Twist and Shout

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Angst, H/C, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - September 2-12, 2015
Spoilers:  None
Size:  178kb
Written:  September 5-13,19-30, October 3-4,12,21-25, 2008 Revised: February 4, 2009
Summary:  The Jackson-O'Neills are hit with a tragedy that could forever change their lives.
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 story is complete, but it is the first of a three-story arc.  Remember, my universe is the home of happy fic!
2) Hanky warning, so I've been told!
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) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Tammy, Irina, Ali, Wolf Moldy, Robert, Jo, Bernice, Keri, Linda!  Also, thanks to the following who gave me advice and information for specific portions of this fic: Elizabeth Mc, Susie, Allusion, Bronte, Amy, Caro, Molly Cate

Twist and Shout
by Orrymain

“Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, thank you for meeting me here instead of at your offices,” Slade Rawlins greeted at the doorway of his suite at The Broadmoor.

“It wasn't a problem,” Daniel responded with a smile while shaking the potential client's hand.

J-O Enterprises was eager to have The Rawlins Group as a client, so meeting the company's founder and CEO at the luxury hotel was definitely not a problem.  They were a big development company, known for conducting their business in an eco-friendly manner.  This meant that before proceeding with any of their many projects around the globe, complete archaeological surveys were performed.  Getting their business would be quite a coup for J-O.

“Karissa said you had a family emergency that ...” the archaeologist began.

“Slade, Sharlene wants ...” a woman interrupted, pausing politely when she realized Daniel was present.

“This is my wife, Theresa,” Slade spoke as he introduced her to Daniel and vice versa.

“I didn't mean to interrupt, but Shar...”  Theresa paused, seeing Daniel's smile, his dimples showing as he saw the young girl peeking out around the corner.  “Sharlene, come here,” she requested, beckoning with her hand as she spoke.  “This is our daughter,” she said as the girl hurried forward.

Theresa was about to speak further, but simply gaped in surprise when she saw the archaeologist squat down and talk to the little girl by signing.  The seven-year-old bowed her head and giggled shyly at his unspoken comment.

“Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, you know sign language?” Slade questioned in disbelief.

“Please, it's Daniel, and, uh, actually, one of my nieces is deaf -- Susie,” Daniel explained about the adopted daughter of Pete and Samantha Shanahan.

“Well, you're a hit with Shar,” Slade spoke at his happy daughter, who had been told she was beautiful.

Daniel just smiled as he asked the youngster how her day was going.  Seeing her response, his smile faded.

“I'm sorry you're not feeling well,” Daniel both spoke and signed.

“That's why I couldn't meet you at your office,” Slade explained.  “She's better right now, but I didn't want to leave her.”

“I totally understand,” Daniel responded with sincerity, liking the feeling of family that he was getting from Slade.  “We can meet later, if you prefer,” he offered as he stood up.

“Sharlene just wanted a hug from her father.  She's fine,” Theresa assured.  “We'll go into her room and leave you two to talk,” she added.

Slade picked up his daughter and hugged her.  He gave her a kiss on the cheek before putting her down and signing that he would be right here if she needed him.

Happy with the answer, the deaf child grinned and then waved at Daniel as she walked towards her room with her mother.

“She's a beautiful little girl,” Daniel spoke as he watched mother and daughter leave the room.

“Thank you.  Do you have children?”

“Yes.”

“Boy or girl?”

A bit bashfully, Daniel bobbed his head down for a second and then answered with a smile in his tone and in his eyes -- “Both.”

“Two kids then,” Slade assumed.

“Well, it's more like ... twelve, uh, thirteen.  Twelve.”

Slade looked at Daniel quizzically, confused by the less-than-clear response.

“You know, I never know how to answer that question.  It's a long ... long story,” Daniel elaborated.  He smiled, saying, “But it's a good one.”

“I'm not sure I understand,” Slade stated.

Knowing he had just sounded a bit on the crazy side, Daniel put down his briefcase and pulled out his wallet, proudly showing the man photos of the brood. There was a time when Jack and Daniel were a bit more cautious about showing images of their children, but they'd eased up a bit on their overprotectiveness.

“And this is Charlie. He's my husband's son, but I think of him as mine, too,” Daniel explained. “Long ... story, but he died in an accident many years ago.” He smiled and added, “We were just talking about him this morning. He's a big part of our family.”

“They are a handsome bunch,” Slade responded with a smile, after which the two men got down to business.

====

“Son, they'll understand,” Jack spoke into his cell phone as he carefully perused the options in front of him.  The reassuring father was at one of Colorado Springs' oldest nurseries, searching for just the right addition for the family's pool area.  ~No, I don't think so,~ he thought as he looked at a plastic pelican and continued walking the aisle.

“Maybe I could come home for one of the birthdays,” Jeff replied as he looked over at the large family photo that was hanging on the wall of his college dorm room at the University of Cincinnati.  “But then Noa's birthday is next month, and Bri's, too,” he added before his father could respond.  ~I hate missing the birthdays.~  He sighed, “Dad, I know I could get back for at least one of the birthdays, but I don't want to make one feel more special than the others, and I can't come home for every birthday.”

“Sure, you can.  We have a plane, remember?” Jack chuckled.

“Two planes,” Jeff corrected.

“You just say the word,” the retired general spoke, kneeling down to get a closer look at the item he was interested in at the moment.  ~This could work.~

“They'll understand.  They already do.  I wasn't there last year, either.  Dad, why do I feel so guilty?”

“Guilty?” the father challenged.

Jeff thought for a moment and then corrected, “Okay, maybe guilty isn't exactly the right word.  I get a little homesick sometimes.”

“You did the same thing last year.  Same day, as I recall,” Jack mused, leaning forward while turning the object to the right.

“I did?”

“Yep,” Jack confirmed.  “It lasted until the first meeting of the photography club.”

“Society, Dad,” Jeff groaned in the belief that the word 'club' lacked the prestige of the title 'society'.  Then he laughed, “I do miss them, though.”

Standing, Jack responded, “I know, and everyone misses you, too.  We've got the doohickeys, though.”

“Doohickeys?”

“Webcams and phones,” Jack said as Jeff chuckled.  “You'll be at all the birthdays, one way or the other.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Jeff replied, smiling to himself and acknowledging the fact that even at his age, he still sometimes needed his fathers to give him advice and act as a sounding board.

“NP.”

“NP?” the college student questioned.

“Hey, I'm hip.  Cell shorthand.”

“What's NP?”

“No problem,” Jack answered.  “Your old man may be old, but he's with it.”

“Dad, no one has said 'with it' for about fifty years.”

Jack stared, a blank expression on his face, and finally queried sternly, “Your point?”

Laughing as he shook his head at the grinning silver-haired man in the family photograph, Jeff responded, “I love you, Dad.”

“I love you, too, Son,” Jack spoke while at the same time deciding he'd found the perfect item.  ~It's a two-fer.  I'll be a hero,~ he mused as the conversation with Jeff came to an end with promises to give Daniel and the brood Jeff's love.

====

“How'd it go?” Karissa Lewis asked, not able to gauge her employer's stoic expression as he walked into her office.

“Well, bad news,” Daniel responded dryly, his hands atop his briefcase that was resting at the edge of the woman's desk.

“We didn't get it?”

“I'm afraid you won't be able to take that vacation,” Daniel stated, seeing the woman's face become long and drawn, “because you'll be too busy working with Slade Rawlins.”

“Yes!” Karissa exclaimed, slapping her hands together and then hugging her boss exuberantly.  “That wasn't nice, Daniel!”

Daniel smiled, busting out into a grin, always happy to pull one over on his friends.

“I've been hanging around my husband too much,” the archaeologist laughed.

“Megan's going to be so thrilled when I tell her,” Karissa responded.  “Details!” she requested anxiously.

====

Whistling lightly, Jack waited for his old-fashioned hamburger, fries, and shake to be delivered to the truck.

~I feel like it's the fifties,~ the general chuckled inwardly.  He'd debated on taking his lunch and eating down at the Stagecoach Park, but he didn't want to take that much time.  ~I'll eat it here,~ he decided, twisting around to check on his new purchase that he was eager for the brood to see.  ~Yep, I'll be a


hero.~  He was certain it would be a hit with the family, and he'd know for sure within an hour of when he finally reached home.  Turning back around, he smiled for no reason other than he was happy.  ~There she is,~ he observed happily as the carhop headed towards him with his lunch.

After reaching into his wallet to pay the carhop for his lunch, Jack began to enjoy his meal.

~Can't beat Cy's for an old-time burger,~ Jack praised, licking his lips in delight.

====

“Aunt Sam, where are my dance shoes?” Chenoa asked as she knelt down to look beneath the sofa that was in Sam's living room.

“I don't think they're ...” Sam began.

“Mommy, my dolly lost an eyeball,” Susie signed, her face long and drawn as she then held up the doll in question.

“We'll have to ...” Sam began before she was interrupted by the telephone.  Listening to the question of the caller, she groaned and answered, “No, Pete, I don't know where your favorite baseball cap is, but ...”

“Aunt Sam, I think Kevin wants you,” Jonny stated about Sam's autistic son.

“Is he okay?”

“He's playing with Little Danny; well, if you can call it playing,” Jonny sighed.  “He's not talking to us much today.”

Sam smiled sweetly as she ran her right hand through Jonny's hair.  She could see the caring and concern in his big eyes.

“Good days and bad days, Jonny,” Sam reminded.

“We could still make it a good day,” Jonny encouraged.  “I have an idea,” the boy added before turning and heading back to where the other boys were.

“Sam?  Sam!” Pete called out loudly over the phone.

Her left hand holding onto the phone, the blonde apologized, “Sorry, Pete, but ...”

“Aunt Sam, Petey smells,” Jenny announced, scrunching her nose.

“I'll be right there,” Sam sighed.  “Pete, I have to ...”

“Aunt Sam!” Aislinn called out.  “I broke the vase.  I didn't mean to.  I ...”

Sam closed her eyes, wondering just how she'd gotten herself into this situation.  Here she was, Colonel Samantha Carter-Shanahan, perhaps the most highly respected astrophysicist in the world, with a house full of children, some of which were actually her own.  It was something she'd once never been able to envision; yet, here she stood, a mother first and an Air Force colonel second.

The ever-confident military officer was very happy with her life and her choices, but sometimes she wondered if she could really handle it all.  She'd learned a lot from the brood over the years, especially while helping Chenoa through a difficult time a couple of years earlier.  It was then that Sam finally began to believe that she actually could be a good mother.  What she hadn't bargained for, though, was that motherhood would hit with a bang.

Pete had rescued Susie, who was deaf, from being a waif on the street and then a forgotten statistic in an orphanage somewhere.  He'd done this at the very same time that Sam had been notified that young Kevin Concorran, an autistic youngster who had responded only to her, was free to be adopted.  To top it off, Sam had just discovered she was pregnant.  This meant the Shanahans were growing to a family of five almost instantly.

However, much like the surprises of the births of the Munchkins and the Spitfires, the obstetrician had stunned the Shanahans with the news that she was carrying twins.  Sam had been very concerned throughout her pregnancy, both because of her age and a couple of issues that had come up.  Still, with Pete a nervous wreck, Jack barking out orders at her as a distraction, Janet trying to soothe her, and Daniel just watching it all play out in the birthing room of the hospital, Sam had given birth to two healthy babies.

Peter Jacob Shanahan, known as Petey, joined the earthly world first at 9:29 p.m. on August 1, 2014.  Exactly twenty minutes later, Sammy Jo Shanahan was born.  The name was a compromise.  In order to name their son after Pete, which she desperately wanted to do, Sam had agreed to let her husband name their daughter, with the proviso that the little girl not be named Samantha.  At the time of the agreement, she hadn't understood Pete's smirk or his quip about being a fan of actress Heather Locklear.  He'd first seen her on “T.J. Hooker” and then discovered her sexier role on “Dynasty”.

Jack, of course, was still highly amused at the entire situation.  He had given Pete his props for coming up with the name, which was the character Locklear had played on the latter TV series.  For once, he didn't have to come up with a nickname; this one was built in.

Now, with her own children and the brood demanding attention, Sam wondered if maybe she should just go back to bed or hide.

~Fighting the Goa'uld was a piece of cake; this 'mom' stuff is hard,~ Sam thought while giving Aislinn a sympathetic smile.  ~A broken vase I can handle, but not those sad, regretful eyes.~  Smiling a little brighter, she suggested, “Let me change Petey's diaper; then we'll take care of the vase and then get some ice cream.”

Aislinn grinned happily and hugged her aunt, making Sam sigh.  It was the hugs that always got to her the most.

~I can handle all of it, as long as there are hugs.~

Feeling better, Sam returned to her phone call with her husband while walking towards the nursery.

====

With a nod to the carhop as she removed the tray from the truck, Jack stretched for a second and then turned on the ignition, beginning the trip home.  He'd barely gotten started when he had to stop at the traffic light.  He was still feeling good.  Life was smooth sailing right now, and he couldn't be much happier.  His hands tapping lightly on the steering wheel of his sturdy Ford truck, he whistled, watching as a woman tugged on her apparently too-snug jeans while turning the corner.

At that moment, Jack decided to check on a treat he'd bought for his lover -- chocolate cream pie.  He wasn't sure the packaging was secure enough and was afraid it would fall off the seat.  Certain the traffic light wouldn't be changing for several seconds yet, he picked up the box and then leaned over as far as he could to his right in order to place the surprise securely between a couple of packages that were on the floor of the passenger seat.

~That should do ...~

--

“... and I'd agree we'd ...”

Daniel stopped talking, his heart having skipped a beat.  Still in Karissa's office, he dropped the papers he'd been holding onto the floor.

“Daniel, are you okay?” Karissa asked worriedly as she stooped over and retrieved the papers.  “Daniel?  Daniel, you're white as a sheet.”

The archaeologist twisted around to stare at the young woman, but all he could do was stare.

Karissa reached out and held on to her employer's arm.  She was full of worry, unsure of what was happening.

“Daniel?”

“Cancel my schedule for the rest of the day,” Daniel spoke in a low, shaking voice. “I ... I have to go.”

“What's wrong?” Karissa asked as Daniel took several steps towards the exit.

“I'm not sure, but something is.”

--

“Someone call 9-1-1,” a woman shouted urgently, mumbling to herself about not having charged her cell phone that morning.

Cell phones flipped open as various bystanders called in the horrific accident they'd just witnessed.

Immediately, two men, strangers who had been waiting for the light to change so they could cross the street and continue on to their individual destinations, looked at each other and took action, each going in a slightly different direction.

As Nigel Manchester ran towards the opposite end of the intersection where a truck had just collided against the pole of a traffic light, Mahil Mickerson, headed for the other truck that was in the middle of the intersection with its horn blasting annoyingly.

Mahil managed to open the door, pulling back the man who had been slumped forward against the steering wheel, causing the horn to sound out.  He gently leaned the gray-haired victim's body back against the seat.

“I think he's dead,” Mahil shouted out seconds later, removing his fingers from the driver's neck and wrist, having not felt any signs of a pulse.

“This one's alive, but unconscious,” Nigel called out urgently from his position several feet away at the site of the other truck involved in the accident.

“Let's get him out,” Mahil shouted as he ran over to assist.

“No, I don't think we should,” the first man spoke, motioning towards the injured driver.  “I think that thing slammed into his back.  We don't know what it might have done,” he elaborated, referring to one of the concrete swans that was now partially positioned between the two bucket seats of the truck.

“You're right.”  Mahil looked around and finally shouted out, “Does anyone have any towels or a jacket?  Anything like that?”

A woman took off her sweater, and two men offered up their blazers.  It was better than nothing.

“Make sure he doesn't move,” Mahil ordered.  “I'm going around to the other side.”

Opening the door on the passenger side, Mahil studied the situation.  The airbag had prevented the driver from impacting the dashboard and was now hanging down over the steering wheel.  He saw a couple of very small scrapes on the driver's forearm, but that was all he could see from his current position.  As the airbag deflated, Mahil felt that it was important to keep the victim from moving.  He knew that if the driver awoke and tried to move, it could injure him further.

Seeing some boxes, Mahil figured he could use them as a support of sorts.  It was worth a try, anyway.  Careful not to bump into the injured man, he stacked the boxes and then rolled up the sweater and blazers.  With extreme caution, he placed them as strategically as possible around the driver's head and neck.  In essence, the clothing had become a type of brace, securing both sides of the neck.

“What's that for?” Nigel asked curiously.

“If he has any kind of neck or back injury, this'll keep it from getting worse.  We can't let him move.”

“If he wakes up, he'll move,” Nigel surmised with concern.

“We have to do our best to keep him still until the paramedics arrive,” Mahil insisted.

“What about the bleeding?”

“I don't know,” Mahil answered nervously.  “I'm not sure I want to touch his back.  Nervous about what he'd already done, he checked the man's vital signs. “Maybe he'll be okay.  His breathing seems normal, and his pulse feels steady.”

“You a doc?”

“No.  I watch a lot of TV, though,” Mahil chuckled somewhat nervously.  “I wish Casey was here,” he mumbled to himself.

“Casey?” Nigel asked the stranger, though his eyes were still focused on the driver as he was desperately afraid the man would wake up and move.

“A friend of mine; he's a nurse,” Mahil stated.  “He's taught me what little I know about this stuff, especially CPR.”

“He's a ... friend of mine, too,” Nigel responded, looking over at Mahil in a new light.  “He likes them young.”

“Not anymore,” Mahil responded.  “He's into commitment, and I'm not there yet, not for the long term, anyway.”

Nigel nodded as the two men continued to watch over the unconscious crash victim.

“I haven't seen Casey in years.”

“I see him now and then; when he needs a little,” Mahil stated with a cock of his head and a wink.  “I'm not too proud to say it.  He's good, if you know what I mean,” the man finished, looking down at his midsection.

“You like him.”

“He's a great guy, but to tell you the truth, I think he's hung up on that hottie who remodeled his house.”

“Don't tell me he got rid of the bar?” Nigel questioned.

“Not completely, but you wouldn't recognize the place,” Mahil responded.  “Every time I'm there, there's something new.  It's an excuse, to see that designer guy.  I saw him once -- hot, more than hot -- smokin' volcano hot, and more.”

“Watch him,” Nigel called out, hearing a small groan, though that was all.

Mahil anticipated movement, but none came.  For now, the two men forgot about their unexpected common bond and intensified their watch on the severely injured driver.

====

Daniel sat in his sporty car, the shade from a nearby tree looming over him.  He leaned forward a tad and turned on the radio.  He really didn't know why, except that he was waiting, waiting for something he didn't want to hear, but somehow knew he would.

“We just had a report that there's a two-vehicle accident on West Uintah, near Nineteenth.  Emergency vehicles have arrived on the scene, and traffic is being rerouted to ...”

The archaeologist closed his eyes, tuning out the disc jockey's words.  He knew where his lover was going that afternoon, and this location was just blocks away.

**Jack?  Jack, please hear me,** Daniel pleaded with the couple's unique non-verbal communication.  It rarely worked this far away, but sometimes it did, when there was a crisis like he was sure there was now.  **Babe, answer me.**

Full of worry, Daniel pulled out his cell phone to call his lover, sighing when all got was voicemail.  Swallowing one time, he took a big breath and then started his car.  Fearful of what he was going to find, he headed for the site of the accident.

====

“What's going on?” a newcomer to the accident scene asked one of the bystanders.

“It's certainly none of my business,” the bystander spoke as if she were above gossiping.  With a sudden excitement, she continued, “But from what I've overheard, some old man had a heart attack and rammed into that man over there, forcing him into that pole.  Poor guy never knew what hit him.  I think he's gonna be paralyzed or something, with all that stuff they have on him now.”

“I see a neck brace,” the newcomer observed, straining to see through the hoard of medical personnel on the scene.

“They didn't take him out of the truck for a long time.  When they did, it was on one of those things; you know, those stiff boards.”

“He's alive, though.  That's a blessing no doubt.”

“I guess so.  Not the old guy, though.  I don't think he even knew he hit the truck.”

