Saturday at the J-O's

Author: Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - March 7-8, 2009
Spoilers:  None
Size:  42kb
Written:  March 27-31, May 3,29-30, June 20-21 2005  Revised:  July 11, August 12-13, 2007
Summary:  Jack embarks on a special project with his children, and it leads to a surprising moment at the end of the day.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Hanky warning, so I've been told!
2) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
3) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Claudia, QuinGem, Allexandrya, Linda, Sara!

Saturday at the J-O's
by Orrymain

“Danny, I'm back!” Jack shouted as he walked into their house.

“Hey, Babe,” Daniel responded cheerfully, meeting his husband in the living room.

The lovers kissed and gazed into each other's eyes for a few moments, not speaking, just loving.  Then they sighed.  It was going to be a busy day.

“Where's the brood?” the silver-haired man asked as they parted.

“The Munchkins and the twins have had breakfast, and right now, they're upstairs attempting to dress themselves,” Daniel answered with a bit of a chuckle in his voice.

“The twins, too?”

“They're big boys and girls,” Daniel said, rolling his eyes.

“And you're letting this happen?” Jack asked, trying not to laugh.

“It's Saturday,” the younger man responded.  “Who cares if they wear purple socks with orange shorts?”

“Good point!” Jack agreed, sealing the point with another kiss.  “How about the girls?”

“Watching the dressing show, I think, and the Mouseketeers are in Jen's room, watching cartoons.”

“Jen is watching cartoons?” Jack asked, a bit surprised.

“No, Jen is spending time with David and Noa, and they are watching the cartoons,” Daniel clarified.

“Pardon me for my incorrect assumption,” Jack chuckled.  As he sat down on the sofa, he commented, “She's still very protective of them.”

“That's how it should be,” Daniel replied as he followed his soulmate to the sofa and sat down.  “We don't want that to change, do we?”

“Nope, and that may be a challenge as the kids grow up,” Jack remarked, settling himself to be more comfortable.

“What do you mean?” Daniel asked while snuggling into his lover.

“Triplets, twins: they have built-in playmates.  We have to make sure they mix and mingle, Danny.”

“Yeah, you're right.”

The parents sat for a moment, just enjoying the brief opportunity to cuddle together.  They had too much on their slate for the day to prolong out this tender passage of time, but while it lasted, each soaked in the other's love and comfort.  Their hands were joined, but not still, each massaging and caressing the other.

Finally, Jack sadly broke the spell, saying, “Okay, I'm going to take the lumber and supplies into the backyard, so if the troops escape ...”

“I'll go ride herd,” Daniel said, resigned to the end of snuggle time.

“Love you, Angel,” Jack spoke and then stood up.

“I love you, too.”

====

“Dad!”

A chorus of five voices rang out as Daniel released the Munchkins and twins to the whim of the calm, winter day.  It was 11:00 a.m., and Jack had his materials laid out and ToddlerTown (the children's portable play area that was much bigger than a playpen) set up.

“Make box?” Jonny asked eagerly.

“That's the plan.  Today, everyone gets to make their own toy box and help to decorate it.”

“Have lots toys,” Aislinn stated proudly.

“Now that's an understatement,” Jack chuckled.  Seeing his daughter's confused look, he added, “That means you're right.”

“Oh!” Aislinn giggled.

“Okay, into ToddlerTown,” Daniel called out, assisting each of the five children into the play area.  “When I get done making my phone calls, I'll come outside, and we can play.”

The children smiled and began to play, except for one.

“Daddy, need K'tie,” Little Danny nearly whined.

Daniel looked around, saying, “Where'd they go?”

“Woof!”

“Oh, sorry.”  Daniel had closed the patio door, thinking the girls had already gone outside.  “Sorry about that,” he said, opening the door for the two beagles.  “Katie, would you like to get in and play with the children?”

“Need K'tie,” Little Danny said again, reaching out for her.

“Wooooof!” Katie answered, running to ToddlerTown and looking at Daniel.

“I think that's a 'yes', Love,” Jack interpreted with a chuckle.

====

Well into his task, Jack paused, taking a break from his sawing.  He stood up straight to stretch his back.

