Unexpected Miracle - Continued
Chapter Four: The Killer General
“What?” Jennifer asked in horror and disbelief as she stood in her bedroom, looking at her fathers, an expression of horror on her face.
Daniel hid a grin. Ever since the two men had found out that Jennifer had kissed a boy, he had been working overtime to try and curb Jack's protective instincts. He'd at least managed to persuade his husband that he didn't need to pay the boy a visit, nor did he need to sic Teal'c on the young man. It had taken a bit more time to convince his lover that Jennifer didn't need a chaperone twenty-four/seven.
As for Daniel, he wasn't convinced that Jennifer's illness was a result of one short kiss, especially since their daughter claimed it was a closed-mouth kiss. While Jack inwardly had a few doubts himself, he found it easier to blame his daughter's would-be suitor.
“This is not up for discussion, Jennifer,” Jack informed her, giving the teenager a stern look.
“It won't be that bad, Jen,” Daniel tried to reassure their eldest child.
The rebellious teen just looked at him with disbelief as she argued, “Not that bad? You want me to invite Peter over for dinner one night, with all eleven of us, and you think it won't be that bad?” She shook her head. “If he isn't scared off by the idea of having dinner with thirteen people ...”
“If he's scared off that easily, then he isn't worth knowing,” Jack growled as he stood, toying with a CD case that had been setting on their daughter's desk. ~How can she listen to this stuff?~
“If he isn't scared off by that, he will be by Dad's interrogation,” Jennifer retaliated. Flailing her arms about to accentuate her pleas, she looked Daniel and whined, “Daddy, you know how intimidating Dad can be.”
~I do my job well,~ Jack thought, looking pleased with himself as he flipped over the CD to read the song list. ~These are songs? Looks like a foreign language to me.~
Standing with his hands in his pants pockets, Daniel rolled his eyes at his lover's smug expression and reiterated, “Jen, I won't let Dad interrogate Peter, but we do want to get to know him.”
“And tell him that if he so much as touches you again ...” Jack mumbled.
“Dad!” Jennifer exclaimed, plopping down at the end of her full-sized bed.
“Jack, stop it! We've already had this conversation,” the younger man warned. Daniel turned his attention back to the distraught teenager. ~I can see the wheels turning in your head, Jennifer, but nothing is going to change our minds.~
~This has to get their attention,~ Jennifer thought, scooting back a bit on her bed, bringing her left leg to rest atop the bed. “What about Toto? I thought you didn't want strangers in the house until Bean Sprout is born?”
Daniel chuckled, “Nice try, Jen, but we weren't planning on taking Peter into the den. The monitors will be disconnected and put out of sight for the duration of his visit. To be clear, what we've said is that we are going to limit the number of guests we have at one time, and you know when we have guests, the den is locked.”
The younger man shrugged slightly. He and Jack had sworn to keep the den locked anytime they weren't in it, but the practicality of doing that had worn out only a few days into their resolve. They trusted their children not to enter the den, so while the doors were always drawn to keep the pets out, it wasn't normally locked, except when company was in their home.
“Can't we leave it for a bit longer?” Jennifer begged. ~Dad will kill him before Peter gets out three words.~
“No,” Jack answered firmly, not willing to give an inch on the subject. ~The sooner this kid sees what he's up against, the sooner we'll be rid of him.~
Daniel nodded in agreement and explained, “I'm sorry, Jen, but this really isn't up for negotiation. We would like to meet Peter, and if you won't ask him to dinner, we will.”
~Gawd, that would be worse!~ Jennifer lay back on her bed, putting her hands over her face as she complained, “He'll never speak to me again.”
“What's it going to be, Jennifer?” Jack asked, putting the CD down and walking to the edge of her bed.
The teen sighed, “I'll ask him.” She sat back up, shaking her head. “It's so embarrassing.”
“Not yet, but it will be,” Jack threatened, smiling smugly as Jennifer again lay back down, her head still shaking back and forth at the unfairness of it all.
The older man gave his husband an unrepentant shrug and walked out of the bedroom, leaving Daniel alone with the girl. He sat on the side of the bed and glanced back over his shoulder at the still-groaning girl.
“Jen, I know this has been a difficult few weeks, but I hope you remember that we love you, and we're going to do whatever we have to in order to protect you from ...”
“You don't need to protect me from Peter,” Jennifer whined.
“I wasn't going to say anything about Peter,” Daniel rebutted.
“You weren't?” Jennifer sat up, scooting forward to sit on the side of her bed, next to her younger father. “Then from whom?”
“From yourself,” Daniel responded, looking her straight in the eye. “Jen, you're sixteen years old, and you think you know everything. You don't, and until you're at least eighteen, Dad and I are going to protect you as much as we can.”
“Daddy, I know what you're saying, but I'm not a child,” the girl argued.
“You lied to us. You went behind our backs, and you're paying the price for that,” Daniel admonished.
“Yeah. Mono isn't fun,” Jennifer bewailed, her shoulders sagging slightly.
Daniel sighed in exasperation, “I wasn't talking about that.”
“Then what are you talking about?” a perturbed Jennifer queried.
“Trust, Jen -- our trust,” Daniel answered, his eyes boring into his daughter's. “Try looking at the bigger picture, the one beyond your being sick and being punished for having an attitude last month. If you had trusted us from the start, would any of it have happened?”
“It was one little kiss,” Jennifer defended, shuffling her feet against the floor.
Sighing, Daniel stood and walked to the doorway, where he looked back at their daughter and pointed out, “Jen, you're looking at one moment. You've kept this boy to yourself for a long time now. There have been lots of little hints and signs that he's been a part of your life, but you haven't shared any of that with us. Trust, Jen ... from the beginning, not just the kiss. Think about it,” he urged as he turned and left the girl alone.
~Crap!~ Jennifer sighed as she lay back down again, staring up at the ceiling. “Parents,” she lamented aloud. “They just don't understand teenagers!”
“What do you think, Munchkins?” Jack asked, holding up four shirts at the clothing store. “Powder blue, navy blue, midnight blue, or sky blue?”
Jack and the Munchkins were on a shopping excursion for Daniel, whose birthday was fast approaching.
“Daddy says he needs new brown shirt,” Jonny commented, pointing over at some brown and tan shirts nearby.
“Or lavender,” Aislinn added.
Jack coughed, “Well, Daddy really needs something blue.”
Little Danny scoffed at his father's words and said, “Daddy have drawers full of blue shirts, Dad.”
“Well, you can never get enough of a good thing,” Jack stated happily.
~Mmmm.~ Little Danny looked down at his navy shirt and scrunched his nose. Then he asked, “Dad, why do I have so many blue clothes like Daddy?”
“Because ... never mind,” Jack answered. “We'll get all four.”
“Daddy only needs one shirt. He told me so,” Aislinn said as she swayed, clutching her pink dress.
Jack refuted, “Yeah, well, I like to spoil Daddy, and it's his birthday.”
Jonny snickered and said to his siblings, “Dad likes Daddy in blue. You look like Daddy, Little Danny, so you have to wear blue, too.”
The little boy pondered the situation, then nodded, saying an understanding, “Okay.”
Choosing to ignore his namesake's remarks, Jack instructed, “Come on, Munchkins. We have more shopping to do for Daddy's birthday.”
“And Katie,” Little Danny reminded his father. “It's Katie's birthday too.”
“We'll get her lotsa toys, Little Danny,” Jonny reassured his brother. Then the youngster grinned mischievously and asked, “Do Katie's toys need to be blue, too, Dad?”
“Cheeky devil,” Jack chided as he gave a mock glare at Jonny, who looked extra pleased with himself.
“We could make all Daddy's presents blue,” Aislinn suggested.
“Yeah,” both boys agreed.
Jonny and Little Danny grinned at that idea and began making suggestions of 'blue' presents that they could get Daniel. Jack imagined Daniel's expression at being presented with blue birthday gifts and cringed.
“We could get Daddy some blue bubblegum,” Jonny recommended.
“And a blue-tongued lizard,” Little Danny suggested. “They're Australian; that's where Dad and Daddy went for their honeymoon, and they're the largest members of the skink family, and they have dark blue tongues. They ...”
Jack shook his head at the facts falling from his son's tongue and quickly interrupted, “We aren't getting Daddy a lizard, Little Danny. For one thing, we already have a lizard.”
“He doesn't have a blue tongue, though, Dad,” Jonny pointed out.
“We could paint it blue,” Aislinn suggested.
“I don't think Bogey would like that, Ash,” Jack opined, attempting to quickly derail that suggestion.
“But we could,” the little girl argued.
“But we won't,” Jack insisted.
“But we could,” Aislinn said again.
“Yeah, we have paint in the garage,” Jonny recalled.
“I'm good at painting,” Aislinn added.
“We are *not* painting Bogey's tongue blue,” Jack reiterated.
“Why not?” Little Danny asked.
“Yeah, why not?” Aislinn inquired.
“Ice cream!” Jack called out.
“Yah!” the Munchkins cheered, each snickering at their successful plan to get an extra ice cream treat from their father during the outing.
“Did you enjoy your day, Love?” Jack asked when the lovers were in bed in their deluxe suite in their Boston hotel.
Both were on their backs, looking up at the ceiling. Jack's arm was around Daniel's shoulders, and their heads were leaning against each other's. The blanket and bedspread were mussed, only covering their bodies, naked from their recent lovemaking, from their waists downward.
“Silly question,” Daniel replied, turning his head to face Jack and settling more comfortably against the older man's arm. “It was the perfect day.”
“I wasn't sure how you'd like the oatmeal waffles,” Jack chuckled.
Daniel grimaced, then laughed, “I loved them.”
Jack's fingers ran lightly through Daniel's slightly shaggy hair as he replied, “The best you've ever had, right?”
“Ricky and Jenny made them. Did you see their little faces?” Daniel asked with misty eyes.
“Angel, I was tempted to help them out, but they were insistent. They worked very hard to make that breakfast for you this morning,” Jack informed his lover. “How was the coffee?”
“Actually, that really was pretty good, but I've never had Pepsi Arabian Mocha before,” Daniel admitted. Making a funny face as he stared back up at the ceiling, he added, “I don't think I want to have it again, either.”
“The things parents digest for their kids,” Jack chuckled in amazement.
“Food of love, Jack,” Daniel softly spoke. “Nothing tastes better anywhere.”
“I know,” Jack agreed, remembering his own moments of eating food prepared by the children that weren't up to chef's standards, but yet had been the best tasting food ever because of the one crucial ingredient in its preparation -- love.
“Maybe we should call and wish them goodnight?” Daniel asked hopefully, missing their brood terribly.
Jack glanced at the clock, saying, “It's only eight-thirty in the Springs.”
Eagerly, the parents made the phone call, happy to chat with all of their children for a few minutes before returning to their special birthday trip. After the breakfast prepared by the Spitfires that morning, all of the brood had surprised Daniel with presents, and then Daniel and Katie had shared a birthday cake, designed in the shape of a bone. It worked for Daniel who had frequently dug up human bones, and for the young beagle, who loved any kind of bone. Afterwards, as he had so often done over the years, Jack spirited a surprised Daniel away for a quick but enjoyable weekend in Boston.
Boston had always been a favorite of the two, ever since they'd gone to a scientific gathering years ago and Daniel had first learned to make snow angels. Of course, it was winter then, and this was summer, but, still, the lovers had a special fondness for the historic Massachusetts city.
With the time difference between their home and Boston, they'd spent the afternoon walking the cobblestone streets and enjoying a romantic dinner before returning to their hotel for a cozy evening together. Daniel didn't know what Jack had on the calendar for the weekend, but he knew that whatever it was, he'd be having a wonderful time because no matter what they did, they'd be lost in their nation of two.
Monday afternoon, with her parents back underfoot after their weekend away, Jennifer sighed and stared at the phone. She'd been putting off asking Peter over for dinner, and her parents had finally lost patience with her. Her cell phone had been temporarily returned for the purpose of making the call, and she'd also been given a list of possible dates for the dinner. Her parents had instructed her not to leave her room until she'd made the call, with a firm reminder that only *one* call was to be made, and that it had better be made before dinnertime that night.
A knock on the door had her snatching up the phone in case it was one of her fathers coming to check on her progress, but a whispered, “Jen?” put her mind at rest.
“Come in, Bri.”
Brianna came in and gave her sister a sympathetic look. The two sisters had gotten over their fight of a few weeks ago, but were still inclined to tread gently around each other.
“Have you called him yet?” Brianna asked.
Jennifer shook her head, saying, “What am I supposed to say, 'Hi, Peter, my fathers want you to come over so they can interrogate you. When do you feel like coming?'”
Brianna grinned and then responded, “I think there are better ways to ask him; and you need to trust Daddy, Jen. He won't let Dad go too bananas.”
The older girl just snorted as she imagined all kinds of tortures Jack might inflict on her young beau.
“Anyway, I came in to give you a heads up. Dad just got back from the movie with the Munchkins and Spitfires, so I think you're out of time.” Brianna gave the older teenager an encouraging grin and observed, “Peter likes you, Jen; I don't think you need to worry.”
“Thanks, Bri,” Jennifer spoke in appreciation.
Once Brianna had closed the door behind her, Jennifer took a deep breath and began dialing Peter's number.
“How's Bean Sprout?” Jack asked, walking into the den later that night.
“Bigger,” Daniel announced with a smile, placing a bookmark between the pages of the book he'd been reading and then closing it. “By half an inch!”
“Way to go, Toto!” Jack said, leaning over to kiss the rubbery pouch that was protecting their unborn child.
“Jack, we've avoided the issue for weeks,” Daniel said, abruptly steering the conversation towards the topic of naming their unborn child.
“What's wrong with a little avoidance?” Jack asked, flopping down in Daniel's desk chair since his husband was in the recliner.
“Nothing, when it's short term, but it's July now, Babe, and we have to start thinking about names for our baby.”
“Our baby,” Jack sighed, sitting back in the chair and smiling. “Diapers. Two a.m. feedings. Crying, crying, and more crying.”
“I can't wait,” Daniel eagerly proclaimed.
“Me, either. Want me to get the baby book out?” Jack asked excitedly, recalling the hours they'd spent perusing the book when attempting to come up with names for the Munchkins and the Spitfires.
Daniel moved his head back and forth slightly as he considered options, finally determining, “Jack, whatever we name this baby, it has to be special. I mean, all names are special, but this one has to be ...”
“Special?” Jack chuckled.
“Sometimes, O'Neill ...” Daniel began.
“Always, Jackson,” Jack laughed, temporarily getting out of the chair and leaning over to kiss his soulmate. “Danny, what happened with the Munchkins and the twins?”
Daniel laughed, “We named them on the spot.”
“So much for planning and researching,” Jack confirmed. “We'll know when Bean Sprout is born what his, or her, name should be.”
Nodding and smiling, the younger man replied, “I guess you're right. For all the time we spent debating on what to name the children, in the end, the names were just ... in our hearts.”
“Let's trust our hearts,” Jack urged. “They haven't let us down yet.”
“No, they haven't,” the younger man agreed, smiling. “So, Jack, about this dinner with Peter Hamilton ...”
“I'll behave,” Jack promised.
“It's important to Jennifer, Babe. Please remember that,” Daniel requested.
“I will, Danny. Hey, the Munchkins are doing better with their pronouns. Have you noticed?”
“Yes, they're better. They're still going back and forth, but it takes time to learn the English language,” Daniel stated.
“We could teach them Italian,” Jack said with a leer. As he moved over to join his husband in the recliner, he whispered, “La mio bello stella cadente.”
“I love being your falling star,” Daniel replied as he caressed Jack's left cheek.
“My *beautiful* falling star,” Jack corrected.
“Ti amo, per sempre e sempre, Jack,” Daniel spoke softly. “Tu sei la mia volpe d'argento, e ti amo cosi, tanto tanto.”
Jack smiled and, as his hand slipped inside Daniel's maroon shirt, he replied, “Qui nella nostra nazione di due, il mio cuore batte solo per te. Tu riempi i miei polmoni di aria, tu fai diventare caldo il mio sangue.”
Daniel leaned in for a tender kiss and then whispered, “Quando i miei occhi si fissano nei tuoi, mi sento così completo. Vedo solo l'amore, Jack. Sei così sexy. Le mie labbra hanno fame delle tue.”
“Letto, amore mio,” Daniel agreed.
As the lovers kissed, David took hold of Little Danny and Jonny and pulled them quickly to his bedroom down the hall.
“Hey!” Jonny protested.
“They're going to bed; that's what they just said. What were you two doing listening to Dad and Daddy talking mushy stuff?” David asked.
“Ewww,” Jonny said with a grimace. “Were they talking mush, Little Danny?”
Little Danny shrugged, answering, “I don't know that language.”
“It's Italian,” David clarified, adding, “And, yes, they were talking mush, lots of it.”
“What did they say?” Little Danny asked, wanting to learn the new language.
“Oh, stuff like Dad being Daddy's silver fox and loving him forever and always. Dad said Daddy made his heart beat ...”
“I thought blood makes a heart beat,” Jonny refuted.
“Not with love,” David answered. “Daddy said Dad was sexy, and his lips were hungry.”
“Huh?” Jonny asked.
“Never mind. You two better get back to bed before they find out you're still up,” David advised.
“What about you?” Jonny challenged.
“I had to use the bathroom, so I had an excuse for being up,” David intelligently replied.
“Oh,” Jonny groaned. “We'd better go back to bed, Little Danny.”
“I still don't understand about hungry lips,” Little Danny sighed as he headed for the door.
David chuckled, not really wanting to think about hungry lips, either.
“Sorry, Muffin,” Jenny said the next morning, picking up the ball that sat between the huge dinosaur's legs. She ran back to the basketball hoop and tried again to make a basket, cheering when she made it this time. Continuing a conversation with her sister that they had begun a few minutes ago, the redhead said, “Ash, Dad 'n' Daddy will say 'kay.”
“Say 'and', Jenny. Dad and Daddy say we hafta say and, not 'n',” Aislinn reminded.
“Ash, Dad *and* Daddy will say 'kay,” Jenny repeated with a frustrated sigh.
“I don't know, Jenny,” Aislinn sighed. “I really want her, though. She's so cute, but Dad already said no yesterday.”
“Ask Daddy,” Jenny suggested conspiratorially with a covert smile.
Aislinn smiled in understanding, confidently expressing, “Daddy will convince Dad!”
“Daddy 'vince Dad of 'nthing,” Jenny stated, trying for another basket but missing and giving out an agitated grunt in response.
Aislinn walked over to the green dinosaur that stood in the corner of the game room. She sat down on the floor between Muffin's legs and commented, “I don't know what to name it.”
Jenny looked at Muffin, thought about all of their family pets, and brightly responded, “I know!”
“Ash, a guinea pig?” Daniel questioned doubtfully as his daughter fidgeted on his lap as they sat on the sofa in the living room.
“Susie said I could have one of the babies. Pleeeeeeease, Daddy! It's just a little guinea pig,” the little girl pleaded.
Daniel sighed, not sure how to say 'no' since some of her siblings already had pets they thought of as their own.
“I'll see what Dad thinks,” Daniel promised.
Aislinn frowned and bowed her head, doing a great imitation of the patented 'Danny Pout'.
“Ash?” Daniel prompted.
“Dad will say 'no'. It's okay,” Aislinn said, dismissing her father's promise. “I don't need a pet.” Getting off Daniel's lap, she began to sniffle. She walked to the stairs, purposely looking back at Daniel and doing a loud sniffle. A tear fell from her eye. “I'm not special like Jonny and Little Danny. It's okay.”
As the little girl began to walk up the stairs, as if going to her death, Daniel gave her a glare. He let out a groan as he stood up.
“Ash, wait up!” Daniel requested.
Just as he reached the stairs, the little girl bounced back down, and with a smile asked, “Yes, Daddy?”
“You're a little con artist, you know that?” Daniel accused softly as he knelt down and put his hands on her waist.
Aislinn smiled, saying, “I didn't really mean what I said, but, Daddy, I really want her. Jenny even helped me name her! Pleeeeease!”
“Okay, Princess,” Daniel acquiesced. “I'll work on Dad for you.”
“Oh, thank you, Daddy,” Aislinn emotionally replied, throwing her arms around her father.
~Gawd, she's a perfect little miracle, and she's got me doing cartwheels. Oh, well. Life could be worse.~ Daniel smiled. “You're welcome.” As Aislinn hurried upstairs to play in her room, Daniel thought, ~Now, how am I going to convince Jack that we need another pet? Seduction -- that's the answer!~
~There's Little Danny,~ Brianna thought, seeing the young boy sitting on the floor. He was next to the sofa, facing the monitor that fed into the den. The young girl had just come downstairs to see if she could find some siblings to play with. Seeing the youngster, she was about to say something, but paused at his expression. ~Wonder what he's doing?~ she asked herself as she observed her brother frowning at a piece of paper and muttering to himself. ~I'll ask him to play. We can ...~
Brianna's thoughts came to an abrupt halt when Little Danny, unaware of her presence, spoke aloud, his words causing the girl to freeze in her tracks.
“... can't include them; not genetic sisters and brothers. .. maybe ...no.”
Brianna stared at her younger brother, hurt welling up inside her. She had never thought Little Danny viewed the adopted Jackson-O'Neill children as being different from his 'real' brothers and sisters. Just the month before he had proven himself to her, but had he changed his mind?
~I must have messed up. He doesn't really think of me as his sister. He's just being nice,~ Brianna sorrowfully thought.
Her heart breaking, Brianna turned and retreated to her room.
Meanwhile, in the living room, Little Danny continued to work on his project, oblivious to what had happened. The youngster chewed on the end of his pencil thoughtfully and then decided that he'd have to consult someone, even if it would mean ruining his surprise.
Little Danny eyed the phone and then looked around the room. He crept into the kitchen and looked out into the yard where both his parents were playing with Ricky, Jenny, Lulu, Chenoa, Aislinn, and Jonny. Then he looked at Bijou who had been told to 'keep an eye on him.'
“Dad and Daddy won't mind if I call Aunt Janet will they, Bij?” the young boy asked.
The beagle looked at him, wagged her tail, and went back to the living room. Taking this as approval, Little Danny grinned and picked up his pieces of paper and the phone. He took everything upstairs and waited for Janet to answer.
The boy grinned when he heard her official, “Doctor Fraiser,” greeting.
“Hi, Aunt Janet!”
“Little Danny!” Janet smiled, then frowned unsure whether a Munchkin phoning her was a good or a bad sign. Fortunately, she didn't have to wonder for long as the small boy immediately launched into a description of his 'secret project', finishing with his all-important question.
“I don't know what to do, Aunt Janet. Jeff, Bri, Lulu, Jen, David, and Noa are family, but I know genetics doesn't work that way, but then I wondered whether Dad and Daddy could have a gene that made them pick girls or boys, then maybe I could include them anyway 'cause they're family, and I can't leave them out, so can I keep them in and still have a scientific answer?”
~Wow. How does he breathe?~ Janet wondered. She listened to Little Danny as he repeated his request in more detail, again ending with the question. Janet had a sinking feeling and wondered how she was supposed to answer. She really didn't want to destroy the little Munchkin's excitement and enthusiasm, but she didn't want to mislead him, either. ~Okay, Janet, think! There has to be a way out of this. Hey, maybe that'll work.~
“Aunt Janet?” the little boy called out, eager for her response.
“You know, Little Danny, I think you're right. We don't know everything about genetics, especially human genetics, and, so, for all we know, there might be a gene that guided your fathers in choosing your adopted siblings. I think you should include them in your calculations,” Janet advised.
“Thanks, Aunt Janet. I didn't feel good 'bout leaving them out. Remember, it's a secret. I want to surprise them,” the boy told his favorite doctor.
“I won't tell a soul, and don't worry, Sweetie. Your parents will definitely be surprised,” the physician opined. ~Horrified, too, probably, but definitely surprised.~ She shook her head in amazement, then laughed at the mental picture she got of Jack and Daniel staring at their son in shock as he announced that Bean Sprout was a girl. She had to give the youngster credit. His reasoning was very logical, albeit fundamentally flawed. ~Even little geniuses aren't infallible.~
“Promise me you won't ask Peter embarrassing questions! Or call me embarrassing names. Or do anything embarrassing,” Jennifer begged as she nervously followed her older father around the kitchen while he prepared dinner for their brood.
Jennifer was nervously following Jack around the kitchen as he prepared dinner for their brood.
“I don't know, Jen. I thought I'd start off the evening by calling you my lil' pumpkin, or maybe Jennikins, then move on to asking him whether he's a virgin and what he believes about sex before marriage, and maybe finish up the evening by showing him your baby photos,” Jack jovially quipped.
Caught up in her dismay at Jack's words, Jennifer missed the teasing grin on her father's face and just stared at him in horror. Jack was totally unprepared for her next reaction which was to burst into tears and flee from the room.
“Jack?” Daniel came into the kitchen, a questioning look on his face. “Why did Jen just run past me in floods of tears, muttering about how she'd be alone for the rest of her life?” At the guilty expression on his husband's face, Daniel sighed, “What did you say to her, Jack?”
“I was just teasing!” Jack defended as he hunched both of his shoulders in innocence. Seeing Daniel's glare, Jack went into exposition mode. “Okay, she walked in and ...”
Once Jack had explained, Daniel didn't know whether to laugh or shake his head in disbelief. He ended up doing both and moved to embrace his soulmate.
“I was just teasing her, Danny. She knows I wouldn't really say any of those things,” Jack sighed.
“I know you were just teasing, Babe, and so does Jen, but I think we'd better lay off the teasing until after the dinner. She knows that we won't intentionally embarrass her, but let's face it, they're both going to be pretty embarrassed by the situation without us even having to do or say anything.” Daniel kissed his husband and grinned, asking, “If you were Peter, wouldn't you be embarrassed and scared?”
Jack chuckled, “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Anyway, there's something else we need to talk about,” Daniel told his soulmate.
“Uh, uh, that sounds ominous,” Jack replied a bit hesitantly.
Daniel grinned, answering, “Sí y no.”
“Linguists!” Jack raised an eyebrow in question and asked, “What now?”
“Well, uh,” Daniel stuttered, “has Ash mentioned a guinea pig recently?”
“Daniel, we are *not* getting another animal for this zoo,” Jack stated firmly.
“Ash really wants her,” Daniel commented.
“Jack,” Daniel spoke softly as he cozied up to his husband. He slid his hand down Jack's chest as he gazed at his Silver Fox's body with lust. Gently, he moved his hands to Jack's back, pulling up his lover's shirt to caress the skin at the base of Jack's back. “Ash, uh, really, really, really wants a guinea pig.”
Daniel moved closer, nibbling on Jack's upper lip. Then he kissed his husband, his hands slipping down inside Jack's pants.
Another kiss elicited a moan from Daniel's crumbling lover. By the time, the younger man began nibbling on Jack's ear, the hardened general was doomed ... and hard.
“One little guinea pig, Babe,” Daniel requested.
“One ... just one, Danny,” Jack agreed, melting like butter in a hot frying pan.
Smiling from his victorious seduction, Daniel stated, “I'll go tell, Ash.”
Daniel turned around, intentionally wiggling his hips in a manner that left a still-dazed Jack even more out of it. Suddenly, Jack snapped back to reality.
“Hey, what about ...?”
“What about what, Big Guy?” Daniel asked, his wanton eyes looking deep into Jack's.
“You can't just leave me like this!” Jack exclaimed, looking down at his bulging mid-section.
Daniel smiled and replied, “Sorry, Babe. No time for, uh, you know.”
“But, Angel, do you really expect me to stand here now and ... and cook?” Jack asked incredulously.
“Why not, I just cooked with sizzzzzling perfection, if I do say so myself,” the younger man said smugly.
With a blink, Daniel disappeared from Jack's view.
“What happened to that scared little puppy I first met at the SGC?” Jack asked, again looking down at his groin which was definitely in need of attention. “Oh, crap!”
“No,” Jack said calmly a bit later.
“But, Dad ...” Jennifer pleaded as they stood in the kitchen as Jack continued to work on the evening meal.
“No,” Jack repeated strongly.
“No,” the girl's father said again.
“I can see your belly button *and* your ribs. Put something decent on,” Jack ordered.
“DAAAADDYYYYYYYY!” Jennifer whined as she turned and ran in search of her more understanding and tolerant father.
“No, Jen,” Daniel said as he put on a new shirt, not happy with the one he had on before.
“But, Daddy,” Jennifer sighed exasperatingly, having spent five minutes pleading with her younger father for support.
Daniel chuckled, then replied, “Jen, you have a lot of lovely outfits in your closet. Go pick one out that you know Dad and I will like.” Hearing his daughter's groan, Daniel closed the gap between them and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “It's one dinner, one night, wearing one outfit that your parents can love.”
“It's not one night, Daddy,” Jennifer complained. “I'm a prisoner of the Jackson-O'Neill Dress Police.”
Laughing again, Daniel said, “Look at it this way. The more you cover up, the less chance Dad will shoot him.”
Giving Jennifer a knowing look, Daniel walked out of the room.
“Oh, gawd, he's right,” Jennifer lamented as she turned and hurried to her room.
The time had come for Peter Hamilton to arrive at the Jackson-O'Neill homestead. Jack and Daniel had gathered together ten of their children for some last minute reminders.
“Best behavior,” Daniel ordered.
“Munchkins?” Jack called out.
“We be good,” Jonny spoke on their behalf.
“*We'll* be good,” Daniel corrected.
“We'll be good,” Jonny repeated.
“Good,” Daniel responded with a smile.
“Spitfires?” Jack called out, looking at them with a serious expression on his face.
“We un'erstand,” Jenny affirmed, looking at Ricky, the two nodding their heads in agreement.
“Mavericks?” the silver-haired man questioned the newest members of their brood.
“Well, first we thought we'd get a frog ...” Seeing Jack's hardened expression, Brianna smiled and said, “We're only kidding.”
“Mouseketeers?” Jack asked as he faced David and Chenoa.
“We're one for all, and all for Jen,” Chenoa answered.
Daniel advised, “Don't forget. This is very important to Jennifer. No funny stuff. No spiders. Bogey stays in his cage. Calico does not get to eat on the table. No field mice in our pockets. No kidding about kissing.”
“Geez, Daddy,” Aislinn whined.
Smiling, the archaeologist continued, “You all know what we mean. Be good.”
“Oh my gosh! It's him! Dad, Daddy, it's him!” Jennifer called out excitedly from her perch at the front window where she'd been waiting for over twenty minutes.
“Relax, Jen. He puts his pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us,” Jack teased.
“I know,” Jennifer sighed as she walked into the living room.
“How do you know?” Jack accused, his parental protectiveness rivaling his Mr. Jealousy in aggression.
“Jack, be calm,” Daniel warned. Hearing the knock on the door, Daniel instructed, “Brood, please stay here in the living room. Jennifer, your dad and I will accompany you to the door. Let's go.”
Brianna sighed as she watched Jennifer and her parents walk over to the door. Her sister always seemed so confident, so sure of her place in the family. She looked at the Munchkins and wondered why she'd had to overhear Little Danny earlier.
~Ignorance is bliss,~ the tomboy told herself.
“Bri, are you okay?” Little Danny asked, having seen his older sister's disturbed expression.
The teenager looked down to see Little Danny's soulful eyes looking up at her with concern.
“Fine,” Brianna snapped. She was determined not to spoil this evening for Jennifer, but she really didn't want to talk to her little brother at the moment. It hurt too much, especially because it was Little Danny. After their little running away episode the month before, she'd felt particularly close to the little genius; now, his words earlier in the day had wounded her to the core. She was really trying not to bring up her old defenses again, but it was a struggle.
“No, you're not,” Little Danny refuted.
Brianna gritted her teeth, counseling herself to ignore the child.
Unfortunately, Little Danny seemed to be in his stubborn mode, and he pulled on her hand, asking again, “What's wrong, Bri?”
Little Danny was frowning, and if Bri didn't know better, she'd swear he was genuinely concerned about her.
~Yeah, right, Bri, fell into that trap before, didn't you?~
Unconsciously, the girl's old shields began reforming as she wondered if the whole family had just been fooling her.
“Please, Bri, you can tell me. You're my big sister,” Little Danny told her.
Sadly, that was exactly the moment that Brianna lost her internal battle, resulting in former defenses springing back into place. The young girl went on the attack.
“Well, you're not my little brother. I wouldn't want a little know-it-all like you as family, anyway. You really had me fooled, Little Danny, and what kind of a stupid name is Little Danny anyway ...”
Brianna looked up to see Jeff glaring at her, a horrified expression on his face. His attention had been focused on the twins, but the venom in Brianna's voice had captured his attention.
“What in blazes is the matter with you?” Jeff asked.
Brianna glared back, then scowled down at Little Danny who was looking up at her in shock, a hurt expression in his blue eyes as fat tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Nothing,” Brianna spat. “Just telling the little brat a few home truths.”
“David, watch the brood,” Jeff instructed as he tugged on Brianna's good arm, pulling her over to the mantle.
“Hey, let go,” Brianna said, struggling to get free.
“Bri, what's this all about?” Jeff asked.
“And just who do you think you are?” Brianna challenged.
“I'm your big brother; now tell me what has you acting like a sniffling ... brat!” Jeff ordered.
“I found out the truth, that's all,” Brianna spat angrily, folding her arms.
Jeff looked over at the door where Jennifer was just taking stock of herself one final time.
“Bri, don't ruin this for Jen. We only have a minute here. Talk specifics,” Jeff firmly requested.
“I'm not his sister. I heard him say so,” Brianna revealed in a raised whisper.
“I no say that,” Little Danny argued, dropping back into child-speak from his strong emotions..
“Eavesdropper!” Brianna accused venomously as she looked down at her little brother.
“Bri, I love you. You my big sister. Why you mad at me?” a crying Little Danny asked.
The tears began to soften the tomboy's shield of armor as she confessed, “I heard you, saying all those things this afternoon. You said I wasn't your sister.”
“No, Bri. You no un'erstand,” Little Danny said, reverting more and more to toddler speak as he began to feel vulnerable.
“Okay,” Jeff said, leaning down and picking up Little Danny.
“Bri, Little Danny says you misunderstood whatever he said. Now, considering he's crying and that he's probably the most honest one of all of us, how about giving him the benefit of the doubt until we can straighten this out. They're opening the door,” Jeff noted, motioning over to their parents and a beaming Jennifer.
“Bri, love you,” Little Danny sniffled.
“I love you, too,” Brianna admitted, looking away from her little brother. “I know what I heard.”
“No, Bri, was fig'ring su'prise. I tell now, though,” the child declared vulnerably.
“Bri!” Jeff warned, glaring at her.
“Oh, all right. Come on, you little pip squeak. I believe you,” Brianna said, taking Little Danny from Jeff. “You're too big for this,” she said.
“I love you, Bri,” Little Danny sniffled as his arms wrapped around her neck.
~This had better be one heck of a surprise!~ Brianna silently thought. “I love you, too. Let's dry those tears before Dad and Daddy get mad at me.”
“They no get mad. I 'tect you,” Little Danny promised, still upset by all that was happening.
Brianna smiled, suddenly noticing the more child-like speak.
~He's scared. He's scared because ... geez, I must have misunderstood.~ Suddenly, Brianna squeezed her little brother to her tightly. “I'm sorry, Little Danny. I guess I overreacted. I can't wait to hear about your surprise.”
“I tell you now. It ...”
“No, you tell me when you tell everyone else. After all, we're all family, right?” Brianna questioned, a little smile on her face.
“Right,” the little boy affirmed, smiling, feeling better at last.
At the front door, Jennifer gave her parents one final reprimanding glare and opened the door.
“Hi, Jen. These are for you,” Peter Hamilton proclaimed as he greeted Jennifer. With an embarrassed smile, he handed over a dozen roses, saying, “I hope you like them.”
Jennifer beamed and kissed him on the cheek.
**Jack!** Daniel reprimanded as he grabbed a hold of Jack's belt to prevent his husband from moving in between the two teenagers.
**She kissed him, Danny!**
**On the cheek, Jack, to say thank you. Now behave yourself.**
Taking hold of Peter's hand, Jennifer ushered him in the door and began the introductions.
“Peter, I'd like you to meet my parents,” Jennifer said proudly. “Dad, Daddy, this is Peter.”
“It's nice to meet you, Peter,” Daniel graciously spoke. He smiled and stepped forward to shake the teenager's hand. “Welcome to our madhouse.”
“It's nice to meet you, Mister Jackson-O'Neill,” Peter said as he shook Daniel's hand, darting a nervous look at Jack whose smile looked more like a grimace.
“*Doctor* Jackson-O'Neill,” Jack corrected.
Peter coughed and then bravely turned to face Jack, extending out his hand as he said, “It's nice to meet you, too, General Jackson-O'Neill.”
**At least he got our names right.**
**Jack! Give Peter a chance,** the younger man urged.
**He gave our daughter mono,** the unhappy older father argued.
**Actually, Jack, that is not a foregone conclusion,** Daniel noted. **She could have shared a glass with someone, and for that matter, we never even inquired as to if anybody she knew has had mono. We just assumed she got it from kissing Peter. Maybe, uh, we should ask Peter about his health.**
**Why are you defending him, Danny?**
**I am *not* defending him, Jack. I'm keeping an open mind, and you stop condemning him, at least until we are certain he deserves it,** Daniel warned.
**I am certain,** Jack proclaimed.
**Oh, so, please don't confuse you with the facts because you've already made up your mind,** Daniel angrily replied. **Is that what you're saying?**
**Jack, would you like to sleep on the couch for, say, the next week?** Daniel asked, wanting to end the non-verbal discussion.
**That's blackmail,** Jack mentally whined.
**Really?** Daniel asked innocently, but sharply.
Jack snorted at Daniel's feigned innocence and finally stepped forward to shake Peter's hand.
“Well ...” Jennifer said nervously.
“Well ...” Daniel said, looking at the children. “Jen, the brood.”
“Oh, I'm sorry,” Jennifer said, leading Peter into the living room. “Peter, this is ...” she began as she introduced her suitor to her siblings.
“So?” Jennifer asked her parents, bright-eyed, just moments after Peter had left their home.
“So ... what?” Jack answered.
“Dad! What did you think? Isn't he just so ... so ...”
“Oh, he's definitely so ... OUCH!” Jack glared at his husband who had just rendered a sharp jab in Jack's abdomen. “What was that for?”
“Jen, he seemed very nice, and he certainly conducted himself as a gentlemen,” Daniel stated, though he was exchanging warning glances with Jack as he spoke.
“So we can go out on a date?” Jennifer's eyes darted back and forth between her parents. “Oh, please. You saw how nice he was.”
“Jen, we'll talk about it,” Daniel replied.
“Okay, but he's asked me to go out Saturday night. Please say 'yes'. Friday's my last night of being grounded,” Jennifer sighed. Seeing her parents just staring at each other without saying a word, she reluctantly stated, “I'll be upstairs. I promised Noa and Lulu I'd read them a story, so I'm going to change and then go to their room. Excuse me.”
As soon as Jennifer disappeared from their sight, Jack said, “Daniel, I don't want to hear it.”
“We can't keep her locked up,” Daniel pointed out.
“We'll talk about this later, when ears aren't burning,” Jack said, motioning towards the hallway where he knew Jennifer was trying to listen in from the short stairwell that led to her room.
“I need to call Yazid anyway,” Daniel replied.
Jack nodded and noted, “Tell him one month, Danny. We can't afford to spend any longer on it than that.”
Daniel smiled at his husband, saying, “I'm really proud of you, Babe.”
“Thanks, Love,” Jack said, acknowledging the praise of his hard work in learning the ropes for their archaeological company.
“The herd settled for the night?” Jack asked much later that night, looking up from his spot on the roof deck.
“Jack, they're our children, not cattle,” Daniel countered.
“They're beautiful, Angel,” Jack intoned with love.
Daniel sat down in front of Jack, took his hands in his, and requested, “Talk to me.”
“She's going to get hurt,” the older man stated softly. “Danny, I want to tell her 'no', but I know what you're going to say, and I know all about her arguments, and, in the end, I have no choice but to give in.”
“You didn't like him,” Daniel observed.
“I've seen a thousand characters just like him in my time. He's slick. He waltzed in here to put on a show. He wanted to impress Jen and pacify us. It was one long act,” Jack stated.
“Danny, from the moment he tried to look embarrassed when handing Jen the flowers, and did you see those?” the older man asked, changing his train of thought. “What's a boy doing bringing a teenage girl red roses, and not just red roses, but pristine red roses.”
“I noticed that,” Daniel admitted. “But we know he's well off,” he noted, trying to give Peter the benefit of the doubt.
“That boy is Eddie Haskell -- one smarmy, ingratiating little punk. 'My, what a lovely home you have, Doctor and General Jackson-O'Neill',” Jack said, mocking the young man's conversation. “'And what a lovely family, too. Jennifer's told me how you adopted a total of six children and still volunteer at the shelters',” Jack said, grimacing. “He was so slick that I'm surprised he could walk without falling with all that oil dripping down his body.”
“I know,” Daniel sighed, squeezing Jack's hands softly. “Peter did everything right, too right.”
“He wasn't real,” Jack insisted. “He was a phony ...”
“She's sixteen, Babe, and, if we keep this tight of a rein on Jen, I'm afraid we might lose her,” the younger man confided as he interrupted his lover's ranting.
~We shouldn't have let her have a sixteenth birthday,~ Jack thought, referring to their daughter's May birthday. Verbally, he sighed a reluctant, “Yeah.”
“So when her grounding restriction is over, we let her go out with him,” Daniel spoke softly.
“And we let her be hurt,” Jack choked out.
“It's part of life.”
Jack stared at Daniel and shook his head, insisting, “You don't like this any more than I do.”
“No, I don't,” the younger man firmly replied, his eyes dull from the aching of his heart.
“C'mere, Danny,” Jack requested, pulling his lover to him.
Neither spoke anymore for quite a while. Dinner had been a smashing success, only their guts, intuition, and experience were telling the two men that trouble was definitely on the horizon.
“Bean Sprout, there are several types of walnuts,” David explained as he lectured Bean Sprout through the communication system. “There's the English walnut, also called the Persian walnut. They're native to Asia and Europe. That's what we usually eat. It's easy. We just crack the shell and then remove the nut kernel. Hmm, love these. The most valuable type, though, is the Eastern Black Walnut because they use it for wood. It's considered the best quality hardwood for furniture. Personally, I'd rather eat a walnut than sit on one,” he chuckled.
“Don't forget to tell Bean Sprout the technical specs, David,” Jack teased as he walked by the living room headed for the kitchen.
David continued, “Okay, Dad thinks you should know the scientific jargon, so walnuts are part of the small Juglandaceae family, containing roughly sixty species, twenty-one of which are placed in the genus Juglans. The name
'walnut' comes from a French term. Actually, it's one of those messed up things, but walnut comes from 'gaul nut'. Okay, the genus is divided into four sections -- the Juglans ...”
As he entered the dining area, Jack thought, ~Whoa, not that technical!~ He chuckled softly, ~I definitely need to watch what I say to David.~ Jack suddenly frowned, turning his head back towards the living room as he asked out loud, “A Juglan?”
“Daniel, you and the general have made the right choice,” Sam stated that afternoon, leaning forward against her worktable in her lab at the SGC. “Jen isn't a little girl anymore, and falling in love and being hurt is just part of getting older.” She shrugged in amazement at her own words, feeling a little bit like a hypocrite. “Man, listen to me. I got hurt and ran for years.”
“It's hard, Sam,” Daniel responded, standing against a shelf with his hands in his pockets.
Sam cocked her head back and forth and supposed, “Maybe Peter will surprise you. You said he was nice.”
“Too nice. Gawd, I sound like Jack,” Daniel lamented.
“Daniel, Jennifer's smart. Trust her,” Sam advised, tapping her pencil against the table.
“Thanks, Sam,” Daniel acknowledged before returning to his duties at the SGC.
“Sara, I know she's sixteen, but that doesn't mean she knows everything. Truth is,” Jack said, leaning forward on the balls of his feet, “she doesn't know anything.”
It was early afternoon, and Jack was picking up Chenoa and Lulu from the Wilson home. He took the opportunity to solicit his ex-wife's opinion about Jennifer and Peter Hamilton.
“Jack,” Sara responded, smiling as she crossed her living room to stand closer to her ex-husband. “She's a young woman.”
“She's a child,” Jack practically whined.
“Jack,” Sara gently reprimanded, putting her hand on Jack's right cheek. “Let her grow up. What's important isn't whether Peter turns out to be genuine or not, but that when Peter, or the next boy, or the next one after that, or maybe the one after ...”
“I get the idea,” Jack replied brusquely.
“What *is* important,” Sara continued with a smile, “is that when she does get hurt, you and Daniel are there for her; and Jack, when it happens, do *not* tell her 'I told you so' and do *not* yell at her for making a bad choice. If you do, you'll push Jennifer away, and you'll regret it for the rest of your life.”
Jack sighed and moved away, walking to the patio doors and looking out at Chenoa and Lulu, who had spent the morning playing with Angela.
“Jack, you want Jennifer to trust you, to know that she can come to you,” Sara intuitively surmised. “I realize it's difficult to stand by and watch her get hurt, but it is her life, and the sooner you realize that fact and acknowledge that she has a right to live it in her own way, the easier it will be.”
“Sara, I want to knock that kid seven ways from Sunday. He's messing with her head,” Jack spoke agitatedly as he watched the three girls playing tag.
“You don't know that for sure,” Sara reminded Jack gently.
“He's smooth, Sara.” Jack turned around to face the blonde. “Remember Brian Holmes?”
“How could I forget,” Sara mused with a chuckle. Seeing Jack's glare, she looked down and smiled nervously. “Jack, I only went out with him once.”
“And that was one time too many, if you recall,” Jack lightly barked. “Two minutes later and ...”
Suddenly, Sara laughed, and her eyes brightened.
“What?” Jack asked sharply.
“Oh, Jack. All these years later, and you're actually jealous of someone who meant absolutely nothing to me. Tell me, how does Daniel survive?” the blonde inquired brightly.
Jack sighed, “I was never jealous.”
“Of course not.” Sara chuckled. “You know, you never really were. As strange as it sounds, I think you're more jealous now than you were then.”
“I *was* jealous; I just didn't want you to know,” Jack admitted as he sat down on the sofa.
“Oh,” Sara responded softly. “That old military bravado thing,” she assumed, sitting down next to Jack.
“Sara, I knew you wouldn't fall for that jerk. He was plastic, and you were always better than those jocks and all-for-show types. You were trying to make me jealous, and you know it,” the general accused.
Sara laughed as she confirmed, “I needed to do something to get your attention, Jack O'Neill. You were taking me for granted.”
“I hadn't looked at another woman, Sara,” the man seriously told the woman.
“Oh, and what about that jet plane you were so proud of?” Sara challenged.
Jack leaned back, smiling at Sara, who leaned back, too.
With a girlish smirk, the blonde questioned, “It worked, didn't it?”
“I asked you to marry me, didn't I?” Jack chuckled, happy that she'd hatched the plan all those years ago. “Sara, this isn't Jen playing a game. You knew what you were doing; she doesn't, but I swear to you, that Hamilton kid is a mirror of Brian Holmes.”
“Then just be there for her, and, Jack, if the time comes, and you need a woman's touch, feel free to call me.”
Jack leaned over and placed a chaste kiss on Sara's lips.
“Thanks, Sara. Right now, I think I'd better collect the girls and head on home. Danny's promised me a surprise,” Jack informed his one-time love.
“Oh, dare I ask?” Sara said with twinkling eyes.
Jack grinned mischievously, sufficiently answering his ex-wife's question, and moved to call his daughters from their playtime outside.
“Boys, trust me on this one,” Janet told Jack and Daniel at lunch the following Tuesday.
The group was at McDonald's with the Munchkins and the Spitfires. The older members of the brood were elsewhere for a few hours. At the moment, the five youngest J-O kids were playing in the indoor playroom at the fast food restaurant.
“But, Doc ...” Jack began.
“Jack,” Janet interrupted. “I have experience in this area -- my daughter, remember?”
Jack smiled, and Daniel exclaimed, “Gawd, she's married and with child.”
“Yes, and ask Sam, if you want, but neither of us were thrilled when we found out she and Dom had been kissing.”
“That rite of passage thing,” Jack recalled quietly.
“That was their first kiss; of course, they wanted sparks to fly, but not blow things up,” Janet chuckled. “Look, Cassie and Dom have more or less been together since that time, but they've had their ups and downs. I think they both looked around a little, but, the truth is, that rebellious age is the one Jen's at now. There were times I wanted to pull my hair out, but you know, I was pretty lucky, and you two are with Jen as well. Make the rules, and as long as she abides by them, let her go.”
“I knew raising children wouldn't be easy,” Daniel commented. “It's just ... we don't have experience with this.”
“No one ever does, Daniel. There isn't a handbook on raising children, you know,” Janet smirked lightly.
“Are you sure, Doc? I recall Daniel spending an entire paycheck on books and magazines before the Munchkins were born and ...”
“Jack, don't go there,” Daniel mildly warned, earning tiny laughs from both Jack and Janet.
“Anyway, trust your instincts,” the petite woman advised. “The hard part will be when Jen does what Cassie did,” the redhead declared.
“What's that?” both men asked their friend.
“When she decides to test you by testing the rules,” Janet answered, adding assertively, “and it will happen. Punish her when she does go outside the line, but as long as she abides by the rules you set down for her, you have to let her make some decisions on her own. Besides, you can't stop her from being hurt, which is what you're both so worried about. What you want is for Jen to come home, to you, when that hurt does happen. You want her to know that if she's made a mistake, home is a safe place and not a battle zone.”
Remembering his conversation a few days earlier with Sara, Jack sighed, “No 'I told you sos'.”
“Exactly,” Janet confirmed and then checked her watch. “Guys, I have to get over to the hospital and make my rounds, but, smile. It'll be okay. Jen will be okay. She'll have a few bumps and bruises along the way, but when it's all said and done, she'll be fine. After all she has the two of you for parents.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Jack said.
“Daniel, when she needs a female ear, call me,” Janet advised and then waved good-bye to the children as she exited the restaurant.
“He brought her daisies the day after the dinner,” Jack grumbled, quickly pointing out, “Not ones picked in a field, but from the florist, in perfect eye-catching condition.”
“And he escorted her to the college prep seminar yesterday that we allowed her to go to with him,” Daniel noted.
“Their *date*,” Jack said, practically coughing the word that Jennifer liked to use about their trip to the college, “went okay.”
Daniel chuckled, “Jen was on Cloud 9, Babe. He was the perfect gentlemen, according to her. Maybe we're wrong.”
Jack stood, pulled out his keys, and responded, “No, Danny, we're not wrong. He's playing a game, just waiting for the perfect time to make his move.”
“I wish you were wrong,” Daniel sighed, taking a final sip from his coffee cup.
“So do I.”
Daniel was sitting in the gazebo with David, Little Danny, and Aislinn across from him.
“We'll start with a few basic phrases,” Daniel said. He paused, asking, “Are you three sure you want to tackle another language?”
