Author: Orrymain and special guest co-author, Claudia!
Category: Slash, Humor, Drama, Angst, H/C, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating: NC-17 (mild and mostly it's PG-13)
Season: Beyond the Series - March 14, 2011 - January 1, 2012
Spoilers: Children of the Gods, The Enemy Within, Emancipation, The Nox, Singularity, 2001, Red Sky, Rite of Passage, Avatar
Size: 1822kb Total
--Chapter 1 - March/April/Early May: 176kb
--Chapter 2: May: 95kb
--Chapter 3: June: 266kb
--Chapter 4: July: 121kb
--Chapter 5: August: 203kb
--Chapter 6: September: 185kb
--Chapter 7: October: 557kb (all parts combined)
--Chapter 8: November: 187kb
--Chapter 9: December/January: 211kb Tweaked: June 19, 2010
Written: August 21-22, December 5, 2004, January 16-20, March 14-28, April 7, July 13-17,19-20,24, August 8-9,20-22,26, September 5, 8-10,13,18-21,28, October 8,12-16,18-24,28-29, November 3-11,17-21,24-30, December 3,5,10-11,16-18, 2005, January 1-2,6-9,11,14-15,17-20-31, February 1-28, March 1-31, April 1-18,27, 2006 Revised for consistency: September 8-15,24, 2007 Revised Again per above.
Summary: Jack and Daniel discover something unusual on another planet. Can something normal for their new alien friends become an unexpected miracle for the lovers? What other unanticipated joys await the Jackson-O'Neills?
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't. A gal can dream though!
1) We had so much fun we decided to do it again ... and again. Thanks to Claudia, my always beta, and now sometimes co-author! She makes it so much fun to write some of these fics!
2) This fic was spawned from an idea by Jenn in an email on the JackDanielites list. To say more would 'spoil' the story.
3) Hanky warning, so I've been told, especially Chapters 7 and 9. Also, please note Ch. 7 is a very intense chapter, subject wise.
4) August short poem by Michelle L. Thieme in “August's Crown”. Longer poem is by Elizabeth Maua Taylor. Both were featured on gardendigest.com.
5) “I Get a Kick Out of You” lyrics by Cole Porter; “Fever” Words and Music by John Davenport and Eddie Cooley; “Chattanooga Choo Choo” by Glenn Miller; “The Balloon Song” lyrics by Casey Beathard; “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg.
6) 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.**
7) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
8) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fics, “I'm Fine,” “Stay Awake,” “Being Ourselves,” “The Little Ones,” “Detour,” “Murphy's Law Redeux,” “Hebetude,” “A Christmas Miracle,” “Blowout,” “The Burning,” “Life Really Sucks,” “Hidden Enemy,” “Brothers,” “In Memoriam,” “Boys at Play,” “It's Raining ... Kids?”
9) Thanks to my foreign language helpers: Ali and Martin, Fex, D-Chan and Cathy, Kat, Jannen, Gaby, and Sineag
10) The Russian phrases are written phonetically since the Russian font is not common and not able to be printed as part of the text. Using the 'sounding' of the words was the only way to include it as part of the story.
11) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better: Heather, Patti, Linda, Robert, QuinGem, Carol!
by Orrymain and Claudia
Chapter One: What's a Womis?
Daniel shook his head vehemently, feeling frustrated as he tapped the tabletop with his pen. He was dressed in his green BDUs, his jacket left unbuttoned. He was standing, leaning on his arms in front of a large conference table in one of the meeting rooms.
Seated at the table were various archaeologists that worked on the SG field teams as well as many of those who worked in the base labs. In front of them were notepads that each had available for their use. Some had been taking extensive notes, while others were simply doodling.
The session had been going on for a half-hour at this point, and Daniel was a little frustrated by what he was hearing. He'd headed the Archaeology and Anthropology Units from the beginning. They had been responsible for handling any and all artifacts returned by SG teams on their various missions.
While no longer working full time at the SGC, Daniel was still heading the department, though relying more and more on others to handle the day-to-day decisions since his tenure was coming to an end. In fact, though the others weren't aware of it, that's part of what this meeting was about. Daniel knew he was going to have to recommend someone to take his place when he left the SGC for good, and he was having a hard time coming up with a name to suggest.
Contributing to the meeting were Nyan, the Bedrosian who had returned to Earth with SG-1 years ago and now sported the title of Off-World Cultural Expert, Doctor Cameron Balinsky, a civilian archaeologist assigned to SG-13, John Carpenter, a civilian archaeologist who worked in the research labs; Doctor Bill Lee, a civilian scientist, skilled in both the social and physical sciences, Doctor Renata Stone, a civilian linguist, Captain Neville Hagman, an anthropologist currently assigned to SG-11, Captain Arnold Matthison, archaeologist for SG-8, and six others.
“You have to keep your minds open,” Daniel spoke, running the pen through his fingers as he stood at the head of the table. “For example ... Neville, when you explore the ruins on PR9-642, remember, you're on PR9-642, not on Earth. While our history can help us understand alien cultures, you must never forget that it's still our history, not theirs.”
“I understand that, Doctor Jackson, but if the contention we've been working under since the beginning of the SGC is that the Goa'uld essentially kidnapped people from Earth and transported them to other worlds, then the premise would still be the same -- we're studying ourselves,” Hagman argued.
“That would be an assumption, Neville,” Nyan refuted. “My home world of Bedrosia ...”
“Bedrosia again?” Matthison mumbled.
“It is where I'm from,” Nyan rebutted simply. He continued, “Our ancestors probably came from here, but our heritage has many differences.”
“Right, and that's exactly my point,” Daniel chimed in. “Use what we know as a foundation, but beyond that, we have to be willing to see what's new and distinct about whatever culture we're studying.”
“With all due respect, Doctor Jackson,” Carpenter spoke. “Isn't what we know about ancient cultures on Earth going to mirror what we find off-world, if the populace was taken from Earth in the first place?”
“That isn't what happened on Bedrosia,” Nyan commented.
“Or on most worlds we've been to,” Daniel quickly noted. “Look, all I'm saying is that I've noticed a tendency to accept what's been discovered on the surface. We need to look deeper, and we need to find out the significance of a discovery to the world we've discovered it on. The moment that a populace was removed from Earth and transplanted, it began a divergent path. While the new environment might be similar to Earth, it's still different.” Daniel paused and then sighed, “It may be a cliché, but you have to think outside the box, *far* outside the box.”
“Doesn't that get us into trouble sometimes?” Renata inquired. “Look at what happened with the virtual reality chairs. We made a video game out of it, and the result almost killed two people, including yourself.”
“Uh, yes, but ...” Bill Lee began, coughing a bit nervously as he spoke. “But the problem wasn't with the chair, but with the subject.”
“And that doesn't alter what happened,” Renata maintained.
“We're not talking about chairs,” Daniel insisted. “Our mistake was in assuming we understood how the programming functioned, and we overlooked the differences in the Jaffa and human brains.”
“It was Teal'c's stubbornness,” Lee insisted.
“No, it was hundreds and thousands of years of Jaffa living as slaves,” Daniel refuted. “It's difficult to believe a dream that's never even seen the light of day,” he added. “We forgot that Teal'c's history isn't our history; that was our mistake.” The archaeologist took a breath and walked to the other side of the room, trying to decide how best to make his point. He turned back to face the group and said, “Remember the lesson of the Nox. When SG-1 arrived on their planet, we assumed they were in need of our help. We didn't listen to them. We used our history and perceptions, and we were wrong, as wrong as we could be. It took us a long time to convince the Nox that we could see beyond ourselves.”
“It would be nice if they'd share some of their knowledge with us,” Renata remarked.
“They do, but do I have to remind you that we aren't always the best listeners?” Daniel queried, searching out the eyes of almost everyone in the room. He moved forward, once again leaning both hands against the edge of the brown table, and continued, “There's a reason the Nox are our allies, but from a distance. We've never been to their city in the sky, and they sometimes hesitate to visit us here.”
“Maybe they just don't like to travel,” Carpenter smirked.
Daniel let out a snort, saying, “John, if you ever want to excel beyond the basics of archaeology, you need to broaden your scope.” Looking at everyone, he added, “You all do. Sometimes broadening our horizons gets us in trouble. K'tau, for example. We rewrote the program to suit our needs and almost destroyed a world, and yet, we have to be willing to take chances. That's what exploration is all about.”
“Daniel, no one is arguing that,” Doctor Lee said.
“Then meet the challenge,” Daniel replied. Walking slowly back towards the front of the room, he used his fingers to scratch his forehead as he talked. “Curiosity is vital to our field and to the Stargate Program. Ask questions, lots of questions,” he urged. “When you visit another planet, don't ask yourselves just how they are like us, but how they are different, too. Then try and figure out what we can learn from them.”
“We visit some primitive planets, Doctor Jackson,” Matthison countered.
“Yes, we do,” Daniel agreed, having reached the head of the table. “Anyone thinking outside the box here?”
Balinsky leaned forward, interjecting, “Primitive is oftentimes in the eye of the beholder. It's possible that being primitive in one way doesn't mean the entire civilization is less advanced than us. Case in point - Simarka,” he said, leaning back in his chair again.
“Yes, yes, yes!” Daniel excitedly affirmed. “The Shavadai were a Mongolistic society. Their chief mode of transportation was the horse, and they lived in tents. Primitive by our standards, correct?” he challenged.
“But they were the ones with that anesthetic, weren't they?” Hagman inquired.
Daniel nodded, answering, “Precisely. Over the years, we've visited many worlds that had high degrees of technology, sometimes in medicine, weaponry, or industrial methods, and yet, in spite of that knowledge, they live a simple existence or aren't advanced in other ways. As archaeologists and cultural researchers, we have to keep our minds open each and every time we encounter a new world.”
“And we have to be willing to be wrong,” Nyan noted, remembering how he had had to completely rethink his planet's evolution when proven wrong by the existence of the Stargate and the arrival of SG-1 on Bedrosia.
Smiling, Daniel affirmed, “Yes, we do, and those of you on SG field teams need to be more assertive.” He heard a few snickers from several of those seated around the table, and he laughed, too. “Okay, so I have a bit of a reputation, but I have to fight for what I believe. I have to speak up for the new races we encounter who don't know our world, and I have to make sure the leader of the team I'm assigned to has choices. That's part of my job, and yours -- to give choices.” Daniel smiled, saying, “General O'Neill is infamous for saying there's always an 'or', but he's right, and that's part of the reason most SG teams have either an archaeologist or anthropologist on them.”
“Doctor Jackson, I have a mission briefing in ten minutes,” Hagman reminded.
Daniel glanced at the clock, replying, “Sorry, we've gone over. Remember your focus when you're off-world and when you're studying artifacts or doing research. Be true to your research; ask questions; stand up for your findings; and while making assumptions is part of the process of research and study, be willing to rethink them. I want to see evidence that you're out there listening. Okay,” Daniel concluded, motioning dismissal of the meeting.
The archaeologist picked up his notes, stuffing them into a file folder. He stayed for a minute to make a few notes and then he set out for his office. As he rounded one of the tiny jogs in the corridor, he overheard Hagman commenting to someone, “Listen? What does he think we just did for the last ninety minutes?”
Daniel sighed, shaking his head, although he felt a tiny reprieve when he heard Balinsky's reply.
“He didn't mean that as literally as you took it, Neville,” Balinsky explained. “Don't you feel it when you're out there? It's exciting! Every ruin we explore, and every artifact we find begs for us to discover its story. When we do, we need to make sure that we learn what we can from it and make sure that we don't interfere with its existence. Every place we go is different, and in their own way, those worlds are speaking to us. We need to keep listening and looking for the subtleties. You think you have it all figured out, and then some small, seemingly insignificant little thing right under your nose that you've been overlooking the whole time can change and rearrange everything. That's what he's saying. We have to be willing to do the slow, painstaking research and not just settle for what we find on the top layer.”
Nodding and with a tiny smile on his face, Daniel continued on towards his office. He knew he had at least a year before having to submit his recommendation, and he was hoping that in that time, someone would step up and be able to see the potential in technology while also exhibiting a passion for other cultures that went beyond the visible.
“I thought I'd find you out here,” Jack Jackson-O'Neill said to his husband as he approached the younger man in their backyard several nights later.
With a light March breeze blowing Daniel's somewhat long hair in the wind, Jack thought his lover was the sexiest creature in all the universe, especially when he smiled, like Daniel just did.
Looking upward, Daniel motioned to the sky and softly observed, “It's a full moon. Look how it lights up the world.”
~You light up the world,~ Jack couldn't help but think as he sat down next to Daniel on the lawn, near the tree house Jack had built for his lover almost two years earlier.
The archaeologist was seated Indian-style, but Jack chose to sit with his legs bent at the knees and stretched out to his right. He made sure his shoulder touched his lover's, something that had always been a sign of their closeness.
It was 1:30 a.m., and each man had a monitor in front of him in case any of their children stirred. Since renovating their home, the monitors hadn't really been needed, but the portable devices still came in handy whenever the couple was outside as they now were. Besides, their beloved beagles, Bijou and Katie, were always on watch.
“You've been quiet lately,” Jack noted as he looked at their beautiful home.
“Have I? I'm sorry. Everything's fine, I promise,” Daniel assured, his eyes gazing into Jack's.
“Danny, tell me what you've been thinking about,” the older man requested.
“Just silly things. I love you,” Daniel said as he took his left hand and reached over to caress Jack's right cheek, letting his thumb drag gently across the slightly stubbled skin.
Staring into his lover's eyes, Jack knew the answer to his previous question and asked, “Angel, you want to do it, don't you?”
Daniel seemed stunned at Jack's words. His mouth opened, and his eyes widened slightly. Even his breath hitched at the question.
“I ... I don't know wha...what ...”
“Daniel, stop,” Jack ordered gently. “I remember a few years ago we both wanted the same thing, but neither one of us was able to say it out loud until it was almost too late.”
“The Mouseketeers,” Daniel acknowledged, a small smile on his face, remembering back to when they had adopted Jennifer, David, and Chenoa. “We are lucky Molly was such a good con artist,” Daniel chuckled.
Molly O'Hanlon had run the shelter where the three Morgan children lived after the tragic death of their parents in a car accident. With perfect timing, under the threat of the youngsters being separated, Molly had cajoled the lovers into admitting they wanted to adopt the three orphans, something each had individually wanted and yet been hesitant to admit to the other.
“Yeah. What if we had hesitated in Molly's office?” Jack challenged.
“Gawd, Jack, I can't even imagine life without them,” Daniel confessed in a slightly stressed tone of voice.
~I know what he's thinking,~ Jack thought as he reached over and took Daniel's hand in his. He raised it to his lips and kissed it. He chuckled softly, shaking his head as he lightly mused, “I swear. I don't know why it's so hard to say what's in our hearts.” He smiled as he silently pondered the question. ~We're so close; why is it so hard sometimes?~
“History,” Daniel answered.
“History?” Jack pondered the idea for a moment and then let out a soft snort. “Yeah, I guess so. No matter how happy we are, those little rough spots from our past will always be in our memories, waiting to jump out and try to wreak havoc with us.”
Daniel nodded his agreement, then added, “Jack, I'm happy. You know that.”
“Me, too,” Jack professed. He leaned over and kissed Daniel's cheek. “Happier than ever, but no changing the subject, Angel. You want to do this, don't you?”
“I ... I never thought ... I mean it's impossible ...” Daniel stammered, still in awe of the possibility now facing them, a notion that had been presented to them earlier in the month.
“Is it? Is it, Angel?” Jack questioned as he, too, considered the potential magic of their future.
“Carter, this had better be good,” Jack bellowed as he stared through his sunglasses to check their surroundings.
“Trust me, Sir. I think you'll find it very interesting,” Sam replied, her smug smile commentary in and of itself.
As they walked, Daniel commented, “Sam, the reports from SG-13 and SG-9 seemed a little ... vague. Actually, they were pretty devoid of any information about this planet except that it was an advanced society that would be valuable to have as an ally.”
Sam cringed. She had presented Jack and Daniel with edited copies of the SG team reports, and those copies said virtually nothing about why they would want to visit the planet. In essence, she had asked her friends to trust her that there was a valid reason for this visit to the alien world.
“Look, guys. I know your criteria for going through the Stargate nowadays. Believe me I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize your lives. You need to see this, first hand, not read about it in a report,” Sam informed them.
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look. To the best of their knowledge, one month earlier, SG-13 had gone on a standard recon to PRW-112 where they had made first contact with the inhabitants, a people known as Pierolites. They called their world Pierola. They were an advanced society with medical and scientific technologies far exceeding that of the Tau'ri. They lacked military know-how and weaponry, however, so SG-9 had been sent to negotiate both an alliance and an exchange.
While there, SG-9 became aware that Pierolites were divided into three major groups. The ones they were negotiating with were the Aarolians. They were city dwellers, focused on art and family. Far away in the northeast lived the Phelpians, and in the southwest, the Crochians. Each group was an independent nation on Pierola, and they did not interact except on planetary issues. Thus, SG-9 had recommended recons to the other sections of the planet, to learn about the cultures and technologies of those peoples.
One week later, SG-2, led by Colonel Lou Ferretti, had been assigned to visit the Phelpians, while SG-8 headed southwest to meet the Crochians. In the end, neither nation had wanted to set up a formal alliance, but both were open to occasional return visits.
These basics were all Jack and Daniel knew, and the secrecy was making them nervous. The couple was working for the SGC two or three days a week, depending upon the SGC's need and their personal schedules, and subject to the demands of their business, J-O Enterprises as well as their eleven children. Though technically listed as consultants, Daniel still ran the archaeology side of things, and Jack was essentially Hammond's 2IC whenever he was on base. The main difference between their work now and before they had 'retired' was that they were in control of their missions and they focused more on promulgating and nurturing relationships with their most needed and trusted allies, such as the Nox, Asgard, and Hedronix, rather than on exploring new worlds or doing search and rescue missions.
Several days earlier, Sam had showed up at their doorstep, supposedly to visit the children, but both men knew she had something else to say.
“There's something you two need to see,” Sam had told the two men. “I can't tell you about it because ... well, you just need to see it.”
Getting nowhere in their questioning of the smirking female, Jack and Daniel had finally agreed to visit the Phelpians, especially when Lou showed up at the house in the middle of the conversation, apparently for the same reason Sam had. He enthusiastically urged the couple to visit the planet as well.
“I wouldn't steer you wrong, Jack,” Lou had assured his friend. “You *need* to go,” he had urged strongly.
Lou had piqued their curiosity. He wasn't normally one to play games about off-world civilizations, but all they could get out of him was that SG-2 had enjoyed a pleasant visit with the Phelpians, and while there, Lou had made a discovery, one he didn't fully describe in his report, but had mentioned to Sam.
So, SG-1 walked through the Stargate onto the world of Pierola and headed for the nation of the Phelpians.
//End of Flashback//
The two explorers had had no idea what amazing surprises lay ahead of them on Pierola, and now, as they sat in front of their home, pondering what they learned, they were both exhilarated and frightened.
“Do you, Jack?” Daniel asked as his heart rate increased, the mere thought of what could be causing his body to react.
“What do you think?” Jack answered inquisitively.
“I think answering a question with a question is unfair,” Daniel replied with a pout.
“Why? You do it all the time,” Jack teased.
“Do I really do that?” Daniel teased right back, knowing the answer which accounted for the smile on his face.
“All's fair in love and war,” Jack quipped with pride.
“No war here, Love,” Daniel said softly.
Jack smiled and leaned in for a kiss, and then the two gazed into each other's eyes, feasting in their shared emotions for awhile.
“The Phelpians are very unusual people,” Jack finally said, continuing their discussion.
“We couldn't tell anyone. In a way, Jack, it's not fair to others,” Daniel remarked, wondering if they had a right to partake of this little miracle.
“Sometimes, Danny, we have to worry about ourselves and not the rest of the world,” Jack commented, firmly believing they were just as entitled to happiness as the next couple, and this event would definitely be a happy one; that is, if they decided to try it.
“It's tempting,” the younger man admitted, his hair shining in the moonlight.
~Sexy archaeologist!~ Jack laughed brightly and looked up at the stars, silently identifying several of the constellations that documented the night sky. Then he echoed Daniel's sentiments, saying, “Very tempting.”
They'd walked for a few hours when Jack asked, “How much further, Lou?”
The three nations were separated by a good distance, the Stargate being located almost centrally between them. When necessary for planetary matters, airbuses (small spacecraft) were sent by the most advanced of the three nations to pick up and transport participants to a neutral meeting site. Otherwise, what little travel was done between them was accomplished by horse or on foot and could usually be achieved in one day, depending on the weather and the pace of the travelers.
“About two clicks,” the colonel responded.
“Sure wish I knew why we were here,” Jack pried, glancing over at his comrade with inquisitive eyes.
“You aren't gonna believe it, Jack, but you gotta see it,” Lou answered, having the same smug smirk Sam wore earlier.
“So I've been told, over and over again, by both you and Carter. This had better be good,” Jack groused, thinking he'd rather be home making love to his husband, playing with their kids, or even working in the yard rather than traipsing around some strange world.
Lou laughed, “Hey, if I'm wrong, I'll name my next child after ya.”
“Right. Carolyn pregnant or something?” Jack joked.
“Please, Jack. She'd shoot me even for joking about that, but, ah, you can name your next one after me. How's that?” Lou joked.
“Gawd,” Daniel laughed. “We have eleven; that's plenty.”
“Besides, they come with names already when we get them these days,” the general added.
“Right, right,” Lou responded as he increased his pace, whistling, “Rockabye Baby.”
“Daniel, I think Doc Fraiser needs to take a closer look at Ferretti when we get back. The heat is getting to him,” Jack only half-teased.
Daniel laughed, curiosity beginning to swell within him as he pondered what could be so unusual about this place that would make Sam and Lou be so cryptic about it in such a lighthearted way.
~Guess we'll find out soon enough,~ Daniel thought as they continued on.
//End of Flashback//
At the end of their journey on the planet, the couple had been presented with an amazing opportunity, one they never expected could really happen. Now, they had to decide whether they dared to move forward or not.
Daniel looked up at his husband, gazing into his eyes as he admitted, “I do want this, Jack. I never thought it was possible, and now that it is ...” He smiled at the wonder within their grasp. “Even with the risk, I want this.”
“I want it, too, Danny,” Jack admitted, smiling. He kissed his soulmate, sighing lightly afterwards as he confessed, “It would be easier with a guarantee, but then, life doesn't come with any, does it?”
“Jack,” Daniel said softly, pausing as he looked down for a moment. He shook his head as if fending off his doubts and spoke, “We can't pass this up.”
The two kissed again, and Jack shook his head, still overwhelmed they'd been given the possibility for this very special gift.
“I can't believe they didn't warn us,” Jack commented about Sam and Lou.
Daniel grinned in response, then asked, “How long was it before we regained our senses?”
“Filip, Harad!” Lou called out.
Two men were standing on the outskirts of the Phelpian's capital city, Phelpa. They were waiting by the main gate of the tall, thick walls that enclosed the city. Unlike the Aarolian city dwellers whose lives were centered around culture and who rarely ventured into the rural or country realm, about half the Phelpian population worked farms outside the walls while the other half had jobs inside the walls that were needed to provide materials and supplies for daily living.
The Phelpian farmers would work their farms during the daytime, but return to the protection of the large walls at night. The reason the entire population lived within the city walls was that during their winter season, the winds were so strong that they would destroy any farmhouses or structures unprotected. This meant that during their farming season, they would begin by building temporary structures to aid in their planting and harvests, even though they knew the buildings would be destroyed when winter came.
The natives always grew enough food to stockpile during the winter, and agriculture and food preservation were two of the areas in which their advanced technology shone through. They had cooling chambers and greenhouses that could keep any food ripe and ready for eating for months. It would take a minimum of seven months before any of their supply would rot, and by then, they would be well into their farming season again.
At the moment, a small group of boys were playing happily beside the two adults, and at Lou's shout, they came running towards the alien visitors, showing no sign of fear.
“Uncle Lou, Uncle Lou,” the oldest of the boys enthusiastically called out. When he reached them, he flung his arms around Lou's legs. “Have you come to teach us more games?”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a confused glance. So far, the Phelpians didn't seem that extraordinary. Sam and Lou caught the look and grinned at each other.
“Kyal,” Lou greeted as he untangled himself from the boys surrounding him. He gestured with a wave of his hand towards Jack and Daniel, saying, “These are two of our friends, Jack and Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.”
Two heads shot up in surprise at this. Although the lovers didn't need to hide their relationship anymore, to save confusion, they usually introduced themselves by their birth surnames when off-world.
One of the smaller boys looked up at Sam and asked, “They are matiered?”
Sam nodded as she answered, “Yes, Gliphus, they are matiered.” She looked at her friends and explained, “Matiered means married.”
Grinning as Filip and Harad finally reached them, Lou stated, “Jack, Daniel, this is Filip and Harad Adylphi. They are matiered as well. Filip, Harad, these are the friends we were telling you about, Jack and Daniel Jackson-O'Neill. Jack, Daniel, meet Filip, Harad, and their children -- their *biological* children.”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look, but they weren't particularly shocked. After all, they had biological children, too.
Sam could tell what her friends were thinking and clarified, “Their ... biological children, together.” She smiled and stated even more clearly, “... as in the two of them, together, just the two of them.”
Daniel's face now resembled that of a guppy, his mouth open and eyes wide. Jack was looking at his 2IC incredulously, his eyes challenging her words.
“It's true, Jack,” Lou stated, a gleam in his eyes. “These two handfuls are their natural kids.”
Still, Jack and Daniel stood speechless. They stared at the boys and then looked at the two men, who smiled in response. Lou and Sam had already told them about the lovers, including some of their history and about their eleven children.
“Come to our casil; we have much to talk about,” Filip suggested as he subtly waved off the other boys to go play.
Jack nodded, did a quick shake of his head as if to wake himself up, and began to follow their hosts and his teammates. He had gone several feet before he realized Daniel wasn't with him.
“Daniel?” Jack asked, having turned around to face his still lover.
Daniel looked all around him, taking in the panoramic scope of the vast area. He looked at the city's main gate that was in front of them and then back at Jack.
“Biological ... together?” Daniel asked, full of disbelief, amazement, and uncertainty.
Filip and Harad smiled, having stopped when they, too, realized their guests weren't following. They kissed and held hands, and each held one of their sons' hands. They nodded in answer to Daniel's question.
Daniel studied the children's faces carefully as he stood frozen, unable to move or speak until he finally stammered, “Jack, they are. Their features ... the shape of their faces, noses, the...their eyes, skin tone, they ... there isn't a ... a hint of ...”
The younger man was very excited, seeing for himself that the boys' features were a solid combination of the two men.
Jack walked to his husband and tried to calm him, suggesting, “Come on, Danny; let's go find out what this is about.”
Realizing they were free to do so, Jack gave his husband a quick kiss of encouragement, and taking his hand, began to walk towards the main gate.
//End of Flashback//
Jack chuckled as he thought about Daniel's question. It had taken the two men time to adjust to the words they'd heard and the living proof that had stood right in front of them.
“Quite a while,” Jack admitted. “Mostly, you just stared at Filip, Harad, and the children. For a minute there, I wasn't sure I'd get you inside the city.”
“I was so stunned once I realized what they were saying.” Daniel looked outward, not really focusing on anything. “It seemed so surreal, Jack. The more they said, the more they explained it, it just ... I thought I was dreaming, and yet, the funny thing is, I've never really dreamed about this because it just never entered my head as being a possibility.”
Jack squeezed his lover gently, and for a moment, they simply held each other.
“You know, Danny, we've both said off-handedly that if we could, we'd have each other's child. I meant it. Even if it meant being a freak in our world, if I could have a child with you, just you and me, I'd do it in a heartbeat,” Jack spoke, his love for Daniel emanating from him in a thousand ways.
“Oh, Jack,” Daniel replied, smiling sweetly. He moved his hand to caress Jack's neck as he leaned in for a kiss. “I meant it, too, but do we have a right to do this?” the younger man questioned.
Thoughtfully, Jack replied, “Danny, for the greater part of our relationship, we've worried about other people and the moral implications of ... whatever, but on this, I don't friggin' care. I don't think we should consider anyone but ourselves. There's some risk involved, and whatever decision we make has to be for us.”
“What about our children, Jack? I mean, what do we tell them, and how will they feel about it? And ... and don't they have a right to be a part of this decision?” Daniel queried, his mind full of this and a hundred other questions that all were demanding answers that he just didn't have yet.
Jack pondered the situation. This was an unique opportunity, but he wasn't sure yet what they should do. He didn't care about anyone else, but, maybe, maybe their children did have a say in it. He just wasn't sure yet.
“I don't know, Angel,” Jack finally answered.
“Do you really think this could work? Leaving the womis there for others to look after just doesn't seem right, but bringing it here adds another element of danger to the whole process. It's an unknown added to a thousand other unknowns. Is it really possible to have this miracle?” Daniel asked uncertainly.
“Beats me. You're the scientist,” Jack quipped.
“Of archaeology and anthropology, not of biology,” Daniel clarified dryly.
“You get an A-plus in anatomy from me, Love,” Jack teased, kissing his husband yet again.
Daniel took a big breath and began to reflect on what they had learned from their new Phelpian friends.
“The architecture looks medieval,” Daniel quietly commented to his husband.
“Daniel, when's the last time you saw a stone building like this one that looks like it's out of The Flintstones with a palm scanner lock on it?” Jack retorted.
The archaeologist chuckled and replied, “Or corbels with digital weather reports on them?”
“Huh?” Jack asked, not having a clue what his lover was talking about.
Daniel pointed up at the large corbel, an intricately designed piece of stone that projected out from the building as it supported one of the arches, which was part of the building across from them. Along the side of the corbel, built in, not constructed or added on, was a large digital readout of the weather conditions within the city and the farms outside it.
“You know, Daniel, this is fine and good, but we didn't come here to learn about their architecture and gizmos,” Jack whined in frustration.
“Don't tell me, tell them,” Daniel whispered.
Jack decided his lover's advice was sound. He moved forward a couple of steps and spoke up, anxiously saying, “Look, we appreciate the tour of the city, and I don't mean to sound impatient, but you have to admit that was a helluva bombshell you laid on us out there. We'd like to know what you're talking about.”
Filip, Harad, and their children were taking the long route to their home, using the opportunity to show Jack and Daniel their city. Their unofficial tour had gone on for a good thirty-five minutes. While it might have normally intrigued the soulmates, aside from some surface observances about the appearance of the city and the unusual technology that accompanied it, neither of them had heard much of what had been said.
They listened as Filip and Harad spoke in their native language, and they watched as Harad apparently gave some command to their children. Politely, the two boys excused themselves.
“Our casil is this way,” Filip announced.
“Please, come with us,” Harad added invitingly, a smile on his face.
Seeing Sam's and Lou's wicked smiles now that they were headed directly to the couple's home, Jack threatened half-heartedly, “Carter, Ferretti, you may just find yourselves stationed at some dump somewhere,” Jack threatened.
Lou laughed, “Right, Jack,” as he began to follow Filip and Harad.
Sam smiled, but this time, it wasn't a 'ha ha, gotcha' smile, but a dreamy 'this is really wonderful' smile.
“Carter,” Jack warned.
“Let's go ... Jack. Trust me, I've checked this out, or we wouldn't be here,” Sam remarked confidently.
Hearing his 2IC use his first name, Jack eyed Sam oddly. He knew it was crazy that even after all these years they were still so formal with each other, but though they had tried to break the military ranks from time to time, it never lasted long.
Daniel discovered that his heart was beating faster, but once again, he was a statue in space. He trusted Sam, and there was something in her look that made him believe this wasn't a fluke. That, in itself, was terrifying. Even living his dream life with Jack as he was now, part of him still expected to wake up one day and find it was all a dream.
“Danny,” Jack called out, again taking the younger man's hand and leading him towards their destination.
From their tour of the city, it had become clear that there was no taboo on homosexuality. Same-sex couples wandered through the streets alongside heterosexual couples.
“This is the way it should be, Jack,” Daniel intoned softly. “Love is what matters, not gender.”
“We agree with you, Daniel,” Filip opined as he looked at them and smiled. “Prejudice, of any kind, is unacceptable here.”
Finally, they arrived at their hosts' small two-story house, the medieval structure's second floor jetting out slightly over the first. Silently, Daniel couldn't help but be amazed at the medieval architecture which seemed at odds with the modernistic clothing they wore and their advanced technology.
The group entered the house and watched as Filip and Harad greeted a young girl.
“Thank you, Yasela. How is Spoutis?” Filip inquired.
“Boring,” the girl said and then grinned at them.
Harad gave the girl a couple of gold coins before bidding her goodbye. Jack and Daniel watched with curiosity as Filip and Harad walked over and caressed something that looked like a rubber pouch. It was skin colored and shaped like a basketball-sized teardrop. It was completely sealed at the top around a clear plastic tube that was attached to what looked like an IV bag filled with an orange colored liquid.
“Carter ...” Jack trailed off as he saw the side of the pouch move.
“Jack?” Like his husband, Daniel was staring at the pouch “Is it just me, or did that ... um, whatever it is, just ... move?”
Filip and Harad beckoned them over and then took their hands and placed them flat against the pouch. It felt a little like rubbery skin, and then they both felt something they had only felt a few times before.
“Jack, it kicked!” Daniel's eyes were huge as his brain processed the possibility lying before them. “It's like ... I mean ... Kayla,” he observed softly.
“Yeah,” Jack agreed, feeling completely confused, remembering the incredible sensation of feeling his children kick, both from Kayla and from Sara.
Filip and Harad exchanged proud smiles as Filip announced, “Spoutis, our child, is due in one moon.”
“It's a boy?” Lou asked with interest.
Filip smiled, then answered, “We don't know. Spoutis means ...” he gestured with his hands to indicate something very small. “We wanted to call him or her something so decided on a temporary name, Spoutis.”
Jack looked up at them with incredulous eyes as he silently thought, ~They sound like my kind of people.~
“Did you just pay that girl to, uh, um ... well, watch over ... Spoutis?” Daniel asked.
“It is a bit extreme, probably unnecessary, but life needs protecting. Not everyone in Phelpa does it, but we do,” Harad responded.
“How is all of this possible?” Daniel asked, still taking in the wonder that was in front of him.
Filip and Harad gestured towards a cluster of chairs, inviting their guests to sit down while they chatted.
“Many centas ago ...” Filip began.
“What are centas? Centuries?” Daniel guessed due to the similarity of the words.
Filip and Harad talked in their own language for a minute, and then Filip answered, “Yes.”
“Oh, thank you,” the archaeologist replied.
Filip continued, “Many centas ago, the brightest of our people believed it was unjust for only half of our population to be able to have children. They worked a long time, for many centacks.”
“Centacks is how long?” Daniel inquired.
“I figured it out before,” Sam interrupted. “It's roughly a period equal to twenty of our years.”
“And finally, through the gift of above, they found an answer, the womis,” Filip stated.
“Womis?” Daniel asked, looking at the pouch.
“Yes. All here, regardless of sexual preference, may now have children,” Filip explained.
Daniel was confused as he commented, “I don't, uh, I mean, your physiology must be ...”
“No, Daniel,” Sam interrupted again. “Janet's done some detailed testing in the last week, just to make sure it was compatible, and ...”
“Fraiser? The Doc has been here?” Jack asked in his command voice.
“Yes, Sir,” Sam responded. “We ... wanted to be sure before we brought you here.”
Jack wasn't certain if he liked the answer or not, but he didn't say anything else.
Sensing his friend's uneasiness, Lou urged, “Jack, you have to trust us a little. The Doc came to make sure this wasn't just some fairytale; you also need to understand that this is a limited opportunity.”
“So don't mess it up?” Jack asked.
“So just listen, with an open mind,” Lou responded calmly. “Go ahead, Harad. Explain it to the skeptics.”
~Sure am glad we warned these folks about Jack,~ Lou thought about his friend's perceived gruffness. He and Sam had talked with the Filip and Harad extensively, and they didn't want them to be offended, or confused, by Jack's demeanor. ~Yeah, they look okay with it. Be quiet as a mouse, Jack; it'll pay off in the end.~
Harad nodded and continued the tale where Filip had left off, elucidating, “It took many tries, many sad losses and failures, to perfect the womis. So much pain for our ancestors, but they believed all had a right to not only love, but to pass on that love with children of their own seed. Now, the womis makes it possible. It has answered our prayers; we have children, our own.”
“It sounds incredible. How does it work?” Daniel asked.
Filip explained, “The womis is an empty pouch. It acts much like skin. It is then filled with magistra, that is what we call our ... Colonel Carter, I do not remember your phrase for it.”
“Uh, amniotic fluid,” Sam responded.
“Yes, magistra is the same as this amniotic fluid. The parents then give a pestule of blood each, which is used to calibrate the fluid in the womis. An artificial egg is then injected into the womis, and it is ready to create life.”
“Create life,” Daniel repeated, his voice full of wonder at what he was hearing.
Harad expounded, “The contents of the egg depend on the gender of the parents. For two males, the egg will be empty except for identis, a ... joining agent. Finally, the parents inject a fresh sample of sperm into the womis. The walls of the egg are programmed to recognize DNA and will only allow one sperm from each parent through. Also, while the egg will not accept two Vara Chrama, it will allow two Fema Chrama through.”
Daniel looked at Sam expectantly as he guessed, “X and Y chromosomes?”
Sam nodded and explained for Jack, “We call Vara Chrama Y chromosomes and Fema Chrama X chromosomes. A female child has two X chromosomes, and a male has one X and one Y chromosome. Janet said that their physiology is almost identical to ours; they just have different names for things.”
Harad smiled, adding, “You each have both Vara and Fema Chrama so depending on which sperm makes it through the egg walls, you will have either a son or a daughter. The egg will not accept two sperm with Vara Chrama.”
“Is this like ... guaranteed?” Jack quipped. “Where do I sign up?” he smirked, wondering when the plug was going to be pulled. ~I *have* to be on 'Candid Camera'.~
**Jack, stop it,** Daniel spoke via their near-telepathic communication.
**Sorry, but ...**
**Open mind, Jack. We keep telling the SGC personnel to have open minds, remember? Don't be a hypocrite,** the archaeologist chastised.
**I'm sorry, Danny,** Jack sighed. ~It's just too good to be true.~
“It is guaranteed that the egg will not accept two Vara Chrama,” Harad answered. “But there is no guarantee the sperm will bond and join within the egg. It is like all creation of life; it is up to our Creator. If life is to come, it comes.”
“This egg,” Jack said, still being skeptical, “it's artificial, so ...”
“You do not understand,” Filip responded. “This gift our ancestors worked so hard on does not create artificial life in any form; rather, it allows our seed to join, with some help.”
“Carter?” Jack asked impatiently as his frustration grew.
“Sir, they've created a way to join the DNA from two sperm. They don't use a clone or a surrogate, but their technology actually helps two sperm, or two eggs, depending upon the sex of the couple, to join. The artificial egg, or sperm, is merely a ... conductor. It brings the two together,” the blonde woman clarified.
“I *don't* understand how,” Jack huffed, standing.
“Jack,” Daniel said as he stood as well. He put one hand on his lover's chest. “You have to remain calm.”
“Calm? Daniel, I *am* calm, but I just want to know ...” Jack began.
“No, Jack, you're scared,” Daniel accused gently.
“Scared?” Jack looked into Daniel's eyes and realized his lover was right. He was petrified at something he didn't understand because he knew what the technology could mean, and that, being desperately desired and yet different, did frighten him. He sighed, “I'm sorry.” He looked at their hosts. “I'm just a dumb general. I really don't understand. You say two sperm are magically joined together and kept in some rubber pouch with a fluid that keeps them, what ... alive? But that still doesn't tell me how they are joined.”
After Filip and Harad exchanged another look, shaking their heads, Harad clarified, “The identis is more than just fluid to support life. It helps to give life. If the sperm bond, they use the egg as a support. The identis, and the blood that is required from the parents, make the life. We are sorry; we do not know more about your biology to explain further.”
“Don't worry, I wouldn't understand it anyway,” Jack intoned, looking off to the side.
“Sir, Janet says the identis is like a facilitator,” Sam explained. “It isn't adding anything, or altering anything, but it contains cells and genes taken from the parents. Those cells are the link that helps the sperms to connect.”
“Well, if they can do it, why can't we?” the general inquired.
Sam sighed, “We don't have the technology to create the identis or the womis. The Phelpians allowed Janet to take a lot of notes and do plenty of tests, but we're a long way from being able to create this ourselves. Our scientists are still trying to understand the intricacies of the human genome.”
“Why are we here, Sam?” Daniel asked softly, ignoring the strange butterflies that were inexplicably fluttering in his abdomen.
Filip answered, “Because the Phelpians wish to offer you the chance to have a child, a child created together.”
Jack squeezed Daniel's hand and looked at the two men, still feeling like 'Alice in Wonderland'. He was half expecting a white rabbit to pop up at any second. What he was sure of, was that nothing ever came without a price.
“Not that we're not grateful or anything,” Jack stated, “but why would you do this for us?”
Filip smiled, and he answered, “Because we believe you, like everyone else in this universe, deserve the chance to have a child of your own. We are also indebted to your people. On his first visit here, Colonel Ferretti ...”
“Lou,” Lou reminded the Phelpians.
Filip gratefully acknowledged, “Lou. He saved the life of Kyal.”
Jack raised a questioning eyebrow at his friend who waved his hand as if to dismiss the entire event.
“I just did what anyone else would have done,” Lou commented. “You know, right place, right time.”
Harad shook his head in disagreement, stating, “We owe you a life debt, Lou.”
Filip looked at Jack and Daniel as he noted, “In our culture, gifts of life must be repaid. It is not negotiable. To retain the honored respect of our ancestors, payment of thanks must be made.”
Harad continued, “Lou told us that there was nothing he wanted for himself, but that he had two dear friends who had many beloved children, but none who were a ...”
The Phelpian looked at Lou not remembering the words.
Lou gave them a quick grin as he interjected, “None who were a genetic combination of them both.”
Harad and Filip nodded, and then Filip continued, “Your Doctor Janet conducted many tests and understands that the children from the womis are entirely the result of the parents' DNA. There is nothing in Kyal's Chrama makeup that did not come from either Harad or I.”
Sam nodded her agreement, noting, “Janet confirmed that, Sir. The child would be yours and Daniel's in every way. The magistra and the nutritional fluids fed to the womis are like the food that a pregnant mother eats to sustain the child. Jack, Daniel,” she implored softly, a smile on her face, “there would be nothing in the heritage of this child that did not come from the two of you -- nothing.”
Daniel squeezed Jack's hand. He couldn't believe the opportunity they were being offered. He'd never have believed it to be possible.
//End of Flashback//
The lovers were on the verge of an incredible happiness, and yet, they wondered if it was really possible, given the realities of the modern world.
“Jack, if we did this, how would we explain our child?” Daniel asked. “I mean, we can't say he or she is adopted, and we can't exactly go around saying this is our biological child.”
Jack took a breath as he thought, but it was only a moment before he responded, “Why do we have to say anything? I don't segregate David from Jonny. They are both our sons. I don't see a difference.”
Daniel nodded as he contemplated the answer, replying, “Me, either. I guess ... maybe we don't need to do this.”
“Maybe not,” Jack agreed, not totally sure at this point what he wanted or needed at this point.
“It's late, Jack. We should go check on the children and try to get some sleep,” the younger man suggested.
Jack snorted, “Try being the operative word?”
“I just ... I don't know what's right and wrong here,” a still-perplexed Daniel stated. “I don't know if we're entitled to this gift. I don't even know if it's fair to our children. I'm so confused.”
Jack concurred, “Yeah, what do we do, Danny, walk in one day with this baby and say, 'hey, you've got another brother or sister'.”
“I ... if we ... oh, gawd,” the younger man stammered, feeling a bit overwhelmed by the entire situation.
“You want the womis here?” Jack asked.
Daniel looked at his husband with eyes of surprise as he intoned, “Wouldn't you? I wouldn't trust anyone else to care for it. Plus, we'd have to go and supply the nutrients it needs at least once a week. But then, by doing that, we'd be exposing our child to another danger, of us not being there to make sure everything is okay. Still, wouldn't you want the womis here, too?”
Jack couldn't hide a smile. The thought of being able to watch the life the two of them created growing every day warmed his soul.
“Yes, I'd want our child here, too,” the older man confided.
Daniel looked down, still trying to come to terms with everything, and wondered, “So, how would we keep it safe? How do we explain the womis and the new life to our children? How do we keep them from talking about? How do we ...”
~We need a break.~ Jack put his hand over Daniel's mouth, rubbed his thumb across the moist, full lips, and then kissed them. “Too many questions, Danny. We need sleep. We'll talk about it some more tomorrow.”
The lovers got up and went inside to check on their children. They stopped first to check on the girls -- Aislinn and Jenny.
**I do miss having a baby. They've grown up so fast, Jack.** Daniel leaned his head against Jack's shoulder as he pondered the Munchkins and the twins. The Munchkins were turning five and the twins four in September. **It seems like yesterday when we brought them home from the hospital.**
**Never thought I'd miss diapers,** Jack lamented lightheartedly.
They smiled at each other, and then went to check on the youngest boys -- Jonny, Little Danny, and Ricky -- who shared the next room. Jack pulled up Jonny's blanket that the youngster had thrashed off in his sleep.
**They won't tell anyone, Danny. Our brood, we've taught them about honor and ...**
**Secrets? That's what we've taught them, because of the Stargate.**
**Danny, secrets aren't always a bad thing.**
Seeing Ricky's old tan blanket, the one that had pictures of different animals on it, lying on the floor, Daniel picked it up and smiled in happy remembrance. The little boy had had the blanket from the beginning of his life, and while Ricky might claim to be a 'big boy' now, if he lost that blanket, he'd sound like a one-year-old again.
Carefully, Daniel placed the blanket against his son's body. Somehow sensing the blanket's return, Ricky turned his body and cuddled into it.
As he looked over at Jack and smiled, Daniel sighed, **The twins don't know yet, Jack.**
**It's time, don't you think?** the older man asked in their minds.
Daniel chuckled inwardly as he expressed the thought that, **Lya is going to end up being a great babysitter.**
**Danny, even Anteaus loves our brood, though he'd never show it.**
**We're too ... primitive,** Daniel mused, a smile on his face.
The two snickered, then put their hands over their mouths as Ricky showed signs of waking up. They waited a minute to make sure he went back to sleep, and then Jack and Daniel went to check on Brianna. Seeing her happily asleep, clutching her new hockey stick, the lovers laughed again.
**She might hurt herself, Jack.**
**Danny, I think the hockey stick is part of her body.**
Nodding in agreement, Jack and Daniel walked back down the long hallway to the older part of the house where they checked on the middle girls, Chenoa and Lulu, who shared what had been the nursery.
**Jack, if we have a baby, where do we put him or her?**
**With us, while it's a baby, and then if it's a boy, he can move in with David; if it's a girl, she'll room with Brianna, or we could move her in with Ash and Jenny.**
**Age-wise that would be better, if it's a girl. David's room isn't that big, though,** Daniel observed.
Continuing their rounds, they went to David's room, which was right next to the old nursery. Jack chuckled lightly as he walked to the bed and removed the science magazine that was in the boy's hands. Then he gently slid off David's glasses and put them on the nightstand. He placed a kiss on David's forehead and then returned to his husband's side.
**It's really too small in here for a new baby.**
**Danny, remember, David loves babies. Can you imagine his reaction if we told him that once the baby was older, he'd be sharing a room with him?**
**Yeah, but he's older now. He may not feel that way.**
Jack nodded, and then the two checked on Jeff and Jennifer, each of whom had their own rooms, Jennifer's over the garage, and Jeff's over the newer extension that housed the projects room, among others.
Their rounds completed, the couple returned to their master bedroom and undressed, each wearing only their boxers and tee shirts to bed since it was a fairly warm night.
“Danny, sleep,” the silver-gray haired man ordered.
“Dominator,” Daniel whined.
“Takes one ... <yawn> ... to know one. Love you, Angel,” Jack said, anxious to get some sleep.
“I love you ... <yawn> ... too.”
The next afternoon, Jennifer, and her friends, Sheila and Amber, were sitting on the porch swing under the overhang at the back of the house, chatting about boys and school, boys and the mall, boys and music -- basically, they were talking about boys. After a while, they decided they needed to focus on a project they needed to do for their English class. Working independently of one another, each girl used their earphones to listen to their favorite music while making their notes.
The porch area stretched between the hospitality room and the game room, and at each end was a door to the rec room. In the central space, two opposing benches were suspended and connected to a small platform-like section of floor. The entire structure pivoted on its supports when pressure was exerted against the floor with one's feet, making it move back and forth like a swing. One or two people could make the swing move from just one side, but it was easier with one or two people on each side, if they kept in rhythm.
The structure of the rec room required the support of two large, deep columns at the back wall. In between the columns was a five-foot diameter circular window with a stained glass transom above it. A matching transom was above the door at each end of the porch. The space defined by the columns had been dubbed 'the alcove', but the swing assembly had never been named.
“Hello, Sheila, Amber,” Jack greeted when he walked outside.
“Hello, General Jackson-O'Neill,” the two girls chorused as they looked up from their work.
“Listening to music?” Jack asked, grateful he couldn't hear it, whatever it was they were playing.
“Yes, Dad,” Jennifer answered, quickly adding, “And doing our homework.”
“Are you all listening to the same thing on those ... Jen, what do you call those things?” the general asked, pretending to play dumb again.
With a frustrated sigh, the teenager replied, “They're called iPods, Dad.”
“If you ask me, since you're all listening to your own music, they should be called mePods,” Jack quipped.
“Oh, Dad!” Jennifer exclaimed, shaking her head. ~Sometimes parents can be so embarrassing.~
Laughing to tease his daughter, Jack sing-songed, “I pod, you pod, everybody pod pod, like peas in a pod.” ~Geez, I'm good.~ As the girls laughed in spite of themselves, the general continued, “A bunch of peas who pod in a pod. The Pod!” he stopped, looking more serious than before.
“What is it, Dad?” Jennifer asked quizzically.
“The Pod! That's what this place is, Jen. It's The Pod!” Jack exclaimed happily.
Whistling, the King of Nicknames walked away, having found the perfect name for the porch swing.
Jennifer shrugged and went back to her studies with her friends.
At the end of the month, after going round and round in circles, trying to cover every possibility about whether or not to take advantage of the Pierolans' offer, Jack and Daniel decided they needed more information. They had so many questions and concerns. Thus, they'd arranged for a mid-morning meeting with Janet at her home, instead of her office, to allow for extra privacy for this very special discussion.
Except for Jeff and Jennifer, who were at school, the children were at Sara's home for the morning. After the couple finished gathering information from Janet, they'd be taking their brood going to lunch. Afterwards, they'd pick up the teenagers, who were getting out of class early due to a teachers' in-service meeting, and head for movies, though the family would be splitting up and seeing three different movies at the cineplex.
“Janet, what can you tell us about this womis?” Jack asked as he leaned forward on the sofa.
“You already know the technical things, right? Sam reviewed that with you?” the petite physician asked as she poured herself a cup of Starbuck's Sumatra blend coffee, having already served her guests.
“Yes,” Daniel answered and then took a sip from the cup. “This is good,” he couldn't stop himself from saying.
Janet acknowledged the comment, adding, “Help yourself to some cinnamon bread while you drink it. Trust me, the combination is just divine.”
“Thank you,” Daniel politely replied.
As Daniel reached for a slice of the fresh bread, Janet returned to the subject at hand, explaining, “I've done preliminary testing, and so far, everything points to this being completely possible. It is natural, even though parts of it may seem otherwise.”
“Okay, that's what I want to know about,” Jack said strongly as he twisted his piece of bread into several pieces, his action earning the stares of both Daniel and Janet.
Daniel just shook his head as he silently thought, ~Why would I want another baby? I'm married to one!~
“Think of it as being like our IVF,” Janet suggested. Seeing Jack's mouth open, she rushed to clarify, “In Vitro Fertilization programs. Sometimes it takes a few tries to achieve success. What that means is that you would both have to inject your sperm into the womis once a week for six weeks. I'll need to double-check my figures and talk more with the Phelpians, but that's what I've calculated at this point. Now what that does is both make sure you've had sufficient opportunity for both sperm to join, but it also reinforces the DNA.”
“Reinforces? Why?” Jack queried.
Janet explained, “It's part of the identis. The stronger the genetic material, the better the likelihood is of conceiving.”
“Uh,” Daniel uttered as he looked at Jack. He cocked his head slightly as he faced Janet again, asking, “Why just six weeks?”
“The womis is self-sustaining for eight weeks, but if the sperm, or eggs, whichever the case may be, don't join by then, it loses integrity. It's like the joining, the pregnancy, if you will, is what enables the womis to continue to function. If nothing happens, the womis shuts down, and a couple would need to secure another.”
“So, it's not a sure thing,” Daniel deduced.
“No, it's not one-hundred percent,” Janet answered frankly, though quickly adding, “But the data indicates the Phelpians have a success rate of over ninety-five percent. This isn't a new technology,” she pointed out. “They've been doing this for centuries. However, this would be the first time it was tried with humans.”
“But it should work?” the archaeologist questioned.
“All the indications are that it should work,” the physician agreed, nodding her head..
“How do we know?” Jack asked before taking a piece of bread and dunking it into his coffee.
“Because the womis grows, Jack. When it begins, it's small, just a few inches in diameter, but when the life inside of it grows, it expands, just a woman's abdomen,” Janet explained. ~Good thing a womis doesn't have to worry about sitting down and getting up,~ she silently mused. Verbally, she continued, “If the pregnancy occurs, the womis creates a placenta and grows an umbilical cord.”
“I was wondering about that,” Jack commented. “Belly buttons are very important.”
“Daniel, you know ...”
“JACK!” Daniel warned forcefully.
“Sorry,” the older man apologized with a slight smile on his face.
“Jack, Daniel, your baby would be one-hundred percent normal in every way. This would be a human baby,” the doctor spoke confidently. “The womis does some incredible things. Maybe someday we can harness something like it ourselves.”
~I can't believe it. Could this really work?~ Daniel didn't realize it, but he had a smile on his face. It was a smile of enlightenment and amazement. “So, if we bring it home, and it starts to grow, then we're pregnant?” the archaeologist queried.
“Exactly,” Janet answered. “You'll have to measure the womis every four days because once the joining has occurred, you'll need to supply nutrients in addition to the sperm.”