====

With the police diverting traffic as the accident investigation and cleanup continued, Daniel parked his car as close as he could and then sprinted towards the scene.  In front of him were several of the city's white patrol cars, their lights flashing.  Had it been in the evening, the sparkly blue lettering of the cars' doors would be reflecting against the moonlight.

Off in the distance, the archaeologist could see and hear the Fight for Life helicopter, something that confirmed this accident had been extremely serious.  As he got closer, his jog slowed to a walk.

Suddenly, the younger father of twelve, or thirteen, depending on how one counted, felt like he was in a time warp.  He could feel the air pressing against his body as if it were a barrier, trying to keep him away.  As his chest heaved from rapid breaths, he fought to hold on to hope.  Jack's truck wasn't the only one that color in Colorado Springs.  Maybe it was someone else's mangled vehicle that was trying to be one with the pole.

The archaeologist was well aware it was a silly hope.  He knew that Ford vehicle inside and out.  He'd lived a lifetime in it with his lover.  It was Jack's truck. There was no question about it.

“Sir, you'll have to move on,” a policeman ordered upon seeing the archaeologist trying to get through the crowd of onlookers and into the cordoned-off area.

“It's my truck,” Daniel whispered.

“Yours?”

Not worrying about society's ethics, Daniel elaborated, “My husband's.”  Snapping out of his fear, he looked at the policeman and asked, “The driver, Jack Jackson-O'Neill, is my husband.  Where is he?”

“May I see some ID?”  Taking the license, the man in the blue uniform walked away to confer with another officer, who nodded after examining the identification.  Returning to Daniel, the policeman spoke apologetically, “I'm sorry, Sir.  That's your husband's vehicle?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know what he was doing?”

“He was running some errands,” Daniel answered.  “Where is Jack?” he repeated.

Deciding the investigative questions could wait, the officer responded, “The driver is being air-lifted to Memorial.”

“Is he alive?”

“He was when the 'copter lifted off the ground.”

Daniel nodded and then stared at the truck again.  He stood in limbo for what he was sure was an hour, though was actually mere seconds.  He thought he'd heard words, something about a request for more information, but he wasn't sure.  Then he felt a hand on his elbow.

“Sir, I can have someone drive you the hospital, if you like,” the sympathetic officer said, not certain he should allow the man to continue on his own.

“No, thank you.  I'm fine,” Daniel assured.  “Thank you,” he reiterated, though he wasn't sure why.

With a blink of his eyes, the archaeologist headed for Memorial.  The details of the accident and the police department's need for information would have to wait.  Right now, he had something much more important to do.  He had to find out if his life was over or not.

====

“Hey, Shanahan,” a detective called out impatiently.

“Yeah, I'm ...” Pete stopped, catching a glimpse of a news report that had just popped onto the screen.

The on-scene reporter talked about how traffic was still being rerouted after an accident and would remain so for a bit longer while the investigators worked.

“Shanahan!”

Pete looked over at his partner, Bill Krazz, but then turned around to face another of their detectives and asked, “Clive, take this for me.”

“What's the big deal?” Krazz asked.

“I know that truck,” Pete answered, picking up the phone to get some details of the incident.  Over the phone, he stated, “This is Shanahan.  What's the story on the traffic accident on West Uintah?”

====

“Take him straight to trauma bay,” the triage nurse ordered the paramedics.

Once their patient was removed from the gurney and placed on the examination table, the nurses quickly began their tasks.  One began to cut away more of the clothing so they could examine him fully.

Spotting the blood seeping from the man's back, the doctor examined the wound and focused on controlling the bleeding.

“Vitals: BP eighty over fifty, pulse one-twenty, and respiration twenty-six,” another nurse called out.  A few seconds later, she added, “Temp: ninety-seven point six.”

“Let's hang a second line of normal saline, wide open,” the doctor instructed.

“He has a small laceration on his left hand, but no other major wounds other than his back,” a third nurse observed.

“I want a trauma panel, ABGs, CBC, full chemistry, liver panel, type and cross blood for two units, C-spine, chest, pelvis X-rays, and consult neurosurg...”

The patient moaned and lifted his arm, coming around.

“Sir, can you hear me?” the physician inquired.

“Where?” the patient gasped.

“You're at Memorial Hospital.  Do you remember what happened to you?” the doctor asked, wanting to see how aware the man was.

“Minding m'own bus'ness.”

“Do you know what day this is?”

“Quack questions,” the perturbed patient answered.  Knowing he needed to answer, though, he obliged.  “Sept'mer second,” he said groggily.

The doctor nodded.  His patient had attitude and seemed to know what was happening, even if he wasn't aware of the circumstances of the accident.  However, this attitude could also be a sign of a head injury, though so far, there hadn't been any indication of anything severe.

“Sir ...”

“Do you need us for anything more?” one of the paramedics called out, interrupting the doctor.

“No, thank you,” the doctor responded, giving the paramedics permission to return to their duties.  “He's lucky.  I see a few minor scratches on his left arm; some slight bruising on his left cheek as well.  Looks like the airbag did its job without hurting him too much,” he spoke out loud as he switched the location of his examination.

“I'm awake y'know,” Jack mumbled, cognizant that he was being discussed.

As the team continued their examination, Jack tried to remember what had happened.  It was as if he weren't in the ER with strangers poking and touching him.  Where had he been?  What had happened to bring him to this place?

Hearing the strange voices talking about his vitals improving, Jack felt someone touching his arm.  It was the touch that brought him back to the moment.  It was time to do his own assessment of his body.

“Hands, fingers ...”  Suddenly, the patient shouted, “My legs are gone.  Where are my legs?”

Whether it was the emotion, the shock, or something more, Jack lost consciousness, preventing the medical personnel from responding to the shouted words.  However, the staff shared a look, not liking the potential implications of the statement.

“I want that C-collar on and spinal precautions for the scan.  Where's Neuro?” the physician questioned, wanting to ensure that Jack didn't move and possibly injure himself further when he awoke again.

“On their way,” one of the nurses answered.

====

“Pete, now really isn't a good time.  The brood ...”

“Gorgeous, are they watching TV?” Pete asked his wife.

“I'm not sure.  Why?”

“Sam, Jack's been in an accident.  It's bad, and it's being blasted all over the news.  Go!”

In a flash, Sam dropped the phone and searched out the brood, relieved that none of them were watching the news report, though some were watching TV.  She gathered them up, telling them to play outside for a while, with her children, Susie and Kevin.  As she was about to return to the phone, she realized she was missing a Jackson-O'Neill child.  Panicked, she picked up the phone to tell Pete what she'd done and about JD not being with the other kids.

“Find him.”

“I'm looking,” Sam said.  “Pete, this 'mom' business ...”

“You're a great mom, and you know it.  He's there.”

“I know, but I don't know ... hold on,” Sam requested, seeing the three-and-a-half-year-old youngster sitting quietly in a corner.  “JD?”

The little boy looked up and said, “Dad's hurt, Aunt Sam.”

Feeling like her heart had just been stabbed, Sam knelt down and picked up the boy, who instantly threw his arms around her, holding her close.

“What did you see?”

“See?”

“Weren't you watching television?” Sam asked the boy, her hand warming his back comfortingly.

“Na-huh.  I felt my heart fall.  I think it's in my toes now.”

Sam pulled herself back slightly to stare into JD's eyes.  He was the only purely biological child of Jack and Daniel, the combination of their sperm that had been joined together through the magic of alien technology.  His intelligence was making itself known more everyday, and every now and then, there was a sense that he had a unique awareness or sensitivity that no one quite understood yet.

“JD, I don't know what's going on yet, but I know your dad, and he's very strong,” Sam stated as confidently as she could.  She gave the boy a kiss on the cheek and felt him hug her again, resting his head against her shoulder.  Carefully, she lifted the phone to her ear and said, “Pete.”

“Here's what I know,” Pete responded and then began to fill his wife in on the details.

====

“His husband?” the surprised ER nurse said with a gulp, her thick accent making it obvious that she was from the South.

“Excuse me,” Daniel continued after introducing himself and trying to find out information on Jack.  “I don't mean to be rude, but I don't have time for your drama at dealing with what is around you more and more every day now.  I'm sure we're not the only same-sex couple that's ever been in this hospital.  Now, are you going to tell me about my husband, or do I have to start making phone calls?”

“I apologize for my reaction, but actually, you're the first, for me, and ...”

“Ma'am, really, I understand, but I need answers -- now!”

“I'm sorry,” the flustered nurse responded.  “It's just I'm from this little town, down in Kentucky, and, well, I know it's ...”

“Excuse me,” the archaeologist said more forcefully, his right hand motioning towards the nurse.  “Please, my husband.”

“Oh, my, I'm sorry.”

“What?  Why?  How is he?  *Where* is he?”

“No.  No, I mean,” the nurse was more flustered now than before.  She took a deep, calming breath.  “He's in critical condition.  I can't say more because of ... well, legally ...”

“Thank you,” Daniel said sharply, but politely.  “Who is the chief administrator of this hospital?”

Though confused, the nurse gave Daniel the information he needed.  Then he walked to a corner for some privacy and made a call to the family lawyer, Mark Kingston.  Though Daniel had all the documents at home, it would be quicker to have Mark fax them over to the facility.  They had everything they needed in the form of power of attorney and other papers that clearly gave Daniel the authority to get any information he asked for, as well as to make all decisions concerning Jack's care.

Just as Daniel finished the call, a doctor approached the nurse's station and inquired if they'd located Jack's family.  The still-a-bit-nervous duty nurse pointed Daniel out to the physician, who quickly walked over and introduced himself.  Apparently, he didn't feel the need to wait for the hospital administrator.

“We have a lot to deal with, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, and we need to begin with the most critical.”

“Life-threatening injuries.”

“Exactly,” Doctor Benjamin Creepingbear said.  “Your husband is being prepped for surgery.  He's bleeding at his lower back.  A concrete swan ...”

Time stopped for Daniel upon hearing about the swan.  He didn't want to think that the tiny disagreement over what should decorate their pool area was the reason for Jack's current predicament.  He knew if he thought about it too much that he could slip into depression, not to mention the huge guilt trip that would be attached to that.  He stopped, willing himself to let go of his inner weaknesses and tune back into the doctor's words.

“... impacted his lower back during the crash.  We need to irrigate and debride the wound.  It's highly probable that small pieces of the object, even chips of paint, could be inside the wounded area.”

Daniel nodded his consent.  He'd been around the SGC's infirmary often enough to know how important it was to clean a wound as well as to remove dead tissue, both of which were ways to prevent infections from developing.

“Is he conscious?”

“He was unconscious on scene and during the airlift ride to the hospital, but he did wake up while we were treating him,” the physician answered.  “There is some good news.  His breathing is fine, so we didn't have to intubate.”

“Good.  What else?”

“Your husband has some slight bruising from the airbag and just a couple of lacerations on his extremities.  Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, I ...”

“Daniel.  It's shorter,” the archaeologist requested, not wanting to waste time with titles.  “My husband is Jack.”

Nodding, the doctor continued, “He was only conscious for a brief period, but wasn't able to give us any details about what happened.”

“What questions did you want to ask?” Daniel asked with some trepidation.

“We need to know more about the last statement he made,” the doctor responded, a bit too dramatically for Daniel's taste.  With a reluctant sigh, he elaborated, “Jack doesn't have any feeling in his legs.  There could be a lot of reasons for that.”

“The swan,” Daniel deduced.

“Correct,” the doctor confirmed.  “He has a large wound to his low back from the impact, so we need to determine if there's been any injury to the spine.”

Daniel wasn't sure if he was still breathing, but he said nothing as he focused on the man's words.

“When he arrived in the ER, we were able to quickly stabilize his blood pressure. His other vitals were within acceptable ranges, and they have improved even more in the short time he has been here.  We've just checked for internal injuries.”

“Ultrasound?” the archaeologist asked.

“Yes, for a start,” the man answered, a bit surprised by the question.  “We're ready to begin taking the next steps.”

“CT and MRI scans,” Daniel surmised.  Seeing the unsuppressed surprise on the doctor's face, he explained, “We've, uh, had some ... experience with ... injuries.”  He looked down for a minute and then added, “Uh, our doctor is Janet Fraiser and ...”

“Janet?” the doctor asked, unabashedly brightening.  “You know Spunky?”

“Spunky?” Daniel questioned, surprised and yet not surprised by the nickname.  “Uh, yes.”

“It's been years since I've seen her.  She's in Colorado Springs?”

“Yes, and I'd like her to consult.  She knows Jack's history very well,” Daniel stated, happy to see the nod of agreement from the man.

“No problem.  Do you have the legal authority to make decisions?”

“Yes, of course,” Daniel answered.

“We've given Jack an anti-inflammatory medication to help reduce the swelling in his spine.  It's fairly new, but it's been highly successful in protecting the nerve cells and spinal cord from further damage.”

“But?” Daniel prodded, certain there was more to be told or the doctor wouldn't have brought it up by saying it was 'new'.

“But there are some risks involved.”

“More than the usual side effects,” the archaeologist surmised.  Seeing the man's nod, Daniel requested, “I'd like to know.”

Nodding, the physician answered, “The side effects can run the gamut and include blood clotting, glaucoma, convulsions ...”

Daniel listened to the long list of potential risks.  Even though he'd asked for the information, and he really wasn't sure why he had, he wished Janet were here already to simplify what he was hearing.  He really wasn't sure which of the side effects being listed were normal and what were the unusual risks.

~This is ridiculous,~ Daniel thought, holding up his hand to silence the physician.  “Thank you.  What else do I need to know?”

“If Jack doesn't wake up soon enough to answer our questions, we'll have to perform other tests in order to determine the severity of his injury that's causing the lack of feeling in his legs.”

“Okay,” Daniel acknowledged.

After another minute of conversation, the doctor returned to the critical care ER room where Jack was being prepped for the upcoming surgery.  

Standing outside the room, Daniel looked through the glass window.  He found himself placing his right hand up against the pane, as if to touch his Love.  He knew he was in shock himself.  He was too calm, but he was scared; perhaps more scared than he'd been since Jack had gone missing in the mountains a few winters before.  Soon, it would sink in.  Now, though, he was just trying to go through the motions.

Daniel recognized the heart monitor, pulse oximeter, and precautionary IV's that his lover was hooked up to.  How many times had one or both of them been hooked up to those machines?  It was too many to count, and he wished he wasn't looking at that again now.

**Jack, I love you.**

There wasn't a response.  The archaeologist stared longingly, knowing it would be a while before he could see his soulmate close up; before he could touch his Heart.

With a reluctant sigh, Daniel backed away and took out his cell phone to call Janet.  He knew he needed to contact Sam, but she was scheduled to have the entire brood until dinnertime, and that was still an hour away.  He had time, not much, but some to try and figure out what he was going to do, and say.

====

“Aunt Sam, when are you going to tell us?” Jonny asked.

“Tell you what, Jonny?” Sam queried, trying to be nonchalant, something that was hard to do since JD was still latching on to her, though he hadn't said anything to alarm his siblings.

“JD knows,” Little Danny said quietly.

“Okay, look,” Sam began.  “I don't really know anything.  I haven't heard from Daniel ...”

“Sam,” Daniel interrupted, having quietly walked inside and through the Shanahan home to the backyard.

“Daddy!” JD exclaimed, immediately reaching out for his younger father.

“Hey,” Daniel responded, smiling slightly as he took hold of the youngest member of the brood.  “I love you,” he whispered as he held the boy close.

“Dad?” JD whispered into his daddy's ear.

“He loves you, too,” Daniel said, reaching up with one hand to brush back the boy's hair that was slightly covering his eyes.  “Time for a haircut.”  Taking a breath, he looked over the brood and announced, “Family meeting inside.”

From Sam's eyes, Daniel could tell she'd heard something.  He was still holding JD, who had given no indication of wanting to let go.

“Pete called me earlier.  He saw something on the news,” the blonde advised quietly as she walked over and rubbed JD's back.

“Cassie should be here in a minute,” Daniel noted.  “I called her on my way here.  She's bringing the kids.”

Cassandra's family had returned to Colorado Springs during the summer of 2014 after her husband, Dominic, had been transferred there by his company.  They'd been living in Salt Lake City since their marriage.  Their son, Tommaso, though most called him Tommy, was three-and-a-half-years old.  In fact, being just a couple of weeks younger than JD, the two boys had become best friends, particularly since Jack and Daniel were allowing the Luca family to live rent-free in the house that was behind theirs and slightly to the left.

The Jackson-O'Neills had purchased the house in order to build a stable for their two Shetland ponies.  The house had been physically moved to its right to give the ponies the space they needed.  On the other side of the stable was the Shanahan home.  The arrangement was a happy one for the close-knit families.  All the houses now had sophisticated security systems.

In addition, there were special gates from both the Shanahan and Luca homes that opened into the Jackson-O'Neill backyard.  It saved a lot of time.  Amazingly, no one's privacy was abused.  There was a lot of respect between the three families.  The gates were only used for emergencies or when the respective families were expected.

The Luca family now also included their daughter, Amara, who was adopted by the couple in March of 2014.  Amara wasn't quite two yet, but her birthday was coming up on the thirtieth of the month.

Upon hearing the news that Cassandra was on her way over, Sam nodded and walked inside, leaving Daniel and JD alone in the backyard.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, Son?”

“Why isn't Dad here?”

Daniel simply pulled his son closer to him again and then turned, looking through the sliding glass doors to where the children were settling into their places.  He watched a few seconds later as Cassandra and her children entered the home.  After the greetings, Sam began to take her kids, and Cassandra's, upstairs, but Susie wanted to stay and quickly settled in next to Aislinn and Jenny.  Tommy, Cassandra's oldest, also stayed, wanting to play with his best friend, JD.

~Okay, time to get this done,~ Daniel told himself before taking a big breath and heading inside.

====

“So, right now, they're doing more tests, starting with a CT scan.  Aunt Janet is there, and she says Doctor Creepingbear is a terrific doctor.  They went to medical school together,” Daniel expounded, coming to the end of the story.  “I need to get back to the hospital, so I can be with Dad when he wakes up again, but I need to know that all of you are all right first.”

“We'll be okay when Dad gets home,” Aislinn sighed.

“When will Dad be home?” Ricky asked.  “Tonight?”

“No,” Daniel answered, his voice barely audible.  “Brood, it's going to be a while.”

“Daddy, we'll be okay,” Little Danny assured, getting up and walking over to JD, taking his hand and urging him to come back and sit by him and Tommy.  “We're the brood.”

“Daddy, go take care of Dad, and call us, as soon as you know anything,” Jennifer stated, realizing it was time for her to take charge of her brothers and sisters.

“Um, I'm ... going to let Sam and Cassie decide ... I mean ...”

“We'll do what they say,” Chenoa promised, bobbing her head up and down.

“We'll figure it out, Uncle Daniel,” Cassandra stated as she stood next to Sam by the stairs.

It still took Daniel another fifteen minutes before he actually walked outside to his car.  There were rounds of hugs and kisses and more words of reassurance from Sam, Cassandra and all the children.

The brood was confident.  They were worried and upset, but there was a cohesiveness amongst them that spoke of the certainty that their older father would be just fine.  This was just a little setback, and it wouldn't last long.

As he fastened his seatbelt in the Silver Fox, Daniel hoped the children were right.  For some reason, though, he felt even more uneasy about their calm.

~Jack and I used to defy death all the time, going through the Stargate.  Gawd, the brood has that now.  They don't believe in danger.~  The archaeologist leaned his back against the seat, his hands grasping his steering wheel tightly.  ~It was our business, facing death.  It was almost a game.~  Opening his eyes, he spoke quietly, “We didn't have so much to lose back then.  It was just us, and we knew we'd be together, no matter what.  We have to teach them that it isn't a game, Jack.  They have to learn to appreciate danger.”

Daniel's verbal analysis was interrupted by his namesake, who suddenly came running out the front door, Brianna on his heels, though she stopped, seeing Daniel was still in the driveway.

Daniel unfastened his seatbelt, got out of the car, and was instantly latched onto by the little boy.

“Daddy, tell Dad I love him, okay?” Little Danny implored.

