Munchkin Mardi Gras

Author: Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - February 2010
Spoilers:  Enemy Mine (blink and you'll miss it)
Size:  110kb
Written:  April 21, October 15-17,19-22,24-25,27-28, November 18-19, 2005
Summary:  Jack, Daniel, Jennifer, and the Munchkins are off to Galveston and Mardi Gras!
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Learn more about Leather and Associates at their website:  http://www.leathersassociates.com/
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) A big, big thanks to Kimmer who supplied the idea for this story as well as research information!
5) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Claudia, Kimmer, QuinGem, Cassiopeia, Heather, Patti, Linda!

Munchkin Mardi Gras
by Orrymain

“Yes, I understand.  Let me check with our Director of Operations and see how we are on manpower.  We have a couple of other jobs scheduled around the same time, so before I commit I want to make sure we can meet your expectations,” Daniel spoke into the phone, looking down at his desk calendar.

“Doctor Jackson, I've heard nothing but good things about your company.  I'd appreciate it if you'd make every effort to add this project to your schedule,” Clay Myers expressed hopefully.

“Thank you for your confidence, Mister Myers.  I'll get back to you tomorrow morning,” Daniel promised.  “Goodbye.”  Standing up, he exited his office at J-O Enterprises and headed towards the office used by J-O's Director of Operations.  Jack and Daniel had all but stolen Megan Williams from the SGC when they had established their archaeological firm, a decision they had never regretted.  “Megan, do you have a sec?” he asked, tapping on the doorway.

“Sure, Daniel,” the woman responded.  She smiled and leaned back in her extremely comfortable executive chair.  ~Mmm.  Definitely one of the perks of the job, unlike those horrible chairs the SGC provided.  I'm surprised I didn't need a chiropractor.~  Turning her attention back to Daniel, Megan motioned for him to come in and take a seat.  “How can I help you?”

Daniel walked in, explaining as he sat down that, “I just spoke with the CEO of a new company doing some building on the West End of Galveston, uh, along the beach.”

“I love Texas,” Megan interjected.  “In fact, one of my best friends lives on Galveston Island.”

“Well, they'd like us to do some watching briefs,” Daniel mentioned, silently wondering if Megan would like to oversee the project.  “Soon,” he added with a closed smile.

“Okay, let's look at the schedule,” Megan suggested, leaning forward and pulling out the company's master calendar.  “Uh, well, I think we might have some conflicts,” she noted with a frown since their schedule was pretty tight for the next three months.

When she looked up, Daniel continued, “They're on a tight schedule as it is, which is why we can't go in before construction begins.”

“Well, Daniel, what do they think they're going to find on the beach?  Do they really even need us there?” Megan asked, curiosity igniting her inner archaeologist.

Daniel smiled, looking down at his hands for a second before answering with a small chuckle.

“Daniel?”

“The treasure of Jean Laffite,” Daniel said with a wry smile, referring to the famous pirate.

“Treasure?” Megan exclaimed.  “Buried treasure on the beach ... in Galveston?”  ~Well, that's probably the last thing I ever expected to hear.~

Daniel nodded, explaining, “Myth has it that Laffite buried his treasure and relics taken from the Karankawa Indians before the, uh, white man,” Daniel said, rolling his eyes at the term, “settled there.  Mister Myers is half hoping we unearth some treasure for him.”

“How big is the area?” Megan inquired, needing as much information about the prospective project as possible.

“Well, we're talking three sites, going up on the beach within five miles of each other.  The properties themselves aren't that large, so in reality, I'm not sure the project will require us there for more than a couple of days at most,” Daniel surmised.

Megan sighed as she looked over the schedule.

“How soon, Daniel?” the woman asked.

“He'd like to start building by the tenth of this month,” Daniel answered, biting his lip, knowing that her answer wouldn't be good.

“Daniel, there's no way,” Megan informed her employer apologetically.  “Even if the sites are small, and we send one person per site, we don't have three people to spare.”  Leaning her head to one side, she continued thoughtfully, “Well, unless you and Jack want to go and can talk the client into spreading out the start dates for each job.”

“To Galveston?” Daniel inquired, a little surprised by the suggestion, not having considered the possibility himself.  ~Might be possible.~  He looked at Megan, deciding he should at least offer her the opportunity to go, which had been his original thought anyway.  “I thought maybe you might want to lead the team.”

“No, I can't,” Megan responded regretfully, “Personal obligations, but wait a minute.  Let me check on something,” she said as she hit the keys on her computer.  After a few moments, she smiled triumphantly, “Daniel, that's Mardi Gras.”

“Mardi Gras? That's in New Orleans,” Daniel responded, confused by the sudden change of subject.

Megan laughed, shaking her head, “It's actually in a lot of places, including Galveston.  I've gone a few times, and it's always a blast!”  Excitedly, she added, “Daniel, if you decide to accept the project and go, you absolutely *must* take the kids, or at least the Munchkins ... and the girls.”

“The girls?” Daniel asked in a high-pitched voice.  “Bij and Katie?”

“Yes,” Megan replied with a grin.  “Let me tell you why,” she began as she explained her logic to her employer.

====

“Danny, I like the idea; no, I love it, but eight kids at Mardi Gras?  I don't know,” Jack said, grimacing as he considered the many things that could possibly go wrong.  Shaking his head to get rid of the negative thoughts, he sat down on the edge of the bed.  He was on Daniel's side of the bed, watching Daniel who was changing into his sweats.  ~Mmmm.  Too bad we need to make dinner soon.~

“I've been thinking about that,” Daniel replied as he pulled down his navy blue sweatshirt.  He walked towards his husband a couple of feet, then stopped.  He smiled, noting the gleam in his husband's eyes, but aware of the time reluctantly dismissed that thought for now.  He suggested, “What if we just took Jen and the Munchkins?  Jen could babysit while we're working, and she could help us monitor the triplets and the girls during the events.”

“You're excited about this,” Jack observed, smiling at Daniel's excitement.

“Jack, when Megan suggested it, something inside just said this would be a good opportunity to give the Munchkins as a group, some special time with us.  It's what we're always trying to do.  In fact, I almost wish it wasn't necessary to take Jen, but realistically, I think it's a good idea,” Daniel implored.

“Okay, Angel, if Hammond agrees, I'm in,” Jack agreed.  ~I never could resist those baby blues and the blue sweat pants and sweatshirt.  Hmm, not to mention it sounds like a good opportunity to spend some quality time with the Munchkins.~

“Oh, yeah, we do have a mission scheduled for that week, don't we?” Daniel said a bit dejectedly.

“Hey, we control our schedule.  This is a routine greet-and-munch,” Jack said nonchalantly about the upcoming mission with one of their allies.

“Greet-and-munch,” Daniel laughed, shaking his head at his lover's terminology.

“Well, they greet us, and we munch on the feast they prepare for us,” Jack said, smiling and rubbing his now-growling stomach.

“One more thing,” Daniel said, still chuckling slightly at Jack's comment as he moved to sit next to his husband.  “Babe, I think we should pay Jen.”

“Pay her?” the older man asked in surprise.

“Hear me out.  I really do want her to know that she's coming along primarily to watch the Munchkins.  She's not going to have much time to do things she'd like to do.  I'd like to be up front with her and reward her for going,” Daniel stated.

“She'd do it anyway,” Jack remarked.

“Yes, I know, but paying her would reinforce our expectations.  Jack, this wouldn't be a normal time when Jen only has to help out a small part of the time.  She's going to be needed sixteen hours every day to watch three small children and two dogs,” Daniel pointed out.

Bijou, who was lounging on their bed, raised her head and gave a bark of protest.

Daniel grinned, saying, “Sorry, Bij.  She's going to be needed sixteen hours every day to watch three small children with only the help of two dogs.”

Bijou gave them what looked like a satisfied doggy smile.

Daniel chuckled as he looked back at her and then asked his husband, “So, what do you think?”

“I'll go along, Danny,” Jack agreed.

“Thanks,” Daniel replied as the two men leaned in to share a kiss, thereby sealing their deal.  Hearing his lover's sudden chuckle, Daniel asked, “What?”

“Buried treasure.  Danny, are you serious?  Myers is hoping we'll find buried treasure?” an astounded Jack asked.

Daniel cocked his head and sighed, “I tried telling him that it was a myth.  Most pirates and privateers were profligate; what they obtained, they spent quickly.  It's very unlikely they actually buried any treasure, and if they did, the odds on them doing it on the coastline are remote.  I mean, uh, the way the topography changed due to both tidal deformation and human development since the early eighteen-hundreds, it would have been discovered by now.”

“Myers still believes it's there?” Jack asked curiously.

“Mmmm.  I don't know that he really believes it,” Daniel replied, “but he doesn't want to risk it, either.  He figures it's worth our fees to have us there, just in case.”

“We can play pirates,” Jack teased seductively, kissing Daniel's nape.

Daniel chuckled and continued, “Laffite was only in Galveston for three years.  It was a wilderness then.”

“We can still play pirates,” Jack joked.

“We can do that here,” Daniel said softly, his left hand caressing his lover's cheek.

“What you do to me,” Jack said, pouncing on his husband as they leaned back onto the mattress.  Their kisses intensified until they heard a voice over the intercom asking what the plan for dinner was.  “I guess we don't have time for this now,” Jack regretfully remarked.

“No, but I promise we will,” Daniel replied with lustful eyes.  “Let's go feed the brood before they mutiny.”

Laughing, the lovers got up and headed downstairs.

====

Several days later, Jack, Daniel, Jennifer, the Munchkins, and the two beagles were settling into their hotel suite.  They had already called to check on David, Chenoa, and the twins who were all staying with Sam and Janet since Sara had just had a beautiful baby girl whom Jack had already nicknamed Maddy.  The two women had arranged their SGC schedules so that they would be working different shifts, and while Jack and Daniel were gone, they were staying at the Jackson-O'Neill home.

Jennifer had told her parents they were silly for wanting to pay her to look after her brothers and sister, but Daniel insisted, explaining to her that she was to be more of a nanny than a big sister over the next few days.  Her attentions were expected to be one-hundred percent focused on the children and the dogs when Jack and Daniel were working.  While it was a vacation for the Munchkins, for Jennifer, it was a job.  Both Jack and Daniel felt it would only be fair to reward Jennifer monetarily for her trusted hard work as well as the sacrifice of personal time.

Megan had also contacted a friend of hers, Mary Zipeli, who lived in Galveston and was a member of a local krewe.  She had a lot of connections within the city government and was also a board member and trustee of the Galveston Arts Council, which made her privy to some events not open to the public.  With her privileges, Mary had made arrangements that would allow the Jackson-O'Neill clan to attend as many of the Mardi Gras events as possible.

Jack and Daniel had decided to spend a week in Galveston, the business week bookended by the weekends.  At least three of those nine days would be business-oriented and a fourth would be at least partially related to their duties in preparing the watching briefs.  Of course, should anything actually be discovered, more time would be devoted to their work obligations.

Daniel had convinced Clay Myers to scatter his start days for the construction of his properties.  Since Jack was still 'in training' in many respects, Daniel felt they should both be on-site for each location.  He wanted to be able to use the days as a teaching tool, as well.  On the days they would be working, they'd given Jennifer strict instructions on how to carry out her 'nanny' duties.  Frequent check-ins would be sprinkled in throughout each day, much to Jennifer's chagrin.

