It's Raining ... Kids?
Author: Orrymain and special guest co-author, Claudia!
Category: Slash, Angst, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Season: Beyond the Series - October-November, 2010
Spoilers: Emancipation, The Nox (very minor), Covenant
Written: November 13,24-30, December 1-7,17, 2004, January 31, February 1, March 11,15, April 28, May, 12,31, June 15,19-20, July 13,19,22-24, 2005
Summary: Jack and Daniel decide it's finally time to adopt another child. Will it be as simple as it sounds?
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't. A gal can dream though!
1) Hanky Warning, so I've been told!
2) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically. Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
3) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
4) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fics, “Egyptian Erotica,” “Homer Bites the Dust,” “Stargate,” “Blowout”
5) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better: QuinGem, Tamara, Linda, Allexandrya, Robert, Cassiopeia!
It's Raining ... Kids?
by Orrymain and Claudia
“No problem, Daniel. I didn't have anything planned for tomorrow
“I'm not convinced, Sam,” Daniel responded over the phone as he sat in the recliner in his den with Katie snuggled comfortably on his lap as he petted her.
Sam laughed. Obviously, Daniel had sensed her hesitation about her potential plans.
“Okay, well, I was thinking about, gawd, I hate to admit it.”
“Out with it, Sam,” Daniel cajoled lightly.
“I was, uh, thinking about going to a ...” Sam stuttered.
“Beauty salon. You and the general spoiled us rotten during your second wedding, and I've always wanted to go back and be ... well ...”
“Pampered?” Daniel chuckled.
“Yeah, but I can do that another time.”
“No, Sam, we can try and call someone else or ...”
“Oh, no you don't,” Sam interrupted. “I already missed out on a weekend with the little devils while you two were in Utah. How was it, by the way?”
Jack and Daniel had just returned from a weekend at Bryce Canyon in Utah. They had flown Jo, their Meyers 200-A airplane there and enjoyed the marvelous sunsets and peacefulness of the vast canyon. It was a place they had been going to for years, and it held a special place in their hearts.
“It was heavenly. Whenever Jack and I go there, it's like a ... a renewal. There's no one else around, and we just get lost in ... well, in each other. It's awesome,” Daniel sighed dreamily.
“Sounds like you had a good time,” Sam said, happy for her friends.
“The best time.”
“That's good to hear, but since I was tied up off-world, that meant Sara and Janet got to be with the brood. It's my turn!” the blonde colonel demanded.
Daniel felt glad that they had such good and trusted friends. It might seem odd to many, but they were lucky that their extended family did enjoy babysitting their children and often ended up in little tug-of-wars to see who got to baby-sit and when.
“I'll see you tomorrow,” Sam said.
“Okay. Goodnight.” Daniel hung up the phone and pulled Katie up to his face. He went nose-to-nose with the beagle.
“We're lucky, aren't we, Girl?”
“Woof!” she answered enthusiastically, licking Daniel's face.
“We are so insane,” Daniel said as he zipped up his pants the next morning.
“Insane, but with lots of love to give,” Jack said as he buttoned his shirt.
“Did you talk with the President?”
“Yeah, yesterday. He's willing to do whatever he can. He said it's the least he could do for us since we always end up saving the world,” Jack joked.
Daniel laughed, then grew serious as he spoke, “Jack, we need to talk to the brood before we make any commitments. We've spoken to them in general terms about this, but ... they need to know we're serious.”
“Agreed. Let's see what happens at the shelter first, though.”
Jack and Daniel were heading out for one of the local children's shelters. They missed Molly O'Hanlon, still believing she had run the highest quality shelter in Colorado Springs, but there were other good ones, too.
Years ago, when they first discussed having children, Jack and Daniel had agreed on using two surrogate-mother births and then later on adopting two other children, one boy and one girl. Their plans had gone somewhat awry when Kayla Armentrout, their surrogate mother of choice, had given birth to triplets and then to twins. To further complicate matters, prior to the birth of the twins, Molly's funds had dried up, and she was forced to close her shelter, after which she returned home to her native Ireland.
In the process, Jack and Daniel had met the Morgan children -- Jennifer, David, and Chenoa -- and fallen in love them. Instead of having two babies in two years as originally planned, the couple found themselves the fathers of eight -- Jennifer who was now fifteen and one-half, David who was nine and one-half, Chenoa who had just celebrated her fifth birthday, the triplets (Jonny, Little Danny, and Aislinn) otherwise known as the Munchkins who had just turned four, and the twins (Ricky and Jenny) who had also had a birthday the month before and were now three-years-old.
This, along with their beloved beagles, Bijou and Katie, a tank full of fish, a lizard named Bogey, a cat named Mittens, and their latest 'acquisition', a beautiful white bunny rabbit named Bagel, made their house full. They also had a shifting population of injured animals that Little Danny tended to find and nurse back to health. The latest was a baby squirrel whom Jack had named Chuck.
Still, the idea of following their original plan was close to Daniel's heart. He had been a boy of only eight-years-old when orphaned, and he'd been raised in a slew of unhappy foster homes. He wanted to save two children who were considered “unadoptable” simply because of their age, health, or personality from suffering through what he had.
It had taken a while, but now Jack and Daniel were finally ready; well, as ready as they'd ever be with a household full of children. It was early in the fall season, mid-October, and their babies weren't babies anymore, so the couple figured it was a good time to find a new addition to the family, especially since they had finished renovating their home a year earlier.
The couple had purchased the lot next to their house from the McLamores, adding on a second section with plenty of room for their children and giving them a huge backyard, even with the pool, swing set, and other items that were situated outside the back of their now large house.
To complete their family, the couple's intention was to find a boy now and a girl in another year or two. That was their plan, and they were confident that this time they'd be able to follow it.
Jack and Daniel had also decided to homeschool their children. With the exception of Jennifer, who had chosen to remain in public high school, all the others were now being educated at home. However, to maintain their social skills and outside interests, each child was also involved in a number of outside special programs or short-term specialty classes.
Plus, they had discovered a slew of other parents in Colorado Springs who also homeschooled their children, and frequently, the parents would get together to teach special classes to all the children, which also provided more socialization for the Jackson-O'Neill family. Thus, their children had plenty of chances to meet other children and develop friendships.
The Munchkins had proven to be very smart. Little Danny was a genius, something they'd discovered two years ago, but even so, he was continuing to surprise them. Sometimes, he seemed so 'normal', just like all the other children, and then he'd “turn his brain power on” (as Jack called it) and would begin to sound like Daniel and Sam (“Our son can prattle with the best of 'em,” Jack had boasted to General Hammond one day).
Jonny and Aislinn were also of high intelligence, but not as brilliant as their fellow triplet. None of the Munchkins had been tested, except for Little Danny, and that had been an accident rather than an official testing, but their advanced language skills and abilities (when they chose to utilize them) made it pretty obvious. Recently, too, Jack and Daniel had noticed that the twins, Ricky and Jenny, also seemed to exhibit advanced tendencies.
“Danny, we have enough geniuses around here to open our own MENSA chapter,” Jack had quipped one day.
They were proud of all their children, but they vowed to not let any of them be branded by labels, and even more importantly, they wanted their children to be kids, to know the value of play.
Their musings were interrupted by a loud crash from downstairs. They looked at each other.
“We really are insane, Jack,” Daniel repeated.
“Yep; completely, certifiably nuts,” Jack agreed happily.
They grinned at each other.
“We're so lucky,” Daniel said, beaming with the knowledge that their family was happy and healthy.
“The luckiest, Danny.”
Daniel leaned in to kiss Jack before heading downstairs to see what mischief their offspring had been up to. A minute or so later, after Jack finished pulling on his socks and slipping on his shoes, he headed downstairs to help Daniel deal with whatever disaster their children had created. He was halfway down when he heard Jonny and Little Danny defending each other.
“It was my fault, Daddy.”
“No, Little Danny,” Jonny refuted.
“It was, Jonny; I messed up. I'm unco'rded,” Little Danny finished sadly.
Jack felt a pang of sympathy for their resident pint-sized super-genius. Jack and Teal'c had been teaching the Munchkins some basic self-defense moves, and while Jonny and Aislinn tended to pick up the moves easily, Little Danny always needed to practice the moves for a while first.
“The word is uncoordinated,” Daniel said.
“But Little Danny isn't uncorded,” Jonny said sternly.
“Uncoordinated,” Daniel repeated.
“Yeah, he's not that,” Jonny said with a smile. Then he looked at his brother and said, “You can do all the moves Dad and Teal'c have taught us.”
Daniel looked at the two youngsters and spoke calmly, “Okay, you two. Why were you practicing inside? You know the rules.”
Jack chose that moment to make his entrance as he gently groused, “That's what I'd like to know, too.”
The two boys sighed and looked sheepish before chorusing, “We're sorry.”
“Okay, but let's make sure it doesn't happen again.” Daniel looked at the pile of books the two boys had knocked over. “I want those picked up before Sam arrives.”
The two downcast boys brightened, obviously hoping that would be the extent of their punishment. Jack was quick to disillusion them on that score.
“And you have to tell Teal'c that you broke one of his rules. He's told you not to practice those moves without an adult present. You could have seriously hurt yourselves,” Jack chastised.
The two boys looked horrified at the idea of confessing their rule breaking to the Jaffa. Jack and Daniel shared a silent grin. All the children had realized how highly Teal'c regarded honor and confessing their sins to their beloved Uncle T was always a hated task.
Moments later, the doorbell rang, and Daniel opened the door to greet Sam.
“Hi, Sam, come on in,” the younger man invited, moving aside to let his teammate and friend in.
“Hi, Daniel. Hey, boys!” the blonde said excitedly as she breezed into the living room. “Hello, Sir,” she greeted Jack.
“Aunt Sam!” the boys said in unison.
Sam laughed, “They are so like the two of you.”
“Yeah, aren't they, the little rascals,” Jack responded with pride. “However ...” he looked at the two boys, “aren't you two supposed to be doing something?”
“Yes, Dad,” Jonny added.
“An accident?” Sam asked.
“Self-defense. The books lost,” Jack responded.
“Where's the rest of the brood?” Sam asked, twisting her body around to look for signs of the other children.
“Jennifer's at school; David is with some of the other homeschoolers at Mrs. Larson's home. Her number is on the fridge. They're learning calculus or something,” Jack said, shaking his head. “Calculus. Seems like math should just be one plus one equals two. How'd all that fancy dancy stuff get started anyway?” he asked, intending it to be a theoretical question.
“Well, Sir ...”
Sam began grinning, but was interrupted by a small enthusiastic voice.
“It started with the Greeks, Dad,” Little Danny said knowledgeably. “Zeno, Euclid, and others. It was business, like how many goats would it take me to get the cows I need. Then Aristotle discovered that a rock falls faster than a feather, and then they studied the Earth and how far it was to the moon and ...”
“Whoa!” Jack said, shaking his head. “Son, this is fascinating stuff, but your Daddy and I have to go. I'm sure, though, that Auntie Sam here wants to hear all about it.”
“Well, actually, Sir, I ...” Sam saw Little Danny's bright face and couldn't help but smile. “I want to hear all about it,” she said. She turned to Daniel and asked, “How old is he?”
“Twenty-five going on forty, I think,” Daniel responded dryly.
“Daaaaaaaaddy,” Little Danny objected. “I only four!”
“Right,” Daniel said, leaning over to give his son a kiss, and then he did the same with Jonny. “You two behave, and get this cleaned up ... now.”
“Yes, Daddy,” Jonny said, continuing to pick up the books.
“Anyway,” Jack continued, “I saw Ash outside a minute ago with Bij. Noa is with Angela over at Sara's, and the twins are upstairs in ToddlerTown with Katie. Bogey is thankfully in his cage, and don't ask why I said thankfully, just trust me, and make sure the cage door stays shut. I have no idea where Mittens is at the moment, but I'm sure you'll find her; Fluffball is in her hutch, Chuck is in his, and,” Jack took a breath, “the fish are in the fish tank ... I hope.”
Sam and Daniel chuckled, but it was Jonny who had gotten his father's attention with a snicker when Mittens name was mentioned. The snicker sounded mischievous in Jack's opinion. Jack gave his namesake a funny look, his eyes piercing into Jonny's.
~Okay, he's done something with that darn cat.~ “Son, what did you do to Mittens?”
“Me?” the brown eyed boy asked, his face a picture of not quite so innocence.
“Jonny!” Daniel said, almost afraid to hear the answer.
“Jonny, where is Mittens?” Daniel asked strictly.
“In the backyard,” Jonny confessed reluctantly.
“With Ash and Bijou,” Little Danny added.
Not waiting for any further explanation, Daniel immediately set off to find them. Jack gave his sons a suspicious look and followed Daniel outside, the two boys trailing behind him. Sam tagged along as well, trying not to grin at the latest Jackson-O'Neill family drama.
~It's so much fun here; always something going on at the zoo, er, I mean at their house.~
In the yard, the group could see Aislinn standing under a large oak tree, talking to Mittens.
“Please come down, Mittens,” the little girl begged. Having no response from the feline hiding in the branches, Aislinn tried bribery next. “I'll give you cream.”
Exchanging an apprehensive look with Jack, Daniel headed over to their daughter. As soon as he got within sight, Daniel saw what the children had done. Mittens looked him in the eye and gave him a disgusted look. Daniel didn't blame her.
“Come down, Mittens, and I'll take it off,” Daniel called out.
Daniel heard Jack try to cover up a snort of laughter and glared at his husband. Sam giggled when Mittens gave Jack a similar glare.
“Sorry, Danny, it's just ...” Jack decided his best option was to interrogate their three little terrors. “Munchkins, why is Mittens wearing Jenny's purple scarf around her neck?”
“We were playing,” Jonny explained.
“That much I can figure out. Playing what? Come on, you guys. Give it up,” Jack ordered.
“Knights and princesses,” Jonny added.
“Like Camelot,” Little Danny clarified.
“I King Arthur,” Jonny said with an air of superiority.
“I Lancelot,” Little Danny proclaimed proudly.
Jonny whispered to his brother, “The King is better; he has more power.”
“But Lancelot gets the girl, Jonny.”
Jonny scowled, and Jack shook his head. Aislinn was ignoring all of them until Jack asked another question, though it was difficult since he was holding in laughter at the situation.
“Okay, but why is Mittens wearing a scarf dress?”
“We needed a princess to rescue,” Aislinn answered, then continued with disdain in her voice. “They wanted me to be the princess, but I said no.”
~But you are a princess ... Princess.~
Jack couldn't hide his smile, but fortunately for him, his princess was looking up at Mittens who was still in the tree.
Then Little Danny decided just to let it all out, in one long statement: “We couldn't use Bij cuz she wouldn't let us put the scarf on, and Katie not outside, so we used Mittens, but she didn't like her cloak and ran up the tree. We thought Ash had a better chance of getting her to come down if Jonny and I weren't here so we went inside, and I asked Jonny to show me that move Teal'c taught us last week,” Little Danny finished breathlessly.
“Sorry, Mittens,” Daniel said when the young cat finally made her way down the tree, quickly moving to where he kneeling down. “It's okay now,” he reassured her. Having untied the scarf from around Mittens neck, Daniel looked at his three children sternly. “Munchkins, you are not to dress up members of our family without Dad's or my permission. Tying a scarf around Mittens' neck was a very dangerous thing to do. What if she'd caught it on something?”
Little Danny was quick to make the connection, gasping as he answered, “It might have caught on a branch or something.”
“Yes, and then what?” Daniel asked pointedly.
“She might have hurt herself,” the little boy said, his head bowed in genuine sorrow.
“Yes, Son,” Daniel said, gently adding, “She could have been strangled if this had caught on one of the tree limbs or even a bush, or ...”
“I wouldn't like that.”
Jonny and Aislinn looked horrified as they realized what Daniel and his namesake were saying.
“We were just playing,” Aislinn said remorsefully.
“Yeah, playing,” Jonny said quietly.
In a flash, the three went up to Mittens and began patting her, all the while apologizing profusely.
“We're sorry, Mittens,” Little Danny said.
“We love you; we'd never hurt you,” Aislinn promised.
“Poor Mittens, please forgive us,” Jonny requested.
Daniel heard Mittens begin to purr, and she let Jonny take her from Daniel's protective hold. The triplets immediately started to take her inside, all thinking the same thing. Suddenly, Little Danny stopped and turned to face his parents.
“Can we give Mittens a treat? Please!” the young child requested hopefully.
“Sure,” both Jack and Daniel said.
~This cat is amazing. I'm not sure I'd be so quick to forgive the little monsters.~ Daniel looked at Jack. **And we really want more children?**
Jack grinned widely.
Daniel smiled as well. It was crazy, but they did.
Sam laughed and then remarked, “Maybe I should make Mittens feel better by showing her that ridiculous get-up I had to wear on Simarka. Nothing is worse than that.”
Daniel said, “But I thought it was so ... so ...”
“You,” the lovers said in unison, chuckling as they remembered the long, blue gown Sam had been forced to wear on the planet.
Midway to the shelter, Jack shook his head.
“What?” Daniel asked.
“Danny, how is it that one moment Little Danny seems so normal and the next he's prattling off words a mile a minute? I mean, sometimes he sounds like the others, talks like them, just seems like a normal four-year-old, and the next thing I know, he's an encyclopedia. This morning he couldn't say 'uncoordinated' and yet a minute later, he's going on and on about Aristotle, not missing a syllable. Why is that?” a perplexed Jack pondered.
“I'm not sure. Maybe it's acclimation,” Daniel suggested thoughtfully.
“What do you mean?”
“You know how people lose their accents when they leave the South or their home country? Then they go back and the moment they open their mouths, their accent is back?”
“Yeah, I've seen that, or heard that.”
“Maybe that's what Little Danny is doing. Jack, we're raising him to be as close to normal as possible, so maybe when he's around other children, his siblings, he doesn't think about all that knowledge that's filling up his mind. He's just ... normal.”
“But then I ask him a question, or he hears something he's read about, and he pipes up.”
“He has a photographic memory, too, so it's easier for him to repeat back what he's read versus just talking in a regular conversation,” the younger man explained.
“He's between two worlds,” Jack said, not sure if that was good or bad.
“We just have to make sure his mind is nurtured without losing the child who just wants to play with Jonny and Ash.”
“The more he develops, the more convinced I am we made the right choice in homeschooling.”
“Me, too. I'm not sure he'd get what he needs in a regular school. Jack, he's trying to be four-years-old and still use his mind. We have to be very, very careful with him.”
Jack nodded, then said, “All our kids are smart, Danny. We have to not be so focused on protecting Little Danny that we let them falter.”
“I've been thinking about that. Ash has a bigger vocabulary than she's using, and I know she knows grammar and tenses more than she's using. I'm a little worried that she's feeling ... well ...”
Daniel motioned his hand towards the window, looking for the right words to explain his thoughts.
“Like she's not like her brother.”
“Yeah. Jonny. Gawd, he's so like you.”
Jack laughed, mumbling, “The dumb colonel.”
“And like you, it's an act. I swear he knows exactly what he's doing. Jack, he's our little escape artist, but that takes a lot of skill and know how. He's ... pretending somehow.” Daniel paused for a moment, his mind trying to come up with answers to the various educational questions flowing through his mind. “How do they pick up on all of this?”
“We're their parents,” Jack answered, a smile on his face. “Danny, we need to make sure not to lose sight of any of the kids' needs. They're smart, but they are developing at different speeds, and they all have different abilities, even the twins”
“Ricky and Jenny are surrounded by the Munchkins. I think that's why their vocabulary has grown so quickly.”
“Angel, are you concerned about Noa at all?” Jack asked, concerned that the five-year-old might be lagging behind.
“No, she's smart, too, Jack.”
“I'm not saying she's not, but she seems to be developing a little slower than the others.”
“She lost her parents, her home, and almost her brother and sister. Young or not, I believe she sensed all the loss. She'll be fine. She needs to know we love her for her, not because she can tell us everything we did or didn't want to know about ... Egypt,” Daniel spoke with a smile.
“Geez, I feel like an idiot.”
“For not thinking about that; for that matter, even on a subconscious level thinking that our adopting her would make all of that go away, the pain, I mean,” Jack confided.
“We know she remembers things on some level; the nightmares she has sometimes are proof of that. Most of her knows; the rest will with a little more time,” Daniel told him, rubbing his husband's thigh reassuringly.
“Thank you for reminding me, Love. For a second, I think I started comparing her to David, the Munchkins, and the twins.”
“You left out Jen,” David reminded. “She not may have an IQ of a hundred and thirty, but she's intelligent, too. She's just, uh, interested in ... other things.”
“Don't remind me,” Jack growled, thinking about Jennifer's desire to date as well as her increased chatter about this or that 'hot' boy.
Daniel laughed and took a deep breath. Then, he nodded.
“What?” Jack asked, glancing at Daniel for a moment.
“They're perfect, Jack, and I don't care if I sound prejudiced or not. We have eight beautiful, perfect children.”
Carefully, Jack leaned over for a quick kiss, then said, “And it's soon to be nine. We'll have our own baseball team!”
Daniel laughed, and the two continued chatting as they made their way to the shelter.
Jack and Daniel were watching a group of children, ranging in age from eight to fifteen, during a recreation time at the shelter. With them was Beth Carradine, one of the directors of the facility.
“That's Gabriel,” the woman said, pointing to a ten-year-old boy who had just made a basket as he played with the boys. “He's a great kid, gets along well with others.” She saw Jack and Daniel nod, but both continued to look out over the sea of children. “And over there is Martin. He's doing very well in school now.” The young boy had just told a joke and the group of children around him were all laughing with him. “I'm sure you'd love him, if you gave him a chance.”
Beth sighed, seeing Jack's nod. She'd been pointing out boys for thirty minutes, but the couple hadn't seemed interested in any of them. First, she had taken Jack and Daniel to observe some of the classes in progress, with little success, and now the children were just being themselves, having fun. She continued on, though, hoping to find a child the couple would want.
“The one playing cards is John. He's quite perceptive, subject to some bouts of depression, but he's smart and a leader in his class. He ...”
“Mrs. Carradine,” Jack interrupted, “didn't Mrs. Bodine tell you what we were looking for?”
Evelyn Bodine was the head of the shelter, but was out of town for two weeks. She and the Jackson-O'Neills had discussed the adoption of a child in some detail.
“Well, she said you were looking for a boy, older ...”
The woman trailed off.
**I miss Molly.**
**Me, too, Jack.**
“Tell you what, Mrs. Carradine, why don't you just let Daniel and I look around on our own for a while?” Jack asked, tired of the woman pointing out all the bright and social children.
“Well, I don't know. I'm not sure ...”
“We won't steal any,” Jack snipped.
“That's not what I meant, General.” Beth saw their stern faces and relented. “Fine. I'll be in my office,” she said, walking away from the two men.
“Thank you,” Jack said.
“Jack, do you think Mrs. Bodine told her what we want?” Daniel asked, frowning at the woman's retreating back.
“I don't know. Danny, I think she's just trying to find a home for these kids. She probably doesn't believe we really want one of the real unadoptables.” Jack sighed. “I wish we could take them all.”
“Me, too, but we can't.”
“Let's look around,” Jack suggested.
Ten minutes later, the break was coming to an end. A bell had rung, and the children were all moving back inside the buildings to various classes. The lovers hadn't seen what they wanted. Though both of their hearts were saddened over the loneliness of many of the children, all of the youngsters had good chances of being adopted in the future.
“We'll try another shelter,” Jack said, watching the children move inside.
“Okay,” Daniel replied, regretting they hadn't found a child to help.
They headed for Beth's office to thank her for her time and explain they'd be in touch later with Evelyn. As they entered one of the hallways, things were remarkably quiet since most of the children were now in their assigned rooms. Except, echoing through the corridor, was one tiny sound.
“Jack?” Daniel said quietly, putting a hand up and stopping.
“Yeah, I hear,” Jack said, looking around and listening to determine which direction the noise was coming from.
It was the sound of a sniffle. The couple searched and finally found the source -- a young girl, crying beneath a stairwell. At least, Jack and Daniel assumed it was a girl but at the moment, all they could see was a bowed head covered by short, thin strands of blonde hair. The child sat in the corner with her knees drawn up, and her head buried in her hands.
Daniel was immediately filled with compassion for the sad girl. He approached her slowly, dropped down to one knee, and leaned forward. When she didn't react, he quietly said, “Hello.”
The crying girl startled, quickly standing up and moving away.
“Hey, we just wanted to make sure you were okay,” Jack said as he stood a couple of feet away. “We heard you crying, and ...”
Daniel stood and moved to stand next to Jack.
“I was *not* crying. I ... have allergies.”
The girl's eyes glared at them as if daring them to contradict her, even with tears running down her face. Her eyes were cold and dark, looking like pure onyx.
**She reminds me of Jen that first day.**
**Tough as feathers?**
**Yeah, doesn't need anyone but everyone,** Jack responded via their non-verbal communication.
Jack nodded and looked at Daniel who had stood up again and was moving to stand at Jack's side.
“My name is Daniel, and this is Jack. Uh, what's your name?” Daniel asked, smiling encouragingly at the young girl.
“Brianna, not that it's any of your business.”
“Are you okay, Brianna?” Daniel asked.
“I told you; it's my allergies. Look, I saw you two outside, sizing us up.”
“That's not what we were doing,” Jack responded.
“Oh, no?” the blonde challenged. “I recognize the look. Where are your wives? Shouldn't they be here to help you choose the prime beef?”
“Prime beef?” Jack asked, scrunching his face at the same time.
“Don't bother to deny it. You were out there making a selection, so just do us all a favor, and stop acting like you're even concerned about me,” Brianna said, her arms folding in front of her, a pose eerily similar to the one that Daniel had adopted when he was in emotional distress.
“Why wouldn't we be concerned?” Daniel asked, adding, “after all, you were ... uh, having allergy problems.”
The girl gave Daniel a funny look, then scornfully responded, “You don't want me. You want one of the babies. Everyone wants the babies, and if you don't want them, then you want someone like Martin or Mary Kate, so don't waste my time.”
Brianna turned and ran off. Jack and Daniel watched her flee down the hallway.
“Eleven or twelve?” Jack asked.
“No, I think she's acting older. Nine or ten. She's a tomboy.”
“What gave it away?” Jack smirked. “The jeans, the Yankees T-shirt, or the Yankees baseball cap?”
Daniel chuckled, but said nothing. He did, however, look at his husband. In response, Jack smiled.
“Let's go talk to Mrs. Carradine.”
From a distance, Brianna watched the two men walking into the director's office. She sighed and wondered which kids would be lucky enough to go home with them. They had seemed genuinely nice, and she was sure they must have wonderful wives.
“Probably just a front,” she told herself firmly. “I wouldn't want to live with a plastic family in a fake showcase house anyway.”
In the director's office, Jack and Daniel were asking about the young girl.
“I thought you were after a boy?” a surprised Mrs. Carradine asked.
“Yes, but we're not inflexible. What can you tell us about Brianna?” Daniel asked the woman, giving Jack a 'control your tongue' glare.
Beth answered, “For a start, don't call her Brianna if you expect a genuine answer from her; she prefers 'Bri'. She's just turned ten. Until she was seven, she was in and out of foster care because her mother was a drug addict and seemed to spend all her time going in and out of jail.”
“What happened when she was seven?” Daniel asked.
“The mother was found dead from a drug overdose in an alley.”
“What about her father,” Jack inquired.
“Your guess is as good as mine. We have no idea who her father is. There's no name on the birth certificate.”
“Is she able to be adopted?” Daniel asked, worried that she might be a permanent part of the foster care program because of the absent father.
“She's an official ward of the state. Yes, she can be adopted, but ...”
“What else can you tell us about her,” Jack asked, cutting off the woman's attempt to derail their interest.
“As you saw, she's a bit of a tomboy and has a chip on her shoulder that's a mile wide. She would do well enough in school if she tried, but she refuses to apply herself. She used to make friends with the other kids when she was younger, but doesn't seem to bother anymore,” Mrs. Carradine told them. “Frankly, General, Doctor, Brianna needs a lot of time and effort. I really think she'd be more than you can handle with eight children already. Some of the other children I pointed out would fit into your family much more easily.”
Jack shook his head, frustrated with the woman's inability to comprehend what they wanted.
“Mrs Carradine, I'm sure those other children would fit into our family, but I am also sure that they will have a much better chance of being adopted than someone like Brianna.”
Daniel added, “We do have a large family, Mrs. Carradine, but both Jack and I have a lot of love to give. I believe Brianna would fit in with us perfectly, and I think having brothers and sisters would be good for her. She's acting tough because she's trying to survive. She wouldn't have to survive with us; she only has to live. We'd really like the chance to get to know her better, and let her get to know us.”
Beth looked at the two men. She was certain that Brianna would be more than they could handle. So many parents came in to her office saying they wanted unadoptable children, but in reality, what they really wanted was a child that was loving, well behaved, and grateful to be given a home. Child after child had been returned to the shelter, inevitably hurt by their unsuccessful placement. Half of the potential parents didn't even want a normal teenager, let alone one like Brianna who had a multitude of problems. She sighed.
“You are certainly welcome to get to know her, perhaps then we can discuss it further.”
Jack saw behind her words. Silently, he mimicked the woman's own private thoughts: ~In other words, when you change your minds, I'll show you some of the other children again.~
“Thank you,” Daniel responded.
“There is one more thing. I don't know how Brianna will react to, uh, I don't mean to be indelicate ...” the woman trailed off uncomfortably.
“Don't be,” Jack challenged aggressively.
“I have no idea how she feels about same-sex couples. She's young and ...”
“Mrs. Carradine, in the last couple of years, has anyone showed any legitimate interest in adopting Brianna?” Daniel asked, getting down to the heart of the matter.
“Then you have no objections if we talk to her and see how she feels?”
“Gentlemen, please understand. I'm not trying to fight you. I've just been at this a very long time. People walk in here every day saying one thing but meaning another. I know your intentions are good, but ...”
“I was Brianna,” Daniel interjected, surprising the woman with his comment.
Daniel continued, “My parents died in front of me when I was eight-years-old. I was unadoptable, Mrs. Carradine. I was the child in the corner that no one wanted because they didn't understand what I was feeling. Brianna needs to know that 'home' is more than a four-letter word, and what we want is a chance to find out if we can make that happen for her.”
“I'm sorry,” Beth said, still a bit stunned. “All right. We can start with a meeting here and then you can spend some time with her in one of the visitation rooms. If that goes well, we'll talk about off-facility time.”
“Thank you,” Daniel said again.
Jack added, “If it's all right, we'd like to talk with her some more now.”
“If I can find her.” Mrs. Carradine was checking a schedule. “She hates crafts, and that's what she is scheduled for right now. Give me a few minutes to try and track her down.”
Jack and Daniel watched the woman leave.
“Brianna might be a challenge,” Jack admitted to his husband.
“Every single day is a challenge, Jack,” Daniel responded. “And remember, she wants to be called Bri.”
“You're reminding me, the king of nicknames, to call her 'Bri'?” Jack asked, his hand going to his chest as he pretended to be offended.
“Pardon me. My bad,” Daniel teased, laughing. Then he sighed. “Drug overdose. I wonder what she's seen.”
“We'll need to make her remember, then invite her to forget.”
“You're right,” Daniel agreed as he stared at the pictures on the wall.
It took six minutes, but, finally, Mrs. Carradine reappeared, Brianna in tow.
“Bri, this is General Jack Jackson-O'Neill, and this is Doctor Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.”
The girl stared and shifted her body as she responded, “We've met.” Sizing up the two, she antagonistically asked, “So, what do you want?”
“Bri, I'm going to let you talk with these gentlemen for a few minutes. If you want to leave at any point, you can. I'll be right outside,” Beth told the girl as she opened the door to leave.
“Sure, whatever,” the girl said flippantly.
As the door closed, Daniel walked towards the tomboy and asked, “Bri, how old are you?”
“Didn't she tell you?”
“Yes, but ...”
“Then you already know. Why do you two have the same last name? It's kinda weird, two men having the same last name like that. Are you brothers?” Brianna inquired, her tone of voice indicating that she was interested, though her face remained impassive.
“We're married,” Daniel answered. “Do you understand what that means?”
Brianna looked at Daniel, then at Jack.
~Do-gooders. I'll fix them.~ “Queers,” Brianna said as she walked towards the window.
Jack and Daniel stared at each other.
**She didn't mean it, Danny. Did you see her eyes?**
**Yeah, she's scared.**
**Scared we're here ... for her, and she might just get out of this place.**
Daniel looked at Jack and nodded. The tough-acting tomboy was putting two and two together. The two men were interested in her, but that couldn't be. She lashed out, not knowing what else to do because she didn't want to get hurt. The fact that the two men were a couple meant they were more likely to be serious, meaning Brianna could be hurt when they ultimately rejected her.
“Bri,” Jack called out. “Daniel and I have been married since 2003. We're very much in love, and we have a lot of love to share. We'd like to spend some time with you.”
The girl turned around and went on the attack again.
“I'm not your pet project, or your token foster child. What makes you think I'd want to spend any time with either one of you?”
“Because you want a home,” Daniel spoke softly.
It was a response from his heart, and somehow, it made Brianna uneasy.
~They can't be for real. I don't need them. They only want me because they can't get pregnant. Stupid men.~ “I'm not a charity case that you can adopt just to make yourselves feel better. Anyway, they won't let you adopt.”
Brianna had flung her words at them, desperate to quash that kernel of hope that was threatening to blossom inside her. Unfortunately, or fortunately, for Brianna, both Jack and Daniel were experts in seeing beyond defensive shields.
“We already have three adopted children, Bri,” Daniel told her softly.
The two men both saw the flash of hope that crossed the young girl's face before she brought up her indifferent mask again.
“If you already have three kids, then you don't want another one. Geez, you think I'm stupid or something.”
“No, but the truth is, we have eight kids,” Jack told her with a grin.
“Eight?” Brianna questioned, her tone full of disbelief as she fidgeted.
“Eight. It's quite a brood,” Jack said, not hiding a chuckle.
Brianna's jaw dropped a little, and then she said, “I need to sit down. Is it April's Fool Day? Must be; where's the calendar?”
Jack laughed. He liked this girl. She reminded him a little of how Jennifer had been when they first met.
**Danny, this is how Jen was, acting tough, but for different reasons.**
**It's a normal defense mechanism, Jack.**
When she was sitting opposite them, Brianna looked at them and smirked, “You two are mental.”
Daniel grinned, and Jack laughed.
“Probably,” they both agreed.
“Look, Bri,” Jack said as he pulled a chair close to hers, sat down, and leaned forward. “We are interested in adopting you, but we really need to get to know each other first. You know nothing about Danny or I, and we know very little about you. Can we at least try and be friends for now?”
~Friends?~ The young girl, who was mentally older than any ten-year-old should be, looked at him for a moment and then gazed at Daniel. Finally, she shook her head, muttering under her breath, “Mental, utterly mental.” After a minute passed, Brianna looked at them and defensively shrugged. “I don't need friends.”
“Everybody needs friends, Bri,” Jack told the girl.
Brianna scowled at him, leaned back in her chair, and waved her hand as she skeptically responded, “Fine and dandy. We can try and be friends.” Her doubt was evident from her tone and her eyes which were lackluster. Brianna smirked, “I haven't got anything to lose.”
No one in the room found Brianna's last statement convincing, but Jack and Daniel weren't about to challenge her on it ... just yet.
“Good,” Jack said.
“But I still don't buy this act of yours. There's an angle here somewhere. Everyone has an angle. It may take me a while, but I'll figure it out.”
“No angle, Bri,” Daniel said. “We're just looking for love and someone to give it to, just like you are.”
“I'm not looking for anything. You two think you know it all, don't you, that you can walk in here, say the right words to Mrs. Carradine, tease me with goofy, meaningless words like 'home' and 'love', and then all is well? Yeah, well, been there, done that. They're only words.”
Jack and Daniel stared at each other.
**Okay, so she's a little tougher than Jen made out to be.**
**Jack, Jen was protecting her brother and sister. Bri is protecting herself because she has no one else to do it. She's never had anything. Jen had a history of love with her parents.**
**And all Bri's had is ...**
Suddenly, the young girl brightened as she suggested, “Hey, can you time your visits with crafts class? I hate crafts, stupid girly stuff. Baseball is heaps better.”
**Bingo.** Jack was all smiles again. “What's your favorite team?” he asked.
“Are you two from a foreign country or something? Where are we? Oh, for Pete's sake, the Rockies! Dorks,” Brianna said, shaking her head. “We live in Colorado. What do you think my favorite team is ... the Yankees? They're nothing but a bunch of overpaid crybabies.”
“Okay, but then why are you wearing a Yankees cap and shirt then?” Jack asked, staring at the Yankees outfit.
“Goodwill. It's the only one they had.” The girl saw their looks. “Don't feel sorry for me. I hate that. It's a cap and a shirt. No big deal.”
“Um, what position do you play?” Daniel asked, trying to alter the course of the discussion slightly.
“Well, to be honest, I'm not very good at sports, but ...”
“I knew it. You want to turn me into some blonde, cutesy girl, don't you? I bet you two don't know anything about sports. Creepin' queers.” She stood and walked to the window, her arms folded in front of her. “I don't like girl things. Everyone wants me to play with Barbies.”
“There's nothing wrong with Barbie,” Jack commented.
“She's a plastic whore, that's all. I want to go now,” Brianna told them as she turned around.
“Bri,” Daniel said.
“Look, if you want to come back, come back, but let's be clear. I'm not interested in being token kid number nine. I'm not a dishwasher or a cook or a creepin' babysitter. You want someone to watch your brats, hire a nanny. And don't try to string me along when you haven't a clue who the Rockies are. I'll bet you two haven't even been to a sports arena. Probably don't even know a puck from a football.”
“Puck?” Daniel questioned, knowing Jack was probably already making plans to take Brianna to baseball and hockey games.
Unfortunately, Brianna misinterpreted the question.
“Oh brother. Hockey! May the Great Gretsky forgive you. I'm so out of here.” The young girl opened the door and saw Mrs. Carradine standing in the hallway. “Can I go now?”
Brianna looked back at Jack and Daniel and shook her head. “Losers,” she mumbled as she walked away.
“I'm sorry, but I told you so,” the woman said. “Now, would you like to meet Martin or ...”
“No,” Daniel said. “We'd like to make another appointment to visit Brianna.
“During crafts,” Jack added with a coy smile. Seeing the woman was stunned into silence, Jack added, “We'll call to confirm. Thank you for your time, Mrs. Carradine.”
Jack and Daniel left the shelter, not saying a word as they walked to Daniel's car. When they reached the vehicle, both stood by in silence for a moment, staring back towards the building they had just come from.
“She has a lot of anger, Danny.”
“And a lot of hurt.”
Jack sighed, “She wants to believe.”
“But will she? Can we convince her?” Daniel said, fiddling with his keys as they talked.
“Probably not.” Jack saw both a stunned and horrified look on his husband's face. “But maybe we can show her.”
“I want to try, Jack. She's so scared. She didn't mean any of what she said.”
“It'll get worse before she gives in,” Jack warned his lover, and himself.
“She'll fight us and the children,” Daniel agreed.
“It'll take time, Love.”
Daniel smiled as he responded, “We have forever, right?”
“Jack, I want to go home and hug our children, and ...”
“Tell them we love them.”
“Home, James,” Jack teased as Daniel unlocked the doors. “I wonder how that expression got started.”
“Well, actually, back in ...”
“Daniel?” Jack interrupted with a sigh.
“It was a rhetorical question.”
“Oh, sorry,” Daniel chuckled mischievously.
“Drive,” Jack ordered.
Three days later, Jack and Daniel were changing back into their civvies at the end of their workday at the SGC. The couple now worked at Cheyenne Mountain two or three days a week, depending on what was happening on and off-world. Since their oldest children knew about the Stargate program, Jack and Daniel found working at the SGC much less of a strain on the family.
In fact, Jennifer, David, and Chenoa had each gone through the Stargate more than once, as had Bijou and Katie, their beloved beagles. Jennifer had actually helped set up an exchange program that was being done on a limited basis with teenage members of certain planets, such as those on the Land of Light.
The younger Jackson-O'Neills had often gone to the Mountain as well. They thought the Stargate was just some big round thing that soldiers used in training. Jack and Daniel knew that soon they'd have to explain it to the Munchkins and the twins, but they were hoping they'd be a little older first so that they'd understand better about the need to keep the Stargate a secret.
Daniel looked at his watch before picking up his jacket and suggested, “Jack, let's go by the shelter.”
“A surprise visit?”
“Yeah. We got done early so we have an extra hour. Let's go see Bri.”
“After you,” Jack said, swinging his arm in front of him in a majestic wave.
Daniel laughed, and the two headed for the exit.
“She's in the dorm. Follow me.”
Jody Maynard was Mrs. Bodine's assistant, and since Mrs. Carradine had left for the day, it was she that Jack and Daniel checked in with at the main office of the shelter. She had known both men for a few years, both from their occasional visits to the shelter and their regular financial donations. Thus, she trusted them.
“There she is. I don't know why she's not outside playing with the other children, but, well, she's so anti-social nowadays,” Jody informed the couple quietly.
“Can we go talk to her?” Jack asked.
“Sure. Visitors are allowed in until six. I'll be in the office if you need anything.”
“Thanks, Jody,” Daniel said.
Dressed in blue jeans and yellow blouse with a butterfly on the front, Brianna was seated on her assigned twin bed as she played Solitaire.
“Hey,” Daniel said as they approached.
“What are you doing here?”
Jack answered, “We thought we'd drop by and say 'hi'. Who's winning?”
“The cards,” Brianna answered dispassionately.
“Why aren't you outside playing?” Jack asked.
“You aren't my parents. You can't ask me stuff like that.”
“It was just a casual question,” Jack responded.
“Right. I thought you were supposed to come back during crafts.” Brianna looked away. “Just like an adult not to do what they say they would.”
“We will,” Daniel replied. “This is an extra visit.”
“Right,” an unconvinced Brianna responded.
“I brought you something,” Jack said, reaching back into his pocket. “It's not new, but I thought you might like it.”
“The Rockies. You have a Rockies cap?” Brianna said, showing her first signs of real life since the lovers had arrived.
“Not anymore; I just gave it to you.”
“This was yours?” Brianna asked skeptically.
“Yeah, I usually keep it in my truck,” Jack said as his arm extended out towards the cap as Brianna held it.
“Right; you're just trying to sound like you're doing something special.”
The girl was holding onto the cap like it was a diamond when, in fact, Jack had owned the cap for ten years. It was far from new, and was one of a few caps he kept in the truck in case they were needed.
“Yeah, well, it's yours now.”
Brianna looked at Jack and flipped the cap a few times by holding the flap. After a few moments of pondering, she put it on.
“Looks great,” Daniel said.
“At least it's not those crybabies,” Brianna commented.
“The Yankees aren't all bad,” Jack commented.
“Hey, they've got enough fans. The Rockies are in need.”
~Amen.~ Jack smiled and nodded in agreement. “So, who's your favorite player?” Jack asked as he sat at the end of the bed.
For the next fifteen minutes, the three talked baseball, surprising the young girl.
“I guess you do know baseball,” Brianna admitted.
“You'd be surprised at what we know,” Jack said.
“Bri, we have to go, but we wanted to say 'hello' and let you know we're thinking about you,” Daniel said.
“And we'll be back next week,” Jack added quickly upon seeing the girl's face fall.
“During crafts,” Daniel pointed out with a smile.
“Right,” Brianna replied, her guard up once again. “Whatever floats your boat,” she said more nonchalantly, starting to play cards again.
“We'll see you soon,” Daniel said. “Goodnight.”
“Night, Bri,” Jack added.
“It's not goodbye, it's goodnight,” Jack refuted.
“Maybe,” the tomboy said.
Regretfully, Jack and Daniel left the dorm. After dropping by the office and thanking Jody, the couple started for home.
“Did you see how she changed, Jack?”
“Not hard to miss. She was alive and animated during the baseball talk; then she clammed up.”
“When we said we were leaving,” Daniel observed.
“We'll be back,” Jack said, smiling, earning him a smile from Daniel as well.
It was mealtime at the Jackson-O'Neill household, and like everything else, that meant it was an adventure. Another four days had passed since Jack and Daniel had visited Brianna, and both were eagerly looking forward to seeing her again. As Jack put it, they had “good vibes” about the tough-acting girl. At the moment though, dinnertime was the focus of the couple's attentions.
“Danny, you're supposed to eat your mashed potatoes, not sit there playing with them,” Daniel said shaking his head.
The boy sighed with exasperation as he explained, “Not playing, Daddy. I'm showing Jonny what a longboat is.”
Jack grinned only to find himself on the receiving end of Daniel's glare. Fortunately for the not-so-tough general, he was saved by the telephone ringing.
“I'll get ...” Jennifer said as she began standing from the table in anticipation of answering the phone.
“Sit,” Jack ordered as he stood and gestured for Jennifer to sit back down.
Jack and Daniel had learned from experience that if it was one of her friends on the phone, the teenager could talk for hours, and by the time she finished, dinner would be long over.
Grumbling about parents who ruined her social life, Jennifer sat back down and continued eating, one ear listening to her father answering the phone. She was half-hoping that it was one of her friends and half-hoping it wasn't since she wouldn't be allowed to talk to them until dinner was over.
“George,” Jack said as he grinned at the teenager who made a face at him and went back to eating her dinner.
Jack heard Hammond take a deep breath and instinctively braced himself for bad news.
“Jack, do you remember Colonel Hunter?”
“Yeah, sure. He's with SG-8, isn't he? He's a good man.”
“He's dead, Jack. The whole team died in a Goa'uld ambush today,” Hammond informed him.
Jack winced. It was bad enough to lose colleagues, but having been in George Hammond's position for over a year, he felt particular empathy for the man, and once again, he thanked the Fates for allowing him to escape that job when Hammond returned.
**SG-8 died, Danny. Goa'uld ambush.**
**I'm sorry to hear that.**
“Jack, Colonel Hunter had a fourteen-year-old son,” General Hammond said with a heavy voice. “The boy's staying with me, and ...”
“He is?” Jack asked with surprise. “Where's his mother?”