“I will, Sproglet, but you know Dad already knows that,” Daniel replied, holding the boy close to him.

“We'll be strong, Daddy, but I'm ...”

“Scared?” the father asked.  Seeing the nod, Daniel confided, “So am I, but we've been through a lot worse before.”

“Piece of cake?” Little Danny sniffled.

Daniel took an emotional breath while squeezing the child prodigy to him and then answered truthfully, “Mud cake maybe.”

“Daddy, I want to come with you.  Pleeeeeease,” Little Danny begged.  “I won't get in the way.  You need me.”

Daniel was about to say 'no', when he stopped.  He recognized himself in the blue eyes staring at him.  He looked at Little Danny and said, “You know what?  I think I do need you.”  As Little Danny grinned, Daniel took his hand.  “Let's go tell Aunt Sam and the brood.”  Looking at the teenager, he began, “Bri ...”

“I'll go get his backpack from home,” Brianna offered.

“Daddy, I want to get some special things.  You won't go without me?”

“No, I won't go without you.”

With a nod to Brianna, Daniel paused, wondering why he'd just agreed to let Little Danny go with him.  He knew it didn't make sense, but at the same time, he knew better than to question his instincts.  He sighed, realizing he needed one of the older kids to go with him as well.

====

“Aunt Janet, it's okay to tell us what's happening,” Little Danny stated firmly, sensing the woman's hesitation to update Daniel on Jack's condition in front of him.

“Janet, it's okay,” Daniel agreed.  “What's the latest?”

Looking at David and Little Danny with concern, but following through with her answer, Janet responded, “You got back just in time.  He's stable at the moment, but he's been ...”

“Janet, he's waking up,” the doctor of Native American ancestry advised.

“I'll be right back,” Janet said, turning and hurrying back into the critical care room that Jack was in.

“Daddy, Dad needs you,” Little Danny urged.

David nodded, giving his younger father the assurance he needed that he and his younger brother would be okay.  David was fourteen-and-a-half now and definitely capable of looking after the middle Munchkin at the hospital.

With a nod to the teenager, Daniel followed Janet to his lover's room.

“Wait outside, please,” Doctor Creepingbear ordered politely.

“Benji, let him stay,” Janet requested of her old friend and colleague.

“Danny,” a weak voice called out.

“I'm here, Jack,” Daniel spoke as he stood next to Janet at his husband's bedside. He took his lover's hand and promised, “Everything's going to be okay.  Janet's here.”

“What the heck happened?”

“The driver behind you had a heart attack.  He ...”

“Daniel, Jack, they'll be time for this later.  Right now, we need to make some assessments.  Jack, let's start with the basics,” Janet instructed, nodding to one of the nurses.

“The ole knee reflex crap,” Jack groaned, though he still wasn't fully aware of what was happening around him.  He didn't remember waking up before or his attitude with the doctor.  This was the first time he was aware of his surroundings and that something was wrong.  “Anytime.”  Seconds passed without the usual prick on the feet or the jab on the knee that he was accustomed to feeling when these tests were run.  “Well?”

The medical team stared at one another, while Daniel's grip on Jack's hand strengthened.  It was a dead giveaway that all wasn't well.

“General, wiggle your toes, please,” the physician in charge requested.

“Yeah, toes, sure,” Jack said.  Suddenly, there was alarm in his big, brown eyes.  “Toes.”  Anxiously, he called out, “Danny, I don't feel my toes.  My legs ... I ... where are my legs?”

“Calm down, Jack,” Janet responded, putting her hand on Jack's shoulder.

“Babe, it's going to be okay.”

“I do have legs?” Jack asked, attempting to sit up.

“General, stay still,” Janet ordered, getting formal with her patient.  “Yes, you have legs.  You're all here.”

“Then *why* can't I feel them?” the patient shouted angrily.

“Jack, let them finish their exam.”

“I want to know ...”

All of a sudden, a small, young voice filtered through the ones of the adults.

“Dad, the brood sends their love.  It'll be okay.  Do what Aunt Janet says, okay?”

Jack blinked as he turned his head and a softened, “Hey,” escaped his lips.

“We're not supposed to get in the way,” Little Danny spoke at the doorway, with David standing right behind him.

Janet shook her head at Benji, who was about to order the children removed.  Aside from each other, she knew from years of experience that there was no better medicine on the planet for Jack, or Daniel, than their children.

“David, Little Danny, come here,” Janet ordered, surprising Daniel.  “One minute, and then we have to do our tests.”

With a grin, Little Danny hurried over, taking Janet's spot, while David stood on the other side of their younger father.

“The brood is okay, Dad.  They're with Aunt Sam and Cassie.  You have to do what Aunt Janet says, okay?  Be a good patient,” Little Danny ordered.

“I love you,” Jack responded with a smile.  He looked over at David and repeated, “I love you.”  Though looking at his children, he added, **I love you, too, Danny.**

**Always, Babe.**

“We love you, too, Dad.  Don't worry about us.  I'm watching Little Danny,” David promised.  “Dad?”

“Yes, Son?”

“I've decided to focus my science project on astronomy.  I really need your help with that, so you have to get out of here fast.  My teacher's a pain in the butt if I procrastinate.”

Well aware that he was the teacher in question, Jack tried to chuckle, though it resulted in a slight cough.

“No problem,” the patient spoke.  “Right, Doc?  Not a problem?”

“No more than usual for this family,” Janet responded, hedging her answer slightly.  “Minute's up.”

“Daddy?” Little Danny asked, his eyes begging for help.

Daniel picked up the boy, helping him to reach Jack, watching as Little Danny gave his older father a gentle kiss and hug.

David leaned over and did the same and then followed his brother out of the room.

“They've been in hospitals before,” Doctor Creepingbear surmised quietly by the door after the youngsters had gone by.  “They know their way around these machines.”

“Little Danny likes to watch me work,” Janet explained, smiling a bit at the memories.  “Okay, now, Jack, do you feel your toes?”

“I feel Danny's hand,” Jack snapped lightly, receiving a gentle squeeze from his husband.  After a quick smile of recognition for his lover's support, he continued, “I feel this crap on my chest.  Where are my legs?”

“They're here, Babe,” Daniel answered.

“Jack, be calm.  We're going to take some more X-rays, and I think we'll do an MRI now, too,” Janet stated.  “Excuse us a moment,” she said, walking over to the side to speak with her colleague.

“Danny, the kids ...”

“Little Danny wanted to come.  He needs to be here.  I'm not sure why exactly, but he does.  Don't give me a hard time about this, Jack.”

Jack saw a hint of desperation in his Love's eyes.  It was clear Daniel had made a spur-of-the-moment decision, and it was to allow the two children to come to the hospital.  Maybe he would have done the same thing if their positions were reversed.

“Are you okay, Angel?” Jack whispered.

“Peachy,” Daniel snarked.  “Jack ...”

“Piece of cake,” Jack interrupted, suppressing his fears and doubts for the moment in favor of comforting his lover.

====

Daniel was taking a five-minute break from his Jack vigil.  He had just inserted a dollar bill and pressed the button of his choice on the vending machine.

“Daniel,” Janet called out calmly, her pace steady and light, hoping to keep the worried husband from becoming alarmed that something was amiss.

Daniel reached in and withdrew his chocolate bar and then walked a few steps to meet up with the redhead.

“Nothing's wrong; I mean, nothing new,” Janet soothed, wanting to make sure her friend didn't panic anymore than he needed to.  “What I wanted to talk to you about was Jack staying at Memorial.”

“You don't want to transfer him to the Academy hospital?”

“Frankly, Daniel, it's easier here right now.  I wouldn't want to move Jack anyway, not until we have a firm grip of what's going on,” Janet responded.  “Memorial's a good hospital, and I've arranged to be here as much as possible for a few days.”

“Thanks, Janet.”

“I'm on the way to speak with Doctor Creepingbear.  I'll let you know when we know something more definite.”

Daniel nodded, sighing as he twisted around to watch the physician walk away.  After a moment, he looked down at the chocolate bar.  He wasn't hungry anymore.  Tossing the bar down onto a nearby table, he returned to his soulmate's side.

====

“You really don't have to do this,” Daniel spoke gratefully much later that evening.  “I can take them home.”

“I'll watch over them for you so you can concentrate on Jack.”

“Is the office covered?”

“Bibi is going to cover for me in the morning.  I dropped by the house and picked up a few more things.”

“Little Danny will be happy to see you.”

Karissa smiled as she replied, “He's still the sweetest thing on this planet.”

After deciding on a plan of action, Daniel watched Karissa head for the lounge area where David and Little Danny currently were.  He'd called her earlier and mentioned about the boys being at the hospital.  Neither of the children wanted to leave, but Daniel wasn't comfortable with them not being watched during the nighttime hours, and he needed to be with his husband.

Karissa was solving her employer's dilemma by coming to the hospital and spending the night.  She knew Little Danny would fall asleep eventually, and David would reluctantly get some sleep, too, knowing that his younger brother was being watched.

Uncertain what the future held, Daniel looked at his watch.  It was time to make another phone call.

====

“I don't want you to be uncomfortable, Rissa,” Little Danny spoke as he settled his head on her lap.

Running her fingers through the boy's brown hair, the woman replied, “I'm very comfortable, Little Danny.  Close your eyes, and get some sleep.”  She looked over at David and smiled, seeing him snuggling into one of the lounge chairs.  Looking down at her youngest charge, she spoke softly, “Things will be better in the morning.  Close your eyes and dream of Egypt in the summertime, helping your fathers to unearth a long-hidden treasure.  All smiles, Little Danny.  Nothing but smiles.”

====

“They're relieved that his kidneys have continued to function normally, and this morning they moved him from the Neuro ICU to the Step Down Unit,” Daniel reported over the phone as he walked the corridor leading to his lover's room.

Daniel had been giving the couple's oldest son regular updates on Jack's condition a twice a day.

“Step Down?” Jeff questioned, not having heard that term before.

“Uh, yes, it's for patients who require less monitoring than in the ICU, but still need more care than just being in the medical unit.  It's a...a step down from regular ICU care.”

“So he's okay, head wise?” Jeff asked, grimacing at how awkward his query sounded.

“Yes, except for ... well ...”

“Head jokes?” Jeff teased lightly.

“Actually, he hasn't ... uh, no.”

Jeff didn't need his younger father to speak the words.  Jack hadn't made any jokes.  He wasn't sure if that was good or bad, but he figured it probably was more on the negative side of the scale.  It had only been three days since the accident, though, and he figured his father should be allowed to complain, if he wanted to.

Daniel continued, “He's in a brace, and he's not very thrilled with that, but the doctors want to reduce the movement of the spine as much as possible.”

“Have they done another MRI?”

“They've done two over the last couple of days.  I'm not sure what is on the schedule for today, but Janet said the swelling was going down, so they'd probably hold off on another one for now.”

“Daddy, I'm coming home.”

“No,” Daniel refuted.  “Jeff, stay in school.  Dad's not at risk,” he maintained.

Since the first phone call to Jeff the night of the accident, Daniel had insisted that Jeff stay at school, even though a part of him wanted all of his children close.

“I feel like I should be there.  You need help with the brood.” Jeff argued.

“We have a lot of family,” the archaeologist heard himself say.  ~Wow.  That was so natural.~

For just a split second, Daniel reflected back on a time when he had no one but himself to rely on.  Now, he had Jack, their children, their zoo, and a list of people he thought of as family, too.  It felt good.

“But I feel like I should be there,” the young man repeated.  “Daddy, what about the Spitfires?”

“They're fine.”

“Daddy, their birthday is in three days.”

“Oh, crap,” Daniel bemoaned, stopping his movement and moving over so he could lean against the white wall.  “I forgot.”

“See, you need me.”

“Of course, I do, but the semester just started.  If things get too crazy, I'll let you know.  I need to check on Dad.”

“Cranky?”

“He's never been a patient ... patient,” Daniel pointed out before ending the conversation with the boy.  “We love you, Son, but I need you to stay at school. Everything is under control.  Okay?”  After getting Jeff's grudging agreement, he thought, ~He's scared out of his freakin' mind; gawd, so am I.~

--

Jeff hung up the phone while stating quietly, “Under control?  You forgot a birthday; that's as bad as forgetting ice cream.”

Picking up the book that he'd been studying for one of his architectural design courses, Jeff opened it and began to read.  Less than two minutes later, he closed the book and got up to walk over to the family portrait that was hanging on the wall.

Five minutes after that, the young man was out of his dorm and headed for his counselor's office.

====

“Babe, I need to go see the children for a while,” Daniel told his lover.  ~And see if I can come up with a quick birthday party for the twins,~ he added silently, choosing not to say it out loud so that Jack wouldn't feel guilty about not having remembered the birthdays, either.

“Go,” Jack sighed.

“One thing first,” Daniel said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small pin. “I went through your things today; I mean, the things you were wear...ing ...”  He paused to regain control of his raging emotions before explaining, “I thought you might want this.”

“Angel,” Jack spoke softly as he saw the tiny wedding pin that was identical to the one Daniel had on his shirt collar.

As Daniel put the item on his soulmate's hospital garb, he joked, “Just make sure you remember not to let the nurses walk away with this when they change your clothing.”

“Not a chance,” Jack agreed.

The lovers kissed and then Daniel headed for the doorway.

“Danny?”

“What?” Daniel asked, spinning around to face his husband.

“Make sure Ricky and Jenny have a birthday, okay?”  Seeing Daniel's smile, Jack added, “I don't forget birthdays.  Birthdays are special.  It's one of our rules.”

“Because of you.  Birthdays have always been special because you've made them that way.  I love you.”

“I love you, too.”  As Daniel turned around again, Jack called out, “Special, Danny!  Special!”

“Got it!” Daniel called out.  ~I hope that's a promise I can keep.~

====

“I think that's why he's talking to Aunt Sam,” Jenny whispered to her twin.

“We always have big parties,” Ricky noted.

“Ricky, you can have our party all to yourself this year, 'kay?”

Not needing to say anything further, Ricky got up, took hold of Jenny's hand, and walked towards Pete's study, where Daniel and Sam had been talking for the last few minutes.

“Daddy?” Ricky called out.

“Hey,” Daniel responded.  “I'll be out in a minute, but I really need to speak with Aunt Sam first.”

“We don't want our party,” Ricky stated, ignoring his father's comment.  “We'll just stay seven until Dad is home.”

“Yeah,” Jenny agreed.  “I like being seven.”

Daniel and Sam exchanged a look that wasn't quite surprise, but yet still was.

“We can have our party with the Munchkins,” Jenny suggested.  “They won't mind.”

“That's a great idea, Jenny.  I'll go ask them,” Ricky said excitedly, running out of the room.

“Walk, don't run,” Daniel shouted to the fleeing boy.  “Jenny, it's okay to ...”

“Will Dad be home?” the girl interrupted.

“No,” Daniel sighed, leaning down to pick up the redhead.  “Are you sure?”

“We're the brood, Daddy.  Every day is a birthday party to us; some are just bigger party days than others.”

“Wow,” Sam spoke, smiling a bit from embarrassment upon realizing she'd reacted verbally.  ~That's wise.~

“Daddy, it's okay,” Ricky spoke hurriedly as he rejoined the group, followed by all three of the Munchkins.

“We'll share our birthday this year,” Aislinn stated with a nod.

“We'll need more cake, though, and lots more ice cream,” Jonny pointed out.

“More chocolate, too,” Little Danny added.  “Dad'll be home for our birthday, huh?”

Daniel put Jenny back down and responded with a bit of hesitation, saying, “I hope so.”  He took a breath and said, “Dad really wants your birthday to be special, so I think we should go ahead and ...”

“No,” all five of the youngsters refuted emphatically.

“Birthdays are only special if you *and* Dad are here,” Jenny explained.

“We'll have our birthday with the Munchkins,” Ricky stated firmly.

“Look who I found when we were checking on the zoo!” Pete exclaimed as he walked in with Brianna and David, as well as two very familiar adults behind him.

In scattered calls of joy, the children exclaimed, “Uncle Billy!  Aunt Jilly!”

“Did you know they were coming?” Sam asked while the children were exchanging welcoming hugs and kisses with the O'Neills.

“No, but I'm not surprised,” Daniel responded, smiling as he walked forward to share greetings with Jack's older brother and his wife.  The couple lived in Australia, but they tried to come for visits as often as they could.  “It's good to see you both,” he greeted as their three-way hug ceased.

“How is he?”

“Cranky.  Very cranky,” Daniel answered.

“The rest of the brood haven't even seen Dad yet,” Little Danny sighed unhappily.

“Why is that?”

“Hospital rules,” Daniel responded, not that he believed that was the real reason. Rather, his husband hadn't wanted to see the kids.  He was too wrapped up in his personal trauma.  ~Whoa!  Stop it,~ he ordered himself.  ~You don't know what this is like for Jack.  He's still recovering.  Give him some time.~

====

“Anything?” Daniel asked hopefully as the Labor Day afternoon began to ebb towards evening.

“It's the same as it's been for the last five days, Daniel,” Jack answered sarcastically.

“It'll get better soon.”

“Miracle cure?” Jack snapped.

“Jack, can the attitude.”

“Too much for ya?”

“We have twelve children at home, and they're not getting a lot of attention right now, so if you'd rather I go spend some time with them, say the word,” Daniel challenged, understanding his husband's attitude and yet tired of it at the same time.

“Go!” Jack barked.  “Can't even give the kids a party,” he whined in disgust.

“It was their choice, Jack, and you wouldn't have won the argument with them, either, so let it go.”

“You go,” the older man ordered, frustrated by his condition, making him a certain burden on his family, and by the fact the Spitfires had rebelled, refusing to even acknowledge that tomorrow was their eighth birthday.

Daniel began to walk out, but then he sighed and returned to his Love's bedside.  He leaned over and gave him a chaste kiss on the lips, not caring who saw.

“I love you, Jack.  I think you need a break from me hovering over you, so I'm going to have dinner with the brood, and then I'll be back.”

“Danny ...” the older man sighed softly.

“I know,” Daniel replied with a loving smile.  “We *are* going to get through this.”

“What if I've lost my wiggle for good?”

“One day at a time, Love.”

“Daniel, that's a cliché, and you *know* how I feel about those,” Jack quipped lightly.

“I'll be back.  Um, one thing.  They want to see you.”

“No,” Jack said sharply, looking away.

“Jack ...”

“Not yet,” Jack replied, refusing to look at his husband now.

“I'll be back,” Daniel said reluctantly.  “I love you.”

As he headed down the corridor, the archaeologist heard, **I love you, too.**

Smiling, Daniel entered the elevator and headed home for a few hours with the children, relieved that Jack at least still recognized the love the couple shared.

====

“Why can't we see Dad?” Lulu asked, frustrated, as were all of the children, that she hadn't been allowed to visit with her older father.

The family had eaten dinner together and were spending a few more minutes chatting before Daniel had to go back to the hospital.

“Dad needs ...”

“... a kick in the butt,” Billy interjected.  “Daniel, from the stories I've heard, hospital rules or not, normally these kids would have seen their father by now.”

“Dad doesn't want to see us,” Jenny sighed as she nuzzled into Jilly.

“That isn't true, Jenny,” Jilly refuted.

“Brood, this situation is one Dad has never faced before.  He's just not sure how to handle it,” Daniel admitted.  He paused, staring at Lulu and then at Jenny.  Then he looked into the eyes of each of his other children.  He saw their need, and he knew Jack was fighting a severe case of the 'self-pities'.  It was time to make a choice on which was more important.  “You know what?  Dad does need to see you.”

“And a kick in the butt,” Billy maintained.

“Are you gonna kick Dad, Uncle Billy?” JD questioned.

“I just might, and he'd deserve it, too,” Billy answered.  Then he smiled and walked over to the youngster, taking him into his arms.  “JD, your dad is stubborn.  Do you know what that means?”

“He likes to be right,” JD answered with a nod, getting a few giggles.

“That's true, and right now he's got himself one bad case of the 'sorries', and he won't admit it,” Billy stated.

“Why does he have the 'sorries'?” JD questioned.