~Where'd all that sun come from?~

Reaching up with his right hand, Jack wiped the light sweat off his forehead.  He looked over at ToddlerTown to see what the kids were doing and saw Jonny staring back at him.  It wasn't the first time he'd noticed his namesake watching him that morning.  The two-and-a-half-year old had been focused intensely on his father as he cut the wood into the measurements he wanted.

Seeing Jack looking at him, Jonny smiled, raised his hands, and asked, “Me help?”

Noting that the other children playing happily, Jack walked over and picked Jonny up, suggesting, “Tell you what.  You can help me sand down this corner.”

“How do?” Jonny asked eagerly while looking up attentively at his father.

Though he had an electric sander, Jack went to the work area and he picked up a piece of sandpaper and rubbed it against the area.

“Just press and rub, really hard,” Jack instructed as she showed the boy what to do.

Jonny used all his strength to do as his father directed.  He grunted and groaned as he rubbed the paper along the wood as hard as he could.

Jack smiled as he watched, remembering back to when he was a young boy and how he loved helping his father and grandfather build things both at their home and at the Minnesota cabin.

“All done?” Jonny asked.

“Perfect.  Thank you, Son!”

====

“Lunch is ready,” Daniel announced, opening the patio door.

Unaware so much time had passed, Jack chastised, “Danny, you should have called me.  It was my turn, especially since you did the breakfast rush.”

With a smile, Daniel replied, “You were busy with your helper.”

Looking over at Jonny, Jack knew the child had done a pretty good job for his age with the sanding tasks he'd been asked to do.  He'd enjoyed teaching Jonny tremendously.  Still, he and his husband shared the chores, all of them, rather they be changing the oil on their vehicles or preparing a meal.

**All the same, Danny, you're not the chief cook, you know.**

**It's just lunch, Jack.  You can do dinner,** Daniel responded, pleased that his lover cared so much about making sure they worked as a full partnership just as much at home as they did with their company.

“'Ungry,” Jonny said, carrying the sandpaper over to Daniel.  “Work hard. See?”

“Wow, you did.  I'm impressed, Jonny.  You worked very hard and did a good job,” Daniel praised, smiling at the little boy.

Feeling happy that his fathers were pleased with his work, Jonny grinned and ran over to ToddlerTown to show his brothers and sisters.

“Help Dad.  Daddy like.  See?”

Jack and Daniel chuckled, then ushered their children inside where the Mouseketeers were already seated.

“Why wash hands?” Aislinn asked as Jack and Daniel helped the five youngest children wash up before lunch.

“Because when you play outside, your hands get dirty, and you need to wash the dirt and germs off before you eat,” Daniel answered as he dried Jenny's hands.

“What erms?” Jonny asked as he rinsed the soap off his hands.

“Germs are tiny little things that live in dirt and other places that can make us sick if we eat them,” Daniel informed the oldest Munchkin.

“Oh,” Jonny expressed thoughtfully.  Then he added, “I always wash hands, no eat germs.”

A chorus of 'me, too's' rang out from the other Munchkins and the twins.  Then they joined the Mouseketeers at the table.

“How Bugs?” Aislinn asked Chenoa as she waited for the lunch to be served.

“Elmer blowed 'em up,” Chenoa answered as the food was placed in front of all the children, and they began to eat.

“Elmer nevah blow Bugs,” Jonny said, shaking his head.

“Did this one,” Chenoa maintained, nodding her head in rhythm with Jonny's head shaking.

“It was just pretend,” David explained.  “Bugs always gets the best of Elmer Fudd.”

“Little Danny, what are you doing?” Daniel asked.

“Eating.”

“Right, but, uh, what I meant was ...”

“Danny ...” Jack interrupted, shaking his head.

Daniel shrugged, agreeing to let Little Danny's actions go for the moment.

The little boy had separated his two pieces of bread and was licking off the peanut butter with long swipes of his tongue.  Then he picked up the other piece and licked the grape jelly.  By the time he was done, his face was brown and purple, and, of course, Aislinn had decided to try the same method.

“You eat like this, Jonny,” Little Danny instructed.

“Na-uh.  'ungry!” Jonny refuted just before taking a big bite out of his sandwich.

