Tender Chills

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - April 4, 2018
Spoilers:  None
Size:  37kb, short story
Written:  April 5-8,11-12,18,20-21, 2018
Summary:  Jack receives some bad news and has to pass it on to the children in the middle of a busy time for the family.
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 fic is inspired by the untimely passing of Major Stephen Del Bagno, U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron Slot Pilot of Thunderbird 4.  It is written in honor of him and the many courageous crew and team members of the Thunderbirds and other military demonstration teams who fly the skies.  The related character in my story is an amalgam of various Thunderbird pilots.
2) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
3) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
4) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s):  “Thunderbirds Thrills and Chills” and “The Natural Way”

Tender Chills
by Orrymain

“Jack, they didn't need to blow everything up,” Daniel put forward.  “I mean, uh, there are other ways to a peaceful solution.”

“They weren't interested in peace and all those who thought they were died, as in dead, gone, no longer with us.”

“It still doesn't make it right.”

“Daniel ...”

“Jack.”

“It's a friggin' movie.”

“Yeah, but doesn't it feel good to argue a little.”

“Nostalgic?”

Daniel chuckled, “Gawd, we used to argue over everything.”

“With reason,” Jack defended.  He approached his lover and took him in his arms.  “Hey, I guess we're just an old, predictable married couple now.”

“With a dozen to prove it,” the archaeologist laughed.

“You do know you just jinxed us.”

“How so?”

“We haven't had a good fight in a while,” Jack began.  “Now we'll have one.”

“If we do, we'll get through, like we always do.”

“You got that right,” Jack returned before engaging his husband in a few minutes of enjoyable kissing and light fondling.

The couple was interrupted when Jenny and Ricky walked into the study.  Both ten-year-old kids rolled their eyes and sighed.

“Children!” Jenny exclaimed, her word breaking the two men apart.

“So we see,” Jack replied.  “What's up?”

“We have a question,” the redhead advised.

“We may or may not have the answer, but go for it,” Jack replied.

“Is it okay to lie on Mrs. Mathison's take-home quiz?” Jenny questioned.

“Uh, lying isn't advised, Jenny, in anything, especially on a quiz, in real time or one you bring home from one of your homeschooling co-op instructors,” Daniel answered.

“But we think we should lie,” Ricky opined.

In a slow drawl, Daniel questioned, “Why?”

“What's the question?” Jack asked directly.

“She asked if there was intelligent life on other planets in our universe,” Jenny stated.

Jack and Daniel exchanged forlorn expressions, after which Daniel took a big breath and smiled.

“Jack?”

“Chicken,” Jack retorted.  “Kids, we do not condone lying.  At the same time, you can't talk about what you know is a secret.”

“So, what do we do?” Ricky asked with a shrug.

“Turn the question around,” Daniel responded.

“Huh?” both of the Spitfires queried.

“You're taking the question literally.  Turn it into a 'what if' and make it potentially speaking instead of factually speaking.”

“Oh, like we couldn't imagine that we're the only intelligent life in the universe,” Jenny put forward.

“I get it,” Ricky added.  “I could answer that I *believe* there's intelligent life.  My answer would be all about what I think, not what I know.  Right?”

“Something like that,” Daniel answered.

“Thanks,” Jenny said as she turned to follow her brother.  She stopped and peeked back inside the study.  “You can make out some more now.”

“Jennifer Samantha!” Jack chastised lightly as he observed Jenny's big grin and heard her giggle.  “Kids!  Ya gotta love 'em.”

“And we do, very much.”

“As much as I'd like us to continue,” the general began.

“Duty calls,” Daniel affirmed.

The soulmates left the study and set about with their various obligations and chores.  They had plenty to do after being away for a week.

It was near noon on Wednesday.  Married to Peter Hamilton, Jennifer was at her home, the one owned by her parents and was previously the residence of the Luca family, while David was attending class at the University of Colorado.  Jeff was also working on his studies, but in Ohio where he was attending the University of Cincinnati.  With the exception of the Munchkins, the rest of the children were home.