“Okay, gather round,” Daniel instructed early Saturday morning of their first weekend in Galveston, prompting the Munchkins to toddle up to the bed that Daniel sat on.  “We've already talked about all the rules, right?”

“Right,” three voices said simultaneously.

“Good,” Daniel said, smiling.  “We're going to have a busy day today.  We'll be going to a couple of parades and spending some time in the Entertainment District.  We'll listen to music, eat, visit with Megan's friend, Mary, and, if you want, you can start collecting beads,” he told them enticingly.

“Yay!” the three Munchkins cheered and then toddled over to get their jackets.

Aislinn leaned over and whispered to Little Danny, “Little Danny, why we collect beads?”

Little Danny shrugged, whispering, “Daddy want us to?”

Jonny leaned in and said, “What beads?”

All three children simply shrugged as they waited to go on their great bead adventure, though none of them yet understood it.

“Jen, you have charge of the girls.  If they get upset by the noise or anything, you need to let us know.  They've never been to anything like this before,” Daniel warned.

“Okay, Daddy,” Jennifer agreed, bending down to place the harnesses on the eager beagles.
 
====

“How old are you?” Mary asked, bending down to greet the triplets when she was introduced to them.

“We three ...” Jonny began.

“And a half,” Aislinn finished.

“We be four in Sepmer,” Little Danny added.

“September,” Daniel corrected.

“Yeah, Sepmer,” the little boy repeated innocently, prompting smiles and chuckles from everyone.

**Danny, he did that on purpose.  He knows all the months,** Jack relayed as he studied the boy's face.

Smiling, Daniel acknowledged, **I know.  Look at that little grin.**

**Adorable little con artist, isn't he?** Jack teased proudly.

**Our son is not a con artist,** Daniel said sternly into Jack's mind.

**What?** Jack asked incredulously.

**Our *sons* are little con artists,** Daniel chuckled in his mind, thinking about both Jonny and Little Danny, who were each pretty good at manipulation when they set their minds to it.

“What they doing?” Little Danny asked about some of the adults and children in the distance.

“They're begging for beads,” Mary explained.  “It's part of the Mardi Gras tradition.  All of these balconies above the businesses,” the woman said as she pointed to them, “are rented out for parties and things.  People bring lots of beads to toss down to the crowd below, but you have to beg for them.”  She smiled, “I'll bet you three can clean up!”

“On vaktion; no clean,” Jonny said, shaking his head negatively.

Jack clarified, “She means you three are so adorable you could get lots of beads.”

“Oh!” Aislinn exclaimed.  “That bead thing Daddy say.”

The adults chuckled, especially Daniel who finally realized they had neglected to actually explain the bead collecting portion of Mardi Gras to the Munchkins.

“Oops,” the younger man chuckled.

“We try now, Daddy?” Aislinn asked hopefully, smiling pleasantly up at her fathers.

“Okay, we'll be close by.  Be very careful,” Daniel warned.

As the three ran off, a partially-in-shock Jack said, “Daniel, we're not going to let them run down this street on their own.”

“Are you out of your mind?  I just don't want them to feel like we're begging for them.  Independence and all of that,” Daniel said with a smile.

“Daniel, they're way over there,” Jack said in a near panic, though the children weren't that far away from their parents yet.

“Let's go,” Daniel chuckled and then lightly jogged to within a few yards of their children.

“Jen, Girls, be on alert,” Jack ordered as he trailed after the eager triplets.

Jack and Daniel were on alert, too.  The streets were crowded with somewhere between fifty and a hundred people below each balcony.  Various bands were playing music, and groups of people were chatting while others were screaming as they pleaded for beads.  At scattered places along the streets, there were people in the apartments above businesses.  They, too, were tossing beads onto the street from their windows.  It was below the apartments that the Munchkins were doing their 'begging' as there were fewer people there than in front of the balconies.

“Please, Sir.  Need beads,” Little Danny pleaded, holding up his hands.

“He's adorable, Stan.  Throw him a few,” a dark-haired woman said.

Stan looked down and shouted, “This is for that cute little boy with the shaggy hair and blue eyes.  Here it comes, Boy!”  Stan threw one down.  “Look out below!  More coming!” he yelled as he tossed down a couple more strands of brightly-covered beads.

“May I have some?” Aislinn called out as loud as she could to a woman leaning out a bit from her apartment window.  “First time; hafta beat brothers!”

“Woman power forever!” the woman responded, making Aislinn giggle.  “Back off, Boys; this is for that girl,” she added, tossing down several beads, one after the other.  “I said, back off!” the female yelled down at two boys who were about to pick up a couple of the beads she had thrown.  “Here's some more; these are some of the best, little girl.  Remember, woman power!”

“Thank you!” Aislinn said as she knelt down to collect her beads.  “Dad, can't carry all.”

“That's why I'm here, Princess,” Jack quipped.  “To carry all your beads,” he finished with a small bow, giving her a kiss on the forehead.

“Okay, Boys,” the woman said to the two older boys who had backed away as requested.  “Here's one for you!”

Jack shook his head at all the confusion, amazed the woman had even heard Aislinn's request.

A minute later, Jonny gasped, seeing all the beads Aislinn had just had tossed down to her.

~Na-uh!~  The eldest of the Munchkins glanced over at his brother and saw a pile of beads Little Danny was putting in the bag Daniel was holding for him.  ~I oldest; must get beads!~

Scanning the people on some of the nearby balconies, he found an older-looking gentlemen with a woman standing there.  The man was bald and reminded him of his Grandpa George.  Jonny moved to that area, Jack quietly following along without interfering.

Positioning himself below the couple's balcony, Jonny cupped his hands together as he looked up and smiled.

“My grandpa bald, too.  He nice.  Think you nice, too!”  After giving the sweetest smile he could muster, Jonny began to sway back and forth, saying, “Beads, beads, throw me beads!  Need beads for Grandpa.  Beads, please!”

Laughing, the bald man obliged, tossing down some beads.

“Thank you!  Grandpa need more.  He in Air Force.  Need beads for un'form,” Jonny rationalized.

From behind, Jack was chuckling at his son's logic, but his chuckle turned to pride as Jonny's mission was accomplished.  The bald man tossed down several more strands of beads.

“Dad, look at all beads man gave me!” Jonny said, his hands covered with the colorful objects.  “Dad, plane!  This one has plane!”  Jonny turned around and ran back to the balcony.  Jumping up and down until the bald man looked again, Jonny shouted, “Thank you for plane.  I be pilot one day!”

“You're welcome,” the man shouted back, pleasing the Munchkin.

“My son, the beggar,” Jack said softly as he watched his namesake with pride.

====

Thirty minutes later, the family had temporarily gathered around a table, admiring the children's success at collecting beads.  They didn't have long to sit and relax, though, because they wanted to attend the first parade that was set to roll out at noon.

“Pretty,” Aislinn said happily as she put on a red, white, and blue beaded necklace, the beads in the shape of stars.

“Very patriotic,” Jack said, grinning.

“Eat these,” Jonny joked about a beaded necklace he had gotten that had fruit bunches on it.

“Wow!  Give these to Aunt Sara,” Little Danny said, holding up some white pearl-like beads.  “Very 'pensive.”

Jack and Daniel smiled, knowing the beads weren't really expensive, but they had to admit, they did look pretty.

“Aunt Sara would love them,” Jack agreed, making the young boy smile joyously.

“Need more for Aunt Sam 'n' Cassie 'n' Aunt Janet 'n' Jen 'n' ...”

“Whoa, Cowboy.  I'm sure there are plenty of beads out there,” Jack advised, laughing at his son's eagerness.

“Yes, there are,” Mary agreed.  “Here, I brought you a schedule I made.  Some are krewe activities, but others are family affairs.  My brother, Ben, has a nice place close to the festivities.  Oh, and you're welcome to come to our party next Saturday.  It's on the medians on 25th Street.  You have to bring your own food and beverage, but it's an event not to be missed.”

“What's a krewe?” Aislinn asked, confused by the strange-sounding word.

“It's an organization whose primary purpose is to manage a parade and maintain their floats.”  Seeing a bit of confusion on the children's faces, Mary simplified her explanation, saying, “Just think of it as a club.  It's a very special club.  You have to be accepted for membership and pay dues, but the larger krewes, uh, clubs are the ones that put on the really big parades on the Seawall, down 25th Street, and on the Strand.”

“Oh; no belong,” Jonny responded sadly.

“There are some smaller krewes in neighborhoods that are not open to the public.  Think of those as a private club.”

Jack interjected, “Like the block party we had a while back, remember?”

Mary smiled as she added, “There are plenty of krewe festivities you can go to.”

“Like parties,” Jonny responded, perking up again.

“Thanks for the schedule, Mary,” Daniel said as he began to review it quickly before folding it up and placing it in his shirt pocket.

“You're welcome,” Mary responded.

When Daniel looked up, he noticed his namesake scrunching his nose.  That meant one of two things -- his nose itched or he was deep in thought.

“Little Danny?”

“Daddy, sea no have walls,” the little boy said in confusion.

“Let me take that one,” Mary requested, receiving a nod from Daniel.

“The Seawall is an actual twenty-foot wall of concrete built at the ocean's edge to help prevent major storm surge damage.  Galveston Island has survived a number of bad storms and hurricanes over the years, and the Seawall helps us to do that.”


“Oh, like a levee?” Little Danny asked.

“Same idea, Little Danny,” Mary answered.  “During a storm, the wall keeps the rising waters from flowing into the city.”

Now Aislinn looked confused, a little frown on her face as she thought.

“Ash, did you have a question?” Mary inquired.

“How have parade on wall?” the youngest Munchkin inquired curiously.

Mary chuckled and explained, “The Seawall is also a major street, running the length of that wall, so we the Seawall that protects Galveston Island and right alongside it, the Seawall that is the street we travel on.  When going up and down it, you can see the Gulf of Mexico.”

“Anymore questions?” Daniel asked the trio.

After the children all shook their heads 'no', Mary asked, “You guys ready to eat?”  This time, she received a trio of affirmative nods in response.  Smiling, she said, “Follow me.  I'm going to guide you through the Strand, and you can find something you'd like to eat from any of the vendors.  We can eat as we go.  You want to make the Seawall parade, right?”

“Right,” both Jack and Daniel said, each checking their watches.

“How big is this first parade, Mary?” Jennifer inquired.

“Usually seventy floats and about twenty bands.  It starts on 14th Street and goes all the up to 59th Street,” Mary answered.  “It draws a pretty good crowd.”

Jack replied, “We'd better make this a quick walking tour, Mary, so we can get a good spot.”

Soon, the family was feasting on everything from big turkey drumsticks, shrimp on a stick, blooming onions, hot dogs, and much more, while they toured the Strand, listening attentively as Mary clued them on how to navigate Galveston's biggest street party of the year.

Silently, Daniel wished they had more time to take in the historic Strand.  Most of the buildings there had survived the 1900 hurricane that had killed over five-thousand people.  The Strand now had a bunch of specialty shops, and Daniel figured later in the week, they'd come back and do some shopping.

“Oops,” Daniel announced, laughing at the Munchkins.  “I think we'd better do a little clean up.”

