Summary: It's a sensitive time when a newcomer to the neighborhood acts in an untoward manner. How will the Jackson-O'Neills handle the juvenile offender?
Info: This story does deal with the issue of child molestation though not in a graphic way.
The Jackson-O'Neill backyard was bursting with neighborhood children. It wasn't a birthday or any special occasion, but kids just tended to gather at the home. There were so many things to play on and with, and it was a great environment. Jack and Daniel were fun to be around. They had a lot of rules, but they all made sense. Best of all, if a child made a mistake, had an accident, or got sick, they weren't condemned for all time. Instead, they were talked with, not to, and taken gentle care of. Kids loved playing at the Jackson-O'Neill's.
On this day, the congregation had begun after Daniel had taken Aislinn and Jenny to the park. Several of the neighborhood boys had drifted over to the girls and asked if they could come over after the park outing ended. Jonny and Little Danny were already playing with some of their friends in the backyard when the girls and their eager followers showed up. Then Angela Wilson arrived to play with her best friend, Chenoa, and it just grew until a good sized class of youngsters were around.
Of course, that meant that both Jack and Daniel had ceased working for the day. They couldn't have that many children unsupervised in their backyard. Daniel had actually called in to postpone a staff meeting until the next day, and Jennifer had decided to put off a shopping trip with her new friend, Cammie. Instead, Cammie had come over to the house and was helping to watch the children. Even Brianna had brought her homework out to the Pod, a small area in the backyard that was just behind the recreation room, where she could help keep an eye on the cheery youngsters.
"Calvin, time to go!" Mitzi Miller called out. She'd arrived a few minutes ago and had been visiting with her neighbors for a few minutes before leaving with her son. "Jack, Daniel, I don't know how you do it," she mused in awe.
"We don't, either," Daniel teased.
"A dozen with chores," Jack answered dryly, causing his lover to roll his eyes in response.
"Well, however you do it, thank you. I never worry about the kids when they're here."
"You're welcome," Daniel responded with sincerity, nodding as the woman and her son headed for the side gate to leave.
"We got what we wanted, Danny," Jack remarked.
"A place where children could come and be safe and have fun," the younger man acknowledged. "Of course, I didn't know we'd have to adjust our schedules several times a week to make that happen."
"Regrets?" Jack questioned curiously.
"Nope," Daniel answered with a smile. "Jonny!" he called out in warning.
In the distance, the boy grinned innocently, trying to covertly turn around and put the bug back on the ground instead of in Jenny's hair.
"You shouldn't have stopped him," Jack surprised his husband in opining.
"Jenny would have handled it."
Not missing a beat, Daniel returned confidently, "*That's* why I stopped him."
Jack broke out into laughter and then headed over to the barn to check on the Chenoa and Angela, who were attending to the two Shetland ponies that were part of the J-O animal zoo.
The next day, some members of the family were again spending a couple of hours at the neighborhood park. They weren't alone as several other kids from the local community were there as well.
"Leroy Nelson, stop bothering me," Jenny told one of the boys, who was also a redhead and even had a few freckles on his nose.
"Jenny, I just wanna play with you," Leroy replied eagerly.
"Well, I don't want to play with you."
"Because I want to play a game or something, and you wanna play house," the Spitfire retorted, her hands on her hips.
"Playing house with you would be fun."
"Not in my mind. I'm never going to play house with a boy. Eww," the girl said, making a face and starting to walk away again. ~Who needs boys? Girls can do anything they want to do; Dad and Daddy say so.~
"Okay, Jenny," Leroy sighed as he ran after the little girl. "Can we play a game, though?"
"Which game?" Jenny asked, although she kept on walking as they talked.
"We can plaaaay ... doctor!"
"Oh, for crying out loud," Jenny rebuked. "Goodbye, Leroy."
Jenny began to sprint, not to flee the boy, but just to jog for a bit. Her siblings were spread throughout the park, playing with friends and such. Also present were her watchful parents, along with Bijou and Katie, who always kept an eye out on their humans no matter where they were.
By request, Daniel was bringing a tray of drinks and snacks to some of the female Jackson-O'Neills. The group was huddled together in the Bird's Nest, a small room designated just for the women of the family. It was their own special sanctuary and no males were allowed, unless they came bearing food and then left immediately afterward.
On this particular Saturday evening, Lulu, Chenoa, Aislinn, and Jenny were enjoying a giggle fest. That's all Daniel could determine because any time that he'd been summoned for refreshment duty, that's what his daughters were doing -– giggling.
"Leroy likes you, Jenny," Aislinn mused.
"Tough cookies," Jenny replied. "I don't want a boy to touch me, not how he wants to."
"He wants to kiss you," Chenoa chuckled, bringing her hand to her mouth from the embarrassment of the topic.
"Never gonna happen," Jenny insisted.
"Keith wants to kiss me, but I won't let him ... yet," Aislinn laughed about one of her many boyfriends.
"Kissing leads to other stuff," Jenny stated. "Nope; never ever."
"How come, Jenny?" Lulu asked curiously.
"Do you know what boys do to girls? Ouch!" the redhead exclaimed with a mock shiver.
Aislinn sighed, "It's the birds and the bees, Jenny."
"They can fly and buzz without me," the redhead insisted. "I remember what Aunt Sam said."
"Incoming," Daniel called out as he peeked his head in and indicated he had the latest batch of goodies.
"Thanks, Daddy," Lulu expressed gratefully while getting up to help get the tray settled.
"Everything okay up here?"
"We're having fun," Jenny stated needlessly.
"Thank you, Daddy. Bye," Aislinn said firmly with a sweet smile.
"I get the message," Daniel replied, chuckling. He checked his watch and advised, "One more hour and then bedtime."
"Ah, Daddy. It's Saturday," Chenoa objected.
"Let us stay up late, Daddy," Aislinn begged.
"Pleeeeease," came a round of pleading young voices.
"Okay," Daniel relented, the beautiful smiles turning his parental resolve into a big case of loving mush. "I'll check on you later, or when you want more snacks."
The four girls began chattering away instantly as Daniel headed back downstairs.
"Danny?" Jack called out with an expectant tone. They were in the library, selecting a few books to be used for the next week's homeschooling lessons. "Don't give me that 'what' look. You've been overly quiet for the last hour. What's going on?"
