Unexpected Miracle - Continued
Chapter Eight: Sometimes It Really Is a Zoo!
November was promising to be a very full and exciting month, especially with the impending birth of Jack and Daniel's baby.
Having survived Halloween, while continuing to learn about the new world they were now a part of, as well as getting to know more of the Jackson-O'Neill extended family, Billy and Jilly had finally reached a decision about the holidays. Their decision was aided by the children's insistence that they had to be there for Christmas, too. It was also influenced by the fact that their own children would be coming through the Stargate this coming Friday, on the fourth.
“We've talked about it,” Billy began as he sat on the sofa in the living room.
“You have to stay, Aunt Jilly!” Chenoa insisted.
Billy smiled and pronounced, “This is what we're going to do. When our children come through the Stargate, we'll all spend the weekend here.” He turned to Jack, asking, “Bro, are you sure? It's going to be crowded.”
Daniel answered, “We insist, Billy. This may be our only chance to have everyone together.”
“Yeah, what he said,” Jack agreed, squeezing Daniel's hand as he gave his soulmate a grateful smile.
“We'll make it work,” Jennifer affirmed. “We have a lot of space, and we're not afraid of crowds,” she teased.
“Okay, that's what we'll do, but then we need to go home, to Australia. Jilly needs time to speak with her cousins, the ones who have been running her cattle station,” Billy explained.
“You can imagine how difficult it is for them. They've been running the place, thinking they owned it, and now I'm, well, I'm displacing them,” Jilly intoned, feeling a bit guilty about it.
“But it's a big place, Darling,” Billy said. “I'm sure we'll be able to work something out.”
Jilly nodded, smiling weakly at the situation they were facing. Jack and Daniel's lawyer, Mark Kingston, had already put the O'Neills in touch with an Australian property lawyer just as a precaution should things become bitter and nasty between Jilly and her cousins.
“We're taking our children to see their home, and after that, it's up to them to go where their hearts lead them,” Billy stated.
“Then we'll come back for a week at Thanksgiving,” Jilly announced.
“And Christmas?” Jonny asked eagerly from his spot on the floor with Mittens purring in his lap.
“We can't stay for the entire month,” Billy replied regretfully. “But we will come back for a week at Christmas, too.”
“Assuming you aren't too tired of us by then,” Jilly laughed, reaching down to caress Chenoa's rosy cheeks for a moment as the young girl sat on one of the floor pillows.
“Never!” Jack responded.
With those plans made, the family began the enormous task of figuring out where in their home they could find enough space for six more families and numerous more people to stay. Billy and Jilly's children would be on Earth in just two days.
Contributing to the chaos, Catherine, Ernest, and Ptolemy would be arriving on Saturday.
After hearing of his brother's plans, Jack called Catherine to make sure Ptolemy could handle the madhouse. While Catherine had offered to postpone their trip, Jack refused, unless, of course, she felt uncomfortable “spending time with a zoo of O'Neills.”
After each had reassured the other, Catherine guaranteed Jack that Ptolemy could handle a house full of crazy O'Neills anytime, so the Littlefield's plans remained unchanged.
To add to the influx of people, Megan and Brianna would be returning on the same day the extended Jackson-O'Neill clan were arriving.
“Jack,” Daniel said quietly later in the day as the two were alone in the garage.
“What, Love?” Jack asked as he put the laundry in the washer. When Daniel didn't answer, he paused, looking over at his soulmate who was motionless as he stood by the sorting table in the garage. “Daniel?”
“I, uh ... well, I don't want Bri to be overshadowed. This trip was very important to her, and I'm a little afraid that with all the others coming that the dolphins are going to be lost in the shuffle. Jack, we can't let that happen. I mean, they're family, but ...”
“Hey,” Jack called out, moving over to his lover and turning him to face him. “Bri is our daughter, and she gets the priority. We'll talk to Billy and Jilly, too, so they understand. We won't let our daughter feel unimportant or like an outsider. I miss her. I miss her a lot.”
“I do, too. Jack, there's going to be so much going on, and she doesn't know them. Our other children have had time. Bri ... she's going to bring up that shield of armor, play tough, and ...” Daniel began.
“No, she's not,” Jack promised, holding Daniel's hands in his. Thoughtfully, he suggested, “We'll pick her up from the airport instead of Carter doing it like we'd planned, and we'll take her out for ice cream before we come back here.”
Daniel smiled, saying, “That gives her some time with us first. She'll like that.”
“We'll all like that,” Jack corrected, earning him a bigger smile and then a kiss from his husband. “Okay, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, back to the whites versus the colors.”
“Jack, have you thought about the sleeping arrangements for all these people?” the younger man inquired as he returned to his sorting.
“Not a friggin' clue. Never thought I'd see the day when this house was too small,” Jack chuckled.
“I wonder if Alex would have a solution, something better than camping out on the rec room floor?” Daniel pondered.
“Danny, the man is a designer, not a hotelier,” Jack replied.
“Yes, but he made us a new, old sofa,” Daniel reminded, smiling seductively at his husband as he recalled the magic of that event. “He might be able to help.”
“I'm dialing,” a convinced Jack agreed as he, too, recalled the time when the resourceful man had recreated their beloved couch after it had collapsed under the weight of the entire brood posing for a group picture.
“If the Munchkins and the twins could bunk in one room, that frees up a room. You could actually move one of their twin beds into the library alcove, if you don't mind having a couple of them sharing a bed,” Alex expounded upon hearing the situation. “Along with the spare room, that leaves three vacant rooms. The rooms are large enough to hold two queen-size beds each, and there is one already in the spare room. The sectional has two queen-size sleepers as well.”
“Danny, are you writing this down?” Jack whispered, placing his cell phone down and putting it on speaker.
“With what? Tide?” the archaeologist answered with a shrug, raising his eyebrows at the crazy question.
“Yeah, well, remember it,” Jack mouthed.
Alex continued, “What I propose is that you rent free-standing Murphy beds. They flip up out of the way when not in use. Five of them upstairs, plus the one bed in the spare room, is sleeping space for twelve. The garage is roomy enough for three, so that brings us up to eighteen. One for the recreation room in addition to the two sleepers is room for twenty-four. I assume Jennifer and Jeff wouldn't mind a bunkmate for the weekend?”
“They'd better not; they're both getting one,” Jack stated.
“Good,” Alex responded. “The kid's retreat will hold a couple of cots, if necessary, and the game room will hold a fold down. Let's see; we are up to thirty guests. Are we there, yet, Jack?”
Jack laughed, “I don't have the final tally myself yet. There are at least twenty-four O'Neills, and the Littlefields are coming. They have to have the guestroom to themselves.”
“Then that sounds like a plan. I can have a crew deliver and set up in four hours; just say the word,” Alex offered.
“That would be great,” Jack agreed as Daniel nodded.
“I'll bill Archonics, and you can settle up later. I can have them picked up when your guests leave as well. Have the flagpole up and ready, Jack. Anything else I can help you with?”
Jack was stunned at how quickly their guest quarters problems had vanished.
Chuckling, Jack replied, “No. Alex, you've helped enough for one day. Say hello to that pretty lady of yours for Daniel and me, and thanks, a lot.”
“Well?” Daniel practically laughed.
“Danny, why do I ever argue with you?” the older man quizzed.
“You didn't argue,” Daniel pointed out.
“No, but the moment you mentioned Alex's name, I should have pulled out the phone,” Jack mused.
“At least he figured it out; that's one less headache to worry about,” the younger man sighed contently.
“Are you sure you don't want an evening home with just Brianna, Daniel?” Jilly asked as they walked down the corridor of the SGC towards General Hammond's office.
Jack and Daniel were in the midst of dropping Billy and Jilly off at the SGC before heading to the airport to pick up Megan and Brianna. Since Sam and Teal'c were going through the Gate to bring the O'Neill children back to Earth, Sara and Mark were babysitting the brood until Jack, Daniel, and Brianna returned from the airport.
The plan was that after everyone had a chance to catch up with Brianna, Jack would phone the SGC, giving the all clear, and then Billy, Jilly, and their large family would be driven to the Jackson-O'Neill residence by drivers from the SGC. They were hoping that by the time they'd been through the mandatory physicals and debriefings that would occur upon stepping through the Stargate, that the Plantacia O'Neills wouldn't be at loose ends for long.
“We could all stay here for the night and then return to your house tomorrow,” Jilly continued.
~Gawd, I can't believe I have a sister-in-law,~ Daniel thought as he silently marveled at the woman he was walking beside. In response to her comment, he shook his head, laughing lightly, “It's really kind of you to offer, Jilly, but Brianna is dying to meet you all, particularly Billy. I think she's anxious to see how similar he and Jack are.”
“And the answer is very,” Jilly stated wryly.
Jack and Billy looked each other up and down as they walked behind their spouses. They smiled at the knowledge that they were alike in many ways.
“If you're sure then?” Jilly asked.
“We are,” Daniel intoned firmly as the four reached General Hammond's office. ~By the time we get back, the crew Alex sent should be finished and gone. Thanks for letting them in, Mrs. Valissi.~
With Billy and Jilly safely in the hands of General Hammond, Jack and Daniel left the SGC for the airport.
“It was so cool!” Brianna exclaimed to Jack as they walked to the SUV in the airport parking lot. “The first time I was really nervous, but I just did what they told me. I swam out and was really patient.” The excited girl stopped, giving her father a funny look. “Dad, you should do this some time, but you really do have to be patient.”
Jack gave his daughter a bit of mock scowl as Daniel and Megan laughed.
“Bri, your father isn't known for patience,” Daniel commented.
“I know, Daddy. Oh, there's Maria. Maria, see you later,” Brianna called out, waving to a friend she had met on the plane.
As she did that, Daniel walked Megan to her car, still hearing Brianna's enthusiastic rambling behind them.
“After a while, Dad, these three big dolphins started to come towards me. They swam around me and ...”
“It sounds like she had a wonderful time, Megan. We can't thank you enough for letting her be part of your trip,” Daniel stated, glancing back over at the excited young girl.
“Daniel, she was so much fun. That girl loves adventure, and before you ask, she wasn't one bit of trouble. She did everything that I asked her to when I asked her to.” Megan looked around, surveying the airport parking lot before continuing, “And she always wore the device Sam gave her and that patch of Thor's.”
“That's good to know,” Daniel intoned, pleased at the news.
“She wants to do it again, and I think she realized that if she didn't follow the rules, she wouldn't be able to.” Megan stopped, tugging on Daniel's arm, stopping their forward motion. “Daniel, she's a natural. All the mammal ... geeks,” she laughed, “said she has a strong sense of communication with the dolphins. They've invited her back.”
“So she minded her P's and Q's as Jack would say,” Daniel observed.
“To the letter,” Megan assured as they continued walking again. “How are things at the office?”
“Uh, good, I hope,” Daniel answered. “Megan, there's been so much going on with Jack's brother here that we've relied heavily on Karissa's ability to handle just about everything. She only called twice, once for verification about whether or not J-O should take a new job and once because of an equipment failure. Jack and I need you to do an extensive review when you get back to the office, and ...”
“And keep it up,” Megan assumed, smiling.
“Well, Jack's family is going to be here off and on throughout the month, and ...”
“Daniel, the baby's due soon, isn't it, er, he, she, the baby?” Megan stuttered excitedly.
“Yes, and even though we have an approximate due date, the baby could come early or late, just like with a normal pregnancy. We have Janet on speed dial,” Daniel mused a bit nervously. He added, “We're not really sure how it's supposed to go. Oh, and the Littlefields are coming,” Daniel remarked, chuckling. “It's going to get crazier before it eases up.”
“Don't worry about a thing,” Megan promised. “I'll go over everything and give you a report when I'm done.”
“I hope Karissa doesn't hate us. This really hasn't been fair to her,” Daniel said as they reached Megan's car.
“She was up to it, Daniel,” Megan responded as Daniel placed her luggage in the trunk of her car. “Careful, that lock is acting up. You have to sort of slam it and then finesse it,” she chuckled, wiggling her hips.
Daniel laughed, “I'm not sure I can ... finesse like that, but I think I got it.” He walked over to his friend and said, “It's good to have you back.”
“Home, sweet, home, and that's where I'm going. The house must look like dust!” Megan said with a grin.
“Bye, Bri,” Megan called out loudly, though from their position neither could make out the girl or even Jack, both of whom were several car lengths and an aisle away.
“Bye,” Brianna shouted, waving enthusiastically towards the direction of the voice, and then continuing to tell Jack about the amazing time she had.
After giving Megan a hug, Daniel watched as she got into her car and drove away safely. He began to walk back to the SUV when he stopped suddenly, turning to his right just in time to see Megan pulling out of the parking lot in her 1999 Toyota.
~Yeah, that'll work!~ Daniel thought as an idea sprang into his mind.
“After that, they swam away,” Brianna said as she sat in the middle of the sofa in the living room, surrounded by her brothers and sisters who were sitting on the floor and various pieces of furniture. “At first I thought that would be all there was to it, but then a bunch of really playful dolphins came over. They were the children.”
“Really?” Aislinn asked with big eyes.
“Yeah. The elders were off in the distance, watching,” Brianna said. “So I just watched and was quiet and then one of them swam right up to me. I put my hand on his fin, and he began to swim, with me right there alongside him.”
“Oh, wow!” David gasped excitedly.
“After a while, they left with the elders. Later, the science guys said I had been checked out and given the green light. Isn't that neat-o?” Brianna said, her eyes gleaming from the thrill of her adventure.
“Jack, she's beaming,” Daniel quietly observed as they listened from the stairs, the two sitting side-by-side, their shoulders touching.
During their ice cream outing, the parents had already heard some of what their daughter was sharing, and now, they were basking in her happiness as she shared a number of her adventures with her siblings.
“I've missed her like crazy,” Jack commented.
“It's been lonely even,” Daniel added. He turned his head to face Jack and asked, “How is it possible to have ten children and a ... a zoo all around you and still feel lonely?”
“Because it should be eleven, not ten,” Jack answered, putting his arm around Daniel's waist. “We were missing one crucial piece to our happy home.”
“It's going to be twelve soon,” Daniel practically crooned.
Jack nodded, leaning in for a quick kiss before returning their attention to Brianna.
“They want me to come back,” Brianna concluded as happily as when she had begun. “But, hey, thanks for listening and everything, but I want to meet Uncle Billy. Dad, does he like hockey?” the tomboy asked, looking over towards the stairs.
“You can ask him,” Jack suggested. Getting up, he walked over to Brianna, stepping over a couple of Munchkins along the way. “Bri, we've missed you, and I'm very happy you're home. I know you have a lot of stories to tell, so maybe we should let Billy and his clan spend the night at the SGC.”
**Jack, I love you. She's going to say 'no', but, gawd, that was perfect,** Daniel communicated.
Brianna smiled and answered, “Thank you, Dad. I have forever to tell my stories, but I want Uncle Billy and Aunt Jilly to hear some of them, too. Besides, who wants to stay at the SGC when we have room here?”
“I'll make the call,” Jack announced, rubbing Brianna's back and then giving her a kiss on the temple. “We're so proud of you,” he whispered.
Brianna smiled, feeling more love in this moment than she'd ever felt in her life. She was glowing, inside and out, as she watched Jack place a call to the SGC, advising his brother of their plans.
Brianna was still telling stories of her trip when the family heard the cars drive up outside.
“They're here, they're here!!” Jonny exclaimed as he jumped up, closely followed by Little Danny and Aislinn.
All three of the Munchkins raced for the door. The twins were hot on their tail, and soon all five of them were brought to a halt by a loud clearing of the throat.
As one, they turned and looked at the clearer of the throat, Jack, and rolled their eyes. Little Danny was even hopping from one foot to the other, unable to contain his excitement.
**Look, Danny. He's nearly doing a Danny dance.**
Daniel shook his head at his husband as he peered out the window to make sure it really was Billy, Jilly, and their family. Of course, it looked like a large parade, considering the number of family members about to make camp in their home. With a smile, he nodded to the Munchkins.
“Uncle Billy, Aunt Jilly!” Jonny exclaimed, being the first Munchkin out the door.
“And Bri's back,” Little Danny told them as he followed his brother.
As the rest of the brood went out to greet the newcomers, Daniel turned to Brianna and asked, “Ready to meet your uncle, aunt, and cousins?”
Brianna grinned, saying, “I want to see how like Dad Uncle Billy is.”
“Very,” Daniel answered with a wry grin.
“Cool,” the young girl responded.
With that, Brianna raced outside to meet her new extended family.
As Jack and Billy hugged by the caravan of vehicles and the O'Neills gathered round, Daniel suggested, “Why don't we go inside where it's warmer.”
Jack laughed, “He's a desert lover.”
“Well, if you'd rather stay out here ...” Daniel offered.
“Let's go inside, children,” Jilly urged.
“Thanks,” Jack called out as he waved to the various drivers who had brought his family to him.
As the crowd began to move inside, Daniel noticed Lulu staying back a little with Bijou and Katie at her side. He walked over to her and squatted down to pat the two beagles.
“You okay, Lulu?” Daniel asked. When she only nodded, he stated, “Our family just grew, a lot. Even with our big family, it can be a little bit scary or ... well, overwhelming to have so many people around all of a sudden. Are you feeling a little overwhelmed right now?” he asked quietly.
The little girl nodded and looked down at her feet. She scuffed the ground a bit and then looked up at her father with a worried expression.
“What is it, Little Bit?”
Blinking, Lulu asked, “What if they don't like me? I'm stupid.”
Daniel cursed silently, guessing that this was something Lulu's previous foster father had told her.
One question confirmed that when Lulu confessed, “He'd always call me stupid, and I am, Daddy.”
“No, you're not, Lulu,” Daniel said strongly.
“That's because you don't know,” Lulu whispered, staring down at her feet.
“What don't I know?” Daniel asked gently, using his right hand to raise her face, his finger caressing just under her chin.
Tears slipped down her cheeks as Lulu stated, “I can't even read, not very well anyway.”
Lulu broke down, and drawing her into his arms, Daniel could just make out her words through muffled sobs.
“Noa ... <sob> ... can read, Ash ... <sob> ... reads, even ... <sob> ... Jenny and Ricky can read better than me.”
~How did we miss that?~ Daniel asked himself, but quickly put his own guilt issues aside to comfort their daughter. “Oh, Baby, it's okay. You can read; I've heard you.”
Lulu continued to cry as Daniel held her, sniffling, “But not very good.”
“Lulu,” Daniel spoke quietly. “Dad and I haven't noticed you having difficulties with reading.” He pulled back to help her dry her eyes. “Little Bit, maybe you couldn't read very well before you came here, but you can now.”
“But Little Danny reads big books, and Jenny understands words I don't, and Noa doesn't hesitate like I do sometimes,” Lulu said, still sniffling.
“You know what? I don't think you realize how far you've come,” Daniel responded. “Now, uh, we need to talk about Little Danny. He's, uh, well, he's ...”
“Smart,” Lulu responded.
~I swore I'd never say this,~ Daniel inwardly sighed. “Little Danny is a genius. He learns very fast, and you can't compare yourself to him. As for Noa, you have to remember she's reading books that have been read to her for a long, long time. She knows those stories from hearing them, so it's easier. They're new to you, right?”
“Yes,” Lulu confirmed, nodding.
“Now, answer me a question,” Daniel requested. “Is it that you think you can't read, or is that you have to work a little harder at it?”
Lulu thought about it, scrunching her face up. She looked down at Bijou and Katie, both of whom were looking up at her, as if waiting for her answer.
“It's hard, Daddy. Sometimes, the words get all messed up,” Lulu said. “I'm stupid.”
“No. No, you're not. Lulu, there are a lot of people who have a hard time reading because their letters look backwards or they have problems understanding. You're very bright because in our homeschooling, I've never noticed a problem, so that tells me you're very good at comprehending your lessons even if you have a hard time reading them,” Daniel said.
“Sometimes, Daddy, I have to read it lots before it makes sense,” Lulu confided.
“You know what?” Daniel said with a smile.
“What?” the little girl asked.
“We can fix that,” Daniel assured her.
“We can?” Lulu asked hopefully.
“Yes, we can. There are a lot of programs out there, and what we're going to do is have some professional testing done, and once we know for sure what makes reading more difficult for you, then we can start to fix it. Lulu, you may have a learning disorder, but believe me, you are *not* stupid. You are very, very smart. Noa speaks better since you've joined our family, and I honestly believe that's from being around you so much,” Daniel stated. “You have excellent communication skills.”
“Daddy, will Uncle Billy still like me if I have a dis... a ...” Lulu began.
“A disorder, and that just means you have to work a little harder,” Daniel clarified. He quickly added while smiling, “Uncle Billy and Aunt Jilly, and all of our new family, will *absolutely* love you!”
“Hey, I thought the idea was to get out of the cold?” Jack asked as he approached. Seeing the red eyes of their daughter, he knelt down next to Daniel. Petting Katie for a moment, he asked, “What's going on?”
“That man said I was stupid,” Lulu stated. Then she looked at Daniel and added, “But Daddy says I just have a disorder, and we can fix it.”
“A disorder? Well, Daddy's always right,” Jack said, not really sure what they were talking about. “And I can tell you one thing, Lulu. You *are* a Jackson-O'Neill, and there isn't a stupid Jackson-O'Neill out there.”
Lulu smiled brightly and looked towards the house, asking, “Daddy, are you sure they'll like me?”
Though Daniel was about to answer, Jack beat his lover to the punch, professing, “Princess, they already love you. Trust me.”
“There's a lot of them,” Lulu commented shyly.
“Yeah,” Jack agreed. “Danny, have you noticed how many family members are in our house now?”
“There's a lot, Babe,” Daniel answered, nodding his head.
“It's going to take some adjustment. Lulu, I need someone to stick by my side for a while. Your old man ...”
“You're not old, Jack,” Daniel corrected, rolling his eyes.
“This man,” Jack said, pointing to himself, “has always been very private, and I need someone to stick to me like glue for a while. It'll make me feel better. Do you know anyone who might want to make like a monkey and hang onto a tree?”
Lulu grinned, immediately jumping onto Jack's back when he motioned appropriately.
**You'll fill me in on this later, right?** Jack asked his husband.
**Yes. We missed something, Jack, but it's nothing we can't handle. She'll be fine. Keep her close, okay?** Daniel responded.
**Count on it,** Jack promised. Looking over his shoulder, he asked, “Don't leave me now.”
“I won't, Dad. I promise!” Lulu assured, smiling and holding on tightly to Jack as he headed for the house.
Still kneeling, Daniel looked down at Bijou and Katie, petting them both, as he asked, “So, did you two know about this?”
Bijou shook her head, but Katie let out a little, “Woof.”
“Well, next time, try to figure out how to tell me, okay? And ... thanks for sticking by her. It's going to be hectic around here, Girls, so stay close to Lulu and ... yell if we mess up. Okay?”
Two soft 'woofs' were Daniel's answer.
Seeing two dogs fleeing towards the house, their tails wagging, Daniel laughed as he stood up, thinking, ~Well, that is one question I know they are really answering!~
Daniel smiled at the enthusiasm Brianna was putting into her explanation of ice hockey. All the Jackson-O'Neill children had been amazed when they heard Plantacia never got cold enough for rivers and lakes to freeze. Consequently, none of the O'Neill brood had ever seen people ice skating, let alone imagined a game of hockey being played on ice. Brianna, of course, had been appalled at their ignorance and insisted on showing them excerpts from the latest Avalanche match while explaining the rules.
“See, this is an ice rink,” Brianna said as she pointed to the television screen where various hockey players were zooming around making ice skating look as easy as walking.
“Dad, can we go to an ice rink tomorrow?” one of Billy's grandson's piped up.
**Danny, I think we need to get name tags for everyone.** Jack shook his head as he surveyed the large group of people currently sitting in the rec room. **Which one was that?**
**Keith? Kieran? I'm sure it starts with a K,** Daniel replied silently as he smiled at the sight of Lulu, who was snuggled firmly against Jack's side.
At that moment the doorbell rang.
“Pizza!” Jonny yelled.
“Jonny!” Jack reprimanded his namesake.
“Sorry, Dad,” Jonny said before repeating slightly less loudly, “Pizza's here.”
“Stay there, Jack,” Daniel stated, motioning for his husband to stay put. “Jeff, could you get the napkins, and Jen, Brianna and David, could you come and help me carry the pizza boxes in here?”
The eldest Jackson-O'Neill children nodded, and Daniel walked to the front door, smiling at the sight that greeted his eyes when he opened the door. Just visible over the top of a pile of pizza boxes was the delivery boy.
“Here's the first lot, Mister,” the boy said, letting out a relieved sigh when Jennifer took the boxes from him. “There are another fifteen boxes in the car. Are you guys having a party or something?”
Daniel smiled, answering, “Or something. We have a large family.”
~Crazy!~ The delivery boy's eyes widened, and he shook his head as he retrieved the rest of the order from his vehicle. He handed them to Brianna and David and then still shaking his head at the idea of such a large family said, “Better you than me, Sir.”
~Definitely. I wouldn't trade them for anything,~ Daniel thought as he paid the man and followed the scent of warm pizza into the house.
“So, are you looking forward to Catherine and Ernest arriving?” Daniel asked Jack with a grin as they got into bed that night.
“What a madhouse,” Jack commented, shaking his head as he lay back, waiting for Daniel to move into his usual position and sighing with contentment when the younger man's head lay resting on his chest.
“It's wonderful, isn't it?” Daniel responded with a grin.
“It's all my dreams come true, Danny,” Jack opined as he played with the hairs on his husband's head. “Tell me about Lulu. What was all that about this afternoon?”
Daniel sighed and recounted Lulu's fears and difficulties with reading. Like Daniel, Jack was appalled at the idea that they might have missed something.
“How did we not notice, Danny?” Jack asked sadly.
“She didn't want us to, Babe. Kids that can't read or have trouble reading are often very good at hiding it. Some people make it through to adulthood without being able to read, and no one's the wiser,” Daniel spoke informatively.
“I don't get it. How do you fake not being able to read?” Jack asked.
Daniel shrugged, answering, “Excuses like: 'I've left my glasses at home, could you please read this for me'. Instinct and guesswork; memorizing something and then pretending to read it. It’s surprisingly easy to hide. I'm just glad she told us. All too often children that fall behind feel ashamed, like Lulu does, so they don't say anything and just get further and further behind.”
“I can't believe she thinks she's stupid. That blasted man that was supposed to be her foster father...” Jack growled, stopping himself from screaming into the air.
Daniel sighed again, “He takes a lot of the blame, but, Jack, our children ...”
“Little geniuses,” Jack professed as he filled in the blank and felt Daniel nodding.
“Little Danny is, well, off the charts, David is way ahead of his peers, and the others are all ... they're not ... they're ...” Daniel sighed, hating saying the words.
Daniel was proud of their offspring, but at the same time, he knew there was a price being paid for their intelligence, and he feared sounding arrogant or nonchalant about the children's smarts.
Jack completed, “They're pretty smart little cookies.”
“Yes,” Daniel admitted. “I think we need to make sure that the others realize that our brood isn't the norm, and we have to emphasize that even people who aren't intellectual are still worth getting to know and have something to offer.”
“It's a never-ending process, isn't it, Angel?” Jack sighed as he nestled his chin against the top of Daniel's head.
“We have to keep reminding ourselves, and just when we think we've got it figured out ...” Daniel began.
“Something comes along to interfere,” Jack said.
“I guess that's called life,” Daniel commented. “Jack, I, uh ...”
“What?” Jack prodded, sensing his lover's hesitation.
“For a while,” Daniel began, “I was a little worried about Noa.”
“She lagged behind a little,” Jack agreed with a nod, also admitting to a concern that he had kept quiet about for a long time.
“But when Lulu joined our family, Noa really began to come into her own. Lulu may have problems with the written word, Jack, but she's always spoken intelligently, and being around Lulu, being so close to her, helped Noa break out of whatever shell she was in,” Daniel observed.
“So, what do you think Lulu's problem really is?” a concerned Jack asked.
“Dyslexia or some form of it possibly,” the younger man answered.
“But, Danny, she writes well. She doesn't change her letters around. I've watched her,” Jack refuted.
“Babe, only a fraction of those who are dyslexic see letters reversed or in the wrong order,” Daniel explained. “Most of the time, dyslexia is really part of an underlying language disorder.”
“That sounds ominous,” Jack replied, fretting about Lulu's future.
“No, it's not,” Daniel answered. “We just need to find out exactly what she's seeing, and then we'll be able to help her. There are a lot of programs out there designed to help dyslexics learn how to overcome their disorder.”
“Danny, we have to make sure the other kids understand,” Jack said, now concerned about something else. “If Little Bit already feels intimidated by their intelligence, then ...”
“I have a lot of faith in our brood, Jack. I think they'll be of help to her, not a hindrance,” Daniel opined.
“Yeah, me, too,” Jack agreed. “She's a smart cookie,” he added.
“She is,” Daniel affirmed. “She's been with us a year now, and no one has picked up on her having any difficulty at all, and she reads with the others. She's putting stress on herself, and maybe that's part of it.”
“Trying to keep up with the geniuses,” Jack commented.
“Yes,” Daniel spoke quietly.
“Okay, tomorrow I'm calling Syl,” Jack said about their family physician, Doctor Sylvia Preston. “I'm sure she'll have some recommendations.”
“Call Sara, too,” Daniel suggested. “She might have some contacts through the school system.”
“That's a good idea,” Jack replied.
“And so was asking Lulu to keep you company all night long,” Daniel mentioned, placing a kiss on his lover's chest.
“She was loosening up by the end of the night, but there were just too many people here for her to feel comfortable with,” Jack noted. “Danny, we need to keep her close while the house is so full.”
“Agreed,” Daniel said. “No matter what, one of us has to be aware of her needs. Jack, we can't be distracted.” Daniel raised his head up to look into his husband's eyes. “We knew when we adopted Lulu that she was going to require extra care. We promised her, Jack, and we promised ourselves not to let her down.”
“We won't, Angel,” Jack reassured with a smile. “She's come a long way.”
“I know, but that doesn't mean she's okay,” Daniel replied. “And, Jack, that's what happens. We think she's okay, when the truth is, she's better. She knows we love her, and she knows this is her family. I think ... I think it was a good sign that I didn't have to pry it out of her tonight. I mean, uh, she was hesitant, but she told me right away. I'm not sure she would have done that a year ago.”
Daniel resettled against his Jack pillow, once again determined not to let their Lulu get lost in the shuffle of Jackson-O'Neills. She was depending on them, and no matter what, they'd do whatever it took to help her.
“One day at a time, Danny,” Jack reminded. “That's what we said then, and that's what we'll do now.”
“Bij and Katie knew something was wrong,” Daniel remarked.
“They always know,” Jack mused. “Danny ...”
“I know. We need to sleep,” Daniel interjected.
“I love you, Angel,” Jack said.
“I love you, too. Goodnight, Babe,” Daniel replied.
Daniel rolled over, instinctively reaching for Jack, only to find his husband's side of the bed empty. Waking up a little more, he realized there were sounds coming from the bathroom. Content with the knowledge that his soulmate was nearby, the younger man stole Jack's pillow, breathing in the rich scent of the man he loved.
“You are so cute, Danny,” Jack said softly from the door to the bathroom as he watched the man that was his heart.
Daniel let out a small snuffling noise and buried his nose deeper into Jack's pillow.
“So, so cute,” Jack repeated, smiling inside and out.
“Mm n't,” a muffled voice declared.
Jack grinned and made his way over to the bed. Crouching down, he looked into the sleepy blue eyes that were trying to glare at him and chuckled; then he kissed his lover's pouting lips.
“Danny, you're the cutest,” Jack intoned.
“Jaaaack,” Daniel groaned. He suddenly became aware that Jack had just stepped out of the shower and was currently draped only in a towel. He licked his lips at the enticing sight, then looked at the clock to see if they had time for a little 'you know' before they had to get up. However, all lustful thoughts vanished when he saw the time. “Jack! It's 5:30 am. What the heck are you doing up so early?”
Jack laughed, “Danny, I asked Billy what time his grandkids usually got up, and he said that on Plantacia almost everyone got up before the sun rose. I expect that in half an hour or so we're going to have at least half a dozen rugrats running around.”
“Gawd,” Daniel sighed and then pulled Jack's pillow over his face, only to have it promptly pulled away.
“And we have to get a place ready for Catherine, Ernest, and that darn bird,” Jack reminded.
“I need coffee,” Daniel moaned, giving Jack his most pathetic puppy dog eyes look. “Lots and lots of coffee.”
Jack laughed, “Okay, okay. You jump in the shower, I'll get dressed, and go make you some coffee.”
“The good stuff, Babe. I won't be able to function on that instant gunk of yours,” Daniel reminded.
“The good stuff it is,” the older man promised.
“Thank you, Jack. You're the bestest husband in the whole world!” Daniel exclaimed, smiling at his lover.
“Uh, since when did bestest become a word?” Jack teased.
“Just now, for you, 'cause you're so ... so ... the bestest,” Daniel quipped lovingly.
Jack shook his head at the silly turn the conversation had taken and coaxed his husband out of bed, knowing that if he left Daniel to his own devices, the younger man would return to the land of nod before Jack was even halfway down the stairs.
That part of his mission accomplished, Jack dressed quickly and headed down to make a strong pot of Starbuck's coffee that would finish the job of waking his partner up.
The Jackson-O'Neill household was buzzing with activity, and it was only eleven in the morning.
Jack and Daniel's children were having a blast getting to know the O'Neill grandchildren, while the adults were still trying to make sense of their new world.
“It overwhelms me,” Brynn admitted as she tried to learn about kitchen appliances from Daniel and Janet, who had dropped by for a visit.
“That's natural, Brynn,” Janet responded. “Give yourself time to learn. After a while, it'll be old hat.”
“I hope so.”
“These are called trucks?” Gerald asked Jack and Lou Ferretti as they stood in the front yard, Lou having dropped by to show off his MonsterMobile to Jack's family.
“They are things of pure beauty,” Lou said, grinning. “Get yourself a good truck, and it will never let you down.”
“They are big,” Gerald observed. “When we were being brought here, I saw all types of strange moving things.”
Jack sighed in amazement. It simply hadn't occurred to him just how difficult it was going to be for the inhabitants of Plantacia to transition to life on Earth. Things taken for granted here were fantasy on the asteroid.
“There are all kinds of makes and models of cars,” Jack answered.
“Makes? Models?” Gerald asking, shaking his head. “I thought they were trucks. What's a car?”
“Don't worry, Ger,” Jack said reassuringly. “You'll learn quick enough.”
Gerald cocked his head doubtfully, the strange moving things filling him with unease.
Madison stared at the magazines in disbelief. She thumbed through the pages, her mouth open and eyes wide as she reviewed the fashions of the day.
Sara chuckled, saying, “These are the latest styles.”
“But, Sara, we would not be caught dead wearing these things,” Madison opined, closing the issue she was currently looking at. “Some of these things barely cover one's most private areas.”
Sara smiled, placing her hand on Madison's, “We have come a long way.”
“With apologies, Sara, but if this is coming far, I think I'd rather not go,” the woman said with a smile.
“Jack, this isn't going to be as easy for them as we thought,” Daniel spoke quietly later in the day.
Knowing that Jack and Daniel were expecting company and wanting to pick up some clothing and other items at the store, Jilly suggested that she and her children and their families go on an outing. She had never heard of gift cards before, but the government had given the family several to use in purchasing some necessities.
Sam and Janet had been enlisted to be 'mall guides' and had left with the O'Neills a couple of hours earlier. Pete tagged along, as did Major Paul Davis, who had dropped by to make sure everyone was in synch on the final arrangements for the O'Neill's flight to Australia the next day.
Thus, most, though not all, of the O'Neills were away from the house at the moment, leaving the soulmates a chance to discuss the situation for a few minutes.
“Gawd, did I just say it was supposed to be easy?” Daniel asked as he sat on the porch, talking to his lover.
“They need time and help in adjusting,” Jack responded. “We take this stuff for granted, Danny. Heck, we don't even think about it.” He paused, shaking his head. “You know, I think going to Australia is a good thing. Jilly's spread is so large that it will give them room to ...”
“It'll give them room to ignore all the luxuries,” Daniel interjected.
Jack looked at his lover, suspicious of his thoughts, and asked, “Penny for 'em?”
“Jack, I'm, uh, I'm not sure they're going to be happy here,” Daniel confessed.
“Let's give it some time,” Jack suggested. He looked at his watch and asked, “What time did Catherine say they expect to arrive?”
Daniel looked at his watch and grimaced as he answered, “Anytime now. Jack, we need to move the cots from in front of the alcove. Ptolemy's cage needs to go between it and the hospitality room, right in front of the window.”
“Okay, let's get to it,” Jack said, leaning in for a quick kiss.
Jack and Daniel had just finished making space for Ptolemy's cage when they heard their eldest daughter's panicked shout coming from the backyard.
“LITTLE DANNY, NO! PUT IT DOWN!” Jennifer shouted sternly.
The two men sprinted through the house, closely followed by Billy and those of his children that had not accompanied Sam, Janet, and Brianna on their shopping trip to the mall.
**He'll be okay, Danny.**
Daniel prayed Jack was right and was relieved a few seconds later to see his namesake unharmed and standing in the yard, arguing with Jennifer.
Jack was clearly relieved and reassured as well because his first instinct on spotting the two was to bark rather than comfort.
“Jennifer, what is going on here?” Jack inquired.
“Dad!” the teenager exclaimed.
Jack was startled by the relieved expression on his daughter's face and was surprised to see her begin to back away from her little brother.
“Jen?” Daniel asked, worried about this odd behavior.
“He's got a snake, Daddy,” Jennifer said, her face screwed up in a picture of disgust.
Jack, Daniel, and Billy all paled at hearing those words and moved towards Little Danny, each of them then able to see the small snake that the boy was protectively cradling.
“Son,” Jack said carefully, not wanting to startle the boy. “Please put the snake down.”
Little Danny rolled his eyes, saying, “It's just a garter snake, Dad, Daddy. It's harmless, and it's sick. Its skin is stuck.”
Billy moved a little closer to the boy and peered at the snake, breathing a sigh of relief when he managed to identify it.
“He's right, Jack. It's a garter snake,” Billy confirmed.
“Are you sure, Bro?”
“Hey, I was a boy scout remember?” Billy asked with a smile. “I learned about snakes for one of my badges, and I'm telling you, the kid's right. It's a garter snake.”
“Little Danny, I'm sure it will be okay, if you let it go,” Daniel stated in an attempt to persuade his namesake to put the snake down. It might be harmless, but it was still a snake, and he really didn't want his son to develop a fondness for the creatures. ~Next thing we know he'll be trying to make friends with the Goa'uld.~
“You don't know that, Daddy,” Little Danny said.
“Jack?” Daniel called out in the hopes his husband had an idea or two.
“Daniel, call Pam,” Jack suggested. “Give her the details and see what she says,” he added. ~I never thought I'd need veterinary advice about a snake.~
An hour later, Little Danny's latest stray was wriggling out of its skin after having a long soak in a bowl of water. Taken to a field several miles away, the little boy reluctantly let the reptile go while both his parents sighed with relief that the snake's little health problem was so easily fixed.
“Little Danny,” Daniel said sternly. “We need to have a talk.”
“But, Daddy,” the little boy whined.
“No. I need you to listen to me. We've had discussions like this before. You *have* to trust Dad and I to do what is best. I know you're smart, and I admit you know a lot more about some things than even I do because you've been reading about them. I also know you love all kinds of animals, and I'm not against that, but you have to listen and do what we tell you,” Daniel stated as strongly as he could.
A few feet away, making sure the snake was continuing on its way, Billy commented, “Bro, why aren't you in there making sure Little Danny understands your rules?”
Jack smirked, “Because it's hopeless.”
“Hopeless? What kind of an attitude is that?” Billy asked in confusion.
“Billy, you see that man talking to that little boy?” When Billy nodded at Daniel and Little Danny, Jack continued, “Two peas in a pod. Daniel Jackson never listened to me on a mission. He went after every sorry-looking excuse for 'I need help' that was out there. See these gray hairs?” he asked, reaching up and actually touching the hairs on his head. “Every single one of them is from worry that Daniel had found a new princess to rescue, which meant we were fighting for our lives.”
