Rocky Top Revival
Category: Slash, Humor, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Season: Beyond the Series - July 2012
Written: October 14-16,22-26,31, November 1-2, 2007
Summary: A curious question takes the traveling Jackson-O'Neills on a Smoky Mountain adventure.
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't. A gal can dream though!
1) This is part of the “Wanderin' in the USA” road fic in honor of Jack and Daniel's universe readers. Thanks for your support!
2) The 'video' referred to for Cowboy and Octopus is available for viewing at http://youtube.com/watch?v=LPPSmjIq1KY
3) “Cowboy and Octopus” is written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith.
4) 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.**
5) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
6) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s), “Unexpected Miracle” and “Egyption Erotica: Another Ten Months”
7) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better: Claudia, Tonya, Melissa, Carol, Sara, Linda!
Wanderin' in the USA
Chapter: Rocky Top Revival
Jack's fingers were tapping the steering wheel of the family RV in time
with the music that was playing over the radio. He noted the sign
on the side of the road that told him the family had just entered
Arkansas as they moved on down Interstate Highway 55. Jennifer
was in the co-pilot seat of the cockpit, just enjoying the view out of
the panoramic front window while talking off and on with her older
The parents glanced at the book, quickly learning that Cowboy and
Octopus were two unlikely friends. Octopus was refined, while
Cowboy was a bit rough around the edges. Both characters were
paper cutouts, Cowboy snipped from a Western Heroes paper doll book and
Octopus from a comic strip. Beginning with the forming of their
friendship, several short stories of their adventures comprised the
Meanwhile, in the rear of the RV, Daniel was putting JD down for a nap with Katie watching closely. She often stayed with the almost eight-month-old baby when he went down for a nap.
David was in the bathroom, checking the inventory of family toiletries, which was his number one job assignment for the family's trek across America.
Sitting in the kitchen booth dinette, Jeff, Brianna, and Chenoa were playing three handed Pinochle. Lulu was spread out on the J lounge, just relaxing, with Bijou resting at her side. The rest of the children were chatting and playing nearby.
Over the radio, a catchy tune began to play, and a few of the children began to hum along with the song.
“Dolly Parton: still stacked after all these years,” Jack mused about the singer of the country standard.
Jack looked over at Jennifer with wide eyes. He'd forgotten who was sitting in the other seat.
“What can I say?” the general mused, shrugging sheepishly.
“Nothing, Dad,” Jennifer responded, shaking her head and smiling.
Just as Daniel walked in from getting JD settled, Ricky looked up at him and, not quite understanding what the lyrics of the song on the radio were referring to, asked, “Daddy, what's a rocky top?”
“It's just a name for a ... rocky mountaintop,” the archaeologist responded.
“Is there a real rocky top in Tennessee, Daddy?” Jenny asked after listening to the song's lyrics as it played over the radio.
“Of course, there is,” Jack called out from the driver's seat.
“Where?” Aislinn questioned.
Daniel smiled and suggested, “Babe, I think we have our next destination.”
“But how do we know where to go, Daddy?” Little Danny asked. “Are we going to use the computer?”
“Nope,” Jack called out firmly. “You know the rules: no using the computer unless absolutely necessary; we're too addicted to those contraptions as it is.”
“So how do we know where to go, Dad?” Brianna challenged.
After a moment's thought, the general answered, “The library. We'll find out about ole Rocky Top and go from there.”
“Which library?” David asked, having completed his inventory. “Oh, and I made a list. We need a couple of things the next time we go shopping.”
“Thank you, Son,” Daniel acknowledged as he took possession of the list the boy had prepared. “Where are we, Jack?”
“Just entered Arkansas, right on the Tennessee border,” Jack answered. “We're actually not too far from Memphis.”
“Okay,” Daniel replied. Looking at the kids, he asked, “Whose turn is it?”
“Mine,” Brianna called out as the Pinochle game was put on hold, and the three players joined the others in the living area.
The family had begun a game to help guide them in their travels. They'd all drawn numbers, from one through sixteen. Whenever they weren't certain where they were going, they'd open up a map and whomever's turn it was would play a game of 'blind person's finger'.
“Or paw,” Jack had mused when the game had been created, since the beagles had also 'drawn' numbers with the assistance of Little Danny and Aislinn.
“Okay, Bri,” Daniel acknowledged. “Jonny, get the atlas, please.” When the boy returned with the book, giving it to his younger father, the family walked over to the dinette table, where Daniel opened the atlas to the appropriate page. “Close your eyes, and lower the boom,” he quipped.
“Wait for me,” Jennifer requested as she hurried to join the family, not wanting to miss their little ritual.
To begin their 'blind person's finger' game, the other children helped to turn Brianna around three times. Then they all said in unison: “Finger, show us the way!”
On cue, Brianna dropped her hand, her index finger pointing to a spot on the atlas. Keeping it there, she opened her eyes.
All of the children leaned in to try and see where they were about to go.
“Okay,” Daniel said. He called out to his husband, “Germantown, Tennessee.”
“Ten-four,” Jack acknowledged, engaging their state-of-the-art GPS system that had been slightly enhanced by their personal gizmo-master, Sam. “Computer, plot in a course for Germantown, Tennessee,” he chirped.
Little Danny chuckled, “Dad, no contraptions, remember?”
“Son, there's an exception to every rule,” Jack espoused with a chuckle of his own. “Gotta have the GPS.”
“He thinks it's Uhura,” Brianna teased, since their GPS did perform much of the same functions as the 'Star Trek' character.
“Okay, everyone settle back in,” Daniel requested and then headed up to the front where he sat down in the co-pilot's seat. He looked over at their computer gizmo and began searching for libraries. “How about ... the ... Germantown Community Library?”
Jack shrugged and then asked curiously, “Why that one?”
“It's for the community, and,” the younger man glanced back at the brood, chuckling, “we're a community.”
The older man laughed, nodding his head, happier than ever that the family had embarked on this special trip. The family was having a great time. Lulu was happy, getting to see Calico on her special webcam phone anytime she wanted to, and Jeff was pleased, too, since he was allowed to call his girlfriend Chely once a day. He hadn't noticed one look of regret or heard one sound of discontent. The trip was definitely working out just the way he'd hoped it would.
Jennifer walked up, asking, “What joke did I miss?”
“Nothing, Jen. Uh, did you want to ...” Daniel said, starting to get up, willing to relinquish his seat.
“No, Daddy, that's okay. I want to read for a while, but I was thinking. If we're going to be in Tennessee for a while, maybe we can go to Dollywood.”
“Dollywood?” the younger man questioned.
“Yeah, it's Dolly Parton's theme park. I'll bet it's *stacked* with things to do,” Jennifer chuckled as she turned around to return to the living area.
“Jack,” Daniel warned.
“What?” Jack asked, trying to look innocent.
“You said something in front of Jen. *Don't* deny it. You've always had a thing about ...” Daniel paused, making sure the children weren't near, and then whispered, “... breasts.”
“Danny, give it a breast, I mean, rest,” Jack responded, groaning at his misspoken word.
Daniel rolled his eyes and settled in to enjoy the ride until it was his turn to drive.
“We'll be back soon, Girls,” Daniel said as he closed the door to the RV and then activated the exterior security system.
“Everyone know their library buddies?” Jack asked with JD in his arms as the family stood just outside the entrance to the Germantown Community Library. Seeing their nods, he said, “Let's go find out about ole Rocky Top.”