“He worked hard this morning,” Jack explained, trying not to laugh.

====

All the children were in the backyard, playing.  Jennifer and David were in charge of watching their younger siblings, while Jack continued to work on the project at hand and Daniel took care of some business inside the house.

“Aislinn, would you hand me that hinge?” Jack asked his daughter.  “Uh, a hinge is ...”

“I know what is,” Aislinn interrupted and then correctly picked up the hinge and handed it to her father.

Smiling, Jack expressed, “Thanks, Honey.”

“I help now?” the toddler asked.

“In a minute.  I have to screw this ...”

Jack watched, surprised when Aislinn ran off in the middle of his sentence, and even more so when she returned with the screwdriver.

“Here screw thing,” Aislinn said, handing Jack the screwdriver.

Taking it Jack, said, “Thank you.  Come on, you help me with this one.”

Even though Jack had an electric screwdriver that would make the job much easier, it was obvious that his daughter, like Jonny, wanted to spend some hands-on helping time.  He helped her stand on a work bench and turn the screwdriver to affix the hinge.

“Good girl,” Jack praised as she worked.

After repeating her task a few more times, Aislinn ran over to her fellow Munchkins, exclaiming, “I help build, too!”

Jack and Daniel had decided to build each child a toy or storage box for their own things.  It would make the nursery even more crowded, but the kids needed something to help organize their toys and mementos.  Jack remembered seeing an advertisement for a personalized toy box, and the kids had jumped at the idea.

Daniel came up with the idea of photographing the children as they played while Jack worked on putting the boxes together.  Throughout the day, the archaeologist had quietly taken photos when the kids weren't aware he was around.  Once finished with his business, he would take a few more, and then the entire family would go inside the house and review the photos.

Each child would select up to five photos of their family to go on their box.  They'd print them out, place each in a plastic cover, and then affix them to the boxes.

Jennifer, who was good at calligraphy, had made beautiful nameplates for each box, and each child had chosen a different color for the trim of their wood storage bins to be decorated with.  In this way, each box would be more distinguishable and unique.

====

“Okay, let's go choose some photographs,” Daniel called out later in the afternoon, after taking one last photo of Jonny squirting his water gun at Ricky.

“Daddy, we get G.I. Joe guns?” Jonny asked, a look of excitement and anticipation in his eyes.

Jack heard the words and looked over at Daniel, exchanging worried emotions through their eyes.

“No, I don't think so,” Jack answered dryly.

“Why not?  Want one,” Jonny whined.

Daniel knelt down and explained, “Because guns are very, very dangerous.” He looked sternly at the little boy, but spoke in an even tone.  “The only gun you are ever going to have in this house is this water one,” he said, pointing at the clear, green toy.

“Why?” Jonny asked, not understanding.

Daniel thought for a moment and finally responded, “We'll talk about it later because right now we're in the middle of making your toy boxes.”

As Daniel was talking, Jennifer made her way over to Jack and asked, “Are you okay, Dad?”

The silver-haired man smiled at her.  Jennifer had known about Charlie for a long time, since before she was adopted by the Jackson-O'Neills.

“I guess it's time to tell them,” Jack sighed, taking a big breath as he took off his work gloves.

“All their little friends have toy guns,” the teenager commented.  “They look so real, Dad; it's scary.”

“They need to understand and not just have Danny and I saying 'no'.  It's just not easy to think about.”

“I could talk to them if you want,” Jennifer offered.

~She's growing up -- blast it!~  Jack gave the teenager a kiss on the cheek and responded, “Thank you, Jen, but I need to do this.”

Jennifer nodded and went to join the others who were just going inside.

**Jack?**

**We'll tell them, Danny.**

It might not happen that night, but soon, Jack and Daniel both knew it would be time to tell the Munchkins and the twins exactly how their older brother, Charlie, had died.  All they knew at this point was that their older brother had died in a tragic accident.  The time had come, though, when Jack would have to meet that challenge and reveal the traumatic details of the event.

====

“Jenny, your turn,” Jack announced.

Jenny toddled over to where Jack was.  She giggled as Jack placed her hands on the stain.

