Category: Slash, Drama, Angst, H/C, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Season: Beyond the Series - September 15 - October 19, 2015
Written: September 26-27,29-30, October 16-22,26-31, November 1-16,19-23, 2008 Revised: December 26, 2009
Summary: Everything isn't ice cream and peaches as the Jackson-O'Neills adapt to the sudden and dramatic changes in their lives brought about by the accident.
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't. A gal can dream though!
1) This story is complete, but it is the second of a three-story arc. Remember, my universe is the home of happy fic!
2) Hanky warning, so I've been told!
3) “Celebrate Me Home” was composed by Bob James and Kenny Loggins.
4) 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.**
5) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
6) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better: Tammy, Keri, Robert, Irina, Carol, Wolf Moldy, Ali, Lissa, Jo, Mama Bear! Also, thanks to the following who gave me advice and information for specific portions of this fic: Caro, Allusion, MD, Bronte, Calia, Sineag
Daniel watched from the doorway, having arrived at his destination a
bit earlier than scheduled. He still felt numb in many
ways. Sometimes, he wondered if he was really feeling anything at
all. There was so much to do and so many changes to make. It
wasn't just him, but it was his lover and their children. He
wondered, too, just how the pets were adapting. He was sure his
husband's prolonged absence from the home had been noticed by their zoo.
Frozen! Empty! Vacant! The archaeologist hadn't felt this way in a long time, certainly not since Jack had finally chased away all of his demons. A part of him wanted to hide; maybe lose himself in studying some ancient artifact or reading an in-depth article about his beloved Egypt. Another part of him wanted to go home and pretend all was well. He could surround himself with his children and their pets, getting hugs and licks while playing some silly, mindless game.
Yet another part of Daniel wanted to close his eyes and escape, taking him to a place of safety -- his lover's arms. They'd make love, over and over again. It would be just the two of them, blissful and happy in their own unique relationship. The outside world wasn't part of their nation of two. He wanted this, more than anything.
Then, though, the challenges of today would take over. There wasn't time for artifacts, silly games, or escapist visions of his heart and soul. Instead there was only the need to be focused and strong for his husband, their children, and their animal kingdom zoo.
Of course, Daniel Jackson-O'Neill was one of the strongest men in the universe. It wasn't his physical strength that was greatest, but his strength of the mind and his capability of forging on when all that surrounded him was despair. It was in taking that next step, even while being laughed at. It was in fighting back with all he had, even though he was the underdog.
With all that was expected of him now -- being the supportive husband, the loving father, the caring pet owner, the understanding business owner, the compassionate, leading explorer of the universe -- there was no time for feeling, which was good, because Daniel wasn't feeling much of anything. That scared him. If not for one shining light, he'd succumb to the nightmare.
~I love you, Jack. That I feel. I love you.~
“We should take Dad some Loops,” Chenoa suggested as the brood sat down for a fairly simple breakfast at the long table in the hospitality room. ~I wish Daddy was here,~ she thought, happy to have at least seen her younger father before he'd left the house earlier that morning.
“I'm not sure Cedar Hills allows that,” Jennifer spoke about the somewhat new rehabilitation center where Daniel was now spending the majority of his day.
“Dad has to have Loops,” Jonny insisted.
“I'm not hungry,” Jenny stated suddenly, putting down her spoon and leaning back against her chair. She bowed her head, thinking, ~It's lonely without Dad and Daddy here.~
“Jenny, eat your cereal,” Jeff requested. ~I'm glad I came home. I'm sure Jen could handle this on her own, but still.~
“But it's Loops,” the redhead argued dejectedly. “That's Dad's favorite.”
“I'll make some pancakes,” Jennifer offered understandingly. “Would you like that?”
“I'll help, Jen,” Brianna offered as she put her backpack down against the wall and walked forward.
“Bri, you don't have time, but thanks.”
“I don't need to go,” Brianna responded as casually as she could. ~I feel selfish going, anyway. I should be here, with everyone else.~
“Yes, you do,” Jeff asserted. “Daddy wants us to keep as normal a schedule as possible.”
“That means you're going to the seminar,” Jennifer stated firmly as she looked at the tomboy for a moment. “Does anyone else want pancakes?” she asked, looking at the other children as they sat around the large table. ~Come on, Brood, chins up,~ she urged mentally as she saw the long, drawn faces staring back at her. ~Things will get better.~
These were troubled times for the Jackson-O'Neill brood. Three days ago, their older father, General Jack Jackson-O'Neill, had been transported from the hospital to Cedar Hills. Now paralyzed from the waist down, he was learning a new way to do everything he'd been doing for decades. It was all due to a terrible accident earlier in the month that resulted in Jack's truck going head-on into the pole of a traffic light after being rear-ended.
The retired general had been on his way home after having completed his errands, which included a 'Death by Chocolate' pie for Daniel, a telescope lens for their astronomy buff son, David, and a set of concrete swans to set out by the pool for Aislinn. All of these were surprises, purchased while conducting his regular errands. After enjoying a hearty lunch at Cy's, Jack had been right on schedule and looking forward to seeing his family, knowing how they always delighted in one another's surprises.
Though Jack's other injuries had been extremely minor, the beak of one swan had jammed into his lower back, causing a small fracture. In addition, the beak had broken, and one of the thin wires that supported the swan's neck had been forced into his back, causing a tiny puncture of the spinal canal that damaged the spinal nerves.
Doctor Janet Fraiser and the hospital's attending physician, Doctor Benjamin Creepingbear, had done everything they could, but there was no solution to Jack's problem. Surgery just wasn't an option. After a few days, Jack was released and transported to Cedar Hills where he'd learn how to function as a disabled person.
The highly reputed and accredited center allocated sixty-five percent of its beds to patients suffering from spinal injuries due to accidents, and its staff offered a wide range of medical care, including doctors, nurses, occupational and physical therapists, psychologists, and sexuality counselors.
For the most part, the brood was maintaining a cohesive and positive front. Not one of them whined or complained about their older father's injury or what it would mean to their lives. Of course, Daniel was sure that was because they really didn't understand it. Not yet, anyway. This breakfast, though, was potentially the first sign that their front wasn't as strong as the kids were making it out to be. Unfortunately, Daniel wasn't there to see it.
“Jeff, if we're supposed to be normal, then shouldn't you go back to school?” Jenny challenged in an odd, vengeful sort of way, something that was completely out of character for the Spitfire.
Having arranged to take a few courses online, Jeff had left the University of Cincinnati after having been convinced that Daniel needed his assistance with the brood. His plan was to return to the campus next semester.
“Jenny!” Jennifer chastised sternly.
Jennifer, too, had withdrawn from all but two of her college courses, as well as having cut back on her hours at J-O Enterprises. In addition, she'd notified Alex Dennison that after she completed the current tapestry she was working on for a client, she wouldn't be available until the situation with her family settled.
“I'm sorry, Jeff,” Jenny sighed. “It's the Loops.”
“It's okay, Red,” Jeff responded, smiling at his sister. “Jen, who's doing the shopping today?”
“If Aunt Jilly has her way, she will,” Jennifer chuckled lightly.
“She doesn't like Daddy's plan,” Jeff mused.
“What plan?” Little Danny questioned.
“Daddy wants all of us to take care of ourselves. He doesn't want Uncle Billy and Aunt Jilly cleaning the house or waiting on us,” Jeff answered.
“And you already knew that,” Jennifer reminded, her eyes rather pointed as she looked at the middle Munchkin.
“I forgot,” Little Danny claimed with a convincing smile. “We'll be good, Jen,” he promised.
“I know,” Jennifer replied with a confident expression. “Guys, it's just ... they're older, and Daddy doesn't want to burden them with our responsibilities. Okay?”
“We understand, Jen,” Aislinn spoke on behalf of the others.
“Good,” Jennifer acknowledged as she headed for the cabinets to the get the ingredients to make the pancakes.
“I'll be back as soon as I can, Sis,” Jeff advised as he and Brianna, who had retrieved her backpack, began to walk towards the exit so that he could drive her to her seminar. “Don't let Uncle Billy try to fix that shelf without me.”
“I'll try, but he's just like Dad,” Jennifer chuckled, nodding at her departing siblings. ~He'll shoo me out of the room and tell me to stop treating him like a kid because he's been doing this handyman stuff since before I was born..~
Billy and Jilly O'Neill, Jack's older brother and his wife, had surprised the family with their presence after learning about the accident. They were staying in the guestroom on the first level of the house. As a result of their many years of rural life, their natural instinct was to take over all of the household duties, something Daniel knew they'd do. While much appreciated by Daniel, he felt that it would be too much for the older couple. It was one of the reasons he'd agreed to allow Jennifer and Jeff to both alter their college courses for one semester, so that they could keep an eye on things for him while he focused on Jack's recuperation and transition to a new life.
“Jen, Peter's on the phone,” David announced a minute or so later, having answered the phone before joining his sibling by the counter. “I'll finish the pancakes.”
The other big surprise came when Jennifer's boyfriend, Peter Hamilton, had shown up on the same day that Jeff had returned home from college. Sensing his girlfriend needed him and genuinely caring about Jack, whom he credited with changing his life for the better, Peter had left Oxford to assist in any way that he could.
“Hey, what's the big secret?” David asked the whispering Spitfires, glancing over at them while he was mixing the batter.
“What about school?” Jenny asked in earnest.
David stared back at his young sister. He looked over at Little Danny, and that set off a ripple effect of looks, each of the children staring at one another for direction.
Except for Jennifer and Jeff, all of the Jackson-O'Neill children were homeschooled. It was a year-round process that was flexible, but was very much a part of their daily lives. Since their older father's accident, however, they hadn't had a single day of home instruction, and with Daniel spending most of his time at the hospital and now at the rehab center, the children were missing this part of their regulated life.
After an awkward minute of stares and confusion, David announced, “School starts in thirty minutes, so eat your breakfast and make sure your morning chores are done.”
“But Dad and Daddy aren't here,” Jenny rebutted, wondering how the brood could have school without their parents.
“I know, but I am,” David responded. “Thirty minutes.”
Just then, Jennifer returned from her phone call and noticed how quickly her siblings were eating.
“Where's the fire?” the young woman questioned. “And I thought you didn't want Froot Loops?” she asked, seeing Jenny and the others eagerly digging in to their bowls full of cereal.
“We have school, Jen, and we need to finish our chores first,” Ricky answered enthusiastically. Looking around, she caught a glimpse of David as he stood at the counter. Noting his tentative expression and shrug, she walked over and asked quietly, “School?”
“They want to learn, Jen. They miss school. I figure I can teach them science and English.”
Jennifer looked back at the other children and realized the oversight about their education, chastising herself slightly.
~Smooth, Jen.~ Nodding quickly, Jennifer replied, “I'll do history. Jeff can do photography or something when he gets back from dropping Bri off.” She smiled and, with a brief hug, praised, “Way to step up, Bro!”
With a smile in return, David put the pancake batter into the refrigerator for later use and returned to his own breakfast, while silently working out a lesson plan for the day.
“For crying out loud, I've been putting on pants for decades since before you were born,” Jack snapped at Margo McLeod, who was the primary nurse assigned to him for the duration of his rehabilitation at Cedar Hills. She was actually trained as both a rehabilitation nurse and physical therapist, so her duties often covered both functions with her patients, including Jack. “I'm not a toddler needing his mommy to get dressed.”
“General, let's start at the beginning,” Margo suggested calmly, not the least bit fazed by her patient's attitude and actions.
“With the birds or the bees?” Jack quipped sarcastically.
Unflustered, Margo instructed, “The first step is to lay out your pants. Once you do that, you'll lift your leg and slide the pant leg onto your foot and pull it up. Then you'll repeat the process with your other leg. Let's try it.”
“I'd rather try something else,” Jack complained.
“I'm waiting, General.”
“You can wait until the sun don't shine,” came the response from the unhappy patient.
“I think not, but what I can do is go and help someone who wants to be helped. In the meantime, you can lie there in your pajamas. I'll be back in a little while,” Margo told the unhappy patient, smiling at Daniel as she approached the doorway. As she passed, she warned sternly, “Don't help him again, Daniel. You aren't helping him when you do.”
The archaeologist nodded and sighed. Yesterday, he'd witnessed a similar scene and had then assisted his lover in dressing. He'd seen Margo's disapproving look the second she'd walked in and realized that he'd basically dressed her patient. They'd had a discussion about it later in the day.
At the end of the long hallway, Daniel looked at the rehabilitation nurse and tried to explain his actions by saying, “Ms. McLeod, it's only been two days since Jack was brought here, and ...”
Raising her palm up in front of the archaeologist, the nurse interrupted, “It's Margo, Daniel, and I know it seems cruel, but we *cannot* allow our patients to wallow in self-pity, not for five minutes, however much they, or we, may feel they are entitled to it; especially not someone as active and independent as Jack has always been.”
Daniel listened intently to the woman, taking in her words, knowing she was speaking sincerely and with Jack's best interests at heart.
“He cannot yet truly grieve for what he's lost; that will come later. Right now we have to bully him into doing what's best for him, which is directing that extreme stubbornness of his into adapting to his life as it is now.”
“You sound like you know him; well, I mean,” Daniel commented.
“He's military, and you have a lot of children, so he's obviously active. As for the stubbornness, it took me about five minutes to figure that one out.”
“That long?” Daniel mused as much as he could.
With a smile, Margo expounded on her thoughts, saying, “There's a defining moment, Daniel, for the patient, and for each significant person in his or her life who is affected by a traumatic event like this. That moment happens when the reality of who he is now, today, forever shatters the hope and the memory of who he can never be again. At that moment, and not before, the grief becomes cleansing and healing. Until then, it's just pity.”
“I know you're right,” Daniel acknowledged. “You've obviously been doing this for awhile. It can't be easy.”
“Yes, I have, and no, it's not.” With a light sigh, Margo noted, “It never gets easier, but my reward comes later when patients thank me for being so mean to them that they got off their butts and did the work they needed to do. I get postcards from all over the world when my patients travel, and I have a large box full of invitations to weddings, graduations, christenings, and sporting events. I couldn't possibly accept even a tenth of them and still keep my job, but I cherish each and every one as a victory for this 'mean old hag'.”
“Thank you, Margo,” Daniel said as he nodded, while silently vowing not to do things that his husband needed to do for himself.
//End of Flashback//
Daniel's mind understood everything Margo had said, and he fully intended to keep the pledge he'd made to himself, but his heart just wanted Jack to feel better. Margo was far from a 'mean old hag', but he understood her message. Jack needed to be pushed, not handled with kid gloves.
“What happened to having a reason to get home soon?” Daniel challenged his husband as he walked forward, hands in his pockets. “I mean, uh, when we brought you home, before coming here, I thought you understood that we need you.”
“I can't do anything,” Jack whined unhappily.
“Not when you're lying on your butt, you can't,” Daniel rebuked, nodding as he became irritated at Jack's attitude. He walked a little closer and continued, “Jack, our children need you. *I* need you. I realize this is difficult ...”
“*Difficult*?” Jack bellowed angrily. “You don't have a clue in ...”
“Stop!” Daniel exclaimed loudly, raising his right hand into the air, his palm outward. “I'm not going to let you say something that is only going to make this worse. Okay, you've been here a few days, and you're miserable. You know what, Jack? So am I. So are Jonny and Little Danny and Ash and Jenny: the entire brood is miserable. Katie is moping. She keeps going to the door, looking for you, waiting for you to come home. JD says his heart is still in his toes. And here's the thing.”
Daniel leaned over, his hands gripping the edge of the bed. He saw his lover's eyes focused on him, attentively watching Daniel and waiting for whatever was about to come.
~Forgive me, Jack, but this is for your own good,~ Daniel whispered inwardly. “You, Jack, are controlling everything. The lives of our children, our life together, our company; even the lives of people close to us, who are doing everything they can to help us get through this when they don't really have the time to do it.” He paused, waiting a few seconds as he stared at his soulmate. “Kill the attitude, Jack, or I'm going to bring the brood here to see it for themselves.”
Jack stared up at his soulmate and challenged, “You wouldn't dare.”
“I did it at the hospital, and I'll do it again here,” Daniel insisted. “Just watch me.”
“That's dirty pool, Daniel.”
“I'm not going to take the fall for our family falling apart because you're whining every second of the day.” Daniel sighed, closing his eyes for a brief moment. He needed this break. Otherwise, he feared his emotions would cause him to make a statement that would just exacerbate the situation. He took a calming breath, cleansing himself of the negativity that had been flowing through their veins. “I'll do whatever it takes to keep our family happy and together.”
“Happy,” Jack muttered, looking away from his Love.
Daniel let out a tiny sound and then sat on the edge of the bed. He reached out and took Jack's hand in his, trying to focus on letting positive energy flow through him and into his stubborn husband. He didn't know the torture Jack was feeling. He couldn't imagine it, especially knowing how independent and active his Love had always been; but he wanted to calm him and to reassure Jack that their life was not over.
“I can't pretend to know what this is like for you. All I can do is try and imagine what you're feeling, but that being said, we still have the world, Babe. Okay, it's not going to be exactly the same, but that doesn't mean life is over. We're going to be happy and continue doing all the wonderful things we do, together, with our brood, and our business ...”
“When's the last time you saw a paraplegic archaeologist?”
Daniel grinned and answered, “Uh, last year, at the conference.” Still smiling, he continued, “I told you all about him, remember?”
Jack sighed in defeat. He knew he was being ornery and making things difficult, but he couldn't help himself. He was used to being out front, being a leader, not being confined to a wheelchair and not even able to dress himself. It was humiliating and a far cry from the Air Force Special Ops officer he prided himself on being.
“Jack, one day at a time, okay? Just ... just meet us halfway on this,” the younger man implored softly.
“Danny, I don't know how to do this,” the older man confided, finally letting his vulnerability show.
“Neither do I,” Daniel responded. “Jack, none of us do, but we will learn together. The important thing is that we discover how to do it together, you and me, and our children.”
Jack let out a huge breath as he admitted, “Sometimes I think I feel my legs; I could swear it hurts.”
“Have you told the doctors?”
“Doesn't do any good,” Jack snorted snarkily. “They say it's normal; nothing to be alarmed about. “Alarmed? I *feel* something, and they say I shouldn't be alarmed.”
Daniel twisted around and placed his hand on Jack's thigh, squeezing it, but observing no response in his lover.
“That's what they do, but not as gently,” Jack stated with a bit of a scowl on his face.
“Never happens on cue,” the older man retorted.
“Jack, they told me that ...”
“I know, Daniel. It's normal, but that doesn't make it any easier,” Jack interrupted. He looked at his husband and saw so much love aimed in his direction. Once again, he knew he was being a jerk. “I'm sorry.”
“You don't need to apologize; you just need to let Margo and the others help you. Jack, our world is full of people with special needs, and a lot of them are doing very well, but they all had to take that first step.”
“Step?” Jack challenged with accusing eyes.
“You know exactly what I mean, O'Neill.”
“That colonel I first met: nothing would faze him, nothing.”
“That colonel almost shot his brains out in his son's bedroom and then was willing to kill an entire world just to give himself a way out,” Jack responded dryly.
“But he didn't.”
“Because of you.”
“Because of your strength,” Daniel refuted strongly. “It was in you, Jack. I just helped you find it, that's all.”
Choked up, Jack looked away. He didn't feel strong at all. Right now, he felt weaker than he'd ever been.
“Jack,” Daniel began, squeezing his lover's hand tightly. “I wish we could just make this go away. I called Thor.”
His lover's words caused Jack to face the passionate explorer of the universe again.
“He doesn't have a fix. I knew I didn't have a right to ask, but I had to,” Daniel explained.
“We can't expect our ... friends to snap our problems away,” Jack replied.
“No, we can't.” Daniel sighed, “The Asgard have a lot of technology, but they aren't magicians with the human body.” He paused, becoming contemplative for a moment, and then admitted, “They've studied us so much that I was hoping Thor would be able to do what our doctors can't.”
“No go, though,” Jack assumed.
Shaking his head, Daniel affirmed, “No go. He's working on it, though; something about not wanting to let Little Thor down.”
Jack chuckled, “Little Thor. You know, I think JD wouldn't mind being called that.”
“Please don't give him any ideas,” Daniel begged. “Um, you should know, Little Danny really wants us to contact Lya, too.”
“They raise the dead, not heal the invalid,” Jack quipped. “Danny, no. They push their beliefs enough to help us as it is.”
“Yeah,” Daniel reluctantly agreed, respecting his lover so much for resisting the temptation of contacting one of the four great races in the universe for a personal favor that had nothing to do with the galaxy's safety. “If Area 51 hadn't destroyed the Goa'uld healing device trying to get it to work without naquadah in the blood, we could have asked Sam to try and use that.”
“Hail, Dorothy,” Jack mused lightly.
“I thought of contacting the Tok'ra, but ...”
“Not for all the tea in China, or beer in the fridge,” Jack replied firmly, interrupting his soulmate. “Danny, anytime we ask those ... people for anything, they want something in return, and it's usually a lot more than what they give.”
“Jack, there is a ... another possibility.”
“Not in a million years,” Jack stated sternly, instantly knowing what his lover was thinking about. “You're not putting me in one of those boxes.” He paused and queried, “Do we even have one of those things anymore?”
“I'm not sure if there's a working sarcophagus out there or not, but maybe we should investigate that idea.”
“I saw what those things did to you, Daniel. You're not sticking me in one of them. The tradeoff isn't worth it,” Jack opined ardently.
“Just one time,” Daniel argued lightly, his conflicted emotions about the mental effects of spending time in the alien device making it difficult for him to support the idea too strongly.
“Daniel, I was in one of those before, so it wouldn't be just one time. Besides, I'm already wacky enough, don't ya think?”
“Good point,” Daniel acknowledged with a smile. “Maybe one of our other allies can ...”
“Danny, we've talked about this before. I'm alive, not dead, and I'm not gonna die from this. You're the one who argued that point before, that we don't have the right to ask our allies for selfish things.”
“Where do we draw the line?” Daniel agreed with his soft, questioning reply. “But we're talking about you walking, Jack.”
“What do we teach the brood, if we do?” Jack put forth bravely, realizing how his lover was battling personal convictions versus personal needs. “Danny, that's what you asked me before. We want our kids to be normal. How normal can they be if, when they break an arm, their solution is to call Thor?” Thoughtfully, he added, “I don't want our kids to think that if something is wrong in their lives that they get a do-over. Sometimes you just have to take the lumps life gives you.”
Daniel sighed. Jack was throwing his own words back at him. Worse, they were words he believed in strongly. Yes, they'd asked for favors before, but never quite for something like this. In the past, it had been at critical moments, when their lives were at risk. Besides, it was doubtful their off-world friends could help, anyway. Then there was always the question of how they'd explain it to the doctors, not that it was a vital factor in the equation.
“I'm trying, Angel,” Jack continued, seeing the conflict weighing on his lover. He paused, questioning his own words. “I'm trying to try,” he corrected, grimacing at the oddness of his statement. He groaned and decided to let it go, returning to the main subject and saying simply, “We'll make it on our own, without alien doohickeys.”
“Okay,” Daniel agreed, even though he wasn't totally sure he should go along with his soulmate's decision. ~It was easier when I was in Jack's position, telling him not to do anything to help me. Shoe's on the other foot now, and I'd really rather not be wearing his.~
“How's the brood?” Jack inquired, wanting to move off the sensitive subject that had just been discussed.
“They miss you. It's hard on them,” Daniel responded. “Uh, they're going to have their first counseling session tomorrow.” He saw his husband's eyes roll and then settle into a glare. “Don't eyeball me, Babe. They need someone removed from the situation to help them understand their feelings.”
“They have you,” Jack challenged.
“Of course, they do,” Daniel agreed without giving up his stance on the subject. “But, Babe, I'm hardly disconnected from this situation. They need an independent person to listen to them.” Sensing that it was a good time for another change in subject, while at the same time kicking his husband for being a bit self-involved, even if it was understandable, Daniel informed, “Uh, Mrs. Crenshaw called last night.”
“Hammond's lady friend?”
Daniel smiled a moment and then grew more serious, saying, “He's not feeling very well.”
“Too much of Mrs. C's cooking,” Jack surmised.
“He's not really sick?” Jack questioned in earnest.
“Mrs. Crenshaw is taking care of him,” Daniel answered. “She said it could just be the flu, but she's not sure.”
“I'm going by later,” Daniel interrupted, knowing what his husband was going to say.
“Don't let him slack off. He's getting crotchety now that he doesn't have to report to the SGC every day.”
“You would know,” Daniel spoke not-so-innocently, raising his eyebrows as he smiled.
“Good one, Daniel.”
“Thank you,” Daniel replied, pleased with himself.
“General, are you ready to try *again*?” Margo asked as she returned to the room.
“He's ready,” Daniel answered, smiling at his soulmate and then standing up. “I'm going to go and check on General Hammond. Jack ...”
“I'll be good,” Jack promised with mock contriteness. “Go. I have work to do.”
With a smile and a nod, Daniel headed for the doorway, turning around to glance back at his lover, who was focusing in on his task for the day -- putting on his pants.
As Daniel walked away, however, he heard, **I love you, Angel.** That endearing declaration reminded the archaeologist that as trying as these times may be, the couple's nation of two was alive and strong.
“She's making it sound like I've got one foot in the grave, Son, but this old dog still has a lot of hunt left in him,” Hammond assured as he sat in his chair in the sunroom that had been a gift from the Jackson-O'Neill family.
Sitting in the other chair, Daniel leaned forward, smiling as he responded, “I'm glad to hear that, Sir.” He took a breath of regret as he spoke, “I'm ... afraid we haven't had time lately to come over.”
“You've got a lot to handle right now. As soon as I'm feeling better, I'll be over to help out.”
“The brood misses you, Sir.”
“I miss my grandchildren, Daniel,” Hammond admitted. “How's Jack doing?”
Daniel sighed, “He goes back and forth from dealing with it and ... not. It's a, a ... struggle.”
“Jack has always dealt with things best after thinking about it a while. He'll come around,” Hammond asserted confidently. “And you? How are you handling it?”
“Me?” Daniel echoed. He shrugged and looked down as he cocked his head slightly, not wanting to really think about how he was feeling about everything. “I'm fine.”
“I've heard those words before, and I believe you now about as much as I believed you then.”
Daniel gave the general a tiny smile and nodded his head. He sighed, looking down at the floor for a moment before responding.
“It's ... difficult. The children need a lot of attention, but I have to be with Jack. We have a business that demands my time, too. I need a clone, or two or three,” Daniel put forth in a sad-but-true statement of his life these days.
“Anything I can do to help, Son?”
“Get well, Sir.”
“Hey,” Daniel greeted as he returned to the rehab center that afternoon.
“Look, Danny. I can put my foot in my pants.”
“That's great!” Daniel praised. “Uh ... shouldn't they be ...”
“... pulled up?” Jack asked. “I'm starting a new trend.”
“You copped an attitude again,” Daniel surmised as he crossed his arms over his chest, his ire at his husband rising quickly. “Jack ...
“Oh ye of little faith,” Jack quipped. “Margo had to go do something. I was just trying it on my own.” After a pause, he added, “I ran out of steam.”
“Oh. Jack, I'm sorry. It's just ...”
“Daniel, I've never been a good patient. We both know that,” Jack stated strongly. “Will you *please* get my pants up? I feel like I'm on exhibit.”
Daniel chuckled lightly and then began to help his lover to pull up his pants, but, remembering Margo's words from earlier in the day, he stopped.
“Babe, you can do it,” Daniel encouraged, backing away a step. “I know you can.” Difficult as it was, the archaeologist held his ground while willing his soulmate to gather his strength and accomplish his task. ~Come on, Jack. It's a start,~ the younger man urged silently.
“Piece of cake,” Jack responded, though not sounding as convincing as he normally did when using one of his favorite phrases. “It's just a matter of coordination.”
Gritting his teeth, Jack used the overhead bar to pull himself up to a sitting position. Then he leaned forward, taking his pants in his hands. It sounded simple, but it wasn't. Wiggling his hips back and forth, he slowly pulled up his pants. When he was done, he let himself plop back down on the bed. He was exhausted, and that frustrated him.
“You'd think I'd just run five miles,” Jack put forth at the difficulty of his labors.
“You did great,” Daniel praised, walking forward and leaning over to share a kiss. “I'm proud of you, Jack.” He saw his lover's expression change, shifting from an almost smile to a sad frown. “What?”
“You just reminded me of me.”
“What's wrong with that?”
With a slight cock of his head, the older man answered, “You reminded me of me, the first time Ricky got dressed by himself, and I praised him.”
Daniel didn't know how to respond to that, so he didn't, choosing to remain silent and kiss his Love again.
“Nothing wrong with your lips,” Daniel noted with a pleased smile.
“Pucker still pucks, but the f...”
“Jack, don't go there. We're not ready yet. Let's concentrate on making sure you're functional -- dressing, with dressing,” Daniel sighed nervously at his faux paux statement.
Jack stared at his lover, seeing the truth in his eyes. They hadn't talked about their sexual life. Both had evaded the questions, not yet wanting to know the answers. Right now, they were dealing with 'first things first', and that was getting Jack functional with the activities of daily life.
~Functional?~ Jack questioned. ~Stop it, O'Neill. Not yet. I won't think about it yet.~ He saw Daniel's face sadden and knew it was his fault. Quickly, he did what Daniel had done before -- changed the subject. “How's Hammond?”
“Much better. Jack, I think he was sicker than we knew, and that's why he hasn't been around much. He didn't want us to worry.”
“Because of my idiotic attitude.”
“Not necessarily. He's called the brood a lot, but I've been ... I mean I ...”
“You've had to babysit me,” Jack acknowledged, fully aware of the number of hours his husband was putting in at the rehab center in an effort to keep him motivated and on task. “Danny, are you sure he's okay?”
“Yeah, I think so.” Daniel smiled and then suggested, “Of course, the phone's right there.”
Jack glanced at the phone. Since the accident, he hadn't reached out to anyone but his soulmate. In fact, he'd managed to shove the telephone to the end of the bedside table it was sitting on so that now, he couldn't even reach it.
“Good idea,” Jack concurred. “How about ...”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” Daniel replied, moving to the other side of the bed and handing his Love the phone.
“Like Egyptian hieroglyphs,” Little Danny interjected as he and some of his siblings sat around the game table in the recreation room.
“Exactly,” Jennifer acknowledged. “Native Americans passed down their history through stories told through symbols, like these.” She held up some pictures she'd sketched. “This picture is a symbol of two brothers.”
“Like us,” Jonny piped up.
“Well, it's not necessarily literal. Brothers could be more than just a relationship by blood. To the Indians, any two men could be brothers.”
“Like when T calls Dad his brother,” Little Danny chimed in with a smile.
“Exactly,” Jennifer praised.
“This book is actually on the American Library Association's Challenged Book List,” Brianna stated.
“What does that mean?” Lulu inquired curiously.
“It means that there are some people who find the book objectionable. In this case, they think it's racist.”
“Why?” Chenoa questioned.
“Why don't you read it and tell me,” Brianna suggested with a smile. “That's going to be your assignment -- to read this book and then write an essay about whether or not you think it should be a challenged book. Let's take a closer look.”
“Pictures tell a story. When we're done talking, what I want you to do is use these cameras and take pictures. Use the entire roll. Later, we'll look at them and see if they can tell us a story,” Jeff stated with a smile and then handed out the cameras.
“Do we take pictures of the same thing?” Ricky asked.
“You can, but what I'd like you to do is pick three or four different things. Take several pictures of each. Think about your subject and what they're doing.”
“Bij, or the grass, or Jen teaching history. This is your story. Find a few things that are interesting to you and document it by taking pictures.” Seeing JD's scrunched nose, Jeff chuckled, “Don't worry, JD. I'll help you.”
“Good 'cause I don't know what a 'docmen' is.”
Daniel finished observing each of the three learning groups. He was taken aback by the studies, realizing that he'd overlooked the brood's education. He bowed his head, believing that he wasn't accomplishing anything anymore. He was a lousy husband and a neglectful father. Except for a few phone calls, he hadn't even checked in at J-O lately. He felt lucky that he'd been able to convince himself to get up and get dressed every day.
“Hi, Daddy,” Jennifer greeted, calling out softly as she approached her younger father from the rear, having left her charges to study on their own for a bit.
Daniel's head lifted up in surprise as he thought, ~I'm not even good at basic survival tactics: I didn't hear her coming.~
“Daddy, are you okay? You look kinda funny.”
“I'm fine,” the conflicted man replied. “Jen, what's all this?”
“We found out this morning that they miss studying, so David organized school. I checked out the lesson plans, and they look okay to me.”
“David, Bri, and Jeff all came up with something to teach today. It's a start, Daddy.” Jennifer smiled as she slipped her arm through her father's and stated, “This is round three.”
“I messed up.”
~Messed up? What does that mean?~ Jennifer wondered before realizing that her younger father was embarking on a guilt trip. “You need to be with Dad, and the brood knows that,” she reassured. “Daddy, Peter wants to help, too, and I thought I'd call Aunt Sara, but I didn't want to do that without your permission.”
“Sara,” Daniel sighed with a nod. “I'm sure she'd love to help. Jen, make sure she isn't teaching somewhere first. I mean ...”
“I know. She'll back out of her obligation for us,” Jennifer surmised. “I'll bring it up casually, and if she's working, I won't say anything. Is it okay about Peter?”
“Sure. Thanks, Sweetie,” Daniel replied, giving his daughter an appreciative kiss on the cheek. He sighed remorsefully, “Sometimes it feels like Dad and I put a world of pressure on our family.”
“No one's keeping score, Daddy,” Jennifer replied wisely, causing Daniel to take a huge breath and wonder why he kept saying crazy things lately. “Oh, Grandpa called earlier, just to say 'hi'.”
“I'll bet the brood liked that.”
“He promised he'd come by in a day or two. We made him some cookies, and the brood insists a delegation be allowed to deliver them tonight before going to bed. I told them we'd have to talk to you first.”
“Whatever you think, Jen.”
“I'm relying on you, Sweetheart. I have to, okay?”
“Okay, Daddy,” Jennifer agreed, trying to conceal her worry. It was great to be relied on, and she liked the proof that her father was thinking of her as the adult she was, but she'd never quite heard that amount of need before from her father. “I think I'll take Ash and Lulu with me when I go.”
“Okay,” Daniel replied, giving her a kiss on the cheek.
Jennifer sighed inwardly. She could feel her younger father's distress. She'd also been privy to Daniel's insecurities in the past. While she was certain he could deal with everything that was happening, she wondered if he knew that.
~Or maybe Daddy is so strong that he's admitting he can't do it all,~ Jennifer thought as her worry began to dissipate. ~It's like that old 'super woman' concept. No one can do it all. Daddy knows that, and why should he try when he has all of us to help him?~ She smiled, having worked through her concern. ~Way to go, Daddy.~
~It's like being on active duty again,~ Jack whined inwardly. ~Up by seven every friggin' morning.~
Of course, Jack was an early bird anyway. He always had been, but he was an unhappy man these days, and his life was far from his own; at least, that's how he felt.
The general's days began with the wake-up call and then the morning hygiene, something he wasn't thrilled about. Then again, he was military and had had plenty of experiences where modesty was second to necessity. That's how life was today.
Then there was breakfast. Daniel was always at Cedar Hills by then, if not sooner, and that was the one bright spot in Jack's day. Even if they were arguing, seeing his Heart was a joy. It gave his life meaning, and these days, Jack needed that reason to be clear and visible as much as possible.
~I miss IHOP,~ Jack lamented about the daily morning meal, not that he'd been to the breakfast restaurant that much recently anyway; rather, it was just another thing for him to complain about. ~When I bust out of here, I'm going to IHOP for a double order of strawberry banana pancakes.~
Most of the morning was spent learning to do things Jack's parents and grandparents had taught him as a child.
~Oh, for crying out loud! I know how to put on socks! Grandpa let me bait his fishin' pole the first time I put on my socks by myself. That was a long, long time ago, lady.~
“General, I realize this is difficult, but I'm trying to give you tips that will help you to function on your own, completely independently, when you leave here,” Margo stated strongly, but with understanding in her tone. “What if you injure your hand?”
“What if I injure my hand?” Jack echoed sarcastically.
“You can have small loops sewn into your socks, so you can just hook your thumb through the loop and pull the sock over your foot.”
“My hand is fine,” Jack replied, his voice strained.
“General, part of what we want to teach you is simplification -- how to take the complex parts of daily living and make them easier.”
“Dumb them down,” Jack stated.
“Okay, if you prefer that phrasing,” the nurse replied. “No one is against you; we're all on your side.”
“I'll try and remember that.”
After re-learning what he'd once learned by the age of five, Jack would get a breather, better known as lunch.
~I suppose it beats the mess hall at the SGC.~
Then came an afternoon that Jack likened to that of being a private, where his body was subjected to a number of exercises and routines the nurses called physical therapy. He didn't really argue during these lessons. He understood his body, and it made sense to him that he needed to work his muscles. The massages made sense. It all made sense.
~But I'd rather Danny was touching me there than you,~ Jack thought as the therapist worked his leg muscles.
Finally, the work day would end, and Jack would get dinner and time to visit with family, friends, and other residents of the rehab facility. Of course, he was avoiding the other residents as much as possible, his friends knew to stay away, at least temporarily, and his family was limited to Daniel, who knew better than to bring the children with him. There were exceptions to every rule, but from his own making, visitation was chiefly limited to Daniel.
~He's all I want. Crap, he deserves more than me in this friggin' chair.~ Staring at the facility's psychiatrist, Jack pretended the man was a Goa'uld. This was the price to pay for a decent meal -- a thirty minute session with the 'prison's shrink', as Jack called him. ~No, I'm not about to share my life story with you. That's it. Send me back to my room. Danny is waiting. This after-dinner counseling is a waste of my time.~
So the days went, and there had only been a few of them thus far. Jack wasn't sure he could make it through more. What was the point? It was a question he was having a hard time answering.
“Janet, I don't want this thing in me for the rest of my life,” Jack stated the next day, having decided this was a discussion he just couldn't put off any longer. It wasn't really a statement, though, but rather was a plea and a desperate one at that. “Tell me something -- *anything!*” he begged urgently.
“Not everyone needs a catheter ...” Janet began. Seeing Jack brighten and about to interrupt, she increased her volume and continued, “... but you do. It's just something you'll have to deal with, for now.”
“I don't want to deal with it.”
“Look, a certain amount of ... training is sometimes possible.”
“Military, Doc,” Jack responded, sounding a bit agitated. “I'm all about training; it's in my blood.”
“I'll talk to Max,” Janet agreed, referring to Doctor Maxwell Holicum, the man in charge of Jack's program at Cedar Hills.
“Thanks, Doc,” Jack replied gratefully as the physician smiled and stood up from the chair she'd been sitting in during her fifteen-minute visit. “Doc, there's one more thing.”
Full of compassion, Janet pushed the chair aside and sat on the edge of the bed as she listened to Jack's concern. It wasn't something she normally did with her patients, but right now, Jack wasn't her patient.
“Jack, you can still have sex -- fulfilling sex. Being aroused won't be a problem,” Janet began.
“But?” Jack prodded.
“You may have to use manual stimulation to achieve an erection,” the physician continued. “If you have problems, there are things you can try that might help; vibrators and rings can achieve a certain result. Viagra and ... yes, Jack, Viagra,” she confirmed, reinforcing her comment upon seeing Jack squirm disapprovingly. “You might not be able to ejaculate, though. Many men aren't able to, though some do.”
“Am I gonna know what's happening?”
“An orgasm?” Janet asked. “Yes, of course. Jack, you're not dead. Look, while this isn't something we've talked about in the past, and I'm not asking for details now, the little I do know about your sex life with Daniel is that you two like to do different things sometimes. Well, you have a lot of different things you can try now.”
“I don't think we're talking about the same things,” Jack snarked.
“Probably not,” Janet stated flatly. “But that doesn't mean what I'm suggesting isn't going to bring you ... uh, bliss,” she put forth with a sly smile. “You might find that exploring other parts of your anatomy, as well as Daniel's, will bring on new sensations. You have a lot of new things to explore with your husband.”
“Great,” Jack sighed, not really satisfied with the response. ~How can I ever make him scream my name again?~
“But I wanna see Dad,” Jonny argued in his sister's Mini-Cooper as Jennifer headed for the mall to do some necessary shopping.
“Jonny, Dad's working hard to get through therapy.”
“Why can't we go see him?” the eldest Munchkin asked ardently on behalf of all the children in the vehicle.
“Jonny, shhh,” Aislinn urged from her seat next to the boy.