“Because he can't move very well,” Chenoa answered.  “Well, he can't move at all, not his legs, anyway.  He feels bad.”

“Aunt Janet says it's just temporary,” David stated.

“Yeah, spinal shock she called it,” Brianna elaborated.

“Right,” Little Danny concurred.

“What's that again?” Chenoa asked.

“It's a reaction to the injury to his spinal cord,” Little Danny answered.  “The swans he bought for the pool broke, and the beak on one of them slammed into his back because of the accident.”

“But didn't Aunt Janet say it's only supposed to last a few hours?” Lulu asked quietly.  “Dad's been shocked all week.”

“I know,” the child prodigy sighed.  “Daddy, does Dad have a fracture in his back? I was reading about causes of paralysis, and spinal shock shouldn't cause it, not for this long.  Dad must have something else wrong.”

“Daddy, are you keeping something from us?” Aislinn challenged suspiciously, her hands on her hips.

Daniel sighed and sat back down.  Sometimes, he really wished the children weren't so smart and that they didn't have such a straight-forward family policy of not keeping big secrets from one another.

“Initially, there was some swelling, a hematoma, and the doctors felt that just the pressure from the force of the swans being thrown against Dad's back could have caused whatever distress Dad was feeling,” Daniel began.

“What's a hematoma?” Chenoa queried.

“A bunch of blood just sitting there,” Little Danny answered.

“That's right,” Daniel affirmed.  “They drained it.  They really thought that was what was preventing Dad's ability to feel.”  Daniel looked down for a moment and sighed once again.  “Uh, they ... they don't know why he's not able to feel his legs right now.  They're going to do some more testing in the morning.”

“Dad will be okay,” Jenny insisted.

Daniel smiled at the redhead and nodded while agreeing, “Yes, he will.  Okay, everyone get ready.  We're going to leave in five minutes.”

Cheers and smiles broke out.

“Just remember, Dad's a little grouchy right now.  He loves you all so much, but he's ...”

“... scared!” a bunch of voices exclaimed before hurrying out to go to the bathroom, wash their hands, and put on their jackets.

“Will they let the kids in?” Billy asked his brother-in-law.

“Probably not,” Daniel answered.

“But you're taking them anyway?”

“The brood ... has ... talents,” Daniel explained cryptically.  Checking his watch, he added, “But I think we'll wait a little while before we go.”

“Why?”

“They do a shift change in about ninety minutes.  The nurses going off duty just want to go home, and the ones who have just started are examining their patients.  It's the best time to attack, I mean, visit.”

Billy put his hand on Daniel's right shoulder and patted it while saying, “Daniel, you've got too much military in you when you're evaluating an ICU like it was some building to be overrun, especially when you've already thought out the tactical situation.”

Daniel nodded and said, “We'll put JD and Little Danny on point.  They're hard to resist.”

With a not-so-innocent shrug and smirk, the archaeologist walked out of the room, leaving Billy shaking his head.

====

“We're going to see our dad!” Ricky insisted as the brood stared down the floor nurse who was trying to prevent them from entering the Step Down Unit, which was circular in shape with Jack's room being at the four o'clock position.

“We have other patients who ...”

“... who aren't in Dad's room.  He has a private one,” Chenoa stated as she pointed in the right direction, having already been given that information by her younger father.

“We're very good in hospitals,” Little Danny announced.

~Gawd, I wish he hadn't said that,~ Daniel lamented as he stood a few feet behind and to the right of the children.

“He needs us!” Lulu argued.

“And it's our birthday tomorrow,” Jenny added.

Suddenly, the nurse looked down, feeling the tug of her long smock.  It was JD, looking up at her with innocent eyes.

“I need to see my dad, okay?”

“Please!” Little Danny added, his blue eyes pleading for some understanding.

Over by the tunnel-like area that led into the Neuro ICU where Daniel was standing, Billy whispered, “You're right, Daniel.  They do have ... talents.”

Nodding, Daniel just smiled.  He hadn't bothered to say one word to the nurses on duty.  He'd just let the children walk in and take over.

“We'll just sneak in, if you don't let us,” Jonny admitted.  “We're good at covert.”

Daniel's head just dropped as he closed his eyes.  There had been a warning in the eldest Munchkin's words.

“Covert?” the nurse chuckled, earning her a glare from the sandy-haired boy.

“Ma'am, can I tell you something?” David asked politely, walking a couple of steps to his left, which caused the nurse to shift as she turned to face him.

“Jack would be proud of this,” Daniel whispered to Billy.

“What?”

“Watch Jonny.”

With David potentially sacrificing his time with Jack, Jonny quietly led several of his siblings into Jack's room.

“Should we help?” Billy queried.

“Not yet.  We'll only bring attention to it.  Look, Little Danny is coming back to assist.”  Aware of Billy's surprise, “David and Little Danny were here the first night and were able to talk to Jack then.”

“How did you get permission for that?”

“I didn't.  One of the nurses allowed them to come in for a minute early on.  They sneaked in a couple of times during the night.  The next morning I just said my children were going to see their father, and if they didn't like it, tough.”  Daniel laughed, “Jack would have been proud of me then.”  He sighed.  “That is, if he hadn't already started to cop an attitude.”

Daniel and Billy watched David and Little Danny talk a mile-a-minute around the nurse.  She was totally unprepared for their genius, especially that of the younger boy.  Finally, she threw her hands up, about to lay down the law when she realized the other children were gone.

“Where did they go?” the nurse asked.

“I'll show you,” Little Danny offered with a polite smile, knowing this was his chance to see his older father again.

--

“What's going on?” Jack barked when he saw his children entering his room.

“We're here to see you, Dad,” Aislinn answered brightly, happy when Jennifer helped her up to give Jack a kiss.

One by one, without interfering with the medical setup in the room, the children gently hugged and kissed their father.  Each one told him a quick story of something they had done during the week.

“They're in here,” Little Danny announced, hurrying over to get his hug and kiss before being thrown out.

“Hi, Dad,” David said, quickly following suit.

--

“Now, we go,” Daniel instructed Billy.  “We should be able to get about ten minutes more for the brood.”

Chuckling, Billy accompanied Daniel, arriving at Jack's room, just in time to hear the order being given to leave.

“What's going on?” Daniel asked innocently, his right hand signaling the children to make the most of their time.

“Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, these children ...”

“Uh, would you mind?” Daniel interrupted, pointing to the corridor and then leading the way.  “It's just, I don't argue in front of the brood.”

“Brood?”

Billy chuckled inwardly.  With a simple gesture and word, Daniel was successfully distracting the nurse, giving the kids extra minutes with their dad.

--

“I want you to have your party,” Jack told the Spitfires.

Stubbornly, the twins shook their heads, and Jenny stated, “We're having our birthday with the Munchkins.”

“After you come home,” Ricky put forth with certainty.

“Stubborn,” Jack sighed with a smile.

“They're just like you, Dad,” Jennifer teased.

“Dad, I need you at home,” JD stated as he sat on the bed under Jennifer's supervision.  He leaned his head down gently on Jack's shoulder and said, “I want you to come home.”

Jack blinked, trying not to get overly emotional.  In spite of himself, he felt his left hand rise up to hold the child to him.

“Dad, we're the Jackson-O'Neills,” Little Danny proclaimed, practically admonishing his older father.  “Together ...”

“... we can beat anything,” the entire family, Jack included, declared in unison.

“Crap,” Jack sighed.  “Your old man is a dope sometimes.  Don't know what I'd do without you.”

Hearing the laughter that began to come from the room, Daniel knew it was time to stop the rhetoric he'd been spewing and conclude the visit.

“Thank you, Ma'am.”

“Excuse me?”

“My children needed to see their father, but even more than that, Jack needed to see them.  Look.”  Daniel waited for the woman to twist around and take in the scene in the room.  “He's laughing, and so are they.  I know you believe in pills and machines, but I believe in that.  Thank you for bending the rules, just for a few minutes.”  With an appreciative nod, he walked around the nurse and entered the room.  “Brood, time to go.”

With a final kiss and hug, the children joined Billy in the corridor, while Daniel walked over to his husband.

“Dirty trick, Jackson.”

“I learned from the best, O'Neill.”

Jack grimaced and said, “Doesn't sound right.”

Daniel smiled and leaned over for a kiss, after which he spoke, “That's because we got the names wrong.”

“I love you, Angel.”

“I love you, too, my Silver Fox.  Jack, hang in there.  We have a family, and our family finds a way to survive anything and everything.  *You* taught us that.  We all learned it from you, so you need to believe it, too.”

“It's hard.”

“I know, Babe, but Janet's working on it,” Daniel reminded his lover.

“With Benji,” Jack quipped.  “Has Teal'c met Mister Smooth yet?”

“I don't think so.  I think Janet's a little worried about his safety.”

“Teal'c's?”

“Mister Smooth...uh, Doctor Creepingbear's.”

“There's history there, Danny,” Jack said in a gossiping manner.

“Yeah, but I don't think Teal'c needs to be worried.”

“Jack, did the kids do the trick, or do I still need to kick your butt?” Billy asked, having walked in to let Daniel know the nurse's patience was running out.

“Shouldn't you be herding cattle or something?” Jack snarked lightly.

Billy laughed, “Daniel, the nurse is begging us to leave.  Her boss is due back from her dinner break ...”

“Okay,” Daniel interrupted.

“Jack, shape up and set an example for those kids out there,” Billy warned, not quite convinced Jack was truly with the program now.  He walked over, leaning in for a hug and giving his younger brother a kiss on the cheek.  “You scared me out of another five years, Bro.  Don't do that again.”

“I'll try not to,” Jack chuckled, patting Billy's arm.

“Jilly sends her love.”

“She here?”

“Yeah, we're gonna stay a while,” Billy answered.  “Love you, Man.”

“Love you, too, big brother,” Jack replied.  “Tell Jilly you're a lucky man,” he teased, smiling as Billy turned around, laughing, and walked out of the ICU room.

After Billy exited, Daniel gave Jack another kiss and then headed out to join the rest of his family.

~An example?  I can't walk.  Heck, I can ... Danny, I can't,~ Jack sighed, his mind wandering to the sexual needs of his life partner.

====

“Jennifer, are you still here?” Jilly asked in surprise the next day when she saw the young woman cleaning up the hospitality room after breakfast.

“Aunt Jilly, I think I'll just stay home today.”

“I don't think your fathers want you to miss your classes.  Daniel told me you missed most of last week, and this is just the beginning of your semester.”

“They need me,” Jennifer said of the brood.  “And there's too much ... I mean ...”

Jilly laughed, “I know exactly what you mean about we oldies, but we can handle it.”

“I feel so bad for the twins,” Jennifer said.

“I offered to bake a cake, but ...”  Jilly paused, hearing a noise.  It began with some happy barks and was followed by the sound of excited children.  “Now what's under their bonnets?”

Jennifer and Jilly walked into the living room and then Jennifer screamed happily, “Jeff!”  Running to her brother, she hugged him.  “I'm so glad you're here.  We need you.”  Whispering in his ear, she added, “I need you.”

“I know,” Jeff replied quietly, responding to both comments and then breaking away and bending down to great Bijou and Katie.  “I missed you, too.”  Looking up, he asked, “Is Daddy at the hospital?”

“What's all the fuss about?” Billy called out, breaking out into a smile when he saw the college student.

“Hi, Uncle Billy,” Jeff greeted, walking over to hug the man.

“What are you doing here?”

“The same thing you and Aunt Jilly are.  Uh, is anyone else home?” Jeff asked.

“The Spitfires and Noa are at the Paynes, Bri's doing some dolphin thing, and JD is at Cassie's,” Jennifer answered.

“We're missing a couple,” Jeff observed.

Jennifer looked around and giggled, “We are.”  She walked to the intercom and called out, “Jonny, you're missing a surprise!”  She waited a moment, surprised when she didn't get an answer.  After another second, she called out, “Jon...ny.”

“What's the surprise?” Jonny asked, having come down the stairs in a hurry, followed by Lulu.  “Jeff!”

“Hey, Jonny!  Lil'Bit!”

“How long are you going to be home?” Lulu asked.

“Well, to answer that, I need your help.”

“He's gonna stay!” Jonny exclaimed.

“Daddy isn't going to be happy about that,” David pointed out.

“I'm here, Jeff.  You can go back to college,” Jennifer said.

“Family meeting,” Jeff advised.  “We need to talk, seriously.”  He looked at Jennifer and asked, “Can you go to the Paynes and get the Spitfires?”

“Sure.”

“Where's Bri's dolphin thing?” Jeff asked.

“I can get her, too,” Jennifer said, smiling.

“I'll go get JD,” David offered, standing and heading for the backdoor.

“David, remember ...”

“She always locks it anyway,” David said about the security gate that led to Cassandra's house.

“Jeff picture!” Ptolemy squawked from the recreation room, causing everyone to laugh.

“Better go say 'hi' to Ptolemy, Jeff,” Little Danny urged.

Walking towards the room where the magnificent hyacinth macaw bird was, Jeff smiled and thought, ~I made the right decision.~

====

“Jen, this better be good,” Brianna warned, still not having any idea why she'd been pulled away from her dolphin seminar.  All she knew is that her family was okay, so she didn't need to worry.  This allowed her to be a little miffed.  “Real good,” she added as she closed the door of Jennifer's Mini-Cooper vehicle after getting the twins out of the backseat.

“It's good.  It's ...”  Jennifer gasped, her heart skipping a few beats and her eyes tearing.  She couldn't believe it.  “Peter!”

“Come on,” Brianna said to the twins, patting Peter's arm as she headed inside.

“Oh, Peter!” Jennifer exclaimed as she fell into his arms.

“Don't be mad, Jen.  I couldn't stay at Oxford, knowing how upset you were about your dad.  I figured I could help.”

Jennifer just sighed, snuggling into her boyfriend's protective arms.

“I know you.  You were going to try and take care of everything by yourself, for your fathers.  You could, so don't misunderstand me.  You're so strong, but I love you, and I want to be your support.  You can boss me around until your dad is up and around again.”

Jennifer sniffled and asked something she hadn't dared even think about consciously -- “Peter, what if he never walks again?”

“Well, you're a Jackson-O'Neill, and Jackson-O'Neills are unbeatable when they're together.  Isn't that what you've always told me?”

“Yes, but ...”

“No 'buts', Jen,” Peter ordered, pulling back to stare into her eyes.  “Your parents don't allow 'buts', right?”  Smiling confidently, he continued, “This family will survive and be stronger than ever, no matter what the future is.  You just have to believe.”

Jennifer and Peter kissed and then she sighed, “I'm so glad you're here.”

“You take care of the brood, and I'll take of you.”  Seeing his Love's broad smile, he asked, “What?”

“You remind me of Dad and Daddy.  They say things like that to each other all the time.”

“Then we're on the right track.”

“Lovebirds, get a move on.  Jeff's waiting!”

“We're coming, Uncle Billy,” Jennifer called out, allowing herself another big hug before the couple joined hands and began heading towards the interior of the home.

====

At the hospital, Daniel was pacing, waiting for the latest test results to come in. He'd rather be with Jack, but he'd fallen asleep, and Daniel was too full of nervous energy to just sit quietly, so he'd gone into the corridor to do his walking.

“Daniel,” Janet called out with her fellow medical school alumnus standing next to her.

“I know that look, Janet.”

“Let's go to Benji's office,” Janet requested.

Daniel nodded and followed the two physicians, taking a seat once the three had reached their destination.

“Still no response?” Daniel questioned before the other two could say anything else.

“No.  He hasn't responded to any of our reflex tests, including one that isn't all that pleasant.”

Daniel blinked, knowing the test was going to happen sooner or later, but hoping miraculously it would have been skipped.

“I'm sure Jack wasn't happy with that one.”

“Remember how he responded to Merrin's situation?” Janet asked.

“That bad?”

“Multiply by a factor of ten, especially since we do it daily,” the redhead stated.  “It's understandable.  No one enjoys having a finger put up their rectum and then pulling ...”  All of sudden, seeing Daniel's expression, Janet stopped.  She cleared her throat and moved forward, stating, “There wasn't any reaction to that test or any other, but we've found something that we missed early on,” she began.  “As you know, we thought the hematoma in the spinal cord area was what was causing the spinal shock.”

“Spinal shock normally only lasts a few hours.  It's rare for it to go on for even a few days, let alone a week,” Creepingbear interjected.

“The swan's beak hit Jack about here,” Janet said, pointing to a diagram at the second lumbar vertebra.  “What we failed to notice was that there seems to be a small area of damage there as well.  We're guessing that one of the wires inside the swan's neck caused a puncture wound into the spinal canal, but it's just a guess.”

“Seems to be?”

“It's very small.  We can't say for sure without surgery, and we don't advise that.  There are too many complications just to be sure, and the surgery can't fix the damage, anyway.”

“What if you're wrong?  Maybe it's ... may...maybe it's something else,” Daniel argued wildly.

“Daniel, if we're wrong, and it's a fracture, even a chance fracture, there's still nothing we can do.”

“It's a hole!” Daniel shouted as he stood up, needing to move around.  “Patch it up!” he ordered, his hands flailing in front of him out of the desperation he was feeling.

“Punctures of the vertebrae aren't just patched up,” Janet responded.

“So...so, what do we do?”  The archaeologist watched Janet and Creepingbear exchange glances, and he didn't like the unspoken words he was hearing.  “We *have* to do something!  Janet, we're talking about Jack.  You *know* him.”  He was chilled by the silence that filled the room.  Reluctantly, slowly, and probably in shock himself, Daniel returned to his chair.  There was more silence, until he asked simply, “Janet?”

“There's nothing we can do, Daniel.  I'm so sorry.”

“What are you saying?” Daniel asked, already knowing the answer, but trying to deny it as long as possible.

“I'm saying that Jack's other wounds are healing just fine.  I'm saying that it's time to send him to a rehab facility.”

“Janet?” Daniel asked, his voice cracking.  ~This is a nightmare.  Yeah, it's freakin' nightmare.  Jack, wake me up.  Please wake me up.~

Swallowing and trying not to let out the tear that was threatening to ruin her makeup, Janet added, “I'm suggesting you call Alex and start making plans to make some ... changes to the house.”

A lifetime flashed in front of Daniel's eyes.  His lover, so tall and strong, so vital and active, was about to be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.  The impact of this would affect everyone in their lives, but right now, Daniel's focus was on his soulmate.

“Have you told him?”

“No,” the Native American doctor answered.  “Janet said you'd want to.”

“She's right,” Daniel whispered emotionally.

“Daniel, we need to start his adjustment right away.  He can stay here for a couple of days so we can help get him ready.  There's a lot for all of you to learn.  Jack will need counseling ...”

“Janet ...”

Not stopping, Janet continued, “As will you, and the brood, all of them.”

“You know how Jack feels about ...”

“How's Lulu?” the wise physician questioned.

“Good point,” Daniel acknowledged, knowing that without the counseling sessions the once-victimized and abused girl had received over the years, she may not be the happy child she was today.

“This is going to be a big change, Daniel.  You can't turn away others, especially us.  We're family.  You have to let us help,” Janet implored.

“Janet?” Daniel begged, wanting something to latch on to.

“A full recovery is nearly impossible.  I'm not saying things don't happen, but they're one in a billion.”  Janet sighed, searching for some hope to give, though, in reality, she knew better.  “Time.  If a recovery is going to be made, it's usually between now and the six-month mark.  After a year, it's ... rarer than rare.  Over two years, unheard of.”

“That's not much.”

Janet leaned forward and took her friends hands as she spoke, “Don't lie to yourself, and whatever you do, don't lie to Jack and your children.  Jack is paralyzed from the waist down.  Barring some unforeseen miracle, and I do mean a miracle, he's going to be paralyzed for the rest of his life.  I wish I could give you what you're asking for, but I can't.  Punctures don't heal.”

“It's a mistake,” Daniel insisted.

“Heaven knows I hope it is,” Janet whispered, pulling her friend close for an embrace.  “I hope it is,” she repeated, knowing it wasn't.

====

“I *hate* that thing,” Jack snapped at the nurse who was changing the catheter. “I don't need it to pee,” he mumbled.