Billy looked confused. He had heard how valuable Daniel was to the team, how he had learned to be a proficient warrior, and how, in fact, Jack had taught him covert skills that most didn't even know he had. Hearing what Jack was saying now didn't seem to jive with those earlier stories.
Jack chuckled, “You're confused.”
“You could say that,” Billy concurred.
“Look, Daniel is all the things I've told you, but he began as a scientist. He was a geek, but he learned real fast how to protect the team. He's good, Billy, real good, but he's also the most compassionate person I've ever known. He fights for the underdog and for whatever he feels is right. If there's room for doubt, he'll find it.” Jack looked back at his husband and son. He smiled as he added, “And our boy, he's just like his daddy. He feels things, Billy, that I can't even fathom.”
“Jack?” Billy asked, taking a step to the side. “You've got a tear in your eye.”
Jack nodded several times as he looked away and blew out a puff of air. He ran his tongue along his lips and let out a deep sigh.
“We've worried about him, Billy. Little Danny, he's, ah ... he's going to be hurt some day, and that scares us,” Jack admitted. “We're trying to protect him, but the reality is that one day, we won't be there to do that. Look at him, arguing with Daniel about the poor snake. Daniel's going to lose that argument, just like I always lose when Danny and I argue. He's always right,” he said with a tiny smile.
“Daddy, he needed me,” Little Danny repeated. “What if I didn't help him?”
“He would have been just fine,” Daniel assured. “It was just skin, and it would have dried up and been rubbed off soon.”
“But you don't know that, Daddy,” the little boy argued.
“Actually, I do because I asked Pam what would have happened if we had not intervened. She said he would have been just fine. She also said he could have been frightened and bit you, and while the bite of a garter snake is not poisonous, it can still hurt and get infected.”
**Danny, give it up,** Jack communicated. “Hey, let's go home.”
Daniel stood up and sighed, looking over at Jack with a bit of a forlorn expression.
**He's just like you, Angel. He knew he was safe. We're the ones who had doubts,** Jack added non-verbally.
**I guess you're right,** Daniel agreed. **We should pick our battles.**
**We've had a few of those lately; I just don't think this is one of them,** Jack opined.
Taking hold of his namesake's hand, Daniel said, “Son, I understand you did what you thought you had to, but you were wrong not to listen to Dad and me.” He sighed, saying, “You are not allowed to take care of any strays in any way for one month. We give you a lot of trust in tending to them, but if you can't defer to Dad and me when we think there's danger, then we can't trust you with them.”
~Poor critters,~ the little boy sighed sadly. He nodded his agreement, but then looked up brightly and asked, “But if I find any and get you or Dad, you'll get help for them, won't you, Daddy?“
Daniel nodded, kneeled down again, and urged, “Never stop believing in yourself or fighting for what you believe is right. I know you're confused. We're punishing you, and then I'm telling you to stand your ground. I guess what I'm trying to say is that there's a middle ground, and, right now, because of your age, you need to rely on us to know where that middle ground is. Okay?”
“Okay, Daddy,” the little boy agreed.
The four headed back for home, another crisis averted.
Sam watched the youngest members of the O'Neill brood rifling through the sports store in the mall and grinned. Billy's grandchildren seemed most fascinated by the diving equipment and the ice hockey equipment.
“I can see a trip to the beach coming up as well as trips to the hockey rink,” Sam commented, smiling at Jilly, her smile fading as she realized the other woman was looking sad.
“Jilly? Is something wrong?” Sam inquired.
Jilly sighed and gave Sam a sad smile as she responded, “I can't help thinking how unfair I'm being to Billy. That man loves hockey. I remember him telling me about it when we first met. He isn't going to find any ice in Queensland, I'm afraid.”
“He managed to survive without it all these years on Plantacia,” Sam spoke reassuringly.
“It's not just hockey. There's Jack and Daniel and their brood, the holidays, lots of things,” Jilly sighed. “It was all different when we were on Plantacia. We missed things, but we didn't if that makes sense. I don't know how Billy will feel celebrating Christmas on a forty-degree day when the Christmases he remembers from his childhood were cold and white.”
“Wait a minute, forty degrees ... oh, that's right, you mean Celsius,” Sam noted, recalling the different measurement systems that Australia used.
Jilly gave a half laugh, half sigh and waved an arm around gesturing at their surroundings as she added, “Even something as simple as this mall won't exist, well, maybe there'll be some in the city, but not in the outback. In some ways life on the outback is even more isolated than life in Plantacia.”
Sam pondered that for a moment then smiled and replied, “I don't think you should worry, Jilly. From what I've seen of you and Billy, all you need is each other. Before the general retired ...”
“Which time?” Jilly asked wryly.
Sam grinned, answering, “I forget -- before they had the children. Anyway, to cut a long story short, they had to live like Robinson Crusoe for a while. They only had each other, and when they were finally rescued, they *were* happy to be home, but ...”
“But?” Jilly prompted.
“I think the general was almost disappointed to be coming home. In fact, if it weren't for Daniel having an allergic reaction to the flowers there, I'm not sure they would have tried as hard as they did to get home. Sure, he missed things like 'The Simpsons', steak, and hockey, but he had Daniel, and that was enough. I'm sure Billy is the same.”
“I hope you're right,” Jilly sighed, still feeling a bit guilty about taking her husband away from the world he knew.
Sam continued, “Besides, it's not like he can't come back for visits, and I'm sure you'll have a horde of Jackson-O'Neills descending on you at some point.”
“Thank you, Sam,” Jilly spoke, an appreciative smile on her face. She looked around at her children and grandchildren and suggested, “What say we round up the troops and head for home?”
“Dad, Daddy, they're here!” Chenoa called out from her spot in front of the window where she'd been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Littlefields and Ptolemy all afternoon. “Hurrrrrrrry!” the little girl called out eagerly.
Jack glanced out the window and opened the door. He'd only gone two steps onto the porch when Chenoa flew by him.
“Chenoa!” Catherine called out, extending her arms wide to hug the child.
“Aunt Catherine, I'm so glad you came and brought Ptolemy,” Chenoa stated excitedly. “Hi, Uncle Ernest.”
“Hello, Little One,” Ernest stated warmly.
“Ernest, good to see you,” Jack greeted, shaking hands with the senior citizen. “Ah, Catherine,” Jack crooned, hugging a woman he had admired and loved for years.
“Jack,” Catherine said sentimentally. “We just don't get to see you enough.”
“Catherine!” Daniel called out, beating the rest of the children to their guests.
Suddenly, a large gasp drew the attention of the adults.
“AWWWWWW, DAAAAADDY, loooook!” Chenoa said as she got her first glance at Ptolemy in person. “Hello, I'm Chenoa.”
“I am Ptolemy,” the bird responded.
“Daddy, she talks, just like on the DVDs!” Chenoa exclaimed.
“Ptolemy, I'm Little Danny,” the little boy greeted cheerfully.
Hugs and kisses exchanged, preliminary travel stories relayed, and introductions made, it was time to bring Ptolemy into the house and set up her cage.
The beautiful bird, weighing in at two-pounds and four ounces, fascinated the children. Ptolemy's plumage was predominately a deep cobalt blue. In the light of the day, her head appeared to be a lighter shade of blue and seemed to have an almost iridescent quality. Her flight and tail feathers were dark gray on their under surface, and her huge, gray-to-black bill was curved and sharply pointed. The hyacinth macaw had two bare areas on her face, prominent and deeply golden-colored eye rings, and her jaw area, which made a beautiful contrast with the rich blue plumage.
“She's big!” Jenny exclaimed as they walked towards the house.
“I am a big bird,” Ptolemy remarked.
“And probably with a big appetite,” Jack said snarkily.
“Are you fat?” Ptolemy asked, to which everyone roared.
“Jack, you really must be careful,” Catherine warned. “Ptolemy is a very smart bird.”
“Lucky she isn't a turkey,” Jack scowled, earning him a glare from his husband.
“Ptolemy, show Jenny your wings,” Catherine requested.
“My wings are beautiful,” Ptolemy stated, spreading her wings.
“Oh, my!” Chenoa said, putting her hands to her mouth when she saw the bird's wings spread out nearly four feet. “Oh, Ptolemy, you're beautiful.”
“You're beautiful,” Ptolemy replied.
“Copy cat,” Jack whined.
“Not you,” Ptolemy responded.
Jack scrunched up his face and asked, “Is this bird alien or something?”
“Dad!” Little Danny said, shaking his head. “Didn't you listen to me this morning when I told you all about Ptolemy and birds like her?”
Jack smiled nervously, not really sure how to answer.
**Danny, he sounds like you when he starts up like that, all ... geeky,** Jack silently admitted.
Jack just shrugged and prepared to listen for the re-lecture which he knew was coming, and, this time, he wouldn't have the benefit of getting lost in his Froot Loops.
Little Danny sighed and began his soliloquy as everyone continued admiring the majestic bird.
“Ptolemy is a hyacinth macaw,” the little boy began, using his photographic memory and natural genius to inform the family about the distinctive bird. “They're from Brazil and Paraguay, and they are an endangered species.”
“What does that mean?” Ricky asked.
“It means there aren't very many of them left, especially not in the wild,” Little Danny answered. He continued, “They avoid heavily forested areas ...”
“Doesn't like trees?” Jack interjected, but then whispered, “Never mind,” when Little Danny put his hands across his chest and glared at him. “Go on, Son. Tell me more.”
“Hyacinth macaws prefer lightly forested areas and ...”
“Little Danny, why don't we save Dad a nervous breakdown and just tell him about Ptolemy here in the United States,” Daniel gently suggested.
“Okay, Daddy,” the child prodigy agreed, scrunching his nose as he fast forwarded through all he had read. “They like to eat nuts.”
“Figures,” Jack muttered under his breath so only those nearby could hear.
“Jack, Ptolemy is really a wonderful bird,” Catherine opined gently, taking the man's hand for a moment.
Little Danny continued, “Sometimes, they even eat snails, but not usually. Mostly, they like macadamia and Brazil nuts, filberts, walnuts, almonds, pecans, and coconut. They need more fat and carbohydrates than protein, and they can eat small amounts of fruits and vegetables.”
“Son,” Daniel interjected, wanting to steer his namesake in the right direction. “Tell Dad the kinds of things that Ptolemy likes to do.”
“Okay, well, hyacinth macaws are just like you, Dad,” the little boy said definitely.
Jack looked at the bird and quipped, “I don't think so.”
“Dad!” Little Danny whined.
“How are they like me?” Jack asked.
“They like to play!” Little Danny answered with a smile. “They're very playful. They're also very smart, and they love to chew.”
“He's right, Jack,” Catherine noted. “Ptolemy is a puzzle lover. She adores interlocking toys or those with surprise treats that have to be extracted. She's very good at it.”
“Find me a toy,” Ptolemy requested, surprising the Jackson-O'Neill children, who all giggled.
“It's very important to keep Ptolemy stimulated, or she might complain,” Ernest added, his comments directed mainly at Little Danny.
“And just how does she do that?” Jack asked.
“I know!” Little Danny said calmly. “I read that if they are bored, they get very loud and destroy things. Ptolemy needs playtime.”
“That's right,” Catherine responded, smiling at the little boy. “She does need regular, supervised playtime outside of her cage, and human interaction is essential.”
“Human what?” Ricky asked.
“That means we play with her a lot,” Jenny answered.
**Score one for Jenny,** Jack communicated.
**Yes,** Daniel said, looking over at the little redhead and smiling, impressed with her remark.
“Well, she has a nice home,” Jack commented as he finished putting the cage together.
Ptolemy's heavy-duty stainless steel home was four-feet wide by five-feet long and stood five-feet high, which was adequate for her to spread out her wings easily whenever she wanted. It featured two fresh fruit tree perches, which had to be replaced regularly since Ptolemy frequently chewed on them.
“How old is she, Aunt Catherine?” David asked as he observed the bird who was walking freely around the rec room.
“She's just four years old, so she may still grow some,” Catherine answered.
“Can I ask something?” Jennifer asked a bit timidly.
“Of course, Jennifer,” Catherine replied.
“Ptolemy is a girl, right?” the teenager asked.
“Yes, she is,” Catherine lightly chuckled.
“Well, isn't Ptolemy the name of some dynasty or something?” the girl asked.
Ernest laughed, saying, “I'm not laughing at you, Jennifer, but at my beloved Catherine. She has always been so independent. Do you know about the real Ptolemy?”
“Not really,” Jennifer said, shrugging.
Ernest explained, “Ptolemy was a Macedonian and a general of Alexander the Great.”
“I like Alexander,” Little Danny piped up. “He was like Dad and Daddy.”
Daniel blushed and covered his face.
**Danny? What's he...oh.**
**Yeah, Babe, oh!**
Jonny was looking at his brother with confusion and asked, “Don't you mean like Dad? Daddy isn't a General.”
Catherine chuckled, and Daniel blushed a deeper shade of red as Little Danny explained, “No, I mean Alexander fell in love with his best friend, Hephaestion.”
“However, Ernest was telling us about Ptolemy,” Daniel reminded the children.
“Sorry, Uncle Ernest,” Little Danny apologized.
“I'm always interested in hearing what you have to say, Little Danny,” Ernest reassured the boy, who promptly rewarded him with a bright smile. “So, on Alexander's death, Ptolemy was appointed satrap, a kind of protector, of Egypt, and then in 305 B.C., he declared himself Ptolemy the First and later became known as Soter which means savior.”
“One of his wives was really influential, and she even fought beside Ptolemy on the battlefield. I can't remember her name, though,” David said as he looked at Ernest for help.
“Berenice,” Ernest filled in before continuing with his mini history. “All the male rulers of the Ptolemaic dynasty took the name of Ptolemy, and all of them frequently ruled with their wives, who were often their sisters.”
“Ewww,” Jennifer said as she wrinkled her nose. “I guess they didn't know about genetics and inbreeding back then.”
“Ah, no,” Ernest chuckled. “I don't think they did. Anyway, Ptolemaic rule in Egypt lasted for over three hundred years, coming to an end with Cleopatra.”
“Cleopatra? As in Anthony and Cleopatra?” Jeff asked curiously.
Ernest nodded, saying, “Cleopatra survived a coup engineered by her brother's courtiers and began a relationship with Julius Caesar. Then on his death, she married Mark Antony. She committed suicide when Rome, under the leadership of Caesar's legal heir, Octavian, conquered Egypt.”
“She's certainly one impressive bird,” Jack had to admit, staring at the parrot.
“Ptolemy not bird. Ptolemy queen,” the regal looking bird said with what looked like a challenging glare at Jack.
“Ptolemy's got a big head,” Jack muttered.
“Big head, big head, you big head,” Ptolemy cawed.
“Give it up, Babe,” Daniel teased as laughter filled the room.
“Billy, Darling,” Jilly called out from the doorway, having arrived home from the mall.
“We have more family for you to meet, Catherine,” Jack said, smiling as he looked at his brother.
The rest of the day was full of catching up and more getting-to-know-you conversations, including one late that evening, well after dinner. Sitting around the rec room, chatting, were Catherine and Ernest, Sam and Pete, Gerald and his wife, Brynn, and Jack and Daniel. Some of the older children, including Jeff and Brianna, were playing board games at the front end of the rec room, while Jennifer was talking with Madison, thumbing through teen fashion magazines and the like.
“It's one thing to say you've gone all over the world, Bro, but you've outdone yourself by going all over the galaxy,” Billy spoke jovially as he sipped a beer.
“It beats a desk job,” Jack quipped.
“Jack and Daniel have done so much for the Stargate Program,” Catherine opined.
“You made it possible, Catherine,” Daniel quickly noted in reply.
“What's that cliché, Bro? Variety is the spice of life. Hopping all over the universe must give you that,” Billy chimed.
“It's had its moments,” Jack said a bit reflectively. He shook his head and looked at his lover, quietly saying, “Just a year to go.”
“What?” Jilly questioned.
The lovers explained that they'd decided to get out for good, except for goodwill type of visits, at the end of President Hayes' term of office. That was when General Hammond was retiring, and the couple figured that would be a good time to cut the ties. The elections would be held in the coming year, so they were counting down the months at this point.
“I'm sure we'll go through from time to time to visit allies,” Daniel remarked.
“It's a great legacy,” Jilly spoke reverently. “I'm sure those that take over will never forget you.”
Jack laughed, “Jilly, in five years no one will remember our names. The SGC will be in the hands of the next regime. We just hope they don't forget that our allies mean more than ...” He paused, wanting to say weaponry, but deciding that was getting into an area he really couldn't discuss. “... coffee and donuts,” he completed with a chuckle.
Jennifer looked up from nearby where Madison was commenting on the amount of bare skin females showed on Earth. The Plantacian had thought seeing the more mature women in such undress was bad enough, but looking at the teenager's magazines this evening, she was simply stunned. Dress on Plantacia was definitely more conservative.
~What did they say? Not be remembered? That's not right,~ Jennifer thought, feeling an uneasiness in the pit of her stomach. ~It's not right at all.~
“I imagine it will be hard to stop,” Gerald stated.
“We have a lot on our plates with our company,” Jack noted. “There's a lot ...”
“Yes, it'll be difficult,” Daniel interrupted. “But,” he thoughtfully continued, “there's more than one kind of legacy to leave the world. There was a time in my life when I thought that if I had anything at all to leave mankind, it was my research and notes, the things I'd learned in my studies and then from going through the Stargate. I mean, uh, what more could you contribute than to facilitate understanding and awareness between two worlds? I ... I wanted to make a difference; that's always been very important to me.”
“It sounds like you've certainly done that,” Brynn responded.
Daniel nodded, “Yes, we've negotiated a lot of peaceful resolutions to conflicts, introduced worlds to each other, and ...” he chuckled, “we've saved our own planet more times than Jack cares to remember.”
“It never gets old,” Jack teased. “Taken for granted, but never old.”
“Daniel, was there more to what you were going to say?” Jilly asked, sensing a quietness in the archaeologist.
Smiling shyly, Daniel looked around the rec room and said, “That's what I used to think my contribution would be. Now I look at them,” he said, staring at Jeff and Brianna and then over at Jennifer, sharing a smile with her before the teen was re-engaged with her conversation with Madison. “They are my legacy, our legacy,” he corrected, looking at Jack. “What could be greater than all we've done? They could. They are.”
“You're right, Daniel,” Catherine agreed. “Your children are the best legacy, and in them, you and Jack will be remembered for a very long time.”
“Children are what keep us alive, in more ways than one,” Jilly affirmed as she smiled at her own children who were part of the conversation.
Brynn laughed, “Oh, so you're saying it's up to me to make sure you're remembered, Mother?”
“That's the way it's always been,” Jilly sentimentally spoke.
~Up to us?~ Jennifer thought, once again drawn into the discussion. ~Wow, but that's what Dad and Daddy always said about Mom and Dad, that they live on through David, Noa, and me. I guess it does make sense.~
“Do you have children, Catherine?” Billy asked.
“Only Ptolemy,” the woman teased as everyone laughed and the conversation moved forward as they continued to become better acquainted.
“Are you sure we have time for this, Bro?” Billy asked Monday morning.
As he turned into the mall parking lot, Jack answered, “Just time for a short trip. Malls are so much more than what you remember. Trust me on this.”
“Billy, you *have* to see the mall,” Jilly urged. “It's out of this world.” There was a pause, and then she giggled, “Oh!”
Everyone laughed at the statement, and then Daniel noted, “We can stay about an hour, and then we'll have to go straight home again. The others should be packed and ready to go by then. We should be fine.”
The Plantacia O'Neills would be going by caravan to the Denver Airport in government vehicles, accompanied by Major Davis and five others who would be making the trip to Australia with them. At the moment, they were getting their things together and going over last minute details with Davis and the other government representatives.
With the brood under the watchful eye of the Shanahans, Jack and Daniel were taking Billy and Jilly for a brief trip to the mall. Jilly had talked to Billy about her excursion to the mall for hours the night before, insisting they drop by and show him before they left the country.
The next forty minutes had Billy in disbelief as he took in the large mall and all the activity, even at this early hour of the morning. They had quickly walked the mall, made a few last minute purchases, and now were sitting on a bench just soaking in the atmosphere.
“How do you like the mall?” Jack inquired.
“It's unbelievable and exhausting. I can't believe that so many people would choose to spend their time indoors when it is so beautiful outside.”
“This is a social place, not just a place to purchase items. Teenagers practically live here,” Jack mused.
Shaking his head, Billy asked, “Jack, are the vendors always stocked so full of merchandise? Have we come during a special time? These people seem, possessed of a fever that, I don't know, just keeps them moving frantically from shop to shop to shop, buying, buying, buying.”
“Where do they store it all?” Jilly added. “I don't mean to be critical, but I truly don't understand. We've seen people fighting over items, and children crying for toys. Don't they understand the true meaning of life?”
Daniel sighed as he glanced at Jack before answering, “I wish I knew how to answer that. We live in a culture of things, and sometimes, values get lost or put in a secondary position.”
“I don't like it,” Billy opined. “I'm ready for Australia. I hope it's better there.”
“Bro, Danny and I just need to go by one more shop. We promised Ash a new songbook ...”
“Jack, would you mind if we just waited in the truck?” Billy asked.
“Sure, just don't drive away without us,” Jack teased, tossing his brother the keys to the truck.
Outside the mall, Billy and Jilly looked around and realized they were lost. The rows of parked cars formed a confusing maze of metal masses. People leaving the mall scurried around them like insects, unerringly zeroing in on their own hives. As Fate would have it, a woman ten yards away pressed her remote control starter, causing the car directly in front of the couple to roar to life. Instinctively protecting his wife, Billy pulled Jilly to safety, pushed her to the ground, and shielded her with his body while the owner of the running vehicle approached it and opened the door.
“Jack, I really feel for them. They're out of place,” Daniel commented as they completed their purchase.
Daniel let out a little snort, agreeing, “Time. We take everything for granted and ...”
Seeing his lover stop mid-sentence and get a look of horror on his face, Jack prodded, “Danny?”
“Jack, we sent them out into the parking lot,” Daniel stated.
“So?” Jack asked, shrugging his shoulders.
“So ...” Daniel replied, looking his lover in the eyes. “So, are we sure they know the truck? What about the alarm system? They've heard the beep, but ...”
“Geez, I haven't shown him how to use the remote. Crap!”
In a flash, Jack and Daniel took off running through the mall, anxious to find Billy and Jilly.
“Mister, what are you doing? Are you insane?” a man asked.
“Police!” another man shouted, bringing over the nearest security guard.
Billy looked up, confused, his arm still around his wife, whose head was tucked low, still staring at the hard, concrete ground.
“What's going on here?” the security guard asked.
“Ma'am, is this man disturbing you?” The guard leaned over and dragged Billy up and away from Jilly, thinking Billy had attacked her.
“No, he's my husband,” Jilly answered as the first man helped her up.
“Jack, where are they?” Daniel asked, having arrived at the truck.
“I don't ...”
“GET YOUR HANDS OFF OF ME!”
The shout that cut off Jack's words came from Billy. Immediately, Jack and Daniel turned to their right, finally making out just the heads of Billy and Jilly several aisles over.
“I'm sorry, Ma'am, but ...”
“You had better be,” Jilly said as she moved back into Billy's protective hold.
“Why did you tackle her?”
“I thought ... well ...”
“BILLY! JILLY!” Jack called out. He reached them seconds later, trying to catch his breath. “Are you two all right?”
“We couldn't find the truck,” Jilly confided.
“We heard a noise and a big roar,” Billy elaborated.
A woman sighed, “I only turned on my car.”
“But you weren't near your car,” Jilly surmised.
“I used my remote. Goodness, everyone has one these days. Where are you two from, anyway -- Venus?” the woman asked.
“Close,” Billy muttered at the same time Jack pulled out his ID and managed to fend off the security guard.
Apologies said, everyone continued on their respective ways.
“Bro, get me home so we can get that caravan moving. I am definitely ready for Australia,” Billy lamented.
“And no stops, please,” Jilly requested, hoping to find a more peaceful way of life in her homeland.
Jack and Daniel nodded, each exchanging a look of understanding and relief they had gotten out of another predicament and each feeling much sympathy for the couple now sitting in the back of the truck.
**A lot of time, Babe,** Daniel replied.
With so many people around, most of Ptolemy's time had been spent in her cage thus far, but now that the majority of the houseguests had left, she was finally allowed to do some additional exploring of the Jackson-O'Neill home. As she strutted around curiously, Jack and Daniel were saying their good-byes to Billy and Jilly.
“Bro, I wish you'd let us take you to the airport,” Jack stated softly.
“Jack, Jilly and I will be back soon, and with this caravan your Air Force buddies are giving us, it would just make it more confusing,” Billy opined.
Jack nodded, saying, “Billy ...”
“Come here, Squirt,” Billy said, engaging in a long hug with his younger brother. “Daniel is a good man, Jack. I'm proud of you for following your heart.”
Jack surprised himself when a tear rolled down his cheek. He buried his chin against Billy's shoulder, grateful for the approval he had just received.
“I love you, Bro,” Billy said.
“I love you, Billy,” Jack replied, standing back, unafraid of his brother seeing his tears.
“We'll be here for Thanksgiving,” Billy promised again. He patted Jack on the arm and then walked over to Daniel who was saying goodbye to a few of the children. “Daniel.”
Daniel stood, smiled, and extended out his hand, surprised when Billy took it and pulled him into a hug.
“Take care of my brother, and keep him happy,” Billy requested.
“That's all I've ever wanted,” Daniel replied, not pulling away. “I love him, Billy.”
“Then that's all I can ask,” Billy replied as he back away, nodding.
Daniel looked over at Jack and knew Billy had also given him a seal of approval. They didn't require it, but it made both of them feel glad that he had.
In jest, Billy added, “And keep him out of those malls; they're dangerous.”
The archaeologist laughed, replying, “Wait until you see an amusement park.”
“Right,” Billy said dryly, reminding Daniel of his soulmate.
With the good-byes done and the caravan fading from sight down the street, Jack, Daniel, and their children walked back into their house. Several of the children scattered to do various activities, while Jack and Daniel, along with David, Little Danny, and Aislinn went into the rec room to chat with the Littlefields and Ptolemy.
Slowly, as the day passed, Ptolemy became acquainted with all the children and even the beagles. Ptolemy loved the attention and her home against the wall which gave her plenty of light from the nearby window. The crew had also come to remove all of the fold-up beds that had been rented to see the Jackson-O'Neills through their short-lived super abundance of guests.
The daylight hours on Tuesday passed in much the same way, the children thrilled with both their human and avian company. They'd also had a phone call from Billy, letting them know the entire O'Neill clan had arrived safely in Australia and were headed for the Outback and Jilly's spread there.
That evening, when the children were all in bed, Jack and Daniel were visiting with Catherine and Ernest, in the rec room.
“Jack, Daniel, I told you when I phoned that Ernest and I had something serious to discuss with you,” Catherine began as she sipped on her tea.
Jack nodded, sighing, “We figured you'd tell us when you were ready.”
“Ernest and I are getting on in years,” Catherine intoned seriously.
“We're no spring chickens,” Ernest chuckled a moment later.
“Not chickens, not chickens,” Ptolemy echoed.
“Chickens and parrots have something in common,” Jack noted.
“And what would that be, Jack?” Catherine asked innocently.
“They can be plucked!” Jack quipped.
“Plucked? Jaaaack!” Daniel groaned.
“No plucked chickens. Pluck Jack. Pluck, Jack,” Ptolemy mocked.
As the laughter subsided, Daniel asked, “Nothing's wrong is there?” He leaned forward as concern spread through him, adding, “You'd tell us if ...”
“Daniel, we're fine,” Catherine assured, her eyes confidently connecting with the younger man's.
“But who knows how long we'll stay that way,” Ernest interjected, reaching out to pat Catherine's hand. “We haven't had a lot of years together, but what we've had has been golden.” He ignored the tears welling in his eyes and added, “We thank you again for bringing us back together.”
Catherine continued, “We've decided to give our home to my niece. She and her husband have been looking for a new home for their family, and to be honest, we just don't need all those rooms anymore.”
Ernest jumped in, saying, “We want to concentrate on each other, not maintaining a home.”
“Downsizing?” Jack asked.
“We're going to move into our condo upstate,” Catherine informed them. “It's much smaller and more to our needs. It's never been properly decorated, but when it is, it will become a comfortable retirement nest.”
“That's great,” Daniel replied, his eyes showing more happiness than just a couple of minutes earlier when concern had been dulling them.
“But first,” Catherine told them. “We're going on a cruise.”
“Ah, now that's my kind of vacation. Bahamas?” Jack asked enthusiastically.
“Everywhere,” Ernest answered.
Jack and Daniel looked at each for a moment, then at their guests, asking in unison, “Everywhere?”
“Yes,” Catherine answered. “We leave on the ninth of January on the QE2.”
“The cruise leaves from New York and takes us through the Carribean -- the Bahamas, Curacao, the Panama Canal,” Ernest noted.
“Then on to Mexico, Hawaii, Samoa, and Fiji,” Catherine added.
“That's some cruise,” Jack noted, sitting back slightly.
“And then we head for New Zealand, Australia ...” Ernest stated.
Catherine continued, “Taiwan, Japan, China ...”
“Thailand, Malaysia, India ...” Ernest continued.
“Sounds like a map,” Jack mumbled.
“It will take us to Egypt, through the Suez Canal, Greece, Italy, Spain, and more, until we end up in Southampton at the end of April,” Catherine announced.
“From there,” Ernest said, ignoring Jack and Daniel's stares, “we're spending the summer in Europe -- Paris, London, Rome, Athens.”
“You see,” Catherine stated. “I've traveled the globe before Ernest was returned to me, and together, we've gone abroad, but it was always as curators or contributors to some museum program. We want to enjoy being together, seeing these places that light up our spirits together.”
“That sounds wonderful, Catherine,” Daniel replied happily.
“We plan on returning and moving in to the condo sometime in the fall,” Ernest announced.
“And that leaves us with one slight problem,” Catherine said, looking over towards the cage against the wall.
“Ptolemy good bird,” Ptolemy spoke on cue.
“Oh, gawd,” Daniel heard himself say.
“Catherine ...” Jack began.
“Jack, we love Ptolemy, but we can't leave her alone for nine months,” Catherine lamented. “My niece isn't able to take her, and it would kill me to have to give her away to an uncertain future. She loves the children, and they love her.”
**Danny, no way!**
**You tell her 'no' then,** Daniel reasoned.
“I'm sorry for doing it this way,” Catherine spoke, taking another sip of tea. “I wanted you two to meet Ptolemy, and I had hoped you would love her. Hyacinth macaws are very expensive to keep. Ernest?”
The senior citizen reached into his pocket and pulled out a check. He stood and handed it to Daniel, who didn't know what it was at first.
“Catherine, we can't take this,” Daniel objected.
“Yes, you can. Ptolemy requires a great deal of care. Her food, keeping her clipped, new perches -- it's an ongoing list. This is for the first year,” Catherine stated, motioning at the check. “If you can keep her, at least for that long, then maybe we can do something else then.”
**Danny, if this bird doesn't walk out of here with them when they leave, it never will,** Jack whined.
**Then *you* tell her no because I'm not. I owe her, Jack. We both do,** Daniel emotionally communicated.
“Please consider it,” Catherine requested.
“Hey, Sam,” Daniel greeted the next morning after opening the front door.
“Hey,” Sam replied. “Is the general around?” she asked, walking into the entranceway of the home.
“Is there a problem?” the archaeologist asked.
“No, but we solved a mystery,” the blonde announced happily.
“The Plantacia Stargate?” Daniel asked intuitively.
Nodding, Sam smiled as well.
Daniel explained, “Uh, Jack took Catherine and Ernest to the SGC to see General Hammond.”
“Oh, well, maybe I'll see him there, but I thought you two would want to know what we found out,” Sam stated.
“What's the answer?” Daniel inquired.
“A combination of miscommunication and technology that is way beyond us,” Sam began. “When Tony and Terri told us they had built the Stargate, we assumed it was from scratch, like with the Tollan.”
“Wasn't it?” Daniel curiously asked.
“No, it wasn't,” Sam replied. “In their search for a new world, they came across a Stargate that had been virtually destroyed in some sort of catastrophic event. Since they have, or had, their own Stargate on their home planet, they knew how it worked. They rebuilt this Stargate and placed it on Plantacia, not really understanding just what Plantacia was.”
“So, how did the the gate address work?” Daniel asked with curiosity. “And, uh, what do you mean not knowing what Plantacia was?”
“Well, that's the other thing we just found out. We assumed the asteroid was just an asteroid.”
“It's ... not?” the archaeologist questioned.
“Not exactly,” Sam answered. “We made another assumption that wasn't correct.” Seeing Daniel's amused look, she continued, “Yeah, I know. You'd think we wouldn't do that after all these years. Anyway, the asteroid was actually a part of the planet the broken Stargate had been on.”
“I, uh ... Sam?”
Sam laughed, explaining, “We've discovered that the planet where Tony and Terri's people found the broken Stargate had been hit by a meteor, breaking the planet into pieces, some of which were quite large. They didn't realize this, and thought the planet was ... well, complete as they found it. They didn't really realize it at the time, but the asteroid they came across not long thereafter was part of the that original planet that had been broken away by the meteor hit. So, when they rebuilt the Stargate and stuck it on the terraformed asteroid, they essentially had returned the Stargate to its home, without being aware of it.”
“Which is why the cold dialing program worked,” Daniel deduced.
“Right. The address was still the same. It probably came from the original Abydos Cartouche,” Sam surmised. “Tony and Terri didn't know much about where it was found, but they said the planet looked like it had undergone some massive battles before the destruction from the meteor finally made it uninhabitable. In fact, they didn't even know it was a meteor that had destroyed the planet.”
“So, planetary shift was a factor?” Daniel inquired.
“It's possible that the asteroid was just on the cusp of being in range the first time we tried it several years ago. We just got lucky that we tried that address again now,” Sam pointed out.
“Thanks for letting us know,” Daniel commented.
“You're welcome. Where's Ptolemy?” Sam asked with a grin. “Is she driving the general insane?”
“Totally,” Daniel chuckled as he led the woman into the rec room to continue their visit.
“Polly want a cracker?” Jack asked snarkily that afternoon, having succumbed to the addition of yet another pet to their growing zoo.
“Polly crackers,” Ptolemy responded.
“Hi, Dad,” Little Danny said as he walked into the living room where Jack, Katie, and Ptolemy were.
“Hi, Son,” Jack replied.
“Polly wants crackers!” Ptolemy squawked.
Little Danny's eyes widened as he looked at his father incredulously.
“What?” Jack exclaimed, shrugging at the same time.
“DAAAAAADDDY!” the boy called out.
“Hey, what's going on?” Daniel asked, entering the room.
Little Danny practically cried, “He's calling her Polly. Daddy, Ptolemy is a queen. She's Ptolemy, not Polly!”
“Polly wants crackers!” Ptolemy said again, standing at Jack's feet.
“Ptolemy, welcome to the kingdom of nicknames,” Daniel sighed as he picked up Little Danny and tried to soothe his ruffled feathers.
As Jack made his rounds to say goodnight to the children, he smiled inside, loving this time of day. Oftentimes, Jack and Daniel tucked their children in together, but sometimes, as they were doing tonight, they went separately. It was just another way of giving each of their children special Dad or Daddy time.
“Princess,” Jack called out as he tapped on Jennifer's door.
“Come in,” Jennifer answered. “You have good timing, Dad. I was just getting into bed,” she said, walking over for a hug from her father.
Jack held her close, rubbing her back, and said, “You're so grown up.”
Jennifer smiled and backed up slightly to look at Jack's eyes, surprised to a see a bit of mistiness there.
“Jen, I know you're still learning. Crap, so am I, but I just want you to know that I'm very proud of you and how you've grown up. You've had to get through a lot of gunk out there, and you've done it well,” Jack spoke proudly.
“Oh, Dad,” Jennifer said, leaning in for another hug. Then she turned to take off her robe and climb into bed. She didn't care if she was too old not, she loved her parents checking on her at night and tucking her in. “You and Daddy have made it easy.”
Sure enough, Jack pulled up the covers, making sure they were snug and then sat down on the bed.
“What?” Jack asked, seeing a big smile on Jennifer's face.
“Nothing, Dad,” the girl answered, not wanting to admit her sentimentality on this issue.
“Well, anyway, when Daddy and I first adopted you and the other Mouseketeers, we were afraid you'd think you were just a babysitter,” Jack revealed.
“Dad, no! I've never thought that,” Jennifer replied adamantly.
Relieved, Jack let out with another smile and then commented, “We've needed to be able to rely on you, and we have, but it was very important for us to make sure you still got to grow up.”
“I'm working on it,” the sixteen-year-old said.
“Jen, I want to ask you something,” Jack said seriously.
“What?” Jennifer replied from beneath the covers.
“You haven't asked to go out on a date in a long time,” Jack stated.
“I've gone out,” Jennifer refuted.
“A handful of times to school functions with a group of friends,” Jack responded. “What's going on with Peter Hamilton?”
“Nothing!” Jennifer answered resolutely, frowning and looking away.
“You still care about him,” Jack surmised.
“He's a jerk,” the disappointed young female responded.
“And you're over him?” the silver-gray haired man stated in question.
“Of course, I am,” Jennifer answered.
“Then why aren't you dating like your friends?” Jack quizzed.
“You don't want me to date,” Jennifer argued.
“No father wants their daughter to date,” Jack retaliated by saying. “Jen, trust me. Tell me why.”
With a tear running down her face, Jennifer leaped up out of bed. Her hands rubbed her upper arms as she turned to face Jack, who remained seated.
“Dad, I liked him. I liked him a lot ... a lot,” Jennifer confided, her voice trembling slightly from the strong emotions welling within her. “I was so sure about him. I ... Dad, if I was that wrong about Peter, how can I trust my instincts about anyone else? I believed in him, and he ...”
Jennifer began to cry, and Jack immediately went to her, pulling her into a protective embrace.
“Jen,” Jack softly replied. “Growing up is hard, and we all make mistakes. You *have* to trust your instincts. Learn from what happened, figure out what signs you misread, or search your soul to see if you listened to your mind and not your heart, but in the end, Princess, you have to trust your gut.”
Jennifer sniffled as she pulled back and looked into her father's eyes and said, “But it hurt so much.”
“It always does,” Jack replied. “Ups and downs, Jen; that's what life is.”
Jennifer nodded, and Jack pulled her back in to embrace her.
“Dad, I am sorry I lied to you and Daddy. I never deliberately kept you in the dark. Peter didn't notice me for the longest time, and even when he did, it was such a long time before there was really much to tell. We'd talk at school, but he never talked about his family, and he didn't ask about mine. I know that I was wrong, but I wanted to be with him so much,” Jennifer confessed.
“And he encouraged that?” Jack inquired.
“Yes,” Jennifer answered.
“Is it possible that's one of the signs you ignored?” Jack asked. “Jen, any man worth his salt is going to want to know your family, and he will never urge you to lie and go behind their backs. They also aren't going to do a schmooze job on the family.” This time it was Jack who pulled back. He challenged his daughter by saying, “Jen, when Peter came for dinner, he was all show. Please tell me that you can see that now, that you were wearing blinders that night and just didn't want to see how smooth and slick he was,” he requested.
~I was such an idiot.~ Jennifer sighed and nodded, feeling regretful. She walked slowly back over to the bed and asked, “Will you tuck me in again?”
Jack obliged and sat back down on the bed, asking, “Have you talked to Peter since that night?”
“No, and I don't want to,” Jennifer announced. She added, “He's tried a few times, though.”
“Let me ask you a question,” Jack requested. “Have you learned from that night?”
“Yes, a lot,” Jennifer answered.
“Do you think it's possible that Peter might have learned something, too?” Jack supposed.
“I don't care ...”
“Don't you?” Jack asked. ~I am *so* not convinced,~ he thought silently. Sighing, he stated, “Look, Jen. I can't say I'm fond of the kid, but until you've dealt with that night fully, moving forward from it and dealing with it, you won't be happy. Maybe you should consider talking to him.”
“I can't believe you're saying that,” Jennifer responded.
“Neither can I, but I'm a parent, Jen, and sometimes I surprise myself, too,” Jack mused. “I would be doing you a disservice to encourage you to hide from yourself simply because I'm not fond of Peter. You're the one who has to live your life. Think about it. Maybe you'll be surprised at what you decide.”
