Shadows

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Angst, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - September 14 - November 30, 2020
Spoilers:  None
Size:  229kb
Written:  May 16, 2010, January 7-8, June 15-27, 2017
Summary:  Little Danny's favorite valentine is hiding something and when he figures out what it is, it threatens to cause a rift between the teenager and his parents.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s):  “Transitions: The Next Ten Months,” “Torn Assunder,” and “Twizzling”
4) Thanks to Ali for the medical assist.
5) Warning: this fic does include some degree of domestic violence.

Shadows
by Orrymain

Daniel Jackson-O'Neill entered the offices of J-O Enterprises and smiled at the receptionist.  He looked quite handsome in his navy business suit.  A newspaper was squeezed between his torso and left arm and he carried a briefcase.

The eyes of the employees who could see the reception area weren't focused on Daniel, though, but on the young man behind him.

Little Danny Jackson-O'Neill, wearing an identical colored suit and also carrying a briefcase, trailed his father.  The  youth was ten days away from turning fourteen when, by Colorado law, he could work officially for his parents' company.  However, having already graduated high school via homeschooling and taken several college courses online and offline for the past few years, he was more than qualified to start assisting his parents in the family business.  The parents secured permission for an early start and so, as of today, the middle Munchkin began his career in archaeology.  The plan was for him to work two to three days per week, putting in an average of twenty hours per week but definitely no more than thirty hours.  He'd be hitching rides with his fathers or from one of his siblings to get to and from the location.

Father and son headed upstairs and were greeted warmly by Karissa St. James, formerly Karissa Lewis. The longtime employee wed her husband, Darren, in March 2019.

“You two look very dapper,” Karissa told the father and son, though her tone sounded a bit lackluster to the younger male.

“We have to look our best,” Little Danny stated.  “We're meeting with Mister Walsh today.”

“Speaking of which,” Daniel prodded without making a complete comment.

“The file's on  your desk,” Karissa informed her boss.  When the two Jackson-O'Neills disappeared from her sight, the woman sighed and returned to her desk.  She sat down and stared at the digital picture frame that rotated roughly two-hundred images programmed into it.  When the one she was wanting to see appeared, she paused the program.  She picked up the frame and held it close as she dissected the innocence in the faces.  There was Little Danny, a youth of six, with his face pressed against hers.  There she was, a businesswoman on her way up, enjoying time with the nicest little boy she had ever met.  ~Life was so simple then.~

“Karissa, do you have time to discuss the Morindo Project?” Bibi inquired, after tapping on the open door.

“Of course,” Karissa replied, putting down the frame and focusing on business.

====

“Okay, so, uh, that's the plan,” Daniel told his namesake.  “You'll spend some time with Dad, and me, of course, but most of your time is going to be spent with Bibi.  She's your supervisor, at least for now.”

Little Danny nodded.  He felt happy to be an official part of the company, just like Jennifer and David, though his sister now had other responsibilities and only worked for J-O Enterprises occasionally.

With a coy smile, Daniel added, “And you'll also put in a couple of hours per week with Karissa, assisting her with whatever she needs.”

The teen's facial expression instantly grew into a big, happy face.  His eyes lit up as he radiated joy.

“Really, Daddy?”

“Really.  Keep in mind, she might send you to assist another employee.  She's responsible for ensuring J-O is running smoothly and efficiently, so you go where she tells you.”

“Thanks, Daddy.”

Daniel smiled.  Little Danny loved Karissa and had from the first moment he'd seen her when he was a baby.  As time passed, it wasn't a secret to anyone just how the boy felt about the blonde, who was one of the six original employees chosen by Jack and Daniel and who eventually became an assistant to Megan Williams, now Megan Awad, and given the title of Cultural Resources Manager before achieving her current role of Director of Operations for the company's primary location.

The middle Munchkin had big dreams for himself and Karissa, who he called Rissa, but as he grew up, he realized that he was a child and she was an adult.  Showing an abundance of wisdom for his then eight years of life, Little Danny essentially freed Karissa during a J-O Enterprises employee gathering, one at which Karissa's potential boyfriend, Darren St. James, also attended.

//Flashback//
Little Danny walked over to where Darren was talking with some other J-O employees.  The two still had never been officially introduced, but it was obvious that they were about to have a conversation.  Releasing Karissa's hand, he walked forward a few steps and stopped.

Seeing the boy standing a few feet away, staring at him, Darren excused himself and walked over to the youngster.

“You're Little Danny, right?” Darren asked, looking down at the Munchkin.  He extended his hand and introduced, “I'm Darren, and it's a pleasure to meet you.”

The little boy had no time for small talk, and he couldn't afford to be distracted. This was far too important.  He was also afraid he might burst out into tears at any moment, and he didn't want Karissa to feel bad just because his young life was now doomed to a sad, dismal fate, or so it seemed to the child.

“Karissa is the best woman in the whole universe, aside from Mommy, maybe,” Little Danny spoke.  “Same as Mommy.  It's close.  I can't decide.”

“I understand what you're saying,” Darren responded.

“I love her,” the boy declared.

Standing just a foot behind the youngster, Karissa's eyes began to mist.  It was happening, and she wasn't sure she was going to survive it.

Kneeling down, Darren nodded, replying, “I know that.”

“When I grow up, I want to marry her,” the boy stated without reservation.

“I'm not surprised.  Like you said, she's a special lady,” Darren agreed.

“I loved her the very first time I saw her.  She said she'd be my valentine forever,” Little Danny advised, his eyes totally focused on the man he was talking to.

“I heard about that.”

“Do you love her?”

Karissa closed her eyes, wanting to interrupt, but discovering she didn't have a voice to speak with.

Darren looked up at the woman, who was now crying and trying to brush away her tears.

“You deserve the truth, and so does she.  I like Karissa, very much.  I think in time, we might find that special love.  I don't know for sure, but she's a super woman, and I'd sure like to find out.”

“But you don't love her?”

“I'm in like.  I think I could fall in love with her.  Danny, she's not in love with me, either.  She likes me.  I know that.  You want honest right?”  Seeing the nod, Darren continued, “That's the truth then.”

“You won't hurt her, not ever?”
//End of Flashback//

Daniel knew he'd never forget watching his son's breaking heart even as the Munchkin did the right thing.  He recalled Little Danny's demeanor as he listened to Darren's response to his question.

//Flashback//
“Any relationship worth having has risk to it.  I would never intentionally hurt Karissa, but it might happen.  Maybe she'll hurt me.  That's part of love -- the risk of being hurt.  I can promise you that I don't want to hurt her, and I'll do my best not to, but I won't lie to you and say it won't happen.”

“It's not fair,” the forlorn child sighed, trying his best not to lose his composure.

“What isn't?”

“That I'm a little boy, and she's a grownup,” Little Danny answered earnestly.

“You're right.  It's not, and I'm very sorry about that.”

“Are you a good man?” Little Danny asked, the question surprising the J-O client.

“I try to be.”

“If you aren't and you do something bad to Rissa, Dad and Daddy will find you, and you wouldn't like that.”

Jack and Daniel exchanged a look, both wondering if they should say something about the last comment, even though it was true.

“I'm sorry,” Little Danny added with a sigh.  “I don't usually say things like that, but I love her, and it's my job to protect her.”

“I understand,” Darren responded sincerely, still looking straight into the boy's eyes.

Little Danny turned around and walked the couple of steps back to where Karissa was crying into Daniel's neck.  He pulled on her skirt to get her attention.

“Oh, Danny,” Karissa responded to the tug, gulping as she kneeled down.

“I love you forever and always, like Dad and Daddy love each other.  Don't forget me,” the youngster requested, beginning to sniffle just a tad.

“You'll always be my valentine, Danny, and I will always wear this,” Karissa promised about her necklace, while reaching up with her right hand and lightly caressing the pendant with her fingertips.  “And we can still go out and do things together.  I want that very much, and I hope you do, too.”

Little Danny nodded and threw his arms around the woman, saying, “It's not fair for me to hold you to your promise to marry me.  It'll be a long, long time before I'm grown up.  I love you, Rissa.  Oh.”  The boy suddenly pulled back.  He turned and looked at Darren, saying, “Her name is Karissa.  She doesn't like being called Kari, but you never call her Rissa.  That's my name for her; but don't call her Kari.  It reminds her of school, but ... she's a grownup.”

The boy was beginning to ramble, to lose his control, his words sounding younger than even his tender age.

“He's right, Darren.  I really like my name,” Karissa stated with a cracking voice.

“Okay ... Karissa,” Darren agreed.

Little Danny looked back at the woman and repeated, “I love you, Rissa.”

“I love you, too,” Karissa responded, hugging the boy tightly.  “Forever and always,” she said, feeling every word and emotion of the young love in her arms.

“You can kiss him now, if you want.”

“Maybe soon, but not today,” Karissa stated definitively, tears still running down her cheeks.

Feeling the wetness against his skin, Little Danny spoke, “I didn't want you to cry.”

“Love's hard, Danny.  We'll both be okay, though,” the young woman assured the boy as they pulled apart.  She caressed his cheek and smiled, wishing she had words to make both of them feel better.  “Someday, some girl is going to be so darn lucky to have you love her.”

The comment provided little comfort, but there really wasn't anything else to say, either.

Little Danny began to walk away, passing by Karissa and his fathers, pausing briefly to turn back and say, “Bye.”

“Bye,” Karissa replied softly before her tears escalated once again.
//End of Flaskback//

Daniel also remembered how Jonny approached Darren and had warned, “Little Danny is right.  You better be a good man, or we'll get you.”

Little Danny and Karissa remained close as the years passed.  When Karissa and Darren wed, the teen even sang a duet with Aislinn as part of the ceremony.  As a result, Daniel was certain the company's latest employee was thrilled at the chance to spend some time with her at work.

“What do you want me to do first, Daddy?”

“We have a meeting in an hour with Mister Walsh, so review the file and discuss what we'll need for the job.”

The two Jackson-O'Neills went to work, preparing for the meeting.

====

The next day, Little Danny was in Karissa's office, reviewing potential client files.  The two were seated at a small circular table.  When they began, there was a stack of seven files to be examined.  Two of those were completed and two others were open, one in front of the woman and the other in front of the teenager.

“Rissa, do you like your new eye shadow?”

“My new eye shadow?”  Karissa chuckled and replied, “I didn't know you noticed that kind of thing.”

“Girls love makeup, but you never wore this much before.  Carrie doesn't wear any.  She likes the natural look.  You used to, too.”

“Well, a girl loves to experiment,” Karissa claimed.  “Darren likes it.”

“Oh,” the teen responded.  ~I guess that explains it.  She wants to make him happy, but ... didn't he like her the way she was?~

“Okay, what's your opinion on the Kenyon Company?”

“No,” the boy responded.

“Why?”

“They've hired six companies in three years for projects, and there have been claims by four of them that they weren't paid.  I love the project, Rissa.  It's in Peru and involves excavating for an ancient city, but we have can't do everything because we love what we might find.  I kinda want to go, but we have a responsibility to our employees.  I think we have to put this one in the decline pile.”

“Well done, Danny.  I agree.  Make the appropriate notes and I'll countersign it.”

Inwardly, the lover of archaeology, anthropology, ancient cultures, and just about anything that spoke to life and history, was pleased that he'd made the right choice about the Kenyon Company, but another part of him wanted to take it on anyway for the pure potential of what might be found.

====

“I have to work late,” Karissa spoke into the phone, her voice a determined near whisper.  It was a few days later, near the end of the Friday workday. “When Jack or Daniel ask me to stay, I don't have a choice.”  There was a pause.  “Darren, there's plenty of food in the refrigerator.  I'm sure you'll ...”  She paused, aware that Little Danny was standing in the doorway of her office.  “... be fine.  I'll be home as soon as I can.”

As the woman hung up her phone, Little Danny walked forward and said, “I'm sorry, Rissa.  I didn't mean to eavesdrop.”

“It's okay.  I'm just a little tired and Darren's a little persnickety lately.  He's getting tired of traveling so much, I think.  Um, what did you need?”

“Bibi asked me to give these to you,” the teen answered as he turned over some papers.

Glancing at them, Karissa nodded and spoke, “Oh, yes.  Thank you.”

“Rissa, are you okay?”

“I'm terrific,” Karissa answered with a smile.  “I'll see you next week,” she added while she began to shut down her computer for the day.

“Okay,” Little Danny acknowledged.  He left the office, but stood just a few feet outside it as he contemplated what he'd heard.  ~She told Darren she had to work late, but I know she doesn't, and she's ...~  With a smile, he said, “Have a good weekend, Rissa.”

“You, too.  Bye.”

The teen sighed, ~And she's leaving.  She lied.  Karissa doesn't lie.  Why did she lie?~

Confused, the teen walked to his father's office and sat down on the sofa that sat along the far wall.

“Something wrong?” Jack asked.

“Rissa isn't acting normal.”

“She seems fine to me.”

“Not to me.”

“Son ...”

“Dad, did you ask Rissa to work late, or run an errand for you tonight?”

“No.”  Jack put some files into his briefcase and asked, “Have you finished your duties?”

“Yes.”

“Okie dokie, Son.  I declare the weekend officially started.  Let's go home.”

~She's not normal to me, and I know her better than anyone,~ Little Danny cogitated as he stood and exited the building with his father.

====

Little Danny put in another twenty hours at J-O Enterprises by the end of September.  He was learning a lot about his parents' company and the field of archaeology that he loved so very much.  He was also observing his first love, Karissa, and the more he did, the more worried he became.  At home after working four hours on Wednesday, he approached Daniel in the den.

“Daddy, can we talk?”

“Of course.  What's on your mind?”

Little Danny entered and sat down in the comfortable recliner that was near Daniel's desk.

“I'm worried about Karissa.”

“Why?”

“She's not acting normal, and she doesn't look normal, either.  Actually, there's nothing normal about her lately.”

“Have you talked to her?”

“I've tried, but she won't tell me what's wrong.”

“Maybe she's okay,” Daniel put forth.  “I mean, uh, she hasn't missed a day of work.  Her work is excellent.  She participates in meetings.  She's coordinating the digs, Dad's and my schedules, and the list goes on.”

“Daddy, I can't help how I feel and what I see.  Will you talk to her?”

“Okay, I will, but I'm sure she's okay.”

“Thank you,” Little Danny spoke and then left the den.

Daniel sat back and was alarmed by his namesake's concern.  While Karissa's work remained excellent, he had to admit there was something different about her in the past few months.  He just couldn't put his finger on what specifically it was.  That said, Karissa was married now and sometimes a major change or transition in life brought about other changes, so he didn't think there was much to be concerned about.  Still, he promised himself he would do as he'd told Little Danny and talk to Karissa at the first opportunity.

====

At lunchtime the next day, Little Danny walked outside the building intending to enjoy a sandwich at one of the picnic tables.  The large building had a lovely grass area with lots of trees and places to relax beneath them.  As he sat down, his eyes went to the familiar maroon 2017 Ford Fusion four-door hybrid, owned by J-O Enterprises and assigned to Karissa.  It was her company vehicle which she was also allowed to operate for personal usage.  He squinted for a minute and then made a realization.

The teen walked to the car and called out, “Rissa?”

“Oh,” Karissa responded, looking away and drawing a gulp-like breath.

“Why are you eating lunch in your car?”

“I ... felt like it.”

“I'll sit with you, okay?” Little Danny asked, though he didn't wait for a response.  He went to the passenger side and tapped on the window, waiting for the woman to unlock the door.  Once she did, he settled inside and noticed what he thought looked like red eyes.  “Were you crying?”

“No.  What are you eating for lunch?”

“Rissa, why won't you tell me what's wrong?”

“Nothing's wrong.  Hey, how's Carrie?”

Little Danny beamed as he answered, “She's good.  We're going to a dance at her high school tomorrow night.”

“That'll be fun.  I always loved going to dances.”

“Karissa, can I ask you for a favor?”

“Sure,” came the bright response.

“Well, Noa's birthday is next Tuesday and Bri's is on Saturday, and I already bought their presents, and then I found out about the dance, and I had to buy Carrie a corsage and a gift, not because I had to, but because I wanted to,” the teen explained.  “But Dad's birthday is coming up soon, too, and I have something really nice I want to get him, but ... I need a loan.”

Little Danny occasionally borrowed money from Karissa.  She always had enough cash to help him out and he always repaid her with his next allowance. Now, he could repay her from his salary for working part-time at the firm.

“How much do you need?”

“Sixty dollars.”

“Wow, that's going to be a nice gift for your dad.”

“He deserves it.”

Reaching for her purse, Karissa pulled out her wallet, but even as she did so, the smile on her face faded.  She swallowed and took an anxious breath.  She removed the cash from the billfold.  She glanced over at Little Danny and saw the surprise on his face.

Quickly, Karissa said, “Gee, I forgot.  I did some shopping the other day and I didn't want to use a credit card.  I guess I forgot.  Um, here, take this.”

“Not if that's all you have.”

“Don't be ridiculous, Little Danny.  I have plenty of money.  I'll get some cash tonight and give it to you when you come in on Monday.”  Forcefully, Karissa flung her hand towards the teen and insisted, “Take this.”

He didn't want to take the money, but Little Danny felt he didn't have a choice.  He took the three bills -- a ten and two one-dollar bills.

“Thanks, Karissa.”

“You're welcome.”  Karissa paused and then said, “I need to get back to work.”

“But you haven't finished your lunch.”

“I'm fine.  Danny, I have to get back to work.”

“Okay,” the reluctant teen responded.

As soon as Little Danny was out of the car, Karissa got out, locked it, and hurried inside the building.

~I have a very bad feeling, but I don't know what to do.~

====

“Danny, what's wrong?” Carrie Lapierre asked her escort.  The two were at her high school attending the first dance of the school year.  “You've been so quiet all night.”

Little Danny took his unofficial girlfriend's hand and suggested, “Let's go outside, okay?”

When Carrie nodded her assent, Little Danny led them out of the auditorium and into the square where there were benches for them to sit down on.

“Carrie, I think there's something wrong with Rissa,” Little Danny confided.

“What?” the other teenager inquired curiously.

“I'm not sure, but she's ... different lately.”

“Tell me how,” Carrie encouraged as the two continued to hold hands.

“She smiles at me, but it's a sad smile.  Her eyes used to always be so, so bright and alive.  Now they're dull, Carrie.  They're ... sad.”

“Maybe she's sick.”

Shaking his head, the teen sighed, “I asked her, but she said she's okay, and she doesn't act sick.  I don't think she's sick.”

“Okay, then,” Carrie responded supportively.  “You said she was different.  Is it just her eyes?”

“And her smile,” the boy reiterated.

“Does she act differently?”

“Sometimes she does.  It's like she doesn't want me to see, but I don't know what it is she doesn't want me to see.  Carrie, I'm scared for Rissa.  I know something's wrong, but she still thinks I'm a kid, and she won't talk to me about it.”  Little Danny sighed, “Daddy talked to her, too, but she says she's okay.”

Carrie smiled at her dearest friend in the world and gently rubbed his cheek.  It was all she knew to do.  She was well aware of Little Danny's love for Karissa.  They'd talked about a lot, since both were little kids playing in a sandbox.

Incredibly, Little Danny felt a little better, even though he didn't have any answers about Karissa.

“Danny, why don't you just be there for her, whenever she needs you,” Carrie finally suggested.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if something is upsetting her, maybe she just needs some time to work it out.  Women don't like to be poked and prodded about what's bothering them, but we do like to know someone is there, watching and caring about us.”

Little Danny smiled and all of a sudden, he leaned forward and kissed Carrie on the lips.  In all the years they'd known each other, that was the first time he'd ever kissed her in this way.  For that matter, it was the first time he'd ever kissed a girl when it wasn't just a friendly kiss.

~The second of October, 9:16 p.m.: I'll never forget it, not ever.~  Little Danny engraved the date and time of his first kiss in his consciousness.  He felt good; he was happy.  “Will you dance with me?”

“I'd love to.”

Both teens beaming, Little Danny and Carrie returned to the dance.

====

On the following Monday, Little Danny was again putting in a few hours at J-O Enterprises.  There was a major staff meeting planned for the day.  As it happened, both Jack and Daniel were leading the meeting from home, with David and Little Danny attending in person.

As discussions ensued, the teenager was focused on Karissa.  She was wearing a scarf around her neck.  It was fashionable and went well with her outfit.  However, Karissa wasn't much of a scarf person and didn't wear them often.  It had the maturing boy's attention, primarily because she kept adjusting the scarf and placing her fingers inside the material as if it were uncomfortable.

Not only was the scarf drawing Little Danny's focus, but so was the heavy makeup.  It seemed like Karissa was totally leaving behind the natural look, choosing to apply lots of foundation and blush, along with the dark and abundant eye shadow.  She was even wearing false eyelashes, something she'd never done until today.

None of what he was seeing made sense to the middle Munchkin.

====

When late Thursday afternoon rolled around, Little Danny was concentrating on a task given to him by his supervisor.  She wanted his recommendation on what team to assign to a new project being conducted in Wyoming.  It wasn't as easy as checking the schedule.  He needed to consider the specific demands of the job, such as would a bone expert be advisable to be part of the team for the project and what were the odds that the job might take longer than anticipated and potentially interfere with other projects that were already on the calendar.

Deep in thought, the teen actually ran into a large plant, knocking it over.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” Little Danny whined.  He looked around, happy that no one was in the hallway.  He moved quickly to get the plant upright and then kneeled down to scrape up the dirt.  ~Gotta look where I'm going.  Dad's gonna kill me.~

That's when the teen heard the voice that still made his heart sing.

“Yes, I'll be home on time.  I promise.”  Karissa sighed, “I'm coming.  Yes, I know what will happen if I'm late.”  Her voice trembled as she spoke.  “I'm leaving now.  I know.  It only takes twenty-six minutes to get to the condo.  Bye.”

In a hurry, Karissa fled her office, never seeing Little Danny kneeling by the plant.

Little Danny stood, his heart aching.  He was drawn to the woman's office and noticed she hadn't signed out.

~She would never leave without signing out.~

Looking around, Little Danny leaned forward and logged out for Karissa.

~Twenty-six minutes?  What happens if she's late?  This is strange.~

====

Thirteen days later, Little Danny was helping Karissa with some filing in her office when the phone rang.  As he listened, he could tell the caller was inviting Karissa and Darren to a party.  In a somber tone, Karissa turned down the invitation.

A few minutes later, Dora King entered the office and invited Karissa to attend a ballet with her.  The two often went to dance recitals and shows together, but again, Karissa refused the invitation.

Little Danny wanted to ask Karissa if she was okay, but he knew what the response would be:  “I'm fine.”  He'd heard it many times since he began working at the company.

“Little Danny, you can go now,” the woman stated in a low voice.

“I'm not done yet.”

“It's okay.  I'll finish it later.”

“Karissa, I ...”

“Please,” Karissa stated strongly.  “And close the door on your way out.”

Obediently, the teen slowly exited the office.  He looked through the glass window and saw Karissa lean forward and place her head in her hands.  Then he watched as she reached for the digital frame.  All of a sudden, his heart nearly stopped as he spied his beloved Karissa bow her head all the way into her arms on the desk.  He couldn't hear, but he knew she was crying.  His heart aching, he walked away, knowing it was up to him to find out what was wrong and to fix it.

====

“Son, are you okay?” Jack asked as the family ate dinner that evening.

“No, but we'll talk about it later.”

**Jack?**

**No clue.  He's been distant since he got home from work.**

**Karissa?**

**Yep, I'm thinkin' so.**

Once dinner was done, Little Danny went to Daniel as he was playing with some of the brood in the game room.

“Daddy, I need to speak with you and Dad now ... please ... in the study.”

The statement wasn't a request, it was a demand, something that was recognizable by Daniel and the brood.  The archaeologist didn't even have time to respond since his namesake turned and walked out immediately upon making his statement.

The teenager walked into the dance studio where Jack was watching the Curly Tops work out their latest routine.

“Dad, I need to speak with you and Daddy now ... please ... in the study.”  Little Danny started to walk out, but he turned and said, “Sorry, Lulu and Noa, but it's important.”

**Jack, Lit...**

**Yeah, I know.  We've been summoned.**

The parents met up in the foyer and walked together to the study.  Upon entering they saw their youthful prodigy standing against the wall opposite Jack's desk, his arms crossed across his chest.

**Boy, do I know that look,** Jack related to his lover.

**Trouble,** Daniel responded.

“Please close the door,” Little Danny requested, pleased when his older father did so without arguing.  “You can sit down,” he said while pointing to the sofa.

“Alright, what is this about?” Jack inquired when he and Daniel were seated on the sofa.

With all the guts and bravery he could muster, Little Danny stood in front of his parents and stated, “I need you to help Karissa.”

“Son, she's fine,” Jack put forth.

“No, she isn't, Dad, and she hasn't been for a while.”

“Danny,” Daniel began.

“Daddy, please listen to me.”

“Okay.”

“I've researched this ... a lot, and I think Karissa is being abused by Darren, emotionally and physically.”

Jack and Daniel exchanged a look.  Neither had considered that possibility and neither wanted to believe it was true.

“Karissa's funny.  She loves to dance and go places.  She's wholesome and natural.  She's beautiful.”

“I'm not sure what you're saying, Danny,” Jack spoke to the teen.

