Noa Grows Up
Category: Slash, Angst, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Season: Beyond the Series - October 6, 2012 - October 6, 2013
Spoilers: Singularity, One False Step, The Other Side, Fragile Balance, Threads (all minor)
----Chapter 1: 109kb
----Chapter 2: 66kb
----Chapter 3: 72kb
----Chapter 4: 52kb
Written: December 28-31, 2005, January 5-11, February 10,13-16,23, March 16-17,28, April 28, May 23-24,31, June 1-2,6,10-11,23-24, July 22, 2006 Revised (Ch. 2 only): August 18, 2006 Revised for consistency: September 18-22, 2007
Summary: Chenoa turns seven and learns that growing up is both painful and joyful. In the process, Sam confronts another fear, and Teal'c faces a mighty challenge.
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't. A gal can dream though!
1) Hanky warning, so I've been told!
2) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically. Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
3) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
4) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my past fic(s), “Echoes of the Past,” “Under the Surface,” “Be My Valentine,” “The Truth About Heroes: Janet's Song,” “Being Ourselves,” “Unexpected Miracle,” “Brothers,” “Murphy's Law,” “Never a False Step,” “Rocks and Sons,” and “It's Raining ... Kids?”
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better: Claudia, Robert, Linda, QuinGem, Heather, Patti, Jodi!
Noa Grows Up
Chapter One: When I Grow Up
Chenoa climbed off her pony, patting the black animal and saying, “You're the best, Champ!” She turned to face the adults standing at the side of the corral and, wearing a huge smile, said, “Mister Granger, thank you for letting Uncle Mark bring us here again for my birthday.”
Adolph Granger smiled at the curly-haired blonde and replied, “It was my pleasure, Chenoa. I'm glad that we had good weather for you and your friend to go riding.”
It was the sixth of October, a pleasant seventy-two degrees outside, scattered clouds, and just a hint of rain off in the distance that had, thankfully, stayed off in the distance during the morning riding session.
“Me, too,” Chenoa happily agreed. Just then, she heard a noise and turned, smiling when she saw Angela ride in on her pony, Ruffles. Running over to her, she asked, “Angela, isn't this a great birthday?”
“It's the best, Noa,” Angela said as she carefully dismounted and gave Ruffles a hug. “We need to brush them down.”
“I can have one of the hands do that,” Mister Granger interjected.
“Oh, no,” Chenoa stated quickly. “We always take care of the horses when we're here. Dad and Daddy say we have to be responsible. Besides, we like taking care of them, don't we, Angela?”
Nodding, Angela agreed, “Yes, Sir, we do.”
Mister Granger nodded and glanced over at the two sets of parents who were all smiling at the way their girls were handling their horses.
“I'm still surprised you two haven't bought horses for the girls,” Sara commented to Mark and Jack.
“Hey, I had a hunch we were going to be the owners of a couple of mares two years ago,” Daniel confirmed.
Jack laughed, “We can't come up here that often.”
“Of course, Jack, we could find a stable closer to the suburbs,” Mark teased, winking.
“Great idea, Mark!” Jack exclaimed, reaching around Sara to pat the man on his shoulder.
“Jack!” Sara chastised.
“Hey, it was *your* husband's idea, not mine,” Jack responded innocently.
“Right,” Sara responded dryly, giving Mark a small glare.
“You could just get the western wear,” Jack lured, quickly adding, “It's cheaper.” Feeling the slap on his arm, he exclaimed, “Ow!”
“Mark ...” Sara said softly, her eyes talking.
“Sara, how often do they really get to go riding?” Mark asked.
The blonde sighed as she watched the young girls tending to the ponies.
Chenoa and Angela were best friends, and both shared a passion for horses. Ever since they were toddlers, they'd enjoyed pony rides at the zoo, and once Mark had arranged for the girls to visit a stable owned by his boss, the two friends had become true horsewomen. Mark's boss had allowed them to come to the stable more frequently, though it was still a special treat, but each time they did, Chenoa and Angela learned more about the care and handling of horses.
Today was Chenoa's seventh birthday, and all she had wanted to do was to go riding. Mister Granger had once again agreed to the visit, and this time, he happened to be home. It was actually the first time that he'd met the Jackson-O'Neills.
“Girls, you have thirty minutes to brush down Ruffles and Champ, and then we have to go,” Sara called out.
“Yes, Mommy,” Angela responded.
“Okay, Aunt Sara,” Chenoa spoke at the same time.
“Noa looks so beautiful in that riding outfit,” a smiling Sara commented. She gave a covert glance at her husband before stating, “I really think we're going to have to get one for Angela after all.”
“I told you,” Jack remarked with a smug expression on his face. “Angie is a premier rider, Sara; she needs a proper riding outfit.”
“Oh, Jack, knock it off,” Daniel replied, rolling his eyes.
“All I'm saying is that our girls love horses, and we might as well get with the program,” Jack stated in defense of his comment.
Sara laughed. It was true that Jack had tried to convince her to buy Angela a riding outfit that would match the new one Chenoa was getting for her birthday, but, somehow, when she'd been looking at them on the rack, she hadn't realized how adorable the riding suit would look on the girls. Watching Angela in regular blue jeans and a flannel shirt just wasn't the same as spying Chenoa in her crisp, shining English riding outfit.
As doting fathers, Jack and Daniel hadn't been able to resist going full tilt on the ensemble. Chenoa had been fitted with two pairs of boots, two pairs of breeches, one tan and one black, three short-sleeve collared shirts (two white and one powder blue), a black jacket, black gloves, and a black helmet. They'd had her photo taken professionally in her riding outfit, and then, at the last moment, had made the photographer the proverbial 'offer she couldn't refuse', and dragged her with them to take several photos of their daughter with her favorite pony, Champ, upon first arriving at the Granger stable.
Sara sighed, “You're right, Jack.” Moving very close to her husband and speaking very softly, almost seductively, the woman asked, “Mark?”
“Yes, Dear, we'll take Angela shopping this weekend,” Mark stated, pretending like he was giving in and making a huge sacrifice.
Sara put her arms around Mark's and made a big production out of giving him a kiss while exclaiming, “Thank you!”
“What's a man to do?” Mark asked as he looked over at Jack and Daniel with a huge smile on his face.
“Bedtime!” Jack called out that night to the children when 'The Wizard of Oz' credits finished rolling.
“But, Daaaaaad!” several voices whined.
Slapping his hand to his forehead Jack teased, “Did I forget something?” He laughed when he saw a scowling Jonny standing with his hands on his hips, tapping the floor. “Oh. I don't suppose anyone wants some ice cream?”
In the Jackson-O'Neill household, little else was as sacred as ice cream, which had become a daily ritual and feel-good item almost from the moment the Munchkins had been born. It was the comfort and reward treat of choice, and withholding it constituted major punishment.
“Creeeeeeam!” JD exclaimed, slapping his infant hands together.
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look of total shock.
“Oh, gawd!” Daniel exclaimed as he walked over to Jennifer and took the excited ten-month-old baby into his arms. “Please tell me your first words aren't ice cream?”
“Creeeeeam!” JD exclaimed again, his face beaming with joy.
“He's a Jackson-O'Neill all right,” Jeff teased.
“You're supposed to say 'Daddy',” Daniel lamented.
JD laughed, “Creeeeeam.”
“Cream,” Daniel echoed sadly, resigned to his secondary status to ice cream.
“Don't worry, Daddy,” David said, getting up to help Jack with the ice cream. “Soon he'll be talking up a storm, just like the rest of us.”
Jack just shrugged and asked JD, “Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, orange ...”
“Choc,” the baby giggled.
“Choc?” Jack asked in surprise. “Another chocolate addict,” he mused. “Come on, Son. Help me dig up the scoops,” he requested, his hand on David's back, leading him into the hospitality room.
“Dad-dy,” Daniel urged, speaking very slowly to the youngest family member.
“Creeeeeeeam,” JD giggled.
“Cream,” the younger father sighed. “Okay, let's go get some ice cream.”
“Noa, you're beautiful!” Lulu exclaimed as she looked at her sister.
“Okay, Noa, I ...” Jennifer paused and exclaimed, “Wow!” She smiled brightly and shook her head in admiration, saying, “Little Sis, you're going to have Teal'c's head spinning.”
Chenoa was all smiles as she stood in her new party dress, one Jennifer had made for her. It had taken time from the major project she was working on, but the teenager was just enough ahead of schedule that she was able to make her sister's dress without putting herself behind.
The organza and satin dress was a lovely mix of sky blue and aqua. It had a fitted bodice with split tulip sleeves lined in aqua green.
Mrs. Valissi, their multi-talented neighbor, had taught Jennifer how to alter the pattern as well as how to use several advanced sewing techniques, including the serger's rolled hem feature. Circling the waist was a removable sash with rows of rainbow-colored flower petals, which had been programmed and stitched on Jennifer's windfall of a top-of-the-line embroidery machine.
With her new white shoes, stockings, gloves, and purse to match, Chenoa was truly a young lady and ready for her special day-after-her-birthday tea date.
Jennifer walked forward, placing a sky blue headband with lacy bow at the top on Chenoa's head, and said, “I added some little frills to the bow, Noa. I think it looks great.”
“Thank you, Jen,” Chenoa replied, still grinning.
“I'm going to get Dad and Daddy,” Lulu stated, running out of the room to find their parents.
“Noa, I thought you might like ... whoa!” Brianna exclaimed, stopping herself. “Now that's a look, if you like that kind.”
“What kind of look?” Chenoa asked, confused.
“The 'I want a guy to notice me' look,” the tomboy replied.
“Bri!” Jennifer admonished lightheartedly.
“I want Teal'c to think I'm pretty,” Chenoa announced, which wasn't much of a surprise to either of her sisters. Holding the edges of her dress, the young girl swayed right and left as she confided, “When I grow up, I'm going to marry him.”
“Well, I still don't get what is so awesome about getting married, but here, maybe this will help,” Brianna offered, placing a small strand of beads around her sister's neck.
“Bri, they're beautiful!” Chenoa exclaimed as she looked in the mirror, bringing both of her hands up to trace the elegant pearls. The necklace had been one of the few 'girlish' gifts Brianna had received last year for her own birthday. “Are you sure it's okay for me to wear them?”
“Yes, I'm sure,” Brianna replied. ~I probably won't wear them anywhere except to church or something.~
“It's a little chilly out here,” Jack said from the aerie, the upper part of the roof deck that had been added when the house was renovated in 2009.
“That's why we put up the canopy,” Daniel replied. “Besides, I don't think they'll be out here that long.”
“I don't understand why she wouldn't let us just dress up the kitchen or something,” Jack whined, recalling Chenoa's insistence that she be allowed to have her special tea with her favorite Jaffa on the aerie.
“Because it's more romantic up here, Babe,” Daniel answered softly, a smile on his face.
“And she's known Teal'c since she was two. Name one of his other affairs that has lasted this long,” Daniel teased.
Jack couldn't help but laugh as he took a final look around, making sure everything was in its place. For all his arguing, he wanted everything to be perfect. His young daughter had always thought the roof decks were the most romantic parts of the house.
~Wonder what gave her that idea,~ Jack mused as he checked the floral arrangement that was in the middle of the small table they'd put there for the special occasion. Hearing sudden laughter, he turned and asked his grinning husband, “What?”
“Arranging flowers, Jack?” Daniel challenged knowingly.
“I want it to be perfect for her,” the gentle general confessed.
“It is,” Daniel opined, looking upward at the night sky. “The rain has stayed away. She'll have a memory tonight that will last a lifetime.”
“Danny, I can't believe Teal'c has gone along with these teas for all these years,” Jack remarked quietly.
“He can't deny her anything,” Daniel replied. “I think it was her big, brown eyes that did it.”
“Dad, Daddy, come see!” Lulu called out from their bedroom. She knew better than to go out onto the roof deck without permission, so she had carefully leaned just slightly outward while calling to her parents. “Noa looks like a princess.”
“She is a princess, Little Bit,” Jack responded as he headed down. “Just like you are.”
Lulu grinned as she waited for her parents to reach her at the doorway that separated the master bedroom from the roof deck.
“See!” Lulu said proudly as she led them to the nursery/bedroom she shared with Chenoa and baby brother, JD.
“What a knockout!” Jack exclaimed.
“Noa, you're beautiful,” Daniel complimented, kneeling down in front of her. “Is there anything else you need, Sweetheart, before Teal'c arrives?”
Chenoa thought and then nodded as she answered, “A hug.”
Daniel grinned as he held the birthday girl for a few moments.
“Hey, what about me?” Jack asked as he leaned down to hug their daughter.
“Look, Dad, Daddy, Bri is letting me wear her pearls, and Jen made this for my hair,” Chenoa announced happily, touching the appropriate items with reverence.
“Picture time,” Jeff proclaimed as he entered the bedroom, his camera around his neck.
“Jeff, will you take one with me and Teal'c, too?” Chenoa asked hopefully.
“You bet, but first let's get some of you by yourself,” the teenager stated.
The photo session had moved downstairs when there was a knock at the door.
“I'll get it,” Jennifer said, walking to the door and glancing back at her anxious sister. Having checked to ensure it was Teal'c, she opened the door and smiled, saying, “Good evening, Teal'c.”
Teal'c bowed his head and stated, “I am here to escort ChenoaJacksonO'Neill to tea.”
“Please, come in,” Jennifer invited, stepping back to allow the Jaffa in.
“Why, Teal'c, how dapper you look,” Jack greeted, smiling at the alien's white suit.
Teal'c looked down at his young admirer and smiled as he extended out his first gift of the night, saying, “These pale against your beauty, but they are for you.”
“Oh, thank you, Teal'c,” Chenoa said, taking the bouquet of seven white roses and holding them close.
“Noa, would you like me to put those in water for you?” Jennifer asked.
“Yes, please, except for one,” the little girl said, taking out the center rose to keep in her hand.
“If you will excuse us,” Teal'c requested, taking Chenoa's right hand and heading up the stairs.
“It's good to see you, too,” Jack quipped, noticing the Jaffa's extreme attentiveness to the little girl.
**Jack, be quiet,** Daniel warned with their non-verbal communication that was still a mystery to them, but which they treasured with all of their hearts.
“Um, Teal'c, wait,” Jeff called out. “Noa wanted a couple of photos.”
“As you wish,” Teal'c replied, seeing the little girl's confirming nod.
“She's still beaming, Jack,” Daniel whispered from the door of Chenoa's room late that night. “Sound asleep, and she's grinning like ... like ...”
“Like a very happy princess,” Jack completed for his husband. “I wonder what they talk about.”
Daniel cocked his head slightly and answered, “I don't know. She told me once they talk about the Earth and Chulak and how different they are. She says she tells him her dreams, and he tells her his.”
“Teal'c has dreams?” Jack asked skeptically.
“According to Noa, he does, and that shouldn't surprise you, Jack,” Daniel scolded lightly.
“Jaffa dreams,” Jack sighed thoughtfully. “I'd sure like to know what those are.”
“You'll have to ask him, but according to Noa, he won't tell you,” Daniel stated.
“He won't?” Jack asked, looking at his lover.
Shaking his head, Daniel answered, “No. Noa says a Jaffa's innermost dreams are sacred and only to be shared with those they are closest to.”
“Hey, the big guy and I are close,” Jack argued as if hurt by being excluded.
Daniel chuckled quietly as he responded, “Not the same. She shows him her dance moves, talks about horses, tells him about her day, and he does the same.”
“Teal'c shows Noa his dance moves?” Jack asked, his face giving away the tease of the question.
Laughing, the younger man replied, “No, Doofus, he tells her about his day!”
“You sure do know a lot for not knowing what they talk about,” Jack observed in a more serious tone.
“I asked her, Babe, remember?” Daniel quipped in question.
“I forgot; brain cells were sleeping,” Jack replied and then yawned. “Which reminds me ...”
“Yeah, I'm tired, too.”
With a final look at their sleeping princess, Jack and Daniel headed for bed to snuggle and share some dreams of their own.
Just like Jack and Daniel had special days with each of their children, so did the various members of their extended family. Thus, a few weeks after Chenoa's birthday, she was spending a special day with Janet for no reason other than to be together. Their day began with a big breakfast at IHOP and then a trip to the mall.
Holding her aunt's hand as they walked through the mall, Chenoa asked, “What are we shopping for, Aunt Janet?”
“Nothing!” Janet answered, looking down at her.
“Nothing?” a confused Chenoa asked.
“That's right, Sweetie,” Janet confirmed, stopping and facing a window display of jewelry. “Today we shop for our imaginations. For example, would you like any of those pieces of jewelry? And if so, where would you wear it? When?”
“I like that one,” Chenoa said, pointing with her free hand to a sapphire pendant.
“You have excellent taste. Now, I can see myself wearing that to a big, fancy ball,” Janet suggested.
“In our best dresses,” Chenoa answered.
“Exactly,” Janet agreed, nodding. “And all the men will bow to us.”
“And bring us presents?” Chenoa asked.
“Of course. We're in our imaginations. Let's see where else our minds can take us today,” Janet suggested, leading her young charge to another display.
“You can't catch me,” Chenoa teased as she ran behind a tree at a local park.
“Sweetie, I may be old, but I'm not slow,” Janet said, giving chase and catching up with the youngster and gently tackling her to the ground.
Both were laughing loudly as they sat up, Chenoa leaning back into Janet's chest as the woman's arms encircled her.
“Aunt Janet, you need to have a baby,” Chenoa advised out of the blue.
Janet coughed nervously and replied, “Uh, well, actually, Noa, I have Cassandra and ...”
“But you need a baby, Aunt Janet,” Chenoa insisted. “Don't you want a little girl?”
Chenoa was leaning her head backwards, looking up at Janet, who smiled softly as she replied, “I have one -- you.”
The little blonde smiled at the words, but didn't give up, questioning, “Why don't you want your own baby?”
“It's not that I don't want a baby, but I'm too old now, Chenoa, and I'm serious. I have Cassie and her baby, and, of course, I have you and all of your brothers and sisters. There's a lot of love there. I don't feel like I'm missing anything,” Janet answered quietly.
“I'm hungry,” Chenoa said suddenly.
Laughing, Janet agreed, “Me, too. Lunch!”
“When I grow up, Aunt Janet, I'm going to have a beautiful, silver tea set just like this one,” Chenoa said as she polished a cup that was part of the set Janet had in her house.
“I'm sure you will, Noa,” Janet responded as she worked on shining another part of the set. “I keep hoping that someday they'll invent an easier way of keeping it clean, though.”
Chenoa chuckled, “Dad calls it elbow power.”
“It sure is,” Janet said with a grin.
With her cloth, Chenoa rubbed the cup as hard as she could, wanting to do a good job.
“Aunt Janet, do you like my hair?” the curly-haired blonde asked.
“I love your hair. Why? Don't you?” Janet queried.
“Sometimes I wish it was straight like Ash's. She has pretty hair; Jen, too,” the child answered. “Love your hair, too. You change it lots.”
“That I do,” Janet agreed. “It's something special I do for myself.”
“Whenever I feel like I'm in a rut, or if something sad or depressing happens, I change my hair. It makes me feel new.” Janet paused thoughtfully and then added, “It cheers me up.”
“Can't change my hair; it's too curly,” Chenoa said sadly.
“Sweetie, there's a lot of things we can do to your hair. Want to try?” Janet asked.
“Can we?” Chenoa asked excitedly, pausing her rubbing action.
“Just as soon as we finish this,” Janet answered.
“What do you think?” Janet asked as she fluffed Chenoa's hair slightly.
“I like it. Thank you, Aunt Janet,” Chenoa said, smiling at her image in the mirror.
“It's very easy to do, remember. We just use these combs to pull back your hair a little bit, and then we use the scrunchie and the hairpins to brace it up in the back a little bit. Take out the combs, hairpins, and the scrunchie, and you're back to your regular hair,” Janet informed.
“Do you think Dad and Daddy will like it?” Chenoa asked.
“If you do, I'm sure they will, too,” Janet answered.
“So we always do plié's first,” Chenoa stated, demonstrating the move by bending her knees. “We do it in all five positions. Lulu's teacher says it makes us limber.”
“It wakes up your muscles,” Janet agreed as she sat on the floor, just in front of the sofa, watching Chenoa who stood a few feet in front of her.
“Lulu's really good at this,” Chenoa commented as she attempted a ballet move known as the entrechat. “It's in the fifth position, and I'm supposed to change the position of my feet.” She tried to do the move, but sighed as she landed on the floor. “I'm not very good at ballet, but I'm good at this,” she said, suddenly performing a paddle and roll combination in tap.
Janet applauded as Chenoa told her all about brush steps and then sat down next to her.
“You really like to dance, don't you, Noa?” Janet inquired.
“I love it; it's lots of fun. I even like ballet. We learn the same positions for tap,” the little girl said, looking down at her feet that were splayed out in front of her.
Leaning forward to flick her shoes, Chenoa shocked Janet by saying, “Lulu's old parents hurt her.”
Janet let out a tiny gasp of shock at the sudden shift of conversation, but calmly replied, “I know, Sweetie.”
Still looking at her feet, Chenoa added, “She still has a mark on her back where that man hit her.”
Janet caressed the back of Chenoa's head as she nodded and said, “Yes, but it's fading. In time, Noa, Lulu won't remember any of that pain, not really. She's already forgotten a lot of it.”
“He touched her where he shouldn't. She told me,” Chenoa spoke solemnly, turning her face to look at Janet.
“And he was very wrong to do that,” Janet replied.
“That's why she ran away. He hit her ... and touched her. I'm glad the Munchkins brought her home,” Chenoa commented.
“Me, too. Does she talk about it much?” Janet asked, concerned and wondering if Lulu needed more counseling.
“No, not really,” Chenoa answered. “She says Dad and Daddy love her like her first adopted parents did. She's happy now, Aunt Janet, but ...”
“But what?” Janet prodded.
“Sometimes, she's scared something will happen to Dad and Daddy,” Chenoa confided. “I get scared, too ... sometimes.”
Janet smiled and pulled Chenoa close to her as she comforted, “Sweetie, I wish I could promise both of you that nothing bad would ever happen in life, but I can't do that. What I can promise you, though, is that no matter whatever nasty thing might be out there lurking, that your fathers will do everything they can to keep you safe; and they aren't alone. Who else loves and protects you?”
Chenoa grinned and began her list, “You and Aunt Sara and Uncle Mark and Teal'c and Aunt Sam and Uncle Pete and Cassie and Dom and Mrs. Valissi and Grandpa and Aunt Catherine and ...”
Janet laughed at the long list of extended family the little girl was still listing and silently thought, ~There's no end to the list of people who love you, and all of us will do our very best to keep you from harm.~
Just as Janet was getting lost in the warmth of the love, Chenoa surprised her as only a child could do, completely changing the subject again as she asked, “Aunt Janet, if penguins can't fly, why are they called birds?”
Janet chuckled, marveling at a child's ability to move on so easily, and eased the little girl's curiosity with a simplistic response, saying, “They don't have feathers because they swim under water, and normal feathers would slow them down; but they have wings, so they can fly under water.”
With her apron in place, Chenoa leaned forward over the kitchen table and squeezed the icing onto the figures on the tray.
“I like making gingerbread cookies, Aunt Janet,” Chenoa remarked as she worked.
“So do I, and I like eating them even more,” the physician replied jovially.
“This one is for Teal'c, okay?” Chenoa asked as she looked down at the special cookie she'd just prepared.
Janet smiled at the decorated treat, this particular gingerbread man cookie bearing in icing the same emblem on its forehead that Teal'c had on his.
“He needs bigger shoulders, though. Teal'c has big shoulders,” Chenoa said in a big voice, shaking her own shoulders slightly in emphasis.
Janet laughed, “Yes, he does. Let's see if we can bulk him up some.”
“Wow!” Jack exclaimed, seeing his daughter's look as she eagerly walked up the front steps.
“Do you like it, Dad?” Chenoa asked as she reached the top step, her eyes begging for acceptance.
Kneeling down, Jack smiled and replied, “I think it's peachy.” Then he led the way into the house. “Did you have a good time, Noa?” he asked as Chenoa followed him into the entranceway, Janet right behind her.
“Oh, yes, Dad! We had a great time,” Chenoa answered. She turned around and gave Janet a big hug, saying, “Thank you for spending the day with me, Aunt Janet.”
“Thank *you*, Noa,” Janet corrected, continuing, “for letting me spend the day with you.”
“I love you, Aunt Janet,” the little girl declared. “I'm going to show Daddy my Teal'c cookie, okay?”
“Okay, I'll see you later,” Janet laughed as Chenoa ran off to find her other father.
“Bye. I have to call Teal'c, too. I'll ask Daddy,” Chenoa said, her voice trailing away as she disappeared around a corner.
“She sure loves Teal'c,” Janet commented.
“That she does. Was she any trouble?” Jack inquired.
“Jack, she's a pure joy; all of your children are. We had a wonderful day,” Janet opined. She sighed, “The brood have really added something to my life, and I ... I want to thank you for letting me be a part of their lives.”
“Doc, don't get all mushy on me,” Jack said only slightly gruffly as he pulled the woman into a hug.
The redhead laughed as she backed away, saying, “I'm getting terribly sentimental in my old age.”
“Doc, you're not old; you're forever young,” Jack said, grinning.
“Forever Young? Like Rod Stewart?” Janet teased, referring to the famous rock singer's hit song.
As Jack grimaced, Janet walked back onto the front porch, waving goodbye and saying she'd talk to him later. She felt very warm inside from all the love the entire Jackson-O'Neill family added to her life.
“Danny, how'd we get roped into this?” Jack asked as he put his finger between the very tight collar of his tuxedo and his neck.
“You made a bet and lost,” Daniel answered, chuckling.
Jack shrugged, asking, “Who knew they could be perfect for two months straight, especially after last year?”
Daniel laughed, “They did.”
Jack shook his head as he took in their formal attire. Both men were dressed in their finest, every hair in place, even Jack's cowlick. Looking at his lover, Jack didn't really mind. The man was still the most beautiful creation on Earth in his opinion.
“Danny?” the older man spoke softly.
Looking up from his own suit-check, Daniel asked, “What?”
“I love you,” Jack replied.
Daniel smiled and spoke, “I love you, too. Happy Anniversary, Love.”
“Happy anniversary, Angel,” Jack said as he leaned in to share a tender kiss with his heart, his Daniel.
Together, the couple made their way downstairs. It was their ninth wedding anniversary, and after having lost a bet with their children, the couple had reluctantly agreed to host a huge gala affair. Though, initially, they'd talked about having it at home in their backyard, Jack and Daniel had instead opted to rent a room at the Denver Hyatt and have the affair catered.
Everyone who was anyone in the extended Jackson-O'Neill family or was one of their circle of friends had been invited, including President Hayes. It was strictly black tie, and the photographer who had taken the birthday photos of Chenoa in her English riding outfit had been hired to take photographs of the guests. She had passed the 'O'Neill Muster' as Daniel put it.
“Jeff, have you seen Teal'c?” Chenoa asked as the party was well under way.
Looking through the crowd, the teenager answered, “There he is, Noa, dancing with Aunt Sam.”
“Oh, I see. Thanks,” Chenoa replied gleefully, then turned and began to make her way through the crowd.
“Teal'c, you've become an accomplished dancer,” Sam said as they waltzed.
“Thank you, Samantha. I am pleased that I no longer step on your feet,” the Jaffa said in all seriousness.
Sam chuckled, “My feet thank you, too.”
“'Scuse me. 'Scuse me. 'Scuse me,” Chenoa apologized as she pushed her way through the adults. Just as the music ended, she reached her destination. “Hi, Teal'c.”
“ChenoaJacksonO'Neill, I believe the next dance is mine,” Teal'c stated, remembering that he had promised to dance with the little girl after the next waltz had been played.
Grinning, Noa moved into place and began her dance with her beau.
“He's not as good at the two-step, Gorgeous,” Pete quipped over his wife's shoulder.
“Neither are you, but we're still going to dance to it,” Sam said, turning around and holding out her hands.
Sometime later, Chenoa was sitting with her brothers and Lulu when she heard, “Ladies choice! Fillies, go find your studs.”
“I'll be back,” Chenoa called out as she went in search of Teal'c again.
As the young girl approached, the music was just beginning, and Chenoa stopped, seeing her beau dancing with Janet.
“Teal'c, you've come a long way,” Janet laughed as the Jaffa twirled her around.
“SamanthaCarter agrees,” Teal'c replied.
As she watched, Chenoa's grin faded to a frown. It was a ladies choice dance, and she was a lady. Her choice was Teal'c, and she didn't like being cut out by her Aunt Janet, especially since the two were dancing so closely. Suddenly, even her momentary jealousy turned to sadness, and she wiped a tear from her eye, turning around to walk away.
“Ut oh,” Jennifer said, having seen the scenario play out. “Excuse me a moment,” the young woman said to her date. Walking over to Teal'c and Janet, she tapped on the Jaffa's shoulder. “Uh ...” was all she said while pointing at the back of her sister as she slowly moved away.
“Oh, Teal'c,” Janet sighed. “Go on. We can dance later.”
“As you wish,” Teal'c agreed, not hesitating to leave his current dance partner in favor of his young admirer.
Janet looked at Jennifer and commented, “I should have known.”
“If Noa had her way, Aunt Janet, Teal'c would dance with her all night long, but she just looked so sad just now,” Jennifer observed.
Janet nodded; then smiled as she gave Jennifer a nudge and said, “Someone's waiting for you.”
Jennifer grinned and returned to her date just as Teal'c managed to convince Chenoa that he really did want to dance with her. As her smile returned, she again danced with her favorite alien, lost in the innocence of first love.
“So no one's bought the Fowler's place yet?” Jack inquired about the house that was situated partially behind theirs and right next to the one where Sam and Pete lived.
“Not yet,” Sam commented, taking a drink of her champagne.
“Those crazies want sixty-thousand more than it's worth,” Pete commented, shaking his head in astonishment.
“The house is tiny, but they do have a nice-size yard,” Sam commented.
“You two could buy it and do what Danny and I did,” Jack half-teased.
“Right,” Pete responded mockingly. “When I make half your salary,” the police detective snarked, causing Sam and Daniel to chuckle.
“How long has it been on the market now?” Daniel inquired.
“Six months,” Sam answered. “I've talked to people who are interested, but the Fowlers won't budge on their demand.”
“It'll never sell,” Jack deduced.
“They've already moved into their new home, too,” Pete added.
“Maybe they'll rent it,” Daniel put forth.
“Maybe,” Pete agreed. “Whoa, Sam, there's Alex. Would you excuse me?” he asked, scurrying away to talk with the designer.
Jack gave the man a funny look, amused by his quick departure to speak with Alex Dennison, a master designer and decorator.
“He, uh, is having a little problem with part of the addition,” Sam explained.
“Oh!” Daniel exclaimed with big eyes.
“He wants Alex to bail him out,” Jack assumed.
“You said that, Sir, not me,” Sam responded diplomatically. “And, if you don't mind, I think I'll make sure Pete doesn't get us in any deeper than we already are.”
“Well, Alex isn't so eager to discuss business at social functions anymore,” Jack stated. “I'll wager the best Pete will get is a promise to call for an appointment.”
As the policeman approached the designer, Jack noticed a frown on Casey Hemming's face, as if he resented the intrusion on his conversation. The nurse had always fancied Alex, but when the designer finally found a social life, it was with Soncirria Suvulpo, a good-looking beauty pageant winner and not with him.
As the blonde colonel started to walk away, Jack asked, “How deep is it, Carter?”
“Deep, Sir, very deep,” Sam chuckled.
“Come on, Love, let's dance,” Daniel suggested, putting down his glass.
“Love you, Angel,” Jack intoned sweetly as the two began to dance. ~All things considered, I'm glad I lost the bet.~
“I love you, too,” Daniel whispered into his husband's ear.
“Dancing with my Angel; nothing beats it,” Jack remarked.
“Nothing?” Daniel asked with shining eyes as he pulled back to look into Jack's brown eyes.
“Well, almost nothing,” Jack admitted, chuckling as the two danced the night away.
Towards the end of the month, Chenoa sat on the sofa in the living room, petting Mittens and anxiously watching the clock. She was already dressed, eagerly anticipating a morning play session with Angela at Sara's house. She was so excited that she had woken up early and now sat fully dressed, even though it was only six in the morning.
Looking around the room impatiently, her feet dangled off the sofa, flapping back and forth.
“I got up too early, Mittens,” Chenoa admitted. “But Angela and I are planning Christmas today, and I have some secrets to tell her.”
“Morning, Sis,” Jeff chimed as he entered the living room.
“Good morning, Jeff,” Chenoa answered, smiling.
“Aren't you up a little early?” Seeing the girl shrug, he asked, “Are you hungry?”
“No, not really. I get to play with Angela today,” Chenoa stated informatively.
Jeff smiled and replied, “You'll have a lot of fun. I'm going to get an orange or something. I'll be right back.”
“'Kay,” Chenoa responded, continuing to pet one of the family cats.
When Jeff returned a couple of minutes later, he flipped on the television, saying, “I need to check the weather. Some of the guys want to shoot some hoops later.”
“You're good at basketball, Jeff,” Chenoa praised with a smile.
“Thanks, Noa,” Jeff replied and then turned his attention to the screen.
Jeff was playing with Mittens, having heard the weather report already, when he heard Chenoa gasp.
The teenager looked up in alarm and asked, “Noa, are you okay?”
“Jeff, look!” Chenoa said, pointing at the TV screen. She scooted off the sofa and knelt down in front of the television. “Jeff, the poor ponies.”
With concern, Jeff watched the news report, saddened at the image of four Shetland ponies, half-starved and left abandoned after a storm that had recently hit the area. They'd been found off the side of the road by tourists who had called the authorities.
The newscaster stated, “Local veterinarians are tending to the four miniature horses and believe all can make complete recoveries, but unless a new home is found for the small animals, their future is still bleak.”
“Jeff, no!” Chenoa stated, tears flowing town her face. “Help me, Jeff.”