“Harriet died of cancer when he was five, and the boy has no other living relatives,” Hammond explained, sadness marring his voice.
“I thought Hunter had a sister or something ... in Detroit or somewhere.”
“That was Mildred. She died last year of emphysema.” Hammond sighed before continuing. “There's no one, Jack. He's staying with me at the moment, but I have to go to Washington tomorrow for a two-day meeting. I wondered if he could stay with you and Daniel tomorrow night.”
“Don't you think that might be a bit overwhelming for the poor kid at a time like this?”
“No, I think he'll be fine, and frankly, Jack, there isn't anyone else I can ask.”
**Danny, Hammond wants to know if we can house a teenage boy for one night?**
**Do you mind?**
**No, I guess not. What's going on?**
**I'll tell you when I'm off the phone.**
“Jack, if it's too much of an imposition, I suppose I can ...”
“No, Sir, I just had to check with Daniel. He can stay with us for the night.”
“Thank you, Jack.”
“Brood, we have a couple of things to discuss,” Jack said after he and Daniel had gathered the family together for an emergency family meeting.
“What is it, Dad?” David asked.
Jack looked at Daniel. The two were seated on chairs opposite each other, the sofa covering the distance in between. Jack held Ricky, and Daniel held Jenny. The Munchkins were seated on the carpet, surrounded by the family pets, while the three oldest children were on the sofa.
His arms around Jenny, Daniel said, “You know how much we love all of you, that you're our world.”
Jennifer smiled and said, “Of course, we know that. Is something wrong?”
“No, Jen,” Jack said. “We've mentioned before that the time would come when Daddy and I would want to add to our family.”
“Jonny, we're getting a new bro'her and sis'er,” Little Danny said excitedly.
“Yeah, 'nother baby,” Jonny said. “We'll teach him how to break out of TT, Little Danny.”
“Oh no, you won't,” Jack quickly spoke out. “Listen, you little escapee, there'll be no teaching anyone how to break out of anything. Understood?”
“No fun, Dad,” Jonny scowled.
“Too bad, but anyway, we're not having a baby,” Jack told them.
“Are you sure, Dad? Have you seen Doctor Preston?” Jennifer asked in jest, a broad smile on her face.
The teenager laughed and said, “Well, with this family, who knows what crazy things might happen.”
“Never that crazy, Jen,” Daniel said, still recovering from the girl's teasing.
“So are we getting a new brother or sister?” Jennifer asked.
“We hope so,” Daniel said. “There's a girl at the shelter. She's had a really tough time, and she needs a lot of patience and love.”
“What's her name?” Chenoa asked.
“Brianna, but she likes to be called Bri.”
“Breeeeeeeeeeeeee,” Jenny chuckled.
Jack and Daniel talked a while longer with the children about the young girl, reminding them that nothing was definite. Right now, they were being Brianna's friend, and they'd see what would happen from there. They also told the children that even if it wasn't Brianna, that, hopefully, soon, they'd find just the right child for their loving home.
“One more thing,” Daniel said seriously. “At some point, if things go well, we'll probably bring Brianna here to meet all of you, but it's really important that if that happens that you don't say anything that might hurt her.”
“No hurt anyone,” Ricky said.
“I know, Son,” Jack said, then to the brood, he asked, “Do you understand what Daddy is saying?”
David answered, “Yes, you don't want us to talk about her being adopted in case it doesn't happen, and she gets her hopes up, and then feels bad when it doesn't happen. Believe me, that's definitely not fun.”
Jennifer put her arm around David's shoulder and smiled. It was a sign of remembrance, at the families who had tried to divide them at the shelter, or the few who had even considered taking all three of the Morgan children.
“Dad, I think we can handle being discreet,” Jennifer said.
Jack smiled, but then Ricky asked, “What's dis...r... what's that?”
Jack was about to answer when Little Danny said, “It means don't say anything about Bri being our sister.”
They shared a smile at Little Danny's intelligence, and then they moved on to the second part of the family meeting, telling the children about Jeff.
“Okay, so does everyone understand?” Jack asked after filling the kids in.
“Sad,” Little Danny said. “Like Mommy and Charlie.”
Jennifer moved off the sofa to the floor and hugged her sensitive younger brother close to her.
“Like us,” David said, reaching down and picking up Mittens, who had wandered over towards the sofa, for some creature comfort.
“But,” Jennifer said, smiling, “the good thing is we know how he's feeling, and we also know that even though he probably feels like there are black clouds hanging over him, that the sun will be out soon.”
“Sun comes out every day, Jen,” Jonny said, perplexed by her comment.
“Jen means tomorrow new day,” Chenoa said. “Miss Mommy and Daddy, but now have Dad and Daddy. Love them.” The little girl smiled, scooted off the sofa, and ran to Jack, extending her arms up. He helped to pull her up while being careful not to lose his hold on Ricky. The parent and child exchanged a warm hug. “Love Dad and Daddy,” she said again.
“We love you, too, Princess,” Jack said.
“We make him feel better,” Chenoa stated confidently.
Daniel explained, “Okay, so, Grandpa is going to bring him by in the morning.”
“Before school?” David asked, concerned since he was going to one of the other homeschoolers houses the next day.
“No, David, you and Jen will be gone by then,” Jack answered.
“wh, shucks. I won't get to see Grandpa,” David said disappointedly. “I wanted to show him my new rocket.”
Daniel tried not to smile at his pouting son. In response, he said, “You can show him when he gets back from Washington.”
“Okay,” David relented, clearly unhappy about that part of the plan.
Jennifer had already left for school, and David had been picked up to go to the other homeschooler's house. Chenoa and the twins were upstairs in Chenoa's bedroom, playing with Legos and trying to keep Bijou and Mittens from stealing them. The Munchkins were in the living room, reading storybooks.
When the expected knock at the door came, both Jack and Daniel went to answer it and greet their overnight guest.
“Jack, Daniel, this is Jeff,” General Hammond introduced, his arm securely around Jeff's shoulder.
A young boy, a bit tall for his age, stood quietly. He had sandy brown hair that was wavy on top, and his brown eyes were saddened by recent events. He stood erect, however, and wore a small smile on his face, no doubt the result of being brought up in the military.
“It's nice to meet you, Jeff,” Jack said.
“We're sorry about your father,” Daniel added on the heels of Jack's greeting.
The boy was subdued, but polite as he nodded and said, “Thank you; it's nice to meet you, too.”
“Grandpa!” a chorus of three sang out, and within seconds, Hammond found himself surrounded by the Munchkins.
“Good morning, Munchkins. I brought a friend to meet you.”
“We know,” Little Danny said.
“Hi, I'm Jonny.”
“I'm Little Danny.”
“I'm Ash. Come play with us,” Aislinn said, reaching out to take Jeff's hand.
“Triplets?” Jeff asked, seeing the obvious shared characteristics of the three children.
“Jeff, I told you Jack and Daniel had a large family. These little Munchkins here started it all,” Hammond answered, wearing a smile on his face as he looked at the youngsters.
“We were first!” Jonny said with pride.
“But we're not the oldest. Mous'k'teers are,” Little Danny explained.
“Mous...what?” Jeff asked.
“The Mouseketeers,” Jack answered. “We have three older children we adopted. They, well ...”
“It's a long story,” Daniel interrupted. “They can tell you later.”
At that moment, Aislinn reached out again and startled the teenage boy by actually grabbing hold of his hand.
“Our bro'her David has tel'scope. Wanna see?”
Jeff shrugged, but let the little girl pull him away.
“Jeff, I'll be back tomorrow afternoon. You call me if you want to, but Jack and Daniel here are good folks. You can trust them,” Hammond reassured, giving the youngster a smile.
“Yes, Sir,” Jeff responded softly before disappearing into the living room with the triplets.
“He's a good boy, Jack. He's just feeling alone right now.”
“I know the feeling,” Jack said.
“So do I,” Daniel added. “He'll be fine here. The children are all looking forward to ...” Daniel stopped and shook his head. “We have great children, General. They want him to feel better.”
“And I have all the confidence in the world that your brood will do exactly that. You know how to reach me, if necessary.”
The three men finished their good-byes, and then Jack and Daniel shared a quick embrace.
“Should we go and save Jeff from our three little terrors?” Jack suggested with a grin.
Daniel nodded, and they walked over to the patio just in time to see the Munchkins dragging Jeff over to Katie's play yard.
The lovers stepped out onto the patio, and Jeff gave them a quick smile. Both of them noticed that the smile didn't reach his eyes. As they watched, Jonny and Aislinn demonstrated their dubious archaeological skills. Katie soon trotted over and began to dig furiously, scattering the two with sand. The resulting squeals procured the first real smile they'd seen on Jeff since he arrived. Little Danny was talking his ear off, but the teenager didn't seem to mind and even nodded at what appeared to be appropriate intervals.
Jack and Daniel observed Jonny say something and heard the other two Munchkins cheer. Jeff looked across at the swing set Jack had put up when they extended the house and then looked across at them.
“Do you think we should rescue him?”
Jack shook his head, answering, “No, I think we should join him.”
Daniel looked at his husband with suspicion and asked, “Did we put those swings up for the children or for you, Jack?”
Jack feigned offense as he smirked, “I don't know what you are talking about, Daniel.”
A snort was the response to Jack's comment, which resulted in the older man tackling Daniel to the ground and tickling him. As soon as the Munchkins realized what was going on, they raced over and joined in the tickling assault.
Leaving his children to continue the loving attack, Jack stood and walked over to Jeff who was smiling again.
“So, Jeff, me lad, have the wee terrors worn you out yet?” Jack asked with a wee touch of the Irish.
Jeff shook his head, his smile turning sad and wistful.
“They're great kids. I always wanted a brother or sister,” Jeff confided.
Jack smiled as he replied, “Well, you certainly have plenty of cousins now, Jeff. General Hammond is Grandpa to this brood so if you're staying with him, these are your surrogate cousins.”
Jeff smiled and softly replied, “I'd like that. Maybe it won't make the world seem so lonely.”
“I'm sorry about your father, Jeff. I didn't know Colonel Hunter very well, but we worked together a few times, and he was a good man.”
“Thank you, General ...”
“Jack, and that man on the ground over there is Daniel.”
“Uncle George said ...”
“Uncle George?” Jack asked, surprised at the familial address.
“Yes, Sir. He's not really my uncle, but I've called him that since I was a little kid.”
“I didn't know you knew him that well. I thought ...”
“Oh, well, he and my grandfather were really close friends and served together when they first started out in the Air Force.”
“Your grandfather is ...”
“He's dead. He died before I was born, but Uncle George stayed close to my father and my grandmother. He used to check in on my grandmother a lot until she died a few years ago.”
~I never knew any of this. Never had a clue Hunter was more than just another colonel at the Mountain.~ Jack sighed, then tried to raise their spirits a little. “Are you interested in the Air Force?”
“I don't know. I'm not sure I agree with the use of force overseas; then again, I'm not sure I don't. I do love airplanes, though. Dad used to take me flying sometimes, but we,” he looked down, “we haven't gone in a long time now. I miss flying.”
Jack smiled and said, “Flying brings peace of mind.”
“I could use some of that.”
“Daniel, do you think you can survive the Attack of the Munchkins on your own for a while?” Jack called out.
Still laughing and, clearly under the siege of the triplets, Daniel leaned up, gasping for a breath.
Jack laughed, then said, “I'd like to show Jeff something, if you're okay with us being gone a couple of hours.” **He likes to fly; thought I'd take him up in Jo as a surprise.**
“I think we can survive without you,” Daniel responded.
“Gee, thanks,” Jack whined mockingly.
“Just for a couple of hours, Babe.”
Daniel laughed and went back to playing with the triplets while Jack motioned at Jeff to follow him.
“You have your own plane? Cool,” Jeff remarked as he examined the blue aircraft.
“We like it. The only bad part is that with eight children, we don't get to fly as much as we'd like.”
“Is Daniel a pilot, too?”
“Yep. We take turns now when we go up. You get a special feeling when you fly this bird, and then there's another special feeling that comes from watching someone you love fly it.”
“Someone you love,” Jeff said a bit awkwardly.
Jack finished his pre-flight check, and a few minutes later, they were up in the air.
“Jeff, General Hammond didn't just drop you off at our house without telling you about Daniel and I, right?”
“He told me. It's ... different.”
“You've been brought up in the military, so I'm going to assume this is your first close encounter with a same-sex relationship,” Jack stated.
“You can say homosexual.”
“No, Daniel and I don't like labels. We were both happily married to women before. Life happened; things changed; and we found each other. When we did, the fact that we were the same sex gave us some pause for thought, but in time, we both realized that love is too precious to toss it in the garbage can just because of gender. That's the short version; it's actually much more complicated, but we don't like labels, and we never use them.”
Jeff decided to try a safer subject, saying, “Little Danny sure is smart.”
“Yeah, he is,” Jack responded as he stared out at the clouds. “All the kids are.”
“But he's a genius. He was saying things that kids half my age don't understand. Is he in a special school?”
Jack looked at Jeff as he explained, “No, as I said, we don't like labels. Yes, he's a genius, but we won't slap that name on him, and we won't let anyone else either. Jeff, the truth is that Daniel and I are blessed with some very loving children, and they all have Daniel's brains. I don't understand half of what Little Danny says. He's like 'Doogie Howser' in person.”
~Geez, doesn't anyone remember Doogie?~ Jack shook his head, feeling very old once again. “Never mind; before your time. The point is our kids are kids, and they are going to grow up being kids, and if they learn along the way, that's a bonus.”
Jeff smiled as he, too, watched the clouds rolling by.
“I like it up here,” the boy sighed contently.
“Maybe we can come up again some time.”
“I'd like that ... Jack. Thank you.”
After a late lunch, Jack and Jeff returned to the house. Upon walking inside, Jeff was once again surrounded by the brood as they attempted to make the grieving teenager feel better. After asking permission to take him inside the structure, the youngsters led Jeff outside to tour Daniel's treehouse, where they remained for quite while.
“How'd it go?” Daniel asked his husband when they were alone.
“He likes to fly,” Jack said with a smile, but he quickly added, “He's hurting, Angel.”
“His father just died three days ago, Jack.”
“Yeah, uh, by the way, I checked with Davis at the SGC. The memorial is scheduled for day after tomorrow at the Academy chapel,” Jack said, a frown on his face.
“Do you want to go?” Daniel asked.
“Of course, I do, but ...”
“Our first priority is to Brianna,” Daniel completed for his soulmate.
“Yeah, we can't let her down. Cancelling or changing plans for anything right now will do harm we might not be able to correct,” Jack explained.
“I agree. General Hammond will be with Jeff, and that's the important thing,” Daniel commented.
Jack nodded, and the two went about their business for the rest of the afternoon.
As dinnertime approached, the Jackson-O'Neills had a couple of surprise visitors -- Sam and Janet -- who showed up bearing buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and all the extras. Normally, the family would have gathered in the hospitality room, but they ended up settling in the smaller living room, the younger children nestled around the coffee table and the older ones using the counter or just sitting in the chairs with plates in their laps.
The normal chatter and silliness ensued as the children enjoyed their favorite pieces while Sam and Janet visited with Jack and Daniel.
As time passed, Jack observed Jeff quietly separating himself from the chatty bunch. He stood by himself near the entranceway, silently watching the brood. He fidgeted nervously, and his eyes were still understandably sad.
~We can be a little overwhelming. Okay, grand tour time,~ Jack decided. He touched his lover's arm and motioned towards Jeff, and then he raised his hand, indicating for Daniel to stay with their visitors. Walking through the living room, Jack tapped Jonny on the shoulders, pointing to a chicken leg that was on the floor. As he reached Jeff, Jack said, “How about I show you around?”
“Sure,” Jeff agreed, wanting to be anywhere that it might be quieter. ~They're great kids, I guess, but ... Dad, I'm miserable.~
Jack led the way through the entrance hall and walked into the kitchen. He wanted to start the tour at the bottom of their centerpiece, so walked through the kitchen and out its door.
“We love this room. I guess it's more of a family room, but we call it the rec room.” Jack paused, then laughed as he realized, “We told you that last night when we watched the movie, didn't we? It's age,” Jack teased.
Jeff let out a tiny laugh, but Jack wondered if it was more obligatory than anything else.
“This room is the children's favorite,” Jack said, leading the boy behind the sine wall and into the game room, which was parallel to the recreation room.
“So this is what Jonny was talking about. It looks like a fun place,” Jeff observed as he took in the variety of games and play areas in the fairly large room.
“A dinosaur?” Jeff asked about the huge stuffed animal that sat in the corner of the room.
“Little Danny loves it.”
Jeff chuckled, “Does it have a name?”
“Oh, yeah. It's a really ferocious sounding name.” Waiting a few beats, Jack revealed, “Muffin.”
“Muffin?” the teen asked in disbelief. ~Who names a dinosaur after bread?~
Jack laughed, “Jenny named it. Little Danny's idea because she was afraid of it at first.”
“Little Danny's,” Jeff echoed. “I'm not surprised.
“How are you at foosball?” Jack asked, moving to the opposite side of the foosball table.
“I'm okay at it.”
“Let's find out.”
Though a bit hesitant at first, Jeff took Jack on, first at foosball, then at air hockey, and even challenged Jack at a couple of the pinball games.
~That's it. Mourn, Jeff, but life goes on. Believe me, I know ... the hard way.~
A while later, when they were through playing, Jack led Jeff out of the game room by walking towards the front of the house and exiting through a pocket door in the corner. To their left was a tiny corridor. They turned into the corridor, turned left again, and walked into one of Jack's favorite rooms.
“Uh, this is our train room,” Jack said, flipping a switch that resulted in his Ole Lucky 97 train moving along the track. “That's mine, and that one over there is Danny's.”
“Not the kids?”
“We let them come in and play with us sometimes,” Jack said, smiling. “But mostly, this is our play room.”
“Play room? For you and Daniel?” Jeff asked, his surprise evident.
“Jeff, you're never too old to play, and in Danny's case, when he was a little boy, he very rarely got to play. About, oh, eight years ago, he finally discovered his inner child. Long story, but these trains, they're ours, and playing with them is something we are not ashamed of.”
Jeff nodded, and Jack knew he had probably confused the lad a bit.
“He must like Egypt,” Jeff stated, observing a name plate for Daniel's train, the Egyptian Express. “I mean, there's Egyptian tile in that big kitchen.”
“We call that the hospitality room. It was the brain child of our designer, Alex Dennison. With our brood and all their friends, it's been a blessing. Anyway, Danny was born in Egypt and lived there for most of his first eight years before his parents brought him back to the states. He has a special affection for Egypt.” After a pause, Jack urged, “Come on. There's more to see.”
Returning to tiny corridor, Jack led Jeff to the addition that was opposite the game room, at the front of the house. The addition had three rooms that extended from the rec room out to the street. Walking inside the open doorway, Jack pointed to his left and said, “That's a half-bath, and behind it is the mechanical room; it's only accessible from the outside. Now in here,” he said, walking through another doorway that had a tiny corridor in it, “we have two more rooms. That one on the far end is our projects room.”
The two walked into the room. There was a large chalkboard, like the one in Daniel's office at the SGC. There were drawers and cabinets filled with construction paper, glue, paints, scissors, and other materials, but it was an large circular object sitting in an all-glass projection to the side of the room that got the teenage boy's attention.
“A pottery wheel?” Jeff asked.
“I like to dabble, and I'm teaching Jenny. She loves to work with her hands. In this room, the kids can work on their creative arts. They paint, do decoupage, make things ...” Jack shrugged as he said, “It's just a place to create and have fun.” He added, “We also do some of our homeschooling in here.”
“Yeah. It's a challenge, but our brood likes it. We have control over what they learn and when, and they get one-on-one attention.”
“All of them are homeschooled?”
“Not Jen. She wanted to stay in her regular school, and we felt it was important to let her continue.”
The last room in the house extension, the one next to the projects room and closest to the original house, was currently unused. The projects room was wider than this one, so as a result, this room was not that big. At the moment, they were using it for storage.
Leaving the extension behind, Jack showed Jeff the next room, located at the head of the rec room, extending out towards the street. Intentionally, it was a smaller appendage off the house.
“This room was Jen's idea. We call it the quiet room, or sometimes the kid's sanctuary.”
The tiny room was decorated in soothing blue and green colors. It had a computer table complete with computer, monitor, printer, and scanner. There was a nice stereo system that included mood sounds and noises, a large beanbag, and a painting of a seascape on the wall.
“She wanted a place where they could escape to study or just listen to music, but someplace just for them when they needed to be alone. We have strict rules about this room. When this door is closed and this sign engaged,” Jack said, pointing to an unique sign on the door, “no one enters, knocks, or does anything to disturb whomever is inside, unless it's an emergency.”
The sign on the door could be displayed down low, where the younger children could easily reach it, or up high for the older kids. On one side, the side that was displayed when the room was unused was a photograph of the eight children, but on the other side were individual photos of the children. In the middle of the door, there were three slots.
“When one of the kids come in here, they take their photo and place it in one of these slots. We don't allow more than three of them in this room at one time, so that's why there are only three slots, but the point is that whichever child is in here, their picture goes in a slot so that we know who is where.”
“Sounds cool,” Jeff responded.
“If they abuse it, they pay the price. This isn't a clubhouse; it's a room with a purpose,” Jack explained.
“When they need to get away from the others?”
“Sometimes. The 'why' they use it is up to them. We have an intercom system installed throughout the house, and that includes this room, so if Danny and I get concerned, we can check in with them without actually intruding on their space.”
Jack led Jeff to the next room in line, which was twice the size of the quiet room.
“This is a guest room. When Danny and I go out of town, this is where our babysitter stays.”
“Nice room,” Jeff commented, noting the plush carpet and expensive-looking bedding and decor.
“We hope so.”
Exiting the room, Jack slid open the pocket door that connected the new part of the house with the old. They were now in the original hallway, standing still. Jack looked back over the newly renovated section.
“I guess you could say this part of the house is where we live and play. The rec room is large, but it's proven to be a wonderful place for family meetings. You can't see it from here, but over at the far corner, uh, over there, to the right of the hospitality room, and actually extending off the game room, there's a cabana with a shower and bath -- makes it convenient for anyone outside, especially with the pool.”
“There's a pool?”
Jack laughed, knowing Jeff had probably only observed the large igloo covering that had been up for a few weeks now.
“Yeah, it's under that big tent thing.”
“So, we have the rec room, our hospitality room, the cabana, then we move this way with the game room.” Jack laughed, “It's almost as large as the game room, and that wasn't our original intent, but like I said, Danny and I believe in play, and one thing led to another.” Looking back across where they had just walked, Jack said, “So then we have the train room back that way with the offshoot to the projects room, yadda, yadda, yadda; and, of course, where we just were -- the quiet room and the guest room.”
“And this is all new?” an impressed Jeff inquired.
“It's a year old now, but it still feels new.”
“Is the upstairs all new?”
“It is on the new side. The only upstairs that existed before was Jen's room over the garage, and of course, the master bedroom, Daniel's den, the nursery, and David's room.
“Dad! Jeff!” Chenoa called out as she hurried to them down the entranceway. “Time for iiiiice creeeeeeam! Come on! Daddy say can't start 'til you come. Hurry,” she said.
“We're coming, Princess.” Jack smiled as he watched her turn around and head back for the living room. Seeing Jeff's look, Jack commented, “Around here, ice cream is a religion!”
“Sam, Janet,” Daniel said, “would you two mind help getting the children ready for bed? Jack and I would like to show Jeff the upstairs and talk to him for a few minutes.”
“Sure. No problem,” Sam replied. “Kids, bedtime!” Sam called out, sliding off the stool she had been sitting on.
“Aw, Aunt Sam,” Ricky whined.
“No whining. Let's go upstairs. Scoot!” Sam ordered lovingly.
Janet chuckled as she stood up to assist, Looking at her friend, she advised, “Daniel, remember Jeff is grieving. Don't expect too much from him now.”
“I know. Thanks,” Daniel said as he moved away to collect his husband and the teenager in question.
Standing near the mantle, Jeff watched Sam and Janet herd the children upstairs. He couldn't help but smile at the happy brood, and yet, he felt nothing but sadness inside of him. He thought about this insane family and how much love he had witnessed. In the few days since his father's death, the boy had already missed that feeling of love.
Jeff remembered his mother and how she hugged the stuffing out of him each and every night. There hadn't been enough of those hugs, his mother having died when he was only five. Suddenly, Jeff hugged himself, imagining his mother 'hugging the stuffing' out of him.
The lonely boy sighed as he released his hold, his mind going to his recently deceased father. After his mother's death, he and his military father did their best to not let their family of two deteriorate. It wasn't always easy, but Jeff thought they'd been very successful.
With the children upstairs, Jack and Daniel approached Jeff. Jack was holding Jeff's duffel bag and backpack which had sat by the front doorway since the boy's arrival that morning.
“I don't think we've been upstairs yet,” Jack chuckled.
Jeff shrugged as he said, “It's been a busy day.”
“This?” Jack responded, looking away. “This was calm. You haven't seen our madhouse is full bloom yet.”
“Come on, Jeff. We'll show you the upstairs,” Daniel said, beginning to walk away as he finished his statement.
The three walked up the stairs where the children were running amuck. Sam and Janet were overseeing the insanity as the family got ready for bed, but their adrenaline seemed to be on overtime.
“Danny, I think we should help out.”
“Uh, wait here for a minute. We'll be right back.”
Jeff nodded and watched as the craziness unfolded.
“Katie, sleep with me,” Little Daniel called out.
“Mittens, come here,” Aislinn called over to the gray and white cat as she licked her front paw.
“Bijou!” Jonny added his voice to the others.
“Jen, I can't find Uni,” Chenoa said sadly after she had searched her room for the stuffed unicorn that was handmade by her birth mother. She had come racing by Jeff with urgency in her voice. “Hafta have Uni!”
As she often did, Jennifer was also helping to get the younger children settled. She smiled and said, “Uni's in my room. Remember, you left her there last night when you slept with me.”
“Oh, yeah. Thanks, Jen,” the curly-haired girl said as she ran to Jennifer's room to retrieve her beloved item.
“Boys, settle down,” Jack ordered. “Jonny, put the lizard back in his home before you fall asleep, and he gets lost.”
“Dad,” Aislinn walked in.
“Ash, wanna pet Bogey?” Jonny asked, holding out the lizard in his hand.
“Ewwwwww! Dad! Make him put it away,” Aislinn said with a shudder.
Jack picked Ash up and commanded, “Jonny, *now*!”
“Geez, Ash, Bogey won't hurt you,” Jonny whined as he did as his father had instructed.
“Little Danny, put that book away,” Daniel ordered.
The youngster grumbled as he closed his book and put it under his bed.
“Aunt Sam, tell you secret?” Jenny asked as the two stood near the doorway, just barely inside Jenny's bedroom.
“I'm all ears!” Sam responded, leaning down as Jenny whispered something that made Sam giggle.
“What was that about?” Daniel asked a moment later as Sam walked out of the bedroom and into the hallway.
“It's a secret,” Sam said with a grin.
“Of course!” Daniel spoke dryly, a small smile on his face. “What was I thinking?”
Jack asked, “Ricky, you need help changing?”
“Big boy, Dad.”
“Lights out in five minutes,” Jack said.
“Found Uni, Daddy,” Chenoa said happily as she passed Daniel in the hallway. “See, Jen! Found her!”
“You need to pay better attention to where you leave her, Noa. You wouldn't want to lose her,” Daniel chastised.
Chenoa held Uni tightly and ran towards her room which was in the other section of the house.
~Sorry, Sweetie, but you needed to hear that.~ Daniel looked at Jenny and smiled. “Let's get your nightgown on,” he said, guiding her towards her dresser.
“Night, Jeff,” Chenoa said as she ran past the teenager.
“Goodnight, Noa,” Jeff responded softly.
Chenoa stopped and turned around, walking over to Jeff.
“Give Uni goodnight hug,” Chenoa stated, holding up the item in question.
Jeff smiled, and he felt a little awkward. Still, he took the unicorn and hugged it. Kneeling down, he handed the Uni back to Chenoa.
“Would you like a hug?” Jeff asked the young girl.
Chenoa beamed, so Jeff hugged her.
“You good hugger, Jeff. Night!” Chenoa said as she ran out of Jeff's view.
Standing back up, Jeff felt the warmest he had all night. He had never truly regretted being an only child until now. His thoughts were interrupted by more voices in the rooms.
“Tell Jenny story?” the little girl asked her father when she was changed.
“Okay,” Daniel responded, sitting down to tell Jenny a quick story about a wondrous land where the inhabitants could make their city, and themselves, disappear.
Then, Jack walked in with Aislinn to tell her a story. He selected the tale about the tomboy who had been captured by the natives and forced to wear a long, blue gown and headdress, and how in the end, she had helped to liberate the women of the magic world.
“Aunt Janet, how black thingee tell you what blood pressure is?” Little Danny asked. Before she could answer he added, “What blood pressure?”
“Why don't we talk about it tomorrow? You need to go to sleep now,” Janet responded.
“Aunt Janet, I go to 'firmary with you, and you teach me? Please,” the toddler pleaded, looking up at Janet with big blue eyes.
Janet nodded, answering, “I'll ask your fathers, okay?”
Little Danny smiled, and when Janet leaned over to give him a goodnight kiss, he threw his arms around her. He held on tightly and then gave her a huge kiss.
“Love you, Aunt ... <yawn> ... Janet.”
“I love you, too,” Janet replied tenderly as she pulled the blanket up and watched Little Danny close his eyes. ~He is just like Daniel. How adorable can a little boy get?~
It took a while, but at last, the eight children were settled in their beds, some asleep, others on their way there. Sam and Janet were both checking on the youngsters and being roped to last minute requests -- another trip to the bathroom, a glass of water, one more story -- all the usual nighttime madness.
Meanwhile, Jack and Daniel showed Jeff the upstairs, explaining who slept where and showing off some of the rooms.
Jennifer still had her room up over the garage. It was home to her, and she hadn't wanted to give it up after the renovation. David still had the same room, too. The nursery, however, had been turned into a little girl's room occupied solely by Chenoa who had wanted to stay close to David and, the parents suspected, to them.
A new hallway now divided Jack and Daniel's master bedroom from Daniel's den. Originally, Jack had resisted the division because it shortened Daniel's den, but the alternative would have been a very long U-shaped hall which would have been an eyesore on the outside of the house. Not having much of a choice, Daniel and Alex Dennison, their designer, prevailed upon Jack to accept the logical solution.
At the end of the hallway were four stairs that led up to the new section of the house. The new part of the upstairs was two feet higher than the original second floor because the new recreation and game rooms were so large that they required ten-foot ceilings. Once up the stairs, and after a brief jog to the left, the hallway continued down the length of the house.
On the right, just after the jog, was a bath, one of four on this floor. There was Jack and Daniel's private bath in their bedroom, one for the girls, one for the boys, and this one for anyone to use. It was the bath closest to David's room and the room that had been the nursery.
Next was a shallow room with an open arch that served as the reference room or library. It was lined with bookshelves and had a table which held a laptop for reference use only. There were connections for two additional computers when, and if, needed.
After the library was a door that opened on a short, narrow winding staircase that led to the Bird's Nest'. Since it required going upstairs, the couple didn't mention it to Jeff at this point in time.
Continuing down the right side of the hall was the girls' bathroom and after it was a small closet that stored off-season outerwear.
Jack and Daniel pointed out the bookshelf that was next to the bathroom, but didn't say anything more about it yet.
Progressing toward the end of the hall on, still on the right, was a bathroom for the boys, and then came the sewing room.
The sewing room had begun as a clothing pantry, with a large table and bins for sorting clothes before and after being washed, but when Jack and Daniel had found out that Jennifer loved to sew, they took her shopping for a sewing machine. Under the tutorage of Mrs. Valissi, their next door neighbor, Jennifer's ability had grown, and the teenager eagerly pitched in to help with mending, and, in fact, had volunteered to sew new clothes for herself and her siblings as time permitted.
Now, the teenager was teaching Chenoa and Aislinn how to sew, too, though they were both too young to use her machine. As Jennifer had had as a child, the two younger girls now had small toy-like machines to learn and practice on.
Finally, the last room on the right was a storage closet. It was a catch-all room, full of boxes, cleaning supplies, the rod for the block-and-tackle (a device attached to the side of the house, accessed by the fire escape balcony, that allowed the Jackson-O'Neills to easily pull up furniture or other large objects to the second floor of their home), and miscellaneous other items.
At the end of the hallway was a door that opened to the fire escape. This door was always kept locked, and the security pad was high enough that the younger children couldn't reach it. As the children aged, they would be given the code to the pad that would unlock the door.
“Wow, this is really something,” Jeff observed.
“We hope you like your bedroom,” Daniel said as they moved towards the space in question.
On the left side of the long hallway, parallel with the backyard, were four large bedrooms, approximately fourteen-feet by eighteen-feet, each with a large walk-in closet as well as a vanity with a sink to help alleviate the morning rush. In between the closets were solar tubes which conducted sunlight down to the recreation and game rooms, making the large spaces brightly lit. Two shallow linen closets completed the right side of the hallway.
The first bedroom, closest to the original structure, was occupied by Aislinn and Jenny. After the first of the two linen closets, the next room was shared by the three boys - Jonny, Little Danny, and Ricky. The third and fourth rooms that also had a linen closet between them, were currently set up as spare rooms for visitors, but as Jack and Daniel adopted the two older children, it was anticipated that they would each occupy one of those rooms.
For now, Jeff would be staying in the first spare room, the one next to the three boys.
“Listen, uh, the children are well-meaning, but they are also very enthusiastic and caring,” Daniel commented. He saw Jeff's confused look and knew Jeff was wondering why Daniel had made that statement. “What I'm trying to say is that you might wake up to a room full of Munchkins or something.”
Jack chuckled, “I know they've been all over you today, but it's because they understand.”
“They do?” Jeff quizzed.
The lovers told Jeff about Kayla and Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, “Oh, I'm ... I'm sorry.”
“We didn't tell you to be sorry, Jeff,” Daniel replied. “It's just our children sometimes wear their hearts on their sleeves. They know your father died recently. All I'm saying is don't be surprised if they get by us and wake you up or something.”
“That's okay, if they do. I mean, I ...”
“We understand,” Jack answered, knowing the boy might only sleep for a short while. “If you need anything, Jeff, let us know,” Jack said as he and Daniel made sure the teenager was okay.
“I'm fine. Thank you,” Jeff said politely.
“Pleasant dreams,” Daniel said as they closed the door to the spare room.
“How's he doing, Sir?” Sam asked when Jack and Daniel returned downstairs.
“As okay as okay can be,” Jack answered with a sigh.
“The brood was a bit overwhelming,” Daniel noted.
“Just remember,” Janet said as she put on her coat, “it's going to take a lot of time.”
“We'll pass that on to Hammond,” Jack said.
“Oh, yes, General Hammond,” Janet said with a smile, exchanging a look with Sam that Jack couldn't define.
“Thanks for staying and helping with the children. I think it helped to give Jeff some needed space,” Daniel said to the two women.
“Our pleasure,” Janet said, leaning forward for a quick kiss goodnight with Daniel.
Two minutes later, Sam and Janet were safely on their way home, and the two lovers went upstairs to get some much-needed sleep.
Daniel listened to Jack's heartbeat, reassured as always by the rhythmic sound. He looked across at the bedside clock.
Trying not to disturb his sleeping husband, Daniel climbed out of bed and walked to the spare room, quietly opening the door. When he saw the empty bed, his heart clenched in sympathy for the teenage boy.
The archaeologist began his search for Jeff, eventually finding him downstairs on the patio, looking out at the night sky. Next to him were Bijou and Katie, who had apparently left the beds of Jonny and Little Danny sometime during the past few hours. Jeff was petting both of the dogs, one of whom was on each side of him.
Lost in his thoughts, Jeff didn't even hear the patio door open and only realized he wasn't alone when he felt Daniel sit next to him and pull him into a hug, though Katie was still between them.
“Nights are the hardest time to forget,” Daniel vocalized sympathetically.
“Jen told me that your parents died when you were a kid.”
Daniel nodded as he answered, “Yes, they did. Every second was a nightmare for days afterwards.” Daniel paused, then shook his head slightly. “Who am I kidding? I lived a nightmare for years, but it was in the dead of night that the crushing loneliness would come and haunt me until I thought I couldn't breathe anymore. It seemed to invade every part of me until I wished I had died with my parents just so I wouldn't be alone anymore.”
Jeff nodded and finally released the tears he'd been holding in as he cried, “Dad was all I had.”
Daniel drew Jeff closer and hugged him even more tightly, saying, “You aren't alone, though, Jeff. You have General Hammond, and you have us. I know we've only just met, but you already feel like part of the family. You will always be welcome here.”
“You have a great family,” Jeff spoke wistfully.
“The general will make sure you have a wonderful family, too. They'll never replace your father, but they'll love you.”
Jeff shook his head doubtfully as he woefully sighed, “I feel like I'll never be really happy again.”
“You will, Jeff. It may not seem like it right now, but you will,” Daniel promised.
“I wish I could believe that.”
“Time. It's a cliche answer, but it also happens to be the truth,” Daniel told him. A few moments later, the chill began to mount. “Hey, it's cold out here. Let's go inside and make some hot chocolate.”
Jeff nodded, so the two entered the house and settled in the kitchen, the teenager making himself comfortable at the counter that separated the kitchen from the living room. He watched as Daniel pulled out the hot chocolate and prepared their drinks.
“Daniel, you've known Uncle George a long time, right?”
“That's right,” Daniel acknowledged.
“I've noticed that you and Jack tend to call him by his rank, but you all talk like you're really good friends.”
“We are. I guess it's just ... habit, history, respect.” Daniel shrugged. “For Jack, it is military. You met Sam last night. She's one of our very closest friends, but he almost always calls by her last name. We're teammates, but we're more than that.” Daniel chuckled, “I used to try and get them both to use their first names, but somehow, it's never really felt right. We're family.” Daniel paused as he reflected, finally admitting, “You know, Jeff, I don't have a good answer to your question. The general has always been ... the general to me, even though I think of him like a grandfather. In fact, he's more of a grandfather than my actual grandfather ever was. Maybe it is just habit, and geez, I talk a lot.”
Jeff laughed, responding, “Uncle George calls it prattling.”
~He's not alone.~ Daniel laughed again. “I think he got that from Jack.” Daniel emptied the hot drink from the pan to their mugs. “Marshmallows?”
“Here you go,” Daniel said a moment later, pushing Jeff's drink towards him and sitting down on one of the stools himself.
“Jen's pretty,” Jeff said.
“Jack's very territorial,” Daniel said as a slight warning.
“She's older than me anyway. She's neat, though; except she likes Britney Spears. How could someone as cool as Jen be so hooked on that blonde?” Jeff asked, snorting in disgust.
“It goes back a long time,” Daniel answered, not really understanding, either.
“Dad liked show tunes,” Jeff revealed.
“So do we.”
“Old time musicals?” Jeff asked with a tiny light in his eyes.
“Old time everything. My Jack is a TV and movie junkie, and he's dragged me along for the ride.”
Jeff heard Katie shaking her ears in her beanbag, and he turned to look.
“I feel like they're watching me,” Jeff said as he turned back to face Daniel.
“They are,” Daniel responded. “Bijou and Katie are very unusual dogs. They sense ... sadness, and they're going to make sure you know that you've got people, and dogs, to rely on.”
“It's like they think I need them or something.” Jeff saw Daniel smile, but the archaeologist didn't say anything in response. “Bijou is the mother, right?”
“Yes, and Katie was the runt of the litter. No one wanted her. Can you imagine that? She's so perfect, and no one wanted her,” Daniel said quietly.
“Woof,” Katie said softly, prancing over to the counter.
Daniel got off the stool, leaned over, and picked her up.
“We want you. You're such a part of us.” The beagle gave Daniel a bunch of kisses. He looked at Jeff. “Katie and I share the same birthday.”
“I'll bet you have a party for her, don't you?” Jeff asked.
“And for Bij on her birthday. As Jack says, birthdays are special.”
Jeff yawned, and Daniel suggested they lock up and try to get some sleep.
Seeing Jeff get back in bed, Daniel couldn't resist leaning over and pulling up the blankets more snugly. The teenager looked at him with a funny look.
“I know. You're grown, but let me give you one piece of advice, Jeff. Sometimes, being taken care of, just for a minute, or an hour, or a day, isn't a bad thing. It doesn't make you weak; it doesn't make you a sissy; all it does is mean that you're human, and you need people, or dogs.”
“Or cats,” Jeff said with a smile.
Daniel nodded and then commented, “I know what I'm talking about. I'm an ... expert on defense mechanisms, on being ... fine. I was so fine, Jeff, that all I had in this world were the initials after my name. Initials don't keep you warm, they don't laugh at a joke or silly situation, and they don't make you a man.” Daniel paused, remembering his good fortune -- Jack. “It took Jack to teach me that I could be vulnerable and still be tough when I need to be. Let others share your pain. It will never go away completely, but it can, and it does, lessen with time, and with sharing. Don't wall yourself in like I did, Jeff. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Daniel. Thanks for the hot chocolate ... and the conversation.”
Daniel was only a few feet beyond Jeff's doorway when he heard Jeff's voice saying, “Bijou, Katie, you can ... sleep with me ... if you want. I'd ... like it if you would.”
Daniel smiled. He didn't need to go back and look to know that the two beagles were already warming Jeff's bed.
Daniel checked on the rest of the children and then returned to the master bedroom. He stood in the doorway and looked at the still form of his husband, a grin on his face. Then after a couple of minutes, he heard the voice he loved more than any other in the universe.
“Oh, for crying out loud, Danny, get your cute butt over here, and keep me warm.”
Daniel laughed and climbed back into bed, snuggling up to his soulmate.
“So how much of my conversation with Jeff did you hear?”
“Just the last bit. You knew he'd be up,” Jack said, his words a statement that could also be termed a question.
“Yes, I did. These first few nights are going to be the hardest for him,” Daniel sighed in empathy for the young teen.
“I'm proud of you, Danny. You've come so far,” Jack said, adding, “I say that a lot, don't I?”
“Because it's true, and it's all thanks to you, my handsome, sexy Silver Fox,” Daniel crooned. He kissed the chest he was using as a pillow and whispered, “Love you so much, Jack.”
“I love you, too, Angel.”
Very early the next morning, before the younger children were awake, Jack noticed Jeff was sitting quietly in the living room.
~I wonder if he slept at all?~ Jack walked in. “Good morning.”
“Good morning, Sir.”
“Sir? That's General ... no, he's Uncle George.” Jack laughed. “Just stick with Jack, and leave the 'sir' thing out of it.”
Jeff nodded, feeling lost and alone as he sat on the sofa.
“Hey, I didn't get to show you the rest of the downstairs yesterday. Wanna finish the tour?”
“Sure,” Jeff quickly agreed.
“Follow me,” Jack instructed, walking back towards the train room. Entering the corridor, he said, “Missed this little addition, too.” Jack moved up some stairs, and Jeff followed. “This room was added mainly for aesthetic purposes, and it made sense economically. The contractors were great, but we don't ever want to have to go through that bedlam again. This room is exactly the same size as Jen's room that is over the garage. For now, it's another spare room, but as you can see, it's not decorated.”
Jeff nodded his understanding, seeing only a twin bed, a chest of drawers, and a chair. The walls were barren, and the carpet was just a standard pad in a neutral color.
“What's that?” Jeff asked.
“The bathroom,” Jack answered.
“That's neat. Does Jen's room have a bath?”
“Oh, yeah; that was a must back when we did that remodel.” Jack and Jeff went downstairs. “Watch this,” Jack said smartly, entering three numbers on the keypad by the door and then touching a space on the acoustic fabric of the rec room wall. “Remember that bookshelf we showed you upstairs last night?”
Jeff nodded, and then was astounded when the door began to move. He backed up a step when it opened. Jack smiled and motioned for the boy to follow him up yet another set of stairs.
“Gee whiz,” Jeff said as they reached the top. “It's the bookshelf!”
“On wheels, well, rollers,” Jack laughed. “We don't use this stairwell that much right now because of the younger kids, but it comes in handy when we do!”
When unlocked, either by a remote or the security keypad that was on the wall next to it, this bookshelf door was easily opened. Jack and Daniel had taken many precautions to make sure the stairwell was safe and used only under their supervision. When the stairwell was used, it would lead downstairs to the opening just outside the train room.
“That's really cool,” Jeff said. “A secret stairwell.”
“It keeps the kids from using it when we're not around.” Jack smiled. “Let me show something we didn't talk about last night when we toured the upstairs. It's beyond cool!” Moving towards the original house, Jack led Jeff by the girls' bath and another stairwell, arriving at a smaller room. “This is the reference room, or library, for the kids can use.”
“Nice,” Jeff commented.
“It's not the cool place,” Jack chimed. “That's here, by this other stairwell,” he explained. ~This can get confusing.~ Jack made sure Jeff had a handle on where they were -- just above the corner of the rec room where the sixty-inch projection television hung. “We need to go up these stairs,” he said about a set of winding stairs that went up a few feet.
“Cool view,” Jeff said as he looked out the window of the tiny area. ~I could live up here now and just look out over the world.~
“We call this the Bird's Nest, and it's just for the girls. The boys are not allowed here unless invited, and, uh, to date, that hasn't happened.”
“Cozy,” Jeff commented.
“That was the idea,” Jack said with a smile.
The window in the Bird's Nest was curved and sat under a curved section of roof called an eyebrow dormer. It featured a cushioned bench opposite the window that provided cozy seating for three. There was a rocking chair and then space on the floor for two girls to sit on pillows. All in all, six girls could cozy up together for intimate chats in the private retreat created just for them.
~Kayla did good,~ Jack thought as he remembered the catalyst for the Bird's Nest. The tiny area was based on words written to Daniel in a letter from Kayla Armentrout, the birth mother of the Munchkins and the twins. ~The girls have loved this area.~
After a couple of minutes, the two went back downstairs, and Jack showed Jeff the old plant room, which was now the family music room. They had removed most of the greenery, but some was still present. Now the emphasis was on musical instruments, primarily Daniel's piano, along with a couple of guitars, a small drum set, a harpsichord, two tambourines, and a flute.
