Punxsutawney Jack

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Humor, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - August 2012
Spoilers:  None
Size:  93kb
Written:  November 3-7,10-13,16-19,21, 2007
Summary:  As the Jackson-O'Neills continue their travels, Jack answers the brood's questions about Groundhog's day as only he can do.  Then, after meeting some new friends, Jack gets a chance to share some Gaelic with his lover.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) This is part of the “Wanderin' in the USA” road fic in honor of Jack and Daniel's universe readers.  Thanks for your support!
2) “Phillip the Weather Groundhog” copyrighted by Don Halley
3) 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.**
4) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
5) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s), “Carolina Cruisin'”
6) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Claudia, Carol, Sara, Tonya, Linda!

Wanderin' in the USA
Chapter: Punxsutawney Jack
by Orrymain

As the evening sky glistened above, the Jackson-O'Neills sat outside around their campfire.  They'd just finished watching the movie, “Groundhog Day”, inside the RV and now they were toasting marshmallows and popping corn over the open fire while they chatted about the film.  It may have been summertime, but to a Jackson-O'Neill that was no reason not to have a good campfire and toast treats over it like they were now doing.  They'd already talked about the humorous parts of the movie, but now the parents wanted to cover a couple of important points with their brood, especially the younger children.

“It's like a cartoon,” Jenny spoke as she held her stick with a couple of marshmallows on it over the fire.

“Right,” Daniel said.  He was seated across the campfire from Jenny and had just finished popping a pan full of popcorn.  He tasted a bite, licking his lips and raising his eyebrows at the delicious taste.  Popcorn that had been popped over an open fire definitely tasted better than popcorn popped in the microwave.  As he began to fill several small bowls, he spoke, “So, it was a good movie, and we all had fun watching it, right?”

Several nods of the brood's heads were seen along with some vocal acknowledgements.

“Daddy and I just want to make sure you realize that what happened on the screen was just a movie.  Jenny's comparison to a cartoon was a good one.  Think about the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote,” Jack suggested.

“Because Phil keeps trying to kill himself, but he never stays dead,” David deduced, referring to the film's main character.

“Exactly,” Daniel affirmed.

“Even though I knew it was pretend, I didn't like it when he tried to kill Phil,” Little Danny spoke about the movie's groundhog, also named Phil, a bit of a sad expression on his face.

“I know, Sproglet,” Daniel responded.  “It was just pretend, and that wasn't a real groundhog, either.  It was just a mechanical puppet.”

“It was all just make believe, anyway,” David commented.  “It was a funny movie, but not realistic.”

Jack and Daniel had experienced so much through the Stargate, including time travel, that they were both a little hesitant to agree with David's statement, so both chose to let the remark pass.

“The important thing is to realize that if you drive your car over a cliff, there will be repercussions,” Daniel stated.

“We understand,” Jonny said, rolling his eyes.  “We don't want to shock ourselves with a toaster.”

“Any other questions or comments?” Daniel inquired.

“Why'd they smoke so much?” Aislinn asked.

“That's the way their characters were written,” Daniel answered and then added, “And smoking was more common at the time the film was made than it is now.”

“Kids, we don't criticize anyone else, but we have to make smart choices for ourselves.  Smoking hurts yourself and others around you,” Jack stated.

“That includes not just the people you know, but a stranger you pass on the street.  Dad and I hope you make good decisions about that as you grow up.  A lot of people still smoke, even though they know it's harmful.  It's a choice they make.  We can't change their choices, but we can make sure that our choices are the best they can be,” the younger man added.

“Dad, where's Punksticky?” Ricky questioned.

“It's Punx-su-taw-ney,” Daniel corrected, speaking the word very slowly and clearly.  “Try it.”

“Punkssutawney,” Rícky said.

“Close enough for now,” Jack said.  **We'll work on that one.**

“So where is it?” the male Spitfire asked again.

Jack and Daniel shared a smile of understanding and agreement.  As it happened, purely by coincidence, the family was currently in Pennsylvania.  They'd spent a couple of days hitting some of the historic sites in Philadelphia and were now working their way back west.

“We'll show you in the morning,” the older man answered.

“We're only about an hour away from there, aren't we, Dad?” Jeff questioned before biting into a s'mores treat that he'd just made for himself.

“Sounds about right,” Jack responded.  “I'll take some of that,” he requested of his lover, wanting a bowl of popcorn.  “Make sure you season it.”

With a wickedly seductive smile, Daniel picked up several kernels and kissed them, after which he handed the bowl to his husband and asked, “How's that for seasoning?”

“My favorite kind,” Jack responded as he put one of the kissed kernels into his mouth.

“Oh, please,” Jennifer whined, rolling her eyes.  “I'd tell them to get a room, but their room is in our RV.”

“Rock and roll,” Jeff teased.

“Jeffrey Bryce!” Jack admonished.  Then he chuckled, “Rough seas are often the most memorable.”

Ricky leaned over and asked his twin, “Do you know what they're talking about?”

Jenny nodded and said, “Dad and Daddy having sex.”

Horrified, Jack spat out his popcorn, and Daniel dropped the cup of coffee he'd just picked up.

“If I were you, I'd just let it go,” Jennifer spoke as casually as she could, though she was dying to laugh.

The stunned parents were too speechless to say anything anyway, so after a few giggles, the family continued to enjoy their campfire.

====

“Welcome to Punxsutawney,” Daniel called out from the driver's seat of the lengthy RV.

“I still say that's a funny name for a town,” David spoke as he played with his Rubik's cube while looking out the window.

“I think it's an Indian name,” Little Danny put forth.

“You're right, Little Danny,” Daniel responded.  “The Delaware Indians settled here in the early seventeen hundreds and immediately noticed the area had an abundance of sand flies.  Those aren't houseflies, but small, gnat-like insects.  They named that first settlement ponksad-uteney, which means town of the sand flies.  I guess the name stuck.”

“Daniel, how the heck do you know this stuff?”

“I read,” the scientist responded.  Seeing his lover's somewhat disbelieving stare, he laughed, “Babe, we picked up a ton of literature: pamphlets, brochures, flyers, and the like, in Philadelphia.  Several of them focused on Punxsutawney.”

“That, I believe,” Jack responded.

The family stopped off at the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery, an interactive museum that allowed the children to learn more about the science of weather and the folklore surrounding it.  Then they visited Barclay Square, learning a bit more about the history of the town.  Just off the Square was the Punxsutawney Memorial Library.  That was a must see since the famous Punxsutawney Phil and his family lived there.

“Who knew that groundhogs would live in a library?” Brianna mused as the family watched the critters.

“Calling a library a zoo,” Jack spoke, shaking his head with amusement.

“Dad, they aren't calling the library a zoo,” Little Danny corrected.  “This is the Groundhog Zoo,” the boy said, extending his arms out in the direction of the habitat.  “It's just that the Groundhog Zoo is part of the library.”

“Pardon me,” Jack replied as he looked through the window at the groundhogs.

The Groundhog Zoo was visible both from outside and inside the library.  So far, the family had done their watching from the outside.

“Hello,” a woman spoke as she passed the family.

“Hi,” several of the children responded, smiling and waving at the passerby.

“Let's go inside and see what we can learn,” Daniel suggested.

====

“His full name is what?” Jennifer questioned, laughing in spite of her best intentions not too.

“According to this piece of paper, it's Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary,” Daniel answered.

“That's a mouth full,” Jack opined.

“Why does he have such a long name, Dad?” Ricky questioned.

“It's part of the fun, Son; it's the legend,” Jack answered.  “On the second of February, Punxey Phil comes out of his comfy home.  If he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather.  If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring.  That's the way it's been since the eighteen-hundreds, when Groundhog Day was first held.”

“Who would think a groundhog can tell the weather?” Jonny questioned skeptically.

“That goes back to German settlers and a holiday they called Candlemas Day,” Daniel responded.

“I know about that,”  Little Danny spoke up.  “Candlemas Day was the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  They believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold.  Their religious leaders blessed candles and passed them out to people in the dark of winter.  The people would light the candles and place them in their windows.  If the sun came out on February 2nd, it meant they'd have six more weeks of winter weather.”

“That's right,” Daniel spoke.  Seeing his namesake scrunch his nose, he asked, “What's bothering you?”

“I've read about Groundhog Day, too, Daddy, but I never put the two celebrations together, and I should have.”

“Whoa!” Jack interjected emphatically, determined to set their son straight.  He knelt down in front of the boy and said, “It's great that you read and learn all these facts.  You're very bright, and Daddy and I are very proud of you, and *all* of your brothers and sisters.”

“But you're still a little boy,” Daniel stated, knowing exactly what his husband was trying to say.  “You can't be expected to make all the comparisons and see all of the analogies out there.  Give yourself time to learn from experience.”

“Yeah, Little Danny,” Jonny said, tapping his brother on the arm.  “I bet you'll always remember it now,” he said firmly, muttering, “whatever it is,” a second later.

“Okay,” Little Danny sighed.

“Jonny, he just means that Candlemas Day was the second of February, and that's when Groundhog Day is.  One led to the other,” Daniel informed.

“Morning,” a library patron said with a nod as he walked by the chatting family.

“Hi,” the Jackson-O'Neills replied in kind.

Their library and 'zoo' visit completed, the family walked to some of the other nearby attractions, learning more about the town itself.  They had lunch, after which the younger children played at Patsy's Park, which was one of the local picnic and play areas, while Jeff, Brianna, and David went to the skate park for a while.  When they joined up again, they drove to Gobbler's Knob, the clearing where Punxsutawney Phil emerged from on Groundhog Day, and walked around for a while.  The kids were a little disappointed that they hadn't been there in February to enjoy the festivities.

“Too bad Punxsey Phil can't talk,” David mused, chuckling at his spontaneous Jack-like nickname for the popular animal.  “He could tell us all about Groundhog Day here.”

“Yeah, I have a lot of questions for Phil,” Jenny replied.

“You could have asked him at the zoo,” Ricky responded.

“He wouldn't have answered there,” Jenny stated.  “He can only talk out here.”

**Where'd she get that from?** Jack asked his husband curiously.

**No clue, Babe,** the archaeologist replied with a shrug.

====

Back in town, as evening approached, something caught Jack's eye, and an idea erupted in his mind.  It was one he just couldn't ignore.

“Danny, I have to run an errand.”

“An errand?” Daniel questioned incredulously.

