St. Louie Surprise

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - July 2012
Spoilers:  None
Size:  70kb
Written:  October 3-5,10-14,17,23-24, 2007
Summary:  The Jackson-O'Neills get more than they bargained for when they visit a St. Louis park, proving that vacations aren't always fun and light-hearted.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) This is part of the “Wanderin' in the USA” road fic in honor of Jack and Daniel's universe readers.  Thanks for your support!
2) “Animal Crackers in My Soup” lyrics and music by T. Koehler and  I. Caesar/R. Henderson.
3) 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.**
4) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
5) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s), “Consanquinity” and “They Don't Understand”
6) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Pam, Claudia, Linda, Carol!

Wanderin' in the USA
Chapter: St. Louie Surprise
by Orrymain

“Jonny!” Jenny giggled at the noises coming from her brother.

“Well, I'm hungry,” Jonny whined, rubbing his growling stomach.

“Barbecue?” Jack questioned from the pilot's seat in the cockpit of the family's RV.

“Hot dogs!” Chenoa exclaimed cheerfully.

“Chicken wings,” David stated hopefully.

“Hamburgers and fries,” Brianna suggested, smacking her lips in anticipation.

“Find us a park, Babe, and then we'll unhook the SUV and do some shopping,” Daniel spoke as he walked from the kitchen area into the cockpit and sat down, buckling his seatbelt.

“I thought we had plenty of supplies,” the older man spoke.

“No chicken wings,” Daniel explained.

“Gotta have wings to fly,” Jack sing-songed.

Daniel rolled his eyes as he muttered, “Jack Jackson-O'Neill: my thirteenth child.”

====

“RV Patrol!” Jack called out several minutes later.

“Yes, Dad?” Jennifer responded.

“You rang?” Jeff called out.

“I'd like to park right over there,” Jack said, taking his hand off the steering wheel for a brief second to point at the place he was referring to. “We're unhooking the SUV, so make sure we have enough room.”

“Okie dokie,” Jennifer responded, waiting for the vehicle to stop before she and Jeff disconnected their seatbelts, grabbed their walkie-talkies, and went outside.

--

“Well done, Jen, Jeff,” Daniel praised, stepping out of the RV and patting his daughter on the back while smiling at his son.

“Daddy, do you want me to help with the SUV?” Jeff asked.

“Uh, yes, thank you,” Daniel said, looking around the area.  “It looks nice over there.  Jen, please put the girls on their leashes,” he instructed before working on separating the SUV from its spot at the rear of the larger vehicle.

====

“Woof,” Katie spoke to her mother, giving her a little nudge.  “Mama, Look.”

“What is it, Katie?” the mama beagle asked in dog speak.

“What are all those dogs doing?”

“I don't know,” Bijou replied.  She pulled on her lead until she got Daniel's attention.  Once he looked at her, she urged, “Wooooof!” and pulled slightly on the lead.

It was obvious to the archaeologist that the beagle wanted to head towards the gathering of canines at the corner of the large park.

“Uh, Jack, I'll be right back.  I think the girls want to go for a little walk,” the archaeologist spoke, putting down his plate that still had one-third of a hot dog on it and getting up.

“You could finish first,” the older man semi-whined.

“Don't worry, Love.  I'm a big boy now,” Daniel teased, earning him a smirk and two raised eyebrows in response.  “Girls, let's go,” he said.

--

“We can do that, Mama,” Katie claimed as she watched one of the dogs and its handler walking.  “See!” she said, going in front of Daniel and assuming a 'proud' stance.  “And we can jump over those boards.  What's so hard about that?”

“Dear, calm down,” Bijou requested, sitting down and scratching an itch just behind her left ear.

“Katie?” Daniel questioned.

“Woof!” Katie responded, looking over at the dog.  “Woooof!” she repeated.

Daniel chuckled, “What?  You want to be a ... a show dog?”

Katie wagged her tail and then sat up in what was typically known as a begging stance, and that wasn't something she did often.

“Oh, well, uh, I don't know anything about that,” the archaeologist sighed.

“What lovely dogs,” a woman called out, having witnessed the interesting exchange between the man and the beagle.  She leaned down and patted both Katie and Bijou, examining their physique and body tone.  “Pure bred?”

“Uh, yes, they are.  Well, Bijou is for sure; we're not positive about Katie, but we think so.”

“So, they aren't registered?”

“Bijou is,” Daniel answered.

“They're very fit,” the woman remarked, standing up.  “My name is Laura Perlamo,” the short, mature woman spoke.

“Daniel ... Jackson-O'Neill,” the archaeologist introduced, shaking hands with the congenial woman.  “And this is Bijou, and the eager one there is Katie.”

“Out for a stroll?” the brown-haired woman inquired.

“Uh, yes.  Actually,” Daniel looked over to the other side of the park where his family was located, “that's my family over there.  We're on vacation.”

“Looks like they've made some friends,” Laura said, seeing a group of kids playing.

“No, they're all mine, and my husband's,” Daniel spoke.  Then he realized the bluntness of his comment, which clearly stated that he was a married man -- to another man.  He looked at Laura, who hadn't reacted at all.  Instead, she was just watching, the same as she had been a moment before.  “We have twelve,” he clarified.

Laura laughed, “They could be my classroom.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, I'm a retired school teacher,” Laura explained.

Daniel nodded, saying, “I'm an archaeologist, but we homeschool most of our children.  It's ... a challenge.”

“Education is one of our most difficult challenges, especially today.  Things have changed since I was a child.”

“Yes, we ...” Daniel was distracted by a whine that grew into a bark.  He laughed, “Katie, be polite.”

Katie laid down, letting out a big sigh.

Laura laughed, “She wants to be a show dog.”

“Unfortunately for her, it's not something I know a lot about, either.”

“I can help you with that, Mister ...” Laura paused, asking, “I'm sorry, was your last name Jackson or O'Neill?”

“Both.  We're hyphenated,” Daniel answered, not bothering to correct her on the 'mister' versus 'doctor' issue.

“Okay, Mister Jackson-O'Neill, I have some experience with dog agility.”

“Please, call me Daniel, and dog agility?” the archaeologist questioned.  “Is that what this is called?”

“Yes,” Laura answered.  She looked down and instructed calmly, “Bijou, Katie, watch.”

Daniel was amazed when both beagles walked forward, sat down, and looked in the direction Laura was pointing.  Then the woman called out to another to put a dog through a practice run.

Bijou and Katie were fascination as they observed a dog going through what amounted to a dog obstacle course.

“Each of these obstacles tests a dog's agility and obedience,” Laura spoke.  “The yellow areas are contact points.  The competing dog must touch each of those yellow points at some time during their run.”

“We can do that, Mama,” Katie spoke in a muffled dog speak.

“Of course, we can, Dear.  Do you want to?”

“Oh, yes, Mama,” Katie replied eagerly.  “We have to convince Daniel to let us do it, at least once.  Besides, it will be good exercise.  We haven't gotten to run much since we left home.”

“Very well, Dear.  I'll convince him, if that's what you want,” Bijou responded, yawning as the competing dog disappeared through a tunnel.  “Piece of cake,” she commented to her daughter.

“Bij, are you okay?” Daniel asked, having heard a bit of a rumble from the oldest canine.

“Wooof,” Bijou responded, which translated to, “Just watching, Daniel.”

“Nice jump,” Daniel spoke seeing the dog spike gracefully over a bar jump.

“Diamond loves to perform,” Laura spoke about the Shetland Sheepdog that was blue merle in color.  “She's been doing it for years.”


“Woof,” Katie requested, politely nudging Laura.

“Would you like to try it, Katie?” Laura inquired.

“Woof!” the eager beagle stated.

“Daniel?”

“Well, I'm not sure ...”

“Ruff!” a stern-sounding Bijou interrupted.  She didn't often sound like that, making her moderate 'woof' into a more rugged 'ruff' sound.  “Woof,” she added, sounding almost like a 'please'.

“It sounds like they'd like to give it a go,” Daniel stated.

