Reading Together

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - January 12-24, 2011
Spoilers:  None
Size:  39kb, short story
Written:  April 9-12,21,23-24, 2018
Summary:  Jack and Daniel add a little something to their routine.  Later, a surprise visit stirs things up.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s):  “It's Raining ... Kids?”

Reading Together
by Orrymain

Jack and Daniel were at the offices of J-O Enterprises discussing a project when Jack commented, “Danny, I think we need to try something new.”

“New, with the project?”

“Oh, ah, no, I meant with the kids.”

“Jack, we were talking about ...”

“I know what we were talking about, but this just popped into my fron.”

“Your fron?”

“My head, and I'm not having a flashback to that head-sucking thing.  I was trying to be funny.”

“You failed.”

“Thank you, but I do have a good idea.”

“Okay.  What's your idea?”

“Story time.”

“Story time?”  Daniel saw his husband's head nodding.  “Jack, we read stories with the children all the time.”

“In groups.  We read with the Munchkins, with the Spitfires ... Danny, I'm talking about reading together as a family, all of us, at one time.”  Jack sat forward in his chair and looked his lover in the eyes as he elaborated.  “Look, reading is important.  There's too much TV and nonsense out there.  We agreed on that a long time ago.”

“We did.”

“The kids are at different reading levels, which makes sense since Jen is fifteen and the twins are three, but they all love to read.  If we select stories for all ages, we could potentially expose the kids to thousands of new words.  It could be a boost to their education, in more ways than one.”

Daniel leaned forward as well, his elbows on his desk, and replied, “We make it a pre-movie and ice cream event.  Like you said, we can select a range of stories.  It could be a romance or an adventure.  We have to be realistic, Babe.  There's a chance Jen, Bri, and David might not feel very stimulated by it.”

“Who says they have to be stimulated every second of their lives?” Jack countered.  “This is about doing something positive, as a family.  Name me one good reason why we can't devote a half-hour to reading a story together once or twice a week?”

“Being together, participating as a unit in something positive.”

“That's my point, Danny.  It's not class; it's just fun, like playing pinball or tag, only it's reading a story.”

“There are other pluses to this, Jack.  I mean, it's more family time, more opportunities for the children to build bonds beyond playtime.”

“There's that,” Jack agreed.  “You can say a lot with a good book.  Our kids know they can come to us, and they do, but there's always the chance as they get older, they might end up in situations they aren't sure how to handle.”

“Books are a great way to start discussions about sensitive topics.  Reading together could be another tool we could use if we sense an issue with any of the brood.”

“And it'll be fun.  Come on, Angel, there's nothing like a good book.”

“Nothing?” an alluring Daniel probed.

“You got me.  There's *almost* nothing like reading a well-written book,” Jack corrected.

“I'm all in.  What do we start with?”

“When we get done here, let's go by the bookstore and see what jumps out at us.”

“Good idea.”

“It happens.”

“It sure does,” Daniel complimented with a pleased expression.  “I hate to do this, but ...”

“Yeah, back to Cindy's project.”

“Cindy.”

“What?”

Chuckling, Daniel responded, “That's where you got this idea, from Cindy who could be Cinderella, a fairytale: a story.  You lost your focus.”

Jack shrugged, his grin admitting his mind wandered away from Cindy Cunningham's archaeological project to Cinderella and her Prince Charming, although Jack's mind was on his Prince Charming, a “sexy thang” named Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.

====

The very first reading together session was held that Saturday with a book that Jack believed was the perfect tome to start with, “The Wizard of Oz.”  It was an abridged version with lots of pictures to keep the children engaged in the story.

The entire family took turns reading the book, starting with Jenny.  The kids and their parents continued reading paragraphs.  Chenoa struggled a bit, but she made it through.

“Your turn,” Chenoa said to her newest sister.

Lulu pursed her lips.  Her muscles tightened.  Her black eyes focused in on the words.  She really wished she didn't have to read aloud in front of everyone.  She was new to the family, her adoption papers still awaiting final legalization, and didn't want to stand out in a negative way.

Across the room, four-year-old Little Danny sensed his new sister's nervousness.  He stood up, his fingers holding his place in the book, and walked over to Lulu, sitting down next to her.

“Go on, Sweetie,” Daniel encouraged.

“She's nervous, Daddy,” the middle Munchkin advised.  “I make better.”  The boy raised his left hand to keep his words private and whispered something to the black-headed girl.  “Think that,” he concluded.

