Category: Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Season: Beyond the Series - January 2-31, 2018
Written: June 17,19-20,22-23,28-29, July 1-2,4, 2013
Summary: It's a time of change as Jennifer and her family celebrate what could be the most important transition of her life.
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't. A gal can dream though!
1) 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.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s): “Transitions: The Next Ten Months” and “Future Tide”
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better: Candice, Irina, Mama Bear!
==== Jennifer Jackson-O'Neill stared out at the backyard. It was a lovely place with room for so many different activities. No one was outside right now, but in her mind, she could see her siblings involved in numerous activities. She saw Jonny up in the treehouse plotting some imaginary covert action, Little Danny studying the squirrels, Jenny and Aislinn giggling in a corner, Chenoa and Lulu playing on the swings, Ricky quietly working on his Etch-a-Sketch, Jeff sitting with his girlfriend in the gazebo, Brianna and David playing catch, and JD engaged in some game with Jack and Daniel. She even saw Bijou and Katie running around, chasing each other. The family loved their backyard and there were so many memories to recall. Another year had just begun and Jennifer found herself full of unexpected emotions, her stomach full of butterflies, both from excitement and uncertainties. Christmas had been wonderful as had the family's New Year's celebration and yet, she knew it was the last holidays she would spend as a Jackson-O'Neill. There was some sadness in her heart about that as well as wonderment as to what the next December and January would be like for her. The young woman was in a state of transition and she found herself struggling to understand how to deal with it all. For her first eleven years, she was simply a young girl, a child like millions of others. When her birth parents died, she was a protector, her innocence replaced by harsh reality as she fought to keep her brother and sister together after the three were forced into foster care. Then she was a daughter again when Jack and Daniel adopted the three Morgan children, and now she was about to be a wife. It was a little overwhelming and she found herself uncertain about her direction in life. She wasn't doubting Peter Hamilton, her fiancé, or her love for him. It was simply that life was changing again and her place in life altering with it. She feared she wouldn't be able to keep up. Who was she anyway? What was she going to do with the rest of her life? Even with her college degree in business, could she really help her husband run his company? What about her work as a weaver and seamstress? Could she keep up with gardening as a hobby? For that matter, what really was the most important hobby or passion she wanted to pursue? Was she ready for motherhood? Frankly, she was a little frightened by her future and she worried about making wrong choices and letting people down. As she stood, Jennifer thought back to her childhood and a conversation with her mother. //Flashback - April 27, 2001// “Mommy,” the seven-year-old Jennifer Morgan began, still squiggling a bit on the bed as she enjoyed the action of her mother brushing her long hair. “Yes, Dear?” “Do you like being a mommy?” “Of course, I do. What would I do if I didn't have you and David to take care of?” “You could be Miss America,” Jennifer put forth. With a smile and appreciative but disbelieving laugh, the woman responded, “That would be fun, Jen. I like winning pageants sometimes, but it's not who I am.” Turning around, causing a bit of hair to be caught on the brush, Jennifer exclaimed, “Ouch,” but then continued on with her thought. “I don't understand.” Still smiling and with the hairbrush now in her relaxed hand as it rested on her lap, the woman who had won many local, regional, and state pageants explained, “Jen, doing the pageants is something I enjoy, like a hobby. Yes, they are fun and, if I'm honest, they make me feel good, but if I never do another pageant, I'll still be so happy. Of course, when I was eighteen, I might have said something else.” “But ...” Jennifer frowned, trying to make sense of what her mother was telling her. “People change. When I finished high school, it was all about me. Now it's about Daddy, your brother, and you. You're all my joys.” “But, Mommy, you should be a beauty queen. You're so beautiful, Mommy.” “Thank you, my precious,” the mother spoke as she hugged her daughter. “But like I said, now pageants are ... well, like you are with your music and your dad is with checkers. They're fun and interesting. They're part of you, but they don't define you; and people change with what they want.” Thoughtfully, the young girl replied, “I think I'm confused. I don't think I know who I am.” “You have a long, long time to figure that out, Jennifer.” “But my friends all act like they know. Inga wants to be a nurse, Joely wants to be an actress, and Mike wants to be a doctor.” Jennifer paused, thinking very hard about the issue that was puzzling her. “Mommy, I'm okay at sports and I think I look okay, but I'm not a baseball player like Daddy or a beauty queen like you. I don't know what I want to be.” Taking her daughter's hand, Mrs. Morgan assured, “You have time, Honey. You'll figure it out and one day, you'll know exactly what life is about and just what your place in it is.” “How will I know?” “Your soul will tell you. You'll feel it. All you have to do is make sure you listen to it.” “But how, Mommy? And when?” “I can't answer that. Life is full of experiences, good and bad, and sometimes you have to go through both before you really discover who you are inside.” Seeing her daughter was still confused, the woman decided that perhaps a recent experience could help. “Jen, do you remember that play we saw last month?” With a mischievous grin, Jennifer answered, “The Miserables?” “Jen!” Laughing, the girl apologized, “That's what Daddy calls it sometimes.” “Yes, and we know Daddy loves to be funny. Anyway, in Les Miserables, Jean Valjean ...” “I stole a loaf of bread,”
“Hold still, Jen,” the woman insisted, straightening her daughter's posture with her hand at the same time.
Jennifer Jackson-O'Neill stared out at the backyard. It was a lovely place with room for so many different activities. No one was outside right now, but in her mind, she could see her siblings involved in numerous activities. She saw Jonny up in the treehouse plotting some imaginary covert action, Little Danny studying the squirrels, Jenny and Aislinn giggling in a corner, Chenoa and Lulu playing on the swings, Ricky quietly working on his Etch-a-Sketch, Jeff sitting with his girlfriend in the gazebo, Brianna and David playing catch, and JD engaged in some game with Jack and Daniel. She even saw Bijou and Katie running around, chasing each other. The family loved their backyard and there were so many memories to recall.
Another year had just begun and Jennifer found herself full of unexpected emotions, her stomach full of butterflies, both from excitement and uncertainties. Christmas had been wonderful as had the family's New Year's celebration and yet, she knew it was the last holidays she would spend as a Jackson-O'Neill. There was some sadness in her heart about that as well as wonderment as to what the next December and January would be like for her.
The young woman was in a state of transition and she found herself struggling to understand how to deal with it all. For her first eleven years, she was simply a young girl, a child like millions of others. When her birth parents died, she was a protector, her innocence replaced by harsh reality as she fought to keep her brother and sister together after the three were forced into foster care. Then she was a daughter again when Jack and Daniel adopted the three Morgan children, and now she was about to be a wife. It was a little overwhelming and she found herself uncertain about her direction in life. She wasn't doubting Peter Hamilton, her fiancé, or her love for him. It was simply that life was changing again and her place in life altering with it. She feared she wouldn't be able to keep up. Who was she anyway? What was she going to do with the rest of her life? Even with her college degree in business, could she really help her husband run his company? What about her work as a weaver and seamstress? Could she keep up with gardening as a hobby? For that matter, what really was the most important hobby or passion she wanted to pursue? Was she ready for motherhood? Frankly, she was a little frightened by her future and she worried about making wrong choices and letting people down.
As she stood, Jennifer thought back to her childhood and a conversation with her mother.
//Flashback - April 27, 2001//
“Mommy,” the seven-year-old Jennifer Morgan began, still squiggling a bit on the bed as she enjoyed the action of her mother brushing her long hair.
“Do you like being a mommy?”
“Of course, I do. What would I do if I didn't have you and David to take care of?”
“You could be Miss America,” Jennifer put forth.
With a smile and appreciative but disbelieving laugh, the woman responded, “That would be fun, Jen. I like winning pageants sometimes, but it's not who I am.”
Turning around, causing a bit of hair to be caught on the brush, Jennifer exclaimed, “Ouch,” but then continued on with her thought. “I don't understand.”