“The first thing we need to do is see how they cope with the basics.  Do you want to run them through the paces, Daniel, or,” Laura looked off into the distance, “perhaps one of your children?”

“Actually, I think they'd like that.  Uh, we'd need to ...”

“Why don't you meet me over there by the judging area in about twenty minutes,” Laura suggested.  “We're just practicing today and having a mock competition in a couple of hours, but you're welcome to see if your dogs have what it takes.”

“Grrrr,” Katie rumbled.

“Sorry, but desire isn't agility,” Laura said laughingly in reply to the dog's 'argument'.

“That sounds good,” Daniel responded.

====

“Jack, they want to,” Daniel spoke a few minutes later.

Jack looked over at the beagles and noticed how focused they were on the discussion.  He shrugged his approval and began to gather the children together.

After explaining what was happening, the younger father asked, “So, would anyone like to ...”

“I do!” Little Danny interjected excitedly, to which Katie ran over and began to give him kisses, causing him to giggle.

“Me, too!” Jenny said, raising her hand eagerly.

“Okay, let's secure this area and move out,” Jack instructed.

“Jack, we're going to a dog agility practice, not on a mission,” Daniel reminded his husband.

With a grin and a shrug, the older man turned around and began to put away the unused food items.

====

Having been introduced to the family, Laura instructed Little Danny and Jenny on the commands to give to each of the dogs.  She'd arranged for a few of her show dog friends to act as informal judges to determine whether the two beagles were good enough to participate in the mock competition they were holding later.  Getting the nod from them that they were ready, she motioned for Little Danny to go first.

“Remember, just walk around this area and give the commands we talked about.  Do you remember?”

Little Danny smiled and nodded.  He'd seen all the commands written down, so his photographic memory would ensure that he didn't miss any.  Leading Katie around the area, he stopped after they'd made one full circle.

“Katie, sit,” the little boy commanded.

Katie sat down, wanting to yawn.  She felt this was so simple.  Then she felt all the eyes on her.  She became aware that every part of her posture was being perused, even down to the point of her tail.  Suddenly, it didn't seem as easy as she'd thought.

“Katie, stay,” Little Danny instructed, putting the lead down and walking several feet away.

The young beagle heard a noise and wanted desperately to check it out, but she knew she wasn't supposed to be distracted.  It was hard to fight her instinct to look towards the sound, but she managed to remain still and kept her focus on the young boy in front of her.

“Katie, come,” the boy ordered, smiling as Katie trotted over to him.  He picked up the leash and began to walk around the circle again.  When he got back to where they'd started, he looked down at her and said, “Good girl, Katie.  I love you.”

“Woof!” Katie responded as the boy gave her a big hug.

After Jenny had taken Bijou through the same paces, the judges had indicated that both canines were good enough to compete in their mock competition.  As Daniel, Little Danny, and Jenny registered the girls and were assigned a number for each dog, the rest of the family settled down to watch.

After five dogs had gone through the obstacle course, the mama beagle prepared to make her attempt.

“You can do it, Bij,” Jenny coached.  “See those bars?  You just jump over those, and then go through that tunnel, and then ...”

Bijou stared at the girl, thinking, ~How am I suppose to remember which tunnel comes first?  I'm no spring beagle, you know!~  She looked out at the course.  ~Shouldn't they put numbers on those things?~

“I have faith in you, Bijou,” the redhead said, hugging the beagle with all the confidence in the world emanating from her.

Bijou stood tall.  If Jenny thought she could do it, then she knew she could.

“Woooof!” Katie barked encouragingly.

With a nod from the person keeping time, Jenny urged, “Just follow me, Bij!”  The little girl ran out into the ring and led the beagle around.  “Jump, Bij,” she commanded, smiling when Bijou easily made it over the one-bar jump.  “Good girl!” she praised.

The redhead led the beagle over to a long tunnel and said, “Go through the tunnel, Bij.”

~A dog's work is never done,~ Bijou thought with a doggie sigh as she entered the dark tube.  ~Katie thinks this is fun?  Hmmph.  I need to have a chat with my daughter tonight.  There's the light at the end of the tunnel.~

“Good, Bijou!” Jenny praised when the beagle reappeared.  “Bigger jump, Girl,” she said as they approached the two-bar jump, which the beagle easily navigated.

As Jenny continued on the course, she was pleased with Bijou's performance.  Then, just as they were getting to the last obstacle, a sway bridge walk, the mama beagle stopped.  The little girl didn't understand why since Bijou had walked across bridges like this before.

“Grrrruff!” Bijou complained, looking over into the crowd.

“Bij!  You have to walk across this,” Jenny stated.

Instead, Bijou ran over to where Jenny's siblings were gathered.  Everyone thought she was rebelling from the course, even Jack and Daniel, who figured that the mama beagle had decided she'd had enough of something that she couldn't see a point in.

“Mama?” Katie asked in dog speak.

“Did you see him, Katie?”

“See who?”

Bijou looked all around looking for the man she had seen, only half aware of the words of “That's okay, Bij,” “You did good, Bijou,” and other compliments from her family, none of whom cared that she didn't complete the course.

“I got some great pictures of you and Jenny, Bij,” Jeff said as he knelt down and gave the mama beagle a few pats on the head.  “The one of you flying over that second jump is going to one to frame, Girl.  I'll bet I can get a good one of Katie going over that jump, too, and we can put them in a double frame.”

Bijou smiled, thinking, ~At least our hard work will be documented.~

====

After several more dogs had made their runs, it was Katie's turn.

“Katie, you'll be great,” Little Danny spoke just before he began to lead the youngest beagle around the ring.

Just like her mother, the beagle successfully completed several obstacles, but then, right at the end, just like Bijou, Katie suddenly stopped.  She cocked her head to the side.

Immediately, Bijou stood up and looked around.

“Mama, you mean him?” Katie questioned in a loud, sustained bark.

“Scruffy man?”

“I saw him, Mama,” Katie said as she walked a few steps towards her mother, leaving the youngest Munchkin behind for a brief second before turning around and letting out a loud “Woof”.

“I'm coming,” Little Danny sighed.  He shrugged and told Laura, “I think they're hungry.”

Laura laughed as the boy and young beagle returned to their family, none of whom minded that Katie hadn't finished the course either.

====

The Jackson-O'Neills gave Bijou and Katie some dog treats for their efforts and then hung around the park to watch the rest of the mock competition.  Afterwards, Laura and her dog, Diamond, had sat down with them by the RV to talk.

“They did very well for their first time; much better than most first timers, in fact. I think they have potential,” Laura expressed confidently.

“They were just hungry,” Jonny said, patting his abdomen and remembering how he felt when he was hungry.

“They don't normally get distracted like that, though,” Jack replied, looking at Bijou curiously.  He was slightly taken back when the mama beagle gave him a glare.  He sent her a 'Hey, what did I do?' look in return.  ~It was just a comment.~
 
If Bijou had been human, she would have rolled her eyes, but she settled for giving Jack a slightly disappointed look as she thought, ~You need to be more alert, Jack.  If Katie and I saw him, you should have, too.~

“I do a lot of traveling,” Laura informed.  “I'd love to help you train Bijou and Katie for a competition.”

Katie sat up straighter and began wagging her tail, while Bijou let out a dog groan and rolled over.

Jack laughed, “Looks like Katie is willing.”

“Bij wants to, too,” Jenny insisted, reaching over and patting the dog.  “She's just on vacation now.”

Everyone shared a chuckle as they continued chatting.

====

“I laughed all night,” Laura spoke.  “I walked in to feed Diamond, and there she was, moving over a soda box.  I just stood there, watching.  She never stopped pushing that soda box over until it was in the perfect spot.  Then she climbed up on it and grabbed her food dish that was on the table.”

“She was hungry!” David stated.

“It was past her dinnertime,” Laura admitted.

“One time Katie was in the bathroom, and the door was closed,” Brianna stated.  “I turned around to open it for her, and she was standing up, using her paws to turn the knob.  I've never seen anything like that.”