“I doubt it, but I'll think about it, Dad, because you asked me to,” Jennifer promised.
“I love you, Jennifer,” Jack said, getting up and placing a kiss on her forehead.
“I love you, Dad. Goodnight,” Jennifer responded, feeling a bit confused at the moment.
“Night,” Jack said, turning out the light, closing the door and walking downstairs. He sighed, “I can't believe I just said all that. Hamilton, you hurt her again, and you won't know what hit you.”
“Wow. Oh, wow,” Brianna commented after reading several essays and listening to recordings her brothers and sisters had participated in the month before as part of their homeschooling.
“Bri,” Daniel said, leaning forward in his chair and reaching out to take her hand. “Those couple of days when we took the brood to the Academy and then studied guns and gun safety were very intense. We all had a difficult time with it, but it was something we had to do.”
Jack rubbed his hands together as he sat in another chair which was next to Daniel's. Thus, both men were sitting across from their daughter. He looked away for a moment, still not comfortable with having to focus on weaponry, and yet knowing the experience had been worthwhile for the children.
“Jonny and Little Danny told me what they did,” Brianna revealed, adding, “But I didn't realize it was so ...”
Daniel squeezed Brianna's hand gently when she simply shrugged and smiled shyly, not really knowing what word to assign to it.
“Bri, Dad and I need you to tell us the truth,” Daniel implored, staring deeply into the tomboy's deep black eyes. “Are you, in any way, curious about guns?”
Brianna looked over at Jack who was focused on her at the moment, his own brown eyes searching for truth in hers. She let out a reluctant sigh, bobbing her head back and forth for a moment.
“Bri?” Daniel prodded.
“A little,” the girl admitted. “Dad, Daddy, it's not like I'd ever pick one up, but we see them on TV all the time, and I guess, maybe, just a tad ... maybe,” she hesitantly spoke.
“Okay, thank you, Bri,” Daniel replied. “Dad's got his friend on standby at the Academy, and they're going to squeeze us in for a couple of hours this morning. You're going to get a crash course today and a chance to fire the gun, and then for your studies, we'll talk about it in more detail over the next few days.”
Jack added, “We'll bring in your brothers and sisters, see what they think now that they've had a little more time to process what they learned.”
Brianna looked over at the papers she'd read and observed, “Sounds to me like they learned a lot.”
“I hope so,” Jack stated, reaching to tickle Brianna at the back of her right arm where she was especially ticklish.
“Daaaaaad,” Brianna laughed.
“Thanks for telling the truth, Bri,” Jack stated, wanting her to hear the words from him as well as from Daniel.
“I am, Dad, and I meant it. I'm just a tiny bit curious, but I'm not like that old cliché cat,” Brianna commented.
“Get your coat. Dad is going to confirm with his friend at the Academy, and I'm going to give Aunt Sam a quick call to come over and watch the brood,” Daniel informed her.
“Is she on standby, too?” the tomboy mused.
“Yeah,” Daniel admitted. “Go on.” After Brianna walked out of the study, Daniel looked over at his husband and said, “I can take her, if you'd rather not go.”
“We both need to do this,” Jack responded. “I don't think we need to go through all the horror stories, though.”
“No, I don't think we do, either,” Daniel agreed. “I'll call Sam,” he intoned, pulling out his cell phone while Jack nodded before doing the same and making his own phone call.
Both knew the experience wouldn't be as harrowing as it had been the prior month when they'd taken the rest of the brood with them, but still, for Jack, it was another reminder of a bad choice he'd once made, the aftermath of which caused the death of his first-born son.
~Never again, Charlie,~ Jack said inwardly as he dialed the number. ~I can do this because I have to do this -- for me, for Danny, for the brood -- for you, Sport.~
That afternoon, Teal’c was standing in the control room, waiting for his teammates. SG-1 had a mission briefing in less than a half an hour, after which the flagship team was scheduled to visit the Hedronix for a few hours.
The Jaffa stood erect, quietly watching the various personnel doing their jobs. Looking down, he smiled smugly as he observed Huruki mopping the floor in the gate room. He was well aware that the Marine was doing nothing but extra chores today since SG-2 was on downtime.
Suddenly, Teal'c got an idea, so he walked down to the gate room and ordered, “Lieutenant Huruki, you will follow me.”
Twenty minutes later, Teal’c was in the briefing room standing near Huruki, who was on his knees, scrubbing the floor with his toothbrush.
When Jack and Daniel walked in, they saw Hammond's smile and followed his line of sight until they noticed Huruki near the table where the airman who recorded the minutes of the briefings always sat. As Sam entered the room, she stopped, standing next to her friends. All three looked at Teal'c, who was still standing over the hardworking Marine.
“Uh, Teal’c whatcha' doin’?” Jack asked.
“I am teaching the lieutenant a lesson, O’Neill," Teal’c stated as he continued to watch Huruki.
“I see,” Jack stated. “That's unusual equipment,” he noted.
All of a sudden, Hammond's voice interrupted the conversation, saying, “Lieutenant Huruki, you are dismissed. SG-1, we have a briefing to get through.”
Huruki stood and saluted Hammond. He looked at Jack, saluting him as well. As the lieutenant blinked, Jack sighed and returned the salute. Then the Marine nodded at Daniel, turned, and hurried away.
“Teal'c, where did you get the idea for that, uh, lesson?” Daniel questioned.
“I observed this behavior in a movie I saw this week. I believe it was called, 'An Officer and a Gentleman',” Teal'c answered as he sat down at the long table.
**Lieutenant Huruki is being given a rough time,** Daniel non-verbally communicated to his lover.
**My heart bleeds,** Jack responded.
“Okay, people, let's get down to business. Colonel?” Hammond requested, looking at Sam as he officially starting the briefing.
The next day, Daniel pulled into their driveway. Jennifer, David, Chenoa, and Lulu climbed out of the truck, each carrying shopping bags from their trips to the cleaners, the grocery store, and the pet store.
Walking inside the house, they were chatting away, not stopping until they entered the living room and realized they had company.
Daniel glanced at Jack, a bit surprised his husband was so calm, especially since he wasn't feeling calm about it at all.
“What are you doing here?” Jennifer asked Peter Hamilton.
Standing, Peter cordially answered, “Hello, Jennifer, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill. Jennifer, I'd like to talk to you.” He looked over at Jack and then back at the teenager, adding, “Please.”
Jack moved in front of the boy and over to Jennifer, taking her shopping bag from her as he said, “Jen, if you don't want him here, I'll get him out right now. It's your choice.”
**We need to talk, Danny,** Jack answered.
**Yes, I guess, we do,** Daniel answered, his mental tone clearly indicating he was perturbed at being kept in the dark about whatever was going on.
Jennifer sighed, crossing her arms in front of her and fidgeting for a moment before she replied, “Okay, I guess.”
“I brought us a picnic lunch,” Peter advised, motioning to the basket, blanket, and flowers that sat on the counter. “Oh, and these are for you,” he said, getting the flowers and walking them over to the girl. “Please take them,” he asked when Jennifer stood like a statue.
A bit reluctantly, Jennifer took the flowers, surprised they weren't roses, but daisies and the like. In fact, they looked like they had been picked from a field or garden instead of being purchased at a florist.
Sensing the girl's bewilderment, Peter admitted, “I know. I didn't buy them. I hope that doesn't upset you. I saw them at a park. It was probably illegal, but I picked them for you, anyway.”
Jennifer smiled slightly, liking the idea, and then said, “Thank you.”
“Okay, Kids, kitchen,” Jack ordered. He turned and looked at Peter, his eyes penetrating as he warned, “You remember what we've talked about.”
“Yes, Sir,” Peter said weakly in a high-pitched voice. Swallowing and finding his voice, he repeated, “Yes, Sir. May we go in the backyard for the picnic?”
“Jen?” Jack queried, turning to ask for her opinion. When she nodded, he went to the door and called out, “Spitfires, in the house, please.” He looked down at Bijou and Katie, who both were staring at him. “Yeah, you two out. Good idea.”
Happily, the two beagles went outside, fully intent on keeping their eyes on the two teenagers.
“What are you trying to say, Peter?” Jennifer asked as she sat on the blanket in the middle of the lawn. She gingerly bit into the sub sandwich Peter had brought. “I'm not sure why you're here.”
“I want to apologize, Jen,” Peter stated. “I'm not going to make excuses for myself. I lied to you, and I tried to take advantage of you. Every other girl I've dated hasn't cared about propriety.”
“I'm not every other girl,” Jennifer strongly intoned, her disappointment at the boy's attitude evident. “I thought you knew that.”
Peter tossed down his roast beef sandwich and brought his knees up to his chest. Shaking his head, he admitted, “It didn't matter. It was all a show. Girls have wanted the gifts I gave them, the rides in the car, the dinners at big, fancy restaurants their parents can't even go to. No one cared about me, just my money.”
“I cared, Peter,” Jennifer said quietly.
“I figured that out too late,” Peter responded. “I watched you walk away from the house, with your head held up high. Man, Jen, I knew then what an idiot I'd been. I was a fool.”
“Then why didn't you say so?” the teenage girl asked.
“Pride, stupidity, fear,” Peter answered. “I tried to do what my old man has always done -- buy people off. It's pathetic how often it works. I'm really sorry that I disrespected you Jen. I know I blew it, but is there any way, if you can find it in your heart to forgive me, that we could go out again?”
Jennifer sighed and thought a few moments before she answered, “No, Peter. It's over, at least the romance part. If you'd like to be friends, though, maybe we can try that.”
Peter smiled, though his face was sad, and said, “I'd like to be friends.”
“Okay, well, I don't think Dad and Daddy are going to want us spending time alone together, but ...” Jennifer paused. “Peter, would you like to come for Thanksgiving? I'd have to get permission, but ...”
“I'd like that, Jen,” Peter said. “I'd like that a lot, but I'll understand if their answer is no.”
“By the way, where's your car?” Jennifer asked, not seeing the expensive Lamborghini in the driveway when they had arrived home.
“Home. It's nice out, so I rode my bike,” Peter replied. “That's why I saw the flowers; rode through the park to get here.”
“I love them, Peter, much more than the store-bought ones,” Jennifer answered.
“I hear Beyonce has a new CD out,” Peter said.
“Yeah, it's great. Have you heard the single?” Jennifer asked, enthused at the topic.
The tension relieved, the two teenagers enjoyed the rest of their picnic, chatting about lighthearted things as Bijou and Katie kept watch.
“Jack, why didn't you tell me?” Daniel argued when the two men got to their bedroom.
“I did, Angel. I told you I'd seen the kid at the campus,” Jack replied a bit flatly.
“Jack, you said you saw him; you said nothing about talking to him,” Daniel accused.
“I wasn't sure if he'd have the guts or not,” Jack confided, taking a big breath. “Danny, Jeff told me the Hamilton kid was showing up for his basketball practices. I went to check it out. Turns out he was there just to try and feel close to Jen.”
“What?” Daniel asked, scrunching up his face in confusion, his arms held tightly across his chest.
“He knows he was wrong,” Jack revealed.
“You wanted to kill him!” Daniel exclaimed.
“I still might,” Jack replied. “Jen still cares about him, and he had the guts to listen to my advice.”
“Oh, and, uh, just what advice did you give him, Jack?” Daniel asked sharply.
“Have the guts to face her, apologize in person,” Jack answered. “Danny, if Jen wants it, I think we should give him a second chance.”
Daniel walked to his lover, never losing eye contact, and said, “You amaze me, Jack Jackson-O'Neill.”
“I do?” a surprised Jack asked.
“You've learned,” Daniel answered.
“I have?” a still-surprised Jack questioned.
“Babe, you're putting Jennifer first. You don't like Peter Hamilton, but you're willing to give him a chance, if it means making Jen happy,” Daniel stated.
“Only because I think he's really sorry,” Jack replied. “Danny, I was ready to knock his lights out, but there was something in his tone. I think he knows what he lost by disrespecting our daughter.”
“Okay,” Daniel agreed. “We'll see how Jen feels, but it's going to be a while before I agree to them going out on a date. To be, uh, honest, I'm not sure I approve, but Jennifer's happiness comes first.”
“Angel, trust me, that kid knows I will break his legs if he does anything he shouldn't with Jen,” Jack intoned.
Daniel chuckled, “As I recall, Jen did a good job of protecting herself.”
“Yeah, she did at that,” Jack said, smiling, just as there was a knock on the door.
“Dad, Daddy, it's Jen,” the teenager called out. When her parents opened the door, she informed them that, “Peter is downstairs. I was wondering if it would be all right if he came over on Thanksgiving.”
“Are you sure?” Daniel asked.
“Daddy, I don't want to date Peter, but I would like to be friends with him,” Jennifer replied.
Daniel looked over at Jack, who nodded, and then he answered, “Okay, Jen. Peter can come for Thanksgiving.”
“Thank you. Um, he's ready to go, but he's asked to talk to you, Dad, alone, before he goes,” Jennifer stated.
“Do we need to remind him of how to behave?” Daniel asked.
Jennifer smiled and said, “No, I think he understands our relationship now.” She laughed and added, “Bij and Katie actually went to sleep.”
“Well, then he must have learned something,” Jack quipped.
“I think so, but it wasn't until he'd been here for awhile,” the teenager replied before turning around to return to her guest.
“If he hurts her, Jack ...”
“They aren't dating, Danny,” Jack interrupted. “Besides, aren't you the one who always says we need to trust people?”
“Yes, and it makes me nervous when you start agreeing with me,” Daniel mused and then kissed his lover.
“I'd better see what he wants,” Jack decided.
“Jen said you wanted to see me,” Jack spoke after his daughter had said good-bye and left him alone with the young man in the entranceway of the house.
“Yes, Sir. I'd like to thank you for the advice on how to apologize properly to Jennifer and for giving me the chance to do it. Please give my thanks to Doctor Jackson-O'Neill as well for allowing me to attend Thanksgiving dinner,” Peter requested. “May I ask, what would be appropriate for me to wear?”
“We don't stand on ceremony here, Peter. As long as it's clean, decent, and comfortable, it's fine,” Jack answered.
“Thank you,” the boy responded.
As he closed the door, Jack mused, ~Either there's hope for him, or he's learned to fake sincerity, which according to George Burns means he's got it made.~
Shaking his head in disbelief, Jack went to tell his husband about the conversation he'd just had with Peter Hamilton.
“Danny?” Jack asked a bit hesitantly. “Ah, you aren't really upset about Jen and Peter, are you?” he asked later that evening when he found his husband in the den watching Bean Sprout.
“No, not really, but I'm not as sure as you are, either,” Daniel admitted.
“Aren't you the one usually fighting to give out second chances?” Jack challenged lightly.
“Which is why I'm not saying 'no' to Jen seeing him or his coming for Thanksgiving,” Daniel answered. “At the same time, you weren't there to see Jen sitting on the porch steps of that mansion, and you didn't hear her crying her eyes out with Janet in the Bird's Nest that night.” He sighed, “It's hard to ignore our daughter in pain like that.”
“I know, Angel, but ...”
“But that's not what I've been thinking about, either,” Daniel said with a smile.
“Oh, then what?” Jack asked curiously.
“Look!” Daniel smiled at the sight of the womis rippling, still finding it hard to believe that the sac contained their son or daughter. ~It's so incredible.~
Jack placed his hand against the skin of the womis and smiled as he felt the baby give a gentle kick. A sigh from Daniel, however, brought his attention back to his husband.
“Okay, Danny, spill,” Jack requested.
“I just finished talking with Sylvia about Lulu,” Daniel explained. He sighed again as he recalled the conversation he'd had with the physician. “She said that the best way to help Lulu is to have her properly diagnosed. Jack, to do that she needs to have some really comprehensive testing done -- vision, hearing, and ... intelligence.”
Jack knew that it was this last test that had Daniel tied in knots. The two of them hated labels and had fiercely resisted the idea of having any of their children intelligence tested. They'd thought about it most in relation to Little Danny whose intelligence seemed to rival Daniel's.
“They can't diagnose her without doing an intelligence test? Those things are artificial anyway,” Jack muttered. “Intelligence can't be measured, and besides, there are different types of intelligence.”
“I know, Babe,” Daniel replied as he squeezed Jack's leg to calm him down. “I asked Sylvia about that, and she said that it really is in Lulu's best interests. Anyway, she's given me the names of some specialists. The test needs to assess all areas of learning and learning processes. Sylvia said the team testing her should include an educator, an educational psychologist, and a child psychiatrist.”
“We need to talk to them, explain how we feel, and find out if there's another way of diagnosing her,” Jack insisted. “If she's already worried about her brothers and sisters being more intelligent than she is, the last thing we need to do is give her a piece of paper showing her where she ranks according to some artificial scale. It's all so ...” Jack stopped as he realized he was ranting.
“I agree with you, Jack,” Daniel said, looking at Bean Sprout again. “But to help Lulu, we need to know exactly what the problem is.”
“We need an 'or',” Jack commented.
Daniel chuckled, “You're the master of 'or's', Babe.”
“No pressure, though,” Jack said wryly.
Daniel grinned before saying cheerfully, “None at all. You can have until next week.”
As the lovers stood up, a smug look crossed Jack's face and he said, “I don't think I need until next week.” Seeing the hope in Daniel's eyes, Jack prayed his suggestion wouldn't disappoint. “What if we let the doctors do all the tests, including the intelligence test, but we tell them we don't want to know the results. We don't need to know the result of that test to help Lulu, all we need is for them to tell us how to help her. What do you think?”
Jack received his answer in the form of a very passionate kiss, followed by a resounding, “I think you're brilliant, and I love you,” from Daniel.
“Good, because you're stuck with me, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill,” Jack chirped.
“I wouldn't have it any other way, General Jackson-O'Neill,” Daniel chuckled. “Do you think we should go make sure the brood haven't exhausted Catherine and Ernest yet?”
“Probably a good idea,” Jack admitted.
The two gave Toto one last pat before heading down to check on the rest of their children.
“It was wonderful seeing you two again,” Jack stated, hugging Catherine as they stood in the airport lobby the next morning.
“Even with a house full of kids, my Danny is *so* not a morning person,” Jack chuckled.
“Next time, Daniel, we'll try and remember to schedule an afternoon flight,” the white-haired woman mused as she moved forward to hug the archaeologist.
“Uh, thank you,” Daniel said, bobbing his head one time as they pulled apart at the end of the embrace. ~Who leaves at six-ten in the morning? Gawd, am I really awake?~
Though the Littlefields had been driven to Colorado Springs by their driver in their limousine, having rented a trailer to haul Ptolemy's cage and supplies, they were flying back to New York. The couple didn't trust the airlines to properly care for the bird, so anytime they traveled with her, Ptolemy rode in the limo with them. With their visit over, the driver turned in the rental unit and was already on his way back to New York.
“Remember, Jack, Ptolemy is a special bird,” Catherine reminded. “She'll love you and be a great companion for years to come.”
“If you have any questions, call us,” Ernest added.
“And we'll drop by the week before the cruise to make sure Ptolemy has adjusted,” the white-haired woman stated. “We wouldn't be able to leave the country if she shows any sign of distress.”
“So cooking her for dinner is out,” Jack teased.
The three shocked looks of horror from Daniel, Ernest, and Catherine, respectfully forced Jack to quickly point out, “I was kidding.”
“Don't worry, Catherine,” Daniel promised as he hugged the woman.
As their guests headed for their departure gate, Jack and Daniel waved cheerfully until they were out of sight. Then they turned and headed for the exit.
“Just what I needed, Daniel,” Jack whined.
“What?” Daniel asked innocently.
“A smart-mouthed bird who will outlive me!” Jack complained as his lover chuckled.
Later that morning, Little Danny walked into the rec room and greeted Ptolemy, saying, “Good morning, Ptolemy.”
“Morning bird,” Ptolemy screeched.
“Would you like some nuts?” the little boy asked.
“Nuts for the nutty,” Ptolemy answered.
Little Danny frowned at the comment, knowing it had come from Jack. With a sigh, he reached into the cabinet where the parrot's snack food was. He knew he was allowed to feed Ptolemy a few nuts each morning.
“Here you go, Ptolemy,” the boy said.
Gladly, the bird ate the nuts, only she dropped one, saying, “Oh, crap!” when it fell.
Little Danny was mortified and went running upstairs to the den, stopping short of entering, even though the doors were open.
“DAAAAAADDY, Dad is teaching Ptolemy bad words,” the boy whined.
“What now?” Daniel asked as he got up from his desk.
“'Oh, crap!'” Little Danny answered.
“Son, you know better than ...”
“No, Daddy, that's what Ptolemy said -- 'oh, crap!',” the boy explained. “Daddy, Ptolemy is a regal bird. Hyacinth macaws are special. Dad is ...”
“I'll take care of it, Little Danny. Go on,” Daniel urged, watching as his namesake headed downstairs, his shoulders slumped in sad frustration.
Daniel went to the storage room that was at the end of the long hall where the majority of the children's rooms were. He knew his soulmate was working on organizing the small room better.
“Jack?” Daniel called out from the open doorway.
“Yes, Love?” Jack said, wiping his hands as he stood up from cleaning the baseboard.
“Our son is upset,” Daniel stated.
“Which one and why?” Jack inquired.
“Two words,” Daniel answered. “'Oh, crap!'”
“I'm not following you,” Jack responded, certain he was in trouble, based on Daniel's glare, but not sure why.
“Ptolemy just said, 'oh, crap!'” the archaeologist explained.
“Oh, crap,” Jack responded.
“Well, Danny, that bird follows me around like the cats do. I'm a dog person. What is with all these animals stalking me?” Jack asked sarcastically.
“They love grizzly bears,” Daniel mused. “Babe, Ptolemy is an expensive bird, and Little Danny cares a lot about her heritage. Can't you try to tone it down a little in Ptolemy's presence?”
“Polly is always there,” Jack replied.
“*Ptolemy*, Jack, not Polly,” Daniel said.
This time, Jack glared, after which Daniel sighed.
“Danny, I'll try, but you know me and nicknames,” Jack semi-whined.
“All I'm asking is that you watch your language. I don't think Little Danny would mind the nickname as much if you'd just stop teaching Ptolemy words and phrases that aren't appropriate,” Daniel commented.
“She's a friggin' bird,” Jack complained.
“And she has your number,” Daniel teased. “Just try,” he requested, giving his lover a smile and blowing him a kiss before returning to work in the den.
“Hey, Bean Sprout,” Daniel said as he walked back into his haven. He walked over and gently caressed the now basketball-sized womis in which a baby was living and growing. “Soon, so soon,” he spoke softly, leaning over and placing a kiss on the rubbery pouch. “I love you, and I'm so anxious for you to join our family.”
The archaeologist walked over to his desk and sat down, deciding to delay working in favor of writing in his journal for a few minutes. He felt so full of joy from the impending birth that he wanted to jot down his feelings while they were stirring within him.
“Angel, aren't you coming down for breakfast?” Jack asked, entering the den ninety minutes later.
“What?” Daniel looked at his clock, suddenly realizing that he'd been making his journal entry for well over an hour. “Jack, I ... I'm sorry, I got distracted.”
“It's okay, Love,” Jack replied, leaning over the chair on which Daniel sat and placing a kiss on his cheek. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I was supposed to finish the report for Mister Wells, but I started talking to Bean Sprout, and then I wanted to write down my feelings, and, well, I guess time slipped away from me,” Daniel replied.
“Any time now,” Jack said softly, glancing over at the womis. “Our baby,” he added.
Daniel turned around and stood up, kissing his lover and then leading him over to the womis.
“It's another miracle,” Daniel spoke with awe.
“The Doc should be by in a day or two for some last minute tests, and then it will be diaper time ...” Jack began.
“Midnight feedings,” Daniel mused with joy.
“I know; me, too,” Daniel said, leaning his forehead against his husband's. Neither really had the words to express their joy in that moment, but by connecting in this way, they didn't have to. “I want you to read it later,” Daniel told his lover about his journal.
“You sure?” Jack asked.
Daniel caressed the older man's cheek and nodded, saying, “Absolutely.”
“I learn so much about you every time you give me your journal to read,” Jack noted. “You amaze me, Danny.”
“That's good, right?” Daniel teased.
“Very good,” Jack answered as they kissed again.
“Daniel, close your mouth,” Jack instructed. “You're a man, not a fish.”
The two lovers were in the kitchen, preparing dinner, when Jack had made a suggestion. It wasn't anything all that unusual to a normal household, but to the still-private-in-spite-of-their-children couple, it was unusual, and considering the people the older man was referring to, it was like a shockwave.
“Jack, would you repeat that?” a stunned Daniel requested.
“All I'm saying is that it would be a nice thing to do,” Jack stated with a nonchalant hug.
“Jack, say it again,” Daniel demanded, sure he had to have heard wrong.
“For crying out loud, it's only dinner, Daniel,” Jack whined as he turned and pounded the steaks under the guise of tenderizing them.
Daniel shook his head quickly, as if to wake himself up, and said, “You want to invite them to dinner, in our home, with our children. Is, uh, that right?”
“You should have seen him at the base with Jonny,” Jack sighed. “He's a good man.”
“I know that,” Daniel stated emphatically. “But it's not just him you said, right?”
Jack tossed down the wooden utensil he'd been using and turned to face Daniel again, answering, “Daniel, you know what I said.”
“I'm sorry, Babe, but it's not every day you stand there and casually suggest we invite Paul over to dinner,” Daniel pointed.
“Not just Davis,” Jack argued. “Reynolds, too. They are a couple, you know.”
“Yes, I do know that,” Daniel chuckled, recalling the years of jealousy Jack had harbored against Major Paul Davis, totally ignorant of the fact that Paul had been romantically involved with Colonel Marc Reynolds for almost as long as he and Jack had been together as a couple. “Are you sure, Babe? I don't want a brawl in front of the children.”
Jack scowled, then gave a reluctant sigh as he answered, “I guess I deserve that.”
As Daniel returned to his soup preparations, he asked, “How long have you been thinking about this?”
“Since Jonny took over the SGC in September,” Jack admitted as he, too, returned his focus to work on the steaks. “Besides, I owe him -- Reynolds -- for the support while I was pretending to do Hammond's job.”
“Jack, you weren't pretending,” Daniel sternly refuted. “You were the commander of the SGC, and you did a great job.”
“Ya think?” Jack asked insecurely.
“Jack, the only reason you aren't still in charge is because you don't like paperwork,” Daniel noted, shaking his head as he mixed in more ingredients.
“There's that,” Jack agreed. “And Doctor Lee. Danny, if I hadn't resigned, I probably would have strangled him by now.”
Daniel chuckled, then returned to their primary conversation, asking, “Is there anything more to this invitation?”
“I'm getting old,” Jack sighed.
“Jack!” Daniel admonished.
“Sentimentality,” Jack clarified. “I'm not keeping a list, Danny, but Reynolds organized that show of support when I almost resigned that first week; he helped out when we went to New Orleans; both he and Davis helped us when Jonny and Little Danny were lost and again last summer when Bri and Little Danny ran away; yadda, yadda, yadda.” He silently winced, ~Even though Davis gave the kids that darn rabbit.~
“I heard that, Jack,” Daniel said. “You love Bagel. We've all seen you sneaking pieces of bagels to her.” He chuckled, “Bagels for bagel.” After more laughter, he noted, “Just like with the cats. You complain about them, but you play with them all the time when you think no one is looking.”
“Isn't there any privacy around here?” Jack lightly barked, though his smile gave him away.
“In our bedroom,” the younger man answered as the two shared a tender and quiet moment. “I've talked to Paul some,” Daniel commented quietly a minute or two later. “He and Marc could ...”
“Marc,” Jack snickered. “Danny, you do know that's not his real name.”
“Yes, Jack, I do, but it's the name he likes to go by, so behave. No teasing,” Daniel ordered.
“Daniel, if I were going to get Reynolds for his given names, I would have done it years ago. Marc,” he chuckled with amusement.
Shaking his head at his husband's humor, Daniel continued, “As I was saying, Paul and *Marc* could use a couple of friends, people who understand what they're going through. They have to be more careful than we ever did, Jack.”
“Friends ... like us?” Jack queried as he looked over at his husband.
“I think dinner is a good start,” Daniel answered. “Maybe next month ...”
“Oh, no,” Jack stated in a near laugh. “I'm afraid I'll change my mind. This week; better than that, tomorrow night. Go call them.”
“Okay, I'll call them after dinner,” Jack announced.
Daniel chuckled, shaking his head at his lover. The dinner invitation would be ridiculously last minute. On one hand, he loved the progress the invitation showed for his lover, and, on a personal level, he was eager to get to know Paul and Marc better. On the other hand, he knew that the two men would change or cancel any plans they might already have once Jack issued the invitation, either out of fear or sheer curiosity.
~It's the curse of those stars,~ the archaeologist mused about his husband's rank. ~Then again, those stars have come in *very* handy from time to time.~
“Of course, it means putting the monitor away again,” Jack continued, oblivious to the younger man's inner musings and thoughts.
“Exercise, Babe!” Daniel quipped.
Although Major Davis and Colonel Reynolds worked at the SGC, Jack and Daniel were convinced that the fewer people who knew about the womis, the safer Bean Sprout would be in the future.
“That's not the kind of exercise I prefer,” Jack teased as he seasoned the steaks some more.
A minute later, Jack found himself torn away from his steaks and glued to his archaeologist in a powerful, long-lasting kiss.
“Not that I'm complaining, Angel, but what was that for?” Jack asked.
“Moving forward and knowing how much I love you,” Daniel answered, his finger tracing Jack's lips. “I love you so much.”
“Love you, Space Monkey,” Jack said, taking Daniel into his arms for more kisses.
“Oh, pul-leeez,” Jennifer wailed. “I'm hungry! We'll never get to eat if you two keep doing that.”
As Jack and Daniel chuckled, Jennifer disappeared from view, her arms raised up into the air in mock disbelief.
“Everything looks good,” Janet announced the next afternoon, a smile on her face. “I talked with the doctors on Pierola, and they all agree, Bean Sprout should be making his or her entrance any day now.”
Jack and Daniel embraced upon hearing the news, after which Jack asked, “Doc, is there anything special we need to do?”
“The doctors recommend you keep a close watch on the womis; it's important you're there to oversee the birth. Someone should be with Toto at all times during the two-week window,” Janet answered, referring to the delivery due date for the baby.
The physicians had previously determined that the Jackson-O'Neill baby should be born sometime between the fourteenth and twenty-eighth of November. While it was a fourteen-day span, they had been told that the odds were for a later birth, but not to preclude any day within that period of time. The couple had decided to go ahead with their huge Thanksgiving feast, though they hadn't realized they would need to be with Toto non-stop during that time period.
“Should we move Toto into our bedroom?” Daniel asked.
“They don't advise moving the womis at this point,” Janet responded, shaking her head.
“Okay, well, we have the recliner,” Jack stated, causing Daniel to smile slightly, the younger man's nervousness evident in the self-hug he was doing.
“Jack, what about Thanksgiving?” Daniel asked.
Jack cocked his head as he considered it, then said, “We'll just make sure one of us is here all the time.”
“Or Jeff or Jennifer, and I'll be here, and Sam. Listen, you two,” Janet instructed. “Don't become paranoid. This will be a fairly simple birth. As long as you can get to the baby quickly, there won't be a problem.”
“We'll set up a schedule, Danny,” Jack suggested.
“Okay, we'll figure it out,” Daniel agreed, even though his stomach was full of butterflies.
“Let's review what to do once the baby begins the birthing process,” Janet suggested, pulling out her notes.
That evening, the Jackson-O'Neills were entertaining their guests, using the large table in the hospitality room. Both Davis and Reynolds had been impressed with the renovated home, having been given the grand tour of the downstairs earlier. They weren't shown the upstairs because Jack and Daniel didn't want to have to explain the locked den. Instead, they had dismissed the upstairs as being nothing fancy and just a bunch of bedrooms, though that was far from the truth.
“*Ice*, can you hand me the salt please?” Paul Davis requested with a bit of a raised voice.
Paul had been trying to get the colonel’s attention for a couple of minutes, but Marc had been leaning over and playing with Katie and wasn't paying attention. Finally, out of desperation, he had used one of the man's nicknames to get his attention.
“Sorry,” Marc apologized to both his lover and their hosts as he passed the salt to the major. He explained, “I love dogs.” Laughing as he reached down to pet Katie some more, he regretfully noted, “Haven’t had one since I was a kid, though.”
“Why did Major Davis call you 'Ice', Colonel Reynolds?” Ricky asked innocently before taking a spoonful of corn.
“He doesn't want to admit to his real name,” Paul teased in between bites of the meat loaf.
“That will be enough from you, *Major*,” Marc replied. He looked at Ricky and answered, “I love ice hockey.”
“Yeah?” Brianna asked, perking up.
Marc nodded and explained, “They couldn't keep me off the ice when I was a kid, so after a while, that's what my family and friends started calling me. When I joined the Air Force, most people referred to me by my rank or just my last name Reynolds, that is until this one spent the holidays with me and ...”
“Hey, this one's name is Paul,” the major jested.
Marc laughed and continued, “He didn't have any plans, and we had room, so Paul went with me to my hometown one year. He heard some of my friends use the nickname, so now, sometimes, he calls me Ice, too.”
“You like it,” Paul teased with a smile.
“I admit it,” Marc confessed. “It reminds me of when I was a kid and would spend every moment I could at the rink or on the local pond when the rink was closed.”
“Can we call you 'Ice'?” Jonny asked.
After Marc looked at Jack, who had nodded his permission, he answered, “I only let my close friends call me Ice, so, of course, you can. All of you can,” Marc said, looking at all the Jackson-O'Neill children.
“You can call me Paul, if you like,” the major said with a smile.
**Bonus points, Danny. Reynolds just made Jonny feel very special. Look at his smile,** Jack communicated to his soulmate.
**They all feel special, Babe, especially the younger ones,** Daniel agreed.
“Ice Ice baby,” Ptolemy spoke, causing everyone to laugh.
Dinner had gone well, and now everyone was in the rec room, sitting around talking. Jack and Daniel were together on their favorite piece of the large sectional, Jack's arm around his lover's shoulders, and Daniel's right hand caressing his soulmate's right thigh. They didn't hold back from the occasional kiss or hug, either.
Paul and Marc were also sitting together on a sectional opposite their hosts, but there was a polite distance between them.
The children were scattered about, some sitting on the sectionals and some on floor pillows. Bijou was near Jack and Daniel, while Katie was near Marc, still getting scratched. The cats were hiding, but Bagel was with Aislinn. She had asked, and received, permission to bring the rabbit down to show Paul. She had prattled away about Bagel, and Paul looked suitably impressed.
The brood knew nothing about the romance between the two guests, but most all of them had met the two individually at various points during the past few years. All were enjoying talking with their visitors as the night proceeded.
“... and we like to dance,” Chenoa announced. “Wanna see?”
“Of course,” Paul cheered. “On with the show!” he exclaimed, clapping his hands together to urge the girl onward.
“Come on, Lulu,” Chenoa coaxed, tapping her sister on the arm.
The two curly-haired girls spent the next few minutes doing an impromptu dance for their family and the two visitors.
When the dance was over, the group applauded, everyone calling out, “Bravo! Bravo!”
When the cheers had settled, Jonny got up and walked over to stand in front of Paul and Marc.
The sandy-haired boy put his hands on his hips and surprised everyone by asking, “Why are you pretending?”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look of near panic, but it didn't come close to matching the expressions on both of their guests' faces.
Paul leaned forward and replied, “We're not pretending, Jonny. I think I can safely answer for myself and Marc and say we thought your sisters did a wonderful job just now.”
“Not about them!” Jonny exclaimed.
“You're hiding,” Aislinn commented from her spot on the floor.
“It's okay,” Chenoa added. “You can hold hands. Dad and Daddy do it all the time. See!” she said, pointing to her parents who were, at the moment, holding hands.
**Not a word,** Daniel answered the unspoken question about whether or not he had said anything to the children about the two men being romantically involved.
“Are you married like Dad and Daddy are?” David asked from his spot on the sectional.
“Brood,” Jack called out in warning. “We don't ask personal questions of our guests.”
“But they're not guests,” Little Danny argued. Seeing the surprised looks on his parents' faces, he clarified, “They're close friends.” He pointed at Reynolds and reminded, “Ice said so.”
“Son, it's not nice to point,” Jack chastised evasively.
Paul and Marc exchanged a look, a tender one, the first one like it of the night.
“Children,” Daniel admonished. “You're being impolite. I thought you knew better than to make *friends* feel so uncomfortable.”
“I'm sorry,” Jonny spoke, half-contritely and half-whiny as he sat back down. He mumbled to Aislinn, “But they are like Dad and Daddy.”
“No, Daniel,” Marc interrupted, looking over at Paul. “Paul, what do you think?”
“They know,” Paul answered. “Why pretend?”
Marc reached over and took hold of Paul's hand, nodding as he did so.
“How'd you know?” Marc asked Jonny and the other children.
Jennifer chuckled, “We know the signs. We've heard the stories about Dad and Daddy and how they had to hide their relationship before Dad retired.”
“We're good at covert ops,” Jonny noted.
“Eyes don't lie,” Lulu said softly as she climbed up on Jack's lap and received a kiss on her forehead from her father.
“Brood, you realize how important it is not to tell anyone else about Paul and Ice's relationship, right?” Jack asked, his eyes highly focused and determined.
“What about Aunt Sam and T?” Chenoa inquired.
“They know,” Paul revealed, “but other than them, no one else we work with knows the truth.”
“We'll play undercover,” Ricky announced, earning him smiles from the adults.
“Our children are very good at ...” Daniel stopped, not quite sure of what words to say.
Jeff said, “We're good at keeping secrets.”
“We trust you,” Marc replied.
With all the talk about ice, Jack suddenly remembered when he had sent Paul to Elmendorf, Alaska. A certain amount of guilt flooded through him.
~I had no way of knowing; besides, he was touching Danny all the time,~ Jack told himself. Still, he felt that some kind of apology might be in order. “You know,” he stated a bit distractedly as he searched for a way to say what he wanted. “Sometimes we make crazy assumptions and do things that later we realize we maybe shouldn't have.”
Paul and Marc stared at each other, having no clue what Jack was talking about.
“Uh, yes, we do,” Daniel agreed, trying to keep the conversation going, though he really had no clue at this point what his husband was saying, either.
“Of course,” Jack continued, “even if we make an error of judgment, the good news is that we can learn from it, right?”
“Right,” Daniel replied quietly, giving Jack an odd stare.
“All I'm saying is that a mistake can lead to new adventures,” Jack said, smiling.
“Of course, General,” Marc responded when Jack looked at him.
~Crap, they don't get it.~ Rubbing his hands together, Jack tried something else. “Reynolds, have you ever gone ice fishing?”
“No, I spent all my time on the ice with skates on,” the colonel answered.
“I have, Sir,” Paul said a bit hesitantly. “It was several years ago, though, and it *was* a new adventure.”
~Progress,~ Jack thought. “I hear that the best ice fishing is in Alaska,” he stated, adding, “Can't beat that for an adventure, even if the reason for being there might not have been ideal.”
**I love you, Jack,** Daniel silently communicated, squeezing his husband's hand as soon as he realized what Jack was doing.
Jack smiled at his Love, happy that even if Paul and Marc didn't pick up on it, at least Daniel had. However, when he looked over at their guests, he saw a nod from both men, along with a smile.
“Alaska is a good place to visit, Sir,” Paul said. “I'm glad I had a chance to serve there for a while.”
“And I learned a few things while he was gone,” Marc Reynolds added.
Jack nodded. Without actually saying the words or discussing the incident, an apology had been given and accepted.
All of a sudden, Jonny drew a deep breath as something came to him. His tiny gasp drew his parents' attention.
“Ice, did that bad Marine do his spud duty?” Jonny asked.
“Lieutenant Callahan?” Marc inquired, a smile forming on his face. Nodding, he affirmed, “He sure did, and not just one week, but two.”
“Michael Callahan?” Paul asked for verification, seeing Jonny grin at the news and also observing happy but hesitant smiles on the faces of their hosts.
“Yeah, Jonny gave Callahan an order, and instead of obeying it, he mouthed off. Jonny put him on report, and General Hammond doubled the sentence,” Marc chuckled.
