning.” Quickly, he moved back to his lover, who was glaring down at Hamlin, and called out, “Jack.”
“I'm okay. You?”
“I'm fine,” Daniel replied, looking at the two men.
Jack turned to look back at the two men, both finally content to stay on the ground, and stated harshly, “You'll both be brought up on charges, and I guarantee you, you won't have to worry about ... Baldie anymore.”
“You hit me,” Hamlin argued.
“Tell your story. Go ahead. Make my day,” Jack smirked. “Who are they going to believe?”
Daniel said nothing, allowing Jack to continue his rant at the Air Force men.
“Get back to the command center -- NOW!” Jack shouted, louder than he'd yelled in a long time, his voice coarse from the night air and his exhaustion.
Scampering along the ground for a few feet, not wanting to cross by Jack and Daniel, Hamlin finally stood again, as did Bliss. The two scurried back towards the house.
“We watched the Road Runner cartoon yesterday morning, remember? We saw ole Wile fall to the ground,” Jack spoke in a haunted monotone.
“That was a cartoon, Jack; this is real life,” the younger man intoned quietly.
Jack took a breath, then looked at Daniel and gave him a tiny smile.
“Even if they tell what happened, what's the Air Force gonna do?” Jack asked.
Daniel smiled weakly and answered, “Make you retire -- again.”
“Hmmm. Danny, I've retired so many times I should be in the Guiness Book of Records.”
The archaeologist chuckled, then placed a tender kiss on Jack's lips.
~Okay, keep it together,~ Jack told himself. Clicking his radio, he called out, “Davis, this is O'Neill.”
“One moment, General,” the radio technician stated as he got the major's attention.
“General, this is Major Davis,” the man replied.
“Davis, two idiots are on their way in. Uh, Hamlin and ...”
“Blister?” Daniel said doubtfully as he shrugged, not recognizing either of the two military men they'd just had the confrontation with but recalling the use of the nickname by Hamlin.
“Bliss?” Davis interjected, referring to his list of search and rescue teams.
“Assign someone to accompany them back to Cheyenne Mountain. They're to be placed under arrest for insubordination, drinking on duty, and striking an officer. Davis, I don't want them to step one foot into Mike's house or have any access to my children. I want them off the property before Daniel and I get back,” Jack ordered, not wanting to see the men again until the children had been found. Then he added, “And the areas those two supposedly searched will need to be done again.”
“Understood, Sir,” Davis said. ~Wonder what happened.~
With an affirming nod that all was well, the two continued on their trip back to the house.
At quarter-past one in the morning, several teams were in the process of changing shifts. The teams coming in would get some dry clothes, something to eat, and then go into the dining room to get some rest before going out again. Mike had put several sleeping bags and extra blankets in the dining room for the personnel to use.
“Major, we're on the way in; no sign of the boys in sector twenty-nine,” Reynolds spoke over the radio.
“Your relief team is already on the way out,” Davis reported. “Come on in, Sir.”
As Davis turned to mark off the sector, he was surprised to see a sad little face peeking into the room. Smiling slightly, he walked over to the doorway.
“Paul, you find Jonny 'n' Li'l Danny?” Aislinn sniffled.
“Not yet, but we will,” the major confidently stated as he knelt down in front of the little girl.
“I miss them.”
“I know you do,” Davis responded, reaching out and wiping away the tears on Aislinn's face. “You know, I could use a little help. Would you like to help me put the string around the area that Colonel Reynolds just searched?” After Aislinn nodded, he picked her up and carried her to the corkboard. “Here's the string. Just put it around these pins,” he instructed, pointing with his free hand.
As Aislinn put the strings around the pins, there was a very loud bang of thunder, causing her to jump.
“I no like thunder; too loud,” Aislinn stated.
“I don't like it either, but it's only a sound, and it can't hurt you,” Davis reassured the light-haired girl.
“I finish,” Aislinn proudly stated.
Davis looked at the string and praised, “You did a great job, Aislinn.”
Aislinn briefly smiled at the remark, but then she yawned, unable to hide her weariness.
“There you are, Ash,” Sara stated as she entered the living room that was serving as the temporary command center. “You have to stop disappearing,” she lightly reprimanded.
“I sorry; just wanna see if Jonny 'n' Li'l Danny back,” Aislinn answered.
“Major, I'm sorry she bothered you,” Sara spoke. “Back to bed, Ash.”
“She's not bothering me, Ma'am; in fact, she was helping me,” Davis responded truthfully.
“See,” Aislinn said, pointing to the pins. “I did; Paul say Ash do good job,” the youngest Munchkin proudly stated.
“Yes, you did,” Sara praised. “But you have to stop interrupting the major, and let him do his job.”
“I no in'rupt; I help. Paul say so,” Aislinn refuted while playing with Davis' shirt collar.
“Ash ...” Sara started.
“I want stay; help find bro'ers,” Aislinn half asked and half stated with a slight pout.
Sara began, “The major is very busy ...”
“That why Paul need my help,” Aislinn logically stated.
“Ma'am, I don't mind if she stays; I could use a dependable helper,” Davis interjected, giving Aislinn a little wink.
~Look at her; she's scared stiff, but she needs to be doing something. I know the feeling. Okay, Ash,~ Sara thought, realizing this was the only safe way the little girl could help with the search. “All-righty, you can stay.”
“Yaaaay,” Aislinn cheered amidst another yawn.
~You won't last that long, anyway,~ Sara mused. Verbally, she added, “But, only for a little while, then off to bed. You need your sleep.”
“Thank you, Aunt Sara.”
“Major, may we talk for a moment? Ash, Major Davis will be right back,” Sara spoke.
Davis put the little girl down and followed Sara several feet away where Aislinn couldn't hear them.
“Really, Ma'am, she's not in the way,” Davis stated.
Smiling, Sara nodded and said, “But if something happens, please get me right away. I, uh,” she paused, looking over at the yawning girl, “don't suspect she'll be able to stay awake much longer.”
“She just feels like she needs to do something,” Davis opined.
“Yes, she does. Thank you again,” Sara said with a nod before returning to her bedroom.
For the next fifteen minutes, Aislinn helped Paul mark off several sectors that were searched. After this last one, the little girl glanced over at the wall.
“Paul, you like bunnies?”
“Yeah, because they're cute like you,” Davis replied with a smile.
“Me 'n' bro'ers 'n' sis'ers all want bunny -- be family bunny,” Aislinn told the major.
“Sounds like fun,” Davis replied. “Bunnies are nice. When I was a boy, we always had rabbits. I can't tell you how many times neighbors asked me if we'd pulled another rabbit out of our collective hat.” Seeing the little girl just staring, he smiled, saying, “I like bunnies, too.”
“Dad not sure; say we talk at family meeting,” Aislinn sighed.
The major replied, “Then I'm sure that you will.”
“Daddy 'vince him,” Aislinn said with a smile, yawning afterwards. “Me want bunny like that one,” she added, pointing to a calendar on the wall that had a picture of a snow white baby bunny sitting in some grass, sniffing a yellow flower.
“He ... or she is very cute,” Davis responded, looking at the picture of the rabbit.
“Want girl bunny,” Aislinn stated firmly. She rested her head on Davis' left shoulder and yawned again. “We all want bunny.”
~Should have a few more minutes before Hamlin and Bliss return,~ Davis thought and then ambled over to a rocking chair in the corner of the room. There were only two other people in the room at the moment, one monitoring the weather and the other handling the radio communications. He sat down and inquired of the sleepy girl, “Would you like me to tell you a story?”
Aislinn nodded against the man's shoulder and requested, “Tell story 'bout bunny.”
“A bunny story ... hmm ... okay, how about the 'The Tale Of Peter Rabbit'?” the man suggested.
Davis began telling Aislinn the story of the mischievous rabbit and his adventures in Mr. McGregor's garden. It only took about two minutes for the youngest Munchkin to fall asleep in the major's arms.
Just about then, Reynolds and Myers returned to the house. Reynolds saw his secret lover in the rocking chair, still holding the sleeping Aislinn.
The colonel smiled, thinking, ~Yup, I definitely have competition.~
“She lasted longer than I thought she would,” Sara spoke with a grin as she stood, arms folded, in the doorway. She'd just come to check on Aislinn. ~She needs rest.~
“Yes, Ma'am,” Davis responded.
“Hello, Colonel,” Sara spoke, having just become aware of his presence. She walked over and picked up the little girl from Davis' hold. Aislinn fidgeted, but her arms went around her surrogate aunt's neck, and she quickly nestled into the familiar shoulder. “Thank you again,” Sara warmly acknowledged before turning and taking Aislinn to the bedroom.
~She sure is cute,~ Davis thought about the little girl, standing and watching Sara walk out with Aislinn. He looked over at Reynolds, seeing the question in his eyes. He shook his head, answering, “Nothing new on the boys.” Then he continued, “Hamlin and Bliss are due back any minute.”
Reynolds nodded, not thinking much of it, at least not until Davis relayed the orders Jack had given him over the radio.
Quietly, Davis noted, “Marc, I've only met Hamlin once. He's pretty brash.”
“He's already got one reprimand in his jacket since he's been here,” Reynolds replied. He looked around, making sure no one was nearby who might overhear. “He was caught sleeping when he was supposed to be on guard duty outside the Mountain.”
“What about Bliss?”
Reynolds shook his head, saying, “I don't know him.” He surveyed the room and ordered, “Assign Lieutenant Gordon and Sergeant Edwards to escort them back to the Mountain.”
“Yes, Sir,” Davis said, slipping back into the formality of their ranks within the Air Force.
Twenty minutes later, Jack and Daniel arrived at Mike's place. Jack was feeling a bit disgruntled about their return, but he knew they needed to rest in the warmth of the home for at least an hour before going back out. They'd been out in the hard downpour for hours, sloshing through the muddy forest in search of the lost boys.
“Major, any news?” Jack asked with a coarse voice.
Daniel waited with rippling anticipation for the answer, although he knew if there had been, that he and Jack would have been contacted over the radio.
“No, Sir. The storm is slowing our progress. Some of these areas are full of ravines. We had one injury -- Sergeant Barnes took a fall down one of the gullies, but he'll be fine,” Davis answered, his eyes full of regret. Uh, and Lieutenant Gordon and Sergeant Edwards left five minutes ago with Hamlin and Bliss.”
~Gully. Crap, O'Neill, it was just a cartoon. Focus!~ As Jack nodded, he requested, “I want to see the latest forecast.”
Discouraged and full of despair, Daniel slid his poncho off and walked into the kitchen. Self-hugging, he stared out the window, lost in his emotions. A couple of minutes later, he felt the strong arms of his soulmate around him, and Jack's lips connecting with the side of his neck. He wanted to succumb, to lose himself in the warmth and goodness of his lover, but he couldn't. His heart was hurting too much.
“Angel,” Jack whispered softly. “They'll be fine.”
“Fifteen hours, Jack. They've been out there for fifteen hours,” Daniel said, continuing to stare at the window.
“Danny, the blinds are closed,” Jack pointed out, realizing his soulmate was fixated on a window he couldn't see out of.
“Does it matter? All that's out there is darkness. They're afraid. I don't care how smart they are, Jack,” Daniel said, turning around to look at his husband. “They're still little boys, and they're alone. They *are* scared. They might even be hurt. How are we going to find them?” he asked, tears falling from his eyes freely.
“Charlie find them,” a familiar voice answered.
Jack and Daniel turned, smiling at the site of their youngest Munchkin.
Aislinn ran up to Jack, her arms going up, and immediately, he picked her up.
“Charlie find them. I ask him,” Aislinn stated.
“Princess ...” Jack began, but then stopped, swallowing so hard he thought he might throw up. His resolve cracked like an egg being dropped into a pot of boiling water. He handed their daughter over to his lover, saying a very weakened-sounding, “Danny,” and walked out.
Daniel held Aislinn close, his chin tucked into her shoulder and neck. He swayed right and left, rocking her slightly.
“Dad will be okay, just as soon as we find your brothers,” Daniel finally spoke.
“You say Charlie watch?” the little girl asked.
“He is, Ash,” Daniel answered in a quiet voice.
“Ash, I thought you were sleeping,” Sara spoke. She looked at Daniel and smiled, saying, “I'm sorry. She keeps waking up.”
“Daddy, Ash help Paul more, 'kay?” Aislinn requested.
“Help Paul?” the confused archaeologist inquired.
Sara and Aislinn explained what had gone on, and Aislinn said her new friend was telling her a story when she fell asleep.
“Need know end of story,” Aislinn added.
“Ash, I know it's hard, but Dad and I really need you to go to sleep, or at least, rest in your bed. See, we need to talk with ... with Paul, and, um, we need to know that you and ... that you're safe. Please go with Aunt Sara, and, uh, if you want, you can say goodnight to Paul, but then it's straight back to bed,” the anguished father requested.
When Aislinn nodded, Daniel handed her over to Sara, who took the little girl back.
“Yes, Sweetie?” Daniel responded.
“Charlie 'n' Mommy 'n' Gran'ma 'n' Gran'pa and ...”
“What, Ash?” Daniel interjected, fearing Aislinn was about to list off every deceased relative she knew of.
“They 'tect Jonny 'n' Li'l Danny. Ash believe,” the little girl stated confidently.
Daniel reached over and rubbed her back for a second. He leaned in and placed a soft kiss on her cheek.
Barely able to reply, Daniel spoke, “Keep believing, Ash. Don't stop.”
“General O'Neill,” Sam called out over the radio with an anxious voice.
“One moment, Colonel,” Davis replied. He walked out onto the front porch, where he knew Jack and Daniel were resting. ~Resting? More like worrying while sitting down.~
The couple had checked in on their children, gotten something hot to eat, and made a call to General Hammond, giving him the short version of what had transpired with Hamlin and Bliss.
~They'll be stationed at Antarctica tomorrow, if they're still in the Air Force,~ Major Davis had thought upon hearing the conversation.
Jack and Daniel should have been sleeping, but at least they were sitting down, giving Jack's knees a chance to relax, something Daniel had insisted on.
Major Davis called out, “General, Colonel Carter is asking for you.”
The lovers exchanged a quick look and then bolted inside.
“Carter, report,” Jack ordered as he picked up the radio in the living room.
“Sir, Teal'c and I just came upon a small fire. It looks like lightning probably hit a tree, but the rain is so hard that it put out most of the fire before it could do any real damage. Uh, Teal'c just finished extinguishing what was still smoldering,” Sam stated.
“That's good news,” Jack replied sarcastically, wondering what the relevance was to the lost boys.
“Sir, I found a rock,” Sam stated as if that should mean something.
Suddenly, Daniel grabbed the radio from his stunned husband and asked, “Sam, it's Daniel. What kind of rock?”
“Daniel, I can't be sure, but doesn't Little Danny carry a little rock in his pocket all the time? It has a sort of ... lime look to it?” Sam inquired.
“Yeah,” Daniel answered. “Sam, is it a sedimentary one, about the size of a dime, but in a triangular shape ... with the lime looking like it's pointing to the edge?”
“Jack, be quiet,” Daniel said harshly.
“Yes,” Sam responded.
“It's Little Danny's,” Daniel replied, looking at his husband, who took back the radio.
“Carter, where are you?”
“Sector three-four, north end, about two clicks west of sector of three-five,” Sam answered.
“We're on our way,” Jack spoke hurriedly. “Keep searching.”
“Copy that,” Sam said, ending the transmission.
“Davis,” Jack began, hurrying over to the map and locating the sectors. “The boys have been here,” he said, pointing at the appropriate region. “Get everyone up and out. I want ...” he paused, studying the map again. Then, after grabbing a pen from a nearby table, he drew a large circle and continued, “... these sections checked thoroughly. Focus the search here.”
“Yes, Sir,” Davis said, watching as Jack and Daniel got their gear and prepared to move out.
“Danny, it's the most we've found yet,” Jack advised.
“She says there was a fire,” Daniel replied nervously.
“And no signs of our rugrats except for a dang rock. A rock. They're on the move, Daniel. Let's go,” Jack ordered, practically out the door before his lover could say another word.
“Good luck, Daniel,” Davis intoned.
“Yeah,” the archaeologist sighed as he strode towards the door.
~Hafta find Little Danny,~ Jonny told himself as he roamed the woods. “LI'L DANNY, WHERE YOU?”
Jonny sighed. He'd been yelling for a long time now, and there had been no response. An owl hooted, causing the boy to jump. For a moment, in the darkness of the night, and, being all alone, the little boy was frightened. He bit his lip and backed up a step before he stopped.
~No be 'fraid. Daddy say ne'r give up. Dad say 'ne'r leave b'hind,~ the boy vowed as he regained his courage and continued to search for his brother.
“Jonny! Jonny!” Little Danny yelled, his voice a little sore from shouting so often and so loud. ~Must be here somewhere. It really cold.~ As he walked, he saw a uniquely shaped flat rock and stopped to examine it. “Not rock, Ind'an arrow,” Little Danny spoke out loud. ~It point that way,~ the middle Munchkin thought as he glanced at the grove of trees the arrow pointed to. ~I go that way.~
The youngster picked up the arrow and slipped it into his pocket, thinking it was neat.
As Davis approached the makeshift sleeping quarters, he bumped into Reynolds, who was just coming out the door.
“Sir, Colonel Carter found a small rock that Little Danny carries around, in sector three-four. General Jackson-O'Neill ...”
“EVERYONE UP,” Reynolds commanded. “BRIEFING IN THE COMMAND CENTER ... NOW.” Once the personnel were assembled in the living room, he nodded at Davis, saying, “Report, Major.”
“Colonel Carter found a small rock that Little Danny always carries with him in this sector,” Davis informed the search teams, pointing to the appropriate area on the map. “General ...”
“Hold on a minute, Major,” Reynolds stated, walking over to the couch where the newest member of SG-5 had sat down and was leaning on his hand with his eyes closed. “SERGEANT HUDSON,” he yelled, leaning down next to the man's head.
Hudson jumped up to his feet and stood at attention.
“Are we keeping you up, Hudson?” Reynolds asked, standing right in front of the Marine.
“Yes, Sir, I ... I mean, no, Sir,” Hudson stammered.
“Well, which is it?” Reynolds demanded.
Sternly, Reynolds asked, “Do you think those two little boys are sleeping, Sergeant Hudson?”
“Then you should be paying attention to the major's directions so we can find them and get them safely back to their fathers and NOT BE SLEEPING,” Reynolds barked, his voice so loud and commanding that a few of the others automatically jumped in response.
“Yes, Sir,” Hudson agreed, facing straight ahead without flinching.
Reynolds put his hand on the sergeant's back and guided him to stand in the front of the room, to be sure he was paying attention.
“Stay there, Sergeant, and I suggest you listen very carefully,” Reynolds spoke before turning to face Davis and nodding for him to continue.
“General Jackson-O'Neill ordered that everyone is to go out and search this area,” Davis relayed.
When the major finished his briefing, Reynolds added, “You have fifteen minutes before we move out.”
As the teams readied themselves, Davis broke up the area that Jack had circled into smaller sectors. He radioed the teams that were still in the forest and assigned them new areas to search.
~Did I miss any? No, that's all of them.~ Fifteen minutes later, Davis finished assigning the remaining new sectors to be searched to the teams gathered in front of him. Then he reminded, “It's wet and very cold out there. By now, the boys are soaked and tired. There's a second storm front moving in, but it's unclear if it will hit this area or not. Time is of the essence. We need to find these boys *now*.”
“I'm sure everyone remembers their basic survival training, but just as a reminder, hypothermia is a definite possibility,” Reynolds interjected. “The boys could be huddled together somewhere to try to keep warm, so make sure you check every bush and any place they might be able to hide. Move out.”
“Major, it's General Hammond,” the tech manning the radio called out.
“Thanks, Captain.” Davis walked to the radio and formally answered, “General.”
“Major, any news?” the surrogate grandfather asked.
“Yes, Sir,” Davis began as he filled the lieutenant general in on the activities at the command center. “We're hoping to have positive news soon.”
“I hope so, Major,” Hammond stated.
“So do I, Sir.”
“How are the other children?” the general inquired.
“They're all sleeping,” the major replied. “Aislinn, understandably, is the most upset, but I believe she finally went to sleep,” he stated, then explained how Aislinn had 'helped' him with the map.
“I'm betting she gives her brothers a good talking to when they get home,” Hammond lightly chuckled, picturing Aislinn reprimanding her brothers for running off.
“I wouldn't doubt that she does, Sir,” Davis agreed, smiling at the image in his mind of the little girl doing just that.
After a few moments the leader of the SGC broke the silence, asking, “Is there anything you need to help with the search efforts? I can't spare anymore men, but I can send you equipment and supplies.”
“No, Sir, we have everything we need at the moment. General, I think we should give the media the boys' photos. I've hesitated until now because I know how General and Doctor Jackson-O'Neill feel about it, but they did authorize it, if necessary.”
“Major, I'd say it's necessary.”
“Yes, Sir,” Davis replied, adding, “I'll contact the authorities and give them permission to release the photos.”
“Very well. Keep me informed,” Hammond ordered. “SGC out.”
Lou Ferretti and his partner were making their way to sector thirty-four. They had been several sectors over when they'd gotten the call about the find of Little Danny's rock.
“Sir, look at this!” Lieutenant Carlson exclaimed, stopping and kneeling down.
Lou jogged over, kneeling down as well and picking up the blood-stained handkerchief. He looked around, panning the area with his flashlight, and saw something by a nearby rock. Standing and going over to it, he found the piece of torn clothing from Little Danny's pants. It, too, had blood on it.
The colonel sighed, using a private frequency to reach his friend.
“Jack, it's Lou. It's urgent,” Lou called out.
“Danny, hold up,” Jack called out as the transmission came over his radio. “Lou, what's up?”
“Jack ...” Lou sighed. “I found a patch of dark blue denim material that could belong to Little Danny.”
“Uh, maybe he fell. Kids fall all the time,” Jack stated, looking over and staring into his husband's eyes.
Lou nodded as he clicked the radio and replied, “Yeah, I know. There's something else.” After a pause, he added, “Jack, there's a bloodied handkerchief here. It's pretty stained; so is the denim material.”
“Where are you?” Jack inquired.
“Sector three-three, northeast end, en route to thirty-four,” Lou answered.
“Jack, that's close to where Sam found the rock, but it's still a ways away,” Daniel observed. “How do we know which way they went, and ...”
“Danny, we have to hang in there. They're depending on us to find them,” Jack spoke as strongly as he could.
“Lou, call it in. Tell Davis to double the search teams from sectors thirty-one to forty,” Jack ordered. “Lou, the blood ...”
“Maybe he just scraped his knee,” the colonel suggested.
“Yeah. O'Neill out,” Jack stated, ending the call.
“Jack?” Daniel asked, moving closer to his husband. “What if he's still bleeding?”
“No, Danny, Lou's right. He just ... fell, skinned his knee, that's all,” Jack replied hopefully, though his heart was fearing the worse.
“Yeah, he just ... skinned his knee,” Daniel agreed, turning around and continuing forward as the two worried fathers continued the hunt for their sons.
Jonny was finally on the verge of despair. As the oldest Munchkin, he felt a great responsibility to his siblings. He was their leader, and he was letting them down. Little Danny was out there, separated from him, and Aislinn was back at the ranch. He knew she'd be worried about them.
~I no doing good,~ Jonny sighed, kicking the ground with his shoes. ~Me wet, tired, hungry ... want Dad; want Daddy; want Bij 'n' Katie; want warm bed; want sleep.~
Giving in, the boy sank down to the ground, pulling his knees up to his chest. He rested his head on his arms that hugged his knees. He sniffled, then sniffled again. Finally, Jonny cried, not for himself, but for his siblings.
“Where Li'l Danny?” Jonny asked no one but the falling rain. “He count on me. Jonny bad.”
“Follow the arrow,” a voice said.
Jonny frowned, his head slowly peeking up from the seclusion of his arms. He looked to the right, then to the left. Without getting up, he twisted his torso around to look behind him. Then he looked straight ahead, and, finally, the little boy looked up at the dark sky, seeing little more than thick tree branches swaying in the wind.
“What arrow?” Jonny asked the wind. He felt a brush along his face, causing him to turn east. Suddenly, he saw something on the ground. Rising, he ran to the object, seeing it was an arrow. He looked up and asked, “Follow arrow?”
“Follow the arrow,” the male voice repeated.
“Okay,” Jonny said, feeling a sense of security from the voice in the wind. He looked down at the arrow once more and, on impulse, picked it up and held it close, like a talisman. ~Jonny go; find Li'l Danny.~
Meanwhile, Little Danny had found another arrow, this one pointing north. By now, though, he was very tired. Another clap of thunder caused him to shudder.
“Daddy? Want Daddy,” Little Danny cried when yet another loud noise burst nearby.
The frightened boy ran to the closest tree and kneeled down, facing into it. He tried to hug it, though his little arms weren't big enough to encircle the tree. He was alone, hungry, tired, scared, and wanted to be with his family. His knee hurt a little bit, too, but he didn't want to think about that.
“DAAAAAADDDDDDDDDDDY!” Little Danny sobbed.
“Follow the arrow,” a voice said.
Little Danny didn't recognize the voice, but he looked all around for someone to save him.
“Follow the arrow,” the voice repeated.
“Want Daddy!” the scared youngster sniffled.
“Daddy is coming; so is Dad, but you have to help them find you. Follow the arrow,” the male voice stated again.
“Jonny? Where Jonny?”
“Follow the arrow,” the voice said one more time.
“'Kay.” Little Danny nodded and returned to the arrow. He began to walk away, but then he turned back, pocketed this arrow, too, and called out, “Thank you.”
“Daniel, is this it?” Sam asked, having hurried to the archaeologist once Jack and Daniel had come into sight.
“Yes,” Daniel answered, nodding several times as he studied the rock. “Jack, this is the rock Little Danny found on our rock hunt with David. He loves this rock.” ~If ... no, *when* we find the boys, Little Danny will want his lucky rock back.~ he thought as he put the rock into his pocket for safekeeping.