“She's not funny lately.  She doesn't laugh at jokes and she doesn't respond with humor.  She's very serious.  She's keeping to herself.  Have you seen her in the lunchroom lately?  She wears clothes that she doesn't like, long sleeves all the time, and scarves.  You know she doesn't like scarves.”

**Danny, do we know that?**

**No, but apparently, our son does.**

“And look at her makeup,” the teen said, after which he denoted in detail all the changes he'd observed.  “She's losing her confidence, too.  You *have* to have noticed that?  Dad!  Daddy!  She's been at J-O from the beginning.  You know her and how she thinks.  She's not sharing her opinion anymore and she's more conservative.”  With desperation in his voice, he pleaded, “Haven't you noticed?”

Jack's mind wandered back to the first time he'd met Karissa.  It was in May 2007 when he and Daniel were making their first hires for J-O Enterprises.

//Flashback//
“I believe in possibilities,” Karissa spoke in answer to a question from Jack about a theory, one that Daniel wrote years earlier, though that was unknown to the applicants.  “From what I know, I don't see this theory as being a likely possibility.  Still, I guess you could say I'm open to it, should I be presented with some kind of proof for it; but I haven't been, and so using the knowledge I do have, I think we have explanations for the pyramids pretty well in hand without adding science fiction to the mix.”
//End of Flashback//

Daniel recalled when he first reviewed the applicants.  Though Jack did the initial interviews with potential employees, the results were shared with the archaeologist and discussed.  Then he met with the potential employees as well.

//Flashback//
The archaeologist reviewed the files, going over the questions and answers, both in writing and those given to his husband.  While some applicants seemed to be insincere with their praise for Daniel's pyramid as landing strips for aliens theory, one differing opinion stuck out in a positive vein.

“I commend your courage, Doctor Jackson.  I think you're crazy, but I respect you for taking a stand and sticking with it for all these years.”

The words had been spoken with sincerity and an honest smile and came from Karissa Lewis.
//End of Flashback//

The married couple shared another glance, but independently recalled their discussion about Karissa as they made the final decision to hire her.

//Flashback//
Daniel put forth, “... She sounded eager, and I agree with you, Love, she seems really nice.  She's done some unusual jobs in between the ones in her field, and it made me curious.  I asked her about her employment history.  She's had some pretty hard times, Jack -- had to quit a couple of promising positions to take care of her family.  I jumped the gun a little and asked Sam to check it out, and she verified everything.  I don't think we should just consider her resume, but her capabilities as well.  I like the fact that she put her family ahead of her career.  It shows loyalty.”

Jack nodded his agreement and added, “I liked how she handled my questions about your theory.  She didn't agree with it, but spoke intelligently when I gave her new ideas to consider.  She was flexible.”

“Let's put her in the 'yes' pile.”
//End of Flashback//

That was more than thirteen years ago and now Karissa was more than an employee, she was a trusted friend, one with whom the lovers often left their young children without nary a worry.  Both now reflected on Karissa's attitude and demeanor.  Even so, there was a privacy issue involved.

“Danny, Dad and I have both spoken with Karissa.  I know you're concerned, but she says she's fine.”

“Like you were always fine, Daddy?”  The challenge was bold and direct.  The teen looked at his older father and questioned, “How many times did you go after Daddy when he said he was fine and you knew he wasn't?  We've heard the stories, Dad.  You've told us some of them.  Daddy wasn't fine, was he?”

“Look, Son ...” Jack began.

“Fine.  If you won't help me help Karissa, I'll do it myself.  I *am* going to help her.  I *know* he's hurting her.  I'll do it myself.”

Little Danny tore out of the study, stunning his parents.

“Jack, what are we going to do?”

“Daniel, if we talk to her again, she's going to say the same thing.”

“That's she's fine, like I ... wasn't fine.  You know the real question is, is Little Danny right?  Babe, if he's hitting her, she needs help.”

“What if we stick our big noses in and we're wrong?”

“Are we wrong?  Little Danny's right.  She's not that same perky, upbeat, cheerful person she's always been.”

“And I've heard the scuttlebutt at the office.”

“Me, too.  She's handling the quiet situations, but she's hesitant to give her opinion.  Bibi, uh, well, Bibi said Karissa seems to be ... 'glued', I think she said, to her office.”

“Okay, Daniel.  This could get messy, very messy.  Where do we start?”

“Well, we don't really know much about Darren, do we?”

“He travels a lot,” Jack responded.

“I think we should have Sam do a full background check, the works, Jack.”

“That's a good place to start.”

With their plans lined out, Jack and Daniel went back to the brood, but both noticed the absence of three, the Munchkins.

“How much you wanna bet?” Jack queried quietly.

“Nothing.  Treehouse?”

“It's the best place for privacy and they always know if someone's coming.

====

“Are you sure, Danny?” Aislinn asked as she sat in the Munchkin circle in the treehouse.

“Yes.  Look here,” the middle Munchkin requested as he opened his laptop.  He had six different tabs opened, all to sites that dealt with spousal abuse.  “Read what it says, Ash.”  Little Danny took a breath and suggested, “You should come to work with me and see for yourselves.”

“I think we should,” Aislinn agreed as she read with shock how husbands abused their wives.  “This says even the most confident businesswomen can be victims and have low self-esteem.  Wow.”

“He was a bad man,” Jonny remarked.  “I told him Dad and Daddy would get him if he hurt Karissa.”

“Dad and Daddy believe Rissa when she says she's fine.”

“No, that's not what we believe,” Jack called out.  **Hey, Danny, we still have the stealth skills.  They didn't see us comin'.**

“But you said ...”

Daniel interrupted, “Little Danny, Karissa is an adult and she has rights.  We're not relatives.  We've talked to her and she's shut us out.”

“Dad, Daddy, you're not going to let that man keep hitting her, are you?” Jonny asked with a hint of fierceness in his eyes.

“Whoa!” Jack exclaimed, his hands outstretched in front of him.  “Kids, you *never* accuse someone of harming another unless you have proof.”

“How do we get it?” Jonny inquired.

“Look, Daddy and I know how upset everyone is.”

“No, you don't,” Little Danny called out angrily.  “Rissa is being hurt.  *I* know it and I'm not going to let it keep happening.”

“Son ...”

“*No*,” the agitated boy responded.  “No!” he repeated and then walked purposely by his parents and exited the treehouse.

“Darren promised he wouldn't hurt Karissa when Little Danny let her go,” Jonny reminded.  “He lied.”

The oldest Munchkin stormed past his parents to be with his sibling.

Aislinn stood up and calmly approached Jack and Daniel while saying, “Daddy, Dad, don't you see?”

“See what, Ash?” Daniel queried quietly.

“Little Danny feels responsible.  Think about it.  He was a little boy, but he loved her, really loved her.  He still loves her.”  Aislinn sighed, “It's like Noa and Teal'c.  I mean, someday that had to end because she was a little girl.  Well, Little Danny was a little boy, and finally understood that, so he let her go.”  She took a breath and quietly added, “What if he hadn't?”  With a tiny smile, she explained, “See, that's the thing.  What if he hadn't told her that it was okay to date Darren?  Do you think Karissa would have stopped it on her own?  Would she have hurt him like that?  She's an adult, like Teal'c, but she wouldn't kiss Darren until Little Danny said it was okay.  She felt guilty going to dinner with Darren.  It's the what if, what if he hadn't let her go, that hurts Little Danny's soul.  Karissa's been hurt.  I believe my brother.”  The original miracle, as Aislinn was often referred to, turned back and picked up Little Danny's laptop.  She brought it over to her parents and handed it to Daniel.  “You should read these pages.”

“We will,” Daniel responded.

Aislinn headed for the door, but she turned back and said, “Jonny and I want to go to J-O Enterprises tomorrow so we can see Karissa ourselves.  Will you take us, or do we need to find another way to get there?”

**Full blown rebellion,** Jack sighed.

**No choice, Babe.**

“1000 hours sharp,” Jack responded.

“We'll be ready.  Thank you, Dad.  Thank you, Daddy.”

With all three of the children gone, the parents were left, surprised, stunned, confused, and facing a crisis they'd never faced before.  Their children, the triplets, their precious Munchkins, were prepared to go behind their backs to help Karissa, regardless of what Jack and Daniel thought about it.

Jack walked forward before turning around to face his husband.

“If there's any doubt, our children are growing up, that's gone now,” Daniel asserted.  “They've never acted like that before.”

“They're teenagers now, Danny.  We can't expect them to be obedient children without opinions and beliefs.”

“We wouldn't want them to be anything other than what they are,” the younger man replied.  “Do you remember how hard Karissa took it when Little Danny ... broke up with her?”

“She took it about as well as Teal'c handled breaking up with Noa,” Jack replied.

//Flashback//
Little Danny hurried away with Chenoa keeping him close.  After all, she was the only one who truly understood what the young boy was going through.

“I feel like such a heel,” Karissa stated as Daniel drew her in for a hug.

“It had to happen sooner or later,” Daniel responded.

The adults watched and heard Jonny's threat to Darren, that he'd better not hurt Karissa or the Jackson-O'Neills would come after him.

“A really big heel,” Karissa cried, excusing herself and running for her car.

Daniel went after the woman and tried to comfort her while Jack kept an eye on the brood.
//End of Flashback//

“It took her a long time before she really got serious with the guy,” Jack recalled.

“She felt like she was betraying him somehow, even though he was a child.”

“Yeah, Teal'c hated himself for a long time over Noa's heartbreak.”

“Okay, Jack, I think the Munchkins could be right about Karissa.  Getting Sam involved is a start, but we need to do our own investigating.”

“By investigating, you mean ...”

“We need to start asking questions.  Look, we're not at the office every day.  The truth is we've been there a bit more over the last month or so just to make sure Little Danny was settling in okay.  We both know that once we're satisfied he's ready, like Jen and David, then he's free to be a regular employee without his parents, us, looking over his shoulder.  What I'm saying is that maybe Karissa is ...”

“Lying?”

“Being less than truthful, and if she's a victim of spousal abuse, her actions would be in accordance with how abused women tend to respond.”

“I think we should start with Megan,” Jack put forth.  “They're very close friends and even though Megan is operating the Chesapeake office, they're in frequent video contact.”

“Okay.  You call her and I'm going to speak with Bibi.  If she thinks something is wrong ...”

“Yeah.”  After a pause, Jack said, “Danny, I don't like saying this ...”

“I know.  We need to keep an eye out for the Munchkins.”

“They may go rogue on us if we don't move fast enough for them.”

“I'm not sure I'd use the word 'rogue'.”

“It gets the point across.”  Jack cocked his head and reminded, “They're our kids, and we know what that means.”

“Yeah.  Following orders is a foreign concept.”

Jack chuckled and nodded in confirmation.

“You know, Ash was right,” Daniel opined.  “It's not just his emotional attachment for her, but Little Danny feels responsible for Karissa's situation.”

“He's got your guilt gene, Love, but just like we've learned, so will he.”

“After we find out what's really happening with Karissa.”

“No choice in the matter.”  With a sigh, the older man admitted, “Danny, we'd be doing this anyway, right?”

“If we'd been paying closer attention, yes, we would be, but like a lot of people, Jack, we didn't want to see it.  We rationalized the changes, and we were wrong.”

Their discussion concluded and a plan made for the next day, Jack and Daniel returned to the house and, after ensuring the triplets were still present and accounted for, went about their business for the evening.

====

The next day, Jack, Daniel, and the Munchkins arrived at J-O Enterprises just before 10:30 in the morning.  So as to not launch a full scale assault on Karissa, Jack went to his office to call Sam and then Megan, while Daniel sauntered over to Bibi's cubicle.  He didn't want to discuss the situation there on the main floor, so he invited the firm's bone expert to have a coffee and pastry with him upstairs in the atrium.

Meanwhile, the Munchkins went upstairs and headed for Karissa's office.  It didn't take long for the trio to become even more concerned.

The door was closed to the woman's office, but the three peeked through the glass window and saw Karissa checking her makeup.  Actually, she was doing more than that.  She was adding extra rouge to her cheeks, and then she cringed, a reaction to her hand touching the side of her face.

Covertly, the Munchkins watched as Karissa reached for the digital photo frame and stared at it.  They could tell she was sniffling, especially when she jerked her head backwards.

“She doesn't want her makeup to ruin,” Aislinn told her brothers.

“Uh-oh,” Little Danny gasped.

“Look at her neck,” Jonny noted.

“It's red.  Is that a bruise?” Aislinn asked her brothers.

Karissa put the frame back in place and reached for a scarf, wrapping it around her neck.

“I told you,” Little Danny spoke, his voice etched with sorrow.

“She's coming,” Jonny observed.

Hurriedly, the siblings scrambled backwards a few feet and then started talking about nothing as they acted like they were going to their dad's office.

“Good morning, Rissa,” Little Danny greeted.

“Morning,” the woman responded, barely making eye contact with any of the children.

“Karissa,” Aislinn called out as the woman was already a few feet past them.

“Yes?”

“Jonny and I are staying for a little while.  Could we help you?”

“No, but thank you for offering.  Why don't you ask Dora or Ty if they need help.”

When Karissa was out of sight, Aislinn sighed, “She always wants our help.”

“Not anymore,” Little Danny responded.  “She just wants to be by herself.”  Suddenly, he felt his brother breezing by him.  “Jonny, what are you doing?”

“I want to see.”  Jonny went to the desk and looked at the digital frame.  “Little Danny, this is you and Karissa from a long time ago.”

“She has lots of pictures on here.”

“I know, but when she and Darren were dating and when they first got married, she had it paused to his picture.”

“Jonny's right,” Aislinn verified.  “Jonny, keep an eye out.”

“Ash!” the general-in-the-making exclaimed.

“Jonny!”

Jonny went to the door and pulled it to a near-closed position.  Then he did as instructed and watched for other employees.

Aislinn opened the bottom drawer to Karissa's desk and carefully pulled out the woman's purse.  She opened it and began to sift through the contents.

“She has a whole lot of makeup in here, and lots of used tissues,” the girl reported.  “Ut-oh.”

“What ut-oh?” Little Danny asked.

“Look at this,” Aislinn requested as she pulled out a picture of Darren that was buried in a side pocket.  “She used to have this in her wallet.  Girls like to show off their boyfriends.  She has this hidden, but close enough where she could pull it out, if she had to.”

“Ash, how much cash does she have?”

“Cash?”

“Go on, check,” Little Danny urged.

“Okay, well ...” Aislinn paused as she opened the wallet, “... she has ... five dollars.”

“That's all?  Are you sure?”

“I'm sure.”

“That's not right.  Karissa always carried lots of cash.”

“Maybe she's using her credit card or her deb...”  Aislinn stopped talking.  “Little Danny, I see her employee ID card, and her driver's license, and an emergency contact card, and ... well, I don't see any credit cards.”

“What about a debit card?”

Aislinn shook her head while she continued her search and finally repeated, “No.”

“Anything else?”

“No, everything else is normal.  What's this?  Oh, it's just a grocery list.”  The youngest Munchkin started to put the list away, but then she pulled it back out. “Wait a minute.”

“What?”

“Ash, someone's coming.”

Aislinn put the contents back in place, then closed the desk drawer, and followed her brothers out of the office.  They walked as quickly as they could and then entered Daniel's currently empty office.

“What did you see?” Jonny questioned.

“It was just a grocery list, but it's how she wrote it.”

“What do you mean, Ash?” Little Danny questioned.

“She wrote funny things, like to be sure she got lemons that were exactly three inches in diameter, and not to get Progresso soup.  She had the 'not' in big letters and underlined.  She also wrote something about pork chops.”

Aislinn bowed her head, her eyes diverting those of her brothers.

“Ash, was there something else?” Jonny queried.

“It was scribbled and I might have read it wrong.”

“Ash, what did you see,” Little Danny demanded to know.

“She had pork chops on the list and she drew a line with an arrow and then she wrote, 'Get the wrong chops and I'll be chopped'.  That's what was on the paper.”

The triplets were speechless as they contemplated the potential meaning of Karissa's shopping list.

“Let's spread out,” Jonny suggested.

“And do what?” Aislinn asked.

“Watch.  Listen.  We need to know if anyone here is talking about her,” the oldest of the three children stated.

“We can't start asking people, Jonny.  That wouldn't be right.”

“That's why I said we should just pay attention.  We can learn a lot maybe by being flies on the wall.”

“The dumb Dad bit, right?” Aislinn queried, getting a nod.  “Okay, everyone is used to us being here and helping, so this should be a piece of cake.”

With that, the triplets began to mingle among the employees, offering their assistance in the hopes of getting more Intel about Karissa's situation.

====

Meanwhile, Jack was on the phone with Sam.

“This is on the QT, Carter.”

“Understood, Sir.”

“I need a thorough check on Darren St. James.”

“Isn't that Karissa's husband?”

“Affirm.”

“Is ...”

“Carter,” Jack groaned.  “I'll never get this down, even if you're married fifty years.”

Sam laughed, “It's okay, General.  Pete's used to it by now.”

“Okay, *Shanahan*, this is for the works.  Odd as it may be, all we really know about the guy is his name, that he pays the bills, and he travels a lot.  He was a client of ours in October 2014.”

“When you say 'the works', how deep do you really want this?”

“I want to know what brand of toothpaste he uses.  I want verification that he's the good guy he claims to be.  I want to know what his neighbors know, all his neighbors, from wherever he lived before up to now.  If he has a scratch on his body, I want to know where it is, how big it is, and how he got it.  Capiche?”

“This could take a few days.  We're not exactly at the SGC anymore, and it means you might have to do some babysitting if I need to leave town.”

“Not a problem.”

“I'll get right on it; um, well, after I take Kevin to his ski lesson.”

“He's rockin' those skis.”

“He sure is.”

“Keep me apprised.”

With thee call concluded, Jack immediately dialed Megan Awad's direct line, thereby bypassing the receptionist at J-O's east coast office.

“Jack, how are you?”

“I'm great; so's Danny, and the brood, and the zoo.”

Megan laughed, “Thanks for taking the shortcut route.”

“Megan, I need to ask you about something, but before I do, I need you to understand that this is extremely confidential.  Are you secure?”

From her days at Cheyenne Mountain when she was a civilian on Daniel's staff, Megan knew exactly what her employee meant.

“Just a moment.”  There was silence as Megan stood and closed her door and then returned to the phone.  “Secure.”

“And, listen, I wouldn't be asking this if Daniel and I didn't believe it was necessary.”

“You sound so serious, Jack.”

“Yeah.  Listen, you and Karissa have kept in touch, discussing company projects, right?”

“We talk weekly, if not more.”

“And you're pretty good friends, besides that, right?”

“We're very good friends,” Megan affirmed.  “Jack, are you about to ask me about her?”

“If I did, would you have something to tell me?”

“I, um, that's hard to say.”

“Megan, we're very concerned.  We've seen some disconcerting changes in Karissa -- her attire, her makeup, her demeanor.  She's lost her confidence in some areas.  Have you noticed anything?”

“You do know this is putting me in a difficult position?”

“And you know me, and Daniel, better than to assume we're asking out of pure curiosity or gossip.”

“I have no doubt about that.  Jack, I don't know what the problem is.”

“But you know there's a problem?”

“She's changed.  I can see it when we video conference, and I hear it in her voice all the time.”

“Is she making decisions; being responsive to you?”

“Not like she used to.  I've tried to ask if anything was wrong.  You know, her family has always had issues and now her father is in a facility and, well, you know.  I thought maybe it was taking a toll on her, but she says she's fine.  She doesn't hesitate to fill me in about the family, although the last time I asked about her cousin, she said she hadn't had time to visit with them much, even by phone.  Jack, that's extremely unusual for her, even though they aren't located in the Springs anymore.”  Megan paused and inquired, “What are you and Daniel thinking?”

“We're just testing the waters to see what might surface,” the general responded.  “Megan, if you think of anything important that might help us get through to Karissa, please let me or Daniel know.”

“I will.”

The two discussed a few business matters while on the phone before ending their conversation.

====

While Jack was making his phone calls, Daniel was chatting with Bibi in the atrium.

“Daniel, I've enjoyed our chat, but I have a ton of work to do,” Bibi told her employer.

Along with Megan and Karissa, Bibreanay Appleton was one of J-O Enterprises' original hires.  Since her employment with the company, she'd received her degree in archaeology as well as having honed her specialty with a combination of courses, seminars, and on-the-job experience.  She was J-O's leading expert in skeletal excavation and handling of human remains.  So highly thought of by the owners was she that in 2015, after her husband was laid off, she was given a bonus of a family trip to Japan so she could visit one of her sisters who had just given birth.  Fortunately, her husband found a terrific job at the start of 2016 so that relieved much of the pressure the hardworking staffer was going through at that time.

“Bibi, this isn't easy, and I need you to keep it completely confidential.”

“This sounds so serious.”

“It might be.”  Daniel drew an audible breath as he struggled to find the right words.  “Jack and I are concerned about Karissa.”

Bibi reached out and touched Daniel on the arm as she immediately responded, “Oh, Daniel, so am I.  She's so withdrawn lately.”

“Can you tell me what you've noticed.”

“There's the obvious.  That woman is basic.  I've tried so many times to get her to try some awesome lipsticks and eye shadows.  She was never interested.  All Karissa ever wanted to wear was herself, and that's all she needed.  I wish I had her skin, smooth and pure, for sure.”  After a pause, Bibi asked, “And have you seen those eyelashes of hers?  They are so fake.  It reminds of that little actress, Jennifer something.  Whenever I'd see her on a TV show, I'd get so distracted.  All I saw were those gaudy lashes, and that's what I feel when I see Karissa wearing them.  Why, Daniel?  Why would she start wearing those things now?”

“I don't know.”  With a sigh, Daniel prodded, “You said she's been withdrawn.”

“Yes.  You know, now that it's my mind, I think this started a few months ago.  It was little things.  She ... she was concerned so much about the time.”

“The time?”

“She was afraid of being late.”

“For ...”

Bibi held back, feeling hesitant.

“Bibi, we want to help her, but she's shut us out, and Little Danny, too.”

“I'm not surprised.  She adores that youngster.  He's grown up to be such a fine young man.  All of your brood are wonderful children.”

“Thank you.”

“Karissa became overly concerned with being home on time for Darren.”

When the woman looked away, Daniel called out softly, “Bibi?”

“Have you noticed her bruises?”

“Bruises?”

“She tries desperately to hide them.  I think that's why she suddenly loves scarves.  I remember years ago, I gave her a lovely scarf for her birthday.  She said it was beautiful, but I sensed something in her.  You know, a ... a pause.  I finally got her to tell me the truth.  Scarves were awesome, for other women, but about the most she ever wanted to wear was a knitted or wool scarf during the winter, when it snows and is burr-like cold.  She asked if she could give it to a young cousin who she was sure would love it and wear it.  Now she's wearing scarves everyday.  Sometimes, in the powder room, when she's loosened it for a moment, I see purple.”

“Did you ever ...”

“Oh, yes, Daniel.  I've asked her many times and all she says is she's perfectly fine and she's simply trying out new fashions.  She says Darren likes her to wear these things.”

“You don't believe her?”

“No.”

“Okay, thank you.”

“Daniel, if I can help, tell me.  We're a family here, especially the originals.  Mercy, I just remembered something.”

“What?”

“Daniel, you should speak with Ty.  He told me about something that happened a month or so ago.  I think he should tell it, rather than me telling it to you secondhand.”

“Thanks, Bibi.”

====

Ty Harper, now forty-four-years old, was the company's equipment and machinery expert.  He helped to locate and construct the warehouse where J-O Enterprises stored their supplies, tools, and larger equipment items.  He was the one who oversaw the facility and kept the materials rolling to and from the firm's projects throughout the world.  In 2015, as an appreciation of his loyal service, Jack and Daniel hired Alex Dennison to build a custom shed for Ty at his home.  The healthy bachelor was a cat lover, too.  After his beloved Siamese cat, Lincoln, died a few years ago, he only recently added two Siamese kittens, Washington and Kennedy, to his family.

“Ty, do you have second?” Daniel asked when he entered Ty's cubicle that was located on the far end of the building from the reception area.

“Sure.  I have the specs on what we're need for the Arizona dig next month.”

“Great, but we can go over that later.  Let's take a walk,” the archaeologist suggested.

“Am I getting the sack?”

“Gawd, no,” Daniel laughed.  “I can't even imagine trying to figure out the supply system without you.”

“But you know it's all in the computer.”  Ty lamented, “Actually, it would be pretty easy for you to fire me, if you wanted.”

“Absolutely not,” Daniel said as he led the way outside the building.  “Listen, I, uh, didn't want anyone else to hear what we're about to discuss.  This is a sensitive situation and highly confidential.”

“Daniel, whatever it is, you know I won't say a word to anyone.”

“Yes, I know.  Ty, it's my understanding that something happened between you and Karissa about a month ago.  Do you know what I'm talking about?”

With a nod, Ty hesitantly replied, “Yes, Daniel, I think I do.”

“Can you tell me about it?”

“I'm not sure what the appropriate response is.”

“Would it help you to know that Jack and I are asking about this because we are concerned for Karissa's welfare?  We believe there may be ... difficulties, but we need more information to know how to proceed.”