Still smiling and with the hairbrush now in her relaxed hand as it rested on her lap, the woman who had won many local, regional, and state pageants explained, “Jen, doing the pageants is something I enjoy, like a hobby. Yes, they are fun and, if I'm honest, they make me feel good, but if I never do another pageant, I'll still be so happy. Of course, when I was eighteen, I might have said something else.”
“But ...” Jennifer frowned, trying to make sense of what her mother was telling her.
“People change. When I finished high school, it was all about me. Now it's about Daddy, your brother, and you. You're all my joys.”
“But, Mommy, you should be a beauty queen. You're so beautiful, Mommy.”
“Thank you, my precious,” the mother spoke as she hugged her daughter. “But like I said, now pageants are ... well, like you are with your music and your dad is with checkers. They're fun and interesting. They're part of you, but they don't define you; and people change with what they want.”
Thoughtfully, the young girl replied, “I think I'm confused. I don't think I know who I am.”
“You have a long, long time to figure that out, Jennifer.”
“But my friends all act like they know. Inga wants to be a nurse, Joely wants to be an actress, and Mike wants to be a doctor.” Jennifer paused, thinking very hard about the issue that was puzzling her. “Mommy, I'm okay at sports and I think I look okay, but I'm not a baseball player like Daddy or a beauty queen like you. I don't know what I want to be.”
Taking her daughter's hand, Mrs. Morgan assured, “You have time, Honey. You'll figure it out and one day, you'll know exactly what life is about and just what your place in it is.”
“How will I know?”
“Your soul will tell you. You'll feel it. All you have to do is make sure you listen to it.”
“But how, Mommy? And when?”
“I can't answer that. Life is full of experiences, good and bad, and sometimes you have to go through both before you really discover who you are inside.” Seeing her daughter was still confused, the woman decided that perhaps a recent experience could help. “Jen, do you remember that play we saw last month?”
With a mischievous grin, Jennifer answered, “The Miserables?”
Laughing, the girl apologized, “That's what Daddy calls it sometimes.”
“Yes, and we know Daddy loves to be funny. Anyway, in Les Miserables, Jean Valjean ...”
“I stole a loaf of bread,”a still amused Jennifer sang, using a line from the song to explain the character's beginnings.
“Yes, to save his sister's son. He went to prison and became very angry and bitter.”
“He hated life because he thought life hated him.”
“Yes, and then what happened?”
“The priest trusted him and covered up for him with the police, even though Valjean did steal from him.”
“Yes, and then the priest told Jean Valjean that he'd bought his soul for God.”
“And then he did change.”
“Exactly, and do you remember what happened after another man was caught and the police thought he was Valjean?”
Nodding, Jennifer answered with a bit more understanding, “He had to decide who he was.”
“Yes, was he someone who hated the world and cared only about himself, or was he man living the word of God as best he could?”
“Mommy, who are you?”
Running her hand along the side of her daughter's head, the woman answered, “I'm the wife of James David Morgan, the mother of two precious children, and I'm a woman with many hobbies and interests who believes in herself and her responsibilities. I'm who I want to be: I'm Ellen Renee Price Morgan.”
“I hope someday I know who I am, too.”
“You will, my precious, you will.”
//End of Flashback//
~I'm not totally sure I've figured it out yet, Mom. How did you balance it, being you and taking care of Dad and the three of us? Where was the line?~
“Penny for your thoughts,” Daniel offered, interrupting the young woman's private thoughts as he positioned himself to his daughter's right.
“Just thinking.” Jennifer sighed. A split second later, she looked at her father and confided, “Daddy, it's just, everything's about to change.”
“Change is part of life.”
“You make it sound so simple.”
“Simple? No, Sweetie, it's not simple, but it's the way life works. We have to adapt and move with it.”
“How do you know it's the right change?”
“Your heart and your soul will tell you. You just have to listen to it.” Seeing Jennifer smile, Daniel asked, “What did I say?”
“The same thing my mother told me a very long time ago, to listen to my soul,” Jennifer replied. “Shouldn't I listen to my heart, too?”
“Of course. They work together.”
“I love you, Daddy,” Jennifer said, moving in and leaning her head against Daniel's shoulder.
His arm going around his daughter protectively, Daniel responded, “I love you, too. That's one thing that will never change.”
“I know,” Jennifer returned softly.
“Jen, are you having second thoughts about marrying Peter? I mean, uh, you don't have to do anything you don't want to.”
“I love him, Daddy.”
“I know, but ... well, if you're not ready.”
A bit playfully, the archaeologist added, “You know Dad would like nothing better than to ...”
Interrupting, Jennifer laughed lightly and suggested, “... send Peter packing? Daddy, Peter wouldn't even be in my life if Dad hadn't butted in, and you, too.”
“Yeah, I guess we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
“Do you? Blame yourselves?”
Gently rubbing his daughter's left arm for a few seconds, Daniel answered, “No, Jen. We had to follow what we knew to be true. Peter made a bad mistake a very long time ago, but he admitted it, learned from it, and he ... well, he changed.”
“Like Jean Valjean.”
“Les Miserables?” Daniel questioned, surprised the Victor Hugo novel was being brought up.
“We went to see it once when I was a little girl, right before David was born actually,” Jennifer explained. “Peter's not Jean Valjean, but he did change who was inside and his outlook on life. He's nothing like how he was when I first met him.”
“No, he's not, so I hope you know that when Dad and I say things it's just because sometimes change is hard. We're going to miss you, Jen, but we are very happy for you.”
“And don't worry, Daddy, I know I always have a home here, and I know Dad can still get the P-90 or whatever whatchamacallit he wants to use to zap away anyone who hurts me.”
Laughing, Daniel bobbed his head a couple of times and responded, “It'll make him happy to know you know that.”
Jack and Daniel were lying in bed, lounging away the morning. The kids were all taken care of as Jennifer had organized an all-day outing just for the brood. It would be the last real opportunity for all of the children to spend time together before her wedding. Thus, for the first time in a while, the lovers would be able to enjoy an entire day together with no worries at all. At least, that should have been the reality.
“Jack, what's wrong?” Daniel inquired as his head rested on his Love's hairy chest.
Automatically caressing his husband's bare back, the older man sighed, “Enemies.”
“Gawd, what now?” Daniel asked in alarm, thinking some nasty being from the past had reared its ugly head.
“Jack, more words.”
Staring up at the ceiling, Jack explained, “The kids have been in danger before, Danny.”
“Yes, I know that.”
“We won't be able to protect Jen anymore.”
After a moment, Daniel raised his head and looked down at his spouse, a question in his eyes.
Jack continued, “Angel, every time we think we're done, something happens. They find us; they try to get to us through our kids.”
“And Jen won't be under our roof and ...” The light began to dawn on the archaeologist. He blinked as his mind processed the concern being expressed. “She won't have the strong security systems we have in place here.”
“And at Carter's, Cassie's, Sara's ...”
“General Hammond's,” Daniel completed.
Years ago after the brood had been targeted while staying with Jack's ex-wife, Sara Wilson, by enemies of the couple, Jack and Daniel realized the need to have their extended family's homes safeguarded. With their agreement, the Jackson-O'Neills paid for enhanced security systems to be installed at the Shanahan, Luca, Wilson, and Hammond homes. While not as secure as the Jackson-O'Neill residence, all now had extensive safety and alarm systems in place.
“Danny, Peter's been cleared. He's been through the Gate, and Jen's told him a little about the danger.”
“But have we told him enough that he really understands the need to keep her safe?”
“You know he's going to do everything he can.”
“Is it enough?”
Daniel gently rolled away from his husband, lying on his back so that both he and Jack were now staring upward. A minute or so passed, the two men pondering the query in silence.
“So, what do we do?” Daniel questioned, turning his head to look at the other man.
“Talk to him.”
“Babe, do you really think at this point someone would go after Jen?”
“For crying out loud, Daniel, our enemies are nuts. They're capable of anything.”