All three nodded, eager to learn more. Jack and Daniel had wondered if they were pushing the children too much as far as learning so many different languages went, but most of the children were eager to learn. These three had gotten together and approached Daniel about learning Swedish. They would then help to teach their siblings informally.
“Let's not worry about inflection or tone today. I'd rather you concentrate on the phrases themselves. Tomorrow, we'll repeat these same exercises, but we'll focus more on the proper accent and method of speech. Here's the first one,” Daniel stated, looking down at the worksheet he'd prepared for the children. “Vad är klockan?” he asked.
“Vad är klockan?” the three children repeated.
“Which means?” Daniel prodded.
David answered, “What time is it?”
Daniel checked his watch, replying, “Klockan är tio.”
“Ten o'clock,” Aislinn clarified, seeing Daniel's unspoken question.
“Very good,” Daniel praised. “Okay, next up is ...”
The foursome continued their foreign language studies for the next half-hour before adjourning for playtime.
Jennifer's big night had come. It was the very first weekend following her month of being grounded, and she was being allowed to go on her first official date with Peter Hamilton. As a precaution, Jack and Daniel had also given her back her cell phone, with strict orders that it was to be used to call one number only -- theirs, if necessary.
“I'm so excited. How do I look, Bri?” Jennifer asked eagerly.
“Awesome, Jen,” Brianna said as she tossed the baseball into her mitt. She was dressed in her usual tomboy attire as she sat on the corner of Jennifer's bed, watching her sister primp in preparation for her first official date with Peter Hamilton. ~She looks great, but I'm never going to spend three hours getting ready for a date. Goodness!~
Jennifer was wearing a very sophisticated red dress. She had spent hours shopping for something that would pass Jack's inspection and still impress Peter. It was rather form fitting, had a low-cut back, and a high cut bodice front suspended from a strip of fabric around the neck, like a collar. Lantern sleeves extended over the upper back with criss-cross tubes of fabric and ended in cuffs at the wrist.
Jack had exploded when Jennifer presented the dress for 'inspection'.
“It's too short!” Jack bellowed.
“It is not!” Jennifer argued, looking down at her dress. “It's exactly three inches above my knee, precisely the same length as the dresses and skirts I wear to school every day.”
“It shows too much!” Jack argued. ~School dress code isn't strict enough anyway.~
“Like what? I am not showing one tiny bit of cleavage or my belly button. I have blouses that show more than this dress,” Jennifer insisted as she held the dress in front of her.
“What are those strappy things? Didn't they have enough fabric to make solid sleeves?”
“It's called a lantern sleeve, Dad. It's a legitimate style,” Jennifer explained.
**Only if you want to look like fifty bucks an hour,** Jack communicated.
**Jack, stop it,** Daniel warned via their non-verbal communication. **Jen's right. There is nothing wrong with her dress.**
**It's a chair dress, Danny,** Jack observed.
**It'll make every man in the room want to see it across the back of a chair!** the older man clarified.
**Jack, you can't expect her to wear a floor length flannel night gown on a date.**
Jack silently replied, **I wish they made a male chastity belt. Hey! There's an idea; we could market it to doting fathers of dating daughters.**
**What would you call it -- 'the meat locker'? Jack, get a grip!** Daniel advised his agitated lover.
**I intend to, on my shotgun,** Jack sarcastically intoned as their non-verbal conversation continued.
**Jack, tell your daughter she is a lovely young woman. She really made an excellent choice, Babe. Don't spoil this for her,** the archaeologist warned, his eyes threatening his bear of a soulmate.
**I want another inch on that dress,** Jack maintained.
Almost as if she had heard the words, Janet, who had gone shopping with the teenager, suggested, “How about this? Jen, let's let the hem down one inch.” Janet moved so her back was to Jack and Daniel. She mouthed, “Trust me.”
Jennifer groaned her agreement.
**Jack, that's a good compromise. Jen's a good girl; we have to trust her,** Daniel insisted.
“Fine,” Jack sighed, then smiled. “It is a beautiful dress, modest and still very attractive. Good choice.” He crossed the room, gave Jennifer a kiss, and said, “Have a good time, Sweetheart.”
//End of Flashback//
“I hope Peter likes this,” the sixteen year old said as she studied her figure in the mirror.
“It's a good thing Aunt Janet lowered the hem, or Dad wouldn't let you out the door,” Brianna chuckled, remembering Jack's look at first seeing what he called the 'over-my-dead-body' fitted evening dress.
“Not going there tonight. I'm thinking all good thoughts. Peter's taking me to dinner at some fancy restaurant,” Jennifer happily crooned.
“Which one?” Brianna asked, taking the ball out of her glove.
Shrugging as she primped in front of the mirror, Jennifer answered, “I'm not sure.”
“Better get sure, Jen. Dad will ask,” Brianna pointed out.
“Peter will tell him when he gets here. I'm not worried,” Jennifer spoke confidently.
“Jack, no!” Daniel argued forty minutes later as Jack prepared to walk out the door.
“Daniel, I feel it. Every bone in my body is telling me that he's going to ... to ...”
“To what, Jack?” Daniel interrupted.
Jack groaned and returned to the living room where David and Ricky were and barked, “Kids, upstairs -- now!”
“Uh-oh,” David silently commented. “Come on, Ricky. I'll tell you about Waffle Rock.”
“Hey,” Jack called out at his fleeing children. “I'm sorry. Dad's a little ...”
“Loopy!” Ricky answered. “Dad get loopy when Jen go out.”
“Go on,” Jack said, trying to smile a little. When the children were out of sight, Jack looked over at Daniel and spoke softly, “I'm sorry, Angel. I didn't mean to shout at you anymore than I meant to dismiss the kids like that.”
“I know,” Daniel replied softly and then closed the gap between them. “Jack, I think we should wait a little while, and then we should call the restaurant and make sure they are where they're supposed to be. That's being responsible, but we're not going to get into the car and follow them.”
Jack nodded and headed outside to play with the beagles for a little while and, Daniel knew, to simply collect his thoughts.
Jack and Daniel were snuggled together on the sofa, but it was a tentative time. Both wore frowns on their faces. The youngest of their children were asleep. Jeff, David, and Brianna were in the game room.
The lovers had verified that Peter and Jennifer were at the restaurant and having dinner. They also knew that afterwards the two were supposed to go for a drive and possibly to a friend's house. It was a bit vague, and the parents had agreed on the condition that Jennifer phone in after an hour or so. The teenager had called upon leaving the restaurant as scheduled, but now ninety minutes had passed. Nervous anxiety filled the air.
“Not yet,” Daniel insisted, putting his hand over the phone Jack was holding. “We have to give her a bit of freedom to choose,” Daniel stated decisively. “She knows the rules, and that we'll act if she breaks them.”
“And what if something's happened?” Jack asked.
“We do what we agreed on. If Jen doesn't call us in two hours, we call. That's what we said, Jack,” the younger man reminded.
“Fine, but ...” Just then the phone rang. The lovers shared an apprehensive look, and then Jack answered the phone. “Hello,” he spoke calmly.
“Dad,” Jennifer spoke firmly. “Would you or Daddy come and pick me up, please?”
“Princess, are you okay?” Jack asked as he stood up.
“Yes, Dad,” Jennifer replied, her voice trembling slightly. “I'm at Peter's house, outside. Please come get me.”
“One of us will be right there,” Jack spoke with a sense of urgency, glad he and Daniel had insisted on having Peter's address and phone number before letting Jennifer go out on the date.
Jennifer disconnected the call just as Daniel stood.
“She says she's fine. I knew that idiot ...” Jack took a giant breath and added, “She's at that kid's house.”
“I'm on my way,” Daniel intoned, giving Jack a quick kiss and heading for the door.
Jack walked around the room for a minute. When he heard the door close, he stared at the photos on the mantel. The entire family was there, including the family's surrogate moms. Jack looked at his watch.
~Sara's probably up, but Mark's been out of town for a couple of days; I don't want to interfere with that. Carter's the closest, but they're newlyweds.~ Jack dialed the number he'd decided on. ~We'll start with the Doc.~
“Hello,” Janet greeted, stifling a yawn.
“Doc, doing anything important?” Jack asked without saying 'hello'.
“What's going on?” Janet listened to a few brief details and got Jennifer's estimated time of arriving home. “I'll be right there.”
Not having time to dress, Janet threw on a robe, pulling it tight, and then slipped on a pair of comfortable sandals. Within two minutes, she was in her car and headed for the Jackson-O'Neill residence.
Daniel drove up the long driveway to the huge mansion in Broadmoor Bluffs, one of the most exclusive parts of Colorado Springs.
~Wow. The Hamiltons sure aren't hungry for hamburger,~ Daniel thought as he stopped the car in front of the huge entrance.
Jennifer was sitting on the front steps, her arms crossed in front of her. Seeing Daniel in his sports car, she stood, adjusting her sweater. When Daniel stopped, she walked to the car, like a queen ascending to her throne. She glided in effortlessly, like a woman in complete and utter control of herself and everything around her.
~Peter could be watching,~ the shattered young teen thought. ~I won't give him the satisfaction of seeing me cry, or rushing to the car, or thinking that he was anything more to me than a thousand other boys who wanted to date me. I'll cry when I get home, and I'm all alone.~
For just a moment, Daniel stared at her, taking in every inch that he could see of her and her dress. Then he drove away.
After a couple of minutes, Daniel quietly asked, “Are you okay, Jen?”
Jennifer nodded as she looked blankly out the window, eventually answering, “I'm fine, Daddy.” Hurting inside, but just wanting to forget the night had ever happened, she added politely, “Thank you for coming to get me.”
“Thank you for calling,” Daniel softly replied, grateful that their daughter felt secure enough to trust them in this way.
The remainder of the ride home was done in silence.
~Breathe. I can't breathe.~ As Daniel turned off the car, Jennifer quickly jumped out, running into the house. Without even looking, she called out, “I'm fine, Dad. Please leave me alone.”
“Jen!” Jack called out as he sprinted to the hallway, only to be stopped by his lover.
“She's fine,” Daniel promised.
“Did he touch her?” Jack asked, ready to find the brute of a boyfriend and teach him a lesson if necessary. ~Then I'll let T have a go, then Lou ...~
“I don't know, but she's not hurt,” Daniel noted. “Her dress is intact; her hair was messy, but that's all. Let's give her a few minutes, okay?”
~I don't want to, but ...~ Jack thought as he nodded and then told Daniel that he had sent Jeff, Brianna, and David to their rooms for the night.
“Babe, is that Janet's car in the driveway?” Daniel inquired, having noticed the car parked behind Jack's truck when he and Jennifer had returned.
“She's ...” Jack stopped his words as Jennifer suddenly flew by the couple, going up the stairs. “Bird's Nest?”
“Bird's Nest,” Daniel echoed in agreement. “Janet?”
“She said that's where Jen would go. Looks like she was right,” Jack observed.
Jack nodded towards the sofa, so the two worried fathers sat down, quickly joined by two equally worried beagles.
Jennifer hurried up the stairs to the special place that was only for the female members of the Jackson-O'Neill family. Now wearing her purple sweats, she stopped, letting out a gasp when she saw Janet seated on the bench.
Janet was still wearing her own pajamas, the robe a little looser around her now. In front of her was a tray with hot chocolate, some wafers, and a few chocolates.
“Come sit down, Sweetie,” Janet urged, patting the space next to her.
The teenager sat down, clenching the edge of the bench seat until finally she began to sob.
“Oh, Aunt Janet,” Jennifer cried, tumbling over into Janet's warm and understanding embrace. “I feel so miserable.”
“It's okay, Jen. It's okay,” the petite woman soothed, rubbing Jennifer's back in support.
“I thought he was special,” Jennifer sniffled.
“Not the prince he made himself out to be, huh?” Janet prodded gently.
“No, he's just a toad in prince's clothing, and to think that I kissed him!” Jennifer spat, pulling back a little and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“You'll kiss a few toads before you find a true prince,” the petite physician sighed. “Here, Honey. I brought a whole box of tissues,” Janet said, reaching for the box next to her and handing out a few tissues to the upset teen. “Now, first things first, are you hurt?”
“No, he didn't hurt me,” Jennifer assured, still crying.
“Okay,” Janet said. “Let's have some hot chocolate.”
“Not ice cream?” Jennifer tried to tease, though her heart wasn't really in it.
“Jen, your fathers may think ice cream is the answer to all of life's troubles, but for a woman, there's only one thing,” Janet stated.
“Chocolate,” both females stated, tiny chuckles escaping as they each took a chocolate treat.
“So, it was perfect -- the restaurant, the drive, just everything, but then suddenly everything changed,” Jennifer explained a while later.
“Do you want to tell me about it?” Janet coaxed gently.
Jennifer hesitated for only a moment before nodding her head and saying, “Yes. It was such a beautiful night for a drive. We just talked, Aunt Janet. Then he said he wanted to show me something.”
“Oh, boy,” Janet reacted with a hesitant chuckle.
“I thought he was going to show me ... I don't know what I thought, but, boy, was I surprised when we ended up at his house. Aunt Janet, his family is filthy rich, and they live in this ... this palace; at least, it feels like a palace. Anyway ...”
Jennifer told Janet how they'd driven up to Peter's house, and the boy claimed he wanted to give her the grand tour. His parents, however, were nowhere to be found. The only person she saw was a butler who had offered her a drink.
“A drink, Aunt Janet. I mean he was holding up liquor bottles. I don't understand it. His parents let him do that?” the girl asked in disbelief.
“I don't know, Sweetie,” Janet answered. “Maybe he has a deal with the butler.”
Jennifer had refused the drink, but accepted the invitation to go on the grand tour. The rooms were beautiful, many full of priceless antiques and luxury items.
“And this is my room,” Peter had told Jennifer of the large, well-kept room.
“It's very nice. Maybe we should go back downstairs now,” Jennifer had suggested, feeling it was a bit inappropriate for the two of them to be alone there.
It hadn't worked. Peter took her hand and sat her down on the bed. He proceeded to make advances on her, which Jennifer tried to laugh off, unwilling to believe the worst.
“I thought he knew I wasn't like that, Aunt Janet. I kept telling him 'no', but he kept pawing me. I told him 'no' so many times, I began to feel like it was a recording. He'd leave me alone for a minute, and I'd think everything was okay, but then his hands would ... I'm not ready for that, Aunt Janet. I don't want to get pregnant at sixteen. When I make love for the first time, I want it to be real. Maybe it won't be with the person I marry, but I want to know it's more than a fling or hormones,” Jennifer confided, beginning to cry again.
“That's a smart choice, Jen,” Janet affirmed as she held the teenager's hand.
Jennifer sniffled and took a bite of a Godiva chocolate for comfort before saying, “He got angry, started talking about how much he'd invested in me. Gawd, I'm not a stock portfolio.”
Janet let out a snort as she replied, “To some men, women are nothing but property.”
“I won't let a man treat me like that,” Jennifer stated decisively.
“Is that what you told Peter?” Janet inquired.
Jennifer let out a snort as she recalled the nightmarish experience.
“Peter, stop! I told you 'NO'!” Jennifer ordered in a raised voice.
“Come on, Jen. You know you want me. I'll show you a good time. You don't want to be a virgin forever, do you?” Peter asked as he attempted to move his hands up Jennifer's dress. “Come on ... Jen ...” he spoke enticingly, moving to kiss her.
As Peter's lips brushed Jennifer's, he slid one hand up her thigh. Jennifer stood up and darted away, turning away from Peter. Though her heart was aching, she was determined not to cry.
“I thought you understood,” the teenage girl stated, regret in her voice and sadness in her eyes.
Peter walked up behind her and put his arms around her, his hands roaming, starting at her waist and working their way up. As Peter attempted to squeeze her breasts, Jennifer's breathing hitched.
“That's it!” Jennifer stated firmly, having had enough of trying to excuse Peter's actions.
Jennifer used a move that Teal'c had taught her. The well-executed jab, kick, and push landed Peter on the other side of the room, sitting on the floor and shaking his head.
“If you don't lay off me, you won't ever have to worry about using your wedding tackle again because my two dads will have it stuffed and mounted on the wall. I'm going home now,” Jennifer declared, grabbing her sweater and handbag and walking out.
Two minutes later, as she stood on the large front porch, Peter came outside and requested, “Jen, let me drive you home.”
Making sure there was plenty of distance between her and Peter, Jennifer responded, “Do you think I'm stupid? I'm not getting in a car alone with you! My father is picking me up, and if I were you, I wouldn't be out here to face him when he arrives.”
//End of Flashback//
“I didn't know who was coming to get me, but I figured it was safer for him inside.” Jennifer was leaning into Janet's hold as she finished her story. “I trusted him, Aunt Janet. It hurts so much.”
Janet brushed back Jennifer's long strands of hair that hung in front of her face and said gently, “I know, but the good news is, it won't hurt for long.”
“Did anything like this ever happen to you?” Jennifer asked, wondering if Janet could possibly really understand.
Smiling with wisdom, the physician answered, “Oh, yes, and more than once.”
“Would you tell me?” Jennifer asked quietly.
Janet smiled, nodded, and proceeded to tell Jennifer a couple of her own experiences as a teen in love.
“Trust me, Jack,” the archaeologist requested. “Check on the children. I'll meet you in our bedroom in a little bit.”
“Love, please trust me on this,” Daniel pleaded.
Reluctantly, Jack nodded and moved to do the nightly check on their brood.
Meanwhile, Daniel went to the kitchen and took out the final ingredients to his special surprise. Like Jack, he'd had a hunch that tonight would be the night their daughter's heart would be broken. If not, it would have made a great dessert for two over the weekend.
A few minutes later, Daniel quietly climbed the steps to the Bird's Nest and said, “Knock, knock.”
“Daddy!” Jennifer said, a tiny smile on her face.
“I'll turn around and leave if ...”
“No, Daddy, please don't,” Jennifer said, standing up and walking to her father. She gave him a kiss on the cheek and, seeing the tray he carried, asked, “What's that?”
“Heaven in your mouth,” Daniel replied.
“What?” the teenager quizzed.
“Daniel, Tiramisu?” Janet asked hopefully.
“Yes,” Daniel confirmed.
Having served a portion to each of them, Daniel urged his daughter to take a bite.
“Oooooooh, mmmmmm, gawd!” Jennifer exclaimed. “Oh, that's ...”
“Heavenly,” all three said at the same time.
Daniel stayed for a few minutes before excusing himself, but as he started to go down the stairs, Jennifer called out and ran after him. Throwing her arms around him, the teen said, “Thank you for loving me and trusting me. I don't know how you've kept Dad under control, but thank you so much, Daddy.”
Daniel embraced her, pulling her close and rubbing her back in soothing circles as he quietly replied, “You're welcome. If you need us ...”
“Daddy, I always need you and Dad,” Jennifer promised with a smile.
“Goodnight, Princess,” Daniel said, smiling as he backed away.
The next morning Jack was preparing breakfast when Jennifer walked into the kitchen.
“Morning, Jen,” Jack spoke as nonchalantly as he could.
“Good morning, Dad,” Jennifer said, adding, “and thank you.”
“You're welcome,” Jack responded softly, keeping one covert eye on the teenager. Two minutes passed before he lightly interrogated, “Jen, just one thing. Do I need to kill him?”
Jennifer actually chuckled as she turned to face her dad and answered, “No, Dad, you don't. You've taught me well. You don't need the shotgun.”
“You sure?” Jack quizzed.
“He had roaming hands, but he's the one who ended up on his six as I walked out the door. Okay?” Jennifer asked, hoping her father would let it go for now.
“Okay, Sweetheart,” Jack spoke with a calming expression on his face. ~I'll slip out later and break his neck.~
“I love you, Dad,” Jennifer said as she whisked by him, giving Jack a kiss on the cheek as she did so.
Jack smiled as he replied, “I love you, too, Jen.”
A minute later, Daniel entered the kitchen smiling as he announced, “Toto grew another half-an-inch, Babe.”
“Yeah?” Jack queries, beaming, his joy overtaking his murderous thoughts for the moment..
“Yeah! We need to, uh, you know today ...” Daniel shyly reminded.
“And after we you know, maybe we can really you know,” Jack smirked seductively.
“I'd like that.” Daniel looked over his shoulder towards the living room. “She'll be okay.”
“Yeah, she will,” Jack agreed. “I talked to the Doc earlier this morning on the phone. She promised me Jen wasn't hurt, physically. I tell ya, Danny, that kid had better steer clear of our daughter, if he knows what's good for him.”
Daniel nodded, then said, “We don't know his story, Jack.”
“Jack, he didn't hurt her. From the tiny bit Jen said last night, once he finally got the message, he backed off. It could have been worse,” Daniel stated. ~Though if it had, I would have broken his neck,~ he thought, allowing his own fatherly protectiveness to temporarily gain control of his mind.
“Jen made some smart choices last night, too,” Jack admitted.
“She's earned our trust and our respect. Jack, she'll tell us what happened in a few days; she just needs us to give her some space right now,” Daniel remarked.
“I know. Half-an-inch, you said?” Jack asked, smiling.
“Wanna come see?” Daniel asked, grinning.
“I love you, Angel!”
“I love you, too, my Silver Fox!” the younger man replied as he took Jack by the hand and led him up to the den to visit with their unborn child.
“Bri, watch the twins,” Jeff advised that afternoon as he climbed out of the swimming pool. “They've been talking about diving into the deep end.”
“Not without Dad and Daddy here,” Brianna astutely replied, referring to their parents who were at the offices of J-O Enterprises for a couple of hours.
“I'll be back in a few minutes,” Jeff told the tomboy. “I just want to change and get my history book.”
“Okay, Jeff,” Brianna acknowledged, getting up out of the chaise lounge. “I think I'll play it safe and distract them,” she mused about the dive-happy twins.
“Probably a good idea,” Jeff chuckled as he walked away.
Having changed and collected the book in question, Jeff was heading back towards the pool when the tiny beep went off, indicating someone was at the front door. He checked the security system and saw it was a delivery person.
“Yes, who is it?” the teenage boy asked over the intercom.
“Delivery from Bette's,” the female announced.
“I need your name please,” Jeff requested as he opened the phone book, quickly turning to the yellow pages.
“Eileen. Hey, I'm in a hurry,” the college-aged girl called out.
“One minute, please,” Jeff replied. He picked up the phone and dialed the phone number of Bette's. When a woman answered, he said, “Yes, this is the Jackson-O'Neill residence. I need to verify that you sent a driver to our home with a package.”
“Uh, let me see ... yes, we did -- a five-pound box of chocolates for Jennifer Jackson-O'Neill,” the woman said as she stared at her computer screen.
“And the name of the driver and her description, please,” Jeff asked.
“Eileen, short shoulder-length hair, brown eyes, and she's wearing a green shirt with our logo on it,” the woman elucidated.
“Thank you very much,” Jeff said, hanging up and moving to the door. As he did so, he called out, “Jen, it's for you!”
“What did you do? Take a trip?” Eileen laughed as she handed over the box. “Someone has an admirer,” the girl said.
“Not me, it's ...”
“What is it, Jeff?” Jennifer asked.
“Looks like delectable calories time,” Jeff chuckled, handing his sister the box.
“Wow, that's a big box,” Jennifer observed as she stared at it, noticing the card that was affixed to the center.
“They're our best chocolates. Sign here, please,” Eileen requested, holding out an electronic clipboard.
“Dad and Daddy maybe?” Jennifer asked, pulling out the card.
Jeff began to sign, when Jennifer pulled on his arm, saying, “Jeff, don't.”
“Why?” the boy asked.
With a serious expression, Jennifer said, “I don't want these.”
“You're kidding?” Eileen asked in shock.
“Take them back, please,” Jennifer said. “Jeff ...”
“Okay, Sis,” Jeff said. He shrugged and spoke, “I'm sorry,” before closing the door. He trailed after his sister, concerned. “Jen, who were they from?”
Jennifer turned around and answered, “A pretender.” She sighed, “He couldn't even say he was sorry, Jeff. The card just said, 'Sweets for the sweet, and you're mine.”
“Peter Hamilton?” Jeff asked, upset at what he was hearing.
“Gawd,” Jennifer sighed as she turned around. “Oh, Jeff, don't tell Dad or Daddy I said that.”
“I won't. Jen, are you okay? I need to get back to the twins at the pool, but ...”
“I'm fine,” Jennifer promised with a hesitant smile. She took a breath, saying, “I think I'm going to go listen to Beyonce or something.”
~Or something?~ Jeff mused.
“Oh, wait, I can't. I forgot,” Jennifer sighed about her loss of music-listening privileges which still had one more week to go. “I guess I'll go read a book,” she said with a shrug as she headed upstairs, desperate to forget about the fiend named Peter Hamilton.
“I've got you now, Babe,” Daniel chuckled as he played a meld of three five-cards onto the game table in the rec room a couple of days later.
Nearby, David was working on homework, Ricky was playing with his deluxe Etch-a-Sketch, Brianna was watching a classic hockey game replay during which her hero, Wayne Gretzky, had been amazingly superb, and Jenny was going back and forth, watching Jack and Daniel as they played gin.
“Think again, Dannyboy,” Jack quipped as he displayed his own meld, a higher value set of four aces.
“Ouch!” Daniel winced as play continued.
Jenny looked at her daddy's hand and then at her daddy, scrunching her nose for a minute. She ran over and studied Jack's hand again. Shrugging, she returned to Daniel's side.
“Gin!” Jack laughed. “Gotcha again, Love,” he said jovially.
“You sure did, Jack,” Daniel admitted. “You are the king of gin!” he declared a couple of minutes later after doing the final tally, giving Jack the victory for their game playing on this night.
“Just fetch me my throne,” Jack teased as he stood up. “Ice cream?” he called out to those assembled.
“Yes!” came the rousing answers.
As Jack headed for the hospitality room, Daniel gathered up their cards. As he did so, he noticed their redheaded daughter staring at him suspiciously.
“Jenny, is something wrong?” Daniel asked.
“Why did you let Dad win?” Jenny asked, completely surprising the archaeologist.
Daniel looked back nervously at his husband and then brought his fingers to his lips in a shushing motion.
“Daddy, you threw 'way good cards,” Jenny chastised.
“Did I?” the man answered weakly.
Jenny noted, “You always do. I think you let Dad win.”
“Shhh,” Daniel whispered. Leaning forward, he said, “Jenny, it's our secret, but Dad always wins at gin.”
“Why, Daddy? You had best hands,” Jenny insisted.
“Well, I didn't know that ... for sure,” Daniel responded slyly. “I wasn't thinking about the cards. That's my fault.”
“Why, Daddy?” the little girl quizzed quietly.
“I was distracted. When Dad and I play gin, I'm always distracted,” Daniel explained.
“No understand,” Jenny said, shaking her head.
“When Dad and I play gin, I think about your dad, and how much I love him and how happy we are. I think about how handsome he is, how his smile makes me light up inside. I remember times we've spent together; things he's done to make me laugh. I think about ...” Daniel continued.
“Why no think about cards?” Jenny asked pointedly.
“Because Dad always wins at gin,” Daniel stated simply. “Always, Jenny. It's just something that doesn't make sense.”
“He doesn't win at chess,” Jenny pointed out.
“No, I ... I don't get distracted when we play chess,” Daniel told her.
Jenny considered their discussion and then took a big breath, saying, “Oh, you let Dad win gin 'cause you win chess all time.”
Daniel anxiously shushed her again, but Jenny rambled on, having just made a huge discovery.
“I know, Daddy! You 'tracted me yesterday,” Jenny accused.
The archaeologist smiled weakly, remembering how he had brought in Jenny's favorite DVD for viewing, telling her they could watch it when she and Jack had finished the game. The excitement disrupted her attention just enough so that Jack won the game.
Jenny giggled, “Dad always win gin!”
Smiling, Daniel nodded and said, “Yes.”
“Only if you're paying attention and do it on purpose,” Daniel informed her.
Jenny grinned, saying, “When play Dad at gin, I think 'bout ice cream or Donald Duck or Dad getting in trouble or ...”
“That's my girl,” Daniel encouraged.
Laughing, Jenny added, “Not be 'tracted when we play, Daddy, 'kay?”
“Okay, Princess,” Daniel said.
“Ice cream's ready!” Jack announced, walking in with a tray to the delight of everyone and not noticing the wink Daniel gave their youngest daughter.
Moments later, as he began to take his first bite of his orange sherbet, Daniel stopped, his spoon halfway in his mouth. He blinked several times and looked over at Jenny, who was giggling with Ricky about something as they enjoyed their ice cream.
“Danny, you okay?” Jack asked, recognizing the guppy look of shock on his husband's face.
“I'm ... fine,” Daniel answered.
“You sure? Is the sherbet okay?” a concerned Jack inquired.
“It's great. I'm, uh, just thinking, and you know me when I ... think,” Daniel stammered, relieved when Jack nodded and got distracted by a question David asked him. Glancing over at Jenny, the younger man thought, ~When did you learn how to play gin so well, and how did you know I had the winning cards, and how do you know that I always let Jack win?~
“Danny, your sherbet is on your shirt,” Jack pointed out.
Looking down, Daniel smiled nervously and gave his lover a shrug, saying, “I guess I got a little distracted.”
“By what?” Jack asked.
“Our children, Babe, our very surprising children,” Daniel answered with a smile before digging into his orange sherbet.
The next day, as Jack was working on his truck, a florist drove up. He wiped his hands and smiled, figuring they were from his lover.
~Well, it was just a thought,~ Jack silently groaned when told they were for his daughter. As he signed for them, he called out, “JENNIFER, FRONT AND CENTER!”
“You're, uh, loud, Sir,” the delivery man unnecessarily pointed out.
“But I get a fast response,” Jack smirked.
“Dad?” the teenager called out as she hurried toward her father.
“See!” Jack said quietly to the driver. “Flowers!” he exclaimed to his daughter about the huge flower arrangement that included dozens of red roses and orchids.
“That's an understatement,” Jennifer responded without a smile. “Did you buy them for me?”
“No,” Jack answered and then realizing from her expression that his daughter wasn't thrilled about the flowers.
“Dad, read the card, please,” the girl asked.
Jack pulled out the card and read aloud, “For the prettiest girl in Colorado Springs or the world.” He sighed, “They're from Hamilton.”
“Send them back,” Jennifer instructed harshly. “He has a lot of nerve sending me things all the time without even apologizing. I don't want them,” she spoke, turning around and running into the backyard.
Jack sighed, “Sorry. Here's something for your time,” as he took out a five dollar bill and handed it to the driver.
“If my wife got these, she'd be in seventh heaven,” the man said as he headed back to the truck.
“Since they're already paid for, give them to your wife,” Jack intoned. “Tell Mister Hamilton I said it was okay.”
Unsure of the motivation, but deciding not to look a gift horse in the mouth, the man nodded and smiled before getting back into his delivery truck and leaving.
~Good thing your wife isn't my daughter or those flowers would be in the trash faster than you can say 'dirtbag'; Hamilton, you have no class,~ Jack thought as he returned to his truck.
The entire family was sitting in the living room waiting for Little Danny to come down from his room with his 'surprise' for the family.
**Should we be worried here, Danny?**
**Daniel! You're supposed to say no and reassure me,** Jack bemoaned with their special communication.
**Sorry, I'm all out of reassurance,** a clueless Daniel replied.
At that moment, Little Danny came into the room lugging a large piece of cardboard behind him. Bringing it around in front of him, he grinned triumphantly and declared, “According to my figures, Bean Sprout will be a girl! We're having a sister!”
The reviews were mixed, Jonny leading the groans while Aislinn led the cheers. Jack simply stared as Daniel did his patented guppy imitation.
The young boy turned to the chart he'd made which listed all the members of the family. The boys' names were written in orange, and the girls' names clashed nicely in bright purple.
“See, first we got Ricky and Jenny, which means Bean Sprout could equally be a boy or girl. Then we got us Munchkins, and since Jonny and I are both boys that would make Bean Sprout more likely to be a boy,” Little Danny reasoned, pausing for a breath.
Happily, the child didn't notice the rather stunned and horrified look on his parents faces as they realized that he actually understood quite a bit about genetics.
Little Danny continued, “Then I talked to Aunt Janet, and she 'greed that Dad and Daddy probably have a gene that helps them decide whether to pick a boy or girl. So, with this gene on their tadpoles ...”
The inventive boy brought up another piece of cardboard that had a drawing of a 'tadpole' on it. Inside the rather large tadpole was clearly printed 'Girl/Boy choosing gene'.
Jack looked at his husband expectantly, and, sure enough, Daniel was turning a nice shade of pink.
“So with this gene, it changes everything,” Little Danny explained. “Since Noa, Lulu, Bri, and Jen make four girls, and David and Jeff only two boys, it means Dad and Daddy are more likely to have girls. So, Bean Sprout should be a girl!”
Happily, Little Danny stood back and waited for the family's reactions. Jonny pouted and muttered something about being outnumbered by girls already. However, then he saw Aislinn's face and decided running would be a good idea. Aislinn, Ricky, and Jenny took off in hot pursuit.
Meanwhile, Chenoa and Lulu were talking about how they'd teach Bean Sprout to dance while Jennifer, Jeff, and David grinned at the happy Munchkin and congratulated him on his creative reasoning. Brianna leaned forward, smiling in amazement at her little brother.
“Uh, Little Danny, that was ... very ... interesting,” Daniel finally commented.
“Very!” Jack added. “And, you say Aunt Janet helped?” Seeing the boy's happy nod, he spoke, “Remind me to thank her.” ~A little advance warning would have been nice.~
Daniel stared at his lover, then returned his eyes to look at his son, who was still waiting for their response.
“Daddy, I worked long time on this,” the little boy stated, a bit disappointed at the response.
Daniel quickly stood and went to their son, kneeling down with a smile on his face. He pulled the boy's sweater taut as he considered his words.
“Do you know what is really wonderful about birth?” Daniel asked.
“Surprise. Science is a wonderful tool,” Daniel proclaimed.
“Wonderful,” Jack added. “Cream of the crop; can't do without it.”
Rolling his eyes as he ignored his husband, Daniel continued, “Science is oftentimes our best guess, but it's never one-hundred percent.”
“Don't let Carter hear you say that,” Jack quipped, earning laughter from the four oldest children who understood what was being said.
“Science told us that Mommy was only going to have one baby; that's what Dad and I thought, but Doctor Sylvia and Mommy knew that she was going to have twins,” Daniel explained.
“You talking about Ricky 'n' Jenny?” Little Danny asked.
“No, I'm talking about you, Jonny, and Ash,” Daniel clarified.
“Ash was a surprise,” Little Danny stated confidently, now remembering the story.
“But science said she wasn't there. Little Danny, science is only a guide, but it's not irrefutable; uh, I mean, it's not always right, especially, uh, since there is an ... alien device involved,” Daniel elaborated.
“Bean Sprout isn't a girl?” Little Danny asked, his disappointment evident.
Daniel shrugged, answering, “I don't know, and that's wonderful, because I want to be surprised. I want our miracle to be whoever they are, boy or girl. Does it really matter to you?”
“Oh, no, Daddy. I just want a baby to play with,” Little Danny answered.
“I'm very proud of you for working so hard on this, but don't be sad if Bean Sprout is a boy, okay?”
“I won't be, Daddy,” Little Danny promised, after which he found himself scooped up into his father's arms.
“We love you,” Daniel spoke, earning himself a huge smile from his namesake.
“Little Danny, this was the surprise you were working on?” Brianna asked a few minutes later as everyone went about their business.
The little boy nodded, saying, “See, Bri, it was important to include everyone, but I didn't know how to do it at first. I had to call Aunt Janet about the genetics.”
“Oh,” Brianna sighed.
“I'm sorry, Bri,” the child stated. “I didn't mean for you to think the wrong thing.”
“It wasn't your fault,” Brianna responded, smiling and squeezing her brother's rosy cheeks. “I just made an assump... oh.”
Brianna looked around the room, a light dawning as she stood silently.
“Bri?” Little Danny asked.
Chuckling, the tomboy advised, “Little Danny, assumptions are definitely dangerous. I made a bad one, and *I* am the one who is very sorry. I thought you were excluding me when all along you were just trying to include me. Thank you,” she softly intoned.
“Love you, Bri!” the small child exclaimed, wrapping his arms around her.
“Love you, too, you little squirt,” Brianna replied jovially. “Hey, let's go play air hockey. We can do that one handed!”
“Okay, Bri!” Little Danny responded gaily, leading the way to the game room.
~Geez, Bri, you did the same thing you accused Jennifer of doing last month -- jumping to conclusions. Growing up sure is hard,~ Brianna thought as she followed her younger brother into the game room.
With just a couple of days left in July, Jennifer entered the study, where she'd been summoned to minutes earlier by her parents, leaving the brood under the supervision of Jeff and Brianna. Seeing Jack motion, she shut the door behind her and then took a seat in between her parents as they sat on the sofa.
“So,” Daniel stated.
“So,” Jack repeated a bit more emphatically.
“Soooo,” Jennifer echoed as she clasped her hands together, having no clue why she had been 'called in' to the study.
“Jen,” Jack began, “it's been almost six weeks since we took away your toys.”
“They aren't toys,” Jennifer refuted.
“Any comments?” Daniel prodded.
“You mean besides I'm sorry and admitting I had a bad attitude?” the teenager asked.
Daniel smiled and said, “Yes. Anything else?”
Jennifer shrugged, saying, “Daddy, you were right. I was upset with myself, and I wasn't looking at the big picture. All I knew is that a while back, I had seen someone who looked a little like Prince Charming to me. I didn't know him, but I wanted to. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he noticed I was alive.”
~You filled out a little more,~ Jack skeptically thought about Hamilton's motives as he listened.
Jennifer confessed, “I was afraid if I talked about him that it might jinx it. Then, when we met in the park that day, I knew I was doing something wrong. Not in meeting him,” she clarified, looking first at Daniel and then at Jack. “But in not telling you. I felt guilty, but at the same time, I felt wonderful,” she confided, smiling at the memory.
As Daniel took their daughter's right hand in his, Jack ran his hand along her long hair. Both were signs of support and caring.
“I told Bri because I had to, or I'd ... I'd burst,” Jennifer confessed. “Then she tattled, not to be mean, but because she was scared.”
“I'm glad you recognize that now,” Daniel interjected softly, a smile on his face.
“I do ... now,” the teenager affirmed. “But then I got hurt.”
“Because she tattled,” Jack assumed, referring to Brianna telling him about the kiss in the park.
“No, Dad,” Jennifer said calmly. Staring him in the eye, she explained, “It was because I'd had my first kiss, and when you found out, you treated me like I was some ... some whore from Babylon or something. I'm your daughter, Dad. You should know me better than that.”
Jack swallowed, his emotions threatening to overtake him from the sincerity he saw in Jennifer's eyes. Of course, he wasn't thrilled by her strong language, either, but, right now, her language wasn't the issue.
“Jen, Jack ...”
Interrupting his supportive husband, Jack spoke, “Jen, I trust you; it's the boys like Hamilton I don't trust. You're a beautiful, sweet, innocent girl, and I want you to stay that way.” He paused briefly, then admitted, “Daddy believes you may have contracted mono from a contaminated object; I concede that's possible and that with the nature of the kiss, maybe even probable. The problem is that we don't know for sure one way or the other.”
“I'm glad you're acknowledging that, Jack,” Daniel told his husband.
“Yes, there's that, but I still believed then that Hamilton was a jerk, and what I want you to understand, Jennifer, is that there's nothing I could have said about Hamilton at the time that would have made you think he wasn't anything but that Prince Charming you mentioned a minute ago.”
“Probably not, Dad, but maybe, knowing that, you could have just been there for me, like you were after he ... I mean when ...” Jennifer paused to get a handle on her emotions. When she was ready, she more calmly and tenderly suggested, “Maybe knowing that, Dad, you could have been there for me, but without the grizzly bear.”
Jack fingered through the strands of the teenager's hair and then dropped his hand to her shoulder, his thumb caressing gently as he said, “Jen, I am sorry that I jumped the gun. I want to make it clear that the cliché I mentioned before is true. I trust you, but I don't trust the boys. You're just going to have to bear with me while you grow up because my number one instinct will always be to protect you from the wolves.”
“I didn't think Peter was a wolf,” Jennifer whispered, swallowing from the emotion as she bowed her head and leaned over onto Jack's shoulder. “I'm sorry, Dad.”
“Me, too, Princess,” Jack said, giving her a kiss on the forehead as his arm wrapped around her.
Looking over at Daniel, Jennifer softly apologized, “I didn't mean to mouth off so rudely, Daddy. I was upset. That's not an excuse; it's just how I felt.”
Daniel squeezed her hand and suggested, “Let's discuss your privileges.”
“Okay,” Jennifer agreed.
Twenty minutes later, the parents returned all of Jennifer's possessions, reminding her that, “They who giveth can taketh away again at any time.”
“Jen,” Jeff sighed as he walked inside their house the next morning.
“What's wrong?” Jennifer asked from her spot on the sofa where she was reading to Jenny.
“A courier is outside,” the boy informed her.
“Not again!” Jennifer sprang up off the sofa, apologizing to her sister for being a little rough, and stormed outside, joining her father in the driveway. “Daddy, what is it now?”
“I don't know, Princess,” Daniel answered, holding the package.
“Is it from him?” the teen inquired.
“You'll have to open the package; there's no indication on the outside,” Daniel observed as he handed her the package.
“Please wait,” Jennifer asked the courier.
“Look, I just need a signature and ...” the courier replied.
“It'll just be a minute,” Daniel told him, walking over a few feet to where Jennifer was opening the package.
Pulling out a small box, Jennifer sighed, recognizing the wrapping. Curious as to the contents, though, she opened the gift box, shaking her head.
“It's beautiful, isn't it?” Jennifer asked.
“Very, and very expensive,” Daniel noted about the diamond bracelet.
“He's trying to buy me. I don't understand, Daddy. If he'd just ... but he doesn't ... he's ... he's trying to buy me,” the girl emotionally spoke. “He just doesn't get it, that I'm not for sale.” Then, with her anger mounting, she closed up the package, walked over to the courier, and stated, “Return to sender. Thank you.”
Daniel brushed by his daughter as she hurried inside, trying not to cry, but not succeeding. He pulled out a ten-dollar bill and said, “Thank you for waiting.”
Nodding, the courier left the home, package in hand.
~You're not over him, Jen,~ Daniel regretfully sighed.
Later that day, Daniel, Aislinn, and Jenny arrived at Susie Smith's home to collect their new guinea pig.
“There, Daddy! That's Shortcake!” Aislinn exclaimed.
“Shortcake?” Daniel asked.
“Isn't she beautiful, Daddy?” Aislinn asked.
“Lookie, Ash. She a fur ball,” Jenny observed as Shortcake briefly curled up against the back of the cage.
“Thanks, Mrs. Smith,” Daniel said as he put down the cage he'd brought with him to transport the newest Jackson-O'Neill pet. “Ash is really excited.”
“No, thank *you*,” the woman responded a bit mischievously.
Daniel could tell this wasn't her first foray into finding baby guinea pigs homes.
“Can I get her now?” Aislinn asked Mrs. Smith.
“Yes, Ash, you may. You remember how we did it when Janey came to pick up her guinea pig?” Mrs. Smith asked.
Carefully, under the adults' supervision, Aislinn took Shortcake out of the Smiths' cage and put her into the one Daniel had brought. Then, slyly, Aislinn said, “And we take Strawberry, too?”
“What?” a clueless Daniel asked. “Uh, who?”
“They sisters, Daddy. Can't sep'rate sisters!” Aislinn claimed. “See -- Strawberry's upset!”
“Strawberry? That's, uh, the other guinea pig?” her father inquired.
“We like strawberry shortcake,” Aislinn explained, adding, “and they're sisters, so I get Shortcake and ...”
“And I get Strawberry 'cause I like berries better than Ash does,” Jenny explained.
“Yeah, Daddy, I like the cake better,” Aislinn quickly agreed.
“Ash, I only talked Dad into one guinea pig,” Daniel stated, trying to ignore the remaining guinea pig who was running frantically around the cage.
“But look,” Jenny argued. “She's so cute. Hi, Strawberry,” Jenny greeted and giggled at the same time while sticking a finger inside to briefly tap against the furry creature who seemed almost to purr against Jenny.
Mrs. Smith stood by quietly, watching Aislinn and Jenny work Daniel over. In front of her eyes, the confident man was becoming a mound of mush.
“Daddy, Shortcake need her sister. See, she's unhappy, too,” Aislinn observed, pointing at the young guinea pig who was at the edge of the cage, acting like she was trying to get out.
“Ash, no!” Daniel said, trying to put his foot down. “Now thank Susie and Mrs. Smith, and let's go home.”
“Yes, Daddy,” both girls sighed and did as they were told, though each also put on their best 'Danny Pout' faces.
As they were walking out, Daniel heard what he swore were cries. He turned back to see the lone animal in the Smiths' cage, standing on its hind legs against the wires, emitting piteous squeals, obviously upset at the impending separation. Hearing the cries in stereo, Daniel looked inside the travel cage Aislinn was holding, only to see Shortcake doing the same thing, straining with one tiny paw to reach her sibling through the bars. Their cries seemed to be full of pain.
“I can't do it,” Daniel sighed in defeat. “Ash, go get Strawberry.”
“YAH!” times two were the little shouts heard from Aislinn and Jenny.
~Gawd. I'm actually feeling a guinea pig's pain. I'm a helpless pile of mush!~ Daniel looked at Mrs. Smith and shrugged, saying, “What's a father to do?”
“Dad, look!” Aislinn said brightly as they entered the living room where Jack was checking the fish tank, a routine check that he or Daniel did regularly to make sure everything was fine, which it was. “This is Shortcake,” the little girl said, holding up the cage.
“And this is her sister, Strawberry,” Jenny introduced, adding, “She's mine.”
“Daniel!” Jack responded with a glare towards his spouse.
“Ash, be very careful taking the cage upstairs, and remember, do not open the door until I get upstairs to help you get the guinea pigs into their new home,” Daniel instructed.
“Okay, Daddy,” Aislinn said as she carefully and slowly walked up the stairs.
With the children finally out of sight, Daniel turned to face Jack and said, “I couldn't leave the second guinea pig there, Jack. She got all upset. So did Shortcake. She was the last one, Babe, and she would have been all alone.”
“Daniel, we don't need a second guinea pig. I didn't want the first one, for crying out loud,” Jack argued.
“That's exactly what they were doing, Jack,” Daniel informed his husband.
“Crying out loud,” Daniel explained.
“You crumbled, Danny!” an exasperated Jack accused.
“You should have held your ground. You should have ...” Jack ranted, his words cut off by his lover.
“Babe, you would have given in, too,” Daniel said, looking sorrowful. “They were begging me, and those little guinea pigs were crying.”
“Guinea pigs do *not* cry,” Jack intoned pointedly.
“How do you know? You weren't there!” Daniel exclaimed in his defense.
“Well, okay, technically, you're right. They didn't cry, they squealed -- horrible, pitiful squeals -- and besides, both Ash and Jenny used 'the pout' on me. Between them and the pigs, I was a goner,” Daniel admitted.
“Jack ... Jack!” Daniel rubbed his thumb against his chin. He wet his lips, and then he looked at his lover and said, “Jack, we never leave anyone behind, even if they *are* a guinea pig!”
With a smile, Daniel turned and walked upstairs, leaving his husband stunned and silent in the living room.
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Jack mused as he turned and stared at the fish tank. Then, he chuckled. “That's my Danny -- always a genius!” Looking over towards the kitchen, he added, “Mmm. Strawberry shortcake. Sounds good; think I'll go have some.”
Chapter Five: Acting Out!
After dinner on Monday evening, Jack strolled out onto the Aerie, the bigger and highest of their two roof decks. He found his lover there, self-hugging as he stood by the railing overlooking their large backyard. The moonlight shone against Daniel's silky hair, causing Jack to shiver in wanton lust for a moment.
Gently, Jack wrapped his arms around his lover and placed a kiss on his neck, smiling inside when he heard Daniel's sweet moan in response. Jack let out a contented sigh as he, too, looked out over the yard where several of their children were playing under the watchful eyes of their older siblings.
“Whilst August yet wears her golden crown,
Ripening fields lush - bright with promise;
Summer waxes long, then wanes, quietly passing
Her fading green glory on to riotous Autumn.”
Daniel tilted his head to glance back at his husband, asking, “What was that?”
“Just something I heard somewhere,” the older man responded. “It's been a good summer so far.”
“It has,” Daniel concurred, nodding slightly as he let his head settle into the crook of Jack's neck. “More,” he requested softly.
Jack smiled and then recited:
“August rushes by like desert rainfall,
A flood of frenzied upheaval,
But still catching me unprepared.
Like a match flame
Bursting on the scene,
Heat and haze of crimson sunsets.
Like a dream
Of moon and dark barely recalled,
Shadows caught in a blink.
Like a quick kiss;
One wishes for more
But it suddenly turns to leave,
Dragging summer away.”
The younger man sighed happily as he whispered, “My poet.”
“For you, Angel. Are you okay?” Jack asked, wondering if there was a reason for the self-hug.
“Yes, I'm okay, Babe. Sometimes, though, I feel like I have to pinch myself to make sure that all of this is real. I mean, gawd, we are so blessed, Jack. We already have so much, and soon, we're actually having a baby.” Daniel turned around to face his Love, running his hands up and down Jack's chest. “Sometimes, aren't you afraid you'll wake up and find out it's not ... real?”
Jack nodded as he looked downward, his eyes drawn to the laughter of their playing children. Daniel, too, glanced back at the noise, smiling when he saw the game of tag progressing. Their children were happy, and it showed.
“Yeah, Danny, sometimes I pinch myself, too,” Jack admitted. “Then I do this,” he added, leaning in for a kiss. “That's when I know it's all real.”
“And August has far to go,” Daniel replied before kissing his soulmate again. “Jack ...”
With a grin, Jack tapped his lover on the butt and challenged, “Tag, you're it! Catch me if you can!” as he sprinted down the walkway to the original roof deck.
“You ...” Daniel called out to his fleeing lover, giving chase.
Laughing, the two decided to join their children in some restful play.
“Noa, come here, please,” Daniel requested, sitting down in his recliner in the den later that night.
“Am I in trouble, Daddy?” the curly-haired girl asked as she climbed up to sit in Daniel's lap.
“No, Princess. I just want to talk a minute,” Daniel replied, smiling.
“Okay, Daddy,” Chenoa said as she settled into place, leaning against her father's right shoulder.
“Princess, we need to talk about what's going to happen when Bean Sprout is born. I know we've discussed it once before, but it's been a little while, and I thought we should chat about it again,” Daniel told the five-year-old girl.
“What about Bean Sprout?” Chenoa asked.
“Well, Bean Sprout will be very tiny when he or she is born, and, uh, Dad and I want the baby to be close to us,” Daniel stated quietly.
“Bean Sprout can share my room with Lulu, Daddy. We have lots of space,” Chenoa said about the not-so-big nursery that had been converted to a small girl's bedroom. It now held two beds, Noa's three-quarter-sized one and a twin bed for Lulu, a dresser for each girl, and Noa's tea set, leaving very little unoccupied space.