Inside, the family looked around as they studied the posted signs and got their bearings.
“I think ... this way,” Daniel said, smiling as he pointed to the right.
“There's a computer, Dad,” Jonny pointed out.
“No computers. We're doing this the old fashioned way: books,” the silver-haired man reminded the children.
The family of fourteen was a bit of an attention-getter, though most patrons assumed that the Jackson-O'Neills were a school group of some kind.
“Is there anything I can help you with?” a slim, well-toned woman inquired as the family approached the reference desk.
“Uh, yes,” Daniel replied. “We're looking for information on how Rocky Top ...”
“Like in the song,” Aislinn interjected with a smile.
The archaeologist smiled and continued, “... like in the song. We want to learn its history.”
“Okay, well, our computer databases ...”
“No computers,” Jonny stated emphatically, shaking his head. “We have to do it the old-fashioned way.”
“He means reading and researching ... in books,” David clarified.
The woman smiled and nodded as she replied, “We have a nice collection of state historical books and reference resources. Follow me.” As she and the library patrons walked, she suggested, “You might also want to check out some of the periodicals. You can find them there.” After pointing in the appropriate direction, she continued to lead the family to the history section. “You should be able to find out quite a bit here. If it's the song itself you're interested in, the music section is this way.”
The family followed the librarian to another section and, pulling out a book, said, “This book should give you some answers, and many of these as well.”
“Thank you,” Jack glanced at the lady's nametag and completed, “Sly.”
Smiling, Sly responded, “You're welcome. If you have any questions, please drop by the reference desk, and we'll be happy to help you.”
When Sly walked away, Daniel reminded, “This is a library, so take notes, and stay with your assigned buddies. When we group up again, we'll see what we've learned.” As the children nodded, he called out to his group, “Ash, David, Ricky, let's go back to the history section and see what we can dig up.”
“Mission completed?” Jack questioned quietly as he glanced at the sleeping baby in his arms.
Daniel reached out and gently rubbed JD's arm, smiling at the bundle of love his husband held as he answered, “Completed.”
“Daddy, look,” David requested, pointing over at the children's reading section. “Can we stay and read for a while?”
The Jackson-O'Neill brood were used to doing a lot of reading, but with space limited in the RV, only a handful of books had been brought on the family's trek.
“What do you think?” Daniel questioned quietly.
“Please, Dad!” Little Danny asked.
Several of the children were smiling and nodding encouragingly.
“The best thing about not having an itinerary is being able to say 'yes' at times like these. Go forth, Brood -- read!” Jack stated, carefully extending one arm out towards the books in a dramatic gesture while not disturbing JD any.
“Jeff, Jen, Bri, David, please be sure to watch the younger ones,” Daniel requested with expectant eyes.
“Danny, I think I'd better take JD to the RV and let him sleep. He'll probably want to eat when he wakes up, too,” Jack spoke.
“I can do it if ...”
“Whoa, Dannyboy, the library is your playground. Go, play, be merry,” the older man quipped.
Daniel rolled his eyes as he turned and headed over towards the children's area to see what the children were doing.
As Daniel approached some of the children, he saw the same librarian they'd talked to earlier speaking to the brood.
“But we don't live here,” Jenny said, not wanting to break any rules.
“That's all right,” Sly responded, smiling. “We want to encourage reading so the important thing is just to read. There is so much to learn in books.”
“We really get a prize?” Ricky asked.
“Even if we don't live here?” Aislinn added eagerly.
“For every hour you read, you get a prize. You can sit here anywhere. When you're done, let me or one of the other librarians know, and we'll give you your prizes,” Sly instructed.
“Oh, boy!” Ricky exclaimed in hushed excitement, hurrying over to find a good book to read.
Looking around and seeing a couple of signs promoting the event, Daniel deduced that Sly had been talking about the library's Summer Reading Program. He liked what he'd heard and that the children were eager to participate.
The archaeologist was pleased, too, that the four older children were watching the younger ones appropriately. Since he was here now, though, he walked over to them and released them from their 'duties'. He did request that Brianna and David stay together, but Jennifer and Jeff were free to browse the library. If they decided to go to the RV, they could, but not without advising him first.
With the children occupied, Daniel sat down in a chair and prepared to watch over the younger ones. He loved that they enjoyed reading this much, and this little outcry for a reading day at the library was a sign that he and his lover had struck a good balance between the art of reading and the world of television and iPod technology.
“Would you like to find a book?” Sly inquired. “I'd be happy to keep a close eye on your children while you find one.”
“Am I that obvious?” Daniel inquired.
Sly smiled, responding, “A good parent has nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Actually, I wouldn't mind getting a magazine or two,” the archaeologist admitted.
“I promise: I won't take my eyes off of them.”
“Thank you. I'll just be a few minutes,” Daniel said, getting up and heading towards to the periodical area, hoping they'd have some anthropological publications he hadn't had the time to read in a while. Before rounding the corner, he looked back, noticing that Sly was watching all of the children. He didn't often trust someone so quickly with the brood, but his senses were telling him that it was safe, and she was trustworthy. ~Sometimes, I think I'm too paranoid.~
“Hey,” Daniel greeted, smiling when his husband walked over and sat down in the chair next to his.
“Jen and Jeff are with JD, so I thought I'd come in for a while,” Jack informed over two hours later. “Still reading?” he asked as he looked over at the children.
“Jack, I've been thinking,” Daniel began, smiling as his husband began to make his usual 'that's dangerous' warning. “No, wait. It's just ... they're enjoying this day as much as the days we've spent at parks or ... you know.” He paused and then added, “I guess it just makes me feel ...”
“Good?” Jack surmised.
“Hey, what are they giggling at?” Jack questioned, looking over at the Munchkins and Spitfires, the five children having just gathered close together.
“I don't ...” Daniel paused, watching curiously as Chenoa and Lulu joined their siblings and began chuckling, too, though they quickly put their hands to their mouths to try and quiet their noise output “... know, but I'd like to find out.”
“Me, too,” Jack agreed, getting up and following Daniel over to the children.
Kneeling down, Daniel asked, “What's so funny that you're all working so hard not to be loud?”
Snickers broke out as the children looked at each other, evading their parents' gazes.
“Okay, out with it,” Jack ordered as he knelt down on his haunches like his husband had.
“Cowboy and Octopus are just like you and Daddy,” Little Danny giggled.
“Cowboy?” Jack asked.
“And ... Octopus?” Daniel inquired curiously.
“Look, Dad,” Chenoa began, pointing at the picture book. “On this page, Cowboy puts on a new hat and asks how it looks, and Octopus is real nice and polite and says it looks 'different'.”
“He really didn't like it, though,” Aislinn interjected.
“But when Octopus puts on a new hat and asks Cowboy how it looks, Cowboy says, it 'looks like something my horse dropped behind' him,” Jonny chuckled.
Daniel turned his head to look at Jack, who shrugged innocently.
“This book is funny,” Ricky opined.
Having overheard the conversation while walking by, Sly interrupted, “If you like Cowboy and Octopus, there's a short video on some of their travels together. It's pretty funny.”
With eager nods, the family followed Sly over to one of the computers. Lulu sat down in the chair and put the earphones on, while everyone else gathered around.
“There's a musical track, but all the dialogue is written, so no one will miss out,” Sly explained. “If the rest of you want to hear the music, you can replay it when it's done. One moment. There you go. Enjoy.”