Jennifer glanced over at David, who was in the front seat. She smiled sadly at her brother, who knew the truth. Jack's mood swings were big and frequent. Most days, he didn't want to see his children, and Daniel oftentimes didn't want to risk the brood being subjected to one of his husband's foul moments. He wasn't sure what the result would be.
Jonny let out an unhappy snort and folded his arms across the chest while stubbornly saying, “I wanna see Dad!”
The sandy-haired boy's discord continued through the entire drive to the mall and even as the four disembarked the vehicle, which was parked at the back end of a long aisle.
“Jonny, give it a rest,” Jennifer ordered.
“But I wanna ...”
“Right now, I don't care what you want. We all want to see Dad, but we're not going to today. We need to do some shopping, and either you're going to help us, or you're not, and you know what will happen if you choose not to help.”
Jonny glared at his oldest sister and was clearly unhappy about the rebuke.
“He'll be good,” Aislinn promised, glaring at her brother with intensity and getting a reluctant sigh in response.
Jennifer sighed. The oldest Munchkin might be very vocal, but he normally wasn't this harsh. Until recently, it was also rare for the brothers and sisters to argue and be snippy with one another. Over the last couple of days, though, she'd noticed an increase in attitude and snarkiness. She hoped the growing tension wouldn't escalate too much beyond what it already had.
As the siblings headed for the mall entrance, the conversation finally turned to a different topic.
Coming towards the family were two men and one woman, all of whom were in their forties. Their eyes spoke of recognition, and their voices lowered to hushed tones.
Though his siblings ignored the other group, Jonny's covert skills went into play. He tuned into the other conversation and bristled with each impolite word he heard.
“That lady looks familiar.”
“You remember? They thought she and her boyfriend did in the guy's parents.”
“Yeah, that's it. It was all over the news for a while. Her parents are a couple of homos.”
“I'll bet those are some of the retard kids -- an even dozen. That's a joke.”
“Oh, I remember. One of the dads was in an accident last month. I think he's paralyzed, or something.”
“Amen to that, Brother!”
“He deserved it for spitting on marriage and having kids.”
The unofficial leader of the Jackson-O'Neill brood turned around and ran towards the spiteful adults, shouting out, “You take that back!”
“Get out of here, you ... hey!” one of the men groused upon feeling Jonny's foot connect with his shin. “You ...”
“Jonny, stop!” Jennifer yelled, running to catch up with the boy and then pulling him back with David's help. “Why did you do that?”
“You heard them!”
“Jonny, you know better!”
All of a sudden, the strong little boy proved that he was just a little boy, breaking down into tears, sobbing about wanting to see his dad and how mean the strangers were.
“Jonny, you know how Dad is. You should because you're just like him,” Jennifer soothed as she held the boy securely in her arms. “He loves us so much.”
~Jonny's crying.~ Aislinn heard a sneer and faced the strangers. Rapidly, she walked towards them, an angry look on her face. “Our family is about love. If you want to make fun of that, go ahead. We don't care.”
David hurried towards his little sister, wanting to protect her. He'd heard Jonny's mumbles about what the group had been saying.
“Why don't you ask yourselves what price you'll pay for gossiping and hurting innocent children?” His hands on Aislinn's shoulder, David began to turn her around as he suggested, “Ash, Let's go.”
“Brat!” one of the men spat out in disgust.
“Ignore them, Ash. Daddy wouldn't want us to fight strangers.”
“We could take them,” Aislinn insisted, glancing back at the adults who were walking away, still scoffing at the Jackson-O'Neills. “I bet you wouldn't like it if one of your parents couldn't walk anymore,” the youngest Munchkin called out loudly over her shoulder.
“Jonny, it's okay to cry.”
“I'm the leader; I'm not supposed to cry,” Jonny refuted.
“You know that's not true,” Jennifer challenged tenderly, her hands rubbing her brother's arms supportively.
“They shouldn't have said those things,” Jonny spoke in disgust.
“No, they shouldn't have, but this isn't about them. This is about you and our family. I know you're our leader, but kicking that man isn't going to make Dad walk again.”
“He's scared, Jen,” Jonny sniffled, so angry at himself for sniffling that he slammed his left foot on the cement.
“Probably. So am I, and so are you,” Jennifer retorted, trying hard not to laugh at her little brother's outburst.
“Are, too,” Jennifer stated lightly, certain of where the exchange was headed.
“Most definitely too,” the young woman insisted, breaking out into a small smile. “Be the leader and admit it. That's what Dad would do.”
“Jen, I just miss Dad,” Jonny stated. “I don't have anyone to punch.”
Jennifer chuckled, knowing her brother had never tried to punch anyone who hadn't tried to punch him first.
“Taking out your frustration on those people makes us just as bad as they are,” Jennifer professed. “It's okay to miss Dad. It's even okay to be mad at him for ...”
“I'm not mad at Dad!” Jonny refuted.
“I am,” Jennifer admitted truthfully. “I'm mad at him because I want to see him, and I can't, because he's too full of anger, just like you.”
“I can get better,” Jonny stated firmly.
“I know you can, and I know Dad can, too.”
“You okay, Bro?” David asked when he and Aislinn rejoined their siblings.
“He's just fine,” Jennifer answered, smiling at her brother and then hugging him. “I love you, Jonny.”
“Don't get mushy, Jen,” the Munchkin demanded. “We're in public.”
“Okay, we have some shopping to do,” an amused Jennifer stated, standing up straight and taking Jonny's hand as they resumed their walk towards the mall entrance.
“Are you gonna tell Daddy what I did?”
Jennifer sighed, “You should, but he's under so much pressure right now that maybe we should let it pass for now and tell him later, when Dad's better.”
“Okay,” Jonny agreed, a bit relieved to be off the hook, at least for the moment.
~I sure hope those people don't try to sue us or something,~ Jennifer thought, hoping her decision not to tell Daniel right away was the correct one. ~He's just a little boy, and he's dealing with a lot right now.~
Unaware of the disturbance at the mall, Daniel was taking care of some business affairs in the den of his home. Truth be told, he'd rather be battling the Replicators than talking about medical bills and insurance.
“Daniel, I've submitted the hospital bills to the insurer. You realize their policy limits have already been reached,” Mark Kingston spoke over the phone that afternoon.
“I'm not surprised.”
“How much longer will Jack be at Cedar Hills?”
“Two more weeks, maybe three,” Daniel answered.
“That'll easily max out his insurer's limits, including the umbrella,” Mark advised, doing his job as diligently as possible. “The next step is to go after the family assets.”
Seated at his desk in the den, Daniel stared at the newspaper clipping about the accident that topped his file regarding the accident. There was a picture of Morris Pflug, the gray-haired driver of the truck that had rear-ended Jack's vehicle, sending it flying through the intersection and into the traffic light pole.
The man was fifty-nine-years old and left behind his wife of thirty-five years and their six children, two of whom were six-year-old twins. They'd been a whopper of a surprise to the couple, whose next youngest child was fourteen. Another was a high-school junior, and the other two were in college.
Pflug was an insurance agent. His wife was a homemaker, who had sometimes worked temporary data entry and reception jobs to bring in some additional income. She also sold Avon and Tupperware.
Daniel's private report on the family showed a modest savings account and a couple of certificate of deposits that were earmarked for the children's education expenses.
“What I'll do is ...” Mark continued.
Daniel rubbed his forehead, tuning out the lawyer's voice. He had a horrible headache. His heart ached, too. He turned the article over and looked again at the report Sam had given him on the Pflug family. They were an everyday, middle class family. Their house was in an older section of Colorado Springs and looked like it could use some repairs, based on the pictures Sam had acquired.
The police investigation of the accident coincided with what the witnesses had reported, concluding that Pflug was at fault. The autopsy revealed he'd had a sudden fatal heart attack, most likely dying within seconds. Police had also determined that Pflug had been going about ten miles over the speed limit when the attack had occurred. When he'd slumped forward, his foot locked onto the gas, causing his vehicle to accelerate.
“I'll get started on that tomorrow.”
“No,” Daniel finally blurted out. “Mark, there's been enough tragedy already. Jack and I are fine financially, and if we take every last penny Morris Pflug had, how are those little girls going to survive?”
“Daniel, it's my duty as your lawyer ...”
“I know what your duty is,” Daniel interrupted, picking up the family photo of the Pflugs that Sam had supplied. “These children need a chance, and we're not going to take it away from them. If we needed it, maybe it would be different. We're secure; they're not.”
“I'd like you to think about this before making a decision you'll regret later on,” Mark replied forcefully.
“Mark, J-O is thriving, our investments are sound, and we've more than we need to get by. I won't destroy a family for no reason at all.”
“Have you talked to Jack about it?”
Daniel sighed, not wanting to think about the accident or the Pflugs any longer.
“Daniel?” Mark called out, not hearing anything.
“Just get what we're entitled to from the insurance company, and keep me posted. Thank you,” Daniel instructed, abruptly and uncharacteristically ending the call. He stood up and walked over to the Tree of Love, the gift Jack had given him for their first wedding. It was full of photos of their children, the branches of the tree having expanded many times over the years. ~Maybe I should let the children decide. This money would be for them. Do I have a right to make a decision like this?~
That night, Aislinn kneeled down to say her prayers. She looked around, glad that Jenny hadn't returned yet from playing with JD.
“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray ...” Aislinn sighed and began again, “Dear God, it's me, Ash. It's all my fault. I know it's my fault. I told Dad that I wanted a swan for our pool. I wanted a real one, and Dad said 'no'. I cried. If I hadn't wanted a swan, Dad wouldn't have gone to that store and bought the pretend swans. It's all my fault. God, if you make Dad better, I'll ...”
The little girl thought and thought. This was a big request, and her sacrifice needed to be big, too. She thought about her dolls. She loved them. Maybe if she gave them all away?
~No. Dad and Daddy would just buy me more.~
The youngest Munchkin, Jack and Daniel's original miracle, closed her eyes, praying for the gift that would matter. She nodded.
“God, please make Dad better. If you do, I'll never sing again. My voice is yours. I promise.” Her pledge made, Aislinn spoke, “Thank you for your blessings ...”
Though her heart was breaking from her chosen sacrifice, Aislinn was certain she'd done the right thing. As she finished up her prayers, Jenny returned to their bedroom, unaware of her sister's vow.
“Britney?” Brianna called out quizzically when she entered her older sister's bedroom a bit later that night.
“I'm feeling nostalgic,” Jennifer responded, turning around from her desk to face her sister. “Are you okay?”
“Are you?” Brianna sighed, plopping down on the bed and then slowly going backwards until she was flat on her back, staring up at the ceiling.
“I don't think any of us will be okay until Dad gets home,” Jennifer responded, getting up and joining the younger girl on the bed. “We got through Dad being lost in that avalanche and Daddy being hurt in that car crash; we can get through this, too.”
Turning her head to look at the young woman, Brianna asked, “Jen, aren't you scared?”
“A little, but that's natural.”
“Dad's being such a bear; that's why we can't go visit every day. We both know that's the truth.”
“But the others don't, and we can't let on.”
“Dad was really looking forward to some one-on-one hockey time.”
“I'm so angry Jen that I could burst,” Brianna admitted. “My problem is that I'm not sure why I'm angry.”
Jennifer looked away for a second, sighing as she did so. She focused on a photo of herself dancing with Jack.
“I think I'll miss that the most,” Jennifer stated, motioning towards the picture. “We don't dance very much, but every now and then, for no reason, Dad will turn on the stereo and the next thing I know, we're dancing. Sometimes it's not even for an entire song and sometimes he doesn't even bother with the music. I used to bring it up, but he'd always say, 'Who needs music? It's in our hearts'.”
“Sounds more like Daddy,” Brianna replied.
“You know how romantic Dad is; he just hides it behind the general,” Jennifer pointed out. “Daddy needs us, Bri. We have to do whatever we can to keep the brood united and positive. He's counting on us.”
“I know,” Brianna responded.
“I have an idea,” Jennifer stated brightly.
“I'm not sure which day is best, but either tomorrow or the day after, let's go to the rink and play some hockey.”
Her eyes brightening, Brianna leaned up to rest on her elbows as she asked, “Can we?”
“It'll be a good way for both of us to let out some of that inner aggression we're feeling,” Jennifer replied.
“Do we take some of the others?” Brianna asked cautiously.
“Um ... no. We'll have to hold back if we do.”
“Good thinking, Sis,” Brianna responded energetically, sitting up to give her sister a knuckle bash of approval.
The next morning, Ricky hurried into the kitchen and called out, “Daddy, Casey's at the door. Can I let him in?”
“Is he alone?” Daniel asked as he reached for a towel to wipe his hands with.
“Okay, I'll be right there.”
Ricky turned and walk-sprinted his way to the door, opening it with a smile and eagerly greeting, “Hi, Casey.”
“Hi, Ricky. How ya doin'?”
“I'm okay. Daddy said you can come in. He's in the kitchen,” Ricky advised.
“A man's work is never done,” Casey chuckled.
“That's true enough,” Daniel stated with a smile, extending out his arm to shake hands with the nurse. “What's up?”
“I had an idea about the pool.”
“Yeah. I realized we didn't talk about that when Alex was here.”
“No, we didn't,” the archaeologist acknowledged.
“Dad loves to go swimming,” Ricky interjected enthusiastically.
“Daniel, the pool is gonna be a great place for the general when he gets home. You just have to make sure it's set up right.”
“I hadn't even thought about it,” Daniel admitted, motioning for Casey to follow him, with Ricky trailing along behind them.
“I know what we should do, Daddy,” Ricky called out just as the three entered the pool area.
“What's that?” the father asked with an encouraging smile.
“Put bars all the way around the pool, so that when Dad gets in the pool, he always has something to hold on to.”
“Yeah,” Daniel said with a smile. ~He understands architecture and has good instincts. I have to tell Jack. He'll be so proud of Ricky, just like I am.~
“That's exactly what I was going to suggest. You'll need to pick a spot for a hydraulic lift, too,” Casey stated as he looked around, mentally searching for a good place. “Set it up right, and the general can wheel his chair right up to the lift, slide on, and get into the pool.”
“Daddy, can I call Alex and tell him?”
“Sure,” Daniel replied, not even thinking about which time zone the designer might be in.
“Alex has another fan,” Casey observed as the boy hurried for the phone.
“Yeah. He's pretty popular around here,” Daniel replied.
Casey snorted in annoyance, shaking his head as he returned to looking for a good spot for the hydraulic lift.
Hearing the reaction to his comment about the designer, Daniel began, “Casey, it's none of my business, but what's the problem with Al... never mind.”
Not needing any further invitation, Casey picked up on the topic and ran with it, flippantly saying, “I don't care how many years he's been playing house with *Soncirria*, Daniel, the man is lying to himself so bad that one day, he's going to explode. Let him. I don't have the time or patience to wait around for him.”
~Okay, definite hostility there,~ Daniel noted. “They've been together a long time, Casey. I wouldn't be surprised if they got married sometime soon.”
“No surprise to me,” Casey responded sharply. “And I'm sure they'll have two perfect little children.”
“Nothing wrong with having children. I have a dozen of my own,” Daniel replied with a smile.
“We're not talking about your brood, Daniel. Seriously, can you see Alex as a daddy?” Casey asked, rolling his eyes at the thought.
~I'm missing something ... big,~ Daniel told himself. “To be honest, I never saw myself as a father until I was one, and don't forget, Alex was a father figure to much younger siblings.”
“That was a long time ago, Daniel,” Casey replied, his words less sharp for a brief moment as he thought about the Dennison triplets. Shaking off his sympathy at the pain associated with the triplets' disappearance, he retorted, “He can't stand mess; he doesn't even know how to wear jeans.”
“Don't you think you're being overly critical?” the archaeologist challenged. “I mean, Alex has learned how to relax, and,” he chuckled lightly, “he does wear jeans -- sometimes.”
“Good luck to him then.”
~Okay, I probably shouldn't, but ...~ the archaeologist thought, deciding to butt in all the way. “Casey, did I ... miss something? I know you've always been interested in Alex, but the last couple of years, it seems like things ... something's happened or ... or ... I don't know.”
Casey looked at Daniel and made an astonishing realization.
“You don't know that they broke up for a while, do you?” Casey questioned. ~Mmm. Come to think of it, we didn't see the general and Daniel that much back then. Maybe they didn't know.~
Stunned, Daniel stared at Casey, amazed that he hadn't a clue about any breakup between Alex and Sunny. Of course, it's not like he saw the pair with any great regularity. Alex was still working quite a lot in Florida, which was Sunny's home base. Plus, the designer was traveling the world more as he spread his wings on behalf of his employer.
Nodding, Casey expounded, “It was right after that fancy schmancy anniversary party you and the general had.”
~Fancy schmancy?~ Daniel questioned himself, not used to thinking of his family doing anything that upscale as to be defined by this particular slang expression. ~Okay, maybe it was over the top. Who knew Jonny had invited the President, for crying out loud?~ Responding to the nurse, he stated, “That was almost three years ago.”
“Amazing how time doesn't fly when you've been dumped.”
“Dumped?” Daniel asked, gulping in surprise at what he was hearing. ~Where the heck were Jack and I while this was going on?~
“He realized he had the hots for another man -- me.”
“Really?” the intrigued archaeologist questioned. ~That explains the attitude.~
“It didn't last long. He went running back to her as fast as those Prada heels would take him,” Casey stated, clearly unhappy about it.
“Casey, Alex led a ...”
“Daniel, I know all about Alex's life and his devotion to work. I could deal with that, but not his denials.”
“Maybe it's just timing.”
“Timing?” Casey queried, confused about the comment.
“I mean, it took Alex a long time to open himself up to Sunny, and I ... I believe he really loves her.”
“Daniel, he's on the gaydar.”
“Gaydar. What exactly does that mean?” Daniel questioned. Quickly, he held up his hand, saying, “I know what it's supposed to mean. All I'm saying is that Alex may have needed some time to really understand himself. I'm sorry if you were hurt, but maybe you're focusing so hard on Alex, that you're ignoring other ... possibilities.”
Casey stared at the other man, positively clueless as to what he could be talking about.
Daniel continued, “Look, you said you're tired of men who aren't comfortable in their shoes, so to speak, but aren't you guilty of setting your sights on ones who are, well, prone to be ... temporary?”
The nurse kneeled down, reaching in to splash the water, an old memory coming to the forefront of his mind.
“I once saw Alex emerge from this pool like some kind of tanned sun god,” Casey recalled as he sat on his haunches. He flicked the front of his shoes and then hopped up, turning to face the archaeologist. “I wanted him bad, Daniel.”
“Casey, I don't know what happened with you and Alex, and I don't need to know, but it is possible that he responded to you out of a need for attention. I know that sounds a little ... odd, but back then, he was still getting used to having a life that went beyond work.”
“No, he's gay.”
“Okay, maybe,” Casey conceded. “I want a relationship, Daniel.”
“Well, if you do, then maybe you should let go of a ... fantasy and start looking around you with open eyes, instead of centering in on Alex and, uh, well, fly boys; that is, if you really do want a long-term relationship instead of an ego-trip.”
“Daniel, I've been aching for something real for years now. I thought it was Alex; he sure does look good. My body *explodes* for him. It ...”
“Uh ...” the archaeologist interrupted, looking around for the presence of younger feet. “The brood.”
“Sorry,” Casey apologized, looking around as well and pleased there were no little ones in sight.
“Casey, I don't mean to presume what you're feeling, but you do say, and a lot I might add, that you want a relationship that will last.”
“Okay, but all you keep talking about is how hot Alex looked and how great things were in bed. I'm sorry, but that doesn't sound like a well-rounded relationship, any more than it says you're moving forward.”
Though it was uncomfortable to hear the truth, Casey began to realize that perhaps his friend was right. Alex was 'hot', and things were 'hot' in bed for them, too, but was there really anything more than that? Besides, how could things have been all that wonderful when Alex was so clearly happy with Soncirria Suvulpo?
“Maybe you're right. I hate to admit it, but he is happy with Sunny.” Casey paused to reflect. “I don't know. I wanted him, but even when we had a chance, he was thinking about her.”
“Is it possible Alex was just ... exploring?”
“Yeah,” Casey acknowledged. “That's probably my fault. I kept challenging him. He never acted like he knew I was alive, except as a client.”
“Well, apparently, he did.”
“For a while maybe, but he's in denial.”
“Is he?” Daniel questioned. “Casey, neither Jack nor I are homosexual. We're just two men who met and, well, things happen. It wasn't an easy road, but we found love in each other. If we hadn't, I strongly suspect that Jack would still be married to his ex-wife, and I'm not sure where I'd be.” He smiled and theorized, “Maybe in Russia, actually, or China, but if I were with anyone else, which I wouldn't be because without Jack, I'm pretty much nothing. I mean, he saved me and ...”
“Daniel, I don't want to interrupt, but I think you're trying to tell me something.”
“What? Oh, yes, it's just ... I don't think I'd be with anyone, without Jack. He's ...”
“Daniel! Make it a theory,” the wisely impatient nurse suggested.
“Right,” the archaeologist agreed nervously. “In theory, I'd be with a woman.” He began to frown as he reflected back on the conversation. “What was I saying?”
“I don't know, Daniel, but it doesn't matter,” Casey refuted, though he wasn't sure what it was that he was arguing against. “We were steamin' hot together. I actually dreamed once that we'd set up shop together; even had a dog. Crazy dream.”
“Casey, let me ask you something. How was your relationship with Alex ...” Daniel paused, seeing the nurse's grin; clearly, some clarification was needed. “Did you hear me say a minute ago that you're focus was on Alex's looks and your sex life?” he reminded pointedly. “If there was any doubt, you just proved it.” A bit more forcefully, he clarified, “I don't mean between the sheets.”
Casey's grin faded a bit, but he was firm as he answered, “Great. I mean we did a lot of stuff together. He tried stuff I liked, and I tried stuff he liked ...”
“Who tried harder?” the archaeologist queried, digging deeper into the nurse's memory.
Stunned by the parry, Casey squinted thoughtfully and replied, “I'd have to say he did. He threw himself full force into things I wanted to do. He wasn't just faking to go along.” He mused melancholically, “Sometimes I had to remind myself it wasn't his idea.”
Nodding sympathetically, Daniel probed, “And when it was your turn?”
Embarrassed, Casey dropped his gaze and answered, “The truth is I faked liking all those museums and exhibits and shows. I couldn't wait until it was over so we could go home and get naked, and, *wow*, was it ever good between us!”
“So you pretty much faked everything out of bed?” Daniel asked, lowering his voice and looking around slightly to remind Casey that some of the brood might be within earshot.
“No, I can't say that. We enjoyed each other's company, but he likes more intellectual recreations, and I like outdoor stuff -- kayaking, repelling ...”
Holding up his hand for Casey to cease his recreational listing, Daniel continued, “You each were who you are. Alex by nature is a very considerate man.”
“And I'm not?” Casey huffed.
“You tell me,” Daniel responded evenly.
“I guess you're right,” Casey admitted sheepishly. “He was always considerate. I remember once, he got up early on a Sunday, fixed us a great brunch, a pitcher of fresh kiwi-mango margaritas, and brought two trays into bed.”
“Sounds romantic,” Daniel prodded.
“It would have been, if he hadn't thanked me for helping him explore a side of himself he'd never known was there and followed that up with the big news that he was going to try and get Sunny back,” Casey responded.
“Ouch,” Daniel acknowledged, trying to keep things somewhat light.
“I thought I could change his mind. I asked him to make love to me one last time, and he did. It was great, like always. I was so sure of us,” Casey sighed wistfully, recalling the moment.
“But he left anyway.”
“Mister Considerate,” Casey sighed unhappily and then cocked his head. “He made love to me, just for me, not for himself.” He slowly pondered what he'd just said, realizing for the first time the unselfishness of Alex's act. “I guess you're right, Daniel. The man did give me everything he could; it just wasn't enough to make my dream come true. He even kissed me goodbye.”
Daniel let the words settle for a few moments before he said softly, “There's nothing wrong with the dream, Casey, but maybe it just needs to be ... refined.”
“New cast?” Casey questioned.
“That's a possibility, if you're open to it.”
“Sure, I'm open to it.”
“Are you?” Daniel asked pointedly. “Rebound relationships normally don't work out for anyone.”
“What do you mean?” the confused nurse asked.
“You sound ... bitter, about Alex,” Daniel explained. “Have you really let go of him, or are you at least ready to?” He paused, giving Casey a minute to think about the question. “If you can't acknowledge the good from your time with him as well as the bad, you'll just sabotage any new relationship you might have. You'd probably end up resenting your new partner, simply because you haven't really ... said goodbye to Alex; at least, not in your heart.”
“We're done,” Casey responded in a bit of a whisper.
“Are you sure?” Daniel questioned, unrelenting in his quest to get Casey to not just admit the truth, but to own up to it and finally let the past go. “I'm not talking about Alex or how he may or may not feel. This is about you, Casey. Don't you think it's better to live in the moment instead of dwelling on memories, whether good or bad? I ... I lived in the past for years, unable to escape from ... from things that I really don't like to think about. It took Jack a ... a very long time to get me here, to the now, and I really don't ever want to go back to living in those dark times.”
“I'm living in the past?” Casey both asked and stated. “Man, I don't want to do that. I'm tired of being here, wherever here is.”
“Maybe it's time to move on, let your image of the ... tanned sun god go, and be open to finding a partner that is right for you. He might not be perfect, but he might make for the perfect relationship with you. I just ... I don't want to set you up for more pain, if you're not really ready.”
Casey stared at his friend intently, nodded, and then asked urgently, “Who are you talking about, Daniel, and don't tell me you aren't talking about someone specific because I know you well enough to know that you are.”
“He's not twenty-two, or even thirty.”
“Who are you talking about?”
“You caught his eye at our employee picnic last summer,” Daniel advised, still not getting too specific about the man he was referencing.
“The one you invited me to for helping J-O out a couple of times,” Casey surmised as he searched his mind for the recollection. “Big dude -- six-four?” he asked brightly as an image began to appear in his mind.
“Six-three,” Daniel corrected.
“Lots of muscle?” Casey asked, wondering if it was the man he was thinking of.
Nodding, Daniel expounded, “Loves to laugh, and he's very sure of who he is. I introduced you to him, but then Alex called me about something, and you took off.”
“Pity party,” Casey admitted reluctantly about his sudden departure. “Donald -- Donald something,” he added enthusiastically.
“Burton,” Daniel informed, encouraged that Donald had made enough of an impression on his friend that Casey actually remembered his name.
“What's his number?” Casey asked eagerly. ~Daniel's right. I'm waiting around for something that is never going to happen.~
“Let me call him,” Daniel suggested, pulling out his cell phone and hoping Donald was still interested in Casey. ~I hope Casey really is able to let Alex go. I don't even think it's Alex; it's the image of Alex that he's hooked on. Donald's a good man. Gawd, I can hear Jack now -- 'don't butt in, Daniel'. Sorry, Babe, but I already did. I need the distraction. Well, as you say, in for a penny, in for a pound.~ “Donald, it's Daniel.”
At Cedar Hills, Jack was lying down in bed, his head propped up on the pillows so that he could see what was happening at the other end of his body.
“I always prefer massages where I can actually *feel* the massage,” Jack stated flippantly, watching the therapist working the muscles in his left leg.
“Massages need to be an important part of your routine from now on,” PJ McMaster, the therapist, replied.
“They're supposed to be fun, not a chore,” Jack groused. Not getting a response, he quipped, “You look like you're enjoying that. Toying with my legs in attempt to win over my affections must be grounds for a lawsuit.”
“We have to keep your muscles stretched,” PJ stated, ignoring the quip. “If you don't, you could end up in the sitting position all the time. Patient's legs have been known to statue up, otherwise.”
“Statue up?” Jack asked curiously. “As in 'of liberty'?” Purposely using incorrect grammar, he mused, “'s tat what you saying?”
With a smile, the nurse responded, “That's what I call it. You could think of it like rigor.”
“As in rigor mortis?” the general asked with widened eyes. “As in dead?”
“As in 'there's mor' of t'is for you,” PJ mused, continuing her work. Her teasing expression grew more serious as she advised, “Your muscles could seize and retain their position. I've seen that happen. Massage and stretch, as often as possible, General.”
“Sweet,” Jack spoke, a hint of snippiness in his response, though it was more lighthearted than it had been earlier, due to the playful teasing of their words.
“Jack, we can't put this off,” Daniel insisted the next afternoon as he sat on a picnic bench in the Cedar Hills gardens. “I know you don't want to think about it.”
“We built that house with our love.”
“It's still our love. We just need to ... alter it a little.”
“Daniel, I don't want to walk ...” Jack paused, not believing his words. He groaned and began again. “When I wheel back into our house, I don't want to feel like I've never lived there before.”
“We're just talking about the bedroom and bathroom,” Daniel pointed out, adding a hesitant, “for now.”
“And some ramp in the backyard and,” Jack grimaced, “a friggin' bathtub in the garage?”
“*No!* Jack exclaimed, his voice raised, drawing the attention of some other residents and their guests who were enjoying the pleasant day. After looking around unapologetically, he continued, “I don't want our dream house to be some friggin' hotel.”
“It's not changing that much,” Daniel rebutted patiently, ignoring his husband's outburst.
“Isn't it?” Jack challenged skeptically.
“We have to make changes, Jack, unless you plan on just sitting there all day, every day, every year, until you just rot away.” Daniel was stunned to see the stubborn expression on his Love's face. “You're not dead, Jack. Stop acting like you are!”
“I *don't* want our house destroyed.”
“But you'll let our family rot. Is that it?”
“Let's not go overboard.”
“All I'm saying is that *our* house needs to be functional. It is your house, too, Babe, and you need to be able to do anything you want. Right now, that's not possible.”
“Jack, listen to me. Listen to the plans,” Daniel implored. “Alex already has the bathroom and closet plan. He told me this is what he'd wanted to do all along, except he knew it wasn't possible because the bathroom was a surprise for me.”
Jack looked down, not wanting to think back to happier times.
Daniel continued, “Making this change would give you the freedom and mobility to get in and out of the tub on your own.”
“Wouldn't want to be a burden,” Jack groused.
Daniel sighed, but moved forward, hoping his lover would become engaged in the remodeling concept Alex had given him.
“The tub already has a door in the side. There are grab bars everywhere; you just need the access to maneuver the wheelchair close to the tub. We already have a ramp into the shower.” Seeing Jack look away, Daniel challenged, “You prefer being a baby, transported everywhere by me or one of our children?”
“Don't cut one board in our house, Daniel,” Jack warned sternly, not answering the question.
“Then tell me one thing, Jack. How are you supposed to live? Think about that one while I go try and convince our children that Dad's working as hard as possible to get home to them as soon as possible.” Staring forcefully at his husband, Daniel stood and pulled out a group of papers from his briefcase. “Sign these.”
“What are they?”
“It's for that disability insurance we purchased when the Munchkins were born. We never thought we'd need it, but we didn't know if J-O would be successful or not. Just sign the freakin' papers.” Taking the signed claim forms back and closing the briefcase, Daniel snapped, “Too bad they don't have disability for stubbornness.”
“What's that supposed to mean?” Jack asked sharply. Seeing his husband walking away without answering the question, he called out, “Daniel? *Daniel!*”
The archaeologist continued walking away in a deafening silence, leaving Jack in his wheelchair by the picnic table to ponder their conversation.
Meanwhile, Aislinn and Jenny were playing air hockey in the game room when the Spitfire asked, “Ash, how does that song go again, the one about the baby spider?”
“I don't know,” Aislinn whispered, hitting the circular puck hard.
“Yes, you do. Sing it for me.”
“I can't,” Aislinn sighed, letting go of her disk and walking over to sit down beneath Muffin, the huge dinosaur that adorned one corner of the game room.
“Ash?” Jenny called out curiously, following her sister and sitting down next to her. “Why can't you sing it to me? Did you forget the lyrics?”
“No, I know them.”
“Then why can't you sing it for me?”
“I promised God,” Aislinn answered firmly, telling her sister about her bedtime pledge.
“Ash, God loves your voice.”
“That's why I gave it back to Him, so that Dad will get better.”
“He wouldn't want you not to sing anymore,” Jenny refuted.
“Dad's accident was my fault,” Aislinn asserted. “It's time to feed Strawberry and Shortcake,” she announced, abruptly changing the subject.
Jenny sighed, getting up to help the Munchkin feed their two guinea pigs.
It was after 11 p.m. that night when Daniel wandered out onto the roof deck. It was cool, the sharp breeze cutting against his skin. Since he was wearing a pullover short-sleeve shirt, he considered going back inside for a jacket, but he just didn't have the energy. He was worn out, and he was fighting a battle he didn't even begin to comprehend.
The lonely man sat down in the spot that was the couple's favorite. He wrapped his arms around himself, trying to imagine that he was leaning back into his lover's secure embrace.
“I need to feel you, Jack,” Daniel pleaded quietly, mired in his own private purgatory.
Allowing himself a few minutes of self-pity, Daniel broke down into silent sobs, mourning the loss of his formerly easy life. While he couldn't understand what Jack was going through, he resented his husband's attitude towards the new situation they had all been thrust into.
“All I want is for you to come home, Jack, and you are the only one who is preventing that from happening,” Daniel whispered before giving in to the tears yet again.
About that same time, Little Danny suddenly jerked up from his sleep. His nose scrunched as he pondered something very important. In a flash, he pulled the covers away and hurried over to his desk, turning on a night light.
The child prodigy felt pressure to verify the information that had exploded in his mind.
~It's true,~ Little Danny decided. Quickly, he ran over to Jonny's bed and shook him. When his brother awoke, he said simply, but with urgency, “Munchkin!” Then he ran over to Ricky's bed and did the same thing. “Munchkin!” This time he added, “Dad's study,” before disappearing from the rousing boys' sights.
The Jackson-O'Neill family had a few special code words, depending upon the event and situation. 'Munchkin' was one that essentially meant 'urgent meeting, but not an emergency'.
Less than five minutes later, Little Danny, Jonny, Aislinn, Ricky, Jenny, Chenoa, and Brianna were all gathered in Jack's study, most of them rubbing their eyes sleepily. Also present were Bijou and Mittens, both having sensed something was going on.
“What's up?” Jonny asked as he yawned.
“We can't have our birthday,” the middle Munchkin answered.
“Why not?” Aislinn questioned.
“Look,” Little Danny instructed, pointing to the calendar on their father's desk. “This is when Dad went to rehab. Daddy said he'll be there at least three weeks, remember?”
“So?” Ricky asked, reaching up to stretch his weary body.
“Three weeks is here,” the prodigy pointed out, hearing the sighs of realization as the group noticed that three weeks wouldn't be until the third of October, which was obviously well after the Munchkins' birthday. “And that's if they let Dad out in three weeks. Daddy said it could be longer.”
“We can stay eight longer,” Aislinn put forth, getting nods from her fellow Munchkins.
“We don't mind being seven until Dad comes home,” Ricky added about himself and his twin.
“Even if Dad comes home that day, he might be too tired to have our birthday party,” Chenoa sighed sadly.
“What are we going to do?” Jonny asked Little Danny, expecting an answer.
“My birthday isn't until the tenth,” Brianna stated. “We could have a combined party then.”
“We could,” Little Danny said.
“He has an idea, too,” Aislinn observed with a smile.
“What is it, Little Danny?” Brianna asked, curious what the child's solution was.
“Maybe Dad will be in rehab longer, but even if he comes home, he needs time to adjust. That's what Daddy keeps telling us,” Little Danny stated.
“And?” Jonny prodded a bit impatiently, just wanting to hear the answer to their problem so he could go back to bed.
“And Dad's birthday is here,” Little Danny responded with a smile, pointing at the calendar once again. “So, you know what that means, right?” he asked expectantly, seeing blank faces staring at him. “Daddy will want a big party for Dad, and we want a big party for Dad, so what if we had all our birthdays on Dad's birthday, and then Daddy wouldn't have to worry about having parties for each of us, and we could even say we just want to have Dad's party be the big party.”
“We give Dad and Daddy our birthdays!” Aislinn chuckled, liking the idea.
“I don't get it,” Jonny sighed, slightly annoyed.
“Jonny, what Little Danny is saying is that our parties take a lot of time and planning. Daddy needs to concentrate on Dad right now. When Dad comes home, Daddy will want to make a big fuss out of his birthday, to show him how much we love him. It's an adult thing,” Brianna explained with a shrug.
“He knows we love him,” Jonny replied, still confused.
“Yes, he does,” the teenager agreed. “But, we'll take a lot of stress off of Daddy, if we tell him that we want our parties with Dad's. It becomes one party. Not only that, we give them our parties.”
“I *don't* get it,” Jonny echoed.
“I do!” Chenoa gasped upon picking up on the idea. “We tell Daddy we want stuff that Dad would like, like airplanes and things.”
“I like airplanes,” the eldest Munchkin chimed. “But I don't get it.” A moment later, he felt a jab against his stomach. “Ow! Ash, what was that for?”
“For playing dumb. Stop it.”
“I like playing dumb,” Jonny admitted, briefly channeling his older father. Seeing the stare of warning, he sighed, “Okay. So we give our parties to Dad, so that Dad is the focus of the parties, and Daddy doesn't have to do things just for us.”
“Right,” Little Danny acknowledged brightly.
“I'm in,” Brianna agreed.
“Me, too,” the others called out.
“We need to tell Jen,” Chenoa stated.
As the children nodded, Little Danny stood up, leading the way to their oldest sister's bedroom. One by one, the children entered, each taking a spot alongside her bed.
“Jen!” Chenoa whispered forcefully. “Jen!”
Jennifer's eyes flickered open. It took a few seconds, but she suddenly realized she was surrounded by siblings.
“Okay, I'm awake,” the young woman yawned, sitting up to hear the tale that she was sure was going to take a while with all of the little ones present. After being filled in, she responded with a smile, “That's ingenious.”
“What?” Ricky asked.
“It means, we're clever and creative,” Jenny teased.
“Are you guys sure? It'll make things a lot easier on Daddy, but we'll have to be a cohesive unit, just like when we won the bet for their anniversary party,” Jennifer reminded, studying the faces carefully.
“We're sure,” Jonny answered for the group. “Let's go tell Daddy,” he suggested, turning around to lead the charge.
Before she knew what was happening, Jennifer was stunned to realize she was alone again. Grabbing her robe and putting it on while hurrying out of her room and down the stairs, she chased after the children, not wanting to call out to them for fear of waking up others, especially Billy and Jilly who were staying in the guestroom that was downstairs.
Just as the children reached their parents' bedroom, Jennifer caught up with them, flying past Jonny to block them from pushing past the slightly ajar door and entering the bedroom.
“Daddy's really tired. We can tell him in the morning,” Jennifer advised, catching her breath from her quick dash.
“He might be gone,” Jenny responded, excited to share their idea.
“Then we'll tell him at lunch, or dinner, or whenever he's home tomorrow. Come on, guys. He's tired. Please?” Jennifer pleaded, hoping to save what little rest her father was getting.
“Okay. Night, Jen,” Little Danny said, giving his sister a hug before heading back to his bedroom. When the goodnights were done and her siblings headed back for their rooms, Jennifer became curious about the open door and tentatively walked inside. “Daddy?”
The master bedroom was dark. As she looked around, she saw the open door that led to the roof deck. Walking to the door, she peeked outside and reflexively put her hands to her bosom.
“I'm so cold, Jack. Remember our first night together? I was cold then, and you made me feel so warm. Okay, maybe I wasn't so cold, but it ... it got your attention. I'm cold now, and I need to feel that warmth again,” Daniel pleaded emotionally. He looked up at the sky, seemingly searching for his husband. “I need you to hold me, Jack. I need to feel your arms around me. I don't know that I can do this without you. Please, Jack, wake me up. Please tell me this is all just some horrible nightmare. Please,” the archaeologist implored as tears ran down his cheeks.
~Oh, Daddy, don't you know? You're even stronger than Dad is. You've gone through so much, and you're still taking care of us.~
Quietly, Jennifer withdrew, not wanting to disturb her anguished father. She walked over to her parent's bed, trying hard to understand just how truly difficult this time was for Daniel. She closed her eyes, imagining a world without Peter. She envisioned never being able to hear his voice again. No more laughter or gentle touches. She shut him out of her life as completely as she could.
Tears began to fall as her heart ached more than it ever had before. She began to shiver, becoming chilled from the coldness she was feeling.
“I understand, Daddy. I really do.”
With a look back at the doorway to the roof, Jennifer headed back to her room, where she pulled out her cell phone, pressing the speed dial for the number she wanted.