“Remember, don't move your fingers.  You want to press down and keep them there for a minute.  I'll help.”

Jenny pressed her hands against the top of her board, and then Jack helped her lift her hands off.  She giggled again, seeing her hand prints that were now part of her own special toy box.

“Cool, huh?” Jack said enthusiastically.

“Way cool,” Jenny agreed, giggling again.  “Ricky, c'here!”  Once Ricky had obediently run over to her, she commanded, “Do Ricky hands, Dad.”

“We will, on Ricky's box.”

“He bro'er.  Want my box, too,” Jenny begged.

~Hey, yeah.  Jenny smart.~  Little Danny jumped up from his seat and exclaimed, “Yeah!  Want all on my box.”

“What do you think, Danny?” Jack queried, looking over at his lover.

“I like.  Want all on mine, too,” Chenoa said.

“You know, Jack, if they last, it would be a great old piece; something personal for all of them that could last a lifetime,” Daniel observed.

“Okay, change in plan.  Is there anyone who just wants their own hands on their toy box?” Jack asked.

A bunch of shaking heads was Jack's answer, so then he set about putting each child's hand prints on every box he made.

====

“This was a great idea, Daddy,” Jennifer said as she pressed on the last of the photos to David's box.

“Well, we needed something, and Dad came up with it,” Daniel responded.

“Having it personalized like this is so cool.  Look at this,” the teenager pointed to Jenny's hand prints.  “I'm going to protect my storage box,” Jennifer stated affectionately.  “I want to always have this record of my brothers and sisters.  I mean, with these photos, too, it's just incredible.”

“And they're individual.  Look at what Jonny put on his box?'' Daniel said, pointing to Jonny's box.

“A picture of Jo,” Jennifer mused.  “He loves that airplane.”

All the children had picked out special decals for their boxes, too.  For example, Chenoa's had unicorns, David's had star constellations, and Ricky's had Winnie the Pooh characters.  Nothing was indiscriminately applied.  Every photo or decal had been selected by the children themselves.

“I think he's going to follow in Dad's footsteps,” Daniel announced about Jonny's love of flying.

“He may surprise you,” Jennifer countered, smiling at her father.

Daniel shrugged and then said, “All of you surprise me, every day.”

“I hope that's a good thing,” the teenager chuckled.

“It's the best, Jen.  I never thought I'd have this, and I hope Jack and I are able to instill in each of you just how precious family is,” Daniel spoke thoughtfully.

“I love you, Daddy.”

Daniel grinned at the words and echoed them, saying, “I love you, Jen, and I'm very proud of you, too.”

====

“Danny!”  Jonny shoved his brother as he lay on Chenoa's bed.  “Little Danny, wake up!”

“Oops!  I go sleep,” Little Danny said as he scooted up and rubbed his eyes.

“We need b'ter guns to play,” Jonny insisted.

“Daddy say no,” the youngest male Munchkin replied, shaking his head.

“We go ask 'gain,” Jonny told him firmly.

“'Kay.”

The two little boys went to their parents' bedroom.  It wasn't bedtime, but everyone was upstairs, playing or talking.  Jack and Daniel were on the edge of their bed, telling Chenoa a story about Zeus.

“Dad!” Jonny called out.

“Daddy!” Little Danny called out.  “Oops,” he added, realizing they were in the middle of something.  “Sorry,” he said quietly.

“That's okay.  We just finished,” Daniel said.

“I go bathroom,” Chenoa announced, scooting off the bed and running out.

“Okay, boys, what's up?” Jack asked.

“Want guns!” Jonny stated boldly.

“Need new guns to play,” Little Danny added to Jonny's demand.

Jack sighed, looked at Daniel, and then shook his head in disbelief.  It hadn't just been today; Jonny had been leading the charge about getting toy guns to play with for quite a while.  He recalled their last big discussion about it, back in early January before the family had gone on the big dig to Mexico.

//Flashback//
“Hey, Son, how is Derek's birthday party going?” Jack asked as he arrived to pick Jonny and Little Danny up from Derek Bartholomew's home.  At the moment, they were in the backyard, Jack having walked in through the back gate.  “And where's your brother?” he asked, searching the yard with sharp eyes for the child in question.