“It is amazing what animals can do,” Laura agreed.  “Oops, look at the time,” she said, having glanced at her watch.  “I have to get going.”

“Do you need a ride or ...?” Jack asked.

“No, my friend, Carmen, should ... oh, there she is,” Laura said, seeing her friend walking towards her with two dogs.

“More dogs!” Jack exclaimed jovially.

“Jack, Daniel, Kids, this is my friend, Carmen, and these two are Buddy and Mojo.  Mojo's the baby of the family, just a few months old; I only just got her.”

The family fussed over the dogs as hellos were given.

“Buddy has one blue eye,” Jonny noted about the sable and white Sheltie.

“It's unusual, but I think it gives him character,” Laura stated.

“Do they compete, too?” David questioned curiously.

Hugging Buddy, Laura responded, “He doesn't have the right body structure to compete.”

“I'm betting Laura has Mojo in training by next week,” Carmen teased.

“Next week?  We started last week,” Laura responded jovially about the puppy.

“Ladies, it's been a pleasure,” Jack stated.

“It sure has, Jack,” Laura agreed, laughing as Diamond, Buddy, and Mojo played with Bijou and Katie.  “I'm serious about my offer.  You can contact me for advice anytime.  I'd really love to see the girls compete.”

“It would be fun, Dad,” Little Danny said as he got a kiss from Diamond.

“Woof!” Katie agreed.

“Now really, Dear,” Bijou spoke as she stretched her body.

“You'd love it, Mama.  Piece of cake, remember?” Katie questioned.

“Not when everyone is staring at us.  I felt like they could see every flea I have, and I don't even have any fleas,” Bijou groaned.

Contact information exchanged, Laura and her friend, along with the three dogs, left the area.  They'd invited the couple to return to the park again the next day for another round of practice as observers, but this would be a more serious session as they prepared for an actual competition, so the beagles wouldn't be able to participate.  The lovers didn't yet know what the next day would bring, but said they'd consider it.

====

“Well?” Daniel asked as he sat on the bed, located at the rear of the RV.

Closing the door, Jack answered, “All asleep.”  He sat down on his lover's side of the bed, his body facing the wall, but looking at the younger man.  “That was odd, wasn't it?”

“Jack, they've never acted like that before.  I know there's no real reason to be concerned, and, if it had just been one of them, I wouldn't have given it a second thought, but ...”

“But both of them stopped at almost the exact same spot, and they both looked over to the exact same place,” Jack stated, making a funny noise as he reviewed the beagles' actions during the mock competition.

“Are we being paranoid?” Daniel questioned.  “I mean, uh, they didn't growl or bark, not like they do if there's danger ... usually.”

“Maybe it was the excitement from the show.  There were a lot of strangers around, not to mention the throng of yapping dogs out there,” Jack pointed out. “Bij was glaring at me earlier; I think she was annoyed that I didn't get her out of participating.”

Daniel relaxed a bit more as he chuckled, “They weren't yapping.  They were fun to watch, though.”

“I'd rather watch you,” Jack said, leaning over to kiss his lover.

“I like how you watch me,” Daniel responded.  “Watch me some more,” he requested, drawing the man in for another tender kiss.

====

“Can we get a turtle for our backyard, Dad?” Ricky asked excitedly the next afternoon.

The family had just spent a couple of hours at Turtle Playground in Forest Park where sculptures of turtles adorned the area.  Included was a snapping turtle, a soft-shelled turtle, and a red-eared slider turtle.  There were even seven large eggs, three with emerging turtles, that adorned the sitting area.  Two of the large adult turtles were big enough for the children to slide on.

Now the children were abuzz with turtle talk, especially Jenny who had helped to buy Peanut Brittle, the turtle light for General Hammond's walkway when the family had surprised him with a bit of remodeling.

“Yeah, we need a real Peanut Brittle,” Jenny chimed.

“No, we don't!” Jack responded quickly.  “Maybe we can build a turtle for you to play on.”

“I can help!” Jenny piped up happily.

“Me, too,” Jonny said.

Jack breathed a sigh of relief, happy the children had responded so well to the idea of a built turtle rather than a living one.

“Danny, Laura said they might still be practicing this afternoon.  Before we take off, do you want to run by there one more time?”

“Can we, Daddy?” Little Danny inquired.

“Woof!” Katie spoke up, her tail wagging as she turned her sparkling eyes towards the archaeologist.

“Who can argue with that?” Daniel said as he turned around and prepared to start up the RV.

====

“Yeah, you like that, don't ya, Mojo?” Jack said as he rubbed the puppy's belly.

“I'm glad you brought the family back, Jack,” Laura spoke as she enjoyed a lemonade while Buddy rested at her feet.

“The kids are excited about the girls being showgirls,” Jack teased.  “I'm not sure how much luck Diamond is going to have being their instructor,” he laughed, looking over at where Jennifer and Diamond were practicing the front cross.

“How do you know when to walk in front of her?” Jennifer asked one of the agility trainers, who was a friend of Laura's.  “I would think that would distract her.”

“That's where the obedience comes in,” the man responded.

“I'm not worried about Diamond; it's me I'm worried about,” Jennifer chuckled.  “Okay, show me again.”

====

A couple of hours later, Laura and the other agility handlers had gone home, and the Jackson-O'Neills had decided to continue on to wherever they were going to next.  First, though, they had decided to enjoy their dinner outdoors.  Instead of barbecuing, they had used one of the recipes in Alex's cookbook that he'd given them.

With dinner completed, Jack was chatting with David and Lulu about something, while Jennifer and Brianna were huddled together.  Jeff was supervising a game of leap frog with the rest of the children, while the beagles were enjoying a nap inside the RV.

Daniel had put on his sweats and was jogging around the park.  He'd just returned to his family and was running in place as he cooled down.  Once he was ready, he'd take a shower, gather up the family, and take off for the next part of their trek.  That was the plan, anyway.

As he stopped running and began stretching, Daniel caught sight of a man standing over by a tree.  The man looked oddly familiar, so much so that the archaeologist couldn't take his eyes off of him; that is, not until he realized the man was staring at the brood, specifically at the young children playing leapfrog.  In fact, as he watched, Daniel realized the man seemed to be keeping a close eye on the three Munchkins, who had just huddled together to prepare some leap frog strategy.

Daniel stopped stretching and walked over closer to the RV, his eyes still on the stranger.

~What is there about that guy that looks so familiar?~

Sure that he was imagining things, Daniel shook off the feeling that he should know the man and went to let Jack know he was back.  Walking towards the door of the RV, he couldn't resist taking another look at the spot over by the tree and saw that the stranger was gone.

~Too many years worrying about the NID.~

====

A quick twelve minutes later, Daniel walked out of the RV in casual attire, feeling refreshed.

“Babe, let's reconnect the SUV and go,” Daniel suggested, since Jack had used the SUV earlier to make an ice cream run for the family.

“Ready as rain, and don't say it's not raining,” Jack teased, his good mood evident.

“Wasn't going to say a word,” Daniel chuckled.  Unintentionally, he glanced over by the tree and saw the stranger had returned.  ~That's the same man.~

The feeling of unease that Daniel had been trying to ignore earlier was now back in force.

The stranger still seemed very focused on the Munchkins; then, as if sensing that he was being watched, he looked over and caught Daniel's eyes.  Abruptly, the man turned and walked over to an adjacent parking area.  He'd been smoking, and, as he reached his beat-up looking car, he let the butt of the cigarette fall to the cement, rubbing it out with his foot.  He looked at the children again as he climbed into his brown Honda and started the engine.

“Jack,” Daniel began.  “We need some more ice cream.  I'll ... I'll be back,” Daniel stated, as he tapped nervously on the front of the SUV as he reached the vehicle.

“Danny, I just went to the store and ...”

“Not the right flavors,” the archaeologist called out, interrupting the older man.

“I'll go with you, Daddy,” David offered, starting for the passenger side of the vehicle.

“No!” Daniel responded sharply, his hands touching the side of the SUV as he moved swiftly along towards the driver's door.  Smiling, he said, “I'm bringing back a ... a surprise.”