“We could do that,” Daniel said, quickly adding, “but it would be crowded, Noa. The baby requires a crib, a changing table, and a chest of drawers. That, uh, doesn't leave a lot of room for you and Lulu.”
Chenoa fidgeted slightly, but then offered, “Lulu and I can share a bed, Daddy.”
Daniel placed a kiss on his daughter's forehead. She had a real need to be both close to Jack and Daniel as well as to David. He had wanted to take another shot on having her agree to move to the spare room that was upstairs, but it didn't look like she was anxious to do that.
“Are you sure you don't want the spare room by your other brothers and sisters? You and Lulu would have a lot more space. We could even get you a larger tea table and ...” Daniel began, using the lure of Chenoa's tea ritual with Teal'c to get her to consider the other room.
“Oh, no, Daddy. I love my tea set,” Chenoa stated firmly.
“Okay, Princess. We'll figure out something, but one more thing I want you and Lulu to think hard about,” Daniel stated.
“The baby is going to sleep a lot, and when he or she does, you have to be very quiet. Bean Sprout will cry at night and wake you up and ...”
“We'll be good, Daddy. I promise,” Chenoa interrupted, apparently totally unwilling to consider a switch in room assignments.
“I love you, Noa. How about some ice cream?” Daniel offered. ~She'll switch when she's ready, I guess. Lulu would never move without her.~
“Oh, boy! Ice cream!” Chenoa exclaimed, climbing down. “Can I have a double-decker with strawberry and vanilla?”
Daniel chuckled, “You sure can.”
Little Danny scrunched his nose in thought as he continued speaking over the intercom to his brother-or-sister-to-be, “The eighth month of the Gregorian calendar is August, and that's where we are -- in August. Its name came from Augustus Caesar.” The little boy chuckled, acting out, “Et tu, Brute?” He chuckled again as he shifted in his spot on the sofa. “That's another long story, Bean Sprout.” He added, “But it's a good story.”
“Little Danny, what are you talking to Bean Sprout about?” David asked as he joined his younger brother.
“I was telling Beany about August. Wanna help?” Little Danny inquired, still dressed in his pajamas.
“Sure,” David said as he searched his brain for August tidbits. “I remember the obvious facts, Bean Sprout. The birthstones for August are peridot and sardonyx, and its flowers are the gladiolus and the poppy.”
“It's Weed Month, too,” Little Danny commented.
“It is?” David asked, not having heard that before.
The little boy nodded, expounding, “The Anglo-Saxons called it that because that's when weeds and other plants grow really fast.”
“Oh, I remember that,” David acknowledged. “I forgot.” Perking, he added, “Yesterday was Lammas Day.”
“The beginning of the harvest,” Little Danny added with a smile.
“It comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Hlafmaesse, meaning Loaf Mass,” David commented, causing Little Danny to chuckle. “What?”
“Dad would say we go to church for a loaf of bread,” the boy mused.
David laughed, “You're right, he would, but that is what it's for, Bean Sprout. People go to church to celebrate the first corn to be cut in their fields, and as part of that, the farmers would prepare loaves of bread from their wheat crops and give them to the church.”
“It was part of communion,” Little Danny explained, noting, “But when Henry the Eighth broke away from the church, the custom ended. Now, they do harvest festivals at the end of the harvest in September. That's the ninth month, Bean Sprout.”
“What's going on down here?” Daniel asked as he joined the boys in the living room.
“We're educating Bean Sprout about August, Daddy,” David answered.
“Okay, but, uh, let's get dressed first,” Daniel replied, looking at his namesake. “David, would you check on Ricky for me? I got him up, but he was lagging.”
“Okay, Daddy,” David said, scurrying by his father and heading up the stairs.
“Bean Sprout, I'll tell you more later. Hafta go now,” Little Danny said, clicking off the intercom and monitor that fed into the den.
Daniel smiled at the young boy and then headed for the kitchen to prepare breakfast. He and Jack had a busy day planned, and breakfast was the first task to be achieved. Afterwards, they had homeschooling to conduct and several errands to run. He didn't estimate having time to breathe peacefully until all of their children were in bed that night.
Roughly ten to twelve minutes away, the office at J-O Enterprises was a madhouse of activity.
While Dora King was copying and sorting documents for several projects, Karissa was conferring with Megan on several prospective jobs. As her job duties increased, the object of Little Danny's affections was learning how to bid on the more complicated projects. This meant Ty Harper was standing by, ready to give her guidance on how to figure the hours of labor and usage for each piece of equipment since he was J-O's equipment and machinery expert.
Three different workers were vying with Dora for time at the copier, all of them glancing at the clock on the wall and their watches repeatedly.
Megan had two staff researchers looking over previous projects that were somewhat similar to prospective projects in order to “dig up” information that might save them some time in the long run regarding customs and transportation costs.
Two field archaeologists were simply trying to use the computers to complete their reports, which left one or the other tapping a foot, waiting for a computer to free up.
Their in-house lawyer had also called a meeting, requiring several of their in-house and field staff to be present as he needed to review changes in the regulations for two upcoming digs.
All in all, it was a clear case of too many people and too much activity at one time for the small space of the modest twelve hundred square foot home. While everyone was attempting to keep their frustration under control, it was causing them to lose focus on their tasks, and some reports were bordering on being late.
As the morning passed, things only worsened, especially when four people were vying for only two open desks. The employees' tempers were finally overtaking their patience as they bumped into one another and had racing contests to see who could reach whatever vital piece of equipment was necessary to complete their duties.
Everyone was calling out for Megan to find the answers, until finally, the woman shouted out, “Just get it done, People!” and barricaded herself in her office. ~Okay, it's time.~ Taking a deep breath, she picked up the phone. When a man answered, she spoke sharply, “Jack, it's Megan.”
“Yeah, what's up, Megan?” Jack asked as he carried Aislinn's latest artwork to the kitchen where he used magnets to place it on the refrigerator.
Daniel walked in from the backyard after doing some unplanned yard work that had needed to be done before he could take care of his errands. He was rubbing his sweaty brow and took a cleansing breath. Seeing the artwork, he smiled at the picture -- a crowded sofa with all eleven J-O children and a body with a question mark for its face.
“Who's on the phone?” Daniel whispered, seeing Jack's grimace.
“Megan. Danny, I've never heard her like this,” Jack whispered, holding the phone out where Megan's currently shrill voice could be heard. “She's insisting we meet her at O'Malley's for lunch, now, or she's resigning.”
“Resigning?” Daniel questioned.
“Megan, we'll ...” Jack began, silenced by the dial tone that suddenly blared over the line. He stared at the phone as if it would help him understand the strange conversation that he'd just had with their Director of Operations. ~That time of the month?~
“She hung up?” the younger man asked incredulously. ~That's not like her; whatever's wrong is ... wrong.~
“I think you'd better take a fast shower, Love,” Jack suggested. “I'll get the brood who are home gathered together and see if Mrs. Valissi can watch them.”
“Okay, Babe,” Daniel said. ~Looks like my errands will have to wait.~
By now, several of the children had already been chauffeured to friends' home for the afternoon. Only Jennifer, David, and the Munchkins were home at the moment.
“Dad, why do we have to go to Mrs. Valissi's? I'm sixteen now. Can't I watch them?” Jennifer inquired. “David can help; you know he'd love that.”
Jack sighed as he considered it. Jennifer and David both were always very responsible when placed in charge of the younger children.
**Danny, Jen wants us to let her babysit, with an assist from David. What do you think?**
**Remind both of them of the rules, and tell Jen to keep the security system on,** Daniel replied from the shower. **And, uh, talk to Mrs. Valissi anyway.**
**Was planning on it,** Jack replied. “Okay, Jen. Remember ...” Jack began, reviewing the rules with their daughter, after which he made a covert phone call to Mrs. Valissi who agreed to keep an eye on the house and drop by for an unannounced visit to make sure things were going okay a bit later.
Not quite an hour later, Jack and Daniel entered O'Malley's and were led to Megan's table.
“Have a drink,” their Director of Operations suggested, holding up her glass. “This is my fourth one.”
“Fourth?” Daniel verified, sitting down and glancing at Jack with great concern. “Uh, I don't think you're driving when you leave here.”
“Already packed my keys,” Megan noted, taking another drink. “You two can take me home when we're done here.”
“Uh, would you like to order some food?“ Daniel asked tentatively.
“Nope,” Megan answered without hesitation, shaking her head, causing her brown hair to whip around her face, a few strands catching on her lips. Removing the hair by blowing out some air, she added, “Food slows down the effects of the alcohol.”
**Definitely more than that time of the month,** Jack communicated.
Daniel stared at his lover in disbelief, but said nothing.
“Hey, Marta,” Jack greeted, seeing the waitress approach. “How are ...”
As the waitress began to hand her customers menus, Megan blocked her path, knocking the menus back and instructing, “They'll take steaks, charred on one, medium well for the second; baked potatoes; salads -- ranch dressing, and two coffees. Oh, and I'll have another drink, thank you,” she said in a business-like tone, dismissing the waitress with a wave of her right hand.
“... you?” Jack completed, surprised by Megan's actions.
Not missing a beat, Megan looked at her employers and instructed, “You can pay for this and leave her a good tip for having to deal with me today.”
“Megan, what's wrong?” a concerned Daniel inquired, leaning forward with his arms resting on the table.
Jack was in a chair to the left of his husband, but the two chairs were closer together so that both were somewhat opposite Megan's.
“You can fire me, if you want to, but before I came here, I told Dora to take all the non-sensitive material to Kinko's and then bring it back to the office. I extended all the deadlines on our current projects forty-eight hours, and I gave almost everyone the rest of the day off. I told Karissa and Ty to make the necessary phone calls, wait for Dora, and once she was back and they'd rescheduled our appointments, they could go home, too. All the phone calls are being transferred to my cell phone which, at the moment, is on voice mail.”
Jack and Daniel remained silent as they watched their trusted employee take another sip of her fifth gin and tonic.
“Okay, this is the deal,” Megan spoke a minute later. “This company, *your company*, is booming. It's grown, a lot. In fact, it *is* out of control. Have either of you noticed that?”
“We're ... doing very well,” Daniel answered quietly.
“Daniel, your capacity for understatement is astonishing,” Megan said a bit sarcastically. She swallowed a third of her drink and sighed, “I realize you two never thought J-O would be as successful as it is, but, Jack, Daniel, it is. When was the last time you looked at a financial statement?”
“Like Daniel said, we're doing very well,” Jack answered, well aware that their archaeological company was giving them a nice return.
Both Jack and Daniel were well in tune with their company's financial status, balance ledger, and reputation. They were also in touch with their employees' attitudes, all of whom were happy and had expressed their feelings that working for J-O was a very satisfying experience. In fact, they took a lot of pride in knowing that their original six employees were still with them, and, in addition, they had a very low turnover rate. In fact, it was zero, with a possible asterisk for an employee who had been hired initially, but before they had even opened their doors for business, he had received another offer to work for a company in Chicago which he took.
“Megan, what happened this morning?” Daniel gently inquired. **Jack, she knows we've read the statements; we review the numbers with her regularly.**
**She's making a point, reinforcing our success, that's all,** Jack replied.
“You know how small the office is. It's a ... house and a very small one at that. Frankly, we're bumping into each other. We have four times the employees we did when we started out a few years ago.” Megan chuckled, shaking her head. “A few years ago? Guys, we opened our doors in May 2007. It's been over four years, and while you could afford to treat it like a hobby back then, you can't any longer. We need new equipment, a place for the surveyors to do their reports, a better reception area ...”
As Megan talked, Daniel silently recalled how simple their operation was when they first began. They hired Megan as their Director of Operations and six others, four as field archaeologists and two as researchers. Those two would be in-house while the other four were out performing surveys and excavations. There was plenty of room then for everyone to maneuver.
~We've grown,~ Daniel silently admitted as he thought about their current staff roster.
Aside from Megan and Karissa, J-O Enterprises now employed twenty-eight people. Megan, who while retaining her same title, was essentially handling all of the day-to-day operations, led the group. Archaeologist Karissa Lewis had quickly proven her worth and was now Megan's assistant.
The company employed three principal investigators who supervised various projects and digs, eight field archaeologists with full benefits, and five freelance archaeologists employed on an as-needed basis. They still had the same two researchers, plus Dora, who was a combination researcher and gopher.
In addition, J-O Enterprises also had a full-time geoarchaeologist who specialized in geology, two historians, a part-time zooarchaeologist who was an expert on animal bones, a GIS specialist who processed spatial data and created mapping diagrams, one cultural resource lawyer who kept tabs on the legal requirements of their projects and kept the staff informed appropriately, one part-time editor who helped with reports and publications, and a systems administrator who assisted with database entry and collection.
The company's most recent hire was an underwater archaeologist, thus expanding the capabilities and interests even further. Not only that, Jack and Daniel were considering adding a full time environmental archaeologist to their staff.
“We get the idea,” Jack interrupted Megan's long list of complaints, sitting back and taking a breath. “Okay, Megan, take a breath, another sip of that drink, and then give us your list. We'll take care of it.”
Jack's words drew Daniel back into the conversation.
“I'm sorry if I sound pushy, but I've been doing the best I can, but with all the business we've picked up in the last year, we're overextended. I've been trying to tell you, but ...” Megan paused, shrugging her shoulders.
“We weren't listening very well,” Daniel completed for her, now more sympathetic as he realized just how much she was right. “We never thought we'd be this successful,” he said, echoing their friend's words. “But I'm glad we are. Thanks, Megan, for doing what you had to in order to get our attention.”
“I love J-O, and I suppose I lost control today because if I didn't, I was afraid we'd start to become just another company, and I know that's not what you want,” the female archaeologist said with a soft smile as she held her glass tightly.
“You're right,” Daniel affirmed, pulling out his computer day planner and opening up a notes page. “Let's make some notes about the changes we need to make.”
The lovers had driven Megan home, one of them driving her car, the other taking their Silver Fox sports car. Now, the two were discussing the crisis at hand as they drove towards the J-O offices.
“Danny, when we rejoined the Stargate Program two-and-a-half years ago and did that small extension that enlarged those two back rooms at J-O, I thought we were done. I never imagined we'd get this big,” Jack commented.
The two owners of archaeological company had built an extension on the back of the house/office that was about eighteen feet wide and eight feet deep. It matched the ell on the front of the house which projected toward the street, but was just a bit larger in both dimensions. It transformed the location's previous ell shape into a slightly unbalanced 'T'. The left arm of the 'T' was a bit longer and thicker than the right. In the process, the closet and hutch had been removed, and a door cut into the living room so one could walk directly into the main room.
The initial change had resulted in a space nearly six by ten feet in the old dining nook area. While the extension had turned the small bedroom into an eight by sixteen space, the connecting area ended up growing to nearly fourteen by ten and housed ToddlerTown, in its original smaller form, the copy machine, and the plotter, which usually was set to run at night after most of the employees had left for the day due to the noise it made.
While the changes had been enough for a while, Jack and Daniel were now recognizing that they needed to do more.
“It's been right in front of us,” Daniel replied as he made a left turn. “We've been adding people all along, one here, one there, but because they spend so much time out in the field, we just didn't see the problem. Megan keeps things running so smoothly that I never even noticed we were out of room.”
“Me, either,” Jack noted. “That's what a good leader does, Danny -- never show how hard it really is to keep things in shape.”
“Yeah,” Daniel affirmed. “Looking back, I can think of at least two occasions when Megan did try to tell us, though.”
“After we hired Sergei in January,” Jack put forth about the employee who had been their twenty-third hire.
“We've added a lot of employees this year, Babe,” the archaeologist noted. “We should have known from that.”
“There's that,” Jack agreed. “I guess that explains the request for more computers, too.”
“You mean the computers we told Megan we'd buy next year?” the younger man inquired.
“Yeah, those,” the older man confirmed. “We should have done more sooner,” he added.
“We should have listened,” Daniel opined.
“Better late than never, Love,” Jack stated.
“You know what they say about being late, Danny.”
“I do?” Daniel asked quizzically, glancing over at his lover as he stopped at a stoplight.
“Being late is okay, unless you get there and find the door locked,” Jack quipped.
Daniel stared at his lover for a moment, then shook his head quickly, and stared at the light, hoping it would turn green soon.
“It was a real mess, Daniel,” Karissa said in reply to the archaeologist's question.
Jack and Daniel had finally reached their company's office, which was really just the house Daniel had purchased several years earlier and converted to a small office. Dora and Ty had just left a few minutes earlier, and Karissa was headed for the door when Jack and Daniel walked in.
Currently, Jack was on the phone, checking in with Jennifer and making sure all was well at home while Daniel conversed with Karissa for a few minutes.
“Karissa, how long has it been like that?” Daniel inquired.
“It usually isn't this bad, Daniel, or I think we would have had a disaster a long time ago,” the woman replied. “What happened today, though, was that everyone was in town at the same time, and lately, that's beginning to happen. It wouldn't be so bad if we had additional work areas,” she said, pointing out at the workspace.
Daniel nodded as he looked around, then said, “Thanks, Karissa. Go on home.”
“Are you sure? If you and ...”
“No, go home. Thanks,” the archaeologist repeated to the dedicated employee.
“Tell Little Danny 'hi' for me, okay?” the woman requested.
“I will,” Daniel answered, watching as Karissa picked up her purse, waved at Jack, and left the house/office.
A moment later, Jack disconnected his call, announcing, “All's well at home. What do you think?”
“One word,” Daniel sighed.
Jack smiled, and together, they said, “Alex!”
“Alex Dennison,” the designer greeted.
“Alex, it's Daniel Jackson-O'Neill,” the archaeologist announced.
“Daniel, it's good to hear from you. How's Jack?” Alex asked.
Daniel couldn't help but smile. In the past, anytime he'd call Alex, the first question was usually something about the house and was everything okay.
~Dating Soncirria has been good for him,~ Daniel thought silently. “He's great,” he answered aloud.
“But?” Alex prodded, sensing a hesitation in the man's voice.
“Well, let me put it simply. HELP!” Daniel said with a raised voice, chuckling a little afterwards.
Alex laughed, too, and inquired, “The house?”
“Yes. NO. I mean, uh, well, not exactly,” Daniel answered, suddenly losing his focus.
“What exactly is it?” Alex asked curiously.
“Well, it may be a little hard to explain. Actually I'm not sure if anything can be done, but Jack and I ... I mean, we knew if anyone could do it, it would be you. It's important and ...”
Interrupting the man's ramblings, Alex laughingly teased, “Daniel, while you've been talking, I just finalized the color scheme for a law office, penciled in the next three weeks of meetings and deadlines, and decided where to have lunch. Spit it out, man!”
In one giant breath, Daniel answered, “Alex, weareovercrowdedat J-O Enterprises andneedyoutocomeandfixit -- soon!”
Alex blinked, trying to decipher the statement. He'd heard his name, and the name of the business Jack and Daniel owned. He also heard 'fix it' and 'soon'.
~Okay, they've got a problem with their office.~ Glancing at his calendar, Alex replied, “I see. When did you want this project completed?” ~I'll figure out what he said later.~
“Yesterday,” came the reply from Jack, who had lifted the cell phone from Daniel's ear. “Seriously, Alex, we need this job completed as soon as possible.”
“Sunny's going to visit her mother for a few days so that frees up some time for me,” Alex began.
Jack chuckled, silently communicating, **Danny, you'll love this. He has time because Sunny is going to visit Momsey!**
Daniel smiled in acknowledgement of the statement, as Jack listened to Alex.
“I'll meet you in the Springs the day after tomorrow at Archonics, 8 a.m. sharp,” Alex instructed. “I'll need a blueprint of the house, the abstract, and a copy of the zoning restrictions for the neighborhood. E-mail or fax those zoning laws to me ASAP; that will tell me what we can't do. After I review it, I'll call you later with questions about what you had in mind.”
“Done,” the general said before disconnecting the call. “Danny, where are the blueprints?”
For the next hour, the lovers worked on obtaining what Alex had asked for, faxing him the zoning laws as well, adding a proviso to their fax that their copy was now two years old and they'd have to try and get an updated copy in the morning. Then they did a walkthrough of their office, each wanting to make sure they were familiar with the current set up and problems on how things were situated while discussing possibilities in their own mind.
Meanwhile, when Alex hung up from his call with Jack and Daniel, he mused, “Why do I keep saying yes to these guys?” Growing serious, he sighed inwardly, ~Because they believed in you when you needed a chance to prove yourself to Byron.~ After a minute, he glanced over at the photo of he and Sunny that graced his desk. “And because Daniel believed in more than my abilities. He believed in me, the man, and now I have Sunny. I owe them both,” the designer spoke aloud as he made sure his calendar was clear for the trip to Colorado Springs.
“Bed!” Daniel ordered.
“But, Daddy, I wanted to tell Bean Sprout more about August,” Little Danny whined and then let out a big sneeze. Seeing Daniel's resolve, he let out a giant sigh and marched upstairs to his exile. “I'll be all by myself.”
“No, you won't, Little Danny,” Jonny said. “I'll go to bed, too. We can tell ghost stories.”
Daniel smiled as Jonny put his arm around his brother and trudged upstairs with him. He knew odds were good Jonny would catch the cold, but keeping the Munchkins apart was something that had proven nearly impossible over the years. He was about to wonder why Aislinn wasn't part of the trio when all of a sudden he heard the little girl's voice.
“Wait for me!” Aislinn called out. “I know a good ghost story.”
“Hurry up, Ash,” Jonny replied.
Daniel chuckled and walked into the study about to say something when he realized Jack was on the phone.
“Megan, you definitely were *not* out of line. When we promoted you to ...” Jack stopped, sighed, and then said, “Maybe we should have given you a new job title.” After a brief chuckle, he continued, “When we promoted you, we gave you the ball, relying on you to make sure things continued to run smoothly because we couldn't be at the office as much anymore. We asked you to take that ball and run with it, and you did.”
“I've tried. I really care about J-O,” Megan spoke sincerely.
“We know, and you proved that again today,” Jack asserted.
“But I ...”
“You did your job today, Megan,” Jack interrupted. “It's Daniel and I who should apologize to you for making your job so difficult.”
“I appreciate that, Jack,” Megan gratefully intoned.
“Daniel and I spent a couple of hours at the office this afternoon and made some decisions. I think you'll like the outcome,” Jack told her. “We just need to hear back from Alex.”
“I feel so bad. I sent everyone home and ...” a regretful Megan began.
“Megan, you did what you had to do. Don't second guess yourself. Enjoy your evening, and that's an order!” Jack barked with a smile in his tone.
“Yes, Sir,” Megan answered, hanging up the phone.
“She feels guilty?” Daniel asked as he sat down on the sofa.
“Oh, yeah,” Jack confirmed, moving to sit down next to his lover. “We've come a long, long way, Danny.”
“I think we have some good ideas,” Daniel remarked.
“So let's see what Alex comes up with,” the older man suggested. “Everything will be fine.”
“Trust me, Danny. Alex knows how to make things happen in the construction and design world. He'll take our ideas and work his magic,” Jack spoke confidently.
“I hope so. If he doesn't ...”
Daniel knew it might be more sensible to sell the house and move J-O's offices somewhere larger, but he really didn't want to for a number of reasons. For one thing, the location was convenient for them, and for another, he had a sentimental attachment to the house as being a symbol for Jack and Daniel's life outside of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' which had run their lives for years. Besides, the company wouldn't get any bigger. He was sure of it, so all they needed to do was fix the concerns which Megan and Karissa had brought to their attention.
“He will,” Jack intoned. “I'm confident.”
Daniel chuckled, saying, “I'm confident, too.”
During the next twenty-four hours, the office building of J-O Enterprises was visited by the building code inspector; Garrett, who was the construction foreman; and Gordon Leviwitz, the general contractor. After communicating with each of them and also with Megan, Alex felt ready to meet with Jack and Daniel as scheduled and discuss his proposal. From his condo in Florida, he made a final phone call to the couple.
“Guys, if you approve of what I have laid out, we can begin right after the meeting tomorrow. If you have no objection, I'd like to invite Megan to join us. I know you are footing the bill, but if I am reading the situation correctly, she is the lady in charge of the day-to-day operations,” Alex deduced.
“No problem at all, Alex,” Jack affirmed. “In fact, we think it would be a good idea to include Karissa Lewis, Megan's second-in-command, as well.”
“Hey, it's your party,” Alex replied cheerfully.
“And I'll cry if I want to,” Jack chimed.
Standing nearby, Daniel rolled his eyes, groaning at Jack's jest. Jack just smiled, refusing to tell his husband that Alex had just groaned as well.
“I'll see all four of you tomorrow,” Alex said, anxious to get a few hours sleep before catching his early-bird flight to Colorado Springs, especially since he knew that the Jackson-O'Neills were always a designer's challenge.
“Goodnight, Alex,” Jack spoke, hanging up the phone and then suddenly chasing his lover through the house, ending up in their bedroom where they kissed passionately for several minutes before being reminded that their children were still up.
“Remember where we left off,” Daniel requested as he got up.
“Count on it, Love,” Jack smirked as he followed his husband back downstairs.
Jack and Daniel left their house, leaving Jennifer and Jeff in charge of their younger brothers and sisters, and headed for their scheduled meeting.
At precisely 8 a.m. on Thursday morning, Alex Dennison greeted the Jackson-O'Neills, Megan, and Karissa cheerfully at the offices of Archonics Ltd., quickly getting down to business as he suggested, “Let's begin, shall we?”
While three faces smiled in eager anticipation, all Doctor Daniel Jackson-O'Neill could muster was a nod followed by another drink of his Starbucks.
~Why'd we make love last night? And when we woke up in the middle of the night? And then again before breakfast?~ Daniel glanced over at his husband and grinned. ~Oh, yeah, that's why.~
“Daniel?” Alex called out. “DANIEL!”
“Wha...what? Yes, here, present!”
Everyone laughed, and Daniel hung his head, shaking it quickly as he gulped down more of his coffee.
“Late night?” Megan teased.
“And morning,” Jack replied, beaming with pride.
“Too much info, Jack,” Alex joked.
Hearing Daniel's groans, Jack said, “Don't worry, Daniel; only fourteen more hours of the day to get through.”
“Jack ... be quiet,” Daniel replied in his best snarky tone.
“Why don't we get to the point of this meeting,” Alex suggested. “Having spoken with each of you individually, I think I have a plan that will meet most of your needs and can be done quickly with a minimum of disruption both to your corporation and the neighborhood,” the designer said.
“How fast can you get it done?” Jack questioned.
After a burst of laughter, Alex countered with, “Most people want to know how much it's going to cost first.”
After another round of chuckles, all eyes were again focused on Alex.
“Let's begin with the structural limitations, but before we do that, I want to address the aesthetics. I want to replace all the carpet with an industrial-grade blue tweed carpet throughout that will pick up the tan and brown accents. To make the entire interior space look more upscale and professional, I would like to see some simple crown molding installed throughout. That's pretty much it for the background except for painting the walls and adding some artwork. Are we in synch?”
“Oh, yes, please,” Karissa exclaimed. Seeing Jack and Daniel staring at her, she shrugged and added teasingly, “I like upscale.”
“What she means is that we're tired of looking at a house that's supposed to be an office,” Megan explained. “We've never quite gotten far enough away from the fact that it is a house.”
“A hoffice,” Jack quipped, earning him stares from everyone in the room. “What?” he asked, shrugging. “It's a house and an office -- a hoffice.”
“Jack, so help me you start calling J-O a hoffice, and I'll ...”
“You'll what?” Jack smirked, his sparkling eyes melting his slightly irritated soulmate.
“What's next, Alex?” Daniel asked, closing his eyes to soak up the aroma of his next sip of coffee and shut up the child in his husband.
Putting aside the sample board he had used to show off his ideas, Alex continued, “As I said, we need to know what we can't do, before we proceed. There are restrictions on how much of the ground we can occupy with building. Many of the houses in the neighborhood were once ranch style houses, but have had second floors added. Unfortunately, the existing structure here will not support a second floor.” To the three crestfallen people and one bleary-eyed archaeologist in front of him, the designer added, “I said *existing* structure. We can beef it up so it *will* support a second floor.”
“Beefing is good,” Karissa interjected enthusiastically, smiling over at Jack who gave her one of his intimidation stares, causing her to cough evasively as she refocused on Alex.
Alex continued, “Here's what I propose: Use what is here to its best advantage. We can get by with almost no tear-out of the existing house. I want to extend the front of the house out even with the bedroom extension. This will enlarge the main workspace and the entrance, giving the house some much needed curb appeal. The extension will be supported by wood piers which will take the brunt of the load of the second floor.”
Wanting to get to the heart of the matter, Jack questioned, “What goes up on the high ground, and how long will it take to build?”
“All in good time, Jack. Let's finish the downstairs first,” Alex responded. Continuing on, he addressed Karissa, saying, “As you mentioned, the building needs to be an office, but the reality is that it's a house. Since it is in a residential neighborhood, it must look like a house and be able to be sold as a house, should the need arise. However, since functionally it needs to be an office, the closet in the front office is being put to very poor use.”
“Amen,” Megan smirked.
Jack glared at her and teased, “Are you bucking to get fired?”
“Go ahead, make my day,” Megan deadpanned in response.
“Jack, we need her,” Daniel replied in a serious tone, his eyes still a little fogged by the earliness of the hour.
“Daniel,” Jack replied, putting his hand on his lover's right arm that was atop the table. “Just drink your coffee. She's not going anywhere. Tell him, Megan.”
“He's right, Daniel,” the woman chuckled. “I think he needs more coffee.”
Rolling his eyes, Alex walked over to the side table and brought over a thermos full, stating, “All Starbuck's.”
Daniel grinned sappily as he poured more of his favorite coffee into his near-empty coffee mug and then let out a contented sigh.
Megan and Karissa chuckled, and Megan couldn't help herself, leaning over and whispering to Jack, “What did you do to him?”
Jack grinned, raised his eyebrows several times, and replied, “Trust me, Megan, you *so* do not want to know.”
“You're right, but next time, Jack, could you do whatever it was when we don't have a morning meeting scheduled?” Megan asked, smiling.
Jack simply grinned, pleased to the max with himself and his effect on his lover.
Meanwhile, Alex just shook his head, thinking, ~I'm glad I cleared my calendar completely for today. Nothing goes by the book with these guys.~
“Go on, Alex,” Jack instructed.
“I propose installing a system of easily changed shelving and bins,” Alex suggested. “There will be a space to hang two coats. The desks are ergonomically designed to minimize physical stress, and, Karissa, your desk will have a rounded side extension so you could have a mini-conference with one or two people.”
“That sounds great, Alex,” Karissa intoned. “Um, what about the bathroom?” she asked.
“We have one,” Jack replied.
“Yes, a very *old* one,” Karissa bravely replied. “Jack, you have an office full of men and women, and it's getting fuller by the month.”
“Karissa, I'm suggesting new fixtures and replacing the tub with a shower to give more space,” Alex responded.
“How about a bigger mirror, Alex?” Megan requested.
“We can do that,” Alex agreed.
“Anyone care what we think?” Jack inquired of the designer and two females.
“No!” came the response from all three, along with instant laughter.
“Just thought I'd ask,” Jack replied a bit hesitantly. “Alex ...”
“Go on,” Megan and Karissa gaily chuckled in unison.
Jack stared at them and asked, “You two are enjoying this, aren't you?”
“We've waited for this a long time, Jack,” Megan answered truthfully, Karissa nodding in agreement.
Jack nodded, and Alex seized the momentary silence as his chance to continue.
“All of you indicated the office is busier now than ever, which is why, in part, I'm suggesting some switching of your current locations,” Alex stated.
“What?” all four said.
“Unless there's an objection, I propose that Karissa move into Megan's old space,” Alex explained.
“Yes!” Karissa excitedly exclaimed.
The designer continued, “Since the enlarged living room will be devoted entirely to workstations, we need another play space for the brood. I checked out the basement and believe that would make an excellent playroom for the children when they are at the office.”
“Alex,” Megan interrupted. “I like that idea, but when the brood is there, we need a small workstation down there for whomever is watching them.”
Karissa added, “The children are never left unattended.”
“She's right, which is why a small workstation with just a laptop and the basics would be helpful for us,” Megan suggested.
Jack and Daniel smiled at the intensity of both of the females' comments.
Nodding, Alex added, “There is a water leakage problem which is easily remedied. We'll only have to dig a hole in the backyard about six-feet wide, so I propose we turn a disadvantage into an advantage by installing an outdoor access stairwell in that location instead of filling up the hole again. It can be used in case of fire or emergency to get whoever is in the basement out to safety. Once that is accomplished, the outdated heating/AC system needs upgrading and a few receptacles installed upstairs in the main level.”
“Alex, I don't mean to interrupt,” Megan said. “The basement works as a playroom in my opinion, but that puts them a long way from the bathroom.”
“He'll have a plan,” Daniel practically whispered as he sipped more of his coffee.
Alex smiled at the archaeologist's confidence in him and interjected, “As a matter of fact, I do.”
“See!” Daniel said, grinning as he began to come to life, a direct result of his consuming more of his stimulant of choice.
Chuckling for a moment, Alex explained, “Megan, I have a full bath in the basement planned as well as a projects area with a sink and countertop.”
“That works!” Karissa happily expressed, sharing a smile with Megan.
“Since they are children and the unexpected does happen,” Alex continued, “I also would suggest a closet to keep a change of clothes for each of the seven youngest children; and, if you need to change their clothes, you will need to wash them, not to mention the towels they use, too, so I have included a washer/dryer stack as well as tons of sound deadening insulation in the ceiling.”
“Amen,” Megan said with vigor. “I wish we had had this the day it rained, and the little darlings decided it would be fun to play outside.”
**Jack, do you know anything about this?** Daniel asked as his senses began to work more fully.
**Not a clue, Love,** Jack responded.
Seeing the confusion on her employers' faces, Megan explained, “It happened towards the end of winter while the two of you were out of town, and your meeting got extended unexpectedly.”
**We were off world,** Daniel recalled.
“We never mentioned it because they were just being kids, and Jeff was such a help in getting the boys cleaned up,” Megan added.
“Jeff?” the two parents chorused.
Laughing out loud, Megan and Karissa stopped the meeting until they could compose themselves, and still they were trying hard not to giggle a couple of minutes later.
Megan expounded, “Little Danny refused to take off his clothes in front of us and his sisters. Jonny and Ricky followed suit.”
“I ... I off...offered to have ... Megan and everyone ... else ... leave ... the room, but he said ... oh, oh, I can't, I can't ...” Karissa trailed off, laughing so hard she couldn't breathe.
“Would you let us in on the joke, already?” Jack asked, grinning from the women's infectious laughter.
“He ... he said ... he couldn't take his clothes off in front of me ... be...because we weren't ... weren't ... m... ma...ma... married!” the helpless woman finally finished before holding her sides in rollicking gales of laughter.
Daniel blushed for his namesake, and giggled, **Jack, that talk we had with him must have sunk in.**
**Guess so. That little monkey -- shy just like his daddy,** Jack mused.
Megan continued to explain the rest of the incident, saying, “Little Danny said only Dad, Daddy, or his biggest brother Jeff could help him take a bath, so I called the school and went to pick up Jeff. He took the three boys into the bathroom, and, in no time, they emerged squeaky clean. We washed their clothes in the kitchen sink and wrung them out as best we could. They only had to wear them while I ran them home to change. Jeff showered and changed at the house and came back with us to watch the Munchkins and the Spitfires until Jen got home.”
“That's a go on the washer/dryer, Alex,” Jack said, nodding as if he had liked the idea from the get-go when, in reality, he had started to balk at the idea.
“The kitchen will become a beverage center with a ...” Alex began authoritatively.
“Beverage center?” Jack asked, interrupting the man standing in front of them. “What makes up the beverage center, Alex -- vending machines?”
Alex chuckled, “No, Jack. The beverage center is designed to service the need for beverages, snacks, lunches, and maybe a working late dinner. We'll install a larger refrigerator, with an ice maker and a slightly larger sink, and lose the stove and the dishwasher. We'll give the cabinets on the opposite wall a fresh coat of paint, and that's it. The sink will also have an instant hot water dispenser for tea, soups, and cocoa.”
“That'll be wonderful during the winter,” Karissa commented.
“Lose the dishwasher? Lose the stove?” Megan questioned in consternation. “How do we make those lunches and dinners?”
“The appliances are old, and if there's no stove, you can't cook, and where there's no cooking, there are no dirty dishes,” Alex began, quickly adding, “Unless you really had your heart set on ...”
“Lose that stove!” Megan cried. “Lose that dishwasher, rah, rah, rah!” she cheered gaily.
“Want some pom-poms, Megan?” Jack asked jovially.
“I have two, and they are just fine, thank you,” the woman teased.
“Pom-poms are ...”
“Jack, let's let Alex finish,” Daniel requested, fearing the current direction of the conversation.
Megan chuckled, Jack looked put out, and, smiling, Alex continued, “The refrigerator will be roomy enough to hold a few two-liter bottles, a couple of cases of soda in dispensing racks, and some bagged lunches. It will have a freezer compartment large enough for a dozen frozen dinners.”
“We *have* to have a microwave,” Megan stated with force. “Cold lunches and dinners only go so far.”
“Of course,” Alex acknowledged with a tiny smile. “If you want one, there would be room for a toaster oven, too, but that's about it.”
“Can we make that a convection oven?” Karissa asked hopefully. “You can do so much more with convection.”
“Yes, we can,” the designer said, nodding as he made a notation.
“Sounds good. Next?” the general commanded.
“Yes, Sir,” Alex snapped amid chuckles from the others. “The former breakfast nook/Karissa's desk space/ kids' play area will become the copy and filing center. The necessary files will be moved to there.” As he continued to speak, he saw the approving smiles of the two women in the room. “We'll put a copy and collating machine here and two laser printers, one color, one black and white.”
“A collator?” Karissa spoke in awe, her voice actually lilting. “Oh, Megan. No more trips to Kinko's!”
**Gawd, Jack, have they asked for a collator before?**
**I don't think so, Danny,** Jack responded mentally.
Alex continued, “The two offices will each have a printer in them. Three additional printers will be shared by the permanent workstations. You'll need to decide how many will be laser versus inkjet printers and which ones you want to be color or black and white.”
“Noted,” Megan replied, making a note in her binder.
The designer then reminded, “Megan, you may want to put several of these printers on a queue, so that when one printer is unavailable, the job will automatically feed to the next printer, and the next, if necessary. To do so, all of the printers on a queue should be the same type to ensure identical printing in the case of legal documents.”
“Good idea, Alex, and I understand,” the woman acknowledged, jotting down more notes about decisions that would need to be made quickly. “Uh, we could have two different queues, if we desired, right?”
“Yes,” Alex explained. “You can even change the queue set up as needed. If it doesn't matter if something is printed with an inkjet or a laser printer, it can go in an open queue and whichever printer is available next will print it. You can exempt certain printers from the open queue as needed or place them in a secondary queue.”
“What if there's a rush job?” Daniel inquired.
“If a printer is needed for a priority project, or is not functioning, it can be exempted from the queue and put back when the situation is remedied,” Alex answered firmly.
“How about our field staff, Alex?” Megan asked. “Sometimes they come in at the worst times and need immediate access to desks, computers ...”
“That's why I've added three 'floater' workstations utilizing laptops -- one at the reception desk, one near the filing cabinets in the copy room, and one downstairs,” Alex replied. “If you have a full house and everything is urgent, your extended desk would accommodate still another floater. Each of these can access any of the three main workroom printers via wireless routers. That would also be a good reason to have a queue set up. If you start using more than two floater stations on a regular basis, it's time to start looking for a larger space, or a second location.”
Making another note, Megan nodded and said, “Okay.” Silently, she thought, ~Thank you, Alex, for planting that seed and for giving us a definition of when we will need more space that these two will understand.~
**We couldn't possibly get that big, could we, Danny?** Jack asked, staring at the notes he'd made while tapping his notebook with his pen.
**No, I'm sure we've reached our peak. I feel lucky we've been accepted as much as we have,** Daniel replied.
**It's you,** Jack commented.
**I don't know,** Daniel replied shyly, still finding it hard to accept that he was respected in his field of choice.
**I do,** Jack firmly replied, looking over at Daniel and giving him an affirmative nod, prompting Daniel to smile in response before refocusing on the meeting.
“The plotter will be behind doors in the room in a cabinet. It will pivot out to load and unload, but will be muffled in the soundproof cabinet. The entire house will have sound-deadening insulation in the ceilings, but this area will have the walls done as well,” Alex explained.
“It's very loud, so everyone is going to like that improvement,” Megan commented.
“We have the major areas to go over yet, but I, for one, could use a break,” Alex suggested.
The group got up, stretching and walking around. Alex went to his office, placing a call to Sunny, just to say 'hello'.
Megan and Karissa visited the restroom, each chattering away about the impending improvements to their workplace.
Jack and Daniel, meanwhile, walked over to the window and stared out at the street below.
“Ah, Jack,” Daniel quietly stated, knowing perfectly well that he'd been a bit out of it for the first part of the meeting.
“Next time you ... you know ... before breakfast, I'll ...” Daniel began.
“Yes, Daniel?” Jack asked, his face bright with loving deviousness.
“Paybacks, Love, and you know me, I *know* how to get payback,” Daniel smirked, heading back over to the table where he picked up a donut and ate it seductively in front of his lover.
**Yes, you do,** Jack responded, using their special way of talking. **But, Danny, you did ... like it?**
**Gawd, yes. Don't ask silly questions, Jack,** Daniel communicated, smiling. His mind began to review the meeting. ~Hmmm. Wireless router. We need a network so we can link up at home.~
Ten minutes later, Alex reconvened the meeting.
“We have two more areas to deal with on this level. The first is the major work area. Once we do the extension of the house, we'll have an area twenty-five feet long and twelve-feet wide. Let me have your opinions on this,” Alex requested, showing his sketch of the space.
Down the center, with just enough room to walk around each end was a single object. It was a long, narrow, and rectangular with seven alternating arcs cut out of it, four on one side and three on the other. The ends were arced. Drawers and printers occupied the space beneath the straight sections of the surface.
“This is brilliant, Alex. You've created seven workstations, all of them out in the center of the space,” Megan ranted.
“Look, Megan, they're equal. None of these work areas will make any of the staff feel slighted or left out,” Karissa pointed out, well aware that in the past, they'd had some internal issues over work space.
“It's more than I could have imagined,” Megan agreed.
“What's the surface material?” Karissa asked, looking up at the designer.
“To be determined, perhaps marble or granite-like. It will all be cut and shaped from one solid piece,” Alex answered.
“And the color?” Megan inquired.
“You can choose the color,” Alex responded.
“What about the rest of the parts of the workstations?” Daniel questioned as he continued to review the plans.
The designer replied, “The drawer units and printer stands are free-standing component pieces that support the work surface. The extra receptacles are run from the basement. The lighting is very powerful indirect, but is supplemented by strategically placed recessed lights.”
“I am truly impressed,” Karissa praised.
“Jack? Daniel?” Alex called out.
“So far, so good, Alex,” Daniel responded, glancing at his lover for confirmation.
“The girls are happy,” Jack chuckled. “Like we said when we first talked to you about the remodeling, Daniel and I are there two or three days a week and only for a few hours at a time, but Megan and Karissa are there every day, eight hours or more. From their comments and expressions, I'd say you're hitting the mark.”
Nodding, Alex stated, “Okay then, that leaves one area on this level, the back office. I propose that it be left as an office. You probably have someone you want to promote.”
“Good point,” Jack acknowledged, two or three people immediately coming to mind.
“We'll discuss that later, but I agree we have a few people who have definitely earned their own office,” Daniel commented. Looking over at the women, he asked, “Megan?”
“Definitely,” Megan agreed, nodding as she made more notes.
“Great,” Alex replied with a smile. Looking at his clients, he asked, “Now you are probably wondering where your offices are going to be?”
“Second floor,” both Jack and Daniel said, smiling at each other.
Chuckling, Alex confirmed, “Yes, that's right.”
“Do we get a prize?” Jack inquired jovially.
“My bill,” Alex retorted. After a few chuckles, he continued, “The changes I've outlined up to this point have been limited and largely cosmetic, with the exception of the extension of the entire front out even with the front bedroom. Now we come to the large changes. Jack, Daniel, Megan, you each need an office. You also need a small comfortable lounge-type area where the senior staff can hold informal meetings and brainstorming sessions. In addition, you mentioned adding a conference room as being high on your priority list. Of course, you'll need bathrooms as well; and, no, I have not forgotten that this needs to retain a residential appearance, as well as being readily convertible to a dwelling that can be sold quickly.”
“We don't want to lose the ability to sell the place, if we wanted to at some point,” Jack commented.
“I think Alex just said that, Jack,” Daniel countered.
“He's supposed to be talking about our offices,” the older man replied.
“He is,” Daniel stated.
“No, he's not,” Jack refuted.
“Yes, he is ... or would be, if you'd stop interrupting him,” the younger man bemoaned a bit testily.
With his eyes closed, Alex counted to ten, thinking, ~Why am I doing this? Oh, yes, I like them. Why do I like them?~ Taking a big breath to refresh his mental attitude, Alex pressed on, saying, “Boys, your attention, please.”
“Sorry,” Jack quickly replied as Daniel rolled his eyes.
Knowing his lover was a tad unhappy with him at the moment, Jack decided to try to impress him by continuing the discussion, questioning, “Alex, what about prefab? We used it before successfully. Can something like that be done here?”
“Jack, you're right on target, but a prefab structure would have to be trucked in and that would be difficult to hoist, unless a couple of helicopters were at the ready to do a slick zip bang lifteroo right on to the first floor,” Alex replied.
A bit smugly, Jack muttered, “I could arrange that.”
**Well, I could!** Jack silently argued with his husband.
“I'm sure you could,” Alex began in reply, “but you guys prefer to keep a low profile and that would be an attention-getter for sure, no matter how quickly and quietly it was done.”
“Just leave that to me,” Jack said boastfully.
**Jack, we're talking a residential neighborhood, not Cheyenne Mountain or Peterson. DOWN!** Daniel barked in their minds.
Alex shook his head, saying, “Jack, it really won't be necessary."
“It won't?” Jack questioned.
“No, it won't. I got to thinking ...” Alex began, only to be interrupted.
“That'll cost us,” Jack snickered.
“It sure will. My fee went up about twenty minutes into our session today,” Alex teased, though looking very serious. "And nothing says it couldn't go up again.”
Jack made a motion as if locking his lips with a key.
“I'm sure Marcel Marceau is shaking in his shoes,” Alex deadpanned. After the laughter settled, he continued, “Moving from levity to more important matters, I got to thinking. The prefab houses are lifted into place with cranes, so we just need to use cranes about ten feet taller. Is everyone with me?”
Four people nodded, one thinking, ~I can see my reflection in this table. Hmmm. Do I look fat?~ With a frown, Jack communicated, **Danny, am I getting fat?**
**WHAT?** Daniel shouted in his mind.
**What?** Smiling at Alex in a diversionary tactic, Jack's mind retreated. ~Bad idea, O'Neill.~
**What?** Jack nodded as if totally involved in the meeting. ~Just act innocent. He can't prove a thing.~
**Jack, be quiet.**
A series of questions followed, each from a different person in the room.
“Can you do this?” Daniel inquired.
“Have you ever done this before?” Megan asked with intrigue.
“Do you have someone lined up to tackle this?” Jack asked.
“How long will this part take?” Karissa queried, silently wondering how long they would have to shut down the office.
The designer looked intently at each person and answered his or her question in order.
“Absolutely!” Alex said, giving Daniel a convincing nod.
“No, but I've done a lot of things I've never done before,” the designer told Megan. ~Just ask Sunny. Oops! Did I really think that in public?~
“Yes, Gordon and Stuart are ready and eager to begin, and I know you trust their work,” Alex replied to Jack, and then thought, ~Your security measures might slow us up a bit. We need to talk about that.~
Looking at Karissa, the man in charge answered, “If we do as much prep work in advance as possible, the actual lift in place will take a day, possibly less.”
Stunned silence caused the designer's confidence to wilt a little.
“Can we see the plans, Alex?” Karissa asked.
Unrolling a sheet with a floor plan, the designer recovered his poise and began pointing out the design features of the space. Megan and Karissa were delighted with Alex's ideas and were pleased to see Jack and Daniel nodding in affirmation of the plans.
The upper floor was reached by a stairwell that was positioned directly over the existing one to the basement. There were three large offices, one each for Jack, Daniel, and Megan. Megan's office included a walk-in closet and private bath with shower. Heading off questions, the designer stated that if and when the office were ever sold, Megan's office would be the master suite.
“Her office would be ready for use as such with no construction or conversion necessary -- just change the carpet and the furniture,” Alex expounded. He continued, “Jack, Daniel, you requested new energy efficient windows, and we can do that at the same time we install the second floor. Any questions, opinions, or requests?”
“Can we have some greenhouse windows in our offices for plants” Megan asked.
Alex responded, “Actually, the second level extends back even with the rear addition. As long as Jack and Daniel have no objections, I propose that this area be closed in with glass, like an atrium. It would make a wonderful break area with a couple of tables and some chairs and maybe a small park bench. In the event of the office being sold, it would make a great dining area.” Seeing the woman looking a bit disappointed, Alex added, “Your office could include greenhouse windows, Karissa's, too, since we are replacing all the windows on the first level anyway. Jack, Daniel, does that meet with your approval?”
“Just as long as you don't start talking to them instead of the clients,” Jack teased.
After a chuckle, Jack's, Megan suggested, “What about skylights? That would be awesome.”
“Not on the first floor; there's nowhere to put them. However, the upstairs floor could be cut back a few feet and let light from skylights on the roof spill down.
“Central vac?” Daniel questioned, since they didn't have a separate cleaning service for the house/office.
Alex responded, “Absolutely, Daniel.”
“There is one more thing, Alex,” Karissa asked, a charming smile on her face.
“Ask, Fair One,” Alex replied, bowing to Karissa.
“Careful, you'll make Little Danny jealous!” Jack teased jovially.
“No contest, Jack,” Karissa said, acting offended. Suddenly, she looked at Alex with a slight look of horror, apologizing, “Nothing personal, Alex, but Little Danny is the cutest little four-year-old you've ever seen in your life.”
Alex chuckled, waving off the current joking.
More seriously, Karissa asked for a completely paved driveway.
“Yes, please,” Megan seconded, whining, “my poor shoes!”
“Since when are Ellen Tracy's 'poor' shoes?” Alex kidded.
Megan looked down, embarrassed at having a pair of the designer shoes and yet proud that someone had noticed, considering she'd cut back on her grocery budget and cut out entertainment for a couple of months to save the money to get them.
“We can do that,” Alex replied.
“What about a conference room? Daniel asked. “We need that desperately. With our increased staff size, we need a decent place to gather together and brainstorm or discuss matters.”
“... as well to meet with our clients,” Megan pointed out. She chuckled, “When Abayomi and Yazid come to town, sometimes they bring seven to ten other staff with them. They aren't real happy when they have to crowd into our small offices.”