Jonny, Little Danny, and Aislinn were at Mike's ranch where they were tending to the family's four horses, Zeus, Athena, Ares, and Apollo.  The triplets were the ninth rotation, each one of which consisted of two to three children who stayed at Sara's father ranch and took care of the horses anywhere from three days to a week.  The reason for the rotations was that Ares, the son of Zeus and Athena, was being weaned from his mother.  They were doing it the natural way, which required more care and the family's watchful eyes.  The Munchkins were currently on their third of a four-day stint.

Jack and Daniel both had a few business calls to make, along with catching up on their archaeology firm, J-O Enterprises.  That's why they were happy to have their kids participating in a neighborhood co-op for homeschoolers.  They took advantage of co-ops quite a bit when first starting out teaching their children at home and while not utilizing them as much as they once did, they kept their hands in the mix.  At times like this, they were pleased they continued to be a part of it.

Brianna tapped on the opened door to her father's den and offered, “Daddy, I know you're busy, so I can make lunch, if you like.”

“Bri, that would be great.  Thank you.  Uh, I'll be down as soon as I can fin...”

“Don't worry about it, Daddy.  Are sandwiches and salad okay?”

“Simple perfection,” the father agreed before returning to his task.

====

It wasn't long after lunch was over that there was a knock at the front door.  Jack happened to be walking from the projects room to his study when he heard the tap and opened the door.  He was surprised to see the man in front of him.

“Siler?” Jack greeted with a smile.  “Miss me?” he teased.

“Always, Sir,” Siler responded.

“Yeah, ah, what can I do for you?”

“Sir, can you come outside?”

“Oooo-kay,” Jack responded and then stepped out onto the porch.

“Maybe you should close the door, Sir.”

“You can cut out the 'Sir' business.”

“Anything you say, Sir,” came the routine response.

~Yep, no chance of that,~ Jack noted.  “What's the problem?”

“Sir, I have a friend at Nellis,” Siler began.  “This hasn't made the news yet.  It shouldn't until tomorrow, but sometimes the hounds get to it.”

“Siler, what are you talking about?”

“When Jonny comes to the base for his weapons training with Gar,” Siler began as he referenced Colonel Vincent Giardini, “he always talks about flying in the Thunderbird.”

“He had a great time; so did all the kids.”

Siler sighed, “General, this morning at approximately ten-thirty hours, we lost a man on a training flight.”

“One of the Thunderbirds?”

“The slot pilot, Sir.”

“The one Jonny rode with at the air show?”

“Yes, Sir.  It's verified, but they're locating his family.  I thought you'd want to know as soon as possible so Jonny doesn't pick it up on the news.”

“I owe you one, Siler.”

“No, Sir.  I owe you.”

Jack continued to speak with the sergeant for a few minutes, getting the meager details that were available.  Then he went inside to his study and made a call.  He didn't doubt the information, but he needed to fact-check it himself before he talked to his namesake and tore down an important part of his world.

The call concluded, Jack was about to stand and find his husband, only he didn't need to look any further than the doorway.

“Jack, what's wrong?”

For a moment, Jack simply stared at his soulmate.  They knew each other so well.  Not only did they have a special type of communication, a silent, mental way of talking, but they could often sense when something was stirring within the other, like now.

“Thunderbird 4 was lost this morning.”

“Lost ... as in ... no one knows where the plane is, or lost as in ...”

“... dead,” both men spoke at the same time.

“Jack, is he the one ...”

“That's affirm.  Siler dropped by and I confirmed it just now.  They're trying to find his wife, so we have some time before the incident hits the media.  In fact, they'll keep it close to the vest until tomorrow probably.”

Now standing at the edge of the desk with his arms folded, Daniel noted, “Jack, we can't wait.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Daniel sighed, “Should we take backup for the ranch duties?”

“Probably.”  Jack set back in his chair and shook his head.  “Nix that.  He's on duty and he won't want to shirk that.”