“Wait, even if we're pregnant at week two, we continue to add the sperm?” Jack inquired, thinking that was an odd thing to have to do.
“Yes,” Janet confirmed. “It strengthens the chain. I know it's complicated,” she said, seeing the two confused faces sitting across from her. She took another sip of her coffee, then continued. “So, anyway, once you're pregnant, you start introducing nutrients, including a tiny bit of your blood. You'll do that twice a week for four weeks, then twice a month until the baby is born.”
“Blood? Why?” Daniel asked.
Janet elucidated, “The blood supplies food. Again, it's a technology we don't fully understand, but the elements of your blood filter in with the identis, and that feeds the baby.”
“What if we get sick?” Jack asked.
“Don't,” Janet warned sternly.
“Janet?” Daniel asked with a bit of concern.
“Daniel, that's one of the risks here,” Janet admitted as she poured herself a refill of coffee. “We don't know if it would make a difference or not. There's an incredible filtering system that sort of grows with the womis. Whether it fixes or eliminates any contaminated blood, I just don't know; nor do I know what kind of effect it would have on the baby.”
“So, don't get sick,” Daniel said, suddenly feeling sick himself at the thought of somehow harming their own baby.
“Right,” Janet affirmed. “It really isn't that different for a pregnant mother. Some illnesses won't affect the fetus, but others, like rubella, can have serious consequences.”
“Doc, what about coming through the Stargate?” Jack inquired.
“That's another unknown, to a degree.” Again, Janet saw anxious faces. “Now let me explain. Pierola is much like Earth. The differences appear to be miniscule. Our anatomies are very similar, and physiologically, I've found no significant differences. Everything I know says it shouldn't matter whether the womis is on Pierola or on Earth.”
“But it's not one-hundred percent?” Jack asked.
Firmly and with a tad of frustration, Janet answered, “I can't speak in certainties about something so new and untried as this, Jack, but I can tell you what my gut says, and my gut says it will work. To be honest, I think the real risk is the actual trip through the Stargate.”
“So, our baby could die before he or she ever had a chance?” Daniel asked, his tone sadder than before.
~It's a risk, but risk is in everything.~ Janet sighed, “Daniel, I know you're concerned. I know this isn't foolproof, but ...”
“I know, Janet,” Daniel interrupted. He paused, then supposed, “It's like any pregnancy, isn't it?”
~Bingo!~ Janet nodded as she responded, “There's always some risk.”
Looking at his husband, Jack sighed, “Thanks, Doc. We appreciate your time.”
Janet stood, as did Jack and Daniel, who headed for the door.
“Janet, if it were you, would you do it?” Daniel asked.
“In a New York minute,” Janet answered, grinning.
“Thanks for the coffee and bread; it was great!” Daniel spoke appreciatively.
Jack gave Janet a hug, saying, “Thanks for your help, Doc.”
The three exchanged a smile and then Jack and Daniel headed to Sara's.
“What do you think?” Jack asked his lover as he drove the SUV towards the Wilson residence.
“I think I want to think about it some more,” Daniel replied, uncertainty filtering through him.
“It'll never be a sure thing, Danny,” Jack opined as he hit the brake for a stoplight.
“I know, but I still have questions,” the younger man confessed, glancing over at his husband.
“About the brood?” Jack asked, returning the glance for a moment.
“Yes, and what we tell the world,” Daniel answered. “There are issues, Jack, and we have to have those worked out if we're going to do this.”
“Okay, we think about it some more,” Jack resolved just as the light turned green.
Daniel smiled half-heartedly as he replied, “As tempting as it is, I just don't think we should jump into it. It's only been three weeks since we visited Phelpa. Maybe we should go again.”
“We could, if you want to.”
“Let's think about it for a while,” Daniel suggested. ~I just don't know. I want to, but the moral and social implications ... the children ... how will they feel? Gawd, I just don't know what to do. And ... and what if I get sick?~
Jack nodded, adding, “We're not on the clock with this.” After a moment, he changed the subject. “I talked with Mrs. V a little while yesterday.”
Sophia Valissi was their next-door neighbor, a spry senior citizen who thought of both Jack and Daniel as if they were sons. Her own son, Evan, lived in Italy with his partner of many years, Robert.
“And?” Daniel prodded.
“I think she's a little lonely,” Jack sighed. “She talked about wishing she could spend more time with the brood. She actually asked if she could hire David to do some chores around her place.”
“He'd probably like that,” Daniel responded, knowing the boy was eager to add to his savings account so he could purchase a new telescope, one with more extras and a further range than the one he had now.
“So, no objections?” Jack asked.
“Why would I have objections? She's a wonderful person. Maybe some of the others could start spending more time at her house, too,” Daniel pondered. “Jen loves to be there.”
“We could give Jen permission to take the younger ones with her sometimes when she's baby-sitting,” Jack suggested.
“That's a great idea, Babe,” Daniel agreed. Changing the subject, he asked, “What do you think about Alex's girlfriend?”
Alex Dennison was the designer of the couple's renovated home. Until recently, he'd had little time or inclination for a social life, but just recently, he had dropped in on Jack and Daniel to introduce them to his new girlfriend, Soncirria Suvulpo. Of course, that was after Daniel had spent several weeks trying to convince the successful hard-working man that there was more to life than architecture and design. It had been a hard sell, but, apparently, Alex was finally seeing the light.
“She's a looker,” Jack remarked. “Runner-up to Miss Florida. Mmm-mmm good,” he quipped.
“Down with the testosterone, Babe,” Daniel warned.
Jack chuckled, “She's got the figure, Danny. That's hard to miss.”
Daniel nodded hesitantly, saying, “All the curves in the right place, filled out nicely at the top, and ...” He paused to gauge Jack's reaction, and, seeing Mr. Jealousy's horns poke through his husband's hair, Daniel decided to throw another log on the fire, just for good measure. Continuing more boldly, he said, “And that Alex -- every hair in place, just the right amount of muscle, great suntan, great six...pack ...”
“Daniel?” Jack called out a bit testily.
“Yes, Love?” Daniel asked innocently while desperately trying to suppress his laughter.
“How about we agree that both Alex and Sunny are good lookers and move on to another subject?” Jack proposed.
Chuckling, Daniel agreed. He settled, though, when his soulmate began to laugh a bit louder.
Taking note of Daniel's curious look, Jack explained, “Can't help it, Danny. It's her nickname, Sunny ... from Florida -- Miss Sunny Florida.”
Daniel shook his ahead, though admittedly amused by the connection of Soncirria's nickname and residence, and instructed, “Jack, don't you ever dare say that to Alex, or her, or our brood. The Munchkins are all three-foot-plus DVD recorders, and you know that. You can't ... promise me you won't, ever. Jack ...”
“Oh, all right, spoilsport, I promise,” the older man agreed in mock aggravation.
“This is becoming habit, Danny,” Jack said, sitting down on the lawn opposite his husband.
It was 2 a.m. on a cold, early-April morning, and both had coats on.
“I like it out here,” the younger man admitted, adding, “I always have.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jack acknowledged as he reached across and took Daniel's hands in his.
Both knew the reason for Daniel's presence on the lawn in the middle of the night.
“I wish I could just say 'yes', Jack, but there are questions I have that still haven't been answered, partly because we've been busy, and partly because I'm not sure we want to know.” Jack's challenging gaze penetrated Daniel's concerned eyes. “Okay, it's me. I know you're scared, but so am I.”
“What are you afraid of, Angel?” Jack inquired quietly.
“I don't know, Jack. Something going wrong, our children being jealous, I ...”
“Of loving this one more than the others?” Jack dared to ask.
“What?” Daniel's head shot up as he looked at his lover's face. Shaking his head, he denied, “No, I could ... I mean. Oh, Jack, I can't imagine it, but at the same time, I'm scared to death of it.”
Jack squeezed Daniel's hands gently as he responded, “Danny, let's speak a little truth. When the Munchkins were born, we went to great lengths to make sure we didn't know which one belonged to whom, biologically speaking. We did the same with the twins. Are you going to sit there now and tell me you don't know whose genes are in which child?”
“I ... I ...” Daniel shook his head in defeat. “I don't think about it.”
“Neither do I, but I know,” Jack confessed as his eyes again bore into those of his soulmate, challenging him to speak the truth.
“I guess I do, too,” Daniel admitted.
“Does it matter?” the older man challenged with a bit of a grin.
Daniel smiled, and his smile grew as he shook his head decisively and answered, “Not one bit, Jack.”
“I don't think about it, either, Angel, and that's exactly the point. All of those children are part of us, and we love them all equally, including the ones that don't technically have our genes in their makeup. Why should this child be any different? Okay, it's both of ours, and yes, I know that child would be the only one in our world to be fortunate like that, but I'll love this child the same way I love Jonny and David and Ash and Jenny and Bri and Little Danny and Noa and Lulu and ...”
“You're mixing them up on purpose,” Daniel observed, noting that Jack's calling out of the children's names wasn't in any order.
“Because there's no difference, not for us, and not for them,” Jack professed emphatically.
“Human nature, Jack,” Daniel replied dryly, wanting to believe and yet still doubting himself.
“We have to believe in ourselves,” Jack told his husband.
Daniel nodded, saying, “I'll work on that.”
“I'll help,” Jack said.
“You always do, Babe.”
“Colonel Carter, why wasn't I told about this during the first mission to PRW-112?” General Hammond asked tersely one week later.
Sam squirmed a little as she responded, “Because, General, we wanted to protect General Jackson-O'Neill and Daniel.”
“I should have been told,” Hammond admonished in a tone that warned it had better not happen again.
“I know, Sir,” Sam replied tentatively, gulping slightly at Hammond's intense stare.
“Am I correct in assuming that Colonel Ferretti intentionally left this out of his report?” Hammond interrogated, the frown on his face unmistakable.
Hesitantly, and yet trying to sound confident, Sam explained, “He didn't deem it important or relevant to the negotiations going on at that time.”
“But he told you?” Hammond challenged.
Sam took a big breath and then answered, “Yes, Sir, but General ...”
“I understand his reasons, Colonel, but I don't like being kept out of the loop, and I don't want it to happen again. Is that understood?” Hammond commanded gruffly.
Still staring at the blonde, Hammond finally sighed, “Colonel, the Jackson-O'Neills are scheduled to be on base tomorrow. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” the woman concurred, grateful she wasn't being assigned to cleanup detail. ~But he hasn't dismissed me yet, either.~
“I want them, Doctor Fraiser, Colonel Ferretti, Teal'c, and yourself in Daniel's office at ten-hundred hours, and make sure the room is secure. You understand my meaning?” Hammond asked sternly.
“I do,” Sam acknowledged.
Sam exited Hammond's office and quickly made her way to the archaeologist's office. Though security equipment was no longer 'on' there unless the base was at DEFCON 3 or a higher level of alert, she knew Hammond wanted the room swept, just in case.
~He's not happy with Ferretti and me, but ...~ Sam couldn't help but smile. ~... he's intrigued. General Hammond loves being a grandpa!~
“Be prepared, Lou,” Sam warned as they met for a late break later that day.
“Not happy?” the Italian colonel asked.
“No, definitely not,” Sam answered, stirring her coffee to cool it a bit.
“Any regrets, Sam?” Lou asked. “The general could kick both our butts right out of here.”
Sam sighed, contemplating the question, but quickly enough, she shook her head and smiled as she answered, “Not one. General O'Neill and Daniel have done too much for Earth to not give them this chance. We owe them.”
“That's a crock, Sam,” Lou challenged. Seeing her funny look, he clarified, “They're our friends, Sam. That's why we did it.”
Sam nodded, smiling again when she confessed, “They're more than friends; they're family, and I guess sometimes family has to come before orders and protocol.”
“To independent thinking,” Lou said, holding up his coffee mug.
Sam chuckled, “And to KP for life,” as she clinked her mug against Lou's.
“General,” Jack greeted when Hammond walked into Daniel's office the following day.
“Colonel,” Hammond brusquely spoke as he stared at the blonde woman.
~Okay.~ Sam nodded and closed the doors, locking them. “All security equipment is off, General,” she reported. “I've swept the room as well; it's clean.”
“Wish the laundry was,” Jack quipped, thinking about the stacks of laundry to be done at home.
“Jack!” Daniel warned.
The older man just shrugged, causing Daniel to sigh before redirecting his attention to General Hammond.
Hammond stated, “I want to take this from the beginning. As of now, the only official record of the trip through the Stargate to PRW-112 are the first two missions. Doctor Fraiser, tell me about this procedure that has two of my colonels so stirred up that they withheld information on official reports.”
Everyone stared at each other. Hammond's displeasure at recent events was clearly evident, and he was making his opinion known demonstratively.
“Well, Sir, I know it's a shock to think that it's possible for two men, or two women for that matter, to have a child together, but I've run extensive tests on Filip, Harad, and Kyal,” Janet explained. “Their biology is almost exactly the same as ours, and Kyal is definitely the biological child of Filip and Harad. I've studied the process they use, and, theoretically, there is no reason why this method of reproduction couldn't be used on Earth.”
“Then why haven't our scientists developed any theories along this line?” Hammond asked pointedly.
“General, we don't have the technology to create the artificial egg or the womis, and I'm afraid that getting the funding for the required research would be difficult,” Janet admitted, looking at Jack and Daniel with apologetic eyes.
“You mean our world isn't about to spend thousands of dollars so two men can have a baby?” Daniel asked in frustration.
“With all the illnesses and diseases out there still needing to be cured, what do you think the general population would say to diverting a million dollars from cancer research to ... womis creation?” Janet challenged.
“It's a small world, Jack,” Lou interjected upon seeing his friend's scowl. He added, “and that isn't a reference to Disneyland.”
“Yeah,” Jack sighed, looking away as he briefly thought about the prejudice that still existed in the world.
“What happens to the egg?” General Hammond asked, getting back to the direct topic at hand and not yet fully understanding how the process worked.
“After fulfilling its function, its absorbed into the amniotic fluid, or the, uh, magistra, as they call it. General, as far as I can tell, there is nothing to distinguish Kyal from any other child on Earth,” Janet said reassuringly.
“What about a birth certificate?” Daniel asked, thinking back to the difficulty they had in trying to have both their names on the triplets and twins birth certificates. He saw the blank stares. “If it weren't for the President, we wouldn't have the ones we have for the Munchkins and the twins. How are we going to get a birth certificate for this baby? We'd have to tell the President, and then what?”
“Gentlemen, there's no way you're going to bring anything through that Stargate of this nature without the approval of the President of the United States. I need more information,” Hammond informed them sternly. “Colonel Ferretti, what do you know about this?”
“My report is accurate, General, with the exclusion of what we learned about the children of same-sex couples. Militarily, I was wrong to exclude that information, but on another level, I make no apologies. This opportunity is too important, and before letting the political muckity mucks mess it up, I had to do it this way,” Lou argued.
“You've been to PRW-112 more than once, haven't you, Colonel?” Hammond interrogated, seeing right through his personnel.
Lou grumbled as he visibly squirmed.
“Colonel?” Hammond asked.
~Geez, I remember that look,~ Jack thought, flashing back to his very first meeting with the general. Hammond had seen right through Jack, knowing his report about the mission to Abydos had been fabricated in part. He'd had no choice but to come clean, admit his report had not been completely accurate, and that one Daniel Jackson was alive and well and living on Abydos, not dead and blown into a zillion pieces along with the rest of the planet as his report had stated. ~Sorry, Lou, but he's got your number.~
“I had to make sure I trusted these folks myself before bringing Jack and Daniel in on it. I've been there three times, getting to know them.” Lou looked at his friends and informed, “We've interviewed other Phelpians, not just Filip and Harad. They're on the up and up. I'd swear to it.”
“And he was helping me, Sir,” Janet admitted. “We wanted the testing to be as thorough and complete as possible. The tests I've run have been very complex.” Janet braced herself for the fallout, confessing, “I went through once myself, General.”
Hammond's eyes glared, but he wasn't the least bit surprised.
~Told you. He knows it all,~ Jack thought in amazement at Hammond's ability to see through cover-ups.
“And you're sure, Colonel?” Hammond asked the physician.
“I'm as sure as we can be,” Janet answered.
Hammond shifted to challenge Sam, pointedly asking, “Colonel Carter, why did you decide to inform me about this now?”
“Frankly, Sir, I knew Daniel had questions and concerns that we couldn't answer on our own. I also knew that for this to become a reality the President would have to agree. It was time.”
“We had a lot of questions, Sir,” Daniel interjected.
“Have,” Jack corrected, since they still had a lot of things to consider.
“Have ... a lot of questions,” Daniel concurred. “Jack and I have been going back and forth about this for the last few weeks.”
“It's been difficult,” Jack acknowledged.
Sam looked at Jack and Daniel, smiling as she asserted, “We're as sure as we can be. Lou's checked out the population, Janet's done the testing, and I've ...”
“Lied,” Daniel stated.
“Lied?” Sam questioned.
“Yeah, you know, fibbed, told an untruth, misled the troops ... lied,” Jack clarified in his usual sarcastic wit.
“For us,” Daniel added softly.
“We didn't want to bring you in until we were certain that having a child in this way was a bona fide possibility,” Sam stated. ~And I'd make the same decision again. I was not going to let you guys get your hopes up for something like this for nothing. Okay, I lied. Fine. I ... lied. Sue me.~
“Even at the risk of being court-martialed?” Jack asked, looking at his 2IC and seeing a smug expression on her face.
“I learned from the best, General,” Sam replied to her CO, her smug look transformed into a wicked smile.
Jack shrugged guiltily, knowing the threat of court-martial had never kept him from doing anything he wanted to either, except for the dreaded game of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' that he'd had to play for years.
Hammond let out a loud sigh, saying, “I do not like being kept in the dark, people, and I don't want it to happen again. I'll make the call. Wait here,” he ordered, turning and exiting Daniel's office.
“I think that went well,” Daniel remarked, standing with his arms folded.
“I think so, too,” Sam replied, bobbing her head up and down nervously.
“Couldn't have been better,” Lou quipped, smacking his lips as he made a face.
“We're still here,” Janet chuckled as she rifled through the papers she was holding in her hands.
Sam coughed her question about the Air Force base in Alaska -- “Elmendorf maybe?”
“Nah,” Lou said, shaking it off. Deciding that Hammond would transfer them to the South Pole based instead, he offered, “McMurdo.”
Janet thoughtfully contributed, “Thule maybe,” referring to the facility in Greenland.
“Altus?” Sam teased. “We can be Okies,” she said in reference to the Oklahoma base.
“Bolling,” Jack said with a grimace about the Washington D.C. base.
“Bolling, Sir?” Sam questioned, wondering why that base was being mentioned.
Jack gave a mock shiver, “Yeah, it's too close to all those political muckity mucks.” After the chuckles subsided, he confided, “You know sometimes I think Hammond has eyes in the back of his head; he knows everything.”
“He'll forgive us,” Sam spoke unconvincingly.
Nodding, Daniel agreed, “I'm confident.”
“Me, too,” Lou added.
“After he makes us suffer a while,” Jack only partially teased.
“Right,” Daniel sighed.
“How long do we wait?” Sam asked forty minutes later as they continued to wait for Hammond's return.
“Personally, Sam, after that last look he gave me, I'm not budging from here until General Hammond orders me to,” Lou said truthfully.
“You shouldn't have done this for us,” Daniel said quietly as he sat at his worktable.
“Doc, I have no regrets,” Lou replied straightforwardly.
“Neither do I,” Sam added.
“I don't, either, and I doubt General Hammond is really angry,” Janet intoned.
“I just don't want you to get in trouble because of us,” Daniel said appreciatively.
“You two didn't even know about this until we checked things out,” Sam stated.
“Yeah, but ...”
Daniel stopped talking when General Hammond walked into his office and shut the door.
“Informally, I've spoken to the President, and, in consideration of your continued service to our nation, he's more than willing to have a birth certificate issued with whatever names on it you choose,” Hammond assured them. “If you like, for convenience, a certificate can be issued with you both as fathers and the mother simply listed as unknown,” he finished, unable to keep the merest trace of a grin from grazing his lips.
“General,” Jack leaned forward, shifting his position a bit on the stool he was sitting on; he clasped his hands together and asked, “what about the idea in general. How'd the President respond to this news?”
“He was amazed, surprised, and very curious,” Hammond answered. “I believe, Doctor Fraiser, that you may be contacted by other medical personnel within our government.”
“There's not a lot more I can tell them,” Janet responded, scrunching her face slightly as she responded.
“Sir, the Phelpians made it clear,” Sam interjected, “that this is a one-time offer, just for Jack and Daniel, and it's only because of their cultural belief that repayment needs to be made for when Colonel Ferretti saved Kyal's life. They don't want their planet invaded with researchers.”
“General,” Daniel asked with trepidation in his voice, “is the President going to let our child be a ... guinea pig.” **I won't do it, Jack.**
**Neither will I, but let's see what he says.**
“No, Son,” Hammond replied. “President Hayes assured me that no one will know the truth except for those of us in this room and himself. As far as the medical issues involved, he wanted to get some theoretical discussions going. He may reconsider that after I talk to him again,” Hammond confided, his eyes communicating that, in retrospect, it probably wasn't a good idea to even start up the discussion with governmental researchers.
“Lou, how about the rest of your team?” Jack asked.
Lou shook his head as he answered, “Just Ravelli, our linguist, knows. She had to help with some of the technical terms at first, before I really knew what was going on. She doesn't know what Sam and I were cooking up, though, and no one else knows anything at all about it, Jack.”
“So, it's basically just us, Ravelli, and the President,” Daniel sought to verify.
“That's correct, Doctor Jackson,” Hammond confirmed. “What happens next is up to the two of you.” Hammond turned and headed for the door. With his hand on the handle, he turned back to face them. “No more unauthorized trips through the Stargate, people, or you *won't* be happy.” Then, as a sly smile graced his face, he added, “For what's it worth, I wouldn't mind another grandchild.”
Jack and Daniel couldn't help but smile, and Sam actually let out a giggle once Hammond was gone.
“I guess it's up to us,” Daniel spoke hesitantly.
“You'll make the right decision,” Janet asserted as she tapped lovingly on Daniel's hand. “I need to get back to the infirmary.”
“I have a training session with some new recruits,” Jack said, glancing at his watch. “Danny?”
“I'm okay. We have a lot to talk about, Jack,” the archaeologist replied.
With a nod, Jack said, “I'll meet you at 1300 hours.”
“We need to make sure we're home when Cassie arrives,” Daniel stated about their surrogate niece who was coming for a visit.
“I can't wait to see her,” Sam interjected, smiling at the prospect.
“Me, too. Thirteen-hundred, Daniel,” Jack reminded as he left his lover's office, followed by Lou.
“Daniel, I like being an aunt,” Sam spoke with a grin as she walked out the door.
A day or so later, in Sophia Valissi's sewing room, Jennifer and the older woman sat reviewing the day's sewing lesson. The neighbor and friend of the Jackson-O'Neills was a tailor and seamstress in the classic old-world tradition, and she was passing on her life-long love of homemaking to the surprisingly eager-to-learn teenager.
“Mrs. Valissi ...” Jennifer began, hesitating slightly.
“Come, now, Jen, you know me well enough to call me by my first name,” Mrs. Valissi stated warmly.
“Thank you, but I'd feel funny about it, and ... well, I don't think Dad and Daddy would like that, and ... and ... well, your more like ... like a grandmother to me,” Jennifer confessed with a shy but bright expression on her face.
The teen froze for a moment, wondering if she had offended her older friend by not suggesting that she was like a mother to her.
Mrs. Valissi smiled and said, “Now there's a thought.” Seeing the teen's smile, she intoned, “I love my son and his partner dearly, and I'm glad they're happy, but it's not like they're going to surprise me with a grandchild. Jennifer, if you're comfortable with it, you may call me 'Grandma'.”
“How about 'Grandma Sophia?' because sometimes that's what we call Grandpa. Ah, well, not Grandpa Sophia,” Jennifer stammered nervously, “but Grandpa George. Not always, but sometimes,” she added as she struggled to express her emotion.
“I think it's perfect,” the older woman said, pulling her adopted granddaughter into a hug. “Now Grandma Sophia says it's time to have some cookies.”
Chuckling, Jennifer replied, “Thank you, Grandma Sophia.”
“Daniel, I think you're worrying too much,” Sam opined as the two met for lunch at O'Malley's one day towards the end of April.
“That's what Jack says,” Daniel said as he clinked his fork again his plate.
“So he wants to do it?” the blonde inquired, a smile in her heart at the thought of this special dream coming true for her friends.
“Yes,” Daniel answered. “So do I. It's just, I need to be sure, or as sure as I can be.”
“I thought our meeting last week with General Hammond reassured you about a lot of things.”
“It did, or at least it answered a lot of questions,” Daniel intoned quietly.
Daniel twisted the spaghetti around his fork until it was a tight bundle of pasta. He looked at his friend who was smiling at him.
“It really is up to Jack and I. Sam, do you believe the President?” the archaeologist inquired, his face riddled with his internal strife about the potential of this miracle baby becoming a guinea pig at the hands of the government.
“He's never lied to you, has he?” the blonde colonel asked.
“No, he hasn't, but ...”
Sam challenged, “Daniel, do you want to live your life with what ifs, or do you just want to live your life?”
“When did you get to be so smart?” Daniel queried as he reached for a piece of garlic bread.
Sam laughed, “I have to be to keep up with a certain archaeologist I know. He keeps thinking outside the box, challenging me to do the same. Daniel, I'm thinking outside the box on this. Now is not the time for you to suddenly stay inside of that box.”
Daniel smiled warmly at his friend. Nodding, he whispered, “Thanks, Sam.”
Meanwhile, Jennifer was again visiting with Mrs. Valissi as the creative and artistic woman told her about the couple of years she and her late husband had spent in Austraila.
“My late Robert was gone for long periods on business, and our neighbors up the road were sheep farmers,” the woman recalled. “It may be hard to picture it, Jennifer, but I even learned how to shear sheep!”
“You're kidding?” a fascinated Jennifer responded.
“I wanted to know how to do everything,” Mrs. Valissi explained. “Eventually, I learned the entire process of cleaning, carding, dyeing, and spinning the wool into thread and yarn. That's when I learned how to knit and to weave as well.”
“I'm impressed, Grandma Sophia,” Jennifer replied. Her own mother had been a seamstress, and spending time with Mrs. Valissi, made the teen recall some happy childhood memories. “My mother would have loved you.”
“That's nice of you to say, Dear,” the woman replied. Then she continued, “Most people have no idea how precious cloth was for most of human history. People, mainly women, spent huge amounts of time after their families were asleep spinning, spinning, and spinning some more,” she chuckled. “They spun thread to weave cloth to make the clothes on their backs and blankets to keep them warm.”
“It's easier now to buy,” Jennifer interjected.
“Yes,” the woman acknowledged. “We have the luxury of cloth being so cheap that people no longer sew for economy. We have rags, Jen, cast off clothing, that we can use for all sorts of tasks -- cleaning, painting. People of even a hundred years ago would marvel at how quickly we tire of our clothes, get new ones, and discard the old.”
“We live at the mall,” Jennifer mused about the teenagers of her generation.
Chuckling the older woman said, “I must be boring you.”
“No, you're not!” Jennifer exclaimed, admitting, “I find it all so fascinating, Mrs. ... I mean, Grandma Sophia, to actually make cloth. I wish I could try it.”
“There's nothing stopping you, Dear. Of course, if you're really serious and not just humoring these old bones, then you'd better get hopping and learn about a loom.”
Jennifer sighed loudly, expressing, “How? Where? Kids my age don't even know what a loom is.”
Jennifer giggled lightly, but then answered, “Yes. I mean, I've heard of it.”
“Would you like to see one?” the woman asked, a smile gracing her face.
“Do you have one?” Jennifer asked excitedly.
Smiling, Mrs. Valissi walked over a few steps and pulled a sheet off of an object which turned out to be a loom. It was just under four feet wide and less then three feet deep.
“I was glad to find one that was small enough to fit in here with the rest of my equipment. It folds up out of the way, even with a project on it. It will weave up to thirty-six inches,” Mrs. Valissi stated.
“Wow,” the teenager replied as she got up to examine the object.
After Jennifer looked the loom over, continuing to show her interest, Mrs. Valissi opened a cabinet and pulled out a book, handing it to Jennifer.
“Here, Dear, this will explain all about the different kinds of looms and what kinds of weave structures each one is best suited for. I'm no expert, but I weave to relax, and it reminds me of how good we have it today.”
“Dad and Daddy are always reminding us that we've got a lot of things, but that if we ever take them for granted, they'll pull the plug,” Jennifer noted. “I don't think we're spoiled, but sometimes I look around, and it's pretty easy to see how lucky we are to have so much.”
“Yes, Jennifer, all of us here on this street have a lot, and still, we complain about things that are relatively small in importance. Every now and then, I catch myself becoming upset at the price of my favorite fabric or gas for the car. Then, as your dad would say, I kick myself in the butt and get back to the basics, back to a time when I felt lucky to have any material at all, let alone a car.”
“Grandma Sophia, I'd like to learn,” Jennifer professed as she held the book close to her body.
“Then learn, and if it turns out you really enjoy weaving, there's no reason you can't become an accomplished weaver,” Mrs. Valissi replied.
“Can you show me some things you've done?” Jennifer requested.
During the next hour, Mrs. Valissi showed her young apprentice some of the things she had woven over the years -- table runners, place mats, pillows -- but what really captured Jennifer's attention was a tapestry of the Last Supper.
“This is incredible,” the teen spoke with awe about the tapestry. “It's so detailed, and look at all the colors. I wonder ... could I ever do anything so wonderful?” Suddenly, Jennifer realized she'd spoken out loud. “Oh, I don't think I could, but to make something like this would be ...”
Mrs. Valissi smiled warmly as she interjected, “Tapestry is a very complex form of weaving. It's done with small bobbins of thread to create the picture, not like typical weaving in which the thread is carried back and forth across the entire width of the loom. It takes a great deal of time and patience, but the results can be as awe-inspiring as any painting.” Seeing the excitement in the girl's eyes, she laughed, “You'd better start with something basic.”
“I think you're right, Grandma Sophia. Thank you,” the teenager spoke.
“Danny, if you keep doing this, I'm going to move the bed out here,” Jack teased.
The younger man laughed as he reached out to join his hands with his husband. It was almost sunrise, on an early May day, and once again, they were seated on the lawn in the backyard, near Daniel's tree house.
“Sunrise: a new beginning,” Daniel said confidently.
~Sounds like a book.~ Jack quipped, “Is that like 'Chicken Soup for the Archaeologist's Soul?”
“Gawd, you're incorrigible,” Daniel chuckled as the two kissed.
“Are you ready to say 'yes'?” Jack inquired, turning serious as he caressed Daniel's hand in his.
“I'm still not sure about the President, and I'm concerned about our children.”
“Hayes is out at the end of next year, and I think we should get this done well before he leaves office.” Jack paused as he considered what they'd learned. Then he made a little smacking noise and added, “Hammond said their conversation was private, *very* private. I think we have to trust them.” He paused again, as if silently confirming his decision, and then suggested, “As for the brood, let's ask them.”
“Most of them are still too young. Jack ...” Daniel began.
“Danny, you're worrying way too much,” Jack accused lovingly.
“Maybe,” Daniel admitted. “I just ... gawd, I'm scared. I'm so scared of making the wrong choice,” Daniel stated with an anxiety-ridden voice.
“You know what I think, Angel?” Jack asked tenderly.
“No, but I hope you tell me,” Daniel responded.
“Listen to your heart,” Jack advised, quickly adding, “And stop trying to have an answer for everything. Follow the voice within you.”
“Right now, that voice is saying 'kiss me',” the younger man quipped.
“Love that voice,” Jack spoke softly as he moved in to soothe his anguished lover with a kiss.
Later that morning, the Jackson-O'Neill family was beginning its daily routine.
“Jen, are you going to eat your breakfast or just sit there all day?” Jack asked, giving his daughter an amused grin as she continued to play with her Froot Loops, something she'd been doing for fifteen minutes.
“Is everything okay, Jen?” Daniel asked with a trace of concern.
Jack and Daniel exchanged a nervous glance as their eldest daughter lay her spoon down and stared at them. They weren't prepared for her words.
“I should ask the two of you the same question. *I'm*fine; I'm just waiting for you two to stop pussyfooting around. Something is going on, and it's *been* going on for weeks. You're both doing that whole 'are we being fair to the kids thing' instead of just asking us, which you will do anyway before making up your minds about whatever this is.” She rolled her eyes and turned to Jeff and Brianna. “Can you believe they still keep doing this? Every time they have a decision to make they spend days or weeks agonizing over whether to tell us, how to tell us, what to tell us ...”
“Smart aleck,” Jack grumbled in pretend annoyance, the effect somewhat ruined by his grin. ~Jen knows us too well.~
Brianna laughed, “So what are you agonizing over this time?”
Daniel fidgeted, silently asking his husband, **Should we tell them, Jack?**
**Isn't that what you want, Angel? You've been saying they have a right to be part of our decision making, and I'm not arguing that point.**
Jack looked at their three oldest children who were sitting at the table expectantly, and though confident about asking them, finding the words to do so, proved a hindrance for him.
“Dad? Daddy?” Jennifer tried to prod.
Finally, Jack stammered, “Ah, how would you kids feel about ... uh ...”
Brianna made a 'get on with it' gesture. As Jack glared at her in response, she simply grinned back at him.
“Stargate, Jack, mine, baby,” Daniel blurted out in a nonsensical ramble. He shook his head at his poor communication. “Gawd, a freakin' linguist; it's a good thing there isn't a language police, or they'd be knocking on the door to take back my degree.”
Jack pulled his husband into his arms, and that was when Jennifer understood. She let out a whoop of delight and ran over to hug the two surprised men.
“A baby! A baby! A friggin' baby! I love the you-know-what!” Jennifer shouted.
Jack and Daniel exchanged a happy smile, Jennifer's enthusiasm meaning the world to them.
Brianna and Jeff were still exchanging confused looks. Jennifer turned to them, still grinning.
“Don't you get it? Somehow, Dad and Daddy can have a baby: their own baby -- both of them.” The teen girl turned back to the stunned adults. “How does it work? Who gets pregnant? When are you having it?”
“It's like a Jackson-O'Neill family baby,” Brianna said, grinning, as she stood and hugged the two men. “A baby we all get to see from the very beginning.”
Jeff sat back contentedly, quietly saying, “I love this family.”
“Now wait a minute, Kids, we haven't decided anything for sure yet,” Jack said, trying to calm the excited children down. “The twins don't even know about the Stargate yet.”
Jennifer and Brianna both rolled their eyes and said in unison, “So tell them already!”
Jeff laughed as he added, “You two might not have decided, but we have.”
“Look,” Daniel said, sitting down at the table, “this isn't as simple as saying 'yes' or 'no'.”
“Why not?” Jennifer asked.
“Because there are a lot of questions that need answers,” Daniel answered seriously.
“Answer them,” Brianna offered.
“That's our Bri,” Jack teased as he stood by the sink, rinsing out a dish.
Daniel sighed and began to get lost in his thoughts.
“Daddy, don't you want to have a baby?” Brianna asked.
“Gawd, yes,” Daniel answered without thinking.
“Dad?” Brianna asked, looking over at the older man.
“Like Daniel said, it's not that simple,” Jack answered. “We both would love to have this child, but there are things to think about.”
“Oh, wow. One of them has to get pregnant,” Brianna announced, suddenly thinking about her fathers with extending bellies.
“No, I mean ... oh, this is complicated,” Daniel sighed.
“Where's Carter when you need her?” Jack chuckled.
“You called, Sir?” Sam responded on cue.
“Carter?” a surprised Jack exclaimed in question.
“She was at the door when I looked outside,” David explained, having entered the kitchen with her.
“David ...” Jack began.
“It was just Aunt Sam, Dad,” David groaned, trying to fend off the scolding for having opened the door.
“Did you need something, Sir?” Sam asked courteously.
“Yeah, uh ... David, go check on your brothers and sisters,” Jack told his young son.
David looked around, carefully studying the faces of his parents, and then asked, “Something's up, isn't it?”
“David!” Daniel forcefully admonished.
“Yes, Daddy. I'm always too young,” David whined as he hurried upstairs, his grumbling continuing the entire way.
“Carter, we're talking about having a baby. Explain it to them,” Jack ordered.
Sam's eyes widened as she asked, “Excuse me?”
“He, uh, means tell them about how it works, on P...whatever it is,” Daniel nervously clarified.
~Daddy's funny,~ Jennifer thought as she laughed out loud at Daniel's nervousness. It all seemed so simple to her. ~We're getting a baby!~
“We're going to go check on the brood, make sure David isn't conducting any experiments on the twins,” Jack said, giving Sam a teasing look as he thought back to her involvement with some of David's past experiments.
The blonde gulped from the memory, one she feared Jack would never let her live down.
As Jack and Daniel walked out, Sam asked, “Hey, wait, just how much ...”
“Everything,” Daniel answered, looking at the three children. “No secrets about this.”
“We'll only be a few minutes,” Jack informed their friend, leading Daniel towards the stairs.
“Well.” Sam smiled a bit apprehensively at the three children. She fidgeted for a moment and then took the seat where Daniel had been sitting. “So, what have they told you?”
“Nothing,” came the response from all three children.
“Oh, well, then I guess we'll start at the beginning,” Sam decided.
The night before had been 'in the womb together' night at the Jackson-O'Neill homestead. It was something they did very rarely, but when they did, the younger children got a kick out of it. Thus, every now and then, Ricky and Aislinn would trade places for the night so that the Munchkins slept together in one room while the twins slept together in the other. Currently, Jack and Daniel were with the twins in what was normally the girls' room shared by Jenny and Aislinn.
“Princess, one pink sock and one black sock will get us all kinds of funny looks,” Jack told Jenny as he took the socks away from her.
“Like pink,” Jenny exclaimed, unsuccessfully reaching towards her father to reclaim her socks.
“Okay, let's find another pink one,” Jack suggested as he began to finger through the sock drawer.
“Like black, too,” the spirited little girl pouted in frustration, letting her lower lip quiver slightly, much as she had often seen her daddy do.
~They all have that down pat,~ Jack thought about the pout and look of defiance. He smiled and replied, “Well, let's find the other black one.”
“NO!” Jenny expressed stubbornly, folding her arms, raising her head arrogantly, and looking off to the side. “No wear socks.”
Seeing Jack looking at him for what he knew was moral support in the father-daughter battle, Daniel, who was holding Ricky in his arms, just smiled and stated, “Don't look at me; mine cooperated.” He nodded at their fully-dressed and perfectly-behaving son and thought, ~Thank you, Ricky.~
~Of all the days for Ricky to cooperate,~ Jack grumbled silently. “Princess,” he tried again, “you're only supposed to wear one color.”
“Who says?” Jenny asked pointedly, her hands now firmly on her hips as she fought back.
“Who? Well ...” Jack sighed loudly. “Jenny, it doesn't matter who; it's just not something we do.”
“Why?” the little girl inquired, refusing to accept Jack's answer.
“Because we don't,” Jack answered, beginning to get a bit frustrated by the entire conversation.
“Why?” the young girl asked again.
“Be...cause ... because no one else does,” Jack stuttered.
“So?” Jenny challenged, her eyes wide open and bearing into her father's.
Jack responded, “So ... so ... so ...” He chuckled and sighed, “So you're right. Who cares? Here,” he chuckled, handing her back the socks. “Do you want some help or ...”
“Big girl; put on own socks,” Jenny insisted, plopping down onto the floor and proceeding to put the pink sock onto her foot.
“Pardon me,” Jack apologized. **For a second there, I thought I was back in the terrible twos. Where'd that come from?**
**Just testing you, Babe.**
**Jenny's full of fire,** Jack replied.
**I know. I wonder who she gets that from, Jack,** Daniel mused as the two smiled at each other.
Jack smiled, and when Jenny had her socks and shoes on, the twins scurried off to join the Munchkins in the boys' rooms before going outside to play. Jack and Daniel remained for a few minutes, straightening Jenny's bed.
“Shouldn't she be doing this?” Jack asked as he tucked in a corner.
Daniel laughed, “She's testing you, Jack.”
Not particularly fond of that revelation, Jack asked, “Why isn't she testing you?”
“She already tried,” the younger man explained.
Nodding, Daniel answered, “Yes, a couple of weeks ago.”
“Oh, well, who won?” Jack asked. Then he saw his husband's smug smile. “Danny?”
“Jack, have you ever seen our daughter wearing two different colored socks before?” Daniel questioned.
Daniel laughed, but his laughter soon calmed to silence. With Jenny's bed made, the two lovers sat side by side for a moment.
“Angel, are we making this whole thing out to be more complicated than it is?” Jack wondered about their very important decision that needed to be made.
“I don't know,” Daniel answered. “I just don't want to make a mistake. Gawd, Sam told me I was thinking inside the box. I ... I guess I'm too afraid not to. This is important, Jack.”
Taking Daniel's hand, Jack sighed, “You've been agonizing over this for weeks, ever since our visit to the Phelpians.”
“I'm not sure agonizing is the right word, but ... I guess, well, I just ... Jack, there are moral implications in our decision, and we do have to think about how we explain the presence of another child, not just to our children, but to our extended family and our friends,” Daniel intoned seriously.
“Maybe we just say 'here's our baby', and leave it at that,” Jack suggested.
“They'll have questions,” the younger man realized.
“Daniel, we've evaded or skirted around all kinds of questions for years,” Jack responded as his thumb rubbed and pressed gently against the palm of his lover's hand.
The archaeologist nodded, but then cocked his head slightly as he asked, “What about the questions this child would ask?”
~I have a headache,~ Jack thought as he stared at Daniel and then at the wall. “Think Carter's finished explaining yet?”
Daniel looked up at his lover with a mischievous grin as he clarified, “You mean your brain's about to explode thinking about this, and it's time to let it go for a little while.”
“Something like that,” Jack concurred.
Mischievously, Daniel tugged gently on his soulmate's hand, pulling them up as he suggested, “Let's go see how Sam made out.”
Jack and Daniel entered the kitchen just in time to see Brianna pouting, Jeff laughing, and Jennifer giving them the benefit of her experience by opining, “... Dad and Daddy get there in the end; they just have to work through these things, and eventually, they catch up ...”
Jennifer suddenly realized her parents were in the room and trailed off with a sheepish look.
While Jack raised an eyebrow at Jennifer's comments, Daniel looked at Brianna with concern and asked, “What's wrong, Bri?”
“I wanted to see what you looked like pregnant!” Brianna answered truthfully.
Daniel's mouth fell open in surprise while Jennifer, Jeff, and Sam doubled over in hysterical laughter.
Brianna sighed, “It's still cool, but it would have been so funny to see one of you with a big, fat belly; and, you know, having to work at sitting up and down; all that stuff.”
Jack patted Daniel's abdomen fondly and whispered in his husband's ear, “You'd look gorgeous pregnant.”
Daniel glared at his soulmate and then grinned evilly as he taunted, “I still have the photos, Jack.”
Ignoring her older father's scowl, Brianna brightened, eagerly asking, “Photos? What photos?”
Sam sniggered, her mind imagining her two male friends as being with child.
Daniel grinned in remembrance and elucidated, “When Kayla was pregnant with the triplets, we borrowed a couple of empathy bellies. I wanted to know what being pregnant felt like.”
Jack glared at Daniel as he added, “And I was foolish enough to humor your father and actually wore the stupid thing.”
Sam was looking like all her Christmases had come at once, eagerly inquiring, “And you have pictures of him wearing it?”
Daniel nodded and clarified, “Of both of us wearing them. Kayla took them. She thought it would be cute to show the pictures to the Munchkins when they got older.”
“Yes, he does, Carter, and if he doesn't want to sleep on the couch for the next month, he won't be showing them to anyone, EVER!” Jack warned with a slightly raised voice.
Sam sprayed out her coffee that she was drinking. She ran her hand across her mouth, but she couldn't stop laughing.
“What's so funny, Carter?” Jack asked as Jeff rose to get Sam a new cup of coffee and a sponge to wipe the table.
“Sir, you ... making Daniel sleep ... on ... on ... oh, gee,” Sam guffawed.
Jennifer was laughing, too, unable to control her snickering.
“I fail to see what's so funny,” Jack stated as if offended.
Daniel was laughing as well, though he was making an attempt not to. Unable to stop his chuckles, he buried his face in a towel, only slightly masking his jocularity.
“DANIEL!” Jack shouted.
“Dad, give it up already,” Jennifer told her father. “You live in dire fear that Daddy will make *you* sleep on the couch, but you making Daddy sleep on the couch? I don't even think the twins are that gullible.”
The laughter tripled, Daniel doubling over, his hands dropping to his side and letting the towel dangle against the cabinet.
“Oh, for crying out loud,” the general whined.
“Daddy, tell me the truth, though,” Jennifer said. “Have you ever *really* made Dad sleep on the sofa?”
Slowly regaining control of his laughter-turned-snorts, Daniel answered, “Um, gawd, I don't think so. Have I?” Daniel asked Jack before breaking into laughter again.
“No, but you keep threatening me!” Jack responded. ~I'm more gullible than the twins. Like he'd ever really do that. I need to be more confident. He'd never ... well, I don't think he'd ever.~
“Daniel, you *have* to show me those photos,” Sam begged.
“NO, he doesn't!” Jack barked defensively.
“See me about it later, Sam,” Daniel whispered in her ear, though making sure Jack could hear him.
“Daniel!” Jack warned weakly.
“Jack?” a bright-eyed Daniel innocently replied.
Jack grumbled, then asked, “Where are the kids anyway?”
“They're in the backyard,” Daniel answered, shaking his head. He knew Jack knew where they were. “So, uh,” Daniel looked at the three older children, “you guys are really okay with this, if we did it.”
“Dad, Daddy,” Jeff said, “I don't understand the problem. It's something you want, right?”
“Yes,” Daniel answered on behalf of both he and Jack.
“You worry too much, Daddy,” Jennifer noted seriously, a loving expression on her face.
“He's worried about us,” Brianna added. “Aren't you, Daddy?”
“Look, when you adopted me, at first, I had a really hard time believing you had the love, the time, and the desire to have another brat around. You had eight freakin' kids already, and I was sure I was just another number,” Brianna admitted boisterously. “Boy, was I wrong!” she exclaimed. “You didn't just add me to this family, but Jeff and Lulu, too, and I've never felt slighted. You gave me a home, even if it did take me a while to really believe it. I just think that whatever you do, you should do because it's what you want to do. Don't worry about us because ... you'll always give us what we need.”
Jennifer smiled at her sister. They hadn't always gotten along at first, but now were very close.
“She's so wise,” Jennifer teased.
“With you and the Great Gretzky to look up to, who wouldn't be?” Brianna wisecracked.
“There's just so many questions,” Daniel sighed.
“For who, Daddy? Not for us,” Jeff said. “Like Bri said, you promised us five minutes a day, but what you've given us is a lifetime with a family.”
Daniel looked at Jack who was leaning up against the kitchen sink. His arms were folded, and he was smiling.
“What are you smiling at?” Daniel asked.
Cocking his head to the side briefly, Jack verbally strutted, “We have the best kids in the world, that's all.”
“Does that mean we get to go to the mall today?” Jennifer asked.
“Not in a million years,” Jack answered promptly.
Jennifer groaned, “Sometimes, Dad, you're just no fun!”
“Aunt Sam! Aunt Sam! Come play with us,” Jenny said as she and her brothers and sisters ran inside to get their siblings and Sam.
“Oh, all right, if you insist,” Sam pretended to whine, her sparkling eyes and bright smile betraying her.
Soon, all the children were outside together, playing with their favorite aunt.
Several minutes later, after cleaning up the kitchen, Jack and Daniel stood in the backyard, watching their children with Sam, who had been cornered into playing 'Hide-n-Seek' with them. Daniel was standing in front of Jack, who had his arms wrapped around the younger man.
“Is it really as simple as the children seem to think, Jack? Are we making it more complicated than it is?” Daniel wondered.
“No, we *do* have to think of every angle,” Jack confirmed.
Daniel gave an amused snort of laughter as he spoke, “You mean our friends haven't covered every angle?”
~You are so kissable.~ Jack grinned and followed through on his urge to kiss his sexy husband. “They certainly seem to have been thorough,” Jack said as he recalled all the various conversations since they'd first heard about the Phelpians. “They've been covering our six, Danny, trying to make sure we aren't disappointed.”
“Or hurt; that's what Sam and Lou were protecting us from,” Daniel observed gratefully.
Jack nodded as he spoke, “You're right about that. I wish they hadn't ...”
“Lied?” Daniel asked pointedly.
“Not for us. I feel guilty. I'm surprised Hammond didn't put reprimands in their files,” the older man confessed.
“He couldn't, Jack,” Daniel replied.
With big eyes, Jack asked, “Why not? He put plenty in my jacket over the years.”
Daniel smiled and answered, “Because back then he was just your CO and friend. Now, he's Grandpa.” After Jack nodded and the lovers enjoyed another kiss, Daniel continued, “I keep coming back to this, Jack, but do you think the President will honor his word?”
“When I talked to him last week, he told me he hadn't told a soul, hadn't written anything down, and hadn't communicated it to anyone else. He said he had completely reconsidered his original decision to have researchers talk to Janet. He promised me that our child would just be our child.” Jack sighed as he nodded, “I know you're worried, but I believe him.”
“I want to believe him, too, but we've seen the government in action, Jack. Remember how they took Teal'c away that first time?” Daniel inquired.
“In handcuffs, bound like a common criminal,” Jack groused, recalling the time shortly after the Jaffa had come to Earth and, instead of being thanked and invited to join the SGC, had been unceremoniously led away to be studied by the NID. ~I know what I want, but Danny has to be sure.~ He paused before saying, “Angel, you have to decide.”
“You mean I have to follow my heart,” Daniel interpreted.
The two were interrupted in their decision-making by the pounding of the knocker at the front door.
“I'll get it,” Jennifer called out.
A few moments later, after stepping back inside their living room, Jack and Daniel found themselves accosted by a very excited and happy Cassandra.
“Cassie?” Jack asked, surprised to see the young woman.
The redhead looked up at them, tears in her eyes, unable to speak as yet.
“Cassie, what's wrong?” Daniel asked anxiously.
The archaeologist looked over at Janet, who had come in and was a little reassured by the smile on their friend's face. He looked back to find Cassandra was actually grinning, despite her teary eyes.
“Nothing's wrong, Uncle Daniel,” the newlywed sniffed. “I'm just so happy for you. Please tell me you're going to do it.”
Jennifer grinned, then said, “I'll go help Sam keep the brood occupied.”
Within seconds, the room was devoid of people except for Jack, Daniel, Janet, and Cassandra.
“Mrs. Luca,” Jack began lightheartedly, “I think your mother has been talking too much.”
Ignoring Jack's snipe, Janet commented, “Cassie thinks it's time she got a new niece or nephew. She thought if we talked about it some more, you two might be ready to make a decision.”
“Where's your husband, and why aren't you with him?” Jack asked, trying to deflect the two female dynamos.
“He's fine. Dom's going through a training course for his company in Phoenix, so I decided to come home for a couple of days,” Cassandra explained.
“You decided,” Jack repeated, glaring at Janet affectionately. “When did you tell her?” Seeing Janet's coy smile, he remarked, “Dumb question,” knowing that Cassandra would never have been able to remain quiet for long. It was obvious Janet had just told her. He snorted in amusement as he came to a realization. Looking at the physician, he said, “That's why Carter came over, so Daniel and I could talk to you about this outside of the SGC and without worrying about little ears overhearing?”
“Like I said, it was Cassie's idea,” Janet responded with a mischievous grin.
“It was a good one, Cass” Daniel acknowledged, hugging the young woman. Then he added, “We really need to make a decision, Janet.”
“Let's get comfortable,” Jack suggested.
The group settled in and chatted with Cassandra about her pregnancy for a while. The young woman had been in Colorado Springs for an unexpected visit in mid-April, and as she left, she revealed that she was pregnant. This equally unanticipated visit wasn't even two weeks later, but it allowed them to talk more about the Luca's future family.
A cup of coffee or tea later, depending upon preference, they were deep into the discussion of the next potential Jackson-O'Neill baby.
“Is there a possibility that we'll get twins?” Daniel asked.
Janet laughed, answering, “Yes and no. You may get identical twins, but you cannot get non-identical twins using the womis because there is only one egg.”
“Janet, I know we've talked about this, but you've done more tests now from what you've said, so, as it stands right now, what kinds of risks are there to the womis, in terms of going through the Stargate, being here on Earth, and just daily survival?” Daniel queried.
Janet shifted a bit as she sat on the sofa. She put down the cup of tea that Jack had made her and leaned forward.
“At this point in time, I'm ninety-six percent certain that there will be no problems with the womis here on Earth. I'm still concerned about the trip through Stargate. Guys, I can't say there isn't a risk. According to the Phelpians, a womis has never been off their planet before, but the skin on the womis is *incredibly* strong. I don't see any way that it, itself, could be injured or negatively affected by our environment.”
“The womis ... Janet, what about the baby as it grows?” Daniel inquired nervously.
“Daniel, the womis is a womb. Example: a pregnant woman falls down some stairs. She has a bruise, maybe a sprained finger or ankle, but her baby is injured, or worse,” Janet hypothesized.
“So if we don't keep the womis safe, the baby could be harmed?” Daniel deduced.
“It's possible,” the woman admitted.
“Uncle Daniel, there's no such thing as a sure thing,” Cassandra counseled.
“Cassie, a cliché?” Jack asked in a half-teasing tone.
“I learned from the best, Uncle Jack,” Cassandra replied, pulling back her long red hair as she chuckled lightly.
Janet teased, “Watch out, you two, she's armed and fully loaded.”
“You got that right, Mom,” Cassandra sternly agreed. “Listen, when I was a little girl, I knew that you two loved each other, and it hurt like heck that you couldn't be open about it. The day you guys finally told us, I thought I'd scream for joy.”
“I think you did,” Daniel pointed out quietly.
“Then I heard you say your vows; that's something I'll never forget,” Cassandra recalled, her eyes focusing on the memory as she played it back in her mind. “The first time, wow, but the second time was just as wonderful, and, for the record, so was the third. When you had the triplets -- gee, the chaos that caused! I know it wasn't easy for a while, but like always, you have each other, and that's what got you through. My point is that you've come too far not to let this miracle happen.”