“Look,” Jack said, pulling out a map.  “This looks like a good place to park the RV for the night.  It's about an hour from here.  Why don't you get settled in, and I'll meet you there in a bit?”

“Good evening,” a woman said, her arm in that of a man's, as the two walked by, the man nodding as she spoke.

“Hi!” a group of Jackson-O'Neill voices called out in response.

“They sure are friendly around here,” Jack commented.

“Small towns are like that,” Daniel noted.  “Jack ...”

“Jeff, help me unhitch the SUV,” the older man requested.  He gave his husband a quick kiss on the lips and said, “I'll meet you there.”

====

“Did you enjoy your walk?” Daniel asked when Jeff returned from taking the beagles for a walk around the RV park where the family now was.

“They had a ball, Daddy,” Jeff replied.  “There's this suave looking beagle down that way that had their attention.”

“Behave,” Daniel instructed the canines.  “You know how Jack is about boyfriends.”

“Woogrrr,” Bijou responded.

Daniel laughed and then suggested, “Why don't you set up their tie downs right over here.  That should give them lots of room to move around without getting into anyone's way.”

“Okay, Daddy,” Jeff responded as he began to carry out the instructions.

“Daddy, everything's set up,” Brianna reported, having set out the dinner utensils for the family's evening meal.  “We just need the *foooood*,” she called out loudly in an effort to get the attention of the day's chef.

Looking out over the dinette, through the window there, Jennifer shouted, “Hold your horses, Bri, unless you want to finish cooking.”

“No, that's okay, Sis,” Brianna chuckled.

“Forget something?” Daniel questioned as he checked the two picnic tables the family would be dining on.

“I don't ... oh,” Brianna giggled.  “We'd be in trouble without napkins, wouldn't we?”

Daniel smiled, shaking his head as the tomboy headed into the RV to retrieve the forgotten items.

Soon, the thirteen Jackson-O'Neills were eating, as were Bijou and Katie.  About halfway through, Daniel's cell phone rang.  Everyone knew it had to be Jack.

“What?” Daniel asked over the cell phone.  “Don't you think ... you wha... now?”  He smiled at the children, a look of bewilderment on his face.  “We're eating din... okay, okay,” he said, flipping the cell phone shut and putting it away.

“Was that Dad?” Jennifer questioned.

“It was an insane man,” Daniel answered.

“It was Dad,” Jennifer and Jeff both chuckled, causing a round of laughter to break out among the children.

“Finish your food,” the archaeologist instructed.

====

With dinner and the subsequent cleanup done, Daniel looked around.  He just knew this was going to be one of the silliest moments of his married life.  Still, he knew his soulmate, and once Jack was determined to do something, he did it.  The funny thing was that he really didn't know exactly what was about to happen, although his imagination was running wild.

~I just hope he didn't steal the groundhog,~ Daniel sighed as he walked over to the front of the camp.  He coughed, prompting a couple of the children to look his direction.  “Uh, Brood, your attention, please,” he requested, looking all around.  He was happy that there were a few empty RV spots between Betsy, their RV, and the next family of campers down the road.  Once the children were facing him, he announced, “You're in for a treat.”  ~Or maybe a trick, if this were Halloween.~

“What is it?” David inquired.

~I wish I knew,~ Daniel thought.  ~I really hope he didn't break into the Groundhog Zoo.~  He smiled weakly at the children until a shout to hurry up entered his mind.  His lover was definitely nearby and ready.  “Well, we knew you were disappointed at Gobbler's Knob, so, uh ... here's Punxsutawney ...”  He paused, having turned to his right and seeing a sight among the trees that he hadn't anticipated.  In a quiet whisper, he spoke, “Jack?”

“The name is Phil, Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prog... and all of that,” came the animated response.  The speaker was a tall, brown creature with a large head.  He had big, black eyes, a big, black nose, and large, white buckteeth.  He stood with his right 'hand' paw on his hip and his left 'foot' paw extended.  “My double over at the zoo said you had some questions.  I'm here to answer them.  Shoot!”


“Hi, Mister Groundhog,” Jonny called out cheerfully amid other hellos from the children.

As the groundhog walked forward, Little Danny whispered to Jonny, “That's Dad.”

“I know that!” Jonny replied a bit sheepishly.

Sitting down Indian-style on the ground, the brown creature stated, “Call me Phil. Who's up first?”

“Me!” Jenny called out eagerly, waving her hand wantonly up into the air.

~I don't believe this,~ Daniel thought as he stood over to the side.  He thought this could be one of Jack's craziest ideas yet.  Then he caught sight of JD as Jennifer held him.  The little boy was captivated.  ~Then again,~ he opined, now with a softer expression on his face.

“Uh, Phil,” David interrupted.  “I thought groundhogs had gray hairs, like *Phil* did at the zoo?”

“There's an exception to every rule.  *I'm* the exception,” the groundhog replied.

“Pardon me, but groundhogs are also supposed to have short legs,” David smirked.

“And little boys are supposed to earn their allowances.  I sense some complications soon for one little boy.”

“Phil, you sure are a good-looking, typical groundhog.  Jenny, didn't you have a question?” David asked, quickly turning to his sister in an effort to save his allowance from becoming a thing of the past.

~Not that I had any doubt, but the boy is definitely a genius,~ Jack mused beneath his costume.

Nodding, Jenny asked, “Phil, how old are you?”

The groundhog looked at Daniel, whose head just lowered to try and cover up his laughter.  In fact, he turned around and walked a few feet away so that he was now behind the entire brood instead of off to the side.

Undaunted, 'Phil' answered, “I stopped counting at a hundred.”  He paused before adding, “I'm very wise.”

“I thought owls were wise,” Chenoa stated.

“They are,” 'Phil' acknowledged.

“If they're wise like you, can owls tell the weather, too?” Chenoa questioned.

“Absolutely not!  I am the only true weather forecasting animal.  Some may imitate me, but I am the only me!” the 'animal' responded, banging down on his knees with his front paws.  ~Ouch.~

“Phil,” Brianna called out with a bit of a smirk.  “A groundhog only lives for eight years or so, but you said you're over one-hundred years old.  Explain that.”

~Apparently, she didn't learn from David,~ Jack thought.  Keeping his voice calm and steady, he answered, “Elixir.”

“Huh?”

“Maybe young girls who question Phil's validity need to have their ears checked.  I think that can be arranged with a phone call to a certain physician.”

Leaning back, the tomboy responded nervously, “It was just a question.”

“What's lixure?” Ricky asked with true interest.

“*Elixir* is a magic drink, a punch, that I enjoy every summer at the Groundhog Picnic.  Every time I drink it, it expands my life by seven years.  It keeps me fit, too,” 'Phil' claimed, pounding his chest with his paws.

“Bet it tastes bad,” Ricky said, scrunching his nose.

“Nah, it's great stuff.”

“What's it made of?” Jeff questioned, shrugging when Jennifer, Brianna, and David all looked at him with disbelieving eyes.

“Top secret,” 'Phil' answered.  “If I told you, I'd have to ...”

“Uh, Phil ...” Daniel called out, shaking his head in warning.

“Next?” the groundhog asked.

“I didn't know groundhogs could talk,” Aislinn stated.

“We talk in groundhog-ese, and we have great mental powers.  That's why you don't see me talking.”  Gesturing by extending out his hands in front of him, he continued, “You just think I'm talking in English when I'm really talking in groundhog-ese.”

“Have you always gone to Gobbler's Knob to make your prediction?” Lulu inquired.

“No, Ma'am,” 'Phil' responded, the little girl giggling at his terminology.  “I used to give my forecasts in town, but the wife wanted something special.  You know women.  She suggested Gobbler's Knob.”

**Jack, that's not true,** Daniel communicated.

**Have you asked her?** Jack responded.

**Just stick to the facts, Jack,** the archaeologist ordered.

Jack, as the groundhog, continued, “1887 was the first time I went to the Knob, but folks decided I was worth celebrating in the early 1800's.”

“Are you ever wrong?” Jonny asked.

“Never.  My forecasts are always right.”

“How'd you get your name?” Jenny asked.

“Mom liked the name Philip.  Some say it was for England's King Philip, but I love a good nickname, so I became Phil.  For a while, though, I was just Briar Groundhog.”

“Like Briar Rabbit?” Jonny asked.

“Yep.”

“So you're related to Bagel?” the sandy-haired boy teased in question.

“Hey, no comparing the Sage of Sages to any bagel-stealing bunny rabbit,” 'Phil' quipped.

Jenny giggled, ran up to the groundhog, and hugged him, saying, “I love you, Dad.  You're so funny.”

“I aim to please, Princess,” Jack responded.

“We need to sing a groundhog song,” Aislinn declared.  She disappeared into the RV and then returned with a small bundle of papers.  Earlier, she'd found out about the songs at the library.  She'd asked her younger father if they could look up the music on the computer and then print out the songs so they could have a sing-along.  “What song do you want to sing, D...Phil?”

Reviewing the list, 'Phil' answered, “Number four is a sure-fire winner!”

“Okay, Brood.  You, too, Daddy.  It's sung to Rudolph's song,” Aislinn stated, referring to 'Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer'.  “Phil, you start.”

After a whistle lead in, 'Phil' sang:

“You know Bambi and Lassie and Goofy and Winnie
Smokey and Porky and Mickey and Minnie
But do you recall the most famous mammal of all”

The children giggled as they sang the rest of the song with their younger father and visiting groundhog:

“Phillip the weather groundhog has a very chilly task
And if you ever watch him, be sure to wear your ski mask
All of the other groundhogs stay inside their cubbyholes
They never help poor Phillip look for any shadows
On the second of this month, Phillip comes to say
'Winter with your arctic blasts, won't you go away at last'
But if he sees his shadow, then we know that it will be
Six weeks or maybe more, till the winter's history.”

Midway through the song, Daniel noticed that another RV had pulled into the space next to theirs.  Being towed behind it was a pickup truck.  There was still a nice distance between the two campsites, but as several children and a man began to file out of the RV, something caught his attention: their demeanor.  It was the initial small looks, smiles, and glances passed between the couple that had captured the linguist's attention.

“Let's sing another one,” Aislinn suggested.  “Little Danny, you pick one.”

The middle Munchkin perused the songs on his handout and then said, “Number nine.”

Boisterously, the family began singing, “You ain't nothin' but a groundhog, sleepin' all the time,” to the tune of Elvis Presley's 'Hound Dog'.