“Hey,” Daniel greeted quietly as he walked in, self-hugging.

“I'll be finished in just a moment,” the nurse announced.

“Get away!” Jack exclaimed as soon as he could see the woman was finished.  He swatted at her with his left hand and looked away.  “Out!”

With a nervous smile, Daniel watched the nurse finish up and walk out of the room.  He walked closer, but stood back about a foot or two.

“Do I have cooties?”

“What?”

“The air better over there?”

“Oh, uh, sorry,” the younger man spoke, walking forward and leaning over to kiss his husband.

Jack watched his husband as he stood up straight again, immediately resuming his self-hug.  He studied the younger man for what seemed like days to him, though it was just a few seconds.

“Gonna have to buy those in bulk, eh?” Jack finally asked.

“What?” Daniel asked nervously.

“I'm not stupid, Daniel.”

“Of course, you're not.  You're ... you're ...” Daniel stammered, totally unprepared for the situation he was now in.

“A paraplegic?” Jack asked.  “Is that the word you're looking for?”

“Jack ...”

“Daniel, don't lie to me!  If you hug yourself any tighter, you'll break your muscles.”

“Muscles don't break,” Daniel heard himself say, having no clue why he'd said it. ~Yes, I do.  I don't know what to say.  For the first time, I don't have words.~

“Let me help you,” Jack spoke, his sharpness unable to be missed.  “My legs are there, but they've gone on a permanent vacation.  Is that what it is you can't tell me?”

“Jack ...” Daniel began softly, trying desperately not to give way to the tears that were threatening.

“I'm about to be glued to some glorified chair for the rest of my life, is that it?” the older man questioned harshly.  “Well, isn't it?” he asked, his voice louder than before.  “Daniel, answer me!”

“Yes,” Daniel answered, his chest heaving in and out as he struggled for a breath that he suddenly didn't have.  “Gawd,” he gasped, leaning forward, putting his hands on his knees.

“Danny?”

“I'm fine,” the archaeologist said, licking his lips as he straightened.

“Neither one of us is fine, Daniel,” Jack refuted.  “Let's hear it, and don't leave anything out.”

====

Per their plan, Janet and Doctor Creepingbear arrived in Jack's room about fifteen minutes after Daniel.  They reviewed all the specifics and laid out Jack's future, a life which was drastically different than it had been up to now.

With her hand on Jack's right shoulder, Janet spoke, “Jack, tomorrow we're moving you to a regular room, and you'll start rehab.  In three days, we'll transport you to a rehab facility.  It won't be as bad as you think.”

Jack simply glared at the redhead, not bothering to argue with her.  He was looking at her, but he'd disappeared from the conversation long ago.

Janet sighed.  There was nothing else to say or do at the moment.  She nodded at her colleague, who left the room.  As she began to follow, she hugged Daniel and whispered that he should call her later, if he wanted to talk.

With the medical personnel gone, Daniel walked over to the right side of the bed and took his husband's hand.

“I love you, Jack.”

“Go home, Danny.  The kids need you.”

“The brood needs both of us.”

“Yeah,” Jack said, not looking at his soulmate.  “Leave me alone.”

Daniel blinked, but didn't budge for a few seconds.  When he did, he leaned over Jack's body and forced his lover to face him, thankful for the fact that he had finally gotten over the insecurities that years ago would have made him run at his husband's command.

“Jack, this isn't going to be easy for any of us, but we're together, and that's always the most important thing.  I *love* you, forever and always.  I am going to go now because I need to talk to the brood, but I'll be back in the morning, and then we start the work.”

“How hard can it be to sit in a wheelchair?”

“You'll find out tomorrow,” Daniel said, closing the couple of inches that had separated the two and kissing his somewhat resistant husband.  “It'll be okay.”

“Go home,” Jack whispered, turning his head away from Daniel.

Slowly, Daniel backed away and walked out into the corridor, strangely feeling nothing.  He had an odd sensation, as if he were missing every other breath, but he was certain that was his imagination.  His world had just been turned upside down, and, like Jack, he needed time to process it.  The one thing he did know for certain was that he loved Jack O'Neill, and it really didn't matter whether Jack could walk or not.  Their love would always be there, but the transition in lifestyle would take some getting used to.

====

Two hours later, the archaeologist still hadn't gone home.  Instead, he'd driven around until he'd ended up outside the apartment complex where he used to live. He didn't know why he was there, but he was.  He stared up at his old loft, allowing years worth of memories to flow through him.

Soon, Daniel would have to go home, but right now, he just needed some time to himself.  Directly upon leaving the hospital, he'd made a couple of quick phone calls, having felt obligated to.  Oddly, no one was home, but he left messages.  Even more odd, he couldn't remember what he'd said on those messages, and that was very unusual for him.

~I love you, Jack.  We're together; that's what's important.~

====

The woman stared at the man in the bed.  His eyes were closed, but she recognized the expression.  She'd lived with it, longer than most would have.

“So, are you going to just lay there and rot?”

Jack opened his eyes and whispered, “Sara.”

“Hi, Jack,” Sara greeted softly, walking over and giving him a kiss.  For a moment, it was sweet, and their love that was still there reminded them of their special bond.  “Daniel called me.”

The words broke the momentary spell, and Jack returned to his prior expression.

“I see,” Sara stated.

“See what?”

“Jack, listen to me,” the ex-wife ordered in a manner that prevented argument.  “You have a wonderful husband and a house full of children who adore you.  It doesn't matter squat to them that you can't walk up the stairs now.”

“It will.”

“No, it won't, and the only way it will *ever* matter to them, is if *you* make it an issue.”

“Sara, stop the lecture.”

“No way, Jack,” Sara stated, shaking her head.  “I heard it in his voice.”

“Heard what?”

“You're pushing him away.  It's already started.  I saw it when I walked in, and I'm seeing it now.  You're going to do the 'poor me' act, O'Neill style.”

“Sara ...”

“Jack, you pushed me away.  You closed yourself off like you were a fort, and I was an attacking tribe of Indians.  I bought it.  I didn't have the strength to fight through it, and we lost what we had.  Now, we've worked through all that, and I like what we have now.  I'm not going to let you mess this up.”

“I don't know what you're talking about,” Jack denied.

“You aren't going to be able to close yourself off to Daniel and those kids, and you know it.  You need to have a pity party?  Okay, have it tonight, but in the morning, when Daniel comes here, don't make him fight through the layers.  Think about him.”

“He'd be ...”

“Don't say it,” Sara warned.  “Jack, you're his life, and you know it.  He needs help with your children.  Help him.”

“Why don't you go grade some papers or something?” Jack suggested, sounding as disinterested as he could.

“I'd rather grade you,” Sara said somewhat teasingly.  

“Let me guess.  I'm failing,” Jack snapped.  “Do you know where they want to send me?  Even the military doesn't want me,” he groused, letting out a snort of disgust afterwards.

“My understanding is that the Academy has a great physical therapy unit, but they're not set up for ...”

“... a worthless general who needs help taking a crap?”

“Sorry, General, but you're not getting any pity from me,” Sara replied spiritedly.  “I know more than anyone just how much you're capable of.”  Taking her ex-husband's hand, she paused before gently speaking her next words.  “Jack, no one is going to fault you for needing time -- no one.  Take it, but don't hurt Daniel by making this harder on him.”

“Harder on him?” Jack snapped, pulling his hand away.  “I'm the one who ...”  He stopped, his eyes boring into his ex-wife's, who stared defiantly back at him.  Suddenly, her words made sense.  “Crap.”  He sighed, “Sara, I don't know how to handle this.”

“Neither does Daniel, but you two are amazing together.  You'll figure it out, and you have your children to help you, not to mention everyone else who loves you.”

“Like a certain blonde, very sexy teacher?”

Sara giggled, “I'm not sure I want to admit that right now.”

“Why else would you be here?”

“Jack, he sounded very alone in that message.  I don't think I've ever heard him sound like that, not even when you were missing that Christmastime.  Please, I know this is hard on you.  I can only imagine, but I do know you, and I know your strength.”

“I wasn't always that strong.”

Putting the palm of her hand against Jack's right cheek and caressing it gently, Sara replied, “Daniel changed that, didn't he?  He's your strength, and you're his.”

“Thanks.”

“Jack, I mean it.  I'm not trying to get you to avoid your own pain.  You can't do that, but ...”

“I know, Funny Face.”

“I love you, Jack.  You scared all of us ... again.”

“I should stop doing that.”

“Yes, you should,” Sara agreed, pulling her hand back, but suddenly finding her hand in Jack's.

“Sara, Daniel is my life.  Thanks for stopping me from making a ... you know what out of myself ...”

“... again,” the adults said together, causing both of them to laugh.

“I love you,” Jack whispered with a cracked voice, happy to see the smile it brought to Sara's face.  More vibrantly, he asked, “Don't you have a husband waiting for you?”

“I sure do,” Sara answered, grinning.  “Take care, Jack.  We'll be around, okay?”

Jack nodded, watching as Sara walked away and disappeared around the corner.

~You're so much stronger now, Sara.  Maybe you've always been stronger than me.~

Lost in his thoughts, Jack hated his life at the moment, but he was determined not to let his internal bitterness hurt his lover.  Daniel needed him to be strong, so he would be, no matter what it would cost him inside.

~I love you, Angel.~

====

“Jen, Daddy's late,” Jenny noted as the family sat together in the recreation room.

“Is there a meeting I don't know about?” Daniel questioned as he entered the room, instantly finding himself surrounded by the brood.  He hugged them all and then realized there was someone there he wasn't expecting.  He smiled and pulled Jeff in for a hug of his own.  “You shouldn't be here.”

“Yes, I should, Daddy,” Jeff insisted.  As he pulled back, he asserted, “I'm a Jackson-O'Neill, and right now, there's no place else I should be.”

~I should tell him to go back,~ Daniel thought.  He needed his oldest son at home, though, so only asked a half-hearted, “What about your classes?”

“I talked with my counselor.  I'm going to take a few classes over the internet, and the rest I'll just make up later.  You need me here.  I'm not going back, not right now.”

The archaeologist nodded with pride at the sacrifice the young man was making.  The truth was that he did need Jeff here.  He needed all of his children desperately.

“We want to talk, Daddy,” Little Danny stated.

“Actually, we need to have a family meeting,” Daniel responded.  “Let's sit down.”

“Sir, if you'd prefer I leave ...” Peter began, motioning towards the hallway that led to the door.

“Peter, hello,” Daniel said, surprised at the young man's presence and reaching out to shake his hand.  “Visiting?”

“For as long as Jen needs here, yes, Sir,” Peter answered.  “If you're having a family meeting, maybe I should go.”

Daniel looked at the brood and asked, “Would you like Peter to stay or go for our family meeting?  This is an important one.”

Jonny looked up at Peter and asked, “Are you gonna hurt Jen again?”

“Jonny,” Jennifer whined, wishing the eldest Munchkin would just let it go.  ~It was a long time ago now.~

“It's okay, Jen,” Peter responded.  “No.  One of these days, when the timing is right, I'm going to make sure no one ever hurts her again, including me.”

Jonny grimaced, not sure what that meant.

Seeing her brother's expression, Aislinn rolled her eyes and slapped the boy on the arm as she explained, “He means they're gonna get married.”

“Oh!” Jonny exclaimed.  “Why didn't you just say so?” he asked in exasperation.

“Because I haven't asked her yet.”

“Why not?” the boy questioned.

“Jonny, stop,” Jennifer warned as she turned a light shade of red.

“You'd say 'yes' if he asked you,” Jonny accused.

“Jonathan!” Jennifer exclaimed sternly.

“I'll go,” Peter said, believing it was the best thing to do at the moment.

Feeling another slap on his arm, Jonny whined, “Aaaaaash!”  He sighed and mumbled, “I didn't tell him to go.”

With a laugh, Peter knelt down in front of Jonny and said, “I know you didn't, but I am going to go for now.  I'm not part of this family, yet, and the important word there, Jonny, is 'yet', because I pray that one day I will be.  Right now, the brood needs one another.  Now, if I can help, you let me know.”

Jenny interjected, “Peter, you're family.  Isn't he, Little Danny?”

As so often happened, the entire brood, including Jennifer and Jeff looked at the child prodigy.  He was their gauge for right and wrong.

Little Danny thought for a moment and finally responded, “Sometimes, a family just needs a few minutes to be together.  Then they reach out to their other family, like Aunt Sam and Aunt Janet and T and Aunt Sara and Uncle Mark and ...”

“Son,” Daniel interrupted, smiling at his namesake, knowing the long list of loved ones could have continued for quite a while, his eyes communicating the message to move on with his evaluation.

“Sorry,” Little Danny said with a smile of his own.  “Peter's part of our other family.”

“Okay,” Jenny said, not needing to hear more.  She ran up to Peter and reached up for a hug, which she got.  “You can come back later, okay?”

“Okay,” Peter agreed, feeling honored to be part of the brood's 'other family'.  He was in special company, if the children thought of him like they did Samantha Shanahan and the others they'd mentioned.  ~Pretty cool,~ he thought happily.

As Peter gave his girlfriend a quick kiss, with the younger children giggling in response, except for Jonny who scowled slightly, Daniel looked around and asked, “Uh, where are Uncle Billy and Aunt Jilly?”

“They went shopping, Daddy.  They should be back in about an hour,” Jeff answered.

Daniel nodded, smiling for a moment as he remembered how awkward and difficult it had been for the couple when they'd first returned to Earth from Plantacia a few years ago.  The technology had overwhelmed them, but now they'd adjusted and were more comfortable with the strange life they'd returned to after living what had been essentially a rural farm existence for decades.

At last, the children quickly settled into their places on the sofa sectionals, though as often happened, most of the younger ones decided to sit down on the comfortable floor pillows.  The beagles and cats joined in the meeting, too, roaming from child to child.

“We, uh, have a big challenge ... together now as a family, and this is probably going to be our toughest challenge ever,” Daniel began.

“Dad's not going to walk again, is he, Daddy?” Little Danny asked astutely.

Daniel tried to look away, but there was no where to look that could ease the emotion that had exploded inside of him.

The child prodigy stood up and walked to his father, hugging him as he said, “It's okay, Daddy.  We're here.”

In a second, the rest of the children surrounded their father, some leaning over the sofa, some almost standing on it, and the others leaning into it.  Daniel had become the comforted without saying much of anything at all.  In that moment, he let himself cry.

“It's okay, Daddy,” Lulu echoed.  “We're together, and that's what counts, right?”

“Lulu's right,” Brianna stated.

“We're the brood, Daddy,” Jennifer added.  “The brood is strong, and we're strong because of you and Dad.”

“We love you, Daddy,” Aislinn stated.

Many more such declarations were heard over the next few minutes as the children soothed their younger father's soul.  Even Bijou and Katie were supplying Daniel with licks of love and encouragement.

“I'm sorry,” Daniel apologized when he'd regrouped.

“Daddy, don't be silly,” Chenoa chastised sternly.  “You hold us when we feel bad, so why can't we hold you when you feel bad?”

“I love you, Noa,” Daniel whispered as he caressed her cheek.  “I love all of you so much.  Thank you for letting me get this out and being so strong.  The truth is, we are all going to have to be very strong for Dad.”

“Kids, let's sit down again.  Give Daddy some room,” Jennifer advised, gently prodding the children to back away.

“Daddy needs hugs,” JD insisted as he climbed up into Daniel's lap and gave him yet another hug.

“Always,” Daniel agreed, hugging the youngster and then helping him to settle down on his lap.  “Okay, well, I'm going to be honest with you because, well, Dad and I have always believed that was the only way to be.  All indications are that ... Dad ... he...he won't be able to walk again.  His injuries from the accident were really minor, except for ... for a fracture and this really small hole -- a...a puncture.  The bad news is that the fracture is, well, it's in the wrong place.  The fracture will heal, but we don't know if the puncture will.  Surgery isn't an option, so, so we have to move forward.”

Jennifer and Jeff shared a look.  Both sensed that all of their lives were changing dramatically, even as they exchanged their unspoken worries.

Taking a deep breath, Daniel continued, “The doctors have done all they can.  That includes Aunt Janet.”

“If Aunt Janet can't fix Dad, then he can't be fixed,” Chenoa sniffled sadly.

“She's a fighter, and she doesn't give up, just like we won't, but she wants us to start preparing for Dad coming home.  Now, here's what's going to happen later this week,” Daniel said and then relayed the appropriate information to the brood.  “He'll be at rehab for a few weeks probably, and then he'll come home.”

“Daddy, we have stairs, lots of stairs,” Little Danny pointed out with concern.

Suddenly, Ricky stood up and ran into the living room, not caring about the 'no run' rule at the moment.  Then he ran to the patio doors and looked out.  Finally, almost out of breath from his sprint, he returned to the rec room.

“Dad, we need ramps and an elevator,” Ricky announced.

“We need a lot of things,” Daniel confirmed.

“Do we have a place for an elevator?” Brianna asked, trying to remain realistic about the family home.

Suddenly, the boy gasped even louder and exclaimed, “I know!  Like that movie I watched with Dad once.  Some really old guy with funny hair needed help going up the stairs.  Daddy, can I call Alex?”

“Funny hair?” Brianna whispered to David.

“It was a wig, like the British wore in their old court system,” David answered.

“I never understood that,” the tomboy admitted before tuning into the family conversation again.

Daniel smiled at his enthusiastic son and agreed, “We'll call Alex in a little while.”

“Little Man, I know what you're thinking,” Jeff interjected.  “I think it'll work.”

Ricky grinned at the remark, feeling like he was really contributing to the situation.  Both he and Jeff were budding architects, and both were being mentored by Alex Dennison, the family's friend and miracle worker where their home was concerned.

“We're all going to see a friend of Aunt Janet's, too,” Daniel added.  “Um, and I want everyone to be very honest with your feelings when we talk to this person.  It's something we're all going to do for a while.”

“What's he mean?” Jonny whispered to his Munchkin brother.

“I know,” Lulu interjected.  “We're going to see a psychologist, like I do.”

“Lulu's right,” Daniel said.  “Listen, this is going to be a big, big change for us. We're going to be great, but what we do and how we do it ... well, that might be a little different from now on.”

“We don't need a shrink,” Jonny whined stubbornly, getting a lot of vocal support from his siblings.

Daniel was about to refute the remark when Lulu stood up to take over and argued, “Yes, we do.  Maybe we don't know it yet, but I'm sad that Dad won't walk again.  That means he can't pick me up anymore and swing me around, and he can't reach the Froot Loops anymore, either.  I want to talk about that.  It's not a bad thing to talk about our feelings.”

“That's why we have our family meetings,” Jonny insisted.  “We talk here.”

As the children began to sound off on the pros and cons of counseling, Daniel listened.  He just didn't have the energy to stop them.  Then he felt JD squeeze his hand.  He looked down at the boy, who was smiling.  Daniel smiled back, leaning down to place a kiss on top of the boy's head as he also pulled the child closer.

“Okay, that's enough,” Daniel called out, silencing the children.

“Here's the deal.  For the first couple of months, I'm going to ask everyone to participate, both individually and as a family.  After that, if you don't want to have private sessions, we'll talk about stopping them, but I will ask that you support one another by being part of the family sessions.  Okay?  Two months is what I'm asking.  That'll cover the time Dad is in rehab and at least a few weeks when he's home.”  Daniel studied the faces of the dissenters and implored, “Please.”

“Okay, Daddy, just for you,” Jonny sighed.

“Thank you,” Daniel acknowledged.

“Should get *three* scoops,” the boy mumbled.

“Jonny, life isn't defined by how many scoops of ice cream you get,” Daniel stated, closing his eyes as he heard the sharpness of his words.  ~Gawd.~

Jonny sat up straight, blinking from the tone of his father's words.  He stared for a moment and then stood up to make an announcement.

“We're the brood, and we're unbeatable.  I say we do whatever Daddy wants us to do.  We'll show him and Dad that we really can beat anything, even Dad not being able to walk.  We can walk for Dad!”

Cheers went up, while Jennifer and Jeff shared another cautious expression, both feeling the conflicting emotions that were filling the room.