The trio had just finished their funnel cake dessert and were licking the white powdered sugar off their fingers.  Amused at the children's faces, Daniel wondered exactly how much of the treat they had actually eaten since their faces were all white, too.

====

After a brief reminder to Jennifer that her main function was to guard Bijou and Katie and make sure they were safe during the outing, the family made their way to a spot near 21st Street.

Jack addressed the triplets, saying, “Remember, when the parade starts, there will be a lot of floats.  Pay special attention to where you are; you can't go any further than this block without permission first.  Daddy and I will be right behind you with bags to hold your beads.  If we call you, you'd better stop and come running because if we have to chase you down, that will end your day.  Got it?” Jack asked firmly, his general persona very evident while reminding the Munchkins of the rules.

“Got it!” the triplets agreed, nodding their heads vigorously.

Jack saw the floats beginning to appear.  With an affirmative nod from his husband, he said to the triplets, “Go on.  Have fun!”  Jack patted Jonny's butt as he urged him and the others on.  Looking at Daniel, Jack asked, “Ready, Love?”

“To run after them?” Daniel chuckled.  “Just don't lose sight of them.  It's pretty crowded, Jack, and it's a little windy.”

“That's because we're on the Seawall; the ocean makes it damp and breezy out, too, but they're kids, Daniel; they're tough,” Jack commented.

“And they're already cleaning up.  Gawd ...” Daniel exclaimed as he hurried to take beads that Aislinn had already collected.

Jennifer laughed and shook her head, watching the craziness ensue.

“You know something, Girls, I think I'm glad we get to just sit back and watch.  What do you think?” Jennifer asked, leaning down to stroke the two dogs' ears.

Two contented 'woofs' were the teenager's answer.

“Hey, what's ...”  Jennifer bent over to pick up the rainbow-colored strand of beads that had just landed at her feet.  When she did, one of the teenage boys on a float whistled.  Blushing, she whispered to the beagles, “He's kinda cute. I wonder if we'll get anymore?”

Smiling in the direction of the floats, Jennifer put the beads around her neck and sat down on a bench, crossing her legs.

====

A while later, as the parade of floats continued, Little Danny stopped.

“Son, are you okay?” Jack asked, concerned by the sudden lack of motion on his son's part.

The little boy continued to watch some of the other children intently, and then he watched their parents.  Suddenly, he turned to his father and said, “Dad, too close.  Move back.”

Little Danny pushed Jack back.  Jack moved away further, shifting to get a profile look at what his son was doing.  Then he tried to stifle his laughter.  As he watched, Little Danny began to put on a form of the 'Danny pout', which he had learned from Daniel.  The little boy looked positively pathetic; he even sniffled, acting as if he were all alone.  Sure enough, he suddenly found himself with oodles of beads tossed his way.

“Hurry, Dad,” the boy said as he stuffed the beads in the bag.  “'Member.  Stay back.”

“Whatever you say.”  **Danny, watch this.**

From a spot ahead of Jack, Daniel turned.  He had to move a bit, and he still had to keep an eye on Aislinn and Jonny, but he was able to see just enough to know what was happening.

**Oh, gawd,** Daniel groaned.

====

“Was that fun?” Daniel asked when the last float from the Mystic Krewe of Aquarius Annual Parade had passed by at roughly one-thirty in the afternoon.

“Yeah!  We do 'gain?” Jonny asked eagerly.

In addition to the beads, the triplets had gotten all kinds of other goodies, including candy, lollipops, stuffed animals, cups, and decks of cards.  Jonny and his siblings were anxious for chances to get even more.

“Yes,” Daniel answered.  “This was just the first parade.  There's another one in a few hours.  Right now, though, Mary's expecting us at the Arts Center for a while.  Uh, anyone want to take a nap?” he teased, knowing what the reaction would be.

“Noooooo!” all three children responded.

“Let's go!” Daniel said, smiling over at his husband.  **Had to try,** he chuckled.

“Daddy, can the girls go in the Arts Center?” Jennifer asked.

“That's a good question.  Let me give Mary a call,” Daniel responded.

A few minutes later, the family headed back to their hotel to drop off their beloved beagles, and the bags of beads and things they'd collected thus far.

“Sorry, Girls,” Jack said, exchanging sloppy kisses with Bijou and Katie.  “Jen will be here to keep you company.”  Jack stood up and faced his teenager daughter.  “I'm sorry, Jen, but we don't know how long we'll be gone, and ...”

“Dad, it's fine.  If you get a chance to get us again before tonight, great; if not, we'll snuggle up with a good book,” Jennifer responded as she looked lovingly at the dogs.

“We get you beads!” Little Danny promised.

“Thanks!” Jennifer said, smiling.

With that, Jack, Daniel, and the Munchkins headed for the Strand.  They were pretty sure the Z Krewe Parade would be over by the time they got there, but they still had a lot on their agenda.

====

Back at the Strand Entertainment District, the mood was festive with music playing everywhere.

“Dad, lookie!” Aislinn said, pointing to a woman painting a young girl's face.

“We do?” Jonny asked his parents hopefully.

“Yeah!” Little Danny chimed.

“I don't see why ...” Jack began.

“Jack, I don't want our children parading around with ... with ...”

“Pink and orange faces?” Jack asked.  “Danny, it's Mardi Gras.  It's party time!” he exclaimed excitedly, his hips twisting and body swaying in motion to the music.  “Look, they only do one cheek.”

“Pleeeeeeease, Daddy,” Aislinn implored.

“Pppppleeeeeeeeease,” Jonny added, crouching down as he begged.

“Purty please with choc'late on top,” Little Danny pleaded.

In unison, the triplets said, “And Starbuck's!”

Jack began to laugh in hysterics, and Daniel looked rebuked, but only for a moment.  Laughing, the parents said in unison, “Okay.”

Jonny went first, being the oldest.  He choose a green and purple colored dinosaur to be painted on his cheek.  Little Danny went next, having a white and gold unicorn put on his face in honor of Chenoa who loved unicorns.  Aislinn was last, and she selected a pink, blue, and yellow butterfly with little swirls around it.

With their faces now as decorative as the floats they'd seen earlier, and photos taken to commemorate it, the Munchkins walked with their parents to the Galveston Arts Center where they met up again with Mary and her brother, Ben.  They went up to the second floor, enjoyed some snacks, and then readied themselves to participate in throwing beads down to the partiers below from the reception room windows.

“Okay, everyone gets three bags,” Jack said, opening the bags.  “Daddy and I will sit on the window sill, and each of you can stand in a chair right by us.  *No* wriggling!  Anyone who wriggles and doesn't mind instantly will be in *big* doo-doo.  Understand?”

“Yes, Dad,” came three individual responses.

Jack added, “We'll set the beads on the ledge and hand you the beads exactly as you ask for them, so you're in control.”

“Remember,” Daniel said, “You just concentrate on tossing, and like Dad said, no squirming or jumping.  We're high up here.”

“And you'll have to take turns; only two at a time,” Jack said, wishing Jennifer had been able to join them, but since the dogs weren't allowed in the building, the teenager had had to stay behind with them.

The trio was undeterred, though, each behaving perfectly and taking lots of turns until their supply was exhausted.

“This fun, too!” Aislinn said during her first turn as she tossed a string of beads down to another little girl.

~I like him,~ Jonny thought as he let go of a strand of beads.

After a minute, Daniel looked at Little Danny, concerned that he hadn't thrown any.  Just as he was about to say something, Little Danny smiled, and shouted down, “You want beads?”

A huge smile appeared on a little girl's face.  She was by herself and looked sad.  She hadn't caught a single bead.

“This for you!” Little Danny said, tossing down a strand.  Seeing the girl gasp, Little Danny got her attention and tossed down more.  “Here one more!”

“Oh, thank you, thank you,” the little girl said gleefully.

“Bye!” Little Danny shouted, waving to the now-smiling girl.

**Danny, why do you look so -- the way you look?** Jack asked after glancing over at his lover.

**Little Danny just found the one orphan in the crowd; I'm sure of it.**

**Why are you so surprised?  He's just like his father,** Jack communicated lovingly.

Exchanges of love spoken and felt, the parents refocused on the bead tossing efforts.

A couple of hours later, Jack and Daniel returned to the street to let the children catch a few final beads themselves.  Then, after a busy and fun afternoon on the Strand, the family headed for the Krewe of Gambrinus Parade, which would begin at seven over on the Seawall.

====

On their way to find a spot from which to watch the last parade of the day, they passed several vendors, purchasing commemorative T-shirts and hats for all of the children, including the ones who hadn't made the trip.  They also purchased silly string, though Daniel warned his husband not to get carried away.  Jack, of course, acted innocent, giving his lover a 'Who me?  Get in trouble with silly string.  Me?' look that Daniel didn't buy for one second.

“Jack, I was checking Mary's notes.  She said the best spot to watch this parade is over on 55th Street.  Uh, the floats don't get there until later, of course, but then there are the fireworks afterwards.”

“What do you think?” Jack asked, looking down at the three Munchkins, all of whom were leaning against their parents, their hands either reaching around Jack's and Daniel's legs or up to hold their hands.

“Let's go for the view.  We have time to get there.  It'll give the Munchkins some downtime before going, uh, bonkers again,” Daniel chuckled.  “Besides, then we don't have to worry about all of this stuff, and ...”

“Jen!” both parents remembered in unison.

Having picked up Jennifer and the beagles, the family headed for Mary's recommended spot for viewing the parade.  Being forewarned about the lack of vendors that far up along the route, they also brought a few snacks and some bottled water, as well as their folding chairs and a blanket for the Munchkins and the girls to relax on.

“Daddy, that that hotel!” Little Danny sneered, a frown on his face as he recognized the San Luis Resort which had a prime spot on the street across from the ocean.

“Yeah, that's the one,” Jack snorted.

“It bad place,” Aislinn said with a frown.

Bijou and Katie both growled expectantly as they stood 'at the ready', leering at the hotel.

“Okay, you guys, let's not go overboard,” Daniel commented.  “It's a very good hotel; they just don't allow pets.”

Jonny looked up at Daniel and scolded, “Bij 'n' Katie no pets; they family!”

“You're right,” Daniel agreed, quickly adding, “And that's why we went to the other hotel.”

“Yeah, we like it,” Little Danny said, nodding.

Their decision to watch the parade from the 55th Street locale was a good one.  It was chilly, of course, with the ocean waters right behind them as they camped out on the wide cement sidewalk, but they had plenty of room and a chance to simply enjoy their surroundings for a while before the parade began.

While waiting for the floats, the children relaxed quietly on the blanket that was placed on the ground, sometimes even lying down at their parents' feet.  By the time the floats began, they were rejuvenated and ready to go; still, with their morning having begun at seven, and it now being nine-thirty at night, the little ones were beginning to wear down, though they refused to stop their quest for beads.

“Jack, I think now is a good time.  They've had a busy day and could probably use a break, whether they know it or not,” Daniel commented.

“I agree.  Let's rein in the Munchkins and get them observing their surroundings,” Jack suggested.

Daniel nodded, so even though the Munchkins were still eagerly collecting their trinkets, he and Jack retrieved their children and kept them close.