“Good point,” Jack acknowledged.
Grinning from ear to ear, the designer unrolled another drawing, stating, “We'll do it the same way we do the upper floor of the house, only over the garage. It will actually be done first, so it's out of the way when the larger modules are lifted into place.”
The plans showed a large conference room, with an extension jutting out to the one side for a beverage center, complete with microwave and coffee maker. The other side had two unisex restrooms, one handicap accessible, one not, and a small vanity compartment with two sinks and a large mirror with lighting for checking and applying make-up, or simply combing one's hair.
Alex elaborated, “The times when the conference room will be filled to capacity are rare, but when it is, the vanity area will help alleviate the need to have separate men's and women's restrooms. By sheer practicality, the larger facility will be the women's, but it is not written on the doors. Each can be used by either gender since the doors do have locks.
“Any comments or questions?” Alex asked.
“I'm wondering how anyone who is handicapped would get to the second floor?” Megan put forth. “I've been thinking about poor Ty. He's going to be on crutches for a while yet.”
Alex smiled, answering, “Good question. See this little square right here?” When everyone nodded, he explained, “It's an elevator!”
“No way!” Megan chuckled. “I thought it was a closet.”
Daniel inquired, “Don't elevators have to have big counterweights and a shaft for them to rise and fall in?”
“Not anymore,” the designer responded. “Nowadays, just the space of a closet about three-and-a-half feet square will do the job nicely.”
“I'm impressed,” Megan commented.
“I like the way the conference room connects to the lounge,” Karissa interjected.
Alex nodded, saying, “It makes sense to tie the two spaces together.” After a pause, he asked, “Anything else?”
“Isn't that enough?” Jack mused, silently figuring out the price tag for the entire thing.
Ignoring the general, Alex moved forward, saying, “Okay, here's the deal. If we go forward and don't make any last-minute changes ...” he stared at Jack and Daniel, both of whom sank a few inches in their seats, “we can be finished and have J-O moved back in, up and running at full speed two weeks from Monday morning, 8 a.m. sharp. For that to happen, I need to start making phone calls by noon today. It's now 10 a.m.”
“Geez, Alex, nothing like putting the pressure on us, is there, old buddy,” Jack replied.
“Jack, you called me, remember? I have worked on nothing else since after your call on Tuesday evening. I've rearranged and put off commitments to be here and to pull this off,” the designer stated.
“Thank you, Alex. We really do appreciate it,” Daniel interjected. “Uh, can you give us a brief summary of what would happen when,” he requested.
“Of course,” the designer stated, pulling over a notepad on which he had previously prepared a summary. He made a couple of additional notations based on the conversation that had occurred during the meeting, and then he presented the outline to the group. “This may be more than you want to know, so please feel free to stop me if I get too detailed.”
“You?” Jack questioned with big eyes. “Talk too much? Alex, surely, you jest.”
“Did I mention my bill just went up again?” the standing man asked.
Jack simply nodded, not even bothering to look at his husband whom he knew was glaring at him.
“What's first?” Daniel finally inquired.
“As soon as we're done here, I'm going to call the manufacturer of the prefab modules and tell them the order is a definite go. I'll have the crew auger the holes for the support columns to support the second floor. We'll set the form for the driveway as well as the crawl space for the extension to the front.”
“You sent them the plans already?” Jack asked incredulously.
“The crews are ready to go?” Megan asked at the same time, her surprise evident as she glanced over at Jack and smiled.
Alex grinned, saying, “I told them when we needed the modules, and they insisted on seeing what they were getting into. Fortunately, it's pretty straightforward construction, nothing elaborate, and they'll have them ready.”
“Wow!” Karissa exclaimed.
“Gordon and Garrett are aware of Jack and Daniel's M.O. They've been on standby all day.”
“That'll cost us,” Jack muttered.
Knowing it was exactly what the couple wanted, the suave and confident man continued, saying, “On Saturday, they will pour the driveway and crawl space, plus set the columns for second floor. Sunday, we'll need to do some preparation for Monday when the real construction gets going.”
“I can't believe you can do this so fast,” Karissa commented, shaking her head in disbelief.
“Money talks,” Jack quipped.
“Yes, it does,” Alex affirmed. “Most of the extra money is going into double and triple crews working practically around the clock.”
“That'll cost us,” Jack muttered again, his comment going completely ignored by everyone.
“As I was saying,” Alex continued. “On Monday, we'll finish the basement waterproofing, install the new furnace and A/C system, and pour the slab for the atrium area. The next day, the new bath fixtures will be installed, we'll upgrade electrical and plumbing, build the cabinet for the plotter, build the new stairs, and create the beverage center. Wednesday is a cleanup day, though we'll start the siding on the lower level. Dumpsters will be brought in on Thursday.”
“The roof?” Jack deduced.
“Exactly,” the designer confirmed. “The initial inspections will be done that day as well. On Friday and Saturday, the roof will be removed, and then on Sunday, we'll prepare for the prefab installation. The next day, the prefabs go up and will be fastened to the first floor. We'll raise the roofs and join the marriage walls.”
“Do we get cake?” Jack teased.
“You'll get it someplace you don't want it, Jack, if you don't let Alex get through this,” Daniel advised.
“That sounds promising,” Jack replied seductively.
“Alex, please,” Daniel stated with a nod for the man to continue. **Keep it up, O'Neill, and cake is the only thing you'll be getting a piece of.**
Immediately, Jack focused on Alex like he was speaking the wisdom of the ages.
“That takes us to Tuesday when we'll side the ends of the second floor and put the glass in the atrium. The plumbing and electrical connections for the second floor will be completed and we'll add the railings over atrium as well. On Wednesday, we'll enclose the front of the house, do the interior finish on the enclosure, and install the central vac. The next day we paint the interior, lay down the carpet, and install the crown molding.”
“We're up to Friday, right?” Megan asked, taking notes just for the heck of it.
“Correct,” Alex answered. “That's when we do the landscaping of the front yard and remove the dumpsters. Over the weekend, we'll place the furniture, hang the pictures, make the necessary computer connections, and you guys can prepare for a return to business on Monday.”
“So we're definitely going to have to shut down for two weeks?” Daniel stated as a question.
“Daniel, if you want to remain open, we can slow the pace ...” Alex began.
“No!” Jack interrupted forcefully. “No way. If we're going to do this, we're going to bite the bullet and get it done as quickly as possible.”
“If you want, after Monday on week two, the downstairs offices could be available, but I wouldn't advise it,” Alex commented.
“Noise,” all four J-O representatives spoke in unison, causing a brief breakout of laughter.
“Excuse us,” Jack requested, nodding at Daniel who followed him to the back corner of the room. Quietly, he asked, “Danny, should we? It's not the money, it's the commitment we're making here, not to mention the sudden downtime. I'd like a little time to think about this.”
“I don't think we have a choice. One more day like Tuesday, and Megan is out of here,” Daniel replied.
“She wouldn't leave,” Jack spoke confidently.
“Maybe not, but, Jack, we've prided ourselves on J-O being the best it can be. Not one of our employees has quit, Jack. Even Dora is staying, and archaeology is about as far away from dance as you can get,” the archaeologist observed.
“They love working for us,” Jack said a bit cockily.
“Yes, they do, but that's not enough to keep all of them around indefinitely. We have some wonderful employees, Jack, and I don't want to lose any of them,” Daniel stated. Pausing for a moment, he sighed, his mind considering all of their options. “We have a responsibility to them to make sure they have a proper working environment,” the younger man eventually opined.
“I ...” Jack began.
Daniel teased, “What? Is the great General Jack Jackson-O'Neill wavering?” Seeing his lover smile, he continued, “Jack, we've placed the burden on the day-to-day operation of J-O in Megan's hands. Have you paid attention to how both she and Karissa have been responding to Alex's ideas? Listen, we've kept J-O close to us because it's convenient *for us*. We owe them not just a good emotional workplace, but a good physical environment as well, not to mention proper office equipment.”
“Kinko's,” Jack said, nodding.
“Exactly. We aren't there eight to ten hours, five or six days a week to really see this, and ... and Megan and Karissa have quietly borne the brunt of our ignorance.”
“We owe them,” Jack stated seriously.
“We owe them,” Daniel concurred.
Turning around, Jack smiled and said, “Alex, you have a go.”
Megan and Karissa smiled brightly as they gave tiny nods of approval to their employers.
“Ah, one minute,” Daniel said, raising up his left hand with a finger pointed in the air.
Megan's and Karissa's smiles faded, afraid their remodeling was about to be vetoed.
“Jack, Alex needs to start now, so we have another choice to make about what to do over the next sixteen days,” Daniel stated.
“We could rent space somewhere,” Jack suggested.
“Megan,” Daniel called out. Seeing her look up, he asked, “Do we have crucial deadlines coming up?”
“Just the Peters project,” Megan replied. “We've personally assured Mrs. Peters that the job will be done as scheduled.”
“Bibi's working on that, right?” Daniel inquired.
“Yes, she is,” Megan affirmed. “She's leaving for Baltimore tomorrow morning, and the deadline is Wednesday.”
“Okay, well ... just a minute,” Daniel said, returning to his private conversation with Jack. “Jack, let's give the in-house crew two weeks off with pay.”
“What?” Jack asked in a raised voice, attracting the attention of the other three people in the room.
“Jack, the expense of renting an office and moving all of our equipment is worse than ...” Daniel began.
“You're right,” Jack agreed, once the shock had left his body.
“All I'm saying is that we really don't have to shut down completely the entire time. Those in the field can continue to do their jobs. They can rent space at Kinko's or work with some of our colleagues to get the reports filed on time. I know we can't do that for all the projects, but the fewer clients we have to disappoint, the better,” the archaeologist remarked.
“I agree,” Jack stated. “So, we give the in-house folks a little vacation during week one, and in week two, we bring them back and try to do as much catch up as we can.”
“Exactly,” Daniel spoke quietly. “It may not be totally fair to the field workers, but we're going to lose some money with this, Jack. We didn't plan on this.”
“Maybe we can give the field workers a few days later in the year, as a thank you for the extra efforts they are going to have to make over the next two weeks to get their reports processed and filed,” the older man suggested.
“Sounds equitable,” Daniel agreed. Motioning towards the others, he led Jack back to the table where he instructed, “Megan, Karissa, we're giving the in-house workers a full week off with pay. Reschedule what you have to, but let's keep as many of our assignments on schedule as possible.”
“We're keeping the field archaeologists working?” Megan asked curiously.
“Yes. Have them use Kinko's or whatever facilities they have to. Have Bibi work with Hunter Sutton if she needs to use their facilities. Uh, authorize any expenditures in advance so she doesn't run into problems. Do the same with the others, within reason. Reschedule anything internal. That second week is going to be the toughest. See if you can find a space we can use for a week or maybe everyone can work at their homes. Ask some questions, see where we stand after you review the calendar, and get back to us tomorrow, if not sooner. We don't want to lose two full weeks.”
“Do the security thing in the office after you make the calls,” Jack added, referring to their normal procedures for whenever their office would be vacated for more than a weekend.
“Make sure to back everything up before you leave for the day,” Daniel added. He looked over at Alex and said, “We need you to give Megan and Karissa a couple of hours to secure things before you go on. Megan?”
“We'll need about three hours,” Megan replied, looking over at Alex. “After that time, we may still be finishing up with proposals due today or tomorrow, but it'll be okay for you and ... whomever to be in the office.”
Karissa added, “Daniel, I think you need to contact a couple of the clients yourself. There are a couple of jobs I know we won't be able to get to without access to our files and equipment.”
“Donaldson,” Megan sighed.
Karissa nodded, looked at Jack and Daniel, and inquired, “Will you be by the office?”
“We'll drop by in an hour,” Jack answered for his husband.
“Okay,” Daniel said, smiling. “Megan will have a set of keys for you and the security code for the office as well when you meet her there later.”
After finishing up their details, the meeting-goers left, all having plenty they needed to accomplish for the day.
“And where are you three off to?” Jack asked two days later, stopping the Munchkins as they headed for the backyard on a pleasant Saturday afternoon.
“We're just going outside, Dad,” Jonny answered as he looked up at his father with an innocent expression.
After nodding and with wide grins, the triplets bolted outside to where Jennifer was already playing with Jenny and Ricky.
~Okay, Munchkins, Spitfires, and Jen are outside, Bri and Jeff are at Little League, David's upstairs doing his homework, and Danny is picking up Noa and Lulu from dance class. Yep, all children accounted for.~
Heading into the kitchen to make a start on dinner, Jack had just pulled out some vegetables when he heard the front door open and two excited voices getting louder by the minute.
“Dad, guess what?” Chenoa asked. The little girl was first into the kitchen, though Lulu was hot on her heels. “We're giving a recital,” she blurted out without giving Jack a chance to guess.
“All the classes are doing something different,” Lulu added excitedly.
Chenoa chimed, “We get to choose which we want to do, and I'm going to be in the tap and modern dance group.”
Lulu beamed as she stated, “And I'm going to be in the ballet and jazz group.”
“Let's go tell the others,” Chenoa suggested, grabbing Lulu's arm.
Without even waiting to see their father's reaction, the two were out the door and running into the backyard. A rather stunned Jack looked up to see his amused soulmate leaning against the counter. Walking over to Daniel, Jack kissed him and pulled him into an embrace. He sighed with contentment as Daniel nuzzled his neck.
As they enjoyed the warmth of each other, the lovers could hear the enthusiastic chatter from the backyard.
Jack couldn't help but chuckle, “I take it that they're a little excited?”
Daniel laughed, “To coin a phrase, ya think?” After more chuckles at his usage of Jack's often-used phrase, he added, “They haven't stopped talking about it.”
The two stood there for a while, just enjoying being in each other's arms when they heard rising voices, this time with a note of panic in them.
The two men were heading for the backyard even before Aislinn came running in to fetch them, yelling, “Dad, Daddy, come quick, it's Little Danny.”
The couple ran into the backyard to see Jennifer holding Little Danny in her lap, talking to him and rubbing soothing circles on his back. As they drew closer, they could hear the small boy wheezing.
“Jen, what happened?” Jack asked urgently.
“I don't know. He just fell down and started making noises,” Jennifer answered.
“Son,” Jack asked kneeling down. “What's wrong?”
“Jack, maybe I should call Sylvia,” Daniel suggested, already beginning to head for the house.
“No call Doctor Syl, Daddy!” Little Danny stated firmly. “How'd I do, Ash?”
Aislinn giggled, “You did good, Little Danny.”
Jonny added, “You're a good actor, Little Danny.”
Jack stared at the little boy, not sure if he wanted to kill him or laugh at the prank. Likewise, Daniel stared at the little boy, wondering if grounding him for life would be unreasonable.
Ricky and Jenny applauded while Jennifer looked as confounded as her parents.
“You little brat,” Jennifer accused, getting up quickly, resulting in Little Danny bouncing onto the grass. “I was scared stiff, and you were playing?” she asked in a raised voice.
“We're acting!” Jonny stated proudly.
“I'm going to be a star,” Aislinn announced with a coy smile, sounding very much like a little diva.
Little Danny added, “I win a quarter!”
“Excuse me?” Daniel asked.
“Jonny didn't think I could do it,” the little boy explained. He turned to face his brother. “You owe me a quarter, Jonny. Let's go get it from your piggy bank.”
“I'll pay you later,” Jonny responded.
“Na-huh. You pay me now,” Little Danny insisted.
“But ...” Jonny started to argue.
“Wait one minute,” Daniel interjected sternly, glaring at the Munchkins. It didn't escape his attention that the twins had moved over by Jennifer at that moment. “Let me see if I understand what just happened.”
Little Danny leaned over and whispered to Jonny, “We're in trouble. Daddy has general eyes.”
Jonny gulped, nodded, and inched closer to his brother.
Daniel asked as calmly as he could, “So, you decided to see if you could pretend to be sick and fool Dad and me?”
Little Danny mulled over the question and finally answered, “Yes.”
“Okay, well, pretending to be sick is not a good thing, so I want you both to go to your room and think about how you'd feel if Dad or I pretended to be sick, but really weren't,” Daniel told them.
“Daddy, it was my idea,” Aislinn confessed.
“But we agreed, Ash,” Jonny said.
“Yeah, we thought it would be funny,” Little Danny agreed.
Jack said, “Do you think Jennifer thought it was funny?”
The Munchkins shook their heads, and then as one, ran over to their sister, throwing their little arms around her legs.
“We're sorry, Jen,” all three said at the same time.
“Well, that's okay,” the teenager responded in a forgiving tone, having softened with the realization it had all been a joke.
“I 'specially sorry,” Little Danny said, looking up at her. “Just wanted to see if I could act.”
“You can,” Jennifer assured the little boy, nodding as she talked.
“All three of you go upstairs, now!” Daniel ordered. “Dad and I will be up shortly.”
“They're in big trouble,” Chenoa whispered to Lulu, who immediately nodded and was glad they hadn't ever decided to do something like that.
The Munchkins did as they were told while Jack told the other children to continue playing.
“Dad, Daddy, are you going to punish them?” Jennifer inquired.
“We should ground them for eternity,” Jack stated. “I think they took ten years off my life.”
Jennifer chuckled softly as she asked, “Didn't you ever do that to your parents, Dad?”
“That's beside the point.” Seeing Jennifer's challenging look, Jack answered, “I was them then. I thought it was funny, too.”
Daniel closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he spoke, “Gawd, they were just playing. Maybe we're making too much of it, Jack.”
“They're kids, and they're good kids, but they're still kids,” Jennifer said wisely as she smiled, walking away to play with the twins a minute later.
“Danny, was she trying to tell us something?” the silver-gray haired man asked.
“Tell me,” Jack insisted.
Daniel simply looked at his lover and smiled when Jack sighed.
“Come on, Love. We have some Munchkins we need to talk to,” Daniel stated as he took his husband's hand and led him into the house.
**Are we going to punish them, Danny?**
**No, but we are going to talk this through with them and maybe remind them of the 'Boy Who Cried Wolf' story.**
A minute later, the two men were standing in the boys' bedroom, looking into three sad looking faces. Daniel sat down on one of the beds and gestured for Jonny and Little Danny to join him while Jack scooped up Aislinn and sat with her on the opposite bed.
“We really sorry, Daddy, Dad,” Little Danny apologized as he looked up at his parents with soulful blue eyes.
Jonny nodded vigorously, and Aislinn sniffled as she did the same.
“I know you're sorry, Munchkins, and I'm glad that you know what you did was wrong, but I think we need to have a little talk about things that it's never okay to lie about,” Daniel admonished gently.
“And that isn't to say that it's okay to lie, because it's not,” Jack interjected.
The older man couldn't understand why his husband had just winced until Little Danny scrunched his nose in thought and asked, “But sometimes it is, Dad. You told me it would have been okay to lie when I told Mrs. Grimshaw the truth that time.”
Jack shuddered at the memory. He had taken the Munchkins and some other homeschoolers to an education day at the zoo. One of the other parents had kindly provided some snacks which had been received happily, until the kids tasted them.
Aislinn refused the sandwiches, but took a cup of lemonade. Jonny and Little Danny happily took a sandwich each and bit into them. Jack watched as their expressions froze. He saw Jonny bend down and pretend to fiddle with his shoelace, carefully spitting out his mouthful and wrapping it in his hanky.
~You are way too good at Special Ops, Jonny,~ Jack thought as the little boy carefully hid the rest of the sandwich in the handkerchief as well and then inched his way over to a nearby trash bin.
“Danny, don't you like my sandwiches?” the woman asked.
The concerned tones of the maker of the sandwiches, Leonora Grimshaw, drew Jack's attention back to Little Danny.
Little Danny grimaced as he swallowed his mouthful and then hesitated before admitting in a soft voice, “No, Ma'am.”
“Oh, you don't like chicken sandwiches?” the woman inquired.
Jack frowned, knowing there must be something funny about the sandwiches since Little Danny liked chicken sandwiches quite a lot.
Little Danny looked puzzled as he asked, “Are you sure they were chicken sandwiches? They didn't taste like chicken. They tasted kinda like Mittens' and Calico's cat food smells.”
//End of Flashback//
Jack shuddered again at the memory and saw Daniel trying to hide a smile.
**It wasn't funny, Danny!**
**I agree, but according to Jerry's mother, Mrs. Grimshaw has stopped making chicken sandwiches.**
Jack sighed as he refocused on the current situation, explaining, “Son, I know it's not easy to understand, but there is a difference between not hurting someone's feelings on little things and playing a very bad joke that causes people to think you're sick or hurt.”
“How do we know the difference, Dad?” Aislinn asked in confusion.
Jack looked at Daniel who answered, “Well, here's a good test. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Let's say that while we're talking now, Lulu ran in and told us that Noa was sick. We all got up and ran to their bedroom. Noa's on the bed, making funny sounds. Then, all of a sudden, she gets up and laughs. How would you feel?”
Little Danny sighed, “I wouldn't like it. I'd be scared.”
“Exactly,” Daniel answered. “Dad and I were very, very scared after Ash came in and got us.”
“Let's try another situation,” Jack offered. “Mrs. Valissi brings over a surprise, a new shirt for Ash. It's something she's sewed herself, and she says she spent a long time working on it. Ash opens up the box and sees the shirt. It's lime.”
“Ewww,” Ash said, lime being one of her least favorite colors.
“And it has a big red apple on it,” Jack continued, knowing that the littlest Munchkin wasn't a fan of clothing with food pictured on them.
“Ash, are you going to go 'ewwww' in front of Mrs. V? If you do, how is she going to feel?” Jack asked.
Daniel added, “And before you answer, you need to decide something very important. Is a little fib going to hurt more than the truth? And think about this ... can you be thankful for the gift without lying? Think hard. Sometimes, you don't need to lie.”
Aislinn thought for a minute and then she answered, “I'd thank Mrs. Valissi for liking me and making me a present. I don't have to say I love it, do I?”
“No, you don't,” Daniel answered. “So, did you lie?”
“No. I smile because I love Mrs. Valissi.” Suddenly, Aislinn smiled and added, “I'd even wear it ... once, because she made it for me!”
“That's our girl,” Jack responded, smiling.
Little Danny nodded and stated, “I should have told Mrs. Grimshaw that she was nice to make us sandwiches.”
“But, Dad,” Jonny interrupted. “That woman asked Little Danny if he liked chicken sandwiches. He does.”
“Yes, but he didn't have to tell her that hers tasted like cat food,” Jack pointed out.
The conversation continued for a while, with the parents trying to help the children sort out the rights and wrongs of little white lies, and, preferably, how to never lie and yet still be able to get out of embarrassing moments such as the one that had occurred with Mrs. Grimshaw.
“Okay,” Daniel said at the end of the talk. “Now, about this desire to act.”
“It was fun,” Little Danny confessed, although he had a repentant look on his face still.
“Acting is fine,” Daniel opined. “But there's a time and a place for it.”
Jonny gasped as a light exploded in his mind, and he said, “We could put on a show. Little Danny, you be the star.”
“We can all be the stars. We'll all do it. Come on,” Little Danny responded excitedly as he climbed down off the bed. He stopped quickly, though, and turned back around, asking, “Can we go talk to the brood about doing a show?”
“Sure, go on,” Daniel answered. With the triplets gone, the lovers moved to sit together. “Do you think they'll really put on a show?”
Jack chuckled, “Maybe some little song and dance routine for us behind a blanket for the stage curtain. Nah, they'll forget about it in a day or two.”
Daniel just sighed, his mind not really on a potential stage production. Quietly, the two sat together, just trying to let the calm of the moment relax them.
“I could have killed him,” Jack admitted a couple of minutes later.
“Jen's right, Babe. We have great kids, but they are still going to make choices that aren't always the best. It's especially hard when they are all so bright.” Daniel sighed thoughtfully, “It's easy to forget that they are still children and adolescents. We're their parents, and we have to help them understand when they make a bad choice.”
“And not necessarily to ground them for every bad choice,” Jack added, though his tone was a bit hesitant.
Daniel chuckled, “They were playing, and they made an innocent mistake. They didn't break any of our rules, Jack.”
Jack nodded his agreement, but added, “It's a good thing my hair is already gray, thanks to you.”
“Jack!” Daniel said, laughing. “It's silver -- silver gray. Gawd, I love you.”
The lovers kissed, and then Jack teased, “You just love my hair.”
“That's true,” Daniel retaliated, getting up and walking out.
“Hey!” Jack was taken aback. Finally, he got up and called out, “Hey!”
Hearing his lover's laughter, Jack took off after the man who was his heart.
The next morning, the Jackson-O'Neill children were busy working out the details of their first show.
“We can do a dance recital,” Chenoa suggested enthusiastically as Lulu nodded her agreement.
“I'm not doing no dance thing,” Jonny said firmly. “Let's do a dem'stration of T's self-defense moves. Whaddya think, Little Danny?”
Little Danny was staring into space, a dreamy look on his face, when he responded, “We could write our own play and make parts for all of us. Lulu and Noa can dance between the scenes.”
David began chattering spiritedly, exclaiming, “I know! We could make it a historical play about Ancient Egypt or Medieval England, or maybe the time of the Mayflower. We could all write it, or Little Danny and I could write it.”
Jennifer, Jeff, and Brianna exchanged looks of agreement about the proposal, the oldest of them vocalizing, “You and Little Danny can write it, David.”
Jonny sighed, looking torn between wanting to praise Little Danny's idea and wanting to go with his own idea.
“We can put in a battle scene just for you, Jonny. You can be the battle commander,” Little Danny told his brother.
Jonny grinned, jumped up, and raced out of the room, shouting, “Great idea, Little Danny. I'm gonna go practice.”
“Hey, what's going on in here?” Daniel asked, ducking out of the way as Johnny dashed by.
“Daddy, we going to do play!” Jenny announced brightly.
“A play?” Daniel asked, not expecting that piece of news. ~I thought they'd forget about it like Jack said.~ Inwardly sighing, he mused, ~Apparently not.~
“Little Danny and I are going to write about something historical,” David explained.
“I'll make the costumes. I'm sure Mrs. Valissi will help me,” Jennifer said eagerly.
“Daddy, when can we put on our play?” Aislinn asked energetically.
“Uh, well,” Daniel responded, reaching into his pocket for his digital calendar. He pressed a few buttons, flipping through the days, while the children waited. “You need time to organize, so we should wait a couple of weeks. There's Friday the ...”
“No Fridays,” Jenny said.
“Why not?” Daniel inquired.
Daniel was surprised to see so many 'oh, please' and 'you've got to be kidding' expressions on his children's faces.
“It's your date night!” Chenoa chastised.
“Oh, so it is,” Daniel replied with a slight chuckle. “How about that next Saturday then?”
“What date is that, Daddy?” David asked, knowing there was an upcoming activity with the Adventure Guides that he didn't want to miss.
“The twentieth,” Daniel answered.
David smiled, relieved that there wouldn't be a conflict. He was sure that would give them enough time to write the play, make the costumes, design the scenery, and give their intended audience a chance to plan on attending.
“Works for me,” Jennifer said. “How about it, brood?”
The brood continued to chat away for another hour about their ideas as Daniel watched and encouraged them appropriately.
“Jack,” Daniel called out to his husband, who was in the study.
“I'm not done with the analysis yet, Danny,” Jack said, assuming his lover had come to check on his progress reviewing a survey report just submitted by one of their employees in the field.
“No rush, Babe. Our field employees are paying the bills this week,” Daniel mused.
Jack chuckled, “It's a good thing we didn't have fifty employees to worry about.”
“Yeah,” Daniel replied. “Anyway, just wanted to let you know I'm going out for about an hour or so; I have some shopping to do.”
“We just did the shopping,” Jack said, leaning back in the very comfortable deluxe desk chair his lover had gifted him with several years ago.
Daniel chuckled, “Not for these items. You were wrong.”
“Me? Wrong?” Jack replied in a shocked manner, though he looked down, twiddling his pen in his hands as he tried not to laugh at himself.
The archaeologist chuckled, saying, “Yeah, imagine that. Anyway, our children have decided to put on a play in a couple of weeks.”
“A play?” a bemused Jack asked. “So they didn't forget about it.”
“No, they didn't. Actually, uh, it's quite the opposite. They're very excited about it, so I thought I'd take Bri and Jeff to a couple of places to get some scenery supplies. By the way, your pottery skills might be needed,” the younger man spoke with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Pottery? Why?” a puzzled Jack inquired.
“I'm not sure; something about having things to break,” Daniel teased. He leaned down and kissed Jack. “Love you.”
“Love you, too, Angel,” Jack lovingly intoned, smiling as Daniel left the study. “Breaking things? Hey!”
“That's perfect, Jen!” Brianna said late the following morning about the invitations Jennifer had prepared. The teenager was good at calligraphy, and her skill was showing in the beautifully written invites. “I'll go ask Dad if he can take us around to deliver them.”
Jennifer, Brianna, and Aislinn had been working on the handmade invitations, deciding what they would say and how they would look. They finally decided on invitations made of heavy cream paper festooned with glitter and colorful ribbons. Jennifer wrote them all personally, while Brianna affixed the glitter, and Aislinn attached the ribbons and drew at least one little butterfly on each. She loved butterflies.
The trio was also given the task of deciding who to invite. Brianna printed out the list on the computer, and Aislinn helped to check them off as each invite was sealed.
The guest list included several of their neighbors and all of their family of friends. Jack and Daniel had also quietly given Jennifer the obligation of making sure the children didn't get too carried away, especially after Ricky suggested inviting President Hayes.
“Let's use some discretion, Jen,” Jack had suggested when told of the guest list at that point in time, making sure the teenager appropriately derailed the idea of inviting the leader of the nation.
The trio of girls had worked hard on the invitations, starting after lunch the day before and finishing them this morning. They were all happy with the results.
“Danny, I'll be back in about six hours,” Jack laughed a few minutes later.
Daniel looked up from his desk in the den and turned his chair around as he asked, “Where are you going?”
“I've been shanghaied into chauffeur and invitation delivery duty,” the older man explained.
“Oh, well, I'll have dinner waiting,” Daniel chuckled, looking at the clock and seeing it was just a few minutes after eleven in the morning.
“You are the perfect househusband, Babe, biscuits in the oven and buns in bed. Keep them both warm,” Jack quipped seductively, moving over for a kiss. “Bri and Ash are going with me. Jeff's watching the brood, and Jen's gone over to Mrs. V's to work on the costumes.”
“Okay, Babe, and you keep your buns ... and other parts warm, too,” Daniel shyly requested.
“I love you,” Jack chuckled as he began to walk out.
“Love you, too,” Daniel replied, smiling as he returned to his work.
“Poor Stephen. He wasn't very good at being a king,” Little Danny lamented as David wrote, 'THE END' on the last piece of paper.
After a few phone consultations with their Aunt Sara, given her background in teaching and her love of history, and a lot of time on the computer doing research, David and Little Danny had finally finished the outline of their script. They'd decided to write about the English Civil War of the twelfth century as it seemed to have something for everyone. There were female characters for the girls, lots of fighting scenes for Jonny, and plenty of scope for the costumes to be as lavish or simple as they felt like making them.
David ruffled his little brother's hair, saying, “You're right. Stephen wasn't suited to be king, but England wasn't ready for a female monarch back then. Let's show the others the script and work out our parts.”
Little Danny's photographic memory had come in handy, as had Sara's knowledge of English history, in preparing the outline. They'd worked all afternoon yesterday and all day today on laying down the basic plot and deciding what characters to use.
Once everyone chose their characters and saw what the budding authors had come up with, the others could start on the sets and wardrobe while the boys took a couple of days to complete their script. Sara had even promised to drop by and help them since they wanted the details of the play and its plot to be as much of a surprise as possible to their parents.
Immediately, Little Danny brightened and raced out of the study towards the rec room, yelling for the family to gather together.
“Son, no yelling,” Jack said in a light reprimand.
“I'm sorry, but we finished the script,” Little Danny told his father while the other children gathered in the rec room.
Joining them, David clarified, “We finished the outline for the play, Dad. It's going to be awesome!”
With the brood congregated in the rec room and their fathers barred from their current activity, the children continued their preparations for the play.
“What's the story about, David? Give us a synopsis,” Jennifer asked her brother as she began reading a copy of the outline that she'd gotten from David.
“What's a snop'is?” Ricky asked as he scrunched his nose, looking confused.
Jennifer answered, “It's a summary, Ricky, and the word is synopsis. Little Danny and David can give us the basic idea of what happens in the play they're writing for us.”
Little Danny grinned and excitedly began babbling, “It starts way back in 1135 with the death of the old king, Henry the First. Henry doesn't have any children, except Matilda 'cause his only son died in a shipwreck. He made his barons swear their loyalty to Matilda, but when he died, they didn't really want a woman as their queen ...”
“Typical,” Brianna snorted in disgust.
Little Danny frowned at his sister's interruption, responding, “'Twasn't really their fault, Bri; that was just the way it was back then.”
Brianna nodded, and the little boy smiled at her and then continued his breathless explanation of the story.
“Stephen is made king, but Matilda and her husband aren't happy about that, and then Stephen's too nice, and his barons take advantage of him, and law broke down and then Matilda's half brother fought to get her crown in 1138, and civil war broke out. Lotsa fighting scenes, Jonny,” Little Danny told his brother.
Jonny grinned and high-fived his little brother.
“Who won, Little Danny?” Jenny huffed, impatient for the story to end.
“No one really,” Little Danny admitted.
Ricky frowned, saying, “That's dumb, Little Danny. Gotta have a winner.”
“Sometimes, there just isn't a clear winner, Ricky,” David answered. He explained, “Stephen won in that he kept the crown, but Matilda won in that she got her son recognized as Stephen's heir. After Stephen died, Matilda's son, Henry, got the throne and became Henry the second.”
Jeff noticed that Ricky didn't seem convinced and figured a distraction might be helpful. He looked down at his copy of the outline, studying the various characters in the play.
“Let's decide on the parts,” Jeff suggested. “We've got the narrator, who's writing the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; Henry the first -- that's a really small part; Matilda; her husband, Geoffrey of Anjou; Stephen; Matilda's half brother, Robert; Henry fitzEmpress, who becomes Henry the second; and Eustace, Stephen's son. Then there are minor characters like soldier number one and so on. So who wants to do what?”
Jeff's distraction worked like a charm as various voices cried out their choice.
“Jonny should be Robert or Stephen 'cause they do the most fighting,” Little Danny said firmly.
Jonny eagerly nodded his assent to that.
Jack and Daniel walked arm in arm to their sofa and sat down, each man wearing a smile. They'd just checked in on the brood as they were discussing their play, watching covertly for a few minutes as the children negotiated parts and began working on a timeline to follow to make sure everything was done in time for the big night. After being discovered, the couple had been chastised for eavesdropping and then shooed away by their offspring.
“Our children, the thespians,” Daniel chuckled, leaning his head against Jack's shoulder.
“They work well together,” Jack observed as he rubbed Daniel's hand which he held in his.
“Jack, I'm not sure they can get everything done. Maybe we ...”
“Maybe we shouldn't,” Jack interrupted. “Danny, this is their show. We could easily make it perfect, but that's not the idea.”
Daniel sighed, “I know you're right. They obviously want to work on this by themselves.” He paused thoughtfully, and then smiled as he opined, “They'll be great.”
“They'll be fantastic!” Jack countered enthusiastically.
The lovers laughed as they snuggled, both eager to see how their children handled the pressure of putting on a stage show.
“You're doing fine, Jen,” Mrs. Valissi said encouragingly the next day.
The senior citizen was helping Jennifer to plan the costumes, but the teenager was a bit frazzled at the moment.
“I'm making this too complicated, aren't I, Grandma Sophia?” the teenager sighed as she fidgeted with a row of delicate white lace.
With a warm smile, but taking advantage of the question, the woman wisely responded, “We only have a few days, Dear, and many costumes to prepare. Think simple, and think about the power of illusion. Do you really need all that lace, or is there a way to achieve the look without all that intricate stitching?”
“Well, I don't know. Do I?” Jennifer asked innocently.
Mrs. Valissi continued to smile as she answered, “Costumes are all about illusion, Jennifer. They are seen for only brief moments, and the focus is on the actors. Costumes can be much more dramatic than everyday garments, and they aren't subject to close-up scrutiny, so you can get by with construction shortcuts that you'd never use in something you were actually going to wear on the street.”
Jennifer nodded in understanding as she replied, “Illusion is good. You really sound like you know what you are talking about. Will you help me?”
“Of course, Jennifer,” the friendly neighbor agreed. “Let's take another look at the costumes you need to make and see what we really need, and, yes, I've whipped up a *few* costumes in my day.”
“I bet you've made some wonderful costumes before,” Jennifer responded.
“In fact, in the attic I have a couple of huge moving crates full of them, carefully packed away in mothballs. They come out once or twice a year for pageants at the local churches.” Suddenly, the older women brightened as she said, “I bet the basics of most of the costumes we need are in there. If your fathers would ...”
“Yes!” Jennifer squealed with delight. “I'm positive they'll get them down for us. Thanks so much, Grandma Sophia.”
“Can you do it, Aunt Sam?” Little Danny asked over the phone.
Sam chuckled, “Um, well, yes, I can, Little Danny, but ...”
Sam stopped talking when she heard Little Danny informing some of the others that, “Aunt Sam says she can do it.” Cheers, claps, and an “Oh, goodie!” were heard.
“Little Danny, have you asked your parents about this?” Sam inquired. ~You never know with these little dickens.~
“No, but they'll say 'yes', Aunt Sam. We just want Bean Sprout to be included. Is that bad?” Little Danny asked, concerned about Sam's hesitancy.
“No, it's not. It's a good thing,” Sam replied. “Can I talk to one of your fathers?”
“Okay. Hold on. I'll go find them,” Little Danny said, taking the cordless phone with him.
Sam heard him scampering along the floor. She could hear little breaths as he ran up the stairs and, she assumed, in and out of a couple of bedrooms before finally finding a parent.
“Dad, it's Aunt Sam!”
“Carter!” Jack exclaimed, pausing his cleanup in the storage room that was located at the end of the long hallway of bedrooms.
“Good afternoon, General,” Sam said.
“Yes, so ... what's up?” Jack inquired.
Sam chuckled and responded, “Little Danny just called me to ...”
“He did?” Jack interrupted, wondering if he was going to have to punish the little boy for making a call without permission.
“Uh, I think Jennifer and David were there, too,” Sam added.
~I'll check it out,~ Jack thought.
“Anyway,” Sam continued. “Apparently, the children want Bean Sprout to see their play.”
“They do? How?” Jack quizzed.
“They want me to set up a monitor in the den. You know, Sir, the same kind of hook up I made for them in the living room, only in reverse,” the colonel commented.
“Oh, that hook up. Of course,” Jack said, shrugging.
“Uh, well, is that okay, Sir?” Sam asked after there had been a silence of several seconds. “I realize it's not really practical, but Little Danny insists Bean Sprout will be able to see them. Who am I argue to with a child prodigy?” she chuckled.
Jack nodded, saying, “Sure, go ahead. Can't leave Bean Sprout out of the fun. I'll check with Danny, but I'm sure he'll agree.”
“Okay, well, it won't take long to do, so I can just do it while I'm watching the kids on your date night,” Sam decided.
“Sounds like a plan, Carter.”
“Hey, Little Bit!” Jack greeted as he entered the dance studio. “Practicing for your recital?”
“Na-uh. This is for the play. Watch me, Dad!” Lulu requested. She moved to the cassette player and restarted the music. Getting into position, she began to dance, her concentration spot-on. When she was done, she smiled. “Was it okay?”
“It was wonderful!” Jack exclaimed, smiling. “What about the recital?”
“This is more important; it's family. I'll work on the recital later.” Lulu restarted the music and requested, “Dad, tell me truth. I'm not sure I'm doing this right.” The curly-haired brunette performed a few steps; then stopped and looked at her older father. “Dad?”
“I'm not a dance instructor, Little Bit, but from what I've learned, I think you need to try and extend your right arm up straighter, and when you make that little leap thing, your arm is bobbing up and down.”
“Oh, that's not good. Thanks, Dad. I knew it wasn't right. I'll work on it some more,” Lulu said as she mentally replayed the steps in her mind.
“How about some ice cream?” Jack asked.
Lulu smiled, but shook her head, wanting to practice some more.
“You having fun, Lulu?” Jack asked.
Jack and Daniel were constantly monitoring their young daughter, making sure that dance remained a fun event for her. They were proud of her dedication and devotion to the art and for practicing hard, but they also didn't want her adding any pressure to herself, thinking she had to be good for her parents.
Lulu smiled brightly, answering, “Lots of fun, Dad!”
“Okay. Can I stay and watch?” Jack inquired with a happy face.
With a smile that was the brightest yet, Lulu nodded and continued to dance in front of her father.
What pleased the general was that when his princess stumbled here and there, she kept on smiling. It was different than how it had been before he and Daniel had realized the pressure she'd been putting on herself to be perfect. Now her goal was to learn her craft, but perfection wasn't a requirement, even if she was hoping for it.
~Keep on smiling and having fun, Little Bit. Perfection is highly over rated. This is about the joy of dance. There you go!~
“They won't let us help at all,” Daniel chuckled over the phone a few days later. “David and Little Danny worked for hours on the script.”
“Little Danny is an amazing child, Daniel,” Catherine Littlefield stated. “I'll bet he grows up to be just like you.”
“Uh, a major pain in the butt?” Daniel laughed.
“And an excellent archaeologist,” Catherine mused.
Daniel smiled. He loved Catherine. Since their very first meeting at his disastrous final lecture in Academia, he'd found the woman fascinating. Now, she was like a mother to him. Of course, Jack loved her, too, and both men were thrilled that she and her husband, Ernest Littlefield, were so happy in their golden years. Their only regret was that the Littlefields didn't live closer to them.
“I hope so, if, uh, that's what he wants,” Daniel replied shyly.
“Ernest and I are looking forward to seeing all the children again. We miss them terribly. I do wish you could bring them here for a visit sometime,” the white-haired woman spoke.
“We can't,” Daniel sighed. “We promised Noa. I don't know; maybe when she's older. If she wants to try and go there, but we can't go to New York until she's ready.”
Chenoa's birth parents, the Morgans, had died during a vacation in New York City, and the little girl associated their deaths with that city. After Daniel had gone to the Big Apple on a business trip, her fear had been revealed. From that moment on, Jack and Daniel had promised their daughter that they'd never go to New York City again unless she agreed.
“The poor dear,” Catherine spoke. “She was so young when her parents died, but the mind is strong. Maybe Ptolemy could make her curious.”
~She might. Chenoa loves watching that bird.~ Daniel laughed, “How is Ptolemy?”
“Oh, a real riot. She walks around here like she's a queen; which, of course, she is,” the senior citizen stated with a chuckle.
Daniel replied, “Well, I won't tell you what Jack said when you mailed us that DVD last month, but ...”
“Daniel, you don't need to,” Catherine interrupted. “I'll tell you the truth, though. Jack would love Ptolemy; give him someone to order around since you've got him under your thumb!”
“Catherine!” Daniel exclaimed lightheartedly.
The woman laughed boisterously, then said, “I am nothing if not a woman of the truth, Daniel, and Jack is your captive slave.”
“Gawd,” Daniel said, looking down bashfully. “I can't wait to see you Catherine.”
Daniel and Catherine finished their conversation, and as Daniel hung up the phone, he was full of good feelings. The Littlefields would be flying in just so they could see the children's play. The couple had cancelled their plans to attend a symphonic benefit so they could travel from New York to Colorado Springs.
“Jack! Jack, guess what?” Daniel called out as he exited his den and went in search of his husband to share the good news.
August had proved to be a difficult month and today, two days after Catherine's phone call, had been especially traumatic for the Jackson-O'Neills. What had started out as a lovely, relaxing Tuesday at Pike's Peak had turned into a nightmare with a man trying to abduct Jonny and Little Danny, attacking Daniel in the process when he'd gone after the two youngsters. While the family was all okay, it had been an upsetting experience, especially in light of Jennifer's additional information.
Daniel and the boys had sat down with a sketch artist, and the teenager had recognized the man's portrait. She'd then told her parents that she'd seen him earlier in the month when the family had been picnicking at the Garden of the Gods.
Although the children seemed a little more settled after they'd had dinner, as a special treat the younger children were being allowed to stay up an hour later than usual so that they could stage a run-through of their play which would be presented to their family and friends in just a few days. Jack and Daniel were hoping it would help the brood unwind and forget about the worries of the day.
At the moment, the children were all busy with rehearsals, and Jack had been unceremoniously kicked out of the rec room, being told, “No one can see the play 'til the opening night, and, yes, Dad that includes you.”
Jack didn't have to wonder about what to do. He planned on pampering his husband thoroughly for at least a day since Daniel had suffered a light concussion from his run-in with the man at Pike's Peak.
~Snuggling will be a good starter,~ Jack thought as he sought out his lover, eventually finding Daniel in the den.
Daniel was sitting by Bean Sprout and caressing the womis, a pensive expression on his face. Walking over to his husband, Jack squeezed himself onto the chair as well, his arms snaking around Daniel's waist.
“You okay, Love?” the older man queried with concern.
Daniel nodded and then sighed, “I was just thinking. Jack, where's the line between caution and paranoia? I mean, I can't blame Jen for not telling us about seeing this guy ...”
“Creepy Guy,” Jack said solemnly.
Daniel couldn't help but grin at the nickname Jack had bestowed on the man who was stalking them.
After recognizing the man, Jennifer had told her parents about the man in the Garden of the Gods who had returned a ball that David had accidentally overthrown while they were playing catch.
The teenager had explained, “I thought he was probably just trying to be helpful, but there was something a little creepy about him.”
Since then, Jack had referred to the man as Creepy Guy, though with the events at Pike's Peak, Creepy Guy had gone from creepy to outright disturbing.
“Yes, Creepy Guy,” Daniel acknowledged. “I don't blame Jen for not telling us about him; I mean, uh, all he did was hand her back the ball but ...”
“But you kinda wish she'd told us about him all the same?” Jack commented.
Daniel nodded, adding, “But I don't want to make her start jumping at shadows either, which she might start doing if we ask her to tell us about everyone she sees that might be 'creepy'.”
Jack considered the matter for a moment, realizing that as parents, they were in a precarious position sometimes.
“I don't think she would, Angel,” the older man finally said. “She has good instincts about people. It's pretty obvious that she was right about Creepy Guy.”
“So what do we do?” Daniel inquired as he stared at the womis.
Jack answered, “I think we need to let her know that she should listen to her instincts. It's far better to overreact in these situations than to underreact. Adults can fend for themselves, kids can't.”
Daniel looked at Jack and raised his eyebrow in a manner reminiscent of Teal'c.
Jack answered the unspoken question, saying, “I knew the military police would call them, but I phoned the local police station anyway. I suggested they might like to swing by the Gardens and the picnic area at Pike's Peak. On the slim chance that Creepy Guy is just a 'normal' degenerate who likes hanging around children, hopefully, the sight of the police will scare him away.”
Daniel felt his soul warm with the knowledge that Jack was protective of all children, not just their own.
“I love you, my Silver Fox,” Daniel said tenderly.
“Love you, too, Angel.”
For the next half-hour, the couple didn't need words to express their feelings as they kissed and cuddled, making the most of their free time while their eleven children were otherwise occupied.
“Okay, Dad, you have to get out now,” Jennifer stated. She grinned at her father who was trying to peer around the makeshift curtains the children had erected in front of the stage in the rec room. ~He's so curious.~
“Can't I have just one peek?” Jack whined. “I'm your father, for crying out loud. You pushed me out just when it was starting to get interesting.”
“Yup, and you're the one who chickened out, Dad, remember?” Jennifer reminded as she continued to push him towards the door, silently remembering a few nights ago when the stage scenery was started.
“How are we going to keep the backdrops from falling over?” Jeff asked.
“Well, Alex told us the floor was designed to be nailed into ...” Daniel mused.
“You're kidding!” the teen responded.
“No, I'm not,” Daniel answered, expounding, “It's made all of scrap lumber two-bys.”
“What's that?” a confused Aislinn asked.
“The individual pieces of the floor are all the same thickness -- two inches -- but with different widths,” Daniel explained.
“Oh, I understand,” the little girl said, looking down. “This one is bigger than that one,” she observed about one board that was six inches next to a board that was ten inches.
“Exactly,” Daniel confirmed. “Two-bys -- two-by-two, two-by-four, et cetera. Alex said he's done this many times before for precisely this purpose,” he elucidated.
Elated at his good fortune, Jonny ran to the garage to grab three hammers and a box of spike nails. He slowed to a brisk walk, knowing he would be chastised for running, and as luck would have it, just as he zipped past the open door of the study, Jack had caught a glimpse of him going and coming.
“Whoa, Speedy Gonzalez,” Jack called out. “Where are you going in such a big hurry, and what are you going to do with those hammers and nails?”
“We're going to nail the play scenery into the floor,” Jonny excitedly responded. “Daddy says Alex d'zined it that way. Alex is cool, Dad!” the boy said as he took off towards his destination.
“Hey!” Jack called out, hurrying after the ball of energy known as Jonny. Seeing his husband, he said, “Daniel, we're not going to nail this into the floor.” He waited for a moment and then asked, “Are we?”
“Would you prefer if the scenery fell over on one of the kids or pets?” Daniel replied in question. “You heard what Alex said. The floor is made for this. The first time's got to be the hardest, Babe. Here, you go first,” he suggested.
Handing his husband a hammer and a handful of nails, Daniel motioned to the lengths of the two-by-four laid out where the backdrops were to be erected.
“C'mon, Dad,” Jonny eagerly urged.
The silver-haired man bent down on one knee, lined up a nail on a board, and raised the hammer. With a sigh, he stopped with the upraised hammer poised over his head.
“I can't do it, Danny. We nearly drove ourselves, and everyone we know, crazy getting this place done, not to mention Alex's fantasy of burying us in the backyard with a bulldozer,” Jack intoned, lowering his arm.
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Jeff said, mocking his father. “Here, let me,” he requested, taking the hammer and nails from Jack and assuming the stooped posture.
Jack straightened up and announced, “I can't watch,” quickly walking toward the door to the front hall.
<Thwack!> ... Jack winced as Jeff hit the nail square on the head and drove it through the two-by-four amid cheers from Jonny and David ... <Thwack!> ... The hammer fell again.
//End of flashback//
The group heard a thump followed by giggles and Jeff's muttered, “For cryin'...”
“Jack, are you making a nuisance of yourself again?” Daniel asked, grinning at his husband and frustrated daughter.
“Honestly, Daddy, he's worse than Ricky,” Jennifer commented as she rolled her eyes.
Ricky was the most curious of all her siblings, and it wasn't difficult to see where he got it from.
“Hey, I'm not that bad,” Jack responded defensively.
“I'll keep him out of your hair, Jen,” Daniel promised, earning him a stare from his lover.
“Hey, I'm standing right here, you know,” Jack said as he glared at the two.
Daniel and Jennifer exchanged an amused look before Jennifer retreated and closed the pocket door firmly. With the other door to the rec room already closed, the rec room was now sealed off from the original part of the house.