“Okay, well, we need to talk about Dad's attitude.  It's very important for you to realize that he's hurting.”

“You mean he's gonna be a bear,” David chuckled.

“Big grizzly,” Daniel confirmed.  “He might say things he doesn't mean.  Brood, Dad loves you so much.  It's just right now, he's ...”

“Angry,” Lulu spoke intuitively.

“I think so,” Daniel agreed.  “It's very, very important that you don't ... that you ... that ...”  He let out a huge sigh.  He just didn't know how to tell the children to ignore Jack's bark.  “Dad ...”

“Brood, Dad's probably going to yell and snap at us a lot,” Jennifer interrupted.  “He has to learn how to change his life a little, and he's probably scared, too.  So, if Dad yells at us, or if he says something stupid, we all need to understand that he doesn't mean it.  It's the bear, angry and afraid, who's talking, not Dad.”

“And if we feel sad or hurt by what he says, we need to talk about that.  That's why the psychologist is important.  She, or he,” Jeff said, looking at Daniel and not sure of the sex of the psychologist the family would be seeing, “will help us to not feel so bad, if Dad says something that bothers us.”

“We can handle the bear,” Aislinn stated.  “The bear is really very cuddly, once you stop being afraid of his growl.”

As the children chuckled, Daniel nodded, always proud of how the children responded to negative situations.

“Tomorrow, we'll go see Dad,” the archaeologist stated as he continued talking with the children.

====

“Can we do that, Alex?” an exuberant Ricky asked over the speaker phone as he, Jeff, and Daniel sat in the study about a half-hour after the family meeting had ended.

“You're going to be a top-notch architect very soon, Little Man,” Alex replied over the phone.  “I think I know of a way to make that happen.”

“Alex, hold on a minute, please,” Daniel requested.  “Jeff, would you get Ricky a two-scoop ice cream treat, please.”

“Wow, I did do good!” Ricky exclaimed happily.

“Sure, Daddy,” Jeff responded, getting up and following the eager Spitfire out of the study after sharing a look of support with their younger father.

Daniel's smiled faded as he picked up the phone, taking the call off of the speaker, and spoke, “Alex, I apologize for the wait.”

“Daniel, this is really permanent?”

“Yes,” Daniel answered.

“I'm very sorry,” Alex spoke with sincerity.

“Thank you,” Daniel replied with equal sincerity, though he was getting tired of hearing the phrase from friends, colleagues, employees, and just about anyone he'd been talking to lately.  ~As unbelievable as it sounds, the English language still lacks specificity.  'Thank you' is so awkward.  'Thank you for what?  For caring?  For being sorry?~

“Daniel, I'm in Madrid at the moment.  I can be in the Springs in a couple of days to look over the specs of the house, take a look through to refresh my memory, and make some preliminary plans.  There's a lot that needs to be addressed.”

“As the brood said earlier, we have a lot of steps,” Daniel replied.

“I may have some scheduling conflicts, but I'll know more when I get back.  I'll see you soon.”

“Thank you, Alex,” Daniel said, disconnecting the call.  He stood up and walked over to the comfortable sofa that was under the front window.  He sat down, leaning his head against the top of the old furniture piece.  ~What are we going to do, Jack?  How are we going to be able to change our dream house?  We'll find a way, but I don't know how Alex is going to pull off this miracle.~

Just then, Daniel heard a 'meow' over by the printer.  It was Mittens, looking for Jack and wanting to play their special printer game.

“Sorry, Mittens.  Jack isn't home right now.”

The feline jumped off the desk and pranced over to the sofa, jumping up onto Daniel's lap.  Leaning against him, she began to purr.

“I love you, too.”

====

“Daniel, don't beat around the bush,” Billy requested roughly twenty minutes later after he and Jilly had returned from their shopping outing.

“Well, what they figure happened is that when the other driver slammed into Jack, it forced one of the swans into Jack's back.  Jack said he was leaning over to fix the packages he had on the floor of the front seat.  If he hadn't been ...”

Daniel trailed off, sighing at the 'if only' reality.  If only Jack hadn't decided to rearrange his packages.  If only Jack hadn't stopped to eat at Cy's.  If only his lover hadn't been worried about a lousy pie.  If only the entire discussion over what to put by the pool had never come up at all.

“Daniel?” Billy called out lightly, reaching out to tap the other man's upper arm.

“What?  Oh, I'm sorry.  I just ... I got lost in what I was saying.  Um,” Daniel began, trying to pick up where he left off.  “The impact was actually so powerful that the neck of the swan broke.  What no one realized at the time was that when Jack hit the traffic light pool, one of the wires that supported the swan's neck was apparently pushed into the wound.  It sort of ... popped in and then back out.”

“What makes them think that?”

“From talking to Jack and then reviewing the pictures taken at the scene,” Daniel explained.  “Janet's the one who finally noticed it.  I guess she had a hunch that there had to be something else causing the paralysis, so she got access to the pictures.”

“Smart cookie, but what does all of this mean?” Billy questioned.

“It means ... the wire punctured a very small hole in Jack's spinal canal, damaging the nerves.  That's why he's paralyzed, Billy.  It's ... permanent.”

Billy stared at his brother-in-law in disbelief.  Jack was strong.  There's no way he'd be permanently paralyzed.  It just wasn't possible, not Jack.

“I don't believe that.”

“They can't operate, Billy.  There's no point.  The doctors say damage like this doesn't heal itself and can't be repaired surgically.”

Billy turned around, trying to absorb what he'd just heard.

“There's nothing they can do,” Daniel added quietly.

Turning back around, Billy asked, “How did Jack take the news?”

Daniel just shook his head.  He didn't know how to answer the question.  In fact, right now, he didn't even want to think about it anymore.  He wished he could just escape from the reality, just for a few seconds, but he couldn't.  Jack was his heart and his soul, so there was no escape.  The two were fused together, a strong connection, intertwined forever.

The archaeologist let out a tiny snort as he compared his thoughts with the connections of the vertebrae in the spinal cord.  Each joined together, working in unison to allow function and motion.  Now, though, that unity had been stabbed by a very fine wire, something so incredibly thin that it boggled his mind how its tiny hole could so disable his lover and their family.

~But it has.  A wire.  One thin wire.~

====

“Daddy, you're not going to try and talk me into going back to college, are you?” Jeff asked as he sat down in the den later that night.

“No, but I want to talk with both of you,” Daniel responded, smiling at Jennifer as she, too, walked in and sat down on the ottoman that she moved to be at the side of the recliner her brother was in.

“Jen, do you want ...” Jeff began, starting the motion of standing up.

“No, I'm okay.  You stay there,” the young woman responded.

“Jeff, I'm glad you're here.  Tell me more about the arrangements you made.”

“I spoke with my counselor and then over the next couple of days, we met with some of my professors and worked out a plan.  A few of the courses are offered on the internet, and they've enrolled me in those.  I might need to fly back to UC a couple of times, but I thought you wouldn't mind.”

“Finals and special projects?” Daniel surmised.

“Yes,” the young man answered.

“Okay, I'm proud of you.  That's a...a good plan,” the father acknowledged with a smile.

“Jen ...”

“Daddy, I can reduce my schedule at school and my work at J-O, if you want.  I think I should be with the brood,” Jennifer opined.

“I hate to ask you, but I'm going to, only for this one term, and that's for both of you,” Daniel stated strongly, looking at both of the adult children.  “I do need you here, and I believe the rest of the brood needs you.  Dad's going to be tough to handle for a while.  In a few months, we'll have things more organized, but at first ...”

“We're here, Daddy,” Jennifer promised with a smile.

“Thank you,” Daniel acknowledged.  “Uh, I'm going to rely on both of you a lot.”  He chuckled, “Dad and I always have anyway, but even more right now.”  Thoughtfully, he added, “You know, in the past, we'd have Aunt Sam and Aunt Sara and Cassie.”

“They all have families now, too.  Aunt Sam has her hands full,” Jennifer mused slightly.

“Yeah, she does, so I really don't want to burden them anymore than we have to.  I mean, they'll do it, if I ask, and probably even if I don't, but if they see we're sailing along, they'll feel freer to focus on their own families.  Susie's about to have that test to see if she's a potential candidate for that new ...” Daniel sighed, realizing his brain was a little foggy and that he was still somewhat in shock at the recent twist life had delivered.

“We know,” Jennifer spoke up.

“And Kevin needs a lot of attention.  Just when Aunt Sam and Uncle Pete think he's gonna break out, he has a setback,” Jeff stated.

“And the twins are twins,” Jennifer chuckled lightly.  “Been there, done that.”

“Not just that, but Aunt Sam is still scared to death of being a mother,” Daniel reminded, her insecurities in that area not a secret to anyone.  “I see her looking around for her P-90 sometimes,” he mused as much as he could.

“And Cassie has Tommy, Amara and ...”

“And what?” Daniel questioned, seeing his daughter's sudden pull-back in her expressions and words.

“Oh, um ... well ...” Jennifer stammered.

“Jen?” Daniel asked in a bit of alarm.

“Daddy, she didn't want to tell you yet, because of everything going on with Dad,” Jennifer replied.

“She's pregnant?”

Jennifer smiled as she shrugged and bobbed her head in the affirmative.

“I'm happy for her and Dom.  They want a large family,” Daniel said.

“They're getting a good start on it,” Jeff asserted.  “Dom said they'd been looking into another adoption when they found out Cass was PG.”

“Everything's an abbreviation now,” Daniel sighed, having no clue where that comment came from.  It brought him back to the point of the discussion with the oldest Jackson-O'Neill children.  “Jen, Jeff, I'm having a little trouble handling all of this, too.  I hear myself saying things I know I shouldn't.”

“I think you're still in shock, Daddy,” Jennifer stated with understanding.  “The brood knows.”

“I hope so.  I can't believe I snapped at Jonny about ice cream.”

“But that's what made him understand,” Jeff asserted.

“Yeah, I guess it did,” Daniel agreed.  “Okay, let's talk about Uncle Billy and Aunt Jilly.”

“Are they staying?” Jeff queried.  ~I'd love to be able to spend some time with them.~

“I'm not sure.  It's up to them, but they're older, so ...”

“Don't worry, Daddy,” Jennifer began.  “We won't let them do all the work.  Aunt Jilly will try, though.”

“They're in great shape, but I'd appreciate it if you both stayed on top of the situation.”

Getting nods from the college students, Daniel felt better.  He knew he could count on the two to handle just about everything.  For once, he thought he just might let them, just until Jack was able to come home and become adjusted to their new life together.

Though he still felt guilty for asking Jennifer and Jeff to put a hold on their lives for a few months, Daniel knew that both would, and had, done it even before he asked.  While comforted by the thought of his children rallying around their fathers, he still missed the comfort of his husband by his side.

~Please get better, Jack.  The brood needs you.  *I* need you.~

====

Finishing up the last of his rounds for the night, Daniel stood at the doorway of the darkened room and looked over at Ricky's bed.  The boy was already sound asleep.

~There's his Etch-a-Sketch,~ the archaeologist noted about the child's toy that had been a big-time learning tool for the boy.  ~Eight years old.  Crap, Jack.  I forgot to wish the Spitfires a happy birthday.~

The distraught father slowly shifted his glance to the other side of the room where Jonny's bed was.  He, too, was asleep.  Seeing something odd in the little boy's hand, Daniel shook his head, wondering how he'd missed noticing this just a moment earlier.

~My brain isn't working, that's why.~

Walking over to the bed, Daniel gently extracted Bogey from Jonny's left hand and returned the lengthy lizard to his cage, making sure to lock the door securely. He looked over at Little Danny and smiled.  Quietly, he walked over to the Munchkin's bed and sat down.

“Aren't you supposed to be asleep?”

“I wanted to do this first,” Little Danny whispered, sitting up and hugging Daniel for probably the twentieth time since their family meeting.  “Daddy, don't worry so much, okay?”  The little boy pulled back and promised, “We're the brood.”

“You sure are,” Daniel responded quietly, brushing back the boy's shaggy hair.

“So you shouldn't be so sad,” Little Danny chastised.

“I'm not sad, Son,” Daniel refuted.  “I'm just ...”  He sighed and smiled apologetically.  “I'm not sure what I am.”

“You have to believe, Daddy, just like you've always taught us,” Little Danny reminded firmly.

“You're right.  Now get some sleep.  Tomorrow's a big day,” Daniel said, tucking the boy in.  “I love you, Sproglet.”

“I love you, too, Daddy.”

Taking one more glance around, Daniel finally closed the door on the boys' room, leaving it slightly ajar as was the norm, and returned to the master bedroom.  He sat down on the foot of the bed, his hands clasped together.  Vacantly, he stared down at the floor.  Suddenly, he felt the light movement of the mattress.  He looked to his right and then to his left and let out a huge sigh.

“Am I that bad, Girls, that both of you think I need you tonight?”

Watching both beagles walk over to the head of the bed and lie down, Daniel had his answer.

“I thought so.”

Not really wanting to change into anything, Daniel removed his clothes, except for his boxers and V-neck T-shirt.  As the girls moved from their spots, he pulled back the covers on his side of the bed and slid inside.

Instantly, Daniel found himself surrounded by beagle love.  Bijou was nestled in his right side, and Katie had gently climbed atop his chest and settled down for her rest.

“Thank you, girls.  I love you both so much,” Daniel spoke quietly, tears sliding down his cheeks as he patted both dogs tenderly.  ~Jack, I miss you here.  I can't wait for you to come home.  Please, Babe; please don't make this difficult on our children in the morning.~

It was quite a while before the archaeologist succumbed to sleep, and even then, it wasn't a comfortable rest.

====

“Remember what I said about Dad's attitude,” Daniel reminded the children just before they were about to head in to visit Jack.

“We remember,” JD said anxiously, jumping up and down outside the door.  “Can we go in now?”

“Okay,” Daniel agreed.  “But ...”

“Too late, Daddy,” Jennifer giggled as she watched the younger children bombard Jack's room as if he were full of ice cream.

“Better than ice cream,” Daniel commented with a smile, causing Jennifer to laugh more loudly since she'd just been thinking something similar.

“Daaaaad!” JD called out as he ran towards the bed.

“That's my boy!” Jack greeted with a smile.

“Hi, Dad!” Aislinn exclaimed.

“Hi, Princess.”

The children were all calling out their greetings, but Jack was focused on his surprised husband.

**I love you, Angel.**

**I love you, too, Jack, so much,** Daniel responded, feeling a hundred times better now than he had a few seconds before.

**Surprised, huh?**

**A little, but very happy as happy goes.  I mean ...**

**I know,** Jack interrupted.  “Jenny and Ricky, how was your birthday?”

“We're waiting for you to come home, Dad,” Jenny answered.

“They're going to share our birthday this year,” Little Danny explained as he pointed at Jonny and Aislinn.

“Yeah, Daddy told me that, but I wished you'd had a party anyway.”

“You're silly, Dad,” Lulu giggled.

“We couldn't have a birthday without you,” Jenny reaffirmed.

“Okay then,” Jack agreed.  “We'll just make sure it's super-duper special.”

Daniel smiled for the next fifteen minutes while the brood chatted with their older father, who didn't show a single sign of the grizzly bear that had been expected.  He didn't understand what had caused the change, but he was glad there was one.

====

When the visit ended, Jennifer and Jeff herded the reluctant children back into the corridor, giving their two fathers a chance to be alone for a few minutes.

“Not what you were expecting, was it, Danny?” Jack asked as he gazed up into his lover's eyes.

“No, it wasn't.”

“I'd like to take the credit for it, but I can't,” Jack responded.

“I don't understand.”

“Sara,” Jack groaned.

“Sara?” Daniel echoed, confused.

“Danny, you called her yesterday to tell her what was what.”

“I did?” Daniel shrugged and said, “I guess I did.”

“I'm sorry, Angel.  I've got my head in my ...”  Jack paused and then sighed, “This is rough on you.”

“On me?” Daniel shook his head and asserted, “It's just a little inconvenience that we need to learn how to work around.”

With a smile, Jack continued, “Sara gave me the lecture; reminded me what I have to live for.”

“The brood is a powerful potion.”

“So are you, Danny.  I can't get through this without you.”

“I'm here, Jack.  I'll always be here.  I love you,” Daniel professed, leaning over for a long, caring kiss.

“Love you so friggin' much, Danny.”

“I'll be back later.”

“Hey, before you leave, could you send Jen and Jeff back in here for a minute?” Jack requested, getting a nod from his soulmate.

====

“Dad, Daddy said you wanted to talk to us,” Jennifer spoke as the two young people returned to their father's bedside.

“Is something wrong?” Jeff asked anxiously, exchanging a concerned look with his sister.

“Sorry, you two,” Jack responded quickly.  “I didn't mean to scare you.  I just wanted to tell you both I love you and that I'm sorry this is messing up your lives.”

“You're not messing up our lives, Dad,” Jeff refuted.

“You're both here,” Jack stated straightforwardly.  He looked at the beautiful girl who was now a young woman on the verge of marriage.  How she'd grown up.  It was too soon, but it was a fact.  “I know how responsible you are, Jen.  You're devoted to your brothers and sisters, and they need you more than they have in a long time right now.  Don't stand there and try and tell me that you haven't already started thinking about cutting back at school and work.”

Jennifer realized that Daniel hadn't had a chance to fill Jack in on the conversation from the night before.  She wasn't sure if telling him the truth would be a positive or negative thing.  Certainly, she didn't want to start an argument.

“Dad, I have to be with the brood.  They're my first priority,” Jennifer put forth softly, but firmly, hoping Jack would just accept her comment.

“And you,” Jack grunted, reaching out to tug lightly on Jeff's arm.  The boy he and Daniel had adopted was a man now, a man to be proud of.  How'd he grown over the past several years.  “Our budding architect.  You walked away from your first chance to work as an assistant for one of those hotshot Cincy firms.”

“Family first, Dad.  You're not going to argue with us over that, are you?” Jeff responded, daring the patient to refute the statement.

“No, but you're both making sacrifices here, and I just want you to know that I know that; Daddy, too.”  Trying to shake off emotions that were becoming overwhelming, Jack repeated his earlier declaration.  “I love you both.”

“Dad, our decisions weren't difficult; we're where we're supposed to be.  Besides, both you and Daddy sacrificed a lot to bring all of us into the family.  This gives us a chance to repay you, even if it's just a small amount.”

Too emotional to speak, Jennifer simply hugged her father and whispered, “I love you,” before walking out of the room.

Knowing it was time to head home with the rest of the brood, Jeff also hugged his older father goodbye.

“I'm proud of you and your sister, Son.  Daddy and I love you so much.”

That simple comment, one he had heard hundreds of times in the years since meeting Jack and Daniel, almost made Jeff lose what little composure he still had.

“We love you, too, Dad,” Jeff declared with a weakened voice before he turned and quickly walked out of the hospital room.

====

“Alex, I hope you don't mind, but I ...” Daniel began a couple of days later as he led Alex towards the hospitality room.

“Hello, Alex,” Casey called out, appearing out of the blue when he unexpectedly emerged from the kitchen.

“Casey,” Alex responded a tad cautiously.

Daniel looked at Alex and then at Casey, noting the unusual stares and looks.  He watched the two shake hands, noticing the prolonged hold of their hands.

~Okay, I've missed something,~ Daniel thought.  ~Unfortunately, I don't have time to think about it now.~

“How's Sunny?” Casey asked, a certain antagonism to his voice.

~Yep, I missed something,~ Daniel opined as the three walked.

“She's great,” Alex answered.  “She's waiting for me back in Madrid.”

“It must be tough, a whole day away ...” Casey began.

“Uh, excuse me,” Daniel interrupted.  “Maybe this wasn't as good of an idea as I thought it was.”  Looking at the designer's quizzical expression, he explained, “Casey has worked extensively with ... um ...”

“I've spent a lot of time in the homes of handicapped people, doing therapy and the like.  Daniel thought I might be able to contribute to your plans,” Casey explained.  “Daniel, I'm sorry.  I want to help.”  He looked over at Alex and asked, “Unless you'd rather I didn't.”