“It's time just to enjoy the Mardi Gras.  We'll have more chances to get beads,” Daniel assured them.  “Right now, though, I want you all to notice the floats.  See the costumes and how decorative they are.  Most of them are in keeping with the theme this year.  Look at the floats, and notice all the detail.”

“Notice how they are constructed,” Jack added.  “It's not that they're fancy, but they're functional for what they are doing.” Jack paused, then asked, “What's the main purpose of this parade?”

“I know!” Jonny exclaimed.

“Tell me,” Jack requested.

“Give beads!” the little boy answered proudly.

“That's right,” Jack praised, ruffling Jonny's hair a bit.

“Let's talk about all the things you see on the floats,” Daniel encouraged.  “Look past the beads and the things they are tossing to the people.  What makes up the floats?  How are they decorated?”

Aislinn was the first to say, “Streamers.  Lots of colors.”

“Very good, Ash,” Daniel praised.  “What else?”

For the next few minutes, Jack and Daniel reinforced to their youngest children the power of observation.  They talked about the decorations, the costumes, and even the vehicles used as bases for the floats.  The parade became a temporary 'field trip' for their homeschooling.  Happily, the detour into homeschooling was so subtle that as the children nestled into their fathers and watched the rest of the parade, they didn't realize they were being 'taught'.  Innocently, all of them talked excitedly about the parade and how it came to be.

“Some costumes better,” Little Danny commented at one point.

“That's true,” Daniel conceded.  “Some people are simply wearing slipovers in the colors of the theme.”

“Maybe one day we'll take you to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  They go all out in their costumes there,” Jack stated.

Suddenly, Jack got up hurriedly, saying, “Danny, watch the brood.”

“Where are you ...”  Daniel looked at his children and shrugged before completing his sentence.  “... going?”

Jack shot over towards a float, shouting at one of the women on the float.

“Hey, toss me some of those,” Jack requested.

“What do I get in return, Sugar?” the woman asked with a sexy Southern drawl.

Jack gave her his Irish smile as he kept in motion with the float, answering, “My thanks.”

“Sugar Pie, I want more than that,” the vixen said.  “Wiggle those hips for little ole me.”

~Why not?~ Jack thought, doing a little jig for the woman, who promptly tossed him the desired item.  “I need more.”

“Okay, Honey,” the buxom woman agreed, tossing a couple more.

Jack did a quick count, then said, “Five more.”

“Five?  Honey, I'm not a warehouse, you know,” the party-goer stated.

“I know, but I have eight kids,” Jack said, smiling innocently.

“EIGHT?” the female exclaimed, a look of horror on her face.

“With more to come!” Jack boasted, knowing that some day he and Daniel would be adopting two more children.

After a hesitant pause, and a prayer of thanks she didn't know the obviously very-fertile Jack better, the woman grabbed a bag and said, “Honey, take them all, and steer clear of me.  Your poor wife!”

Jack shouted his thanks, gave her a vamp-like move with his hips, and gathered up his loot.

“Angel, look what I've got?  Two dozen koozies!” Jack answered for his husband, displaying the currently flattened insulated cups that were good for keeping hot beverages warm and cold drinks cold.  “Isn't that great?” he asked about the items, some green, some purple, and some gold in honor of the Mardi Gras and each engraved with the words, 'Galveston Island 2010'.  “Angel?”

“I saw,” Daniel responded curtly.

“Angel,” Jack replied with his Irish innocence in full force.

Daniel rolled his eyes, thinking, ~You and boobs.  You love boobs.~

**Of course, but I love you and your assets much better,** Jack relayed, winking at his husband.

**Mind-dropper,** Daniel groused.

“You fighting?” Little Danny asked in a small voice, his eyes full of worry.

“No, Son,” Jack answered.  “Are we, Danny?”

Daniel chuckled, gave his namesake a hug, and then said, “No, Dad and I love each other, and we're definitely not fighting.”

“Goooood,” Little Danny sighed, rubbing his eyes for a second as he began to tire more.

Finally, the last float rolled by, and then the family enjoyed a wonderful fireworks display that had the Munchkins' eyes big and alight with wonder, and Bijou and Katie huddled against Jennifer.

As the explosions in the sky ebbed, and with the triplets yawning and winding down, Jack and Daniel decided it was time to head back to the hotel.

====

By the time the family returned to their hotel, the Munchkins were sound asleep.  They stirred just lightly as Jack and Daniel put them to bed, kissing their faces and tucking them in.  For a minute, the couple just stared at their trifecta of love, and then they, too, went to bed after making sure Jennifer and the girls were settled in for the night.

--

The next morning, Jack and Daniel awoke to sounds of Munchkin laughter.  The triplets had beaten everyone else up and had begun to barter their beads.

“Lil' Danny, I trade you,” Jonny offered, wanting the circle beads in black and green instead of the yellow flower beads he held in his hand.

“Na-uh,” the little boy responded as he sat with his siblings on the floor of their hotel suite.

“I like, Jonny.  I trade you this one,” Aislinn volunteered, holding up a necklace made of brown beads with black squares interspersed.

“Okay,” Jonny agreed, swapping his flowery beads for some more manly.

“They're so cute,” Daniel whispered to Jack, smiling at the children's innocence.

“They've been bargaining for over twenty minutes,” Jack observed after having dressed .  “How much longer do you think we should let them continue?  I'm hungry.”

“As long as it takes,” Daniel answered, ignoring the growl of Jack's rumbling stomach and instead utilizing a valued lesson of patience learned years earlier from Chaka and his allies.

Jack smiled and then reached over and picked up Bijou to give her some attention.

Little Danny suddenly stood up and ran over to Jennifer, who had joined the family and was contently reading a teen magazine on the sofa.

“Jen, this for you,” Little Danny said, smiling and holding out a delicate-looking necklace of white beads interspersed with pink ones.

“Oh, Little Danny, it's beautiful,” Jennifer said, taking the necklace.  After she studied it, she put it on and admired it some more.  “Thank you so much,” she said, leaning down to give her little brother a kiss.

Blushing, the little boy ran back to his fellow Munchkins and continued sorting through and trading their beads.

====

After the impromptu negotiations, the family began their day with a big breakfast and then went to a nearby park that Mary had mentioned during their tour of the Strand the day before.

//Flashback//
“Jack, Daniel, I strongly advise taking your children here,” Mary said, pointing to a place on the map she held and continuing, “... just to experience it.  We're very proud of this park.”

“What's so great about it?” Jack asked as he bounced Jonny on his knee.

Mary smiled and answered, “Schrieber Park used to be like any other with things you see at any other park -- teeter-totters, swings, monkey bars.  Unfortunately, with the passage of time, all the play items were in horrible shape, the monkey bars were rusting, and the swings fraying.  We needed to give it a complete overhaul, but the city didn't have the funds to fix any of it.”

“Obviously, you found a way,” Daniel deduced from Mary's excitement.

“We sure did,” Mary enthused with a nod, “thanks to one of the parents who had heard of an architect who had done a very creative thing.  It seems when the park in his own town was in a similar situation, he had volunteered to design a new park if the locals would help him build it.  Well, they did, and the park became very well known.  I guess his fame spread, and ever since then, the man does this almost exclusively.”

“Designing parks?” Jack asked, trying to keep a squirming Jonny from getting down.  “Settle down, Jonny,” he added quietly.

“Yes,” Mary affirmed.

“Well, I guess once you've done it, the pattern is set,” Jack responded.

“Not at all, Jack,” Mary explained.  “Every park he designs is completely unique.  He's been so successful at it that he now has a company, Leather and Associates.  They do other things now, too, but neighborhood parks is what started it all.”

“Hmm.  So what makes his parks unique?” Daniel inquired with interest.

“The parks are more like a series of interconnected rotundas with different levels.  One part looks like a castle, another like a ship, another like a treehouse, and so on.  All of the connecting parts are made of 'balance' parts -- suspended beams, cushioned chains -- so kids develop their motor skills while playing.  It's really a wonderful place for them to play,” Mary commented proudly.

“So the parents paid for the renovation?” Jack asked and then whispered, “No ice cream tonight if you don't settle down, Son.”

**Blackmail, Babe?**

**He's wanting to run around here; I can feel it.**

“The neighborhood residents conducted a bunch of fundraisers; you know, bake sales, raffles, car washes, and such, to pay the architect and buy the materials.  What is also great about the architect is that he designs the parks so that non-professionals can put them together themselves; it saves a ton of money.  Most neighborhoods have people in them who know how to build things, so it wasn't difficult at all.  He designed it, the parents raised the money, they bought the equipment, and then they built it.  I think your Munchkins would love to spend some time there,” Mary said, smiling at the young children.

“We'll definitely check that out,” Daniel responded.
//End of Flashback//

“This is a cool park, Daddy,” Jennifer noticed as she held the leashes for Bijou and Katie.  “I've never seen one like it before.”

Jennifer looked back at the arched columns at the entrance they had walked through to enter the park.  Parts of the park really did look a little like a castle, with pointed roofs and colorful roof coverings.  The whole place was very warm and inviting.  There were places to walk on, under, and around, plus lots of nooks and crannies to hide in and behind.  There were strong green chains to balance or even climb on, and rope to play with.  There was a slide, too, and lots of benches for the adults to sit and watch their charges.

“The Munchkins sure are having a good time,” Daniel agreed, watching them play.

“So is Dad,” Jennifer quipped, seeing her father playing Hide-and-Seek with the Munchkins by hiding inside a castle spire.  “He barely fits in there,” she giggled.

“That's my husband; my ninth child,” Daniel quipped, grinning.

A bit later, Jack returned to his husband's side as Jennifer was playing in the fort-area of the park with the triplets.  The dogs were in Daniel's care.


“Danny, I think we need to find out more about the company that built this park,” Jack told him.

“Why?”

“It's well made.  I know you think I was just playing out there, but the materials used here are top-notch.  There's not a crying kid here, either.  Look at them.  They're exploring,” Jack explained.  “I was listening to a couple of the other parents, who were talking about how their children never get tired of this place, and I can see why.  Every time they come back, they find more to explore.”

“You're thinking about our park?” Daniel deduced as he watched the children at play.

Jonny was trying to climb one of the ropes while Aislinn and Jonny were playing peek-a-boo from two tiny castles that were opposite each other.

Jack cocked his head slightly, answering, “It's not getting any newer, Love.  The time may come when we may want to contact this company.”

“Uh, Mary said the company was ...”

“Suede ...” Jack began quirkily.

“Leather,” Daniel corrected.  “Leather and Associates.  We'll check them out when we get home.”  Suddenly, Daniel's attention was diverted.  “Whoops!” he exclaimed without thinking.

“She's fine; she's laughing,” Jack said as both he and Daniel had momentarily panicked when Aislinn fell down.

“Look at Jonny and Little Danny -- surrounding her with hugs,” Daniel observed, satisfied that Aislinn hadn't been hurt at all.

“They'll always be there for one another,” Jack stated, feeling a combination of things from proud to pleased and even relief at the closeness of the trio.

“I like that, Jack.  The Mouseketeers, the Munchkins, and the twins -- they all have built-in ... uh ...” Daniel stumbled, not sure what word he was looking for.

“They're connected,” Jack finished for his husband.  “They all have each other, and us, but they're bonded in a special way.  Here they come!” Jack observed as the Munchkins ran happily towards their parents.