Before Jack could say another word, his lover had taken off in their blue SUV.  He didn't understand Daniel's behavior, and he wondered if he should be concerned.  At the same time, he didn't want to upset the kids, so he decided to stay calm.  As it was, David was still looking a little startled.

“Your daddy can be a little strange, Son,” the general commented.

David laughed, “So can my dad,” as he walked away.

Jack shook his head and couldn't help but laugh as he returned to the family.

====

Though he hated to, Daniel sped slightly to make sure he had the stranger in his sights.  Once he had, he slowed down and kept a safe distance behind.  He reached around for his cell phone, discovering he hadn't thought to put it into his pocket.

The stranger's Honda had obviously been in an accident, its right rear quarter panel banged in.  At a stoplight, the SUV was separated from the Honda by a mini-van, but the Honda's loud heavy metal music could still be heard.

Fifteen minutes later, the Honda pulled into a motel in a not-so-luxurious part of St. Louis.  The stranger pulled up to a room, got out of his vehicle, and walked inside the room that hadn't even been locked.

Daniel parked the SUV next to the Honda, taking a moment to get a closer look at the 2006 vehicle.  He saw now that the rear passenger window was non-existent, a tarp having been affixed in its place.  He thought it was odd, though, that while the exterior of the rust-colored vehicle looked like it belonged in a scrap heap, the interior was spotless.  It seemed an odd dichotomy.

Hesitating, Daniel pondered his next course of action.  He was pretty sure Jack would want him to turn around and head back to the park, but he couldn't do that until he'd made sure this man wasn't a threat to their family; and, while talking to the guy perhaps wasn't the smartest way to do that, it was certainly the quickest. Taking a deep breath, he slipped keys into his pants pocket, walked to the door, and knocked on it.

A moment later, the stranger answered the door.  Wearing tattered jeans, a white T-shirt, and a pair of Nike shoes, he stared at the visitor.  It was obvious the man hadn't shaved in a couple of days, and his longer hair was a bit ratty.  It was that combination that was giving him a scruffier look in appearance.

Daniel stared back.  The man was so familiar.  He had a light complexion, high cheekbones, sculptured features, green eyes, and looked like he might have some Italian and Mid-Eastern influences in his heritage.

~Oh, gawd,~ the archaeologist exclaimed inwardly.  He'd just figured it out.  ~It's the mustache and beard,~ he realized silently about why the stranger's well-groomed thin mustache and the slight beard from the lack of shaving had thrown him.

“You knocked on my door, Pal.  What do you want?” the guy asked as he reached up to his sleeve and took out the pack of cigarettes that had been kept there, pulling out one of the contents, and starting to light it.

“I'd, uh, really prefer it, if you ...” Daniel began, pointing at the cigarette that was hanging out of the man's mouth, a lighter to its end.

The stranger cackled, “You've got nerve, Pal,” but inexplicably removed the item, placing it, the pack of cigarettes, and the lighter on the small table by the door.  He turned and walked deeper inside the motel room as he repeated, “What do you want?”

Daniel looked back, seeing a couple of cars whizzing past the motel on the road.  There was still plenty of daylight out as he walked forward, stopping two-feet in front of the other man.

“My name is Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.  I realize you don't know me, but it's just that you look a lot like a very good friend of mine,” Daniel stated.

“So?  What does that have to do with me?” the stranger asked, a hint of hostility in his tone.  He turned and paced towards the wall, his arms extending out as he questioned, “What big deal is it that I look like someone?”  Turning to face Daniel, he added, “Everyone looks like someone, and I'm really not in the mood for this.”

“Uh,” Daniel expressed, looking down at the stained carpet as he took a step forward.  He sighed, “This is going to sound really strange, but please hear me out.”

“I need a tank of gas,” the man said suddenly, raising his right hand up to brush back the hair that unintentionally hung in front of his eyes at the moment.

“Gas?”

“Forty should do it,” the stranger said expectantly.

Although when Daniel looked more closely, he realized that behind the air of nonchalance was a look of slight desperation.

“Inflation, gas wars, our own refusal to invest in alternative sources of fuel, the war in ...” Daniel muttered as he pulled out his wallet.

“Mister, I'm not looking for a lecture on why gas costs more than my rent; I'm just looking to get the gas.”

“Right,” Daniel acknowledged, pulling out two twenty-dollar bills and handing them to the stranger.

Nodding, his mouth a bit crooked as he examined the bills, making sure they weren't counterfeit, the stranger put the money in his own wallet and sat down on the bed, which was perfectly made.

“Okay, tell me your strange story,” the stranger said, deciding to settle back and lean against the headboard, one leg crossed atop the other as he prepared to listen.

~Maybe I should take this slow,~ Daniel thought as he walked to stand at the end of the bed.

“The clock is ticking,” the man responded impatiently.

~Or not,~ Daniel sighed.  “I'm guessing you're twenty.”

“So you're a good judge of age; that's not that hard,” the unimpressed stranger remarked.

“I'm guessing your birthday is June 15, assuming, of course, that you remember when your birthday is.”  Daniel noticed the man's face tighten and an intense look of wariness in his eyes.  “I'm guessing you were adopted.  Now, maybe you've been told that, and maybe you haven't, but you *know* it.”  He walked to his right a few steps and then faced the man again.  “I'm guessing you don't know who you are and ...”

At that moment, the stranger flung himself off of the bed, actually climbing over it, to jump on Daniel, pushing him back against the wall.  He brandished a knife, seemingly from out of nowhere, though it had been in his back pocket, and pointed it at the archaeologist's neck.

“Okay, you don't want to hear this.  I can just go,” Daniel stated.  He was confident he could take the man, but he wasn't at the motel to fight, and he didn't want to hurt the stranger, especially in light of who he thought the man really was.  “Just ... let me go.”

“Why do you know so much about me?” the stranger questioned without removing the knife.

“You know, uh, I could turn this around,” Daniel said, trying to take things in another direction.  “You were staring at my children at the park.  How about you tell me why you were so fascinated by them?”

The stranger became incensed at the question and snarled angrily, “I'd *never* hurt a kid.  Who do you think I am?  What kind of an accusation are you making?  Why you ...”  Gritting his teeth in anger, he threatened, “I'm gonna cut you like I'd kill a snake.”

“I'd rather you wouldn't,” Daniel responded, prepared to defend himself if the man didn't back away in the next few seconds.  ~Okay, bad choice; let's not bring the Munchkins into this ... yet.~

“Then tell me why you know so much about me.”

“Alex Dennison,” Daniel answered, though it didn't appear as though the name meant anything to the stranger.

“I'm gonna ...” the stranger was too close for Daniel's taste, so he made an evasive move to his right just as the stranger was about to strike.

The two began to fight, rolling on the floor.  On the good side, Daniel had managed to quickly knock the knife away.  On the bad side, the stranger was a bit stronger than he'd estimated, possibly due to a rush of adrenaline.

Wanting to end the fight, Daniel decided to use something stronger than Alex's name to get through to the other man.

“Ana Alicia is okay.  She misses you,” Daniel spoke when he was positioned over the stranger.  He saw the stranger's face twitch.  “She's okay.”

“An...a?  Who ... Ana?” the stranger said, the fight flowing from his body as he became emotional and confused.

Cautiously, Daniel released his hold on the man and backed away.

Since his adversary was no longer holding him down, the stranger rolled to his side and slowly climbed up to the bed, sitting atop of it.

“Ana.  It's so familiar.  It's a dream.  She's not real,” the man said, looking up at Daniel in a combination of accusation and desperation.

“She's real,” Daniel refuted.  “Look, I don't know what your life has been like, or what you remember.”  He shook his head, saying, “I don't even know your name, but I do know who you are.  Let me give you the ... short version of what may have happened to you.”  He licked his lips, waiting for an objection that didn't come.  Instead, he saw a plea for information and understanding in the man's eyes.  “A few years ago, my h...”  He paused, thinking, ~Sorry, Babe, but I think one step at a time here.~  Taking an audible breath, he continued, “I decided to renovate my home.  The architect I hired brought in a designer.  His name was Alex Dennison.  You're the mirror image of him; even down to that pencil-thin mustache and beard.  Cut the hair, shave a bit, and you're him.  He's, uh, a better dresser, though,” he chuckled, trying to lighten the news he was delivering.