"I'm concerned about Jenny," Daniel confided, after which he relayed to his lover the bit of conversation he'd overheard while taking up the snacks to the giggling girls.
"She's had boyfriends," Jack countered.
"I know. I ... I remember one time when she and Ash argued over a boy even, but ..."
When his husband's voice trailed off, Jack prompted, "But what?"
"It's been a while. It's like the older she gets, the less interested she gets," Daniel noted contemplatively.
"Maybe she likes girls," Jack suggested with a shrug.
"I think she'd tell us," Daniel opined. After a swift beat, he added, "I don't think that's it, though. She hasn't shown any signs of liking anyone as more than a friend."
"Daniel, she's nine." Internally, Jack whined, ~Geez, they get bigger with every blink.~
"Soon to be ten, Jack, in less than two weeks, in fact," the archaeologist reminded. After a reflective sigh, he lightheartedly mused, "You know what I mean. I think it might have something to do with Sam."
"Carter? She's a mom. If Carter can be a mom ..." Jack began, thinking that if his 2IC could be a wife and mother, then any woman could follow suit.
"I'm just saying that I'm concerned, and I think we should talk to her."
"Not Carter?" Jack saw his Love's stern expression and sighed in acquiescence. "This should be fun."
With a smile, Daniel remarked, "Jenny's our daughter, and we need to field some of these ... tough scenarios."
"I so don't want to think about," the older man groused with a mock shiver as he turned his attention to the books. "Dads and daughters ... and female issues."
As Daniel chuckled, the lovers continued their task.
"We had a lot of stuff to talk about," Jenny told her parents the next afternoon as they sat sequestered in the tree house. "Thanks for letting us stay up late. It was way fun."
"Kids gotta have fun," Jack responded. "Princess, Daddy and I want to talk to you about something."
"Okay, Dad. I'm ready," the Spitfire stated confidently, totally relaxed. ~I've been good; no worries.~
"Great," Jack acknowledged. He stared into Jenny's eyes and then beckoned, "Go ahead, Daddy."
Jack could feel the daggers being tossed at him by his Love, but he refused to even turn his head slightly towards his husband.
~Annoying, but predictable.~ Taking a breath, Daniel pushed ahead by looking back. "Sweetie, do you, uh, remember that ... talk that Aunt Sam had with you a ... a long time ago?"
"About boys?" Jenny asked, even as she nodded her head. "No boy is gonna do that to me. Ouch! Yuck! Na-huh."
Jack couldn't help but chuckle, even though this time the daggers were more fierce than they'd been the last time.
"Jenny, it's not really that bad."
"You're a boy."
Jack couldn't help it. He cracked up.
As for Daniel, he sat speechless for a few seconds, fighting the urge to forget that he didn't like violence, especially against his soulmate, while also trying to figure out how to respond to the Spitfire.
"That's ... true, but ... sss...sss ... uh, ..."
"Sex?" the youngster queried without batting an eyelash.
"Oh, gawd," Daniel heard himself say, while at the same time, Jack's laughter became more raucous.
"I'm s...sorrrr...y, Princess," Jack tried to apologize amid his laughter. "Dad isn't so good at this stuff."
"Neither is Daddy," Jenny replied calmly, not the least bit fazed by her parents' difficulty.
"Okay, okay," Daniel stammered as he regrouped. "Jenny, it's just ... sex isn't a bad thing. There's nothing to be scared of."
"Once you're thirty and married," Jack interjected, having sudden realized that perhaps laughing so hard in front of Jenny hadn't been a smart idea.
"When the time comes, which as Dad said is a ... long time from now, and you fall in love, you'll want that ... bond."
"I'm not sure I'm gonna fall in love. Maybe I'll be a nun."
"We're not Catholic," Jack pointed out.
With a shrug, Jenny supposed, "I could be a missionary, or maybe I'll just be a cheerleader."
With a nod, Daniel put forth, "Jenny, you can be whatever you want to be. Dad and I just want to make sure that you don't limit your possibilities."
"Princess, do you like boys?" Jack questioned directly.
~I can't believe he just asked that,~ Daniel thought, though he had absolutely no facial reaction to the query and was actually anxious to hear how their baby girl would respond.
"Do you like ... girls?" Jack asked a bit hesitantly, only because he didn't want to lead or mislead the Spitfire.
Jenny smiled and replied, "Of course, I do."
"Uh, what Dad is trying to ask ..." Daniel began, though he stopped before finishing. "Jenny, you used to have boyfriends, just like Ash."
"I'd rather have Ash as my sister," Jenny stated. "You told us to be careful what we wished for, Daddy, and I have. I don't need boyfriends. Ash loves to have boys around. I'm okay with that."
"We've noticed," Jack stated dryly. ~Boy, have we noticed.~
"Um ... what, uh ... Jenny, why don't you want a boyfriend?"
"They want to do stuff, and I don't." Jenny sighed, "That's all they want to do. I'd rather play chess." She smiled and asked, "Can I go now? I think I'll ask Little Danny if he wants a match."
"Sure," Daniel permitted with a smile. As Jenny left the tree house, he lamented to his husband, "Well, that was a colossal disaster."
"You used the word 'sex' with our nine-year-old daughter," Jack stated in disbelief. "Daniel, you barely say 'sex' to me."
"Ten, in two weeks," Daniel corrected. Then he rationalized, "I don't want to give her a ... a complex."
"Danny, did we learn anything here?" Jack questioned. ~Besides the fact that you still have trouble saying 'sex' after all these years.~
"Yes." The archaeologist bobbed his head up and down long after he'd answered the question. "We learned that little girls handle these conversations better than their fathers."
Patting his husband on the back as he stood up, Jack soothed, "Don't worry, Love. Jenny will date eventually."
"You're only calm because you think she'll be thirty when that happens," Daniel replied as he also stood up.
"Sounds good, doesn't it?" Jack confirmed with a smirk. "Wish we could get Ash to think like that."
"I think you're out of luck on that one, Babe. Ash sneezes in front of the neighborhood boys, and they all jump up to give her their coats."
"I've noticed," Jack groused. "She gives them that beautiful smile of hers, and they can't resist."