“This room used to be a lot smaller. Geez, it seemed like Danny and I could just fit in here. Maybe it was because I had it stacked with bookshelves and plants, but now, it's a good place for the kids to practice.”
“Ear plugs,” Jack responded said with a smirky smile.
“Jack? Oh, good morning, Jeff,” Daniel yawned, his words somewhat muffled as a result.
“He's not a morning person,” Jack teased as he moved forward to give his lover a proper good morning kiss.
The extended tour was over as Daniel announced the children were getting up, and it was time to move forward with their plans for the day.
“Breakfast will be in thirty minutes,” Jack told the teenager.
“Remember, Jeff, make yourself at home,” Daniel added.
As Jack and Daniel moved on to tend to their family, Jeff remained in the music room, sitting down at the piano. He played a few notes, before collapsing his hands to the ivories, creating an ugly sound.
~I miss you, Dad. I wish you were. Why did you die?. How ... how could you leave me like this? You're all I have -- had. I'm alone now. You left me, and ... and I hate you!~
Jeff pounded on the piano keys, but then his head sank down over the keys, and he cried.
~I don't hate you, Dad, but why did you leave me? I ... I need you, Dad! I ... I love you so much. Why'd you leave me? Why'd you die? WHY?~
Having heard several loud noises, Jack and Daniel hurried back to the music room. They exchanged a look, but then walked away, sensing that Jeff needed to be alone, for now.
“The Munchkins and the twins are happily trying to destroy ToddlerTown,” Jack said cheerfully as he came into the kitchen.
Daniel laughed as he responded, “You mean Jonny is working out a grand escape plan, and the others are aiding and abetting him.”
Jack grinned, wondering how his namesake got such a reputation. Even though Jack had expanded and improved ToddlerTown, Jonny was still managing to get out of it. Actually, the time was fast approaching when they wouldn't be able to use the extra-large space for their youngest children any longer, at least not the Munchkins. They were getting too old, but for a while, ToddlerTown had been a wonderful invention and a great way of keeping their children safe while Jack and Daniel attended to business.
~Oh yeah, he got rep because he keeps breaking out, no matter how many times I tell him not to.~ Jack chuckled, “A kid's gotta do what a kid's gotta do.”
“Right. Look out there,” Daniel said, nodding towards the backyard as he continued preparing dinner.
As Jack observed the scene in the backyard, Daniel leaned against him. Jack hugged him close.
“We have a wonderful family, Jack.”
“That we do, Angel.”
They watched as David swung the baseball bat and missed the ball that Jennifer had just pitched to him. Jeff caught the ball smoothly and threw it back to the teenage girl, then corrected David's grip on the bat. Jennifer pitched another ball, and this time, when David swung, the bat connected.
Bijou, who had been sitting on the porch next to Chenoa, ran out and picked up the ball from where it had landed. She carried it back to Jennifer who patted her in thanks.
“I think even though Jeff is a little overwhelmed, he's enjoying being surrounded by people,” Daniel said softly. “It gives him less time to think.”
“He's a good kid.”
“Yes, but he's a scared kid, Jack,” Daniel hastened to add.
“Hammond will find him a good home, Danny. He won't go into foster care.”
Daniel nodded, hoping Jack was right, as he spoke, “I know. It's hard for him though. He doesn't want to admit it, but he's angry with his father.”
“He has reason to be. Nelson Hunter was a good man and a good officer, but as a single parent, he shouldn't have been on an SG team. It's just too risky.”
Daniel shrugged, adding, “Yeah, but he wasn't on a front line team, and all jobs have risks.”
“Daniel, listen to us,” Jack said about their arrogance. “We still go out there. Maybe it's not the same as it used to be; we have more control, but still, we're lying to ourselves if we try and say there's no danger.”
“You're right. In this world, Jack, do we have a right to criticize Hunter for doing his job? I mean, it's easy for us to sit here and say that he was Jeff's only living relative, so he should have stayed home, and done what, Jack?”
Jack paused, deep in thought, then said, “I guess nothing is simple, but it's hard to watch a kid like that mourn.”
“I agree, and I think the best way ...”
Their conversation was brought to a halt when three baseball players traipsed inside.
“Dad, Jeff is great at baseball, nearly as good as you,” David said, grinning at the older boy.
Jack and Daniel turned out of their embrace to face the children.
“I saw you all playing, and I think I can safely say that he plays much better than me, Sport,” Jack said as he ruffled David's hair.
David shook his head, defending his 'old pop' with, “If you weren't so old, no one would play better than you, Dad.”
While Jeff politely hid his smile, Daniel and Jennifer had no compunction about laughing at the stunned expression on Jack's face as he tried to decide whether that was an insult about his age or a compliment on his baseball playing abilities.
“Dinner will be done in a few minutes. You guys go clean up,” Daniel instructed.
“Okay, Daddy,” the children said.
“Jen, get Noa, please, before you go up.”
Jack walked through his motions of setting the table and preparing for dinner as Daniel stood and watched.
“You're faraway,” Daniel said after a few minutes, though it was expected.
“Danny, I just said something I never thought I'd say again, but it just ... came out,” Jack said, fidgeting slightly and biting his lip.
“Sport,” Daniel said softly. “That's what you used to call Charlie.”
“It just came out,” Jack said in an emotionally-charged voice, one that was both surprised and shocked.
“He doesn't mind. Do you?”
Jack considered his answer for a few moments before he said, “No, I don't think so; it just stunned me when I heard my voice saying it.”
Daniel grabbed Jack's hand and led him outside to the patio porch. They sat down on the steps.
“See that,” Daniel said, gesturing at the Munchkins and the twins. He had one arm around Jack's back as he leaned his chin over Jack's shoulder gently, their two heads touching each other. “Those are some of our children, and we love them all. Charlie's here, Jack. Did you see how David held on to his glove earlier when they were playing catch? He's growing into that glove that you gave him. He cherishes it, and every time he uses it, he thinks about Charlie because once it was Charlie's glove. Charlie's here, Babe; he's here,” Daniel assured.
“I love you, Danny,” Jack said, turning his head slightly towards his lover.
“That's good to know,” Daniel said, a slight hint of laughter in his voice.
Jack nodded as he watched the five youngest members of his family playing together.
“You're right; he's here. He's in every one of our children; he's in us.”
“Are you going to be okay?”
“I am okay, Love; I just surprised myself because ...”
“Because it didn't hurt,” Daniel said astutely.
“Because it didn't hurt; because in that moment, I realized what I had said and it didn't feel wrong. I felt like Charlie ...”
“Like he'd sent you a message, Jack.” Seeing his husband's nod, Daniel continued, “He just wanted you to know that he's here.”
“You know something crazy, Danny? That's what got me. That's what I thought. I called David 'Sport', and my first thought was, 'Thanks, Charlie, for being here and not going away'. I swear, Danny, that's what I thought. How crazy is that?”
“It's not; it's not crazy at all,” Daniel said as he caressed Jack's arm slightly.
“Sure sounds like it.”
Daniel used his own strange story to support his claim, asking, “How crazy is it to wake up from almost dying and be holding your mother's wedding ring?”
Jack shook his head as he shuddered and commented, “How crazy is it to have photographs rearrange themselves?”
“The problem, Jack, is that the answer to all three questions is that it's not crazy at all; it's just our son letting us know he's out there, and isn't that what we want?”
“Yes, that's what we want. Danny, we've never taken the babies to the graves, Charlie's and your parents'. I think we should the next time we go. Is that okay with you?”
“Sure, and maybe it's time to take them to see Kayla's grave, too. Maybe we can do it on Memorial Day. We can talk to them about remembering. Jack, we can tell them more about Billy, too,” Daniel said, referring to Jack's older brother who had been killed in Vietnam.
“Have I told you lately that I love you?” Jack asked with a gleam in his eye.
“Oh, geez, please, you are always telling Daddy that. Don't bother to deny it, you two have that 'mushy' look,” Jennifer said from behind the lovers. She looked at Jeff. “They are always doing this. Can you imagine? I mean they're parents of eight, and they never stop.” Jeff laughed lightly, and Jennifer tugged on his arm. “C'mon, Jeff. Help me get the little ones while Dad and Daddy smooch some more,” she said, leading him down the steps and onto the lawn.
“We weren't smooching, Jennifer,” Jack called out.
“Well, we were about to,” Jack responded truthfully.
“Well, don't let us stop you,” the teenager said, leading Jeff to the ToddlerTown playpen.
“Okay, we won't,” the older man said, turning to his lover and kissing him solidly.
“I love the way you smooch,” Daniel said afterwards.
“I love the way you do everything, Angel.”
The single word, the name of his lover, said paragraphs, and for a full minute, the two simply gazed into each other's eyes, reveling in their nation of two. Their hands moved to the other's cheek and caressed.
“See what I mean, Jeff? It's non-stop. Embarrassing, positively embarrassing,” the teenager proclaimed, shaking her head.
“Are you denying it, Dad?” Jennifer asked smugly.
“Not on your life,” Jack laughed and then kissed Daniel again.
“Dad and Daddy kissing on the porch,” Aislinn sing-songed teasingly.
“Danny, where did she learn that?”
“I have no idea unless ...”
Daniel looked suspiciously at Jennifer who simply smirked and tried to look innocent.
“Grandpa George!” three happy voices chorused as Jack opened the door for General Hammond that evening.
“Hello, Munchkins,” Hammond greeted jovially. “Hello, Jeff. Did you survive the madhouse okay?”
Hammond smiled at his surrogate nephew who had been lying on the floor with the Munchkins drawing pictures with crayons. Jeff nodded.
“Hey, we are not a madhouse,” Jack said, glaring at his friend.
“Jack, Love, we are a madhouse; a happy madhouse, but definitely a madhouse,” Daniel said and then kissed Jack on his way through to check on the twins who were playing upstairs.
“How were your meetings, Uncle George?” Jeff asked.
“Long and not very productive, I'm afraid.”
Jack snorted, “Of course. When does anything productive happen in D.C.?” Jack challenged with a hint of sarcasm.
After greeting the rest of the brood and talking with Jack and Daniel for a while, Hammond and Jeff stood up to leave, much to the Munchkin's sorrow.
“Jeff, stay,” Aislinn pouted.
“Like Jeff,” Jonny agreed.
Jeff bent down and picked up Mittens, who was rubbing against his leg. As Jeff petted the cat, she began to purr.
“Jeff not leave. He like Mittens; no family, stay with us,” Little Danny chimed.
Jack looked at the teenager and smiled as he stated, “You have quite a following here, Jeff. Just remember you are welcome back at any time.” He turned to the unhappy triplets and told them, “Munchkins, you'll see Jeff again soon.”
Little Danny sighed and then picked up the picture he'd been drawing. He handed it to Jeff, saying, “To 'member me. You my big, big, big, bro'her.”
“Big, big, big, brother, Little Danny?” Jack asked with amusement.
The toddler nodded and looked exasperated at having to explain what was clearly obvious.
“Jonny, big bro'her; David, big, big bro'her; Jeff, big, big, big bro'her!”
“Of course,” Jack said, feeling duly chastised by the young boy.
Jack looked at Daniel, but he saw that his lover's arms were folded tightly across his chest. It was a self-hug, something not seen often anymore. The archaeologist was looking away from his children, and as Jack watched, he even walked over to the fireplace, staring at the pictures there.
When Jack looked back at Jeff, he was hugging Little Danny.
“Thanks, Little Danny. I like having a little brother,” Jeff answered warmly.
Jack watched as Jeff hugged Jonny and Aislinn, and then Jennifer and David came down from their respective rooms to say good-bye.
“You know, Jeff, it was kinda nice having someone around closer to my age, even if you don't like Britney,” Jennifer remarked.
“Sorry,” the teen apologized.
“That's okay. If I can learn to tolerate hockey, I could learn to like rap and show tunes.”
David commented, “Thanks for giving me that batting tip, Jeff. I'm going to practice some more tomorrow.”
“Don't forget to check your stance,” Jeff instructed.
David quickly replied, “I won't. Thanks, Jeff. I'm ... I'm really sorry about your dad.”
“We all are,” Jennifer commiserated.
“Thanks. Can I go upstairs and say goodbye to the twins?”
“Sure,” Jack answered. As he turned to watch Jeff go up the stairs, he saw Daniel walking to him. **Are you okay?**
It took several more minutes, but finally Jeff had said his farewells to the entire family, including Bijou, Katie, and Mittens. With a last hug to Chenoa, Hammond and Jeff left the house.
“Jeff should stay, Dad,” Little Danny said. “Need family. We big family. Have room.”
“Son,” Jack knelt down. “It's not that simple. I think Grandpa George wants to adopt him.”
“Jeff have Grandpa?”
“He'll have Grandpa, and all of us, too.”
“Kay,” Little Danny said, still a bit tentative in his response. As he walked away, he said, “Needs bro'hers and sis'ers.”
Jack and Daniel exchanged another look. Jack wished he could talk with his lover, but their children were demanding their attention once again.
“Thought I'd find you out here,” Jack said a couple of hours later. The brood was all asleep, and this was often the only time of day when the lovers could just relax without any worries or distractions. “I love you.”
Daniel leaned back into Jack's embrace as they stood together at the railing of the Aerie, the upper roof deck that had been added during the renovation. This section of the deck was higher than the original and was actually atop the hospitality room. They had a grand view overlooking their large backyard from where they now stood.
“Jack, I'm all right. It's just we have some amazing children. I was worried we wouldn't be able to teach them to care, to be compassionate, not in this crazy, insane world we live in, but there they were, full of love for someone they didn't even know twenty-four hours ago. I mean, it still makes me feel so proud when I think about what Little Danny did for Carrie Lapierre. That was amazing, to feel her pain like that. I guess that's what I'm saying. All of our children felt Jeff's pain over these last two days. Jack, our ... our babies aren't babies anymore. Gawd, I sound ... I sound ...”
“You sound like a father who loves his children very, very much and who wants them to grow up knowing more than books. We've got a long way to go, but I agree, our brood is impressive,” Jack stated proudly.
“Do you really think the general is going to adopt Jeff?” Daniel asked.
“Sure. They're close, and I'm cold. Come on, Angel. Let's go back to bed. We have a big day tomorrow.”
“I can't wait to see Bri again.”
Daniel smiled thinking about the blonde haired tomboy. She was a part of him already, even if he wasn't yet ready to announce that to the world.
“She's going to be a challenge, Danny.”
“I'm ... confident.”
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Carradine,” Daniel said as he and Jack entered her office.
“Hello,” the woman greeted politely. “Please have a seat.”
Jack and Daniel sat down and waited as Beth Carradine closed her office door. Putting on her glasses, she sat down and opened a file.
“Since you two are so intent on spending time with Brianna ...”
“Bri,” both Jack and Daniel said sternly, earning a look of contempt from the woman.
“Regardless of what name we use, I thought you should understand her history before we proceed.” ~Maybe then you'll back off before it's too late.~
**Jack, tell me she's not about to do what I think she's going to do.**
**You mean is she going to use every nasty detail in Bri's past to try and convince us to forget her and adopt another child instead?**
**That's what it's looking like.**
Politely, the two listened for fifteen minutes as the director ran down a list of unpleasant events in the young girl's life. Her mother's drug addiction had meant the girl had been shown a lifestyle that no child should have to see, but the transgressions belonged to Brianna's so-called mother, not to the innocent child.
**Jack, she's wasting our time.**
**I agree.** Jack leaned forward in his chair and said, “Mrs. Carradine, thank you.”
The woman smiled, lowering the file to the tabletop. She took off her glasses and leaned forward slightly.
“I knew you'd ...”
“No, you don't know,” Jack said, cutting her off. “We want to see Brianna.”
“Now,” Daniel added.
“Maybe you should just take the time to become acquainted with what's in this file,” Beth said sternly as she tapped the file on her desk.
Daniel stood up and stared at the woman. Still seated, Jack was waiting for the explosion. He knew his lover had just erupted, but it seemed to be a silent blast.
“Mrs. Carradine, we want to see Brianna *right* now,” Daniel demanded, “and if you can't handle that, we'll go find her ourselves.”
“I appreciate your interest, but we have other, more deserving ...”
“Deserving?” both Jack and Daniel repeated in anger and disbelief.
Jack had stood as he echoed the word so that now the couple was standing side by side.
“All I meant was,” the woman sighed, shaking her head. “You're going to change your minds. I've seen this, over and over again. Brianna, Bri, has been hurt over and over again. I don't think she can take another disappointment.”
“Why, Mrs. Carradine,” Jack said flippantly, “I almost think you meant that.”
Beth studied the two men again and finally took a deep breath before trying to express her position.
“I do mean it. Look, I know you think I'm the arch-villain here, that I'm the typical over-worked and dispassionate childcare train wreck waiting to happen, but the truth is, I've watch that little girl grow up in the last few years. She wasn't always like this. Her mother would not relinquish control, and the courts kept letting her take Bri back, over and over and over again, and do you know where home was? Some fleabag room in a hotel that should be condemned. I watched Bri harden. She learned to protect herself from all those bloody nightmares we see on the news every night. Drugs have ruined her world, and not by her own doing, either. Her mother couldn't stay clean; it was one rehab after the other, just to avoid prison time for all the stealing she had to do to pay for her habit. Mrs. Davison was a user. She used Bri for her own devices, without ever giving her a split second of genuine love. The victim, gentlemen, is Brianna.”
Mrs. Carradine cleared her throat as she looked down and blinked her eyes. She bit her lip, the emotion of her words evident in her current demeanor.
“Mrs. Carradine,” Daniel began, his tone and stance now softened a great deal, “you have to understand that we aren't playing a game here. Yes, we have eight children, but we have lots of room. I didn't go through the drug thing, but I know what she's feeling about the loss of her parents. We care about her.”
“Do you understand, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, that every time you meet with her, you'll tear out a brick in Bri's armor? And do you realize that after a month of visits, you might even have one whole wall down? More importantly, do you understand what that little girl is going to feel in six weeks or eight weeks, or however long it is, when the two of you decide that it's taking too long, or that you don't want her around those younger, very impressionable kids of yours? You'll do more damage than anyone else has. Do you get that?” Beth looked coldly at Jack. “Do you?” The lovers said nothing as her eyes moved back and forth from one man to the other. Finally, in a guarded and formal tone, she stated, “I'll get Brianna, and I really hope you two know what you're doing because every visit will get her hopes up, even though she'll deny it, and when you turn your backs on her, General and Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, it *will* crush her in two. Excuse me.”
Beth Carradine exited her office in a mini-huff, leaving the couple behind to ponder her warning.
“She's not bad, Jack,” Daniel said, having realized the truth. “She cares about Brianna.”
“Yeah, I know that now.” Jack turned around and leaned back against the woman's desk. He put his hands on the edge of the desk and gripped the rim. “Danny, we haven't talked about that.”
“About what?” Daniel asked guardedly.
“Bringing Bri home, having her mix with the Munchkins and the twins. The Mouseketeers are older so a little less impressionable, but ...”
“Jack, I believe that if we do our jobs right with our children, we don't have a lot to worry about, and if we accept Bri as one of our children, then ...”
“There is a risk, Daniel; that's all I'm saying.”
“So ... what are you really saying, Jack? You want to walk away and forget about Bri?” Daniel asked, hoping he knew the answer to the question already. ~I don't think I can walk away from her; it's too late.~
“I knew it!” The ten-year-old girl was toughening in front of them. She'd walked in at the worse possible moment, and Mrs. Carradine was giving Jack and Daniel a look of extreme disdain. “I don't need you, either of you!”
The young girl ran away, tears in her eyes.
“Crap!” Jack swore.
Mrs. Carradine sighed, “Perhaps it's for the best, Gentleman. She can cope with it now; it would have been much harder on her later.”
**Jack? Do you want to forget about Bri?**
**You know I don't, Danny. I was just saying we have to be aware of what we were getting into; we had to say it, at least once.**
**Jack, you try and explain to Mrs. Carradine that we know what we're getting into. Tell her about my childhood if you have to. We don't need her opposing us every step of the way. I'm going to find Bri.**
The two tuned back in to the director who was going over some of the other children that they might be interested in adopting. Politely, Daniel excused himself and left the room, much to Mrs. Carradine's annoyance.
Jack stared at the woman wondering how he could get through to her.
~Okay, you've proven you have a heart; I just have to try and convince you that you don't have to protect Bri from us.~
Daniel looked at the small huddled figure nestled in the branches of the large oak tree. He thanked the boy who had shown him Brianna's favorite hiding spot and sat down at the base of the tree.
“I was always hopeless at climbing trees. I used the bathroom to escape from everyone,” Daniel spoke gently, but making sure his voice was loud enough for Brianna to hear.
“Go 'way,” Brianna ordered, trying to hide her sniffles.
“I'm sorry, Bri. When you walked in on us, I was using an extreme example to make a point to Jack. We were never going to just walk away and forget you.” Silence greeted his statement. “I can't promise that we will adopt you, Bri, but I can promise you that we are seriously considering it, and that we really want to be your friends.”
“They all say that,” came the bitter voice from above.
“I know,” Daniel sighed in exasperation at the pain and hurt of a not-so-perfect child welfare system.
“They all say that, too,” Brianna responded harshly.
Daniel laughed, but there was no joy in the sound, but rather, just bitter acknowledgement of the truth of Brianna's words. The two sat in silence for a while.
“Why did you say it?” Brianna asked, breaking the quiet.
Daniel looked up at the young tear-stained face and answered, “It isn't going to be easy, Bri, for any of us. Jack and I know that, and I suppose I just wanted him to reaffirm for me that he was willing to keep going with it all. He is, by the way.”
“You shouldn't bother,” Brianna said softly. “I'm not worth it.”
Daniel tried to make contact with the frightened girl's eyes as he refuted, “Yes, Bri, you are worth it. I've only just met you, and I can say unequivocally that you are very much worth it.”
“With absolute certainty,” Daniel said firmly.
“Oh.” There was silence again, then, “What did you mean about hiding in the bathroom?”
Daniel gazed off into space and then explained, “Places like this, it's hard to find somewhere to be alone. I found the bathroom made for a good refuge. I think you made a better choice with the tree climbing though.”
“You ... you were in a place like this?” Brianna asked in complete surprise.
“More of them than I care to remember.”
Daniel heard the sound of leaves rustling, and a minute later, Brianna dropped on the ground beside him.
“You aren't lying to me?”
“No, Bri, I'm not. My parents died when I was eight, and my grandfather refused to put me up for adoption,” Daniel explained.
“So he raised you?” Brianna asked.
“No, he was off on ... he was following his dream, but that dream didn't have room for a little boy,” Daniel admitted softly.
“What happened?” Brianna asked, listening in spite of her best intentions not to.
“Foster homes, lots of those, and almost all of them weren't pleasant experiences,” Daniel answered, the sadness momentarily evident in his eyes.
“Tell me about it,” Brianna requested.
“Maybe some day.”
“That's not what I meant,” the little girl responded unhappily.
“I know,” Daniel said with a small smile. “Bri, Jack and I have eight children. You know that. What we talked about in the office was just us taking a brief review, making sure that we both wanted to go forward. We have to ask the questions to find the answers.”
Brianna stared at Daniel and accused, “You're afraid of me being around your kids, aren't you?”
“No, but we had to think about it. What kind of parents would Jack and I be if we didn't even think about it?” Daniel challenged the bright youngster.
“Pretty bad, actually,” the blonde-haired girl admitted.
“Exactly. Bri, give us an honest chance to, if nothing else, be your friends. Let us get to know you,” Daniel pleaded.
“Maybe. I'm not sure yet,” Brianna said quietly. “Maybe you still think I'm just a pet project or something.”
“Okay, let us prove it to you. How about we go get Jack and take a walk and just ... talk for a while?”
Brianna considered the request and finally agreed, saying, “Well ... okay, I guess.”
Before Daniel could say another word, the little girl was headed back to the office.
Daniel smiled as he got up.
~You'll be a challenge, but you need us. And you know something, Bri? I think we need you, too.~
“I don't believe you,” Brianna argued.
“I'll just have to prove it to you,” Jack said.
“Yeah, right, like you know Wayne Gretsky,” Brianna sneered.
“We're not friends exactly; we have mutual acquaintances,” Jack said coyly.
“Right,” Brianna responded, totally disbelieving Jack.
“So you don't believe I love hockey?” Jack asked, just waiting for her answer.
“I think you studied up.”
Jack looked at Daniel and smiled. Someday soon, they'd show Brianna just how wrong she was.
They were out in the large playground now, and Brianna went over and got onto the swings. Jack moved to give her a push.
“I can do it. Sheez, I'm not a little kid, you know.”
“My mistake,” Jack said as he sat on the other swing and began to swing himself.
Brianna smirked, “Hey, you might break it.”
Jack never stopped, swinging more vigorously, and asked, “Are you saying I'm fat?”
“I'm saying you're too big for that,” Brianna smirked.
“You're not a kid!” the girl replied.
“Oh, yes, he is,” Daniel told her with a chuckle.
At the same time, Jack said, “I am, too.”
Daniel risked a small push to help Brianna gain momentum. She glanced back but didn't say anything.
“I think you're crazy, Jack,” Brianna commented.
“So does Daniel!”
“And we're both right, Bri,” Daniel told her.
“Hey! No fair ganging up on the old man,” Jack complained.
“You're not old, Jack.”
A snort from Brianna earned her a mock glare from Jack.
“Okay, Snigger Girl ...”
“Snigger Girl?” Brianna looked at Jack incredulously. “You really are nuts.”
“Well, Danny?” Daniel arched an eyebrow in question as the two hopped off the swings. “Aren't you going to defend your poor husband's honor?”
Daniel grinned at them and answered, “What can I say, Jack? When she's right, she's right.”
“Paybacks, Dannyboy; paybacks!”
Brianna looked up warily, and Jack whispered in her ear, “He's ticklish; it's the best kind of revenge.” Jack looked at his watch. “We should head back. We don't want them to send out a search party.”
Brianna humphed and muttered under her breath, “They probably wouldn't bother. I'd just be one less kid to feed.”
Jack squeezed her shoulder supportively as he stated, “Actually, I think Mrs. Carradine is rather fond of you.”
“You're more gullible than I thought.” Brianna looked at Daniel, challenging him to answer correctly. “What do you think?”
Daniel answered as truthfully as he could, replying, “I think she does care for you, Bri.”
Brianna scowled, “You don't know anything. I thought you'd understand. You're as dumb as everyone else.”
The girl began to walk ahead of them, scuffing the ground as she walked.
“Bri.” The tomboy continued walking, and Jack automatically went into parent mode. “Brianna Michelle Davison, you stop right there, young lady.”
Brianna was outraged at Jack's gall. She glared at him, and then at Daniel. Then she let out her rage, wanting to put an end to this game they were playing.
“YOU ARE NOT MY PARENTS. YOU WILL *NEVER* BE MY PARENTS. I HATE YOU BOTH.” She looked at Daniel, a look of betrayal on her face. “I thought you'd understand.”
“I do understand, Bri.” Daniel squatted down so he was eye level with the girl. “Essentially, you're right. Mrs. Carradine doesn't care about you. To her, you are just a name on a file folder, one of many that she is responsible for. When she leaves at the end of the day, you rarely cross her mind. She doesn't stay up late worrying about you and whether or not you are okay, but in her own way, she does care about you, Bri. She cares enough not to try and dump you onto people who will abandon you at the first sign of trouble. That's why Jack and I were saying what we were when you walked in to her office; because Mrs. Carradine was worried that we were going to hurt you. She cares, Bri, as much as she can and still do her job.”
Brianna had tears rolling down her cheeks, and she brushed them away angrily. She looked up at Daniel, then up at Jack who had a hand resting on Daniel's shoulder. She crossed her arms in a self-hug stance that both Jack and Daniel recognized all too well.
“It doesn't matter. Mama always said not to rely on anyone and to make my own way like she did.”
“Like she did,” Jack challenged.
Brianna toughened, warning, “Don't say anything bad about my mother. I'm going back.” She turned and ran back toward the buildings. ~I hate them. I don't need them. They don't care about me anyway. NO ONE CARES!~
Daniel's heart was breaking for the young girl.
“Danny, maybe ...”
Daniel turned quickly and stated as firmly as he knew how that, “We are *not* giving up on her.”
In a flash, Jack put his hands on Daniel's shoulders and said, “No, of course not.”
“No one said it would be easy,” Daniel said, reaffirming their decision step by step.
“And it's not going to be. Daniel, we said once we wished we could save all the children of the world. We can't, as much as we'd like to, but we can save one child at a time, starting with Bri.”
“She's so lost, Jack,” Daniel spoke with a cracked voice, his heart and soul crying for the dejected girl who had stalked away from them.
“C'mere,” Jack said, pulling Daniel to him. “We just need time, and a lot of patience.”
After a tender embrace, the lovers walked slowly back to the building, intending to stop and let Mrs. Carradine know what had happened, but they were surprised to see Brianna leaning against the wall, waiting for them.
“Bri,” Daniel said, a smile on his face.
“How'd you know my name?” the young girl inquired.
“What do you mean?” Jack asked.
Brianna looked at Jack and said, “You knew my full name.”
“Mrs. Carradine told us the first day we were here,” Jack explained, adding, “You know ... just the basics.”
“And ... you remembered?” Brianna asked, a small chink in her armor falling to the ground. ~No one remembers stuff like that about me.~
“Of course, we did,” Daniel answered.
“Mama couldn't remember my name,” the girl said softly.
“What?” Jack asked incredulously.
Looking down, Brianna admitted, “The last time -- she didn't even know me.”
“I'm sorry, Bri,” Jack immediately responded.
“I'm not. No big loss. She only cared about her pills and needles,” Brianna announced bitterly.
“Bri,” Daniel said, walking a bit closer to the girl. “We can't change the past. All we can do is look to the future.”
“Don't bother on my account.”
“How was the walk?” Mrs. Carradine after exiting her office.
The ten-year-old pointed at Jack and said, “He's crazy and has hockey delusions.” Then she pointed at Daniel and said, “And he thinks I'm a cause to be saved, like the whales or something. I'm going to class now.”
Jack, Daniel, and Mrs. Carradine watched Brianna stalk off in a defiant show of independence.
The director sighed, “You tried; I have to give you that much.”
“And we'll keep trying, too,” Daniel stated firmly. “I never expected her to be won over easily. The things she's seen, the lack of love ... none of those are overcome in a couple of visits. I believe she's worth the effort.”
“So do I,” Jack added, placing his arm around Daniel's waist. “In fact, I was wondering if we could come back tomorrow and take Bri out for the day.” He watched the woman debating as she stared at them for a moment, and then nodded her agreement. “Excellent! We'll pick her up around ten,” Jack suggested.
“That should be fine,” Beth Carradine agreed, and then said goodbye to the couple. ~You haven't walked away yet; maybe you two are for real. Heaven knows, Bri needs parents like you, even if ...~ She paused her thoughts. ~Even if,~ she silently smiled.
As they headed for their car, the lovers discussed their impromptu decision.
“Jack, we don't have babysitters organized for tomorrow.”
Jack looked a little nervous, but replied, “I, ah, thought maybe it was time we introduced Bri to the kids. Do you think it's too soon?”
“I don't know. I don't want to rush any of them,” Daniel stated thoughtfully.
They climbed into the car and set off for home, both wondering about when they should introduce Brianna to the rest of their children.
“We'll think about it, Danny. One of us can always stay home with the kids, and the other can visit with Bri,” Jack suggested.
Daniel grinned as a thought occurred to him.
“I know! Why don't you take Bri up in Jo? I bet she'd love it, and it would be showing her a part of us.”
“Brilliant, my little genius!” Jack exclaimed.
“I'm not little, Babe.”
Jack looked at his lover and acknowledged, “No, you're not.”
Smiles on their faces, the two lovers continued their drive for home.
“Daddy, can you help me with my history assignment?” Jennifer plopped down beside Daniel on the sofa. “History is so boring.”
“Is not,” David said as he glared at his sister and continued reading his book on Alexander the Great.
Jennifer rolled her eyes.
Daniel's reprimand was soft and even more potent because of that. Jennifer immediately looked embarrassed.
“I'm sorry, Daddy, David. I didn't mean it,” Jennifer said apologetically.
David gave a snort of disbelief.
“And we accept apologies gracefully in this house, don't we, David?” Daniel admonished.
It was David's turn to look embarrassed, and he muttered a quick, “Sorry, Jen.”
“So why do you find history boring?” Daniel asked his daughter.
“Because it's irrelevant. Who cares what happened hundreds of years ago?”
“Because it affects today,” David answered as he sat up and began arguing his case with his sister. “If Luther hadn't pinned his Diet of Worms to the church door in the early sixteenth century, Protestantism might never have developed the way it did; there might never have been Puritans; the Pilgrims might never have set off in the Mayflower, and you'd be Spanish ... or French -- something else anyway.”
David's little speech seemed to have caught Jennifer's attention sufficiently as she didn't even register the telephone ringing and simply asked, “Who was Luther?”
Daniel smiled as David launched into a detailed description of the sixteenth-century cleric. He listened with one ear as he picked up the phone and answered it.
“General Hammond, hello.”
“Daniel, I was wondering if I might impose on you and Jack again.”
Jack walked inside the house, a smile on his face. Brianna had been thrilled with their brief trip into the sky, and the joy of it surprised her so much that she left her bad attitude back at the shelter. For the few hours Brianna had been with Jack, she'd been very pleasant, enjoying the flight in the small plane.
In fact, when they had returned to the shelter, Jack hated to leave her behind. He'd made some progress on getting through Brianna's protective shell and hated to see that go away.
~Okay, Jack, get this right. Don't screw it up.~ “Hey, Son,” he greeted David, who was reading on the sofa. “Where's Daniel?”
“Right behind you,” Daniel answered.
“Dad!” Ricky said with a smile as Daniel held him.
“Come here, you,” Jack said, taking his youngest son from his lover. “You're getting too big for this.”
“Not big,” Ricky refuted since he liked being held by his parents.
“Give it time,” Jack said, planting a kiss on Ricky's face, causing the three-year old to laugh. “Everything okay around here?”
“Of course, just the usual mayhem,” Daniel teased.
Jack and Daniel didn't move. It was an interesting moment. They were avoiding each other's eyes, a sure sign they both had something to hide.
“Okay, Danny, what's going on?”
Daniel sighed, “It's not bad; I just said 'okay' to something before checking with you.”
“Okay to what?”
“Jeff's here. The general had an unscheduled trip to D.C., and he called and asked if we'd take Jeff for a couple of days.”
“Where is here?”
“Jeff 'side,” Ricky volunteered.
“Outside?” Jack asked. Ricky nodded, then fidgeted, clearly wanting to get down. “Oh, you want to go play with Jeff, too?”
“Go on. Watch your step,” Jack called out as he and Daniel watched and made sure the toddler got outside okay. “How's Jeff doing?”
“Fine,” Daniel answered, his tone indicating that Jeff was putting on a brave show. “General Hammond said the memorial was really hard on him. He didn't want to leave.”
Jack sighed, “It's a friggin' shame.”
“So ... what's your news, Jack? Did something happen with Bri?” Daniel asked.
Smiling, Jack answered, “Yeah, we had a great time, and ...” Jack took a breath. “Danny, I took her back to that place, and, well, I just ...”
“What did you do, Jack?” Daniel inquired, suspicious his husband had definitely done something unplanned for.
“Danny, I should have checked with you first, but this was the first time she hasn't had that attitude of hers. I thought we should build on it, make the day complete.”
“What did you do, Jack?” the younger man asked again.
“She's, uh, in the truck.”
“What?” Daniel hurried to the door and looked outside, and sure enough, he saw the girl sitting nervously in Jack's truck. “Jack, what are you thinking?”
“I didn't bring her home to adopt her or anything; I just thought she could have dinner with us and ...”
“And spend the night?” Daniel asked with widened eyes.
“Danny, you wouldn't have recognized her today. We have to give her a chance,” Jack implored desperately. ~Come on, Angel. You know she's already in our hearts. You couldn't have dropped her off at that place, either.~
After a split second of indecision, Daniel smiled as an awareness dawned on him. It was happening. They were falling in love with Brianna, and they still didn't know all that much about her.
“Are you mad, Angel? I know it was a big step, but ...”
“But you couldn't help yourself,” Daniel stated, unable to hide a sappy grin.
“What's with that sappy smile?” Jack asked, seeing his husband's expression.
“Nothing ... everything.” Daniel gave Jack a sweet kiss and then spoke, “Watch the brood, Love; I'll be right back.”
Opening the front door, Daniel headed for the truck and became instantly aware of Brianna's reaction. She was frightened, scared of being rejected and sent away. Then he saw the muscles in her face tighten as she prepared herself. Miss Attitude was returning.
~Can't have that.~ Daniel smiled as he approached. “Hey, Bri, I'm so glad you're here,” Daniel said as energetically as he could.
“You are?” a shocked Brianna asked.
“Yeah, I am. The children are in the backyard. Come meet them.”
“Well ... okay,” Brianna said tentatively.
“I'm glad you're here, Bri,” Daniel said again as they made their way through to the backyard. “They've been wanting to meet you.”
“You told them about me?”
Brianna's surprise was evident in her wide-eyed expression and open mouth.
Daniel smiled in response as he answered, “Of course.” They came to a stop on the patio, and Daniel laughed. “Jack's been caught.”
Jack was currently lying on the lawn, surrounded by children who were tickling him. Jeff was watching them, a small smile on his face. Little Danny was the first to notice Brianna standing next to Daniel. As soon as he spotted her, his face lit up and he raced over, using his best adult-like talk.
“Hi, I'm Danny. Are you Bri? Daddy and I looked up what your name means. Did you know that Brianna means 'strong' in Celtic? Do you know anything about the Celts? They built this neat place called Stonehenge and ...”
Daniel noticed Brianna's shocked expression. She'd just had her first encounter with a quart-size genius.
“Little Danny, maybe Bri would like to meet everyone else,” the archaeologist suggested.
“Okay, Daddy. Come on, Bri.”
Little Danny took her hand and dragged her over to meet the rest of the children, who had just stopped their 'Jack attack' and were making their way over to greet the newcomer.
“I'm Jonny, and this is our little sister, Ash,” Jonny said as he pulled Aislinn into a hug.
“I'm not little,” Aislinn complained.
“Are, too. I was born first,” Jonny stated definitively.
“I'm Jen,” the teenager spoke up, knowing that the Munchkins could continue their discussion indefinitely, “and this is David, Noa, Ricky, Jenny, and Jeff.”
“Our biggest brother,” Little Danny piped up happily, giving Jeff's legs a hug.
Jeff ruffled his hair affectionately in return.
“But that makes nine. I thought you only had eight kids?” Brianna asked.
“I'm on loan,” Jeff teased, pleasing Jack.
**Sounds like something you'd say, Jack.**
**Yeah, it does.**
“Uh, yeah, my ... my father died recently, and I'm staying with my Uncle George, but he's out of town so I'm spending the night here,” Jeff explained.
“Woof!” the mama beagle interrupted.
“Hey, there you are. Where have you two been?” Jack asked Bijou. “And where's Katie?”
Suddenly, Jack and Daniel realized that Bijou's bark was a bit more anxious than usual.
“Bij, where's Katie?”
Bijou ran back towards the house, barking repetitively and jumping at them to get their attention.
“Let's go,” Jack stated urgently.
The family all headed for the house, but then Jack stopped and said, “Jen, keep the kids ...”
“No, Katie ours, too,” Little Danny objected, knowing that Jack was going to suggest the children remain outside.
“Let's go,” Jack said again.
They followed Bijou into the study where they saw Katie, perfectly fine, but she immediately barked at them.
“Mittens!” Jack and Daniel exclaimed at the same time.
The small gray and white cat looked up at them, a pleading expression on her face.
In one of Jack's forays into pottery, he'd created a medium-size sculpture that was in the shape of a wavy box with an oblong hole in the center. Mittens was currently stuck halfway through this hole and seemed unable to move backwards or forwards.
Quickly, Daniel lifted the distraught cat, sculpture and all, and sat down on the sofa, his family immediately surrounding them.
“Jack, can you hold her paws so she doesn't wriggle around and hurt herself? And try to hold her under her shoulders; we don't want her to scratch you,” Daniel said.
“I hold her, Daddy,” Little Danny said as he patted Mittens, desperately wanting to help.
“Not this time, Little Danny. Just keep patting her to reassure her.”
Little Danny nodded, a tear making its way down his cheek as he comforted, “Don't worry, Mittens. Dad and Daddy will help you.”
**Danny, the wretched cat is purring!**
**At least she's not panicking.**
“Okay, Jack, let's try and ease her forward,” Daniel suggested.
Jack nodded, and while Daniel pushed, Jack pulled.
They both stopped and looked at each other.
“Okay, that didn't work.” Jack looked at the struggling cat. “Why don't we try oil?”
“I'll get it,” David volunteered as he ran off towards the kitchen.
Jack grimaced at the idea of an oily cat running around the house and quickly asked, “Jen, could you get a towel from the laundry, please.”
The teenager nodded and gave Brianna a smile as she left.
“Welcome to the madhouse, Bri.”
A few minutes later, oil had been dribbled around the edge of the hole. This evidently did the trick as once the slippery substance made its way into Mittens' fur, the feline let out a very disgruntled yowl, slid free, and leaped into Little Danny's arms.
“Poor Mittens. Stuck like Winnie-the-Pooh.”
Daniel wrapped the oily sculpture up in the towel and grimaced at the sight of Little Danny's now oily T-shirt.
“Son, why don't you bring Mittens into the laundry, and we'll try and get some of that oil off her.” **Jack, maybe you should call Pam and see if we need to take Mittens in. She might have bruised ribs or something.**
Still clutching Mittens tightly to his chest, Little Danny followed Daniel out of the study. He paused in front of Brianna.
“This is Mittens. Mittens, this is Bri.”
Brianna looked at the little boy's tear-stained face and the oily cat clasped in his arms. She bent down and scratched under Mittens' chin.
“She's beautiful, Danny.”
Little Danny beamed at her.
Thirty minutes later, Mittens had been bathed, as had Little Danny.
“Don't need bath,” the little boy had pouted.
Jack hated to do it, but he didn't want a fight.
“Little Danny, no bath, no computer.”
“Maybe not, but I'm bigger than you so that's the deal. What's it going to be?” Jack had asked gruffly.
“Dad meanie,” the little boy had said as he gave up the fight and submitted to a bath.
Jack was bringing the previously-oily child down the stairs when he saw Jenny talking to Brianna in front of the fish tank.
“That's Jellyroll.” Jenny pointed to another fish. “That's Scarecrow.” She found another fish in the corner. “That's Ab'dos.”
“Abydos,” Jennifer corrected from the sofa. “It's in Egypt. We went there once.”
“Wow, so you named a fish after it? Cool.”
“That one Homer Second,” Jenny said.
“Homer Second? That's a strange name,” Brianna commented, scrunching up her nose.
David explained, “We had a fish named Homer. He died. Dad got this one to fool ...”
“David!” Jack warned.
“Um, he's the second fish we've had named Homer,” David corrected himself, not wanting to get into trouble.
“Second?” Jenny asked vulnerably. “Homer?”
David got up and quickly walked to the tank where Jenny was about to begin sniffling.
“I was, uh, kidding, Jenny. This is Homer. See his black hole. That's where he says 'd'oh'.”
Jenny giggled, “Homer funny fish.”
Jack breathed a sigh of relief. Though the older children had taken to calling the replacement angelfish Homer the Second, their youngest children, the twins, hadn't realized this Homer was a different Homer, even though they had picked up on the other children calling him Homer the Second.
David, too, had a look of relief on him, rolling his eyes upward towards the ceiling as he turned to go back to the sofa.
Jack looked around to see where the rest of the family was. He knew Daniel was in the kitchen as he could hear him warning Jonny not to open the new box of Froot Loops.
“No, you can't have Froot Loops for dinner, Jonny.”
“But Dad says ...”
“Dad can ...” Daniel began.
“Dad can what?” Jack asked, deciding to stop Daniel from his current train of thought.
“Dad can fix dinner. It's your turn,” Daniel stated.
Jack looked out the kitchen window and saw Jeff pushing Chenoa on the swing. At that moment, Aislinn ran over, wanting to be swung too, but she mistimed her movement, and Chenoa accidentally hit her while moving forward. Aislinn fell down and started to cry. Jack started to call Daniel and walk out, but something he saw stopped him.
It was Jeff who carefully made sure Chenoa was stopped and off the swing and then went to Aislinn. Her cries stopped instantly as Jeff helped her up. He saw Jeff check the little girl to make sure she didn't have any injuries. The boy was calm and smiling, and Aislinn was laughing loudly at whatever he was saying.
Then he saw Jeff reach out to take Chenoa's hand. He hugged her, seeing that she was scared. Jack still couldn't hear what Jeff was saying, but he heard Aislinn say, “Acc'dent, Noa. Love you” as the two girls hugged. Then, Aislinn ran to the swing.
“Push me, Jeff.” Aislinn tugged on the swing next to it. “Come on, Noa. Jeff push both.”
~Nicely done, Jeff.~
Jeff pushed both girls for a minute or two as Jack covertly watched, but he had a frown on his face whenever the girls weren't looking at him, something Jack easily picked up on. When the girls seemed to have totally settled, Jeff stopped swinging them and convinced them to play in the sandbox, which was another new addition to the Jackson-O'Neill household, added when they had landscaped their property earlier in the year. With a look back at the contented girls, Jeff headed for the house.
“Excuse me,” Jack heard the boy say to Daniel. “I just thought you should know. She seems fine, but ...”
Jack listened carefully as Jeff accurately described what had happened, adding, “I thought about calling for you right away, but she was scared, and she looked okay, and I wanted her to laugh. I guess I was probably wrong.”
“Danny,” Jack approached, interrupting. **She's fine. I saw the whole thing.**
**Why didn't you say something?**
**Ash was just surprised, not hurt. I wanted to see what Jeff would do. He did good.** “Let's go check on them.”
“Hey, how's it going? You like the new sandbox?” Daniel asked as he and Jack both knelt down at the edges of the play area.
Jeff stood a few feet away, smiling at the little girls.
“Gonna build castle, Daddy,” Aislinn said.