“Jack, they're fine. Come on. Let's go ... play,” the archaeologist suggested with raised eyebrows.
“Play, eh?” Jack said with a smile as he was willingly led away.
The lovers kissed their way into the living room where they enjoyed a tender snugglefest on the sofa as their children rehearsed their play undisturbed.
“All set?” Daniel asked, looking around the living room.
“Yeah, I put the monitor and accessories upstairs in our room,” Jack answered.
“It's safer, Jack,” Daniel said. “It would be too easy for one of the brood to forget and start talking to Bean Sprout.”
Nodding, the older man replied, “It would be an unnecessary risk to leave the equipment out here. We could invent a cover for it, but why take the chance?”
“Especially when we're only talking a weekend,” the archaeologist agreed. While Catherine and Ernest knew about the Stargate, Suzanna Simpson, Daniel's foster sister, didn't. He looked at his watch, noting, “Catherine and Ernest should be here anytime.”
“It'll be great to see them” Jack opined.
“Yes, it will,” Daniel agreed. “Oh, Bagel!”
“Bagel? The food or the rabbit?” Jack mused.
Daniel glared, stating, “She's out of her cage. I'd better go make sure the girls put her back in. Later, Babe.”
After a quick kiss, Daniel headed upstairs to make sure the family rabbit was properly secured.
“Catherine!” Jack exclaimed as he walked outside into the warm Friday early afternoon weather to greet the Littlefields.
“Jack, it's good to see you. It's been far too long,” the female scientist said as they hugged while her husband paid their taxi driver.
“Much too long,” Jack replied as they pulled apart. “Ernest, how's it going?” Jack asked as he extended his hand.
“Old bones, Jack. Don't get old,” Ernest advised.
“I'm trying not to, but then I look at Danny and ...” Jack began.
“How is Daniel?” Catherine asked, smiling warmly.
“He can't wait to see you, Catherine,” Jack responded with a grin. “He's inside with the brood.”
Jack loved seeing Catherine's happy expression. Though they didn't get to see her often, she was the closest thing to a maternal figure Daniel had had since his own mother died. Jack knew his husband's affection for the stately woman was huge.
Carrying their luggage, Jack led the couple inside.
“We're very much looking forward to seeing your play tomorrow afternoon, children,” Catherine told the excited children after they'd settled in.
“Catherine, tell me 'bout when you were in Egypt,” Little Danny requested as he snuggled in between Catherine and Ernest on the sofa.
“Again?” a bemused Catherine asked.
“I want to hear about all the pyramids,” the little boy replied.
“Tell us 'bout Ptolemy first,” Chenoa requested eagerly.
Ernest teased, “Ptolemy is bigger than you, Noa. She's a beautiful bird.”
“No, she's not,” Chenoa giggled. “Did you bring pictures?” the little girl asked.
“We did better than that, Noa,” Catherine responded. “We brought you a new DVD we recorded just last week.”
“Yay! Daddy, can we play the DVD now -- pleeeeeeeease?” Chenoa pleaded, jumping up and down.
Daniel looked at Jack and then Catherine as he asked, “Catherine?”
“I'll go get it,” the woman answered, rising from her spot on the sofa and heading for the guestroom where her luggage was.
The children laughed at the DVD which depicted the antics of Catherine and Ernest's bird, Ptolemy. Chenoa, especially, cheered and applauded.
“Maybe you'd like to come and visit Ptolemy one day, ” Catherine coaxed as Chenoa sat on her lap.
“I don't like New York City,” the curly-haired girl said sadly, her head bowed.
“Noa, we don't really live in the city. It's outside. It's still New York, but we live in a beautiful suburban neighborhood,” Catherine said soothingly.
Chenoa pondered the situation, but she shook her head.
Catherine smiled and squeezed the little girl to her, saying, “Well, maybe someday, and if not, maybe we can bring Ptolemy to visit you.”
Chenoa's face immediately brightened, and all of the children indicated they'd like that.
“I'll teach Ptolemy Arabic,” Little Danny announced.
Catherine laughed, saying, “I bet you could, too!”
As Alex prepared to leave J-O Enterprises that evening, he looked around at the transformation that had been wrought in just eight days.
~Not bad at all. The furniture is coming tomorrow, and Sunday is the preparation for work on Monday. Geez, these guys wear me out!~ the talented man thought as he locked up and headed for his car.
“Hey! What are you doing back in town, Miracle Man?” a boisterous voice exclaimed.
Alex looked around to see a recent client, Casey Hemmings, smiling at him.
“Casey, nice to see you. What brings you to this part of town?” Alex asked as the two men shook hands.
“I was visiting a friend who lives near here and was on my way home when I saw your car,” Casey answered, grinning. “I just had to stop and say 'thank-you' for the work you did on my house. It feels like home, now more than ever.”
“It's all in a day's work,” Alex replied casually.
“Nah,” Casey responded, shaking off the denial. “I didn't know how sick I was of that stupid bar in the living room until you changed it. Man, what an eyesore it was.”
“I am happy you like it,” Alex intoned. “Your extremely kind words are what every designer longs to hear from a client. It means the job was a success.”
“Very much a success. I had the house re-appraised last month, and the bank that turned me down the first time loaned me more than I asked for *and* at a lower interest rate,” Casey raved.
“That's great to hear,” Alex said, beginning to walk towards his car again.
Casey kept pace, replying, “Especially since it means more work for you.”
“It does?” Alex asked, pausing his momentum for a moment.
“With my new financial arrangements, I can spare enough now to buy the leather furniture and the poker set for the game room. Can you stop by tonight to discuss it?” the nurse inquired hopefully.
“Yes, I can. I'll stop by Archonics and pick up a few catalog DVDs. Is seven okay?” Alex queried, opening his car door.
“Great!” Casey exclaimed. “I'll grill us a couple of steaks.”
“Thank-you,” Alex spoke, adding, “You're very kind.”
“Not at all,” Casey said. “See you later.”
Alex left J-O and drove to Archonics, where he set out the catalog discs, thinking, ~Sure a lot easier than lugging all those big binders we used to have. All we need now is a disk and a few sample sheets.~
Dropping by his home briefly, Alex showered and changed clothes as was his custom before meeting clients for evening appointments. With a quick check of his answering machine and a quick call to his girlfriend to say, “I love and miss you,” he headed for Casey's home.
Alex was about ready to walk out the door when he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror in his front hall.
~Casey is not a new client. I don't need to impress him. It's been a long week; maybe I could ditch the jacket and tie for once.~ Ten minutes later, Alex passed by the mirror again and thought, ~That's better.~
The reflection showed a toned man, quite fit, in his early thirties, wearing a crisp pair of tan poplin Bermudas and a trim red and tan polo shirt. He had on a new pair of tan deck shoes and a suede belt. Whistling, Alex picked up the large manila envelope containing the samples and catalogs on disk and headed out his front door.
At two minutes to seven, Casey heard the Jaguar pull into his drive. He watched from the living room window, expecting Alex to emerge wearing a fresh change of clothes, including jacket and tie. He nearly dropped the vodka on the rocks he had just poured when he saw what the object of his vision was actually wearing.
~That is one fine specimen of manhood. I can't believe it! Down, Casey! He's your designer, not your boyfriend ... but a guy can dream, can't he?~ Answering the door and inviting his guest in, the host said, “Punctual as always, Alex. This is freshly poured, and the steaks have just been put on the grill. Come on out back.”
“Thank you, Casey,” Alex replied, putting the envelope he carried down on the coffee table in the living room. “I hope you don't mind that I dressed down tonight.”
~Mind? Hardly. I would have preferred you naked, but I wouldn't have been able to contain myself. This is a vast improvement.~ Verbally, the nurse responded, “Not at all. It's not like you have to impress me. I'm glad you felt free to dress comfortably.”
For a split-second, Alex wondered why Casey's off-hand remark made him feel so welcome, but the question was forgotten when his host spoke again.
“How do you like your steak?” Casey inquired as they walked into the backyard.
“Medium rare,” Alex answered.
The two men chatted amiably, mainly about their educational and professional pasts, but Alex avoided any discussion of family, and Casey simply didn't discuss anything related to dating or past romantic entanglements. Of course, that might have been because the designer was overflowing with talk about Soncirria, his love for her obvious by his expression and tone whenever he talked about her.
“I'd better check the steaks,” Casey said at one point, getting up from his chair.
Alex nodded, watching from the lawn chair he sat in and silently pondering, ~He's a nice guy to have me over for a meal when he didn't have to. He's funny, too. Wonder why he's not married?~ He smiled, thinking of his own love. ~Yeah, he just hasn't met his Sunny yet.~
As Casey checked the steaks, he thought, ~How could I have been so wrong? Is my gaydar on the blink? He's sure wrapped up in this Sunny woman.~ He chuckled, but not so loudly that his guest would hear. ~He never used to talk about anything but work; now, all he talks about is work and her. Okay, Casey. Wrong or not wrong, he's obviously not interested, so it's time to move on and stop wasting my time over someone I don't even know that well.~
The actual selection of furniture only took thirty minutes. Casey ordered the leather seating group and a nice poker table and chair set as well as some additional furniture for his living room.
“I'm glad I listened to you about the carpet,” Casey commented. With a smile, he added, “Maybe I'll get around to redoing the other side of the house, and, if I do, I'll give you a call.” He continued to smile as he extended out his hand in thanks. ~I'd like to call you from the other side of the bed. Casey, what did you decide earlier? Ah well.~ As they shook hands, he said, “Please, consider yourself welcome here anytime you're in town.”
“Thank you very much, Casey. I appreciate that,” Alex replied warmly, appreciative of the welcome.
Alex drove back to his Colorado Springs condo, eagerly awaiting his flight back to Florida and Sunny. Suddenly, he smiled as his cell phone played the tune that meant she was calling.
“Hello,” Alex greeted. “Do you miss me as much as I miss you?”
“More,” Sunny lovingly replied. “Honestly, Alex, I love Mom, but she got on my last nerve. She ranted on and on about how my decision to leave the pageant trail behind me is wasting all she and Dad sacrificed for me.”
“That's not true, Honey,” Alex rebuked.
“I tried to explain that I am now in my late twenties, and my chances of winning the state title are slim to none. She wouldn't listen, not even for a minute, when I told her that winning a major title like 'Miss United States' to compete in the Miss Universe Pageant are almost nil,” Sunny stated.
“You could, though. No one stands a chance against you,” Alex warmly replied.
“You're so sweet, but you know how I feel, Alex. I haven't had a normal life at all, not even when I was little. It was competition after competition, dance class after singing lesson after make-up session, after fabric selection for outfits. Enough already!” the woman wearily exclaimed.
“Sunny, you know I support you, whatever you decide. You don't need a title or a crown for me to know that you're the prettiest woman in the United States or the universe,” Alex sincerely stated.
“Have I told you that I love you?” Sunny asked, refreshed by her boyfriend's words.
“Not yet,” Alex admitted.
“Well, I do.” Sunny sighed, “I don't think you'll be meeting my mother anytime soon. I'm afraid she blames you for my decision to stop competing.”
“I'm sorry, Soncirria,” the man sadly responded.
“We know the truth, and that's what's important. I thought she could be happy for me, that I met somebody wonderful, but that's not her dream for me. I'm sorry to dump all this on you, Hon,” Sunny spoke
“You met somebody? That's great! I'm happy for you!” Alex teased.
“You nut!” Sunny laughed over the phone.
“Yeah, but I'm your nut,” Alex replied, smiling.
“And don't you forget it,” Sunny instructed jovially. “Seriously, Alex, whatever possessed me to stay an extra week? Remind me never to stay this long again with my mother.”
“Never stay that long again with your mother,” Alex teased.
“Thanks,” the beauty queen chuckled. “What time does your flight arrive? I'll pick you up ...”
The couple continued their happy discussion, each looking forward to their reunion.
The next afternoon, the Jackson-O'Neill recreation room was full of guests, including General Hammond, Sam and Pete, Teal'c, Janet, the Wilson clan, the Ferrettis, Dale and Nancy Rancolini, the Lapierre family, Mrs. Valissi, the Paynes, Christa and Jacob Svenson, Suzanna Simpson, Megan Williams and Yazid Awad, Karissa Lewis, the Littlefields, Johanna Severson, Jeff and Margaret Cornell, Pam Lawrence, Sylvia Preston, and several of the neighborhood families. Naturally, there were as many children present as there were adults.
“Jack, it's at times like this that I'm glad we listened to Alex,” Daniel whispered to his husband as they stood in the hospitality room, preparing drinks and snacks for their guests.
“Yeah. He knew what he was talking about,” Jack responded about the designer who had come up with the concept of the hospitality room, not just for the large, family but for events just like this one.
The lovers had never imagined having a house full of guests, but right now, they were glad for floor pillows that most of the children were seated on in front of the stage, allowing the parents to occupy the sofas and chairs brought in from other rooms.
“Showtime, Angel,” Jack quipped a while later, having gotten the signal from Jeff that it was time to begin.
Together, Jack and Daniel made sure their guests, the audience, were settled and then they took their own positions. With a nod from Daniel, Jack gave his teenage son the go ahead to begin.
“Places, everyone!” Jeff called out.
“Settle down, Spitfires,” Jennifer called out.
Moments later, the lights dimmed, and the curtains opened. In the left corner of the stage, a light that looked like a candle came on, illuminating David who was sitting at a small table. He was holding a quill pen and began to write while speaking out loud to his audience.
“In this year, 1135, King Henry went across the sea, and while he lay asleep on his ship, the day darkened over all lands. Men became very frightened, and it was said that something terrible would soon come. And so it did. While in Normandy, King Henry died.”
As David spoke, the lights on the stage went on to show a bedroom. Ricky as King Henry was lying on a small bed surrounded by grieving attendants, otherwise known as Jenny, Aislinn, Jonny, Chenoa, and Lulu. At least four of the attendants were grieving, but it looked like Jenny was trying to stifle giggles.
The lights dimmed on stage again, and David continued, over the sound of thumps, giggles, and moving furniture.
“Although the nobles of the land had been forced by the old king to swear an oath of loyalty to his daughter, Matilda, no one was ready to follow a queen. A queen could not be a soldier, could not defend the land, and so despite their oath of loyalty to Matilda, the people chose to follow the old king's nephew, Stephen of Blois.”
The lights came on the stage again, and this time the scene was a church, signified by cardboard cutouts of stained glass windows and a huge cross. Stephen, otherwise known as Little Danny, was kneeling in front of Lulu, who was holding a cardboard crown.
“I, the Archbishop of Canterbury,” Lulu said, “do crown thee King Stephen.”
At this point, David held up a sign saying “CHEER.” An obliging audience did so, and Little Danny turned and gave a small bow.
Jack smiled from the side of the room. He checked the recording equipment to make sure it was running smoothly.
**Danny, everything okay with your camcorder?**
**Just fine. Aren't they adorable, Babe?**
**Yeah,** Jack communicated as he beamed with pride.
The lights on the stage dimmed once more, and David continued his narrative, saying, “Unfortunately, peace did not last long. One of the first traitors to rise against his king was Baldwin de Revers.”
The curtains opened, this time revealing King Stephen and Baldwin de Revers (better known as Jonny), wearing a wig and false beard, circling each other and holding plastic swords. They began to mock fight. Stephen was the first to pull back, only to have Baldwin follow after him, ignoring the royal glare sent his way as he began backing Stephen all over the stage.
“Jonny, we're both supposed to stop. We do more fighting later,” Little Danny hissed at his brother who looked guilty and dropped his sword.
“Sorry,” Jonny whispered back. ~That's fun!~
Back in character as Stephen, Little Danny spoke his next lines: “Baldwin, this fighting is ridiculous. We are men of peace. I propose a truce.”
Baldwin smirked, “Very well. You give me Gre...uh, greee ...” Jonny leaned forward, whispering, “How do you say it, Little Danny?”
The audience chuckled good-naturedly as Little Danny helped his brother.
“Oh, yeah.” Back in character, Jonny as Baldwin stated, “You give me Grevesham Castle, and I will accept your truce.”
Stephen shrugged his shoulders and said, “It's a small price to pay for peace. Come, let us drink together.”
The two slung arms around each other's shoulders and walked off the stage.
“Those are my boys,” Jack whispered to Johanna.
The woman laughed and replied, “They sure are, Jack.”
On stage, David resumed his narrative as he spoke, “Word soon spread that Stephen was a mild man, gentle and good, and would impose no penalty on traitors. Rebellion sprung up everywhere.”
Jonny, wearing a different colored wig and beard, returned to the stage followed by Stephen. The two fought their way across the platform and were soon joined by Ricky, Jenny, Chenoa, and Lulu, each carrying swords and mock fighting each other.
“Lawlessness reigned,” David continued. “Bishops ...”
Little Danny's cry of dismay, followed by giggles, interrupted David's speech. He turned around and started chuckling himself. There, stuck on the end of Jonny's sword, being waved around in the air, was Stephen's beard.
Jonny grinned and announced, “I shall hold your beard for ransom!”
Then Jonny turned and ran off the stage, being chased by a beardless 'Stephen'.
David cleared his throat and began his speech again as Ricky, Chenoa, Jenny, and Lulu continued their mock fighting.
“Lawlessness reigned. Neither bishops nor abbots nor priests were spared; every man who was stronger robbed those who were weaker, and it was said openly that Christ and his saints slept.”
The lights on stage dimmed, and David continued, “Then in the year 1139, Matilda invaded England with the aid of her husband, Geoffrey Plantagenet. Matilda believed that the throne of England was rightfully hers. Her best soldier was her illegitimate half brother, Robert, Earl of Gloucester.”
The stage lights came on again to show Aislinn as Matilda with Jenny as her maid, Jonny as Robert, and Ricky as Henry. Aislinn was seated in a chair that had been dressed up to look like a throne, and there was a plain background. Jenny was sitting on a stool next to her sister. Both 'Robert' and 'Henry' had swords hanging from their belts.
“Henry, my son,” Aislinn said as Matilda.
Ricky wrinkled his nose at the idea of being his sister's son. Finally, Aislinn poked him, and he sighed, “Yes, Mom?”
“This is your Uncle Robert. He's going to help us defeat my treacherous cousin; then one day, you will be king.”
“But first,” Robert said with enthusiasm, “I'm going to teach you to fight.”
Immediately, Henry perked up, and the two began fighting making their way off stage as they fought. Matilda turned to her assistant, Jenny, and shook her head.
“Boys,” Matilda sighed. “Now, let's enjoy some dancing.”
At this, Chenoa and Lulu came onto the stage and began their dance recital. When they finished, to great applause, a brief intermission was held. Then the lights dimmed again and, in his narrator's corner, David continued the story.
“Matilda and Stephen were at a stalemate. Neither could defeat the other, and so civil war might have continued had it not been for the death of Eustace, Stephen's son and heir, in 1153.”
The lights came on and showed Stephen sitting at the bedside of his son.
“Goodbye, my son,” Stephen said sadly. He walked to the other side of the stage where Henry was waiting. “I will recognize you as my heir, Henry. Upon my death you shall inherit the throne.”
Henry nodded, and the two left the stage, the light dimming as they went.
David stood, laying down his quill as he spoke, “And so ended nineteen years of unrest -- the first English Civil War.”
When David turned off his flashlight, the audience clapped enthusiastically. The lights came back on, and all the younger members of the brood marched back on and bowed.
Then, David stepped forward, encouraging, “And please thank Jen, who did the invitations, most of the costumes, and helped with the scenery changes.” After Jennifer bowed, David added, “And please give it up for Bri who also helped with the scenery changes and directed much of our play.” After Brianna bowed to her applause, he continued, “And one more round of applause for Jeff who did the lighting.”
Jennifer moved forward again, saying, “And we couldn't have done this without our playwrights,” she pointed to her siblings, “David and Little Danny.” The audience again thundered their applause. “We also need to thank Mrs. Valissi for helping me so very much with the costumes and also our Aunt Sara who helped the boys with the history and the script.”
More applause broke out as both Mrs. Valissi and Sara blushed, their smiles huge at having been able to help the children.
“Let's see ... and how about some applause for our intermission entertainment. Come on, Noa and Lulu. Do it again!” Jennifer urged.
As the crowd cheered, the young girls did a short encore and then curtsied. They looked at all the smiles, each stopping when they saw their happy fathers. Jack whistled while Daniel stood up, starting a standing ovation for the two girls.
“Noa, they liked it,” Lulu whispered happily.
Finally, Brianna moved forward and addressed the still-standing audience, saying, “And we'd like to thank Dad and Daddy for chauffeuring us around and for, uh, paying the tab for this award-winning production.”
Jack shouted, “I have the receipts to prove it, too!”
“Jack!” Daniel warned.
“And it was worth every penny!” Jack added with a prideful grin. ~Hey, maybe we can charge people for the refreshments.~
**Jack Jackson-O'Neill, you will do no such thing.**
**You heard that, huh?**
Daniel glared at his husband as the audience began moving around.
**It's getting to where a man can't think anymore without being overheard,** Jack mused via their special communication.
The archaeologist was about to shoot daggers at his husband when he saw Jack's loving smile.
**I love having you in my head, Angel, and in my ...**
Little Danny came running over to his parents, anxiously asking, “Dad, Daddy, did you like it? Maybe next time we can do a play set in Ancient Egypt.”
**He's already planning another one?** Jack asked.
Daniel grinned at Jack's disbelief, replying, **Maybe he'll be an actor when he grows up.**
**Nope, he loves digging in the dirt too much.**
“It was a wonderful play, Little Danny,” Daniel told their son with Jack echoing the sentiment moments later.
The little boy beamed and ran off to talk to some of the other guests. Daniel caught sight of movement in the stage area and laughed.
“I think we know what Jonny is going to be, Babe,” Daniel said as he continued to laugh.
Jack followed the direction of Daniel's eyes and saw Jonny teaching other kids from the neighborhood how to sword fight. As they watched, he dashed over to where Teal'c was talking to Sam and Pete and dragged the Jaffa onto the stage to help.
Soon, Teal'c had all the kids lined up and doing moves with exact precision, much to the amazement of their watching parents.
“Daniel, they're growing up so fast,” Suzanna commented. Daniel's foster sister had changed her vacation plans to attend the Jackson-O'Neill play and visit the family, delaying her trip to Hawaii for two days. Since the Littlefields were staying in the downstairs guestroom, she was staying in the room upstairs between the boys' and Brianna's room. “I'm so glad they invited me.”
“Aunt Suz!” Jenny exclaimed, running up and extending out her arms.
Suzanna picked her up, smiling, and said, “Jenny, you were wonderful!”
The redheaded girl beamed and replied, “Aunt Suz, will you teach me how to look pretty? You always look pretty.”
“Oh, girl talk. I'll leave you two alone,” Daniel said as he began to walk away, though he added, “Jenny, you're always beautiful.”
“Aunt Sara, they liked it!” David said ecstatically as he approached Sara and Mark. Sara was holding Madeline, but Angela was off with Chenoa and some of the other children. “Did you like it, Uncle Mark?”
“David, it was outstanding. You wrote a wonderful play,” Mark intoned as he patted the smiling boy on his shoulder.
“Aunt Sara helped a lot. Thanks,” David said, grinning in gratitude at the blonde.
“I didn't do so much. You knew most of the history. I just helped you organize it a little bit,” Sara said encouragingly as she patted the boy on his shoulder.
Across the room, Jennifer hugged their energetic senior citizen neighbor as she stated, “Mrs. Valissi, thank you again for helping me with the costumes. I wouldn't have made it without you.”
“Jennifer, for the time you had, you did an awesome job. You could be a fine seamstress if you really put your mind to it,” the woman responded.
“Thanks, Mrs. V,” Jennifer stated.
In another corner of the rec room, Hammond was holding Ricky while talking to some of the parents who lived in the neighborhood.
“My grandchildren really know how to put on a play,” the military man spoke, his pleasure obvious by the tone of his voice and the pleased expression on his face.
Nearby, Brianna was chatting with Megan and Yazid, whose long distance courtship was going strong.
“So when are you going to pop the question, Yazid?” the mischievous ten-year-old asked.
“*Pop* the question?” the handsome Egyptian asked.
“Yeah, you know, ask her to marry you,” Brianna chirped.
“Brianna!” Megan bashfully chastised, then looked away, trying to hide her reddening face.
Brianna giggled at the couple's embarrassment, but then the conversation switched to Megan's upcoming vacation.
“I'm so excited,” Megan stated.
“Let me guess,” Brianna challenged. “Guys, guys, and more guys!”
“I should think not!” Yazid jealously stated, causing both females to laugh.
“Yazzy, you know better,” Megan said, patting him on the chest and leaning in for a kiss.
~Yazzy? Ooooookay.~ Brianna smiled and then asked, “Where are you going, Megan?”
“To the Bahamas for ...” Megan began.
“Guys, guys, and more guys,” Brianna laughed.
“Actually, no. Well, there may be some, but I'm fulfilling a dream, Bri. I'm going to swim with the dolphins,” Megan intoned enthusiastically.
Brianna's eyes lit up, and her mouth opened wide. Her entire expression was one of awe and wonder.
“You're going to actually swim with dolphins ... in the ocean?” the young girl asked.
“Yes, in October,” Megan answered. “Bri, are you interested in doing that?”
“That would be so ... oh, Megan, you have to tell me all about it,” Brianna requested.
“So you like dolphins?”
Brianna nodded, saying, “I saw this old TV show once; um, 'Flipper' was the name I think, and ever since then, I thought that would be the coolest, most incredible thing I could ever do.”
“Have you mentioned that to your parents?” Megan asked.
“No,” Brianna shrugged. “They'd probably think it was silly. Take lots of pictures, Megan. Oh, man, you're so lucky!”
Megan was about to question Brianna further when Sam and Pete wandered over, and the conversation turned in a different direction. She made a mental note to herself to mention it to Jack or Daniel in a few days, sure that they'd like to know if Brianna wasn't going to tell them herself.
Suddenly, the triplets ran by Megan, Aislinn looking back and apologizing, “Sorry, Megan. I didn't mean to bump into you.”
“That's okay, Ash,” Megan said with a smile.
“Aunt Janet!” Jonny called out.
“Hey, there's our little soldier,” Janet chimed. “You three did a marvelous job tonight. I'm very proud of you.”
“Thanks, Aunt Janet,” Little Danny replied.
“Aunt Janet, Dad and Daddy filmed our play. Will you make sure Cassie and Dom get one?” Aislinn asked.
“I'll remind them. Cassie was so disappointed that they couldn't come and see it in person,” Janet responded, her hand brushing against the little girl's hair.
“We miss her,” Little Danny noted.
Suddenly, Janet's cell phone rang. Pulling it out of her purse, she chuckled, grinning at the children.
“Is it Cassie?” Jonny asked eagerly.
Janet nodded and without answering the phone handed it to the eldest Munchkin.
“Cassie, it's Jonny!”
“Jonny!” Cassandra laughed. “Where's my mother?”
“She's here. We miss you, Cassie,” Jonny said.
“I am *soooo* upset that Dom and I couldn't be there to see your first play,” the long-haired young woman expressed with sadness.
“We'll have another one,” Jonny promised.
Little Danny took the phone, saying, “Cassie, Jonny made a great soldier.”
“Hello, Little Danny. I'm not surprised. Tell me all about it,” Cassandra requested, a huge smile on her face as she sat back and got comfortable in her chair, well aware that Little Danny would give detail after detail of the entire program. ~Good thing Mom knew this was why I was calling.~
It was some hours later before most of the guests had gone home. Now only Sam, Pete, Teal'c, Hammond, the Littlefields, and Suzanna remained.
“It was a wonderful evening, Jack, Daniel,” Hammond said, standing up to take his leave. He looked at the younger members of the brood and smirked at the two men. “Good luck getting the kids to sleep.”
Ricky, Jonny, and Little Danny were pursuing each other with their fake swords, Jenny and Aislinn were in the yard playing chase with Bij and Katie, while Chenoa and Lulu were still practicing their dance steps.
“I've been a general in the United States Air Force for seven years, George. I'm sure I can get them settled,” Jack said confidently.
Daniel gave his husband a smug grin and said, “Well Babe, it seems you've just volunteered for bed duty. I'm sure we're all looking forward to seeing you in action.”
Jack looked a little worried.
“Go on, Sir. We were going to leave, but I don't think we can pass up this chance, do you Pete?” Sam asked her husband, though she was grinning at her CO.
“I, too, look forward to seeing you order your children to bed,” Teal'c said solemnly, a slight twitch to his eyebrow the only sign of his amusement.
“Fine,” Jack said, nodding as he strode to the middle of the room. “BROOD, ATTENTION!”
Within seconds, all eleven children were lined up in front of their father.
“They look like the Von Trapps,” Catherine chuckled to Ernest, referring to the classic movie, 'The Sound of Music', in which the children lined up according to age when being introduced to their new governess.
Jack paced back and forth in front of them until Aislinn began to giggle. Then Chenoa laughed which made Lulu laugh. Jenny and Ricky joined in the merriment, and soon all the children were laughing.
Without even trying, Jack sighed and said weakly, “Time for bed.”
“Not yet, Dad,” Aislinn protested. “Aunt Suz is going to teach me how to roll my hair.”
“Roll your hair?”
One after the other, the children whined until Jack admitted defeat.
“Thank you, Sir,” Sam teased. “That was very enlightening.”
“Yeah, Jack, do you think you can come down to the station and show the guys your expert leadership techniques?” Pete joked.
Jack glared and responded, “Just wait until you have children, Shanahan.”
Pete gulped, and Sam's eyes widened, saying a quick “Goodnight, Sir,” taking Pete's hand, and heading for the exit, stopping quickly to say goodnight to the others.
As the others laughed, Daniel clapped his hands, saying, “Okay, Brood, bed -- now. Ash, Suz will be up in a couple of minutes. Jonny, Teal'c's going to tell you about a special way of using that sword *after* you're in bed. David, your stash of goodies will be returned only after lights out. Jen ...”
Jack chuckled as Daniel 'convinced' the children to go upstairs and get ready for bed.
~Blackmail. Geez, I could have done that.~
After finally getting all the kids to bed and checking on Bean Sprout, the lovers were in their favorite position on the roof deck. Jack was leaning against the wall with Daniel seated in front of him. Daniel's head was resting against Jack’s left shoulder as they enjoyed just being together and watching the stars above.
“I think that the children are already planning the next play,” Daniel opined.
“Why do you think that, Angel?” Jack asked, snaking his hands under the younger man’s shirt to caress the soft skin.
“I heard Jonny, Little Danny, and Ricky talking about how they could make pyramids for the background when I walked into their room to tuck them in,” Daniel confided with a small chuckle.
“I have a feeling we'll be having many more nights like tonight,” the older man observed with a smile.
“So do I,” Daniel agreed, turning to face Jack. “I have plans of my own for a little ... play.”
Daniel kissed Jack, and they proceeded to engage in their play of love. It was a play that went all night, calling for several encores and curtain calls. The next morning, each gave the other glowing reviews.
“Alex, I can't believe you did it again,” Jack remarked as they examined the new conference room.
It was Sunday evening, and the last of the workers had left just an hour earlier. Now, Alex had led Jack, Daniel, Megan, and Karissa through their new office, ending with the second floor conference room.
“I love the spiral stairway that leads up here,” Karissa commented about the stairs.
The designer had enclosed a few square feet of the garage to surround the spiral staircase which led to the conference room. Immediately, Megan noticed the small serving center which occupied a four-foot run of cabinet and included a small sink.
~That is really going to save us running up and down the stairs,~ Megan thought. “I'm so glad you thought of this, Alex,” she spoke aloud.
“It's not room for much, but at least you can dump ice and leftover beverages down the drain. If you ever serve a meal in here, I'd have it catered,” Alex put forth.
“I agree,” Karissa responded enthusiastically since she often ended up going after food and drinks during meetings.
“No coffeemaker?” Daniel asked with big eyes.
“I didn't see the need to ...” Alex stopped, realizing he'd made a snafu.
“Alex, you *are* human after all!” Jack laughed. “Danny, we'll get a coffeemaker,” he promised.
“Yes, we will,” Daniel replied, moving on to examine another area of the room.
Wanting to forget his rare goof, Alex pointed out the elevator.
“I never would have believed that an elevator could be fitted in the space of a shower. It's incredible!” Karissa exclaimed.
“The braking system is hydraulic cylinders. It's made it possible to put elevators in places where conventional equipment would have been physically or financially unfeasible before,” Alex elucidated.
“Ty will be the first to benefit, but I hope needing the elevator doesn't become a habit,” Daniel added, looking over at the two women to communicate his 'stay fit' message.
After everyone had admired the small elevator, they returned to investigating the other features of the room. There was a conference table that would seat twenty people with laptops. Internet, Ethernet, and electrical connections were built into the tabletop for convenience.
“I think you'll like this,” Alex continued. “This projection screen lowers in front of the rear-facing the windows.” Silently, he thought, ~Okay, so I messed up on the coffeemaker, but, trust me, my good fellows, this one is *not* a mistake.~ Alex smiled at his secret. He'd tried to convince Jack and Daniel to install a videoconferencing setup, to plan for the future, but the couple had steadfastly refused. Confident he was right, Alex had installed a plasma screen that would lower from the ceiling for the video conferences.
“That's great, Alex,” Daniel commented.
Alex smiled, silently smirking, ~Megan told me how you guys just don't want to face how fast your company is growing, and from what I can see, she's right. I'd love to see your faces when you call and ask me to hook you up, and I tell you which buttons to push. No, I'll eat the cost for now. That's how sure I am that you'll be hosting the videoconferences you can't even imagine having right now. Don't worry, Boys, I'll send you the bill when you make that call, and you *will* make that call.~ Unseen by others, Alex shook his head at Jack's and Daniel's denial of their own success. ~J-O's growth has matched or exceeded Archonics', and that's saying quite a lot.~
“No more searching for outlets, Megan,” Karissa replied, still reviewing the setup.
“You mean no more runs in our stockings from crawling on the floor,” Megan laughed.
“It's wonderful, Alex,” Jack said when they were done. “You did it again.” Extending his hand, he spoke a very sincere, “Thank you.”
After a full weekend, Jack and Daniel put in a few hours of work Monday morning at the remodeled offices of J-O Enterprises. They were actually out of babysitters that day, so the children, except for Jennifer and Jeff, who were back in school again, were playing outside of the house/business office under the watchful eyes of Karissa and Dora.
Dora smiled as she watched Little Danny with Karissa. They were sitting at a picnic table, and Little Danny was drawing a picture of a pyramid for his Love.
“Rissa, when I grow up, we'll go on lots of digs together, okay?” Little Danny asked casually.
“Okay, Little Danny,” Karissa said with a tender smile. “Maybe we'll go see this pyramid.”
“It's big,” the boy commented.
“Do you remember when you were there?” the young woman asked.
Little Danny nodded and suggested, “I'll show you, Rissa. We'll have lots of fun.”
“We always do,” Karissa replied. She smiled sweetly at the little boy as he went back to working on his drawing. ~He's so adorable. Too bad he isn't all grown up.~
“Jack, Daniel, before you leave, I'd like to ask you about something,” Megan said a bit hesitantly.
“What is it, Megan?” Daniel asked as the three stood in the office that the lover's jointly used.
“Uh, well, you know I'm going to the Bahamas in October,” the woman said.
“It's a vacation, not a honeymoon, right?” Jack asked in fear.
“Jack!” Daniel said, jabbing his husband in the abdomen.
Megan blushed shyly as she shook her head.
“I apologize for my husband, Megan,” Daniel said.
Jack just shrugged, saying, “We need you.”
“Thank you, Jack, but rest assured, this is just a vacation, and Yazid is not accompanying me,” the female replied. ~Unfortunately.~
“So what did you want to tell us?” Daniel prodded.
“Did you know Brianna loves dolphins?” Megan inquired, though she already knew the answer from the girl's comments after the play.
“She does?” both Jack and Daniel said in unison.
“Yes, she does, and, well, I'm not sure how you two would feel about it, but I checked, and it would be okay, arrangement-wise,” Megan stated as she went back and forth between looking her friends and employers in the eyes.
“What would be?” Daniel asked.
Megan asked, “How would you feel if I took Brianna with me so she could see the dolphins up close and maybe even swim with them?”
“Wow!” Daniel said in reaction to the question.
Jack pursed his lips as he thought about it.
“Look, let me show you some information about the group I'm going with,” Megan suggested, leading the couple over to their computer. She brought up the website of the Wildquest group she was going with and began describing various aspects of the trip. “We'd fly to Fort Lauderdale. From there, we're picked up by Wildquest and take a twenty-five minute ride on a seaplane to the Caribbean fishing village of Porgy Bay.” Megan glanced at Jack and quickly told him, “And we don't need any Porgy and Bess jokes.”
“I wasn't going to say anything!” Jack protested.
Jack saw Megan and Daniel simply snort in disbelief as Jack huffed indignantly before smirking, “Yet.”
“Anyway,” Megan continued, “we then spend the next week going out on a catamaran and swimming with the dolphins. There are also yoga classes, snorkeling, and other activities we can do.”
“Bri would love it,” Daniel commented as he looked at the photographs of the dolphins the website showed.
“Ah, the thing is, these tours fill up really quickly,” Megan stated informatively. “In fact, they're fully booked for the rest of the year. I phoned Wildquest this morning, though, and they said that they had just had a cancellation on one of their tours, not the one I was originally booked on -- this one leaves the following week -- but if my lovely kind bosses don't mind, I can easily rearrange my other bookings. Wildquest is willing to hold the places for twenty-four hours, but after that ...”
“Are you sure you want to even consider this Megan? It's really throwing out your entire schedule, and we could always take Bri next year,” Daniel responded, worried that having Brianna along might restrict Megan's holiday.
Jack obviously had the same concerns, saying, “And are you sure you want to be looking after a ten-year-old while you're on vacation?”
Megan smiled at them both as she answered, “I've thought this through, Guys. I really like Bri, and you didn't see her face light up when I told her what I was going to be doing.”
“But still ...” Jack said hesitantly.
“And it's not as if I'm going to want to meet people.” Megan blushed as she admitted, “To be honest, I probably wouldn't have offered if Yazid were coming with me, but he'll be working, and I'd really like the company.”
“We'll think about it, Megan. I don't know that I want any of the brood going away while we have this madman after us,” Jack sighed.
Daniel quickly rebutted, “We've been through this, Jack. We can't protect the brood by keeping them at our sides all the time. Speaking of which, I'd better take Noa to her gym camp.”
“Have you got Carter's doohickey?” Jack asked with a smile.
Daniel nodded, then inquired, “Megan, when's your trip?”
“The revised dates would be October twenty-third through the twenty-ninth; I was supposed to go the week before,” Megan answered.
“We'll let you know. Jack, I'll see you at home,” Daniel said as he gave his husband a quick kiss and then walked out, leaving the two alone.
“Are you sure about this?” Jack asked.
“It would be my pleasure. I think Bri would have a fantastic time,” Megan answered with a big smile. “Just think about it ... for an hour or two,” she quipped.
As Daniel headed home from dropping Chenoa off, he had an idea and phoned Sam.
“Sure, Daniel,” Sam responded after hearing Daniel's request. “It wouldn't be a problem at all, and, in fact, I could make one so that it's like a bracelet. It could even have a lock that you can keep separately.”
“She's going to be in the water a lot.”
“The GPS will still work,” Sam replied. “We've made great strides in that. I'll explain the details when I show you how to work it. Uh, when do you need this by?”
Daniel smiled. Sam had already come up with a special pager they could give the younger children for when they were separated from them. He had just given one to Chenoa while dropping her off at her gym group. The pager had one button that was an alarm and one that sent a signal to Jack and Daniel, who had receivers with them at all times.
Sam had just told the concerned parent that she could rig the same type of device in a bracelet that Brianna could wear while on vacation. Megan would have the receiver. It made Daniel feel more secure about letting her go on this great adventure.
~We can't keep them in a bubble, no matter how tempting it is. We ... we just can't.~
Just before hanging up, Sam felt compelled to suggest, “Daniel, you could have the children chipped, like we were.”
“Yeah, I've thought about that, Sam, but ... there are concerns,” the archaeologist intoned quietly.
“Or worse. I know chipping would have advantages, but it would open up some unpleasant possibilities for our children, and I'm not sure it's a good idea, especially ...”
Daniel paused, smiling into his phone.
Sam chuckled lightly, “Especially when you have an astrophysicist who loves to create new doohickeys?”
Unable to stop his laughter, Daniel answered, “Apparently. Do you mind?”
“If I did, I wouldn't do it. I think you and the general are probably right, Daniel. I wish we didn't have to think that way, though,” the blonde opined.
“Yeah, me, too. Thanks again, Sam,” Daniel spoke before disconnecting the call. ~I should mention it to Jack, though. We should consider chipping them, but ... gawd, what if the wrong people got access to their codes?~
“So what's new?” Daniel asked as he and Jack entered Brianna's room for their nightly special time with their daughter.
“Daddy, can we study something besides history for a while? I don't mean forever, but just for a while?” the young girl politely asked.
“Why?” Daniel inquired.
Brianna shrugged and finally answered, “I'm not really into history, and it seems like that's all we've done lately.”
“Okay, well, we can study something else,” Daniel agreed. “Uh, what would you like to learn about?”
Shyly, Brianna looked down as she clutched her pillow to her chest. Her parents were seated, facing her, one on each side of the bed.
“How about ... life sciences?” Daniel asked coyly.
“Science?” Brianna echoed with a shrug.
“Well, I was thinking more along the lines of ... marine science,” Daniel explained.
“Oh, well ...” Suddenly, Brianna brightened as the words sank it. She looked up at Daniel and saw his grin. “Marine science as in ... in ...”
“Mammals -- whales, dolphins ...” Daniel began.
“Critters that swim,” Jack teased.
“Do you mean it? Really?” Seeing Daniel's nod, Brianna jumped into his arms, saying, “That would be so cool, Daddy.”
“How cool would it be to swim with a dolphin?” Jack asked.
Brianna pushed away from Daniel slightly, though her hands slid down to his. She looked at Jack with wonder and then over at Daniel. Her heart was thundering with anticipation.
“Bri, Megan told us that you're interested in dolphins,” Daniel began.
“And,” Jack continued, “she's invited you to go on her vacation with her so you could ...”
“OH MY ... swim with the dolphins?” Brianna jumped up and began running around her room. She screamed enthusiastically and then said, “You're not kidding?”
The smiling fathers turned to face her, now that Brianna was in front of her door.
“No, Bri,” Jack answered. “Daddy and I have discussed it, and we have a few things we need to make sure you understand, but if you'd like to go ...”
“Oh, yes, YES! YES! YES!” Brianna shouted, running forward to hug both of her fathers.
Just then, several of her brothers and sisters ran in, having heard the screams, and Brianna began to joyfully tell them about her good fortune.
**I hope we're not making a mistake, Danny.**
**Look at her, Babe. For that smile, we just need to make sure we take all the precautions we can.**
The next couple of days were filled with talk about dolphins. Brianna had taken to their marine science studies, in Jack's words, “like a fish to water.” She had begun spouting dolphin facts at anyone who would listen:
“Did you know there are thirty-two types of dolphins?”
“Guess what? Dolphins can taste, but they have no sense of smell.”
“Wow, dolphins can swim up to forty miles an hour? They even have a special skin for swimming that reduces turbulence.”
“We made the right decision, Jack,” Daniel said when the lovers were alone.
“I know, Danny, but if we haven't found him by the time she's due to leave, we can't let her go,” Jack regretfully stated about their ongoing August nightmare.
Despite Brianna's obvious excitement over the trip, both Jack and Daniel were tempted to cancel it, now that they knew who had been stalking them. The previous day, Chenoa had seen the man while at her gym class, and the information they had gleaned from the instructors had been sufficient for Jack to recognize the man as Burton Taylor, someone from his Special Ops days who blamed Jack for the death of his family.
Daniel sighed, “Let's just hope we find him soon. We can't keep the brood under lockdown indefinitely.”
Jack gave his husband a wry grin. Jennifer was not enjoying having to be accompanied everywhere by a chaperone and had referred to the increased security measures Jack and Daniel had taken as a precaution against Burton Taylor as putting the brood under 'lockdown.'
“Danny, what if we have the brood chipped?” Jack wondered.
“You mean with those locator beacons we had implanted?” Daniel inquired. ~I should have known Jack would think of it, too.~
“Yeah. We have the girls chipped,” Jack reminded about Bijou and Katie, both of whom had chips inserted in case something ever happened to them.
“We could,” Daniel spoke quietly. “I ... Jack, I have given it some thought lately.”
“But ...” Jack prodded. “You don't sound like it's a good idea,” he surmised, scratching his hand for a moment to alleviate an itch. ~Not sure I do, either, but it is a solution to our worries.~
“It's a great idea, except ...”
“The government,” Jack supposed. ~Which is why I haven't mentioned it before.~
Nodding, Daniel said, “I can't help it, Jack. If we chipped the children, and someone like Kinsey got a hold of the tracking information, then ...”
“Then we could be inviting disaster,” Jack completed for his husband.
“Sam might be able to rig it herself, but ...”
“Still a risk,” Jack responded. “At least Bean Sprout is easy to protect at the moment,” he mused, looking down at the womis.
Daniel reached out and caressed the pouch carrying their child. Every time he looked at the growing womis, he was filled with a sense of awe.
“I still can't believe it, Jack. That's our child in there, yours and mine,” the younger man softly spoke with awe.
Jack pulled Daniel closer with one arm and reached out with the other to join Daniel in caressing the womis as he spoke, “We love you, Son.”
“Or daughter, whichever you are,” Daniel added, glancing momentarily at Jack as he smiled.
“We can't wait to meet you,” Jack said. “We love you, Bean Sprout.”
Daniel turned around and snuggled into his lover's arms, saying, “We'll be all right, Jack.”
Jack just nodded as the two enjoyed some quiet time with their unborn child.
On Saturday, Jack, Daniel, and their brood happily cheered on Chenoa and Lulu at their dance recital. The two sisters beamed to the applause that came their way.
The next day, Daniel was sitting with Aislinn in the music room. They were at the piano, and Aislinn was practicing a new song.
“Not so hard, Ash,” Daniel advised. “Feel the song in your heart, and let the emotion you feel come out through your fingers.”
Aislinn giggled, “That sounds funny, Daddy.”
“Yeah, I guess it does,” Daniel agreed with a chuckle. “Try it again, but try not to think so much. Let your heart guide you.”
Daniel looked up and saw Jack standing in the doorway.
**She's pretty good, Danny.**
**She could be; if she can let herself feel the music more,** Daniel spoke via their non-verbal communication.
**This sounds better.**
“That's good, Ash,” Daniel told his daughter, who smiled as she kept on playing.
“Hey, Ash, that's great,” David said, brushing by Jack as he entered the room and headed for his guitar. “Can I play with you?”
“Sure,” Aislinn answered. “I'll start over.” The little girl waited for her brother to strap on his guitar, and then she began the piece again. “Don't play too loud,” Aislinn called over to David.
“I won't,” David answered, quickly adding, “Ash, play it one time. I only heard part of it.”
“Okay,” Aislinn said as she played the song one time and then paused.
“Ready, Ash. One ... two ... three ...” David prompted.
Together, the siblings began to make music together. Aislinn missed a few notes here and there, but David never missed a beat as he accompanied her on the guitar.
**I can't believe he can play by ear like that,** Jack communicated silently.
**I have always envied people who could do that,** Daniel responded as he listened.
“Are we making music?” Jonny asked as he ran in. “Wait for me!” the little boy said without waiting for an answer.
**Daniel, where are the earplugs?** Jack said as he looked around the room in a small panic.
Daniel chuckled lightly and shook his head. He looked over at Jonny, who was getting himself settled in on his stool.
“Come on, little brother,” David encouraged.
Jonny banged on a cymbal as he began to play the drums.
**Okay, he needs more lessons. I'm calling an instructor tomorrow,** Jack announced as he grimaced, but then smiled when Jonny looked over at him.
“Jonny, not so loud,” Aislinn admonished.
**Thank goodness for girls,** Jack said.
**And little boys,** Daniel said. He put his hand on the back of Aislinn's head as he stood up. Smiling down at her, he slowly began to move away, going over to where Jonny was. He positioned himself behind the child and then quietly began to say. “Feel the music, Jonny. Listen to Ash; she's got the melody. This is a quiet piece. It's about love and gentleness, like at night when you're asleep, all safe and sound in your bed. Like ... like in the morning when you wake up and go say hello to Bogey. It's not about shouting or jumping for joy. It's what you feel in quiet times. I know you can do it. You're very smart. Just ... follow your sister's lead. Yeah. There you go. That's it. Softer ... little taps. How about the base drum ... now ... yeah, there you go, Son. You've got it. Music is in your heart and your soul. You never want to drown it out; you want to let it become part of you.”
Jack shook his head in wonder as he watched his husband coach Jonny on playing the drums. Daniel hadn't a clue how to play the drums, but he understood music ~and little boys,~ Jack thought with a smile.
**I love you, Angel.**
Daniel looked up and smiled brightly and then continued to guide their little drummer boy.
“Danny,” Jack called out as he walked into the kitchen where Daniel was preparing lunch.
After a peaceful weekend, the Jackson-O'Neills were back into their weekday routine.
“Hey, how did the lesson go?” Daniel asked, seeing his lover enter.
Jack had been giving the twins a lesson in biology, specifically dolphin biology since dolphins seemed to be the current fad in the household.
“Good,” Jack answered a bit distractedly. “They're doing their English assignment now. I just checked on the Munchkins.”
There was something in Jack's tone that made Daniel turn around and look at his husband.
“What mischief have they got up to this time?” the younger man asked suspiciously.
Jack chuckled, “Nothing. Little Danny had already finished his math assignment so guess what he's doing -- making a set of passports for the animals of the house, complete with paw prints, photos, and everything.”
Daniel smiled and shook his head. Then, he started giggling.
Arms slid around Daniel's waist as Jack whispered in his ear, “What's so funny?”
“Your face when the brood brought out the animals to be paw printed,” Daniel answered, remembering the chaos of the day the previous week when Sam had taken the family's fingerprints as a safety precaution. The brood had insisted that Sam also take prints from the animal family members, even including Jonny's pet lizard. “I'm surprised Sam didn't mutiny.”
“She wouldn't dare,” the older man spoke confidently. After a chuckle, he observed, “I guess Bri's trip made him think of passports.”
Jack was startled when Daniel tensed and dashed into the living room muttering, “He wouldn't. Would he? No, maybe.”
Completely bewildered by his husband's behavior, Jack followed Daniel as he ran from the living room up the stairs to the boys' room.
“He did,” Daniel sighed as he stood in the doorway, covering his eyes.
As Jack peered into the room and took a closer look at Little Danny's 'passports', he understood why and exclaimed a mental, ~Crap!~
“Ah, Son,” Jack said, kneeling beside the little boy and surveying the damage. He picked up what had been his own passport and flicked through it. Next to his name, Little Danny had added in Bijou and Katie's names. Opposite Jack's photo were pictures of the two beagles. He picked up Daniel's passport and grinned despite himself. Written beside Daniel's name were all the names of the various family fish. A photo of the aquarium had been added to the passport. “Little Danny, how did you get these?”