“It's not a sure thing, Cass,” Jack said.
“Neither were Kayla's pregnancies,” Cassandra pointed out.
“It *would* be such a miracle,” Daniel said, “and gawd, so unexpected.”
Cassandra was about to scream at her uncles' indecision, proclaiming anxiously, “Don't you get it? After all this time? This *whole* family is an unexpected miracle. Eleven crazy kids, two dogs, two cats, a tankful of fish, lizards and frogs, a rabbit, and I don't know what else, and it's all because you love each other. Look at your children.” She stared at the two men and rolled her eyes. “That wasn't a theoretical comment; it was a command. Go on. Go look at them. Move it!” she ordered, pointing towards the patio door.
Chuckling at Cassandra's antics, Jack and Daniel walked over to the patio door. Janet joined them, standing next to Daniel with Cassandra on her other side. They watched eleven children laughing, teasing, fighting, and having a grand time in the backyard.
“Those children out there are healthy, full of life, and more than that, they're happy. They've seen prejudice, and they've witnessed sadness; but look at them: that's what Dominic and I want: a family, just like this one. It's what I want for my baby,” the young female said, holding her hands gently over her growing abdomen.
“How is Dom, by the way?” Daniel asked, partially wanting to deflect the conversation a bit.
“Good, very good,” Cassandra replied, her cheeks instantly becoming rosier as she thought about her husband. Then she focused on her task again. “Nice try, Uncle Daniel. As I was saying, every day in this house of love is a miracle. How can you turn your backs on the chance to let another life be a part of it?”
Jack and Daniel looked at each, once again amazed at their surrogate niece's wisdom.
“Uncle Daniel, stop worrying about the world. Come on, take a chance,” the young woman urged. “You took a chance on Uncle Jack, and that's worked pretty good.”
“Yeah!” Jack boasted jovially.
“And you, Uncle Jack, stop being so skeptical about everything, and stop trying to help Uncle Daniel find exact answers for what I'm sure have been a thousand questions. Even if you find the answers to those, he'll just have a thousand more. I know you're trying to help him, giving him time and all of that, but sometimes, mysteries are good. You two are being offered a precious gift; you just can't turn down that chance; you just can't!” Cassandra passionately implored.
Janet grinned at the surprised look on the two men's faces. Cassandra was determined that her two beloved uncles would follow their hearts on this matter and not let their brains get in the way, which, of course, was exactly why Janet had told her in the first place.
~You two just need a slight nudge, and Cass is the perfect one to do it!~ Janet thought.
**She's right, Jack.**
**Yeah. So was Jen. We have been making it more complicated than it is,** Jack realized as they communicated.
**We took a risk each time we added to our family, Jack, and every time it has been worth it.**
Jack grimaced as he silently said, **Except for the cats; could've done without them.**
**Yeah, right. I've seen you playing with Mittens and Calico when you think no one is watching,** Daniel mused.
“They're doing that silent communication thing again, aren't they, Mom?” Cassandra asked cheerfully, her voice bringing the lovers back to reality.
“Sorry,” Jack said with a grin.
Their close family knew there was some crazy kind of silent communication between the two, and it had become a bit of an in-joke for the extended family. Any time Jack and Daniel both became too quiet, those closest to them knew they were being anything but quiet ... in their minds.
Cassandra raised her eyebrows and asked, “So, what's it going to be?”
Jack looked at his soulmate and communicated, **I want this, Danny. I really want this. Our baby -- it's a dream come true.**
**It's a miracle.**
**We'll do it,** Jack non-verbally announced.
Daniel smiled as he echoed Jack's words to his lover -- **We'll do it.**
The two women looked at the men impatiently, waiting for their answer.
“We need to make sure David, Lulu, the Munchkins, and the twins don't object,” Jack stated.
Cassandra began to grin as Daniel continued, “We need to tell the twins about the Stargate.”
“But ...” Cassandra prompted, wanting to hear the words.
The lovers looked at each other once more, smiled, and said in unison, “We'll do it.”
“YES!” Cassandra exclaimed loudly, immediately hugging her uncles so tightly that Jack thought he wouldn't be able to breathe.
“Cassie,” Daniel said, “just remember, it's not a sure thing.”
“Wanna bet, Uncle Daniel?” the young woman stated jovially. “No way would the Fates put this out there and not deliver. It's destiny. You're going to have an even dozen!”
“We hope so,” Daniel said, chuckling nervously and hugging her again.
“Let's ask them,” the energetic young woman suggested.
“What?” Daniel asked wide-eyed.
“Come on, Uncle Daniel. Live dangerously,” Cassandra urged encouragingly.
Jack sniggered at the look of surprise and bewilderment on Daniel’s face.
“Uh,” Daniel raised his hand, pointing his finger slightly in Cassandra's direction. “I, uh, think, I mean ... Apophis ... Jack?” He was having difficulty, not certain he was ready to tell the youngest children about the Stargate and the dangers out there, like the ones they'd face with the Goa'uld. Hearing his husband break into laughter, he chastised, “That's not a help, Jack.”
“Oh, Uncle Daniel, you know what I mean. Let's bring the brood inside. We can all tell the twins about the Stargate, and I bet when you tell them about their new brother or sister, they'll be thrilled.”
“Cassie, I don't know,” Daniel said seriously.
“Well, I do!” the young woman responded, defiantly walking to the patio door and opening it. “Hey, you guys, get in here. Family meeting!” Turning back to her two uncles, she said, “You know, you have to do this sooner or later, so we might as well get it over with while you have us with you for support.”
“Cassssssssie!” the Munchkins cried out happily, running towards her, as did the rest of the children.
“You heard Cass. Live dangerously, Love,” Jack advised, walking past his husband towards the door where the children were gathering.
“I do. I live with you,” Daniel muttered.
“I heard that!”
“Oh, good. We don't need to get your hearing checked then,” Daniel lovingly quipped.
“What?” Jack asked.
“What?” Daniel asked.
Janet shook her head, a look of pleasure on her face as she fondly lamented, “You two will never change.”
After several minutes, the children were all gathered together in the large recreation room. Some were on the various sectional sofa pieces while others were on the floor pillows and comforters.
“This is what I call a family meeting,” Jennifer teased.
“What's up?” David asked as he held Mittens in his lap.
“Ah, well, we, um ...” Daniel stuttered.
“What your daddy is trying to say,” Jack interrupted, “is that we, well, we're thinking about making a couple of, uh, changes.”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Jennifer said in exasperation. “They aren't babies. Are you guys babies?”
“NOOOOOOOO!” came the answering chorus of children.
“Of course, you're not,” Daniel agreed, smiling nervously. “Um, well, your dad and I were talking, and, there's something, um, well, there are two things actually.”
Cassandra groaned as she looked up to the ceiling.
“Kids, the first thing is something that all of you know about except for the twins,” Jack said.
Ricky and Jenny both looked around at their siblings, curious as to what secrets had been kept from them.
“You had secret?” Ricky asked, a frown on his face.
“Listen, you two,” Jack said, moving to the large sectional sofa where Jenny sat. “Come here,” he called out to Ricky. Jack rearranged the seating assignments so that the twins were together, and Daniel moved to stand behind him. Holding one of each of their hands, Jack explained, “This is very important. Your brothers and sisters have all found out about this at different times. This is a very big secret, and only a few people know about it.”
Ricky and Jenny waited patiently to be included in whatever this big secret was.
“You know that Dad and I work at Cheyenne Mountain,” Daniel began. “You've spent a lot of time at the office with us.”
“And with Nyan,” Ricky said about the Bedrosian who was their designated baby-sitter at the Mountain whenever Jack and Daniel were called out of the office.
“Nyan's nice,” Jenny added.
“Yes, he is,” Daniel agreed. “The thing is, there's a lot more to what we do than what you've seen.”
“It's the Stargate!” Chenoa declared excitedly. “Can we go play with Nafrayu again?”
“Have to meet the Nox,” Little Danny insisted, looking at the twins. “Funny hair, though.”
“When you get older, maybe you two can help me with the exchange program,” Jennifer remarked, full of pride at the success of her idea.
“It's cool, Ricky,” Jonny added. “We get to go to other planets.”
“You'll like Tuplo's planet,” Aislinn added. “Lots of room to play there.”
“Can't tell anyone,” Chenoa added. “Not honorable,” she said definitively.
The twins had no clue what their brothers and sisters were rambling on about, but it sounded like fun.
“Whoa!” Jack called out to the brood, silencing them for the moment. “Let's start with the basics.” He thought for a few seconds and then explained, “The Stargate is a big circle that makes a big splashing noise and then looks like it has a big, blue puddle of water in it. When we walk through the Stargate, we go to other places and meet people from all over the universe.”
“It *is* a lot to understand,” Daniel said, “but it's really an incredible creation, and, uh, we do go to other planets.”
“Scary?” Jenny asked with a small voice.
“Piece of cake,” the Munchkins all said, followed by two woofs from Bijou and Katie, who sat near Little Danny on the floor, the two dogs on their beanbag.
“Bij and Katie been through Stargate?” Jenny asked incredulously.
“A few times,” Jack said, “for picnics and special occasions.”
“Katie likes to play with Nafrayu,” Little Danny informed Ricky and Jenny.
“He goes on digs with her,” Aislinn added.
“Other people not scary?” Jenny asked still with a note of trepidation in her voice.
As they continued to talk, it became clear that Jenny was a bit afraid of the idea of meeting aliens. Even after Jack and Daniel, aided by their children, explained more about the Stargate, even relaying some stories about their visits, Jenny still seemed apprehensive.
As Sam tried to assure her by explaining about the Stargate in more detail, Jack and Daniel moved towards the kitchen.
“Jack, she's scared, more than any of the others have been. I don't think she's ready,” Daniel noted.
“It's my fault,” Jack stated.
“Why?” the younger man inquired.
Jack grunted, “I watched some of those old sci-fi movies last week, and Jenny was watching with me.”
“Jack, tell me you didn't watch 'The Blob' with our daughter?” Daniel asked, afraid that he could guess the answer from his lover's guilty expression.
“I could, but ...”
Frustrated, Daniel looked away for a second as he exclaimed, “Gawd! We can't do this, not right now. She's not ready. She's frightened.”
Overhearing her uncles' conversation, Cassandra, with a bit of an attitude, said aloud, “You know, I'm an adult now. I can make my own decisions.”
“Cassie, where'd that come from?” Janet asked, surprised to hear her daughter's words.
“Sam, may I?” Cassandra asked, motioning to Sam's spot in front of the twins.
“Oh, sure,” Sam answered, moving away to let Cassandra in.
The young woman knelt down, sitting on her knees, in front of the twins. As Jack had done earlier, she took their hands in hers.
“I'm going to tell you something that not even they know,” Cassandra declared, nodding towards the rest of the Jackson-O'Neill children. “Jenny, you have nothing to be afraid of. Going through the Stargate is awesome, and you never know who you might meet.”
“Scary aliens,” Jenny responded.
“Aliens aren't always scary,” Cassandra spoke soothingly.
Jenny nodded her head, fearfully saying, “Blob eat me.”
Cassandra smiled and stated, “'The Blob' was a movie; it's make-believe. Guess what?”
“What?” Jenny asked.
“I've been through the Stargate; in fact, it saved my life,” the young woman revealed.
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look, each wondering if Cassandra was about to say what they thought she was about to say.
“It did?” Jenny asked, her expression full of surprise.
“Cassie, you've been through the Stargate?” Jennifer asked in complete shock.
Cassandra nodded as she acknowledged, “When I was a little girl, about Bri's age, my mother and father died.”
“Aunt Janet is your mother,” a confused Aislinn said.
“Yes, she is, and I love her very much,” the woman said as she glanced over at her mother for a moment. “But Mom adopted me after my birth parents had died.”
“You were adopted?” several of the children echoed, none of them having any idea that Cassandra was adopted.
“Yes, you see, I'm from a place called Hanka,” Cassandra revealed calmly.
“Hanka. I've never heard of it,” Jeff said. “Is that overseas?”
“You could say that. Actually, Hanka is the planet I was born on,” Cassandra announced.
As silence filled the room, Daniel folded his arms, licking his lips slightly. He and Jack exchanged more quick, worried glances. Sam and Janet took deep breaths, remembering the nightmare. As for Cassandra, she was smiling composedly.
Cassandra paused. The youngest children were too young to know the full truth, and her goal was to reassure Jenny, not add to her fears. She looked at Jack and Daniel for a second and saw that they seemed to have the same concern, worried looks on their faces. She smiled at them, and then looked back at the twins.
“A plague killed everyone on my world, and I was the only one left. Sam and Uncle Daniel brought me through the Stargate, and well, it's a long story, but when everything was all figured out, Mom adopted me, and Sam became an instant big sister, and I had Uncle Jack and Uncle Daniel, and, well, this became my home.” Cassandra smiled reassuringly and stated simply, “I'm an alien, Jenny, so see, aliens aren't all bad.”
“And,” Sam added, “remember that to Cassie, we were the aliens.”
“Not alien,” Jenny refuted.
“You would be if you came to Hanka,” Cassandra told her.
“Alien isn't a bad thing,” Jeff clarified from his position by the buffet. “Jenny, we've had family meetings talking about how ignorant some people are, remember?” He saw his little sister's nod. “Being ignorant isn't always bad. Sometimes, a person is ignorant because no one has taught them.”
“Yeah, Jenny,” Brianna said. “Before Dad and Daddy adopted me, I was ignorant.”
“You were?” Ricky asked.
“Yes. I didn't think anyone with a big family could possibly love their children, not all of them, equally, and I didn't believe a couple could make enough time for each of the children in a big family,” Brianna told her.
“Dad and Daddy have lots time for us,” Jenny said.
“Yes, they do. I know that now, but I didn't before. I was ignorant about what real loving and caring could be in a large family,” Brianna explained. She gave Jenny a chance to absorb her words and then said, “Okay, well, it's the same thing. Cassie is an alien to us, and we're the aliens to her.”
“Love Cassie,” Jenny professed.
“And I'm an alien,” Cassandra reminded, smiling.
Jenny hugged her and agreed, “Aliens not always scary.”
“No, they're not,” Daniel said. “Uh, you know how you talked about Nyan earlier?” He saw all the nods. “Nyan is an alien, too!”
“Wow!” Ricky exclaimed.
Jenny took it all in. She was caving. She loved Cassandra, and Nyan always played games with her at the SGC.
“Kids, just one thing about what Cassie just told you,” Jack said.
“WE KNOW; IT'S A SECRET!” a very loud chorus resounded through the room.
“That's right.” Jack and Daniel looked at the twins. “It's very important that you don't tell anyone about the Stargate, Nyan, or Cassie.”
“Or 'bout T,” Aislinn added.
“T?” Jenny asked.
“T's an alien, too. A very cool alien,” Little Danny explained. Then he remembered that Cassandra was an alien and added quickly, “You're cool, too, Cassie.”
Cassandra laughed and moved over to ruffle the little boy's hair.
“Jenny, are you okay now?” Little Danny asked from his spot on the pillow.
The redheaded girl thought and said, “T alien, Cassie alien, Nyan alien.” She smiled. “Aliens love me! I want meet more!”
“Thor!” Jonny shouted, but his shout was overruled by a loud sigh from David.
The frustrated refrain brought everyone's attention back to the matter at hand.
“Now we all know about the Stargate, what's the other secret?” David glared at the adults present. “You know, the one I was too young to hear about before.”
Daniel sat next to the pouting boy and hugged him. The couple tried not to lump David in with his younger brothers and sisters, but it did occasionally happen.
“I'm sorry, David. It's just, we keep forgetting that you're older than your years,” Daniel admitted.
Jack walked over to him, too, and ruffled David's hair, saying, “Sorry, Squirt.”
David sighed again as he pretended to think over the apology. Since he was eager to hear the secret, there wasn't that much to think about, and he smiled.
“It's okay. Now will you tell us?” David asked.
~I can do this.~ Daniel smiled and took a big breath. “There is a planet called Pierola, and one of the nations on that planet is inhabited by people called the Phelpians. The Phelpian's have developed a way for two people of the same sex to have a baby together.”
A huge grin appeared on David's face as he began to piece it together.
“Really? Honest to goodness? We're getting another baby?” the young boy asked, excitement flowing through him.
Jack and Daniel hadn't seen the boy look so happy since he'd finished paying for the microwave he had destroyed while conducting various food experiments two years earlier and was once again able to save up for things he wanted.
“We're going to try, David, but a certain amount of it comes down to luck. We can't be one-hundred percent sure it will work,” Jack explained.
“Will Daddy have the fat tummy?” Jenny asked.
Daniel shook his head quickly which prompted Ricky to jump to the wrong conclusion, exclaiming, “Yay, Dad's getting fat!”
Jack looked indignant at the expression while Daniel sniggered.
Jack answered, “It doesn't work that way, Son. Neither Daddy or I will carry the baby. It will grow in ... ah ... Aunt Sam will explain.”
“What? I did it last time,” Sam complained.
Jennifer rolled her eyes and exclaimed, “For crying out loud! Okay, Broodkins, listen up. Dad and Daddy will come home from the planet with a pouch thing called a womis. The baby will grow inside, and then when it's ready, the womis will open up, and voila, we have a baby.”
“Children. They make everything so simple,” Janet remarked quietly to Jack who smiled at the truth of the statement.
Daniel looked around at their children. Every single one seemed excited and happy at the news, except for Little Danny who was staring into space, looking puzzled.
“Little Danny?” Daniel asked quietly, then feeling relieved when he saw a smile spreading across the youngster's face.
“This is great, Daddy! How do they get the sperm to join up? What about the egg? How do you get the sperm into the womis? Can I watch? What's the womis made of?”
Daniel sat stunned under the avalanche of questions. In fact, he was pale.
Laughing, Jack intervened, “Whoa, Sproglet, slow down a minute. The best person to answer all your questions is Doctor Janet.”
Jack shot Janet an evil grin as Little Danny immediately besieged her with questions.
“You're the doctor, Doctor,” Daniel said.
“And you're the parent, parent, so ... so ... parent!” Janet argued.
Jennifer sighed, “Do I have to explain everything?”
“NO!” came two urgent-sounding responses from her fathers.
“What's a sperm?” Jenny asked her brother.
“Eggs? Dad and Daddy making eggs into a baby?” Chenoa asked.
“Oh, gawd,” Daniel cried, not prepared for the birds and bees discussion yet.
“Danny, we ...” Jack said.
“We?” Daniel asked.
“Carter, where do you think you're going?” Jack called out loudly, seeing Sam trying to sneak out the door.
“Uh, well, Sir, I, uh, I have to go. You see, my, uh, my ... um, well ...” Sam saw Jack's stern shaking of the head. “Oh, gawd,” she echoed Daniel's words.
“Girls, go with Aunt Sam and Aunt Janet. Boys, stay here,” Jack commanded.
“What about me?” Cassandra asked, drying the tears from her eyes due to laughing so hard.
“You apparently already know where babies come from, so you can help by taking Bijou and Katie outside; actually, take all of 'em,” Jack instructed, pointing at the dogs and cats.
“Why?” Jennifer asked as she picked up Jenny.
“Because they don't even like it when ... never mind,” Jack said. “Just ... keep them outside for awhile.”
Laughing, Cassandra took the pets to the backyard. At the same time, Sam and Janet ushered the girls into the study, leaving Jack and Daniel with their boys.
“You don't have to stay for this, Jeff. I assume ...” Daniel began.
“Long time ago,” Jeff laughed, “but I wouldn't miss this for the world!”
Daniel nodded, giving out a weak smile as he communicated, **Gawd, I'm gonna die.**
**We go together!**
Jack looked at their sons' expectant faces and sighed.
Little Danny looked up at his father with concern and asked, “Dad, don't you know how babies are made? I can tell ...”
“No!” Jack exclaimed, gulping.
Jeff, Daniel, and David started laughing at Jack's indignant and flustered expression. Jack shot them all a glare and looked down at his genius son.
“I mean, yes, Little Danny, I do know all about it; it's just ...” Inspiration struck, and Jack smiled at the boy. “I don't think Ricky and Jonny do though, maybe you could explain it to them.” ~Why not? He can probably explain it to them better than me.~
**Hey, I didn't notice you jumping in to explain.**
Little Danny beamed, turned to his brothers and began explaining, “Boys have sperm, and girls have eggs.” He fetched a piece of paper and began drawing as he talked. “Sperm is kept here, and it comes out here. I guess Dad and Daddy put their sperm together, and stick it in the womis. Will we get to see the womis, Daddy? How big is it?”
Jeff and David were sitting forward now, interested in hearing more about the alien technology.
“The womis starts out small, about the size of a tennis ball, and it grows along with the baby. It will be attached to a kind of stand and have tubes going into it. Liquid food goes into the womis and feeds the baby,” Daniel explained.
“Ewww, liquid food.” Jonny screwed up his face in distaste as he thought about it. “Poor baby,” he lamented. Suddenly, the little boy brightened as he exclaimed, “I know! We could melt ice cream and give it to the baby.”
“No, Jonny,” Jack replied, squashing that idea immediately, although not quick enough before an image of three mischievous Munchkins feeding a poor fetus ice cream had popped into his head, making him cringe internally.
“The baby won't mind its food, Jonny,” Daniel reassured. “After all, you all got fed liquid food when you were in your mommy's tummy.”
“Oh.” Jonny considered that for a moment. “So how soon 'til the baby comes?”
“Nine months,” Little Danny sighed.
“Um, actually, Son,” Daniel said, “because of the womis and how it works, it will only take six months. The baby will be fully grown, but it's done at a faster rate than a normal pregnancy.”
“Go 'morrow; start baby,” Ricky informed them.
“Let's go tell Cassie,” Jonny urged, and the next thing Jack and Daniel knew, their male children were all outside.
“I think that went well,” Daniel said.
“Very,” Jack agreed. “Daniel?”
“I'm almost afraid to ask, but where did Little Danny learn that?” Jack inquired hesitantly.
“I'm guessing the Discovery Channel, or maybe A&E.” Daniel shrugged at Jack's questioning look. “Well, I don't know, Jack. Every time I turn around he's saying something that I have no idea where he got it from. He's got a photographic memory. Maybe he read your copy of 'Playboy'.”
“Very funny, Daniel,” Jack responded dryly. Smiling coyly, he explained, “I don't subscribe to 'Playboy' ... anymore.”
Daniel laughed, then commented, “I really don't know. Maybe he's reading the encyclopedias again.”
When Daniel suddenly looked lost in thought, Jack asked, “Danny?”
**Jack, we covered the basics of reproduction, but not how the sperm actually come in contact with the egg. We didn't, uh, talk at all about 'you know'.**
**No, we didn't,** Jack mentally agreed, not looking forward to another discussion and knowing there would be several with each child before they were grown.
**And, Jack, what about when the boys discover Playboy, and we have to talk about the 'other' you know. Gawd, couldn't we just go fight another System Lord instead?** Daniel questioned, blushing at the thought of the inevitable discussions.
“Cassie was great,” Jack gratefully commented. ~I *so* don't want to think about this anymore today.~
“Yes, she was,” Daniel agreed, gratefully allowing his husband to change the subject.
“Six months,” Jack stated. “I hope that's safe.”
“Janet said she thought it was, and I guess we have to go with our gut instinct,” Daniel intoned.
“Eww,” Jenny said, running into the living room.
“There's our spirited princess,” Jack said, picking her up.
“Eww, Dad. No boy get my eggs!” Jenny exclaimed.
Jack coughed and looked at Sam, who shrugged as she smiled coyly.
“Not fun. Boys stay away from me,” Aislinn said. “Gonna play with Bij,” she announced, going outside.
“Any boy touches me, and I'm gonna slug him,” Brianna stated firmly.
“Yeah, me, too,” Lulu said. “I'm just gonna dance!”
“Let's go outside, Lulu,” Brianna suggested.
Chenoa walked into the room quietly, grimacing. Without a word, but staring at her fathers with an expression that said, 'oh, yuck', she followed the others outside.
Jennifer laughed, seeing her father's odd expression.
“Carter, what *exactly* did you tell them?” Jack asked curiously.
“That men cause pain,” Sam responded.
Janet laughed and refuted, “You didn't exactly say it like that, Sam.”
“No, but I figured it couldn't hurt,” the blonde teased.
“Um, did you ... I mean ...” Jack stammered.
Jennifer laughed, “Yes, Dad, they know all they want to know about ... you know,” Jennifer quipped. She winked at Jack as she walked outside. “Yep, you know sure has them scared, but not me!”
“Jennifer!” Jack barked, but he was too late, the teenager was long gone.
“Carter?” Jack asked more seriously.
“We covered the basics,” Sam informed them.
“What took you so long?” Jack questioned demandingly.
Sam studied her CO and deduced a scheme, inquiring, “Sir, did you ... cover the bases?”
When Daniel snickered, Jack jabbed his lover in the abdomen with his elbow.
“Sir?” Sam asked again, refusing to be derailed.
Reluctantly, the general answered, “It's ... handled, Carter.”
“He had Little Danny do it,” Daniel admitted as he lost his battle not to laugh.
“Whose side are you on, Daniel?” Jack challenged.
Daniel kissed his husband, then answered, “Yours, Babe, always yours.”
“Love you, Angel,” the older man crooned.
“Love you, too, so much,” Daniel spoke softly in return.
“They are so cute,” Sam commented, her voice bringing the lovers out of their reverie.
The lovers turned to see Janet and Sam smiling at them.
“Ricky was cute, ordering us to start tomorrow,” Jack recalled.
The petite doctor remarked, “The good news is that you really can start things rolling tomorrow. Cassie has offered to baby-sit the brood, and the Phelpians said to come as soon as you made up your mind.”
“Should I phone General Hammond and schedule a visit to PRW-112 for tomorrow?” Sam asked, already pulling out her cell phone.
Jack and Daniel exchanged a final look, each making sure they were on the same page and then nodded.
“Lou's going to be coming, too. He'd be livid if we tried to go without him,” Sam added.
“Our baby, Jack,” Daniel spoke softly as he gazed into his lover's delicious chocolate eyes.
“Our miracle,” the older man opined as he gazed into his soulmate's beautiful blue eyes.
As Sam made the call to Hammond, Cassandra came in and smiled at the sight of her two uncles, temporarily lost in each other.
~They are so wonderful together; they just worry too darn much!~
Jack had awakened to find Daniel missing from their bed. Worried that perhaps Daniel was having second thoughts about adding to their family, he'd gone in search of his missing lover. Unlike past nights when Daniel had sat outside looking up at the night sky, tonight he was in the den looking through their family photo albums.
Jack slid his arms around Daniel and leaned his chin on his lover's shoulder, quietly asking, “Are you rethinking ...”
“No,” Daniel immediately responded. With a trace of embarrassment on his face, he turned to look at his soulmate and admitted, “I was too excited to sleep. Our baby, Jack. It really will be a Jackson-O'Neill family baby.”
“Our baby,” Jack echoed, still not quite believing it himself.
Daniel looked at one of the pictures they had of Kayla with the Munchkins and remarked, “Kayla was great. I ... she included us as much as possible, but ...”
Jack knew what Daniel was trying to say and clarified, “There were always limitations on how involved we could be in the pregnancy.”
Daniel nodded, adding, “With this baby, we could talk to it whenever we want, not just on visits. We can be there to see him or her grow. I want this, Jack. It's almost scary how much I want it.”
Jack pulled the younger man into a firm embrace, replying, “I know. We just have to hope, and if it's meant to be ...”
“We'll have a baby,” Daniel completed.
“Our baby,” the older man affirmed.
The two smiled at the thought and then leaned in for a passionate kiss before heading off to bed to create some magic of their own.
“Jack, what about right here?” Daniel asked as the couple considered various places to put the womis.
“On the dresser?” Jack quizzed.
“Well, we can clear it off and put the womis in the center. It's big enough, and then we can always see it,” Daniel answered.
“One proviso,” Jack warned.
“What's that?” the younger man asked.
Jack said with a seductive smirk, “No rules about not being able to 'you know' because the baby is on the dresser.”
“Don't be ridic...” Daniel sighed. “Maybe we should put the womis in the den?”
~I was afraid of that,~ Jack thought as he pulled Daniel into his arms. “How about we 'you know' in our bed. The baby can't see us.”
“It's the principle of the thing,” Daniel refuted. “No you-knowing in front of the children, born or ... or otherwise,” Daniel chuckled.
“The den,” Jack sighed.
“But we can try it in here, and if I get some silly complex, then we can move the womis into the den,” Daniel responded.
“That's my adventurer,” Jack replied happily.
“Dad, Daddy, Aunt Janet is here,” Brianna announced.
“Thanks, Bri,” Daniel said as he headed for the door, followed quickly by Jack.
After the usual greetings were finished, and they were all seated in the living room with a beverage of choice, Janet and the Jackson-O'Neills reviewed all the procedures for the womis. Janet told the couple exactly how much sperm to inject and gave them a chart she had prepared especially for the womis so they could easily track what was needed when, as well as the size of the hopefully-growing baby.
“Doc, why do we have to do this on Pierola?” Jack inquired. “If all we're doing is giving the injection, I don't see why we have to do it there first.”
Janet nodded, having anticipated the general's question, and answered, “There are several reasons, Jack. The first is that the womis will automatically respond to the first injection.”
“Respond how?” Daniel asked.
“According to Filip, for the first twenty-four hours, there's an adjustment period. You can equate it to a bad egg. One in every hundred womis' are, well, defective. You don't want to go get one, bring it home, and have that be the unlucky one. Remember, even if this isn't a sure thing, it's still a very exact science, and there's a lot that goes into it. So, you'll do the first injection there and then monitor the womis for the first day. If it's okay, it will flex off and on for several hours.”
“Flex?” Jack shook his head, totally confused. “Doc, I don't get it.”
Janet explained, “It's like testing out the waters. The womis senses the input of sperm, so it knows life is coming. In preparation, though it is very small at this point, it flexes itself, making sure it's capable of growth. It's during the flexing, that if it's defective, it more or less gives way and collapses.”
Thoughtfully, the archaeologist queried, “Is that before the sperm can join?”
“Yes, Daniel. The sperm is injected, but there's no way that the two initial sperm can create life. It's like using Pam in your frying pan to make sure it's greased properly for cooking. The first sperm say, 'Hey, are you ready for us?'”
“So that's why when we get home, we only wait twenty-four hours before putting more sperm in,” Daniel questioned.
“That's correct,” the doctor confirmed. “It only takes a day to know if the womis is working, and once it is, it's actually imperative to inject what it thinks is the first dose, so it can start to do its job.”
“Okay,” Jack said confidently. He looked at Daniel and said, “Let's make a baby.”
Chapter Two: Is It a Miracle?
As they looked up at the Stargate, Jack squeezed Daniel's hand and asked, “Ready?”
“No,” the archaeologist chuckled nervously. “You?”
“This is our chance, Danny; it'll never come again,” Jack opined.
Daniel nodded knowingly, and the two stepped through the shimmering event horizon. They were followed by Sam, Lou, Teal'c, and Janet, all of whom had huge grins on their faces, except for Teal'c, although his lips were twitched upwards in a small smile.
Up in the control room, George Hammond turned away, a smile on his face. Hopefully, when SG-1 and company returned, he would be well on his way to being a grandfather again. He let out a happy whistle as he returned to his office to tend to other matters.
“Uncle Lou, Uncle Lou!” excited voices rang out.
Filip and Harad's children had obviously been watching out for the visitors as the group from Earth were barely in sight of the walled town before being greeted by the two little hurricanes.
By the time they'd said hello to Kyal and Gliphus, Filip and Harad had reached them. Greetings were exchanged, and Jack and Daniel were particularly pleased to hear that Spoutis, Filip and Harad's unborn child, was still doing well.
Filip explained, “Everything is set up for you. We believed you would be more comfortable in our home rather than in the Helspasoa, so we had your womis brought to our spare sleeping quarters.”
Jack and Daniel had seen the Helspasoa on the last visit and knew it was the equivalent of an Earth hospital. They nodded gratefully at their new friends.
**What's wrong, Danny?**
**What if ... I forgot ... last time ... home,** the nervous archaeologist stammered in their minds.
**Danny, calm down.** Jack stopped walking and turned to face his husband. He caressed Daniel's cheek as he gently asked, “Danny, what is it?”
Daniel gulped, then quietly answered, “I want this, Jack, so much, but, uh ... Munchkins ... remember ... had ... go ... home to you know.”
~It's such a good thing I'm fluent in Daniel-speak,~ Jack thought. Despite the garbled words and incomplete sentences, Jack knew what Daniel meant. He couldn't believe it hadn't occurred to either of them before now. “We'll manage, Danny.”
Daniel snorted, “Bit far to run home this time.”
Jack grinned as he remembered their very first time preparing to be parents. When it had come time to ejaculate so their sperm could be used to fertilize Kayla, they'd chosen to do it at home rather than in the institutionalized atmosphere of the clinic. Jack hadn't been too worried, but Daniel was concerned he wouldn't be able to produce in that sterile environment. Even at home, Daniel had been extremely nervous, knowing the special reason for the sperm production.
“General ... Jack? Daniel?” Sam called out, having realized that the two were not with them and doubled back to see if everything was okay.
“Just ...” Daniel began, though he didn't quite know how to vocalize their concerns.
Jack took over, telling her, “It just occurred to us that we may get, uh, performance anxiety.”
Sam's response was rather unexpected. She grinned broadly, gave them a wink as she tapped her backpack, and said, “Don't worry, we have it covered.”
“Sam?” Daniel inquired curiously.
“Carter?” Jack asked a split second later, giving his 2IC a look of suspicion.
Sam simply smirked and walked back to join the others, refusing to answer Jack and Daniel's questions as to what she was up to.
“What do you think?” Daniel asked his husband.
Jack shrugged, replying, “I think we should catch up with the others, or we may never have this baby.”
Chuckling, the lovers quickened their pace.
“We will be here, waiting,” Harad said to the anxious couple.
Jack coughed, “Yeah, well, I have to tell ya it's a bit weird knowing we have an audience.”
Filip and Harad led the group in laughter.
“Do you not engage in this activity on a regular basis, O'Neill?” Teal'c asked with a straight face.
“Gawd, I'm so embarrassed,” Daniel murmured, looking away from the others. **Jack, I won't be able to. I'm so nervous, and with everyone out here just ... waiting.**
**I know, but it's their house. We can't exactly kick them out,** the older man replied within their minds.
Sam let out a little chuckle, then looked at Filip, asking, “Are you ready?”
“Yes, Colonel Carter,” Filip responded. “Snipola, do you have Sproutis?”
“Snipola?” Jack couldn't help but echo.
“It is a nickname, a term of endearment. Harad is my Snipola,” Filip explained.
“And Filip is my Leshia,” Harad added, the womis in his hands.
The alien lovers shared a smile that Jack and Daniel recognized. It was a smile of love, one that they, too, often shared.
“Uh, what's going on?” Jack inquired.
Lou explained, “It's called privacy, Jack. The gang is going out for Phelpa's version of pizza. We'll be back in a couple of hours. You two think you can ...”
“That's an affirmative,” Jack happily acknowledged, smiling. “Thank you,” he said sincerely to his hosts.
“That is your room,” Harad stated, motioning towards another room in their casil, or house. “Colonel Carter made sure it would be to your liking.”
“She did?” Jack asked. “What did you do, Carter?”
“Hey, I'm hungry. Let's go,” Sam urged, avoiding the question for now.
Moments later, only Jack and Daniel remained in the home. Jack looked at his lover, currently self-hugging by the door.
“You're scared,” Jack observed.
“Not as much, now that we're alone,” Daniel replied.
“That was nice of them,” Jack noted appreciatively. He reached out for Daniel's hand and was rewarded with a warm smile as well as his lover's hand. Together, they walked through the door to their room. “Way to go, Carter!”
“How'd she do this, Jack?” Daniel asked as he roamed around the very familiar room.
“I don't have a clue,” Jack answered as he looked around the room. “This can't be our stuff,” he stated as he knelt down to examine a tiny nick at the bottom of the dresser. “But it is our stuff.”
“Thor?” Daniel speculated.
“That little ole gray butt,” Jack agreed. He let out a happy sigh and crossed the room to where Daniel stood by the nightstand. Softly, he spoke, “Our room.”
“Familiar surroundings; almost like being home,” the younger man contently sighed as his hands pressed gently against Jack's chest, just over his heart, and then he leaned in for a kiss.
“I want you,” Daniel spoke lowly.
“You have me,” the older man vowed. The couple kissed, letting out sounds of delight and desire. “We'd better remember why we're here,” Jack said in a low voice.
“Our baby,” Daniel said as he stared in awe at the syringe he held in his hand.
“Ours,” Jack echoed.
In the end, it hadn't taken them long to 'you know', and now they each had a syringe of sperm ready to inject into the womis.
“We need to do it together, Jack,” the younger man spoke with certainty.
Jack nodded and placed his hands over Daniel's. Together, they lifted the needle and injected the sperm it contained into the womis. They were so close they could almost hear each other's hearts racing from the anticipation and excitement of what they were doing.
“Now yours,” Jack instructed as he picked up the syringe with Daniel's sperm.
This time, it was Daniel who placed his hands over Jack's. Once more they squirted the contents into the womis.
“Now we have to wait,” Daniel spoke softly. He stared at the womis, still unable to believe that this was happening. “Is this a dream?”
“No, Love, it's our future,” Jack answered, though he was also in a similar state of disbelief. He embraced Daniel from behind, and they stood, staring at the miracle they were attempting to create. “I wonder if this is how a woman feels waiting for that darn thing to turn pink or whatever color it turns,” Jack commented as they settled in a minute or so later.
“Probably,” the younger man surmised, leaning his head against Jack's shoulder.
“I hate waiting,” Daniel opined as he began to pace the room.
Jack chuckled, “Funny thing for an archaeologist to say.”
“I know. Patience is so important, but I feel so ... so ... Jack, I can't describe what this is like,” Daniel admitted.
“You don't have to,” Jack responded. “I know exactly what you're feeling. This is going to be a very long day, Angel.”
“Hold me, Jack,” Daniel requested as he turned to face his soulmate, never breaking their embrace. “Hold me tight.”
“My favorite thing to do,” Jack said as he granted his lover's request.
“Did it move?” Daniel asked anxiously.
The two lovers were lying on their bed, trying to distract themselves while they waited to see if the womis was fully functional.
“I don't see it moving,” Jack lamented. “It's supposed to kind of pulse isn't it?”
“We shouldn't keep watching it. Maybe we should start ...” Daniel looked at Jack and gave his husband a shy grin. “You know, Babe, having the womis in our bedroom would definitely distract us.”
“You mean a watched womis never moves,” Jack chuckled. “You could be right, and you know me, Love, I'm always *up* for some hanky panky.”
“Does that make us, well, horrible for putting the womis in the den?” Daniel inquired, feeling a little guilty about the prospect of sticking their unborn child in his den instead of keeping the womis in their bedroom.
“Danny, have you noticed that Filip and Harad keep their womis in their living room?” Jack asked with raised eyebrows.
“They do, don't they?” Daniel smirked.
“And they seem very protective,” Jack observed.
“Jack,” Daniel sat up, an idea occurring to him. “We could set up a camcorder or something.”
Jack sat up, too, and smiled, suggesting, “We'll keep a remote by the bed, and anytime we want to check on our baby, we'll just turn on the monitor; of course, that means we'll have to get a monitor for the bedroom.”
“The den stays locked all the time,” Daniel stated decisively.
“Angel, I think it's the perfect place,” Jack opined. “There's always been so much of us in there.”
“We'll have to set up a special place for it, maybe move some things around a little,” Daniel replied.
“We will,” Jack asserted, feeling their decision was the right thing.
“How's it going in there? Seen any tadpoles?” a familiarly jovial voice rang out.
Jack groaned as he stood up and opened the door, saying, “Sometimes, Ferretti, I think you went to the Rodney Dangerfield School of Bad Humor.”
Lou just grinned and leaned to his side to look at Daniel, who was still on the bed.
“Gawd,” Daniel suddenly startled, realizing where he was and quickly leaping up, turning a bright red at the same time.
“Sounds like it went well,” Sam observed.
“Carter, you did good. Thank you,” Jack acknowledged, nodding.
“Sam, did Thor do this?” Daniel inquired curiously.
With a nod, the blonde affirmed, “Yeah, he was more than willing to beam up the bedroom set and put it here for a day or so. When you get home, everything will be back in place.”
“We'll have to thank him,” Daniel noted.
“He's all excited,” Sam said.
Silently, Jack wondered, ~How can you tell when Thor is excited?~
Without missing a beat, Sam elaborated, “He thinks you should name your baby Thor.”
Jack and Daniel looked at each other, and at the same time, exclaimed, “Names!”
“Danny, this waiting is killing me,” Jack growled.
“Twenty-four hours, Jack,” Daniel reminded. “It's only been si...x ... Jack, look!” he exclaimed as he moved very slowly over to where the tiny womis was.
Uncertainly, Jack asked, “Danny, did it just ... flex?”
Daniel placed his hand over the womis and gently rubbed it. A second later, Jack's hand was touching his and doing the same thing. As the womis flexed again, the lovers looked at each other.
“We're pregnant,” the couple said together.
“Well, almost anyway. The womis works; we're not really pregnant yet,” Daniel corrected.
“I know, but that was exciting,” a grinning Jack commented.
“Yes, it was, and is. Look at it -- still flexing,” the amazed archaeologist pointed out.
“It's getting ready, and you just keep on flexing,” Jack told the womis. “Listen up, Toto.”
“Toto?” Daniel asked in shock.
Jack simply shrugged as he said, “You know me and Oz!” He looked back at the womis. “Toto, you're going to make a miracle happen for Danny and I, and we'll be eternally grateful for that. We're taking you home, to our world. It's a crazy place, but there's a lot of good there. Make our miracle grow, Toto. Don't let us down.”
Jack's voice was cracking, and Daniel rubbed his husband's back in loving support. Jack rarely got so emotional this quickly over something. It made Daniel's heart flutter and his breathing hitch to realize that Jack wanted this precious life as much as he did. Sure, Daniel knew that before, intellectually, but witnessing the emotion, and seeing the hopeful look on Jack's face, gave Daniel an incredible feeling of warmth.
“Danny, this is real, right?” Jack sought to confirm.
“It's real, Jack. We just took the first step,” Daniel affirmed confidently.
Jack took Daniel into his arms and kissed him. Then they leaned their foreheads together, a gesture that had been a sign of their unity and foreverness from the very beginning of their relationship.
“Toto won't let us down,” Jack whispered. ~He won't. We're having a baby.~
“No, Toto won't,” Daniel agreed, a smile in his tone.
The lovers were interrupted in their sweet musings by a soft knock on the door. Daniel opened it and smiled at the sight of Filip carrying a tray laden with food.
“You must keep up your strength, and we didn't think you would want to leave your womis alone,” Filip informed them.
Harad came up behind Filip, carrying a jug of something that looked like lemonade. He looked at the womis and smiled.
“It is flexing nicely,” Harad observed. “If this continues, you should be able to return home before hala.”
As Jack looked confused, Daniel ran through the words and phrases he'd picked up, finally translating, “Hala: oh, mid-afternoon.” He turned back to watch the womis, and the other three did the same. They were so entranced by the rhythmic movements that they didn't notice Lou, Janet, and the rest of SG-1 enter the room until Lou commented, “Wow, look at that baby move.”
“It's not a baby yet, Colonel,” Janet reminded him.
Lou waved his hand to dismiss the thought as he refuted, “Only a matter of time, Doc.”
Filip and Harad exchanged a look and then glanced at Jack and Daniel who were watching their womis rather protectively.
“Colonel Carter,” Harad began, “I believe you were interested in seeing our sub-spatial imaging technology.”
Sam's eyes lit up, and she eagerly followed Harad down the stairs asking dozen's of questions along the way.
Lou rolled his eyes at all the prattling, while Teal'c simply followed Sam and Harad without comment.
Filip turned to Janet, asking, “And, Doctor Fraiser, you wished to see our cellular research facilities?”
Just like Sam, Janet's eyes lit up. Lou shook his head, muttering about scientists as he followed them out.
“Jack, did you pass on your dislike of scientists to Lou?” Daniel asked inquisitively.
“I don't dislike all scientists, Danny,” the silver-haired man answered. “Some I like, and one I adore.”
Jack leaned in to kiss his husband, but Daniel's hand blocked the maneuver as he questioned, “Just ... adore?”
Grinning, the older man expounded, “Love deeply, eternally, and to the very depths of my soul.”
“My poet,” Daniel sighed happily as his hand moved behind Jack to pull his lover closer.
The lovers kissed and then moved to eat. As they did so, they alternated between sweet gazes at each other and awed looks at the flexing womis.
“We wish you well. Please, tell us of your joy when he or she is born,” Filip requested.
“We, uh, we will,” Daniel promised, smiling. He looked down at the small womis he held in his hand. “Janet, are you sure it's safe to carry this through the Stargate? I mean, it's a long way and not the easiest trip.”
“I'm sure it will be fine,” Janet assured the doubtful father-to-be.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Daniel nervously agreed.
“Danny,” Jack said, putting his left hand on his husband's back and rubbing supportively, “it'll be okay.”
“Sam,” Lou whispered. “He's late.”
“I know,” Sam said quietly. “I hope ...”
Just then a beam of light filtered through the room. Instant smiles landed on Jack's and Daniel's faces.
“Thor, good buddy!” Jack greeted.
“O'Neill. Doctor Jackson.” Thor walked to his friends. He nodded at all present. “I am Thor,” he said, introducing himself to Filip and Harad.
“We are honored, Thor, to have you in our casil,” Harad said.
“Is that the vessel of your child?” Thor asked Daniel about the womis he still held.
“Yes. I mean, I mean ... Thor, thank you for the room; I mean our furniture,” Daniel spoke gratefully.
“I am here to offer you transport back to Earth,” Thor informed the couple.
“Not through the Stargate?” Jack asked, looking over at his 2IC. “Carter, did you do this?”
Sam was beaming, knowing that this surprise was one that Jack and Daniel wouldn't have anticipated and was one that would be a very special gift to them, eliminating much of their current stress.
“I figured it couldn't hurt to ask Thor for a favor, if he was available, and, uh, he was,” Sam bashfully replied.
“Thank you, Sam,” Daniel said. Looking at Thor, he requested, “Would you mind, Thor? I think it might be safer for the womis.”
“That is why I am here. I did not want to assume without your permission,” the little alien responded.
“Filip, Harad, thank you again,” Jack said.
Their good-byes completed, Thor beamed the entire party up to his ship, the Daniel Jackson, and quickly set the ship's course heading towards Earth. It was a jaunt that was completed in just a few minutes, thanks to the Asgard's latest advancement in hyperspeed technology. After a bit of chit chat, he then beamed them each to their desired location. Sam, Teal'c, Janet, and Lou were transported to the gate room of the SGC, while Jack, Daniel, their womis, and their furniture were all returned to the Jackson-O'Neill home.
“Honey, we're home,” Jack quipped as they looked around their bedroom, noting that nothing was even a millimeter out of place. “How's Toto?”
Daniel looked at the womis, replying, “Fine, I think.”
Smiling, Jack suggested, “Let's show Toto his new home for the next six months or so.”
“You're awfully confident, Jack,” the unsure archaeologist commented.
“Danny, you know something? We *are* lucky. We've always been lucky.” With his best Irish smile, Jack confirmed, “Yeah, I think we're having a baby.”
The lovers walked into the den and placed the womis on Daniel's desk. Then they looked around, searching for the best place to put the womis.
“Jack, how about by the sound conditioner? Let's empty out this shelf right in the middle,” Daniel suggested. “It's big enough for the womis as it grows, and we can surround it with peaceful things: the sound conditioner can be set to all types of soothing noises such as rainfall or ocean waves, a family portrait, and some flowers.”
“Okay, sounds like a plan,” Jack agreed. “Danny, what did Janet say about moving the womis during the day?”
“You mean so we can take it wherever we are?” Daniel replied in question.
“Well,” Daniel began as he recalled their discussion. “She said moving it isn't a problem, that we just have to be careful of it the same way a pregnant woman is of her abdomen. Dropping Toto would be like a pregnant woman falling on her stomach, and I don't think taking him on a roller coaster would be a good idea either,” Daniel said in an almost admonishing tone.
Jack ignored the hint of accusation, choosing instead to key in on his husband's choice of words, pointedly asking, “*Him*, Danny?”
“I'm not calling him or her 'it' for the next six months,” Daniel said firmly, “And Toto, he feels like a he. Besides, 'he' can be used to cover both sexes.”
“You mean we are humans as opposed to hupeople?” Jack quipped.
Daniel crinkled his nose in thought, and Jack kissed it.
“Gawd, I love it when you do that. What a silly, illogical thing to love,” Daniel chuckled.
Jack smiled, and then the lovers kissed, each sighing happily afterwards, and each thinking about sneaking in a short round of lovemaking before reclaiming their children from the Wilsons.
“Before we get sidetracked,” Jack said as he turned Daniel around so they were facing the shelf, “we need to get Toto's nesting place ready.”
“Jack, we aren't birds. We don't nest. We ... we ...” Daniel sighed upon seeing Jack raise an eyebrow. “We nest.”
“And it's going to be a wonderful nest,” Jack said softly.
“Babe, until we get the camcorder set up ...” Daniel began, looking at his lover and hoping he felt the same way.
Jack agreed, saying, “Toto stays in our room tonight. Besides, no way are we going to miss that twenty-four hour mark.”
Daniel nodded and then his eyes widened. He pointed at Toto and ordered, “Jack, look!”
Jack turned, his heart in his mouth, praying to every deity he could think of that nothing was wrong. He saw what had captured Daniel's attention and smiled. The womis was no longer flexing.
“It just stopped, Jack,” Daniel said worriedly. “Quick what time is it? Twenty-four hours, Jack. What if something goes wrong? The kids -- what if one of them needs us, and we miss the window?”
Daniel seemed to be working himself into a panic attack so Jack tried his own well tested remedy. He slid his arms around Daniel's shoulders, worked one hand into his husband's silky hair, and kissed the daylights out of him.
“Mmmmm,” Daniel moaned. He wanted to get lost in Jack, but he was scared. “Jack ...”
“Calm down,” Jack soothed. “It's only supposed to flex for a few hours, and the kids are fine. Sara is perfectly capable of handling any crisis, but there won't be any crisis to handle. Now, take a deep breath, and let's look at our watches.”
Daniel felt so juvenile, and yet, Jack's ridiculous step-by-step review was working. Slowly, they looked at their watches.
“We have twenty minutes. Agreed?” Jack asked. After Daniel nodded, he advised, “Then, let's get to it, Love.”
With a reassuring kiss, the lovers each created, through the magic of their love, the required sperm; and right on time, they injected it into the womis, just like they had the first time -- together.
“And now we wait,” Daniel said, nervously.
“Where's the measuring tape?” Jack asked, glancing around at the shelves and lightly cluttered desk.
Turning around in circles, Daniel began to panic again as he rifled through the drawers, muttering, “Measuring tape? Oh, gawd. Where?”
Rushing around the room, Daniel continued to search almost frantically, pushing aside stacks of books and notes.
“Danny, whoa, calm down,” Jack urged, stopping his Love and then running his hands up and down against his lover's arms.
“I don't know why I'm acting like this,” Daniel bemoaned excitably.
“I do,” the older man replied calmly. “You're anxious, eager, hopeful, and a thousand other adjectives, but most of all, you just don't want anything to go wrong.”
“You're so calm.”
“Only on the outside,” Jack revealed.
“For me,” Daniel said softly. They kissed again. “Top right desk drawer,” he suddenly remembered now that he had been soothed by his husband.
“Measuring tape?” Jack surmised. Seeing Daniel's nod, he went to the desk and opened the drawer in question, immediately locating the measuring tape. He took it to the womis and placed the tape all around it. “Three and one-quarter inches. You agree?”
“Yes,” Daniel concurred, looking for the special logbook they had been given to keep track of Toto's vital statistics over the months to come and then writing down the information. “Grow, little one,” Daniel instructed afterwards as he gently moved his hand over the top of the womis.
The soulmates sat in the den for a couple of hours, just watching the womis and talking. Neither of them were prepared to admit just how much they wanted this baby and how devastated they'd be if it didn't happen. As they sat together in a comfortable silence, Daniel started imagining all the things that could go wrong. He glanced at Jack and was relieved to see his husband seemed relaxed.
~Okay, Jack's calm. No reason to panic; doesn't help. Gawd, there are so many things that can go wrong. Stop, don't think about all the potential problems that could happen further on down the road; concentrate on this first step. Please, little spermies, join together,~ Daniel silently pleaded.
Jack, however, wasn't as calm as he appeared. He was wondering if he was still fertile.
~Geez, I'm no spring chicken. There wasn't a problem with the Munchkins or the twins, but that was a few years ago now. The Munchkins were born in 2006, the twins in 2007, and, boy, do I not want to think about the fact that it's now 2011. I don't feel older, but there are still more candles on the birthday cake than ever before. At least my knees seem to be improving now that we aren't on the front line anymore,~ Jack inwardly thought.
Jack was brought out of his thoughts by Daniel giving him a playful thump as he chastised, “You are not old, Jack.”
“We've both been sitting here worrying, haven't we?” Jack chuckled lightly.
Daniel nodded, then said, “We need to distract ourselves. Let's make some lesson plans. We might have the next month planned out, but it never hurts to get ahead, and I think we need to take the brood on some more field trips.”
Jack agreed they needed to do something to distract themselves. They turned on Daniel's computer and began searching for places they could take the children and educate them at the same time.
Although Jack and Daniel did a lot of traditional homeschooling, they also believed that the universe was a classroom. Thus, as frequently as possible, they took their children on little field trips. It helped to make learning exciting and, at the same time, allowed them to spend quality time with the children in different settings and groupings.
Half an hour later, Jack looked at what he'd typed and sighed. He had just tried an internet search on the word 'womis' instead of 'kids' and 'science'. He looked at Daniel and grinned, seeing the younger man staring, trance-like, at the womis.
“This isn't working, Danny,” Jack unnecessarily pointed out. “We need another distraction.”
“What do you suggest?” Daniel queried, surprised slightly when his husband powered down the computer and stood up. “What are you going to do?” he inquired.
Jack smiled and reached down to take a hold of Daniel's hands. He pulled his lover up to him and kissed him.
“We're going to 'you know',” Jack announced with a cocky grin.