“Little Danny and Ash are there, too.  That will help.”

“It will.”  Jack took a deep breath.  “I'm not looking forward to this one.”

“Since he flew in the jet, that's about eighty percent of his conversation these days.”

“Maybe we'd better get Noa and Lulu, just in case,” Jack suggested.

“Jonny's like you, Jack.  I think you're right.  He won't give in to the emotion when he has a job to do.”

“He's like you, too, Angel.  He'll mourn, but he'll keep it inside, in spite of everything.  He'll kick it in the teeth and dare the Fates to stop him from watching over the horses and keeping them healthy.”  Jack chuckled in a melancholy way as he recalled, “Like you going barb-to-barb with Apophis.”

“Yeah, I guess I ... used snark where snark was needed.”

“I was always so proud of you when you put that snake in his place.”

Daniel smiled at the memories, even though smiling might not be the proper affect for the current snarky situation.  His attention returned to the eldest Munchkin who was about to receive distressing news.

“Jack, we need to remember something.”

“What?”

“Our little boy isn't that little anymore.  He's an intelligent, thoughtful pre-teen.”

“He's eleven.”

“Sorry, Babe, but that makes him a pre-teen.”

“He might take this better than we think.”

“It's not like he hasn't known people who have died: the Svensons.  He was so brave and comforting when Jacob passed.”

“We might as well get it over with.”

“Jack, maybe we should call Mike and make sure the children aren't watching television or listening to the radio.”

“News mongers might get a hold of it before it's released through proper channels.  I'll call him.  What about the brood?”

“Bri's home,” Daniel responded.  “I'll see if Jen has some time.”

“Crap.”

“What?”

“When did we get so overprotective?”

“The day the Munchkins were born.”

“Yeah, that was the day.”

With that bit of humor, the two made their calls.  Jennifer dropped what she was doing to assist Brianna with the younger children.  Even though the parents were certain Jonny would want to stay at Mike's and fulfill his commitment to the family and their horses, they opted to bring Chenoa and Lulu along.

Before leaving, the parents told the kids about the death of the pilot.  The air show the previous May was one full of thrills and chills and the kids all remembered meeting the Thunderbird pilots and having their pictures taken with them.  The day was now ladened with sadness.

====

“Hey, it's Dad!” Aislinn called out to her brothers from her perch on the corral fence.  She could easily see the familiar dark green truck driving up the path.  ~I wonder why he's here.~

Eagerly, the children ran towards the truck.

With the Munchkins approaching, Jack looked at the curly-haired sisters and instructed, “Let Mike know we're here and you two stay inside with him.”

Daniel smiled at his daughters as they passed by him.  He noticed Mike opening the door and nodded a greeting.  As the triplets were closing in fast, there wasn't time to say anything further.

“You must really miss us,” Little Danny asserted as he hugged his parents.

“How are the horses?” Daniel inquired, simply as an ice breaker to transition from hello to the reason for the visit.

“They're doing great,” Aislinn advised.

“Good.”

“Jonny,” Jack stated with a motion of his head that indicated the boy should walk with him.

Seeing the two walk away, Little Danny looked at his daddy and asked, “What's wrong?”

Daniel reached out, one hand on the back of his namesake and one on Aislinn, and suggested, “We need to have a little talk.”

====

Jonny loved taking walks with both of his parents.  It was a special time when they would talk about everything and nothing.  He wasn't even surprised to see his parents show up unexpectedly at the outdoor haven.  His folks weren't like so many other parents.  They were spontaneous and it was nothing to them to drive far away from their home just to see him or his siblings, even if only for an hour.

As they walked, Jonny told Jack about his day and watching over Athena and Ares.  He was having fun with Mike, too, who had a lot of intriguing stories.  Jack wasn't as confident about the tales.  He wondered how many of them might revolve around his days married to Sara.  Mike was a fan, until the marriage began to fall apart.  It took a while for Jack to rebuild his relationship with Mike once he and Sara reconnected shortly before he and Daniel were married in Canada.  For Mike, trust was earned, not given, and Jack respected that.  It was something he lived by as well.