“A lot of them are dead now, and Jen knows to watch out.”
“That's the other thing. What if the kids want to visit her, maybe stay over for a weekend? We can't say 'no' to that, but we can't risk their being in danger either.”
Blinking, Daniel nodded against his soft pillow while still contemplating options.
“So, we talk to him,” the linguist put forth.
“Yep,” Jack agreed succinctly.
“We probably should wait until they are back from their honeymoon. I mean, they have a lot going on right now.”
Giving his husband's naked body a wanton look, Daniel noted, “Ah ... the kids are gone for the entire day.”
“And the girls are outside.”
“Yep!” Jack exclaimed, his worried frown replaced by an alluring smile that indicated he was more than ready to proceed with what his soulmate had in mind.
Concern for Jennifer and the rest of the family abated for the day as Jack and Daniel re-ignited their eternal flame of passion in the privacy of their master bedroom.
It was a special evening, a night for just Jack and his oldest daughter. They'd gone out and enjoyed a wonderful meal at Jennifer's favorite restaurant and now they were on the dance floor of a popular nightclub.
Jennifer felt so warm inside, spending this time with her dad. She'd had a delightful time the day before when Daniel had taken her to a nearby ranch where the two went horseback riding and enjoyed a picnic lunch together. It was a day she knew she'd never forget, and now she was adding a special night with her dad to cherish for the rest of her life.
“Do you remember the first time we danced?” Jack asked the woman in his arms.
“General Jack,” Jennifer returned with a bright expression on her face. “I felt so honored, Dad. Everyone was watching us.”
“I was so proud of you.”
“I wasn't your daughter yet.”
“Not officially, but you, David, and Noa were already ours in our hearts, Daddy's and mine,” Jack said softly.
“I was so nasty to you back then,” Jennifer lamented. “I even fought you when you wanted to use my nickname.”
“Princess, you were protecting your brother and sister, acting tough because you thought you had to.”
“You saved me, Dad. You and Daddy let me be a child again. I know what you did, how hard you both worked to make that happen. I love you both so much.”
“You're our little girl, Jen, and always will be. It doesn't matter squat how old you were the day we found you, how old you are now or will be in the future.”
“Do you remember what Daddy did for David that night?” Jennifer probed.
That night at the shelter, while Jack and Jennifer were talking and dancing, Daniel's attention had been on David. The youngster felt inadequate about trying to hit the piñata. With Daniel's encouragement, though, David was the one who knocked the piñata down, candy raining down all around him as a result.
“He talked about that for days. He wasn't a nerd anymore after that. He was just a smart little boy, and look at him now. He's a great athlete. The Mouseketeers,” Jennifer sighed suddenly. “I'm going to miss that.”
“Hey, no way!” Jack objected. “You're always going to be a Mouseketeer. It doesn't matter where you are, or where David and Noa are. You're bonded to them for life, and with your other brothers and sisters.”
Jennifer smiled and admitted, “You know something, Dad? Sometime back Jeff and I were talking and we both agreed that even though technically we're not your blood children, we both feel like we are.”
“You are, ” Jack concurred. “Don't ask me how, Jen, but you're all from our blood, from our souls, and from our hearts. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Dad. Thank you for taking me out tonight.” Jennifer suddenly chuckled, “You didn't even tell me to change clothes.”
Jennifer was wearing a lovely red dress she'd adapted from a late 1950's pattern. While its scooped cowl-neck front nicely covered her womanhood, the back was largely bare via a deep oval cut, though there was plenty of material that kept it from being risqué. Although the pattern called for what was then a traditional flared skirt, the seamstress altered it to a more modern and slimming design.
“You're a woman now, Princess, a very beautiful woman, and I'm proud to have you on my arm.”
“Does that mean you haven't been watching all those people staring at us all night long?”
With a smirk, Jack answered, “They think I'm a dirty old man.”
“You're not old, Dad, and you're not dirty, either,” Jennifer chuckled. “Thank you for letting me grow up.”
“No matter how hard I tried to stop it, I couldn't,” Jack responded, getting a tad choked up as he spoke. “You grew up anyway and look at you now, sparkling with radiance.”
“I'm so happy.”
“That's what counts. Remember ...”
“I know, Dad. The P-90 is at the ready if Peter gets out of line.”
“Guaranteed,” Jack assured firmly.
“Things change, Dad, but I hope you never change how you worry and protect all of us.”
“One last dance?” Jack asked as the music stopped and another song began.
“We could dance all night and I wouldn't object.”
“Well, Princess, you just keep those dancing shoes on 'cause here we go.”
Laughing, Jennifer danced another song with her father, and then another, and another. In fact, they stayed until the nightclub closed, making the most out of this very special evening out.
The day had been long and hectic, with Jennifer attending to the details of her wedding, making sure everything was ready and in place. Now it was early evening, a slight breeze flowing through the air. She sat on the swing in the Pod, holding hands with her fiancé while resting her head on his shoulder. Across from them on the other swing was Katie, resting but watching the couple, as if chaperoning them.
Peter sighed as he gently caressed his bride-to-be on her right arm. It had been a quiet visit, something that was causing him a bit of worry.
“Jen, you're supposed to be happy.”
Raising her head and looking deep into the man's eyes, Jennifer replied, “I am happy, Peter. I can't wait to be Mrs. Peter Hamilton.”
“You don't look happy,” Peter observed. Nervously, he inquired, “You're not getting cold feet, are you?”
“Of course not.”
“Then why so quiet? What's wrong?” As he saw Jennifer's head drop down, Peter encouraged, “Sweetheart, if you can't talk to me then what's the point in getting married?”
The young woman smiled as she returned her head to Peter's shoulder. Her free hand touched his chest and locked on to his shirt, holding it in place as she explained.
“It's just going to be hard to leave Daddy, Dad, and the brood.”
Katie's head popped up and a small woof escaped her throat.
Giggling, Jennifer temporarily broke away from Peter, leaning over and rubbing noses with the beagle.
“And the zoo, especially the girls,” Jennifer noted. “You silly beagle. You know I love you and am going to miss you so very much.”
Katie gave Jennifer a few licks of love and then, as the woman returned to her Love's hold, gave an approving bark. With that, she jumped off the swing and went on her way.
“Those dogs are something else,” Peter opined. “They really are like ... kids.”
“Yes, they are.”
As things quieted again, Peter kissed Jennifer on the head and reminded, “Our condo is only a half-hour away. Your parents used to commute longer than that to get to Cheyenne Mountain.”
Peter and Jennifer had chosen a lovely condominium to spend the first years of their marriage in. It was quite large with a study for Peter and two rooms that could be devoted to Jennifer's weaving and sewing. The kitchen was spacious with a roomy living area and a dining room. There was a guestroom with half bath along with the master bedroom which also had its own full bathroom. Add the lovely outdoor balcony and patio space, and the newlyweds were expecting to be quite happy in their new abode with space for all of their most loved activities and visitors.
“I know,” Jennifer acknowledged about the proximity of her new home to her present one. “But ... oh, Peter, JD is still so young. He won't remember me being here, not really. He'll remember through family movies and pictures, but that's not the same thing. Just ask Noa. She has such a hard time remembering Mommy and Daddy, even with all Dad and Daddy have done to help and encourage us to keep them alive in our minds, as they are in our hearts.”
Peter held Jennifer closer, hurting because she was so sad.
“Jenny still has allergies every now and then, not often, but when she does, she likes me to read to her; and Little Danny, he's always saving some critter from somewhere. He loves his turkey sanctuary. Dad and Daddy don't always have time to take him, so he'll ask me. Then there's Bri. She'll have the pressure of being the big sister now, especially with Jeff gone, too. Plus, she's just so confused.”
“She knows what she wants to be, a marine biologist, and she's working so hard at that. She loves dolphins. She's a natural, but then there's Con.”
“Conway Bell? Her boyfriend in South Carolina?”
“Yes, you've met him a couple of times.”