“Want some help?” Jack asked, eager to get in on the fun.
“No, Dad. Noa and I building own castle,” Aislinn explained.
“Ash fall. Didn't mean hit her,” Noa told her parents.
“Did it hurt Ash?”
The youngest Munchkin looked at Jeff and smiled; then she said, “Body fine, pride hurt.”
Jack let out a chuckle, but said, “Maybe we should check you out.”
“Just grass, Dad,” Aislinn whined. “'Sides, Jeff made sure I had no owies.”
“Noa,” Daniel said. “You okay?”
Aislinn put her arm around her sister and asked, “Pride hurt?”
“No want to hurt you,” Chenoa said shyly.
“Was acc'dent, like Jeff said.”
Chenoa smiled, hugged Aislinn again, and looked at Daniel as she said, “Just pride hurt.”
After a couple of more minutes, Jack and Daniel, along with Jeff, headed towards the patio.
“Jeff, you did great. I, uh, saw what happened, and you did everything exactly right,” Jack told the boy, an affirmative nod of his head following the comments.
Jack nodded, but quickly added, “Kids fall down all the time. What we try to teach our brood is that when you fall, you get right back up, injured pride or not. You had them both laughing.”
“I told Ash about how I fell off a swing all by myself when I was six. Man, that was embarrassing.”
“Thank you, Jeff,” Daniel said.
“Well done, Son,” Jack said again with a smile on his face.
“Glad I passed the test,” Jeff responded.
Jack stopped and turned Jeff to face him.
“It wasn't a test. My first instinct was to run out there, pick Ash up, and grab Noa, but you were quick to act. Too many reacting to a situation like that can make it worse. You made sure Noa was stopped on the swing so she wouldn't get hurt, then you checked on Ash, made sure she didn't have any immediate injuries, and then you got her laughing in just a few seconds. You kept them calm, and even managed to get them to a safer activity within a couple of minutes so you could come and tell us. It wasn't a test, but I like knowing I can trust you with our brood. You have good instincts, Jeff.”
“Don't mind him, Jeff. It's his military nature to try and figure out everyone's capabilities and limits. I'm not always sure I totally agree with his choice, but I like the end results,” Daniel said.
Jeff nodded. Coming from a military family, he knew the mentality well. Truth was, his dad had done the same types of things many times over the years. In truth, for just a brief moment, the incident had made him feel like his father was there, watching.
“I think I'll go help them built their castle,” Jeff said, walking away.
“He's a good kid, Danny,” Jack observed.
“Yes, I think he is.”
“This is our game room,” David said as he led the brood and Brianna into the area.
“Air hockey! All right!” Brianna exclaimed, immediately going over and shooting one of the pucks to the other end of the table. “Can we play?”
“Sure,” Jack said as he stood in the doorway.
“This our fuball game,” Ricky said.
Brianna looked over the game and then watched as children showed off this game room.
“Hey, a dinosaur. That's a big one!” Brianna commented.
Little Danny hurried over to the huge creature that was in the far corner and said, “He's a Velociraptor.”
Jonny added, “He's 'rocious.”
“Rocious?” Brianna quietly asked Jack.
“Oh.” Brianna sized up the creature and asked, “What's his name?”
“Name?” Jonny asked.
“Doesn't he have a name?” Brianna innocently asked.
Jenny smiled and began, “He have good name. His name ...”
“Jenny, want a cookie? I have extra?” Jonny asked.
“No want cookie,” Jenny answered. She looked back at Brianna who noticed the funny looks on the boys' faces. “His name Muffin.”
“Muffin?” Brianna asked, her mouth gaping open and her eyes big with surprise. As Little Danny tried to talk about the virtues of this dinosaur, Brianna looked at Jack and mouthed, “Muffin?”
“I didn't name it,” Jack whispered.
“I'm guessing the boys didn't, either,” Brianna giggled at the disgruntled look on Jonny's face.
“Muffin not 'rocious, Jonny. Muffin sweet,” Jenny said as she hugged Muffin's leg.
“Jenny named him, didn't she?” Brianna whispered to Jack.
“She was afraid of it,” Jack answered.
“Smart move,” Brianna said, nodding her head.
Jack wanted to take credit, but it wasn't his to take, so he explained, “Actually, Bri, Little Danny thought of it and talked his brothers into it.”
“Really?” Brianna asked with a touch of awe in her voice. Seeing Jack's affirmative nod, she smiled. “Smart move, Little Danny!”
“Dad, can we play air hockey for a while?” David asked.
Jack checked his watch and then nodded.
“You have thirty minutes. Have fun, Kids,” Jack said, smiling and then turning and walking out of the game room. He headed for the living room where Daniel and Jeff were getting to know each other better. “Room for one more?” Jack asked.
“Always, Babe,” Daniel answered, patting the space next to him on the sofa.
Jack sat down, and the three males talked about all kinds of things while the other children were in the game room.
“Munchkins, if you don't go up to bed in the next thirty seconds, none of you will be getting a bedtime story,” Daniel warned as he glared at the triplets.
“But, Daddy, busy,” Little Danny argued.
“Busy?” Daniel asked in amazement.
“Telling Bri about Egypt,” Little Danny whined.
“Little Danny, what do you remember about Egypt? You were only two.”
“'Member big pyramid, Dad falling off camel, Nile, long boat ...” Little Danny rattled off in one long breath.
“Okay, that's, uh, good. I'll be right back.”
Daniel walked into the study where Jack was talking to Jeff.
“Um, would you ... for just a second,” Daniel asked in scattered English, but Jeff got the idea -- Daniel wanted to talk to Jack alone.
“What now?” Jack asked after Jeff had left the study.
“Jack, Little Danny remembers Egypt.”
“He can't. I mean, not much anyway.”
“Well, he does,” Daniel said with frustration.
Jack sat back in his chair, a slow smile forming on his face.
“Danny, we have to face it. All those months when our son looked so intense; when we kept thinking he looked so focused -- he was. He just didn't have the words yet,” Jack told his soulmate.
“I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I just wasn't expecting it,” Daniel said, folding his arms across his chest.
“You know Marta at O'Malleys?” Jack asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“She swears on the Bible she remembers being born, and a whole lot that came after. She remembers being in her crib, watching funny squiggles floating around on boxes.”
“Alphabet mobiles,” Daniel said.
“I don't remember being born, Daniel. First thing I remember was going fishing with my grandfather on the lake. I was maybe three or four.”
Daniel sighed, “I remember Mommy holding me. I couldn't have been older than two or three.” Daniel's voice had been faraway as he thought over the situation. “I guess he does remember, but that's scary.”
“I have to see this for myself,” Jack said as he got up and walked into the living room, Daniel following him.
“Hey, Son, Daddy says you're telling Bri about Egypt.”
Little Danny nodded and answered, “Liked Egypt. Can we go back?”
“Maybe some day. What did you like the best?”
Little Danny thought and giggled his answer, “Uncle T jokes.”
“Teal'c told jokes?”
“Jaffa jokes?” Jack asked.
When Little Danny nodded again, Jack looked at Daniel incredulously and asked, “When did Teal'c tell Jaffa jokes?”
“I have no idea.”
“What's a Jaffa?” Brianna asked.
“Uh ... Daniel,” Jack said, passing the buck.
“Jaffa is a ... special club. Teal'c is a close friend, and he belongs to this, uh, club,” Daniel stuttered.
“Little Danny, what did you like least of Egypt?” Jack asked innocently.
The little boy's smile turned to a sad frown as he softly answered, “Daddy hurt. No like that.”
“Oh, gawd,” Daniel said, immediately moving in front of Jack and picking up his son. ~That's what I was afraid of.~ “Little Danny, do you remember that?”
“Little,” the child said, putting his arms completely around Daniel as much as he could and holding on tightly.
“It was a long time ago. Daddy's okay. Daddy's better than okay. I love you,” Daniel promised his namesake.
“Love you, too, Daddy.”
After a couple more minutes, Daniel put his son on the sofa and said, Twenty more minutes and then bedtime.”
As quickly as he could, Daniel left the living room, Jack following him back into the study.
Jack pulled Daniel into him for a warm and protective embrace as he said, “I can't believe he remembers that. I thought he'd say the heat or something.”
“We have amazing children,” Daniel responded.
“They make every day a surprise,” Jack added. After a moment, he noted, “They like Bri.”
“Yes, they do,” Daniel agreed, pulling back, a smile on his face. “I love you, Jack.”
“I love you, too.”
The lovers gave themselves five whole minutes to feast in their nation of two before returning to their family, and the bedtime wars.
“Okay, I even gave you five extra minutes, Munchkins, but now it's time for bed. Scoot, or no story.”
“Still telling Bri 'bout Egypt,” Little Danny whined again.
Now, Little Danny and David had pulled out photos of their Egypt trip to go with their stories. Of course, David was doing most of the talking and storytelling, but as he had listened every now and then, Daniel had been amazed at the little tidbits of information that his namesake passed on to Brianna.
Daniel was happy to see that Brianna seemed genuinely interested in what the two were saying. Still, it was now way past their bedtime.
“But, Daddy, we in middle of game,” Jonny argued, just as Aislinn called “Snap.” He scowled. “Not fair, Ash.”
At that moment raised voices could be heard from the kitchen. Daniel looked heavenward.
~Give me strength.~
He walked into the kitchen where Jack and Jennifer were having a rather heated discussion.
“You never let me do anything. It's just one night.”
“It's a school night, Jennifer, and you are not going!”
“You are such a FRIGGIN' GENERAL SOMETIMES. All you have are rules, rules, and more FREAKIN' RULES!” Jennifer shouted.
“JENNIFER RENEE ...”
Jack stopped mid-sentence when he heard **Jack?** and looked up to see Daniel standing in the doorway.
**Let's swap. I'll deal with Jen, and you deal with the Munchkins.**
Jack looked at his daughter once more and growled before stalking out of the room. Daniel looked at the sullen teenager and sighed.
“What was that about, Jen?”
“Peter Hamilton is having a party next Wednesday night. Everyone else will be going, but old prude there won't let me go ... just because there are going to be boys there. It's not fair!”
Peter Hamilton had been around for over a year, but this was the first time Jennifer had actually mentioned his name to her parents. Jack and Daniel did know there was 'a boy' they hadn't met who had been the object of Jennifer's affection, but they hadn't pressed their daughter for more information about him since Jennifer never seemed to have crossed the line or broken any of their rules about boys and dating.
The elusive 'boy' was indeed Peter Hamilton, though the couple hadn't quite pieced that together yet. What they did deduce from Jennifer's expression and tone was that Peter was extremely popular with the girls. Jack and Daniel didn't know how right they were, or that Jennifer had been interested in him from the first day she had laid eyes on him.
“Old prude? Jennifer ...” Daniel began, giving his daughter a look that said, “You know better.”
“Well, I'm angry, Daddy. He's way overprotective. I'm not a child. Peter's a nice boy, and there are a lot of other nice boys that are going to be there, and only an old prude wouldn't let their daughter go,” the teenager said stubbornly.
Daniel smiled. It was true that Jack was overprotective of his children, as was Daniel, and the fact that there would be teenage boys at the party was not reassuring to either of them.
“Look, Jen, your dad is right. Wednesday is a school night so even if it were an all girl party you wouldn't be allowed to go.”
“But, Daddy, everyone else is going.”
“Really? Are you certain about that?” Jennifer was tempted to lie, but found she couldn't. Daniel pulled her into a hug. “I know it's hard, Pumpkin. Why don't you find out which of your friends are really going. I think you'll find most of them aren't allowed to go either.”
“I'm too old to be called 'Pumpkin',” Jennifer whined.
“Sorry,” Daniel said, though Jennifer wasn't convinced.
The teenager sighed, “I'm not a little child anymore. I need ... respect and trust. He doesn't trust me.”
“Yes, he does, and so do I.”
“Then why can't I go?” Jennifer asked, her voice one-third challenging, one-third whining, and one-third angry.
“Jen, why is this boy having a party on a weeknight?”
“I don't know. He likes to be different, I guess,” the teenager answered, folding her arms across her chest and looking down at the floor.
“Exactly which friends of yours have been invited?” Daniel inquired without missing a beat.
“I'm not sure, exactly, but Peter said ...”
“Peter said ... Jen, where are Peter's parents going to be during this party?”
“I don't know.”
“It seems to me like there's a lot you don't know. Maybe you should find out some of the answers and then talk to ... the old prude and me again,” Daniel smirked.
“He'd still say 'no' if it was a weekend, and you know it, Daddy. It's so unfair,” Jennifer said, marching out of the kitchen.
Daniel shook his head, but called out, “Jennifer.”
“What?” the girl snapped in question as she turned.
“One phone call, ten minutes maximum.”
“What? Daddy, why? Can't I speak my mind?” Jennifer asked rebelliously.
“Yes, but not when you call your dad an 'old prude' and use inappropriate words.”
“What wor...what, 'friggin'?”
“You set an example for your brothers and sisters, and don't start by saying Jack uses it, because I know he does. Two wrongs do not make a right. One call, ten minutes.”
With a huff, Jennifer turned around. She had planned on making several phone calls, but now she was limited to a single ten-minute call. She was not a happy camper.
Meanwhile, Daniel stood calmly, trying to regain some peace equilibrium.
“Jennifer Renee, come back here,” Daniel said evenly. “Sit down, please, and let the anger go for a few minutes. It'll still be there if you think you need it when I'm through saying what I need to say,” Daniel informed his daughter.
Puzzled by her father's sudden change in demeanor, Jennifer turned around and pulled out a chair. She sat down, not certain what to think.
“Jen, do you have any idea how many young women who know how babies are made become pregnant anyway? They don't intend to, they just put themselves in situations that are very conducive to yielding to temptation. I know you're a good girl, a smart girl, so does Dad, but you're not grown yet.”
“Daddy, I don't need to be lectured.”
“I'm not lecturing. Hear me out. Jen, Sweetie, lots of adults who really should know better make choices that later put them in the position of choosing the lesser of evils. Dad and I love you, and we want to protect you from the world, and from yourself. We can't, of course, and we know that.”
“Shhh,” Daniel said, putting his fingers over her lips and again silencing her. “You'll be driving soon, and before you know it, the entire burden of making all of your life's decisions will fall on your shoulders. You won't have to keep anyone's counsel unless you choose to. For not much longer, Jen, your Dad and I have the responsibility, the right, and the privilege of helping and guiding you in making those decisions.”
Jennifer sighed, “But ...” Seeing her father's warning eyes, she said a soft, “Sorry.”
“We want the best for you, please believe that. Think it over, Jen. Find out a bit more about Peter and this party, and we'll talk. One ten minute call, and lights out,” Daniel told her.
“Okay, Daddy. I love you ... and the old prude,” Jennifer said as she walked away.
“I love you, too, Jen.”
Daniel smiled as he watched his daughter walk out the room. Then he sighed and communicated with his husband.
**Jack, who the heck is Peter Hamilton?**
**No idea. Why?**
**I don't know; just a feeling. I think he's the boy Jen has talked about for a while.**
**That kid? She's not going near him!**
**Jack, we don't know anything about him.**
**You got that right, Daniel, and that's why she's not going near him.**
**Prude,** Daniel only half-teased.
**Nope; just nicer when she blames you!**
**Very funny, Daniel.**
**I thought so, Babe. I'll be in the living room when you're through, unless you need help?**
**No, it's under ...** “JONNY!” **I'll get back to ya!**
Daniel laughed as he took a minute to relax on the sofa.
“Peace at last,” Jack sighed happily as he plopped down on the sofa beside Daniel and drew his husband in for a kiss.
“All the children asleep?”
“Except Jeff and Jen. I gave them half an hour until lights out.”
“Jen isn't on the phone, is she?” Daniel asked, hoping their daughter had obeyed him.
“Nope, but she's still calling me an old prude,” Jack noted.
“Bri fits in well,” Daniel remarked.
Daniel gazed at the family photos on the mantle. Jack followed his line of sight and hugged him closer.
“I know, Danny. I don't want to take her back tomorrow, either, but we can't rush this.”
“It's just so hard, Jack. I know what it's like to be on the cusp of having a family. You know all her defenses will come back as soon as we take her back, if not before,” Daniel sighed dejectedly.
Jack nodded his understanding and commented, “But we can get through them again.”
They sat for a couple of minutes, Daniel's head leaning on Jack's shoulder, Jack's head resting on Daniel's.
“How about we go to bed and snuggle?” Jack asked and then kissed the top of Daniel's head.
“Good idea. I just want to ...”
“... check the kids first,” Jack finished.
Since Jack had just checked on their brood, he headed off to use the bathroom while Daniel climbed the stairs to check first on Jennifer and make sure she wasn't going to bed angry. Then he checked on Chenoa and David since they were in the rooms closest to the stairs, and after that, he checked on the Munchkins and the twins. Pleased that all was well, Daniel went to the next room and spoke with Jeff for a few minutes.
“I'm trying to remember what you told me, Daniel, but it's hard. The shadows ... I miss my dad,” Jeff said.
“You'll never stop, but what I hope is that soon, when you remember your father, it won't be as painful. You'll remember the good times, not that he died,” Daniel reassured him.
“I hope so.”
When they were done visiting, Daniel went to the last room at the end of the long corridor, which was the one being used by Brianna. He was nearly to the door when he heard sniffles coming from within.
“Bri?” Immediately the sniffles stopped. Daniel walked over to the bed and looked at wet eyelashes that indicated Brianna had been crying. Her eyes, however, remained firmly shut. “Bri?”
There was no response from the young girl. Daniel brushed the hair away from her forehead, ignoring the tear that made its way out from under her closed eyelids.
“I wish I could promise you that everything will be okay, Bri. Unfortunately, I don't have that kind of power. What I can promise is what I promised before. I will be here for you, as a friend, if nothing else.”
“It's okay. You don't really have room for me anyway. I don't need you.”
The girl turned over in the bed to face away from Daniel.
~But I think we need you; I just can't tell you that yet.~ He heard more sniffles from the young girl. “Don't cry, Bri,” Daniel pleaded.
“I'm not crying. I have nothing to cry over. Crying would mean I care a fig, and I don't, not one bit!”
Daniel felt lost. Nothing he could say was going to make a difference tonight. He reached over and rubbed gently against her shoulder, but she tensed and moved forward, out of his grasp.
“Get some rest,” Daniel urged. “We'll have a good breakfast in the morning.”
“Whatever you say.”
Undaunted by his previous rejection, Daniel leaned forward and gently ran his hand along her hair, noticing that this time Brianna didn't attempt to move away. He stood up and pulled the covers up a bit more. He wanted to give her a kiss, but he was afraid she would react badly to it, so he just stood there and said a soft “Goodnight, Bri.”
With a sigh, Daniel turned and walked out and slowly made his way to the master bedroom where Jack was already in bed, sitting up against the headboard, reading one of his flight magazines.
“Everything okay?” Jack asked.
“Sure,” Daniel answered automatically.
Instead of changing his clothes, Daniel walked to his side of the bed and sat down. His arms were folded as he sat and stared into space.
“I want her, Jack,” Daniel announced. “I really want her.”
“Bri?” Jack guessed correctly.
“She's so ... gawd, I can't stand it.”
“Defense shields back up?”
“Oh, yeah. All the way up. Apophis couldn't have blasted through them. I want her, Jack,” Daniel repeated, looking at his husband. “I know it hasn't been long, but I love her.”
Jack smiled, then reached over to pull Daniel to him. In a few seconds, the two were snuggled together.
“We have to find out about her father. I don't want any nasty surprises coming back to haunt us down the road,” Jack stated.
“Call in some favors, okay?” Daniel asked.
Jack placed a kiss on Daniel's head. If Daniel was suggesting they use their friends and contacts, it meant he already thought of Brianna as their daughter. That was okay with Jack. He'd fallen for the girl, too.
“I'll get the ball rolling tomorrow at the SGC. It might take a while, and I don't think we should say anything to Bri until we find out something concrete.”
“I agree. Jack, it's not just me ... is it?”
“No, Danny. She had both of us hook, line, and sinker that very first day, and we both know it.”
“Looooops,” Ricky said as he pushed his toast away and looked pleadingly at Daniel.
The chorus was soon taken up by Jenny, Chenoa and the Munchkins. Jeff came into the kitchen and grinned at the sight of the six children all putting on their best puppy dog faces for their parents.
“Jefffffff,” Noa greeted the teenager enthusiastically.
“Good morning, Squirts,” Jeff greeted them and then their frazzled parents. “An uprising in the ranks, General?”
Jack grinned evilly as he spoke, “You know what generals do when that happens, don't you, Jeff? We delegate.” He handed the teenager the box of Froot Loops he'd just got out and left the room. **Danny, I'm going to talk to Bri and find out if she knows anything about her father.**
**Tread carefully, Babe.**
**Hey, I can do subtle.**
**All the subtly of a rhino in heat!**
**Daniel, are you saying I'm too quick on the draw?**
**No, I'm just saying you're metaphorically challenged.**
**Why am I standing here, taking this from you? I have a princess in wolf's clothing waiting upstairs who needs to abuse me much worse than you do?**
**So quit standing there, flapping your brains at me, and get to it.**
Daniel smiled at Jack's mock indignation. He was quickly brought out of his musings by Jeff's amused warning.
“Daniel, you do realize what Little Danny and Ash are drinking, don't you?”
“Orange juice,” Daniel answered as he turned to look at the two Munchkins, only to find out that they weren't drinking orange juice, but instead were trying to drink his cold cup of coffee.
Daniel laughed as Aislinn took a sip and screwed up her face. She clearly didn't think much of the taste.
“You sure this makes Daddy smart?” Aislinn asked her brother.
Little Danny nodded, adding, “And chocolate; 'specially chocolate.”
Jeff had to ask, “Why do you think that, Little Danny?”
Aislinn answered for her brother who was valiantly trying to persuade Daniel that coffee was a suitable beverage for a four-year-old to drink. She walked over and climbed onto Jeff's lap.
“'Cause Auntie Sam 'n' Daddy are the smartest people in the world.”
“And Dad says they're choc'late and coffee addicts,” Little Danny finished, having been forced to relinquish the coffee cup.
Jeff laughed as he looked at Daniel and said, “I love their thinking.” He turned his attention back to the two youngsters. “But I'm afraid coffee and chocolate do not increase intelligence.”
Jonny sighed, “You sure 'bout choc'late?”
“I think Jeff is wrong,” Little Danny said. “He's wrong, isn't he, Daddy?”
Daniel looked totally lost at how to answer, but finally said, “Technically, Jeff is right.”
“Crap!” Jonny exclaimed.
“Jonathan Charles Jackson-O'Neill!” Daniel said in a warning tone.
“I like choc'late,” Jonny lamented.
“So do I, Son,” Daniel said, shaking his head. “Jeff, would you like something hot to eat? I was about to make some waffles for myself.”
“Waffles would be nice, thank you.”
Jeff looked over at Little Danny, who was talking to Jonny. They were whispering, and then suddenly, Aislinn went over to join them. He acted like he wasn't listening, but he couldn't help it.
“Daddy lives on choc'late and coffee, right?” Little Danny asked.
“And on Dad. That's what Dad says,” Jonny said.
“Funny. Daddy lives on Dad?” Little Danny shook his head. “Daddy smartest, right?” Jonny and Aislinn nodded. “I think it's a secret, that choc'late and coffee are brain food. We can't tell.”
“Love secrets,” Aislinn whispered.
“Okay, what's going on?” Daniel asked.
“Daddy, they have secret,” Chenoa said.
“Noa!” all three of the Munchkins said.
“I didn't say what secret was.” She looked over at Jeff. “Loops, please, Jeff.”
Jeff poured out a bowl of Froot Loops for each of the children and then added milk.
“Loops great,” Jonny said.
Jeff watched as the children eagerly ate their cereal, eventually commenting, “I've never seen anyone so happy to eat Froot Loops before.”
“You haven't seen Jack eat them yet,” Daniel teased.
“Dad loopy for loops,” Aislinn teased, and then they all laughed.
“Is that why you guys love Froot Loops?”
“Loops fun. Gotta have fun. Dad says,” Little Danny explained.
Daniel just shrugged when Jeff looked at him.
“Loops!” Ricky said as David came into the kitchen.
“We're having Loops, David,” Jonny announced.
~You'd think we'd won the lottery.~ Daniel looked over at his children. ~Actually, we have won the lottery. Gawd, I love them, Loops and all.~ “Jeff, waffles are done.”
Jack made his way to the spare room where Brianna was staying. As he approached the doorway, he heard the youngster talking to Jennifer.
“What do you want most for Christmas this year, Bri, apart from a family, obviously?” Jennifer asked as the two girls sat across from each other on the full-size bed.
There was silence for a moment then, “I'd like a real present. I know it's nice of people to give presents to kids at a shelter, but all the gifts are divided into boy and girl piles, and the girl's presents are just so...girly.”
“Can't you ask for a boy's gift?”
“I tried that last year. They said that if they did that there wouldn't be enough for all the boys, and I should just be grateful I got anything because people didn't have to give children like us anything,” Brianna confided.
Jack couldn't believe anyone could be so unfeeling, especially when Brianna continued in a trembling voice, “I didn't mean to be ungrateful, Jen.”
“You weren't being ungrateful, Bri,” Jennifer refuted. “Don't listen to people who talk to you like that. David, Noa, and I were so lucky. The shelter we went to was really nice. Mrs. O'Hanlon, the lady who ran it, really cared about all the kids there.”
“I just want a family, Jen, but they said I was too old to be adopted, and I shouldn't get my hopes up. I heard Mrs. Carradine talking to Mrs. Bodine on the phone the other day. She doesn't think Jack and Daniel really want me.”
Jack was now livid. He turned around and went back down to the kitchen. Daniel took one look at his irate husband and turned to Jeff.
“Jeff, could you look after the children for a minute? I'm sure David will help, won't you, David?”
David nodded eagerly, and Daniel pulled Jack out of the kitchen and up the stairs to their bedroom. He closed the door and watched his angry soulmate pace up and down.
Deciding that he had to get Jack to calm down before they discussed anything, Daniel grabbed a hold of him and kissed him, very passionately. When they finally broke for air, Jack was much calmer, although still very upset.
Hugging Daniel close, Jack asked, “Danny, when you were a kid, d...” Jack's voice broke. He was grateful for Daniel's hand rubbing soothing circles on his back. “Did anyone ever tell you that you were too old to be adopted?”
Daniel froze for a second, then sighed and went to sit on the bed. He gave Jack a rueful smile.
“Well, you have to remember, Jack, that Nick wouldn't let me adopted.”
“Of that, you don't need to remind me,” Jack scowled.
“But it was more than that. The ... best homes didn't want me. I wasn't just too old, but I had allergies, too; and ...”
“They told me that because of my stuck-up attitude, every other kid in the shelter would be placed in homes before I was.”
Jack was stunned at Daniel's words, and asked in disbelief, “Stuck-up attitude?”
“I think your word for it is snarky,” Daniel said with a smile.
Jack moved to sit on the edge of the bed, pondering the twists and turns of life.
“Danny, didn't you tell me you barely said a word for a year?”
“Yes, that's true, but even then ... I don't know. I turned to books, Jack. They were all I had.” Daniel shrugged. “I was smarter than most of the people working in the shelters, and because I was so quiet, it was easy for them to think I was stuck up.”
Jack reached out and took Daniel's hand in his. He smiled softly as he spoke, “They never really knew that little boy.”
“No, they didn't,” Daniel admitted. “They didn't even try. For the most part, the foster families they gave me to weren't really interested in helping children; they only wanted financial assistance. The so-called best families took the babies and toddlers.”
“I wish Suzanna's family hadn't had to move.”
Jack was referring to Suzanna Simpson, Daniel's foster sibling. Her family had been the only one to provide Daniel with a loving environment during his entire foster family experience. Unfortunately, it had been a short-term stay, but somehow, Suzanna and Daniel had managed to stay in touch. She had been at both of their weddings, and Jack was grateful she had given Daniel at least one thing to smile about when thinking about his youth.
“Yeah, that was the only place I ever lived growing up that even came close to being a home, but when Mister Simpson got transferred, Nick ...”
“That little ...”
“Jack, it was a very long time ago; another lifetime, even,” Daniel said, trying to calm his lover from getting too upset over something that was such a part of history now that it barely hurt to talk about it. “Nick wouldn't let me out of the state, and he wouldn't relinquish his custody of me, either, and even if he had, I was too old to be adopted.”
Jack sighed sadly and finally got to the heart of the subject, explaining, “Somebody told Bri that she was too old to be adopted, and she overheard Mrs. Carradine saying that she didn't think we were serious about wanting to adopt her.”
Upset himself at Beth Carradine, Daniel responded, “I know she cares about Brianna, but she's not helping. It's not like there aren't other caring people out there. I know we're unusual, Jack, but I can't believe we're the only couple in America who want to adopt an older child. How many genuine, good and loving families, end up being discouraged by people like Mrs. Carradine? She's trying to protect Bri, but in the end, she's hurting her.”
“I hate it, Danny. I hate seeing kids so messed up because of this insane world we live in.”
“Me, too. So what did you find out about her father?” Daniel asked, changing the subject.
“Nothing. She was talking to Jen, and I overheard. I was too mad to talk to her,” Jack admitted.
“Do you want me to talk to her?”
“No, I'll do it. I just need to ...”
“Calm down,” Jack agreed.
Meanwhile, Brianna and Jennifer were continuing their discussion. The ten-year-old had let her guard down with the older girl and was beginning to feel vulnerable, something she didn't feel she could afford to do.
“Bri, Dad and Daddy are good people. They ...” Jennifer began, though her words were suddenly and unexpectedly cut off by Brianna.
“No, forget it. It doesn't matter. No offense, Jen, but I'd get lost in this zoo. I mean, how do you keep track of each other? Might as well take numbers to get a little attention.”
Jennifer smiled. She understood Brianna's concern, but she also knew the girl's fears were misplaced.
“Bri, we all need attention, and what's really amazing is that our parents actually ...”
“I *don't* care. I'd rather sleep on some cardboard mattress at the shelter than end up being a number here.”
“Bri, you don't understand,” Jennifer tried to argue.
“Don't you guys get it? I don't need you, or this place. Who needs to be raised by a couple of queers anyway? I don't ... I ... I don't need them, or you, or Mittens, or the stupid fish, or dogs that are treated like children, or the triplets with a dumb name like Munchkins. It's a circus. I hate it! I hate it! I hate it!” Brianna shouted angrily.
Jennifer glared at the girl and left Brianna's room, Brianna shutting the door with a huge bang. She stomped all the way down the corridor and across the house until she finally ran up the stairs to her own bedroom, slamming the door behind her. The teenager flung herself onto the bed, muttering, “Not her fault,” over and over again.
In their bedroom, Jack and Daniel heard the slamming of Brianna's door and the subsequent stomping of their daughter's feet in the hallway. The lovers winced, knowing it was a bad sign.
“Jen and Bri?” Daniel guessed.
“Has to be; everyone else is downstairs. Do you want to take Jen, and I'll take Bri?”
Daniel nodded his agreement, and the two set off for the appropriate bedrooms.
Jennifer was sitting on her bed, muttering to herself, when she heard the soft knock on the door. She opened it to find Daniel standing there, a concerned look on his face. As soon as she saw him, she couldn't stop her eyes from tearing up.
Daniel was surprised to see the tears welling up in his daughter's eyes. He pulled her into a hug, asking, “Jen, Sweetie, what's wrong?”
“I hate her, Daddy, I hate her. She had no right to say those things. I'm trying to understand, really I am, but ...”
The teenager broke down into sobs, and Daniel hugged her even more tightly, whispering soothing words. When her tears had dried up a little, he guided her over to her bed, and they sat down.
“What did Bri say to get you so upset, Jen?” Daniel asked his daughter gently.
Still hiccuping a little, Jennifer told her father everything that had been said in her discussion with Brianna.
“Jen, do you ever feel like that? Like you need a number to get attention. It's okay if you do, we just need to know.”
“NO!” Jennifer's response was immediate. “I know this place can be a circus sometimes, but I like it. I like that I have lots of brothers and sisters; and you and Dad are the best. You give us all special time, and we have family times. Sure, you're a little overprotective.” She saw Daniel's smile and gave him a small one in return. Then she scowled. “She doesn't know what she's talking about, and she had no right to say those things!”
“It's just her defense mechanism, Jen; her way of surviving the foster homes, the shelters, her mother's neglect,” Daniel said as he rubbed Jennifer's back.
“But it hurt, Daddy,” the teen whispered.
“I know, Sweetie, I know.”
“At least she said it to me and not one of the younger kids.”
“She shouldn't have said it to you either, Jen. Jack and I will talk to her.”
“But you're still thinking about adopting her though, aren't you?”
Daniel looked at the teenager and nodded as he answered, “Yes, but we won't adopt her, Jen, not if you don't want her as a sister. You are our daughter, and we won't do anything that would make you unhappy in your own home.”
Jennifer sighed. Maybe she'd needed that little affirmation, a reminder that a new child wouldn't be more important, but just as important as the rest of the kids.
“I don't hate her really, Daddy.”
“I know,” Daniel said, smiling. “Jen, how come you two were talking about this?”
“I didn't bring it up; she did. She was talking about the shelter, wondering what it would be like to live here. I couldn't avoid her questions.”
“No, you couldn't,” Daniel said, wiping away the last of Jennifer's tears. “Jen, Bri is different from the rest of you. If Dad and I wanted to, we could go out and adopt a child who would ...”
“Daddy, I understand. You told us before that you want to make a home for someone who probably didn't have a chance otherwise. Bri doesn't have a chance, except for us,” Jennifer stated with awareness.
“Are you willing to give her a chance?” Daniel asked, his expression telling his daughter that he wanted a truthful answer.
Jennifer sighed again. She looked over at a Morgan family photo -- her birth parents, David, Chenoa, and herself -- that was taken about a year before her parents died.
“Daddy, if you and Dad hadn't taken a chance on us, we wouldn't be here. We'd probably be separated, having been placed in different homes. I remember when I first met Dad. I ... well, I didn't act the best, either.” She saw Daniel's smile. “Yes, Daddy, I'll give her a chance. We all will.”
“Thanks, Jen. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Jennifer rested her head on Daniel's shoulder, feeling safe and loved.
“So I told her what I thought of this zoo. I don't need to be in your cage. You can take me back now,” Brianna informed Jack as she walked towards the door.
“Bri, sit down.”
“You can't tell me what to do!”
“I'm not telling; I'm asking.” Jack saw her defiant stare. “Please,” he asked calmly.
With a huff, the rebellious girl sat on the end of the bed, her arms folded. Jack pulled up a regular chair and sat across from her. He leaned forward, hunching down to be more eye-level with her.
“Bri, we like you,” Jack told her softly. “We care about you, deeply.” The simple words silenced the girl. Jack could see her breathing more deeply, and she was licking and biting her lips. “Daniel and I more than like you; we care about you. I realize that life hasn't been very good to you, but right now, you need to think rather than react because what happens next depends as much on you as it does on us.”
“I don't have anything to say about my life,” the youngster replied, not even looking at Jack.
“Yes, you do. You see, you have to meet us halfway. Listen to what I'm saying. We're not asking you to do all the work, just half of it. In this case, it means giving our family a shot. Is it a zoo around here? You bet it is, and it's the best friggin' zoo in the world. Bri, our children are loved, deeply loved, and not one of them is ignored. You saw us last night, but maybe you weren't really watching. Maybe you're too wrapped up in your little pity party to notice anything else.”
The girl looked up, daggers shooting from her eyes toward Jack, and retaliated, “I don't need you.”
“Say it again.”
“I DON'T ... need you.”
“I'm not convinced. Try it again,” Jack baited.
“I DON'T NEED YOU, NOT ANY OF YOU!” Brianna yelled, her defenses on maximum.
“Okay,” Jack sat back. “I heard your words. They're loud, and they're angry, but,” Jack leaned forward again, “they're only words, and the thing is, Bri, that these,” he reached out and patted gently near each of her eyes, “say different. Eyes are a person's soul, and when Daniel and I look into your eyes, we see a beautiful little girl who's been hurt and neglected for a long time, and we see an intelligent young lady waiting for her chance to take on the world. We'd like to get to know that girl better, and help her grow, so that she *can* take on the world.” He shook his head. “Forget the world, we want to be there when you take on the universe, but you have let us. We can't do it alone.”
“What's the difference between being a number at the shelter and being a number here?” Brianna asked weakly.
Jack smiled. He wiped away her tears at the same time that he brushed the hair out of her eyes. Then he placed a kiss on her cheek.
~She has to make the choice,~ Jack decided. He stood, pushing the chair away. What he was really doing was giving Brianna time to process his words, to debate the situation in her own mind. ~Make the right choice, Bri.~
Jack moved back against the wall. He leaned against it for a minute as Brianna stared at him. Then he slid down the wall and sat on his haunches. He kept his eyes on the spunky girl and, saying nothing with words, opened his arms. Patiently, he waited, watching as Brianna blinked several times. He also noticed that her breathing was even more rapid now. Jack continued to smile as his arms remained opened.
Brianna stood but didn't move for a minute as she stared out the window. Everytime she looked back at Jack, he was still smiling, and his arms were still extended out, waiting for her. Looking at her feet, Brianna took a small step forward.
~Come on, Bri. Trust me. One step at a time, and then we can go through this together,~ Jack thought as he continued to wait.
Brianna looked up again and saw Jack still waiting, his arms open and ready to receive her. She lifted her foot intending to take one more small step. As if against her will, her feet grew wings, and in another instant, she felt Jack's arms enclose her, her heart and mind telling her she was safe.
~That's my girl!~ Jack could feel the feisty young girl's heartbeat and then the sound of her sniffles growing. Suddenly, she let out sob after sob. ~Let it out; it's okay.~ Jack held her tightly, rubbing her back, and rocking her gently. ~That was a whopping big step for you. I understand that, Bri, and I won't let you down; none of us will.~
“I'm such a crybaby all of a sudden,” Brianna said in observance of her crying jig.
“No, Bri. Listen to me. This is the difference,” Jack explained, his voice cracking as he spoke and hugged the girl. “This, Bri. I promise that you are *not* a number. You're a person, a very special person. Give us a chance. Give all of us -- me, Danny, the brood, the dogs, and even the cat -- a chance; let us in, Bri.”
“Scared,” Brianna cried in a tiny voice, wanting desperately to believe Jack's words and yet being hindered by a lifetime of disappointments.
“I know. Try this. Let's just take it one day at a time, okay? Don't think about next week or next year; just think about today,” Jack calmly suggested.
“Just today,” Brianna mumbled, trying to believe. ~One day. Just today.~
“Only today. Can you do that?” Jack asked, hope in his misty but twinkling eyes as he continued to embrace the frightened little girl.
A few more sniffles later, and then Brianna answered, “Okay.” Suddenly, Brianna drew back and looked up at Jack with fear. “Jen must hate me. She won't want me around.”
Jack gave her an encouraging smile as he said, “I think you'll find Jen can be a pretty forgiving sort of person. Why don't we go and find out?”
Jack stood up and held out his hand and, after a moment's hesitation, Brianna took it. Together they walked through the house to Jennifer's room, arriving just as Daniel and Jennifer were venturing out. The two girls looked at each other nervously. They didn't notice that Jack and Daniel were looking equally nervous.
“I ... I'm sorry, Jen,” Brianna whispered and then stared at the floor.
“Me, too, Bri.” The teenager smiled at the other girl and stuck her hand out. “Friends?”
Brianna nodded, took her hand, and stated firmly, “Friends.”
**We have the best children, Jack.**
**That we do, Danny.**
They looked at the two girls who were now discussing sports.
“Hockey is a great sport,” Brianna said, defending one of her favorite games.
Jennifer laughed and said, “You do fit in. You sound like Dad.”
Brianna looked at her with interest and asked, “You mean he really does like hockey?”
“Oh, please. He likes his hockey as much as Daddy likes chocolate, and that's a lot. Come on, let's go see what the others are doing.”
Jennifer gave her fathers a parting smile, and after a few steps, Brianna looked back at Jack. She had thought he was telling her a tale, but now she knew she had been wrong.
~One day at a time; that's what he said. I can do that. One day at a time.~
Brianna looked over Jennifer and smiled again. Then they walked off together, chattering happily.
Jack smiled at Daniel and leaned in for a kiss only to hear Jennifer say, “And they are so pathetically mushy and sappy.”
They turned to see the two girls looking back at them, Jennifer laughing and Brianna grinning.
“Bri, I'm glad you stayed with us last night,” Daniel said as he parked his car in a space at the shelter. He turned to face her. “I want to repeat something that I know Jack said to you earlier; I think it's important for you to hear it from me, too.”
“What?” Brianna asked.
“We care; I care; I care about you very much.” Daniel turned his body a little to face the girl better. They had already undone their seatbelts. “I know that one of the things you were concerned about was the size of our family, and getting lost. Bri, I won't deny that things get crazy. Sometimes, we don't get to spend as much family time together as we want, but we try, and we try hard.”
Brianna nodded, and the two got out of the car. Daniel noticed Brianna was moving slowly. All of a sudden, she dashed out in front of him a couple of steps and then turned to face him.
“Daniel, Jack asked me if I really watched last night. I did. I saw you spending time with all the kids. Maybe it wasn't a lot, but it was more than I ever had. I wouldn't get lost. If you have another five minutes, maybe I can help fill it.”
“Bri!” Daniel reached out, and she let herself be pulled into a hug. He held her close and then knelt down to talk to her. “We'll have more than five minutes.”
“Brianna,” Mrs. Carradine called out. “Did you enjoy your visit?”
Daniel stood up and smiled at the approaching woman. He kept his hand on Brianna's back.
“I had a great time,” Brianna answered. The woman seemed surprised, but she smiled, then suggested Brianna get ready for class. “Yes, Mrs. Carradine.” She looked at Daniel. “Thank you. Goodbye.”
“Bye, Bri,” Daniel said softly as he watched her walk away, but the girl only got a few yards before she turned and ran back to Daniel, who embraced her.
“One day at a time. That's what Jack said,” Brianna told him.
“One day at a time, Bri. We'll see you soon. I promise.”
The girl nodded and then ran inside the building.
“I can't believe it,” Mrs. Carradine stated.
“Believe it,” Daniel responded. “Mrs. Carradine, we need to know everything you know about Brianna's father.”
“That's easy -- nothing.”
“There must be something -- a name, something,” Daniel requested.
“No, there's nothing in her file, and Brianna never knew him.”
Daniel sighed, talked with the director a bit longer, and then left.
Jack stood in the kitchen and watched Jeff playing with the Munchkins in the living room. They'd pulled out a crate of building blocks, and the teenager was helping the Munchkins build a pyramid. At least, he'd started off doing that, but now he was staring off into space.
“Not square, Jeff,” Little Danny said, looking pleadingly at the older boy. “Jeff? Okay?”
Jeff collected himself and smiled at the young genius.
“I'm fine, Little Danny. Now, I see the problem: this block isn't quite straight, and it's throwing the rest of the pyramid off. If we move it like this ...”
“Can't we build a castle?” Jonny pleaded.
“How about we finish building the pyramid, and then we'll build a castle?” Jeff suggested, smiling when Jonny nodded and happily went back to pyramid-building.
“Build light'ouse?” Aislinn requested.
Jeff laughed, “Okay, after the castle, we'll build a lighthouse.”
They were just finishing the castle when Daniel returned. The three Munchkins immediately forgot about the building blocks and ran to hug their father.
“Bri?” Little Danny asked.
Daniel looked across at Jack then bent down to hug his son.
“Bri had to go, but she'll come visit again.”
“Promise?” Aislinn asked.
“Yeah,” Daniel said, smiling.
“Daddy, help me? It hard,” Little Danny told his father as he led them over to where they were playing.
With Daniel now commandeered into helping the Munchkins build their lighthouse, Jeff moved into the kitchen to help Jack make lunch.
“Jeff, are you okay?” Jack asked after a few silent minutes. He looked at the teenager with concern and saw Jeff nod in reply. ~Talk to me, Jeff.~
With a sigh, Jeff answered, “I just miss my father. I love Uncle George, but he's ... Uncle George. I don't think I'll ever be able to see him as a father, not the way ...” Jeff smiled and turned back to chopping carrots. “It doesn't matter.”
Jack squeezed Jeff's shoulder and said simply, “Jeff, if you need someone to talk to, I'm here.”
The boy shrugged, tilting his head slightly. Finally, he confided, “It's just that ... that, well, I know I've only been here a day, three days if you count the first time I stayed overnight, but ... I like it here. I love having so many people around. I've never had that before. It was always just Dad and me.”
“Nothing will ever be the same, Jeff. That's not easy to hear, but it's the truth. Still, that doesn't mean life gets worse; it only means that it changes.”
“Little Danny and Jonny keep calling me their big brother. It's funny, but, I think I like that. They're great kids, all of them. I, uh, I ..”
“What?” Jack asked probingly.
“I'm afraid Uncle George is going to find me a family too far away for me to come visit.”
Jack slung an arm around the teenager and pulled him into a hug as he promised, “You'll never be too far away, but I don't think you have anything to worry about.”
“Can I come visit? I mean, uh, just to check on the Munchkins or make sure Noa ...” ~Please say 'yes'. I really like everyone here.~
“Jeff, you don't ever need an excuse. You're welcome here anytime,” Jack promised, smiling.
A few days later, Jack was participating in another round of 'chauffeur fun' as he called it, dropping his children off at their various destinations. Jennifer was going to school, David to a fellow homeschooler's house to work on a project, Chenoa to her Kinder Camp program, and the twins to Janet's simply because she had called and said, “I feel like fussing over a couple of little ones for a while.”
Daniel, meanwhile, was going back and forth between the garage, where he was doing laundry, and the kitchen, where he was trying to do the weekly cleaning. The Munchkins were in ToddlerTown in the living room, while the animals were ... well, all over, depending upon their moods.
Inside ToddlerTown, Aislinn was coloring while Jonny and Little Danny were playing pirates, or trying to.
“Jonny, my turn to be pirate,” Little Danny insisted.
“I'm the pirate!” Jonny stated stubbornly, crossing his arms.
“You're always the pirate. My turn!”