"Neither can we," Daniel mused. "You're right about Jenny, though. It's nature."
As Daniel began to climb down the stairs, Jack surmised, "You're gonna sick Carter on our daughter, aren't you?"
"No, but it might not hurt to have her get into a discussion with Jenny."
Now back down on terra firma, Jack and Daniel let the discussion go and enjoyed the rest of Sunday with their family.
A few days later, the children were playing in the backyard. Aislinn, who was anxiously looking forward to her eleventh birthday in a few weeks, went inside the garage to check on the laundry, which was really an all day job with this large family. It was her week to oversee the job, though she had two other helpers assigned to the task, Chenoa and David. Right now, though, she just needed to transfer one load from the washer to the dryer.
"What are you doing, Ash?" Martin Birdsong asked as he walked into the garage after the dutiful girl.
Martin was a cute and outwardly charming lad who was new to the neighborhood. His parents had moved to Colorado Springs from Birmingham, Alabama about two months ago. The boy was fitting in nicely with the neighborhood children.
"Laundry. You'd better go back outside. My parents don't like other kids to be in the garage," Aislinn warned as she began to move the wet clothes into the dryer.
"I'll go in a minute," the twelve-year-old youngster responded as he appraised the girl in front of him.
"Little Danny, where'd Ash go?" Jonny asked after he stopped his actions to scan the area for his Munchkin sister and couldn't see her anywhere in the backyard.
"In the garage -– laundry."
"Oh," the oldest triplet acknowledged as he tossed the ball back to his brother.
"No! That's not nice," Aislinn told the overly adventurous new neighborhood kid while pushing him away gently.
"It's fun," the boy cajoled, shifting back into Aislinn's personal space.
"I said, 'no'!" Aislinn exclaimed forcefully, after which she employed a move learned years ago from Teal'c. Quickly, she exited the garage and called out, "Bijou!"
In a flash, Bijou ran to the youngest Munchkin's side. When the wide-eyed boy came out of the garage, Aislinn pointed to the boy and said something to the beagle which Martin couldn't hear. The mama beagle growled.
"You need to go home now," Aislinn told the boy, who limped to the gate and gave Bijou a wary look as he left the yard.
Though Bijou was simply an average-sized beagle, with her lips curled back showing her teeth, she looked as though she could inflict some serious damage if she wanted to.
As the boy closed the gate, Bijou ran towards the it with force and let out with a dramatic, "Grrrr-ufff," which was an unusual sound for her to make.
"Thank you, Bijou," Aislinn commented as she leaned over to pat the mama beagle. "Wanna finish the laundry with me?"
"Woof!" Bijou agreed, giving the gate a final glance to make sure the boy wasn't planning a return trip.
~Boys can be so dumb sometimes,~ Aislinn thought as she returned to the garage to finish her current laundry duty.
Some days following the incident in the garage, several of the Jackson-O'Neills were again at the park, as were many other neighborhood children, including Leroy Nelson and Martin Birdsong.
"Leroy, watch this," Jenny requested. "Ricky, come here," she called out to her twin.
Once Ricky arrived, Jenny told him she wanted to show Leroy her moves. As the boy smiled in anticipation, Jenny and Ricky took positions and proceeded with a demonstration of skills learned from Teal'c. Specifically, they were doing Chulakian attack moves.
Leroy's mouth opened when Ricky landed flat on his back.
"I need to practice more," Ricky sighed casually.
Jenny gave her fellow Spitfire a hand up and stated appreciatively, "Thanks, Ricky." She turned back to face Leroy and, with her arms across her chest, warned, "No house! No nothing! Go play with someone else, or I'll do to you, for real, what I was just practicing on my brother."
Leroy gulped as Jenny walked away, resigned to the fact that he would have to find himself a new girl to chase.
Aislinn was playing on the swings with some of the children when something caught her eye. Slowly, she stopped her swinging until finally, her feet skidded back and forth in the sand. She focused intently on a large tree on the other side of the park. Then she saw her friend, Lissa, walk away from the tree, the girl's head down.
Leaving the swings behind her, the youngest of the triplets ran over to Lissa, and that's when she knew she'd been right.
"Ash, it's okay," Lissa said quietly.
"No, it's not, Lissa. You need to tell your parents. I'll go with you, if you want," Aislinn offered.
"Lissa, you have to tell them."
"No! And you can't, either, not if you're my friend," Lissa stated with force before running off and leaving the park.
Aislinn watched for a minute and then turned around. She closed her eyes and mentally thought the word, 'Munchkins'.
Though Jonny was on one side of the park and Little Danny on the other, both looked up and searched the park until they found their sister. In an instant, they left their friends and ran over to Aislinn.
"Huddle," Aislinn instructed.
From the center of the park, Jennifer watched the huddle as it formed. She'd actually had her eye on Aislinn from the moment the girl had suddenly left the swings. She'd witnessed the hushed conversation with Lissa and, in fact, thought she had seen her sister's friend brushing back a tear.
"Ash, why didn't you tell us?" Jonny questioned harshly.
"'Cause he didn't actually touch me; he just tried, and Bij and I handled it," the independent Munchkin explained. "I would have said something if he didn't stop or had really done something."
"You should have told us, or Dad and Daddy," Little Danny reprimanded softly.
"You're right, Little Danny. If I had, maybe he wouldn't have touched Lissa. She's really upset."
"We have to tell Dad and Daddy right now," Jonny declared firmly.
With the agreement of his siblings, Jonny led the Munchkins over to Jennifer, who was watching them run to her.
"Jen, we have to go home now," Jonny advised in full little general mode.
"Okay," Jennifer agreed, feeling in her gut that something was definitely wrong. "Brood, it's time to go," she called out to the others.
Back at home, the Munchkins and Jennifer rounded up their parents, telling them they needed to talk right away.
Jack and Daniel both noticed the subdued demeanor of the Munchkins. While Aislinn and Little Danny looked sad and concerned, Jonny looked determined and angry. Focusing on Jennifer, the parents saw curiosity, but no answers. They took their children to the study and, after shutting the door, they sat down on the sofa.
Jennifer leaned against her older father's desk, while Aislinn stood up close to her parents, with Jonny and Little Danny standing behind her and just a bit to her side.