“It great, Dad!”  Jonny looked over to where he knew his brother was.  “Little Danny, no dead now!” he yelled back toward the bushes.

Jack's facial features tightened as he tried to figure out what was happening.  Derek's party was still going strong, and a lot of the children were playing with several of the toys the youngster had been given, many of which were different types of toy guns.  Seeing this, the general felt a sense of relief that the Jackson-O'Neills had plans to attend a barbecue at the Ferretti's, which is why he had arrived early to pick up the two boys, extricating them from the gun play.

Jonny looked up at Jack and said with pride, “I kill him.  See?”

Jack's heart stopped as Jonny held up a very real-looking pistol.

“DANIEL MICHAEL JACKSON-O'NEILL!” Jack suddenly shouted, his heart beating faster than it had in months.

The worried man began to walk, then jog, finally moving to a full-out sprint as he headed in the direction where Jonny had looked.  He searched until he saw Little Danny, lying on the ground, under some bushes.

Just as Jack neared the bushes, Little Danny rolled over and exclaimed, “Dad, I dead!”

Jack's chest was heaving as he stared down at his little boy.  He looked around, seeing the children happily engaged in various war games.  He glanced over at Derek's mother who smiled, though she was looking at him strangely, having heard the yell.  Looking back at his son, he reached out and scooped him into his arms.  His hold was tight, confusing and frightening Little Danny a bit.

“Dad!  Dad!”

Jack felt Jonny's tug on his pants.  Looking down, he saw his namesake holding up the pistol.

“What is it, Jonny?” Jack asked as he worked to catch his breath.

“These neat.  We get some?”

“No!” Jack said firmly.

“But they fun!” Jonny argued.

“Yeah, Dad, they fun,” Little Danny seconded.

“No.  Now it's time to go,” Jack stated sternly, still not sure he wasn't going to lose his composure in front of the children and other parents in attendance.

“Pleeeeeeeeease,” Jonny begged.

“I said no,” Jack the general responded, his 'gen'rl eyes' ignored by the boys.

“But, Daaaaaad,” Jonny pleaded.

“Jonny, don't whine.  We have to go.  Go say good-bye to Derek and your friends, and don't forget to thank Mrs. Bartholomew.”

“Yes, Dad,” Jonny pouted.

“Yes, Dad,” Little Danny echoed as Jack put him down.

Jack stood silently, knowing that he, too, should thank Derek's mom for inviting the boys over, but at the moment, he couldn't take his eyes off his two sons, and he didn't feel at peace until Jonny had handed the toy gun over to Derek.

~Safe; safe now.~
//End of Flashback//

Jack sighed, remembering the cacophony of emotions he'd felt at the birthday party.

~I wish I didn't have to do this.~

Though he wasn't sure he was ready for this conversation, Jack realized it was time to state the facts, to let the children know the truth about Charlie's death, difficult as it might be.  Bracing himself for what would be a difficult session, he called on his inner reserve of strength.

“Come on, Squirts.  It's time for a family meeting.”

====

With the family assembled in the living room, Jack stood in front of them.  He paced back and forth a couple of times, looking at the family before pacing some more.

“Dad, has something bad happened?” Jennifer asked.

“No,” Jack snapped sharply.

The older father stopped for a moment and smiled apologetically at his daughter; then he walked to the mantle and picked up the photo of Charlie.  After staring at it silently for several seconds, he carried the picture with him as he walked back to his previous spot.  He was standing opposite the sofa, the coffee table between him and the others. Taking a big breath, Jack sat down Indian-style on the floor.  He placed the photo of Charlie on the coffee table at an angle where everyone could see it.

“Daddy?” Jennifer asked, worried about what was happening.

“It's okay, Jen.  Give him a second,” Daniel requested in a calm voice.

Finally, Jack was ready and spoke somberly, “Jen, you know what happened, and maybe one or two of you may have figured it out or overheard us talking at some point, but what I want to talk to you about now is ... is how your brother died.”

“Charlie?” Chenoa asked.

“Charlie,” Jack confirmed.  “We've talked about him before.”

“I named after him,” Jonny announced with pride.

“He like baseball,” Little Danny said.

