Summary: Jack and Daniel celebrate another wedding anniversary, only this one is full of pint-size surprises, for them and for some of their guests.
"Kids, let's go!" Jennifer called out urgently from the bottom of the staircase. It was just after nine in the morning, but to the seventeen-year-old it felt like it was late afternoon, meaning she had too much to do in just a couple of hours. ~Let's see -- phone, purse, dress. Oh, gawd, I'm going to forget something, and it's going to be a disaster.~
"Sweetie?" Daniel called out gently as he approached the young woman from behind, placing his hands softly on her back and shoulders. "Breathe."
"Oh, Daddy," Jennifer sighed deeply as she turned around and fell into his loving hold. "We want it all to be so perfect."
"Perfection is a high ideal that is vastly overrated. Make it about love, and just ... let it happen," Daniel advised. "That's what we want."
Jennifer let out a huge sigh of relief and replied, "You just said the perfect thing."
"Jen, Dad and I are so touched that you and the rest of the brood care so much about making this party special, but what you have to already know is that this is special, because you're doing it, and you care."
"Thank you, Daddy," Jennifer spoke as she pulled away slight. She mused, "This is far more pressure than that math test I have to take."
Jennifer and Jeff were both skipping out on school for the day, and in Jennifer's case, it meant missing a math test. Fortunately, her teacher had agreed to let her take a replacement exam the following Tuesday.
"Let's see if you say that next week," Daniel teased.
At that moment, there was a knock on the door. It was time for the brood to go.
"Brood!" Jennifer shouted, after which she noticed Daniel's cringed expression from the volume of her yell. "I'm sorry, Daddy."
"It's okay," Daniel stated, releasing his daughter completely. ~I'll get the hearing back in that ear eventually.~
Finally, the children came roaring down the steps, each with a backpack of supplies and various things they might want during the day. Their party clothes were in garment bags which had already been put into Pete Shanahan's car.
It took Jennifer a few minutes to get everyone in line so she could give each of them a cereal bar along with their choice of milk or juice in individual cartons or pouches.
"Breakfast on the run," Jennifer explained as she completed the handouts. "You all had an extra half-hour of sleep this way."
"I'm a growing boy; I can't live on one cereal bar. I'll starve," Jeff whined mockingly, trying to imitate 'the pout'.
"Me, either," chimed David, giving the same pout-like expression on his face.
"I have extras, but you both flunk 'Pout 101'," Jennifer chuckled. "You'd better study Daddy and Little Danny more closely. Even Dad can't do it right after all these years."
Jack grimaced slightly as he listened to the conversation and tried to ignore his husband's guffaw.
"Lulu's pretty good at it," Chenoa praised, smiling at her sister, who smiled sheepishly in response.
Finally, after several goodbye hugs to each parent, the kids were out the door and getting settled into the SUV, which Samantha Carter-Shanahan would be driving to their Denver destination.
"Now don't be late. You have to be on time, not early, and not late -- on time," Jennifer admonished nervously to her parents.
"Punctuality is my middle name," Jack teased as he stood near the front door.
"Don't worry, Jen," Daniel comforted, knowing how stressed the young woman was.
"Okay, and Aunt Sara will be here sometime between noon and one, so make sure JD is ready."
"We will. Are you sure you don't need more help?" Daniel questioned, willing to make some phone calls.
With a smile, the oldest member of the brood replied, "We can handle it. Besides, Sheila and Amber are coming by after school lets out, and Aunt Carolyn is going to drop off Trina sometime this afternoon, too. Then there's Aunt Sam and Uncle Pete and Uncle Lou and ..."
"We got it, Princess; you've got it covered," Jack interrupted.
"Thank you for asking, Daddy." Jennifer's smile faded and she suddenly had that stressed look. She turned and hurried out, talking to herself as she ran through reminders. "Don't forget the banner. Make sure the JD schedule is followed. Tablecloths: have to check on the tablecloths."
"Danny, our daughter may have a nervous breakdown before this day is over."
"She'll be okay," Daniel refuted confidently. "Gawd, we're lucky."
Jack looked at his soulmate for a couple of seconds and then he put his arm around him and nodded.