“Any signs of injury or ...” Jack hesitantly asked.
“No, Sir,” Sam answered. “Has there been any further evidence that they might be hurt?”
Daniel sighed, “Just what Lou found.”
“Daniel, I think we would have seen more signs of ... of something had the boys been hurt too badly,” Sam opined, trying to comfort her friend. She looked back at her CO and commented, “There's been no other sign of injury, and, frankly, Sir, if they were hurt that badly, we would have found them by now.”
“You think they're okay enough to keep traveling,” Jack asked, though it was more of a statement than a question.
“Yes, Sir, I do. They have little legs, Jack,” Sam said, suddenly breaking out of the military mode for one of the very few times in their relationship. “Little boys with little legs, in the middle of the night, versus all of us? Jack, they're fine.” She looked over at Daniel and repeated, “I know they aren't hurt badly. It's just a scrape.”
“The handkerchief -- Lou said it was full of blood,” Daniel refuted, wanting to be comforted, but too afraid to allow it to happen.
“Daniel, what would you do, right now, if you fell down, skinned your knee, and didn't have a med kit?” Sam challenged.
“I'd ... I'd reach for my ...”
Daniel saw Sam smile and nod. He looked over at Jack, who nodded in response.
“The boys have seen you, both of you, fix their cuts and scrapes by applying pressure to a wound; they were doing what you've taught them, and then they probably just ... dropped it, or left it behind,” Sam theorized with a shrug.
“Thanks, Sam,” the archaeologist responded, feeling a little bit better.
“Thanks ... Sam,” Jack echoed, giving her a grateful nod as well.
“O'Neill, I believe JonnyJacksonO'Neill and LittleDannyJacksonO'Neill were separated,” Teal'c called out from several feet away.
Jack glanced at Daniel, then approached the Jaffa and asked, “What makes you say that?”
“Here,” Teal'c stated, pointing. “This was not done by the rain.”
“The branches are pushed back,” Jack observed.
“And there,” Teal'c noted, pointing at another area. “And here, in the mud ...”
Daniel kneeled down, tracing the tiny hand print in the ground as he quietly bewailed, “One of them fell.”
“Kids fall down all the time, Danny. I think we just established that fact,” Jack replied, looking around for any other signs. “Are you sure that's a human hand print?” he asked about the tracing.
“The rain has affected it a little,” Daniel acknowledged, “but, uh, this is human. It's one of our sons.”
“Okay, Carter, Teal'c, you follow that one. Daniel and I will go this way,” Jack stated about the trail by the child's hand print. He clicked his radio, “Reynolds, this is O'Neill. Come in.”
“This is Reynolds,” the colonel stated, pausing to take the transmission.
“Reynolds, at the burn site, it looks like the boys separated. The tree was definitely hit by lightning, so they were probably scared and took off in different directions. Carter and Teal'c are heading west. Daniel and I are going north. When you reach this site, I want every millimeter of it searched and analyzed in case we've missed something, and then I want everyone to fan out to cover every direction in case either of the boys doubled back or changed direction.”
“Reynolds,” Jack spoke quietly. “They're alone now, and they're scared.”
“We'll find them, Sir,” the colonel replied confidently.
“O'Neill out,” Jack said, unable to say anything further.
Jack headed away, continuing his search, while Daniel shared a glance with Sam. The female reached out and took her friend's hand in a quiet reassurance. He smiled and nodded.
“Faith, Daniel,” Sam uttered just before turning and disappearing into the wilderness with Teal'c.
“Faith,” Daniel repeated. He looked up at the sky and asked, “They're only three.” He rolled his eyes and said, “They keep me reminding me they're three-and-a-half, but they're ... three ... just three. Help them ... please!”
Faraway, a voice quietly replied, “Don't worry, Daddy; I am.”
The boys had been separated for almost four hours. For the first three of those, they had wandered around, gradually moving away from each other. For the last hour, though, they had both been following arrowheads that were leading them to each other.
Little Danny entered a small clearing at the same time Jonny appeared on the opposite end.
Their names were spoken at the same time, and, in a flash, they ran to each other and hugged.
“I s'ry, Li'l Danny. S'pose 'tect you,” Jonny cried as he clung to his little brother.
“Not your fault, ac'dent. We both sca'ed, run dif'ent ways,” Little Danny comforted.
“We hold hands. No lose each ot'er 'gain,” Jonny commanded, releasing his brother and taking the shaggy-haired boy's hand.
“It bad wind now,” the younger boy said. “Rain harder, too.”
“We need place,” Jonny said, looking around for a shelter to keep them dry and out of harm's way.
“Jonny, look,” Little Danny called out, pointing to an arrow lying on the ground.
“I fol'ow arrows; lead me here,” Jonny stated informatively as the boys stepped closer to the arrow.
“I follow ar'ows too,” Little Danny told his older brother.
“We follow this one; maybe lead to Mike's house,” Jonny speculated.
Both boys pulled out the saved arrows and compared them. Then they looked at each other and grinned. Moments later, holding hands, they set off in the direction the arrow was pointing, hoping it would lead them back to their family.
Daniel took the little rock out of his pocket and looked at it. As he did, tears began to fall down his cheeks.
“Daniel, I think ...” Jack began as he turned around to face his husband. “Ah, Danny ...” He went to his soulmate, taking him into his arms. Truth was, Jack was just as worried as Daniel about their sons. For the sake of the boys, though, he knew the 'general' had to be in charge, that if he let Jack, the dad, out, he would lose control. “We're going to find them,” he stated as strongly as he could.
“Where are they, Jack? They aren't together. They're cold and hungry, and ... and they could be hurt, or ... or ...” Daniel couldn't even bring himself to say the words.
“Danny, we have to believe that those two have something of us in them. That means, they're survivors, and no matter what, they *will* find each other again.” He paused, then confidently added, “We *will* find them.”
Daniel nodded and leaned back, giving Jack a kiss.
“Let's go find our sons,” the younger man intoned, feeling stronger again, thanks to the support of his lover.
Jack released his hold, and they continued on, both men knowing that the horrible truth was they may not find the boys, or may find one and not the other since the evidence showed they had been separated.
Again, from somewhere 'up there', a voice spoke, “Dad, Daddy don't worry. My little brothers are together again. They'll be safe soon.”
Jack stopped suddenly, looking around in anticipation.
“What?” Daniel asked.
“Danny, did you hear something just now?”
“Hear something?” Daniel asked as looked around. Truth was, he hadn't heard anything, but he had thought he'd heard something earlier. He knew it had been his imagination, though, and he was sure that's what was happening now, especially since both were anxious to find their children. “No, but ...”
Jack looked at him expectantly.
“But I ... Jack, I feel better. I can't explain it, but all of a sudden, I feel like Jonny and Little Danny are ... that they're ...”
“Safe,” Jack completed, looking downward for a moment. “Let's go.”
Neither could explain the strange feeling they'd just had, but they prayed it was a correct one. Still, they moved forward anxiously, eager to find the two lost boys.
At the Ferretti's home, Jennifer glanced at the kitchen clock -- 4:53 a.m. She had been unable to sleep, so had decided to go to the kitchen to get a drink, leaving Trina and David sleeping in Trina's bedroom.
“Jen, I can't sleep,” David sadly uttered as he entered the kitchen a minute later.
“Why can't we go to Mike's?” David questioned as he sat down at the table opposite his sister.
“We'd just be in the way,” Jennifer surmised. Smiling, she commented, “Dad and Daddy will come and get us as soon as they find our two little rascal brothers.”
“Jen, what if ...”
“David, don't think like that,” the teenager admonished. “Grandpa sent out half of the SGC to find them. Jonny and Little Danny probably found a little cave or something to stay out of the rain, and that is why it is taking so long to find them,” she confidently told her brother.
“Yeah,” David agreed. He chuckled, “If they did find a cave, Little Danny would want to explore it, and they wouldn't hear anyone calling them.”
“Jonny's probably trailing after him,” Jennifer added. Her smile faded for a moment, but then she patted her brother's hand and stated, “It may take a while, but someone will find them. Then we can go home and have ice cream.”
“What, David?” Jennifer asked.
“I want to go to Mike's,” David said, his eyes misting.
“We'll call Grandpa in a couple of hours; it's too early now. Okay?” Jennifer asked.
David nodded and then reached for an apple that was in a bowl in the middle of the table.
“Did you know that charred apples have been found in prehistoric dwellings in Switzerland?” the young genius asked.
“Really? Tell me about it,” Jennifer encouraged, wanting her brother to be distracted, if only for a little while.
“Jonny, need find place now!” Little Danny stated as the wind's speed and strength continued to increase.
The boys were barely able to stand now, and, in fact, they'd fallen a few times in the last several minutes. The rain wasn't helping them, either, the heavy drops falling harder and faster than they had been all night.
“Can't see!” Jonny exclaimed.
“What we do?” Little Danny cried.
Weary from their traveling, lack of food and water, and just plain scared from their ordeal, the boys were on their last legs. They'd followed the arrows, but now they were exhausted and barely able to move. They wanted their fathers and the safety of their home.
“Jonny, Little Danny, follow me,” a voice said.
“Jonny, you hear that?” Little Danny asked.
“It voice. Where voice?” Jonny asked, looking around, but seeing nothing.
“Follow me. Hurry,” the voice urged. “Listen for the bark. Come on.”
Unable to see clearly, the boys followed the sound of the voice. They didn't know what else to do.
“That's good. Just a little further. There -- hear the bark?” the voice asked.
In the distance, through the howls of the wind, was the bark of a dog. The boys could just distinguish it from the elements.
“Me hear it,” Jonny answered.
“Go -- run to the bark,” the voice instructed.
Obediently, Jonny and Little Danny did as they were told until the bark became clear. Then, they stopped. There, in the doorway of a storage shed, was a large dog. There was a house behind the shed, a lone lantern burning in the window.
“Bear!” Jonny exclaimed, starting to back away.
“Not bear, Newfie,” Little Danny corrected.
“Huh?” the older boy questioned, giving his brother a funny look.
“Big dog. Newfoun'land, but eas'r say Newfie.”
“Go to the dog,” the voice urged. “He's a friend.”
“What if he bite?” Jonny questioned the voice.
“Voice says 'go',” Little Danny stated.
“Okay, we go,” Jonny said as the boys ran towards the dog.
“Wait!” Little Danny called out. He turned, breaking away from Jonny's hand, and ran back a few feet. “Voice? Thank you.”
Little Danny hurried back to his frowning brother, and then the two continued towards the dog.
Upward, out of sight, a boy smiled and thought, ~You'll be safe now.~
“General O'Neill,” Sam called out over the static-filled airwaves.
“Go ahead,” Jack responded.
“Sir, the storm is getting worse. I hate to say this ...”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look, but they knew it was the truth. The situation was so bad now that keeping the searchers out was endangering their lives and safety.
After Daniel nodded, Jack clicked on the radio, “Davis, this is O'Neill.”
“Sir?” Davis called out within seconds.
“Bring in the troops,” Jack ordered flatly.
“Have you found them?” Davis inquired.
“No, but it's too dangerous to stay out. Order everyone in,” Jack stated. A minute later, Jack and Daniel stared at each other as the words came over the radio -- all personnel report back to the command center. “Danny?”
“I can't go back,” Daniel emotionally stated. “I'll go crazy if I have to go back inside. I can't face Ash again and tell her we haven't found her brothers, Jack. I can't ...”
“We keep going,” Jack affirmed, cutting off his lover's angst-ridden reply.
“Paul, what's going on?” Reynolds asked on the private frequency the two men had been using off and on all night.
“General Jackson-O'Neill ordered the search suspended because of the weather. How bad is it out there?” Davis questioned.
“Bad,” Reynolds admitted. “But we can keep going.”
“The general ...”
“The general is concerned about us. He's doing what he has to do; so am I,” Reynolds stated. He disconnected the transmission and looked at his teammate. “Myers, go on in.”
“Aren't you going in, too, Sir?” Myers inquired.
“No. Go get some rest. The search will continue once this storm settles,” Reynolds spoke a bit louder as thunder roared from overhead.
Myers began to go, but then he stopped and asked, “They're only three, right?”
“I have a nephew, Sir; he's three, too,” Myers spoke. After a pause, he suggested, “We'd better check due north. I used to go exploring around here with my grandfather; there are a few small caves close by that the boys could hide in.”
Reynolds smiled, and the two men continued their search.
“ColonelCarter, I will stay behind,” Teal'c intoned.
Sam stared at the Jaffa. She'd been the one to initiate the call to Jack about the dangerous elements. It was her duty to make sure he was always as informed as possible. Faced with the orders to abandon the search, though, the female found herself torn.
“They're ours, too, in a crazy sort of way,” Sam softly spoke.
Teal'c said nothing, but he stood proud as the rain beat down on their protective clothing.
“We'll go slow,” Sam suggested, leading the way deeper into the sector they were searching.
“Davis, you're out of your ever-lovin' mind,” Lou Ferretti spoke harshly over the radio.
“I didn't make the order, Sir,” Davis replied sternly.
“Screw the orders, Major. I'm not letting those kids die out here. You tell ... forget it, I'll tell him.” Lou clicked the radio to another frequency and barked, “Jack, take your orders, and shove them. You can write me up if you want, but I'm not abandoning this search. Ferretti out.”
“Lou?” Jack responded over the radio as he and Daniel came to a halt. “LOU?” he called out again.
“Jack?” Daniel asked.
“He's having radio problems,” Jack surmised with a tiny, extremely grateful smile. “Let's keep going.”
“On the way in, Major.”
Jack and Daniel heard Sargeant Hudson respond to the order to return to the command center.
“Acknowledged, Sergeant,” Davis responded.
“Let's go, Bob. It's about time they called us in. We're supposed to be exploring the universe, not tracking down a couple of spoiled, runny-nosed kids. Besides, they were probably a bear's snack hours ago,” Hudson sniggered, not realizing he had left his mic open, and everyone had just heard what he said.
Jack furiously reached up to his radio to respond, but was cut off by a very angry voice.
“SERGEANT HUDSON, YOU ARE TO REPORT TO THE COMMAND CENTER AND STAY THERE UNTIL WE FIND THE BOYS, AND I RETURN. IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?”
“Yes, Sir,” Hudson responded, realizing his mistake and certain his career at the SGC was now over.
“Major Davis, when Hudson gets back to the command center, I want him stationed outside, in the middle of the meadow, on guard duty.”
“Understood, Sir,” Davis answered with a smile.
Jack and Daniel were both surprised that Colonel Reynolds had been so quick to reprimand Hudson. With higher ranking officers present, Reynolds had in one respect overstepped his rank's bounds by jumping in and reprimanding the lower ranking officer. On the other hand, it had saved Jack from using all kinds of inappropriate language over the radio.
The general lowered his hand and his head. The words that Hudson had spoken hit hard. He couldn't hold back his emotion anymore. Still, he didn't want Daniel to see him losing control, so he turned away.
“Jack,” Daniel tentatively spoke, putting his hand on his husband's shoulder and gently guiding him around until they were facing each other.
“Danny, I ... I can't lose another son,” Jack whispered harshly, desperately trying to stay in control, but losing the battle.
It had been their longest night ever, an ordeal that wasn't showing much promise of ending soon. Both men had had moments of insecurity, of showing their anger and frustration at the situation, or with others. Now, though, it was time to release some of the tensions they'd kept buried inside.
Daniel wrapped his arms around his husband, holding him close as he replied, “Jack, it's just us. Let it out; it's okay.”
Instantly, Jack let himself go. With Daniel, he never had to hide. He was free, and he knew it. Hearing those simple words opened the flood gates, allowing the strong, military man to become just a father who was frightened, worried, and exhausted. Jack cried without regret of doing so.
Daniel held the back of his husband's head, whispering loving words. He was now the comforter.
“We're not going to lose any of our children, Jack. We're not,” Daniel spoke. He kissed the side of Jack's neck and then said, “Jonny and Little Danny are resilient. We've gone camping with them; told them stories; they'll ... they'll be just fine. Besides, they have loved ones watching over them.”
The couple held each other for several minutes, Jack letting out all of his fears through his tears. Finally, he gathered his resolve and gazed into his lover's eyes.
“I love you, Danny,” Jack softly spoke, his voice cracking.
“And I love you, Jack, so much,” Daniel replied, his hands caressing Jack's cheeks and running back to the slender strands of the older man's silver-gray hair.
“You're turn,” Jack spoke.
“My turn?” the younger man questioned.
“Yeah,” Jack said with a tiny smile.
“To do what?”
“Cry like a baby,” Jack answered, sighing.
“I do that enough; they're okay, Jack. I know they are,” Daniel intoned positively.
“Then let's go find them.”
Jack moved out, leaving Daniel behind for a moment. The younger man took a breath, then looked up. He felt surprisingly good. He realized that, somehow, he believed his words, that Jonny and Little Danny were okay.
~Gawd, I hope I'm not wrong,~ Daniel thought as he sprinted to catch up with his husband.
Jonny and Little Danny cautiously entered the storage shed where the big black dog was.
“Voice say come you,” Jonny said, smiling hopefully at the huge animal in front of them. “No bite, 'kay?” he asked, his hand clenching his brother's tightly.
“He no bite. Hi, Dog!” Little Danny greeted, smiling and waving with his free hand. “Me Danny; this Jonny.”
The large dog approached and gave each boy a lick on the face. Then, he ran to the door of the small cabin that was behind the shed and began barking and scratching at the door until it opened.
“What is it, Starbuck?” a scruffy looking man asked. “You've been barking at that raccoon all night.”
The dog ran partly back to the shed and then turned around and barked at his owner.
“Starbuck, do you want to come in or not?” the man asked more sternly.
Starbuck ran back to his owner and gently grabbed his arm with his mouth, pulling the man out onto the wet grass and across the yard.
“Boy, what is ...” the man began, stopping his questioning as soon as he saw the two small boys standing in the doorway of the shed. He bent down so he was eye level with the brothers. As he did so, the dog let his arm go and went to stand next to Little Danny. “Well, hello there. My name is Solomon, but you can call me Sol,” the man greeted.
“Me, Little Danny, and he Jonny. We bro'ers. We lost,” Little Danny responded, shivering from the cold.
Jonny added, “Bro'er hurt knee. See,” he said, pointing to Little Danny's knee.
Starbuck moved closer, trying to warm the little boy and provide some comfort.
“Yes, I see, and you're soaked to the bone, too. Let's get you inside and into some dry clothes. I'll bet you're hungry,” Solomon surmised, standing up.
“*Very* hungry,” Jonny affirmed as he and Little Danny followed Solomon into the cabin, the boys still holding hands.
Starbuck stayed close to Little Danny as they entered the house.
“Let's tend to that knee first. I think I have a some peroxide and Band-aids around here somewhere,” the man spoke. Then, he wrapped two blankets he pulled from his closet around the boys. “These should keep you warm while I see if I can find you something dry to wear.”
It had been almost 6:30 a.m. when the boys had entered Solomon's yard. Sunrise would come about twenty minutes later, but the skies were still dark due to the storm clouds.
“Jennifer, I know you and your brother want to help, but there's barely room for the search teams,” Hammond told the teenager as he spoke over his cell phone.
“We just feel so useless, Grandpa,” the teen responded.
“I know how you feel, Sweetheart, but your fathers have their hands full at the moment,” Hammond added.
“But ... we could help with the little ones,” Jennifer replied. “Grandpa, please.”
Hammond considered the situation and replied, “I suppose the Wilsons could use a hand. I'll send a car for you after breakfast, at 0830 hours.”
“Jennifer, you won't be helping if the first thing they have to do is feed you and David,” the surrogate grandfather stated.
“I guess you're right. Thanks, Grandpa.”
Sergeant Hudson entered the command center and headed right to the temporary sleeping quarters.
“SERGEANT HUDSON, WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING?” Davis yelled, causing several of the technicians to jump.
“To get some sleep, Sir,” Hudson answered, stopping several feet from the doorway to the makeshift barracks.
“You have guard duty, Hudson,” Davis reminded.
“I'm going to get some sleep,” Hudson responded.
“SERGEANT, YOU WILL GO OUTSIDE, AND DO AS COLONEL REYNOLDS COMMANDED,” Davis ordered.
“I'm tired, wet, cold and I am going to ...”
“Going to what, Sergeant?”
Hudson turned to see General Hammond standing a few feet behind him.
“Going to go do guard duty, Sir,” Hudson managed to say as he swiftly exited the house and went to the middle of the meadow.
“Major Davis, what was that about?” Hammond inquired.
Hammond had come to the command center to check on his grandchildren. As soon as Mike had let him in, he had heard the conversation going on between Major Davis and Hudson.
Davis briefed the general on everything that had happened, starting with what had caused the confrontation between himself and Hudson. Just as he finished, Sara entered the room.
“General Hammond,” the woman greeted with surprise.
“Mrs. Wilson,” Hammond greeted cordially, melting a tad when he found the blonde in his arms. “The children will be fine. They're Jackson-O'Neills, and if there is one thing I know about Jack and Daniel, it's that they survive, and so will their children.”
“Please, call me Sara,” the woman replied, having made the request before. They knew each other, of course, and had attended several of the same Jackson-O'Neill family functions, but their personal interactions had been a bit limited, so it was easy to fall back on formality. “And, thank you. We've all been so worried. The children will be so happy that you're here.”
“I wish I could have been here sooner. I'd like to see them, but it may be too early,” the bald man spoke.
“I don't think they're asleep,” Sara admitted. “Please, General ...”
“Sara, please, it's George,” Hammond spoke with a smile.
“George,” Sara acknowledged, leading him towards where the children were resting at the moment.
“I've sent a car for Jennifer and David, Sara. They want to be here. I hope that doesn't make things more difficult for you and your husband,” Hammond stated.
“No, of course not. They should be here. Noa, especially, needs them,” Sara commented as they walked. “Here, we are. I'll leave you alone with them.”
Hammond nodded and then entered the bedroom to surprise his surrogate grandchildren with what he knew would be an all-too-short visit.
“Put these on after you dry yourselves off,” Solomon instructed, handing each of the boys something to wear, along with a towel.
The man had tended to Little Danny's knee and also Jonny's hand, not wanting to let the wounds go unattended any longer than was necessary. Having taken the now-wet blankets off, he replaced them with the only available clothing that he had for two small children.
“These?” Jonny asked, his eyes opened as wide as they could go.
“Those,” Solomon answered with a small grin. “You need dry clothing.”
“He right,” Little Danny agreed.
“But, Dannnny,” Jonny objected.
“I cold. No argue, Jonny,” Little Danny ordered, still shivering from the cold.
“No like,” Jonny grumbled as he slowly went along with the order. ~But I cold, too.~
Solomon stood back, chuckling at the exchange between the two boys. It had been awhile since he'd been around youngsters, and he realized how good the two had made him feel in just a few minutes time.
“As soon as you change, I'll make you something to eat,” Solomon stated, noticing the boys then picked up their speed. ~The power of food,~ he inwardly mused.
“You two *are* hungry,” Solomon observed a while later, seeing the boys scarfing down their food.
While the two boys had sighed dejectedly upon discovering their host didn't have any Froot Loops for them to devour, they had been eager to eat the food that had been placed in front of them.
“Hmm-mmm,” Jonny answered, his mouth full of his peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“Hmm-mmm, too,” Little Danny answered as he loaded his mouth with another bite of his own PBJ sandwich.
“I'm sorry the power went out again,” the man apologized. “I have some oatmeal I could have made, or some soup.” He sighed, “Power's been on and off here for the last couple of days. I think there's a loose wire somewhere.”
“Aunt Sam could fix,” Jonny mumbled.
“Unc' Lou, too,” Little Danny added as he continued to chew on his current bite of sandwich.
“So, where are your folks?” Solomon asked.
“Dad work,” Jonny mumbled.
“Daddy, too,” Little Danny answered, inhaling several sips of his cold milk.
~Good thing that generator keeps the fridge going,~ Solomon thought.
The man couldn't afford to have what little food he did have go bad, so the one item in his house that he kept attached to a generator was the refrigerator. His generator was old and small, and he didn't dare risk adding any other appliances to it.
“How about your mothers?” Solomon inquired curiously.
Jonny and Little Danny looked at each other, both sighing. It was the oldest boy who answered.
“Mommy in heaven.”
“I'm sorry,” Solomon answered, not really sure if the boys had the same mother or what. ~Not important.~ “What's your last name.”
Both boys were feasting, their hunger ruling them. They answered at the same time, each still munching on their peanut butter delights, thus muting part of their responses.
“Jackson...” Jonny said.
“...O'Neill,” Little Danny spoke.
~Okay, one Jackson, and one O'Neill,~ Solomon thought. “Do you know your phone number?”
Little Danny nodded, but was too busy eating to give the man the number.
“What are their first names?” Solomon asked.
“Jack 'n' Daniel,” Jonny answered, reaching for more milk, his mouth now outlined in the white drink.
~Better let them keep eating,~ Solomon thought. “Starbuck, stay. Boys, I'll be right back,” he said, heading into the living room. He took out his phone book and using his flashlight to scroll the listings found several listings under both 'Jackson' and 'O'Neill'. ~Okay, the one that said his last name is Jackson is named Jonny, and the other boy said his last name is O'Neill, so Daniel must be his Dad since his name is Little Danny, so ... hmm ... no listing for Jack Jackson or Daniel O'Neill. They both must have unlisted numbers.~ He closed the phone book and sighed. ~I'll wait until they're done with breakfast. Looks like they haven't eaten in a long time.~
After a few minutes, Solomon returned to the kitchen, surprised when the boys weren't there. However, on the floor was a jelly trail. He followed it, smiling when he saw the two boys lying on his bed, holding tightly onto each other. Starbuck was at the foot of the bed, looking after them.
“Good boy, Starbuck,” Solomon said quietly
The man returned to the living room and stretched out on his raggy-old sofa, cursing the broken springs. He closed his eyes and quickly fell asleep.
“Grandpa, you hafta go?” Chenoa asked sadly as she sat on Hammond's lap.