“I'm oldest,” Jonny argued.
“So we do what I say,” the eldest Munchkin said a bit arrogantly.
“Na-uh!” Little Danny exclaimed.
“I'm the pirate!”
Little Danny scowled, but before he could battle back, a beam of light drew his, and the other children's, attention.
In front of them stood one of the most peculiar beings the Munchkins had ever seen. He was a head taller than Jonny, who had a few centimeters on Little Danny and Aislinn, and his skin an odd shade of gray. His head was abnormally large, and his huge eyes stared out at them. The being's eyes blinked at them once, his head tilting to the side as it observed the three youngsters and blinked slowly again, as if trying to decide something.
Finally, the being spoke, saying, “Hello, I am Thor.”
“Little Danny, he look like Hal'ween thingy T has,” Jonny whispered.
Little Danny nodded, then shook his head as he observed, “He not plastic, though.”
Aislinn dropped her crayon and stood up, walking to the front of ToddlerTown.
“My name Ash,” the little girl said, smiling with the trust of an innocent child.
“Hello, Ash. I must speak with your father.”
“Which one?” Jonny asked, then hurried to stand next to his sister.
“Which one?” Jonny asked more forcefully.
Thor raised his head, and turned it to look around the room.
“O'Neill,” Thor repeated.
From the middle of ToddlerTown, Little Danny explained, “Both Dad and Daddy O'Neill. We all O'Neill.”
“All!” Jonny said, bowing his head dramatically at the same time.
“We Jackson-O'Neills,” Aislinn said, a smile on her face.
“Oh, I see. It is General O'Neill I seek,” Thor clarified as his big eyelids blinked one time.
“Jackson-O'Neill!” both Jonny and Little Danny said simultaneously.
“That is correct.”
“He's not home,” Little Danny said. “Daddy home.”
“Where is ... Daddy?” Thor asked in hesitated speech.
“Don't know,” Jonny said, shrugging.
“We playing pirates, but Jonny being mean,” Little Danny informed the alien.
Thor stared and stated matter-of-factly, “Yes, you are the offspring of General O'Neill and Doctor Jackson. Of that, I am sure. I shall go find your ... daddy.”
Thor decided to walk upstairs first. He had often found Jack and Daniel in their bedroom whenever he dropped in unannounced.
Meanwhile, Daniel walked in from the garage.
“Daddy, Thor here,” Aislinn announced casually.
Daniel literally dropped the stack of clothing he was carrying.
“Wha...what?” Daniel stammered.
“Thor!” Jonny said.
“He upstairs,” Little Danny added. “Daddy, my turn to be pirate!”
“Right,” Daniel said, not really paying attention.
“Aw, shucks,” Jonny said, kicking the floor pad of ToddlerTown.
Daniel knelt down to pick up the laundry.
~Has to be a joke. The Munchkins are too calm. I mean, if they had just seen a short little gray guy with big buggy eyes, they'd be a little less calm ... right?~ Daniel stood back up. “This is a joke, right? Your dad is around here somewhere, isn't he?”
“Thor!” Little Danny pointed.
Daniel turned around, expecting to see his husband.
“Okay, Jack, what's the big idea of ... Thor?”
“Doctor Jackson,” the alien greeted.
“O'Neill!” all three Munchkins yelled.
“Thor, what are you doing here?”
“It is vital, Doctor Jackson, that ...” Thor began.
“O'NEILL!” the Munchkins yelled a little louder.
“Shh,” Daniel said, twisting his body to face the children briefly.
“There is a crisis,” Thor announced.
“When isn't there a crisis?” Daniel asked a bit flippantly.
“You must speak with the Council,” Thor informed the linguist.
“Loki is stirring up trouble,” Thor spoke, an air of regret in his airy voice.
“Not more experiments.”
“No. At least, not that we are aware of, but he is insisting we revisit the possibility of going back in time to test human genetics.”
“Back in time?” Daniel asked in surprise. “You can, uh, do that?”
“Not with great accuracy, but Loki is attempting to convince the Council it is worth the risk,” Thor said, blinking again.
“In the past, he has believed that it would be the humans of the present, or the future, whose genetic links would be advanced enough to help the Asgard.”
“Well, we know there's some truth to that because of Atlantis.”
“Yes, but that has not aided in our problem, Doctor Jackson.”
“O'NEILL!” the triplets shouted.
“Shhh!” Daniel said again, hushing the children.
“Loki's latest theory is that the answer may be in purity.”
“Purity?” Daniel questioned.
“He believes that human genetics has corrupted over time and that the humans of the past may have more pure genes,” Thor explained.
“I agree, but the Council is desperate. Our situation is becoming worse every year. You must come and tell them of the dangers of such a plan.”
“Look, Thor, I'd like to, but I have the children. Jack isn't home.”
“It cannot wait. The Council is in session.”
“It cannot wait, Doctor Jackson ...”
“O'Neill,” Thor said, along with the triplets, causing the Munchkins to giggle.
In a flash, Daniel found himself in the Council chambers.
“The children?” the archaeologist asked, closing his eyes in relief when he turned around and saw the triplets standing behind him. “Come here, you guys,” he beckoned, picking up Aislinn and holding her close. He made sure the boys were in front of him and then looked at the Asgard Council. “Uh, hello,” Daniel said to the Council.
Thor approached the Council and said, “Doctor Jackson-O'Neill is here to speak on behalf of the Tau'ri concerning Loki's proposal.”
“Yes, uh, well, going back in time is not a good idea. I realize your situation is critical, but this isn't the answer. If you go back, and Loki changes just one thing, it could change how our future is, and not just us, the, uh, Tau'ri, but maybe even that of the universe. Trust me on this, I know.” Daniel saw the eerie blank stares of the Council. ~Okay. Well ...~ “What if he chooses someone who retains some knowledge of the experiment, and they suddenly pursue a ... a belief in life on other planets. Maybe they would have been a scientist; maybe they would have been the mother or father to someone else who had some role in making our world what it is, but Loki's mere presence could alter their path. You cannot take that risk.”
“Our race is in dire need of help, Doctor Jackson.”
“O'Neill!” the triplets and Thor spoke.
Daniel rolled his eyes. This is not the place to be worrying about what names people were using.
“Maybe we can do something else to help, but Loki's answer is wrong. Going back in time is wrong,” Daniel maintained.
“Paradox bad,” Little Danny said.
“Oh, gawd,” Daniel said, looking down at his son.
“Paradox?” one of the Asgard Council repeated, looking down at the small boy.
Shifting to genius mode, Little Danny explained, “Contradiction. If you go back in time, hurt grandmother and she dies, then you can't be born. If you not born, how you go back in time and hurt her? Contradiction is a paradox.”
Daniel pasted a closed smiled on his face. Still holding Aislinn, he leaned down and quietly asked, “Son, where'd you hear that?”
“On T's computer last week. He likes weird stuff,” Little Danny answered, staring up at his father.
“And we watched Marty McFly, too,” Jonny added cheerfully.
“Movie, Daddy,” Jonny said.
“Marty McFly. Marty Mc...oh, 'Back to the Future',” Daniel said. He stood up straight again. “He's, uh, right. At least, that's the theory. The point is, you can't go back, not without risking everything we have now.” Daniel saw the nodding faces of the Asgard. “Listen, there's a man on the Alpha Site. Maybe you can work with him.”
“The one who created the clone Asgard?” Thor asked.
“Yes, Alec Colson. He's very smart, and he's interested in this kind of thing. I'm not sure why we never suggested it before, but if you like, we'll talk with him,” Daniel offered.
“That would be agreeable, Doctor Jackson ... O'Neill,” the leader of the Council said.
“Um, Thor, we really should ...” In a flash, they were again in their living room. “Go home,” Daniel said, completing his sentence. “I'll be in touch, Thor, after we talk we Alec.”
“Thank you, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill.” Thor looked at the triplets and nodded. “Goodbye.”
“Bye, Thor,” they responded.
Aislinn waved, and a second after that, Thor was gone.
“Thor is funny,” Aislinn said.
“Yes, well, when your dad gets home, we're all going to have a little talk, but Munchkins, you can't tell anyone about Thor.”
“Oh, yes, you can tell Dad.”
“Jen?” Aislinn asked.
“David?” Little Danny asked.
“Whoa,” Daniel interrupted before they went down the list of siblings. “We'll talk about it when Dad gets home. Now, back in TT so I can finish the cleaning.”
“Hey, Munchkins!” Jack chirped a few minutes later. “What's new?”
“Thor has big eyes,” Aislinn said.
“Council room is big, Dad,” Jonny said.
“Told them paradox not good,” Little Danny explained.
~Where's the camera? This is a joke, right?~ Jack stared at his three children. “I'm in the Twilight Zone.” He shook his head. “Thor was here?” They nodded. “And he took you, all of you, to the Council room?” More nods. “And Daddy, too?” Jack saw more affirmative nods. Jack turned around and shouted, “DANIEL! DANIEL, WHERE ARE YOU?”
“Grizzly bear,” Little Danny said before turning his attention back to his brother and their still ongoing dispute. “I'm the pirate.”
As the brothers continued their argument, Daniel walked into the house.
“Jack, I'm glad you're home. I ...”
“Thor was here?”
“Sit down, Jack.” Daniel explained everything that had happened. “Jack, we might as well tell them about the Stargate. I mean, they've seen it. They just don't know exactly what it does.”
“They're too young.”
“Noa was younger when we told her. Besides, they've already met Thor.”
Jack looked over at the triplets. Little Danny had finally won the battle and was the pirate captain. He smiled.
“Okay. The Nox?” Jack suggested.
“The Mouseketeers have met the Nox. It would give them all something to talk about,” Daniel agreed.
“Well, it's been an interesting day,” Jack said.
Daniel laughed, adding, “And it's only 9 a.m.”
Jack leaned in for a kiss and then said, “Every day, every second is exciting with you.”
“I love you,” Daniel crooned.
“I love you, too, Angel,” Jack replied softly.
Though it was chilly outside, Jeff was lying in the Hammock that Hammond had in his backyard. He stared out at the lake, trying not to feel sorry for himself; and yet, he didn't really, and that made the teenager angry. In fact, as he watched the water ripple with the wind, he felt a myriad of emotions that only confused him.
Anger filled him with thoughts of, ~Why'd you leave me, Dad?~ and ~I'm alone now.~
Fear ran through him as he wondered, ~What will I do now? Sure, Uncle George will let me stay here. It's nice here, but I don't know what to do. I'm not sure what I want to do with my life. I'm scared, Dad, and I don't know how to make those choices now.~
Happiness flowed through his young body as he thought of Chenoa's smile and the welcome the Jackson-O'Neill family had given him.
~They're so much fun. I like being there.~
Jeff realized he had almost been happy at the unusual home, and that made him angry again.
~How can I even think of being happy when my Dad is dead?~
Jeff knew that General Hammond would provide a home for him, and Hammond had a nice house that provided a lot of comforts. The truth was, the three-star general's home was much nicer than the place where Jeff lived with his father.
~What right do I have to enjoy anything? My Dad is dead! How can I even notice that Uncle George's house is nicer than ours? Who cares about a house? It's just a house. Dad is ... what kind of a son am I to be thinking about my feelings when Dad is dead?~
Jeff also admitted that he enjoyed the lake and the nice neighborhood, but he also missed his friends from his stomping ground.
~I'll never see them again. Life is so not fair. It's your fault, Dad!~
Now brimming with anger for his late father and fear for himself, Jeff burst out of the hammock, desperately trying to outrun his demons created by his father's death.
“Carter, we need your help,” Jack said as he and Daniel entered her lab at the SGC.
“If I had a dollar ...” Sam muttered.
“What was that?” Jack asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Nothing, Sir.” ~But if I did have a dollar for every time you've said that over the last several years, I'd be able to buy a ... well, I don't know, but something.~ “What do you need?”
“Information,” Daniel said. “There's a little girl. Sam, she's beautiful, and we ...”
“Oh, gawd, another one?” Sam said, almost pleading for it not to be true. ~It can't be. They wouldn't. Look at them. They look like little boys with their hands caught in the cookie jar. They're doing it. They're really doing it.~
“We always intended to adopt two more children. Sam, it's not a problem, is it? I mean, gawd.”
“What's one more; heck, why stop there?” Sam jostled.
“No,” Jack said, adding, “I think two more, as planned, is plenty.”
“More than plenty. Sam ...” Daniel began.
“Daniel, stop. Now what about this little girl. What's my new niece's name?” Sam asked inquisitively.
“It's not final yet, Carter. We're still getting to know her,” Jack answered.
“Hmm-mmm. Tell me about her,” Sam said, knowing her friends were already sold on the girl.
Daniel grinned as he began, “She's terrific. Her name is Bri; well, it's really Brianna. Isn't that a beautiful name? Anyway, she's ten, has short, blonde hair, onyx black eyes, and a smile that will melt your heart, but she acts so tough.”
Jack jumped in, explaining about her mother's drug habit and death, then told Sam about the foster homes, and Brianna's time at the shelter.
“And she's already had her first fight with Jen, and they made up,” Jack said, clearly pleased with the turn of events.
“And Little Danny is giving her lessons on what her name means,” Daniel added.
“Oh, and Carter, she's a tomboy. She actually loves hockey. Finally, there's someone on my side!” Jack exclaimed happily.
Daniel laughed, “And she loves ice cream!”
“I took her flying in Jo, and you should have seen her face. She cherishes the time spent with us, but she's scared. Her defenses are up all the time.”
“Because she's afraid no one will ever love her,” Daniel noted.
“She's wrong, isn't she?” Sam asked, a growing smile on her face, and a tear threatening to fall. “You guys are hooked. You love her.”
Jack and Daniel looked at each other, and each nodded.
“Yeah, we do,” Daniel answered.
“And we need you to do some research to see if we can locate her father,” Jack requested.
“Sure, what do you know?” Sam asked as she picked her pen and prepared to make some notes.
Sam looked back up and asked, “Nothing?”
“Carter, what we know is this.” Jack took out a piece a paper. On it were Brianna's name and birthday, her mother's name and vital statistics, including date of birth and death. “Somewhere, in this woman's past, about eleven years ago, she met someone, and they created Bri. I need you to find out who that man was.”
“Oh, sure. I'll have that in no time at all,” Sam said sarcastically. ~What do they think I am? A miracle worker!~
“Sam, we know what we're asking, but please try,” Daniel pleaded.
The blonde colonel asked, “What if I can't find anything?”
“It won't affect the adoption, but we'd like to know; Brianna might want to know one day, too,,” Daniel said.
Sam nodded as she stared at the paper. Bobbing her head slightly, she said, “I'll do my best.”
“There's something else, Sam. Will you be seeing Alec Colson anytime soon?”
“I'm going to the Alpha Site in a few days, so I'll probably see him then. Why?”
“We promised the Asgard we'd talk to him.”
“The Asgard?” Sam inquired, sitting up a little straighter.
Jack explained, “We had a little unannounced visit from Thor.”
After filling Sam in, she agreed to talk to Alec. She was sure he'd be happy to assist in their research.
“Jackson-O'Neill,” Jack spoke as he answered the phone in his office.
“Jack, it's Sara,” the blonde spoke a bit hesitantly.
After years of marriage, Jack knew Sara's tone, and this was her 'something's wrong' voice. His concern heightened since Sara had all eight children at her house while Jack and Daniel worked at the Mountain. It was two days after Thor's surprise visit.
“Don't panic, Jack,” Sara ordered.
“Sara, don't mess with me,” Jack's general's voice shining through.
“Jack, it's not serious, but it seems, or rather, I think the Munchkins have Fifth Disease.”
“Fifth what?” Jack asked, standing up from his desk chair.
“Don't you remember when Charlie had it? Oh, you were probably overseas.”
“Sara!” Jack said, a bit frustrated. He had no clue what she was talking about or how serious the disease was. “What's wrong with my children?”
“It's a rash, but they are each responding a little differently. If they have it, the twins will probably get it, too, if they don't already, and possibly Noa.”
“I hope you don't mind, but I called Sylvia. I might have waited, but I was a little worried about Angela and Maddy, too. Syl's here now. Let me put her on the phone so she can ease your mind,” Sara said, leaving the phone to allow the physician to speak.
“EASE MY MIND? MY CHILDREN ARE SICK, AND YOU THINK ...” Jack shouted through the mouthpiece, unable to hide his agitation.
“Jack, what's wrong?” Daniel came running into his husband's office. While Jack had his internal 'Daniel alarm', Daniel had his 'Jack thermometer', and the pressure had suddenly skyrocketed a minute ago while Daniel had been discussing the Hedronix with General Hammond.
Jack put his hand across the phone and said, “It's Sara. She says the Munchkins have something called Fifth Disease. Danny, what kind of name is that for a disease, and what in Netu is it?”
“Fifth Disease,” Daniel mumbled. He repeated over and over softly as he paced back and forth a few times. “Fifth Disease, the, uh, the Slapped Cheek Disease. I read about it in one of those parenting magazines. It's not serious, Jack,” Daniel reassured.
“Are you positive? Sylvia's there. Sara called her,” Jack informed his lover.
“I'm ... I'm positive,” Daniel reaffirmed.
“But I still don't know ...”
“Jack? Jack, are you there?” a muffled voice came through the telephone.
“Hey, Syl. Sorry, I was filling Daniel in.”
Sylvia Preston was Jack and Daniel's personal physician. Jack had met her years ago when he was still married to Sara, and she had always been a good friend. Although they had lost touch for a couple of years after Jack's divorce, he had renewed his acquaintance with the physician when Daniel had become ill, and Jack hadn't wanted to call Janet for various reasons. Since then, they had stayed in touch, and it had been Sylvia who had been Kayla's doctor during her surrogate pregnancies.
“First things first, Jack. The children will be fine. This is a perfectly normal illness,” Sylvia assured.
“Syl, I've never heard of it,” Jack replied anxiously.
“Let me give you the short version. It's a viral illness caused by Parvovirus. We also refer to it as the 'slapped cheek disease' because its most distinguishing characteristic are bright red cheeks.”
“I see. The kid looks like he or she's been hit.”
“Exactly. Sometime in the last few weeks, the kids must have been exposed to it, probably from one of their friends who coughed.”
“We've been busy, Syl. We've been surrounded by kids with runny noses and colds.”
Sylvia chuckled lightly and replied, “Well, for one or more of them, it wasn't a cold. All three of the Munchkins have a rash. Little Danny has a fever, but it's just a degree and a half over normal. Jonny and Ash just have the rash. Ash sneezed a minute ago, but again, having a fever or cold symptoms is perfectly okay.”
“Do they need ... I don't know ... Syl, what do we do?” Jack asked with uncertainty.
“Treat the symptoms. Jack, this is a typical thing. Now, Ricky doesn't have a rash, but he says he has a headache, so he probably has it but won't actually get a rash for a couple of weeks. I'm going to give Jonny some Benadryl liquid because he's itching quite a bit.”
Sylvia concluded her report, answering a few more questions for Jack. When they hung up, Daniel looked up the disease on the computer, and then both parents had more peace of mind. What it boiled down to was that their five youngest children would have rashes and possibly cold-like symptoms for a few days. They'd need to watch Chenoa and David as well for a day or two, and they'd have to make sure to keep Little Danny away from others since he was still contagious, a feat that would not be easy to do.
Jack and Daniel left the SGC to collect their children.
“Jack, they'll rebel. They don't like being separated.”
“I know, but ...”
“But why waste the energy? Look, they'll either all get sick together, or some will, and some won't. Let's just let it happen, if it's going to,” Daniel said in a resigned voice.
“You just don't want to deal with telling Noa she can't use Little Danny as her teddy bear tonight.”
Daniel laughed, adding, “And I don't want to tell Jonny why he can't be with Little Danny. You know how he gets.”
“Uh, Love, that's the other way around. It's Little Danny who throws tantrums when Jonny isn't around.” He saw his lover's disbelieving look. “What?” Jack asked, his shoulders moving upwards with innocence. All Jack saw was Daniel's continued stare. “What'd I say?” the older man asked, confused. Still, Daniel said nothing, but kept his focus solely on Jack as he drove the truck. Jack sighed. “Okay, okay, it's ... mutual.”
With the admission, Daniel laughed, “Jonny wouldn't know what to do if he broke out of ToddlerTown and Little Danny wasn't there to be amazed.”
Jack laughed now, too, responding with, “The fun of doing something amazing is doing it in front of someone you love.”
“I love you,” Daniel said softly.
“I love you, too, Angel.”
The children were all settled in their various rooms. Their parents felt better, too, having them home. At the moment, the couple was in Daniel's den with the communication system switched on. The communication system was essentially a complex series of intercoms that Sam had installed during the renovation. Convenience-wise, it was great as Jack and Daniel no longer had to carry around monitors like they used to.
Each room of the renovated home now had an electronic monitor built in. It also had a parental-lock on it, so only Jack and Daniel could control it, listening in whenever appropriate. They didn't like to think about the mischief Jonny and Little Danny could get up to if they figured out how to work it.
Each room had regular intercoms as well, where anyone could communicate with someone else in another specific room by pressing the appropriate button. It was a bit complicated still for the younger children, but they were quickly catching on as they aged.
At the moment, Daniel was updating the personal medical charts that he kept on their children.
“Okay, Jack, make sure I haven't missed anything. Jonny has a red, bumpy rash on his abdomen that was itching like crazy until Sylvia gave him the Benadryl liquid. No fever or other signs yet. Little Danny's fever reached one-hundred point two degrees this afternoon, but it's already down to one-hundred. He has rosy red cheeks and a tiny rash on his lower back that doesn't seem to be bothering him much. Aislinn's rash is on her upper back, but she's not itching a lot either. Ricky is still complaining of a headache, and Jenny seems fine, but who knows. How's that?”
“Jenny sneezed a minute ago when I checked on the kids, but I still didn't see a rash or anything.”
“I'll make a note, but I think the rash would come first. She might have just been ...”
“... sneezing,” both men said.
Jack sat back in the recliner.
“I guess that takes care of 'Tom Sawyer',” Jack sighed.
Jack had planned to take David, Chenoa, Jonny, and Little Danny to see a local production of 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer' that was being performed the following night at the Pikes Peak Center.
“No, Jack, you should go. David and Noa are fine, and as long as they're still fine tomorrow, I don't see any reason why they can't go.”
“Yeah, I guess so, but I hate leaving you here with part of the brood sick.”
“It's not the first time that one of us is gone for a while. Jack, go.”
“You sure?” Jack saw Daniel's pointed look, one that said 'don't be a ham; not begging you to go'. Jack smiled. “Okay!”
A few minutes later, they stood up to go check on the children, and suddenly, both seemed to get the same idea at the same time.
“Danny, I have two extra tickets.”
“Jack, you had five tickets, so now you have ...”
The two laughed.
“Jeff and Bri?” Jack asked, seeking Daniel's approval.
Daniel sighed, feeling a bit of regret. He wouldn't be able to see the two children, but Jack would.
“Let's make sure that David and Noa are fine, and then tomorrow, you can call them. It'll be a last-minute surprise.”
“I love the way you think, Danny.”
They kissed, and then went to check on the children. A few feet into the hallway, Daniel stopped short.
“Jack, do you think Bri might have caught it?” Daniel asked with concern.
“Crap, I hope not. I'll call the shelter and find out; you go check on the kids,” Jack said as he headed for the phone.
Several minutes later, Daniel looked up as Jack bounced into the room.
“Good news, Danny. Bri is fine; no signs of any rashes.”
“That is good news.” Daniel shook his head. “I would have felt terrible if we'd gotten her sick. Being sick in a shelter is not fun.”
Jack wrapped his arm around Daniel's shoulders, reassuringly saying, “We would have brought her back here and looked after her.”
Daniel smiled and replied, “They would have fought us, but you're right, we would ... wouldn't we?”
“Do you think Sam has found out anything yet?” Daniel asked.
“Probably not. It might take a while since she hasn't got much to go on.”
“If anyone can do it, Sam can,” Daniel said confidently.
Jack nodded. Sam had certainly been invaluable to them over the years.
The next night, during the intermission, Jack stood back, carefully watching Brianna, David, and Chenoa as they stretched and munched on some goodies. By his side was Jeff, smiling at the younger children.
“Are you settling in at General Hammond's?” Jack asked.
“Yes, but ...” Jeff quickly stopped his thought. “He has a great house.”
Jack detected something was wrong, but had no idea what. Before he could try and inquire further, Jeff changed the subject.
“Are you going to adopt Bri?”
Jack smiled, answering simply, “We're discussing it.”
“She'd be lucky,” Jeff said quietly, remaining very focused on the younger children. ~I wish I could be her.~ Jeff tensed, angry at himself. ~I don't have a right to be her. It's not Dad's fault that he died, but he did, and I can't forget that.~
“Jeff, are you okay?” Jack asked, concerned at the frown that now highlighted Jeff's face.
“I'm fine,” Jeff responded, nodding.
“Jeff, losing your dad isn't something you get over in a couple of weeks. It's okay to mourn.”
“It's not that,” Jeff said.
“Then what is it?” Jack asked.
Unfortunately, the house lights began to flicker, indicating it was time for the second half of the production to begin.
“Bri, David, Noa, let's go back to our seats,” Jeff instructed, taking charge as Jack stood back and watched.
~He sure is great with the kids. I wish I knew what was bothering him, though. Maybe I should say something to Hammond. Nah, he's just adjusting, O'Neill. The kid's going through a tough time; stop trying to psychoanalyze him.~
Jack followed the children back into the theater and enjoyed the rest of the production, treating the children to ice cream before taking Jeff and Brianna home.
Several days later, Daniel had dropped into the SGC to discuss some translations of Goa'uld text with Nyan when he decided to say hello to General Hammond before he left. He was concerned to see the general staring blankly at his desk, a frown on his face.
“Are you okay, Sir?”
Hammond smiled wearily and answered, “I'm fine, Daniel. How is rash city?”
Daniel laughed, “Nearly back to just being madhouse city. The Munchkins are much better, the twins are still fine, and Noa is pouting because she got Fifth Disease after the others, and we had to postpone her party again. How are things with you?”
“Busy.” Hammond looked ruefully at the young man in front of him. “There just isn't enough time for my work here at the SGC and Jeff. I seem to have to fly off to Washington with increasing frequency, and it's not fair to the boy. I can't keep asking you and Jack to look after him.”
“We don't mind.” Daniel smiled reassuringly at the older man. “We love Jeff, and so do the kids. They keep asking when he can come over again. They've even named one of the spare rooms 'Jeff's room'.”
Hammond sighed, “It's just not fair to Jeff. If I can't find him a family, I'm going to have to retire a bit earlier than I've planned.”
Retiring was something that Hammond had mentioned when Jack and Daniel renovated their house. However, he hadn't managed to do it yet, a fact that brought a smile to Daniel's face. The truth was that President Hayes had convinced Hammond to remain in charge of the SGC until the end of his presidency, and that was a full year yet. Though getting up in years, Hammond was still very youthful and more than capable of continuing on in his Air Force assignments, something supported by Hayes' insistence on Hammond continuing.
“You're like Jack, General: retiring never works,” Daniel responded with a smile.
Hammond laughed, thinking back to almost fifteen years ago when he had first planned to retire before accepting the post at Cheyenne Mountain. He wondered if he actually would retire when a new President was elected. He took a breath.
“Jeff had a great time at the play last week, and I understand he beat Jack at pool hockey afterwards.”
“I heard about that.”
Hammond added, “He came home talking a mile-a-minute about how cute Chenoa is and how smart David is.” Hammond paused before stating, “And he talked a lot about young Brianna and how fortunate she is to be joining your home.”
“It's not settled yet, but we're hoping. I guess Jeff's picked up on how eager we are. I, uh, did hear about their ice cream caper afterwards,” Daniel said, referring to how they conned Jack into double helpings and three times the normal toppings.
“I'll bet you did,” Hammond chuckled, having heard Jeff proudly boasting of the escapade. The general grew serious. ~Daniel, Son, this could be a sad day.~ “Do you know who will probably replace me if I retire?”
Darren Vyanivich was an American, the son of a Russian immigrant who had married a citizen of the USA. He had a great military record, and Jack liked him ... just as long as he stayed at the Pentagon. The man had no sense of humor, disliked dogs, and was a good friend of ex-SGC psychiatrist Doctor MacKenzie. To Jack, that meant three strikes, as in “You're out.”
“Vyanivich?” Daniel asked, stunned and immediately upset at the prospect as evidenced by his leaning forward in his chair. “What about Colonel Reynolds? I just assumed that ... well, that he would probably get the job when you left.”
“He's a contender for the position, Daniel, but there is pressure higher up to put Vyanivich in the position,” Hammond said, frowning.
“Politics,” Daniel sighed, sitting back in his seat.
Hammond nodded and explained, “It's believed that by placing someone with Vyanivich's heritage in this position that it would eased some tensions between us and the Russians in as far as the Stargate goes. Besides, he wants the job. I know you and Jack are aware that I plan to retire in a little over a year anyway, but I hate to leave this place, especially to an uncertain future. I still have a few more goals to accomplish, but in spite of that fact, I have to make sure Jeff has a decent home. I owe it to his grandfather.”
“Sir, I'm sure things will work out. Maybe you should just give it a little more time.”
“Just a little more,” Hammond said, smiling. “Give the brood my love.”
“I'll do that. Goodnight, General,” Daniel said, standing up and exiting Hammond's office.
When he got outside, Daniel looked back through the window. The three-star general saw him, nodded, and smiled. Daniel smiled back, and a moment later went on his way.
~I'm missing something.~
After dropping in on Teal'c, Daniel swung by Sam's lab, hoping for an update on her research on Brianna's parents.
“Daniel,” the blonde said, immediately grinning and holding up a sheaf of papers. “Success!” Seeing Daniel's eyes light up, Sam laughed. It felt so good to be able to help her friends like this. ~They have such big hearts.~
“You've found Bri's father.”
Sam wrinkled her nose as she answered, “Yes and no.” She beckoned him over and spread out some papers. “Brianna's mother married about ten months before Brianna was born to someone called Dean Longman. Even though he isn't listed on Bri's birth certificate, it's reasonable to assume that he is her father.”
“What did you find out about him?”
“He sounds like a nasty piece of work. As Pete would say, he has a rap sheet a mile long with everything from petty theft to drug dealing, and armed robbery.”
“Gawd, where is he now?” Daniel questioned with a sigh. ~We don't need this guy coming anywhere near our family.~
“Stabbed in a bar brawl; couldn't have happened to a nicer guy from the sounds of it,” Sam related dryly.
“We can't be certain though that he was Bri's father.” Daniel stared at the lab wall then looked back at Sam who was looking decidedly smug. “What?”
“I phoned Pete. He made some calls for me, found out that the case is still open and managed to get this.” She pulled out a tiny blood stained fragment of material. “This should be enough for a DNA test. Just don't ask me how he got this, I really don't think we want to know.”
Daniel knew what she meant. There was no way Pete could have obtained this legally.
“He shouldn't have done that, Sam; we don't want to get him into trouble.”
“He won't, Daniel. The case is technically open, which means they're still holding onto the evidence, but no one is working on it anymore.”
“I can't believe he did this for us.”
“I think he figures it's the least he can do given the way we've saved the world a few times,” Sam commented about her fiance.
“Yeah, well, I think it might have something more to do with your blue eyes and that alluring smile,” Daniel teased.
Sam blushed and shrugged, looking down. It made Daniel laugh out loud, feeling good that Sam was so happy with Pete.
“So, anyway. Can you get me a hair or something of Bri's to use as a comparison.”
“Yeah, that'll be easy. Thanks, Sam.”
“Vyanivich? You've got to be kidding,” Jack said, groaning and plopping down onto the sofa when he heard about Daniel's discussion.
“That's what he said.”
“We are *not* working for that man. He hates beagles!” Jack exclaimed, as if this very fact alone decided it.
“Jack, calm down.”
“Hammond can't retire,” Jack whined, grabbing a pillow and holding it to his chest for comfort.
“He may not have a choice. You said from the start that the general would probably adopt Jeff. He loves him. How can you blame him from wanting to be available more?”
“I don't blame him, Daniel, but Vyanivich? No way. Never! Not gonna happen,” Jack said, throwing the pillow to his side.
Daniel watched as Jack got off the sofa and walked up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
~Love that six. Love that silver-gray hair. Love ... every inch of him. Vyanivich? Why would the general tell me that?~
Chenoa approached her fathers as they were working in the study on business for J-O Enterprises.
“What is it, Princess?” Jack asked.
The lovers were seated side-by-side on the sofa, various files and papers spread all around them. Daniel held a schedule in his hands, and Jack had a notepad he was using to document their conversation.
“Can I invite Jeff and Bri to my birthday party?” Chenoa asked hopefully.
The little girl had already had her birthday on the sixth of the month, but her party had been twice postponed, first because Chenoa hadn't been feeling well the week before her birthday and then when Jack and Daniel had to deal with a crisis with J-O Enterprises that took them out of town on two different occasions. Finally, though, the party was full-steam ahead.
Instantly, the two parents smiled at their daughter's request.
“That would be nice, Noa,” Daniel said, glancing at Jack to see his lover's affirmative nod. “Tomorrow, we'll give them both a call.”
“Thanks! Gotta have whole family here for birthday,” Chenoa said with a smile as she turned and walked out.
“Looks like Bri's been accepted,” Jack said, feeling happy about that.
“Yeah,” Daniel agreed. “Sam said she should have the results tomorrow.”
“It's just a matter of time, Danny,” Jack assured, taking his husband's hand in his and smiling.
After a moment, the soulmates kissed tenderly and then went back to their work.
“Dad, can we have a pinata at Noa's party?” David asked Jack a while later, his eyes expressing his hope for an affirmative answer.
Jack smiled, remembering a time when David had been afraid of having a go at hitting the pinata. With some encouragement from Daniel, the boy had overcome his fears enough to try. The fact that David was actually requesting a pinata, and not even for his own party, was a sign of just how far he'd come.
“Sure, David. I think Noa would get a kick out of that. What shape would you like me to make it?”
Some time earlier, Jack and Daniel had invested in a children's party book. It described various games kids could play at birthday parties, treats that could be served, and had various suggestions for birthday cakes. Jack remembered a section that contained instructions for making a pinata out of paper shopping bags, crepe paper, staples, and, of course, candy. Jack was looking forward to the challenge of making his first pinata.
“Can it be in the shape of a mummy?” David asked, just as Daniel walked in from the dining nook where the conversation was taking place.
“What's going to be in the shape of a mummy?” Daniel asked.
“A pinata,” David raved enthusiastically. “Dad's going to make one for Noa's party!”
The young boy rambled on about what it should look like, and Daniel grinned at the worried expression on Jack's face as he realized the high expectations of this pinata.
**Bitten off more that you can chew, Babe?**
**Of course not. You're helping me right?**
Daniel laughed and leaned over to kiss his husband as David ran off to tell his brothers and sisters about the “absolutely awesome pinata” Dad was going to make for Chenoa's party.
“Of course, I'll help, and you know that he'll like it regardless of what it looks like, just because you made it,” Daniel reassured his husband.
“Let's hope.” Jack pulled Daniel onto his lap and kissed him thoroughly before remembering that the phone had rung earlier. “Who was on the phone? Was it Carter?”
Daniel nodded and replied, “She has the results. Dean Longman was Bri's father.”
Jack sighed as he replied, “Poor kid. It's a horrible thing to say about someone, but I'm so glad he's dead. The last thing Bri needs is someone like that in her life.”
“I know. It's a good bet he introduced Bri's mother to drugs,” Daniel wondered. “Sam said he'd been in prison for drug dealing.”
“It wouldn't surprise me. Geez, Danny, how do we tell Bri what kind of a person her father was?”
“Let's just tell her that her father died and see what she asks us. We won't lie to her, but we don't need to volunteer the information that he was a ... a ...” Daniel stuttered.
“A scumbag S.O.B.,” Jack completed for his lover.
“Way to go, Noa. Look at it move,” Jack said encouragingly after she'd made contact with the mummy pinata.
Jennifer and Trina, the Ferretti's adopted daughter, each took their turns, too, careful not to hit to hard so as to spoil the fun for the younger children.
Now it was Little Danny's turn, but he wasn't sure he could do it.
“I'm too little, David,” Little Danny said sadly.
“No, you're not. Jeff, help us,” Jonny requested.
Jeff smiled, loving how much the young children seemed to need him. He walked over and lifted Little Danny up.
“You're a swell big, big, big bro'her, Jeff,” Little Danny said.
“Thanks, Little Danny. Now take a swing with that stick.”
“Me, too, Jeff,” Jonny cried out.
Jeff assisted Jonny in taking a whack at the pinata, and after that, he helped Ricky and Jenny with their attempts to break open the festive item, too. After all those hits, the pinata was on its last legs.
“Nice hit, Jenny,” Jeff said as he put her down.
“Come on, David, home run,” Jack urged.
David took a mighty whack at the pinata, but sighed, “Aw, shucks, it didn't break,” when he was done.
“I'm not sure how it didn't,” Daniel observed, noticing how the pinata was barely intact.
“Well, I think one more ought to do her, Noa,” Jack said, handing her the stick and blindfolding her. “It must be waiting for the birthday girl,” he smiled.
“Wait,” Chenoa said, taking off the blindfold. She looked around. “Here, Bri. You hit it now.” Brianna was shocked when the little girl held out the stick. “Bri can knock the pinata down.”
“But ... but it's your birthday,” Brianna stammered in surprise at the offer.
“Have you hit pinata before?” Chenoa asked.
“Nnnooo,” Brianna stammered.
“It fun; hit it, Bri!” Chenoa urged, holding out the stick.
“But you should do it, Noa,” Brianna refuted. “It's your birthday.”
“I hit it; made pinata swing, huh, Daddy?” Chenoa asked with a huge smile on her face.
“You sure did, Sweetie,” Daniel answered.
“It's my birthday; I want you to hit pinata,” Chenoa said, holding out the stick to the older girl.
Tentatively, the girl took the stick. She looked nervously around the room. She'd never had anyone do something like that for her before. It was such a simple thing, but it just had never happened.
“Here, Bri, let me blindfold you,” Daniel said softly, his heart full of pride in his now five-year-old daughter for passing up the big moment and sharing it with Brianna.
“Hit it hard, Bri,” David said.
“Big hit,” Little Danny added.
“Bri do it good,” Aislinn told her siblings.
“Yeah, Bri,” Chenoa said.
Brianna took a deep breath, swung with all her might, and blinked in surprise when she heard everyone cheer as the mummy fell to the floor.
“Bri did it,” Ricky said, jumping up and down.
Brianna took her blindfold off and grinned as she saw the candies flowing from the pinata's belly.
**Danny, look at her smile.**
**I'm so proud of our children, Jack.**
**Yeah, me, too.**
“You aren't going to adopt me, are you?” Brianna asked, stunning Jack and Daniel.
“What?” both Jack and Daniel said together.
“You look so serious, like you're not happy. It's okay. I don't need ...” Brianna began, her defensive shield already up.
“Brianna, stop that,” Daniel chastised, kneeling down to look at her.
Chenoa's party had been a huge success, and now, at the end of the day, Jack and Daniel had taken Brianna for a walk in the park before heading back to the shelter. Jack knelt down, too. Daniel held both of Brianna's hands in his, and Jack was touching her forearm.
“Bri, we did some research,” Daniel began.
“We wanted to see if we could find your father,” Jack said gently, rubbing her forearm supportively.
“And we did,” Daniel stated, carefully watching Brianna's reaction.
“You found that man? Mama said he was no good.”
“He's dead,” Daniel blurted out. He didn't want Brianna thinking about negative things. They just wanted her to know the truth. “He, uh ... well, he's dead.”
Brianna blinked as she processed the information, finally saying, “That's okay. I don't even know his name, and I don't care.”
“Okay,” Daniel said softly.
They headed for the truck to take her to the shelter.
“Wait.” Brianna turned to face them. “Why would you do that? Why would you try and find that man?”
“Because we ... care about you, a lot,” Daniel answered.
Brianna smiled, liking the feeling of being cared for.
“Are ... are ... never mind; doesn't matter,” Brianna muttered, turning around and walking away, only to be stopped by Jack's hand on her shoulder.
“What is it, Bri?” Jack asked.
The hesitant girl looked at them, fear, hope, and longing in her eyes. She took a deep breath and blurted out, “Areyoustillthinkingofadoptingme?”
It took a moment for the two men to interpret the garbled question, but when they had, Jack replied, “Yeahsureyabetcha!”
“That means, uh, yes,” Daniel said with a smile.
Their smiles and words were rewarded with a smile from Brianna. Things were looking up for the young girl.
“Jeff, would you like me to get you anything special at the market?” General Hammond asked that evening as he prepared to do some grocery shopping.
“No, Uncle George. Anything you get will be okay,” the teenager said as he looked up from his history book, his right hand fiddling with a pencil.
Hammond nodded, but instead of walking out, he moved to the bed and sat down. He looked over at Jeff who was studying at a small desk at the corner of the room.
“Son, you like Jack and Daniel and their family, don't you?”
“Yes, Sir. They're very nice. I have a lot of fun with them.”
Jeff smiled wistfully as he remembered being with the Jackson-O'Neills.
“Does it disturb you at all? What I mean is that it bother you that they are two men, each very committed to the other and their children?”
Jeff's answer was immediate and firm as he replied, “No, it doesn't bother me. I admit it seemed a little strange at first, but they're just a family; they're not so different from anyone else.”
“That's the most important thing,” Hammond said with a smile.
“I almost envy Jen,” Jeff said without thinking. “Uh ...” Jeff looked up, feeling awkward about his statement. “I mean ...”
The young teen's thought was interrupted when Hammond spoke, “It's all right, Jeff. Jack and Daniel are wonderful parents, and the Mouseketeers are fortunate to have them.”
Jeff smiled, but felt a bit guilty. He knew Hammond was going to retire so that he could be a better parent to him.
~Great going, Jeffo! Uncle George is rearranging his entire life for you, and all you can do is ... is ... envy Jen for her family.~ With a smile, Jeff asked, “Uncle George, you know what I would like?”
“Coconut cake, and maybe we could eat it while we play some cards tonight. I'd really like that. Could we?” the teenage boy said as enthusiastically as he could.
“I look forward to that. I'll be back in about an hour and a half.”
Jeff nodded and watched Hammond leave his home.
~Don't be selfish, Jeff. Dad raised you better than that. You love Uncle George. Be thankful he's willing to take you in; otherwise, you'd be in some foster home somewhere.~
Frowning, Jeff returned to his studies.
Daniel was lying in his favorite position, head over Jack's heart, left leg hooked between Jack's, and playing with his silver-gray chest hairs that he cherished.
Jack smiled. They hadn't talked about Brianna since Chenoa's party, and the rest of the afternoon and evening had been full of family obligations. They'd just snuggled into bed a few minutes earlier, enjoying their time together. As was so often the case, Jack and Daniel didn't need words to be nourished in their love. With Daniel's one spoken word, Jack already knew what was in his lover's heart. He knew, because he felt it, too.
“I know, Danny. She's ours. We have to check with the kids though.”
“Family meeting?” Daniel asked, though he already knew the answer.
“We have the best family, Jack,” Daniel said with both appreciation and pride.
“And I have the best husband,” Jack said and then kissed the top of Daniel's head.
Daniel lifted his head and looked into his soulmate's beautiful brown eyes.
“Nope, I do. Uh, Jack ...”
The need for words ebbed as the two engaged in a passionate kiss that quickly turned into a very heated session of lovemaking.
The next morning, which also happened to be Halloween, the Jackson-O'Neills were gathered in the rec room, some sitting comfortably on the various sofa sectionals and others lying on comforters and resting on pillows.
“Is this going to take long?” Jennifer asked as she sat on the largest piece sofa and started to tickle Ricky, who giggled.
“Ahh ... maybe.”
Daniel looked at Jack, uncertain of how to begin.
Moments later, Jack decided to just bite the bullet, blurting out, “We want to discuss adopting Brianna.”
“Brrrrrrrriiiiiii!” the Munchkins and the twins chorused happily.
Daniel knelt down so he was eye level with the youngest children. He looked around, being sure to make eye contact with each in their various positions.
“Would you like Bri to come and live with us? As a big sister?” Daniel asked tentatively.
Little Danny looked up at Daniel with a puzzled expression as he said, “Daddy, Bri already our big sister.”
“Bri big sister,” Jonny echoed while Aislinn nodded her agreement, her head moving up and down determinedly.
“Like Bri,” Ricky piped up as he attempted to tickle Jennifer in retaliation.
“Bri here,” Jenny said, contributing her two cents to the discussion.
Daniel smiled and looked at Chenoa, who hadn't said anything yet.
“And how do you feel about it, Pumpkin?”
“Want big sister Bri,” Chenoa stated firmly.
Jack focused on their two oldest children as he spoke, “Jen, David, you can say no. Remember that this is your house and your family, and we want to know how you really feel, not how you think you ought to feel.”
“Dad's right,” Daniel quickly added. “The last thing we want is for you to feel pressured or obligated into saying yes to this. If we do this, Bri really becomes a part of this family. You can't just go along, not on something like this.”
“But I like Bri, Daddy. She's cool, and she can play baseball with me,” David said honestly from his spot on the floor.
“Jen?” Daniel asked gently.
The teenager smiled at the worried look on her father's faces. She went up and hugged them both.
“I like Bri, and I think we should adopt her. I can't stand thinking of her in that shelter, all alone.”
“Are you sure?” Daniel asked.
“I'm sure. You don't need to worry; I promise I'd tell you if I wasn't happy with the idea, but really I am.”
“Okay,” Jack said, looking out at his family. “It's not final yet, and until it is, if we have Bri over, please remember to be considerate of her feelings.”
“We have a lot of paperwork to do,” Daniel added, “and until we say so, please don't say anything that might end up disappointing her.”
“We love you all,” Jack stated tenderly.
“So much,” Daniel added.
“Daddy,” Jen said. “When we adopt Bri, can I take her shopping for clothes? I don't think she has much.”
“Sure. We'll call ...”
“Daddy, please. I'd like to do this. Maybe Sam can take us to the mall and hang around, but ... I'd really like to do this, especially after that little disagreement Bri and I had. Please.”