A little more than two months ago, the Jackson-O'Neill brood had sat down to enjoy a wonderfully romantic film, "Sabrina." Some of the female siblings had done a lot of swooning over Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn that night, and somehow the conversation had turned towards their parents and wanting to see them decked out in tuxedos, dancing on the dance floor for their anniversary.
Amazing to some, Jack and Daniel actually had three wedding anniversaries to celebrate as they'd retaken their vows twice. The day at hand was the anniversary of the first time they'd promised to officially be each other's for all time. It was on November 16th, 2003 that Jack and Daniel were wed in Canada, making this the ninth year of their union, as recognized by Canadian law.
On that late August evening, the brood had entered into a bet with their fathers that if they could be completely obedient, clean, and cooperative with one another (and everyone else, for that matter) for eight full weeks, the anniversary would be celebrated with a big party during which Jack and Daniel would wear tuxedos and dance for all to see.
It had been a grueling adventure and in truth, Jack had been the one to learn more about himself than any of the others. In the end, the children won the bet and in a scramble, a gigantic and extravagant party had been planned.
Throughout the weeks of the bet, Daniel had managed to get his lover to make his desires known, should they by on the losing end of the wager, though the older man had been so convinced the brood would lose that it had been like pulling teeth to get him to make any of his desires known. For example, the party would be catered by professionals, and there would be live music performed by a big band playing the likes of the Dorsey brothers, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller.
Daniel had thought more than once, ~It's a good thing these are hypothetical teeth of yours, Jack, or we could add dental bills to the cost of this party.~
In their quest to be prepared for winning the bet and making sure the party was attended by their extended family and others, Daniel had given the children permission to set up an anniversary website. Actually, Sam had ended up in charge of it. The invitations that had been mailed the morning after the bet was lost contained a basic layout of what was happening and then directed the recipients to the website for the party specifics and an RSVP link.
A professional photographer who had taken special occasion shots of the children before had been hired as well to take formal portraits of the event. Jeff would be taking more casual shots throughout the evening, but the guests would all be able to have their pictures taken, if desired, at one part of the ballroom. In addition, the kids, wanting to be like an average family just for one night, had talked their parents into allowing a family portrait to be taken at the event. That photo would be published in the newspapers with all the other local announcements of weddings and special celebrations.
The theme for the decorations had been up for debate for a while. Jeff had suggested the roaring twenties, while Jennifer had thought the forties would be fun. In the end, they settled in the middle, the thirties, when big bands were swinging high and wide.
One of Jack and Daniel's favorite hotels, the Denver Hyatt, had been selected as the venue for the huge event. The hotel's Pinnacle Club on the 38th floor had a marvelous view of the Rocky Mountains. Its rich golden tones that highlighted the carpet accentuated the beauty of the surroundings. Better yet, the room featured floor to ceiling windows, giving the guests a marvelous, sweeping view of the skyline and mountain range, including Colorado Springs' own Pike's Peak, which was over a hundred miles away from the hotel. With a capacity of over three-hundred, it was an ideal choice for the party.
In actuality, the hotel's 37th floor was also being used by the family for this special celebration. Meeting rooms on that level had been converted to various uses with security present to prevent anyone not on the approved list from setting one foot in the area.
"What if no one comes?"
Jack's question as he and Daniel watched Sam drive off in the SUV with their children was a stunner.
"Jack, don't even think it," Daniel warned as he waved at Jenny, who had turned back in the rear seat of the SUV and waved toward her parents.
"It could be just us in our monkey suits," Jack insisted. He broke out into laughter at his unintentional remark. "A monkey suit for my Space Monkey."
"Oh, not today, Jack," Daniel groaned.
"Today, tomorrow, and forever ... Space Monkey," Jack proclaimed as he took his Love into his arms and kissed him.
"Babe, we're outside, on the front porch -- heel!" Daniel ordered, smiling at his soulmate.
Jack chuckled as he pulled back, well aware of their long ago agreement not to get overly lovey dovey in their front yard.
"Okay, so we have a guest list?" the general asked.
"People have been RSVPing since the invitations went out," Daniel noted as he turned around and walked inside the house.
"Who's coming?" the silver-haired man inquired, following his husband into the entranceway and then closing the front door behind them.