Neither Jack nor Daniel could understand how the Munchkin had gotten a hold of them as they were usually kept safely in the study.
Little Danny looked guilty as he answered, “I took them from the study when Daddy got them out to look for the passport app'cation for Bri.”
Daniel closed his eyes and groaned. He remembered going into the study to get the passport application, pulling out the passports which were with it, and then being distracted by the twins before he could put them back. He'd meant to put them back later but had forgotten.
Jack struggled to contain his amusement as he and Daniel explained to Little Danny that he shouldn't ever take papers from the study without permission, and if he ever thought any members of the family were missing something, like passports, he should tell his fathers and they would sort it out.
Daniel looked at his son and smiled, saying, “Okay, so we need more information on the fish. I mean, uh, the passport isn't complete.”
Little Danny grinned as Daniel began to help him complete the passports for the animals.
**They're already destroyed, Jack, and we can get new ones. He knows he made a mistake. Why punish him more?**
**I love you, Angel,** Jack communicated as he moved forward to help with the animal passports.
“Danny, calm down,” Jack said late Wednesday evening as they stood together on the roof deck outside their master bedroom. Burton Taylor had died in his attempts to get his revenge on Jack, and the latest threat to the Jackson-O'Neill family was over. Brianna's upcoming 'swim with the dolphins' trip was a 'go', but on this night, Daniel was not only tired, but disconcerted. “It's okay,” Jack soothed.
“I know, but it's, uh, unnerving,” Daniel commented.
Jack chuckled, “I'm trying not to think about it.”
“Our daughter,” Daniel lamented about Jennifer.
“Danny, I don't think she stayed long,” Jack tried to assure his husband.
“She saw enough,” the younger man sighed.
Jennifer had unexpectedly walked out onto the roof deck last night when the two soulmates were communicating with their bodies. All morning she had giggled at her fathers, unable to look either of them in the eye, until finally she admitted having seen them 'in the act' on the roof deck. Daniel, of course, was embarrassed. Jack simply went to the hardware store to get a new lock for the door leading to the roof deck, one that they could use from the deck and ensure this didn't happen again.
“We're not the first parents to be caught by their kids, and we won't be the last. She'll live, and so will we,” Jack noted with a smile.
“Jack, remember the children after they did their play?” Daniel asked.
Jack was taken aback and gave his lover a funny look as he tried to figure out how the conversation had turned to the play.
“Danny, what does the play have to do with anything?” Jack asked.
Daniel chuckled, “I was just thinking. There they were, all gathered in front of the monitor in the living room, talking to Bean Sprout, sharing their feelings about doing their first play together.”
Jack laughed, “Jonny promised Bean Sprout he'd let him be the lead soldier in the first production that Bean Sprout is old enough to hold a fake sword.”
“Lulu reminded Jonny the baby might be a girl,” Daniel recalled.
“Yeah, I'm afraid Jonny has his heart set on another little brother,” Jack commented. “That little frown he gave was priceless, kinda like when we gave him sushi that time.”
“Even I don't like sushi, Babe,” Daniel noted, cringing at the notion.
~Sexy even when he shivers like that.~ Jack took his lover in his arms and kissed him, resulting in a tender moan escaping the younger man's throat. “Let's try out the new lock,” Jack whispered and then blew in Daniel's ear.
“Jack, you've *got* to be kidding! It wasn't even twennnmmmph ...”
Jack silenced his lover with a slew of passionate kisses. In lightning speed, he closed the door, locking it from the outside, and then returned to his lover for more kisses.
As August came to a close, the married couple shared all the love they had to give -- and that was enough to light up their world with warmth and joy for quite some time.
Chapter Six: Growing Up
Glad to be home after a trying day full of meetings at the SGC, Jack threw his keys onto the hall table and walked into the living room. He smiled at the sight of Little Danny, Jonny, and Aislinn doing their homework. None of the Munchkins had spotted him yet, as Jonny soon showed.
“Danny, what's the answer to question five?” Jonny asked as he looked at his brother hopefully, intentionally not using the 'Little' moniker that so often preceded the boy's name.
Little Danny sighed and shook his head as he answered, “I can't tell you, Jonny. You hafta find the answer yourself. I'll help you work it out, though.”
Jack smiled at the sight of the two heads bent over Jonny's book as Little Danny explained how Jonny could figure out the answer.
“How's it going, Munchkins?” Jack inquired, revealing his presence.
All three of the children raced over to Jack and started babbling about their day.
Jack listened with amusement as Jonny added, “Daddy said we could have a party for our birthday, Dad.”
“Of course, you can, Son,” Jack responded.
Jack noticed a look of disappointment sweep over Little Danny before the boy resumed his cheerful demeanor. However, as an expert in seeing through Daniel's 'I'm fine' masks over the years, Jack wasn't fooled by the youngster's facade.
~It's all in the eyes, Little Danny, and right now yours are lacking that spark that they usually have.~ He looked at Jonny and realized Little Danny hadn't fooled the eldest Munchkin, either. Taking advantage of Aislinn's pause for breath, Jack asked, “Where's Daddy?”
“In the den,” Jonny answered with a grin. Then he turned to his brother and sister and said, “Come on, Little Danny, Ash, let's go bury some more stuff in Katie's play yard.”
Little Danny brightened, and the three children ran off, leaving Jack shaking his head in amusement.
~You're Little Danny's fix-it man, aren't you Jonny?~ He considered reminding the children they had been in the middle of a homework assignment, but decided against it. ~Little Danny needs some playtime; I just need to find out why.~
Daniel looked up as Jack entered the den and smiled at his husband. After a long 'welcome home' kiss, Jack rested his forehead against Daniel's, and the two simply stood for a while, reconnecting.
“Why is Little Danny upset about the idea of a birthday party?” Jack finally asked, breaking their silence.
Daniel sighed, “He wants to invite Lya and some of the other Nox. I explained that it just wasn't possible, and he understands, but he's disappointed all the same.”
“That's our boy; friend of all, including aliens,” Jack teased.
“Jack, he's serious. He loves the people he's met off-world, especially the Nox. He's a little boy, and he wants the people he cares about to be at their party.”
“Okay, well, we could probably have a party for the Munchkins in the Land of the Light,” Jack suggested.
“Uh, Jack, I kind of already suggested that,” Daniel stated hesitantly.
“And?” Jack prodded.
“Little Danny didn't like that idea. He wants to show Lya our house and introduce her to Bogey and the rest of the menagerie,” Daniel answered.
“I don't think Anteaus is going to allow Lya and the gang to come here,” Jack commented.
“No, but, uh, maybe ...” Daniel began, tilting his head slightly.
“Daniel, the *entire* brood?” Jack asked incredulously.
“Well, I contacted Thor ...”
“You phoned the little gray butt without asking me first?” Jack asked in mock ire.
“I just wanted to see if he might be available for a ...” the younger man began.
“Instant intergalactic beam, planet-to-planet?” Jack quipped.
“It was worth a shot,” Daniel answered with a shrug.
“What did he say?” Jack questioned as he took a seat in the recliner at about the same time Daniel sat back down in his desk chair.
Daniel intoned, “That if he's within range, he'd be happy to transport us.”
“So, we need to contact the Nox and see if they'd like to host a birthday party for our children,” Daniel instructed.
“That should be interesting,” Jack smirked. “Danny, we need to make sure the kids understand that if they choose that option, it means none of their friends here on Earth can go. They might not like that. Presents, or lack thereof,” Jack mentioned with wide eyes.
Daniel chuckled, saying, “I hadn't thought of that. We'll have to give them the option.”
“We should do that first. The last thing we need is bad feelings because our kids back out of a party due to the lack of gifts,” Jack said, standing back up. He reached down and took hold of his husband's hand, pulling him up with the intention of them discussing the possibilities with the Munchkins. As they reached the doorway, though, he revealed another concern. “Danny, what about the twins? Their birthday is next week. With all that Taylor mess,” he began, referring to the stalker who had been after the family during the previous month, “we haven't had a chance to plan anything.”
“Good question, Jack. Why don't we talk to them and see what they'd like to do for their birthday?” the younger man suggested.
“Sure, we can ...” Jack's words were interrupted by the telephone.
Sharing a very brief kiss with his lover, Daniel then walked back over to his desk where he picked up the receiver, greeting, “Hello.”
“Daniel, it's Sara.”
“Sara,” Daniel responded with a smile. “It's good to hear from you.”
Jack grinned evilly and crept up behind his husband, sliding his arms around his waist and kissing his neck. He felt Daniel's heart rate increase and smirked. Daniel tried edging away from his lover, but Jack put a stop to that by pressing his body closer to Daniel's.
“... So we were wondering if the twins were doing anything for their birthday, and if you haven't anything planned, did you want some help?” Sara continued, seemingly oblivious to the mischievous activities of her friends.
“Ah,” Daniel squeaked, valiantly trying to ignore Jack's hand which was moving towards his groin. “We were just discussing that.”
“All right, Daniel, hand the phone to the degenerate that's currently taking advantage of you,” a knowing Sara instructed, no longer willing to ignore the ensuing playfulness.
Daniel passed the phone to Jack, saying, “She wants to talk to you.”
Jack stared, noticing the mischief in his husband's eyes, but he took the phone and, using his most innocent tone, greeted, “Hey, Sara,” while moving away from Daniel.
Daniel looked at his lover and gave him an evil grin mouthing, “Paybacks, Babe,” before advancing on the older man.
Jack tried moving to the other side of the desk, but found himself quickly pushed into the recliner with a lapful of intoxicating archeologist nibbling at his throat.
“Sorry, what was that Sara?” Jack asked, having no clue what his ex-wife had said.
The soulmates heard Sara laughing into the phone as she said, “Okay, Boys, just phone me if you want some help for the twins' birthday.”
“Thanks, Sara,” Daniel called out.
“Bye, Sara,” Jack stated.
Jack hung up the phone and pulled his husband into a long passionate kiss. When they eventually came up for air, both were panting, and each had a little problem that they needed to take care of. Unfortunately, they both had children to take care of as well.
After thinking of a variety of things, from cold showers to Goa'uld, they were able to go downstairs and tend to their family obligations.
“Do we get to have a party with the Nox?” Little Danny asked, his whole face brightening at his parents' news.
“We'll have to ask them first, but if they say yes, would you like that?” Daniel inquired.
Before Daniel had finished talking, Little Danny was already nodding enthusiastically, and both Jonny and Aislinn were soon adding their agreement.
“Munchkins, you need to be sure,” Jack informed them. “It would mean none of your Earth friends would be able to come, and traditions on other worlds are very different. You may not get any presents,” he pointed out.
Jonny and Aislinn looked a little crestfallen at this, something that didn't escape Little Danny. His smile faded a little, and he began to chew on his lower lip, his brow furrowed in thought.
**He is such a little you, Danny,** Jack communicated with loving pride.
**Lucky boy,** Jack mentally intoned, grinning.
**Love you, Jack.**
**Love you, too, Angel.**
“Dad, Daddy,” Little Danny said as he climbed onto Daniel's lap and looked at them both with a very serious expression. “I don't care about presents, so can I have a party with the Nox and Jonny and Ash have an Earth party?” He looked at his siblings and added, “You're invited to my party!”
Jack smirked, **Daniel, we've just been had by an almost five-year-old.**
Daniel, too, couldn't help but smile at his son's solution to their dilemma, replying, **Just wait until they *are* five.**
“Yeah, can we?” Jonny and Aislinn asked eagerly, their eyes alight with excitement.
“And we'll invite Little Danny to our party,” Aislinn added.
“And I can give him half of my presents,” Jonny volunteered, then saying in a softer tone, “But not my fighting gifts. He don't like those anyway.”
“Doesn't,” Daniel corrected.
“Doesn't what?” Jonny asked.
“Never mind,” the linguist decided, opting to leave grammar lessons for another time.
Jack stared at Little Danny as a small smile formed on his face. He leaned forward and poked the little boy in his abdomen, causing Little Danny to giggle.
“You're a little con artist, you know that?” Jack inquired.
Jack's answer was a knowing smile that reminded him of his husband.
**He's a little genius. Danny, we are so in trouble. He's starting to use that brain of his to get his way; not unlike someone else I know.**
**Oh, who would that be?** Daniel asked with a coy smile.
“Can we, Dad, Daddy? Pleeeeease,” Little Danny asked.
**Jack, we could say no. I mean, we've always done their birthdays together.**
**Yeah, group birthday.** Jack sighed, “Munchkins, Daddy and I need to talk about something. Go outside, please, and play with your brothers and sisters. We'll let you know.”
Obediently, the three headed for the door, Jonny and Aislinn praising Little Danny's ingenuity as they walked. Once the Munchkins were outside, Jack took a deep breath.
“Babe, what are you thinking?” Daniel asked.
“That we need to make the right decision. Daniel, I was proud of Little Danny just now. That was a pretty smart solution to their problem,” Jack praised.
Smiling, Daniel stood up and walked to Jack, remarking, “Yeah, he saw Jonny and Ash were disappointed and searched for a solution. He, uh, found one.” After a chuckle, he added, “But you're concerned that if we give in, we're setting a precedent. Separate everything whenever it suits their purposes.”
“Exactly. But, there's something else,” Jack stated seriously.
“What?” Daniel asked.
“Danny, we've worked hard to make sure the Munchkins, and the twins, are united, but also separate.”
“You mean the individual play dates, their own friends, our special days with just one or two of them -- that kind of thing?” Daniel deduced.
“Yes. Angel, they deserve their own days. I want them to be close, just like they are, but I also want them to feel ... grrr ...” Jack groaned, searching for the right words.
“Like on their own, they are important and worthwhile. They are special, each one of them, with *and* without their fellow Munchkins,” Daniel stated.
“Yeah,” Jack agreed.
“So,” Daniel said, turning around and walking a bit while he thought. “We have to decide whether it's better to reward Little Danny's solution and subtly reinforce their individuality, or to reaffirm that they all have the same birthday, and that's one day that we are going to celebrate together. In other words, nice try, Sproglet, but no go.”
“What do you think?” Jack asked.
“I think I'm very proud of them, even Jonny's present solution. Gawd, giving half to Little Danny. Talk about a con artist -- he knows we couldn't have a birthday party and not give Little Danny presents, too. Jack, I don't know. They were both very clever, and I'm ...” Daniel let out a tiny snort as he reviewed the conversation that had happened with the triplets. “I'm proud of them, but the other question is, do we let them get away with that? If we do, I mean two parties, what about the gifts? What's the answer, Babe?”
“We can't tell Jonny not to give anything to his brother,” Jack commented.
“No, we can't, but do we buy just for him, or knowing what he intends, do we buy things we know Little Danny would like?”
“Daniel, I have a headache,” Jack groused.
Daniel smiled and admitted, “Me, too.”
“The little genius con artists,” Jack chuckled. “Parenting is tough.”
“Very,” Daniel agreed.
“It would be easier if Little Danny hadn't really meant it,” Jack admitted wryly.
“You mean about not wanting presents?” Daniel asked. After Jack nodded, Daniel noted, “Yeah, he really doesn't care much about material things.”
“Wonder who he gets that from,” Jack teased lightly.
Daniel looked at his soulmate and smiled as he replied, “Both of us, Jack. Our kids know what's important in life, family and people ... and animals.”
“I guess that kind of answers our dilemma, huh?” Jack inquired.
“I think so,” Daniel replied. “The fact that Little Danny is willing to go without gifts and Jonny is prepared to share his presents shows that they aren't selfishly out for all they can get.”
“So ...” Jack prodded.
“So ... we buy presents for Little Danny as well?” Daniel asked, though it was almost a rhetorical question since neither man had come to a conclusion yet. He shook his head and chewed his lip thoughtfully, just as his namesake had done earlier. Finally, he suggested, “I think we just make sure that in Jonny's and Ash's presents there are things that all three of them will like, like Legos. Only, there's, uh, another problem.”
“I'm almost afraid to ask,” Jack intoned.
“What do we tell their friends?” the younger man asked, his eyebrows raised at the logical but stifling question. “The children that come to a party for Jonny and Ash are probably going to bring stuff for Little Danny anyway, and not just that, Jack, but how do we explain having a party for just two of the triplets?”
“Geez, I really am getting a headache!” Jack exclaimed as he fell onto the sofa and groaned.
Daniel chuckled, “You know, I think we're making too much of this. Let's just have the two parties. The Munchkins are aware they might get fewer presents out of the deal and don't care, and that's what really matters.”
“We still have to answer the pesky questions,” Jack stated.
“No, we don't. Jack, I've got it!”
“You certainly do!” Jack said with a shine in his eyes as he pulled Daniel towards him for a kiss.
“Are you two at it again?”
The lovers broke apart upon hearing Jennifer's amused voice. Daniel blushed, and Jack smirked at their eldest daughter.
“Hey, we've earned it,” Jack retaliated. “Parenting is a tough business.”
“Speaking of which, we need to let the Munchkins know our decision,” Daniel said as he stood up and held out his hand to help Jack up. “Just follow my lead, Babe.”
Jack took his lover's hand, but surprised Daniel by pulling him back down onto his lap.
“Jack! Jen's here,” Daniel half-heartedly complained.
“Hey, I've seen ... well, uh, scratch that,” the embarrassed teenager said.
Jack kissed his soulmate and whispered, “I love you.”
“I love you, too, but ...”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Jack whined.
“Oh, the Beatles, right, Dad? Of course, I wasn't born then. Actually, I'm not sure Mom was, either,” Jennifer spoke about her birth mother.
“Jennifer Renee,” Jack mock-warned as he stood up. Smiling, he said, “Did you need something, Sweetheart?”
“No, I was just passing through. I wanted to get my history book to take outside with me. It's really nice out,” Jennifer commented.
As Jennifer headed for her bedroom above the garage, her parents went outside to talk to the Munchkins.
“Munchkins, Dad and I have given it lots of thought, and, of course, it all hinges on Lya and the others, but, uh, Son,” Daniel said looking at his namesake, “for your present, Dad and I are giving you a trip to see the Nox.”
“Oh, boy!” Little Danny exclaimed.
“We'll still have our party for the three of you, and there will be presents for all of you, but Little Danny won't get as many because of the trip off-world. Understand?” Daniel asked, searching all of their eyes for comprehension.
“I'm happy, Daddy. I want to see the Nox,” Little Danny said with a grin.
“Good. Now if anyone asks why you don't have as many presents as Jonny and Ash, what will you say?” Daniel quizzed.
“I'll say we're going on trip just for me, but I don't remember the name of the place,” Little Danny suggested.
“You can say we're going to a big playground,” Aislinn suggested with a smile.
“That's good, Ash,” Jack praised proudly.
As the triplets went off to play, Jack grinned at his lover and said, “You come up with the best solutions, Love.”
“Thank you, Babe,” Daniel said, leaning in for a kiss.
“Three points!” Mike Callahan exclaimed. “Way to go, Jeff.”
“Thanks. You're up, Nick,” Jeff said as he bounced the ball to another of the boys as they continued their game of basketball after school had let out for the day. As they played, he looked over towards the parking lot which bordered the outdoor basketball court and noticed a slightly older teenager watching them. ~Peter Hamilton? Wonder what he's doing here?~
“Thanks for the pickup, Daddy,” Jennifer said as she settled in to the Silver Fox and buckled her seatbelt.
“You're welcome, Jen.” Daniel headed for home, chitchatting with Jennifer about her day. After a while, he asked, “Jen, school's been in session a couple of weeks now, and I was just wondering if you've seen Peter?”
“Peter?” The teenager looked down and then out the window. After a pause, she said, “I haven't seen him. We don't really circulate with the same group of friends, Daddy. I'm not even sure he's still going to school here.”
“Are you okay with that?” Daniel inquired as he made a left turn.
Jennifer let out a tiny snort and said a bit flippantly, “I don't really care what he ...” Suddenly, she stopped and looked at her father. “Daddy, I liked him. I liked him a lot, but he wasn't who I thought he was. I miss him, but then I get angry because I realize that who I'm missing isn't real.”
“Are you sure?” Daniel queried.
“Yes; he's a jerk,” Jennifer responded harshly, her left hand gripping her backpack tightly. “But there is a cute new boy in school,” she noted perkily. “His name is Todd, and he's so polite and dreamy. He's in my science class and ...”
Daniel smiled. He was proud of Jennifer for moving forward and for doing so as honestly as she could. At the same time, he wondered just how over Peter she really was.
From his vantage point in the kitchen, Jack watched with curiosity as the Munchkins, Spitfires, Chenoa, and Lulu earnestly worked on their latest project. Cardboard boxes, paper, crayons, children's scissors, glue, and sticky tape were strewn about the living room.
“This not look right, Little Danny,” Jenny complained as she waved the piece of paper she'd been drawing on at her brother.
The little boy grinned at Jenny and passed her the piece of paper he'd just finished drawing on, suggesting, “That's okay, Jenny. You can color this one, and I'll draw that for you.”
Jack shook his head in amusement. He'd been certain the kids would have tired of this project by now.
~Should have known better. They're all as stubborn as their parents,~ Jack thought in amusement.
The exasperated voice of Aislinn was accompanied by the sound of giggles. Jack looked at the children again and had to stifle his own laughter at the sight of Ricky, who had somehow managed to glue a cardboard box to his head. As the youngster began to tug at it, Jack moved swiftly into the room. He really didn't need Ricky to pull out all his hair, not on his watch anyway.
~Danny would kill me.~ As he worked on the problem, Jack asked, “Son, how did you manage to glue a box to your head?”
Ricky looked up at his father sheepishly, answering, “It's a hat. I forgot glue on it.”
“Of course, you did,” Jack responded dryly. ~Makes perfect sense -- when you're not quite four.~ After examining the box and finding that Ricky had done a fairly thorough job of gluing his hair to the box, Jack determined, “We're going to have to soak it off.”
At that moment, the front door opened. As soon as Jennifer had stepped inside, she was surrounded by her younger siblings and being dragged over to the 'project' to help.
After greeting his husband, Daniel surveyed the busy brood, none of whom had said a word to him as of yet.
**Glad to see they missed me.**
**I missed you, Angel.**
As if he'd heard the unspoken exchange, Little Danny looked up at his father and grinned, saying, “Hi, Daddy!”
A chorus of “Missed you, Daddy” and similar greetings followed. Daniel just stared at them and waved back weakly.
“You don't think he heard, do you, Jack?” Daniel asked once the children had become engaged in their activities again.
“Geez, I hope not,” Jack quietly answered. Neither man wanted to share their silent means of communication, even with their children. “I think it's just Little Danny being perceptive, as usual.”
“What are they doing, anyway? And why does Ricky have a box that looks like a hat glued to his head?” Daniel inquired casually, wondering if he'd be better off leaving and re-entering the house again.
Jack laughed, saying, “At least you knew it was a hat.” After a pause, he explained, “They're making a model of the house to show the Nox.”
Daniel looked at Jack with a wry grin, asking, “Little Danny's idea?”
Jack nodded and replied, “They're enjoying themselves, though.” Giving his lover a smile, he added, “I'd better get that hat off Ricky.”
“Sure thing, Babe.”
Having survived the twins' birthday celebration on the eighth, Jack and Daniel were continuing their preparations for the Munchkins' party. They still hadn't heard back from the Nox, and that was of concern as both men were afraid of disappointing Little Danny.
Today, though, the little boy was contently playing outside with Carrie Lapierre. Her parents, Stuart and Grace, had dropped her and her dog, Tito, off at the Jackson-O'Neills for an all-day play session.
Little Danny had met Carrie at a play camp two years earlier at a time when the Jackson-O'Neill residence was about to be expanded to better accommodate the growing family. Jack and Daniel had bought the property next door and planned on demolishing the house so that they could simply add on to their own home. Little Danny, however, had given his parents the idea of donating that home to the Lapierres, who were in the process of being evicted from their then-residence.
The two families had become good friends, and the Lapierres were now back on their feet and doing well. In fact, Grace was pregnant, and Stu was beaming with pride about the upcoming birth.
“Carrie, do you want a baby brother or sister?” Little Danny asked as he and Carrie played on the swings.
“I want one of each,” the little girl announced.
Little Danny laughed, saying, “Lots of brothers and sisters is good.”
“Mommy says we're just having one, though. She has big, big tummy. I think two!” Carrie insisted.
“Uh oh,” Little Danny said, looking over at Katie's play yard.
“What wrong, Little Danny?” Carrie asked, slowing her swings since her friend was doing the same thing.
“That's Katie favorite toy,” Little Danny announced.
Over by Katie's play yard, the youngest beagle and Tito, a basset hound, were playing tug-a-war on the large tug toy. Both were growling.
“Be right back,” Little Danny told Carrie. He marched over to the play yard and put his hands on his hips. He made a 'hmmph' sound, but the dogs continued their war. Finally, Little Danny frowned and said, “Katie, Tito is a guest. Be nice.”
“Grrrr,” Katie responded.
“Katie! Tito's company!”
“Grrrrr ...” Katie said, letting go of the toy, resulting in Tito flying backwards slightly.
Katie seemed to smile and triumphantly trotted over to her doghouse, lying down in a favorite spot. Bijou yawned and then licked Katie's ear before going back to sleep.
Feeling victorious, Tito paraded around the backyard, carrying the tug toy.
Little Danny walked over to Katie, knelt down, and gave her a hug. He whispered, “Always have to be nice to company. Love you, Katie. You and Bij' are best dogs in whole universe!”
Katie gave the little boy three huge, wet kisses on his face, prompting him to laugh. Then he got up and returned to the swing set.
“Carrie, want me to push you?” Little Danny asked gallantly.
“Okay. I like to go high,” the little girl replied.
“Me, too, especially when you're here,” the youngster responded gleefully.
Carrie smiled as the two continued their day together.
“Do you think we should tell Little Danny, Jack?” the archaeologist asked warily.
Daniel was lying in his favorite position, his head resting on Jack's chest, listening to his husband's strong heartbeat. Another day had gone by without them hearing from the Nox, and it wasn't looking promising. They'd even called Thor and asked him to check in with the Nox, but hadn't heard back from him, either. If they didn't hear something soon, they would have to cancel the party with the Nox, and neither wanted to see the disappointment on their son's face if that happened.
“Let's wait until Thor gets back to us,” Jack sighed in response.
“I'm worried, Jack. It's not like the Nox to not respond to one of our messages,” Daniel commented.
“I know, Angel, but the Nox can take care of themselves, even if they are still too trusting sometimes,” the older man opined. ~Took us a long time to figure that one out.~
The two talked a little longer before talking led to other things. It was just after they'd climaxed that a bright light flashed, and a little gray alien appeared. Daniel was the first to notice the appearance of the Asgard.
“Thor,” Daniel squeaked. ~I thought he knew better than to show up unannounced in our bedroom. Oh, well; after all these years, he's seen it all.~
“Noooo, I'm Jack. Should I be offended, Danny? I hope you weren't thinking of Thor while we...ooomph.”
Jack suddenly found a hand across his mouth as a blushing Daniel whispered in his ear, “Idiot, Thor is here.”
“Hey, I'm not an ... Thor?” Jack asked quietly.
“O'Neill,” Thor spoke just as Jack turned to face him.
“Hey, Thor, how are you, ole buddy?” Jack asked as he pulled up a sheet, sat up, and turned on the nightstand light.
“I am well, O'Neill. Have you finished, or should I come back later?” the nonplussed alien asked.
Daniel blushed an even brighter red and hid his face behind Jack.
Jack smirked, “It's okay Thor. We've finished, for now.”
Jack grunted as Daniel elbowed him. Deciding he'd better not push his luck, Jack turned serious, asking, “Are the Nox all right?”
“I was unable to contact them,” Thor answered.
Daniel sat up, putting on his glasses, and making sure his bottom half was covered.
“Thor, this is unusual, isn't it? I mean, uh, normally they answer their messages,” Daniel remarked.
“They did not answer ours. I shall continue to try and make contact, but now, I must go. Carry on,” Thor said as he disappeared via the usual beam of light that transported him back to his ship.
“Jack, what are we going to do?” Daniel asked.
With a heavy sigh, Jack answered, “Sleep.”
“You're worried, too, aren't you?” Daniel inquired.
Saying nothing, Jack flipped off the light and settled down into bed, with Daniel following suit. Lovemaking had left their minds, replaced by concern for their friends, the Nox, and the potential disappointment for their son, Little Danny.
The next day, a battle was brewing inside the SGC. On one side, there was the Munchkins, led by a glaring Jonny, his arms folded in mutiny. On the other side, there was General Jack Jackson-O'Neill, leaning against the edge of his desk, trying to be nonchalant while still being in command of the potentially disruptive troops.
“Jonny, remember, you promised,” Jack reminded the eldest Munchkin.
“That was a long time ago, Dad. We're not babies anymore,” Jonny refuted.
“Yeah,” Little Danny agreed, joining his brother in the same rebellious stance. “We're almost five, Dad!”
“We know how to behave,” Aislinn argued as she moved between her brothers, bumping Jonny to his left. She ignored his glare, and he quickly resumed his posture. “We're too big now, Dad!”
Jack grunted as he stared at the triplets. They had accompanied their parents to the SGC, and at the moment, Daniel was in a meeting while Jack needed to concentrate on his duties. He had intended to put the children into ToddlerTown, the large, portable playpen-type structure that was kept at the SGC.
A year ago, the children had rebelled at being put in the ToddlerTown used at the family home, promising to listen and behave. They had, but their parents had also made them promise to continue using ToddlerTown at the SGC, without argument, which they had, until today. With Nyan, who oftentimes watched the children at the secured facility when both Jack and Daniel were occupied, off-world for a few days, Jack was on his own. He was grateful that the twins were under the watchful eye of Mrs. Valissi for the day, while the rest of the children were at school or various homeschooling and Kinder Camp programs.
“Okay,” Jack said, kneeling down to look at his defiant children. “Listen to me very carefully. I'm going to give you a trial run, but I have a lot to do, and I don't have time to go chasing after you today.” Jack stared at Jonny, seeing the internal disappointment. “Dad has a lot of deadlines today, so this is how it's going to go. You *know* the rules. You stay right where ToddlerTown would be, play with your toys, and be as quiet as possible unless you really need me. If you can do that today, I'll talk to Daddy about working out a new alternative for when you come to work with us.”
“Yay!” the three youngsters cheered, clapping excitedly.
“But!” Jack quickly interjected. “If I have to go chasing after you; if you get in my work things; or break any of the other rules, which you also know, then it's back in ToddlerTown, no arguments, until Daddy and I decide you're old enough. Deal?”
The Munchkins circled together, hunched forward in a huddle, their arms around each other's shoulders. When they were done, they clasped their hands together and called out in unison, “Munchkin Power!”
Jack couldn't help but laugh. The triplets had long huddled together to make decisions, but now they were finishing their huddle with the “Munchkin Power” phrase, and he had no clue where or who they had gotten it from.
~Watching football maybe,~ Jack silently deduced as he tried not to laugh too overtly.
“Deal!” Jonny answered for the three.
“Okay, go to it!” Jack agreed with a confirming nod. He got up and returned to his desk. ~This is either going to be great, or Danny's going to kill me, and I'll be sleeping on the sofa tonight.~
Ninety minutes later, as Jack was on the phone with the Academy discussing potential recruits, Daniel hurried in. He was out of breath, clearly having hurried to his lover's office. He stood in the doorway, one hand on the edge of the doorframe. Quickly, he looked over and saw his children, obediently playing.
Daniel grimaced, realizing they weren't in ToddlerTown, but right now, he didn't have time to think much about it. He nodded over at the children, and as he did, Grace Satterfield walked by him, heading over the triplets and sitting down to play with them. She covertly looked up at Daniel and nodded.
“Jack,” Daniel called out quietly. Before Jack could respond, Daniel silently communicated, **It's the Nox. Come on.**
In a flash, Jack ended his call, told the children to stay with Grace and mind, and then followed Daniel towards the control room.
“Daniel, what's going on?” the older man asked urgently.
“I have no idea,” Daniel responded, his fast pace turning into a jog.
The two arrived in the gate room, just in time to see a MALP disappear through the event horizon. As it emerged on the Nox home world, General Hammond entered the room.
“Sir, what the heck is going on?” Jack asked, getting rather frustrated at not knowing what was happening.
Hammond explained, “We received a message from the Tok'ra.”
Jack rolled his eyes and muttered, “That's never good news.”
“Jack, they aren't that bad,” Daniel protested. When his husband gave him a Teal'c-like raised eyebrow, Daniel shrugged and turned back to Hammond and inquired, “What do the Tok'ra have to do with the Nox?”
Hammond responded, “They've heard murmurings about a new Goa'uld, someone called Nike.”
“As in my shoes?” Jack snorted.
“More likely as in the Greek goddess, personification of victory, Nike,” Daniel surmised, ignoring Jack's smirk.
Hammond nodded at Daniel and continued, “Apparently, this Goa'uld knows of the Nox and a few other races like them. She believes that if she can enslave them, she'll be able to increase her power base and become a new System Lord.”
“MALP transmission commencing,” the tech in the control room announced.
As they watched, the MALP's pictures transmitted the presence of several Jaffa standing in the distance.
“What's going on?” Sam asked as she entered the gate room.
“The shoe goddess wants royalties,” Jack quipped.
Seeing Sam's confusion, Daniel explained, “Apparently, Nike wants to be a System Lord.”
“Nike?” Sam questioned. “Isn't she the goddess of victory? I mean, I thought she was associated with good fortune and good luck.”
“Apparently not,” Daniel said dryly. “Uh oh,” he added, seeing the oncoming Goa'uld-infested Jaffa pointing their staff weapons at the just-discovered MALP. A second later, the MALP was destroyed. “What now?” Daniel asked.
“We go in,” Jack suggested boldly.
“Jack, it's too risky,” Hammond said. “They've got the Gate covered.”
“There's always a Plan B. What about a Tok'ra ship?” Jack asked.
“Colonel Carter, make the inquiries,” Hammond ordered. “We'll meet in thirty minutes. I want options, People!”
As Hammond turned and exited the control room and Sam began contacting the Tok'ra, Jack motioned for Daniel to follow him into the corridor where he suggested, “Danny, I think we should have Satterfield take the Munchkins to J-O. Megan can watch them.”
Daniel nodded, saying, “She's supposed to meet with Mister Mortimer today, but that can be rescheduled, unless she thinks she can handle it with the children along.”
“Have her pull Karissa off the Tryson Project. We have plenty of time to get that done,” Jack stated.
Smiling, the younger man replied, “Very good, my genius.”
Having said their good-byes to their children who were being taken to J-O Enterprises by Grace, Jack and Daniel went to the briefing room to review the situation on the Nox home world. With the Stargate guarded by the Goa'uld and all Earth ships out of range, their only way to gain access to the planet was via a Tok'ra vessel.
“If we gate to PX9-771,” Sam began, “a Tok'ra ship can pick us up. It'll still take about six hours to reach the Nox planet, though.”
“General,” Hammond began, leaning forward to look at Jack intently. “The intel already given to us and our MALP transmissions indicate that the planet may have significant Goa'uld forces present. I'm not sure we should tackle this one.”
“What choice do we have?” Jack challenged. “It's the Nox; they believe in everyone. If this Nike is there, we have to help. I recommend we take three teams on the ship, and you standby here with four others ready to go on our command.”
“Doctor Jackson, what do you know about Nike?” Hammond inquired.
“Nike was the Greek goddess of victory and triumph. She, uh, was the daughter of Pallas and Styx, and as cliché as it sounds, General,” Daniel noted, “she was noted for being a fast runner. As far as we know, she didn't have any powers except for her speed. She's often linked to Athena, and ...”
“Daniel,” Jack interrupted as he sat back in his chair. “She sounds like a princess. Why would a *good* goddess want to enslave the Nox?”
Jack gave his lover a pointed look, but Daniel just tilted his head in wonderment.
Hammond paused as he considered their discussion; then he nodded, saying, “Colonel Carter, notify the Tok'ra of our intent to rendezvous with them in one hour.”
“Yes, Sir,” Sam responded, getting up and exiting the room.
“We'll get ready,” Jack said.
“We will?” Daniel asked.
“Let's gear up. Teal'c, those new ...” Jack began.
“Jack, can I talk to you for a minute,” Daniel requested firmly. “Excuse us,” Daniel said, leading his lover to the most secluded nearby corner he could find.
“Daniel, what's wrong?”
“You're just dying to go in there, guns a blazing, aren't you?” Daniel challenged.
“Daniel, what are you talking about? The Nox are in trouble; we have to go in,” Jack quietly argued.
“Do we? Jack, the Nox can make themselves invisible. They've told us over and over again not to be concerned about their welfare, and they've always been right,” Daniel reminded.
“What do you want us to do? Leave the Nox to fend for themselves?” Jack questioned a bit angrily.
“They can take care of themselves,” the archaeologist insisted.
“Jack, why are *we* going in?” Daniel asked poignantly. “We aren't supposed to be doing these kinds of missions, remember?”
“We ...” Jack sighed in defeat.
Daniel smiled, saying softly, “You miss it, don't you? No, wait, listen. I'm not saying you regret our decision or our life, but you're military through and through, and a little part of you misses the big battles, going through the Gate with all that fire power so you can play war for a while. Isn't that the truth?”
Jack groaned as he ran his right hand through his hair and then took a big breath, finally acquiescing, “I guess you're right. We'll have SG-3 lead ...”
“No,” Daniel interrupted. “We'll go.”
“Jack, I just wanted you to realize why you were so quick on the bandwagon to put our lives at risk, but, uh, the truth us, I think we should go, too,” Daniel admitted.
“But I thought you said the Nox could take care of themselves?” Jack quietly challenged.
“They can ... I think ... I hope, but they are our allies and our friends, and I don't believe we should take chances. We owe them,” Daniel remarked. “Come on.” He walked back into the briefing room, calling out, “Teal'c, let's gear up.”
Teal'c and Hammond exchanged a look, neither really questioning the short chat between their friends. They'd both gotten used to Jack and Daniel's quirks a long time ago.
“General, is the Doc scheduled in today?” Jack asked.
“In two hours,” Hammond answered. “Jack, where are the children?”
After being told the current location of the brood, Hammond assured the couple that he'd make sure they were properly cared for. He had all the usual numbers, of course, and would confer with the other regular babysitters to ensure all the children were safe and sound while their parents were gone.
At J-O Headquarters, Little Danny was sitting quietly, ostensibly reading a book. Jonny and Aislinn were playing a game of Snap. Upstairs, in Daniel's office, Brianna and David were studying and doing their homework assignments. The rest of the brood were either at school or with other caregivers.
As she worked on her laptop, doing some research, Karissa was watching over the Munchkins in the newly built basement playroom.
Little Danny sighed and tried once again to concentrate on his book. It was no good. His mind kept on going back to his parents. He was sure something was up and was pretty sure his parents hadn't been entirely honest with them.
~They were worried. Dad and Daddy didn't tell us the whole truth,~ the little boy silently determined.
“Okay, Munchkins, listen up. Daddy and I have to go through the Stargate for a little while, so Grace is going to take you all to J-O, and Megan's going to look after you until we get back,” Jack said as he ruffled Jonny's hair and smiled reassuringly at the children.
“When will you get back?” Aislinn asked.
“We're not sure, Princess, but we'll be back as soon as we can,” Jack answered.
“Is everything all right, Dad?” Little Danny asked as he looked up at his parents, concern evident in his blue eyes.
The little boy didn't miss the quick glance his parents gave each other before Jack bent down and pulled the boy into a hug.
“I'm sure it will be, Son,” Jack said reassuringly.
//End of Flashback//
While he had accepted his father's assurances, Little Danny hadn't quite believed them.
~They didn't want to worry us,~ Little Danny thought. His brows furrowed as his brain raced to make sense of what he knew -- his parents were concerned and had made an unplanned trip through the Stargate. He also remembered that no one had mentioned the Nox in a while. ~Lya, Anteaus -- something is wrong with the Nox.~
“Little Danny, you okay?” Jonny asked, looking over from where he was playing and seeing the worried expression on his sibling's face.
Not wanting his brother to worry, Little Danny mustered up a smile and nodded, watching as Jonny went back to playing with Aislinn.
~The Nox are in trouble.~ Little Danny returned to his internal debate. He wasn't certain why he was suddenly so sure that he was right, he just knew that he was. ~Dad and Daddy have gone to help the Nox. They must be in really big trouble and ... and ...~
The boy drew in a shaky breath. From listening to his parents, he knew the Nox were very powerful and could take care of themselves. If they were so powerful, though, then why did his parents need to go and help them? Little Danny's imagination began to take over. He thought back on the story Jack had told Jonny, about the bad people in the universe.
~Glowy eyes ... Lego things ... Nuby ... Oma ...~ Little Danny's imagination kicked into overdrive as he began imagining what his parents could be facing. ~Maybe Dad 'n' Daddy get hurt helping the Nox,~ he thought.
His book sliding to the floor, Little Danny pulled his knees up to his chest and buried his head in them. He felt like a lead ball was sitting in his stomach and began to tremble as he realized he might never see his parents again.
~Oh, that's not normal.~ Noticing her favorite Jackson-O'Neill clearly upset about something, Karissa flipped the top down on her laptop and walked over to where Little Danny sat, sitting down across from him. “Hey,” she said, smiling as she reached out and rubbed gently against the top of his hands.
“Rissa,” Little Danny sniffled just before lunging into her arms.
“Goodness! What's wrong?” Karissa asked as she held the little boy, rocking him gently.
“Little Danny!” Jonny called out as he put down his cards and leaped up, followed immediately by Aislinn.
In seconds, the Munchkins were all standing by Karissa.
“I'm okay,” Little Danny answered, still not wanting to worry his siblings.
“No lie to me!” Jonny argued sternly.
“Me, either!” Aislinn said equally sternly.
“I'm just worried 'bout ...” Little Danny stopped. He wanted to be truthful, but he also knew that Karissa didn't know about their secret. “It's a secret, 'Rissa. Wish you knew secret,” he said, his face drooping.
“You can't tell me the secret?” Seeing her charge shake his head, a frown on his face, Karissa sighed. Then she smiled and commented, “I may not know the secret, but I'm always here to try and make you feel better.”
“You always make me feel better,” Little Danny responded.
“He *loves* you,” Jonny teased.
“Jonny!” Aislinn scolded as Little Danny blushed.
“Well, I love him, too,” Karissa answered. “How would you like to go for a little walk?”
Little Danny smiled, though it was a tiny curve of his mouth and not a big grin. He was worried about his parents, and though he couldn't share his concern with Karissa, he decided he might feel better going with her. Plus, he wouldn't worry Jonny and Aislinn if he wasn't there.
“Yes,” the little boy answered as he stood up.
“Jonny, Aislinn, you two keep playing. I'll send Dora down to be with you, okay?” Karissa spoke as she stood, too, and took Little Danny by the hand.
“We don't need babysitters,” Jonny whined, his growing desire for independence undeniable.
“Humor us,” Karissa requested as she and Little Danny headed for the stairs that went upstairs.
“Ooookay,” Jonny reluctantly agreed as he sat down to continue the game of Snap.
Upstairs, Karissa and Little Danny walked into Megan's office.
“Megan, Little Danny and I are going for a walk. We'll be back in a while,” Karissa announced, smiling down at the boy and squeezing his left hand gently.
“Have fun,” Megan said.
“Wait a minute,” Little Danny requested, hurrying over to Megan. He whispered in her ear, “Megan, Dad and Daddy went to help the Nox. I scared.”
Megan smiled down at the boy genius and sighed; then she whispered, “The Nox are very strong; they won't let anything happen to your parents.”
“Where's your faith, Little Danny?” Megan took his hands in hers and said, “Your dad and daddy are the two bravest and most incredible people I know. No matter what, you have to believe in them.”
“And the Nox?” Little Danny asked quietly, his eyes shining with hope.
“And the Nox,” Megan confirmed, nodding.
Smiling, Little Danny gave Megan a hug and then returned to Karissa, happily slipping his hand back into hers.
“Penny for them?” Jack asked, nudging Daniel gently, bringing the archaeologist out of his silent musings.
SG-1 had gated to PX9-771, met with the Tok'ra, and were now en route to the Nox home world. They'd used the time to finalize their battle plans. Now, though, Jack noticed that Daniel had spent the last fifteen minutes staring out into space.
“Did you ever wonder where that saying came from?” Daniel asked as he looked over at his husband briefly. “It was first written by an English playwright in the sixteenth century named John Heywood, but ...”
“Danny,” Jack interrupted his rambling lover. “You're avoiding the question. What's wrong?”
Daniel sighed, then gave Jack a wry smile as he answered, “Nothing's wrong. I'm just wondering what kind of reaction we're going to get from the Nox.”
“You mean whether it'll be a 'thanks for coming to help us out' or 'you shouldn't have come. We had everything under control; you're such a young race, always running into danger, trying to run before you can walk, yadda, yadda, yadda.'” Jack quipped.
Daniel nodded, asking, “Remember when Bri tried running away, and Little Danny went with her?”
Jack shook his head, vividly recalling just a few months earlier when Brianna had been fighting with Jennifer and had decided to run away. Little Danny had discovered this and gone with her. After several frantic hours, Jack and Daniel had finally realized the two were safely ensconced in the tree house.
“I'll never forget,” Jack replied softly. “If you hadn't turned all my hair gray, our children would've.”
“Yes, well, Little Danny went with Bri because it was the right thing to do, even though he knew it was also wrong. That's kinda how I feel right now,” Daniel explained.
Their conversation was cut short by Sam's shout of, “General, we've reached the Nox home world.”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look, and then, at the exact same time, each communicated, **I love you.**
On the planet, the teams made their way towards the clustering of huts where SG-1 had first met the Nox years ago. They didn't get far, though, before Jaffa troops spotted them and opened fire.
“Spread out,” Jack shouted as he fired his P-90 from behind a tree. Seeing an opening, he moved to his left, headed for better cover. As he made his way, he caught sight of a Jaffa heading towards his husband; only Daniel was busy shooting it out with the enemy in front of him. “Daniel, look ...” At that moment, Jack felt a staff blast penetrate his body. “Oh, not again,” he said as he fell dead to the ground.
“JACK!” Daniel shouted, ignoring the danger he was in. He sprung up, running towards his fallen lover. He only made it halfway when a staff blast permeated his body. ~Haven't we done this before?~
“Teal'c!” Sam yelled as she attempted to check on her teammates.
Soon, though, both she and Teal'c were lying face down in the grass, no longer breathing.
Jack groaned, “Danny?”
“He is in the bed next to you,” a voice calmly answered.
Wearily, Jack opened his eyes, and after squinting several times, managed to focus on Lya's face.
“Lya, how are ya doin'?” Jack asked as he slowly sat up.
“I am fine,” Lya responded, a small smile on her face.
At that moment, a groan from Daniel's bed caught their attention.
“Danny?” Jack asked, quickly albeit groggily, moving over to the next bed.
“J'ck?” Daniel asked groggily.
“Come on, Daniel, show me those baby blues,” Jack encouraged tenderly. Daniel gave another groan before his eyes flickered open. “You died again, Daniel! I told you to stop doing that!” Jack said sternly, not being able to stop himself from rebuking his lover for dying, yet again.
Daniel looked pointedly at Jack's chest, saying, “I don't think you are in any position to cast stones, General.”
“Indeed,” Teal'c spoke as he came into the small hut. After nodding at Lya, he continued, “It does not seem as if the Nox needed our assistance, O'Neill.”
Jack sighed, “Well, we know that now, Teal'c, but we didn't know it before.”
“Did DanielJackson not point it out several times before we left the SGC?” the Jaffa asked.
“You can shut up anytime now, T,” Jack said, glaring at their tall friend. “Where's Carter?”
“ColonelCarter is checking on your comrades,” Lya announced.
“Thank you, Lya, for, uh ... uh, you know,” Daniel stated hesitantly as he sat up, his right hand rubbing against the spot where he knew he'd been hit by the staff weapon.
“You are welcome. You did not need to come, Friends,” Lya told them.
“That's what I said,” Daniel said as he continued to check over his body.
Jack just glared at his husband and then looked back at Lya, responding, “You haven't responded to our messages, and then the Tok'ra told us about the shoe goddess ...”
“We have told you before that we do not need your help,” Anteaus said as he entered the tent. “It is still true that ...”
“... the very young do not always do as they are told.”
The words were spoken in unison by Anteaus, Jack, and Daniel.
Jack shrugged and admitted, “We were worried about you.”
Anteaus gave Jack a pitying look, but stated, “You mean well, but we do not need your help.”
“Where is Nike? Uh, that's the name of the Goa'uld whose Jaffa we were fighting with,” Daniel said.
“They have been sent back through the Stargate,” Lya answered.
“Well, why didn't you do that when they first came here?” Jack asked, a bit of frustration in his tone.
“There was no need,” Anteaus answered.
“Right,” Jack answered dryly. “Why didn't you respond to our messages?”
“To do so would have risked being discovered. We cannot communicate with you while our city is cloaked,” Anteaus revealed.
“Oh, well ...” Jack looked at his husband. “Daniel?”
“Jack?” Once Jack rolled his eyes and sighed, Daniel grinned. He turned to the Nox, saying, “We have a favor to ask of you.”
Little Danny sat with his brothers and sisters in the rec room. Jennifer was reading them a story, but he wasn't listening to it. He'd had a wretched afternoon, despite Megan's and Karissa's best attempts to reassure him. Sadly, his vivid imagination was getting the better of him.
The little boy had enjoyed his walk with Karissa until he'd caught sight of a spider scurrying up a tree. It had suddenly occurred to him that the Nox might not be in danger from anything they knew about. Maybe the glowy-eyed bad guys had mutated. He thought of Spiderman and shuddered, imagining his parents facing a bad glowy-eyed man with Spiderman's abilities. Maybe that was why the Nox couldn't fight off their attackers, and if the Nox couldn't fight them off, what chance did his parents have?
Karissa had noticed his sudden retreat into misery again, but since the little boy couldn't tell her why he was worried and upset, her attempts to cheer him up had largely failed. When they'd returned to J-O, Little Danny had tried to plaster a smile on his face. It wasn't very convincing, though, and Jonny certainly hadn't been fooled, nor had Aislinn.
It had been a heartbreaking sight, watching Jonny and Aislinn trying futilely to cheer up their brother, and Little Danny trying desperately to pretend he was cheered up.
At the close of the business day, Megan and Karissa had gone to the Jackson-O'Neill home. The timing had all been worked out, and soon, all eleven children were present. Due to various obligations that night, Megan would be the one staying to care for the youngsters while Karissa, having a big date planned, would be leaving any minute now.
“Go on, Karissa. You've been planning on this date for a month,” Megan urged.
The young woman sighed and shook her head, saying, “I know I should, Megan, but look at him. I don't think I'd feel right, and what bugs me is that I don't understand why he's so worried.” She paused, glancing over at her friend and co-worker and then challenging. “You do, though. You understand why he's worried, and he is worried.”
As nonchalantly as she could, Megan replied, “Ah, you know little boys and their imaginations. Jack and Daniel had some business to take care of, and ...”