Daniel and Jack exchanged tiny nods.
“One thing, Jen ...” Jack began.
“I know, Dad. She's ten, not fifteen,” Jennifer interrupted, rolling her eyes.
Daniel laughed, then said, “Okay, we'll figure out the specifics later.”
“Thanks. Okay, everyone ready to check out your costumes for tonight?”
Happy faces were Daniel's response. It would be a fun-filled but long day for the family.
At the Hammond home, the general was walking by Jeff's room when he heard the teenager on the phone. Of course, he only heard Jeff's side of the conversation, but he was a bit alarmed at what he did hear.
“Jeff, Grandpa George is a wonderful man,” Jennifer said over the phone.
“I know he is. I've known him all my life, Jen, and I love him, but I hate this world. Dad died, and everything is different now.”
“I know how you feel,” Jennifer spoke compassionately.
“NO, YOU DON'T, JEN. YOU HAVE A HOME WITH PARENTS WHO LOVE YOU, AND YOU HAVE BROTHERS AND SISTERS TO PLAY WITH, AND ... AND YOU DON'T KNOW HOW I FEEL,” Jeff yelled, the phone banging against his head slightly.
In her room, Jennifer remained calm as she responded, “You know better, Jeff. I lost both my parents in one shot, and if it hadn't been for Dad and Daddy, I probably would have been separated from David and Noa. The funny thing is, they barely knew us when they adopted us.”
“You're lucky, Jen,” Jeff said, sighing as he collapsed down at the edge of his bed.
“Yes, I am, and so are you. I know it hurts right now, but it's not like your dad had a choice.”
“But he did. Dad didn't have to die for his country. He had a responsibility to me and to my mother, but he didn't care. He ...”
Jeff broke down and begin to cry into the phone.
Jennifer wished she could make her friend feel better and tried to comfort him by saying, “He didn't leave you on purpose, Jeff. I promise you that. Your dad sounds like he was wonderful. You have to forgive him for dying, but Jeff, it wasn't his fault.”
The teenage boy sniffled into the boy, “I'm sorry, Jen. I didn't mean to yell. It's just I miss our life. Dad did spoil me, and every time I'm with you guys and Jack and Daniel, I remember all the fun times. Then ... then I get angry again.”
“Angry at your father?”
“No,” Jeff replied softly.
“I don't understand, Jeff,” Jennifer stated.
“Angry at myself.”
“Why?” the teenager girl asked, totally perplexed by Jeff's comment.
“Because I like it there, and I don't have a right to like it. Jen, sometimes ... sometimes when I'm there, I wish that was my home; and when I realize I'm thinking that, it feels like I'm betraying my dad,” Jeff confiding, already trusting Jennifer as much, if not more than, he trusted his friends from his old neighborhood.
“You're not betraying your father, Jeff. Parents love their children, and what they want is for them to be happy. I know with all heart that my folks love me, and I know they wish they were raising me, David, and Noa. But ... but since they couldn't, I also know that they are happy that we have Dad and Daddy. It's not a betrayal, Jeff; you're honoring them by continuing to live ... for them.”
“Maybe,” Jeff said softly.
“Besides,” Jennifer smiled as she continued, “The brood thinks of you like a brother, so in a way, this is your home. With Grandpa George, you'll be here all the time. He's our grandfather. Family is everything, Jeff, but, trust me, blood means nothing -- nothing,” Jennifer echoed, almost tearing up as she recalled meeting Nicholas Ballard a couple of years earlier. “I'll tell you about meeting Daddy's grandfather sometime. What a piece of work he turned out to be,” Jen snorted derisively.
“I love Uncle George, Jen. It's nice here. It'll be fun fishing in the lake and ... well, it'll be fun.”
“Jeff, I have to go. Daddy's calling me; sounds like Ash needs some alterations to her costume. I'll talk to you later.”
“Thanks for listening, Jen, and letting me yell in your ear.”
“Hey, that's what sisters are for!”
Jeff smiled and hung up the phone, sighing as the phone hit the receiver. At that moment, Hammond tapped at the door and walked in a few steps.
“Jeff, can we talk?”
Jeff stood up, praying Hammond hadn't heard his words. His feelings for his surrogate uncle were genuine; it's just he was so confused and angry about everything.
“Sure, Uncle George. I was talking to Jennifer.”
“So I heard,” Hammond said, sitting down on the bed. He tapped the bedspread and nodded. “Sit down, Son.” When Jeff did as requested, Hammond spoke with a steady and confident tone. “Jeff, for many wonderful years, my wife and I enjoyed a good life, the center of which was our patriotic duty to the United States. I served this country as best I could, and I'm afraid that sometimes she suffered as a result. It seems like yesterday that I finally realized how much she had sacrificed for me. Once it sank in, I put in for retirement. America may have had our so-called best years, but our golden years were going to be just for us.”
“So why didn't you retire, Uncle George.”
“She got sick, and then she died. We had so many dreams,” Hammond said, staring off at the wall. “When she did, I was angry, too. I blamed myself that we hadn't gotten to share one moment of our golden years together. I had made promises,” Hammond sighed, “and in the end, I couldn't keep one of them.”
Jeff looked down, not knowing what to say. Hammond put his hand on Jeff's shoulder before continuing his thoughts.
“Do you know that for a while, I hated her?” Hammond stated sadly.
Jeff was stunned and shook his head violently as he said, “No, I don't believe that.”
“It's true, Son. I was a failure, and at first, I blamed her for dying. When I finally admitted that it wasn't her choice to leave this life, I blamed myself for living. Instead of retiring, I took on the new assignment at the SGC, and for several years, that was my life. I went to Washington for a while, and it was good to be away for a time, but I was pleased as punch when the opportunity came for me to return.”
“Do you still hate yourself, Uncle George?” Jeff asked. ~I think I hate me.~
“No, but it took a long time. Every time I saw our granddaughters playing, every time our daughters gave me a hug, and every time someone wanted to play Bridge, I knew she was missing out,” Hammond said with an airiness in his voice. “Jeff, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of her, that I wish that she were here, especially now. It's taken time, but after all that hurt and anger, I'm living again. Whether I retire today or in two years, I plan on relishing the time I have left. I've found the joy of life again, and now I have peace, too. In time, Son, so will you.”
“No,” Jeff argued.
“The pain will lessen, the hurt will shrink, and you'll find yourself enjoying coconut cake and baseball again. You won't forget, Jeff, but what you remember, will be the good things.”
Jeff squirmed a little as he softly spoke, “I'd like to believe that.”
Hammond nodded as he added, “It took me awhile to realize that it is not a betrayal of our loved ones to continue living, growing, and loving. It *is*an insult to their memory to allow our grief to stop us in our tracks. That's not what my wife wants for me, and it's not what Nels wanted for you.” After a pause, he continued, “Nels wouldn't want you mopping around for the rest of your life, Jeff. He was a good man, and he brought you up to be honest, forthright, and honorable. Your father's death was a tragedy, but he lives on in you, and I know you're going to make him proud.”
“I don't mean to angry at him, Uncle George.”
“He knows that. Give yourself time.”
“But sometimes, I do have fun, and I shouldn't. It took you years. How can I forget in a few weeks?”
“Life has a way of healing the heart. Sometimes, it's by being needed. Just when I thought all I had were monthly visits by my children and grandchildren, I found myself the adopted grandfather of eight.”
Hammond smiled, and it was such a big smile that it proved to be contagious. Before he knew, Jeff was smiling, too.
“Jack and Daniel's kids?”
“I love them as if they were my own, and they treat me as if they were my own. They are my grandchildren, and they need me. What I'm not sure they realize is just how much I need them. It's because of that crazy madhouse that I've started to live again.”
“Square dancing?” Jeff said with a smile.
“Yeeee haw!” Hammond laughed. “My wife and I loved to square dance, and as you know, I found a place where I can kick up my heels again. I'm not sure I would have done that had the brood not shown me that life was still out there.”
Jeff chuckled softly as he said, “They are kind of ... crazy. They keep telling me I'm their brother.”
“And, believe me, if they say that, they mean it,” Hammond said with conviction.
“So ... we'll be seeing them a lot?” Jeff asked hopefully.
“Son, I promise you, you'll be seeing the brood more than you can imagine.”
Jeff smiled, and the two continued to talk about life, forgiveness, anger, and moving forward.
It was one day later, about 10 a.m., and Jack and Daniel had taken the children to stay with Sara for the day, except for Jennifer who had gone to school. In a few minutes, they'd be leaving for the shelter to finalize the plans for Brianna's adoption.
They had a meeting planned with their lawyer, Mark Kingston, and had arranged for a phone call that afternoon with the President, who once again would be helping to push through the paperwork, allowing the couple to officially adopt Brianna.
“I thought I'd find you here,” Jack said, entering one of the spare rooms and finding Daniel looking at the room.
“Brianna is ten. She's a little too old to be in Noa's room, and she's too young for Jen. I think we should let her have this room. What do you think?”
“Makes sense. She seemed to like it when she was here. We'll have to find out more about what she likes, colors and all that girl junk,” Jack commented.
Daniel laughed, “I think Jen has plans to help out in that department, but one thing we do need to do, Jack, is make sure Brianna understands that this is her room, and she needs to decorate it to reflect her likes and interests.”
“I envision Wayne Gretsky on the wall,” Jack chuckled. When Daniel nodded, the older man added, “I don't think our Bri is ever going to be a Barbie girl.”
“You're right about that. Jack, we'd better go. I can't wait until we can bring her home for good.”
“Soon, very soon,” Jack said.
The lovers shared a quick kiss and headed downstairs.
“Chilly out, Love; better get our jackets,” Jack said after opening, then shutting the door.
They went to the closet and put on their jackets and were about to leave when the phone rang.
“I'll get it,” Daniel stated, heading over to the phone. “Jackson-O'Neill residence.”
“Oh, I'm sorry. Wrong number; sorry to disturb you,” a man said.
“That's okay. Have a nice day,” Daniel said.
“You, too,” the caller said cordially.
Daniel hung up, looked at Jack, and said, “Wrong number.”
“I hate those,” Jack said.
Once again they moved to the door, and when they opened it, they were surprised to see General Hammond standing on their doorstop. He should have been at the SGC, but there he was, and in his civvies, too.
“General Hammond, come in.”
Daniel smiled at their friend as he opened the door and made way for the general to enter.
Hammond winced a little and shook his head.
~I hope this works; it's really the best thing.~ Hammond looked at the two men, his face as serious as if they were in a briefing during a crisis at the SGC. “It's George, Daniel, especially for this. I have something important to discuss with you, but I can see you're going out. Can we meet later this afternoon?”
**Jack, he looks worried about something.**
**Why don't you call the shelter and Mark; ask them if we can move the appointments back an hour?**
**If we can't, then I'll go meet with Mark, and you can talk to Hammond.**
“It's nothing we can't rearrange. Come on in,” Jack responded, smiling at his friend. Jack ushered Hammond into the living room while Daniel excused himself to make some phone calls. “Have a seat, George. Would you like some coffee?”
“Yes, I think I would. Thank you,” Hammond replied, taking a seat.
“I'll be right back.” A couple minutes later, Jack carried three steaming mugs into the living room where Hammond was nervously twisting his fingers as he sat in Jack's favorite chair. “Okay, George, what's up?”
“I thought you were going out. I really don't want to interfere with your schedule.”
“You're not. We don't have to leave for another hour,” Daniel said as he walked into the room and sat next to Jack on the sofa. He smiled at his husband. “All done.”
Jack gazed at Hammond and with a nod to the three-star general, ordered, “George, spill.”
~I'm going to miss him, but he belongs here.~ Hammond took a sip of coffee and then sighed. Looking at his two friends he asked subtly, “What do you think of Jeff?”
Jack and Daniel glanced at each other in confusion.
“He's a great kid. You've seen the way our brood treats him; he's like a big brother to them,” Jack said as he continued to look at Hammond with a confused look on his face.
Hammond looked at Daniel and saw the light beginning to dawn in the archaeologist's eyes.
~You are way too smart, Daniel.~
“Oh, gawd.” Daniel stared at Hammond as everything fell into place. He fidgeted slightly for a moment. “You ... You've been setting us up,” he accused.
Jack's eyes narrowed at his husband's remark, and he looked from Daniel to Hammond.
Daniel started to laugh; unfortunately, there was a bit of an hysterical edge to the sound which didn't reassure Jack at all.
Hammond took a deep breath and bit the metaphorical bullet, stating, “Jack, I want to ask if you and Daniel would be willing to adopt Jeff.”
“Adopt him?” Jack heard himself say as he sat up a little straighter. Now the pieces all clicked for Jack as well, and he looked at his friend with admiration and annoyance. “You wily old coot. Did you even have to go on all those trips to Washington?”
Hammond quickly nodded, then confessed, “I probably didn't have to stay overnight, though.”
“I thought you were going to adopt Jeff?” Daniel asked.
“Only as a last resort,” Hammond sighed. “If you and Jack decide not to take him, then I will adopt him, but it *will* mean retiring from the SGC.”
Jack and Daniel both shook their heads.
“You can't, General.” Daniel looked at both Jack and Hammond. “I know now why you told me who'd be replacing you. Jack, I looked up Vyanivich. The man isn't only a close friend of MacKenzie, he's close-minded, arrogant, and basically a bully. After a week with him at the helm of the SGC, all the trust we've been rebuilding will be lost. There is no way races like the Nox or the Hedronix will tolerate his kind of leadership.”
Hammond nodded, stating, “I know, Daniel. Unfortunately, he is a consummate politician, and as such, he has the political support to be appointed. I've spoken to the President, and while he knows that appointing Vyanivich would be a disaster, he doesn't feel like he can avoid it. I did not invent that reality.”
“Then there's no way you can retire, George,” Jack said firmly.
“I don't want to, Jack. I may be getting along in years, but I still believe I have a role to fulfill and something more to achieve. As Daniel pointed out, the relationships between us and our allies is still tentative at best. The two of you are the only reason we've made progress.”
Hammond sighed again before continuing, “There's another issue, and that's Jeff himself. Frankly, I feel too old to be a father. I love being a grandfather to your brood, and I'd like to be that for Jeff, too, but the boy needs a family with brothers and sisters.”
“They certainly think of him as their brother,” Jack responded as he focused in on the wall, considering the possibility in front of him.
“I love the boy,” Hammond said. “We'd have a nice, quiet life together at my place, but let's face it. He's a teenager with a lot of needs, and if I thought I was the best one to meet those needs, I'd already have the papers filed.”
“Sir, I'm sure you could. Jeff is a wonderful boy,” Daniel said. “I know you could find a way.”
~Not going to make this easy, are you? Look at you two. You love him. I saw that soon enough after he spent some time here. Two grown men who have stared down System Lords and bumbling military and political idiots, but place a child in need in front of you and what comes out is love. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be here. I'm sorry, Boys, I'm going to have to up the ante a little.~
“Sir, are you okay?” Daniel asked Hammond who had been quiet for over a minute.
“I'm fine, but the only way for me to keep Jeff is to retire,” Hammond informed them.
“George, there has to be an alternative,” Jack responded in a positive tone.
“There is,” Hammond announced.
“There you go!” Jack exclaimed with a smile.
“What is it?” Daniel asked guardedly, not trusting one word the general was saying at the moment.
~Forgive me. I'm about to stretch the truth a little, but this time, the end result will be worth it.~ Hammond sighed, “There is a family friend of the Hunters in Michigan who said they might consider taking Jeff; of course, Jeff hasn't seen them since he was a child when they used to live here, so there would be an adjustment. I'd hate to do that, but it is the only other choice.” Hammond paused, giving the lovers a chance to soak in his words. Then he said, “But, Jack, Daniel, Jeff doesn't want to move. Colorado Springs is the only place he's ever really known, and the only people he's ever known are here.”
“You can't toss him to strangers,” Daniel heard himself say. ~Oh, gawd, what am I saying?~
With a smile, Hammond said, “I was hoping that by you and Jeff getting to know each other, you'd realize he was always meant to be a part of this madhouse. He loves it here.”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look.
“You're as bad as Molly O'Hanlon,” Daniel said softly, remembering how Molly had set them up to fall in love with the Morgan children to the point where they had no choice but to adopt them.
It had worked. Jack and Daniel hadn't been able to stand the thought of Jennifer, David, and Chenoa being separated, and they loved them something fierce.
“We should have set you up with Molly,” Jack teased, almost as a lament.
“I made one mistake in my calculations,” Hammond admitted softly.
“A mistake?” Daniel asked, still speaking softly.
“I hadn't counted on young Brianna. I knew, of course, that the two of you wanted more children. That's why I felt Jeff would fit in here, and that you'd be not just willing, but eager to have him. I just didn't realize you had actively started looking.”
“We didn't know for sure; I mean, we ...”
“It took a little time to make sure we were right for each other,” Jack said, after Daniel's words had moved to a non-audible whisper. He took Daniel's hand. “Jeff's a good kid.”
“Yes, he is.”
Hammond sighed. He took a final sip of coffee and stood up, Jack and Daniel following his lead.
“I'm sorry. I made a mistake that I wish I could undo. You can't back away from adopting that little girl. During Chenoa's birthday party, I saw how Brianna interacted with everyone; she is part of your family already. I'll just have to retire now instead of next year.”
Jack couldn't fathom Hammond retiring, though he knew it was coming. In the last year, the three-star general had made many comments about wanting to enjoy his golden years more, and he'd become more active in several social groups as he had begun to cut back a little on obligations. Still, Hammond and the SGC were synonymous to many, Jack knew it wasn't yet time; at least, not as long as Vyanivich as the next in line.
“General ...” Jack began.
“Jack, I shouldn't have even asked. I knew when I knocked on the door that you probably had already decided to adopt Brianna. It's not like you don't want Jeff.”
“He's always welcome here,” Jack said quietly.
“I'll let myself out.”
“Sir,” Daniel asked. “What about the family in Michigan?”
“Forgive me, Daniel. There is a family, but I couldn't abandon Jeff. I can't make the same mistake twice. The only reason I want Jeff to be a part of your family is because I honestly believe that he would be much better off with lots of brothers and sisters and you two youngsters,” Hammond said with a tiny grin. As he grew serious again, he said, “I'm not sure I could be so noble if you weren't living so close by. The SGC will just have to make do without me.”
**Same mistake twice? Oh, he means ...**
**His wife. Jack. Look at his eyes. He's ... gawd, he's hurting. He won't abandon Jeff.**
“I'll see you two at the Mountain.”
After Hammond left, Jack and Daniel sat back down, neither saying a word. The room was deathly quiet. Several minutes passed.
“We should probably go,” Jack said, referring to their appointment at the shelter.
“Yes, I guess we should,” Daniel agreed in a subdued tone of voice.
Neither moved, and neither spoke. They just sat, their hearts sinking at the thought of Jeff not having the life he should and of Hammond retiring earlier than the country could afford.
“Just like Molly,” Jack finally remarked a couple minutes later.
“Exactly like Molly. Jack, I don't know what to do. I love Bri, but I ... I love Jeff, too.” He sighed, shaking his head as he added, “But we can't keep doing things by twos and threes. It's insane.”
“Bri needs a lot of attention. Danny, we can't fool ourselves. She's giving us a chance now, but she still has a lot of hurt and anger to overcome. It's going to be hard enough to really integrate her into our family and have her know in her heart that she belongs.”
“And Jeff would need similar assurances, for different reasons.”
“Look, it's not ideal, but Hammond loves Jeff, and we'll still be able to see him,” Jack said, having considered all the facts.
“The general will be a better father than he thinks,” Daniel responded.
“Yes. He's pretty hip for being the old man,” Jack tried to tease.
The joke went for naught as Daniel stood up and said flatly, “We should go.”
“Okay,” Jack said.
The two walked to the door, but their steps slowed until they stopped just short of the entranceway.
“I need to think about this, Jack. I just ... gawd, I feel so ... I don't know what I feel.”
“I'll make the calls, Danny,” Jack said, reaching out to take Daniel's hand in his for a moment.
“I wish, just once, things would go the way we planned them ... just once,” Daniel said in a cracked voice.
Daniel turned and walked upstairs. He needed to escape for a few minutes, to try and forget that now not one, but two young lives depended on the decisions he and his husband made.
Jack made the calls, postponing the meetings, and then went in search of his husband. He knew it wouldn't be easy, but somehow, they'd find a way to move forward and make the right choices.
Roughly twenty minutes later, Jack found Daniel on the roof deck, staring out at the garden. He slid down the wall to sit beside his husband, and after a second Daniel moved to sit between the older man's legs. Winding his arms around his lover's waist, Jack began to caress the soft skin of Daniel's abdomen. They sat in silence for some time before Daniel finally spoke.
“We can't let General Hammond retire, Jack. I really fear for Earth's safety with Vyanivich in charge of the SGC.”
“That's not what really bothers you, though, is it?” Jack pried.
“No,” Daniel sighed.
“Talk to me, Danny. Tell me how you feel.”
“How do you feel?” Daniel responding, not yet knowing what he wanted to verbalize, or even if he could.
“Okay, I'll go first but you're not weaseling out of it.” Jack kissed Daniel's neck. “I want them both, Danny. I mean we were planning on adopting two kids anyway. Maybe we could ask George to look after Jeff for six months or so while Bri settles in. Then Jeff can move in. Or we can do it the other way around. Take Jeff now and Bri in six months.”
“I don't know. That means Jeff has six months of living in a kind of limbo, and he might see it as us choosing Bri over him. It would be even worse telling Bri that we want to adopt her, but not for another six months. She'd resent both us and Jeff. Her defenses would come back up, and ...”
Daniel trailed off, staring at his fidgeting hands.
“And?” Jack prompted.
“And I can't bear to think of Bri spending more time in that shelter. She's ours, Jack. They're both ours,” Daniel sighed, confusion and want mixing together into a struggle that was draining Daniel emotionally.
They sat in silence for a while longer. Jack continued to caress Daniel's abdomen, making soothing circles.
“I think we should take them both ... now,” Jack finally decided. “Danny, we managed with the Mouseketeers okay; and, hey, every time we add kids, it’s in twos and threes. Why should this time be any different? It'll be a piece of cake.” He sighed as Daniel let out a skeptical snort. “Bottom line, as long as we have each other, we can do anything. Besides, we aren't alone. We have wonderful friends who'll support us if we need it, not to mention sneaky Grandpa George.”
Daniel wanted to believe, and over the next minute of silence, he worked hard to convince himself that they could do it.
Trying to sound enthused, the younger man said, “They all get along. We saw that when they were here. I think having a big brother will be good for Bri. Jeff would be another person to look out for her.”
“Even when the tough little cookie doesn't think she needs it,” Jack chuckled.
“Jack, I ...”
“I want both, but ...” Daniel began, only to trail off in self-doubt.
“Come on, Danny.”
“Are we being fair to our children, the ones we already have? They know Bri is going to take more of our time for awhile, and if we take Jeff, we'll have to give him extra time, too. Jack, I'm not sure we have a right to ask that of our brood. The Munchkins and the twins; even Noa -- they're too young; they need us. I'm not sure. Gawd, I hate this.”
Jack could feel Daniel's tenseness against him. It wasn't an easy decision, and there were a lot of people to consider outside of their immediate family.
“Listen, I agree with you, but why don't we do this. Let's take a day or two and let it all sink in,” Jack suggested. “We need to take a step back. Let's talk to the kids and see what they say, and we need to talk to Sam and Sara, too. In a couple of days, we can see how we feel.”
Daniel sighed, “Hold me, Jack. Don't let go.”
“I love you, Angel; we'll figure it out; I promise.” Jack said as he stopped caressing Daniel's abdomen and wrapped his arms around his husband.
“Sam,” Daniel sighed a minute later.
“What?” Jack asked.
“You called her Sam.”
“She's about to be the substitute mother to ten instead of eight. Tonight, she's Sam,” Jack said, earning him a chuckle from his introspective soulmate.
“Okay, Munchkins, we have a surprise.”
Jack and Daniel had brought the triplets with them to the SGC. They were in the enlarged office, the one Jack worked in that had the smaller version of ToddlerTown set up in it.
“Love surprises,” Aislinn said.
“Well, remember Thor?” Daniel asked. “He's a good friend, and we have a lot of other friends we'd like you to meet, but we have to discuss it first.”
For the next little while, Jack and Daniel talked about the Stargate and the universe that was beyond it. Then, they took the triplets to the gate room and watched as the Munchkins watched wide-eyed as the Stargate kawooshed and then ebbed into the shimmering event horizon.
With Daniel holding Aislinn, Sam holding Little Danny, and Jack holding Jonny, SG-1 walked through to the Nox home world, where the triplets were awed by their new friends, Lya and Nafrayu.
“Hello, friends,” Lya said as sweetly as ever.
Lya walked up and was introduced to each child, Little Danny being the last.
“Can I touch hair?”
“If you like,” Lya responded with a slight nod of her head. Little Danny reached out and touched the Nox woman's hair. He scrunched his nose slightly as his fingers traced the thick and unusual strands. “I am aware that those of your world think our hair is odd.”
“No, funny, but good funny. Not odd; just different,” the middle Munchkin said with a big smile on his face.
“You are a wise child, and much like your father, I suspect.”
“Which one?” Little Danny asked.
Sam snickered, after which Lya looked at Daniel and smiled.
The group from Earth stayed for an hour before returning to Earth where the Munchkins were reminded about the importance of secrecy.
That night, the Jackson-O'Neills had a special family meeting after the twins went to bed. It was one of the few times the Munchkins were allowed to stay up late, but it was a special occasion. It was time for them and the Mouseketeers to discuss the wonders of their alien friends.
“Jenny and Ricky know soon?” Little Danny asked.
“In a year or so, probably,” Daniel answered.
“Can we meet Thor, Daddy?” Chenoa asked, motioning to Jennifer, David, and herself.
“Maybe one of these days.”
Jack and Daniel smiled as the children chatted about their secret friends. Their Swiss Family Jackson-O'Neill was becoming more and more of a reality every day.
“We together?” Jonny asked his younger siblings, sticking his hand in the middle of their circle, just like he'd seen sports teams do to demonstrate unity.
The Munchkins and the twins were having a little meeting in the late afternoon. It was being held outside, near Katie's play yard. Bijou and Katie were in attendance, both sitting and listening to the rebellion-in-the-making.
“One for all,” Little Danny said, adding his hand to Jonny's.
“Yeah, we tell them,” Aislinn agreed as her hand went atop Little Danny's.
“I 'gree, too,” Ricky said as his hand joined the others.
“Me, too,” Jenny added, her hand sealing the deal on their decision.
From the patio, Jack stood anxiously watching the plotters. His hands were in his pockets and his mouth was moving as he pondered what the children could be discussing.
“All for one,” a chorus of voices rang out.
“Daniel!” Jack called out to his husband who was reading the newspaper on the sofa.
“Yes, Love?” Daniel responded.
“We're in for it,” Jack warned. “Be prepared.”
“Jack, what are you talking about?” Daniel asked, a confused look on his face.
Jack walked to the sofa and sat down, saying, “Don't say I didn't warn you.”
Before Daniel could say another word, five very determined children entered the house. Actually, they stormed into the house, stopping right in front of their fathers. Each of the five folded their arms and stood as tall as they could.
“We too big!” Jonny said.
“Uh, too big for what?” Daniel asked.
“ToddlerTown,” Little Danny answered.
“Yeah, we behave. Too big for TT now,” Aislinn explained.
“Yeah,” Ricky and Jenny sing-songed in agreement.
“Oh, I see,” Daniel said. “Well, you know there is a reason we use ToddlerTown.”
“But we big now,” Jonny refuted.
“Yeah,” Little Danny said. “Not babies, and we listen good!”
**When they want to!**
The parents looked at each other, and both shrugged.
“Okay, let's make a deal,” Jack proposed. “We'll try it out. If when Daddy or I tell you that we have things we need to be doing and for you to stay put and out of trouble, you do as you're told and don't get into trouble, we'll put ToddlerTown away for good.”
“We big kids now,” Jonny said. “We no need a playpen!”
“It's not a playpen, and you know it,” Daniel chastised. “Uh, but there is one thing. At the SGC, you still have to use the ToddlerTown there. It's too important, and we can't take chances. I know that's difficult for you to understand, but, for now, that's the way it's going to be.”
“Huddle,” Jonny said to his siblings.
Jack tried not to laugh.
**Geez, Danny, it's a football game.**
**They are too big for TT, Jack, even with the enhancements you did earlier this year.**
**I know.** Jack sighed. **I miss our babies.**
**Me, too, but look at them. They're perfect.**
**Just like their Daddy.**
Jack reached over and took Daniel's hand, and then he kissed him.
“Hmmmph!” Aislinn reacted. When Jack and Daniel looked at their children again, the five were in their original positions, only this time Aislinn was stamping her foot. “No kissing during meeting,” Aislinn said sternly.
“We apologize,” Jack said in mock contriteness.
Jonny spoke for the quintet, saying, “We agree. No TT at home.”
“And we agree to TT at the SGC,” Little Danny said.
“Meeting over. Need ice cream now,” Aislinn suggested.
“Not until after dinner,” Daniel said.
“Phooey,” Jenny said. “Let go play.”
Happy with their victory, the Munchkins and the twins returned to play outside yet again.
“We're going to be in so much trouble as they grow up,” Jack said, the mischief and shine of approval in his eyes giving away the warning of his words.
“I know,” Daniel laughed, sliding his arm through Jack's and leaning his head against Jack's shoulder. “But it's going to be the best kind of trouble.”
Jack nodded, leaning his head against his husband's. The two were extremely happy at the moment, their five youngest children taking them to a joyful place.
“Okay, Danny, I'll tell Hammond what we're considering, and you talk to Jeff. Tonight, we'll compare notes.”
As Daniel nodded, Jack rang Hammond's doorbell.
After the welcome greetings, Daniel asked to talk Jeff, so Hammond nodded upstairs, towards Jeff's room. Moments later, Daniel tapped on Jeff's door, which was ajar.
“Come in.” Jeff looked up from his desk where he was doing his homework. “Daniel!”
“Hi, Jeff. Do you have a minute?”
“I'm just doing homework.” Jeff watched, confused, as Daniel nervously paced the room. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” Daniel said with a partial laugh. He stopped his pacing and put his hands in his pockets. “Jeff, General Hammond asked Jack and I if we would to adopt you.”
“He did?” Jeff asked, his eyes bright.
Daniel smiled as he nodded, and then continued, “The brood adopted you that first day, and Jack and I ... well, we love you, Jeff, and we're seriously considering asking you to join our family. There, uh, are a couple of things we need to talk about first, and one of those is making sure that you want to be a part of us.”
“Of course I ...” Jeff's eager response and grin suddenly chilled to silence and a frown. He looked down. “Uncle George is expecting me to ... wait, he asked you?”
Daniel nodded, quickly saying, “He wants you, Jeff, but he thinks you belong in a home with lots of brothers and sisters to drive you crazy; a, uh, sort of madhouse, and believe me, that's what we have. He's more than willing to raise you, if you'd rather stay here.”
“My father,” Jeff suddenly sighed.
~Father?~ Daniel closed his eyes. He knew what was happening. “Jeff, about your dad. Cherish the memories you have.”
“You know that my parents died when I was eight-years-old.” Daniel took a heavy breath from the sadness of that memory. “For a while, I almost forgot what they looked like. You're lucky, Jeff. You have a lot of happy moments with your dad to remember. Don't let those go, and don't take them granted, not ever.”
“I love my dad; he was the best.”
“I didn't know him well, but I'm certain he was,” Daniel stated firmly.
“When I'm at your house, I almost forget. It's like I told Jen; I feel like I'm betraying him.”
“No, you're not, and Jeff, we won't let you forget your dad. If we all agree to this, we don't just adopt you, we adopt your whole family. Your dad becomes part of us, too. There's a place on the mantel for his photo. During family times, you'll get lots of questions about him. You don't have to share, but your brothers and sisters will ...”
“My brothers and sisters,” Jeff echoed. “I like the sound of that.
Daniel smiled and replied, “Jeff, if we can work it out, would you like to come and live with us? I mean, be our son?” Daniel saw Jeff blink. “Uh, you don't have to call us 'Dad' or ... or anything, but we'd consider you our son.”
“Are you sure about Uncle George? I think he needs me.”
“He does; he needs all of us. He told us he wouldn't have an easy time of letting you go if we weren't living in the same city.”
“Square dancing,” Jeff said softly.
“What?” Daniel inquired, not understanding the reference.
“Uncle George started to go square dancing , but since I've been here, he can't go as often as he was.”
“Jeff, he'd choose you over square dancing. He does want you, but he also wants what is best for you.”
“To be a member of your ... brood?” Jeff asked, a small, hopeful smile on his face.
Daniel nodded and answered, “Yes.”
“Yes, I'd like that.”
“Okay, listen. I want to be honest with you. We're hoping to adopt Brianna, too. Do you have a problem with that?”
“No,” Jeff said, shaking his head. “She's fun.”
“She's need a home, and we have one, full of love, just waiting for her, and for you.” Daniel saw Jeff's smile. “Uh, we do have to check with a couple of folks.”
“Yes. Jack and I have an arrangement with some people to make sure that if anything happens to us that our children are taken care of. That's very important to us. We're pretty sure they'll be okay with our plans; I mean, they know we've been planning on adding to our family, but we need to be sure,” Daniel explained.
“I understand,” Jeff said, a bit saddened.
“Jeff,” Daniel said, walking over to the desk. “We debated whether or not to talk to you because we know how hard this kind of decision is, and we don't want to hurt you, or anyone; but we decided that we needed to be sure you knew what you were getting into with us, and knowing that, now we have to make sure that these people are okay with what we're doing. If not ...”
“I stay here. That's not so bad.”
“If not,” Daniel said, “we just need to work on our options. We want you in our family, Jeff, as long as you want to be there.”
“What do you say, Jeff?” Jack barged in jovially. “Ready to take Bri on in hockey and David in geology?”
Jeff smiled, but his focus went to General Hammond who was chuckling as he stood beside Jack.
“Uncle George ...”
“Jeff, you have a home here for the rest of your life. I welcome you as a son, but I think you belong with these two clowns and their brood,” Hammond smirked fondly.
“Clowns?” Jack asked, an eyebrow raised.
“I was being polite, General,” Hammond spoke a tad formally.
“I'd like to live with them,” Jeff said.
“Sweet,” Jack said happily, rubbing his hands together. “Did Danny tell you we need to wait a day or two, just to make sure other arrangements are finalized?”
“I understand, even if it doesn't work out,” Jeff said quietly.
“It'll work out, Jeff,” Daniel said, hoping he wasn't lying.
Twenty-four hours later, Jack and Daniel held a not-so-impromptu dinner party with their honored guests -- Sam and the Wilsons. The menu consisted of roast beef, potatoes, salad, and “Surprise, we're considering adopting two more children.”
“Two? Now?” Mark asked, shaking his head.
“It's not for sure,” Daniel said hesitantly.
They were on dessert when Jack and Daniel had sprung the news. Sam, Sara, and Mark had all met Jeff and Brianna, but they didn't know either very well.
“We need to know how you guys feel about that,” Jack said, looking all three of their guests in the eye.
“Well, you know me, Sir. I made my decision years ago. In for a penny, in for a pound. After all, who would you give up?”
“Carter, I could just kiss you.”
~No, thank you, Sir.~ Sam smiled, then looked at Daniel who was now, and had been all night, uncharacteristically quiet. “Daniel, are you all right?” she asked.
“Fine; I'm fine.”
Sam exchanged looks with the Wilsons and with Jack. Daniel was not fine, and they all knew it, but neither did they understand what was wrong.
“Ten children,” Mark said thoughtfully.
“Plus two dogs, one cat, a rabbit, a tankful of fish, and a lizard, unless Jonny has lost him again,” Daniel said, again very quietly. “Oh, and Little Danny's stray of the week. This week it's a bird with a broken wing.”
“Little Danny is calling him 'Ala Quebrada,” Jack explained. Seeing Mark's surprised expression, Jack added, “It means 'broken wing' in Spanish.”
Jack sensed his lover was distressed. He stared at Daniel and took his hand, but Daniel pulled it back.
“Um, excuse me. I'm sorry,” Daniel said, getting up and walking outside where he settled on a bench that was near the hot tub.
Back inside the house, Sara asked, “Jack, what's wrong?”
“I think he's scared. This wasn't planned.”
“Is it too much? If it is, maybe you should reconsider,” Sara suggested.
“Sara, it's not that. He's worried we're not being fair to the brood we already have. You know how Danny is. He wants to make sure everyone knows how loved they are. We timed the adoption for Bri for when the kids were more prepared for it, knowing she'd need extra attention. The problem is ... we ...”
“You love them both,” Sara said for her ex-husband.
“Yeah, we do. Do you guys mind? I wanna check on him.”
Jack stood up, but Sam did, too.
“Sir, could I talk to Daniel first?” Sam requested.
“Would you mind?” Sam asked.
“Ah, sure, go ahead,” Jack said, curious what Sam thought she could say to help.
Jack sat back down and continued to talk with the Wilsons, though his mind was on his soulmate.
Daniel looked up, surprised to see Sam standing over him.
“I know. You were expecting someone else. Mind if I sit down?” Daniel smiled and motioned for Sam to sit. “Nice night. You know, I remember years ago meeting this really special man, a genius, wouldn't you know. He opened the Stargate and saved so many worlds, and yet, he always seemed to doubt himself. He'd fight for what he believed, but inside, he was always wondering if he was wrong.”
“Maybe he was scared,” Daniel said softly, glancing at Sam.
The man looked down, a shy smile of understanding on his face.
“Definitely,” Sam said. “And he had reason to be. I don't know very much really, but I know his upbringing wasn't the best. He thought no one wanted him, that no one really loved him, but he hadn't met Jack O'Neill yet, or this alien named Teal'c, or this ... really tough feminist named Samantha Carter.”
“Interesting threesome,” Daniel noted. “Sort of an odd assortment.”
“Sometimes, those are the best kind. It took a while, but I think he finally realized he had friends.”
“Good friends,” Daniel acknowledged.
“I watched that brilliant genius go from someone who doubted his every word to a man so surrounded by love that he knew he could do anything. Daniel, you've achieved so much, and there's so much waiting for you.”
“What are you trying to tell me?” Daniel asked as he faced Sam.
“Be scared, but don't let it stop you. I remember when the triplets were born. Daniel, you didn't think you could handle three babies, but a year later, Kayla was pregnant again. You were about to be parents to four babies, but not even that stopped you from adding yet three more.” Sam paused, chuckling at the quirk of fate that had happened. “Surprise, Kayla had twins.” She and Daniel both smiled, and then Sam got to the point. “Anyway, you know why you adopted the Mouseketeers?”
“We love them.”
“That's exactly right. Look, maybe I should stay out of this, but I wish you could see yourself the way I do, the way Teal'c and Janet do, the way Cassie does, or General Hammond, and especially the way your kids see you. Daniel, you can do anything you set your mind to. If Bri and Jeff need more time, somehow, you'll find a way. You will, because you always do.”
Daniel blinked a few times and stood, walking to the middle of the lawn. He looked up at the stars for several seconds, then turned to face Sam who was still seated.
“Sam, Jack and I always seem to plan things, and then the plan falls apart. Then somehow, we survive and make whatever it is work. But ...” He paused, his breathing a little more rapid as he talked. “How long before we lose? I feel like we're walking a plank, and one of these days, we're going to fall into the ocean and drown.”
Sam looked down. Her hands held onto the rim of the bench. She nodded her head a few times, then looked up, smiling.
“Oh, Daniel. Don't you know that for you and Jack there is no such thing as a plan? You two aren't meant to live a life that's mapped out. Your entire relationship has been from your *hearts*, not from an outline of when you should do this or that. It's part of what makes you both so strong -- emotion, love, spontaneity. You don't live by the rule book.” Sam laughed a little louder. “Just ask General Hammond.”
Daniel smiled at his friend's comments and said, “No rule book.”
“I don't know, Daniel. You see, that's where I think you're confused,” Sam observed. “After all these years, you're thinking that all of a sudden, 'the plan' is the way to go. 'The plan', Daniel, is finding your own way, like you've always done.” She smiled at her friend and asked gently, “What is your heart telling you?” She saw Daniel blink as he considered her question. “Follow your heart, Daniel. It’s never led you wrong before.”
“Gawd, Sam. I love them both. I want them both. I just don't want to make a mistake.”
“You sound so sure.”
“I am,” Sam spoke confidently.
“How? How can you be that sure?”
Smiling, Sam answered, “Because I know that genius, and he's you, and you always find a way. You're a winner, Daniel.”
“I've never ...” Daniel stopped and walked around, taking in the sight of the large backyard. He looked through the patio doors and saw his sexy husband talking with two of their best friends; then he looked at Sam. Again, he smiled. “I am a winner.”
“Yes, you are,” Sam said, standing and walking to him. “You're the biggest winner I know. You started with nothing, and now you have so much. Trust yourself, Daniel, and trust your husband because one thing I do know is that if this was in any way harmful to you or your kids, he would not be going along with it.”
“You're a terrific friend, Sam,” Daniel said as he moved to hug her.
“The Daniel Jackson I first met couldn't do this,” Sam pointed out.
“I remember,” Daniel said, pulling back.
Sam took his hands and held them, saying, “He couldn't allow this very much either.”
Daniel smiled and said, “I remember that, too. Hugging, touching, loving -- words, Sam; they were just ... words.”
“You know what the difference is?” Sam challenged.
Daniel smiled broadly, and answered, “Because Daniel Jackson is now Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.”
“Bingo!” Sam exclaimed.
“Because together Jack and I are unbeatable.”
“Including raising *ten* children. I'm confident.”
“Me, too ... now. Gawd, thanks, Sam,” Daniel said, hugging her again.
“Hey, I was getting worried,” Jack said, walking outside just as the two were ending their hug.
“She's pretty neat, Jack. I think we should keep her as a friend,” Daniel teased, though being totally serious.
Sam chuckled, “I'm honored.”
“And as the potential mother of ten?” Jack asked, hoping for a recommitment of her earlier statement.
“In for a penny, in for a pound,” Sam repeated. “You two have changed my life, and I'm a better person for it.”
“What about Sara and Mark?” Daniel asked.
“What? You think we'd back out? We love those children,” Sara said, emerging from the house with Mark at her side.
“Yeah, but you've got two of your own now,” Daniel said.
“There's no limitation on love,” Sara said.
“My wife is right. Look, the truth is that you've been warning us about this for a long time. Trust me on this: Sara and I have discussed this extensively, and never once have we considered backing out. We love the kids; we could never let them be separated,” Mark reassured the couple.
“Thank you so much,” Daniel said.
There were hugs and smiles all around, and when their company left, Jack and Daniel embraced, Jack's arms holding his lover tightly.
“Sam said some very nice things,” Daniel told his lover.
“Tell me about it?”
“Upstairs ... in bed.”
“I love how you think.”
“And I ... I just love you.”
Their plan was set. They had some obligations the following day, including an outing with the Munchkins for Daniel, but the day after that, they'd set things in motion -- again, and then, soon, they'd be a family of ten children. It seems that eight was definitely not enough!
“Zoo, Daddy,” Aislinn pleaded as she looked up from her breakfast bowl to look at Daniel.
“That's this afternoon, Ash. This morning you're all going over to Sara's. I'll come pick you up at lunchtime, and we'll go to the zoo with the Amigas while Dad brings the twins home.”
The Amigas was an unofficial name for one of the local play camps. Daniel would be one of four parents chaperoning a group of twelve kids from their camp. They were going with another group called the Pioneers that was larger. Daniel didn't know all the parents and children going, but he was sure they'd all have a great time.
“Yay, Zoo,” Jonny cheered. “See 'potatamus.”
“'potamus,” Little Danny corrected his brother.
“Hippopotamus,” Daniel corrected them both.
“Want to see space monkey,” Little Danny chimed.
“Oh, gawd,” Daniel groaned.
“Danny?” Jack entered the kitchen carrying Jenny and immediately saw the glare being emitted from his lover's eyes. “What did I do?” Jack asked defensively.
“Little Danny, tell Dad what you want to see at the Zoo this afternoon.”
“Space monkey,” Little Danny said enthusiastically.
Jack started laughing, and Daniel's glare only made him laugh harder. With an evil smirk, Daniel took Jenny and headed out of the kitchen, with one parting remark.
“I'll leave it to you to explain to Little Danny exactly what a Space Monkey is, and why we won't be seeing one at the zoo this afternoon.”
Jack looked at the interested faces of the Munchkins and grinned. He began to tell them a tale about a Space Monkey who was very brave and fought evil space monsters. Because their Daddy was so brave, it was Dad's nickname for Daddy. So, while they wouldn't actually see a Space Monkey at the zoo, they would have their very own Space Monkey escort instead.
“Daddy, 'raffe! Daddy!”
Aislinn pulled on Daniel's hand in her excitement at seeing the tall giraffe. Dragging her father along with one hand and her brothers along with the other, she made her way over to stand at the edge of the enclosure. They were followed by the rest of the children and chaperones who were equally fascinated by the graceful movements of the tall animal. Daniel watched his offspring, entranced by their excitement and the joy on their faces.
“Look how they drink, Daddy.”
Little Danny pointed at one of the giraffes who had spread its front legs apart so it could lean down to drink.
“See 'potamus next, Daddy?” Jonny asked as he looked up at Daniel hopefully.
“In a minute. We need to wait until these children are ready.”
Finally, Daniel nodded that it was okay to move ahead, and Jonny immediately grabbed hold of Aislinn and Little Danny, pulling them in the direction of the hippopotami. He pulled them quickly, and because Daniel had to stay with all the children near him, they were in danger of getting out of sight. Daniel called out loudly, relieved when the triplets stopped and turned around to face him.
“Jonny, what did I tell you about not running off?” Daniel asked sternly.
Jonny gave a very put upon sigh as he answered, “Hafta stay close.”
“Okay, then. Please remember that,” Daniel requested. “Let's go.”
As a group this time, the Munchkins and several other children plus one other parent, made their way to see the hippopotamus. They stood at the fence and watched the large animals frolicking in the water. One seemed to enjoy rolling over and lying with its feet in the air.