“I'm sorry, Curly Top, but I've got to go back to work; people are depending on me,” the general said, giving the blonde a kiss on the cheek and setting her on the floor as he stood up.
“Gran'pa,” Ricky said, tugging on the pant leg of the SGC commander. As Hammond bent down and picked up the youngest Jackson-O'Neill, the little boy spoke softly, “Miss bro'ers.”
“We all do, Ricky, but your fathers or one of the search teams will find them soon,” Hammond confidently stated as he hugged the small boy a little tighter. “Now, I really do have to get back to the Mountain. It wouldn't look good if the boss was late,” he intoned with a smile, setting Ricky on the floor.
After a round of hugs and good-byes, Hammond reluctantly left to return to the Mountain.
Shortly after 8:30 a.m., Solomon awoke to the sound of two boys laughing as they played with Starbuck.
“Mmm ... well ... haven't heard a child's laughter since ...” the man trailed off, shutting off the emotion from his past. He wondered how long the boys had been awake. They had been so tired when he had brought them into his cabin that he wondered how they could be awake and so full of energy after only a short nap, but then he hadn't had much sleep the last couple of days, either. He was tired and stressed from personal ordeals. “Boys?” he called out.
“Yeah, Sol,” both boys answered at the same time.
“I think it's time to take you home. I bet your fathers are worried sick about you,” Solomon guessed, carefully sitting up. “What's your phone number?”
Little Danny gave him the number, but added, “They no home; we s'pose be with Aunt Sara 'n' Uncle Mark.”
“Okay, do you know what their number is?”
Nodding, Little Danny gave Solomon that number, too, not realizing it was in the process of being changed and wouldn't connect to the Wilson's home any longer.
“What's their last name?” Solomon asked, just in case he got through.
Both boys called out, “Wilson,” only the stereophonic answer caused Solomon to misunderstand the name and think it was “Wilkins.”
Solomon went over to the phone, placed the receiver to his ear, and, a couple of seconds later, grumbled, “Dang -- still not working. I guess that wire finally hit the ground.” ~Cordless phones are convenient, except for the fact that they need electricity to work. I remember the old days when a phone didn't need to be plugged into anything but the phone jack in the wall to work. So much for progress.~ His lamenting at technology's progress and its shortcomings done, he asked, “Do you know your Aunt Sara's address?”
“Na-huh,” Jonny answered.
Solomon sighed, about to ask something else when Little Danny began to talk.
“They not home 'n'way; they at Mike's,” the child genius stated.
“I don't suppose you know how to get there?” Solomon inquired, not surprised when he saw two heads shaking negatively.
There was a pause, Solomon trying to decide what to do, and the boys each running through their emergency procedures.
“The Mountain,” both boys suddenly said in unison.
“Mountain?” Solomon questioned.
“Dad say we go Mountain when in tr'ble,” Jonny explained.
“Mountain? You mean Cheyenne Mountain?” the tall man asked.
“Yeah, Dad ...” Jonny began.
“... and Daddy, work there,” Little Danny finished.
“Oh, they're military,” the man surmised.
“Yup!” Jonny proudly affirmed.
“Na-huh,” Little Danny said at the same time, shaking his head, which further confirmed to Solomon that the boys weren't related. “Daddy 'portant, though.”
“Then we'd better get you to Cheyenne Mountain,” Solomon concluded as he grabbed his truck keys. “Let's wrap this around you to keep you dry,” he suggested as he grabbed the blanket that was on the back of the couch and wrapped it around Jonny, since it was still raining really hard.
“'brella?” Jonny asked.
Solomon sighed, answering, “No, mine's old and broken.” He looked around and sighed heavily, “Like everything else is around here.” He shook his head, trying to focus on what was important -- getting the boys back to their parents. ~They must be worried sick. I remember ...~
“Sol, you 'kay?” Little Danny asked when the man stopped talking and closed his eyes.
“Yeah, I'm ... okay,” Solomon answered. “You stay right here, Little Danny, and as soon as I get Jonny into the truck, I'll be back for you.” Looking over at the large dog, he said, “Starbuck, stay.”
Starbuck moved closer to Little Danny as his owner picked up Jonny and ran to the 1987 pickup truck, securing him inside.
~This old truck,~ Jonny thought, looking at the torn seat cushions and noticing the window knob on the passenger side was hanging limply from its spot.
A minute later, Solomon returned with Little Danny, wrapping him with the blanket also, and securing him as best was possible.
Looking at the boys from his spot outside the door, Solomon stated, “This is the best I can do. I don't have the booster seat anymore, but I think you need to be with your folks, so no fidgeting in your seats.”
As the rain fell even harder, Solomon looked up at the sky. He said something the boys couldn't hear.
“Little Danny, he sad,” Jonny commented.
Solomon looked back at his small house and saw his dog staring out the window. He went back inside and turned off the lantern before heading back outside.
“I'll be back as soon as I can, Starbuck,” Solomon shouted out, walking around to the front of the truck. He glanced down at the front left-side tire and sighed, “I hope you don't go flat on me before we get there.”
Once they were on their way, Jonny asked, “We listen radio?”
“Sorry, Jonny, that radio hasn't worked for over a year,” the driver of the beat-up old truck stated.
“We sing songs, Jonny,” Little Danny suggested.
Their family always sang songs when they were going places. Moments later, the two boys were singing, “This Old Man.”
~I hope they aren't referring to me,~ Solomon mused as he listened to the happy voices.
“Paul,” Aislinn called out, walking over to the major, who was sitting on the couch reviewing a computer print out.
Davis put the print out down and focused his attention on the youngest Munchkin.
“Hi, Aislinn. Did you eat your breakfast?” the Air Force officer asked.
“Not hungry,” the sad little girl answered.
“Ash ... Aislinn, you have to eat something,” Davis spoke.
“It okay. You call me Ash,” Aislinn said with a smile.
Davis smiled and then got back to the point, saying, “Ash, it's important to keep up your strength. How about a donut and some hot chocolate? When the replacements arrived this morning to take over for the night shift, General ... your grandfather told them to stop at Dunkin Donuts and buy lots of donuts, coffee, and some hot chocolate.”
“Ash love hot chocolate, so do Jonny 'n' Li'l Danny,” Aislinn mentioned, her face long and drawn from the sadness she felt.
“Then you better get some before they get back and drink it all,” Davis teased lightly, standing up to get the brown-eyed girl a cup of hot chocolate, adding a little milk to it to cool it off. “What kind of donut do you like?”
“Ash, you have to eat something,” the major reiterated, grabbing one of the boxes off the table and the cup of hot chocolate before returning to the couch. “Come sit up here next to me.”
“Okay,” Aislinn agreed, climbing up onto the couch next to her new friend.
Davis held out the box, saying, “These are donut holes, otherwise known as Munchkins. Try one.”
Aislinn smiled and replied, “Dad 'n' Daddy call us Munchkins - me, Jonny, 'n' Li'l Danny.”
“Then these are the perfect thing for you to eat for breakfast. Come on, and eat a few,” Davis requested, placing the box between himself and Aislinn.
Davis took a chocolate Munchkin and began eating it. As he did so, Aislinn sighed, but then took a chocolate one, too, and ate it. Then, Davis handed her the hot chocolate, and the two of them sat there, eating Munchkins and talking.
From the doorway Sara watched, glad that even though she hadn't been able to get Aislinn to eat anything for breakfast, the Air Force major had found a way.
“Mommy, can I have more orange juice?” Angela asked from her seat at the kitchen table.
“Sure, Sweetheart,” Sara replied, turning and heading back into the kitchen.
“Aunt Sara, what's happening?” Jennifer asked as she and David entered Mike's house.
“Jennnnnn!” a chorus of surprised younger voices sang.
Sara hadn't told them the two siblings were coming, wanting them to be surprised, as they clearly were now.
“Hey!” the teenager said with a smile as she hugged her siblings.
“Hi, Guys,” David spoke as he entered the room a second later. “Aren't they back yet?” he asked, looking around for the missing siblings.
“Not yet, David,” Sara responded, leaning down to embrace him. She saw the red eyes and gently brushed back his shaggy hair. “Do you know you look like Daniel?”
David grinned, saying, “I like looking like Daddy.”
Sara hugged him again, silently thinking how wonderful the Jackson-O'Neill children all were. Even though Jennifer, David, and Chenoa had been adopted by her ex-husband and his spouse, they were as much Jack and Daniel's as the Munchkins and the twins were. It filled the woman with warmth just to think about all the love the family shared.
“Can we see the command center?” David asked.
“Ash show you,” Aislinn stated, taking David's hand and leading him to the living room, eager to have an excuse to talk to Paul Davis again.
Sara whispered to Jennifer, “I think she's developing a little crush on Major Davis.”
Jennifer smiled as she replied, “Anything that keeps her mind off Jonny and Little Danny is a good thing.”
“I'm sure they're fine, Jen,” Sara spoke as she rubbed the teenager's back for a moment.
“I hope so, Aunt Sara,” Jennifer replied softly.
The loud bark had come from another room.
“Oh, I forgot!” Jennifer giggled, hurrying back to the front door. “Thanks, Airman,” she said as she took the dog carriers from him.
“Beeeeeeeeeeeeeej!” the children called out happily.
“Katie, too!” Chenoa called out, smiling.
Sara watched the happy reunion, pleased to see the children all gaining strength from each other and from their beloved beagles.
~Now, if we can just find Jonny and Little Danny,~ the female lamented, turning to go and check on her infant daughter.
As Solomon approached the gate to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, he wondered how he was going to convince the guards that the two little boys in his truck were the children of two of the facilities employees. He knew that there must be hundreds of employees who worked there. Surely, the guards would not take his word that the children were the offspring of two of those workers. He pulled up to the gate, but before he could say a word, the guard observed the two boys, recognizing them from past visits with their parents.
“Contact General Hammond right now. Let him know that his missing grandsons are at the gate,” the guard ordered another member of the security team. “Sir, please drive through the gate, and park right there,” he instructed, pointing to the spot where he wanted Solomon to stop.
~General ... missing grandsons,~ Solomon thought. The boys had only mentioned that their fathers worked at the complex, not their grandfather. ~They have the same grandfather. Now I get it; they must be cousins, and they just say they're brothers because they're so close. Their fathers must have been married to sisters, and the mothers' father is the general here,~ the confused man theorized.
“Jack, it's no use,” Daniel sighed. “We don't have a trail to follow. The rain has washed everything away. We're just ... chasing shadows.”
Jack sighed, not wanting to admit that his husband was right. They'd searched all night, through howling winds and a downpour that made visibility practically nil. They'd endured all-too-close encounters with lightning strikes as well. In the end and now in the light of day, they were no closer now to finding their lost sons than they were when Sam had found Little Danny's lost rock.
“Carter,” Jack called out over the radio with a hoarse-sounding voice.
“General?” the blonde responded over the radio.
“You're still out there?” Jack asked, though it was obvious she was. Something inside Jack had told him that she and Teal'c would have continued the search, and, of course, he knew Lou had. ~Dumb question, but then I'm just a dumb ...~
“Of course, Sir,” the woman's tired voice replied.
“We're going in. We're ... we're gonna have to wait for this weather to let up. We ...” Jack couldn't continue. He was just too exhausted and beaten at the moment. ~They have to be safe.~
“Understood, Sir. We'll meet you back at Mike's,” Sam spoke.
Daniel clicked his radio, stating, “Lou? This is Daniel.”
“Daniel, did you find them?” Lou called out anxiously.
“No, but we're going back to Mike's,” Daniel spoke, his voice, face, and heart full of dejection.
“Doc, don't give up,” Lou spoke encouragingly.
“We're not. Meet us back there, please,” Daniel requested, clicking off his radio.
“General Jackson-O'Neill, would you like me to contact the other teams that are still out and have them come in, too?” Major Davis asked, having overheard the transmissions between the two senior members of SG-1 and the leader of SG-2.
“Other teams, Major?” Jack asked, having assumed that all the teams had gone in, except for Sam, Teal'c, and Lou, all of whom were part of their extended family of friends.
“Yes, Sir. All teams remained out except for Sergeant Hudson's team and two others. Should I call them in?” Davis inquired.
Jack paused, taking in the words for a moment, and then answered, “Yes, Major, call them in. We'll have a briefing at the command center as soon as everyone gets back. O'Neill out.”
A bright flash of lightning startled the worried fathers, both jumping at the unexpected act of nature.
“Danny, I didn't expect that -- for all those men and women to keep searching,” Jack confided as his heart settled from the surprise of nature.
Daniel moved to his husband, and the two embraced, even as the thunder continued to roar nearby.
“We'll go back to Mike's,” Daniel spoke softly. “We'll talk with our children, get something to eat, and rest for a bit. The rain will stop, we'll come back out, and we'll find Jonny and Little Danny.”
Jack let out a snort as he responded, “You sound so sure.”
“I am sure. I can't explain it, Jack, but I am,” Daniel stated assuredly. ~Gawd, I'm so conflicted. How can feel so bad, be so full of fear, and, yet, be so sure they're safe? But ... I am.~
“I believe you, Angel,” Jack intoned. “I don't know why. Everything seems so bleak, but I do believe.”
“Then let's go back now,” Daniel suggested.
Jack nodded, and the two headed back for Mike's place.
“Jonny! Little Danny!” Tracey O'Connor called out cheerfully as she hurried to the truck, the light drizzle of the lessening rain not bothering her at all.
“Hi, Tracey!” both boys greeted, waving at her.
The airman smiled, opening the truck door and helping the boys out of their seats. She hugged them warmly and then examined them closely as another guard held an umbrella over them. Frankly, she was stunned by their attire. It was certainly strange to see the boys wearing clothes that looked like something Aislinn should be wearing. Happy to see them, however, she dismissed the oddity for the moment. As Tracey checked the boys, three Special Forces guards kept a close eye on Solomon.
Tracey had known the Munchkins since they were babies, from the very first time Jack and Daniel had brought the triplets to the Mountain when she'd been working one of the check-in points. The trio knew her and felt comfortable with her, since they saw her almost every time they came to the Mountain.
“We've been so worried about you two,” Tracey commented.
“We got lost,” Little Danny stated with a sigh.
“You sure did,” Tracey replied. “Your grandfather is on his way up. Why don't we go inside and meet him?”
As the boys nodded, Tracey took their hands and began to escort them inside, the guard with the umbrella following close enough to keep them covered from the falling moisture.
“What 'bout Sol?” Little Danny asked.
“Yeah, Sol friend. He gave us food, let us sleep his bed,” Jonny stated.
Tracey stopped and kneeled down to face the children, finding the comment a little strange, especially when combined with the boys' attire.
“You slept with him?”
“On his bed,” Jonny answered, nodding and adding to Tracey's confusion and worry.
The female blinked. The oddity was taking a bizarre turn. Jonny was dressed in a pink jumper with 'princess' written on it in blue, while Little Danny had on a jumper that was also pink and had 'Daddy's Little Angel" written in silver across the front. Not sure what to think, Tracey focused on the boys, wanting to make sure they didn't sense anything abnormal in her behavior.
Tracey replied, “Well, don't you worry. Uh, Sol will be just fine.” She stood and said, “Wait right here for just a minute.”
Tracey walked over and spoke with one of the guards, then returned to the boys and took them inside the Mountain.
Paul Davis smiled at his young helper and asked, “Aislinn, would you go tell your brothers and sisters that your fathers are on the way back?”
“I come back and help you?” Aislinn asked with a little pout.
“You better, or I'll be the one pouting,” Davis answered, making the little girl smile.
As Aislinn hurried off to relay the message, Davis called the other teams back in and informed them about the briefing.
“Sergeant, what's the weather report?” Davis inquired when he was done.
“There's still a heavy concentration of rain above us that should continue for another few hours, but it's lightened up considerably in the Springs, Sir,” the man answered.
“Thank you,” Davis sighed, walking away. ~That doesn't help us when the boys are still lost in the forest.~
“Major, it's the communication liaison for the police department,” another technician reported, holding up the phone.
Davis walked to phone, taking it, and responding, “Major Davis.”
When Aislinn returned to the command center, Davis was still talking with the liaison on the phone, so she patiently stood by the couch, waiting for him to finish.
A minute or so later, Davis hung up the phone and commented to the technician, “Since all our search dogs are unavailable, the local authorities have offered their search dogs, if this weather lets up.”
“Do you think the dogs will have any luck?” the technician asked.
Davis sighed, “We have to give it a shot.” He looked over at another man and intoned, “Captain, the men coming in are going to be cold and hungry. I already made tentative arrangements with the manager at Dunkin' Donuts to deliver; she's just waiting for our call.”
“Dunks is going to deliver?” the captain questioned.
“They are today, Captain,” Davis replied. “The number is on the desk. Tell them we need ten boxes of Joe, four boxes of hot chocolate, and, uh, about ten dozen donuts. Ask them to deliver as soon as possible.”
Surprised, Davis looked behind him and caught sight of Aislinn, swaying a bit as she stood by the couch, waiting.
Davis returned his focus to the man and added, “Captain Brown, order four boxes of fifty Munchkins for the kids. Get one box of chocolate, one box of glazed, and two boxes mixed.”
“Yes, Sir,” the captain stated, walking over to the desk to get the phone number and complete his assigned task.
“I like Munchkins,” Aislinn stated as she walked over to Davis.
“So do I,” the major agreed about the donut holes.
“Which kind your fav'ite?” the little girl asked.
“You,” Davis answered truthfully as he picked her up and carried her over to the map.
On the eleventh floor of the SGC, Hammond exited the elevators and greeted his grandsons.
“Jonny, Little Danny,” the grandfather said, bending down and hugging the boys.
“Gran'pa, we get lost,” Little Danny stated. “Miss you lots!”
“We love you, Gran'pa,” Jonny intoned as he hugged his grandfather, grateful to finally be back with his family, just as his fellow triplet was.
“I love you, too,” Hammond intoned, still holding onto the children.
“Sol find us,” Jonny added.
“Sol?” the general asked.
“Yeah, he nice man. Got big dog -- Starbuck,” Little Danny explained.
“He gave us clothes; ours wet 'n' dirty. No like clothes. They for girls,” Jonny whined, scowling down at his pink jumper.
“Jonny, they dry,” Little Danny reprimanded.
“Sir, may I speak to you a moment?” Tracey asked, thinking this was probably the right time to air her concerns.
“Kids, stay right here,” Hammond instructed, after which he followed Tracey down the corridor until they were out of earshot of the boys.
The airman explained to the general what the two children had told her about sleeping with Solomon. She also expressed her concern that they were wearing girls clothes, a fact that seemed odd and added to the speculation about Solomon.
“I'm not trying to suggest anything untoward happened, General, but I thought you'd want to know what they said,” Tracey spoke sincerely.
“Thank you, Airman. Your concerns will be addressed and thoroughly investigated,” Hammond stated, dismissing her to return to her duties. ~A thorough investigation,~ he echoed in his mind as he walked back to the boys. Smiling, he suggested, “Let's go see Aunt Janet, and have her check you out.”
“Gran'pa, got boo boo on knee,” Little Danny said with a pout.
“Me, too,” Jonny said, holding out his hand that had a scrape mark on it from when he had fallen and hit it against a rock.
“Don't you worry. Aunt Janet is an expert at fixing boo boos,” General Hammond stated as he picked up the middle Munchkin and, taking Jonny's hand, walked to the elevator that would take them to the infirmary.
“Casey, give Airman ...” Janet began addressing Casey Hemmings, one of her nurses.
“Aunt Janet,” the brothers called out excitedly, smiles on their faces.
Hammond put a squirming Little Danny on the floor, and the two boys hurried to their great aunt.
“Jonny, Little Danny,” Janet responded with tears in her eyes as she bent down and hugged her nephews. “I was so worried. Goodness, let me look at you two.”
“I hurt knee,” Little Danny sniffled.
“My hand hurt,” Jonny reminded, holding out his hand.
“Well, let's check you two out,” Janet replied, standing up again. She noticed Hammond motioning her to the side, obviously wanting to talk with her privately. “Boys, stay here with Casey for a minute while I talk to General Hammond.”
Hammond and the petite doctor walked a few feet down the hall, the general telling her of the strange comments the boys had made to Tracey and ordering her to check “for everything.”
“I understand, General,” Janet acknowledged, not liking what she'd heard.
The two returned to their charges.
While Janet gave Casey some instructions, Hammond spoke, “Boys I'm going to leave you with your Aunt Janet so I can contact your fathers.”
“Where Dad 'n' Daddy?” Little Danny asked.
“They're at your Aunt Sara's father's home, looking for you. In fact, half the base is there. I'd better order them back to the Mountain before the President tans my hide.”
“Uncle Lou?” Jonny asked, gulping. ~He be mad us for going aft'r bunny.~
“He's been out all night and all morning looking for you. He'll be glad to see you, too,” Hammond stated. He leaned over, hugging both boys at the same time and softly spoke, “I love you both.”
Jonny and Little Danny shared a look as they watched the bald man walk away.
“We in big tr'ble, Little Danny,” Jonny lamented.
“Dad, Daddy be happy we okay,” Little Danny stated confidently.
The oldest of the triplets nodded, but then reaffirmed, “*Then* we be in big tr'ble,” nodding his head.
Major Paul Davis was holding Aislinn as she looked at the map.
“Why no look here?” the little girl asked, pointing at an area where no one had been to yet.
Davis was about to answer when a tech called him to the radio, saying, “Major, it's General Hammond. He says it's urgent.”
“Airman, take Aislinn back to Mrs. Wilson, please,” Davis spoke, not wanting her to hear anything in case the news was bad.
Davis gave her a stern look, so she reluctantly let him put her down and allowed herself to be led away.
Once the airman and Aislinn were clear, Davis picked up the portable communication radio and reported, “Davis, Sir.”
“Major, the boys are at the Mountain. Aside from some minor cuts and bruises, they appear to be fine,” Hammond stated.
Davis gave a sigh of relief, a smile coming over his face, while those gathered in the command center cheered. The outburst drew the attention of the others, and, in a flash, Mike, the Wilsons, and the children all ran to the living room.
“Contact General Jackson-O'Neill and Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, and tell them Jonny and Little Danny are anxious to see them,” Hammond ordered.
“It will be my pleasure, Sir,” Davis responded, seeing Aislinn and the others listening nearby.
“Paul, I talk to Gran'pa,” Aislinn asked, hurrying over to the radio.
“Sir, there's someone here with a special message for you,” Davis announced, kneeling down and holding the mic in front of the little girl.
After getting the go-head to talk, Aislinn, using perfect enunciation, requested, “Grandpa, tell Little Danny and Jonny I miss them, see them soon, and they gonna get it for scaring me!”
Hammond chuckled and replied, “I will, Ash. SGC out.”
“Would you like to call your fathers and give them the good news?” Davis asked the youngest Munchkin.
Aislinn surprised her new friend by hugging him. He smiled, returning the hug.
“DAAAAD, DAAAADDDDYYYY,” a chorus of voices yelled suddenly.
The little girl gasped in excitement and ran to her fathers, along with the others in her family.
“Dad, Daddy, Jonny 'n' Li'l Danny okay,” Aislinn announced.
Jack and Daniel exchanged a nervous, hopeful look at the words. As Daniel kneeled down to look Aislinn in the eyes, Jack made eye contact with Sara and saw her smile. There was no doubt about it -- their boys were safe.
“Ash?” Daniel asked.
“Gran'pa call, huh, Paul?” Aislinn answered, looking back and upwards at the major.
Davis nodded, explaining, “The general just called. He said they're safe and requested the two of you return to the Mountain as soon as possible.”
Aislinn threw her arms around her younger father, saying, “Ash gonna hug them, then they gonna get it.”
Jack and Daniel laughed, as did the others.
Daniel put the palms of his hands along the sides of Aislinn's cheeks and almost cried.
“Daddy, they okay,” Aislinn stated with a smile.
“I need another hug,” Daniel intoned, happy that their daughter obliged.
When Daniel stood, he looked over at Jack, and within seconds, they hugged, holding each other close. They shared an emotional kiss of relief as everyone watched.
“They're okay,” Daniel softly spoke.
“Let's go get our sons, Danny,” Jack stated. He walked to Sara, giving her a hug. With a lighthearted tone, he teased, “Told ya not to worry.”
“Oh, like you weren't,” Sara jested in grateful reply.
“It was a piece of cake,” Jack lied as he smiled at his ex-wife.
“Jack, I'm so glad they're safe. I promise this will nev...”
Jack placed his finger over Sara's lips, silencing her and saying, “Funny Face, no guilt trips. The boys are fine. We're fine.”
“You haven't called me that since ...” Sara began, smiling as memories of a long ago love affair exploded in her mind, then settled to a happy place within her.
“Sara, the brood. Can you ...”
“I'll take them back to the house. You don't need to come way back out here,” the blonde stated.
Jack looked at Mark, shaking his hand, and did the same with Mike, who was holding Madeline.
“Princess,” Jack softly stated, giving the infant a kiss on the forehead. “Don't you ever worry your mom and dad like our rugrats did to us today.”
“I'll make sure she doesn't,” Angela promised.
Jack leaned over and messed her hair as he intoned, “Thanks, Angie.”
“We want go wiv you,” Ricky stated demandingly.
Daniel picked up the toddler and responded, “Aunt Sara and Uncle Mark are going to take you home. Dad and I need to talk to your brothers, then we'll bring them home. Okay?”
“No 'kay,” Ricky whined.
“I'm sorry,” Daniel spoke. “Please do as we ask.”
“'Kay, Daddy,” Ricky sighed.
Daniel gave him a kiss and set him back down on the floor.
Once all the children got their hugs and a personal word from their fathers, Jack and Daniel began to head out, only they were stopped by two very insistent 'woofs'.
“Come on, Girls!” Jack said, motioning towards the vehicle they were going to use.
Bijou and Katie ran out the door, both eager to find out what was going on with Jonny and Little Danny.
The children weren't very happy about being left behind, but they agreed their fathers knew best and reluctantly prepared to return to their home with the Wilsons.