A minute later, the group broke out in giggles, all of the children automatically looking at their older father. Cowboy and Octopus reminded Jack of TV's “The Odd Couple.” It reminded Daniel and the brood of Jack and Daniel themselves.
“What?” the general asked innocently.
“You have to admit, Jack, that it's you; it's really ... you!” Daniel smirked.
The computer recording had shown Cowboy and Octopus at Stonehenge. Octopus had commented, 'Look at those ancient ruins', and Cowboy had replied, 'I didn't do it'. Then the two had been at the Great Pyramids in Egypt where Octopus had said, 'Those monuments are strange looking' which had prompted Cowboy to reply, 'Them horses are strange looking, too'.
“They're camels, Dad,” Jenny laughed.
“Hey, I know that. I've walked a mile for my ... camel ... in Egypt. We were there, for crying out loud.”
“Yes, Babe, and, as I recall ...”
“Don't, Daniel,” Jack ordered sternly, not wanting to be reminded of how he'd ended up on his rear end, thanks to his failure to communicate with a camel.
The children giggled more as the program played before returning to finish up their reading.
“Jonny, look at this book,” Little Danny said in a whisper. After his brother joined him, he continued, “It's about a dog that wants a boy of his own for Christmas.”
“Cool,” Jonny commented. “Look at this one I found. It's about a puppy who goes to school.”
“Let's read them both,” Little Danny suggested.
“Good idea,” Jonny agreed, leading the two of them to another area where no one else was at the moment.
The boys sat down next to each other, leaning close together, as they took turns reading the stories they had found to each other.
“Three hours of reading time for each of you,” Sly responded when the family approached. “I'm very impressed. Aren't you on vacation?”
“Yes, we are,” Daniel answered.
“This was a fun vacation day,” Little Danny maintained, the nods of his siblings affirming his comment.
“Okay, let's see what we have here. Our prizes are donated by the community, so we have a variety,” Sly responded.
“Uh, listen, we don't want to deplete your supply,” Daniel stated.
“No, don't worry. Our sponsors are very willing to help out. I'm very happy that you chose our library to visit. Each of you completed three full hours, so you'll all get three prizes each,” Sly insisted, smiling at the happy children.
As they waited, Ricky saw a sign and questioned, “What's that mean?”
Looking over, Sly read the sign and answered, “Oh, tonight is our PJ story time. You're welcome to come, if you're still in the area.”
“What does it mean?” Jenny questioned.
“Three of our librarians dress up and tell the children a story. The best part is, the children come in their pajamas. They hear the story and then they're already ready for bed,” Sly answered. Looking up at the parents, she added, “It starts at seven and lasts about forty minutes, and I believe tonight they'll be having some juice and cookies for a snack. You are definitely welcome to join us.”
“Can we?” a chorus of voices rang out as the children looked eagerly at Jack and Daniel.
Jack nodded his approval, so Daniel answered, “We'd love to be a part of it. Thank you.”
“I wish I had finished my book,” Lulu sighed.
“I didn't get to finish the last one I was reading, either,” Little Danny sighed.
“I never got to read about Cowboy, either,” Jonny said with a downtrodden expression.
“Would you like to check those books out?”
The children's eyes grew wide, and it was David who questioned, “Can we? We live in Colorado, and we don't have a library card for here.”
“We make library cards available to anyone. Here, we issue temporary six-month cards to anyone who registers. You can check out any book that you'd like,” Sly said. Looking at Jack and Daniel, she pointed out, “You will have to return them.”
“The mail okay?” Daniel questioned.
“Perfectly. We've had guests in Hawaii mail back books they've borrowed from us during a vacation.”
“Okay, we'd like fourteen library cards,” Daniel said with a smile.
“Sure, just as soon as I get the prizes for the children, we'll head over to the circulation desk and we'll get started on those,” Sly replied.
“Jonny, what were those books you and Little Danny were reading about the doggies?” Aislinn asked. “I think I want to read those, too.”
“I don't remember their names, Ash. They were about puppies who wanted boys for Christmas and who went to school.”
~Close,~ Little Danny chuckled silently.
Before the child prodigy could speak up to clarify Jonny's description, Sly said, “I suspect you mean 'The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy' by Jane Thayer and 'The Puppy Who Went to School' by Gail Herman. They're both wonderful books.”
“Yeah, those,” Jonny confirmed, his head bobbing up and down.
Minutes later, Daniel decided to take the prizes the children had won to the RV, where the teenagers were still with JD. It was an interesting assortment of things: several coupons for ice cream cones at the nearby Baskin-Robbins, some movie tickets, which, fortunately, could be used at any one of the theaters for the nationwide chain that had donated the tickets, a couple of stuffed animals, a few new books, some T-shirts that said 'Crazy About Reading' on them, two sports water bottles, and more. Lulu had even won an iPod, while Jenny scored with a Toys'r'Us gift certificate.
Once inside the RV, Daniel began to put away the prizes while suggesting to the teenagers that they go inside the library and select a couple of books to take with them on the trip to read. Since JD was awake and active, Jennifer took the baby with her and Jeff, leaving Daniel to take the beagles for a walk.
“Sorry you've been cooped up all day, Girls. We just didn't expect it,” Daniel apologized as they walked leisurely around the area a few minutes later. “We'll make it up to you,” he promised the two happy-to-be-outside beagles.
“Ash really likes Sly,” Daniel noted quietly to his husband.
In her pajamas, Aislinn was sitting on Sly's lap, leaning contentedly against the woman's chest as the story was performed by some of the other librarians.
When it was over, the little girl looked over and saw the woman's nametag: Sly Boggs.
Thinking it was an unusual name, Aislinn inquired, “Has your name always been Sly? I've never heard it before.”
“You don't like it?”
“No, I mean, yes, I do like it,” Aislinn replied. “It's just a funny name for a girl, though.”
Sly laughed, “Well, my real name is Sylvia, but they started calling me Sly when I was a little girl.”
“I know a Sylvia. She's very nice. She's our doctor,” Aislinn informed. “Dad calls her Syl sometimes. Why are you 'Sly' and not 'Syl'?”
“Most people think Sly is just a nickname for Sylvia, but it's not,” the librarian chuckled as she answered the query. “My father gave it to me because I was very cunning and crafty as a child.”
“You were sly, Sly,” Aislinn giggled, looking up at the woman.
“Don't tell anyone, but I still am,” Sly responded confidentially.
“Ash!” Jack called out, waving her over.
“I have to go now, but thank you for watching the show with me,” Aislinn said politely.
“I had a great time,” Sly stated cheerfully. “I hope you and your family come back to Germantown again some day and visit us here at the library.”
“Okay, we will,” Aislinn promised, as if it would be easily doable at any time. “Bye!”
“Goodbye, Ash,” Sly said, waving and smiling at her and the rest of the family as they headed out of the library.
The next morning, after breakfast, the family was gathered around outside, sitting down on the ground. Bijou and Katie were on secured long leads, which allowed them to roam quite a bit while the family talked.
“Okay, so, yesterday, everyone spent a lot of time reading for fun, and last night we really enjoyed ourselves at the PJ story time,” Daniel began, seeing nods and smiles that confirmed his comment. “Everyone ended up checking out two books, so make sure you keep them safe. The ones you finish during the trip we can mail back along the way; the others we'll return after we get home.”
“Sly was nice,” Little Danny commented.
“Yes, she was,” Daniel agreed.