“Yeah, he's nice.”
“They've had this long distance relationship for years. He comes here; she goes there. She's never even dated another boy. She doesn't want to. To be honest, Con just sort of fell in her lap when we were traveling around the country. Bri needs to be with dolphins and do her work, whatever that is.” Jennifer laughed and then added, “Con has joked for a long time about building her a dolphin tank on his farm.” The woman sighed, the joy of the joke ebbing. “The truth is, Con will never be able to afford to build an aquarium or whatever, and he'll never be able to leave McBee. His family has been there for generations. He's happy there.”
“What do you think Bri is going to do?”
“I don't know, and neither does she. That's what I mean, Peter, she's confused. She needs me.”
“Jen, there's the phone, the computer ...” Peter's remark dropped off. “We're not on the other side of the world.”
“You're right.” A couple of minutes passed and then Jennifer continued. “Dad's worried about Ash. She has multiple boyfriends; well, they aren't technically boyfriends, but boys have always hung around.” Jennifer chuckled, “She's like a little boy magnet. They just flock to her. Poor Dad. I'm worried about her giving him a heart attack. She's only eleven and he's already going nuts about it. Did I mention Jonny?”
“No,” Peter answered quietly.
“He acts so tough, but he's not. He's the little general, but he has as much of Daddy in him as he does Dad. He'll kill me for telling you, but he's come to me a few times and cried about things. Sometimes ...” Jennifer paused, needing a moment herself. “Peter, I've told you about Kayla, haven't I?”
Nodding, Peter affirmed he knew who Kayla Armentrout was. He'd heard plenty about her from the Jackson-O'Neills over the years. Her picture was on the mantle, and he'd read her book as well. She was the birth mother of the Munchkins and the Spitfires and a surrogate mother to the Mouseketeers as well. Unfortunately, she was killed on March 16, 2008 in a car accident by a drunk driver long before Jeff, Brianna, and Lulu became part of the family. Even so, by adoption, the three Mavericks also considered the long-haired beauty to be one of their parents. Not only that, but she was listed as the mother on JD's birth certificate.
“Sometimes, late at night, he'll crawl into bed with me and just cry because he misses her. I'll hold him and he'll tell me my arms are acting for her, and I tell him he's right, that his mommy is holding him through me. It's been our little secret for years, I guess. I don't think he's told anyone about it. I don't know. Maybe Little Danny knows. Ash might, too. Those three don't keep much from one another.”
“Jen, our condo is large. Jonny can stay with us sometimes. Hey, they can all come, Bri, the triplets, JD - all of them. We can rotate kids. Your folks would let them, wouldn't they?”
“Yes, they'd let them come,” Jennifer affirmed quietly, an aura of sadness still surrounding her.
Peter's heart sank. He had no answers to perk up his lovely soon-to-be bride. He looked out over the backyard and watched Chenoa's two ponies running and playing about in their corral that was beyond the back fence. They looked happy and free. He just wished Jennifer felt the same way.
“Danny, I ...” Jack's words stopped on a dime when he entered his Heart's den and saw Daniel staring at the Jackson-O'Neill Tree of Love, a photographic tree of sorts that bore images of their family along its branches. “It's taken some work to keep this updated.”
Daniel felt his lover's arms encircle him, instantly making him feel calmer and less sad over the reality that would be taking their oldest daughter away from the family home in a matter of days.
“We could always grab Jen and the rest of the brood and head for Xanadu,” Jack half-joked.
“Okay, let's do it.”
“No, I just thought I'd see how it sounded,” Daniel admitted. “How are you doing?”
“Just peachy,” Jack answered. “Daniel, why are we going to his bachelor party?”
“Because he asked us.”
“Don't you think that's a little strange?” Jack challenged about the invitations both men received. “What hot-blooded male is going to invite his fiancée's fathers to his bachelor party?”
“One who feels like he still has to prove himself to them,” the younger man answered truthfully. He added, “We have to stop making him feel that way, Jack.”
“Daniel, *we* got them back together. Without us, there would be no wedding, so explain to me why he thinks he needs to prove a point.”
Still in his lover's hold as they faced the hanging Tree of Love, Daniel explained, “Because he knows you're just looking for an excuse to get Jen to call it off and that I've been moping around about the wedding, too, and we need to stop it, both of us, now.” He sighed, “Jack, he knows we love him now like a son, and he knows we trust him to take care of Jen, and he knows we think of him like family, but he also knows how close we all are and how much we're missing Jen before she's even gone. He sees it, he senses it, and he feels it. It's not as much about emotion as much as it is being scared of letting her down and being afraid we'll pounce before he can make things right himself.”
“He's anticipating problems because we're acting like there will be.”
“And there will be, Babe. Show me one marriage without adjustment issues or some ... something that makes things a little hard to live with. Look, I think Peter's afraid that at the first opportunity, the ... the first sign of a fight or misunderstanding, Jen will come running home, and we'll throw up a barricade.”
“He knows we can do it.”
“I know we've had this discussion before, but we need to be better. We ... Jack, we have to let her go.”
“Danny, we haven't done anything to ...”
“Give it up, Babe,” Daniel urged. “We need to be realistic. Cliché or not, we're gaining a son and we need to let him know that his life with Jennifer is theirs.”
“Jack, how about you and Mike? My guess is he had you towing the line for the first couple of years.”
Jack let out a laugh in remembrance and acknowledged, “Yeah, he did. He's pretty laid back now, but when I first dated Sara and for the first year of our marriage, man, did he hover.”
“That's what fathers do, threaten with cleaning the gun, not that I approve, of course, and make sure they know their daughters are in their care, but ...”
“Not a loan out, eh?” Jack questioned.
“No, and we don't want her to be on loan, either. Jack, I don't want her to be hurt like she was before again, and, frankly, I believe in Peter, that he'll do anything to keep her happy.” Daniel took a breath and added, “I think that's why their condo is just far enough away to keep you, and me, from barging in every day, but close enough so that Jen knows we're within an arm's reach. He could have taken her to Europe, you know. She would go.”
“I hate letting go.”
“Angel, compared to me, you're a star at it.”
Just then, the woman being discussed hurried up the stairs in search of her parents.
“Dad, Daddy, are you here?” Jennifer called out as she reached the den, having already checked Jack's study and the master bedroom for her fathers. “Oh, there you are,” she noted as she saw her parents standing together. “Here, each of you reach in here and take a paper.”
“A game?” Jack queried playfully as he released his hold on Daniel, allowing the younger man to turn as he had and face the young woman. He stared at the small jewelry box and grinned. “Come on, seven,” he joked.
“Just reach in and grab ...” Jennifer paused, pulling the box away when her older father began to move his hand toward the box. “No, both of you get your papers at the same time.”
“Why?” Daniel asked.
“Because I want this to be equal, completely and totally equal,” Jennifer answered without explaining any further.
Jack and Daniel stared at each other for a moment and then in complete synchronization extended their arms, both of their hands reaching in and their fingers seeking out papers.
“Mine!” Jack snarked.
“I don't think so,” Daniel negated with a smile.
It took the men several seconds to end their finger battle and withdraw their hands from the box, each now holding a small piece of paper.
“Read them,” Jennifer instructed.
Daniel opened the folded paper and stated, “Mine just says 'left' on it.” By happenstance, he teased, “Does that mean you're right, Babe?”
“It has to happen every now and then,” Jack jested while unfolding his paper. He laughed, “Holy prediction, it does say 'right' on it.”
“That's how you're walking me down the aisle. Dad, you'll be on my right and then Daddy will be on my left.” With a sweet smile, she asked, “You will both walk me down the aisle, won't you?”
“Sweetie, we'd be honored,” Daniel replied as he hugged his daughter.
“Thought you'd never ask,” Jack added as he, too, embraced Jennifer.