Laughing, the archaeologist looked over at the new RV campers again.  He was full of curiosity.  He looked back at his brood.  They were all up on their feet now, dancing with Phil the Groundhog.  Even JD was clapping his hands as Jennifer danced around with him in her arms.

Stealthily, Daniel walked over to the other campsite, where he spotted one of the children a few yards from the RV.  He guessed the young boy was about seven or eight, and he was watching the brood intently.

“Hello.  I'm Daniel, and my family and I are, uh, over there,” Daniel said to the young boy while shaking his head a bit at the silliness that was going on with the groundhog-ized 'Hound Dog' song.

“Da, a man is here,” the boy stated.

Daniel recognized the child's accent immediately.  It was comfortingly familiar.

Looking back at Daniel, he spoke, “My name is Ben.”

“Hello,” a man in his mid-forties stated, coming out of the RV with an ice cooler in his hands.

The man was six-feet tall, slender, and, Daniel had to admit, very handsome.  He knew it wasn't the same man he had seen getting out of the RV earlier.  He'd seen him go around towards the truck.

Daniel nodded and introduced, “Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.  Dia dhuit.”

“Dia dhuit,” the man replied with an amazed smile.

“My family is that nut house over there,” Daniel added, raising his left hand up and pointing behind him.  “Sorry about the noise,” he spoke with a smile.

Putting down the cooler and taking in the singing and dancing family, the man responded, “No worries at all.  Sean O'Reilly, at your service.”

“You're not from around here,” Daniel spoke, saying the obvious with a smile.

The man laughed, “You're a sharp one, Daniel.”

“We're from Ireland,” the little boy quietly added, getting as close to his father as possible and gripping his hand tightly.

“Cobh, in County Cork,” Sean elaborated.  He looked down at the boy fondly and smiled.  “Ben, you might want to loosen your grip there before you cut off the circulation and my hand falls off.”  As Daniel laughed, Sean looked up and explained, “This is Ben.  He's a little shy with strangers, Daniel, but that'll all change once he gets to know you, believe me.”

“Hi, Ben,” Daniel greeted warmly.

“Sean, tá bonn bog agam ...” came a man's loud voice from behind the truck.  The man's head suddenly popped up over the hood of the vehicle, and, seeing Daniel, he smiled warmly and said, “I didn't know we had company.”

“Leannán, this is Daniel.  He belongs to that family over there,” Sean spoke, smiling as he gestured towards the loud singing from next door.

“Ah, I wondered who that was,” the man laughed, making his way towards Sean and Daniel while wiping his dirty hands on a cloth.  “They all looked like a scout group or somethin'.”

Having heard the endearment of 'Lover', Daniel smiled.  His suspicions had just been confirmed, and he was suddenly excited by the prospect of getting to know these people.  As the man reached them, the archaeologist could see he was a little taller and bigger built than Sean, about the same age, and just as handsome.

Sean watched Daniel with interest.  Was it his imagination, or was Daniel grinning like a fiend.

~He seems like a nice guy, maybe he'll be okay,~ Sean thought to himself.  Taking a deep breath, he took the man's hand, looked Daniel straight in the eyes, and said boldly, “This is my John.”

With a gleam in his eyes, the archaeologist reached out to shake John's hand while saying, “It's a pleasure to meet you.  You don't sound Irish to me, though.”

Laughing, John said, “You must be good with accents.  We've found many who confuse the two.”

“I'm not sure how,” Daniel chuckled.  He added, “I'm sorry about your flat tire.  If you need help ...”

“You speak Gaelic?” Sean questioned, a little surprised, since Daniel had just translated John's statement about their truck having a flat tire.

“I'm a linguist, so that's ... yes,” Daniel  stuttered, trying to stop himself from going into a lengthy explanation.

With a nod, John informed, “I'm from the Scottish Highlands originally, but now I live with Sean and the young ones on the coast, in Cobh.”  Hearing the song continuing at the next camp, he chuckled, “That's your family?”

“Uh, yeah,” Daniel laughed.  “Those are my children, and that's my husband,” he stated proudly, motioning behind him.

“You're married to a gráinneog?” Sean inquired, using the Irish word for hedgehog.

“No, to a six-foot-two child,” Daniel quipped.  “We call them groundhogs here, by the way.”

~Oh, yeah, this was definitely a good place to stop,~ Sean had thought while Daniel was talking.  “Your husband?” he repeated, smiling at the irony.

“Yeah.  Are you two ... married?" Daniel asked tentatively.

“Nearly seven years now.  We wed as soon as it was legal in bonny Scotland,” John answered, putting his arm around Sean's shoulders.

“That's great,” Daniel replied.  “We've been married eight years, nine as of this November.”  After a moment, he gestured to three more curious faces, all peeking out from behind the RV, and asked, “These are your children?”

“Kids, come here,” Sean called out.

Three children quickly joined Sean, John, and Ben.

Sean introduced, “This lad is Jared.  He's six.  This one over here is Aine, who's just turned seven, and that one there with the goofy look on her face ...”

“Da!” the girl whined with a smile on her face.

Gaily, John added, “She's Catherine.  She's the babe.”

“I'm six, too, Baba,” Catherine reminded.

“Yes, but you're four months younger than your brother,” John spoke.

“That means you're the baby,” Jared chuckled.

“And you've met our Ben,” Sean completed, patting the boy on the back.  “He's the oldest.”

“I'm eight.”

“That's a good age,” Daniel spoke.

“Kids, finish your chores so we can have our dessert,” John instructed.

“Uh, listen, when you're settled, you're welcome to ...”

“Daniel?” Jack called out, making his way over, stumbling a little over his big groundhog feet.

“It's the groundhog of a husband,” Sean teased.

Hearing the comment, Jack laughed behind his mask, “Better than being a donkey of one.”

“Now that's a truth with some dynamite to it,” John joked.

“Uh, Babe, you wanna ...” Daniel began, motioning with his fingers for his husband to remove the woodchuck costume from his head.

Jack did as requested, brushing his silver hair back and shaking it as he came into contact with fresh air again.

“Much better, Love,” Daniel said approvingly.  Looking back at the other two men, he introduced, “This is my husband, Jack.  Jack, this is Sean and John.  They're visiting from Ireland, and they're *married*.”

Jack stared at Daniel and then at the two men, smiling brightly as he exclaimed, “Well, spank me, Rosy.  Welcome to the States!”

After shaking hands, Jack noticed the children and asked, “And they are ...”

“Our children,” Sean stated happily.

Jack and Daniel both had grins on their faces; it was the older man who couldn't help but ask, “Adopted?”

“Kind of half and half,” Sean chuckled.  Seeing their guests' interested expressions, he added, “You really want to know all the details?”

“Please,” Daniel replied.

Having paused a moment to weigh up the situation, Sean shrugged and said, “All right then.  It's a long tale to be sure, but for some reason, I feel like I can share it with you.  Ben's my little bright star.”  Still holding the boy's hand, he explained, “Although I'd been with John since we were about eighteen, I'd known dear Anne since I was knee high to a grasshopper.  She was sweet on me right from the start.  I loved her as a friend, but she knew I'd never leave my John.  We helped her out a lot over the years.  She'd had a rough time, and she was so desperate for a babe.  She wasn't getting' any younger, if you know what I mean, so after a lot of thought and discussions with John, I stepped up and helped her out with the little swimmers.”

“I think I understood all that,” Jack quipped.  “Where is Anne?  Is she here with you?”

“I'm sorry to say our sweet Anne passed in giving birth to our Ben.”

“I'm so sorry,” Daniel spoke reverently.

“Oh, don't be, Daniel,” Sean assured.  Smiling at the boy again, he said, “She lives on in Ben, that's for certain.”

“Aye, that she does,” John agreed with a smile of his own.  “Moving on, Jared here is my boy,” he explained, resting his hand on the young boy's shoulder.

“Hi,” Jared greeted.

“Long story short, his mother, Marie, was a very old friend of mine, and a few months after Sean brought Ben home from the hospital, she up and offered to give us another child, as a surrogate, right out of the blue.  We were shocked beyond measure.  I mean, what do you say to somethin' like that?  But we thought about it and discussed it with her a lot.  It was a hard decision to make. She wasn't interested in raising a family or being a mother herself, but she wanted something of her to be left on this earth, and she trusted us to bring the child up right, you know?  Ben was still only a baby, so we went for it.”

“Wow, that's great,” Daniel offered.

“It sure is,” John stated, beaming as he looked down at Jared.

“Our other two little angels are adopted,” Sean spoke about the two little girls.

“Depending on where we are,” John sighed.

“Our Aine and Catherine were actually our friends' daughters, and we were their godparents,” Sean explained.  “Aeryn and Andrew were killed in a speed boat accident, of all things.  Tragic waste, to be sure,” he sighed sadly.  “Aine was only two, and Cathe was barely eight-months old.”

“We'd always loved the girls like they were our own, and we adopted them legally in Scotland,” John added.  “We choose to live in Ireland, though, and while the debate continues, it's still not legal there.”

“But, Aeryn and Andy had always said they wanted us to take the girls if anything ever happened to them, and they made their feelings crystal clear in their will,” Sean explained.  “So with that, and the help of their solicitor, we can keep the girls with us in Ireland, and no one can do anything about it.”

~Solicitor?~ Jack thought.  ~Oh, yeah, a lawyer.~

“All of our neighbors are very supportive, anyway,” John noted.  “They love the little ones and wouldn't see any harm come to them, that's for sure.”

Sean looked over at the dozen children at the next camp and observed, “You have a mighty group there.”

“An even dozen,” Jack spoke with pride.

“Adopted?” John asked.

“Some,” Jack answered.

“We used a surrogate for our youngest children, and, uh, well ... it's a long story,” Daniel stated.  “Jack, I was about to invite the O'Reillys to join us this evening.”

“Wonderful idea.”

“Maybe you can teach us about ... whatever you are,” Sean mused.

“Haven't you heard of Punxsutawney Phil?”  Getting blank stares, Jack stated, “We'll be happy to educate you.”

“We'll be over shortly,” John agreed.

“We look forward to it,” Jack said.

“Wait,” Sean called out.  “Do you mind if we bring our instruments?”

“Please do.”  Daniel's eyes brightened at the thought of hearing real Irish and Scottish music.  “Bring over anything you like,” he added with a nod.

Jack and Daniel walked away, their arms around each other.  They were smiling and anxious to get to know this new family.