“I don't like this mustache,” the man admitted suddenly.  “But it's in my dream.  I see it every night.”

Daniel nodded and continued, “From the beginning, Alex was ... fascinated by my triplets.  He ... watched them ... a lot, just like you were doing at the park.”  Quickly, he held up the palms of his hands and said, “I'm not accusing you of anything.  Please, just listen.”  As the stranger nodded, he continued, “Eventually, when J... when I confronted him about why he was watching the children so closely, Alex confided that he had younger siblings, triplets, who had disappeared.  He's spent the last few years looking for them.  There's more to the story, but the point is, earlier this year, he found Ana Alicia.”

“Ana,” the stranger echoed.

“She's okay,” Daniel repeated.  “Her memory had been affected by ... whatever the three of you experienced.  Wha...what do you remember?”

“Dreams.  Every night, I have these dreams,” the man responded, pounding his fist angrily into the bed as he leaned forward.  “Running ... we ran ... and ran ... but he always catches us.”

“Who?”

“The monster.  I never see his face, but he's a monster,” the man claimed, his voice and expression clearly showing his agitation.  He looked up at Daniel and spoke with vulnerability.  “I woke up in a hospital one day, and these strangers were smiling at me, telling me they loved me and how happy they were that I was okay.  I didn't know them, but they kept saying I did.”

“What did they tell you your name was, is?” Daniel questioned.

“Benjamin Garven: Benny,” the man laughed.  “Can you believe that?  Me?  Benny?  I never let them get away with that one.”

“So ... Ben?” Daniel surmised, getting a nod from the stranger.  “What did they tell you, about why you were in the hospital?”

“Farmers,” Ben said with a taunting laugh.  He looked up at a confused Daniel and explained, “They were farmers and said I'd been in a farming accident.  They said we'd just moved from Minneapolis to this little town in Montana; that's why no one knew me; that's what they said.”

“But you didn't believe them?” Daniel asked.

“The dreams.  Farming just didn't fit, and I don't look like them.  Nothing about me is like them,” Ben stated.

“Do you remember Ana Alicia, or Alex?” Daniel inquired gently.

Shaking his head, Ben answered, “I see a face; that's the face I try to recreate in the mirror every morning.  I don't know who that is, and I don't know Ana, I guess ... maybe she's the girl in my dreams.  In my dreams, there's this beautiful girl.  I want to protect her, but I can't. The monster's too strong.  I can't stop him.  He makes me ... he ...”

“Ben, Ana Alicia is okay,” Daniel spoke, moving forward and sitting down on the bed.  “You did the best you could.”

“They aren't dreams, are they?” Ben asked as he broke down and let out a haunting cry.  “They're ... real.”

Daniel swallowed, wishing he had the words to comfort the man, to wipe away the torture he'd endured, but he knew facing the demons was the only way to kill them; and there was no way he was going to be alone when he did.

“Ben, I forgot my cell phone.  Do you mind if I use the phone?  I'd like to call Alex,” Daniel stated.

“Who is this Alex?  Is he the stranger in my mirror?”

With a tender smile, Daniel nodded and answered, “He's a good man, and he's your older brother.  Please let me call him.”

When Ben nodded, Daniel got up and crossed to the other side of the bed where the phone was.  He pulled out his credit card so that the charges could be made to his bill, rather than to the motel bill.  A moment later, he sighed, realizing he'd gotten Alex's voicemail.

“Alex, it's Daniel Jackson-O'Neill,” Daniel began.  He sighed, not knowing what to say.  “Alex, this is *very* important.  We're in St. Louis, and ...”  He paused, realizing the irony in finding the second 'lost' sibling of Alex's here, since the Dennisons were from St. Louis.  Moving forward in his message, he said, “I don't have my cell phone at the moment, but Jack has his.  Please call him, and, if I'm not there when you call, stay on the phone, or call back ASAP, because this is *very* important,” he repeated, hanging up the phone.  He sighed and placed another call.  When his husband answered, he interrupted, saying, “Jack, don't talk, just listen.  Alex is going to call you, soon, I hope.  I had to leave a voicemail.  Um ... I'm ... bringing over a ... friend.”

Ben looked up at Daniel, a thousand questions in his eyes, the biggest one wondering if he was the 'friend' he'd just mentioned.

“You're what?” Jack asked, completely stunned.  “Daniel, are you okay?”

“Yes, but we need to talk, so have the brood ready to go inside the RV, and ask Jen and Jeff to keep watch.  I'd like you and the girls outside when we get there.”

“Daniel ...”

“Should be about twenty minutes, Jack.  Uh, remember, not to let Alex off the phone, if he calls.  Bye,” the archaeologist stated, hanging up the phone.  He looked around the motel room and said, “I'm guessing there's really not much here that's yours.”

With a slight sneer, Ben said, “That bag is it.”

“Okay, let's pay your bill and go,” Daniel said.

“I don't have the motel money,” Ben admitted reluctantly.

“That's okay; let's go,” Daniel said.  “We're going back to the park, right where we were earlier.  I'll pay the bill, and meet you there.”

The trust that Daniel was showing him seemed out of place.  Ben certainly wasn't used to it, and, as he watched Daniel walk into the motel office to pay for his room, he thought about taking off in the opposite direction.  Then he remembered the triplets he'd seen at the park earlier in the day.  He'd watched long enough to know that Daniel was their father, or somehow related to them; and he did want to see those three again, even if he didn't understand why he was so drawn to them.  Then there was Alex, the stranger he had been seeing in his dreams and mirror for the last six-and-a-half years.  He was tired of living without answers.

Ben started his Honda and headed for the park.

====

“Alex, I haven't a clue,” Jack said as he held his phone in his hand.  “That husband of mine is one mys...terious ... what the ...”

“Jack?” Alex called out.

Jack walked forward a few steps, seeing a stranger approach him.  Instantly, perhaps because of who he was talking to on the cell phone, he recognized the man.

When the man stood within a foot or so of Jack, he stated, “I've been living under the name of Ben Garven.”  Again, he smirked, “The supposed son of farmer wannabes.  A few minutes ago, some guy tells me he knows me.  Funny thing is, I think he really does.  He says the man in the mirror is real.”

“Man in the mirror?” Jack questioned.

“That's what he said,” Ben stated, looking over towards the parking lot when he heard the sound of the SUV approach.  “He said a lot of funny things; things he shouldn't know.”

“Jack, are you there?” a muffled voice called out.

“Alex, hold on, and do *not* hang up,” Jack ordered.  He looked back and nodded at the two beagles who took a protective stance at the entrance to the RV, and then he walked forward to meet his lover, who had just gotten out of the SUV.  “Daniel, what's going on?”

“I'd like to know that, too,” Ben spoke, having a vast number of unanswered questions about what was happening now and about his past.

--

From inside the RV, Little Danny glanced out the window and gasped, “It's Alex!”

The comment drew the attention of the entire brood, sans JD, who was in his crib and too young to respond anyway.  The eleven children all found a place to look out and stare at the young man who was talking with their parents.

“He's too young to be Alex,” Jennifer commented.  “And he's certainly not dressed like Alex.”

“But he does look like Alex, Sis,” David pointed out.

“Yeah, get the mustache,” Jennifer pointed out.  ~He's a bit on the rugged side, but put him in one of Alex's suit and ... yum!~

“His hair is longer, but he definitely looks like Alex,” Brianna agreed.

--

Daniel took his lover's phone and spoke, “Alex, it's Daniel.”

“Daniel?”

“Alex, I don't know where you are, or what you're doing, but there's someone you need to see ... now,” Daniel stated definitely.

“Daniel, I'm tied up in ...”