“Sport, let's sit,” the father suggested as he sat down and leaned against a large tree.  He smiled as Jonny sat down next to him, his back touching the tree as well while he faced forward.  “Hey, remember last year when we went to the air show?”

“That was the bestest, Dad.  I'm gonna fly like the Thunderbirds one day, and like you, too.”

Jack grinned and replied with humility, “Son, those men and women are the best of the best.  I'm good, but they're the best.”

“You could be a Thunderbird, if you wanted to.”

Jack patted his son's leg and nodded at the compliment.  He didn't say anything in reply as he didn't want to veer too much from the reason for the visit.  Still, Jonny's belief in him warmed his heart in ways that little else could.

“Can we go see them again?” the boy asked with hope in his eyes.

“Yes.”  Jack paused.  “Jonny, there's something important I need to tell you.”

“What is it?”

“This morning there was an unfortunate accident.”

“Is Uncle Lou okay?”

“He's fine.  Son,” Jack said as he gently caressed the boy's back, “Thunderbird 4 was practicing.  He was alone, flying somewhere around Nellis.  He crashed.”

Jonny's head turned sharply and his eyes darted to meet his dad's.  His breathing hitched as he waited for the words that followed.

“I don't know the details.  All I know is that he crashed.  He didn't make it.”

“Didn't he bail out?  Why wouldn't he jump?” Jonny asked in one breath as he scooted onto his knees so that he was facing his dad at an angle.

“Jonny, I don't know.  Maybe he was too low.  All of that will come out later.  I'm sorry.”

By then, Daniel was standing a few yards away from the tree.  Jonny looked at him with a look of incredulity.

“Daddy?”  Jonny's voice hitched.  “Is he really dead?”

“Yes.  I'm so sorry, Jonny,” Daniel responded.

Jonny jumped up and ran for a minute, but he didn't go far.  He turned and looked up at the sky, as if searching for the man who gave him the ride of his life, a ride that let him soar faster and farther than most people could even dream about.

“Caje said he had an awesome job and the best view of all of them.  He said anything that awesome came with risk.  He told me I could do anything I wanted, as long as I worked hard.  I knew he was right because that's what you've said my whole life.”

Jack stood up and continued to stand by the tree as he watched the pain flowing through his namesake.  He knew the feeling, that of losing a mentor and colleague.  Jonny was an honorary Thunderbird, in his mind, anyway, and he was processing the first real loss of his life that surrounded the death of a teammate.

“He liked being one of the best, the best of the best.  He said it was important to show people what you could do.  He had the most fun recruiting job ever.”  Jonny looked at his dad and asked, “Do you think he was afraid?”

“No,” Jack answered while shaking his head.  “I think he had a second or two to wonder what was happening and I'd guess he was certain he'd survive because his team is the best.  That's what men in his position believe.”

“Did it hurt?” the Munchkin inquired, his eyes refocusing on his daddy.

“Probably not.  Those crashes tend to be ... fatal very quickly.  I can't promise you how it was, Jonny, but he probably died on impact, or within seconds of it.”

“Jonny, if you want to know the details, I can get the them,” Jack offered.  He walked over to his son and placed both hands on the youngster's shoulders.  He looked at the boy whose once sandy blond hair was almost totally brown and advised, “But as hard as it is, his death is only the first of many you'll have to deal with, assuming you do join the Air Force.  The details of a death become less important because what you need to remember is how your teammate did his or her job.  Maybe they saved your six.  Maybe their job helped you stay alive on a mission.  Concentrate on the person and their contribution.”

“But it matters, Dad.”

“You're right, but don't let the details overshadow that feeling you had when he took you up in a bird.  Jonny, not that many young boys, or girls, get to have that feeling and they don't get great advice from people with that kind of experience.”