“Peter? I need you to come and hold me. Now, please!”
Without a single question or a moment's hesitation, the young man responded, “I'm on my way, Jen. I love you.”
Clicking her phone shut, Jennifer quickly slipped on a pair of jeans, pulling them over her nightgown. She removed her robe, replacing it with a jacket, and then hurried down the stairs, where she turned off the security system and went outside. There, she stood on the porch, waiting for her boyfriend and the feeling of being safe again.
~Gawd, Daddy, I get it. I wish I didn't, but I do. I really do.~
When Peter arrived, Jennifer flew down the front steps and into his arms, holding him as tight as she could. Crying, she explained what she'd seen and what she'd done. Her head on her Love's shoulders, she let peace return to her, slowly drumming the nasty vision from her mind.
“I love you, Jen. I love you,” Peter soothed, holding his girlfriend securely in his arms.
“Daddy's afraid of never feeling this again, Peter. I know he's hurting, and I can't help him.”
“Your dad can. Jen, you have to trust them to get through this. It may take some time, but they'll figure it out,” Peter assured.
Jennifer looked into Peter's eyes and spoke, “I love you, Peter.”
The young couple's words ceased as they began to kiss and caress each other under the stars. They then held each other for what seemed like a blissful eternity. Still without words, Jennifer and Peter shared a last kiss, smiling with their eyes at the other, until a couple of hours later when the young man left for home, confident his lady was feeling safe once again.
Roughly an hour later, still in the wee hours of the morning and with the stillness of the dark night hovering , Daniel wandered mindlessly into the kitchen. Yawning, he walked straight to the coffeemaker, pouring himself a surprisingly hot cup of coffee. He took a drink, closing his eyes at the taste and impact on his system. Maybe he wouldn't be such a zombie now.
After another sip, the archaeologist headed back towards the living room, surprised to see the sympathetic face staring back at him. She'd awoken about thirty minutes earlier, needing to make a phone call home to Australia. Now she was enjoying a hot cup of coffee before returning to bed for a couple of hours.
Sitting at the table in the dining nook, the Australian woman smiled in greeting and asked, “Can't sleep?”
“I'd just as soon not ... sleep.”
“You need your rest, Daniel. When's the last time you slept?”
Gripping his coffee cup tightly, Daniel responded, “I don't know. It doesn't matter.”
“But you can't stay awake forever,” Jilly put forth. “It's not good for you or the children.”
“I can try,” Daniel replied, holding his cup outward a bit. “It's just my mind, it races and ...”
Seeing the man stop, his face becoming drawn, Jilly inquired, “Daniel, what is it?”
“Nothing,” the weary man answered quietly as he sat down at the table. “It's just, I had a conversation like this one a long ... long time ago -- with Sam, actually.”
“I suspect you've had many a talk about the lack of sleep in your life.”
“Probably,” Daniel conceded with a smile.
“It's hard sometimes, isn't it?”
“I'm used to working on caffeine fumes,” Daniel responded, looking at his coffee cup before taking another sip of it.
“That's not what I meant.”
“Oh, sorry. Uh, what then?”
“Loving such stubborn men,” Jilly clarified. “Billy and Jack are alike in many ways, not the least of which is their, shall we say, determined nature. They're headstrong, they are.”
“Yeah,” Daniel agreed, slowly bobbing his head as he considered the woman's words. “Jack's been through so much. He's always been the leader. He doesn't make a big deal out of it, but he prides himself on staying fit and being active. I think he's afraid that's gone forever now.”
“Gone as he's known it, yes, but not from his life.”
“I wish he'd hear that. So far, all he sees is what he can't do. It's funny because our entire relationship we've tried to focus on the cup being half full, but now he's concentrating on it being half empty. He doesn't see that he's alive, and how much that means to us, to me.”
Jilly leaned over the table slightly, reaching out with her hand to grasp Daniel's as she encouraged, “He's an O'Neill; he has a thick head. In time, he'll get it. Right now, Daniel, you need to take care of yourself and be strong for both of you.”
“For all of us,” Daniel whispered.
“Daniel, those children are strong, *so very, very* strong. You can lean on them, but you won't be any good for them, or Jack, if you don't at least tend to the basics -- get your rest and eat two good meals during the day.”
“I'll try,” Daniel replied appreciatively.
“Give him another week, and then beat him over the head with a broom if he's still a stubborn rooster; that's what I do with Billy.”
Daniel laughed, pleased for the distraction his sister-in-law was providing, especially now as she launched into a sea of 'stubborn Billy' stories. A few minutes of levity and an understanding ear was giving him what he needed. Maybe now he could get some sleep.
“You want to wait until Dad's birthday to have yours?” Daniel asked when confronted the next morning by the children.
“It'll be fun,” Aislinn responded.
“Daddy, it really is okay with us,” Brianna added.
“We know what we want to decorate with, too,” Ricky chimed in happily.
“You do?” the surprised archaeologist queried.
“Ice hockey, airplanes, 'The Simpsons', and beer,” Jonny stated.
“Ice hockey, airplanes, 'The Simpsons', and ... beer,” Daniel chortled.
“And we have to have blue Jell-O,” Aislinn added.
“Okay, Daddy?” Jenny asked eagerly.
“Well ...” Daniel looked into the faces of each of the children, searching for any doubt. Finding none, he nodded and agreed, “Okay.”
When the children headed for the game room to play, Daniel looked over at Jennifer and saw a sweet, compassionate smile.
“Jen, are you okay?”
Jennifer walked over and sat down next to her father on the sofa sectional. She leaned her head against his shoulder, instantly feeling his arm around her.
“Daddy, Dad will be home soon, and when he is, he'll take care of all of us again, just like before. It might be a little different, but it'll be the same -- Dad, taking care of us. I know he will,” Jennifer declared tenderly.
Daniel didn't say anything. He felt like his daughter was trying to tell him something very important. He wasn't exactly sure what it was, so he decided to take it at face value.
“Yeah. He'll be home soon.”
“And he'll take care of us, *all* of us,” Jennifer reiterated.
“I hope so,” Daniel whispered, closing his eyes as he caressed Jennifer's arm comfortingly and taking comfort in her presence as well.
~I can't do this,~ Jack thought. ~How many days has it been? Crap, it doesn't matter. It feels like a lifetime. People touching me in places no one but Danny should be. Danny? What kind of life is this for you?~
“General, you up for a visit?”
~Up? I'll never be up again, you idiot,~ Jack bemoaned. “Davis. Reynolds.” ~Look at the lovebirds,~ he groaned out of jealousy of not being able to walk alongside his own lover.
“We wanted to come by and pay our respects,” Marc Reynolds stated as he stood next to Paul Davis.
“I'm not dead.”
“No, Sir, of course not,” Reynolds replied defensively, becoming uncomfortable with Jack's demeanor.
“I thought Daniel would be here,” Paul Davis remarked, looking around the private room.
“We have children,” Jack responded agitatedly. “He has better places to be than sitting here, staring at me.”
“We didn't want to upset you, Sir,” Davis apologized, glancing over at his lover while thinking their visit was a mistake.
“I thought you had backbone,” Jack snapped, aware of the couple's discomfort from his attitude. “Don't think you're anything special. I'm like this with everybody.”
“Okay,” Davis acknowledged, accepting the strange comment at face value. “Well, we just wanted to say hello.”
“Hello,” Jack replied sarcastically, unable to watch two happy lovers, something that made him painfully aware of things he couldn't do any longer with Daniel.
“If there is anything we can do,” Reynolds offered.
“Go home,” Jack replied. “Have sex, *lots* of it, while you still can.”
The unexpected statement stunned Davis and Reynolds, who decided a hasty retreat was in order. With polite good-byes, the couple left. They understood the general's foul mood and decided to call on him again in a couple of weeks, when he was back at home.
~Gone. Finally,~ Jack sighed. ~I don't need them flaunting themselves in front of me. I know what I can't do anymore.~ As the minutes ticked on, his anxiety increased. His cup was more than half empty, it was down to its last drop. There were no 'cans', but there were a lot of 'can'ts'. ~I can't go for walks with my husband. I can't feel him inside of me. I can't blow his brains out with sex. I'll never see that look in his eyes anymore. His lips on my ...~
“Hi, Babe,” Daniel greeted as lightly as he could. “I brought you a ...”
“Surprise!” several of the children sing-songed.
“What?” Jack responded in surprise. **Daniel!**
**They wanted to see you, and they have a right to see you, so stop acting like they're the enemy,** Daniel ordered sternly, trying very hard not to let his anger at his husband's behavior show.
Jack loved his children very much, but he was in such a bad place emotionally that he hadn't wanted to see them. Still, he pulled it together and smiled, not wanting to upset the brood.
The children chatted on and on about what they'd been doing. They spent a lot of time telling Jack all about their trip to Garden of the Gods with some of their extended family members and friends. Teal'c, Lou Ferretti, and Jeff Cornell had played football with the children, along with games of tag and hide-and-seek. They'd just fooled around for awhile, too.
Excitedly, the brood related their tales about tackling Teal'c, about Lou carrying them on his shoulders, about Jeff chasing them around: the list was endless.
“We love you, Dad,” the children spoke, one after the other as they filed out, leaving their parents alone.
Outside the room, the children huddled around. Their happy, elated faces drooped to calmer, steadier expressions.
“Did we do okay?” Ricky asked.
“I smiled as big as I could,” Aislinn added.
“We did good,” Jonny stated strongly.
The children had had fun with their family of friends, but they'd made a conscious decision to make the special outing sound much grander than it had actually been. Throughout their outing, they'd missed their dad, but they didn't want to relay that sadness and regret to Jack, so they'd gone into his room with overly happy faces and stories, all designed to make Jack happy.
Inside Jack's room, Jack glared at his lover, ordering, “Stop blind-siding me.”
“Excuse me?” Daniel asked incredulously. “Our children wanted to see their father, and I decided ...”
“Yes, *I* decided it was time, but if this is how you're going to be; if you're going to hurt them by ...” Daniel began forcefully.
“I didn't hurt them.”
“No, but there was a moment when you thought about it.”
“I'm not ready to see them,” Jack insisted, his voice strained. “I lo...I love our kids, but I need time. Can't you give me that?”
“I can, but I'm not sure about them, and I'm not sure they're wrong in wanting to spend time with their dad,” Daniel responded angrily, staring at Jack and then turning and walking away.
~They'll get along great without me,~ the older man opined when he was alone again. ~Danny can find someone else. He doesn't need to be saddled with me for the rest of his life.~
Jack's anxiety increased even more. He loved his family, but he was convinced he was a burden on all of them. He hated himself for feeling that way, but try as he might, he couldn't get past the limitations that being paraplegic put on his life.
~I'm a soldier. I can't do that anymore. The Stargate?~ Jack questioned with a snort. ~They won't even let me in the gate room again.~ His mind went to athletics. ~Danny loves basketball now. Can't play anymore, not with him, or the kids. Hockey? No more coaching Bri. She can learn from the coach. She doesn't need me. She's a star already, anyway. The stars? Can't even get up to the Aerie in this thing. How can I show David and Noa what's out there if I can't even set up my telescope in the best place now?~
The more Jack thought about what he had always done with and for his family, the worse his frustration and despair became, and the more convinced he was that Daniel and the brood would be better off if he didn't exist anymore.
~Why didn't you finish the job?~ Jack asked silently of the man who'd caused the accident. ~Why did you leave me a cripple, half a man with no chance of satisfying my husband or being a good father?~
Angrily, Jack threw his pillow. It was the only thing he could reach.
~I can't live like this, and I can't expect my family to live with me like this, either. I want more for them than to deal with this.~
Jack looked over at a nearby chair and saw his leather jacket sitting there. At the rehab center, he had many of his own clothes there. His heartbeat increased as he realized his option.
~It's for them.~
Jack used the bar above his bed to get into a sitting position. He lifted his legs, plopping them over the side of the bed. As always, his wheelchair was there. He'd learned this lesson well and successfully maneuvered himself into the chair that symbolized the loss of his freedom. He retrieved his jacket while looking over at the door, making sure that no one was entering. Of course, even if they were, he could say he was going to wheel out to the grounds. That was encouraged at Cedar Hills: it showed independence and moving on with life.
~Yep, I'm moving on. Hmm. I wonder if suicide is really painless?~ Jack chuckled eerily, thinking about the theme song to a famous television show. ~O'Neill, you've watch too much TV and have seen too many movies. Painless? That's a crock. I just want to be with Charlie.~ He blinked as an odd thought occurred to him. ~Charlie's in Heaven; if I do myself in, will I ... shut up, O'Neill. Don't give yourself some technical out. You're doing this for Danny and for the brood. It'll be better for everyone.~
Constantly checking for intrusions, Jack turned the jacket to the interior, reaching for a secret pocket. Pulling in the right spot would tear the lining slightly, allowing him to retrieve a Swiss Army knife. Checking it quickly to make sure it opened, Jack closed it back up and wheeled over to look outside. He thought about going outside to commit his deed, but it wouldn't be necessary. He knew exactly where to cut himself and how to get the job done quickly and without chance of being saved.
~Just one more moment.~
Jack wanted one last conscious moment of memory, during which he replayed the best times of his life. He thought about growing up with Billy, fishing with his grandfather, making his parents proud by joining the Air Force, and more. He smiled, recalling the first time he'd seen Sara. He vividly replayed seeing her walk down the aisle, and he smiled, remembering how she'd told him they were having a baby.
Remembering the first time he'd seen his son brought a tear to Jack's eye. The smile faded as he heard the thundering shot that took Charlie from the Earth. He quickly shook off that memory, moving forward to his amazement at the intelligence of the man with the shaggy hair as he solved the greatest mystery of the universe.
~I love you, Danny. That's why I have to do this.~
Jack replayed special times with each of his children, and the J-O animal kingdom, too.
~Bij, Katie, you look out for them. You've saved us before. You'll get them through this. You're strong; you're both so strong. Geez, I love you two, just like you were kids. Heck, you are our kids. You are.~
Jack took another deep breath as he opened the knife, though his eyes stared out the window. Sixty seconds from now, it would be done. Daniel would be free. The children would be free. Life could go on, and Jack would watch over his brood alongside Charlie and other loved ones who had passed on in the years prior to today.
Forty-five more seconds. All he needed to do was make the cut. Any time now, and Jack would no longer be a burden to his family. He wouldn't be crippled, either. He'd be free, too.
Thirty more seconds. Jack could feel the time ticking away. He felt the edge of the knife against his vein. Just one quick second, and mortal life would cease.
The deep voice was like thunder to the man in the wheelchair. Quickly, he pushed the knife closed, sticking it in his pocket as he spun the chair around.
“Teal'c, don't do that!” Jack ordered.
“Did I disturb you?” the Jaffa asked, his head slightly cocked as he stood with his hands clasped behind him.
“No, I was just ... sitting,” Jack answered, covering up his inner turmoil and the act he'd been within a millisecond of committing.
“Are you cold?”
“Cold?” Jack questioned, finding the question curious, until he remembered that he was wearing his leather jacket. “Oh, this, no, yes.” He smiled and said, “Just a little chilly.”
“Perhaps you should turn up the thermostat.”
The two soldiers, brothers-in-arms, stared at each other for several seconds without saying a word.
“Nice of you to come by,” Jack finally said, looking down and twiddling with his fingers.
“I came to tell you that you must rehab quickly,” Teal'c stated, walking forward and taking a stance that had him looming over the man he still considered to be his commanding officer. “The brood put on a front face.”
“Front face?” Jack asked, not having a clue what the Jaffa meant.
“Their front was not their truth. It was a facade.”
“Teal'c, my head ...” Jack sighed, grimacing as he twirled his finger near his forehead.
“They bravely pretended to have a good time when ColonelFerretti, ColonelCornell, and myself attempted to be dads for a day.”
“Dads for a day?”
“It was my Simka's idea,” Teal'c explained, referring to Janet. “She felt the younger children would benefit from a day out.”
“They had fun,” Jack stated quietly.
“Indeed, but they put on false faces,” the Jaffa maintained. ~It was Jonny who told me this only minutes ago as I arrived. JonnyJacksonO'Neill is a good soldier. He needs your strength, O'Neill, to grow up to be a true warrior.~
“I don't get it.”
“They lied. We were no substitute for you and DanielJackson,” Teal'c explained. “They smiled in an attempt to make us feel good, as they did with you. In truth, they were not as happy as they let on.”
“Danny can ...”
“They need you both, O'Neill. Do you not know this?”
Jack could barely breathe as he tried to evade the Jaffa's glance. He'd talked himself into believing that the brood would be better off without him.
“O'Neill, you are a great warrior. I am proud to be your brother.”
“You often miscalculate your value to DanielJackson. He cannot function to his full potential without you. I will take my leave, and you will reflect on what I have said. I will return tomorrow, and we will discuss this further.”
“Yeah. You do that,” Jack replied, watching his friend walk away. ~But we're not going to discuss anything.~ He reached into his pocket and pulled out the red knife. Staring at it intently, he thought about his lover. ~Full potential.~ He put the knife back into the pocket and wheeled himself outside, ignoring the pleased smiles of the unknowing staff. He needed air. ~Full potential,~ he echoed internally.
After dinner, Jack was back in his bed, still dressed. Daniel would be there soon, and Jack would re-evaluate his decision.
“Jack,” a friendly voice called out as she tapped politely on the door.
“Daniel said you were in Madrid with the magic man,” Jack retorted good-naturedly.
Smiling, Soncirria Suvulpo walked in, carrying a plate of brownies. She placed them down on the movable bed tray.
“You cooked?” the general asked as he looked at the appetizing dessert.
“Jack, I always cook,” the blonde with the long, flowing hair replied with a confident smile, flexing her eyebrows suggestively.
~Indeed you do,~ thought the military man, admiring the woman who had just entered his room. ~If I've ever seen a million-watt smile, you've got it!~ Reaching over and taking hold of one of the chocolate delights, Jack replied, “Alex must miss you.”
“He'd better,” Sunny laughed. “How are you?”
“Peachy,” Jack lied.
“Hmm,” the former beauty queen expressed skeptically.
“I'm pretty good at evaluating people's moods; call it a quirky gift inherited from my maternal grandmother,” Sunny stated. “You look to me to be a man in pain.”
“I can't walk,” Jack replied sarcastically.
“Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?” the girlfriend of Alex Dennison inquired with the slightest hint of a sneer. “Because I don't do pity, for myself, or for others.”
“Why the brownies?”
“Alex loves your family, and I love Alex,” Sunny declared unabashedly. “I'm hoping our future, mine and Alex's, moves forward, and I think he'd like us to be friends.”
“Last I looked, we are.”
“Jack, do you like your friends to lie to you?”
“Of course not.”
“Then why are you feeling sorry for yourself and lying about it? I know you have some secret military past and are supposed to be good at covering things up, but when I look at you, I see pain and misery, all of your own doing.”
“Your gift,” Jack responded snarkily as he bit into the brownie, his face taking on a pleased expression at the taste. “Good.”
“I bought them,” Sunny chuckled.
“Want the address?”
“Yeah,” Jack affirmed as he took another bite.
“You know, your family loves you a lot. Whatever doubts you might be experiencing right now, I hope you remember that. Love's pretty fab in my opinion.”
“Fab,” Jack agreed, finding himself smiling at the woman. “What brings you back to the Springs?”
“Your husband,” Sunny answered with an amused expression.
“He's taken,” Jack quipped.
“Maybe I could give you a run for your money, General,” Sunny teased jovially.
“Over my dead body,” Jack groused and then let out with a grin. His grin faded a bit as he remembered that he had been very close to choosing that very fate just a while earlier. ~What a difference a split second makes.~
“Seriously, I need some help, and he said he'd help me.”
“Dialects,” Sunny answered. “I need help with my Catalan.”
“Catalan,” Sunny repeated. “I'm in the process of brokering a *huge* deal for my company, and I really need to be precise with my speech.”
“Well, Danny's the language expert.”
“And that's why I'm here, so I can be my best.” The woman smiled again as she admitted, “And I'm always happy when I make Alex proud, and he says if I pull this off, he'll be the proudest he's ever been of me. I really want to be my best. You know, reach my full potential, especially for this deal. It's a whopper.”
~Full potential. He loves me,~ Jack thought about his husband. ~I'm not complete without him, and he's not ... complete without me,~ he concluded slowly and cautiously as the implications of his thoughts grew in strength.
Sunny began to smile, seemingly for no reason.
“That gift I mentioned.” Sunny smiled some more and then continued, “I'm not sure why. It certainly couldn't be me, but I feel like you've just come alive again. To quote Neil Simon, 'I love living. I have some problems with my life, but living is the best thing they've come up with so far'.”
Jack stared at the beautiful woman and let out a tiny snort, saying, “Soncirria Suvulpo, I'm glad to know you.”
“I'm glad to know you, too,” Sunny chuckled, breaking off a piece of brownie to enjoy herself.
“He'll be surprised,” Ricky laughed as he walked, holding the tray of cookies and cakes in his hand.
“He's been real busy lately,” Jenny agreed, holding another tray, this one carrying a couple of sandwiches and a variety of celery and carrot sticks.
“He sure has,” Jennifer agreed as she rang the doorbell. ~We had a good visit last week when I brought Ash and Lulu over. Maybe we can talk him into coming over for dinner tonight. After all, he didn't really seem sick before.~
“Yes?” a woman asked, opening the door.
“Mrs. Crenshaw!” Ricky exclaimed. “We came to see Grandpa.”
“Oh, you ... did?”
“Hi, Mrs. Crenshaw,” Jennifer greeted, walking inside the home. “Where's Grandpa?”
“He's upstairs. He's not feeling very well,” the woman related sympathetically.
“We'll make him feel better,” Jenny asserted.
“Maybe you shouldn't all go at once,” Mrs. Crenshaw warned.
“It'll be okay,” Jennifer replied confidently, smiling at the woman as she nodded for the Spitfires to go ahead. “Be careful with the trays.”
“We will,” Jenny promised.
“How are you, Mrs. Crenshaw?” Jennifer questioned.
“Fine, thank you. How are your fathers?”
“It's a difficult time, but they're doing okay,” the young woman answered. “Well, if you'll excuse me.”
“He needs his rest, Jennifer. Please don't stay too long.”
Looking back, Jennifer just smiled and then went up the stairs.
“It'll be a big, *big* party, Grandpa,” Jenny told Hammond, who was lying in bed with his adopted grandchildren around him.
“You have to come, Grandpa,” Ricky insisted.
“I'll be there,” Hammond promised with a smile, not wanting to disappoint Jenny.
“Hello, Grandpa,” Jennifer greeted, walking over to give the retired lieutenant general a kiss.
“Jen, you're looking happy.”
“I am, except for ... you know.”
For a while, the three Jackson-O'Neills visited with Hammond. They made sure he ate some of the food they'd brought while they chatted. He seemed fine to them, although it was clear he was tired.
“You finish this later, Grandpa,” Jenny ordered as she wrapped the plastic around the uneaten sandwich.
“I promise,” Hammond agreed.
“Ricky, Jenny, will you wait for me in the hallway while I talk to Grandpa for a minute?” Jennifer requested.
“We'll go talk to Mrs. Crenshaw,” Ricky suggested.
“No! Just ... wait for me in the hallway,” Jennifer instructed, waiting for the children to leave the room. “Grandpa,” she said, looking serious as she sat down on the side of his bed. “Are you okay?”
“Except for these weary old bones, I'm fit as a fiddle,” Hammond claimed. “It's just a flu bug.”
“We're worried about you,” Jennifer responded.
“You have more important things to worry about,” the bald-headed man refuted.
“You're our grandfather, and we miss you. I had to fight off practically everyone today. They all wanted to come.”
“The brood,” Hammond chuckled. “They've kept this old man alive.”
“You're not old, Grandpa.”
“You don't have to worry about me, Jennifer. Mrs. Crenshaw is making sure I stay fed.”
“She's ... here a lot?” Jennifer asked, not sounding as casual as she would have liked. ~I know you like her; you've been dating her for years, but all of a sudden, something about that woman makes my skin crawl.~
“She's been a godsend lately,” Hammond asserted.
~Satansend is more like it,~ Jennifer huffed inwardly and then wondered about her own visceral reaction. ~Am I just jealous of the time he spends with her? He's entitled to a life. That must be it. They're more serious now, and he's just enjoying his time with Mrs. Crenshaw, and it means he doesn't have as much time for us. C'mon, Jen. You know how that feels, so shake it off,~ she urged herself. “Okay, well, we have to go, but get well soon. I love you. We all love you,” she declared, leaning over for another kiss.
“Tell your fathers I'll see them soon,” Hammond called out.
“I'll tell the brood, too.” Jennifer stared at her grandfather again, waiting for something that didn't come. “Bye.”
Hammond smiled and nodded as the young woman walked out of his room and disappeared into the hallway.
“Okay, time to go home,” Jennifer told her siblings, taking their hands as they walked down the stairs.
“Jen, why are you holding our hands now?” Ricky asked, a perplexed look on his face.
“What?” Jennifer sighed. She stopped walking and looked back toward Hammond's room. “It's nothing. I'm just ... I don't know. Come on,” she urged, still maintaining her hold on the Spitfires' hands.
Daniel was in his den, patting Katie as she sat on his lap. He'd pushed his glasses so that they were up on his head, which was leaning back against the comforter recliner. One of Jack's favorite operas played softly in the background.
“Daddy?” a soft voice called out.
“I thought you were asleep,” Daniel replied to the redhead.
Walking in, Jenny sighed, “I asked God what I should do.”
“Must be serious, if you asked God,” Daniel responded, smiling at Katie as she jumped down, snuggling securely into her beanbag to allow the father and daughter to talk. Daniel picked up his little girl, asking, “What's on your mind?”
“I tried to get Ash to tell you, but she wouldn't, and she's so sad, Daddy. I just knew God wouldn't want her to give it up. I had to ask Him what to do.”
“Oh,” Daniel responded carefully, not yet clear on what the problem was. “What did He tell you?”
“That I should tell you.”
“I'll try to help, if you want to tell me what's wrong,” Daniel said, brushing back the girl's hair so that it didn't block her eyes, allowing him to see deeper into his daughter's soul.
“Ash thinks Dad's accident was her fault because they argued about the swans. She thinks if she hadn't wanted one, that Dad wouldn't have gone shopping and then the beak wouldn't have made him not being able to walk.”
“She's wrong, Jenny. Dad was running a lot of errands that day.”
“I know, Daddy, but Ash promised God that she wouldn't sing anymore if He'd make Dad all better. Ash has a beautiful voice, Daddy. It's wrong for her not to sing.”
“Oh, Jenny,” Daniel sighed, holding the little girl close. “Thank you for telling me. It makes sense now.”
“What does, Daddy?”
“Just something I heard Ash say about music today.” Daniel rocked Jenny in his arms, grateful for her trust. “It'll be okay, Jenny. I'll talk to Ash.”
“I hope she's not mad at me for telling,” Jenny stated as she rested her head against her father's shoulder.
“Did she ask you not to tell me?”
With a smile, Daniel responded, “Somewhere deep inside of her, Jenny, Ash wanted you to tell. I know that probably doesn't make any sense, but it was kinda like giving you an 'out'. Her subconscious knows what her consciousness doesn't.”
“That the accident wasn't her fault, right?” Jenny asked.
“Exactly. I'll take care of it, Princess.”
“Two of you will be selected to go on our next excursion,” the speaker announced to the dolphin lovers. Happy smiles and applause broke out. “If you're interested, contact Mister Cantrell by the end of the week for the specifics. Thank you for coming today, and we'll see you next time.”
The assembly began to disperse. Brianna spoke to a couple of friends for a minute and then headed for the exit. She glanced at her watch, not wanting to keep Jeff waiting for her, since he was the one picking her up. As she advanced, her motion ceased when she bumped into something. Startled, she fell back, her brochures falling to the carpet.
When the teenager looked up, she saw another girl, stooping over to pick up her own things.
“You should have watched where you were going,” the other girl complained in a huff.
“Me? You were the one who barged into me,” Brianna argued as she leaned forward to get her papers.
“Liar!” the other girl accused harshly.
“I don't lie,” Brianna refuted harshly.
“Everyone lies,” the girl charged bitterly. “Everyone.”
“That's a twisted way to think,” Brianna challenged, standing up with her papers. “This must be ... yours,” she added, seeing a letter with a strange name on it.
“Proof of lying,” the girl spoke about the envelope.
“What does that mean?” Brianna asked, staring intently at the girl who she assumed to be about her own age.
“Just what I said. People lie. You, that man over there, fathers,” she whispered, bowing her head. Looking at her adversary again, she reported, “You're a liar.”
“Stop saying that!”
“Stick truth up your ...”
With the eruption of expletives coming from the other girl, Brianna lashed back, shoving her. The girl retaliated, and the two began to fight, rolling around on the floor trying to punch each other. When the adults came to break it up, they pulled Brianna off the other teen.
“What's your problem!” the other girl shouted.
“I'm *not* a liar!” Brianna shouted. Then she let out a crying gasp, yelling, “Your father turned my dad into a cripple!”
“What?” the other girl questioned, her eyes wide.
The adults were stunned by the remark and were about to suggest the girls separate when the other girl spoke again.
“Who are you?”
“Brianna Jackson-O'Neill. I saw your name on that letter. I know who you are! My dad won't ever walk again because your dad was speeding!”
“Everyone speeds,” the girl yelled with her entire being. “I'll bet your dad has gone a few miles over the speed limit before. Does that make him evil?”
“He's not evil, and it was your dad who caused it all.”
As an adult finally suggested the girls go their separate ways, the other teen erupted, shouting, “He's dead. No one cares that *my* dad is dead. It's not like he meant to. He's dead. My dad is dead.” The teen collapsed to the floor and was sobbing uncontrollably. “He's dead. Daddy, why did you leave me?” she cried.
Brianna stared at the girl for what seemed like an eternity. She pulled herself free of the adults and kneeled down next to the distraught teen.
“I'm sorry,” Brianna whispered. “We don't really talk about it much. I just saw your name and I got so angry.”
“He was late,” the girl cried. “It was my birthday. I told him it was okay, but he didn't listen.” She regained a bit of control, but then, as she spoke again, her sobs intensified. “He always told us birthdays were special. He wanted to get home fast, for me, for my bir...birthday.”
Full of compassion, Brianna pulled the girl to her, holding her close. Suddenly, she felt a strange bond between them.
“That's what my dad says, too, that birthdays are special.”
“I'm sorry he's hurt,” the girl stated, sounding sincere for the first time.
“Me, too,” Brianna agreed. She felt the girl stiffen and quickly explained, “I didn't mean anything by that. I'm just ... it's changed everything, you know?”
“But he's alive, and my dad is dead. Do you know what people say? How they look at us? My little sisters come home from school in tears every day from being teased by the other kids.”
“I know how that feels.” Brianna regrouped, helping the girl up. “Do you have a ride home?”
“No, I'm walking.”
“I'll give you a ride home. Well, my brother will.”
“Your brother?” the girl questioned cautiously.
“Trust me, I'm tougher than he is,” Brianna assured, sensing the girl's fears. She broke out into a tiny laugh, “Just don't tell him I said that.”
After assuring the surprised adults that everything was okay, the two teenagers headed for the exit.
“Bri, where have you been? And what happened to you?” Jeff asked about his sister's disheveled look.
The adults all went on their way, realizing the teenagers were working out their disagreement on their own, and neither of them appeared to be hurt.
“Jeff, this is Reese Pflug, and I told her we've give her a ride home,” Brianna said, braced for a negative response.
“You don't have to,” Reese said quietly, looking down at her shoes and trying to plot the quickest route for escape.
“Jeff, her dad is dead; ours is alive. Please,” Brianna requested a bit emotionally, surprising Jeff, who was used to Brianna's cool and tough exterior.
“Hello, Reese. I'm Jeff.”
“Hello,” Reese replied cautiously.
“We'd better go,” Jeff urged, not quite sure what Brianna had in mind but hoping it wasn't going to get them in trouble.
“My little girl loves to dance, too,” the psychologist remarked in her office across town. “She prefers the ballroom dances.”
“I like tap,” Chenoa stated.
“There have been some excellent tap dancers over the years. Do you have a favorite?”
Shaking her head, Chenoa responded, “Dad has old movies, and he and Daddy have bought me a lot of tap movies.”
“Who do you like to watch?”
“Um, Bill Robinson and Sammy Davis and Fred Astaire and Gregory Hines and Savion Glover and ...”
“That's a lot of favorites,” the doctor responded.
“I don't have favorites. I've just seen a lot of good dancers. Dad dances good, too, when he wa...nts.”
Chenoa bowed her head and looked away. She was fidgeting and obviously nervous.
“Chenoa, what are you afraid of?”
“My daddy and mommy died in a car accident. I'm afraid my dad is gonna die, too,” Chenoa admitted as she began to cry openly. “Th...they say he's o...ooookay, and I've seen him, bbb...but maybe he won't come home.”
The psychologist walked over to the girl and held her while saying, “That's a natural fear, Chenoa. I'll bet every one of your brothers and sisters have the same fear. I know I did when my father died. I was just a little bit older than you.”
“Your dad died?”
“Yes. He had a heart attack. For months, I was so afraid that my mother would have a heart attack, too, that I was the perfect child. If she even raised her voice, I was convinced she'd die.”
“What did you do?”
“Fortunately, I told my babysitter, and she told my mom.”
“I guess you could say that,” Doctor Rich agreed with a smile and a nod. “But she made the right choice. She couldn't help me, but my mother could. Mom sat me down, and we talked about it, not just that night, but on a lot of nights. It took a while, but the fear eventually went away.”
Chenoa pursed her lips and squirmed a little before saying, “We're a brave family. We talk a lot.”
“Have you told your family that you're scared your dad won't come home?” When Chenoa shook her head, the doctor urged, “Maybe you can pick one person to tell, just one.”
“I tell Lulu everything, but I don't want to let the brood down. We're unbeatable when we're together,” Chenoa stated, her voice confident but yet hinting at her vulnerability.
“Being unbeatable, Noa, is about strength, not about hiding fears. To be unbeatable, you have to face your fears. Think about that, okay?”
While Chenoa was confiding in the psychologist, Daniel was hoping that his words would take with the youngest Munchkin. With Billy and Jilly watching the children who were home, the archaeologist took Aislinn by the hand and led her into the music room.
Daniel sat down on the piano bench, inviting his daughter to sit down beside him.
“You know, Ash, I have to admit that I've been a little sad lately.”
Looking down, Aislinn responded, “Because Dad can't walk anymore.”
“No,” Daniel answered, shaking his head.
In surprise, the little girl raised her head and looked at her father with big, questioning eyes.
“I feel sad because he won't be home for another week or two, and I miss him,” Daniel explained. “It's a change that Dad can't walk now, but he's alive, Ash, and he, *we* can all do so much together. The important things aren't changing. It's just how we do some of them that might change.”
Aislinn stared at the piano. She played a couple of notes, happy that she hadn't promised not to play instruments anymore, too.
“I believe that Dad can feel us, right here, right now, and I want him to, so I thought we'd send him our love.”
“How?” the little girl asked.
Daniel began to play a very familiar song, one that always brought strength and hope to the family.
“The perfect song,” Daniel opined. Then he began to sing.
“Please, celebrate me home,
Give me a number,
Please, celebrate me home
Play me one more song.”
Still playing the piano, the father asked, “Will you sing with me, Ash, so that Dad can hear?”
Suddenly, the little girl broke out into sobs. Immediately, Daniel stopped playing, scooping her up into his arms. He rocked her gently as she cried into his shoulder.
“It's my faullllllt, Daaaaddy,” the Munchkin sobbed.
“No, Sweetie, it's not. It's no one's fault.”
“But I wanted the swaaaaaan,” Aislinn cried. “That's why he went to the store.”
“Ash, listen to me. I asked Dad to go by the hardware store to pick up a new drill. Does that mean it's my fault?”
“No,” Aislinn answered.
“David's been wanting a new lens for his telescope, and Dad and I decided to surprise him with one. That's where Dad was before he went to the nursery. So, is it David's fault?”
“Of course not,” the little girl sniffled, her hands still clasping Daniel's neck securely.
Rubbing her back and full of anguish over what he was about to declare, Daniel asked Aislinn, “You know how much I love chocolate?” He felt the nod against his neck. “Well, I found out that Dad had decided to surprise me with a pie. He had it on the seat of the truck. Ash, he was moving it, leaning over when the other truck hit him. If I didn't make such a big deal out of chocolate, maybe Dad wouldn't have decided to buy that pie.”
“We all love chocolate,” Aislinn soothed quietly.
Daniel's voice was more strained and reserved now as he suggested, “Maybe if he didn't think I thought chocolate was the best thing next to sex, he wouldn't have ...” He blinked. ~Did I just say that? Oh, gawd. Why do I keep saying things like this lately?~
“Daddy?” Aislinn questioned after the silence went on longer than she expected.
With a sigh, Daniel decided it was best to just ignore his own comment and continued, “What I meant to say is that if Dad hadn't been leaning over when the accident happened, maybe we'd just be dealing with a bad headache.”
“Why was Dad leaning over?” Aislinn asked, pulling back to look at Daniel and wiping her eyes with her hands.
“He was afraid the pie would fall over, so he was rearranging the packages,” Daniel confided. “He didn't want to tell me, but it slipped out when he was in the hospital.” He paused, regrouping a bit. “Ash, why do you think Dad didn't want to tell me about that?”
Aislinn looked into her daddy's blue eyes. She loved his eyes. She thought blue eyes were wonderful, especially her younger father's.
“He didn't want you to feel bad,” Aislinn surmised softly.
“That's right. Why would he think I might feel bad?”
“Be...because it was your pie.”
Daniel smiled and gave his daughter a kiss before pulling her close again.
“Sweetie, guilt can help us to know when we've done something wrong, but it's also a very destructive thing when we feel guilty over something that we can't change. We can't live our lives playing 'what if', and that's what guilt tries to make us do.”
Aislinn bowed her head, wanting to believe what her father was saying. Still, she felt bad about the argument.
“Ash, it wasn't your fault. Dad made a hundred choices that day before the accident. What if he hadn't stopped for lunch? What if he'd decided to bring it home, instead of eating it at Cy's? What ... what if he'd decided to go home a different way, instead of taking West Uintah? Honey, don't you understand that all those 'what if's' do is make us crazy? The accident was an accident. It wasn't Dad's fault, or mine, or David's, or yours. It was just an accident.”
“Not my fault?”
“No,” Daniel said firmly, shaking his head to back up his answer. He placed a kiss on Aislinn's forehead and then settled them both back so that they could play the piano again. “Sing our song with me, Ash.”
Daniel played the chorus again, singing to it, but his was the only voice audible.
“Daddy, I made God a promise.”
“Oh, I see,” Daniel replied. “Okay, well, would you make that same promise today?”
“I thought it was my fault,” the little girl answered.
“I have an idea,” Daniel stated. “Maybe you can talk to God again. Tell him what you've learned and see what feels right afterwards.”
“Can I do it now?”
“Sure,” Daniel acknowledged with a gentle smile.
Aislinn closed her eyes and prayed, “God, it's me, Aislinn. Daddy says Dad's accident wasn't my fault. I thought it was. I really wanted the swan, God. I feel bad because we argued about it. Is it my fault?”
Daniel's arm wrapped around his daughter. He kissed the top of her head as silence filled the room. A full minute passed before Aislinn spoke again.
“Is it okay if I sing again? I love to sing, God. It makes me feel good, and other people say it makes them feel good, too. Is it okay? Please, God. Will you make Dad better even if I sing again?”
Daniel closed his eyes, holding back his emotions while still holding on to his miracle.
~Please let her, God. She's a little girl. Don't let guilt do to Ash what it did to me. Please,~ the archaeologist prayed.
All of a sudden, voices filtered into the room. They were happy sounds. The words were about singing, loudly and strongly; of good and happy things, not those that were bad and sad. “Sing!” the children chorused together.
“Hi, Daddy. Hi, Ash,” David greeted jovially, entering the music room.
Behind him were all of his siblings who were home that afternoon.
“We got tired of playing in the game room,” Ricky stated.
“All of a sudden, I feel like singing,” Little Danny mused with a shrug.
“Me, too,” Jonny stated, wondering why he wasn't making a beeline for his beloved drums.
Aislinn gasped and looked at her father with big, hopeful eyes.
“I think that's your answer, Ash.”
Quickly, Aislinn closed her eyes and reverently prayed, “Thank you, God. I'll make you proud of my singing. Please bring Dad home soon. Thank you, too, for all the blessings you give. I love you.”