“Ah, how, Noa? We can't do anything to help,” Jeff answered.
Chenoa sniffled and said, “I have to talk to Ang...”
At that moment, the phone rang. Chenoa sprung up, answering it and listening eagerly to the caller.
“Yes, Angela, I saw it ... I know. I told Jeff that, too ... I don't ... oh, Angela, what a great idea. Do you think ... yes! Okay. I'll call you back,” Chenoa said, putting the phone back down. “Angela saw the ponies, too. I have to talk to Dad and Daddy,” the little girl said, running up stairs.
“Talk? Now?” Jeff looked at the clock, seeing it was still only six-thirty. Their parents had been out very late last night for their Friday night date. He knew they'd intended on sleeping in, and Jeff and Jennifer had both already been recruited to take care of the children until late that morning, which is one of the reasons Jeff had set his alarm to go off so early. “Ah, Noa, wait!” he requested, following the girl up the stairs.
“Can't, Jeff,” Chenoa said, her hand on the doorknob. She put her ear against the door, looked up at her brother, and commented, “No noises. It's okay.”
Jeff smirked, ~That's not really what I was afraid of -- yet.~
Unable to hold back his charging sister, Jeff positioned himself at the doorway, leaning against the frame with his arms folded as he watched her go to Jack and begin to shake him.
“Dad!” Chenoa called out urgently, shaking him harder.
“Mmm. Where's the war?” Jack asked as he eyes fluttered open.
“Dad, I have a question,” Chenoa stated, climbing up onto the bed and pushing Daniel off of Jack. “Daddy, wake up!” she insisted.
His head against his pillow, Daniel mumbled, “Jack, you were in...”
“Daddy, listen to me,” Chenoa requested, causing Jeff to breathe a sigh of relief at his father's words being cut off.
“Dad, Daddy, there are some horses that need a home. They've been neg...neg ...” Chenoa paused and turned to look at Jeff, asking, “What's that word, Jeff?”
“Neglected,” Jeff answered.
“Yeah, 'glected,” Chenoa attempted to pronounce. “They need love. We have lots of love, don't we?”
“Love, yes, lots of love,” Daniel mumbled, his eyes still shut. “Love you, J'ck.”
In the doorway, Jeff grinned, ready to run and snatch Chenoa if their parents suddenly got amorous while still just half-awake.
“Dad, Angela wants two, and I want two, okay?” Chenoa asked. “Daaaaad!” she said, shaking Jack's arm.
“The horses! I want two, and Angela wants two. I'll take real good care of them, okay?” the little girl asked.
Jack nodded, “Sure, Pumpkin. Anything you want,” he added, yawning as he spoke.
“OH, THANK YOU, DAD!” Chenoa leaned over and gave both parents a kiss and then climbed down off the bed and ran past Jeff saying, “I have to call Angela now.”
Jeff shook his head as he followed his sister out, thinking, ~We're in trouble now.~
Two seconds after Jeff closed the door, Jack bolted up and asked, “Daniel, did our daughter just ask us for horses?”
“Horses?” Daniel mumbled, his hand reaching over and grabbing Jack's groin. “Stud. My stud's like a horse. Want my studmuffin!”
As Jack gasped from his soulmate's advances, the memory of Chenoa's request disappeared into the air.
Jack whistled his way downstairs three hours later. Seeing Jeff smiling at him oddly, he stopped and looked all around.
“My pants unzipped?” Jack asked.
“No, Dad, but I think you'd better talk to Noa,” Jeff suggested, nodding over towards the patio where the little girl and Angela were happily chatting away.
~When did Angela get here? Noa was supposed to go to Sara's, wasn't she? What is going on here? Oh, no!~ Memories of his early morning wake up call began to surface, and the more Jack began to remember of his morning nightmare, the more he wanted to forget it again. He grimaced, “I have this vague recollection ... no, it was a ...”
“No, it wasn't,” Jeff said. “Aunt Sara and Uncle Mark want you and Daddy to call them *right* away.”
Jack looked at Jeff and then over at the two girls whom he noticed weren't playing, but were writing down things.
“I remember ... horses,” Jack spoke a bit hesitantly. “It was something about studs.”
“Uh, maybe later,” Jeff said with a smug smile.
Jack gave his son a look of surprise, blushed, and then went, “Oh, but I do remember horses?”
“Oh, yeah,” Jeff confirmed, nodding.
“DANIEL!” Jack shouted.
“Jack, don't shout!” Daniel warned as he came down the stairs.
“Everything okay up there?” Jack asked.
“Yes, no thanks to your bellowing,” Daniel quipped. He'd just checked on JD and found him still sound asleep. The boy took after Daniel in that respect -- he liked to sleep in. “What's wrong?” the archaeologist asked.
“Horses,” Jack answered.
“Jack, I have no idea what you're ... horses?” Daniel said as his mind began to work.
“Horses!” Jack and Jeff both said together.
“Oh, gawd. Babe, did Noa ask for ...” Daniel began.
“Horses!” Jack and Jeff said in unison.
“Jeff?” Jack and Daniel both said suddenly as they moved together and faced the teenager, their arms folded across their chests.
Jeff laughed and then filled them in, but before they could say anything, Chenoa and Angela came bursting into the living room, rambling a mile-a-minute about the Shetland ponies that had been on television.
Finally, with her parents unable to get a word in, Chenoa ended with, “We called the man, and he said you and Daddy should call him -- today.”
“Noa,” Jack said, kneeling down. “Princess, I know you love horses, but we don't have any place to keep them.”
“Dad, they'll die!” Chenoa spoke pleadingly. “Besides, you said we could.”
“So did Daddy and Mommy,” Angela noted.
**Angie must have gotten to them the same way Noa got to us,** Jack communicated.
**Gawd, I hope not,** Daniel replied, feeling embarrassed.
“Noa ...” Jack began.
“Look, Dad, these are all the things we have to do so we can give Hot, Chocolate, Dunkin, and Donut a good home,” Chenoa stated.
“Hot chocolate and Dunkin' donuts?” a very confused Daniel asked.
“Yes!” both Chenoa and Angela said.
Jack and Daniel looked at each other and then at Jeff, who simply shook his head, having missed this part of the two girls' discussion.
“Noa, what does hot chocolate and donuts have to do with horses?” Jack asked.
Chenoa let out a frustrated sigh, answering, “Daaaaad! It's Hot and Chocolate and Dunkin and Donut.”
“Yeah,” Angela agreed, shaking her head at the confusion. “DD are mine, and HC are Noa's.”
“DD and HC?” Daniel repeated hesitantly, hoping all of this was just a really wacky dream.
Chenoa smiled and proudly explained, “Dad loves nicknames, so we gave ours a combination nickname.”
“Oh, I see,” Daniel replied, backing up one step and really wanting no part of the conversation to come.
Jack looked at the list the two girls had made, silently impressed at the detail they'd gone into, but knowing there was no way they could adopt four horses just like that.
“Princess, look, we can donate some money ...”
“NOOOOO!” Chenoa said. “Dad, you don't understand,” the little girl cried. “Someone left them all alone. They hurt them and didn't feed them. HC and DD need our love. We have lots of love. Pleeeeeease. You said we could, and Jeff called the man on TV and ...”
“He what?” Jack asked, looking over at Jeff.
Wishing he hadn't gotten up early that morning, Jeff nervously clarified, “I only called to find out where they were taking the horses and who to contact so we could ... um, gee, Dad. Noa begged me. Daaad, she's become an expert at 'the pout',” the teen whined in mock dismay.
Jack glared, but only mildly. He was having a hard time withstanding Chenoa's begging himself, but the Jackson-O'Neill zoo was already out of hand in his opinion.
“Jack,” Daniel interjected as he placed a hand on his husband's shoulder and moved forward again. He took their daughter by the hand and led her over to the sofa. He sat down and brought Chenoa to stand directly in front of him. With both hands on her waist, he spoke gently, “Chenoa, let's think about this logically, okay?”
“Okay,” the little girl agreed.
“Horses need a stable and room to walk around. We don't have one of those,” Daniel pointed out with a steady voice.
“It's okay, Daddy,” Chenoa replied. “We thought of that already,” she said, looking over at Angela.
“You have?” Daniel inquired.
The curly blonde nodded and explained, “We can buy a stable.”
“Oh,” Daniel said. “Jack?” he called out, ready to leave the conversation again.
“Noa, we can't get the horses,” Jack stated as strongly as possible, deciding to firmly put his foot down.
“But, Dad, they'll be lonely and die and ...”
“No, Noa. We already have a zoo in this madhouse. We aren't getting any horses, and that's that. Daniel, I'm going to call Sara,” Jack announced, heading for the study to escape the sobs of two young girls echoing in his ears.
“DAAAAAADDDDDYYYYYYYY, please! Hot and Chocolate need ... <sob> ... me, and ... <sob> ... Dun...<sob>...kin and Donut neeeeeed An'la ... <sob>,” Chenoa cried, jumping into Daniel's arms.
~Oh, gawd,~ Daniel thought, instantly melting. He closed his eyes as he held the little horse-lover. ~Be strong; Jack will divorce you if you give in.~
As if sensing Daniel's imminent meltdown, Jeff volunteered, “Um, Daddy, if you decide to give it a shot, I promise I'll help take care of them. I can give up basketball after school and help Noa and Angela.”
Pulling back from Daniel, wearing a huge smile, Chenoa ran to her brother and gave him a gigantic hug, saying, “Oh, thank you, Jeff. You're the best big brother ever, and I promise, I'll take care of them, really I will.” She ran back to Daniel, placing her hands on his knees. Leaning forward with eager eyes, she begged, “Pleeeeease, Daddy. We can do anything. You and Dad say so. We love them. They're so cute. Jeff, show Daddy.”
With yet another hesitant smile, Jeff put on the DVR, showing the footage that they'd saved from the second early news showing about the four ponies.
“They're Shetland ponies, small like us,” Chenoa said as if that would convince her father. “We can buy a stable. You don't have to give me an allowance anymore.”
Daniel swallowed hard as he looked at Chenoa's hopeful expression. They'd taught their children that nothing was out of their reach, and now Chenoa was asking for them to back that up.
~How can we say 'no'?~ Daniel put his hand on the little girl's cheek and caressed it. Still looking at her, he said, “Jeff, what's the number of the ...”
“Right here, Daddy,” Jeff said, pulling the paper with the number on it out of his shirt pocket.
“No promises, Noa,” Daniel said, walking away, only instead of sobs, he heard joyful sniffles and two girls jumping around happily.
“Daddy can convince Dad to do anything, Angela,” Chenoa stated confidently.
“And Mommy and Daddy said I could have DD,” Angela said with certainty. She paused, looking down a bit guiltily as she added, “But only if you and Uncle Jack get HC for Noa.”
~They're going to kill me; that is, if there's anything left after Jack kills me,~ Daniel thought, heading upstairs to his den.
“Daniel,” Jack called out, giving his lover a suspicious look when he walked into the den a bit later. He'd been told about the conversation that had happened after he'd gone to call the Wilsons, and now, at least twenty minutes had passed with no sign of his lover. Thus, he suspected Daniel was avoiding him. “Daniel?”
“Uh, yeah, well ...” Daniel replied from his desk chair, his hands holding a piece of paper on which he'd made some notes. Turning to place the paper on his desk, Daniel whispered, “I made some calls.”
“Excuse me?” Jack challenged, moving to stand behind the recliner so he could try to at least see his soulmate's face.
Sighing, Daniel twisted his chair around to face Jack. He leaned forward, looking down and smacking his lips.
“Daniel, I'm waiting,” Jack demanded.
“Jack, I didn't tell her we'd get the horses,” Daniel replied defensively.
“Good, because we aren't. We already have dogs, cats, a lizard, a rabbit, a bird with an attitude, a tankful of fish, two guinea pigs, and I'm sure I've missed something.”
“Uh, well, there's Little Danny's current stray,” Daniel said weakly.
“He *always* has a stray. Danny, where are we going to put two horses?” Jack questioned.
“We could board them,” the younger man answered.
“Do you have any idea how much it costs to board horses? And let's be realistic here,” Jack suggested harshly. “Just how many times would Noa really see those horses?”
“Yeah, I was thinking about that,” Daniel said, a sly smile on his face.
“Oh, no, we are *not* turning our backyard into a stable,” Jack responded, waving his hands in front of him and crossing over to the other side of the den.
“I'm not suggesting we do that ... exactly,” Daniel said, slowing making a downward nod of his head.
“Then what *exactly* are you saying?” Jack questioned.
“I checked the zoning laws,” Daniel began.
“No, Daniel,” Jack said, wanting to have nothing to do with horses.
“We could buy the Fowler's home and ...”
“THAT'S HIGHWAY ROBBERY!” Jack shouted, slamming the two doors of the den together as he stormed out.
“Jeff, what's going on?” Jennifer asked, walking into the living room with the Munchkins and the Spitfires after concluding some game playing in the game room.
“Jen, we're getting horses!” Chenoa answered gleefully.
“Horses?” Jennifer questioned.
“We are?” Aislinn asked eagerly.
“What kind of horses?” Jonny inquired as he imagined being a cowboy.
“Can I ride them?” Ricky inquired, beginning to run around the room, pretending he was on horseback and saying, “Giddy-up.”
“Shetland ponies,” Chenoa answered. “Jeff, will you show them?”
“I read about Shetland ponies,” Little Danny stated. “They're named after the Shetland Islands, near Scotland. They're mainly black and brown and are very strong.”
“How big do they get?” Ricky asked.
Little Danny started to answer, but Jenny surprised them by answering, “They're tiny; don't get bigger than forty-six inches.”
Little Danny smiled and said, “Did you read about them, too, Jenny?”
The redhead nodded and continued, “They pull carts in contests. I don't understand why that's fun.”
“Me, neither,” Little Danny agreed, shrugging. He watched the recording with his siblings and said, “They look hungry.”
“Bad man left them,” Chenoa commented, quickly adding, “but we'll make them better.”
“We need to call Pam,” Jonny said, walking over to the phone.
“Whoa, Jonny,” Jennifer said.
“Jen, we didn't think of that,” Chenoa said. “We need to know if Pam is a horse doctor, too. Please.”
“Give it up, Jen. Let them call,” Jeff interceded and was immediately rewarded by another huge smile from Chenoa. ~Wow, that feels ... uh, good.~
Jennifer walked over to Jeff, pulling him back, away from the younger children and asked, “Is that why Dad and Daddy are arguing?”
“Daddy melted, but Dad hasn't thawed,” Jeff answered.
“Yet,” Jennifer said quietly.
“Shetland ponies don't need that much space, and they're primarily pets these days,” Daniel argued.
The archaeologist was standing between the recliner and his desk with his arms securely folded across his chest as the lovers engaged in yet another argument later that morning. Jack had finally calmed down from his earlier outburst and returned, but within a half-hour of a quick make-up kiss, this current tiff had begun and was raging on.
“They're horses, and we're in the suburbs,” Jack refuted.
“I told you before, Jack. I checked the zoning laws, and we're okay. If we bought the Fowler property, we could take down the fence and build a little corral and barn.”
“And what do you suggest we do with the house?” Jack barked.
“I don't know, and I don't care,” Daniel spat in reply, walking purposefully towards his husband. “The point is we could do it.”
“NO! N-O, NO!” Jack bellowed, having had enough of the discussion. He unlocked the doors and stormed downstairs. Seeing the stares of his excited children, he stated, “Noa, I'm sorry, but we don't have room for horses. We'll make sure they find a good home, and maybe you can go visit, but we are *not* adding horses to this menagerie.”
With that, Jack walked out of the front door, once again hearing the sobs and sniffles behind him.
“Daddy?” Chenoa sniffled, seeing Daniel slowly coming down the stairway.
“They won't die, Noa,” Daniel replied quietly, his heart sinking when the little girl began to cry, moving to Jeff for comfort.
“Angela, your parents are on their way over. I'm really sorry,” Daniel said, turning to go back upstairs.
“Daddy doesn't lose many arguments,” Jennifer said quietly.
Jonny and Little Danny exchanged a look, running over to Chenoa at the same time. With their hands on her back as she cried into Jeff's protective hold, they tried to comfort her.
“Daddy will convince him, Noa,” Little Danny said.
“Daddy always wins their fights,” Jonny added.
“We'll help,” Aislinn added, looking at her siblings. “Won't we?”
“I like horses,” Jenny chimed in.
Soon, the Munchkins and the Spitfires were hatching all kinds of plans to try and convince their father to let Chenoa have her horses. At the same time, Jennifer and Jeff stood quietly back, trying to decide what really was best. Meanwhile, Chenoa and Angela huddled together, trying to console each other. When David and Lulu arrived home several minutes later from an outing with General Hammond, they were instantly thrown into the war.
“I think I'm starting to feel sorry for Dad,” Jennifer commented to Jeff.
“He'll never know what hit him,” Jeff agreed, shaking his head.
“And this is where we can buy the hay,” Chenoa said, showing Daniel the notes she'd made. Of course, her older siblings had helped her do some research, calling around for prices and storage information. The little girl continued, “And if we can't rent a place, Angela's grandfather has a big pasture. Angela says he'll let them stay there, and Jeff said when he gets a car, he'll take me over to take care of HC. Please, Daddy, pleeeeease.”
“Oh, Noa,” Daniel sighed.
The archaeologist had been inundated with pleas from the entire brood for days, and quietly, he had tried to get Jack to change his mind, but the older man was remaining firm, in spite of the silent treatment he was now getting from all of his children. Jonny had even refused a flying session with his father in Jo, much to Jack's chagrin. Having his namesake refuse an outing in the family plane had shocked Jack so much that he'd gone for a long jog, telling his husband not to expect him back for a couple of hours.
“It's not like they'll miss me,” Jack had whined as he left the house.
Immediately, Chenoa had begun her latest attempt to convince Daniel to intercede, especially after she'd heard a follow-up story on the news that said no one had come forward to claim or take the animals. If a home wasn't found soon, the horses futures looked very dark and gloomy. Of course, Jack had agreed to donate money to help maintain the creatures temporarily, but he wasn't anticipating a lifelong commitment to the Shetlands.
“Daddy, I love them,” Chenoa begged tenderly.
“Chenoa, I have to go out for a little while,” Daniel said, leaving his daughter alone in his bedroom. “Jen, Jeff, I'll be gone for an hour or so. Please watch the brood, and keep them out of trouble. Jen, JD will probably need feeding while I'm gone; he eats like Jack,” Daniel reminded their eldest about the baby, a small smile on his face.
“Don't worry, Daddy,” the female reassured.
“Where are you going?” Jeff inquired.
“To have my head examined,” Daniel replied as he closed the door behind him. ~And then to arrange my funeral.~
“Jeff, do you think?” Jennifer asked, a small smile on her face.
“Begging or tears -- which do you think bothered him more?” Jeff chuckled.
“Dad won't like it,” Jennifer commented.
“Ten bucks says we end up pony owners,” Jeff stated, pulling out his wallet.
“Are you kidding me?” Jennifer laughed. “That's a sucker's bet, and I'm not a sucker.”
“We've had some inquiries, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill,” Devan O'Connor, the man currently tending to the horses stated. “So far, no takers. The money General Jackson-O'Neill donated will run out tonight.”
“So soon?” Daniel asked with wide eyes.
“It costs a lot of money to take care of four horses, and this is the wrong time of year for folks to spend their hard-earned dollars on abandoned horses,” O'Connor spoke.
“But there are animal groups and ...” Daniel began.
“Yes, there are, but only one has stepped up with any real interest. They want to send the horses to different locations in California and Nevada,” the man stated informatively.
~Noa won't like that; she says it's like splitting up a family. She said it was bad enough that she and Angela were dividing up the four ponies. Gawd, what a mess,~ Daniel thought.
“I have no choice, though,” O'Connor intoned. “I need this grazing land for my own stock. These animals have to go, one way or the other.”
“Or ... or the other?” Daniel nervously asked.
“If you or someone else doesn't take them, and if the animal organization can't come up with the funds they need by noon tomorrow, I'll have to have them put them down,” O'Connor clarified.
“Put ... down, as in ... down down,” Daniel stuttered.
“Killed, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill,” O'Connor stated bluntly. “I have chores to tend to. Good afternoon,” the man said, walking away and leaving Daniel staring at the four little ponies and suddenly feeling like he, alone, was holding the rope that controlled the guillotine.
“Jack doesn't want horses,” Daniel told the eight eager eyes looking at him.
“Neeehehehehaaa,” one of the horses replied.
“I've tried. I swear I've ...” Daniel began in his defense.
“Neeehehehehaaa!” another horse said.
“You don't understand. We have all these children and ...” Daniel paused, looking around to see if anyone was nearby to see or hear him. With a sigh, he said, “Gawd, I'm talking to horses.”
“Daddy, I love them,” Daniel heard Chenoa say in his mind as he walked away.
That, and the sound of 'nays' haunted him for the rest of the afternoon.
“DANIEL, NO. I'VE SAID IT A HUNDRED TIMES ALREADY,” Jack shouted that night as the lovers engaged in their fourth serious argument over the horses since their daughter had first seen the story on television.
“YOU AREN'T THE ONLY DECISION MAKER HERE, JACK!” Daniel argued from his spot near the sofa in the study.
The door was closed and locked, but all the children knew another fight was going on. Seeking comfort from one another, the brood was huddled together in the living room. Chenoa felt guilty that her parents were arguing, but she also believed the horses were depending on her. Every part of her young being told her that Hot and Chocolate were already part of her soul, and she knew that Dunkin and Donut were part of Angela, who was continuing to work on Sara and Mark, as well.
The brood were still doing everything they could to convince Jack, giving him the silent treatment, refusing to do anything for the holidays or special unless it was part of one of their plans -- and they'd tried a lot of things, over and above constant whining, pleading, and out and out begging for the horses. They'd even conducted a horse campaign, drawing horses on everything and leaving them all over the house. Even Jack's bowl of morning Froot Loops had been given to him with a horse photo taped to it. Sadly, nothing had worked thus far.
Now, though, the children had heard Daniel tell Jack that they were essentially the Shetland's last chance for survival. Together, they prayed Daniel would finally be able to convince Jack to let them adopt the ponies.
“YOU'RE ACTUALLY STANDING THERE, SUGGESTING THAT WE BUY A FRIGGIN' HOUSE AT THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS OVER THE FAIR MARKET VALUE JUST SO WE CAN BOARD LIVING GLUE?” Jack barked.
“Jack, don't go there,” Daniel warned soberly. “The children can hear you.”
“I DON'T FRIGGIN' CARE, DANIEL. WE HAVE TO DRAW THE LINE SOMEWHERE!” Jack argued.
“Why?” Daniel asked pointedly. “We have the money. Okay, so it's silly and overboard, but when have we ever not been? Geez, Jack, look at this house,” he said, waving his hand all around. “It's freakin' luxurious for a country home.”
“Daniel,” Jack said, trying to remain calm. “There is a difference between the home we live in and buying a home we don't need just so we can buy a horse.”
“Four ponies, Jack -- four sad little ponies,” Daniel corrected, pouting just a tad. “Unless, of course, we can convince Sara and Mark to take two of them.”
“No, Daniel,” Jack said. ~Oh, no, he's pouting. Look away, O'Neill,~ he told himself. His eyes fell upon the picture of himself and Daniel as little boys, when they were brothers. A small smile appeared on his face as he remembered what it was like to be Daniel's big brother. Luckily for Jack, his head was turned just enough so Daniel didn't see the smile. ~Being your big brother was something I will never forget, but I prefer to be your lover, Danny.~ That’s when he remembered that he and Daniel were in the middle of an argument, and the smile left his face. “I refuse to buy that property just to be able to keep those horses.”
~Okay, go for the gold,~ Daniel urged. “Fine, Jack, you don't have to. *We* don't have to, but *I* can if *I* want to.”
Jack paused, waiting for an explanation that didn't come.
~What's he talking about?~ the older man tried to figure out. ~He's talking big bucks here.~ After a moment, he asked, “Daniel, let's not play games.”
“Okay, let's not. I need quick cash,” Daniel stated, trying hard not to let on that he was playing a little game here.
Jack's expression filled with horror as he realized what his husband meant.
“You wouldn't, Daniel!” Jack shouted. ~He would never sell the Silver Fox. Would he? Just let him try,~ the man thought as he wound himself up even more than he'd been a minute ago.
“If I have to, I will,” Daniel lied. ~Deception is wrong, but it's for a good cause. Hear me, Jack,~ he pleaded.
“No, you won't,” the older man forbade. “I won't let you!”
“Jack, I can safely say that I'm beyond the age of you *letting* me do anything,” Daniel refuted. Sighing, he added, “It would give me the quick cash I need to buy the house and build the stable. If I have to sell it, well, at least I'll sleep at night,” he finished. ~Come on, Babe.~
“No, Daniel!” Jack exclaimed, suddenly turning around and walking out, slamming the study door behind him.
“That went well ... not,” the archaeologist lamented to the floor as he hung his head in sorrow.
Seeing his children in the living room, Jack growled and retreated to the safety of the front yard.
“I guess Daddy didn't convince him,” Chenoa sniffled.
Jeff kneeled down, hugging her as he comforted, “It's not over yet, Noa. Daddy can do it. Daddy can do anything.”
“No, I can't,” Daniel sighed, surprising the children as he appeared in the living room. Shaking his head, he informed, “Dad thinks the expense is too great. He's right. I mean, uh, we'd be buying a house for no reason.”
“Hot and Chocolate and Dunkin and Donut are good reasons,” Chenoa argued before letting out a big sob.
Jonny moved out in front of his siblings and said, “All for one, and one for all, right?” After receiving ten nods, he turned and said, “We don't want Christmas or birthdays.”
“I'll sell my CD collection,” Jennifer stated. ~Someone must still want Britney.~
“And I can get good money for my camera equipment,” Jeff volunteered.
“I don't need to go to those marine seminars,” Brianna added. “Or the hockey and baseball games Dad was going to take me to.”
“And I don't need music lessons,” Aislinn added. “Or new doll clothes.”
“We don't need to go to the museum, Daddy,” Little Danny added.
“I don't need to take ballet lessons,” Lulu stated unselfishly.
Daniel stood, not knowing what to do. For the next twenty minutes, the children offered up their own prized possessions, no longer interested in holidays, birthdays, or regularly-scheduled special classes.
“And,” Jonny began, taking a big breath, “we'll give up ice cream!” The little boy frowned as he reconsidered his harsh statement. Then the young Jackson-O'Neill amended, “We'll give up ice cream six days a week.”
~Oh, gawd,~ Daniel thought, closing his eyes.
Without saying another word, Daniel walked up to his den and shut the door. To the Jackson-O'Neills, ice cream was sacred. It might seem silly to some, but to stand there and get eleven affirmative nods to giving up something that was second-nature to them was the final straw. There had to be an answer, somewhere.
~Okay, Babe. Drastic times call for drastic measures. I'd never really do this, and you know that, but ... but this is important, and you need to realize how strongly I feel about this.~ Daniel's decision was made, and to follow through with his plan, he began combing the internet for estimates. ~Jack, I'm sell...selling the car, the ... my car, the Shelby.~ He coughed, saying aloud, “Jack, I have to do what I have to do. I'm ... selling the, uh, Shelby.” Shaking his head, he encouraged, ~Sound more convincing -- no kinks in my armor.~ With more resolve, he stated, “I'm selling the Shelby, Jack.”
Late that night, Jennifer heard a tiny tap on her door. If she'd been asleep, she never would have heard it, but she was working on homework that was due the next day, so was still up.
~I need to finish this, or my name is mud,~ Jennifer thought.
The teenager should have done her lesson earlier, but a phone call from Sheila had taken priority, so, covertly, she was burning the proverbial midnight oil.
“Lulu, is that you?” Jennifer asked, seeing only the top of a head poking out from behind the door.
“Come on in; it's okay,” Jennifer invited, saving her work on the computer and getting up to walk over to her bed. She sat down just as Lulu appeared in front of her, a worried frown on her face and just the hint of tears welling up in her eyes. “Are you sick?”
“Dad and Daddy are fighting,” Lulu said softly.
“Oh, is that why you're upset?” Jennifer queried, smiling slightly. She'd been through this before with her siblings when their parents had fought. The younger children would worry that something was really wrong in their parents' marriage. Even though Lulu had been a member of their family for almost two years now, this was her first real indoctrination to a Jack and Daniel fight versus their normal bantering and bickering. “Is it?”
Lulu nodded her head, tentatively asking, “Would Dad hit Daddy?”
Jennifer sobered suddenly. This wasn't just about their parents fighting; it was about the abuse Lulu had suffered at the hands of the infamous 'Daddy Kevin'.
“Come up here,” Jennifer requested, patting the bed. She got up and powered off her computer. ~I may end up grounded, but this takes priority.~ Taking off her robe, Jennifer settled into bed, motioning for Lulu to settle in next to her.
A tiny smile on her face, Lulu cozied up as close as she could to her big sister.
Her arms protectively around Lulu, Jennifer explained, “Lulu, our parents love each other very, very much. They began, though, as two people from different worlds.”
“Dad was a soldier, and Daddy a scientist,” Lulu whispered, remembering the stories.
“You're right,” Jennifer confirmed. “They fought a lot, but it was never a mean fight. They just sometimes believed in different things. Most of the time what they do is bicker.”
“They're funny,” Lulu commented.
Jennifer chuckled, “So you know what I mean when I say they bicker.”
“Silly fighting,” Lulu answered.
“Right. Sometimes, though, they both care about something so much that they do fight a little harder, like they used to, before they got married,” Jennifer explained.
“Why is Dad so mad?” Lulu asked.
“I'm not sure, Lulu, but for some reason, he's not so sure that we should have horses. Daddy, he's ... well, he's ...” Jennifer trailed off, not sure what to say.
“Bri says he's a soft touch,” Lulu interjected.
Jennifer chuckled, rubbing Lulu's left arm as she agreed, “Yeah, that he is. He wants all of us to be happy, and he knows how much Noa wants Hot and Chocolate, so he's fighting for her. Dad probably has his reasons, but I don't really know what they are.”
“But why do they fight so loud? I'm ... Jen, I get scared Dad might hit Daddy,” Lulu confessed.
Jennifer rolled over, wanting her sister to see her eyes as she answered, “Lulu, Dad loves Daddy more than anything in the universe. He would never hit Daddy, not ever, and Daddy wouldn't hit Dad, either. Uh, well, he did once, but that was a long time ago. It was one of those alien things. Ask them; they can tell you the story.”
“Daddy didn't mean to?” Lulu asked.
“No, he didn't mean to. He was feeling agitated; um, upset, and so was Dad. It wasn't them, though; it was these plants.” Jennifer sighed, “Ask Dad or Daddy to tell you the story sometime.”
“Okay, but they wouldn't ever hit each other?” Lulu asked, her eyes searching for truth.
“Never ever ever,” Jennifer promised. “Lulu, are you ever afraid they might hit one of us?”
“No,” Lulu answered, shaking her head. “Jonny and Little Danny promised me they would never do that, and I believe them.”
“You know the difference between hitting and spanking, right?” Jennifer asked.
“Jen, Dad and Daddy never spank us, except for when Jonny picked up the gun, but that's because Dad was so scared. Jonny told me he deserved to be spanked,” Lulu responded.
“But ... do you understand the difference?” Jennifer questioned again.
“I think so, and I don't feel like Dad hit Jonny; he was just scared,” the little girl repeated. “Dad and Daddy haven't spanked any of us, except for that.”
“Okay,” the teenager said, smiling. “I just wanted to make sure.”
“That man, he hit me. Jen, I know Dad and Daddy would never do that to me, not ever,” Lulu spoke, her voice soft and sounding so very vulnerable.
Jennifer gently ran her hand along her sister's face, saying, “Oh, Little Bit. That bad man hurt you, but you need to know that he *was* a bad man. Dad and Daddy are the good guys, and you're right. I don't think they'll ever spank any of us again. Dad felt so bad after spanking Jonny, but if they ever do, then we've probably done something pretty bad.” She paused for a second, then added, “They love each other and all of us so much.”
“I don't need to be scared?” Lulu asked, wanting confirmation of what she had learned.
“No, you don't. The arguing will be over soon, and horses or not, we'll all be back to normal, as normal as can be for this madhouse,” Jennifer teased.
“They're funny when they bicker,” Lulu said.
“And not so funny when they fight harder like this, huh?” Jennifer asked.
“Not so funny,” Lulu agreed.
“But it's temporary, and everything is A-okay, okay?” Jennifer said, smiling.
“Okay,” Lulu smiled.
“Let's go to sleep,” Jennifer suggested, adding, “And I need company, so will you stay in here with me tonight?”
With a grateful smile on her face, Lulu snuggled up to her big sister and soon fell asleep.
~Go ahead, ground me,~ Jennifer thought as she closed her eyes.
The next morning, after an uneasy night in which Jack and Daniel didn't sleep in their usual positions, a byproduct of their disagreement over the horses, the two men quietly went about their business. Jack figured it might take a day or two, but things would soon be back to normal. Daniel, on the other hand, knew nothing was settled yet and hated the restlessness he felt inside of himself because of the ongoing situation.
Right after breakfast, Jack had taken his lover's sports car to the shop. It was time for a tune-up, a slight brake adjustment, and new tires. Daniel's expensive car required special care, so years ago, they had found a qualified mechanic who knew all about the specialized engine in the 1999 Shelby-American and who also had a line on any required replacement parts.
~He would *not* sell this car,~ Jack thought as he drove it, knowing that the car was a symbol of Jack himself to the younger man.
Meanwhile, about fifteen minutes after Jack's departure, Daniel once again left the younger children in the care of Jeff and Jennifer. The two knew something was up because Daniel had actually kept them both home from high school to watch the children. They also had a sneaking suspicion that Jack didn't know about it.
Since Jack had Daniel's car, the archaeologist took his husband's truck, returning to Devan O'Connor's small farm where the four Shetland ponies were.