“But we went to the library for a reason,” Jack reminded.
“To find out about Rocky Top!” Aislinn spoke up excitedly.
“Correctamundo!” Jack exclaimed. Looking from child to child, he inquired, “And what did we learn?”
Over the next half-hour, the children talked about all the things they had learned about Rocky Top. They reviewed their notes and gave their opinions as they discussed the song.
“Okay, who wants to try and summarize what we've talked about?” Daniel asked. As several hands went up into the air, he said, “David.”
“Well, 'Rocky Top' is Tennessee's official state song ...”
“One of them,” Lulu corrected. “There's seven.”
“Lulu's right,” David responded. “It's been recorded a lot of times by a lot of people, but the only popular hit was by some lady named Lynn Anderson. I guess she was a country singer back in the old days.”
**Old days? 1970 is the old days?** Jack asked his lover.
**Remember, Babe, I was only ...**
**Daniel, I love you, but shut up.**
Daniel tried to hide his laugh as David continued speaking.
“It was written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, and the fun part is that they did it for fun while working on another project, and it didn't take them very long, either,” David spoke. “The song refers to Rocky Top, Tennessee, which is in the Smoky Mountains. It's one of Thunderhead Mountain's three peaks. It's in the eastern part of the state, along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.”
“Good,” Daniel praised. “Who wants to finish up the summary?” Again, several hands went into the air. He smiled and called out, “Lulu.”
“The song is actually sad at first because it's about a love affair that ended.” Lulu giggled, “And it's about moonshine.”
“That's a funny word,” Chenoa giggled.
“Yes, well, we've already talked about moonshine, so I don't think we need to go over that again. Let's focus on how the song is used today,” Jack suggested.
“The college plays it a lot during football games and stuff,” Lulu stated as she continued her summary.
Finally, the family's song review was complete, and they turned their attention to the location of Rocky Top.
“Ash, tell us about the specific area where Rocky Top is,” Jack requested.
“Thunderhead Mountain is in a valley called Cades Cove. There's lot of wildlife there: bears and wild turkeys and fox and deer and ... well, lots. They have over two hundred different kinds of birds there, too. They have a lot of really old buildings there, too. They have hiking trails that go all through the valley and up to Rocky Top,” Aislinn answered.
“Is it time to go see the real Rocky Top?” Brianna asked, anxious to get going.
“Why not,” Jack responded as he stood up and stretched. “Let's get the area cleaned up, and then we'll head out.”
“To the Smoky Mountains,” Jeff stated. “There'll be some great photo ops there.”
“You know it,” Jack responded.
“I'm gonna call Chely real quick, okay?” Jeff asked and then walking a bit out of hearing range after getting an approving nod from his older father.
~Young love,~ Jack mused. “Get a move on, Kids,” he called out, seeing some of the children dawdling. “Gotta get to Rocky Top before the smoke blows her away,” he teased.
“Yeah, we don't want things to get *stacked up* around here,” Jennifer chuckled, earning her a glare from Jack. Whistling as she approached her older father, she stopped and sang quietly, “Workin' nine to five ...” and continued on.
“Give it a rest, Jen,” Jack called out. Seeing his husband's shaking head, he said indignantly, “I said rest; give it a rest.”
Still shaking his head, Daniel turned around and started to help with the cleanup.
The rest of that day was spent traveling from Germantown to Caves Cove. Because of the size of the RV and their family itself, Jack and Daniel had to get a special permit to stay at one of the nearby parks, since normal rules allowed only for shorter RVs and for groups no larger than six.
The next morning, the Jackson-O'Neills enjoyed the park's offerings, beginning with the visitor's center.
“Dad, look at this,” David said.
“Junior ranger,” Jack replied, seeing the information sheet.
“Can I do that?”
“Do what?” Jonny asked eagerly.
“Become a junior ranger,” Jack answered for the boy as he reviewed the sheet. “You have to be between the ages of five and twelve and complete the activities listed in the booklet.”
“Dad, can I? I'll pay for the booklet,” David spoke.
“Me, too,” Jonny offered. He called out, “Lil' Danny, wanna be a park ranger? It costs three-bucks.”
“Can I be a park archaeologist?” Little Danny called out as he walked over.
“No, just a ranger, but it'll be fun,” Jonny maintained.
Jack whistled, getting the brood's attention from their various places in the visitor's center. He smiled and shrugged, seeing several other guests in the center looking at him with odd expressions. Seeing several of them start to leave, he decided they were people without humor, and he had better things to think about, like the reason he'd just whistled.
“Anyone wanting to be a junior ranger, over here now!” A minute later, Brianna, David, Jonny, Aislinn, Little Danny, and Jenny were standing by their older father. Having been told it would cost three dollars of their allowance, the children began reaching into their backpacks for their money. He watched carefully and then noticed something unusual. A little girl was frowning at him, looking like she was about to cry. He looked around, not seeing any other adults around now except for Daniel. “Hello,” Jack stated a bit guardedly as he silently hoped that the Munchkins hadn't just collected another human stray to add to the family.
“Now that we've got the greetings out of the way. Who *are* you?” Jack inquired, giving the girl a smile.
“My name's Erin, and I want to be a junior ranger, too, but I don't have three dollars,” the girl sniffled.
“Where are your parents?” When the little girl shrugged, Jack smiled, leaning over and picking her up. **Danny, lost kid here; looks to be about six or seven.**
**Little Danny?** the archaeologist inquired, having had the same 'human stray' thought as his lover had had a minute before.
**No, I think just me.**
A moment later, Daniel, with JD in his stroller, walked over to see what was happening. He didn't see any other adults around, either.
“Danny, the kids are becoming junior rangers. Be right back,” Jack said. He walked over to the where one of the center's employees were standing and advised, “Jack Jackson-O'Neill, and this little girl is Erin. Her parents are lost.”
“Oh, my,” the woman replied. “We'll have to find them.”
“They weren't supposed to walk away from me; they didn't mean to, but I think they saw something and got curious,” Erin stated, putting her own actions on her parents.
“Do you know their names?” the woman asked.
“Liam and Kate McAllister. I'm Erin McAllister, and I still want to be a junior ranger,” the redhead stated, trying hide a small, frightened sniffle as her arms remained firmly affixed to Jack's neck.
“Let's find your parents. I can take her, Sir,” the worker stated, reaching for the girl, whose hold on Jack tightened.
“We're fine,” Jack replied.
“Dad, here,” Jenny said a minute later, holding up her booklet. “It's for Erin.”
Taking the item, Jack observed, “It's your junior ranger booklet. You'll need this, Red, to become a ranger.”
“We redheads have to stick together, Dad. Erin can have mine,” Jenny insisted.
“Thank you ... Red,” Erin spoke with a happy smile.
Jenny smiled and then hurried back to Daniel and the others.
**Angel, make sure Jenny has a ...**
**Nope, she insisted, Babe. She wanted to use her own money, and she's used up her allowance for this week.**
**That's our Red,** Jack responded, smiling over at Jenny, who was sharing Aislinn's booklet.
“Erin, Darling, where did you run off to?” Kate McAllister asked with great relief several minutes later when she saw her daughter, immediately taking her from Jack.
“You got lost, Mommy.”
“I guess I did,” Kate chuckled nervously, her hand on the back of Erin's head as she hugged her. “I'll never do that again.”
“Me, either, Mommy.”
After thanks, explanations, and introductions were completed, the good-byes were said, and Erin and her parents walked away on their new quest: to help Erin become a junior ranger.