Her brothers and sisters were busy getting out some of the family's sheet music and had missed the prayer, except for Jenny, who grinned and hugged her sister as Aislinn joined her.
“We need to celebrate Dad home first,” Aislinn stated.
Instantly, the children began to sing, their voices light and happy. Daniel smiled, holding in his emotions while silently giving his thanks for his daughter's answer. It was the brightest spot in his day. He wished the feeling could last longer, but he knew that a few songs later, his melancholy state would take over once again.
Jeff, Brianna, and Reese had begun a poignant conversation on their way to the Pflug home. As a result, Jeff had pulled into a drive-through, getting them all drinks. He had parked his truck, and the trio were outside, sitting on the grass.
“It's my fault,” Reese opined sadly.
“No, it's not,” Brianna argued. “Your dad just wanted to be with you. You're right. My dad's gone over the speed limit before, too.”
“Dad hadn't ever done anything wrong before. He was a good person. He loved us and did everything he could to give us what we wanted,” Reese spoke passionately. “He was a good father. He doesn't deserve to be badmouthed by idiots.”
Jeff nodded, saying, “No, he doesn't.”
“Are you going to take our house?” Reese asked without warning.
“That's a silly question,” Brianna opined.
“No, Bri, it's not,” Jeff corrected, getting a surprised look from his sister. “Bri, it was an at-fault accident, and Dad's medical expenses are huge, not to mention loss of earnings.”
“I haven't thought about that,” Brianna admitted.
“Daddy hasn't talked to us about the insurance, and we haven't asked,” Jeff pointed out.
“Mom is afraid we're going to lose everything. If you sue us, we won't have anything left.”
Jeff and Brianna exchanged a nervous look. They really had no idea of what was happening with the insurance and legal issues.
“It'll be okay,” Jeff stated, breaking the awkward silence. “Bri, we need to go. We have to pick up Noa from the psychologist's office.”
“I wish I had someone to talk to,” Reese sighed as she stood up. “Bri, I didn't mean to pick a fight with you.”
“What were you doing on campus?”
“I was at the dolphin seminar. I love dolphins.”
“Me, too,” Brianna replied, smiling as the three returned to Jeff's truck where the pair began a lively discussion of dolphins all the way to the Pflug house.
“Daddy? Daddy?” Brianna called out anxiously as she practically flew into the house almost an hour later. “Daddy?”
“Bri, calm down,” Jilly called out, walking down the stairs. “What's under your bonnet.”
“Hi, Aunt Jilly,” Brianna greeted just as Jeff joined her, adding his own greeting to his sister's. “Where's Daddy?”
“In the backyard playing ... with the children,” Jilly tried to say, wondering what the hurry was about when both young people made a beeline to the backyard without waiting for her to finish.
“Bri, is something wrong?”
“Wrong? Oh, no, but, Daddy, please tell me we aren't taking their house.”
“Bri, take a breath and calm down,” Daniel urged, aware that the entire brood was gathering around to find out what the commotion was about.
“I'm sorry,” Brianna apologized after she had taken the requested deep breath. “Daddy, what good would it do us to have their home? We have a house: a beautiful house. We're nowhere near poor. Are we?”
“No, of course not,” Daniel answered, still unsure of the topic.
“Then why are we taking their house?” the girl asked forcefully.
“Bri, I don't know what you're talking about. Take another deep breath, and start from the beginning.”
The teenager sighed, closing her eyes and trying to focus on the words to explain her concerns.
“Today, at the seminar, I met Reese Pflug,” Brianna advised. “She's just like me, Daddy, except my dad is still alive, and hers isn't.”
Whispers were heard from the children as they began to figure out the scope of the current discussion.
“They're scared, Daddy. Reese says they're waiting for the life insurance, but they don't know when they're going to get it. She says even if they do, they wouldn't have enough to pay for Dad's hospital costs and stuff. They're just like us, Daddy -- a family. Please tell me we're not taking their house. Please.”
“I should have talked to all of you about it, but I haven't even ... Dad and I haven't really discussed it,” Daniel confided, turning around and walking over to the gazebo, knowing the brood would follow.
The archaeologist sat down, smiling when JD tugged on him, wanting to be held. Daniel obliged, situating the youngster so that he was on his lap, facing the other children.
“Daddy, Mister Pflug was like Dad,” Brianna opined emotionally. “It was Reese's birthday. She was going to a friend's house that afternoon and then her friend's parents were taking them to dinner. He had a meeting that night, and he knew his only chance to wish Reese a happy birthday was to see her before she left. He was trying to get home to her, to give her a present.” Her voice trembling, she challenged, “Daddy, can you honestly sit there and tell me that neither you nor dad has ever gone over the speed limit, just a little, because you wanted to be with one of us, for something special?”
His daughter's assumption was true. There had been times when he'd sped, and Daniel knew Jack had, too, for no other reason than wanting to be home for some special event with their brood. He couldn't deny the fact, and in not being able to do that, he couldn't condemn Morris Pflug for going over the speed limit, either.
As the brood muttered words to one another, Daniel said in a small, distant whisper, “I told our lawyer we wouldn't go for anything except the coverage of the of the auto and liability umbrella insurance.” He paused just a beat before expounding, “I insisted Mark give Uncle Pete a look at the accident report. He reviewed it and talked with the actual accident investigators, too, and they determined that, given all the circumstances and the angle of impact, it's unlikely that anything would have been different, even if Mister Pflug had only been going the speed limit. His foot still would have pressed the gas pedal to the floor ...”
“Reese loves dolphins, Daddy,” Brianna interjected when her father's voice trailed off. “We're both up for a special trip. You know what a gift it is, to be able to swim with the dolphins. It's so peaceful. It ... Daddy, it cleanses our souls. It tells us there's so much beauty in life, beauty that we normally take for granted,” she spoke passionately. “I told Reese that I hope she's chosen, but she said even if she were, she didn't think her mom had the money it would take, not now. She needs this trip. She really does. She doesn't have anyone to talk to like we have with Doctor Rich. You promise we won't take their house, Daddy?”
Facing the other side of the gazebo, Daniel nodded, quietly pledging, “I promise, Bri.”
“Thank you, Daddy,” Brianna stated softly, walking into the gazebo and giving her father a hug. “I'm going to change and put my backpack away.”
Daniel observed the sea of questioning faces staring at him and knew it was time to answer whatever questions the children had about their dad's accident.
~I wish Jack would realize how much we need him here. The brood needs him to answer some of these questions.~ Silently sighing, Daniel knew he couldn't put it off any longer and finally asked, “What do you want to know?”
“Mister Pflug was the man who put Dad in the wheelchair?” Ricky asked.
“Not exactly,” Daniel answered. “Mister Pflug was driving his truck. Apparently, he just wanted to get home to his family. He had a heart attack, and when his heart gave out, his body slumped forward, and his foot pressed down harder on the gas pedal. Then Mister Pflug's truck hit Dad's truck, forcing it into the traffic light pole.” He paused before adding, “It wasn't Mister Pflug's fault. It was an accident.”
“Daddy, what did Bri mean about taking that house?” Jenny and Lulu questioned, their words almost identical as each of them made the inquiry.
“Dad's bills are very expensive. The Pflug's automobile insurance barely touches the surface; maybe a couple of days of Dad's time at the hospital and partial reimbursement for the truck. Cedar Hills is very expensive. There were cheaper places we could have taken Dad, but we all want him to have the best possible care, right?” Daniel saw the affirmative nods and continued, “By law, we're allowed to sue the Pflug's for the medical bills and even Dad not being able to work for a while. If we sued and they didn't have the finances to pay, they might be forced to sell their home and anything else they have of value.”
“To pay us?” Little Danny asked.
“Yes,” Daniel answered.
“We don't need that money, do we, Daddy?” Aislinn queried with sincere eyes.
“No, Princess, we don't. Dad and I have been very fortunate financially. It's a major setback for us, but J-O is going great, and we can handle this.”
“Huddle,” Jonny ordered the brood.
Daniel watched as the children, including JD, who had wiggled off his lap, gathered together like a mighty football team. He didn't like football, but Team J-O was an awesome team.
~I should have done this in the first place,~ Daniel thought as he waited.
“Unbeatable!” the brood shouted in unison as they broke apart, returning to the gazebo.
“Daddy, we don't want their house,” Jonny announced. “We have you and Dad, and that's all we need. Meeting over.”
With smiles on their faces, the brood dispersed, returning to their play, satisfied that all was still right with their world. Jeff walked over and sat down opposite Daniel.
“I met Mrs. Pflug,” the young man announced. “She reminds me of Aunt Catherine a little; she has white hair,” he mused with a chuckle, though adding quickly, “but she's not old. They have pictures all around their house, just like we do. It's funny. When Bri introduced me to Reese, I wanted to hate her, but then I saw that she was just like Bri.”
“Um, that reminds me. Bri looked a little ... uh ...”
“They got into a fight,” Jeff advised. “My guess is they both got out a lot of frustration. The funny thing is I think they might be friends, if it weren't for the accident.”
Daniel stared at his son for a moment and then nodded. He needed to process what he'd heard and then make a few phone calls.
“Hey, Babe,” Daniel called as he walked into Jack's room the next morning, leaning over to share a sweet kiss with his husband.
“Danny, yesterday, did you and the brood ...” Jack broke off, not sure if he wanted to continue the thought for fear Daniel would think he was crazy. ~But it felt real, just like it did that Christmas.~
“You did feel it!” Daniel exclaimed, a smile brightening his face. “I had to deal with a situation with Ash, and the best way to do that was to sing our song for you. The brood joined in to send you our love.”
The couple shared a loving look before getting into the reason for Daniel's visit.
“What's this?” Jack asked at the strange booklet his husband had just handed him.
“Sled hockey,” Daniel answered.
“Sled hockey? What the heck is that?” Jack questioned as he pondered the picture on the front page.
“Little Danny made that for you,” the archaeologist added.
“How are they go...”
“Babe, being paralyzed doesn't mean you can't play hockey anymore. That's what Little Danny wanted you to know, so he printed out these photos of everyday people from all over the country playing sled hockey.”
“Not exactly how I learned it,” Jack replied, though his words lacked any sting to them, as he studied the pictures intently.
“You know, we've just walked right by this a hundred times,” Daniel stated, his uncertain lover staring at him. “The Avalanche are partnered with the Colorado Sled Hockey group. I'm sure we've seen ads or news stories, but we've always ignored them. Look at these players, Jack. They're on the ice, playing the game they passionately love. They may not be running on skates, but they're playing hockey.”
“Hockey sticks are a little short,” Jack responded, not sure yet what to think of the sport.
“Things are changing, Jack, but just because it's changing, that doesn't mean it's worse; it's just ... different.”
“I never thought I'd hit a puck again,” the accident victim replied softly, turning the page to look at the next photo. “I love the ice, Danny. I grew up with it.”
“You still have it, Jack. When Little Danny found this, I did some research,” Daniel spoke with a small smile. “Sled hockey was first played in Norway, but in the United States, it began in Minnesota.”
“Yeah,” Daniel affirmed. “In 1989. Colorado's first team was fielded in '95.”
“How'd we miss that?”
“We just weren't looking. We were ... in our own world, off-world maybe, or just focused on the Avalanche. Jack, this'll be fun for the children, and for us. We can all learn together.”
Jack looked over at his lover and asked, “Danny, you don't even like hockey.”
“No, I don't, but you love it. I didn't like basketball at first, either, but now I love it, too; and I love you; and most of our children like hockey, too, so let's learn sled hockey together.”
“Sweet,” Jack responded genuinely, smiling at the idea of getting the entire family out on the ice at the same time. “We're gonna be okay, Danny.”
Daniel leaned forward, pressing his forehead against his lover's. He felt Jack's hands reach up to caress his back. It felt so incredibly awesome to feel even a small amount of their physical connection again. They stayed like that for several seconds, until the archaeologist finally pulled back and looked into his Love's eyes.
“I'm coming home soon,” Jack stated. “We'll be o...” He paused. “No, we'll be better than okay.”
“I love you, Jack.”
“I love you, too, Angel.” Jack reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope. “Give this to the Munchkins when you get home.”
“What is it?” Daniel asked as he took the envelope.
“It's a happy-birthday-even-if-you're-not-celebrating-it-today letter,” Jack answered. “Do you believe it, Love? Nine years. It seems like yesterday.”
“It was, wasn't it?” Daniel agreed. “Kayla would be so proud of them.”
“She is,” Jack agreed about the triplets' and twins' surrogate mother.
“You know, um, I think some of their adventurous side comes from her.”
Nodding, Jack agreed, “She wasn't afraid of anything.”
“And neither are our children,” Daniel concluded.
“Today was a good day,” Daniel related to Sam as the two talked on the phone.
“Sometimes, Daniel, I have to remind myself that you're talking about the general and not Kevin. Every day when I get up, I wonder if he's going to smile at me or talk to me, or if he's just going to sit there, lost in his world of circles and pyramids.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Daniel spoke sadly. “Today, Jack was like his old self. We joked and talked about the future.” He paused, letting out an audible sigh. “Tomorrow, though, I don't know how he'll be. One day, he has a positive attitude. The next day, he scares me.”
“I don't know where he is. He's angry, lost, confused. Sam, some moments I'm afraid to leave him.”
“You don't think he'd ...”
“No, not really,” Daniel responded, answering the incomplete query. Abruptly changing the subject, he asked hesitantly, “Sam, have you talked to General Hammond recently?”
“Not in a couple of weeks. Why?”
“Well, he said he'd be by, but he hasn't. He's called quite a bit, though,” Daniel answered.
“He's probably square dancing. You know, I'd pay good money to see him out there, wearing a straw hat, dancing with some woman wearing a pinafore over her dress.”
Daniel laughed, for the first time in a while. It was quite an image he had in his mind now.
“Thanks for that picture, Sam.”
“You're welcome,” the blonde laughed. “Daniel, I have to go. I'll drop by the Cedar Hills tomorrow and check on the general myself.”
“I'll probably be there.”
“Any idea when he's coming home?”
“Actually, it could be any day. He has the basics down, but the doctors are concerned by his behavior and aren't sure if he should come home yet or not.”
“You mean his attitude?”
“He keeps avoiding the remodeling issue. They're thinking he might do better at home if he stays there a few more days. I'm not sure I disagree with them, Sam. The children need Jack to be okay when he comes home.”
“So do you,” Sam replied.
“Yeah,” the archaeologist mumbled. “We talked about the children not being afraid of anything, but we're wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“They may not say it, but they're afraid of their life changing. Their world has been turned upside down, Sam. How can they not be afraid of that?”
“Maybe they are, Daniel, but being afraid isn't necessarily a bad thing, and it's probably even healthy for them occasionally. It's certainly not insurmountable, not when they have you and the general for parents.”
“I hope you're right.”
Daniel smiled at his friend's confidence and replied, “Night, Sam.”
“Goodnight, Daniel,” Sam responded hanging up the phone while still feeling concerned for both of her dear friends.
The following afternoon, the archaeologist stared at the stack of magazines that now sat on the countertop. He hadn't opened one of them in weeks.
~Now's the time,~ Daniel decided, thumbing through the pile and selecting three magazines, not really sure which one he wanted to tackle.
This morning, Daniel had spent a few hours with Jack. When Sam had arrived, he figured it was a good time to take off for a little while. He'd made it home in time to eat lunch with the brood, all of whom were home. In fact, they were all in the house, spread out between the rec, game, and project rooms.
With a cup of piping hot Starbucks coffee (his favorite Arabian Mocha blend), the inwardly weary man sat down on the sectional, smiling when Katie immediately jumped up, curling in against his thigh.
“I love you, too,” Daniel stated with a light and airy chuckle as the beagle closed her eyes.
“I'll get it,” Jennifer called out a moment later, having heard the knock on the door.
Daniel watched his daughter get up from the game table, warning Jonny not to peek at her cards while she was gone. He chuckled at the boy's innocent 'would I do that?' expression.
~Yes, you would. You're just like your dad. You'd do it in a heartbeat.~ Daniel exchanged a smile with the eldest Munchkin. ~That is, if I weren't in the room, reminding you silently of morals and ethics.~ He chuckled as Jonny sighed and sat back in his chair. ~Yep. Just like your dad.~
“It was a false alarm,” Janet laughed as she finished up a short story she'd been telling Jennifer. “Daniel.”
“Don't get up,” Janet said, putting her hand up to indicate the movement wasn't necessary and getting a happy smile from Katie in return. “Hi, Brood!”
Daniel smiled as the children hurried to hug their aunt, getting hugs and hellos.
“Where's T?” Chenoa questioned.
“At the Mountain, but he said he'd try and stop by later today or tomorrow with a reply to your message,” Janet assured with a smile.
“I feel guilty about not talking to K'hang in so long, but we don't have time to go to the Mountain right now,” Chenoa stated about her alien boyfriend, not seeing Daniel's sad smile or feeling his silent guilt about the truthfulness of her remark.
“Well, Teal'c took down your message, word for word, that you gave him last night, and he promised me that he'd give it to K'hang personally and that he wouldn't leave Chulak without a response.”
“Thank you,” Chenoa replied, grinning while giving Janet another hug.
As the children began to separate, Janet took the little girl by the hand and maneuvered her to a quiet corner. Daniel smiled and then opened his magazine. Obviously, Janet was here to chat with Chenoa for some reason.
Daniel glanced at his watch. He'd actually made it through a third of the archaeology publication he was reading. To his surprise, he hadn't really noticed how much time had passed. With curiosity, he noticed that Janet was now knee deep in a discussion with David. Like with Chenoa, they weren't near anyone else. Taking a moment to rub Katie's ears and take another sip of his almost-gone coffee, he then began reading the next article.
“Sorry, Girl,” Daniel stated softly as he returned to his warm spot on the sofa. “I really needed a refill,” he explained, holding up the filled-to-the-brim coffee mug.
Yawning, Katie decided to stretch up against Daniel's leg for a while, rather than curl back up into a ball. She believed in a variety of napping styles.
Having read one story thus far in the second magazine he'd brought with him, one dealing with the Smithsonian Institute, Daniel studied the redheaded physician as she hugged Jenny for a second. Apparently, that conversation was just coming to a close. Within two minutes, Janet began her next visit, this one with Jeff. It all looked casual, and Jeff had just laughed at something Janet had said.
With a quick raising of his eyebrows, Daniel began reading the next article of interest.
Almost four hours after arriving, Janet sat down next to the archaeologist, causing him to close his magazine. He checked his watch, noting the time and then looked inside his empty cup of coffee. It had been his fifth.
“I need a refill,” Daniel said, noting that Katie had jumped down and gone over to play with Little Danny, something he hadn't even noticed. “Wow. I missed it.”
“Missed what?” Janet inquired, following Daniel into the hospitality room.
“Katie got up. I haven't read a magazine in weeks; almost done with my third one -- on aviation,” Daniel chuckled, amazed he'd read a magazine on the subject, though he did make a point of doing so from time to time since he was a licensed pilot. Taking a sip of his fresh cup of coffee, he turned and leaned back against the counter. He took another sip and sighed happily. “What?” he asked, seeing Janet's stare.
“Six cups in four hours,” Janet answered simply. “I haven't seen you drink so much caffeine in as many years.”
“I'm a little tired,” Daniel rationalized.
“That wasn't a criticism, and I'm not worried, not about that,” Janet replied.
“What are you worried about?” Daniel asked. “Janet, you just did an evaluation of my children.” Seeing her half-surprised look, he expounded, “You spent one-on-one time with each of them, alone, or at least in a corner somewhere. You weren't just asking them what they wanted for Christmas.”
“No, I wasn't,” Janet admitted. “Look, Daniel, I'm not a psychologist, but I am trained to look for things. It's not that anything's wrong, and I know they're seeing someone, but I just wanted to talk to them myself. I'm their aunt,” she added with a silly grin that indicated she was proud of that moniker.
“So, what's your professional opinion?”
“I'd rather answer as their aunt, who just happens to have a medical degree,” Janet replied.
“Okay ... what's your ... opinion, *Aunt* Janet?” Daniel inquired, smiling in mock consternation.
“Probably something you're already aware of,” Janet began. “They are determined to hide behind the Jackson-O'Neill mantra. 'We are family' and as long as they're together, nothing will or could get them down.”
“But?” Daniel prompted dryly, certain there was more to the evaluation.
Janet took a breath and advised, “They're hiding some deep feelings. Little Danny feels responsible for everyone's wellbeing and like he has to find the cure. He's the named genius of the brood, and no one but him can find an answer that the doctor's haven't thought of yet. Jonny wishes there was someone to blame, and he's angry that there isn't anyone. He's their leader, and he takes that seriously. He needs a release, but I don't know what that is, and neither does he. I'm going to ask Teal'c to make a point of spending some more time with him, teaching him some Jaffa mumbo jumbo.”
“That warrior business. Jonny buys into it, just like Jack does. Maybe that will help Jonny find that release.”
“Good idea. Next?”
Daniel listened intently to Janet's review of the children, absorbing everything she was saying as best that he could, considering he already had a plate full of challenges to handle.
“David's like Jen. He's back into the role he first had when you and Jack adopted him -- the caregiver. Just like with the homeschooling, he's doing what has to be done. He's even and steady, keeping himself and the others in check.”
“Doing what has to be done,” Daniel repeated.
“Day in and day out,” Janet noted. “Then there's Jeff.”
“He's been fine.”
“Like you're fine?” Janet challenged pointedly.
“I haven't noticed anything. He's been a huge help,” Daniel stated.
“I know he has. All I'm saying is maybe you should take a closer look. Daniel, it's only been five years that he's been a Jackson-O'Neill. He lost his father and then became a part of this wonderful family.”
Janet paused, drawing a breath as she thought about something.
“What are you thinking?” Daniel asked curiously.
“I'm wondering if Doctor Rich is the right person for him to talk to,” Janet stated. “Her specialty is children. Jen and Jeff aren't children anymore, and while Jen is handling everything very responsibly, her issues are a little different from Jeff's.”
“Daddy, can you come here and help us?” Little Danny called out from his spot at the game table.
“Sure. I'll be there in a minute,” Daniel answered.
Putting her hand on Daniel's arm, Janet urged, “Just keep in mind what I've said. Maybe it's nothing, but keep it in mind.”
“I will,” Daniel assured as he hugged her goodbye. “Thanks, Janet.”
The next day, Daniel was on his way home from running a couple of errands. JD was with him as they drove down West Uintah. They stopped at the light, but when it turned green, the Silver Fox didn't budge. Horns began to blare.
“Daddy, why are those horns honking?”
“What? Oh, uh, because we're not moving,” Daniel answered truthfully as he moved forward, trying desperately not to stare at the repaired traffic light as he drove past.
The father and son chatted as they continued on, until Daniel pulled his sports car over to the side of the road. His breathing grew labored as he saw a white-headed woman trying to change the head of a sprinkler.
~She does look a little like Catherine.~
Behind the woman, playing tag, were two young children. He saw the woman grow frustrated and stand up, trying to regain her strength and composure. He could feel it emanating from her. Then he saw the woman staring back at him, and he could feel her tense up.
“Come on, Son,” Daniel stated, getting out of the vehicle and then going around to the other side to help JD out of the car. Calmly, they approached the woman until they were standing within a few feet of her and the playing children. “Hello,” he called out.
“Hello,” the woman greeted. “May I help you with something?”
“Maybe I could help you,” Daniel offered, pointing down at the sprinkler.
“It's on too tight, and I can't get it off. Normally, my hus...” the woman paused, looking over at her children for moment, ”...it's just so tight, and it's broken.”
“Let me try,” Daniel suggested, kneeling down to examine the damaged sprinkler head.
“Daddy, can I go play with them?” JD asked, seeing the children smiling at him.
“Sure, uh, if you don't mind,” Daniel answered, looking up at the woman with questioning eyes.
The woman nodded, though she still had no idea who she was talking to.
“We always have spares,” the woman stated, pointing at the replacement item that was on the grass.
“That's a good idea,” Daniel replied as he finished what the woman had started. “We have to change these all the time, but they can be tricky,” he stated a minute later as he stood back up.
“Thank you again, but ... who are you?”
“Ma'am, I ... I just wanted to let you know that you don't have to worry. I gave my daughter my promise, and my other children voted, so it's agreed. The meeting was adjourned.”
“Forgive me, but you still haven't said who you are,” the woman stated expectantly. “And I really don't know what you just said.”
“Daniel ... Jackson.” Daniel sighed and then stated more firmly, “I'm Daniel Jackson-O'Neill. My husband is the man your husband rear-ended.”
The woman's eyes grew big, even as her skin paled. Tears immediately welled in her eyes.
“I'm so sorry,” the widow spoke, her voice cracking.
“I think we all are. Ma'am, we're very lucky. My daughter told me that you're worried about a lawsuit. I just want to assure you that it's not going to happen.”
“A friend of my husband's has been helping me. He said he'd received a notification.”
“I think that's what he said.” Slapping her hands against her sides, she continued, “I'm a housewife, Mister Jackson-O'Neill. I've worked, but I don't understand these legal issues.”
“Ma'am, I ...”
“Maureen,” the woman corrected.
“Daniel,” the archaeologist spoke in kind. “Maureen, I'm not sure what you received, but I've already spoken with our lawyer. We're going to take the policy limits of your husband's insurance, but I promise you, just like I promised my daughter, that your house, your savings, and your children's futures aren't in jeopardy, not from us or anyone associated with us.”
Daniel heard the woman's sobs of relief.
“I've been so afraid. I don't know what we would do. Morris' life insurance will take care of us, if we have our house.”
“You have it, Ma'...Maureen,” Daniel promised again. He looked over at the two twin girls and smiled. “We have twins, too -- a boy and a girl.”
“How's your husband doing?”
“He'll be home soon,” Daniel stated. “JD, time to go.”
“He's a beautiful little boy.”
“We think so,” Daniel agreed. “Maureen, if you need anything, please call,” he invited, pulling out one his business cards and writing his personal cell phone number on the back.
“Thank you,” the woman acknowledged gratefully and then watched as Daniel and JD headed back to the car. “Uh, Mister, oh, it's Doctor, isn't it?”
“Of archaeology,” Daniel confirmed.
“I like to think of myself as a capable woman, but I'm not very mechanical. I don't want charity, and thanks to you, I don't need it; but would you happen to know of a handyman who can be trusted? I hear all sorts of stories about men taking advantage. I have young children. I can't afford to gamble.”
“Actually, I do. Call me in a few days, and I'll have some names for you.”
“Thank you again,” Maureen replied, feeling more confident and able than she had since her husband died.
Daniel nodded and then made sure JD was secured in his seat before going back to the driver's side and getting in his car. He sat for a moment, watching as Maureen led her girls towards their front step. She stopped, turned around, and gave Daniel a sympathetic nod and sad smile, which he returned.
Both families had lost something, and both would forever be connected as a result.
“I wish I could have gone, but there's always the next one. Besides, Dad's coming home, and I want to make sure I'm here,” Brianna stated a few days later as she discussed the results of the dolphin excursion.
“Megan wants you to go to the Bahamas with her on vacation next summer, too,” Daniel advised with a smile.
“Really? We had a blast before,” the teenager replied enthusiastically. She looked over at her father, who was driving her home. “Daddy, I saw Reese again today.”
“How's she doing?”
“Better. She wasn't one of the two people chosen for the trip, either, but guess what?”
“What?” Daniel asked, looking both ways before continuing on from a stop sign.
“Doctor Belgardes told Reese that they'd forgotten to mention that a third person was being selected to go on a scholarship of sorts, and she'd been chosen. It's being funded by an anonymous donor. I asked if she knew who, but she didn't know. They only told her it was a business.”
“That's really nice,” Daniel replied, coming to another stop. “I'm sure she's excited to go.”
“She is,” Brianna responded, staring at her father. “I love you, Daddy.”
Daniel glanced over at the teenager and replied with a smile, “I love you, too, Bri.”
“You know what else?”
“What else?” the archaeologist asked lightly.
“As schmaltzy as it sounds, I'm proud to be your daughter.”
Daniel looked over at Brianna, taking in her happy expression, including the smiling eyes and rosy cheeks, and replied, “And I'm proud you're our daughter, Bri.”
“You're pretty special, Daddy.”
“Yes, you are. Does Dad know what you did?”
“Bri, I didn't ...” Daniel paused. With a shake of his head, he decided not to feign ignorance and answered, “Not yet.”
“He'll understand. I know he will because I'm proud to be his daughter, too,” Brianna stated firmly.
Daniel reached out and squeezed the girl's hand, saying nothing more about the unspoken acknowledgment of J-O Enterprise's latest community investment. It wasn't exactly a business deduction, but it was for a worthy cause -- the happiness of a young girl who'd so tragically lost her father in an automobile accident.
The next afternoon, after having heard about his company's gift, Jack stared at his husband, aware of uncertainty in the man's expression, but mostly seeing his resolve.
“You never cease to amaze me, Angel.”
“You're not mad?”
“Bri's right, Danny. I've hurried home with my pedal to the metal more times than I want to admit. You had Carter do a report?”
“Of course, I did, and I went by and met Maureen. Uh, by the way, Pete saw the accident report, and even if Mister Pflug had been doing the speed limit ...
“I know, Danny. That's never bothered me. I've seen enough to know that, in this scenario, those few extra miles per hour didn't mean much.”
“Yeah,” Daniel agreed softly. “Odds are, nothing would have changed. His foot would still have slammed down against the gas pedal when he had the attack. I just wanted Maureen to know that, too; or, at least, that her home was safe.”
“Daniel, no offense, but you'd feel sorry for a weeping willow,” Jack asserted, seeing his lover flinch. “They passed?”
“Yes, Jack, they passed. I, um ... Jack, Bri likes Reese. I think she'd like to establish a friendship with her, but I also think she feels a little guilty about that.”
“Dolphins,” Jack spoke in a blustery tone before smiling and shaking his head.
“How would you feel about that?” Daniel asked tentatively, referring to the friendship.
“The man was trying to get home to his little girl, to spend ten minutes with her on her birthday. I can't hate him, Danny. I've tried to. I wanted to blame him for this,” Jack said, patting his thighs and wincing that he could see the motion but not feel it. “It was an accident.”
“I think Bri needs to hear that from you. Can you do that? Can you find a way to tell her that it's okay?”
“Piece of cake,” Jack responded with a smile.
Daniel leaned forward and gave his lover a kiss. The two kissed again, and then he smiled.
“Babe, it's time for you to come home.”
“Gonna break me out?”
Daniel looked at his watch and then nodded, saying, “Yeah, I am. Right now. The warden won't even know what hit him.”
“That's my Danny.”
Though it took some doing, Daniel checked his husband out of Cedar Hills and, with the help of Lou Ferretti, took Jack home, much to the happy surprise of the unsuspecting brood. Cheers and tears erupted when Daniel wheeled his husband into the living room and announced it was for good.
All of a sudden, Jack had a full face of beagle. He hadn't felt the canine legs connect with his numb limbs, but he could feel the happy kisses on his face and see the wagging tail of Bijou.
“Missed you,” Jack admitted, holding the mama beagle close. He looked down at Katie, who was sitting, waiting for her turn, her tail wagging in anticipation. “Yeah, missed you, too.”
With things having settled and while dinner was being prepared, Jack remained true to his word and wheeled his way toward Brianna's room where he spent some one-on-one time catching up with her..
Afterwards, as he wheeled his way back to the hallway, Jack spun the chair around and said, “Hey, I hear you have a new friend.”
“A new friend?” Brianna asked, clueless to the reference.
“A girl named Reese. I bet she could use a good friend like you,” Jack asserted with a supportive nod.
Brianna smiled and asked, “Are you sure, Dad?”
“I'm not the one you should be worried about, Bri. Worry about yourself, your own heart. Listen to it. What's it telling you?”
Thoughtfully, the teenager answered, “It's telling me that Reese and I could be very good friends, but is it okay, Dad?”
“Yeah, Bri, it's okay.”
Brianna ran forward, putting her arms around Jack and hugging him.
“I love you, Bri.”
“I love you, too, Dad.”
~How am I going to do this?~ Jack wondered as he stared at several of the children. He knew a lot of them were talking to him, but it was a jumbled blur. With his promise to Daniel fulfilled about Brianna, his purpose was no longer clear. ~I can't teach them what I used to. I can't help Jonny with the obstacle course or protect Ash from those juvenile boys that are already chasing after her. How can I show Jenny how to fix the engine on Jo? I can't even get in Jo now,~ he thought with despair about the small family airplane that Daniel had gifted him with so many years ago.
Just as quick as he could blink, Jack's merriment at being home turned into confusion and anxiety. The broods mumbled words and garbled paragraphs served only to make him wonder why he was still alive.
~Maybe where Charlie is, he and I could play catch. We didn't play catch enough.~
Dinner was surreal to the paralyzed man. Nothing was normal, and everything was strange. He couldn't help, not like he used to. Worse, everyone wanted to wait on him, as if he were an invalid.
~Crap! I *am* an invalid.~
After dinner, Jack smiled as Billy told the brood more stories about their childhood, but Jack didn't hear any of it. He stared at Daniel, his beautiful soulmate. He had never been good enough for the archaeologist. Now, he was a burden to him.
The nightmare turned darker when Daniel helped his husband take care of some bodily needs. It couldn't get any worse; that is, until Daniel mentioned remodeling their beloved dream house. That was too much for the older man. This house had been crafted with love, and he didn't want it to change. His mood shifted as he questioned his very existence.
Within minutes of this final swing of Jack's mood, the entire family had picked up on it. Just that fast, though united in love, the Jackson-O'Neill family was, for the first time, truly lost. This became even more evident in their first reunited family meeting, held just before the children were to go up to bed.
“So, I'll start,” Daniel offered, seeing the unusual blank stares on the brood's faces. “It's hard. Um, for me, I'm a little frustrated because we have to do some remodeling of the house.”
“And I don't want to,” Jack snapped.
“But the reality is ...”
“Reality be damned,” Jack countered harshly, using a common swear word that was rarely spoken in front of the brood and earning him a stern glare from the younger man.
“Who's next?” Daniel asked, getting only silence in return, which promptly ended the get-together.
~Just get me to bed. I don't want to think about this crap anymore,~ Jack thought as his inward agony grew.
Jack was already in bed, lying flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling, when Daniel walked in from the bathroom.
“Planning on sleeping standing up?” Jack asked snarkily when Daniel paused just outside the door.
“No, of course not,” Daniel answered awkwardly as he got into the bed and pulled up the covers. He, too, stared up at the ceiling. ~What is this? All I've been doing for weeks is waiting to have him back home with us and ... back in our bed with me, where I can feel his heart beating every night; and now this.~
“Goodnight,” Jack stated coolly, closing his eyes.
“Goodnight,” Daniel replied, stunned at the awkwardness, not to mention the nervousness, that existed at the moment.
The names were spoken at the same time, less than thirty seconds after the monotone 'goodnight' wishes.
“I'm scared to death,” Jack admitted.
“Me, too,” Daniel replied, relieved that Jack was verbalizing what was bothering him. Turning onto his side, he looked at his soulmate with a tender expression and loving eyes. “You're my heart and soul, Jack. I love you so freakin' much.”
“I love you, too,” Jack responded, though anxiety laced his tone. “I missed you.”
“I've barely slept,” the younger man confessed.
“Ya gotta sleep, Danny.”
“I didn't have the right pillow.”
“I'm missing my blanket; it's one of a kind and can't be replaced,” Jack spoke softly, moving his left hand to open up his body for his lover.
With watery eyes, Daniel slowly slipped into his usual spot, his head on husband's chest. He closed his eyes as he listened to the heartbeat that meant life to him.
“Shhh!” Daniel responded quickly, lightly slapping his husband's chest. “I need to hear it. Just ... shhh!”
Jack's arms engulfed his soulmate. He rubbed the man's back and then brought up his hand to run through the sleek, silky strands of Daniel's hair. He lifted up his head to get closer. He sniffed his lover's scent and sighed contently despite the tears that were flowing down his cheeks and into Daniel's hair.
“The heartbeat of life, all life,” Daniel whispered as his hand began to caress Jack's chest with tears of his own wetting Jack's pajama top. “So long, so freakin' long.”
“Too friggin' long, Angel,” Jack agreed. “Geez, I need you here with me, like this.”
“Hold me, Jack. Please hold me,” Daniel requested, soaking in the feeling like a sponge and never wanting the moment to end.
Unfortunately, the next several days were lacking much of anything close to the tenderness the lovers had shared during Jack's first night home. Jack's mood swung from coping with his situation to wishing he were dead. Every time he thought he had a handle on life in a wheelchair, he'd grow sullen from not being able to do something he'd done before. It just wasn't easy for him to deal with his new life.
“Babe, we have to take care of this,” Daniel stated sternly.
“Jack, don't sneer at me like that,” the younger man demanded. “It's a pressure sore, and that's something that everyone has told us to look out for.” Seeing his lover simply scoff and look away in denial, Daniel continued pointedly, “People have died from pressure sores, but you're not going to be one of them.”
“No arguments, Jack. I'm calling Margo and asking her for an appointment. We need to ascertain the reason for the sore.”
“You're blowing this out of proportion,” Jack accused, not wanting to return to the rehabilitation facility any more than he absolutely had to.
“No, I'm not.” Trying to calm his angry husband, Daniel put forth calmly, “Look, it could be caused by something simple, like how you're moving from the wheelchair to the bed. It'll be okay. We just ... we just don't want to take chances. I love you, Jack, and I need you. I'm not going to lose you because you're too stubborn to get treatment, especially for something we can handle.”
Jack let out a sigh and then nodded, letting out a still frustrated but very genuine, “I love you, too,” as his soulmate picked up the phone to dial Cedar Hills.
//End of Flashback//
Fortunately, Daniel had been right, and Margo had quickly determined that a slight alteration of how Jack transitioned from his wheelchair to the bed would take care of the pressure sore problem, and it had. On the down side, Jack had also had a couple of spasms in his left leg.
“It's call spasticity,” Margo had explained, adding that it wasn't uncommon in paralyzed people. “Since this wasn't a problem while you were here, it's possible you aren't getting enough fluids at home.”
“I've got a fridge full of beer,” Jack had snapped, totally frustrated by the latest problem he was enduring.
“Beer aids the problems, not resolves it, General,” Margo had stated strongly. “No beer,” she had said while looking at Daniel.
“No problem,” the archaeologist had assured while ignoring Jack's glare.
“I must drink ten glasses of water a day now,” Jack had barked.
“Not enough, especially with that pressure sore you've been fighting. In fact, that's probably what's brought this on,” Margo had put forth. “More liquids, Daniel, preferably water. Are you following through with the massages at home?”
“Yes, just like you suggested,” Daniel had answered.
“If the spasms continue, let me know, but I think the increased fluid intake will take care of it.”
Again, Margo had been right, but for Jack, all these new inconveniences were frustrations that he didn't want to deal with. Each new problem just drove him deeper into his personal dark place.
The children were scared and confused, but still trying to act like everything was normal. They often huddled together in their family groups -- Munchkins, Spitfires, Mouseketeers, and Mavericks, with JD hopping between them. They maintained their solidarity, not really talking about their fears, but professing their strength and togetherness, and, ultimately, their ability to survive anything.
Jonny, especially, had taken charge. He'd begun acting like a little general, trying to keep things organized and controlled. That lasted for three days, until JD stared him down and retrieved his beloved Patch, the stuffed dog gifted to him by Thor when he was born. Jonny had taken it after his youngest brother hadn't made his bed properly.
“I'm only three,” JD had argued.
“Almost four,” Jonny had reprimanded. “Dad might get mad if your bed isn't made right.”
JD had fumed for an hour before deciding he just couldn't live without Patch. He'd gone to the boys' room and removed Bogey from his cage, taking the lizard and hiding him in his room. When Jonny had discovered the theft, he'd hit the roof, promptly being admonished by his parents for making a scene and then sent to bed early.
As soon as he'd been able, Jonny sneaked out of his room and returned Patch to JD, who had then relinquished Bogey.
“Not nice, JD,” Jonny had spouted.
“I learn from the best, Jonny -- you.”
Halfway back to his room, Jonny had realized the compliment. He'd returned to JD's room, and the two made up, giggling and laughing until discovered by Daniel, who'd been pleased to see the rift was mended and had simply suggested the boys go to sleep. The lizard-napping had ended the oldest Munchkin's reign of terror as the little general, not to mention having taught Jonny not to upset his youngest brother.
Jonny's military-like takeover hadn't been the only upheaval among the children as, unknown to everyone else at this point, Chenoa and Lulu had made a painful decision.