“And ice cream,” Chenoa added enthusiastically.

David chuckled, “Everyone likes ice cream, Noa.”

“Charlie, too,” the young girl reiterated emphatically.

“She's right.  He loved it,” Jack said.  He took a much-needed cleansing breath.  “Kids, it's time you knew how Charlie died.  For a long time, it was very hard for me to talk about.”  With a sigh, he admitted, “All I could remember was the sadness and how he died.”  Letting himself smile just a bit, he noted, “Now, though, I remember his infectious laugh, how he used to love to flip me for dimes to win extra money, playing catch at all times of the day and night, telling ghost stories, teaching him how to fish: all the things that we do, too.”

Knowing how Charlie died, Jennifer leaned forward as she sat on a chair and inquired, “Dad, why are you telling us now?”

“Because Jonny and Little Danny want to play with and own toy guns like their friends, and that's not going to happen.”

“Why?  No play war wit'out guns,” Jonny protested.

Jack began his explanation as calmly as he could, and as he did, he looked his namesake straight in the eye, making sure Jonny was listening to every word.

“One day, when Charlie was ten, Sara and I were going to take him on a picnic.  We'd play some ball, barbecue on the grill, just hang out, and have fun.  That was the plan, but I had some errands to run before we could go.  When I got home, Sara was outside.  She was so beautiful.  I kissed her hello, and, geez, we were happy.”

Jack grew silent as the memories overtook him.  Daniel considered jumping in, but he knew this was something his husband had to do on his own.

“Dad, you sad?” Little Danny asked sympathetically.

“Yeah, because I wish Charlie was here right now so you could all play together.  He was a good kid.  He should have had a long, healthy life, but that day I was telling you about was the day Charlie died.”

“How Charlie die?” Aislinn asked with a tiny voice.

Jack smiled at her for a moment and then got lost in the memory, continuing, “I had my arms around Sara when she pulled out his new school photo.”

“Is that the one on the wall?” David asked, referring to a photograph on the living room wall, right next to the entranceway of the home.

“Yes,” Jack said, looking over at the photo.  “He looked so happy and carefree in it.  While Sara and I were talking about the picture, we heard a loud shot.  I looked up, knowing the sound came from the second floor of our house.  I ran as fast as I could, and as I ran, I could hear Sara screaming.”  He grimaced as he recalled, “It was an agonizing scream: the scream of a parent whose world was ending.”

Little Danny didn't fully understand what was happening, but he couldn't stay where he was.  He climbed off the sofa and walked to his father, throwing his arms around him.  He didn't say anything; just gave Jack a giant hug.

Jack smiled, squeezed his son to him, gave him a kiss, and expressed, “I love you, Son.”

“I sit here,” the little boy said, moving to sit in Jack's lap on the floor.

Jack's arms wrapped around Little Danny as he gained strength from his son's simple act.

“When I went upstairs, I found Charlie in my bedroom, lying on the floor, bleeding to death.  Sara called 9-1-1, and I held my son in my arms.  He died, right there, on the floor, in my arms.  The paramedics came; they tried to revive him, but ...”  Jack paused, shaking his head at the bloody memory.  “They rushed him to the hospital.  The doctors tried, but he never woke up.”

Jack didn't realize it, but he was rocking sideways as he held Little Danny.

“Dad?” Jennifer said softly, unashamed of the tears running down her face.

“The night before I'd been in a hurry; I wanted to spend time with Sara.  I didn't put my gun in the place I normally kept it.”

“It wasn't your fault, Dad,” Jennifer insisted.

Jack continued on, his eyes seeing a long ago nightmare as he spoke, “Charlie loved guns.  He had a bunch of toy guns, all kinds.  He was the typical little boy, playing war and cowboys.  There was always a toy gun around.”  He sighed with regret, “He wanted to be like me, and everyone knows me and ... big, honkin' guns.”

“Jack, don't start blaming yourself again,” Daniel warned softly.

“No, Danny, not blaming, just speaking the truth.”  Making eye contact with each of the children, Jack spoke from his heart as he said, “I want you kids to understand that my son, your brother, died because he played with a gun, my gun.  Jonny, I almost didn't let you keep the water guns.  They seem harmless, but they've made you want more -- bigger, more complex guns.”  He shook his head, stating firmly, “There will be *no* toy guns in this house.  You can keep the water guns, and like now, you'll only use them outside as long as you play with them properly.”