“Doctor, I've already explained the situation,” O'Connor maintained, after ten minutes of debating the horses' future.
“Look, all I'm asking is for you to give me another week to try and come up with a solution; I'll pay,” Daniel stated.
“I can't do it,” the man ardently maintained, shaking his head and walking away from the corral. “I told you the other day that I need the pasture.”
“Four small Shetlands are going to interfere with that?” Daniel challenged.
“And what guarantee do I have that you'll come back again?” O'Connor asked.
“You have my word,” Daniel stated seriously.
“I'd like to believe you, but I've been through this before with animal rescues,” O'Connor revealed. “People get interested for the human interest value, and then they back off. I mentioned the animal group to you; they're viable, but they only have the funds to move two of the horses. Others who have been out here are lookieloos.”
“I just need a little time,” Daniel requested. ~Jack will crack; it's just a matter of time.~
“I'm shipping out two of the horses tomorrow morning and ...”
“No, you can't do that,” Daniel insisted forcefully, taking a step towards the rugged rancher, knowing that O’Connor's next words were going to mean certain death for the other two ponies. “Okay, okay. What will it take to convince you I won't just disappear ... and ... and that one way or another, I'll make sure you aren't stuck with any bills or ... or horses.”
The man looked at the horses and then back at Daniel. After a moment, he entered the corral, pulling on the lead of the healthiest horse.
“This one only needs to be fed regularly,” O'Connor stated as he brought the horse to Daniel. “Take her, and I'll believe you.”
“Take ... take her? Now?” Daniel asked incredulously.
“Now, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, or your word means nothing,” the white-haired man announced. He handed Daniel the lead and said, “I have a call to make. If when I come back, the horse is still here, I'll consider you a lookieloo. This one and that black one over there will get a home. The other two won't have a happy ending as of tomorrow morning. If the horse is gone, with you, I'll give you a week. There's hay there by the barn. You're welcome to take some. I'm not a cruel man, Sir, but I've been through this before. Good day,” he said, turning and heading for his home.
“Great, now what?” Daniel asked the horse.
“Naaaaaay!” the horse answered, rearing its head.
“Oh, Daddy, I looooooooove you,” Chenoa exclaimed, her arms wrapped around Daniel's legs.
“Yeah, we have horses!” Jenny announced.
“Wait, just a minute. Look, when your dad gets home, he's going to kill me,” Daniel stated, truly believing it, though the children only laughed. “Nothing has been decided, but I had to take this horse temporarily. Now, Bri, I need you to make sure Ptolemy is secure in her cage. Jonny, make sure Bogey is locked up, and Ash, Strawberry and Shortcake need to stay inside their cage, too. Lulu, I want you and Jenny to get Mittens and Calico and put them in their carriers temporarily. You know where they are?”
“Yes, Daddy,” Lulu answered.
“Let's see,” Daniel sighed. “Bij, Katie, you stay inside.”
“Woof!” came the response from the mama beagle.
“Little Danny, in case the girls get curious, your job is to keep an eye on them. Ricky, check on Bagel, and make sure her cage is shut tight.” Daniel paused, reviewing all the current family pets. He looked back over at his namesake and asked, “Any strays?”
“Susie flew away this morning,” Little Danny answered about the bird he'd nursed back to health after it had flown into their patio window.
“Good. Now listen, brood. I'm serious. Dad is not going to be happy with me, and *nothing* has been decided; but ... I, uh, need some time, so we need to keep our ... visitor out of sight for a while. All of you will have to help me with this, okay?” Daniel asked. After hearing a chorus of yeses and seeing eleven smiles, he checked his watch. “We should have another forty minutes before Dad is back. Jeff, there is some hay in the back of the truck. Put it in the backyard, please. Jen, you get to ... horse-sit,” he spoke hesitantly.
“Careful how you say that, Daddy,” Jennifer giggled.
Daniel rolled his eyes and restated his request, saying, “Please keep the horse confined, Jennifer.”
“In the truck?” the teenage girl questioned.
“Well ... just keep an eye out. After all of you make sure our pets are secure, Bri, you're in charge of the brood, and David, you help her,” Daniel stated.
“We won't get in trouble,” Jonny refuted with a pouty lip.
“No, of course, you won't,” Daniel replied. ~I'm the one in deep horseshhhh ... gawd.~ He sighed, wondering how life had come to this. “I have more phone calls to make. Everyone, *please* be on your best behavior today.”
Fifteen minutes later, Jeff carried the last of the hay into the backyard, having already picked the last trace of the hay out of the bed of the truck. As he was about to round the corner to go back to the truck, Jennifer suddenly ran up to him and pushed him back.
“He's home!” the teenage girl exclaimed in horror.
“Dad?” Jeff quizzed.
Jennifer couldn't speak; she simply nodded frantically, her hand on her brother's chest.
Together, the two young adults walked slowly to the edge of the house, covertly watching as Jack got out of the Silver Fox and headed for the front door.
“Nah,” Jack said, stopping short of the steps. ~I need to get those parts from Lou,~ he thought, glancing at his watch. ~Yep, have time to drop by Lou's and be back in time for lunch. Considering I'm persona non grata around here lately, no one will miss me.~
Jack unlocked his truck with the remote and opened the door to his Ford vehicle.
“Naaaaaaay!” sprang out from between the seats.
Stunned, Jack blinked. He cocked his head, staring at the sight he beheld.
“I'm losing my mind,” Jack spoke in utter disbelief. Closing the door, he walked around the front of the truck towards the front steps. “No, it couldn't be.”
Jack turned around, this time opening the door on the passenger side of the vehicle.
“Neeeeeay!” came the sound from the creature which was now halfway into the front seat.
“Naaaaay, yourself,” Jack responded sarcastically. He closed the door and ordered, “O'Neill, get a grip. There is nothing in your truck. There is *nothing* in your truck. One more time.” When he opened the door again, the creature was face-to-face with him. After slamming the door, he shouted, “DANIEL! DANIEL JACKSON-O'NEILL!”
“Daddy's in for it,” Jennifer said, watching Jack go inside.
“Quick, Jen, help me,” Jeff pleaded, tugging his sister as they quickly moved towards the truck.
“DANIEL, GET DOWN HERE!” Jack bellowed from the living room, prompting his lover to run down the stairs.
“Jack, shhh, the baby!” Daniel warned.
“Daniel, you know as well as I do that Carter is babysitting the squirt today,” Jack argued.
“Oh, yeah, well ...” Daniel stammered. ~Should have kept him home. Jack wouldn't kill me if I was holding our son.~
“Daniel, there is a horse in my truck,” Jack barked.
“A ... a ... a ...”
“HORSE, DANIEL! THE WORD IS HORSE!” Jack yelled.
“Jack, why would a horse be in your, uh, in your ...”
“Truck, Daniel. It's called a truck,” Jack snapped. “And you took the words right out of my mouth. Why *is* there a horse in my truck?”
Daniel looked around, wondering where the children were hiding.
~Wish I could hide. Time. I need to buy some time. Time for what? Time to figure out what to say to him. Oh, gawd!~ Daniel expressed in a total panic.
“Daniel? Horse ... truck!” Jack questioned harshly.
“Jack, you must be seeing things; a horse wouldn't fit in your truck,” Daniel pointed out, looking around evasively. ~She's a pony, not a horse. Okay, technicality, but I'll take what I can get right now.~
“Right! Come with me,” Jack commanded, literally pulling Daniel out the front door with him.
~Think fast, Jackson. Think really really ... where's the horse ... pony ... whatever?~ Daniel asked as Jack opened the door.
“See, Daniel, this is a horse, and it's in my truck!” Jack protested in anger.
Only Jack wasn't actually looking inside his vehicle now. He was making a grand scene as he faced Daniel. Inside Jack's truck was nothing but the usual accessories.
“Um, Babe, what horse?” Daniel asked, a small, relieved smile on his face, though as his lover looked inside, he hurriedly looked around for signs of the animal, barely straightening up in time for Jack's response.
Having turned to look in his truck and then actually climbing inside, Jack looked momentarily stunned when he faced his husband.
“Daniel, I know what I saw, and there *was* a horse in my truck!” the older man maintained.
Putting his hands on Jack's right arm and leading him inside the house, Daniel mocked, “Surrrre, you did, Jack. How about I draw you a nice, hot bath and make you a good, hearty lunch?”
Jack stopped and pulled away from Daniel, insisting, “There *was* a horse in my truck.”
“Of course, there was,” Daniel replied, nodding. ~Sorry, Babe. Where *is* the horse, anyway? Thor, if it was you, thanks!~
Daniel couldn't help but grin as his mind flashed on a visual of the fearful animal 'letting go' all over the deck of the immaculate Asgard vessel after the instantaneous transport.
“I am *not* crazy!” Jack stated as they walked up the stairs.
“No, Jack, you're not,” Daniel agreed. “I'm thinking something light for lunch until you feel better,” he suggested.
“Shhh, Love. We don't want to upset the children,” Daniel said gently.
Meanwhile, at their neighbor's home, Jeff spoke, “Thanks, Mrs. Valissi.”
“Yeah, you're a lifesaver,” Jennifer added.
“Children, my garage is not a suitable place for a horse,” the senior citizen stated. Seeing their disappointed looks, she relented, saying, “Yes, you can keep her there, but only for a couple of hours, and you have to clean up after her.”
“No problem, Mrs. Valissi,” Jennifer said, placing a kiss on the woman's cheek.
“We'd better go,” Jeff urged as he headed for the woman's front door.
“Jeff, you're a genius,” Jennifer praised gleefully as the two headed back home.
“Possibly a grounded genius, Jen. Dad is gonna flip his lid when he finds out we took the horse to Mrs. Valissi's,” Jeff stated.
“Dad's gonna have a cow when he realizes we really do have a horse,” Jennifer replied. After Jeff laughed loudly, she asked, “What?”
“Dad -- having a cow over a horse!” Jeff mused.
Jennifer joined her brother in laughter as they prepared to reenter their house and see what was happening.
At the top of the stairs, Jack rebelled, suddenly backing away from his lover by going down two steps.
“Oh, no, you don't! Daniel, I *know* what I saw, and I ... saw ... a ... horse,” Jack spoke defiantly, spitting out each word and then turning and hurrying down the stairs. “Okay, horse, where are you?”
Daniel sighed as Jack went outside to check out the backyard.
“Daddy! Pbssst, Daddy!” Brianna called out from behind the hallway.
Turning around, Daniel was surprised to see the younger members of the brood together in the hallway.
“What are you doing?” Daniel asked.
“Nothing,” Brianna answered. “What do you want us to do?”
Hearing Jack bellow in the backyard, Daniel glanced towards the patio doors and answered, “Pray.”
Just then, Jack reentered the house. Hearing him, the children scrambled, not wanting to be seen yet.
In fact, the brood scurried into the kitchen, where Jonny huddled them together, saying, “I have an idea!”
In the living room, Jack wouldn't be stopped, and Daniel knew it was just a matter of minutes. Truth be told, he wasn't really sure why he wasn't just admitting the truth about the horse.
~Yes, I do. I'm a coward!~ the archaeologist, who had faced down and laughed at System Lords, admitted. ~I'd rather face one than Jack at the moment. Just like a cop, there's never a System Lord around when you need one.~
“You come with me,” Jack ordered, pointing at Daniel as he brushed by him to walk back into the front yard.
“Right,” Daniel replied quietly, taking a huge breath at the same time.
As Jack stood, turning all around in search of the horse, he heard familiar laughter. Facing the direction of Mrs. Valissi's home, he saw Jennifer and Jeff approaching. As the light dawned, he pointed at them, his eyes big and wide.
“Uh, oh,” Jennifer whispered. “Uh, do you think he saw the hay?”
“I hid it where he wouldn't find it yet,” Jeff answered. When his sister glanced at him, he said, “In the doghouse.”
Reaching the teenagers, Jack accused, “You took the horse, didn't you?” He stared the two down, warning, “Don't lie to me.”
“Um, well,” Jennifer stammered.
“I said don't lie to me,” Jack reminded sternly.
“Um ...” Jennifer stuttered again.
“Jack,” Daniel interrupted. When the older man turned, Daniel looked past him and asked the teenagers, “Where's the horse?”
Jeff sighed, “In Mrs. Valissi's garage.”
“IN MRS. VALISSI'S GARAGE?” Jack shouted.
“Jeff, Jen, thank you, but please go get the horse and bring her back,” Daniel instructed.
“DANIEL, I TOLD YOU ...”
“Jack, we're outside, in the front yard. Let's not make a scene, okay?” Daniel asked.
“I am *not* losing my mind!” Jack stated.
Just then, the family's neighbors from across the street, Christa and Jacob Svenson, came over, concerned something was wrong. It took the lovers a few minutes to convince them that they weren't fighting or having marital troubles. When the senior citizens understood, Jack helped them back to their house. The two were getting on in years, and Jack secretly worried that they might have to move to a senior citizens community to avoid the normal household maintenance and chores that were becoming a bit much for them to handle.
Jack was just crossing the street to return home when he saw Jeff and Jennifer with the horse.
“I TOLD YOU I SAW A HORSE!” Jack shouted unnecessarily.
“I know,” Daniel sighed.
As Jack stared, Jennifer and Jeff walked past him, heading for the backyard.
“Remember, be excited,” Jonny urged the brood.
“Fuss over Dad big time,” Brianna added.
“Ready, set, go!” Jonny instructed.
At that moment, the rest of the brood ran outside, cheering and jumping about excitedly.
“Yeah, Dad is letting us keep the horses,” Brianna called out, leading the way.
“Dad, we love you,” Aislinn said, her arms around Jack's leg.
“Dad is the bestest!” Ricky exclaimed, his arm around Jack's other leg.
“We knew we could count on you, Dad,” David said gleefully.
“Never leave anyone behind,” Jonny stated, nodding his head up and down emphatically.
The cheers were loud, and the kids were praising Jack up and down, hugging him, kissing him, and just doing the most wonderful job of shmoozing that he'd seen in years.
Jack looked over to see Chenoa hugging the horse, saying, “Dad loves you now, Chocolate. Just wait until Hot gets here. Dad is the absolute best dad in the whole wide universe! I knew he wouldn't let me down. I love you so much, Chocolate.”
~I am so doomed,~ Jack sighed, realizing he'd lost the war of the horses. There was no way he could deny Chenoa now. He decided to go with the flow and teased, “Well, there goes the nnnnnaaaaaaaayborhood,” making a sound like a horse and brushing his right leg against the ground as if he was a horse beating its hoof along the pavement.
As the others chuckled, and Daniel smiled weakly, the phone rang inside the house. Actually, what Jack and Daniel really heard was Katie barking at the open doorway, indicating a phone was ringing inside the house. Brianna ran inside to get it, bringing the cordless phone to Daniel.
“It's the real estate agent, Daddy,” the girl announced.
Daniel nodded as he took the phone, closing his eyes for a second.
“Hello? ... yes ... fine ... not a problem ... yes ... right ... thank you,” Daniel said, ending the call.
“Daniel, did we just buy a house?” Jack asked suspiciously.
Daniel just shrugged as Jack looked over at the horse, admitting, “I offered seventy-five thousand less than the asking price -- cash -- *now*, and they accepted.”
“Danny, about the Silver Fox, you didn't ...” Jack began to ask, closing his eyes and holding his breath, his heart aching at the mere thought of his lover selling the cherished vehicle. ~Please don't say it!~
The younger man smiled sweetly as he softly intoned, “No. I've had a few offers, but I'd never really ... Jack, you know that.”
Jack breathed a sigh of relief, whispering, “Never, right?”
“Not ever,” Daniel confirmed.
“Trying to make a point?” Jack questioned.
“Something like that,” Daniel admitted.
“Because I'm a stubborn S.O.B.?” Jack dared to ask.
“No,” Daniel refuted. “Because sometimes you just need a little push to know what's right,” he clarified, his eyes shining with love.
“Right,” Jack acknowledged, sighing. “Give me that,” he instructed, grabbing the phone from his husband.
“What are you doing?” Daniel asked curiously.
“Calling Sara. If we're going to be stuck with two of these mangy creatures, so is she,” Jack spoke in a huff.
“Yay!” the children cheered.
“And keep that thing out of my truck. There better not be any *presents* in there,” Jack said as he headed for the house.
“I already cleaned it up,” Jeff teased, causing Jack to look back in utter horror.
Jeff arched his eyebrows and held out his hands in a 'what can I say' motion, prompting Jack to look over at Daniel, who shrugged apologetically.
“I should have bought a Volkswagon Bug,” the older man lamented. “Sara, congratulations. You're about to become the proud owner of two horses,” he said as he entered his house.
The children cheered some more, surrounding Daniel in a circle of hugs and happy words. Chenoa made her way through her siblings and tugged on Daniel's leg.
The archaeologist knelt down to see his daughter crying.
“Noa, you should be happy,” Daniel said.
“Daddy, thank you so much. I ... thank you, Daddy,” the little girl cried, her arms going around her father's neck.
Daniel held her close and whispered, “I love you, Noa. Everything is okay now. You have a big responsibility, though.”
“I'm a big girl, Daddy. I'll always take care of HC,” Chenoa promised.
“Go on. Show Chocolate the backyard,” Daniel advised.
As most of the brood headed out back, Jennifer walked over to her father and asked, “Daddy, is Dad really angry with you?”
“A little, but everything will be okay,” Daniel promised.
“We've made it pretty hard on him,” the teenager admitted.
“You ganged up on him,” Daniel responded.
Jennifer chuckled, “It was Jonny's idea. You know something, Daddy. I think he's going to be a general just like Dad.”
“I wouldn't doubt it for a second,” Daniel agreed. “Jen, would you call Sam and verify what time she's bringing JD home? With all this going on, I want to make sure things are, uh, as calm as possible when he comes home.”
“Okay,” Jennifer agreed. “Daddy, I love you. Dad loves you, too,” she added with a smile before heading inside to make the requested phone call.
“I know; I just hope *I* don't end up sleeping in the doghouse,” Daniel sighed.
“Fat chance, Daddy, but, if you do, you can sleep on a nice bed of hay,” the girl mused, getting a chuckle out of her younger father. “I'll let you know what Aunt Sam says.”
“Thanks, Jen, for everything,” Daniel spoke, still smiling at their daughter's comment. ~Just me and the girls, on a bale of hay. Gawd.~
Things had calmed down dramatically as the evening progressed. Sara and Mark had “caved” as Jack called it, and all the arrangements had been made to take ownership of four Shetland ponies. Since it wasn't feasible to keep the ponies in their yards at the moment, Sara's father, Mike, who owned several acres of land just outside of Colorado Springs, had agreed to board all of the animals on a temporary basis. Eventually, Chenoa's two horses would be moved to their new home, but Angela's would remain with Mike.
The plan for the Jackson-O'Neills was to close the deal on the Fowler property. A big chunk of that backyard directly behind the family property would become a small stable and barn, just big enough for all the horse necessities of life. A corral-like fence would be built to divide the regular Jackson-O'Neill backyard from the Shetlands' playground.
As for the Fowler home, the remaining backyard would be fairly small. Jack and Daniel hoped to rent it out to folks who didn't mind the sound of horses' hooves in the middle of the night. Daniel thought it was possible; Jack figured it was money down the drain.
Chenoa promised to follow through on her care for the Shetlands. She had impressed her parents with her list of daily horse chores. In addition, Jeff had agreed to take on the task of doing the things his sister couldn't and handling any problems that might arise. Daniel was sure the children would follow through; Jack was positive he was doomed to brushing the horses himself and could imagine the sound of horses' hooves in their living room.
At the moment, though, Daniel was in his den, reviewing the latest financial statements for J-O Enterprises, their archaeological company which had become very successful since its inception. Tired of numbers and also wanting to reconnect with his husband after a trying few days, Daniel turned off the light and went in search of his other half.
It didn't take the younger man long to find his Silver Fox. Standing at the doorway of the nursery, he smiled, watching Jack rocking their eleven-month-old baby.
“So it looks like you're going to grow up with horses,” Jack told little JD. He sighed and then smiled at the sleeping baby. “What's so bad about that? Noa's happy; all the brood are happy, and your daddy? Well, he's happy.” He chuckled lightly and said, “My Danny melted pretty fast on this one. So we're a zoo *and* a farm, for real. What matters, JD, is that we love each other.”
Suddenly, Jack looked up and over at the doorway, smiling.
“I, uh, didn't mean to eavesdrop,” Daniel apologized, seeing his lover's gaze.
“I love you, Danny,” Jack said.
Daniel walked over and knelt down, his hand tracing their son's right arm and finally settling at the tiny hand which reflexively closed around his thumb.
Looking up, Daniel replied, “I love you, too, so much, Jack.”
“Danny, Hot and Chocolate need more room,” Jack said.
“Jack, Noa is counting on ...”
“I wasn't finished,” Jack interrupted softly.
“Sorry. I guess I'm still ... primed for battle,” the archaeologist admitted as he looked down for a moment. “I don't like fighting with you, not like this anyway.”
Jack replied, “I felt I had to draw the line. I was wrong. Danny, thanks to the stock market, our company, and sheer good luck, we have the chance to let our kids experience most anything they want to. Crap, I shouldn't have fought it so hard, but I do want Noa and Jeff to follow through. They don't and ...”
“They will,” Daniel spoke confidently.
Jack nodded, then continued, “As I was saying, the ponies need more room so I thought we could move the Fowler house over to the other side of the property. It's not that big, but it will line up the house symmetrically with the backyard, such as it is. We cut off everything from the midpoint over to Carter's place and ours and make that pony land. We also need a horse trailer so we can take them to Mike's once a week; let them run loose on bigger land.”
“We need to ask Mike,” Daniel stated.
“He's okay with it,” Jack said, smiling.
“Oh,” Daniel responded, smiling himself.
“I guess we could rent the Fowler house cheap to a family in need, or Jen might ... geez, Danny, Jen ...”
“... is growing up. We keep the house for one of our children when they need independence, or we rent it,” Daniel agreed.
“By the way, Love, new rule for the brood,” Jack commented.
“No asking Dad and Daddy questions when they're still in bed in the morning and haven't had their morning coffee and Froot Loops,” Jack chuckled lightly.
“We'll tell them later,” Daniel agreed, a warm smile on his face. Growing serious, he asked, “Jack, you aren't really angry about any of this, are you? Or, uh, about the ... the, uh ...”
Jack smiled as he finished his lover's line, saying, “Lie about selling the Silver Fox?”
“Yeah. I don't like those kind of games, Jack, but I had to do something that would let you know how serious I was about this,” Daniel confessed.
“I know, Angel, and it's okay. I'm not mad, anymore,” Jack answered, his grin expressing all that Daniel needed to know. “I love you and our very inventive brood. Hey, they're talking to me again,” he mused.
“They did it for Noa. From all reports, Jonny was the mastermind,” Daniel informed.
“Yeah?” Jack asked, unable to stop from beaming with pride.
“He's his father's son,” Daniel commented, a happy grin on his face.
“He's both of his fathers' son,” Jack corrected, earning him a kiss from his soulmate. Rocking their youngest son, Jack coaxed, “Sing with me, Danny,” as he softly started, “I got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere, and the guy says if the weather's clear, can do ...”
Chuckling, Daniel joined his husband, singing, “... can do ...”
The next evening, Jack and Daniel were in the study, reviewing personnel files for J-O Enterprises. The children were all occupied in other parts of the house, Jennifer, Jeff, and Brianna on 'supervising' duty.
“Jeff, would you watch the twins, too, for a few minutes? I need to talk to Dad and Daddy for a few minutes,” Jennifer requested.
“Okay, Jen,” Jeff agreed.
The teenager tapped on the door of the study, smiling when her parents looked up.
“Problem?” Jack inquired.
“No, not really, but there's something I think you should know,” Jennifer stated, entering the den and taking a seat on the sofa. “First, I didn't get my term paper done on time, but I take responsibility for that, so ... I've grounded myself for a week. I hope that's long enough.”
Jack and Daniel looked at each other in surprise. Jack stood and walked to the sofa, sitting down next to her, while Daniel scooted the chair he was in around to face her.
“Jennifer,” Jack began. “Why are you telling us this?”
“Because the reason I didn't get the paper done is ... no,” Jennifer said, correcting herself. “Look, the real reason is that Sheila called, and we started talking about Beyonce, and I just figured I'd ... cheat and do it after everyone went to bed.”
“Things didn't go as planned?” Daniel inquired.
“I was working on it when Lulu came in,” Jennifer admitted. She took a breath and then explained, “Dad, Daddy, I made a choice to sacrifice the paper because Lulu needed attention, but I want to be grounded because she is not the reason I didn't get the paper done.”
“Sheila?” Jack surmised.
“Yes, well, no. It was talking to Sheila on the phone, so is one week okay? Oh, and no cell phone except for family emergencies?” Jennifer asked.
**She's making this easy,** Jack communicated.
**Yeah, because whatever was bothering Lulu is going to make us feel bad; she's making it easier on us,** Daniel replied.
“Jen, that's adequate,” Jack answered. “Spit it out. What's the second thing?”
“I assume it's about Lulu,” Daniel surmised.
“The fighting,” Jennifer said hesitantly. “She, um, was scared that you might hit each other. She understands now, I think, but we're all so used to it that sometimes I think we forget what that monster did to her. She's not afraid you'll hit her, or even us. She's really not, but she is afraid that you might hurt each other.”
Daniel sighed, and Jack let out a sound of disgust as he stood up, saying, “I could ...”
“Jack,” Daniel interrupted, standing. “Our children are used to our skirmishes, but Lulu ...”
“Oh, Dad, Daddy,” Jennifer called out as she, too, stood up. “She isn't upset at all about the bickering stuff. She thinks it's funny.”
“Bickering?” Jack mocked.
Jennifer chuckled, “Yeah, that. It doesn't bother her. It was just the ...”
“Grizzly bear stuff,” Jack stated sadly. “It was me, yelling.”
“It was, Danny. I didn't think about Lulu when I was stomping around the house, and I should have been. Like you said, the rest of the brood knows it's just me grizzling,” Jack stated. Looking at his daughter, he asked, “She's not afraid?”
“No, not for herself, not for us,” Jennifer answered. “She just wasn't prepared for it.”
“Thanks, Jen,” Daniel said.
Jennifer walked to the door, but before walking out, she stopped and turned around, saying, “She's so sweet. It just kills me that that man hurt her so badly.”
“Yeah,” Jack sighed.
Jennifer walked out, leaving the two parents to discuss what they should do.
“Danny, we need a Dad, Daddy, and Lulu day, and we need to tell her some stories,” Jack suggested.
“You mean some of our less than glory days?” Daniel asked.
“Yeah. She needs to know we're forever; she needs to feel it. What better way than a day out with her parents, full of old, old, old war stories?” Jack mused.
“I like that,” Daniel said.
The next day, Jack and Daniel cleared their calendars and took Lulu up in their plane, Jo. They went on a picnic at the Garden of the Gods and to the zoo in Colorado Springs. It was actually the same zoo where Jonny and Little Danny had first befriended Lulu.
The two men spent a lot of time talking about their relationship, how they met, learned to trust each other, and how they eventually fell in love.
At the zoo, Jack took Lulu up to the bears and said, “That's me sometimes, Lulu, but when I sound like that, I'm just trying to pound out my territory and get my way. It may not be the right way of handling things, but it's how I get.” Making a funny face as he growled in character, he commented, “I'm just an old grizzly bear.”
Lulu laughed at her father's antics as he held her in his arms.
When the laughter subsided, the little girl spoke a bit vulnerably, “Dad, I was afraid when you and Daddy were fighting.”
“I know, but I don't ever want you to be afraid, not of me, and not of Daddy and I fighting,” Jack replied calmly and with a steady, reassuring voice.
“Little Bit,” Daniel stated. “Dad and I sometimes need to yell a little to get our point across to each other, but there is nothing that will ever break us up.”
“Never?” Lulu said in a near-hush.
“Never!” both Jack and Daniel exclaimed. “Now,” Jack continued. “If you ever see ole Dad the grizzly, and you get afraid again, you tell me or Daddy so we can show you just how much we love each other because even when we're fighting, we're googly crazy over each other.”
Lulu laughed loudly as Daniel scrunched his face and said, “Googly crazy? Jack, what does that mean?”
“It means I love you, Angel,” Jack answered, giving Daniel a quick kiss on the lips, even though they were at the zoo and normally weren't overt in public with young children around.
“You okay, Little Bit?” Jack asked.
The little girl nodded, hugging Jack and smiling at Daniel.
The trio's day was far from over, and when it was done, the lovers were hopeful that they'd calmed Lulu's fears, and they promised to once again keep a close eye on her in the future, not taking anything for granted.
It was mid-January, and the sale of the Fowler home had gone through quickly. While the home relocation and new construction would take time, the priority was given to the miniature stable that was being built on the land behind the Jackson-O'Neill backyard. It wouldn't take long to finish the stalls, storage shed, and extra fencing, and then Chenoa's new pets could come home for good.
“We're building stalls for them, Uncle Billy,” Chenoa said over the phone to Jack's brother, who was living in Australia with his wife. “Hot and Chocolate both get one that's six-feet wide by ten-feet wide, and they'll have room to run around in, not as much as Dunkin and Donut, but they'll get to go to Mike's a lot, too.”
“My turn, Noa,” Lulu interrupted. “I want to tell him about our dance recital.”
“Okay, Lulu,” Chenoa responded. “What, Uncle Billy? ... okay, Jeff will do it. I love you, too.”
Chenoa handed off the phone to Lulu, smiling at her other siblings as they waited in line for their bi-weekly phone call to the Aussie O'Neills. She hurried outside, wanting to watch some of the building that was going on.
With Jack talking over the construction with the foreman, Chenoa pulled out her notebook, looking at all the things on her pony list. She was so engrossed, she didn't hear when Jack approached.
“Careful, you'll get run over,” Jack teased.
“Dad, we forget to get the blankets. HC need blankets,” the little girl revealed.
Jack glanced over her list, mumbling, “Feeder, water buckets, halter, lead ropes, brushes, hoof picks, spray bottles, clippers, shampoo, fly spray, blankets ...” He paused, then said, “You're right. We forgot the blankets. Are you busy?”
Chenoa grinned as she and Jack headed back to the feed store to pick up some more supplies.
Jack shook his head, laughing to himself as he sat in the gazebo.
“What's so funny?” Daniel asked, JD in his arms as he sat down next to his husband.
“You've grown,” Jack said to his son who simply laughed in response. Looking at Daniel, he answered, “Look at Noa teaching Jenny and Ricky all about horses.”
Daniel looked over at their small stable, observing Chenoa teaching them how to ride. Jeff, of course, was supervising. True to his word, the teenager was helping his sister take care of her horses, but the little girl was also doing everything she promised.
The kids loved the two horses, and even Jack had to admit, they were fun to have around. The only mocking complaint had come from Pete, who joked he was putting in extra insulation to drown out the midnight 'nays'. Fortunately, he was just joking, and there hadn't been any problems with the neighbors. Jack was once again pleased that with such a big yard, their neighbors were still not too close.
“She loves the horses so much, Jack,” Daniel commented.
“Even more than her dancing,” Jack added. “I didn't think anything could ever beat dancing.”
“Except for Teal'c, of course,” Daniel replied, bouncing JD on his lap.
“That's a given,” Jack noted. “Hey, wanna ride a horse?” he asked JD, taking the baby from Daniel.
“Jack, he's too young,” Daniel objected.
“You're never too young to be ...” Jack paused, having no clue what he was going to say. “Never mind.”
Daniel chuckled, getting up and following his husband over to the where Hot and Chocolate were. In semi-fear and amusement both, he watched as Jack gave JD his first riding lesson.
As February began, life at the Jackson-O'Neill residence was full of love and laughter.
Chapter Two: Faded Flowers
“Never leave anyone behind, JD,” Jonny told his youngest brother, who was watching him intently. “It's our first rule.”
The two boys were in the recreation room, a barrage of toy soldiers and military equipment scattered between them. On one of the sofa sectionals, Jack and Daniel were snuggled together, Jack's arm around his lover's shoulders, as they watched their sons.
“See,” Jonny said, taking some of the toys to demonstrate his comment. “If this is you, and these bad guys get you, I'd come back and save you.”
JD clapped his hands, a big smile on his face, and his eyes shining with attentiveness.
Jonny continued, “And if this is Little Danny, and he gets lost, then we both go back and get him.”
Again, JD clapped, giggling, too.
“Next rule,” Jonny stated. “I'm your big brother. Jeff is biggest big brother, and David is next big brother, but I'm *your* closest big brother.”
**Closest big brother?** Jack mused with the non-verbal communication that he shared with his husband. **And what about Little Danny?**
Daniel shrugged, chuckling lightly as they watched and replying, **Not to mention Ricky.**
Jonny sighed, “Okay, so Little Danny is a couple of minutes younger than me, but we're a set, and I'm older.”
**Does that make sense, Angel?**
**It does if you're six,** Daniel replied.
“Oh, I forgot,” Jonny suddenly sighed. “I'll start again. Jeff is biggest big brother, David is big, big, big brother, Little Danny and me are big, big brothers, and Ricky is big brother, but you remember, JD, that I'll take care of you. You should always come to me. I'll handle all the problems,” Jonny proclaimed, sitting up straight and pointing to his chest. “See, I'm the general. You have lots of big brothers, but I'll make sure you're safe.”
Daniel turned his head, burying his face into his soulmate's shoulder to stifle his laughter.
**He's just like you,** Daniel observed, still trying prevent Jonny from overhearing his laughter.
“Little Danny is my second,” Jonny continued on, oblivious to his parents' amusement. “He's very smart.”
“What about me?” Aislinn questioned as she ambled in and sat down next to Jonny, immediately grabbing one of the toy soldiers. “I can be like Aunt Sam.”
“You're a girl!” Jonny whined.
**Jack, I thought you talked to him about that attitude,** Daniel said.
**I did, sort of.**
“Jonny,” Jack called out. “Being a woman has nothing to do with a person's ability to defend our country or our family. Aunt Sam is a good example of that.”