Davis looked over at the group that had been working the command center and ordered, “Time to go home. Let's pack it up.” To the phone operator, he requested, “Get me the police liaison.”
Hearing Davis as he was about to follow his soulmate out the door, Daniel called out, “Jack, wait.”
“Why? Something wrong?” the older man inquired.
“We have to thank everyone for helping. They took time away from their own families to help us look for ours,” Daniel spoke.
“You're right. Girls, stay,” Jack commanded as he and Daniel returned to the living room. “LISTEN UP!” he barked out, getting the immediate attention of everyone in the room. “We ...” He sighed, “Daniel.”
“We wanted to say 'thank you',” Daniel spoke.
“To all of you,” Jack elaborated.
“We appreciate all the time you've given us and the ... the diligence all of you used in finding our sons. Please tell everyone ...”
Jack interrupted, looking over at Davis, “Make sure everyone who volunteered knows how we feel.”
“Thank you,” Daniel stated simply and then slowly backed out of the room.
Jack looked around the room, making eye contact with several people, and added, “General Hammond will be proud to hear about your efforts.” After a moment, he added, “I'm ... proud to work with all of you.” Hating to show emotion in front of his command, the major general swallowed, then bellowed, “Dismissed.”
“You okay?” Daniel asked as he stood by the doorway, the two beagles at his feet.
“To quote you, Love -- I'm fine.”
With little smiles on their faces, Jack, Daniel, and their girls headed for Cheyenne Mountain.
“Thanks letting Ash help,” Aislinn said to Paul Davis just before leaving Mike's home.
“You were a very good helper, Ash,” Davis responded with a smile.
“Ash, let's go!” Mark called out.
“Bye!” Aislinn said as she waved and started to walk out.
“Bye,” Davis replied. Then something caught his eye and he called out, “Ash, wait a minute.” He walked over to the table and picked up the boxes of Munchkins. “Why don't you take these home with you?”
Aislinn smiled, looked back at Mark, who was standing in the doorway, and asked, “Can we, Uncle Mark?”
“Of course, you can,” Mark answered, walking forward to take the boxes from the major. “Thank you.”
“You're welcome,” Davis replied. He touched the top of Aislinn's long hair and said, “Be good.”
“Ash always good!” the little girl smiled, turning and running out to the Wilson's vehicle.
Mark and Davis shared a brief chuckle, then Mark nodded his appreciation again before heading out for the mini-van.
Colonel Reynolds arrived back at Mike's just in time to see the Wilsons driving away with the children. He didn't know if that was good news or bad, until he walked into the living room and could hear the positive tone of the chattering men and women as they finished their clean up.
“Major, report,” Reynolds ordered.
Surprised, the major responded, “Didn't you hear my radio report?”
“No, the radio battery died a couple minutes after you called everyone in. What's the story?” Reynolds inquired.
“The boys are fine, Colonel,” Davis began, briefing Reynolds on what had transpired. “Three teams haven't reported in yet.” He glanced at his watch, saying, “They should be back within the next ten minutes. Captain Brown had placed the order for coffee and donuts before we got word about the boys; it just arrived. The family has given permission for the teams to rest here for a while, warm up, and have some coffee and donuts before heading back to the Mountain.”
“Very well,” Reynolds responded. “Where's that idiot Hudson?” he asked more quietly.
Davis smiled, saying, “Still on guard duty. I may have forgotten to relieve him.”
Reynolds chuckled, requesting, “Status report on the command center.”
The major nodded, telling him exactly where they stood on the dismantling of the center and the dispatching of personnel.
“Aunt Sara, we have party?” Chenoa asked as the travelers drove towards the Jackson-O'Neill country-style home in Colorado Springs.
“Yeah!” Aislinn agreed excitedly. “We have lots Munchkins!”
“We could make a cake,” David suggested.
“Blow b'loons,” Jenny added.
“And streamers and ... oh, and a big 'Welcome Home' sign,” Jennifer suggested enthusiastically.
Sara gave a tired-looking Mark a 'please' look, and he instantly caved, not that he had any real objections.
“One party it is,” Mark called out enthusiastically, resulting in a mini-van load of cheers ringing out happily.
En route to the SGC, Daniel's cell phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and let out a groan.
“J-O. It's Megan,” Daniel stated, remembering their company, J-O Enterprises, and referring to their Director of Operations, Megan Williams, a one-time SGC employee whose number was appearing on his cell phone's caller-ID. “Gawd, we didn't even call them,” he bemoaned.
“They all had work to do,” Jack intoned.
Daniel smiled, saying, “You almost called them, didn't you?”
“I thought about it, but our company has to keep going. We can't afford to let down our clients and ...”
“Our clients? Oh, gawd,” Daniel replied, realizing why Megan was calling and flipping open the phone. “Megan, it's Daniel.”
“Daniel, where are you? Mister Sorenson's been waiting for over thirty minutes. He's not very happy,” Megan whispered.
“Megan, please give him our apologies. No, wait. Put him on the phone,” Daniel requested, waiting until the sound of a very upset client came on the line. “Mister Sorenson, this is Daniel Jackson-O'Neill. I apologize for missing the meeting.”
“Time is money, Doctor, and I don't appreciate being kept waiting,” Sorenson responded.
“You're right. We'd very much like your business and to conduct the excavation for you. By means of explanation, two of our children got lost yesterday, in the woods. They've only just been found, and we're on our way to get them,” Daniel spoke.
“Oh, well, I'm ... I'm sorry. I didn't know,” Sorenson stammered. “I do hope your children are all right.”
Megan looked up, concern in her eyes. She looked over at Karissa Lewis, who had overheard the comment as well and was in the process of walking over to find out what was happening.
“We've been told they are,” Daniel responded. “Mister Sorenson, if you'll give us another chance, allow us to meet next week, we'll give you twenty-five percent off our regular rate.”
“Twenty-five percent?” Jack mouthed with widened eyes. “Daniel!”
Daniel jabbed his lover in the abdomen, grateful they were being driven to the Mountain by an airman.
“That's acceptable,” Sorenson responded.
“Thank you. Please set up the appointment with Megan. Uh, could you put her back on the phone?” Daniel requested.
“Daniel, the children?” Megan asked immediately upon getting the phone back.
Daniel gave her a brief rundown, then told her about the deal with Sorenson.
“We have an opening on Tuesday,” Megan stated, seeing Sorenson nodding his head that Tuesday was acceptable. “Give the boys our love.”
“Will do. Thanks, Megan,” Daniel said before disconnecting the call.
“Honey, they're fine,” Lou said over the phone to his wife, Carolyn. “Okay, I'll call Jen and talk to her myself. If any of them need anything, I'll make sure it's handled. I'm heading back to the Mountain now to check in. I should be home in a few hours. Love ya, Peaches!” Seeing Paul Davis' grin at his conversation, Lou shrugged, saying, “She worries.”
“We were all worried,” Davis responded.
Lou nodded, then asked, “Where's Colonel Reynolds?”
With a smirk, Davis replied, “Out in the meadow, *talking* to Sergeant Hudson.”
“Hudson, that moron,” Lou sputtered. “Talking?”
Davis shrugged, and Lou nodded, saying, “See ya at the Mountain, Davis.”
Jack and Daniel flew through the security check-ins, no one bothering to stop them, or the two dogs that were hot on their heels.
“Sirs, they're in General Hammond's office,” Tracey shouted out, seeing the men sprinting towards the elevators.
“Thanks, Tracey,” Daniel called out as he and his lover entered the elevator and pressed the appropriate button.
“Woof!” Bijou barked back at Tracey, causing her to giggle.
Daniel was practically bouncing up and down he was so eager to see the wayward youngsters.
Jack reached over and took his hand, smiling as he said, “They're safe.”
“Yeah, safe,” Daniel replied, believing it and yet not. ~I need to see them.~
As soon as the elevator doors opened, the lovers and their beagles sprinted down the corridors until they reached Hammond's office. They ran in, out of breath, pausing when they saw the boys, sitting atop Hammond's desk, facing the lieutenant general, who was seated in his chair as he talked to them.
“Jonny! Little Danny!” Daniel called out.
The two boys turned and grinned, both reaching out their arms for their fathers.
Jack and Daniel picked up their namesakes, hugging them tightly. Then they switched kids, repeating the hugs.
“You scared us,” Daniel admitted as he held Jonny.
“You scared all of us,” Jack added as he held Little Danny close to him.
After a couple minutes of hugs and the fathers looking the boys over carefully, they set the boys on the floor so that Bijou and Katie could greet them.
Both boys giggled as the dogs licked their faces, their tails wagging wildly.
“Jonny, how'd you two end up here at the Mountain?” Jack asked the oldest Munchkin.
“Sol bring us; he nice. Have big dog named Starbuck,” Jonny explained.
“Sol?” Daniel questioned, looking over at General Hammond. “Starbuck -- like coffee?”
Before levity began to break out, General Hammond rose from his chair and stated, “Jack, I need to talk to you and Daniel in the briefing room,” and quickly exited his office.
“Bij, Katie, keep your eyes on these two for a minute,” Jack told the girls.
“Woof,” both dogs answered.
Jack and Daniel went into the briefing room, but kept their eyes on their children through the big window that separated the two rooms. The general briefed them on what he knew, including the fact that the boys had been wearing girls' clothing upon their arrival at the SGC. He also mentioned what the boys had told Tracey about sleeping in Solomon's bed.
“And ...” Daniel prodded nervously.
“Doctor Fraiser checked Jonny and Little Daniel thoroughly and found no evidence of any physical impropriety,” Hammond revealed. “That doesn't mean ...”
“Yes, Sir,” Jack stated, understanding that other things could have happened besides the physical act of sexual abuse.
“We'll talk to them, General,” Daniel stated. “Can we use your office?”
“Please,” Hammond said, extending his arm out towards his office and sitting down at the conference table to give the two privacy.
**Jack, we have to ease into this,** Daniel communicated.
**I agree. Let's just let them play with the girls for a couple of minutes,** Jack replied as they entered the office and took seats in the two chairs that sat in front of Hammond's desk after turning them the other direction so they could watch the boys.
Jonny and Little Danny played joyfully with the beagles, everything seeming to be normal in their parents' estimation.
**Jack, they act normal.**
**They look tired, but I don't see anything unusual, either, but ...**
**But we still have to talk with them,** Daniel agreed, nodding at Jack to begin the potentially difficult discussion.
“Jonny, Little Danny, come here, please. We need to talk,” Jack requested.
Daniel looked at the beagles and stated, “Girls, sit.”
Obediently, Bijou and Katie sat, remaining a couple of feet behind the family.
“We big tr'ble,” Jonny commented as he and Little Danny went to stand in front of their fathers.
“That ... depends on what happened,” Daniel replied. “We want you to tell us everything that's happened, from the moment you left Mike's up to now. Don't leave anything out, okay?”
“Okay, I start,” Little Danny began. “We play ball with Aunt Sara, Jenny, 'n' Ricky. 'Hopper jump on Jenny; she cry. Me 'n' Jonny see bunny and follow into woods. We want bunny; think Dad let us keep. We lost and ...”
The boys took turns telling their fathers all the things that had happened to them while they were lost, including the creature that peered out of the tree at Little Danny and how they got hurt.
“And then I fell in creek. Cold there,” Little Danny commented.
“You fell in the creek?” Daniel asked, unable to stop himself from picking his son up and holding him close.
“Daddy, need breathe,” the child requested, squirming in his father's tight embrace.
“I'm sorry,” Daniel said, easing up his hold. His hand brushed back the boy's hair a bit as he studied his son for trauma. ~He seems okay.~ Still, Daniel was very upset by the news. “Were you scared?”
“Lots,” Little Danny admitted. “Wat'r move fast.”
“I 'mind him be calm,” Jonny stated. “Dat right, right, Dad?”
“Yeah, that's right, Jonny,” Jack confirmed emotionally.
“So me get calm; swim to edge.”
“Little Danny not that far 'way,” Jonny stated. “He cold, but okay.”
**Jack, Hudson ...**
**Isn't going to be at the SGC much longer,** Jack communicated. **Forget what he said. Our sons are just fine.**
Daniel nodded, smiled at his namesake, then put him back down to stand by his brother.
“Okay, keep going. What else happened?” Daniel asked calmly.
The boys continued their story, talking about how they were separated, their adventure at the gully, and how the arrowheads and strange voice helped them to find each other again.
“... see Starbuck in shed. Voice say he friend. We go to him. He go get Sol. Sol take us in house, give us peanut but'r 'n' jelly,” Little Danny stated.
“He no have Froot Loops,” Jonny lamented.
“Then Sol go oth'r room,” Little Danny continued.
“We tired,” Jonny confessed.
“Yeah, so we go lay down on Sol's bed,” Little Danny stated.
Jonny added, “Fall 'sleep fast.”
“Yeah. We wake up, see Sol sleepin' on couch,” the middle Munchkin explained.
Jonny hesitated, but admitted, “We play Starbuck. Laugh too loud.”
Little Danny nodded and concluded, “He wake up, bring us here.”
“I wonder why he didn't just call,” Daniel spoke aloud, looking over at Jack.
“Phone no work,” Jonny stated. “No power. Dark.”
“House small, lonely,” Little Danny observed with a wisdom beyond his years.
Daniel nodded, then asked, “Why are you wearing girl's clothes?”
Jonny wrinkled his nose as he remembered the clothing he was wearing and then answered, “All Sol had. We wet.”
“And dirty,” Little Danny added. “He want us not wet, dirty.”
Jonny noted, “Me think Sol have li'l girl. Saw pic'ure of lady 'n' li'l girl. You see, Li'l Danny?”
Little Danny nodded, saying, “No see mommy and li'l girl at house, though.”
“Not home,” Jonny said with an assumptive shrug.
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look, both relieved after hearing the boys' story and believing that Jonny's comment to Tracey had been understandably misinterpreted, most likely due to his toddler speak.
“I think it's time to go home,” Jack announced. “I know several other rugrats that are anxiously waiting to see you two.”
“We change boy clothes? Not girl,” Jonny whined.
“Yeahsureyabetcha,” Jack cheerfully spoke.
“We say bye Sol?” Little Danny asked.
“Okay,” Daniel agreed, seeing his husband's affirmative nod as he spoke.
“I'll be right back,” Jack said, getting up and going back to the briefing room.
“Sir?” Jack called out as he rejoined the lieutenant general.
Hammond stood up, anxious to hear the report.
“It was just a misunderstanding,” Jack informed his friend who was the brood's surrogate grandfather. He gave Hammond a brief overview, then asked, “Did you run a check?”
“Waiting for the results. They should ...”
“General Hammond, here's the report you requested,” Sergeant Walter Davis stated, handing the printout to the general. He nodded at Jack, saying, “I'm glad they're okay, Sir.”
“Thank you, Walter,” Jack spoke, watching as the sergeant exited the room.
“Jack, looks clear,” Hammond stated, handing over the information.
Jack took the paper and read portions of it out loud -- “Solomon Conlan O'Shea, married to Ruth, daughter Lily Rose.” He sighed, “Both killed in a car accident about ten-and-a-half years ago.” Jack groaned, “Drunk drivers.” His mind went back to Kayla Armentrout, the Munchkins' and the twins' surrogate mother. She, too, had been killed by a drunk driver. Quickly, Jack moved on. He was already too emotional, considering everything that had happened. “No criminal record. Honorable discharge from the Marine Corps shortly after his family was killed. He's unemployed; just a lot of odd jobs, scattered over the last few years.” Jack lowered the printout, glancing back over and smiling as he saw his happily reunited family. “He's just a father who did his best to take care of our boys.”
“I'll have him released,” Hammond stated.
“The boys want to say goodbye to him. I'll give the order,” Jack stated, wanting the chance to thank the stranger himself.
“It's been a long couple of days, Jack,” Hammond sighed. After a brief pause, he continued, “Jack, you and Daniel would be proud of the volunteer turnout. Eighty percent of all off-duty personnel that could be reached participated in the search.”
“That's amazing, Sir,” Jack quietly replied as he processed the information. “What about Hamlin ...”
“I'll be meeting with Colonel Reynolds to get a full report on Sergeant Hudson. As for Sergeants Hamlin and Bliss, I've already arranged for their transfers. Pending review, they'll lose one grade in rank as well. I suspect a similar action will occur to Sergeant Hudson.”
Jack nodded, then gratefully intoned, “General, about the manpower, the SGC teams you ...”
“Dismissed, General,” Hammond stated formally, not wanting to get all mushy on base.
“Thank you, Sir,” Jack said with a low voice, saluting the general in gratitude.
Hammond returned the exchange, knowing its true meaning. After all, Jack Jackson-O'Neill was never much for military protocol.
“Daddy, Dad slewting Gran'pa,” Jonny observed.
“Saluting,” Daniel corrected, standing and nodding at the general. He could only surmise what it was about, but it was his way of joining in. “Grandpa is always worthy of respect, and that is what Dad is doing -- showing Grandpa how much he respects him.”
“'Cause of us, huh?” Little Danny stated, his head tilted backwards, looking up at Daniel.
“Because Grandpa is a *wonderful* man, Little Danny. He's a good man, a very good man,” Daniel intoned emotionally.
“Daddy, you gonna cry 'gain?” Jonny asked.
Daniel smiled and answered, “Not right now, Jonny.”
“It's a good thing we keep a few extra things here now,” Jack chuckled as he handed his husband a shirt and pants for Little Danny to put on.
The family was in Daniel's office, which had been enlarged after he and Jack had agreed to return to the SGC part time. They kept ToddlerTown there, a portable playpen of sorts for the Munchkins to play in on those occasions when they had to bring them to the Mountain while they were working.
“Score one for the geek,” Daniel said, smiling. “It was my idea, Babe, to bring extra clothing, just in case.”
“It's all that training I gave you,” Jack countered.
“'ways be 'pared!” Jonny interrupted.
Daniel looked down at him, a question mark expression on his face.
“Always be prepared,” Jack explained proudly.
“Oh, yeah, right,” Daniel responded, kneeling down to help his namesake change, while Jack did the same with Jonny.
Several minutes later, Jack, Daniel, the boys, and the beagles were standing in front of one of the VIP rooms where Solomon was being held.
“Dismissed,” Jack ordered to one of the men. To the other, he instructed, “When we leave, you are to escort Mister O'Shea to his vehicle. He's to be treated with the utmost respect.”
Just then, Little Danny tugged on his younger father's pants, getting the man's attention.
Uncertain what the boy was about to say, Jack motioned for the first airman to wait a moment before leaving.
“What is it, Son?”
“Sol tire bad; maybe flat,” the middle Munchkin stated.
“Yeah, he prayed ta truck angels while we come,” Jonny added.
**Truck angels?** Jack questioned.
**Angels are everywhere, Babe,** Daniel smirked as he looked at his lover with a sly smile.
Jack looked at the first airman and ordered, “See to it that Mister O'Shea's tires are sufficiently inflated. If he needs a spare, get one from the motor pool.”
“Yes, Sir,” the first airman acknowledged before following through on his orders.
With that issue resolved, Jack motioned for the remaining airman to open the door. Once open, the family went inside.
Solomon had been sitting on the double bed and stood immediately upon seeing the visitors.
“Sol!” Jonny and then Little Danny called out, running over to him.
“These our parents,” Jonny stated, pointing at Jack and Daniel.
“Jack Jackson-O'Neill,” Jack introduced, holding out his hand.
Once Solomon shook it, Daniel added, “Uh, and I'm Daniel ... Jackson-O'Neill.”
Solomon shook his hand, pausing in the middle of the shake as the significance of the hyphenated names began to set in, along with comments the boys had made since he'd first found them in the shed with Starbuck.
“These our dogs,” Little Danny stated, kneeling down to play with Bijou and Katie. “They have big doghouse. Why Starbuck have no house?”
“Well, ah ...” Solomon began.
“Jonny, it isn't nice to ask personal questions ...” Jack began.
“Mister Jackson-O'Neill, it's okay. I don't mind,” Solomon stated. After Jack nodded his approval, the man continued, “I really don't have the money to buy the wood to build Starbuck a doghouse, so he uses the shed.”
“Dad, we build Starbuck house?” Little Danny asked hopefully.
**Danny, a little help here,** Jack requested. **I don't want to embarrass this man.**
“Mister O'Shea ...” Daniel began.
“Call me Sol,” Solomon encouraged, cutting off Daniel's words.
“Yes, okay, uh, Sol, and, please, call me Daniel and this ... this is, Jack,” Daniel replied, pointing at his life partner. After a brief moment, he continued, “Sol, please let us build Starbuck a doghouse to repay him for his role in saving our boys.”
“Daniel, that's kind of you, of all of you,” Solomon spoke, looking down at the boys, “but I don't take handouts.”
“Starbuck need real house. We build big one, 'cause he big dog,” Jonny added, doing his imitation of the 'Daniel pout'.
“Yeah, it 'portant ta have good house,” Little Danny added. “Pleeeease,” he pleaded, pouting now just like Jonny was.
Solomon chuckled and acquiesced, asking, “How can I refuse those faces?”
“Yay!” both boys cheered.
As the boys played with their beagles, Jack, Daniel, and Solomon discussed much of what had happened, clarifying the various confusions regarding the boys' names and Hammond's relationship to them. It was clear to Jack and Daniel that Solomon didn't have any problems with their relationship.
“We want to thank you for taking good care of our boys and bringing them here,” Daniel stated emotionally once the explanations were over.
“I'm glad I was able to help,” Solomon replied. “I ... know how it feels to be worried about missing loved ones.”
Jack walked over to the night table next to the bed and took out a pad of paper and a pen. He wrote down his cell phone number, which he then handed to Solomon.
“Call me in a few days, and we'll set up a date to build that doghouse,” Jack stated.
“I'll do that,” Solomon agreed, folding the paper and putting it in his shirt pocket.
“Don't f'get,” Little Danny reminded.
“I won't, Little Danny,” Solomon replied with a smile.
The family said their good-byes and headed for the exit.
“Daniel!” a voice called out just as the family reached the security gate.
“I'll be right back,” Daniel told his husband and the boys as he turned and walked towards Tracey.
The female looked over Jonny and Little Danny, smiling as they waved at her.
“They're fine,” Daniel spoke, assuming their friend's question.
“The general told me,” Tracey responded. “Daniel, I feel bad about what I told General Hammond earlier. It's just ...”
“It's just you saw a concern and addressed it,” the archaeologist assured. “Tracey, our world isn't perfect, and innocent children get hurt ... a lot. The boys told us everything that happened, and it's easy to understand why you were concerned. Jack and I are thankful that you had the courage to let General Hammond know about your suspicions.”
“They were in dresses, and their comments ... Daniel, it broke my heart to think anyone could have hurt them,” Tracey replied.
Putting his hand on Tracey's arm, Daniel responded, “We were lucky someone like Mister O'Shea found them. Would you make sure he gets out of here okay? Jack ordered one of the SF's, but ...”
“I'll take care of it right now,” Tracey agreed with a smile.
Daniel nodded, then returned to his family.
Tracey watched, taking a breath of relief over the news. With determination, she turned to find Solomon and escort him to his vehicle. It would give her a chance to thank him for taking good care of two boys she cared about a lot.
After stopping at a party store and then the grocery store, the Wilsons drove the Jackson-O'Neill kids home.
“How much time do you think we have, Uncle Mark?” David inquired as he began to blow up a balloon.
“Probably not too long. They got a big head start on us. Here, I'll help,” Mark offered, sitting down next to David and blowing up some of the festive objects.
The group worked feverishly, wanting the living room and recreation room to be decorated before their fathers and brothers returned home with the beagles.
When they were done, balloons had been hung by strings from the ceiling, a big sign saying, 'Welcome Home, Brothers!' had been stretched from one side of the rec room to the other, and colorful streamers adorned the walls of both rooms.
Along with the boxes of Munchkins that Paul Davis had given them, there were bowls of chips, popcorn, and pretzels laid out on the large table, along with dip. There was plenty of Pepsi in the fridge, as well as ice cream, and they had purchased a large cake and had had the words, “We Missed You” written on it with icing.
The group had also purchased hot dogs, hamburgers, and steaks for a cookout, along with the necessary buns. It was going to be one great party.
Suddenly, they heard familiar voices and shouted out 'Surprise' as they ran to the returnees.
Aislinn hugged her fellow Munchkins, then glowered at them, saying, “You no do that 'gain. You scare me. I mad.”
The little girl turned her back on the boys, folding her arms across her chest.
“Ash, we sorry,” Little Danny said, running to stand in front of her.
“Ah, Ash, we no mean make you scared,” Jonny stated, joining his brother. “We Munchkins 'gether.”
“You make me not sleep. Your fault Ash tired!” the little girl ranted sternly.
“We sorry, Ash, but saw bunny!” Little Danny stated.
“Bunny?” the little girl gasped, lowering her arms. “What kind?”
Jack chuckled quietly, “I guess all is forgiven.”
“Apparently,” Daniel mused, leaning his head against his lover and sighing.
Jack put his arm around Daniel's waist and tugged gently. The two gazed into each other's eyes with longing and gratitude.
“I love you, Danny,” Jack spoke.
“I love you, too,” Daniel responded.
As the lovers kissed, Aislinn giggled, “Dad 'n' Daddy kissin' 'gain. We need bunny.”
“No, we don't,” Jack said, moving forward and scooping up the youngest Munchkin. “No bunnies for us.”
“You say we talk at meeting,” Aislinn reminded.
“And we will,” Jack agreed, sticking his nose against her neck and making a funny noise, causing her to laugh. “Hey, what do we have here?”
“We're having a party,” Jennifer stated. “You can burn the steaks, Dad,” she smirked.
“Everyone's a critic,” Jack mocked.
Just then, there was a knock at the door.
“I'll get it, Babe. You can start burning the steaks,” Daniel teased as he headed for the door. Opening it, he was surprised to see Megan and Karissa standing on the front porch. “Megan, Karissa, uh ... is everything okay at the office?” he asked, fearing a disaster had occurred.
“You look surprised to see us, Daniel,” Karissa laughed.
“Well, uh ... I ... we just got back and ...”