To Jack, the Munchkin stance was like a V-formation, a sign of protectiveness. He knew that whatever was coming wasn't going to be fun.
"What's going on, Ash?" Daniel inquired calmly.
The little girl debated whether to start with her own experience or to jump right into what had occurred today. Taking a huge breath, she decided to dive right in.
"Martin Birdsong touched Lissa in a private place today at the park," Aislinn informed her parents in a rush, taking a cleansing breath afterwards.
"You saw?" Daniel questioned, already knowing that his husband was seething.
"Well ..." Aislinn began. She told her parents everything, backtracking all the way to when Martin had tried to touch her in the garage. "I should have told you. I'm sorry, but he didn't touch me, and he didn't try anymore, and he's scared of Bij now, so he doesn't even come near me."
"Ash, next time, you tell us," Jack ordered sternly as he managed to maintain his anger in front of the children.
"Because of me, Lissa got hurt," Aislinn replied and then began to cry.
"Princess," Jack began, taking his daughter into his arms. "It's not your fault."
When Aislinn finally stopped crying, Daniel looked over at Jennifer and advised, "Watch the brood."
"Yes, Daddy," Jennifer acknowledged quietly.
Announcing that they -- Jack, Daniel, and Aislinn -- were headed for Lissa's home, Jonny and Little Danny immediately balked at being left behind.
"We have to be with Ash," Jonny insisted.
"Jonny, think about Lissa," Daniel requested. "She doesn't need a crowd around her right now, especially boys, even though she knows you two would never hurt her."
"Daddy's right," Little Danny reluctantly agreed, cutting off Jonny while giving him a look.
The middle Munchkin stepped up and hugged Aislinn fiercely. A heartbeat later, Jonny hugged them both in a Munchkin sandwich, giving Aislinn extra strength and reassurance.
A few minutes later, Jack knocked on the front door of the home belonging to Dwayne and Alisha Moore. They had two children, Lissa, age eleven, and Brian, age nine.
"Jack, Daniel, what a surprise," Alisha greeted. With a big smile, she looked at the Munchkin and added, "Hello, Ash."
"Hello, Alisha," Daniel greeted as he held Aislinn's right hand, while Jack was gently gripping her left. "Is Dwayne home?"
"Ah, yes. Is something wrong?"
"If you have a minute, we need to talk with the both of you," Jack informed gently.
"Sure, come in."
After being called to the living room, Dwayne greeted his friends, but before he said anything further, Lissa quietly entered the room. She saw her friend and knew instantly what was happening.
"Ash, you promised," Lissa called out unhappily, about to run out of the room.
Aislinn hurried to stop her friend and corrected, "I didn't promise, Lissa, but it's important. You can't keep this a secret. It's a bad secret."
"Ash, you're not my friend!" the girl exclaimed angrily.
"I am your friend; that's why we're here," Aislinn refuted strongly.
"Lissa, do you have something to tell us?" Dwayne asked his daughter with concern.
"No! She's lying, Papa. Don't believe her. She's lying!" Lissa exclaimed, bursting into tears and running out of the room.
Alisha instinctively started to follow, until she heard her husband call out, "Lish, we need to know what's happened first."
"I'm not lying," Aislinn emotionally told her friend's parents.
"Maybe we should sit down," Daniel suggested.
"I don't think I want to sit down," Dwayne snapped, reminding Daniel a lot of Jack at the moment. "Tell us now."
As precisely as possible, Daniel informed the Moores about the actions of Martin Birdsong. As he did so, Aislinn interjected exactly what she'd witnessed.
"I wasn't sure. I saw Lissa go behind that big tree, and I thought I saw Martin, but I couldn't be sure. I wished I'd stopped swinging sooner, but I couldn't see. Then I saw her dress move, and that's when I stopped swinging."
"He tried to touch you?" Alisha asked Aislinn in horror.
With a nod, Aislinn confirmed the story that Daniel had already related to the Moores.
"You didn't live here when we had a child safety class," Daniel stated.
"We've had neighborhood turnover," Jack pointed out. "It might not be a bad idea to have another one, for the new kids and a refresher for the others."
"And Teal'c trains us all the time," Aislinn elaborated. "I guess that's part of why I never told Dad and Daddy about the garage. I wasn't afraid, and Martin doesn't know the moves I do."
"Who's Teal'c?" Dwayne inquired, not having heard that name before.
"He's a ... a good friend of the family," Daniel explained.
"Self-defense expert," Jack added.
"Thank you, Ash," Alisha stated. "Dwayne, I'm going to talk to Lissa."
"We'll leave now," Daniel stated.
As they said their good-byes, Aislinn added, "Please tell Lissa I'm sorry, and I am her friend. I love her."
"We know, Ash," Dwayne replied with a smile, sensing the girl's sincerity. "You did the right thing. Thank you for telling us."
Outside their home, just before the steps that led up to the porch, Jack knelt down and took hold of Aislinn's hands.
"I'm sorry, Dad," Aislinn interrupted, bowing her head.
"Princess, you don't have anything to be sorry about. I wish you'd had told us about what happened in the garage, but even if you had, it might not have changed a thing about today." Jack sighed and asked, "Nothing happened, in the garage?"
"Dad! He's a wimp. He didn't listen the first time, so when I saw his hand starting to go down there again, I kicked him where you, and the safety guy, and Teal'c have taught us. Then I walked out and got Bij."
"Next time, tell us, right away."
"I promise," Aislinn assured, feeling herself pulled in for a hug. She turned and hugged her younger father as well. "Don't let Dad go nuts."
Daniel chuckled and replied, "I'll do my best."
"I don't want that kid in this neighborhood," Jack barked as he paced in the privacy of the master bedroom, the door secured to make sure that none of the brood overheard the 'discussion' taking place.
"We have to let the Moores handle this themselves," Daniel opined.
"He tried to make a move on *our* daughter, Daniel -- *our* daughter," the general reiterated.
"I know, and I'm as upset about that as you are."
"You don't sound it."
"I promised Ash."
Spinning around, Jack spat, "Don't give me that bull, Daniel. Some kid tries to get in our daughter's pants, and you haven't even raised your voice. I want that kid in a black hole somewhere."
"Raising my voice isn't going to accomplish anything," the younger man averred in an attempt to be reasonable.