Daniel may have been anxious about the womis, but a part of him needed to think about something else for a while, and Jack inside him was the perfect thing. Thus, he allowed himself to be led to their master bedroom. It hadn't been their best fusion, and it was fairly quick, but it allowed them to expend some of their pent-up energy and anxiety.
“Jack, I love you,” Daniel declared as the two rested together quietly as their bodies settled.
“Love you, too, Angel, and stop worrying,” Jack ordered.
“I'm not worried,” Daniel responded.
“I'm petrified,” the archaeologist chuckled.
“I'd like to stay like this forever,” Jack commented, kissing Daniel's shoulder.
“But?” Daniel prodded.
“But ...” Jack began.
“But!” Daniel exclaimed, smiling as he removed himself from his Jack Pillow.
Knowing they couldn't stay away much longer from the womis, the two took a quick shower together and then returned to the den.
Ten minutes later, Jack and Daniel were still staring at the womis, unable to do anything else.
“Daniel, we can't do this,” Jack declared emphatically.
“What?” Daniel questioned in a panic.
“No, I don't mean that,” Jack assured, taking Daniel's hand in his. “I want this baby, but we can't sit here for six months just staring at Toto. We have children to take care of, a company to run, and some off-world negotiations to handle. If we don't figure out a way to walk out of the room for more than ten minutes, or keep working while we're in the same room with Toto, we're going to be in bad shape.”
“I know you're right, but ...” Daniel paused and then slowly nodded his head. “I know you're right. I guess it's a little like after the Munchkins were born. We have to force ourselves to do things for a while.”
“Yeah,” Jack agreed, his arm going around Daniel's waist as they stared at the womis. “So, when's Carter bringing over the camcorder and the monitors?”
“I can call her,” Daniel offered.
“I'll do it. I can still threaten her with Elmendorf,” Jack claimed.
Daniel chuckled, “Elmendorf isn't that bad.”
“It is when it means not seeing her surrogate kids for months at a time,” Jack quipped with a wink.
Daniel let out a snort as he opined, “She might object to not seeing Pete, too.”
“Him, too,” Jack chuckled, picking up the phone. “Hmm. No answer.”
“Not even voicemail?”
“Nope; she'd better have ...”
Hearing a knock at their front door, Jack and Daniel both grinned.
“That'll be Sam,” Daniel stated.
“That'll be Carter,” Jack spoke at the same time.
The lovers laughed at their simultaneous assumption, which, of course, proved to be right.
“That should just about do it,” Sam announced. She stood back and surveyed her handiwork. Giving the womis a conspiratorial smirk, she asked, “Think I should let Dad and Daddy in now?”
After trying to set everything up and tripping over the hovering Jack and Daniel, the gadget whiz had kicked the two out, telling them that she'd work much faster on her own. Her work complete, Sam opened the door, laughing as Jack and Daniel instantly appeared in their bedroom doorway.
“Have you finished, Sam?” Daniel asked hopefully. Barely waiting for her answer, he whooshed past her. Reaching the womis, he gently stroked the rubbery pouch as he intoned, “Hello, my little one. Have you, uh, bonded yet?”
Sam grinned at the sight of the doting archaeologist and turned to Jack, only to see him slip past her to join his husband, both now caressing and talking to the womis. She stood and watched them for a few minutes before clearing her throat to remind them she was in the room. She chuckled, seeing their blushed skin and sheepish looks.
“Ah, thanks for all this, Carter,” Jack said as he waved his arm at the new camcorder mounted on the far wall, giving them an unobstructed view of the womis.
“Thank you, Sam,” Daniel added and then hugged her before returning to Jack's side and giving the womis another fond pat.
“You're welcome. I'll just hook up the camcorder to the monitor in your room. Here are the portable monitors,” Sam said as she handed over two pocket-sized monitors and explained how they worked. “When you want to use these monitors, you just have to flip this switch on the camcorder. “It works by ...” She was cut off by Jack clearing his throat loudly. “You don't want to know how it works do you, Sir?”
“It works, Carter, that's all that matters,” Jack answered, smiling.
“When do you pick up the brood?” the colonel asked.
Jack checked his watch, then answered, “We have another two hours.”
“Well, happy ... staring,” Sam teased, backing out of the room, leaving Jack and Daniel staring in awe and amazement at their future.
“Where the baby?” Ricky asked eagerly.
“Yeah, I want see new sister,” Jenny said.
“Brother!” Jonny refuted. “It's a boy!”
“What's wrong with girls?” Aislinn asked her older brother.
“They not boys!” Jonny answered sharply.
“Okay,” Jack interrupted, adding with caution, “We don't know if it'll be a boy or a girl, and for that matter, we don't know for sure that we'll have the baby.”
“Yes, we are,” David rebutted for all the children. “We need to be an even dozen, just like that book I read.”
“What book?” Little Danny asked.
“It's called 'Cheaper by the Dozen', and it's a true story. We'll be just like the Gilbreths.”
“Well, not exactly,” Jennifer chuckled.
“How's Toto?” Jack asked, seeing Daniel returning from checking on the womis.
The archaeologist had been the first in the house after they picked up the children, and he had immediately gone upstairs to check on the womis.
“Fine,” Daniel answered with a shrug.
“Who Toto?” Ricky inquired.
Daniel gave his husband a 'you named it, you explain it look'.
“Oh, geez. Ricky, it's just a nickname for the womis, just like the triplets are called 'Munchkins',” Jack answered.
Ricky frowned as he lamented, “Jenny and I no have nickname. No fair!”
The little boy went off and pouted, climbing up on the sofa in the living room and folding his arms.
“Jack!” Daniel spoke, his eyes glaring even louder than his mind was at his husband.
“What?” Jack asked in a lilted voice.
Daniel's glare intensified as he simply chastised, “Jack” which in double-speak meant 'fix it'.
“Yeah, Jen, David, and Noa are 'Mouseketeers',” Jenny whined, going over to join her brother.
“Hey, guys,” Jeff said, kneeling down in front of them. “I don't have a nickname,” he said, trying to placate them.
“Me, neither,” Brianna said.
“Me, either,” Lulu said harshly, staring at Jack.
“Wanna be Sproglet?” Little Danny asked, willing to share his nickname with his siblings.
“That's you!” Ricky pouted. “No want used nickname.”
Daniel's glare at his soulmate was now near-murderous.
“What?” Jack asked again, raising both of his hands up into the air.
**Fix it, Jack,** Daniel finally communicated sternly.
Jack looked at the glares coming at him from all directions and gulped as he thought, ~Why is it I can never think of a nickname when I need one?~ Rubbing his hands together, Jack turned out to face the pouting twins. “Uh, okay, umm ... You two could be the Oompa Loompas.”
Twin glares met that suggestion with Jenny responding, “They dress funny.”
Daniel advised, **I think you need to do better than that, Jack.**
**Geez. Help me out here, Danny,** the older man silently requested.
**Think of something, Jack.**
**Okay, I can do that.** Jack looked at his brood. He smiled slyly, hoping to think of something. He looked at Daniel, his closed smile a little bigger in breadth. **I got nothing.**
**Don't worry, Babe, you'll think of something. After all, you are the nickname king,** Daniel tried to encourage.
Jack sent his own glare towards Daniel before turning back to the twins and suggesting, “How about the Dynamic Duo?”
Ricky thought about it for a minute and then turned to Jenny. They seemed to have their own silent communication going because Ricky nodded, and Jenny turned back to their father and said, “Maybe. 'nother choice?”
Daniel looked at the little redhead and decided perhaps Jack could use some help and offered up, “How about the Spitfires?”
Jack grinned and exclaimed, “That's perfect! After all, you're both little Spitfires.”
Little Danny nodded as he uttered his agreement, saying, “It's a good nickname, Jenny, Ricky.”
“Yeah, we like it,” Jonny echoed while Aislinn nodded her agreement.
Jenny and Ricky finally broke into grins and nodded.
“We're the Spitfires,” they said at the same time.
Jenny scrunched her nose and asked, “Daddy, what's spitfire?”
The other children tried not to laugh, as did Jack and Daniel. Fortunately, they were saved from having to laugh out their answer when Little Danny jumped in.
“Means feisty; care 'bout things, like you, Jenny,” the boy genius explained, and then he added in an off-handed manner, “it's also a type of plane.”
**Jack, did you tell Little Danny about Spitfire planes?**
**No. I guess he picked it up in a book. We really have to watch what we leave laying around.**
**Yeah, I know.**
**Thanks for the save there, Danny,** the older man gratefully acknowledged.
**Don't thank me yet, Jack. You're still not out of the woods.**
At that last nonverbal communication from his husband, Jack looked back to his children to see Lulu and Brianna glaring at him, while Jeff looked hopeful, despite his attempt to appear nonchalant about the idea of having a nickname.
“Ah, so we have the Spitfires, the Munchkins, the Mouseketeers, and the ...”
Jack racked his brain for a suitable nickname. He looked at Jeff, a very confident teenager who had shown a great amount of courage and strength in a short period of time. Then he looked at Lulu. She had her own nickname: Lil' Bit. She was a cutie, and she, too, had overcome abuse and too many nightmares in her young life. Brianna stared at her father, waiting. He couldn't let her down. She was such an independent thing, and yet what she wanted more than anything was to not be independent.
“Mavericks. You're our mavericks,” Jack announced, pushing his arms out in front of his body and feeling thoroughly pleased with himself.
Lulu looked at Little Danny and asked, “What's maverick?”
~No make sense.~ The boy genius scrunched his nose and looked serious as he stared at Jack. “Jeff, Bri, and Lulu not calves,” Little Danny protested as he equated mavericks with young cattle.
“No, they're not,” Jack agreed.
“Little Danny, what Dad is going for is ...” Daniel began.
“No, Daddy, I figure it out. Wait minute,” Daniel's namesake said.
~Wow!~ Daniel stood back, trying not to laugh, and at the same time being impressed with his namesake. ~He's just full of surprises.~
“I know,” Little Danny said with a smile. “Maverick is in'pendent. They're free, do own thing.”
Daniel smiled as his son looked up at him, seeking his approval.
“That's it,” Daniel smiled. He looked at the three children in question. “What do you guys think? Do you want to be the Mavericks?”
“I like it,” Brianna answered. “What do you think, Jeff?”
“I can handle it. Lulu?” Jeff questioned.
The youngest Maverick smiled and nodded her approval.
“Okay,” Jack said. “You're the Munchkins, the Spitfires, the Mouseketeers, and the Mavericks.”
“What you and Daddy?” Little Danny asked.
“The parents, and don't you ever forget that,” Jack warned.
As the children laughed, Aislinn thoughtfully inquired, “What about new baby?”
“Let's just wait and see,” Daniel suggested. “And, uh, speaking of our little addition, we need to go over the rules.”
“We want to see the womis?” Little Danny both asked and demanded at the same time, his eyes pleading.
“Yeah, Dad, can we?” David asked.
“I want to see, too,” Chenoa chimed.
“Everyone sit down,” Jack instructed. “We're going to talk about this very seriously, and then we'll go see Toto.”
“Toto is the new baby?” Jonny asked.
“Toto's the womis,” Daniel answered.
“Like Dorothy's dog?” Chenoa asked.
“That's the one, Princess,” Jack said. “Everyone take a seat.”
The children all sat down and anxiously looked up at their parents.
“We're sitting. Can you start the lecture now so we can go see Toto?” Brianna asked as she grinned at her parents.
Jack ignored the tomboy's mischievous look and began, making sure to speak seriously so his children would understand the importance of following the rules.
“First rule: Mittens and Calico are *not* allowed in the den at all,” Jack stated.
Lulu and Little Danny frowned, clearly not liking this exclusion of the feline family members from a room in the house.
“Mittens and Callie wouldn't hurt Toto,” Lulu argued earnestly.
Tenderly, Jack responded, making sure his expression was as understanding as possible, “They wouldn't mean to, Lil' Bit, but they might jump up on the shelf where Toto is and knock him off. Cats love to climb, and they really don't know what they're climbing on or over,” Jack tried to explain, happy to see Little Danny nodding as if he understood even though Lulu wasn't looking happy about it at all.
“But Mittens and Callie are family, Dad. They have to meet Toto,” Lulu insisted.
“Princess, you know how Mittens and Calico love to play with their balls, chasing them all over the place?” Jack asked. After she nodded, he explained, “The womis is just like a ball. It's just too dangerous.”
“They know Toto not ball,” the little girl sternly refuted.
Daniel tried a different approach, saying, “You know how Mittens and Calico will play with your hand when you move it under a blanket?”
Lulu nodded her understanding and held up her hand, replying, “Mittens and I played the blanket game last night; she scratched me through the blanket.”
“Then you understand that when the baby starts to move inside the womis that Mittens and Calico will think that they can play the blanket game, and the baby might get hurt,” Daniel said.
“Oh, I see. I don't want the baby to get hurt,” Lulu replied sadly, still not happy that Mittens and Calico couldn't see the newest member of the family.
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look and then a shrug.
“How about this, Lulu,” Daniel suggested. “Dad and I will take Mittens and Calico in tonight and introduce them to Toto; and anytime after that, they want to see Toto, they can see him on one of the monitors linked to the camcorder in the den.”
Lulu looked suspiciously at the two adults, but asked, “And you really will take Mittens and Callie in? Not just saying that?”
Daniel sighed. Lulu had come a long way since she'd arrived in their care, but she had been lied to so often during her brief stay in the foster care system that she still didn't quite trust adults to always do what they said they'd do.
“We promise, Lulu,” Daniel reassured her.
“Dad,” Jennifer spoke up. “Maybe when you two take the cats in, Lulu can go with you.”
Jennifer gave them a look that said she'd be there to watch Lulu.
**Jack, just one time. Lulu needs this,** a concerned Daniel suggested.
**Danny, sometimes I hate those people whose lies we have to make up for every day.**
“That'll work, Jen,” Jack agreed. “Good idea, but just one time, Lil' Bit, and just for a couple of minutes.”
The little girl smiled. Her expression was more than just glee at having gotten her way, but a smile that said she had parents who loved and trusted her, and who she, too, could love and trust in return.
Jack moved on to the next rule, explaining, “No one goes into the den without Daddy or me with you. We know that you'd all be very careful, but accidents happen, and we want to minimize the risk of anything happening.”
“We not allowed in there much, anyway,” Chenoa commented, trying to make the best of the situation.
“That's because the things in Daddy's den are very fragile,” the silver-gray haired man expounded.
Daniel could see the children frowning and tried to elaborate to help them to understand, saying, “You see, what you think might help or be good for the baby, might have the opposite effect.”
“Like feeding the baby ice cream?” Jonny asked, remembering how badly that suggestion had gone down with his parents.
“Yes, Jonny,” Daniel smiled. “Feeding the baby ice cream would not be good for him.”
Jenny shook her head, insisting, “No call baby 'Baby'. Need nickname.”
Daniel groaned, **This nickname business is all your fault, Jack.**
**You know you love it, Angel.**
As Daniel glared, Jack laughed and ruffled Jenny's hair, deciding, “The baby can be Bean Sprout for now.”
Jennifer rolled her eyes, wondering how her dad could have come up with such an uncool name for a baby, and asked, “Dad, where did you get that from?”
Jack grinned and then answered, “A baby starts off the size of a bean, smaller actually, but that doesn't matter, and then it grows, like a sprout: Bean Sprout.”
“Right, Jack,” Daniel replied dryly. **You stole it from Lou and his beanstalks,** he accused, knowing that Lou Ferretti had often said his children grew up like beanstalks.
**I did not.**
**You did, too.**
**Well, if I did, it was my subconscious.**
Daniel shook his head, stood, and gathered his family together, saying, “Okay, brood, let's go see Toto.”
“That Toto?” Jonny asked, staring at the little ball-like object.
“That's Toto,” Jack confirmed happily.
“Wow!” David exclaimed. “And this really makes a baby?”
“We hope so,” Daniel said softly.
“I tell Angela we get new baby,” Chenoa proclaimed cheerfully.
“Whoa, Noa,” Jack said, reaching out to stop the eager young girl from running to the phone. “Let's wait until we're sure that Toto here is doing his job.”
“Bean Sprout there, Dad; I sure of it,” Jonny confidently reported.
“Me, too. I sure,” Little Danny agreed.
Aislinn didn't miss a beat as she chimed, “Me sure, too.”
Several minutes later, the children started to file out of the den. Quietly, Daniel took hold of Chenoa's shoulder, stopping her. He sat down on his haunches to be eye level with her.
“Noa, do you really feel like I keep you out of the den?” the archaeologist inquired.
Chenoa shook her head, telling him, “No, Daddy. You read me stories here, and tell me 'bout artfax.”
“Artifacts,” Daniel corrected. “Are you sure, Sweetie? Downstairs, you sounded like maybe this is a place I try to keep you out of, and I don't want you to feel that way.”
The curly-haired girl smiled, answering, “I just want to see Toto, Daddy. I understand.”
Daniel caressed her cheek and offered, “Would you like me to tell you a story now?”
Chenoa's face brightened to a huge smile as she asked, “'Bout artfact?”
“Yes,” Daniel answered, nodding and smiling, too.
“Which one?” the young girl said, looking around the room full of treasures.
Daniel picked her up and walked to the shelves where he picked out a tiny statue from a dig in Peru and asked, “How about this one?”
Seeing her nod, he sat down in his recliner and made sure she was comfortable. They were facing Toto. He gave her a little kiss and smiled.
**Jack, I'm telling Noa a quick story. Special time; cover for me, okay?**
Jack, holding Mittens, and Daniel with Calico in his arms walked into the den, followed by Jennifer and Lulu.
“Dad, Daddy, let Mittens and Callie see Toto up close,” Lulu requested.
**The cats will be fine, Jack,** the younger man assured. **Just hold their paws so they can't accidentally scratch the womis.**
Keeping a firm hold on the cats they held, Jack and Daniel walked close to the womis and let the felines sniff the object that held their precious miracle. Both cats then rubbed their faces against the side of the womis and purred.
“That mean they are saying this is ours,” Lulu said about the cats welcoming the newest member of the family. “Little Danny told me that when a cat rubs against you, it is marking you with the scent glands that are on the side of its face. It tells other cats this is mine,” the little girl informed her parents with a smile.
Lulu walked over to her fathers and patted each cat, saying, “I knew you would love Toto, too.” Then she smiled at her parents and asked, “Can we go play the blanket game?”
“Sure,” Daniel responded, handing Calico to Lulu. Jack gave Mittens to Jennifer, who followed her little sister out of the den and closed the door.
The parents smiled, knowing that the simple act of letting the cats see Toto had helped strengthen Lulu’s trust in them. They spent a couple more minutes in the den and then went to get the kids ready for bed.
“Daniel!” Jack called out as he walked into the den the next day.
“I know, Jack,” Daniel confessed. “We said we weren't going to stare, but it's so miraculous,” he noted about the womis he'd been staring at for several minutes.
“Yeah, it is,” Jack agreed, moving forward and giving his soulmate a kiss on the cheek. “However, the brood is beginning to talk rebellion.”
“Oh, sorry,” Daniel apologized with a smile. “I'm ready.”
“Daddy, you owe the penny fund one-hundred pennies!” Aislinn intoned.
Laughing, Daniel nodded, saying, “You're right, Ash. I was late for our homeschooling studies, and I apologize. I'll make payment later today.”
Aislinn nodded, a smile on her face. The penny fund had started almost as soon as the children could talk. Anytime someone received a 'family fine', it was payable in pennies to the Munchkins' penny fund. Sometimes, the funds were donated to charity; at other times, they were used for special treats and surprises. Although it was still referred to as the Munchkins' penny fund, the monies were for all members of the brood.
With the children on the various sofa sectional pieces, some with notepads in front of them and a couple with laptops to use for note-taking, Daniel began the lesson of the hour.
“Communication is a two-way process. There has to be a sender and a receiver. What that means is that talking to yourself is not considered communication,” the linguist stated.
“It is if I'm telling myself something,” Jonny interjected.
Smiling, Daniel shook his head, refuting, “No, Son, it's not. Think of it like watching a television show. One person is the actor, and the other is the audience. One communicates, and one listens.” Ignoring the boy's sigh, he continued, “For communication to occur, there also has to be interpretation. By that, I mean if Dad sends me a message, his purpose in doing so is that I'll be able to interpret his meaning. Ricky, do you know what interpret means?”
Ricky shook his head, saying, “Uh-uh.”
“Who can help Ricky out?” Daniel asked, looking around at the children.
Aislinn spoke up, saying, “It means to understand.”
“That's right!” Daniel praised. “Communication can happen in many ways. How?” he asked, opening his hands, palms up to invite ideas.
“Words -- we talk!” Brianna mused.
“And some of us talk a lot,” Jack added.
“Yes, and some of us don't know when not to,” Daniel replied, resulting in a few chuckles by the children. “How else?” he asked.
“Smells,” Little Danny answered.
“Very good,” Daniel affirmed.
“Sounds, but not words,” Jenny chimed brightly.
“Give me an example,” Daniel requested.
“Katie growls, and Mitten purrs,” the redhead responded.
“Okay, that's right. Good job, Jenny!” Daniel congratulated.
“Language is a form of communication. It's made up of discreet sounds that form sentences. Now, all language is symbolic, dynamic, and arbitrary,” Daniel orated.
“Huh?” Chenoa inquired, her face scrunched up in confusion.
“Don't worry, Princess. We'll talk about everything more slowly later. I know that not all of you will understand everything I'm saying right now, but we're going to sit down and have private lessons later, okay?” Daniel responded.
“Okay,” Chenoa agreed.
“What I would like all of you to think about is that there are roughly two hundred different sounds that could be used to communicate in any one society or culture. However, no culture uses more than about a hundred and twenty,” Daniel instructed.
“Daddy, do you mean grunts and things when you talk about sounds?” David asked.
“All the sounds that a human can physically make. Later on, we're going to look at the make up of our physical structure, how the parts of our body in the speech area allow us to talk,” the linguist answered. “In English, we only use forty-four to forty-eight sounds. That means every word we make uses just one of those forty-plus sounds.”
“Wow,” Jonny said. “How come we don't know more?”
“Guess what?” Daniel asked with wide eyes, moving over to kneel down in front of the curious boy. “When you were born, you were capable of speaking all two-hundred sounds. When you were just one year old, you were still able to speak at least one-hundred sounds. By the time you were two, though, you were pretty much settled in to the forty-plus sounds. Do you know why?”
Jonny squinted and moved his chin back and forth as he pondered the question, finally shrugging.
“It's because we learned English already,” Little Danny told his brother.
“That's right,” Daniel said, reaching over to pat his namesake on the hand. “Now, most of you know more because Dad and I decided to teach you some basics of different languages early on.” Standing up, he walked back towards the center of the room, saying, “Here's a word we sometimes see.” On the portable blackboard, Daniel wrote, 'fugi'. He looked back at the children and asked, “Okay, what's this word?”
“That's an easy one, Daddy,” Jeff spoke up. He and Jennifer sometimes sat in on the homeschooling sessions, and this was one of those times. “It's fuji,” he said.
“Watch my mouth and lips closely,” Daniel requested. “See how I put my lip on my teeth when I say 'fugi'.” The linguist demonstrated the word several times for the children. “That's how we say in English, but in Japanese, the word is pronounced by putting two lips together.” Again, Daniel repeated the Japanese sound that came from the word. As he did, the children attempted it as well, some better than others. “Had all of you been exposed to Japanese sounds like this one, it would be as natural to you as saying it the English way.”
“Is that like the double-r in Spanish, Daddy?” Jennifer inquired.
“Exactly,” Daniel acknowledged, his right arm extending outward and then rising in motion. “Look at these two words -- 'pero' and 'perro'. In English, we say them both exactly the same way, but in Spanish, they have two very different meanings, and they are pronounced differently as well. Jen, demonstrate, please.”
Jennifer did as requested, and then Daniel had all the children try it. The result was a lot of 'pbst' noises and giggles.
“Everything depends on where you live and what you're exposed to,” Daniel stated eventually. Later on, we're going to discuss parts of language -- phonemes and morphemes.”
“Phones?” Ricky asked.
“Phoneme,” Daniel clarified. “A phoneme is discreet unit of sound in language. That means that if I make a sound in English, I expect you to know what I'm saying. Don't worry about that now,” he advised. “What I'd like all of you to remember is that sounds make up language. Sometimes, it's a combination of sounds and gestures. We'll study the animal kingdom and see how they use a sound with a motion to communicate.”
Daniel nodded at Jack who stood, clapping his hands one time, as he spoke, “Okay, practice time. We drew teams while we were waiting for Daddy and ...”
“He was late,” Aislinn repeated.
Daniel smiled shyly as Aislinn grinned, and then both focused back on Jack.
“Get together in your teams, and for the next ten minutes, speak only the language you are learning or practicing,” Jack instructed. “Go!”
The children scurried to various places in the recreation room, settling down to follow through on their language lesson. As they began, Jack and Daniel quietly strolled the room, listening in on the various conversations.
Of course, Jack thought much of it sounded like Greek to him, no matter what the language being spoken was, since he didn't speak all the languages being heard in the rec room at the moment. Still, as always, he knew more than he ever let on. He smiled as he listened in on one discussion.
“Que veux-tu que l'on fasse quand on aura fini nos devoirs?” Jeff asked Brianna about what she wanted to do when they finished their studies.
With a bright smile, the tomboy answered, “Peut-être que Papa nous emmènera à la patinoire et on pourra jouer au hockey.”
“Bonne idée!” Jeff answered, thinking his sister's idea was a good one.
~Sorry, Kids, but when we're through with homeschooling, you have chores to do. No time for hockey today; tomorrow maybe,~ Jack thought.
“Preevyet,” Little Danny spoke to David in another part of the room as the brothers said 'hello' to each other.
“Preevyet,” David responded. He then asked his Russian-speaking younger brother if he could use the dictionary. When the boy handed it to him, he appreciatively spoke, “Spaseeba.”
“Pazhalsta,” Little Danny naturally responded.
~They're doing well with Russian; it's not an easy language to master,~ Daniel thought as he watched unobtrusively.
Over by the game room, Jonny was struggling a little and finally asked, “Wat is het woord voor smile?”
Aislinn answered, “Smile is glimlach in het Nederlands.”
Jonny sighed, “Ik hoor liever Engels.”
“Me, too,” Aislinn giggled.
**Danny, what did they just say?** Jack asked.
Daniel smiled and replied, **Jonny didn't know the word for smile and ...**
**That much I got. What was so funny?**
**He said he preferred English,** Daniel translated.
**Me, too,** Jack said via their non-verbal communication.
**Apparently, so does Ash,** Daniel noted with amusement.
After switching off into a second pairing of teams, Jack and Daniel continued to walk among their children, eavesdropping on their chats.
Lulu squirmed, looking all around, finally inquiring, “As-tu vu Calico?”
Jennifer thought for a moment, remembering seeing the cat on her way into the rec room, and then answered, “Elle était dans le bureau tout à l'heure.”
Jack silently smirked, ~Darn right she was in the study. It never fails. Anytime I decide to work, dang cat follows me in there. Doesn't she know I'm a dog person?~
From across the room, Daniel checked on another two of their children. Jenny had decided she wanted to tackle Japanese, so she was working on the basics of the language with David, who was more well versed in the language.
“Onamae wa nan desu ka?” Jenny asked.
David smiled at his little sister's success in asking his name and replied, “Boku wa, David desu. Anata wa?”
Jenny thought for a moment and then answered, “Jenny desu, aisu kurimu o tabetai yo.”
“Boku mo!” David chuckled.
~Of course, you'd agree, David,~ Daniel laughed audibly, well aware that ice cream was a treasured food in the household. He ruffled Jenny's hair and said, “We'll have ice cream tonight.”
David frowned, chastising, “Otôsan, dame da yo! Eigo de shabeta kara yo!”
Smiling, Daniel nodded, admitting his mistake that he had spoken English instead of Japanese, and, repeating his words in the appropriate language, replied, “Gomen ne! Konban, aisu-kurimu o tabeyô.”
The linguist then turned his attention to Brianna and Ricky. He chuckled at the exchange.
Brianna was having trouble with her Dutch and barely managed to ask why they had to do this language practice, asking, “Waarom moeten we dit doen?”
Ricky leaned back on his elbows, yawned, and nonchalantly replied, “Omdat papa het gezegd heeft.”
~That's right -- because I said so,~ Daniel mused, moving on to another set of children.
One last time, the children divided into new teams, accepting the challenge of yet another language.
Looking outside at the beautiful weather, Jeff commented, “Ik zou liever zwemmen.” He thought about their pool and mentally swam a few laps. ~Yep, I'd rather be swimming ... or at the hockey rink with Bri.~
Lulu nodded her head, but her mind wasn't on the cool water; rather, it was focused on her ballet moves, so she responded, “ Ik wil gaan dansen.”
“That's great, Lulu,” Jack praised, although he didn't know what she said. “What did you say?” he teased.
“Daaaad!” Lulu chastised.
“We don't all know all the languages, Little Bit,” Jack intoned.
“I only know a few things of Dutch,” Lulu responded.
“But you're learning,” Jack said, giving her a kiss and then nodding at Jeff to continue their work.
“Oops, I'll be back. I have to go to the bathroom,” Lulu said, excusing herself.
Finding himself without a partner, Jeff walked over to join in on the conversation between Brianna and Chenoa.
~I can't believe I'm trying to speak Japanese,~ Brianna thought. Her eyebrows furrowed as she stared at the sheet in front her. Finally, she sighed, “Jeff, how do you ask for the time in Japanese?”
Jeff opened his mouth to answer, but noticed Chenoa's eyes on him. He looked at her pleading expression and smiled. He picked her up, asking, “Do you know what it is, Noa?”
“I think so,” the little girl said tentatively. “Nan…uh…ka-ra… no, that means ‘from’. Ma-de … no, that’s until.” As her lips pursed, Jeff and Brianna smiled at the intense look of concentration on her tiny face. A split second later, Noa's face brightened as she exclaimed, “I remember! Nan, or na-ni, means ‘what’, i-ma means ‘now’, and Daddy says questions always end in ‘ka’. ‘Ji’ is time. I-ma, nan-ji desu-ka? What time is it now! I got it!”
Brianna saw Jeff's nod as he beamed at their younger sister, so knew her sister had answered correctly.
“Good girl, Noa!”
Near the front of the room, Jonny and Little Danny were practicing together. They had chosen Dutch, just like Jeff and Lulu had. However, Jonny wasn't so happy about the choice, still preferring English to any other language.
Jonny whined, “Waarom moet ik nederlands leren? Dat spreekt toch niemand.”
~Hmmm.~ Daniel overheard and walked over to the boys, though staying back to let them work it out. ~Jonny doesn't understand why he needs to learn Dutch.~
Little Danny responded, “Jawel, in Holland en Zuidafrika en Aruba en Sint Maarten.”
Daniel smiled at his namesake's logic. The boy had just pointed out that Dutch was spoken in the Netherlands, South Africa, Aruba, and Saint Marten.
Jonny told his brother that he wouldn't go there, saying, “Daar ga ik nooit heen.”
Daniel chose to intervene at this point, saying, “Je zult maar nooit weten, al die landen zijn prachtig en misschien kom je daar op een dag en dan zou het toch leuk zijn om met die mensen te praten.”
Little Danny smiled, knowing his daddy was right, that you never know when you might travel to another place, and all the countries mentioned were beautiful. He agreed, too, that it would be nice to be able to talk to the residents of those places when they visited.
Jonny sighed as he frowned, complaining, “Daddy, not so fast!”
The linguist apologized and repeated his words more slowly. He had to help his son decipher a couple of them, but then, finally understanding what Daniel had said, Jonny nodded and pulled out more Dutch words to learn.
With the children gathered together again, Brianna asked, “Daddy, why is it so hard for us to learn other languages? I mean, I listen to the younger kids, and they seem to go in and out of languages so easily, but I have such a hard time. Am I ... dumb or something?”
“That's how I feel sometimes,” Jennifer added.
“No, none of you are dumb,” Daniel asserted. “Remember what I said earlier about babies being able to make all two-hundred sounds used in communication. If you use that as your guide, then you can understand that the younger you are, the easier it is to learn other languages.” He walked a few steps, rubbing his temple with two fingers as he continued, “Uh, everyone has a primary language. For us, that's English. Most people these days have just one primary language. However, any language you learn by the age of six is a primary language. You're able to learn and use the sounds you were born with, and it's very easy to go from language to language.”
“Is that why Little Danny says 'sugran' so much?” Chenoa asked.
Daniel chuckled, saying, “The word is shukran, and it means thank you. You are correct, Noa. Little Danny learned Arabic by listening to me talk with Yazid all the time. I didn't even realize he was learning it. So, he actually learned 'shukran' and 'thank you' at the same time.”
Little Danny shrugged, adding, “I just say what I think.”
“Exactly!” Daniel intoned with a smile. “You do what we call code- switching. You just speak whatever seems right. You don't have to think about it; your brain just tells you, and you speak appropriately.”
“But what about us?” Brianna asked. “We're not all geniuses,” she said, smiling at her younger brother, causing him to blush.
“From age six to puberty, any language you learn is considered a secondary language. You're actually able to link the new language to your primary ones, as an aid of sorts,” Daniel spoke informatively. “After puberty, any language learned is a tertiary language, and it gets harder because you've lost those sounds you were born with. It's more of a struggle.”
“You can say that again,” Jeff mused.
“I want all of you to know that Dad and I are very proud of what you've learned. As I've just mentioned, learning isn't always easy, but what we're hoping is that you'll learn enough to get by anywhere in the world that you go. We're not asking you to be fluent in all these languages; we only hope you'll be comfortable in speaking and listening wherever you may be. Okay, keep practicing your languages. Ask questions if you need to, and use each other for resources. David is doing very well in several languages, and I'm sure he'd love to help you.”
“It's fun,” David concurred.
Daniel checked his watch and announced, “We'll have a thirty minute playtime and then the homeschoolers will meet for history and science studies. Jen, Jeff, you don't have to, but I could use your help for the science session.”
“Sure, Daddy,” Jennifer agreed.
“I'm in,” Jeff concurred.
“Okay. Go play!”
“Yaaaaaay!” several younger voices cheered as they scurried outside to play.
Jack laughed, “Recess is every kid's favorite subject, Angel, regular school or homeschool.”
Daniel laughed, “Apparently!”
As the month of May continued to count off its days, life settled into its regular pattern; that is, as regular as things ever got in the Jackson-O'Neill household, especially with Toto now a part of the family. Minor calamities came and went as the children participated in their regular activities, especially with the special surprise they were planning for General Hammond. The expensive and elaborate project was involving the entire family and, in the process, they'd discovered that Ricky had a surprising talent for his age. Still, much of the attention in May focused on the alien object residing in Daniel's den.
Oftentimes, the younger children would walk past a television screen, showing the peaceful looking womis, and start talking to it. This had resulted in Daniel making yet another phone call to Sam, who was currently upstairs installing an audio feed into the den so that Toto and Bean Sprout could hear their brothers' and sisters' excited chatter.
“Has it grown yet, Daniel?” Sam asked her friend as she packed up her tools.
The house was quiet for once as Jack had taken the brood to the park for an impromptu game of baseball. Even Bijou and Katie had gone to participate in the fun.
“Not yet. I know it's still early, I just ...”
Sam completed, “Kinda hoped it would happen immediately?” As Daniel nodded, Sam smiled. “It'll happen, Daniel. I don't know why I'm so sure of it, I just am. We'll have a little Jack-Daniel running around here before you know it.”
“I hope so, Sam,” Daniel replied. “Sometimes I wonder if I'm being greedy, asking for this. I already have so much, more than I ever thought I'd have.”
“Daniel, you and the general ...” Sam began. She paused when Daniel gave her an exasperated look. Chuckling slightly, she acquiesced and continued, “... Jack, you both deserve this. You keep thinking you're lucky to have the Mouseketeers, Bri, Jeff, and Lulu...”
“They're the Mavericks now,” the archaeologist informed his friend.
Sam groaned good-naturedly as she responded, “The general and nicknames. Anyway, you keep thinking how lucky you are to have the Mouseketeers and the Mavericks, but anyone else would tell you that those kids are the lucky ones.”
At that moment, Sam and Daniel heard the sound of the front door closing. Seconds later, sounds of Jonny's, Little Danny's, and Ricky's excited voices came over the newly installed audio line.
“Hey, Toto,” Jonny greeted the womis.
“We've been at the park, Toto. Have you made Bean Sprout yet?” Little Danny spoke up.
“I hit the baseball, Toto,” Ricky boasted.
Sam and Daniel exchanged smiles as the woman intoned, “This was a great idea, Daniel.”
“Sam, we are the lucky ones. Those children, every single one of them, it just ... the words don't exist to describe how they make me feel. Look how they've embraced Bean Sprout. I haven't sensed any jealousy or concern or anything bad,” the archaeologist stated.
“Daniel, it's their brother or sister; that's all they care about,” Sam responded.
Daniel replied, “I was worried that maybe because ... you know.”
“They're all your children, and they are full of love, love that you and Jack give them every day,” the blonde remarked.
“Toto, make baby fast,” Jenny said over the intercom. “Need girl.”
Sam snickered, then asked, “I don't suppose you have a preference?”
“No,” Daniel immediately answered, adding, “Healthy. Healthy is my preference.”
~Mmmm.~ Sam finished putting the last piece of her equipment away, noticing something as she stared at Toto. “Daniel, when do you measure Toto again?” she asked.
Tilting her head slightly, Sam said, “I don't know, but I think it's grown.”
Daniel forgot to breathe as his mouth opened, and he stared at Sam.
Jack and Daniel had been told to measure the womis every four days. This was the twelfth day since they're return from Pierola with the womis. That was also the last time Sam had seen the birth-nurturing object.
“Um, I ... I think ... today.”
Sam grinned and looked back at the womis, saying, “Daniel, I really think it's bigger than it was on the planet.” She stared at Daniel, almost chuckling from his near-panic expression and demeanor. “Breathe. Daniel, breathe,” the blonde urged as she walked to him and began rubbing his back.
“Measure. Tape. Drawer,” Daniel managed to stammer.
“Um, which one?” Sam inquired.
“That one,” Daniel said, though not pointing or indicating any drawer specifically.
~He's so cute.~ Sam moved to the desk and pointed, asking, “This one?” After Daniel shook his head, she picked another drawer and inquired, “This one?” She saw another nervous shake. “How about this one?” This time, the nervous man nodded several times. “I'm going to open the drawer, okay?” A moment later, she handed Daniel the tape measure. “Um, Daniel, don't move.” Sam laughed at herself because Daniel didn't show any signs of movement at all. She turned on the intercom and called out, “Um, Sir, are you there?”
Little Danny clicked the intercom and told her, “Aunt Sam, Dad outside.”
Sam instructed, “Little Danny, can you please go to the door and ask him to come upstairs?”
“Okay,” the little boy responded obediently.
Moving back by her friend, Sam gently assured, “It'll be okay, Daniel. The general will be up in a minute.”
Sam placed a kiss on Daniel's cheek and then headed downstairs.
As Sam walked towards the door, Jack opened the patio door and entered the house, greeting, “Hey, Carter.”
Sam smiled and advised, “I think you'd better go upstairs.”
“What's wrong?” Jack asked, immediately concerned.
“Measuring time, and I think it's good news,” the female announced.
“Yeah?” Jack said, his face lighting up in response.
Seeing Sam's happy grin, Jack hurried up the stairs. Right after that, Little Danny pounced on Sam and hugged her.
“Aunt Sam, is it Bean Sprout? Are Dad 'n' Daddy p'egnant?” Little Danny questioned.
“I'm not sure,” Sam answered. “I think they might be, but let's wait for them to find out for sure, okay?”
“Okay.” Little Danny nodded and began staring at the womis. Then he sighed and turned off the monitor. When he saw Sam's questioning look, explained with wisdom far beyond his years, “It private Dad 'n' Daddy time.”
Sam hugged the little boy and wondered if Bean Sprout would be Little Danny and Jonny rolled into one.
“Danny,” Jack called out as he opened the door to the den. He found his lover standing completely still, staring at Toto, the measuring tape in his hand. “Angel?” Jack moved a little closer. “Are you breathing, Danny?”
“We might be pregnant, Jack,” Daniel revealed softly.
Jack closed the distance between them and swept Daniel into a warm embrace as he replied, “You need to breathe, Love.”
“Our baby, Jack. Ours,” Daniel crooned.
“Ours. Ready to find out?” Jack asked.
Daniel held out the measuring tape with a shaking hand and requested, “You ... you can do it. I might knock Toto over.”
Jack kissed his soulmate, and together, they walked over to the womis.
“Ready?” Jack asked.
“Ready,” Daniel answered.
Jack moved the tape around the womis and stared at the number where the tape came together.
“What does it say?” the younger man asked.
“Three and seven-eighths inches,” Jack stated as calmly as he could.
“Three an...and ...”
“And seven-eighths.” Jack looked at Daniel who was definitely breathing, only now, he was close to hyperventilating. Jack cupped his face. “Angel, we're pregnant.”
Daniel gave his husband a closed smile and let out a nervous breath.
Jack turned his head to look at Toto. He nodded, then looked back at Daniel.
“It grew. The Doc says the only way it would grow is if the ...” Jack began.
“The little sperm guys did their thing,” Daniel completed for his husband in an emotional voice.
“We're pregnant, Danny,” Jack said, his voice cracking.
The lovers embraced, each holding the other tightly. Jack's chin was buried in Daniel's shoulder just as Daniel's face was nuzzled into Jack's neck.
“We're going to have a baby, Jack, one we both created, just you and me. Gawd, what a miracle,” Daniel emotionally intoned.
Moments later, they kissed, and Jack wiped Daniel's happy tears away with his thumb, tenderly saying, “You're my miracle, Danny.”
“I love you so much, Angel,” the older man stated.
“I love you, too,” Daniel said with eyes that shone brighter than ever from the emotion flowing within him.
After another kiss, both placed their hands on the womis.
“Hey, you, our little ... Bean Sprout. We love you, and we can't wait for you to enter our world. Your brothers and sisters are already so excited,” Daniel said softly.
Jack added, “And I thought Carter was crazy for talking to her plants.”
“Her name is Sam,” Daniel said, still looking at Toto.
“Danny, I can't help it,” Jack whined in frustration.
“I know; it's okay. Everything is okay,” Daniel said, his emotionally charged voice tugging on Jack's heartstrings.
When Jack and Daniel walked downstairs a few minutes later, they had expected to be besieged by eleven overjoyed children, so they were a bit taken aback to see those same children sitting quietly throughout the living room, staring toward the stairs.
Sam sat on the sofa, surrounded by the youngest children.
Daniel was about to ask why everyone wasn't excited when he heard Jack's voice.
“Danny,” Jack called out, nodding towards the monitoring equipment. “It's off.”
“Private time,” Little Danny explained from his spot on Sam's lap. He scooted down and walked over to his parents. He tugged on Daniel's leg. “Is it Bean Sprout?”
Daniel knelt down. His hand caressed the side of Little Danny's head, running through the boy's shaggy hair. He nodded and smiled as he confirmed, “Yeah, it's Bean Sprout.”
“Yaaaay!” Little Danny turned around to face his siblings, exclaiming, “It's Bean Sprout!” as he jumped up and down.
All the children cheered and got up to hug their parents. Sam, too, stood, grinning excitedly as she watched the children share in their parent's joy, all with gigantic smiles on their faces.
“I'm so happy for us,” Jennifer said. “This is so exciting.”
“I tell Angela now?” Chenoa asked anxiously.
“Yes, Princess. You can tell Angela now, but remember ...” Jack began.
“I know; secret. Angela good at secret, too.” Chenoa picked up the phone. “Please, Dad. Call now?”
“Okay, I'll watch; you dial,” Jack agreed, making sure Chenoa dialed the correct number.
Sam quickly tapped on Daniel's shoulder and intoned, “I'm so happy for you and the general, Daniel. I'll see you later.”
“You don't have to go, Sam,” Daniel told her.
“This is family time,” Sam said, hugging her friend. She added, “We'll talk tomorrow,” before quietly leaving the home.
Meanwhile, Chenoa had just finished dialing the Wilson's phone number.
“Aunt Sara. Is Angela there?” Chenoa asked when her aunt picked up the phone.
“Hi, Noa. Yes, she is. Hold on one minute,” Sara told the little girl.
“I'm on hold,” Chenoa told Jack who grinned. “Angela!” Chenoa broke into a smile and started chattering excitedly. “Dad and Daddy are pregnant. Baby called Bean Sprout. I'm going to have a little sister.”
“Or brother,” Jack reminded her.
Chenoa sighed, a little frown on her face as she reluctantly corrected, “Or maybe brother, but I hope sister. I can teach her stuff. Won't find out 'til...”
The youngster looked at Jack, and he mouthed 'November-ish'. She relayed this information to Angela, and after the two had chatted for a few minutes, Sara obviously came on the phone.
“Aunt Sara, we pregnant. I hope Bean Sprout is a girl,” Chenoa said. She spoke to Sara for a few minutes, then said, “Dad here. Bye, Aunt Sara.”
Jack took the phone from Noa and grinned at the whoop of joy Sara gave him.
“Congratulations, Jack,” Sara began. “I can't tell you how happy I am. You and Daniel both deserve this. Speaking of that husband of yours, I hope you're reminding him to breathe.”
Jack laughed, “I am. It was a little dicey for while, but at least he didn't turn blue.”
“Hey,” Daniel protested as he returned to the living room to snuggle in against Jack's side after the children had moved to the family room.
The children were coming up with possible names for the new baby. It hadn't escaped Daniel's notice that the names favored by the children were the names of their various crushes.
At the moment, Chenoa was insisting the baby should be called Teal'c in honor of Teal'c, while Little Danny, who had a big time crush on Karissa, thought it should be called 'Rissa, if it was a girl. Lulu was running through the names of various ballet dancers, and Brianna was doing the same thing with baseball and hockey players, but mainly sticking with 'Wayne' for her favorite hockey player.
Jack and Daniel chatted with Sara for a few moments longer, giving her some of the details, such as explaining about the shortened 'pregnancy' the womis provided (six months instead of nine) and that they could eventually find out the sex, but they didn't want to know in advance. Then, after Sara congratulated them once more, they all said goodbye.
Jack kissed Daniel and grinned, saying as if just wanting to hear the words again, “We're pregnant, Danny.”
Daniel sighed in amazement as he replied, “It feels like a dream.”
“It's not,” Jack pointed out, sitting down next to his husband.
Daniel sighed fearfully, “I hope nothing goes wrong.”
“It won't,” Jack declared confidently.
Jack knew that just as with normal pregnancies, things could go wrong, but he was sure that they'd be okay. He was just about to suggest they sneak upstairs for some intense cuddling when loud sounds filtered through from the rec room.
“Anna's a good name,” one child put forth.
“Wayne or Patrick,” another of the brood suggested.
“Ricky is already Patrick,” Jonny replied.
“Yeah, so it's good name!” a voice insisted.
“Teal'c,” a definitive sounding voice proclaimed.
Hearing the names from the nearby room, Jack looked at his husband, asking, “Danny, what's going on?”
Daniel grinned as he answered, “Our brood is picking out names for Bean Sprout. Lulu likes Anna, as in Anna Pavlova the Russian ballet dancer, Bri wants Wayne for The Great Gretzky, though she's willing to settle on Patrick for Patrick Roy ...”
“The Colorado Avalanche player,” Jack guessed.
Daniel nodded, adding, “Jonny pointed out that Ricky's a 'Patrick' already. Noa and Little Danny, of course, want ...”
“Teal'c and 'Rissa,” Jack surmised, a smile on his face.
Smiling himself, Daniel noted, “They're so excited, Jack.”
“Angel, have you thought about names?”
“Oh, gawd.” Daniel leaned his head to rest on Jack's shoulder. He cuddled as close as he could get, and Jack took the hint and held him tight. “I just want to get through the pregnancy. Let's call him Bean Sprout.”
Jack chuckled and kissed the top of Daniel's head, agreeing that, “We have six months to figure it out. Oh, Sara wants to come visit Bean Sprout and Toto tomorrow. Any objections?”
Daniel smiled as he shook his head, saying, “She's still his surrogate mom.”
Jack let out a tiny snort of amazement as he noted, “We've changed, Danny.”
The younger man looked up with inquiring eyes, asking, “What do you mean?”
Jack's left hand fingered gently through his lover's long, silky locks as he expounded, “Remember when all we wanted was to hide away in this house and never be disturbed? It's not that we need anyone else, it's just that now we have this family. Sara, Carter, the Doc, the Ferrettis, the big guy, Grandpa,” he chuckled. “How did two very private guys end up with a big family like this?”
Daniel looked down. His left hand reached over and took Jack's right hand in his. He caressed it as their fingers interlaced.
“It's easy, Babe,” Daniel said.
“Easy?” Jack questioned doubtfully.
Daniel nodded, answering simply, “Love. It's just ... love.”
Jack leaned forward for a gentle kiss and said, “You speak so eloquently, Danny.”
“It's easy, when I have you here with me,” Daniel quietly replied.
They kissed again, hearing a chuckle long before they were done.
“Dad and Daddy kissing on the sofa,” a little girl sang and then chuckled.
The kiss turned into chuckles as both men looked at Aislinn. Seeing their smiles, the little girl ran up to the sofa and climbed up to sit in between her fathers.
“I thinking Bean Sprout be Bean Sprout,” Aislinn proclaimed.
Jack laughed, “Let's wait and see, Princess.”
“Have another idea,” the little girl told her parents more seriously.
“What's that, Sweetie?” Daniel asked.
“If Bean Sprout is a girl, we can call her Kayla. Mommy would like that,” Aislinn said definitively.
Daniel nodded and leaned in to give his little miracle a kiss as he agreed, “Yeah, she'd like that a lot.”
“Kayla, if the baby is a girl?” Aislinn asked, wanting confirmation.
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look, and both nodded, and then Daniel said, “If she's a girl, then part of her name will be Kayla.”
Aislinn grinned and scooted off the sofa, announcing, “I'll go tell the brood.”
The lovers watched their first miracle hurry through the kitchen, heading for the recreation room.
“Jack, I've come to a conclusion about us,” Daniel announced.
“What's that?” Jack asked.
With a wry smile, the younger man answered, “We complicate things too much.”
Jack laughed, “Yeah, we sure do.”
That evening, with their brood all in bed, Jack and Daniel were sitting in the den, talking to Toto. It was the part of pregnancy they'd missed out on with Kayla's surrogacy, and both wanted to take full advantage of this opportunity to talk with their baby right from its conception.
Daniel proudly chuckled, “One thing you'll soon realize, Bean Sprout, is that your Dad is a nickname fanatic.”
“And even though your Daddy pretends the nicknames annoy him, he really loves them.” Jack looked at Daniel and smiled. “My Space Monkey.”
Daniel rolled his eyes and moved closer to the womis to whisper conspiratorially, “And that has to be one of the dumbest nicknames your dad has come up with.”
“It's one of his favorites, though,” Jack stated.
Daniel sighed and smiled as he admitted, “He's right, Bean Sprout.”
The two leaned in for a kiss, then continued their conversation.
“And tomorrow you're going to meet your Aunt Sara,” Daniel said as he caressed the womis.
Jack told Toto and Bean Sprout all about Sara, Charlie, Angela, Maddy, and Mark over the next few minutes before expressing, “We love you, Bean Sprout.”
Right then, the parents heard a soft knock on the door. Jack got up and opened it to find Little Danny standing there. He picked the little boy up and brought him over to sit with them in the recliner which they had moved to be closer to the womis.
“Little Danny, did you have a bad dream?” Daniel asked as he brushed back the boy's hair from his eyes.
Little Danny didn't seem upset, and sure enough, the boy shook his head and answered, “Bean Sprout all alone at night; might be scared.”
“Son, Bean Sprout doesn't mind being alone,” Jack tried to explain after exchanging a look with Daniel.
Little Danny just looked at his father, arguing, “You don't know that, Dad.”
Daniel rubbed his namesake's back and asked, “You don't remember being in your mommy's tummy, do you?” After the boy shook his head, Daniel supposed, “So maybe Bean Sprout isn't aware of his surroundings yet.”
“Then why do we talk to him? Books say babies aware,” the little genius pointed out.
Daniel cocked his head, knowing his namesake had a point. He looked at Jack who just shrugged.
“Son,” Jack finally said. “You're right, but this is the safest place for Toto and Bean Sprout until he or she is born.”
“Don't like that,” Little Danny confessed, yawning at the same time.
“It'll be okay,” Daniel said softly.
**He's not buying it, Danny.**
**Well, we'll just stay here until he falls asleep.**
“Bean Sprout, you never be alone,” Little Danny said. “We big family.” The little boy nuzzled into Daniel. He yawned. “Lots love. Bij fun,” he said about their mama beagle. He yawned again. “We teach ... <yawn> ... you things.” His eyelids fluttered close. “Love Bean Spr...”
Daniel nodded as he leaned his cheek against his son's head.
**So much love, Jack.**
**Bean Sprout is going to be just fine.**
Chapter Three: Is There a Doctor in the House?
“Daniel, it's just a tiny cold,” Janet assured, trying to calm the nervous parent.
Janet could hear rumblings from downstairs, the children greeting their older father. Silently, the SGC physician thanked all the gods she could think of that Jack was finally back. He had been gone for two days on business for J-O Enterprises, during which time Daniel had come down with a slight cold. Without the reassuring presence of his husband, the archaeologist had managed to work himself into quite a panic, so much so that he hadn't even shaved that morning and had barely slept the night before, resulting in shadows under his eyes.
“Tiny? I have a fever!” Daniel argued in anguish as he looked down at the womis.
Artwork by Maureen Middleton
“Ninety-eight point nine isn't much of a fever,” the doctor pointed out as she again tried to soothe the anxious man in front of her. “Three-tenths of a degree could just mean that the calibration of the thermometer is a little off.”
“My skin is clammy,” the upset father of almost twelve cried in a whiny tone.
Janet touched Daniel's skin and advised, “Take a shower.”
“Janet!” the archaeologist whined in despair.
“Daniel, many mothers have colds during their pregnancy,” Janet stated straightforwardly. “There's nothing we can do about that. Now the timing on the nutrients the womis needs is very precise. You have to do it.”
“Gawd, something horrible is going to happen, and it'll be all my fault,” Daniel intoned worriedly.