Lulu turned beat red.  She tried to stifle her outburst, but failed.  She literally spit out a giggle and that giggle led to another, and another, and another. She laughed really loud and couldn't stop.

Laughter being contagious, it wasn't long before the entire brood was laughing, though only Lulu and Little Danny knew why it was happening.

“Funny, huh?”

Lulu nodded, looked at the book, and read her paragraphs out loud.  When she was done, she smiled at her little brother and hugged him.

“Thank you, Little Danny.”

“It okay.  We help each other 'cause we brood; you brood, too.”

This time, Lulu's giggles were full, not of humor, but of love.  She loved her new family and prayed no one would ever take her away from them.

The reading moved forward until the book was finished.  Jack's idea was a success, evidenced by the positive remarks and happy faces.  Afterward, the family watched the movie version of the book while enjoying popcorn and ice cream.

As the children began to head upstairs to ready themselves for bed, Jack called over Little Danny.

“Yes, Dad?”

“Son, what did you say to Lulu?”

“I say lots ta Lulu.”

“When she was nervous about reading,” Jack clarified.  “She looked at Daddy and me and giggled.”

“Oh,” Little Danny responded as he started to laugh.

“More words,” Jack encouraged.

“I tell her think of you 'n' Daddy like New Year's baby we see on TV.”

“In diapers?”

“With black hat and sash with year on it, just like Baby Happy New Year.  I hear it somewhere; no 'member where; see babies in diapers makes not nervous; makes us laugh; feel good.”

“You have a point there.  Daddy and I will be up soon.”

“'kay,” the boy responded and then headed upstairs.

“What was that about?” Daniel asked when he approached his husband.

“Little Danny told Lulu to envision us in diapers, like Rudy's friend, the Baby New Year in the TV special.  That's what had her all giggly and red-faced.”

“Oh, that's, uh, interesting.”

“It's an opening.”

“Huh?”

Jack chuckled and suggested, “Us, no diapers, no ... anything.  Thirty minutes?”

“Bare naked ... in thirty.”

The plan for their sensual rendezvous made, the lovers cleaned up the room before making their nightly rounds with their children.

====

A little more than a week later, Jack and Daniel were busy with their brood.  It was Monday in the late afternoon.  Jennifer, Jeff, and David were all home from their schools, high school for the two older kids and private school for David.  It was a nice day out, for Colorado Springs in January.  Clear skies made lower temperatures more bearable, as long as they dressed warmly.

With a half-hour or so left before dinner would start to be prepared, Daniel was upstairs putting away laundry, or trying to put clothing in the proper place.  He was hampered by Ricky, age three, who kept taking out the clean and folded clothes that Daniel put into drawers.

“Ricky, what are you doing?”

“I biz-man; hafta go biz trip.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Why are you putting your clothes on the bed?”

“Not bed.  See su-case.”

Daniel thought for a moment and drew a quick breath as he made the connection and replied, “Your suitcase.”

“Blue, like blankie,” the boy advised as he held his beloved blue blanket close to his chest.

“Blue is a good color.”

“Dad fav'rite.”

Daniel mused, “You're right about that.”

“Need socks.”

“Which ones?  I have white, blue, and brown.”

Ricky thought for a moment, much like Daniel did a minute earlier, and answered, “One blue, one brown, and whites.”

“One blue, one brown, and the white pair?”

Ricky nodded, Daniel shrugged, and then the boy took the socks handed to him and pretended to pack them.

“How long will you be gone?”

“Back for lunch.”

“Long trip.  Good luck.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

Daniel chuckled as Ricky left the room, carrying an imaginary suitcase and his blanket.  He saw the Spitfire stop and sit down right in the middle of the hallway.

“Aren't you going on your trip?” Daniel asked as he walked to the doorway.

“Waiting for taxi, Daddy.”

“Of course.”

“No get run over,” the boy warned his father.

“I don't want that,” Daniel replied, backing up and returning his attention to his chore.  He chuckled internally as he re-folded the clothes and put them away for the second time.  He shook his head in amusement as he sorted and correctly matched up the colored socks before stashing them in the drawer.  “One blue, one brown, and two whites.  That's our boy.”

====

Jack, meanwhile, just finished a game of Hide and Seek.  Having been found and pounced upon by every child in the household under seven, he was sweaty and disheveled.  He was heading upstairs when there was a knock on the door.