"Am I missing something?" Jack questioned. "A boy made a move on Ash, and you're treating it like the kid did nothing."
"No, I'm not," Daniel denied. "Jack, Ash is fine." He walked forward, closing the gap that had separated the two men by just a bit. "Look, I'm not saying we don't need to be worried, but all of our children are pretty good at protecting themselves, at least with other children their size. Martin Birdsong isn't much taller than Ash. She had it under control, and she knew it."
"Jack, I'm not dismissing it, but the fact is that by the nature of their upbringing and who their parents are and how we live, our children believe in themselves and their ability to be ... independent. Even if they are afraid, they fight back. We taught them to do that. Ash fought back. She also did what you've taught her, to evaluate her adversary. She did that, and she knew he couldn't handle her. Let's just take a minute and be thankful that she has those skills because without them, we might be arguing over a very different situation."
"I am thankful, and you'd better believe I'm gonna have T keep up with their training, but I still want that kid to pay."
"'Kid', Jack. He's a boy. You can't send him to a black hole somewhere, nor can you transfer him to another base. We're talking about a child."
"A child who is out of line big time."
"Yes, yes, he is, and that's what we have to deal with, but we do not have the right to bring the Moores into this until or unless they agree."
All of a sudden, Jack headed for the door.
"Where are you going?"
"For a walk," Jack announced.
"I'm going for a walk, Daniel, unless you'd rather I tear up the pillows in the rec room in front of our children."
"Fine," Jack repeated sarcastically, banging the door behind him.
Daniel closed his eyes as he crossed his arms in front of him. He knew Jack was reacting from a combination of fear and relief, but that didn't help him to deal with the fact that they'd just had their most heated argument in quite some time.
The archaeologist looked down, twisting his wedding band. It was just a reflex action, though. He and Jack had always argued; that was nothing new, and this row would be smoothed over in an hour or two once Jack calmed down. Still, the lovers were disagreeing on an important issue, and Daniel wasn't sure how that would turn out in the long run.
"We have to respect their decision," Daniel purported strongly the next week after having concluded a phone call with Dwayne Moore.
"It's a wrong decision," Jack maintained.
"As long as we've been together, we've lived by a very important rule -- the rights of parents to raise their children on their timeline. We've bent over backwards not to say or do anything in public, even in front of our home, when we know there's a good chance that children might be around and may not understand our relationship."
"Old news, Daniel."
"My point is that you can't change the rules simply because you don't like them now," Daniel argued.
"I don't understand you," Jack snapped angrily.
"The Moores don't want to subject Lissa to interrogation by the police or anyone else. She's scared. They are protecting their little girl, just like we protect our children." Daniel saw the angered scowl on his Love's face and knew he wasn't getting anywhere in changing his mind. "Listen to me, Jack. Lissa finally told her the parents the truth. They have her in counseling, but she doesn't even want to be around other boys now, at all, *including* our sons. That's how scared she is. You can't be certain that we wouldn't react the same way and make the same choices if Ash had responded the same way."
"Stretching," Jack accused, believing his lover was going overboard in defending the Moores' decision to not pursue the case with the authorities.
"No, I'm not."
"Daniel, lie to yourself if you want, but if Birdy Boy had actually touched our little girl, there'd be hell to pay, and he'd be paying it."
"I hope not," Daniel sighed, glad they weren't debating that issue for real. The problem was that he knew his husband was right, and in a worst case scenario, Jack would most likely in up in jail for doing something awful, and that would make Daniel's future look darn bleak. ~Gawd, I don't ever want Ash or any of our children to go through something like that.~
"Let's just forget about the what if game," Jack suggested as he stared intently at Daniel. "The fact is that we have a little monster running loose who doesn't know to keep his hands in his pockets. His parents are ignoring the issue all together."
"Which is part of the reason why the Moores are doing what they are," Daniel pointed out. "With the Birdsongs denying Martin did anything wrong, it would be a battle, Jack."
"Some things you battle, and others you let go. This is *not* one of the things you let go," Jack stated strongly.
"No, it's ... not," Daniel conceded as he sat down on Jack's side of the bed and hunched over. "I just don't want to condemn the Moores for doing what is best for their little girl, even if we don't happen to agree with their course of action. It's family, Jack, and we can't interfere with that. If we do, we are going against everything we've lived by from the beginning."
"Danny," Jack began, walking over to stand in front of his husband and then kneeling down onto his haunches, "you're right. We've respected others even when we've received no respect in turn, but this is different. All right, the Moores aren't going to do anything. That's their choice, but our choice has to be different."
Daniel's head dropped, and that's when Jack finally understand.
"Angel, that's what you've been afraid of the whole time," Jack surmised as he reached out to take Daniel's hands in his. "Crap, how'd I miss that?"
"She's our little girl, Jack, and I know she's tough." Daniel's eyes watered as he became somewhat emotional. "If we do this, we're subjecting her to who knows what. Yes, she...she's strong, but she's our little girl."
"That's why she'd want us to do whatever is necessary. She's part of us, Danny. She's the one who went after Lissa right away. She's the one who came to us as soon as she knew it was necessary, and she's the one who's continued to be Lissa's friend even when Lissa turned her back on her. Every single day, Ash called her, accepting the daily rejection, until Lissa finally invited her over. She needs a friend, and there's no better friend for that kid than our daughter."
"So, we let our princess be put on trial."
"Not if we can help it," Jack negated. "We protect this neighborhood."
"And how do we do that?"
"First, we do report it to the police and Child Protective Services," Jack stated. "We don't have a choice about that."
"One step at a time, Danny," Jack answered, transitioning from his current position to sitting on the bed next to his soulmate. "Let's see what they determine."
"They won't determine anything, Jack. We have to leave the Moores out of it, so that means just Ash. She wasn't hurt."
"Do you have a better idea?"
"No. Okay," the archaeologist finally relented.
"Look, Danny, we have friends in the sheriff's department and at CPS. This time, let's take advantage of our connections. For Ash, let's do this quietly."
Daniel nodded and leaned into his Love, wanting and needing his strength. He'd fought a silent war with himself over how far to take the situation with Aislinn, and now he knew that to be true to who they were as a family, they had to step forward and at least report the incident.