**Gawd, that's embarrassing,** Daniel silently communicated, having seen the SGC tape of the incident that Jack had eventually retrieved from the complex's surveillance system.
**It's great to have a grandfather who runs the place,** Jack mused in reply.
“Good!” Jonny said with an emphatic nod of his head.
“Dad, ice cream now?” Chenoa asked hopefully, not understanding any of the last bit of adult conversation.
“Ice cream is a tradition around here,” Jack announced as he scooted Lulu off his lap and stood up. Chuckling, he corrected himself, saying, “No, that's wrong. Around here, ice cream is a religion.”
“I loved Tutti Frutti when I was a kid,” Marc commented as he stood.
“You're in luck,” Jack replied.
“I didn't think there was anywhere that sold it around here,” Paul commented.
“We're ice cream experts,” Brianna teased. “If there's an ice cream to be found, we can find it.”
As laughter ensued, the Jackson-O'Neills continued to have a pleasant evening with their new guests, long-time coworkers, now friends.
The Jackson-O'Neill household was full of family and friends as the Thanksgiving Day festivities commenced. The nervous hosts were taking turns being with and/or checking on Toto. When they weren't there, a schedule had been set up, alternating between Sam, Janet, Sara, Jennifer, and Jeff.
With the smell of cooked turkeys filling the air, the guests were salivating for the feast to begin. Tables were everywhere, some of the children even eating in the game room.
Present were the Shanahans, Wilsons, Ferrettis, Lucas, Rancolinis, Janet, Teal'c, Mrs. Valissi, the Svensons, Karissa Lewis whose new title at J-O Enterprises had finally been determined to be Cultural Resources Manager, Peter Hamilton, the Lapierres, Alex Dennison and Soncirria Suvulpo, and, of course, Billy and Jilly, along with a couple of their children and their families who wanted to do some traveling in America before deciding on their future.
Jack and Daniel had been happy to hear that Billy and Jilly had found life on Jilly's Outback cattle station much more like their life in Plantacia. Away from the cities of both America and Australia, the two were settling back into life on Earth with enthusiasm.
The children had been disappointed that their Grandpa George couldn't come, but Hammond had already promised his 'natural' granddaughters he'd spend Thanksgiving with them this year.
“How did Lulu's tests go, Daniel?” Sara asked as she helped him get out the serving dishes.
The previous day, while Sam babysat Toto and Pete watched the rest of the brood, Jack and Daniel had taken Lulu to the first of her appointments with the team of experts that would assess her learning and reading abilities. Sara knew the two men had been anxious about the appointments and was eager to hear how the session had gone.
“It went well,” Daniel responded with a smile. “Lulu was scared at first, but once we met the educators and psychologists, she was fine. I think she was expecting their rooms to be cold and sterile like a hospital room or the infirmary.”
Sara grinned as she mused, “Don't let Janet hear you calling her infirmary sterile.”
Daniel chuckled, “Yesterday was just the screening tests, but so far it looks like her main area of difficulty is working out the sounds within words. It's clear from her dancing that she doesn't have a problem with coordination or rhythm. She's got another set of tests scheduled for next week, but the early assessment is that it's mainly phonological. Jack and I wondered if it might be because of that ...” he trailed off, unable to adequately describe, without resorting to foul language, the foster father Lulu had had before coming to the Jackson-O'Neills.
Sara had no such difficulty and filled in, “That Neanderthal that had the gall to call himself a foster father?”
Daniel nodded and then noted, “Lulu didn't exactly have anyone to help her with her homework or read to her, and from what she told the psychologist, it seems that when she began Kindergarten, the teachers thought she was just being lazy by not participating or trying to learn like the others.”
Sara nodded knowingly, adding, “Some teachers aren't very good at looking below the surface. Of course, it's a fine line to tread because some kids just don't do their homework or contribute to what goes on in class. So have they given you suggestions of how to start helping our Little Bit?”
“Yes, we're getting Lulu to look at words, then say them, listening to the way they sound and then getting her to write the word down. We've got some new computer games for her, too. They're basically word association games that work on pronunciation and spelling.”
“I'm glad you're homeschooling her, Daniel,” Sara commented. “It would be hard for a teacher to give her the one on one attention that she needs right now.”
Daniel nodded in agreement and smiled when his attention was drawn elsewhere, seeing Jack enter into the kitchen, closely followed by Ptolemy.
Sara smirked at the sight and remarked, “I like your shadow, Jack.”
Jack looked at the majestic-looking bird and rolled his eyes, whining, “Dratted bird.”
“Jack!” Daniel chastised.
Sara chuckled and took a plate loaded with turkey into the living room. Jack took the opportunity and slid his arms around Daniel's waist, kissing his nape a second later.
“At it again! At it again!” Ptolemy squawked.
Jack turned around and glared at the bird.
“Oh, Crap,” Ptolemy stated before flying back into the living room.
“I swear, Danny, that bird is lucky it's not Thanksgiving dinner.”
Daniel chuckled, “Just behave. Uh, it's my turn to check on Bean Sprout. Wait for Jennifer to come down before you do the blessings.”
“Okay, Love,” Jack agreed, stealing a quick kiss as his husband walked by.
“Peter, would you like some more?” Jennifer asked her handsome friend.
“Thanks, Jen,” the teenager answered. “I can get it, though.”
“No, I'm the hostess,” Jennifer stated with a smile. “Be right back.”
“You like my sister, don't you?” Jonny asked.
“Very much,” Peter admitted.
“You made her cry,” Jonny surprised the boy in saying. “You don't do that again, or we won't let you come back.”
“I understand,” Peter said, a bit amused at the forcefulness of the young boy's statement. “You have a great a family,” he added a moment later, his voice full of awe.
“We have lots of fun. You'd better be nice, and maybe you can have fun with us,” Jonny said. “I want more pie. Be back,” he said, scooting off his seat and heading for the hospitality room.
Peter looked around, seeing nothing but smiles and expressions of love and happiness on everyone's faces.
~I guess this is what it's like -- to have a family,~ Peter lamented. ~I wish ...~
“Here you go, Peter,” Jennifer stated, putting down his plate in front of him.
“Thanks. Jen,” the boy said, but then paused, not sure of his words.
“What is it, Peter?” the female asked.
“Thanks for inviting me,” Peter spoke quietly, a smile on his face. “Man, this is great,” he said as he dug in for more turkey and gravy.
“So are they going to fight you for control of the property?” Janet asked Jilly O'Neill about her land in Australia.
“I'm hoping not. Legally, it's mine, but to have thought you've owned something for so long, to invest your time and energy into making it work, well, I don't feel right about just taking it from them,” Jilly answered.
“Is there a compromise to be reached?” Janet asked and then took a bite of her pumpkin pie.
“It is what I'm hoping for,” Jilly answered. “There's a section of land, in the northern tip, that I'm considering offering them. It wouldn't be the size of what they have now, of course ...”
“Had,” Janet corrected.
“Had,” Jilly repeated, smiling. “But it would be something, and it is a very valuable piece of acreage.”
“I hope it works out for you,” Janet opined.
“Billy and I have high hopes it will all be resolved by the first of the year,” Jilly replied. She looked over at their youngest daughter, Jessica, who had accompanied them back to the States. “I'm not so sure everything will be resolved with the children though.”
Looking over at the pretty redhead, Janet inquired, “Problems with the offspring?”
Jilly nodded, answering, “She's developed a wanderlust in the last month. Jessie was always a curious child, but with the revelation about Plantacia and Earth, she can't seem to find her place. She wants to explore.” Jilly looked at Janet, adding, “Your government wouldn't like that too much, would they?”
Janet sighed, “Probably not, but no one is a prisoner, Jilly. Is there some place she wants to go in particular?”
“New York, where there are lots and lots of people,” Jilly mused. “Followed by Paris, London, Rome, Beijing -- the list is pretty much endless.”
“It's understandable really,” Janet mused. “Suddenly a whole new world has opened up to her, and it's only natural that she'd want to explore it.”
“I know. I wish she wouldn't start in New York, though,” Jilly lamented. “I know it's probably not true, but I've always thought of New York as being high in crime.”
As Jilly spoke, the two women heard a small gasp and turned to see Chenoa looking at them with wide eyes, a piece of pie in her hand. The little girl was horrified. She'd been getting a second piece of pie for Lulu and was walking past Janet and Jilly when she'd heard them mention New York. That was all it took to send a chill down her spine.
Chenoa looked at Jilly with pleading eyes and said, “Don't go to New York.” She began shaking her head, the movement sending blonde curls flopping backwards and forwards. “Don't go there, Aunt Jilly. Bad things happen there.”
Seeing Jilly's confused and worried look, Janet sighed, “Chenoa, lots of good things are in New York as well. Look at Aunt Catherine and Uncle Ernest. They've been living in New York for years without anything happening.” When Chenoa didn't look convinced, Janet sighed again. “You don't need to worry yet, Noa. Jessie might decide not to go there. We'll just have to wait and see. Now, we can't let that piece of pie go to waste.”
Chenoa gasped, “Lulu's pie.”
As Chenoa rushed off to give her sister the piece of pie, Janet hastened to reassure Jilly that New York wasn't all that dangerous and explained why the little girl was so afraid of the city.
“Poor little mite,” Jilly said sadly. Then she smiled as she added, “She's certainly landed on her feet here, though. Jack and Daniel are wonderful parents.”
“I suppose her fear of New York is irrational, and perhaps Jack and Daniel coddle her by refusing to go there themselves,” Janet speculated, adding, “But by not going, Noa's trust in them grew dramatically. They're not sure what exactly she remembers of her parents, but all the bad things are connected to New York.”
“Perhaps when she grows up, she can go there and get her over fear,” Jilly offered.
“That's what everyone is hoping for.” Janet sighed, “All of us have put off trips to New York, not wanting to upset her. She gets so frightened.”
Jilly smiled softly, observing, “Her little hands were shaking.”
“Last year I had an opportunity to spend two weeks in New York at a medical conference. I would have had to give one lecture and attend two one-day classes, and then the rest of the time would have been mine. Two weeks -- all expenses paid,” Janet lamented.
“You didn't go,” Jilly surmised.
Janet looked down, letting out a tiny snort, saying, “No, I couldn't. You saw her, Jilly. I couldn't put her through that. It just wasn't worth it.”
Suddenly, Chenoa appeared, walking over to Jilly and Janet and, with a tiny smile, saying, “Aunt Jilly, please don't go to New York.”
~So much love in such a small package.~ Jilly picked up the young girl, who hugged her tightly. Smiling, she said, “Noa, Billy and I have no desire to go to New York. I promise.”
Chenoa squeezed the woman even tighter and said, “I love you, Aunt Jilly.”
“Oh, you precious thing,” Jilly replied softly. “I love you, too.”
Janet gave Jilly a look, one in which both acknowledged that they'd never travel to New York until Chenoa had gotten over her fear. They hoped that day would come, not for themselves, but for the young girl. If not, New York was just another place, but Chenoa was one of their precious loves and was irreplaceable.
“Any sign of movement?” Daniel asked Jennifer as he and Jack entered the den to relieve the teenager from her latest Bean Sprout-sitting duties.
The teenager grinned, answering, “Nope. I think Bean Sprout has got the stubborn gene and isn't going to come until he or she is good and ready.”
“Must get that gene from you, Danny,” Jack teased. “Definitely didn't come from me.”
“Right, Dad,” Jennifer said sarcastically and then teasing, “And I'm the Queen of Sheba. Poor little Bean Sprout couldn't avoid that gene, seeing as both of you have it in spades.”
As Jack humphed, Daniel chuckled, “Give it up, Babe, you know she's right.”
“I guess so,” Jack admitted. “Jen, please make sure there's plenty of dessert still out for the guests, and don't forget, if someone leaves, we have goodie bags in the refrigerator.”
“No problem, Dad. Who has the next shift?” Jennifer asked.
Daniel sighed, “Bri. She begged for a shift.”
“Daddy, she's very responsible,” Jennifer answered.
“And it's only a half-hour shift,” Jack spoke reassuringly.
“I know,” Daniel acknowledged. “I'll be down in a few minutes,” he added.
As Jennifer made her way downstairs to play hostess, the happy couple spent a few minutes together, talking with their unborn child.
Towards the end of the day, but with plenty of guests still remaining, Daniel made his way to the front door.
“Megan!” Daniel greeted upon opening the door and seeing the smiling woman standing there, Yazid at her side. He hugged her and then he extended his arm, saying, “Hello, Yazid. Please, come in.”
“Daniel, I know we weren't invited, but ...” Megan began, pausing at the edge of the entranceway.
“Megan, you and Yazid have a standing invitation to our Thanksgiving dinners; you know that,” Daniel lightly reprimanded. “I, uh, thought you were taking in Denver or something.”
“We will be, my friend,” Yazid said jovially. “But my Megan wanted to share our good news.”
“Your Megan?” Daniel questioned, a smile growing on his face. ~Jack is going to flip.~
Yazid grinned at the blushing woman and drew her close, squeezing her waist lightly.
“Daniel, we're engaged!” Megan announced, holding up her hand with a huge diamond on her finger.
“Wow!” Daniel exclaimed when he saw the engagement ring. “Megan, I'm so happy for you,” he said, hugging her again. “Congratulations, Yazid,” he added cheerfully, shaking the dark-skinned man's hand again. “We'd better go tell Jack.”
Daniel led the way towards the rec room where Jack currently sat with several members of their family and a few of their guests.
“Daniel, he's afraid I'll quit,” the woman noted as they walked.
Megan was the most valued and prized member of J-O Enterprises. Jack and Daniel had relied on her from the very beginning, and not once had she let them down. She was trusted, and more than that, she was a friend.
The archaeologist paused, turned to face her, and with a shy smile asked gently, “Ah, are you?”
“No, at least not right away,” Megan answered.
“Daniel, Megan and I have much to arrange about our future,” Yazid explained. “We will be married in one year's time.”
“Long engagement,” Daniel commented.
“She will have the wedding of a queen,” Yazid spoke with pride.
“And I do want to keep working, but with Yazid based more in New York, I'm not sure ...” Megan paused and sighed. “I don't want to quit J-O.”
“We have time,” Yazid promised his bride-to-be.
“Let's go tell Jack,” Daniel said. Jokingly, he added, “He'll be fine, after he growls for a few minutes.”
“Alex, it is a pleasure to see you again,” Yazid said sometime later as he and Megan circulated to visit with some of the guests for a while before leaving.
“Yazid, this is a surprise,” Alex greeted, standing up.
Alex and Yazid had met in Florida where they'd worked together on a project that combined a senior citizen's living community with a children's shelter. Neither had been aware that they had mutual friends in the Jackson-O'Neills until March of this year when they ran into each other at Jack and Daniel's home.
After they shook hands, Alex reached over for his date's hand and stated, “I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Soncirria Suvulpo.”
Yazid bowed his head and gently shook her hand, saying, “It is a great pleasure, Miss Suvulpo.”
“Sunny, this is Yazid Awad. He was involved in the project I was working on in Fort Lauderdale when we met,” Alex explained.
Soncirria grinned and asked, “That wonderful place where children and older people can mingle together?”
“That's the one,” Alex affirmed.
Alex and Megan said their hellos, and Megan smiled as Yazid introduced her to Sunny, thus beginning a conversation between the four of them that lasted for several minutes until Yazid and Megan excused themselves to leave.
Walking away, Yazid commented quietly, “Megan, that is the first time since I've known that man that he hasn't talked about architecture and design.”
“This is a social occasion, Yaz,” Megan replied.
“I have been to many social occasions with him. No doubt Miss Suvulpo has something to do with his new interests,” Yazid chuckled.
“And what's wrong with that?” Megan teased.
“Not a thing,” Yazid laughed as the two spoke their good-byes and went on their way, leaving Jack and Daniel waving at them from their porch.
“Crap!” Jack whined.
“Jack, Megan's entitled to a life, and so is Yazid. We're lucky they waited this long,” Daniel remarked.
With a sigh, Jack nodded and determined, “Better start including Karissa on all the big plans.”
“She already is,” Daniel reminded his husband. “Remember, Babe, she was as much a part of the remodeling as Megan, and she ran J-O almost exclusively last month.”
“There's that,” Jack said upon reflection, a tiny smile of acknowledgement on his face. “And who replaces Karissa?” he inquired.
“We'll figure it out,” the younger man assured softly. “Let's go check on Toto and Bean Sprout. Any time, Jack. Gawd, I'm nervous.”
“Yeah, I am, too,” Jack admitted, taking Daniel's hand and closing the front door behind them.
“Hey, Jen, where are Dad and Daddy?” Brianna asked as she bounced into the kitchen and snagged an apple from the fridge.
It had been a couple of days since the Thanksgiving party, and since then, Jack and Daniel had been pretty much hovering over Bean Sprout twenty-four hours a day.
Jennifer grinned at her sister, answering, “Take one guess.”
Brianna rolled her eyes and commented, “They are such mother hens.” Then she shook her head and took a bite out of the apple, chewing slowly as a thought occurred to her. With a frown, she asked, “Jen, everything is okay with Bean Sprout, isn't it?”
“Sure it is,” the teenager promised. “Bean Sprout probably wants to stay in his nice, warm nest as long as possible before joining the madhouse.”
“His?” the tomboy quizzed.
Jennifer shrugged, explaining, “Just a feeling. Of course, if Dad and Daddy keep up their tradition, it won't just be one Bean Sprout, but two.”
“Why stop at two?” Brianna chuckled. “We could go for triplets again, or maybe even quads this time.”
“They'd have to be pretty tiny babies to fit four of them inside Toto,” Jennifer remarked realistically.
“True, so maybe we'll have to settle for twins,” Brianna mused, taking another bite of her red delicious apple.
Jennifer laughed, “Dad and Daddy wouldn't know what to do with themselves with only one baby. They've never had just one before.”
“Do you want a hand with that, Jen?” Brianna gestured towards the vegetables Jennifer was cutting up for dinner.
The teenager nodded and pulled Brianna into a hug as the younger girl moved beside her to start chopping potatoes.
“You're a great sister, Bri,” Jennifer told the girl.
The unexpected declaration brought a smile to Brianna's face, and then the two sisters chatted happily together as they continued to prepare dinner.
“Danny, everything will be okay,” Jack spoke as he entered the den. He walked over to the chair that his lover had pulled up to the shelf where the womis sat. He placed his hands on Daniel's shoulders and rubbed gently. “They just miscalculated, that's all.”
“Nothing's happening,” Daniel whispered in a shaky voice, his eyes focused only on the rubbery pouch that contained their child.
The sun had already risen on this Tuesday morning, and it was an event neither Jack nor Daniel looked forward to because the date was the twenty-ninth, and that meant their unborn child should have been born by now.
Daniel uttered in a trembling voice, “They said absolutely positively, Jack. The baby should have been born in the last two weeks. No exceptions -- that's what they said.”
“People make mistakes,” Jack spoke quietly, his hands still running along the breadth of his soulmate's tense shoulders.
“Pierolans? Filip and Harad said they don't make these kind of mistakes,” Daniel spoke, his concern evident by the frown on his face, even though Jack couldn't see it at the moment. “Their baby was born right on schedule.”
“Angel, we have to have faith,” Jack opined. “Our baby will be just fine.”
“I want to believe that, but ... gawd,” Daniel spoke emotionally, his eyes tearing as worry began consuming him.
Jack moved to Daniel's side, reached over to take his hands and pulled him up to him.
“Jack, don't try to placate me with proverbs and clichés. Our baby was supposed to be crying and feeling hungry by now. You don't know that he's ... that she's ... oh, gawd,” Daniel sniffled, moving into Jack's embrace.
“Bean Sprout is going to be born, and he or she *is* going to be one healthy Jackson-O'Neill,” Jack spoke confidently, even though inside he was just as scared as Daniel.
“Daddy, Dad,” Brianna spoke softly, knocking on the door. “Aunt Janet is here.”
“Bring her up, Bri,” Jack requested, giving their daughter a tiny smile.
In spite of their best efforts to not worry the children, all eleven of the Jackson-O'Neill children were wide awake and full of fear downstairs.
Jonny was marching up and down the living room, his hands on his hips, mumbling, “Bean Sprout isn't following orders. We're going to have a big talk about that when he's born.”
David sat in Jack's favorite armchair with Ricky and Jenny curled up next to him.
“David, do you think our brother or sister is going to be okay?” Jenny asked.
“Of course, he is. He knows how much we love him,” David answered.
“It could be a girl!” Aislinn reminded her siblings. “She's just being fashionably late, huh, Jen?”
“Yeah, like a true Jackson-O'Neill, Bean Sprout just wants to make a dramatic entrance,” Jennifer answered.
Janet smiled as she listened to the children reassuring themselves, and yet, she saw the nervousness in their movements, the unsteadiness of their voices, and the mistiness of their eyes. She wished she had something encouraging to tell them.
“Aunt Janet, Dad and Daddy said for you to go up. They're in the den,” Brianna informed her quietly as she took the last step from the stairs to the living room.
“Thanks, Bri,” Janet acknowledged, smiling. She gave the children one last look before hurrying up to check on the womis. ~I hope Sam gets through to Thor soon.~
Jack and Daniel were locked in an embrace, each trying to comfort themselves and each other when Janet walked into the den.
“Hello,” the physician greeted.
“Janet,” Jack acknowledged, giving their friend a pleading look, clearly hoping that she'd be able to reassure them.
“Hi, Janet,” Daniel spoke, his voice trembling.
Janet walked over to hug her concerned friend, promising, “We'll get to the bottom of this. I know it's hard, but try not to panic.”
After giving Jack a quick hug as well, the petite doctor walked over to look at Toto. She placed her hands on the womis and smiled as she felt a ripple. Her relieved smile went a long way towards reassuring Jack, but Daniel was still twisting his hands nervously.
“Janet?” Jack called out as he wrapped an arm around his husband and waited for the verdict.
“Everything seems fine,” Janet said. “Look, I know what the Pierolans said, but there isn't cause to panic yet. The baby seems to be doing well, and maybe this is just one of those slight differences between them and us.”
“Like us needing to give Bean Sprout more DNA than the Pierolans give theirs?” Daniel inquired, his voice still wavering a little.
The phone rang, but both men ignored it, knowing that either Jennifer, Jeff, or Brianna would answer it.
In answer to Daniel's question, Janet nodded and was about to comment further when she heard Jennifer yell up the stairway.
“Dad, it's Grandpa George. He needs to speak with you,” the teenager shouted.
“Thanks, Jen,” Jack called back, walking over to pick up the phone. ~I don't know why we got an intercom system when we rarely use it.~ “General?”
“Jack,” Hammond's worried voice came over the line. “I need you to make sure the blinds are closed in the den. You're about to have some alien visitors, and we don't want the neighbors to see anything.”
“Thor?” Jack asked as he walked over and twisted the wand, closing the blinds.
“Yes. We spoke to the Pierolans, and they advised against moving the womis. Thor is going to transport a Pierolan medical team and their equipment into your den, so you might want to make as much room as possible.”
“Thank you, Sir. I know you don't have to do this, and Daniel and I ... we really appreciate it, Sir,” Jack spoke from his heart.
“Don't mention it, Son. After all, this is my grandchild we're talking about,” Hammond replied. “Keep me posted.”
The two said goodbye, after which Jack turned to Janet and Daniel and explained what was going on.
“Did he say how long it would take them to arrive, Jack?” Daniel asked when they'd moved his desk back a bit so there was more room for Thor to 'land' the Pierolans.
“No, but I'm sure it will be soon,” Jack spoke reassuringly. Before the words were barely out of his mouth, a flash of light appeared. “Like right now,” he added, smiling.
The light disappeared, leaving in its wake a team of three Pierolans, one of whom was Filip.
“Filip!” Jack and Daniel acknowledged in unison.
“It is good to see you. I wish only that it were under more calming circumstances and that I had time to see your world,” Filip replied as he looked around the room.
“One day,” Daniel promised.
“This is Horteed and Jundell,” Filip introduced. “They are our best at the womis technology.”
“Please help our baby,” Daniel begged.
Jundell smiled, walking to the womis to evaluate the situation.
“Jundell's ancestors helped to create the methods we use,” Horteed proclaimed. “She will understand whatever the problem is. Please give us a few moments to examine the womis in detail.” Looking around, he added, “We must move our equipment to the womis.”
“Wouldn't it be simpler to move the womis to ...” Jack began.
Shaking his head, Horteed dismissed the thought, explaining, “The womis must not be moved. Excuse me,” he said as he joined Jundell.
“Yes ... yes, I think so,” Jundell mumbled as she reviewed the results of their examination. “Horteed, do you see?”
Horteed studied the printout, nodding, “Yes, I do. The baby is fine.”
Overhearing the discussion, the expectant parents breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“I don't mean to butt in,” Janet interjected politely, “but can you explain what you're seeing?”
“Yes, Doctor,” Jundell agreed. “This graph displays the integrity of the womis, and this is, of course, a representation of the baby.”
“I see,” Janet giggled, seeing something that resembled a sonogram and happily observing all the required body parts. “Oh, it's a ...”
“JANET!” Jack and Daniel admonished.
The woman nodded, telling their guests that the parents didn't want to know the sex of the unborn child.
“So why hasn't our baby been born?” Daniel queried, pleased at all the smiles and good news, but concerned over the time lapse.
Jundell showed Janet the graph of the womis' integrity and then noted, “And this is what it should look like.”
“So there is something wrong?” Jack asked, concern back in his voice.
Jundell approached the two and smiled as she expounded, “This has never been done before. I believe that this environment, though much like ours, when combined with the minor differences in the physiologies of our species, means the womis needs more strengthening and time to perform its functions. The baby is healthy,” she announced.
“Are you sure?” Daniel interjected, his eyes desperate for a positive answer.
“Yes, it is normal for a five-month process,” Jundell answered.
“Five? But it's been six months,” Jack argued.
“And that is what I am saying ... Jack? Is that your name?” Jundell questioned.
“Or ...” Jack began to tease, but stopped himself. “Yes, my name is Jack.”
“And I'm Daniel. Please go on,” Daniel anxiously urged.
“Be calm, Friends,” Jundell soothed. “The womis is on its own clock. We must help the womis, however, to be able to survive the additional time it now requires.”
“I don't understand,” Janet asked. “Doctor Jundell, I thought this shows everything is fine. Yes, we're behind. I can see that, but we often have babies born late. I ...”
“Doctor,” Horteed interrupted. “A womis has a normal life, and when that life clock stops, whether the baby is born or not, the womis believes its work is done. What we need to do is continue to feed it and ...”
“Horteed, I think this requires more feeding of the essential fluids,” Jundell spoke thoughtfully.
“But we, uh, I mean, Jack and Daniel did that past the usual time anyway,” Janet reminded.
“But given that the baby the womis is pregnant with is not Pieriolan, I believe that the extra fluids will allow the womis to readjust itself to the relative age of the baby, that is five months, and continue to function for another six weeks, if necessary,” Horteed theorized.
“Does this mean we should have kept up the increased feeding schedule?” Daniel asked, on the verge of tears from his fears for their unborn child.
“We cannot be certain it would have had the desired result. However, since the increased intake made the spots go away, I'd like to allow the womis to have twenty-four hours on an increased feeding schedule before we transport it. I'm confident the transport and the integration procedure will go much more smoothly,” Horteed confidently spoke.
“What is this integration you mentioned?” Janet questioned.
Horteed answered, “Rarely have we had to do this, but on occasion, it's been necessary,” Jundell noted. “It cannot be done here.”
“I agree,” Horteed responded. “It must be done in our lab in Phelpa.”
“But you said the womis can't be moved,” Jack refuted.
“That is correct, and timing is very important,” Jundell spoke seriously. “Would Thor be able to assist us?”
“Well,” Jack said, cocking his head. “The little guy is kinda fond of us.”
“He'll help if he can,” Daniel agreed.
“May we sit and explain the process to you in detail?” Jundell asked.
“Is it possible to have Thor join us?” Horteed added. “It would help us to know if he is truly able to assist. As Jundell spoke, timing is critical.”
“THOR!” Jack and Daniel called out at the same time. They looked at each other and shrugged. “He's always listening,” they said together, smiling when they realized how in synch they were once again.
“What a month,” Daniel sighed up on the aerie late that night.
“It's not over yet,” Jack pointed out.
“Jack, do you think they're right about Toto and Bean Sprout?” the younger man asked, his body contently leaning against his lover.
Jack was leaning up against the wall with Daniel seated in front of him. Their hands were joined. They were cold, but yet, they weren't. Sharing their thoughts on their roof deck had always been calming for them, and this chilly night was no exception.
“We have to trust them, Angel, and Janet told us Bean Sprout had all his or her parts,” Jack reminded.
“Yes, she did, didn't she?” Daniel said, smiling from the knowledge.
Janet had also assured them that even if the worst happened, if the womis could not support the baby any longer and the child was born prematurely, it was sufficiently developed to have a good chance of surviving.
“She knows him or her,” Jack confirmed. “Danny, our baby is normal and healthy, and that's all that matters. So, Bean Sprout is a Christmas present instead of a Thanksgiving blessing.”
“Maybe he or she will be a New Year's promise,” Daniel conjectured.
“There are always possibilities,” Jack agreed as he kissed his lover's nape.
Daniel let out a contented sigh as he moved his head slightly against Jack's comforting shoulder.
“We don't get to do this as much as I wish we could,” Daniel finally said a few minutes later, after the quiet of the night had overtaken them.
“Yeah, we've had so much going on lately,” Jack affirmed. “We're going to fix that.” He chuckled as their fingers caressed each other's palms, “Make a memo: more snuggle time on the roof for Dad and Daddy.”
Daniel laughed, “Memo made. Now just make sure you don't lose your copy like you do most memos.”
Jack feigned shock for a moment, then softly spoke, “I'd never lose that one.” After a moment of loving silence, he added, “Four to six weeks, Love, that's all we have to wait.”
“And then our unexpected miracle will finally be here,” Daniel added quietly.
“I love you, Angel,” Jack crooned as he leaned his head next to Daniel's.
“And I love you, my Silver Fox, for always and forever,” the younger man happily sighed.
“Forever and always,” Jack added, one of his finger's tracing the wedding band on his husband's hand.
“Forever and always,” Daniel echoed.
Chapter Nine: An Unexpected Miracle Arrives
“After all, O'Neill, I named a ship after you,” Thor spoke with his usual self-assurance as he stood by the dresser in Jack and Daniel's master bedroom.
The alien had just delivered a specially-processed fluid to Jack and Daniel. Due to the unique situation of human physiology combining with the alien womis, the doctors on Pierola had developed a process whereby they took the injection of sperm and blood that the couple had to inject into the womis and both thinned and integrated it. The doctors felt that this would give the womis the extra strength it needed to feed the baby for the extra four to six weeks they now believed it would be before the baby was born.
As soon as Jack and Daniel had prepared their 'donation' of sperm and blood, Thor transported it to his ship and then directly to Pierola, along with Janet who was overseeing every moment of the process to ensure nothing foreign was added to the mix. As soon as it was done, Janet was transported back to her location of choice and then Thor delivered the vials to the couple.
The process only had to be done three times, once every two weeks until the baby was born. It was an extra step in addition to what the couple was routinely doing on their own in order to feed nutrients to their growing baby.
Standing with his hands in his pockets as he thought about the Asgard vessel that had bore his name, Jack leaned forward slightly as he pointed out, “And you blew it up!”
“To protect Earth,” the Asgard explained, blinking once and staring back up at the silver-gray haired man.
“Yeah, well ...” Jack began.
Thor continued confidently, “And we built The Daniel Jackson. It is *my* ship; the best of our fleet.”
“But it's old!” Jack argued, earning him a glare from his lover who stood just off to his right and between him and the alien. “I just meant ...”
“I know exactly what you meant, Jack,” Daniel replied dryly, crossing his arms in front of him.
Proudly, the tiny ally of Earth refuted, “We have upgraded The Daniel Jackson; it is the most advanced starship in the universe.”
“Show off,” Jack quipped, looking at his lover who smiled shyly. ~Why'd they blow mine up?~ he silently whined. ~The O'Neill didn't even get a proper launching.~
Then Thor declared, “Your son shall be named Thor.”
Jack cocked his head as he wore a helpless smile on his face and said, “Daniel?”
“Uh, Thor,” Daniel began a bit nervously. “We don't know the sex of the baby yet, and, um, well, to be honest, Thor is an unusual name here on Earth.”
“You do not like my name?” the Asgard leader asked straightforwardly.
“No, no ... I mean, yes ... gawd,” Daniel stuttered.
“Thor, we love your name,” Jack proclaimed. “It's a great name, but it would raise questions here on Earth. You wouldn't want that, would you. Would you?”
Jack's eyes were wide, and he bobbed his head a few times, silently willing their alien friend to understand that they just couldn't name their baby Thor.
“I suppose there is truth in what you say,” Thor acquiesced. After a pause, he added, “Very well. I must go.”
“Oh, well, where are you ...” Jack began, his words interrupted by a flash of light during which Thor disappeared. “I hate it when he does that.”
“Gawd, Thor Jackson-O'Neill,” Daniel mused, walking out of their bedroom and into the den to check on the womis.
Jack chuckled as he followed, “It would be an attention-getter.”
“Our baby doesn't need that kind of attention,” the younger man replied. “We could call him Beannaigh; that means blessing.”
“Beannaigh Jackson-O'Neill,” Jack mused quietly. “Our little Benji. Yeah, Benny would work out.”
“Never mind,” Daniel said, raising his right hand to wave away the nicknames that made him want to scream.
“I like thinking of our child as our blessing or miracle; that's what he or she is,” Jack commented as he injected another syringe-full of the required blood doses into the tube that led into the womis.
“Well, there's the Basque name of Alazne which means miracle or maybe Naysa which means miracle of God,” Daniel offered. He added, “In Hebrew, there's Baruch ...”
“Blessing, right?” Jack interrupted, impressing his lover with the knowledge.
“Uh, yes!” Daniel responded, his eyes bright with love for the man he was conversing with. “In one of the African languages, there's Barake or Barke.”
“Barke Jackson-O'Neill, as in 'here, Bark -- woof woof'?” Jack joked, not liking that choice.
“I was just saying ...”
“Names,” Jack interjected. “Danny, now that Billy's back, how do you feel about William as one of the baby's names?” he asked. A few months earlier, the couple had definitely decided that if their child were a boy, one of his names would be William. He added, “We could call him Will to distinguish between the two.”
“Babe, I love you,” Daniel sighed.
“That's good to know, but it doesn't answer my question, Daniel,” Jack responded.
“I know you,” the younger man announced.
“Daniel, you're starting to get on my nerves here,” Jack said agitatedly.
“I can think of something ...”
“Sorry,” the archaeologist mused as he leaned back against the edge of his desk. “All I'm saying is you being you, and you being the television addict that you are, I know that it wouldn't take long for the 'Danger, Will Robinson' jokes to begin, or worse,” Daniel stated with a look of horror, “you'd start calling him Willie -- Wee Willie Winkle Jackson-O'Neill.”
Jack stared at his lover, completely stunned, as he processed the words. All of a sudden, the older man burst into laughter, his face even turning red from the jocularity he was feeling.
“What's so funny?” Daniel inquired, feeling like he was missing out on something.
“Angel,” Jack said, straightening up as his bout of laughter ebbed. “You think just like me. Wee Willie Winkle? I love you,” he said, happiness emanating from him as he took his Love into his arms and kissed him. “I love you,” he said again before placing yet another kiss on Daniel's lips.
“You're a bad influence,” Daniel tried to argue in between kisses.
“Let's stick to what we decided originally,” Jack suddenly said.
“And what was that?” Daniel asked, still enjoying his soulmate's embrace.
“When Bean Sprout is born, we'll know what to name him,” Jack stated assuredly.
“Or her,” Daniel corrected.
“Or her,” Jack agreed as the lovers kissed yet again.
With the house now festively decorated in Christmas cheer, the Jackson-O'Neill family spent their first Saturday in December ringing in the Christmas season by singing Christmas carols in their music room. The children were progressing nicely with their musical abilities, though sometimes, it was definitely still a case of 'grin and bear it' for the parents.
On this evening, Jonny was playing the drums. He had finally learned how to keep a beat and play in rhythm and not just bang down hard on the drums with the stick, something that made Jack and Daniel extremely happy. Jeff, Jennifer, and David were playing guitars while Ricky attempted to keep up with his bongo drums. Aislinn was with Daniel at the piano, Chenoa and Jenny were using flutes, and Little Danny was playing the harpsichord. Lulu was going back and forth between the tambourine and cymbals, depending upon the song being sung. Jack had been given the triangle to perform with, and, finally, Brianna was on the clarinet.
They may not have sounded like the famous Boston Pops, but the family was having a lot of fun.
Musical solos were frequently given to Aislinn, who had a lovely voice and was even taking singing lessons once a week. Jonny groaned at having to do the solo on “The Little Drummer Boy” again, but he looked so cute playing a snare drum and had a nice singing voice, too, that the family absolutely insisted he perform it anytime they had a 'carol' night.
At the moment, though, it was the Munchkins who, in harmony, were singing a chorus from “The Christmas Song.”
They know that Santa's on his way;
He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.
And every mother's child is going to spy,
To see if reindeer really know how to fly.
“Oh my gosh, that's it!” Jennifer suddenly exclaimed, interrupting the music session.
“What's it?” Little Danny asked curiously, his last strumming chord still resonating through the small music room.
“The birth certificate,” the teenager answered, looking at her parents.
All the children knew that one of the issues to be resolved was what to put on the baby's birth certificate. In fact, the couple had just been discussing that over dinner, which is why it was fresh on Jennifer's mind.
“I think it should be Dad, Daddy, and Mommy,” Aislinn said as she continued to softly play on the piano.
Daniel smiled at her and rubbed her back, proud of both her sentiment and piano skills.
Jack addressed their eldest daughter's comments, saying, “Jen, in this case, there is no ...”
“Jack!” Daniel interrupted. **Don't say that out loud, not in front of the younger children.**
**Danny, they know there isn't a mother,** Jack responded.
**Yes, but saying it is different. Please, not in front of the Munchkins and the twins,** the younger man requested.
“Daaad! Daddy!” Jennifer sighed in exasperation, knowing her parents were somehow communicating. She'd never understood it, but she knew that somehow, they were talking. “Will you please listen to me?”
“Go ahead, Jen,” Jack stated as he turned the musical triangle in his hands, eventually putting it down.
“Well, you know how ...” This time, Jennifer stopped on her own, staring at her siblings. “Ah, maybe I should tell you my idea outside.”
“Jen, that's not fair,” Brianna whined. “Bean Sprout is all of ours. Why can't you just tell us your idea?”
“It's about ... eggs and drying ... and things,” Jennifer hedged, frowning at the tomboyish girl and motioning at the younger children.
Little Danny piped up, “You mean how they freeze a woman's eggs so she can get pregnant later?”
Daniel closed his eyes, Jack smacked his lips and picked up a piece of sheet music which he immediately placed in front of his face, and Jennifer just stared at the child prodigy in awe.
“Daddy?” Jennifer asked.
~Why do I bother?~ Daniel asked. “Go ahead, Jen. We don't have secrets around here,” he sighed, though believing that sometimes secrets weren't such a bad thing.
“We can ...”
“Use Mommy!” Aislinn stated strongly as she hit a hard chord on the piano.
“Mommy?” Daniel echoed quietly as he began to catch on.
“Look, you guys are afraid of the cover story, right?” Jennifer asked her parents. “Okay, so, why not have President Hayes do exactly what he did before and put you two on the birth certificate and ...”
At the same time, Jack, Daniel, Jennifer, Aislinn, and Little Danny all said, “Kayla” or “Mommy.”
“Oh, I get it now!” David stated. “We'll just tell everyone that Mommy froze some of her eggs for you to use later, if you wanted.”
Brianna thought about it and added, “You can just say someone from another city or state was the surrogate.”
“Mommy is Mommy,” Aislinn maintained, shaking her head as she played the piano.
“Princess, are you for it or against it?” Daniel asked, his left hand still on her back and rubbing gently.
“I'm for it, Daddy,” Aislinn answered, looking up. “Mommy is our Mommy. She's all of our mommy. It doesn't matter if it's on the paper or not; she's still Bean Sprout's mommy.”