Jack returned to his family, and they continued on with their day, which they decided to spend leisurely. Since the day before had mainly been one of travel, they spent this one getting to know Cades Cove. They went horseback riding and did all of the activities required for the kids to become junior rangers, after which they went to the ranger's office to get their badges.
“Didn't you buy a booklet?” the ranger asked Jenny at the end of his meeting with the Jackson-O'Neill children, who were in front of him.
“I gave it to Erin,” Jenny answered.
At that point, Jack explained what had happened with the lost girl.
“Jenny, why don't you just buy another booklet, and then you can become a junior ranger,” the ranger suggested.
“No, Mister Ranger, Sir,” the redhead replied, shaking her head emphatically. “It was my choice to give it to Erin, and I already used my allowance.”
“How about your parents?”
“We offered,” Jack interjected.
Still shaking her head, Jenny replied, “I don't want Dad and Daddy buying my badge. That wouldn't be right. It was my responsibility. Maybe we'll come back, and then I'll have the money.”
“I see,” the ranger said, sitting back in his chair. He studied Jenny for a moment and then glanced up at Jack as he thought about the situation. A moment later, he leaned forward, speaking seriously, “Did you know we have honorary junior rangers?”
“You do?” the little girl gasped excitedly.
“We sure do. We don't do it often; only in very special circumstances when someone does something worthy of an honorary badge, and I think making a lost child feel better and become a junior ranger herself is definitely special.” He pulled out the badge and handed it to Jenny, saying, “You're now an honorary junior ranger.”
Jenny beamed with pride as she spoke an enthusiastic thank you to the ranger. Jack, too, nodded his thanks. Anyone who could bring on a smile in one of his kids, like this man had just done, was okay in his book.
“Sorry, Girls, but you aren't allowed on the back trails,” Daniel said as he patted both beagles. Today was the day when the family was going to see Rocky Top up close and in person. It would take most of the day to get there and back with the children. “I hate leaving you alone like this, but you'll be safe.” He smiled at the attentive canines and pondered, “I wonder if ...”
“Angel, time to go,” Jack interrupted, joining Daniel in the living area of the RV and starting to play with the dogs a little. “I don't like leaving you two here for hours, either, but you do understand?”
Two sympathetic woofs were Jack's answers from Bijou and Katie.
“You have everything you need over here. We love ya,” Jack added, laughing when the beagles both gave him sloppy kisses.
“We're activating the security system for the outside,” Daniel informed, as if the dogs truly understood his words. “I wish they could use a cell phone.”
Chuckling, Jack took out his cell phone, placed it on the jackknife, and said, “Danny is number one on the speed dial. Use a nail, not a paw.”
“Gawd, Jack,” Daniel chuckled as they headed out, although looking back and waving at the beagles, he noticed Bijou studying the cell phone and reaching out lightly with her paw. ~I do wonder about them sometimes, though.~
“Don't go too far ahead, Boys,” Jack called out to Jonny and Little Danny as they climbed nimbly over the uneven terrain.
The family was currently making their way along the Bote Mountain Trail that led to the peak of Thunderhead Mountain and the famed Rocky Top. Even JD had come along for the trip and was currently comfortably strapped onto Daniel's back.
“We won't, Dad,” Little Danny called back.
“We'll wait for you at the top,” Jonny yelled over his shoulder.
“Want me to keep up with them, Dad?” Brianna asked as she helped Jenny adjust her backpack a little.
Jack shook his head, saying, “We can see the top from here, so as long as they do wait for us, it's fine to let them go on ahead.” He looked after the two boys and smiled as they crested the mountaintop, pumping their fists in the air with glee. ~Well done.~
“Wow, Jonny, look at the view,” Little Danny spoke in awe. He turned around to face the oncoming family and waved excitedly. “It's awesome, Dad, Daddy!”
Jack waved in reply and then shared a smile with his husband.
Dropping their backpacks on the ground, the two boys admired the majestic scenery around them. They grinned at the sight of their family still a little way down the trail.
As Jonny began shouting out encouragement to the remainder of the brood, Little Danny turned around and looked down into the valley on the other side of the hill.
“What is ...” Little Danny began. He frowned as his eyes began to make sense of what he was seeing. His eyes widening in horror, he shouted, “NO!” and began running as fast as he could down the mountain.
Hearing his brother's shout, Jonny turned and peered down, immediately focusing on the figure of his brother racing down to the bottom of the valley.
~Wow, I didn't know Little Danny could run that fast~ the oldest Munchkin thought absently, before noticing what Little Danny was running so desperately towards. “Little Danny, stop! DAD, DADDY!” he called out, hoping that the desperation in his voice would be enough to bring his parents running.
Jack and Daniel had both been alarmed by Little Danny's shout. They shared a brief panic-stricken look and then, knowing that Daniel couldn't move very fast while carrying JD, Jack had ditched his backpack and began running toward the top of the hill, closely followed by Jeff and Brianna.
“Jen, stay with the children, and keep them with us,” Daniel said, not wanting the brood spread out so much when he didn't yet know what the danger was.
Jack, Jeff, and Brianna reached the top just in time to hear Jonny's desperate shout. They saw the boy start to move down the hill, presumably to follow his brother. Instinctively, Jack caught his son's shoulder and pushed him back towards Jeff, to keep him safe as he looked out down into the valley and felt his heart stop.
“Wow,” Brianna spoke in a whisper as she stood next to her father. “Dad?”
“Be very quiet,” Jack responded, pushing her back, even though they weren't anywhere near the trouble area.
Little Danny was standing fearlessly in front of a bear cub, which was pawing at its unmoving mother. Even worse, in front of the child, their guns trained on the furious but helpless boy, were two poachers.
Wishing he had his gun, Jack began moving toward the group. After a moment of indecision he decided that the poachers were currently the biggest threat to his son. Sadly, the mother bear appeared to be dead, and the cub was focused on trying to rouse her.
“HEY,” Jack yelled gaining the men's attention.
~Who?~ Little Danny turned and let out a relieved sigh at the sight of his father barreling down the mountainside towards them. “That's my dad,” he said, glaring at the two men. “You better get out of here. He's a general in the United States Air Force, and he knows the President.”
“Ray, I think we should go,” the younger of the two poachers said nervously.
“Don't use my name, you idiot,” Ray spat at his companion, glaring at him with a stern warning.
The effect was lost though, as the other man's eyes were glued on Jack.
“IF YOU'VE HARMED ONE HAIR ON MY SON'S HEAD, I SWEAR I WILL HUNT YOU TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH AND RIP YOUR HEARTS OUT.”
Little Danny grimaced at that imagery and looked at the older of the men, saying, “He would, too. He's Special Ops,” the boy said truthfully.
Ray pointed his gun at Jack, refuting, “Not if I kill him now.”
At that moment, other voices joined Jack's, and the trio looked further up the hill to see the entire Jackson-O'Neill clan watching them, while Daniel, who had left JD with Jennifer and the other children, was now hurrying after Jack, who was almost upon them.
After swearing words that made Little Danny cringe, Ray reluctantly ordered, “Get in the truck.”
Unfortunately Jack's relief at seeing the two poachers jump into the truck and speed off lasted only a millisecond because as soon as the poachers were gone, Little Danny turned and walked over to the mother bear and her cub. He stood frozen in disbelief for a moment as he watched the middle Munchkin. He could hear the boy talking softly to the cub, reassuring it. While he was thankful the cub hadn't attacked the boy yet, he was only too aware of the danger his son was in.