A bit of time passed. Aislinn had bravely given her statement to the authorities, but just as Jack and Daniel had feared, the Birdsongs denied any wrongdoing by their son, who smugly proclaimed his innocence. With the Moores remaining tightlipped, there was little that could be done.
Or so it seemed.
Little Danny marched inside the house with a full head of steam, which was extremely unusual for the Munchkin. He'd just been dropped off by his morning caregivers. Since Daniel's car was not in the driveway, he assumed his parents were still out, so he ignored the house rules and called out loudly to his siblings.
"Was that Little Danny?" Brianna asked Lulu as they stopped preparing lunch in the kitchen.
"I think so," the curly top replied, taking off her apron and putting it on the side of a chair.
Soon, the entire brood, except for JD who was over at the Luca homestead, was gathered in the living room.
"What's up?" David asked his little brother.
"We have to do something," Little Danny announced.
"About what?" Jonny inquired.
"Martin Birdsong. He was at the park, and he tried to get Carrie alone," Little Danny reported, referring to Carrie Lapierre, who was his best friend outside of the family and Karissa. "He went over to that same tree, Ash. She said he was gonna show her something special."
Aislinn gasped, "That's what he said to Lissa."
"Did you beat him up?" Jonny asked, a glint in his eye as he spoke.
"I told him to stay away from Carrie." Little Danny heard the sigh from his brother and added, "Carrie didn't know what he was gonna do, but I did. I didn't want her to get upset."
"Oh, okay," Jonny replied, happy with the explanation. ~Gotta protect our family, and Carrie's family.~
Jenny let out a sigh and then confided, "Leroy told me that Martin was teaching him stuff."
"What kind of stuff?" Jennifer asked with concern.
"'Man stuff', he said. I didn't ask Leroy what he meant, but he was always trying to touch me until I gave him the boot," Jenny reported. She thought and then lit up, as if just making a connection. "Leroy wasn't so annoying until he became friends with Martin."
"Well, Martin is probably influencing Leroy," Jennifer surmised. She sighed in contemplation before adding, "He might be talking to some of the other boys, too."
"So what are we going to do?" an anguished Little Danny inquired of his siblings.
"I wish we could do something," Jennifer lamented. "Kids, this is an adult thing. We have to let Dad and Daddy ..."
"Dad and Daddy tried," Aislinn interrupted emotionally.
"I think Jen's right," David chimed, having made his personal decision about their options. "I don't want her to be right about this, but there's not a lot we can do."
"Yes, there is," Jonny spoke up, a strategy forming in his mind. "Huddle."
"Thanks, Grandma Sophia," Jennifer said with a smile.
"I always love to walk," the spry senior citizen responded. "Munchkins, lead the way."
"Spitfires, let's go," Brianna called out as she and the twins headed in a different direction.
"Good luck, Bro," Jennifer told David as he and the curly tops went off on their mission. ~Guess it's my turn,~ she mused as she closed the front door and headed for the kitchen. ~Dad and Daddy are probably going to murder all of us, but ...~
The young woman shrugged. She might be in college, but first and foremost, she was still part of the brood, and the brood had spoken.
~We are ... the brood!~ Jennifer laughed as if having just shouted an inner football cheer.
Thirty minutes later, Jack and Daniel arrived home.
"Whoa, Angel -- kid alert!"
"Yeah, apparently," Daniel replied as he carefully pulled into the driveway.
"Are we having a party?" Jack asked as he unfastened his seatbelt.
"Maybe we forgot a birthday," the younger man mused.
What the men were seeing was a constant stream of neighborhood children entering their home. Curious and apprehensive at the same time, the parents walked inside, dodging the slew of smaller feet that were all around them.
"Hi!" Calvin Miller greeted, walking by the adults as he headed for the patio door.
"Hi," Jack called out, just staring at the youngsters.
"Okay, this is ... different," Daniel noted, looking back as young Loretta Tyler bumped into him.
"I'm sorry," the nine-year-old giggled and then skipped by Daniel.
"Maybe not so different," the archaeologist mused lightly.
Jack and Daniel proceeded forward, reaching the patio just as the kids in the back began to settle down. They watched in surprise as Jonny stood atop a box to be sure all the kids could see him. Then the boy whistled, silencing the chatter.
"He learned that from you," Daniel pointed out.
"Daniel, I think every kid within six blocks is in our backyard," Jack observed, making a silent count.
"No, just every child between the ages of," Daniel prolonged the word as he settled on his calculation, "nine and up, except for our brood."
"He's at Mrs. Valissi's," Jennifer revealed as she entered from the kitchen. "I didn't know you were home yet," she stated tentatively.
"Obviously," Jack responded. "Care to fill the adults in?"
"Well, it ..."
Just then, Jonny spoke up, drawing all the attention in his direction.
"You all know what this is about. We're forming the Kids Protection League," Jonny declared.
"The KPL," Aislinn added.
"Our parents protect us, but they can't be with us all the time, and they have to worry about the laws," Jonny spoke out. "We have to obey the laws, too, but we can look out for one another in ways that our parents can't."
"Should we stop this?" Daniel questioned as the lovers continued to stare out the large patio window, the screen door the only thing keeping them from being outside with the children.
"Why?" Jack asked, tired of being stymied by a society where children were at risk more every year.
"I don't know. I just thought I'd ask."
Jennifer smiled a little as she bowed her head, feeling a tad guilty about letting this impromptu KPL gathering happen without her parents' permission. However, their current demeanor and banter told her that they weren't really angry about the gathering.
"Jonny, what's the big deal?" Calvin asked from the center of the kids.
"I'm going to tell it, Jonny," Aislinn interrupted, stepping up onto the box. "Our mommies and daddies tell us all the time that it's not right for anyone to touch us where we don't want them to. You know what I mean."
"Uh, Jack ..."
"Daniel, I'm prepared to deal with parental outrage in this case. What about you?"
Daniel looked over at Jennifer and asked, "What did you tell their parents to get them here?"
"It was a joint effort. I actually stayed to prepare the treats," Jennifer answered. "Basically, I think they just asked if they could come over and ... play."
"Great," Daniel sighed.
"I'll call Mark when they're done," Jack stated, referring Mark Kingston, who had been Jack's lawyer, and subsequently, Daniel's, for many years.