“Annie,” Jack greeted friend and Child Welfare worker, Annie Glenn.

“Hello, Jack.  You look ... great!”

“I was just the 'seek' in a game of Hide and Seek.  Have you ever been sought and found by a group of kids who saw this as their chance to tackle their old man?”

Laughter filled the doorway as Jack invited, “Come on in.”  His eyes, though, were aimed at the unknown male next to the woman.  He was distinguished looking, in his fifties or early sixties with graying hair, black eyes, and a small scar near his right ear.  ~Wonder who this guy is.~

“Jack, this is Clifford Ketlinger.”

“Jack Jackson-O'Neill,” the general stated while shaking the man's hand.

“How's everything going with the new three?” Annie inquired.

“Great.”

“Problems?  Issues?”

“We're family, Annie.  Not every day is perfect, but we get through the difficult times,” Jack responded.

“Where's Lulu?” the child specialist asked about the six-year-old.

“In the backyard,” Jack responded a bit hesitantly.  ~What the heck is going on?~

Annie and the man walked over to the sliding patio door and looked out.

“Which one is Lulu?” Cliff asked Annie.

“The curly-haired one with black hair, playing with the Shirley Temple version,” Annie joked.  “Her name is Chenoa.  Jack and Daniel adopted her, her brother David and her sister Jennifer after the triplets were born.  They're the three playing in the sandbox with ... what are doing?”

“They're on a treasure hunt with Katie,” Jack answered.

“Katie?” queried Cliff.

Annie advised, “She's that darling beagle watching the triplets.”

The man nodded and refocused on Lulu.  He watched as she skipped over to Jennifer, who was on the phone as she sat in the gazebo.

“And who is that?”

“That would be Jennifer,” Jack answered.  “Annie?  A word.”

“In a minute, Jack.  This is important.”

“Typical teen: on the phone,” Cliff observed.

“Not anymore,” the general interjected with a nod.

Annie and Cliff saw the teenager putting down her phone and exiting the gazebo.  She was quickly engaged in some sort of game with Lulu.  The two were joined by the Munchkins within a minute.

“Interesting,” the man noted.

“What you mean is that you're surprised my teenage daughter ended a phone call with her best friend to play with her younger siblings,” Jack stated somewhat firmly.  “Happens all the time.  Jen has her time for gossip and girly stuff, but she values her siblings and the time she has with them, too.”

Annie gave Jack a bit of a glare and then distracted Cliff by pointing out, “David's over there, pushing Jenny on the swing.”

The man looked, but quickly returned to Lulu.  He noted her laughs and giggles and how she interacted with the other children.

“And she's the one who was treated like a rag doll by Mister Guyer?”

“You've seen her records, Cliff.”

“Kids are amazingly resilient.”

~Who *is* this guy?~ Jack wondered.  ~And how long am I going to allow this to go on.  Better throw me a crumb, Annie, before I kick you both out of my house.~

“There's Brianna,” Annie told Cliff.

“Where's Jeff?”

“Someone call me?” the teenager said as he walked into the living room.  “Sorry.  Am I interrupting?”

“No, Son, you're not.  You remember Annie.”

“Yes.  Hello, Ma'am.”

“Jeff, that makes me feel so old,” Annie spoke teasingly.  “Jeff, this Mister. Ketlinger.”

“Hello.”

“Um, Dad, I could use a little help with my math assignment.  It's trig and I can't quite figure it out.”

“How about right after dinner?”

“Thanks.  Is it okay if I go outside and kick around with the brood for a while?”

“Go ahead.”

“Thanks.”

Jeff nodded at Annie and Cliff and then went outside.  He was immediately greeted by the other children who began to huddle again.

“Jack, we'd like to speak with Lulu.”

**Daniel, get your butt down here *now*!** Jack communicated via the couple's special silent communication link.

**What's wrong?**

**I'm not sure, but move it.**  Jack responded to Annie, “Why?”

“Jack, I know your natural instinct is to protect your children, but you have nothing to protect them from right now.  Please trust me.  We need to speak with Lulu for a moment.”

“Annie, hello,” Daniel greeted as he approached with Ricky on his tail.  “Ricky, go outside and play with the brood.”

“Okay, Daddy.  Hi, Annie.”

“Hello, Ricky.”

“Hello, Mister.  Goodbye, Mister.”

“Goodbye,” Cliff responded, inwardly amused but not showing it.