Sean and John stood side-by-side, smiling as they watched their new friends returning to their camp.  They, too, were eager to get to know a family that seemed to have so much in common with their own clan.

====

“How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

“Again!” Jack ordered.

“How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” the brood and their guests called out again.

“Faster!” Daniel urged.

The game continued as everyone shouted out the well-known tongue twister.

“Aw, shucks,” Jonny exclaimed when he messed up the phrase, taking him out of the impromptu game.

“Faster!” Jack called out.

One by one, the tongue twister took out its victim until only five were left: Jack, Sean, Ben, Little Danny, and Brianna.

Daniel shook his head at his lover, knowing that the older man's competitive juices were flowing over a word game.  He was torn between laughter and chastising his husband for not allowing the children to win.  Of course, the game wasn't over yet.

“Again, three times in a row, no stopping, Lads and Lassies,” Sean challenged.

“How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” the group rang out.  “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” they said again, Sean snapping his fingers in chagrin as he stumbled over the words, eliminating him from the game.  “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” the four remaining players stated without making a mistake.

“Say it while clapping your hands and stomping your feet,” John challenged with a smile.

The four made the attempt, but Little Danny succumbed, sighing, “I forgot to stomp.”

“Faster, and no stopping until someone wins!” Jonny put forth.

As the chant began, Daniel was about to warn his husband when Jack fell out of the game, giving his husband a knowing look.  The two looked at Sean and John, all of their eyes communicating the unspoken agreement.  All four men had been capable of winning the game, but all four had, finally with Jack's demise, dropped out.  They did it so well, all four scattered, that the children were clueless about the conspiracy.

The game was down to two very determined youngsters.  For five minutes, it went on, until Jack thought he was going to lose his mind if he heard the tongue twister one more time.

“How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” Ben and Brianna said in perfect unison.

“Whoa!” Jack called out, walking over to kneel down between the two youngsters.

“But no one's won yet,” Brianna complained.

“The winner, for the North American region, Brianna!” Jack announced, holding up the tomboy's hand.  He smiled, looking at Ben, and said, “And the winner, for the European region, Ben!”  He patted the boy on the back and then held up his hand.  “Good job.”

**Great solution, Babe,** Daniel praised, getting a smile from his soulmate in response.

====

“They look like drums to me,” Jonny spoke a while later as he and his siblings looked at the circular objects the O'Reillys had brought with them to the Jackson-O'Neill encampment.  “I play the drums.”

“That's why we have earplugs,” Aislinn teased, laughing when Jonny glared at her with his hands on his hips.

Joyfully, Sean explained, “The bodhran is a drum.”

“How do you spell it?” Little Danny asked curiously.  After Sean spelled it out for him, he observed, “So the 'd' is silent.”  He looked up, asking, “Daddy, is that an example for the 'dh' sound softening?”

Nodding, Daniel spoke, “Remember what we studied.  In Old Irish, the 'dh' sounds like ...”

“I know!” Jenny stated excitedly.  When her younger father nodded, she said, “It sounds like 'th', like in 'with'.”

The linguist responded, “Right, but eventually it softened.  In modern language, what does the 'dh' sound do?”

“It modifies the vowel in front of it,” Little Danny answered.

“Right, so the b-o is pronounced bow, as in cow, and the r-a-n is pronounced rawn, like in the word 'brawn',” Daniel instructed.

“And make sure to emphasize the first syllable, Lad,” Sean interjected.

--

Off to the side, John remarked, “That was very good: a bit of school while on vacation?”

Jack smiled and replied, “We homeschool the brood.  We take advantage of these moments.  The kids learn better.”

“Aye, that they do.  We'd have liked to homeschool our little ones, too, but it's not really allowed in Ireland, so they go to the local school, and we just teach them a bit extra at home,” the man added.  “You know, the stuff they should teach in school, but they don't,” he put forth.

Jack nodded in appreciation and admiration and then tuned back into the impromptu language lesson.

--

“Do you speak Gaelic?” Jared asked Little Danny.

“Níl ach beagáinín Gaeilge agam,” Little Danny replied.

“He's teasing,” Jennifer spoke, raising her eyebrows at her bashful brother.  “He speaks more than a little Gaelic.  We all speak it a little, but aside from Dad and Daddy, he's the best of all of us.”

Little Danny turned a light shade of pink as he bowed his head a bit.

“Dad and Daddy: is that what you call your parents?” Aine asked.

“Yeah.  Why, what do you call your fathers?” Ricky questioned curiously.

“Well, he's Da,” Aine explained, pointing to Sean, “and he's Baba,” she added, pointing towards John.

“Baba means 'father' or 'dad' in Turkish,” Little Danny pointed out.

“Wow, you are smart,” Aine chuckled as Little Danny blushed again.  “Yeah, Baba's grandmother was from Cyprus, so he always called his grandpa and da, Baba, so we do, too.”

“That's neat,” Jonny responded.

--

“Isn't a drum a drum?” Lulu asked inquisitively as she looked at the bodhran that Catherine held.  “Jonny's cute when he goes all goofy and beats on his drum set,” she giggled.

“Cute?  I am *not* cute,” Jonny stated.

“Yes, you are, Jonny,” Lulu said, leaning over and giving her brother a kiss on the cheek.

“Aww, Lulu,” the boy whined as he wiped his cheek.

--

“He's gonna be a lady killer when he grows up, Jack,” John teased quietly.

“Think so?” Jack asked with a bit too much of a proud smile, causing John to chuckle a little.

“So, did you put your names together when you wed?” John asked.

“Yeah, it made sense, and it sounds kinda nice,” Jack answered with a shrug and a smile.

“So, who was the O'Neill?”

“Ah, that would be me.”

“So, an Irish lad and a linguist.  That explains the mystery of your knowledge of Gaelic then,” John deduced.

--

“Tell her about the bodhran, Cathe,” Sean urged with a supportive nod.

“The bodhran, the drum, has been around for a long time, but it was generally used more for celebrations, something to make noise or provide a primitive rhythmic beat.  It was used a lot in wars and in festivals, but it wasn't really treated like a real musical instrument until the 1960's.”

“That's a *lonnnnnnng* time ago,” Chenoa interjected, causing Jack to raise his hand to his mouth and cough.

Catherine continued, “In Eire, the bodhran was used mostly in the southwest.  It became a mainstay of traditional music in the 1970's.  The bodhran is evolving.  We have beaters that achieve different sounds, and there are tunable ones.”

“Like a guitar?” Jeff asked in earnest.

The girl nodded, saying, “Yes.  We prefer the traditional ones, though, don't we, Da?”

“That we do, Cathe,” Sean affirmed.

--

Jack smirked, “Sounds like you and Sean take advantage of learning opportunities, too.”

John smiled and nodded as he refocused on the musical discussion.  The two families appeared to be very much alike in many ways.

--

“Can I play it?” Jonny asked hopefully.

“Of course,” Sean answered.  Then, though, with a gleam in his eye, he asked, “Do you just want to beat on it, or would you really like to *play* it?”

“I want to play it!” Jonny exclaimed.

“Ben, teach the lad,” Sean instructed.

Moving over to stand by Jonny, Ben took the instrument and said, “You said you're a drummer, but with the bodhran, you don't want to drive the beat or jump out to lead.  What you want to do is match the beat, enhance the rhythm, and follow the music.”

Jonny nodded, eager to jump right in.

“Not so fast, Lad,” Sean said.  “Ben.”

“You have to have good wrist strength for the bodhran, so it's important to warm up.”

“Like with dancing exercises,” Lulu surmised.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Ben confirmed with a shrug, not knowing anything about dancing exercises.  “Stretch your hands, arms, and shoulders like this,” the boy demonstrated.  “Loosen up.  You should do it for a few minutes.”

“Let's all do it,” Daniel suggested as he made sure the entire family was following Ben's lead.

The boy bent back each finger of his stick hand one at a time.  Then he did it using different combinations of his fingers.  After that, he bent his whole hand backward, forward, and sideways.  The Jackson-O'Neills and the O'Reillys all followed suit.

Various other exercises continued until Ben stated, “Now that we've loosened up, we can begin to play, but we want to start slowly.”

“I like going fast,” Jonny protested.

“Me, too, but you have to protect your wrist.”

“Or else you'll get BTS -- bodhran tunnel syndrome,” Brianna joked.

The O'Reillys laughed gaily.

--

“Your family has a good sense of humor,” John spoke as he continued to stand next to Jack.

“Humor is a must in life.”

“Especially if you play the bodhran; it doesn't get a lot of respect,” the man claimed.

Looking at John, Jack spoke, “I would have thought otherwise from what Cathe said.”

“She didn't lie, but the bodhran is the brunt of many jokes.  Here's one for you,” John said, clearing his throat.  “Why do bodhran players find it difficult to enter a room?”

Jack shrugged and responded “Why?”

“They never know when to come in,” John answered.

Jack laughed, but refuted, “That's not so bad.”

“My baba always liked this one for its simplicity,” John said.  “Bodhran care is simple -- rub gently with lighter fluid, and ignite.”

“Not a fan of the bodhran?”

“He's pure Scot,” John reported.  “If it's not the bagpipes, it's not worth playing,” he laughed.  “Here's another.  A bodhran player was sick of the band abusing him and decided to start his own.  He walked into a music shop, planning to buy the first instruments he saw.  Right off, he called out, 'Give me the red saxophone and that accordion'.  The shop owner knew the truth right away.  'You play the bodhran, don't you?' he asked.  The player was surprised.  'That's right.  Why?' he asked.  The shop owner answered, 'Well, the fire extinguisher I can sell you, but the radiator stays.'”

Jack laughed, “Sounds like our blonde jokes.  We have a million of 'em.”

“Blondes?”

“Blonde jokes, and blondes,” the general spoke.

--

“That's good, Jonny,” Ben praised.  “Try to keep your wrist as straight as possible.  It's better for you.”

“I want to try it,” Aislinn stated.

“Jack, come with me, and we'll get the other bodhrans,” John said as he began walking back to his family's RV.

“You have more?”

“We're a Scotirish family, Man,” John spoke, his pronunciation of Scotirish a smooth blend of three syllables into one word.  “Music is part of our lives.  We couldn't come to America without having our music to relax with,” he added as the two walked to the other camp.

“Scotirish?” Jack asked.

“Cross between Scottish and Irish, Lad.”

“Ah,” Jack responded.  ~This guy reminds me of me!  No wonder I like him,~ he mused inwardly.