====

Early that afternoon, the Jackson-O'Neills joined with Mary's family and friends at her brother's place in the Entertainment District for a barbecue.  Everyone got along fabulously, so much so that Jack and Daniel were invited back to take in more of the festivities the following weekend, though they were advised to keep the children at their hotel.

“The after-parties here are *not* for children,” Mary explained emphatically.

“No?” Jack asked.

“Ah, no.  Lots of, well, adult displays of bodily parts and ... fun!” Mary explained, her cheeks becoming a bit flush.

“Oh,” Daniel said knowingly, suppressing a chuckle.  Seriously, he said, “We can't leave them alone, though, and ...”

“Hey, I have lots of room,” Ben offered.  “After doing all the things they can do next weekend, they can conk out in the guest room.”

“Are you sure?” Jack inquired appreciatively.

“My son will be here, too, staying in my room once the real party starts.  He has the newest Game Boy; I'm beginning to think it's an appendage,” Ben laughed.

“Thanks for the invitation,” Daniel said, glad to have a way to enjoy more adult activities and yet knowing their children would be safe.

====

Late Sunday night, in the quiet of their bedroom, the lovers prepared for their assignment that would begin the following day.

“Daniel, we really have to know all of this stuff before doing the briefs?” Jack asked as he reviewed local laws and topographical information about the building sites that were on the beaches of the West Bay where numerous hotels had sprung up over the years.

“Babe, we've gone over that before.  We have to function within the scope of the law, and we have make sure we're protecting any potential finds as well,” Daniel responded.

“I thought you said these tended to be easy,” Jack commented.

“I never said easy,” Daniel refuted, adding, “But once you know how to go about it, watching briefs don't take a lot of time unless you actually find something.  It seems like a lot to you because you're still learning about the geographical and topographical issues involved.”

“Right,” Jack said, shaking his head as he reviewed the paperwork in front of him.  “Health issues?” he queried.

“You never know what you might find,” Daniel chuckled.  More seriously, he added, “Jack, you realize that as crazy as it is that we're, uh ...”

“Looking for buried treasure?” Jack teased.

“Yeah, that we have an obligation to do our best for Mister Myers, and at the same time, if by some chance, we do find something, we have an obligation to history to preserve it,” Daniel stated earnestly.

“No goofing off?” Jack asked needlessly.

“Right,” Daniel said.  “Ready for a pop quiz?”

“Go for it; just remember to reward my correct answers,” Jack smirked.

Daniel chuckled and proceeded to quiz, and reward, his fast-learning husband.

====

From Monday through Thursday, Jennifer was in charge of the Munchkins and the girls.  She had strict orders and kept in frequent contact with her worried, but trusting, parents who were busy on-site at the Myers beach properties.

As the week went by, Jack and Daniel made it a point to do at least one special activity in the Galveston area with their children per day.

On Monday evening, they took the children to Magic Carpet Golf once their work was done.  They played a round of miniature golf, and each Munchkin took a turn in the batting cage.

“I'll just watch,” Jennifer said, not currently interested in a sport that didn't include teenage boys.

“Danny, it'll be fun,” Jack coaxed as Daniel shook his head, looking at the ride in front of him with wide horrified eyes.  “Angel, remember our vow -- something new and unanticipated on each trip.”

“Gawd!” Daniel exclaimed.  “Just remember, when our children become orphans, it'll be all your fault!” he insisted as he moved to stand in line.

Jack laughed and said to their children, “Watch this.  Dad and Daddy are going to have some fun!”

The children waited with baited breath as their parents took their seats on a chair lift, rose up into the air, and then were suddenly thrust down towards the ground in a gigantic free fall of over one-hundred feet, having gone from zero to seventy in one-point-five seconds.

Aislinn's hands covered her eyes with space just enough to see through, but Jonny and Little Danny were jumping in excitement.

“You'd never get me to do that in a million years,” Jennifer said quietly about the bungee ride her parents had just completed.

--

On Tuesday, knowing their planned destination closed at five, Jack left the site early to take Jonny to the Lone Star Flight Museum to view some World War II fighters and bombers as well as many other historic craft.  The little boy was fascinated by the tour and asked his father a lot of questions about it.

Afterwards, the entire family met at Moody Gardens, having just enough time for a quick tour of their Aquarium Pyramid that gave visitors a unique chance to observe exhibits of water life from above and below the surface.

“Where's their Homer?” Aislinn asked at the aquarium.

“Homer is an exclusive, Ash,” Jack chuckled.  “He's one of a kind, and he's at home.”

“Daddy, can we ...” Jonny began.

Jack interrupted, “No, Jonny, we aren't getting a penguin.”

“But like penguins,” Jonny commented.

“Me, too, but we don't have a place for a penguin to live,” Jack maintained.

“We could build Penqy place,” Little Danny suggested.

“Daniel!” Jack called out, looking for assistance.

“Uh, I don't think that would be a good idea, Son,” Daniel stated.

“But ...”

“We'll talk about it at home,” Daniel said, quickly moving on to discuss other things.

When the facility closed, they headed over to the IMAX theater on the grounds, watched the evening's presentation, and eventually ate a late dinner at DiBella's Italian Restaurant.

--

Wednesday evening, the family went on a driving tour of Galveston to view some of the public art on display.  There were several along the Seawall that they enjoyed, particularly the Dolphins sculpture that had once been a fountain; the 1900 Storm Memorial, a bronze sculpture, done in honor of those killed in the hurricane of that same year, and the Crab and Shrimp, which adorned Gaido's Restaurant.

“Now that's one huge-honkin' crab,” Jack joked about the fiberglass blue crab.

“Never be that hungry,” Little Danny said, shaking his head.

After eating dinner there, the family's car tour went on to include some of the historic buildings in Galveston.  Though it was dark now, this would be their only opportunity to see many of these places, so they felt that a nighttime drive by was better than nothing.  Thus, they spent a couple of hours going by the 1859 Ashton Villa, the 1859 St. Joseph's Church, the 1861 U.S. Custom House, and various others.

“These homes are awesome, Dad,” Jennifer commented as she looked out the window at one of the older homes they passed.  It wasn't a house included on their tour, but one of several they went by that were built in the late 1800's and early 1900's.  “I wonder what they are like on the inside.”

“I'm sure they have all the modern conveniences,” Jack chuckled as he turned a corner and continued on.

--

As expected, the watching briefs were negative, but Daniel had used every opportunity to train his husband on what to look for and how to go about it.  They had met with Clay Myers a couple of times and then submitted their final report on Thursday afternoon.

Jack and Daniel took some time for themselves on Thursday evening, going to a discreet dinner club they had found out about.  There, they danced and enjoyed a romantic dinner together before returning to the hotel to play some games with the children and discuss the plans for the rest of their stay on Galveston Island.

Friday was a big day as Daniel kept true to his earlier commitment to explore the Strand more fully.  He'd done some research on the area, too.

“They used to call the Strand the 'New York of Texas'.  It was that grand,” Daniel told his family as they explored.  “Many of the best architects designed the mansions along Broadway, and the styles are reminiscent of the Greeks and Victorians.”

Always interested in making sure his children used their powers of observations, Jack began to point out some of the things that made the Strand unique.

“Notice the high curbs and these canopies.  Why do you think they built canopies?” Jack asked.

Little Danny scrunched his nose, and with the sun beating down on his sunglasses, he answered, “Keep sun away.”

“Very good, Little Danny,” Jack said, ruffling the young boy's shaggy hair.  “All of you stop and think back.  Take away the cars, and imagine sitting in a horse-drawn carriage as you traveled down the street.  In fact, let's take a ride,” he suggested, noticing an advertisement for carriage tours of the area.

Bijou and Katie looked at the horses and then back at Jack and Daniel.

“Come on, Girls, you'll love it!”  Jack leaned down, saying, “Just think of the bragging rights.  How many dogs have been carted around by horses?”

The two beagles looked at each other and then jumped up into the carriage, taking a seat on the bench and sitting in a very stately manner, just as queens would.

Jack chuckled, “That's the way to do it.”

====

When the ride was over, they went by La King's and watched as ice cream was made.  Jack looked down at the Munchkins and then communicated to his lover, **Danny, they're salivating.**

**It's all that ice cream you give them every night.**

**Me?  I don't see you saying 'no'.**

Daniel simply shrugged as they continued to watch, after which they enjoyed an ice cream treat.

After that, they went to an eclectic dress shop called Conversation Pieces.

**Jack, look at Jen.**

**She likes that, whatever it is.**

**It's Christmassy,** Daniel observed.  “Let's check it out.”

“Jen, what's that?” Jack asked as they approached the obviously-engrossed teenager in the shop.

“It's a Santa jumper.  Isn't it cool, Dad?” Jennifer asked.  “It's not fancy or anything, but it sure would be fun to wear for Christmas.”

“Real cool,” Jack responded and then shrugged.

The seasonally-colored dress was sleeveless, had a low-scoop neck in front, high waist, buttons at the bodice, and hit about mid-calf on the wearer.  There was a tie at the back.  Various images of Santa Claus adorned the outfit.

“Would you like it?” Jack asked, surprising his eldest daughter.

Jennifer's eyes lit up, and quickly, she answered, “Yes, very much.  I have lots of blouses I could wear underneath it,” she added, knowing Jack would have commented on the low neck otherwise.

“Daniel, what do you think?”

Smiling, Daniel said, “Jen, what do you think about Sam and Janet?”

“Daddy, they'd all love it.  Aunt Sara, too,” the girl suggested.

“Do you know their sizes?” Daniel asked.

“I think so,” the teenager responded, confident she could make educated guesses, if nothing else.

By the time they left, they'd purchased jumpers not just for Sam, Janet, and Sara, but for Megan and Karissa, too, something that caused Little Danny's entire face to light up, especially when his parents told him that he could be the one to give it to her.

====

The family did some shopping at the Mikasa crystal shop; The Brass Shop where Jack indulged in purchasing numerous beagle ornaments, music boxes, and other unique items that reminded him of their beloved beagles; after which they visited some of the art galleries; and finally concluding this round of their jaunt at the Peanut Butter Warehouse, which was fun for the grumbling Jack.

“Daniel, I thought we were going to see peanut butter being made,” Jack whined, sounding more childish than any of the Munchkins had thus far.

Daniel laughed, saying, “Jack, this is an antique shop.”

“Where peanut butter?” Jonny asked in frustration.  “Want Skippy!”

“I like Jif,” Jack said.

“Skippy!” Aislinn added.

“Jif!” Jack proclaimed.

“Skippy!” Little Danny chimed in.

“I'm outnumbered,” Jack conceded as Daniel chuckled.  ~At least they had peanut butter in the pantry.  Geez, what a tease that place is.~

“Jack, stop whining,” Daniel teased.  “You're lucky the Peanut Butter Pantry was even open.

“I was determined to come away with peanut butter,” Jack said stubbornly.

“They're cookies,” Daniel joked.

“Peanut butter cookies,” Jack clarified.

“Right,” the younger man laughed.

After that, the family visited the Galveston Railroad Museum, which all the children loved, especially since they got to freely explore the various railroad cars on display, climbing aboard the huge vehicles and romping around as they learned.