The truth was that months earlier, Jennifer had mentioned having her “father” walk her down the aisle, but she hadn't said which one. Except for that one conversation, the two men hadn't dared inquire. Neither wanted to exclude the other and, at the same time, both secretly hoped to be asked. Of course, they both also feared being the one designated by their daughter and then having to hurt the other. It had been an internal war conducted in private for both Jack and Daniel. Now they were thrilled that their daughter had come up with such a wonderful solution, one they were both pleased and happy about.
“Well, I figured you knew, but, geez, I didn't know how to work it out. You know, who should be where and all the details. Then I just decided to leave it to you, by letting you draw for it, and it worked,” Jennifer advised the men with a smile.
Turning, Jennifer seemed to practically bounce as she walked out of the room.
“Letting go is hard, Danny.”
“Very hard,” Daniel concurred, turning and staring again at the Tree of Love, and again feeling the embrace of his husband as Jack stood behind him.
Peter's bachelor party was in full swing in a private room at a local club. His friends had arranged for most everything. The guest list was varied with some of Peter's friends from Oxford attending, as well as a few local lads from Colorado Springs. Jack and Daniel were there, along with others from Jennifer's side of the about-to-be joined family.
At one point, a large cake was brought into room. Accompanying it was a serious-looking Teal'c.
“Oh no!” Peter exclaimed. “Guys, I promised Jen no girls. She's gonna kill me.”
Some of Peter's friends were grinning, excited with what was about to be revealed.
“Jack, do you see that look on Teal'c's face?”
“Yeah. Apophis is dead, isn't he? We did finally kill that S.O.B.?”
“Yes, Babe, he's dead.”
Just then, the top of the cake sprung back and out jumped a petite redhead wearing a sparkly two-piece outfit.
“Howdy, Boys!” Janet greeted, waving about a pennant that streamed several lines of ribbon all over.
“Now I understand why Teal'c looks like that,” Daniel stated sympathetically.
“Not bad, Doc!” Jack called out, adding a whistle to his praise. Seeing Daniel's stare, the general let out a cough. “She's a good-looking woman, Daniel.”
“Right,” the younger man intoned unhappily.
“Angel, I love you, remember?”
“And don't you forget it, either,” Daniel snapped.
Jack laughed mightily and responded, “I love it when you get jealous.”
“I am not ... crap.”
Jack took Daniel into his arms and gave him a big kiss.
“I love you,” Daniel declared.
“I love you.”
Exiting the cake, Janet laughed in the direction of the stunned friends and explained, “I promised Jen the only female in a cake would be made of plastic, or me. Me won!”
Twenty minutes later, Peter was chatting with Dominic Luca, Cassandra's husband. The two had met years ago and become casual friends once Jack and Daniel had accepted Peter back into Jennifer's life. Both had a drink in their hands as they stood side by side, watching the mingling of the guests.
“Mom still has it going for her,” Dominic observed, referring to Janet Fraiser.
“That's right, she's your mother-in-law,” Peter noted. “I don't really know her very well.”
“She's terrific.” Dominic took a drink and asked, “You ready for the big tie-down?”
With a chuckle, Peter affirmed, “I've been waiting for this my entire life. Dom, years ago all I cared about was me. Now all I care about is making Jen happy.”
“I get that, Peter,” Dominic responded. “I'm lucky. Cass moves with the flow pretty well. She's doing it again now.”
“Listen, one thing you need to learn right from the start is that everything changes all the time. That's how it's been with us. Every time we think we're there, at *the* place, something happens, and we change. Ya gotta be able to move with the change, adapt ... together.”
“What's happening with you guys?”
“I need a refill,” Dominic said, holding up his empty glass. “Let's go over here and I'll tell you all about it.”
The day was bright and pleasant, perfect for afternoon nuptials. The location was a large ranch that belonged to Mark Wilson's boss, Adolph Granger. Over the years, the kindly employer had frequently allowed Mark's daughter, Angela, and Jack and Daniel's daughter, Chenoa, to ride horses at his stables. As a result, he'd met the entire family. When Mark mentioned the upcoming wedding between Jennifer and her suitor and that the couple was hoping to find a unique outdoor location to hold it at, Granger offered to host the event. His ranch that included the stables was extensive and there was plenty of room for a large guest contingent as well as outdoor festivities to take place.
In the bridal tent, two men gazed with wonder at their daughter who was minutes away from embarking on a life without them.
“You'll always be our little girl,” Jack reiterated to Jennifer as she stood in her vintage wedding gown. “How many times have we said that to you lately?”
“About a hundred,” Jennifer chuckled. “But I don't get tired of hearing it,” she admitted with a loving smile. “How do I look?”
“Beautiful,” both parents complimented in unison.
The bride had chosen this 1950s Princess style gown for a number of reasons. First, she liked the close fit at the waistline that was representative of this particular dress style. Second, she remembered that her mother's wedding gown had been soft ivory in color as this one was. While she had no idea what had become of the gown, by choosing one that was the same color, she felt like she was honoring her mother. Third, from the day she'd become a member of the Jackson-O'Neill clan, her fathers, especially Jack, had referred to her as a princess. This was just another way of honoring them as well. Fourth, she'd fallen in love with the stand up tulle ruffle that went all around the top of the bodice. Reminiscent of the ruff from the Elizabethan period, it framed her face perfectly and added a touch of elegance to the gown.
Lastly, in the closest sense of her being the least bit vain about her wedding, in the last couple of years most of her friends had been married in bare shoulder, strapless gowns. While she'd considered several of those, in the end, she wanted to be a bit unique. Jennifer wanted her wedding pictures to be different from those of her friends.
The gown was truly stunning on the young woman. The sweetheart neckline allowed Jennifer to wear the pearl necklace that Mrs. Sophia Valissi, whom she often called Grandma especially when they were alone, had given her. The pearls were the same ones the widow had worn at her own wedding. The gown had a full skirt that cascaded into a lovely train with acetate lining, a ballerina bodice that was adorned with lace, and a modest V-design button-up back.
Of course, Jennifer's outfit included the traditional something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. The old was the pearl necklace given to her by Mrs. Valissi. Along with her dress, the new was a pair of pearl and diamond earrings that Daniel had bought for her as a wedding present. The expensive dangling pieces were made of white freshwater pearls that hung from gold leverback earrings set with diamonds. For something borrowed, General Hammond loaned the bride the handkerchief his wife had carried when she'd married him. It was among the items belonging to his late wife that he would one day leave to his daughters. Finally, Jennifer's something blue was her garter that would be removed and tossed to single men by the groom.
“Dad,” the happy young woman chastised with a chastising tone and look of reproach.
“I love you,” Jack declared, taking Jennifer into his arms and knowing her marriage was the right step for her to take. ~But I'll kill him if he hurts you again.~
**Stop threatening our almost son-in-law.**
Unaware of the silent conversation between her parents, Jennifer turned to face her other father and uttered a very soft, “Daddy.”
“Just be happy, Sweetie. If you ever need anything, we're here,” Daniel stated, his voice quiet.
“... in a heartbeat,” Jack added with zest.
“We're very proud of the woman you've become,” Daniel told his daughter.
“Thank you, Daddy,” Jennifer replied, hugging her younger father.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too,” Jennifer returned. “I think it's time.”
“Maybe the clock is fast,” Jack negated, checking his watch but ignoring its precision timing.
“It was worth a shot,” Jack returned in a throwaway voice. “Princess,” he beckoned, sticking out his arm for her to take.
Jennifer reacted by putting her arm around Jack's and then she looked over at Daniel and reached out for him.
“I wouldn't be here without you, Daddy, without both of you,” Jennifer noted, glancing at Jack for a moment.
Now the centerpiece, her arms encircling both of her fathers' and her bouquet in tow, Jennifer Jackson-O'Neill prepared to become Jennifer Hamilton.
The reception was in high gear but coming to a close. Peter had already tossed the garter that had been caught by Jeff, much to his long time girlfriend Chely's delight. Now it was time for the bride to toss her bouquet.