Janet strongly advised, “Daniel, you *need* to calm down. A slightly elevated temperature and clammy skin could be the result of extreme nervousness.”
Uncharacteristically, Daniel shouted, “IT'S MY BABY WE'RE TALKING ABOUT.”
“Hey,” Jack called out, entering the den at a quick pace, immediately surveying the situation and opting to take an indirect approach to finding out why his husband was yelling at one of their closest friends. “I see Jen's watching the kids downstairs. What's going on?”
Jack recalled how distracted Daniel had sounded when they chatted on the phone during his absence, but the younger man hadn't mentioned anything about not feeling well. Their children's comments downstairs moments earlier was the first indication Jack had that anything at all was wrong.
The womis had grown to a diameter of four and three-quarters inches after the first week, then to five and one-fourth inches after week two. Week three showed a growth of only one-fourth inch, and now, one month after its first spurt, the womis was just one-eighth of an inch shy of six-inches. Now that the womis was pregnant, it had been placed on its stand. There was still plenty of room in the bookshelf for it to safely sit, even with the various tubes that now fed into it.
To safeguard against something disastrous happening, Jack and Daniel had taken the precautions of affixing a plate in front of the shelf to help guard against any possibility of the womis sliding from its nest as well as keeping a big pile of foam on the floor next to the bookshelf. It was all they could do, not that Colorado Springs was big on earthquakes, but the nervous parents wanted to take every precaution that they could.
Today was injection day. Both Jack and Daniel would be contributing a tiny amount of blood, and it couldn't be postponed.
“Jack, I'm sick,” Daniel informed his husband anxiously, his eyes begging Jack to fix everything like he always did.
“He's a little panicky,” Janet immediately added, her eyes and slight nod of her head telling Jack that his lover was overreacting big time.
“Ya think?” Jack tried to quip, though it didn't go over very well.
“HOW DO YOU EXPECT ME TO BE?” the younger man shouted at their good friend and doctor, and only slightly at his lover.
“Whoa, Angel.” Jack nodded to Janet who quickly walked into the hallway, closing the den doors behind her. Rubbing his hands on his soulmate's upper arms, he soothed, “Danny, listen to me. Everything's okay. You know the Doc. If she's not worried, it's okay.”
“I'm so scared,” Daniel admitted.
“Come here,” Jack urged, protectively holding his soulmate in his loving embrace. “Bean Sprout is tough. The little guy is going to make it just fine.”
“You can't be sure,” Daniel mumbled as his head lay against Jack's strong shoulder.
“No, I can't, but I have confidence,” Jack spoke positively. “Have faith, Love, that that energy upstairs is on our side.”
Daniel pulled back slightly and stared at Jack before asking, “You think so?”
With a sweet, reassuring smile, Jack nodded and replied, “He's helped us a lot already, hasn't He? I don't think He'd put us through this and then not come through with the goods.”
“With the goods,” Daniel echoed in disbelief at Jack's choice of words. “I'm glad you're home.”
“Me, too. Get back here,” Jack gently ordered, pulling Daniel to him again. “Just stay right here for a while.” Contentedly, he sighed, “You feel so good. Geez, I missed you so much, Angel.”
“I missed you, too.”
“It's getting harder,” Jack commented.
“Jack! How can you think about that right now?” Daniel admonished.
Chuckling lightly, the older man responded, “Not that, Danny. I meant leaving you and the brood. It's never been easy, but now, it's harder than ever to be away from you for even a day.”
“I know. At night, sometimes I just ... I ...” Daniel hesitated, not wanting to sound so vulnerable or, worse, dependent.
“Stare at the phone, hoping it'll ring?” Jack completed for his lover.
“Gawd, yes,” the archaeologist confided as he again gazed into the older man's eyes. “You, too?”
With a tiny snort, Jack bobbed his head up and down, admitting, “I imagine you with me. We ... talk.”
Daniel chuckled, “A fantasy me?”
“Not as much fun as the real thing, of course,” Jack teased, kissing Daniel on the nose.
“Well, I, uh ... I do the same thing. I close my eyes and see you. I tell you everything that's happened during the day and ... and how much I love you,” Daniel softly spoke.
“If people knew, they'd say we were crazy,” Jack whispered and then kissed his Love.
“If people knew, they'd say we were in love,” Daniel snickered teasingly.
“Daniel? Quoting a song?” Jack replied lovingly.
“You're a bad influence, O'Neill,” Daniel joked before growing serious again. “I love you so much.”
“Angel, if you only knew. If ... you only ... knew,” Jack said, emotion drawing out his words.
For several more minutes, the two held steady in their nation of two until, finally, Daniel felt secure again. Feeling better, Daniel buried his nose in Jack's shoulder and shook his head as a thought occurred to him.
“What?” Jack asked as he rubbed Daniel's back.
“Gawd, Jack, I yelled at Janet,” the ashamed man admitted.
“She understands,” Jack promised with a smile.
“I'm scared, Jack,” Daniel repeated.
Jack soothed, “I know, Danny, but it'll be okay. Hey, ah, since Janet's already here, why don't we get her to take our blood?”
“That's probably a good idea,” the archaeologist sighed, not trusting himself to do much of anything right now.
As soon as Jack opened the door and Janet re-entered the den, a gentle smile on her face, Daniel began to apologize, “Janet, I'm sorry ...”
“Don't worry about it, Daniel,” Janet interjected. “I really do understand your concern, but honestly, it's just a cold. Besides, for all we know, it could be a good thing. Maybe it'll help build up the baby's immune system.”
Daniel looked at her skeptically, replying, “You don't really believe that, do you, Janet?”
The petite doctor shrugged, saying, “Daniel, for all of our medical advances, we know very little about how the human body works. If this was chicken pox or even a virulent strain of influenza, I'd be worried, but it's not.”
Jack sat behind Daniel and pulled him back to lean against his chest as he opined, “Bean Sprout will be fine, Love.” With a cheerful grin, he stuck out his arm and quipped, “Time to go vampire, Doc.”
Janet shook her head in amusement, asking, “How old is your husband, Daniel? Five?”
Daniel chuckled while Jack scowled, but their banter was interrupted by Little Danny, who appeared in the doorway.
“Can I watch, Dad, Daddy?” Little Daniel asked.
Janet grinned at the look of surprise on her friends' faces. As soon as she'd walked in the door, Little Danny had started asking her questions.
“Ah, are you sure you want to, Son?” Jack questioned, not sure if the boy really knew what he was in for.
The boy nodded and said, “I want Aunt Janet to show me how.”
Jack narrowed his eyes suspiciously as he inquired, “You aren't planning to play doctor? Drawing blood, I mean,” Jack added.
Little Danny sighed, “Aunt Janet won't let me.”
“She'd better not,” Jack said sternly.
“Can I watch you feed Bean Sprout? Pleeeeeease,” the small boy pleaded.
“Okay,” Daniel agreed. “Go ahead, Janet.”
“Wait. Can't see,” the little genius called out a bit impatiently.
“Come here, Sproglet,” Jack instructed, picking Little Danny up and standing him on Daniel's desk chair.
“Thanks, Dad,” Little Daniel said, smiling.
As the boy watched, Janet drew one cc of blood from each of the two men, after which Jack and Daniel injected the fluid into the tube that fed the womis.
“That makes Bean Sprout grow?” the little boy asked.
“It sure does, Sweetie,” Janet answered. “I think you guys have this down. I'll keep coming out if you want, but you can do it yourselves, too.”
“I know we should,” Daniel agreed, though his voice was a bit distant.
“Tell you what. Until you feel comfortable doing it yourselves, I'll drop by and do it,” Janet promised. “It'll give me a chance to play with the kids a little.”
“Aunt Janet, you come swing me?” Daniel's namesake asked.
“How high?” Janet asked, smiling.
“All the way up to the sky!” Little Danny exclaimed excitedly.
“You're on,” Janet laughed gaily.
~Yeeeeeah!~ Little Danny exclaimed inwardly. “Dad, please put me on floor,” he requested. As soon as both of his feet were on the floor, the middle Munchkin climbed off the chair and started to run out the door when he stopped himself. It was good timing since both of his parents were about to yell his name. He turned, apologizing, “I'm sorry I ran. I know -- no running. I'm just excited.”
“Go on, Son,” Jack said, his eyes shining with love for his family.
Both parents were pleased to see their son move a little more slowly as he headed for the stairs.
With Janet right behind him, the boy told her, “We get in trouble for running.”
Janet responded, “That's because you might get hurt.”
“I don't mind hurt; just don't want to not get ice cream,” Little Danny confided, smiling.
Laughing lightly, Jack and Daniel turned their attention back to Toto.
“Keep doing your thing, Toto. Keep Bean Sprout healthy,” Jack requested quietly.
“Yeah, please,” Daniel said a bit vulnerably.
“I know, but I'll always worry,” Daniel confessed.
Jack sighed, “Summer's here, Love, and the brood needs us to focus on them, too.”
“You're right, but it's hard to leave Bean Sprout up here alone, and then I ... I know it's just a cold, but I want Bean Sprout so much,” Daniel sighed as he leaned into Jack.
“Me, too. Did I tell you that I missed you?” Jack inquired, kissing Daniel's forehead.
“Tell me again,” the younger man requested.
“I missed you,” Jack crooned.
“How much?” Daniel asked as his eyes gazed into the chocolate brown ones that he adored so very much.
“To the moon and the stars and back again,” Jack answered before kissing his Love again.
Daniel continued to worry, but with Jack home, his soul felt stronger, and he knew that together, they'd get through whatever difficulties might face them in the coming days and months. Smiling, he kissed his husband again and then began planning the rest of their day, beginning with a clean shave.
Two days later, Jack woke the twins extra early for a special outing. He and some of their neighbors, who also had young children, had recently been discussing the beautiful Colorado sunrises and how often they were neglected because of morning routines. After talking it over with Daniel, Jack had suggested to a few of the parents that they get up early one morning and take some of the children to Utes Pass to see the magnificent sunrise which that particular area was noted for. The idea had been met with enthusiasm, so now Jack, Ricky, and Jenny were eating pancakes before heading out.
“Why not Froot Loops?” Ricky asked with a yawn when Jack placed a plate in front of him.
“Warm food to warm your body,” Jack answered with a smile. “Eat up; we have to meet the others in ten minutes.”
Right on schedule, the trio joined up with two other families on the block and headed for the Pass. At the Cog Railway parking lot, they met up with yet two other groups of parents and their kids. In all, there were nine parents and fifteen children, ages two through eleven.
It was ten minutes after six in the morning, and, after getting organized, the group began hiking up the red gravel trail until they reached Rampart Range.
With the moonlight still highlighting the night, the group enjoyed what they could see of the view there for ten minutes before veering left and following a ridge through the beautiful forested area. It only took five or ten minutes to reach the best spot for watching the sunrise.
“Dad, look!” Jenny exclaimed as the sun crept upwards.
“It's pretty, isn't it?” Jack asked his children, one of whom was on each side of him.
“Bet sunset pretty, too,” Ricky commented.
“Munchkins would like this,” Jenny noted.
“Mav'ricks, too,” Ricky added.
“And the Mouseketeers,” Jenny added.
Jack chuckled, “Maybe one morning we'll have a family outing and bring the entire brood up here.”
“Yay!” Jenny and Ricky cheered.
For quite a while, the families visited and talked about the breathtaking view as the sun took its place in the sky. The Spitfires had never quite seen anything like it before and were glad they had gotten up early for the special excursion with their older father.
Forty minutes later, the children were playing while the parents chatted for a minute before preparing to leave.
“Oh, no!” one of the parents exclaimed as she realized what was happening.
Concerned, Jack looked over, but was instantly relieved to see his children were nearby, safe and sound, just examining some of the greenery.
~They're fine. Whew, that was a close call. Just what I would have needed: to lose the twins,~ Jack chuckled inwardly. ~They're just playing with that ... that ... oh, crap!~ “Spitfires, stop!”
“What wrong, Dad?” Jenny asked, looking over at her father.
Jack hurried to his children who, along with some others, were sitting amongst some green plants and woody vines. He recognized the leaves, each with three leaflets. It was unmistakable. The twins were toying around with poison ivy.
“Stop scratching, you two, and don't rub your eyes,” Jack warned, looking in the rearview mirror and seeing the two children scratching their arms and legs.
“Dad, itchy,” Jenny wailed.
Ricky scratched his arm and whimpered.
“I know, Sweetheart. We'll be home in a few minutes, and then you can have a cool shower and put some lotion on.” Jack drove down their street thinking, ~Daniel's going to kill me for not watching them closer.~
As soon as they got in the front door, Jack began ushering the twins towards the stairs and the nearest upstairs bathroom, calling to Daniel as they went.
“Dad?” Jennifer called out, having just walked inside the house to hear Jack's call. ~Wonder what's going on now,~ she thought as she yawned.
“Itchy, Jen,” Ricky told her, turning around.
“I bet it is, Spitfires,” the teenager acknowledged, guessing what had happened. Getting poison ivy was almost a childhood rite of passage. Facing their father, she asked, “What did they do, roll in it?”
“Something like that,” Jack answered. “Any clue where Daniel is?”
Jeff suddenly walked in and answered, “He took Bij to see Pam, Dad.”
Pam Lawrence was Jack and Daniel's vet. Their own discomfort forgotten, Jenny and Ricky looked at Jeff with fear.
“Bij okay?” Jenny asked.
The teenage boy smiled at them as he assured, “She'll be fine. She must have stepped on something and cut her paw. Daddy took her to see Pam so she could get it all fixed up. The Munchkins went with him. Little Danny was pretty upset.”
Jack nodded. Little Danny had a close relationship with all their animals and always felt it most keenly when one of them was ill or injured.
“Bij 'kay tho' ... and Little Danny?” Ricky asked, wanting reassurance.
“Bij will be fine, and so will Little Danny,” Jeff confirmed.
Reassured as to their beloved beagle's safety, the two youngsters began scratching again.
“No bath?” Jenny asked as Jack turned on the shower.
“Not until we've gotten rid of the poison ivy first, Princess.”
One at a time, Jack tended to his children, washing them and then wiping down their skin with rubbing alcohol. The children's exposure had been long enough ago that rashes were already appearing, so after their shower, he rubbed them down with calamine lotion. As he did that, Jennifer took all of their clothing and put it in the washer, turning it on so that the clothing wouldn't sit around and potentially contaminate one of the other children.
“Feel better?” Jennifer questioned.
“Little. Why we itch, Dad?” Ricky asked.
Their loving father answered, “You two were playing with poison ivy.”
“No, we not,” Jenny argued. “We playing with trees.”
Jack smiled, noting, “We need to have a little lesson on trees, plants, and poison ivy. I'll show it to you later, but what happened is that the oil from those leaves got onto your skin, and our skin doesn't react well to that oil. We're all allergic to it.”
“Ewww. Itchy,” Jenny whined.
“Here, Princess, let me put a little more lotion on,” Jack requested gently.
“Thanks, Dad,” the redhead responded.
“Dad,” Jennifer called out, popping her head into Jenny's bedroom where the twins now were. “I put the clothes in the washer and started it, and Daddy's home with Bijou.”
Feeling tired, Jennifer nodded and walked downstairs, thinking, ~Maybe I'll take a nap.”
Meanwhile, Jack turned to his children and instructed, “You two stay here and away from your brothers and sisters.”
“Why?” both Ricky and Jenny questioned.
“Because you'll give them poison ivy. You don't want them to be all itchy, too, do you?” Seeing two heads shake, Jack smiled and said, “Good. I'll be right back.”
Just as Daniel walked in, holding Bijou, Jack approached the entranceway, asking, “Ah, Girl, what did you do?” as he took the mama beagle from his husband.
“Hello to you, too,” Daniel teased dryly.
Jack laughed, “Hi, Angel,” and then leaned forward to share a kiss. “What happened?”
“Bij hurt, Dad,” Little Danny said softly, adding, “But Pam make her all better.”
“Pam's a good vet,” Aislinn noted.
“Bij likes Pam,” Jonny contributed.
“And I'm sure Bijou felt better knowing the three of you were there to comfort her. So what happened?” Jack asked yet again.
Daniel answered, “Do you believe it, Jack? She was outside, playing with Katie, running around and having a great time. Then she yelped. I ran over to her, and she had stepped on a little piece of wood. I'm not sure where it came from, but it was sharp and went deep into her paw. She was shaking,” he recalled sadly as his lover continued to pet their beloved beagle. “I was afraid to take it out because it was so deep, so I took her to see Pam.”
“And?” Jack prompted.
“And,” Daniel sighed. “It's a deep cut. She recommended we keep her inside for a couple of days and make sure she keeps that bandage on. The boot should help ... I hope.”
“Ah, poor Bij. You okay, Girl?” a compassionate Jack asked as he sat down on the sofa, still petting the beloved beagle and examining the soft boot that covered the wrap Pam had placed on the dog's paw.
“Woooof,” was the response, in a sad tone.
Jack teased, “You just want to be spoiled rotten and pampered for a day or two, don't ya?” The beagle placed her head against Jack's chest, prompting him to lovingly accuse, “Con artist.”
“Woof!” the mama beagle's daughter called out from the backyard.
Daniel walked over to the patio door and let Katie inside. The youngest beagle ran to her mother, jumping up on the sofa, her paws on Jack's thigh.
“How'd the sunrise trip go?” the archaeologist inquired curiously.
“We go ask Spitfires,” Little Danny said excitedly.
“Whoa!” Jack yelled out in his command voice, stopping the three and immediately alerting Daniel that all was not right in Spitfire Land.
“Why 'whoa'?” Daniel asked nervously.
“Poison ivy,” the older man answered.
“Oh, gawd,” Daniel sighed as he plopped down next to Jack and the beagles on the sofa, leaning his head back against the cushions. “What a week!”
“Which reminds me, how's your cold?” Jack queried.
“Better,” Daniel answered. “I still have a little fever, though,” he admitted, knowing that if he didn't, Jack would see through the white lie one way or another.
“Daddy sick. We make him better,” Aislinn proclaimed, climbing onto the sofa and giving Daniel a kiss.
“Now that does make me feel better,” Daniel responded with a sweet smile. **They make everything worthwhile.**
**That they do, Love,** Jack agreed as he smiled at the attentive Munchkins.
“How are the twins?” Daniel asked a bit later when Jack came into the bedroom.
Both Daniel and Bijou were exhausted from their trip to the vet and had been dispatched to bed for a little rest. The mama beagle was currently stretched out along Daniel's side fast asleep.
“Itchy, but fine,” Jack answered. “They're playing in the boys' room at the moment.”
“Dad, Daddy,” Lulu called out as she appeared in the doorway, clutching a toy frog and sporting a sad face.
“Lulu, honey, what's wrong?” Daniel asked as he patted the spot beside him on the bed.
Lulu smiled and ran over, climbing onto the bed and burrowing into his side.
“Lil' Bit?” Jack asked, exchanging a worried look with his lover.
“Feel funny,” a muffled voice admitted.
“How funny?” Daniel asked, a sinking feeling in his stomach. ~I hope I didn't give her my cold.~
“Throat sore,” Lulu explained, looking up at them.
Jack reached over and felt her forehead, commenting, “Feels a little warm.” He went into the bathroom, coming back with a thermometer. Putting the slender digitalized item into their daughter's mouth, he theorized, “She's probably just got a cold like you, Danny.”
**And I probably gave it to her,** Daniel communicated sadly.
Sensing the already well-on-the-way guilt trip, Jack strongly refuted, **That's crap, Danny. She could have picked it up anywhere. A lot of people get colds in the summer.**
Hearing the beep, Daniel took the thermometer out and sighed, “You do have a slight fever, Lulu.” He showed it to Jack and asked, “Do you think we need to call Janet or Sylvia?”
Jack ruffled Lulu's hair and shook his head, saying, “We'll keep an eye on it, but I think a couple of days of rest will do the trick.”
“Jack, are you sure?” the younger parent asked anxiously.
“Danny, we have eleven children, soon to be twelve. Sooner or later, we have to relax a little. We can't keep living on the verge of panic every time some little thing happens.” He sighed as he recalled, “Charlie was always breaking or fracturing something.” After a more reinvigorating sigh, he suggested, “Let's have her rest today, and we'll see how she feels in the morning.”
Lulu looked up at Daniel and asked, “Can I rest here, Daddy?”
Daniel looked at the pleading eyes and melted, answering, “Of course, Sweetie. Would you like me to read you a story?”
“Yes, please,” the little girl answered as she settled in, Bijou moving to get between her and Daniel.
“Rest well,” Jack said, giving both his husband and daughter a kiss before starting to walk out.
“Oh, sorry,” Jack chuckled, returning to plant a kiss on Bijou's snout.
Lulu giggled, warming Jack's heart, and then the older man left the room, marveling at how wonderful a child's laughter could make a body feel.
By the next day, Daniel was feeling much better. Unfortunately, Jack seemed to have matched Lulu in cold-catching ability and had woken up with a snuffly nose and slight fever. Thankfully, though, he didn't have the sore throat.
“Danny, I can't stay in ... <sneeze> ... bed. I have things to do,” Jack argued in his raspy-sounding voice after Daniel had ordered him not to get out bed.
“Jack, it'll be worse if you pass that cold onto the children,” Daniel warned.
“But, Danny!” the older man whined, never having been known as being a good patient.
“Stay!” Daniel ordered, his eyes backing up his spoken word.
“Yeah, right.” Daniel walked towards the door of their bedroom. ~Someday, I'm gonna get him for calling me a dictator all the time.~
“Danny?” Jack called out vulnerably.
Daniel sighed as he turned around, saying, “Jack, I'm not your servant, and we have eleven children now, two of whom have poison ivy and one of whom has a cold, not to mention our Bij, who has a hurt foot. Get over it.”
Jack gave his lover a sad puppy dog face as he said, “I was just going to say I love you.”
“Oh, well, I, uh, love you ... too,” Daniel said as he smiled sweetly and then turned and walked away.
Suddenly, Jack's voice echoed through the hallway, “But, some Froot Loops would be nice, too.” A second later, he demanded, “And, grapes. I want grapes, Danny.”
Hearing his husband's loud and grating whine, Daniel paused at the bottom of the stairs, rolled his eyes heavenward, and whispered, “Please, give me strength.”
“DADDY! DADDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDY!” a little voice yelled.
“Jack, it's Ash,” Daniel called out as he prepared breakfast downstairs.
It was two nerve-wracking days later. Lulu was still suffering from her cold, but Daniel's insistence at Jack staying in bed had paid off, and Jack was back to normal except for an occasional sniffle. At the moment, the older man was seated at the kitchen table, working on lesson plans for David.
“DAD! DAD, HELP ME!” another voice shouted commandingly just seconds later.
“Geez, that's Jonny,” Jack acknowledged as both he and Daniel reached the stairs at the same time.
Before they got to the top, another loud “Daddddddddy” was heard, this time from Little Danny.
“I'll take the boys; you take Ash,” Jack suggested as he moved ahead to the boys' room.
“Ash, what wrong?” Jenny asked.
The two girls shared a bedroom, the first room of four down the long hallway, and Jenny had climbed up on her sister's bed after hearing her shout.
“Can't see. Where Daddy?” the little Munchkin cried out desperately.
“Right here, Sweetie,” Daniel responded as he hurried to the bed and sat down. “What's wrong?”
“Can't see, Daddy; eyes no open,” Aislinn told him, terror in her voice.
“Everything's okay,” Daniel spoke softly. “Let me see. Shhh, it's okay, Ash,” he promised the trembling little girl. “Let me move your hands.”
Aislinn had been rubbing her eyes, and gently, Daniel pulled the two hands back.
“Hurt, Daddy,” the youngest Munchkin sniffled.
Calmly, Daniel replied, “It'll be okay. Let me see what's going on.”
“Eyes stuck shut. Never see Bobo 'gain,” Aislinn complained in fear.
“Yes, you will,” Daniel promised. “Bobo's right here in the rocker, and you'll see her in a minute,” he reassured.
Bobo, full name Bobette, was the stuffed monkey that had belonged to the youngest children's surrogate mother, Kayla Armentrout. Aislinn had become very attached to it over the last couple of years, so after the renovation of the Jackson-O'Neill home was completed, Jack and Daniel decided Bobo belonged with her, with the understanding that the rest of the Munchkins and Spitfires had 'visiting rights'.
~What's going on?~ Daniel observed his daughter's eyes, noting the yellowish discharge that had them glued shut. With a sigh, he told the youngest girl, “Jenny, don't touch Ash, okay?”
“Okay,” Jenny acknowledged.
Daniel walked over to the vanity and picked up a washcloth, warming it with water. He was glad they had decided to put a vanity in each of the new bedrooms when they had renovated their home. When the washcloth was how he wanted it, he returned to the bed and sat beside his daughter.
“I can't see,” Aislinn sniffled.
“Your eyes are fine, Ash,” Daniel spoke soothingly. “We just need to remove the sleep from them. I'm going to put a cloth over them. It'll be a little warm.”
The Munchkin sniffled, “Scared, Da...Daddy.”
“It's all right, Sweetie; I promise. It'll just take a few minutes, then you can open your eyes, and you'll see. Trust me?” Daniel asked. When she nodded, he smiled, praising, “Good girl.” He smiled at Jenny, who was still on Aislinn's bed, sitting quietly, but looking worried. “Ash is fine, Jenny. I promise. How's the itching today?” the archaeologist asked about her poison ivy.
“No itch 'nmore. Ash okay?” the worried redhead asked, not caring about her own troubles.
“Ash is just fine,” Daniel promised again.
**Danny, what's happening?** Jack asked from the boys' room.
Daniel immediately replied, **Not sure yet. There was a discharge around Ash's eyes.**
**No, yellow. What about the boys?**
**Both Jonny and Little Danny have greenish discharges. I put cloths on them,** Jack explained with their non-verbal communication.
**Me, too. Pink eye?** Daniel surmised from the symptoms.
**Yeah. First one done needs to call ... wait, Jen just walked in. I'm going to have her call Syl.**
**Okay,** the younger man agreed, having his hands full with Aislinn at the moment.
“It's a good thing you two have the family plan,” Doctor Sylvia Preston chuckled, earning her glares from her worried friends. She'd been listening to the various calamities that had befallen the Jackson-O'Neills in the month of June as she examined the Munchkins. She cleared her throat and advised, “You might want to move the Munchkins into the same room. All three have pink eye, and it's very contagious. If you don't take precautions, the twins will get it for sure, and probably Noa and Lulu. Actually, you two could even get it.”
“Quarantine?” Jack asked.
“No. They can play and run around. I wouldn't hold them prisoner, exactly,” Sylvia commented.
“What q'rtine?” Jonny asked, having gotten up from his bed to see what his parents and Sylvia were doing at the doorway.
“Back to bed, young man,” Jack ordered, pointing towards the bed.
Sylvia laughed as the young boy grumbled while returning to his bed, then continued, “Seriously, they can't rub their eyes or anything. Use gloves or something, and keep them away from the others as much as possible.”
“Quarantine,” Jack repeated.
“Call it what you want, Jack, but don't say I didn't warn you. I'm leaving you a bottle of antibiotic drops. Keep doing the washcloth bit as necessary, and follow the instructions on the drops. It'll take a few days, but they should be fine. One thing,” the physician noted.
“Gawd, what?” Daniel asked. “I'm ... I'm sorry, Sylvia, it's just, it's been a wild couple of weeks.”
“I understand, Daniel. What I was going to say is that you need to watch for any changes in their condition. This is the bacterial form of pink eye. They'll have a moderate amount of discharge, maybe some swelling, and it'll hurt a little. This type of pink eye can spread,” Sylvia expounded. Her attention turned to the general, who sniffled, a tiny residue of his cold remaining. “Jack, I hate to say this ...”
“Then don't, Syl,” Jack suggested. “I stayed in bed for two days. That was just a straggler.”
Sylvia sighed, “Didn't you say Lulu still has a cold?”
“Yes,” Daniel confirmed.
Nodding, the doctor advised, “Keep Lulu away from the Munchkins, and you, too, Jack. It'll make it a lot worse if you give them a cold right now on top of this.”
“Danny, I'm not happy about this,” Jack said apologetically.
“At least, I'm over my cold completely,” Daniel spoke softly.
“And make sure you stay that way,” Sylvia ordered.
Nodding, the archaeologist said, “I'll try.”
“I'll let myself out,” the doctor stated. “Oh, by the way, I noticed a monitor and some equipment in the living room. I haven't noticed a setup quite like that before.”
“Are you an electronics whiz, Syl?” Jack mused, giving his husband a quick look. **We messed up, Angel.**
**It'll be okay,** Daniel assured.
“Yes, actually, I am,” Sylvia replied. “I have all the latest gadgets,” she spoke with pride. “That's why I noticed it.”
“The children like to communicate back and forth and play a lot of games,” Daniel said. “That's just something they set up temporarily; it's, uh, sort of an experiment.”
“Children -- they are inventive,” Sylvia chuckled, totally accepting the cover story. Smiling, she said, “I'd better go. You two take care.”
“Bye, Syl,” Jack called out as he watched her disappear in the jog that headed towards the stairs. “Danny ...”
“Jack, you have to do what she says,” Daniel stated. “Why don't you go rest for a while. The sooner that sniffle is completely gone, the sooner you can help out with the Munchkins again.”
“Okay, Angel,” Jack agreed, leaning in for a kiss.
“You know we probably shouldn't ...”
“You're right. What was I thinking?” the younger man smirked, knowing there was no way they weren't going to kiss, cuddle, and otherwise fuse their bodies in unison because of a sniffle. “I'm going to get the children settled.”
“Okay, Love. I'm going to take it easy in the living room -- put on some music and read a book or something. I love you,” Jack said, reluctantly walking away.
Since the boys also shared a room with Ricky, meaning there were three beds inside, Ricky was moved to Aislinn's room. It was an easy transition since Jenny and Ricky were used to sharing. All the parents really had to do was change the bedding.
“Miss you, Jenny,” Ricky said, throwing his arms around his sister right after he moved his favorite pillow and blanket into the room.
“Miss you, too. Love Ash, but you Spitfire, too,” Jenny lovingly told her twin.
~It's a natural bonding the twins have, and it's just like the Munchkins, too.~ Daniel smiled as he watched the exchange and then went to check on the Munchkins. “Everyone comfy?” he asked.
“Eyes still hurt, Daddy,” Jonny complained, starting to rub his eyes.
“No, Jonny, you can't do that,” Daniel admonished, pulling the boy's hands away from his face.
“I'm sorry, you can't,” Daniel told him sternly. “Here, all of you put these on.”
Daniel went to the drawers and pulled out gloves, helping each child as needed. Then he told all the children to lay back. It was time for their eye drops, beginning with Little Danny.
“I'm brave,” the middle Munchkin stated.
“I know you are. Now close your eyes, and keep them shut.” After reading Sylvia's dosage instructions on the side of the bottle, Daniel counted out the drops as they fell in the inner corner of his son's eyes, next to the bridge of the nose. He smiled, thinking the accumulation of drops looked like a little lake. “Take a deep breath, and think about Katie digging in her play yard.” He smiled, seeing Little Danny smiling as he thought about the beagle. “Now open your eyes.”
Feeling totally relaxed as he thought about Katie's dig, Little Danny opened his eyes, and when he did, the drops flowed gently into the infected mucous membranes.
“Okay?” Daniel asked.
Little Danny smiled and encouraged, “It's okay. Ash, it doesn't hurt.”
“I don't know,” Aislinn responded skeptically.
“I'll go next, Ash,” Jonny offered in an attempt to verify his brother's statement and protect their little sister.
Daniel repeated his actions, placing the drops in the appropriate spot and then telling Jonny to take a deep breath and think about flying in Jo. The boy smiled as he thought about how much fun he had in their family airplane, and when he opened his eyelids, the droplets flowed into his eyes. He chuckled at the sensation.
“Ash, Little Danny's right. It no hurt. I promise,” Jonny assured.
“Okay,” the little girl agreed. “Me next. I'll think 'bout Mommy.”
Daniel smiled and urged softly, “You do that, Sweetie.”
“How are they doing?” Jack asked, closing the novel he'd been reading and setting it aside as Daniel sank down onto the sofa next to him.
“They're fine; I'm exhausted,” Daniel admitted, letting out a loud and mournful sigh. He noted the peaceful sounds of an instrumental CD by one of their favorites, John Tesh, filling the air. ~Good choice.~
“This cold will be totally gone by tomorrow, and then I can help,” Jack confidently assured his lover.
“I hope so,” an exhausted Daniel replied.
“Hey, how about you? Are you okay?” Jack asked, wanting to know more than how tired his lover was or wasn't.
“Jack, it's been so crazy. What if it's a bad sign? What if Bean Sprout ...” Daniel began, his words trailing off.
“Danny, Toto is doing a great job,” Jack acknowledged. “We have a house full of kids. Kids have accidents, and they get sick. All of this is normal. Isn't it great?”
With a look of surprise, the younger man asked, “That our children are sick?”
“No, that our children are our children, and that we're happy,” Jack answered.
“Gawd, Jack. You did it again,” Daniel sighed contentedly, snuggling into his husband's hold. “You made me feel better.”
“That's my job, and I love it. The older kids have been helping out a lot. I'm proud of Jen and Jeff for stepping up and helping out when we need them,” Jack opined. He smiled, saying, “We have a great brood. Maybe we should go on vacation, take off to the cabin for a few days when everyone is feeling better. What do you think, Love?” He waited for a response, but didn't get one. “Danny?” He moved back just slightly and smiled. He placed a kiss atop the younger man's ahead and whispered, “Sleep, Angel. I love you.”
“Munchkins, cut that out,” Jack ordered the next morning.
Jack's sniffles were completely gone, and Sylvia agreed he could take care of the Munchkins now, too. It had been a crazy morning, though, the playful triplets getting into as much mischief as possible and continuing to take off their 'hot, yucky gloves'.
Hearing a disturbance a little while after lunch, Daniel entered the Munchkins' room.
“What's ... Jack, what are you doing?” Daniel questioned, shocked by what he was seeing.
“Dad is duct-taping us,” Jonny pouted, hoping Daniel would intercede.
“Jack?” Daniel asked in disbelief.
“MacGyver uses duct tape lots,” Aislinn noted.
“Yeah, well, that guy is right about some things,” Jack told them. “And right now, one of the things he's right about is that duct tape will keep these gloves on you.”
The Munchkins frowned, and Jack growled before giving each of them a kiss.
**Jack, I'm not sure about this.**
**Danny, they keep taking off their gloves. They'll never get well if the gloves don't stay on,** Jack advised.
**It happens,** Jack quipped, glancing over at his husband with a smug expression.
**Don't let it go to your head, Babe,** Daniel responded.
**Speaking of heads ...**
“Gawd, Jack ...” Daniel spoke verbally, shaking his head and leaving his lover to finish the duct tape job. ~Doesn't he ever think about anything else?~
Rolling his eyes, Daniel couldn't help but chuckle as he returned to his tasks.
“Can't you just picture me, Jennifer,” Mrs. Valissi asked that same morning as she and Jennifer visited. “Out there in the middle of nowhere, shearing sheep.”
“I guess that makes you a member of the 4-H Club,” the teenager mused as the females worked on their crafts projects at Mrs. Valissi's home.
“There was a time when all women were members of that club, by necessity,” Mrs. Valissi pointed out.
“I think I like the twenty-first century,” Jennifer mused, yawning.
“Didn't you get enough sleep last night?” the senior citizen asked with concern.
“Yes. I think the little ones are wearing me down. They've been a handful lately with the poison ivy and pink eye,” the teen commented.
“I can imagine.”
“Tell me more, Grandma Sophia,” Jennifer requested.
“About what, Dear?” the woman queried.
“The sheep, weaving, your garden -- everything,” Jennifer enthusiastically answered.
Smiling, Mrs. Valissi continued her precious stories from years gone by, pleased that the younger woman was so interested.
“YEAH, BRI ... SHOOT IT ... YOU'LL GET IT NEXT TIME. YEAH ... ALL RIGHT. HEY, THAT WASN'T A FOUL ...” Jack shouted from the stands, raising his right arm in objection.
“Mac, do you think you can hold it down?” a disgruntled man asked, tired of hearing Jack's shouts of both encouragement and criticisms.
“It's a hockey game. You want quiet, go to the library,” Jack snapped back.
Jack ignored his detractor and continued rooting for Brianna and her hockey team as they fought on.
Though the regular ice hockey season didn't begin until the end of August, a special summer season camp was being held with a total of just four teams participating. Brianna was looking forward to the upcoming season and the practice these summer games were giving her. In this Tuesday evening game, she was playing right wing, and her team was down a goal, the score being three to two.
“COME ON, BRI, WIDER STRIDES. GO, GIRL! YEAH! GO ON ... YOU CAN DO IT ... WATCH OUT FOR THAT ONE ... YES! SHOOOOOOOT IT! SHOOOOOOT, BRI! YES! YEAH, THAT'S MY ... oh, crap!”
Jack scooted out of the row he'd been sitting in and headed down to the rink where he waited anxiously for his daughter.
Brianna had scored the tying goal, but in the process, one of the opponent's had bumped into her. The harsh impact had caused the tomboy to take a hard fall on the ice. Jack could see her face. She was in pain, but was hanging tough. He watched as the team physician put a brace on her arm.
~Danny's gonna freak,~ Jack winced. ~Injuries are part of the game. Geez, I've broken just about every bone in my body.~ He sighed. ~That is not going to reassure my husband.~
Coming off the ice, Brianna looked up at Jack as he came towards her. She grinned despite the pain in her arm.
“Bri ...” Jack began.
“Did you see, Dad? I scored the tying goal,” the tomboy expressed happily, not caring about her injury.
Jack nodded, enthusiastically replying, “I'm proud of you, Bri.” He looked to the physician, worry etched on his face. “Jack Jackson-O'Neill, Bri's father. How is she, Doc?”
The man responded, “It's hard to say at the moment. It could just be a bad sprain or even a bruised bone, or it might be broken. I can't confirm that the bone is broken all the way through or not, nor can I rule out a hairline or greenstick fracture.” He looked at their confused faces and expounded, “That's when the bone is broken on one side, but not clean through, like bending a branch on a tree. One side of the branch can split while the other doesn't. I'd recommend getting the arm X-rayed as soon as possible. You may need a cast, young lady.”
Brianna frowned and asked, “I can still play hockey, can't I?”
The doctor shook his head, telling her, “If it's a sprain, definitely not for at least two weeks, and if it's a break, not for at least four to six weeks.”
Brianna looked horrified, silently lamenting the practice she'd miss. The tomboy really wanted to be at her best for the regular season.
Jack noticed his daughter's look of terror, and he didn't think he was far behind, albeit for a different reason.
~Danny's definitely going to freak.~
As Jack and his daughter left the ice rink, he phoned the infirmary at Cheyenne Mountain. He wasn't sure if Janet was scheduled to work or not, but he was hopeful. If not, maybe Carolyn Lam was on duty. He trusted both physicians immensely. Fate seemed to be with him on this night as Janet answered the phone.
“Ah, hey, Doc,” Jack greeted hesitantly.
“Jack? Is something wrong? Toto? Bean Sprout?” the doctor asked, concerned because of the timbre of her friend's voice.
“No, it's Bri. She had a hockey game tonight; played brilliantly, by the way.”
Brianna grinned at the pride in Jack's voice, then relaxed back into the seat as he explained the situation to Janet. The pain in her arm had settled into a dull ache that really only hurt when she moved her arm. She looked at Jack as he hung up the phone.
“She'll meet us in the infirmary. Let's go,” Jack instructed.
“This is a cast?” Brianna asked in disbelief.
Janet nodded and continued wrapping the soft cotton layer around the girl's arm as she explained, “This is just the first part, Bri.” She picked up the newly moistened fiberglass bandage and began wrapping it over the top of the cotton padding that covered the injured area. “This is the second part. This white stuff on the bandage is fiberglass.”
“Fiberglass?” Brianna questioned curiously as she watched the woman's every move.
Janet chuckled, “It's much lighter weight than plaster of Paris, and it breathes easier.”
“Aunt Janet, it can't breathe,” Brianna pointed out.
“Not like humans, Sweetie, but it functions better; the fiberglass, combined with this new padding, means you can get the cast wet without risking further injury to your arm,” the doctor clarified.
~Poor Dad!~ Brianna thought as they waited for the cast to set. She whispered to Janet in a voice loud enough for Jack to hear, “Dad's freaking out about telling Daddy.”
“I am not,” Jack denied immediately.
~They are worrywarts,~ Janet thought. Then she smiled, assuring, “Really, Jack, you don't need to be concerned. It's not a bad break, and we could probably get away with just a splint rather than a cast. I'm only putting the cast on because I know how active Bri tends to be, and the cast offers more protection. It should be able to come off after a month.”
“The cast protects my arm, right?” Brianna inquired. ~I can still play.~
Janet frowned at the young girl, knowing she was looking for an angle to continue playing sports and hastened to say, “To a degree, Bri. You are not playing hockey or baseball or any other sport until I say you can. Got it?”
“Don't worry, Doc. She won't,” Jack promised, giving his daughter a warning stare.
As Brianna pouted at the news, Jack looked off to the side, saying out of the corner of his mouth, “Danny may never let her touch a ball again.”
Janet laughed, “I doubt Daniel reacts that severely.”
“Doc, I don't know if you realize this, but believe it or not, this is the first broken bone for the entire brood. He's not going to take this lightly; in fact, he's going to freak,” Jack informed her firmly.
“General, how many times have I seen you and the rest of SG-1 just stand there and stare when one of you was injured?” Janet challenged. “I recall that one time Sam flew through the Stargate, and you, Daniel, and Teal'c were just standing there, staring at her as she lay on the ramp.”
“Daaaaad, you didn't!” Brianna stated doubtfully.
“It's image, Doc. Inside, we were screaming,” Jack responded with an innocent shrug.
“Image -- gee whiz, who cares about image!” Brianna exclaimed.
“It's a guy thing, Bri,” Jack tried to explain.
“But it was Aunt Sam,” the tomboy pointed out.
“She was one of the guys,” Jack defended.
“I've never seen one of the guys with two ..”
“Brianna, we get the idea, but Aunt Sam has a thing about hormones and female organs,” Jack quipped. Seeing the girl's inquisitive look, he waved his hand in front of his face and said, “Don't ask me about it, ask her.” Turning his attention back to Janet, he noted, “Besides, Doc, these are the kids we're talking about. He'll freak.”
“You may be right, after all,” Janet chuckled, wondering how the very active family had gone this long without any of the children having broken anything.
“You're a big comfort, Doc,” the general replied temperately.
Daniel stared at his husband and the small figure standing behind him, suspiciously asking, “Jack, why is Brianna hiding behind you?”
“I'm not hiding, Daddy. I'm just standing behind Dad,” the tomboy responded, peeking out from behind Jack, making sure her arm was out of Daniel's sight.
“I see that, and you've been doing that for five minutes.” With a tilt of his head, Daniel intently queried, “Jack?”
“Now, Angel, don't panic,” the older man answered, holding both hands in front of him and moving them sideways for a second.
“Don't panic?” Daniel asked, now panicking. “What a silly thing to say, Jack. Telling someone not to panic is the surest way of making sure they do panic, and I am ... panicking. See!” he asked, flinging out his arms in an irrational manner.
“You have a point,” Jack mumbled. Then he put on his best smile as he stated informatively, “It isn't really broken.”
“Excuse me? Did you say broken, as in *broken*?” Daniel shouted.
“It doesn't even hurt ... much,” Brianna said.
“Jack!” Daniel warned, a bit of fire in his eyes.
“She scored the tying goal,” Jack announced proudly, smiling.
“You've told me that ... six times already,” the younger man argued, his glare of frustration unmistakable.
“Six? I thought it was only five,” Jack teased nervously.
Dryly, as his patience ebbed, Daniel retorted, “Jack, the couch is calling.”
“Bri,” Jack instructed, nodding his head to indicate she should step out from his shadow. ~I draw the line at sleeping on the couch.~
“It's just temporary, Daddy,” Brianna informed her worried father.
Daniel's eyes were as big as dollars as he exclaimed, “Jack!”
“Sit down, Angel,” Jack spoke as he attempted to soothe his husband, placing his hands on his lover's shoulders and trying to ease him down onto the sofa.
“Don't 'Angel' me. I want to know about ... about that!” Daniel exclaimed, backing away from his husband's sly moves and extending his hand out towards Brianna's arm cast.
“Well,” Brianna began. “It all started when Bea missed the pass, and the other team scored, putting us behind.”
“Brianna, I want to know about your injury, not the game,” Daniel stated with an eerie-sounding steady voice.
The tomboy gulped and answered, “Yes, Daddy. I fell.”
Later that night, a still upset Daniel went to say goodnight to his hockey-playing daughter.
“Does it hurt?” Daniel asked, sitting down on her bed.
“Not much,” Brianna answered.
“Bri, I'm sorry I got so upset, but you're my daughter, and when you get hurt, I ... I go a little nuts,” the worried father confessed.
“I know, Daddy. It's nice to have someone care about me like that,” the girl replied.
“I love you, Bri,” Daniel spoke softly, a smile on his face as he rubbed gently against her uninjured arm. “Now, about the game. Tell me all about it.”
“I want to know everything, Princess. You said Bea missed a pass?” Daniel queried.
~Wow, he was listening!~ Brianna grinned, the dull ache in her arm virtually forgotten at the moment. “Yes, she did, but ...” the girl happily ranted away, pleased her younger father was interested in her hockey game even though she'd been injured.
The next day, while Jack and Daniel were fixing lunch, they heard a frantic sounding, “MEEEOOOOWWWW!”
The parents looked at each other just as the Munchkins yelled, “DAD! DADDY! COME QUICK!”
The note of panic in the voices had the two men racing for the stairs. As they ran towards the Munchkins, they could hear the upset voices.
“No, stay still, Mittens,” Jonny told the cat.
“I'm sorry, Mittens,” Little Danny said.
“Poor Mittens,” Aislinn observed.
Daniel listened to the conversation with a sense of foreboding, wondering, ~What have they done to that poor cat now?~
The lovers entered the room at the same time and stopped short at the sight that greeted them. Tears were streaking down Little Danny's face as he tried to reassure a struggling Mittens. The cat had stopped yowling and was now giving heartbreaking whimpers.
**Jack, upon further evaluation, I'd say duct tape was not one of your better ideas.**
**I guess not.**
Little Danny was sitting with Mittens in his lap. He'd obviously been petting the cat, only the duct tape Jack had used to hold his gloves on had come loose, and the boy's left hand was currently stuck to Mittens' fur.
Daniel unwrapped the tape that remained on Little Danny's glove and then coaxed, “Sproglet, try and wriggle your hand free.”
A moment later, Little Danny's hand was free, but Mittens now had both duct tape and a glove stuck to her back. While Daniel held the disgruntled cat, Jack tried to separate the fur from the tape.
The older man shook his head, saying, “There's no way this is coming off, Danny.”
Little Danny promptly burst into tears, sobbing, “All my fault; I very sorry, Mittens.”
Jack bent down and hugged the small boy, reassuring him that, “It's not your fault, Son. It was just an accident.”
“Mittens will be fine, Little Danny,” Daniel stated, smiling reassuringly at his namesake. **Jack, get the scissors.**
Fifteen minutes later, Mittens was finally free of her glove accessory, although in its place, she sported several bald patches where the tape had stuck to the fur so completely that Jack and Daniel had to cut close to the skin. Little Danny remained upset, blaming himself until Mittens showed him that he was forgiven by crawling onto his lap for a cuddle.
**Jack, no more duct tape,** Daniel mentally implored.
**Hey, it wasn't my fault.**
**Are you blaming our son?** Daniel questioned with a silent smirk.
**Of course, not, but ...** Jack saw Daniel's glare and nodded as he silently acquiesced. **No more duct tape.**
“Gawd, I'm already exhausted, and it's only two in the afternoon,” Daniel bewailed as he flopped down on the couch beside Jack who was having a quiet cuddle with Bijou.
“Poor Angel,” Jack replied and then kissed his husband, after which he drew him into a hug.
“Jack, I have a confession to make,” Daniel sighed.
“Do I look like a priest?” Jack joked.
“When I'm not so tired, I'll have a good comeback to that line,” Daniel replied.
“I love your *come*backs,” Jack teased.
“Gawd, I'm too tired for *that*, too,” the younger man admitted.
“Sorry, Love,” Jack said, placing a kiss atop his lover's moderately shaggy hair. “Father Jack at your service. What's your confession?”
A bit hesitantly, Daniel spoke, “I gave in.”
“Ooookay,” a confused Jack responded.
“I mean with the Munchkins,” Daniel tried to clarify.
“Danny, I love you, but right now I don't have a clue what you're talking about; reminds me of the old days; never understood a word you said then. In fact, in a prattling contest between you and Carter, you'd ...”
“Jack, if you continue that line of thought, I may be *too tired* for a very, very long time,” the younger man warned. He sighed again, explaining, “The Munchkins can't keep their hands away from their eyes. It was either watch them non-stop or ...”
“Duct tape,” a smug Jack completed for his wary husband.
Nodding against his lover, Daniel confirmed, “Yes. I put the duct tape back on.”
“Bet they weren't happy about it,” Jack mused.
“No, they weren't, but it was the lesser of the two evils,” Daniel opined. He let out a contented sigh as Jack's arms surrounded him in a circle of love. Just leaning against his soulmate, feeling the love emanating from him, made him feel better. “Hmmm, like this,” he crooned as he nestled into the crook of Jack's arm. Just as he found an even more comfortable spot, the phone rang, interrupting his brief moment of serenity. “Nooooo,” the younger man groaned. Reluctantly, he got up to answer it, not wanting Jack to disturb Bijou and her injured paw. “Jackson-O'Neill residence.”
Jack hoped it wasn't the SGC or Megan. Right now they had their hands full and didn't need any extra burdens from work.
“What?” Daniel asked with a bit of a raised voice.
Jack's head flew up at the concern in Daniel's tone, and he asked, **Danny?**
**It's Mrs. Richardson.**
Connie Richardson was one of the homeschooling parents Jack and Daniel had gotten to know at a co-op. David was at her house today, studying American History with seven other children in the co-op.
Worried about their son, Jack watched as Daniel sighed and finished the phone call, saying, “We'll be there soon.” With that, he hung up and informed, “David's sick. Mrs. Haynes is at the Richardson's, and she's a nurse. She thinks he has gastro. Apparently, it's been going around the neighborhood the last couple of weeks. One of us needs to pick him up.”
“Do you want me to do it?” Jack asked.
Just then a chorus of, “Dad, Daddy!” rang out from upstairs.
Smiling, Daniel replied, “No, I think I'll leave you with the Munchkins and the Spitfires.”
“Thanks a bunch, Space Monkey,” Jack teased lovingly.
Daniel grinned and picked up his car keys, stating, “I'll be back soon, but I might swing by Sylvia's office first, if she's in, and have her make sure it's nothing more serious.”
The two kissed, and then while Daniel went out the front door, Jack made his way up the stairs muttering, “Bri, Munchkins, Spitfires, Lulu, Bij, Danny, me, and now David. Geez, what a month, and we're only half way through it. We could just about open up our own hospital wing.” He walked into the boys' room and froze, finally, asking, “What are you doing?”
“I go boom,” Little Danny answered.
Jack hurried to his son who was on the floor, holding his shoulder and doing his best to be a brave little soldier.
“Does it hurt?” Jack inquired as he looked over his son gently.
“Brave boy; no hurt,” Little Danny replied, though his sniffles and watery eyes gave him away.
“Jonny, what were you doing?” Jack questioned.
Jonny answered, “We playing 'spin'.”
“Spin? Spin what?” the father inquired.
Jonny explained, “Little Danny gets in the chair, and I spin him around.”
“Got dizzy, went boom,” the injured boy sniffled.
~Now Danny is really going to freak,~ Jack sighed as he evaluated the situation. “Okay, this might hurt, but I want you on the bed, so I'm going to pick you up.”
Jack carried Little Danny to his bed and then looked at Jonny, requesting, “Jonny, please get me the phone in my bedroom, and don't touch anything else.”
“Yes, Dad,” Jonny obediently replied.
After Jonny ran out of the room, Ricky, who had heard the commotion, came running into the bedroom, asking, “Little Danny okay?”
“He will be,” Jack assured. ~I know it hurts, but if he had broken anything, he'd be crying up a storm.~
“Here, Dad,” Jonny said, having returned with the telephone.
“I'm sorry, Danny,” Jonny said.
“Not your fault, Jonny. I go boom by 'self,” Little Danny soothed.
“We share. I go boom, too,” Jonny said, turning to run to the chair.
“Oh, no you don't. You can share by ... by empathy,” Jack quickly suggested as he grabbed hold of Jonny's belt to stop him.
“What's empty?” a confused Jonny asked.
“Not empty ... I'll explain later,” Jack told his namesake before turning his attention to his phone call. “Syl, it's Jack. We've got another one down.”
“Doctor Jackson-O'Neill,” a nurse greeted, seeing Daniel walking in with David.
“Daniel, there you are,” Sylvia called out, her medical bag in her hand. “Hello, David.”
“Sylvia, I ...” Daniel began.
“We're going to your house,” Sylvia told the surprised archaeologist, gently tugging on his elbow as she breezed by him.
“What?” a stunned Daniel questioned.
“Don't panic, but Little Danny fell off a chair while playing with Jonny,” Sylvia reported.
“WHAT?” Daniel shouted, unprepared for the news.
“Jack knew you'd be here any minute, and he's taking care of the children, and that's why he didn't call you. Now let's go,” Sylvia said, holding open the door. She looked at David and inquired, “How do you feel?”
“Yucky,” the young boy answered.
“Sylvia, he never talks like that,” Daniel said.
“He'll be fine,” the doctor assured. “I've got everything I need right here in my bag. David, why don't you ride with me, and I can ask you some questions while we go?”
“Okay,” David agreed, his head bowed.
“Is that all right, Daniel?” Sylvia asked.
“Um, sure, I mean, yes, of course,” a temporarily befuddled Daniel responded.
Daniel parked in the driveway and waited for Sylvia to pull up behind him. He helped David out of the car, noticing the boy's pale face.
“Don't look so worried, Daniel. I'm pretty sure it *is* just gastroenteritis,” Sylvia stated.
As soon as the three walked inside the house, Aislinn came running downstairs, saying, “Daddy, Little Danny hurt.”
Daniel picked the toddler up, kissed her forehead, and said, “I know, Sweetie, but Doctor Sylvia is going to make him all better.”