“Dad only wants to make sure you remember the man, Jonny, not the way he died.  The major taught you a lot that day.  I don't think he'd want you to forget the things you two talked about.”

“I won't, Daddy.”

“You know, sometimes the best way to remember someone special is to think about how they touched your life or what you learned from them.”

Jonny wiped away a tear with his right hand and responded, “He taught me that awesome is more than an adjective or adverb.  It goes beyond a word.  It's life; it's a responsibility; and it's a privilege.  That's what all of the Thunderbirds taught me that day.  If I'm my best and work very hard, maybe when I'm old enough, I can say I'm awesome, too, and have an awesome job protecting our country, or the universe.”

Suddenly, Jonny sprinted to Daniel and fell into his arms.  He cried as Daniel held him close.  Then he pulled back and looked at his dad.

“There's nothing wrong with crying.  We've said that forever.”

The Munchkin smiled as he walked to his dad and accepted a tender hug.  He felt completely secure with Jack's arms around him, just like he did with Daniel's.

“Dad?”

“Yes, Son?”

“Were you ever scared on a mission, really scared?”

His arms still wrapped around Jonny, Jack nodded and answered, “The only person who says they aren't scared is a fool.”  He pulled back and made direct eye contact as he continued, “Jonny, the best of the best are afraid, but they channel it.  There's a job to do and they do it, no matter what.  Look at Daddy.”

“Jack ...”

“When I met Daddy, he was a long-haired nerd, a genius, a skinny intellect who kept his nose in books.  He was full of surprises, but he wasn't a strategist in a military sense.  He was thrown into a world that was completely opposite of everything he stood for.  He was scared to death, but he never hesitated.  Daddy's the bravest man I know.  He knew we had a job to do and, yeah, as the years passed, he became stronger and much more adept in the military way.  I didn't like that, but it saved his life and mine, more than once.  My longwinded point is that you do what you have to do, when you have to do it.  Yeah, you're scared, but that's in your hip pocket.  Accomplishing your mission: that's in the forefront and that's what you do.  Was Thunderbird 4 afraid in an active sense?  No.  He believed to his dying breath that he would survive and that his team would protect him.  He believed that because he was an awesome pilot and part of the best aviation group in history, the Thunderbirds.  He never doubted survival for a second and his fear never surfaced.  Do you understand what I'm saying?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Daddy and I are both here, if you want to talk.”

“Thank you.”

“Jonny, do you want to come home?” Daniel queried.

“Home?  Daddy, I have a responsibility.  It's our turn to take care of the horses.”

Daniel turned and was surprised, although he really wasn't, to see Little Danny and Aislinn standing to the left of him.

**Geez, when did they come out here?**

**When Jonny was ready for them,** Daniel replied.  “The horses need you.”

In seconds, Jonny was surrounded by his fellow triplets.  They talked about Ares, but their demeanor was about their connection as the Munchkins.

“Bye, Dad.  Bye, Daddy.  We love you,” Aislinn called out as the three walked towards the corral.

Little Danny looked back and smiled.  He didn't need to say a word for his parents to understand.  Jonny would be okay.  Little Danny and Aislinn were on the case.  They'd take care of their brother while tending to the horses.

Jack and Daniel both nodded at the middle Munchkin, officially releasing care of the son to he and his sister.

“Munchkin power,” Daniel observed softly.

“He'll be okay.”  After a moment, Jack suggested, “Danny, let's go home.”

With a bob of his head, Daniel began the walk back to the ranch house.  The lovers spoke with Mike for a few minutes before escorting Chenoa and Lulu to the truck and starting the long ride home.

====

That evening after dinner, Daniel approached Jack in their master bedroom.

“You were gone a long time this afternoon,” the archaeologist stated.

“Lots of errands.”

“And?”

“And I got this,” Jack replied as he pulled out an eleven by sixteen frame with a photograph in it.  “I thought Jonny might like it.”