“Whoa! Where do you think you're going?” Jack asked Aislinn.
“Yes, and you're going to be for the next thirty years at least. Stay,” the general commanded in his best tone. “You, go.”
“Huh? Me? No, thanks,” a shocked Brianna refused.
“You're old enough,” the father permitted.
“Thank you, Dad, but I'm not interested,” the maturing tomboy replied, giving her father a kiss on the cheek.
“You made my day,” Jack whispered in delight.
Much to Jack's chagrin, in another section of the wedding area, Daniel was standing with some of the other children.
“Daddy, can Lulu and I try to catch the bouquet?”
“Sure, Sweetie,” Daniel answered Chenoa, smiling as the two girls ran over to where the excited group was gathering.
By the time Jack noticed his dancing daughters standing right in front of the women, it was too late. Besides, he couldn't tell them 'no' now, especially after seeing their bright faces as they waited. Suddenly, he sighed.
“Ash, go ahead.”
“Move it, before I change my mind.” Seeing Brianna's smile, Jack shrugged and asked rhetorically, “What's a guy to do?”
With a gigantic smile, Aislinn ran to join the growing group. Indeed, Jennifer had plenty of friends wanting to vie for the coveted bouquet. There were also several friends of her parents who were now standing with the others. It was quite a assemblage with ages that varied widely. The bride was secretly hoping that her best friend, Sheila, who had returned to the Springs from her current home in Oregon where she was working, would catch the prize. After all, Sheila was eager to get married and she'd been dating someone special for the last six months. Perhaps the bouquet would bring some extra luck.
From an appropriate distance, Jennifer stood with her back to the group and then heaved the bouquet high up into the air behind her. She turned around quickly, hoping to see who caught it.
“Oh my goodness!” the bride chuckled, raising her hand to mouth and then hurrying forward. “Grandma!” she exclaimed happily, hugging Mrs. Valissi.
“Mrs. V!” Jack whooped with a grin. He turned to the man standing next to him and inquired, “So, when are you going to make an honest woman out her, George?”
Retired General George S. Hammond simply stared at the younger general for a moment and then answered with a sharp, “Stand down, Colonel.”
“I'm not a colonel, Sir.”
“That can still be changed.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jack snapped though continuing to grin as Hammond walked away. ~You old dog, you.~
“Do you think Grandpa will marry Mrs. Valissi, Dad?” Brianna asked.
“If Ricky has anything to say about it, he will,” the father answered while nodding over at the couple in question where Ricky was now standing with a big Cheshire grin on his face. ~He's been working on those two for years now.~
Still in her wedding gown, Jennifer and her new husband Peter were preparing to leave and begin their honeymoon. She had been saying goodbye to friends and extended family for quite a while already.
“Thank you, Grandpa,” Jennifer whispered emotionally as she hugged George Hammond, slipping the borrowed handkerchief back into his hand.
“Be kind to yourself and Peter and don't take things too seriously. Even when you quarrel, don't forget to take time out for a square dance,” Hammond told the young lady as he recalled his own marriage and how he and his wife went square dancing every weekend they could and often square danced away anger and frustration.
“I will,” Jennifer promised. After saying goodbye to Mrs. Valissi, she turned to Sara Wilson and hugged her. “Thank you, Aunt Sara. You've taught me so much about relationships.”
After hugs with Janet and Sam Carter-Shanahan, the last two remaining guests who weren't immediate family that she had to chat with before leaving, Jennifer turned around and saw her parents and siblings standing all in a row. She cried unabashedly at having to say goodbye. She walked over to the youngest family member and kneeled down, taking the boy's hand.
“You're such a good boy, JD.”
“Can I come live with you?” JD sniffled.
Sniffling herself, the new wife answered, “You can come visit anytime you want.” Taking JD into her arms, she added, “I'm so proud of you. You be good for Dad and Daddy and ... oh, JD, I love you so much. Please don't forget me.”
“No forget,” JD promised, unaware of how memories from youth are often so easily forgotten as one ages.
Standing, Jennifer walked two steps over and again kneeled down, taking both Ricky and Jenny into her arms.
“Who's gonna help me with my cheers now?” Jenny whined.
“Dad will like he always has,” Jennifer promised. “You two take care of each other. Ricky, you know what to do if Jenny has an allergy attack, right?” Seeing the boy nod, she sighed, “Of course, you do. I love you both,” she said, hugging the twins as one.
Jennifer walked another few steps, but before she could say a word, she found herself at the center of a trio of children.
“Munchkins! I remember when you were little babies. I loved you all before I was even your sister.”
“You were always our sister,” Little Danny countered, still with his arms around the bride.
“You're beautiful, Jen,” Aislinn sighed in admiration.
“All brides are beautiful, Ash,” Jennifer responded.
“Not as beautiful as you.”
“Sisters,” was the simple response as Jennifer embraced Aislinn while the triplet brothers watched. “You know what?”
“This Christmas, you and me are going to do a special song together for the show, okay?”
“Okay,” Aislinn agreed with a huge smile on her face.
Jennifer continued her sibling goodbyes, her face getting wetter the further down the line she got. Finally, she got to her Maverick brother, hugging him close.
“Bro, do me a favor?” Jennifer whispered as the two hugged. “Give Dad and Daddy a few more months before you tell them about Chely, okay?”
“That's not going to be easy, Jen. I caught the garter, remember?”
Jennifer laughed though she quickly grew serious again and replied, “They need it, Jeff. Do you mind if I talk to Chely when I get back?”
“Nah. She thinks of you like a sister already, so why not butt in!”
With a shared chuckle, the two oldest members of the brood parted. Besides her parents, the last two to say goodbye to were Jennifer's birth siblings, David and Chenoa. Crying audibly, Jennifer pulled the two together into her embrace and held them tight.
“I'm going to miss you both so much,” Jennifer cried, her makeup essentially ruined now.
Chenoa could only sniffle and let out gasping sobs herself. The little tap dancer couldn't imagine a day going by without seeing her big sister. Two full minutes passed as the three held on tight to one another.
“Can we still go bauble shopping sometimes?” the little girl finally asked in stuttered syllables.
“All the time, Noa. I promise,” Jennifer assured as she tried to wipe away her sister's tears. “Oh, Noa, Mommy would be so proud of you. You're such a wonderful young lady.”
As Chenoa simply sniffled some more, Jennifer looked at David and, smiling, added, “I know she'd be proud of you, too. You've gone through so much.”
“We all have, Jen,” David asserted quietly, not wanting to add his own tears to those of his sisters.
Still hugging the two, Jennifer took a deep breath and put forth, “Remember, we're still the Mouseketeers. We will *always* be the Mouseketeers. No one comes between us, not ever.” Finding it difficult to let David and Chenoa go, it was a softer whisper from afar, that of her husband saying her name, that finally convinced Jennifer to release her brother and sister. “I love you both.”
As the bride made a final move to her left, she seemed to have lost the ability to speak. All Jennifer could do was shake her head, cry, and look at the two men who were her parents. As she was finally about to speak, a young voice drew everyone's attention.
“Jen's a princess. You better treat her like one!”
Daniel shook his head as he bowed it briefly and retorted, “Just like you.”
“I didn't tell him to say that,” Jack claimed. Seeing his Love's continued stare, he repeated a bit more meekly, “I didn't.” A covering cough later, he thought to himself, ~I just told him it would be okay to remind Peter to take good care of her. I didn't tell him what to say ... exactly.~
“Right,” Daniel spoke dryly. “Sorry, Sweetie. We'll talk to Jonny later.”
“It's okay, Daddy. If he and Dad didn't behave like they do, I wouldn't know how much they love me,” Jennifer returned sagely. “Oh, Daddy!” She nearly jumped into Daniel's loving arms and then didn't want to part. “Thank you for adopting us.”
“No choice,” Daniel told Jennifer. “You were in our hearts from the first day we saw the three of you.”