All in all, there was plenty of fun and sites to explore for the family throughout the week.  In fact, they didn't have time to explore everything they wanted to, but as Friday marched on, Jack insisted on one nearby trek.

“Daniel, we've been to a hundred galleries; I want them to see this,” Jack said as the children napped at the hotel.

“I'm not arguing, Babe, but I'm not sure we have time,” Daniel told him, looking at the schedule Mary had given them.

“Sure, we do.  The Munchkins will be up in another fifteen minutes.  It only takes a half hour to get there,” Jack argued.

“I wish we had a whole day we could spend there,” Daniel replied.

Jack tilted his head, asking, “You do?”

“Jack, this isn't about the military; it's exploration, and I believe our children should be exposed to the history and desires that have been a big part of our country.”

“Cool,” Jack said, smiling.  “Ah, I'm using my rank,” Jack warned.  “I want them to see as much as they can, Danny.”

Daniel nodded, giving his permission for Jack to use whatever influence he could to get in quick and see all they could.

Soon, the Jackson-O'Neills were headed for NASA.  They wouldn't have long, but they made use of the time they did have.  Jack was pleased Jennifer was with them to explore the Space Center as well.  Initially, the teenager was going to have to stay behind with the beagles, but after mentioning that fact to Mary, the woman had volunteered to dog-sit for them, not wanting Jennifer to miss the opportunity to visit the historic place.

All the children, especially Jonny, were mesmerized by the tall rocket they got to see, and as they left, all of them were pleading with their parents to bring the entire brood back to NASA for a longer visit sometime soon.

====

On Saturday, Jack and Daniel skipped the first parade of the day, choosing to spend time with the children and do more sightseeing, taking them to the Kemah Boardwalk, near Houston, for a few hours.  They rode the ferris wheel and the carousel, fed live stingrays in the special Stingray Reef located there, and much more before returning to their Galveston hotel.

Once back at the hotel, the family put away the things they'd collected at the Boardwalk and then freshened up.  They also took the opportunity to call home and check on the rest of the brood, although most of the time, the Munchkins hogged the phone to tell the others about their adventures.

====

By three in the afternoon, the family had ventured to the medians on 25th Street.  The huge grass dividers that separated two lanes of traffic made the perfect place for watching the Knights of Momus Grand Night Parade, the biggest of the Mardi Gras parades.  It was even televised locally.  This parade was noted for having better-quality beads and extras to pass out.  Though they had folding chairs for their spot on the median, the couple would be using Mary's brother's place as their 'base camp' and were grateful that Mary's family was being so hospitable towards them; it was certainly making their parade-going easier.

Throughout the afternoon, the children went begging for beads at the houses along 25th Street that were having parties.  They never failed in their quest for more beads.  They also had a field day checking out the treats of the various vendors that passed by with their carts.

“Daddy, please!”

“Please, Dad!”

“Gotta have!”

The voices were interchangeable as Jack and Daniel found their wallets growing thinner, purchasing a variety of things due to the pleading voices and puppy dog expressions on their children's faces.  Before long, they had a nice collection of glow-in-the-dark sticks, feather boas, bandanas, and some better-quality beads to take home to their family and friends as special gifts.

“Do you think we covered everyone?” Daniel asked as he reviewed some of their selected bead presents.

“Probably not, which is why we bought extras,” Jack said with a smile.

--

Later, while the children were occupied elsewhere with Daniel, Jack spotted something on a vendor's cart that he just had to get.

“Give me a dozen,” Jack said, his eyes widening as he realized just how short of cash he was becoming.  **Danny, remind me to get cash from an ATM somewhere.**

**Jack, what are you buying now?**

**They're beautiful, Danny.  Little pearl bracelets with three emerald green three-leaf clovers.  I want to get one for each of the girls and a few extras.  Great gifts.**

**No beer for you next month,** Daniel teased.

Jack silently smirked, ~Like I get any now.  Darn promise I made to myself; hardly ever get a good beer anymore,~ Jack thought wistfully.

--

The family enjoyed the potluck and chitchat as the afternoon waned.  As evening arrived, Jennifer made a comfortable spot for herself and the beagles where they could safely watch the action.

When the floats finally began to come by around six, the children yelled and begged for beads, which were thrown in abundance.  Both adults and older children were jumping into the air, making NFL receiver-like catches.  Many of the younger ones were on their hands and knees, picking up beads that hadn't been caught.

As the Munchkins waited for permission to begin, Jack and Daniel stocked up with bags to help store the goodies collected by the children.

“One ... two ... three ... Go!” Jack laughed, upon which the three little ones took their positions to beg for more beads from the people on the floats.

====

“More people,” Daniel observed about a third of the way through the event.

“More competition,” Jack said in a louder voice in order to be heard.

Both were keeping a close eye on their children, who could easily get lost or hurt by the more aggressive older children, all vying for the various items being tossed from the decorative floats.

--

With their bags almost overflowing, Aislinn caught sight of a beautiful brown-haired doll.

“Mommy,” the little girl said quietly.  To Aislinn, the doll looked like Kayla Armentrout, the young woman who had given birth to the Munchkins and the twins and then died tragically in a car accident.  “Jonny, look.  She's beautiful.”  Running eagerly towards the woman who was holding the doll, Aislinn begged, for real.  “Please.  She looks like my mommy.  Please give!”

Seeing the mistiness of Aislinn's eyes, the woman smiled, grabbed the doll, and tossed it in her direction.

With bright eyes and a huge smile, Aislinn held out her hands to catch the doll.  Her eyes dimmed and smile faded when she was knocked over by a ten-year-old who snatched the doll from the tips of Aislinn's fingers.

Aislinn sat on the ground, the palms of her hands flat on the asphalt.  She blinked and shed a few silent tears, not because of the fall, but because a boy had stolen the doll from her.

“Jack!” Daniel called out to his lover.

“Be right back,” Jack responded, prepared to handle the situation.  “You'd better check on Jen.”

They knew that if Jennifer had seen what had happened, she'd probably be frantic with worry, and they didn't want her or the dogs involved in a potentially ugly situation.

“That mean!” Jonny said angrily, starting to run over to Aislinn.

“Jonny, I get Ash.  You get bad boy,” Little Danny instructed, running over to Aislinn himself.

Little Danny threw his arms around his sister who cried into his shoulder, saying, “She look like Mommy.”

“He mean boy,” Little Danny said, comforting his sister.

Jack silently agreed as he checked over Aislinn to make sure she wasn't hurt.

From the float, the woman who had tossed the doll saw what happened.  She said something to someone else who grabbed a cell phone, contacting a friend who was nearby.

“You give back!” Jonny ordered as he stared up at the much-taller boy.

“Get lost, Kid!” the bully said.

“Lady gave that to my sister!” Jonny announced, moving closer to the other boy, his fists clenched.

“Well, she didn't catch it, and I did.  Now scram, Brat,” the boy ordered as he made an ugly face.

“Jonny not brat; you are!” Little Danny accused as he and a still-sniffling Aislinn joined Jonny.

Jack was looking over to make sure Daniel was with Jennifer and the girls, and noticing this, the bully decided to take advantage of his momentary distraction.

“You want it?” the bully threatened.  “Well, watch this!”

As the boy acted as if he were about to pull the doll's hair out, Aislinn screamed.  In a flash, Jack ran at it, yanking the doll from the boy's hand.

“How about you say you're sorry to my children?” Jack angrily suggested to the much-shorter boy.

“Uh.”

“Uh is not an apology,” Jack said with his best general tone, his eyes glaring at the boy.

“What's happening here?” a man asked urgently.  “Tommy, is this man bothering you.”

“Yes, he is, Dad,” the boy answered, puffing up now that his father was here to save his behind.

“Let's try that again,” Jack said.  “*You* were bothering my children.”

“He took Ash's dolly,” Jonny accused as he looked up at the man.

“Excuse me?” the father asked, looking at his son who suddenly looked away.

“Mister Garvin,” another man called out breathlessly as he approached on a run.

“Mister Timjin,” Garvin greeted as the man finally reached them.

“I just had a call from my wife who was on that float down there.  It seems Betty Carmindy threw that doll to that little girl.  The little girl had said it reminded her of her mother.”

“Mommy dead,” Aislinn sniffled.

“I'm sorry,” Garvin said softly at the girl.

“Betty said she saw Tommy run in front of her and snatch it out of her hands.”

“I trying to catch her,” Aislinn explained.

“Son, did you take that doll from that little girl?” Garvin asked, glaring at his son as he demanded the truth.

“Dad, I just thought Anna would ...” the boy began, thinking about his sister, who already had plenty of giveaways herself.

“Anna would not,” Garvin interrupted.  “She doesn't even like dolls that much.  Go home -- *now*.”  As the boy started to saunter away dejectedly, Garvin called out, “Tommy, didn't you forget something?”

Tommy realized what his father was expecting, and without conviction, said, “I'm sorry I took your stupid doll.  She's ugly anyway.”

“Tommy!” Garvin exclaimed, his reaction one of anger at his son's comment.

“I said I was sorry,” the obnoxious boy argued.

“And that's the last you'll be saying to anyone at Mardi Gras this year.  You're grounded,” Garvin informed his son.

“But ...”

“Home - now!” Garvin ordered harshly.  Then he turned to the Munchkins and knelt down.  “I am very, very sorry my son treated you like that.  Is the dolly okay?”

Aislinn looked at the doll and smiled.  She held her out for the man to see and answered, “She's beautiful, like my mommy was.”

“I'll bet she was,” Garvin said softly.  “You take good care of her.”

“I will; I love her for'er,” Aislinn said, swaying side to side as she clutched her new doll closely.

The man nodded and stood up to face Jack.

“It seems my son is a bully.  I apologize for his behavior,” Garvin said, sticking out his hand.

Jack shook the man's hand, saying, “Good luck with him.  I suggest boot camp for a few weeks.  It'll shape him up.”

“Boot camp ... for kids?” Garvin asked in surprise.

“If what he just did is normal, I'd check it out,” Jack said.  “Excuse us.  Come on, Munchkins.”

“Bye!” Aislinn said, waving back at Garvin and Timjin.

“You not mean like son,” Little Danny said as he waved, earning him a sad smile from Garvin.

“He join Air Force; my dad fix 'tudes!” Jonny said with pride.

“Jonny, let's go,” Jack said with a sheepish shrug.

~Mmm.  Boot camp.  That just may be what Tommy needs; the army made a man out of me, that's for sure,~ Garvin thought, giving a last grateful nod towards Jack for the advice.  ~I'm going to make that call,~ he decided as he turned around to head for home and give his son an unpleasant surprise.

--

“Everything okay?” Daniel asked as his family rejoined him and Jennifer.

“Daddy, look!” Aislinn said.

**Kayla** Jack communicated.

“Wow, Ash.  She looks just like Mommy,” Daniel said as he knelt over to get a close look.  Aislinn smiled brightly and then brought the doll to her chest proudly.  “Are you okay, Sweetie?” he asked.

Aislinn nodded as she played with her new doll.

“It's seven-thirty; let's call it a parade,” Jack suggested, intending to take the children back to Mary's place.

“Noooo!” a chorus of three voices rang out.

“Here, Daddy.  Hold dolly.  Need more beads,” Aislinn said and then toddled after more beads and gifts, her brothers right behind her.