“But we're men, Dad; we're supposed to protect them,” Jonny argued.
“Yes, but they can take care of themselves, too,” Jack explained. “And others, too,” he quickly added.
“Yeah,” Aislinn said with attitude. “JD, I can protect you. Teal'c has taught *all* of us a lot of ways to be safe.”
“Okay,” Jonny acquiesced.
“Daddy, we have company,” Aislinn unnecessarily announced as a loud knock was heard at the front door.
“Let's go see who it is,” Daniel replied, leaving Jack to watch the boys.
Aislinn carefully looked out of the window and then back at her father, saying, “It's Teal'c, Daddy, and he has flowers.”
“Oh,” Daniel replied as he verified who indeed was at the door. “Okay, open it up.”
“Hi, T,” Aislinn stated.
“AislinnJacksonO'Neill, how are you?” Teal'c asked.
“Jonny tried to say I couldn't take care of myself. Teal'c, Aunt Sam was Dad's second, so why can't I be a second?” the little girl asked.
“If that is what you wish to do, then you can do so,” Teal'c responded. “Many women are fine warriors. Someday, I will tell you of Ish'ta and her people, the Hak'tyl. They are fine warriors, and she is a strong and noble leader.”
“I'm going to tell Jonny what you said,” Aislinn replied, turning around and heading quickly for the rec room.
Daniel smiled as he watched the girl scurry away and then he greeted, “Hi, Teal'c.”
“DanielJackson, I have brought these for ChenoaJackson-O'Neill,” the Jaffa announced, holding out a bouquet of unusual looking flowers.
“Oh, well, come in,” Daniel invited, locking the door behind the tall man. He went to the intercom and pressed the button to the appropriate room, announcing, “Noa, would you come downstairs, please? You have a visitor.”
A moment later, Chenoa grinned as she saw Teal'c from the top of the stairs.
“Teeeeee,” Chenoa called out as she walked down the stairs.
Teal'c nodded and handed the bouquet to Chenoa, explaining, “Today I was on my home world of Chulak.”
“I want to go there someday,” Chenoa expressed with a heartfelt desire.
“Then you shall,” Teal'c responded with a nod. Then he saw Daniel's rather alarmed expression and added, “... if your parents allow it.”
“They're beautiful, Teal'c,” Chenoa said, examining the flowers. “I've never seen flowers like these before,” she said about the tri-leaf flowers that had tiny bulbs in a semi-circle around them and were a blending of gold, black, and pink in color.
“They are called kanthas. They bloom only twice per year. When I saw them, I thought of you,” Teal'c stated.
“Do I put them in water like regular flowers?” the little girl asked.
Teal'c nodded, answering, “They will last for many months if you give them fresh water every two or three days. It is the water that nourishes them.”
“Our flowers die sooner,” Chenoa lamented.
“That is why I thought you would like the kanthas. You may keep them and remember our friendship by their presence,” the Jaffa said.
Smiling shyly, Chenoa replied, “I don't need flowers to remember you, Teal'c.” She sniffed the flowers and noted, “Mmmm, they smell like cinnamon.”
“That is correct. That is also how you may tell if they need fresh water. If they are in need of water, the odor of cinnamon will turn sour when you sniff them,” Teal'c said informatively.
“I'll take very good care of them. Can you stay for tea?” Chenoa asked.
“I would be honored,” Teal'c answered, bowing his head in respect of the young girl.
“Daddy, is it okay if Teal'c and me have tea in my room?” Chenoa asked, adding, “real tea, please?”
“Of course,” Daniel answered. “I'll get some.”
“Oh, no, Daddy. I want to make it,” Chenoa said. “I know how Teal'c likes it.”
“Oh, well, then, you'd better make it then. I'll just ... supervise,” Daniel replied, giving Teal'c a small smile. Looking at his friend, he said, “Jack's in the rec room with some of the children.”
As Daniel watched over the little girl as she prepared tea and snacks for her guest, Teal'c entered the rec room to visit with other family members for a few minutes.
When Chenoa was done, she smiled brightly, feeling warm and happy as Teal'c carried the tray upstairs ahead of her. Carefully, she carried her flowers, along with the vase, full of fresh water, that her father had given her.
~Cute couple,~ Daniel mused before returning to his husband and children in the rec room.
“Noa, we need you to help us with our pyramid,” David called out to his sister from the corner of the lawn where several of the children were playing 'human design', a game where they used their bodies to form different shapes and objects.
Chenoa paused for just a moment, running back towards the backyard so that David could see her and responded, “I can't right now, David. I still have to brush Chocolate.”
“I can do it, Noa,” Jeff offered as he undid a bale of hay.
“No, thank you, Jeff. I like doing it, and it's my responsibility,” Chenoa maintained. Looking back at David, she said, “I'm sorry, David. Later, okay?”
“Okay,” David said. “Maybe Lulu will want to help us,” he said, turning around and going in search of Lulu.
“It would have been okay, Noa,” Jeff said to the little girl.
“I know, but I love HC, and they rely on me, Jeff. I like taking care of them,” Chenoa opined.
Then the young girl finished brushing Chocolate, smiling and talking to the pony as she did so.
“Danny, are you going by J-O?” Jack called out to his lover from the living room.
From the kitchen, the younger man answered, “Later -- probably around noon. Did you need something?”
“Nope, was just curious,” Jack responded as Daniel walked into the living room to join him.
“Last night was, uh, good,” Daniel commented, a sparkle in his eyes, as he leaned against the counter, sipping his morning coffee.
“Just good?” Jack challenged, flipping over the newspaper to close it.
“Very ... very ... very good,” Daniel crooned about their Valentine's evening together.
Smiling, Jack got up and walked to his lover. He was eager to get another kiss from his husband, but before he reached him, there was a knock at the door.
“The best made plans,” Jack lamented as he sighed and headed for the door.
Putting his cup down on the counter, Daniel followed, curious who it might be. As he reached the stairs, Lulu and Chenoa were coming down.
“Hi, Daddy,” both girls spoke within seconds.
Lulu added, “We're going to practice our dancing.”
“Have fun,” Daniel called out as they disappeared into the kitchen.
“Are we interrupting anything?” Janet asked when the door opened, revealing Jack standing there.
“No, we're not busy,” Jack answered, opening the door to allow Teal'c and Janet inside. “Just enjoying the morning.”
“Hi, Teal'c, Janet,” Daniel greeted cheerfully.
“I'm so sorry, Daniel,” Janet practically cried as she walked in.
Jack and Daniel immediately became concerned as they shared a worried look. Both men knew Janet wasn't easily upset, so whatever was causing her current distress had to be something serious.
“Doc, what's wrong?” Jack asked.
Janet just shook her head as Teal'c stated gravely, “I must speak with ChenoaJacksonO'Neill.”
“She's in the dance studio,” Daniel answered a tad hesitantly.
At that moment, Chenoa suddenly appeared, calling out, “Daddy, the disc is stuck. Teal'c!” The little girl's eyes lit up as she hurried to her favorite Jaffa and hugged him. “Hi, Aunt Janet. Lulu and I are practicing. Do you want to come watch?” she asked as she hugged the petite woman whom she thought of like a mother.
“No, Sweetie, not right now,” Janet answered, a sad smile on her face as she ran her hand along Chenoa's curly blonde hair. ~She's so innocent; just like Shirley Temple did in all those old movies.~
“Chenoa, we must have what the Tau'ri call a heart-to-heart,” Teal'c said, taking her right hand and leading her into the living room where she sat down in the middle of the sofa.
Jack and Daniel watched the two disappear into the living room and then looked at Janet, who didn't seem to want to move.
**Danny, he only used her first name,** Jack observed.
**Yeah, I noticed. I, uh, gawd, what's going on?** Daniel wondered anxiously.
With a sigh, Janet spoke, “It's my fault. I shouldn't have let it go on like this, but I really didn't know.”
“Didn't know what?” Jack asked with his head cocked to one side, completely clueless as to what was happening.
“We never intended for it to go so far,” Janet stated. “It's not that we were keeping it a secret, exactly, but we just didn't talk about it. You know me. Until that Loki clone of me died, I didn't even have time for a life, and back then, I actually thought that Sam had the inside track.”
“Doc, what are you talking about?” Jack asked again, even more baffled by Janet's attempted explanation.
Daniel walked two steps to look around the corner. He saw Teal'c down on one knee as Chenoa sat at the edge of the cushion, both of her hands in his. Her smile was gone, and she was shaking her head slowly, but resolutely from side to side. He blinked and then turned back around, staring at Janet who had barely moved from the doorway.
“And Teal'c really thought that it would work out with Ish'ta, so everything was always so casual,” Janet explained.
“Oh, gawd,” Daniel said, his eyes landing on Janet's left hand. He closed his eyes, knowing everything he needed to know. ~Our poor baby.~
“Danny?” Jack asked in frustration. He looked back and forth between the two and growled, “Will someone please tell me what's wrong?”
“In the last year, it's gotten more serious,” Janet revealed. “You've seen us. We weren't trying to hide,” she repeated nervously. “But I know everyone is going to be surprised. We're both so private, but things have changed now. Teal'c is freer now than he's ever been before to live his life on Earth however he sees fit.”
“Doc, I'm about ready to explode here,” Jack announced anxiously.
“Last night, Teal'c surprised me with this,” Janet informed, bringing up her hand to reveal a beautiful 18K rose gold Victorian engagement ring. “He knows I love antiques, and he found this. It's from the 1890's.”
“Looks expensive,” Jack observed. “There's a lot of sparkly stones there, Janet,” he added, switching to her first name since it seemed more appropriate.
Janet affirmed, “Thirteen of them. It's a perfect fit, and he guessed the size.”
Still not quite putting all the pieces together, Jack happily began, “Congrats! When's the big ...”
His hearty congratulations died as Jack's brain finally pieced together the puzzle. At the same time, a heart-wrenching cry was heard from the living room.
In unison, Jack and Daniel said, “Noa.”
The three adults moved to the edge of the living room where Teal'c was trying to explain his relationship with Janet to the little girl. He'd just told her that he and Janet would be getting married soon.
“NOOOOOOO! BUT I LOVE YOU! I *LOVE* YOU! NOOOOOOO!” Chenoa shouted.
“It was not my intention to deceive you, Chenoa,” Teal'c spoke with regret.
The sounds coming from Chenoa were more than just simple sobs. The noise began as low, halting, and full of pain, but then rose to a shrill-anguished wail, then trailed off for lack of air. No one in her family had ever heard that type of emotional release coming from the young girl before. It was agonizing for everyone who did hear it.
“NOOOOOOOooooooooh!” the little girl sobbed. “Pleeeeease, Teal'c, I love you. I've always loved you. NOOOOooooh!” she wailed again.
“YOU CAN'T MARRY HER!” Chenoa shouted between mournful sobs.
Jack and Daniel stood by helplessly, watching their daughter's heart shatter into a thousand pieces. Their hearts had broken the moment she'd let out her first cry. They knew there was nothing they could do, but watch it play out and pray that Teal'c could reach her. The two were thankful that the Munchkins had spent the night at Sam's and were still there.
~Careful, T, when Jonny finds out. He might just try to beat you up for hurting his sister. That's how kids think,~ Jack lamented as the torture continued.
The two parents were also thankful that the twins weren't home, either, the Spitfires spending time with the Wilsons. With Jeff and Jennifer at school, that left only Brianna, David, Lulu, and JD to witness the sadness that was unfolding.
David had been watching JD, but now stood at the top of the stairs, Brianna by his side. Lulu stood at the edge of the kitchen, almost hiding behind the counter that separated it from the living room.
Bijou and Katie were watching from their beanbag, both of them standing still, but on high alert, as if they were just waiting to see what would occur next.
“You are a magnificent little girl, Chenoa,” Teal'c stated.
“No! Nooooo!” Chenoa sobbed, holding her face in her hands. Straightening, she faced Teal'c and shouted, “YOU'RE LYING! I DON'T BELIEVE YOU! YOU AREN'T MARRYING THAT WOMAN!”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look, both of them noting that Aunt Janet had just become 'that woman'.
“I have never lied to you,” Teal'c spoke.
“NOOOOO!” Chenoa wailed, backing away from Teal'c . She yelled, “YOU LIED. YOU'RE NOT HONORABLE. YOU LIED!” she accused as she started to run up the stairs.
“Noa,” Janet called out, taking a few steps towards the stairs, stopping when Chenoa turned around.
With cold eyes, the anguished little girl cried out, “I HATE YOU!”
“NOA!” Jack shouted as Chenoa turned and headed up the stairs, Bijou and Katie right on her heels.
“Jack, leave her alone,” Daniel stated.
“Daniel, did you hear what she said?” Jack asked.
“Yes, and I don't blame her. Do you?” Daniel challenged. He glanced over at Janet and said, “I mean ...”
“Daniel, I know what you mean. I am so very, very sorry,” Janet spoke, tears streaming down her cheeks and her voice cracking.
Teal'c walked over to Jack, looking him in the eye as he said, “I am a massive collection of equine excrement. I vow I will not rest until I find an honorable Jaffa for ChenoaJacksonO'Neill.” He looked at Daniel and added, “It is my pledge to all of you.”
With his head held high, but his heart low, Teal'c exited the home. Janet shook her head, not knowing what she could possibly say, so she said nothing as she passed by Jack and Daniel, closing the front door behind her.
Daniel looked over and saw Lulu in tears. Upstairs, he saw the confusion on both David's and Brianna's faces. Their household had just become a place of unrest. Silently, he wondered if things would ever be the same.
“Jack, let's give Noa a few minutes. In the meantime, we need to talk to Lulu,” Daniel put forth, motioning towards their daughter, who was on her knees, crying profusely.
Knowing Daniel was right, Jack turned his attention towards their brunette beauty and requested, “Little Bit, come here.”
Slowly, the trembling little girl emerged from the kitchen, walking cautiously to her parents. Jack picked her up, and then they all sat down on the sofa, Lulu in Jack's lap, facing Daniel who sat next to him.
“It was a little loud just now, wasn't it,” Daniel stated softly.
“Noa's crying,” Lulu said, the little girl still crying herself. “I don't want Noa to cry.”
“Neither do we,” Daniel responded, reaching out to rub her hand gently.
“Noa just got some news that was upsetting,” Jack stated.
“Why did Teal'c hurt Noa? Teal'c is family. I don't understand,” Lulu said quietly, her sniffles quieted but not stopped completely.
**Jack, it's about trust. Be careful,** Daniel warned.
“Lulu,” Jack began. “Sometimes people who love each other accidentally hurt each other.”
Lulu blinked several times, trying hard to understand. She let out several little sniffles as she struggled to comprehend what was being said.
“Sweetie, Teal'c loves Noa,” Daniel said, “but he's a grown man, and Chenoa is a little girl, and ... well, it's different.”
“How?” Lulu asked innocently.
Daniel looked to Jack, who struggled to find the words, finally saying, “As we grow up, especially when we're young, we fall in and out of love all the time, because we're still learning who we really are inside and who we want to spend the rest of our lives with. When we're young, Lulu, we often mistake infatuation for real love.”
“What does that mean?” Lulu asked.
Daniel explained, “It means a temporary feeling, something that goes away in time, but while we have it, it feels wonderful.”
“It wasn't like that for Noa, Daddy,” Lulu responded. “She loves Teal'c.”
Daniel nodded, once again at a loss for words, except that he desperately wanted to reassure Lulu.
Lulu asked again, “But ... why did Teal'c hurt Noa?”
“He didn't mean to,” Jack quickly answered. “I doubt he realized how much Chenoa loves him, but remember what I said. There are all kinds of love, and the way T loves Aunt Janet is different than how he loves Noa. He loves Aunt Janet with a grown up type of love that has a lot of extra elements to it.”
**You want to talk about sex here?** Jack lightly barked.
**Uh, no, you're doing just fine,** Daniel replied.
Jack continued, “He loves Noa like a daughter. He will always take care of her, protect her, and love her. Whenever she needs him, T will be there.”
Lulu took in the words, and after a minute or so of silence passed, said, “Noa trusted Teal'c. I understand he didn't mean to hurt her, but she's sad now. I'm sad, too.”
“So are we,” Jack acknowledged as he placed a kiss on Lulu's forehead.
“I wish Teal'c didn't hurt Noa,” Lulu added, leaning her head against Jack's chest and slouching down a bit.
“Your sister needs all of us to help her through this,” Daniel told the little girl. “She's going to be sad for a while, but as time passes, it'll get better.”
“Daddy?” Lulu asked timidly.
“What, Sweetie?” Daniel asked as he held her hand.
“I'm sad for Noa, and I wish Teal'c didn't make her cry, but ...” Lulu stopped, looking down at her feet.
“Lulu, go on. It's okay,” Jack promised.
“I still love Aunt Janet. Am ... am I a bad sister because I don't hate her for hurting Noa?” Lulu sniffled.
“No!” Jack and Daniel answered strongly in unison.
“Lulu, listen to me,” Daniel urged. “Chenoa is going to hurt for a while, and until she feels better, she's going to say a lot of things she doesn't really mean.”
“Sweetheart,” Jack interrupted. “I've said a lot of things in anger or frustration in my life. One time, a long time ago, I got so angry at Daddy that I told him to shut up. I hurt him a lot that day, and I've never, ever forgotten the look on his face when I shouted those words at him. We were working, in the middle of negotiations, and Daddy and I disagreed. He was right, but at the time, I was so upset that I yelled at him to shut up.”
“That wasn't nice, Dad,” Lulu commented.
“No, it wasn't, but I didn't mean it,” Jack said. “It was my anger talking. Luckily, Daddy forgave me, and I promise you that soon, Noa is going to be very upset that she yelled at Aunt Janet like that.”
“Aunt Janet will forgive her,” Lulu surmised.
“Yes, she will,” Daniel agreed quietly. “Honey, Noa might even get upset at Teal'c eventually, even though she loves him. The point is, for a while, Noa needs to just ... vent. Do you know what that means?”
The little girl thought and said, “Like when Dad is a grizzly bear?”
Jack looked taken aback, but Daniel had to chuckle, nodding as he said, “Exactly. Dad gets whatever upsets him out, and then he's okay.”
“Like when we got Hot and Chocolate,” Lulu deduced correctly.
Daniel smiled as he squeezed her hand and answered, “Yes. He vented, and then everything was okay. Now Dad loves HC, don't you, Jack?” **Don't mess this up.**
“I adore them,” Jack replied quickly. ~Is it okay to lie to your kids if the truth would hurt them worse?~ he wondered.
**Knock it off, Babe. You love them, and you know it.**
**I plead the fifth,** Jack responded.
Finally, Lulu smiled a little.
“Feel better?” Daniel asked.
“I'm still sad for Noa, but as long as I'm not a bad sister because I still love T and Aunt Janet ...”
“You're a wonderful sister,” Daniel reassured.
“We need to go check on Noa,” Jack said. “If you're okay, why don't you go back to the dance studio and practice while Daddy and I go upstairs.”
“Do I have to dance?” Lulu asked Jack.
“No, Lulu. You can stay here, or play, or do whatever you want,” Jack answered.
“Okay, Dad,” Lulu said, giving Jack a hug and then Daniel before going into the game room for a little while.
“Do you think we did okay?” Jack asked.
“I hope so. We need to watch her, Jack,” Daniel stated, still concerned about the young girl who had gone through so much in her short lifetime.
“Okay ...” Jack began, looking up the stairs and then back at his husband.
The two men said nothing as they quietly headed upstairs to confront their broken-hearted daughter.
“Noa,” Daniel said softly as he sat on the edge of her bed.
The crying girl had one arm around Katie, the beagle's fur already wet from her tears. Bijou was lying on Chenoa's other side, just in case she turned over.
“I love him,” Chenoa wailed.
“I know, Sweetie, I know,” the archaeologist said, rubbing her back. ~Where are the words? I'm a freakin' linguist. Where are the words?~
**There aren't any, Danny,** Jack communicated, having heard his lover's distress.
“We love you, Princess,” Jack said, having sat down at the foot of the bed, his hand rubbing Chenoa's leg.
It was all Jack and Daniel could do -- be there with their daughter as she mourned the loss of a romance almost as old as she was.
Lulu looked around the game room, choosing to sit by the tall stuffed dinosaur named Muffin in the corner. She grabbed Muffin's right leg and held on.
“Oh, Muffin, I'm so sad now,” Lulu said out loud.
After a few minutes, the little girl sighed. She didn't feel like playing. She left the game room and went to the dance studio where she put on her favorite ballet music.
“I don't feel like dancing, either,” Lulu said as she turned off the stereo.
With a sigh, the little girl returned to the living room. Feeling sadder than she had in a long time, she sat down on the sofa and tried hard not to cry.
“Sheila, it's going to be a blast,” Jennifer said, smiling as she walked into the house, her cell phone glued to her ear. She heard voices coming from the rec room, one of which sounded like Jack's. Still continuing her phone conversation, she headed for her room, intending to put away her backpack before letting her folks know she was home. As she passed the living room, the teenager casually glanced over and saw Lulu huddled against the corner of the sofa. “It would be so cool if ...” she began as she approached the stairs that led to her room over the garage, trailing off as she registered what she had just seen.
“Jen? Jen, are you there?” Sheila asked when her friend suddenly went silent.
Jennifer looked back towards the living room and said, “Sheila, I'll call you later. I need to check in with the family and see what's going on.”
Flipping off her phone that she slid into her pocket and then tossing down her backpack, Jennifer walked into the living room. She was right. Lulu was crying and holding on to a sofa cushion for dear life.
“Lulu?” Jennifer asked gently.
Sniffling, Lulu said, “Aunt Janet and Teal'c are getting married.”
“Oh, well, that's good. Why are you ... oh, no -- Noa,” the teenager said, turning to face the stairwell.
Lulu nodded, saying, “Noa's crying.”
~I'll bet she is.~ Just then, Jennifer heard the loud cries from upstairs. She knelt down and held Lulu's hands, saying, “Are you okay?”
“Noa's unhappy,” Lulu cried.
“Come here,” Jennifer requested, picking Lulu up and heading for the rec room where she had heard Jack's voice. Sure enough, as she entered, she saw Jack talking with the twins. “Dad.”
Jack looked up, seeing Lulu's crying eyes, and told the twins, “You two stay right here.” He got up and walked over to Jennifer. “Little Bit, come to Dad,” he requested, which the little girl instantly did, the hand-off going smoothly.
“I need to go see Noa,” Jennifer said, rubbing Lulu's back. “She'll be okay, Lulu.”
“Jen ...” Jack began.
“Dad, where's Daddy?” Jennifer asked.
“With Noa,” Jack answered, turning around and walking Lulu over to sit with him and the twins.
Jack was glad David had JD to distract him. The poor boy had been at a complete loss as to how to help his sister, and at Jack and Daniel's urging, had chosen to focus on keeping his youngest brother occupied and oblivious to the upset around him.
“Noa,” Jennifer softly called out while walking into her sister's bedroom.
“Hi, Jen,” Daniel said, getting up and greeting the teenager with a hug.
“Um, Daddy ...” Jennifer said, motioning towards her sister who was still sobbing into a now-drenched Katie.
“I'll be downstairs,” Daniel spoke in a whisper, looking back at Chenoa.
“Hey,” Jennifer said, sitting down and gently pulling her sister up.
“Heeeee liiiiiiiiiiiiied,” Chenoa cried as she grabbed onto Jennifer, sobbing into her neck.
“It's going to be okay, Noa. First love is always hard,” Jennifer said. “I know because I've been there.”
Chenoa's only response was to cry more tears, tears that went on and on, seemingly without end.
Hours had passed, day turning to night. All of the children were home now and keenly aware of the day's events. Chenoa had refused dinner, getting up only to tend to her horses, and when she had finished brushing them and making sure they had plenty of grass hay to feed on, she ran back into the house, seeking asylum in the Bird's Nest, the room that was built just for the female members of the family. Her cries, though, were heard by all.
“Jack, it's after nine. We have to do something,” Daniel said.
“We can go get her; make her go to bed,” Jack suggested.
“With Lulu and JD in there? They won't sleep,” the younger man commented. Frustrated and in agony, Daniel stood, saying, “I have to go check on her.”
As he approached the Bird's Nest, Daniel heard Chenoa's cries crystal clear. He sighed, wishing he could make it better. Just when he was about to walk in and get her, he heard her sniffling into Bijou's ears.
“I want my mommy, Bijou. I want my mommy. I want my mommy,” Chenoa cried over and over again.
Tears rolling down his own cheeks, Daniel returned downstairs.
Jack immediately went to his husband, pulling him into his arms and asked, “Danny?”
“She wants her mommy,” Daniel whispered with a gulp. He pulled away to keep from breaking down and went to the phone, picking it up. He stared at Jack and then he dialed. “Sam, it's Daniel. Have you ... no, it's, uh; Sam, she wants her mother,” he barely squeaked out. “Thanks.”
“On her way?” Jack asked.
“Just as soon as she can jump over the fence,” Daniel tried to tease.
“We'll put in a gate,” Jack replied, getting a nod from Daniel. ~Should have done that a long time ago.~ Hearing a noise, he exclaimed, “Crap, the alarm.”
As Jack moved to turn off the warning system, knowing it was Sam, the blonde appeared at the patio door, knocking on it.
Daniel opened it, hugging her and saying, “I'm sorry to disturb you, but ...”
“Daniel, don't be ridiculous. I don't know that I can be of much help, though,” Sam said hesitantly.
“You're her mother, one of them, and she needs one of her mothers,” Daniel whispered, his voice aching too much to speak at a normal volume.
“Well, I'll do my best,” Sam promised. ~I don't really think I'm a mother, though. I'll probably make it worse.~
“Carter, thanks for coming. New outfit?” Jack quipped about her burgundy pajamas.
“Sir, just be glad this wasn't last night,” Sam retorted as she re-tied the sash to her matching robe.
“No pajamas?” Jack asked, his leering look indicating his suspicion that the Shanahans had been up to hanky panky.
“Not exactly, Sir. Where's Noa?” Sam inquired, not wanting to get sidelined from her reason for being at the household in her current attire.
“In the Bird's Nest,” Daniel answered.
“Just follow the wails,” Jack instructed sadly.
Sam nodded and headed for the stairs, surprised when the general reached out and lightly tugged on her elbow.
“Sam, she's really hurting,” Jack spoke softly.
Nodding, Sam glanced at Daniel and then headed upstairs.
Sam heard the sniffles all the way up the stairs that led to the Bird's Nest. Her heart broke when she saw the little girl sitting in front of the bench, rocking herself back and forth. Bijou was lying on the bench, watching over her, and Katie was in Chenoa's arms, being tightly held. Seeing Sam, Bijou jumped down and walked to her.
Sam knelt down, her hands sliding against the mama beagle's body as she spoke, “Noa, is it okay if I join you?”
The little girl let out a huge sniffle as she stopped her rocking momentum. She looked up, blinking a few times. As she nodded, she released her hold on Katie, who quickly walked over to Bijou. Together, the two dogs took a spot in the corner, completely out of the way as they continued their watch over the emotionally-distraught child.
Sam cautiously moved to sit down on the floor next to Chenoa, who didn't budge, but continued to sniffle and let out little sobs. After a minute, Sam reached over with her right hand and caressed the back of Chenoa's head.
“It's been a hard day, hasn't it?” Sam asked.
“Oh, Aunt Sam,” Chenoa cried loudly as she moved quickly, flinging her body against the blonde's for comfort. The little girl was now being held by Sam, her head buried against Sam's shoulder as Sam rubbed her back and held her securely. “I love him,” she cried.
“I know you do, Noa,” Sam replied softly.
“Why did he lie to me?” Chenoa asked amid her tears. “It's all her fault,” she sobbed, suddenly finding some solace by blaming someone other than Teal'c for her sadness. “Why is *that woman* taking him away from me?” she asked through her sobs.
~That woman?~ Unprepared for the harshness of the words, Sam was taken aback for a moment. “Uh, Noa, Janet loves Teal'c, too, but it's in a different way.”
“I was going to marry him when I grow up. I love him,” Chenoa cried again.
~Mom? Help!~ Sam silently begged her own mother for guidance. ~Gee, I've never done that before,~ she realized, but Chenoa needed her, and Sam felt so completely helpless.
“I want to die,” Chenoa wailed.
“Oh, Honey, no,” Sam replied gently, both astonished and horrified at the depth of the woman-child's despair. “Noa, this is a hard time for a little girl, losing her first love. Teal'c will always be very, very special to you, but one of these days, as you grow up, you're going to find someone so very ... wonderful who is going to love you in just the same way that you love them.”
“I don't want anyone else,” Chenoa cried. “I want Teal'c.”
“I know,” Sam sighed. “Noa, Teal'c loves you very much, and you'll always be very special to him.”
“THEN WHY IS HE MARRYING THAT WOMAN?” Chenoa yelled, pushing herself back, but not moving away. She continued in a lower voice, “I love him. I'll never love anyone else, not ever.”
“There are all kinds of love,” Sam commented, taking a huge breath. “You know, ah, oh, gee, for a while, I was all messed up. Do you know that I went through a time when I thought that I ... well, that ...”
“That you loved my dad,” Chenoa said, already knowing the story.
“Yes,” Sam admitted, nodding. ~Thank goodness she's almost stopped crying. I was about to cry with her. Maybe I can distract her for a bit.~ “He was a safety net for me, and I actually broke up with Pete because I believed it so much in my heart.”
“But you love Uncle Pete,” Chenoa responded.
“Oh, yes. Goodness, yes, I love him so much, and he is my life, Noa,” Sam replied. “But I was scared to let that kind of love into my life. I closed myself off. Even before your father, I had a chance to have good relationships with some really special men, but I ...” Sam sighed, looking up towards the ceiling. “Have I ever told you about Martouf?”
“No, who's he?” Chenoa asked, running her hand along her eyes, trying to cease her crying temporarily, although the occasional sob crept out.
“Martouf was a Tok'ra,” Sam began.
“Like your daddy?” Chenoa asked, recalling some of the stories she had heard about Jacob Carter.
“Yes,” Sam replied, nodding. “I met him a very long time ago, and he ... cared about me, a lot.”
“He loved you?” Chenoa deduced.
“Yes, I think so,” Sam responded. “But back then, I wasn't ready for that kind of love. I put up a lot of walls to protect myself.”
“You didn't love him?” Chenoa asked.
“I did love him, Noa, but I couldn't admit it, not even to myself and especially not to Martouf. I didn't know if there was room in my life for that kind of love, and I was afraid that I'd end up being hurt.” Sighing again, full of regret, she confided, “I didn't believe I could survive being hurt like that, and I was certain, absolutely certain, that I'd mess up, and I would be hurt.”
Chenoa looked down, saying, “I feel bad.”
“And as much as I wish I could take that pain away from you, I can't. Noa, Teal'c will always, always, always be special to you, and that's how it should be. He's your first love, but, Honey, somewhere, sometime ... gee, probably when you least expect it, someone is going to waltz into your life and knock your socks off. You'll be so sure it will never happen, but then he'll smile at you, bring you a flower ...” Sam chuckled in remembrance. “He'll take you dancing at a senior citizen's hangout.”
“Uncle Pete did that,” Chenoa noted, almost smiling at Sam.
“Yes, but even so, I built up those walls. When my father died, I shut Pete out, and I used your dad as an excuse because I just couldn't admit to myself that I loved Pete so much that I would feel like dying if I ever lost him,” Sam opined, tears in her eyes. “And, see, Noa, that was the truth. It *is* the truth. I've always been so independent. I work in a man's world. Do you know what that means?”
Chenoa sniffled and answered, “In the military?”
“Yes, and traditionally, men have been the ones chosen to be the leaders, to serve our country and our planet, to make the decisions ...” Sam paused, looking up for a moment. “Noa, I've wanted to be in the Air Force ever since I was a little girl. I dreamed of flying airplanes and fighting battles with the Red Baron. I didn't play with Barbie,” she confided. “I played with Matt Mason dolls. He was like the G.I. Joe that Jonny plays with.”
“Oh,” Chenoa said, another sob escaping. “Ash has a Matt Mason doll.”
“Yes, she does,” Sam acknowledged as she wiped the latest tears away from Chenoa's eyes. She continued, “I had to fight my way in. I had to prove to the men that I was just as good as they were. The truth is, I still have to. There was a situation a few years ago when your dad was supposed to lead a training class on a special fighter we had. He couldn't do it at first, and General Hammond wanted me to take his place. I was on the flagship team, the best of the best, Noa, the leading astrophysicist in the military, and I was a major then, but, still, these men looked at me like I didn't belong there, teaching them anything. I still have to fight to prove that my rank and my skills are deserved.”
“That's not right, Aunt Sam,” Chenoa responded, forgetting her own pain as she momentarily redirected her anger against the injustice experienced by the woman who, right now, was her mother.
“No, it's not, but it's how it is,” Sam stated sadly. “So, anyway, being so independent, I was afraid of letting someone get so close that I might have to sacrifice or give up some of me.”
“I don't understand,” Chenoa told her surrogate aunt.
“I was afraid that by loving Pete, and letting Pete love me, that it would mean ending my career and becoming someone I wasn't,” Sam said. “It took me a long time to realize that Pete wasn't trying to limit who I was; he just wanted to be along for the ride, and you know something, Noa? I want to be along for Pete's ride, too. Sometimes, we have to compromise, but now, it's my choice, and one of the things I was afraid of was that it wouldn't be a choice.” She sighed, “I'm making this too complicated.”
Chenoa thought and then said, “You mean you thought Uncle Pete would tell you what to do.”
“Yes, and that he wouldn't respect my decisions, but I was wrong. He loves me, and he knows how important it is for me to do my job. He doesn't tell me what to do. He tells me his opinion, and then I make my decision. Sometimes, I make him happy with what I choose, and sometimes, he's not so happy, but it works the other way, too. I'm not always happy about the assignments that Pete has to take on as a detective. It scares me. I worry about him.”