Daniel took hold of the picture and studied it.  It was a shot of the boy with the deceased pilot by the modified jet fighter, taken right after his flight last May.

“This is his favorite photo from that day,” Daniel noted.

“He has that smaller one up, but I thought he might like a bigger version.”

“He's going to love it, Jack.  This is good, really.”

“I thought I'd put it on the wall, so he'll see it when the Munchkins come home from Mike's.”

“Yeah.”  Daniel handed the framed piece back to his husband.  “It's not going to ever get easier.”

“What?”

“Death.”  Daniel walked around the bed as he thought.  “Jack, we've both been ... drained from death.  We've seen a lot of people die.  Gawd, I hate to say we're used to it because that would make us cold, and we're not cold.  We're just ...”

“... detached,” Jack put forward.  “But we're not, Danny, not really.  We've been forced to push it down, way down deep.  We never could have existed on SG-1 if we didn't.”

“I know.”

Putting the photo on the bed, Jack walked to his soulmate and ran his hands from Daniel's shoulders down to his forearm.  Then he took his Love's hands in his and kissed them.

“Angel, we've done what we've had to do.  It's no different from what people we know well have done: Carter, Lou, the doc.  That's life in the world we've lived in and what we're feeling now is ...”

“... just a bit of sadness that our children have to face death, too.  I guess I'm thinking a little my parents and the Svensons.”

“Hey, Jonny worked hard after Jacob died to get those cats homes, and he didn't just get them homes, he went back and checked on them for two years until he was convinced the adoptive homes considered the cats family.”

“He still checks on them.”

“It's inevitable, Danny.”

“I know, but it's still hard.  I think about the future and losing more of the people we love, people our children love and think of as family.”

“The cycle of life,” Jack replied.  “It's not easy.  We both know that all too well, but our kids have one another to get them through, and that, Angel, is a good thing.”

“It's a very good thing, so I guess we should stop being melancholy and follow Jonny's example.”

“We have responsibilities and life to live.”

“And what a life it is, Angel.”

“I love you, Jack.”

“Geez, how I love you, too.”  Jack smiled.  “Forever and always.”

“Forever and always, and always and forever.”

The lovers kissed and kissed some more.

“Jack, when the Thunderbirds resume their schedule, why don't we take Jonny to see them.  Maybe it will help him to see the resilience of the team, how they don't forget those they've lost, but they go on with life and with their shows.  What do you think?”

“I like it.  They won't stay grounded too long; they need to keep their skills sharp. I know they're scheduled for Florida the first weekend in May, but my gut says they'll go for something sooner; maybe Charleston at the end of the month.  I'll keep tabs and we'll make the trip.”

After a few more kisses, the lovers went about their evening.

====

As the night wore on, Jack placed the enlarged photo on the wall in a prime position near Jonny's bed and stood back.  He could envision his son looking at the picture as he closed his eyes at night.

Meanwhile, Daniel called the ranch and spoke with Jonny for a few minutes.  Jonny was sad, of course, but he talked about the progress of the horses and ended by telling his daddy that he was saying an extra prayer on this night for the major and his family.

The nightly ice cream ritual went on per normal as did the family meeting.  It was quieter than usual, but there were still smiles and laughter.  There were also extra hugs during the nightly rounds made by the couple each night as they visited with each member of the brood before sending them off to slumber.  All of the kids talked about Jonny and wished they could be there to support him.  
 
Eventually, the kids settled into sleep, leaving the lovers to relax in front of a warm fire.  Jack's arm was around his husband's shoulder, gently caressing Daniel's upper back and arm as they watched the flames and listened to the crackling of the wood.  Occasionally, the wood shifted and caused tiny outbursts, little explosions and rumblings.  The general gently pulled his archaeologist in closer to him and Daniel lovingly rested his ahead against his soulmate's shoulder.

Playing quietly in the background was Puccini's “Che Gelida Manina” and nearby was a bottle of St. Julien's wine and a few Godiva chocolates.

“Stop worrying.”