//Three Days Earlier//
“Noa, I think the step goes like this,” Lulu told her sister as they practiced their dancing in their dance studio.
“I don't feel like dancing,” Chenoa admitted, turning off the music and sitting down on the mat.
Lulu sat down opposite her sister. The two girls joined hands and went into a cool down mode, moving back and forth as they stretched their muscles.
“Lulu, I don't think Dad wants to see us dance anymore.”
“He can't move his legs at all,” Lulu sighed. “I think we make him feel bad.”
“He hasn't watched us once,” Chenoa pointed out.
“I know,” Lulu agreed as the two separated their hands and began to reach for their toes. “We make him sad.”
“Because we remind him that he can't walk anymore,” Chenoa assumed.
“I'll miss it,” Lulu said, standing up.
“Me, too, but it's for Dad.”
The two girls nodded, hugging each other to seal their agreement.
//End of Flashback//
While Chenoa and Lulu masked their pain, life inside the Jackson-O'Neill home continued as best as possible. Daniel still felt uneasy. Every day was a battle. Jack wasn't budging about the remodeling, which meant that Daniel was lifting his lover in and out of the tub when necessary, which wasn't all that easy. In addition, due to his stubborn attitude about the remodel, Jack could only traverse a small part of their home.
Since Jack was in denial, no one could move forward, something the archaeologist was keenly aware of. Their so-called family meetings were shorter than ever, and while the honesty was there, it was about ice cream and not the children's feelings.
Doctor Rich had also communicated her dissatisfaction with how the family counseling sessions were going as well. Alone, some of the children would talk to her, but together, with Jack being a bump on a log, the sessions were a dismal failure.
Daniel was struggling to do it all -- take care of Jack, the children, the home, and J-O Enterprises. Sleep was rare and far from peaceful. Chenoa's birthday had come and gone quietly, as had been the agreement. Then the children had decided that what their older father needed was his birthday, which meant moving up the scheduled big party day to the tenth of the month, which was Brianna's actual birthday.
This scheduled change meant that Daniel had a lot of work and planning to do. A lot of birthdays had to be included on that one day, and Jack wasn't in a position to help, even if Daniel could somehow explain the change in date to him. Today being the seventh, time was running out to get everything done.
To complicate things, Jack's mood on this afternoon was at its worst. He was tired of being inside and treated like he was a child. That's how it felt to him. He'd picked a fight with Daniel and now just wanted to commiserate without anyone around to upset his chosen mood.
“Jack, where are you going?” Daniel asked, frustration oozing from him at the downturn life had taken.
Jack spun the wheelchair around and barked, “Anywhere where there aren't any people.”
The general turned again and headed for the living room. He could hear Daniel walking behind him.
“Daniel, shut up!” Jack took a breath and called out loudly, “Girls, walk!”
In an instant, Bijou and Katie were in the living room.
“Get your leashes,” Jack ordered, staring at Daniel as the canines headed over for the table where their leashes were. “Don't forget the harnesses,” he called out.
Amazingly to Daniel, though when he thought about it, it really wasn't that unusual, Bijou stood up on her hind feet and opened the drawer with her right paw. She reached in and grabbed each item one by one, dropping them on the floor until she got the last leash. Then the two dogs hurried over to Jack.
Still staring at Daniel, Jack ordered, “Bijou, up.” As soon as the mama beagle had jumped up, Jack took her harness and slipped it on. Then he attached the leash, ordering her down. “Katie, up,” he ordered, repeating the same steps he'd taken with Bijou. Mouthing off in one of his nastiest tone's ever, he said to his husband, “If you're worried about me, I'm sure the girls are capable of scaring off the bad guys, and if you really have to track me, their collars still have the GPS units in them.”
Daniel watched as Jack worked his way to the patio door, opening it and then heading outside with the beagles. He wheeled down the temporary ramp that had been placed there and headed for the new gate, a sensor-operated one which had replaced the standard version. Pressing the correct code into the keypad, the gate opened, and Jack and the girls were finally on their way for their walk.
The archaeologist stared out the narrow windowpane by the front door, watching until Jack and the beagles were out of his sight. He was so tired of arguing with Jack, and he was even more tired of all the indecision. Their house needed remodeling, and Jack was still fighting just about all of it. It was making everything tougher than it needed to be.
~We have to find our way, Jack. Soon: gawd, it needs to be soon.~
“Hey,” Daniel greeted, smiling as Jeff looked over from his printer that was on his desk in his bedroom.
“Hi, Daddy,” Jeff greeted. “I'm just printing out a couple of photos to add to our history book.
“Documenting everything?” Daniel questioned, standing against the doorway, his hands in his pockets.
“It's our history,” Jeff answered, getting a nod from his younger father.
“Jeff, you've been a little quiet. I know I'm not noticing a lot of things lately, but I have picked up on that.”
Seizing the moment, Jeff stated, “Daddy, remember when you said we could see a therapist, I mean someone other than Doctor Rich?”
“Yes,” Daniel replied, walking in and sitting down on the stool that was next to the wall and close to his son's desk.
“See someone else?” Daniel asked. “Sure.”
“She's nice, but she doesn't get it, and I don't know how to explain my situation to her,” Jeff stated.
Daniel recalled his conversation a couple of weeks before with Janet. He'd followed that up with her on the phone a couple of times since then and believed that he understood better what her comments were about.
“Actually, I was thinking that you might prefer to see someone at the Academy hospital, someone with ... clearance,” Daniel put forth.
“Yeah. Is that possible?” Jeff inquired.
“Aunt Janet already gave me a name. Uh, Doc...tor ... Phillips, I think it was. He's a psychiatrist, but he's also an accomplished pilot. He actually obtained his degree while serving as a captain in the Air Force, so he knows what it's all about, and he knows about the Stargate. He's actually gone through several times, so you could really talk to him, without guarding your words.”
“I'd really like that, Daddy. I'm fine; I am, but ...”
“Jeff, you're fine like I'm fine. Please don't cover up your feelings. You're helping me with your brothers and sisters, and I need you for that. Actually, I appreciate that more than you know, but that doesn't mean that you don't have a right to have your own issues. You know, you've gone through a lot of transitions in the last few years. Don't be afraid to take a closer look at that and be honest about it.”
“I love being a Jackson-O'Neill.”
“That doesn't mean you don't wish with all your heart that your father hadn't died on that mission. It's okay to wish that.”
“I think of him every day, Daddy.”
“That's the right thing to do. We never wanted to replace him; Dad and I only wanted to give you our love and a place in our home, and we hoped you'd want that, too.”
“So, I'll make the arrangements with Doctor Phillips, okay?”
“Thanks, Daddy,” Jeff said. “Um, would you rather I didn't keep doing this?” he asked, referring to the photos he'd been taking lately to capture this difficult period in their lives.
“Photography is part of your ... true function,” Daniel mused, though Jeff wasn't sure of the meaning. “Don't stop. I need to go check on Dad. He took the girls out for a walk.”
“Rebellion, I think,” Daniel advised, getting up and gripping Jeff's shoulder securely. “We love you, Jeff, but we're just human beings. I hope you remember that.”
As Daniel left, Jeff pondered those words and the odd qualms he was feeling in his gut. He had emotions he didn't understand, and Doctor Rich hadn't been able to help. Staring at the pictures he'd just printed, he hoped the man Daniel had mentioned would be able to help him sort through whatever it was that was bothering him.
Later that afternoon, Aislinn was trying to get her father to feel better. He'd seemed so alone to her, and she missed him. Suddenly, she had an idea. Her dad loved pottery, and she did, too.
“Dad, we could make a new vase,” Aislinn suggested. “Then we could put some pretty flowers in it.”
“Not right now,” Jack replied sourly as he played with his hands, wishing he had something to hold.
“I know!” the young girl exclaimed. “We could make Daddy a new picture frame and put a picture of you in it. Jeff could take it. Daddy would love that.”
“Sweetheart, not right now,” Jack said a bit more forcefully.
“Well, maybe you could show me how to make a cup. I'm not very good at those,” Aislinn suggested. Feeling at a loss, the little girl wondered, ~How can I make Dad feel better? He's so sad inside.~
“Ash, I said not now,” Jack snapped. “Why don't you go play with Jenny in the game room.”
“You don't want to do pottery with me?” the little girl asked. ~Dad's not mad at me. He just wishes he could be in the tree house with David, Jonny, and Ricky right now,~ she told herself, knowing her brothers were having an adventure in the tree house Jack had built years before.
“Not now, Sweetheart,” Jack answered as gently as he could.
“Okay, Dad,” the sad little girl replied as she sauntered slowly away, her head bowed and her hands clasped behind her back.
“Yes, Dad?” the hopeful girl asked as she turned around.
“I know! I can read you a story,” Aislinn suggested, hurrying over to the bookshelf. ~I knew I could think of something. He'll like this.~
Jack squirmed, but he did his best to cover it up, forcing a smile as one of his princesses read him a story.
“Jonny, you awake?” Aislinn whispered late that night. Her parents had already made their rounds and had gone to bed themselves. “Jonny.”
“Ash, I'm sleeping.”
“No, you're not. You're awake,” Aislinn observed. She hurried over to Little Danny's bed and shoved his arms. “Little Danny, wake up.” She shook him more, repeating, “Wake up!”
Aislinn returned to Jonny's bed, getting in and scooting the boy over so that he was by the wall.
“Ash, are you okay?” Little Danny asked as he lay down next to his sister, realizing she wanted some Munchkin time.
“Ash, what's wrong?” Jonny asked when his sister began to sniffle.
“He didn't even listen,” Aislinn began. “I tried to read Dad a story, something he'd like, but he was just sitting there. He wouldn't do pottery with me, either.”
“Dad's still sad, Ash,” Little Danny explained softly.
“I'm sad, too, but he doesn't even want to be with us.”
“Yes, he does,” Jonny insisted.
“Jonny, fix it.”
Jonny stared at his sister. He didn't know how to fix things this time. He'd tried to play with his older father, too. Just like with Aislinn, Jack had gone through the motions, but Jonny had known his heart wasn't in it.
“We'll all fix it,” Little Danny offered, realizing Jonny didn't have the answer to their sister's request.
“Well, Dad and Daddy tell us to never give up,” Little Danny said.
“That's right,” Jonny affirmed with a nod.
“Especially not on each other,” Little Danny added.
“What do we do?” Aislinn asked, using her hands to try and stop her tears.
“Don't cry, Ash,” Jonny pleaded, moving a tad closer to his sister.
“I miss Dad sooooo mmmm....much,” the youngest triplet cried, causing both of her brothers to put their arms around her.
“It'll be okay, Ash. I promise,” Jonny stated firmly.
“Jonny's right, Ash. We just have to have a tough skin. That's what Dad calls it.”
“Like when people pick on us because we have two fathers,” Jonny added. “We'll get Dad back. You'll see.”
“How do you know?” the frightened young girl asked.
“We have Munchkin power,” Little Danny answered, putting one hand out in front of him.
Aislinn thought about it a moment and then nodded, putting her hand on Little Danny's. A second later, Jonny's hand topped his sister's.
“On three,” the oldest Munchkin called out quietly. “One ... two ...”
“Munchkin power!” the triplets exclaimed quietly before settling under the covers and falling asleep.
With his parents and siblings occupied elsewhere, Jonny lined up several of the family pets in the recreation room.
Bijou and Katie were lying down on the floor, their eyes following the boy as he paced back and forth like a general addressing his troops. Mittens was on the top of one of the sofa sectionals, while Calico was staring at Ptolemy, who was secured in her cage.
“Calico, eyes front,” the little general ordered, getting a rebellious meow in response. “Eyes front, Callie!”
Reluctantly, the feline got up and meandered her way over to where the beagles were.
“You have a special assignment,” Jonny stated to the animal kingdom. He looked over at small animal cages that he'd brought downstairs. “That includes you two, too,” he said to the guinea pigs. “And you,” he said to the rabbits.
In response, Bagel and Cream Cheese both hopped forward a step.
“Dad needs lots of extra attention. Your assignment is to give Dad as much attention as you can. Don't let his growl stop you. He doesn't mean it when he yells. Sometimes important people say things they don't mean. Dad's just worried. Don't give up. You're Jackson-O'Neills, and we never give up, no matter how loud Dad gets. Operation: Dad Love begins now. Go to it!”
The animal kingdom shared looks and then went on their way. Jonny returned the smaller, caged animals to their homes and then plopped down on his bed, holding his longtime pet, Bogey the lizard, close.
“I know generals aren't supposed to be scared, Bogey, but anyone would be scared if they couldn't walk anymore. Dad's still brave, and he's still the best soldier ever. He doesn't mean it when he yells. He didn't mean it, did he, Bogey?”
Later that day, as he wheeled himself through the living room, Jack felt something strange on his shoulder. Stopping, he looked to the side and groaned.
“Mittens, get down.”
Jack's request was unheeded, so he just sighed as he wheeled forward to the patio door, with the cat happily hitching a ride on his shoulder. Suddenly, he heard a squawk. He looked over to his right and saw Ptolemy walking towards him.
“Dad love,” Ptolemy spoke.
“I don't know where your dad is, but I'm definitely *not* your dad,” Jack stated sharply.
“Ordered to love,” Ptolemy spoke cryptically.
“What are you talking about?”
“Mittens, Polly's off her crackers,” Jack mused, shaking his head.
“Love Dad,” Ptolemy stated before turning around and returning to her cage.
“I'll pass it along,” Jack sighed, totally confused by the exchange.
“What?” Daniel asked as he ran into the living room where Jack was taking a nap on the sofa.
“Get this thing off of me!”
“Bagel is not a thing.”
“How'd she get here?” Jack questioned curiously.
“I have no idea,” Daniel answered as he picked up the rabbit and began to rub her fur. ~How did you get down here?~
“I swear, Danny, it's a conspiracy. Everywhere I've gone today, I've been attacked by the zoo.”
“Maybe they've missed you.”
“There's that,” Jack agreed hesitantly, reaching up for the rabbit and taking her into his possession, putting her back down on his chest. “Or maybe someone's trying to make me go insane.”
“Right,” Daniel responded dryly and then turning around to head back to the kitchen to continue making dinner.
“What?” the younger man asked, returning to his lover.
“I'm gonna take another nap.”
“You just took one.”
“Your powers of observation are underwhelming,” Jack snapped, patting the rabbit and wishing the motion would soothe him as much as it seemed to be doing to Bagel. With a sigh, he said, “I'm tired. I'm tired all the time.”
“I've noticed that,” Daniel acknowledged with concern.
“No, we're not going back to the prison, not again, not until I have to for PT,” Jack stated sternly as he thought about his next scheduled physical therapy session.
“I called Margo this morning.”
“Let me guess. It's normal.”
“Yes, it is. She recommended some vitamins and more exercise.”
“Exercise?” Jack questioned coldly, grimacing when Bijou jumped up on the end of the sofa and stared at him, almost accusing him of being a pain in the butt. “Okay, okay.”
As Bijou relaxed against Jack's feet, Daniel stated, “We need to look at getting some specialized equipment for you.”
“Right,” Jack sighed unhappily, closing his eyes in the hopes of ending the conversation.
“We'll talk about it later,” Daniel stated, fully aware of what his husband was doing and deciding to let the subject go for now. **And we *will* talk about it later.**
**Yeahsureyoubetcha!** Daniel replied, lending a moment of normalcy to their brief tiff.
“I've been so busy, I haven't seen any of your new dance routines. Show me one,” Sara requested, surprised when Chenoa and Lulu simply stared at each other. “What's going on?”
Sara was doing something she'd been doing ever since Jennifer had called her in September about the children's homeschooling. Two or three days a week, she was spending several hours a day at the Jackson-O'Neill home, teaching the children everything from social studies to art appreciation. The kids were on a break now, and she'd been chitchatting with the young dancers when this twist to their conversation had occurred.
“Girls?” Sara asked curiously when nothing but silence had greeted her initial question.
“We're not dancing anymore,” Chenoa admitted.
“What? Why not?”
With a glance to her sister, Lulu explained, “We don't want Dad to feel bad.”
“Why would he feel bad watching you dance?” Sara questioned quizzically.
“Because he can't dance,” Chenoa answered sadly.
“Girls, no. Your dad loves that you dance. He talks about it all the time,” Sara refuted.
“Not anymore,” Lulu spoke in a near-whisper, her head down. “It makes him sad.”
“He hasn't watched us dance in a long time,” Chenoa pointed out.
“He looks away when we talk about it,” Lulu added.
“So we agreed not to dance anymore, because as much as we love to dance, we love Dad more,” Chenoa elaborated as Lulu bobbed her head in agreement.
Sara sighed as she reached out for the hands of the curly-haired girls and pulled them up close to her. She slid her arms around them, so she could comfort them with light touches on their backs while she talked.
“Noa, Lulu, you both have a beautiful gift. When you dance, it takes our breaths away. We go places in our minds that we wouldn't without your feet taking us there. Your dad is so very proud of you. He *beams* when he tells me about your routines.”
“Not anymore,” Chenoa sniffled, emotion beginning to overtake her.
“Girls, your dad is going through a difficult adjustment. I know it's hard on all of you, but the best way to help him is to keep on doing everything that you did before the accident. It may take him a while, but he'll snap out of this funk he's in one of these days.” Sara paused, still seeing sad faces on the sisters. “One day very soon, your dad is going to be his old self again, and how do you think he's going to feel when he finds out that you've stopped dancing because of him?”
Chenoa and Lulu exchanged a look, small gasps coming from them at the same time.
“He's going to be sad and feeling very guilty, don't you think?” Sara prodded, her hands rubbing the girls' backs.
“She's right, Lulu.”
“I know. I don't want Dad to feel guilty.”
“Be patient with your dad. He'll come around,” Sara promised, drawing the girls into a hug. “He loves you so very much, and he wants you to dance.”
“Noa, I have an idea!” Lulu exclaimed when the hug ended.
“Let's make a dance just for Dad.”
“An 'I love you' dance,” Chenoa replied enthusiastically.
“Thanks, Aunt Sara,” Lulu said as she began to head for the dance studio. Then she stopped and looked back, a startled look on her face as she said, “Oh, we have history next.”
Sara smiled and replied, “Not today. Today, you dance.”
The two girls grinned and then hurried off to the dance studio, eager to prepare a new routine for their older father.
~Okay, Jack. Enough of this,~ Sara sighed, getting up and heading for the study.
“You want something?” Jack called out a bit sharply from his wheelchair, which was facing the wall.
“Jack, what are you doing in here?”
“The same thing I'd be doing anywhere I was. I'm sitting and staring. I do that a lot these days. It's my new hobby,” Jack snarked.
“Having another 'poor me' party?” Sara retorted, walking over to the sofa and sitting down. “Jack, I really don't care if you want to sit in here all day and feel sorry for yourself, but I'm not going to let you hurt Daniel or these children.”
“Since when are you so protective of Daniel? Aren't you supposed to hate him or something?”
“Jack, stop!” Sara exclaimed, her head going back against the sofa in frustration. “Were you this stubborn when we were married?”
“Probably,” Jack admitted. Somehow, the odd agreement resulted in a small chuckle. It broke the tension and opened the door to the problem of the day. “What is it I'm in trouble for?” he asked calmly.
“Are you aware that Lulu and Noa have stopped dancing?”
“No, they haven't,” Jack denied.
“Yes, Jack, they have. They don't want to upset you.”
“What are you talking about?” Jack asked sharply, not liking what he was hearing.
“Jack, your legs are paralyzed, not your brain, so pay attention and cut the 'dumb general' bit. Noa and Lulu didn't want you to feel bad, and they think you do because you've ignored their dancing since you've been home.”
“No, I ... I have n... I ... crap,” Jack sighed. “I have,” he admitted sadly. “They talk about dancing and my mind goes to Danny and how we ...”
“Danny and I, we dance ... danced, a lot,” Jack confided. “We'd turn down the lights, put on something soft and sweet, and we'd dance, sometimes for hours. No one else exists when we dance.” He sighed as he corrected, “Danced. I can't dance with him anymore, Sara, and I guess I can't deal with that.”
Leaning forward, Sara ordered sternly, “Toughen up, Jack. Your kids need you.”
“What happened to all that compassion?”
“You get what you need, and right now, you don't need compassion. You need to hear it like it is, and the way it is, your little dancers are hurting. I convinced them they were wrong. I told them that their dad would come around.” Standing up, Sara urged, “Make it soon, Jack. They're good, you know.”
Jack stared at the wall again. He didn't want to hurt any of his children or interfere with their talents and gifts. As he thought back, he realized he had ignored the girls when it came to their dancing. It just hurt him to know that he'd never be able to dance with his husband again. They fitted together so amazingly well.
~I have to get over this, for Lulu and Noa,~ Jack told himself, determined to find a way to do just that, all the while fearing he wouldn't be able to. ~How do I tell Danny that I screwed up and let down our kids -- again, *especially* when I'm sure it's not for the last time?~
Two days later, Little Danny stared at the vacant wheelchair. He knew it was a helpful device. It was something that allowed his older father mobility, but it was also the symbol of how much his family had lost. At the same time that he hated it, he also appreciated its value. His heart was battling with his head.
Yesterday had been the worst day of his life, or second worst if he counted the day he had to 'break up' with Karissa. The big birthday bash for Jack, the Munchkins, the Spitfires, Chenoa, and Lulu had been a disaster. All of their planning and hard work had been for nothing. Jack had either been a mime, rotting away in his wheelchair while saying nothing, or he'd been a sarcastic, uncaring bear, growling at various family and friends for no reason other than to spread his misery.
Little Danny's heart broke upon realizing his older father wasn't even going to acknowledge the joy of the day. He'd cut the cake, while barely looking at it, sending part of it on the floor. He hadn't been interested in their presents, and that had made it difficult for the children to enjoy their own gifts.
The worst moment had come at the end of the so-called party, when Daniel had had enough of Jack's whines and sneers and had actually told his lover off in front of everyone. It had been one of the worst fights the children had ever witnessed between their parents. In the end, Daniel had retreated upstairs to the roof deck, leaving Billy to tend to Jack while Jilly soothed the upset children.
The grieving and confused young genius needed an outlet for his frustration, and the wheelchair had suddenly become that outlet.
“I hate you,” the little boy whispered. He turned and looked around the bedroom. There was no one else around. “I hate you,” he said more firmly. Suddenly, he broke the rules and ran through the hallway, to his bedroom. He pulled his pillow off his bed and then ran back down the hallway, through the jog that connected the new and old parts of the house, and to his parents bedroom. His chest heaving, he looked around again to make sure he was alone. Not quite a shout, he exclaimed, “I hate you” while swatting the wheelchair with the pillow several times, using every bit of energy and force that he could muster.
Then the child prodigy backed away. He blinked as he stared at the mobile chair and then down at his pillow that was now torn and tattered a bit.
“I hate you, but Dad needs you, and I love Dad, so be a good chair and help him, okay? I'm sorry.”
Crying, Little Danny walked slowly to his bedroom, laid down on his bed, and rested his head on the pillow, having turned it slightly to prevent the stuffing from falling out.
“I love you, Dad,” the boy whispered as he closed his eyes.
Two more tortuous days later, Daniel brought in the mail and headed for the study to begin his usual sorting procedure. He was trying to be upbeat, or at least civil, but that wasn't easy, considering what had happened on big birthday day.
“Mail's in,” the archaeologist called out to his lover, who was in the study, behind his desk playing a computer game.
Sitting down on the old but always comfortable sofa, Daniel shifted through the mail, putting them down into their appropriate piles as he worked his way through the large stack. There was double the amount there normally would be, since the day before had been a holiday -- Columbus Day.
“Utility bill, Mark's bill, Geo subscription, Ma...yo Clinic,” Daniel stammered, flipping the official looking envelop over to see the reverse side.
“What?” Jack called out, not stopping his game.
“Jack, this is addressed to 'L. Daniel Jackson-O'Neill'.”
Opening the correspondence, Daniel was stunned to read the letter.
“Stop playing,” Daniel requested softly as he read.
“What's in it? A request for a donation?” the older man asked as he continued to play.
Standing, Daniel ordered more forcefully, “Jack, stop playing that freakin' game. This is a letter to Little Danny about a new spinal surgery. It's in the early testing stages. Jack, this is for real. Our son's in contact with this doctor at the Mayo Clinic.”
“Let me see that,” Jack ordered, snatching the letter from his lover just as soon as Daniel was close enough for him to do so. “Thanks, but no thanks,” he snorted, tossing the paper down to the desk and returning to his game.
Leaning forward, Daniel reached out and grabbed Jack's hand, preventing him from continuing with his game.
“What are you doing?” the older man questioned sternly.
“Jack, do you realize what this is?” Daniel questioned strongly. “Our son broke the rules and ... went on the internet to make a connection with the Mayo Clinic. The *Mayo Clinic*, Jack; and he did it convincingly. This doctor doesn't know he's been corresponding with a child.” Pulling his hand back, he continued, “Who knows what else he's done, but ... this,” he picked up the letter, “is a big deal, Jack. He almost got you in. Read this again. You just missed their qualification layer. Our son did that, for you, because he loves you, and he's worried about you.”
“He wants a father who can run and play with him, that's what it means.”
“Cut it out with the self-pity, Jack. I'm sick and tired of it. Our children should be focused on our lives as it us.” ~Gawd, but I am ready for that defining moment Margo talked about.~ Taking a deep breath, Daniel continued in a lighter tone, “Sled hockey, remember? We should be ... reinventing our world to someplace exciting and possible. Little Danny wants you to walk, yes, but he wouldn't be doing this if you weren't wallowing in that chair every minute of the day.”
“I have a game to play,” Jack responded. “No TV for a week.”
“Excuse me?” Daniel asked incredulously.
“Little Danny broke the rules. No TV for a week. Make that no TV or internet for a week; no, make that for a month!”
“Stuff it!” Daniel exclaimed angrily. “I'm not punishing him for this,” he said, returning to the mail. “Little Danny is smart, smart enough to know he was breaking the rules; and he did it anyway.”
“Overt disobedience -- one month,” Jack insisted.
“No,” Daniel argued strongly, his ire stirring as it hadn't done in quite a while. “Our son is willing to endure punishment at your hands, the hands of the dad he loves, to save you from yourself.” He paused, shaking his head. “You know, we've never formally said what or who we believe in, spiritually, except that there is definitely a power that touches all of us, but our children believe in God. What Little Danny has done sounds a lot like a man who lived and died over two-thousand years ago, doesn't it, Jack? I mean, sacrificing himself to try and help someone who doesn't even want him, all in the name of love.”
Jack flinched, but didn't look up, not wanting to see the fury in his Love's eyes.
“Right now our nine-year-old son is more of a man than you are! Hell, Jack, they all are, including JD.”
Jack looked up at Daniel's swear word. Neither were strangers to swearing, especially himself, but since the Munchkins were born, their use of anything even close to profanity had pretty much ceased inside their home. It was a shock to hear the word from his husband now, when the children were nearby, and it was a sign of just how upset Daniel truly was.
Seeing he had his husband's attention, Daniel continued, “Every single one of our children has stepped up to the plate and come through for you, and what do you do? You spit on their love. They wanted the 'King of Birthdays' to have the best birthday of all. They volunteered to have one big party so you would have the most special birthday of anyone, and so I wouldn't have to plan separate parties, so I could focus on being with you. They chose decorations that meant more to you than to them. The foods were your favorites, not theirs. They did everything they could to make that big party special for you. They've been busting their butts for you, and all you do is push them away. I've been disappointed in your actions in the line of duty, Jack, but I have *never* been disappointed in you -- until now, that is. Push me away all you want, Jack, but never, *never,* hurt our children like that again, or you'll regret it.”
The older man looked away, not wanting to hear the harsh and all-too-true words Daniel was speaking. It hurt, but he couldn't reply. What could he say? The answer was nothing, so he continued playing his game, hoping Daniel hadn't seen the slight hesitation on his face when the cruel words had rightfully stabbed him through his heart.
“You're pathetic!” Daniel accused angrily. He waited for a response, but there was nothing but the sounds of the game his lover was playing. ~Deal with this fast, Jack. I'm not sure how much more I can take of this.~ Frustrated, he refocused on sorting the mail, surprised when he saw yet another letter addressed to'L. Daniel Jackson-O'Neill'. ~The Salk Institute,~ he sighed proudly. ~You're amazing, Little Danny. Punish you? I don't think so.~
Still distraught two days later, the middle Munchkin stared at the telephone. He knew he wasn't supposed to make phone calls without permission, but he really needed to. His parents had made up, at least for today. That was part of the problem. One day everything was perfect, and the next day it was so far from perfect that it was easy to forget that the day before had been good. Resigning himself to the fact that he was about to consciously break another one of the family rules, he took a breath, picked up the receiver, and dialed the direct line number he had memorized.
“Here's the contract, Karissa,” Lily Faberge stated as she entered the woman's office with the papers.
“Thanks, Lily. Are you sure it has all the changes?” Karissa asked, quickly adding, “Mister Danton insists on perfection.”
“Everything's there. He certainly isn't an easy man to deal with.”
“That's why I'm about to get on a plane to Albuquerque,” Karissa sighed.
Looking at her watch, Lily replied, “You'd better hurry.”
Karissa stood up, taking the papers and putting them into her briefcase. Just as she reached out for her coat, she heard her private phone line ring.
“Karissa, you only have thirty-five minutes,” Lily warned.
Concerned something might be wrong with a family member, Karissa picked up the phone and answered with an anxious, “Hello.”
“Rissa, are you busy?” Little Danny asked tentatively.
Karissa Lewis knew the tone of her young admirer's voice. Something was wrong. She also knew he wouldn't be calling her if he didn't truly need her.
“No, of course not,” Karissa answered, sitting back in her chair. “How are you?”
“Rissa, will you take me out to lunch? Please?”
“Well, sure. Let me talk with one of your fathers.” Karissa heard the silence, and that's when she knew for sure that Little Danny was scared about something. Without him telling her, it was clear that he'd made the phone call without permission. “You know what?”
“I have a contract that your fathers need to sign. It's really important,” Karissa stated, tapping on her briefcase as she thought about the Danton contract. “Why don't I come by in a few minutes and, um, I'll ask your parents about lunch?”
“I'll see you in a few minutes,” Karissa stated, smiling as she hung up the phone.
“Karissa ...” Lily began.
“Call the airline and see if you can get me on the four o'clock flight,” Karissa interrupted. “Call Mister Danton and tell him I've had a family emergency. You'd better make me a hotel reservation in case he decides to make this harder than it should be.” Standing up, she grabbed her coat and briefcase and headed for the door. “I'll call you later to verify.”
Lily nodded, curious who was on the phone that had such power to cause J-O Enterprises to potentially lose an important client.
“Hi, David,” Karissa greeted when the door opened. “I need to see your parents.”
“They're in the study,” David answered, letting the woman in.
Just as David and Karissa reached the living room, Daniel walked down the hallway and called out, “Karissa, is there a problem?”
“Problem? Well, I have a contract that you and Jack need to sign,” Karissa advised as she pulled out the paper and handed it to him.
With everything under control, David waved goodbye and headed back to the kitchen, where'd he been when he'd heard the knock on the door.
Daniel looked at the paper, his eyebrows arching in surprise. Just as he was about to question the visit, he heard another voice, and it explained the mystery.
“Hi, Karissa!” Little Danny greeted enthusiastically.
“Hi, Little Danny. How have you been?” the woman asked eagerly.
“I'm okay,” the woman's admirer answered.
“I was thinking about you earlier,” Karissa spoke. “Gee, it's been a long time since we've done anything together. Hey, how about lunch?” She looked up at her employer and asked, “Daniel, would it be all right if I took Little Danny out to lunch?”
Daniel looked at his namesake. He was wearing his best blue shirt and a new blazer. He was obviously expecting Karissa and wanted to look his best. Even though the boy's so-called crush on the woman had been set aside from the reality of their age difference, Little Danny still loved her. Everyone knew it.
“No, uh, I mean, sure. Jack and I will look this over and have it signed by the time you get back.”
“Great. Let's go,” Karissa said, smiling as she held out her hand, which Little Danny eagerly grasped. “I've missed you.”
“I've missed you, too.”
Daniel watched as the chattering pair left the house. Glancing at the contract, he shook his head and then returned to the study.
“Who was at the door?” Jack asked.
The archaeologist sat at the edge of the desk, fumbling with the paper as he answered, “Karissa. She said we need to sign this.”
Curious, Jack took the paper and scoffed, “It's a copy!”
“I know,” Daniel affirmed, nodding his head.
“Daniel, Karissa doesn't need us to sign this, even if it were the original,” Jack pointed out.
“You know that, and I know that, but ...”
“But what?” Jack asked a bit impatiently.
“Little Danny doesn't know that.”
Jack frowned a second before inquiring, “What does that mean?”
“Jack, I think he called her and asked her to come over,” Daniel answered.
“Isn't she supposed to be in New Mexico this afternoon to talk to this control freak?” Jack questioned, flopping the paper in his hands.
“Yes, but I'm guessing she got an SOS from our son and came right over. He was expecting her.”
“How do you know?”
“He was dressed in his best. Karissa asked if they could go to lunch after handing me this. I suspect that was the plan, to use this contract as an excuse for her visit and their lunch date.”
“Little Danny lied?”
“No. I didn't ask him anything, or her. I just decided to let them go. Jack, I've been thinking about the brood and the rules about the phone. They're getting older, and, well ...”
“They need some space.”
“I think so,” Daniel responded as he stood up. “I'm going to check on lunch.” Stopping in the doorway, he looked back at his Love and commented, “Karissa has priorities.”
“Apparently,” Jack acknowledged.
“And we're okay with that.”
“Apparently,” Jack repeated.
“Even though the Danton project is a million-dollar deal,” Daniel pointed out.
Nodding, Jack agreed, “Even though.”
“Just checking,” the archaeologist replied with a smile. “You know, she did get the Barnes account back.”
“There's that,” Jack acknowledged about the account that had been temporarily lost earlier in the year due to Karissa's devotion to Little Danny and a decision she'd made to spend time with him instead of adhering to business. It had been an emotional period, a time when the little boy realized that he had to let Karissa go. After all, she was a grown up, and he was a child. “He's a happy camper now.”
“So, we're agreed.”
Jack looked at the contract and dramatically held it out to the right, easing it down until the buzz of the paper shredder was heard.
“That's what I thought,” Daniel said, a pleased expression on his face before he finally went to check on their lunch. As he headed for the kitchen, he continued to smile. ~That felt ... normal.~
Unfortunately, the 'normal' moments were few and far between for the family these days, which was one of the reasons their child prodigy had felt the need to call Karissa.
~We have to figure this out,~ Daniel reminded himself, a sense of urgency in his mind, even though he realized the solution would be a slow moving one and not something immediate. ~Jack just needs more time. We'll be okay.~
“Hey, no holding out on me,” Karissa encouraged with a smile.
During lunch, Karissa and Little Danny had chitchatted about lighthearted things. He'd politely asked about her boyfriend, Darren St. James, and she'd answered and then quickly changed the subject, knowing that it was still a painful topic for the little boy. After lunch, they'd taken a walk, stopping at the park where they now were. They were sitting on the grass, facing each other. Karissa knew she was ruining her dress, but she didn't care about that, anymore than she did the Danton account. She had lots of dresses, but only one little boy who trusted her to keep his world together.
“I love having lunch with you, but you didn't call me just to have lunch. I'm here, and I'm listening.”
“Rissa, I'm scared.”
“Okay. What are you scared of?”
“We're all messed up.”
“Your parents?” Karissa questioned.
Little Danny nodded, but added, “All of us. Everybody's sad and scared. We don't know what to do.”
“Have you talked about it?”
With a shrug, the boy said, “We used to talk about everything. Daddy's taking us to see a counselor, Doctor Rich, but she doesn't understand.”
“Well, how many times have you seen her?”
“Little Danny, you know you have to give her a chance. I'm sure she wants to help you.”
“But she doesn't understand. You don't understand, either,” Little Danny sighed.
“What do you mean?”
“It's classified,” the boy sighed, leaning forward and putting his chin in his hands. “I want to tell you, but I can't, and we can't tell Doctor Rich for sure. She doesn't really know.”
Karissa wasn't sure what to say. She wasn't about to dismiss the comment. She remembered back to another time when Little Danny had said something similar. She had a feeling that it tied in to Cheyenne Mountain, and the work that Jack, Daniel, and even Megan did there, whatever that was.
“Tell you what. Let's not worry about what you can't tell me. Why don't you just tell me what you can,” Karissa urged.
“It's the chair, Dad's wheelchair. He doesn't like it, and that makes us not like it. I hate it, and I hate what it means.”
“That your dad can't walk anymore,” Karissa deduced.
“And that we can't do what we used to do. We don't want to, without Dad.”
“Playing games. Things like that?”
“Yes, and what I can't tell you that we used to do. It was special, but we can't do it without Dad.”
Karissa reached out and took the boy's hands while responding, “Danny, you're a strong person, just like your brothers and sisters are; and your parents are phenomenally strong. I'll bet, if you try, you'll figure out a way to do this ... thing that you used to do. Are you really sure that your dad being in a wheelchair means you can't ever do it again?”
“We can, but they won't let him.”
“The military?” Seeing the boy's sad nod, Karissa sighed for a second. “I'll bet you can find a way,” she insisted.
“Dad doesn't want to do anything, though. Rissa, he's so unhappy. He's tries to hide it sometimes, but he can't. Dad's not good at pretending.”
Karissa chuckled as she agreed, “No, your dad isn't good at covering it up when he's not happy.”
“Jenny and Ricky got into a big fight this morning.”
“They've fought before.”
Little Danny shook his head, saying, “Not like this. They made up, but it scared me. Dad's party was horrible, too. He was just mad at everybody, and he and Daddy had a big fight. Rissa, I'm just scared.”
“Come here,” Karissa beckoned, welcoming the boy into a comforting embrace.
“Give your dad some time, okay? He'll find himself again, and when he does, everything will settle down. I know it's hard, and it's scary, but this is a big change for your family. You have to have faith and believe in that J-O magic that your family has. It's special, Little Danny, just like you are. Nothing will defeat it, nothing. You just have to work hard, review your options, and keep on believing. Can you do that?”
“I love you, Rissa.”
“I love you, too,” Karissa responded, smiling as she enjoyed this special time with the young boy. ~Forget Danton; Little Danny needs reassurance.~ “Hey, let's go to the museum and take in that new exhibit?”
“We sure can.”
“Then we went to the museum,” Little Danny reported excitedly to his parents later that afternoon.
“I should have called, but we were having such a good time,” Karissa stated as she stood in the living room.
“Did you have fun?” Daniel asked his namesake.
“Lots of fun.”
“Good,” Daniel responded with a smile. “Do you feel better?”
“I wish we could tell her about the ...” Little Danny stopped abruptly and changed the direction of his answer to something more simple and direct. “Yes, I feel better.”
“What was that?” Jack asked sharply.
“Jack,” Daniel warned, immediately sensing his Love's mood had just done another of its one-eightys.
“I want to know what he just said,” Jack insisted.
“It was nothing,” Karissa interjected.
“How do you know?”
“Dad, don't yell at Rissa,” Little Danny stated strongly.
“Don't use that tone with me. Go to your room” Jack ordered.
“I'm not allowed to send my own son to his room? Are you telling me I can't even do that?”
“Don't fight! I'll go,” Little Danny sniffled. He hugged Karissa, saying, “I'm sorry.”
Watching the visibly upset youngster run up the stairs, Karissa turned and looked at Jack with anger as she questioned accusingly, “Why did you do that?”
“I'm his father.”
“That's enough, Jack!” Daniel ordered, upset at the situation that was occurring.
“He didn't tell me anything about your secret, whatever it is, so don't look at me like that,” Karissa stated in a half-raised voice. “Look, for years, I've known that there's ... something that you two were involved in. I think Megan was as well, but I've never asked, and your children haven't said anything. All Little Danny said is that he wished I knew.”
“It's none of your business!” Jack shouted.
“General, that little boy is afraid that your family is falling apart, and he just needed a little encouragement that things would get better. I had him believing that, and you just ... I've had enough, and so has the rest of your family.” Karissa straightened, her stance proud and determined. “I quit. I'll leave my letter of resignation on your desk at the office.”
“Karissa, wait,” Daniel said, reaching out and taking her arm. “Please.”
“I love that little boy, Daniel, and if he's going to get in trouble now, just for talking to me, then it's best that I just ... go away.”
“Oh, don't make it out to be such a big deal,” Jack stated, his tone whiny and accusing as he turned his wheelchair towards the fireplace.