Nodding, and continuing to walk, Ty stated, “A few weeks ago, I went into the Oasis for a nap.  I'd had a long night.  Wash was sick.”

“He's okay?”

“Oh, yeah, he is.  It was just a ... kitten thing, but he's fine.  Thank you for asking.”  After a moment, the staffer expanded on his experience.  “I walked into the pod area and saw Karissa.  She was standing there, staring at the wall. I called out to her, but it was like she didn't hear me.  I went over to her and tapped her on the arm.  She screamed, Daniel, a big, loud, scream, and then she turned around and hit me.  She carries a good punch.”  Ty smiled as he tried to lighten the story.  “After that, she was shaking like a leaf, apologizing over and over.  She wanted to quit, Daniel.  That's how bad she felt, but I kept on her and I told Bibi about it.  Between the two of us, we convinced her that what happened was a fluke.”

“I wish we'd known.”

“We talked about telling you, but we need Karissa.  Something's going on with her, and whatever that is, it's not good.  She won't even look at me now.  She ... keeps saying she feels ashamed.”

“Thanks, Ty.”

“If I can do anything to help Karissa ...”

“I know.  Thank you.”

====

“Hey,” Jack called out, smiling as he tapped on the door jamb to Karissa's office.

“Good afternoon,” Karissa greeted, though her eyes avoided both Jack and Daniel.  She reached for her necklace and rubbed on it, not releasing it from her grasp.  “Did you want to go over the schedule?”

“No, we just wanted to make sure you were okay,” Daniel responded.

“Oh, I'm fine.  Darren's not home until tomorrow.”  Karissa's face widened from horror.  What had she just said?  “What I mean is that knowing he'll be back tomorrow always makes me feel better.  You two know how that is.”

“We sure do,” Jack spoke lightly.  “Uh, actually, we really wanted to know if you needed us for anything.  If not, we're going to take the Munchkins home.”

“Everything's fine.”

“How's Little Danny doing?” Daniel asked.

“Wonderful, just like you'd expect.  He's focused and attentive.  He could probably take over tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I don't think I'm ready for that,” Jack returned lightly.

“Okay, well, you know where we are,” Daniel said.

“Yes.”

“One more thing, Karissa,” Jack began.  “We aren't going to be able to take on both the KP job and the Arnold project.  What's your feeling?”

“My ... fffeeling?  Um, well, I don't know.  I'm not an archaeologist.”

“Karissa, you are,” Jack reminded.

The woman was startled.  She was fidgeting and became full of anxiety.  She looked around the room nervously until she finally came up with something to say.

“What I meant was that I haven't worked in the field in years.  My experience is so limited.  It doesn't compare to you and the others on the staff.  I, I, I feel you should make the decision.”

“Have a good night, Karissa,” Daniel spoke as he and Jack walked out of the woman's office.

“Daniel, she's never hesitated in giving us her honest take of a company or a project, and what the heck was that crap about not being an archaeologist?”

“I don't know, Babe.  It's like she's lost herself,” Daniel responded.  “We need to get Sam some help.”

“Agreed.”

====

Two days later, on Saturday afternoon, the Shanahan children were playing with members of the brood in their backyard while Jack drank a cup of coffee in Sam's kitchen.

“... so JD starts jumping around like he's an ape, and that got the entire brood going.  The next thing you know, we're doing a musical round of Old McDonald's Farm, but with un-farm-like animals.  We had everything from JD's ape to Lulu's giraffe.”

“I'll bet that was a lot of fun.”

“Crazy fun, but that's not why I'm here.  You said you had news.”

“Sir, you're not going to believe this,” Sam responded as she retrieved her notebook and opened it.  “Darren St. James has dated a lot of women in his time, but Karissa is the first one he married.  What stood out to me is the woman he dated before Karissa.”

“Yeah?”

“Jack, he dated Sunny, Sunny Dennison, Alex's wife.”

“You're kidding?”

“He was living in Daytona Beach at the time, but like he is now, he was on the road a lot.  According to neighbors, he was hot on Sunny.”

“Hot?”

“*Real* hot.”

“One of the residents of the condo where he lived said Darren talked about her non-stop.  He had big plans for her.  He was very impressed with her looks.”

“She's a looker,” Jack agreed.

“He told just about anyone who would listen about her being Miss Florida.”

“Uh, I don't want to shortchange Sunny, but didn't she finish second?”

“Yes, she did.  She was the first runner-up,” Sam affirmed, “but she did the beauty pageant rounds and was highly sought after by local, regional, and state media.”

“When was that, when she dated Darren?”

“I wasn't able to pin down the exact dates, but early in 2013.”

“Yeah, I remember.  They broke up for a couple of months, Alex and Sunny.”

“I wasn't aware of that.”

“Neither were we,” Jack admitted.  “We found out when I was in that chair,” he mentioned, referring to a time when he'd been paralyzed after a major vehicle accident several years ago.  Okay, what else do you have?”

====

That evening, Jack and Daniel were returning from a party being held by former SGC colleagues and the now married Paul Davis and Marc Reynolds when Jack didn't make the expected right-hand turn that would lead to their home.

“Uh, Babe, where are we going?”

“The Dennisons.”

“Shouldn't we call first?”

“Probably.  For all we know they're in Barcelona or somewhere.”

“But you'd rather just ... show up?”

“Danny, we need to know what she knows.”

“I agree, but an ambush may not be the best way of getting it.”

“Hey, don't you want to see Dani?” Jack asked about Alex and Sunny's oldest child, their four-year-old daughter, Daniella, who was named after Daniel.

“She's probably asleep, Jack.”

“And so is baby Cric.”

Daniel heard the groan and chuckled, “He is named after you, you know.”

“Then why couldn't they him Jack?”

“They did, but in Italian.”

“Creeeee*k*,” Jack singsonged phonetically.  “Doesn't sound like Jack to me.”

“It's not to late to change the birth certificate.”

“No chance,” Jack balked.

Daniel was amused.  He knew his husband was proud of having the Dennison's son named after him, regardless of the name's origin, especially since he was getting the primary name usage over the child's middle name, Benicio, which was Alex's middle name.

When the couple arrived at the condo, they walked casually to the door and rang the bell.

“Jack, Daniel, what a nice surprise,” Sunny welcomed cheerfully.  “Come on in.”

“I hope we're not disturbing you,” Daniel responded as he walked inside.

“We should have called,” Jack stated, ignoring the incredulous look on his lover's face.

“It's perfectly okay.  The kids are asleep, though.”

“We figured as much,” Jack returned.  “Is the hubby home?”

“Yes,” Sunny chuckled.  “He's on the phone with Byron and ...”

“He was on the phone,” Alex corrected as he entered, along with the family bulldog.  “How are you guys?” he asked as he shook hands with the couple.

“Doing well,” Jack responded.

“I get the sense this isn't a casual drop by?”

Jack and Daniel exchanged a look and then the younger man confirmed, “It's not.”

“The topic may or may not be a sensitive one,” Jack noted.

“Sit down,” Alex invited, waving his hand towards the U-shaped sofa that allowed several people to relax and chat comfortably, and escorting his wife to her favorite spot on the furniture.

“Hey, Miss Ellie, how are ya?” Jack asked as the dog stood up on her hind legs, her front paws on his knees.  He leaned forward and went nose to nose with the canine.  “You're a slobbery one,” he laughed.

“You get used to it,” Alex mused.  ~Who would have thought I'd have a dog, especially one like Eleanor?~

“How can we help you?” Sunny questioned.  “Oh, can I get you two something to drink, or maybe cookies?”  Enticingly, she added, “I just baked them this afternoon.”

“Now how can we refuse that?” Jack queried.

“But maybe we should talk for a minute first,” Daniel interjected.

“Okay, guys, if I didn't know better, I'd say you were about to tell me you wanted a pool added to your home, and maybe a quiet room, and ... you get the idea,” the designer teased as he recollected on all the changes the couple made to the original renovation of their home over a decade earlier.

“Sunny, we'd like to ask you a few questions about ... Darren St. James,” Daniel stated with a hint of reluctance in his expression and demeanor.

“Darren?  Wow.  I haven't thought about him in ... years.”

“St. James?” Alex echoed.  Looking at his wife, he asked, “Is he that guy you dated when we broke up?”

“That's him.”

“Is it okay for us to ask you about him?” Daniel inquired.  “It is important.”

“Of course.”  Sunny grimaced slightly, confused as to how the couple were even aware she knew the man.  “Alex knows all about Darren.  I, um ... how did you ... two know?  For that matter, why do you want to know?”

“You've met Karissa ... Lewis,” Daniel replied.  “She's our Director of Operations here.”

“I've met her, briefly, in passing, but I don't really know her.”

“She's married now ,” Jack expounded.  He took a breath and announced, “... to Darren St. James.”

“Really?  I ... I still don't understand.”

“Sunny, can you tell us everything you know about Darren?” Daniel asked.  “If it weren't vital, we wouldn't be asking.”

“There's not a lot to tell.  Um, Alex and I weren't together.  That was my fault, as everyone knows.”

“Nooooo, it was both of us.  You made me open my eyes to the truth about myself.  We might be together without the split, but we wouldn't be free like we are if we hadn't.”

“You're right,” Sunny agreed with a smile and then shared a short and sweet kiss with her spouse.  “Anyway, I ran back home to Florida as fast as I could get there.  I wanted to forget about Alex and my friends set me up with Darren. They all thought he was perfect for me.  He was tall and handsome, and he had piercing hazel eyes.  Money wasn't a problem for him.  He absolutely inundated me with presents, and when he wasn't doing that, he was on the phone or sending me texts.  He'd surprise me by showing up at places.”

“You mean, at work?” Daniel queried.

“No, I wasn't working then.  I would tell him about volunteer events I was helping with, and he'd show up, donate, and then take me out for a late dinner or drinks.  I remember one time I was meeting friends to celebrate a birthday, not mine, but a friend's, and he walked in with flowers for everyone, and candy for the birthday girl.”

“You weren't upset that he showed up like that?”

“No, not really.  Most of the gals knew him and were the ones who set me up with him.  I just thought he was charming.  We called him Mister Wonderful,” Sunny mused.

“How serious did you get?” Jack questioned.

“Well, after a few weeks, he was trying pretty hard to sweep me off my feet.  He kept telling me he thought I was *the* one for him, but I felt a bit rushed.  I was still in love with Alex, and while Dar was wonderful, he just wasn't Alex.”

“So you broke up with Darren?” the archaeologist asked.

“Eventually.  I was trying so hard to forget Alex, but he was the one I saw in my dreams and felt in my heart.  Darren would kiss me, but in my mind, I was imagining Alex, in spite of all my protests that I was over him.  I thought maybe Mister Wonderful would make me forget Alex.”

Alex reached over and took his soulmate's hand.  He had a supportive smile on his face as he listened to her speak.

“It was Valentine's Day.  I'll never forget the moment.  The bell rang, and I thought it may be Darren.  I had broken with him a week or so earlier, and even though I assured him there was nothing of substance between us, he'd kept calling and sending me gifts, so I figured it was him, but it wasn't.”  Sunny giggled happily and elucidated, “My real Mister Wonderful was standing there, looking so dapper and handsome.  He had a dozen red roses in one hand and a two-pound box of chocolates in the other, but the most awesome thing was that he had this great big red bow wrapped around his neck.  It was priceless.”

“She jumped in my arms and practically knocked me over.”

“Oh, goodness, the flowers went flying all over the place and there were candies all over the porch.  It was perfect,” Sunny spoke, her eyes full of love as she gazed into her husband's eyes.  Then she looked at their guests and elaborated, “I left Florida right away.  I wanted to be with Alex.  I haven't seen or spoken with Darren since.”

“Jack, Daniel, what's this all about, and how did you know Sunny dated this guy?”

“I'll give it to you straight,” Jack began.  “We had someone look into St. James' past and Sunny's name came up in the report.”

“Well ... why are you investigating him?” the woman inquired.

“Look, we don't have confirmation ...” Daniel stated.

“... yet,” Jack interrupted.

“We don't know for sure, but we strongly believe that he's been abusive towards Karissa.  Please, we don't know for sure, but there are signs ...”

“Strong indicators,” Jack pointed out.

“... that he's ... hit her.  She's, uh, denying everything right now.  Actually, she's not really telling us anything, but we think of her as family and we can't stand by and let her be hurt.”

“Sunny, is there anything you can remember that he did or said that would indicate St. James might have become violent with you?” Jack questioned.

“No, not really.  He just ... he was very persistent.  I asked him to stop sending the gifts when we broke up, but he ignored me.  He was determined, but, no, he never raised a finger to me.  He was just ... persistent and very dedicated to winning me over.”

“Would it surprise you to know that he was telling his friends in Daytona Beach that he wanted to marry you?”

“Marry me?  We only dated a couple of months.  No.  I mean, I liked Darren, obviously, but I wasn't anywhere near that.  Marry me?  No.”

“Okay, thank you for answering our questions,” Daniel returned.

“We should get going.”

“Oh, no, you don't.  Coffee and cookies, remember?”

“Are you sure we're not imposing?” Daniel asked.

“Absolutely not,” Sunny responded as she stood and headed for the kitchen.  She paused and looked back at the visitors.  “You know, it's giving me the shivers.  I could have been Karissa.  If there's anything I can do to help, please let me know.”

“We will,” Jack assured.  “And if you think of anything more about the guy that might be suspicious, let us know.”

“I will.”

The rest of Jack and Daniel's visit was basic small talk with stories about both family's children.

====

The soulmates were making their nightly rounds and entered the boys' room.  All three, Jonny, Little Danny, and Ricky, were in their pajamas, but they weren't in their beds.  Instead, they were standing together at the rear of the room, their arms folded in the mode of their younger father.  They were in a V-formation military stance with the middle Munchkin out front.

“Are we preparing for the military?” Jack questioned.

“Dad, Daddy, when are we going to help Karissa?” Little Danny asked, his voice strong and steady.

“Son, we're working on it,” Daniel responded.

“And she keeps getting hurt,” the boy stated, his voice weaker and more vulnerable now.

“What are you talking about?” Daniel asked.

“At work today, Karissa wore sunglasses, all day, Daddy.”

“May...be, uh ...”  Daniel stopped talking and looked over at his husband.  **This is bad.**

**It's all bad, Danny.**

“I heard her tell Bibi that she'd gone to the eye doctor and they'd put drops in her eyes, so she had to wear them.”

“That's a possibility,” Jack offered.

“Dad, I saw Karissa arrive.  She was driving her car, without the glasses on.  I saw her put them on before she closed her car door.”  Little Danny stopped for a moment to take a cleansing breath.  “And she told Bibi she wasn't feeling well and might not be in for a couple of days.”

Jonny, who remained in placed, challenged, “Does that sound like a good possibility, Dad?”

“Don't get smart, Jonny.”

“Karissa took care of us when we were babies.  She played with us when we were little.  We love her, Dad.  She's family.  If this were Jen, would we be patiently waiting and 'working on it' like we are now?” the oldest Munchkin dared.

“Low blow,” Jack responded, more to Daniel than to the children.

“But accurate,” Daniel opined.  “Still, the problem is that Jennifer *is* our daughter and your sister.  Every time we talk to Karissa, she says the same thing, that she's fine, that there aren't any problems, and not to worry.”

“She's lying, Daddy,” Little Danny asserted firmly.  “You can work on it.  I love you, Daddy, and I love you, Dad.  Keep working on it.  I'm going to bed now.”

Little Danny's movement caused the V-formation to conclude and all three boys went to their beds and pulled their covers taut.

“I take it no one has anything else to talk about tonight?” Jack questioned.

“No, thank you,” came three very formal responses.

Unhappily, the parents left the room, closed the door, and stood in the hallway.

“Jack, we have to do something.  This is escalating.”

“What do you want us to do?  Have Thor beam him up and send him to a distant planet?  Or would you prefer I get in touch with my old crowd and tend to it that way?”

“I want us to treat Karissa like we'd treat Jen in the same circumstance.  I'm not sure exactly what we'd be doing, but I suggest we start considering the possibilities before we lose our children because for the first time, Jack,” Daniel spoke with a cracked voice, “they aren't going to listen to us.  We're the enemy.  I see it in their eyes, I hear it in their voices, and I feel it in their hearts.  Karissa is family and they think we're being hypocrites by not acting sooner rather than later, and what scares me is that they may be right.  We're afraid, Jack, because she's not blood family, but she is family, and our son cares about her in a very real and serious way, so just by extension of that, we need to act.”

Jack drew his Love in close, holding him securely to comfort, not just Daniel, but himself.  Every word he'd heard was true, and Jack knew it.  What he didn't know was how to go about saving a woman who wasn't asking for their help and who claimed her life was golden.

====

The next day was a bit chilly for the Jackson-O'Neill parents.  It began with a near silent breakfast, except for Chenoa and Lulu who were happy that they'd been chosen to perform a non-traditional dance fusion of jazz, contemporary, and ballet at a special event put on by one of their favorite local dance companies.  At age fifteen, both girls already had a long history of dancing at public happenings.  They'd auditioned for this production a couple of weeks ago, were selected as one of the top three, and received the call that they were to be the star dancers at the show, to be held on Friday, the day before Halloween.  The entire family expressed congratulations and due excitement, but that was as vocal as the brood became during breakfast.

Neither Jack nor Daniel were scheduled to go into J-O Enterprises on this day, but inwardly, both wished they had.  They were personae non gratae to the brood.  Even the confused pets knew something was happening and were torn where to show their loyalty.  More than once, the parents told their zoo to stick with the brood and give them comfort.

Dinnertime was also telling since the primary chef was Aislinn and her helpers were David and Little Danny.

“Sorry, Dad, Daddy, I overcooked the burgers and undercooked the potatoes,” the chef explained.

“Accidents happen, Princess,” Jack responded as he stared at the charred hamburger that made his burnt steaks look like fresh meat.  He looked at the burgers in front of the children and noticed they were plump and juicy.  Then he glanced at Daniel's.  It was prepared with the same love as his own hardened and very thin burger wannabe.  “How are your potatoes?” he asked his husband.

“About as hard as when we bought them at the store.”

“Mine, too.”

“Sorry.  I guess I didn't time all the food right tonight,” Aislinn explained insincerely.

“Apparently not,” Daniel replied dryly.

**Message received,** Jack told his lover.

**To quote the other person I know who is in the doghouse with me, ya think?**

====

The next day, Jack and Daniel fared about the same with their brood.  Again, neither was scheduled to work in their office.  Homeschooling was scheduled with Jack conducting classes in the morning and Daniel in the afternoon.  If silence were golden, then the Jackson-O'Neill home was pure gold that day.  Answers to  questions were done quietly and succinctly.  Nothing was done to promote further discussion.  The children did exactly as requested and nothing more.

At the office, things ran smoothly.  Karissa was present, her makeup three times as heavy as she'd been wearing during the past month or two.  The office was buzzing, with some employees gossiping, unless they were stopped cold by one of the original hires, all of whom were very protective of one another.

Employees were also rumbling about the surprise arrival, a confident, well dressed woman who walked in with a bright smile and an air of purpose.  She waved at the receptionist and continued to the building's upper level where she went to the door of her target and opened it, without knocking.

“I'm baaaaaack!”

“Megan!” Karissa exclaimed, instantly leaving her chair and hurrying forward to greet her longtime friend.  “It's so good to see you.“

Megan embraced her blonde friend and held on tight, something she noticed Karissa was doing, too.  She also noticed the crack to the other woman's voice when she spoke.

“What are you doing here?”

“Business.  I have an idea I want to pitch to Jack and Daniel and I decided it might be best to do it in person.”

“Are you going to share?”

“I don't want to jinx it.”

“Sit,” Karissa invited, motioning to the chair that guests sat in.

“Thanks,” Megan said.

As Karissa went to her chair, she watched as Megan shut the office door before taking her seat.

“What's with your new look, Karissa?”

“Oh, I'm just trying some new things.  Darren likes it.”

“Does he?”

“Very much.”

“Girlfriend, you can't lie to me.  I'm seeing you close up now and not just on a monitor through a device.  You look tired and all that makeup does is hide your natural beauty.”

“Megan, surely you do things for Yazid, simply because he likes it.”

“Of course, for special occasions, but not all the time.  If I were to do that, I wouldn't be myself.  This isn't you.”

“I'm okay with it.”

“You know you can tell me anything.”

“That's what bestie girls are for,” Karissa replied with as much of a smile as she could muster.

“Okay, well, how about we go out for drinks after work?”

“Megan, I'd love to, but I really can't.”

“I'm only here for the night.”

“I wish I could.”

“Why can't you?”

“I promised Darren we'd have a special night tonight.”

“Can't you do that after we have a drink?  I'm only talking an hour to catch up and chat.”

“He's expecting me.  Maybe next time, if you can give advanced notice.”  Karissa gulped and looked around nervously.  Then she changed the subject.  “You should see Little Danny.  He works here part-time now.”

“I bet that's something to see,” Megan replied.  ~Oh, my dear friend.  You're hurting.  How am I going to get you to talk to me?~

====

“Okay, kids, listen up,” Jack demanded at the family meeting that evening.  “Enough is enough.  I know you're upset, and Daddy and I understand why, but you have to give us some slack.”

“No.  We have to save Rissa,” Little Danny argued.  He stood up and said, “I love you both and I'm glad I'm your son, but I can't not help her, so I won't apologize.”

“About what, exactly?” Daniel asked, suddenly feeling like he was missing something.

A very well timed knock on the door was about to give Jack and Daniel their answer.

“Megan!” Jack exclaimed.  “Hey!”

After a hug in the entryway, Jack led the Director of Operations for the Chesapeake office into the living room where the family meeting was being held.

“Wow, hey, what a surprise,” Daniel greeted, standing and giving the woman a hug.  After greetings were given all around, he asked, “Did we miss a scheduled meeting?”

“Not exactly.  I arrived this afternoon to see Karissa.”

“I asked her to come,” Little Danny admitted.  “I know she'll help.”

“Don't start,” Jack ordered.

“Dad, if you won't talk to Megan and come up with a plan, then I will talk to Megan and we will do something.”

“I'm helping, too,” Jonny said, standing up next to his brother.

“Me, too,” Aislinn chimed as she walked over to stand next to her brothers.

“And me,” Ricky added, feeling the need to support his roommates.

“Count me in,” Jenny requested, unwilling to let her twin go it alone.

“And us,” Chenoa and Lulu said together.

“Dad, Daddy, what are we supposed to do?” Twenty-year-old Brianna asked.  “It's a brood thing.  Little Danny needs us.  I'm sorry.”

At that point, Brianna, David, and JD all joined their siblings.  It was a unanimous verdict for the ten Jackson-O'Neill children who still lived under their parents' suburban roof.

“Jen and Jeff are in, too,” Jonny stated.  He looked at the middle Munchkin and noted, “I talked to both of them today.  They said just tell them what you need and they'll be here.”

“Thanks.”

“Jack, Daniel, I didn't know this was going to be a family standoff.  Little Danny ...”

“I called her and said Rissa needed help.  That's all I told her, but you'll help us help Rissa, right?”

Megan's eyes were pleading with Jack and Daniel to step in and she breathed a sigh of relief when they did.

“Alright,” Jack sighed.  “Danny, are you in?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Yes, Daddy, you do,” the man's namesake stated.

“No, I don't, because Karissa is family and she needs our help.”  Daniel smiled and invited Megan to sit down.  “Okay, let's talk this through.”

The family meeting continued, only in greatly reduced numbers.  The parents allowed the Munchkins to sit in on the discussion with Megan, but the others went upstairs.

“Do you mind if we invite Bibi to come over?” Megan asked.  “I know she's concerned about Karissa, too.”

“What about Sam?” Daniel suggested.  “And maybe Sunny?”

“Sunny Dennison?” Megan inquired.  “Alex's wife?”

“She dated St. James once upon a time,” Jack advised.

“She did?”

The query was asked by four individuals, Megan and the Munchkins, all of whom were surprised since Jack and Daniel chose not to tell the triplets about their Saturday evening conversation with the Dennisons.

Ultimately, Jack and Daniel did invite Bibi and Sunny over, along with Sam and Ty. Obtaining a sitter for their kids, Alex also came over, not wanting Sunny to be alone.  The group discussed Karissa's behavioral change over the last few months and shared their own experiences that created concern.  They talked about Karissa's insistence she was fine, the consequences of interfering, and different scenarios for how they might be able to help her.

“If Karissa agrees, we need a safe house for her,” Sam noted.

“There's the suite at J-O,” Daniel offered.

“Wouldn't the office be one of the first places Darren would look for her?” Ty questioned.

“I think Ty is right.”

“I know just the place,” Megan put first.  “Let me make a quick phone call.”

The others chatted while Megan strolled into the recreation room to make her call for privacy's sake.  Ten minutes later, she returned to the group wearing a smile.

“It's all set.”

“What is?”

“Yazid's made arrangements for Karissa to use a condo in the Broadmoor area.”

“Costly,” Bibi noted.

“Not for his boss,” Megan chuckled.

“I get that it's exclusive, but if Darren goes looking for Karissa, wouldn't anything related to you ring a bell to him?” Bibi queried.  “You guys are best friends.”

“Actually, the name the condo is rented under is Fulan Al-Fulani.”

“Uh, essentially the equivalent of John Doe,” Daniel clarified for the others.  “He won't be able to figure that out.”