Nodding, Jennifer backed slowly and then walked into Jack's hold.
“Don't change, Dad, but I hope you know Peter will never hurt me.”
“Yeah,” the general acknowledged, not able to say much more than that. “Love you, Princess.”
“I love you, too,” Jennifer responded, taking a step and looking at Daniel as well. “I love you both. I ... I wouldn't be me without you two, and ... I just ... I ...”
“Jen, there's our ride,” Peter advised quietly, seeing a helicopter approach. Indeed, the groom had ordered a helicopter to transport them to the airport. ~I knew this would happen,~ he sighed, realizing Jennifer would take forever to say her farewells to the family.
The bride nodded, but kept focused on her parents and the brood. She reached for Peter's hand and felt better when he gently took it in his. Still, she couldn't take her eyes off her parents and siblings.
“I love you. I love you all so much!”
“Honey, we have to go,” Peter whispered, feeling a bit like a heel but at the same time fully aware that if the helicopter didn't take back off in five minutes, they'd miss their plane.
“Oh, come here,” Jennifer beckoned, breaking away from Peter and signaling for all of her family to surround her. It was a giant family hug, full of emotion and tears. “Take care of one another and call me. Call me all the time.”
“On your honeymoon?” Brianna questioned in a funny voice.
“Well,” Jennifer chuckled through her tears, “maybe not until I get back.”
“Don't forget us,” Chenoa begged.
“Never, sweet dove,” Jennifer promised.
“Jen,” Peter sighed. ~I hate myself right now.~
“I have to go.” The circled hug over, Jennifer quickly hugged each member of her family again, ending with her parents. “Thank you. Thank you for knowing who and what I needed when I didn't. I love you.”
Not waiting for a response, Jennifer grabbed hold of her gown and began to run toward the helicopter, leaving Peter still standing in front of the family.
“I'm sorry,” Peter stated a bit meekly, not really knowing what else to say.
“She'll be fine,” Daniel promised. “She found the right man to marry.”
“Thank you for trusting me with ...” came the soft spoken and appreciative reply.
“Go!” Jack exclaimed quietly, interrupting his son-in-law's remark. “Take care of my ... of your wife.”
With a nod, Peter began to sprint, eager to catch up to Jennifer and begin their life together.
Suddenly, Jennifer turned and shouted, “Tell the girls I love them. I wish they could have come to the wedding.”
As the brood watched, Little Danny yelled, “Really?” Seeing Jennifer's nod, he called out in full voice, “Jen, wait!”
“They're at home,” Jack stated with certainty. “Aren't they?” he asked with a hint of doubt in his voice.
“I thought they were,” Daniel agreed.
All of a sudden, Little Danny, who had run to one of the tents that had been set up for the reception, came running out, Bijou and Katie fast behind him.
“Hurry!” the middle Munchkin instructed. “She's late!”
Jack and Daniel barely had time to react when the two beagles surged by them on their way to Jennifer with Little Danny running close behind them.
“I have no idea.”
Finally smiling again, Jennifer crouched down to accept the love of two dogs who were like humans to the family.
“I don't know how you got here, but I'm so glad you came,” the bride told the beagles. “You take care of each other and the brood, and make sure Dad and Daddy behave, okay?”
Two positive woofs responded.
“I'll miss you both.”
Out of breath, Little Danny gasped when he finally caught up to the dogs.
“Jen, you aren't mad, are you? They really wanted to come.”
“Mad? Are you kidding. I should have put them in the wedding. Thank you, Little Danny,” Jennifer said, giving the dogs a couple of final pats and then hugging her little brother one more time. “I love you.”
“Grrrrr!” was the loud and forceful sound directed at the groom.
Peter laughed and replied, “I love her with all my heart and, yes, I know if I mess up you'll both eat me like I'm steak.”
“Gruff!” both dogs affirmed.
“Hey, you'd better go back,” Peter urged Little Danny and the beagles, not wanting them to be too close to the helicopter when it took off.
Little Danny beckoned the dogs, and the three ran back several yards before turning around and watching as the helicopter lifted and became skyward.
Jennifer took one last look out at her family, waving to them. Then she turned to face her husband, taking his hand.
“Thank you for being so understanding, Peter. That was just so hard to do, saying goodbye.”
“You'll see them soon, Honey.”
“But we won't be together anymore. Our condo seems so far away, and, well, it'll be different.”
Peter put his arm around his wife, trying to comfort and reassure her that she hadn't lost her family at all. It would be different, but that didn't mean it would be bad.
Jack climbed the short stairwell, not surprised to see his husband was at the top, standing silently as he stared at the vacant bedroom that was Jennifer's. It was emptier than ever now, the bride's possessions having already been transported to the couple's condo. Jack wrapped his arms around Daniel's waist and leaned his head on his Love's shoulder. Neither said anything for a minute.
“How can it be so quiet with eleven children and a house full of animals?” Daniel finally asked his soulmate.
“Because it should be an even dozen and now it's not.”
“Remember when she had posters of Britney Spears plastered all over these walls?
Jack laughed, “That's all she played in this house.”
“Did you talk to Bri?” Daniel queried.
“She's maintaining her ground. She's happy where she is. I talked to David about switching rooms, though,” Jack responded.
“What did he say?”
“He's thinking about it. He's not sure he wants to take Jen's place.”
“Yeah, I made sure he understands he's not replacing Jen, but that there's no reason why he can't occupy the room. It's not all that much bigger, but it is a little bit.”
“More privacy, too. That's the main thing,” Daniel opined.
“He's still leery.”
“Maybe when Jen comes back we should have her to talk to him, and Bri, too. I think they probably both feel odd about moving into *her* room.”
Daniel laughed, walking inside the room and approaching the vanity set where Jennifer would sit and make herself up every day. She'd left it behind, her husband having already surprised her with a new, more deluxe version at their new home.
“What's so funny?” Jack questioned.
His hand caressing the dainty chair at the vanity, the archaeologist explained, “We're talking like Jen will be at our beck and call anytime we want. She's married, Jack. She might not even call us for days after they get back from their honeymoon.”
“Danny, she's our daughter. She'll call and she'll come if we need her.”
“We don't have a right to interfere in her life anymore.”
“We're not interfering.”
“No, I guess not,” Daniel conceded, staring downward as both hands now grasped the back of the chair.
Jack walked in and took Daniel into his loving hold while comforting, “We didn't lose a daughter, we gained a son.”
“Babe, that's a cliché.”
“It's a rule for fathers of the bride,” the older man refuted as Daniel pulled back slightly so the two could look into each other's eyes. “We'll be okay, Angel.”
“I know. It just feels a little lonely around here all of a sudden.”
Hearing a loud noise from the living room, both parents' heads turned towards the doorway.
“And that just proves we aren't really lonely at all,” Jack offered.
“We just miss her.”
“But she's still our little girl, I don't care how old she gets,” the general affirmed.
“We'd better go see what's going on,” Daniel suggested, taking one more look around the room. ~I love you, Jen.~
“Yep, let's go,” Jack agreed, walking slowly out of the room. ~Princess, you'll always be missed. I love you.~
“Peter, what are we doing here?” Jennifer asked when he drove into the driveway of Cassie and Dom's small house. Quietly, she'd wondered where her husband was taking her. They'd only just returned from their honeymoon, and she assumed they were going to their condo. ~Maybe Cassie needs some help with the kids.~
“Let's go inside,” Peter responded as he turned off the car and then got out.
“I thought we were going to our condo,” the new bride remarked in confusion.
Peter smiled and took the hand of his wife as she approached. He led her to the door.
“I don't think they're home,” Jennifer commented, not hearing the sound of children as was usually the case at the Luca residence. ~The house is so small that it's hard not to hear the kids during the day.~
“It's okay, Sweetheart. I have a key,” the man announced, holding up a single key that he removed from his jacket pocket.
“You do?” was the puzzled response.
“I do,” Peter said with a grin before leaning forward and kissing his new wife.