Laughing harder than her friend, Megan told the confused archaeologist, “Jen invited us for a welcome home party.”
“She did?” a still-surprised Daniel questioned.
“She called us about a half-hour ago and said to come right over,” Karissa explained. “Um, but if you don't want us to ...”
“No, I'm sorry. It's just been a long couple of days. Please, come in and join the party.”
“Daniel, did you know you were having a party?” an intuitive Megan asked as they walked through the house to the backyard.
“Of course,” Daniel responded. “I've known for about two minutes now.” Amid the chuckles, the three adults walked outside. “Uh, Jen ...” he began.
“Oops sorry, Daddy, I ...” the teenager apologized, though she was giggling at the same time.
“Danny, Jen just informed me that she invited several of our extended family over for the welcome home party,” Jack interjected, cutting off Jennifer's apology as he prepared the grill.
Just then there was another knock at the door.
“I'll get it, again,” Daniel said lightheartedly as he went to answer the door for the second time in five minutes.
Thirty minutes later, the welcome home party was in full swing. Along with Megan and Karissa, Jennifer had also invited the Ferrettis, General Hammond, Sam, Janet, and Teal'c, all of whom were now in the backyard. They were all equally as tired as their hosts, but none of them had been able to turn down Jennifer's heartfelt invitation.
“What's going on over there?” Karissa asked Daniel as they each enjoyed a piece of cake.
Daniel followed the young woman's gaze and chuckled, “Teal'c is lecturing Jonny and Little Danny about honor. He'd told Chenoa he'd remind them of the importance of keeping your word and obeying the rules.”
Laughing, Karissa responded, “So *that's* why Noa is standing over there watching over the conversation like a little queen.”
“Look at Ash,” the archaeologist observed.
Aislinn, like Chenoa, couldn't hear the conversation between the Jaffa and the two boys, but she was watching intently, her glare warning her fellow triplets they'd better not scare her like that again.
“I'm not sure who the boys are more afraid of, Jack and me, Teal'c, or Ash.”
Karissa finished off her cake, just as Teal'c released the boys to enjoy the party.
“Uh, excuse me. Little Danny looks like he needs a friend,” Karissa stated, discarding her plate and then heading over to talk with her young admirer. “Hi, Handsome.”
“Awww, Rissa,” the little boy squirmed embarrassingly. “Rissa, I was bad.”
“No you weren't, Honey,” Karissa said. “Let's go sit in the gazebo,” she suggested, reaching out to take the boy's hand. When they were seated, Little Danny leaned into the woman. Her left arm wrapped around him, and she leaned down to give him a kiss on the head. “Growing up isn't easy, Little Danny. You're a very smart little boy, and if the adults are, well, giving you a hard time today, it's because we love you, very, very, much.”
“We no mean scare ev'one,” Little Danny responded.
“I know. Ya wanna tell me about your adventures?” Karissa asked.
“You really wanna know?” the youngster looked up with big, bright eyes.
“Of course, I do. Tell me all about it,” Karissa encouraged.
“So, Angel, Teal'c's scolding made him sad for, oh, say, one minute, and ...” Jack began.
“And now Karissa is ...”
“Making him not even think about how he ran off,” Jack sighed.
“Let him have today, Babe. He and Jonny have been through a lot,” Daniel remarked. “He wants to feel better.”
“Where's Jonny?” Jack asked curiously.
“By the cabana, with Ash,” Daniel answered. “She cornered him right after the lecture, but ...”
“He must be talking about the bunny rabbit,” Jack surmised.
“Every time Ash gets up a head of steam, they mention the bunny,” Daniel pointed out, his eyes telling Jack they were bound to end up with a bunny of their own.
“No, Daniel,” Jack replied to the unspoken statement and then walked over to talk with Lou.
“Right, Jack,” Daniel said, smiling.
Though exhausted beyond comprehension, Jack and Daniel continued to join in with their family and their family of friends in a tender celebration of Jonny and Little Danny's homecoming.
That night, the parents were making their rounds as per normal to check on their children. Currently, Daniel was tucking Jenny in. Aislinn, who shared a room with the redhead, had already fallen asleep.
“Night, Sweetie,” Daniel intoned, giving Jenny a kiss on the cheek.
“Daddy, Jenny write story. You read?” the youngest member of the brood asked.
“How about we do that in the morning?”
“Okay, where is it?” Daniel asked.
“Aunt Sara put in my pack,” Jenny answered, pointing to her backpack. All the kids had backpacks that they took with them whenever they went with their extended family for the day, each child wanting to bring one or two of their special toys with them. The packs also contained a change of clothes. “Jenny tell her story; she write.”
Daniel nodded and took out the story, reading it out loud. Inside, he smiled, knowing Sara had written it down exactly as Jenny had spoken it. The story, entitled, “Mr. Little Grasshopper,” read:
I'm a little grasshopper, hopping in the grass. Hop, hop, hop, I'm looking for my pop. I have brother, and I'm looking for my mother.
My name is Elfie, and my big brother's name is Jeff. My father's name is Larry; my mother's name is Dora.
I see three grasshoppers. Wait a minute, that looks like my parents and my brother, Jeff.
I say, “Mom, Pop, Jeff,” and they see me, but they don't say anything because they are surrounded by robins. They just wave.
I start saying, “Hey, silly robins, over here,” and they start to fly over really fast, and I yell, “Mom, Dad, Jeff -- hop, hop, hop,” and I do the same.
I catch up to them, and we hop back to our cave and quickly and quietly dig the hole and get in the hole and cover it back up.
We hear the robins, but since me and Jeff are small, our mother tells our father, “Go out, and see if the robins are still there.”
He peeks out, and says they are gone, so we all came out and got some food and came back home and ate the food and then we went to sleep.
Daniel smiled at Jenny and said, “That's a nice story, Jenny.”
“I no be 'fraid them ever 'gain,” Jenny stated confidently.
“That's good. Grasshoppers are just another form of life; they don't mean us any harm, and they can't hurt you.”
“Jenny sleep now,” the little girl said, fidgeting slightly.
“Can I have this?” Daniel asked, smiling again when Jenny nodded, closing her eyes. ~Jack needs to see this.~
Daniel placed another kiss on the young child's forehead and then continued his rounds.
Though he'd already checked on the boys, Daniel couldn't resist peeking inside the room one more time. He smiled at Ricky, sound asleep as he clutched his favorite blanket close to his chest.
~That blanket's getting pretty old,~ Daniel thought of the item that Ricky'd had since his birth in September of 2007. He looked over at Jonny's bed, surprised not to see him, but then he looked in Little Danny's bed. The two boys were side-by-side, sleeping. Mittens was curled up atop the middle Munchkin's chest, while Katie was stretched out on the side opposite of Jonny. At the foot of the bed, Bijou sat, poised in an alert position. ~Aw, Bij, they're okay.~
“Shh!” the younger man urged. “Look, Babe.”
“Relax, Girl. The boys are safe. Sleep,” Jack quietly commanded.
Bijou looked behind her, seeing the boys at rest. Slowly, she lay down, rolling over onto her side and letting out a big yawn as her legs kicked the air for a moment.
“Bij and Katie aren't going to let those two out of their sight for a while,” the older man commented.
“Me, either,” Daniel admitted as the lovers chuckled and backed out of the room.
“Jack,” Daniel softly said as he climbed into bed next to his husband. “You have to read this.”
“What is it?” the older man asked.
“A story Jenny wrote; well, more to the point, a story that Jenny told Sara, and Sara wrote down,” Daniel clarified.
Jack sat up and read the short story. When he was done, he smiled and looked over at his husband.
“I don't think she was happy about being the reason Sara and Mark weren't watching the boys,” Daniel noted.
“Does she still feel guilty?” Jack asked.
“She did, but not anymore. I think maybe that's what the story is about,” Daniel theorized.
“Self-help?” Jack asked.
Daniel nodded and replied, “She was afraid of grasshoppers, so now she's ... humanized them. She turned them into a family, like we are.”
“The father as the protector,” Jack observed. “Who's Mom?” he quipped after a moment.
The younger man chuckled, “Does it really matter?”
“No,” Jack admitted, focusing on the story again. “We need to post this.”
“I agree,” Daniel commented. “Let's ask Jen to write it in calligraphy. We can frame it and hang it on the wall in the rec room.”
“Good idea, Love. I'll give it to Jen tomorrow so she can work on it this weekend,” Jack offered. He put the story in his nightstand drawer for safekeeping before settling down onto their bed again. “Danny, one of these days, we're going to have to talk to them.”
“One of these days,” Daniel agreed, but he quickly put forth, “Jack, I really don't think Jenny using a mother in her story is a bad thing.”
Jack looked at his lover, a bit surprised that he didn't seem as concerned about it as he, himself, was.
“You see, I really believe that our children are happy and secure. They might miss having a mother because their friends have mothers, but, uh, I think we're doing pretty good, being both fathers and ...”
“Mothers?” Jack questioned.
“Yes,” Daniel answered. “Look, a day will come, and it might not be that far from now, when maybe we should sit down and ask them how they feel about having two fathers. I think we need to hear what they say and be certain of how they feel, but, at the same time, I just don't believe they're missing as much as we might worry that they are. I mean, uh, the Mouseketeers remember Kayla; maybe the Munchkins do a little, too; and they all have Sam, Janet, Sara ... I just ... do you know what I'm trying to say?”
“We may not be the best moms in the world, but we are their moms, and where we slack off, we have the B-team,” Jack responded.
“I wouldn't call them the B-team, Babe,” Daniel stated. “But, essentially, yes, that's what I think. What do you think?”
“I think you're a genius, I think that I love you, and I think that any second now I'm going to fall asleep. Let's get some shuteye, Love,” Jack responded.
“You *think* you love me?” Daniel questioned with feigned despair.
Surprising Daniel with his speed, Jack pounced on his soulmate and devoured him with a very passionate kiss that lasted for several minutes.
“I love you, Jack,” Daniel spoke as he moved to turn off the lights.
“I love you, too, Angel, so friggin' much,” Jack responded as his lover settled onto his chest and he wrapped his arms around him. “You know, I was very proud of you for how you handled this whole nightmare.”
“I don't think ...”
“Danny, we take care of each other; we always have, but I lost it out there,” Jack confided. “I couldn't get Charlie out of my mind, and I was dang afraid that ... You know what I mean.”
“Yes, I know,” the younger man replied and then placed a kiss on his lover's hairy chest. As he twirled a cluster of Jack's silver-gray hairs in his fingers, he added, “Jack, did Charlie know much about ... Indian arrows?”
“He liked Egypt and pyramids,” Jack replied. When Daniel looked up at him in surprise, he exclaimed, “Go figure!” He sighed, “He was your normal kid -- baseball, gum, cowboys and Indians. They think Charlie brought them back together.”
“I, uh ... I believe it, too,” Daniel declared quietly.
Jack caressed his lover's back in silence, taking in the words.
Daniel noted, “When we were out there, I thought I heard something -- a ... a voice. It said everything would be okay.”
“Your subconscious, maybe,” Jack rationalized quietly.
“I don't think my subconscious has ever called me 'Daddy'.” Daniel looked up and stammered, “I ... I didn't mean that Charlie ... that, uh ... well, that ...”
“Danny, I've told you for years that Charlie loves you and that you'd be a great father to him. I think of him as ours -- Sara's, mine, and yours,” Jack stated. “And Mark's,” he added, not wanting to forget about Sara's husband whom he respected a great deal. “If you heard him, I don't doubt that he was there.”
Daniel nodded and got comfortable again on Jack's chest.
“Besides, I felt him, Danny, and maybe even ...” Jack trailed off. He remembered hearing something, but even now it was hard for him to ponder being that close to his deceased child. “I don't doubt it,” he finally said, feeling his lover nod against him.
Minutes passed as the lovers settled into a quiet and calm rest, needing these minutes to adjust to everything being 'normal' once again.
“Thanks, Son,” Jack spoke as he finally closed his eyes. “Thanks for bringing your brothers together and back to us.”
“Thank you, Char... Son,” Daniel added a moment later.
After a very long two days, Jack and Daniel finally retreated to the peacefulness of sleep, both extremely grateful for the safe return of their namesakes.
The next morning Jack woke up first. He glanced at the clock, noting it was 1017 hours.
“Danny, Love, it's time to get up,” Jack urged, gently patting his husband's back. “It's after ten.”
“Mmmm, up is good,” Daniel mumbled as his hand snaked its way below their blanket to Jack's midsection.
“Danny,” Jack replied, shaking his husband a bit more forcefully. “Ah, Angel, as much as I would love to continue this, it's almost 10:30, which means we now have a house full of kids that are awake ...”
Daniel bolted upright and looked at the clock, needlessly saying, “Jack, we overslept. How could you let us oversleep? What if the children ...”
Jack wrapped his arms around his spouse and kissed his nape, replying, “I'm sure the kids are fine. Jen is more than capable of handling the brood for a few hours.”
“I guess, I mean, I know you're right,” Daniel responded.
“I'm making a note of the date and time to remind you of this moment,” Jack chuckled.
“Jack!” Daniel admonished, gently slapping his spouse on the arm as he arose.
Laughing, the older man said, “Let's shower and dress and go have a family fun day with the kids.”
“Family fun day?” Daniel questioned.
“Yup,” Jack confirmed. “I'm declaring today 'family fun day'. After breakfast, we're going to take all the brood and the girls to the park and play the day away. Maybe we can even go to the zoo,” he added
Looking down at his soulmate, Daniel intoned, “I love you, Jack.”
After sharing a few good morning kisses and more loving exchanges of their love and desire for each other, Jack and Daniel began their morning routine.
Thirty minutes later, Jack and Daniel came down the stairs together. They followed the sound of laughter to the hospitality room, smiling when they saw all of their children seated around the large table. Construction paper, markers, crayons, glue, glitter, and other craft supplies were scattered all around the table, and each child was making their own paper grasshopper.
“Can we join the fun?” Jack asked as he and Daniel moved closer to the area.
“Dad, Daddy, we make 'hoppers,” Jenny said with a smile, holding up her partially done grasshopper.
“We can see that, Princess, and you're all doing a great job,” Daniel praised.
**More therapy?** Jack asked.
**Don't question what works, especially when all of the children are participating. This is great, Babe,** Daniel replied.
For the next couple of hours, the entire family made a variety of paper grasshoppers as well as Easter bunnies. Of course, the children couldn't resist the temptation to ask for a pet bunny again, but Jack was still putting his foot down on that notion. When they were done, the kids decorated the house with their creations.
“Who's hungry?” Jack asked after the last creative effort was pinned up on the wall. He looked around at the house, now adorned with hopping creatures. ~I guess this is a case of if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, or make them join you,~ he silently mused.
A chorus of “me's” rang out, including Daniel. That's when Jack realized that neither he nor Daniel had eaten breakfast since they had gotten involved with the craft project immediately upon coming downstairs.
“How about we go out for lunch?” Jack asked, about to suggest they have the daily special at O'Malley's.
“... have ice cream dessert?” Jonny asked, cutting off Jack's next words.
“Of course, we'll have ice cream for dessert,” Daniel stated. **Gawd, a meal without ice cream for dessert?**
**With our brood?** Jack chuckled.
“What's funny, Dad?” Jennifer inquired.
“Life is funny, Honey,” Jack replied. “We have to remember to always have as much fun as we can.”
“'cream fun!” Ricky offered.
Jack laughed and picked up the little boy, saying, “Darn tootin' it is, Ricky!”
**We need to go someplace with lots of choices for ice cream,** Daniel silently communicated.
**There's that new place over on Tejon. Why don't we check that out?** Jack suggested.
The family fun day may not have gone the way Jack had planned it, but the family was definitely having a fun day.
“Want choc', strabury, 'n' 'nilla,” Jonny told the waitress after the family had devoured their lunches.
“All three?” the young woman giggled, looking at the sandy-blond-haired boy.
“Uh-huh,” Jonny answered.
“One scoop of each,” Jack clarified and then mouthed so that Jonny couldn't see, “small scoops.”
The waitress mumbled, “Okay,” and looked over at Aislinn. “And you?”
“Ash wants ... um, choc' chip with 'nanas.”
“Bananas,” Daniel translated.
“Oh,” the waitress acknowledged, cocking her head at the strange combination. “You're next,” she said to Ricky.
“Me have 'moni,” Ricky requested.
“Spomoni,” Jennifer clarified. “I'll have that, too,” she requested, earning her a big smile from her little brother.
“I'll just have lots of chocolate,” David requested. “Noa, what do you want?”
“I want butter pecan, please,” Chenoa stated, smiling at the waitress.
The waitress smiled at the curly-haired girl as she wrote down the order; then she asked, “And what about you? Do you know you look like Little Orphan Annie?”
Jenny groaned. With her red hair, she'd heard that a thousand times already, and she was only two-and-a-half years old.
“No Annie,” Jenny sighed. “Me, Jenny.”
“Okay, Jenny,” the waitress replied. “What flavor ice cream do you want?”
“Black Ra'bury. Two scoops,” Jenny answered, holding up her fingers.
“Black ...” the waitress prodded.
“Black raspberry,” Daniel clarified.
The waitress nodded, then caught Jack waving at her covertly, seeing him once again mouth, “Small scoops.”
“Got it, and you, handsome sir?” the female asked Little Danny, who giggled at what she had called him.
“Choc'late, choc'late chip, and 'nilla ... please, please, and please,” Little Danny said charmingly.
“I got it, Sir,” the waitress said, stopping Jack's little mouthing game.
“He'll have a mix of coffee and chocolate, and I'll have strawberry and vanilla,” Jack responded, ordering for both Daniel and himself. “Big scoops!” he exclaimed.
“She nice,” Little Danny opined.
“Not Annie!” Jenny repeated.
“Get used to it, Princess,” Jack chuckled. “Annie's a very popular character. She's got comic strips and movies and all kinds of things named after her.”
“Should be Jenny!”
The kids chuckled and then the conversation turned to other things. Lunch had been tasty, and Jack and Daniel hoped the ice cream would be equally delightful.
After their lunch and ice cream venture, which had been a huge success, the family went home, picked up their beloved beagles, and headed for the park. They romped about, playing all kinds of kids games, including hide and seek and Tag.
Towards the end of their time there, Jenny gasped, drawing her parents attention. A grasshopper had once again landed on her. Daniel was about to rush to her aid, when the little girl stomped on the grass.
“MIS'R GRASSHOPPER,” Jenny began loudly, actually pronouncing the name of 'grasshopper' correctly. “Jenny no want you here. Go your fam'ly. Me play now. Go!”
Obediently, the grasshopper jumped off and started to move away. Jenny nodded her head one time, as if to say, 'good riddance', and then returned to her game that she was playing with David and Chenoa.
Daniel smiled, feeling relieved. Their little girl had grown up a lot in the last few days.
“Old McDonald had a farm,” Jack sang as he drove the SUV towards their home.
The entire family sang, “Ee i ee i o.”
Daniel continued, “And on his farm he had some chicks.”
Again, the entire family sang, “Ee i ee i o.”
The love in the vehicle was tangible, the family cheerfully singing about Farmer McDonald's chicks, cows, pigs, horses, sheep, and as many other critters as they could think of. Each child took an animal to cluck, moo, oink, neigh, baa, or whatever vocal sound the other barnyard animals made.
**Geez, I love our brood,** Jack commented as they approached the house.
**Me, too, Babe,** Daniel concurred. **Me, too.**
That night, after tucking their very tired kids into bed, Jack and Daniel decided to go to the roof deck for some cuddling. It was a little chilly outside, so Jack had brought out a blanket to help keep them warm, wrapping it around the two of them. Tonight, they were sitting in their usual position with Jack leaning against the wall and Daniel sitting in front of him, his head leaning against Jack's left shoulder. The older man's hands had wandered their way under Daniel's blue sweater and were caressing the smooth skin of his abdomen. A feeling of contentment washed over them, knowing their family was safe and sound.
As the couple enjoyed the quiet of the night, they looked up at the stars, spying a shooting star whizzing through the sky. Both smiled, remembering how several years ago a falling star had led to the wonderful life they now shared.
“La Mio Bello Stella Cadente,” Jack whispered into his husband's ear.
Then Jack gently lay Daniel down, and the only other words heard for the next couple hours were ones called out in their passionate ecstasy.
After spending Sunday spring cleaning, the Jackson-O'Neills returned to their normal routine on Monday, with one exception. Being that it was Easter week, Jennifer didn't have school. Her homeschooled siblings, however, weren't as lucky.
On his way back from dropping Jennifer off at her best friend Sheila's for the day, Jack had an idea and made an unscheduled stop at the sporting goods store before heading home.
Inside the store, Jack headed for the camping section, knowing he'd find the items he was looking for there. It only took him about two minutes of looking up and down the aisles to find the desired objects.
~Colorful,~ the silver-haired man thought, a bit surprised to see so many different types to choose from.
As he surveyed his choices, a clerk walked over and asked, “Sir, may I help you?”
“Yes, ah ...” Jack looked at the clerk's name tag, “... Ted, which kind would you recommend for children?” he asked, pointing at the commonly-used equipment.
Ted immediately picked up one of the selections, answering, “This one is great for kids, and it's both shatterproof and waterproof.”
“I'll take a dozen,” Jack stated.
“Scout troop?” the clerk inquired.
“No, but with my brood, it can't hurt to have extras,” Jack chuckled. Just then Jack saw another customer looking over, obviously waiting to ask a question. “Go ahead, Ted. I can get these.”
“Thank you, Sir. Just take them to the counter when you're ready,” Ted instructed, after which he nodded politely and walked over to tend to the other customer.
~I could just get ten,~ Jack pondered as he began to select the ones he wanted. ~Nah, if I do that, someone will lose one, another one will break, someone will whine, someone will cry -- crap, O'Neill, you sound like a bad poet. Stick with your gut.~
His mind made up, Jack, holding his dozen items, headed to the register to purchase them.
As he drove home, Jack smiled looking at the bag containing his purchases and thought, ~Yup, O'Neill, this was a good idea, one of your best, even.~ Once there, he removed his coat and hung it in the hall closet. Going down the long hallway towards the rec room, he diverted into the kitchen, deciding to have a glass of orange juice. ~After all, shopping is thirsty work!~ the Air Force officer thought in an upbeat tone.
When he was done, Jack walked to the living room, where the younger kids were watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
“Hey, Love, you're late,” Daniel chastised as Jack sat on the couch next to him.
“Had to run an errand, Dear,” Jack teased, giving his husband a kiss on the cheek, causing Jenny, who was sitting on Daniel's lap, to giggle.
“Dad, when we have fam'ly meeting 'n' talk 'bout bunny?” Aislinn asked from her spot on the floor in front of the sofa.
**I told you they wouldn't forget, Jack.**
**I know, Danny, I know.** Jack answered, “Tonight, Ash, after Jen gets home. We'll talk about a bunny, but no promises.”
“Okay, Dad,” Aislinn answered sadly. ~That mean no bunny.~
**NO, DANIEL. NO MORE PETS,** Jack groused.
**Love, you don't have to think so loud,** Daniel admonished. **You're giving me a headache. You don't want me to have a headache tonight ... do you?**
**Sorry, Danny.** The two kissed again, just a brief exchange of their love, then Jack inquired, “Where's David?”
“Sweeping the garage,” Daniel answered. “That's one of the few things we didn't get to yesterday.”
The year before, David had done a few experiments using the microwave and had destroyed the appliance, as well as managing to melt Daniel's CD of Jack singing their wedding song. Daniel had been extremely upset about the CD until he found out that Jack had had backup copies made. David, however, was still doing extra chores around the house to pay for the new microwave.
“Okay, Campers, as soon as David is done, we start the day's classes,” Jack announced.
“What are we learning?” Chenoa asked.
“We'll start with English and history this morning. After lunch, we'll take on some science and math,” Jack answered.
Though the children were young, they all showed a desire to learn, and Jack and Daniel always tried to make their education fun, adapting their teaching to the age and abilities of each child. The length of each session varied as well, depending on what was being presented and which children were involved.
“Dad, why we hafta study?” Jonny inquired.
“Yeah,” Aislinn chimed in. “Jen no have school.”
“Jenny want 'cation, too,” Jenny demanded.
“Nice try, Princess,” Jack said, reaching over to tap against her arm. “We're on our own schedule, and we got a little behind because of a certain little adventure last week.”
“That mean us, Jonny,” Little Danny surmised, whispering into his brother's ear.
“Not our fault we got lost,” Jonny replied in a normal tone of voice.
“Well, we're going to talk about that more tonight, too,” Daniel interjected.
“It our fault,” Little Danny sighed.
“No not,” Jonny refuted stubbornly.
“We follow bunny by 'selves; shoulda got Aunt Sara or Uncle Mark,” Little Danny stated.
“Oh,” Jonny reluctantly admitted. “It our fault.”
“Well,” Daniel stated. “Maybe we don't need to discuss it anymore at our meeting tonight. I think they understand, Babe.”
“Sounds like it,” Jack agreed.
“Shoulda caught bunny,” Aislinn whined.
“We get bunny, Ash,” Little Danny promised.
“Excuse me?” Jack questioned. “I didn't say we'd be getting a bunny, or any other new critters for our zoo.”
Little Danny smiled as he responded, “We keep asking; Daddy on our side. We get bunny.”
“It just take 'while,” Jonny added.
Jack spluttered as Daniel tried not to laugh.
“Lesson time!” the older man proclaimed.
“Bugs still on!” Jonny argued.
“You're not watching Bugs,” Jack pointed out. “You're trying to convince me to get a fluffy ball of fur. Everyone up!”
“Daaaaaddy!” Jenny whined.
“Dad's right,” Daniel confirmed. “No one's been watching Bugs, and David should be ...” He stopped, hearing the sound of the garage door. “There's David now. Let's go to the rec room and begin our studies.”
The rest of the day went normally; that is, normal for the Jackson-O'Neill household. One of the highlights occurred right after lunch when Mittens decided to attack another roll of paper towels.
“Clean fast,” Little Danny urged his siblings.