Soon, the O'Reilly clan was showing their new American friends the joy of playing their two eighteen-inch bodhrans and their two mini-sized, eight-inch bodhrans.

As the children all had a go on the bodhrans, Daniel casually asked, “So, what brought you to America?”

Stopping her playing, Aine looked up at Sean and requested, “Tell them the story, Da.”

Sean and John exchanged a look.  It was tender and loving, one not unlike those Jack and Daniel commonly shared.  In fact, seeing the expression, the two lovers exchanged their own look.  It was loving, too, but was also full of curiosity.

“Please, tell us,” Daniel requested.

With the bodhrans silenced, the group settled down.  The children from the two families were intermingled in a semi-circle.  Behind them stood John and Jack.  Off to the right, Daniel was holding JD, having just pulled out a bottle for the baby.  Between the Monaco coach and the others, Sean stood.

Gazing over at his lover, Sean began, “I've always been lucky.  I've had my John since I was eighteen.  Crazy Scotsman.  He's always brought such carefree joy to my life.  My parents died not long after we met, and I didn't cope very well with their loss.  I kept myself busy learning.  I went to Dublin University, and spent most of my time buried in books and on the computer.  I could play my violin, but not as well as Ma would've liked.  So, I stopped playing it.  I always felt like if I played it, she'd be disappointed in me.  John tried to get me out walking and to enjoy the land I loved, but I didn't think I had the time.  Then John finally took me to visit his ma and baba in Scotland.”

“Yay, Baba and Gran'ma!” Ben, Aine, Catherine, and Jared called out.

“Baba?” Jack questioned, his eyes widening as his head jerked back just a tad.  “Like Ali Baba and his forty thieves?”

“No, Dad,” Jonny responded, sounding like an adult.  “Baba means dad,” he explained as if his father should have known that.

“Pardon me,” Jack responded, making a funny face.

Sean laughed at Jack's reaction.  Clearly, he thought it was an odd name for a father to have.

Continuing on, though, Sean spoke, “What a ride!  We spent the whole summer there, and it was a true tonic.  I learned to live life for now and to appreciate the beauty of the world.  It was an emotional summer.  A lot of healing was done in those few months, and I started to pick up my violin again; to make my ma proud. Many years later ...”

“This is the good part,” a smiling Aine spoke as she leaned over towards Chenoa and Lulu.

Sean chuckled, “Many years later, after Ben and Jared were born and we were blessed with the angels, John and I were playing Maw.”

“What's that?” Jenny questioned.

“It's an old Irish card game.  Some call it Spoil Five,” Sean answered.

“It's a little like Bridge,” Daniel interjected.

“Well, I looked around the room to find Jared on the Internet, Aine watching a film, Ben downloading music onto his iPod, and Cathe on the Playstation.  I suddenly realized I couldn't remember the last time any of them had left all that technology behind and walked out to explore the land.  Last year, we decided to take them to Scotland to visit Gran'ma and Baba; try and teach them the lesson I learned years before.”

Just then, John started to hum.  It wasn't a tune any of the Jackson-O'Neills recognized, but it seemed to stir the feelings of the O'Reillys.

“That's right, Leannán.  That's an old Scottish folk tune, that is -- 'Summer Walkers',” Sean explained to the brood.  “It was the song that was playing when we very first met at the local pub in Dublin, and we played it at our wedding.”

“It's our reminder,” said Aine proudly.

“That's right,” Sean praised.

“What's a pub?” Jenny asked.

“A bar,” Jack stated.

“A bar, a restaurant, a place to gather and meet new friends,” Sean corrected.

“Why don't they just call it a bar?” Jonny asked.

“They do, Lad -- in America,” John teased.

“Pub's a funny word,” Jonny maintained.

“Jonny, like most words, pub is the end result of something else.  It's actually short for 'public house', which originally meant any building open to the public.  Eventually, that definition changed to a place, or inn, that provided food and also sold ale, wine, and spirits,” Daniel explained.

“He means alcohol; liquor,” Jack expounded.

“Then a pub became synonymous with a tavern,” Daniel spoke.

A bit frustrated, Jonny said, “That's a bar.”

“Yes, but ...”

“Why don't we worry about the word lesson later,” Jack suggested, motioning over towards Sean, who still hadn't completed the tale they were listening to.

Sean smiled and continued, “As a family, we sing this song together a lot now, but one night at Gran'ma and Baba's, it called out to us with a new meaning.  The words were like magic, and we knew we had to act on them.”

“Sing us the song,” Aislinn requested, curious to hear the song that had affected the O'Reillys so much.

“Ah, do you just want us to sing it, or do you want to really *understand it*?”  John questioned.

“I want to understand it,” Little Danny replied, with nods of agreement from all his siblings.

“Alright, it'll be a little disjointed, but we'll sing and explain as we go, okay?” Sean explained.

“Yeah!” the brood encouraged.

Sean stood at the front with the children all sitting in front of him, Jack and Daniel standing at the back, and John off to the side.

“Now, we need a little audience participation.  We're gonna need stamping of feet and clapping of hands.  I'll tell you when.  That all right?” Sean called out.

“YAY!” all the children yelled.

“Woo hoo!” Jack shouted just as the children had quieted down again.  All eyes suddenly flew back to focus on him, and Daniel took a theatrical step to one side; his eyes screaming 'I'm not with him'.

After a few giggles, Sean said, "Now, listen well," as he began the first verse.

“Sometimes when you journey through the pages of a book
You're taken places beyond words, you let them speak their truths
Today I've opened treasures, that my heart could scarce believe
They're the words of confirmation, everything that makes me sing.”

Then John sang, walking slowly around the semi-circle of children until he stood, facing the man he loved.

“Summer comes to Sutherland, and you bend the hazel bow
You harness up the ponies, and you head out on the road
By Kilbreck and Altnaharra, you journey to your rest
With the guiding might of Suilven, for the campsites of the west.”

“Now, what did you get from that?” Sean asked the group at large.  As four hands shot up into the air, he added, “And our lot don't count 'cause you already know the answer.”

Four hands were slowly lowered, with a few sighs and moans.

As the Jackson-O'Neill brood looked a little confused, Daniel came forward and explained, “You remember the reason we came on this trip?”

“Yeah,” the brood replied, still a little confused.

“Well, the song is explaining that,” Daniel stated.  “Books are wonderful.  They take us to places that are limited only by our imaginations, and they teach us about people, places, and things we might never know about otherwise.”

“But they're still books,” Jack stated.  “We're on this trip because Daddy and I wanted all of you to have a chance to spend some time in places you might not see if we weren't traveling.”

“Like McBee.  We probably never would have picked there to go on a vacation,” Aislinn stated thoughtfully.  She paused, still contemplating the lesson being taught.  “I love the Bells,” she spoke about the farming family that had befriended the Jackson-O'Neills just the week before in a tiny town in South Carolina.

“Exactly,” Daniel affirmed.  “That's what the song is saying.”

Running through the second verse, the family talked about the words and their meaning, that with the summer, it was time to pack their bags and explore the world.

“Sounds like you're getting' it just fine,” Sean praised.  “The chorus is comin' next.  Tell you what; we'll all sing it through for you.  It's pretty easy, so you'll pick up the words quick, I'm sure.”

John, Sean, Jared, and Ben, all began singing the chorus.  The girls joined in with a sweet harmony that caught the attention of the brood, especially Aislinn.

“And it's up by the Shin
And up by the 'Naver
And the long winding shores
Of Loch Maree
By Ben Hope and Ben Loyal
By Stack and by Arkle
The road reaches long
Now the summer is here.”

“That was wonderful!” Aislinn exclaimed.

“Thank you, Ash,” Aine responded cheerfully.

“Why would you sing about your shin?” Jenny asked, looking down at the body part in question.

Jack chuckled lightly, “The song wasn't about your shin, Red.”

“But it said it was 'up by the shin'.  I remember the words,” the confused Spitfire stated.

“In this case, Jenny, the Shin is a place,” John interjected.  “These places are all my old stomping grounds from my childhood.”

“David, why don't you tell us about them,” Daniel asked, quickly explaining to everyone that, by pure chance, the boy had just recently done a geographic profile of Scotland as a project for his homeschooling.

“Mountains in Scotland are usually called Ben something or another, so in the song, they are talking about Ben Hope; that's in Northern Scotland.  Ben Loyal is in the Scottish Highlands.  Loch Maree is there, too, but it's a lake.  It's supposed to be one of the most beautiful lochs in Scotland.”  David suddenly chuckled and looked at his dad, saying, “Dad, they have a monster there, too, just like at Loch Ness.  It's called the Muc-sheilch.”

“That there is,” John chuckled.  “She's a big beastie, let me tell you.”

“Just don't tell your Uncle Billy,” Jack teased his children.

“David, you forgot naver.  What's that?” Lulu asked.

“Oh, I'm not sure, Lulu,” David admitted.

“The Naver River is in Sutherland,” Ben explained.  “That's like a county, or region, depending on how you look at it.  It's in Northern Scotland.”

Jenny sighed in frustration, whining, “But what's the shin?”

Ben chuckled, “It's a waterfall, Jenny.”

“The story is telling us the path the walkers are taking,” Sean explained.  “Up by the waterfall, up along the river, and past the winding shores of Loch Maree.”

“Stack and Arkle are mountains, too,” Catherine said.  “They're really Ben Stack and Ben Arkle, but I guess they left that out for the song,” she commented with a shrug.  “Poet's permit,” she added, as if that explained everything.

"Poetic license, Sweetheart,” Sean corrected with a chuckle.

With an enthused voice, David added, “Did you know that Ben Arkle is made up of quartzite?”

“What's that?” Chenoa asked.

“Metamorphic rock which was originally sandstone,” David answered, the boy having always been extremely interested in the study of rocks and rock formations.

“Excellent!” John praised.  “I think we're ready for some more,” he said while moving a little closer and looking into Sean's eyes as he began to sing again.

As the singing continued, Daniel, still holding JD, walked to stand by his soulmate.  They gazed into each other's eyes, feeling the love of the song they were hearing.

“I love you, Danny,” Jack whispered as he played with JD's fingers.

“I love you, too, so much, Jack,” Daniel whispered in response.

The lovers kissed just as Sean began singing the final verse.

“So as we close another chapter
That we label Archive Gold
Still the Conon flows each morning
And the dew falls on the sloe.”

Taking John's hand in his, Sean continued the tender verse.