“Daniel, this is Mister Kettlecorn.”

“Ketlinger,” the man corrected.

“My husband, Daniel Jackson-O'Neill,” the general introduced.  To Daniel, he said, “They want to talk to Lulu.”

“Alone,” Annie noted.

“Uh, why?”

“It's in their genes,” Annie explained to Cliff.  “Daniel, please trust me.  Let us talk with Lulu.”

Daniel looked over at Jack, who gave him a shrug while shaking his head.  That meant an unhappy and undesired yes.

With reluctance, Daniel walked to the door and opened it.  He called out to Lulu, who came running.  He kneeled down on his haunches and explained to her that Annie and the man wanted to speak with her for a minute.

“Is that okay with you, Sweetie?”

“Okay, Daddy.”

Jack took Annie and Cliff aside for a moment and said, “You see that smile on my little girl's face?  She'd better still have it after your little chat.”

“You're a tough one, Mister Jackson-O'Neill.”

“General.  *Major* General.”

Receiving the pointed message, Cliff nodded and then joined Annie as they prepared for a chat with Lulu.

“Where would you like us to sit?” Annie asked Lulu.

“The sofa is very comfy.”

“We need a private place.  Do you have a study or ...”

Daniel could feel his lover's ire, all stemming from frustration.  He spoke up before Jack could speak.

“Uh, please use the living room.  We'll step outside and make sure none of the children come in.”

Once they stepped outside, Daniel's hand went to his husband's chest as he pointed out, “We can watch from here, subtly, without Lulu knowing, and it beats her being in an enclosed room with a man she doesn't know.”

“Right.”

Jack and Daniel didn't like what was happening, mainly because they didn't really understand what was happening.  The adoption was going through, regardless of laws and rules, thanks to behind the scenes maneuvering coming from the White House.  The lovers had pull there due to their time at Stargate Command.  Saving the planet once or twice a year, and sometimes more, earned Jack and Daniel extra privileges that often confounded those instructed to go along, but who didn't have knowledge why the instructions were given.  Still, it was necessary for various government procedures to be carried out in the adoption process.

--

Casually, Annie inquired, “Lulu, how are you doing?”

“Good.”

“Tell me what you do in a typical day.”

“We don't have typical days.  We have adventure days.”

“What are those?” Annie asked.

“Just days, but every day is different.  A new day is a new adventure,” Lulu answered as her feet projected out and back several times.

“Okay.  Tell me about yesterday.  What happened when you woke up?”

“I asked Noa if she was awake.  Noa's my best friend and my sister.  We sleep in the nursery.”

“The nursery?” Cliff asked in surprise.

“It's a nice-size room, Cliff.”

“I could have my own room, if I want, but I like it in there.”

“Keep going.  When you got up, you ...”

“Well, I talked to Noa for a few minutes and then we both got dressed and we went to breakfast.”

“Who cooked breakfast?” Annie inquired.

“Um, Daddy and Jen.”

“What did they make?” Cliff asked.

“Lots of breakfast stuff put together like a ... what's that word?  It's baked.”

“A casserole?” the woman suggested.

“Yeah, that.  It was really good.”

“How much did you eat?” Cliff asked.  “Were you hungry?”

“I was before, but not after.  I had the cas'role, um ...”

“Casserole.”

“Yeah, I had it and a muffin and some juice and ... I don't remember, but it was good,” a grinning Lulu relayed.

“What happened after breakfast?”

“We played.  We have a game room with all kinds of things to play with, so we played.  Then it was time for school.”

“Tell us about school.  Where do you go?” Annie asked, though she already knew about the homeschooling.

“In there,” Lulu said, pointing.

“The kitchen?” a stunned Cliff responded.

“No, the hospitality room.  There's a great big table and sometimes we study there.  Daddy taught me about President Jimmy Carter.  He's from Georgia and smiles a lot.  His wife is a really strong woman.  Daddy said all us girls are strong, too, and can do anything we want to, just like Mrs. Carter.  Hmmm.  Oh, and Dad asked me about my marbles.”

“Marbles?” Annie echoed.

“Uh-huh,” Lulu affirmed as she bobbed her head up and down.  “He wanted to know if I had seven marbles and he gave me four more, how many would I have.”

“How many?” the woman inquired.

Lulu's top lip extended out over her bottom lip and she looked up at the ceiling as she used her fingers to could out.

“Eleven,” the girl exclaimed happily.