"I'm glad we have a personal umbrella," the archaeologist sighed, anticipating potential lawsuits.
"Hang in there, Danny. Let's just see how this goes," the older man urged, patting his lover encouraging on the buttocks for a second.
As Aislinn was telling her story, three different outraged voices called out, "I know who she's talking about."
That really started the ball rolling. Apparently, Martin Birdsong's groping hands had reached out to more girls than anyone knew.
"Maybe we need to call some parents," Daniel pondered as he listened.
At that moment, the doorbell rang, and Jack went to see who it was. Surprised, he walked outside, closing the door behind him. He stood, towering over the shorter boy.
"I want to play with the kids," Martin told Jack.
Resisting the urge to take the boy, straddle him over his knee, and give him the spanking of his life, Jack just stared.
~Crap. I don't believe in spanking, and the last time I did that to my own kid, it just about tore me in two.~ Taking a moment to contemplate the best response, Jack finally answered, "The kids are playing, but you're not invited."
"Let me tell you a story," Jack stated, walking down off the front porch as he considered his tale. "It goes like this."
"I want to play. I don't want to hear a story," the boy complained.
"Kid, I don't really care what you want. Just listen up," Jack ordered. ~Maybe it's his parents; bad upbringing.~
"I'm gonna go play with ..."
As the boy spun around with the clear intent of entering the Jackson-O'Neill home, Jack called out, "Whoa!" and climbed up the steps, grabbing the boy by his shoulder. "Okay, kid, forget the nice treatment. You aren't going one step inside my house, and get this, stay off my grass."
"I'm gonna tell my parents you're being mean to me," the little boy huffed.
"Kid, you don't know what mean is, but if you want to find out, just go near one of my kids again. This is the rule. You aren't allowed to play with my kids, and you may not want to hear the story about the boy frog whose legs kept jumping onto the girl frog's lily pad, but all you need to know is that when that boy frog didn't listen and stop going where his legs don't belong, he ended up having his legs boiled and eaten in some fancy restaurant. The moral of the story is keep your legs, and hands, to yourself. Do you get me?"
The boy gulped and ran for his home.
Jack let out a big gush of air and shook his head. He had no desire to scare a child, but where was the line? He had to try to shake up that boy and, hopefully, it might get him to at least think before acting inappropriately again.
"Where have you been?" Daniel asked when his husband returned to his side inside the house.
"Adding to our lawsuits."
"I'll explain later," Jack responded. "What's happening here?"
"They're organizing a watch pattern and establishing a system of how to alert one another if someone acts inappropriately, even if it's one of their friends," Daniel answered. "It's been ... impressive."
"Everyone understand the KPL rules?" Jonny asked. Seeing nods, he added, "Okay, who wants us to go talk to their parents?"
Two of the three children who had spoken up earlier about having some involvement with Martin raised their hands.
"Do you want just us, or do you want our parents to help?"
"I think your fathers should talk to my mommy," one of the little girls answered bashfully.
"Isn't that Sheri Randall?" Jack asked quietly.
"Yes," Jennifer confirmed.
"Her parents separated a couple of months ago," Daniel noted.
"Kid's got enough to deal with without Birdsong hovering over her," Jack added forcefully.
"KPL meeting adjourned," Jonny announced loudly, after which he huddled together with his fellow triplets for a moment. "Jen, we need treats," he shouted from the huddle.
"That's my cue," Jennifer told her parents. "Excuse me," she added as she headed for the kitchen where trays of goodies had been set out.
As the kids headed for the house, Daniel suggested, "Maybe we should ..."
"Oh, yeah," Jack agreed as he and his husband went to assist Jennifer in snack dispensing.
It took quite a while, but finally, Jack and Daniel ensured that all of the boys and girls had gotten home safely. They'd spoken with a large majority of the parents, most of whom understood what Jonny had set out to do. In fact, many parents who worked and were away from home much of the time were actually happy to know that their children were being looked out for by one another.
There were a few parents from some of the other blocks who weren't happy about the KPL. Angry words had been expressed by some parents, but fortunately, no one had yet threatened any type of legal, or other, action.
Jack and Daniel had ended up helping not just Sheri, but two other kids tell their parents about questionable moments with Martin. The parents had been stunned and ultimately grateful that Jonny's desire to protect the neighborhood kids had convinced their daughters to come forward. All were in the process of deciding whether or not to contact the authorities.
"Dad, we had to have a meeting, and it couldn't wait," Little Danny argued for his brother that evening when Jack and Daniel had pulled them into the study for a little chat.
"Okay, but ..."
"Martin was gonna hurt Carrie, Dad," the boy reminded for the fifth time. "I have to protect her."
"And she doesn't even live in our neighborhood," Jonny added.
"Yeah. He just met Carrie. Carrie didn't know Martin could hurt her," Little Danny continued.
"We have to rely on one another," the child prodigy continued despite Jack's attempt to interrupt. "You said the adults couldn't do anything, but we're kids, and we can do something. We don't have to play with Martin. If we all know what to look for, we can protect each other."
"And even kids we don't know," Jonny interjected. "We see kids we don't know at the park all the time, and Martin goes to the park."
"I don't want to hate Martin, Dad, but he almost hurt Ash, and he did hurt Lissa and Sheri and ..."
"All right, hold it!" Jack exclaimed, raising his hands up into the air. "Jonny, Little Danny, Daddy and I didn't bring you in here to get on your cases."
"You didn't?" Little Danny asked in surprise.
"You're not mad?"
Jack and Daniel both smiled as they looked at the boys.
"The truth is that we're very proud of you for caring so much about all of the children in the neighborhood," Daniel replied.
"You separated into teams that we'd approve of when you invited the kids over," Jack continued.
"And you made a good choice about the age cutoff," Daniel noted.
"We weren't trying to go behind your back," Jonny added. "We just knew you were working, and we needed to act now."
"That was my fault. I was really upset about Carrie," Little Danny explained.
"Carrie's fine," Daniel reminded, putting his hand over his namesake's left shoulder and giving him a comforting smile.
"You did good," Jack praised.
"Very good," Daniel seconded. "Time for bed."
"We'll be up in a little while to say goodnight," Jack told the kids, watching the boys leave the room.