It was when Jonny turned to tell Danny that it reminded him of Katie with her paws in the air that he saw her. A young girl was sitting in amongst the shrubbery lining the paths between enclosures. She was quite well hidden and had only caught Jonny's eye because she moved her arm to wipe at her eyes.
“Danny, look,” Jonny said, pointing out the girl.
Little Danny frowned, asking, “Look at what?”
Jonny shook his head. He'd have to do a better job at teaching his brother surveillance, or ' su'vay'nce' as he called it. He looked at his father who was retying Aislinn's shoelaces for her. Since they were otherwise occupied, as were the other children and chaperone, he took hold of Little Danny's arm and dragged him over to the girl.
Little Danny, gestured to Aislinn where they were going.
“Hi.” Jonny noticed that the girl flinched away from them so he sat down and dragged his brother down, too. “I'm Jonny; he's Danny. What's your name?”
The girl looked up at them with tear-stained eyes. Jonny thought she looked like she was only slightly older than they were. He smiled brightly at her, hoping she'd talk to them.
It came out as a whisper.
“Whatcha doin'?” Jonny asked.
“Hiding,” the tiny voice answered.
“Why?” The boys saw Lulu shrug. Jonny continued, “You can tell us. We're hon'r'ble, aren't we, Little Danny?”
“I don't have a home,” Lulu confided.
Jonny grinned and promised, “You can live with us!”
Little Danny nodded and said, “Like Mittens,” comparing the finding of the little girl in the zoo with that of their finding a cat in the park.
Lulu wrinkled her nose and asked, “Who's Mittens?”
“Our cat. She needed home, too,” Little Danny explained.
“You have parents?” the little girl asked.
“Yes,” the boys answered in unison.
“Do they hit you?”
“No. Par'nts no hit kids,” Jonny said sternly.
“Yeah, never,” Little Danny said.
The little girl cried again. Little Danny moved to sit on the other side of her. He put his arm around her. Jonny moved to the other side and did the same thing.
“Can...can't stop,” Lulu sobbed.
“Ev'rything be okay. Dad 'n' Daddy fix ev'rything,” Jonny promised her.
“They won't let me stay with you,” Lulu stated sadly.
“Will, too. Danny will 'splain it to them. He's good at 'splainin',” Jonny said enthusiastically.
Lulu sniffled, feeling scared and alone, but she felt better with the two boys by her side.
“Can I really go home with you?”
“Yes.” Jonny said.
“They really don't hit you?” Lulu asked, moving her head back and forth to look at both of the boys, each of whom shook their heads in response.
Finally, Jonny stood up and urged, “Come with us.”
“Yeah, come with us,” Little Danny echoed.
“Well ... ooookay.”
The three returned to where Daniel and Aislinn were, and the two boys received a scolding.
“Jonny, if you run off again, you won't be allowed to go flying with Dad this weekend. Do you understand?” Daniel reprimanded harshly.
“Jonny, be good,” Jonny said in agreement. “Come on, guys.”
“Wait one minute,” Daniel said. He walked over to Little Danny and said, “And if you run off again, young man, we won't be going to look at the dinosaur exhibit this weekend.”
Little Danny's eyes widened, and his mouth opened in horror.
“I be good, Daddy; want to see Lambeosaurus!” the shaggy-hair boy stated.
“Okay, then,” Daniel said, confident he had gotten his message across.
With his attention focused on Jonny and Little Danny, Daniel didn't notice the look of fear that crossed Lulu's face. Little Danny did, though, and squeezed her hand in reassurance.
They all walked over to where other kids were and began talking with them. Daniel noticed the girl who was with his sons, but he didn't recognize her. He didn't think it odd that Little Danny had held her hand because his son was always very warm and free with new kids. Daniel assumed the little girl was part of the other group, the Pioneers, though he thought it was odd that her clothes seemed a little dirty, and he noticed a sleeve on her dress was ripped.
~I can never understand how children can get so grubby so fast.~ Daniel smiled indulgently. ~Wouldn't have them any other way.~
An hour later, the trip to the zoo ended. All the children and chaperones got on the bus that was taking them back to a local school. It was late afternoon, and school would not be in session. Daniel had the SUV and would be dropping off a few of the children to their homes.
“Okay, in the SUV.”
Jonny watched as Daniel made sure the other kids were seated properly.
“Wait for Daddy to get Little Danny,” Jonny advised Lulu.
“Sneak in when he goes after Jonny,” Little Danny instructed.
“After?” Lulu asked.
“Dad not gonna take me flying,” Jonny pouted, willing to sacrifice his trip, but not really happy about it.
“I no get to see Lambeosaurus, either,” Little Danny complained, but he, too, was willing to make the sacrifice.
Daniel made sure Little Danny was in place, then he turned to get Jonny, but Jonny had run over by some trees and refused to come when called.
“In big trouble,” Jonny mumbled to himself, seeing Daniel's face as he chased his son around the tree. ~Those gen'rl eyes!~
Meanwhile, Little Danny called out quietly for Lulu, who quickly got in the SUV and went to the very back, ducking behind the last seat.
“Quiet!” Little Danny warned the other kids.
“No flying in Jo for you, young man, and we're going to have a serious talk when we get home. I'm disappointed, Jonny. You know better,” Daniel said firmly as he carried his disobedient youth back to the SUV.
Daniel had dropped off all the children and headed for home. He saw the triplets had huge smiles on their faces, but wasn't sure why.
~Something's going on. I'm not sure I want to know what.~
Finally pulling in the driveway, Daniel turned off the car and helped the Munchkins out. He was about to click the alarm when he heard ...
“No, Daddy. Lulu,” Jonny said.
“Hi, I'm Lulu.”
Daniel turned back towards the SUV, stunned.
“Lulu our new sister, Daddy.” Jonny ran to Lulu and put his arm around her. He hugged Lulu and informed Daniel that, “Little Danny can 'splain.”
Daniel looked at his namesake and raised a questioning eyebrow as Little Danny launched into an explanation.
“Jonny found Lulu at zoo, Daddy. She's got no home, like Mittens. Told her she can live with us.”
Little Danny finished off his speech by giving Lulu a hug as well.
“Our new sister,” Aislinn said as she grinned at her brothers and joined in the group hug.
~Why do these things keep happening to me? First, it was a cat; then a lizard; now a ... a little girl?~
Daniel sighed and took a step towards Lulu. He noticed the subtle flinch when he moved closer and frowned. In an attempt to appear less threatening, he crouched down so he was level with the girl.
“Munchkins, you can't just adopt children that you meet,” Daniel told the triplets.
“Why not?” Aislinn asked.
“Yeah, why not?” Little Danny asked.
Daniel began, “Be...because, well, she ...”
“Why not, Daddy? If she need home, and we have home, why not?”
“Like we give house to Lapierre's,” Aislinn commented, referring to Stuart and Grace Lapierre, who had been gifted with the old McLamore house once Jack and Daniel had purchased the property it set on.
Daniel looked a little uncomfortable as he searched for the answers to the questions.
“We couldn't leave her, Daddy. You wouldn't want us to leave Ash alone; how could we leave our new sister?” Little Danny asked logically.
Jonny nodded, adding, “Ne'er leave anyone behind. It rule!”
Daniel stared at his sons in shock, not really knowing how to respond to that. They'd definitely been hanging around Jack Jackson-O'Neill too much. Of course, he knew that was a ridiculous thing to think, but he was constantly amazed just how often their children channeled them. With a sigh, he turned to the disheveled looking girl.
“Lulu, where do you live? Your family will be worried about you.”
Tears welled up in the young girl's eyes, and Daniel was taken aback by the fear in them. A cold feeling began settling in his stomach as some rather nasty suspicions took hold.
~I need to talk to Jack.~ He took a decisive breath. “Okay, Munchkins plus one,” Daniel smiled reassuringly at the anxious faces watching him, “lets go inside, and you four can play while I talk to Dad.”
Confident that their parents would take care of everything, Jonny and Aislinn took hold of Lulu's hands and pulled her along, muttering enthusiastically about introducing her to the rest of the family, including the fish, the rabbit, Mittens, Bijou, and Katie. After casting a somewhat anxious look back at Daniel, Little Danny followed them.
They waited impatiently for Daniel to open the door. Once inside, Daniel yelled, “JACK, GET DOWN HERE!” He turned to the kids. “Why don't you four go play in the yard for a while.”
“Okay, Daddy,” Jonny said.
As Jack hurried into the living room from the upstairs, the four children happily ran past him.
Aislinn and Little Danny ran past, waving at their father.
“Hi Dad,” Jonny greeted Jack as he pulled Lulu along, whispering to her. She looked back and waved at him. “Hi, Dad.”
“Hi ... hi ... 'Dad'?” Jack stared at the fleeing children. He cocked his head, and then began to count on his fingers, giving each finger a name of his children. “No, she's definitely an extra.” He looked at his nervous husband. “Daniel, we seem to have an extra Munchkin.”
“Ah, that's a ... long story, but a good one ... I think. It's just ... well, I don't really know the story.”
“Daniel, a little girl I've never seen before in my life just ran past me and called me 'Dad.' What's going on?”
“Her name is Lulu. Jonny found her, and she seems to be, uh, a stray,” Daniel said a bit nervously.
“A stray? And you brought her home?” Jack asked incredulously.
“I didn't even know she was in the car, Jack. And I think we both know why. Little Colonel Jonny strikes again.” Daniel snorted. “You know what he told me, Jack? Never leave anyone behind.”
Jack coughed, temporarily evading his lover's stare. When he looked back, Daniel nodded, raising his eyebrows accusingly.
“Well, it seemed like a good lesson to teach him.”
“He's listening. Jack, I asked her about her family, and she broke into tears. Did you see her clothes? They're filthy and torn, and ... and ...”
Daniel crossed his arms over his chest.
“Jack, when I first approached her, she cowered. I've seen that look before. I've ... had that look.”
Jack flinched at what that meant, but still hoped Daniel had overreacted.
“Maybe it's your imagination.”
“Maybe.” Daniel walked to the door and looked outside. “I assumed she was with the Pioneers. We should call and make sure.”
“Okay, she's here, so I guess we should do what we can,” Jack stated. “I'll take her upstairs and get some clean clothes. She looks older than the Munchkins.”
“She's in between them and Noa. Something of Noa's should fit, one of her big nightshirts or something. I'll start making phone calls.”
“Danny, Jen's upstairs. Better get her down here to watch over the rest of the kids while we handle this.”
“Yeah, good idea.”
“Stray kids,” Jack mumbled.
“Never leave anyone behind, Babe,” Daniel chuckled, though a bit tensely, as he headed for Jennifer's room.
“Hi, I'm Jack.”
“You're Dad, Dad,” Jonny argued.
Jack coughed as he kneeled down on his haunches.
“For now, call me Jack.” The little girl said nothing, but she was fighting back tears. “Your name is Lulu?” She nodded. “What's your last name?” More silence filled the room. “How old are you, Lulu?”
“Five and three-quarters,” Lulu answered in a whisper.
“Five is a good age,” Jack responded.
“And three-quarters,” the scared little girl added bravely.
Jack smiled in acknowledgement, then said, “Listen, um, your clothes are dirty. Let's go upstairs, and you can meet my daughter, Noa, and hopefully, she'll have something to fit you. Okay?”
Lulu gave Jonny and Little Danny a scared look.
“It's okay,” Jonny said protectively. “Noa your sis'er now, too. She has curly hair like you do.” He saw Lulu smile and thought she looked very pretty. “It different color though,” Jonny observed.
“Come on, Lulu,” Jack said, intentionally moving slowly. He extended his hand and smiled at her. “Let's go meet Noa.”
The little girl took his hand, and Jack continued to smile. As he led Lulu inside, he passed Jennifer.
“Who's this?” Jennifer asked curiously.
“Lulu,” the little girl answered softly as she stared up at Jennifer.
“Hi, Lulu. I'm Jen.”
“I'm taking her upstairs. I'm not sure if anything of Noa's will fit but ...”
“Oh, I know. Dad, remember when you tried to do the laundry?” Jennifer teased.
“Jennifer!” Jack chastised lovingly.
“Well, sorry, Dad, but you saw the result of my pink shirt,” Jennifer smirked.
“Yeah, well, laundry's never been my thing. Do you think it'll fit?”
“It just might. Want me to go get it?” the teenager asked.
“Yeah, bring it upstairs.”
Jack took Lulu upstairs and introduced her to Chenoa. He let them talk for a couple of minutes, wanting their visitor to feel safe and comfortable. Jennifer brought the shrunken blouse into the room, then hurried downstairs to make sure the Munchkins and twins weren't getting into trouble, taking Chenoa with her. Then Jack led Lulu to the standard bathroom that was at the front of the new addition.
“Okay, I think you'd better take a bath and get off some of that dirt.” She backed away. Jack thought for a moment. ~Okay, maybe she needs someone more her sex.~ “Would you like Jennifer to help you?”
There was more silence, but Jack decided letting Jennifer assist Lulu would be a good idea. He didn't want to leave her alone, so he walked to the intercom and pressed the button for the speaker that was on the patio.
“Jen, can you hear me?” Jack called out.
“Yeah, Dad, I'm here.”
“Would you come upstairs, please. We're in the standard bath.”
“Okay. Be right there.” Jennifer hurried back up the stairs, stopping in the doorway. “What do you need?”
Jack pulled her back into the hallway and spoke quietly, saying, “Listen, I think she's a little uncomfortable about me giving her a bath. Do you think you can handle it?”
“Okay, I'll go watch the brood. You do your best, and let me know when you're done.”
Jack went downstairs and outside to the backyard. He watched the children at play, but his mind was on the fear he had seen in their visitor's eyes. Daniel was right; fear was there.
“Hey, where's Lulu?” Daniel asked.
“I asked Jennifer to give her bath. She acted nervous, Danny, and I didn't think I should push it.”
Daniel nodded as he sat down next to his husband on the patio steps.
“I called everyone I could think of, but no one knows who she is, Jack. The ones who knew what I was talking about said they assumed she was with the Munchkins. Did she tell you anything?”
“Only that she's five. Make that five and three-quarters,” Jack laughed gaily. “Kids always want to be older. Give them a few years, and they'll wish they could turn back the clock.”
“I guess we should call the police,” Daniel commented.
“Let's give her dinner first,” Jack said softly.
“Let's do it in the morning,” Daniel said.
They both smiled at each other, neither wanting to send the little girl into the child welfare system when she obviously was the victim of a bad domestic situation.
~Crap!~ Jack sighed, “I don't think we should wait.”
Daniel replied, “I want her to have one peaceful night, Jack.”
Jack looked away as possibilities ran through his head.
“Angel, if we don't report this, someone might try and turn the tables on us; maybe even claim we abused her.”
“One night, Jack. She needs it,” Daniel pleaded, his heart ruling his intellect, as usually happened where children were concerned.
“You need it ... for her,” Jack spoke softly. “Okay, listen. I'll call Andy in a bit. He still has strong connections with the sheriff's department. He'll, uh, get the preliminary report tied up in paperwork or something.”
“Or something,” Daniel said with a small smile on his face. He leaned in for a tender kiss and then said, “I love you, Jack. Thank you.”
They kissed again and continued their discussion.
“Lulu and Noa seemed to hit it off. We could put an Aerobed in Noa's room for her,” Jack suggested.
“What's the word on David?” Daniel asked.
“Oh, Hammond called right before you came home. He and Jeff had a great time at the Academy with their grandfather.” Jack chuckled. “David wanted to stay over, and Hammond said it was okay, so, unless you have an objection, he'll be back in the morning.”
“Those two have really bonded,” Daniel said softly. “I mean, David and Jeff.”
“Uh, Dad?” Jennifer's nervous voice came over the speaker.
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look, and then both stood. Jack moved quickly to the intercom.
“All done, Jen?”
“Dad, you need to see this. Is Daddy with you yet?”
“I'm here, Jen,” Daniel spoke from behind Jack.
“Well, Dad, uh, you need to ... to come up, then I'll come down, and Daddy can come up.”
“Jennifer ...” Jack said.
“Please come upstairs, Dad,” Jennifer requested, her voice a bit cracked.
“Go on, Jack,” Daniel said, alarm in his voice. “Something's definitely upset Jen.”
His heart sinking, Jack made his way up the stairs to the bathroom. Jen was waiting for him in the doorway, glancing nervously inside at Lulu.
“Come here, Dad.” The teen led Jack over to where Lulu, now clean and dry, was huddled in a large towel while sitting on the toilet lid. Jen smiled at the girl and spoke softly. “Lulu? I promise no one here is going to hurt you, but I need you to show Dad your arms and stomach. Please?”
Slowly, glancing uncertainly between Jack, Jennifer, and the floor, Lulu lowered the towel. Jack gasped at the sight before him and desperately tried to quell his rising fury. Large bruises covered the girl's torso. They all seemed to be different colors, suggesting they'd been inflicted over a period of time. He could even see a couple of distinct hand prints on the pale skin. She also looked half-starved, her ribs showing beneath her skin.
Using all his will, Jack managed to smile at Jennifer and lighten his voice so as not to scare Lulu.
“Jen, please have Daniel come up.”
“Yes, Dad,” Jennifer said. “I'll see you later, Lulu,” Jennifer said before walking out the door. She put her hands to her abdomen and then leaned against the hallway wall. ~Gawd. I think I'm going to be sick.~
In the bathroom, tears were now running down Lulu's cheeks, and so while Jen ran down the stairs, Jack sat down on the bathroom floor and gently coaxed Lulu onto his lap.
“Lulu, honey, who hit you?” Jack asked calmly.
She sniffled, “Am I in trouble?”
~Trouble?~ Jack forced himself to relax. ~You can explode later, O'Neill, but she needs you to be calm right now.~ He stroked her hair and spoke in a low soothing tone. “No, Lulu, you aren't in any trouble. I just want to help you, but to do that, I need to know who hit you.”
In a tiny, barely audible voice, Lulu answered, “Daddy Kevin hit me.” She sniffled some more and began to tremble as she confessed, “I was bad.”
~Bad? Nothing justifies this.~ Jack was boiling inside. “Lulu, Sweetheart, no matter what you did, he shouldn't have hit you. What was it that you did?”
“I ... talk too much.”
A fresh wave of sobs followed that statement, and mechanically, Jack rubbed the girl's back.
~I'll kill him. For crying out loud, she's a kid.~
Daniel's mental words managed to soothe Jack's anger a little, and he turned back to the trembling girl on his lap as Daniel entered the room.
“Lulu, you are free to talk as much as you like here. You will never, ever get into trouble for talking too much, and no one here will ever hit you,” Jack told her.
“Jonny said you don't hit them,” Lulu said, still with a fearful yet hopeful look, clearly wanting further confirmation of this fact.
Daniel sat down on the floor opposite Jack and Lulu. “Jonny was right,” he said gently.
“You won't send me back?” Lulu asked, her voice still small.
Jack and Daniel looked at each other.
“Sweetie,” Daniel began. “Where are your parents?”
“Both of them?” Jack asked, wondering who Daddy Kevin was, basically so he could track him down and teach him a lesson or two.
“Mommy died when I was born. Daddy died in a war. He was a soldier.”
“In a war?” Jack asked.
“Some place called Iraq. I was a baby; don't 'member. Then my new mommy and daddy adopted me.”
“Is that Daddy Kevin?” He was surprised when Lulu shook her head. “Okay, then, where are the parents who adopted you?” Jack asked.
“Dead, too,” Lulu sniffled. “They died last year in a plane crash. I had to go to an orphanage.”
**Gawd, Jack. She's in the system.**
**I thought it had improved since you were a kid.**
**Apparently not enough.** Daniel continued, “So you live with Daddy Kevin now?”
“And Mommy Ruth, but she's never home and ...”
The little girl pulled the towel tighter around herself.
“And Daddy Kevin hits you?” Jack said for her.
“Yes,” Lulu sobbed.
“It's okay, Lulu, let it all out,” Daniel said, reaching over to take her trembling hands. “What happened today? I mean, uh, how did you get to the zoo?”
“Mommy Ruth didn't come home last night. Daddy Kevin was mad. He drinks a lot.”
**I'm going to kill him.**
**Jack, calm down.**
“I was reading out loud, and he told me to be quiet. I asked him where Mommy Ruth was, and he ... he hit me. He told me to be quiet. I tried to be quiet, but I was crying, and I couldn't stop.” Jack held on tighter to Lulu, who was crying again. “He kept telling me to be quiet, but I couldn't. I asked him if I could go to my room, and he hit me again, and again. I ran. He said bad things. Scared me. I ran.”
“Shhhhh. It's okay, Lulu. You're safe here,” Jack whispered, rocking her slightly.
“How'd you get inside the zoo?” Daniel asked softly.
“I cheated,” Lulu admitted. “Saw lots of kids, and I just mixed in.”
“Probably us,” Daniel said.
“Please don't send me back,” Lulu sobbed loudly.
Jack and Daniel looked each other, their eyes saying all that needed to be 'said'.
“You are *not* going back there, Lulu,” Jack said unequivocally. **And Daddy Kevin is going on a nice little holiday to prison, if I don't hand him over to the Goa'uld first.**
“Lulu,” Daniel said softly, “we'll keep you safe, but we need to know more. What's your last name?”
“Is that ... Daddy Kevin's last name?” When she shook her head, Daniel asked, “What's his name?”
“And you're five-years-old?” She nodded. “When's your birthday?”
“Okay, let's get you dressed,” Jack said.
“Jack, I'm going to call Janet,” Daniel said as he stood up.
“C'mon, Little Bit,” Jack coaxed. “We'll go back to Noa's room so you can put some clothes on.”
Lulu chuckled, “That's a funny name.”
“I am the king of funny names,” Jack replied boisterously.
Daniel took a deep breath. He was just as angry as Jack, and his heart was saddened to know that Lulu was probably just one of hundreds.
~Sick, sick people.~ Daniel walked to the master bedroom and called Janet, asking her to come to the house. Then he walked into Chenoa's room where Jack and Lulu now were. He smiled at the young girl as she looked at him. “Jack, about Andy: we can't wait now. Maybe you should call your friend in Social Services. We might need to ask for a favor.”
“Good idea, Love. Lulu, you stay here with Danny, and I'll be right back.”
The little girl watched Jack walk to Daniel who was standing near the doorway.
“Are you going to adopt me? I want to stay here, with Jonny and Danny and Ash. Please adopt me.” The girl began to cry again. “I won't be bad again; I'll never be bad again.”
In a flash, Jack and Daniel were surrounding the girl, each on one side.
“Little Bit, you weren't bad before,” Jack said soothingly. “Here, let's put this on.”
Quickly, they helped the girl put on Jennifer's blouse. It looked like a dress on the little girl. Though it was too big, they took a pair of Chenoa's pants and, with a belt, managed to get it to stay on pretty well.
**Jack, I don't want to leave her alone.**
“How about we take you to meet the rest of the family, Lulu?” Jack suggested.
Daniel stood and offered her his hand. She took it and then expectantly held out her other hand for Jack to take.
**She's such a little cutie, Danny.**
**Jack, we are not letting her go back into the system.**
**I want to keep her, Jack.**
**We are so insane, but ... geez, Danny, so do I.**
They stepped out onto the patio and were instantly surrounded by Chenoa and the Munchkins.
“Lulu! Come meet Ricky 'n' Jenny,” Jonny said, holding out his hand.
Lulu took it, following Jonny and Aislinn over to where Jennifer was sitting with Ricky, Jenny, Bijou, and Katie.
“Dad, Daddy?” Little Danny looked up at his parents, a worried look in his eyes. “You won't send Lulu 'way? She's our sister.”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look.
**Danny, I know we'd made our decision, but ...**
**Sam said we shouldn't make plans. She was right.**
**Little Bit is family. Okay, so maybe it's sudden. More than sudden, but I can't send her back to that scumbag, Danny.**
**She's even got her own patented O'Neill nickname already.** Daniel looked down at the worried face of Little Danny. “No, we're not going to send Lulu away, Son. I'm going to call Grandpa and ask him to bring David back. Then I'm going to take Lulu shopping while Dad talks to everyone like we did a few days ago.”
Little Danny nodded and followed the others over to where Lulu was now playing with her recently acquired siblings.
“Good plan, Danny.”
“I want to just tell her we'll adopt her now, but we owe it to the other children to talk to them first.”
“I can't see any of them not wanting her in the family, Danny. Look at them.”
They watched their children playing, and then Jack began to Daniel watch. When Daniel started to tense, Jack pulled him into a hug.
“Jack,” Daniel's voice broke with emotion. “Bri ... Jeff.”
“I know, Danny. We'll think about that later. Bottom line is that neither of those two are in immediate danger. Lulu is.” He felt Daniel nod, then pull away. ~Lulu is the most needy. Crap!~
“I'm going to phone General Hammond,” Daniel said. ~Gawd, I lied to him. I'm sorry, Jeff. And Bri? We said we wouldn't hurt you, and now, that's what we're about to do. It shouldn't be like this.~
Daniel walked somberly into the house. He stopped at the mantle, taking a moment to look at the family portraits, including photos of his parents, and Jack's, and one of Charlie. He walked over to the fish tank and said 'hello' to his fishes, and then he started to go to the phone. He stopped, seeing Kayla's novel on the coffee table.
“Journey of the Heart,” Daniel spoke softly, rubbing his fingers along the raised letters of the hardbound edition.
Daniel opened the book to an arbitrary place and read:
//Excerpt from Kayla's Book//
The military man stood tall and proud. The day had finally come when they could face the world. He looked at the scientist who had beaten the odds once again.
“It's never been easy.”
“Who needs easy? We only need each other.”
“Then we have all we need.”
They smiled as their fingers played together, neither content to passively touch the other.
“It's our turn now.”
“I never thought I could be this happy. If as a child, I had sat down and planned out my life, I couldn't have imagined this.”
“I never knew, either. You know how I feel about cliches, but, the best made plans are often those never made.”
The lovers kissed and set off towards their forever.
//End of excerpt from Kayla's Book//
Daniel stared at the words again. He stared at them so hard that he took for a moment the words might just burn off the page.
~The best-made plans are often those never made.~ “You're right, Kayla. Who needs plans when we have love to get us through anything?” He looked over at a photo of Kayla on the mantle. “Thank you.”
Daniel made his phone call, but with one additional request added. He was about to rejoin Jack when Janet arrived.
“Thanks for coming,” Daniel greeted her. “I'm sorry I interrupted your, uh ...”
“Dinner, Daniel. Teal'c and I were just having an early dinner since he's going to Chulak this evening, and how could I not come after what you told me. Where is she?”
“Outside.” Daniel led Janet to the patio. “Jack, Janet's here. Why don't you go make that phone call?”
“Phone ... oh, Annie.”
Annie Glenn was an old friend of Jack's, someone he had met through Sara when they had been married and who was now the head of child welfare in Colorado Springs. She had helped them 'rescue' Danny Hopkins from the foster care system several years earlier.
“Excuse me, Janet,” Jack said as he brushed by her.
**Jack, I made a little addition to our ... plans, but I'll have to tell you later.**
**It's, uh, important, but ...**
**Make the call, Babe.** Daniel turned his attention to the children. “Jen, stay with the children. Lulu, this is Janet.”
“Hello,” Lulu said quietly.
Daniel reached out with his hand, saying, “We need to go back upstairs for a few minutes.”
Lulu obediently took Daniel's hand and went with him. Janet smiled at the trust the little girl already seemed to have in Jack and Daniel.
They reached Chenoa's bedroom, and Daniel sat Lulu on the edge of the bed. He put his arm around her and hugged her.
“Lulu, Janet is a doctor and a very good friend of ours. You can trust her. Will you let her take a look at you? We want to make sure that your ...” Daniel couldn't call the man that abused her 'Daddy' and changed what he was about to say, “that your injuries aren't worse than we think.”
Janet smiled at the girl and asked, “Would you like Daniel to stay while I examine you?”
Lulu nodded and slid her small hand into Daniel's larger one.
“Hello,” Daniel said, answering the phone upstairs a while later.
“Daniel, it's Sam. I just thought you'd like to know that everything went as planned with Alec. They had a successful meeting earlier today, and, well, I think your idea of having Alec work with them will be beneficial to both parties.”
Sam was referring to an SGC matter where Daniel had suggested a civilian (Alec) in the Archaeology Department be assigned to help negotiate a dispute between two allies who were battling over territory that had once belonged to each of them.
“Good. I'm glad. Sam, I hate to cut you off, but ...”
“I know, the madhouse, but I thought you'd want to know.”
“I do. Thanks.” Daniel hung up the phone. “Sorry, Janet.”
“That's okay. Now, Lulu, where were we?”
David arrived home, curious as to what was happening.
“Dad, I thought I was allowed to stay with Jeff and Grandpa for the night?”
“You were, Son, but ... uh ... there's been a development. When ...” Jack's explanation was cut off by the Munchkins running up to their brother and beginning to babble excitedly.
“We have a new sister, David,” Jonny announced, grinning.
“Her name's Lulu,” Aislinn added.
“Jonny found her at the zoo, and we 'membered 'Never leave anyone behind'. She's goin' to live with us now, isn't she, Dad?” Little Danny asked as he looked at Jack expectantly.
“Probably.” Seeing the frowns starting to grow on the three young faces, Jack quickly diverted their attention. “We just have to have a family discussion first. Before we do that though, Jen, could you take David up to meet Lulu?”
The teenager hid a grin at the mutinous-looking trio and nodded. She led her brother up to Chenoa's room and knocked on the door.
“Daddy, can I bring David in to meet Lulu?”
Seeing Janet's nod, Daniel opened the door.
“We have a new sister?” David asked, leaning over to get a look. On the bed, he saw Lulu. She seemed lost and fragile. He remembered back when he lived at the shelter. Chenoa used to look afraid, just like this little girl. “Hi, I'm David,” he said, walking past Daniel and going to the bed. “Hi, Aunt Janet.”
“Hello, David,” Janet replied with a smile on her face.
“The Munchkins told me that you're our new sister,” David said casually.
“Munchkins?” Lulu asked.
“The triplets,” Jennifer explained. “We have a lot of nicknames around here.”
“I have a nickname,” Lulu chimed happily.
“What is it?” David asked.
Lulu answered, “He called me Little Bit.”
“Who did?” Jennifer asked.
“Not Jack, Dad,” Little Danny argued, having sneaked away from the others. “Jack is Dad, Lulu.”
Lulu smiled and said, “Dad.”
“Okay, Janet needs to finish up so you guys get back downstairs,” Daniel instructed.
Little Danny reached out, took Lulu's hand briefly, and said, “We family!”
Janet watched the children leave and smiled. With a happy sigh, she commented, “You have an amazing family, Daniel.”
Daniel sat down and replied, “The best.”
The archaeologist was full of gratitude that the family Janet had spoken about was his.
A few minutes later, with all the children present, Jack began the impromptu family meeting. He was pretty sure he knew what Daniel was thinking about, and if he was right, it was a-okay with him.
~Don't know why we made plans anyway, Danny. There's no arbitrary number of children that we can cope with. We have infinite amounts of love, and really, that's all we need.~
“We are keeping Lulu, aren't we?” Jennifer asked anxiously, breaking Jack's train of thought. ~I don't want her going back to wherever she came from. Gawd, I'll never forget what I saw upstairs. I wish I could.~
“That's what I wanted to ask you all. How would you feel about us adopting Lulu as well as Bri and Jeff? Ricky, do you want Lulu to be your new sister?”
Ricky nodded enthusiastically, and Jenny immediately piped up, “Lulu sis'er.”
The Munchkins were also nodding, and Jonny was looking determined. He crossed his arms and glared at Jack. After all, as far as he was concerned, the decision had already been made.
“Lulu belongs here,” Jonny spoke in an exasperated tone.
Little Danny nodded, saying, “Lulu's ours.”
Aislinn and Chenoa agreed, both saying, “Lulu stay.”
Jennifer grinned at her father and said smugly, “I'm with them.”
“Are you sure, Jen? Three more people in the family will be quite an adjustment.”
There was an unspoken question there. Jennifer was the oldest, and with their large family, she already had a large load on her shoulders. Adding more younger children to the mix was only going to increase her responsibilities. The teenager shrugged. Like Jonny, for Jennifer, it had already been decided.
“They're family already, Dad. We love them. Don't you and Daddy always say that that's all that matters?”
Jack chuckled, nodding his head, and answered, “Yes, we do, but listen, and this is important.” Jack's eyes looked at each child. “Jeff, Bri, and Lulu are going to take some extra attention for a while. That means, all of you might have to sacrifice a little bit. For example, our story time might have to be a little shorter for a while so that Daddy and I can spend more time with Lulu, or Bri, or Jeff, and make sure they're adjusting okay. Or, Jonny, you might have to give up some flying time in Jo for a while because ...”
“Lulu stay my room?” Chenoa asked, totally cutting off Jack.
David didn't give Jack a chance to answer, saying, “Dad, I found out today that Jeff likes motorcycles and skiing. Maybe we can get some new stuff for his room.”
“And I still want to take Bri shopping for clothes,” Jennifer noted.
Jonny said, “We go flying lots; bet they like fly, too!”
Aislinn suggested, “Dad, big family fun. We need party; celebrate!”
Jack laughed, “You'd do anything for ice cream. Look, you guys, you're all being great. Daddy and I just need to be absolutely sure. I mean, Lulu just walked in the door.”
Jonny scooted off the sofa and folded his arms. His face was stern. He tapped his foot, waiting.
“Jonny?” Jack asked.
“We have new brother and two new sisters,” Jonny stated sternly, nodding in a quick and definite motion. He turned to his brothers and sisters. “All favor?” Every Jackson-O'Neill child raised their hands. Jonny turned back to his father and stated, “Meeting 'journed. Come on, Ash, Little Danny. Hafta plan party.”
“I'll help,” Chenoa said, following the Munchkins upstairs.
“Jenny help. Need i'cream.”
“Yeah,” Ricky said. “Love party.”
Jack shook his head. He looked back at the two oldest children.
“Dad?” Jennifer spoke. “Why are you surprised?”
“I don't know. It's just ... Lulu just walked in the door, Bri and Jeff haven't really been around all that much, but you guys, you've accepted them. I'm a little overwhelmed at that.”
“Why, Dad? You adopted us, let us stay together,” David commented.
Jennifer looked at her father and spoke sincerely, “I think maybe you've given us so much love that we feel like we have even more to give. Dad, I know you and Daddy are worried that you won't be able to give us the time you used to. I'm not worried about that; I think you will. I think that you and Daddy can do anything, as long as you're together.”
“Now that's the truth,” Jack acknowledged softly.
“Let me ask you something, Dad. You and Daddy planned to have one child when the Munchkins were born. You ended up with triplets. If 'the plan' were so important, which two would you give back? Same with the twins. Who goes back -- Ricky or Jenny? And what about us? The twins hadn't even been born yet, and you adopted us. Eight kids in two years. I don't feel neglected. Maybe it's because the time you give us is quality time. Every day, we all get our five or ten minutes with just you, or Daddy, or both, and every day, we have our family time, and sometimes it's just a couple of minutes, and sometimes it's an hour, but we always have it ... always. Three more kids? I think you'll find fifteen more minutes to give them, and those minutes will be enough, because when you're not with Jeff, Bri, or Lulu, one or more of us will be.”
“That's the key, isn't it?” Daniel said, surprising everyone since no one knew he had been listening for the last minute or so. He was holding Lulu, and Janet was standing beside them. “Jack, Jen's right. We keep thinking it's *us*, you and me, but it's not. It's ...”
“It's all of us. All ten of us are adopting them,” Jennifer said with a wisdom that made both Jack and Daniel proud.
“A family adoption,” Jack stated. He looked at Daniel. “We can do this, and they won't be missing out on anything.”
“Or sacrificing. You two are the best parents,” Jennifer said, adding, “but you're worrying too much. My friends don't understand us, and frankly, I don't care if they do or not.”
“We're a family,” David said. “There's always someone around.”
“How's our Lulu?” Jack asked, standing up and going to Daniel.
Lulu was resting her head on Daniel's shoulder as she listened to what was essentially the end of the family meeting. She yawned.
“She's had a big day,” Janet said. “We need to talk, Jack.”
“I know. David and I will go make sure they don't destroy their rooms. You guys can stay down here and talk. Do you want me to take Lulu?”
“Yeah, you'd better,” Daniel answered, handing the girl over to Jennifer.
“Hey, Sis. Let's go see what the rest of the family is doing.”
“Are you going to be my sister?” the little girl asked, smiling at the term, 'Sis'.
“I already am,” Jennifer assured her.
“A smart one, too,” Jack clarified as he watched them go up the stairs.
Jennifer glanced over her shoulder. It was times like this she really felt like she was contributing to the family, and she could feel both love and pride coming from her parents.
“Sounds like Jen is growing up,” Janet said.
“We've been so worried, Janet, about doing the right thing and not overwhelming the children. I wanted to make sure that the ... well, the new child had all this extra attention. I kept thinking I had to have the time, and Jack had to have the time.”
“We both forgot, Danny. Do you realize our children accepted all three of our new kids before we did? Geez, I'm not sure what that means.”
“There hasn't been any jealousy or ...” Daniel stopped. “We love them. Janet, is it crazy to love a little girl who was a stray brought home by your children just a few hours ago? Hours, Janet. Are we crazy?”
Janet chuckled, “Daniel, what you are is lucky. Both of you. I think you're luckier than you realize. Now, about your daughter, Lulu.”
The two smiled, liking the sound of that.
“What's the verdict, Doc?” Jack asked.
“She's been abused for some time. What she told us was that when her adoptive parents died last year, she went into foster care. She was in three other homes; this one was the fourth,” Janet said, shaking her head.
“Daddy Kevin?” Jack said sarcastically.
“Four months, and apparently, he's been ...”
Just then the doorbell rang.
“Excuse me, Janet. I think that'll be Annie.”
While Jack answered the door, Daniel explained who Annie was to Janet, letting her know they had called her.
Introductions made, the conversation continued, Annie filling in some blanks for the three other adults.
“Kevin and Ruth Guyer have been foster parents for five years. We've had concerns, but up until now, we haven't been able to prove anything. I'll be taking Lulu to ...”
“Oh, no you won't, not without us,” Jack interrupted sternly.
“Jack, there are rules and procedures,” Annie advised.
“We understand that,” Daniel said, “and we certainly want this ... man arrested, but we're keeping Lulu. She's our daughter now.”
Annie stared at Daniel, and then at Jack.
“Do you two always buck the system?”
“Every chance they get,” Janet answered for them.
Annie sighed, “Doctor Fraiser, I'll need you to document what you find out and fill out the required paperwork.”
“Of course, and it's Janet.”
“And I'm Annie. We'll need photos.” Annie paused. “You two are serious?”
“She's ours,” Jack said.
“I'd argue, but why bother? Janet, any serious physical complications that you could see?” Annie asked.
“Physical? Bruises, welts on her back. Those will heal, and eventually, the scars will fade. What might take some time is the fear in her eyes.”
Annie requested, “I'd like to see her interacting with the other children. Can we go upstairs now?”
Quietly, the four walked upstairs. Annie smiled, seeing nine children, all happily playing together. Lulu looked like she'd been there forever.
The children had turned Chenoa's room into a pretend airplane and had lined up the eight chairs into two aisles. Sheets on the floor marked out the outline of the craft, and three seats up the front seemed to be the pilot seats.
“Where'd they get all the chairs?” Janet asked quietly.
“The four in the back are from Noa's tearoom, um, well, that's what we call it. They go with that table over there. The pilot seats are from the Munchkin's room, and the rest are from David's room, and the spare room, I think.”
Jonny, Little Danny, and David were happily sitting in 'the cockpit' seats, muttering away in what they considered to be proper 'pilot lingo'. In front of David were star charts and posters of various constellations from his astronomy studies.
In the eight chairs making up the main body of the aircraft, Ricky and Jenny were pretending to be a couple with a baby. The baby was actually Bobo, the stuffed monkey that had belonged to Kayla as a child. Chenoa and Lulu were each sitting next to 'children' in the form of two very patient beagles. Katie appeared to be asleep while Bijou was enjoying being patted by Lulu and watching her surroundings with a bemused expression. Aislinn was sitting in the final chair with Mittens on her lap. Mittens was following Katie's example, sleeping peacefully. Jennifer was the stewardess.
“This is Captain Jonny Jackson-O'Neill of the ... Danny, what we call the plane?”
“Gatestar Express: first plane ever fly in the stars,” Little Danny grinned happily.
“Right. This is Captain Jonny Jackson-O'Neill of the Gatestar Express. This our first flight, and we're going far away to ... where we going, Danny?”
Little Danny whispered, “To another planet.”
“Oh, yeah. We're going to 'nother planet. Your copilot is Little Danny Jackson-O'Neill, and our ...”
“Flight Navigator,” Little Danny whispered.
“Flight Nav'gator is David Jackson-O'Neill. Ready for take off?”
“Ready, Jonny.” Little Danny saw his brother's scowl. “Sorry. Ready, Captain.”
“Passengers, my name is Jennifer, and I'll be your flight attendant today.”
“I can't believe she's doing this,” Annie said. “How old is she?”
“Fifteen. Why are you so surprised, Annie?”
“She seems awfully devoted,” Annie observed about Jennifer.
“That's because she is,” Jack said happily. “She's not a babysitter, Annie; she's their sister, and it's a role she takes seriously.”
“Buzz! Buzz!” Lulu said, raising her hand to press the imaginary call button.
Jennifer smiled as she leaned over and asked, “And what can I get for you?”
“My baby needs a blanket.”
“I'll get one for you right away,” Jennifer said before going after a blanket.
Annie sighed, “She looks happy.”
“That's because she is,” Janet said. “She's found her home, and she knows it.”
“Okay, I do not want to pull her away from this. Daniel, would you and Jack object if I had two officials come by later tonight and witness what I photograph? We could take the pictures in one of the rooms. Janet can document the injuries temporarily, and tomorrow, you can take her for a detailed examination.”
“Thanks, Annie,” Jack said appreciatively, knowing his friend was breaking a few rules in the process.
“Full tottle, Danny,” Jonny ordered.
“Throttle,” Little Danny corrected.
The adults chuckled as they watched Jonny push pretend buttons and guide the plane to liftoff.
“I'll be right back,” Annie said, walking away to make her calls.
Dinner had finally been consumed, though much later than usual, partly because of the pictures that Annie had to take and partly because Daniel and Jennifer had taken Lulu on a quick shopping trip to get some new clothes. The couple had advised their brood that if all went well, Jeff and Bri would be 'home' tomorrow. Now, all of the children were in bed, except for Jennifer and David who had later bed times. Lulu had been given the choice of a big room all to herself, or bunking with Chenoa. She chose to share a bed, rejecting the Aerobed after Chenoa had said they didn't need it.
Then Jack and Daniel headed in different directions to make some calls.
Jack's first call was to David and Julie Jenkins. It was later there, but he felt a need to make sure things were going well for their Danny, which they were. They made arrangements, too, for Danny to come for another visit right before Thanksgiving. Danny Hopkins-Jenkins was growing up, but he still loved his visits with Jack and Daniel, and in their extended family, Danny was considered a cousin.
~If it had been just a couple of years later, Danny, you would have been ours.~
Happy that all was well with Danny, Jack called their lawyer, Mark Kingston, to bring him up to speed on their decisions. Never the patient type on family affairs, Jack wanted Mark to get the paperwork started.
“All three, Mark ... right ... yes, I'm going to call the President in the morning, but I don't see it being a problem ... What can I say? He likes me ... <laughter> ... We have to take Lulu so the bigwigs can see her; that'll be the first thing, around eight ... No, we're going to bite the bullet; we want to bring Bri home tomorrow; she hasn't met Lulu yet ... I know, it'll be a full day. As soon as we get done with Child Welfare, we'll stop by the shelter ... probably about ten or ten-thirty ... No, sorry, that won't work; we're hoping to reschedule General Hammond's visit to noon. He's bringing Jeff over, and we'll talk to him then ... right ... exactly ... <laughter> ... Three o'clock should work, but are you flexible? ... Good ... I know, we're insane, and that's exactly how we like it ... Thanks ... goodnight.”
Jack hung up the phone.
~I've never been one to call in favors like this, but I love these kids, and if it takes the President of the United States to buck the legal system, then so be it.~
Jack left the study and walked upstairs to the den. Daniel was to phone General Hammond to ask him if it was okay to push back their appointment, and then he was to call Evelyn Bodine, the head of the shelter, to discuss Brianna.
“That's right, Mrs. Bodine ... We're positive; we love Bri, and we want her with us ... we're taking care of that ... no, I don't think we should wait ... There is one thing that you need to know. We're adopting two other children as well as Brianna ... no, Mrs. Bodine, we aren't off our rockers.” Daniel rolled his eyes. “Fate just stepped in. We have the room and more love than you can imagine ... Yes, we realize that changes our situation somewhat, but if we didn't think we could raise them properly and give them the full attention they deserve, we wouldn't be doing it ... We understand that. Mrs. Bodine, we can provide you with all the details so you can document your records when we pick Bri up ... That's right, we'll be around by ten or so ... She's not going back, so please have all her things together ... <big smile> ... We love her! ... I know you're just doing your job, and truly, we appreciate that, but if Social Services has any questions, please direct them to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue ... <chuckle> ... Yeah, I guess you could say we have clout. Have a good evening, Mrs. Bodine. Goodnight.”
“Success or problems?” Jack asked as Daniel hung up his phone.
“Success,” Daniel said with a grin.
“I can't believe you pulled out the President as a lever,” Jack commented, though inwardly, he was pleased as punch at his lover's gumption.
“I couldn't help it, Jack. Mrs. Bodine is just following policy, and adding a child to a group of ten instead of a group of eight is a big deal.”
“What about Hammond?” Jack asked.
“General Hammond said he could come over at twelve. Jack, it's happening. I'm so excited. How crazy is that?”
Jack pulled his husband up from the chair he was sitting in and said, “I don't care how crazy it is. It's right.”
“Love you, Angel.”
“Gawd, I love you.”
Before they got lost in their passion, they decided to check on the children. They began by checking on Aislinn and Jenny.
“Jack, where are they?” Daniel asked, seeing the room was empty.