“Jack, apologize to Karissa -- *now*!” Daniel exclaimed, becoming angrier by the minute at the man's childish attitude.
Jack spun the chair back around and was about to argue when he noticed the look of sheer disgust on the woman's face, like she had just stepped into a fresh pile of horse manure up to her ankle in designer shoes. It was like a cold pan of water had just been thrown on him. Calming himself as quickly as possible, he worked to regain control of his emotions. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“I'm sorry, okay?” Jack took another breath, knowing he still wasn't sounding sincere enough. He felt sincere; it just wasn't coming out right. “Look, the truth is, I'm not handling this situation very well, and I took it out on you just now.”
“Not me, Jack, your son.”
“I'll talk to him,” Jack sighed. “Karissa, stay; don't quit because of my growling.”
“I don't mean to get into your business,” Karissa began as she looked at the two men, “but he told me that the big birthday party was a bust and that you were mad at everyone. They worked hard on that party, Jack, and you ruined it. You may not be handling this well, but neither are your children, especially when their parents fight right in front of them. I won't stand here and watch that, and I won't work for someone who treats a beautiful child so badly.”
Jack stared at the woman, acknowledging silently how much confidence she'd gained over the years. Then again, she had been a hard worker even before being hired by J-O Enterprises.
“Karissa, I apologize. J-O needs you, and ... our son needs you.” Jack cleared his throat. These moments were always difficult for him. Opening up was something reserved for Daniel and their children. Plus, being vulnerable was an emotion he hated and tried to hide from everyone. Still, he knew he had to be honest now or their valued employee, and friend, would walk out of their lives forever. “I'm trying, and that's all I can say right now, but about that secret, if you'll take a seat and give your crusty employer another chance, we have a tale to tell you,” he said, looking at Daniel for a reaction and getting a nod.
“I'm not asking ...”
“Our son has wanted you to know for years,” Jack interrupted. “You just said you wanted us to do what's best for him, right? Isn't that what you were saying, even though you might not have spoken those words?”
“Yes, that's what I was saying.”
“Sit, but you might not believe what we're about to tell you.”
Sitting down, Karissa responded, “Well, I've always assumed it was just something you did, or do, for the government.”
“That's true.” Jack went over to the intercom and pushed one of the buttons. “Little Danny, please come downstairs.”
A minute later, the red-faced, teary-eyed boy appeared.
“Come here, Son.” Jack waited until the boy was right in front of him. Then he reached out and wiped away the tears. “I'm sorry for yelling at you. It wasn't your fault. I'm having a lot of problems right now, but it's not your fault, and it has nothing to do with whatever you said to Karissa.”
“I didn't tell her anything.”
“I know that, but I'm going to,” Jack stated.
“You are?” the boy asked, an upward lift of hope in his tone.
“I am, or would you like to tell her about our secret?”
His eyes drying, even as they widened, Little Danny asked, “Can I? What about General Hank? He might be mad.”
“I'll take care of General Hank. Go on. Tell Karissa about it, and we'll be right here to back you up.”
Little Danny looked up at Daniel, who smiled and nodded encouragingly. His tears forgotten, the boy hurried over to the sofa and sat down.
“Rissa, it's the Stargate. It's this big circle that ...”
**The next time I make one of our kids cry, hit me.**
**I was just about to do that.**
**You were not,** Jack responded in disbelief.
**Yes, I was.**
**Was,** Daniel insisted. “It's complicated,” he responded to Karissa, who had just asked how the Stargate worked.
“Dad says it's worms,” Little Danny chuckled.
“Earthworms,” Jack quipped as the discussion went on.
“Karissa, where have you been?” Lily asked as the woman entered her office.
“On a magical mystery tour,” Karissa answered cryptically. “I suppose we've lost the account,” she sighed, sitting down in her chair, her coat still on. “I sure hope I don't run J-O into bankruptcy. What is Daniel thinking?”
“That you're one powerful business woman who can keep J-O going until he and Jack are ready to come back to work.”
Karissa looked up, the smile on her face forming slowly, her mouth open in surprise, as she processed what she'd seen and heard.
“*Megan*!” Karissa shouted, getting up and running over to her dear friend and occasional co-worker. Hugging her excitedly, she asked, “What are you doing here?” As she pulled back, she asked almost hysterically, “And please tell me you're coming back. Here, take it,” she laughed, looking over at her desk in the office that had once belonged to Megan Williams.
Megan laughed as well, hugging Karissa again as she responded, “I miss it here.”
“How's Yazid?” Karissa asked about Megan's husband, Yazid Awad, who was still the assistant to Abayomi Shariff, J-O's biggest and best client.
“Maybe not so good this second, but he's good,” Megan chuckled, knowing Karissa wasn't understanding, but not wanting to talk about it at the office. “What's going on here?”
“Megan, it's awful,” Karissa answered, letting her real feelings come up and noticing that Lily had closed the door, discreetly leaving the two women alone. “Daniel's barely been here. He can't even think about business much. He tries, but he basically just told me to handle everything. *Everything*, Megan.”
“Want some help?”
“Please!” Karissa exclaimed happily. “We've grown so much. We have clients begging for our services.”
“Where do you need me?” Megan asked, her voice steady and confident. “And don't tell me you need me to take over. You know this job as well as I do; I know, because I trained you.”
“It's just too much for one person. When Jack and Daniel were here, overseeing everything, it was fine, but I'm making all the decisions. Megan, I'm scared I'm making the wrong ones.”
“I seriously doubt you've made a single wrong choice,” Megan stated. “When I walked in, everyone was busy, doing their jobs. There's no chaos.”
“There is in my head,” Karissa laughed nervously. “These are million-dollar deals, Megan. I'm used to handling the how-to, who-to, and when-to. I'm even used to negotiating the 'what we need' aspect, but signing the papers, deciding who to say no to because we just don't have the manpower right now: that's where I hesitate. Whose million is more important?”
“I have a hunch you're doing better than you think. You're just used to Jack or Daniel being here to say 'good choice'.”
“Maybe,” Karissa admitted. “I've got a stack of reports I haven't been able to go through. Megan, I know what I need. I need three of me, and since I can't do that, I need you.”
“Done,” Megan laughed. “Where do we start?”
“I'm trying, Danny. Be patient with me,” Jack pleaded late that night while saying goodnight to his son. “I love you so much.”
“It's okay, Dad. I love you, too,” Little Danny said as the two hugged.
Although the little boy was still hesitant around his older father, he knew that Jack still loved him, regardless of his attitude.
“It's not okay, Son,” Jack refuted strongly. “I was wrong for yelling at you.”
“It's okay, Dad,” the boy assured for the fifth time since that afternoon.
“I love you,” Jack repeated, squeezing the boy tightly. “You know what else? I'm glad we told Karissa about the Stargate.”
Little Danny grinned and laughed, “She looked funny when I told her about Thor.”
“She's used to seeing little gray butts on television,” Jack chuckled in reply.
“Dad, can Rissa meet Lya someday?”
“We'll see,” Jack replied. “Get some sleep. I love you.”
“Jack, I know you've apologized; that's not what I'm talking about. It's like you're that colonel from our first mission to Abydos again,” Daniel spoke as he sat on the couple's bed, his legs beneath him as he faced his lover, who was seated up against the headboard.
“What more do you want me to say?”
“Nothing. I don't want you to say anything. All I'm asking is for you to try a little harder not to react first and think later.”
“I'm doing the best that I can,” Jack replied, his face tight from the frustration he was feeling.
“What more do you want?” Jack yelled.
“I'd like to be able to have a discussion with my husband that doesn't end up as a shouting match. That's what I want,” Daniel explained quietly, getting up and putting on his robe. “I'm getting some coffee. Do you want some?”
“You won't sleep.”
“That's nothing new,” Daniel retorted, walking out of the bedroom.
Daniel couldn't take it anymore. The children needed him to be strong to protect them from their self-doubting father. The first step was insisting on the remodeling. Of course, Jack was refusing to even listen to the options his lover was trying to present.
“Jack, we don't have a choice.”
“Daniel, we took a long time making sure this house was just the way we wanted it. I don't want to tear it up because of this dang contraption.”
“That *wheelchair* is helping you to get around and giving you freedom.”
“I don't want to tear up our house.”
“Jack,” Daniel said, pausing to regain his composure. “We have to change things so that you can get around.”
“No!” Jack exclaimed, turning his wheelchair around and rolling toward kitchen to escape the ongoing argument.
“Great!” Daniel exclaimed sarcastically. “Some Mr. Fix-it, you are, Jack. How are you going to be any good to me or our children, if you can't fix this ridiculous attitude of yours? Jack? Jack!”
Daniel's head dropped. His life was falling apart, and he definitely wasn't Super Daniel.
As the morning went on, Daniel discovered he couldn't handle anything, not even a request for a snack coming from his daughter that came about an hour after the argument with Jack.
“I didn't eat very much for breakfast,” Lulu admitted. ~Dad was shouting too much.~
“Lulu, Honey, please. Jus...just have an apple and practice your dancing, okay?”
“Okay, Daddy,” the young girl responded before turning around, grabbing an apple from the bowl on the table, and heading towards the dance studio. ~I'm not really that hungry anyway, I guess.~
Daniel sighed. He was running out of patience for everything, but he knew he needed to do something if his children were going to end up being at the brunt of his bad moods in addition to Jack's grumpiness. They were already paying a high price for their dad's inability to deal with his physical handicap.
Try as he might, Jack was a high maintenance patient, going from dealing with his paralysis rationally to feeling such despair that he wished he could reach the hidden gun cabinet, something that Daniel was happy he couldn't do.
“Daddy,” Little Danny called out as he approached his father.
“Sproglet, I don't have ...”
“I really need you do something for me,” Little Danny interrupted.
“What is it?” Daniel asked, hoping he was sounding patient instead of as impatient as he felt.
“Will you take me to our special place?”
Daniel stared at his namesake for a moment and then replied, “Little Danny, I'd really like to, but ...”
“It's important, Daddy. Just for a little while. *Please,*” the child implored, his face somber and begging for a 'yes' answer.
Daniel sighed, taking a big breath as he cocked his head and agreed, “Okay.”
After informing Jack of their plans, the father and son got into the Silver Fox and headed for Pike's Peak, to the place where Jack and Daniel often found peace in their nation of two. It was a place Jack had introduced his lover to early on in their relationship. It was where Sara had first discovered the truth about her ex-husband's romantic relationship with the archaeologist. It was also a place where Jack and Daniel brought their brood to for special times, like their balloon days, when the children sent messages to their deceased loved ones.
When they got out of the car, Daniel watched with curiosity as his son pulled out the large garbage bag that he'd brought with them. It was full of something, but Daniel hadn't a clue what it was.
“Do you want me to carry that?” Daniel asked, not sure how much his son was ready to tell him about their mission there.
“I can carry it,” the little boy responded confidently.
The two walked casually, talking about nature and archaeological things until the reached the spot where they sometimes picnicked. It was a secluded area, and it was rare for anyone else to be in the area.
“Here, Daddy,” Little Danny said, kneeling down on the ground to open the bag.
The boy pulled out his tattered pillow that he'd kept hidden from his parents since hitting it against the wheelchair days earlier. Then he took out some smaller items, including another pillow that he'd taken from the hall closet.
Daniel watched with curiosity as Little Danny took a large photograph of a wheelchair and bound it to one of the trees.
“Daddy, come here,” the child ordered.
Not sure what to expect, Daniel walked over and asked, “What, uh ... what's this?”
“Do this, Daddy,” the little boy instructed. He then proceeded to whack the photograph with his pillow, while yelling that he hated it. “It'll help.”
Confused, Daniel asked, “Son, I ...”
“Shouting is good, just like hitting this. I've researched it,” the little boy added, as if that would make it sound more acceptable to his father.
“You have?” Daniel asked, raising his eyebrows.
“On the internet, and ...” the young genius looked down, a hint of guilt on his face as he paused.
“Little Danny? What is it?”
The boy looked up, gathering his strength and then explained, “I did it.” He held up his pillow so that his father could see how it was torn. “I hit Dad's wheelchair. I yelled at it.”
Daniel knelt down so that he could look the boy in the eye and asked, “When?”
“A few days ago,” Little Danny answered. “Jenny and Ricky had a big fight, and then Jonny and I argued over the chemistry set. We never argue, not like that. I was angry, Daddy. I ran to tell you and Dad, but you weren't there. Just the wheelchair was there.”
Daniel thought back and interjected, “Dad went to therapy, and we were trying out a different chair to see if he liked it better.”
The youngster nodded and continued, “When I saw it, I wanted it to go away. Daddy, I hate the chair. I mean, it helps Dad, but I hate it. I felt all bad inside, and it was because of the wheelchair. Then I yelled it, and then I got my pillow and I hit it.”
“You must have hit it pretty hard.”
“I did,” Little Danny admitted quietly. “But then I felt better, a lot better.”
Nodding, the boy asserted, “You need to yell at it, too, Daddy, because you hate it as much as I do.”
“Don't you hate it? Hate it more than anything?” Little Danny challenged, his eyes boring into the father he was named after and reminding him of Jack. “Don't you hate it so much that you could scream? Just a little?”
The earnestness in his son's eyes was overwhelming for the archaeologist. A tear emerged, but he wiped it away and looked down.
“Hit it, Daddy. Tell it how you feel,” Little Danny ordered, picking up the pillow from the closet and handing it to his father and then walking away, giving Daniel plenty of room.
Daniel gripped the pillow, more tightly than he'd expected to. He looked over at his son, seeing the anticipation in his eyes.
“Do it, Daddy,” Little Danny called out. “You have to do it.”
Breathing hard, much as his son had done when he'd yelled at the actual wheelchair, Daniel stood up. He really shouldn't do this. It was ridiculous and crazy. What good would it do?
Then, Daniel closed his eyes. He remembered something from his past, from before the children were born, when Jack had set up a board of demons, so to speak. Back then, he'd thought that was ridiculous and silly, too, but destroying those demon representations had helped tremendously. Maybe this would, too.
~I can't, not in front of Little Danny. I have to stay in control. I have ...~
“Daddy, it's okay. I love you, Daddy.”
“Gawd!” Daniel gasped, realizing he was going to follow through and do it. In the few seconds that his son had walked away and begun to encourage him, Daniel's frustrations and emotions had surfaced. Every pressure and every conflict was at the forefront of his mind and heart. His fears and doubts about the future, his struggle to maintain a strong and stable presence in his home and business, his desperate desire for his and Jack's nation of two to return to normal -- all of this bubbled and was threatening to erupt. ~What's going on?~
“You'll feel better, Daddy. No one will know. It's okay. I love you, Daddy,” Little Danny called out encouragingly.
Suddenly, Daniel hit the picture with the pillow. He stopped, staring at it, wondering why he'd done it. With his son looking on, Daniel did it again, and again, and again until he had no more energy left.
“I hate you!” the anguished archaeologist cried out as he crumpled to the ground, exhausted from his attack.
Little Danny ran over, collapsing over his father, his arms around him as he comforted, “It's okay now. You did good, Daddy. I love you.”
With a nervous laugh of disbelief at his actions, Daniel drew his son as close as he could, letting the remnants of the pillow fall to the ground, though there wasn't much left of it. The picture had long ago been torn and swatted away from the tree.
“I love you, too,” Daniel cried into the boy's neck.
Minutes passed as the two held onto each other, just letting the day travel on and their reality calm. They moved slightly, the boy settling in on his father's lap as they sat on the grass.
“You and Jonny argued?” Daniel finally asked.
“I apologized later. He did, too. I told him to hit the chair, but he's too stubborn.”
“What about the Spitfires?”
“I don't know what they were mad about, but they made up, too,” Little Danny reported. “It was just silly stuff, like with Jonny and me.”
“Hey, why did you ask me to bring you here? Why not ask me to do this at home?” Daniel queried.
“You wouldn't do it there, not if Dad could see you, or JD,” Little Danny answered.
“You're right.” Daniel was amazed at his son's perceptiveness, but he was still curious about something. “Son, how did you know I needed this?”
“Because ...” Little Danny paused, trying to decide how to phrase his answer without offending his younger father.
“It's okay. Tell me.”
“Because you're trying to be Dad and Daddy, and run J-O, and you almost yelled at Lulu, and you never yell at us, not ever. You're stressed, Daddy. I figured if it made me feel better then it would make you feel better, too.”
“You're right again,” Daniel sighed, kissing the top of the boy's head as he held him close. “Danny, are all your brothers and sisters angry, too?”
“I think so, but no one says it out loud, except for Noa. She's not afraid to say she's scared, but then we take care of her, and no one else says anything.”
Daniel nodded, happy that Chenoa was admitting her feelings and unhappy that the others were probably covering up emotions that needed desperately to be released.
“Do you tell Doctor Rich how you feel?” Daniel questioned, referring to the children's therapist.
“What does she say?”
Little Danny shrugged.
Daniel sensed there was something more to the gesture, and he had a hunch he needed to know what it was.
“Talk to me, Sproglet.”
“Well, everyone's trying to be strong, for each other. It's a brood thing.”
“Oh,” Daniel responded. “So, no one is really telling Doctor Rich the truth?”
“We're not lying, Daddy. It's just ...”
“... You have to be strong,” Daniel completed for the youngster, immediately feeling the nod against his chest. “Did you tell Doctor Rich about hitting the wheelchair?”
“Yes, but all she said was that I should talk more and let out my feelings,” Little Danny answered. “Daddy, isn't that what I was doing?”
“Yes, it was,” Daniel answered. ~Time to talk to the doctor.~
“Daddy, I think we just need each other, like always, but ...”
“... but everyone's trying to protect one another and pretending that our life is like it was before the accident,” Daniel surmised softly as he began to realize the family was on a wrong path. “Gawd, I'm sorry,” he said, holding the boy close.
“It's not your fault, Daddy. It's not Dad's, either.”
“No, it's not, but I've made some mistakes,” Daniel responded. “Hey, I have an idea. Let's go shopping.”
“Yeah, shopping. Come on, Son,” Daniel said, gently encouraging the boy to get up.
“Daddy, the picture and pillow stuffings,” Little Danny urged, concerned about cleaning up the beautiful environment.
With a smile, Daniel replied, “See if you can find the pieces of paper, while I load up the pillow ... stuffings.”
“Okay,” the boy agreed happily as he looked around for the photo remnants.
Back at the house, Sam had come over with Kevin to visit Jack. Aside from just the pleasure of the visit, it was highly beneficial for the autistic youngster to mix and mingle with the very intelligent and caring brood.
“Look, Carter, now's not the best time,” Jack complained from his spot in the recreation room. He hadn't even looked at his friend and her son. Instead, he was tossing seeds inside Ptolemy's cage. ~Dang bird isn't even talking to me anymore.~
“Sir, Kevin's been talking a lot about that trip to Egypt and seeing the pyramids,” Sam commented with a smile, her hands on Kevin's shoulders.
Holding a small wooden pyramid in his hands, Kevin interjected, “Pyramids are triangles. We're going to see the pyramids. Uncle Jack, when are we going?”
Sam bit her lip, brushing back her emotions. Though Kevin still responded to her more than anyone else, since Jack's promise of a trip to Egypt, he'd started talking more whenever Jack was around, and it was always about the pyramids. This was the most he'd said this week, and he'd said it with enthusiasm.
“Your parents can take you,” Jack groused, still not looking at the boy.
Kevin ran up to the wheelchair, totally undaunted by the response, and asked, “When are we going to see the pyramids? I like pyramids. Can we go soon?”
“No, we can't,” Jack barked, throwing an entire handful of seed into Ptolemy's cage with such force that the hyacinth macaw squawked at the action. “There's nothing special about those things. Only geeks care about them, and I'm *not* a geek! They're just mud and bricks.”
The boy blinked and became silent and still, the complete anthesis of what he'd just been.
At that moment, Jennifer happened to walk in, saying a casual, “Hi, Aunt Sam.”
“Jennifer, would you please take Kevin outside for me?”
“Sure, but ...” Jennifer stopped. She'd never seen the harsh expression that was on her aunt's face. She also took notice of Kevin, who still hadn't moved. Walking over to the boy, she called out, “Kevin?” Smiling, she repeated, “Kevin? Hey, why don't we go outside and play?” Alarmed by the complete silence and non-reaction, she looked over at Sam and realized something was indeed very wrong. “Come on, Kevin,” she said, picking up the child and heading outside.
“Carter, get lost,” Jack ordered once his daughter had left with the boy.
“You promised Kevin that trip,” Sam replied patiently, trying to keep her temper in check.
“What am I going to do on a trip to Egypt?” Jack snapped, turning his wheelchair ninety degrees and wheeling away from Sam.
“This isn't about you, Sir. This is about my son,” Sam asserted emotionally.
“*Your* son, and he doesn't need me.”
“He's responding to you,” Sam argued as she hurried forward, moving so that Jack could see her.
Turning again to not face the blonde, Jack retorted, “Must be the wheelchair. Just take him to Egypt yourself.”
Sam stared for a moment. She'd never felt this way before, and she wasn't even sure what it was. Something inside of her was about to boil over.
“Pyramids. What's so great about those things anyway? Ra and Hathor and ...”
“Your husband!” Sam exclaimed, referring to Daniel's love and appreciation for Egyptian pyramids. “I've had it with you.”
Stunned by the outburst, Jack watched as Sam walked over to him and leaned forward, physically preventing him from changing the direction of the chair.
“This isn't about you, *Jack*,” Sam stated harshly. “You're so full of pity for yourself that you can't see straight. Gawd. You're surrounded by children who love and adore you, and you have a husband who is doing everything he can to make life easier for you, and you're not even noticing how much he's keeping inside, but you know what? I don't care about any of that right now.”
“Shut up, Ca...”
“Shut up yourself,” Sam countered angrily. “Isn't that what you told Daniel once upon a time? To shut up, because he was aggravating you? He was right, though, wasn't he?” she challenged with a sneer.
Jack tried to look away, but Sam physically shook the wheelchair, prompting him to stare back at her.
Her face tightening, Sam continued, “You're a selfish man, Jack O'Neill. You don't care about anyone but yourself.”
“You don't know what you're talking about,” Jack shouted back. “You aren't the one confined to a chair pad on wheels and having bowel accidents in front of your children.”
Having had enough of Jack's self-pity, the weary woman exploded, letting out the anger and disappointment she felt towards someone she'd loved and respected for years.
“Okay, *Jack*,” Sam began. “You're an invalid. Is that what you want to hear?” Raising her voice and her arms up to the ceiling, looking about as if she were addressing the entire world, the angry female shouted, “Alright then. The Great and Fearless Jack O'Neill, Savior of Earth times seven, destroyer of Goa'uld, is an *invalid*! Happy now?”
Totally taken aback by the fury in the woman's tone and demeanor, Jack simply listened. For the first time since he'd heard her rant about hormones during their first meeting, he felt a disconnect and disregard from Sam.
In a voice that was softer, but furiously even, Sam's verbal rampage continued, “But it's *not* that frickin' chair that holds you captive, Jack; it's your own puny, stubborn, *tiny* little mind because you refuse to see how blessed you still are and how rich your life could still be. Look around you, at all the love this house holds and all the material possessions you have that make each day a little easier than at least half the world out there.”
For a moment, Jack reflected back on Kayla Armentrout and her deep desire that her children never forget their blessings. One of her last requests had been for Jack and Daniel to take their children to India, for a look at what the joy of living is all about, should they ever take their good fortune for granted. Had he become a victim of the very thing he'd been worried about the kids doing?
“There are thousands of able-bodied people who would trade places with you in a second, if they could have the life you've had and could still have.”
Still stunned by the onslaught, Jack pulled back in his chair. The words were hitting too close to home. He needed to retreat and to attack back.
“Promises are broken every day,” Jack refuted. “Better that he learn now,” he said harshly, turning away and knowing he'd just crossed another line. ~Why? Why am I doing this?~
“You egotistical jerk,” Sam retorted. “It's *not* all about you. You're not the center of the universe, and you may wish you were dead, but you're not. Those children love and need you, and they're doing their best to be there for you. You're the one kicking at their emotions. I can't believe how little you're thinking about them, or your promise to Kevin.”
“Carter!” Jack exclaimed, trying to back away.
“Shanahan! It's a name I'm proud of, so get it right,” Sam ordered, arguing as loudly and boldly as she ever had before.
“I don't care what you call yourself. Get out of my house!”
“Jerk!” Sam exclaimed as she quickly made her way over to Jack's wheelchair again. Staring down at him, she leaned forward, again taking hold of the chair. “You once said you spent your life sticking it to the man and that you didn't think you could be the man. So, what's going on, Jack? You tired of not having anyone to trample on, so you've lowered yourself to the ground so you can break a child's heart? Sticking it to the kids? Is that what being a man means to you now?”
~Stop!~ Jack screamed, though he couldn't open his mouth to scream the command. Desperately, he tried to wheel backwards, but Sam's grip on the chair tightened. “Let go!” he screamed, feeling a desperation and vulnerability he wasn't used to.
With a wicked smile that reminded Jack of Replicator Sam, the furious blonde shook the chair to keep the man's focus on her and the chair from moving.
“You're not going anywhere until *I'm* finished,” Sam ordered sternly.
~If she'd had this type of nerve a decade ago, she'd be a general herself by now,~ Jack opined, trying to think about anything other than the truth being spoken.
“My son -- *my son* -- responded to you. You *know* what that means, but what do you do? You turned your back on him and destroyed the one thing he was believing in. How *dare* you do that after all we've been through! With everything that I've done for your family, everything *you* have asked me to do for all of you, you can't even return the favor when it's *my* son that needs something.”
~It's not like I didn't send her a fruit basket every secretary's day,~ the general snarked bitterly, still doing anything he could to avoid hearing things he just didn't want to hear.
“Years! For *years*, I've covered for you. I was the front for you and Daniel, purposely letting people gossip about me, saying rude, crude things that most women wouldn't put up with for a week, let alone for almost a decade. I supported you *even* when you ordered me to build a bomb that could have killed Daniel, knowing you were in the wrong. I backed you when ordered Sergeant Davis to shut down the Stargate, knowing full well that Alar was going to follow and be killed. I've repeatedly disobeyed orders for you. Never once have I complained about that, and I'm not now. I don't regret my career or my choices, but I've never been so angry and disappointed in someone in my life, not even my own father, whom I blamed most of my life for not being there for my mother. I've respected you, Jack, unquestioningly, even when you were so wrong that I had to bury the truth deep within me so I wouldn't explode.”
“Nice history lesson,” Jack whispered, his head bowed.
Sam let out an astonished, emotional laugh as she replied, “I've never asked you for anything; not one thing, and I've been there for you, at a personal cost that I can't calculate, but you've put an end to that. You turned your back on my son.” Without warning, the angry blonde pushed the wheelchair backwards. With a hardened heart and a cold fury, she added, “And I'm turning my back on you now.” Standing erect, she walked a few steps towards the door and then turned back around. “You're a bitter, spiteful man, Jack O'Neill. Worse, you're that old man you always professed to be, but unlike most old men and women who deserve it, you're hardly someone to be revered. I feel sorry for you.”
“At least you can feel something,” Jack groused, totally aware his statement was uncalled for and totally out of context. ~Bad, O'Neill. Can't even come up with a decent comeback.~
“I suggest you consider removing the gate in the backyard. They'll be a new owner of our home soon. I don't want my children around you anymore, any more than I want my husband in prison for murder.”
~Crap,~ Jack sighed. He'd gone too far, and he knew it. Still, the man was too wrapped up in his own bitterness to respond as he should. ~I can't do it. I can't live like this. She doesn't understand. No one understands this hell I'm in.~
Giving her one-time friend a distasteful glare, Sam added one last parting shot. “You don't need to worry about not being able to use your legs, you're slithering just fine!”
With a last stare, Sam turned and stormed through the kitchen, passing by Billy, who had just entered. She said nothing, not even responding to his polite 'hello'.
“Bro, what happened?” Billy asked as he walked into the recreation room.
“I was insulted,” Jack spat, turning away.
“Well deserved, I'm sure,” the older O'Neill responded, having a hunch that maybe it was time for Jack to get a grip on reality.
“Billy, don't you have a ranch to run,” Jack barked.
“Yeah, as a matter of fact I do. Jilly and I are leaving this weekend,” the man informed his younger brother. “We've been here quite a while, Jack, and we haven't done any good for you, much to my disappointment. You don't seem to want us here, either, so it's time for us to go.”
Swallowing, Jack nodded and replied with a soft and tentative, “Good. Good.”
The general tried to avoid feeling abandoned by his older brother, but knew that he had pushed him away time and again throughout the ordeal.
“But first, Bucko, we're going to have a little talk,” Billy stated as he sat down. “Turn that thing around and look at me.”
“Why wait until the weekend?” Jack snarked, successfully stuffing his feelings.
“Jack, turn that blasted thing around, or I'll do it for you,” Billy ordered sternly. He waited until his brother complied and was facing him. “Good choice.”
“Yeah, well, I can't really fight you, can I?”
“Not with that attitude, you can't. I never thought I'd say this to you, but you can't hide from the truth. You're a weakling, Jack, and I'm surprised by that. I thought I taught you better, and I *know* Mom and Dad did.”
“Wanna change places?” Jack asked sarcastically.
Jack stared at his brother in shock.
“I'll tell you why, Brother,” Billy began. “I'm tougher than you are. I'm not eager to lose my legs. I live on a sprawling cattle ranch that requires a lot of work, mental and physical. A lot of folks rely on me to do my part so they can get paid. Then there's my Jilly.” He smiled, thinking about her and their life together. “I wouldn't want to burden her.”
“No, Jack, that's where you're wrong. Sure, it would be tougher on her, but I'm not a burden. I'm her husband. There's nothing stopping you from being Daniel's husband. What's your problem, Jack? Sex?”
“That's none of your business,” Jack answered loudly and angrily.
“You think to make your husband happy you have to be able to stick yourself up his behind?”
Laughing, Billy went on, saying, “Can't perform like you think you should, so you run and hide behind that chair. Coward.”
“Shut up, Billy.”
“Whining, sniffling, coward -- that's what you are, Bro. You've spun your life into the toilet because you can't get Daniel all orgasmic without a little help. We shared a room growing up, remember? You didn't have any difficulty giving yourself a hand then; I know I sure didn't. What are you -- too proud, too grown up now?”
“I told you to shut up!” Jack shouted, wheeling the chair forward until it bumped into the sofa sectional that Billy was standing by.
“Like I'm scared,” Billy laughed, making himself shake in mock fear. “Your marriage is reduced to sex. No depth. Love doesn't matter. Those kids don't matter. They're just kids. What do they know, right?” Letting his head rear back as he laughed dramatically, he then hunched over so Jack could see his mocking expression up close and continued, “Nothing matters if Jackie Boy can't get 'er up on his own.”
“Why you ...”
Jack lunged forward, practically falling into his brother's arms. His hands reached out for his brother's neck.
Billy stopped the assault, standing them both up straight and grabbing the hands of his brother, holding them firmly. He shifted slightly, with Jack a bit to his left. It was a good thing the older O'Neill was in excellent shape physically because he had the full weight of his sibling on him.
“Is that who you are, Bro?” Billy asked softly, staring into Jack's brown eyes while the wheels of the chair still spun from the erratic movement of its user. “*Are* you a coward? Are you really nothing more than what's dangling between your legs? Is life a bodily function and nothing more?”
“You don't understand,” Jack responded with a cracking voice.
“Jack, I've talked to the docs. Now, I don't know the *ins* and *outs* of exactly what you guys do to make it happen for you, and I don't want to, but from what they tell me, there's a lot you can do to keep that thrill going. They tell me that there are drugs and devices that can help you, so stop pushing Daniel away, and stop lying to yourself and your children. You're hurting, and so are they. *Tell* them, Jack.”
“Mind your own business!” Jack spat. “I should have left you on Plantacia,” he stated harshly in a desperate attempt to get his brother to leave him alone. “If it's not a problem with crops, you can't handle it or the real world. I'm *not* a man anymore. Don't you know what that means? Maybe you don't! Maybe you lost it on that little asteroid you lived that fantasy world on.”
Billy reached over with his right hand, his fist grabbing hold of Jack's gray shirt so that the back of his hand was just under the right side of his brother's chin.
“You're a scared, sorrowful, miserable coward, Jack,” Billy stated angrily, hitting Jack with the backside of his hand and essentially sending his brother sprawling onto the sofa. “Up until today, there wasn't anything you could have said or done that'd cause me to lose pride and respect for you. Mom and Dad would be ashamed.” Motioning towards the wheelchair, he stated, “I'd help you, but you don't want help. You're a d...” Billy paused, hearing a noise that might mean some of the children were entering the house. Quickly, he altered his words. “You're an idiot, Jack, nothing more than another Richard Cranium.”
Billy walked away, going straight for the guestroom and slamming the door behind him, leaving Jack on the sofa, and the wheelchair out of his reach and on its side.
“Billy! Billy, get back here!” Jack yelled to no avail. ~Who the heck is Richard Cranium. Richard. I don't know any Dick Cranium. Dick. Cra...~ He blinked as he made the connection between the two names. ~My brother just called me a ...~
Having heard loud voices, Jennifer had entered the house and walked carefully towards the noise. She'd held back, though, until she'd heard the sound of the guestroom door slam shut. Then she rushed into the recreation room and was surprised at the sight she beheld.
“Dad, are you all right?”
“Peachy,” Jack snarked. “Get my chair.”
Jennifer began to do as her father had asked, but then she stopped, wondering if it was time to take a stance of her own. She'd witnessed her Aunt Sam, more emotionally distressed than she'd ever seen her before. From the little she'd been able to ascertain, it was all due to her older father's attitude. She'd also heard some of the fight between Jack and Billy, enough to know her father was crossing some lines he shouldn't be. She wasn't a little girl anymore, and if there was one thing she'd learned from her parents, it was to stand up for what she believed, no matter what.
“Dad, I want to say something to you,” the young woman began. “I love you, and I've always had so much respect for you and Daddy, but right now, I don't respect you, and I don't want to help you.”
“Jennifer, get that chair,” Jack ordered.
Shaking her head, Jennifer responded, “I'm sorry, Dad. I'm not sure how you got there, but I heard you and Uncle Billy shouting.”
“Heard what?” Jack asked cautiously.
“Well, for one thing, I heard him call you a coward, and I heard why,” Jennifer answered truthfully. “You're wrong, Dad.”
“Wrong about what?”
“Jennifer, I will *not* have this discussion with you,” Jack stated. “*Get* my chair.”
“Daddy married you, all of you, not just your penis.”
“Jennifer Renee ...” Jack began with widened eyes of shock at his daughter's words and expression.
Calmly, Jennifer went to the shelf and pulled out a DVD. She lowered the big screen and inserted the DVD.
“Maybe you need to remember.” Pressing 'play', the young woman began to walk out of the room, leaving Jack to watch the recording of his and Daniel's Canadian wedding. Before disappearing from her father's sight, she added, “And I don't recall one mention of your penis in Daddy's vows. I guess what Aunt Janet told me is true.”
“And what might that be?" Jack called out in a slightly raised voice.
“That God gave men penises and brains, but not enough blood to use them both at the same time!” Jennifer called out from the kitchen.
“Stop saying that,” Jack growled, realizing his daughter couldn't hear him any longer unless he shouted, which would mean the younger children who were outside could also hear it. ~Dirty pool,~ he whined inwardly as the footage began.
“Jack? Daniel?” Sara called out as she poked her way through the Jackson-O'Neill home not long afterwards. “Someone must be here.” She entered the rec room, spying her quiet ex-husband. “Jack?” Seeing the wheelchair, she immediately headed over for it, righting it as she asked, “What happened?”
“Carter insulted me, Billy hit me, and my daughter called me out on the subject of my pe...” Jack stopped, staring at the woman he was once married to. He was all out of fight and excuses. “Sara, I've messed it up.” He saw her compassionate expression and knew she was about to engage him in conversation, but there was something that had to be done first. “Wait. Sara, I really need to pee, and I can't hold it like I used to. Actually, I can't hold it at all, but I'm on the clock. The clock says it's time to go, and my body's gonna go, up there, or right here on the sofa.”
“And?” Sara challenged, suspecting some of what had gone on, even though she hadn't been there.
“I need ... help.”
Smiling, Sara responded, “I'd love to help you, Jack.”
Several minutes later, Sara sat down on the bed in Jack and Daniel's bedroom and smiled sympathetically at the man in the wheelchair. They'd just made it. Of course, the guestroom would have been closer, but Billy was in there, and Jack didn't want to chance another encounter with his brother right now, even if it might have meant having an accident.
“Didn't think you'd get so lucky again, did ya?”
Chuckling, the woman responded, “Just as long as you don't ask me to make comparisons.”
“You aren't ... never mind,” Jack said, deciding to stop the conversation before it became a little more intimate than he wanted.
Reaching out and taking Jack's hand supportively for a moment, Sara smiled and then sat back up straight while asking, “What's going on, Jack? Why would Sam insult you?”
“Crap, Sara. I hurt her kid. He just stood there, but I couldn't help myself. I was feeding that dang bird.” Jack paused, looking over at Sara in amazement. “Ptolemy hasn't spoken to me in days. She says I'm 'bad Jack'.”
“Aren't you?” Sara retorted. “What happened with Kevin?”
Sara listened to all the grueling details of Jack's encounter with Sam, Billy, and Jennifer.
“Then Jen took the kids out through the living room. She told me *over the intercom* that they were going to a movie. She left me alone.”
“Aren't Billy and Jilly here?”
“That's beside the point.”
“Is it, Jack?” Sara asked pointedly. “What was it you asked me for?”
Jack began to respond with a quip, but he stopped himself and sighed, “Help.”
“Have you asked Daniel for help? Or your children?”
“We're trying to protect them.”
Sara laughed. In fact, she laughed so hard that she began to hold her abdomen and rock back and forth on the bed.
“Sar...Sara! For crying out loud, Sara, stop it!” Jack exclaimed in frustration.
Slowly calming herself, Sara responded, “I'm sorry, Jack. I believe in protecting our children, but the brood ... they're different. You and Daniel have these incredible children who have been to other worlds. They've seen things most children will never see, and they've handled it. Remember when Daniel had amnesia? They rallied around you and each other, just like they did when you were missing that Christmas. Your children are strong, and if they're having problems like you say they are, it's because you and Daniel are trying to shield them. They don't want to be shielded, Jack. They want to be part of the solution to the problem. That's what you and Daniel have taught them. Besides, how much of that desire to shield them is actually Daniel's? Aren't you really the one who wants to shield them?”
“I can't do what I used to do,” Jack responded, ignoring the question for the moment.
“And I can't play the guitar.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Jack asked snarkily.
“I can't play the guitar, Jack, but I can cook, and I can teach, and I can tune up my car's engine.”
“And that means ... what?”
“It means you can't have sex the way you used to, but I happen to know you can still do what you need to do, and I know that there are plenty of other ways that you can satisfy yourself, and Daniel.”
“You *know*?” Jack questioned in total disbelief, shaking his head and looking away. “I never knew so many people were interested in my sex life. Maybe we should have made videos,” he sneered.
Ignoring her ex-husband's retort, Sara continued, “It's *not* just *your* sex life. It's yours and Daniel's. Jack, I've done some research, and I've actually talked to someone.”
Jack looked at his ex-wife, stunned by her revelation. He was even more surprised when she reached into her pocket and pulled out a business card.
“If that's a sex therapist ...”
“No,” Sara assured. “His name is Bryan Hamil, and he's a paraplegic. His significant other is a man named Brian Clay. The two B's, they call themselves,” she chuckled. “Anyway, they're happy, and they have a fulfilling sex life. They're willing to talk to you and Daniel, if you want,” she said, leaning forward and handing the card to Jack.
“You got in touch with these guys off the internet?”
“The internet's the place to go with questions,” Sara announced. “Don't worry. I've met them both a couple of times now, and Sam checked them out. They're not NID operatives masquerading as a homosexual couple to lure you and Daniel into some trap.”
“No, it isn't, but I covered my bases.”
“Carter checked them out?”
“Yes, Sam did. You know, that woman who drops almost anything at a moment's notice to help you and Daniel out.”
“She called me 'Jack' -- more than once.”
“You object to that?”
Jack sighed, “When she calls me 'Sir' or 'General', there's respect there. When she called me 'Jack', there wasn't anything there.” He let out a breath, gently tossing the card onto the bed. “Sara, I'm stuck.”
“You don't have to be, Jack,” Sara replied gently.
“I may have set Kevin back a year.”
Sara grinned as she got up and approached the man in the wheelchair. She leaned down, placing her face within two inches of Jack's.