“Hi, Doctor Syl,” Aislinn greeted as she leaned over and hugged the doctor warmly. Then she looked at her brother and observed, “You don't look good, David.”
“Thanks, Ash,” David groaned, giving his sister a wry grin.
“Ash, could you take Sylvia up to see Little Danny while I help David into bed?” Daniel requested.
“Doctor Syl, you have pink eyes?” Aislinn asked as she led the way.
“I did once,” Sylvia admitted.
“I want purple eyes. Can I get purple eyes?” the little girl asked naively.
As Sylvia's chuckles were heard going upstairs, David grimaced at his father's request, whining, “I don't need help to get into bed, Daddy.”
Daniel smiled, but firmly replied, “I know, Son, but you're getting it anyway.”
Meanwhile, next door Jennifer was visiting with Mrs. Valissi as they worked on individual crafts projects. She'd gone over to the woman's home early that morning and had breakfast with her and was planning on spending the entire day with her.
“How is Brianna?” Sophia Valissi inquired. “Was that a cast on her arm last night?”
“Yes. She injured it playing hockey, but she's fine; it was Daddy who freaked out.” Jennifer chuckled, “I think Dad has him calmed down now, but Aunt Janet actually had to come over when her shift ended and promise Daddy that it wasn't a severe fracture and that Bri should be able to return to her team in a few weeks. I'm not sure Daddy is happy about that, but with all the little ones being sick lately, Dad says it's making him cantankerous.”
“Daniel? Cantankerous?” Mrs. Valissi challenged, a mischievous look in her eyes.
“Yeah, I know,” the girl acknowledged. “It sounds more like Dad.” As the two chuckled, Jennifer suddenly took a breath and stopped her work. “Mrs. Valissi, I wish I could work some more today, but, gee, I'm kinda tired,” she sighed.
“Are you sick, Dear?” the woman asked, noting that it was the first time in quite a while that the teenager had called her Mrs. Valissi instead of Grandma Sophia when they were alone.
“No, just tired, but I really appreciate what you're teaching me about the looms. I've been doing a lot of reading, too, and it's incredible to think about the detail that goes into weaving,” Jennifer commented. “Can I start weaving something soon?”
“It's rare to find a young girl who enjoys it,” Mrs. Valissi replied. “I really need to get busy and finish that last curtain panel and free up the loom for you.”
“I think I have a lot of my mother in me. Dad always said she was down-to-earth and a closet farm girl,” Jennifer mused, yawning. Getting up from her chair, she added, “I think I'll go home and take a nap.”
“Get some rest, Dear,” the woman requested, concerned since Jennifer had been tired a lot lately.
“I will,” Jennifer promised, waving with her right hand as she headed for the front door. “Thank you so much ... Grandma Sophia.”
“It's really not your month, is it, Jack?” Sylvia asked as she smiled at the nervous looking general.
“Ya think?” Jack replied sarcastically.
“Okay, Little Danny, what have we done to this arm?” Sylvia asked. She bent down beside the brave but tearful little boy and listened to Jonny's, Little Danny's, and Aislinn's descriptions of what had happened. “Spin, eh? I think you three need to find a new game,” she chuckled gently.
“Hey, Little Danny,” Daniel said as he came into the room and smiled encouragingly at his namesake while ruffling Jonny's hair. He turned and kissed Jack, leaning against his husband for support. **I'm trying to be calm, but ...**
**Be calm, Angel; this is just children being ...**
**Children? I'm afraid to see what'll happen next.**
“Hmm, I don't think this is an arm injury. Let's pull up your shirt for a minute,” Sylvia requested of the little boy. She checked the boy for any swelling, bruising, and tenderness. She noticed Little Danny flinch at one point and sniffle at another, but he kept a brave face on. She took the boy's pulse at his wrist and elbow. “Hmmm.”
“Why you do that, Doctor Syl? I no break my wrist,” the little genius asked.
“Didn't,” Daniel corrected. “We're going to have some intensive grammar lessons this month,” he added. “Pronouns, tenses ...”
“Daniel!” Jack said with a grimace.
“Gawd, I'm sorry. I'm just ...”
“Nervous and worried,” Sylvia deduced, a smile on her face. “Relax, Daniel. Okay, Little Danny, I know you didn't break your wrist, but I can learn a lot by doing this.”
“You can?” Little Danny asked with the wonder only found in children.
“I sure can,” Sylvia responded, smiling. “Like right now I can tell you're a very strong little boy. Now I need to listen to your heart and lungs.”
“Daddy listen Dad's heart,” the little boy commented.
Sylvia looked up at the couple, smiling as Daniel blushed.
Jack grinned, noting, “A heartbeat can be very comforting.”
Watching Sylvia use her stethoscope to examine his brother, Jonny asked, “Can I listen, Doctor Syl?”
“Me, too?” Aislinn requested.
Sylvia nodded, letting the kids listen to each other's hearts for a minute.
“What about me?” Little Danny asked.
“Here you go. You can listen to your own heart,” Sylvia suggested.
Little Danny listened carefully; then smiled as he asked, “Dad, I listen your heart?”
“Uh, maybe later,” Jack answered.
Little Danny frowned, and then the frown turned into a pout, complete with quivering bottom lip.
“Jack, let him listen. He'll feel better. I know I always do,” Daniel said softly, kissing Jack on the cheek.
“Tease,” Jack chuckled.
“Jack, that's so not teasing. I'll show you teasing later,” Daniel promised seductively. **I'm thinking the curtain and the lights ...**
Hearing Daniel's promise of a romantic evening, Jack immediately gave in, and all three children listened to his heart as he privately pondered making love with his husband utilizing the very erotic set of lights above their bed that had been installed during the renovation of their home in 2009. They'd had a lot of fun in the sheets with those lights on and with the curtain that slid around their bed.
Sylvia smiled again at Little Danny and told him, “You are a brave boy because I know it hurts, but it won't hurt much longer.” She saw his little smile and said sweetly, “I'll be right back.”
“Gonna tell Dad 'n' Daddy 'bout me?” Little Danny queried.
“You're way too smart,” Sylvia stated, rubbing his cheek gently for a moment. She got up and escorted the worried parents into the hallway to talk about the injury. “It's a fractured collarbone, but, fortunately, I don't think it's a wide break. We do need to make sure, so I need one of you to come with me, and we'll take him to the clinic and do an X-ray. After that, we'll wrap a bandage around his shoulder, put his arm in a sling, and keep him on medication for a little while.”
“Medication?” Daniel inquired.
“For the pain.” She looked inside the room at the Munchkins, huddled together in solidarity. “He's being very brave. Trust me, it hurts.”
“Jack, we need to do something about that,” the younger man determined.
Jack nodded. They didn't want any of their children thinking they couldn't cry or show pain.
Sylvia continued, “Anyway, he'll wear the sling for a few weeks and should be back to normal in about five or six weeks.”
“Syl, what about the pink eye? Are you sure we should take him?” Daniel asked with concern.
Nodding, the doctor responded, “Yes, we need the X-ray, and, uh, what's with the duct tape?”
As Jack shrugged, Daniel answered, “It was Jack's answer to the Munchkins taking off their gloves. He thinks he's MacGyver,” Daniel quipped.
Sylvia laughed, but deflated Daniel's tease by saying, “Inventive. Good idea, Jack. Okay, I'm going to check on David, while you get Little Danny ready to go to the clinic.”
“Thanks for everything, Syl,” Jack said cockily.
Daniel grimaced, realizing his lover had just received an accolade for his duct tape solution. Inwardly, he pondered the pros and cons, and though the earlier disaster with Mittens had temporarily given duct tape a bad name in his eyes, the Munchkins' ability to remove their gloves and get into trouble while still suffering from pink eye had forced him to reconsider within a couple of hours.
~Sorry, Munchkins, but as long as you have pink eye, I'm afraid the duct tape is going to have to stay,~ the archaeologist decided.
While Sylvia headed for David's room for a final check, Jack and Daniel went to the bedroom where the three Munchkins were.
“X-ray time,” Jack announced. Teasingly, he added, “I think we'll move in there. We seem to be living there anyway.”
“Sorry, Dad,” Little Danny said, unable to stop two fat tears from rolling down his cheeks.
Jack and Daniel crumbled at the sight of the tears, though it was also what they wanted to see.
“There's nothing to be sorry for, Son,” Jack soothed, moving to sit down on the bed next to the injured boy. He reached out and took Little Danny's hand, saying, “Accidents happen, but, we're going to have a discussion about what is and isn't an accident.”
“I in trouble?” Jonny asked.
“Am I?” Jack corrected.
“No, you not in trouble, Dad. I in trouble?” Jonny asked again.
“No, not if you pay attention,” Jack responded, chuckling at Jonny's response to his correction. ~Not the time or place for language lessons, but Danny's right; it is time to teach the Munchkins better grammar.~
“I listen good,” Jonny promised. “Don't wanna hurt Little Danny.”
“We know that,” Daniel said, smiling at the boy. “It hurts, doesn't it, Sproglet?”
The little boy nodded, silently admitting his pain.
“Son, it's okay to cry. This isn't a time that you have to be brave,” Jack said.
“Not be brave?” Little Danny asked.
“If I were you, I'd be crying my eyes out. I hate pain,” Jack spoke with a bit of a dramatic flair.
“It okay, Little Danny. You cry,” Jonny said.
Little Danny looked at Aislinn and said, “Hafta be 'xample.”
Aislinn gave him a quick kiss and announced, “You best big brother. It okay to cry.”
~I can cry,~ the little boy thought, Aislinn's permission having opened the floodgates. Little Danny let out his pain for five minutes, surrounded by his brother and sister and two loving parents. Then he took a last big sniffle and said, “I okay now.”
“We love you so much,” Daniel whispered. With a stronger voice, he said, “Let's go. I'll take him, Jack.”
Jennifer sighed as she made her way up the driveway, noticing that her younger father's car was gone.
~I should tell them that I feel lousy.~ Still, Jennifer felt that her parents had a lot to deal with already. She didn't want to add to that burden. ~Maybe I just need more sleep,~ she thought as she pondered the fatigue she'd been feeling for much longer than a couple of days. ~Yeah, that's it. I've been staying up too late.~
“Hey, Jen,” Jack greeted the teenager as she walked in the door.
“Hi, Dad. Where's Daddy gone?” Jennifer inquired.
Jack grinned wryly as he answered, “It's been quite the madhouse today. Mrs. Richardson sent David home because he has gastro and then the Munchkins had a little accident. Daddy's taken Little Danny to have his collarbone X-rayed. They just left a minute ago.”
“Oh, the poor little Munchkin,” the teenager said sympathetically. “How's David doing now? What can I do to help?”
“We have it all under control. Most of the brood are in their rooms, except Noa is in the library with Jeff, and Bri is keeping Lulu company in the dance studio. I'm sure David would like some sympathy from his big sister, though,” Jack agreed.
Accompanying her father up the stairs to check on David, Jennifer was glad she hadn't said anything about feeling ill. Her parents definitely had enough to cope with.
“We match, Little Danny,” Brianna said gleefully as she greeted her little brother, who was now wearing a sling as well.
“I don't have a cast though,” Little Danny observed.
“I sorry, Little Danny,” Jonny said and then carefully hugged his brother, obviously still feeling responsible for Little Danny's injury.
“I okay, Jonny,” Little Danny promised.
Having just returned from their trip to the clinic where Sylvia had an office, Daniel nodded in answer to Jack's unspoken question and said, “There's no fracture, just a lot of bruising. Sylvia said he should wear the sling for about two weeks just to help minimize movement and give the muscles time to recover.” He sighed as he looked over at their boys. **Jack, did you talk to Jonny?**
**About what?** Jack asked silently.
**Little Danny getting hurt. Look at him, he's blaming himself,** Daniel replied, motioning toward the two.
Jack looked at Jonny and noticed that the little boy's eyes were full of unshed tears as he looked at his brother's sore arm.
**You're right. I'll talk to him now,** Jack mentally communicated. “Hey, Sport,” he spoke aloud, picking up Jonny. “Time for a little chat.”
Jonny's unshed tears turned into a look of surprise, and he quickly refuted, “Charlie Sport.”
All of the eleven children knew a ream of stories about their deceased older brother, and they all knew that Jack's nickname for him was 'Sport'. With the exception of one time last October, Jack had never called any of his children 'Sport'. Still, on that October day, the nickname had just come out while talking to David about baseball. It hadn't been painful, but in that moment, the silver-haired man actually thought it was a message from Charlie. He wondered now, if it was another message.
Jack sighed as he walked into the den. He sat down in Daniel's recliner, with Jonny on his lap. In their positions, both could see the womis.
“Hey, Toto. How's Bean Sprout?” Jack asked.
“Toto no talk, Dad,” Jonny pointed out dryly.
“I know,” Jack replied and then paused, trying to find the right words. “You know, Jonny. I love Charlie very much.”
“I love him, too,” Jonny stated.
Jack smiled and patted Jonny's abdomen as he said, “I know you do, and the amazing thing is that you and your brothers and sisters, and especially your daddy, have made all the pain I used to feel about Charlie's death go away.”
“He no want you be sad, Dad,” Jonny stated confidently as he leaned against his father.
“No, he wouldn't.” Jack pointed at the Jackson-O'Neill Tree of Love that was affixed to the wall. It had been his wedding present to Daniel, and with each child and pet, was updated with photographs. Charlie was, of course, included. “Look at him, Jonny. He loved baseball and hockey, but to be truthful, he loved all sports. He just loved any game where he could go out and play. That's how he got the nickname. I don't think he'd mind sharing it, with you or David or any of your brothers.” He chuckled slightly, adding, “Or Bri. She loves sports, too.”
“Charlie, it okay?” Jonny asked the smiling picture of a young boy.
Jack kissed the top of Jonny's head and intoned, “It's okay. I know it is ... Sport.” He saw his namesake smile with pride and moved on to another important matter. “Now, about what happened.”
“It's my fault,” Jonny admitted sadly.
“Maybe,” Jack acknowledged. “But it's Little Danny's, too, because you both knew you were doing something wrong, right?”
Jonny thought for a moment, and then he sighed, “Right.”
“So you each share a piece of the blame. Then there was Ash. She saw what you were doing, and she didn't say anything,” Jack noted.
“Not Ash fault,” Jonny insisted.
Jack responded, “She could have said something, right?”
“No tattle,” the little boy said sternly.
~What a bond!~ Jack smiled again as he continued, “The point is, placing blame doesn't do any good. We've talked about this before. If we make a mistake, what do we do?”
Jonny put his hand to his chin and let out a noise as if thinking very hard.
“Fix it,” the oldest of the Munchkins finally said.
“That's right, when we can. Can we undo this?” Jack questioned.
“No,” Jonny answered sadly.
“So if we've made a mistake that we can't fix, what do we do?” the loving father put forth to his son.
Fidgeting slightly, the little boy moved his arms above his head as he puzzled out the answer, finally saying, “Learn not do it again.”
“That's my boy. We own up to our mistakes, say we're sorry, and then we make sure never to do it again,” Jack clarified.
“I promise. No like hurting Little Danny.”
“He's okay, and getting hurt is a part of life; it helps us to know we're alive, but, uh, we want to make sure we don't get hurt anymore than we have to,” Jack put forth to the small life he held in his arms.
“No spin anyone on chair 'gain,” Jonny promised.
“Good,” Jack praised. “Let's go see how your brother is doing.”
Eagerly, Jonny jumped off Jack's lap and ran to the womis. He didn't touch it, staying back exactly as he'd been taught.
“Toto take care Bean Sprout. No let fall or go boom.” Then the youngster went to the photo and waved, saying, “Charlie, I Sport now, too.”
Finally, the little boy left the room to check on Little Danny. Jack walked towards the door, but he paused for a moment, staring at the photo of his first born.
“It just came out, Sport, and you know something? I have that same feeling as before, that you're just letting me know you're still here.” Jack smiled as he added, “I miss you, Sport. You have no idea how much. Thanks for loving them.”
Feeling at peace within himself, Jack, too, went to see how Little Danny was doing after his fall off the chair.
It was a rather restless night in the Jackson-O'Neill house. David was still feeling queasy and occasionally throwing up, the twins were disgruntled from having been cooped up for so long, and just as Jack and Daniel thought they had everyone settled, they heard a soft knock on their door.
“Lulu,” Jack said as he picked up the young girl and carried her over to their bed.
Lulu burrowed into his arms and sighed, “Can't sleep. Stay here?”
“Of course, you can, Sweetie,” Daniel answered, drawing back the covers so she could wriggle down in between them. They'd just got themselves comfortable when they heard another knock on the door followed by a small voice calling, “Dad? Daddy?”
“Come in, Little Danny,” Daniel replied.
The door opened to reveal the sleepy child. Daniel opened his arms in invitation, and the little boy was soon snuggled down between Lulu and Daniel.
“Couldn't sleep either, Little Danny?” Jack asked.
The boy shook his head, then said, “Kept rolling on sore arm.”
“Well, you're in the right spot now. You don't have space to roll over now,” Jack mused.
Little Danny giggled, and the four of them settled down to sleep.
Jack woke up the next morning to the sound of chuckling. He opened his eyes and stretched, only to find himself in a tangle of limbs. He looked down to see Lulu had been squashed down one side of him, probably pushed over by Jonny who at some stage had wriggled in between Little Danny and his sister. Bijou was lying on the other side of him, and Mittens was sprawled over his legs. Even Calico had gotten into the act, perched between Jack's feet.
~So, when you have a big family, I guess you learn to sleep in layers,~ Jack thought to himself in amusement.
Sitting up a little, Jack saw that Daniel was in a similar predicament, squashed between Aislinn and Little Danny. He looked over to the doorway, hearing Brianna sniggering.
“You're up early, Bri,” Jack said quietly as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and yawned.
Brianna was usually one of the last up, unless something exciting was planned for the day, in which case she'd be one of the first.
“I had to use the bathroom,” Brianna answered with a worried expression, something which immediately caught Jack's attention. “Dad, I went downstairs to get some orange juice. Jen was there, but she doesn't look so good. She said she was fine, but I remember you saying that's what Daddy always used to say and ... I don't want to tattle, but ...”
Jack maneuvered his way out of bed and ruffled Brianna's hair as he told her, “You did the right thing telling me, Bri. It's not tattling if you're telling someone something out of concern.”
Jack freshened up for a minute, then put on his robe and headed for the kitchen. Since Jennifer wasn't there, he went to her bedroom where he confronted her about not feeling well.
“I'm sorry, Dad,” Jennifer responded to the light scolding she'd just received.
“Jen, with this brood, if you aren't feeling your best, you need to tell us right away,” Jack admonished.
“I didn't think about being contagious; I just didn't want to worry everyone. I'm ju...just tired, that's all,” the teenager rationalized as she sat on the side of her bed.
“You are?” Jack asked.
“Yes, I'm ... I'm fine,” the teenager stammered.
Jack accused, “Like Daddy used to be fine -- that kind of fine?”
Jennifer fidgeted. Like Brianna, she knew the stories very well about Daniel and how he had always covered up his feelings, especially when he was sick. It stemmed from instances in foster care when he was 'traded in' for a new child after being sick. For years later, when asked how he was, the answer was always, “I'm fine.”
“I guess so,” the teenager reluctantly admitted.
“So, what's up?” the silver-gray haired man asked.
Jennifer took a huge breath and then confessed, “The last few days I've been a little tired. I have a headache that never seems to go away. I've got a sore throat, too, and, uh, well ...”
Jack's look was growing more intense as the symptoms sank in. In fact, the harder his look became, the more Jennifer tried to look anywhere and everywhere except at her father. It was clear -- Jennifer had mononucleosis.
“I think I have a little fever,” Jennifer noted.
Sternly, Jack began, “Jennifer ...”
“Dad, don't go postal on me,” Jennifer pleaded.
“Name,” Jack ordered harshly.
“NAME!” Jack demanded.
Quickly, the teenager spat out, “Peter Hamilton. We just, I mean, it was just ... well ...”
~I've heard that name before!~ Jack growled, “I'll be back. You -- stay!”
“Gawd, he's going to kill Peter; then me. Maybe I should write my will,” Jennifer lamented as she fell backwards on her bed and stared up at the ceiling.
Brianna watched Jack leave Jennifer's room with a face like a thunderstorm. She wasn't quite sure why her dad was so upset. Didn't Jennifer just have the flu or something? Maybe he was upset that Jennifer felt sick and kept it from them. Still, now she really felt bad about ratting on her sister. Irrationally, however, she decided that since she was already a rat anyway, she might as well do a thorough job of it. Making her way back to her parents' room, she walked in quietly, smiling at the sight of Daniel surrounded by the Munchkins, all of whom were still sleeping.
“Daddy,” Brianna called out as she shook his shoulder gently with her good arm. “Daddy, wake up.”
~Voice? I'm hearing ...~ As Brianna's voice filtered through to Daniel's subconscious, his eyelids flew open. He gazed at Brianna with concern and asked with a coarse-sounding voice, “Bri, are you okay? What's wrong?”
Brianna answered, “I think Dad's feeling a little homicidal.”
Daniel groaned, untangled himself from the Munchkins so he could get out of bed, and asked, “What set him off?”
Quietly, the girl explained what she knew. Daniel rolled his eyes as he realized the conclusions that Jack had jumped to. He just hoped his husband was downstairs calling Sylvia and not making detailed plans of how to keep Jennifer away from every teenage boy in Colorado.
“It's not funny, Syl,” Jack said, only barely managing to keep from bellowing into the phone.
“Jack, this is hardly uncommon. Relax,” the woman doctor urged. “You don't even know that it is glandular fever, and even if it is, she didn't necessarily get it from kissing a boy,” Sylvia stated, unable to hide the amusement in her voice.
“But she did kiss a boy. She admitted it,” Jack barked, waving his hand out in front of him.
Sniggers greeted that comment, but before Jack could say anything else, he found a hand over his mouth and the phone removed from his grasp.
“Sylvia, it's Daniel.” Daniel spoke to the physician for a minute and then hung up. He decided that his best chance of turning Jack into a rational human being was to kiss some of the anger away. ~Not exactly a hardship.~
As the lover's kissed, Brianna made her way back through the living room and hallway that led to the stairs leading up to Jennifer's room.
The tomboy snickered, “Well, you're still alive.”
“Bri, did you tell Dad?” Jennifer asked angrily.
“I was worried about you,” Brianna admitted calmly, though not quite as convincingly as she would have liked.
“Bri, what did you tell him?” Jennifer questioned sharply, walking into her younger sister's personal space.
“None of your business,” Brianna bristled, turning around so that her back was to her sister.
“You little tattletale. You told him about Peter, didn't you?” Jennifer challenged, more concerned about her parents knowing about the boy than her being ill.
Jennifer reached out and pushed Brianna on her left shoulder slightly.
The younger girl turned around quickly and accused, “You shouldn't have kissed him!”
“It was one kiss,” Jennifer rationalized. “Wait, why am I defending myself to you?”
“Because you're guilty,” Brianna charged.
“You brat!” the teenager accused nastily.
Brianna argued, “I am not a brat!”
“Oh, yes, you are,” Jennifer insisted. “You are the president of the tattletalers. No one in this family has ever tattled before.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Brianna asked, her defenses now completely up and running.
“It means ... it means ... oh, gawd!” Jennifer exclaimed, leaning her head back in exasperation.
“You swore! I'm gonna tell Daddy,” Brianna threatened, taking two steps towards the door.
“I did *not* swear. Daddy says that all the time. It's just a word, an exclamation. STOP BEING A TATTLETALE!” Jennifer ordered.
“I'll be whatever I want. I can do whatever I want,” Brianna contended, sticking her face out towards her sister.
“You know, you're right. You can do whatever you want. I can't be in any worse trouble than I already am, so go ahead, and tattle again, show Dad and Daddy and everybody else what you're really like, not that nicey-nice front you've been wearing,” Jennifer dared. When Brianna didn't move, the teenager continued, “Hurry, they're waiting on you, Big Mouth. If there's one thing the brood can't stand, it's a tattletale. Go on, Bri*anna*, tattle some more, and see where it gets you,” she challenged, purposely using the girl's full name, knowing the tomboy preferred her nickname.
The sudden outburst of anger had given Jennifer a rush of adrenalin, which made her feel better than she had in several days of dragging herself around. She let out a nervous laugh, but it came out like a Disney witch's cackle.
“See if I ever trust you with anything again,” Jennifer spat spitefully.
Brianna wanted to tell her sister that she hadn't told Jack about the kiss, and that she'd only said something to Daniel because their older father had gone ballistic. Because of Jennifer's attitude, however, she wasn't about to apologize or ask for her forgiveness. Thus, she did the only thing she knew how to do -- retreat behind her walls.
With her shoulders hunched forward, Brianna countered, “You should have told them.”
“You had no right!” Jennifer insisted.
“I'm your sister!”
“One of these days, Little Miss Perfect, you're gonna screw up big-time, and I don't mean a little cast, either; and when you do, I am going to applaud and cheer from a front-row seat,” Jennifer sneered nastily.
“I'm your sister,” Brianna repeated softly.
“In name only. *Get out!*” Jennifer ordered angrily, extending her arm out towards her door.
~What?~ Brianna looked mortified. With a stiff upper lip, she turned and ran out of Jennifer's room, thinking, ~Fine. Who needs you?~
“You think you're pretty smart, don't you, Danny?” Jack said, frustration ruling him at the moment.
“Jack, she's not a little girl. She's responsible,” Daniel replied calmly.
Jack stated coarsely, “She lied.”
Daniel made a little sound before replying, “She did not ... exactly. She just didn't tell us everything. You may have bragged to your buddies about your first kiss, Jack, but I'm sure you didn't run home to tell your parents.”
“Daniel, I'm gon...go...mmmph.”
As the kiss continued, Daniel thought, ~It may take kissing him all morning before he'll listen; maybe even all afternoon. Gawd, what I do for our daughter.~
In Jack and Daniel's bedroom, Little Danny was the first of the Munchkins to wake. He tried to stretch and then remembered that his arm was in a sling, which reminded him of one of his sisters.
~I'll go find Bri,~ Little Danny decided. He was quite taken with the idea that he and Brianna were temporary twins since both had one of their arms in a sling. He ran down the hall to her bedroom, which was the last one of the four bedrooms, and in his excitement forgot to knock. His excitement quickly faded, though. “Bri, why you crying?” he asked, surprised to have found Brianna sitting on her bed crying.
Quickly, the girl wiped her tears away and scowled, “Nothing's wrong, and you should have knocked, you little twerp. Get out.”
Brianna knew that out of all her brothers and sisters, Little Danny was the most sensitive, so she was fairly certain that her harsh words would send the boy away. She definitely didn't think he'd ignore her words and climb up on the bed to give her an awkward one-armed hug.
“Bri, you're my sister. Want to help,” the little boy lovingly told her.
“I'm *not* your sister. Leave me alone!” Brianna ordered.
Undaunted, Little Danny asserted, “*Are* my sister.”
“No, I'm not, and I don't want to be part of this crappy family anyway. We're a freakin' sideshow,” the girl scowled.
At this, Little Danny did withdraw, looking up at his sister with big tearful eyes and asking, “You no want to be my sister? No love us anymore?”
~Why did it have to be him who noticed me?~ Brianna was determined to look at him with an uncaring expression. With all her might, she tried to say, 'No', but looking into Little Danny's teary blue eyes, she just couldn't do it. Instead, she kneeled down and hugged him close. “I'm sorry, Little Danny. I didn't mean it. I do want to be your sister. I just wish I was your blood sister,” Brianna confided.
Little Danny hugged Brianna back and then had a brilliant idea, proposing, “Thor, Bri. Thor can do anything. Thor, Thor,” the boy began calling out anxiously.
Brianna smiled at the little boy's enthusiasm. Even if Jennifer didn't like her, she knew Little Danny did.
“Ah, I don't think that's going to ...” Brianna trailed off as a flash of light left Thor standing in the middle of her room.
Not one to hold back with his emotions, Little Danny tried to hug the little gray alien, surprised when his arm went right through him, causing Thor to squiggle.
“Do not be alarmed,” Thor told the shocked children. “This is a hologram. I am on my ship, and we are too far away for a transport.”
“Thor, did you really hear Little Danny call you?” Brianna asked, not believing that had worked.
“We do not ... eavesdrop, but the Jackson-O'Neill family is very ... important to the Asgard. We have a monitoring device designed to activate when one of you calls me,” Thor admitted for the first time.
“What if we just talking about you?” Little Danny asked, his curiosity piqued.
“It responds to voice tones and will only activate when there is real need. What can I do for you?” Thor inquired.
“Thor, Bri needs to be blood sister.” Thor stared at the little boy, totally unsure of what he wanted. “You fix, like Dad fix.”
“Where is O'Neill?” Thor inquired.
“I'll go get him,” Little Danny announced. “You stay with Bri,” he instructed as he ran out of the room to search for his parents.
“What is the trouble, Brianna?” Thor questioned with his low and airy voice.
“I had a fight with Jen. She doesn't want me to be her sister.” Brianna rubbed another tear out of her eye and then sat down on the bed. “I don't fit in. I'm not really their sister; I'm a ... charity project.”
“That is not so,” Thor denied.
The youngster smiled at the alien and then said apologetically, “I'm sorry Little Danny called you. I said horrible things to him, Thor. It's not his fault I'm ...”
“What is it you think you are?” Thor queried as he sought to console the distraught girl.
“Nothing.” Brianna sniffled. “I thought I fit in. I mean, when I first came here, Jen and I fought, but I thought ...” She stopped, not completing her sentence. Then she took a big breath. “I don't need them. Thor, how would you like a daughter, or ... or I can work for you? Please take me with you. I won't be any trouble; I promise.”
“Dad, Daddy, no kiss now,” Little Danny ordered.
“What?” Daniel asked, surprised to be interrupted with that comment.
“Need you to come talk to Thor; make Bri blood sister,” the boy explained excitedly.
“Little Danny, what are you talking about?” Jack asked, confused.
The little boy grabbed Jack's hand and began to pull as hard as he could while urging, “Hurry. Thor waiting. Hafta make Bri sister.”
“Little Danny, she *is* your sister,” Jack said firmly.
“I know, but she no know that. Come on,” Little Danny ordered, pulling so hard that he almost fell down.
“Okay, lead on,” Jack encouraged, glancing at Daniel. **Any idea what he's talking about?**
**I have no idea, but we need to talk to Jen.**
**Oh, we'll talk to her all right,** Jack communicated.
**Jack, she's a teenager.**
**How do you know it stopped at a kiss?**
**Because she's our daughter,** Daniel relayed as confidently as he could.
**I am so *not* convinced.**
The parents arrived at Brianna's room just in time to hear her say, “Please, Thor. I'd be great in space, and I don't need much room. I don't need to play hockey. I just need a place to stay. Please take me with you.”
“Oh, I don't think so,” Jack interjected, walking inside the room. “Thor, you're looking hologramy,” he greeted.
“Hello, Thor,” Daniel greeted politely before turning to their daughter and asking, “Bri, aren't you happy here?”
The ten-year-old bit her upper lip, seeing the expressions on her parents' faces. She opened her mouth to respond that 'No, she wasn't happy here, and she didn't need any of them', but then caught sight of Little Danny's slightly bewildered yet hopeful expression that Thor and his fathers would fix everything.
“I ... I ...” Brianna stammered, not knowing what to say. It was all too much, and she ran from the room. ~I'm so confused.~
“Bri, wait. Thor no fix yet,” Little Danny called after her. He looked back at his parents and asked, “What now?”
Daniel carefully picked his namesake up and sat down with him, probing, “Little Danny, what were you thinking that Thor could do?”
“Change Bri's blood and make her blood sister. Thor can do anything,” Little Danny said, looking over at their friend, who blinked smugly.
“Um, well,” Daniel began hesitantly.
Daniel's words were cut off by their alien guest as he explained, “While the Asgard may be able to do as you ask, my Little Friend, sometimes it is better not to. If we were to try and change your sister on the molecular level, she would no longer be Brianna.”
Little Danny considered this for a moment and asked, “Because you'd need to change her DNA?”
Thor looked a little taken aback, and Jack's mouth fell open at their little genius' words.
**Danny, how does he know about DNA?**
**Remember the school project Jen was working on last month?** Daniel prompted.
**Uh ...** Jack shook his head, answering, **Not a clue, Love.**
**It was on Watson and Crick's discovery of the double-helical structure of the DNA molecule.**
“So you see, Little Daniel,” Thor was explaining, “were we to change Brianna's DNA, we would change the person that she is.”
Little Danny nodded and decided on another course of action, telling everyone, “I'll go ask Jonny what we do. He fix things, too.” He climbed off Daniel's lap, said a quick, “Thank you, Thor,” and disappeared down the hall.
“Your family seems to be suffering some injuries, O'Neill, Doctor Jackson. Would you like me to fix them?” the alien asked.
“Tempting as it is, Thor, it would raise too many questions. None of it is too serious, so it's probably better to just leave it be,” Jack explained.
“Thor, we're sorry that the children disturbed you,” Daniel apologized.
The alien waved his hand to dismiss the thought as he replied, “It is always good to see our Tau'ri friends.” An almost smug look appeared on Thor's face; neither Jack nor Daniel noticed, however, as he asked, “Are you both in good health?”
“Fine, thanks Thor,” the archaeologist responded.
“That is good,” the alien acknowledged. “I must go now. We have business in another quadrant of the galaxy.”
“Nothing serious, I ... hope,” Daniel said, his sentence not yet completed when the hologram faded with a beam of light. He looked at his soulmate and said with a grin, “We haven't even had breakfast yet, and we have multiple disasters to fix.”
“Yeah,” Jack responded as he hugged his husband. “Ain't life grand!”
“What are we going to do, Jonny?” Little Danny asked his older brother.
“We find out why Bri upset,” Jonny decided.
“She says she not our blood sister,” the younger boy explained.
“But she wasn't blood yes'day, and she wasn't upset,” Jonny replied.
Little Danny thought, scrunching up his nose as he deduced, “So, somethin' hap'n today.”
“Right,” Jonny said. “We go find out.”
The two boys ran all through the house, not finding the young girl.
“Where she go?” Jonny asked, hurrying to the patio door. He stared at his brother, who suddenly gasped. Then, in unison, both said, “Tree house.”
“What about the tree house?” Jack asked as he and Daniel walked into the living room.
“We need to find Bri, Dad; find out what wrong,” Jonny informed him.
“Well, maybe she's ...”
“Tree house,” Little Danny said. “We look ev'ywhere else.”
“Jack, be calm. She's upset,” Daniel reminded.
“That's what you said about Jen,” the older man pointed out.
“What's wrong with Jen?” Jonny asked.
“Never mind,” Jack groused.
Jack walked outside and up into the tree house. Meanwhile, Daniel, who had started to follow, suddenly had an idea, so instead, he turned around and went to Jennifer's bedroom.
Jack looked through one of the tree house openings, and there was Brianna, sitting on the floor, not crying, but just staring and rocking back and forth a little. He walked in and sat down across from her.
“We'll ignore the fact you turned off the sensor alarms, something we've trusted you with because you're older,” Jack said.
When the tree house was built, Jack and Daniel had installed sensor alarms to help guard against the younger children playing in the tree house without permission. The older children -- Jennifer, Jeff, Brianna, and David -- all had the alarm code so that they could activate or deactivate the tree house alarms as necessary and when permitted to do so by their parents.
“Great. Good job ignoring it,” the girl said sarcastically.
“Like I said, we'll ignore that for now. So, do you want to tell me about it,” Jack requested in a demanding tone.
“Without the attitude,” Jack added.
Daniel knocked before entering Jennifer's bedroom. She was seated Indian-style, on her bed, near the headboard, reading a teen magazine. He sat down on the edge of the bed and stared, waiting for her to acknowledge him.
It would be a long wait.
“Jonny, are my eyes green?” Little Danny asked.
The sandy blond haired boy studied his brother for a moment and then answered, “No, blue.”
Smiling, Little Danny observed, “Your eyes are brown. Let's go find Ash.”
“Yeah. We're not sick no more!” Jonny exclaimed happily.
“No like duct tape,” Little Danny bemoaned, shuddering for a moment.
Temporarily distracted from their sister's emotional distress, the two boys headed upstairs, hoping Aislinn would also look normal again.
“Bri, talk to me,” Jack requested as gently as he knew how.
“She said I wasn't her sister,” the tomboy confided.
“She ... who?”
“Jen, because I tattled,” Brianna confessed.
Jack nodded as he put the pieces together and asked, “So, she's upset you told us she was sick?”
“No,” Brianna responded, looking away. “It's not important.”
**Danny, did Bri tattle on Jen?**
**Well, I guess you could say that, but I can't talk right now.**
“Personally, I don't think Ashley was ever as good as Jessica,” Daniel stated, surprising the teenager.
“What?” Jennifer asked.
“Ashley,” Daniel said, pointing to a small corner of the front cover of the magazine which had a picture on it of Jessica and Ashley Simpson with a headline that read, 'Where is She Now?'.
“Oh, well, neither of them are Beyonce,” Jennifer replied, dismissing the other two singers. “I never cared about either of them,” she sighed.
“I don't want to talk about it,” the teenager stated as she flipped the page of the article she was reading.
“We have to,” the archaeologist insisted.
“Fine! Dad gets wigged out over nothing, Daddy. It was one kiss, one time. Gawd, everyone thinks I'm a freak. You two don't let me do anything. I'm a prisoner!” Jennifer bemoaned.
Daniel remained calm. This wasn't about Jennifer dating; it wasn't even about the kiss; but what he didn't know was exactly what it was about.
“Ash, wake up,” the two brothers said, pushing, poking, pulling, and doing whatever else they had to do to wake up their sister, who, after all the earlier commotion, had quietly crawled back into her bed and gone back to sleep.
“Sleeping,” Aislinn said with a yawn.
“Need to see your eyes,” Jonny demanded.
“Yeah,” Little Danny seconded.
Aislinn opened her eyes, looked at her brothers, and said, “There. Now go back to sleep.”
“Ash, eyes no yellow. We not sick,” Little Danny said with a smile. “We get Dad to take off the duct tape.”
“Let's go,” Jonny encouraged, running out of the room, anxious to have the annoying tape removed.
“Jen?” Daniel called out, once again trying to get the teenager to talk to him.
“It's not fair, Daddy,” Jennifer whined. “Bri had no right to say anything.”
Daniel sighed, “She was worried about you.”
“Then she should've come and talked to me about it,” Jennifer challenged, slamming the magazine onto her bed and crossing her arms defensively.
“Perhaps she thought there wasn't any point. Maybe she didn't feel able to come to you. Maybe ...” Daniel supposed, though his thoughts were cut off.
“Maybe she's just a nosey parker who likes getting other people into trouble,” Jen interrupted, glaring at Daniel.
“Jen, putting aside Bri's comments, what did you say to her? She's very upset,” Daniel stated informatively.
Jennifer felt a twinge of guilt at that. She hadn't meant to hurt Brianna; she'd just been angry. Annoyed with herself for feeling guilty, the teenager lashed out.
“Oh, poor Bri. What about me? I'm upset too, but I guess you don't care about that. Take her side then. See if I care,” Jennifer whined irrationally as she looked off to her right.
“It's not about sides. We love you both, and we hate to see either of you hurting.” Daniel sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “Look, forget about everything else, why didn't you tell us you felt sick?”
There was real concern in Daniel's voice, and it soothed Jennifer somewhat to believe that her parents really were worried about her.
“You were so busy with the twins, the Munchkins, Bri, Bij, Dad ...” Jennifer fiddled with her bedspread, hesitantly professing, “I didn't want to be a burden.”
“First of all, Jennifer, you are never ever a burden. If you are sick, we want to know; we want to be able to help you. Is that the only reason you didn't tell us?” Daniel challenged, certain there was more to it.
“I guessed what I had, and I knew Dad would freak, and I'd get into trouble,” the girl admitted.
“So why didn't you come tell me?” Daniel inquired.
Jennifer looked at Daniel in disbelief and said incredulously, “You have to be kidding. Daddy, you and Dad tell each other everything. I might as well have just told Dad.”
Daniel shook his head as he refuted, “Jen, I would have helped you tell your father, and you need to trust me that I won't let him ... freak.” He grinned wryly and added, “At least, not too much anyway, but, Princess, if you feel you can't come to us when something is wrong, we have a huge problem.”
“We do,” the teenager declared. “Her name is Brianna,” she said with disdain.
Tempted to admonish her, Daniel chose instead to stand up and walk to the door, where he looked over and calmly said, “I'd like you to think about our lives here and how much we depend on each other. I know you're not feeling well, and you didn't want to get into trouble, but I'd also like you to learn that the world doesn't revolve around you, Jennifer. Right now, Dad is up in the tree house, trying to talk to Bri. She's going back and forth between tears and acting tough. It would be nice to have an idea of what got her so upset in the first place.”
Seeing Jennifer look away, Daniel stepped back, but before he completely left the room, he said, “We love you, Jen. I'm a little disappointed right this second, but that doesn't change the love, not one bit.”
At the foot of the stairs, Daniel communicated, **Jack, no luck with Jen. She wouldn't say a word.**
**Bri's tighter than a clam, too. I'll keep trying.** Jack looked at the stubborn blonde. “Bri, honey, are you going to just sit there like a bump on a log?”
“Yes,” Brianna stubbornly answered. She looked at her father and asked, “Aren't you bored yet? Don't you have children to be with?”
“I'm with one of them now,” Jack responded calmly.
“No, you're not. I'm just a number,” the angry youngster claimed.
“You know better; you said so yourself not long ago,” Jack reminded her.
“I lied. I like the room,” Brianna spoke in an attempt to dismiss her earlier remarks.
“I'm glad you like something,” Jack mused, though shaking his head at the feeble attempt.
“I also like silence; you should try it sometime,” Brianna suggested sarcastically.
“Okay, we'll just sit,” Jack declared, resisting his urge to chastise the girl for her snarkiness.
Brianna looked at Jack, totally frustrated that he wouldn't just leave her alone. Still, she was determined not to say anything.
“Daddy, take tape off now? Please!” Jonny begged when their father entered the living room.
“What?” Daniel asked in confusion.
“See,” Little Danny said, pointing to his eyes. “Eyes blue.”
Daniel chuckled as he bent down to take a good look at his kids and then replied, “Listen, it's still going to be a while. You can't rub your eyes yet.”
“Duct tape stay?” Aislinn asked with a sigh.
“I'm afraid so, Sweetie, at least for today,” the archaeologist answered.
“Aw, shucks,” Aislinn replied, mimicking David who always had a tendency to say that phrase when things didn't go his way.
Thinking about David reminded Daniel that he should check on the boy since he was suffering from gastroenteritis. He'd thrown up late last night and was still in a bit of pain before he'd gone to sleep. Because gastro was also easily transferable, the boy had been spending his time alone in his room, which was okay with him because he was basically cuddling with the sheets.
“Daddy, Bri okay?” Little Danny asked.
“She will be, Sproglet,” Daniel assured. “If you like, you three can play in the game room for a little while, okay?”
Three nods were Daniel's answer, so with a smile, he watched as the Munchkins hurried to the game room. Then he went to the kitchen and quickly warmed some broth. Even though it was breakfast time, he knew his son wouldn't be interested in solid foods since he had very little appetite.
“I brought you some broth,” a loving Daniel said, entering his son's bedroom.
“I'm not hungry, but thanks, Daddy,” David spoke and then groaned a little.
“Come on, one spoonful at a time,” Daniel urged encouragingly.
David sat up and stared at the broth, looking at it as if it were a ten-pound steak. All of a sudden, his eyes grew wide, and he bounded off the bed and ran towards the nearest bathroom.
~I wonder if Ozzie and Harriett went through this? Gawd, too bad we couldn't add a bathroom that was closer. Sorry, Son,~ Daniel lamented.
Though they had started to play in the game room, the triplets felt guilty about having a good time while their older sister was so upset. Thus, the trio had gone back to the living room to see if any progress had been made.
“We gotta do something, Jonny. Bri 'n' Dad still in tree house,” Little Danny commented as he looked out the patio window over towards the large tree house.
Jonny sighed, then brightened as he said, “We can still make Bri our blood sister.”
Little Danny shook his head, saying, “Can't, Jonny. Thor said it would change Bri.”
Jonny frowned as he said, “But it didn't on TV. Friends cut fingers, mix blood together, and it makes them blood brothers.”
“Ewww,” Aislinn whined as she scrunched up her nose at the idea.
Little Danny frowned, too, as he commented, “Not really blood brothers though, Jonny.”
“They were, too. It's a ... a ...”
“Ritual?” Little Danny finished for his brother.
Jonny nodded enthusiastically and said, “We ask Jeff. He's our big brother; he'll know if it works.”
Jonny tried to seize his brother and sister by the hands, but found it too hard with his duct-taped gloves on so, he grabbed their arms instead.
Daniel finished wiping David's face with a wash cloth, helped him back to bed, and then asked, “Can I get you anything?”
“A new stomach?” David joked feebly.
Daniel smoothed David's brow as he replied, “Wish I could, David, but you'll feel better soon.”
“Is Mittens or Calico around? Or Bij or Katie?” the boy asked with just a hint of vulnerability in his voice and eyes.
Daniel smiled, knowing David wanted some pet love to get him through the torment of being so sick.
“I'll go see who I can rustle up,” Daniel promised. He walked down to his and Jack's bedroom, figuring that he could check on both Bijou and Lulu. ~Still sleeping soundly.~ Lulu was curled up around Bijou, and Daniel didn't want to disturb the two. “Guess I'll try and find Katie, Mittens, or Calico,” he whispered as he left the room. ~First, I need to check on Toto and Bean Sprout, though.~
Daniel sighed as he sat down on the chair in front of Toto. He measured the rubber-like womis and smiled.
~Another quarter inch; that's good.~ Daniel smiled, not a happy one, but a pleading sort of an expression. “Toto, you need to protect Bean Sprout, okay? We're sort of going through a family health crisis right now. Bean Sprout, I can't wait to see you. I love you. Dad loves you; so do your brothers and sisters. It's been a crazy couple of weeks. Gawd, it started with me being sick ...”
Ten minutes later, Daniel was still venting to Toto and Bean Sprout when loud music filtered through the house, and considering how big their house was now, that was an achievement.
“Not this time, Jennifer,” Daniel warned strongly when he heard the music.
Daniel recalled the last time the teenager had put one of Britney Spears' CDs on full blast. It had been over two years ago during a day gone bad for the archaeologist when anything that could have gone wrong, did. She'd acted out and put on, what Jack later called, her 'bad girl' music.
Oddly enough, Jennifer seldom listened to the one-time pop icon anymore, except on days like today, when she was rebelling or in a bad mood.
Back then, Daniel had succumbed to the pressures of Jennifer's antics, as well as those of her seven siblings. For a short period of time, he'd questioned his ability to parent eight children.
~Gawd, now it's eleven, soon to be twelve. Life is grand.~
Though happy with his life, at the moment, Daniel was very unhappy with their oldest child.
When the archaeologist entered Jennifer's room, she was dancing around as if she didn't have a care in the world. She was singing, too, and she totally ignored her father's presence as she willed herself not to give into her illness.
Daniel made one and only one attempt to get her attention before taking action and turning off the music.
“*Daddy!*” the teenager yelled in objection as the music stopped.
“Jen, we've been through this,” Daniel sternly reminded. “You know better than to turn the volume up this loud.” He removed the stereo cord and the batteries. He also took out the CD, placing it in its case. “You get these back when you apologize ...”
“Fine. I apologize,” Jennifer said insincerely.
“And in two weeks,” Daniel added, having had enough of Jennifer's attitude.
“*Two weeks*?” the teenager griped.
“Keep up that volume, and it will be three,” Daniel warned.
“IT'S A PRISON AROUND HERE, AND, OF COURSE, WE HAVE OUR OWN SNITCH,” Jennifer whined, her true anger spouting out nastily.
“I've had enough of your attitude, Jennifer. Six weeks -- no stereo; no Britney, no Beyonce, no ... anyone else. When you're ready to talk, Dad and I will be ready to listen, but we're not going to argue with you, Jen,” the father stated as he left the room.
“THAT'S NOT FAIR. YOU'RE ... YOU'RE STIFLING MY GROWTH AND CREATIVITY!” Seeing Daniel hadn't returned, Jennifer yelled, “WARDENS! YOU'RE BOTH PRISON WARDENS!” She paced around her room and then threw a magazine from her desk to her bed. “Freakin' life. It's not fair. It's all Bri's fault, prissy little tattletale. I hate her.”
Unfortunately for Jennifer, Daniel wasn't far enough away to be out of hearing range, and a minute later he was back in her room.
“Apparently, no music wasn't enough. Fine, I can accommodate you.”
As the teenager watched in horror, Daniel put down the items he'd been carrying on the bed. He walked over to her computer and logged her off. Then he logged in under the main password.
Jennifer tossed her head back in disbelief, throwing her hands up into the air in distress. She knew what Daniel was doing, and she wasn't happy about it.
When he was done, as he picked up the items from the bed, the father spoke, “Your computer access is limited to homework only. No surfing or using the computer for anything but homework, and, to be clear, no multi-tasking. While you are on the computer, it is to be for homework *only*. No games; no email; no nothing, Jennifer, but your homework. If you go anywhere on the 'net you aren't supposed to, we'll know about it; and, in addition to no music, there will no phone or television. In fact, in addition to the loss of these luxuries for six weeks, you're grounded, for a month,” the archaeologist announced.
“That's not fair, Daddy.”
Daniel walked right up to his daughter and stared intently at her. In fact, he stared at her for two minutes without saying a word, unnerving Jennifer greatly. When he finally did speak, he was calm, but firm.
“Listen to me, Jennifer,” Daniel commanded. “I went almost my whole life without having people respect me. I will *not* allow disrespect in this house. If you're angry, be angry. I'm not trying to take away your emotion, but you will *not*, not ever, get away with disrespecting any member of this family, and that includes me, Dad, and all of your brothers and sisters.”
“She's not my sister,” Jennifer argued.
“Who are you mad at, Jen? Bri ... or yourself?” Daniel looked around the room, deciding what else needed to go. When he was done, he had picked up the girl's headphones, Walkman, iPod, small television, and phone. Seeing her glare, he challenged, “You're on a roll today, Princess. Any more choice words?”
~Yes, lots of them!~ The teenager watched, her stance defiant and chest heaving in and out as she boiled over with anger. “Nothing you'd care to hear,” she answered.
“Thanks, Jennifer, for making this so much easier. Where's your cell phone?” When she didn't move or respond, Daniel walked over and picked up her purse. Holding it out to her, he asked, “Are you going to get it, or do you want me looking inside?”
“Go ahead, I'm sure you're dying to check for condoms and marijuana,” the incensed girl challenged.
“Jennifer, stop acting like a spoiled brat, and give me your cell phone,” Daniel again requested.
Jennifer took her purse and dumped the contents on her bed, including her cell phone. Reaching for it, she practically threw it on top of the pile of her belongings that Daniel held in his hands.
“Six weeks, Jennifer, and then we'll talk about returning the *privilege* of using these items.” Daniel ignored her grumbling as he added, “You owe Brianna an apology. Let me know when you're ready to make it.”
“I'd sooner burn for a thousand years,” Jennifer replied, her anger out of control as she turned her back on her father.
“As much as you love all this techno-junk, I'm sure six weeks will seem like a thousand years. Jennifer, you need to understand -- no apology means no ... gizmos back and spending the rest of your teenage years in this house,” Daniel warned. “Uh, and that's a genuine apology, Jen, not just empty words.”
Jennifer continued to seethe as Daniel left the room, letting out a huge scream as she jumped up and down from the venom within her.
At the bottom of the stairs, Daniel let out a huge sigh. He'd never had to be that tough on any of their children before, but he also knew he hadn't had a choice. If he let Jennifer get away with her inappropriate behavior towards him and Brianna, it would be giving her carte blanche to do so in the future.
The sad father carried Jennifer's things to the master bedroom and put them in a bag, placing the bag in a corner of their walk-in closet. Sitting down on the bed, Daniel let out another sigh, hoping he was right.
**Jack ... gawd.**
**Danny, are you okay?**
**No, I mean, yes. I just grounded Jennifer for a month and took away all her electronic ... gizmos for six weeks,** Daniel communicated informatively.
**Six? What'd she ...**
Daniel sighed as he replied, **I'll tell you later, but if you run into her, don't give her an inch.**
**Okay, and, Angel, I'm sure you did the right thing.**
Daniel smiled at the much-needed support and asked, **How'd you know I was worried about that?**
**Because you're my husband, and I know you,** Jack responded.
Moving onward with their crisis, Daniel inquired, **Any luck with Bri?**
**I'll get back to you on that. Danny, I love you.**
**I love you, too. Thanks, Jack.**
**You're welcome. Now why are you thanking me?** the older man asked curiously.
**Because I ...** Daniel shrugged. **Good luck with Bri.**
Brianna was staring at the wall of the tree house, sneaking glances at Jack, who was currently pretending not to have a care in the world. She finally sighed, shaking her head.
“I like this tree house,” Jack said with an upbeat tone.
Defeated, Brianna asked, “You're not leaving, are you?”
Jack grinned and shook his head, answering, “Nope. No way am I leaving one of my children alone when they're hurt and upset.”
Brianna scowled, harshly saying, “I don't need you.”
“That's okay,” Jack spoke cheerfully, “because I need you.”
“No, you don't.”
“You're wrong. I need you very much, Bri,” Jack spoke from the bottom of his heart.
“Don't,” the girl denied, trying to shield out the truth she was hearing.
“Do,” Jack maintained.
“Do,” Brianna said snarkily, certain her trick would work.
“Do,” Jack agreed, chuckling at Brianna's frustration that her trick hadn't worked. He reached over and ruffled her hair. “Gotta get up early to trick this old general.”
“You're not old, Jack,” Daniel said, surprising his husband.
Jack twisted his body around as Daniel's head appeared at the door of the tree house. Daniel had delivered Mittens to David, checked that Lulu and the twins were still sleeping, and had come to find out if Jack was making any progress as yet.