“Well done, Megan,” Jack praised.

“Jack, how can we be sure Darren is still out of town?” Bibi asked.  “I don't think we can rely on what she's telling us.”

“I'll take care of that.  We'll know for sure before Karissa leaves the office,” the general put forth.  “Okay, if anyone wants to back out before go time, no harm, no foul.  This is a touchy thing we're doing.”

“It could have been me.  I have to help,” Sunny responded.  “Alex, I hope you understand.”

“I'm all in, Sweetheart.  We were lucky.  We need to do what we can,” the designer responded.

The plans set, the group dispersed for the evening.

====

Jack and Daniel were sitting in their bed, talking before going to sleep, when they heard a knock on their door.

“Come in,” Jack called out.  “Is anything wrong?”

“No, I just wanted to talk to you for a minute, if that's okay.”

“Have a sit,” the older father encouraged.

“You know, it's been a long time, and maybe it's silly at my age, but could I ...”

Daniel scooted over to his left and Jack a bit to his right and both patted the spot in between them.

“Thanks,” Little Danny spoke as he took the position between his parents.  “I wanted to apologize.”

“You don't have anything to apologize for,” Daniel proclaimed.  “We should have responded quicker because you're right, Son, Karissa is family.”

“But I understand the risks.  I know there can be severe consequences to ... interfering with an adult's life choices.”

“Sometimes, Danny, that's what people have to do, when someone they know is at risk.  Karissa is at risk.  Daddy and I were a little slow to recognize the severity of the situation.  You pushed; you pushed hard, but I'm proud of you for doing so.”

“Proud of me?  Dad, Daddy, I've acted like a brat, and I got the brood to go along.”

“No, no, no, no, no,” Jack negated.  “You stood up for what you believed was right.  The day you *don't* do that is the day we'll be disappointed.”

“Dad's right,” Daniel affirmed as he put his arm around his namesake.  “Sproglet, we love you more than life itself.  Dad and I have both stood up to people and have risked our lives and careers in the process.  Ask Grandpa.”

“I have.  I ... called him the other day, for advice.”

“What did he say?”

“To fight for Karissa, like you did, Daddy, for awareness about Euronda, and how you did, Dad, for Merrin.  He didn't really tell me about whatever happened on Euronda.  He just said you were very passionate about whatever it was and he said you put your career on the line for a little girl named Merrin, but he didn't say anything more.  He'd said you'd both know, if I mentioned it.”

“He's right,” Jack acknowledged.  “We gave Grandpa a lot of grief back in those days.”

“That's what he said, but he also said he wouldn't change any of it because he said you both were usually right and because of that, planets and people were better for it, including Earth.”

“Do you understand what Grandpa was trying to tell you?” Daniel questioned.

“I think so.”

“In case you missed it,” Daniel began, “he's telling you to take a stand, no matter what.  If you believe that strongly that there is an injustice out there, you have to follow your heart.”

“No matter the cost,” Jack added.  “Son, I'm sorry I didn't move quicker on this.  Karissa suffered more hurt because of that.”

“Battered women often try to cover for their husbands and boyfriends.”

“We've read the research,” Daniel replied.  “We just let ... the law stop us, and that's something we've never really done before.  I mean, it's important to obey the law.  It's just ... uh ...”

“What Daddy is trying to say is that we have always followed our hearts and done what our guts has told us was right.  For whatever reason, this time we hesitated. We let the possible repercussions stop us from helping someone we all care about.  We messed up.  Now we're going to make it right.  Karissa's probably scared to death of this guy, and we're going to give her the chance to admit it and ask for help.”

“And when she does, we're ready to move,” Daniel put forth.

“I just want you to know how much I love and need you both, and no matter what happens tomorrow night, that won't change.  You're both who I want to be.  It's just like what Jonny and I used to tell you all the time.  We're a part of both of you, and that's how we want to be.”

“You're the best of both of us,” Daniel responded.  “I love you.”

“And that goes for me, too,” Jack added.  “I love you.”

After some hugs, Little Danny chuckled, “You haven't called me Sproglet in a long time, Daddy.”

“I know.  You're grown up and sometimes childhood nicknames are better kept to memories.”

“Daddy, I'll never be too old for you to call me Sproglet, not ever.”

“I'm glad.”

Little Danny twisted around and threw his arms around Daniel and then he gave him a kiss.  He did the same for Jack before sliding off the bed.

“No parents could be better than you two.  You let us be who we are and you listen.  Thank you for giving all of us your strength and your compassion.  I love you.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Son,” Jack returned.

“Goodnight ... Sproglet,” Daniel replied with a loving smile.

Little Danny grinned and then left the bedroom.

“Feel better?” Jack asked.

“Oh, yeah, definitely.”

The lovers snuggled and let the joy of parenthood and the pride of having raised wonderful, caring, passionate children settle within them.

====

“Target sighted, Jack.  He's having drinks with two males; doesn't appear to be rushed.”

“Keep monitoring.  Don't let him out of your sight, and if he makes any move that indicates he might be checking out or headed to the airport, let me know.”

“One thing, Jack.”

“Yeah, Lou?”

“He's made a lot of calls on his phone.  Trace shows he's been calling Karissa.”

“Keeping tabs,” Jack sighed.  “Lou, I appreciate your help in this.  Let me know immediately if he squirrels.”

“Will do.  Out.”

Jack disconnected the call and felt a bit uneasy.  He went into the master bedroom and looked at his husband.

“What?”

“St. James is keeping tabs on Karissa.  Danny, if she balks at letting us help her, we could have bigger problems than trying to get her to trust us.”

“Okay, well, it would take him four hours to get home, right?”

“By plane.  If he rented a car and sped, could be less.”

“You ...”

“I have eyes on him.”

“Okay, well, we will just have to deal with whatever happens when it happens.  Are we ready?”

“Everyone's a go as of two hours ago,” Jack reported.

“Dad, Daddy?” a familiar voice called out.

“In here,” Jack shouted to Jeff.

Jack and Daniel  hurried forward and hugged their son.  They did the same with Chely.

“Thanks for coming,” Daniel spoke.

“Any chance to spend time with the brood is welcome,” the architect responded.

“Bri's here, of course, and Jen and Peter are home, but we figured it couldn't hurt to have the entire brood available.”

“I hope it goes okay,” Jeff responded.

“I had a friend once who was abused by her boyfriend.  She loved him and so she protected him, for years.  She never told us what she was going through and after a while, she was totally isolated from us.  We couldn't even speak to her without him listening in.  There was nothing we could do,” Chely related with sadness in her voice and expression.

“With any luck, that's not going to be the case here,” Jack replied.

“Jack, we need to go,” Daniel advised after looking at his watch.  “Jeff, we've already said goodbye to the children.  If you need us, call, but ...”

“We've got it covered.  Take care of Karissa.”

“That's the goal,” Jack returned, giving his son a tap on the back and smiling at Chely as he walked out the door.

“See you two later,” Daniel spoke as he followed his husband down the stairs and out of the house.

====

As Jack and Daniel stood outside their office building, Daniel's mobile phone rang.

“It's her,” the archaeologist told his lover.  “Bibi, how's it going?”

“She's in her office, working.  She thinks she absolutely has to get that budget report submitted before leaving.  I made sure there were several inconsistencies to keep her here for quite a while.”

“Okay, we're coming in.  Is Ty ready?”

“Yes.  Once you make the announcement, we'll make sure everyone leaves right away.”

“Thanks.”

The lovers headed inside the building they owned and immediately told the receptionist that everyone was free to go.  It was a surprise thank you from the company founders, them, to their staff.

“Hey, Everyone,” Jack called out as he clapped and put his hands together.  “Listen up!  Daniel and I are so thankful for your dedication and support as our company continues to grow that we're giving you the rest of the day off and tomorrow, too.  All deadlines have been extended through Monday.  Any problems can be referred to Bibi, who will contact us.  Now go!  Get!  We want everyone on their way pronto!”

“Let's go guys before they change their minds!” Bibi called out.

As Bibi coaxed the workers, some of who were hesitant to make a quick departure, out of the building, Ty checked off the names as each actually left the building.  The list was one Bibi prepared after lunch and updated hourly until the owners' arrival.

“Jack, Daniel, that's everyone but Karissa,” Ty advised.

“And she's probably wondering if I've lost my mind.  I messed up those figures pretty bad,” Bibi stated.

Jack's phone rang at that point and, recognizing the number, he answered simply, “Go.”

“Jack, he's just made another call to Karissa.  He's phoning her every thirty minutes.  Thanks.”

“Here they come,” Ty reported about the rest of the group who would be participating in the quest to protect Karissa.

As the doors opened and closed with the arrivals of the Dennisons and Sam, Jack instructed, “Bibi, get everyone in the suite and hopefully, Daniel and I can get Karissa there in the next few minutes.”

“And me,” Little Danny responded, surprising his parents.  “I'm sorry, Dad, Daddy, but I need to be a part of this.  Jen brought me.  If you don't agree, she's waiting outside and I'll go home, but I think I can help.  Please let me help.”

The parents exchanged glances and then Daniel walked outside and smiled at Jennifer as she waited in her car.  The father sighed and then nodded, waving his oldest daughter on.

Jennifer blew her daddy a kiss and backed up as she began her journey back home.

“Thanks, Dad,” the teen spoke as he observed what occurred outside.

“You're a man now, Son,” Jack stated as he placed his hand on Little Danny's shoulder and kept it there firmly for several seconds before sliding it behind the boy's back and patting his back a few times.  Seeing Daniel walk back in, he instructed, “Let's get this show on the road.”

Jack, Daniel, and Little Danny went upstairs to Karissa's office and opened her door without knocking.

“Oh, hi,” Karissa replied.  “I'll have this done as soon as I can, but I can't understand the numbers.  Maybe I should ...”

“Karissa, that's worthless,” Jack announced.

“Excuse me?”

“We had Bibi play with the numbers so we could keep you here,” Daniel elaborated.

“I don't understand.”

“Rissa, we need to speak with you.  It's very important.  Would you please do me a favor and come with us?”

“Come ... with you where?”

“Just to the suite, where we can talk.  Please, Rissa.”

“Um, sure,” the unsuspecting employee agreed.  Though she left her purse, she was sure to pull out her smartphone, explaining, “Darren might call and I really need to talk to him, if he does.”

“Not a problem,” Jack responded with a smile.

When the foursome hit the main level, Karissa was surprised to see the staff gone.

“Where is everyone?”

“We love our employees,” Daniel began.  “We don't say thank you enough, so we've given everyone the rest of today and tomorrow off.”

“Oh, that's very nice.”

Daniel opened the door to the suite and Karissa walked inside, shocked to see there were so many others present.

“What's going on?” Karissa asked.

“Come over here, girlfriend,” Megan instructed as she walked forward, put her arm around her dear friend, and escorted her over to a comfortable chair on the other side of the room.

This part of the J-O Enterprises' building was actually a separate apartment area.  There were two large suites, one of each level, used for clients and employees both.  Each had a large living area, a nice bedroom, a small kitchenette, and a bathroom.  During the workday, Ty made sure there were enough chairs for everyone and that there were drinks and snacks available as well.

Jack shut the door and remained near it while Daniel sat down in one of the chairs.

“What's going on?” Karissa asked again as she sat down.

“It's an intervention,” Little Danny answered.  “We love you, Rissa, and we're all worried about you.  I know you're going to say everything is fine, but it's not fine, Rissa, it's not fine at all.  Darren's been hurting you, and you're covering up for him.  We're here to help you understand that we love you and want you to be safe.  We want you to trust us and let us help you.”

Daniel looked at his namesake with great pride.  He felt the chosen verbiage was appropriate, sincere, and right to the point.

“I really need to go.”

“Karissa,” Jack began from his position at the door.  “We've got,” he checked his watch, “twenty-four minutes before Darren calls you ... again.  Give us that time.”

“How do you know when he's going to call?”

“Because he's been calling you every thirty minutes all day long,” Jack answered, his eyes laser focused on the woman.

“He ... worries about me.”

“He's tracking your movements,” Bibi corrected.

Shaking her head, Karissa looked at the group and noticed the Dennisons.  She knew Alex from his work with the various J-O building jobs, but she had only met Sunny a few times.

“Why are you here?”

“I dated Darren before you,” Sunny responded.

“You did?”

“I only discovered this recently.  I know how charming he can be.  I get the lure, Karissa, but as I've thought about it more in the last few days, I realize how very lucky I was that Alex wanted me back and literally came and got me.  I have a horrible feeling that if Alex hadn't come to Florida when he did, that I could be sitting in that chair, instead of you, and I hate that you're sitting there.”

“I appreciate all the concern, but ...”

Karissa started to stand, but Megan reached out to her and pulled her down, pleading, “Let us talk, at least until Darren calls ... again.”

Reluctantly, Karissa nodded and sat back uncomfortably as she braced herself for the unknown.

“Okay, we're going to treat this a little like a military briefing,” Jack announced.  “We're going to tell you what we know.  None of it is pleasant, and you may want to run out this door, but we're not going to let you do that.  Shanahan.”

“Megan, I did a comprehensive background check on Darren St. James.  That's how we found out he had dated Sunny, but you might be interested in some other things we discovered as the investigation continued.”

Sam told Megan about some of Darren's past relationships.  As it turned out, there were a few police reports of threatening violence and abuse, all of which were never prosecuted.

“His past girlfriends all ended up receiving large checks from him,” Sam advised.

“Payoffs, Karissa,” Megan explained in a gentle voice.  “Whenever he was about to go to trial, he promised to leave them alone forever and pay them a lot of money to not press charges.”

“Without their testimony, the district attorneys didn't have enough for a conviction,” Sam expounded.

With the details fleshed out for Karissa, Bibi went in another direction, telling her friend and colleague all the things she admired about her.  She recalled one very important incident from the past.

“Karissa, when Jack had his accident and was paralyzed, Daniel had to focus on him and their children.  He didn't have time for J-O.  *You* ran this company, by yourself, for months.  You made the hard choices, you kept us staffed, you inspired us to keep going, and you promised us that it would get better, if we just focused on our jobs and kept going.  We did, because of you.  You exhibited such strength.”

Ty seconded Bibi's words and tossed in the humanity she used in her position, especially how she kept track of so many personal situations.

“Somehow you never let a birthday, anniversary, or important event go by.  I still appreciate that picture you had framed of Lincoln and gave me after he died,” Ty noted about the cat he had for years.  The simple words you wrote are still with me and helped me to get through his loss.  You do that for everyone.  That's not easy to do as J-O gets larger.”

Alex talked next about the importance of having people in life who give support, from listening to providing guidance.

“I was a total workaholic.  The people in my life were great, but they weren't friends.  They were client friends.  I've been all over the world, Karissa, and I've been on many great adventures, but until Jack and Daniel butted into my life and convinced me to be open to really having friends, and more,” Alex said with a smile aimed at his wife, “I was alone.  It took a long time, but that's how I know that we all need a support system of people who care.  I reached a low once and felt like I had nowhere to go and no one to turn to.  That was a miserable feeling.  Now I have real friends and a great woman in my life and kids and there are people I can turn to, to vent or ask advice.  I know we don't know each other very well, except on a professional level, but Sunny and I would like to join your circle of friends, and look around, Karissa, these people all care about you.  They are here to give you whatever support you need.  All you have to do is ask for it.”

“And if you don't feel like you can talk to us, there are support groups for women in your position.  Maybe talking to strangers would be easier.  We'll support that because we're supporting you,” Megan put forth.

“Karissa, Jack and I consider you family.  We trusted you with our greatest possessions, our children.  You spent hours with them.  In many ways, you helped us to raise them.  All we're doing now is the same we would do if one of our children were in harm's way.  Please let us help you,” Daniel pleaded from his heart.

Karissa was listening, but often her head was down.  Most of the time, her right hand was holding onto her necklace, rubbing it, twisting it, or just gripping it for support.

Little Danny walked forward and kneeled down so he could look up into the woman's eyes.

“When I was a baby, I looked at you and knew you were special.  I know it sounds crazy, but I remember a lot of moments from when I was a baby and a toddler.  I remember you holding me and telling me stories.  Falling in love with you as a baby is one of my first memories.”  Little Danny took the woman's free hand and said, “I wish we weren't separated by so many years, but we are, and that's why I let you go that day, but that's the day Darren knew he could get you, and I may never forgive myself for that.”

“Little Danny, don't you dare blame yourself for him,” Karissa insisted with a fragile voice.

“Do you like the necklace I gave you?”

Karissa smiled brightly as tears fell down her face and responded, “It's my most cherished treasure.”

The necklace was a twenty-four karat gold-plated heart with a sparkling solitaire diamond on the bale and seventeen faceted crystals adorning the front of the pendant.  Inside the heart was a genuine four-leaf clover on mother-of-pearl.  It hung on a twenty-four karat gold necklace.  On the reverse side of the pendant the words 'Love', 'Faith', 'Hope', and 'Luck' were engraved, one special blessing for each clover leaf.

With the permission of his parents, Little Danny purchased the item when he was eight-years-old and gifted it to Karissa at a special dinner on February 14th.  He'd asked her to be his valentine that night, and she'd agreed for as long as he wanted her to be.

“I should have made you stay my Valentine,” the teenager expressed with strong emotion.  “He's hurt you, Karissa.  Please let us save you.”

Karissa's phone rang and she looked up towards Jack in a panic.

“Just answer it.  Tell him you're still working,” Jack advised.  “Keep it short and sweet, just like you've been doing all day.  This is just his latest call.”

Karissa looked at Little Danny and saw the hope in his eyes.  She couldn't let this special young man down.  Somehow, she called on her ebbing inner strength and answered the call.  She was scared and scared even more that Darren might hear her heart beating extra loudly, but then it was over and she literally dropped the phone.

“Ask us for help,” Little Danny encouraged.  “It's really important, Rissa.  You *have* to ask us for help.”

With a nod, the blonde whispered, “I ... I need hellllp.”  As she started to sob, she begged, “Please help me.”

Little Danny let Karissa cry on his shoulder as he put his arms around her and vowed, “He'll never hurt you again.  We won't let him.  We're all going to help you.”

When Karissa calmed down, Daniel asked gently, “Can you tell us what's happened?”

“Don't go away,” Karissa requested when the teen started to back away a little.

“Little Danny, take my seat,” Megan encouraged as she got up.

“Megan, you take my spot,” Bibi instructed, allowing Megan to sit on the other side of Karissa.

With Little Danny holding Karissa's right hand and Megan her left, Karissa gulped and started to tell her story.

“He was so wonderful.  Our first year of marriage was perfect, but he started to get po,possessive.  It was a minor thing at first.  I didn't think twice, but ... he started to get angry if I was late, or when I'd get a phone call from a friend.  I don't know  how things got so messed up.  I did everything wrong.  I wasn't a good wife.”

“Karissa, you've been a great wife,” Bibi insisted.

“No, I haven't, or Darren wouldn't get so angry.”

The more Karissa talked, the more her support group understood how Darren was manipulating her.  Over time, he'd cut her off more from her friends and then kept at her to give him all of her attention.  He'd wrangled her into thinking she was inept until he'd succeeded in making her feel weak and incapable of making a decision without him.  Darren had also managed to do the unthinkable, he'd separated Karissa from her family, the very people she'd sacrificed much of her life for, helping them financially and emotionally.

The group listened as Karissa talked about the physical abuse, beginning with the revelation, “I worked late one night, and I didn't call him.  You needed that report, Daniel, for Abayomi.  I had to get it done and I turned off my phone.  He was so angry.  He hit me, but he didn't mean to slap me.  He apologized and brought me flowers.  He said it would never happen again.”

Karissa was defending Darren, until Megan pointed out, “But he did hit you again, and again.  Karissa, listen to what you're saying.  None of this is your fault.  Darren has a problem.  He's had it for years.  He's a predator, Karissa.  He feeds on beautiful women like yourself and a like a vulture, he sucks out their independence, their confidence, and their belief in themselves.  That's what he's done to you, but no more; no more, Karissa.”

The phone rang again, causing Karissa to cry in loud, painful wails.  She raised her hands to hide her face in.

“I can't.  I just can't talk to him.”

“I've got it,” Megan insisted.  She took the phone and walked away from Karissa, hoping her friend's cries would be muted with the distance.  “Hi, this is Karissa's phone.”

“Where's my wife?”

“Darren, it's so good to hear your voice.  This is Megan.”

“Hello, Megan.  What's up with you answering Kari's phone?”

Little Danny bristled at the use of the nickname for Karissa.  He knew she didn't like it and he vividly recalled Darren promising not to use it again.

“She went to the powder room.  This report is a killer.  I'm glad I'm here to help her sort it out.  Confidentially, Darren, I think we may have a thief here at J-O.  Jack and Daniel are going to be furious.”

“Yeah, okay.  Tell Kari I'll call her later.”

“Sure thing.  I know she misses you.  This is probably going to take awhile, Darren.”

“Tell Kari I'll call.”

“Will do.  Bye.”

“You're good,” Jack complimented Megan.

“Remember who the star was in those company skits,” Megan chuckled before turning serious again.  “Next steps.”

“Karissa, we need to get you away from Darren and that means moving you out of the condo.  Are you up for that?” Jack questioned.

Karissa nodded, but didn't say anything.

“We're taking you to a condo where he can't get to you.  I'll stay with you for a couple of days, okay?” Megan spoke.

Again, Karissa nodded.

“Let's move out,” the general ordered.

“Where are we going?” Karissa asked, as if she hadn't heard anything spoken in the last couple of minutes.

“We're going to your condo to get your things,” Megan answered.  “Karissa, we're taking everything you own that you want.  You're never going back there again.”

===

The group formed a caravan to the condo where Karissa and Darren lived.  The woman was a bit of a wreck, but she managed to indicate what possessions she wanted to take with her.  Mostly, she asked for the items she'd brought into the marriage.  She left behind all of Darren's belongings and the items purchased during their marriage.

“Karissa, everything's loaded,” Daniel called out from the doorway.  “It's time to go.”

“How did it get like this, Daniel?” Karissa asked as she held her official wedding picture in her hands.  She was in the master bedroom, standing by the bed.  She'd picked up the photo that she'd smiled at every night of her married life.  How many times was the picture of the supposedly happy couple on the nightstand the last thing she'd seen before going to sleep?  In her mind, she'd believed she was one of the luckiest ladies alive.  “I thought it would so perfect.”

“He used you, Karissa.  He's ... a fake,” Daniel reminded as he walked to stand beside the woman.

Karissa turned her head to look at Daniel and cried, “I loved him.  I did.”

“I know.”

Taking a deep breath first, Karissa tossed the framed photograph onto the bed.  She looked at her hand and removed her wedding and engagement rings and threw them on top of the picture.

“Are you sure you don't want those?”

“I don't want anything of his.”  Karissa sniffled.  “Get me out of here, Daniel.  Please.”

Daniel put his arm around Karissa's back and gently nudged her around and away from the bed and then escorted her outside.

“Wait.  Here,” Karissa stated, taking the key to the condo off the chain and handing it Daniel.  “Would you put it with the other things and this, too?  Darren bought me this phone.  I don't want it, Daniel.”

“Sure.”

Daniel returned to the bedroom and placed the key with the wedding photo and the rings.  He was about to toss down the phone when caution overcame him.  He opened the phone and removed the SIM card.  He was glad Karissa asked for help and that the plan was going smoothly.  However, he had a gut feeling that things would get darker before the bright light of the future was seen again.

====

“Jack, he's on the move,” Lou reported.  “He just checked out of the hotel and my guess is he's headed for the airport.”

“Stay with him.”

“Like bug to a windshield,” Lou promised and ended the call.

--

“The plane is landing,” Lou advised over the phone.

“Thanks for the update.  Listen, when he gets to his condo, he's gonna be one very unhappy man.  Be prepared for anything.”

“Where do you think he'll go when he discovers Karissa's not there?”

“Maybe the office, but it's locked up tight; full alarm.”

“Think he'll try to break in?”

“I wouldn't advise it.  The cops will be on his tail in no time,” Jack mused, pleased at the notion.  “Follow him and let me know where he goes.”

--

“Jack, you're not going to like this,” Lou stated as he kept his eyes on the road while using a hands-free phone device.

“Tell me.”

“He did go to J-O Enterprises, but he didn't try to break in.”

“Too bad.”

“But it looks like we're headed to your place.”

“You're kidding?”

“Makes sense, doesn't it?  His wife was last seen at your office.  He can't find her.  He's bound to think you know where she is.”

“How far out are you?”

“About ten minutes.”

“Thanks for the heads up.”  Jack hung up the phone and called out, “Red Alert!”  He hurried into the living room and repeated over the intercom, “Red Alert.  Front and center *now*.”

“Jack, what's happening?”

“We're about to get an unhappy visitor,” Jack advised.  “Kids, I want all of you to go to your rooms and stay there.  Bri, stay with JD, please.”

“Dad, I'm not a baby anymore.”

“I know, but deal with it.”

“Ah, shucks,” the youngest member of the brood said, kicking his foot into the carpet, much like Jonny used to do.

“It's the price you pay for being the youngest,” Jack noted with a smile.  “Look, I don't expect this to last long and nothing's going to happen.  Go on.”