“Little Danny, I need you to *slowly* move away from the bears,” Jack stated steadily, managing to keep his voice low and calm, even though it did tremble a little in the middle. He couldn't believe it when Little Danny shook his head and moved closer to the mother bear. “Son ...”
“I can't, Dad. I have to check on the mother; she might be hurt.”
“I know, Danny, but there's nothing you can do. We'll call the park rangers, and they'll take care of her. Now *please* ... step back from them.”
“It might be too late by then,” Little Danny pointed out, smiling sadly at the cub, who was watching his every move.
Little Danny moved another step closer to the mother bear, the cub mimicking his move, going closer as well.
**Jack? Gawd, what is he doing?**
**His Doctor Doolittle act, Daniel,** Jack snapped. He took a breath to calm himself and added, **We need to call the rangers.**
“Jeff was calling them as I left,” Daniel spoke aloud, but softly as he reached his husband, out of breath from his fast run.
“Little Danny, I'm begging you; please step away from the bears,” Jack pleaded desperately.
It was the fear in Jack's voice that finally reached Little Danny. He looked up to see both of his fathers looking at him with white faces. He remembered back to when he'd found a sick snake in their backyard. He hadn't been afraid, but his fathers had been upset that he hadn't listened to their instructions to release the snake. Torn, he looked back towards the fallen bear and then at the cub.
Oddly, the cub apparently realized that Little Danny's attention had wavered, and it moved to stand between the boy and his parents, letting out small growls of warning. For some reason, the little bear was now ready to protect the little boy from anything, or anyone, it thought was a threat, such as two big humans standing nearby.
“Daniel, did that baby cub just adopt our son?”
“I think so,” Daniel replied.
“I'm *so* not liking this,” Jack opined.
“Ah, Dad, Daddy, I'm sure it's not going to hurt me, but I think you better stay back.” Bending over the mother bear, Little Danny began checking for signs of injury. “She's still breathing,” he called out happily, not realizing that to his parents that just meant that he might be in danger from two bears instead of just one.
Jack and Daniel watched anxiously as the cub ambled back over to Little Danny and its mother. They would have tried to move closer except that the cub kept glaring at them. They knew provoking the animal would be a bad idea. Terrified for their compassionate son, they watched helplessly, knowing they could do nothing but wait and hope that the park rangers would soon come to their aid.
“Got it,” Little Danny said triumphantly, holding up a tranquilizer dart. “I've seen this on TV, Daddy. I think it's one of those darts that puts animals to sleep.”
“That's great, Little Danny. Uh ...”
“Daddy, it's not empty. It wasn't in all the way, either.”
“Now that's just great,” Jack muttered sarcastically. When his lover looked at him, he clarified, “I just mean if it's not a tranquilizer, that bear could be even more unhappy when it wakes up.”
Daniel sighed; then called out, “Uh, Sproglet, why don't you come over here so we can watch her together ... from *here*,” Daniel suggested a bit anxiously.
Little Danny frowned and reached out a hand to stroke the bear cub, who was splitting its attention between its comatose mother, the little boy next to her, and the two humans that were watching them.
“He's patting the bear, Jack; he's actually patting it,” Daniel spoke, both amazed and horrified at his son's actions.
There was a note of hysteria in Daniel's voice, which Jack could relate to; after all, he was feeling a little hysterical himself.
“Of course, he is,” a frustrated Jack responded. “I wonder where he got that from,” he stated a bit curtly as he stared at his husband, his look pointed and accusatorial.
“No comment,” Daniel replied.
Jack stared at his Love for another second before looking back at their son and the two bears and letting out a resigned sigh, saying, “If I thought it would do any good, I'd say that we'd be having one *very* long talk with our son when this is over.”
Jack's faith that Little Danny would be around to potentially lecture later, reassured Daniel more than anything else, until their stubborn son spoke up again.
“He's just like you; he listens when he wants ...” Jack began.
“Daddy, if I did that then the bear cub would be all alone,” the boy answered a bit belatedly. “It doesn't know its mother will be okay. Can't I wait here until the mother starts waking up?” Little Danny asked as he began stroking the mother bear now, too.
“It might actually be safer, Danny,” Jack spoke quietly, trying to make himself feel better just as much as his husband. “The cub obviously isn't threatened by him at the moment, and we don't want to upset it when it's still so close to Little Danny.”
“I guess,” Daniel agreed reluctantly. “Maybe uh ...” Daniel knelt down as subtly as possible and picked up a couple of rocks, holding them up for the older man to see.
Jack nodded in understanding. The two men moved very slowly and deliberately in collecting some rocks and stones they could throw in the vicinity of the animals as a distraction should either attack.
After what seemed like hours, but wasn't, the mother bear finally began moving.
“I think she's waking up,” Little Danny announced happily.
“We see that, Son,” Jack said as the bear cub began sniffling at its mother, “Now would be good time for you to come over here with us.”
“I guess so,” Little Danny said reluctantly, giving the mother bear one final pat before standing up.
At the same time, the family heard a truck in the distance. Obviously, the mother bear heard it, too, because, in an instant, she was standing up and growling at Jack and Daniel.
“Hey, it's okay, Mama Bear; they're my parents,” Little Danny reassured the bear.
Much to Jack and Daniel's dismay the boy's words caught the mother's attention. Prepared to start throwing their gathered rocks, they were shocked when the bear simply snuffled Little Danny's ear and then nudged her cub in the direction of the trees.
“Bye, Bears,” Little Danny said, waving after them as they loped off out of sight.
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look of relief and surprise. Dropping their rocks, they hurried towards their animal-loving son. The two embraced the boy, checking him over for any injuries and then chastising him for running headlong into danger.
~I don't know why we just chastised him for leaping before looking; Daniel never listened on missions, so why should Little Danny listen at a park?~ Jack asked himself.
Then, though, the parents told Little Danny how much they loved him.
Turning towards the mountaintop where the rest of the family could be seen looking down anxiously, Daniel gestured the all clear to them and smiled as they immediately began making their way down the hill.
At that moment, the park rangers reached them. As Jack and Daniel explained what had happened, the rest of the family arrived, taking turns hugging their brother.
“He actually patted the bear cub?” the ranger asked as he stared at the nodding men in disbelief. “And he's not hurt? At all?”
“Not a scratch, thankfully,” Daniel sighed, closing his eyes, knowing all too well how the scene could have played out, something that the ranger confirmed when he spoke into his radio and cancelled the ambulance that had been heading their way.
“Can I talk to the boy?”
Daniel nodded and called Little Danny over.
“I ...” the ranger began, though his words were cut off by the youngster, who was looking very guilty and sorrowful.
“I'm sorry, Mister. I know we aren't supposed to approach bears or anything, but I couldn't just let those bad men take them; but now I hurt them because I disturbed their habitat,” Little Danny spoke rapidly, sniffling and looking like the world had just ended.
Seeing tears running down the boy's cheeks, the ranger crouched down to look the boy in the eye and responded, “It's all right ...”
When the ranger looked up at the parents, Jack responded, “Danny: his name is Danny.”
“Danny, you haven't harmed the bears. The poachers, not you, disturbed their habitat; but I am glad to hear that you know you shouldn't approach black bears. It's as much for your safety as theirs.”
“But they didn't hurt me!” Little Danny reminded.