“But today you took me walking
Through a land that we have lost
While our children sit at websites
With no access to the cost.”

Suddenly, everything was quiet.  The group of fifteen children looked behind them at Jack and Daniel.  Then they looked in front of them at Sean and John.  Both couples were locked in loving, tender gazes, seemingly having forgotten that they weren't alone.

“Oh, brother,” Jennifer sighed.  “Dad!  Daddy!”

“Da, Baba!” Ben called out.

The four men startled out of their trances at the same time.  They looked over at each other, and all began to laugh.

“Sorry,” Daniel muttered sheepishly.

“Okay, who understood that?” Jack challenged, getting everyone's attention back to the song.

The silver-haired man sat down on the ground, and everyone followed suit.

“I love the words,” Jennifer sighed.  “Archive gold: what a great way of saying something is a perfect memory to be treasured forever.”

“Like our trip,” Little Danny stated.

“Ours, too,” Catherine giggled.

“So this last verse is saying that the trip is ending, but it's one that will always be remembered,” Daniel stated.

“Aye, that's right,” John affirmed.  “Life goes on.  That's what it means by talking about the River Conon flowing each morning and that nature keeps on thriving.  You've got to notice the small things in nature, like the dew falling on the sloe.”

“What's the sloe?” Chenoa asked.

“The sloe is a fruit,” John answered.  “It's a bit like a plum.  Really nice. I used to eat them off the bushes on my way to school.”

“So, this verse means we'll all go home and continue on, probably as we did before,” Daniel put forth.  “Our trip will be a memory, but ...”

Hearing his younger father trail off and sensing a bit of sadness, Little Danny got up and walked over to Daniel, hugging him tightly.  He even gave him a kiss.

Then, with a huge smile, the child genius said, “We have to use computers at home, Daddy, but we'll always remember our trip.”

Daniel ran his hands through the boy's hair, saying nothing, though he communicated silently, **I don't know how to get them to understand that there is a price for all of our technology, as wonderful as it is.  They'll never really understand, Jack.**

**Then we just have to make sure they do remember that technology isn't the center of their lives.**

**You know that, and I know that, but I'm not convinced they really know that,** Daniel lamented.

“Brood,” Jennifer called out, leaning forward and patting Katie, who was seated at her feet.  “You know how sometimes we watch a TV show like 'Little House on the Prairie'?  That's what Dad and Daddy, and Sean and John,” she paused, smiling over at the couple for a moment, “are trying to get through to us.  We have a lot of gadgets today, but, Noa, remember the sewing machine at the museum?  It really wasn't that long ago when that was the latest thing.  Or, Jonny, that airplane you were talking about.  It was the best of its time.  The song is saying that we, the children, will never really understand what it's like to live like the Ingalls did on TV.  We can't because we *are* surrounded by gadgets that make our lives so much easier.”

Aislinn leaned back to look up at Jack and said, “We can't help that, Dad.  We're too little.”

“We know, Princess.  What Daddy and I want is for you to realize how lucky we are and ...”

“... and to know that even today there are other ways of living.  Just ... remember and, when you can, go out and explore,” Daniel urged.  “Exploration doesn't have to be to another world.  There's excitement in discovering our roots, in experiencing what everyday life is like for someone else.”  He leaned forward a bit, adjusting his stance only slightly since JD was still in his lap and Little Danny still had one arm around his shoulder.  His eyes were bright, and his voice was airy with wonder.  “Hike the mountains, go to places no one else wants to, see beyond the buildings, ask questions, and listen to the answers carefully.  Whenever you get the chance as you grow up, *please* seek out alternatives.  Go to Disneyland when it's appropriate; stay in the luxury hotel when you want; but ... don't ever start thinking that that's the only way, and the day any of you say anyplace isn't good enough for you, well ... that's the day that Dad and I would be very disappointed in you.  *Learn* ... with your hearts, as much as with your minds.  Get dirty.  Remember what Rolaine said about some of the archaeology students?  Don't ever do that.  Never only go halfway.  If you're going to commit to something, commit, with everything you have, and then take what you learn with you.”

Jack interjected, “Consider the costs of everything you do.  Hiding your noses in computers, video games, iPods, TV; even books, comes at a cost.”

“I hope you guys are listening to this, too,” Sean stated as more of a question to his children.

“Yes, Da,” Aine replied, clearly holding onto every word Jack and Daniel had just spoken.

After a few seconds of silence, as the children thought about their impromptu lesson, Sean stood up, suggesting, “Let's bring it home with another chorus, shall we?  Think you can all join in this time?”

“YAY!” was his response.

“We need clapping hands and stamping feet in time with the song.  Ben, can you keep rhythm on your bodhran?”

“Okay, Da.”

Leading the whole group in the song's chorus again, with even Jack and Daniel joining in, Sean sang.

“And it's up by the Shin
And up by the 'Naver
And the long winding shores
Of Loch Maree.”

Several other campers poked their heads out to watch the large group clapping and stamping their feet, many clearly itching to join in.  Aislinn sang the beautiful harmony along with Aine and Catherine, while Ben and Jared took up a third harmony.  Even Bijou and Katie joined in with well-timed barks and wagging tails.

“Go round again,” John called out.

“By Ben Hope and Ben Loyal
By Stack and by Arkle
The road reaches long
Now the summer is here.”

“Let's sing some more,” Aislinn called out, clapping her hands with excitement.

“That's a fine idea, little lady.  Let's take a break, and then we'll go for it.  We'll show you the real meaning of Gaelic music,” Sean said, winking at the youngest Munchkin.

At that, the children began talking and playing amongst themselves, while the parents ended up standing over to the side.  Sean had taken hold of JD, who was giggling at the man's shoulder length curly hair.

“That song: it ... says a lot,” Daniel spoke.

“That it does,” John agreed.  “Sean and I love our life, but it was time to show the wee ones what life is about outside the walls of our home.  We decided to spend our summers touring the world, beginning with Canada and America.  It's costing plenty to rent this RV and truck, but it's worth every euro.”

“We wanted to do the same thing,” Daniel responded.  “We do travel a lot, but not quite like this.  We wanted the children to see something of life without computers and ...”

“Like the song, Danny,” Jack interrupted.

“Yeah, like the song,” the archaeologist agreed with a smile.

====

As the evening progressed, the kids were having a great time, playing various games.  JD was now in Jeff's possession as the teenager played with him.  The adults were chatting, learning that they had quite a bit in common beyond the obvious.  It felt good talking with another couple who shared the same values and knew first hand how difficult it could sometimes be to live as a same-sex couple.  They talked about incidents of prejudice and how their respective children handled it.  At one point, Jack went inside the RV, disappointed to see that their ice cream stash was too low to include their guests.

Walking back outside, the general spoke, “Táim ag dul amach chun uachtar reoite a cheannach.”  He didn't want the brood to hear that he was going to make an ice cream run, knowing it would cause a stir of excitement and interrupt the playtime, so he'd spoken in Gaelic, figuring that most of the children wouldn't notice the foreign language.  ~Oops, I think Little Danny heard me,~ though the boy just smiled at his older father as he returned to playing with the others.  Then he saw Catherine licking her lips.  ~Oops again.  Forgot the O'Reillys probably all know Gaelic better than I do.~

Daniel laughed, “Ice cream is sacred in our family.”

“We love it, too,” Sean said.  “Our truck is already unhitched.  I'd be happy to go with you, Jack.”

With a nod, Jack and Sean left, leaving Daniel and John to talk.

“Is saor-dathúil é,” John opined.

Daniel did a double take, not sure if John was talking about Sean or Jack.  He needed to be sure, because what the Scottish man had just said was that he was very good looking.  He just needed to find out which man.

John saw the puzzlement on his new friend's face and laughed, “Daniel, are you not as proud of your husband's looks as I am of my Sean?  No one looks better than he, and I have no interest in any other, but your Jack, he is good looking, right?”

With a nod, Daniel agreed, “Yes, he is.”

“I'm glad you are not married to a gráinneog.”

Daniel laughed, “No, not a groundhog, but ...”  Just then, Jenny called out for him to come over to help her with something.  As he turned, he teased, “Is sliomadóir é!”

“A sly fox?  That, I do believe,” John laughed.

====

Returning from their ice cream run, Jack inquired, “So, where abouts in Cobh do you live?”

“We live right by the church.  It's quite a walk up the hill, but we like it there.  The kid's school is only just down the lane as well.”

“Sounds nice,” Jack complimented.


“Yeah, it's grand, to be sure.  It was my Ma and Da's house.  John and I took it over when they died.”  He paused; then shifted the conversation slightly, asking, “You and Daniel used a surrogate?”

“Yes,” Jack confirmed.  He sighed, getting a far off look on his face for a moment as he recalled Kayla Armentrout.  “She was a great lady.”

“Was?”

Jack glanced over at the driver of the vehicle and nodded, explaining, “Kayla died in a car accident; no, the truth is, she was murdered by an idiot of a drunk driver. She lost her life, we lost a good friend, and the kids lost their mommy.”

“That must have been hard,” Sean surmised.

“Yeah,” Jack said, feeling an anger he hadn't felt in a long time.  ~Back it up, O'Neill.  It was a long time ago, and you can't change history, no matter how much you want to.~

“Though born of loss and sadness, John and I are very grateful to have our children.  We wouldn't change it for the world,” Sean said, smiling.  “I'm guessing you feel the same way, Jack.”

The silver-haired man paused and then grinned broadly as he proclaimed, “Oh, yeah.  Danny and I have been very lucky.”

“Luck of the O'Neills,” Sean mused.

“Luck of the Irish,” Jack mused in reply, speaking in his best Irish brogue.

====

“Nothing is better than ice cream,” Ricky opined as he finished his bowl.

“Except for ...”

“JACK!” Daniel admonished.

Jack grinned at John, who had understood completely and grinned right back.  Still amused, the general looked down and tasted another bite of his dessert.

Soon, the children were back to playing, while the adults cleaned up and watched over them.  Jennifer had taken JD inside since he had gotten a bit cranky from the family's long day.

Eventually, Sean and John stood up, calling for everyone's attention. They all settled down into a circle once again.

“Right, here we go,” Sean announced eagerly, reaching behind him and picking up his violin.

John did the same, pulling out his impressive twelve-string guitar.  For a moment, there was just the disjointed sound of the two instruments being tuned to perfection.

“Jared, Ben, do you want to do the honors?” Sean asked the boys.