“Squirt on hot days?” Aislinn asked.

“Right,” Daniel confirmed.

Jack stared at his children, hoping they were understanding his words, but he wasn't sure.  The father of eight, no nine, knew he needed to dig a little deeper into the tragic event.

“Do you understand?” Jack asked sharply.  “Your brother isn't here today because he loved guns and decided to play with mine.  Like most boys, Charlie was fascinated with guns.  He was curious about mine, and he thought it was harmless to open my drawer and take it out.  He probably just wanted to hold it, but when he did, somehow, he released the safety, and ...” He looked again into the eyes of each child, debating how graphic to get, and yet knowing this wasn't the time to hold back.  ~They have to understand.~  “... and then the gun went off and blew his brain out all over the floor.”

**They need to know,** Daniel confirmed with a nod when his lover looked at him, wondering if he'd just done the right thing.

Emphatically, the older man stated, “I won't lose one of you because you think guns are cool.  Guns are *not* cool.  They are dangerous weapons that suck the life out of people, just like my gun did to Charlie.”

Jack was intense.  He normally didn't come down this hard, but this was the time for the meaning of life to sink in to his children.  He wanted them to be a little afraid.  He wanted guns to lose their appeal on the spot.  When the children were older and more able to understand the potency of dangerous weapons, then, maybe, he'd teach them, but that day was far away.

Suddenly, Little Danny untangled himself from Jack's embrace and ran upstairs.

“I'll go,” Jennifer said, worried that the boy was overwhelmed by Jack's story.

Jack and Daniel also assumed their son was upset over Jack's words, but they needed to finish this discussion before going to check on him.

“Look, I know you're little kids, and you see guns on TV all the time.  Your friends play with them.”  Jack sighed.  “You hear me talking about my old Air Force days in Special Ops.  It's natural to want them; I don't blame you, but it's not going to happen.  When you're older, when you're adults, then you can use a gun, if you want, but you're all too young right now.  I know I couldn't live through that nightmare again.”

“Dad!” Little Danny called out as he ran back to Jack, Jennifer walking behind him with a small, closed smile on her face.  He sat down on his knees, facing his older father and said, “No want.  I play with other toys,” while handing over his water gun.

“You don't have to give it to me,” Jack responded in a cracked voice.

“I no like guns anymore.  I play with trucks and Legos and 'cyclopedia.”

Jack asked in surprise, “You play with the encyclopedia?”

“It fun.  I close eyes and open to new page.  Learn stuff,” Little Danny said, his face bright with the challenge of his reference book adventures.

“Oh,” Jack said, caressing the little boy's cheek.

“I no want mine, either,” Aislinn said.

Before he knew it, five of the six children who had water guns had voluntarily turned them over, even though Jack had reiterated to each that they didn't have to.

“We have squiggle hose,” Chenoa offered as an alternative to the water guns.

Jack gave them all hugs, and then he heard a sigh from the sofa.  A bit hesitantly, he watched Jonny trudge his way upstairs.  A minute later, the boy returned with his gun.  He made his way to Jack and gave the item to him.

“When I grow up, I be like you.  I fly plane and save planet.  I use gun, but I be older.  No need now.”

“Come here,” Jack said, pulling Jonny in for a tight hug.  “Thank you, Jonny,” he spoke softly, having never liked seeing any of his children with the water guns.

“Love you, Dad.  Charlie sorry,” Jonny promised.

Jack nodded and looked over at Daniel, who had Chenoa and David hugged close to him.  Daniel smiled reassuringly, his eyes moist from the emotion.

“I love you, too.  I love all of you so darn much,” Jack said as a family hug began.

====

“Hey,” Daniel said softly ninety minutes later.

The children were finally all tucked into bed, and all the last minute chores and obligations were completed.  After checking his e-mail and powering down his computer, Daniel had found his husband on the roof deck, his hands clinging to the rail as he stared out into space.  He rubbed Jack's back and then slowly glided his hands around his waist, reaching up under his lover's gray shirt to massage the skin.