“I wish I had known her,” Jeff stated. “I've read her book. It's very good.”
“She loved adventure,” Jack marveled. “Without her ...” He paused, growing misty-eyed and accidentally crinkling up the sheet music before catching himself. “Danny?”
“I think she'd feel honored, and I'd like for us to honor her in that way. It ... it doesn't feel like a lie,” Daniel spoke earnestly.
“Daaaaddy!” Aislinn exclaimed, stopping her playing to cross her arms. “Mommy loved us, and she's all of our mommy. Discussion over,” she said, sounding a little bit like Jonny did when he thought a conversation was ridiculous.
“Yeah,” Jonny agreed. “All vote that Mommy is Bean Sprout's mommy, too, say 'aye'.”
Eleven 'aye's' and two beagle woofs filled the air.
“The ayes have it, Daniel,” Jack announced, smiling as he leaned over to pat Bijou.
“Yeah,” the younger man answered emotionally. “Out of the mouths of babes.”
“I am not a baby, Daddy,” Aislinn responded as her father brushed back her long hair.
“Neither am I,” Jennifer argued.
“Okay, that's settled,” Jack decreed. “Back to the carols,” he instructed, sharing another smile as the family continued its holiday cheer.
“Bri, it's time for bed,” Daniel announced a few nights later, having found the young girl in the library upstairs.
“Five more minutes?” the girl asked hopefully.
“What are you reading?” Daniel asked curiously, sitting down on a chair next to her at the small table that was in the room.
“It's a chemistry book,” Brianna answered as she turned the page, anxious to finish the current chapter she was reading.
“Chemistry?” the man asked, glancing over to see what specifically his daughter was reading. “Why?”
“I've been using the computer to research mammals, especially dolphins,” the young girl announced. With a happy sigh, Brianna closed the book, keeping her fingers in the book so as to not lose her place. “Daddy, I think I want to be a marine biologist.”
“Oh! Well, uh, that's ... that's good, Bri ... and that explains the chemistry book,” Daniel stated, finally understanding.
“To be a marine biologist, Daddy, I first have to be a regular biologist, and that means lots of science. My problem is that I'm not sure I'm that good at chemistry and physics, and I have to know both to get a college degree,” Brianna said informatively.
“You have a lot of time, Brianna,” Daniel advised a bit cautiously. He was happy she was motivated to study, but he didn't want her to get carried away, either. ~You're still a little girl.~
“I know, but ...”
“What?” Daniel asked, seeing a hint of a question in his daughter's eager black eyes. ~She's so excited about this.~
“Daddy, I want to take scuba diving lessons, advanced ones. Everything I've read says that if I can become a really good diver, that I can be a volunteer diver in college, maybe earlier. But ... but,” Brianna stopped again, her eyes looking down.
“Come on, Bri, tell me,” Daniel prodded, leaning forward just a tad and briefly caressing the top of her hand encouragingly.
“It's expensive, and I don't have enough money,” Brianna admitted. Suddenly, she perked up, saying, “But if you and Dad loan it to me, I promise to pay you back. I'll do more chores or get a job or ...”
“Hey,” Daniel interrupted, smiling as he put his hands on his daughter's shoulders to calm her. “Have you a found a place that gives lessons?”
“There's a place here called Diver's Reef, and in Denver, there's one called Denver Divers, but ... Daddy, it is expensive, and if I really do this, it means getting certified and going on dives and ...”
“Bri, you show us that you'll follow through, work hard to learn the sciences like you know you have to, and Dad and I will help,” Daniel promised. “Do you have the phone numbers so we can find out more information?”
With a huge smile, Brianna pulled out a piece of paper on which she'd already written out all the information.
“Daddy, I know I'm young, but when I swam with the dolphins, my heart just sang. I felt so alive. That sounds stupid, doesn't it?” Brianna asked.
“No, Bri. It sounds like you've found a passion, and that's a good thing,” Daniel assured her. “Now, it's time for bed.”
“Daddy, about the chemistry ...”
Daniel smiled, saying, “Dad and I will increase your science studies, okay? We'll do some research and make sure you learn everything you need to. You just keep up with your other studies, too, okay?”
“I love you, Daddy,” Brianna exclaimed, lunging forward to share a hug.
“I love you, too, Princess,” Daniel declared softly, feeling good inside that Brianna had potentially found a career that she could love forever.
“Talk to her, Jack,” Daniel urged a bit later as he prepared to go to bed, changing into his blue pajamas.
Already dressed in his burgundy pj's, Jack slid onto the bed, leaning against the headboard as he replied, “Danny, you're practically grinning.”
“All I'm saying is that she's come so far,” the younger man observed. “She's had a tough year, but Bri's grown, and I, uh, think the dolphins will help her even more.”
“Are you suggesting we foot the entire bill?” Jack questioned, willing to contribute, but a bit concerned about whether it was appropriate for them to spend so much on just one of their children when it would be an ongoing expense.
“No, she wants to work for it, and we should let her, but let's make sure she can make a few dreams come true, as long as she sticks to her word,” Daniel suggested, getting into bed and pulling the comforter up to his waist.
The two men snuggled together as they pondered Brianna's quest.
“Danny, I have an idea,” Jack spoke.
“I knew you would, if you just put your mind to it,” Daniel snickered.
“Cute, Danny, real cute,” Jack responded dryly.
“Thank you, Babe,” Daniel smugly replied.
After a brief groan, Jack elucidated, “Let's talk to Bri about taking her savings from the past year, adding a little extra from us as part of her Christmas, and putting it into a money market account or something that would bring a good return that she can't touch for at least a year. If she's really serious, we can help her increase it as time passes as well as put out the word and get her some extra jobs. We'll call it 'The Flipper Fund',” he quipped.
“I like that idea,” Daniel chuckled. “I have another one.”
“What would that be, Love?” Jack inquired.
Daniel grinned and proceeded to 'show' Jack his idea, one which had involved both of them shedding their pajamas within two minutes and wearing happy, sappy smiles instead.
On the eighth of December, in New York City, a handsome Arab man answered the door to see another handsome, but younger man.
“Alex, thank you for fitting me into your schedule,” Yazid politely stated as he invited the designer in. “Please let me get you a drink.”
The two men exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes before Alex asked, “Yazid, what would you like to do in here?”
“Alex, my friend, I cannot bring my Megan to this place. You must help me,” Yazid requested.
“Megan has never been here?” the thirty-something designer inquired as he made a quick review of the immediate surroundings.
“My Megan has no idea of how I will make her dreams come true,” the well-to-do man replied, hinting mildly at his financial status, something his fianc&eeacute; wasn't totally aware of. “Let me show you around.”
“This is definitely unique, Yazid,” Alex commented as he followed his new client around what was a bachelor prince's plush palace, a materialistic homage to the art of seduction.
The resident artisan became somewhat flustered and embarrassed at his not-so-humble abode and reiterated with urgency, “You must promise never to tell Megan what this place was like before she sees it. I have not dated anyone else since I first set eyes on her. This is all so tawdry to me now,” he admitted as he looked out over the very exotic and high tech bachelor pad.
The expansive penthouse apartment held room after elegant room with plush sofas, each one hiding a king or queen bed, fully made up with either four-hundred thread count sheets or one-hundred percent silk sheets. Plasma screen televisions hung on the walls, with remotes lying on coffee tables or nightstands. Even the guestrooms had large beds made with luxurious linens, closets with silk and velvet robes, and scented candles.
Six sybaritic bathrooms contained inviting whirlpool tubs while shower enclosures with more heads than a hydra beckoned promises of relaxation and sensuality. No possible pleasant appeal to the senses had been ignored.
Libations were plentiful, with six fully stocked bars at the ready, two in the larger living areas and four in various bedrooms. All of the bars had refrigerators, ice makers, and every possible ingredient known to the profession of bartending.
“Wow,” the designer said. “You must have hit a lot of home runs in your little stadium here.”
“At one time, I boasted of my conquests,” the forty-nine-year-old Yazid admitted. “They mean nothing to me now, and I'm sure I mean nothing to them. They were interested only in fancy dinners, gifts of jewelry, shopping sprees, cars and yachts, concert tickets -- I could go on. I am sure you would not want your lovely Soncirria to know of your romantic liaisons,” he remarked.
Alex smiled, though inwardly he thought, ~If he only knew that I don't know. No problem: I have Sunny now.~
Yazid nodded, thinking the younger man understood, and then directed, “It all must go. I cannot sell this place as it is because I cannot risk it being shown on the six o'clock news. Abayomi would not appreciate such attention. The bars, the sofas -- all of it screams of dalliances and my old ways. It all must go, and I must have total privacy, Alex. It must be torn out, shredded to bits, carried out in sealed cartons, and burned somewhere.”
“But surely the baths ...” Alex began.
“The locations are fine, but without all the trappings of coquetry. New fixtures all around. It must be so. I want only purity for my Megan, not this den of women past.”
Nodding, the expert designer began noting window locations and orientations to be able to arrange the interior spaces according to his client's needs.
~Okay, let's begin.~ Two rooms were a complete surprise. The apartment's sole kitchen was small, even for a modest home. ~He didn't need to cook, apparently.~ The bachelor prince's own bedroom and bath were surprisingly sparse in stark contrast to the other bedrooms and lounges. ~Guess he slept alone when he was tired and needed to rest.~
“The demolition will take months, Yazid,” Alex informed his client.
“Why do you think I am asking you to start now?” Yazid lightly mused. “Whether we live here or somewhere else, this pit of passion must be decimated, never to be spoken of again. Your word of honor, Alex.”
“Yazid, you have complete client confidentiality, on my word. We can begin tomorrow, if you wish,” Alex replied.
“Good. Here is the security code,” Yazid said, handing over a piece of paper with the numbers written on it. “I will begin packing tomorrow, and you will proceed with the demolition as soon as feasible. Hire every carpenter in the city if you must, the sooner begun, the sooner it will be finished,” he commented anxiously.
The two men shook hands, and a bargain was struck: Yazid knowing Alex would not gouge him, and Alex knowing Yazid would pay the bill without a whimper.
“When is the wedding?” Alex inquired.
“I do not know as yet. My Megan is very concerned about being fair to Jack and Daniel. She does not wish to leave their employ, and yet, she knows that my obligations to Abayomi require me to be on the east coast too frequently to allow us to live in Colorado Springs,” Yazid commented.
“I'm sure you'll be able to work something out,” Alex opined.
“Yes, we must,” Yazid agreed.
“Ready, Danny?” Jack asked, grinning at his husband on a colder-than-normal Saturday morning.
The Munchkins and Spitfires were at Sara's, Chenoa and Lulu were with Janet, and the older members of the brood were at Lou and Carolyn Ferretti's. Sam had volunteered to baby-sit Bean Sprout since Jack and Daniel didn't feel comfortable leaving the womis unattended.
Thus, the two men were now ready to begin their Christmas shopping, and they knew it would take every second of the day to make all of their purchases. They'd just parked their truck in the mall's covered parking, and each was holding a list of stores they wanted to visit.
“I'm as ready as I'll ever be,” Daniel chuckled. “Jack ...” he trailed off, bowing his head.
“Hey, what?” the older man asked.
“We missed so much of this last year,” the younger man spoke vulnerably about the previous Christmas season when Jack had been injured in an avalanche and separated from his family for much of December.
“That was then, and this is now,” Jack stated softly. “And we have a lot to do.”
Daniel chuckled, “Yeah, I know. No time for sentimentality, not when we have to risk our physical and mental health battling the crazy moms.”
“It'll be a piece of cake,” Jack promised confidently. “After all, this year we only have eleven and a half children to shop for; next year, it'll be an even dozen.”
Daniel glared at his husband as he admonished, “Jack, our son or daughter is not half a child.”
“They kind of are,” Jack teased.
“Jaaack!” Daniel protested as the two entered the first store on Daniel's list, which, not surprisingly, was a bookstore.
Jack and Daniel picked up several books they'd agreed on in advance for the children and then began to browse, seeing if anything else caught their eye.
~We *have* to get this for Jonny and Little Danny,~ Jack thought as he perused a book titled, 'The Unofficial MacGyver How-To Handbook, Second Edition', knowing that his sons would love it. Jonny would enjoy the potential applications of all the tricks, while Little Danny would marvel at the scientific side of it. ~Oh, yeah. It's a must!~ he thought about the book which he had found in the used book section.
Meanwhile, Daniel was looking for something that Lulu would like. The programs that had been drawn up for her by the team of child educators and psychologists had already worked wonders, and Lulu was feeling much more confident in her reading abilities.
“Can I help you, Sir?” a voice called out.
Daniel gave the young salesgirl a grateful smile, answering, “I'm looking for some books for my daughter. She's almost seven and loves to dance. Can you recommend anything -- maybe a book that comes with an audio track so she can listen to it as she reads?”
“Let me think,” the girl spoke thoughtfully. Suddenly, she brightened and strode over to a nearby shelf. Returning to Daniel, she held out the volume and asked, “How about this one?”
Daniel took the book and flicked through it. It was a Dorling Kindersley's 'The Illustrated Book of Ballet Stories' and came with a CD containing narratives of the stories.
Nodding, Daniel opined, “This is perfect. Uh, one last thing. I remember seeing a film a while ago, and someone in it mentioned shoe books or something? I think they're classics.”
The girl looked completely blank, and Daniel cursed himself for not remembering more. He couldn't even recollect the name of the film. He was brought out of his self-berating thoughts by the salesgirl clicking her fingers.
“Ballet Shoes!” the clerk exclaimed. She dashed off to another shelf, pulling out a slim book and brandishing it triumphantly. “You're right, they are classics. I remember reading them when I was a kid. I think your daughter will love it, although depending on her reading skills, you may need to help her with it.”
“Thanks,” Daniel acknowledged as he took the books and wandered off, looking for his husband.
The archaeologist blushed as he walked away, hearing the female clerk mutter, “All the cute ones are married.”
“Noa will like this,” Jack said about the Star Planetarium that would display constellations onto the walls.
“Well, she'll have to be careful when she turns it on because of the baby,” Daniel commented.
“She's not budging, is she?” Jack asked about Chenoa's decision to stay in the room that was the nursery. It would mean cramped quarters for her and Lulu since a crib, changing table, dresser, and a few other items would take up a good part of the small room. “Have we tried bribery?”
The younger man chuckled, “Jack, we're not going to bribe our daughter.”
“You already tried, didn't you?” the older man accused.
“I did not ... well, just once,” Daniel sighed. “I even reminded her that once the baby is born, the nursery will be decorated in Winnie-the-Pooh again.”
“What did she say?” the older man inquired.
“That she loves Pooh and could we please get her a Piglet doll for her bed,” the younger man answered.
“Piglet?” Jack echoed, laughing.
“Lulu requested a Tigger night light since they know they'll have to be more careful with turning the lights on and off now,” Daniel noted. Then he shrugged, his mind returning to the present at hand, saying, “She'll like this. She's always loved the stars.”
They moved to another aisle, each pushing a cart and separated by a few feet.
“Danny, we have to get this for Jonny,” Jack proclaimed, holding out a kit of disguises.
“He'll love it,” Daniel laughed. “I can see him now putting on fake scars and mustaches.”
“Covert ops,” Jack teased. “That's a yes?”
“That's a yes,” Daniel concurred as they headed for another part of the toy store. “This is for David,” he said, putting a box into one of their carts.
Jack stared at his lover in disbelief, so much so that Daniel began to fidget. He looked all around, wondering what was wrong. Finally, he just stared right back and shrugged.
“WHAT?” Daniel asked with a bit of a loud voice.
“You -- *You* -- just put a remote-control racing car into the cart -- for David,” Jack spoke incredulously.
“Yes, I did,” Daniel acknowledged. “So?”
“For *David*?” Jack repeated.
Daniel laughed, “Jack, we get him so many things pertaining to his love of geology and astronomy, and he loves it.”
“But he needs to vary his interests a little,” Daniel admitted.
“I'll go for that,” Jack agreed, secretly pleased at his soulmate's logic and choice.
Smiling, the two continued their toy selection.
“Okay, so we have the F-14 model plane kit for Jonny,” Daniel began, calling off items as Jack checked them off their list. “Let's see. Here's the fingerprint kit for Ricky, the interactive globe for Jenny, the dinosaur puppets for Jenny, Ladybug land for Little Danny, a harmonica for Brianna ...”
“Daniel, if we review all of this here, we'll be here all night! We have six carts full of toys,” Jack expressed pleadingly. “Let's buy it, take it home, and do inventory after the kids are asleep.”
“Yeah, you're right. Besides, if we get something wrong ...”
“It'll work for one of the other broodkins,” Jack smirked.
“By the way, Babe, nice move to get the last videogame,” Daniel commented.
“Hey, Jeff's been wanting that thing since he first read about it. No way was I gonna let Ma Barker beat me to it,” Jack replied, grimacing in remembrance of the near-battle, one he'd won because he was three inches taller than the loudmouthed woman who had actually hit him with her purse after Jack had come out the victor in the battle of the gifts.
It had been a long and full Saturday, and the parents were eager to get home. They still had to get their purchases in the house, checked off, properly tagged, and hidden before their children could re-enter the house. Though tired, they knew their day was far from over.
On Sunday evening, Daniel frowned as he looked at the design in front of him. From the corner of his eye he saw Jack's hand reach toward the bowl of icing that sat on the counter, and he quickly moved it out of range.
“Daaanny,” Jack whined as he moved around the counter to embrace his husband.
“You are not going to eat all the icing, Jack. Not only will we have nothing left for Lulu's cake, I don't need a hyper husband to deal with. Now help me work out how to do this,” the younger man sternly instructed.
“You know, it would be a lot easier if you forgot that rule of everything on the cake needing to be edible,” Jack spoke, grinning as he surveyed the enormous selection of candy Daniel had laid out.
“I know, but it would be less special if we went the easy route. I want this to be a birthday she'll always remember. Last year, her birthday was pretty much forgotten,” Daniel reminded, trembling a little at the memory.
Lulu's first birthday as a Jackson-O'Neill hadn't been celebrated in 2010, a sad effect of Jack having been buried by an avalanche and then suffering from amnesia. They'd been unable to find any sign of him until he showed up at home on Christmas Eve.
Seeing his husband pale, Jack pulled the younger man into his arms, saying, “I know last year was a nightmare, Danny, but we got through it, and now, everything is peachy.”
Daniel buried his nose in Jack's neck, inhaling the wonderful scent that was his husband, reveling in the fact that Jack was here, alive and in his arms. After a minute, he managed to pull himself together. Ignoring the fiasco of the previous year, tomorrow would be Lulu's first real birthday with the Jackson-O'Neill clan, and Daniel was determined it would be especially wonderful. Hence, his current quest to make the girl a very special and unique birthday cake.
“Okay, you take those jelly babies and make them do various movements. Use some icing to pipe tutu's on some as well,” Daniel requested.
“There's something very off-color about doing this,” Jack remarked as he used a knife to slice between a jelly baby's legs. He then pulled one leg forward and moved the other back so it was indeed doing splits. ~Not bad.~
Daniel grinned, saying, “Don't think about it, Babe.”
An hour later, Jack and Daniel stood back and surveyed their creation. They'd used chocolate to create the dance floor, mint sticks to make the bars in front of the mirrors, and boiled sweets melted down into flat rectangles to form the mirrors.
With a smile, they walked back to the bakery item and prepared to stick up and form the walls of the studio.
“You know, Danny, it looks pretty darn good,” Jack stated proudly when they were done as he slung his arm around Daniel's shoulder. Jack shivered as an icing-covered finger was sucked into a warm mouth. He looked into those wicked blue eyes he adored and groaned. “Okay, Danny, we've done the cake, let's go to bed,” he suggested, although sleep was the furthest thing from his mind at the moment.
Daniel released the now clean finger he'd been sucking on and gave his soulmate a smug look, asking, “Haven't you forgotten something, Love?” At the blank look on Jack's face, he gave his lover a hint, reminding, “The bicycle built for two? It still needs to be built.”
“Crap!” Jack exclaimed, his head jarring backwards as if having been punched in the face.
The general had completely forgotten that he still had to assemble the tandem bicycle they'd purchased Lulu for her birthday. Daniel had wanted to get the pre-assembled bike, but Jack insisted on surviving the challenge of putting the bike together himself. At the moment, though, the challenge had pretty much lost its appeal, considering that he could be upstairs making passionate love to his husband instead.
“Come on,” Daniel encouraged cheerfully. “I'll help you.”
“Danny, I can't find the hearts. Where'd we put them?” Jack asked bright and early on Monday, December twelfth.
“Jack, they have to be there in the box,” Daniel insisted as he reviewed their checklist.
“I see thirty bears, a bag of soundmakers, glasses, clothing, markers -- Daniel, there are no hearts in this box,” Jack sternly proclaimed.
“Let me look,” the younger man said, walking over to their closet where the box of materials had been kept for weeks.
Lulu's first love was dancing, but she also loved stuffed animals, especially bears, so Jack and Daniel had gotten the idea to have a Build-a-Bear workshop during Lulu's party. Everyone would be able to pick a bear, insert a soundmaker and satin red heart inside, and then accessorize it with the various extras the couple had bought. It was the red hearts Jack was having trouble locating.
“They have to be here,” Daniel said as a bit of panic began to set in.
“Wait!” Jack called out. “Here they are, Love,” he announced, pulling a bag of the hearts from behind a blanket. “They must have been at the top of the box and been knocked off.”
“Gawd,” Daniel whispered.
Jack reached out and rubbed his left hand against Daniel's right arm as he assured, “Danny, Lulu's birthday is going to be fantastic! She's going to love making the bears. Geez, they even get birth certificates, and that software program will let everyone come up with a history for their bear.”
“I just want it to be special, Jack. It was so unfair to her last year,” Daniel sighed, full of regret. “She was a little trouper, though. That's why I want this to be perfect. It's important.”
“I know, Angel, and it will be,” Jack maintained, giving his lover a reassuring smile and a tender kiss.
“I guess we're doing everything we can,” Daniel replied.
“A bicycle built-for-two for her and Noa, the bears, a sleep-over for four of her friends, a trip to the zoo ...” Jack began, listing off just some of the things planned for the day.
“Are we overdoing it?” Daniel asked his husband.
Jack chuckled, “Babe, we overdo everything, and for us, that's the perfect thing to do.”
Daniel smiled at the words and then said, “We should call the sleep-over parents; make sure everything is still okay for tonight.”
“Danny, did you see her face when we told her she could have friends spend the night?” Jack asked as they carried the bear items to their bed.
“Yeah, it was ... it was like she'd just been given a huge gift; she couldn't believe it,” Daniel recalled. “I just wish ...”
Daniel grew sad for a moment. Lulu had given them five names of friends she'd like to have at the sleep-over part of her party -- Mariska Jones, Suzy Caldwell, Chloe Payne (one of Chenoa's best friends, too), Angela Wilson, and Amanda Kenseth. Unfortunately, Amanda's parents had a violent reaction upon learning that Lulu's parents were both men, and they'd rudely turned down the invitation and had, in fact, pulled Amanda from attending the same dance class that Lulu was in.
Prejudice was still a part of Jack's and Daniel's lives, and it wounded their hearts whenever their children had to deal with the hatred. On the good side, the other parents had no problem with the Jackson-O'Neills at all and had heartily accepted the extended invitation for their daughters to not only attend the party, but to stay the night.
“This is awesome, Lulu,” Angela shouted as she sat on the back of the tandem bike behind Jack.
Riding the tandem had proven to be a little more challenging than expected as the person on the back would instinctively try to steer, often making the bike wobble and fall over. After Lulu and Chenoa had been unable to go for more than a couple of feet without falling over, Jack and Daniel had decided that until the girls got used to it, one of them should ride at the front and one of the girls could sit at the back getting accustomed to riding a bike and not steering.
“Suzy's turn,” Lulu called out, a bright smile on her face at the sight of her friends enjoying her birthday present with her.
After everyone had a go on the tandem, including all the members of the brood, the children all trooped inside for some party food and more games.
“This is the best cake,” Mariska said as she admired Lulu's birthday cake and then munched on a piece of fairy bread.
Chloe nodded in agreement, her full mouth preventing her from speaking verbally.
“I love the jelly baby ballerinas,” Suzy commented with a grin.
An hour later, the children had all been fed and were back playing more party games. They'd just finished a round of 'pin the tutu on the ballerina' and were now playing musical chairs. Daniel grinned in gratitude at the older members of the brood, who had agreed to play the 'kid' games much to Lulu's delight.
Daniel stopped the music and smiled as the older children moved slowly enough to let the younger kids win. Neither he nor Jack had asked this of them, so that made what the older ones were doing that much more special.
“Aw, shucks,” Jennifer sighed dramatically as she was left without a chair. As Daniel started the music again, she removed a chair and then moved over to the stereo. “If you want, Daddy, I can take over here, and you can go help Dad set up the next game?” the teenager offered.
“Thanks, Jen,” Daniel spoke.
“No problem, Daddy. It's so good to see Lulu smiling like this,” the teenager observed.
“Yeah, it is,” the archaeologist agreed, leaving their eldest daughter in charge of the current party game.
Late that evening, Jack closed the door to Brianna's room and made his way to his own bedroom. From downstairs, he could hear muffled giggles, followed by Lulu's voice. He shook his head in amazement.
~The zoo, the Build-a-Bear workshop, party games -- and our Lulu still hasn't worn herself out,~ Jack inwardly chuckled.
The general felt like they had been successful in making this a fantastic birthday for their daughter. In essence, Lulu was having three parties. The trip to the zoo was a special one where the zoo threw a party for Lulu as well that included a cake and all the trimmings, including a present (in this case, a stuffed toy giraffe), plus some up close and personal encounters with real giraffes. Then there was the party at home, and finally, the sleep-over.
~Yep, three parties, bear building, critters -- I can't believe she's still going strong.~ Jack opened the bedroom door and smiled at the sight of his husband. ~Unlike her poor tired parents.~
Daniel was lying propped up against the pillows, his glasses perched lopsidedly on his nose while the latest archaeology magazine he'd been reading had fallen to the floor. Yawning himself, Jack quickly shed his clothes and slid in beside his lover. He removed the younger man's glasses and leaned over to place them on Daniel's bedside table. He laid back down, and Daniel, despite still being asleep, managed to turn over and wiggle down the bed a little until his head was lying on Jack's chest, his left leg hooked between Jack's and an arm flung across the older man's abdomen. Jack smiled and ran his hand through Daniel's mop of brown hair.
“Love you, Danny,” Jack murmured sleepily before joining his soulmate in the land of nod.
Downstairs in the recreation room, Lulu and her four girlfriends, along with Chenoa and Aislinn, were huddled together, sleeping bags next to them. Disney cartoons were playing on the big screen television while Sam and Janet sat next to each other on the sofa sectional, making sure the girls didn't get into any trouble.
The two women had been invited by Lulu to supervise the sleep-over because “Men aren't allowed at a girl's pajama party” as Lulu had informed her parents. Thinking it was a good idea and would allow them to get some sleep, Jack and Daniel had agreed to the all-female night shift. Thus, Sam and Janet had arrived shortly after dinner and would be in charge until the next morning.
Until bedtime, Jack and Daniel had kept the rest of the brood in their charge upstairs.
“Aunt Sam, we want to play dress-up,” Lulu announced enthusiastically.
“Pleeeease,” Lulu requested, as the other girls cheered.
“Make-up and everything,” Chenoa added, the other young females all babbling excitedly at the idea.
“Sam?” Janet queried.
“Let me go get some supplies,” Sam suggested, getting up and running home for a few minutes. ~Good thing I live so close.~
As Sam walked out the door, Janet used the intercom to call out, “Jen, are you up?”
“Yes, Aunt Janet,” Jennifer responded. “Did you need me?”
“The birthday group wants to play dress-up. Do you have any clothes that ...”
“Oh, yes, I do! Be down in a jiffy,” Jennifer energetically responded, silently recalling some fond memories of playing dress up when she was a little girl.
Several hours later, the house was finally quiet. After playing dress up and telling some stories, the girls had finally fallen asleep in the rec room, allowing Sam and Janet to stumble off to the guestroom in a tired stupor. Wanting to stay close, the two women were sharing the bed in the room that was nearest to the large rec room.
Upstairs, a bedside light turned on, and a small boy crept out of bed and sneaked over to wake up his brother.
“Wake up, Little Danny. It's time,” Jonny whispered in his brother's ear.
Little Danny blinked sleepily at the eldest Munchkin and groaned, “Jonny, it won't work. We'll get into trouble. 'Sides, I'm tired.”
“It will too work,” Jonny insisted.
Little Danny yawned and shook his head, saying, “Won't.”
“Yes it, will,” the little boy reiterated, shaking his brother vehemently. “Come on, Little Danny. Where's your 'vado?”
Little Danny scrunched his nose as he processed what his brother was saying, finally making the interpretation and saying, “Bravado, Jonny, and mine's sleeping, like I wanna be.”
The two boys were sounding more like their biological fathers than either realized.
Jonny sighed, “I'll get Ricky to help me.”
“'Kay,” Little Danny murmured sleepily, closing his eyes. He felt duty bound to issue a warning. “We're still being punished, Jonny. This'll make it worse.”
Jonny paused as he looked back at Little Danny, who had burrowed back under his blankets, thinking.
~He's right,~ the sandy-blond haired boy thought. Looking at his own bed and then at their bedroom door, he weighed his options. Then he grinned. ~We hafta do it. What are brothers for?~ His decision made, Jonny returned to Little Danny and shook him yet again. “Little Danny, it's our duty as brothers to raid our sister's party.”
Yawning, Little Danny gave up protesting, hoping that Jonny's 'Operation: Midnight' didn't result in them being grounded for life.
~We're gonna get in trouble again,~ Little Danny told himself as he got out of bed.
After waking Ricky and collecting one other crucial element to their covert op, the trio of boys cautiously made their way downstairs.
Reaching the recreation room, Jonny shushed his brothers as they spied the sleeping girls. The sleeping bags had been arranged in a circle, all the girls' feet facing out.
Jonny grinned, opining, “This is going to be great. We can put him in the center, and let him do his stuff.”
Ricky sniggered while Little Danny yawned, wishing they were all back in bed.
Whispering, Jonny instructed, “You know what to do. Hurry, but don't make noise.”
As silently as they could, Little Danny and Ricky made their way to three of the ottomans. Carefully, they opened them, making sure the ottomans were clear of the comforters and trays that normally were inside. Since the items had been used for much of the party and hadn't yet been put away, they only had to worry about one tray and one comforter. Carefully, they scooted the three pieces of furniture towards the back of the rec room, holding their breaths when Ptolemy let out a squeal. One of the girls mumbled something, but after a moment, it was quiet again.
When Little Danny and Ricky had completed their mission, they returned to their spot at the edge of the kitchen where Jonny was. Again, the oldest boy gave the orders.
“Ricky, you stay here, and watch the guestroom for Aunt Sam and Aunt Janet. Little Danny, you go back there, and keep an eye out on the stairs. Be verrrrry quiet.”
“Wait,” Little Danny warned. He shimmied over to Ptolemy's cage, making sure the cage was secure.
Moments later, Jonny crept forward to place Bogey, his lizard, in the middle of the circle of sleeping girls. His mission accomplished, he quietly returned to his previous position.
“Maybe we should go back to bed now?” Ricky asked.
“Nah. We have to watch,” Jonny answered. He looked over at the hyacinth macaw, thinking, “Besides, hafta to make sure Bogey stays away from Ptolemy.”
The three moved in tandem to the ottomans, each climbing inside one of them, leaving the top slightly ajar so they could see.
Suddenly, Mariska screamed, beginning a chain reaction of screams as Bogey cooperatively crawled from girl to girl. In a flash, Sam and Janet, robes barely over their pajamas, ran out to see what was wrong, flipping on the lights as they hurried to check on the girls. Inside the ottomans, two snickers and one 'We're gonna get in big trouble' were being muted by hands over their mouths.
“Settle down, Girls; it's okay,” Sam assured, picking up Bogey as he climbed over the top of Chenoa's sleeping bag.
“Ewwww,” all the girls exclaimed, as they clustered together.
~Those boys!~ Just then, Lulu frowned, seeing the top of one of the ottomans move. She saw the sandy-blond hair she knew belonged to her brother. Having an idea, Lulu nudged Sam and said loudly, “Aunt Sam, I think Ptolemy needs a snack.”
“Ptolemy like snacks,” the hyacinth macaw obliged in saying.
Sam glanced over, seeing the same thing Lulu had, and replied, “Do you think we have any *protein* we could give her?”
“Oh, yes, there's that *big* bug crawling over Noa's sleeping bag,” Lulu stated loudly. “I'll get Ptolemy.”
“Nooooooo!” Jonny screamed, pushing up the cover of the ottoman and jumping out of it.
The problem was that Jonny was so worried about Ptolemy eating Bogey that he failed to notice his foot had caught on the top of the ottoman, and he fell down on the hardwood floor, hitting his chin.
“What's going on down here?” Jack asked as he and Daniel finally reached the rec room, both dressed in sweatsuits.
“Jonny brought Bogey downstairs to scare us,” Aislinn huffed, her hands on her hips. “I don't like that, Jonny!” she spat in the boy's direction.
“Jonny!” Daniel exclaimed, seeing their son on the floor when Janet moved.
“He's cut his chin, Daniel. I'm afraid he needs some stitches,” Janet announced.
“Okay, where are your accomplices?” Jack asked sternly. Jonny looked down, but didn't say anything. “If you two know what's good for you, you'll show yourselves *now*” he ordered, watching as two covers slowly popped off the ottomans. “I thought so.”
“Upstairs,” Daniel ordered. “*AFTER* you apologize to Lulu and her guests,” he told Little Danny and Ricky.
“We're sorry, Lulu,” Little Danny spoke sincerely. ~I knew we'd be in big trouble.~
“It was Jonny's idea,” Ricky elucidated.
“Riccccccky,” Jonny whined as he tried to stifle his tears. “Where's Bogey?”
“Here he is,” Sam said, handing over the beloved pet to the little boy.
“You know something, Jonny,” Jack began. “I don't think you really love Bogey.”
“I do so!” Jonny refuted, holding the lizard close to his chest protectively.
“You brought him downstairs to scare Lulu and her friends. You acted like Bogey was a play thing, not a pet you love,” Jack explained.
“Do, too, love Bogey,” Jonny sniffled, petting his lizard while Janet continued to tend to him.
“Jonny, what have we warned you about bringing Bogey downstairs where Ptolemy could get him?” Daniel interjected, wanting their son to use the intelligence they both knew he had.
“I was watching him,” Jonny replied in a more quiet tone.
“All the time?” Daniel queried.
“Most of the time,” Jonny answered.
“Little Danny, take Bogey from your brother and put him back in his cage. Make sure you lock it,” Jack ordered.
“Yes, Sir,” the little boy said, looking over at the girls and apologizing one more time.
“Little Danny, Ricky, no 'Sesame Street', 'Simpsons', or computer time for the next week,” Jack informed them.
“Yes, Dad,” both boys responded as they dragged their bodies, and Bogey, upstairs.
~Maybe he forgot about me,~ Jonny thought.
“I'm going to get dressed. One of you want to come with us to the infirmary to stitch up the cut?” Janet inquired.
Jack shook his head, saying, “Emergency room, Doc. I'll take him. Jonny and I are going to have a little chat while we wait our turn.”
Daniel sighed, but gave his husband a nod of support. Their children were used to quick medical care. Waiting in a busy ER was something they hadn't experienced. Jonny, who hated waiting on things as much as his father did, wouldn't be happy, and Daniel also knew Jack was going to have a frank discussion with the boy about Bogey being a snack for Ptolemy.
“Lulu, Girls, are you having fun?” Sam asked with a smile, wanting to get the party attendees enjoying themselves once again.
“Can we watch Nemo?” Lulu questioned. “We're awake now.”
Sam answered, “Sure. Everyone settle back down on the floor, and I'll make us some popcorn.”
Jack and Daniel gave their friend a funny look, but Janet, who was closer to the parents, whispered, “Trust us. They'll be back asleep before the popcorn is done.”
“Thanks,” Daniel intoned. “Son, don't you have something to say to your sisters and their friends?”
“I just wanted to have fun,” the little boy answered.
“Jonathan Charles,” Daniel admonished.
Scuffing his feet as he stood, he reluctantly apologized, “Oh, I'm sorry. Bogey wouldn't hurt you.”
“Let's try that again,” Daniel chastised.
With a big sigh, Jonny began, “I'm ...”
“Jonny, look at Lulu when you're speaking to her,” Daniel instructed.
Jonny looked over at Lulu and said, “I love you, Lulu. I'm sorry for bringing Bogey downstairs. Please don't be mad at me.”
Lulu walked over and gave her little brother a hug, saying, “I love you, Jonny. I hope your chin doesn't hurt too much.”
A minute later, Jack left with Jonny to pay a visit to the ER. Daniel went back to bed, checking briefly on Little Danny and Ricky first and getting the whole story from them before they went to sleep.
Downstairs, Sam and Janet fixed some popcorn and started the movie. Within fifteen minutes, all of the girls had fallen back to sleep.
Jonny wriggled on the hard seat as he waited with Jack in the emergency room. He absolutely hated this. It was so boring.
~I should have listened to Little Danny,~ the young boy thought. He squirmed some more, but stopped when he noticed his father's stern gaze. He sighed and looked up at the television that hung in the corner. The problem was that there was nothing on except news, which didn't hold any interest for the youngster. He yawned and thought enviously of his brothers who were now sleeping comfortably in their bed. ~Wish Dad had let Little Danny come with us.~
Little Danny had asked if he could accompany the two to the hospital, but he had been firmly directed back to bed.
Jonny sighed again and looked up at his dad. He'd been lectured all the way to the medical facility about the inappropriateness of his actions during his sister's birthday party. Jack had also reminded him ad nauseam that Bogey was a pet and not an inanimate object to be used at will. He yawned and wondered how much longer they'd have to wait. He certainly had a new appreciation for his Aunt Janet and her colleagues in the SGC infirmary, as well as for Doctor Sylvia, both of whom were always quick to tend to any problems or injuries the Jackson-O'Neills had.
Jack yawned, looking down at his fidgeting son. They'd been waiting for over two hours now, and Jonny had been remarkably good. Of course, it helped that he knew he was in trouble and was thus making an extra effort to be good. He glanced over towards the other people waiting to be seen by the medical staff and figured they still had at least an hour to wait since Jonny's injury was hardly life threatening. Jack's gaze returned to his namesake when the boy wriggled again and tried to smother a yawn.
“Come here, Son,” Jack invited, opening his arms for Jonny to climb onto his lap and lean against his chest. “Try and get some sleep, Jonny. I think it's going to be a while yet.”
Jonny snuggled eagerly into his father's arms and looked up sleepily, saying, “Dad? Little Danny didn't want to do it. I talked him into it. He shouldn't get into trouble.”
Jack sighed, “We'll talk about it tomorrow, Son. Go to sleep.”
Jack watched Jonny's eyes close and then leaned back to look at the ceiling, thinking, ~Crap, Danny. We have to get Little Danny to stand up to Jonny. That kid needs to develop his Daddy's skills of persuasion. Then he could talk Jonny out of these harebrained schemes.~
It was several hours later when Jack finally placed a sleeping Jonny back in his bed at home before making his way back to his own bed. He shucked his clothes and slid in beside Daniel, who immediately latched onto him.
“J'ck?” Daniel mumbled.
“Go back to sleep, Angel. Jonny's fine,” Jack encouraged, stroking his husband's hair.
“Love you,” Daniel murmured into Jack's chest, quickly falling back into slumberland.
The older man smiled and kissed the top of Daniel's head before replying, “I love you, too.”
“Does it hurt, Jonny?” Lulu asked after breakfast the next morning.
“No,” Jonny replied, his boyhood bravado not allowing him to admit that it had hurt for a while.
“Lulu, I didn't mean to ruin your party,” Jonny apologized without being prodded to do so.
“It's been a great party,” Mariska said. “Besides, my brothers will get revenge.”
“Matty's not as good a fighter as I am,” Jonny boasted, referring to Mariska's brother.
“Jonathan!” Jack scowled.
Gulping, Jonny just smiled, naively confident he could survive any retaliation from any of the girls' relatives.