"That wasn't exactly what we were going to say, was it?" Daniel questioned with a small smile on his face.
"Not even close, but their hearts were in the right place."
"We can handle the angry parents," Daniel put forth.
"Daniel, the truth is, I am proud of them. They're taking care of themselves and one another, and not just in our family, but the entire neighborhood."
"I know, and ... I feel good about it, too."
"Even if we get sued?"
"Even if we get sued," Daniel affirmed.
A couple of kisses later, the parents proceeded with their evening.
"Jenny?" a quiet voice called out, stopping the redhead as she and Ricky were going from Mrs. Valissi's house to their own.
Jenny turned around and saw Leroy standing behind her, holding a brand new screwdriver in his hand.
"My daddy let me pick out something special for you. He didn't think you'd like it, but I knew you would."
"It's a Craftsman," Jenny observed brightly, taking hold of the screwdriver. "Thanks, Leroy, but why?"
"I'm sorry, Jenny, for trying to act like Martin. I just wanted to be cool."
"Martin's not cool," Ricky interjected.
"Ricky, you better call Daddy. Tell him I'm talking to Leroy for a minute."
"Okay," Ricky acknowledged as he pulled out the phone from his pocket.
The Munchkins and the Spitfires shared what was called a community cell phone. This was what gave them some freedom on their block. They were to call whenever leaving a home and if they were delayed, like now, to call again. Failure to use the phone as outlined meant two things: losing the phone privilege and returning to being escorted everywhere by their parents or older siblings.
While Ricky made the call, Jenny and Leroy continued talking.
"Jenny, can we be friends? I really like you. I won't try and touch you or anything anymore. It was bad."
"No more asking to play house, either," Jenny negotiated as she started to lay out the rules. Once Leroy had agreed to all of her terms, she concluded, "I don't want a boyfriend, Leroy. I just want friends, so if you want to be my friend, you can come over and play for a while, if it's okay with your parents." With a smile, she added, "I can show you my tool box."
"I'll go ask my parents, okay?"
"You like Leroy," Ricky teased.
"He's nice, now that he's not acting like an octopus," Jenny opined, using a term she'd heard Jennifer use in talking with some of her friends.
"Jenny, are you really afraid of a boy touching you?"
"I'm not afraid of anything," the redhead responded. "Who needs all that kissing and touching and stuff? Why can't we just be friends?"
"But if you get married ..."
"Who says I have to get married?" the little girl countered. "I want to study and see the world, like Dad and Daddy have done. I don't need a boy to do it with me."
"Maybe I want to go with you," Ricky replied quietly.
Jenny gave her twin a kiss on the cheek and assured, "You can always come with me. You're not a boy, Ricky; you're a Spitfire, just like me."
As the twins hugged, happy about their future togetherness, Leroy came running down the sidewalk and called out, "Mommy said it was okay. I can stay until dinnertime."
"Okay," Jenny replied. "Maybe my dad will let us build something."
"Something with screws," the boy suggested, "so you can use your new screwdriver."
"That would really be cool," Jenny replied as the three children headed up towards the Spitfires' home.
A few weeks later, Jack walked in the door and was greeted by his husband. The two shared a tender kiss and then another.
"How'd it go?" Daniel asked as the lovers still held each other at the waist.
"It wasn't pleasant, but they made some headway."
"How so?" the younger man as the couple walked into the living room.
"They put Martin on probation," Jack responded. "With the Moores coming around and Lissa's testimony, Martin could end up removed from his parents' custody."
"So do you think the Birdsongs are going to get him some help?"
"The court has mandated counseling, but ..." Jack paused, letting out a doubtful groan. "Danny, I get the feeling they think we've railroaded their precious baby."
The call of the children interrupted the conversation and let the discussion of Martin Birdsong behind.
"Hey, Love," Jack greeted on yet another day. This time it was Daniel returning home to his husband and children. "Make any progress?"
"Karissa's suggestions were very helpful," Daniel stated, after which the lovers shared a few welcome home kisses. "How's the brood?"
"No problems; most of them are in the backyard." Jack laughed, "Leroy's a lot more popular now that he's more interested in building things than trying to get Jenny to play house."
Daniel let out a chuckle and replied, "You're happy about that."
"You'd better believe it; she's ten. What he had in mind she doesn't get to do until she's thirty."
Letting out another laugh, Daniel sighed, "Jack, on the way home, I noticed a 'For Sale' sign on the Birdsong's lawn."
"Hmm. I guess I'm not surprised."
"Are they allowed to move?"
"Sure, as long as they stay in this jurisdiction."
"So, they just go to a new neighborhood where no one knows about Martin."
Jack nodded, "Probably, but he's on probation, Danny. They're watching him."
"It's an overworked system. I don't blame the caseworkers; they have a lot to do. I just hope his parents keep him in counseling and that he doesn't slip through the cracks. He's young enough to be helped."
"Leroy, I can open the door myself," Jenny whined.
"But you're a girl, and girls aren't supposed to open doors themselves," Leroy countered.
"Oh, brother," Jenny expressed in disbelief.
The parents watched their Spitfire and her follower pass by them, both waving a hello at the two men.
"Chivalry is not dead," Jack chuckled.
"Apparently not," Daniel agreed, amused by Jenny's expression and remarks.
"Dad, Daddy, can we have another KPL meeting this weekend?" Jonny asked as he walked in with his Munchkin siblings.
"Uh, is everything okay?" Daniel questioned.
"Yeahsureyoubetcha," Aislinn laughed.
"We just want to make sure everyone is still watching. It's good to be reminded," Little Danny stated.
"You're absolutely right," Jack agreed. "Daniel?"
"Let's do it. Babe, we never did have another child safety class. Maybe we can do that, too."
"We've got some phone calls to make," Jack commented as the Munchkins smiled.
Something new had been added to the peaceful neighborhood in which the Jackson-O'Neills lived, and that was an awareness and camaraderie built by the children themselves. No plan was perfect, but right now, the children were making their community just a bit safer for all, and Jack and Daniel couldn't have been prouder.
~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
Author's Note: Please feel free to email me with your comments or suggestions; constructive criticism, things you'd like to see, etc. A chronological listing of my universe is at http://orrymain.com