“Which is very unusual.”
“Do you have any idea why they didn't try to attack?” Jack questioned.
Standing up, the ranger shook his head, answering, “The only thing I can think of is that your son clearly wasn't afraid of them. Maybe the bears picked up on that and so didn't see him as a threat; possibly his youth helped there, too.” He looked down at the caring child and theorized, “Or maybe he's just the first bear whisperer in existence.”
“I don't think we'll test that,” Jack said dryly, “ever.”
“I don't blame you. What can you tell me about the poachers? We'd really like to catch these men if we can.”
“I'm afraid I can't be much help,” Jack admitted reluctantly. “You know, I'm military, so I should be able to, but, crap, I was too focused on my son to take much notice of what they looked like. I was still running in this direction when they left. One man was a stocky build and had a brown vest on. The other was taller and leaner. Both were Caucasian, but that's about all I can tell you. Crap, I wish I could tell you more.”
“Me, too,” Daniel spoke ruefully.
“I can tell you what they looked like,” Little Danny interjected. “I bet Jonny can help, too.”
Sure enough, after getting a detailed description of the two men from Little Danny, the ranger questioned Jonny. He verified some of what Little Danny had said in describing the men and then he gave the ranger the license number of the truck.
“I looked through my binoculars,” Jonny announced, holding up the item.
“Oh, and the shorter man called the taller man Ray,” Little Danny added. “He looked younger than Ray, too.”
“I'm impressed,” the ranger responded.
“Our brood is ... aware,” Daniel tried to explain.
“Excuse me,” Jeff interrupted. “Sir, I took a few photos on zoom using my digital camera that might help. There are some family shots I don't want to lose, but if you have something we could upload ...”
“I can mail the media card to you, or you can pick it up before you leave,” the ranger said, taking possession of the media card Jeff handed him and then, in return, handing Jeff his card.
Then Jonny had a question of his own for the ranger, asking, “Mister Ranger, why did the poachers use tranquilizer guns instead of real ones?”
The ranger sighed, “It's actually not that uncommon. Poachers aren't always good shots, and if they use bullets, they risk destroying some of the parts that they want to harvest. Tranquilizing the bear and then killing it up close eliminates that risk.”
“I don't like those men,” Jonny spoke strongly.
“You're not alone,” the ranger responded.
“Can we help you search for the men, Ranger?” Jenny asked. She had taken her junior ranger badge out and was holding it up. “I'm a junior ranger. I can help.”
“Me, too,” the rest of the junior rangers volunteered.
“Just steer clear of those poachers. If you see them again, call us,” the ranger answered, pulling out one of his cards and handing it to Jack. “You kids have a good time.”
“We're going to get a better look at Rocky Top,” Little Danny explained. He pointed, saying, “It's up there.”
The ranger looked and then smiled, before nodding at the parents and then leaving the area.
“Okay, let's keep going,” Jack stated.
“But this time, we all stick together. Jen, help me with JD,” the archaeologist requested, wanting some assistance in making sure the baby was safely and comfortably in place against his back.
“Hey, Girls,” Daniel greeted that evening.
The family had been gone all day, and the beagles were happy to see them. Instinctively, they headed towards Little Danny and appeared to be looking him over.
“Do you think ...” Daniel began.
“Oh, yeah,” Jack agreed quietly, not understanding exactly how, but being positive that their girls knew the boy had been involved in something dangerous that afternoon.
After breakfast the next morning, the family was cleaning up their camping area when the McAllisters approached.
“We thought that was you.”
“Are you a junior ranger now?” Jenny questioned as she ran over to where Erin and her parents stood.
“Yeah. Here's my badge,” Erin responded. “Are you?”
“Yeah. We had a big adventure yesterday, too,” Jenny spoke.
“We had enough of an adventure when Erin got lost,” Kate McAllister spoke. “Actually, we saw you just now, and that's why we came over: just to say 'thank you' again.”
“No thanks needed. We're parents, too,” Jack spoke, looking lovingly at his husband.
“Dad, can I give Erin our address so we can be pen pals?” Jenny requested as Erin did the same with her father.
After getting permission and then paper and pen from their parents, the girls exchanged addresses.
Following the little girls' lead, Liam reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card, handing it to Jack as he said, “If you're ever in our neck of the woods, give us a call.”
Daniel reciprocated, handing over one of his business cards.
With smiles all around, the two families said their good-byes.
“Write me, Jenny!” Erin called out.
“I will; you write me, too,” Jenny requested enthusiastically.
“I will; I promise,” Erin replied.
“New friends,” Daniel said, smiling.
“That's part of what this trip is all about, Love,” Jack replied, giving his Love a quick kiss before they turned their attentions toward leaving the park.
“That was a great place to stop, Dad,” David opined as he put on his seatbelt.
“Rocky Top is beautiful,” Aislinn proclaimed.
“It sure is,” Daniel agreed as he sat down in the co-pilot's seat. “Engage, Babe.”
Jack looked at his lover and chuckled, “You didn't give me a course heading.”
“Dollywood, Dad. Gotta try and see those stacks!” Jennifer laughed.
As Jack groaned, Daniel laughed. He knew Jennifer wouldn't stop giving her older father a hard time about his Dolly Parton fascination until they had left Tennessee behind.
“How about ...”
“Dollywood,” Daniel insisted.
“You just want to rub it in, dontcha', Danny?”
Daniel grinned broadly, saying, “It's only about an hour from here. Hit it, Jim.”
~I may hit him.~ Jack did a double take, groaning at his lover's smirk. It was pointless; he needed to just get with the program. Speaking with a country accent, he quipped, “Pigeon Forge, look out. The Jackson-O'Neills are coming to see your stacks, in all their vol...”
“Excuse me?” Daniel said, nodding back at the children.
“I just meant that the place is stacked with things to do.”
“Just drive, Jack,” the younger man ordered to the sound of laughing children.
Having arrived at Dollywood, the family began by dropping Bijou and Katie off at Doggywood. Bijou and Katie would be sharing a cottage that had a bed and toys for them to play with. It would also give the girls a change in scenery and let them be outdoors whenever they wanted since there were several kennel runs at the facility.
“This is a great idea,” Daniel opined as they hugged the beagles good-bye.
“Nice bed; don't get it dirty because *we* get to clean it, if you do,” Jack instructed.
“Woof!” Bijou replied.
“We'll be back before the park closes, Katie, Bij!” Little Danny called out as the family disappeared.
After getting their bearings, the family began their fun-filled day with the water adventure ride called River Battle. It left the family drenched, but in a great mood, especially Jonny, who loved the action of the soaker guns that allowed him to shoot at anyone on the attraction's nine rafts. Still wishing that Jonny wasn't quite so fascinated with guns, but accepting that he was, Jack had given his permission for the gun usage and enjoyed the raft ride just as much as everyone else had.
The older children had gone on the Mystery Mine ride, being completely thrilled by the roller coaster ride, while the youngest ones enjoyed the simpler Amazing Flying Elephants, which was essentially like Disneyland's Dumbo ride. The family went on many other rides and also took in some of the attractions.
Jonny and Jenny were both fascinated by the handmade wagons and questioned the wainwrights extensively. There were all kinds of wagons, from a doctor's buggy to a traditional buckboard to a princess' carriage.
“Daddy, could we buy this one?” Aislinn asked with innocent eyes. “You and Dad always say we're princesses.”
“You are, Ash, but, uh, no, we don't need that.”