Just then Daniel walked into the living room, announcing, “Girls, time to go.”
A few minutes later, Daniel and Lulu climbed into the SUV to take all of the sleep-over guests home. Daniel smiled as he listened to the conversation. The girls had had a marvelous time and weren't the least bit bothered by the Bogey escapade. It seemed similar things had happened before at other sleep-overs.
~I guess that's something I missed out on. It's ... normal,~ Daniel thought, making a note when they got home to discuss rethinking the severity of their punishments for the three boys. ~Jonny needs a lesson about Bogey, though, but if it wasn't for the danger of Ptolemy being there, what the boys did was ... natural. Gawd, listen to these girls -- laughing about the lizard and Jonny falling. Oh, no -- Suzy's brother brought in a snake once and ... did Angela just say one of her friends was glued to the floor by her brothers at a party? Uh, Jack, did you do things like this when you were a boy?~
Both amused and semi-shocked, Daniel kept driving, heading for Suzy's home as she would be the first one dropped off.
“Jackson-O'Neill residence,” Daniel greeted sometime later, though half distracted by the survey report Ty had just faxed him on one of the current J-O Enterprises jobs.
“Daniel, it's Catherine,” the sophisticated woman informed through the phone.
“Catherine, how are you? Getting ready for the big trip?” Daniel inquired, putting the survey report down as he devoted his full attention to the phone call.
“Yes, and taking care of closing this house until my niece moves in,” Catherine explained. “How did Lulu's birthday party go?”
“Wonderful,” Daniel replied, smiling. “She was so happy, Catherine, that she couldn't sleep. She kept hugging and thanking us. Gawd, I hate that -- that she felt she had to thank us for giving her a party.”
“It was such a travesty what happened to that young girl before you and Jack took her in,” Catherine noted. “I wish we could have been there to give her a hug ourselves.”
“She loved your present,” Daniel informed the woman about the tote the Littlefields had sent, which had been full of smaller gifts, such as ballerina paper dolls, magnets, a journal, and a blanket.
“I'm glad, and how's Ptolemy adjusting?” Catherine inquired about the hyacinth macaw that was the newest member of the Jackson-O'Neill pet brigade.
Daniel snickered, “Driving Jack up the wall. He keeps threatening to cook her.”
“Jack will never change; he's priceless,” the woman remarked with a chuckle.
“He loves Ptolemy, Catherine, but he won't admit it. He invents reasons to start arguments with her, just for the fun of it,” Daniel laughed, shaking his head. “Seriously, we love having her.”
“That is good news. Ernest and I worried about her adjusting,” Catherine responded.
“She's fine,” Daniel assured.
“Daniel, the other reason I'm calling is that I wanted to ask who designed the renovation of your home; it's fabulous,” Catherine commented.
“His name is Alex Dennison; we highly recommend him,” Daniel remarked.
“Good! We want to have the condo ready before we get back. Did you say Alex Dennison?” Catherine inquired, the name striking a chord with her.
“Yes,” Daniel answered.
“I've seen his name plastered all over some magazines I've been reading lately. You and Jack must be doing very well indeed,” Catherine chuckled.
Snickering, Daniel replied, “Not as well as you think. We hired Alex before he got to be famous. We were, uh, a challenge. In fact, Alex nearly ran me over with a bulldozer!”
“Was that you? Oh my goodness!” Catherine laughed loudly.
“Wha...what?” Daniel asked curiously, wondering why his friend seemed to be familiar with the story.
“In one of the interviews I read about his rise to success, Alex was asked if he ever had any particularly difficult clients. He mentioned one that he nearly buried with a bulldozer,” Catherine explained.
“Gawd,” Daniel spoke as embarrassment flowed through him.
“I can't imagine what on Earth you did to the poor man,” Catherine teased.
“Oh, yes, you can, Catherine. I was my usual pain-in-the-butt self about the house; last-minute changes, impossible requests -- that kind of thing,” the archaeologist admitted.
The white-haired woman laughed, “You're an adorable pain-in-the-butt, Daniel, and I'm sure Alex thinks very highly of you.”
“Yes, now that we're not clients,” Daniel sighed.
“Daniel, I have an appointment in an hour or so, so I need to go. Ernest is going to be so excited if we can convince Alex to work on our place. What's his number?” the woman asked.
After Daniel gave Catherine Alex's phone number and relevant information, they finished their call. Daniel shook his head, shuddering at the recollection of the bulldozer threat. Then he refocused on the survey and a note Ty had tacked on to the report. It read:
“Jack, Daniel, Mister Opheimeimer is very happy with our work and indicated he'd like to hire us on an ongoing basis for his building projects. Is it possible to set up an arrangement with him like the one we have with Abayomi? Ty.”
~Wow, I can't believe how in demand we're becoming. We never thought J-O would be so successful,~ Daniel silently thought, unable to stop a happy smile from forming on his face. ~Jack will be happy to hear about this.~
Later that evening, Daniel entered his lover's study and settled in on the sofa. Immediately, Bijou and Katie jumped up, Katie resting her front paws on Daniel's thigh while Bijou simply curled up into a ball beside him. As Daniel patted the youngest beagle, Jack smiled from his chair behind his desk. He could watch Daniel and their girls forever and not be bored.
“Just visiting?” Jack finally asked his quiet lover.
“Jack, I'd like to make a proposal,” Daniel began a bit formally, his eyes focused on Katie at the moment.
“You're sounding very official, Love,” Jack replied, leaning forward with his elbows hitting the edge of his desk at the same time that Daniel looked over at him.
“Well, I'm only hesitating because we're taking a big hit this year with the remodeling at the office and the new employees we hired,” Daniel explained.
“What's on your mind?” Jack asked curiously.
“As our Director of Operations, Megan does a lot of the footwork for us. She's going back and forth between the Springs and the University in Denver, she's picking up clients and transporting them to and from the airport, she's running errands, she's ...”
“... on the go,” Jack completed for his lover. “I get that. So?”
“So she's doing it in a car that rivals my old car,” Daniel noted with a tiny smile on his face.
“Geez, that thing was in the shop every other weekend,” Jack chuckled, shaking his head a bit as he looked down, the memories of his lover's broken-down vehicle bringing back lots of humorous moments for him.
“Jack, you know Megan won't break down and buy a new car until forced to,” Daniel commented.
The older man sighed, saying, “She never complains, does she?”
“No, never. She lost three siblings in that accident and her parents ... gawd, another drunk driver,” the archaeologist sighed.
“Losing any member of your family is tough enough, but three ...”
“Five,” Daniel interrupted. “Her mother only lived for another year, but her father ...”
“He's lost in his own body,” Jack lamented.
“She visits him at least once a week, but he doesn't even know her, or, if he does, can't show it,” the younger man reminded.
“She loses a big chunk of her paycheck paying for the extras to make sure her father gets the very best care,” Jack commented.
“Insurance only goes so far, and what kind of damages can you get from a drunk driver who owns nothing and has no insurance himself? Gawd, we need a better system in this country,” the archaeologist stated in frustration.
Jack watched as Katie rolled over, sliding down Daniel's thigh, prompting the younger man to chuckle and begin rubbing her tummy.
“Danny, what's your idea about Megan's car?”
“Let's buy her a company car. I think it's justified with all the running around she does for us, and I think it would relieve some of the stress that she doesn't ever show anyone,” Daniel commented.
Jack smiled, nodding as he softly agreed, “My genius.” After a pause, he added, “I'm surprised Yazid hasn't bought her a new car.”
“He's tried a couple of times, and even tried to help out with her father's medical bills. She wouldn't accept it, though; at least, not until they're married. You know how independent she is, Jack. She won't take charity,” Daniel pointed out.
“Which is why you came up with the company car concept,” Jack deduced.
“I've been thinking about it for a couple of months; this might not be the best time for us to add a vehicle to the mix, but ...”
“Let's do it,” Jack suggested, cutting off Daniel's words.
On the sixteenth of the month, a Friday, Jack swung by the Wilson's to pick up Sara whose van was in the shop. The two intended to pick up Angela, Chenoa, and Lulu from dance class in the SUV; afterwards, he'd take Sara and Angela to the shop to pick up her vehicle.
Angela was new to dancing, but had requested permission to join the two Jackson-O'Neill girls in their joint dance course. On this day, the dance instructor had reached Jack on his cell phone to say that the trio had some questions about a new move. She asked if it would be all right to let them stay thirty minutes late. After a quick call to confirm with his ex-wife, Jack gave their permission for the extra instruction.
Jack didn't really mind. He figured it would give him a chance to chat with Sara for a while and catch up on the latest Wilson family happenings. Once he picked her up, he drove the scenic route towards the dance studio, debating on stopping for coffee somewhere.
“Hey, an estate sale,” Jack noted as he slowed down. “Remember?”
Sara chuckled, “How could I forget? We bought our first dining room set at an estate sale.”
“Wasn't much, was it?” Jack said with a bit of regret, feeling guilty about not having been able to buy his then-wife a better set.
“Jack, it was perfect,” Sara assured, her smile bright. “Let's stop.”
Jack grinned, saying, “I still need to pick up a few extras for Christmas.”
Twenty minutes later, Sara had picked up a few pieces of glassware and a small table which she intended to refinish for her front hall.
“What do you think, Jack?” Sara asked about her choices.
“Looks good to me,” Jack responded.
Sara shook her head, commenting, “That's what you always said.”
“You have great taste, Sara. You remember our deal?” Jack asked with a teasing smile.
“Yes, I know. I picked out the furniture, and you picked out the trucks,” Sara laughed.
“It was a good plan,” Jack remarked as they waited on the two middle-aged women, who were clearly running the sale, to finish their conversation.
“Myra, I have no idea what to do with that craft room of Mom's. Her sewing machine is not that old,” one woman said to the other.
“She got sick right after she bought it,” Myra sadly recalled.
The first woman continued, “And we have those two looms, the knitting machine, all that yarn and fabric -- I don't know what to do with it ...”
“Excuse me,” Jack interrupted. “Did you say looms?”
“Yes. Do you want them?” the woman asked eagerly. ~Oh, please, say 'yes'.~
Jack looked at Sara, who was giving him an odd look, and explained, “Sara, Jen's on a weaving retreat with Mrs. Valissi.”
“A weaving retreat? What's that?” the blonde asked curiously.
“They weave,” Jack answered simplistically. “She's really gotten into it. Can you call Mrs. Ryner and tell her we'll be a few minutes late? I'd like to take a look ...”
“Can I load that table for you?” Myra inquired after Sara paid her for the purchases.
Sara smiled, answering “Sure,” to both Jack and Myra. As Jack walked away with Myra's sister, who had introduced herself as Alison, she yelled out, “Jack, keys!”
“Oh, here,” Jack chuckled, tossing the keys over to his ex-wife.
“To be honest with you, I don't know what half of this stuff is or does,” Alison said as she led Jack into a large room. She added, “But my mother loved this stuff.”
Inside the room was a loom that looked to be made of cherry wood as well as another one that was boxed, but marked with a label identifying it as a tapestry loom.
“That's the knitting machine,” the woman said about a peculiar apparatus that had two long rows of hooked metal needles with pink plastic parts at each end and which stood on legs. “I only know that because I was with her when she set it up the first time.”
Jack noticed a new-looking sewing machine with a dazzling array of buttons that stood on a table.
Alison explained, “I just unpacked it this morning so people could see it. Mom paid a pretty penny for it three years ago, and she played with it for a couple of weeks before she got sick.”
“I'm sorry for your loss,” Jack spoke sincerely.
Nodding, Alison thanked him and added, “It was long and drawn out. I suppose the only good thing about that is that when she died almost everything was already settled.” She sighed, “Look, like I said, I don't know a thing about these things. The house is sold, and Sis and I are going on a long trip overseas. We need to get rid of this stuff.”
“How much do you want for it?” Jack questioned as he looking around at the items. ~This is so out of my league. I don't even know if it's good, except for the sewing machine.~
“I'm serious. Please, just make me an offer,” Alison pleaded.
Answering truthfully, the general replied, “I don't know what to offer.”
Jack evaluated the price of the sewing machine and equated the yarn to clothing. He glanced over at several books and instruction manuals that looked in good, but used condition, noting that there were lots of bookmarks in them.
Alison let out a breath and offered, “The whole lot, everything here, as long as you can pick it up by Monday afternoon, for ... five-hundred dollars. I heard you tell your wife that you needed to be somewhere; you don't even have to pay for all of it now. Just give me a fifty-dollar deposit.”
“Jack!” Sara called out. “We need to go now. Mrs. Ryner can't wait,” she explained.
“Sold!” Jack exclaimed, making a quick decision. “Here's fifty, and I'll be back in an hour,” he said, hurrying to join Sara.
In the SUV headed for the dance studio, Jack suddenly laughed loudly.
“What?” Sara inquired.
“She called you my wife,” the military man explained.
Sara smiled, saying, “It's a natural assumption, Jack.”
“It seems like old times,” Jack smirked.
Sara caught a glimpse of something smug in Jack's comments and prodded, “Jack?”
“Everytime we go shopping, Sara, it cost me an arm and a leg. I just spent five-hundred dollars,” Jack announced.
“Five ... *hundred*?” Sara asked incredulously. Seeing Jack's nod, she added, “Good thing we're not married anymore, Jack. You'd be on the couch and in the doghouse for a month.”
“Good thing Danny is more forgiving,” Jack replied. ~I hope.~
“You hope,” Sara chuckled at the exact same time Jack had thought the same phrase.
Even with Jack's truck, Lou's MonsterMobile, and Sam driving the SUV, it still took two trips to collect all the materials Jack had purchased. In fact, Pete Shanahan had pitched in, driving his truck, too, and bringing Teal'c with him.
“Looks like that's it. Thanks, Myra,” Jack said as he turned to go. “Pete, sorry you made the second trip for nothing.”
“Wait, wait, Mister O'Neill! Mister O'Neill! There's something else!” Myra's sister cried out, frantically running outside of the house in an effort to catch Jack before he left.
Jack, Lou, and Pete trooped back into the house, following the excited woman to a small bedroom, which was empty except for several large cartons. If the printing on them was accurate, they contained yet another loom, a large one.
“But I don't know what to offer you for it,” Jack protested, knowing the item hadn't been in with the other things he'd agreed to purchase.
“I don't, either,” the woman said. “Honestly, I don't care. Everything else is gone -- sold, donated, or hauled away. If you don't take it, it's just going to end up with Goodwill or something. Please, take it.”
“Alison, I think mom bought this from Frieda. You remember -- her friend who moved to Florida? She never did get it set up, and neither did Mom. Sis is right, Mister O'Neill, load 'er up and get it out of here,” Myra requested earnestly.
“If you say so,” Jack agreed with a shrug. “This is going to take some muscle power,” he noted about the unopened carton.
“May I be of assistance, O'Neill?” the Jaffa asked as he effortlessly lifted the largest carton to the astonishment of the two sisters.
“Are you sure I can't pay you something for that extra loom?” Jack asked when the loom was in place in Pete's truck, and they were ready to go.
“If your daughter enjoys it and puts it to use, that's payment enough. Mom hated it that we didn't enjoy her passion, and we didn't. In a way, knowing it's going to be used by someone who *will* enjoy it, makes us feel a little better,” Myra commented.
“Good thing I tagged along after all, isn't it?” Pete asked with a smile.
“You're still baby-sitting tonight, Shanahan,” Jack told him since it was Jack and Daniel's date night.
“Just as long as Gorgeous is with me,” Pete smirked, glancing over at his wife, who gave him a chastising look for using the nickname in public.
“Let's get home before Danny kills me,” Jack stated.
“He doesn't know?” Sam inquired.
“Carter, I dropped off the girls, told him I had an errand to run, and would explain later. If I'm lucky, it'll be much later,” Jack said, not looking forward to admitting how much money he had unexpectedly spent in one afternoon.
“Good luck, Sir,” Sam laughed as she got into the SUV.
“Jack, what is all of this?” Daniel asked, having been summoned to the Shanahan's garage, leaving Lou and Teal'c to watch over the children and the womis temporarily.
Jack let out an apologetic smile as he tried to look innocent, replying, “Looms, fabric, a sewing machine, a knitting machine, and ... stuff.”
“How much?” Daniel asked pointedly.
“It was a room full of things, Danny. Jen will love it,” Jack spoke evasively.
“How much?” the younger man asked again.
“It's a bargain,” Jack answered, raising both of his arms with his palms upward.
“How ... much?” the archaeologist demanded to know.
Coughing, Jack answered, “Five ... hundred.”
“DOLLARS? You spent *five-hundred dollars* on *one* of our children without talking to me first?” Daniel asked in utter disbelief.
“I had to make a snap decision, Angel. There's a lot of stuff here; it has to be a good deal,” Jack stated hopefully. “Maybe Mrs. V can tell us what it's really worth.”
“She'll tell you that you got fleeced, like a little lamb. Baaah, baah, baah!“ Daniel bleated.
“Baaah, humbug!” the older man quipped. He walked into his lover's personal space and asked, “We still going out tonight?”
Daniel smiled shyly as he responded, “Gawd, you're sexy when you're guilty as sin.”
“Sin's good. I like sin,” Jack laughed as he kissed his husband, an all-too-short prelude before their night out, which would be shorter than normal since neither wanted to be away from the womis for too long.
The Monday before Christmas, Catherine made a phone call from her stately New York home. Getting Alex's voicemail, she left a message:
“Mister Dennison, my name is Catherine Langford Littlefield. I'm a good friend of the Jackson-O'Neills and an admirer of your work. My husband and I are about to embark on an around-the-world cruise, and while we're gone, we would like you to remodel our condo in upstate New York. We want something warm and light, not too formal, but refined, and above all, comfortable. I'll be forwarding a retainer this afternoon to your employer, along with information on how to reach us and where, if necessary, and a few other details of our preferences. One more thing, my niece will be your primary contact. She can show you around our current home. I've indicated what items I want moved to the condo and what items will be left for her to keep or dispose of. We'll settle up when my husband and I return at the end of the year. If this is agreeable, have your employer cash the check. If not, please notify me or my niece immediately so we can make other arrangements. Thank you.”
After leaving the appropriate phone numbers, Catherine hung up the phone, after which she called the bank to arrange for the retainer. She verified the plans with her niece, wrote out the pertinent information, and then summoned her driver.
~I do hope you're as good as I think you are, Alex,~ Catherine thought as she prepared to run some errands.
“Merry Christmas,” Alex waved to the taxi driver as the man drove away.
“Alex,” Soncirria 'Sunny' Suvulpo stated in a sultry voice as she stood in the doorway of their two-bedroom hotel suite.
“I love it when you do that with your voice,” Alex commented.
“Look up, and then I can do much more,” the female instructed.
Looking upward, Alex smiled at the mistletoe, after which he obliged his beautiful girlfriend with some sultry kissing.
“Oh, I forgot. I'm supposed to call my mother,” Sunny sighed. “Mothers -- overprotective until the end.”
“You kiss me and remember you have to call your mother?” the tall, handsome man teased.
“Mothers -- overprotective until the end.” Sunny replied. “I might as well get it over with so I can focus on more important matters.”
“Yes,” Alex concurred with a sigh, his expression going from bright to dark in an instant.
“Oh, Alex, I'm sorry,” Sunny spoke sympathetically, leaning in for a comforting kiss.
“You didn't say anything wrong, Sunny,” the designer commented. “We all have mothers.”
“We'll find them, Alex. One day, we'll find your brothers and sister,” Sunny promised, leaning in for another kiss.
“Call your mother, and tell her you love her,” Alex urged.
“I will. I love you, Alex,” Sunny warmly stated, walking into the next room to make her call.
Alex sighed, but then he followed the woman, interrupting her just before she dialed her number by saying, “Sunny, you make it all okay. You've changed my life. Tell your mother 'hello' for me.”
Alex returned to the main room and pulled out his cell phone. His fifth message was from Catherine Littlefield.
“Wow, you don't mess around, do you?” Alex spoke aloud as he listened. ~I like that -- cutting right to the chase.~
That night, the Jackson-O'Neills, accompanied by several of their extended family of friends, several SGC and J-O Enterprises co-workers, and a slew of neighbors, went Christmas caroling. It snowed lightly as the bundled-up group of adults and children sang many of the holiday standards as they walked the neighborhood.
As was tradition for the family of friends and SGC contingent, after the neighborhood sing-along, they visited one of the local nursing homes to bring some cheer to those either less fortunate or who were forced to celebrate the holiday season alone. When that was over, they ended up at Tracey O'Connor's home for eggnog and s'mores.
Tracey had just been promoted to Technical Sergeant so she was in an especially festive mood and had offered to host the annual get-together at her home. It was tradition that the place of the party was always at a different SGC member's home.
“Jack, have you seen O'Connor's pool table?” Lou asked, walking over to his friend and then sipping his drink.
“Yeah, not bad,” Jack chuckled. “Wouldn't mind having one of those myself.”
“Me, too, but Carolyn would have my six big time,” Lou laughed. “By the way,” the Marine said more seriously. “Huruki's doing okay.”
“I haven't noticed any black eyes in weeks,” Jack smirked and then bit into his sticky s'more, poking his tongue out to make sure he caught the glob of marshmallow that was hanging over the graham crackers that enclosed it.
“You know, Jack, I've got to give him credit,” Lou noted, nodding over at his friend Casey Hemmings, who was on his way out to go home. “He took everything we dished out, and we dished out a lot.”
“Teal'c put him through Jaffa rituals that he wouldn't inflict upon Apophis,” the general noted, not hiding his pleasure at the tales he'd been told about Huruki's extra chores which Teal'c had overseen.
“He's gonna be okay, Jack,” Lou stated, looking his friend in the eye. “If you're okay with it, I think Huruki could be a leader one of these days.”
“In a few years, maybe,” Jack agreed.
“Even break?” Lou asked quietly, his question full of covert meaning.
Jack looked around the room as he sipped his drink, finally looking back at Lou and nodding as he said, “Yeah. Life's a tough road to hoe, Lou. We all make mistakes. Just remind him he's used up all of his passes.”
“Will do,” Lou acknowledged.
“Jonny, put that down!” Jack suddenly called out in a raised voice, getting the attention of several of the guests. “Excuse me, Lou. I'd better grab my little operative before he costs us this month's salary.”
From the other side of the room, Daniel saw that his lover had the situation at hand, gently taking the expensive Hummel figurine of a boy and his dog and putting it back in its place.
“Just like his father,” Daniel chuckled, shaking his head as he chatted with the Shanahans.
“How's that?” Pete asked innocently.
“Always picking up things that aren't his,” the archaeologist answered, smiling as the party continued.
The next afternoon, Alex's cell phone rang, interrupting Alex and Sunny's Friday morning shopping excursion. It was Byron Stone, Alex's employer at Archonics Ltd.
“Alex, sorry to interrupt the vacation, but we had a fifty-thousand dollar cashier's check delivered by courier today from a Catherine Littlefield with a memo, 'Retainer for Condo', in the corner. Are you aware of this?” Byron asked.
“Byron, my apologies. I meant to call you yesterday, but Sunny and I ... we ... I was interrupted,” Alex admitted with some embarrassment. ~I never used to get distracted before. Of course, I never had Sunny before, either.~
“What's the story?” Byron inquired.
“I was expecting it. She indicated there should be some information sent with it as well,” Alex commented.
“Here it is -- a letter with your name on it,” Byron stated.
“Great. Can you send that to the Florida office? I'll work this job around Yazid's place. We have plenty of time, so it shouldn't interfere with our other contracts,” Alex informed Byron.
“Okay, I'll get the letter out to you today. Keep up the good work,” Byron commented before ending the call.
“So I distracted you, Alex?” Sunny teased, batting her eyelashes.
“No comment,” Alex chuckled as he turned off his cell phone to avoid being interrupted again while the two were out together.
“Billy!” Jack called out, quickly embracing his brother amid a very crowded Denver airport. “I could get used to this.”
“Hello, Jilly,” Daniel greeted the woman as they hugged.
“It's good to be back,” Jilly replied.
“How's the Outback?” the archaeologist inquired as he took her largest suitcase from her.
“Simply marvelous!” Jilly exclaimed. “Jack, it's good to see you,” she said after Jack turned to greet her.
“Daniel, you're looking well,” Billy said, extending out his hand and then pulling the archaeologist in for a family hug.
“It's good to see you, too. Merry Christmas!” Daniel spoke enthusiastically.
“The brood is anxious to see you two, so let's get out of this joint,” Jack suggested.
“The children are anxious to show you our holiday traditions,” Daniel noted. “Tonight we're playing 'The Clue Game'.”
“What's that?” Billy asked as they walked.
“Basically, we hide one present per child somewhere on the property. They have to follow the clues to find it,” Daniel explained.
“Oh, it sounds like great fun, Daniel,” Jilly responded.
“I wish your children had come,” Daniel added.
“They're still trying to adjust,” Billy explained as the four exited the airport, immediately feeling the chill of the air.
“We'll miss them,” Jilly noted, quickly adding, “But it was important for us to be here, with you two this holiday.”
“We're glad you came,” Jack spoke appreciatively, a warm smile highlighting his face as they headed for the truck, a busy week ahead of them.
That night, after the family activities had concluded, Jennifer was in her bedroom, sitting up in bed while reviewing her 'things to do' list for the rest of the week. Hearing a small noise at her door, which was open, she smiled and patted the empty space next to her.
As he climbed up onto the bed, Little Danny sat on his knees facing his sister.
“What's up, Sproglet?” the teenager asked.
Little Danny held out the book he had brought with him and asked, “Jen, Mommy's book is about Dad and Daddy, huh?”
Jennifer smiled as she let out a tender sigh. She took hold of the book, “Journey of the Heart”, and ran her right hand along the embossed title and the author's name -- Kayla Armentrout.
“Yes, Mommy wrote about Dad and Daddy,” Jennifer confirmed.
“Read it to me, Jen,” the little boy requested.
“Okay,” the teen agreed, setting aside her tablet and pen as her brother moved to sit next to her.
Jennifer gave Little Danny a smile. She took her left arm and placed it around his shoulder as they snuggled.
“Hmm ... you know you could read this on your own, if you wanted to,” Jennifer stated.
“I like it better when you read me Mommy's book,” the child prodigy replied.
Placing a kiss atop the boy's shaggy hair, Jennifer smiled and said, “I'll read you one of my favorite passages.”
Flipping to the chapter and section she wanted, Jennifer read from the great American novel Kayla had written:
//Excerpt from Kayla's Novel//
The world is a big place, but incredible as it may seem, it's also quite tiny, for nowhere on Earth is that Utopia which we dream, pray, and hope for. In all the richness of our colors, nowhere is equality truly present in every facet of our existence.
“Or is there?” our hero wondered quietly, pausing from his writing in the journal he kept religiously.
He'd gone on marvelous adventures in his quest for the ideal society. He wanted to make a difference, to matter, but even as he pondered that existence, he knew his real contribution wouldn't be as the great explorer. Though he didn't understand it and couldn't even imagine the breadth of its scope, someday he'd gain the awareness of his true gift to the world. No, not gift -- gifts, precious treasures that would forever make the world, big or small, the Utopia he desired so much.
He glanced over at his opposite, the one who was so different from he, and yet wasn't. They'd made a decision not long ago, one that both frightened him and took him to previously unknown heights of exhilaration. The fruit of their decision had come to be most unexpectedly.
“Utopia,” he mumbled, fully aware that he'd been wrong in his previous thoughts. “Utopia is watching you feed our babies. Utopia is you.”
//End of Excerpt//
Jennifer sighed as she again hugged her younger brother to her.
“That's us, huh, Jen?”
“Yes,” Jennifer confirmed. “Mommy was a very intuitive person, Little Danny. I think she knew Dad and Daddy better than they realized.” She smiled, looking down at the sweet face staring up at her. “Mommy knew just how much Dad and Daddy love you and Jonny and Ash.”
“Jen, if Mommy were alive, would she be living with us?” Little Danny asked.
The question threw Jennifer offguard for a moment, but fairly quickly, she smiled again and answered, “Little Danny, Mommy has always lived with us because she's in our hearts. It doesn't matter where a person sleeps or where their body rests, but what does matter, is where their heart is. Do you understand?”
Little Danny scrunched his nose thoughtfully, but then he shook his head.
Jennifer chuckled, saying, “I'm sorry. I'm making it more complicated than it needs to be. Mommy wanted very much for Dad and Daddy not to worry about her. She loved to travel and see all those wonderful places she wrote about in her novel, but the truth is that, in the end, Mommy discovered that her heart was here, with us, and not out there somewhere.”
“Because she loved us,” the boy stated in reply.
“Mommy lives right here,” Jennifer said, touching the place over her brother's heart. “You know what? Yes ... yes.”
“Huh?” the little boy asked in confusion.
“Little Danny, if Mommy were alive physically, yeah, I think she'd live here with us, but remember, she is here, all the time,” the teen asserted confidently.
“I made her a present,” Little Danny confided a bit hesitantly.
“You did?” Jennifer asked curiously.
“Of course, I do,” Jennifer answered.
Little Danny told her to wait, then climbed off the bed and left her bedroom, presumably to get the present.
Jennifer thumbed through the book, silently wondering what life would have been like had Kayla not been killed in a car accident by a drunk driver.
“I think you wrote about Dad and Daddy's journey, but you know something, Kayla? I think it's your journey, too. I think you discovered Utopia, and it was the Munchkins and the Spitfires.” Jennifer closed the book, thinking, ~I hope I can be a good mother someday.~
Not long thereafter, Little Danny returned with his present for his mother. Jennifer scooted over to the edge of the bed, taking the item from her brother, who now stood in front of her.
“What is it?” Jennifer inquired.
“It's a keepsake box, like Dad and Daddy had a long time ago. It's not very big, though,” Little Danny commented.
“Do you want me to open it?” Seeing the boy nod, the teen opened the crudely made box, her eyes widening at the strange contents. “I don't understand,” she told the youngster.
“That's my tooth that fell out last week. I didn't want the Tooth Fairy to get it, so I didn't tell Dad and Daddy,” Little Danny confided. “That's Ash's hair.” He looked down guiltily as he admitted, “I cut a tiny piece when she was asleep.”
“Oh,” Jennifer responded, now understanding why her sister's hair was a bit uneven the other day, prompting her to give Aislinn a quick trim to help even it out.
“That's Jonny's promise not to play with guns. I made him write it down for me,” Little Danny said, referring to the tiny piece of paper with his brother's printed signature on it. “I told him he had to promise Mommy, too, and he did.”
“This is very sweet,” Jennifer responded, smiling softly at the young boy.
“I wish I could give it to her,” Little Danny lamented.
“Yeah, I'm sure you ...” Suddenly, Jennifer stopped talking as an idea began forming in her brain. “Little Danny, I think you can. You wait here, okay? I need to go ask Dad and Daddy something.”
“Jen, it's ... a secret,” Little Danny noted a bit hesitantly.
“You don't want them to know what you're giving Mommy?” After his nod, Jennifer asked, “Is it okay if they know you are sending Mommy a present?”
The little boy squinted as he scrunched his face, then nodded his approval.
“Okay, stay here.” Jennifer made her way to her parent's master bedroom, but seeing the door open and the room empty, she moved forward to the den, where, sure enough, she found her parents. “Dad, Daddy, may I come in?”
“Sure, Jen,” Daniel agreed, getting up out of the recliner he was sharing with his husband and taking a seat on his desk chair.
“Um, may I borrow the SUV tomorrow?” the teenager asked.
The parents shrugged, exchanging a quick look. Jennifer had received her driver's license shortly after her sixteenth birthday, but she wasn't nearly the driving enthusiast of her peers. She did a lot of errands and did some chauffeuring of her siblings, but she didn't often make a special request to use the family vehicle.
“What's up?” Daniel inquired curiously.
“Well, Daddy, that's the thing. I need you to trust me -- a lot. Um, well, I'd like to take Little Danny somewhere, uh, well, actually to Pike's Peak, to ... well, it's a secret. Please trust me,” Jennifer implored.
“The patch?” Daniel spoke aloud.
Jack nodded and said, “Wear the patches Thor gave us,” referring to the tiny patches that gave off a homing signal of sorts.
“Thanks,” Jennifer responded gratefully, turning to head back to her bedroom where she would tell her little brother her idea. ~It'll be great!~
Much later, with the entire family sound asleep, the middle Munchkin climbed back up to his eldest sister's bed and shook her.
“Sleeping,” Jennifer muttered, resisting the urge to wake up, but finally succumbing to the pleading voice that begged her to wake up. “Little Danny, is something wrong?”
“Jen, it's not fair,” Little Danny answered.
“What isn't fair?” the girl asked.
“The others should be able to do this, too,” the child stated emotionally. “Not fair for just me to do it,” he lamented.
Jennifer sat up and turned on her light. She examined closely the expression of her brother's face. What they had planned was very important to the young child, but it wasn't in him to be selfish, and after a quick study of his demeanor, the girl knew better than to try and convince him otherwise. Their private jaunt was about to become a family affair.
“So, do you want to ask Jonny and Ash if they want to do this, too?” the teen inquired, deciding to start small and work their way up.
“Everyone, Jen. I'd be selfish not to ask them,” Little Danny opined. “Please, Jen!”
“We'd have to tell Dad and Daddy,” Jennifer advised.
“But not what we wrote,” the wise youngster replied, knowing that his message to his birth mother could still be a secret. “Please ask them, Jen.”
“Okay, in the morning ...” Jennifer sighed, seeing the insistence on Little Danny's face. “I sure hope they aren't ... uh, sleeping,” she said, getting out of bed, slipping on her robe, and then heading for the master bedroom to speak with their parents.
“Megan, put that down,” Jack ordered sternly, sounding very much like the general instead of the employer.
It was the next day, and neither Jack nor Daniel had been expected at the offices of J-O Enterprises.
A very surprised Megan put down the file she was holding and asked, “Is something wrong?”
“We're making a change,” Daniel announced seriously, his unusually rigid demeanor causing Megan to become alarmed.
“What ... kind of change?” the woman asked nervously.
“Very serious,” Jack replied.
Solemnly, Daniel opined, “We had no choice.”
“None at all,” Jack interjected, his words practically stepping on his lover's.
“None,” Daniel repeated very quickly, the comments reminiscent of their classic fast-paced banter. “Please come with us.”
Turning around, Jack and Daniel walked swiftly out of Megan's office, their faces as harsh as they could make them. No one was used to this kind of behavior from the two men. Sure, they had bad days, but the aura around them made everyone present wish they'd stayed home for the day.
With Megan giving her co-workers shrugs and anxious looks as she followed the owners of J-O Enterprises, her heartbeat increased as did her anxiety. Silently, she wondered if she'd done something to offend her bosses. She was feeling very vulnerable and on edge.
Eventually, the three ended up in Karissa's office downstairs.
“Karissa, please come with us,” Daniel requested, his tone just as abrupt and cold as it had been in Megan's office.
“What's up?” the female inquired, trying to ignore the unusual vibe she was getting.
“We couldn't let this go any longer, Karissa. It's time,” Jack spoke in a chastising tone.
“Definitely time,” Daniel agreed briskly.
“Beyond it, Daniel,” Jack observed.
“We let this go on far too long, Jack,” Daniel replied, their conversation again very fast, one's last word stepping on the other's first word so that it was often difficult even to keep up with them.
Gulping, Karissa rose from her chair, joining Megan as they followed Jack and Daniel to the front door.
“Are we being fired?” Karissa whispered to Megan.
“I'm not sure,” Megan nervously replied, adding, “But I think it's a distinct possibility.”
“We went too far with the remodeling,” Karissa commented.
“Probably,” Megan agreed, shivering as she recalled her daring conversation with her employers at O'Malleys in August and how she'd essentially ordered them to make severe changes or else. ~I guess it's the 'or else' time.~
Going outside, the owners led the women over to the driveway. Jack walked over to a pristine looking 2012 Chrysler while Daniel walked to the car in front of it, a 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid.
As they held up the keys, Jack and Daniel spoke in unison, “*Surprise!*”
Megan and Karissa stared at each other, stunned and not fully understanding yet.
Grinning with his best Irish smile, Jack proclaimed, “Welcome to J-O Enterprises' new vehicle fleet. Megan, the Chrysler is for you. It's a little bigger because you transport the clients.”
“I thought maybe it was because of my big mouth,” Megan joked, barely aware she'd made the comment until it received chuckles from the other three.
“Karissa, the Ford is for you,” Daniel revealed. “Both of you regularly conduct business for our company in your own vehicles. You've put a lot of mileage and wear and tear into your own cars for the good of J-O Enterprises. We've grown, and in recognition of that, we've purchased these company cars expressly for your use.”
“Oh my goodness!” Megan exclaimed, bringing both of her hands to her face, their palms against her cheeks.
“Daniel, you're not kidding? I mean, oh, you have to be kidding,” Karissa responded as she began to examine the classy yet sporty black vehicle.
“We're very serious,” Daniel replied.
~I don't believe this.~ Megan tried not to cry, but she couldn't stop a few tears from falling. She'd been doing all she could to keep her old 1999 vehicle on the road, but she knew she was fighting a losing battle. “Thank you so much,” she responded emotionally.
“We'll go over a few of the details, but you are free to use these vehicles for your personal use as well. In fact, we want you to,” Jack noted.
Megan stared at Jack and then at Daniel, repeating, “Personal use?”
“It'll make up for the last few years,” Jack replied. “No loaning them out, of course,” he added with a smile.
“Oh, wow!” Karissa happily exclaimed, suddenly hugging Daniel.
“By the way, you have to take us home,” Jack announced.
“I don't know what to say,” Megan softly commented.
Jack took her hands, placing the keys in her palms, and smiled as he spoke, “Megan, we owe you a lot. Our new vehicle fleet makes business sense, but more than anything else, Daniel and I want to make sure that you and Karissa know how much we value you two as employees.”
“That's so sweet,” Karissa replied from several feet away.
Daniel added, “It's just the truth. Now, we have a house full of children, not to mention Billy and Jilly, so we need to have a short meeting in Megan's office to discuss the specifics of the cars, and then you two can take us home.”
“Merry Christmas,” Jack said, placing a kiss on Megan's cheek. He walked over and did the same to Karissa, saying, “Thanks for all the hard work.”
“Merry Christmas,” Daniel echoed as he hugged Megan and then Karissa.
The four went inside for a few minutes, after which Megan and Karissa indoctrinated their new company vehicles. It wasn't necessary, of course, for both of them to take Jack and Daniel home, but the lovers insisted, wanting each of the women to get a feel for their new vehicles.
“I'm glad we did it, Jack,” Daniel said as they watched Megan and Karissa drive away from their home.
The lovers were standing at the edge of their driveway, their arms around each other's waists, each feeling pretty darn good about what had just transpired.
“She knows why we did it, Danny,” Jack opined.
“I know, but that's okay,” Daniel commented about Megan. “It was a good idea to include Karissa, too.”
“Every now and then,” Jack teased about his mental processes, causing both of them to chuckle. “She puts in a lot of mileage, too.”
“Jack, is it corny if I say I feel pretty good right now?”
“Probably,” Jack answered.
“How do you feel?” Daniel inquired.
“Corny, Love. I feel very, very corny,” Jack chuckled, kissing his lover for a moment before they turned and headed inside to join their family.
Their day was far from over, and, in fact, both knew it could prove to be a very emotional day.
Brianna stared at the paper in front of her, struggling over what message to write. She was full of such strong emotions. Her life before becoming a Jackson-O'Neill had been miserable. Now, though, she looked around the room at her family, all hard at work, spotting smiles, an occasional tear, and a concerned look or two from her parents.
~My parents,~ Brianna inwardly said, smiling.
Life had changed, and she'd learned so much about what being a part of a family really meant. She sighed, slowly picking up her pen. Still, she paused, her chest heaving in and out.
~I can do this,~ the tomboy encouraged herself.
With a strong resolve, Brianna wrote her message, then folded up her paper and proceeded to the next part of the project.
“Daddy, can I do two?” Lulu inquired after running up to the two men.
“Two?” Daniel asked.
“I need two,” the little girl insisted.
“Little Bit, you can have as many as you need,” Daniel told her as he gave her an approving smile.
“Thank you, Daddy,” Lulu said, turning and running back to finish her project.