“That's very good.”

Lulu told them more about her day until she reached dinnertime.

“Who cooked dinner?”

“Dad and Daddy, and Aunt Sam came for dinner.”  Lulu was wide-eyed and bubbling over as she added, “Aunt Sam married Uncle Pete, so we had extra ice cream.  We love ice cream.”

The questioning about Lulu's day continued and she was very forthcoming with her responses.  Her answers were spontaneous, not slow or hesitant.

“Then I took a bath.”

“Were you alone?”

“No.”

“Who was with you?”

“Noa, for a little bit, and Bri.  She's another sister.”

“Bri was in the bathtub with you and Noa?”

“No, she just checked on us.  We check on each other 'cause we're the brood and that's we do.  I like being a brood.”

“Lulu, do you have any hurts or aches in your body?”

Lulu shook her head.  Her smiled lessened, which caused some concern.

“Has anyone touched you where it makes you feel funny?”

“No.”

“Why aren't you smiling now?”

“I'm thinking about Daddy Kevin.  He's a bad man.  He made me hurt, but now I only hurt when I think about him.”

Annie smiled sweetly and reached her hand out to gently rub against the girl's back as she promised, “Honey, you don't have to think about him now or ever again.”

“I have a counselor.  She's very nice.  Sometimes I talk about him with her.”

“Do your parents ever ask you about him?”

“Na-huh.  They tell me I can, if I want to.  I just ask them to hold me.  Dad and Daddy hug good.  I'm safe here.  Munchkins told me I'd be safe.  I'm safe.”

“I believe that, too,” Annie spoke reassuringly.

“Lulu, if you could be anywhere in the world, where would you be?”

“Can I show you?”

“Um, yes, you can.”

Lulu scooted off the sofa and ran to the patio door. She opened it, prompting her parents to turn around.

The curly-haired girl ran to her parents and started a three-way hug which ended with Daniel picking her up.

As the other adults approached, Lulu called out, “This is where.  It's the best place in the whole wide world.”

Jack and Daniel weren't sure of the question, but the answer sounded wonderful to their ears.

“Thank you, Lulu.  Jack, Daniel, we need a word with Brianna now.”

The chat with Brianna didn't last long at all as after two questions, the tomboy stood up and spoke sternly, “Look, this is my home now.  I have parents.  Yeah, they're both male, but who cares?  They love me.  I get a lot of attention from them and those crazy kids outside.  We're a team.  We play and we work, together: a team.  Dad and Daddy are my parents and no one is ever taking me away from them.  You got that?”

“Bri ...” Annie began.

“I know what this is.  All you need to know is that I like it here.  No one hurts me. I don't have a ... Daddy Kevin to beat the crap out of me.  I have parents who treat me just like they do their blood children.  I didn't get an X-box.”

As Brianna stormed out of the living room and onto the wood deck outside the patio doors, Annie questioned, “I wonder what that means.”

“Are you done?” Jack queried after walking inside.

“Jack, why would Brianna mention not getting an X-box.”

“X-box?”  The general looked at Daniel and then he remembered.  “When Bri came home with us, we talked about decorating her room.  She wanted an X-box and I said no.”

“It was a test,” Daniel explained.  “She was told that none of the other children had an X-box.”

“And I asked her if she wanted to be treated like one of our kids or not.  She said she did and I told her no X-box.”

“I see.”

“Good.  Now ...”

“Um, one more, Jack.  Jeff, please.”

A minute later, the teenager returned to the living room.  Like Brianna, he chose to make a statement, only he wasn't as forceful about it.  He sat down and made his comment quietly.

“I wasn't sure how I'd like it, nor for certain.  Unc...Grandpa, General Hammond, he told me about the Jackson-O'Neills after my dad was killed.  They're great people.  They encourage me to remember my father and my mother.  Look,” he pointed to the mantel.  “Those are my parents.  How many adoptive parents actually allow pictures of birth parents on the mantel?  Mine do.  Those are the Morgans.  Mister and Mrs. Morgan died in a car crash and Dad and Daddy adopted Jen, David, and Noa.  See, their birth family photo is there, too.”

“Jeff ...”