“Ash, you can buy it yourself, if you have enough money saved up,” Jack spoke, knowing it was a ridiculous notion.
“Dad, you're no fun,” the youngest Munchkin complained before focusing on the wagon again.
“I'm so mean,” Jack jested jokingly as he bounced JD in his arms.
That night, after a full day at Dollywood, the family settled in at a Pigeon Forge RV park. It had been a long day, and the children were tired, but they didn't want to go to bed yet, even though they'd yawned throughout dinner.
Beneath the stars, with the Smoky Mountains as their backdrop, Jack led the family in singing, “On Top of Ole Smoky” and that led to other songs.
“Dad, you're *stacking* the deck. We're in Pigeon Forge,” Jennifer stated suddenly. “We need to sing something more appropriate.”
“What did you have in mind, Jennifer?” Jack questioned.
“Oh, I don't know. Maybe ...” The teenager paused, then laughed before she sang, “Here you come again.”
Daniel's eyes grew wide, hoping his daughter wasn't attempting the joke he thought she was.
“Let's try for something simpler,” Jack suggested.
“How about the reason we came here in the first place,” Daniel suggested.
“I thought that *was* the reason we ...” Jennifer trailed off, seeing her younger father's look of disapproval. “Okay, Rocky Top it is.”
Seconds later, the family was singing:
Wish that I was on ole Rocky Top,
down in the Tennessee hills;
Ain't no smoggy smoke on Rocky Top;
Ain't no telephone bills;
Once I had a girl on Rocky Top;
Half bear the other half cat;
Wild as a mink, but sweet as soda pop,
I still dream about that.
Rocky Top, you'll always be
Home sweet home to me;
Good ole Rocky Top;
Rocky Top, Tennessee,
Rocky Top, Tennessee.
The family sang the second verse and were in the middle of the chorus again, when they heard something that made them start to look around. Daniel's arm was flung nervously over atop his lover's chest, and Aislinn stood up and made a circle, trying to find the sound she was hearing.
One by one, the family stopped singing, until, finally, the voice became crystal clear as the lyrics were heard:
Rocky Top, you'll always be
Home sweet home to me;
Good ole Rocky Top;
Rocky Top, Tennessee,
Rocky Top, Tennessee.
The family gasped.
“Howdy, Y'all. Nice night, ain't it?” the well-built, bosomy blonde asked.
“It sure is,” Daniel answered, standing up and walking over. “I'm ... Daniel Jackson, and this is, uh ...”
“Jack!” the older man interjected.
“Yeah, he's ...”
“Good to meet you, Jack. I'm ...” the woman began.
“... stacked,” the archaeologist completed. Daniel's face turned bright red. His eyes couldn't be any wider, and his mouth could have swallowed a grapefruit. “Oh, gawd, I'm ... I'm sooooo ... I mean, I didn't ... I ... really, I'd never ...”
The woman laughed heartily, waving her hand in front of her as she replied, “Don't think anything of it, Daniel. These old girls are proud of who they are.” Leaning closer, she added, “And they've gotten me far. Shoot, it's a compliment!”
“A big one. I mean, that's not how I meant it. Uh, oh, for crying out loud, I'm a freakin' linguist.”
Jack laughed and then said, “Proud to meet you, Ma'am. I'm Jack, and these are our children.”
“Y'all could be a football team.”
“We are, sometimes,” David chuckled. “I'm David.”
One by one, the children introduced themselves.
“And who is this sweetie pie?” the visitor asked the baby.
“He's JD, our brother,” Jonny stated.
“My word, he's a handsome one. So, you folks having a sing-along?”
“Just enjoying the night beauty,” Jack answered. “You're welcome to join us.”
“Well, don't mind if I do,” the woman laughed.
“Do you come to RV parks a lot?” Jonny questioned.
“I was just visiting some friends, Jonny, and then I decided to go for a little walk. I do some of my best thinking outside, under the stars. Then I heard you singing, and I just had to join in.” The blonde sat down and was immediately surrounded by the children, while Jack and Daniel sat a few feet away where they had been originally. “What shall we sing?”
“What do you want to sing?” Aislinn asked with a bright smile.
“Well, now, it's a beautiful night, and I always enjoy telling the Lord how grateful I am for my blessings on a night like tonight. Do y'all do things like that?”
“Sometimes,” Aislinn answered.
“Then let's sing,” the woman suggested, beginning the first song the group would sing together that night.
Thirty minutes later, the group was back where they had started, the family and their visitor finishing off the last verse of “Rocky Top”:
I've had years of cramped up city life,
Trapped like a duck in a pen.
All I know is it's a pity life
Can't be simple again.
Rocky Top, you'll always be
home sweet home to me;
Good ole Rocky Top;
Rocky Top Tennessee,
Rocky Top Tennessee.
“One more time,” the woman spoke, swaying back and forth with a smiling expression.
Rocky Top, you'll always be
home sweet home to me;
Good ole Rocky Top;
Rocky Top Tennessee,
Rocky Top Tennessee.
“Now that was fun. It's been a real hoot, but these girls need their beauty sleep,” the woman said, standing. “Thanks for letting me sing along with ya for a while.”
“Believe me, Ma'am, it was our pleasure,” Daniel said, having finally regained his composure.
“Don't call me 'Ma'am', Daniel. It reminds me of being an old lady, or some madam, and I haven't been one of those since 1982, and 'Miss Mona' had her way with 'Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd'.” The happy blonde paused and patted Daniel's chest, giggled boisterously, “And I did, too!”
The unexpected visitor hugged the children, spending a few minutes saying good-bye before returning to Jack and Daniel and thanking them again.
“Good-bye,” Daniel said gently, his eyes shining with delight at having met the woman.
“It's been a breasture meeting you,” Jack spoke, his face growing taut as he realized what he'd said.
Daniel's head dropped, while the older children burst into laughter.
“I mean it's been great; a real treat,” Jack stated, trying to act as if he hadn't goofed at all.
“It's been one for me, too, Honey,” the woman said, laughing and waving as she walked away.
“Don't look at me, Daniel. You started it!”
“Only because all you've done in Tennessee is talk about her ... her ... never mind,” Daniel sighed. “Bedtime!” he called out, receiving giggles in response.
The lovers were snuggling in their bed, whispering quietly since JD was in his crib at the foot of the bed, sleeping.
“Jack, this trip was one of your best ideas ever, and we've only just started.”
“It's more than just showing the kids the St. Louis Archway and going on rides, Danny,” Jack said. “It's meeting people and seeing what else is out there.”
“Jenny already wrote a letter to Erin,” the younger man mused.
“Little Danny wrote one to Ranger Ted, full of more apologies and then asking another hundred questions,” Jack laughed.
“That was scary, but did you really see him with those bears? He was ... I don't know,” Daniel spoke, not having the words to express his feelings.
“A bear whisperer,” Jack said, using the ranger's phrase.
Silence filled the air for a moment and then, Jack sang mischievously, “Here I come again,” as he rolled over and began to kiss his husband.
“Jack, the children ...”
“I won't tell if you won't,” the older man chuckled, kissing his lover and hoping for more. “It's time for a revival, and I'm not talking about singing,” he mused.
“Revive me, Babe.”
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The parents glanced at the book, quickly learning that Cowboy and
Octopus were two unlikely friends. Octopus was refined, while
Cowboy was a bit rough around the edges. Both characters were
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friendship, several short stories of their adventures comprised the