“The client always comes first,” Alex remarked.  “Frankly, I haven't done as much with residential clients as far as converting spaces to being handicapped accessible, so I would appreciate your insights.”

“Okay, well, thank you,” Daniel responded, gesturing for the two visitors to take a seat at the table.  ~Definitely missed something,~ he noted as he sat down.  “So, what can we do?”

Looking down at his sketch board, Alex answered, “This.”

Daniel watched as Alex completed his drawing and then angled it towards the archaeologist to review.

“Ricky's solution is doable, and I think it's the best idea for now.  The only problem here is that your stairs really aren't that wide as it is, but we can still get it done,” Alex stated.  Pointing at the drawing, he said, “We'll outfit the staircase with a wheelchair lift.”

“Like in 'Witness for the Prosecution',” Daniel responded.

Alex laughed, “Yes, that's what most people would think about.  They are very popular for people who can walk, but still have difficulty with stairs.  What we'll do is take that premise one step further and install a heavy duty lift fork that will go under the wheelchair seat and carry it and its passenger up or down the stairs.”

“That's really possible?”

Nodding, Alex affirmed, “It can be done with some steel bracing concealed here.  The beauty of this one is that it will fold up out of the way.  The lift can be removed and stored whenever it's not needed.

“I'm afraid it's going to be needed for ... well, forever,” Daniel said, resigned to his husband's fate.

“The point I was trying to make, and badly, is that the steel bracing can stay permanently, but the lift itself can be out of the way when it's not needed.”

“So we have access to the stairs,” Daniel responded.

“Correct.  You can just put the lift to the side or remove it completely, depending upon your need.”

“Okay, so that gets Jack up and down the stairs, but what about to the children's rooms?  Alex, he *has* to be able to see the brood,” Daniel implored, his concern stemming from the spot upstairs where there were a couple of steps up to the jog that led to the newer addition of the home where the bedrooms were.  ~He needs this.  It absolutely has to be done.~

Alex sighed as he nodded and studied the plans to the house.  That portion of the hallway wasn't all that big.  It would be difficult to conceal a lift, and there wasn't really any spare space to deal with, which made putting in a ramp very difficult.

“Putting in a lift here would take up a tremendous amount of space that you don't have,” Alex began.  “There might be a way to attach a chair that Jack could sit on and then carry the wheelchair up with him.”

“That doesn't sound easy,” Daniel responded regretfully.

Nodding, Alex responded, “Daniel, let me think about this and see what I can come up with.”

“Okay,” Daniel agreed a bit quietly.

“Daniel, you need to think about every inch of the house,” Casey interjected.  “The patio out back, your front steps, getting to the garage.”

“Casey is correct,” Alex stated.  “You'll need ramps for anywhere that has stairs or steps.  The backyard and the front porch shouldn't be too difficult, but the rest of the house could prove to be a challenge.”

“I've seen different kinds of ramps, too -- cement, wooden, plastic, long, short, et cetera,” Casey pointed out.

“You'll need to decide on what kind of ramps you want,” Alex advised.

“There's so much to think about,” Daniel replied.  ~I feel out of my element.  I just want it done.  I don't have time for this,~ he thought impatiently before regaining his cool.  ~Calm down, Jackson.  This is important.  It's your future.~

====

“Honestly, Daniel, since your phone call, I've been thinking through all kinds of possibilities,” Alex stated later, after the three men had continued to discuss the various areas of the property and potential solutions and changes to the issues presented.  “We could do what would be a convoluted one-hundred-foot hallway, and that's just not worth it.  We also messed up by not having a shower and bathroom closer to the pool.”

“The cabana's not close enough?” Daniel questioned.

“No,” Alex answered succinctly.  We don't want to ruin your landscaping in the backyard.  It's a masterpiece.  We could go out behind the garage and have it overlap the back wall of the living room enough for a handicap accessible door.”

“That's a great idea,” Casey opined.

“That wouldn't be bad,” Daniel commented, nodding his head.

Alex nodded as he continued, “Either as a temporary solution or permanently, the tub upstairs could be moved down to the laundry area of the garage.  It's already handicapped accessible because of the swing out door.”

“Right,” Daniel acknowledged.  ~We could still take baths together.~

“We could replace the upstairs tub with a standard one.  That's probably the fastest and least expensive way of handling it,” Alex stated.  He kept on with his various ideas about the entire house.  “You'll have to replace the living room carpet with hardwood.”

“Hardwood ramps, too?” Daniel asked, thinking about the rises at various levels of the home.

“Actually, we can conceal ramps that will rise when activated by the touch of a hand.”

“Sensors?” Daniel asked.

“Yes.  Placing a hand over the sensor will cause the ramp to come up and to go down.  We can do this in any part of the house where there's a difference in incline.  My problem is that I'm not sure if it's possible to have the trigger as part of Jack's wheelchair or not.”  Alex paused, seeing Daniel's smile.  “You have the solution?”

“Me?  No, but Sam ...”

“I'll give her a call,” Alex said, not having thought about the possibility of Sam being able to do something special.  ~I still don't quite know what she does, but apparently, she knows how to do a lot of things I don't even understand.~

“Jack needs control, Alex.  I don't know if Sam has an answer or not, but she might.”

“I understand, Daniel,” Alex replied.  “If we, she, can figure something out, it would be an elegant solution to this particular problem, and it wouldn't hurt the resale value of the home, if you did ever decide to relocate.”

“Alex, what about the bedroom?  Our closet?  The ...”

“I've been thinking about that, too,” Alex responded.  “I am thinking that if we open up the two spaces, the closet and the bathroom, and put the sinks back to back, like a floating island, and expand the tile into the closet as well, Jack will have more access to the tub and to his clothes.  We can also reconfigure the rods and shelves to accommodate his reach from the wheelchair.”

“Good.”

“Alex, is it possible to make some of the shelving movable, so that the general could press a button and shelves that were too high would come down?” Casey questioned.

“That's an interesting idea, if we can allocate the space efficiently,” Alex responded, jotting down a couple of notes in his laptop.

“One of my former patients must have had a thousand shoes.  She showed off her closet to me once.  She had shoe racks that moved back and forth and up and down to give her access to those shoes.”

“It's a possibility,” Alex stated.  Turning his attention to the archaeologist, he admitted, “This isn't my forte, Daniel, but I'll do my best.”

“Thank you.”

“Casey, thank you for your input today; it has helped,” the designer added, getting a nod of acknowledgement in reply.

“So, where do we start?” Daniel queried.

“The first thing I'm going to do is contact a colleague who has worked more extensively in handicap designs.  I want to make sure that what we do doesn't devalue the home.”

“Fine,” Daniel replied, though he really didn't care about the value of the house right now.  “Alex, Jack will be home in two or three weeks.”

“And that's where we have a problem,” Alex sighed reluctantly.  ~I hope this doesn't cost me their friendship.  They've done so much for me.~

“What do you mean?”

“Daniel, you know how I feel about you and Jack?  Normally, I drop just about everything when you two call.”

“I know.”

“But I can't this time.  I have a project in Madrid that *I* have to see through.  It's a huge undertaking, and we're breaking new ground there, doing things I've never tried before.  I can't trust this to other people, and I can't push back the deadlines.”

“Okay,” Daniel sighed dejectedly, wondering why they'd just discussed all of these designs if Alex wasn't going to be able to do them.

“Daniel, I'm not deserting you,” Alex promised.  “We can get the lift installed, and I can try to get the bathroom arranged, or at least something temporary, until I get back.  I *will* get back just as soon as I can.”

“But?”

“But this project isn't set to be completed until the end of November,” Alex admitted.  “I have to be there for most of it.  I don't have a choice, Daniel.”  He sighed.  ~Why do I feel like such a heel?  I can't put this one off, though.  It's too important to Byron and the company.  There are too many people involved.~

“I understand, Alex.”

“Look, I can line up someone else if ...”

“No, Jack and I both want you to do whatever needs to be done.  We have confidence in you, Alex.”

“Thank you,” Alex responded humbly.  “I won't let you down; I just need time, this time.”

“You have it.”

“Okay, we'll get the lift done while I'm in the States, and I'll try to line things up for the bathroom and the bedroom.  If I can't get it completed while I'm here, we'll make sure we have something set up so that it's at least functional and accessible, if not comfortable, for Jack when he does come home.”

“Thank you.”

====

Holding Sammy Jo, Sam walked over to the gazebo in the Jackson-O'Neill backyard and sat down next to her friend.  Her children, and the brood, were playing, or being looked after, by Billy, Jennifer, and Jeff, except for Brianna and Aislinn, who were helping Jilly to prepare dinner.

“How ya doin'?” Sam finally asked, glancing over at Daniel.

“Fine.”

“Fine?”

Daniel sighed and then snapped, “How am I supposed to be?”  He sighed again and apologized, “I don't know why I said that.  I'm saying a lot of things lately that I don't understand.”

Sam followed Daniel's gaze, which was intently focused on the twins and JD, who were playing ball with Kevin.  This was one of Kevin's good days, and he was responding, albeit slightly, to them.

“What is it?”

“They don't understand, Sam.  They're cheerleading, telling me and one another that everything is okay, because they're the brood, *just* because they're the brood.  The brood can handle anything.  That's what they believe.”

“That's what they've been taught, Daniel.”

“Arrogance.”

Sam bounced her baby in her arms a second and then asked, “I don't understand.”

“Just like with the Goa'uld,” the archaeologist stated quietly.  “No matter what we faced, we never really thought we'd lose.”  He looked at Sam and challenged, “Did we?  I mean, uh, we practically laughed at the danger we faced.  Even when we got hurt, we just ... laughed.”

“I don't think we ever laughed, Daniel,” Sam refuted.

“Maybe not 'ha ha ha', but we stood there; no, we knelt there, and listened to whatever threats we were given, and it didn't faze us.  How many times did we bait them and get ribboned for some flippant comment?  We were arrogant, and we were very, very lucky, Sam,” Daniel asserted while once again staring out at the children, this time focused on Lulu, Chenoa, and Susie.

“Yes, we were,” Sam agreed.  She looked at Sammy Jo, who had fallen asleep, and placed a kiss on her forehead.  “What's bothering you?” she asked after a minute of silence had gone by.

“They don't understand yet.  It's words.  Jack's in the hospital, like before.  They know the words, but they *don't* understand.”

“They're children.”

“Laughing, playing -- acting like ... like everything is normal.”

“It is to them,” Sam responded, looking out at the children.  “Daniel, you and the general raised these children to be strong and to rely on one another when their world is threatened.  That's what they're doing.”

“Very soon, Sam, their world is going to be shaken.  When Jack comes home, it'll hit.  It'll be the little things: how he picks up the little ones and carries them on his shoulder, the tickling wars on the floor, the games of hide and seek.”  Daniel shook his head.  “So many things will never be the same for them again.”

“They still have their parents, Daniel, both of them.  They'll adapt.”

“Right,” Daniel replied dryly.  He looked over and smiled at the sleeping Sammy Jo.  “I'm going to see if Jilly needs more help.”

“Daniel!” Sam exclaimed as she watched the archaeologist stand and head for the house without reacting to her plea.  In a whisper, she observed, “Sammy Jo, the brood aren't the only ones who've had their world shaken.”

Sam placed a kiss atop her baby's head and sighed, wondering just how everyone was going to get through the next few months.

====

“*I* ... can do it,” Jack said, swatting away the orderly's hand.

The phrase had been a common one over the past few days.  The retired general was a strong, independent man, and he planned on remaining so, in spite of the hospital's staff's attempts to help him.

“Contrary to your belief, I'm not an idiot.  You showed me how to do it once.  Now get out of my way, and let me do it!” Jack barked as he struggled to accomplish his task.

These kinds of statements had also been prevalent as Jack learned how to pull himself up and into his wheelchair, as well as how to get from the wheelchair to the bed.

“Am I fat?” the patient asked, finally seated in his wheelchair again.  ~I must be.  I'm out of breath just trying to move my big butt.~

This was one of the many rhetorical questions the silver-haired man had used to try and lighten his mood.  Unfortunately, the helpful staff didn't quite get Jack's unique brand of sarcastic humor and wit, and that was making things even more difficult.

“Hey,” Daniel called out as he walked in the private room.

“Finally someone who understands me,” Jack greeted.

“Is that good or bad?” the younger man teased.

“The transport will be ready in five minutes,” one of the nurses announced.

“Thank you,” Daniel acknowledged as the medical workers departed.  “How's it going?”

“Think I could play golf in this thing?”

“Sure,” Daniel answered, leaning over for a kiss.  “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”  Jack sighed as he stared up at his husband.  ~Geez, I love you.~

“I love you, too,” Daniel reiterated with a smile, causing Jack to smile, too.

“How's the brood?”

“Good,” Daniel answered.  “Jonny was teaching JD more Special Ops last night.  He ...”

While they waited, Daniel caught his lover up on all the news with the brood.  Their future was going to be a tremendous challenge, but they had a very strong family to get them both through it.  They just had to remain as positive as they could while they struggled with the countless adjustments that had to be made.

====

“I feel like an invalid,” Jack decried while Shamika Ross, a nurse, wheeled him towards the transport that would be taking him to the rehab facility.  “Okay, that was a dumb thing to say.”

Still moving forward, Daniel put his hand on Jack's right shoulder and replied, “It's understandable, Jack.”

“Nothing about this is understandable, Daniel,” Jack responded.  Then he sighed, “I need new jokes.”

“I'm sure Jonny would love to help you find some,” the younger man commented with a slight smile.

====

“Okay, I know I'm not driving this friggin' contraption, but I still know directions, and this isn't how you get to that prison,” Jack bellowed.

“It's not a prison.”

Jack stared thoughtfully at his husband and questioned pointedly, “Daniel, if you're planning to stay while I get settled in at Hotel Immobile, how are you going to get home?”

“My car,” Daniel answered.

“Gonna beam it over, are ya?” Jack snarked.

“Not exactly,” the sly archaeologist responded cryptically.

“Well?”

“Deep and wet?” the archaeologist teased.

“Daniel!”

“General, please don't upset yourself,” Shamika requested as she began to take the man's pulse.

“This isn't upset,” Jack spoke as calmly as he could while also yanking his arm away from the attending nurse.

When Shamika looked at Daniel questioningly, he agreed, “Not even close.”  Reaching out to touch his lover's forearm, he added, “Trust me.”

“Don't I always?”

“I don't know.  Do you?” the younger man asked, getting a groan and frustrated shaking of the head as his response.

====

“Daniel!” Jack exclaimed, panicked now that he realized what was happening.

“We're going on a field trip.”

“Don't do this to me, Daniel.”

“You don't want to go home?”

“You know what I mean.  They haven't ... Daniel, the kids!” Jack argued as his breathing increased in speed, as did his pulse rate.

“It'll be okay.”

“So help me if you give me that togeth...” Jack sighed.  He was about to say something very stupid, that he didn't mean.  He was glad he caught himself.  “They aren't prepared for this -- me ... in this ... *thing*,” he said, shaking the arms of the wheelchair.

“They need to be,” Daniel responded quietly.  “And you need to remember why you need to work hard.  We need you.”

Two pairs of eyes met with a loving intensity that made Shamika feel very out of place.

“Paybacks,” Jack threatened.

“That's my Silver Fox,” Daniel replied, a pleased expression on his face.

====

“How long, Cassie?” JD asked eagerly.

“Just a few more minutes, JD,” Cassandra responded.  “Brood, you have to stay here by the steps until the van stops and Uncle Jack gets out.”

“No rushing; that's for football,” Pete Shanahan reminded sternly.

The brood, along with the Luca, Shanahan, and Wilson children, were all out in front of the Jackson-O'Neill home.  Jonny and Little Danny were flanking JD, both of them holding the excited youngster's hands, as the three stood at the front of the pack.  It was a V-formation with many of the younger kids towards the front.

“There he is!” Aislinn shouted, jumping up and down.

Taking up the rear with Brianna, David, and her own twins, both lovingly secured in her arms, Sam watched anxiously, wondering how her CO was responding to the surprise side trip.  She looked over at Ricky and Jenny, the two holding hands as they stood to the right of Jonny.

“They're so excited,” Sam remarked.  Not hearing a response, she realized Brianna and David had moved towards the front.  ~So are they.~

Though about to bubble over with excitement, the brood stayed back, watching as Daniel appeared and then Jack was lowered down to the driveway, the nurse behind him.

“Now?” JD asked his brothers.

“Daaaaad!” Chenoa called out, breaking the restraint as she ran as fast as she could towards her older father.

Shamika's eyes widened.  She actually pulled back, feeling like a thundering herd was about to run over her and the patient.

“Princess!” Jack exclaimed, leaning forward a bit to welcome his daughter into his arms.

One by one, the children got their hugs.  Twelve in unison, they all chattered away about all kinds of things.

“Dad, I know a new joke,” JD said excitedly, his hands clasping the left side of the wheelchair.

“I'm all ears,” Jack responded.

“What ... What do clouds wear under their clothes?”

“I don't know, Son.  You'd better tell me,” Jack requested.

“They wear thunderwear!”

As others chuckled or groaned, Jack laughed while patting the top of the little boy's head and said, “Of course they do.”

Then the nieces and nephews got involved in the hellos.  Even Kevin was staring at Jack.

“Hey there, Kev!” Jack greeted.

“I like wheels,” Kevin responded.

“I've got a couple of those,” Jack responded.

“The wheels go around in circles,” the autistic child spoke.

“That they do.”

“Pyramids are better,” Kevin put forth.

“I think you're right,” Jack agreed.  Then he chuckled, “We'll go see one.”

Kevin's eyes widened, and he smiled.  It was a big reaction, something that was unusual for him.

Pete nodded for Sam to come and listen, which she immediately did.

“I want to see the pyramids.”

“Then it's a date,” Jack stated.  “As soon as we can, we'll go see Tut's hut.”

Kevin actually grinned.  Finding his mother standing a few feet away, the boy's grin grew.

“We're going to see the pyramids!”

“We are?”

“Uncle Jack is going to take us,” the autistic child announced happily.

“Uncle Jack?” Sam responded, her voice practically an emotional whisper.

“Come here, Petey,” Jennifer spoke softly, taking one of the twins from her Aunt Sam.

“I'll take Sammy Jo,” Brianna offered, thereby freeing Sam to respond to what was happening.

Sam walked over and knelt down in front of her son.  She smiled as she gazed into his eyes.

The other children were surrounding them, since they were right by Jack's wheelchair.

“Uncle Jack said we'd go see the pyramids?” Sam asked.

Kevin nodded and looked over at Jack, the motion reinforcing his response.

Susie tapped on Lulu's arm and asked what was happening, so Lulu signed back, telling her what Kevin had said.  Susie gasped in delight and gently pushed her way through the crowd of children.

“Komquat, did you hear what your brother said?” Pete signed, picking up the little girl, who signed back that Lulu had told her.  “Don't want to miss anything,” he added, getting a nod from the girl as they refocused in on Sam and Kevin.

“Kevin, where are we going to go?” Sam asked.

“To see the pyramids,” Kevin answered.

“Whose idea was that?”

“Uncle Jack's,” Kevin answered.

“Who is Uncle Jack?” Sam questioned cautiously.

Kevin pointed at Jack and said, “I like pyramids.”

“We're going to see a bunch of them,” Jack promised.

“I can tell you all about them,” Little Danny offered.  “David knows as much as I do about them.”

“We can both tell you,” David agreed, seeing the boy smile.

Sam ran her fingers gently along the boy's cheek and said, “Mom loves you Kevin.”

“We're going to see the pyramids,” Kevin stated again.

“Yes,” Sam promised, looking up at Pete, who nodded his agreement, not quite sure how they were going to pay for it, but vowing to find a way.

Little Danny looked at his older father and licked his lips in confusion.  He wasn't sure what to do.

“Sproglet,” Jack called out, reaching out his arms and finding himself with a load full of little boy.  “I love you.”

“Dad?”

“Go talk to Kevin.  He's listening, and you have a lot you can tell him,” Jack urged. “I love you,” he repeated.