“Alex, think Kiki and then change genders.”

All of a sudden, Ben's eyes grew wide.  While he'd never called his triplet 'Kiki', Alex and their mother had.  He recognized the name and with it came flashes of memories that caused his heart to thump and his blood pressure to elevate.  His light complexion grew pale.

“Theo,” Ben whispered.

“Theo?” Daniel echoed, talking to Ben but still having the phone to his mouth.

“Theo?  Daniel, is Theo there?  Oh my ...” Alex dropped the phone from his excitement, and it took him a second to retrieve it.  “Daniel, did I hear you say 'Theo'?”

Daniel held the phone out to the man and said, “Alex is on the phone.”

Hesitantly, but being drawn to the phone like a paperclip to a magnet, Ben's hand snatched up the cell phone.  He put it to his ear, but said nothing.

“Daniel, did you find Theo?” Alex asked with increasing anxiety, having stood up from his desk.

“Alex?” the man asked.

“Theo?”

“I think so.  You're ... the man in the mirror,” Ben stated nervously.

“I am when I look at myself in the bathroom,” Alex responded as lightly as he could.

“This guy says I look like you.  Are you in St. Louis?  I frickin' had to come to St. Louis.  I wanted the find the monster, but I don't know where to look.  Do you know where he is?”

“Theo, the monster is dead.  He can't hurt you anymore.”  There was a long pause and then a muffled thunk before Alex called out, “Theo?  Theo, are you there?”

“Alex, it's Daniel,” the archaeologist spoke, picking up the phone which had slipped through Ben's fingers.  “He ...”

“Danny, I think he just fainted,” Jack called out from the ground.

“Dad, do you need anything?” Jennifer called out from the RV, but keeping the curious brood inside the vehicle.

“Make some coffee, Jen,” Jack responded.

“Jack, I don't think he's eaten,” Daniel said.  “Jen, make some sandwiches, too.”  He then said into the phone, “Alex, he just passed out.  When can you get here?”

====

“I can't believe I did that,” Ben spoke in between bites of his second sandwich.

“When's the last time you had a decent meal?” Jack asked as the three adults sat around the picnic table outside the RV, while the brood remained inside.

“Yesterday morning,” Ben answered, taking a drink of Gatorade.

“Look, there's a campsite not far from here where we'll spend the night.  We have a tent, so you can be comfortable,” Jack stated.

“When will he get here?” Ben asked about Alex.

“He's not sure, but as soon as possible,” Daniel responded.  “He's taking the first plane out of New York that he can get on.”

“New York?” Jack questioned.

“I think he's working on Catherine's condo,” Daniel said with a shrug.

“He said the monster is dead,” Ben stated as he reached out for a potato chip.

“He is,” Daniel stated, realizing that Ben seemed to need things repeated a lot.  ~I wonder if there's a reason for that, or if he's just scared.~

“Can I see them?” Ben asked.

“See who?” Jack asked.

“The triplets.”

Jack looked at Daniel, not sure how he wanted to respond to that.

“Maybe in the morning,” Jack answered when his lover hadn't said anything.  ~Obviously, he's not so sure yet, either.~

====

“I miss you, Callie,” Lulu said over the webcam before going to sleep that night.

Calico lifted her paw playfully against the computer monitor.

“Hey, You, careful,” Sam teased, taking hold of the colorful cat.  “She's having fun, Lulu.  She's made Pete into a new toy.”

Lulu giggled, “Calico thinks Dad is a toy, too.  Is Mittens okay?”

“She's having a blast, Lulu,” Sam replied, looking around.  “I think she's on your dad's bed.  She slept there last night.”

“She misses Dad and Daddy.”

“She misses all of you,” Sam acknowledged with an understanding smile.

“Okay, time for bed,” Daniel instructed, waiting for the children to walk away.

“Daniel, is everything okay?”

“Sam, I think we found one of Alex's brothers, the, uh, middle triplet.”

“You're kidding?  How?”

“He was staring at the children, just like Alex used to do when he first met them.  I think somehow there's a ... connection when they see triplets,” Daniel put forth.

“Wow,” Sam responded, amazed by what she'd just been told.

“He's here.  Could you run a quick check on him?  He's staying outside tonight in one of our tents,” Daniel stated.  “And talk to Janet, too.  He does something I've never really witnessed; at least, not exactly like this.”

“Shoot.”

“We can have a conversation, and then later, we have to go over it again.  It's not like he's forgotten, but it's like, uh, he needs verification, like he's not sure he heard right the first time.  I don't know,” Daniel sighed.  “Maybe it's just the shock.  He gave us the name he's been living under and the names of his ... parents.  After he told us, he acted like he hadn't told us anything.  I have a hunch we'll be having the same conversation in the morning.”

“Okay, give me the names, and I'll see what I can find out.”

“Tomorrow's fine,” the archaeologist stated with a sweet smile.

“My husband will appreciate that,” Sam laughed.  “Sorry, Calico, but down you go,” the blonde said, putting down the cat and getting out a pen and paper to take down the information.

====

“Girls, you didn't have to stay up all night,” Daniel said as he greeted Bijou and Katie, both of whom were lying just inside the door of the RV and yawning.  He knew they were tired from their yawns and weary expressions.  “We do have a very sophisticated security system, but, uh, good girls!” he praised, patting them lovingly as he stood and pressed the buttons to open the doors.  He looked back and said, “Remind me, and I'll give you each a couple of treats when I come back inside.”

“Woof!” Bijou said, wagging her tail agreeably.

Stepping outside, Daniel almost panicked when he didn't see the tent, worrying that Ben had up and left during the night, but then he heard a sound from the other side of the RV.  Walking around, he saw the younger man folding up the tent.

“Good morning,” Daniel greeted.

“Morning.  I liked it better on this side,” Ben spoke as he continued to fold up the gear, smiling when Daniel walked over to help him.

“Okay, so you're a homo?” Ben asked casually.

Daniel stopped mid-motion, but then continued his task as he answered, “No, I'm a man in love.  It just so happened that I fell in love with another man.  We got married, and now we have twelve children.  Is that a problem for you?”

“Couldn't care less,” Ben said.  “I was just curious.”

“Okay,” Daniel responded.  “Alex called a few minutes ago for directions.  He's in town and should be here in about twenty-five minutes.”

“Funny.”

“What is?”

“I didn't have the dream last night.  That's the first time since I woke up in that hospital that I haven't had the dream,” Ben stated.

“Maybe it's because the dream is real, and you know that now,” Daniel put forth.

“Yeah,” Ben said, sounding lighter now.

“We'll be having breakfast soon,” Daniel announced.  He laughed, “Uh, it's Froot Loops this morning, though.  Jack is a Loops fanatic.”

“I like them, too,” Ben responded, nodding his head.  “So, you're going to let me meet them.”

Daniel nodded, replying, “I'm sorry if we hurt your feelings by not letting you see them last night, but ...”

Ben held up his hand and said, “Hey, I understand.  I like the fact that you want to protect them.  Parents should protect their kids, but I would still like to meet them.”

Daniel smiled, relieved that Ben seemed to understand, and stated, “They'll be out in a few minutes.  We have a very tight morning and evening schedule we have to follow, or we end up in a log jam, so ...”

“Daddy, can I come out?” Little Danny hollered from the step of the RV.

“Sure,” the younger father responded.  “We're on the other side,” he informed.

“Hi, Daddy!” Little Danny greeted.  With a huge smile, he looked up at Ben and said, “You look like Alex.  Are you his brother?  He loves his brother.  He got lost.  It was so sad, but Alex found his sister.  Are you ...”

“Little Danny, it's a good idea to ask one question at a time and then wait for an answer,” Daniel chastised lightly.

Little Danny laughed and said, “Sorry.  I'm Little Danny.  Are you Alex's brother?”

“I ... I think so,” the man responded.  “I think my name's Theo.  It sounds right.”

“Hi, Theo.”

“Woof!” Bijou spoke up.

“This is Bijou.  She's our beagle.  We have another beagle, too.  She's inside, though,” the boy stated with a smile.