“Business?” Karissa challenged. “I'm not going to quiz you, Megan, but please don't lie to me.”
Megan nodded, replying only with, “What about your date?”
“Megan, if you can tell me that Little Danny is just being a little boy, imagining monsters all around that don't exist, then I'll go say goodbye to him and leave. Can you tell me that?” Karissa asked, staring her co-worker and friend straight in the eye. After a moment, she added, “I was in Egypt and Mexico and Peru. Strange things happen when we go on a major dig. I'm not blind. I know enough not to interfere, but I know when something is not normal procedure.” She looked over at her unhappy admirer and smiled when he looked at her. “Do I tell him goodnight, Megan, or should I go hold him?”
~He needs her,~ Megan thought as she pondered her unanticipated situation. Finally, she answered, “Go to him, Karissa. Try to reassure him.”
“But don't make any promises?”
Shaking her head, Megan answered, “Tell him to keep the faith.”
Karissa nodded and said, “Thank you, Megan. I think I'll make a quick phone call.”
“Welcome back, SG-1,” General Hammond greeted his premier team as they came through the Gate. Standing at the foot of the ramp, he remarked, “I hear the Nox ended up rescuing you rather than the other way around.”
Daniel hid a smile as Jack glared at the men he'd sent back through the Gate earlier, grumbling, “Big mouths.”
The archaeologist took pity on his husband and grinned at the general as he said, “That's one way of looking at it, Sir. Of course, you could also take the view that we rescued them by making it necessary for them to banish the Goa'uld from their planet. If we hadn't gone to their aid, who knows how long they would have forced themselves to hide? We rescued them from themselves, Sir.”
**Oooh, nicely put, Danny.** Jack looked at his husband with admiration and pride. He couldn't help feeling a little smug, too, at the fact that Daniel was his. ~All mine.~
**Thank you, Babe. I do my best.**
**And you do it so well, Angel.**
“Okay, troops, lets hit the infirmary so we can go home,” Jack ordered.
“Before you do that, General, Doctor Jackson, you need to phone home,” Hammond told them quietly.
The lieutenant general immediately found four pairs of very worried eyes looking at him, and he put a hand up to stop the various scenarios that were obviously flashing through the minds of SG-1. He gave an inward smile at the knowledge that Sam and Teal'c loved the brood almost as much as their parents.
“Is anything wrong?” Daniel asked.
“Everyone's fine,” Hammond answered. “You just have a very worried little boy, waiting for news that you're okay. He's refused to go sleep.”
Daniel and Jack looked confused. They specifically hadn't told the children that they were going through the Gate on a rescue mission, and the brood were used to them leaving on peaceful missions.
“Megan phoned earlier to see if we had any news,” Hammond explained. “Apparently, Little Danny is terrified you were going to get hurt somehow. I've spoken with him a couple of times myself. He's putting on a brave front.”
“Where on Earth did he get the idea that we might get hurt ?” Jack asked as the couple made their way to Hammond's office to use his phone.
Daniel shook his head, saying, “I have no idea.”
He didn't know about Jack, but Daniel was feeling very guilty. Although they were all fine now, all four members of SG-1 had actually died on this mission, and if it wasn't for the Nox bringing them back, their children would be suffering the loss of not only their parents, but their 'Aunt Sam' and Teal'c. The knowledge was sobering to Daniel, and he was kicking himself for putting his own nostalgia for the 'old days' ahead of his responsibilities.
“Megan, it's Jack,” Jack announced when Megan answered the phone at their house.
“Jack, it's good to hear from you,” Megan responded, yawning.
“I'm sorry if I woke you, but General Hammond said ...”
“No, I was just relaxing ... with the lights out. What time is it?” Megan asked.
Jack glanced at his watch and announced, “0200 hours.”
“Time flies when you're having fun,” Megan chuckled lightly. “Are you and Daniel all right? Little Danny has been so worried.”
Quickly, Jack answered, “We're fine. Is he asleep now?”
“I doubt it. Karissa was with him before I, uh ...” Megan began, getting up to see where the two currently were.
“Began to relax?” Jack quipped with a smile.
“Okay, I feel asleep. Taking care of eleven children is hard work. I don't know how you two do it!” Megan responded as she walked around the house.
Jack chuckled and then asked, “Karissa stayed, too?”
“I thought she had a date,” Daniel interjected.
Jack looked at Daniel and was about to repeat the question, but Megan heard and replied, “Yes, she stayed, and, yes, she had a date, but she called it off to stay and help out. Truthfully, I think having her here was reassuring for Little Danny.”
“He *loves* her,” Jack teased, shaking his head.
“He sure does,” Megan chuckled. “They were downstairs on the sofa. The girls wouldn't leave him, either. I'm heading down there now.”
Daniel interjected, “Don't wake him if he's asleep.”
“I won't. Hold on a minute; I was in the upstairs guestroom. I figured I should stay as close as possible to the young ones,” Megan said just as she approached the stairway.
“That was a great idea,” Jack affirmed over the phone; then he looked over at Daniel and mouthed what Megan had just said.
“Megan, is that them?” Karissa asked, seeing Megan walk into the living room.
Four beagle ears stood up, and Little Danny, who had been snuggled against Karissa, sat up straighter and rubbed his tired eyes.
“Dad and Daddy?” the little boy asked.
“It's for you,” Megan said, smiling as she handed Little Danny the phone.
“Dad? Daddy?” Little Danny spoke into the phone, his tremulous voice, full of fear and hope, pulling at Jack's heart like nothing else could.
“Hey, Sproglet,” Jack said calmly.
“You 'n' Daddy okay?” Little Danny asked.
“We're both fine, not a scratch on us,” Jack clarified, knowing how Little Danny might disbelieve the 'I'm fine' type of statement after hearing all the stories about Daniel using that phrase. “Aunt Sam and Teal'c are okay, too.”
Little Danny breathed a sigh of relief, and with the relief, came his tears. They trickled down his cheeks as he sought further assurance.
“Daaaaddy?” Little Danny called out.
Daniel spoke out, “Son, we're all just great. We love you!”
The little boy sniffled, but his relief was complete now that he had heard the voice of both parents.
“The ...” Little Danny began, but then stopped as he looked at Karissa and realized he was unable to ask about glowy eyes, snake people, or even the Nox with her in the room.
Picking up on the boy's hesitation, Karissa smiled sadly at him and whispered, “I'll go to the kitchen for a glass of water.”
The tears came faster as Little Danny felt bad now for keeping secrets from his special friend, and he let out a couple of sobs.
“So glowy ... <sob> ... eyes ... <sob> ... didn't get you?” Little Danny cried.
Jack panicked for a moment, thinking that Little Danny was talking about the Goa'uld in front of Karissa. He quickly realized that the boy knew better, and he knew Megan was there to make sure that didn't happen. Unfortunately, Little Danny took his father's hesitation as confirmation that the glowy-eyed people did in fact get his parents.
The boy's imagination kicked back into overdrive as he envisioned all sorts of horrible things happening to SG-1. The fact that they were okay now didn't mean they hadn't been hurt, just that the Nox must have healed them. He remembered how he had fallen on one visit to see the Nox, scraping his knee. In mere moments, the Nox had not only taken away the pain, but completely healed his knee.
“You ... <sob> ... home ... <sob> ... now?”
Jack ached at his son's distress, and he looked up to see the mistiness in Daniel's eyes as he heard the loud sobs coming over the phone.
“We're on our way, Son,” Jack reassured the boy. “We're okay, Little Danny. I promise,” he added.
At that, Little Danny gave up his battle for control completely and, handing the phone back to Megan, buried his head in Katie's fur and cuddled Bijou close, seeking all the comfort he could get.
~Poor baby,~ Megan thought as she immediately sat down and began rubbing Little Danny's back to try and soothe him as she finished speaking to Jack. She hung up the phone and called quietly, “Karissa.”
Karissa poked her head out of the kitchen and, seeing the phone conversation was over, came back into the room, exchanging places with Megan and taking up rubbing Little Danny's back and whispering reassurances. She looked up at Megan, silently asking why the boy was so upset when Jack and Daniel were clearly okay.
Megan shrugged, indicating she wasn't sure what had Little Danny so upset; then she mouthed, “Long day.” She watched Karissa try and comfort the boy. ~Wonder if Jack and Daniel could get clearance to tell her about the Stargate. It would make things a heck of a lot easier for Little Danny, not to mention the rest of us.~
Little Danny shifted. He moved in as close as he could to Karissa while keeping both Bijou and Katie as close as possible. He needed to be near all three of them.
“Your parents will be home in less than an hour. Rest until then, okay?” Karissa asked.
“Rissa?” the tiny voice asked.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too, Little Danny,” Karissa replied warmly as she continued to comfort the child.
Fifty minutes later, having left the SGC without participating in the debriefing or submitting to post-mission exams, Jack and Daniel hurried into their home.
**Gawd, Jack,** Daniel thought as he saw his namesake clinging to Karissa and the girls.
“Little Danny,” Karissa said with a smile, seeing the lovers enter. She placed a kiss atop her young beau's head and whispered, “Guess who's home?”
Little Danny's head sprang up, and his eyes widened. It took only a second for him to disentangle himself from Karissa and the beagles.
“Daaaaaaaddy,” the little boy sobbed as Daniel picked him up. “I scared.”
“Hey, everything's all right,” Daniel said soothingly as he held their son securely, hugging and kissing him.
Jack leaned into the hug, his hand rubbing the boy's back.
“I'm just peachy,” Jack responded as cheerfully as he could. “We love you, Son,” he added.
**He's trembling, Jack. He really was scared.**
“Want tell 'Rissa. We ... <sob> ... tell her?” Little Danny cried into his father's neck, though his cry was intentionally quiet so that the woman couldn't hear.
“We'll talk about it,” Daniel promised, “But right now, you need to go to sleep.”
“I sleep with you and Dad and Bij and Katie, 'kay?” Little Danny asked.
Daniel looked to his husband who nodded and then replied, “Okay. Let's thank Megan and Karissa for being here,” Daniel suggested.
Immediately, Little Danny twisted his body around and reached for Karissa. She smiled as she took him into her hold.
“Thank you, Rissa,” Little Danny said as he gave her a big bear hug.
“You're welcome, Precious,” Karissa responded, giving him a little kiss on his head. When he pulled back, she pushed the hair out of his eyes with one hand and said, “I wish I could have made you feel better, but see, all's well.”
“But ... <sniffles> ... you did,” the boy responded, hugging her again.
Smiling, Karissa held her charge tightly.
“Thank you,” Daniel whispered to the woman.
“No, thank *you*. He's my love,” Karissa whispered in return and then handed Little Danny over to Daniel once again.
“Thank you, Megan,” the boy said as she, too, leaned in for a hug.
“Anytime, Little Danny.”
Wanting to calm their son even more, Daniel intoned, “Jack, I'm going to take him upstairs. Will you let the girls out and ...”
“Yeah, go ahead,” Jack agreed.
Two minutes later, Jack walked Megan and Karissa to their cars. When Karissa left, Megan turned back and asked, “Jack, any chance we can tell Karissa about the Stargate? Little Danny wanted to talk to her so badly, but he knew he couldn't.”
“We're going to check out the possibility. Thanks, Megs,” Jack said, opening her car door for her.
“Megs,” the woman replied incredulously. “Jack, if you start calling me 'Megs', I'm going to call you Jackie.”
Jack thought for a moment and then said, “Goodnight ... Megan.”
Chuckling, Megan started her car, gave a little wave, and then headed home.
Jack locked up the house and walked upstairs, but he stopped short of their bedroom.
**Do you want to look in on the brood with me?** the older man asked via their near-telepathic language.
**Yes, but ... Jack, he's very clingy. I think I'd better just stay here with him. Kiss all of them for me,** Daniel replied, holding his namesake's hand and rubbing his back.
**Okay, Angel. I'll check on them, let the girls back in, and be there in a few minutes.**
“Dad, is everything okay?” a groggy Jennifer asked, becoming aware that her father had entered her room.
“Perfect. How were things while Daddy and I were gone?” Jack asked as he sat on the edge of the girl's bed.
“The kids were okay, except for Little Danny. He was really upset, but trying to pretend not to be. Having Karissa here helped,” Jennifer chuckled.
“Match made in heaven,” Jack teased. “Go back to sleep, Jen.” As Jennifer yawned and settled back down in her bed, he added a soft, “We love you.”
“Love you, too, Dad.”
Finding all the other children resting peacefully, and after doing some extra tucking in and giving out lots of tender kisses, Jack walked into their bedroom. Little Danny was still clinging to Daniel, and as soon as Jack had changed into his pajamas, the little boy was rearranging things, pulling out Daniel's arm for Jack to lie on and then lying back, looking at Jack expectantly.
Jack obliged, and soon Little Danny was sandwiched in between them, Bijou and Katie at his feet.
“Sleep, now, Little Danny,” Daniel whispered.
“We've got you,” Jack assured, kissing the top of his son's head.
**I wonder what scared him so much, Jack.**
**I don't know, Danny. We'll ask him in the morning. Monsters and nightmares always seem less frightening in daylight,** Jack responded.
Looking down at their son, Daniel responded, **It wouldn't surprise me if he has a nightmare tonight.**
**Hopefully, he's too exhausted to do anything but sleep.**
**I love you, Babe.**
**Love you, too, Angel.**
“No, no, NOOOOOOOOO!”
Both Jack and Daniel woke up instantly at the frightened cries coming from their son.
“Guess he wasn't too tired,” Jack sighed.
Carefully, the parents began to wake up the little boy.
“No,” a tiny voice cried. Then Little Danny blinked several times as he looked his parents up and down, obviously making sure they were unharmed. Once he was satisfied, he threw himself into their arms, crying, “Dad! Daddy!”
**I think we better try and get him talking about it now, Jack.**
**I agree.** Jack rubbed his son's back and began the questioning. “Little Danny, why were you so upset? Daddy and I have been through the Stargate before, and you've never been this upset,” Jack asked gently.
Both Jack and Daniel were surprised and a little shocked to find themselves being glared at.
“You lied,” Little Danny answered, a tremble in his voice. “You didn't tell us you were goin' to rescue the Nox.”
“We, uh ... what makes you think we were trying to rescue the Nox?” Daniel asked.
“Weren't you?” the little boy asked pointedly.
“Uh, well ...” Daniel stuttered. “Jack?”
“Yes, we were,” Jack answered truthfully. “But we didn't tell you that. How did you know?”
“I just knew,” the boy answered. “I got scared. Glowy-eyed people there?”
**Jack, you and the glowy-eyed people. I warned you about telling them all those stories.**
**Danny, they're just stories.**
**Tell that to our son,** Daniel silently argued.
“Little Danny,” Jack began. “The Nox didn't need our help. We thought they did, but we were wrong.”
“Glowy-eyed people not there?” the little boy asked.
**Tell him the truth, Jack.**
“They were there, but the Nox kicked them off their planet,” Jack answered.
“Lies bad,” Little Danny chastised vulnerably.
“We didn't lie, Son. We just didn't ...” Jack stopped, seeing his son's glare. ~He's just like Danny.~
Little Danny argued, “You say lies we tell are bad, and lies we don't tell but are lies are bad, too.”
“Huh?” Jack quizzed uncertainly.
“Lies of omission,” Daniel clarified. “Sproglet, parents try to protect their children. Going through the Stargate is something we do a lot, but, usually, now, it's safe. Sometimes, though, it can be dangerous. We thought the Nox were in danger, and we had to try and help them. Do you understand?”
“Yes, but no lie anymore,” Little Danny admonished his parents.
“We don't want to worry your brothers and sisters,” Daniel responded.
“I won't tell,” Little Danny promised as he looked down. “Wish 'Rissa knew about the Stargate.”
“I know, Son,” Jack comforted as he rubbed the little boy's back in reassurance.
Little Danny looked back up at them with worried blue eyes and asked, “Did it hurt lots before the Nox fixed you?“
“What?” Daniel asked and then shared a confused look with his husband.
“Dad hes'tated when I asked him if the glowy eyes were there,” Little Danny explained. “They were there, huh? Did it hurt a lot?”
Daniel looked at the teary eyes of his son and drew him into a hug. The little boy had so much empathy for others, and it was obvious he was agonizing over the pain he believed his parents had been in.
“No, it didn't hurt, Little Danny,” Daniel assured. “And it was nothing that Lya couldn't fix all by herself.”
“Love Lya,” Little Danny said with a smile. He looked up at them, and they were pleased to see the usual spark of life in his eyes. “Will Lya be at my birthday party?”
“She wouldn't miss it for the world, Sproglet,” Jack laughed as he tousled Little Danny's hair. “Now, what about getting some more sleep?”
The little boy nodded and yawned before snuggling closer to Daniel and, at the same time, pulling Jack closer.
“Love you, Dad and Daddy,” Little Danny sighed as he closed his eyes.
Murmuring sentiments of love back to the boy, Jack and Daniel watched their son fall into a peaceful sleep.
Daniel sighed, **I think his imagination worked overtime today, Jack.**
**I can't believe the way he drew all the dots together. He is way too smart for his own good,** the older man replied.
**You mean for our own good. We forget sometimes how observant he is. If we'd told him what was going on, he wouldn't have had to imagine it.**
**Something to remember for next time,** Daniel pointed out.
Jack yawned and soon joined his son in slumber. Daniel, however, lay awake for some time grappling with the guilt he was feeling over going on a mission they had known would be dangerous.
~Change fast; hurry over to the auditorium; don't forget my science book ...~
Jeff was quickly running through a list of things he needed to do. His last period this semester was physical education, and the class was ending. He was lagging behind, though, having stayed to help the instructor pick up the equipment. Entering the locker room as most of the boys were heading out, he was trying to make sure he didn't forget anything.
As he changed and more of the students left the building, the remaining voices began to echo. Then, Jeff heard a cackling laugh and whispers. He wasn't really interested in the stories being told until he heard a familiar name -- Jennifer. Now drawn to the conversation, Jeff walked slowly past the aisles of lockers, buttoning his shirt as he made his way. The voices became frighteningly clear.
“I have to give my sis credit,” one boy laughed. “She got that snooty Jennifer but good.”
“How?” another boy asked.
“Right before classes were out last year, in one of her lab classes, Mary Beth took the queer's water bottle and slobbered all over it,” the boy announced.
“So?” a third boy inquired. “It's ugly, but ...”
“But Mary Beth had mono, and she knew it. She gave it to the lesbo,” the first boy boasted.
“Jennifer isn't gay,” the second boy defended, not really liking what he was hearing.
“Her parents are, and besides, she thinks she's some high and mighty queen. Queen of the lesbos, probably,” the boy sneered.
“Did she get it?” the third boy asked.
“Yeah, and I heard she got in major trouble with her parents over it. Awesome, Mary Beth,” the boy stated in admiration of his sister.
Jeff grew angry as he realized what he had heard. His first instinct was to interrupt and beat Mary Beth's brother to a pulp, but then it wasn't the brother who did the deed; it was Mary Beth.
~Crap, I wish I didn't need to go to drama, but it's the first day of auditions,~ Jeff thought. ~Besides, Daddy would say 'count to ten' or something. Of course, Dad would say 'don't get mad, get even' ... and then he'd pound Mary Beth to a pulp, girl or no girl.~
“Places, everyone. Stagehands, your attention!” the drama teacher who was serving as the production director called out. Three boys, including Jeff, and one girl hurried to the right hand side of the stage. “You've all received instructions on how to handle the equipment, but I want you to get some practice during the auditions so that when the rehearsals roll around, we can concentrate on specific movements rather than your trying to get comfortable with your duties. Jeff, you handle the curtain. We'll raise and lower it for every audition. Keith, you alternate with Jeff. By the end of the day, you should both be pretty comfortable with it. Bruce ...”
Jeff nodded, but inside, he was still seething about what he'd heard in the locker room just thirty minutes ago. He wanted to get home and tell his parents, knowing they'd handle it. How dare anyone do something so malicious as to give someone a disease, and yet, that is exactly what Mary Beth had done. The girl had briefly been a friend of Jennifer's; that is, until she found out about Jack and Daniel. At that point, her so-called friendship faded, replaced by hate.
Though Jeff hadn't been around to witness the confrontation at the carnival with Mary Beth's family back in 2009, he had heard about it, and he did know who she was. He had always tried to be polite to her, but the teen girl looked upon any Jackson-O'Neill with disdain.
“Places, everyone,” the director called out, clapping his hands as he walked off the stage, taking a spot down front.
The teenage boy moved to his position at stage left of the large auditorium. The curtain was controlled by pulleys with large sandbags attached. He had to learn just how and when to release the pulleys and control the sandbags so that the curtain would be lowered or raised at the right time.
A bit nervously, Jeff reviewed his notes as he waited for the cue to begin. Still, he couldn't forget the cackling boys.
“First up, Mary Beth Cheney,” the director called out.
Jeff's head shot up as he saw Mary Beth eagerly approach.
~That's right. She likes being a drama queen,~ Jeff thought.
“Where's our costume lady?” the director called out. “Julia?”
“Sorry, Mister Crampton,” Julia apologized as she approached the first girl to audition. “Mary Beth, we need you to put this on,” she said, carrying a short-sleeve dress. “Come with me.”
“Julia, let's get on top of this,” the director instructed as the two girls hurried off to the dressing room.
The plan was for the costume fitters to get some practice in right from the beginning, too. Plus, it would give the director a chance to see those auditioning in attire relevant to the musical being produced. Julia was supposed to get to the auditioning students before the director called their name. Obviously, there'd been a slip up, and Mary Beth hadn't changed into the costume as yet.
From stage left, Jeff stewed just knowing Mary Beth was present.
~She loves attention. I should knock her lights out; that would give her attention,~ the boy steamed silently.
Then Mary Beth walked out onto the stage, saying she was ready. Her dress was loose fitting with a hoop skirt and halter-like top.
Jeff stared at the sandbags, wishing he could take one and sandbag the vicious teen with it.
~It would serve her right,~ Jeff thought.
“Mary Beth, please hit your mark,” the director advised, motioning towards the tape that was on the floor, indicating where she should stand.
Then Jeff saw it. It was right there ... just waiting ... in perfect position ... tempting him ... taunting him ... it was like Fate had stepped in.
~No, I couldn't. It wouldn't be right. No, no ... but she does deserve it ... geez, I'd be grounded for life ... I couldn't ... really, I can't ... I ...~ “Excuse me, Mister Crampton,” Jeff called out, walking forward across the stage, glancing slightly at the put-out Mary Beth, who was tapping her foot at the interruption.
The teenager walked to the front of the stage and knelt down to ask his question, just to make sure he knew what to do. It was a legitimate question, one he'd been intending to ask. He just decided not to put it off, not since Fate was stepping in.
“Thank you,” Jeff said, backing up and then crossing over the stage and conveniently dropping his notebook at center stage, two pens and some papers scattering in the vicinity. “Sorry,” he called out, bending down to pick up his items.
Mary Beth rolled her eyes upward as she crossed her arms and tapped her foot impatiently, finally snarling, “Will you hurry up!”
“It might go quicker if you help me,” Jeff not-so-innocently stated.
With a nasty groan, Mary Beth bent down to help. After all, the quicker Jeff was gone, the sooner she'd be on her way to the starring role, which she was certain she'd get.
Jeff grinned at Fate. It was so easy. He wouldn't even have to do much. Just ... yes, just a tiny tap and ... there, that was easy.
“Sorry,” Jeff spoke again, grinning as he returned to his position at stage left.
“Students, let's get this show on the road. Mary Beth, whenever you're ready,” the director told her.
~And she thinks she can sing?~ Jeff thought as the girl began to perform. ~She's no Barbra Streisand; not even Alanis Morrisette. Gawd, she's not even Jessica Simpson. Where are the earplugs?~ he silently groaned.
The moment was approaching. The climax of the song was almost here. Mary Beth would be walking forward, and that's when Jeff was certain she'd fumble. That's what he thought would happen -- that she would start to move forward and then have an awkward moment because of Fate's intervention.
~Hmm. Jeffrey, m'lad, that is a lot of lifting power in that sandbag; more than Mary Beth weighs for sure. Could it lift her up? Or maybe rip her dress?~ the teenager's conscience inquired.
The dangling object Jeff had given a nudge to was a flying hook, designed to be used to let actors 'fly' onstage. This was merely one, and they were normally used in groups of three or four. He looked up and, with his eyes, traced the path of the rope he was pretty sure was attached to the flying hook he had nudged under the loose cross strap of Mary Beth's costume.
Jeff paused momentarily. In his science class today, the subject had been Newtonian physics -- 'For each and every action there is an equal and opposite reaction'. For a second, Jeff considered backing away from his intention. Then he remembered Jennifer's horrible summer recovering from mono and Mary Beth's sneers whenever he uttered a polite 'hello' to her.
The teenager decided this was his reaction and that he was justified in taking advantage of the opportunity Fate had given him.
~I am merely the instrument of a greater wisdom. Let 'er rip, Jeff.~ The moment arrived, and Jeff looked at the pulleys, knowing that hitting the right one was key to Mary Beth's impending embarrassing moment. ~It's fate, after all.~
Concentrating on his duties, Jeff mumbled, “I think it's this one.” He whispered uncertainly, “Or ... maybe it's this one.”
The boy suddenly realized he really wasn't totally sure which pulley was the right one. The pulleys for the three curtains had been pointed out to him earlier. The ones that lowered and raised backdrops were mostly on the other side, so that pretty much narrowed it to two. The teen knew that one would lower the curtain while the other stood a pretty good chance of being the one connected to Mary Beth's costume.
~I need to study this some more,~ Jeff determined.
No matter what, though, either Mary Beth would have a less-than-grand finish to her audition when she moved forward, or, if he chose the wrong pulley, the curtain would close prematurely, and that would be funny, too.
~I really shouldn't. Dad and Daddy wouldn't like it. No, I can't. I just can't. It's not right. No, I shouldn't ... but I'm going to. Maybe it is too much weight, but my dad used to tell me, “Son, there are moments in every man's life when you have to decide to play it safe, or just go for it.” Okay, Dad, I'm going for it!~
Jeff made his decision, releasing the pulley he'd selected, right or wrong.
~Jen, this one's for you!~ Jeff enthusiastically thought.
Within seconds, Mary Beth's eyes grew wide. She looked up as her arms were raised.
“Oh no!” Jeff exclaimed.
As the stunned onlookers watched, the fishhook that Jeff had only to nudge to affix to the strapping of the back of Mary Beth's costume caused the girl to raise up a few inches, but since it was just one hook, she dropped back to the stage floor almost instantly. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for her costume.
When Mary Beth's arms raised, the loose-fitting costume slid right off of her, leaving the girl center stage in nothing but her bra and underpants.
“Oh, my gosh. Snap the picture! Snap the picture!” the reporter from the school newspaper told his photographer.
The students giggled, while the teachers tried not to laugh. The bad news for Mary Beth was that she wasn't well liked by either faction, so no one was feeling that upset. Mary Beth, of course, was mortified. She crossed her arms in front of her breasts and screamed bloody murder.
“Ah -- Julia!” the director called out, urging her to help the embarrassed teenager find her clothes.
As Mary Beth ran towards a hiding place, Jeff hurried out, saying, “Oh, gee, Mister Crampton, I'm so sorry. I think I pulled the wrong pulley.”
“Anyone know how that fishhook got attached to Mary Beth's dress?” the director asked, still trying to suppress his own laughter.
“I'll bet it was when she helped Jeff pick up his stuff he dropped,” one of the boys offered.
“Yeah, she was right by it,” Jeff truthfully answered. “I may have even bumped it into her,” he admitted, though altering the essence of the truth slightly since his act had been intentional.
“Accidents happen, Jeff,” the director excused. “It's not your fault the flying hook was left lowered, and you couldn't have known it wasn't supposed to be there.”
“I'm so sorry, Mary Beth,” Jeff called out to the still-upset teenage girl, who was wrapped in a coat at stage right.
“Yeah, right,” Mary Beth spat back.
“Boys, we have to be more careful,” the director instructed. “I know it's confusing, but learn what every pulley and button is for. Jeff, I want you to put in some extra time on that before we leave.”
“Yes, Mister Crampton. I'm so, so sorry,” Jeff said, putting his hands to his heart, figuring that since they were acting, he'd add some drama of his own.
“Back to work, everyone. Viola Singleton, you're up next,” he called out.
Snickering silently, Jeff returned to his position, making no further 'mistakes' that afternoon.
Smiling, Jeff entered his house two hours later. After putting his backpack in his room, he immediately sought out his parents, finding them in the rec room, playing with the Munchkins.
“Dad, Daddy, I need to talk to you. It's important,” Jeff stated, looking at the triplets. “Munchkins, would you mind?”
“We'll go play on the swings,” Aislinn suggested. “Okay?” she asked her parents.
“Okay,” Jack answered.
As the Munchkins hurried outside, Jeff gave a cursory look around as he walked over and took a seat on one of the ottomans.
“No one else is home,” Daniel pointed out, realizing that's what Jeff was searching for.
“I did a bad thing today,” Jeff confessed right off the bat.
Surprised, the parents exchanged a look. They hoped it wasn't anything too bad. The truth was, they were still tired from yesterday's off-world adventure when they were rescued while rescuing their rescuers. After all, they'd only managed to get a few hours of sleep before they had to get up and start the new day.
“And, uh, what exactly was that?” Daniel inquired as he and Jack sat opposite their son.
“I sort of bumped a fishhook into the back of Mary Beth Cheney's dress,” Jeff confessed.
“Fishhook?” Daniel asked. “You went fishing?”
Jeff chuckled, “No, Daddy. It's what they use to help someone fly in drama, like in 'Peter Pan'. People wear harnesses, and the fishhooks are attached to the harnesses. Normally, they wear a few of those.”
“You made Mary Beth fly?” Jack asked with an amazed expression on his face.
“Not ... exactly. You see, what I thought would happen is that when she had to approach the audience, the fishhook would hold her back. She'd fall or something; that's what I thought,” Jeff clarified.
“What did happen?” Daniel asked.
“Her dress flew off,” Jeff snickered.
“Her dress?” both Jack and Daniel asked in surprise.
“Back up,” Jack requested. “Son, why did you do this?”
Suddenly, Jack and Daniel saw their son sober. The chuckling was gone and his facial smirk only a memory, both replaced by a stern and harsh expression.
“I can't believe anyone would be so callous,” Jeff commented. “Dad, Daddy, Jennifer didn't get mono from Peter Hamilton. She may have kissed him, but he didn't make her sick.”
Daniel leaned forward, asking, “How do you know?”
“I overheard Mary Beth's brother bragging about it in the locker room at school today,” Jeff expounded.
“Bragging about what?” Jack questioned, his face serious and cold all of a sudden.
“In science lab, right before school was out, Mary Beth got sick. She knew she had mono, but apparently, she didn't tell anyone. Dad, Daddy, gawd ...” Jeff paused. He knew his parents didn't like bad language being used, even though they sometimes fell prey to it themselves. “I'm sorry, but ...”
“Go ahead,” Daniel excused, certain Jeff had good reason for the anger he was feeling.
“She knew she was sick,” Jeff repeated. “She took Jennifer's water bottle, and, well, I'm not sure what she did ... if she spit in it or ran her mouth on the straw or what ... but her brother said she put her saliva on Jennifer's water bottle and watched as Jennifer drank out of it a minute later.”
“THAT LITTLE ...”
Daniel's hand flew over Jack's mouth, silencing him before a swearing rant began that might be overheard from curious Munchkins.
“I was so angry, I could have hit her,” Jeff admitted. “I wanted to come right home to tell you, but I had the drama auditions today, and as luck would have it, Mister Crampton assigned me to the main stage curtain. I didn't even know Mary Beth was trying out, but there she was, and then I saw the fishhook. I knew I shouldn't, but I was so angry, Daddy,” he said apologetically.
“So you put the fishhook on the back of her dress?” Daniel asked.
“Yes, but I didn't know it would make her dress fly off,” Jeff stated.
“Are you sure about that?” Jack queried.
When Jeff hesitated, Daniel prodded, “Jeff?”
“Well, I wasn't sure, Dad, Daddy. I did wonder, especially since we talked about Newtonian physics today, but I was sure she wouldn't get hurt, and I wanted to see her get hers because of what she did to Jen. To tell the truth, I was more concerned about having to come home and ... 'fess up.”
“But you did it anyway, expecting to be punished?” Daniel probed.
“Mary Beth wasn't hurt, and all I could see was Jennifer's misery all summer long. I ...” Jeff's voice trailed off.
Jack and Daniel exchanged another look, and then Daniel verified, “No one was hurt?”
“No, no one,” Jeff answered. “I took responsibility; stepped right up and said I must have released the wrong pulley. I even admitted I *may* have pushed the fishhook into her.”
“They didn't punish you?” Jack asked.
“Mary Beth isn't very popular, Dad,” the boy answered.
“What you did was wrong,” Daniel pointed out.
“I know,” Jeff agreed.
“We should punish you,” Jack stated firmly.
“I know,” the boy sighed.
“You can't go around taking justice into your own hands,” Daniel warned, trying not to choke on the words, considering what he and Jack had done in the past.
“I know that, too, Daddy,” Jeff replied, nodding.
“We should ground you,” Jack put forth.
“Yes, you should,” Jeff concurred.
“Was she embarrassed?” Jack asked, unable to continue the righteous parent act any longer.
“Mortified!” Jeff exclaimed. “She just stood there, arms in front of her chest, staring up at her dress, and then she screamed. You would have thought the place was on fire.”
“She was still dressed, Danny,” Jack sniggered.
“Probably wearing more than when we go swimming,” Daniel acknowledged, seeing a nod from the teenage boy.
“Trust me, she doesn't have much worth ...” Jeff began.
“Jeff!” both parents scolded lightly.
“Sorry,” the teenager spoke quietly.
“We should punish him,” Daniel suggested, echoing his husband's words from moments earlier.
“I agree. Let's make him pay a fine,” Jack opined.
“That works,” Daniel agreed. “Fifty?”
“Not enough,” Jack said, shaking his head. “One hundred.”
“Jack, it won't mean anything. Two hundred,” Daniel recommended.
~There goes my savings account for my car,~ the teenager silently lamented.
“And we need to ground him,” Jack stated. “One?”
“Two,” Daniel countered.
“Not enough. That poor girl was stripped,” the older man pointed out.
“Three?” the younger man questioned.
Nodding his agreement, Jack looked at Jeff and stated, “You're fined two-hundred cents and grounded for three seconds.” He looked at his watch, mouthing, “One ... two ... three.”
“You've completed your grounding,” Daniel said. “The two-hundred cents is payable to the Munchkins penny fund, as soon as you get change.”
Jeff laughed, “Thanks, Dad, Daddy!”
Reaching over to tap his eldest son's arm, Jack intoned, “Son, I hope you've learned an important lesson here today.”
Jeff looked at his two fathers and proclaimed, “I have. I shouldn't take justice into my own hands. I promise never to do anything like that again, ever.”
With a smile, the older man rebutted, “No, Son, we covered that lesson already -- you've been fined and grounded, remember? And, Jeff, while I appreciate the sentiment, don't make promises you may not be able to keep.”
“So, what's the important lesson I'm supposed to have learned?” Jeff inquired curiously.
With a wry smile, Daniel coaxed, “Yes, Jack, do tell. Inquiring minds want to know.”
Jack began, “Jeff, as you grow to be a man, you'll learn that confession is good for the soul, but, sometimes ...”
Both his husband and his eldest son leaned in, surprised that Jack was capable of being profound.
“Yes, Dad?” Jeff prodded, waiting to hear the rest.
In a somber tone of voice, the older man finished, “But, sometimes, it's even better for the ego!” before he cracked up with laughter. When the three of them had composed themselves, Jack admitted, “In your shoes, Jeff, I wouldn't have been able to resist, either. It's not like you planned this; if you had, we'd be handling the situation differently.”
“Likewise if your stunt had actually been dangerous,” Daniel interjected.
After exchanging a look of agreement with his soulmate, Jack continued, “Instead, Fate picked an apple and dangled it right in front of your face. Now, how about some ice cream before dinner, just the three of us in the study?”
Enjoying the special moment, the three men selected their flavor of choice and spent some quality fathers and son time together.
“Daniel, I think we should report it to the school,” Jack stated seriously a bit later as the parents were working on dinner.
“Report what?” Daniel refuted. “Babe, I agree with you. I know in my heart that Mary Beth did that to our daughter. I am as angry and upset as you are, but we don't have any proof. All we have is the stupidity of her brother talking too much.”
“I called Sheila,” Jack admitted, earning him a stare of disbelief from his lover. Jack shrugged, saying, “I wanted to know if Mary Beth was sick, and Sheila confirmed it *and* that Peter was not sick.”
“I can't believe teenagers would be so vicious just because we ...” Daniel began, his voice a mixture of anger and vulnerability.
Jack put down his knife, leaving the onions on the counter. He walked over to his agonizing husband and embraced him.
“Jack, it's not fair. All we ever did was fall in love, and because of our love, Jennifer has to suffer,” Daniel spoke sadly.
“Jennifer isn't suffering, Angel. She has a home and a family because of us; you know that,” Jack reminded. “Life isn't perfect, and if she wasn't having to deal with spiteful, ignorant teens, she'd be dealing with something else.”
“I guess you're right,” Daniel admitted, looking into his soulmate's eyes and giving him a little smile. “Better finish dicing those onions.”
“I love you, Angel,” Jack intoned, placing a quick kiss on Daniel's lips.
“I love you, too.”
Jennifer walked down from her room. She'd had a late day herself, going from school to accompanying Chenoa and Lulu to a matinee movie. The trio had gotten home just before dinner was ready.
“Let me tell her!” Jeff pleaded with his parents.
“Tell who what?” Jennifer asked as she entered the hospitality room. “Anything you want me to do?” she asked her parents about the evening meal as she took note of the early preparations.
“Jeff wants to talk to you, but not ...” Daniel began, trailing off as he motioned towards all the children nearby.
“Jen, come on,” Jeff urged, a smile on his face as he led his sister into the living room where none of the children were. “You'll never guess!”
“Jeff, your room,” Jack called out, hearing the voices carry.
“Okay, Dad,” the boy responded, leading his older sister to his bedroom.
Three minutes later, with Brianna watching the younger children, Jack and Daniel decided to check on the teenagers. As they walked up the stairs to Jeff's bedroom, they heard Jennifer whoop with laughter.
“Oh, Jeff, you're the best brother!” Jennifer exclaimed. “You don't have to worry about getting me a Christmas present this year because that was all the present I needed,” she said, hugging her brother excitedly.
“I gather Jeff's given you all the details,” Jack interrupted as he and Daniel walked in.
“Do you believe the nerve of that witch?” Jennifer lashed out.
“Jen,” Daniel warned. “We don't have any proof, only what Jeff overheard.”
“But you know it's the truth, Daddy!” Jennifer refuted.
“Yes, I do,” the archaeologist admitted. “Look, we let Jeff off the hook pretty easy, but you both need to understand that this is an exception.”
“We do,” Jennifer acknowledged. She smiled as she kissed her brother on the cheek. “Thanks, Jeff.”
“No one treats my sister like that,” Jeff responded.
“Okay, it's over now,” Jack stated. “I wish we could do more, but we can't,” he sighed.
“Jeff did enough,” Jennifer stated gratefully. “I'm hungry.”
“Dinner's ready,” Daniel said, stepping aside as the two teens hurried downstairs. “Jack?”
“Danny, how hypocritical do you feel?” Jack challenged.
“I'd rather not think about it, but, uh, well, the truth is that I feel so bad I'm not sure I can eat more than two helpings of scalloped potatoes,” the archaeologist smirked.
“Dinner's ready,” Jack teased.
Laughing, the parents went downstairs to enjoy a pleasant evening with their children.
The next day, the school newspaper's headline was, “Student Sheds Inhibitions at Audition!” and sported a photo, neck up only, of Mary Beth staring up in horror at her dress. Incensed, the girl tracked down Jeff at lunch.
“You did that on purpose,” Mary Beth accused.
“It was an accident,” Jeff claimed.
“Sure, and I'm the Queen of England,” the angry girl sarcastically spoke.
“What you are is the Queen of Spite, Mary Beth. Just leave my sister alone from now on,” Jeff bluntly advised.
“I'm going to tell the principal,” Mary Beth threatened, turning and beginning to walk away.
“Go ahead,” Jeff called out calmly. “And I'll be sure to tell him to round up your brother's cronies and ask them what your brother boasted about you doing to Jennifer.”
All of a sudden, Mary Beth stopped. She turned around, an ugly expression on her face.
Jeff approached her, saying, “I know what you did last summer ... to my sister.” He gave her a moment to let his words settle in before adding, “You contaminated her drink in science lab, giving her mono. I *know* you did it on purpose.”
“You can't know anything,” Mary Beth cautiously responded. ~Can he?~
“I know you have a brother who is blabbing about it all over campus,” Jeff informed her. He walked into the girl's personal space, and following lessons learned from his general father, stared intensely into Mary Beth's eyes. “The only reason you haven't been arrested is because we don't have proof. Neither do you, by the way, about your little costume accident.”
“I ...” Mary Beth began.
Not allowing her to speak, Jeff raised his voice to cut her off, saying, “I suggest we call it even, although my alleged offense is punishable by grounding whereas yours could result in jail time.”
“Sexual harassment would get you more than grounded,” Mary Beth huffed.
“Everyone believes me, Mary Beth. They were there, and they saw it. Even if they did believe you, I'd still only be grounded and maybe miss a day or two of school. You, on the other hand, knowingly gave my sister a disease. That would not only get you suspended, but a criminal record. What if she had died?” Jeff challenged.
“From mono?” Mary Beth spat. “Get real,” she spoke nastily.
“Do your research, Mary Beth. In some cases, the spleen ruptures or gets damaged. Some people have died from airway obstructions, heart inflammation, and even from their nervous system being messed up. Oh, yeah, Mary Beth, you could have killed her. I don't know what the law is, but I know giving someone a disease is just like stabbing them with a knife. So, go ahead, tell the principal. I will gladly do the time for my crime.”
“You're a bore, Jeff,” Mary Beth immaturely responded as she tried to evade her guilt.
~Let's see if this bores her,~ Jeff thought. He moved another inch closer, so close he could feel her breath against his skin. It was a move that unnerved the girl. Seeing her gulp nervously as her defenses shattered, he added, “Don't ... ever ... hurt my sister, or any member of my family, again.” Backing away, he intoned, “I hope we understand each other, Mary Beth. Besides, you like attention. You made the front page. Everyone is talking about you, just like you always like it.”
Laughing, Jeff went on his way, his laughter growing louder as he heard her grumble, crumple up the school paper, and kick a nearby garbage can.
Still angry, Mary Beth stormed into one of the bathrooms. A minute later, Jennifer and Sheila entered, laughing about something.
“STOP LAUGHING AT ME,” Mary Beth ordered.
“You are so self-centered,” Jennifer remarked. “We weren't even talking about you. You aren't worth our time.”
“That's for sure,” Sheila added. “Jen, I'll see you after school.”
“Okay, bye Sheila,” Jennifer said, getting ready to head into one of the stalls.
“Hold it right there, Miss Snooty. You and your brother have some nerve,” Mary Beth began.
“Oh, shut up,” Jennifer replied, tired of dealing with the girl. “Listen, haven't you figured it out yet, Mary Beth?”
“That you're a stuck-up princess with queers for parents?” Mary Beth asked snottily.
Jennifer shook her head, sighing, “I don't care what you think, but what I was talking about is cause and effect.” ~Daddy is so right about his stuff,~ she thought. “First, you lie about me and get detention. Then you and your parents pick a fight at the carnival and almost get arrested. Now you give me mono and end up being the laughing stock of the school. Every time you try and do something to hurt me, you get hurt. Cause and effect -- you cause me grief, and the effect is that you end up in a situation worse than me. Take the hint, and just leave me alone, Mary Beth. Get a life!”
“You're not so high and mighty, Jen,” Mary Beth called out angrily as her adversary headed for the exit.
Jennifer just shook her head as she looked back and mused, “Mary Beth, my karma just ran all over your dogma.” When Mary Beth just gaped, her mouth wide open at the astute and subtle insult, Jennifer lightly added, “Bye,” giving the frustrated teen a tiny wave of her hand.
The oldest of the Jackson-O'Neill children walked out, deciding to use another restroom in another corridor. She felt proud of herself, like she had truly learned the lessons her parents had tried to teach her about ignorance and being true to yourself. Smiling, she held her head high as she strolled through the corridor, feeling happy and free.
The following Monday afternoon, Daniel stared out the kitchen window, his focus on David who was sitting quietly in the gazebo. The boy had a book open, but Daniel knew he wasn't really reading it. Curious, he walked outside and sat down across from the shaggy-haired boy.
“Dad always wants to give me a penny,” Daniel said softly.
“A penny? For what?” David asked, looking up.
“My thoughts. Sometimes, he offers me a nickel, and every now and then, he makes it really tempting by dangling a quarter in front of my nose,” Daniel replied.
David smiled, but it wasn't a big one, just a tiny acknowledgement of the humor in his father's statement.
“What's going on, Son?”
“Nothing,” David lied shyly, not making eye contact with Daniel.
“David, I know something's wrong. You're not a very good liar,” Daniel stated as he leaned forward, showing his interest with body language, too.
“It's just ...” David stopped, shaking his head. “Nothing.”
“David, no holding out. Please tell me what's on your mind,” Daniel asked.
“I feel guilty,” the boy admitted.
“Why would you feel guilty?” Daniel asked, surprised by the comment.
“Because I shouldn't feel how I feel,” a meek voice replied.
Daniel moved over to sit next to his son. He put his arm around David's shoulders and tugged him close.
“Okay, let's try the process of elimination. Are you sick?” Daniel asked.
“No,” David answered softly.
Daniel prodded, “Is there a problem with your homeschooling? Are we going too fast or ...”
“No, I like that ... a lot.”
“Are you sure?” Daniel asked, looking down at the boy. “If you want to go back to private school or even attend a public school, you can. Dad and I told you that ...”
“No, Daddy,” David interjected. “I like how we study now, all together. I learn more.”
“Okay,” Daniel replied. “Have you had a fight with your any of your brothers and sisters?” Seeing David look away, Daniel thought, ~That's it.~
“No,” David answered truthfully, though still evading his younger father's gaze.
~No? But it does have something to do with ... oh.~ “Son, are you feeling a little left out lately?” When David didn't answer at all, Daniel pulled him in closer. “Don't be afraid to tell us, David. Sometimes, there is so much going on that it's hard to make sure everyone gets the attention they need.”
“No, Daddy,” David said emphatically, adding, “You and Dad give me lots of attention. You give all of us attention. It's just ... I shouldn't feel left out, but ...”
“But you do,” Daniel asked pointedly.
“A little,” David admitted. “The Spitfires had their party, and the Munchkins are getting two parties, and ...”
“Hey, I have an idea,” Daniel interrupted, glancing at his watch. “Dad is going to be home soon, and then I have the rest of the day free. How about we go flying?”
“Flying?” David asked excitedly. “Just you and me?”
“Yeah, just you and me, and, uh, maybe we'll do a little something else special today.”
“What?” David asked with big eyes.
“Well, I'll have to clear it first. No promises, but let's start with a short trip in Jo, okay?” Daniel asked, referring to the family's private airplane.
“Okay!” David exclaimed, hugging Daniel tightly.
As the hug continued, Daniel thought, ~I need to call Megan and have her cancel that meeting. I don't care if we lose the deal; this is more important.~
“Have fun, Guys. Don't do anything I wouldn't do,” Jack said a bit later as he waved from the front door.
“That leaves us with plenty of options, Dad!” David yelled from the car as Daniel turned on the ignition.
“You left yourself wide open for that one, Babe,” Daniel called out as he slowly backed down the driveway.
Jack closed the door, muttering to himself about how he got no respect.
At that moment, Brianna walked passed and smirked, “Dad, talking to yourself is the first sign of madness.”
“Madness, I'll give you madness,” Jack mock-threatened as he gave an evil mad scientist-type of chuckle and stalked towards his daughter, a predatory gleam in his eye.
“Dad, what are you doing?” Brianna asked as she backed away, seeing Jack waggle his fingers at her. She grinned, but still put up the token protest, especially once she saw Little Danny coming down the stairs. “No, no, not the tickle monster. Help me, Little Danny, help me.”
Little Danny gave a grin of delight and called out to his fellow siblings, “It's the tickle monster.”
Jack reached Brianna and began tickling her, only to be joined by Little Danny, who started tickling Jack. Running footsteps could be heard, and soon there was a pile of Jackson-O'Neills lying giggling on the floor, all tickling each other until finally, Jack, laughing heartily, called out, “Enough! The tickle monster gives.”
“Enough to give us ice cream?” Brianna asked, winking at Chenoa and Lulu, who quickly took up the refrain of, “Ice cream, ice cream.”
They were soon joined in their chorus by the twins and the triplets. Jack gave a theatrical groan before surrendering with, “I'm such a sucker.”
Taking that for the permission it was, the children cheered and made a beeline for the kitchen. Jack shook his head, pleased to see them all happy. Little Danny seemed to have recovered from the trauma of Jack and Daniel's attempt to rescue the Nox although the two men had found it a little embarrassing the next time Teal'c had visited. Little Danny had solemnly asked the Jaffa to remind his parents the next time they went off on a rescue mission that lying to their children was “dishon'rable.”
“Daddy, where's Bean Sprout going to sleep when he's born?” David asked as he and Daniel were up in the skies.
“Bean Sprout could be a she,” Daniel reminded.
“He's a he, but it'll be okay if he's a she, but I know he's a he. He has to be a he; we're outnumbered, boys to girls, I mean,” David replied.
Daniel chuckled, saying, “Well, he, or she, will be in the nursery. We need to keep him close.”
“See!” David exclaimed.
“What?” Daniel asked innocently.
“You said he!” David happily exclaimed before breaking out into laughter. “What about Noa and Lulu?”
Daniel sighed, saying, “Noa likes being near you.”
“She has Lulu now, Daddy,” David replied, staring out at the clouds and silently naming the different types.
“Son, is Noa scared about something?” Daniel asked, sensing David might have some insight on the situation.
“Sometimes, she misses Mom and Dad. It was not getting to say 'goodbye'. It was good that time when we got to go back to our old house, but sometimes ...” David said, shrugging.
Daniel nodded, saying nothing, giving the boy time. Two minutes passed by before David spoke again.
“Daddy, it doesn't bother you that sometimes we, I mean Noa, remembers Mom and Dad ... does it?” David asked a bit hesitantly.
Quickly and without hesitation, Daniel shook his head, replying, “Son, they gave birth to you, Jen, and Noa, and they loved and adored you long before Dad and I came into the picture.” Suddenly, Daniel blinked as a thought occurred to him. “Do we need to talk more about them?”
David considered the question and said, “I think for Jen and me, it's good. We remember more, and it's easier for us to understand what happened.”
“But Noa is still a little girl who misses her mother and father,” Daniel deduced.