It was no surprise to Jack and Daniel when one member of the brood lagged behind.  In fact, nothing was said.  The parents simply nodded.

“Jack, one minute out.”

“Lou, stay out of sight.  I want to know where he goes once we kick his butt into the street.”

“You got it.”

The knocks on the front door were loud and powerful, but Jack and Daniel took their time getting to the entryway.

“Son, that's as far as you go,” Jack ordered, his hand stopping Little Danny from actually going to the door with them.  “Daniel.”

Jack provided the buffer between the Munchkin and Darren, something Daniel immediately understood.  The archaeologist opened the door.

“Darren, what an un-surprise.”

“Where's my wife?”

“Somewhere.”

“Don't play with me.”

“I'm not playing and neither is Karissa.”

“She's my wife.”

“I'm aware of that.”

“Tell me where she is.”

“If she wants you to know, she'll tell you,” Daniel opined.

“Tell me ...”

Darren attempted to take a few steps forward and enter the house, but Daniel put his hands out and moved to block his path.

“I wouldn't do that, if I were you?”

“He knows where she is,” Darren accused as he pointed at Little Danny.

“Maybe, but he's not talking to you.”

“I'm gonna ...”

“I wouldn't say another word, if I were you.”

“Big bad Jack going to get me?”

“No, I am,” Daniel surprised the angry man in saying.  “You're not welcome here, and you're not going to talk to my son.  None of us are going to tell you where Karissa is, but I promise you this.  You'll be hearing from her, but it probably isn't going to be the way you want.  You can go now.”

Daniel firmly maneuvered the man away from the front door and ordered, “Go, Darren.”

“You can't stop me from seeing her.”

“Goodbye, Darren.”

Saying nothing further, Daniel closed the door and instructed, “Little Danny, re-engage the security system, please.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

Jack made the call to Lou and advised, “He's outta here.”

“I see him.  He's driving like a bat out of Hades.”

“Lou, we're going to need round the clock surveillance for a couple of days.  Do you know ...”

“On it, Jack.”

“Thanks.

====

For the next few days, Megan stayed with Karissa in the luxury condo.  Karissa's supportive circle grew to include a therapist who was an expert on domestic violence.  The woman came highly recommended by Lulu's therapist, the one who helped her through her recovery from the abuse done by her foster father when she was a little girl.  She also went to a doctor at the behest of Little Danny, who wanted to make sure there wasn't anything more serious, health wise, than the obvious bruises from hits that Karissa admitted to having.

Karissa also went to the Curly Tops dance performance and then joined the Jackson-O'Neills for their Halloween party.  The Munchkins, Spitfires, Curly Tops, and JD went trick or treating with Jennifer and Jeff as their official watchers, though really only JD at age ten was so young as to require an older person to accompany him.  However, Karissa also decided to go, as did Daniel.  A few of the other neighborhood children and teens walked with the brood as well.

Little Danny's forever Valentine was dressed as a medieval maiden, wearing a long white dress with an equally long maroon cape with puffed sleeves and which featured a gold filigree pin with an oval faux gem at the center.  It had metallic gold braid trim down the side, and to top it off, Karissa wore a thick foam headpiece which tied around her head.

Little Danny was attired as a medieval man with a green shirt, brown vest, and brown boots.  His costume included thick brown belt that had a sword holder and a simulated sword attached to it.  As the night wore on and their bags, baskets, and other containers filled, he often carried Carrie's pumpkin-shaped container.  Much of time, he openly held her hand, which wasn't anything new.  The teen enjoyed the sensation of touch that came with hand-holding.

Carrie wore a mummy outfit that had a blend of beige and white hues to it.  Her top and pants had shredded fabric strips that gave the appearance of mummy wraps.  She wore a choker that affixed via Velcro and a headpiece that tied together and hung down her left side.  The costume was completed with gloves that went just shy of her elbows and also had fabric strips hanging loose and matching flats.

Meanwhile, the party for the adults and older children was already in gear so that by the time the trick or treaters arrived at the house, they were able to blend in and enjoy the festivities.

As the night wore on, Karissa sat at the table in the kitchen nook, watching the activity and still trying to make sense of her life over the past several years.

Coming from the recreation room, Jack called out, “Hey,” and sat down on Karissa's right.  It essentially gave him the same view as his employee, who could see the open patio door and the wood deck that was beyond it.

“I remember when I changed his diapers,” Karissa mused with a glance at the silver-haired man.  “Look at him now, Jack.”

“He's a man,” Jack asserted.  “Danny and I couldn't be prouder of him, or the rest of our brood.”

“Oh oh, look,” Karissa said with a smile as she watched Little Danny give Carrie a kiss on the lips, right in front of everyone.

“As my husband would say, I think I've missed something.  That's not a first kiss, either.  They've done that before.”

“I think you're right.  She must be a very special young lady.”

Jack let out a chuckle and advised, “She's like you, Karissa.  She's a damsel in distress and like Daniel, he has the ...”

The general stopped, realizing he was perhaps about to say something he shouldn't.

“You know, don't you?” Karissa put forth.  “Jack, it's pretty obvious and has been, at least where Little Danny and Jonny are concerned, whose genes are where.”

“They have the damsel in distress gene,” Jack responded without directly acknowledging Karissa's assertion.  “Your distress didn't come until later, but ...”

Both adults laughed for a moment before the conversation continued.

“So, he saved Carrie?”

“Carrie and her entire family.  He was a little guy, but he's always felt the pain of others.  Because of Little Danny, we gave Carrie's family a house.”

“Excuse me?”

“When we were renovating the place way back when, the McLamore house next door was going to be demolished so we could build ... this,” Jack explained as he looked up and around to indicate the entire house.  “The Munchkin over there said we had a house we didn't need and Carrie needed a house, so why not give the house to Carrie's family?”

“I can't believe he never told me.”

“And admit that he's a saint in child's clothing?  Danny never volunteered that type of info either.  Yep, he has the compassion gene, too.”

“I think he also has your protector gene,” Karissa put forth.

“He did all this, Karissa.  I hate to say it, but Daniel and I were slow to act.  I regret to admit that we let the law and the fact that you aren't a blood relative interfere with our choices.”

“Jack ...”

“We had blinders on.  We didn't really see until the Munchkin stood up to us and said if we weren't going to do anything, he would.”

“Oh, Jack, no.”

“It was a new experience, but he's not a child.  He's a man, who still has a lot of growing up to do, but he did exactly what I would have done in his position.”

Karissa sighed, “It's all so surreal.  How did I get like this?”

“St. James manipulated you.  He slowly cut you off from your family and friends and then brainwashed you into thinking that you couldn't survive without him.  Worse, he got you to believe that everything bad was your fault.”

“But I lost myself.  I used to be so independent and free.  I loved sharing opinions with others, discussing the problems of the world.  I had confidence and a purpose, and it all went away,” Karissa confided, her words causing her voice to become cracked and a tear to run down her cheek.

“Hey,” Jack spoke, reaching across to take the woman's right hand in his.  “None of this was your fault, not one friggin' part.  That monster ate away at your strengths for his own purposes, none of which were good.  Calling you every half hour, keeping tabs on all your movements, insisting you get home when he says and not even have a conversation with your family on the phone for more than three minutes at a time: acts of a beast, not a man.  You don't deserve that, or the physical abuse.”

“Why didn't I leave him?” Karissa sniffled.  “I love him.  I still love him.  What's wrong with me, Jack?”

“Nothing.  The man you love, Karissa, doesn't exist, and when you realize that, it's going to get easier.”

“When he started getting so possessive, I made excuses for it.  It was his traveling so much.  Of course, he'd want me home whenever he was, and the phone calls?  At first, I thought it was lovely that he cared so much that he wanted to know everything about me.  Then ... and then, it got darker.  I'd talked so positively about Dar and our time together.  How could I admit that my prince was really a prince of darkness?”  She felt Jack squeeze her hand and felt appreciative of the warmth in human contact.  “I thought it was me, that I wasn't doing enough for him to feel loved.  I wasn't trying hard enough to make his favorite meal or wear clothes that he liked.  And when he hit me, the first time, I thought he just needed more attention.  I'd driven him to that.”

“That's bull, Karissa.  You aren't responsible for anything he did to you.”

“My head knows that; my heart isn't so sure.”

“I'm sure.  Daniel's sure, and so is Megan and the others, and that includes the middle Munchkin.”

Karissa nodded, trying to believe and wanting to believe.  It was going to be a journey and she accepted that.

“I thought I could fix him, change him, get him back to the man I married.”

“He never existed,” Jack spoke quietly.

“I know you're right.”

Karissa looked over at Little Danny who had a big smile on his face as he talked with Carrie, who was beaming.  She saw the eyes locked in on the other's.

“Ten years, either way, Jack,” Karissa stated.  “Ten years.”

Jack laughed, released Karissa's hand, and patted it before pulling it back to rest on the table.

“I have a hunch he feels the same way.”

“You know, that day when Little Danny let me go, Darren handled everything so perfectly.  He said all the right things to Little Danny.”

“Don't kid yourself, Karissa.  He knew how you felt about Little Danny.  If he gave even the slightest hint of dissatisfaction or didn't take it seriously, you never would have given him the time of day.”

“That's true.”  Karissa laughed, “You know how girls write down names.”

“So I've heard.”

“I wrote it down once.  I hope you don't think that's inappropriate, but one day, just being silly, I wrote it down: Karissa Jackson-O'Neill.”  Karissa sighed, “Sometimes, he made me feel like such a little kid.  It was a good thing, to feel young.”

“I hear ya, so do my knees,” Jack mused.  He grew serious as he stated, “Look, you take all the time you need.  You're a permanent fixture at J-Ovfor as long as you want to be.  We want you to heal in your own way on your own timeline.”

“Thank you, Jack, and thank Daniel for me, too.  Maybe I'll take a few weeks, if only to let my body heal.  Oh, Megan helped me find a new apartment before she left to go back to Chesapeake.”

“She mentioned it.  Karissa ...”

“If I need you and Daniel, I'll call.  I promise.”

“Dad, it's game time,” Brianna called out.  “Or do you want Daddy to start it?”

“Nope, this is my fun.”  Jack stood and asked, “Coming?”

“I just want to sit and clear my head some more, if you don't mind, but I'll go outside in a few minutes.”

A bit uncharacteristically for Jack, but going with his gut, he leaned over and gave Karissa a quick kiss on the forehead.

“You're family, Karissa.  We're here anytime you need us.”

“Thank you,” the woman whispered as she smiled at Jack and then at Brianna.  ~Get it together.  This wasn't my fault.  It wasn't.~  She sighed, ~Why do I still feel so conflicted?~

====

The next day, Karissa moved into her new apartment with her support group helping her, ensuring she was totally settled.  Sunny and Karissa were hitting it off and becoming true friends.  As the days passed, Sunny recalled more signs of the potential unpleasantness that she avoided.  It was the little things, like Darren checking up on her a lot and comments about tradition and men being the king of their castles.  So many offhanded remarks were excused away with humor and charm.

Other than that first night, Darren kept a low profile.  He went to work and made no attempt to contact Karissa.  Jack's trackers, including Lou, were called off the job and returned to their normal lives.  The assumption was that Darren was a hothead.  He let off his steam and was dealing with reality, which meant not contacting his wife.  That was the hope, at least.

The following days were uneventful.  Karissa's body was slowly healing.  Her bruises were fading and she felt stronger.  Every day she went for walks around her new neighborhood.  The fresh air invigorated her, even on the days when it rained or snowed.  She met again with her therapist as she sorted through the dust that had gathered and clogged her brain since committing to a life with her lover-turned-abuser.

On this Thursday afternoon, Karissa was on the phone with Little Danny.

“We've looked everywhere for the file,” Little Danny told her from the woman's office at J-O Enterprises.

“There's a reason why you can't find it, Little Danny.”

The teen thought for a minute and asked, “You don't have a file for it?”

“Not a paper one.  If you recall, Brianna has brought about a lot of changes at J-O when it comes to paper usage.  We still have plenty of project files, but the internal items are all on the computer.”

“Why didn't I think of that?”

“It's understandable.  Look under the Dig folder.”

“Dig?” Little Danny chuckled as he searched the desktop.  “I see it.”

“It has its own password: funplay, one word, with an exclamation point right after the 'Y' and then the numbers zero and eight.”

“Hmmm.  That's an interesting password, Rissa,” Little Danny said as the folder opened up, letting him into the information he needed.

“Well, I know I haven't sounded like it lately, but I am an archaeologist.  It's work, but to me it's fun and playful.”

“What about the numbers?”

“O-eight, 2008, the year your parents hired me.  It was probably the luckiest day of my life.  It certainly changed my life.”  Karissa sighed, “I miss it.”

“Miss what?”

“Going out in the field.  I haven't had the chance to do much of that since your fathers relinquished a lot of the management to Megan in Chesapeake and me here.  Practically speaking, it's hard to get away.  The business has to keep going.”

“I remember when you came to Egypt with us, and Mexico.”

“Those were a bit more adventurous than I thought they'd be.  I loved every second, well, almost every second.”

“Rissa, Ty mentioned that we need to discuss the personnel numbers for the equipment storage.  I'm not sure what the problem is, but he said you'd know.”

“I do.  Tell him I'll think about the best solution, utilizing his recommendations and the budget.  Ask him if he can give a little more time.”

“I know he can.”

“You'd better get back to work, Mister Jackson-O'Neill,” Karissa said, smiling as she heard the teenager chuckle.

“Are you doing anything special this afternoon?”

“I have a little garden I'm growing on my little patio.  I think I'll give it a little love and see if I can grow a little something ...” Karissa laughed, “... Little Danny.”

“You sound better, Rissa,” the teenager noted.  ~Her humor is back.  I've missed it.~

“I am, thanks to you and that wonderful supportive circle of friends.  Now, get back to work.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

“Soon to be Miss,” Karissa sighed.  “I'm sorry,” she spoke with regret at ending the conversation on a bit of a downer.

“It's okay, as long as you're okay.”

“I'm okay.  Bye, Little Danny.”

“Bye, Rissa.”

Disconnecting the call on her new smartphone, Karissa sauntered over to the small private patio and stared at the assortment of planters she'd purchased.  Just the thought of the purchase made her hesitate.  As it turned out, since she left her husband, he cleared out their checking and savings account which meant she didn't have a dime to her name.  What she did have were a lot of people who loved her.

The group took a collection and before she could object, Karissa was swooped into her bank to open up a new checking and savings account.  Between Jack and Daniel's support via advances on her salary, the only way she'd take money from them, and the Dennisons help with getting her new apartment via making the usual first and last months deposit as well as the cleaning deposit and even giving her the money for the first two months' rent, all of which she vowed to pay back with interest, Karissa was reestablishing her life.  Like the flowers and herbs she was planting, she hoped she would flower and grow.

Dressed in a short-sleeve white shirt and coveralls, Karissa got down on her knees as she dug her fingers into the dirt.  In ways, it transported her to the various dig sites she'd worked at over the years.  It felt good.

Feeling an itch, the blonde reached up to brush her hand against her skin.  She chuckled, knowing she'd just applied dirt to her cheek, but she didn't mind.  As she thought about it now, she became aware that Darren always wanted her to be neat, clean, and even pristine.

~Is that why I stopped participating in digs?  He wouldn't have wanted me to be away for so long anyway, but ... it was okay if he was away?  Egads, Karissa, how did you let your thinking get so screwed up?~

Karissa put her self-doubts and self-blame aside and focused only on her task.  She was having fun and feeling joyful.  She even began to hum.  In fact, after a while she paused her gardening and, after cleaning up a bit, she sat down at her piano and began to play.  She put all of her positive emotions into the piece and enjoyed the music and its story.  It was part of her healing, to play everyday.  She'd realized in a session with her therapist that the joy of music was one of the things Darren slowly took from her.  He told her it was a waste of time and she needed to worry more about their marriage and making him happy in his stressful on-the-road job.  Now she knew those were just words.  Darren's job was not one filled with anxiety.  He traveled frequently, but she knew he liked having time to himself.

A knock on her door caused the piano keys to become idle as Karissa lifted her fingers from the ivories and rose.  She was expecting a few deliveries, items purchased to replaced necessaries left behind at her prior residence.  With a smile, she opened the door, only her good mood instantly turned into one of fright.

“Darren, what are you doing here?”

“I brought these for you,” Darren stated, holding out a large bouquet of red roses.

“I don't want them.  You need to leave.”

“Just let me talk to you.”

“It's over, Darren.”

“Kari ...”

“My name is Karissa.  Little Danny told you that years ago and you promised not to use that nickname anymore.  How long did that promise last?”

“You didn't mind.”

“Yes, I did, and I do.  I just ... I lost sight of important things, but no more, Darren.  Goodbye.”

As Karissa closed the door, Darren shoved it open and entered the apartment.  Karissa automatically moved back several feet as her heart raced with fear, but she quickly willed herself to remain still.  She couldn't give in and she couldn't show her fright.

“You owe me.”

“I don't owe you anything.  Now leave.”

“Kari, I love you.”

“No, I was only a possession to you, but you don't own me, Dar.  I want you to go.”

“You're my wife!” Darren stated forcefully.

“That's a technicality.”

Holding out the flowers, the man walked forward and spoke softly, “Take the flowers.  You love flowers, and I love you.”

“I don't think you know what love is, Dar.”

“Love is you.  You're love, Kari.”

Darren closed the gap and, after tossing the bouquet onto the sofa, reached out and took hold of his wife's arms.

“You like it, this, us, close, touching.”

“Dar, please.”

Darren tried to kiss the woman, and at first, Karissa gave in to her body, but then she remembered the abuse, the hits, slaps, and shoves, the verbal assaults, the undercutting of her ego and confidence.  She tried to pull away.

“Let me go!”

“Never!”

The couple began to struggle, but Darren was too strong for Karissa.  He put his hands around her neck and let them tighten.

“Darren,” Karissa gasped.

Another knock on the door caused Darren to hesitate.  It allowed Karissa to yell for help.

“Ma'am, are you okay?” the delivery man shouted.

“*No*!”

“This isn't over, Kari.  You're mine and you'll always be mine!”

Darren scurried to the patio, climbed over the fence, and jumped down, running away from the location and leaving Karissa sobbing as she collapsed to the carpeted floor.

At the same time, the concerned delivery man opened the door and, seeing the sobbing woman, asked, “Are you okay?”

Karissa just shook her head as she cried.

“I'll call the police.”

“No, please,” Karissa begged.  “Call ... press zero-one on ... on ...”

Her nerves got the best of Karissa and she crumpled up into a ball and cried.

The driver called the speed dial number and waited.

“Hello.”

“Yeah, well, I was making a delivery to this woman.”  The driver looked at the package.  “Package says it's to a Karissa Lewis.”

“Karissa?”

“Mister, all I know is when I knocked on the door, this lady screamed for help.  When I came in, she's on the floor, crying.  I wanted to call the cops, she told me to call this number.”

“I'm on my way.”

“I've got a route to cover ...”

“Please stay.  I'll make it worth your while.”

“Well, hurry it up.  She's hysterical and I'm not good at that kind of thing.”

“I'll be there in fifteen minutes.”

Daniel hung up the phone and, uncharacteristically shouted, “*David!  Jonny!*

The boys heard their names being called and went quickly to the living room where they saw their younger father putting on his coat.

“I have to go to take care of something.  David, you're in charge.  Jonny, turn on the security system and no one leaves.  You don't answer that door unless it's family.  Is that clear?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“Okay.”

Daniel left the house and headed for Karissa's apartment.

====

As he drove as hastily as the law allowed, Daniel used his hands-free device to phone his husband who was running errands with a few members of the brood.

“Hey, Danny, wait until you the size of this kum...”

“Jack, listen.  I'm on my way to Karissa's apartment.”

“What happened?”

“I have no idea, but we had a call from a delivery man who said she was hysterical.  Bri's not home.  I put David in charge and told Jonny to activate the security system and not to answer the door unless it's family.”

“I'm,” Jack looked at his watch, “twenty away from home.  Danny, be careful.”

“I don't think there's anything to worry about now, but I have a hunch Darren found her.”

“If you need backup, holler.”

“Okay.  I love you.”

“Love you, too, Angel.”

====

“Thank you for staying.  More importantly, thank you for coming to her aid,” Daniel stated, handing the delivery man fifty dollars.

The man sighed and pushed away the money, saying, “It was the right thing to do.  If she were my family, I'd want someone to do the same thing.”  

The two men shook hands and then Daniel closed and locked the door behind the delivery driver.  He walked over to the garden patio and looked around.  He could see where Darren jumped over the fence.  He'd knocked over one of the freshly potted planters in the process.  Then he went to the sofa and sat down next to his employee.

“He tried to kill me, Daniel,” Karissa cried as she leaned against his shoulder.

Daniel embraced Karissa and could feel her trembling.

“It's going to be okay, Karissa.  We need to call the police and report what happened and then you need to get a restraining order against Darren.”

“A piece of paper is going to stop him?”

“No, but it will establish he's a danger and that could come in handy later on.  Karissa, do you have a lawyer?”

“No, not yet.”

“Okay.  Are you sure you aren't hurt?”

“The delivery man interrupted Darren from cho...ch...”

“It's okay.  It's okay.  It's okay,” the archaeologist assured repeatedly.  He continued to comfort Karissa for several minutes until she finally regained her composure.  “I need to make a call.”

Daniel contacted Mark Kingston, the Jackson-O'Neill family lawyer.  Mark gave him several pieces of advice for Karissa's situation and then offered the names of two colleagues, one male and one female, that he believed could handle Karissa's case.  When that was done, he observed Karissa touching her neck and grimacing so he made another phone call to Janet and asked her to come to Karissa's apartment.

“I'm okay, Daniel.”

“Let's make sure.”

“How'd he find me?” Karissa asked.

“I don't know.  He might have gotten lucky and spotted you somewhere.  Maybe he followed one of us here.  It could be he was able to get a forwarding address from the post office or a company you do business with.”

“I won't let him win, Daniel.  I won't be a slave to my life.”

====

“Where is she now?” Jack asked his husband later that day while they were in the den with the door closed.

“She doesn't want to leave her apartment.  She thinks if she does, he wins.  She wants her life back.”

“It's not safe for her there, not with St. James running around loose.”

“The other bad news is that we can't do a lot in terms of security there.  I called Sam and she's doing what she can and that will help.”

“Ground floor unit, rinky dink fencing, easy opening patio door: she's a sitting duck there, even with a good alarm system.  He could be in an out in less than a minute.”

“I know.  I did convince her to request a upper unit apartment, but there aren't any available.  She wasn't very upset about that; she likes her new place.”  Daniel paused and asked, “I know Lou's off-world for a couple of days.  Is there anyone who can watch her?”

“The well is empty for a few days.”  With a groan, Jack added, “Timing.”

“Then we need to stay in touch with her as best we can.”

A rap on the door interrupted the discussion.  It was Little Danny, who wanted to ask them a question.  Immediately, though, the teen sensed something was not right.  Jack and Daniel told the boy about what happened, both agreeing that they needed to be honest.

“She's perfectly okay, and Aunt Sam has done her best to make the apartment as safe as it can be.”

“I'm going to call Rissa,” Little Danny stated as he turned to walk out.  “Oh, I forgot,” he said, turning back around and going forward a few steps.  “I was wondering.  I know Friday is your date night, but, well, I'd like to take Carrie bowling and maybe grab a snack there, or somewhere.  Can we, uh ...”

“Would you like a ride?” Jack offered.

“We can drop you two off at the alley and come back a couple hours later,” Daniel offered.

With a smile, Little Danny added, “And then we can get a burger somewhere?”

“The four of us?” Jack questioned.  “Wouldn't we be cramping your space?”

“Well, not if when we drop her off, you give me a few minutes, without ... looking?”

**Kissy, kissy,** Jack teased so his lover could hear.

**Jack, don't give him a hard time.**

**Never, My Love,** Jack responded.  “It's a date.”

“Thanks, but we're not calling it a date.  We're just spending time together.”

“Oh,” Jack responded, a bit of a 'yeah, sure' smirk on his face.  As Little Danny headed out of the room again, Jack called out, “Son, would you rather Jeff or David provided you with transportation?”

“No, they have plans.  It's okay if you come with us.  You're cool.”

“That's good to know,” Jack mused.

“Interesting,” Daniel observed when his namesake left the den.

“What?”

“Well, first there's the fact that we're essentially ... double-dating with our son and second, even though he's upset about Karissa, he still was eager to make plans with Carrie.”

“You think Carrie's closing the gap?”

“I don't know, but I guess I like that he's moving forward, even with Karissa is crisis.”

“You thought he might get stuck.”

“He's been talking with Karissa a lot, I mean, he talks to her at least every other day right now, checking on her; but, you know, Babe, I'm still not sure whether Carrie is Little Danny's girlfriend or his best friend.”

“Maybe she's both.”

“Maybe.  He's very protective of both of them.”

“I'll tell ya what surprises me,” Jack began.  “Jonny and Little Danny haven't double-dated yet.  You'd think that would a natural, a more power with numbers thing, too.”

“I think they're both learning their dating game.  For that matter, as Little Danny just said, I don't think any of them are calling their time spent together as a date, not officially anyway.”