Confused, the young woman watched as her husband unlocked the door. She started to walk inside when he put his hand out to stop her.
“Oh no you don't,” Peter warned. “We're going to do this the right way.”
“Peter, what are you talking about?” Before Jennifer could bat an eyelash of wonder, she found herself scooped up into Peter's arms and carried through the door. “What are you doing?”
“Carrying you across the threshold,” Peter answered, taking the opportunity to kiss Jennifer again before putting her down.
“That's very sweet, Peter, but you're supposed to do that at our home, not Cassie's.”
“This is our home.”
“What?” Jennifer gasped, her breathing stopping momentarily. “What?” she repeated.
“Honey, we don't need a big condo. All we need is each other, and we have that. We can start our family here; you know, the first two or three, at least.”
“Peter, are you serious?” Suddenly, Jennifer's excitement ceased. “No, wait, this is Cassie and Dom's house.”
“Dom was promoted last week. He's taken a position in his company's London office. They didn't want to say anything to put a damper on our wedding, especially since they had to make the move in a hurry. I guess his company said go now or don't go at all.”
“Without saying goodbye?” a saddened Jennifer replied.
“They said their goodbyes after we left,” Peter revealed. “Cassie didn't you want to be sad for our wedding.”
“Oh, Peter,” the woman sighed moving into her Love's embrace. After a few seconds, her joy returned, though. “So ... we can live here. Are you sure?”
“As long as your folks don't mind.”
“You haven't talked to them?”
Shaking his head, Peter answered, “No. I thought you might want to surprise them.”
“Peter, I love you!” Jennifer declared and then ran through the now-empty living room and kitchen to reach the back door. She opened it and ran out into the backyard. She looked and saw Chenoa's Shetland ponies to her left. “Hey you two! We're neighbors!” she singsonged gleefully. Then she heard voices from her old house and laughed. ~I can't believe this!~
The newlywed approached the security gate that separated her backyard from that of her parents'. She closed her eyes and took a happy breath. Then she punched in the code, hoping it hadn't been changed yet. Sure enough, the familiar pop of the code verification went off. With a glance back at her smiling husband who had followed her outside, Jennifer opened the gate and walked several steps into the backyard of the Jackson-O'Neill residence. She watched the various scenes of her family going about their lives.
On the deck of the family home, Jack was bouncing JD on his knee, the two playing a game of some sort. Also on the deck, Daniel was involved in some deep discussion with Jonny and Aislinn. Brianna was sitting on the swing in the Pod, talking on her cell phone.
~It's probably Conway,~ Jennifer thought.
Little Danny and the Spitfires were running all over the place, while David and Chenoa were working in the garden Jennifer had sadly left behind.
~I knew I could count on them.~
Jeff and Lulu were huddled together, but then Lulu began to dance, apparently in an attempt to demonstrate a contemporary dance step to her older brother.
All of a sudden, Bijou barked. She and Katie had been relaxing in their deluxe doghouse, but no longer. Katie joined in, the two barking up a storm. Then they took off towards the back of the yard.
About the same time, JD gasped and broke free from his dad. He began to run in the same direction as the beagles were going.
“Jennnnn!” JD yelled as he ran.
Looking up, Daniel saw his oldest daughter and stood up. Jack did the same, the two men standing on the deck, just staring at the now-married woman.
“Hi, Bij! Hi, Katie. Oh, I missed you both so much,” Jennifer laughed as she knelt down and accepted kisses and jumps of excitement from the canines.
“Jen!” JD exclaimed as he reached his sister and jumped into her arms.
“JD!” Jennifer responded, holding her brother close as she stood up and kept him in her embrace. “JD, I get to watch you grow up some more.”
“Woo hoo!” the boy responded happily.
Seconds later, the entire brood was surrounding Jennifer with hugs and laughter abounding. Then, finally, Jack and Daniel reached the spot, the two watching, surprised and not sure what was going on.
“Dad, Daddy,” Jennifer spoke softly as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Come here,” Jack beckoned, holding out his arms.
Jennifer ran the four steps to feel the strength of her dad's hold and followed that up with the calming embrace of her younger father. How warm it felt to be hugged by her parents.
Still holding on to Daniel, Jennifer reached out for Jack, pulling him closer. She now held both of their hands.
“Dad, Daddy, would it be okay if Peter and I were your new tenants?”
“What?” Jack spurted out, his heart beating even faster than it had been.
“Peter says we can live in Cassie and Dom's place because they've moved to London. Would that be okay?” Jennifer cried, her words in between gulps.
“Would that be ... heck yes,” Jack answered.
Daniel just nodded, unable to speak as the three-way hug continued with an even tighter hold on one another.
Sniffling, Jennifer turned back to face her siblings and advised, “Well, looks like you haven't gotten rid of me yet!”
Cheers of joy rang out with more hugs and even more excitement expressed by all. From just beyond the gate, Peter stood, observing everything as it unfolded. He remained alone until Daniel walked over to stand beside him, both of them keeping their eyes on Jennifer.
“I thought you bought a condo,” Daniel stated.
“She's not ready to leave you, Sir, or these kids. She needs to watch JD grow up. That's very important to her.”
“It's a small house.”
“Cassie and Dom did okay here, and they have four kids. I figure if they can make it work, so can Jen and I,” Peter returned confidently.
“You, uh, do realize that Jack will be beating down your door as often as he thinks he can get away with it.”
Peter smiled, bowing his head, and replied, “And you?”
“Well, I'll do my best to keep us both from butting in too much,” Daniel answered.
“I knew I liked you,” Jack interjected as he approached Peter. Then he added a whispered “Thank you” and turned back around, returning to the brood.
Peter knew the comment was sincere. He wished he could have replied, but Jack's emotions were so strong that he'd just expressed his thanks and walked away. Still, Peter knew his father-in-law well enough to recognize the truth and emotions behind the man's words.
Daniel looked down and then added his own quiet, “Thank you, Peter. What you're doing means a ... it means more than we ... than I can say.”
“I want Jennifer to be happy, Sir.”
“Boban,” Daniel whispered, using the Scottish endearment that Peter had chosen to call him upon becoming engaged to Jennifer.
Smiling, Peter continued, “She's happy now, Boban.”
With a nod, the archaeologist joined the rest of his family while Peter watched, happy that he had succeeded in putting the most beautiful smile he'd ever seen on his bride's face.
With a bright pink balloon blown up to its maximum tied securely to a hammer on the picnic table in front of her, Jennifer looked at the piece paper at her fingertips. With a smile, she wrote a line from a play she'd watched for perhaps the thirtieth time since acquiring the DVD and then attempted to explain her feelings as concisely as was possible.
“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
I understand now, Mom. I know why being a beauty queen became just a fun thing for you. I'm not saying I understand everything yet. How can I understand motherhood except that I have 11 wonderful younger siblings that I care about and would do anything for, but I think I've learned a few things now. Sacrificing for someone you love isn't sacrificing when it's what your heart and soul want because you need it just like the people you love do. It's complicated, and maybe I'm not saying it right, but I get it now. More importantly, I do know who I am.
Jennifer finished writing the final few lines of her note, now confident of what she wanted to say. After she affixed it to the string that hung below the balloon, she stood. With a peaceful expression, she took a deep breath and released the balloon, watching it catch in the wind and sail up higher and higher into the sky.
“I know who I am, Mom. I'm the very best of you and Dad,” she chuckled, “and Dad and Daddy. I'm Jennifer Renee Morgan Jackson-O'Neill Hamilton. That's who I am, and I'm very proud of that.”
The sound of laughter from beyond the closed gate suddenly filled the air. Several of the brood were outside playing in their large backyard. A second later, Jennifer heard her husband sawing the wood that was to become the base of a hutch for their kitchen. She grinned, her heart full. Life just couldn't get any better than it was for her now in her little house in Colorado Springs for it was filled with love. She'd listened to her heart and soul and found herself.
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