Daniel shrugged, saying, “Kids are so resilient.”

====

With the parade still going strong and the Munchkins all near Daniel, Jack decided to let loose for a bit of ~exercise to wake up the body,~ as he thought of it.

Daniel twisted his body around, realizing his husband wasn't standing where he had been a minute ago.  Blinking, he caught sight of Jack near the latest float going by.

“Jack, what on Earth are you doing?” Daniel called out as he watched his soulmate flailing his arms and legs about wildly.

“Dancing, Danny; I'm dancing!” Jack answered, trying to keep in step with the lively music being played by one of the all-black bands participating in the parade.

“Oh, is that what you're doing?” Daniel questioned, shaking his head.  “I don't know him.  I've never seen him before,” he added softly as he turned his attention back to his children who were standing just a few feet away and had just finished showing their latest treasures to Jennifer.  “Yep, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it!”

“Come on, Danny.  Get down; boogie your woogie!” Jack called out, laughing out loud at the look on his husband's face.

“Boogie my woogie?  Yep, never seen that man before in my life,” Daniel said, turning around and walking over to their children.

“Danny?”  Jack just shrugged and continued his version of the jive.  ~He just doesn't have any rhythm, that's all!~

“Go on, Daddy, boogie your woogie,” Jennifer teased.

“Yeah!” the Munchkins cheered, each of them grabbing hold of their father and pushing him towards Jack.

“This is, uh, not fair,” Daniel whined, grimacing as he watched the triplets begin to dance like Jack was.

“Odd man out, Love,” Jack said.  “Dance, Danny!”

“Daddy, dance!” Aislinn demanded as she moved about wildly.

“Gawd,” Daniel said as he relented.

Jennifer laughed out loud as Bijou and Katie each barked.  It was a joyful, carefree couple of minutes as the family 'danced' down the street before doubling back to meet up with Jennifer.

“That was fun,” Jack said.

“Well ...”

Jack put his arm around Daniel's waist and tugged, saying, “Come on, Danny, admit it.  That was fun.”

Daniel smiled as he gazed into his husband's eyes, and his smile turned to a grin when he looked down at the younger children.

“Yeah, it was fun,” the younger man admitted, grinning.

The Munchkins were visibly tired now, even though they were still having a good time.

“Jack ...”

“That's all she wrote, Munchkins.  Jen, you ready?” Jack asked.

“The girls and I are ready, Dad,” the teenager answered.

Jack and Daniel took their family to Ben's place, but even before walking in the door, all three children were asleep in their father's arms.

“Remember when carrying two seemed tough?” Jack teased quietly as they headed for the bedroom.

“That was a long time ago, Babe.  Now, it's a ... a piece of cake,” Daniel chuckled.

====

“We love you,” Jack and Daniel told Jennifer and the girls before heading out for a night of partying.

Jennifer and the girls were to stay with the sleeping triplets throughout the night.  They'd considered taking all the children back to the hotel, but all in all, they felt safer knowing their brood was close by, especially now that they'd spent some time with Mary, Ben, and the rest of their families.  The Munchkins were so exhausted they'd sleep through anything, and Jennifer had her iPod with her, along with orders *not* to look outside.

~Parents!  So prudish!  Bet Dad and Daddy wiggle their hips down there!~ the teenager thought, silently giggling as she settled into a roomy chair Mary's brother had brought in for her.

====

The atmosphere at the party was festive, and the bands that played below were loud.  For a while, the adults sat in lawn chairs, chatting and watching the action below.  As they took in the action, they imbibed margaritas, ate some chicken, and enjoyed King Cake.

Jack and Daniel even danced at one point, since everyone seemed okay with them being a couple.

“Let's check out the party downstairs,” Jack suggested.

Some of the others also decided to go to the street and enjoy the parade and bands up close, while others remained to view the activities from the balcony.

====

“Those guys are great!” Jack exclaimed.  “Who are they?”

“The Philadelphia Mummers,” Daniel answered.  “They were in the parade, too.”

“Mummies?” Jack shouted, trying to hear over the large crowd.

“Mummers,” Daniel replied.  “They're from Philadelphia.”

“That's good, Daniel,” Jack said with raised eyebrows, chuckling as he leaned over to place a kiss on his lover's nose.

“Jack.  Gawd, not in public,” Daniel mock-whined, though inwardly, he smiled, enjoying the freeness they now had to just be themselves.

“Who came up with a crazy name like Mummies, anyway?” Jack asked, forgetting whom he was asking his rhetorical question of.

“Mummers, Jack.  Actually, though, you, uh, aren't far off.  The mummers led the funeral processions of the Pharaohs in Egypt.  They'd dress in extravagant outfits and play tambourines, cymbals, and things like that.  Mummers, as a profession, exist in other cultures, too -- British, Roman ...”

“Daniel, we're at Mardi Gras,” Jack reminded his husband who was currently in lecture mode.

“You asked the question,” Daniel said smugly.

“Yes, I did,” the older man chuckled, deciding, though, that he really did want to know.  “So how did the Egyptian mummies find their way to Philadelphia?” Jack asked, turning his full attention to Daniel.

Daniel laughed and explained, “In the late seventeenth century, it was brought to Philadelphia by the Swedes.  It was, uh, one of the Old World customs they were trying to retain.  Anyway, one of the traditions was Second Christmas Day.”

“I like the sound of that.  Christmas every day sounds good to me,” Jack chuckled.

“As I was saying, eventually, they extended their celebration to include New Year's Day, which they celebrated with masquerades and parades.  It was very rambunctious.  Anyway, a lot of people of the time carried weapons.”

“My kind of people,” Jack quipped.

“Jack!”

“Just teasing; you know how I really feel about that,” Jack commented softly.

“Yes, I do.  So it wasn't long before the sounds of the noisy parade-goers, bells, whistles, etc., were joined by ...”

“Cowboys shooting off their guns?” Jack guessed as he interrupted his husband's commentary.

“Something like that,” Daniel acknowledged.  “A group sort of evolved out of that -- the Shooters and Mummers Association.  They would go from house to house, making noise, singing, dancing; that kind of thing, and they'd be rewarded with food and drink.”

“Sounds like Christmas caroling to me,” Jack observed.

“Carolers don't carry guns, Jack,” Daniel pointed out.

“You're right.  Go on,” Jack urged, having to admit he was genuinely interested in what his soulmate was saying.

“It just kept growing and evolving, Jack.  There did come a time when it became caught up with political ramifications.  People were worried about being hurt, and the social implications of the celebrations were considered.  The parties were quieted down, but the Mummers as merrymakers continued, uh, without guns, of course.”

“Of course,” Jack teased, chuckling.  More seriously, Jack said, “Thank you for the history lesson, Love,” and then leaned in for a kiss.

“You're welcome, Babe, but let's party!”

“That's my Danny,” Jack said as they began to move to collect some beads for themselves.

They hadn't yet attempted that, but they had decided that to truly experience Mardi Gras in Galveston, they had to go after some beads, too.  It proved to be an exciting half-hour for them.

Daniel had already collected one special necklace for his husband, but as he stood under one balcony, he spied another one he just had to have.

“Uh, here, please!” the archaeologist said, raising his right hand slightly into the air.

“Hey, I want that one, too,” a handsome man said, winking at the redhead as he stood a foot or so to Daniel's right.

The woman smiled slyly in response as she let the necklace dangle loosely from her fingers and requested sultrily, “Show me your wares, Studs!”

“Anything you say,” the man said.

~Oh, gawd,~ Daniel responded inwardly as the man followed her suggestion.

“What about you, Handsome?  Let me see those buns!” the enticing femme fatale cajoled.  Seeing Daniel hesitate, but wanting to see his 'wares', she pulled out another object, saying, “I'll even add this to the spoils!”

Seeing the item, Daniel knew he couldn't pass it up.  He just couldn't, especially after Jack's fixation with the Mardi Gras koozies he'd acquired earlier.

With a sigh, Daniel turned around, thinking, ~It's all a dream; just a dream; only a dream; that's what it is; I'm waking up now.  Gonna rise and shine, and it'll all be over.~

As wolf whistles and howls filled the air in response to Daniel's 'wares', the lady on the balcony crooned, “Now that's one shiny moon!”

“Thanks!” Daniel replied modestly, now holding both the brown 'fear no beer' necklace that had the logos of several beer companies on it as well as the green and white koozie with a three-leaf clover on it.  ~What I do for love.~

As he began to walk away, Daniel felt a pinch on his re-covered backside.  Responding quickly, he turned to see a long-haired, scantily-clad blonde giving him the eye.

“Let's go explore that 'moon' some more, and, uh, you can explore ...”

~OH, GAWD!~  As the woman flashed him her voluptuous breasts, Daniel's eyes grew big.  “Uh, excuse me.  I have to go now,” he said, backing away quickly.

“But ...”  The woman sighed, shaking her head as she thought, ~Those buns were good enough to eat.  Dang!~

====

“Here, Love, for you,” Jack said as he placed a beaded Winnie the Pooh necklace around him.

“Thank you, Babe, and this one is for you,” a bemused Daniel said as he hung a Homer Simpson necklace around his lover.

“Danny, how'd you find one?” an amazed Jack asked.

“Trust me, Jack, it wasn't easy!”  Daniel reached in for his other treasure, saying, “And believe me, you *don't* want to know what I had to do to get this one.”  Daniel's eyes were twinkling with mischief as he put the 'clover koozie' bead necklace on Jack.  ~It was worth it, though.~

“Angel, I love it!” Jack exclaimed, his eyes sparkling at the necklace.  Then he remembered Daniel's statement about how he acquired the Irish-flavored item.  Jack raised an eyebrow and asked, “Danny, you mean I wouldn't like what you did, or what you did would make me look for my weapon?”

“Both,” Daniel chuckled and then leaned forward to give his soulmate a kiss.

Jack considered inquiring more, but changed his mind.  They were happy and on vacation, while getting paid for being in town on business.  Life was good.
~Besides, how much trouble could he get into on the streets anyway?~  As Jack looked around at the displays of individual's 'assets', he coughed.  ~I don't want to know.~

====

On Sunday, having acquired roughly fifty dollars' worth of beads at a local store and prepared Bijou and Katie by dressing them up in a costume of colorful beads, the family headed for the Annual Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Mardi Paws Parade.  This parade, sponsored by the Animal Shelter and Adoption Center of Galveston, Inc., was open to anyone who had a pet participant and paid the registration fee.  There were no floats; everyone walked the short route that passed by Shearn Moody Plaza.

Jack dropped his family off at the parade assembly area near the 25th Street and Avenue M intersection.  Following Mary's advice, he drove to the end of the parade route, parked the car, and walked back.

“Okay, let's get the beads ready,” Jack said, reaching in for one of the plastic bags that were in the shopping bag Daniel held in his hand.  Opening the bag, Jack saw the beads were in groups of ten, each group gathered together by a one-inch wide brown paper wrapper.  “I'll just cut through this and ...”

“Jack, wait,” Daniel warned.

“What?” Jack said, having nonchalantly removed the wrapper and tossed the beads down.

“Uh, Babe, they're tangled now,” the younger man observed.

Reaching down for the beads and grabbing some, Jack argued, “No, they're ... yes, they are.”  With a small cough, Jack focused on untangling the objects.  “Maybe we shouldn't take those wrappers off so carelessly.”