“Someone might shoot him like on TV,” Chenoa deduced.
“Oh, Noa, that scares me so much because,” Sam paused, a tear falling from her cheek. “I love that man, and he's part of me, ” she said, bringing her hands up to her chest and lightly tapping against her body. “If he died, I would feel so lost, so alone, so scared, so ... empty ...”
“I feel empty, Aunt Sam,” Chenoa cried, lunging forward as she began to cry again.
“And it's going to take time, Noa, for you to fill up with life and happiness, but my precious, I promise you, it will happen. It will happen,” Sam echoed as the little girl cried. “Let it out, Noa. It's okay to cry. Jeepers, I tried to pretend crying was a bad thing for so long, but it's not. Your daddy helped me to see that.”
“Da...da...daddy?” Chenoa finally got out between cries.
“It's another old story, and it began with Cassandra. When she first came to us, we weren't sure she was going to live. I was very upset, crying, and your daddy was with me, trying to be supportive. I realized how emotional I had become and apologized to him for crying. He just looked at me like I was crazy and asked me why I was apologizing. I didn't really know what to say, except that I had forgotten he wasn't military because being military was supposed to mean being strong all the time. Over the years, your daddy helped me to remember that no matter how military I was, it didn't mean that I wasn't human, and sometimes, human beings need to cry. He cried, and he was never afraid of who saw. I learned from him, Noa, that crying is not a bad thing.”
“Daddy's very smart,” Chenoa sniffled.
“Just about the smartest person I've ever met,” Sam agreed. “And he's also the gentlest.”
Chenoa let out another huge sob, which then unleashed another horde of cries. Sam let her cry until the little girl was just about asleep, and even then, she kept her hold tight, rocking her gently in her arms.
As the curly-haired girl let out a final sniffle before slumber overtook her, she softly spoke, “I love you, Mommy.”
Sam looked upward, biting her lip, more tears falling down her own cheeks. She shook her head one time before bringing her face down to rest against Chenoa's head.
“I love you, too, Baby. I love you, too,” Sam said. ~Darn tears. Daniel, it's all your fault.~
Sam let out a tiny chuckle when she felt Bijou lying down against one side of her and Chenoa, Katie on the other. She had just been surrounded by beagle love and support in true Jackson-O'Neill style.
“Daniel, we have to do something!” Jack exclaimed two weeks later.
“Okay,” Daniel answered as he stood self-hugging near the gazebo. “What do you suggest?”
All of the children were at school or with other members of their extended family, except for Chenoa, who was upstairs crying, as usual, and the baby, JD, who was playing in the sandbox nearby, under the watchful eyes of his parents and one beagle, Bijou. Katie was still with Chenoa, snuggled next to her, a position she and Bijou had been trading off since the crisis had begun.
“I don't know!” Jack exclaimed as he raised his arms up into the air.
“That's not very helpful, Babe,” Daniel replied.
“Well, you're the one with the brains,” Jack stated. “Think of something.”
“Jack, Chenoa's been hurt, and gawd, it's our fault,” Daniel lamented.
“Our fault? What did we do?” a clueless Jack asked and then focused in on JD for a moment.
Daniel looked over, too, seeing the baby giggle at a bug crawling along the ground. Years ago, he would have panicked. Now, he knew that kids and bugs walked hand-in-hand together. He could only smile when JD flicked the bug with his finger, making the critter fly around, causing the baby to chuckle some more.
“We thought it was cute, Jack,” Daniel answered. “From the very beginning, we did nothing to discourage Noa from loving Teal'c, and the thing is, we assumed it was just a ... a harmless little ...”
“Crush,” Jack completed for his soulmate.
Nodding, the younger man continued, “We never really took it seriously. We indulged her with tea parties on the roof deck and special dresses. We let it happen, Jack, and never once did we really give it any thought.”
“Because it was Teal'c, and we trust Teal'c,” Jack realized, knowing that if Chenoa had felt that way over some schoolboy or anyone outside their close circle of friends, they never would have been so receptive to the relationship.
“Exactly,” Daniel agreed. “We let our little girl fall in love, and never once, did we think about what would happen if Teal'c decided to get married.”
“Danny, the truth is I'm not sure we've ever even thought that *was* a possibility. He's had plenty of flings,” Jack recalled, arching his eyebrows momentarily. “I thought he was going to end up with Ish'ta, but that stalled years ago.”
“Yeah, me, too,” Daniel acknowledged. “I knew he and Janet went out. She's right, Jack. They weren't really hiding it. They're just both very private people. We didn't expect it, so we didn't even acknowledge what we saw.”
“I remember that limbo party last year,” Jack mentioned, shaking his head at what they'd missed.
“Oh, when Alex was here for Valentine's Day,” Daniel recalled. “Yeah, gawd,” he suddenly exclaimed. “Jack, Teal'c knew all these things about Janet, things I wouldn't expect him to know.”
“She had Alex build her a meditation room,” Jack stated, shaking his head. “How'd we miss it?”
“We weren't looking, and Janet really didn't think it would ever reach this stage,” Daniel theorized.
Jack snorted, “She probably played it close to the vest because she didn't want to be one of Teal'c's 'also rans'.”
Daniel let out an affirmative sound and expounded, “She didn't expect an infatuation and respect to turn into love, but it did, and she has a right to love,” Daniel observed.
“That brings us back to the beginning,” Jack intoned. “What do we do now? Noa hasn't stopped crying.”
“We give her time,” Daniel answered. He smiled, “She's called Sam 'Mommy' a couple of times. Have you heard that?”
Jack nodded and asked, “Are you okay with that?”
“Yes,” Daniel answered, a small smile on his face. “We're her parents; that's not in doubt. She's come to us over and over again, but, sometimes, a little girl needs her mother, and, like it or not, Babe, we aren't mothers.”
“Carter looks embarrassed when she says it,” Jack noted, smiling.
“They've been talking about having a baby,” Daniel revealed, getting a surprised look from his husband. “She's scared.”
“Carter's always scared,” Jack smirked.
“She doesn't think she's young enough, but there's a part of her that wants to, and if not naturally, then adopt,” Daniel stated. “Pete's all for it, either way. He just wants a family.”
“Doesn't Carter?” Jack asked.
“Yes, but she's ...”
“Scared,” both men said at the same time, Jack bobbing his head up and down slightly.
“So, we let Noa cry,” Jack stated.
“I don't know how to get her to stop. Everyone's tried,” Daniel noted. “Her tender, little heart is shattered, Jack. I just didn't realize a little seven-year-old could cry so ... so ...”
Jack hurried to his lover, pulling him into a reassuring embrace, knowing Daniel's heart was breaking, as was his, over their daughter's despair.
“We'll make it through, Love. Our family is strong, and we'll all help Noa,” Jack promised.
“Noa, look,” Jennifer said the first weekend of March as she entered the little girl's bedroom. “I made this for you,” she informed, holding out a new dancing outfit for her sister.
Chenoa sat up on her bed and said weakly, “Thank you, Jen. It's very nice.”
“How about trying it on and doing one of your routines for me?” Jennifer asked.
“Not right now; maybe later,” Chenoa sniffled, reclining back on her bed and hugging her pillow tightly.
“Okay, later then ... for sure,” Jennifer sighed, leaving the outfit on Chenoa's dresser and reluctantly leaving the room. ~What are we going to do?~
A few days later, Lulu sat quietly next to her sister on the sofa in the living room. Her feet bobbed a bit as they hung over the sofa.
“Noa, I need help with my dancing. Please come dance with me,” Lulu requested.
Chenoa shook her head, saying, “I don't want to dance anymore,” and then got off the sofa and headed for her bedroom, leaving her sister alone.
~I guess I don't want to dance anymore, either,~ Lulu sighed, still feeling sad herself about her sister's unhappiness.
Several days later, Jeff scooped up a big piece of cake, adding three scoops of raspberry ice cream, which was Chenoa's favorite. He added some sprinkles and toppings that he knew his sister especially liked and then took it over to the counter where Chenoa was sitting, wiping away more tears.
“Come on, Sis,” Jeff encouraged. “It's my birthday, and I want you to have some cake and ice cream. I made sure we had all of your favorites.”
Chenoa stared at the treat that was in front of her. She looked at Jeff, seeing the expectation on his face. With a sigh, she lifted up her fork and took a piece of cake with ice cream on top and ate it, chewing and swallowing very slowly.
“Isn't that great?” Jeff asked enthusiastically.
Chenoa nodded and picked up another bite, bringing it to her mouth.
“I can't,” Chenoa cried suddenly, dropping her fork, jumping off the stool and running upstairs.
Jeff looked over at his parents and the rest of the family.
“You tried, Son,” Jack observed. “Thank you.”
Chenoa had turned down ice cream and treats ever since learning about Teal'c and Janet's engagement. She had tried, but her heart just wasn't into anything indulgent.
“Okay, this is a party,” Daniel reminded them, determined that their concern for Chenoa wouldn't result in them neglecting their other children. “Jeff, presents!”
“Sure, Daddy. Where do you want me to start?” Jeff asked as he rejoined the rest of the family in the rec room.
“With this one,” Daniel suggested, smiling at Jack as he handed the seventeen-year-old a small box. “We hope you'll like it.”
Jack tried to hide his grin, but was unable to do so. This was one gift he knew their son would love. It reminded him of Jeff's birthday last year. Almost the same scenario had played out then. He looked over at his husband and nodded, knowing Daniel was thinking the exact same thing.
“This is just a little something we hope you'll like,” Daniel stated as he handed Jeff a small, flat package that was slightly more than a padded envelope that was wrapped.
Jeff opened the package, making a funny face when he pulled out the silver key that was inside of it, and asked, “A key?”
“Jeff, come see,” David urged excitedly, heading for the front door.
Jeff stared at his smiling parents, afraid to even say the word that was swelling through him.
“Not curious?” Jack asked.
“Afraid to be,” Jeff answered as he followed David to the front door.
A minute later, they walked out, seeing Sam and Pete grinning as they stood by the 2005 Ford truck.
“It's not new, but I don't think a first car should be,” Jack stated.
“It needs some fixing up,” Daniel commented.
“I love it,” Jeff said, running over to the brown vehicle and walking all around it, reaching out to touch it as if it might be a mirage. “I'll bet Uncle Lou will help me with her.”
“What am I -- chopped liver?” Jack asked, trying to pretend to look hurt.
Jeff chuckled, saying, “You know what I mean, Dad.”
“Happy birthday, Jeff,” Pete called out, deciding to move things along. “Here's the spare key,” he said, tossing the key he and Sam had used to bring the vehicle over from their house where it had been in hiding for several days.
“Thanks, Uncle Pete,” Jeff acknowledged. “Sure wish I could take it out for a spin.”
“First things first,” Jack reminded.
“Yeah, I know, my license,” Jeff sighed, fully aware he wasn't going to have time to take his driver's exam for a couple more weeks yet.
“Nah, I just need my coat,” Jack smirked.
“Here, Dad,” Jonny said a few moments later, having ran back inside the house and then returned with his father's jacket.
“Thanks, Son. We'll be back in a few,” Jack said, giving his husband a kiss.
“Wow!” Jeff said, getting into the passenger seat. “Where are we going?”
“To the school,” Jack answered. “There's a big parking lot there, and I doubt anyone is around now. You can take it for a run in the lot a few times.”
Sam and Pete ambled over near Daniel and watched as Jack drove the truck away. They shared a smile, knowing Jeff's sixteenth birthday was a true success.
//End of Flashback//
Jeff smiled as he took the box, saying, “It'll be hard to beat last year, Dad, Daddy.”
“We'll see about that,” Jack replied cockily. “Open it.”
“Another key?” Jeff responded as he picked up the key from the box he'd just unwrapped. “You didn't get me another truck?” he mused. ~Nah, the key is too small for a car.~
“I'll bet it's outside,” Jonny surmised, running to the front door.
“Yeah, that's why Aunt Sam and Uncle Pete aren't here,” Lulu suggested, following Jonny.
Walking outside, Jeff chuckled, seeing Sam and Pete standing in much the same pose by his truck as they had been in last year. Only this time, there was a large trunk in front of the vehicle and several other packages around it.
Jeff glanced over at his happy parents and then went to the trunk, slipping the key inside the lock. Opening it, he grinned.
“I knew he'd like it!” Jack exclaimed.
“This is so cool!” Jeff happily responded as he dug into the trunk.
The large, brown container was full of truck parts -- spark plugs, valve springs, air filters, various belts, wiper blades and more. Other packages outside the trunk included new floor mats, a bike rack, and a tool box.
“Thanks!” Jeff exclaimed, though his attention was focused on seeing exactly what was inside the trunk. He'd been in need of new parts for the 'fixer-upper' truck, and this was going to make life a lot easier for him. “What's this?” he asked, seeing an envelope inside the trunk.
“I have no idea,” Daniel lied in fun as he looked over at it.
Jeff looked up and chuckled, seeing Daniel's handwriting on the envelope. Opening it, the teenager found a gift certificate for one-hundred dollars.
“It's to be used for the tires of your choice,” Daniel explained. He and Jack had considered buying a new set of tires, but Jeff was getting a great deal of satisfaction from saving up and earning the funds to improve his vehicle himself, so after some discussion, they felt a contribution to the cause would be more welcome than the gift of a new set itself. “There should be some good sales coming up.”
“This is awesome. By the end of the summer, I should have enough saved to get those Mickey Thompsons,” Jeff contemplated.
“I don't know if you're off-road enough for those,” Jack commented.
Jeff bobbed his head and continued to look through the trunk.
“There's another one,” Jack teased.
“Yeah?” Jeff asked, glancing over his shoulder at his older father. Eagerly, he searched the trunk, finding a second envelope. Opening it, he exclaimed, “Oh, man, this is the best!”
“And you said we couldn't top last year!” Jack jested.
The teenager laughed as he put the 'paid in full' receipt for his next year of auto insurance. It was a tidy sum, considering his age, so having his parents gift him with that meant he would have more money to spend on fixing up the truck, not to mention on his other hobbies and on his girlfriend.
Daniel moved over towards Sam and Pete, who had walked over to stand near the brood by the steps that led up to the front door.
“Thanks for helping out again,” the archaeologist intoned gratefully.
“Our garage is your garage,” Pete sing-songed about the space where the goodies had been kept for the last few weeks in order to keep the presents a secret from Jeff. “As long as you pay rent.”
“Pete!” Sam chastised, giving her husband a loving pat on his upper arm. Then she looked around and asked, “Daniel, where's Noa?”
“She came down a for while, but ...”
“It's hard growing up,” Sam commented. ~I am so glad I'm not going through that stuff anymore.~
“Very,” Daniel agreed.
“Janet, come in,” Daniel greeted the next week, hugging her after she walked in the door. “How are you?”
“I'm okay. I hope you don't mind, but I thought maybe if I could just talk to Chenoa ...” Janet explained, not finishing her sentence.
“She's outside, brushing HC,” Daniel explained.
“She really loves those horses,” Janet commented as Daniel took her coat and hung it up.
“They've been the only thing she's been interested in,” Daniel responded. “She says they are her responsibility, and she won't let them down simply because her life is ...”
Seeing the archaeologist stop and look away, Janet said, “Over? Is that what she says?” Seeing her friend shrugging in confirmation, she sighed, “This is a mess. I wish I could undo it, Daniel; I really do.”
“I know what you mean,” Daniel sighed.
At that moment, Jack opened the patio door, and he and Chenoa entered the house. The little girl was subdued, as usual, and the first thing Daniel heard was a sniffle. Chenoa had cried more tears and for a much longer time than anyone had imagined was possible.
Suddenly, seeing Janet seated on the sofa, Chenoa stopped. Her face hardened, her eyes darkening and her lips pursed together as an intense frown formed.
“Noa, Aunt Janet would like to talk to you,” Daniel said quietly.
“Noa, please come sit down,” Janet requested.
Walking forward three steps, Chenoa stared at Janet, but then she stopped again, shaking her head very slowly.
**I don't know, Danny.**
“NO! I DON'T WANT TO TALK TO YOU! I HATE YOU!” Chenoa shouted at the top of her lungs before heading for the stairs.
“Chenoa Lynn, come back here,” Jack ordered as he quickly moved. “You apologize to Aunt Janet and ...”
“I WON'T! I WON'T APOLOGIZE TO THAT WOMAN! I HATE HER! I WISH SHE WAS DEAD! I HATE HER!” Chenoa yelled, turning around and running to her room.
“CHENOA LYNN, GET ...”
“Jack, no!” Daniel ordered, moving forward and physically stopping Jack from going upstairs.
“Daniel, did you hear what she said?” Jack asked.
“Yes, we all did. She's angry, and she's hurt, and forcing her to say something she doesn't feel yet won't help,” Daniel insisted forcefully.
“He's right, Jack,” Janet agreed, standing and trying hard not to cry. “I shouldn't have come, but I ... I miss her.”
“Doc, she doesn't know what she's saying,” Jack opined, trying to make excuses for the little girl. “She's just so young; she doesn't know how to move on.”
“She's a little girl, and she trusted me, and I've hurt her,” Janet said, tears welling in her eyes. “I've told Teal'c we can't get married until Chenoa is able to understand. He's not happy about that, but he's also determined to find her a new love.” The redhead looked away, shaking her head and observed, “I'm not sure what he's looking for, but he keeps saying he won't rest until he finds her an honorable Jaffa.”
“He keeps telling us that, too,” Daniel replied.
“Noa won't talk to him, either,” Janet said quietly. “I've never seen Teal'c so upset before.”
“He's taking responsibility for Chenoa's feelings,” Daniel acknowledged.
“No one knew, Doc, that Noa was this attached to Teal'c,” Jack stated.
“Yes, we did, Jack,” Janet argued. “But we thought it was a little girl's crush. We thought she would grow out of it; and, yet, she's loved him for five years. We'd ask any couple who'd been dating for five years, 'What's the holdup?'” The woman's tears finally fell as she said, “She really loves him, as much as a little girl or anyone can love, and we are the ones who didn't understand that. We dismissed her as a child who was in love with a doll,” she said in analogy. “We were so wrong, so terribly, terribly wrong. That little girl loves that stubborn Jaffa as much as I do. You know something?”
“What?” Daniel asked in a whisper.
“I think if Teal'c were younger, he might just have waited for her to grow up,” Janet surprised them in saying. “I'm not sure they weren't just cursed by fate making her a little girl and Teal'c a more mature Jaffa.”
“Yeah, subtract eighty or ninety Jaffa years,” Jack said, letting out a puff of air as he considered the possibilities.
“I love that Jaffa, Jack,” Janet professed firmly. “But in discounting Chenoa's feelings all these years, by calling it a crush, we did her a great disservice. I feel just horrible. Teal'c can't even meditate, he's so upset.”
“I know,” Daniel stated softly. “He mentioned that the other day.”
“Well, I should go, but tell Noa I love her very much, and when she's ready, I'm here,” Janet stated.
“Doc,” Jack said, moving forward to hug the woman. “She'll get over it in time.”
Janet nodded, smiling in gratitude for Jack's friendship and understanding. She turned to Daniel, who hugged her as well.
“Janet, you might want to go ahead with the wedding. I don't know how long it's going to take, Noa,” Daniel opined.
“Daniel, you promise Noa for me. Teal'c and I will not be married until she's able to at least attend. I can't do it. I've waited a long time to find someone to spend the rest of my life with, and I don't want a shadow hanging over my wedding or my marriage,” Janet stated. Taking a breath, she added, “Noa is like my daughter. The day would be incomplete without her. We'll wait.”
Holding her hand, Daniel walked her to the door, giving her a final hug before Janet headed out.
“That gives Noa a lot of power,” Jack stated when Daniel returned to the living room.
“And I'm not sure I like that because right now, she's not thinking with her heart, not her compassionate heart anyway,” Daniel remarked. “She's still suffering from the hurt.”
“Danny, we can't just let what she said go,” Jack said, referring back to Chenoa's hateful comments.
“No, but that wasn't the time, Babe,” Daniel noted. “We'll talk to her before she goes to bed.”
“When isn't she in bed?” Jack asked sarcastically. “She gets up to eat just enough food so that we won't nag at her, she does her studies, and she takes care of those two nayers outside,” he added, referring to the Shetland ponies. “Other than that, she's in bed crying.”
Daniel walked over to the fish tank and stared at the swimming fish. He prayed for answers or for anything that would help their grieving daughter.
Jack sighed and walked over, sliding his arms around the younger man as he sighed, “Time.”
“Time,” Daniel agreed as he leaned back into his husband's embrace.
A month had passed when Jack powered off the computer, leaning back in his chair as he brought the palms of his hands up to cover his eyes. He groaned, a simple release of having the job at hand done.
“Babe,” Daniel called out. “I'm taking Ash to her music lesson now.”
The older man jumped up and hurried towards the front door, smiling at their daughter.
“What song are you going to practice today?” Jack asked.
“Hmmm, maybe, 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow',” Aislinn answered.
“That's my girl,” Jack mused, loving her song choice. He gave her a kiss and said, “Having fun at your lessons?”
“Oh, yes. Mrs. Jorfski makes it lots of fun, Dad,” Aislinn answered.
“Okay,” Jack said with a smile. Looking up at Daniel, he communicated, **Just checking.**
“How are the taxes coming?” Daniel asked. “Tomorrow is the fifteenth.”
“Believe me, I know,” Jack lightly growled. He saw Daniel's look of rebuke and added, “All done. We just need to review them together tonight.”
“Good,” Daniel said. “Be back in a couple of hours.”
“Hours?” Jack quizzed.
“Daddy's taking me to get special ice cream,” Aislinn informed, beaming at the thought.
“Special ice cream?” Jack repeated.
“Three scoops!” Aislinn exclaimed with big eyes.
“Then that is special,” a smiling Jack concurred.
The lovers kissed, and then Daniel left with Aislinn.
Not wanting to look at taxes or computers any longer, Jack decided to check up on the children and see what they were up to. The ones home at the time were Brianna, David, the twins, JD, and Chenoa. All the others were at school, with friends, or with some other member of their extended family.
After spending some time with the various children he had checked up on thus far, Jack concluded with Chenoa, who was cleaning her room, one of those duties she knew she had to do in order not to nagged at by her parents. As he covertly observed the little girl, he couldn't help but notice how she'd handled herself in the past two months.
~You don't want us pestering you or making you talk. You do your schoolwork, your chores, and you come down for family dinners and functions, but only as much as you have to,~ Jack thought.
The silver-haired man stood up a little straighter as he watched Chenoa pick up the flowers Teal'c had given her some time ago.
“I hate you now, too,” Chenoa said. “I don't want you. He doesn't love me. He never loved me. He ... he lied to me.”
Jack noticed the flowers had begun to die off, which meant the little girl hadn't been putting them in fresh water for some time. He sighed as Chenoa pulled out the flowers and threw them in the garbage can.
~You're like a faded flower, Noa. Your leaves have wilted, and you've stopped blossoming. We have to find a way through this,~ Jack determined. Taking a breath, he walked in and asked, “Noa, how about we have some tea together?”
Chenoa loved her tea parties, though her special teas were always with Teal'c. The little girl looked over at her tea table and set up and shook her head.
“You can give it to Ash, if you want, Dad. I don't want to have tea parties anymore,” Chenoa announced, picking up her garbage can and heading out to empty it.
Jack shook his head in confusion. He felt lost and clueless about how to handle the situation. There was a cloud hanging over the household, and he wanted it gone.
Chapter Three: A Heart Rekindles
The room was dark, the only illumination coming from the flickering of candlelight. Ocean waves played on a sound machine.
On the floor, in the middle of a circle of candles, Teal'c sat, once again trying to meditate. Though he no longer required kelno'reem for the purposes of allowing his subconscious mind to become one with his symbiote, he still found meditation useful, and it remained a big part of his life. He counted on it to keep himself centered. Unfortunately, ever since he had caused Chenoa to hurt, he had been unable to find that place of peace within himself.
“Teal'c,” Janet called out from the doorway. “It's very late.”
“I am disturbed that I can no longer meditate, Janet,” Teal'c said as he began to extinguish the candles.
“Maybe you're trying too hard,” Janet offered.
“It is my doing that ChenoaJacksonO'Neill is in despair,” Teal'c stated calmly.
“It's not only yours; we both made a mistake,” Janet said sadly.
Teal'c looked over at his fiancée and stared intently, saying, “You do not share blame in this, Sim'ka.”
Janet let out a tiny smile, saying, “You're lucky I don't mind those old Jaffa words.”
Teal'c nodded once in appreciation as he continued to put the candles away, careful to make sure all were completely extinguished.
“Teal'c, I kept the truth from Noa, too,” Janet spoke with regret.
Rising, Teal'c walked over to Janet and said, “You were not the one who betrayed her. You were not the one who shared tea and confidences with her.”
“No, but I shared shopping trips and 'girl stuff' with her. We should have been more open,” Janet opined in retrospect. “We all knew how she felt about you.”
“We cannot change the impossible, and the past is impossible to change,” Teal'c answered, placing his hand on Janet's cheek. “I will find ChenoaJacksonO'Neill an honorable Jaffa. Then, we shall be free.”
“Free? You make it sound like a rebellion,” Janet remarked.
“My heart and mind rebel at my disgrace. As long as Chenoa is in pain because of me, I cannot rest, and neither can you, Sim'ka,” Teal'c commented.
Janet sighed, “Yes, of course, but I have surgery in the morning. I have to try to get some sleep. Please come to bed now.”
Teal'c nodded and followed Janet to the bedroom.
“Noa, Angela is hoping that you'll come over and play with her for a while,” Sara said the next day as she dropped by to check on the Jackson-O'Neills.
Chenoa was dutifully brushing Hot, but she paused and politely answered, “No, thank you, Aunt Sara. I just want to stay home.”
“Noa,” Sara said, walking over and kneeling down. She took the brush and placed it on a nearby crate and then took Chenoa's hands in hers. “Honey, I wish I could say some magic words to make you feel better.”
“I wish you could, too,” Chenoa admitted, a sniffle escaping.
“Sometimes, we have to force ourselves to do things to help make us feel better. Please, won't you come and play with Angela for just a little while? She really misses you,” Sara stated.
Chenoa blinked as she considered it, but then she responded, “I'll see her on Saturday when we go to Mike's.”
Sara sighed and regretfully accepted the little girl's decision, but still holding her hands, she replied, “Okay, but I want you to know that I love you very much, and if you ever need me or Uncle Mark or Angela, you just call us, day or night, at any time, okay?”
“I love you, Aunt Sara,” Chenoa sniffled, leaning in for a hug.
As Chenoa returned to brushing Hot, Sara slowly made her way back to the house where Jack stood on the patio, waiting.
“No luck?” Jack asked.
“No, but she thought about it for a moment. I guess that's progress,” Sara stated, looking back towards the small stable. “Jack, that little girl is one great big bundle of unhappiness, and it's breaking my heart. She's suffering an adult's pain, but without an adult's life experiences to help her cope with it.”
Jack walked down the steps of the patio and put his arm around Sara's waist, joining her in looking over at Chenoa.
“Mine, too,” Jack spoke softly. “Thanks for trying, again,” he said.
Sara, like all of the extended family, had tried to get through to Chenoa since that 'tragic' day in February when her world had gone dark. Now it was early May, and Chenoa was still lost in her sadness, still crying so much that Daniel had recently insisted on taking her to see Sylvia Preston, the family physician.
Chenoa had gotten a clean bill of health, though Sylvia warned that if she didn't start to recover from her nightmare soon, they might want to consider having her see a child psychologist.
“Angela's going to be disappointed,” Sara noted. “Anyway, Saturday at Mike's?”
“Saturday,” Jack agreed. “At least Noa's agreed to that,” he sighed. ~Never thought I'd be grateful for those beasts, but Hot and Chocolate are the only reasons she gets out of bed.~
The following Monday, Lulu sat despondently on the couch, waiting for Jack to take her to her dance lesson. The little girl was normally excited to go to her lessons, but lately, they'd lost their appeal. Part of what made the lessons so much fun was being there with her sister, Chenoa, but since that fateful day in February when Teal'c and Janet had announced their engagement, Chenoa had lost all desire to dance and refused to go to the lessons.
Lulu kept her hands clasped tightly together. She knew her sister was sad, and her parents had assured her that it had nothing to do with Lulu at all. Still, the curly-haired brunette felt abandoned, and a part of her still wondered if she was a bad sister, especially since she still loved their Aunt Janet tremendously and, in fact, had spent the afternoon with her one day the week before. It had been fun, and, for a while, Lulu had forgotten her sister's torment. That had made Lulu feel guilty, too.
As she sat all alone, the little ballerina was lonely and wished she had someone to talk to about dancing, her new doll, and, perhaps most of all, how she felt about Chenoa right now. Unfortunately, everyone in her family was busy at the moment or not at home.
Lulu turned her head to look outside and sighed.
As Jack neared the living room, he heard Lulu talking to someone. He peeked around the corner, surprised to see just the little girl, sitting alone on the sofa. Yet, Lulu was happily carrying on a conversation with someone.
“Sure you can come with me to my dance lesson, Cindy,” the little girl said.
Jack leaned forward a little more, trying to get a better view. He had to have missed someone, maybe sitting on the floor or on the other end of the furniture.
~Who's Cindy, and where the heck is she?~ Jack wondered, seeing absolutely no one in the room but his daughter.
“My dad won't mind,” Lulu said, continuing her conversation with someone Jack could not see. “He has a truck, and there's lots of room. You can sit by the window, if you want.”
For several more minutes, Jack watched and listened to Lulu chat with her invisible companion about her favorite things.
~An imaginary friend?~ Jack surmised questioningly. He glanced at his watch, realizing it was time to go or they'd be late. Taking a breath, he smiled and called out, “Lil' Bit, are you ready to go to your lesson?”
With a bright smile, Lulu squiggled off the sofa as she answered, “Sure, Dad. We're learning a new routine today.”
When Jack returned home, he approached his husband, who was dusting the shelves in the living room. He grinned, observing Daniel standing on a chair, trying to reach the top shelf. Unable to resist temptation, he reached out and grabbed his sexy spouse's six.
Daniel startled and fell backwards into Jack's arms.
“Deja vu,” the younger man chuckled, thinking back years earlier when a couple of times his lover had startled him and he had fallen into the older man's arms.
“You and those short shorts,” Jack responded with a wicked smile as he helped his lover to regain his footing.
Then, the couple shared a loving kiss.
“You really need to stop doing that Jack,” the younger man chastised gently.
“Kissing you?” Jack asked.
“Gawd, no,” Daniel replied, backing up the statement by kissing his husband. “Making me fall,” he clarified.
“You make me fall every time I look at you,” Jack seductively informed his soulmate.
“Jack, I ...”
Jack took his husband in his arms, and they lost themselves in each other for several minutes.
“Not again,” Jennifer whined teasingly in exasperation as she walked into the living room, having just returned home from school.
Smiling, the two men released each other, neither responding to their daughter's playful comment.
“Where's Jeff?” Jack inquired about their oldest son.
“He's at a meeting for the yearbook committee,” the teenager reminded. “I'm going to go do my homework.”
After the teen had left the room, Jack turned his attention back to Daniel, informing, “Lulu has an imaginary friend named Cindy. She was talking to her before I took her to her lesson.”
“Really?” Daniel inquired. “I don't think any of our children have had an imaginary friend before.”
“You don't *think*?” Jack inquired, arching his eyebrows.
“Jack, it's always possible they've had one, and we haven't known about it,” Daniel replied.
“Danny, our kids have plenty of playmates,” Jack refuted. “They're perfectly normal kids.”
“It's normal to have imaginary friends, Jack,” Daniel retorted. “Studies have shown that two-thirds of children have an invisible friend by the age of seven, and they don't always go away quickly. Some stay until the child is as old as twelve, in fact. It's actually a very creative process for a child, giving him or her a way to deal with whatever issues are facing them. I read a theory several years ago that speculated that imaginary friends morph into other forms. Maybe, uh, a diary is a personification of an imaginary friend. Some authors have also admitted that their characters take on life and become out of their control.”
“What, they write themselves?” Jack challenged, tilting his head back in disbelief.
Daniel shrugged, saying, “I don't know; I'm not an author of fiction, although a lot of people have thought I was, pyramids that are landing pads for alien ships, but then that's neither here nor there at the moment.” Seeing his lover's look of rebuff, he smiled shyly and then continued, “A lot of children have several imaginary friends, Babe.”
“When did you get to be an expert?” Jack questioned.
Chuckling, the younger man answered, “Didn't you ever read all those publications I bought when Kayla was pregnant?”
Jack couldn't help but laugh, too, remembering how a very excited but nervous father-to-be had purchased piles of children's magazines when surrogate mother Kayla Armentrout was pregnant with the Munchkins.
“Um, and, uh, I had an imaginary friend when I was about five or six,” Daniel revealed.
“You did?” Jack asked.
Moving to dust one of the lower shelves, Daniel expounded, “Yeah. A lot of times when I was on digs with my parents, I was the only child around. When Mommy and Daddy were too busy to let me tag along, I invented a friend to play with. His name was Chisisi.”
“Chi-what?” Jack asked, stumbling over the Egyptian name.
“Well, my imaginary friend was a secret, so I named him secret. In Arabic, secret is Chisisi,” Daniel explained with a smile as he ran the duster over the books on the shelves. “It also means intrigue, and having a secret friend was intriguing.”
“Mmm. I can't believe you had an imaginary friend, Danny,” Jack stated, sitting down on the arm of the sofa.
“I had a lot of fun with Chisisi; he kept me busy when my parents were too involved with the excavations,” the archaeologist commented.
“Why haven't you ever mentioned your invisible friend before,” Jack inquired.
“To be honest I haven't really thought about him for years, and the subject never came up,” Daniel answered.
“Danny, you were the only child on those digs, but Little Bit has eleven brothers and sisters to talk to and play with,” Jack put forth.
Sighing, Daniel stopped his cleaning, turning to face his husband as he responded, “Yes, but she's the closest to Noa. Jack, I think she may feel abandoned. I mean, they used to be almost inseparable ...”