“No worries, Da,” Ben responded and then picked up one of the larger bodhrans, while Jared took hold of one of the smaller ones.

“Come on Lulu,” Aine said excitedly, standing up and pulling Lulu up with her.

“Come on Noa,” Catherine encouraged, pulling Chenoa to her feet, too.  “You can dance with us, and we'll teach you an old Irish jig.”

Both Jack and Daniel could see the joy radiating from their daughters' faces and couldn't help but smile.

“Here we go,” Sean yelled.

The man raised his bow and began to play his fiddle, his fingers dancing over the strings, and the bow moving faster and faster.  The sound was beautiful, and Jack remembered back to his childhood days when his grandfather had this music playing through the house.

The brood was mesmerized.  They watched as the fiddle completed its brief introduction by itself, and then John's guitar joined the lively melody, providing a beautiful harmony to the fiddle's song.

“Yow!” John whooped, as Ben and Jared took up the complicated rhythms on their bodhrans.

By now, Jack and Daniel's kids were all smiling.  Feet were tapping, and hands were clapping along to the lively Irish music.

Aine and Catherine had demonstrated each step, and Chenoa and Lulu copied them effortlessly.  The girls huddled into a group, Aine explaining something in a whisper.  Then suddenly, the girls separated and formed a square, one at each corner.  Then the real jig began.  They all stepped to the center, and back out again.  They linked hands and formed a circle, their feet moving with the music as they spun round, all laughing with untapped glee.

Just then, Sean yelled out, “Let's pick it up!”

The music got a little faster as Sean's fiddle sang out the melody with impressive skill.  The guitar and bodhrans completed the old Irish medley.

Daniel looked around him and tapped Jack on the shoulder.  Several campers had come out of their RVs and tents and were now slowly and hesitantly making their way over to the Jackson-O'Neills, drawn in by the music.

Jack stood up and smiled at the newcomers, letting them know they were welcome to come and listen.

The girls danced faster with the music, jigging around like they'd been doing it for years.

The brood stood up, clapping their hands and stamping their feet, joined by the multitude of people, who were now standing around the two families.  There was a sea of smiling faces and joyful expressions.  One man, who must have been in his seventies, suddenly grabbed his wife and began to swing her around as they danced.

After a few minutes, Sean's fiddling died down, but the guitar and bodhrans kept on going.

Sean put his fiddle down gently and commented, “We seem to have made some new friends.”

The man ran off to his RV, leaving everyone still clapping and breathing hard from their dancing.  A minute later, he returned.

Jack watched, a little confused, as Sean made his way through the crowd of people, handing out small pieces of paper to every third or fourth person.  When he reached Jack, he dropped one in his hand and smiled, before handing some out to the brood.

Jack looked down and grinned at Daniel.  Written on the paper was, 'Seinn, seinn, seinn.  Oran ur, oran ur'.

Making his way back up to the front, Sean called out over the guitar, “Right, I didn't quite have enough, so you'll have to share!”  Immediately, people gathered round those who had the piece of paper.  “For those of you not familiar with Gaelic, which is probably most of you,” he chuckled, “the first word there is pronounced 'shane'.  It literally means 'sing'.  The second bit is pretty much pronounced as it's written, and it means 'a new song'.  Just follow the girls and you'll be fine,” he assured, gesturing to Aine and Catherine.  “Here we go!” he called out, picking up his fiddle once again.  “Let's shake the ground in Punxsutawney!”

The guitar effortlessly picked up the new melody set by the fiddle.  Ben continued to play his bodhran, as Jared stood up and took his over to Jonny.

“You can play this,” Jared offered over the music.  “Just like Ben showed you before.  You'll be fine.”

Jonny's face lit up like a Christmas tree as he tentatively began playing the drum, a look of deep concentration etched on his brow.  As his confidence grew, he was soon playing with passion.

Jack swallowed past the lump in his throat at the sight of their son's obvious joy.

Just then, the girls began to sing, “Seinn, Seinn, Seinn.  Oran ur, oran ur.”

Aislinn picked up the melody first and joined them to sing it again.

Jack and Daniel both looked over towards the RV, having seen Jeff disappear inside.  A moment later, he reappeared, carrying both his digital and video cameras, began walking around slowly, capturing the atmosphere and merriment. The parents noticed Jennifer standing on the step of the RV, her shoulders and hips moving to the music.

“Jack, I'll get the monitor and take the girls inside to watch JD,” Daniel suggested.  He got up and walked over to the beagles, who were both sitting and watching the event as if human beings were crazy.  “How would you two like to go inside and watch JD for me?”  After some wagging tail affirmation, he unhooked the girls from their ground lead and walked to the RV.  “Jen, come outside and join the fun.”

“Thanks, Daddy,” Jennifer spoke, leaving the RV behind heading for the center of the fun right away.  She watched the dance steps carefully and was smiling at the merriment.  Suddenly, she felt Jack pull on her arm.  Smiling, the two began to dance around, the teen laughing loudly at their fun.  Dancing with her fathers was always special to her, and she had a special fondness for dancing with Jack.  It was something that went back to before she'd become a Jackson-O'Neill, when the two had danced together at Molly O'Hanlon's children's shelter.  Her brown eyes sparkled with love as she looked into her older father's brown eyes.  She laughed joyfully, her head going back from the goodness she was feeling.  “I love you, Dad,” she heard herself say suddenly.

Jack paused, gave his daughter a kiss on the cheek, and said, “I love you, too, Jen.  Kick up those heels!”

Jeff smiled as he checked the image he'd just taken.  It contained the essence of a beautiful father-daughter relationship and would make a great addition to their family photo gallery.

====

A bit later, with the festivities still going strong, the beagles were happy to be in the RV, where things were a bit more sane.  Both were in the bedroom, Katie on the bed and Bijou with JD in ToddlerTown.  Outside, Daniel had the baby monitor affixed to his belt so he could hear if his son became disturbed by anything, and he had turned on one of the interior security alarms that would sound should anyone go inside the RV without permission.

During a short break to get a drink, Sean and John overheard Aislinn and their daughters still singing.  Though it was a gay, upbeat tune, the O'Reillys could hear the purity of the Munchkin's voice.

“Tá guth binn, ceolmhar aicí,” John spoke, complimenting Aislinn's sweet sounding musical voice.

Aislinn twisted her body around, smiling as she replied, “Tá fáilte romhat,” meaning, 'thank you'.  In English, she continued, “I love to sing.”

“'Tis good,” Sean responded with a smile as the girl turned back to sing with the sisters.

Suddenly, John said, “Sean, I think Ash has the perfect voice for 'Lochaber No More',” referring to a song composed by Allan Ramsey.

“I think you're right, John,” Sean remarked.  “It is my favorite.  It would be nice to have her give it a go.”

Hearing the praise, the little girl turned around again and volunteered, “Since it's your favorite, if you teach it to me, I'll sing it for you.”

“Aine, Cathe, why don't you teach the lass the lyrics,” John requested.

“Yes, Da,” Aine acknowledged, getting up and taking Aislinn by the hand.  “Let's go over there,” she suggested, pointing to a spot in between the two RV spaces.

“I don't think Dad and Daddy would like that,” Aislinn stated.  “I know.”  She tugged on Aine's hand, pulling her back over to Jack and Daniel.  “Dad, Daddy, Aine is going to teach me a song.  Can we go in the RV to practice?”

“Sure, Princess,” Jack responded.  “I'll check on JD,” he said, leading the way so that he could disable the security alarm.

====

Twenty minutes later, Aine walked out of the RV and walked over to her parents.  Temporarily, Sean stopped playing, leaning over so that the little girl could speak into his ear.  He walked over to Daniel, quickly relaying the information.

“Aine says Ash is ready.  That was quick,” Sean opined.  “Are you sure she's ...”

“She's a quick study,” Daniel interrupted proudly.  “She, uh, really has a gift, so if she says she knows the song, she does.”

Returning to his previous position, Sean began to play again, but gave a nod to John.  Soon, the current tune was brought to a close.  The violin melody raised up to a crescendo and ended on a flourish, the guitar and Ben's bodhran finishing at the same time.  A couple of beats from Jonny's bodhran rang out on their own before he realized the music had stopped without him.

“Sorry,” Jonny called out, laughing with Jared.

“No worries, Son,” Sean stated.  Facing the unexpected crowd, he called out loudly, “Right.  Lads and Lassies, can I have your attention please.  My little girl has just informed me that the beautiful Aislinn Jackson-O'Neill is going to perform for us tonight.”

Jack looked around and smiled at Jeff, noticing he was all ready to film this very special event.

The group sat down, some on the ground and others on chairs and stools they'd fetched them from their RVs at some point during the evening.

Aine faced the crowd, saying, “Ash is going to sing 'Lochabar No More'.  It's an old Scottish ballad about a man going off to war and having to leave his home in Lochabar, and his love, behind.  It's one of my da's favorite Scottish songs.”

“Thanks, my sweet,” Sean praised his daughter.  “Please welcome ...” he called out, pausing for effect, “Aislinn!”

Aislinn took center stage, though there wasn't really a stage, but she stepped up onto a stool that someone brought over for her, since not everyone in the back could see her.  With a smile spread wide across her face, she nodded at John.

As the clapping subsided, John's fingers picked out a gentle melody on the guitar; the perfect accompaniment to this old ballad.  After just a few bars, Aislinn's sweet sounding musical voice began to sing the sad song.

“Farewell to Lochabar
Farewell to my Jean
Where heartsome with her
I have many days been.”

 As so often happened when the youngest Munchkin sang such tender tunes, the audience began to tear up, even the younger ones who didn't really understand the lyrics.  All were touched by the young girl's stunning voice, and many were already dabbing at watery eyes.

Just as Aislinn reached another verse, Catherine and Aine stepped forward, adding their voices to hers.  The three part harmonies filled the hearts of all present, as the words rung out to touch even the hardest of souls.

Finally, the singers reached the end of the heartwrenching song.

“I go then my lass to win honor and fame
And if I should chance to come gloriously home
I'll bring my heart to thee
With love running o'er
And then I'll leave thee and Lochabar no more.”

The audience had been deeply moved by the young girls' performance.  The sweetness and purity of Aislinn's voice, with the exceptional harmonies from Aine and Catherine, had touched their hearts and souls, and people were calling out in awe and admiration.

The girls bowed and a beaming Aislinn turned to Aine and Catherine, hugging them fiercely.  This was one of her most treasured performances thus far in her young life.