“I'm sorry, but I want you to understand that Jack and Daniel are great people.  I couldn't wait to call them Dad and Daddy.  I will cherish being able to do that for the rest of my life.  They love us, all of us, and I love them.  Last Saturday, they took me to my old neighborhood and met a couple of my old friends.  My sister Aislinn wore her best dress and came with us.  The rest of my brothers and sisters waited at home and wanted to know everything when we got back.  This is a good place.  It's my home.  I ... I still miss my father very much, but the neat thing is I can say that here and Dad and Daddy are okay with that and they love me, and Bri, and Lulu, and Jen, and David, and Noa ... and the Munchkins and the Spitfires. That's all you need to know.  Thanks for listening and I need to get back outside.  We have an adventure to complete.  Bye.”

Jeff returned to the backyard, stopping to hug his parents before rejoining the brood, all of whom definitely knew something was up with Annie's visit.

Jack and Daniel re-entered the living room where Annie looked at Cliff and asked, “Well?”

Cliff was about to answer when the Munchkins entered.  They took a V-formation with Jonny in the front and center of the three.

“Kids ...”

“Dad, hafta talk.  We Munchkins.  We find Lulu.  She scared and alone, so we bring her home and tell her she have home with us.  Dad 'n' Daddy found Bri.  Grandpa gave us Jeff.  They part of brood.  We all brood.  You no mess with brood.  Lulu sister.  Bri sister.  Jeff bro'er.  Brood always.”

Jonny turned and headed purposefully for the outdoors.

Aislinn said, “Yeah.  We stick ta-gether,” and then followed her older brother outside.

“They right,” Little Danny added.  “We all brothers and sisters.  You no change that; can't anyway; already family.  Gonna go play now.”

“Have fun,” Annie replied.

“Those were ...” Cliff began.

“Our Munchkins,” Jack answered proudly.

“And the rest,” Annie observed about the other children who were all watching the scene and nodding with every word.  “Making their feelings known.”

“That's their right,” Jack responded.  “Now, Annie, what's going on?”

“Cliff?”

“Granted.”

With a smug grin, Annie reached into her briefcase and pulled out some papers, which she handed to Jack while saying, “Jack, Daniel, congratulations.  You're now officially a family of eleven.”

“What?” Daniel inquired.

“You have powerful friends, gentlemen, but powerful or not, no one in my jurisdiction gets a pass unless I believe it's the best thing for the child.  It seems unanimous that these three consider this their forever home and it's quite apparent that the rest of your children agree.”

“Thank you,” Daniel responded.  “Uh, but paper is just paper.  Jeff, Bri, and Lulu were part of this family the day they each walked in the door.”

“Who are you?” Jack asked the man.

“I'm the man who just made your wishes come true, legally.”

“Cliff is the judge assigned to this area.  He oversees the adoptions.”

“Annie, if I ...”

“Jack, you're always a bear, but you're one heck of a father to those children, just like you are, Daniel.  El Paso County wishes you well as your ... adventures continue.  Good luck.”

After another minute or two, Annie and Cliff left the house.

Jack and Daniel stared at the papers.

“I didn't think we were going to get these for a few more months, even with the White House decree,” Jack admitted as he reviewed the papers.

“Like the lady said, we know some powerful people.”

“You don't usually like to use that card.”

“I make exceptions where our family is concerned.”

“Me, too,” Jack agreed and leaned in for a kiss.  “We're whole, officially.”

“They'll expect extra ice cream.”

“And cake,” Jack mused.

“Time for a party.”

The lovers kissed again and, before making dinner, they walked outside and watched their family at play.

“Hey, let's make a pyramid!” Brianna suggested.  “You know, how they do on that old TV show.”

“Don't know old show, but we make pyramid,” Jonny agreed.

“Dad!  Daddy!  Help us make a pyramid?” Lulu called out in question.

“They could fall,” Daniel cautioned his lover.

“Then we'll pick them up and carry on, like we always do.”

“I love you, Jack.”

“I love you, Danny.”

One kiss later, the parents walked out onto the grass and helped coordinate the very first Jackson-O'Neill human pyramid.

====

After dinner and a whopping impromptu party, Jack and Daniel sat their children down for their second shared story time where the family read a book together.  They handed out the books, all the same edition.  It was an older book, but one with an important theme that seemed to fit the night.

“Ash, read the name and author of the book, please,” Daniel requested.

“It's called 'A Mother for Choco' by K...”

“Sound it out,” the archaeologist advised.

“Kay-ko?”  Seeing the nod, Aislinn continued, “Kauszeea?”

“It's a Japanese name and you did well.  Her name is Keiko Kasza,” Daniel spoke.