“Hello, Bijou,” Theo greeted, smiling for the first time since Daniel had met him.

====

“That's Alex,” Daniel stated, seeing the designer as he stepped out of the taxicab.

Nervously, Theo stood up, staring at the man.  He watched carefully as the other man approached.  Inch by inch, he sized up the man named Alex.

~He looks like me; no, I look like him,~ Theo thought.  When Alex was just a few feet away, he said, “I saw you in the mirror every day.  I made myself look like you.  Where were you, Alex?”

“Theo?  I'm so, so sorry, Theo,” Alex said.

In a split second, the two men were embracing, while Jack, Daniel, and their brood looked on.

“Kids, inside,” Jack ordered quietly, his tone and look telling them not to argue.

“Theo, Ana's all right.  I called her, and we're going to go see her,” Alex informed.

“I don't understand anything,” Theo said.

“Let's sit down,” Alex suggested.  “I'll tell you what I know, and then you can tell me what you know.”

====

“They said I had some kind of brain tumor, because of the accident,” Theo stated after he'd heard about how he and his same-age brother and sister had disappeared and then how Kiki had been found in February. He looked away, shaking his head. “It was crazy, and it made no sense. It was like they couldn't get their stories straight. One day, it was just an accident, and the next I had a tumor. They thought I was too out of it to realize their mistake.” He paused and looked down as he stated, “They were strangers to me. Nothing felt right. They'd said we'd just moved to Sydney.”

“Sydney?” Alex questioned.

“Small farming town in Montana, where we lived, they said,” Theo stated.  “Everything was new.  There wasn't a possession I owned that wasn't new.  It all felt so wrong.  I kept trying to get them to tell me the truth, but they wouldn't.  I got out of there as soon as I could.  I knew that I really didn't know those people.”

“And you had those dreams every night?” the designer asked.

“Every frickin' night since I woke up.  He was a monster, whoever he was,” Theo said in a near whisper.

“Theo, do you remember anything about the monster?” Alex asked cautiously.

Theo looked over at the RV.  He smiled at the faces, especially towards the Munchkins.  Then he looked at his older brother.

“I remember that monsters don't let children be children,” Theo stated straightforwardly.  “I want to see Ana.  I think I remember her.  In my dreams, she's so beautiful.”

“She's waiting for us,” Alex stated.

Ben leaned forward slightly, his face taut.  He grimaced and let out a anguished groan.  He rocked back and forth a couple of times and then let out another sound, one that was a half-cry and a half-laugh of relief.

The man looked at Alex and said, “I ... I *know* who I am.  I'm Theodore Orazio Dennison, and I want to know where my home is.”

The emotion from the moment of awakening had all of the men speechless.  Daniel felt a tear roll down his cheek, and Alex licked his lip and swallowed as he tried not to stop himself from being overcome with emotion.  Jack looked away, letting out an audible sigh.  He knew what the moment meant, too, not just for Ben, but for his friend, Alex.

Finally, Alex nodded, promising, “I'm going to help you, Theo.”

“Uh, excuse me,” Daniel said when his cell phone rang.  “I'll be right back.”

Jack watched as his lover walked out of hearing distance.  He surmised Sam was the caller with the information they'd requested.

A couple of minutes later, Daniel walked over, smiling as Theo and Alex had shared a moment of connection.  He didn't know what it was, but the two had suddenly smiled, and their eyes spoke of family.

“Uh, Alex, can I talk to you for a minute?” Daniel requested.

“Of course.  I'll just be a minute,” Alex said to his brother.

Theo watched the two men walk away and said, “It's about me.”  He looked over at Jack and said, “I may not be a brain; I may have problems, but I'm not dumb.”

“No one said you are,” Jack replied.  “Daniel was trying to find out some information; he may have found some.”

“And he didn't want to tell me?”

“Theo, don't push Alex away; he can help you, if you let him,” Jack advised as he evaded the question.

“Good advice,” Theo agreed.  He looked over at his brother and the other man, stating, “And nice way to not answer my question.”

~Sharp,~ Jack opined.

====

“Call Janet whenever you want; she thinks it's possible Theo did sustain some kind of brain damage, but she needs to run a battery of tests.  Even though there doesn't sound like there's any reason for alarm, she believes the sooner, the better.”

Alex nodded, agreeing with the advice he'd just been given from the archaeologist.

“There's more,” Alex surmised.  “You didn't call me over here just to tell me that Janet was willing to take Theo on as a patient.”

“No, no, I didn't,” Daniel sighed.  “Theo's had a hard time, Alex.  From what we found out, his ... 'parents' are Raymond and Alice Ginn.  Ray worked in a factory for fifteen years and then quit one day, without notice.  Alice worked as a waitress and did the same thing.  In August, 2003, the two moved to Sydney Montana with their son, Benjamin.  The problem is, when they lived in Minneapolis, they didn't have a son.”

“Isn't that obvious?  They adopted him,” Alex stated.

“There aren't any records of an adoption, and think about their names,” Daniel advised.

“Wait!  Garven.  Theo said their name was Garven,” Alex recalled.

“Exactly.  Apparently, unlike the Bronsons, the Ginns were a bit more ... acquainted with the Black Market.  I don't know about motives, but they clearly made that move, changed their name, and headed for the seclusion of a smaller town to try and hide the fact that they suddenly had a teenage son.”

“It doesn't make sense, Daniel,” the designer opined, shaking his head.

“No, it doesn't.  A factory worker suddenly becomes a farmer?  They kept a low profile, though.  They worked their land and stuck to themselves,” the archaeologist informed.  Looking over for just a second at Theo talking with Jack, Daniel added, “Theo never bought into the act.  He knew it was wrong from day one.  He just didn't understand why.  He made it difficult for the Garvens, Ginns, whoever.  He got into a lot of trouble in town, and, in a town that size, under five-thousand, that stands out.”

“He got a reputation for being a troublemaker,” Alex deduced.

“He was one: staying out past curfew, vandalism, to his own home; no one else's; and he hit Raymond one day; and that's where the mystery comes in again.”

“What do you mean?”

“Small town, Alex.  The sheriff knew Theo was giving his parents problems, but they'd never report him.  Theo never hurt anyone else, but he finally started hanging around with some other boys, tougher boys; and then he started being more antisocial.”

“That sounds almost natural,” Alex responded.

“His parents refused any help.  If anyone complained, they paid them off, in cash: crisp fifty-dollar bills.”

“Do you think Mother gave the Ginns money, just like she did the Bronsons?” Alex questioned.  ~It should be the other way around.  I don't understand why she'd do that.~

“I don't know.  All I'm saying, is that Theo never bought their cover story,” Daniel stated.  “He knew from day one that he was being lied to.  There's no doubt he suffered some kind of injury from those years of abuse.  He's confused.  Uh, when you talk to the Ginn-Garvens, I wouldn't go alone.”

“Daniel, what haven't you told me?”

“He's not Ramsey Bronson; that's what I'm saying.  Take the sheriff with you, and don't take Kiki.  Uh, I'm sure Jack can arrange for a ... suitable ... military presence, if you want, and it might be a good idea.”

Alex stared at Daniel.  For the first time, he realized the depth of what the archaeologist and Jack must do for a living.  He'd gathered a lot of information very quickly, and he was offering assistance that normally wasn't easy to acquire. Not only that, but he still had questions about the method Janet had used to help Kiki remember her past.

“Mother made a mistake with the Ginns.  Is that part of what you're saying?”

“Alex, what experience did you mother have with the Black Market?  She had to have help, and she was going through a time of incredible stress.  I'm not sure she was responsible for anything in that last week of her life,” Daniel spoke honestly.

“The man the Bronsons said came with them,” Alex surmised.

“Maybe.  Just be careful, Alex.  Focus on helping Theo, and talk to Janet, soon,” Daniel requested.

“Thanks, Daniel,” Alex said, reaching out to shake the man's hand.  Then he turned and walked over to the picnic table.  Smiling at Theo, he said, “It's time for us to go.”