“Dad, Daddy, did you like it?” the little girl asked excitedly after running over to hug her parents.

Scooping her up into his arms, Daniel hugged Aislinn tightly while answering, “We sure did, Princess; you were exceptional.”

“Fantastic even!” Jack complimented, leaning over to give the girl a kiss on the cheek.  “Jeff recorded it, too, so we can share it with anyone you want to.”

“Thanks, Jeff!” Aislinn called out happily, waving over at her brother.

Waving back, the teenager replied, “You're welcome, Sis.”

====

After several minutes of people coming up to the three girls and their parents, offering compliments and words of kindness, the audience slowly disappeared, returning to their own accommodations, until only the Jackson-O'Neills and the O'Reillys were left.

“Absolutely beautiful, Ash,” John said to the young girl.

“Thank you,” Aislinn replied.  “You played the guitar beautifully, too.”

“I'm glad you thought so,” John replied with a smile and a chuckle as the girl ran over to be with the other kids.  “You're right, Daniel,” he said.  “She does have a gift.”

Saying nothing, Daniel simply smiled and nodded at the compliment.

“Wow, what a night!” Jack exclaimed happily, leaning back against Daniel as they sat on the ground.

“Aye,” John agreed, putting his arm round Sean as they rested against the cooler.

The children were all lying down on the grass, chatting away in various groups.

“Anyone for a beer?” Jack asked.

“Absolutely,” both Sean and John answered in unison.

====

The hands on the clock were fast approaching 10 p.m.  The younger kids, in spite of their wishes, were beginning to conk out.  The parents knew it was time to turn in for the night.

Raising his mug, John toasted, “Sláinte agus saol agat,” which translated to, 'health and life to you.”

Jack laughed, “I've heard that full toast, and there's more to it.”

Sean laughed, “Not interested in a woman, not when I have this strapping wonder to make my life a joy.”

“Uh, what is the rest of the toast?” Daniel asked curiously.

Jack chuckled, “Bean ar do mhian agat, leanbh gach blian agat, agus bás n Éireann.”

~'The woman of your choice for you, A child every year for you, And may you die in Ireland',~ Daniel translated in his mind.  He smiled as he responded, “Oh, well, I agree.  My choice of a woman ...”

“Daniel!” Jack chastised.

The archaeologist laughed, explaining, “Babe, all I was going to say is that my choice of a woman is a good friend, like Sam and Janet.”

“Oh,” Jack responded, glad his lover wasn't going to say what he thought he was going to.

“You two are close to filling the other part of the toast, that of a child every year,” Sean stated.

“Actually, uh, I think we have that,” Daniel said, looking at his husband.  “If you count the girls.”

“Right,” Jack replied, shaking his head.  “About that last part ...”

“Agus bás n Éireann: and may you die in Ireland,” Sean stated.

“We'll pass, nothing against Ireland,” Jack mused.

“Dying is highly overrated; believe me,” Daniel spoke wryly, earning him two confused looks.

After a moment, John opined, “Beidh brón orainn an áit seo a fhágáil agus fill abhaile.”

“We know how you feel,” Jack responded.

Nodding, Daniel added, “It's always sad to leave a place you love, but home is ... home.”

After the two couples stood, John called out, “Okay, where are our four?” as he looked out over the mass of kids on the ground.

“Here,” came the response, as four small bodies dragged themselves up.

“Baba?” Jared asked, making his way over to his father.

“Aye.”  At his son's silent request, John kneeled down to let Jared whisper in his ear.  Smiling broadly, he replied, “That'd be a wonderful thing to do, Lad.”

“Thanks.”  Grinning back, Jared ran over and picked up his small bodhran.  “Jonny, I'd like you to have this,” he said, passing it to the oldest Munchkin.

“I can't take that,” Jonny replied, though his expression showed he was sorely tempted.

“Please, I want you to have it, so you'll remember me and tonight.”

Getting a nod from Jack and Daniel, Jonny grinned and replied, “Thanks, Jared.  I love it.  I'll keep it safe always, and I'll learn to play it better.”

The two couples hugged, knowing they had formed a kinship that would always be special.  They'd exchanged email addresses and planned to stay in touch.

With a nod, Sean picked up a very sleepy Catherine and took Aine's hand, after which he expressed with heart, “Turas maith, slán abhaile.”

“Turas maith, slán abhaile,” Daniel echoed, wishing the two a safe journey home.

====

“Dad, that song was fun,” Jenny said as she leaned against her father's chest and hummed the chorus of the 'Summer Walkers' tune.

“It sure was.”

Though it was late and they were on vacation, the family was still having a brief family meeting to see if anyone had any problems or issues that needed handling.
“Daddy, I'm still not sure about that cost thing you were talking about,” David spoke.

Daniel sighed and glanced over at his husband, who asked, “Kids, have any of you considered what it cost the Bells to let us stay with them for two-and-a-half days?”

“What do you mean?” Brianna questioned.

“Jonny, you helped Mister Bell a lot with his mechanical repairs, right?”

Proudly, Jonny sat up straighter and nodded while answering, “Uh-huh.  He let me put the part in and screw it and ...”  Suddenly, the sandy-haired boy's brown eyes dimmed a little.  “I bet he could have done it faster.  I dropped it once.”

“Mrs. Bell let me help her with the vegetables.  She showed me, and then I did it by myself because I wanted to,” Chenoa stated.  “I went real slow because I didn't want to make a mistake.  She stayed right there, telling me how good I was doing.”

The light began to dawn for all of the children.  The Bells had spent over two days teaching them how to be farmers.  For the brood, it was like playtime, but that wasn't the case for the Bells.

“I tried to pay Mister Bell before we left,” Jack revealed, seeing the surprise on the children's faces.  “He lost a full day of farming, and Mrs. Bell got behind in her chores, too.”

“So did, Reba,” Jennifer sighed.  “We talked a lot,” she elaborated.

“Look, the Bells have no regrets.  Mister Bell said it was a pleasure.  He almost got angry when I offered him money, but we're lucky, Kids.  Financially, our family is doing pretty darn good,” Jack stated.

“The Bells have to work harder, and our time with them cost them.  They did it for you,” Daniel said emotionally.  “They saw that you wanted to learn, and they wanted to help teach you.  Even though we're from the other side of the country, they considered us their neighbors, and that's how they treated us.  Remember them, and all the people you meet in your life who are like that.  Be like them.”

Little Danny couldn't help himself; he hugged Daniel again while making a silent promise to be just like his parents.  He wouldn't ever forget the lessons they were teaching him, not ever.  That was the vow he made as he hugged his younger father.

“I'll remember them, Daddy, Dad; and our own archive gold,” Jennifer spoke, finding herself to be unusually emotional at the moment.  ~I will, too.  I do understand, and ... I will remember, and I won't let it be just a memory, either.~

====

As the lovers snuggled together late that night, Jack gazed into his soulmate's eyes, saying, “Tá súile aoibheann agat.”  He kissed each of the blue eyes he'd just praised as being beautiful.  “I love you, and your passion.”

“I love you, too,” Daniel replied as the lovers kissed several times, their arms seductively roaming the other's body.  “Meangadh,” he requested, wanting to see his husband smile.  “John thinks you're good looking.”

“The man has taste,” Jack quipped.

“I suppose there's no accounting for what some people think,” the younger man expressed with a mock discontented sigh.

“Hey!” Jack objected.  After a few more kisses, he asked, “Jealous?”

Daniel ran his fingers across Jack's lips and then caressed his cheek before saying, “I hate being jealous, but ... for just a second, when he first said it, I ... I think I was.”

“I'm all yours, Danny, just yours,” Jack declared, sealing the promise with yet another kiss.  “O cheann go méar coise.”

“I'm glad you're mine from head to toe.  Right now, though, I'd really like to concentrate on, uh ...”  Daniel's hand slid down to his husband's length, making contact.  “I wish we could.”

“JD's asleep.”

“No, Jack.”

Jack grinned as he started to get up.  Daniel knew exactly what he was going to do.  He knew, too, that he should stop him.  JD might wake up.  On top of that, he also knew that it was Jennifer who was about to be awakened for quickie babysitting duty.  He also realized that their brood might all end up knowing about the late night rendezvous.  Not only that, but he knew any lovemaking they did would have to be extremely quiet.  Otherwise, he'd die from embarrassment, taking his husband with him for revenge and thereby leaving their children behind as orphans.

Two minutes later, Jack returned, locking the door.  He climbed back atop his lover, giving him a kiss.

“Jack, Jen must have ...”

“I told her if she said one word, we'd do it every night,” Jack stated.

“You did not.  Did you?”

The older man laughed, “Angel, JD sleeps like you.  He never came close to waking up.  I put him in the playpen.  Katie joined him.  The kids never woke up.”

Daniel grinned.  Their beagles were probably their best babysitters, and he had all the confidence in the universe in them.

“Now, my love, as they say in Ireland, fad a bhíos an cat amuigh bíonn na luchain ag rince.”

“Jack, our son is not a cat, and we are not mice, and we are not about to ... play.”

“Depends on your definition of play.”

“Tá mé chomh mór sin i ngrá leat, tá mé chomh doirte sin duit,” Jack declared, telling his soulmate how he loved him so much.

“Sonuachar,” Daniel whispered, using the closest Irish term for soulmate that he knew of, though in direct translation, it meant 'true spouse'.

“Tá mo chroí istigh ionat,” Jack expressed with passion.

Daniel smiled.  Jack's heart was within him, just as his heart was in Jack's. There was no truer thing in the universe.  He kissed his husband, anxious for their foreplay to increase with each passing endearment spoken.

“A thaisce,” Jack crooned as he nibbled on Daniel's right ear.

“You're my treasure, too,” the younger man gasped, beginning to lose his senses and ability to speak anything other than English.

“Is tú mo ghrá,” Jack said as he began to kiss his lover's bare chest and work his way downward.

“You're my love, too,” Daniel crooned.  “Oh, Jack ...”

After a crazy day with Jack appearing to his family as the famous Punxsutawney Phil, the lovers had been drawn to a night a love.  Their evening with the O'Reillys had been a blessed reminder of how wonderful their love was, and that they weren't alone in their hopes and dreams.  Now, as a new day was about to tick away on the clock, the soulmates made quiet love, with Jack speaking tender Gaelic expressions into his lover's ear throughout.  It was truly one of their most romantic nights during their road trip, and neither would ever forget it.

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