“Choco look funny,” Ricky giggled.

“What kind of animal is Choco?” Jack questioned.

“Bird,” several of the children called out.

“That's correct.  Kids, this is a book written for very young children.  We said in our first session that we'd be reading books fit for all ages so sometimes it might be tougher on our babies ...”

“Not baby,” Jonny argued, knowing his dad was speaking about the Munchkins and the Spitfires for sure.

“I stand corrected,” Jack chuckled.  “We felt for tonight, this book was appropriate.”

“Ricky, start us off, please,” Daniel instructed.

The kids read about Choco, the little bird who didn't have a mother, but wanted one badly.  He looked everywhere for his mother.  He asked all sorts of other animals if they were his mom, but no one said they were.

“Choco's crying.  I cried a lot, too,” Lulu admitted after reading her part of the story.

“No cry, Lulu.  You have Dad and Daddy and you can share our mommy, too,” Jonny spoke, after which he ran over to her and hugged her as tight as he could.

Lulu laughed, her bright smile returning.

“I have lots family now.”

“You sure do, Li'l Bit,” Jack assured.  “David, you're turn.”

A few months shy of his tenth birthday, the genius youngster read his part of the story slowly and deliberately to give his younger siblings the chance to read along and comprehend the words and their meaning.  This was something his parents noticed and appreciated.

David read about how in Choco's biggest moment of despair, he came across Mrs. Bear.  Though clearly not a bird, Mrs. Bear asked Choco some important questions, beginning with what would Choco's mother do.  Choco said she'd hug him.  Mrs. Bear hugged Choco.  Then Choco said his mother would kiss him.  Sure enough, Mrs. Bear kissed him.  Because he was so sad, Choco said his mother would certainly sing and dance to cheer him up.

Brianna took over the next part and, like David, didn't hurry the story at all.  She read it with feeling, absorbing the story's theme along with the little kids.  She read about how Mrs. Bear sang and danced with Choco, truly making him feel better.  Afterward, Mrs. Bear asked her most important question: could she be Choco's mother.

It was Little Danny who read next.  Choco was uncertain because Mrs. Bear didn't look like him at all.  He was a bird with wings, round cheeks, and striped feet.  Mrs. Bear's response was that it sure made her look funny then, didn't it?  They laughed.

Jeff read the part where Mrs. Bear invited Choco to come home with her for some apple pie.  Her children were waiting for her.

Jenny read the finale in which Choco met Mrs. Bear's three children, Hippy, Ally, and Piggy.  He felt right at home and was happy his mother looked exactly the way she did.

“Group hug,” Jennifer suggested with no one offering any resistance.

“What's the moral?” Jack asked.

“We're brood, all brood,” Jonny answered without hesitation.

“We have different mommies and daddies who made us, but we have same dad and daddy now, and our mommy, too,” Little Danny spoke profoundly.

“It doesn't matter where, or who, we came from,” Jennifer said as she looked at her siblings, “it matters where we are and who we're with now.”

“With Dad and Daddy,” Brianna chimed in.

“I can borrow your mommy?” Lulu asked the Munchkins and the Spitfires.

“Mommy love you,” Aislinn replied with a nod.  “Doesn't she?” she asked her parents.

“Yes, she does,” Daniel replied.  “I'm absolutely positive she'd be proud to call you her daughter, Lulu, and you, too, Bri, and you, Jeff.  Kayla was full of love.  If you need a mom, she's a good one to look up to.”

“Hey, guys, we don't all look alike, but I like what I feel like,” Jeff remarked.  “You're the best brothers and sisters a Maverick could have.”

“Or a Mouseketeer,” Chenoa stated.

“Or Munchkins,” Jonny spoke up.

“Or Spitfires,” Jenny and Ricky both called out.

“You're all wonderful and you all look alike to me,” Daniel claimed.

Seeing a few confused looks, Jack explained, “You all look like love to us.”

“Perfect, sweet, forever love,” Daniel concluded.  “Thank you for being our children.”

“Our crazy brood.  We love you,” Jack declared.

“So much.”

After more hugs and conversation, it was time for the children to go to bed.  They were plenty tired, more from their emotional ups and downs than physical activity.  As Lulu told Annie, every single day was an adventure.  Today was another one of those, but more importantly, it was the day the Jackson-O'Neill's were officially thirteen in human number.  For Jack and Daniel of Colorado Springs, life was about as perfect as it could get.

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

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