Theo said goodbye to the Jackson-O'Neills and headed for his Honda.  He and Alex would be driving it to the airport and then leaving it behind.

“Alex, do you want us to go with you or ...” Daniel began, shrugging even as he spoke.

“No, Daniel.  You and Jack are on vacation.  You found Theo and have provided me with a lot of information.  I won't ever be able to thank you enough for that,” Alex spoke, his eyes speaking a thousand words of appreciation.

“Call us,” Jack instructed.

“Let us know if there's anything else we can do,” Daniel stated.

“I think he remembers, Daniel,” Alex spoke, looking at his brother as he reached the old vehicle.  “His eyes are crying.”

“So, where are you going ... now?” the archaeologist inquired.

“Kiki called her psychologist; she's going to meet us in Hillsdale,” Alex said about the place where his sister was attending college.

“I thought she was in Rhode Island?” Jack asked.

“She was, for a couple of weeks, and then she returned to Hillsdale.  She felt like she wanted more time to herself and with her therapy.  I couldn't argue with that; she's really having to cope with a great deal.”  Then Alex smiled, a joy on his face, as he said, “She's spending the rest of the summer with me, though.”  Then his smile lessened as he stated, “When we talked about Theo, she suggested it might be a good idea to have her therapist standing by.  I couldn't argue with that, either, so, we'll meet there, see how Theo is, and then maybe he'll come back to Colorado Springs with us.”

“He doesn't seem to have many answers,” Jack sighed.

“I know, but we need to see what we can find out from those people in Montana,” Alex said.  He looked at Daniel and noticed the concern.  “But I think we'll take it one step at time, and being together is the first step.”

“Take care, Alex,” a smiling Daniel said, hugging the designer.

“Alex,” Jack said, also giving the man a hug.

The lovers moved together as they watched their friend rejoin his brother.  Jack's arm went around Daniel's waist, and he squeezed him to him tightly.

“Fill me in,” Jack requested.

“I will, later,” Daniel replied.  He added, “But, Babe, I think there's a lot more to this than we'll ever know.  I'm glad Alex has found Kiki and Theo, and I hope they find their other brother, but I'm not sure they'll ever find the answers about what happened and how.”

Jack and Daniel waved one last time as Alex and Theo drove away, hopeful for a future that was much better than their past.

Getting back into their own moment, the other man released his lover and warned, “Danny, if you ever run off like that again ...”

“Jack, I did not run off.  I had to act,” Daniel claimed.

“You could have said something,” Jack argued.

“I didn't have time,” the archaeologist maintained.

“We do have ...” Jack paused, switching communication methods.  **... other ways of talking, you know.**

“Jack, the children were around; David wanted to go; and I didn't have time to evaluate options, other than that I needed to go ... right then,” the younger man refuted.

“Daniel ...”

“Jack ...”

“It's time to get back on the road,” Jack chuckled, giving his lover a kiss as they began a pre-road check of the RV.

====

“Dad, Daddy, do you think Theo will be okay?” Brianna questioned.  “He just seemed to go in and out of conversations.”

Jack settled into the driver's seat of the cockpit as he answered, “He's remembering his past, Bri.  I think he's going to go through a lot of darkness before he sees real light again, but he will see it, and, when he does, he'll come through the darkness and live in the sunshine.”  Starting the RV, he paused, seeing his gaping husband's expression of surprise.  “What?”

“That was very poetic, Love.”

With a grin, Jack looked back at Bijou and Katie and said, “Well, now that we have two show dogs in the family, we have an obligation to reach a higher plane.”

**Don't go there,** Daniel responded, switching to their non-verbal communication.

Both men had thought about that crazy shared dream they'd had years ago, one where Daniel had chosen to ascend to another plane of existence, something both knew was ludicrous.  Now, though, after so many years of happiness together, it was easier for the two to joke about it, as Jack was doing now.

The RV driver smirked and was about to speak again when Daniel gave him a pointed nod and advised, “Babe, stop while you're ahead.”

Jack looked back at the brood and said, “Theo will be a-okay.  Everyone ready?  Kid-count?”

“Everyone present and accounted for as of one minute ago,” Brianna answered with a smile.

“Time to say farewell to St. Louis,” Jack spoke as he moved the RV forward.

“Bij, Katie, you're show dogs now,” Little Danny chuckled as he patted the beagles.

“Woof!” Katie agreed, while Bijou let out a yawn and rolled over.  “Mama, you love showing off.  Admit it,” the child said to her mother in dog speak.

“I'll do no such thing, Dear,” Bijou responded.  She smiled and then let out a dog laugh.  “Woof.”

“What was that?” Jack asked.

“Bijou said it's a piece of cake, Dad,” Little Danny answered.

“That reminds me,” Jack said.  “Daniel, tell me something.”

“I'd love to.  Tell you what?” Daniel asked.

“Why is it a piece of cake, but it's easy as pie?” the older man asked.  “Why not easy as cake, and a piece of pie?”

Daniel blinked several times and asked, “What?”

“Stumped, Philology Boy?” Jack smirked.

Knowing he'd been challenged, Daniel raised his hand to prevent David and Little Danny both from speaking.

Smiling, the linguist responded, “Modern usage of the phrase 'easy as pie' goes back to the eighteen-hundreds in America and 1920 in Australia.  It may be even older as its origins come from the Maori people of New Zealand.  They have the word 'pai', meaning 'good' or 'expert'.  They started using expressions like 'half-pie', meaning 'mediocre' or 'second rate'.”

“Okay , I ...” Jack tried to interject, though Daniel continued on.

David let out a giggle, knowing that his older father was in for a lecture on the two phrases.

“Now, the tradition of giving cakes as prizes in rural competitions could be where 'a piece of cake' comes from,” the linguist stated.  “It may be an American phrase, but there's a chance it was of British origin, too, maybe even beginning with the Royal Air Force.”

“The Air Force?” Jack questioned, his curiosity piqued.

“They used the phrase when referring to an easy mission,” Daniel elaborated.  “But in the U.S., there's the old tradition during social gatherings in slavery states when slaves or free descendents would walk in a procession of pairs around a cake.  The most graceful twosome received the cake as a prize.  'Cake walk' came from this event, as did the 'a piece of cake' expression, both meaning a job or contest that's very easy to achieve or win.”

“But, Danny, why is it easy as pie and not easy as cake?” Jack persisted.

“The same reason something is worth a grain of salt, but a person is worth his salt.”

“What?” a confused Jack asked.

“It's why there's a cat's paw and a dog's best friend,” Daniel said.

“It's man's best friend,” the older man sighed.

“Girls?”

“Woooooof!” two loud barks chastised the driving general.

“Okay, okay, I get it,” Jack responded.  “Geez.  Danny, I have no idea what you just said.”

“Well, I guess that means the proof is in the pudding,” the linguist sighed.

“Proof?  What proof?” Jack questioned.  “Daniel!”

“You just proved it, Babe.”

“Proved what?” Jack snapped.

“That when it comes to linguistics, it's a piece of cake to make my Silver Fox a sitting duck,” Daniel said.  “Quack.”

“Daniel, you're crackers,” Jack laughed.

“Now, the meaning of crackers as far as being ... crazy or insane comes from ...”

“Ash, sing us off,” Jack ordered loudly.

From the back of the RV, Aislinn began singing, “Animal crackers in my soup.”

“Geez,” Jack remarked as the family continued singing.  “Well, Love, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.”

“Okay, well that expression comes from ...”

“Daniel, sing!”

“Yes, Jack,” Daniel laughed and joined in the singing.  “Animal crackers in my soup, monkeys and rabbits loop the loop, gosh oh gee but I have fun, swallowing animals one by one.”

Where the Jackson-O'Neills were off to now, they didn't know, but they'd had two unexpected surprises in St. Louis, one more playful in the beagles agility trials and the other more serious when they discovered Theo Dennison, alive.  It had been an adventure, and they knew there was much more to come.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
Feedback Welcome - click here to email the author


Count Hits
PlayStation Hardware