“Jack, you're an amazing man. You can do just about anything you put your mind to. You just have to put your mind to it. So, fix it, and while you're at it, let your husband back in, and stop trying to protect your children from this new part of their lives. It's just another phase. I love you,” she said, kissing him sweetly. “Do you need anything before I go?”
“Luck -- a lot of luck.”
With a smile on her face, Sara walked out of the room to return to her own home.
Jack remained, not moving, until he inched his wheelchair forward and slowly reached forward to pick up the card, staring at it intently as the clock ticked on and the tears started to fall.
“Jack? Jack, are you okay?” Daniel asked, rushing into the bedroom and kneeling down by his lover's wheelchair. “What's wrong? Where are the children?”
The tearful man responded, “Your husband is an idiot.”
“Yes, well, that's a given, so what's wrong, and where are the children?”
Jack let out a snort, a small smile emerging on his face. Daniel wiped away the tears, his heart aching for whatever had caused Jack to be sitting alone, crying.
“Babe, talk to me.”
“I need to talk to everyone,” Jack replied.
“Okay. Uh, Little Danny and I just got home. Babe, there are some things about the brood that we need to discuss.”
“One crisis at a time. Danny, selfish or not, I really need to do this now, before I chicken out.”
“Okay,” Daniel agreed, his thumb rubbing against Jack's right cheek. “I love you. You know that, right?”
“Forever and always, Angel.”
Daniel nodded, smiling as he gazed at his husband. It was the first real sign of anything positive in weeks, and the first time he had heard their mantra of 'forever and always' since Jack had been home. He moved forward to share a kiss of support and promises of the future with his husband.
“Jack, where are the children?” Daniel asked again.
“Jen took them to a movie.”
“All of them?”
“She didn't want to be here, and I don't blame her. I've been a real jerk,” Jack confessed. “They've been gone a couple of hours.”
“Well, I'll call her and get the status,” Daniel stated, still observing his husband and realizing that something very emotional had gone on during his absence. “Jack, we're overprotecting them.”
“We gotta stop doing that.”
“I'm not sure we can, but when we realize we're doing it, we need to step back.”
“Or wheel back,” Jack mused. “It's a joke, Angel -- a real joke.”
“Okay. I'll call Jen. Let's go downstairs.”
“No,” Jack refuted, rejecting his husband's offer of help to get to the first level of their home. “I know how to work that thing,” he said, referring to the hydraulic lift that was now a part of the stairs, allowing him to go up and down the stairs independently. “It's time I really did it on my own.”
“Okay,” Daniel replied, standing up slowly and smiling at Jack before he turned around to continue on with the plan.
An hour later, the last of the Jackson-O'Neills walked into the recreation room to join the others for the unscheduled family meeting. Jack was in front of the wall that was decorated with the kids' artwork and crafts. He'd been admiring the various drawings and sketches for about fifteen minutes. He'd also reread some of the poems and short stories that had been tacked up on it.
“Jack, everyone is here.”
Slowly, Jack turned his wheelchair around. For a second, it felt like he was in a battle, and the enemy was his very own children. There they were, not a smiling face in the bunch, except for Little Danny, who had missed all the turmoil at the house earlier in the day.
“Where are the girls?” Jack called out, looking around. On cue, Bijou and Katie walked in. “Give a guy a break, will ya? I need a little support here.”
The two beagles looked at each other, and then they separated. Katie gently jumped up onto Jack's lap, while Bijou did the same for Daniel. It was an interesting arrangement. Traditionally, the mama beagle was the protector, while her baby was the comforter. Here they were, Bijou protecting Daniel and Katie comforting Jack.
“Yeah, well, I'll make this easy on us all,” Jack began. “No, wait. Little Danny, get that dang bird.”
Obediently, Little Danny released Ptolemy from her roomy cage and led her over to where he was sitting. The regal bird just stared at Jack, as if she were one of the children, waiting for the big revelation of the family gathering.
With a sudden spurt, afraid if he didn't get to it quickly, he'd retreat, Jack confessed, “Your old man is a jerk.”
“Jack jerk,” Ptolemy echoed.
“I said that,” Jack stated sternly as he glared at the majestic creature.
“Jack jerk,” the hyacinth macaw repeated.
“We've established that, Bird.”
“Ptolemy is a ...” Jack chuckled as he paused. “Ptolemy is a queen bird, but Jack is a selfish man who forgot that he had a great family. He got so ... deep into his inability to ... uh, make Daddy happy ...”
“Daddy's happy if you're happy,” Chenoa pointed out.
“Yes, but I mean in a ... a different ... way,” Jack stammered.
“What's he mean?” Ricky asked, looking over at some of his siblings.
“He means sex,” Jenny explained to her twin.
“I don't even want to know how you know that,” Jack groused, shaking his head as the children giggled, a happy indication that things were on the mend. “Adults need things, and I thought that because of this,” he patted the handles of the wheelchair, “I wouldn't be able to please Daddy anymore, and that one thing, colored everything else I've done since I've been home. I've taken out my frustration and my anger on all of you.”
As Jack patted Katie, giving himself strength to continue on, the brood also gained strength. The admission was bringing them the unity that they needed to move forward.
“Dad, we love you,” Lulu stated for the brood. “We just don't want you to be so sad and mad all the time.”
“It makes us sad,” Aislinn admitted.
“And mad,” Jonny added truthfully, recalling the incident in the mall parking lot.
“Which is what I don't want,” Jack responded. “Kids, I'm doing my best, and I realize that until now, my best hasn't been much, but I'm making you a promise that it's going to be a lot better from now on. It's just ... I miss ... things.”
“I miss you carrying me on your shoulders,” Jonny uncharacteristically confessed.
“And I miss you playing 'tag' with us,” Jenny added.
“We all miss things,” David interjected. “We miss the things you miss, Dad.”
“I'm a little dense about stuff sometimes,” Jack admitted.
“I think we just need to have our family meetings again, like we use to,” Brianna stated courageously, bringing up a topic no one else had yet.
“Yeah,” Jonny agreed. “Why do we have to talk to that lady? We should talk to each other.”
“Like we used to,” Aislinn agreed, bobbing her head up and down.
“Don't you tell that shr...Doctor Rich how you feel about things?” Jack questioned, altering his phrasing after getting a glare from his lover.
“Yes, but she's not family,” Jenny whined. “She doesn't understand you, so how can she understand us?”
“Wow,” Daniel heard himself say as he took in the comment. ~She has a point.~
“I talk to her about being afraid,” Chenoa admitted.
“What are you afraid of, Sweetheart?” Jack asked.
“I thought you were going to die, like Daddy and Mommy did. They died in a car accident, and you were in your truck.”
“But you saw me,” Jack responded as he tried to understand.
“I know, but I was still afraid, and I didn't want anyone to think I wasn't strong, like them.”
Suddenly, the rest of the brood surrounded the little girl, and as they did, some of them finally admitted to the same fear.
~I know what Little Danny told me, but why didn't they say anything to one of us in private?~ Daniel wondered. He processed the words he was hearing and then decided to act upon an idea. “Let me ask you something,” he began, getting the attention of the children. “How do you feel about Dad's chair?”
“I don't like it,” Chenoa admitted bravely, determined not to hold anything back from now on.
“Noa, Dad needs the chair,” Jennifer pointed out, not knowing where this was going.
“I know, but I still don't like it,” Chenoa maintained. “And I know Dad hates it, too.”
Daniel looked at his husband, the two sharing even more understanding now. Perhaps the children did hate the wheelchair, or maybe they were just feeding off of the tremendous amount of hatred that Jack had towards it. To him, it had been a mobile prison, and it was quite possible the children had sensed that, fusing it into their own perceptions.
“Daddy,” Little Danny said, looking up at his younger father in anticipation.
“Yeah,” Daniel agreed, nodding and smiling at his namesake. “Put Ptolemy back in her home, please,” he requested as he gently urged Bijou off of his lap and stood up. “Jen, please put Bij and Katie outside. Sorry, Girls, but it'll just be for a few minutes,” he promised with a smile. Then he walked over to his husband, leaning for a kiss. “Babe, we need you out of the chair.”
“You'll see,” Daniel replied, reaching in as he prepared to help his lover. “Excuse me, Katie,” he said, smiling at the canine as she jumped off. “Go with Jen.”
“David, Jonny, give your old man a hand,” Jack requested. He looked at Daniel and said, “We need to let them help.”
“Yeah!” several of the children agreed, causing Daniel to look over at them.
**Big time, Angel. My fault. They think this thing is evil because that's how I've thought about it. I've shooed them away from me like they were flies. I was wrong. I need help, their help -- and yours.**
With a loving smile, Daniel backed away, still smiling as the two boys assisted Jack in transitioning from the wheelchair to the sofa. Then he and Little Danny pulled out the first part of their surprise.
“Beaters!” Brianna exclaimed. “I love those things,” she said, referring to the lightweight leather punching sticks that were conduits for releasing pent-up emotion and stress.
“There's one for each of you. When you're ready, take a whack,” Daniel instructed. “Like this, and don't be afraid to shout when you do it,” he said. Hitting the chair vehemently, he called out, “I hate you!”
Seeing their father's strong hit and cry, the brood felt they'd truly been given permission to take out their emotions on the chair, and they did, some slowly, and others immediately getting into the unusual therapy.
**Danny?** Jack asked, feeling the strong emotions that had just come out in the attack on the wheelchair.
**I've kept a lot inside, Jack; some of it came out today, thanks to our son,** Daniel answered, smiling at Little Danny.
**Tell me all about it later?**
Glancing at his husband, Daniel nodded and spoke a soft, “Yes.” He refocused on the children and called out, “Don't worry about hurting the chair. If anything breaks, we'll fix it or get a new one.”
“Kill the thing,” Jack added loudly in agreement, seeing the outpouring of anger and emotion from the children and realizing how much they needed this. ~How could I have missed this? How could I have been so wrapped up in my own misery that I missed the misery of the people I love the most?~
“This is better than kicking that man's shin,” Jonny stated after hitting the chair as hard as he could eight times.
“What man?” Daniel questioned curiously.
“Shin?” Jack called out at the same time.
“Oops,” Jonny responded, deciding to hit the chair some more.
Jennifer smiled shyly and walked over to her parents, informing them that, “It happened a while ago. We'll tell you about it later.”
Soon, the grunts and looks of aggression gave way to laughter and happy expressions, which in turn led to hugs and more giggles.
“Daddy, see?” Little Danny questioned. “We just need our family meetings.”
“Dad, I felt bad when you didn't listen to me read my story to you,” Aislinn spoke honestly.
“Princess, you're right. I wasn't listening. I was irritated that all I could do was sit. I'm sorry.”
“I could tell you didn't want me around.”
“No, Honey, I always want you around,” Jack corrected. “I just wasn't focused, and that was wrong. You deserve my full attention. That was so sweet of you to want to read to me. Hey! How about reading me a little 'Winnie the Pooh' later? You know how I love Pooh!”
Aislinn's grin could light up the sky, and it warmed her fathers' hearts. They were on the right track, though both knew apologies for bad behavior could only go so far.
“And I haven't been able to talk to K'hang in a really long time,” Chenoa added. “I miss him. Daddy, aren't I important, too? I need to talk to him.”
Daniel walked over and knelt down in front of the curly-haired girl as he apologized, “You are *very* important. I haven't allocated my time very well recently, and that's something I have to be responsible for. I should have made a point of making sure that I, or Jen, or someone took you to the Mountain. We're going to fix that right away. Tomorrow morning, we'll go see General Hank and ask him if we can't make a ... phone call.”
Chenoa was grinning now, too. She'd kept in that complaint for a long time. Her only tie to her Chulakian boyfriend was a single message that Teal'c had delivered for her. In response, the young Jaffa had sent his girlfriend a special necklace, one that symbolized strength. She'd worn it every day since receiving it, but regretted not having been able to even send him a 'thank you' for the gift.
“My turn,” David interjected. “What bugged me, Dad, is that you just sat there. We could have played catch, just like you promised we would. You have two hands. That's all you need. It just felt like you did anything you could to avoid me.”
“To avoid *all* of us,” Brianna corrected.
“You didn't even teach us,” Jenny added. “Aunt Sara's been doing it, and Jen, and David, and even Peter, but not you, or Daddy,” she elaborated, noting her number one complaint.
“That's my fault, too,” Jack responded.
“No, Babe, it's both of our faults,” Daniel corrected. “Brood, the truth is that as much as Dad's been wrapped up in his problems, I've been wrapped up in trying to make him feel better. I've let you down.”
“Daddy, I'm going to disagree,” Jennifer interjected. “You knew the brood was learning. You put me in charge of it, and I handled it from there. Jeff's been in charge of making sure the kids get out and continue doing their events, like Bri's dolphin meetings, Noa's and Lulu's dance classes, Ash's singing lessons, et cetera. Maybe you haven't been as hands on as usual, but we're the brood, and we can handle that, for a while. Can't we, Brood?”
“For a while,” Jonny agreed, as did the others.
“No one's at fault, Daddy,” Jennifer stated. “None of this is about fault. It's just about us, moving forward, together.”
Daniel swallowed and nodded in grateful acknowledgement of his oldest daughter's remarks and the children's agreement. He was being let off the hook, and while part of him wanted to argue, he knew Jennifer was right. Fault and blame needed to be kicked and punted away. It was time to heal.
“Dad!” Jonny called out, moving forward and standing with his hands on his hips. “You yelled too much, for nothing. I didn't like that. You're supposed to yell in fun ways, like when you're a bear. This yelling was mean, and I didn't like it at all.”
Jack stared deep into the boy's eyes. For Jonny to say this meant he'd really felt some pain.
“I didn't realize,” Jack sighed, bowing his head. “I'm sorry. Crap! I've hurt all of you.”
Jonny ran up to his father and reached out, cupping his face as Jack often did to him. He looked intently into the general's eyes.
“Dad, I love you. You aren't supposed to feel sad now. I just don't want you to yell like that, okay?”
“Okay,” Jack said, reaching forward to hug the boy. ~I remember. I yelled at you for not picking up your toys fast enough. Geez, you were trying to help JD that day. I'm an idiot: a big time idiot.~ He sighed as he held the boy close. He could easily have gotten lost in despair over his remorse, but he quickly pulled himself together. This moment was for his son, and it was time to move forward, not stagnant in the mistakes of the past, of which he knew there were many. “You're a brave soldier, Jonny. I'm very proud of you.”
With a smile, Jonny returned to his spot and then repeated the theme of their family meeting, stating emphatically, “Dad, Daddy, we don't need to see that doctor anymore. We just need our family meetings, like this one. We help each other!”
~He's probably right.~ Daniel looked over at his husband, knowing Jack would be in agreement. With a nod, he asked, “Would anyone still like to see Doctor Rich?”
“I do,” Aislinn admitted, unafraid of standing out.
“Me, too,” Brianna seconded, wanting to sort out some things about her feelings for the Pflug family, especially Reese, and believing that might be better handled outside of the family meetings, at least for a while.
“Me,” Chenoa added, actually raising her hand slowly.
“I do, too,” Ricky giggled.
“Why are you giggling?” Jenny queried.
Jenny just rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“Anyone else?” the archaeologist asked, making a note to check with Ricky later and determine whether or not he really needed to see the psychologist, or if he was teasing. ~Or has a crush.~
“Lulu?” Daniel questioned.
“I have my own doctor,” Lulu answered with a smile. “I talk to her about Dad, too.”
“Jack?” Daniel questioned, wanting verbal verification that he was okay with what was being discussed.
“Whatever they want,” the older man responded.
“Okay, here's the deal,” Daniel began. “No one gives anyone a hard time about continuing to see Doctor Rich. There's nothing wrong with seeing her, or someone else, like Jeff's doing with Doctor Phillips. It's important that if you continue counseling, that you talk to someone you believe in.” He paused, searching the faces of the children for any doubts or questions. “Okay, if anyone changes their mind, let us know.”
“But we have to have our family meetings,” Jonny asserted again. “I like them.”
“They're important,” Brianna added. “But we have to trust each other. I hid so much of my anger that I actually got into a fist fight with Reese when I met her. I didn't like that feeling.”
“We need to be honest with one another, like we've always been, especially during our family meetings,” Jeff asserted. ~Wish I knew what exactly it was that is still bothering me.~
“Daddy and I tried to protect all of you, too much,” Jack interjected. “Our lives are different now, and I need some help. I'm asking all of you to be patient and to help me as I learn to adapt.”
“Dad, you and Daddy are so silly,” Jennifer spoke, wiping away a tear. “We're the Jackson-O'Neills. We do everything together, including helping one another.”
“We're starting by changing some rules,” Daniel added. Looking at his husband, he communicated, **The phone calls?** Seeing Jack's nod of approval, he continued, “You're all old enough to use good judgment with the phone.”
“Except for you, young man,” Jack said with a grin as he looked at the giggling JD.
“From now on, you can make phone calls to people on your phone lists without permission,” Daniel informed the children.
“Phone lists?” Chenoa asked.
“A list of names -- people you'd like to be able to call anytime you want to,” Jack explained.
“Just remember to make smart choices,” the younger father encouraged.
“Like Angela and Chloe?” Chenoa inquired hopefully about her friends.
“Exactly. Anyone on your list can be called whenever you want, but if you abuse it, the privilege will be revoked,” the archaeologist stated.
Cheers went up, along with some knuckle bumps and high-fives.
“Start working on people you'd like to be on your phone list. There's not a limit, but use common sense,” Jack instructed. “Daddy and I will get together with each one of you and review your lists.”
“And you'll have more freedom on the internet,” Jack added, getting a surprised look from his lover. **We can monitor that, too.**
**You're right,** Daniel agreed with a smile. **Little Danny really needs that permission.**
“We'll get back to you on exactly what that means,” Jack stated.
“You mean when you and Daddy figure it out,” Jonny laughed.
“Wiseguy,” Jack retorted amusingly. Growing serious again, he looked at his loving family, feeling thankful that he'd done something right during his lifetime to have them. “Kids, we need to talk about Aunt Sam.”
Serious again, too, Jonny put his hands on his hips and asked sternly, “What did you do to Aunt Sam, Dad?”
“Kevin looked funny when Jen brought him outside,” Aislinn commented.
“What happened, Dad?” David inquired.
“I screwed up, and I don't know if I can fix it.” Jack sighed and explained what he'd said during the visit. “So, Aunt Sam pretty much hates me right now, and I can't say that I blame her.”
“Fix it,” JD ordered calmly, looking down at his hands as he twirled a rubber band that he'd found on the floor.
“Dad fixes things. Fix it.”
Jack cocked his head, wishing the answer was as simple as his youngest son's command.
“Son, I killed his dream of seeing the pyramids.”
“Dad, that's it!” Little Danny exclaimed.
“We show Kevin the pyramids,” the child genius responded.
“Sproglet, we can't go to Egypt right now,” Jack stated sadly.
“We don't have to, Dad. We just need to show him a pyramid.”
“What pyramid?” Aislinn asked.
“The Jackson-O'Neill Pyramid,” Little Danny answered, leaving his parents, and Jonny, extremely confused.
“That's a great idea!” Aislinn agreed, picking up on the idea and spinning around the room as she imagined the Egyptian structure.
“She's right, Jack,” Daniel stated excitedly. “It's a great idea, and I have a favor I can call in.” Moving away, he said, “I'll be right back.”
With the room buzzing with ideas, Jack looked over at Ptolemy and asked, “Do you know what they're talking about?”
“House pyramid,” Ptolemy squawked from her cage.
“House ... pyramid?” Jack asked as his tone lilted from a statement to a question. ~Smart bird.~ He grinned as he called out, “Hey! I know what we can do, too.”
“What, Dad?” Lulu called out anxiously.
“It's perfect, Darlin! I tell ya, Mr. Fix-it is back in business! What I'm thinkin' is that we ...”
The children smiled, feeling their family was truly on the mend. Now they just had to make sure that the Shanahan family was still part of their extended family, and that was something they were all determined to make a reality.
“Careful, Love,” Jack advised as his husband helped him to sit down on their beloved roof deck.
“We're going to do this, Jack,” Daniel stated emphatically. “This is us, and we're going to have it.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jack quipped.
The lovers sat side by side against the wall. They looked up at the night sky, rejoicing in the brightness of the stars.
“I've missed this,” Jack whispered, leaning his head against his lover's.
For a while, the two men just sat quietly, enjoying the crispness of the air and the tenderness of their hearts. Then they chatted about all sorts of inconsequential things. The unimportance of the topics warmed their hearts. At last, they were free of their concerns, at least for a few minutes.
Slowly, the lovers began to rein themselves in, returning to reality, which was finally a hopeful place to be. In the process, Daniel filled his Love in on some of the things he'd missed.
“What did Mark say?” Jack asked, referring to the letter Maureen Pflug had received, the one that had caused her to believe the Jackson-O'Neills would be suing.
“It was a mistake,” Daniel answered. “He'd made some notes, and one of the temporary clerks he'd hired misinterpreted them and fired off the letter.”
“Yeah, he wasn't too happy about it,” Daniel responded.
“Big lecture,” Jack surmised.
“Big, big lecture,” Daniel affirmed.
“Alex and Casey had a fling?” Jack questioned in surprise.
“Apparently,” Daniel responded. “I haven't talked to Alex about it, but Casey sounded pretty bitter.”
“Alex dumped him?”
“That's what he said. I'm not sure how long they were together, a couple of months maybe. It's just a guess.”
“Where were we?” Jack chuckled in disbelief.
“Living our lives,” Daniel answered.
The older man shrugged as he contemplated the response, knowing how easy it was to get absorbed in one's own life and therefore not notice important events or changes in other's lives, especially when they weren't in touch with those folks on a daily basis.
“So Alex is bi,” Jack stated. ~Sunny seems okay with that.~
“I'm not sure about that.”
“Daniel, if he did it with Casey, and he's doing it with Sunny, he's bi,” Jack asserted. ~And he's definitely doing it with Sunny. She definitely looked happy when she visited me at the prison.~
“Being bisexual implies being attracted to both men and women.”
“I know that,” Jack groused.
“My point is that I'm not sure that Alex is attracted to both men and women,” Daniel stated.
“Just hear me out,” Daniel requested. “Casey's insisted for years that Alex was on his -- gawd, I hate this term -- gaydar. What if Alex is homosexual, and he and Sunny are like us?”
“What do you mean?”
“We're two men who just happened to fall in love with each other.” Leaning his head against Jack's shoulder, Daniel kissed his soulmate's hand as he talked. “Jack, if we weren't here, together, you'd be out chasing Mary Steenburgen and I'd be ignoring some woman while studying Egypt. I honestly don't believe that either of us would be with another man. Do you?”
“Are you kidding me?” Jack chuckled loudly. “I thought I was insane when I first noticed those blue eyes of yours.” ~How could I have shut out those beautiful eyes? Not to mention the man that is attached to those eyes. Geez, I love him. I'm so glad I didn't ruin this forever with my stubborn attitude.~
“That's what I mean,” Daniel stated. “We're soulmates, Jack, and for whatever reason, our souls aren't what society says is normal.”
“Society can hang itself,” Jack responded with a sneer.
“Right,” Daniel agreed. “So, just to point out the obvious. Just because we both made love with our wives, that doesn't make us bi-sexual, right?”
“Nope, I guess it doesn't.”
“Which means that just because Alex and Casey had sex, that doesn't make Alex bi-sexual, either.”
“Casey's gaydar must need some fine tuning."
“There's always the possibility that Alex was just experimenting,” Daniel suggested lightheartedly. “Maybe I'm thinking too much.”
“You? Thinking too much?” Jack teased. ~Geez, this feels so good.~ More seriously, he suggested, “We need to talk to Alex.”
“Let's not butt in, Jack.”
“Daniel, you butted into Alex's life years ago. We're already in his butt, so to speak,” Jack laughed.
“That's bad, Babe, very bad.”
“The scuttlebutt is that JD took Bogey out of his cage,” Daniel stated. “Of course, I didn't find out about that until later.”
“Little General Jonny took over, eh?” Jack asked with a bit of pride.
“Wipe that smirk off your face, Jack. According to the brood grapevine, if JD hadn't stolen Bogey, a mutiny would have occurred shortly thereafter.”
“Discord among the troops?”
“Oh, yeah,” Daniel answered. Then he sighed, a long, sad refrain. “I missed most of this, Jack. Our children have been on their own since the accident.”
“Hey, no guilt trips, Danny,” Jack stated, kissing the top of his lover's head. “If you go on one, I'll have to follow, and my guilt trip can outdo yours by miles.”
“Good point,” Daniel agreed firmly.
“You didn't have to agree that fast.”
Daniel chuckled, and the two shared a short, but loving kiss.
“I've had to stop her from getting on a plane three times,” Daniel reported about Mrs. Valissi.
“She's a sweet lass,” Jack crooned in his Irish brogue. “When is she coming home?”
“Next week some time, I think,” Daniel answered.
“What about Suz?” Jack questioned about Daniel's foster sister.
“She's got Mrs. Valissi beat,” Daniel responded lightheartedly.
“I've had to stop her from getting on a plane five times,” Daniel chuckled. “Jack, even Nellie asked if she could come out and help.”
“I'm not surprised, Danny. Everyone loves you,” Jack stated softly, his hand rubbing his lover's upper arm, providing warmth both physically and emotionally. “How's she doing?”
“Great,” Daniel answered about Nellie Montgomery, another foster sister who was but a baby when he'd been staying with her family. “She's getting married soon, and she wants us to come.”
“Do you want to go?”
“I'd like to.”
“Then we'll go.”
Daniel looked up at his husband and smiled before the two paused their conversation for a bit of kissing and very light fondling.
“He'll be okay now,” Daniel opined about JD.
“He's been real clingy, Daniel. Was he like that the whole time I was in rehab?”
“Pretty much,” the younger man affirmed. “Most of the time, as soon as I'd walk in the house, he was in my arms. He didn't necessarily need to be held, but he kept looking at me.”
“Making sure you were there,” Jack surmised.
“Yeah, I think so,” Daniel replied. “It wasn't just me, though. If he wasn't being held by Jen, Jeff, Bri, or David, he was sticking close to one of the other children.”
“That's pretty natural, don't ya think?”
“Yes, I do, and he was a lot better tonight, now that you're ... uh ...”
“Not being a prick?”
“Something like that,” Daniel mused with a small smirk.
“Angel, I know you want me to see firsthand that our life is going forward, and you know me, hockey is my sports life, but let's hold off on the sled hockey for a few weeks. I want to get my bearings. We need to talk about the house, catch up with whatever is going on at J-O, and make sure the kids are settled, not necessarily in that order.”
“I tried, Jack, but I didn't do very well.” Daniel let out an unhappy snort as he reminded, “Jonny kicked a man in the freakin' parking lot.”
“Danny, you were here, and they knew it.”
“I don't know,” Daniel sighed. “Jack, should we punish Jonny? That was a stranger, and he was the physical aggressor.”
“No. He was angry because I was a jerk and not being a dad to him at all for weeks. That's the same reason Bri got into a fight at her seminar -- she was angry and lashed out the first chance she got. Get that, Danny? I wasn't a parent at all to our kids for weeks. You had to do it all, and if the worst that happened was Jonny kicking a bigot who couldn't keep his opinion to himself, then you didn't do bad at all.”
“I'm not sure they had either of us for a while. I was here in body, but I've said a lot of ... crazy things lately.”
“Stress, and that's my fault,” the older man sighed regretfully.
“You're right, Jack. This ... fault thing isn't a good idea.”
“We agree on that.”
“I still wish our children didn't have so much to deal with recently,” Daniel spoke quietly.
“So they were a little angry for a while,” Jack responded, dismissing the emotion as it related to the topic at hand. “In the process, they all learned a lot about one another and hopefully about themselves.”
“You think?” Daniel asked hopefully.
“Yeah, Jonny learned not to piss off JD,” Jack stated in a lighthearted tone, chuckling slightly.
The statement caused both men to laugh loudly. The spontaneous musing was like sunshine penetrating their bodies, filling them with brightness and warmth, something both had been without for way too long. By unspoken agreement, conversation ceased, their hearts saying all that needed to be said.
Late the next afternoon, the family's plan was in place. All they had to do now was convince the Shanahans to trust them enough to come over. It was a task Jack knew might be tougher than it sounded. Once Jeff had reported from his recon that Pete had arrived home from work, it was time to take action.
“Hello,” Sam answered the phone, bouncing Petey in her arm.
“Shanahan,” Jack stated, specifically making sure he used Sam's married name as she'd requested during her verbal lambasting of him the day before.
“Unless Daniel or one of the children is dying, Jack, I really don't want to talk to you.”
“I have the reserves standing by.”
With a nod from their father, Little Danny and Aislinn called out, “Pouty face” and “Tears”, respectively.
Annoyed, Sam asked crisply, “What do you want?”
“The Shanahans, the entire family, here in five minutes.”
Jack heard grumbling in the background and knew what was happening.
“Jack, you're lucky I didn't come over there and knock your block off,” Pete Shanahan said angrily, having taken the phone from his wife.
“Five minutes, Pete. After that, I'll let you knock my block off,” Jack offered. “We're in the rec room.”
The disarming comment caused Pete to stop and look at his wife, both confused how to respond.
“Five minutes -- please.”
The phone disconnected without a response.
“They're coming,” Little Danny insisted. “Get ready!”
“Okay, we're here,” Sam stated dispassionately as the Shanahan family entered the rec room in complete surprise.
“Welcome to the Jackson-O'Neill pyramid,” Aislinn greeted while dressed as an ancient water bearer.
Over the past twenty-four hours, the family had completely altered the interior of the recreation room to resemble an Egyptian pyramid. The entire family was dressed in garb of the era, too.
“These are for you,” Brianna stated, handing clothing to Sam, while David did the same for Pete.
“Susie, put this on,” Lulu signed to the little girl.
“Sammy Jo, come here,” Jenny called out, holding up a little outfit for the girl, while Jonny went over and took Petey's hand, leading him over to where his outfit was waiting.
“Kevin, you come with me, okay?” Chenoa asked gently. She sighed, seeing the boy's vacant stare and complete non-response. “I'll take your hand, okay?”
Chenoa took Kevin's hand and led him over to Jack, who leaned forward and picked up the youngster.
“I'm sorry, Kevin. I made a big mistake, and you're paying the price, but I'm going to try and fix that now. We're going to Egypt.”
Unresponsive, Kevin just stared.
“This is Egypt,” Jennifer announced in her dress that simulated something that an Egyptian goddess would have worn. She turned on the DVD, saying, “These are the sands.”
Kevin's eyes were focused on the large screen, which was showing the adventures of the Jackson-O'Neills on their trip there several years before.
The kids chimed in different facts and comments, and Little Danny handed Kevin a small pyramid to hold. When the DVD was done, Daniel walked over and kneeled down in front of Jack's wheelchair.
“Kevin, this is a cup that scientists believe King Tutankhamun actually drank from,” Daniel began. “It's fascinating, really, to think that the King of Egypt actually put this cup to his lips.”
Kevin's eyes widened as he reacted somewhat.
“Here, you can hold it. Be really careful with it,” Daniel urged. “Friends of mine just unearthed this a few months ago. I told them about you, and they sent it to me, just for tonight.”
“Kevin,” Jack said, taking over. “In Egypt, there are a lot of pyramids. We're going to go see them all. All of us -- your parents, your brother and sisters, the brood. We're all going, in January.”
Kevin blinked as he spoke for the first time since Jack's sarcastic comment the day before, saying, “Pyramids are fun.”
“Fun is right,” Jack agreed cheerfully, grateful that the family was getting through to the autistic youngster. “I won't be able to go inside them with you, but everyone else will. I think we can pull some strings and let you see Egypt's pyramids like very few children ever have.”
“That's a neat cup,” Little Danny interjected.
“King Tut's cup,” Jack sing-songed.
“Dad, it's King Tutankhamun,” Little Danny sighed at the all-too-common nickname for the famous ruler.
“King Tut drank from this cup,” Kevin stated as he worked his way back.
“King Tut did,” Jack affirmed, looking over at Sam, whose hands were covering her face. He saw her turn and nestle into her husband's arms. Focusing on the boy again, Jack promised, “January isn't very far away. Will you go to Egypt with us?”
Kevin didn't respond. He just stared at the cup, holding it gently in his arms.
“We'll tell you all about the pyramids,” David stated. “The very first pyramid ...”
Two hours later, Jack looked at Kevin and asked again, “Will you go to Egypt with us and see the pyramids?”
“Pyramids are fun,” Kevin responded.
“I'll take that as an affirmative,” Jack replied. “I'm sorry, Kevin, but I am going to make it up to you. We'll talk some more tomorrow.”
“I like pyramids.”
“I like pyramids, too,” Jack replied with a smile, leaning over and giving the boy a kiss on the cheek.
Pete picked Kevin up as he looked at Jack and nodded. The look that passed between the two men spoke volumes about the love between the two families, an apology from Jack, and an acceptance from Pete.
Taking hold of the twins, Sam called out, “We'll see you tomorrow, Sir.”
Jack nodded, swallowing hard as he saw his second-in-command soften, actually giving him a smile. Surprisingly to him, he was overcome with emotion and let out a sniffle.
“Pete, take the kids,” Sam requested, while at the same time, the Jackson-O'Neill children began to gather around their dad.
“Sir, thank you.”
Shaking his head and looking away, Jack cracked out, “He's not back.”
Jack looked up at Sam, his tears unable to be stopped.
Sam knelt down in front of the wheelchair and looked up at her commanding officer and friend.
“I hated you yesterday. In all the years we've worked together, I'd never felt that way. I wasn't very happy with you sometimes, but I've never ... hated you.” Sam reached out and took Jack's hand. “Today, I just love you.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Sam said, starting to stand, but leaning in to give Jack a kiss on the cheek.
Sam smiled and then left to join her family.
“I think you're speechless,” Daniel observed, causing the children to giggle.
“Danny, how would you feel if we paid for that trip, all of it?”
“We could do that, if they let us.”
Jack looked at David and Little Danny and instructed, “You two are in charge of developing a preliminary itinerary.”
“*All* the pyramids, Dad?” Little Danny asked. “There's a lot of them.”
“We're going to all of them, however long it takes.” Jack smiled and added, “We have a lot of living to do, and the living starts now.”
“Dad, at our family meetings, will you tell us how you feel, too?” Chenoa asked, her brown eyes challenging her older father.
“Princess, I'll be as honest as I can be, and I'll start now. I thought I hated this chair, but I don't. This chair is going to give your old man the freedom to get around. It isn't confining me like I thought; it's liberating me, allowing me to be a part of your lives.” Suddenly, Jack blinked. In weeks, he hadn't thought about it. Maybe because he was too involved with his self-doubt. “Daniel, my truck?”
“Sorry, Babe -- terminal. It took hard hits on both ends.”
“I loved that truck,” Jack sighed, his sad face prompting some of the children to wonder if their current happy state was only temporary, ending after one short day. All of a sudden, though, Jack asked, “They make all kinds of special cars these days. There's gotta be a truck that can be rigged for Magoo here.”
“Magoo?” Brianna asked, chuckling.
“Yeah, this is Magoo,” Jack responded, tapping on the sides of the wheelchair.
“Magoo,” Daniel echoed sappily.
“Danny, why are you getting all choked up over a wheelchair?”
“Because you named it, Jack. We really are going to be okay now,” the archaeologist stated softly, a look of love passing between the two.
“Yeahsureyoubetcha!” Jack exclaimed. “As soon I get a new truck. I'm still not keen on changing the house, but I guess we'll have to make some changes.”
“Just some, Jack,” Daniel concurred. ~My heart -- it's beating again. Wow!~
“They'd sure like to see you, Sir. Don't take this wrong, but I'd like to see you, too. I miss all that snazzy small talk,” Jack joked shortly after dinner as he chatted over the phone.
With a chortle, Hammond replied, “Jack, you've never liked small talk. I remember that about you from that first day at SGC.”
“We could go fishing,” Jack suggested.
“I'd like that. I'll be by for a visit soon,” Hammond responded just before ending the phone call.
“Well?” Daniel questioned as he sat down opposite his lover.
“He doesn't sound sick.”
“Maybe he had the flu and it's just hung on longer than he thought,” the younger man theorized.
“Could be,” Jack agreed. “The kids want to drop by.”
“Jack, if he's still recovering, he probably doesn't want a house full of children running around and tying him to his bed.”
Jack laughed, remembering how Jonny and some of the others had twice tied up Hammond to a chair while playing.
“Okay, tell me what Alex suggested,” Jack requested, finally ready to listen to the proposed renovations to make the home handicapped accessible.
“Casey helped, too, and Ricky,” Daniel noted with a smile.
Late that night, the lovers were in bed, lying in their usual positions. It felt the best it had since the accident, a happy side effect of Jack's emotional breakthrough a couple of days ago.
Daniel placed a kiss on his husband's chest and then settled his head in a comfortable position. He twirled one of Jack's chest hairs around his finger.
“Now seems like a good time,” Jack spoke inexplicably, breaking the serene silence of the last five minutes.
“We shouldn't rush it.”
“I thought you were the one with the chatty mouth -- talk about this, and talk about that.”
Daniel smiled at the playful tone in his lover's voice. Jack had made so much progress in a short period of time.
“You're scared,” the archaeologist surmised.
“Darn tootin',” Jack acknowledged. “Aren't you?”
Having thought about the question for all of two seconds, Daniel raised his head and stared at his Love, following up with a tender kiss that promised more than tenderness.
“Remember that while I answer your question,” Daniel requested softly.
“Like I could forget,” Jack mused happily.
“Jack, remember our first week together?”
“Like I could forget,” Jack answered with a smirk at having used the exact same response.
“Right.” Shaking off the response, Daniel continued, “Jack, we had no idea what we were doing. We were both ... virgins ...”
“Virgins in the sense that we'd never made love with another man before,” Daniel expounded. “We made a decision, one that was very important. Do you remember?”
“We researched each other. We just ... we used our bodies to learn what worked and what didn't. We let those new sensations fill us up and discover what we liked.” Daniel smiled as he leaned in for another kiss, this one a tad more passionate than the last. “We experienced each other, and I think that set the tone for our entire sexual relationship.”
“Well, I don't know about you for sure, but I can count the number of times I've ... researched sex techniques and methods on one hand. When I have, it's mostly been by accident -- an article or something or some website on the internet. What about you?” He paused hesitantly, seeing the look on his husband's face. “What?” he asked anxiously.
“Danny! You just used the 'sex' word in casual conversation!” Jack responded, chortling for a moment with Daniel joining in, filling their world with laughter once again.
Once he quieted, Daniel finally responded, “What can I say, Jack? This is important enough to our relationship to use the actual word, rather than a euphemism.”
“I prefer to research you, so it's the same,” Jack admitted, getting back to the original question.
“It's worked, hasn't it?” Daniel challenged.
“Well, all I'm saying is why mess with a system that works?”
“This isn't a normal situation,” Jack responded hesitantly.
“No, it isn't,” the younger man concurred. After a moment, he queried, “But we're not normal, are we, Jack? We keep saying we want to be, but we aren't. There's never been anything normal about us except for ... us, being together.”
“Angel, that sounds really good, but I haven't a clue what you just said,” Jack replied, running his right hand alongside his soulmate's cheek and then up to finger the soft strands of Daniel's hair.
“We can do this, Babe -- you and me,” Daniel stated with confidence. “Maybe ... maybe this time we will do a little research, but just a little to make sure we don't risk your health, and there might be things we can do to help you. The Reeve Foundation might be able to answer some of our questions, and we could call and talk to the men that Sara talked to.”
“But ...” Jack prompted.
“But ... I'm just saying we should stick with what works.”
“Research each other.”
“Danny, we don't know what I can do, or not,” Jack spoke in a raspy whisper. “And we know I can't do most of what we used to.”
“So we learn new things. Jack, we've had a great ...” Daniel paused, seeing his Love's raised eyebrows “... fantastic ...” he saw the glint and slight cocking of Jack's head “... absolutely wonderful, incredible, sensational sex life.”
“Better,” Jack chuckled.
“My point is that everything changes, and we have to be realistic about that. It won't be how it was, but we can make it something new and exciting for both of us.”
“Look at me, Angel,” Jack whispered, his hands cupping his husband's face. “I want to see it in your eyes. Do you still want me, like this?”
“I want you, Jack, in any way that I can have you,” the archaeologist responded as his heart began to beat faster.
“Show me,” Jack requested strongly before the two kissed.