~Okay, so I just want a break from the house,~ the younger man admitted silently, not even wanting to contemplate why the Munchkins and Jeff were huddled together so tightly. Daniel just hoped that, being older, Jeff wouldn't let the younger ones get into too much mischief. ~I hope.~
**Danny, did Jen give you *any* hint about what is going on?**
As Daniel entered the tree house, he replied, **I'm, uh, guessing, she may have said something to Bri about her not being a real sister. She's, uh, saying things like that.**
Jack searched Daniel's eyes, getting more information there. He knew whatever had been said between their oldest daughter and Daniel had been emotionally draining. He'd get the details later, but right now, they had another daughter to worry about.
**That would probably explain Thor and that stuff about being blood related.** Jack smiled as he caught movement from the corner of his eye. ~Nice try.~ “Bri, are you trying to sneak off?”
While Jack and Daniel had been carrying on their silent conversation, Brianna had decided to see whether they were still paying attention to her. Apparently, they were.
“No,” the girl answered.
Daniel sat down beside his soulmate. The two men exchanged a look, and then each grinned.
“What?” Brianna asked nervously, seeing the change in expressions on her fathers' faces.
“Tickle time,” Jack announced gleefully, and in seconds, both Jack and Daniel dove in on their daughter, trying to find all her ticklish spots at once.
“Geeeeeeez, stooooop. Not ... not fair ... ohhhhhhhhh haaaaaa.”
Brianna was laughing out loud, as were her parents. They kept up their attack, careful not to further injure Brianna's arm, until finally deciding it was time to stop a few minutes later.
Brianna sat up, trying to catch her breath, complaining, “That wasn't fair.”
Daniel put his arm around her and pulled her in close as he related, “When I was growing up, I didn't know how to laugh. I didn't have much to laugh about, actually. When Jack and I got together, he decided that I needed to be a kid, that somewhere down deep inside of me was a little boy screaming to come out and play.”
“Because you're so smart?” Brianna inquired.
“Partially, and because ... you know, my parents,” Daniel replied quietly.
Brianna looked down. She knew Daniel had been an orphan and had some bad experiences in foster care. She wanted to say he didn't know anything about her pain, but she knew he did. He'd been there.
“Let me guess. Dad made you laugh,” Brianna surmised.
“Still does, all the time,” Daniel confirmed, giving his lover a thankful look. “Laughter is good for the soul, Bri, and it helps us to realize that things aren't always as bad as we think.”
Brianna blinked a few times and confessed, “I don't fit in.”
“What makes you think that?” Daniel asked, rubbing her arm as he held her.
The disturbed youngster's only answer, though, was a shrug.
“Bri,” Jack said, “what did Jen say?”
Brianna looked shocked as she responded, “Gee, you guys have ears in the back of your heads or something?”
“All parents do,” Jack responded. “They match the eyes and the nose.” When Brianna looked at him quizzically, he grinned and explained, “Parents can smell a cover-up a mile away.”
“It doesn't matter. She said the truth, that's all,” Brianna spoke dejectedly.
Jack replied, “Bri, Jen is upset because she did something she knew she wasn't supposed to do. She's angry with herself, not you.”
“She yelled at me,” the girl whined.
Jack tickled her thigh lightly as he said, “And you've never yelled at someone else when you were really protecting yourself.”
When the girl didn't respond immediately, Jack gave her a challenging look.
“It hurt,” Brianna admitted softly.
“We know, Sweetie,” Daniel soothed, placing a kiss on her head. “We love you, so does Jen.”
“Bri, brothers and sisters fight. I know we've had pretty good luck in keeping the peace, but we have our days; this is one of them,” Jack said.
Brianna considered it, but then she shook her head. The young girl had let herself believe; more than that, she was in love, in love with being a Jackson-O'Neill. The problem was, she still wasn't sure it was real. After all, it hadn't even been a year yet since she had come to live with the family.
“NO! Leave me alone,” Brianna ordered, getting up and hurrying out of the tree house.
“I thought we had her,” Jack said.
“Jack, she knows we love her. I know she knows that,” the younger man said, his heart hoping his mind was right.
Jack sighed, “She got hurt, Danny. Jen must have said something pretty nasty.”
“Yeah, but ... I don't know. I just think maybe there's more to this,” Daniel commented.
“You're usually right, Danny, but we'd better get out of here before the children take over the house,” Jack suggested as he headed for the ladder when he heard a growl. He blinked, then twisted his body to look back at Daniel who shrugged. “Did you say something?”
“Not me, my stomach,” Daniel answered. “We still haven't had breakfast, and I'm starved!”
Jack laughed, “Come on, Love; I'll make you some waffles before the next crisis hits.”
“The next one? Jack, we haven't even handled this one yet!” Daniel exclaimed.
“Don't remind me,” Jack teased as he descended the tree house.
All the children were up, and breakfast had finally been served -- at noon -- though only the twins, Lulu, Chenoa, Jeff, and their parents ate much. Aislinn and Jonny were worried about Little Danny, who was worried about Brianna, who was feeling out of place because of Jennifer, who was simply pouting. David was too sick to even come downstairs.
Afterwards, the children went about their business, separating to different parts of the house. While Daniel made a couple of phone calls that just couldn't wait for J-O Enterprises, Jack, too, was on the phone, having had a phone call from Alex Dennison.
“Jack, it makes more sense economically to install the central vac at the same time we're working on the other job,” Alex advised.
For the last couple of years, Jack and Daniel had been planning to surprise Lou and Carolyn Ferretti with a central vac system, similar to one they had in their own home. Carolyn raved about the system whenever cleaning was discussed or she was at the house, and Lou was eager to purchase one, but just couldn't afford it, not now that they had to save for their adopted daughter Trina's college fund.
The Jackson-O'Neills, however, believed in sharing their good fortune with their family of friends, and the Ferrettis had always been high up on that list.
The family was also working on a surprise for General Hammond, and it was the Ferretti and Hammond projects that the designer was attempting to coordinate. As such, the three men had been conversing off and on about the projects and their needs for quite a while.
“They don't live anywhere close to each other, Alex,” Jack responded, unsure of the designer's logic.
“That's inconsequential,” Alex replied. “We have an electrician, a carpenter, and a gopher who will be needed most of the day on the main job, but I only need them to be on standby for the second day in case any problems develop at the last minute or overnight. They're getting paid anyway, Jack,” he maintained forcefully. “It won't take them more than four hours to do the installation, so we might as well put them to work.”
“When you put it that way, it makes sense, but I don't know what the Ferretti's schedule is for next month,” the general spoke.
“Find out, General,” Alex smirked lightly.
“Alex, what do you think of this? I got it from Victoria's Secret ... oh, goodness, I'm sorry,” a female voice was heard in the distance, having realized her boyfriend was on the telephone.
Jack heard Alex whisper, “Sorry, Darling. I needed to make just one phone call, and I thought you'd be longer. I'll be off in a jiffy.”
Jack's face lit up as he cajoled, “A little afternoon delight there, Alex?”
A bit embarrassed, the one-time workaholic designer answered, “If I'm lucky, and I expect to be ... soon, too.”
“I'll let you get back to more important things,” Jack teased.
“We weren't ... that is, she's just modeling ... at least ... I ...” a flustered Alex rambled, having suddenly realized what the cryptic conversation sounded like and trying to do damage control. ~Just admit it, Alex. Why'd I call Jack anyway?~
Laughing, Jack said, “No need to explain, Alex. If I can firm up something with the Ferrettis that works with the other job, I'll let you know. And you can firm ...”
Disconnecting the call, Jack chuckled about Alex's nervousness. He wondered if the relationship between Alex and his girlfriend, Soncirria Suvulpo, had gone to the next level, as it had sounded over the phone. It didn't really matter. He was just happy that the man had finally found a life beyond drawings and calculations.
~I didn't know you could hear someone blush,~Jack thought and then laughed out loud.
A few minutes later, the general was back in the kitchen, cleaning up. The unexpected and quick phone call from the designer had given him a lift to his day, allowing for a few minutes of peace. He whistled as he put the last of the dishes into the dishwasher. He knew he needed to enjoy these few peaceful moments because soon he was going to have to confront Jennifer about whatever had happened with Brianna and Daniel, and then life would get nasty again.
Just as he was headed for the teenager's bedroom, Jack heard loud voices. It was Jennifer and Brianna, arguing again.
“YOU LITTLE BRAT!” Jennifer yelled.
“YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE TOLD ME YOU KISSED PETER, IF THAT'S WHAT YOU THINK,” Brianna shouted back.
“I TOLD YOU BECAUSE I THOUGHT I COULD TRUST YOU, BUT BOY, WAS I WRONG, YOU LITTLE SNOT. I WISH YOU'D NEVER COME TO LIVE HERE,” the older girl heartlessly yelled.
“WELL, THAT MAKES TWO OF US. I DON'T NEED YOU,” Brianna shouted in her defense.
“AND I DON'T NEED YOU, SO WHY DON'T YOU GIVE US ALL A PRESENT, AND GET LOST!” Jennifer shouted.
“Hey, what's going on in here?” Jack asked with a raised voice, barging in as quickly as he could.
“I hate her!” Jennifer exclaimed hatefully.
Brianna just stared, then said, “And I thought you'd make such a neat big sister, but you don't. You're hurtful and spiteful. All you care about it is yourself. Go ahead: hate me. I don't care how you feel.”
“Bri ...” Jack stood helplessly as Brianna breezed by him, desperately trying not to cry. He looked at Jennifer and glared. “Happy now?”
“She's a brat!” the teenager spat.
“And what are you?” Jack challenged pointedly.
~Who needs this place, anyway?~ Brianna ran into her bedroom and started packing some clothes into her backpack. She wiped away her tears and muttered, “Stupid Bri, stupid. You know things never work out for you. You don't belong here, and you never will.”
Tossing off her sling, not caring if it hurt to carry the backpack, Brianna affixed the pack to her back. She opened her bedroom door and poked her head out. She knew Jack was still talking to Jennifer, so that was one obstacle out of the way. She also assumed that Daniel would be in the den, still making his phone calls. She figured none of the others would bother trying to stop her.
~They don't care. None of them do. Gee, I was so stupid.~
A minute later, the independent child sneaked out the front door, confident she'd made it without being spotted. It wasn't until she was halfway down the street that she realized she was being followed.
“Little Danny, what are you doing?” the tomboy angrily asked after she turned around to confront the youngster.
“Bri ... you ... my sister,” the little boy panted as he caught up to her.
From the backyard where he'd been playing with Bijou and Katie, Little Danny had seen Brianna with her backpack leaving the house. It had been a case of perfect timing, the boy going to the patio doors to pick up a ball at the same time Brianna moved from the stairs to the entranceway where the front door was. Little Danny had raced to catch up to her. Since her legs were longer than his, it had been quite a run.
“Little Danny, you can't come with me,” Brianna told the boy. “You belong with your Dad and Daddy, not with me.”
A stubborn look came over the little boy's face as he argued, “Bri, you belong there, too!”
“No, I don't.”
“Do, too. You're my sister. If you go, I go,” Little Danny resolutely stated.
“What about Jonny and Ash? You can't leave them,” Brianna intoned.
Little Danny didn't hesitate, coming back with, “Jonny look after Ash; I'll look after you. We 'greed.”
Brianna sighed. She really didn't want to waste time arguing with Little Danny since she wasn't sure when her absence would be noticed. Even though she didn't want to hurt her little brother, ex-little brother she reminded herself, it would be the quickest way of getting him to go home.
Summoning every amount of negative energy she could, Brianna harshly spoke, “Little Danny, you're not my brother, and I don't want some little kid bugging me. Now go away.” She started walking away from him without giving him a chance to respond. She'd only gone a few steps though before she realized her plan hadn't worked. “Go away, Little Danny. I don't like you, I don't like your family, and I want you to leave me alone,” Brianna spat cantankerously, hating to hurt the small boy, but desperate to get him to turn around.
Unfortunately for Brianna, Little Danny, while being a sensitive soul, was also a very stubborn one.
The boy simply raised his chin and said defiantly, “I love you. I'm coming.” With that, he took hold of her hand, looked up at her, and asked, “Where are we going?”
“Woof!” Katie called out from the doorway of Daniel's den.
Daniel ignored her for a couple of minutes, eager to finish up the business at hand.
~Okay, message received,~ Daniel thought as he turned around and looked at the beagle, seeing her serious and eager stance. He'd learned a long time ago to listen to their girls. “Yazid, I'll have to call you back.” Hanging up quickly, he asked, “Katie, what's wrong?”
The beagle ran to the boys' room, which was empty. Daniel stared at her confused, but then Katie ran to Little Danny's bed and jumped on it. She barked again.
Though he was reasonably sure about the dog's message, Daniel turned around and began to do a check on all the members of his family.
David was resting in his room; the twins were playing 'house' with Muffin the dinosaur in the game room; Jeff was in the quiet room, needing a break from the craziness of the day; Lulu and Chenoa were practicing dance steps in their little dance studio, and as he walked to the patio, he saw Jonny and Aislinn playing in the backyard with Bijou.
Quickly, Daniel turned around, heading for Jennifer's room, hoping the missing children were there, but as he moved towards the hallway, he saw Katie sitting by the front door.
“Yeah,” Daniel acknowledged with a sigh. “Be right back,” he said. “I just have to check on Jack and Jen, too.” He had to make sure the two were still in their daughter's room with no additional children present, even though he feared Katie knew what she was woofing about. He went to Jennifer's room which was over the garage and saw that his husband and daughter were engaged in a staring contest. ~Gawd, what now?~
“I'm not leaving until you talk to me, Jen,” Jack insisted.
“You'll be sleeping there then,” Jennifer retorted.
“Look, I don't mean to interrupt the snark party,” Daniel interrupted, walking in, “but have you seen Little Danny and Brianna?”
“Why?” Jack asked.
“Because they're not in the house,” Daniel informed his husband.
Jack stared at his husband; then ran past him, searching in every nook and cranny, though he was certain Daniel had probably already done that.
“Daddy?” Jennifer asked, concerned.
“Jennifer, you ... stay ... here!”
Jennifer had never seen such an intense look on Daniel's face or heard him sound so harsh.
The archaeologist turned and walked downstairs, checking the garage and other portions of the backyard. He met up with Jack at the entranceway where Katie stared them both down with a look of aggravation.
“They're gone, Jack,” Daniel said, looking down at Katie. “That's what she's trying to tell us. We just wasted ... I don't know how long, but it's wasted.”
“Daniel,” Jack said, moving to face his husband and placing his hands on his shoulders. “We can't do this. We need to look for the kids. We have to be calm.”
“Our daughter and our little boy are out there, and you want me to be calm?” Daniel asked incredulously.
“As if you were facing a System Lord,” Jack suggested.
“I DON'T CARE ABOUT THE FREAKIN' SYSTEM LORDS,” Daniel shouted, having reached his limit for the day.
“But you do care about our kids.” Jack walked into the living room and, not needing the intercom, shouted, “EVERYONE GET DOWN HERE ... NOW!”
Very quickly, everyone was assembled in the living room, except Jennifer.
“JENNIFER RENEE MORGAN JACKSON-O'NEILL get your backside down here NOW!” Jack shouted.
Entering the living room as if she were entering the grand ball, Jennifer said quietly, “You just told me not five minutes ago to stay put. I was in my room. I was staying put,” she said, leaning against the wall and starting to file her nails as if nothing anyone said could possibly be of any interest to her.
“Sit!” Daniel barked, motioning towards the sofa. **What a time for her to become a prima donna.**
**She'll outgrow it. We may not live to see it, but she will,** Jack replied as Jennifer took a seat on the couch, letting out a rebellious sigh and staring at her parents with utter superiority. “Danny, let's take this one step at a time,” he suggested about the reason for the gathering.
With the kids gathered around, Jack asked when the last time was that they had seen their siblings. As it turned out, Jack and Jennifer were the last to see Brianna.
Jonny, though, told his parents that while playing, Little Danny had told him to take care of Aislinn while he went after Brianna. Jonny hadn't really known what his brother was talking about, but said, “Okay,” after which his brother disappeared inside the house. That had been thirty minutes ago.
“Jeff, you're in charge. You keep each of them in your sight,” Jack ordered. “Jen ...”
“I know; go to my room,” the teenager sighed.
“No, I want you to help us look,” Jack stated in his general tone of voice.
Jennifer was surprised. She had been hurt when Jack had told Jeff to watch the children; that was always her responsibility. Now she wasn't sure what to think.
Several minutes later, outside the house, Jack gave the orders, commanding, “I'm going to go this way, and I'll check with Mrs. Valissi. Daniel, you go the opposite direction. You might check that vacant lot around the corner.”
“You're right; there are several good hiding places there for children,” Daniel agreed.
“Jen, I want you to go across the street and check with the Svensons and then head towards the park. Here,” Jack said, handing her the cell phone previously taken from her and subsequently retrieved from the closet. “No side tours. Call one of us when you're at the park, and we'll take it from there,” the general instructed.
“Okay,” Jennifer acknowledged as she headed for the street.
“Jen,” Daniel called out. “Little Danny likes the big tree on the edge of the park. He's always wanted to climb it.”
“I'll check,” the teenager promised.
“Come on, Love. They'll be okay,” the older man promised.
“I hope so,” Daniel said, doubt filtering through his voice.
“System Lords,” Daniel reminded himself. “Right.”
Three hours later, the searchers had combed every inch of the neighborhood that they could think of. It was now four in the afternoon, and Jack and Daniel had returned from yet another search. This time, Jennifer had been told to stay home.
As Jack and Daniel each approached their driveway, they saw a large group of people gathered.
“Any luck?” Mrs. Valissi asked as they approached.
“No, I don't know where they are,” Daniel replied sorrowfully, his voice low.
“Daniel, you keep the faith,” Sophia Valissi told him, going into her Italian hover mode. “Those children are together. I bet they haven't even gone far.”
“Where'd the crowd come from?” Jack asked.
Before the woman could answer, Jack's attention was drawn to ten black vehicles coming down his street towards his home. Sure enough, they stopped at the house.
“Jack!” the Italian colonel called out.
“Sir!” the female colonel called out at about the same time.
“Hey, Jack, the troops are here!” yet another male colonel called out just a half-second later.
It was Lou Ferretti and Sam, and behind them, Jeff Cornell. As they watched, Jack and Daniel realized several SGC teams and personnel were unloading. The lovers instantly recognized some of their colleagues, such as Grace Satterfield, Paul Davis, and Colonel Reynolds.
“You should have called us right away, Sir,” Sam said. “Any news?”
“No,” Jack said, surprised.
“We didn't call you, Carter. Who did?” Jack questioned with urgency.
“I did,” Jennifer revealed as she joined the group, having seen the vehicles drive up from the front window. “I called Grandpa. I knew he'd send help, and we need help, Dad.”
Jack nodded, realizing his daughter was right.
In minutes, the crowd of neighbors and military personnel began a more organized and detailed search. The Jackson-O'Neills didn't want to call the police if they didn't have to, and now armed with an abundance of manpower, they hoped they wouldn't have to.
Inside the house, Jonny and Aislinn were begging to be allowed to go and help search for their siblings.
“Jeff, hafta find Little Danny and Bri,” Jonny pleaded.
“We can help,” Aislinn affirmed as she wiped away some tears.
“Me, too,” Lulu agreed, adding her voice to the mix.
“Need T,” Chenoa told Jeff. “T will find Bri and Little Danny.”
Jeff sighed, “I know you all want to help; I do, too, but we'd just get in the way.”
Jonny crossed his arms and glared at Jeff as he argued, “We not in way. We can help, know lots of good spots Bri 'n' Little Danny like.”
At that moment, Jennifer had just come into the house to help Jeff watch the brood.
“That's a great idea, Jonny,” Jennifer interjected. “Why don't we make a list of all the places Brianna and Little Danny might be. Then Dad and Daddy can look for them there.”
Jonny and Aislinn shared a look and then nodded, both replying, “Okay.”
Jennifer got a pen and paper, sat down on the sofa, and asked, “Alright, where could they be?”
“Mountain,” Jonny suggested.
“Museum,” Aislinn offered.
“Ice hockey rink,” Lulu proposed, knowing how much Brianna loved the sport.
“Min'sota,” Jenny piped up.
Jennifer wrote down all their suggestions, no matter how far-fetched they seemed. Her guilt was crushing her, yet at the same time, she was even more angry with Brianna for running away and making her out to be the evil one.
“They'll be okay, Jen,” Jeff told her.
Jennifer nodded and put on a brave face for her brothers and sisters.
“Of course, they will,” the teen girl responded, rubbing her hand across her eyes. “Now, anywhere else they might have gone?”
“Jack, it's eight o'clock,” a very worried Daniel stated. “They've been gone for hours. We've looked everywhere. What if ... what if ...”
“No, Angel. I know they're fine,” Jack said, drawing Daniel in for a hug. “They're hiding around here somewhere.”
“But where?” a distraught Daniel asked.
Jack thought as he looked around, finally deciding, “Maybe we need to retrace our steps.”
“What?” Daniel replied, a bit surprised at the comment.
Jack sighed for a moment, and then with conviction, he opined, “Danny, I don't believe Little Danny would run away.”
“He was going to be with Bri,” Daniel refuted. “He'd do anything to keep her from being alone.”
Nodding, Jack agreed, adding, “And I don't believe that Bri would let him be hurt.”
“So what are you saying?” Daniel questioned.
Jack walked around for a minute, then nodded his head and asked, “Danny, we both checked the house, right?”
“Yes,” the younger man confirmed.
“And when we left the house, all the kids were together, in one place,” Jack noted.
“So, that meant they had access to anywhere else they wanted to go,” Jack pointed out.
Daniel's eyes blinked as he straightforwardly asked, “Jack, are you saying they're home?”
With a bit of a smile, the general answered, “Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.”
Stunned by the comment, a disbelieving Daniel replied, “Someone would have seen them. Sam double-checked the house, too. Where could they be hiding?”
Jack stared at Daniel, a challenge on his face as his eyebrows raised.
Simultaneously, the two men said, “The tree house!”
“I'll kill them. I'll kill them both!” Daniel groaned, turning around and running back towards the house.
~No you won't, Love. You'll hug them until they can't breathe; that's what you'll do!~ Jack thought as he jogged towards the house, praying he was right.
“Daniel, maybe it's time to call the police,” Sam suggested regretfully, having just returned from her latest search at the same time Daniel reached the driveway.
“No, I mean, I think ... oh, come on,” Daniel said, running to the door.
“Daddy, you find them?” Chenoa asked.
Then it hit him like cold water slapping against his face. Out of the corner of his eye, Daniel noticed Bijou and Katie, sound asleep on their beanbag. His mouth opened, he stared at them in disbelief. At precisely that moment, Jack caught up with his husband.
“Daniel, what's going on?” Sam asked.
“Danny?” Jack asked, unsure about his husband's direction.
“Look at them,” Daniel instructed, motioning over to the two dogs.
“What?” Jack let out a groan as he frowned. He turned to Jeff and asked, “How long have they been sleeping like that?”
Thoughtfully, Jeff responded, “Gee, um, a long time. They were playing with their toys earlier.”
“Playing?” Daniel asked incredulously.
“Yeah, Katie won tug game,” Lulu said.
“They are *so* in the tree house,” Jack said out loud.
“WHAT?” Jennifer yelled, suddenly ready to kill her siblings herself.
“Jennifer, one more word in that tone, and you won't be happy,” Jack warned. He looked at Sam, “Keep an eye on the kids and ... call off the troops. Danny,” he called out expectantly as he led the way outside.
“See the light?” Daniel asked when both men stopped and stared at the tree house.
“Yep,” Jack said.
“They're safe, Jack,” the younger man said in an emotionally-charged voice, relief flowing through him now that he was certain their children were safe.
“Still want to kill them?” the older man asked, his heart peaceful for the first time since their children had disappeared.
~Good question -- yes, no, maybe,~ Daniel thought, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. He settled on saying, “No, but they are grounded for the rest of their lives.”
“Come on,” Jack said with a very light chuckle as he led the way to the tree house.
Standing on the walkway that went around the tree house, the parents looked inside one of the windows. Smiling, Jack pulled his lover to him, squeezing him close. Automatically, Daniel's head rested on his shoulder as he released a big breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
Brianna was asleep, her back against a wall. Little Danny was asleep, too, but he was in Brianna's arms, and she had a blanket over him. On the floor was a wrapper from a candy bar.
“I'll bet she didn't eat a bite of it,” Jack theorized.
“No bet,” Daniel replied. The two stood there for a few minutes just watching their children sleeping, basking in the knowledge that they were safe. “We should have realized, Jack. Bij and Katie knew.”
“The little devils,” Jack mused. “We really need to teach those dogs how to talk.”
After a few more minutes, Brianna and Little Danny sensed they weren't alone anymore and began to wake up. Little Danny was the first to realize it was their parents watching them. He shook Brianna awake.
“Bri, Bri, they found us; wake up, Bri!” Little Danny said excitedly. The child ran over and flung himself at his fathers, who embraced him in a three-way hug. They were obviously a little too pleased to have him back in their arms because after a minute, he began to squawk and wriggle. “Dad, Daddy, too tight. You're squishing me.”
Reluctantly, Jack and Daniel released him. Each held an arm out to Brianna, who was now wide awake and looking at them warily. She looked at their open arms and shook her head.
Brianna was certain that her running away escapade, especially taking Little Danny with her, would have pushed Jack and Daniel too far. She didn't want to be welcomed back into the fold only to be told inside the house, 'Sorry, it's just not working out.'
**She's barricaded herself behind those blasted walls again,** Jack observed via their special communication.
**So ... we knock them down ... again,** Daniel responded with certainty.
**You got it, Angel.**
With Little Danny safely ensconced in Daniel's arms, Jack walked over to Brianna and pulled her into a warm hug, ignoring her stiff posture, saying, “We were worried about you, Kiddo.”
“You don't have to say that,” the toughened little girl stated. ~They don't want me anymore. I know it. Well ... I don't care; I don't need anyone.~ Brianna refused to acknowledge the pain in her heart at the idea that she wouldn't be a part of a family anymore. ~I'd rather be alone.~ She figured that if she told herself that often enough, sooner or later she'd believe it. ~They're lying anyway.~
“I know, and I wouldn't say anything I don't mean,” Jack said.
“You have to be angry. I ... I took Little Danny,” Brianna admitted.
“No, she didn't. I follow; made her take me,” Little Danny stated truthfully.
Daniel smiled; then said, “All the way back here.” He looked at Brianna. “Why'd you come back here?”
“I ... I ...” Brianna said, stumbling over the truth.
“Let me help you,” Daniel coaxed, moving closer to Brianna. “You love your brother, and you wanted to make sure he was safe, and you knew that if you took him anywhere, that he'd be in danger.”
“No danger, Daddy. Bri there; she always protect me,” the child genius spoke truthfully.
“Exactly,” Daniel acknowledged, squeezing his son again.
“Ouch, Daddy, not so tight,” Little Danny reminded him when he hugged a little too tight and hurt his injured arm.
“Sorry,” Daniel apologized. “You brought him here, Bri, because Little Danny knows you're his sister, and he was protecting you, too,” he explained for her.
“He shouldn't have followed me,” Brianna sighed, not looking at any of the three other people in the room.
Jack stated, “It's been a long day. Why don't we go in the house and get you something to eat? We'll talk about this tomorrow?”
“Little Danny!” Jonny called out eagerly, running to his brother upon seeing him enter the house from the backyard.
Brianna was sure none of the children would run to her, but she soon learned she was wrong when Jenny ran to her, saying, “Bri, you okay? We scared!”
The Spitfire's worried words were followed by those of Lulu's, Jeff's, and Chenoa's. Soon, all the words blended together, except for one missing voice: Jennifer's.
Brianna was quiet, but Little Danny answered all their questions over hot dogs and ice cream. Before long, big yawns were escaping from all the children, even Jeff.
“Time for bed,” Jack announced.
“Wait.” Daniel motioned for all the children to get into a circle and hold hands, although there was one holdout in the group. He shook his head in disbelief and then sternly asked, “Jennifer, are you part of this family?”
With a sigh, and still a bit reluctantly, Jennifer walked over and took a position between David and Chenoa.
“Thank you,” Daniel spoke as he stared intently into the female teenager's eyes. Regrouping for a moment, he took a breath. Then he looked at the children and smiled. “I just want everyone to feel the energy this circle creates. Remember when Dad was lost last year, and how strong our circle was?” He purposefully waited a moment before asking, “Remember how we celebrated him home?”
“Circle save Dad,” Ricky said, remembering how everyday the children had gotten together and sent Jack their love by sharing songs and singing a song that called out to an amnesiac Jack to return.
“Amen,” Jack agreed, smiling at the little boy, recalling how somehow, almost magically, he had heard the voices of his children calling out to him.
Daniel continued, “We're very lucky. This family isn't perfect, but above all else, we love, care for, and respect each other. I was scared today, but now, I feel so happy to have all of you here, safe and sound. I love you all with all my heart.”
“And so do I,” Jack added. “What's our family motto?”
A bunch of disjointed voices answered, “Together, we're unbeatable.”
“There you go; and now, you really are all going to bed,” Jack instructed.
Jennifer stood outside Brianna's bedroom, arguing with herself over whether to apologize or not. She did feel guilty about the things she'd said, but she was also still angry with the younger girl over the tattling and running away. With a sigh, she turned around and went back into her bedroom.
“Dang it,” Jack cursed from just inside the storage room where he and Daniel had been watching and hoping the two sisters would resolve their differences.
The room was directly across from Brianna's, and having heard Jennifer coming down the jog that led to the long hallway, the parents quickly ducked inside the storage room, leaving the door slightly ajar, hoping that a happy reunion of the two sisters would be forthcoming.
“We can't force them to make up, Jack,” Daniel sighed. “Let's check on the others and then have some quiet time with Bean Sprout.”
The two checked on their brood, happy that David seemed to be feeling better at last, as was Lulu. They visited with Jennifer and Brianna, reassuring both girls that they were both still loved, even if they were currently in trouble.
“Dad, Daddy,” Brianna's hesitant voice called out. “I ... I really am sorry for running away.”
“I'm glad, Bri, because we really don't want to lose you. We love you, and no matter what you do, that will never change. You're part of this family now, for better or worse,” Daniel reassured, brushing her hair from her forehead. “And you're a very good big sister. Thank you for taking care of Little Danny.”
Brianna gave them a wry smile, saying, “He's a stubborn little Munchkin.”
Chuckling, her parents agreed.
“We have to punish him, Danny,” Jack said decisively when the parents were alone in Daniel's den.
“He had good intentions,” Daniel rationalized, still resisting the idea a bit.
“But he left the house. Angel, we have a happy ending, but we need to reinforce the rules,” Jack spoke sternly. “All the children have to know they can and should come to us. It could just as easily not have been a happy ending.”
“Gawd, I don't even want to think about that,” Daniel proclaimed as he stood and walked over to stare at the Tree of Love. “I don't know what we should do.”
“Why don't we ask them?” Jack asked from his spot in the recliner.
Daniel turned, his arms folded, and questioned, “What?”
“They know the rules; they committed the crimes; why not let them dole out the punishment,” Jack suggested.
“I ... maybe,” Daniel hesitantly replied.
Jack responded, “Danny, I'll bet they do worse than we would, and we won't have to feel guilty about it.”
“That's no reason to let them pick out how we punish them,” Daniel argued as he stood with his arms folded across his chest.
“No, it's a pleasant by-product, but the truth is, they'll learn,” the older man stated firmly.
~I guess so.~ Daniel nodded, not liking it totally, but willing to go along. “What about Jen and Bri? How long do we let this ... rift go on?”
“Why don't we see what happens tomorrow? Danny,” Jack stood up and walked over to his soulmate. “I'm still wondering if there isn't something behind Bri's tattling. She's never done that before.”
“It did sort of come out of the blue,” Daniel observed.
Jack looked over at Toto and pondered, “New baby?”
Daniel stared at the womis, too, proposing, “New baby means she's questioning her place?”
Jack's eyebrows raised, “And wondering if we'll keep her when we're an even dozen.”
“It was a test,” Daniel said as he realized the truth.
“Yeah,” Jack said, nodding. “And it blew up in her face because Jen has her own issues.”
“Jack, if we punish Little Danny for running away, don't we have to punish Bri for doing the same thing?” the younger man asked.
“Yes, especially since Bri is older; she should have known better,” Jack answered. “Little Danny was just trying to keep his family intact,” he rationalized. Looking at his husband, he asked incredulously, “Did I just defend him?”
“Sounded like it to me, Babe,” Daniel smirked.
“We'll talk to them both tomorrow,” the general decided, pulling his archaeologist into his arms. “Right now, let's go to bed, too. Geez, this has been one long day.”
“Little Danny, we know you were only trying to protect your sister, but by leaving the house without permission, you broke one of our rules,” Jack said gently, but firmly.
Jack and Daniel had decided to start the day by dealing with their son's punishment before talking to Brianna about her's, while, at the same time, trying to reassure her about her place in the family.
Daniel put an arm around his son's shoulders and continued where Jack left off, saying, “Dad and I decided that since you're a big boy now, you should choose your own punishment. You know what you did wrong, so you can decide what the penalty for breaking our rules should be.”
The little boy sighed and then said quietly as his shoulders slumped, “I can't go to the exhibit with Daddy and David.”
Daniel looked at Jack. That was quite a hefty punishment for the little boy. An Egyptian exhibit was coming to the Denver Museum for the weekend, and Daniel had promised months ago to take David and Little Danny. The child loved his trips to the museum and went often with his parents, especially with Daniel. He always learned so much. He loved all of those outings.
**Ah, Jack. Letting them dole out their own punishment doesn't negate the guilt.**
**Yeah, you noticed that, too?** Jack responded.
“Daddy, Dad,” Little Danny called out, looking up at them and clearly worried about something.
“What is it, Son?” Jack asked, rubbing his son's arm.
The little boy shifted awkwardly while he searched for the words to explain his feelings.
“I know I broke rules,” Little Danny admitted, tears welling up in his eyes, “but can't promise not to do it 'gain. Bri ... sister ... hafta 'tect her,” he sniffled in child-speak.
The sobbing boy buried his face in Jack's shirt. Daniel began rubbing soothing circles on his son's back. It was at this point that he and Jack realized they had two little eavesdroppers on their hands. Jonny and Aislinn came into the room and clambered up beside Little Danny, hugging him.
Jonny looked at his parents, confused as he said, “We family; hafta protect family.”
Aislinn frowned as she said, “Dad break rules all time at work.”
Jonny nodded his agreement, adding, “Sometimes hafta break rules.”
**Danny, if we cave on this, we'll regret it. We'll be giving them a free hand to rationalize everything they do.**
**I know, but right now, I'm not having the time of my life.** Daniel tightened his dissipating resolve and said, “Little Danny, you should have come and gotten us when you saw Brianna leave.”
“But she be too far away. You might not find her,” the little boy told them.
**Gawd, he's right.**
Jack asked Jonny, “What do you think your brother's punishment should be?”
“He no be punished. This exception,” Jonny stated firmly, giving his head a firm nod as he spoke.
“Bri, too. She just sad, and she took care of me like I took care of her,” Little Danny argued.
**Jack, I can't. They're right. We break the rules, too,** Daniel said, buckling under the pressure of no clear right or wrong.
**Reprimand?** Jack questioned.
Daniel blinked a few times and then agreed, **Yes, and, um, maybe a family meeting, about rules, why we have them.**
**Danny, they just broke the rules.**
**I know, but we let them hold the meeting. Let's see what they've learned,** the archaeologist suggested.
“Sproglet,” Daniel said, picking up Little Danny. “Dad and I are going to make an exception this time, and this time only.”
“I get go to the exhibit?” the boy asked excitedly.
“Yes, and sometime soon, maybe in a few days when everyone is feeling better, we're going to have a special family meeting, and during the meeting, all of you are going to talk about why we have the rules, and why we shouldn't break them,” Daniel informed him.
“And 'bout exceptions,” Jonny demanded, moving his head downward defiantly.
“That, too. We'll talk about what happened more then, okay?” Daniel suggested.
“Can tape come off now?” Jonny asked.
“Sure. I'll take it off now.” Jack agreed.
The Munchkins cheered as their older father started removing the tape from the oldest Munchkin's gloves.
“Can we take Bagel out to play for a while?” Little Danny requested.
Aislinn added, “We haven't played with her for for*ever*!”
“All right,” Daniel said, “but what are the rules?”
Jonny sighed, “No carry her around.”
“No leaving her alone,” Aislinn said.
“Let her back in hutch when she wants,” Little Danny noted.
“Make sure door closed,” Jonny added.
“And?” Daniel prompted.
Jonny thought about it, then said “Make sure door locked.”
“No letting her go downstairs,” Little Danny interjected. “Give her special yogurt treat?”
“Okay,” Jack agreed. “Each of you can give her *one*,” he said, holding up one finger for emphasis.
“’K Dad,” the Munchkins chorused.
“We go get Jenny 'n' Ricky and get treats?” Aislinn asked.
“Sure, go on,” Daniel said.
Moments later, Jack and Daniel were alone, the Munchkins having gone off find the twins and get Bagel’s yogurt treats.
“I'm not convinced, Danny,” Jack finally spoke out.
“Me, either, but they are good children, Jack. Little Danny, gawd, he was just protecting Bri. He's never done anything like that before, and you know how they are. We've taught them to protect each other.”
“You're right, again, but I don't have to like it,” Jack stated.
“Me being right or the children being how they are?” Daniel quipped.
“Both,” Jack chuckled and then kissed his soulmate. “Shall we tackle Bri?”
Daniel nodded, and the two headed for Brianna's room.
“So are you going to tell us why you tattled?” Jack questioned with a knowing expression as he sat on the edge of Brianna's bed.
“What kind of a question is that?” Brianna rebelliously retorted.
“One we'd like an answer to,” Jack answered.
Daniel sat on the other side of the bed, watching and listening.
“Go ask Jen,” Brianna argued.
“Bri,” Daniel interrupted. “We're going to make a couple of changes.”
**We are?** Jack asked with their near-telepathic communication as he stared at his lover with his eyebrows raised.
**Jack, trust me.**
“I knew it. You're sending me back. That's fine. I don't like it here anyway,” the tough tomboy stated as flatly as she could.
“Sorry, you're our daughter, and you're stuck with us, but we're changing the room assignments,” Daniel announced.
“Oh, I get the tiny room in the attic,” Brianna brayed annoyingly.
“We don't have an attic,” Jack said, earning him a glare from the feisty girl.
Daniel explained, “No, you're going to share a room with Jen for a while.”
“NO!” Brianna yelled.
“Yes. We want you to pack up a week's worth of clothes and some of your memorabilia, and we'll move you into Jen's room this morning,” Daniel said. “You'll be staying with her until we say otherwise.”
“You can't do this!” Brianna exclaimed with hostility.
“Oh, yes, we can,” Jack smirked. **Danny, you're brilliant.**
**Gawd, I hope so, Jack, because they'll either make up or kill each other.**
“Dad, Daddy!” the girl whined.
“Now, Brianna,” Daniel instructed in a commanding tone.
“Yes, Sir,” the tomboy sighed, frowning as she looked around her room, deciding what to take with her.
As the parents walked towards their destination, Daniel stopped, gently putting his hand on Jack's chest to stop his movement.
“Did we forget something?” Jack asked curiously.
“Yes, one thing that we need to do before we tell Jen the bad news about her new roommate,” Daniel answered. He sighed, “Babe, we need to find out what happened with Peter Hamilton. She hasn't told us and, frankly, with all the distractions around here lately, we haven't asked her.”
“And we should,” Jack concurred, nodding.
“Right, but I'll ask, and you be quiet,” the younger man warned, his eyes speaking as much as his voice was.
“I'll do my best, Love,” Jack promised as they continued to Jennifer's room.
Jennifer sighed, “You know what happened. Dad's been yelling about it since he found out.”
“Jen, we made a mistake,” the archaeologist said. “We didn't ask you what happened.”
“No, you didn't,” the girl agreed.
“So, we're asking now,” Daniel calmly stated as he sat on the edge of her bed while Jack stood a few feet away with his hands in his pants pockets.
“Well, I met Peter at the park one day, just for a few minutes on the way home from school,” Jennifer explained, glancing just briefly at Jack who was currently looking like a stone-faced statue in order not to make a scene.
“When was this?” Daniel asked curiously.
“A couple weeks before the end of the semester,” the teen answered.
“Okay, go on,” the archaeologist calmly encouraged.
“We were watching a butterfly emerge from a cocoon. It was so pretty, Daddy,” Jennifer commented, smiling with her recall.
“New life always is,” Daniel agreed, sporting an understanding smile.
“Well, when we stood up, we were really close and ... and, well, we kissed,“ Jennifer confessed.
“What kind ...” Jack began.
“Jack!” Daniel warned, twisting around to stare at his husband. **Not a word!** He turned back to face their daughter, asking, “It was a nice kiss?”
Jennifer smiled shyly, looking down and shrugging slightly as she answered, “Yes, and ... Daddy, it was really quick, though. I mean we just sort of leaned into each other. He wasn't touching me, and our lips just brushed together for a few seconds. I liked it, though. I wish it had been longer.”
“Jennifer, you ...”
“Jack, we talked about this,” Daniel sternly reminded without facing his lover. Instead, he smiled at Jennifer and asked, “Jen, your lips just brushed? There was, uh, I mean you ... you didn't ...”
“Tongue wrestle? Play tonsil hockey?” the girl mused. “Gee, I wish ...” Staring at her statue of a father whom she sensed was on the verge of murder, Jennifer changed her tune. “No, I swear, Daddy. It wasn't that long, and we didn't do anything inappropriate or more than what I think a first kiss should be.”
“First kiss,” Daniel said gently, taking his daughter's hand. “Treasure it, Jen. Even if it has an unpleasant by-product, never forget it.”
“I won't,” Jennifer said. “I couldn't, not ever. Peter's ...” Hearing Jack's grumble, the teenager once again decided it wasn't the best time to be discussing her potential boyfriend. “Um, never mind.”
“And why didn't you tell us the truth about the kiss with Peter?” the younger man inquired.
“Why didn't you ask?” Jennifer challenged, staring at Jack intently. “You assumed the worst, so I decided to let you think the worst,” she admitted.
Jack broke the stare-down, nodding slightly as he looked at his feet for a moment.
Daniel sighed, nodding his head, “I guess we deserve that, but, in the future, Jen, you might try pointing it out to us if we're not treating you fairly instead of returning the favor.”
Jennifer nodded, agreeing, “You're right, Daddy. I should have trusted you to be reasonable.”
**Does she mean 'you' plural, Danny?**
**Not sure, Jack. Don't ask questions you don't really want the answers to,** Daniel replied. “Okay, and now we have something else we need to announce,” he told her as he stood up and walked over to his husband, standing beside him, though slightly behind the older man. “Jack.”
Jack faced his lover, his eyes tearing into Daniel's for the cop-out he'd just witnessed.
**Why don't you tell her about her roommate. It was your friggin' idea,** Jack whined.
**But you're older,** Daniel retaliated, making no sense whatsoever and happy to have copped-out in this instance.
Jack shook his head and then announced the certain-to-be-unhappy news to their daughter.
“NO! NO WAY!” Jennifer shouted angrily once Jack had gotten the words out.
To say the teenager wasn't happy about sharing her room with her sister was an understatement.
“Jen,” Daniel spoke calmly as he looked the teenager in the eye, “this is not a request. You *are* going to share your room with Brianna for the time being, and you will both treat each other with respect.”
“But, Daddy ...” Jennifer began, only to have Jack cut her off.
“We can make it permanent, Jennifer,” Jack advised.
“There's only one bed,” the teen argued.
“And it's a lovely double bed, plenty of room for two girls,” Jack replied, a grin on his face.
The teenager dropped back onto her bed and glared at them, bewailing, “Fine, I hope she gets my glandular fever.”
Jack smirked, “Unless you're planning on kissing her, that's unlikely. It's not an airborne infection.”
**Jack, we need to talk about that,** Daniel communicated, but not getting any kind of response from his lover at the moment.
Jennifer scowled and turned over so her back was to her fathers. Just then, Brianna appeared in the doorway, dragging a bag of clothing and looking like she was walking to her doom.
“Your roommate's here, Jen,” Jack announced, pleased at the way things were going. ~They'll fight first, but, eventually, this will work out. I'm confident.~
Jennifer didn't move, and Brianna sent a pleading look at her fathers who simply patted her shoulder encouragingly and left the two girls to it. They hadn't gone far when they heard raised voices.
“This is my side of the room. You don't come over here, touch any of my things, or talk to me,” Jennifer declared.
“You think you're so great? Geez, I don't want to talk to you anyway. I'd rather listen to a lecture on mono!” Brianna angrily replied.
Daniel looked at his lover and sighed, “It's going to be a long week.”
“Just a week?”
“I'm being hopeful,” the younger man sighed.
Jack grinned as he retorted, “Maybe we should call Aunt Sam over to baby-sit.”
“She'd mutiny,” Daniel intoned.
“I would, too,” Jack chuckled.
Just a minute or so later, the lovers walked into the recreation room, uncertain what the next crisis would be. Everyone had eaten breakfast and were now engaged in various activities, but like a simmering pot, somehow, Jack and Daniel knew things were far from perfect in their loving home.
“Danny, let's dance,” Jack suddenly said, walking to the stereo and putting on a Barbra Streisand CD they liked.
“Jack, it's only ten-thirty ...” Daniel began to protest.
Moments later, though, Jack had Daniel in his arms as they waltzed their way around the large room.
“People who need people,” Daniel sighed as they moved across the floor.
“Just you, Angel,” Jack intoned.
“And that makes me the luckiest ...” Daniel stopped their motion. “Jack, our nation of two still gives me life everyday.”
“Me, too,” Jack said, leaning in for a kiss.
“Let's just ... slow dance,” the younger man suggested, leaning his head against his husband's right shoulder.
Slowly, sensuously, the two lovers moved their bodies in harmony while the sweet sounds filled the room.
Daniel sighed contently. He felt a river of happiness flowing through his body. He was in his soulmate's arms, and he could feel Jack's hands massaging his back comfortingly. His eyes were closed, and his breathing steady. He was sure they were at their Minnesota cabin, enjoying the peaceful beauty and serenity the woodland retreat always provided.
Jack was smiling, his eyes closed as well. His right cheek lay gently against his lover's forehead. He could feel their bond as if it were as tangible as their bodies. Love was like blood, flowing through his veins, and love was Daniel. He felt his Love's fingers caressing his back with gentleness. He was confident they were enjoying a blissful day in Minnesota, alone and sharing their passion in the paradise that always strengthened them.
Then, in unison, Jack's and Daniel's eyelids fluttered open. They could hear sounds, but it wasn't the babbling of the lake alongside the cabin or the passing of a warm breeze. It was a sudden call back to the present.
Snapped out of their mutual daydream, Jack and Daniel looked over at the Munchkins and the Spitfires, all five of them sitting on one of the floor pillows, staring at their fathers. They had smiles on their faces, and they were giggling.
“No music, Daddy,” Aislinn explained.
“We call you, but you didn't answer,” Little Danny pointed out.
“Jack, the CD stopped.”
Jack shook his head quickly and looked over at the stereo and then at the LED clock. Ninety minutes had passed as their nation of two had gathered unity and strength.
“I love you, Angel,” Jack spoke softly.
“I love you, too,” Daniel crooned, his eyes gazing at Jack's.
The lovers kissed, not caring about the giggles of their children. They were happy to let their children see their love, to see their need for each other.
**Only you,** Jack communicated.
**Forever and always, Jack,** Daniel replied.
After another kiss, the lovers escaped from their trance, walking over to their children.
“And just how long have you been there?” Jack chuckled as he pulled up another of the pillows and sat down, Daniel sitting beside him.
“Long time,” Jonny answered. “We're supposed to have school,” he explained, pointing at the clock.
“Oh, yes, so we are,” Daniel said with a smile, having completely forgotten about their homeschooling schedule that operated year-round. “I'm sorry we didn't hear you,” he spoke quietly.
Aislinn giggled again, but said, “It's okay, Daddy.”
“Dad and I love each other very much, and sometimes, I guess we hear our own music,” Daniel replied.
“It's music from our hearts,” Jack clarified for the youngsters.
“Do Aunt Sam and Uncle Pete do that?” Jenny asked.
“And Cassie and Dom?” Ricky inquired.
“Probably,” Daniel chuckled. “People in love ... well they ... love is very powerful. It's a wonderful thing, and someday, we hope each of you will know what we mean.”
Little Danny blushed, saying, “I love 'Rissa.”
Jack and Daniel smiled, and Jack responded, “Good choice, Son.”
“Okay, today, we're going to talk about pronouns. We've discussed them before, and I have a hunch it won't take you very long to learn,” Daniel revealed.
“Are we going to study here?” Little Danny asked with surprise. “Can't take notes.”
“Let's just talk about grammar,” the archaeologist suggested. “We'll review later, and you can take notes then.”
“Okay,” Little Danny answered.
“Daddy?” Ricky piped up.
“Yes, Ricky?” Daniel asked.
“What's a pronoun?”
Laughing, Daniel reached out to stroke Ricky's cheek, and then he and Jack began the first of several lessons scheduled over the next couple of weeks.
Strangely enough, the next two days, a weekend, were blissfully peaceful. Sunday was Father's Day, and their children had gifted the couple with presents and adoration. Jennifer had kept her attitude in check and not had any arguments with Brianna. Technically, though, the girls had not made up. Their parents found out the reason for the calm weekend bright and early Monday morning when they headed to Jennifer's room.
“We had a deal!” Jennifer stated angrily.
“It was a truce, and it's over. It's not Father's Day anymore, so stay on your side of the room,” Brianna argued.
“This is *my* room. You're just ... visiting.”
“Then give me back *my* blanket,” Brianna said with a raised voice as she pulled the blanket over from her sister's side of the bed.
“It's not yours,” Jennifer argued with hostility.
Jack and Daniel shared a look and then both turned around without interrupting the argument.
“I guess now we know why everyone was so cheery over the weekend,” Jack commented.
“Jack, I should be disappointed. I ... well, maybe I am, I mean, that they haven't made up, but ...”
“But you can't help but feel a little bit good that our brood put aside their differences for two whole days, to let us be a happy family and ...”
“And show us how much they love us,” Daniel completed, stopping to face his husband as he folded his arms in front of him. “I know we'll get through this.”
“Oh, me, too, Angel,” Jack said as they stood in the entranceway. “The question is, will we be young enough to enjoy it?”
Laughing, the two moved on with their day, each hoping for the best.
“*Cut it out, Bri*!” Jennifer shouted at the top of her lungs as noontime approached.
“*It's my room, too*,” Brianna yelled right back, the veins in her neck bulging from her anger.
Just outside the doorway, having come upstairs to tell the girls that lunch as ready, Jack opined, ~I don't think ingesting more sugar is going to help the situation.~ With a groan, he turned around, thinking, ~Definitely not.~
“Hands off my CD collection!” Jennifer shouted in full voice, seeing her sister looking at a shelf full of her musical items.
“I wasn't touching it, and there's no law against looking. Gee whiz,” Brianna cocked her head to the side as she read some of the singers' names, “Justin Timberlake, Nick Lachey, Britney Spears -- the classics, *not*. Pardon me for getting my fingerprints on them,” she cackled, shaking her hands and twiddling her fingers as she walked away from the CDs.
“I *don't* care; they're *mine*, not yours, and if I want to listen to ... to ... *argh*, just *don't touch my stuff*, Jennifer shouted.
Brianna laughed, “Maybe you should listen to Britney more.” When the older girl looked at her, the tomboy spat sarcastically, “Not only have you both had meltdowns, but you both make terrific role models.”
At the foot of the stairs, having heard every word of the continuing argument, Jack sighed, ~Either they'll kill each other soon, or I'll throttle them both.~
Jennifer glared at her sister and let out a loud groan as she turned around, wishing she could think of a rebuttal to Brianna's last attack, but nothing was coming to mind. The meltdown line had definitely been uncalled for. They were fighting, that's all, but she was so a good role model. In her mind, the problem was Brianna, the snitch. Everything was her fault, not the teenager's. Frustrated, Jennifer stomped into the bathroom.
At the foot of the stairs, Jack headed back for the kitchen, shaking his head while sighing, ~Maybe I should start the funeral arrangements.~
The lovers were checking in with each other midday. Daniel had just returned from the offices of J-O Enterprises.
“Megan has it covered,” Daniel answered as he sat down next to his lover on the sofa. “I'm almost afraid to ask, but, uh, how ...”
“Is the 'War of the Feuding Sisters' going?” Jack quipped.
“I wouldn't have asked it quite like that, but ... yes,” Daniel replied.
“Fighting and loudly, although it's been quiet lately,” the silver-gray haired man observed.
Daniel mused, “Maybe they wore each other out.”
“That's a possibility,” Jack chuckled. “I'm not sure the bedding is going to survive.”
The younger man sighed, shaking his head as he leaned into his lover. He knew they needed to stay strong. If their girls could band together to make their Father's Day a happy one, they could find their way back to sisterhood. He was sure of it.
Having gotten through the day, the warring sisters were back to arguing over the blanket when they went to bed that night.
“That's *my* blanket,” Jennifer insisted as she pulled the coverlet over to her, trying to rest a bit.
“You're *not* using it,” Brianna challenged, lying down simply to bug her sister since her chores had been completed.
“I don't care. It's mine!” Jennifer whined, even though she had enough of the fleece item over her to amply cover her body.
“I have to sleep here, too, you know,” the tomboy argued, tugging the blanket to her a bit more.
“Sleep on the floor!” Jennifer ordered as the two girls continued to do battle, totally uninterrupted.
“Jack, if they keep this up, we may have to put acoustic fabric throughout the entire house,” Daniel remarked five days into Jennifer and Brianna's 'prison sentence', as the girls both referred to their forced housing arrangement.
“We're wearing them down, Danny,” Jack stated.
“We are?” the younger man asked skeptically.
“We are,” Jack said firmly. “The decibels have dropped a notch. Either that, or my ears are giving out.”
“Oh, well, it'll be okay then,” Daniel spoke assuredly.
“It will,” Jack stated.
“I'm ... confident,” Daniel said.
“Me, too,” Jack agreed.
Daniel sat down next to Jack on the sofa and asked, “Earplugs?”
“I'll call Carter,” Jack said, getting up to make the call as Daniel chuckled.
“We could just find some at a store somewhere,” Daniel called out.
“And get inferior plugs? What do you think the good citizens of this fine country are paying taxes for, Angel?” After a pause, Jack pronounced with a bit of a smirk, “Carter.”