“Maybe not,” Daniel agreed, trying not to laugh.

The Munchkins, however, couldn't hide their giggles, something Jack couldn't ignore.  Suddenly, the older man smiled.

“Watch this,” Jack said, taking three bundles of beads and successfully juggling them for several seconds.  “See, your old man isn't all bad.”

“Not old!” Jonny argued as the children continued to giggle.

As they prepared, the family took note of the other animals that would be participating in the parade, including cats, snakes, rabbits, ferrets, and iguanas.

“Dad, ferret!” Jonny exclaimed, pointing at the long, furry animal.

“No, Son, we are *not* getting a ferret.  We're a one-reptile family, and Bogey is it,” Jack responded sternly.

“Love Bogey,” Jonny said, grinning as he thought about his pet lizard.

“Dad, ferrets not reptiles; they mammals,” Little Danny corrected.

Jack gave his son a closed smile and said, “Well, they look like rats, and we're not getting one.”

“No want rat,” Jonny whined.  “Want ferret!”

“No ferrets!” Jack reiterated.  ~The zoo is big enough as it is,~ Jack thought, especially since Little Danny kept finding strays to help and rescue.

Friends of Mary's had lent Jack and Daniel two little red wagons to fill up with beads, and both were now full.  As the parade began, Jennifer was in charge of not taking her eyes off the Munchkins while Jack walked with Bijou and Daniel with Katie.

Proudly, Bijou and Katie pranced down the street, their heads high, tails pointed, and smiles broad, displaying their bead outfits.  As their parents pulled the wagons, the Munchkins reached in, happily tossing the beads to the onlookers.

Jack and Daniel noticed the large variety of dog breeds surrounding them -- great danes, Australian shepherds, pugs, shih tzus, different kinds of terriers, and even a large mastiff.

**Our girls are the prettiest, Danny.**

**Isn't that a bit arrogant, Jack?**

**You don't think they are the best dogs here?** Jack queried.

**I think they are the best, most beautiful, and totally superb dogs in the entire universe, Babe.  I just know how to be humble.**

**Of course, you do, but it's hard to be humble with Bij and Katie.**

**Fake it,** Daniel suggested.

Exchanging smiles, the two proud owners continued their trek.

====

“Jonny, don't toss them overhand,” Jack warned as he glanced over at Jonny distributing some of the beads.

“Why not?” Jonny scowled lightly.

“You might hurt someone, that's why not. Throw the beads underhand,” Jack explained.

“Like a girl?” Jonny whined.

“I throw underhand, and I girl!” Aislinn chastised.  “That bad?” she challenged.

Jonny gulped, shook his hand, and threw the next bunch of beads underhand.

“Ash no girl; she sis'er,” the little boy muttered under his breath.

Thirty minutes later, they reached the end of the route.

“Daddy, no beads left,” Little Danny said, looking at the empty wagons.

“It's a good thing we bought that extra batch,” Daniel replied.  “Who wants a ride?”

“Me!” Aislinn said eagerly, hopping into one of the wagons.

“We flip?” Jonny asked his brother.  After Little Danny nodded, Jonny looked up at Daniel and said, “Need coin; we flip!”

Chuckling, Daniel pulled out a coin, tossed it into the air, and said, “Call it!”

“Heads!” Little Danny said.

“Tails!” Jonny said at the same time.

Knowing they had gone for opposite choices, the brothers smiled.

Daniel caught the coin, flipped it over in the palm of his hand, and called out, “Heads!”

“You win!” Jonny announced, smiling at his younger brother.

“We could share,” Little Danny said.

“No, I walk,” Jonny said, thinking he had lost fair and square.

Little Danny hopped into the second wagon, then called out, “Katie, come!”

Daniel turned to make sure Katie's harness didn't get twisted.  At the same time, Jack helped Bijou get into the wagon with Aislinn.  Jennifer took Jonny's hand, and together, the family caught up with Mary and her friends.

====

After a brief rest for the children's sake, the Jackson-O'Neills set out again, this time to another parade.  It was one they just couldn't pass up, even if it was a smaller parade.

“Dad, what this one called?” Aislinn asked as he carried her in his arms.

“Munchkin, this one is called the Munchkin Parade,” Jack answered about the children's parade which was sponsored by a local firefighters group.

“Jonny, Lil' Danny, it a parade for us!” Aislinn announced excitedly.

“We stars!” Jonny cheered.

“I think it for Wiz'Oz,” Little Danny suggested.

“It's a lot of things,” Daniel told his namesake, whom he held at the moment.  “I have a hunch we'll see all kinds of costumes.”

====

“Firetruck!” Jonny said excitedly as the parade began, standing on his top toes to get a better look.

“We be firemen, Jonny,” Little Danny said as he clapped.

“Yeah.  Pilot, Arkgist, and fireman!” Jonny agreed.  “We do lots.”

“Be busy,” Little Danny agreed.  “Dad!  Daddy!  It's Daffy Duck!” the little boy said, pointing to one of the children dressed as a duck.

Jack and Daniel laughed.  They were delighted by all the children riding on the fire truck, each dressed as a cartoon character and indiscriminately throwing beads to the onlookers.  The Munchkins once again caught more trinkets for their rapidly growing collection.

Aislinn giggled, “Look Dad, Daddy!”  Her parents smiled as Aislinn held up and let hang what appeared to her to be a giant bead necklace.  Her hand was raised over her head, and the lengthy chain rested another few inches on the ground.  “It bigger than me!”

“It sure is, Princess,” Jack laughed.  Leaning his head closer to Daniel he teased, “Someone got a little carried away.“

“Nothing wrong with 'big', Babe,” Daniel said with a wink.

“Daniel!” Jack exclaimed in mock shock.

The younger man laughed and continued to enjoy the merriment of the parade.

====

“Thanks for our parade,” Jonny shouted to the floats as they rolled by.

“Your parade?” another boy asked as his mother stood behind him.

“Yeah, we Munchkins!” Jonny explained.

“Na-uh,” the boy said.

“Are so.  Ask my dad.  He over there!” Jonny said pointing.  Then, he shouted, “Dad, who we?”

“Who 'we'?” a confused Jack mouthed.

**Munchkins, Babe.**

“Oh.  Munchkins!” Jack shouted back.

Jonny turned back to the boy and said, “See!  We Munchkins since we born.  That Little Danny and ...  where she go?  There she is.  That Ash.  We all Munchkins.”

“Triplets,” the boy's mother said gleefully.

“Yeah, tripits and Munchkins!” Jonny said determinedly.

The mother laughed, and the boy said, “I'm a Munchkin, too, aren't I, Mommy?”

“Anyone can be a Munchkin, Dear,” the woman answered, leaning over to see her son's face.

“But we first,” Jonny mumbled as he returned his focus on getting more beads.

====

“They've had so much fun,” Jennifer commented after the Munchkins had been tucked into their beds at the hotel at the end of the day.  “Look at those smiles.”

The three younger children were sound asleep, each wearing smiles on their faces.  Little Danny had his right arm around Katie, holding her close.  Jonny was crushing a pillow as he held it, with Bijou stretched out against the length of his body.  Aislinn's arm was carefully placed around her new doll, the one that reminded her of Kayla.  All three were dreaming of good things, each feeling loved and happy.

Walking out into the parlor area of the hotel suite, Jack asked, “And how about you, Jen?  We've kept you busy watching them or the girls.”

“That's why you're paying me the big bucks,” the teenager teased.

“Seriously, Jen, are you doing okay?” Jack reiterated.

“Perfectly.  I understand the responsibility and the trust you and Daddy have given me.  This isn't my vacation; it's the Munchkins.  My turn will come,” Jennifer said.

“And it will, Jen,” Daniel said, leaning in to give his daughter a kiss on the cheek.  “I'm very proud of you.  Look, I think it's still early enough for you to call and talk to Sheila for a while if ...”

“Can I, Daddy?  The roaming charges will be murder,” Jennifer reminded.

“Go on,” Daniel urged her.  “I know you've been suffering through cell phone withdrawal.”

“Daddy!” Jennifer whined, but then she smiled and excitedly said, “Thanks!” as she hurried off to her room to make a call to her best friend.

“Easy to please,” Daniel chuckled as he moved into Jack's embrace.

The couple sank down onto the sofa, putting their feet up, and decided to sit back and snuggle.

--

An hour later, Jennifer walked out and began to gush, “Than...oh.”  She giggled.  ~You two are more tired than the Munchkins.~

Quietly, Jennifer backed away from her sleeping parents and returned to her room to go to bed for the night.

====

“Home, sweet, home,” Jack chimed as they walked in the door.

“There's no place like it, Babe,” Daniel stated as he brushed by him, carrying the first of several bags of beads.

“Woooof!” Bijou stated excitedly, running towards the door, followed anxiously by Katie.

“Where David and Noa and Jenny and Ricky?” Little Danny asked, eagerly looking around for his brothers and sisters.

“The SUV is gone.  Aunt Sam probably took them to lunch or something,” Daniel observed.  “They'll be home soon.  Let's unpack,” he urged.

====

Later, Jack and Daniel stood with their hands around each other's waist, watching the Munchkins organizing their beads for the twentieth time.

“We make beads to throw next time,” Little Danny suggested.

“Yeah,” Aislinn agreed.  She looked up at her parents.  “We need bead holder.”

“Big one,” Jonny clarified.  “We make beads to give away.”

Jack nodded, saying, “Okay, we'll go shopping this weekend and find something for you to keep your beads in.”

“Thank you,” all three children said as they continued their organizing and trading.

All of a sudden, Aislinn gasped.  She dropped the beads she'd been holding and brought her hands to her face, lightly slapping her cheeks.

“Have idea!” the little girl exclaimed.  “Party!” she said to her siblings.

Jonny and Little Danny looked at each other, letting the idea sink in, and then all three Munchkins began to clap and cheer, bouncing as they sat.

“Party?” Jack asked hesitantly.

“Bead party, Dad, to give out beads,” Aislinn explained.  “We have Aunt Sam, Aunt Janet ...”

“Cassie,” Jonny continued.  “T and Grandpa and ...”

“'Rissa and Megan and ...” Little Danny added.

“Mrs. Valissi,” Aislinn continued.  “Oh, and ...”

As the children began to list their guests and plan their bead-giving party, the lovers put their arms around each other's waists and leaned their heads together.

“I think we're having a party,” Daniel said softly.

“It looks that way,” Jack agreed.

“A Munchkin Mardi Gras,” Daniel said softly a minute later.  “Gawd, it was fun.”

“Not for Mister Myers.  Cost him a fortune for our fun,” Jack chuckled, knowing the fees the man had paid for the ultimately unfruitful watching briefs had covered the family vacation expenses.

“Well, Jean Laffite may or may not have ever had a treasure, but we sure do. Eight human treasures, Jack,” Daniel said softly, leaning his head against Jack's shoulder.

“You're my brightest treasure,” Jack spoke, placing a kiss on his lover's head.  “I love you, Angel.”

“Love you, too.”

As they watched some of their treasures, happily chatting away, Jack and Daniel felt blessed and happier than ever.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
Feedback Welcome - click here to email the author


Free Hit Counter
Online Dating Service