Jennifer and Jeff exchanged smiles as each finished their writing. They were sitting across from each other on floor pillows in the rec room.
“We're very lucky,” Jennifer commented.
“We're so lucky, Jen, that I'm not sure we realize how lucky we are,” Jeff opined. “I miss him, though,” he spoke about his deceased father.
“Do you remember how guilty you used to feel about saying something like that?” the girl inquired.
Jeff looked over at their parents, each standing back, not interfering with the task at hand in any way unless asked to by one of their children.
“They make it easy,” Jeff intoned. “They aren't jealous at all, Jen.”
“My friend, Amelia, was adopted, and her parents are so paranoid. Amelia wants to find her birth mother, but her adoptive mother is afraid that will mean Amelia won't love her anymore. Is that absurd or what?” Jennifer asked. “Dad and Daddy want us to remember our parents. They encourage it even. Gee, look what we're doing right now.”
“Like I said, we're very lucky,” Jeff said. He held up his part of the project and opined, “Doing this is good for us, but for the little ones, it's even more important.”
“We're free to be,” Jennifer responded. “I really love them, Jeff,” she stated, looking over at Jack and Daniel, giving them both a smile of love.
“Me, too,” the boy admitted.
Little Danny approached his parents tentatively, causing both Jack and Daniel to be a little concerned.
“Sproglet, is everything okay?” Daniel inquired.
“I feel bad not telling you what I'm doing,” Little Danny admitted.
Jack knelt down and put his hands on his son's upper arms, saying, “Son, we are so proud of you for wanting to do this. Secrets aren't always bad.”
Little Danny smiled and replied, “You aren't mad at me?”
“I love you,” Jack responded.
“I love you, too, Little Danny,” Daniel added as he stood behind his soulmate. “Go tell Mommy some more secrets,” he encouraged.
“You're the best parents in the whole universe!” the little boy exclaimed, turning and running back to put the finishing touches on his section of the project.
“He's so sensitive,” Daniel commented with concern.
Jack nodded, standing up and placing his hand on the small of Daniel's back, rubbing soothingly as the two men continued to watch their brood complete their project.
“How's it going?” Billy asked as he and Jilly walked in.
“They're working hard,” Jack answered.
“We're going over to Sophia's now,” Jilly stated.
“You could come with us,” Jack replied.
“Bro, this is private, for your family. Sophia is going to show us some more of the sights and take us to dinner at ...” Billy paused, glanced at his wife, and asked, “What was the name of that place?”
“The Olive Garden,” Jilly answered. “We'll have a nice time, and you won't need to worry about us,” she added, looking at Jack and Daniel.
“Are you sure?” Daniel inquired.
Billy nodded, saying, “Besides, we have some Christmas shopping to do, and Sophia's going to help us. You take care of your little ones.”
After exchanging appreciative smiles, Billy and Jilly left the home to walk next door to Mrs. Valissi's. They were looking forward to getting to know the woman better and doing some holiday shopping. Plus, they knew the rest of the day would be very emotional for the Jackson-O'Neill children, and the truth was, they simply didn't want to interfere with that. Thus, hand in hand, the couple went on their way.
Ninety minutes later, the entire Jackson-O'Neill family, including Bijou and Katie, were at the highest point they could reach at Pike's Peak. Jack had taken some back roads to get them to where they were. Most of the children had traveled in the SUV with him, but Jennifer and Brianna came with Daniel in the truck, keeping the project safe as they traveled.
“This is perfect, Dad!” Little Danny exclaimed.
It had rained earlier in the day, but now it was clear. There was a nice breeze, but it wasn't so strong that it made things unmanageable or uncomfortable.
“Everyone get your project,” Jack urged as the children hustled out of the SUV and hurried to the truck. “Hang on tight,” he reminded.
As the children were getting their items together, Jack reached in and placed the appropriate CD into the SUV's CD player. He selected the appropriate track and then waited for the brood, watching as Daniel used the portable helium machine to fill the special environmentally-friendly balloons.
A few minutes later, the entire Jackson-O'Neill brood stood in a long line, each holding at least one balloon, and a few of them holding more. Inside each of the balloons was a handwritten note. Some, like Little Danny, included some little memento as well.
“Ready?” Jack asked.
Looking up towards the heavens, the children nodded or gave affirmative responses. Jack turned on the CD, turning the volume up loudly, and when he did, Mark Wills began to sing “The Balloon Song.”
I set a friend of mine up on a date
And I told him I'd watch his boy for the day
And we had a ball playin' games, eatin' dogs
Riding rides at the county fair
I thought he was just being a kid
When we got back to my place
And he did what he did
On a balloon that he won
He wrote mama I had fun
I missed you and I wished you were there
I wasn't sure what he had in mind
In their own time, some whispering encouraging words, the children let go of their balloons, releasing their messages of love upward.
He let it go, he waved goodbye, or was it hello?
I don't know but I died inside
I can still see his excitement
Him pointing and smilin'
When it was gone as it could get
He turned and asked me
You think it's in Heaven yet?
“Fly to Mommy,” Little Danny encouraged his full balloon. “I love you, Mommy!”
Well I struggled for something to say
I was too choked up and
Lackin' the kind of faith he had in his heart
Before I could start
He walked me back inside
He gave me his Crayola pen
Said, I bet there's a message that you'd like to send
And no doubt he was right it's been locked
Up inside since Grandpa said goodbye
I took that yellow balloon and I wrote
'Til I ran out of room then
Daniel suddenly took out a pen and paper. He wrote a note as his lover watched, and then he placed it in a new balloon. He looked at Jack with a tear in his eye.
“I miss them,” Daniel confided as he joined their children and released his own balloon to the winds. “Mom, Dad, I'm okay now. I'm better than okay, and I really wish you were here to see that.”
Daniel felt a little hand in his. He looked down and saw his namesake smiling up at him.
“Grandma and Grandpa are living in your heart, Daddy,” Little Danny stated. “Jen said so.”
“Jen's very wise,” Daniel squeaked out, looking up at his flying balloon.
~I can't believe I'm doing this. Yes, I can.~ Suddenly, Jack breezed by his lover, holding his own balloon. As he released it, he said aloud, “Mom, Dad, Charlie, Grandpa, Grandma -- Everyone, I have a miracle. Billy's alive, and I have Danny and our children. Thank you for the miracles.”
Aislinn joined her father, raising her hands for him to pick her up, which he did.
“I love you, Dad,” the little girl spoke.
“I love you, too, Little Miracle,” Jack spoke.
I let it go and we waved goodbye
That seven year old
Lord he opened my eyes
I can still see his excitement
Him pointing and smilin'
When it was gone as it could get
I turned and asked him
You think it's in Heaven yet?
As the song approached its end, Daniel's mouth opened as the family took in a wondrous sight.
“It's a rainbow,” David commented. “Isn't it beautiful?”
“Very,” Jennifer agreed, believing that nothing could make the day more complete. She had no idea that her concept of using “The Balloon Song” to help Little Danny deliver his gift would be so emotional and intense, but right now, she felt good and loved, and she was very glad she'd thought of it. “Life is a miracle,” she whispered.
As their balloons soared, some of the children thought about their notes they'd written.
Brianna gave up on being tough and let a tear or two fall as she replayed her four-word note in her mind -- ~I forgive you, Mom.~
Jonny used the back of his hand to wipe away his tears as he thought, “I promise, Mommy. Charlie, I double promise.”
~Love you, Mommy. Daddy, miss you, too,~ Chenoa thought, but she was all smiles with her remembrances, Daniel's efforts earlier in the year having provided her with a healing of sorts. “Mommy, you're so pretty,” she said aloud for all to hear.
~I'm doing okay, Dad,~ Jeff thought about his note.
“Look how high they're going,” Jenny observed, her arm extended upward. “Daddy, do you think Mommy will get them?”
“And Charlie?” Ricky asked.
“And Grandma and Grandpa?” Little Danny inquired.
“And ... and ... everyone?” Lulu asked hesitantly, knowing she'd sent notes to both her birth parents and her first adoptive parents, four people who truly had loved her but lost their lives tragically.
“Yes, I think they'll get them,” Jack answered for his husband, who was a bit speechless at the moment, lost in the magic of the shared moment.
“Look, they're going to the clouds!” Brianna remarked with amazement.
“Wow!” Jennifer exclaimed, not realizing she was walking forward as she searched for the balloons.
“Jack, is it just me, or was there just a ... a ...” Daniel began.
“They're gone!” Aislinn exclaimed as Jack put her down onto the grass, squinting and cocking his head at what he had just witnessed.
“Daniel, I could have sworn I just saw hands scoop up the balloons,” Jack weakly observed. “Danny?”
Artwork by Susie Custard
“THEY GOT THEM!” Little Danny shouted, jumping up and down. “Mommy got her balloons!”
“I saw her hands!” Jenny said, jumping up and down excitedly, too.
“Woof!” both Bijou and Katie added, their tails wagging wildly at the clouds in the sky.
The children began to cheer, their eyes glued to the clouds, noticing that the rainbow seemed to end there, at the point where the hands had seemingly taken hold of their gifts and messages. They hugged and began to sing a few lines of their family song, “Celebrate Me Home.”
Meanwhile, with Bijou and Katie still looking up to the skies, too, Jack and Daniel took hold of each other's hands.
“I don't know, Danny,” Jack answered.
“They're here; they're always here,” Daniel spoke as tears fell.
Jack pulled Daniel into a tender embrace, agreeing, “You're right, Angel.”
After a moment, the soulmates looked up again. The children were still cheering, still dancing, and still so excited about the experience. Then the CD automatically recycled, starting “The Balloon Song” again.
As his hands warmed his lover's back, the silver-gray haired man pondered reverently, “Death is not the end, Danny. It can't be. You've proved that more times than I care to count.”
“Don't remind me,” Daniel tried to chuckle in response.
“If love is a miracle, and I truly believe it is the greatest miracle of all,” Jack opined, continuing, “then I wonder what might be happening up there as a result of this tremendous outpouring of love from all these hearts to so many hearts who've gone before. Who knows? Maybe they're all drawn together as we are by the love we share for each other and for them.”
“Maybe,” Daniel wondered quietly as he stared up towards the rainbow's end while still leaning his head against his husband's shoulder.
Up above the clouds, at the rainbow's end, Kayla smiled, saying, “Oh, Ash has the prettiest hair. I wish I could brush it sometimes.”
“Jonny better keep his promise,” Charlie replied as he sat on William O'Neill's lap.
“You keep after him,” Melburn Jackson advised.
“Our son is so happy, Mel,” Claire spoke softly. She looked over at Elizabeth O'Neill and said, “Thank you for raising such a fine man.”
Elizabeth smiled in acknowledgement and said, “Here's another one for you, Kayla.”
“Thank you, Grandma,” Kayla responded.
~For me?~ Out in the distance, a sad woman grabbed her balloon and read her message, heavenly tears falling from her essence afterward. ~Thank you for forgiving me, Brianna, but I don't deserve it,~ she thought.
Charlie asked, “Grandma, why is she so far away from us?”
Elizabeth and Claire both looked over at the woman and beckoned her, saddened when the woman just disappeared.
“She isn't ready to join us yet, Charlie,” Elizabeth answered. “She can't until she forgives herself.”
“We'll keep on trying,” Claire added. She looked over towards the next cloud and smiled. “Ellen, that's a lovely picture Noa drew for you.”
“Thank you, Claire,” Ellen Morgan responded. She leaned against her husband and sighed, “I was so afraid for them for so long.”
“They're happy now, Ellen,” Phil Morgan replied. “David is even playing hockey now.”
“Now I'm not so sure I like that,” Ellen responded. “That's so rough.”
“He has parents to protect him on Earth,” Phil reminded.
Looking down through the clouds at Jack and Daniel, Ellen smiled and replied, “Yes, he does. Jennifer had a hard year, but she's growing up now. I can't wait to meet all those aunts of hers,” she chuckled.
Harriet Hunter sighed, having overheard the conversation. She'd always wanted to have a big family, but she died prematurely of cancer, leaving her husband alone to raise their only child.
“Harriett, smile,” Nelson Hunter cajoled. “Life, and after-life, is all good.”
“Amen to that, Nels,” Harriett chuckled. “Our Jeff has a huge family now, doesn't he?”
“And, it's growing,” Kayla called out, referring to Bean Sprout.
“Thank you for letting us share in this,” Lulu's adoptive mother, Debbie Barton, spoke lovingly.
“Lulu didn't forget you, either of you,” Mia Lewis said gratefully to the adoptive parents who had cared for their precious baby for a year after their deaths.
“If I could hate, I'd hate the Guyers,” Debbie replied. “I'm so sorry we let you down.”
“But you didn't,” Robert Lewis spoke. “Look at our Lulu. She's becoming a whole person again. She remembers all of us.”
“Dear, she still has so far to go,” Mia spoke.
“She'll get there. With that family loving her, she'll get there,” Robert assured confidently.
Nearby, Tina, a beautiful Golden Retriever who had been one of Jack's beloved pets, with other animal family members behind her, let out a mighty bark, one that transcended the boundaries of life and death.
Down on the ground, Jack and Daniel continued to embrace, well aware that miracles did happen. After all, in their eyes, their family was a miracle.
“Can you imagine what they must think of big brood?” Jack questioned.
“Yeah, I ... I think I can,” Daniel responded, his eyes closed as he took in the love of both of those gathered on Pike's Peak and those who were no longer on Earth. “I feel them, Jack,” he confided softly.
“Me, too, Danny. Me, too,” Jack intoned. “What's with them?” he asked a few moments later, having noticed a change in their two beagles.
“I have no idea,” Daniel responded, curiously watching as the dogs cocked their heads, both suddenly having assumed 'the point' position.
“Mama, who was that?” Katie asked in dog-speak.
“I believe she said her name was Tina, Dear,” Bijou told her daughter.
“Was that a warning, Mama?” the youngest dog asked, looking at her mother.
“Yes, Pup, I believe it was. We must continue to protect our family. They rely on us,” Bijou asserted.
“Should we answer Tina?” Katie woofed.
With a tiny grunt, Bijou answered that they should and surprised Jack and Daniel when they suddenly began to bark up a storm as their communication with Tina continued.
“Jack, they aren't ... barking at something, are they?” Daniel asked. “I mean, uh, they almost look and sound like they're ... uh, well, like they're ...”
“... talking,” Jack observed. “Maybe they are, Danny -- on some level, anyway.”
As the family celebrated, Bijou and Katie gave their own message to the beloved pets that had passed before them, that no matter what, they would keep their family safe.
“They're miracles, too, Jack,” Daniel proclaimed about their precious pups.
“They sure are,” Jack agreed. “Hey, get over here, Ragamuffins!” he called out, prompting the two beagles to come running. “Who were you talking to?”
“Woof!” Bijou answered.
“Of course, you were,” Jack laughed as he rubbed his hands energetically against the oldest beagle's floppy ears.
At that moment, Little Danny walked up to his sister and said, “Jen, I wish Mommy could answer.”
Jennifer leaned over, smiled, and asked, “How do you feel in your heart right now?”
“My heart's gonna burst, Jen!” Little Danny answered happily.
“Mommy did answer, Little Danny,” Jennifer replied softly. “She answered in your heart. That's why it feels *so* full right now, like it's gonna *explode* if you don't jump up and shout right this very minute.”
Little Danny grinned and excitedly ran over to tell his fellow Munchkins what Jennifer had said. As he did so, Jennifer let out a happy sigh, her eyes still focused on the young boy.
“What a journey, Kayla,” Jennifer spoke quietly. She looked back up where she, too, could have sworn that she saw hands scooping up their balloons just minutes earlier. “Mom, Dad, Kayla, thank you for loving me. I hope my journey is full and that I never let you down. I love you all.”
Smiling, Jennifer rejoined her brothers and sisters, and the family celebration continued. The Jackson-O'Neills didn't take their miracles for granted, for each one provided them a resolve to be the best they could be. Just like Jennifer, each felt a renewal and prayed their contributions in life would be meaningful.
“Let's go home,” Jack suggested a bit later.
“Bye, Mommy!” Little Danny shouted as he waved up at the skies.
Several good-bye shouts were given to all their closest relatives who had passed. When the children and the beagles were safely seated in the vehicles, Jack and Daniel walked to stand together between the SUV and the truck. They smiled, and then they kissed.
“We're blessed, Jack,” Daniel softly opined.
Jack nodded, looked up at the sky, and whispered, “We sure are, Angel. Bye, Folks. Don't be strangers.”
“Thank you,” Daniel spoke to the heavens. He looked back at Jack, gazing into the chocolate brown eyes that made him swoon. “I love you, Jack.”
“Geez, Danny, I love you so friggin' much I can barely breathe,” Jack replied.
“Keep breathing, Babe,” Daniel mused. “I have plans for us tonight.”
“I do like the sound of that,” Jack replied, leaning in for another kiss. “See you back at the farm,” he chuckled as he headed back for the SUV.
Daniel laughed as he walked to the truck, wondering just how he'd lucked out so much in life to have a wonderful husband and such an awesome family.
It had been a terrific day, one every Jackson-O'Neill family member was happy to have experienced and would never forget.
It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, only two Jackson-O'Neills were still stirring.
Jack stood back and surveyed the huge mound of presents under the tree. They were all there now, except for the one he was holding in his hand.
With the brood, as well as Billy and Jilly fast asleep, the lovers were on their own at their moment. The O'Neills had volunteered to stay up and help with the presents, but Jack and Daniel told them it wasn't necessary, and, in fact, it was a special tradition both wanted to keep to themselves.
“Jack?” Daniel called out as he entered the room, carrying two glasses of eggnog. Seeing the look on Jack's face, he put the glasses down and slid his arms around his lover. “You don't have to give it to him. After all, we did tell him that he had to wait until he was older before he could touch a gun again.”
Jack looked at the brightly wrapped envelope in his hands. It contained a piece of paper, a kind of IOU for an afternoon at the SGC shooting range with Jack. It hadn't taken much to persuade General Hammond to bend the rules and allow Jonny access to the range. The man was happy to do anything that contributed to keeping his grandson safe, and he had agreed that teaching Jonny about firearms was probably a good way to do that.
Jack shook his head and resolutely placed the gift down with the others, saying, “No. We've talked about this for weeks. I think it's a good idea, and if there is anyone that can impress upon Jonny the need to respect a firearm, it's Colonel Giardini.”
Daniel smiled, knowing that was true. Colonel Vincent Giardini was the man who ran the SGC shooting range, and he wouldn't tolerate anyone on 'his range' that didn't respect their weapons or the damage they could do. As a veteran of Vietnam and the Gulf Wars, he was well aware of the damage a gun could inflict, and he made certain that every soldier who came through his range knew it, too.
“I think we're doing the right thing, Jack,” the younger man opined. “Jonny listened well when we took all the children to the Academy range.”
“But it didn't deter him,” Jack sighed.
“No, it didn't.” Daniel nuzzled his head against Jack's back as his hands warmed his husband's abdomen. He, too, let out a sigh, and then replied, “Would it have deterred you?”
Jack twisted around so that he was facing his husband, reluctantly shaking his head and answering with a soft, “No.”
“Jack, he's serious about his promise to Charlie, but we're not helping him by treating weapons like a mystery to be solved or something to be feared instead of respected. I think we both realized that fact that day on Plantacia. He's ... he's interested in weapons, just like he's interested in covert ops. He's *your* son, Babe, and he has *all* of the same instincts you do. An occasional hour on the range with someone like Colonel Giardini is a good thing ... for Jonny,” Daniel asserted.
“The rest of the brood isn't interested,” Jack stated more as a question, his soul seeking verification.
Daniel smiled, replying, “No. I saw some minor interest by a couple of them, but mostly, they wanted to get home and have some ice cream.” He caressed his lover cheek and repeated, “We're doing the right thing for our son.”
“I hope so, Danny,” the older man responded, looking down at the package.
“We are,” Daniel affirmed and leaned in to kiss his husband. “I brought us eggnog,” he reminded, motioning with his head at the glasses.
The lovers sat down in front of the ebbing fire and toasted their love with the eggnog.
“Angel, there is no getting around the fact that our kids want to be like us,” Jack spoke after a few minutes of quiet reflection.
The younger man sighed, replying, “That's why I'm giving Little Danny his gift.”
Jack smiled, commenting, “An afternoon of Goa'uld 101 -- any kid's dream.”
“It is for Little Danny,” Daniel spoke seriously. “Jack, I'm not sure that's totally the right thing, either, but he taught himself so much. He knows about the Stargate, and he knows there are bad guys with glowy eyes out there. I don't want to tell him the horror stories, but it's pointless to shield him from the truth anymore.”
Nodding, Jack admitted, “Charlie was always curious, but I shut him out. He wanted to know about what I did and the weapons, but I just told him 'no'.”
Shaking his head rapidly, the military man assured, “I'm not blaming myself. I know it was an accident, and we can't play the 'what if' game.”
“But ...” Daniel prodded.
“Charlie was angry at me, and he was curious. Put those two things together, and it spelled little boy getting into tragic trouble. I won't let that happen to Jonny,” Jack promised.
“At the Academy, Jonny was very focused. Babe, he loves big honkin' weapons just like you do. Respect and safety -- that's what we need to make sure he learns. So, being a good parent means sometimes we do things we'd rather not do,” Daniel opined.
“Like time on the range for Jonny and translation lessons for Little Danny,” Jack surmised.
“In the last two months, neither one of them has done a thing wrong. Well, except for the lizard caper, but ...”
“Boys will be boys,” Jack finished, nodding.
Daniel cocked his head to the side, saying, “Well, yeah, and Little Danny has come to me three times with questions about what he's read. He's asked me to show him things,” Daniel reminded.
“Yeah, and Jonny won't break his promise to Charlie. At the Gardner's the other day, he refused to play with Matt's toy gun. The boys were giving him a hard time, but I was so proud of him. He told them he didn't need a gun to win at their war games,” Jack stated.
“He did win,” Daniel commented. “He told me his squad captured the red brigade.”
“With ingenuity,” Jack spoke with pride. With a sigh, he added with strength, “We're doing the right thing, even though it hurts a little.”
“Eggnog?” Daniel asked.
“Kiss,” Jack countered.
As Daniel met the demand, the soulmates relaxed together, gaining strength from their neverending love.
“Do you think we can wake them up yet?” a voice asked.
Jack grunted as the rather loud voices coming from outside their bedroom door filtered through his subconscious. He yawned and listened as Jonny and Little Danny continued their conversation.
“They said not before seven,” Little Danny answered.
~Atta boy, Little Danny,~ Jack thought, enjoying the warmth of their bed.
“Crap!” Jonny exclaimed.
“Jonny!” Little Danny admonished.
Jack grinned and looked down at his sleeping husband. Daniel snuffled in his sleep and seemed to burrow further into Jack, who began carding his fingers through his soulmate's hair.
“Hey, let's go and squeeze the presents Santa brought,” Jonny suggested to his brother.
~You are absolutely incorrigible, Jonny,~ Jack thought. ~Chip off the ole block,~ he mused, chuckling softly out loud.
“We better wake up Ash,” Little Danny replied, noting that, “She'll be really mad if we start without her.”
“Don't want Ash mad,” Jonny responded with a shudder.
Jack grinned at Jonny's serious tone. After one memorable occasion when Jonny and Little Danny had used one of Aislinn's dolls as a hostage, leading to the eventual capture and destruction of said doll by Katie, who thought the doll hidden in her sandpit was a new toy, the two boys had been wary of raising their sister's ire. Jack had never realized Aislinn could yell quite so loudly.
The voices faded as the boys headed towards Aislinn's bedroom although Jack could still hear snatches of the continuing conversation.
“Breakfast ... bed...”
“... ages ... up ...”
Jack looked down at Daniel again, thinking, ~Well, Danny, I figure we have about ten minutes before all the kids are up.~ He tensed suddenly. ~Oh no, they wouldn't. Not without Jen, Jeff, Bri, or David. Who am I kidding? Of course, they would.~
The older man was assailed by memories of the last time the Munchkins had tried to make their parents breakfast in bed. He and Daniel had managed to swallow the scrambled eggs with fragments of eggshells, the charcoal-covered toast, and the Froot Loops that had been improved by being served with ice cream instead of milk. Then they'd gone downstairs to find the kitchen looking like a tornado had hit it. He debated whether to get up or not, smiling when he heard Jennifer's patient voice.
The teenage girl suggested, “How about I just make Dad and Daddy some coffee? Breakfast in bed should really be served when they can lie around for hours enjoying it.”
Jack heard the sounds of agreement from the Munchkins and smiled thankfully.
~Okay, Danny, time to start waking up,~ Jack decided.
After getting dressed, the lovers walked downstairs where they were met by a bunch of excited children.
“Merry Christmas, Jack,” Daniel whispered as their Christmas morning began.
“Merry Christmas to you, too, Angel,” Jack replied softly before letting Chenoa and Lulu drag him over to the Christmas tree.
“Santa left lots of presents!” Jenny exclaimed.
~Wish he'd left me some cash to pay the bills,~ Jack mused.
Unlike their present opening the night before, Christmas morning was a free-for-all. The children had one rule to follow -- be respectful while opening their gifts, meaning don't throw the gift wrap and tissue paper on top of their siblings. Jack and Daniel settled down on the carpet, Bijou and Katie on their laps, and watched as the children discovered all of Santa's presents and began to play with them.
Watching as the last of the presents were being opened, Jack and Daniel knew they were very popular parents at the moment. All the children were having a marvelous time with their gifts. There hadn't been a sour expression in the bunch upon opening a package and seeing its contents.
Jennifer was ecstatic about her weaving equipment, and Jonny had gazed at his IOU for the shooting range in disbelief for a full minute before breaking into a huge grin and launching himself at Jack.
“Little Danny, you have one more,” Jonny said as he pulled out a thick-sized present and handed it to his brother, watching as his fellow triplet carefully undid the paper.
“Just rip the paper off, Little Danny,” Ricky urged, anxious to see the present.
Little Danny shook his head, then caught sight of what seemed to be underneath the wrapping. He still didn't carelessly rip the paper off, but he did begin unwrapping it much more quickly. A few seconds later, the little boy was staring at the papers in his hands with a mixture of hope and disbelief on his face.
“Are ... are they real?” Little Danny asked Daniel hopefully. When Daniel nodded, and just like Jonny had earlier, the middle Munchkin ran to Daniel, hugging him tightly. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you,” he murmured, after which he hugged and thanked his older father, too.
Little Danny returned his attention to his gift -- a photograph of a wall that was covered in writing, along with notes that the SGC linguists had made. Those linguists had been forced to discard the work upon discovering that the symbols didn't lead to any valuable resources for the SGC and pressure had been applied to move on to other tasks.
“Son, these are photos of the wall where the writing was found and a few notes about the planet where it was found,” Daniel explained, having selected that particular translation because it came from a long deserted world that showed no sign of ever having been touched by the Goa'uld. “Just remember, Little Danny, it's a secret. You can't show that to anyone who doesn't already know about the Stargate.”
**Do you have any idea what language that is, Daniel?** Jack inquired using their telepathic-like communication.
**Not a clue. I haven't had a chance to research it in detail, but the translators couldn't make heads or tails of it. It should keep him busy for a very long time,** Daniel pointed out.
**You're brilliant, Angel, but Little Danny loves a challenge. I wouldn't be too surprised if he ...**
**Jack, don't even think it,** Daniel replied.
Little Danny looked at his father with joy etched all over his face. He was reading the promise note for a full afternoon of working on another secret alien language that went along with this extra discovery. He wished he had the words to say how good he felt, but all he could do was hug Daniel again.
“Is that the ... Gold people?” Little Danny queried.
“We'll talk about that during our special afternoon, okay?” Daniel responded.
“This is the best Christmas ever, Daddy!” Little Danny exclaimed as he ran over to show his present to Jonny in more detail.
The adults watched the children playing with their gifts for a while longer.
“It was the right thing to do, right, Jack?” Daniel questioned softly, suddenly needing his own verification that teaching his namesake alien languages, including basic Goa'uld, was okay.
“It's the right thing,” Jack affirmed, placing a kiss on his lover's temple.
“It's almost funny how much the Munchkins are like us; well, Jonny is just like you, and Little Danny is like me. Ash? Ash, she's ...”
“She's the best of both worlds,” Jack responded quietly.
“She's like Kayla in some ways,” Daniel opined.
“Beautiful, adventurous, unafraid ...” Jack began, referring to both Kayla and Aislinn.
“Bro, this has been an awesome Christmas morning,” Billy stated as he walked over to join the parents.
“It's lucky for you, Billy, that we have a room where the kids can practice that didgeridoo,” Jack teased as they watched Jilly teach Jenny how to play the musical instrument, which was from the Aboriginal peoples of Australia and consisted of a long hollow branch that made a deep droning sound when blown into. “That thing is bigger than she is,” he chuckled.
The Plantacia O'Neills had brought the didgeridoo back from Australia along with a number of other things which, much to the children's disappointment, didn't include a pet koala or kangaroo.
“Next time, you bring us a koala, okay?” Ricky asked.
“I draw the line at koalas. We'll see one when we go visit Billy and Jilly,” Jack spoke, not allowing Billy to answer Ricky's demanding query.
“Okay,” Ricky agreed, returning to his toy of choice at the moment.
“I am absolutely stuffed!” Jack exclaimed, leaning back and patting his abdomen in a satisfied manner.
“Does that mean you don't have room for any plum pudding?” Jilly asked her brother-in-law.
“I'm stuffed, not crazy,” Jack mused. “I always have room for pudding!” he said, looking down at his still-slender body.
“Good, because you have to try the plum pudding ice cream I made,” Jilly told him.
“Plum pudding 'cream?” Jenny asked, her ears picking up the mention of ice cream.
“Yes,” Jilly answered, smiling at the red-headed little girl. “For me, Christmas just isn't Christmas without plum pudding ice cream. It's what we always have at Christmas in Australia because its summer over there at the moment.”
“You mean it's hot there now?” Ricky asked. After Jilly nodded, the little boy turned to his parents, asking, “Dad, Daddy, when are we going to visit Uncle Billy and Aunt Jilly in 'stralia?”
Daniel immediately began clearing the table, and once he had a handful of plates, smiled at Ricky, replying, “I think that's a question for your Dad,” after which he beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen, leaving a rather stunned husband in his wake.
Jack looked around at the hopeful faces of his children and sighed, “I don't know when, Kids, but we will go and visit them one day.”
“Promise?” Chenoa asked.
Jack hesitated, playing a little game with their brood. His pause was immediately met with scowls from the younger members of the brood while Jennifer, Jeff, Brianna, and David smirked.
“Fine, I promise,” Jack spoke, inwardly smiling at the brood's behavior. Hastily he added more fuel to the fire, adding, “but I'm not promising when.”
“That's okay, Dad,” Brianna said with a grin. “I'm sure we'll all let you know when we want to go.”
The girl's statement was met with vigorous nods from her siblings as well as laughter from Billy and Jilly.
~That's my girl,~ Jack proudly smirked to himself.
“Jack told me you were an artist, Billy, but I had no idea you were, uh, good,” Daniel mused appreciatively as he stood back and took in the large painting Billy had given the couple for Christmas.
“Danny, is it straight?” Jack asked from his spot atop the ladder.
“Yes, but it needs to go a bit to the right ... no, too far ... a smidge to the left ... yes .. no, Jack, I said a smidge, not an inch,” Daniel rambled.
“Daniel, there is no such thing as a smidge,” Jack argued as he looked downward at his lover, noticing the amused expression on his brother's face.
“Sure, there is, Babe; it's between a tad and a bit,” Daniel replied.
“Of course, it is,” Jack responded dryly as he shifted the colorful artwork again.
Billy chuckled softly as he spoke, “While growing up, I kept my love of art a secret from everyone but Mom and the squirt. On Plantacia, I didn't have that need.”
“Impressionism isn't easy to do,” Daniel commented. “Whoa, Jack. It's perfect horizontally, but it needs to go up a pitch.”
“A pitch?” Jack asked with wide eyes.
“An eighth of an inch, maybe a fourth,” Daniel commented.
“You've been picking up Alex's designer prattle,” Jack teased.
Jack shook his head, inwardly thinking Sara was easier to work with on hanging paintings than his lover was. Then, he frowned, remembering how it took an hour once to put up one of Charlie's school photographs. Sighing, he decided to forgo his whining and just concentrate on the task at hand.
“It's easy to paint what you see in one dimension,” Billy replied to Daniel's question. “I like to paint in multiple layers. You can still make out the colors of the Outback, but like life, they overlap.”
The archaeologist smiled, saying, “It's a great painting. I'm amazed you got it done so quickly.”
“Jilly's been so involved with trying to settle the ownership and financial matters of her spread that it gave me lots of time to do this. Besides, painting is a way for me to relax,” Billy relayed.
“It's a lovely gift, Billy. Jack and I love it,” Daniel replied, earning him a smile from his brother-in-law.
“Daniel, if I might have your attention for a moment,” Jack spoke, a bit irritated at being forgotten.
“It's perfect right there, Jack,” Daniel stated with a smile.
“Finally,” Jack quietly muttered as he made the appropriate marks, pounded in the nail, and hung their special Christmas present from his brother. After climbing down the ladder, Jack joined the other two men and smiled. “It looks great. Thanks, Bro.”
“You're welcome, Squirt,” Billy replied.
Jack gave his brother a look and said, “Can't you use another nickname?”
“Of course, I can ... Slim,” Billy mused as he turned and walked out of the master bedroom.
“Smart aleck,” Jack mumbled.
Laughing, Daniel turned and began to follow Billy as he accused, “Takes one to know one, Love.”
“Of course, it does,” Jack responded dryly. Looking up at the painting, he smiled. “Life is good. Life is very, very good.”
Several hours after their family meal, everyone was still feeling too full of food to move much. Thus, the entire Jackson-O'Neill family, with the exception of Jilly who was upstairs watching Bean Sprout, had settled down to play monopoly. One of Jonny's gifts had been a rare collectors version of the Wormhole X-treme! edition of monopoly. He'd been wanting to play it all day. After all, it was the closest they could get to a Stargate version of the game.
Daniel looked around at his family and smiled, communicating, **We're so lucky, Jack.**
Jack smiled at his husband as he moved his spaceship counter along the monopoly board and replied, **You won't get any arguments from me on that score.**
Daniel exchanged a loving look with his soulmate, but then became distracted as something caught his attention.
**Jack, watch Jen for a minute.**
Having finished his turn now, Jack spent the next couple of minutes surreptitiously watching their eldest daughter and soon realized what Daniel had seen. The teenager was happily playing the game with her siblings, but every now and then, she'd gaze wistfully in the direction of the room where they'd put the weaving equipment she'd been given for Christmas.
**She really wants to go play with her loom, doesn't she?** Jack asked, feeling a rush of love for their daughter, knowing that she was putting her siblings before herself.
**Yes. She hasn't really had a chance to explore it or even try it out yet because she's been playing with the brood all day, watching Bean Sprout, or helping us in the kitchen.**
**It's almost bedtime for the littlest broodkins. We'll give them another ten minutes and then begin the bedtime routine. That'll give Jen time to play with the loom before her bedtime,** Jack suggested.
Daniel nodded at his lover, silently refuting, **Somehow I don't think Jen will see it as 'playing' with her loom, Love.**
**Hmmm, you might be right there.**
It was amid many protests that the youngest children were hustled off to bed a short time later, only going quietly once their parents had reassured them that they could continue the game the following day. As they herded the younger members of the brood upstairs to their respective bedrooms, the two men smiled at the sight of Jennifer making a beeline for the rec room and the loom.
“We survived another Christmas day,” Jack chuckled the day after Christmas.
“It was the best Christmas,” Daniel sighed as he buttoned his shirt.
“You say that every year,” Jack mused, pulling his tan shirt over his head.
“That's because every year is the best year,” the younger man commented with a smile.
Jack thought for a moment and chuckled, “You're right again.”
Just then, they heard a small beep, alerting them to someone being on their porch. It was only six-thirty in the morning, and in their bedroom, they wouldn't hear the knocker. When on, their security system, however, always alerted them to the presence of anyone around their home.
“It's a little early for visitors,” a concerned Jack spoke as he zipped up and buttoned his pants.
“Yeah, let's go see who it is,” Daniel suggested as he buckled his belt.
The two hurried downstairs, going immediately to the kitchen where they had a security monitor hidden behind a chalk board.
“Alex Dennison?” Jack stated as a question.
Daniel smiled, observing, “He's not alone, Babe.”
“No, no, he's not alone,” Jack smirked as the two observed Alex and Sunny kissing on the front porch. As they headed for the door, he admitted, “I never thought I'd see the day that Alex would show up here in casual attire and smooching on our doorstep.”
Daniel chuckled, “It was one kiss, but he did look like he was enjoying it.” As he put his hand on the doorknob, he quietly added, “And for casual dress, he still looks pretty immaculate.”
“Alex, Sunny!” Jack exclaimed once Daniel held the door ajar.
“I know it's early,” Alex apologized before saying anything else. “We're on our way to Switzerland for the New Year, and we spent the holidays in Barbados. Just dropped by to bring these,” the man said, pointing towards his shiny yellow Jaguar.
“You brought us a Jaguar?” Jack quizzed.
Laughing, Alex replied, “No, Jack, that baby is all mine. It's what is in front of the Jaguar that we brought.”
“Boxes,” Daniel observed.
“Alex!” Sunny chastised, lovingly patting his arm. She looked back at Daniel, explaining, “They're presents. He's just toying with you.”
“Alex -- toying?” an amazed Jack chuckled.
“Yes, it's me, thanks to Sunny's influence,” Alex cheerfully admitted.
After bringing in the boxes that were loaded with gifts, Jack and Daniel invited Alex and Sunny to have some coffee and breakfast rolls with them, warning them that the children could start making appearances at most anytime, unless they chose to sleep in until the breakfast call.
“We don't have long,” Alex commented. At that moment, his cell phone went off. He looked at it, made a face, and put the device back in his pocket. ~It can wait.~
Daniel looked at the designer questioningly, unable to resist the urge to ask, “You're *not* going to answer it?”
Alex explained, “It's a client who doesn't believe in sleep or one day off in seven. Come to think of it, I'm not sure he knows what a vacation is.” Seeing Daniel grin, he added, “Okay, okay, so it took me a few decades to learn that myself, but,” he looked at Sunny and gave her a quick kiss, “I know now, and that client can wait a week, or hire someone else.”
“Alex, you've come a long way,” Jack stated as he served the coffee.
“That's what everyone keeps telling me,” Sunny chuckled. “But I think you all must be exaggerating. Alex has been extremely attentive since we met last March.”
“Still not as much attention as he paid to his work,” Jack teased. “Heck, he even pulled an all-nighter, once.”
“Well, actually, there was one night ...” the beautiful woman said in a Mae West tone of voice.
“Okay, no more comparisons, please,” the designer said as he blushed.
“Alex, you remind me of me that day in the park,” Daniel teased. “What happened to the bold, brazen, sophisticated, man-of-the-world?”
“He found someone who stole his sophistication, along with his heart,” Alex lovingly replied.
Jack made a gesture indicating he was gagging.
“Jack, be nice!” Daniel admonished before turning to Alex and Sunny and stage whispering, “He's a child sometimes.”
“But he loves me,” Jack smugly said.
“Gawd, don't remind me,” Daniel joked, looking away as if the thought were repelling to him.
As the chat progressed, Alex became a bit distracted, looking around the rec room and hospitality room with curiosity.
“Alex, is something wrong?” Daniel asked.
“No, uh, I don't think ... I'm not ... have I been replaced?” the designer asked.
“What?” both Jack and Daniel spoke in unison.
“This rug is incredible, the way it blends in with the Egyptian motif of the tile,” Alex commented about the rug that was at the entrance of the hospitality room.
“We're pretty proud of it,” Jack commented. “Jen gave it to us for Christmas.”
“Along with these place mats, the pillows on the sectionals, and this table runner,” Daniel proudly added, reaching out to run his fingers along the material.
“Where'd she buy them, do you know?” Alex asked, wondering how he could have missed out on the items that correlated so well to the decor of the hospitality room.
“She made them,” Daniel answered.
“Made them?” Alex questioned, getting up and actually kneeling down to examine the weaving. “These are handmade with a loom, a good one,” he said, his expression not hiding his surprise.