“Finding Uni,” David remarked, referring to the little girl's homemade unicorn that her mother had given her shortly before being killed in a car accident, “has helped her to remember Mommy, but ...”
“But ...” Daniel drew a startled breath. “Gawd, she's younger. Dad and I keep trying to remind ourselves. She needs to know it's okay to love and miss them and that's it's not ... not disloyal to any of us.” When David smiled, Daniel knew he was right. “Thanks, Son,” he said. “You know, right?”
“Sure, I do. We talk about them a lot. Daddy liked planes, too ... Daddy,” David said, suddenly giggling.
Daniel chuckled, too, as the father and son continued their special time together.
After their plane ride in Jo, Daniel took David to the museum in Denver. A new Syrian exhibition was due to open there soon, and because he knew the curator accompanying the exhibition, Daniel had managed to arrange a behind the scenes visit for his son.
Abdul Hamid, the curator who had traveled with the artifacts from their home in Syria, was delighted to show them around, appreciating David's curiosity, interest, and appreciation of the different artifacts. His fondness for the boy grew when he discovered David spoke quite a bit of Arabic, and he beamed when David said wistfully how he'd like to visit Syria, Israel, Jordan, Iran, and a number of other countries.
Abdul looked at him curiously, asking, “You do not wish to visit Iraq?”
David scowled as he answered, “My dad was a prisoner of war there. Stupid government: they have no appreciation of history and culture.”
Daniel was surprised to see Abdul nod in sad agreement before telling him, “Your son is a very special boy, Daniel.”
The archaeologist simply squeezed David's shoulder, saying quietly, “He certainly is.”
After leaving Abdul and the museum, Daniel and David visited one of the larger Denver bookstores. Daniel wanted to see if they had a book he knew had come out recently, and he told David that he could choose a book, too.
“After all, you can't go into a bookshop and leave without a book; it's just not right,” Daniel said with a grin.
“Hey, Guys, I'll be right back,” Jeff told his basketball-playing buddies at the high school.
The group of boys were shooting hoops outdoors, just for fun, after school, something they frequently did whenever the opportunity presented itself. Jeff still had a half hour before he had to be home, and he was having a good time, but today, as had occurred on many days recently, he had noticed a familiar figure standing next to a very expensive car in the nearby parking lot.
“Hamilton, what are you doing here?” Jeff asked as he approached Peter.
“Just watching? Is there a law against that?” Peter asked as he leaned smugly against his fancy, pristine car, arms crossed in defiance.
“No, but I thought maybe you'd like to play, too,” Jeff suggested, wanting to give the rich kid a break, considering that he'd been blamed for something he didn't really do in giving Jennifer mono, even though he had also been a jerk for the way he treated the girl on their date.
Peter stared at Jeff in disbelief, and though he blinked, his response was, “Why would I want to do that?”
“Maybe because you like basketball?” Jeff replied.
“I ... wouldn't know,” Peter hesitated in responding. “I don't need to get all sweaty and ...”
“Well, it was just a thought. Bye,” Jeff said, turning and running back to his friends, leaving Peter to whine to himself. ~I tried. I guess he really is a jerk, though.~
Meanwhile, Daniel and David's special day was continuing at the Barnes & Noble bookstore.
After spending over an hour browsing through the history section and practically drooling over a book on the history of Rome, David asked if they could look in the wildlife section. Surprised by the request, but happy to do so, Daniel led the boy to the relevant area of the bookstore. He watched as David began looking for books on wildlife in the Bahamas.
“Son, what are you looking for?” Daniel inquired curiously.
“This,” David said, finally finding what he'd been looking for. “Can I get it for Bri, Daddy? I know she loves dolphins most, but she might like other fish, too, if she gets to know something about them.”
Daniel looked over David's shoulder as the boy began flipping through the book.
“Look, she might see a porcupine fish,” David said as he pointed to what looked like a spiky golf ball. “Or a Flying Gurnard. That would be so cool.”
~The photography in this book is great,~ Daniel thought as he looked at the fish with wings and had to agree that it was a pretty cool fish. He looked back at David, saying, “It's a lovely thought, David, but it's not necessary. Wouldn't you rather get a book for yourself?”
David shook his head, stating, “I want this to be the best vacation Bri can have.”
“I'm sure it will be, Son, and this is a lovely thought,” Daniel said with pride in his voice.
“Do you think she'll like it?” David asked nervously.
“She'll love it, David,” Daniel reassured his son. ~We have the best children, Jack.~
Just before starting for home, while David was in the restroom, Daniel pulled out his cell phone.
“Carter-Shanahan,” Sam answered.
Daniel chuckled, “I thought you weren't going hyphenated.”
“My husband's here,” Sam said, smiling.
Daniel asked intuitively, “Did you have a fight?”
“Little one. Not the first, not the last, but ...” Sam said, trailing off.
“So ... you're just giving him a little reassurance?” Daniel surmised, his eyes focused on the direction of the restroom.
“I knew you'd understand,” Sam said softly into the phone.
“Been there, done that,” Daniel laughed. “Uh, Sam, if you have time, I need a favor.”
“Shoot,” Sam responded, prepared for most anything.
“Well, uh, I'd like you to do some research on the Morgans,” Daniel said.
“The Morgans?” Sam asked surprised, making a funny face while she reached for a piece of paper.
“Yeah, Phil and Ellen Morgan, the Mouseketeers birth parents.” Seeing David returning, Daniel asked quickly, “Sam, can we meet for lunch tomorrow, about eleven?”
“Uh, yeah, sure, Daniel. O'Malley's?” Sam suggested.
“Sounds good. I'll see you then. Thanks!” Daniel put his cell phone away just as David reached him. “Ready to go home?”
“Ready,” David contently replied. “Daddy?”
Shyly, the boy commented, “Thanks for spending the day with me.”
“Believe me, David, I've had a wonderful time; there's no other place I'd want to be today,” the archaeologist spoke reassuringly.
The two shared a hug and then climbed into the Silver Fox to go home to the rest of the family.
Daniel had met with Sam, giving her details that he knew about the Morgans, and, all in all, it had been a normal day for the Jackson-O'Neill madhouse.
That evening, after eating dinner and finishing her homework, Jennifer was at Mrs. Valissi's home, concentrating fiercely on the loom in front of her.
~I can't believe I've finished four of these already,~ the teenager thought about the place mats she was creating.
The senior citizen had previously shown Jennifer how to do multiple small pieces without re-threading, or re-warping, the loom by leaving space between them. As soon as Jennifer was finished weaving all fourteen, Mrs. Valissi promised to show her how to cut them apart and finish the side edges by tying the cut threads together in little bundles.
Seeing the hardworking teen, Mrs. Valissi urged, “Jen, take a break. The loom is not going to run away.”
“It's just so ... gee, I don't know how to describe it, but there's so much to learn,” Jennifer eagerly replied.
The grandmotherly woman smiled, responding, “I do know you want to learn it all, but it takes time, a lot of time. It's impossible to learn it all in one day, or one week, or even one lifetime. People have gotten PhDs in weaving, and they still keep learning.”
Sighing in agreement, the teen pushed her chair back and moved to the dining room with her 'Grandma Sophia', who had brought out a plate of biscotti -- Italian cookies -- for them to enjoy while they chatted.
“Andie, here's a treat for you, too,” Mrs. Valissi said, handing her shepherd-collie mix a homemade biscuit. “Now go lay down,” she instructed, smiling as the dog found its favorite spot near the sofa and relaxed. Returning to the dining room, she sat down next to Jennifer and inquired, “How are things at home?”
Almost twenty minutes later, Mrs. Valissi realized that, in spite of her probing questions, she had been doing most of the talking. Putting her hand atop the teen's she said, “I hope you know you can talk to me about anything, Jen. Your fathers are both wonderful men, but they are men.”
“Thanks,” Jennifer said softly, looking downward.
The elderly woman smiled as she intoned, “You haven't said anything specific, but I can spot a broken heart a mile away. I wouldn't presume to replace any of your aunts, Dear, but I was married for several decades to a wonderful man, and I can keep a secret. Sometimes it's easier to talk to someone not quite so close.” Patting the girl's hand, she gently coaxed, “You'll feel better if you get it off your chest.”
“I'm fine, Grandma Sophia, now that I'm over the mono,” Jennifer assured, adding, “But, thank you, anyway.”
“You're welcome, Jennifer.” Mrs. Valissi finished off her drink and opined, “I think I've had enough of talking for a bit. How about we put on some music?”
“Of course, Grandma, anything you'd like,” is how Jennifer responded, but inwardly, she was thinking, ~I wonder how long would be considered polite to listen before I can excuse myself? I just want to go home and wallow for awhile.~
After putting on the CD, the astute woman brought over the CD case for Jennifer to look at. It was Rod Stewart's 'Great American Songbook, Volume IV'. The first cut was a duet with Diana Ross called “I've Got a Crush on You.” As the voices filled the air, the teenager became entranced by the voice of a singer who had been born before her older father. Soft and melodious, with a trace of a compelling rasp, Rod's voice blended with Diana's in a lighthearted declaration of love, which ended with the line, “The world will pardon my mush, 'cause I've got a crush, my baby, on you.”
~That was good!~ Jennifer thought. ~That was really good.~
The teenager relaxed a little and decided to listen to a bit more as the next cut began. It was “I Wish You Love,” a song about wishing one's former beloved the simple comforts of living and the hope that love will find them again. Jennifer found her eyes misting as she thought about Peter. Though she was hurt and disappointed, she couldn't find it in her heart to hate him.
As the song reached its crescendo -- “My breaking heart and I agree, that you and I could never be, so with my best, my very best, I set you free. I wish you shelter from the storm, a cozy fire to keep you warm, but most of all, when snowflakes fall, I wish you love.” -- she broke down and cried, holding her face in her hands.
Leaning in, Mrs. Valissi put her arms around the sobbing teen and rubbed her back while she murmured soothing words, saying, “It's all right, Jen. Let it all out. That's right, just let it all out.”
Jennifer didn't need the woman's permission. In the shelter of Mrs. Valissi's arms, unable to stop her outburst, she cried a flood of cleansing tears that she couldn't have cried with her fathers, or even alone. The hurt, disappointment, and confusion she had carried all summer was finally being released.
After wiping her eyes, Jennifer looked at her adopted grandmother and apologized, “I didn't mean to lose control like that. I'm sorry.”
“For what, Dear? For having emotions? Nonsense! Now, Grandma Sophia is all ears. Tell me all about it.”
“Well ... I guess it was, golly, Grandma Sophia, it seems like yesterday when I first saw him. He was so dreamy,” Jennifer began.
For the next forty-five minutes, Jennifer talked non-stop about her anguish -- all about Peter, meeting him, when he finally spoke to her for the first time, their secret talks, their kiss in the park; and about her illness, finding out that she had been deliberately infected, her spat with Brianna and how badly she felt about it. She talked about how much she hurt over Peter's behavior toward her, how much she had trusted him, only to find out she'd made the biggest mistake of her life.
Finally, Jennifer drew a deep breath and sighed, “I'll never trust a boy like that again, not ever.”
Intuitively, Mrs. Valissi replied, “Jennifer, you may be fighting it, but you still care a great deal for this boy who broke your heart so callously.”
“I hate him,” Jennifer practically whispered, not really believing it herself.
Nodding in understanding, and looking a bit far off, the senior citizen suggested, “There are second chances, Dear, if you believe in someone enough to forgive them.”
Jennifer studied the woman and replied, “Did ... No, he couldn't have.”
“You had a great life with Mister Valissi. You've told me so many stories about your life together. He couldn't have hurt you, not like Peter hurt me,” Jennifer stated.
“Jennifer, you *are* so young,” the woman replied. “Yes, I'm afraid we both hurt each other. It's part of growing together with someone. I had to make a choice, forgive or move on. You see, Mister Valissi was once unfaithful to me.”
Jennifer gasped and looked at the older woman as if she had sprouted a third eye. Not saying a word, she shook her head in disbelief, both at the words and of the action.
“Jen, it's not uncommon for Italian men to keep a mistress. I never thought my husband would do that to me, but I was busy with our new baby and forgot about his needs and desires. He did what came naturally to him as a man and what he had seen his father and the men of that generation do. The women suffered in silence and nodded knowingly to one another. When I found out about his betrayal, I refused to play that game. I packed and left with our baby, 'my' baby, I thought.”
“Wow,” Jennifer sighed, taking it all in. “Um, so, how did you get back together?” she asked curiously.
“Time passed; months went by. I found I couldn't dismiss my husband from my mind. Angry or hurt, both maybe, I couldn't deny that I missed him terribly, and I didn't want our son to be without his father. He called one day, asking to see me.” Mrs. Valissi smiled warmly, letting out a contented sigh as she recalled, “He wanted to buy me lunch.”
When Mrs. Valissi paused again and let out a chuckle, Jen urged, “Go on, Grandma.”
“I was dressed to the nines, and you know what? He showed up in his best suit, the one I had always said was my favorite. I was expecting a fancy restaurant, but he took me to a park, opened a bag of sandwiches and two sodas, and handed me a few flowers that he picked along the way. We couldn't take our eyes off each other. He said he was sorry that he had been unfaithful and that he had not seen his mistress, or any woman, since I had left. He felt ashamed and told me that his guilt had kept him from calling, though he had regularly sent me checks to help pay the expenses for Robert.”
Lost in her reverie, the woman paused again. She closed her eyes, and she smiled. In fact, Jennifer could swear she was glowing.
“Grandma? Grandma Sophia?” the teenager called out.
“I got lost there for a second,” Mrs. Valissi spoke brightly. “Mister Valissi got down on one knee and opened a small box. It held a ring with a much bigger diamond than the one he gave me when he had first proposed. He asked me to marry him all over again. Then he took me to a hotel downtown, and we celebrated our love. Six weeks later, we renewed our vows. It wasn't easy, Jen; we had to forgive each other.” Seeing the teenager's frown, she requested, “Don't be too harsh on my dear husband. I made mistakes, too. I took him for granted. We were married, and I treated him like he was not important anymore. We had to put the past behind us and learn to trust each other again. No, it wasn't easy, but we loved each other enough to build our love, even stronger than it was before.”
“Wow. You must have really loved him. I mean, wow. Thanks for sharing all of this with me, Grandma Sophia,” Jennifer replied.
“Just think, Jennifer, of all the years of happiness and joy I would have missed if I had felt sorry for myself and kept my heart hard out of pride. If I had never let the pain and the hurt go, I would have had a very different life, and my dear, you need to know, that my husband and I had a *wonderful* and *fulfilling* life together. I miss him so much,” Mrs. Valissi intoned, a smile on her face, but her eyes watery.
“I think I understand, Grandma Sophia,” Jennifer emotionally responded. “It's kind of late. I guess I'd better go now.”
Mrs. Valissi walked the girl to her front door, where they hugged. She watched Jennifer go down the walk to her house next door, and then turned around, ambling over to a picture of her husband that sat on a table in the living room.
“We did make mistakes, but what a life we had. We weren't perfect, my love, but our life together was. I do miss you,” Mrs. Valissi sighed as she brought the photo to her chest and held it close.
Jennifer took her time walking home, ambling slowly, lost in her strange newfound feelings. She felt lighter, somehow, as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and she felt strangely odd about Mrs. Valissi's confession. She must have loved her husband so very much to have forgiven him his infidelity.
~Dad and Daddy talk a lot about forgiveness and second chances. Dad says he'd be out in the cold if Daddy didn't have such a forgiving heart,~ the teenager thought as she began to walk up the driveway.
Could she give Peter a second chance? Should she?
~Yeah, right, like he'd ever ask for one. Just not his style,~ Jennifer sighed just as she reached her front door.
“We were about to send out search parties,” Jack commented lightly when Jennifer walked through the door.
“Sorry, we were just talking, and I guess time slipped away from me. Mrs. Valissi is an amazing woman. You'd never guess it to look at her, but boy, has she ever lived a life,” Jennifer said with admiration, after which she became very quiet and still.
“Go on, Jen,” Daniel urged after several seconds had passed.
“Oh, I'm sorry,” Jennifer said, a shy smile on her face.
“That must have been some girl talk; you were gazing off into space,” Jack surmised, smiling.
“I'm just a little tired, so I'm going to go to bed. Goodnight,” Jennifer informed her parents, hugging both of them and then walking towards the stairs that led to her upstairs bedroom.
“Are you okay, Jen?” a concerned Daniel asked as he followed her part way down the hall, leaving Jack in the living room to answer a phone call.
“I'm fine, Daddy, really. I worked really hard tonight and stayed later than I intended to. I just need some sleep,” Jennifer answered.
“Okay, Sweetie. Just don't push yourself too hard; you're still recovering,” Daniel reminded. He started back for the living room but hesitated, turning back around. He called out, “Jen?”
The teen appeared at the bottom of the stairs and asked, “Yes, Daddy?”
“Do you need to talk about anything? I ... I know we're not women, and that limits us sometimes, but Dad and I are always here for you, if you need us,” the younger man told their daughter.
“I know. Thanks.” Daniel waited, and so did the teenager, both somehow sensing that their conversation wasn't quite finished. “You never know what someone's story is until you take the time to listen to them. Everyone has untold stories, don't they, Daddy?”
Surprised at the turn their talk had taken, Daniel responded, “No Jen, you really don't. That's what makes being with someone you love and who loves you so special. They listen, don't judge you, and they accept you for who you are. They also help you to accept who you are, even the parts you think are ugly or unworthy. What brought all this up?”
“Just thinking,” Jennifer quietly answered.
“About?” Daniel prodded as he closed the gap between them.
“About Peter and Mary Beth,” Jennifer responded, pausing between each name. “They each hurt me, but in a different way. I can't believe I'm thinking this, but I'm wondering what their stories are, and if I knew, would it make a difference? Does that mean I'm wimpy, or weird?”
“Sweetheart, it means you're growing up. One piece of advice to remember, though,” Daniel gently advised. “Just because you can put yourself in someone's shoes doesn't mean you have to put yourself in their path. Self-disregard can masquerade as heroism and self-sacrifice. It isn't noble, if you don't value yourself.”
“That's a lot to think about,” Jennifer intoned.
Nodding, Daniel replied, “Yes, it is. Now, get some sleep, and remember to take care of yourself.”
“I will,” Jennifer promised. “Daddy, Bri hurt me, too,” the teen noted almost as an afterthought.
“Sweetie, when you love someone, somewhere along the line, you're going to hurt them. It's part of life. Don't you think you hurt Bri, too?” Daniel asked gently.
“Yes, I know I did. I ... I guess it sort of evens out in the end,” Jennifer remarked.
“Don't keep score, Jen; that's a mistake,” Daniel advised strongly, his eyes boring into hers. “We're human. We make mistakes, and, as a result, sometimes we do hurt the ones we love. When that happens, we apologize, do our best to fix whatever wronged was incurred, or to at least try to truly understand what happened and why. Then, Jen, we move on, and pray we've learned a lesson we won't forget.”
“Thanks, Daddy. Goodnight,” Jennifer intoned softly, giving her younger father a smile before she turned and went up the stairs.
~Spending time with Mrs. Valissi is good for Jen,~ Daniel thought as he rejoined his husband in the living room.
Inside her room, Jennifer pondered all that had happened this evening. She felt like a stranger to herself, and she knew she wouldn't be quite the same after her talk with Mrs. Valissi.
As the evening wore on, Jennifer undressed, put on her nightgown, and climbed into bed. The sandman made his appearance in a few minutes, and the formerly burdened teen slept the most peaceful untroubled sleep she had known in months.
“She looks so peaceful, Jack,” Daniel observed about Jennifer when the parents did their nightly rounds to check on their children.
The lovers were standing next to each other, their arms around each other's waists as they watched their eldest daughter sleeping, a tiny smile on her face. That was something they hadn't seen for a while. In fact, up until the last couple of weeks, Jennifer's sleep had been restless. Tonight, though, she looked calm.
“I'm relieved, Danny. The extra time she's spending with Mrs. V is good for her. I'm not sure what's going on over there, but I'd bet a donut Mrs. V is responsible for Jen's being more relaxed lately, especially tonight,” Jack commented.
“I think Mrs. Valissi likes having someone to talk to, and Jen is listening to what she's being taught,” Daniel noted.
“Mrs. V has a lot to teach; she's lived through a lot,” Jack added.
“And I think that's what Jen is learning. We wouldn't want to insult Mrs. Valissi by making her think we feel obligated, but maybe something will come along that will allow us to show her our appreciation one day,” Daniel replied hopefully.
“My genius,” Jack said with a grin as rubbed against Daniel's side. “C'mon, let's check on the rest of the brood and get some sleep.”
**Yeah, like you want to get me in bed to sleep!**
**Well, yes, afterwards.**
Smiling, the two lovers walked to check on their children, anticipating enjoying each other just a few minutes from now.
Their check on the brood completed, Jack and Daniel readied themselves for eventual sleep in their bedroom. At the moment, they were discussing Jennifer and her growing attachment to their older neighbor. Daniel had also told Jack about the exchange he and their oldest daughter had shared earlier.
“She did seem, well, a bit subdued,” Jack commented.
“Subdued can be good, Jack,” Daniel responded.
“I suppose so,” Jack hesitantly agreed.
“So?” Daniel prodded.
“So?” a clueless Jack asked with a shrug.
“So, subdue me, already, ya Big Hunk!” Daniel seductively requested.
Smiling, the two lovers were anything but subdued as their passion united their bodies before settling in for a good night's sleep.
Late the next afternoon, after having gotten a report from Sam, Daniel entered the study. All the children were either upstairs or outside, as were the various critters, with the exception of Mittens who was having a great time annoying Jack as he tried to do some business accounting.
“Cats!” Jack growled.
“Meow!” Mittens responded as she walked across the keyboard.
“I'll meow you into meow stew!” the general threatened unconvincingly.
“Purrrrrrr,” Mittens said, rubbing against Jack's hand.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Jack groaned.
“Having problems, Babe?” Daniel chuckled.
“No, just the usual. Danny, you've got that look. What's wrong?” Jack asked, concerned.
“Jack, I know there's a lot to do with the Munchkins' birthday almost here, but I have a little trip I'd like to take,” Daniel explained as he leaned against the desk.
“I'm listening,” Jack said, biting his tongue at the immediate resistance that was wanting to come out.
“I told you about my conversation with David; you know, about Noa,” Daniel stated.
“Yes, I recall. And?” the older man prompted.
“I had an idea,” Daniel answered, adding, “And I had Sam do some research, but I don't want her doing the legwork. I think we need to do it, but since we can't both be gone right now, I'd like to do it.”
“Okay, Angel. Tell me what's going on in that brain of yours,” Jack requested, feeling his resistance fading simply from the tone of Daniel's voice.
“Jack, Jen, David, and Noa don't have much of their parents. They only have a handful of possessions and a few scattered photos. Noa needs to know who her birth parents were. I don't care that she was a baby when they died, she remembers them. We know that,” Daniel stated emphatically.
“I agree,” Jack affirmed.
“Noa needs more, Babe. She needs to ... to know her birth parents, to ... to sense the connection between her and them,” a passionate Daniel explained.
“There aren't any possessions, Danny. We got everything that was left when we went to their old house,” Jack replied.
“Babe, what do we do anytime we go to a children's party or an event held at someone else's house?” Daniel asked. Seeing the vacant stare on his soulmate's face, he answered, “We take pictures, and who is in those pictures?”
“Our children,” Jack responded automatically, preparing to argue until his brain processed what Daniel was intimating. Leaning forward, he added, “And pictures of other people.”
“Right. Jack, I tried to remember everything Jen and David have told us about their old neighborhood, and I had Sam get some background on the Morgans. Maybe ... maybe if we track down some of their old neighbors, old friends, we can find some of those pieces that Noa needs to make that connection,” the younger man suggested, his hands gripping the edge of Jack's desk.
“What's the itinerary?” Jack asked calmly.
“You're not ... arguing?”
“No, because I think you're right about Noa. I talked to her again about changing rooms, and she's insistent on staying in the nursery, even after Bean Sprout is born. She's scared of being separated from David,” Jack observed.
“And from us, because her birth parents died. I don't know why I think this will help with that, but I do. I think if she could see pictures, she'd feel better. Gawd, I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong,” Daniel lamented, staring downward.
~Never.~ Jack shook his head as he stood up. He pulled Daniel into his arms and expressed with conviction, “No, you're not wrong. I'll handle things here.”
“I love you, Jack.”
“To the moon and the stars and back again, Angel,” Jack crooned as the lovers held each other tightly.
Daniel left early the next morning and headed out to the neighborhood where the Morgans used to live. He had a list of names that Jennifer had been able to give him, but it wasn't very long. The names she knew were those of her own friends, rather than those of her parents or Chenoa's friends. He'd decided to start with those names first, then move onto the neighbors. He figured that friends were more likely to have photos of the Morgans than neighbors.
Daniel knocked on the door of the first house he had listed, and as he waited for an answer, he sent up a silent prayer -- ~Please, let me find something to help Noa.~
“Hello, how can I help you?” a woman asked politely.
“Mrs. Lawson?” Daniel asked.
The woman nodded, looking wary, and Daniel smiled, hoping to put her at ease.
“Hi, my name is Daniel Jackson-O'Neill. I understand you used to be friends with the Morgans and their children, Jennifer, David and Chenoa.”
Mrs. Lawson gave him a sad smile, saying, “Yes, we did know the Morgans. They were a lovely couple, had delightful children.”
“The children are still delightful, Mrs. Lawson,” Daniel informed her as his smile grew. “And that's the reason I'm here. A number of years ago my partner and I adopted all three children.”
At hearing this, all of the woman's hesitancy vanished, and she beckoned Daniel in, eager to hear how the Morgan children were faring.
Half an hour later, having been thoroughly plied with coffee and biscuits, Daniel left, carrying a small pile of photos and having added a few more names to his list of people the Morgans had been close friends with.
Daniel looked at the house he'd just left, feeling a little guilty that he hadn't been completely open with the woman. He and Jack had decided it would be better to avoid mentioning that his partner was another man. Hopefully, the type of people the Morgans had been friends with wouldn't be bothered by it, but they didn't want to risk it, if it meant not getting Chenoa the keepsakes she needed. Daniel refused to lie about the identity of his life partner if someone asked, but he wasn't going to volunteer the information.
As the day went on, Daniel's little pile of photos grew, but it wasn't until the late afternoon that he hit the jackpot. One of the names Mrs. Lawson had given him had been of a couple that had children the same age as Chenoa and David. Daniel had barely had time to explain what he was after before being ushered indoors by a very excited woman.
“I have just the thing, Mister Jackson-O'Neill.”
“Please, call me Daniel,” the smiling man requested.
“Daniel, and call me Chris. I'm so pleased to hear Noa is happy and well. Such a lovely child. Now you wait right there; I just have to remember where it is.”
Daniel watched the over-excited woman with a small smile, hoping that she could find whatever she was looking for. She didn't seem to be the most organized of people.
“I know it's here somewhere ... now where did we put it ... Ah huh, here it is!” she said, jumping up and brandishing a video tape. “Now, let's just make sure it's the right one.”
Chris turned on the television and stuck the tape in. After a couple of seconds of white noise a picture came onto the screen of a young toddler taking some first tentative steps.
“That's my Amy,” Chris said proudly of the girl on the screen.
The woman fast-forwarded the tape a little until another scene came on. Daniel had to swallow the lump in his throat as he saw a very young Chenoa toddling her way over to a woman who Daniel knew from photos was Mrs. Morgan.
“Ellen was a wonderful mother, so devoted to her children,” Chris said mournfully about the Mouseketeer's mother. “She was a pageant queen, and she said one day, Noa would be, too.”
Daniel nodded and then curiosity got the better of him, so he asked, “Didn't she think Jen would be a pageant participant?”
“Well, I think it was more that Ellen sensed that Noa was just like her. Jenny took after both her parents, but she had a lot more of Phil in her. Noa ... Noa was special.” Chris took a gasping breath as she hesitated. Then she looked at Daniel and said, “I don't think Jenny and David ever knew this, but Ellen had a very hard time with Noa's birth, and Noa had a hard time herself.” With a small smile, she continued, “Ellen believed that gave them a little extra bond, something that went beyond the usual. Noa always clung to her.”
“She misses her mother,” Daniel said softly.
“Any child would, Daniel. I think this is a wonderful thing you're doing. Let me hook up a second VCR, and I can make you a copy of this,” the sympathetic woman offered.
“Thank you, Chris,” Daniel spoke.
As she hooked up the units, Chris asked, “Have you spoken with Aida?”
The name sounded familiar, so Daniel checked the list of names. Aida Martindale appeared on both Sam and Jennifer's list, but she lived in a rural Idaho community.
“No, uh, I haven't,” Daniel answered.
“You should. She was Ellen's best friend. They went to college together. I didn't know her well, but anytime there was a special occasion, Aida was there,” Chris commented as she completed the hookup and put in the videotapes.
“Was she there when Noa was born?” Daniel asked.
“I think so,” Chris replied as she double-checked the VCR connections, not wanting to take a chance on a faulty recording.. “I was out of town at the time myself.”
~I need to go there,~ Daniel thought.
“Jack, it's Daniel,” the archaeologist spoke into his cell phone after the beep. “I guess you're with the children. I *am* going to make that trip. I already checked the routes. I'll be taking Jo; that way I don't have to worry about flight times. I'll keep you posted. I love you.”
Daniel disconnected the call and headed for the airport. He already had a bag packed. He hadn't been sure whether or not he'd have to make the trip that he had outlined tentatively with his husband the night before, but after speaking with Chris, he knew it was a necessity.
“Mrs. Martindale, my name is Daniel Jackson-O'Neill, and, uh, I'd like a few minutes of your time,” Daniel requested as he stood at the door of the home, his rental car visible on the street behind him.
“My husband will be home soon,” the leery woman spoke.
“Would you like me to wait?” Daniel asked.
“What is it you want?” Aida asked cautiously, keeping the door only slightly ajar.
“I'd like to talk to you about Ellen Morgan. More specifically, about her children,” Daniel informed the woman.
“Ellen,” Aida sighed. “I miss her.” Suddenly, she stood up a little straighter and let the door open back more. “Do you know where her children are?”
Daniel smiled, reaching back into his pocket. He opened it, revealing current photographs of Jennifer, David, and Chenoa.
“Oh my,” Aida commented, tears welling up in her eyes as she pressed her hands against her chest. “They've grown so much. Ellen would be so proud,” she said. “Please, come in.”
Ellen laughed, having heard yet another funny story about the children of her good friend, but then she queried, “Daniel, you didn't come all this way to fill me in on Ellen's kids. Why are you here?”
Daniel explained about Chenoa and that he was searching for connections to her mother, things that might help, and though he had hit the jackpot with Chris, he still felt like there was more that Chenoa needed.
“I have exactly what that little angel needs,” Aida told him. “This will take a couple of minutes. I'll be back.”
A few minutes later, Aida returned with a box load of treasures.
“I'm notorious for keeping things. My husband says that I'm the epitome of a pack rat,” Aida laughed. She began to pull out a pile of letters, bundled together. “As I assume you know, Ellen and I met in college. We kept in touch frequently. These are her letters. In them,” she sighed, taking a deep breath to avoid crying, “is the history of Ellen's love for Phil, their shock of being pregnant so soon with Jennifer, David's smarts, and the near-agony of Noa's birth. Daniel, Ellen was a prolific writer, but these are her emotions.” The woman handed the pile to Daniel, urging, “You give these to those children. Their mother was a wonderful person, and they each deserve to know that.”
“Thank you,” Daniel spoke quietly as he held the large stack in his hands.
“I was out of the country when Ellen and Phil died; I didn't even know about it until a month later. I called, and the phone was out of order. I made a few calls. Daniel, I tried to find those kids, but they were gone. Please tell them that. I ask that because Ellen and I had made a promise to take care of each other's children. I swear on all that is holy, I tried to find them. They wouldn't tell me anything. I ... I was so angry. Dealing with the government was a nightmare,” Aida intoned, wiping a tear from her eye.
“I understand; I'm, uh, acquainted with red tape,” Daniel sighed.
“Maybe I should have tried harder, but they're together, and they're happy. I can see that in the photos you showed me. You and your wife are very lucky. She is a good mother?” Seeing Daniel's hesitation, Aida pulled back and prompted, “Daniel?”
“She's a he,” Daniel confided.
“Oh, I see.” Suddenly, Aida became nervous. She sighed, closing her eyes. “People sometimes are the best they can be, but they aren't perfect.”
“I, uh, agree,” Daniel replied, a bit confused by the woman's last comment.
“My husband will be home in just a few minutes. Daniel, I'm going to get one more thing that I have in my room. It's a compilation tape that I made after Ellen and Phil died. It has friends and family, but there's a segment devoted to Ellen. She was pregnant with Noa towards the end, but ... then you'll have to leave. I'm afraid my husband isn't as ... tolerant as I'd like.”
“I understand,” Daniel acknowledged, realizing now that Aida was talking about her husband being his best, but not perfect.
A minute later, Aida handed Daniel the tape, saying, “I'm glad I made copies for people. You know, I'm not even sure what else is on here, but it's all related to Ellen. If you have questions, please call ... during business days when my husband isn't home,” she requested, her eyes full of sadness about having to make that request. After her visitor nodded, she tenderly requested, “Take care of those kids.”
“Thank you, Aida, and we will,” Daniel spoke gratefully.
Daniel closed the front door quietly, setting his overnight bag and the bag of collected Morgan treasures on the floor. He was immediately greeted enthusiastically by two sleepy beagles.
“Hey, Girls, I'm pleased to see you too. Is everything all right here? Is Jack asleep?” Daniel inquired.
“No,” a quiet droll voice answered from the stairs. “He couldn't sleep without his Danny Blanket.”
Daniel smiled and moved into his husband's embrace. The two men just stood there for a few minutes, holding each other and savoring the feeling of having the other in their arms after a day apart.
“Missed you, Angel.”
“I missed you too, Babe. Sorry I'm so late, but it was worth taking that trip to Idaho,” Daniel stated.
“I wasn't sure you'd make it back tonight,” Jack stated.
Jack felt Daniel grin against his neck and smiled as well when he heard the sheepish, “I thought about staying the night in Idaho, but I need my Jack Pillow to sleep well, so I came home instead. Good thing I took Jo.”
“I'm glad you came home, Danny,” Jack intoned, stealing a quick kiss, shortened when Daniel let out a huge yawn. Jack chuckled, saying, “Go on. I'll take the bags upstairs while you check on the brood.”
The younger man kissed his husband lovingly, without yawning this time, and then began making the rounds. No matter how late it was when they got home, both men always checked the children before getting into bed themselves.
~I think the items I collected today will help you, Noa.~ Daniel thought as he checked on the little girl. ~You're a tough little cookie, though, aren't you?~ He turned to look at Lulu, thinking, ~And you're our other tough little cookie.~ The loving father pulled the covers up over the sleeping girl and suddenly cursed himself for his thoughtlessness. ~Geez. Our poor little Lulu. I wonder if we've done enough to help you remember your birth parents and your first adoptive parents?~
Even though Lulu had lost her parents when she was a baby, she undoubtedly still wondered about them. Then there was the first couple that had adopted her. Lulu had spent five years with them before their sudden deaths. Daniel vowed to talk to Jack about that. In the end, it only took time and effort, and they had so many resources at their disposal.
~Lil' Bit, we'll find the answers to your questions, too. Dad and I aren't afraid to let you love your birth parents and your adoptive parents. They were good people, and they deserve to be remembered by you.~
Daniel placed a kiss on Lulu's forehead and after a final glance back at Chenoa continued his rounds. He had one more child to say goodnight to.
“Bean Sprout, you're going to have a lot of questions, and I'm not sure we're going to have the answers, but we'll try. Your brothers and sisters are incredible people; you're going to love them so much. Goodnight, Bean Sprout. Goodnight to you, too, Toto. We're trusting you to keep our baby safe.”
Placing a kiss on the rubbery material, Daniel paused for a lingering look before turning off the light in the den and going to the bedroom.
“That's a good point about Lulu, Danny,” Jack said, rubbing his lover's back.
“Maybe she's not thinking about it, but I think we should be prepared. At some point, Jack, she'll want to know. That's human nature,” Daniel commented.
“Yeah,” Jack agreed, deep in thought about the subject.
“Jack, do you think we should give the Mouseketeers the things I collected right away or wait until after the Munchkins' party?” Daniel asked as the lovers continued to snuggle in bed.
Jack thought for a moment, absentmindedly caressing Daniel's back as he did so.
“I think we should wait until after the Munchkins' party. Mainly because I think it would be nice for them to have time to explore everything as much as they want to once we give it all to them. I don't want to give them these mementos and then tell them they can't look at them yet because they have to come to the party,” Jack stated.
“I don't want them to resent having to wait though. I would hope that they'd choose to come to the Munchkins' party, knowing that everything will be waiting for them when they get back,” Daniel remarked, his fingers toying with his husband's chest hairs.
Jack looked at Daniel knowingly as he responded, “You're going to feel guilty if we don't give them those things as soon as possible, aren't you?”
Daniel hesitated and then admitted, “I just don't think we have the right to keep anything from them. Even just knowing that we have these things for them ... I want them to know that they have more of their parents than they think they do.”
Jack nodded as he agreed, “We'll do it tomorrow.”
“You collected all this? For us?” Jennifer asked as she looked up at her parents with tears in her eyes.
“Mommy,” Noa said softly as she gazed at one of the photos Aida Martindale had given Daniel.
In her letters to her friend, Ellen Morgan had often included photos of her family. The one Chenoa was currently staring at showed Ellen fixing the wings on a fairy costume that a fourteen-month-old Chenoa was wearing. The photo had been taken just four months before the Morgans had been killed.
Jennifer looked at the photo and hugged her sister, saying, “I remember that. David and I were both in a Christmas pageant, and you wanted to dress up, too, so Mom made you a fairy costume.”
David was looking through a pile of letters and then laughed.
“David?” Jennifer asked.
Grinning, David held up a piece of paper that had three different-sized handprints on it, each with the names of one of the Morgan children.
“You got the ink all over us, Noa,” David said.
Chenoa laughed, not really remembering that event.
“Noa, I want to show you something,” Daniel said. He put a videotape in the VCR and hit 'play', watching as the Morgan children realized their mother was on the screen. “See anyone you know?”
“Mommy,” Chenoa answered softly, pointing to her big-bellied mother.
“This was the same month you were born. Your mommy was at a baby shower to celebrate your birth,” Daniel explained. “Look at her smile.”
“That's me!” Chenoa said, pointing at her mother's belly. Her face was alight with wonder. “Jen, that's Mommy and me!”
“Yes, it is,” Jennifer confirmed. “You were a big baby.”
After digesting that tape, Daniel put on the tape from Chris, and watched as Chenoa recognized herself toddling up to her mother. Several other moments, though brief and scattered, were on the tape.
“Jen, Mommy's so pretty!” Chenoa happily remarked.
“She sure was,” Jennifer agreed, smiling with an abundance of gratitude at Daniel and trying not to lose control as the lump in her throat grew in size with each new glimpse of her mother.
“Listen,” Daniel said. “All these letters and everything here are for all of you. There's no rush in going through them; uh, they should probably stay with Jen for safekeeping, though.”
“Daddy, can we make copies of the video and convert it to DVD?” David asked.
“I think that would be a good idea,” Daniel agreed, looking at Jack and getting a confirming nod.
Suddenly, Chenoa gasped as she found another special picture, one of her mother actually crocheting Uni, her handmade unicorn.
**Her mother is becoming real again, Jack.**
**I think this is exactly what Noa needed, Danny.**
Just then, there was a knock on the door, and Jack answered it, finding Sam and Pete there. In a flash, Chenoa ran up to Sam and grabbed her hand.
“Aunt Sam, come see my mommy. She so pretty. Come see, Aunt Sam!” Chenoa excitedly beckoned, grabbing her fellow blonde's hand.
A bit confused, Sam followed Chenoa back into the living room.
“Daddy, play it again, please,” Chenoa requested anxiously.
“Hi, Sam, Pete,” Daniel greeted before restarting the tape.
“Look!” Chenoa exclaimed, her eyes glued to the screen.
“Wow,” Sam expressed as she knelt down, her position just slightly behind Chenoa. She put her arms around the young girl and smiled as she said, “Your mother was very beautiful, Noa.”
“I was in her tummy, too. Daddy, show Aunt Sam,” Chenoa requested.
As Chenoa rambled on, going a mile-a-minute, Daniel put the other tape back on. He and Jack were both amazed at just how much the little girl remembered, though they weren't that surprised, especially since they knew Little Danny remembered things from his first year of life, too.
It seemed strange to Jack and Daniel in ways since neither of them had such early recollections, but watching Chenoa's face, they had no doubt that she did remember times spent with her parents. This current stroll down memory lane was something they realized she needed to do in order to remind herself that her birth parents were indeed real.
Along with the joy and thrill of the Mouseketeers' exploring all the items that Daniel had collected for them, the children were excited about the Munchkins' birthday celebration, the first part of which was later this day.
“We have an early birthday surprise for you, Little Danny,” Daniel informed with a pleased smile.
“Daddy, how come Little Danny gets a birthday present early?” Jonny griped, while his brother smiled in surprise and Aislinn cheered.
The father and triplets were congregated in the living room, while the rest of the children were upstairs, getting ready for their trip through the Stargate later in the afternoon.
Before Daniel could answer, Jack came down the stairs with Ricky and Jenny and answered for him, saying, “You'll see why Little Danny is getting his present early when it arrives.”
“It's arriving?” Little Danny asked, looking completely bewildered.
Jack grinned and said, “Yep,” as he looked at his watch. “In fact, it should be arriving just about now.” When nothing happened, he scowled. “It always works in the movies.”
Daniel sniggered, and Jack fixed him with a glare. Fortunately, at that moment, the expected flash of light came and deposited a little gray alien and a funny-haired young woman in the middle of the room.
“LYA! THOR!” Little Danny shouted as he leaped up and embraced the two aliens.
“Uh, Little Danny, I think they might need to breathe, Son,” Jack said gently.
Little Danny stepped back and grinned at everyone, saying, “This is best present, Dad, Daddy.”
Daniel smiled at the happy little boy and explained, “We know you wanted to show your off-world friends where you live. We can't take the chance of bringing them all here, but we thought if Thor brought Lya, then you could at least show her around.”
Little Danny hugged both his parents, took Lya and Thor by the hand, and began dragging them all over the house. They were followed by Jonny, Ash, Ricky, and Jenny.
“We did good, Danny,” Jack said happily.
“Very good, Jack,” Daniel agreed. “He's really going to love Lya's present.”
Two hours later, the Jackson-O'Neills stepped through the Stargate to the Nox home world. They were met by Lya, the rest of the Nox and other friends the children had made from the worlds they'd visited. After Little Danny had greeted everyone, Lya came over and bent down so that she was eye level with the little boy. She held out her hand for little Danny to take and then smiled at him.
“I have a present for you, Little Danny,” Lya spoke.
The Nox woman closed her eyes and concentrated. Before the stunned eyes of the brood, a building appeared. There was excited chatter from the other people present, and Little Danny gasped in shock.
“Our house? You brought our house here?” Little Danny asked.
Lya smiled, explaining, “I'm afraid it is not real; it is merely an illusion.”
Little Danny looked a little disappointed, and then did his best to pretend he wasn't.
Lya squeezed his shoulder as she spoke, “It is not real, Little Danny, but it is still real enough for you to show your friends everything you showed me earlier.”
Little Danny beamed at her, happiness radiating from him.
**He's a happy little Camper, Danny.**
**It's all he wanted. He really doesn't care about material things Jack.**
The two smiled at each other, proud of their children and grateful for their friends.
After Little Danny had shown his friends around their house, the Nox hosted a birthday party on their planet for the Munchkins and all present. Everyone was having a delightful time as the event progressed. At the end, Lya and Nafrayu, with Jack and Daniel's permission, took the Munchkins aside, leading them quite a ways from the others.
“Watch,” Lya told them as she waved her hand out in front of her, revealing the Nox city in the sky. “It is our home; someday, maybe we'll take you there.”
“Oh, boy, look!” Jonny exclaimed.
“It's beautiful, Lya,” Aislinn said with big eyes.
“Thank you, Lya,” Little Danny said. “This great present.”
“Remember, our home is a secret. Only very special friends know about it,” Lya advised them.
“We no tell brothers and sisters?” Aislinn asked a bit worriedly.
Lya smiled warmly, saying, “Jennifer knows of our home. You may tell the others, but, remember, they, too, must keep it a secret.”
The next day was the big day -- Saturday, the twenty-fourth day of September -- and the Munchkins were celebrating their fifth birthday.
“Five years,” Daniel sighed. “Jack, they're five years old,” he spoke as if it were a tragedy.
“Angel, they're still little,” Jack assured.
“Not for long. Five. Jack, they're five,” Daniel whined.
Jack took his lover into his arms and teased, “Wait until they're fifteen.”
Chuckling slightly, Jack held his husband. They had a big day ahead of them, and when it was over, he knew they'd need a vacation.
“Wow, Dad, Daddy.” Jonny looked at them in amazement, saying, “This is the best cake ever.”
“Na-uh,” Aislinn said as she disagreed, looking at her own cake in awe. “Mine best, too.”
Jonny's cake was shaped like an F-16, complete with a miniature pilot that looked just like him. Since Aislinn's latest career ambition was to be an intergalactic ambassador, her cake was in the shape of a little gray alien that looked remarkably familiar. To those unaware of the SGC, it looked like the typical Roswell depiction of an alien. To everyone else, the little gray cake was definitely a representation of the Asgard.
“He really doesn't care, does he?” Jack asked quietly.
Jack watched in amazement as Little Danny gazed back and forth between the two birthday cakes. They had each worried that Little Danny would feel the lack of presents and a cake at this party, but the young boy didn't seem to mind a bit.
“No,” Daniel answered as he watched his namesake draw Jonny and Aislinn into a three-way hug.
“They're both the bestest cakes ever,” Little Danny told them.
“Danny, why you no have cake?” one of the Munchkin's friends asked curiously.
Little Danny grinned, answering, “This is Jonny's and Ash's party. I visited friends instead of having a party.”
~Clever Sproglet,~ Jack thought as he admired the way his son twisted the truth.
**Don't admire his ingenuity too much, Babe. Who do you think he's going to use it on the most?** Daniel warned.
Daniel grinned at his lover and decided they had time for a game of Pin the Earth on the Universe. It was the variation of Pin the Tail on the Donkey that they'd come up with when Little Danny protested that, “Pinning tails on donkeys would be cruel.” They had a map of the planets in the solar system, and the children had to try and pin earth in the right spot.
Jack snickered as Daniel arranged the children in a line, remembering how Little Danny had responded to Jack's, “It's just a game, Son,” with, “I'll tell the SPCA.”
**You're right, Danny, but I can't help but admire his genius and his caring nature.**
A few days after the party, Jack and Daniel were making plans for their October birthdays -- Chenoa, who would be six on October sixth, and Brianna, who would be eleven on October tenth. Brianna would also be gone for several days on her dolphin trip. They considered making that her birthday, but decided against it, so now they had two more parties to plan and lots of presents to buy.
“Jack, did you talk to Sara?” Daniel asked.
“About the ponies?” Jack responded.
“Yeah, seeing if Mark's boss would let us do a party up there. Noa loves those ponies,” Daniel commented.
“I didn't get a chance to ask her, but I will tomorrow when I drop the Spitfires off,” Jack advised.
“Don't forget,” Daniel warned.
“Where's your faith in me?” Jack challenged. Seeing Daniel's glare, Jack added, “Right. I'll write it down.”
“Good idea, Babe!” the younger man exclaimed with a grin. ~And I'll ask the Spitfires to remind you when you forget to check your list,~ he silently mused.
“Well, that was ... different,” Daniel commented as the lovers exited the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver.
“Didn't you like it?” Jack inquired as they casually made their way to the Silver Fox.
“No, I mean, yes, it was fine, but we've never gone to an opera before where they spoke so much,” Daniel commented.
“It's called German Singspiel,” Jack stated informatively. “The arias express the emotion, but don't further the story.”
“I noticed,” Daniel chuckled.
The two were talking about Mozart's “The Abduction from the Seraglio,” which they had just seen performed.
“Hey, it had a happy ending!” Jack remarked as he paused for a moment to avoid hitting a group of walkers going the other direction.
“Yes, Belmonte and Constanze are together, but ...” Daniel began.
“Mister Negative,” Jack whined.
“I'm not being negative,” Daniel argued.
“There was a 'but' at the end of your sentence, Babe,” Jack accused.
“All I'm saying is that Osmin is still out there somewhere,” Daniel spoke about the villain of the piece who had simply departed in a rush. “He could follow them back to Spain or ...”
“Daniel, let them have a happy ending,” Jack requested.
Bobbing his head slightly as he reached for his keys, the younger man agreed, “Okay.” Unlocking the car, he asked, “How are we on time?”
Jack checked his watch, answering, “Right on schedule, Love. Tante Louise is about fifteen minutes from here.”
“And then ...” Daniel smirked, looking over the top of his car at his husband.
“And then!” Jack agreed, with shining eyes.
As their Friday date continued, Jack and Daniel looked forward to a romantic dinner at one of their favorite, more intimate Denver restaurants, after which they'd join together in their nation of two at a hotel they liked a lot.
Upon returning home, Jack and Daniel apologized to Mrs. Valissi, their babysitter of the night, for being so late since it was almost two-thirty in the morning when they walked in. She smiled, waving off their unnecessary apologies, and the three chatted for a few minutes before Daniel escorted the senior citizen safely to her home.
When Daniel returned, he and Jack locked up the house and checked in on their brood, including Bean Sprout, before turning in.
“Hey, Girls,” Daniel greeted, smiling as Bijou and Katie both settled in at the foot of their bed.
“Looks like we're the winners of the night,” Jack teased.
The two never knew where the beagles would choose to sleep at night. Oftentimes, Katie would go back and forth between Daniel and Little Danny, but there was really no set pattern except that if any particular member of the family was sick or upset, both beagles tended to stay with them.
“We're winners every night, Jack. Bij and Katie are our first two miracles,” Daniel spoke softly, leaning down to pet the dogs.
“Yeah, the little beasts,” Jack chuckled, tickling Bijou and then Katie, causing both dogs to roll over and let out little snorts.
After a few minutes of playing with the dogs, the men settled into their normal sleeping position, Daniel atop Jack so he could listen to his lover's steady and comforting heartbeat with one leg hooked inside of Jack's. Jack's arms were gently wrapped around Daniel, warming the younger man's back. They both loved this closeness the nighttime brought.
“I'm sleeping in, Babe,” Daniel said, yawning. “Don't wake me,” he warned.
“Like I could,” Jack teased before kissing the top of his soulmate's head as they prepared for a good night's sleep. “Love you, Angel.”
“Mmmm ... love you, too,” Daniel stated softly.
September had been a fun-filled month, one full of some unexpected surprises that might even be called miracles, but October was on the horizon, and it, too, promised to be a month of unexpected miracles.
... On to Chapter Seven
Feedback Welcome - click here to email the author