“The pencil and the eraser,” Jack analogized.
Daniel smacked his lips slightly and jutted his head out just a tad before replying, “I hadn't thought of it like that, but, yes, and Lulu's eraser has been rubbed out.”
Jack nodded in agreement, asking, “So you think it is okay to let her have her *friend*?”
“It will help her cope with Noa's absence from their normal routine. Cindy will probably disappear when Noa comes to terms with Teal'c and Janet's engagement, or not, but either way, there's nothing wrong or abnormal with imaginary friends. They aren't a sign of trouble. It really shows us just how smart our daughter is. She's taken her need for companionship and used her creative outlet to create a friend. They'll probably talk everything over. She'll be fine,” Daniel assured. He handed his lover the duster he was using and said, “You finish the top ones. I need to check on JD.”
“Yes, Dear,” Jack teased, giving Daniel's buttocks a little squeeze as he walked past.
“Just one more thing to get,” Sam told the triplets, who had joined her for a trip to the grocery store a couple days later.
As the shoppers were on their way out, Little Danny spotted the various flower arrangements on display. He ran over and saw some beautiful yellow marigolds.
“Little Danny, let's go,” Sam called out.
“Aunt Sam, can I borrow some money, please?” the little boy asked.
“Uh, maybe, why?” Sam inquired as Jonny and Aislinn watched their brother curiously.
“These are pretty,” Little Danny opined. “They're bright, like the sunshine. I want to get them for Noa, to make her smile.”
Sam stared at the flowers for a moment and then smiled, saying, “Okay, one loan for flowers coming right up.”
“Thank you, Aunt Sam,” Little Danny smiled as he picked up the flowers.
“Hi, Dad, Daddy,” Little Danny said excitedly. “Where's Noa?”
“In her room,” Daniel answered, curious as to the reason for his namesake's excitement, but not yet asking about the flowers he was holding in his hands.
“I need to go see her,” Little Danny announced as he hurried up the stairs.
“Little Danny bought her flowers,” Jonny explained. “I don't understand why girls like flowers so much.”
“Because they're pretty,” Aislinn stated.
“Legos are pretty, too,” Jonny argued.
“Are not,” Aislinn argued back.
“Okay, no fighting,” Jack ordered. ~Don't we have enough bad feelings in this house already?~
~Fighting?~ Jonny and Aislinn both thought.
The siblings looked at each other quizzically, since they were just doing their normal, good-natured sibling bickering. It was something they'd grown up watching their parents do. It was innocent, playful banter that was second-nature to them.
Jack's nerves were rubbed raw with Chenoa's pain, however, and he wasn't in the mood for squabbling of any kind.
“Flowers make us feel special, too,” Aislinn commented. “Little Danny just wants Noa to know she's special.”
“She *is* special, Ash. Doesn't she know that, Dad?” Jonny asked, amazed at the notion that Chenoa might not feel special.
“Not right now, Son. Noa's confused,” Jack answered.
“Oh,” Jonny replied thoughtfully, making a tiny frown. Then he brightened and encouragingly spoke, “Come on, Ash. We have to go tell Noa she's special.”
“Okay,” Aislinn agreed, following her brother.
~If only it were that simple,~ Jack thought as he watched the Munchkins walking away. ~Still, we have to keep trying. Maybe if she hears it a hundred thousand times, or a hundred million times, it will sink in.~
“I hope you don't mind. Little Danny asked for a loan. He saw those flowers at the store and just had to get them for Noa,” Sam informed the parents.
“That's our boy,” Jack responded. “Were they any trouble?”
“The Munchkins? At the grocery store? Trouble?” Sam answered, making a funny face as she talked. “Sir, what *ever* would make you think that?”
Laughing, Sam turned around to head for home.
“Danny, what does that mean?” Jack asked.
“It means we don't want to know,” Daniel answered with a smile as he put his arm around his soulmate's waist and then leaned his head against Jack's shoulder.
“Noa, I got these for you,” Little Danny said, interrupting Chenoa's sobs.
Chenoa was sitting up, clutching a pillow tightly to her chest. Beside her were Bijou and Mittens, the young cat subbing for Katie since the younger beagle was outside, watching JD play in ToddlerTown and drying out her fur, which seemed to be constantly wet from Chenoa's tears.
Little Danny climbed up on the bed and offered her the bouquet of marigolds.
Sniffling, Chenoa put down the pillow and took the flowers. She sniffed them and smiled, though another sob came out.
“Thank you. They're very nice, Little Danny,” Chenoa said graciously, pulling the flowers close to her.
“Noa, you're special,” Jonny blurted out as he and Aislinn entered the bedroom. “You're our sister, and we think you're special,” he repeated.
“I don't feel special, not anymore,” Chenoa responded.
Aislinn climbed up onto the bed and sat down next to her, saying, “Teal'c still loves you; he just loves Aunt Janet in a grown up way.”
“But he was mine, Ash,” Chenoa argued. “I love him.”
“I'm sorry, Noa,” Aislinn said, leaning her head against her sister's shoulder, not knowing what else to say.
“Me, too,” Little Danny said. “I was hoping the flowers would make you happy,” he spoke dejectedly.
“I love the flowers,” Chenoa stated, forcing a smile onto her face, wanting her siblings to feel better. “I need water for them,” she sniffled.
“I'll get it,” Jonny offered, turning and running out to get a vase and water from their parents.
“Teal'c didn't mean to make you cry,” Little Danny sighed.
Chenoa just nodded, not knowing what she believed anymore. All she knew was that she felt empty inside, except for her anger towards Janet, which hadn't lessened one bit since the fifteenth of February.
The next day, Daniel was walking past the dance studio when he heard Lulu talking to her imaginary friend.
The little girl didn't know that her parents were aware of her invisible buddy. She was sure she'd been good at keeping it a secret.
Daniel smiled, but that smile quickly faded when he got closer and heard Lulu start to cry.
“I miss my sister, Cindy. We always had fun dancing and playing hopscotch, but now all Noa does is cry. I wish I knew how to make her feel better. I'm not a very good sister, no matter what Dad and Daddy say,” Lulu sobbed.
Daniel turned around and went upstairs to the bedroom he shared with his husband. There, Jack was putting clean sheets on the bed.
“I thought you were going to get the comforter from the dryer,” Jack questioned as he put a clean pillowcase on Daniel's pillow.
“Jack, we really need to talk to Lulu,” Daniel stated, after which he told his lover what he had overheard.
“I thought we explained that she wasn't a bad sister,” Jack sighed.
“She's a little girl, Babe. Her brain knows one thing and her heart another,” Daniel lamented.
Jack put down Daniel's pillow, and the couple went downstairs to talk with their daughter.
“Lulu, we'd like to have a little chat,” Jack said, sitting down on the bench next to her and pulling her onto his lap.
Lulu was still sniffling, but had managed to stop her tears when she heard her fathers talking as they neared the dance studio.
“Lil' Bit, I heard you talking to Cindy earlier ...” Daniel began, kneeling down in front of them.
Lulu gasped, “I'm sorry, Daddy. I won't talk to her anymore. I'm sor...”
“Whoa there,” Jack interrupted, bouncing her one time on his lap as he gently shushed her. “Princess, you can talk to Cindy anytime you want to.”
The archaeologist looked to the right, where he assumed the imaginary friend would be and said, “And, Cindy, you can talk to Lulu whenever you want.”
Jack looked a bit chagrined, but Lulu smiled slightly.
After a moment, the older man continued, “What we want to talk to you about is something Daddy heard you tell her when he was walking by a few minutes ago.”
“You are not a bad sister, Lulu,” Daniel assured. “Everyone has tried to make Noa feel better -- Dad, all your brothers and sisters, Aunt Sara, Grandpa George, Uncle Pete, me -- but none of us have been able to make her smile, either. Do you think that makes Dad and I bad fathers -- because we haven't been able to make Chenoa feel better?” He saw the little girl's eyes widen. “Or does it make Grandpa George a bad grandpa?”
“And what about your other brothers and sisters?” Jack queried. “Little Danny bought Noa flowers, Ash wrote her a special song, Jen made her a dancing outfit, Jonny even gave her his favorite airplane ...”
“No matter what we've tried, Noa is still sad,” Daniel pointed out. “Does that make the rest of brood bad siblings for not being able to cheer Noa up?”
“Oh, noooo!” Lulu answered emphatically, shaking her head. “You and Dad are the best Dad and Daddy ever, and Grandpa George is the best Grandpa and Aunt Sara is ...” Just then the dark-haired girl realized what her parents were trying to tell her. She sighed, “No one can make Noa feel better right now because her heart is too sad.”
“That's right,” Jack confirmed, placing a kiss on her forehead just as Daniel reached out to hold her hand. “Does Cindy like to dance, too?”
Lulu was smiling, happy that her parents were not mad about her friend. She sat on Jack's lap for the next half hour, telling her parents all about Cindy. In fact, just as Daniel had surmised, Cindy was right there next to Lulu, often telling the little girl what to tell her two fathers. It was a warm and fun four-way conversation.
Jack and Daniel knew they still had to keep an eye on Lulu, but they believed their precious daughter now understood once and for all that she was not a bad sister.
“Don't judge it until you've tried it, Cindy,” Jack insisted, ending their discussion on a type of dance that happened not to be one of Cindy's favorites.
“Dad, Daddy, Cindy and I need to clean our room before ice cream time. May we be excused?” Lulu asked.
“Yes, you may,” Jack answered, giving Lulu a hug, something Daniel did as well.
“No running, Cindy,” Daniel called out when Lulu hurried out of the room.
Lulu stopped, looking back at her father, and smiled. Her parents really did like her new friend, and that made her feel good inside.
“Cindy, they don't like us to run; we might fall and get hurt. Come on,” Lulu told her transparent friend.
“How'd you know Cindy was running?” Jack asked.
“Just a hunch,” Daniel replied, standing and starting to walk out. After a moment, he looked at his husband and questioned, “Hip hop?”
“Don't you ever watch any of those dance shows?” the older man asked. “It's all about attitude.”
“Attitude?” Daniel questioned. He paused; then said, “Okay, uh, well, the next family show we put on, you're performing ... hip hop,” while shaking his head in amusement.
“Danny, what happened to Chisisi?” Jack asked, his lightheartedness now a bit solemn.
Near the doorway, the younger man froze, bowing his head for a moment before he turned around to look at his husband.
“He died with my parents,” Daniel answered softly. He looked down for a moment before explaining, “When I was sitting against the wall, watching them try to revive my parents, I saw him. He stared at me. He cried, and then he just ... he just faded away.”
“You were alone after that,” Jack spoke, getting up and moving to his lover.
Daniel gazed into his husband's eyes and replied, “The really wonderful thing about life is that when it's bad, it can get better. I'm not alone now, Jack.”
Jack took hold of Daniel's hands and then leaned in for a short, sweet kiss.
“Chisisi was someone who kept me company when I needed him to in Egypt. When my folks died, I didn't believe I'd ever walk the pyramids again. Mommy and Daddy died, so I let Chisisi die with them,” Daniel stated. “Lulu needs Cindy right now because she's always there when needed.”
“I love you, Angel,” Jack intoned tenderly.
“I love you, too,” Daniel replied, sharing another kiss before turning to continue his chores. He'd only gone a few feet when he heard his husband mutter something. ~What did he say?~
Jack cocked his head to his left as he stood with his hands in his pocket. His expression was a cross between innocence and arrogance, something not easily accomplished.
“Bobby Blowfish,” Jack mumbled for the second time.
“Bobby ... Blowfish?” Daniel asked.
“Whenever I was at my grandfather's cabin, our cabin in Minnesota, I'd sit on the dock and talk to Bobby Blowfish. So, shoot me. A fish is a good listener,” Jack said in defense of his imaginary playmate. “I told him my secrets, like where I hid my favorite reused piece of bubblegum.”
Daniel chuckled, “That's probably the biggest reason why you never catch a fish.”
“Can't kill a friend, Danny,” Jack pointed out with a smile. “I gotta tell ya, though, that was the funniest fish I've ever seen.” He chuckled as he walked passed his lover, the two finally intent on finishing their chores. “He had a great, big blue fin and giant blue eyes.” He paused suddenly and looked at his lover while saying, “Come to think of it ...”
“Jack, don't say it, or you won't be *blowing* on anything for a long, long time!” Daniel warned.
Laughing, the two men moved forward with their day.
It was three in the morning two days later at the Frasier residence when Teal'c's eyelids flew open, and he bolted upright to a sitting position.
“Teal'c? Is something wrong?” Janet asked as she sat up.
“I have found the answer,” the Jaffa replied. “The answer was within me all the time. I was just too proud to see,” he stated.
“I don't understand,” Janet replied.
“You will, but now I must go,” Teal'c spoke before leaning over and kissing his bride-to-be.
“Now?” Janet asked with wide eyes as she looked over at the clock.
“Do not worry, Sim'ka,” Teal'c responded as he got up out of the bed. “I will be gone for a few days, but when I return, things will be right once again with ChenoaJacksonO'Neill.”
“Teal'c, what are you planning?” Janet inquired. “What do you mean by being too proud?”
“I will explain when I return. Do not worry,” the Jaffa stated, a smile on his face.
Janet sighed, well aware that her fiancé had been trying to solve Chenoa's 'problem' for months. He'd run into a few stumbling blocks with his initial plan of finding Chenoa an honorable Jaffa, but now, he seemed so confident. Silently, she prayed her lover was right. It was true, Teal'c was a very proud Jaffa, but she still didn't understand how that applied to the ongoing situation. Nevertheless, if a bit of humility was somehow the answer, she was all for it. She wanted to marry Teal'c, but she just couldn't, not until Chenoa's pain had lessened.
Later that morning, General Hammond dropped by the Jackson-O'Neill residence. Like the rest of the extended family, he, too, had been by several times to check on Chenoa. Sadly, he hadn't had any better luck than anyone else in getting through to her, although she had cried on his shoulder for a very long time, and she did so again today.
“Jack, I don't know what to do,” Hammond lamented. “My granddaughters always liked to go shopping when they were feeling low. I was hoping the new dress I bought for Chenoa would raise her spirits.”
“We don't know what to do, either,” Jack responded as he walked Hammond to his car. “It's a lovely dress. Thank you for making the attempt, George.”
“Tell Jeff and David I'll be expecting them at my house on Saturday; we'll make a day of it,” Hammond stated, smiling and looking forward to spending some time with his two surrogate grandsons.
“They'll be there,” Jack agreed and then watched as Hammond headed for his home.
“Seven years old, and she thinks her life is over,” Jack sighed as he approached Daniel in the kitchen.
Daniel was in the early stages of preparing their Wednesday dinner for the family, though the only children at home at the moment were Jennifer, Chenoa, and JD. The others were out with various members of their extended family or with other homeschooling families.
“Crying again?” Daniel asked about Chenoa. “Or, should I say, still crying?”
Jack nodded and sighed, “Danny, maybe we need help.”
Daniel looked over at his husband with surprise, saying, “I can't believe you said that.”
“You don't think she does?” Jack asked.
“No, I just mean I'm surprised that you think that,” the archaeologist responded.
“All I'm saying is that I don't know if this is healthy. It's been three months today, three months of tears, tears, and more tears; and nothing we've tried has worked. Everyone we know has done their best to make her feel better, but nothing has worked. Noa does only what we absolutely require of her. Crap, Danny, ever since I came down on her for calling Janet 'that woman', she won't even talk to or about Janet. The last time I got her to say anything, she said she wished Janet would disappear.”
“Yeah, she said the same to me the last time I got her to talk about it, too,” Daniel stated sadly. “Frankly, what worries me more than her tears is that the only strong emotions she's feeling are hatred and anger toward Janet. I don't know, Babe. I guess maybe we should consider calling that referral Sylvia gave us ...”
Daniel's words were cut of by the sound of a knock at the door.
“Wonder who that could be,” Jack said, grabbing a cracker to munch on as he walked to the door.
Curious, Daniel put down the large bag of rice and followed the other man, surprised to see Teal'c and a young boy standing in the entranceway of their home.
“We have come to see ChenoaJacksonO'Neill,” Teal'c announced proudly.
“Teal'c,” Jack began.
“She must see us,” Teal'c insisted, walking past Jack without waiting to be invited in and leading the boy into the living room. He loudly called out, “CHENOAJACKSONO'NEILL, I REQUIRE YOUR PRESENCE.”
Jack and Daniel were amazed to see that within seconds, Chenoa stood at the top of the stairs, staring down at her first love. He was all she saw.
Teal'c hadn't seen the little girl in several weeks, not wanting to inflict more pain on her. Seeing her puffy eyes and broken spirit, he wept inside. She was wearing a pair of jeans with a gray shirt hanging loose. It was a look he rarely saw on the girl, who loved to dress up and wear pretty things. Still, he knew the answer to his young friend's heartbreak was here, standing behind him.
“ChenoaJacksonO'Neill, I have someone I wish you to meet,” Teal'c said.
Slowly, Chenoa descended the staircase. Her eyes were solely focused on Teal'c as she moved from step-to-step-to-step.
When the little girl stood directly in front of Teal'c, looking up at his tall figure, Teal'c said in a soft voice rarely heard, “I regret that I have caused you such pain, Chenoa. Your strength and spirit are noble traits. I let you down. I failed you. For this, I beg your forgiveness.”
Teal'c bowed his head, hoping for words that didn't come.
**Danny, do you know what's going on?**
**Not a clue,** Daniel answered.
“I have found you a more noble Jaffa, one with the highest degree of honor. He will keep you safe. He will protect you. He will love you as you deserve to be loved,” Teal'c said.
Chenoa's mouth opened when a boy emerged from behind Teal'c's shadow.
“I am K'hang of the Alpine Mesa,” the boy greeted, standing tall and strong as he bowed his head.
The little girl studied the boy carefully and then briefly she looked up at
Teal'c. She took a breath as she looked again at K'hang.
“I am Chenoa of Colorado Springs,” the surprised girl finally greeted, her voice soft and warm.
“We have much to discuss, Chenoa, in preparation for our marriage,” K'hang stated with a joyful-sounding voice.
“Marriage?” Jack exclaimed. “MARRIAGE?”
“Not until we are older, of course,” K'hang calmly told a stunned Jack. “First, we will get to know each other. We'll play, have fun, and gain respect. We will become friends and playmates.”
“Play is good,” Jack nervously opined.
“We must perform many rites of passage, but when we are of age, Chenoa will be my bride,” the boy announced matter-of-factly, but with a pride in his voice as he gazed at the little girl. “You are correct, Grandfather. Chenoa is shw-za.”
“Shw-za?” Jack whispered as he leaned in towards Daniel.
“Ah, pretty, special, unique -- it means a lot of things,” the linguist answered.
“Why do they do that? A word should mean ...”
“Jack,” Daniel rebuffed. “Focus.”
“K'hang is my grandson,” Teal'c explained to his friends once they had finished talking.
“That's K'hang?” a surprised Daniel asked. ~When did he grow up?~
Teal'c continued, “I have discussed this at length with K'hang, and we are agreed. He will be an honorable husband for ChenoaJacksonO'Neill.”
“Husband?” Jack questioned in disbelief. “I donnmmstttttt ...”
Jack found a hand over his mouth, silencing his words. He stared at Daniel in complete shock at his action.
“I'll be right back,” Chenoa said quietly, taking two steps backwards and then hurrying upstairs.
When Jack pried his husband's hand away, he glared, “Daniel ...”
“Jack, we have company,” Daniel said calmly. “K'hang, your parents are ...”
“He is the son of Rya'c and Kar'yn,” Teal'c affirmed, giving the name of his son and daughter-in-law.
“This kid is Rya'c's? He was just a baby when we saw him,” Jack noted in disbelief.
“That was many years ago, O'Neill.”
“Time flies,” Jack said offhandedly, suddenly realizing that though they'd seen Rya'c a few times over the years, they hadn't seen K'hang since he was two. Accepting that they were a bit behind the age times, he moved on, pointedly asking, “He's a little young to be married, don't you think?”
“They will be sha'mac,” Teal'c answered.
“Which means?” Jack asked, wanting to pull his hair out in frustration.
“It is the promise to wed when of age,” Teal'c answered.
“I am honored to be chosen to be the sha'mac of Chenoa,” K'hang announced proudly, his head held high.
Jack replied, “I didn't ...” He paused; then groused, “I mean *we* haven't chosen you for anything and certainly not for our daughtmmmfff...”
Daniel smiled and then, after taking his hand away from Jack's mouth, he chided, “Jack, don't be rude. K'hang is a guest, and he's Teal'c's grandson.”
“Young, too young,” Jack said, dismissing the entire idea.
“K'hang is seven years. On Chulak, that is the age at which sha'mac may be arranged, if all parties involved agree,” Teal'c informed.
“This is so *not* going to ...” Jack began.
“Hello, K'hang,” Chenoa greeted again as she walked down the stairs, a smile on her face.
Jack's tantrum ceased as his eyes bugged out.
**Yes, that is our daughter.**
**Yes,** Daniel answered, smiling himself now.
**In the dress Hammond bought for her?**
**That would be the one,** Daniel acknowledged.
“Chenoa,” K'hang said, bowing. “You honor me with your beauty.”
Still smiling, Chenoa looked at Daniel and asked, “Daddy, may K'hang come upstairs and have tea, please?”
“Uh, yes, of course,” Daniel answered. “I'll bring some up in a couple of minutes.”
“Thank you, Daddy. The cinnamon tea, please,” Chenoa requested.
“Sure,” Daniel agreed.
“Daniel, I don'tthnkmmmff...”
Jack's words were again cut off by a hand over his mouth.
“Go ahead, Chenoa,” Daniel encouraged, nodding.
“This way, K'hang,” Chenoa invited, leading him up the stairs. As she got halfway, she stopped. Turning, she looked back down at K'hang's grandfather. With one tear escaping, the little girl stated, “I will always love you first, Teal'c.”
Chenoa sniffled one last time, but as she did, K'hang reached over and wiped her cheek.
“Tears only upset your heart and wet your face, Chenoa. You are much too shw-za for that. Shall we go have our tea now and play together?” the boy asked.
“Okay,” Chenoa agreed, giving Teal'c one last tender look of longing before moving forward, literally and figuratively, with her life. “What's ... what's that word you keep saying?” she asked as they disappeared from the sight of the adults.
“Look,” Jack said. “I'm sure he's a great kid, Teal'c, but Noa is so nottttttttmmffff...”
“Jack, be quiet,” Daniel ordered, his hand once again covering the older man's mouth. “Teal'c, I guess it has been a while since we've seen Rya'c and Kar'yn.”
“Yes, Rya'c's obligations preclude him from visiting Earth as much as he would like,” Teal'c confirmed.
“I, uh, I don't even think we've met their last two children,” Daniel noted as he thought back.
“That is correct, DanielJackson. Rya'c is the happy father of four healthy sons. Perhaps now you will have the opportunity to meet K'hang's siblings,” Teal'c spoke hopefully.
“I'd like that,” Daniel replied with a smile. “Teal'c, about K'hang and Chenoa ...”
“K'hang is the oldest of my grandchildren, and I have endeavored to teach him the best of our ways, the old and the new,” Teal'c explained. “He will make ChenoaJacksonO'Neill happy; it is my pledge.”
“You're not the one marrying her,” Jack challenged. Then he grimaced, realizing what he had just said. “Marrying? She's seven-years-old.”
“And right now, she needs some tea,” Daniel commented, smiling. “Excuse me.”
“Daniel!” Jack called out. “DANNY!”
“In our culture, the sha'mac lasts ten years, but my grandfather said you will not yet be of age then, so we will have to wait an extra year,” K'hang revealed as he sipped his tea.
“That's okay,” Chenoa spoke. “Do you like your tea?”
“It is most pleasing,” K'hang answered. He saw sadness in the eyes of his betrothed and said, “You had teas often with my grandfather.”
Lowering her head, Chenoa nodded, saying, “Yes, many times.”
“Chenoa, my grandfather begs your forgiveness for his dishonor,” K'hang said.
Chenoa looked up, saying, “He wasn't dishonorable. He just ... wasn't honest.”
“He has told me that were he a young warrior, he would want no other but you,” K'hang said.
“Really? He said that?” Chenoa asked.
“My grandfather told me that you were special and were always to be honored and cherished. He is right,” the boy acknowledged with a bow of his head that was very reminiscent of Teal'c.
“What do you do on Chulak?” the little girl asked.
“I do not live on Chulak, but I go there for training and to prepare for manhood. Now I will do so with a new purpose that gives me strength and endurance. I shall learn well, grow strong, and prepare the way for us, my Shu'te,” K'hang said.
“Shuuu ... what?” Chenoa asked quizzically, her head cocking a bit as she tried to decipher the new word.
“Shu'te means blossom. You are my beautiful blossom, Chenoa of Colorado Springs. For now, we will play and get to know each other. Our friendship will blossom, and then ...” K'hang opined, not finishing his sentence, but just smiling instead.
Chenoa smiled and asked, “More tea?”
“You worry too much, O'Neill,” Teal'c stated as he stood by the fish tank.
“*She's seven*!” Jack barked.
“Dad, Daddy!” Chenoa called out, appearing at the top of the stairs.
“What is it, Noa?” Daniel asked, a weight lifting from his heart as he noted Chenoa's smile.
“May I please take K'hang onto the little balcony in front of David's room? I promise we'll be very careful,” Chenoa stated.
“Noa ...” Jack began, a refusal in his tone, only to be interrupted by his husband.
“Yes, Noa, you may. Do you remember the code?” Daniel inquired about the code needed to unlock the door that led to a small balcony that encircled the outside of David's room.
“Yes, I remember,” Chenoa answered.
“Okay, then you may go out there for a few minutes,” Daniel spoke, ignoring his husband's disapproving glare.
“Thank you, Daddy,” Chenoa responded. Turning, she said, “I can show you everything from the balcony, K'hang.”
“Jack, I know you love TV, so I'm sure you've heard this line before -- stifle yourself!” Daniel ordered with a glare before plopping down on the sofa.
“Stifle myself?” Jack asked in stunned surprise.
“I believe he means you should ...” Teal'c began.
“I *know* what he means, Teal'c,” Jack said harshly as he moved to stand in front of the sofa and coffee table.
“When Dad and Daddy first added on to our house, they thought they were going to have to destroy the deck they have by their bedroom,” Chenoa explained. “They thought they'd only have this area,” she explained as she stood on a chair and pressed the code into the security box that kept the door to the small balcony locked. “Now, it's just for us.”
Walking along the small walkway, the two children moved to the front of the balcony, overlooking the backyard.
“This is all yours?” K'hang asked about the huge backyard.
Chenoa nodded and continued to tell her new suitor about the yard and the renovation to their home.
“My grandfather has told me the Tau'ri have many great cities, places called Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, At...”
“I don't like New York City,” Chenoa said, interrupting K'hang's words and hugging herself.
K'hang turned to face her and asked, “Why, Shu'te?”
“My parents died there,” Chenoa answered and then explained about her birth parents. “And so did Daddy's.”
“I am sorry for your loss and that I shall know of your birth parents only through you,” K'hang spoke comfortingly. “But no place is better than us, Chenoa,” K'hang said thoughtfully. “My grandfather has taught me that we are free, slaves to no one and no place.” With resolve, the young boy added, “When we are wed, we will go to this New York City together and be free, you and me.”
Chenoa smiled weakly, having never before been willing to consider the possibility, but, somehow, she felt a strange thing happening within herself. K'hang was so sure, so positive in his stance that she opened her mind and thought that perhaps, she would go to New York City with this boy.
“I like the stars. Sometimes, Dad lets me look through his telescope. He tells me lots of stories about the constellations,” Chenoa commented.
“The skies can tell us a lot, but most of our stories are about strength and being a good warrior,” K'hang responded.
Chenoa replied, “Do you want to be a warrior?”
“I want to be like my grandfather. He is a warrior,” K'hang noted.
“But ... if you're always fighting ...”
“No, I do not want to fight, but I do want my people to be free. From the moment I could talk, I have stories about the Jaffa and how we were enslaved by the Goa'uld. Do you know of the Goa'uld?”
The little girl nodded, but clarified, “Not very much. Dad and Daddy don't like us to know about scary things.”
“The Goa'uld are scary, but they no longer have power over us,” K'hang spoke.
“What else do you like to do?”
K'hang smiled, answering, “I like to build things. Perhaps one day we will have a grand house like this, and I will build it. I will leave an opening so that you may always see the stars.”
Chenoa grinned and continued to talk with her new friend about the things they liked.
“You must come to Chulak, Shu'te, so we may perform the Rite of Je'ming,” K'hang said.
“What is that?” Chenoa asked.
“It is my promise to learn about life and gain all that I can for our future life together,” K'hang answered. “Like my grandfather, I will be a great warrior, one of honor.” He smiled, then added, “Chenoa, being a warrior does not mean I will be fighting all the time. I hope never to have to fight, but if I do, I want to do it well. Being a young warrior means living proudly, being trustworthy ...”
“Do I have to promise that, too?” Chenoa asked, interrupting K'hang, knowing her heart still belonged to Teal'c.
“No,” K'hang answered. “I must prove I am worthy of you. You need only be there to accept my intent. You, Shu'te, are not bound, especially if I fail to be honorable.” He paused, then hesitantly added, “Or if your heart takes you to another.”
Chenoa blinked; then whispered, “My heart belongs to Teal'c.”
K'hang smiled and replied confidently, “I will change that, Shu'te. You will see.”
The little girl smiled, and K'hang took her hand, saying, “As my grandfather says, we are the masters of our universe, and together, we will conquer all that try to stand in our way.”
“Daniel, I don't ...” Jack paused, seeing Chenoa and K'hang coming down the stairs.
“K'hang?” Teal'c called out.
“Grandfather, Chenoa is all you said, and much more,” K'hang answered with pride. “She is my Shu'te, and we will go to Chulak and perform the Rite of Je'ming.”
“Chulak?” Daniel questioned. “But Rya'c and Kar'yn don't live on Chulak.”
“Chulak is the beginning of our family,” K'hang explained. “My parents will attend, as will Chenoa's.”
“We will?” Jack questioned. “Daniel!”
“Ah, Teal'c?” Daniel asked. “What is the Rite of Je'ming?”
“It is a pledging ceremony where K'hang will promise to become a warrior of great nobility and honor. He will vow to do all he can for the happiness and safety of ChenoaJacksonO'Neill,” Teal'c answered.
“And ... Noa? What does she pledge?” Daniel asked cautiously.
“Only to accept my pledge,” K'hang answered.
Teal'c clarified, “ChenoaJacksonO'Neill is under no obligation to make such a promise to K'hang. Her only duty is to agree to let him honor her until such time as they are married and make more intimate pledges.”
“Or if her heart takes her from me,” K'hang stated. Bringing his hands together behind his back much as Teal'c so often did, he added confidently, “I shall not allow that to happen.”
“She's seven years old,” Jack said in a strained voice.
“Noa, how do you feel about his?” Daniel asked.
“I think ... I think ... I think I want to play with K'hang some more,,” Chenoa answered, smiling at the boy. “Will you come back for tea next week?”
K'hang bowed his head, answering, “It would be my honor. I will teach you the game of stone and marbles.”
“I don't know that game,” Chenoa responded.
“It's a little like Jacks, Noa,” Daniel spoke, having learned about the game in his studies of the Jaffa.
“Oh, I'm good at that,” Chenoa pronounced.
“You will like stone and marbles then,” K'hang said. He added, “We can also plan our trip to Chulak.”
“Yes, K'hang,” Chenoa replied.
“She didn't say she wanted to go,” Jack groused.
“She didn't say she didn't, either,” Daniel added.
“Daniel,” the older man stated sharply, glancing at his lover.
“Jack,” the younger man replied, equally sharply and with a warning in his tone.
“We will have tea next week, and then Chenoa will agree to the rite,” K'hang confidently spoke.
Chenoa smiled, saying, “I'll be waiting, K'hang.”
“It is time to go,” Teal'c announced. Looking at Chenoa, he said, “I hope one day to have your forgiveness, ChenoaJacksonO'Neill.”
Chenoa gave him a small, sad smile, but her eyes were dry, something Daniel took note of immediately.
“Goodbye, Teal'c,” Chenoa said quietly.
“DanielIdon'thnkmmfff...” Jack began, Daniel's hand once again blocking him from speaking.
“Teal'c, we'll talk to you tomorrow,” Daniel announced as he walked the two Jaffa to the door, forcing his husband to walk with him since his hand still covered Jack's mouth.
“I have to change my clothes,” Chenoa stated when their visitors were gone. “I want to brush HC before Lulu gets home so we can practice dance steps together.”
Smiling, the little girl walked up the stairs, leaving Jack gaping at her as she disappeared from his sight.
“Well, that was, uh, interesting,” Daniel commented.
Brought back to reality, Jack began to argue once again, saying, “Daniel, our daughter is not getting engaged at the ripe old age of seven.”
“Of course not, Babe. Want to help me make dinner?” Daniel asked as he headed for the kitchen.
“She's too young,” Jack refuted, following his Love.
“Of course, she is,” Daniel said. “Would you start on the salads?'
Reaching into the refrigerator for the necessary ingredients, Jack whined, “It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.”
“Of course, it is, Jack. Rice or corn?” Daniel asked.
“Corn,” Jack answered flatly.
“It's not going to happen, Daniel,” Jack maintained.
“No, of course, it's not,” Daniel agreed. “Broiled or fried?”
“Broiled. He talks like he's thirty,” Jack complained.
“Different culture, Jack. The Jaffa have always been more formal. Remember Rya'c when we first met him?” Daniel reminded.
“Yeah, but he still liked baseball,” Jack responded.
“Maybe K'hang does, too. Ask him,” Daniel challenged. “He'll be here for tea next week.”
Jack let out a huge sigh, thinking, ~I *so* don't like this.~
The next week went on in pretty much the same fashion, Jack whining and Daniel placating him.