“We nevah get bunny,” Jenny lamented.
“Mittens, no do,” Jonny chastised. He gave the cat a hug and added, “We love you, but we wanna get bunny.”
“Gotta be good,” Ricky told the gray and white cat, who simply sat, licking her paws in response to the mild scolding.
“She no listen,” Aislinn observed.
A bit later, the parents took their children outside and played ball.
“I like learning like this,” David remarked.
“Me, too. What we learning, Daddy?” Chenoa inquired.
“It's called physics,” Daniel answered as he continued their lesson, using the ball as a learning tool.
After a short break, the math lesson began, the kids divided into three groups, depending upon their current abilities. Ten minutes into it, Sheila's mother dropped Jennifer off.
“Hi, I'm home,” the teenager announced as she walked into the rec room. She laughed, “This may be one of the few times when you guys would agree with me that going to regular school is a cool thing.”
“You're lucky, Jen,” David bemoaned.
“Settle down,” Jack urged the brood, all of whom were beginning to fidget now that they'd been interrupted by their sister's return.
“But Jen home now. Time for fam'ly meeting?” Aislinn asked excitedly.
As Daniel smiled, Jack inwardly groaned, **No more pets, Danny.**
**You tell her.**
“Danny, should we dismiss them early?” Jack inquired.
“Dismiss?” Daniel chuckled. They'd never used such strict terminology before in reference to their homeschooling. “Yeahsureyabetcha. Class dismissed,” he said, unable to stop his laughing.
**Hey, that's my line,** Jack silently complained.
**We're married, so it's half mine,** Daniel countered.
**Yes, I am.**
Jack shook his head at his spouse's confidence, but, inside, his heart was beaming at how far Daniel had come since he found him staring at the wall in the SGC hallway over a decade ago. This particular game of words was a regular one, but it still never ceased to make the older man feel proud and happy.
“Everyone in the living room; I'll be right back,” Jack stated, getting up and walking outside. He went to his truck, retrieving the bag. Looking inside for a moment, he caught a glimpse of the Energizer batteries he'd bought for the television remote control while at the sporting goods store. The popular battery used a pink bunny as its symbol. ~Bunnies. We are not getting any bunnies.~
“Jack, what are you up to?” Daniel curiously asked when Jack finally returned to the house.
“About fifty bucks an hour,” Jack replied with a smile. “But since we're on a first-name basis, we'll talk about a discount.”
“Very funny.” Daniel responded, rolling his eyes. ~He'll never change. Gawd, I love him.~
“These are compasses,” Jack informed Daniel and their kids. “Everyone gets one, including me and Daddy.” He handed his lover a blue one that matched his eyes and kept the maroon one for himself. “You all get a different color.”
“Thanks, Babe, but you do realize, we already have one, or two,” Daniel jested as he held the blue one.
“But it's not blue, and it's not like these,” Jack refuted.
“Oh, right,” the archaeologist chuckled, even though he understood why his husband had gone about his plan the way he had. ~But he's so much fun to tease.~
Each compass was attached to a matching strap so that it could hang around a person's neck. Little Danny's compass was navy blue, Jonny's camouflage , Aislinn's yellow, Jenny's pink, Ricky's light green, Jennifer's light purple, David's dark green, and Chenoa's dark purple. The two extra's in the bag were red and brown.
“What these for?” Aislinn asked.
“They'll help you find which way to go in case you get lost,” Jack explained.
“No get lost 'gain, Dad,” Jonny firmly stated.
“Son, no one intends to get lost, but sometimes it happens, so whenever we are near the woods, like when we go camping, everyone must bring their compass. It's one of our new rules, right, Daddy?” Jack asked, smiling at his husband.
“Sure, uh, yes, right ... Dad,” Daniel affirmed as he examined his compass carefully.
For the next hour, Jack and Daniel showed the kids how to use the compasses and made them practice. When they were done, Jack told the children to put their compasses in one of their drawers upstairs, reminding them to remember where they put it and that their compasses would be part of their gear anytime the family went camping or anywhere near the woods.
“We take Minn'sota?” Jonny asked.
“Yes,” Daniel confirmed. “Anytime we go to one of the cabins, we'll take our compasses, and we'll wear them around our necks whenever we go hiking or go away from the cabin.”
“Okay, go put your compasses away,” Jack instructed.
“Dad!” Aislinn objected.
“Ash?” Jack asked tentatively.
“Meeting no done,” the little girl claimed.
“She's right, Jack,” Daniel agreed, giving his soulmate a stare that said he couldn't back out of the discussion.
“All right,” Jack agreed. “The floor is open.”
Eight hands immediately went up into the air. Daniel walked over towards the kitchen slightly, leaving Jack standing by himself in front of the sofa, and their brood. He stood with his hands in his pockets and head bowed as he fought off the urge to laugh.
“Jennifer?” Jack stated.
“I yield to the Munchkins,” Jennifer smirked.
“That's not ...” Jack began.
In unison, the Munchkins shouted out, “We want bunny!”
Jack closed his eyes, shaking his head.
“Dad, why no bunny?” Little Danny asked as he began to pout.
“Okay, Kids, look. Bunnies are great creatures, but we already have two dogs, a cat, a lizard, and a tank full of fish. I don't think now is a good time to add a bunny to the fold. You're a little too young for another pet,” Jack said, looking specifically at the five youngest children. “I'm sorry, but that's how I feel. Daniel?” he called out, looking over at his husband.
Daniel sighed and responded, “Honestly, Dad and I disagree on this one, but this is his house, too, and he has a point about the care and wellbeing of the bunny. We know you're responsible, but bunnies require lots of attention, too. We'll keep an open mind, and maybe one day down the road, we'll be able to get a bunny. For now, though, let's respect Dad's wishes. No pouting. Um, how about we table the bunny discussion until your birthdays in September? You'll be older then and better able to take care of the bunny. Okay?”
“I think that's the best we're going to get,” David said, looking at his siblings.
“Okay,” Little Danny sighed. He saw his younger father's stare and sighed again. “No pout.”
“Upstairs,” Jack ordered. “Put your compasses away. You can play until dinnertime.”
A bit hesitantly, the children dispersed until only their parents were left in the living room.
“Thanks for backing me up,” Jack spoke.
“You have a right to your opinion, Love, but I think the children could take care of a bunny, and I don't see a problem with their getting one now,” Daniel stated.
Daniel put his hand up, one finger extended as he stopped his lover's interruption by saying, “Let me finish. We're a partnership, Jack, and we've prided ourselves on being pretty honest with our brood, so, I'm asking you to do the same thing I just asked them to do. Let it sit, think about it, and, in September, we'll talk about it again, but you have to listen. They'll be older, and I don't think saying that we already have other pets is a good enough reason to not let them add to ... to, uh ...”
“The zoo?” Jack questioned. After Daniel shrugged, the older man nodded and replied, “Okay, Danny. I'll keep that open mind you talked about.”
“Thank you,” Daniel replied.
“Shall we seal the deal?” Jack inquired.
“I'd like that ... a lot,” Daniel answered.
The two men moved together and shared a tender kiss, then they leaned their foreheads together as their hands caressed the other's arms and back. It had long been a symbolic pose of their love and unity.
“I love you, Angel.”
“I love you, too, My Silver Fox,” Daniel replied.
“Hot dogs?” Jack asked.
“With pork and beans?” Daniel questioned.
With a chuckle or two passing between them, the lovers moved to the kitchen to begin the preparation of the evening meal.
As the family cleared the table after dinner, Jack noticed some of the bunnies and grasshoppers that the kids had made hanging on the wall. He loved nature, and these were wonderful reminders of the outdoors.
~Maybe a bunny wouldn't be so bad. They are cute,~ Jack thought to himself. ~Wait one friggin' minute! What am I thinking?~
Jack wasn't aware of it, but his lover had overheard his thoughts about the bunny. Daniel only smiled, confident that the children would eventually get their desired pet.
After dinner, the family gathered in the rec room to watch a Simpsons marathon, thanks to Jack's DVD collection.
“Daniel, I think now is a good time to have that talk with our namesakes,” Jack suggested as he and his husband sat on the couch, with the children scattered around on floor pillows and other furniture.
Daniel agreed and began the proceedings, saying, “Jonny, Little Danny, would you come with Dad and me, please.”
“We tr'ble,” Jonny whispered to Little Danny, who nodded his agreement.
As both boys stood up from their place on a floor pillow, Jack requested, “Jen, keep an eye on the rest of the rugrats. Let's go,” he said, motioning for the boys to follow their parents into the backyard.
“We goin' tree house?” Jonny questioned.
“Yes,” Jack answered.
“We big tr'ble,” Little Danny quietly bemoaned.
After getting settled in the deluxe tree house, Jack and Daniel began their talk with the adventurous twosome.
“We know that you two didn't mean to get lost and make us all worry, but you both know better then to wander off, right?” Daniel questioned.
“We know,” Jonny sighed, setting his face into his hands that rested atop his knees.
Jack reminded, “More than half of the SGC personnel were out looking for you, not to mention how worried we were.”
“*And* Uncle Lou, Aunt Sara, Mike ...” Daniel began, rattling off a long list of concerned people.
“We sorry,” Jonny sniffled.
“No do 'gain; we learn es'on,” Little Danny added amidst his own sniffling.
“Jack, I think they know what a bad choice they made. I also believe they learned from it,” Daniel surmised, looking at the children as he spoke.
Jack looked at the boys and responded, “I agree, but, Boys, wrong is wrong, and you caused a lot of trouble.”
“We can't forget the money involved, either. We'll, uh, study that in one of your lessons soon, so you can better understand the cost of your ... adventure,” Daniel stated.
“So ...” Jack began.
“So ...” Daniel stated within seconds.
“So we be punished,” both Jonny and Little Danny stated at the same time, their long, wet faces working hard to melt their parents' resolve.
“Right,” Jack and Daniel spoke in unison, trying not to lose control at all of the coincidental same-time comments.
“No ice cream for two weeks,” Jack announced.
“And no television, either,” Daniel added.
“Okay,” both boys sighed in unison.
“Now that your punishment is settled, there's one more thing,” Daniel added, reaching in his pocket and pulling out Little Danny's special rock.
“My rock,” Little Danny exclaimed excitedly, happily taking the stone from his younger father.
Jack smiled at Little Danny's excitement over a rock and communicated, **Angel he is just like you. Geez, thrilled over a rock.**
**And Jonny is just like you, Babe, listening to Little Danny prattle on about the rock,** Daniel silently replied as they watched Little Danny show the rock to Jonny, who rolled his eyes and then listened for the tenth time, at least, to his brother's speech about the rock's special characteristics.
Jack and Daniel spent a little more time talking to the boys about their time lost in the forest and then they returned to the house for more Simpsons fun, telling the boys that their punishments would begin the next day.
Tuesday morning, Janet arrived at the Jackson-O'Neill's to help Jennifer watch the kids while Jack and Daniel went to their meeting with Mister Sorenson at J-O Enterprises. Much to the brood's delight, they were being given the day off from their studies.
“Aunt Janet, we go play outside?” Chenoa asked.
“Okay, let's all go outside and play,” Janet agreed enthusiastically, taking the little girl by the hand.
“We play hide seek?” Ricky asked hopefully.
“Yeah, hide 'n' seek fun,” Aislinn commented.
“I good hider,” Jonny added as he and the others walked outside onto the lawn.
“Aunt Janet is 'it',” David called out.
“Lucky me,” Janet chuckled, heading over for the large tree that the tree house was built in. “You all know the rules that your fathers have set for playing hide and seek,” she reminded.
“We follow rules,” Little Danny promised.
“Here, we go,” Janet said as she turned and faced the tree. “One ... two ...”
The rest of the morning was full of similar fun as the children and one of their favorite aunts played.
On their way back from J-O Enterprises, Jack and Daniel decided to completely set aside homeschooling for their brood for the rest of the week, except for mini-lessons as related to the Easter holiday that was being celebrated.
“We should do something about the different Easter traditions, Jack, and make sure they understand the difference between the religious aspects of the day and all the ... the, uh ...”
“Fluff?” Jack asked from his seat next to his lover in the sports car named after him -- the Silver Fox.
Daniel nodded as he came to a stop at a stoplight, adding, “I don't want them to be confused about the ... the ...”
“Silliness?” Jack asked.
“Yeah,” Daniel chuckled.
“Danny,” the older man spoke in a solemn tone.
“We don't do this often, but I think I'd like to take them to church this Sunday,” Jack stated.
“Church? Uh, okay, but ... which one?”
“I don't know; maybe a couple. Most churches have several services on Easter Sunday. We've agreed that the brood should make up their own minds about religions and faiths, so I think we need to start exposing them to some of the rituals of those faiths,” Jack opined.
“Okay. How about the outdoor sunrise service?” Daniel suggested about the non-secular event. “We'd have to check to make sure they are doing it again this year, though.”
“That'll work,” Jack said with a small smile. “They used to have thousands of people attending the service. It can get cold out there, but it's an experience.”
“I remember when we went years ago,” Daniel recalled. “Watching the sunrise and listening to the choir was ... inspiring.”
Jack smirked, “Very!”
“Well, we were so cold that it didn't take us long to warm up,” the older man replied, referring to their make-out session in his truck that occurred in a nearby area as soon as the words of inspiration had been spoken and the crowd had disbursed.
It hadn't been the smartest thing the lovers had ever done, but they always enjoyed the rush of adrenaline they felt from taking the occasional chance of being discovered. Of course, they were happy they never had been. Still, sometimes, it was an adventure to risk everything to fulfill their physical needs at the time. Though they'd chosen the most remote area they could find at the time, it had still been quite a risk.
After a minute of silence, Jack added, “I just feel grateful our sons are safe.”
As he drove, Daniel reached over with his right hand to caress his lover's thigh for a moment and agreed, “Me, too, Babe.” Moments later, he added, “If they aren't doing it, we can check out the service at the Garden of the Gods, or ... well, it doesn't really matter what church we go to, does it?”
“No,” Jack answered. “I would just like them to see what's out there and take a minute to say 'thanks' in a more formal setting.”
The couple also made plans for the big Easter Egg Hunt they'd hold Sunday after the church service, whichever one they ended up attending.
“Jack, we have to decide on dinner,” Daniel stated.
The general chuckled, “Hammond's, Ferretti's, Cornell's, Rancolini's, Megan's, Mrs. V's -- how'd we end up with so many invitations for one meal?”
“It's called a holiday, and you left out the Svensons and Teal'c,” the archaeologist reminded.
“T,” Jack remarked, shaking his head as he let out a little snort.
“He's been studying traditional holiday meals; says he has the perfect combination of foods that he wants to try out on us,” Daniel commented.
“That's what I'm afraid of,” Jack teased. “Easter hash,” he quipped.
“So, where do we go?” Daniel questioned.
Jack sighed, then perked when he said, “Home!”
“Sunrise service, one hunt for the egg-os, and then we head for the cabin,” Jack stated enthusiastically.
“Jack, it's too far ...”
“Not Minnesota, Love,” Jack interrupted. “Let's go to our cabin here.”
“Fish?” Daniel queried as he sneaked a glance over at his Love.
“Steak, hot dogs, burgers -- all the Jackson-O'Neill favorites,” Jack responded.
“And bail out on our friends and family?” the younger man questioned.
“This year, yes,” Jack stated. He looked at his soulmate and remarked, “Angel, we do a lot of things with those people now, and I love them all, really, I do, but we ...”
“I understand, Jack. We'll go to the cabin,” Daniel spoke, understanding that Jack was feeling a need to be close to the children, especially Jonny and Little Danny after their recent scare. After all, the younger man felt the same way. ~It was close; too close.~
Wanting to move forward and not dwell on the emotion of the moment, Jack took a breath and said, “We promised the boys we'd build that dog house for Starbuck.”
“I'd like to meet that dog,” Daniel chuckled, liking the unusual name.
“Since you're addicted to coffee ...” Jack began.
“That's not it, Babe,” Daniel responded. “Starbuck's my favorite character from the original 'Battlestar Galactica'.” When Jack stared at his husband with incredulous eyes, the younger man shrugged and stated, “Well, you made me sit through one of those all weekend showings on that TV channel a few years ago, and ...”
“You're a closet Galactica watcher, aren't you, Love?”
“I am not in the closet,” Daniel denied.
“Noooooo, I ... I just didn't tell you I liked the show,” Daniel responded, his dimples showing from the precious smile now gracing his face.
“You're too much, Danny,” Jack teased.
“You got that right, O'Neill. I'm high-priced and well worth it,” the archaeologist replied seductively, changing the entire tone of the conversation for the remainder of the trip home.
Two minutes later, Daniel parked the Silver Fox in the driveway and turned off the engine.
“RICKY! RICKY, WHERE ARE YOU?” Janet called from the backyard.
“Daniel, relax. He's not lost,” Jack soothed.
“Daniel! Let's just go see what's going on,” Jack suggested, getting out of the fancy sports car.
As Jack and Daniel walked into the backyard, they could hear not only Janet, but all the kids calling Ricky. Their resolve not to panic wavered.
“Daddy,” Jenny cried as she ran over to Daniel, who immediately picked her up, her little arms wrapping around him.
“Jack, Daniel, I'm glad your home,” Janet intoned anxiously. “We were playing hide and seek, and we can't find Ricky.”
“Everyone, listen up,” Jack called out. “You all know the rules about playing hide and seek, so Ricky can't be too far away. We'll divide up into teams and do a complete search of the yard,” he instructed.
“Like when you look for Jonny 'n' Li'l Danny,” Aislinn remarked calmly.
“Yes,” Daniel confirmed, setting Jenny back on the ground.
“We call Gran'pa, and Paul come help with map of yard,” Aislinn stated, already trying to figure out how many sectors they'd divide the large yard into.
“I don't think we need to go that far, Princess,” Jack replied, smiling, and then divided the family into teams.
After searching every nook and cranny of both the backyard and the front of the house, the concerned family still hadn't located the youngest Jackson-O'Neill. That's when Daniel realized something.
“Jack, look at the girls,” Daniel instructed.
Jack looked at the two beagles, who were lying on the patio deck by the sliding glass doors. In fact, both men realized they had been peacefully sprawled out there since they had arrived home.
“Do you think?” Jack questioned as he and Daniel headed towards the house.
“Yes, I think” Daniel responded, relief in his voice as the couple headed towards the doors.
Jack reached the door first, smiling when he opened it and looked inside. Lying on the sofa, fast asleep, was their lost son, Ricky. Jack motioned to the rest of the family, and they all went into the living room.
“Dad, Daddy you home,” Ricky observed sleepily as he sat up, waking up when everyone had come into the house.
“Son, why are you in the house by yourself?” Jack inquired, his voice gentle and without assumption.
The toddler answered, “Playin' hide seek. Want ta hide good. Think no on' look in house. Ev'one think I outside.”
“You're right, they did,” Jack confirmed with a smile.
“Ricky is the winner,” David announced.
“What win?” Ricky asked excitedly.
“You get to decide what movie we watch tonight,” Jack proclaimed.
“Yay! Watch 'mations,” Ricky said right away.
Daniel saw Janet's questioning look and translated, “One-hundred-and-one Dalmations.”
“Thank you,” Janet chuckled.
“The spotted dogs it is,” Jack declared. “Now for the really important stuff. I'm starving; let's eat!”
“Janet, would you like to join us?” Daniel asked.
“I've love to, but I have a date,” the petite physician announced with a happy smile.
“Anyone we know?” Jack quizzed.
“Lips are sealed,” Janet responded jovially, bringing her hand to her lips and making a sealing motion. “I'll see everyone later!” she said, waving at the children and then getting her purse and leaving the house.
“Thanks, Jen,” Jack said as their teenage daughter put a bowl of hot soup on the table in front of her older father.
“You're welcome, Dad.”
Seeing everyone was served, Jack grinned and said, “Dig in!” He reached for his spoon, and, just as he was about to get a big, beefy spoonful, the phone rang. “Oh, for crying out loud, I'll get it.”
“Is he grouchy today?” David asked his younger father.
Daniel responded, “He had to sit through three hours of talks about rock and soil samples while we were meeting with our client.”
“Oh!” David and several of the children replied, some of them nodding their heads in comprehension.
Meanwhile, Jack was conversing with the caller who had interrupted his much-wanted lunch.
“No, you weren't interrupting ... they're fine ... yes, it was scary, and we really appreciate how you took the little rugrats into your care ... yes, we absolutely mean it. The boys have been talking about it since we left the Mountain. When's a good time? ... No, it's not bad timing for us. Are you sure you don't have plans with your fam...” Jack closed his eyes. ~Good one, O'Neill,~ he silently chastised himself for saying something thoughtless. “... We'll be there at ten ... looking forward to it.”
Daniel watched as Jack returned to the table. He noticed something wasn't quite right.
**I just about put my foot in my mouth again, Love.** Taking a breath, Jack smiled at their brood and announced, “Saturday, Solomon would like us to come out and help build the new doghouse for Starbuck. Would anyone be interested in that?”
Immediately, Jonny's and Little Danny's hands shot up.
“It's a date,” Jack chuckled.
“How's your foot?” Daniel asked.
“Still aching, but it'll get better,” Jack answered cryptically.
Jack and Daniel spent Wednesday and Thursday at the SGC, fulfilling their weekly obligations there, though their mission to PR9-227 had been postponed until sometime after Easter. Today, though, was Friday, otherwise known to the Jackson-O'Neills as egg decorating day. The younger children were in the projects room, working on their eggs under the direction of Jack and Jennifer.
Daniel, however, was in his den, reviewing survey results for J-O Enterprises. He'd been on the phone off and on all day with Megan, handling some difficult situations as well.
On the beanbag by his desk, Bijou and Katie were both sleeping, Katie's head actually resting atop her mother's body.
~Just a few more minutes, and I'll be ...~ Daniel jumped backwards and then let out a sigh. “Mittens, I thought it was Jack that you always drove crazy.”
Walking across Daniel's keyboard, the cat simply meowed and jumped down, running out of the den.
“My fault. I left the door open,” the archaeologist lamented, standing and intending to close the doors to his den.
While the beagles had always behaved in the den, Mittens had a tendency to want to explore, and the room was full of too many prized treasures to allow her the chance to destroy anything by accident.
Just a few steps out, the phone rang.
“Shibatwray,” Daniel swore in one of the several languages he knew.
Bijou's ears rose as she stared at the archaeologist, though she didn't move otherwise.
“I'm sorry,” Daniel sighed, shaking his head. ~She can't know I swore ... can she?~ Sitting back down, he picked up the phone. “Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.”
“Daniel, it's Paul Davis,” the major stated over the phone.
“Paul, hello,” Daniel acknowledged.
“How are the boys?” the caller inquired.
“Just fine, and, uh, Jack and I want to thank you again for what you did. The help was ... amazing,” Daniel stated. “Thank Marc for us, too.”
“I'll do that,” Davis acknowledged. “How's Ash?”
“She's fine. She was mad at her brothers until they told her that they got lost following a rabbit into the woods. Then all she wanted was to hear about the rabbit,” Daniel explained.
“Daniel, that's the reason I am calling. I'm sure you know that during the boys' little adventure, Aislinn spent a lot of time helping me,” Davis stated.
“Yeah, she told me. Paul, thanks for doing that. Letting her help you gave her a safe way to help find her brothers; she really needed that,” the grateful father said.
“It was my pleasure. She really was a good helper,” the Air Force officer replied truthfully.
Daniel chuckled, “She's an expert now at dividing things into sections. Long story; I'll tell you about the next time we have lunch.”
“Great. Daniel, something Ash said got my attention. With Sunday being Easter, I thought it would be the perfect time to follow through, but I need your and the general's permission.”
“What is it?” Daniel questioned curiously while deleting the lines of gobbledegook that Mittens had 'typed' onto his computer.
“Ash told me that she and her siblings want a bunny ...”
“They sure do,” Daniel confirmed.
“She mentioned a family meeting,” Davis noted.
Chuckling, the archaeologist replied, “Yeah, we talked about the possibility of the kids getting a bunny at one of our family meetings the other day. The debate was whether or not they're old enough. I think they are,” he opined.
“Great! Would it be okay if I bought them a baby bunny?” Davis asked.
“Daniel, I'd like to do it, if you don't have any objections to it being a gift from me.”
“No, of course not, Paul,” Daniel responded. “It would be great, and the kids would love it.”
“So, you're sure? The general won't mind?” the major inquired.
Daniel chuckled, knowing full well that Paul Davis was aware of Jack's grizzly bear persona, and answered, “He'll be fine with it once ...” A loud crash interrupted him. Turning around to look at the source, he groaned. “Paul, I have to go. Mittens, our cat, just knocked something over and made a mess,” he explained, keeping an eye on their trouble-making feline.
“No problem. See you on Sunday,” the major spoke, pleased that he'd gotten permission to buy the children a bunny.
“Yeah, okay, bye,” Daniel replied distractedly as he hung up the phone. He got up and walked over to a small side table that was currently near the sliding doors to the den. “Mittens,” he sighed, seeing the vase on the floor, with water flowing out of it and the dozen red roses Jack had given him the night before 'just because' strewn all over the floor.
“Meow!” the cat said from the hallway, mischief in her eyes.
Daniel studied the cat's eyes carefully and responded, “No, I'm not going to chase you all over the house, but remember this. My husband gave me these roses, and he's downstairs with the children working on decorating eggs. When he finds out about this, he's liable to decorate you.”
“Exactly, so, if I were you, I'd stay scarce for the rest of the day.”
“Mew”, the cat responded in an abbreviated sound and then scurried away.
“But don't hide from Little Danny; he'll worry!” Daniel called out to the fleeing cat. Suddenly, he blinked and let out a big breath. “Gawd. I talk to dogs. Now I'm talking to cats, *and* I talk to fish. I guess I just like to ... talk to the animals. Just call me Doctor Doolittle-Jackson-O'Neill!”
After a brief thought that he'd been hanging out with his husband too much, and the subsequent thought that there was no such thing as hanging around his husband too much, and yet another thought that he had turned permanently schizophrenic, considering his current thought process, Daniel cleaned up the mess.