Daniel kissed Jack's nape and sighed, “Jack?”

“We have great kids, Danny,” Jack observed seriously.

“I know.  They're awesome,” Daniel agreed, smiling and gently rubbing his lover's back.

“Danny, are you mad at me?”

“Why would I be mad at you?” Daniel asked earnestly.

“I didn't ask you first.  I got pretty graphic when I talked about how Charlie died.”

“They needed to hear it.  Jack, we've promised each other we'd be as honest as we can be with them about things, and sometimes, that means things that are unpleasant.  They can handle it.”

“I needed them to understand, Danny,” Jack practically pleaded.

“They do,” Daniel agreed strongly, his eyes begging Jack to release his guilt.

“I'm thinking nightmares,” Jack sighed.

“Probably, for one or two of them, but we'll be here if they do,” Daniel soothed. “I ... Jack, they're so young.  I'm really not sure they'll remember everything you said about how Charlie died, but ...”  He sighed, “I think they'll remember the feeling of loss because of a gun.”

Jack turned around to face his husband, also taking the younger man's hands in his, and asked, “You're pretty amazing, you know that?”

Daniel smiled and explained, “I just love you, and this needed to be done.  It was time.”

“Speaking of time, why don't we make some time,” Jack said with a wink and raised eyebrows.

“Mmm,” Daniel responded as the lovers kissed the rest of the night away.

====

“Where is everyone?” Jack asked Daniel as they woke up bright and early the next morning.

The parents had been pleasantly surprised that none of their children had had nightmares during the night.  They hoped that was a good sign that they'd understood the gravity of the gun issue without being too frightened by the description of Charlie's death.

“I don't know.”  Daniel quickly checked the nearby rooms and then hurried back to the master bedroom.  “Jack, they're all gone,” he reported.

“They must be downstairs,” Jack guessed.  Hurriedly, the couple made their way to the living room, finding it empty.  “I'll check Jen's room.”

“No,” Daniel called out as he walked towards the patio doors and smiled.  “Jack, they're outside.”

“Doing what?” Jack queried as he hastened to move to his husband's side.

“Let's go find out,” Daniel suggested.

====

“Hi!” the children called out as they saw their parents walk outside.

“Backatcha,” Jack greeted, looking at their toy boxes that were all lined up in a row.  “What's going on?”

“We need to fix,” Chenoa answered.

“Fix?  They look pretty good to me,” Jack said, thinking his handiwork had been done extremely well.

“Dad,” Jennifer began, “they woke me up this morning, saying the toy boxes weren't finished.  I hope you don't mind, but I took the school photo of Charlie from the wall and made copies on the scanner.”

“See?” Jenny said, holding up her copy.

“Toy boxes not done,” Ricky added.

“We want Charlie's picture on them, too, Dad,” David said, smiling and knowing that would make his father happy.

“Charlie would like that,” Jack acknowledged softly.

“Charlie our brother, too.  Help us, Dad,” Jonny requested.

Daniel leaned over, gave Jack a kiss, and suggested, “You work on this; I'll start breakfast.”

“It's my turn,” Jack said, noting that Daniel had somehow ended up cooking the majority of meals lately.

Daniel looked at the children and shook his head.  It just wasn't a big deal to him that for a couple of days he'd become the chief chef.  The couple had priorities, and eight of them were now looking at Jack with very expectant eyes.

“No, not this morning.  You have something much more important to do.  Go on, Babe.  I'll let you know when breakfast is ready.”  Daniel watched as Jack began to help his children affix one final photo to their storage boxes.  He felt happy inside, and lucky to have such a wonderful family.  ~Such a simple thing, building toy boxes, but look what it led to.~

The younger father looked up towards the heavens, noting how blue the sky was for this time of the year.

~Hey, Charlie, I hope you're watching.  Your dad -- he's doing great.  He can talk about you and remember the good times you had.  He's keeping your memory alive for your brothers and sisters, and for himself.  He's come so far.  I guess we all have.~  Daniel looked back over at Jack and their children, smiling as he echoed, ~Oh, yeah, we've come a long, long way.~

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