Chenoa, for the first time in three long, dark months, began to return to her normal routine, dancing daily with her sister, partaking in the family ritual of nightly ice cream, and talking every day with her best friend, Angela.
Teal'c had finally been able to meditate, much to Janet's relief since she had been losing sleep herself with the large, restless Jaffa in her bed. He had twice been over to the Jackson-O'Neill's to discuss K'hang and the trip to Chulak, and both times, Chenoa had been polite, though still quiet and a bit hesitant around her first love.
Bijou returned to watching over JD, and Katie was grateful her fur wasn't soggy all the time anymore.
On the down side, Chenoa still wouldn't see Janet, her scowl continuing to be present whenever Janet was mentioned. She continued to refer to the SGC doctor as 'that woman', though she had again been reprimanded by Jack for doing so. Especially sad for her parents was that when Chenoa spoke her nightly prayers, Janet was omitted, as she had been since the fifteenth of February.
Daniel had been hopeful that since Chenoa was returning more and more to her normal routine and enjoying it, that her intense negative feelings toward Janet would begin to fade.
On Sunday, K'hang returned for his second tea with Chenoa. Once again, they emerged from their tea holding hands, the little girl smiling.
“Parents of Chenoa, I honorably request your permission for the Rite of Je'ming to take place one week from today,” K'hang requested as he bowed his head.
“Oh, noooomsopedan...” Jack began, his words mumbled and tripping over one another as for the hundredth time in the past seven days, Daniel's hand covered his mouth.
“We'll discuss that with your grandfather,” Daniel stated, glancing over at Teal'c, who bowed his head.
When the two Jaffa were gone, Chenoa smiled and asked, “Dad, Daddy, can we go shopping? I need new clothes for the ceremony.”
“Jack!” Daniel said, again putting his hand over his husband's mouth.
“Sweetie, we'll discuss it later tonight,” Daniel answered.
“Okay,” Chenoa replied, heading back upstairs.
Pulling Daniel's hand away, Jack said, “Daniel, I love you, but if you do that one more time, you're gonna get that hand bitten.” ~Along with something else!~
“Jack, listen,” Daniel commanded.
“What? I don't hear anything,” Jack snapped.
“Exactly. It's quiet,” Daniel stated, his eyes bearing into his lover's. “Quiet, Jack. It's peacefully quiet.”
“She's not crying,” Jack softly responded, amazed at the realization.
“Exactly. For three months, our daughter cried. Her heart ached, and her soul was so empty, that all she could do was cry,” Daniel spoke emotionally. “She's living again. I do *not* want those tears back.”
“Neither do I,” Jack said. “But she's just seven years old, Daniel. You want our daughter to get married at seven?”
Daniel smiled as he turned and walked towards the fish tank, saying, “She's not getting married. It's a simple tradition that binds K'hang, not Noa.”
“It's still an engagement,” Jack argued.
“No, it's not,” Daniel refuted. “Babe, look,” he said, grabbing a rubber band from a bookshelf and twisting it in his hands. “Let's say it was some kind of early commitment. Arranged marriages go back a long way. Noblemen sought to combine their kingdoms by marrying their children to someone they didn't know from an unfamiliar land.”
“She's my little girl!” Jack exclaimed.
“I know,” Daniel responded. “She's my little girl, too, Love, and she's happy again.” He paused, sighing for a moment. “Jack, arranged marriages were common through the eighteenth century, and in some parts of the world,” the archaeologist continued his discourse, “India, South Asia, Pakistan, just to name a few -- it's still practiced. In India, it's related to their caste system, not wanting their children to marry beneath them. Dating was a taboo. Even though they've abolished arranged marriages, parents still discourage their children from marrying someone outside their economic or social group. Islamic cultures value social standing, background, family opinion -- the parents still arrange those marriages. Of course, Muslim men still sometimes have more than one wife.”
“Daniel, our daughter is not going to marry a polygamist!” Jack exclaimed.
“No, she's not,” Daniel agreed. “All I'm saying is that arranged marriages aren't always a bad thing. Cambodian courtship practices are quite different from ours, too. Their children are betrothed when very young, simply by their parents making promises to one another.”
“I've seen the movie,” Jack said, referring to the classic musical, 'Fiddler on the Roof'. “The father lost,” he added with a frown.
Daniel continued, “The truth is that people who get married this way go into their lives together without a lot of preconceived notions or expectations. A lot of people think the marriages survive longer than non-arranged marriages as a result. I mean, uh, people marry into the same religion, political structures, socio and economic classes, and basically wanting the same thing out of life. We've seen it off-world, too.”
“Daniel, we're talking about our daughter, here on Earth, in America,” Jack maintained.
The younger man smiled, responding, “Yes, we are, and I'm not advocating that Noa make a life-long commitment here at age seven, but if she wants to go to Chulak and let K'hang make a pledge to be the best person he can be, and, Jack, that really is what he's promising, then what's the harm? She's under absolutely no obligation, not by the laws of the Jaffa or Earth. We let her go, and we let her continue to see K'hang, and we also keep talking to her, a lot, Jack. We remind her that she is free to do whatever she wants, and when she's old enough to date, she'll probably ...”
“I don't want to think about it,” Jack growled. “Jennifer's challenge enough.”
Daniel laughed, “Babe, I hate to tell you this, but we've only just begun.”
Jack finally smiled, looking over at one of the family portraits, filled with Jackson-O'Neill females.
“Yeah, I guess you're right,” Jack sighed.
Daniel walked to his husband, leaning in for a kiss and then saying, “I love you, Jack.”
“I love you, Angel,” Jack replied and then engaged in a more passionate kiss. “Danny, we still have to fix this with Janet. Every time she comes over, Noa ignores her.”
“We might have to force it, but I don't want to do that unless we have to. Let's give her some time now that ...”
“Life isn't over at seven?” Jack lightly mused.
“Danny, let's compromise,” Jack suggested.
“Okay, how?” the younger man asked.
“We've only met this kid twice. Granted,” Jack said, holding up his hand, “he's Teal'c's grandson, but still, Noa has only spent a few hours with him. Let's hold off on this rite business until the end of summer. If Noa wants to go through with it then, we let her, provided she's made up with Janet.”
“Blackmail? Bribery? What's up with that?” Daniel questioned.
“Not really, Danny. Janet and Teal'c have put their happiness on hold because of Noa. It seems to me that what's good for the gander is good for the goose,” Jack spoke unabashedly, purposefully switching around the popular expression.
Daniel smiled at the cliché, saying, “If Janet and Teal'c can't be happy, then why should Noa? Is that what you're saying?”
“She's *seven*, Daniel. It won't kill her to wait a while. She needs to grow up a little, and forgiving Janet would go a long way in that growing up.”
“And in the meantime?” Daniel asked.
“We let them play, visit, whatever,” Jack answered.
“I can go along with that,” the archaeologist agreed. “Let's, uh, seal the deal.”
“I like how you think, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill,” Jack chirped before the two kissed some more.
Three weeks later, Chenoa sat on Sam's lap as they listened to a concert in a downtown park. It was summertime, and the day was beautiful.
“... and K'hang likes horses, too. He says because I love them so much that we will always have them, big ones, too, but also little ones like Hot and Chocolate,” Chenoa said as she continued to ramble on about the little boy who was trying to win her heart.
With her arms around Chenoa's waist, Sam stated, “It sounds like you really do like him, Noa.”
“He's very nice, Aunt Sam,” Chenoa stated. Twisting around a little, she said, “Aunt Sam, does it make you sad if I don't call you 'Mommy'?”
“Sad? I'm not sure what you mean,” Sam responded.
“You are my mommy, just like my real mommy, and like Kayla. I miss them,” Chenoa said.
“I do, too,” Sam admitted softly.
“But Aunt Sara is my mommy, too, and I don't want her to feel bad if I call you mommy and not her,” Chenoa stated.
“It's okay, Noa. I'm very happy being Aunt Sam,” Sam replied, giving the little girl a smile and a kiss.
“Aunt Sam, you'd make a good real mommy. I mean, you should have a baby or adopt some kids like Dad and Daddy adopted us,” Chenoa remarked.
“You know something, Honey, I think you're right,” Sam replied, earning a huge smile from Chenoa. “I may just talk to Pete about that tonight.”
“You were scared, huh?” Chenoa asked.
“Scared?” Sam asked in surprised.
“Just like you were scared to love Martouf and then to marry Uncle Pete. You're scared to be a mommy, too, but you are a mommy, Aunt Sam. I needed my mommy when Teal'c told me he was going to marry that woman, and you came and made me feel better,” Chenoa revealed from deep in her heart.
“I did?” Sam asked, not really sure she had helped at all, even though being there had given her a surprising sense of satisfaction in at least being a sponge for the little girl's tears.
Chenoa nodded, “I ached all over, but you still made me feel better. Thank you, Aunt Sam.”
“And, thank you, Noa, for helping me realize that I can be a mom,” Sam said, bringing the girl in close for a hug. ~I thought it was hard watching Ash do those chores at my house that day, but watching Noa go through this was about the toughest thing ever. Maybe I ... no, Pete says 'we', and he's right. Maybe we do have room for a child ... or two.~
“Aunt Sam, on the way home, can we buy Daddy, David, and Little Danny some Godiva chocolate?”
“I'm surprised there isn't any at home,” Sam responded.
“Dad says we don't have any, and I want to give Daddy something to make him feel better. David and Little Danny are pretty okay now, but,” she chuckled, “Little Danny still has black eyes. Chocolate makes you feel better, doesn't it, Aunt Sam?”
“It sure does,” the blonde agreed. “How's he feeling?”
“His shoulder hurts, but he's lots better now,” Chenoa responded happily.
“I'm so glad, Noa,” Sam replied a bit emotionally.
Daniel, David, and Little Danny had been on a trip at the beginning of the month that had gone a bit askew, the result being a severely injured archaeologist and two slightly hurt children. After a few days in a Utah hospital and two more at the SGC infirmary, he'd been released to the care of his very attentive family.
“Has to be truffles, Aunt Sam; those are Daddy's favorites.”
“We'll get a dozen,” Sam said, smiling and feeling glad that her friend was going to be just fine.
“That was lots of fun, Aunt Sara,” Chenoa said, time having moved forward peaceably for the young girl.
It was now mid-July, and everyone was happy that Daniel and the two boys were now completely recovered from all of their injuries. Unfortunately, while just about everything else had returned to normal for Chenoa, she still hadn't forgiven Janet.
“Thank you for taking us riding with the big horses,” Chenoa added appreciatively.
“You're welcome, Noa,” Sara said as she held the car door open for the little girl to get out. “Angela, please stay here. I want to talk to Noa for a minute.”
“Okay, Mommy,” Angela said, opening a book that was on the seat next to her.
When they reached the steps of the front porch, Sara sat down, Chenoa sitting beside her.
“You want to talk about that woman,” Chenoa spoke perceptively.
Sara looked at the little girl, a bit surprised by the comment.
Chenoa explained, “That's what grownups do. They sit me down and look straight ahead before saying anything.”
Sara chuckled lightly and then nodded as she said, “Noa, Janet loves you. I know you've been hurt, but part of growing up means forgiving people when they do something wrong or when they hurt you by accident. I think that down deep in your heart you know that Janet never ever meant to make you cry.”
“But she did,” Chenoa said, looking down at her clasped hands.
“And she feels so bad,” Sara commented. “Noa, do you know that Janet won't marry Teal'c until you forgive her?”
“Yes,” Chenoa answered. “Daddy told me.”
“Noa, you've heard the story about when I found out about your fathers being in love, right?” Sara asked. After Chenoa nodded, she continued, “I wanted to hate your daddy. Did you know that?”
Chenoa looked over at Sara and said, “You love Daddy.”
“Yes, I do. Daniel is a wonderful man, and he's been so good for Jack, but when I saw them together for the very first time, I was so angry. I felt like your dad, Jack, had betrayed me, lied to me ... I ... I thought everything we had when we were married had been a game to him,” Sara confessed.
“Dad hurt you?” Chenoa asked, trying to understand.
“Noa, your dad and I hurt each other when we were married. Oh, it wasn't until after Charlie died, but Jack shut me out, and then I shut him out, but we didn't resolve anything. We got a piece of paper that said our life together was over ...”
“A divorce?” Chenoa asked.
“Yes, a divorce, and then we moved on, except we didn't, not really. I still loved him Noa. I loved him so much, and I wanted him back ... until I met Mark,” Sara confided, smiling. “Mark made me feel alive again. He knew about Jack, and he never pushed me. He said he loved me enough to wait for me to be ready to move forward with my life, and one day, I realized I was ready. It was hard because to move forward, I had to say goodbye to Jack.”
“Did you tell Dad about Uncle Mark?” Chenoa asked.
~Wow!~ Sara sighed, looking over at the car, seeing her daughter still reading her book. After a moment, she said, “Chenoa, I'm going to tell you a secret. It's something no one else knows. Can you keep my secret?”
Chenoa nodded and said, “I never tell secrets.”
“I called Jack one day, but when he picked up the phone, he was laughing. I don't think he realized he'd pressed the button to answer. I didn't hear the voice of who he was talking to. I certainly didn't know it was a man,” Sara explained. “But I heard him say, 'You're beautiful, and I love you.' There was a certain tone in his voice, Noa, that made me burst into tears because I remembered when he used to say that to me. I cried and cried and cried because I knew in that moment, he was really lost to me.”
“But you were in love with Uncle Mark,” Chenoa said.
Sara nodded, sniffling, which made her suddenly realize she was crying.
“Oh, goodness,” Sara said, trying to chuckle as she reached into a pocket for a Kleenex.
Chenoa scooted closer, putting her hand on Sara's forearm, causing Sara to smile as she looked down.
“Honey, love is so complicated, and I had spent years investing my life in your dad and our life together. I know it's hard to understand when you're so young, but a part of me still loves him very, very much, but it's a little different now, just like it was that day I made the phone call to tell him about Mark.” Sara took a big breath, shaking her head, amazed at how emotional she was getting. “Noa, I was and am deeply in love with Mark, but when I made that phone call, I'm not quite sure if a small, very small part of me wasn't hoping that Jack would be upset, demand to see me, and want to get back together.”
“He made you cry,” Chenoa realized.
“He didn't mean to,” Sara whispered. Putting her hand on Chenoa's, she said, “Chenoa, Jack doesn't know about that, and I don't want him to. I want you to keep my secret.”
“I promise, Aunt Sara,” Chenoa said, staring into Sara's eyes.
Smiling, Sara continued, “What happened after that phone call is that I had a choice to make. Jack had apparently moved on, and I wanted to as well. The next day, I told Mark that I was one-hundred percent ready to share my life with him, and I was. My tears were my goodbye to Jack and our marriage, or so I thought.”
“You got mad at him when you saw him with Daddy on the mountain,” Chenoa stated.
“Very much. I had gone there to make a final peace, a silent peace with him. You see, when my phone call didn't work out ... oh,” Sara chuckled. “I suppose you figured out that I hung up. Jack never knew I called.”
“He probably thought it was a wrong number,” the little girl guessed.
“Probably,” Sara answered. “I wrote him a letter when Mark and I firmed up our plans. I couldn't handle another phone call. You see, Honey, I hadn't really forgiven him. I thought I had, but I hadn't. That day at Pike's Peak, I saw the man I had loved so much being so in love with Daniel. I had another choice to make. I could go on feeling betrayed, hating Daniel, and pretending, or I could finally, really and truly make peace with the situation. I didn't realize it fully that day even. It took time, but I finally forgave us.”
“Nothing in life is one person's fault. We act, and we react,” Sara said.
“Daddy calls that cause and effect. We studied it one day,” Chenoa astutely commented.
“That's right. Very good, Noa,” Sara said, impressed by the connection the young girl had made.
“It was a hard lesson, but the most amazing thing happened when I forgave Jack and myself,” Sara said.
“I felt ... good, so good inside. I told Mark I wanted to go to the wedding. I felt Charlie wanted it, and I realized that I did, too. You see, Noa, your father, both of them, actually, but I'm talking about Jack right now. I know first hand how wonderful he is. I didn't want to lose him from my life. I was married, happily, and he was getting married. I wanted Jack O'Neill to be in my vocabulary and not just be a memory. Are you confused?”
“A little,” Chenoa admitted.
“Sweetheart, you don't have to answer me, but this is something I'd like you to think about. What if your Aunt Janet really was gone forever?” Sara supposed. “What if she never came back again?” She hugged Chenoa to her as she continued, “Noa, Teal'c loves Janet, and I know that's so hard for you, just like it was for me to accept that Jack loved Daniel, but in the end, when I was able to forgive Jack and myself for our mistakes, I knew I wanted him to be happy, and his happiness was with Daniel, not me, just like mine is with Mark, and just like Teal'c's is with Janet.” Still hugging Chenoa close, she said softly, “If Janet went away, Teal'c would be very unhappy.” She paused, then quietly continued, “Sometimes, love means letting go. Do you love Teal'c enough to let go and forgive your Aunt Janet and him ... and yourself?”
Chenoa pulled away, staring at Sara, her face full of confusion.
Sara reached out, touching her cheek as she questioned, “Noa, did Teal'c ever really lie to you? You're a beautiful little girl, and your heart has been broken, and you know what, I think we're all a little to blame for that because you see, we could have stopped it, Noa. All of us could have said something sooner, but would it have hurt any less?”
Chenoa shook her head, answering, “I always loved Teal'c.”
“I know,” Sara said, nodding her head. “Don't stop loving him, Noa. Put Teal'c in a special place in your heart. Keep him close, but don't make the mistake of letting a lost love cost you love forever, and if you don't forgive him and Janet and yourself, you'll always have a hole in your heart. I've said a lot, and I know it's complicated, Noa, but try to think about what I've said. Will you do that for me ... just ... just think about it; that's all I'm asking.”
The little girl let out a tiny sniffle, but then she nodded.
“I love you, Noa, and I'm so glad you're having some fun again,” Sara commented.
“K'hang has his eyes,” Chenoa commented. It was the first time she'd told anyone. “I see Teal'c in his eyes.”
“That's not a bad thing,” Sara replied, adding, “but K'hang is his own person. You aren't being fair to him if you continually compare him to Teal'c.”
“I ... Aunt Sara?”
“What, Honey?” Sara asked.
“Do I have to decide that now?” Chenoa asked.
“Decide what?” Sara asked, not really sure what the little girl was asking.
“K'hang makes me smile. He likes to have tea, but he doesn't like the same games Teal'c does. Their eyes are the same, though. I feel safe with K'hang, just like with Teal'c,” Chenoa professed. “Do I have to decide if I really like K'hang now?”
Sara took hold of the little girl's hands and shook her head, answering, “No, not this second. Just remember, K'hang is learning to care for you, so you don't want to mislead him.”
Chenoa gasped, “No, because then he ... he might get hurt like ... like I did.”
“So be honest. That's all you have to do, with him, and with yourself,” Sara advised.
“How do I know?” the broken-hearted girl asked.
“Well, when you look at K'hang, do you see K'hang, or do you see Teal'c? Don't answer, just think. When you hear K'hang, when he talks to you, do you hear Teal'c? Are you having fun with K'hang because he's Teal'c's grandson, or because K'hang is fun to be around? When you see Teal'c's eyes while you're looking at K'hang, are you truly talking to K'hang, or to Teal'c, who isn't even there? Are you happy when K'hang comes to visit because he's coming to visit, or because Teal'c is bringing him?” Sara asked.
Thoughtfully, Chenoa replied, “I don't know.”
“When you do know, then you'll know if you really like K'hang, and whether you do or not, you need to move forward and that means ...” Sara prodded.
“Forgiving Teal'c and ... and ...” Chenoa shook her head. She just couldn't do it, not yet. “And that woman ... and me.”
“I love you, Noa,” Sara said as the little girl moved in for a hug.
“I love you, too, Aunt Sara,” Chenoa said as her head lay against Sara's shoulder.
“Hey, everything okay out here?” Jack asked, opening the door. “I heard the car pull in twenty minutes ago. I was getting worried.”
With a final smile at Sara, Chenoa walked over to her father, gave him a hug, and said, “I love you, Dad, but you shouldn't have made Aunt Sara cry.”
As Sara sighed, shaking her head, Chenoa walked inside, waving and saying, “I won't tell.”
Jack looked down at Sara, extending his arm out to help her stand up.
“Making you cry?” Jack asked.
“Old story, Jack, old tears, old times,” Sara answered.
Jack nodded regretfully and said, “You know, ah, I never wanted to do that, make you cry.”
“Men never want to make women cry, but they do. It's part of life, and Noa just has to learn that,” Sara said. “I hope what I told her helps.”
“What *did* you tell her?” Jack prodded curiously.
Smiling, Sara replied, “Girl stuff. You'll never know, Jack Jackson-O'Neill. I have to get Angela home.”
Sara turned and headed for her car, and as she did so Jack stepped down off the porch and called out, “Sara?”
The blonde turned, waiting to see what he wanted.
“Nothing,” Jack said, shaking his head.
“Still a man of few words?” Sara teased.
“I don't think the brood would agree with that,” Jack mused.
The two adults shared a tender moment, a look and a gaze that was full of love from another lifetime, and then they nodded, almost at the same time, as they returned to the happy times of today, each turning to return to their soulmates and the warmth of their love. Inside, both hoped that Chenoa would one day be lucky enough to know what that love was truly like.
Chapter Four: Love is Eternal
The Jackson-O'Neill madhouse was in full swing as the first of August rolled around.
“Jeff, kick it in gear!” Jack shouted up the stairs leading to the teenager's room.
“Coming, Dad,” Jeff shouted down.
Jack walked into the game room, calling out, “Munchkins, five minutes, and this had better be cleaned up. Let's move it!”
“Okay, Dad,” Jonny answered on behalf of his siblings.
The general headed next for the dance studio, smiling as Chenoa and Lulu practiced a new dance, a special routine organized by one of their dance coaches that was half ballet and half tap, since Lulu preferred ballet and Chenoa tap.
“Girls, time to go. Turn everything off, change your shoes, and meet us in the living room,” Jack ordered.
“Okay,” two voices chorused.
Walking on just beyond his study, Jack shouted up the stairs, “Jennifer, today would be good.”
“Hold your horses, Dad. I'm coming,” Jennifer shouted.
“Nayyyy-gative!” Jack responded. “The horses are out back, and if you don't get down here in two minutes, you're going to be mucking out the stalls tonight. Capiche?” he quipped about the unpleasant task of cleaning the manure out of the stable.
“Yes, Sir,” Jennifer sighed.
Chuckling, Jack returned to the living room, taking two steps up the stairs before shouting, “SPITFIRES, FRONT AND CENTER!”
“Jack, why are you shouting all over the house when we have an intercom system you could use and speak into with a natural tone of voice?” Daniel asked as he walked downstairs, their baby, JD, in his arms and David trailing behind them.
“I keep forgetting we have it,” Jack laughed.
“Right,” Daniel said dryly, not buying the excuse.
“I think he just likes to yell,” David theorized. “He thinks we're airmen.”
As Daniel chuckled, Jack sneered, “I'll send you to boot camp if you aren't careful.”
“You mean this isn't boot camp?” Jeff teased as he joined the conversation.
“Feels like it sometimes,” Jennifer answered as she walked in.
“There's a camp for boots?” Jenny asked as she and Ricky came down the stairs.
“Very funny,” Jack jested. “Where are the Munchkins? I told them ...”
“We're right here, Dad,” Jonny said. “We've been waiting for you,” the little boy smirked from where the triplets were standing by the front door.
“Score one for the Munchies!” David teased.
“Here we are!” Chenoa called out as she and Lulu joined the family.
“Okay, Bri is already at her class,” Jack announced. “Once the ...”
“I think that's them,” Daniel said, moving to the door in the hopes that the knock they'd just heard were the various extended family members, all coming for one or more of the children.
Jack and Daniel had a busy day ahead, full of meetings at J-O Enterprises, so all of the children were spending the day with others.
“Hey, Doc. Someone here hire a caravan?” Lou Ferretti teased as he looked back at the number of vehicles which had pulled into the family driveway about the same time he had.
“Where's the parade?” Pete Shanahan teased as he walked up the porch. “Oh, wait, we *are* the parade!”
Daniel chuckled, and the process of 'handing out' their children began. Though Sam had to be at the SGC, Pete had the day off so he was taking David on a detective adventure.
Jennifer and the Munchkins were spending the day with the Ferrettis, giving Jennifer a chance to catch up with the couple's adopted daughter Trina, whom she hadn't seen in a couple of months.
Chenoa and Lulu would be with the Wilsons and had tentative plans to go to Mister Granger's stables so Chenoa could visit Champ, the horse she usually rode when visiting the stables.
Mrs. Valissi had custody of JD for the day and was planning on making the baby some new clothes as she watched him. JD had a special fondness for her dog, Andie, a shepherd-collie mix, and Andie, like Bijou and Katie, was very protective of the baby.
Jeff had been picked up by an airman since he was going to spend a special day with General Hammond at the SGC. He would have gone with Sam, but she'd left for the Mountain over two hours earlier, her presence required for a system test on the main computer software that they wanted to complete early before the Gate activity picked up for the day.
“Danny, we're going to be late,” Jack called out to Daniel, who was cleaning up the kitchen as the last of the children left; at least, he thought all of the children had gone.
“What about us?” Ricky whined.
Jack turned around quickly, stunned to see the twins sitting quietly on the couch.
“Okay, where's your adult?” Jack asked as if the twins had hidden her.
Jenny shrugged and said, “Aunt Janet isn't here.”
“Okay, Jack, I'm rea...dy. Where's Janet?” Daniel asked, looking all around.
Jack went to the door, opened it, and looked around outside, hoping to see Janet's vehicle.
“She's not here,” Jack said.
Daniel went to the phone and dialed Janet's number as Jack stood by the sofa, smiling down at the twins.
“No answer,” Daniel reported.
“Try her cell,” Jack suggested.
“Janet, it's Daniel. We're just wondering where you are. Um, please call when you get this,” Daniel said and then disconnected the call.
“Voicemail?” Jack asked, receiving a nod from his husband.
“Call Teal'c,” Jenny suggested.
“Our little genius,” Jack quipped.
“That's David and Little Danny,” Jenny refuted.
“All of our children are geniuses, regardless of IQ,” Daniel responded.
“What's an IQ?” Ricky asked.
“Never mind,” Jack stated, looking at his watch. “Try T.”
Moments later, Daniel shook his head, saying, “Not even voicemail.”
Suddenly, Jack stood up a little straighter.
Daniel, too, seemed to suddenly have the same notion -- something might be terribly wrong.
“Ricky, Jenny, why don't you two go back into the game room while Dad and I decide what we're going to do today,” Daniel suggested.
“Can we play air hockey?” Jenny asked.
“Yes,” Daniel answered as the two children happily went to the game room.
Jack walked towards his husband, then surprised Daniel by walking right by him, moving to the kitchen so he could peer through the doorways to make sure the twins did go to the game room.
“Yesterday when I was at the SGC,” Jack began, “Hammond told me there was a mission scheduled for SG-9 that he had a funny feeling about.”
“P49-221,” Daniel said. Seeing Jack's surprised look, the archaeologist explained, “Giaconni was requested to go along; they needed my approval since he's not normally an off-world staff member.”
“Why'd they need him?” Jack asked.
“He knows a lot about the Aztecs, and the preliminaries suggested there might be a connection to the Aztecs there,” Daniel explained. “Jack, why are you concerned about that mission?”
“Intel from the Tok'ra suggested there might be a gathering of Goa'uld there,” Jack answered.
“Goa'uld? Jack, they aren't even a presence out there anymore. At least, I didn't think they were. Are they?” Daniel asked, stunned.
“No, and that's how we want to keep it. One, two, three Goa'uld, scattered -- they can't do any real harm, but the Tok'ra have heard rumblings of a summit,” Jack explained.
“Baby System Lords?” Daniel quipped, considering that the few Goa'uld still out there had limited resources in today's universe.
“I don't know, but if there were trouble, maybe the Doc is at the SGC,” Jack noted.
“Why wouldn't the general call us?” Daniel asked about Hammond.
“Maybe he's too busy,” Jack supposed.
“If something were really wrong, he would have called to say he wouldn't be able to spend the day with Jeff. Maybe we're just being paranoid,” Daniel suggested.
“There's that,” Jack agreed, sighing at the possibility they were overreacting. He looked at his watch again before asking, “Danny, what do you want to do?”
“Jack, these meetings are important,” Daniel commented. “We've sandwiched them back-to-back-to-back on purpose. There's a lot of business riding on them.”
“So let's not buy trouble before the shelves are stocked,” Jack surmised.
“I don't know where you buy your metaphors, Love, but I'd look for a better place to shop,” Daniel quipped. Then he stated, “We'll take the twins with us. Bibi will be in; she can watch them.”
“The Doc will probably call before long anyway,” Jack said hopefully.
“Right,” Daniel agreed. He walked over to the edge of the kitchen and called out, “Ricky! Jenny! Time to go.”
Three hours later, Jack and Daniel were in the middle of a meeting with several key members of their staff. They were doing their best to put their worry over Janet and Teal'c aside and had already met with two clients, and as soon as this staff session was done, they had several more meetings planned with other clientele. It would be a full day that wouldn't end until well after dinner.
At the moment, the twins were sitting quietly, watching and listening, though they had reading books, a tablet, and crayons nearby. Unfortunately, it was just one of those days when no one at the office was available to baby-sit, especially since Bibi had phoned in sick and Karissa had to be in on the meetings.
“Excuse me,” Dora said, tapping on the door. “Jeff is on the phone, and he says it's important that he speak with one of you right away.”
“I'll take it, Danny,” Jack said, getting up and leaving the conference room.
“Okay, so about ...” Daniel continued, hoping their son just needed permission for something.
Two minutes later, Jack returned to the room, interrupting his lover by instructing, “Karissa, we're going to have to reschedule this meeting and all of our appointments for the day. Give our deepest apologies to our clients. Reimburse their travel expenses and reschedule those meetings for Denver in a couple of weeks, deluxe accommodations all around.”
“I'll get right on it,” Karissa responded. “Is there something wrong, Jack?”
“We have a family emergency to handle,” Jack responded. He added, “Karissa, I know you have a busy calendar, but if you could watch the twins for the rest of the day, we'd appreciate it. Either we'll be back later to pick them up, or someone else will.”
“Sure,” Karissa said, smiling over at the twins. “Ricky, Jenny, come help me take care of those arrangements. Then we'll play for awhile.”
Jack and Daniel hugged and kissed their children goodbye, and once they were out of the room, Daniel asked, “Jack, what's going on?”
“We weren't paranoid,” Jack answered a bit cryptically, although Daniel knew exactly what he meant.
“Jeff doesn't know the details, but he's picked up enough to know there's a crisis going on. Hammond's been in the control room or in briefings all morning. Jeff ...” Jack cocked his head, grimacing slightly.
“Eavesdropped,” Daniel deduced.
“Yeah, we need to go check this out,” Jack stated firmly.
“I agree,” Daniel stated, gathering up his papers as quickly as he could.
Early that evening, Jack and Daniel gathered their children together just as soon as they arrived home. Lou and Pete were also present, having been the last to drop off their charges and, sensing something was wrong, hung around in case they were needed.
**Danny, does Pete have clearance these days?**
**Do you care?**
**Good point,** Jack replied. “We have some news we need to share,” he began calmly as the children sat throughout the living room. “Late last night, there was an emergency off-world, and Aunt Janet had to take a medical team through the Stargate to help some of the SG teams.”
Chenoa looked away, as if not caring much about whatever news was to follow.
“The last report we got was that there was an explosion. There hasn't been any word from Aunt Janet or the SG teams since 0700 hours. General Hammond has sent in rescue teams, but so far they haven't been able to locate the medical team,” Jack continued solemnly. “We're hoping it's something minor -- a loss of radio signal, broken equipment, something.”
“Aunt Janet's coming home, isn't she, Dad?” Lulu asked hesitantly.
“I hope so, Little Bit,” Jack answered. “You know our policy. Daddy and I believe in being honest with all of you. Like I said, we're hoping for the best, but we don't know where Aunt Janet is right now, and we're a little worried.”
“Let's all say a special prayer for Aunt Janet and her team tonight,” Daniel suggested. “Um, I'm sorry, but the trip to the movies is postponed. Dad and I need to stay available.”
“Guys, I can watch the brood, if you need to be at the Mountain,” Pete offered. Then he asked, “Sam?”
“She's on one of the rescue teams, Pete,” Jack advised.
“I figured as much,” Pete responded. “Go. Lou, you go, too. I can handle these rugrats.”
“Thanks, Pete,” Jack acknowledged. “Danny?”
Daniel nodded, saying, “I think we should be at the Mountain.”
“Uncle Pete?” Chenoa whispered much later that night.
“Noa, I thought you were in bed. Something buggin' you?” Pete asked, putting down the book he was reading.
Holding on tightly to her stuffed unicorn called Uni, the one her mother had made her shortly before her death, Chenoa walked over and climbed up onto the sofa, leaning into Pete.
“Tell me all about it,” Pete requested as he put his left arm around the girl's shoulders.
Holding Uni to her cheek, Chenoa whispered, “I wished for her to go away.”
Pete placed a kiss on Chenoa's head and replied, “If everything we wished for came true, then all we'd ever have to do is wish. Shorty, you can't wish someone away.”
Chenoa looked up and sniffled, “I can't?”
“No!” Pete replied emphatically, “Especially because we all know you didn't really mean it, right?”
“I left her out of my prayers on purpose,” Chenoa confided.
Pete bobbed his head up and down as he took in the little girl's fears and then he responded, “Maybe she could use a prayer now.”
Chenoa sniffled, blinked, and then climbed off the sofa. She got down on her knees and put the palms of her hands together, still managing to use her arms to keep Uni close to her body. Bowing her head, she closed her eyes and began her prayer, her words quiet and somber. In the simple, sincere words of a child, she asked for the safe return of Aunt Janet and apologized for being so unforgiving that she had left Janet out of her prayers for months.