“Considering the dating solo age around here is sixteen ...”  Jack paused for a moment.  “Daniel, Jonny and Little Danny are only fourteen.  What the heck are we doing allowing them to go out like this?”

“Because they aren't technically dating.”

“But they have girlfriends, girlfriends they're kissing, *openly*.”

“It's confusing, Jack.  They're both involved with girls they've grown up with, going from friends to, what, we don't know.  Maybe they just want to try to figure that out first before they spend time together as boyfriend and girlfriend.”

“I think you've got something there,” the older man agreed.  “Geez, our kids are dating.  We both know it.  Why don't we admit it.”

“Maybe because of who they're ... spending time with.  We've watched both girls grow up and we know their families.  Jack, we shouldn't push it and make it out to be anything more than spending time together.”

“Yeah.  One day at a time, I guess.”

“Of course, we haven't talked about Ash,” Daniel teased.

Jack stood up and headed for the door, saying, “And we're not going to.  Thirty, Daniel, she can date when she's thirty and not a day sooner.”

As his soulmate disappeared into the hallway, Daniel chuckled.  Their children, as many of their friends did, went out as groups.  Yes, there were connections between a couple here and there, but they weren't calling it dating in the conventional sense.  Aislinn was a true beauty and was always surrounded by boys, but she was happy being part of the group and she'd yet to find just one boy who held her fancy more than any of the others.  This was a good thing, since Jack and Daniel did have a set age for dating: sixteen.  Oddly, though, their random age choice didn't really seem to apply to the brood.

Jennifer was married to her high school love, Peter Hamilton, just as Jeff was wed to his high school sweetheart, Chely.  Brianna was totally focused on her ongoing education and career as a marine biologist, though her heart still seemed to belong to country boy Conway Bell in McBee, South Carolina.  Their long distance relationship began in August 2012 during a family trip across America and no one was more surprised than the tomboy herself.

Interestingly enough, of all the brood, David, at age nineteen, was the one who dated in the more traditional sense.  Over the years, he'd been attracted to a few special girls, but none totally captured his heart or worked out as he would have liked.  He tended to go out quite a bit, but he was in no hurry to find a permanent love interest.  He had a lot of studying to do as he was following Daniel's lead in terms of getting a number of college degrees.  In fact, having begun his on-campus college studies in January 2017, he already graduated from the Univerity of Colorado at Colorado Springs with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Antropology with a minor in Geology.

Lulu, who would be sixteen in December, didn't have any interest in dating and was happy to avoid the entire concept of having a boyfriend for now, while Chenoa also considered herself to be free and clear.  She loved spending time with her friends, but no one boy had yet to steal her heart.  Of course, she was still interested in K'hang, Teal'c's grandson, but visiting an alien on Chulak was not easy, especially when she had to get permission from General Landry just to make what she amusingly called a “phone call” to the strapping young Jaffa.

The Spitfires were only thirteen, not to mention that Jenny was still claiming she had no desire to get married or in any way hook up with a member of the male species.  Her Aunt Sam's chat from childhood about the birds and the birds still stood out in her mind and the idea of melding her body with a boy's was a complete turnoff for her.  JD, who was just ten, was, of course, out of the dating game.

Basically, with Brianna and David both adults, this left Jonny and Little Danny as the two single underage brood members with potential dating relationships.  The thought was both amusing and ironic to Daniel, but even so, he smiled.  He had to admit that he liked both girls involved.  He had no idea what, if anything, might actually happen between his sons and the females, but he had to concede that it would be a joy to watch things develop, or not, as the years inched their way forward.

====

“Bibi, if we ...”

When Dora stopped talking suddenly, Bibi looked over and saw Karissa walking up the stairs to her office.  No one had any idea Karissa would be coming into the office, but there she was, arriving just before lunchtime.

“Dora, I'll get back to you in a minute.”

“Tell her she's in my thoughts,” Dora responded.

“I will,” Bibi responded as she immediately headed for her friend's upstairs office. “Karissa, what are you doing here?”

“Working, Bibi.”  Karissa stared at her desk and took hold of an object.  She turned and handed it to the woman.  “I know it's not normally your job, but do you think you could take this and dispose of it, please.”

Bibi took hold of the nameplate and nodded while asking, “Do you want me to order you a new one?”

“Yes, please.  My name is Karissa Lewis.”

“I'll handle it, but don't you think you think you should wait a few more days before coming back to work.”

“If I do, he wins, and he's not going to win, Bibi.  I need to find myself again, to regain my, my soul.  Do you know what happened yesterday?”

“No, what?”

“He tried to kill me, Bibi.  He put his hands around my neck and squeezed.  I shouted for him to stop, but he wouldn't listen.  He's a monster.  How could I have been so blind?”

Bibi walked forward and put her arms around her friend, who sniffled.

“If I don't come back here now, I'm afraid I never will.  Will you help me, Bibi?”

“You know it,” the woman promised.  “Whatever you need, I'm here.”

“I got a restraining order this morning and hired someone to serve the papers.”  As the two pulled apart, Karissa sighed, putting her personal problems aside with a new, deep breath.  “Bibi, I need to know what I've missed.”

“Sure thing.  Let's sit and I'll fill you in.”

====

Friday evening was a fun one for the Jackson-O'Neills as the entire family followed through with their individual plans.  Jack and Daniel, with Little Danny, when to the Lapierre home where they all chatted with Carrie's parents and siblings for several minutes and then headed for the bowling alley.  The young couple thanked them and disappeared inside the facility, after which the soulmates went to one of their favorite clubs for drinks and dancing, although considering they'd be picking up the teenagers in two hours, their drinks were nothing more than sodas.

--

Meanwhile, Karissa did something she hadn't done in a long time.  She went to see a movie, a comedy to make her laugh and forget her troubled past.  It worked, too, as she chuckled and giggled her way through the ninety-eight minute farce without ever once thinking about her ex-significant other.

Feeling good, Karissa headed for her vehicle.  She pressed the button, hearing the beep that confirmed her car alarm was off.  Four more steps and she would open the door, slide into the driver's seat, and head for home, though she thought she might go and buy an ice cream cone as a treat.  It might be cold, but sometimes that was the ideal time to have a cool treat.

Karissa reached for the handle and gasped when she felt a hand around her mouth.  She also felt a pointed object at the small of her back.

“I'm going to kill you for leaving me.”

The blonde tried to scream, but Darren's hold was strong.

“Say goodbye, *Kari*.”

“Let her go!” a man called out.  “Nick, call the police.”  The man ran towards Darren, fully intending to save the woman being held a knife point.  “I said let her go!”

“There'll be another time,” Darren vowed, releasing Karissa, but shoving her towards the oncoming man so he could flee in the other direction.

“Miss, are you okay?”

“Thanks to you.  Thank you,” Karissa gasped as he struggled to regain her strength.

Within two minutes, the police arrived.  Karissa gave them a full report, not hiding the fact that it was her husband who attacked her.

“Do you have someplace you can go?  Is there a friend you can call?”

“Yes, thank you.”

--

Jack and Daniel were enjoying burgers with Little Danny and Carrie when Jack's mobile phone rang.

“I still hate these things,” Jack groused as he looked to see who the caller was.

Seeing a change in his husband's expression, Daniel asked, “Who is it?”

“Karissa,” Jack answered as he took the call.  “Hey, Karissa.”

“Jack, Darren tried to kill me again, but I'm fine.  I just need somewhere to go.”

“Where are you?”  After listening for a minute, Jack advised, “We're on our way.”

“Dad, what's wrong with Rissa?” Little Danny asked.

“Her husband just made another try at killing her.  She's fine, Son.  Carrie, we'll drop you off.”

“I want to go with you, General Jackson-O'Neill.”

“I'm not sure your folks would like that.”

“I'll call them on the way.  Shouldn't we be going already?”

“Yeah,” Jack agreed.  “Call your folks.”

As the parents and the teenagers went to the truck, Carrie called her home and spoke with her parents.  She explained what was happened while Jack headed out of the parking lot and continued towards the movie theater.

“Carrie, maybe you should come home,” Grace Lapierre suggested.

“Please, Mom.  I want to be here for Little Danny.  He might need me.”

Daniel couldn't help but look into the backseat of the truck.  He observed his namesake holding Carrie's hand and he could hear how open the teen girl was at explaining her logic.  More than that, he could sense his son had no objections to Carrie's desire to be with him.  Things were definitely progressing between the teenagers and while Little Danny's love for Karissa was without question, a more distinct line was growing between the relationships the boy had with both females.

“I promise,” Carrie told her father.  She handed the phone towards Daniel and said, “Dad would like to speak with you.”

Taking the phone, Daniel spoke, “Hello, Stu ... no, everything should be fine.  The police are still with Karissa.  We're going to make sure she's safe ... Right.  It's okay with us, but we felt like it should be your call ... Okay, sure ... Of course ... <chuckles> ... Me, too.  Goodnight, Stu.”  Daniel returned the phone to its owner and said, “Your parents say it's okay.”

“Carrie, the rule of thumb in situations like this is that you do what we say when we say it.  Capiche?” Jack put forward strongly.

“Understood, General.”

This time it was Jack who looked up through the rearview mirror at the teenagers.  He noted a smile given from his son to their guest and that the two were holding hands.  The young relationship was definitely more serious than he'd previously thought.  Carrie was going along for emotional support, and Little Danny was all for it.

====

“There they are,” Karissa told the two officers who were waiting with her.

“Stay in the truck,” Jack told the teenagers.

“Dad!”

“In the truck,” Jack repeated as he and Daniel both got out.

“They're just being protective,” Carrie told her beau.

“I'm used to it.  Thanks for coming with us.”

“I know how much Karissa means to you, Little Danny.  You've talked about her all the time since we were kids.”

“She's very special.”

“In a few more years, you could be with her, for real.”

“What are you talking about?”

“A lot of people get together with age differences.  If you love her; actually, I know you love her, maybe she'll wait.  You'll be eighteen in four years.”

“So will you,” the boy replied.  “I do love Karissa, but ...”  Little Danny's words were cut off by a shout from his older father that was accompanied by a wave.  “Let's go,” the teenager urged as he removed his seatbelt and exited the truck.  He ran forward and asked, “Rissa are you okay?” as he hugged her.

“I'm fine, Little Danny.  Thank you for coming to my rescue again,” Karissa replied with a smile.  “Carrie, hello.  Did I interrupt something?”

“No.  We were just eating with Little Danny's parents.  Can I do anything for you?”

“It's very sweet of you to ask, but I'm fine.”

At that point, the police officers left.  They'd taken Karissa's statement and told her to go to the station to give a more complete report the next day.  Woefully, the restraining order hadn't been served on the man yet, so there wasn't much police could do in that regard.

“It must have been scary to be attacked like that,” Carrie stated.

“It was.  I'm not very good at self-defense or anything.”

“Dad, Daddy, I have an idea,” Little Danny called out.  “Can I use your phone?” he asked his younger father.

“You didn't bring yours?”

“I'm on a date, Daddy.  I think that would be rude.  Besides, I knew if there was a problem, Carrie would have hers.”

“I thought you said it wasn't a date,” the silver-haired man stated.

Quickly, Daniel chastised, “Jack, sometimes you have a big mouth.”

“Oops.”

“It's okay, General Jackson-O'Neill.”

“Carrie, we've known each other since you and Little Danny were playing in sandboxes, and I have a hunch you're going to be around a lot more in the future. How about we shorten that to ... General Jack?”

“Lots of kids have called Dad that,” Little Danny concurred as he dialed the number he wanted.  “Hi, Aunt Janet ... yeah, I have a favor to ask you and Teal'c.”

The teenager walked a few feet away to finish his call.

“I think I'll make sure whatever he's asking isn't out of line,” Jack stated as he walked away to listen in on his son's discussion.

“He likes you very much, Carrie,” Karissa stated with a smile.

“We're very good friends.”

“... and maybe something more one day.  That would be a happy thing, I think.”

“Really?  I mean, he ... oh, never mind.”

“Little Danny's had a crush on me since he was a baby.  It's been the joy of my life, but a crush is a crush, no matter how serious one thinks it is.”

“No, Karissa, he really loves you.”

“I know, and I love him, but it's different, Carrie.  It's a little bit of a fantasy, a wonderful 'what if' for dream's sake.  I will treasure it forever, and when the time comes, I'm going to absolutely adore watching Little Danny find true love, get married, have kids, run J-O,” Karissa mused as she glanced at Daniel, who was letting the girls talk without interruption.  “Maybe you'll be the woman to win his heart in all the right ways.”

“I'd be very lucky.”

“So would he.”

“Our son did come up with a great idea,” Jack called out as he and the Munchkin rejoined the others.

“Karissa, you're going to stay with Aunt Janet and Teal'c for a couple of days, and Teal'c will teach you self-defense.”

“He's a great teacher,” Carrie chimed in, having been given lessons from the Jaffa in the past, though she was not aware that the muscular man was from another world.

“We'll drop by your place and pick up a few things and take you to the Doc's,” Jack offered.  “Danny, why don't you drive Karissa's car.”

“Good idea,” the archaeologist agreed.

====

Much later than anticipated, Jack stopped the truck, remaining inside it with his husband as Little Danny walked Carrie to the door.

“Jack, something interesting happened earlier.”

“What?”

“Well, do remember how Little Danny let Karissa go so she could be with Darren?”

“Yeah.”

“I think tonight Karissa returned the favor and let Little Danny go so he could be with Carrie.”

“When did that happen?”

“When Little Danny was talking to Janet.”

“Danny, I don't get it.”

“Carrie does and that could make the difference.  Karissa bowed out and explained to Carrie how love can be different.”

“Ten years.”

“What?”

“At our Halloween party, Karissa said if the difference between them were ten years either way.”

“May - December romances aren't unheard of anymore,” Daniel pointed out.

“There's that,” Jack responded.  “Do you think he'd kiss her right there on the front porch, knowing Stu and Grace are probably watching from inside the house?”

“You mean, while we're watching from the truck?”  A few minutes passed and then Daniel noted, “There's your answer, Babe.”

“Yep.  She's got the inside track on our son's heart.”

“I hope it's a good ride, whatever happens.”

Just then, Little Danny returned to the truck and hopped inside.

“Thanks for waiting.”

“You're welcome, Son,” Jack spoke as he started up the truck.

“Dad, Daddy.”

“Yes?” both men called out.

“Carrie's my girlfriend and we're officially dating, okay?”

Jack and Daniel looked at each other and gave facial shrugs.  Their son wasn't sixteen, but that wouldn't make the least bit of difference.

“Okay,” both men responded at the same time.

Smiles on their faces, the family headed for home.

====

Over the weekend, Janet and Teal'c were gracious hosts to Karissa.  Teal'c began teaching her basic self-defense skills as the woman didn't have any skills in how to protect herself.  If all went well, he would teach her Lok’n’el and perhaps even Chuk’ga, the Jaffa technique that resembled human karate but focused more on the mind and concentration.  Not used to any defense moves at all, it was taking Karissa time to catch on and learn how to move her body properly.

Karissa wanted to return to her apartment, but her supportive circle convinced her to continue her stay with Janet and Teal'c, at least for a few more days.  There were no sightings of Darren, which meant he could not be served with the restraining order.  The order was still good, but it didn't mean anything until Darren could be served with the papers.

J-O's Director of Operations in Colorado Springs insisted on continuing to work.  She felt she had to, that if she tried to hide out from her abusive spouse that he would still be exerting power of her.  She simply couldn't let that happen.

Midmorning on Tuesday, Karissa headed out of J-O's building, telling the receptionist she would be returning in one hour.  She casually commented that she wanted to spend a few minutes talking with her plants and saying hello to her garden.  Her greenery was all new and she didn't want them to feel abandoned.  Since it was daylight and during business hours, Karissa was certain there wasn't any danger.

--

Later on, Bibi approached the reception area and asked, “Have you seen Karissa?”

“Not since she went home for lunch,” Lacey Demerest, the receptionist, answered.

“Home?  To her apartment?”

“I guess so.  She said something about her garden and her plants needing some love,” the female employee responded with a questioning lilt.

“When did she leave?”

After looking at the clock, Lacey answered, “A little over three hours ago.”

“Oh, no,” Bibi expressed.  She rounded the reception counter and picked up the secondary phone that was available for clients to use, if necessary.  She dialed Karissa's number.  “Pick up the phone.  Come on, Karissa.”  When the phone went to voicemail, she dialed another number.

“Greetings from the gas station where my truck is paying for this month's rent,” Jack teased.

“Jack, it's Bibi.”

“Great.  I wanted to ask you a...”

“Jack, Karissa went to lunch over three hours ago.  She said something about going to her apartment to check on her plants.  She's not back yet, and when I called just now, it went straight to voicemail.”

“Bibi, you're a lot closer.  Get Ty and a few others who volunteer and head on over, or call the cops.  That's what you should do.”

“We'll meet you there,” the woman spoke.  Bibi hung up and looked to see who was present.  Her mind was reeling with thoughts of bad things happening to her friend.  She opted to make a vocal shout out.  “People, Karissa may be in danger.  I need a few volunteers to come with me to her apartment and ...”

In seconds, just about every employee had their keys out and were prepared to go assist in whatever way was possible.

“Okay, thank you.  Ty, Donald ... oh, let's go.”

J-O Enterprises essentially emptied with only the receptionist, two pregnant archaeologists, and three of the males who were all on calls with various clients.

====

On his way to Karissa's, Jack phoned Daniel to give him the update.  By the time he arrived at the apartment, he saw two police cars and an abundance of very familiar vehicles he recognized as belonging to employees.

~Geez, the entire office is here.~

Spying a paramedic squad, the general began to fear the worst.  He hurried through the accumulation of curious onlookers to the ground level entry.

“I'm sorry, Sir,” a policeman at the door stated as he blocked Jack's path.

“General Jack Jackson-O'Neill,” Jack spoke as he pulled out his ID.  “She's my employee and those are members of my staff.”

Looking back and seeing some waves from the people inside, the officer opened the door to let Jack in.

“What's going on?  Where's Karissa?”

“She's hurt, General,” someone said, though Jack wasn't sure who it was.

Jack finally reached Karissa's unit and looked inside.  His heart stopped when he saw Karissa lying on the floor, the paramedics kneeling beside her.

“Bibi,” Jack called out.

“That's General Jackson-O'Neill,” Bibi told the police officers who were inside the apartment.  “Jack,” she began.

“How is she?”

“I'm okay,” Karissa eked out from the floor, having regained consciousness earlier.  “He was here, Jack, waiting for me.”

“Stay quiet, Karissa.”

“How could I have loved him?” the woman bewailed as she turned her head and closed her eyes.

“Ma'am, we're going to put on a neck brace.  Please stay still,” a paramedic requested.

“What's your name?” the second paramedic asked.

“Karissa ... Karissa Lewis.”

“We're taking good care of you, Karissa,” the second paramedic promised.

Karissa was bloodied from a severe beating.  The paramedics moved her onto a stretcher and were preparing to take her to the nearest hospital.

“Is there anything life threatening here?” Jack asked.

“No,” was the quick response as the paramedics continued to work.

Jack took responsibility and claimed to be her closest relation, requesting Karissa be taken to the Air Force Academy hospital.  With that done, he phoned Janet at Cheyenne Mountain and asked her to head over to the hospital.  If she left right away, she would get there at about the same time as the ambulance.

“Bibi, go with Karissa.”

“Is she family?” the paramedic asked.

“Bibi,” Jack ordered.  “She's going in the ambulance with you.”

The paramedic didn't have time to argue and allowed Bibi to ride with them to the hospital.

When the ambulance was gone, Jack spoke with the police officers to find out what happened.  He also talked with Ty and Donald, who were the first to arrive, along with Bibi.  Then he gathered the staff outside and let them know how proud he was to have such a caring staff, one where individuals were willing to put themselves on the line for a coworker.  He told them all to go back to the office, though Ty and Donald were required to stay and speak with detectives a while longer.

====

Back in his truck, Jack sat there for a minute.  He had another decision to make, but he decided he needed to make it with his husband.

“How bad is she, Jack?” Daniel asked.

“She'll be okay, but she has some severe and nasty injuries.”  After a pause, he asked, “Danny ...”

“We have to tell him, Jack, now, not later.”

“I was afraid you'd say that.  Okay, how about I drop by the campus and pick him up.  By the time I get there, class should still be in session.”

“Bri's home, so I'm going to head for the hospital.”

“See you there.  Love you.”

“I love you, too,” Daniel spoke before disconnecting the call.

Jack started the truck and headed for the UCCS campus.  When not working at J-O Enterprises, the middle Munchkin was often on campus where he was enrolled in four courses.  He could have easily taken a full semester course and speed up his path to his first degree, but Little Danny was given the option by his parents of working at their company while attending college, and he jumped at the chance.  They all agreed that he could switch over to college full time whenever he wanted.

====

Having located the appropriate classroom, Jack decided not to go on, but to text Little Danny.  If his son paid attention to his phone, he would come out.

~But if does, he's disobeying our rules.~

Jack changed his mind.  This was not a time to test the rules, so he entered the large classroom and stood in the back, searching for the recognizable figure.  It didn't take him long to spot the Munchkin who was listening dutifully to the professor.

~He would be sitting right in the middle and toward the front,~ Jack groaned, although that also showed his son was focused and into the coursework.  Having no choice, Jack made his way to the sixth row and crouched down.  He told the student in the aisle seat, “Would you tell the student next to you to pass this along.  It's urgent I speak with Danny Jackson-O'Neill.”

“He's cute,” the student giggled, though she quickly started the process.

Student by student, the message was sent until it finally reached the ears of Little Danny, who looked to his left and saw his father.  Jack waved for him to come and pointed to the exit while also mouthing a very distinctive, “Now!”

The Munchkin was extremely concerned.  His parents wouldn't interrupt him unless something very important was going on.  As he grabbed his backpack and filled it with the items he held out for the class, his mind raced with worry.  Was his Daddy sick?  Maybe Jenny's allergies were wreaking havoc.  Maybe a drunk driver hit and killed one of his siblings.  He knew it could happen.  It was a drunk driver who killed his mother.

Little Danny scooted along the seats until he came to the aisle, and while he intended to walk, he found himself running to the exit and shoving the door outward with all his might.

“Dad, what's wrong?  Is it Daddy or ...”

“Shhh,” Jack expressed as he reached out and put his hands on his son's shoulder.  “Daddy's fine and so are the brood and the zoo, and our extended family.”

“Then why ... Dad, Karissa?”

“She was attacked.  I'm sure it was that monster of a husband.  Hey,” Jack called out, seeing the boy's distress increasing.  “Karissa will be fine, but she was hurt.  Aunt Janet is already at the hospital, so you know she's taking care of her.  Daddy's going there, too, and we'll meet him there.  Take a breath and let's go.”

“Thank you for getting me.”

“It was a given from the beginning, Danny,” Jack spoke.

“She'll be okay?  You're sure?”

“That's what I was told.  She was conscious and talking.”

“How'd he find her?” the teen asked as he and Jack walked swiftly to Jack's truck.

“Well ...”

“Dad?”

“Karissa went home for lunch to talk to her plants.  That's such a Danny thing to do,” Jack chuckled.  He looked over and said, “There's a story for that.”

“An off-world story?”

“Yeah.  Maybe when this over, Daddy and I can share what happened.  Aunt Sam talks to her plants, too.”

“I know.  I've heard her.”

Reaching the truck, Jack headed for the hospital, traveling at the safest yet highest speed he could.

“Do you think Karissa's husband was waiting for her, even though she's been staying with Aunt Janet and Teal'c?”

“He might have been, or he could have been following her, waiting a chance to get her alone.”

“The alarm system wasn't very good, was it?”

“Aunt Sam did her best, Son, but the landlord wouldn't let her do anything but the basic install.  He claimed their onsite security was sufficient.”

“He was wrong.”

Jack glanced at his son for a moment and was in total agreement, but he didn't want Little Danny to focus on blame or vengeance, except for the reality that Darren St. James was far from the successful businessman he'd presented himself to be when J-O took him on as a client.

====

Daniel watched as Karissa was wheeled into the hospital emergency room and saw an upset Bibi walking close behind; that is, until she was stopped by medical personnel.  At that moment, Janet rushed into the hospital and caught Daniel's attention.  He pointed at the ER and saw her nod and then hurry in to tend to Karissa.

Meanwhile, the archaeologist called out to Bibi, who gladly walked over to his position.

“How is she, Bibi?”

“Afraid; ashamed.  When we found her, she was lying still on the floor, unconscious.  In the ambulance, she was going in and out.  The paramedics kept asking her what her name was and telling her to squeeze their hands.”

“As a regretful sufferer of concussions, I'm sure they were testing her reactions.”

“I guess.  They hooked her up to an IV, too.”

“Probably just Ringer's lactate, to protect against shock.”  The archaeologist sighed and shook his head as he commented, “Between Jack and me, we've had so many close calls that sometimes we sound like doctors.  I never thought I'd know what Ringer's lactate was or what it was used for.”

“It's more like Greek to me.”

“I wish I could say the same.  Uh, did she tell you what happened?”

“They didn't want her to talk much, but she kept crying.  She went to check on her garden.  She kept saying she missed digging in dirt and it made her felt free.  She's so proud of her plants and what she's started growing there.  She didn't let Darren in, Daniel.  Karissa said he was already there.  He did some damage, but that's all I know.  This is horrible, just horrible.”