Daniel chuckled inwardly, ~He wouldn't know what to do if he didn't have Sam to call for things like this. Earplugs! Geez, Jack, we could get them ourselves.~
Meanwhile, upstairs in Jennifer's room, the war of the oldest sisters raged on.
“You can't sit here,” Jennifer said when Brianna sat down at the desk.
“I can, too!” Brianna retaliated.
“No, you can't!” the teenager argued.
“You sure do have a lot of rules,” Brianna opined with disgust.
“Just follow them,” Jennifer stated sternly.
“DON'T TOUCH MY STUFF,” Jennifer shouted, pushing Brianna's books off her desk.
Brianna stood up, facing the older girl, and yelled, “I KNEW YOU HATED ME. YOU NEVER WANTED ME HERE. I KNEW IT. YOU'RE A LIAR, JUST LIKE JACK AND DANIEL.”
“WE ARE NOT. WE GAVE YOU A HOME BECAUSE WE LOVE YOU!” the teenager yelled, after which she blinked, a bit taken aback by her words which had come out unexpectedly. “And they're Dad and Daddy,” she added quietly.
“No, you don't, or you wouldn't be acting like this,” Brianna replied softly, staring down at the carpet.
“Why'd you tattle?” Jennifer asked.
This time, the question had been asked calmly and in earnest.
Brianna couldn't look at the other girl. She went to the edge of the bed and sat down. Her head was hung low, and she raised her right hand up to stop a tear from falling.
“Bri?” the teenager prodded.
The younger girl shrugged, saying, “It doesn't matter now. You hate me.”
~Oh, crap, and, yes, Dad, Daddy, I mean crap.~ Jennifer sighed and walked to the bed, sitting down next to her sister. “I don't hate you, Bri. I'm angry at you because I don't understand.”
“Well, neither do I,” Brianna replied harshly.
The teenager sighed again, knowing that as the oldest, she did have a bigger responsibility here. Worse, Jennifer knew she was to blame as well, at least in part.
“Bri, I'm sorry. I'm your sister, and I'm older, and I shouldn't have reacted like I did, but ... oh, crap. I tried to get one by Dad and Daddy, and it didn't work.” Jennifer let seconds pass as her mind raced with truths she wasn't sure she wanted to admit to. “Okay, the truth is I'm mad at myself for getting sick, and I got sick because I kissed Peter. It wasn't planned, but I knew I shouldn't have met him in the park after school that day, and I ... well, I shouldn't have kissed him.” Taking a breath, she confessed, “I should have told our parents, but I knew Dad would go ballistic.”
“Why'd you tell me?” Brianna asked vulnerably.
“Because it was my first kiss, and I wanted to share that with someone. Actually, I wanted to share it with my sister. Bri, why'd you tell?” Again, she saw Brianna hang her head. “Please, Bri, tell me.”
“I guess I was ... testing you,” the short-haired blonde admitted reluctantly. “I never thought this place would really be home. I've been waiting for them to get tired of me, and I thought maybe with Bean Sprout coming, that they'd want me out of their hair.”
“That's nonsense,” Jennifer instantly responded. Seeing her sister look away, she questioned, “Bri, are you upset Dad and Daddy are pregnant?”
“No, I'm happy for them. I guess I just ... I just thought they wouldn't want me anymore.” On the verge of crying, the tough tomboy sniffled, “I don't know what I thought.”
Jennifer put her arm around her sister and said firmly, “You're a Jackson-O'Neill, Bri.”
“They have to send me away,” Brianna commented, her head lowered as far as it could go, and her voice as quiet as the proverbial mouse's.
Jennifer heard a full-fledged sniffle, and then Brianna said, “Little Danny. He wouldn't go back. I couldn't get him to leave me alone.”
Jennifer smiled, explaining, “Because you're his sister. He's a bright little kid.” She chuckled, “He's pretty amazing.”
“It's a bad world out there, Jen. I can take care of myself, but I couldn't do that to him. He believes in everyone. Someone might have hurt him. I ... I had to ... to ...” Brianna stammered.
“You had to protect your little brother,” Jennifer pointed out, finishing her sister's sentence for her.
“My little brother,” Brianna admitted.
“Hey, I have a brilliant idea.”
“What?” the tomboy inquired, looking at her sister with new eyes.
“Ice cream. It's the answer to almost everything, according to Dad, so ... let's have some ice cream,” Jennifer chirped conspiratorially.
“But it's almost dinnertime. They won't let us,” Brianna intoned.
“Covert ops, Sis.”
“Oh, yeah,” Brianna responded, smiling.
“She'll bring some over tonight,” Jack said, referring to Sam and earplugs, as he rejoined his husband, only now Daniel had moved to the kitchen.
“Hospitality room or kitchen shifts?” Daniel asked about Jack's preference for how to do dinner that night.
If the answer was their large hospitality room, the entire family would eat together at one time. If they decided on kitchen, the kids would eat at different times in two or three different shifts, depending upon their schedules for the rest of the evening.
“Hmmm, there's nothing on the schedule for tonight,” Jack remarked as he reviewed the calendar. “Hospitality room.”
“Okay,” Daniel agreed, adding, “So let's have a late dinner then.”
“How about we check on the brood? Most of them are outside, except for the battling warriors,” Jack said about Jennifer and Brianna.
Daniel nodded, so the lovers walked to the patio door where they were almost bowled over by Jonny.
“I go get big truck!” Jonny told his parents.
“Be careful,” Daniel warned as the youngster flew by him and went up the stairs to his bedroom.
“Slow down!” Jack ordered.
“Okay, I go slow,” Jonny shouted back.
“Jonny? Grammar lesson!” Jack called out.
Jonny thought and corrected, “Okay, I'll go slow.”
“That's my boy!” Jack praised as he opened the patio door. “Hey, what's happening?” he asked the children as he and Daniel went outside to enjoy some playtime with their brood.
Jonny had retrieved his toy and was on the last stair when he saw the glimpse of Jennifer's head, peeking around the corner of the wall that separated the hallway from the living room.
The oldest Munchkin walked over and, seeing both Jennifer and Brianna, asked, “What you doing?”
“Shhh!” Brianna said, putting a finger in front of her mouth.
Jonny whispered, “What are you doing?”
The two girls exchanged grins, and Bri quietly answered, “We're on a covert op, Jonny.”
The little boy's eyes widened with excitement, and he asked, “Can I help, pleeeease?”
“Sure,” Jennifer agreed, smiling at her brother's eagerness. ~He definitely takes after Dad.~
Jonny put down his truck, pushing it up against the hallway wall. Just as they were about to make their move, the three heard their fathers.
“We'll be in the living room. Everyone play fair,” Jack admonished the children.
“Over here,” Jennifer whispered, tugging on Jonny to pull him close to her. They quickly ducked down. “Bri ...”
Brianna nodded and took point, moving in front of Jennifer and Jonny. Slowly, she looked around the corner to see exactly where Jack and Daniel were.
“Sofa,” Brianna mouthed.
Jennifer pointed to the alternate kitchen entrance. Most of the time, the family used the entrance to the kitchen that was on the living room side, but down the long hallway, beyond the entranceway and front door, past the closet that now held their seasonal outerwear, just before going into the recreation room, was a second entrance to the kitchen. All the three children had to do was cross the hallway to get by their fathers.
“Bri, go first, then Jonny, and then me. Be very quiet,” Jennifer whispered to Jonny.
“I'm Special Ops! Know how to be quiet,” Jonny argued in a raised whisper.
Brianna nodded and scurried across the hallway. She became one with the wall as she waited for her little brother to move. Jennifer leaned over Jonny to check on her parents.
“They're so cute,” Daniel said as he and Jack snuggled on the sofa. “I love how they share.” The younger man paused. **Jack?**
**Yeah, I know. Wonder what the objective is,** Jack communicated.
**Should we ...**
**Yeah, let's. Diversion time.** Jack kissed Daniel on the forehead and tenderly spoke, “Angel, I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
The lovers began a round of heavy kissing, at least as passionate as they let themselves get when their children were around.
**Love your diversionary tactics,** Daniel silently crooned. **Although maybe Jen's right, and we should cool things just a bit in front of the brood; but not right now, of course. I mean, we, uh, do have to be convincing while they're doing whatever it is they're doing.**
With another shushing motion at Jonny, Jennifer patted his bottom to tell him to run and join Brianna.
The younger girl whispered, “Hurry!” using her hands to urge Jonny on.
“I do good!” Jonny said as he careened into Brianna. “Oops, mean I did good,” he corrected, remembering the frequent lessons on tenses recently.
Brianna brought him closer and waited as Jennifer took another look at their parents.
~Geez, is that all they ever do together?~ Jennifer rolled her eyes at her parents, especially the little sounds they were releasing from their kissing. ~Whatever.~
Being as quiet as she could, the teenager crossed over the entranceway and then the trio made their way down to the second kitchen door and successfully entered the kitchen undetected, to their knowledge anyway.
Cautiously, the kids began to get their goodies. Jennifer made sure to stay away from the kitchen window that overlooked the backyard so as to not be seen by any of her siblings outside.
Jennifer mouthed to Brianna, “I'll get the ice cream. You get the bowls and spoons.”
“Who needs bowls?” Brianna asked.
“No one,” Jennifer replied, smiling.
It was perfect. By silent agreement, the two girls agreed that they'd eat the entire half-gallon themselves, along with Jonny, of course.
Jonny tugged on Jennifer's pants, and, when she leaned over to see what he wanted, he asked, “What do I get?”
“Napkins. Lots of them, but be verrrry quiet,” the teen advised.
Jonny went to the table and climbed up onto a chair. He retrieved the napkins, but in doing so, the salt shaker fell over. He gasped, looking up at his sisters with sorry eyes.
“It's okay. Shhh,” Brianna said reassuringly.
Jennifer moved to look over at the sofa in the living room, certain they'd be discovered, until she saw her parents still devouring each other.
“Gawd, Jack. Love you so much,” Daniel was heard to say from the living room.
“Only you, Danny. Always,” Jack said before diving in again.
“I swear, you could commit murder when they're going at it, and they wouldn't have a clue,” Jennifer said out loud.
Brianna snickered at her sister's comment.
“What 'bout bowls?” Jonny asked in whisper.
“We don't need them, remember?” Jennifer replied.
“Bij and Katie need them. Little Danny always share ice cream with them,” Jonny answered in rebuttal.
As Brianna grinned, Jennifer replied, “They're outside, Jonny, so this time, it has to be just us.”
“We can share later?” Jonny asked.
“Good idea! We'll plan a covert op for the weekend, okay?” Jennifer suggested cheerfully.
Jonny nodded, and, having gotten all their goodies and supplies, the three crept back into the front hallway, moving quietly past the front door, crossing over the opening to the living room, and down the hallway that led to the stairs to Jennifer's room over the garage. The girls began to giggle, but Jonny shushed them as a reminder they weren't safe yet.
Finally, the covert children made their way to the bedroom and shut the door. The girls began laughing, and all three jumped up excitedly as they congratulated themselves on their successful mission.
“That was so cool,” Brianna said.
“Jonny, you did great,” Jennifer praised.
“I made a noise; can't make noises doing covert ops. I was bad,” Jonny pouted.
“You'll do better next week,” Jennifer encouraged, earning a smile from the young boy. “Let's eat!”
Back in the living room, the lovers finally broke apart and rested their foreheads together.
“Jen and Bri have made up,” Jack observed.
Daniel grinned as he said, “Finally. I was wondering who was going to go crazy first, them or us.”
“We're already crazy, Angel.”
“True,” Daniel laughed. “They were so cute, sneaking down the hallway like that. Do you think they realized we knew what they were doing?”
“Not a chance. I could feel Jen's eyes on my head,” Jack noted.
Daniel chuckled, “Another successful covert operation done. How many is that now?”
“I've lost count. Danny, are we going to let them get sick on all that ice cream?” Jack inquired, concerned about their dinner.
Daniel considered the question and pronounced, “You know, as a parent, I want to say 'no', but also as a parent, I want to 'yes'.”
“Covert together, recover together?” Jack asked.
“Yeah. Let's not interfere with their fun. I don't think they'll let Jonny overdo it. They're both very protective of the little ones,” Daniel observed.
“What about their punishments? Any thoughts on that?” Jack asked.
“They stick,” Daniel thoughtfully replied. “We can't go back on that, for any of them. I mean, we need to encourage that they've bonded again, but, they still have to understand what they did was wrong.”
“Agreed.” Jack caressed Daniel's cheek and softly spoke, “Now, uh, how about we ...”
“Gawd, Jack, no. I almost forgot the children were just a few feet away in the kitchen. Let's just sit here and listen for the next crisis.”
“You've got yourself a deal,” Jack said, sealing the agreement with a kiss.
“Love ice cream,” Jonny mumbled as he took another bite of his treat.
Jennifer looked at Jonny and grinned. The toddler had chocolate ice cream smeared all around his mouth and looked adorable.
“Mmm, this was a great idea, Jen,” Brianna said as she relished her spoonful of ice cream and lay back on the floor, feeling content. She still couldn't quite believe that Jennifer was her sister again. ~I guess she never really stopped. All sisters have fights.~
“Bri, do you mind if Jonny has the last spoonful?” Jennifer asked a while later.
Brianna shook her head. She and Jennifer had eaten most of the carton, not wanting Jonny to get sick from overeating. Neither of them felt like explaining that to their parents.
“Do you think Dad and Daddy are still making out?” Brianna wondered.
“Probably,” Jennifer responded. “They can't get enough. Ewwww!”
The two girls shared a grin, and then Jonny asked, “What's necking?”
Brianna sniggered as Jennifer bravely answered, “It means Dad and Daddy were kissing.”
Jonny grinned; then said, “Dad and Daddy always kissing.”
“Dinner's done, so why ... hey, there, Munchkin,” Jack said as Jonny rounded the corner from the hallway. “I thought you were playing outside.”
“I changed my mind,” Jonny said.
Jack smiled and gave his husband a 'watch this' look as he excitedly stated, “Dinner's done. We're having all your favorites, including a greaaaaat, big steak.”
The little boy looked horrified, rubbed his abdomen, and replied, “I not hungry, Dad. Give mine to poor kid.”
Before he could be questioned further, Jonny ran up the stairs.
“Jack, that was bad,” Daniel chastised.
“Hey, I thought he did pretty good,” the older man said with pride. “That was quick thinking.”
“He loves covert ops,” Daniel chuckled.
Late that night, Jennifer and Brianna rested next to each other in Jennifer's bed, the once not-big-enough blanket now plenty big enough since they weren't fighting over it.
“Jen, are you still awake?” Brianna asked.
“Yeah,” the teen answered.
“I ... Jen, I don't want to fight anymore, but I want you to know something,” the tomboy stated hesitantly, her eyes glued to the ceiling as her hands clutched the top edges of the blanket.
Jennifer turned over onto her side to face her sister, asking, “Know what?”
Brianna blinked and responded, “I didn't tell Dad you kissed Peter. I only told him I thought you were sick.”
“Then how did they find out?” Jennifer calmly asked.
“I guess Dad figured it out for himself when you guys were arguing,” Brianna answered with a shrug. “After Dad went ballistic, though, I told Daddy about it. He asked me if I had any idea why you were so tired, and I ... well, then I told him that maybe you got sick from Peter because you'd kissed him. I'm sorry, Jen.”
“Oh, well, Bri, why didn't you tell me the truth about what you'd said and when?” the older girl inquired as she shifted to lean against her elbow.
“Why didn't you ask?” Brianna challenged, finally looking over and staring intently at her sister. “You assumed the worst, Jen, so I just decided to let you think it,” she admitted.
“Oh, gawd,” Jennifer responded. “It's deja vu,” she sighed, plopping back down on her back, her head square in the center of her pillow as she gazed upward.
“What?” Brianna asked, not understanding her sister's response.
“I've had this discussion before, Bri, but I was on the other side,” Jennifer answered. ~Now I know how Dad felt when I lambasted him for assuming I was guilty of something horrible. I did the same thing.~
“I don't understand, Jen,” Brianna spoke.
Smiling as she turned her head to look at the other girl, Jennifer advised, “Don't worry about it, Bri, but try to remember that assumptions can be very dangerous.”
“Okay,” Brianna replied, making a funny face. ~I have no idea what she's talking about.~
“Let's get some sleep,” the teen suggested. “It's been a long day.”
“It sure has. Night, Jen,” Brianna said as she shifted her position to be more comfortable.
“Night, Sis,” Jennifer stated brightly.
With smiles on their faces, the two sisters closed their eyes and succumbed to sleep.
The two girls were happy to continue sharing Jennifer's room for the remainder of their 'punishment', though neither was sure how long that would be. Now, though, it wasn't a bad thing. Instead, they looked at it as a good way to get to know each other even better.
As a result of the girls having made up, Jack and Daniel were breathing huge sighs of relief, especially since the illnesses that had been plaguing their family were ebbing away. The colds were long gone and showing no traces of returning. The pink eye had disappeared completely, and the poison ivy was nothing but a bad memory.
The lovers had called Sam, who was relieved her 'earplug run' had been cancelled, and then they'd spent the night relaxing together.
Though June still had over a week to go, the couple was ready for the month to be over. Nothing else could happen ... could it?
The next day, when Jack and Daniel were in the kitchen cleaning up breakfast, they heard Aislinn yelling for them.
The couple looked at each other, the first thought through both of their minds being, “What now?”
Aislinn came running into the kitchen with the family rabbit in her arms, and before her parents could chastise her about it, she cried, “Something wrong with Bagel! Bagel sick! Help Bagel!”
With a sigh, Daniel asked, “What’s wrong with her, Sweetie?”
“Bagel won't eat 'n' litter still clean 'n' she makin’ noise,” the little girl spoke, her speech rapid and a bit difficult to understand.
“Slow down, Ash,” the younger father encouraged. “She won't eat? Maybe she’s just not hungry.”
The little girl shook her head, stating, “Food still there from dinner 'n' no want treat.”
After sharing a concerned look with his husband, Daniel questioned, “What else did you say was wrong with her?” He took Bagel and checked her as he thought over what she'd said earlier. “Her litter is clean, and she's making noise?”
Nodding, Aislinn explained, “Little Danny and me clean Bagel's litter yesterday 'n' it still clean today.”
“I think I feel her grinding her teeth,” Daniel pointed out while petting the rabbit's head.
“That mean she hurt or upset,” a new voice said.
Jack and Daniel looked up in surprise at the comment. Little Danny had walked into the kitchen and was now looking worriedly at the white animal.
“Bagel see Pam?” Little Danny asked.
“Yes, Son, we'll take Bagel to see Pam,” Jack replied. “Danny, you call Pam while I get the carrier. Ash, Little Danny, do you want to go with Bagel?” He saw two heads nod and instructed, “Okay, go get your shoes on.”
“Hello, Jack, Ash, Little Danny,” Pam greeted when they walked into her office. “Who's the problem today?”
“It's Bagel this time,” Jack answered, putting the carrier on the examination table and pulling out the rabbit.
“Bagel no eat 'n' litter clean,” Aislinn informed as she looked at the vet with concerned eyes.
Pam examined Bagel, checking her stomach and noting, “Her stomach seems a little distended. She might have a blockage.”
“What kind of blockage?” Jack inquired.
“Well, rabbits are meticulous groomers, and they accumulate a lot of hair in their stomachs, which they cannot cough up like a cat would cough up a hairball. If she got dehydrated or didn't get enough fiber, the food in her stomach can get mixed up with the hair and block her stomach.”
“So, what do we do?”
“For now, we'll verify with an X-ray, and, if the blockage isn't too bad, we'll give her some IV fluids and some medicine to break up the blockage.”
“And if it is bad?” the silver-haired man questioned cautiously, looking down at his worried children, who were biting their lips in fearful anticipation.
“Then she'll need surgery,” Pam answered. Seeing the kids expressions, she added, “But it doesn't feel bad enough for surgery. Let's get that X-ray before we worry too much.”
With that, Pam took Bagel to radiology, leaving the family in the examination room.
“Dad?” Aislinn asked vulnerably.
“Princess, where's your faith?” Jack asked. “Bagel's a Jackson-O'Neill, right?” When the little girl nodded, he smiled and said, “Then she'll come through this like a peach.”
Aislinn smiled, but she was still worried. Little Danny took her hand, and the two siblings walked over to the bench and sat down while they waited.
~Ya better come through this, ya ole fluffball,~ Jack sighed, hoping he was right.
Five minutes later, the animal doctor returned and pulled up the X-ray on the computer.
“This shows that the blockage is small enough to treat with medicine.” Pam smiled at the two eager children, both of whom were now looking up at her with hopeful expressions. “That means no surgery, but, she'll need to stay overnight for observation.”
“Bagel be lonely,” Little Danny worried.
“She'll have someone checking on her, and she can probably go home in the morning.”
“How do we keep this from happening again?” Jack asked.
“Just make sure that she gets a constant supply of timothy hay, greens, and pellets with a fiber content over eighteen percent, but, if you need to switch pellets, make sure you do it gradually.”
On Saturday, most of the Jackson-O'Neills were busy doing various chores. A few of the children had finished their duties and were outside playing. Inside the house, Jack was vacuuming the living room while Daniel was cleaning the counter that separated the kitchen from the living area. The two were joking back and forth about who could do their cleaning the quickest and the most efficiently when their lighthearted banter was interrupted by a loud squeal from outside.
“That was Katie!” Daniel exclaimed, dashing to the backyard, closely followed by Jack. They'd just stepped out into the backyard when Chenoa let out a cry. They saw the little girl holding her hand over her shoulder, while Katie gamely stood in front of her, giving out little woofs interspersed with the odd whine.
“I'll take Noa,” Jack said as the parents ran to where the two were.
Chenoa was near the shed where a lot of the gardening equipment was kept. At the side of it was a tarp for the picnic tables that the family kept out during the summer. Unbeknownst to Jack and Daniel, some bees had moved in, and a small honeycomb had been constructed by the industrious insects.
“Noa, what happened?” Jack asked, kneeling down to tend to the crying child.
“Bee sting me,” the curly-haired girl sobbed. “Hurts.”
Chenoa was wearing a sleeveless yellow blouse with a picture of a unicorn on it. At the top of her right arm, almost on the shoulder, Jack saw the culprit.
“Okay, Princess, Dad's going to take care of it. We need to go into the house.” Jack looked over at Daniel and informed, “Bee sting,” after which he picked up their daughter and took her into the kitchen, sitting her on the cabinet.
“I know; just give me a minute,” Jack requested, getting everything he needed. “Okay, stay still.” Carefully, he removed the stinger that was still in Chenoa's arm. ~There. Got it all.~ He then made a mixture of meat tenderizer and water and applied the solution to the wound. “This will make you feel better.”
“I ... <sniffle> ... meat?” Chenoa asked curiously.
Jack chuckled, “No, but there's magic stuff in meat tenderizer that makes the pain go away.”
Wishing the pain would go away fast, the little girl replied, “I ... <sniffle> ... hope ... <sniffle> ... so!”
“You're being a brave girl. Give it a minute to work,” Jack told her tenderly.
“What ... <sniffle> ... you doing now?”
Jack answered, “Making you an ice pack.”
“Oh,” Chenoa sniffled.
“What happened, Noa?” Jack asked as he filled the cold pack and then applied to his daughter's arm.
“Playing hide ... <sniffle> ... seek with Katie. Wanted to hide under the cover,” Chenoa explained.
~The tarps,~ Jack silently realized.
“Dad, what's going on?” Jeff asked as he entered the kitchen, having heard the disturbance from the front yard where he was washing the windows.
“Good timing, Jeff,” Jack gratefully greeted. “Listen, Noa was just stung by a bee. I think there may be a honeycomb in the tarps by the shed. Can you clean that out for me, uh, making sure there aren't any stray bees on the prowl?”
“That used to happen to Dad all the time. I'm a pro at this. They won't do anything,” the teenage boy assured.
“Be careful,” Jack warned.
“I will,” Jeff promised, walking outside.
“Okay, Princess, it might hurt for a little while. We'll call Doctor Syl and see if she thinks we should give you some medication, okay?” Jack told the little girl.
“Still hurts,” Chenoa said, though her sniffling had subsided with the cold ice pack affixed to her shoulder.
Jack moved her off the counter and had her sit on one of the chairs. Since the ice pack needed to be on for several more minutes, he decided to check on Daniel and Katie.
“Katie, girl, for a beagle, you've got too much fur,” Daniel told the youngest beagle as he fruitlessly searched for the bee's stinger. “I guess we should have given you a better brush down over the weekend; you're shedding.” Daniel looked over at Jeff and asked, “Jeff, would you go inside and get me the phone, please?”
“Sure thing, Daddy,” Jeff agreed and then hurried inside, returning a minute later with the cordless telephone.
“Thanks, Son,” Daniel stated appreciatively. “Did you have any problems with the tarp?”
Jeff shook his head, answering, “No, it was just a tiny honeycomb that they had started underneath the tarp. I washed it off and put the tarp in the shed.”
Daniel looked around as he dialed the phone, observing, “I don't see any bees.”
“I think they left for more peaceful surroundings. Katie probably scared them. Ah, Katie,” Jeff said, kneeling down to pet her a couple of times.
“My poor Katie girl,” Daniel lamented as he patted the youngest beagle while waiting for their long-time veterinarian to come to the phone.
As he waited, Little Danny came running over, tears welling up in his eyes as he heard Katie whimper at him. He practically slid down next to her, landing on the opposite side of Daniel and right next to Jeff.
“Katie,” Little Danny murmured, planting kisses and pats all over her.
Daniel opened his mouth to reassure the boy when Pam came to the phone.
“What have they got into this time, Daniel?” Pam's cheery voice came over the line, quickly adding, “Bijou's foot is okay, isn't it?”
“Hi, Pam. Bij is fine, but Katie was stung by a bee. I think it stung her somewhere on the nose, but I can't see the stinger. I've checked over her entire body just in case, too,” Daniel reported seriously.
“Ah, the fur problem. Not everyone realizes this, but finding something in their skin is hard even in short-haired dogs. Look, you should probably bring her in so I can take a look. Depending on exactly where the sting is, her breathing might become obstructed as her airways swell. If you bring her in, I can keep her here for observation.”
“It'll be past your office hours for a Saturday,” Daniel responded to the friendly vet.
“Daniel, do you think I could go to dinner knowing Katie was hurting?” Pam responded fondly. “Get her in here; I'll be waiting. Oh, and do you have Benadryl?”
“Yes, uh, I think we have some,” the archaeologist answered.
“Check the dosage, and give her about twenty-five milligrams.”
“Okay. Thanks, Pam,” Daniel spoke and then hung up. He looked at the forlorn-looking beagle in his lap and sighed, “You were trying to protect Noa, weren't you, Katie? Come on, let's get your medicine and then get you checked out by Pam.”
Holding Katie, Daniel stood up as did Jeff and Little Danny. As they were headed for the patio deck to go inside, Jack walked into the backyard.
“How's our girl?” Jack asked when he reached them, placing a kiss atop Katie's furry head. She let out a small whimper. “Her nose is already beginning to swell,” he observed with a grimace.
“She hurt, Dad,” Little Danny spoke sadly.
Daniel nodded and explained, “Pam's still at the office and said I should bring her in. How's Noa?”
“Feeling a little sorry for herself, but she'll be fine,” the older man stated.
“Will you be all right with the rest of the brood?” Daniel inquired as they stepped onto the patio deck.
“Of course,” Jack confidently smirked. **Danny, you might want to take the Munchkins with you. Little Danny's going to need Pam's reassurance that Katie will be all right.**
Daniel looked down to find his son's eyes glued to Katie and replied, **I think you're right.** “Little Danny, how's your shoulder?”
“No care,” the little boy commented. “Katie hurt.”
After giving the youngest beagle Benadryl, Daniel and his charges headed for the front door when they heard a loud bark. Turning, Daniel saw a very intense glare from Bijou.
“Daddy, Bijou want to come, too. Katie her baby,” Little Danny stated emphatically.
“Okay, Bij, let's get your harness. We'll have Pam check your paw while we're there,” Daniel suggested.
Hearing a honk from the front of the house, Jeff stood up and walked into the kitchen where Jack and Chenoa were at the moment.
“Dad, are you sure you don't want me to stay home?” Jeff asked.
His chores completed, Jeff was supposed to meet some friends and hang out for a while. They were going to eat out and shoot some hoops at Greg Holstein's house. It was Greg's brother, Keith, who had honked the horn as he had agreed to take the boys to the fast food restaurant of their choice for lunch.
“No, you go ahead,” Jack replied.
Nodding, the teen responded, “Thanks, Dad.” He walked over to his little sister and gave her a kiss on the cheek, saying, “Hang in there, Sis. Bye.”
Smiling at the attention, the little girl replied, “Bye, Jeff.”
As he headed out, Jeff stated, “I'll be back by six, Dad.”
As Jeff reached the entranceway, Jack shouted out, “No detours.” Looking at his daughter, he said, “Okay, Princess, let's wash this off.”
“Still hurts,” Chenoa whined.
“We're going to rub some calamine lotion on it in a minute, and that should help,” Jack told the girl.
“Katie?” Chenoa asked, wanting to know how the beagle was.
“Daddy took her to see Pam. They'll be back soon,” Jack stated, disturbed when he observed Chenoa guiltily bowing her head. “Hey, it's not your fault. You were just playing. Actually,” he sighed, “it's my fault. I shouldn't have left the tarp out.”
“Dad bad,” Chenoa teased, a tiny smile on her face.
“Let's not rub it in,” Jack smirked.
Chenoa smiled as she replied, “I still love you, even if I hurt.”
Jack looked around and then focused totally on Chenoa, asking, “Ice cream?”
“Double-decker,” Chenoa insisted.
~I've been had.~ Jack nodded as he agreed, “Okay.”
“And cake, too,” the curly-haired girl added with a wider smile.
“And cake? I don't think Daddy would like that,” Jack opined.
“Ow!” the little girl cried right on cue.
~I've been had big time!~ Jack sighed, “And cake, too.”
Inwardly, he chuckled at his little con artist because it meant she was feeling better.
Daniel patted Katie as Pam checked the beagle's nose with a strong overhead light and a magnifying glass. Little Danny stood quietly at the end of the examination table, his hands gripping its edge. Jonny and Aislinn stood behind him, their eyes focused intently on their beloved beagle.
“Ah, got it!” Pam took the tweezers her assistant handed her and extracted the stinger. She held it up so they could see it. “I'm not surprised you missed it, Daniel; it's pretty tiny.”
“Katie, you're starting to look like a platypus,” Daniel observed as he patted the beagle who was lying quietly on the examination table.
The little beagle's snout was swollen on one side.
“Woof,” Bijou commented from the floor.
“I don't think she likes her baby being called a platypus, Daniel,” Pam laughed.
“Katie a beagle,” Little Danny said, smiling now that Katie seemed to feel better.
Nodding, Daniel lifted Bijou up so she could see Katie who, having realized the examination was over, was sitting up, looking pathetic in the hopes of getting a treat.
“Do you think her breathing will be a problem, Pam?” the archaeologist inquired.
“No,” Pam assured. “If it had been on her throat or even on the top of her snout, it might have been something for us to worry about, but because it's on her left jowl, the swelling shouldn't restrict her airways at all.”
“Katie okay now, Pam?”
“She's just fine,” the vet reassured. “Let's check Bijou's paw,” she suggested.
“Whatcha doing, Sweetheart?” Jack asked Lulu.
“Third position, but I can't do it very good,” the dancer bemoaned.
Jack had found Lulu in the little dance studio. The little girl loved ballet, and Chenoa loved tap, so together, they were taking classes.
“You look great to me,” Jack told her.
“Dad, look at me. I'm wobbling,” Lulu complained.
“Give yourself time. In fact, why don't you take a break?” Jack suggested.
“Have to keep practicing. Good dancers practice all the time.” Just then, she wobbled too much and lost the position totally. “Fooey!”
Third position in ballet was the one where the dancer stands totally erect and places their right hand over their head while holding their left arm out to the side. Lulu was trying very hard to get the move down perfectly, but she was still very young and was trying too hard. In fact, part of the third position has the heel of one foot against the instep of the other, with the feet turned outwards, but right now, she was just trying to get the arm positions right.
“Honey, don't try so hard,” Jack gently advised, not liking the stress he was sensing within his daughter.
“Have to,” Lulu insisted as she continued to work.
“Can I help?” Jack asked.
“Let me practice,” Lulu requested as she tried to ignore her father and concentrate on the third position.
Jack smiled and left Lulu to her practice, though he was a little worried she was pushing herself too hard.
“... trying to build a system of philosophy without using assumptions. Descartes asked himself what could he be certain of? He realized that the world around him, even his own body, could be the result of some malignant demon. A film gave us a modern take on that. It's called 'The Matrix' and has some really cool special effects. Anyway, Descartes realized that the only thing he could be sure of was that he was able to think. So he came up with 'cogito ergo sum' which means 'I think, therefore I am'. I wonder what you think about Bean Sprout? Can you think?”
Jack walked into the living room and smiled. David was sitting before the monitor that showed the womis, talking to Bean Sprout while he worked on something that looked like a scrapbook.
“Hey, Buddy, what are you doing?” Jack inquired.
“Dad, I'm making an album for Bean Sprout, like Kayla did for the Munchkins and the twins. I thought we could record all his measurements, ideas for names, photos, and anything else we think of,” the boy announced.
Jack ruffled his son's hair. David loved babies and was really excited about Bean Sprout.
“That's a great idea, Son. Shouldn't you still be resting though?” the concerned father inquired.
David rolled his eyes as he answered, “I'm fine, Dad, and I am resting. I was just so tired of lying in bed all day.”
The conversation was interrupted by the return of Daniel, the Munchkins, Bijou, and Katie. Daniel was carrying Katie, but Jack was pleased to see that the little beagle wasn't looking distressed; quite to the contrary, she had a pleased expression on her face as though she was enjoying all the attention and planned on milking it for all it was worth.
A little while later, after updating each other on the current family situation, Jack pulled Daniel aside and suggested, “Danny, why don't you go check on Lulu.”
“She's not sick again,” Daniel stated in a semi-question, concern etched on his face.
Jack responded, “No, but I think she's putting too much pressure on herself for learning the dance. See what you think.”
“Do you have a specific concern?” Daniel inquired.
The older man sighed, “I'm just wondering if she thinks we expect her to progress at a certain rate.”
Daniel surmised, “The dance studio.”
Nodding, Jack answered, “Yeah. Danny, maybe something happened before with that ... beast of a foster parent.”
Suddenly full of controlled anger, Daniel replied, “He beat her, Jack; I'm sure it's very possible that he said things that would make her think she had to ... to be the best.”
“I just have a feeling, and I want that dance studio used when she *wants* to, not because she thinks she *has* to,” Jack opined.
“Me, too,” the younger man agreed. “Have you noticed any change in Noa about dancing?”
“No, but Noa understands it's her choice; I'm just not sure Lulu does,” Jack wondered.
“I'll go say 'hi',” Daniel said, heading for the dance studio at the front of the house in one of the new extensions.
Daniel stood in the doorway of the dance studio and watched Lulu trying to perfect her movement. As he watched, she misplaced her step and fell to the floor. Running over to her, he helped her up and guided her to a chair.
“Lulu, are you okay? Did you twist your foot?” Daniel asked. The little girl shook her head, but wasn't meeting Daniel's eyes. He used a finger to tilt her chin up and saw her eyes were full of unshed tears. “Oh, Lil' Bit. We need to have a little talk.”
“I'll do better, Daddy. I just need to practice more,” Lulu told him.
Daniel shook his head as he began to explain, “That's not what I mean, Lulu. You know, for the longest time I thought that the only reason why people would like me, why foster parents would ever want me, was if I kept achieving good grades at school. I kept pushing myself, terrified of failing, and you know what happened?”
“I stopped enjoying it. The studying that I'd always loved doing became an albatross ...” Daniel paused as he noticed Lulu's confused look at the term. “It became a weight around my neck, something that made me feel bad. It wasn't my 'feel good' place anymore. Eventually, I realized that whatever I achieved didn't matter to a real family. Aunt Suzanna never liked me because I was smart; she liked me for who I am. Just like Dad and I love you for who you are.”
Bravely, Lulu processed her father's words and asked, “Don't care 'bout dance?”
Daniel smiled at her; then answered, “We just want you to enjoy it, Lulu. That's why we created the dance studio, so you and Noa could have fun. You don't ever have to dance again, if you don't want to.”
The little girl looked horrified as she said excitedly, “But I love to dance.”
“Then we're all for it,” Daniel encouraged. “As long as you know that Dad and I love you and always will, whether you choose to dance or not. Dancing is a fun thing; it's not a chore or something you have to do for us.”
Lulu smiled and hugged Daniel as she happily proclaimed, “Love you, Daddy.”
“I love you, too, Lil' Bit.”
“What a day,” Daniel said as he collapsed onto the sofa and into Jack's arms about twenty minutes later, having talked more with Lulu and then helped her with the third position.
“It's not over yet, either,” Jack hesitantly stated. “What happened with Lulu?”
Daniel sighed, “You were right. We talked for a while. Gawd, Jack, one time that ... that ...”
“Monster?” Jack looked at his husband, quizzing, “Is that the word you were looking for?”
“That's being too nice. He beat Lulu because she fell off a bicycle, Jack. She'd never been on one before, and he told her he had gotten the bike just for her, and she had better learn how to ride it perfectly. She was scared and couldn't do it. I think that's where it came from,” Daniel theorized.
“We bought her something ...” Jack began.
“We didn't just buy something, Babe; we gave her an entire room. We put in a dance mat, a monitor, and a VCR. We decorated it and bought her little dancing outfits. We gave her that bicycle times a thousand,” Daniel explained.
“So she thought she had to be perfect.” Jack grimaced and remarked with disgust, “Monster. The scars may be faded, but the memories are fresh.”
“I think she understands now, but we need to watch out for things like this in the future, Jack,” Daniel opined.
Jack nodded, adding, “Who knows what she might do just because she thinks we want her to.”
“It's so easy to just love them and forget the nightmares they've been through. We have to remember that with Bri, too,” the younger man reminded. “We can't treat them differently, but we have to make sure we're seeing the big picture.”
“Uh, when is Jeff due home?” Daniel asked as he cuddled in a bit closer to his lover.
Jack automatically checked his watch as he answered, “He said by six.”
“Oh, Babe,” Daniel said as he snuggled a little closer for a moment. “We need to talk about Jen and Peter.”
“Why?” Jack growled.
“Because of what she told us the other day,” Daniel answered, having meant to discuss the issue since it came up, but having something always interfere. “Jack, I called Janet after we talked to Jen about the kiss with Peter and asked her a few questions, just to make sure.”
“About ...” Jack prompted.
“Mono may not be airborne, as you pointed out to Jen, but it can be acquired by other means. Jen could have come in contact with something and gotten it that way,” Daniel speculated.
“She kissed him!” Jack explained as his ire built.
“Yes, but it was a closed-mouth kiss and very brief,” Daniel recalled. “I'm not convinced that's where she got it.”
“I am,” Jack disagreed. ~Although Danny is usually right about this crap. Crap, he's usually right about everything.~
“Just ... think about it,” Daniel requested. “There may be an 'or' here on how she got mono.”
“Maybe,” Jack replied, not ready to cave yet on the subject. ~That *boy* kissed our daughter!~
“Stubborn,” Daniel teased. Then he suggested, “Why don't we go play with the children outside for a while?”
“Sounds like a plan, Love,” Jack said, giving his lover a kiss before the two got up.
Sometime later, Jack and Daniel were in the kitchen, preparing dinner when the phone rang.
Daniel looked at Jack whose hands were covered in flour and volunteered, “I'll get it.”
“That's gracious of you, Love,” Jack chuckled.
“Never let it be said I'm not thoughtful,” Daniel stated boastfully.
“No, never,” Jack laughed.
Picking up the phone, Daniel grinned as Jack absentmindedly rubbed his nose, leaving a smudge of flour on it.
“Doctor Jackson-ONeill, this is Margaret Holstein,” the female spoke.
“Mrs. Holstein, how are you?” Daniel asked graciously.
“I'm fine, but I'm afraid not everyone is,” the woman informed him.
“What's wrong?” Daniel went from relaxed to concerned in an instant. Jeff was due home shortly and so this phone call was unlikely to be good news. ~I'm not sure I want to know.~
Hearing the change in Daniel's tone, Jack washed the flour off his hands and came over to listen in.
“I'm afraid the boys must have eaten something bad,” the woman explained. “They think it was probably some seafood they ate at the mall since Tom is the only one who didn't eat it, and he's also the only one who isn't ill. They were all fine until about forty-five minutes ago, but now they've spent the last thirty minutes taking turns in the bathroom. I wondered whether you wanted me to bring Jeff home or if you'd rather pick him up yourselves.”
“Pick him up,” Jack mouthed.
“We'll pick him up just as soon as we can get there. Thank you, Mrs. Holstein,” Daniel intoned.
Once Daniel hung up, Jack immediately assured, “He'll be fine, Danny.”
In disbelief at their recent luck, Daniel sighed, “I know, but geez, Jack, has anyone escaped catastrophe this month?”
Jack thought for a moment, then said, “The cats.”
“Uh, cat, Jack.”
“The duct tape,” Jack recalled about Mittens.
“Right,” Daniel spoke dryly.
“And Bogey,” Jack mentioned, wanting something positive to think about.
“You finish cooking, and I'll go get Jeff,” Daniel suggested, chuckling lightly at his husband. “Oh, Babe?” he said softly.
“The fish are fine, too,” Daniel softly acknowledged. “Gawd, I hope we haven't just jinxed them all.”
Sharing an all-too-brief kiss, the lovers said goodbye, and Daniel went to pick up Jeff.
“How's he doing?” Jack asked as Daniel and Jeff walked in the door.
“I'll live,” Jeff weakly responded, quickly adding, “that is after I ... excu...”
The boy went running through the entranceway towards his bedroom.
“What do you think, Danny? Do we need to call Syl?” a concerned Jack inquired.
“No, I think once he gets it all out of his system, he'll be fine. Mrs. Holstein has already called the Food Court, and they're checking into it. She'll let us know what she finds out,” Daniel said informatively.
Jack chuckled, prompting Daniel to give him a puzzled look.
“I should take my own advice about not panicking,” the older man explained.
“Yes, you should,” the younger man agreed, leaning in for a kiss.
“What a day,” Jack lamented.
“What a day,” Daniel echoed.
“The day is still young,” the older man pointed out as he made a funny face.
“Thanks for sharing,” Daniel wryly responded.
“Anytime, Angel,” Jack said as the two men plopped down on their sofa, hoping for a few minutes of peace.
“Think we can make it through dinner?” Daniel teased.
“I'm taking odds,” Jack teased.
“We may only have one night here, but it is the right night,” Jack remarked lovingly just before engaging in more lovemaking with his husband.
It was Sunday, June 26, the anniversary of the night when Fly Boy got his greatest wish, and Space Monkey became his forever. Neither felt comfortable going too far from home to celebrate, especially since the kids had been sick so much of the month. Thus, they had decided on a one-night getaway to their Colorado cabin.
The lovers had left their children in the loving care of Sam and Janet early in the morning and drove to the cabin in Daniel's silver sports car. They'd made love, munched on a variety of finger foods, enjoyed some champagne and chocolate treats, gone for a swim, and, of course, made love some more.
It had been a joyous day, and, now, as the evening settled, the lovers were eating a light dinner and speaking soft, tender words of love. On this night, there was no one but the two members of their private nation.
Eventually, the soulmates decided to go to their bedroom for more loving fusions of their bodies.
“Be right there, Babe,” Daniel said as they entered the bedroom. “Ah, don't start without me.”
“Smart aleck,” Jack accused as he took off his shirt and watched as Daniel disappeared into the bathroom.
“Just ... don't start without me,” Daniel warned.
Jack laughed, “Dictator!”
“If you only knew ...”
The general chuckled as the archaeologist disappeared into the bathroom.
In the bathroom, Daniel stripped off his clothing. He stared at the mirror and asked himself, “Why do I do things like this?”
Doing a mock shiver, the archaeologist reached down to pick up the bag he had covertly placed in the bathroom when they first arrived.
~One, two, three ... go?~ Daniel told himself two minutes later. ~So ... go!~ He took a deep breath and re-entered the bedroom. “Hey, Fly Boy! Hungry?” he taunted seductively.
Jack opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. He just stared as Daniel stood there enticingly.
“Daniel, what in Netu are you doing with that vegetable?” the stunned older man asked as he took a step back and shook his head at his husband.
Jack looked his archaeologist up and down and then settled again on his mid-section. Nude, Daniel was one sexy creature. Nude and with an erection, he was one sexy and sensuous lover. But nude, with an erection around which a string was tied, and at the other end of that string was a small potato ... well ... that was a Daniel that Jack loved to pieces. Sexy, sensuous, and with a crazy sense of humor.
“Well, Babe, you always say I'm a *dic*tater!” Daniel quipped, trying not to laugh too hard.
Jack gulped and then began a stuttered and hesitant laugh. It started slow and then built to an enormous rupture.
Falling into his soulmate's arms, Jack laughed, “Geez, Danny, I love you, my big, big, *big* dictator!”
Daniel laughed, too, and then kissed his lover. Jack was one happy man, and he proved it by ravishing his husband over and over again; that is, once he had removed the potato.
Daniel was in the living room, helping Little Danny draw hieroglyphs while Jack was playing with Jonny and Aislinn.
“Dad, Daddy, something's wrong with Calico,” Lulu spoke urgently as she came into the room, holding the orange, black, and white cat. The little girl offered her beloved pet up to Daniel for examination. “Help Calico, please.”
Little Danny was beside his sister in an instant, checking Calico himself. He frowned and began to nod.
“Calico's not purring. She always purrs when I pat her,” the little boy said.
Jack rolled his eyes as he said, “She's probably just tired, Guys. I'm sure she's fine. You wait and see. Tomorrow she'll be back to her usual self.”
Lulu shook her head, saying, “She's been like this all day. She hasn't been tired all day, Dad. There's something wrong.”
Little Danny agreed, “Can't explain, but something's wrong.”
Jack looked at Daniel for help, communicating, **Danny, you try telling them that the blasted cat is fine.** He watched his lover staring at Calico. **Danny? Oh, for crying out loud. The furball's probably just having an off day.**
**Jack, the kids have good instincts, especially Little Danny. I don't want to tell them Calico is fine and then wake up tomorrow and find out she's not. Do you?**
**Pam?** Jack asked, deciding maybe a trip to the family vet wasn't such a bad idea.
**Just to be on the safe side,** Daniel concurred. “Jack, get her carrier,” he requested.
Little Danny seemed to be watching his parents as they communicated silently and, hearing Daniel's words, he smiled at Lulu and hugged her.
“It's okay, Lulu; we'll take Calico to Pam. Pam will fix her,” Little Danny affirmed confidently.
“Not you guys again,” Pam teased as Daniel, Lulu, and Little Danny walked into the waiting room with Calico. Both children had insisted on accompanying Daniel to the vet, who had just finished checking a beagle recovering from an ear clot operation. “How are Bijou and Katie?”
“They're fine. It's a feline member of the family this time,” Daniel explained.
“Feline?” Lulu asked about the strange word.
“Means cat,” Little Danny defined before Pam and Daniel had a chance.
Pam raised her eyebrows at Daniel, who mouthed, “Genius,” as he shrugged with both pride and embarrassment.
“Like his father,” Pam replied quietly.
The friendly pet doctor smiled and ushered them into the exam room. Lulu and Little Danny spoke to Calico as Pam took the animal's temperature and then began running her hands over Calico, receiving a squeak when she got near the base of the colorful cat's tail.
Pam looked at the three anxious faces and stated, “The bad news is she seems to have developed an abscess. That's why she's been lethargic and has a temperature. The good news is that I think we've caught it early, so I'll just flush it out and give her some antibiotics. Calico should be fine. She may need an E-collar, though, to stop her from licking the site and re-infecting it. If you three wait in reception, I'll flush out her wound, and then you can take her home.”
“Daddy, what's an E-collar?” Lulu asked.
Daniel answered, “It's a plastic collar that goes around the cat's neck. It's very lightweight, and it doesn't hurt at all. What it does is prevent her from scratching, licking, or biting the affected area so it can heal properly.”
Fifteen minutes later, Little Danny and Lulu were fawning over Calico, who was already looking much livelier despite the wide collar around her neck.
“So, Bean Sprout, June is thankfully almost over. Just eighteen more minutes, and, boy, I'm ready for July,” Daniel said as he caressed the womis. “Toto, I hope you've been doing your job. I know you have. I mean, uh, you grew some more, but I'm ... I'm still afraid about when I had my cold. I'd ... no, Jack and Janet say I'm worrying too much, but it's just that I love you so much. Toto, please don't let us down, and, Bean Sprout, you just ... you just keep developing and growing. Your dad and I, and your brothers and sisters, and ... the pet brigade, we can't wait to hold you and love you in our arms. Goodnight, Bean Sprout.”
Daniel leaned over and kissed the rubbery object that had grown another five-eighths inches during the past week. As he did so, Jack entered the room.
“Hey,” the older man said, smiling as he joined his lover.
“Hey, I was just saying goodnight to Bean Sprout,” the younger man explained.
“That's what I came in to do,” Jack mentioned. “Just checked the brood; all present and accounted for, and all under the spell of the sandman.”
Jack took Daniel's hand and led him to the recliner in the den. They got in and snuggled up close with the younger man's head resting on Jack's shoulder.
“It's been a long month, Jack,” Daniel said quietly.
“That it has, Dannyboy, but we got through it. We survived all the colds and rashes, the injured limbs, the pet catastrophes, and the dueling sisters.” Jack heard his husband sigh.
All the children were now fully recovered. The animals, too, were in tip top condition. Little Danny still had to be careful with his arm, and, under threat of having monthly physicals if she didn't take care of it and follow through with her promise not to play sports or do anything overly physical, Brianna had been thrilled earlier today when Janet had removed her cast, replacing it with a new state-of-the-art brace that was removable, thereby giving the tomboy a bit more freedom with her mobility. It meant only wearing the 'cast' at night and whenever doing anything that might put extra stress on her arm.
“We still have to figure out what's going on with Jen,” Daniel spoke quietly.
“I've been giving that some thought,” Jack stated.
“Oh, and, uh, have you come up with anything?” the younger man asked.
“Yeah, I think she's a normal teenager,” Jack chuckled.
“Normal?” Daniel shifted his position to look up at his lover. Confused, he asked, “What do you mean?”
Nodding, Jack asked, “Angel, remember how we promised that as much as Jen would end up helping us with the brood, that she would not become a mother to the kids?”
“Right. That's important, Jack. She has to have her youth, just like ... just ...” Daniel smiled as he began to understand what his husband was saying. He repeated Jack's words. “She's a normal teenager.”
“I don't like it,” Jack admitted. “That Peter Hamilton had better stay away from her ...”
“Jack, we don't even know him,” the archaeologist noted.
“That's my point,” Jack stated with precision. “I'm tired of hearing this kid's name and seeing Jennifer drool. How can he be so great?”
“I don't know, but ...”
“But nothing, Danny,” Jack lightly argued. “That kid is a teenager, and he's after our daughter.”
“Jack, relax. Not all boys are, uh, well ... I mean, Jack, what were you like when you were Peter's age?” Daniel questioned.
“And that's exactly why the shotgun is loaded and ready to go, because I do remember!” the older man pointed out.
Daniel chuckled, “Babe, you've already told me you were a good boy.”
“And I was good; the girls said so,” Jack mused with pride.
“Oh,” Daniel chuckled at his humble lover.
“Danny, it's just she's so young, and we don't know Hamilton. What are we going to do?”
“I don't know, but I can tell you what I do know,” Daniel offered.
“I'm all ears,” Jack announced with patience.
“And they are such sexy ears, too,” Daniel opined lustily as he leaned in to nibble on his Love's left ear.
“Hey, focus,” Jack teased.
“I am! I am!” Daniel said, taking another nibble.
“We were talking about Jennifer,” Jack reminded. “But, uh ...”
“No, you're right,” Daniel said, ceasing his nibbling for the moment. “Jack, I was talking to Janet the other day, and she pointed something out to me.”
“The Doc loves to point, especially with those long needles of hers.”
“Jack, listen!” the younger man demanded.
The older man chuckled as he placed another kiss on Daniel's head and rubbed his arm gently.
“Sorry, Angel. Tell me what the Doc said,” Jack requested.
“Well, I was asking her what she thought about Jen's behavior, and she laughed,” Daniel relayed.
“I'm glad she finds it amusing,” Jack stated dryly.
Daniel ignored the attitude and continued, “No, Jack, she started talking about Cassie and how she was at that age. Gee, I'd forgotten some of the things Cassie put Janet through.”
Jack nodded, “That's true. Cass was a handful for a few years.”
“And that's the point. I didn't see it until Janet brought it up. She started comparing Jen and Cassie.”
“Analysis 101. What did you learn?” Jack queried.
Daniel replied, “That there's no difference between them.”
“That's helpful!” the older man said snarkily.
“Gawd, Jack, pay attention.”
“What?” Jack shrieked.
Daniel rolled his eyes and then continued, “Jack, we wanted Jen to feel safe and secure, so much so that she could be a normal teenager. She's rebelling. She's arguing and fighting and going behind our backs and ...”
“And I don't like it,” Jack bellowed.
“Show me a parent who does,” Daniel challenged. “Don't you see? We're a success, Love. Our daughter is acting just like Cassie did; she's doing what every other teenage girl in the country does at her age.”
“Daniel, are you suggesting that I should be happy that she got mono from kissing that boy?” a stunned Jack asked.
“We don't know for sure that's how she got it, but,” Daniel chuckled, “well, yes!”
Jack stared at his husband in disbelief, but then he laughed, too, and replied, “You're right, Danny. If Jen were worried about rejection or having to set a constant maternal example for David and Noa, she wouldn't be acting like this.”
“That's what Janet was telling me. Jennifer was so protective of David and Noa at the beginning, but now she knows she's home. Jack, I want Bri to feel the same way. We have to give her time,” Daniel stated.
Jack concurred, “She's our daughter, Danny; we have all the time in the world to give her.”
“We have forever,” Daniel agreed.
“Flowers for the Doc?” Jack questioned.
“Yeah,” Daniel agreed, “along with a thank you for being there for all of us.”
Nuzzled together, the lovers fell asleep in the recliner as they kept a watchful eye on their unborn unexpected miracle.
... On to Chapter Four