When she was done, Chenoa sniffled again and requested, “Uncle Pete, I need to talk to Aunt Sara.”
“It's late, Shorty,” Pete replied, looking at his watch. “Two in the a.m.”
“She told me I could call her anytime I needed to,” Chenoa stated. Her voice wavered a little, and she looked up at Pete with tearful looking eyes and said, “It's really important.”
Pete sighed uncertainly, but nevertheless went over and picked up the phone, just as Chenoa stood back up.
“Mark, this is Pete Shanahan,” Pete spoke to the groggy-sounding voice.
“Pete,” Mark said gruffly as he rolled over in his bed, yawning. “What's up?”
“I'm at the Jackson-O'Neill's, and I have a little shorty here who says it's important that she talk to Sara -- now,” Pete stated informatively.
“Mark, who is it?” Pete heard Sara say in the background.
“Pete Shanahan. He's at Jack and Daniel's and ...”
The next thing Pete knew, Sara was on the phone, saying, “Pete, this is Sara. What's wrong?”
“Chenoa said it was okay to call,” Pete stated.
“Yes, put her on. Thank you, Pete,” Sara said, sitting up in her bed.
“Aunt Sara,” Chenoa sniffled. “She's ... miss ... <sob> ... I didn't want her ... <sob> ... I don't hate her ... <sob> ... I ...”
“Chenoa, do you want me to come over?” Sara asked as the little girl's sobs increased.
Chenoa nodded, but couldn't answer verbally, her cries growing as Pete picked her up. She held on tight to the man, Uni dropping unnoticed to the floor.
“Pete, I'm on my way. I'm guessing Noa was talking about Janet,” Sara stated, piecing together that Janet would be the one the little girl didn't hate. “Has something happening to her?” she asked, hoping for clarification.
“Yeah, she's missing, off ... uh, off ... somewhere,” Pete answered, having caught himself from using a term that it might not be so wise to use over the phone.
“I'll be there as soon as I can,” Sara stated, quickly hanging up the phone and hopping out of bed to get dressed.
“She's coming, Shorty,” Pete said, kneeling down to pick up the treasured unicorn and walking over to the sofa. He sat down, keeping Chenoa in his lap, comforting her. “Aunt Janet will be back. She's a tough one; all redheads are.”
“Jenny's a redhead,” Chenoa sobbed.
“That she is, and that's why she's a Spitfire,” Pete tried to tease. “Go ahead and cry, Shorty, but know this. Aunt Janet is strong, and she's coming back. I'm sure of it.” ~Okay, Fates, don't let me down. I just made a promise to the Shorty here, and I don't want to be a liar. Come on, the girl's had a tough year. Give her a break.~
“Good morning, Sara,” Pete said, opening the door for the blonde, who was dressed in jeans, a white laced shirt, and a brown jacket.
“Morning, I guess,” Sara teased about the darkness of the time. “Where's ...”
“Aunt Sara!” Chenoa cried out, running up to the woman and launching herself at her, her face wet from tears.
“Noa, everything will be okay. I'm here,” Sara assured as she stood up, holding the little girl. “Let's talk, okay?” she suggested, putting Chenoa down.
Chenoa led Sara upstairs to the Bird's Nest, where she sat down on the bench next to the blonde woman. She scooted over as close as she could to Sara, who smiled at the little girl, holding her close.
Pete, meanwhile, quietly went to the armchair near the patio door and sat down, waiting for the phone to ring or for the females to finish their talk so they could tuck Chenoa in for the night.
Sara waited without saying a word, letting Chenoa take the lead. The seven-year-old had phoned her, so clearly she had something she needed to say. With amazing patience, Sara let Chenoa sort out her feelings and words until she was finally ready to speak.
“I feel bad,” Chenoa spoke softly. “Uncle Pete says wishes don't make things happen, but I still feel bad.”
“Uncle Pete is right,” Sara confirmed. “Noa, it's okay to feel bad. It's also okay to be upset with someone you love.”
Chenoa's head bolted up to look at Sara, who gave her a reassuring smile.
“Sometimes, I get very upset with Mark, but I still love him,” Sara stated.
Thoughtfully, Chenoa said, “Dad and Daddy fought a lot before we got Hot and Chocolate.”
“I remember,” Sara chuckled. “And yet?”
“They love each other,” Chenoa said.
“Very, *very* much, Noa,” Sara agreed. “Love doesn't go away at the drop of a hat, Sweetheart, not if it's real.”
“I'm still ... I'm still mad at her,” Chenoa said.
“I understand that,” Sara said, nodding. “But?”
Chenoa sniffled, “But I love her, and I don't want her to go away,” and then she leaned into Sara, who immediately put her arms around the confused child.
Drawing on her own experience, the divorced and remarried mother of three tried to explain to Chenoa some of what she was sure the dear child-woman was feeling.
“It's normal to have mixed-up feelings when your relationship with someone you love changes. You remember what I told you a while back? It took me a long while to sort out my feelings for Jack after I found out about Daniel. I loved Mark, and I knew I loved him, but I also loved your dad, and part of me didn't want to let that go, even though another part knew it was for the best,” Sara sighed, deciding that was as sufficient an explanation as she could muster at the moment. “You're growing up, Chenoa,” she stated. “Janet knows you love her, and she loves you so much.”
As the two talked a while longer, Chenoa's tears gradually lessened.
“Aunt Sara, I still see Teal'c's eyes in K'hang, but I really like K'hang. He likes lots of things Teal'c doesn't. He wants to go riding with me, too,” Chenoa revealed.
“We'll have to arrange that then,” Sara said.
“I still love Teal'c, though, and I told K'hang that,” Chenoa said.
“What does K'hang say when you tell him that?” Sara inquired.
“He says he'll win my heart, that Teal'c is a great warrior and his grandfather, but that he is my protector now, for always,” Chenoa stated.
“How does that make you feel?” Sara prodded.
“Good. I like it when he talks like that,” Chenoa confessed. “When I talk to K'hang, it's not like talking to Teal'c. They aren't the same, but ...”
“I like that his eyes are like Teal'c's,” the little girl admitted.
Sara smiled and drew her close, listening as Chenoa continued to talk about her feelings and fears.
At 8 a.m. that morning, the Jackson-O'Neill children were quietly assembled in the rec room, none of them in the mood to play or watch television. Pete had had a brief phone call from Jack at about 4:30 a.m. to let them know that the missing SGC personnel, including Janet, had been found. Unfortunately, he hadn't been able to tell him any more than that Janet was alive. Thus, the only real activity at the moment consisted of David tending to JD, who was still too young to understand the turmoil currently taking place.
The family pets were all quietly lurking, prompting a few smiles and chuckles from the children, but, otherwise, all was quiet.
Pete had called in sick since there was really no one else to tend to the children. Sara had gone home and, while she hoped to get back soon, her youngest daughter, Madeline, had a doctor's appointment which she didn't want to miss. She was concerned about her daughter having an ear infection. The rest of the extended family was at the Mountain, except, of course, for Mrs. Valissi, who was leaving for Italy that afternoon to visit her son and his partner. Thus, it was up to Pete to take care of the children, and he had no objections to doing so.
The quiet was disturbed by the sound of a door, Bijou and Katie both scampering excitedly towards the sound.
“Hey, Bij,” Jack greeted.
“Hi, Katie,” Daniel spoke, leaning over to pet both beagles.
“Where is everyone?” Jack called out as the two men and dogs moved towards the kitchen.
“Jack, Daniel, we're in here,” Pete called out, walking through the kitchen, meeting the two at the counter where the kitchen and living room met.
Seeing their fathers, the children got up and ran into the living room for hugs and kisses.
“We brought you a surprise,” Daniel announced.
Daniel's words were enough to build up a huge amount of anticipation, and the children's breathing hitched almost in unison as they waited for the surprise to be revealed. At the moment, there was really only one surprise that they wanted.
“So what's for breakfast?” Janet chirped, a broad smile on her face as she emerged from behind Daniel.
“AUNT JANET!” a chorus of voices exclaimed, the children running to her eagerly.
“We were scared,” Lulu admitted.
“Did you fight the Goa'uld?” Little Danny asked.
“Where have you been?” Jonny asked, his hands on his hips.
“We love you,” Aislinn spoke firmly.
“Aunt Janet, I'm so glad you're okay,” Jennifer said.
On and on went the greetings and happy remarks, and then more greetings were given to Sam and Teal'c, who had come in behind the physician.
“Hey, Gorgeous, you okay?” Pete asked as he kissed and then held his wife.
“I'm fine. I'll tell you about it later,” Sam answered, leaning in for another hug, wanting to feel the comfort of her husband.
“What happened, Aunt Janet?” Jeff asked.
“Oh, it wasn't much,” Janet said nonchalantly. “We had some SG teams in trouble, and my team and I went in. We didn't realize the atmospheric conditions didn't allow for long-distance relays. We got cut off, and it took awhile to get back in touch. Everything's fine,” she promised.
“I think there was more to it,” Pete whispered.
“They don't need to know that,” Sam answered quietly, getting a nod from Pete.
As the smiles and laughter continued, Janet suddenly stopped her explanation. At the edge of the kitchen, standing quietly and holding Uni tight to her chest, Chenoa stared at the redhead. A tear rolled down her cheek.
Janet moved forward slowly, past the children that had been between her and Chenoa. A few feet from the little girl, Janet knelt down so she was eye level with the curly-haired blonde.
“Hello, Noa,” Janet dared to speak.
Chenoa took a big breath, whispered a soft, 'Hi', and then suddenly leaped into Janet's arms, unable to stop the sobs.
“I love you, Noa,” Janet said.
“Oh, Aunt Janet, I don't hate you. I don't want you to die or go away,” Chenoa cried.
“I know that,” Janet replied, holding Chenoa's head to her chest and rocking slightly.
“I'm just mad, that's all,” Chenoa told her.
“I know that, too,” Janet acknowledged, tears escaping her eyes now, too. “I never meant to hurt you, Noa. I swear I didn't,” she proclaimed. “I love you.”
“I ... I love you, too,” Chenoa attempted, huge cries coming from her as the two females reconnected.
Jack and Daniel gravitated to each other, their arms going around the other's waist. They smiled, watching the reunion, and then shared a tender kiss.
Pete and Sam were all smiles as they, too, stood with their arms wrapped around each other as they watched.
Teal'c stood proudly, his heart happier than it had been in a very long time.
“Noa,” Janet said as the young girl pulled back slightly. She put her hands on Chenoa's face, and she smiled. “I will do everything I can to try and help you to understand, and I hope someday you can forgive me. I am so sorry for the choices I've made, for keeping my love for Teal'c so quiet.”
Chenoa nodded, the only thing she could do, and then she saw Teal'c. She blinked and walked around Janet, through her maze of siblings, until she stood directly in front of him.
The Jaffa knelt down, extending out a hand to dry the last of Chenoa's tears away.
“I love you, Teal'c, but I'm mad at you, too. You should have told me,” Chenoa said calmly.
“You are correct, ChenoaJacksonO'Neill. I failed to give you the respect and honor you deserve,” Teal'c admitted. Bowing his head, he said, “I beg your forgiveness.”
Chenoa looked back at Janet before facing the Jaffa again. She sniffled, though her tears were dry now.
“Not today, but maybe tomorrow,” Chenoa stated truthfully. When Teal'c nodded his head, Chenoa gave him a tiny smile. “I guess you can marry her,” she said despondently.
“It is not yet time,” Teal'c answered, surprising Chenoa. “My heart demands that your heart be full before I can be happy. We will wait until the tears you shed are for joy.”
Chenoa looked again at Janet, who said, “That's how I feel, too. I wouldn't feel right marrying Teal'c with you so unhappy, Noa. We want to see you smile.”
“Not today, maybe tomorrow,” Chenoa said again. “I'm sorry, but I'm ... I love you, but ...”
“Noa,” Daniel interjected. “We're very proud of you. It's okay. One day at a time, and we're all here to help you. Okay?”
Chenoa nodded; then suggested, “We should have ice cream to celebrate.”
“At eight-thirty in the morning?” Pete asked in reflex.
“Shanahan, it's never a bad time for ice cream!” Jack exclaimed.
“Yay! Ice cream!” Aislinn exclaimed.
“Love ice creeeeeeam!” JD exclaimed, licking his lips.
As chuckles ensued, the Jackson-O'Neills and their extended family enjoyed ice cream for breakfast.
It was a beautiful last Saturday in August on Chulak where an assemblage of persons stood near the high cliffs of Kalor.
The human contingent on the 'family' side included the entire Jackson-O'Neill family, sans JD who was with Sara's father, Mike. He was also looking after the Wilson children and Cassandra's child so that Sara, Mark, and Cassandra could attend. Accompanying Cassandra was her husband, Dominic Luca, who was overjoyed to finally be given permission to travel through the Gate.
Also present were the Shanahans, much to Pete's delight since he rarely was allowed to go off-world, Janet, Lou Ferretti, and Megan Williams, who had been thrilled at the opportunity to go off-world for the first time since she had left the SGC several years earlier to work for J-O Enterprises. Even General Hammond had gone through the Stargate for the special event.
On the Jaffa family front, Teal'c was there, along with Rya'c, Kar'yn, their other three sons, and Bra'tac, whom the children knew only slightly.
As special guests, Thor and Lya of the Nox were also in attendance to witness the event.
Finally, a small group of representatives from the SGC were present, including Grace Satterfield, Nyan, Marc Reynolds, and Paul Davis. Marc and Paul were now secretly married, a fact that made Jack's Mr. Jealousy very happy. Only the Jackson-O’Neills, Sam, Teal'c, and Lisa Cassidy, the woman who had married Jack and Daniel as well, knew the couple had wed.
“Many of our people are shedding the old ways,” Master Ar'gon, the Jaffa master conducting the ceremony, spoke as he stood in front of those gathered together. “There is nothing wrong in finding new ways, but the traditions of our ancestors are strong, and so today, two people have come before us in the Rite of Je'ming.”
With a nod, two helpers lit a fire of small twigs and branches that sat on a table.
Ar'gon continued, “Let this fire bare witness to this rite, and may its flames keep warm the souls of those who came before us as we proceed.”
**Danny, I'm still not sure about this,** Jack communicated hesitantly.
**Too late now, Love. You agreed to it last week. Besides, Noa isn't under any obligation. She understands that, and so does K'hang. It's an important day for her, so ... smile, and then later, I'll make you smile some more,** Daniel seductively instructed.
Ar'gon walked over to Chenoa, adorned in a pink frilly dress and Brianna's pearl necklace, and announced, “This is Chenoa of Colorado Springs. She is the daughter of Jack and Daniel to whom the Jaffa owe much of our freedom.”
The Jaffa and SGC personnel applauded, which prodded the children into applauding, cheering, and whistling, while Jack and Daniel stood wishing there was a wall to hide behind.
**I guess we're still famous,** Jack quipped.
**Apparently,** Daniel bashfully agreed.
Ar'gon walked over to K'hang, who was dressed in a brown suede outfit and was holding a small staff weapon. He stood proud, his eyes locked onto Chenoa's.
“This is K'hang of the Alpine Mesa, son of Rya'c and Kar'yn. It is he who has brought us here, wanting to make public his desire to earn the heart of Chenoa of Colorado Springs, to be true to his heritage, and to become a warrior that will make his people proud. K'hang, what is it you wish to pledge?” Ar'gon asked.
K'hang walked forward until he stood in front of Chenoa. His head was held high, his eyes shining with hope for their future.
“Chenoa, this is the staff of my people. It is a symbol of our spirit, our fire, and our passion. My ancestors used this staff to pledge honor and security to those they wished to spend their lives with,” K'hang explained. He looked over at his mother and said, “But the old ways are not always the best ways.”
**Danny, is he ad-libbing?**
**From the looks of the Jaffa, it looks like it,** Daniel observed, hearing some faint murmurs from the Chulakians in attendance.
Teal'c stared at his son, who simply shrugged and smiled at his wife, who beamed at her son's courage and the choice he had just made.
K'hang continued, “I pledge to use this staff, if I am forced to, but I do not come in front of our families to vow I alone will protect you. They, also, vow to keep you safe.”
Chenoa blinked, having no idea what the youngster was going to say, but she stood transfixed, unable to look at anyone but the dark-skinned boy she faced.
K'hang took the weapon and handed it to Bra'tac, nodding in respect as he did so. Then he walked over to a bag he had brought with him, pulling out a crown made of wood, flowers, and velvet cloth. It was similar to the circlet Jaffa women wore on their heads when getting married.
“Instead, Chenoa, I bring you this,” K'hang said, placing the crown on her head gently. “On our visits together, you have told me about your parents and their circle of love.”
~Oh, crap, he's got me,~ Jack silently whined as Daniel smiled at him.
“I have made this crown for you because one day, it is my hope that as my mother wore the sacred circlet on her head, that you will wear one on yours as we join in marriage. In the tradition of my ancestors, I pledge to you to learn well from my parents, to be steadfast and true to my people, and to live honorably and gain the respect of our elders. I pledge this, that one day your heart will be free and yearning for me, as mine yearns for you, Shu'te,” K'hang spoke with devotion.
**Danny, he's *seven*. How can a seven-year-old boy yearn for our daughter?** a perplexed Jack asked.
**Look at her, Babe. If you were seven, wouldn't you ... yearn for her?** Daniel smirked, a smile on his face.
Gazing at their lovely daughter, Jack could only give an expression of, “Got me” as he continued to listen to the words.
Ar'gon looked at Chenoa and said, “You have no obligation to speak, but you may do so, if you wish.”
Chenoa smiled and replied, “Thank you.” She looked at K'hang and said, “I like you very much, K'hang. My heart still aches for another, but I smile when I see you, and at night, I wish you were there for me to talk to about my day. Dad and Daddy say that love is a circle with no beginning and no end. I don't really understand that, but it's a good thing. Maybe someday we'll be like them, too.”
Ar'gon smiled, closing the ceremony by saying, “The Rite of Je'ming is complete. May you both find your way, and, if your hearts agree, may your way be together.”
Cheers broke out as K'hang and Chenoa hugged.
“Party time?” Jack asked.
“Ice cream!” Jonny stated hopefully.
“Okay, K'hang,” Chenoa said as she stood in the control room of the SGC a couple of weeks later. “It'll be a lot of fun. I'm glad you can come for my birthday.”
“I look forward to going riding with you, Shu'te,” K'hang spoke over the two-way video communication device.
“Yes, Shu'te?” the boy asked.
“I like you ... a lot,” Chenoa stated as SGC personnel smiled in the background.
“You make my heart sing, Shu'te. Until your birthday ...” K'hang said, bowing his head.
“Bye!” Chenoa exclaimed.
“Connection ended,” Sergeant Davis reported.
“Thank you, Sergeant,” Lieutenant General George Hammond said. Putting his hand on Chenoa's shoulder, he said, “Ready to go home?”
“Yes, Grandpa. Thank you for letting me use your phone,” Chenoa spoke innocently.
To the chuckles of the personnel that manned the expensive 'phone', Hammond replied, “You're welcome.”
As Hammond and Chenoa approached the elevator, Hammond nodded to General Hank Landry, the current leader of the SGC, who was heading for the control room himself, and said, “Thanks, Hank.”
In the control room, just after Hammond and Chenoa had walked out, one of the technicians came over and sat down next to Chief Master Sergeant Walter Davis, commenting, “Isn't that against the regs?”
Nonplussed by the comment, Davis queried, “Moscow or Pakistan?”
“Excuse me?” the technician asked.
“General Landry's been asked to transfer three people to assignments in Moscow or Pakistan,” Davis explained. “He's been conferring with General Hammond about who to send. Did you want to put your report in writing or make it verbally?”
“Report?” the stunned technician asked.
“About the communication with Chulak,” Davis replied, barely glancing at the technician.
The light dawned, and the technician answered, “What communication? I've been here all night, reviewing the logs from today's missions. I didn't see any anything.”
Davis smiled, replying, “I'll put in a good word for you.”
“Thank you,” the nervous technician replied, quickly going back to his job as Davis smirked, suppressing an outright laugh.
Two weeks later, Daniel was seated at the table in the nook area of the kitchen, giving the Munchkins a history lesson about the Revolutionary War. As he was telling them about the Boston Tea Party, Chenoa had been about to enter. Hearing the word 'tea', however, she backed away, staying out of sight.
The little girl looked over at the mantel where a picture of her and K'hang had been added. She smiled, feeling good inside. Suddenly, she turned and stared at the telephone. Moments later, she slowly walked to it, picking it up with the keypad facing her. Chenoa sighed as her fingers touched the keys, though not pressing them. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she didn't notice Daniel staring at her from the counter.
The archaeologist had gotten up to get some reference material he had neglected to bring downstairs with him to help with the history lesson. He had stopped, though, upon seeing his daughter gripping the phone.
Moments later, Jack, who had been in the rec room giving an English lesson to Brianna and David, ambled up behind Daniel. He had no reason for pausing his lesson, except that something told him to check on the rest of the family.
“Danny?” Jack asked softly, glancing over at Chenoa and then back at the Munchkins, who were chatting about the famous rides of Paul Revere and William Dawes.
“Shhh,” Daniel requested, over his shoulder at Jack.
~Maybe.~ Chenoa wet her lips and then sighed, nodding at the same time. She surprised her parents by saying, “Dad, Daddy, I need to make a phone call.”
The two hadn't realized Chenoa knew they were watching.
“Who do you want to call?” Daniel asked.
The little girl just blinked in response.
“Go ahead,” Daniel said, giving his permission.
Chenoa dialed, and when the receiver answered, she said, “Hi, it's Noa. I ... I was wondering if you could come to tea tomorrow. It's very important.” A minute later, she looked at her parents, asking, “Can I have someone over for tea tomorrow?”
**A bit late to ask for permission now,** Jack quipped.
Ignoring his husband, Daniel answered, “We have time at eleven, if that works out.”
The little girl spoke, “At eleven,” into the phone. Seconds later, she hung up and said, “I need to make another phone call, okay?”
“Okay,” Daniel agreed quietly.
Again, when the receiver answered, Chenoa said, “Hi, it's Noa. I ... I was wondering if you could come to tea tomorrow -- at eleven. It's very important.”
**Two for tea?** Jack asked.
**Two guesses who she's inviting,** Daniel responded.
**Yeah, I think so,** Daniel agreed.
Putting the phone on its cradle, Chenoa looked at her parents and said, “Will you make us some little sandwiches and tea tomorrow?”
“Sure thing, Pumpkin,” Jack answered. “Do you want cinnamon tea?” he asked.
Chenoa shook her head, replying, “No, that's K'hang's favorite. Do we have white tea? Aunt Janet likes that a lot.”
“We'll get some,” Jack told her.
Chenoa smiled, then turned and went upstairs.
“Is she going to lynch them or forgive them?” Jack asked.
“We'll find out tomorrow. You'd better get the tea, Jack. We don't have any,” Daniel announced.
Jack nodded, returning to David and Brianna while Daniel finally got the materials needed to continue the triplets' lesson.
Meanwhile, at Janet's house, the physician was making a phone call to the SGC.
“Carolyn, can you do me a huge favor?” Janet asked Doctor Carolyn Lam, who was one of the main doctors at the Cheyenne Mountain complex, alongside Doctor Warner and Janet, of course.
Janet knew that Warner had a full schedule for the next day so Carolyn was her only chance, and she'd do anything to get Carolyn to agree to her favor.
“If I can,” Carolyn answered.
“It's big,” Janet warned.
Carolyn laughed and said, “Out with it, Janet.”
“I realize you're on downtime and going out of town for a few days, but I have a very, very important engagement tomorrow. The problem is I have a surgery scheduled for noon,” Janet explained.
“Siler's ankle?” Carolyn asked.
“Yes, and I hate to keep him waiting. He doesn't like being laid up,” Janet commented.
“It's important, huh?” Carolyn probed.
“I wouldn't ask otherwise,” Janet stated. “I can't miss this appointment.”
“I'll change my flight,” the brunette offered.
“Thank you, Carolyn. I owe you one,” Janet said gratefully.
“A big one,” Carolyn chuckled.
The doorknocker banged against the front door at precisely 11 a.m. With a deep breath, Chenoa went to the door. Jack gave an approving nod, and, with that, the little girl opened the door. For a moment, she just stood there, momentarily thrown by seeing Janet and Teal'c together.
“Please come in,” Chenoa invited graciously. “Dad, we'll be upstairs having our tea. Will you bring the sandwiches up?”
“Sure will, Princess,” Jack answered, watching with a bit of sadness as the little girl grew up right in front of his eyes, leading her guests to her bedroom where her tea table and set were.
Chenoa, Janet, and Teal'c had talked about a lot of inconsequential things for a while, and they'd each eaten a finger sandwich or two. Janet had thanked Chenoa for having her favorite tea, too.
As Chenoa offered her guests cookies for dessert, she said, “I have something to talk to you about.”
After a quick glance at Teal'c, Janet looked at Chenoa and replied, “What is it, Noa?”
After taking a bite of her cookie and slowly chewing it, Chenoa answered, “I'm not mad at you anymore, and I want you to get married.”
Janet reached over and took her hand, asking, “Are you sure, Sweetie?”
Chenoa smiled as she answered, “I'm a little girl, Aunt Janet. Teal'c's all grown up. He couldn't marry me ever. Besides, I have K'hang now, and I like him a lot.” She looked over at Teal'c, who was carefully studying her. “I'll always love you, Teal'c, but I want you to be happy, and Aunt Janet makes you happy.”
“She does indeed,” Teal'c confirmed.
“And I want you to be happy, too, Aunt Janet,” Chenoa stated in a steady voice.
“Teal'c makes me happy, Noa, happier than I've ever been in my life,” Janet revealed.
“I don't want you to not get married because of me. I ...” Chenoa paused, took another big breath, and then said, “I forgive you both for making me cry.” She blinked, realizing something. “Wow! Aunt Sara was right.”
“SaraO'NeillWilson?” Teal'c asked.
Chenoa nodded, explaining, “It's a secret.”
Janet smiled and nodded as she released the little girl's hand. She looked a bit nervously at Teal'c and then decided to gamble.
“Noa,” Janet began. “Teal'c and I want a very small wedding, nothing fancy. In fact, we thought we'd get married in my backyard. Your dad is going to be Teal'c's best man, and Sam is going to be my matron of honor. Cassandra and Jennifer are going to be my bridesmaids, and Rya'c and Daniel are going to be the ushers. We'd both love it very much if you'd be our flower girl. Maybe that's asking too much, so if that's too hard for you, you say so, but we both want you to know that's we want.”
Chenoa looked at Teal'c, who added, “It would be an honor, ChenoaJacksonO'Neill. I would not feel right if you were not part of our wedding.”
Chenoa waited a moment and then she smiled as she responded, “I'd like that.”
Jack whistled as he ambled down the gray corridors of the SGC. He missed the place, though he was happy with his and Daniel's choice to retire again earlier that year. Today, though, was one of those times when he was going on a diplomatic mission to visit their old friends, the Hedronix.
“Carter,” Jack said as he walked into the briefing room, automatically glancing over at the papers Sam had in front of her. He was expecting to see pictures of doohickeys or articles about gizmos, but instead, he was surprised. “Who are they?”
Sam blushed slightly and then answered, “Children from different parts of the world who need a home.”
Jack sat down slowly, staring at the blonde colonel as he prodded, “Carter?”
“Pete and I have decided to look into adopting children,” Sam revealed.
“Not going for the natural way?” Jack asked, winking.
“I think I'm a little old for that, but, uh, we're not ... purposefully excluding that anymore, either,” Sam answered, her blue eyes shyly looking at the folder of orphaned children.
“Good for you,” Jack commented quietly.
“Hey, Sam,” Daniel said when he joined his teammates.
“I don't rank a 'hello'?” Jack quizzed.
“You got your hello when we woke up,” Daniel said with a leer, momentarily forgetting where he was. “Gawd, I'm sorry, Sam.”
“It's okay,” Sam responded. “I'm not exactly feeling military today anyway.”
“Oh?” Daniel asked.
“The Shanahans are having a baby!” Jack exclaimed boisterously.
“Jack?” Daniel looked at Sam and asked, “Sam?”
“No, I'm not pregnant. Um,” Sam looked around and then at the clock. She looked over at the desk where a technician usually sat taking notes from their briefings. She was relieved to see he hadn't arrived yet. “The thing is, well, I really haven't been sure I was cut out for this mother thing.”
“Sam!” the archaeologist refuted.
“Carter, I've got news for you,” Jack spoke at the same time. “You've been the mom of twelve for a while now.”
Sam grinned and nodded, saying, “Thank you, but inside, there's always been the 'on loan' thing. I mean I've tried to be ... I mean ... I've wanted to ...”
“Be a mother,” Jack said, motioning with his head for her not to be so hesitant.
“This has never exactly been a normal situation. I love those kids, and I wouldn't know what to do without them,” Sam admitted. “But at the end of the day, if something went wrong, I always knew that they had their parents to fix anything that I messed up or couldn't make better.”
“And now?” Daniel prompted.
“Remember that night when Chenoa found out about Teal'c and Janet?” Sam asked.
“Like we could forget,” Jack groaned, grimacing from the memory.
“She needed ...” Sam paused, but then, taking a big breath, she said, “Chenoa needed her mother, and that night, there was no one else. I had to be her mother. I had to find the words, or not. It was up to me. She was so sad. Then, all of a sudden, she called me 'Mommy', and something happened inside that I can't describe. I've tried, but I can't. And ... well, a while later, Noa told me that I really had made her feel better and that I shouldn't be scared to be a mom because I already was a mom.”
“See,” Jack said, waving his hand towards the woman. “What did I just say?” he smirked.
“Well, I think I'm ready now, but ...” Sam raised the file folder in the air and then dropped it down onto the table again. “I think we might be more successful adopting, so we're looking into it. We're following your example,” she told her friends.
“Our example?” Jack questioned as Daniel took a sip of coffee.
“We want to find children who aren't the easy picks,” Sam announced. “Look at Bri and Lulu and how they're thriving. That's what Pete and I want -- to really make a difference for a couple of children ... from somewhere in the world.”
Just then the technician came in, and the three knew it wouldn't be long before their briefing would begin. Teal'c was on Dakara, attending to internal Jaffa matters, and so wouldn't be included on the mission the three would be undertaking that afternoon.
“Way to go, Sam,” Daniel said softly.
As Sam smiled, General Landry entered, and things got underway.
Full of smiles, Chenoa sprinkled the path along the grass of Janet's backyard with red rose petals. Reaching the white flower-draped canopy, she paused, looking up at her first love. Teal'c bowed to the golden-haired girl; then leaned down to share a hug and a kiss with her.
Chenoa turned and watched as the procession continued. She thought her Aunt Sam looked beautiful in the gown she wore, and the look on her Uncle Pete's face said the love was still growing there. Her Grandpa George looked so handsome in his uniform as he walked her Aunt Janet down the aisle. She found herself wondering he might ever marry Mrs. Crenshaw, or some other woman.
As for her Aunt Janet, Chenoa thought she was the beautiful woman on Earth that day. Her smile was huge, and her eyes bright. Still, when Chenoa saw Janet and Teal'c share a glance, it hurt, like a tiny twinge in her heart, but it was just for a very brief moment.
When Janet reached the canopy, she leaned over and hugged and kissed her flower girl, whispering, “Thank you, Noa.”
Beaming, Chenoa walked to the front aisle to stand by her parents, watching as two very special people in her life exchanged wedding vows. As the couple talked of their love, the little girl looked over at K'hang and smiled. Her young suitor was there for the Sunday wedding and to celebrate Chenoa's birthday.
The day had begun with a morning party for Chenoa at the Jackson-O'Neill's, followed by a brunch for the adults at the Shanahan's. Now, a small group of invited guests were in attendance for Teal'c and Janet's wedding. With Chenoa's blessing, they had chosen her special day to be their wedding date, in honor of just how important the little girl was to both of them.
Afterwards, Sara and Mark would be taking Chenoa, K'hang, Angela, and Madeline to the Grangers to go riding at the stables.
“May the heavens bless you both,” the Air Force chaplain spoke. “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
Janet and Teal'c looked at Chenoa, surprising everyone.
With a huge grin, Chenoa called out, “And you may kiss the bride, Teal'c.” She paused, adding, “After you kiss the flower girl.”
As the guests laughed, the Jaffa bent down and gave Chenoa a sweet kiss on the cheek.
“You will forever be part of my heart, ChenoaJacksonO'Neill,” Teal'c spoke more emotionally than most had ever heard him speak before.
Chenoa hugged him, and then Teal'c kissed his bride.
The first person to wish Janet well was the little girl, who hugged her and said, “I love you, Aunt Janet.”
“Happy birthday, Chenoa,” Janet replied, her voice emotionally charged as well. “Thank you for sharing it with us. I love you, too.”
“Our little girl isn't so little anymore, Danny,” Jack observed.
“She's growing up,” Daniel agreed.
Jack and Daniel watched as K'hang took Chenoa's hand and led her to the dessert tray.
“She's going to marry a Jaffa,” Jack sighed, as if realizing it for the first time.
“Probably,” Daniel agreed. “Would that be so bad, Jack?”
Jack looked at the young couple, seeing the big smile and the brightness in Chenoa's eyes, and answered, “No, it wouldn't be so bad. Come on, Angel. Let's get some of that cake before it's gone.”
“I love you, Jack.”
“Love you, too,” Jack replied as he leaned in for a kiss.
As the harsh memories of summer faded, the Jaskson-O'Neills and their extended family had much to reflect on, to celebrate, and, best of all, to look forward to.
Chenoa had learned a hard lesson, growing up too young, too soon, but she knew her family would always be there for her. Her memories of her first love would always be precious to her, but knowing that life wasn't over at seven, that her future was bright, made all the difference in the world.
As for Jack and Daniel, they were reminded that together, they were unbeatable, and with the help of their extended family, the J-O's could overcome anything, even first loves.
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