“Let's check on the boys,” Jack said. They hurried to the room where Jonny, Little Danny, and Ricky slept. It, too, was empty. “Okay, three guesses.”
“They'd better be there,” Daniel said sharply, trying not to panic. They hurried to Chenoa's room. “Gawd, Jack, look at them.”
Like a litter of puppies, all seven of the children -- the Munchkins, the twins, and Chenoa -- were huddled together on the bed, the six Jackson-O'Neill children surrounding Lulu with a warmth she hadn't felt in a year.
“Look, even the girls and Mittens are there,” Daniel said softly.
“Let's go before we wake them.”
The couple walked out and entered David's bedroom, spending some quality time with him before he went to sleep. Then they went to their bedroom, finally able to discuss what they had seen in Chenoa's bedroom.
“We probably should have awakened them and ...”
“No,” Jack said, shaking his head. “Did you see how their little arms and legs were all tangled together? They want Lulu to know she's loved, and they're doing in a way that is magical and wonderful.”
“What if they fall off the bed? They're a little crowded,” Daniel asked, concern in his voice.
“They'll be fine. Bij and Katie are on watch.” Holding hands, they walked over to their bed and sat down. “It's been a long day, Danny.”
Daniel laughed wryly.
“What?” Jack asked.
“When we got up this morning, we had eight children. We decided to make it ten, and now ... gawd, now we have eleven. Who'd ever believe it?”
Jack thought for a moment and then, with a smile, answered: “Jonny, Little Danny, Aislinn, Jenny, Ricky, Jennifer, David, Chenoa, and very soon, you can add Jeff, Bri, and Lulu to that list.”
“I love you, Jack.”
“I think I'm too tired!”
“Just kidding,” Daniel laughed before ravishing his soulmate.
Jack and Daniel were awoken rather early the next morning by excited squeals coming from Chenoa's bedroom.
“J'ck, cr'zy J'ck.” Daniel muttered sleepily as he tried to wake himself up. Jack looked across to see the corners of Daniel's mouth twitch up in a smile. “G'd cr'zy tho'.”
“That it is, Danny.”
After a good morning kiss which had the effect of waking up his lover, Jack went to check on their rowdy brood. He found them all sprawled on the floor in Chenoa's room making banners. Daniel came up behind him, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes and read what the banners said.
“Gawd, Jack. We have the best family.”
Jack simply nodded. The banners that the children were making read 'Welcome Home, Bri' and another said 'Welcome Home, Jeff.'
Jennifer looked up at her emotional parents and smiled as she explained, “Little Danny thought it would be nice to make banners for Bri and Jeff.”
“Look Dad, Daddy, we made badges, too.”
Aislinn ran up and hugged the two men before proudly showing them a sticky paper label on which someone, probably Jennifer, had written 'J-O Family'. The label was decorated with little stick figures. They noticed that all the kids, even Jennifer, were proudly wearing their badges.
“And we made some for Bri, Jeff, and you, too,” Chenoa informed her parents as she and Lulu approached them, brandishing two more labels.
“Can't reach. You have to bend down, Daddy,” Chenoa said with the label at the ready.
David grabbed a chair and put it in front of Lulu, whispering to the younger girl, “Dad has bad knees so he can't bend down easily.”
Jack wasn't sure whether to be touched by David's thoughtfulness or offended at the implication he was getting old. Daniel's snort of amusement at the comment was a reason for mentally communicating, **Paybacks, Danny.** He flexed his knee experimentally and huffed to himself. ~My knees are fine. Strange, now that I think about it. I haven't noticed my knees getting worse. Funny, I expected to need surgery before now. Not being in combat obviously suits them.~
A few hours later, the chaos that was breakfast in the Jackson-O'Neill household was over, Lulu having been instructed that, “Froot Loops were the only acceptable breakfast cereal for a Jackson-O'Neill.”
Eventually, Jack and Daniel prepared Lulu to meet again with Annie. This was the unpleasant part of everything. The night before, Annie and her witnesses had taken photos and witness notes, but now, Lulu had to be thoroughly examined. She was scared.
“I'll be with you,” Annie reassured the girl, but Lulu shook her head and ran to hide behind Daniel. “Do you want Jack and Daniel with you?”
She shook her head, her hands holding on tightly to Daniel's leg as she whispered, “No.”
Annie smiled patiently and asked, “Who would you like to be with you?”
“Jennifer's in school,” Jack explained.
“How about Janet? Maybe we could ...”
Annie stopped her suggestion, seeing Lulu's head again shaking no.
Daniel picked Lulu up and asked, “Why Jen, Little Bit?”
“Jen big sister. Need big sister.”
Daniel felt her arms go around his neck.
**She's trembling, Jack.**
**I'll call the school and then go talk to Jen.**
Jack nodded at Annie and walked off.
“Where's he going?”
“To get Jen. In the meantime, is there paperwork or something we could do?” Daniel asked.
“Let's go to my office.”
Jennifer walked into the Vice-Principal's office, wondering why she'd been pulled out of her political science class, not that she minded really since it wasn't her favorite subject.
“Dad? What's wrong?” Jennifer asked, panicking that something was wrong with one of her siblings.
“Nothing.” Jack nodded to the secretary and led Jennifer away from hearing shot of anyone else. “Jen, you know what Lulu is in for this morning?”
“Yes, I have an idea; the poor thing,” Jennifer answered.
“She's scared, and she's asking for you,” Jack informed the teenager.
“What do you mean?”
“She wants you to be in there when they examine her. Annie says it's okay.”
“Oh. Okay,” the teenager responded, feeling so bad for Lulu. ~Wow.~
“Jen, it won't be easy,” Jack warned cautiously.
“Dad, I've seen her,” Jennifer said in a choked voice. ~And I'll never forget it; wish I could.~ “She really asked for me?”
Nodding, Jack answered, “She said she wanted her big sister.”
Jennifer smiled and said, “Then we'd better go.”
“Look who I found,” Jack said as he and Jennifer walked into Annie's office.
“Jen!” Lulu got up and ran to Jennifer who knelt down to hug her. “Need big sister, Jen,” Lulu begged.
“I'm here,” Jennifer answered softly as she held her new sister close.
“Jennifer, I'd like to talk with you outside for a moment,” Annie said.
Daniel smiled at his daughter and said, “I think it'd be a good idea.”
After Annie was sure Jennifer understood what she was about to get into, the examination began in earnest. When that was done, Annie explained that later that day others in her department would be visiting the Guyer home to get Lulu's possessions. The District Attorney's office had already been contacted about the case of child abuse and were beginning their investigation as well.
“Jen, we'll drop you back at school and ...”
“Need big sis,” Lulu said, holding Jennifer's hand.
“Dad, Daddy, can I please stay home the rest of the day? I think Lulu needs a little special attention from her big sister.”
Seeing Jennifer's loving look and how the two were holding hands, the lovers quickly agreed.
“Okay, let's go get Bri,” Jack said.
“Have two big sisters?” Lulu asked as they walked to their vehicle.
“I'm the oldest,” Jennifer answered. “Brianna is the next oldest. She's ten.”
“Maybe not like me?” Lulu asked with concern.
Jack and Daniel were both about to respond, but Jennifer had everything in control.
“Bri is going to love you, Lulu.”
“She doesn't know me,” Lulu said, shaking her head.
“Trust me. I'm your big sis. I know these things.”
Lulu's smile was huge. She loved her new family, but especially her big sister, Jennifer.
“Big sisters are the best! You ... you protect me?”
Jennifer tried not to get emotional as she responded, “Always, and so will the rest of our brood.”
“What's a brood?” Lulu asked cluelessly as the family settled into the SUV and began their way to the shelter.
“The Jackson-O'Neills; we're a brood.” Jennifer saw the little girl frown, a sad expression on her face. “What's wrong?”
“Lulubelle Lewis, not Jackson-O'Neill.”
Again, Jack and Daniel were about to intervene, but they never had a chance. Their eldest daughter was firmly in control of the situation.
“Oh, yes, you are,” Jennifer said. “You are a Jackson-O'Neill, just like me and Jonny and all of us. We don't need a piece of paper or a judge, or even the President of the United States, to tell us that we're a family, Lulu.”
“I love you, Jen.”
“I love you, too, Lulu.”
Daniel just shook his head, looking out the window. He was too emotional to even speak silently to his husband. Still, his heart was swelling, and his eyes were misty, from the love he had witnessed between his two daughters.
They pulled up outside the shelter and, while Jack and Daniel went inside to finalize the paperwork and collect Brianna, Jennifer and Lulu remained outside. The couple wanted to let Brianna know about yet another member of the family before introducing the two girls.
They were out of sight of the two girls when Jack and Daniel turned to each other and embraced, finally releasing some of the emotion they had been holding in.
“Gawd, Jack. How did we get so lucky?”
“I don't know, Danny, but we are.”
They remained like that for a couple of minutes only breaking apart when an amused voice said, “Jennifer was right, you two are mush balls.”
Daniel turned to the girl who was looking at them with a shy but uncertain smile. He couldn't stop himself from sweeping her into a hug. When he released her, Jack did the same.
“Ready to leave this place forever, Bri?” Jack asked, a big grin on his face.
For the first time, the two saw Brianna look as though she was glowing with happiness.
“You mean it's true? You really are adopting me?”
The two men swept her into a three way hug.
“We'd like to adopt you, Bri, as long as that's what you want,” Daniel told her.
Brianna looked at them and gave a dramatic sigh, saying, “I suppose I could cope with it.”
“Cheeky monkey,” Jack said, ruffling her hair. Then, at a nod from Daniel, he continued, “We want to let you know, though, Bri, that we're also going to adopt Jeff.”
Brianna smiled at this news and replied, “I like Jeff. He promised to play baseball and hockey with me.”
“Ah, Bri, we also met someone else over the weekend,” Daniel began.
“Jonny picked up a stray,” Jack said, opting to just come out with the truth.
“Jack!” Daniel wasn't sure Lulu should be called a stray. ~Then again ...~ “Well, I suppose she was a stray. Her name is Lulu, and she'd run away from her foster parents because she was being abused. Do you understand what we mean?”
Brianna scowled at hearing about Lulu's abuse, and then she surprised her new parents with her next statement: “Did you set T on them?”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a concerned look. They hoped the children hadn't told Brianna the truth about their Jaffa friend without permission.
“Ah, Bri?” Daniel asked.
“What? Jonny and Little Danny said T is one mean fighter and could take down anyone. Well, they didn't exactly say it that way, but I got their drift, and this dude sounds like he's big on honor, too; bet he'd be happy to beat up those loser foster parents.”
Jack hid a grin, responding simply, “I'm sure he would, Bri.”
“Will he teach me to fight like he teaches the others?”
“If you ask him.” Jack held out his hand. “How about we go and finish the paperwork and then blow this place?”
“Is Lulu okay?” Brianna asked first.
“Lulu is going to be just fine,” Daniel said. “After all, she has ten wonderful brothers and sisters to get her through.”
~Ten! They are including me!~ Brianna beamed with delight. “Wow, a big family. I can't believe I'm going to be a part of a really big family. We're a baseball team.”
“Bri, we're a football team,” Jack teased.
“Bri!” Jennifer jogged up to greet her new sister. “I'm so glad you're coming home with us,” the teenager said, hugging the younger girl.
“I ... I missed you, Jen, but ... don't tell anyone I said that 'cause I don't need anyone, remember?”
“Right, you little liar! Come meet Lulu. She's our new sister.”
Having seen Jack and Daniel approaching the SUV, Jennifer jumped out to greet her. Now, she led Brianna back to the vehicle to meet their newest sister.
“Hi, Lulu. I'm Bri.”
“'Nother big sister. Like big sisters,” Lulu replied.
“Well, it's my first time, but I'll try and be good at it,” Brianna told her.
Jennifer grinned as she confidently spoke, “She'll be excellent at it, Lulu.”
With the three children chatting happily, the family made their way home. Jack and Daniel couldn't believe the difference in Brianna. They weren't naive enough to think there wouldn't be any problems with her adjusting to life in the Jackson-O'Neill household, but she certainly seemed much more relaxed and happy than they'd ever seen her.
“Where's everyone else?” Brianna asked as they turned into their street.
“They went out this morning with Sara, but they should be home by now, and in about half an hour Grandpa George should be bringing Jeff over.”
Jack turned the SUV into their driveway, and once it had come to a complete stop, the front door opened and a pile of children came tumbling out.
“Bri! Bri! Bri!” Jonny, Little Danny, and Aislinn said as they all came running up and flung themselves on their newest sister.
Then they turned to Lulu and began whispering. She grinned and took something from the Munchkins.
Jack and Daniel exchanged puzzled and slightly worried looks, especially when they looked at Sara who just grinned at them with an air of innocence.
David was standing by Ricky and Jenny, whispering what seemed to be instructions as they both nodded.
“Everyone ready?” David asked.
The Munchkins, twins, Lulu, and Chenoa nodded.
“Ah, David?” Jack raised an eyebrow in question.
David just grinned, then commanded, “Okay, one ... two ... three ... Now!”
On David's command, his sibling's threw their handfuls into the air. Daniel smiled as the grains of rice rained down on Brianna.
David grinned at them and explained, “This might not be a wedding, but it is a celebration.”
Jack laughed heartily and said, “I think that means welcome to the family, Bri.”
Brianna looked at them, grinning and shaking her head, as she said, “You're nuts, totally nuts.”
Any further comments were cut off as General Hammond turned into the driveway. He climbed out with the explanation, “Jeff didn't want to wait.”
Fortunately for Jeff, his early arrival meant that he wasn't subjected to the rice greeting. However, he'd barely stepped out of the car before he was besieged by enthusiastic Munchkins, dragging Lulu over to meet him.
“Jeff, I found 'nother sister,” Jonny said proudly.
General Hammond raised his eyebrow at Jack and Daniel who nodded that yes, he had heard right.
“An' we brought her home 'cause we never leave anyone behind,” Jonny said.
“They are definitely your children, aren't they, Jack? I wonder how many you'll end up with,” Hammond chuckled.
“I think we've reached our limit, George,” Jack told his friend.
“Right, Jack,” Hammond said, his disbelief evident.
Daniel said nothing for a moment as he looked out over the sea of their playing children. Then, he breathed a happy sigh.
“Eleven is a beautiful number,” Daniel said softly. “We've done what we set out to, General. It wasn't how we planned it, but we wanted children with our heritage, our blood I guess you could say; and we wanted to make the world a better place for some children who might otherwise grow up alone, or worse. Mostly, we wanted children to love. You know something? They're all our heritage, all our blood, because when it comes to family, love and blood are the same thing.”
Daniel took another breath as Jack put his arm around his waist and squeezed him tightly. Daniel loved the contact. He leaned back into Jack, feeling such warmth and goodness that he couldn't find a way to express it.
“You're my genius,” Jack said quietly.
“Little Danny, Bri, Noa, Jonny, Jeff, Jen, Ash, Ricky, Jenny, David, Lulu -- they're all precious; they're all beautiful. I can't imagine not having them, and I don't care how it looks to anyone else,” Daniel spoke.
Jack kissed his lover on the cheek, and then the adults watched as Jeff, surrounded by children, spoke to Lulu.
“You're my big brother, like Jen big sister,” Lulu said a bit quietly.
“That's right, Lulu.”
Much to Jeff's surprise, Lulu hugged him enthusiastically saying, “Love big brothers 'n' love big sisters.”
Hammond smiled and then pulled a file out of his car which he handed to Jack and Daniel.
“Here's the report on SG-8's ambush. Whenever you decide to tell Jeff and the others about the Gate, I suspect Jeff will have questions about his father's death. He deserves to have them answered.”
Jack took the folder and nodded.
“Do you want to be the one to tell him about the Stargate, General?” Daniel asked.
Hammond smiled and shook his head.
“Thank you for the offer, Daniel, but no. You two are his parents now. You should be the ones to tell him.”
“Lulu, want to stay with me?” Chenoa asked a while later.
One by one, Jack and Daniel were getting their new children settled into their rooms, but they hadn't anticipated this, not that they had any objections to it.
“You ... you want to share a room with me, Noa? I mean -- forever?”
Chenoa smiled and nodded before she asked, “You like my room?”
“It's very pretty.” Lulu looked up at Jack and Daniel. “Can I share a room with Noa?”
Jack sat down on his haunches and smiled warmly.
“You can, or you can have your own room. It's totally up to you.”
Lulu smiled and immediately hugged Chenoa as she professed, “I'd like to share a room with Noa.”
“Okay,” Daniel said, also dropping down to be eye-level with the girls. “Noa, your room is smaller than the new ones. Do you want to share a room with Lulu and use one of the spare rooms?”
“No, I want stay near David. Lulu, that okay?”
Lulu immediately nodded, telling her new parents that, “We only need one bed, and I don't need much space and ...”
“Whoa, Lil' Bit,” Jack said, smiling again. “We have plenty of room to add a new bed and dresser for you.”
“We have lots of room, Lulu,” Daniel said, his eyes conveying that she was part of the family now. “We'll go shopping this weekend, and you two can pick out some new things we'll need, okay?”
“Yay!” the two girls exclaimed, jumping up and down. “Come on, Lulu. Let's go play in our room!”
“Jeff, you can decorate anyway you want and ...” Daniel began as they stood in the spare room that was next to the boys' room where Jeff had stayed during his visits with the family.
“Um, Daniel,” Jeff said shyly. “Jack showed me this room upstairs.”
“The one over the new extension?” Jack asked.
“Yes. Um, it's a little noisy here with all the kids, and ... gee whiz, I love them, but ...”
Daniel smiled and asked, “Would you like to use the upstairs spare room?”
“Could I?” Jeff asked, still a bit hesitant with his request.
**He's just a year younger than Jen, Jack, and we know he's responsible.**
“You sure can,” Jack said. “We're taking Noa and Lulu shopping this weekend; we'll do the same with you and Bri. You two deserve to have things you like.”
“You don't have to,” Jeff responded quietly.
“We want to,” Daniel said. “Jeff, this is your home now. It'll never be a replacement for what was with your father, but Jack and I hope that you'll be able to make it, well, a second home. We want you to make it yours, and we want you to be comfortable in your surroundings. We'll go shopping, okay?”
“Thanks,” Jeff said, smiling a bit brighter than usual.
“I like sports stuff. You probably won't want the Great Gretzky on the wall,” Brianna sighed.
“Bri, this is your home. As long as it's reasonable, you can decorate it anyway you want,” Jack stated truthfully. “We're all going shopping for things this weekend.”
Daniel moved to sit next to the ten-year-old on the bed.
“Bri, I've been there. Please don't hesitate to tell us what you want. This is your room, and when someone walks in, they should think, 'oh, this is Bri's room'. The decor should say, 'I'm Bri'. That's what Jack and I want, not just for you, but for all our children.
Brianna smiled and asked, “So, can I get the new X-Box and ...”
“Uh, we'll have to discuss that one,” Jack said.
“That's a 'no',” Brianna said defiantly.
Daniel gently put his hand on Brianna's back as he posed the question, “Bri, do you want to be treated like our little girl, just like we treat Jen, Noa, Ash, Jenny, and Lulu?”
“Of course, I do.”
“So, you don't want special treatment because you're new or had some hard luck.”
“Hey, hard luck is part of life. I don't want to be special like that. I want ... I want ...”
“To be our little girl, like all our little girls,” Daniel said. Seeing her nod, Daniel continued, “Well, then, no on the X-box. We don't allow our children to have any of those video games. We do have the game room and the latest Playstation hooked up to the television in the living room, but it's only for special occasion usage, and we're very particular about what games we buy.”
“No on the X-box?”
“No,” Jack and Daniel said together.
Brianna smiled brightly, feeling warm inside about fitting in. She had decided to keep the room at the end of the hallway, so there was a spare room between her room and that of the three boys.
After Jack and Daniel left her a minute later to check on their other children, Brianna stood and paced her bedroom, taking in the feeling of finally having a real home. Looking out the window into the backyard, she smiled.
~I think I'm going to like it here.~
The 'new' Jackson-O'Neill brood was gathered round for their first official dinner -- pizza, actually pizzas -- freshly delivered from Jack's favorite pizzeria. They had soft drinks as beverages and ice cream for dessert. It was a special day. Even the animals got into the act with special meat bones and cheese nibbles for Bijou, Katie, and Mittens.
As they were about to enjoy their meal, Jonny exclaimed, “Wait! Not all here.”
Jonny got up and started for the stairs.
“Whoa!” Jack called out forcefully. “Where are you going Jonny?”
“Get Bogey, so all family here.”
“I don't think so,” Daniel said. “Jonny, we have a deal. Bogey stays in your room.”
“No 'buts',” Jack said.
“Who's Bogey?” Lulu asked.
“Jonny's lizard,” David answered.
“Little Danny found him,” Aislinn added.
“Don't worry, Lulu. Bogey has his own cage in Jonny's room, and that's where he's staying, right, Jonny?” Daniel asked, or rather, informed the youngster.
“Aw, shucks,” Jonny said, shuffling his feet.
“Pizza, Jonny,” Little Danny said, trying to coax his brother back.
“I wanted to bring Bogey down,” Jonny whined to his brother.
“Give Bogey piece pizza later,” Little Danny suggested.
“You have good ideas, Little Danny.”
“No, that one is a bad idea,” Jack informed the boys. “Pizza is not good for lizards. You can give him some lettuce later.”
“Give Bagel a carrot later?” Aislinn asked about their pet bunny, adding, “She family, too.”
“No forget fishies,” Jenny added.
“Okay, after dinner, Ash can give Bagel a carrot, and Jenny you can give the fish some tubiflex worms,” Daniel compromised.
Jack and Daniel smiled at their very caring children. The quest for equality in a family of eleven children and a variety of pets was going to make life very interesting in the future.
They were still eating when the doorbell rang. Daniel got up and greeted Annie and one of the other child welfare workers. They had two suitcases and a few boxes of things belonging to Lulu. Jack and Daniel thanked them for bringing over the items.
“There's just one more thing,” Annie said, taking a smaller box from her co-worker.
“Oh, no,” Daniel said, seeing holes in the box.
“Can't be,” Jack grimaced.
Annie opened the box and took out a cat.
“Calico!” Lulu almost fell out of her chair as she ran up to Annie who handed her the cat. “Calico, thought I'd never see you 'gain. Love you, Calico.”
Calico was, as the lovers would eventually learn, a one-year old calico cat. She was orange, black, and white and had a smooth coat.
Jack and Daniel looked at each other perplexed, but they didn't have time to think much before Annie explained.
“Mister Guyer has been arrested, but before that happened, we went to get Lulu's things. He practically threw the cat at us. He said it was a stray that she had found, and if we didn't take it, he was going to kill it.”
“NO!” Lulu cried, holding Calico close to her. “Not stray. Mine,” she sniffled.
“No, Lulu. Cal'co safe,” Chenoa said, moving over in front of Lulu.
“Right. Bad mens hafta go through us,” Jonny said, protectively moving in front of Lulu and standing next to Chenoa.
“And through us, Little Sis,” Brianna said, moving to stand behind the girl as if to watch out for attackers.
Before Lulu, and the adults knew it, all ten Jackson-O'Neill children were surrounding Lulu and Calico.
“If Lulu family, so is Cal'co,” Jonny said firmly.
“Cal’co belong here. She match Bijou 'n' Katie,” Jenny added.
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Jack whined.
Daniel looked at Bijou and Katie and asked, “Girls, would you like another playmate?”
On cue, Bijou and Katie jumped on the sofa, slowing nudging their way to surround Lulu.
“And what about you, Mittens?” Daniel asked.
“Meow!” the cat answered, scratching her ear.
Jack and Daniel stared at each other.
“Babe, it seems we now have eleven children, two dogs, a lizard, a rabbit, a tank full of fish, and ... two cats.”
“I can see that,” Jack said, not hiding his surface displeasure.
“Calico stay?” Lulu asked in a tiny voice.
“Calico stays,” Daniel said, smiling.
Cheers filled the room.
“Lulu,” Jack asked inquisitively. “Did you name her?”
The little girl nodded and explained, “Found Calico in field. Mommy Ruth said she was a Calico cat. Pretty name.”
“Makes perfect sense to me,” Jack said.
Lulu hugged her cat closely, her body swaying as she did so.
“Jack, tomorrow I'll call Pam and make an appointment to take Calico to get a check-up.”
“Good idea, Angel. With the attitude that Annie said Mister Guyer had about Calico, we need to make sure she's up to date on her shots.”
“I'll schedule an appointment for her to get spayed, too,” Daniel added.
“I'll go to doctor with Calico. She scared if I not there,” Lulu stated.
“Of course, you can,” Daniel said, giving Calico a pat on the head. “We wouldn't want Calico to be scared.”
“We have home, Calico,” Lulu said, happy tears running down her cheeks.
“That you do,” Jack said, picking them both up. He had a big smile on his face. “You know something, Lulu?”
“What?” the little girl asked.
“You're a real lulu, Lulu.”
Jack gave her a kiss as she laughed, still petting Calico as she leaned her head against Jack's shoulder.
“Daddy?” Little Danny called out as he wriggled around while Daniel tried to tuck him into bed.
“Yes, Little Danny?”
“Tell Lil 'b't 'bou S'gate,” came a muffled voice from the other side of the room where Jonny was busy thwarting Jack's attempts to clothe him in pajamas.
“Ah, I didn't quite understand that, Jonny,” Daniel confessed, grinning at Jack's attempts to catch the toddler's flailing arms.
“When we tell Lulu 'bout Stargate?” Little Danny repeated his brother's question.
“An' Jeff 'n' Bri,” Jonny added as Jack finally got the pajama top over the top of his head.
Daniel and Jack exchanged a look.
**Maybe we should just tell them now, Danny.**
**I guess we might as well. Should we tell them all together, or separately?**
**All together, I think. Let's go round up the troops. The twins are already asleep so they won't be upset at being excluded.**
**I feel bad keeping them in the dark, Jack.**
**Me, too, Danny, but I think they are still a bit too young.**
Daniel nodded, and the two split up to gather together the rest of their brood.
Five minutes later, the children were all sitting on David's bed, looking expectant. David's room was probably the smallest of the bunch, but apparently, no one minded the close quarters they were sharing at the moment.
“Daddy? Dad?” Jen looked at her fathers curiously. “What's going on?”
Daniel smiled at her and said, “We thought we should tell Lulu, Bri, and Jeff about the Stargate.”
“Cool,” David said as he grinned.
“Can we tell them, Daddy?” Little Danny asked, looking pleadingly at his parents.
“Why not?” Jack said with a shrug.
“Okay, go ahead,” Daniel agreed. **This should be interesting.**
The youngster grinned at the permission just granted him.
“It's a gateway to lotsa planets,” Little Danny began.
Lulu and Bri looked stunned.
“Telling us story?” Lulu asked, clearly not buying a word of the tale.
“Na-uh,” Jonny answered for his brother. “It's truth!”
Jeff glanced at Jack, who nodded, indicating that yes, it really was true.
“Big ring, spins 'round, and you walk through,” Jonny continued.
Not to be outdone, Aislinn added, “Ev'ryth'ng go all dizzy then on new planet.”
Brianna folded her arms and looked skeptically at Jack and Daniel as she asked, “Do you think we were born yesterday?”
“It's true, Bri,” Jeff said in realization, putting together a lot of little pieces that added up to make a big Stargate puzzle. He looked at Jack and Daniel. “That's ... that's how my father died, isn't it? There wasn't an accident at Cheyenne Mountain; something happened on another planet.”
Jack nodded and explained, “It can be dangerous going through the Stargate. There are risks involved that we try to minimize, but sometimes it's just not enough.”
Daniel spoke next, explaining, “There are planets that are very safe, though, and if you want to go, we can take you to some of those. Jen, David, and Noa have been through the Gate, and the Munchkins have been to the Nox home world and that of the Asgard.”
“Lil' gray men,” Jonny explained.
“I don't believe any of this,” Brianna said, shaking her head.
Daniel smiled at the doubting girl, promising, “It's true, Bri. The Stargate is a piece of alien technology ...”
He was interrupted by Little Danny taking over.
“Arch'lologists founded it in Egypt in nineteen-twenties, but no one could get it to work. Then Daddy fixed it, and now it works. Aunt Sam says that it opens up a wormhole, and ...” Little Danny continued on.
As their child genius explained how the Gate worked, Jack and Daniel exchanged stunned looks.
**Where did he learn all of this, Danny?**
**Photographic memory, Babe. He seems to retain everything.**
**Yeah, well, we need to teach him English. 'Founded'?**
Daniel stifled a chuckle, looking down and away slightly.
**He's mixing two worlds, Jack. Let's give him a break.**
“It's really neat,” Little Danny concluded.
“I still think this is a joke,” Brianna said firmly.
Daniel moved to kneel in front of her and took hold of her hands as he stated, “Bri, it's the absolute truth. It's why we live so much in the moment, and it's why we cherish every second of every day. The Stargate is a magical thing that lets us do amazing things. We've met a lot of friends, some very special people, and hopefully, you'll get to meet some of them.”
“Wanna meet lil' gray guy,” Lulu said.
Daniel looked at Jack and shrugged as he asked, “What do you think he's doing?”
“Getting a suntan?” Jack quipped.
“Jack!” Daniel exclaimed.
“What do you want me to do, snap my fingers?”
“You never know when he's listening,” Daniel replied with a shrug.
“Daniel, that's a scary thought,” Jack responded.
“Thor!” Jonny shouted, stunning his fathers.
“Yeah, Thor!” Little Danny shouted as well.
“Hey, shhh!” Jack warned.
“I think you're all ...” A bright light flashed. “Oh my goodness,” Brianna said as she beheld a little gray man in the center of the room.
“Thor, good buddy, you are listening in on us,” Jack said, surprised.
“I am not listening in, O'Neill.”
“Sure, you're not,” Jack said doubtfully.
“You called me,” Thor said with his usual careful and precise enunciation.
“That's beside the point.”
“Jack!” Daniel said with a bit of exasperation in his tone. He looked at Thor. “However you knew, thank you. Thor, except, uh, for the twins, these are our children.”
Daniel introduced Thor to all of their brood, though Jonny was a bit indignant.
“Know Thor 'ready.”
“Yes, Son, we know,” Jack said.
Brianna stood and walked to Thor. Tentatively, she extended out her arm and slowly poked Thor in the middle of the stomach.
“I am not the Pillsbury Dough Boy,” Thor said, having already suffered that joke at the hands of Jack not long ago.
**Jack, what have you been telling Thor?**
**Hey, he wanted to know about our culture; besides, I couldn't resist.**
Daniel rolled his eyes and smiled as Brianna sheepishly apologized, “Oh, I'm ... sorry. Are you ... real?”
“I am quite real. Would you like to see my ship?”
“Thor, I ...” Daniel's words were cut off as they were all beamed aboard his ship. “Thor, the twins.”
“Do not worry, Daniel. They are safe.”
**It's Thor, Danny. I'm sure he's got the twins covered.**
“Oh, wow,” several of the children exclaimed, looking around.
“What's the name of the ship?” Jeff asked.
“Oh, gawd,” Daniel said.
“It's called The Daniel Jackson,” Jack said with pride.
“Wow! You named a ship after Daddy?” Jennifer asked.
For five minutes, the children fussed about the ship, so much so that Jack began to feel a little left out.
“Hey, I had one, too,” Jack said to no one in particular, adding, “but it blew up.”
“What Dad?” David asked.
“Nothing,” Jack answered, looking away in defeat.
From across the room, Daniel chuckled, then said, “Thor named a ship after Dad first. It was called The O'Neill, but the Asgard had to destroy the ship. There's a reason, but that story is for another time.”
“Thor, are you sure the twins are okay?” Jack asked.
Daniel looked at him in disbelief, and Jack just shrugged in response.
**Okay, okay, but they're our kids.**
Daniel smiled, feeling better himself now that Jack had actually posed the question.
“They are fine, O'Neill. See for yourself.” Thor pushed a few buttons and then on the view screen were the images of the sleeping twins. “Thor, do you have our house bugged?”
“I do not bug,” Thor answered in a stern tone.
**He's doing something, Danny.**
**Does it matter?**
**No, I guess not.**
“So, Bri, do you believe us now?” Jack asked.
“Oh, yeah. When do we get to see the Stargate?” Brianna asked excitedly.
“We'll arrange something,” Jack responded.
“Thanks, Thor,” Daniel said.
Thor nodded, and in a flash, the Jackson-O'Neills were back in their home, once again in David's room.
“That was so cool,” Brianna said. “Tell me more about the Stargate.”
“Wait a second,” Jack said. “We just had some fun, but secrecy is very important.”
“Can't tell,” Jonny said, shaking his head emphatically.
“Not honorable to tell,” Chenoa said.
“Just for us,” Aislinn added.
They spent the next several minutes discussing the importance of keeping the Stargate and Thor a secret.
“You'll love it, Bri. Maybe you can help me with ...” Jennifer paused and looked at Jack, hoping he knew what she was asking. She smiled, seeing his nod. “There's an exchange program for teens. What we do is ...”
“Broodkins?” Daniel asked, scrunching his face at his lover.
Jack just shrugged, then said, “It's late. We can talk more about this tomorrow.”
“Everyone in bed,” Daniel said. “Come on, Sproglet,” he said, picking up his namesake, who was yawning. “You've had a busy day.”
“Daddy?” Little Danny said.
“Thor keep us safe, too.”
Daniel smiled and said, “Yes, he's a good friend.”
With the youngest children fast asleep, Jack and Daniel were downstairs with Jennifer, Jeff, Brianna, and David.
“So, that's a little more detail about the Stargate Program,” Daniel concluded.
Jennifer looked at her siblings and added, “It's also why we have a lot of rules around here, but we have to count on each other to keep the little ones safe.”
“I understand,” Jeff said. “I knew Dad's work was confidential, but I just didn't know how far it went.”
“Jeff, if you want to know the details, we can tell you,” Daniel offered.
“I do, but not tonight, maybe ... later.”
“Know this, Jeff,” Jack said. “Your father was a hero. What he did, and how he died, was all in defense of our *world*.”
“All my fathers are heroes,” Jeff said with a small smile, prompting smiles from everyone in the room.
“We're really for real, aren't we?” Brianna asked.
“What do you mean?” David asked.
“You wouldn't tell us this if ...”
**Gawd, Jack, she's still afraid we'll send her back.**
“Bri,” Jack said, leaning forward in his chair, “you guys are here for good. We love you, and you're part of this family now.”
Brianna looked at Jack, and then at Daniel, and said, “I know you've said that, and ... it's just ...”
“Bri, we don't leave anyone behind,” Jennifer said, putting her arm around her sister.
“And we don't do trade-ins, either,” David quipped.
“It's for real,” Jack added.
“It's forever,” Daniel said.
“I didn't mean to doubt you, but ...”
Daniel got up and walked to the sofa, kneeling down in front of her.
“It's okay, Bri. If you get scared, you tell us. You're our daughter.” He saw the young girl's expression brighten. “There's nothing you can do to make us send you back because we could never let you go, not ever.”
“Daddy?” Brianna asked, full of doubt at her usage of the parental name.
“That's me,” Daniel said.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too, Bri.”
The two hugged.
“Hey, can I get in on some of that action?” Jack asked, extending out both arms.
Brianna stood up and hurried over to Jack, leaning forward to hug him.
“You're safe here, Bri. This is your home. If you need time to get used to that idea; if you need time to believe it, that's okay. We've got all the time in the world. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Dad. Thank you for adopting me.”
They all talked a while longer, about the family and the Stargate, and the responsibilities of the four oldest members of the family, and as they talked, Jack made them all root beer floats as a special treat.
“Yes, Love,” the older man said as they snuggled together in their bed.
“Thank you for adopting me,” Daniel spoke softly.
“What?” Jack chuckled.
“You said I looked like a lost puppy you had to take home and adopt.”
Jack chuckled again, remembering how he had found a very lonely and sad-looking geek in the cold corridors of the SGC after they had returned from the second mission to Abydos.
“When you told Bri about having all the time in the world, I remembered that's what you used to tell me,” Daniel recalled.
“Yeah, I did.”
“I love you, Jack.”
“And I love you, Angel.”
The next morning, Daniel was helping Lulu settle in. They hadn't had a chance to neatly pack away her things that they'd purchased the prior morning, not to mention what Annie had brought over last night. Plus, the kids had all brought in toys and gifts that Lulu could call her own.
Lulu was sitting on the three-quarter bed that she and Chenoa were sharing until the family went shopping and purchased a separate bed for Lulu as well. The five-year-old was holding Calico in her arms as she chatted with Daniel about how Jack had surprised him with Bijou and Katie one year for his birthday. As he was talking, Daniel was sorting and organizing, trying to figure out what would go where. Until they purchased new furniture, Lulu would be sharing Chenoa's drawers.
~I can't believe the stuff she's put in here.~ “So, anyway, I heard this whine, and it wasn't coming from Bijou.”
Just then, a pair of socks dropped onto the floor. Lulu put Calico down and scooted off the bed to pick them up. At the same time, Daniel bent down to pick them up, unaware of Lulu's actions.
“No,” Lulu said, backing up on her behind towards a drawer.
Lulu immediately went into a closed-off position, hugging herself. Daniel stared, stunned. What had he done?
“Gawd,” Daniel spoke, realizing he was holding a ruler in his hand that he'd pulled out of the drawer. Seeing fear in the little girl's eyes, Daniel knew that his sweeping motion downward, combined with his holding the ruler, had caused Lulu to become afraid. Quickly, he put the things he was holding on the side of the bed. Slowly, he sat down on the floor, opposite Lulu. “I'm sorry, Lulu. I didn't mean to frighten you. Noa has a lot of stuff in her drawers that I didn't know was there, including that ruler.” He let out a tiny snort. “I think we need to have a little chat with her about that.”
Lulu blinked a couple of times as she said, “Jonny say no hit me.”
“Never, Lil' Bit, not ever,” Daniel reassured, his eyes a bit misty. He didn't move towards the little girl, knowing she needed to come to him. “Lulu, I need you to know something about when I was a little boy.”
“What?” the little girl asked meekly.
“My parents died when I was eight. I, uh, saw it.”
Lulu's eyes grew wide as she asked, “You saw parents die?”
Daniel nodded and explained, “We were at a museum, and they were setting up an exhibit. A cable broke, and this, uh, large stone crushed them to death.”
“I sorry,” Lulu said, her eyes watering.
“Me, too. After that, I went into the foster care system, just like you.” Daniel saw Lulu relax a little bit. Her hug wasn't as tight, and her knees slid away from her slightly. “It, uh, wasn't a happy time for me. People brought me into their homes so they could collect money from the state, not because they wanted a little boy to love, and uh, well, they ...”
Daniel got a faraway look. He didn't like to remember the pain and abuse he had received as a child after the death of his mother and father. Fortunately, it all seemed so remote to him now that those memories didn't cause him to retreat as they used to.
Lulu moved to sit on her knees, moving a few inches towards Daniel.
“They hit you?”
“Yeah,” Daniel answered as a sad sigh while nodding at the same time. “I took my share of hits. I had bruises and pains a little child should never know about. Some of them, the, uh, people who took me in, were drunks, and I was ... in the way. It, uh ...”
Lulu scooted closer to Daniel.
Daniel smiled as he whispered, “A lot. I cried a lot, too. I used to wonder what I'd done wrong. Why was I so bad? All I wanted was someone to love me,” Daniel said with a cracked voice.
Lulu moved to where Daniel was. He was sitting Indian-style, and she put her hands on his knees.
“I love you,” Lulu said with the honesty and simplicity that only a child could express.
“And I love you, so much,” Daniel responded, a tear running down his cheek.
Lulu saw the tears. She moved onto Daniel's lap and wiped the tears away.
“Why crying? Because they hit you?”
“No, because they hit you, and no one should ever done that.” Daniel caressed her right cheek for a moment. “Lulu, in our house, we love; we never hit. I know it will take time for you to really believe that, but it is the truth. You're our daughter now, and Dad and I want to see you smile, not cry.”
Lulu looked Daniel in the eyes. She surprised him by getting off and reaching up onto the bed. A few seconds later, she settled again in Daniel's lap.
“Noa shouldn't keep ruler in her drawer,” Lulu said, handing Daniel the ruler. Daniel looked down, staring at the ruler. “You not hit me,” she spoke confidently.
“Not ever, Lil' Bit. I promise.”
Lulu threw her arms around her new father.
“No need to cry. I okay.”
Daniel sniffled as his arms went around the young girl while the ruler lay in his lap.
“Danny, do you ...” Jack walked in, immediately becoming concerned. “Is everything okay in here?”
Lulu stood up, taking the ruler back, and asked, “I'll go tell Noa about the ruler, okay?”
“Okay, Lulu,” Daniel said, smiling as the young girl ran by Jack.
Daniel sniffled a little as he stood up.
“Jack, we have to be very careful. I mean it; we can't forget what the last year has been like for her.”
“Hey,” Jack said, pulling his lover to him.
“Hold me, Jack. Gawd, I need you to hold me.”
“I'm right here, Angel. I love you.”
Daniel nestled his head into the safe haven of Jack's neck while Jack's hands soothed his husband with tender touches and caresses on his back.
“We can't forget.”
“We won't.” Jack wasn't sure exactly what had happened, but he knew Daniel would fill him in just as soon as he felt safe himself again. Jack reaffirmed silently his vow made years ago to the man who was his heart. ~No one will hurt our children, and I swear on all that's holy, no one will ever hurt you again, My Angel -- no one, not ever!~
Later that evening, after a day of adjustment and getting all their children settled, assigning chores, and making new routines, the family ate dinner and then assembled in the living room.
“So, for the newbies,” Jack said, chuckling, “we always have this family time. Some days, it's only a few minutes, but the important thing to know is that if you need to talk, we're always here. We love you.”
“All of you.”
Lulu was sitting on Daniel's lap looking around the room and then she noticed the Jackson-O’Neill family pictures on the mantle.
“Who's that?” Lulu asked, pointing to a picture of Charlie.
“That’s Charlie; he's our big brother,” Jonny answered.
“He died,” added Little Danny sadly.
The Jackson-O’Neills spent the next hour talking and sharing happy memories about Charlie, Kayla, and Daniel’s parents.
Family time ended by getting to know a bit more about each other. They played a memory game where they tried to remember everyone's answers to various questions, like 'my favorite color' and 'my favorite food'. It had been a great way to finish up the evening.
Then Jack and Daniel made a discovery. It was a simple thing, but it reinforced to them that they had made the right decision.
The last question was 'my middle name is', and when Jeff's turn came around, they discovered that his middle name was Bryce.
When the game was done, they asked Jeff about it.
“Bryce is an interesting name,” Jack said.
“I prefer Jeff, but it's a neat middle name. Do you know where it came from?” Jeff laughed. “Of course, you don't. I was named for Bryce Canyon in Utah. My mother grew up not far from there, and it's where my parents met.”
“Bryce Canyon?” Daniel asked, stunned.
“Yeah. Have you been there?”
“Oh, yeah,” Jack said. “It's a fantastic place for a picnic.”
Jeff smiled. He pursed his lips, hiding a question.
“What is it, Jeff?” Daniel asked.
“I know you said I didn't have to, but, if I want to, could I call you ... I mean ...”
Jack and Daniel both smiled, and it was Jack who said, “Jeff, if you're more comfortable calling us by our first names, that's okay, but if it feels right to you, and you want to, I'm Dad, and he's Daddy.”
Jack looked over at his lover and smiled.
“It's up to you, and you can change at any time,” Jack added.
“I ... I think I'd to try it ... Dad, Daddy.”
The three hugged, and the lovers reinforced that Jeff's birth father would always be a part of their lives.
“We never forget,” Jack said.
“I have a photo of my dad and my mother. Could I put it on the mantle?”
“You sure can,” Jack answered softly.
Just then, Lulu came over and asked Jeff to help her with something, leaving their parents alone.
“Bryce Canyon,” Jack sighed. He laughed softly, saying, “It's fate, Danny.”
“Yeah, it is,” the younger man responded, a smile etched on his face.
//End of Flashback//
Now, the night was etched was darkness, and Jack and Daniel were sound asleep, nestled into each other. A tiny tap on their bedroom door was barely audible, and then a moment later, a little girl slowly opened the door, her head peeking around the corner. She saw the two men sleeping. Quietly, she walked to Jack's side of the bed and stared. She kept staring, leaning up as close as she could get to Jack's face.
~Hmm ... no, uh ... staring ... wake up, O'Neill; someone is staring at you. I feel it.~ Jack's eyelids fluttered open, and his eyes focused on the body whose intense glare never wavered. He smiled, seeing Lulu. Of course, he could have lived without Calico, the cat Lulu was holding. “Hey, Lil' Bit. Is something wrong?”
“We really stay here?” Lulu asked shyly.
“Forever,” Jack said, his right hand reaching out to rub lightly against her left upper arm.
“Calico, too,” Jack reaffirmed.
“Noa didn't mean to put the ruler in her drawer,” Lulu stated, though it was partly a question.
“I know. A ruler is something we use to measure distances, and that's all,” Jack whispered.
Lulu looked at Daniel who was muttering, but had not awakened.
“Daniel never hit me.”
“Daddy will never hit you,” Jack said, reinforcing that they were her parents now. “And neither will Dad, and Dad is me.”
Lulu smiled, saying, “Home?”
“This is your home,” Jack said with a gentle smile.
Lulu held her cat to her cheek and said, “Cal'co, it wasn't a dream. We do have a home now.”
Calico meowed in response.
Jack grinned pridefully at Lulu's use of the name.
“Daniel Daddy?” Lulu asked quietly.
“Night!” Lulu exclaimed.
“Goodnight, Lil' Bit. I love you!”
Smiling, Lulu and Calico returned to their bed in Chenoa's room and to a peaceful slumber.
Meanwhile, Jack ran his hands along his husband's back and kissed the top of his head.
“I love you, Angel.”
“Love, too,” Daniel muttered, never having woken up for real.
Jack laughed happily and returned to sleep.
There would be a lot for Jack and Daniel to learn about their newest children, and Brianna and Lulu would each take plenty of extra attention for a while, but they'd already learned the most important lesson -- eight may be enough for a television show, but it definitely wasn't enough for the Jackson-O'Neills!
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