“Who says I'm worrying?” Daniel responded.

“I do.”

“Oh.  I guess you'd know.”

“You're darn tootin' I know.”

“You stop and then I'll stop.”

“That's unfair blackmail,” Jack accused.

“He'll be okay.”

The brief banter was interrupted by the ringing of the phone, which surprised the couple.

“Don't go anywhere,” Jack spoke softly before kissing Daniel and getting up to go to the phone.  ~Better be important to call this late.~  He picked up the phone.  “Hello.”

“Dad, it's Jonny.”

“You okay, Son?” Jack asked, checking his watch and also looking over at Daniel, who immediately sprung up and walked over to where his husband was standing.

“I'm okay, but I was thinking you and Daddy might be worried about me.”

Jack immediately put the phone on speaker and responded, “Concerned.  You had a tough day.”

“I had a sad day, but not a tough one, Dad.  Caje's family had the tough day.”

“Jonny, it's Daddy, and I think that's a very good perspective.”

“We've been talking about it,” the boy replied.

“Do you need to talk with us now?  We're here,” Jack told his son.

“I know.  That's why I called.  I don't really have a reason.  I wanted you to know I'm okay.  Do you think I could send Caje's family a card and let them know how nice he was to me?”

“That would be super.  I'll personally make sure they get it.”

“Generals have connections,” Jonny tried to tease.

“Jonny, Dad and I were thinking that when the Thunderbirds resume their schedule, the three of us would go.  Would you like that?”

“That's super, Daddy.  I'd love it.  I'll miss Caje, but the Thunderbirds have to go on.  They have to keep doing their mission: recruit, retain, and inspire as they represent the Air Force.”

“That they do, Jonny,” Jack affirmed.  “It's not always easy, but that's what they do.”

“Thanks.  It'll be fun.  Can Little Danny and Ash come with us?”

“Absolutely,” Daniel instantly permitted.

“Well, we'd better go to sleep now so we can take care of the horses tomorrow.”

“Good idea,” Jack returned.  “I love you.”

“And I love you,” Daniel interjected.

“I love you, too, and so do Little Danny and Aislinn.”

The parents smiled.  They could hear the other two Munchkins calling out their love in the background.

“Dad?  Daddy?”

“Yes?” both men replied.

“Thank you.”

“For what?” the couple asked in unison.

“Letting me call you and not getting mad that we were still up.”

“Jonny, there are always exceptions to rules,” Daniel began.  “You're all growing up and really starting to make decisions for yourselves.  Staying up to talk and express your feelings was a good thing.”

“So was this call,” Jack opined.

“'Kay.  Night.”

“Night, Son.”

“Try to get some good sleep,” Daniel suggested.

“I will.  Bye.”

The call ended, leaving the parents feeling better.

“He's okay,” Daniel opined.

“Yep, he's doing great.”

For several seconds, the lovers let it sink in.  It wasn't a perfect world this evening, but it was better now than it was in the afternoon.  Jonny was grieving, but he wasn't holding it in.  He was confiding in his fellow Munchkins and he reached out to his parents, helping not just himself, but them as well.

Jack and Daniel returned to the warmth of the fire.  They snuggled, kissed, and enjoyed more wine and beloved chocolate.  As light opera enhanced the atmosphere of the room, a peacefulness overtook the couple.  A heavy burden was lessened, allowing them to nestle together and enjoy the rest of the night.  It wasn't about sex as the nighttime rolled on, but it was about loving and sharing the experience of being in love and going through the adventure of life together.

More proof of that came when Bijou and Katie came downstairs and went straight into their humans' arms.  It made the soulmates smile and feel even better.  It was something only pet lovers would ever understand.

For Jack and Daniel, love was everything and it was the one thing that could never be denied.  As midnight approached, their life in their nation of two plus brood and zoo, meant more than words could ever express, so they didn't even try.  They cuddled and held onto their precious beagles, thankful for the journey and the unity they'd found in Colorado Springs.

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

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