“Thanks for coming to the hospital with her.”

“I was glad to be there for her.”

“Why don't you go home?”

“I should stay.”

“I'm here, and Jack's bringing Little Danny.  Janet probably won't let us in for a while.  Use your J-O card for a taxi.  Do you have it with you?”

“I never leave home without it,” Bibi tried to tease.  “Thank you, Daniel.  Call me later, please?”

“Of course.”

====

“Hey,” Daniel called out when he saw Jack and Little Danny moving hurriedly in his direction.  He hugged his namesake.  “Aunt Janet is with Karissa.  We need to give her time to finish her examination.”  He looked up and smiled.  “Hi, Jack.”

“Danny, did you think to call Pete?”

“Yes, I did.  He's going to check in with the detectives at Karissa's apartment.  This isn't his division, but he's going to check it out and call us when he knows something definitive.”

“Where's ...”

“I sent Bibi home in a taxi.  She didn't want to go, but it's going to be a while before we know anything for sure, and she was a little unnerved finding Karissa like that,” Daniel put forth.

“Aunt Janet!” Little Danny exclaimed as he sprinted towards the redhead.

Janet held up her hand, signaling the youth to give her a moment as she called out to the nurses inside the examination room, “I want urine and stool samples, too.”  Then the petite physician turned to face the Munchkin.  “Little Danny, calm down.  Let's go over here,” she directed, getting the Jackson-O'Neills out of the traffic flow.  “Karissa will be perfectly fine, but she has a lot of healing to do.”

“What did he do to her?” the teen asked harshly.

“Now you listen to me, Little Danny Jackson-O'Neill.  I know you're upset, but the young man I know and love doesn't speak in that tone.  What's important here?  Come on, you tell me.”

“Karissa.  She's the most important.”  The teen took a big breath and sighed, “I'm sorry, Aunt Janet.  I'm just scared.  Darren wants to kill her.”

“I know, Sweetheart,” Janet replied softly, pulling the boy in for a hug and giving him a kiss on the cheek.  “Now, let's focus on Karissa.  I don't know the details, but she struggled and fought as hard as she could.  She went down.  I don't know if she fell or if he hit her, but she hit her head.  She has some dislocated fingers from the fight.  We're going to be doing a lot of tests and she's about to be taken to X-ray.  I want to make sure she doesn't have any damage to her spine or any other internal injuries.”

“Doc, she was pretty bloody when I saw her.”

“In this case, it looked worse than it was.  I assume that as she fought with Darren.  My guess is he took a punch at her and hit her nose.”

“They had her in a neck brace,” the general remarked.

“That's normal procedure since she fell or was knocked down.  They do that to make sure the upper spine doesn't receive anymore damage, *if* it's been damaged.”

“So, she's going to be okay?” Daniel sought to ascertain.

“I think so.”  Janet smiled and directed her comments at Little Danny as she looked into the his eyes and concluded, “I'll know more after the tests.  Now, if you promise me not to ask questions, I'll let you see her for *one* minute, just to say hello and let her know you're here.”

“Could I?  I promise, Aunt Janet.”

“Go on,” Janet permitted as she nodded towards the door where the woman was.

====

Little Danny entered the examination room where two nurses were preparing Karissa to be taken for X-rays.

“Doctor Fraiser said I could talk to her for a minute.”

The nurses backed away to allow the teen a moment of privacy.

Gently, Little Danny went to the side of the bed and very carefully touched Karissa's right hand.  He didn't grab her fingers as he noticed two of them on her right hand had splints on them and another finger on her left hand had a splint.  That one was her ring finger.

Softly, the teenager spoke, “Rissa?  Rissa, it's me, Little Danny.”

Karissa opened her eyes and saw the youth looking down at her with a look of such devotion that it made her forget for a brief second what she'd just survived.

“Danny?”

“Aunt Janet says you're going to be fine, so I know you are.  She's the best doctor in the universe.”

Karissa smiled and tried to chuckle at the wondrous claim, but it hurt to smile and she coughed.

“I just wanted you to know I'm here, and so are Dad and Daddy.”

“I'm sorry, but we need to get Mrs. St. James ...”

“Lewis,” Karissa strained to speak as forcefully as she could.  “I'm ...”

“It's okay, Rissa.  I'll take care of it.  Be still.  I love you, Rissa.”

“I love you, too, Little Danny.”

The teenager placed a chaste kiss on Karissa's cheek and then looked at the nurses to advise, “Her name is Karissa Lewis, *Miss* Karissa Lewis.”

With a nod, the senior nurse spoke, “Miss Lewis, we're taking you for X-rays now.”

“Bye,” Karissa called out weakly.

“I'll be here when you get back, Rissa,” the boy promised.  When she was gone, Little Danny walked out and over to where his parents were talking with Janet.  “Aunt Janet, thank you for letting me see her, and would you please make sure her records show her name is Karissa Lewis?  She doesn't want to use her married name anymore.  She got very upset when one of the nurses used that name.”

“Yes, I'll make sure the records are changed.  I have to go.  What are your plans?” Janet asked the Jackson-O'Neills.

“I'm staying,” Little Danny answered.  “I promised Rissa I'd be here when she got back from having the X-rays taken.”

“Jack, I'll stay with him.”

“Okay,” Jack said, giving his lover a pat on the arm.  “Hey, you stay strong.  That's what Karissa needs.”

“I know, Dad.  Thanks for coming to get me.”

“That's what dads do,” Jack responded, drawing the boy in for a hug.  “I'll see you two at home later.”

====

“She's sleeping,” Little Danny spoke in a whisper so as not to wake Karissa.

“We can talk later, Danny,” Carrie replied over the phone.

“Talking with you makes me feel better,” the sensitive youth admitted.

Carrie smiled, even though she knew her boyfriend couldn't see her.

“No one deserves to be hurt the way Darren's hurt Rissa,” the boy told the girl.

“I did a report last year on domestic violence.  Little Danny, you wouldn't believe the statistics.  One in three women will be battered in some way during their lifetime and what's really scary is that seventy-two percent of all murder-suicides involve people in a relationship and ninety-four percent of the victims are female.”

“That's horrible, Carrie.”

“Colorado doesn't even have proper funding to help women.  There was a survey done in 2015, no it was the year before, so 2014, and the survey included all the domestic programs in the state, and when they took it, there were a hundred and sixty-three victims who were turned around that day, not in a month or a year, but on the single day of the survey, victims who were turned away and couldn't be helped.  Those stats are old now, but it takes a while for the updated reports to come out, but it just stuck in my mind, that people asked for help and couldn't get it.  The statistics are unthinkable.”

“Rissa isn't going to be a statistic,” Little Danny promised, more to himself than to Carrie.

“She's going to be okay, right?”

“Yes.  They took X-rays earlier, but everything came back negative.  She doesn't have any broken bones or ribs or anything like that, except for her fingers.”

“Her fingers?”

“Some of them were dislocated.  The only good thing about that is that my Uncle Pete says in court, it's solid proof that Rissa was fighting him off and it wasn't an accident.”

“How do they fix dislocated fingers?  It's sounds all icky.”

“Aunt Janet had to pull them.  Rissa has splints on her fingers that she'll have to keep on for about a week.”

“Did she have a concussion from hitting her head?”

“Nope, but she has to stay in the hospital for a couple of days for observation.”  Little Danny paused and the asked, “Did you finish your video?”

“I worked on it some more, but it needs something more catchy.  Maybe some color pops or something.”

“You could make geometric shapes and superimpose them onto the people.”

“Oh, and make them translucent, so you see words on their faces.  I love that idea.  Thanks, Little Danny.”

The teenagers chatted for a few more minutes before Karissa began to stir and prompted the end of the phone talk.  Little Danny visited with his Valentine for a few minutes before leaving her alone for the night.  When he walked out, he noticed a policeman at the door.

“Hello.”

The officer nodded in response.

“Uncle Pete arranged it,” Daniel explained.  “Are you ready to go home?”

“Yes.”

====

Over the next two days, Karissa was closely monitored at the hospital to ensure there was no slow build-up of pressure in the brain.  The nursing staff checked on her every fifteen to thirty minutes, asking the woman her name, where she was, and where she worked and testing her by asking how many fingers they were holding up and doing the pen-light in the eyes test to check that the iris response was normal.  Naturally, they often checked her pulse rate, temperature, and blood pressure.

On the police front, a warrant for the arrest of Darren St. James for assault was issued.  Police not only had Karissa's testimony and the medical proof of the attack, but the man was seen lurking around the apartments by neighbors over the course of the last three days.  His DNA was also found under Karissa's nails, a result of her having scratched him in their fight.

Karissa was scheduled to be released on Friday and the fact weighed heavily on Little Danny's mind.  During her stay at the Academy hospital, she was under constant guard.  That wouldn't be the case when she was released.

On Thursday, Little Danny sat outside in the gazebo, puzzling through the situation,

“Little Danny, what's wrong?” Jonny asked when he joined his brother, sitting across from him in the gazebo.  “Okay, dumb question.  You're worried about Karissa, but why do you look so puzzled?  She's okay now, right?”

“Rissa needs someplace safe, and I don't know for sure where that is,” the middle Munchkin admitted.

“She could stay here.”

“But Darren knows about here, and now he knows about our security system.  He might try to figure out something.  He follows her, Jonny.  Where could she go and be safe?”

Jonny let out a sigh and then suddenly, he grinned.

“What?”

“Where's the safest place ever?”

“Huh?”

“The Mountain!”

“The Mountain!”

“Thanks, Jonny,” Little Danny spoke happily.  He stood and returned to the house, seeking out his parents.  “Dad, I know where Karissa should stay until Darren is caught.”

“Let's here it,” Jack said as he put down the magazine he was reading.

“Cheyenne Mountain.  It was actually Jonny's idea, but it's the safe place we've been looking for.”

“What's the safe place we've been looking for?” Daniel questioned as he appeared with a basket of laundry, having just come in from the garage.

“The Mountain,” Little Danny answered.  “There's no place safer.  Darren won't be able to find her there.”

“Son, Karissa doesn't know about the Stargate and she doesn't have clearance.”

“Excuse me, *General*, but you can get her clearance.”

“Careful,” Jack advised at his son's tone.

“I'm sorry, but he's tried to kill her three times, Dad.  He's not going to stop and Uncle Pete said they haven't even had any sightings of him.  Please!”

“Danny, it's not as simple as you think.  I can request clearance, but I'm retired.  I don't have the authority anymore to grant it.”

“Who does?”

“General Landry would,” Daniel put forth.

“Yes, he would,” Little Danny agreed as he hurried to the telephone and dialed the Mountain.

“Should we stop him?” Daniel inquired.

“Would it do any good?” Jack asked.

“No, but I thought I should ask.  Jack, can you call ... someone?”

“I can try, but they've gotten real tight on this lately because of the world situation.”

“You should try.”

“Yeah.  Let's see how he does with Hank,” Jack suggested in reference to General Landry who was the current base commander.

The parents listened and watched, but it didn't sound like he was making headway.

“Landry's getting heat these days, too.  It's this Russia business,” Jack sighed.

“What's Little Danny doing?” Jonny asked, having just reentered the house from the backyard.

“Trying to convince General Landry to allow Karissa to stay at the Mountain,” Jack answered.

“I don't get it,” Little Danny stated dejectedly.  “He wants to help, but he says he can't.”

“Son, it's the military climate right now.”

“Russia,” both Jonny and Little Danny lamented in unison.

“I know!” Jonny exclaimed as he pulled out his smartphone.

“And who are you calling?” Jack inquired.

“A friend.”

“Jonny?” Daniel questioned.

“Hi, it's Jonny ... Good.  How are you and Mrs. Hayes?”

Daniel rolled his eyes and the looked at Jack who put his head into his hands for a moment.  Neither was truly surprised that the oldest Munchkin was calling the former President of the United States.  Henry Hayes was a friend, after all, but still, it was an extreme thing to do.

Jonny explained the situation and was told Hayes would look into it.

“I know who else we should call,” Litlte Danny stated as he took hold of Jonny's phone since his brother was still holding the object.

“Guys ...”

Jack's plea went on deaf ears.

“Hi, Grandpa, it's Little Danny, and I need your help.”

====

The next morning, Jack, Daniel, Jonny, and Little Danny were preparing to leave for the hospital to pick up Karissa.  The plan was to bring her home with them and have her stay in their guest room for as long as was necessary.  Then the phone rang.

“Jack, let me speak with that son of yours,” Landry requested.

“I'd ask which one, Hank, but I suspect I know.”

“I suspect you do.”

“Little Danny, it's General Landry,” Jack told his son as he held out the phone.

“Hi, General Hank.”

“Son, I don't know what you did yesterday, but this morning I had six phone calls from people I can't even get a hold of easily, and they all said one thing.”

“What was that?”

“Let the woman in,” Landry answered.

“What?”

“Karissa Lewis has been granted clearance to Cheyenne Mountain.”

“Really?”

“We'll be expecting you.”

“Can I show her the Stargate?”

“Yes, Little Danny, you can!”

“Wow!  Thank you, General Hank.  Wow, thank you so much.”  Little Danny hung up the phone, but then picked it up again quickly and said, “Bye.”  With the phone again on its cradle, the teen exclaimed, “Karissa gets to know about the Stargate, and she'll be safe.  She'll really be safe!”

“I'll get Ash.  She'll want to come,” Jonny responded, eager to have his triplet sister in on the excitement.

**Who do you think had success with the heavyweights?**

**Angel, my hunch is it was a cumulative effort.**

**You mean they had so many requests for Karissa' clearance that they couldn't say no.**

**Yeahsureyabetcha!**

====

Ninety minutes later, Karissa was released from the hospital with just a few instructions.  She was told that if she got a severe headache or noticed any vision changes to contact a doctor right away.  She also would need to return to have her fingers checked in a few days.

Karissa was a little surprised when not only Little Danny arrived with his parents to see her to their house, but also Jonny, Aislinn, Jenny, and Ricky.  Further, as she looked out over the road in the Jackson-O'Neill SUV, she became curious.  This wasn't the way to their house.

“Um, are we going somewhere else first?”

“Karissa, I have a really, really, *really* big surprise for you,” Little Danny teased.  “You'll see when we get there.”

“A big surprise?”

The woman didn't know what to think and then she saw it off in the distance.  She'd seen the place on television and naturally was aware of it.  It was the Cheyenne Mountain Complex where NORAD was located, at least to some extent.  She also knew Jack and Daniel had a connection to the facility.

“Are we going to NORAD?” Karissa asked.

Turning onto the winding road, Jack answered, “Not exactly.”

“But close, very close,” Daniel added.

“Hot potato close,” Aislinn singsonged.

A couple of minutes later, Jack gave a quick nod to the man at the security gate and drove into the tunnel beneath the tall mountain.

“Oh my goodness.  I'm not sure what to think,” Karissa said with a nervous laugh.

“You haven't seen anything yet,” Jonny remarked.

“There's Jen,” Daniel observed.

“With ... the rest of the brood?” Karissa noted curiously.

Indeed, every member of the Jackson-O'Neill family wanted to be in on Karissa's big surprise.  Between Jennifer and Jeff, they'd rounded up the children who were not at home when Jack and Daniel left to pick up the recuperating patient.  Thus, the entire brood was now at the Mountain, as well as Sam and Janet, who hadn't been able to get to the hospital for Karissa's release due to the return of SG-3 from a rather chaotic mission.

With the SUV parked, Karissa was helped out of the vehicle and then the family joined together.

“I really don't understand what's going on.”

“Son, you're on,” Daniel encouraged the middle triplet.

“Well, Karissa, Dad and Daddy told us that when you were hired, you had to say what you thought about Daddy's theory, the one that everyone laughed at,” the Little Danny began.

“Um, I remember.”

“You said you thought it was crazy, but you were open to the possibilities,” Jack recalled as he finally rang for the elevator.

“It's true, Karissa,” Little Danny avouched, watching as the woman slowly cocked her head to the side as her eyes widened and a frown appeared on her face.

“I ... wait ...”

“Everybody in,” Jack ordered when the doors opened.

Once shut, Karissa said, “We're not talking about the same thing, are we?  I mean, the, um, the ... pyramids as landing pads for alien spaceships thing?”

“That's the one,” Daniel confirmed.

“I ... huh?”

“It's all true,” Little Danny told his first love.  “Karissa, have you ever been to Giza?”

“Egypt?”

“Yes, when you were a little baby, with J-O.”

“Well, archaeologists found an ancient device there in 1928.  Aunt Catherine's father found it.”

“Catherine ... Littlefield?” Karissa questioned.

“Uh-huh.”  The teen continued, “It's called a Stargate and we can go all over the universe, as long as there's another Stargate, or there are some places we can go to on our ship.”

“Sssship?”

“Our spaceship, the Prometheus.  Well, there's more than one now, but we've never been on them.”

“He means we as the brood,” Aislinn clarified.  Proudly, she noted, “Aunt Sam commanded one of them for a while.”

“Not very long.  It was sort of a ... fill-in job,” Sam acknowledged in a quiet, almost shy way.

“Okay, I've lost my mind.  I'm in a coma, right?”

“We've been to many planets,” Jennifer assured.  “I don't go as much as I used to, but I actually created a Program for teenagers to go through the Gate.”

“Gate, Stargate,” Jack explained.  “We love abbreviating things.”

“Oh,” the nervous woman replied.

Just then the doors opened and there stood a familiar face.

“Karissa, this is Major Tracey O'Connor Pittman.  You may have might her at our big anniversary shindig back in 2012,” Jack said.

“Hello, Karissa, welcome to Cheyenne Mountain and Stargate Command.”

“Hi.”

“She thinks she's in a coma,” Ricky chuckled.

“I can understand that.  Karissa, I'm in charge of base security, so if you need anything while you're here or have any concerns, please ask for me.”

“Ooookay.”

With a smile, Tracey motioned for Karissa to walk to the sign-in table and explained, “We used to manually sign in, but now we're all computerized.  We'll take your fingerprints and your palm print and we'll also do an image scan of your eyes.  When you sign in, you'll look into the eye scanner and we'll match you up with your retina.”

“Oh, wow.”

When the security requirements were concluded, the group entered the second elevator that went down further into the complex.

“Where was I?” Little Danny asked himself.  “Oh, see, the Ancients ...”  The teen sighed, “Daddy, I don't know where to start.”

“Stick with the Stargate.”

“Well, the Stargate is a big circle with symbols on it and when you dial the symbols and it locks, then there's a big kawoosh.  It creates a wormhole and an event horizon.  You walk through the event horizon and into the wormhole.  Your body is demolecularized and then you get put back together and walk through to another planet.”

Karissa stared at the youth, but said nothing.

“I'm an ambassador to a planet called Laloma,” Chenoa boasted.  “Well, at least for another year.  Then I might be too old, but it's been lots of fun.”

“Too old?”  Karissa wasn't sure how to equate being fifteen as being too old, but she opted to go with the flow.  “I guess that would make sense.”

“Come on, Karissa,” the children urged in scattered voices as the elevator opened at Level 27.

The group reached a set of big doors that were closed.

“Karissa, when the doors open, we're going into the gate room, or the embarkation room, but gate room is easier,” Little Danny said.

Jonny nodded to an airman, who opened the doors.

“He obeys your orders?” Karissa questioned.

“I'm the little general.”

“It's a not-so-long story, but we can explain it to you later,” Daniel put forth.

Slowly, Jonny and the others led Karissa into the room.

“This is the Stargate,” Little Danny stated.

For the next several minutes, the brood took turns telling the woman all about the Gate and how it functioned.

“But there's nothing like seeing it,” Little Danny declared eagerly, a huge grin on his face.

Jonny looked up and shouted, “Sergeant Davis, hit it!”

Karissa looked up at the large window and then jerked to the right when she heard the circle begin to move.

“Are you okay?” Daniel asked.  “I mean, this is nothing, really, yet, so it's a lot.”

“I'm in a coma,” Karissa answered.

“Chevron one encoded,” the entire family called out.

“Chevron two encoded.”

The call continued until the brood shouted enthusiastically, “Chevron seven locked.”

“Wait for it!” Jonny instructed eagerly.

“Oh my!” Karissa exclaimed as she jumped back and reached for her chest.

“That was the kawoosh,” Aislinn informed.

“And the kind of a puddle is the event horizon,” JD stated.

“Janet?” Jack called out.

The physician walked over to Karissa and took her pulse and her heart rate.  She looked Karissa in the eye to the point that the woman blinked and became unnerved.

“She can handle it,” Janet asserted with a smile.

With Janet's okay, Daniel spoke, “Karissa, through the event horizon is a world where some great friends of ours, of Earth's, live.  For most of our children, this is where we took them first.”

“Even Bij and Katie have been there,” Jenny added.

“The dogs have been through the Stargate?”

“They're family,” Lulu responded.

“These people are really terrific,” Daniel continued.  “Karissa, the pyramids really are landing pads for alien space ships.  Aliens with great powers came to Earth and enslaved the ancient Egyptians and sometimes they took them and left them on planets throughout the universe.  There are descendants of humans almost everywhere.  You're an archaeologist.  I know you're surprised and stunned, but this,” Daniel let out an awe-like gasp, “this is what we're always looking for.  Come with us, Karissa, right now, through the Stargate and meet the Nox.”

“The Nox.”

“We love the Nox,” David expressed with a grin.

“Lya is awesome,” Little Danny opined.

“Lya might have been your competition while Sproglet was growing up.”

“Daddy!” the teenager whined.  Then he smiled, “I love her.  Lya is ... Lya.”

“He gets it from Daniel,” Jack spoke into Karissa's ear.  “Danny was always awestruck by Lya, too.”

“All the Nox,” Daniel corrected.

“Especially Lya,” Jack maintained.  “You game?”

“Sure.”

“IDC?” Jack called out to an SF, who brought over the device.

“Code?” Daniel called up to the control room.

“SG-1's code, Sir,” Davis called out.

Jack and Daniel both smiled.

“Shanahan, you coming with?” Jack asked his 2IC.

“I wouldn't miss it for the world.”

“Doc?”

“I wish I could, but I have to get back to the infirmary,” Janet responded.  “Karissa, come see me after you're settled.  Oh, by the way, my husband's an alien.”

“Whaaaat?” the woman asked with a prolonged and high-pitched sound.

“He's a Jaffa from Chulak.”

“Okay.”

“And Cassie's from Hanka,” Brianna added.

“Cassandra?  She's ... an alien?”

“Long story, but a good one,” Daniel advised.

“Oh, one more thing,” Janet called out.  “Not too long, please.  I'm stretching it, you know.”

“We promise,” Daniel responded.

“Scout's honor,” Jack added.

“Thank you, Daniel,” Janet acknowledged with a smile.

“Hey, what about me?”

“Jack, your jacket is legendary, as you know.  Not too long,” the doctor repeated as some of the family, and Sam, chuckled.

“Come on, Karissa,” Little Danny urged as he took her right hand and began a slow walk up the ramp.

“It's lots of fun, and it's very safe,” Jennifer promised as she reached out and took Karissa's left hand.

“Okay, I can do this.  The pyramids are landing pads and Lya is very special.”

“Right on both accounts,” Jack replied.  “Okay, kids, let's move out.”

“Are you sure I'm not in a coma?” Karissa questioned as she stood in front of the blue water-like puddle.

“You're wide awake,” Sam said.  “Follow us.”

Sam disappeared into the puddle and then the Curly Tops went through, and they were followed by the Jack and the Spitfires.

“Come on, Karissa,” Aislinn called out as she and Jonny walked through the Stargate.

“One, two, three,” Karissa counted and then moved forward, her hands still held by Jennifer and Little Danny.

“Poor Karissa,” Brianna mused.  “At least we had time to think about this before we went through for the first time.”

“Yeah, we sprung it on her.  Let's get going,” Daniel instructed.  He watched Jeff, Brianna, and David go through the event horizon and then he looked down at his youngest child.  “Ready, JD?”

“Always ready, Daddy.”

“Here we go.”

====

“Lya!” Little Danny exclaimed, releasing Karissa's hand and hurrying over for a hug.

“Told ya,” Jack whispered to Karissa.

“Don't listen to him, Karissa,” Daniel advised.  “She's married.”

“It is so good to see you again, my friends.  It is not too often anymore,” the Nox woman spoke.

“Yeah, it's a retirement thing,” Jack sighed.

“Brood, you have all grown so much.”  Lya leaned forward with a smile.  “How are you today, JD?”

“Happy.  Look,” JD gestured all around, “we're all together.”

“I see.”

“We don't always get to be anymore, but it's okay.  I have a new aunt.”

“A new aunt?”

With a nod, JD reported, “Her name is Chely.  She married Jeff.”

“This is good.”  To Jeff, Lya spoke, “Perhaps one day you will bring her to meet the Nox.”

“Ahhh, she doesn't know anything about the Stargate.”

“There's a first time for everything,” a still somewhat stunned Karissa put forth.

“Lya, this is Rissa.”

“I have learned much about you from this young one.”

“He, uh, might have exaggerated.”

“No, I do not think that is so.  I am Lya.  Welcome to our home.”

“Thank you.”

“Where's that not-so-young youngun' of yours?” Jack asked about Nafrayu.

“Come,” Lya beckoned as she took three steps backward and motioned gently with her fingers for the group to follow.