Fortunately, the vase wasn't glass, so nothing had broken. It was just a matter of mopping up the spilled water, refilling the vase, rearranging the red flowers, and sweeping the carpet to get things back in shape. In fact, only two of the flowers had had petals damaged, so Daniel felt pretty good about it, especially since he blamed the mess on himself for not having closed the doors.
The archaeologist returned to his computer and completed restoring his work to its pre-cat damage state. Then he focused on finishing up his J-O Enterprises obligations for the day as he really wanted to join his family and be a part of the decorating. He had a brief notion that he should call Paul Davis back, but then Megan phoned with another crisis. By the time Daniel had taken care of it, he'd also received two important emails from clients that required answering. Sadly for the younger father of eight, it was dinnertime before he could even take a break, and, by then, Paul's call was long forgotten.
“Dad, not 'nuff,” Jonny spoke. “Starbuck biiiiiiiiiiig dog, like bear,” he explained, spreading out his arms as wide as they could go.
“Son, what kind of dog did you say this was?” Jack asked.
“Newfie,” Little Danny answered.
“A Newfoundland?” Jack clarified, having forgotten what kind of dog the kids had encountered. “Whoa! Yeah, you're right. We need more lumber,” he agreed.
Jack and the boys were shopping for the supplies they'd need to take with them to Solomon's. It was early Saturday morning, and, as soon as everything was purchased, they'd pick up Daniel and David and head out to Solomon's home. They were getting a later start than originally planned because Jenny had been up with an earache during the night, but she was fine now, and Solomon didn't mind the time being pushed back a bit.
The twins were with their neighbor, Mrs. Sophia Valissi. The family physician, Doctor Sylvia Preston, was going to drop by Mrs. Valissi's to take a look at Jenny as a precaution since she was visiting a friend in the neighborhood anyway. The rest of the children were spending the day with Teal'c, who was going to prepare some of his special foods for them as a treat.
After securing the proper amount of lumber, Jack led the kids over to the hardware area, where they picked up several L-brackets, nails, screws, and other materials.
In the paint aisle, Jack teased, “So, how about some bright pink?”
“DAAAAAAD!” both boys called out.
“Big bear dog no have pink house,” Jonny whined.
“Lavender?” Jack joked.
“Big, BIG dog, Dad,” Little Danny reminded.
Jonny and Little Danny nodded, so Jack selected a light brown, something that would look natural. He wasn't planning on painting the whole house, but a little bit of color on the window and doorframe would enhance the look of the doghouse.
After selecting the desired paint, they added roof cement to their cart and headed for the checkout counter.
Not being sure what equipment Solomon had at his house, Jack had already put a variety of tools in his truck, wanting to ensure they had everything needed to build the house once they were there.
Later, as the five Jackson-O'Neill men headed for Solomon's, they were confident they could build a doghouse that both Solomon and Starbuck would love.
As Jack pulled the F-350 to a stop in Solomon's front yard, Starbuck came running from the backyard to greet them, barking his welcome and alerting his owner to the presence of company.
“Let's take this a little slow,” Jack suggested, seeing the big dog and
comparing the dog's size to the small boys. ~The dog's bigger
than both of 'em put together.~
“Wow, he *is* a big dog,” Jack commented.
“Starbuck, sit,” Solomon yelled as he exited the house to welcome the Jackson-O'Neills.
The dog obeyed and sat down about ten feet from the Ford truck.
“Dad, it okay. Starbuck good dog; no bite,” Little Danny stated confidently.
“Okay, guys we have a very big doghouse to build. I hope I bought enough lumber,” Jack remarked as he opened his door.
“Hi, Sol; hi, Starbuck,” Jonny and Little Danny greeted after their parents had helped them out of the vehicle.
“Thank you for coming,” Solomon welcomed Jack and Daniel. “It really isn't necessary to ...”
“We're not paying you back,” Daniel interrupted. “We're visiting a new friend.”
“And disbursing some building material while we do it,” Jack added.
Solomon smiled and looked over at David, who was standing next to Daniel.
Little Danny held a bag in his hand and asked, “Dad, give Starbuck now?”
“You need to ask Solomon,” Jack answered.
Little Danny showed their host what was in the bag and asked permission to give the treat to the bear-like canine.
Solomon smiled and replied, “He'll love it.”
Little Danny took the large rawhide bone out of the bag, handing the bag itself to Jonny to hold. Then he walked over to Starbuck, who wagged his tail.
“He is ... friendly. I mean, uh, he's used to ...” Daniel rambled, a tad worried the dog might devour his namesake's arm while taking the bone.
“He's been around children; he's a biggun', but he's very gentle,” the man assured.
“This for you, Starbuck,” the middle Munchkin said.
True to Solomon's word, Starbuck gently took the bone from Little Danny.
“Good boy,” Little Danny praised as Jonny joined him by the dog.
Starbuck had a smile in his eyes as he calmly sat with the large rawhide bone in his mouth.
Both boys patted the dog on his head, and then Little Danny stated, “Thank you for help'n' us.” He gave the big black dog a hug and added, “Now we build you house.”
“You third best dog,” Jonny stated. “Bijou 'n' Katie best dogs.”
“You chew bone now,” Little Danny instructed. “We work.”
Responding to the little boy as obediently as he had his owner, Starbuck walked a few feet away and settled down onto the ground, happily chewing his brand new bone.
“You sure brought a lot of lumber,” Solomon remarked, glancing into the back of Jack's truck.
“Well, that's a mighty big dog you got there,” Jack commented, motioning towards the Newfoundland that was totally engaged in his bone.
“Dad, I'll keep an eye on Jonny and Little Danny, while you and Daddy unload the truck,” David offered.
Daniel put his arm around David, who was standing next to him, and introduced, “Sol, this is our son David.”
“Nice to meet you, David,” Solomon stated, extending his hand to shake David's.
“Nice to meet you, too, Mister O'Shea,” David responded, shaking the tall man's hand.
“Please call me, Sol.”
“Okay, Sol,” David said with a grin as he pushed back his long bangs.
“Time for a haircut,” Jack quipped.
“Ahhhh, Dad, my hair is fine. I like it like this,” David replied.
“We'll talk about it later. You watch the boys,” Jack stated as he began the process of unloading the lumber, materials, and equipment, beginning with opening the back of the truck.
“You have three fine looking boys. I hope your twins don't get anymore ideas about exploring the woods,” Solomon stated, having assumed the boys were twins since Jonny and Little Danny looked like they were the same age.
“Actually, the boys are two-thirds of a set of triplets. Their sister is with their uncle,” Jack responded, slipping on a pair of working gloves.
“Four children?” Solomon mused. “I'll bet they keep you busy.”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a glance, and then Daniel revealed, “Actually, Sol, we have eight children.”
“Dad, we help, too!” Jonny demanded as he, Little Danny, and David approached again.
“They can carry some of the lighter things to the work area,” the archaeologist suggested.
“How about we build it over there, by the shed?” Jack asked.
“That would be fine,” Solomon agreed.
As they unloaded the truck, Jack and Daniel told Solomon a bit about their brood. The parents were full of smiles as they shared both amusing and tender anecdotes about their children with their new friend. Of course, they didn't say anything too specific or personal, but it was enough to show off just how proud of their children they were and how happy they were as a family.
~I remember when I use to talk like that,~ Solomon thought as he listened to the couple chat about their family. ~They're lucky men. I miss ya, Ruthie.~
Finally, everything was unloaded, but Jack and Daniel were still singing the praises of their family as the three adults stood by the stacked lumber, chatting.
“Dad, Daddy, time build Starbuck house. Talk 'bout us later,” Jonny ordered, cutting short the conversation.
“Okay, Son,” Jack chuckled.
“It's been hard,” Solomon admitted as he drove a nail into the lumber. He let out a snort, saying, “I'm not trying to hide, not anymore, but my wife and ...” The man paused, shaking his head. “I don't know why I'm talking about this. No one can understand unless they've been there.”
Jack looked over at his lover, who gave him an approving nod. The children were nearby and could hear if they really listened, but they were also occupied with painting a few pieces of board that would be used for decoration on the doghouse. They'd heard most of what might be said, anyway, so neither parent was that concerned about the discussion.
“We there; we know,” Little Danny surprised his parents by saying.
“Dad sad, but Charlie help us,” Jonny stated.
“Charlie?” Solomon questioned. “I don't recall you mentioning him earlier.”
“We didn't,” Daniel quietly responded.
“Charlie was my son by my first ...”
“Jack!” Daniel interjected. “Think about what you were about to say!”
The older man expressed a small amount of amusement, which, of course, is what his lover had wanted.
“What I meant to say,” Jack continued, “is that in my first marriage, my wife and I had a son, Charlie.”
“He our big bro'er,” Jonny stated proudly. “He no here, though.”
“He's not?” Solomon inquired.
“He in Heaven, with Mommy,” Little Danny expressed.
Solomon looked over at Jack, his surprised expression also showing off his sorrow, if he was interpreting the conversation correctly.
“My son shot himself with my gun,” Jack explained as calmly as he could.
Little Danny walked up to Jack and held up his arms, his older father instantly picking him up. Jack found himself the recipient of a long, close hug by the small boy.
“Charlie here,” Little Danny stated, putting his hand over Jack's heart. “And here,” he added, moving his hand to his heart, too.
Jack hugged the youngster again and took a deep breath before putting him down and instructing, “Finish your paint job. We'll need those soon.” As he watched the three boys return to their tasks, he said, “I understand exactly what you went through, Sol, at least as far as your daughter is concerned. Charlie's death almost killed me.”
“I turned to alcohol,” the man admitted, nodding in affirmation as both Jack and Daniel turned to face him. With a wry smile, he added, “I couldn't get enough Jack Daniels,” a reference to the famous whiskey. A brief pause later, he continued, “After a while, it didn't matter what it was. I just wanted to disappear.”
“You were in the Marines,” Jack stated.
“I retired when my family was killed,” Solomon explained. “Life wasn't the same after that. I didn't care; I just didn't care.”
“I do know what you're talking about,” Jack admitted, looking over at Daniel for a moment.
Solomon nodded, then sighed, “I got a job when I first left the service, flying for a charter outfit, but I couldn't stay with it. Too many dates with the booze; too many mornings when I imagined my Ruthie was making me ham and eggs for breakfast, like she used to; and too many nights when all I could hear was my daughter Lily's cries, asking me how come I couldn't save her.”
The man was lost in his sorrow, his eyes watery as he remembered his troubled past.
“You were fired?” Jack questioned.
Solomon shook his head, answering, “I'm a darn good pilot, Jack. I never flew drunk, not once. But one day, I got in the cockpit, and my hands were shaking. I wanted a drink, bad. I knew I couldn't risk it. I quit on the spot and went to the first bar I could find.”
“How'd you survive?” Daniel asked, clarifying his question by adding, “I mean, uh, financially.”
“Odd jobs; *a lot* of odd jobs,” Solomon answered. “Starbuck and I don't need much.”
“Sol, you don't act like an alcoholic,” Jack responded.
“I am an alcoholic, but I haven't touched a drop in five years,” the man revealed.
As the adults continued to work, they talked, albeit more quietly, about Solomon's past.
“There was one morning I'll never forget. I had been drinking all night,” Solomon confided. “I was ready to end it all.”
**Danny, this is sounding a little too familiar,** Jack communicated.
**You aren't alone in having gone through that kind of pain, Love,** the younger man replied.
Solomon sighed, “I was drunk to the gills and headed to nowhere. For some warped reason, though I never flew drunk, I drove drunk.”
“Uh,” Daniel interrupted, looking over at their children.
Solomon looked over, too, and then a horrid thought occurred to him, and he inquired, “How did their mother die?”
Daniel cocked his head just slightly, opening his mouth to speak, and yet afraid to, his instincts telling him that they were discussing something way too close to home for all of the adults.
“It was a drunk driver, wasn't it?”
“Yes,” Jack confirmed. “She never knew what hit her.”
Solomon nodded, then shook his ahead as he intoned, “I'm sorry. It could have been me; someone like me. Did you drink when you ...” he asked, not finishing his question as he looked at Jack.
Jack shook his head, answering, “Not then; later, some, but ... I stayed to myself; got drunk on the deck of my roof a lot.” Again, he glanced over at Daniel. “I shut my wife out, got lost in my own world. She finally got tired of me, and she ... we both left.”
“You stayed in the service?”
“No, actually, I retired, but they wanted me back, and I had nothing else, so I went back,” Jack answered. “The funny thing is, it saved my life.”
“The Air Force saved your life?” Solomon asked.
“No, but he did,” Jack answered, nodding over at his husband. “We met on a project we were both working on.”
“You're in the Air Force, too?”
“No, I'm a civilian consultant,” Daniel answered, hoping the questions stopped there.
Fortunately, they did, as Solomon returned to his own sad tale, expounding, “Maybe I should have stayed, but I didn't. That morning, I don't know how I missed her.”
“Her?” Daniel asked.
“She couldn't have been more than nine or ten, but she ran out into the road. I don't know how I missed her, but I did. It sobered me up in a hurry. I haven't touched a drop since then.”
“So, are you working now?” Jack inquired.
“No one will hire me,” Solomon spoke. “I was arrested for D.U.I. a couple of times. No one wants to hire a drunk pilot, and that's all I'm really trained to do.”
“Daddy, how this?” Little Danny asked, motioning to the children's handiwork.
“It looks great, Son,” Daniel spoke.
Solomon smiled and intoned, “You two are very lucky to have such wonderful children.”
“Can I help nail?” David asked.
With the children tuned back into the adults' conversation, the topics turned to lighter things as they continued to work on the doghouse.
“Like this, Starbuck,” Little Danny said, crawling into the doghouse on his hands and knees.
“Has he ever had a house?” Jack asked, wondering if the house they'd just built would be for naught since the dog had yet to enter it.
“It was destroyed in a fire a year ago; it'll take him a minute,” Solomon spoke confidently.
“Come, Starbuck,” Little Danny instructed from inside the house.
“Rrrrrufff!” the dog replied as he scooted inside to check out his new house, giving Little Danny another kiss as he entered.
“I have to admit, Sol, when I first saw the size of Starbuck, I was a little worried about the kids being near him,” Jack stated truthfully.
“He's a great dog -- best payment I ever got,” Solomon responded.
“Payment?” Daniel inquired curiously.
“A couple of years ago, I rebuilt this lady's porch. Her dog had had a litter of pups, and she had one left. During my lunch breaks, she had seen me playing with the pup, and when I was done building the porch, she offered me the option of a cash payment or the pup,” Solomon expounded.
“And you took the pup?” Daniel asked with a smile.
“I took the pup,” Solomon said, smiling at the big dog. “Starbuck's a purebred Newfoundland. The lady gave me his papers. I've had a few offers to buy him, but he's family. I'd never sell him,” Solomon explained.
**My kind of guy, Danny,** Jack communicated, happy to see that kind of bond between a dog and its 'parent'.
“We come visit?” Jonny asked from his spot in the truck.
The Jackson-O'Neills were about to leave Solomon's home. The doghouse was a success, and Starbuck loved being able to lay out full length inside it. That was evident because he'd slept there while Solomon had fixed his new friends some sandwiches for lunch.
As he leaned in to look through Jack's open window to the back seat at the children, Solomon nodded and answered, “Your family is welcome anytime.”
“It's been a pleasure, Sol,” Daniel intoned from his spot in the front passenger seat.
“Hang tough, Sol,” Jack encouraged, holding his hand out one last time to shake the man's hand.
Still gripping Jack's hand, Solomon nodded, saying, “Thank you, for not judging me.”
“Couldn't do that without judging myself.”
Solomon stepped back as Jack prepared to pull away, but then he remembered something and called out, “Jack, wait! I'll be right back. Starbuck, stay.” The former Marine ran into his house and returned a few moments later with a bag, which he handed to Daniel through the car window. “These are the clothes that the boys were wearing when they *found* me. I washed them, but I'm afraid that Little Danny's pants are going to need some mending.”
“Yay, we get our Mar'gra shirts back," Jonny cheered from his car seat.
“Thank you, Sol,” Daniel said with an appreciative smile.
“The kids had some keepsakes in their pockets, too,” Solomon added. “I put them back in their pockets.”
A minute later, Jack pulled out, the children all waving and calling out more good-byes to Solomon and Starbuck, who stood at his side, barking his good-byes, too.
“Wow!” Aislinn exclaimed, looking at the arrowheads her brothers were showing her and all of the other children as they gathered in the living room.
Jonny and Little Danny sat down on the carpet, their brothers and sisters following suit, though the older ones just knelt down or sat on their knees, or sat on the sofa, watching. The boys were explaining how the arrows had pointed the way for them and that they had felt safe with the voice guiding them, urging them to follow the direction each provided.
“They help us find each o'her,” Little Danny commented.
“It Charlie,” Aislinn spoke with confidence.
Jack and Daniel, standing by the buffet as they watched their children, glanced at each other. Jack shrugged his shoulders, while his lover's mouth was open in that guppy-look that he so often had.
“Charlie?” Jennifer questioned. “Ash, what makes you think that?”
“I ask him help,” Aislinn said. “Dad, it was Charlie, huh?”
“Ah ...” the brood's older father began.
“Jonny, bet Charlie help me not drown,” Little Danny suggested and then reminded his family of how he almost drowned in the rapid waters of the high creek. “He help lift me,” he concluded about the strange force that propelled him through the waters.
“He'van arrows,” Ricky spoke in awe as he reached down and touched one of the arrows for a moment.
“Daddy?” David called out, wanting to know what his younger father thought about the conversation.
“I think ...” Daniel smiled, glancing over at the photos that graced their mantel. He crossed the room, picking up the photo of Charlie. He held it out and then pointed at other photos, like the one of his parents, and said, “I think we have a lot of love in our family, and some of that love is in Heaven. I think anything is possible.”
“It was Charlie,” Aislinn repeated confidently.
“Charlie big bro'er. He 'tect us, like you always tell us, Dad,” Jonny asserted.
“Dad, are you okay?” Jennifer asked as she looked over at the older man.
“I'm better than okay, Jen,” Jack answered, not trying to hide the tear that had just fallen from his left eye. “It was Charlie, taking care of all of us.”
Jennifer looked over at Daniel and saw his tender and supportive smile in Jack's direction. After contemplating everything for a few moments, she leaned over and picked up one of the arrows.
“Daddy, the sunrise service was so beautiful,” Jennifer observed. “Can we go again next year?”
“We'll see,” Daniel responded as the family headed home after the service ended bright and early Easter morning.
Once there, they began to gather their things together for their one-day trip to the Colorado cabin. Jack was just about to start loading some of the gear atop the SUV when he heard his lover calling out from the doorway.
“Jack, it's time!” Daniel called out.
The older man nodded and hurried up to the front door, whispering, “Is Jen watching the kids?”
“She has them totally immersed in the world of Peter Cottontail. We have to hurry,” Daniel spoke, leading his lover back inside the house.
As quickly as they could, the two hid six dozen decorated Easter eggs in their backyard, giving Bijou and Katie reminders that the eggs were for the children and not them.
“Grrrrr,” Katie whined.
Jack rolled his eyes and ordered, “Then go inside, and we'll hide a few for you, too.”
“Woof!” the youngest beagle replied, turning and going inside the house via the dog door.
Bijou looked up at Jack hopefully, and he sighed, “Okay, go on. You can have a couple, too.”
Daniel chuckled from the other side of the yard, having witnessed the entire exchange. It had happened the same way every year thus far. It was why they always decorated an extra dozen eggs, so the canines could find some, too.
“One, two, three -- go!” Jack spoke rapidly, laughing as the children, including Jennifer, began their hunt.
Daniel smiled, watching Jennifer quickly find an egg that was down low. Jenny was nearby, and the teenager covertly wiggled a bush to get her little sister's attention.
“I thought I felt something,” Jennifer spoke.
Jenny looked around, her eyes widening when she saw a brightly decorated egg.
“I find! You need glasses, Jen?” Jenny asked.
“Maybe!” Jennifer responded with a smile.
“Jack,” Daniel said quietly. “Did you learn that trick with Charlie?”
Jack shook his head as he answered, “No, Angel, I didn't. I have to admit it was James Stewart.”
“One of his movies talked about how he always put eggs down low, easy to find, for the younger children. I never forgot that. The older kids knew,” Jack stated.
“So, that's why we've never had to say anything to Jen or David?” the archaeologist asked.
Jack gave him a look as he affirmed, “They were as little as Jenny and Ricky, and the Munchkins. Their birth parents might have done the same thing for Noa. Kids are smart, Danny. The older ones don't need to be told, not if they're paying attention, and our kids ...”
“Pay attention,” Daniel mused in agreement.
“Found one!” Ricky happily chimed, picking up an egg that was just sitting by the trunk of the tree that had the tree house built in it.
Daniel had noticed David walking by that egg just a few moments earlier, and now he saw the boy grinning over at Ricky before finding an egg himself that was up higher in one of the bushes.
“You're right, Babe; they just know.”
As the hunt continued, there was a knock at the door. Daniel waved his lover off and headed inside to see who was there. Opening the front door, he was surprised to see Major Paul Davis standing there, a small carrier in his hands which contained a snow white baby bunny.
“Paul, ah ...” Daniel stammered, glancing back over his shoulder to make sure Jack hadn't followed. “That's a ... a ...”
“A bunny,” Daniel echoed quietly, a feeling of dread settling in as his mind returned to the conversation he'd had with the major a couple of days earlier.
“Daniel, you did give permission, or did I misinterpret what you said?” Davis asked, confused by his friend's stunned expression.
“The bunny is for the children?” Daniel asked, hoping for a miracle and that the response would be a 'no'.
“Yes. I asked you and ...”
“I remember,” Daniel nervously stated, again glancing over his shoulder. ~How am I going to explain this to Jack?~
“Daniel, I'm sorry. I guess I misunderstood you. I can take her back,” Davis stated.
“It's just ...”
“Don't worry about it. It was my mistake. I'd better go before one of the kids sees her,” the major suggested, turning and starting to leave.
“No, Paul, wait,” Daniel called out. He walked onto the front porch, closing the door behind him. “Please, let me explain. I did say it was okay, but when Mittens interrupted our conversation, I never finished the statement. I was distracted and had some business obligations to attend to, and I didn't think to call you back and clarify what I'd said.”
“I understand. I'll take her back. I'm sure she'll find a good home,” Davis intoned.
“No, wait,” Daniel urged again. “At our family meeting, Jack and I suggested we wait until the Munchkins and twins have their birthdays in September when they would be a little older. Actually, I'm all for them having a bunny now, but Jack isn't so sure, but I figured by then, we could ... convince him,” Daniel spoke with a tiny, somewhat timid smile.
“It's not a problem, Daniel. I'll just take her back ...”
“Paul, you bought her for the children, and ... well, I think they ... they, uh ... gawd, he's gonna kill me,” the archaeologist spoke. Seeing the major's expression, he sighed, “Did I just say that out loud?”
Davis smiled, but then replied, “Daniel, if the general doesn't want ...”
“Don't worry about Jack. I know how to get him to accept a new pet,” Daniel said with a sly grin.
Davis smiled as he responded, “Let the kids see her first and then the general won't have a choice?”
“Something like that,” Daniel affirmed. “Please come in,” he invited, opening the door and leading Paul Davis inside the house.
Just as the two friends were entering the living room, their plan came to a screeching halt.
“Daniel, you're missing all the fun. Jenny found the egg that we hid ...” Jack stopped mid-sentence when he saw Major Davis and what he was holding.
“Jack, Paul bought the children a bunny,” Daniel informed his husband.
“I have eyes, Daniel. Major,” Jack barked in greeting.
“General Jackson-O'Neill,” the major greeted in kind, not sure if he should make a hasty retreat or stand by and watch the next great war unfold in front of his eyes.
“Daniel, I thought we agreed -- no bunny, at least not until the Munchkins' birthday,” Jack reminded his lover as civilly as he could.
“Paul, would you excuse us for a moment,” Daniel requested, grabbing his husband by the elbow and tugging on the resistant man until Jack finally gave in, following Daniel into the study.
“Daniel, we're ...”
“Jack, I can explain,” Daniel said. “The other night ...” he began, explaining all about the phone call and the distractions that had apparently led to the miscommunication.
“I told you that cat would be trouble,” Jack complained.
“You never said that, Babe,” Daniel corrected.
Gruffly, Jack replied, “Well, I know I thought it.”
“Jack, I know what we agreed to, but the bunny is here. We can't be rude and ask Paul to take her back,” Daniel pointed out.
“Oh, yes, we can!” Jack replied. Seeing Daniel's stare, he corrected, “Well, I can. I'll just go tell the good major what he can do with the little snowball.”
“Jack!” the archaeologist called out.
Daniel sighed, shaking his head as his lover disappeared out the door.
“Okay, Davis ...”
“General, if you really don't want the kids to have her, I'll take her back to the pet store tomorrow. They'll find a home for her,” Davis stated. “I'm sorry for interrupting your Easter.”
~Don't look! I said don't look!~ Jack glanced at the bunny, in spite of his inner warning. The animal made a little noise and moved two steps to the edge of its small carrier, looking straight at Jack. ~Well, it is cute.~ Just as Daniel and Paul reached the entranceway, the general called out, “Oh, for crying out loud. Davis, where the heck do you think you're going with my kids' bunny rabbit?”
“Sir?” Davis asked questioningly as he turned back around to face his superior officer.
“What are you, some kind of Indian giver? You brought the brood a bunny, and now you're going to take it back. I'll have you court-martialed,” Jack threatened harshly. Then he smiled, saying, “The kids can have the bunny.”
“Thank you, Jack,” Daniel intoned sweetly, walking to his lover and placing a kiss on his cheek.
“That's it?” Jack asked incredulously. “I give in, and all I get is a lousy kiss on the cheek?”
“We have company, Jack,” Daniel reminded, adding, “Not to mention eight children in the backyard.”
“You have a point,” the older man conceded. “But I expect something *better* tonight.”