“I love you,” Daniel promised in between the couple's kisses. His breathing became heavier. It had been so long. He was scared, but anxious and eager. The worst part would be that Jack wouldn't feel the intensity of their lovemaking; at least, not the part that had been the most intense throughout the years. ~New ways; new things,~ he urged himself.
“Danny -- you've got to be about to burst. Worry about me later. I want to see you, your eyes -- do it, Angel, like before.”
Daniel wanted his lover desperately, and the more Jack encouraged him, the more he needed it to happen.
“Want you,” Daniel stated as he began to place a string of kisses on Jack's chest. He undressed his lover and then himself, doing it slowly at first, but then just throwing their pajamas haphazardly onto the carpet. “Love you so much,” he declared in between more kisses.
“Don't worry about me,” Jack said, knowing his husband was trying to give him the elation that sexual sensations brought. “You, Angel. Let me see you.”
Alternately, Jack's hands caressed the younger's man chest, shoulders, and back, while he encouraged Daniel to make love to him. Daniel obliged, carefully preparing and entering his lover and then working up to a steady, heart-pounding thrust.
Jack felt his lover's hands on his chest, and he could see the passion in Daniel's face as he stared into Jack's eyes.
~Odd,~ Jack thought to himself. ~I ... whoa!~
Daniel struggled a bit. Without Jack being able to maneuver his body, especially his legs and hips, it made this kind of joining more difficult. It was never the easiest for two men to make love like this, facing each other, but these two had learned the secret of it long ago. They preferred it over easier methods. It was their eyes; how they loved seeing the others as they became one in body, just like they always were in spirit and emotion.
“Pillows,” Jack suggested.
“Pill...ows,” Daniel agreed, grabbing a couple of pillows to better position his Love. He didn't know if it would work or not, but this is exactly what he'd been preaching to Jack earlier: experimentation. It might take some time, but they'd learn how to satisfy each other with their new physical limitations. “Yes!”
Quicker than he would have in the past, Daniel let his release fill his lover. Gasping, he lowered his body to become Jack's blanket once again.
“I love you, Angel,” Jack stated emotionally.
“Did you ... see it?” Daniel asked.
“Yeah,” Jack confirmed. “I saw it.”
There was no question in Jack's mind. Daniel still wanted him. Together, they'd learn. Together, they'd go forward, discovering new ways to excite and pleasure each other.
As they settled, Jack's hands made smooth circles on his lover's back.
“Danny, wanna know something weird?”
“A couple of times, it felt like ... like I felt you,” Jack confided.
Daniel raised up his head and looked into Jack's eyes. He smiled and then leaned forward for a kiss.
“Daniel, I think maybe there are ways.”
“The mind, Jack. Our minds are so powerful.”
“You think maybe I could think myself into ...”
“Why not?” Daniel blinked as he thought about the topic some more. Enthusiastically, he put forth, “Babe, visualization works. We've practiced that a little in the past. I *know* it works. Combine that with memories and fantasies.”
“You want me to fantasize about getting it up?” Jack asked, half-seriously and half-humorously.
“Yes,” Daniel answered simply. “Jack, I want you to feel as much as you can. I felt you reacting when I ...”
Just then, there was a knock on the door of the master bedroom.
“Crap,” Jack responded quietly.
“Oh, gawd,” Daniel expressed anxiously as he rolled off Jack and searched for his pajamas, but not able to see them in the dark.
The tapping at the door repeated, prompting the older man to order, “Danny, just get us under the covers.”
Nodding, Daniel did just that, pulling the bedding up as far as he could and then called out, “Come in.”
JD pushed open the doors and ran in, a smile on his face and his beloved Patch in his arms. He ran up to Jack's side of the bed and was jumping up and down.
“Hey!” Jack greeted.
“Is something wrong, JD?” Daniel asked.
“My head exploded, Daddy!”
“Exploded?” Jack and Daniel questioned in unison.
“It went booooom,” the little boy said, spreading out his arms as wide as they would go.
“Does it hurt?” Jack asked, totally confused.
“No, Dad. It's happy. We're okay now,” JD reported. “It was a happy explosion.”
“Good,” Jack echoed. “When did this happen?”
“A couple minutes ago. I was sleeping, and then my head exploded with happy. I'm happy we're happy again. I love you!”
“We love you, too,” Daniel replied with a smile.
“Gotta go back to sleep,” JD announced, turning around. He giggled, picked up something, and returned to the bed. “Daddy, these yours.”
Having tossed Daniel's pajamas onto the bed, JD left the room, closing the door behind him.
“I don't want to think about it,” Daniel interrupted as he stared at the closed door.
“His head exploded?”
“With happiness,” Daniel added, nodding.
“About the same time we ...”
“Yep,” Daniel agreed.
“Jack, I really don't want to think about it,” Daniel stated, turning his head to gaze at his lover. “He's part of us in a way I don't know that we'll ever be able to understand, and I don't know that I really want to. What we need to focus on is us. Babe, we can do this. Thank you for tonight, for giving me that gift, but next time, we're going to work on you. Maybe it won't be perfect, but we'll get there. I really believe that.”
“I love you so friggin' much, Danny.”
“I love you, too,” Daniel said and then moved in for a kiss.
“Danny, I did talk to the Doc a couple of times about sex.”
“Don't tell Teal'c,” Daniel teased.
“I don't have a death wish,” Jack replied. He sighed, “She said pretty much what you have tonight. She said something else, though, too.”
“What?” Daniel inquired curiously.
“You're going to love it.”
“Good,” the younger man chuckled lightly. “What did she say?”
“That sometimes talking about what we're feeling or what we need can help.”
Thoughtfully, the archaeologist replied, “I believe that. It's akin to visualization and fantasizing.”
“Can we call that something else?” Jack groaned. “I don't want a fantasy Daniel,” he groused a second later.
“Okay, how about ... active recall?” Daniel suggested.
“Very military,” Jack mused. “Active recall. I'll just call up Danny memory number twenty-nine.”
“Twenty-nine?” Daniel questioned. “Which one is that?”
“That's when ...” Jack began, continuing with the detailed recollection of one of his favorite erotic moments with his husband.
“Oh, gawd,” Daniel laughed when his lover was finished with the very seductive memory.
“I love hearing you laugh,” Jack commented softly. “I live for that.”
“Then you'll have to make sure I have a lot to laugh about,” Daniel replied, after which the two men kissed some more and then once again settled into a contented silence.
“Tell me,” Daniel requested out of the blue.
“Tell you what?” Jack asked hesitantly.
“What it is you've been wanting to tell me for the last two days, but haven't.”
“Thank you, but we're not talking about that right now,” Daniel teased, placing another kiss on his Love's chest. “Tell me, Jack.”
“You already know,” Jack stated, giving Daniel a chill. “It was about a week after I entered the prison.”
“I thought you'd be better off, and the brood, too; even the girls,” Jack admitted softly.
“That was a stupid thing to think.”
“I know, but I was in a dark place, Angel, and I didn't think I could get out.”
“So, what happened?”
“Teal'c showed up.”
“Did he know?” Daniel asked curiously.
“I'm not sure,” Jack responded, making a face as he thought back to that day. “It was when you brought the kids; they'd gone to the Garden.”
“Garden?” Daniel searched his memory and then acknowledged, “Lou, Jeff, and Teal'c took them. They had a great time.”
“As great as they told me that day?” Jack felt his lover's head shake. “That's what T was telling me. Gotta give Miss Florida some credit, too.”
Daniel looked up in surprise and asked, “Sunny?”
“She reminded me that love was a good thing. She calls it her gift,” Jack answered, shrugging at the same time.
“I don't understand.”
“Don't worry, Angel, I don't, either, but after she left, I felt better,” Jack spoke, looking into the blue eyes he adored. “Until that moment, I felt like a cripple who was nothing but a burden.”
“'La Noche Oscura de la Alma',” Daniel spoke in a whisper.
“'The Dark Night of the Soul',” the linguist translated. Taking a breath, he explained, “It was written by Saint John of the Cross. It's a ... a metaphor for a spiritual desolation.”
“Rotten place to be,” Jack recalled.
“To get rid of the darkness, you have to hold back your ego and let yourself transcend to a place that is actually better than where you were before. Some people believe the darkness is a blessing because of this.”
“They might be right,” the older man agreed quietly.
“Please tell me,” Daniel implored, needing affirmation that his husband was beyond the darkness that had gripped his soul for so long.
“I don't feel that way anymore,” Jack stated sincerely, knowing exactly what his soulmate needed to hear. “We've turned another page in our book, that's all.”
“I love you, Jack.”
“I love you, Angel, so friggin' much.”
The next day, Billy and Jilly left for their home in Australia. They were sad to leave their American family, but both were glad that Jack was back on track. The two brothers found it unusually difficult to say goodbye. They just didn't know for sure when the next visit was going to be, especially since Billy and Jilly had been away from their ranch for so long. It was a tearful, yet joyous parting, one filled with love and the renewed promises to stay in close touch over the phone and computer.
Less than twenty-four hours later, Jack and Daniel were in the study, reviewing some of Alex's ideas for the house. At the moment, the conversation was about combining the closet and bathroom.
“He's wanting to knock out the wall that divides the two and make it one big space,” Jack observed, staring at the crude drawing Daniel had made to illustrate the changes.
“Right. It would give you the capability of reaching all of your clothes yourself.”
“It's a simple ninety-degree turn,” Jack noted, about the new placement of the toilet.
“Exactly,” Daniel affirmed. “We'd be turning the toilet, exchanging two doors for just this larger one, and moving the sink; oh, and adding this sink for you,” he said, pointing at the specific spots on the makeshift diagram. Pausing the man in glasses added, “No, wait. Alex sent me a fax yesterday. He said we didn't have to move the sink or add a new one; something about just removing the shelf under the sink and installing a hydraulic lift so it will raise and lower to the correct height for both of us.”
“Sweet,” Jack replied cheerfully.
“Apparently, it will save floor space. So, this means that the only fixture we'd have to move would be the toilet, and it's already a handicap-accessible height.”
“What about the tile?” the older man queried.
“Well, you know Alex,” Daniel replied.
“Let me guess. It's been in storage at Archonics for years.”
“Something like that,” Daniel affirmed, well aware that the designer always made sure he had plenty of product on hand for his clients. He smiled as he pointed out, “Babe, it's not that much change, and it would give you so much more independence.”
Smiling in reply, Jack gazed into his husband's eyes and stated, “And it'd be a lot easier for you.”
“Daniel, honesty is the best policy,” Jack sing-songed pleasantly.
“Yes, it would,” the younger man admitted.
“It's a great idea. Okay, what's next?”
“That's enough for now, Babe. As long as you can manage the chair lift, we don't need to do the bedroom addition at all, really. Making the living room floor the same height as the rest of the downstairs would eliminate the need for ramps and make the living room accessible for you, but the bath and closet will come first.”
“Then we're a go.”
“Well, once Alex gets back, unless you ...”
“Danny, I'm okay with doing what we need to do, but I'd rather wait for Alex to oversee the changes. I know it's harder on you until then, but ...”
With a smile, Daniel interrupted his Love with a kiss and then said, “Jack, I have my husband back. Right now, nothing is difficult. We'll wait for Alex.”
“I think we should seal the deal,” Jack suggested.
“Oh, yeah,” the younger man agreed, leaning in for another, deeper kiss, leaving no doubt that the deal was indeed sealed.
“Peter, are you sure we did the right thing?” Jennifer asked, glancing down at the item she held securely in her hands.
“Jen, you're the one who said it didn't feel right,” Peter responded as he drove the two towards the Jackson-O'Neill home.
“It doesn't,” Jennifer sighed. “Peter, Grandpa has never stayed away this long.”
“He doesn't sound sick,” Peter remarked.
“No, he doesn't,” Jennifer agreed. “I just hope we did the right thing.”
Peter nodded as he responded, “Your parents will tell us that.”
“Hey, kids,” Jack greeted the couple as they came into the study.
“Hi, Dad,” Jennifer responded, smiling at JD who was focused on Mittens.
“We're playing,” Jack explained. ~Amazing cat. We were ready for some fun after pouring over those plans all morning.~
“Mittens likes to play with the printer,” JD informed his sister.
“So I see,” Jennifer chuckled, watching the cat go after a piece of paper as it was ejected from the printer. It was so good to see her dad laughing and playing. ~I'm so happy most of the stress is gone.~
Over the last couple of days, the family had truly begun to heal. Their family meetings were productive and truthful, and decisions were being made about the future. It was good, and everyone was much happier.
“Uh, JD, do you know where Daddy is?”
“He's outside with the Munchkins.”
“Will you go and ask him to come in here, please?”
“Okay, Jen,” JD agreed, gently removing himself from Jack's lap and leaving the room.
“Something up? You didn't ...”
“No, Sir,” Peter assured. “Not yet, anyway.”
“Dad!” Jennifer chastised, knowing the proposal question was once again a cause for amusement for her family.
“What's that?” Jack asked about the plastic bag his daughter was holding.
“Do you mind if we wait for Daddy?” the young woman answered.
“Jack, what's ... hi, Jen, Peter,” Daniel greeted a minute later. “What's up?”
Jennifer looked at Peter, who nodded as he walked behind the archaeologist and closed the door.
“Very cloak and dagger,” Jack commented, laughing at his joke.
“Yes,” Jennifer confirmed, causing Jack's smiling face to stiffen. She sighed, “Dad, Daddy, have you talked to Grandpa recently?”
“We called him a couple of days ago,” Jack answered.
“Why?” Daniel questioned curiously. “And what's in the bag you're holding onto so tightly?”
“We've barely seen him in weeks. He's called, but he doesn't come over, and he hasn't asked us to come over, either,” Jennifer responded. “What bothers me is that when I have seen him, he acts like everything is okay. He keeps referring to the flu, but he doesn't look like he's had the flu, and he sounds great. It's weird.”
“Maybe he's just recovering,” Daniel put forth warily.
“Daddy, wasn't he 'recovering' when Dad was still in the hospital?”
Folding his arms across his chest, the archaeologist nodded, admitting, “That was weeks ago.”
“That's my point. He's been recovering from a simple case of the flu for a very long time. I've been worried, but when I talked to Aunt Janet last night she said something that I couldn't stop thinking about,” Jennifer expounded.
“Which was?” Daniel prodded.
“Yesterday afternoon she went by Grandpa's house to check on him, and Mrs. Crenshaw wouldn't even let her in the door.”
“That's odd,” Daniel replied, becoming more concerned.
“Aunt Janet said Mrs. Crenshaw was very nice, but she couldn't even get her foot inside the foyer. She let it go when Mrs. Crenshaw told her that she was taking Grandpa to the doctor herself.”
“What doctor?” Jack questioned curiously, wondering why the retired Stargate commander would visit another physician. ~Isn't the Doc Hammond's doc?~ he asked himself, not really sure of the answer.
“I'm not sure Aunt Janet asked about that,” Jennifer answered. “But I couldn't sleep at all last night thinking about this, so today I asked Peter to go with me to Grandpa's, so we could check it out.”
“Check it out,” Daniel sighed. ~Cloak and dagger is right.~
“Did you see him?” the older man inquired.
“No, we didn't.”
“What's that?” Jack asked again, equally curious as his husband was about the unknown object their daughter was holding onto tightly. ~It has to have something to do with this.~
Jennifer put the plastic bag on Jack's desk and then opened it, revealing more smaller bags.
“This is a piece of cake that was on the kitchen counter, and this is a cookie that was on a platter of pastries and treats. Mrs. Crenshaw is always baking things for Grandpa,” Jennifer answered. Pointing at another bag, she said, “This is from the coffee bin, and this is a bag of tea. The thing about this is that I don't recall Grandpa being a big tea drinker, but there were a lot of these in the kitchen.”
“If you didn't see Grandpa, how did you get these?” Daniel questioned.
Jennifer looked at Peter and then back her parents, answering just a tad nervously, “We parked away from the house and walked there. We decided to go around back to ...”
“Sneak a peek?” Jack asked pointedly, cocking his head slightly at the young couple.
Nodding, Jennifer affirmed, “Yes. The back door was unlocked, so we went inside. It was like it was meant to be, Dad, with the door open like that. We took out the plastic bag and decided what to take with us. Then ...”
“Wait!” Daniel exclaimed, holding up one hand, palm out to stop the progression of the explanation. “Jen, are you telling us that you went to Grandpa's with the specific intention of getting samples of ... food?”
“Daddy ...” Jennifer paused and then smiled lightly. “Yes. We were being covert, as Jonny says.”
Daniel stared at his daughter a second before stating, “I just wanted to be clear; that's definitely a family trait. So what happened next?”
“We were going to check out the rest of the house and see if we could talk to Grandpa when we heard Mrs. Crenshaw coming, so we just left as fast as we could.”
“She didn't see you?” Jack questioned, full of concern for the food sting and its possible consequences.
“No, she didn't.” Jennifer paused, letting her parents consider her actions and words. “Dad, Daddy, I think something might be wrong. We know what people have done in the past to try and get to you, and I'm just wondering if maybe they might be using Grandpa to do it this time.”
“Jen, are you sure the stealth was necessary?” Daniel questioned.
“Well ...” Jennifer began, telling her parents about the visit to the Hammond home with the Spitfires. “It just felt so weird. I had chills. I didn't want the twins to be alone with her.” She sighed, “I can't explain it, but it's how I felt.”
“We thought you could have this analyzed,” Peter stated after listening to his Love explain what they had been up to.
“Welcome to the family,” Jack told Peter good-naturedly as he reached for the phone. “It's a good thing I'm back in Carter's good graces.”
“While Sam's checking that out, I think we should go see General Hammond,” Daniel suggested, getting a nod from his husband. He looked at the young couple and stated, “I know I don't need to say this, but don't mention anything about this to the brood.”
“We won't, Sir,” Peter acknowledged on behalf of himself and his girlfriend.
While the phone was ringing, Jack added, “And we're gonna have a little chat about protecting my daughter.”
Peter cleared his throat uncomfortably and became nervous, something that pleased Jack. It was the reaction he was looking for.
“No, you're not,” Jennifer stated firmly, staring her father down.
~Not when you're around, but we're gonna have it; oh, yes, we are,~ Jack smirked.
**Don't be a hypocrite, Babe,** Daniel warned.
**Like Jen said, we've brought our children into danger simply because of who we are. Peter will take care of Jen.**
**Right,** Jack replied with a mental growl. “Carter, I need a favor.”
“We need to get working on that specialized truck,” Jack stated as he and his lover struggled a bit to get him into the passenger seat of the Silver Fox.
“One of the top priorities,” Daniel agreed, grunting a bit from getting his husband situated comfortably and then the wheelchair in place.
Soon the couple was on their way. As Daniel drove down the street, beginning their fifty-minute trek to Hammond's home, Jack began the process of sorting through the current situation.
“What do we know?”
Daniel glanced at his lover and laughed.
“What?” Jack questioned.
“I don't know, Babe, but the assessment question always makes me feel like we're off-world, about to be attacked by the Goa'uld.”
“It works,” Jack maintained, getting a nod from the younger man.
“Martha Crenshaw,” Daniel stated simply.
“Black widow?” Jack queried curiously.
“The general has always talked about her fondly,” Daniel responded. “To be honest, Babe, I've half-expected him to marry her.”
“She came out of nowhere,” Jack commented. “We'd never even heard of her until Ricky came home from his little vacation with Hammond.” He sighed, asking, “What do we know about her?”
“She's a good cook,” Daniel answered.
“The way to a man's heart?” Jack put forth suspiciously.
“It must have worked,” the archaeologist retorted.
“What else?” Jack asked, his military training coming into play.
“She enjoys the outdoors, being in the sun,” Daniel began, searching his mind for all the little remarks made about the woman over the years. Actually, though, there weren't that many. It was obvious the couple knew virtually nothing about the widowed companion of the man they thought of as a grandfather to themselves, not to mention their children. Thoughtfully, he continued, “She likes to read and square dance.”
“That's about it,” Daniel responded. “Jack, do you realize we've only met Mrs. Crenshaw a few times?” Not waiting for a response, he continued, “Of course, it's not like we socialize with the general's friends. On the other hand, our children have seen her more than we have.”
At the same time, Jack and Daniel stared at each other and spoke together, “We've never checked her out.”
“That's gonna change,” the lieutenant general stated determinedly.
“Jen must've really had a case of the creeps to do what she did,” Jack stated as the couple approached Hammond's home.
“Especially since she talked Peter into helping her,” Daniel replied.
“The kid's been through the Gate,” Jack responded. “He can handle a little covert.”
“Apparently. Definitely part of this family,” Daniel agreed, bringing his car to a stop after turning onto the street where Hammond lived. “That's her car.”
“Let's say hello,” Jack quipped. ~Geez, this is fun.~
“Wait,” Daniel refuted, seeing the woman exit the home with a stranger.
“I have no idea,” Daniel replied, watching as the man got into the widow's car and started it.
“Duck!” Jack ordered.
The two men leaned over, hitting their heads.
“Ow!” the older man exclaimed grumpily.
“It was your idea,” Daniel whispered.
“Ducking isn't easy in this thing.”
“Down,” Daniel urged, hearing the car approaching. “I don't know if he could see us or not,” he commented, slowly straightening and looking out the sports car's back window for any signs that the man in Crenshaw's car had spotted them. “I think we're okay.”
“She's gone back inside, but she's left the door open,” Jack reported, his focus on Hammond's house.
“Let's see what's going on.”
Daniel parked the Silver Fox in the driveway, next to Hammond's car. He'd just gotten out when he heard the front door close.
As he helped his lover out and into his wheelchair, Daniel asked, “Did you hear that?”
“Yep,” Jack answered. “I'm gonna go around the back.”
“Jack, I ...”
“I can roll this thing on the grass. She may not know we're both here. She can't see this thing behind Hammond's monster.”
“That's wishful thinking,” Daniel refuted.
“I'll go around the side.”
Not thrilled with the plan, but opting to trust his husband and former team leader and go along, the archaeologist headed for the front door. He didn't see Jack pause, staring at Hammond's vehicle.
Jack leaned downward, letting the air out of the rear driver's side tire, stopping to do the same thing for the rear passenger tire before disappearing around the side of the house.
Knocking on the door resulted in no response at all, so Daniel tried ringing the bell several times, though no one inside the home answered the door. Walking a few steps back as he looked around, the archaeologist pulled out his cell phone on a whim and dialed Hammond's private number.
“This is Hammond. I'm away for a few days, getting some much-needed rest, so I know you'll understand why I won't be returning your call anytime soon.”
The message ended abruptly.
~Away for a few days? No other number? *Not* returning calls? General Hammond wouldn't do that, and he wouldn't leave without talking to the children,~ Daniel determined. ~He wouldn't even leave that kind of freakin' message on his voicemail.~
Daniel also felt that Hammond's voice wasn't quite as steady as normal. It seemed flat, and a couple of the words were stepped on, almost as if he'd been muttering them instead of leaving a clear message for callers. Deciding to be more forceful, he turned back to face the door.
The archaeologist pounded on the door, calling out, “General Hammond? Sir, it's Daniel. I ... I need to talk with you. General Hammond?”
Deciding it was worth the risk, Daniel used his key to Hammond's house to gain access.
“General Hammond? It's Daniel, Sir.” Daniel walked slowly and cautiously into the living room. “Sir?” He looked around the room and called out again. “General Ham...”
Daniel fell to the floor, having not seen the powerful blow that was coming from behind. Before he could respond, two more strong blows to his head and chest caused him to lose consciousness.
As it had been when Jennifer and Peter had made their covert visit to the residence, the kitchen door was unlocked. Jack entered just in time to hear his lover's fall to the carpet. Looking around, he grabbed the first things he could that might help.
“Leave him,” a voice ordered in the other room.
“He might be hurt,” a woman responded.
“I didn't kill him. Just get the general,” the male voice instructed.
“George, we're going for a ride,” the woman stated in a friendly tone.
“Somewhere special,” the woman replied.
“Are we going to be gone long?” Hammond asked.
“For a while. You and I are going to spend some wonderful alone time together.”
“I'd like that, Martha, but I need to call my grandchildren. They'll worry,” Hammond replied.
“Your grandchildren have gone away, remember, George? I told you. They've gone on a long trip with their fathers,” Martha claimed, her voice smooth and steady.
Inside the kitchen, Jack bristled from what he was hearing. Not only had his lover been hurt, but these two intruders were telling lies to their surrogate grandfather. Much loved by the entire Jackson-O'Neill clan, Hammond was considered an important member of the family.
“Forget the pleasantries,” the man barked. “I need to make a call. Bring him out in three minutes.”
Jack heard the footsteps moving towards the foyer. He waited, his ears centering in on the man's movement, listening for the slightest sound that would indicate his location. He heard a click -- the man's heel hitting the foyer floor. There was nothing more, not even the opening of the door.
~He's still inside,~ Jack thought. He wheeled himself towards the living room, accidentally hitting the side of the table. ~Crap!~
“What was that?” Mrs. Crenshaw asked, having heard the sound. “George, I want you to sit down and stay right here. Don't move.”
“Anything you say, Martha.”
“It's very important,” the woman insisted, watching the man sit down in the chair. “Speak to no one but me, or lives could be at risk. Apache,” she stated quietly.
A frown on her face, Crenshaw walked into the kitchen, looking around for something that might be disturbed.
“Looking for me?” Jack asked, catching the woman off-guard. He used a broom to literally sweep the stunned woman off her feet, forcing her to land right on top of him and his wheelchair. “Sorry, I'm married,” he quipped, slugging the woman as hard as he could and then tying her hands together behind her with some duct tape that he'd found in the 'secret ops drawer', a place where Jonny kept all kinds of MacGyver-ish type of items for playtime at the general's. He was using a lot of strength he didn't think he had anymore. ~Adrenaline: that's what it is,~ he asserted to himself as he placed another piece of duct tape over the woman's mouth and then slid her down to the cold floor.
The three minutes was about up.
**Daniel? Danny, can you hear me?** Jack sighed. His lover was still unconscious. ~He'd better not be hurt bad,~ he asserted to himself. He wheeled his way into the living room. “General Hammond?” he called out in a whisper.
Not getting a response and seeing only a blank stare from his friend, Jack looked over his husband, sensing that he was waking, but realizing it was still going to be a minute before Daniel regained his senses.
His choices limited, Jack selected the best position for his attack. Hammond was seated like a zombie in his chair, while Daniel was lying face down a few feet to the right of the chair. Quietly, Jack waited.
When the kidnapper reentered the living room, he wouldn't be able to see Jack. It would be the wheelchair-bound man's only time to catch the attacker by surprise.
“Crenshaw, move it!” the man called out.
Jack didn't breathe, not wanting to make any sounds. He needed to listen for the man.
“Where's Crenshaw?” the man asked the stoic-looking Hammond.
“Surprise!” Jack called out.
The man turned while reaching for his gun. Unfortunately for him, Jack was well trained in knife throwing, something he proved yet again as the sharp instrument propelled its way into the man's chest. The man shouted out in pain and fell to his knees.
As fast as he could, Jack wheeled his chair forward. He took hold of a book that was on the end table and slammed it down onto the man's head.
~All in,~ Jack urged himself, using all of his might and energy to lunge onto the downed intruder.
Having pulled the knife from his body, the man now held the sharp object in his hands. Jack struggled to get control of it. All he had going for him was his dead body weight. He couldn't maneuver, except to plant himself on the attacker and try to keep from being stabbed himself. Blood from the man's chest seeped out, getting onto Jack.
~Better not have any diseases, Mac,~ Jack thought when a spattering of red hemoglobin landed on his hands.
The contest lasted longer than one might have thought and then the intruder somehow managed to turn himself over, putting Jack on the bottom.
“You're a dead man!” the intruder warned bitterly as he readied the knife to stab his adversary.
“I don't think so,” Daniel countered, the click of the gun being readied to fire sounding. He placed it against the man's head and threatened, “Slowly, very slowly, raise your right hand. That's right. Thank you.” Daniel eased up just slightly, tossing the knife several yards to his right. “Now, you're going to get off my husband and lie down -- there,” he ordered, wanting the man to be at least a few feet away from Jack. “Do it now, and do it slowly.”
Having no choice, the captured attacker did as ordered.
“Jack, are you okay?”
“Peachy,” Jack answered, using the legs of end table to pull himself up to a sitting position.
Seeing all the blood on his Love's clothing, the archaeologist motioned at the globs of red and questioned, “Are you sure?”
“Huh?” Jack looked down and realized how he looked. “Not mine; not a smidgeon,” he assured.
Still keeping the gun pointed at the attacker, Daniel pulled his lover up straighter, making sure that the table and chair were aptly supporting him.
“Here,” Daniel said, giving Jack the gun.
“Thank you, Love,” Jack responded, watching as Daniel headed for the kitchen. “There's a cabbage in there,” he called out.
“Big one,” Daniel commented, stepping over the groaning Mrs. Crenshaw to go to Jonny's special drawer.
“I ... wouldn't do that,” Jack smirked when the man started to squirm. “I love to pull the trigger; it's such a rush. Hands behind the back. Now -- I won't even count to three.”
Something in Jack's voice, perhaps the longing to be active in the military again, made the man believe Jack was serious. He stilled himself, returning his hands to their place behind his back.
Daniel retrieved the rope he'd gone after and returned to the living room, tying up the man's hands securely.
“How's the general?” Daniel asked.
“No friggin' idea. Danny, Crenshaw used a word to silence Hammond,” Jack informed, watching as his lover retrieved his wheelchair and then helped him back into it. “Better?”
“You could say that,” Jack answered.
“How's your head?”
“Headache,” Daniel responded, pulling out his phone and pressing the speed dial number he wanted. “Daniel Jackson-O'Neill for General Landry. It's urgent.”
“Better get the Doc in on this,” Jack stated, staring at the still-unresponsive Hammond. “Damn, that felt good.”
Daniel looked over at his lover and shook his head. He couldn't believe the happy expression he was seeing. Yet, it was true. Perhaps more importantly, Jack had learned something very important. As he waited to be connected to the commander of Stargate Command, he smiled.
“Thanks for saving my life, again.”
Jack grinned, replying, “I guess I can still hold my own.”
Daniel looked at the tied-up man and motioned towards the kitchen as he answered, “I think you did a whole lot better than just holding your own.”
With a smile, Jack nodded. Life wasn't over; it was just beginning a new phase.
~I get it. I finally really get it,~ Jack told himself, smirking at the clueless attacker. ~Maybe I'll send him a fruit basket once he's behind bars.~
“You're telling me that Martha was a spy the whole time?” Hammond questioned as he sat at the long rectangular table in the briefing room, a spot that felt odd, considering he wasn't seated at the head of the table as had been the norm when he'd commanded the SGC.
“Yes, Sir,” Sam replied. “She was the perfect sleeper agent. She was close to you and had no ties to the military or the SGC. She didn't draw any undue attention. She led a quiet life and was the epitome of respectability.”
“The 'little old lady is harmless' thing,” Jack groaned from his usual spot opposite his former 2IC.
“Yes, Sir,” Sam affirmed. “It almost worked.”
“I'm sorry, Sir,” Daniel stated quietly, looking over at Hammond.
“It was all a scam, to get what?” Hammond asked, his hands gesturing outward questioningly. “I'm retired. I have no ties to the SGC.”
“But you do to General O'Neill and Daniel,” Sam explained. Hesitantly, she added, “And to Jennifer and David.”
“What?” both Jack and Daniel questioned curiously.
“The Teen Gaters program is one of the few ways that ...”
“They wanted to infiltrate the Teen Gaters?” Daniel asked incredulously.
“Jennifer's screening program is top notch. She's turned down teens and families that she doesn't believe are suitable,” Sam stated. “Apparently, some of our personnel are part of a group of dissidents who want more access to off-world technology.”
“Been there, done that,” Jack sighed.
“What did they want with me?” Hammond asked. “And what made them think I'd help them?”
Janet spoke up and answered, “General, Mrs. Crenshaw was drugging you. We found traces of a truth-like serum that makes its users susceptible to the influence of others. They had a series of code words they were using to put you under their control.”
“Like 'Apache',” Jack stated, getting funny looks from the assembled personnel. “What?” he asked.
“General Hammond's been given an inhibitor that counteracts the serum,” Janet stated, thereby calming the concerns of the group.
“So he's okay?” Daniel queried.
Nodding, Janet explained, “He'll have to take the inhibitor for a few more days. Once the drug is completely out of his system, he'll be fine.”
“And the code words ...” Daniel prodded.
“They don't work without the serum,” Janet assured. “That's why the general didn't respond to what General O'Neill just said.”
“This Crenshaw women drugged him?” Landry asked. “For how long?”
“We're not sure,” Sam answered. “We removed all the food in the general's kitchen, and just about everything not sealed contained an element of the drug, except for the tea.”
“I don't drink tea.”
“No, Sir, but Mrs. Crenshaw does,” Sam answered, lowering her gaze after communicating her message. “Their plan was to feed you the information on who should be accepted to the Teen Gaters, and to the new young adult program, if that plan becomes a reality. Because of your relationship with Jen and David, you could give recommendations that would seem plausible. They respect you.”
“It was a flawed plan,” Hammond stated. “I've never involved myself with the Teen Gaters. Jennifer runs that with the help of Colonel Davis.”
“Apparently, the people behind this didn't know that, or didn't care,” Sam responded.
“Sam, are Jen and David in danger?” Daniel asked, concerned for the welfare of the two Mouseketeers.
“No, I don't think so,” Sam answered, smiling with some degree of confidence.
“Carter, you said this was a group of unhappy campers,” Jack argued. “If they wanted Hammond to influence our kids, why not go after our kids directly?”
“Because you're you, Sir.”
Jack stared at the woman as if he were about to pull out her hair for her.
“Uh, Sir, the interrogation was pretty clear. They don't want to get to you or the brood. They're ... afraid,” Sam stated with a cautious smile. “They actually brought up what happened sometime back with the renegade NID unit. They really don't want to mess with you or the brood, but they did believe that General Hammond could be of use in this one situation. Like I said, they mentioned repeatedly that they have no desire to harm the children and gain your ...”
“Wrath?” Jack asked.
“You could say that,” Sam acknowledged.
“Colonel Carter, how many people are we talking about?” Landry queried.
“Not many, Sir -- six or seven. Colonel Davis is following up on that, and we should have them contained by the end of the day,” Sam reported.
“Okay. Back to work,” Landry ordered, standing up. He saw the expressions on the group's faces and added, “Well, I have to go back to work. The President gets sour if I don't earn my paycheck.”
As the group began to disperse, Hammond walked over to Jack and Daniel, shaking their hands as he said, “Thank you.”
“Thank Jen and Peter,” Jack stated, reminding Hammond how it had been the young couple's concern that had actually saved the day.
“I will,” Hammond stated, walking out, leaving Jack and Daniel alone.
“It feels good being here, Danny,” Jack spoke quietly, wheeling over to the window overlooking the gate room to stare out at the Stargate.
“Yeah, it does.”
“They won't let me go through again. You know that,” Jack stated.
“It's a good thing.”
“What?” Jack asked in disbelief.
“You didn't let me finish. It's a good thing we have friends, like Thor. He doesn't need a Stargate,” Daniel pointed out.
“There's that,” Jack agreed with a smile.
“We still have a lot of exploring to do, Jack. Our universe is limitless,” Daniel pointed out softly and confidently.
With a smile, Jack took a last look and then demanded, “Danny, let's go home. We've got things to do and experiences to ... experience.”
“Yes, Sir, General, Sir,” Daniel chuckled as the two headed for the exit.
“So, everything's okay now, and Grandpa will be here tomorrow so you can all see for yourself,” Daniel stated during the family meeting that night.
“Wow, Dad!” Jonny said, a huge grin on his face. “You saved Grandpa!”
“I had a little help, you know,” Jack replied, trying to give Daniel some of the credit.
“Don't look at me,” the younger man replied. “I was unconscious most of the time.”
For the next few minutes, the brood made a huge deal over their older father's actions. Jack was soaking up their encouragement and loving words like a sponge, while Daniel happily sat back and watched. Their family was healing, and it was awesome to watch.
“Dad, I found something for you,” Jonny called out excitedly, reaching into his backpack that he'd brought to the meeting. He pulled out a picture he'd printed out while visiting a neighborhood friend earlier in the day. “Look! We can go bike riding, too.”
The family responded with happy sounds as they took in the photograph of a specialized bicycle that was operated by a hand cycle.
“I've seen these,” Jack spoke. “They're kinda cool.”
“You can still lead us on our bike trips,” Jenny stated happily. “Way to go, Bro,” she praised, smiling brightly at her older brother.
“Great idea, Son,” Jack agreed cheerfully. “We'll put it on our shopping list.”
“Dad, can you still take us flying in Jo?” Ricky asked curiously.
“Oh, yeah,” Jack affirmed. “There's a lot your old man can still do. We need to make a few modifications here and there, but there's nothing wrong with change. Skiing, boating, flying, basketball ... sled hockey,” he laughed, smiling happily at Little Danny for the research he'd done on that subject.
“And dolphins!” Brianna interjected. “Dad, you've swum with the dolphins before; it's therapeutic. I think we should all go again.”
“Add it to the list,” Jack agreed jovially, now not only willing but wanting to challenge himself in all ways possible to live the life of togetherness with his husband and their brood.
The feeling of hope for their future hadn't been so bright in quite a while, and the Jackson-O'Neills were taking it all in. It was giving each of them an inner joy, and it was time to celebrate.
“Lulu?” Chenoa called out excitedly, an idea popping into her head.
“Yeah,” Lulu agreed, bobbing her head at Chenoa's call, knowing exactly what her sister was suggesting.
“Dad, we have a special surprise for you,” Chenoa called out. “We'll be right back.”
A few minutes later, the dancing sisters were in place at the middle of the recreation room. The furniture had been pulled back, and the girls had changed into their costumes, which on the outside consisted of shirts belonging to David, as well as two of his ties.
“This dance is called, 'We love you, Dad',” Lulu stated, cueing David to start the music.
“We'll make a dance for you, too, Daddy,” Chenoa added, smiling at the archaeologist.
The dance began as a hip-hop routine, both girls doing movements their parents had never seen coming from them. A third of the way through, David's shirts and ties were tossed onto the floor, revealing the girls more standard leotards. While Chenoa did an edgy tap dance circle around her sister, Lulu made elegant ballet movements that elicited 'ooh's and 'awes' from family members. All of a sudden, the girls joined hands and began a more contemporary dance routine, flowing as one as they completed their dance.
**Danny, they're good,** Jack communicated proudly. **I mean, Aislinn-singing good.**
**Yes, they are,** Daniel responded with an equal amount of pride.
“Come here,” Jack beckoned, holding his arms out wide for the two girls, who hurried into his happy embrace. “I love you both so dang much.” He laughed, “My two curly tops, such beautiful dancers.”
“Noa, that's it!” Lulu exclaimed.
“I love it!” Chenoa agreed.
“Dad, you did it again!” Lulu spoke excitedly.
“Good,” Jack answered. “What did I do?”
“Noa and I are dancing together, as a team,” Lulu announced.
“We needed a name,” Chenoa added.
“We're the Curly Tops!” Lulu proclaimed enthusiastically, grinning and looked around at her smiling siblings.
“Good job, Babe,” Daniel praised, patting Jack on the back.
“Yes, well, there's no end to my talents,” Jack teased, hugging the girls again. “Thank you for the dance, Curly Tops.”
“Now we can enter competitions,” Chenoa added.
**We need to hire a chauffeur,** Jack relayed to his husband.
**Nope. We just need to get that new truck and get you trained to drive it.**
**I like that plan,** Jack responded.
**Like you say, Babe, Plan B every time.**
“I have a fabulous idea,” Little Danny called out.
“What is it, Little Danny?” Aislinn asked eagerly.
“Tomorrow's Dad's real birthday. Let's have another party!”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look that slowly transformed into smiles and then laughs. Their family was all about parties, as long as the party had one thing.
“With lots and lots and *lots* of ice cream,” Jonny added, to the cheers of his siblings.
With the activities of the last two days, Jack knew for sure that he was capable of helping to protect his family. It was the final piece of the chain. His lovemaking with Daniel was even better the next time they tried. Sara and Janet had both been right, and Jack was eager to explore those new horizons with his husband.
Jack's birthday party would be a celebration of their family's survival and willingness to move forward, having survived another trauma. They'd rejoice at their unity and ability to tackle any foe, including a disability.
Like always, the Jackson-O'Neills were together, which also meant they were unbeatable. Not even the traffic accident that left Jack a paraplegic would get them down. For Jack, Daniel, and their brood, the skies were blue and bright, and the sunshine was out -- today, tomorrow, and every day that would come after that.
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