“Yeah,” Jack confirmed.
“Jennifer has a loom?” Alex asked, standing up and walking over to examine the pillows more closely.
“As of yesterday, yes, well, a couple of them now, but she made these with our neighbor's loom,” Daniel reported.
“Except for the rug,” Jack corrected.
“That's right. She wove that last weekend at a seminar,” Daniel explained.
“Weekend?” Sunny interjected. “I can't imagine creating this in a week, let alone a weekend. Isn't that fast, Alex?”
“Yes, it is. She's very good,” Alex remarked, putting down the pillow and returning to the table. He picked up the place mat, saying, “She must have done this first, then the pillows, and the runner. The rug was definitely the last piece she made.” Seeing the confusion on the couple's faces, he explained, “The complexity has increased as has the quality. I can see how she's progressed. She's very good,” he repeated with admiration.
“Alex, I hate to say this, but ...” Sunny began, a look of regret on her face.
“Our plane! We have to go,” Alex spoke apologetically. “Give the children our love,” he requested.
“Before or after the gifts?” Jack chuckled.
After seeing their surprise guests off, Jack and Daniel returned to the hospitality room to start in on breakfast.
“That's quite a compliment Jen just received,” Daniel commented, pulling out the cartons of eggs.
“Makes me feel a little better about buying the looms,” Jack admitted.
“Mrs. Valissi told us Jen was good for her age and experience,” Daniel added.
“Waffles, pancakes, or omelets?” Jack asked. He smiled as Daniel glared. “Right, all of the above. We have our brood, plus Billy and Jilly to feed.”
“Today's the day?” Daniel asked the next day, smiling at Jack who was wearing his grizzly bear expression.
The family had spent Boxing Day, better known as December 26, recovering from Christmas Day, learning about the Australian holiday from Billy and Jilly, and also visiting Grandpa George. Jonny had also spent the day asking his father when they could 'cash in' his 'day at the range' Christmas gift.
“I can't believe I'm doing this,” Jack grumbled. “He's not old enough, and I don't want him near guns.”
“You're backsliding, Love,” Daniel gently soothed.
“I know,” Jack sighed. “Why'd he have to take after me?” he lamented as his stomach wound up in knots.
Daniel hugged his husband tightly, replying, “You're a good role model for him, and this is a good thing you're doing. Besides, you know how seriously Colonel Giardini takes his job. He's not going to cross the line, but he's certainly going to impress upon Jonny the fact that guns should be respected and handled with great care.”
Colonel Vince Giardini was a gruff but genial fellow as long as you didn't get on his bad side. A number of soldiers had found out the hard way that failing to care for their equipment, or worse, being careless with it, was a fast way of getting banned from the range and getting an official reprimand in their personnel folder. He could be intimidating, too, but as a father of three young children, he also had an amazing rapport and ability to get his message across without causing nightmares for his pupils.
“I just want to get it over and done with,” Jack whined.
“So does Jonny,” Daniel chuckled.
“Laugh it up, Dannyboy. Maybe you'll even manage to persuade Little Danny to surface for lunch,” Jack lightly teased.
When they'd woken up this morning, Little Danny was already busy at work, trying to translate the writings Daniel had given him. It had been a battle to get him to stop for long enough to have breakfast.
Daniel shook his head, opining, “I'm just impressed that he managed to wait until today actually.”
“He might love archaeology and languages, but he loves his grandpa more,” Jack intoned fondly.
Daniel smiled and nodded as they went downstairs to where a very excited Jonny was waiting for them.
Three days later, Jonny was still talking about his afternoon at the shooting range. Much to Jack and Daniel's delight, he'd developed an instant friendship with Vince Giardini and was anxious not to let his new friend down. This meant that he was seriously taking the colonel's words to heart. As a result, Jonny was studying everything there was to know about guns since Vince had told him that, “Unless you know everything about a gun, you have no business touching it.”
Since that afternoon, it was a common sight to see the two elder Munchkins bent over their work, one studying firearms and the other puzzling over an unknown language.
At the moment, Jack and Daniel were sitting in the den watching Toto when Little Danny came to the door and knocked. Receiving permission to enter, he came in and climbed onto Daniel's lap clutching a sheaf of papers. He yawned and rubbed his eyes sleepily.
“Did you ever find the pun'ser, Daddy?” the weary boy asked.
Daniel looked at the innocent blue eyes of his son in disbelief, asking, “What?”
“The pun'ser,” Little Danny repeated with a frown. “I might be pronouncing it wrong. You know, the thing that cleans like water.”
“You ... you've actually translated the wall?” an amazed Daniel inquired.
“It wasn't very hard, Daddy. Unless I got it wrong, but I don't think I did. It's a cool language, not like any Earth ones. Maybe a little like Arabic, but not,” the child prodigy stated informatively.
The little boy gave a contented sigh and closed his eyes, seeming to fall asleep almost instantly.
~Instant sleep?~ Jack wondered if he'd been getting up during the night to work on this since he seemed really tired. ~Well, he does take after his daddy.~ He stared at his husband, realizing Daniel seemed to be in a state of shock. “Danny?”
“Jack, he translated ... the SGC ... they couldn't ... a few days ... but ... he did ... it makes sense,” Daniel stammered, staring at the translation Little Danny had given him. “Words ... their order ... why didn't they see this?”
Jack was busy decoding Daniel's fragmented mutterings and was beginning to get an apprehensive feeling in his gut.
“Daniel, are you telling me that our son did a translation in a few days that your team at the SGC couldn't do?” Jack dared to asked. ~Don't tell me. Please don't tell me.~
“Uh, well, kind of,” Daniel answered. “Some members of my department worked on it for a week or so, but couldn't make much headway. There was nothing valuable found on the planet, no evidence of anything we could use, and, well, the feeling was that this ... wall didn't seem likely to lead to anything useful for the SGC. Uh, in other words, the scientific worth couldn't be ascertained in the timeframe we had available, and it seemed there was little hope of finding weapons or technology, so we couldn't spend any longer on it, but ...”
“Little Danny has done it in just a few days,” Jack finished.
“How much have we missed out on?” Daniel muttered furiously.
The linguist handed over the translation Little Danny had done, urging, “Read it, Jack.”
As the words he read sank in, Jack realized what had Daniel upset. According to Little Danny's translation, the tablet of writing described a plant that could 'clean the body', thereby preventing the body from attacking itself.
“Is this what I think it is?” Jack questioned.
Nodding, the younger man responded, “I think it's describing a plant that can prevent cancer, or who knows how many other diseases. I'll have to confirm Little Danny's translation, and there's no guarantee that this plant would even work on humans, or what the side effects of it might be. After all, the planet that we found this on was uninhabited, but ...”
“It's worth checking out. You think the translation is right, don't you?” the older man asked, wishing he hadn't at the same time.
“Jack, at the SGC, we have to pick and choose. We visit so many planets and find ruins we don't understand, but we have such little time to examine them. This might be nothing, but how many not-nothings are out there because we don't have the time to properly research it? Jack, this was buried. We spent all the time we could on it, and I can't review everything myself,” Daniel lamented.
“Angel, we do the best we can,” Jack strongly stated, adding, “That's all we can do.”
Daniel placed a kiss atop his sleeping namesake's mop of hair, tugging him close to his chest.
“You did a good job, Son, and who knows, maybe something wonderful will come of this,” Daniel softly stated.
“Or the next translation,” Jack surprised his lover in stating.
Jack shrugged, saying, “He likes it. Just make sure we don't give him anything about snakes and the nightmare stuff.”
Daniel smiled, replying, “I guess it wouldn't hurt. Gawd, who knew?”
“Good question,” Jack responded. “Let me know if you figure out the answer.”
“I'll do that,” Daniel chuckled as the parents continued to enjoy the evening, Little Danny sound asleep, and Toto protecting the soon-to-be-born miracle that Jack and Daniel eagerly awaited.
“Danny, 2011 has worn me out,” Jack spoke as the lovers shared a quiet moment on the roof deck.
There was a light snow dusting the ground, small white dots occasionally lacing the skies as they fell, but the night was otherwise clear. In a few more minutes, 2012 would be born. Downstairs, Billy and Jilly were taking care of the children, all of whom were still awake, wanting to bring in the new year together. Sam and Pete had dropped by a few minutes ago and were sitting with Toto and Bean Sprout, giving the parents-to-be this time together.
“It's been a busy year,” Daniel acknowledged.
“Busy?” Jack laughed. “Crap, that's not being truthful enough,” he said, his arms wrapped around Daniel as they stood overlooking their backyard.
Daniel leaned back into his lover, letting his head relax peacefully against the strong shoulder that never failed to support him. All they ever needed was each other, and for a couple of minutes, they simply stood, cherishing their love in a comfortable silence.
“I talked with General Hammond today about Little Danny's translation,” Daniel remarked.
“What did he say?”
“He wondered what his base pay should be,” Daniel chuckled. A few seconds later, he added, “The general is sending a team back to do more study. I'm not sure it's for humans.”
“What makes you say that?” Jack asked, kissing the base of his lover's neck, causing the younger man to let out a happy moan.
“Um ... Jack, I can't think when you do that,” the archaeologist replied.
“Not sorry, but go ahead,” Jack teased, stopping his kisses for a moment.
“I worked through more of the writings on the wall, and my sense is that the authors weren't ... human. There was a section that talked about their homes, and ... well, the homes sounded like ... like ... molehills or something,” Daniel revealed.
“Gophers?” Jack joked.
“Jack, how many aliens have we met who aren't human?” Daniel asked.
“Okay, so very intelligent gophers,” Jack retorted.
“Maybe, but the point is, the plant Little Danny did the translation about may have helped them, but that doesn't mean it can help us,” Daniel noted.
“Then where'd the little fellows go?” the military man inquired.
“I have no idea, but that's why General Hammond is ordering more visits to the planet and more personnel to work on the writings,” Daniel commented.
“Makes sense,” Jack said, as silence began to take hold again.
Minutes passed before Daniel whispered, “It's been a good year, Babe, full of blessings.”
“Yeah ... Cassie's wedding ...” Jack began.
“A new friend in Alex. I mean, uh, he isn't just our designer anymore, and he's got a life,” Daniel chuckled. “Plus Paul and Marc. I am proud of you, Jack; they really need friends who understand what they're going through.”
“You're right. Carter and Shanahan -- good neighbors as a bonus,” Jack mused lightly about the Shanahans living just behind their house. Then he quipped, “No more goo-goo eyes.”
“Behave!” Daniel paused. “Our baby -- any time, Jack.”
“Billy,” Jack intoned brightly, smiling inside and out.
“All those cousins for our children,” Daniel noted. “The little ones love that.”
“J-O is booming. Geez, Danny, it's bigger than we ever thought it would be,” Jack spoke in amazement.
“Not to mention that my husband has become a skilled archaeologist,” Daniel acknowledged.
“I don't know that I'd go that far, but at least I have an idea what you're talking about now,” Jack responded. “I may even start prattling like a real egg-head.”
“Polly,” Daniel chuckled.
“Don't remind me, Daniel. Our zoo *is* really a zoo now,” Jack laughed. “Dogs, cats, a lizard, a rabbit, two guinea pigs, a smart-mouthed bird, and a tank full of fish,” he sighed.
“They all love you. So do I, by the way,” the younger man stated, turning his head to look at his soulmate.
“Angel, more than ever I ...”
“Sir, Daniel, excuse me,” Sam interrupted, uncharacteristically coming out onto the roof deck.
“Carter, what's ...”
“Oh, gawd!” Daniel exclaimed, knowing the only reason why their friend would interrupt their time together on the roof deck.
Sam smiled and announced, “Toto is ... rumbling!”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look and then hurried past Sam, going into the den. It only took a second to verify things were happening. Sounds were coming from the fully-grown womis, and it was moving slightly.
“Danny, press the ...”
“FORGET THE BUTTON -- THOR, GET YOUR LITTLE GRAY BUTT DOWN HERE NOW!” the archaeologist called out.
The Asgard was on standby and immediately beamed himself into the den.
“Is it time, O'Neill?” the small alien inquired.
“Yes, it's time. We need Janet and the Phelpians here ASAP,” Jack informed him.
“WE NEED THEM NOW!” Daniel clarified.
“Danny, calm down,” Jack urged, embracing the younger man.
“Calm ... calm ... oh, gawd,” Daniel gasped, unable to breathe.
“Thor -- go!” Jack instructed.
Within seconds, Janet was beamed in.
“Whoa! Where's Teeeee ... I mean, hello,” Janet said, surprised to see she had been transported. ~Well, at least I'm still dressed. Ten minutes later and ...~
“Doc, it's baby time,” Jack said urgently.
Janet's medical supplies were already in the den, everything she might need having been placed there several weeks earlier.
“Well, something's happening, that's for sure,” the physician observed as she studied the womis. “Is Thor bringing ...”
Before her question was fully asked, two doctors from Pierola were beamed in.
“Horteed and Jundell,” Janet expressed happily. “I'm glad you're here.”
“Me, too,” a nervous Daniel whispered as Jack continued to hold him.
“Let us check the womis,” Jundell suggested.
“Hey, everyone,” Sam greeted the noisy children and adults as she entered the large recreation room. “Everyone?”
Pete put his fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly.
“Thanks, Pete,” Sam acknowledged, grinning as the crowd silenced. “Bean Sprout is about to make his or her arrival.”
“Oooooooh!” several voices gasped.
“Aunt Janet is upstairs along with the physicians from Pierola; uh, Thor is here, too,” Sam announced. “They say any time.”
“Circle!” Little Danny called out.
“What?” Billy and Jilly asked at the same time.
“It's our circle of love,” Brianna answered as the eleven children joined their hands.
“Uncle Billy, Aunt Jilly, come on,” David invited.
“Aunt Sam!” Aislinn called out.
“Uncle Pete, stand by me,” Ricky requested.
“Okay,” Jennifer said, taking a calming breath when all were standing in a circle. “This is a circle. I guess you could say it was born when Dad was separated from us last Christmas, and then it was strengthened exactly one year ago tonight when Dad and Daddy repeated their wedding vows in our backyard.”
“We celebrated Dad home, and then we celebrated our family,” Jeff added.
“Now we're celebrating our new baby brother or sister,” David said.
“And, we're celebrating Uncle Billy and Aunt Jilly and all our new family,” Chenoa astutely said, smiling at the couple.
Jennifer continued, “We are the Jackson-O'Neills, and together, we are unbeatable. We can be anything we want to be, and we can do anything we want to do, because our parents have taught us that anything is possible.”
“There's always an 'or',” Jonny pointed out.
“We always take care of each other, and now, we'll take care of Bean Sprout, too,” Little Danny promised.
“Everyone,” Jennifer called out. “Close your eyes, and let's celebrate adding Bean Sprout to our family. He or she is going to be healthy. We love you, Bean Sprout. We're waiting.”
The children began to sing what had become their song of hope, and right now, they were hoping for a brand new baby to join them.
In the den, the voices filled the air.
“Jack, do you hear?” Daniel asked.
“Celebrate Me Home,” Jack acknowledged.
“They're welcoming our baby,” the younger man surmised.
“It is time,” Jundell stated. “Fathers, come,” she beckoned, waving the two forward.
Jack and Daniel walked to the womis, feeling emotions they'd never felt before and couldn't describe. They were about to experience a true miracle, one that had never happened on Earth before.
“Please roll up your sleeves and hold out your hands,” Horteed requested. When they did so, Horteed sprayed every inch of their hands, explaining, “This is a cleansing agent. Do not touch anything except for the womis and your baby.”
Jundell instructed, “Gently, move the womis to the tabletop. It requires more room.”
Jack and Daniel carefully carried the trembling womis to the top of Daniel's desk, which had been cleared of all objects and covered with a sterile cloth.
“It is time to remove the nutrient tubes,” Jundell informed the parents as she stepped between them to carry out the procedure. “Normally, on Pierola, the parents would do this, but I know this is foreign to you.”
“No, please,” Daniel interjected, stopping the alien doctor. “Can you guide us through it?”
Jundell smiled and nodded as she moved to the side, allowing the parents to be right in front of the birthing womis.
“You must glide the tubes out gently. The baby is beginning to move more forcefully; that is why the womis is shaking,” Horteed explained. “You must not let the tubing become loose or go any further into the womis. First, disconnect the ... Janet?”
“The IV,” Janet translated, knowing the Earth term was different from that used on Pierola.
“Thank you. The IV must be removed first,” Jundell instructed.
“Jack?” Daniel asked in a quiet voice.
“Together,” Jack answered with a smile.
The two men took hold of the main tube and then, sharing a loving gaze, moved their hands as one, successfully taking out the object. They repeated the process as they pulled out the plastic tubing that went into the womis.
“Very good,” Jundell praised as she handed the items to Janet, motioning for her to place them elsewhere. “We must apply the protectorate again,” she said, spraying the substance on Jack's and Daniel's hands and arms.
“Don't touch anything but the womis,” Daniel stated when Jundell had opened her mouth to speak.
“Correct,” the alien affirmed. “When the womis begins to tear, you must not interfere,” Jundell warned. “It will be tempting to push it away, but you must not interrupt the process. It is natural. The baby makes its way to us, not the other way around.”
“I wish I understood what you just said,” Jack intoned with a helpless look on his face.
“General, Jundell means be patient, and let the process happen,” Janet translated.
“Oh,” Jack replied. ~Why didn't she just say that?~
“Jundell, I do have a question,” Janet said. “When the womis falls away, won't that release the internal fluids?”
“Big mess,” Jack automatically replied.
“No, Doctor Fraiser. The womis is now dissolving all fluids not used by the baby,” Jundell answered.
“Dissolving?” Daniel questioned.
“The better word for it would be evaporate. The noise you are hearing now is the womis effectively eliminating the liquid,” Horteed elucidated.
“We're used to babies being born very ... uh, well ...” Daniel stammered.
“Eeewy, yucky, bloody, messy little things,” Jack clarified. “They're beautiful,” he added, looking again at his husband, who smiled back in return.
“The womis cleans the baby before it emerges,” Jundell responded.
“A clean cycle,” Jack deduced. “Wash and dry -- very convenient,” he lightly quipped.
“Jack!” Daniel chastised, rolling his eyes.
“What happens to the womis once it completely falls away?” Daniel inquired.
“It will collapse completely and ...” Jundell began.
“Onto the baby?” Janet asked.
“No, you will see. The womis knows how to fall away,” Horteed noted.
“But the womis isn't alive,” Jack refuted, immediately looking down as he spoke the words. He shook his head and smiled. “Toto, forget I said that,” he told the quivering rubbery pouch that was better known as the womis. “You've taken good care of Bean Sprout for months now. You're not some piece of rubber; you are life.”
“My poet,” Daniel whispered as his eyes grew misty.
“I'm sure it's all very technical, Docs, but we'll just accept that it works,” Jack spoke for both he and his lover.
“It will not be long,” Jundell mentioned as the rumbling noise increased.
“Spin cycle?” Jack teased, earning him a nervous glare from Daniel.
“How long?” Daniel asked, his eyes focused on the shaking womis.
“Two, perhaps three minutes,” Horteed answered.
“Is, uh, there any chance at all that ... that ...” the nervous younger father began to ask.
“Your baby is fine,” Jundell assured.
“Jack, the children?” Daniel asked, looking over at his husband, his eyes full of wonder and love.
“Yeah,” Jack whispered. “Doc, the intercom. Call 'em up.”
Janet went to the intercom and, since she wasn't sure where everyone was for sure, she pressed the button that would circulate her voice throughout the entire home.
“Brood, you're about to witness a birth. Sam? Jack and Daniel would like the children to come up and witness the birth, if they want to.”
“Hurry!” Jack shouted.
“But don't ... no, *do* run,” Daniel called out, hearing the rumbling begin to ebb.
“Janet, will you make sure they know?” Daniel asked. “I mean, uh, we didn't even think about this, and I'm not sure ... the little ones ... might be ... uh ...”
“Daniel,” Janet interrupted. “I'll take care of it.”
“Anyone *not* want to watch?” Janet asked in the hallway after quickly letting the children know what they would be in for. Of course, the lack of mucus and blood would make it less scary, but it was still a new experience. “Anyone?”
“Aunt Janet, hurry!” Little Danny responded impatiently.
“Okay, do *exactly* what you're told *when* you're told!” Janet ordered.
Soon, Daniel's den was full with all eleven children, the Shanahans, Billy and Jilly, the two doctors from Pierola, Janet, and the happy but anxious parents present. The little ones were on chairs or being held by adults so that they could see.
Jack looked around the room and called out, “HEY, THOR?”
With a beam of light, the alien appeared.
“Hey, Buddy, do me a favor. Beam over to Sara and Mark's and ask them if ...”
Before he was finished, Thor disappeared.
“I hope he knew what I was going to say,” Jack said.
Daniel smiled, saying, “I'm glad you thought of Sara. I wish Cassie was here, too,” he added.
“The noise is almost completely gone,” Jack observed, knowing that meant the birth was imminent.
“Yes,” Horteed agreed. “The tearing will begin here,” he said, pointing to the right side of the teardrop-shaped pouch. “This piece will crumble and fade to the side. It creates an air pocket where the baby will first breathe the life of this world. It will be another ...”
“Jack?” Sara exclaimed. Seeing smiles and hearing welcomes, the woman, dressed only in her nightgown, moved forward. Behind her, Mark walked through the crowd, going over to where Pete was holding Ricky. “Did we miss it?”
“No, you're just in time,” Jack replied. “I'm glad you made it.”
“Me, too,” both Sara and Daniel said in unison, causing both to chuckle.
“Uncle Mark!” Aislinn exclaimed, raising up her hands.
Mark obliged, holding the little girl and giving her a slightly better view than she had before.
“What were you saying?” Daniel asked Horteed.
“After the pocket of air is created, it will be another ...”
Another flash of light, and suddenly, Cassandra and Dominic appeared.
“Am I too late?” the young woman asked eagerly.
“Cass!” several of those present exclaimed.
“WAY TO GO, THOR!” Jack shouted since the alien had not reappeared in the den.
“Cassie!” Janet spoke happily, moving over for a hug. The action reminded the petite physician of something. “Sara, what about your children?” she asked.
“Thor said not to worry about Angela and Maddy,” Sara answered.
“Well, if you can't trust Thor, who can you trust?” Jack mused.
“Horteed, the pocket of air,” Daniel prodded.
“It will only take another ...”
Once again, a flash of light appeared, one that made the family complete as General Hammond, Teal'c, and Thor all joined the others in the now very overcrowded den. After the greetings, Horteed was finally able to finish his comments, telling them that after the pocket was created, it would be about three minutes as the baby adapted and the womis became 'convinced' that the baby was ready for birth.
“It's a little crowded in here,” Billy noted as they all crammed together. “Are you sure it's safe for all of us to be huddled around like this?” he asked the physicians.
“The rec room would be perfect,” Jack noted. “Thor?”
“It is possible,” Thor acknowledged. “Doctors, will the transport harm ...”
“Thor, if you do it quickly, it will not harm the womis or the baby, but it must be ... now,” Jundell said, smiling at the alien.
Before she had finished her sentence, all the occupants of the room, including the womis and Daniel's desk that it was on, had been transported to the huge recreation room. Now, everyone had more room and could easily surround the desk to watch the birth.
“Thank you, Thor,” several scattered voices said in appreciation of his quick action.
“This is so cool,” Brianna said.
“Jack, it's tearing!” Daniel called out just seconds later when the tip of the teardrop began to break away.
“Oh, wow!” Brianna exclaimed as she stared at the miraculous event unfolding in front of her eyes.
“Breathe, Danny,” Jack reminded.
“What? Oh, yeah, breathe,” the younger man told himself.
“Those present, remember, do not touch the womis. You must not interfere in any way,” Jundell reminded, her expression one of dire seriousness.
“This is awesome!” David exclaimed, happy that Jeff made sure he had a prime viewing spot since the boy loved babies so much.
Seconds later, the tip crumbled, causing the children to gasp in awe as it practically leaped over the side of the pouch. Once it touched the sterile padding, it literally dissolved, leaving only a tiny residue.
“Goodness,” Jennifer commented with eyes as big as dollars.
“This padding is special. It is an extension of the womis used only for the birthing process. The womis and the padding ... communicate,” Jundell explained.
“Just as long as they understand each other,” Daniel nervously muttered.
“Has it been three minutes, yet?” Chenoa asked in a whisper.
“Not yet, Sweetie,” Janet answered.
Moments passed as silence filled the room, its occupants waiting with bated breath.
“Has it been three minutes, yet?” Lulu anxiously inquired.
“Not yet,” Jennifer responded quietly.
The younger children were afraid to breathe, their eyes glued to the rubbery object known as Toto. Time seemed to be frozen.
“Has it been three minutes, yet?” Jenny queried, biting her lip.
Mark smiled at the little girl, whispering, “Not yet.”
“Come on, Bean Sprout,” Jack encouraged quietly.
“We're here, Little One,” Daniel softly added.
Aislinn looked around at everyone. She was eager for her new brother or sister to be born, but a part of her was scared. One thing would calm her, and so, with a tiny voice at first, she began to sing a song her father had taught her.
“When all the world is a hopeless jumble,
And the raindrops tumble all around,
Heaven opens a magic lane.”
Jack smiled at their daughter, giving her a nod of approval. As Aislinn continued to sing, Chenoa and Lulu joined in, both loving the song their sister had chosen.
“When all the clouds darken up the skyway
There's a rainbow highway to be found
Leading from your window pane
To a place behind the sun
Just a step beyond the rain.”
“It's a beautiful song,” Sam commented as she smiled at her husband.
Jennifer, Ricky, and Little Danny joined their siblings, their voices steady and soothing, smiles on their faces.
“Somewhere over the rainbow,
Way up high
There's a land that I heard of once,
In a lullaby.”
“This has got to be the longest three minutes ever,” Jonny whined.
As the adults chuckled lightly, Jack and Daniel gazed briefly into each other's eyes as both sang:
“Somewhere over the rainbow,
Skies are blue.
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.”
“They are, Jack,” Daniel stated. “They've already come true with our beautiful children.”
Jack looked over at their brood, all still softly singing, and nodded. He didn't have any words at the moment, but his heart was full of joy and bliss.
All the children joined in, singing:
Over the rainbow
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why, then, oh why can't I?”
“Fly, Bean Sprout, fly!” Little Danny encouraged.
“It's time, Bean Sprout,” Aislinn said. “We're your rainbow.”
Cassandra looked over at the little girl, giving her a big smile as she said, “You're right, Ash. What a beautiful thought.”
“Is it three minutes, yet?” Jonny asked impatiently.
“Jack, look!” Daniel exclaimed softly in amazement.
“It's tearing more!” David pointed out.
“It will happen quickly,” Jundell advised.
“Come on, Bean Sprout!” Brianna urged excitedly.
“When the womis falls away, you must wait for the pouch to dissolve sufficiently, and then you may gently remove the tiny bit of residue that will be on your baby,” Horteed instructed.
“I thought we went through clean and dry cycles?” Jack asked.
Jundell laughed, affirming, “Yes, but there will be a small amount of tracings from the womis as it ceases its work. That is why your hands and arms are cleansed, to protect you and the baby.”
“It's not dangerous, is it?” Daniel asked, a bit concerned, especially with their children gathered round.
“No, it is merely a precaution for the baby,” Jundell assured.
“Bean Sprout, we need you,” Little Danny whispered.
As if listening, the womis began to drop away. Just like the tip, the pieces arched over to the side as it crumbled. About the same time, the placenta also began to fade away, automatically disconnecting the umbilical cord from itself.
“Toes! I see toes!” Jennifer exclaimed.
“Ooooooooh, Daddy, I see a tummy,” Aislinn observed.
“Jack,” Daniel whispered.
“I love you, Angel,” Jack spoke softly.
“Love you. Gawd, so much,” the younger man responded as more of their baby began to be visible.
“The toes are squiggling,” Lulu commented.
“Oh, Bean Sprout!” the archaeologist mouthed, his voice not audible.
With the placenta now completely nonexistent, the womis was dropping away more quickly from the feet first and then moving upwards, though it was in tiny sections, and those sections weren't always connected.
“This is so not fair,” Brianna whined when the next section to go was towards the head. “I want to know if I have new brother or sister!”
Several people chuckled, many sharing the same frustration, including Jack and Daniel, though both of them were mesmerized by the baby's abdomen which was definitely showing healthy life signs.
“Look at the tiny hands,” Jeff suggested as the baby's hands thrashed about.
“Danny, we have a son,” Jack crooned when the womis had fallen away.
Janet looked at the clock, pronouncing, “Baby Boy Jackson-O'Neill arrived at 12:02 a.m. on New Year's Day, 2012.”
“A New Year's baby,” Cassandra sighed happily. “It's destiny,” she added as Dominic placed a kiss on her cheek.
“Waa...atc...wah....atch,” the newborn infant began to cry, its hands and legs moving all about.
“Please,” Daniel spoke, waiting for the okay.
“Just one more moment,” the alien doctor stated. Even though the placenta was no longer attached to the cord, it was still long and needed to be made shorter. “Which one of you would like to cut the cord?”
Jack and Daniel gazed into each other's eyes. All along during this pregnancy, they'd made a point of sharing the key moments. This would be no different.
In unison, still locked onto each other's eyes, the parents said, “Together.”
Janet smiled and advised, “They've done this before, Jundell, so they know how.”
“Good,” Jundell answered and then tied the cord in two places before motioning for the lovers to proceed.
The alien physician handed the special sterile scissors to Jack. After taking one more moment to share yet another smile and gaze, with Daniel's hand over Jack’s, they cut the umbilical cord that had connected their son to the placenta. As they did so, each felt a tremendous joy swell within them.
“The womis has completed its job,” Jundell announced when they were done. “Tend to your son,” she instructed cheerfully.
A smile on his face, Daniel bent over slightly and picked up the crying baby. He didn't care about the tears falling from his eyes.
“Five fingers; five fingers; five toes; five toes; two beautiful eyes, a scrunched up nose, and a wonderfully loud voice,” Daniel practically sniffled from happiness.
Daniel looked up at his husband, not surprised to see his lover's face wet. Jack looked into the younger man's eyes, and they kissed tenderly.
“Daddy, let us see Bean Sprout!” Jonny demanded.
“Just a minute,” Daniel said, waiting while Jack cleared off the tiny bit of post-womis residue, which was like miniscule specks of orange dust.
Turning around, Daniel held the baby boy while their children and family of friends, smiled and got their first full glimpse of the little one.
Jack looked over at his 2IC, seeing her wiping away tears. He didn't need to see Sara or Cassandra to know they were crying as well; he could hear their sniffles.
“Our son,” Jack said, gently rubbing the baby's head.
“Here, Jack,” Daniel intoned, gently transferring their son to Jack's hold.
“It never gets old,” Jack whispered, bending down to place a kiss on the little one's forehead.
“Okay, gentlemen, my turn,” a misty-eyed Janet proclaimed. “Let me do the usual tests.”
“He looks like a fine lad, Jack, Daniel,” Hammond observed, sporting a proud smile as he spoke.
“Bean Sprout is beautiful!” Aislinn exclaimed.
Jack and Daniel embraced, holding each other close as they took the time to cherish the moment.
“Blessings, we have so many,” Daniel's trembling voice noted.
“Too many to count,” the older man agreed. As they pulled apart, chocolate brown eyes gazed into cerulean blue eyes. All four were still watery. “Angel ... I love you.”
“I love you,” Daniel responded before they shared another kiss.
They turned back towards their new baby and Janet, who was taking the vital statistics with the help of the physicians from Phelpa.
“Daniel,” Janet called out as she returned the infant to his daddy.
“Pure Jackson-O'Neill. We should go to the SGC. I can't do all the required testing here, but, uh, I'm guessing we have a healthy baby here,” the doctor said, smiling.
As the baby let out a huge cry, the roomful of people broke into laughter, the sound increasing when Hammond quipped, “Bean Sprout has your lungs, Jack.”
“Daddy, we can't keep calling him Bean Sprout,” Jennifer remarked, a sly smile on her face.
Jack and Daniel exchanged a look, and after Jack nodded, Daniel scanned the room, awed and amazed at all the love he had in his life. He was truly grateful for every second of pain he'd felt as a child because without it, he wasn't sure he'd really understand just how magical this moment was.
“This little one is our latest miracle, but all of you are miracles, too. Know that, that Dad and I love you so much, and we thank the heavens every second of every day that you're part of us,” Daniel emotionally told their children.
“We love you, too, Daddy,” Little Danny sniffled, wiping away the tears and quickly finding himself scooped up by Dominic.
“Our baby is truly loved and adored, and I don't believe we'd have him if God wasn't with us,” Daniel stated.
“Amen to that,” Jack agreed. “We had a lot of help in making this family what it is, and this little life is just the latest proof of that.”
“Joel means God is willing,” Daniel continued.
“He had to be willing for this to become a reality,” the older man interjected.
“And Dai means beloved, adored, and great,” Daniel said, pausing as he bounced the little one slightly in his arms.
“He's all of those things,” Jack pointed out.
“He's a miracle no matter what you name him,” Sara sighed contently.
“Daaaaddy!” Jonny called out, stamping his foot. “What's his name?”
“His name ... his name is Joel-Dai ...” Daniel paused, staring at General Hammond. “... George ...” He looked over at Billy and continued, “... William ...” Then he looked down and said, “And for our ancestors, Angus.”
Jack nodded, repeating, “Joel-Dai George William Angus Jackson-O'Neill.” As everyone took in the name, he said, “JD for short.”
“Gawd, Jack, you could at least wait until he's a half-hour old,” Daniel chuckled. Then he looked down at the infant and whispered, “Hey, JD. I love you so much.”
“I don't know what to say,” Hammond quietly said.
Daniel walked to him and said, “How about saying hello to your grandson?”
With that, Daniel released the new life into his surrogate grandfather's loving arms. The baby let out a huge cry.
“Now that will be enough of that, JD,” Hammond stated calmly. “We're going to be spending a lot of time together; can't have you spending it crying.”
“Goodness!” Jennifer exclaimed when the baby inexplicably stopped crying, settling into a period of quiet.
“Well, he knows how to follow orders,” Jack quipped.
“Don't start, Babe,” Daniel teased.
“William, would you like a go at holding young JD?” a proud-as-a-peacock Hammond asked.
“That I would, George,” Billy replied, chuckling at their proud demeanors.
“Thor, wanna give it a shot?” Jack asked jovially.
“I think not, O'Neill,” the alien replied.
“Jack, Daniel, we need to do the tests. Thor!” Janet called out.
“Of course, we do but ... oh,” Daniel commented, realizing that now he, Jack, Hammond, who was still holding JD, Thor, Janet, and the two alien doctors were at the SGC, along with the sterile pad, all of the paraphernalia that had been attached to the pouch, and the remnants of the womis.
“Thor, you're a great pilot,” Jack mused.
Thor simply blinked and waited for Janet to do everything that was necessary.
An hour later, Jack and Daniel were back at home, their new baby sleeping in his bassinet as eleven tired but happy faces looked on. Behind them, all the adults were sipping champagne, not one yet requesting to be returned to their home. Nearby, a tiny alien watched.
“Jack,” Daniel whispered after glancing at the Asgard. “Do you know how much we owe him?”
“He's saved our butts a lot, hasn't he?”
“Yes, he has,” the misty-eyed archaeologist noted. He looked at their infant son, whispering, “You wouldn't mind, would you, JD?”
The children were wondering what their parents were talking about, but all were so fascinated with the tiny life in front of them that they didn't bother to ask questions. When Jack moved away a few steps, though, their eyes followed him.
“We have a little announcement,” Jack said.
“You're having another baby!” Mark quipped.
“Very funny,” Jack replied. ~Not a bad idea, though.~ When everyone was facing him, he announced, “Danny and I have agreed that we made an error of omission, and we want to fix it now.”
Daniel took one more look at JD and then joined his husband, saying, “We *need* to correct it now.”
“He's a girl?” Pete joked.
“Shanahan!” Jack said with a mock glare as everyone asked. He continued, “Our son's name is Joel-Dai George William Angus Thor Jackson-O'Neill.”
“I'm gonna call him Thor!” Jonny said. “That's a good fighting name.”
“We're calling him JD,” Jack quickly admonished.
“Thor,” Daniel began, “Jack and I owe you so much. We're proud to have our son be named after you.”
“What Danny said,” Jack said with a soft voice. “You're the tops, little guy.”
Thor walked over and looked at the sleeping life. He blinked once and then again. Looking over at Jack and Daniel, he nodded and then stepped back.
“I ... am honored,” the Asgard spoke before disappearing in a flash of light.
“You know if I didn't know better ...” Jack began.
“Was that a tear, Sir?” Sam asked.
“Do Asgard cry?” Sara inquired.
“Thor does,” Daniel spoke quietly. “It was the right thing to do.”
“Yeah, Danny, it was,” Jack agreed, gently tugging his lover to him and sharing a kiss.
“Oops!” Sara suddenly exclaimed, looking at the group of adults. “How are we going to get ...”
Jack and Daniel were about to answer when, all of a sudden, their guests all disappeared.
“I guess it took Thor a minute to remember,” Daniel surmised.
“I think we touched the little gray butt,” the older man observed.
“Okay, Brood, back to bed,” Daniel instructed.
“You'll have forever to watch JD,” Jack promised. “Bed.”
“Nighty-night, JD,” Little Danny said, as did the rest of the brood before making their way back to their rooms.
“Too bad Thor didn't think to do the clean up,” Jack mused as the lovers did some very quick cleanup.
Daniel kept looking over at JD and sighing happily, pausing in his work frequently.
“Danny, the sooner we get this done, the sooner we say goodnight to the brood, and the sooner you and I can gaze at JD all night long,” Jack pointed out.
“Oh!” Daniel lightly exclaimed as he went back to work.
“Ready to make the rounds?” Jack asked.
“Let's take JD with us, Babe. The brood will love one more look,” Daniel remarked, picking up the newborn once his husband nodded his agreement.
“What?” Jack inquired when his lover stood in place, holding the baby.
“I was just thinking about how Billy and Jilly's family are struggling to find their way,” Daniel answered. “Jack, I talked with Paul a couple of days ago, and over half of the Plantacia inhabitants have requested to go back. They, uh, don't like it here, and some have even expressed concern about Tony and Terri.”
“It's a new world to them,” the older man sighed. “Billy told me last night that they think a few of their kids will ask to go back.”
“Not Jessica?” Daniel asked as he bounced their baby slightly in his arms.
“The world traveler?” Jack chuckled. “Hardly. She wants to see everything, but he's sure Madison wants to go back, and probably Gerald. The verdict is still out on the rest.”
“Culture Shock,” Daniel pointed out. “Billy and Jilly may be amazed at how far we've come, but to their children and the children of the other original inhabitants, they went from horse and buggies to ... to ...”
“iPods and TiVo,” Jack sighed. “They don't know their place,” he surmised, taking his finger and rubbing gently just under their son's chin.
“You're right,” Daniel agreed as he nodded and watched. Smiling, he stated, “JD, your place is here, with us and your brothers and sisters. Never doubt that.”
“He won't, Danny. We'll make sure of that,” Jack said, leaning over for a kiss just as JD made a little noise, his hands moving upward slightly.
“He's going to learn that kissing song from Ash, isn't he?” Jack wryly asked.
“Dad and Daddy kissing all the time,” Daniel mused as he gave his lover another quick kiss. “Let's check on the brood.”
Jack and Daniel were in their bedroom, standing and watching their miracle sleep.
“It's like a dream, Jack,” Daniel commented. “I don't think I can sleep tonight.”
“Why try?” Jack asked.
Bringing the bassinet closer to the bed, the couple got into the bed, Daniel leaning into his soulmate, Jack's strong arms wrapped around Daniel's waist as they sat up against the headboard. Their comforter was bunched up around their hips to warm them as their eyes focused on little JD. The baby gave a soft snuffle and scrunched up his nose, drawing smiles from both of his parents.
“Happy New Year, Angel,” Jack crooned.
“Happy New Year, father of twelve,” Daniel emotionally spoke.
Chuckling, Jack replied, “Well, you know the old cliché, Love -- they're cheaper by the dozen.”
Sharing a kiss, the couple leaned back, watching their unexpected miracle and knowing that life was truly a miraculous gift to be cherished.
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