Paul Davis bowed his head slightly, trying not to laugh at the exchange, but loving the tender expression of romantic humor being played out in front of him.
“Paul, would you like to give the children the bunny yourself?” Daniel asked.
The major glanced at the general, who nodded his approval.
“If that's okay ...” Davis responded.
“Come on. Let's go make their day!” Jack suggested.
With Davis standing behind them, Jack and Daniel watched the children as they continued their quest to find more brightly colored Easter eggs.
“PAUL!” Aislinn yelled from across the yard, being the first to spot the major standing with her fathers. “We doing hunt!”
“Looks like you're doing well, too!” the major replied, looking at her full basket.
“Brood, front and center!” Jack called out.
“No more eggs?” Ricky asked sadly.
“There are a lot more,” Daniel answered. “But Major Davis has brought a surprise for all of you.”
“We like 'prises,” Jonny stated as he ran over with his basket.
“Davis, this is the brood. I know you've met some of them, but just in case,” Jack began.
“He know me!” Aislinn stated with a smile as she stood next to Jennifer.
No one could see the surprise since the carrier was being held behind the three men on the porch, and the children were all on the grass, two steps down.
“I know he does, Princess,” Jack acknowledged. “Just for the record, that's Jennifer, David, Chenoa, Jonny, Little Danny, Ricky, and Jenny,” he said, pointing to each child as he called out their names. “Did I miss anyone?”
“Oh, and Bijou and Katie,” Jack added with a chuckle.
“Kids, this is Major Davis. He works at the Mountain,” Jack pointed out.
“Nice to meet you,” Jennifer greeted politely.
“With your fathers' permission,” Davis began, giving Jack a small smile for a moment, “I've brought you something that I hope you'll like.”
Aislinn gasped, wondering if it could be true. She thought she had seen something, but wasn't sure. She bent down, trying to look between her parents to see if she'd seen what she'd thought she had.
“It bunny!” Aislinn exclaimed, running up the two steps, literally running between her parents, to the major.
Davis knelt down and placed the bunny's carrier between him and the little girl. He loved the twinkle in her eye as she stared at the bunny.
“Bunny?” Jonny asked.
“Where bunny?” Little Danny questioned at the same time.
“Want see!” Jenny demanded, setting her basket of eggs down on the ground and running towards the wooden patio.
“Bunny for us?” Aislinn asked.
“Yes, she is,” Davis confirmed. Then more quietly, he added, “I did my best to get one just like the one you saw on the calendar.”
“She bunny I want,” Aislinn said.
“Ash, remember, the bunny is for everyone,” Daniel reminded as all of the children began to gather round.
“Dad, Ash hold?” Aislinn asked with big, hopeful eyes.
“Sure, Princess,” Jack agreed, nodding to the major, who opened the carrier and handed the bunny to the little girl.
“She family bunny,” Aislinn replied, smiling as the bunny sniffed at her fingers. “I love her.”
“My turn, Ash,” Jonny demanded, happy when Aislinn handed him the bunny.
In a split second, a mad rush to hold the bunny was in progress.
“Hold it! Everyone back on the lawn,” Jack instructed. “You're going to scare the bunny; it's only a baby.”
Jonny grinned as he petted the bunny, Aislinn standing by his side and smiling down at the latest addition to the family.
“Daddy, can't I hold bunny, too?” Chenoa asked.
“Sure, Sweetie,” Daniel answered. “Everyone will get a turn, but we'll do it one at a time, giving the bunny a chance to get acquainted with whomever is holding her. Remember, the bunny is a living thing, just like Homer the fish and Bogey and ...”
“Woof!” Bijou interjected.
Daniel chuckled, “And the girls and Mittens. You have to be careful when you hold her.”
“We be careful, Daddy,” Jonny promised as his siblings nodded their agreement.
For the next half-hour or so, each child took a turn holding the baby bunny under the close supervision of the adults, after which the two beagles were allowed to sniff the new family member while Jack held her.
“Jen, why don't you take the bunny inside and see if you can find a safe place for it in the boys' room,” Jack suggested. “When you're done, you can bring her back out with you.”
“Okay, Dad,” Jennifer spoke, taking the bunny-filled carrier from her oldest father and going inside, Jonny, Little Danny, and Ricky all following to help find a suitable place for the new pet in their bedroom.
At that point, Aislinn walked over to the major and put her arms up. After getting a nod from Jack, Davis picked up the youngest Munchkin, who surprised him by giving him a big hug, which he returned.
“Thank you for bunny,” Aislinn said.
“You're very welcome, Ash,” Davis replied.
After being put back down, Aislinn went over to Jack, who picked her up, and said, “Thank you, Dad, for letting us have bunny,” following up the words of gratitude with a huge hug.
Jack glanced at Daniel and then at Paul as he returned the hug and said, “You're welcome, Ash.”
Several minutes later, with the baby bunny again being held by Jack, the older father announced, “Now that Jen's selected a good spot for the snowball here, we have an egg hunt to finish.”
“Yay!” Ricky cheered, eager to find more eggs.
“By the way, I bought a cage for her, too. It's in the truck,” Davis stated.
“Truck? You don't seem like a truck person, Davis,” Jack replied, absently patting the small rabbit he held.
“I'm not, but Marc is. I drive a Mustang, but the cage wouldn't fit in it,” the gift-giver explained.
“Danny, hold the carrot eater while I go help Davis bring in the cage,” Jack requested, handing the rabbit to his husband.
Daniel smiled, watching his husband and friend walk inside. Life was good. Not only did their children get their bunny, but his husband was actually getting along with Paul Davis. Of course, Mr. Jealousy wasn't much of an issue anymore where Paul was concerned, but he continued to hope that a real friendship could be formed with both Paul Davis and his partner, Marc Reynolds.
Outside, Davis led Jack to the black extended cab pick-up truck that belonged to his lover. He unlocked the door, pointing to the cage that was in the back seat. Both he and Jack reached in to pull out the item.
“General, I'm sorry about the mix-up over the rabbit. Had I known that you didn't want ...”
“Davis, the kids love the bunny, and the mix-up wasn't your fault. She is cute, but if you tell Daniel or the kids I said that ...”
“Not a word, Sir,” Davis promised.
“Did you have to get such a big cage for such a small rabbit?” Jack questioned as they set the cage on the ground.
“Sir, she won't stay small. I figured it would be better to get her a cage that she would be comfortable in, even when she's fully grown,” Davis explained as he reached into the truck and grabbed a couple of bags containing bedding, food, a water bottle, and other accessories that the bunny would require. He placed the items atop the cage, so they could carry everything inside at the same time. Seeing Jack's look of surprise, he noted, “I wanted to make sure you had all the basics. That's why I got the small travel carrier, too,” he added.
“Thanks, Davis,” Jack acknowledged.
“Danny, we set up the cage in the boys' room, and I put the carrier in the garage,” Jack stated as he and Paul returned to the backyard about twenty minutes later.
“Okay,” Daniel replied. “I think we should count the eggs now.” Using their special communication, he added, **Babe, there's one left that Ricky needs to find.**
**The one in the little doghouse flower bed.**
**I've got it covered,** Jack assured. Casually, he walked over towards the doghouse, whistling. “How ya doing, Son?” he called out toward the youngest male child.
“Find lots eggs,” Ricky answered, toddling over to his oldest father.
Jack glanced casually at the lone egg remaining to be found. He bent over under the pretense of checking the boy's basket.
“Let's see,” Jack said, helping his son put the basket down. Of course, he had guided the direction of the basket until it was almost parallel to the flower bed. “You're doing great.” He raised the basket so that Ricky's eyes had to follow it up towards the flower bed. “This is ...”
“Dad, 'nother egg!” Ricky chimed, reaching up with his hand and taking hold of the green and white striped egg.
“Well, what do you know!” Jack exclaimed, whistling as he walked back towards the patio. **Mission accomplished, Love.**
**I'll reward you later.**
**Counting on it,** Jack replied just as he reached his lover. “She looks comfy,” he mused.
“What?” Daniel responded. “Oh, yeah,” he said with a smile, looking down at the sleeping bunny in his lap.
“Yeah,” Daniel affirmed.
Jack turned and called out, “Okay, Brood; it's time to make the count! Everyone by the picnic table.” He turned to look at his lover, asking, “Coming?”
“I hate to wake her, but ...” Carefully, Daniel scooped up the bunny, moving very precisely as he got up. The bunny squiggled a little. “Sorry, but it's egg-counting time, and I can't miss that.”
“Daniel, I'll take her,” Davis offered, taking the fuzzy snowball from the grateful archaeologist and then sitting down on the chair Daniel had been seated on.
“Age before youth,” Jack spoke nonsensically. “Jen, you're first.”
“Here you go, Dad,” Jennifer replied, proudly handing over her basket of just nine eggs. “I'm just not very good at finding eggs. I don't know why,” she said with a smile.
“Me, either,” Jack answered, his eyes thanking the oldest Jackson-O'Neill child for helping to make the day even more special for the younger children.
“Jen, I give you lessons,” Jonny offered.
“It's a date,” Jennifer agreed.
“No date. Me just teach,” Jonny insisted.
“Okay,” Jennifer replied, trying not to chuckle.
The minutes passed as the eggs were counted, each child proud of their totals.
“Daddy, I found an even dozen this year!” Chenoa proudly stated.
“I'm very proud of you, Noa,” Daniel replied. “Which one is your favorite?”
“I like that one!” Chenoa exclaimed, pointing to an egg with a rainbow painted on it.
“It's very pretty,” Daniel agreed, smiling at David, who had created that specific egg design.
Finally, the last of the eggs were counted, and Jack made a drum roll sound as he beat dramatically on the picnic table. The children laughed at their fun-loving father as he stood and began to act like a master of ceremonies at some grand event.
“And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner. Yes, Sir, after long, long, lonnnnng minutes, we've counted all the eggs. We had eggs of all shapes and sizes ...”
“Daddy, was Dad always like this?” Jennifer whispered in her younger father's ear.
“Do you mean has he always acted like a silly loon?” Daniel inquired quietly.
“Yeah?” Jennifer confirmed, bobbing her head up and down.
“Pretty much,” the archaeologist chuckled.
“He's great,” the teenager responded. “The brood is eating it up.”
“And you?” Daniel probed.
Jennifer placed a kiss on Daniel's cheek and intoned, “I wouldn't trade in either of you, silly loon and ...”
“Let's stop there,” Daniel interrupted, causing their daughter to laugh.
“... and, therefore, having verified all the scores as tabulated by that handsome and smart outfit of Jackson-O'Neill and ... Jackson-O'Neill,” Jack continued flamboyantly, “I am pleased to announce that the winner of this year's Easter egg hunt, having found an astounding, a rip-roaring, an astronomical ... well, you get the idea,” he mused to the cheers of the children. “Having found sixteen eggs, all by herself, the winner is ... Big Red!”
“Yay, Jenny!” David cheered, clapping wildly.
The redheaded toddler laughed and jumped up and down happily.
“Okay, Princess,” Jack began, kneeling down in front of her. “As the winner, you get to choose what we have for dinner tonight and one chore that your brothers and sisters will do for you this week.”
“Mmmm,” Jenny thought, putting her fisted hand to her chin. “Want chicken 'n' 'tatos 'n' gar'c bread 'n' lots ice cream.”
Jack chuckled, then prompted, “And what chore do you want to be excused from this week?”
She put her hand back down and bit her lip as she thought for a moment, then Jenny answered, “Make bed 'n' clean room.”
**Danny, that's a two-fer. What do you think?** Jack inquired.
**Let her have it, Jack. She doesn't make much of a mess, anyway,** Daniel responded.
“You got it!” Jack agreed, gently poking the little girl in the abdomen, making her laugh, as he stood up. “We'll set up a schedule, and Jenny's room cleaning and bed-making duties will be divided among you this week,” he told the brood.
~He's a different man at home,~ Paul Davis thought as he watched the activities. ~He's a good father, too.~ He'd rarely seen Jack in this role -- husband and father. Normally, it was the major general, barking out orders, that Davis saw. He felt privileged that he'd been allowed to witness this side of the man. Realizing this, he definitely didn't want to overstay his welcome. As he stood up, still patting the bunny, he intoned, “I really should get going.”
“I'm sure you have plans,” Jack agreed.
“Later,” Davis replied with a little sadness in his voice.
Jack nodded, recalling only now that Reynolds was on duty until 1800 hours. It was a lousy way to spend a holiday, but someone had to be in charge of the SGC. Reynolds had the worst shift, not being relieved by General Hank Landry until dinnertime. Landry would be covering the duties until Tuesday since Hammond was essentially taking a long holiday weekend with Monday as an off day for him.
“Dad, when are we going to the cabin?” David asked.
Before Jack could respond, Aislinn looked over at the major and requested, “Paul, you finish telling 'bout Peter Rabbit in Greg'or garden? I fall sleep before.”
“Ash, I don't want to intrude any further on your family day, and it sounds like you're going somewhere,” Davis responded.
**Jack? Another hour won't hurt,** Daniel commented, knowing his lover was anxious to leave. **He's made our children very happy today. He's alone. Don't we have an hour to spare?**
Jack stared at Daniel, wanting to argue, but then he smiled, feeling like he was the luckiest man in the world.
“Davis, stay. Tell her the story,” Jack stated.
“Sir, I don't ...”
“Davis, it's an order. Tell Ash the rest of the story,” Jack instructed.
“Yes, Sir,” Davis responded, holding in the chuckle building within him at having been ordered by the tough-as-nails general to tell his little girl a story.
As the family settled in the living room, Daniel put out a healthy snack mix and a few other choice snacks for the children to munch on if they wanted to, while Jack made some lemonade to enjoy as well. Once everyone was seated, it was story time.
“Better start from the beginning,” Jack suggested, knowing that if Davis didn't that there would be lots of questions from the inquisitive brood.
As Davis told the story, Daniel sat on the floor with Jenny in his lap. The bunny was hopping around the living room, stopping to visit the kids as they listened. She sniffed Katie's nose and hopped over Bijou's tail to get over to where Jack was sitting with Chenoa.
“Oh, for crying out loud!” Jack exclaimed, interrupting the story.
Everyone looked over, and a round of laughter erupted. The bunny had started eating Jack's bagel.
“Bagel bunny,” Aislinn chuckled.
“Yeah, Ash, that good name,” Little Danny opined.
“Here, Bagel,” David called out, smiling when the bunny hopped right to him.
“I guess Bagel approves,” Daniel laughed.
“She's too stuffed not to,” Jack complained, looking at his partially bunny-eaten food.
As Davis finished the story of Peter Rabbit, Bagel the bunny was given a bowl of her own food, which she enjoyed with her new family nearby.
“Thank you for Bagel,” Aislinn told Davis again once the story was done, and he was finally leaving the homestead.
A chorus of thank you's followed from all the kids.
“Yeah, Davis, thank you,” Jack groused, then mumbled something about fuzzy things eating his bagel.
Davis chuckled, “You're all very welcome. I'll see you at the Mountain,” he said to Jack and Daniel.
“I'll walk you out,” Daniel replied as he held Bagel.
“Paul, wait minute,” Aislinn requested, turning suddenly and leaving the room.
Davis looked at his hosts questioningly.
Daniel shrugged, saying, “She'll be back ... I think.”
Sure enough, the little girl returned a few moments later with the paper Easter Bunny she had made during family craft time.
“You gave Bagel; I give my bunny,” Aislinn said, handing Davis her creation.
Paul bent down to be on Aislinn's level and asked, “You made this?”
Nodding, the youngest Munchkin replied, “Want you have now.” She looked up at her parents, asking, “That okay?”
“Sure, Princess,” Jack agreed, placing his hand atop their daughter's head and gently massaging it for a moment.
When Aislinn looked back at Davis, smiling, he responded, “Thank you. That makes it extra special.” Standing, he added, “I'll put it on my refrigerator when I get home.”
As Aislinn grinned, Davis nodded at Jack and Daniel again. Then to a chorus of good-byes from the children, Daniel accompanied the major to Reynolds' truck.
“He's a different man here,” Davis observed.
Daniel smiled, saying, “That's the Jack I've always known.”
Davis nodded, commenting, “Thanks for letting me stay.”
“Do you and Marc have plans tonight?”
“As long as things stay quiet at the Mountain,” Davis answered, unlocking the door and getting inside the vehicle. He started the engine, then mused, “I wonder what Apophis would have thought.”
Daniel laughed loudly, his head actually going back for a moment.
“What'd I say?” the major inquired.
“Nothing, except ... from the moment Jack and I got together, we've laughed about that, that the System Lords wouldn't ... you know.”
“I understand,” Davis replied. He put the truck in gear, nodded, then drove off, thinking, ~I hope someday Marc and I can live like they do.~
Still smiling, Daniel bent over to give Bagel a little kiss.
“They'd never believe it, Bagel, not in a thousand years,” Daniel remarked, taking an audible breath as he looked back at the no-longer-that-small country home that he and his husband shared with their family. “Jack's wrong, Bagel. He's not the luckiest man in the world -- I am!”
Daniel re-entered the house and called out to his husband, “Jack, I'm taking Bagel upstairs to her cage; then we can leave for the cabin.”
“Okay, Angel. I'll start rounding up the troops,” Jack replied.
When Daniel entered the boys' room, Mittens was sitting on Jonny's bed.
“Meow,” the feline greeted.
Daniel returned the greeting, saying, “Hi, Mittens.” He sat on the bed next to the cat, asking, “Would you like to meet Bagel?” He let her sniff the bunny. Mittens then licked the top of the bunny's head, looked up at Daniel, meowing her approval, and curled up next to Jonny's pillow to start her afternoon nap. Daniel chuckled, “Well, Bagel, I guess you just got the Mittens' kiss of approval.”
The archaeologist stood and put the baby bunny in her new cage. After checking to make sure the cage was secure, he went downstairs to join his family. He was just grateful the children hadn't asked to bring Bagel to the cabin with them. He didn't want to push Jack too far.
A short time later, the Jackson-O'Neills headed for the Colorado cabin.
After spending the rest of their Easter Sunday at the Colorado cabin, Jack, Daniel, and their brood returned to their routine on Monday. Jennifer was back in school. David and Chenoa were studying with other homeschooling families until early afternoon, the Munchkins were with General Hammond, and the two youngest children were again with Mrs. Valissi.
Jack and Daniel were at J-O Enterprises, attending to business. They had held a staff meeting first thing in the morning, Daniel had two meetings with clients scheduled, and Jack was reviewing the results of a survey with Megan to determine if they should spend more time at a location or not.
Mid-morning, Jack's cell phone rang. He waved Megan away, wanting some privacy for the call.
“Carter, what did you find out?” the general asked, recognizing the caller ID information.
“It all checks out, Sir,” Sam began and then continued her report.
Jack thanked her, then made a couple of non-business related phone calls before continuing with his workday.
“Jack, what did you decide about the Timmons survey?” Daniel asked when the two men had a chance to talk just before lunch.
“Nothing there, Danny. Megan thinks we'd be wasting the client's money to go any deeper,” Jack answered.
“Okay. We need to ...”
“It's Jim Ramsey,” Jack said as he took the call on his cell phone. When he was done, he smiled and said, “Danny, we need to take a little trip out to Sol's place.”
“We do,” Jack confirmed.
Having made arrangements to pick up their children a bit later than originally intended from their various caregivers, Jack and Daniel traveled to Solomon's house. They were welcomed warmly by the forty-seven-year-old man, who offered them some coffee as the three sat down in the humble kitchen.
“Sol, let me get right to the point,” Jack began as he cupped the coffee mug in his hands. “You're a pilot, and pilots are meant to fly.”
Solomon nodded, sighing, “I wish I could. No one will take a chance on me.”
“James Ramsey will,” Jack replied, looking the man in the eye.
“I don't understand.”
“Jim's a friend of mine, an old buddy from the Air Force. He got out years ago and opened a charter business. They haul cargo and people. He's willing to give you a ninety-day trial, flying cargo, if you get your medical certificate up to date. The downside is that he's based in Fort Collins, but he's willing to work with you on the days you work, maybe schedule you on a four-three split so you aren't going back and forth so much. He does that with some of his other employees.”
“Flying?” Solomon spoke quietly. He stood up and walked over to Starbuck, who was seated by the kitchen door. He knelt down, petting the large dog. “I could be in the skies again, Starbuck.”
The Newfoundland licked his owner's face, but that also brought the man back to reality. He stood, looking over at his visitors.
“What about Starbuck? I couldn't leave him for more than a day. There's no one to look after him, and I won't ... I couldn't ...” Solomon stated, stumbling over his words.
“We thought about that,” Daniel replied. “We want to give you a loan, so that you can rent a second place in Boulder, some place where Starbuck could stay when you needed to be there.”
“Jim pays his employees well. You can easily pay us back once you start getting a regular paycheck again,” Jack stated.
“I'd insist on paying you interest,” Solomon responded.
“We figured that,” Jack replied. “Sol, Jim's been thinking about expanding his business. He already has a couple of employees who have families in the Springs and don't like commuting. He needs one more. If you work out, he's prepared to go ahead with the expansion before the summer's over.”
“I don't know what to say,” Solomon spoke emotionally.
“Don't say anything,” Jack responded. “Just stay sober.”
“Thank you,” Solomon stated. “I owe you.”
“No, you don't,” Daniel instantly refuted, shaking his head. “You gave us back our sons. You don't owe us a single thing.”
Jack took out a piece of paper and placed it in front of the spot where Solomon had been sitting, while the man returned to that spot, Starbuck on his heels.
“That's Jim's number. He's expecting a call from you,” Jack noted, watching as Solomon picked up the paper reverently.
“I never thought I'd fly again,” Solomon stated. “Sylvia Preston?” He read, noting the second name and number.
“She's a friend and a doctor,” Jack noted. “We didn't know how you stood with insurance, so we took the liberty of discussing you with her. She'll defer the cost of the exam and anything else you may need until you're back on your feet again.”
Solomon nodded several times, letting out small sounds as he tried to take in the magic of how his life had just changed. All he'd ever wanted in the last few years was a second chance. Now, he was getting it, and he just didn't know how to process it.
“We have to go,” Daniel spoke, getting up. “Sol, if you ever need anyone to talk to, if you need a friend, please remember that you can always call us.”
“Thanks,” Solomon spoke, trying not to tear up.
“Take care of your master,” Jack joked, referring to the black dog that sat by Solomon's side, playfully petting him as he stood.
“I will,” Solomon promised, too stunned to even get up at the moment.
Jack and Daniel smiled, waved good-bye to the dog, and returned to their home in Colorado Springs, both feeling good about the meeting with their new friend.
The sun was shining brightly in the sky, the day an unusually warm ninety-one degrees as the month of August rolled on in the Springs. The children were playing in various parts of the yard while Daniel watched over them. Bijou and Katie were sunning themselves, while Mittens stayed inside, content to explore the house and discover new 'toys' to play with. A much bigger Bagel the bunny was in her cage, looking over at Bogey the lizard, secure in his own cage on the other side of the boys' room.
“Thanks, Jim, that's good to know,” Jack said, ending the phone call with James Ramsey.
Picking up the tennis ball he'd brought into the study with him to take the call, Jack whistled, repeatedly throwing the ball up into the air and then catching it as he made his way outside to the backyard where the rest of the family was.
“Danny, good news!” Jack announced, tossing the tennis ball to his soulmate.
Daniel caught the green ball, tossed it up into the air once, and then threw it back to his husband, who tossed it back.
The couple continued to toss the ball back and forth as they chatted.
“Good news about ...” the archaeologist prodded.
“Sol,” Jack answered. “Jim says he's been an ideal employee. He's going ahead with the expansion.”
“That's great, Babe! Sol hasn't enjoyed going back and forth that much. He really wants to get his place fixed up,” Daniel replied. “Starbuck likes their place better, too.”
“Yeah, he has a forest to play in there versus that little yard in Fort Collins,” Jack commented. “Danny, what would you think ...”
“I think I like the idea,” Daniel replied.
“We can take the kids with us, get Carter, Ferretti, T ...” Jack began.
“If we started this weekend, Sol's place would show a vast improvement before the fall rains kick in.”
Jack and Daniel smiled, loving the happy ending that was unfolding in front of them.
“We play, too?” Jonny asked, seeing his parents tossing the ball.
“Here you go, Jonny,” Jack replied, throwing the ball to the little boy.
Jonny caught it and tossed it to his younger father, who then threw it to Little Danny. Little Danny tossed it to Jack, and on the game went until another noise caught their attention.
“Mis'er Grasshopper, I tell you 'no'. You go back your fam'ly. Not want play you,” Jenny grumbled at the grasshopper who had dared to jump between her and Aislinn.
Daniel smiled, saying, “She's sure not afraid of grasshoppers anymore.”
“We did that!” Jonny stated boastfully.
Little Danny saw his fathers' glares and whispered, “Jonny, no take credit that.”
“But it true, Little Danny.”
“Only 'cause we broke rules and got lost,” Little Danny reminded.
“Oh, yeah,” Jonny lamented. Then he smiled, saying, “But we no get lost 'nmore, and 'sides, we have new friends now.”
“Dad, Daddy, we go see Sol 'n' Starbuck 'gain soon?” Little Danny asked.
“That's the plan, Son,” Jack answered, tossing the ball back to Little Danny and grinning at his husband.
Being lost had been a nightmare for the two little boys, for their parents, and for their extended family of friends. Yet, sometimes, things happen for strange reasons. The family had been reminded that they weren't alone in this world, that Charlie, and maybe other family members, were still watching over them. In addition, they'd made new friends in Solomon and Starbuck. Perhaps more importantly, Solomon had been given a second chance in life, and both Jack and Daniel were believers in second chances.
After all, the lovers' relationship had endured many second chances since their first night together, and they'd always made the best of them.
As so often was the case, life for the Jackson-O'Neills was going great, and, as summer came to a close, there was nothing but good times on the horizon. For Jack, Daniel, their family of eight children, and assorted members of their animal zoo, that was just the way they liked it.
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