====
  
As the visitors enjoyed catching up with their friends, Lya took a moment to speak with Little Danny.

“She is as beautiful as you claimed.”

“Even prettier,” Little Danny claimed.

“I sense you are sad.”

“No, I'm worried.”

“Tell me.”

Little Danny confided Karissa's story in the Nox woman and explained why they'd ask for the visit to introduce the blonde to the existence of other worlds.

“She was hurt bad?”

“Not as bad as she could have been.  Her fingers were dislocated.  That's why she's wearing splints, and you can see her bruises.  She won't complain, but I can tell she hurts a little.”

“You would like her not to hurt any her physical injuries?”

“I love her, Lya.  People don't want people they love to hurt.  I don't want anyone to hurt, not even him,” Little Danny spoke, referring to Darren.

“The Nox can help.”

“You don't have to, Lya.”

“We want to.  It will take only seconds.”

The two returned to the others and Lya called out, “Nafrayu, assist.”

Without saying anything further, Lya stood in front of Karissa with Nafrayu to her side.  Both raised their hands and began to enter a trance-like state.

“What ... oh, wow,” Karissa stated before she felt herself enter a similar ethereal state.  Mere seconds later, the out-of-body feeling she had ended and then she realized something miraculous.  “My fingers don't ... they don't hurt anymore.”  She raised her hand to her forehead and said, “I ... it didn't hurt exactly, but I felt ... I mean ...”

“You are well.  You are a friend of the Nox.  The Nox helped you to be well,” Lya spoke.

“Here, let me help you take these off,” Brianna offered.  “That was so cool, Lya.”

“Cool is good?”

“Very,” Brianna affirmed.

“Thank you, Lya.”

Lya nodded.

====

After thirty more minutes, Jack and Daniel announced it was time to leave.  Lya and Nafrayu walked with them to the Stargate.

“You are always welcome on the Nox world,” Lya told the entire group.

“I wish we could visit more often,” Little Danny told Lya as he hugged her.

“It would be ... a good thing.”

Daniel sighed as he contemplated a request and ultimately went with his gut feeling and asked, “Uh, Lya, I was wondering, for Karissa, just to show her how much we have to learn, could you ...”

“Karissa, behold our city,” Lya stated as she waved her left arm skyward.

“Oh my.  It's ... it's beautiful.”

“It's their home,” Jennifer stated.

“And no one but no one goes there, unless they're a Nox, except for Jen.”

“You've been there.”

“I have.”

“But she hasn't uttered one word, not one, about the place,” Jack told Lya.

“We know,” Lya replied as she displayed a confident aura about her.

“I have a hunch I have much to learn.”

“Yes,” Lya responded.  “We must go now.  Be well, friends of the Nox.”

“Be well,” came the scattered responses from the group.

“The Nox are very wise, yes?”

“Yeah,” Daniel responded.  “This was one of the first places we explored.  They, uh, told us something we didn't understand for a long time, but ... they were right.”

“And ... what was that?”

In unison, Jack, Daniel, and Sam stated, “The very young do not always do what they are told.”

“It's another very long, but good, story,” Daniel proclaimed.

“Oh, this is good,” Jack spoke brightly.

“What, Dad?” Jonny questioned.

“This.”  Jack drew a breath and then ordered, “Daniel, dial us home.”

Daniel grinned and walked to the DHD.

“It's the dial home device,” Aislinn told Karissa.  “Daddy's dialing the address for Earth.”

“You sound like an old pro at this, Ash.”

“We've gone on missions,” the girl reported.  “We're ...”

“SG-Munchkins,” the triplets called out loudly as one before laughing.

The Stargate thundered open and everyone waited for Jack's command.

“What is it, Dad?” Jeff asked.

“Daddy and I spent a lot of years doing this two, three, and sometimes four times a week, walking through the Gate, oftentimes not knowing what we would find and who we would meet.  Sometimes, we found miracles.  The Nox are miracles.  It doesn't get old, does it, Danny?”

“No, Jack, it never does.”

“Okay, kids, let's go home.”

The lovers waited, by silent agreement choosing to be the last ones left on the Nox planet.

“You know, one of these days, we won't get to come back.”

“I know,” Daniel replied softly.

“How many times do you think we almost had our sixes kicked to the moon?”

“Well, a lot, but there was always something to learn.”

“Angel, are we still too young?”

“Oh,  yeah.  We don't have a clue, Jack, not one.”

“We're not going to see it, either.  Our world is destroying itself.  I'm not sure we'll even be around in a hundred years.”

“We need to trust in the youth, in our children, Jack.  They'll find a way.”

“I really would have liked to have gone up there, just once.”

“We're too young.”

“Come,” Lya beckoned, her image floating in the clouds.  “Come.”

====

“Where are they?” Karissa asked.

“They get all sentimental and mushy sometimes,” David reported.

“It's nostalgia,” Brianna opined.

“Hey, the Gate shut down,” Jonny called out.  He looked up and called out, “Sergeant, why did the Gate shut down?”

“We didn't do it,” came the reply over the microphone.

The family began to panic when JD did a very loud, “*Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh*!”

“What is it, JD?” Jennifer asked.

“Dad and Daddy are okay.  My heart is in my chest, not my feet.”

“You sure?” Aislinn questioned.

“They're okay.”

“I don't understand,” Karissa spoke in confusion.

“JD has a sort of sixth sense with Dad and Daddy,” Jenny admitted.

“Yeah, if I feel my heart in my feet then I know they're in trouble, but if my heart stays in my chest, then they're okay.”

“I don't understand it, either,” Jennifer responded, “but he's accurate just about every time.  They're okay.”

====

Forty minutes later, the klaxons blared.

“That means someone is trying to contact us,” Little Danny told Karissa.

“You mean, someone from ... out there, somewhere.”

Little Danny nodded and waited to hear the announcement.

“It's SG-1.”

“They're coming back,” Jonny spoke as he turned to face the circular object.

A minute later, a smiling Jack and Daniel emerged from the Stargate.

“Sorry, we were late,” Daniel said as he walked happily down the ramp.

“They showed you their city, didn't they?” Jennifer surmised.  “I feel the joy of that.”

“They did.”

“What was it like?” Karissa inquired.

“I'm sorry, Karissa.  Jack and I just became only the second and third humans to be invited to their city.  We can't say one word about it, except it was truly an amazing place.”

“We need to get you settled,” Jack voiced as he urged the group to leave the gate room.  He added, “And let the Doc know your physical injuries have healed.”

“You know, I'm grateful, but I think I'd rather have the physical hurts than the emotional ones.”

“You're a survivor, Karissa, and all of us are going to make sure that continues to be the case,” Jack replied in earnest.

“Thank you, thank you all.”

====

When Tuesday next rolled around, Little Danny was at work as was David.  Karissa was still at Stargate Command, staying in one of the VIP suites.  She became more amazed every day with what she was learning.  She'd met General Landry, who allowed her to watch when teams left and returned from missions.  She truly felt the wonder of exploration and remembered why she'd wanted to become an archaeologist in the first place, to learn about cultures from around the world and now she wondered what it would be like to explore the universe.

The police were still searching for Darren, but having virtually no luck.  Reports of sightings came in, but none of them proved to actually be the culprit.

Since Karissa was healed completely by the Nox, Teal'c came by every day to continue her self-defense lessons.  She'd had problems coordinating her movements during the attack, so the Jaffa focused on making her more comfortable with her body.  He promised to continue working with her for as long as it took for her to feel confident with her defense abilities.

After lunch, Jack and Daniel relaxed in the study as they talked over an important change at J-O Enterprises.

“We lost sight of what was happening.  I think we owe it to her to correct our mistake,” Daniel pointed out.

“You're right, Danny, but I'm not sure how we're going to replace her.”

“We need to think about it some more.  There's an answer, Babe.  We just need to find it.”

“What about Megan?”

“I think we should talk to her, but she's in a different position.”

“But we give her the option?”

“Absolutely.”

Later in the afternoon, Jonny was in his room, cleaning out his drawers when he came upon the patch the children were given years ago by Thor of the Asgard.

“Thor!” Jonny exclaimed as an idea came to him.  He ran downstairs, the patch still in his hands.  “Dad, Daddy, I'm soooo dumb!  Why didn't I think of this sooner?”

“Slow down,” Jack urged from his spot in the hallway as he and Daniel were about to enter the garage to retrieve a few boxes of giveaway items that were gathered over the past several months.  The items were to be donated to charity. “What are you ...”

“Greetings,” came the familiar salutation from the gray-colored alien.

“Oops!” Jonny responded with an innocent shrug.  “Dad, Daddy, Thor can find that monster.”

“Is a monster on the loose?” Thor questioned.

“Yes, and his name is Darren St. James,” Jonny answered.

“Well, while you're here,” Daniel spoke, going along with what he realized was the Munchkin's idea.

“Jonny, you tell him,” Jack permitted.  “It's your idea.  You don't need us to explain it to Thor.”

Jonny grinned, knowing his parents were giving him even more trust and power to be himself and not live in their shadow.

“Thor, do you know who Karissa is?”

“I do.”

“You do?” Jack asked.

“Jack, he knows most of our friends.  You should know that by now,” Daniel opined quietly.

“She is the woman who Little Danny is so fond of,” Thor responded.

“She got married to this bad man, but she didn't know he was bad,” Jonny claimed.  He told the alien the story and asked, “Can't you find Darren for us so Karissa doesn't have to be afraid?”

“I can and I will, but I require his DNA.”

“Well, if you can beam us into his condo, I'm sure there's a lot of DNA there.”

“The coordinates?”

“Maybe we should just take the truck?” Daniel offered.

====

The next day, people were calmly going about their business when, without warning, a few of the Tau'ri suddenly found themselves in an unexpected location.

“Greetings,” Thor called out.

“I'm having a nightmare,” Karissa gasped.

“No, it's okay, Karissa,” Daniel assured.  “This is Thor.  He's a ... a very good friend.”

“Friend?”  Karissa blinked several times as she focused on being in the mess hall eating fruit to being, just where, she wasn't sure.  “He looks like one of the aliens from Roswell, but they're just ...”

“Just what?” Jack asked.  “Remember the possibilities from our first meeting.”

With a smile, Karissa replied, “I guess it wasn't so crazy after all that the pyramids were landing pads for spaceships.”  She looked over at Thor and asked, “May I approach you?”

“You may.”

Karissa walked over and kneeled down in front of the alien.  She reached out and gently touched Thor's hand.

“Your name is Thor?”

“Thor, Supreme Commander of the Asgard.”

“The Asgard?  And have you visited Earth before?”

“Many times, as have others of my race.  We are, in fact, those who speak of from your Roswell.”

“Wow.  The likeness to the drawings is incredible.  Your eyes ...”

“You must not be fooled by my appearance, Karissa.  A genetic defect almost eliminated the Asgard from existence.  We created these bodies to hold our consciousness', but now we are finally overcoming our need for these bodies.”  Remembering his promise to keep JD's crucial role in the process a secret, he explained, “We have now begun the process of assimilation between our new bodies and our consciousness'.”

“That sounds exciting.”

“We are pleased.”

“Yep, Thor's going to be a basketball center before long,” Jack teased.  “It's been a long time coming,” he added seriously.

“Woof,” times two came from Bijou and Katie, the Jackson-O'Neill beagles.

“Hello,” Thor spoke.

“Thor, I get us, but why are the girls here?”

“Because I wished them to be.  Bijou, Katie.”

With some dismay, Jack watched the canines walk over to Thor and sit.

“You will know what to do,” the Asgard told the beagles, whose ears were up in full listening mode.

“Uh, Thor, why are we here?” Daniel inquired.

“Actually, where *is* here?” Karissa interjected.

“You are aboard my vessel, the Daniel Jackson.”

“Really?”  Standing and looking over at Daniel, Karissa asked, “An Asgard ship is named after you?”

“Sam has one, too,” Daniel noted, still uncomfortable about the ship name.

“And?”

“Carter blew mine up.”

“To save us,” Thor explained.

“Oh, I'm sorry, Jack,” Karissa responded, trying not to laugh at her boss' obvious annoyance.  Turning back, she said, “Thor, I don't 'mean to be impetuous or anything, but we do variations of names all the time.  Um, you know, like in our history there was a great man, a past President, named John F. Kennedy.  There are places named after him in a variety of ways, like, oh, a friend of mine went to John F. Kennedy Catholic High School, and there's the President Kennedy School and Community College in England.  Um, we have the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Federal Building in Boston, JFK Stadium in Missouri; oh and in Israel they have Kennedy Street.  There's just a lot of ways to name something after a person.”

“The O'Neill can be reimagined,” Thor contemplated.

“But don't go out of your way or anything.  I did save your butts once, twice, three times?  More?”  Jack shrugged.  “Not cocky, I'm just sayin' ...”

“I shall present it to the Council,” the Asgard responded.

“Hey, cool.  I get my ship back,” a pleased Jack replied with a grin.

“Jack, it's not *your* ship.”

“It's got my name on it.”

“It doesn't exist yet,” Daniel reminded.

“Jealous?”

“Why would I be jealous?”

“Because I'll have two ships named after me, *two*,” Jack smirked.

“Babe, mine's never been blown up.”

Little Danny chuckled, as did Karissa as she adapted to the idea of being in space.  Jonny tried not to laugh, but even he was amused at the exchange between his parents.

“Okay, anyway, why are we here, Thor?”

“I believe I have found Darren St. James.”

“What?  How?  You can do that?” Karissa asked.

“It is ... a piece of cake,” the Asgard spoke as he walked to the main console.  He called up a 3D viewscreen, now capable of showing vivid detail.  “Is this him?”

“Yes, that's Darren.”

Thor looked at the female, noticing how her smile and humor were gone, replaced by dread and sorrow.  He looked over at Little Danny and saw eyes that were full of moisture, those blue eyes looking over at Karissa with great care.  He tilted his head upward to look at the first Tau'ri he'd become friends with.  He saw Jack looking back him with eyes of determination, focus, and unspoken desire for peace, not for him, but for Karissa.

“I have a plan.  Jonny, Little Danny, please move behind me.”  When the children did as requested, Thor told the adults to move to his side.  “Please do not move in front of the console.”

After Thor pressed a button, Darren appeared at the front of the ship.

“What the @%@!?” the man swore with great profanity.

“No swearing in front of my kids,” Jack called out.

“Karissa!”

“Stay away from me, Darren.”

Thor pressed another button and advised, “He cannot harm you.  He cannot approach.”

Darren screamed at what he saw when he looked at the alien.  He didn't see Thor, but a creature that more resembled a Gorn from the TV show, “Star Trek,” only this Gorn was uglier, nastier, and slimier, and it had tentacles that reached out and threatened to hit the human.  He heard the Gorn-like thing make loud, growling noises, snarls that were intrusive and haunting, though the sounds were barks from Bijou and Katie, warnings to stay away from their family, including Karissa.

“Get away from me!”

“What's happening?” Karissa asked as she watched her husband trying to escape harm that didn't really exist.

“Karissa,” Daniel advised, nodding toward a smaller viewscreen that hovered to the left of Thor's console.  There, they could see what Darren was seeing.  “It's just an image,” he promised quietly.

“I am Thor of the Asgard.  You will *not* harm this woman again.  You will not go near her or you will face the wrath of the High Council.”

Darren continued to scurry all about, trying to escape the long tentacles of the virtual creature.

“Remember, the Asgard will be watching.”

Suddenly, a distortion occurred and the man exclaimed, “Ouch!  I'll kill you.”

“I think not,” Thor responded.  “It is time for you to go.”

“Wait,” Karissa requested.

“Darren, I'm reclaiming my life.  I'm getting a divorce, and I don't ever want to see you again, except in court.  I don't love you anymore.  I wish I'd never met you.”  Karissa looked at the alien and said, “Thank you.”

With a nod, Thor beamed Darren away.

“Thor, where did you send him?” Little Danny asked.

“See,” the Asgard stated as the larger viewscreen appeared and dismayed the streets of Colorado Springs.

Darren was screaming as he stood on a street corner, looking all around.  He kept approaching people, asking them if they'd seen the Gorn.

“Hey, there's Pete,” Sam called out upon seeing her husband.  “Be careful, Pete.”

The group watched as Sam's husband recognized Darren and with his partner, arrested the man.  They saw Darren being processed and put into a cell.  He was still ranting about the Gorn.

“Thor, what did you do?” Daniel asked.

“I put a marker in him so we can always know where he is.  He will not harm Karissa again.  It is a promise, a gift from the Asgard.”

“Thank you,” Karissa sniffled, but in a happier way.  She leaned over and gently hugged the alien.  “Thank you so very much.”

“Female Tau'ri like to hug.”

Sam laughed, remembering when she first hugged Thor, something that she knew was strange for the Asgard.

“We do,” Karissa acknowledged.

“You didn't do anything else to him, did you?” Daniel asked as he looked at the image of Darren ranting inside the cell.

Disengaging the screen, Thor responded, “No, I did not, but his mind is weak.  He was not able to deal with ... a creature from outer space.”

“Okay, thanks, Thor, good buddy.  We've got some homeschooling to attend to and ...”  Just that fast, Jack was back where he'd began.  “Okay.”  He smiled, **Danny?**

**Back in my den.**

**Let's check on the Munchkins and we'd better call the Mountain.**

The immediate future was spent making sure everyone was home safely and dealing with the phone call that was about to come from Pete with the news that Darren St. James was now in custody and raving incoherently about Gorn tentacles in space.

====

The next day, Karissa returned to her apartment and spent her first couple of hours with her garden and plants.  Then she got down to business, meeting with the female lawyer recommended by Mark Kingston and starting the divorce process.  She wanted nothing from Darren.  All she wanted was her life back, and her name.  St. James would be only a nasty memory, but Lewis was her family name, one she loved and gave her freedom.

The following week, Karissa returned to her duties at J-O Enterprises.  Since it was Thanksgiving week, it meant she only actually worked two days since Jack and Daniel provided their staff with three days off and not the more traditional two days.  Karissa took advantage of the time and flew out of Colorado to spend some quality days with her family, including some very special moments with her ailing father.

On the thirtieth of the month, Jack and Daniel called Karissa into Jack's office for a private meeting.  She was a bit concerned, wondering what the meeting was about and knowing only that it involved some changes.  Secretly, she wondered if all the mess with her soon-to-be ex-husband might result in her being let go, though at the same time, she knew the thought was ridiculous, or so she prayed.

“Have a seat, Karissa,” Jack invited.

“Actually, let's sit over here,” Daniel suggested, motioning towards the round table used for projects, brainstorming sessions, and just about anything needed.

“Karissa, we're thinking about making a few changes,” Jack announced when everyone was seated.

“What kind of changes?”

“Well, as we've often said, J-O has grown beyond what we ever dreamed, or if even wanted,” Daniel stated.  “We started with the little house ...”

“... that we converted into our hoffice which we still use, as you well know,” Jack interjected.

“Then we renovated this site, added the equipment warehouse in New Mexico, and the Chesapeake office which by its existence has given us even more business,” Daniel continued.

“What we're considering,” Jack spoke, “is hiring an executive assistant.”

~They are firing me,~ Karissa thought, though she tried to remain expressionless.

“Karissa,” Daniel said with a smile, “when we hired Megan and you and the rest of our original staff, we couldn't imagine the business we have going today.  It was a, a team venture.  We all had jobs to do, and we did much of it as a team, but then we began growing our family, and over time, Jack and I passed on much of the administrative and daily tasks of keeping J-O running to Megan and eventually to you.  Now you both have a gigantic role in the success of our firm.”

“And that's come at a price, one we didn't realize until the last few months, and that's why we want to make this change.”

“You want someone with more executive business skills?” the woman surmised, certain she was about to get the sack.

“I don't that we'd call it 'more' skills, but we want someone to handle more of the operational aspects of J-O.”

“Okay,” Karissa responded weakly.

“She's ready for it,” Jack teased.  “Tell her, Son.”

Little Danny beamed as he announced, “We want the new employee because we want you back in the field.”

Karissa was stunned, but in a good way, as she gasped, “What?”

“Karissa, Jack and I owe you an apology.  In insisting on keeping our priorities with our family, we forgot that you *are* an archaeologist and you were hired to act as one, not as an administrative assistant or bookkeeper.  It was our need to rely on Megan and you that prevented us from realizing that, as time passed, neither one of you were going on digs anymore.  You have both, with rare exceptions, been relegated to being office managers, and that's not what we intended, not at all,” Daniel somewhat lamented.

“What we want to do now is set things right,” Jack averred.

“The new executive assistant works under your supervision,” Little Danny advised.  “She, or he, reports to you, but from now on, you also get to be a part of our projects, all the time, not just occasionally.  Dad and Daddy still want you to be in charge, like you are now, but the difference is that you won't need to stay here to do the budget by yourself or ...” he trailed off with a shrug.

“You'll have time now to get back into the field, if that's what you want to do,” Daniel stated.

“We spoke with Megan this morning, and she's being given the same option,” Jack advised.

“I think she's pretty happy where she is, Yazid and all,” Karissa opined.

“That's what she said,” Daniel acknowledged, “but she's thinking about it and no matter what she tells us, we intend on making sure she knows the option is always there.”

“I ... thank you.  I didn't realize how much I missed being in the field.  I'm not even sure I know when, or why, I stopped going.  I guess ... I ... there was always something that needed to be done here.”

“And we made  you feel like you were indispensable and couldn't be replaced,” Daniel surmised.

“And that's true, and that's why you'll still be in charge, but playing in the dirt is part of being an archaeologist,” Jack put forth playfully.

“We also want to offer Bibi a new opportunity,” Little Danny announced.  “We want her to be your backup here.”

“She already does a lot of it when you're on vacation or out, or we just need her to, but we want to make it official, job titles to be determined at a later date, pay raises included, of course,” Jack elaborated.

“We're sharing the load, Karissa, and making up for our oversight as best we can,” Daniel added.

“What do you say?” Jack asked.

“I'm in, all the way.  Thank you both, and you, too, Little Danny.”

“He helped us figure this out,” Jack revealed proudly.  “J-O is his future and his siblings who want to join in; that's up to them.”

“I'm happy, very happy.”

“Karissa, can you make a job description of what you think should be the duties of the new executive assistant and then also make a report on how you think Bibi can be brought in to share the load, as Daddy said, but we don't want her to give up going into the field, either.  We need her out there.”

“We sure do, Little Danny.  Yes, I can do that.  Do you have a timeline for me?” she asked the Munchkin.

“We'd like it by the fifteenth so we can review and discuss it,” Little Danny answered.

“We anticipate interviewing in January,” Daniel noted.  “Allowing time for training, we figure everything should be set in place so you can join us in Egypt.”

“Egypt?”

“We're going back in April, and we want you, Bibi, and others to be determined to be a part of that project.  With an exec in place to keep our other jobs going, there shouldn't be an issue.

“Wow, this is awesome.  I'm so excited.”

“We are, too,” Jack seconded.

“I'll get started right away,” Karissa promised as she stood up.  She couldn't stop herself, so she hugged both of her employees and the teenager who would most likely be her boss one day.  “You're all so special.  I'm so thrilled to be a part of this company.”

As Karissa reached the door, Jack called out, “Karissa, would you ask Bibi to come in so we can talk with her?”

“Of course.”

“Bibi doesn't have to do this, if she doesn't want to, right?” the teen inquired.

“Absolutely.  If she isn't interested, we'll ask someone else.”

“Dora might be interested,” Little Danny suggested.

“You're right.  Let's see what Bibi thinks and go from there,” Daniel responded.

The future was far from set for the Jackson-O'Neills, their company, and their staff.  What was known now was that Karissa Lewis was once again feeling happy and hopeful about her future.  Her dark clouds were gone, replaced by the brown dirt and green plants she loved so much.  She couldn't wait for her divorce to become final.  Darren was now her past, a painful part of her past that was making her stronger as she took on the role of domestic abuse survivor.

As for Darren, his future promised to be dark and confusing.  The evidence against him for attempted murder, battery, and breaking and entering was overwhelming.  Conviction appeared to be certain, except that the man was headed towards insanity and more than likely would spend the rest of his days in an institute for the criminally insane.

Little Danny was growing up to be every bit the man his parents hoped for.  All of their children made them proud.  The middle Munchkin was already showing his passion, compassion, and ability in successfully running J-O Enterprises, though it more than likely would be years more before he actually joined the firm in that capacity.  Right now, he was getting his feet wet and learning what it meant to be an archaeologist and a business owner.  He was also learning how to be a boyfriend, letting go of childhood dreams in the process.  He'd always love Karissa in a way he would never love another person, but then there was Carrie.  He didn't know if she was his future, or just a wonderful present, but in this moment, he decided that living in the moment was okay.  He cared for Carrie a lot and enjoyed their time together.

Jack and Daniel's nation of two plus brood and zoo continued to be a special kind of magic that made life exciting with a new adventure happening every day.  They also treasured their off-world friends, ones who were a special part of their lives, like Thor and the Nox.  Challenges were part of their world, be it the difficulty of a divisive political world or their Munchkins coming of age, one by one, each doing what they believed to be right, even if it meant standing up to their parents.

Life in Colorado Springs may not have been technically be perfect, but for Jack and Daniel, it was perfect enough.

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

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