“I love you, Dad,” Little Danny said before walking to the other side of the wheelchair.  “Kevin, David and I have a lot of pictures of the pyramids.  Do you wanna come see?”

“I like pyramids,” Kevin said with a grin.

“Son,” Jack called out, waving David over.  “I know you'd like to spend some time with your old man, but ...”

David was well aware of the breakthrough Kevin had just made.  He'd never really acknowledged Jack before, not by name.  He'd certainly never referred to him as 'Uncle Jack' before.  That had come out of nowhere.  It was important to seize the moment and see if they could make more connections.  Besides, he knew more about his dad's visit than Jack did.

“Kevin needs me; so do you, Dad,” David stated.  “But I'll go with Little Danny and Kevin on one condition.”

“Blackmail?” Jack asked with a scowl, not sure he liked what his son was doing.

“Hey.  When you get out of rehab, we play a game of catch.”

“Catch?” Jack echoed, afraid all of a sudden of this first time he would have to explain to one of the brood that he would let them down.  “I ...”

“Forget how to wear a baseball glove, Dad?  You can still catch a ball,” David chastised lightly.

“Smartie pants,” Jack groused.  Then he nodded and urged, “Go tell Kevin about the pyramids.”

“Deal?”

Jack growled, but agreed, “Deal.”

“I love you, Dad,” David called out as he hurried off after the other two boys.

“Love you, too,” Jack called out.  ~Even if you've outsmarted your old man.~

“General!” Sophia Valissi exclaimed as she jogged over and hugged the man.

“Mrs. V, you look beautiful,” Jack greed, his hands patting the woman's back as they hugged.

“You're still full of bologna,” the senior citizen replied.  “I wanted to come see you, but I didn't want to butt in.”

“Not possible,” Jack denied.

The two chatted for a few minutes and then the neighbor said, “I'm off to visit with Evan and Robert tomorrow, but you and Daniel and your brood are always in my thoughts.”

Jack saw the woman fighting back tears and replied in his always-charming Irish brogue, “I'm a tough cookie, Mrs. V.  Don't ya worry about me and mine.”

“My prayers,” the woman spoke, hugging Jack again and giving him a kiss.

“Mrs. Valissi, why don't you stay and visit with us for a while,” Daniel offered.

“I have so much to do before my trip,” Mrs. Valissi responded with regret.  “Thank you, though.”

Smiling at the children, Mrs. Valissi headed back towards her home, giving a special smile and nod towards Jennifer, who waved and mouthed her love.

“The gate's unlocked,” Jeff announced, pulling the group's attention away from Mrs. Valissi.

“Dropout,” Jack half-teased.

“Deal with it,” Jeff responded as he leaned over for another hug.  He started to straighten, but felt his father's hold tighten.  “Dad?”

“Just being overly emotional,” Jack admitted quietly, releasing the young man from his grasp.

“You're entitled, Dad,” Jeff responded.  “So am I.”

“Time to start lunch!” Sara called out as she approached the group, having come from the backyard.  As she got closer, she smiled and greeted, “Hello, Jack.”

“You cooking?”

“The brood gave me permission to make one of your old favorites,” Sara responded.

Jack cocked his head suspiciously and asked cautiously, “Peanut butter linguini with chocolate sauce and cherries?”

“You got it!” Sara exclaimed as she chuckled.  Leaning in for her hug, she said, “It's good to see you, Jack.”

“You, too.  You didn't forget the ...”

“Breadsticks with just *this* much cinnamon,” Sara said, raising her right hand and putting two fingers just slightly ajar to indicate how much.

“Take me away!” Jack ordered the nurse.

The entire group headed for the backyard, the buzz of conversation and giggles throughout.

“Aunt Sara, isn't that a funny meal for Dad to like so much?” Brianna asked as she walked beside the woman, the teenager still holding Petey Shanahan.

“It was one of Jack's and Charlie's inventions.  I never got the full story out them. Jack said it was a Special Ops meal, and Charlie said it was special rations for their club.”

“What club?”

“You'll have to ask your father.  They never told me,” Sara spoke.  “But, every now and then, I'd get a covert note instructing me that lives were jeopardy unless I made that exact meal.”

“Sure sounds weird.”

“I agree, but it's actually pretty good.”

“What made you think of it?” Brianna asked as they approached the outdoor kitchen.

Sara stopped and looked thoughtful for several seconds.  Then she shrugged and let out a sigh.

“Aunt Sara?”

“Bri, I haven't a clue.  I was just sitting on the sofa, thinking about what to make. It just hit me, and it just seemed the thing to fix for Jack today,” Sara answered.

“I know,” Brianna replied.

“What?”

“It's Charlie.  He's here, Aunt Sara.  He wanted to say 'hi' to Dad, in his own way, so he reminded you of this meal,” Brianna spoke.  Seeing Sara's smile, the teenager gulped.  “Geez, I sound real ... mystical, don't I?  It's just, on our balloon days, everyone feels so real, even for me.”

Sara put her arm around the young girl and replied, “Bri, I think you're right.  Charlie is here, and he's proud of his sister for having grown so much over the last few years.”

“Parents do that for a person, and a crazy group of brothers and sisters,” Brianna responded with a smile.

“Where's my lunch?” Jack called out.

“Actually, Babe, there's one more course to be prepared,” Daniel advised as he stood in front of his lover.

“I'm hungry.  Get to it,” Jack ordered.

“Get to it yourself,” Daniel replied.

“What are you ...” Jack began, stopping when he saw Angela, Chenoa, Susie, and Tommaso walking forward, each holding something special for the general.

“I really want one of your charred specials, Uncle Jack,” Angela requested, holding out the plate with the big steak in it.

“Here's your baster, Dad,” Chenoa stated, holding out the large brush that Jack used whenever he barbecued.

“Uncle Daniel said you love this apron,” Susie signed and then held out the apron that she'd been holding over her right arm.

The apron was a little out of date, but Jack always wore it with pride.  It was one Daniel had given him during their first Christmas celebration together, when their love was deep inside, masked by their affectionate friendship.  The white cotton apron featured the phrase, 'Danger: Colonel Grilling Steaks'.

“I have your favorite sauce, Uncle Jack,” Tommaso informed the stunned man.

“Danny?” Jack whispered.

“Right over here, Babe,” Daniel said, taking the handlebars of the wheelchair and pushing Jack over to the grill.

“Okay, that's not how I remember it.”

“We have a lot of friends,” Daniel reminded his husband.  “A couple of them put in some time and made this.”

A special, low grill had been prepared.  It was just temporary, since it had been constructed quickly, but it was functional.  The best part was that it was made so that Jack could easily toss on the steaks himself, baste them to his delight, and turn them over however many times he wanted to.

“Daniel ...”

“Here you go, Uncle Jack,” Angela stated, handing Jack the plate.  “I'm very hungry, and I really want one of your steaks today.”

“Angie, you look just like your mother,” Jack responded.  As the young girl stared at him, he added, “That means you're beautiful, inside and out.”  With the girl grinning, he requested, “Come here.”

Careful not to drop the plate, Jack hugged Sara's daughter and then took a breath.

“Okay, let the master work,” Jack declared boisterously.  “But I need my assistants,” he stated, smiling at the four representatives of each of the families present.

“I'm the assistant's assistant,” Peter Hamilton called out as he dashed into the backyard.  “Sorry, I'm late, Jen,” he apologized, pausing to give his girlfriend a kiss that accidentally got a bit more passionate than a normal greeting kiss.  “Hi, General.”

“Peter,” Jack acknowledged, staring at the young man with intensity.

“Sorry, Sir,” Peter apologized.  “She's wearing a new flavor of lip gloss.  It's very alluring.”

“TMI, Son,” Jack admonished sternly before breaking out into a smile.

“Give him a break, Dad,” Jennifer urged.  “He helped make the grill.”

“Shouldn't you be at Oxford?” Jack questioned the young man.

“No, Sir,” Peter responded confidently.  “Do you think I should be?”

Jack had just been challenged, and he knew it.  He looked at Jennifer, who was still nestled into her Love.  Jennifer was going to be the big strength of the family over the next few months.  Maybe she did need some strength of her own to rely on.  Not only that, but he was proud of Peter for returning.  That's exactly what he'd expect from a future son-in-law, which is exactly what he was sure Peter was.

“Nope,” Jack finally answered.  Then he leaned over a tad, seeing another newcomer to the party.  ~Or potential future daughter-in-law.~

“Am I intruding?” a soft voice with a sweet smile asked.

“Chely!” Jeff exclaimed, totally surprised by the visit.  “Chel!” he called out again, running over to the girl.  “Chel,” he repeated softly as the two stared into each other's eyes for a minute.  “Wow,” he said, taking the girl into his arms.

“I hope you meant it,” Chely spoke as the two hugged.

“Meant what?” Jeff asked as the hug ended and he took hold of the young woman's hands.

“You told me you wished I could be here today.”

“I sure do, and did.  I do.”

“Are we having a wedding?” David teased from across the yard, causing lots of laughter and Chely to blush.  ~I'm glad we decided to come outside to see Dad's reaction to the grill,~ he thought, referring to Little Danny, Kevin, and himself.

Jack and Daniel looked at each other, both pleased to see Jeff's girlfriend, although neither were totally sure of the status of the relationship.  Chely was going to Stanford, and the young couple had agreed not to hold each other to commitments they might not be able to honor.  Jeff had dated a few girls at college, but he'd always ended up by talking about Chely.  The parents hadn't a clue whether or not Chely was dating anyone else or not.

**They look pretty couple-ish to me, Danny.**

**Yeah, to me, too,** Daniel agreed.  **He's never dated any of the girls he's mentioned more than once.**

**He's hooked.**

**But is she?** the archaeologist wondered.

“I'm glad, Jeff,” Chely stated with eyes for no one but Jeff.  “I wanted to be here, to support you.”  She smiled and then forced herself to look over at Jeff's parents. “General Jackson-O'Neill, I'm so happy to see you,” she called out, walking forward and leaning over for a hug.  “I've prayed for you every night.”

“Thank you, Chely.  How's school?”

“It's great.”

“Learning a lot?”

“There's a lot to learn,” the young woman agreed with a chuckle.

“Dating?”

“Jack!” Daniel admonished as he walked over a couple of steps to hug Chely.  “Ignore him.”

“It's okay.  I've dated, yes.”

“So have I,” Jeff interjected.  “But no one is like you, Chel.”

“Or you, Jeff.”

“I'll call the minister,” David teased again.

“Stuff it, Bro,” Jeff warned.

“We're glad you're here,” Jack stated warmly.

“I hope I'm not barging in or anything.  It's just, Jeff said he'd wished I were here, and I didn't really have anything keeping me from coming home for a visit, so I thought I would, come home for a visit, just for the weekend, and see him; I mean you.”

--

“Little Danny, that was a long sentence,” Jonny whispered to his brother as they stood off to the side with Kevin.

“Run-on sentences,” Little Danny concurred.  “She's just nervous.”

“About what?”

“The minister.”

“Oh,” Jonny replied, bobbing his head up and down.

--

“You're family,” Daniel replied to Chely with a smile, watching as her eyes and Jeff's found each other.  “Jack ...” he urged with a nod.

“Let's see how this thing does,” Jack called out excitedly.  “Gotta be high grade to be worthy of my steaks.”

“He means it just has to work,” Jennifer joked gaily, getting a sneer from her older father just before he set about to prepare the meal.

“Daniel, that was a brilliant idea,” Sam praised as she stood next to the archaeologist, Billy, and Jilly as they watched Jack begin to barbecue the food.

“Wasn't mine.”

“No?”

“JD's,” Daniel answered.

Billy laughed, “He said his dad needed to do something very Dad-ish.”

“And then Daniel came up with the barbecue idea,” Jilly pointed out.

Seeing Sam's grin, Daniel challenged in a humorous tone, “Well, what's more Jack-ish than burning the steaks?”

====

With the lunch a big success, some special animal time was in full swing.

“I've missed you, too, ya mutts,” Jack confessed, two beagles gently sitting on his lap as he held them close.  ~Wish I could feel you sitting there.~

There would always be a special connection between the canines and Jack and Daniel.  It was one neither would ever deny.

“Love you,” Jack told both dogs as he smiled at them.

“Meow!” Mittens complained.

“Woof!” Bijou barked, refusing to move.

“Meeeeow!” Mittens responded as some of the onlookers began to chuckle.

“Woof!  Woof!” the mama beagle reiterated, growling lightly when the stubborn feline jumped up on Jack's shoulder.

“Uh ...” Shamika spoke up warily.

“Hold it, Lady.  That's my cat.  The beasts are just negotiating,” Jack stated.  “Girls, what do you think?  You know how finicky those mouse-hunters are.”

Bijou and Katie shared a look and then gently jumped off the general, allowing Mittens to take their place.

“Here's Callie, Dad,” Lulu called out, hurrying over with her cat.

“I'm gonna get Bogey,” Jonny whispered to Aislinn as he hurried in the house.

Aislinn thought and then called out, “Jenny, we need to get Strawberry and Shortcake.”

“Daniel.”

Daniel just grinned.  Both he and his husband knew what was happening.  Every single critter that was part of the family menagerie was about to be paraded in front of Jack, if not placed on him.  Of course, Daniel didn't really think Jack minded, not since he'd actually asked the girls for cat time.

At the end of pet time, Jack found himself being wheeled over to the stable.

“Hot, say 'hi' to Dad,” Chenoa requested as she patted the Shetland pony on his long nose.  “You, too, Chocolate.”

A couple of long nays sounded through the air, causing the children to laugh.

“Okay, no glue for you,” Jack said lightly, hearing some groans from the adults present, as well as some of the older children.  “You silly things don't think I miss you, do ya?”

The two Shetlands let out a sound that seemed to indicate that they did, indeed, think Jack missed them.

“Just don't tell anyone,” Jack responded lightly, patting the small animals.  “Okay, we've done the rounds.  Please tell me we aren't going to see the donkey,” he begged of his husband.

“Not today,” Daniel chuckled.

“We're done, right?” Jack asked.

“Jack done,” a voice called out.

“Daniel.”  With Daniel smirking, Jack turned his head towards the sound and smiled.  “Son.”

“Ptolemy wants to say 'hi' too, Dad,” Little Danny announced.

“Jack squat.”

“Not at the moment,” Jack replied dryly.  “You know, Bird, I can grill you like a steak.”

“Burnt steaks.”

“Burnt bird,” Jack threatened.

“Jack love Ptolemy.”

Everyone waited for the retort, the harsh and cruel comeback that was part of Jack's normal repertoire when facing off with the hyacinth macaw.  No one was expecting what came next.

“Yeah, Jack loves Ptolemy,” the general stated softly, swallowing hard afterwards.  “But don't let it go to your head.”

“Ptolemy love Jack.”

“Don't start,” Jack warned, regaining a tad of his composure.  **Danny.**

It was time.  The long lunch and visit was about to break down Jack's defenses, and that wasn't the goal of the surprise get together.

“Brood, it's time for Dad to go to rehab.”

“Awwww,” the children cried in response.

“You can come see me,” Jack spoke.  “Daniel, they can ...”

“Babe, there isn't a wall on this planet that could keep the brood away.  You know how we are about rules.”  Daniel looked over at the children and suggested, “Let's let our guests say 'goodbye' first, and then we'll talk with Dad for a minute or two in private.”

====

“I know life doesn't seem very peachy right now,” Jack calmly told the children.

The Lucas, Shanahans, and Wilsons had all left, and Billy and Jilly, along with Peter and Chely, had gone inside the house to give the immediate family their privacy.  Shamika had gone to the front of the house and was waiting for Jack at the transport van.

“You've given me such ... strength,” Jack continued, his words choking from his emotion.  He smiled when JD rubbed away the tear and again leaned back against his older father's chest.  “This lunch was ... I love you all, and I want you to be good.  Crap, what am I saying?  Daddy and I have the best kids in the world.”

“In the universe,” Ricky corrected, getting nods from his siblings.

“Yeah, in the universe.”

“We're the brood, Dad,” Chenoa stated.

“We're together,” Jonny added.

“... which means we can get through anything, Dad,” Brianna added confidently.

“We're living proof of that, Dad,” Jennifer added.

“Yeah,” Jack whispered, his emotions soaring from the outpouring of love and confidence.

“It's time for Dad to go,” Daniel interjected reluctantly.

“I love you,” Jack spoke emotionally, holding JD tight, his eyes closing as he fought back the tears.

The brood hurried to their father's side, ending up in a group hug, that included the two beagles at the center with Jack.

“He's our dad,” Aislinn began to sing.

“And we love him so much,” Little Danny added.

“Sometimes he growls,” Ricky sang, adding a growl for emphasis at the end.

“But he's our dad,” David sang.

Jenny vocalized, “Dad is strong.”

“Dad is wise,”
Brianna chimed.

“And sometimes he's a pain in the ...”

“Jonny!” the entire brood exclaimed vocally in mock-shock.

“Dad's our friend,” Chenoa continued.

“He's full of hugs,” Lulu added.

“Sometimes he growls,” Jeff sang.

“But he's our dad,” Jennifer crooned with a tender smile.

“He's our dad!” JD cheered.

“We love you, Dad,” all of the children sang together.

“WooWooWooooof!” Bijou and Katie added at the end, their tails wagging.

The heartfelt song tugged on Jack's soul.  He felt like he was the luckiest man in the world.  He had Daniel and twelve beautiful kids, not to mention the girls and the rest of zoo.  He knew the road ahead wasn't going to be easy, but how could he lose?  He was a Jackson-O'Neill, after all.

“What do we say?” Jack asked, extending out his hand in a fist.

One by one, the family put their fists on top of one another.

“Who are we?” Jack called out enthusiastically.

“Jackson-O'Neills!” the family shouted out in unison.

“And what's our motto?” Jack queried eagerly.

“Together, we're unbeatable!”

There were smiles and sniffles as the family shouted out their unity.  Their lives had been given an unexpected twist, but they were together, and that's all that mattered.

“Danny, let's get this show on the road,” Jack ordered spryly.  “I have a life to live, and I can't do that until those hounds in white show me what I need to learn to maneuver this contraption and these two dead weights.”  He looked over at his emotional husband and snapped lightly, “That's an order, Love.  Let's go.”

“Yes, Sir, General Husband, Sir,” Daniel sing-songed, giving his lover a sloppy salute.

“You've never been good at that,” Jack observed.

“That's because I'm not military,” Daniel stated proudly as the last of the hugs and kisses were given.

“I sure saved your butt often enough, running off after maniac princesses,” Jack ranted.

“You like my butt,” Daniel argued lightly, hearing the children chuckle.

“Cutest six in the universe, but don't distract me.  We were talking about maniacs,” Jack stated.

“I thought we were talking about my butt.”

“No, maniacs.”

“Wrong, Babe.”

“I am not wrong,” Jack insisted.

“Wrong as rain,” Daniel argued.

“That's 'right as rain',” Jack corrected, shaking his head.

“Thank you for agreeing with me, Babe,” Daniel teased as the parents disappeared out of the children's sight.

As Jack's wheelchair was locked into place on the ramp, a loud cheer went up, one that was heard throughout the immediate neighborhood.

“*We're the brood!  Together, we're unbeatable!  We love you, Dad and Daddy!”

With bright smiles on both parents' faces, Jack proclaimed vigorously, “We've got a lot of life to live, Danny.”

“Yes, we do,” Daniel agreed.  “I love you, Jack.”

“I love you, Angel.  I'll see you at the prison.”

“It's *not* a prison,” Daniel sighed, rolling his eyes, but breaking out into a laugh, as did his lover.  “I'll break you out as soon as I can.”

“Is that a promise, Love?” Jack asked as the ramp moved back into place inside the van.

“Yeahsureyoubetcha!”

The doors to the van closed, and Daniel watched as it pulled away.  He looked around, taking in a cleansing breath of air.  It had been a good day, and he was absolutely positive that there was an eternity more of good days ahead, for Jack, for himself, and for their brood.  Life might not be as expected, but there was a universe full of love in Colorado Springs, and love was all the Jackson-O'Neills ever really needed.

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