"I have no idea, but our children do. Maybe you want to chase after them and ask," Daniel suggested with attitude.
"Ah, a snarky geek today," Jack accused as he approached his lover, tickling his back.
"Gawd," Daniel expressed as the little pokes and prods of Jack's fingers got to him.
Jack launched into full tickle mode, causing Daniel to try and evade capture. The younger man ran around the sofa, with Jack following. It was case of dodge and weave, with the sofa as the lone barrier.
"I learned how to be snarky from the best," Daniel mused as he weaved to his right.
"Daniel, that's a myth," Jack responded, jumping forward, getting a hand on Daniel's arm, but then finding himself leaning halfway over the sofa arm, with his husband now on the opposite side of the comfy furniture piece.
"You were snarky before we met. You've just let me think that I've corrupted you. You were already corrupted."
"You'll never know," Daniel replied, a slight cackle in his tone. He ended their tickle game by saying, "I'm going to check on JD."
Jack nodded and called out, "Snarky geek."
"Nutty nut," Daniel retaliated.
~Nutty nut?~ Jack question silently. Then he called out, "Cheeky butt."
Halfway up the stairs, Daniel ceased his movement. Reflexively, he glanced back at his rear as he considered the description.
~Well, it's a butt, and it has cheeks. Since I know he's not British, I'll give him that one,~ the archaeologist thought, shrugging as he proceeded to take another step up another riser.
Daniel's focus on the cheeky butt comment gave his Love a chance to make a sneak attack from the rear.
"Mine, all mine!" Jack claimed, kissing the back of Daniel's nape.
The younger man's skin tingled from the feeling of his husband's lips. This wasn't the most comfortable position, lying flat on his abdomen on the top part of the stairs with Jack atop him. Still, he felt Jack's roaming hands and lips, and within seconds, he just didn't care.
"Mine, all mine," Jack repeated, more softly this time as he pulled up Daniel's shirt and began to unbuckle his belt.
~We don't have ti...time fo...for ... uh, oh, uh ... yes!~
"Jen, when do you think the kids should change into their good stuff?" Brianna asked her sister.
"Oh, um, well ..."
"I'll figure it out," the twelve-year-old tomboy chuckled. She knew her older sister was on pins and needles about the party, trying to remember everything at once. ~Better her, than me.~
"Gee, Bri, there's so much to think about. I'm so glad I made the checklists for us to go by. Let me look at the schedule." Jennifer pulled out a master list, one she'd started working on weeks ago. "Well, the guests could start arriving anytime after five-thirty, so let's say three. That way they'll be ready to run through their final checklists and be prepared in case people show up early." She sighed while thinking, ~I hope everyone who promised to be here early will follow through.~
Just over a hundred adults had said they would be in place to welcome the guests of honor as they entered, which made the brood very happy.
The children had all been working hard since arriving at the hotel. The two hotel levels were full of party personnel, ranging from family, friends, Air Force volunteers, and even some police culled from the Denver and Colorado Springs police departments as well as the Colorado State police, all of whom were friends of Pete's, specifically selected and screened as appropriate.
The younger kids had taken a nap, or at least rested for a while at Jennifer's insistence. Otherwise, they'd collapse long before the party was really in swing. They'd had a light lunch, and there were plenty of proteins and energy foods available to snack on throughout the day, if needed.
In the hub of late afternoon, the brood were actively overseeing every aspect of the event, including but not limited to making sure the decorations were perfect, the orchestra was settled, the caterers and hotel staff were in sync with the food preparation, and the security was in place.
With Jennifer and Jeff leading the way, each of the kids had at least one assigned duty and a pre-arranged checklist for them to follow. This way, the entire brood was involved in the process. Whether they worked individually or with others, the children were diligent in their tasks, which they carried out with an assigned SGC escort following them around as a precaution, especially whenever they needed to go away from the main ballroom.
"Jen, why do we have those things at the door?" Ricky asked again about the security sensors that everyone who entered the room would have to walk through, not once but twice, once while entering the elevators on the lobby level and then again when exiting the elevator to access the Pinnacle Club. He wasn't trying to be annoying; he was curious about everything. ~They look funny.~
"Come here," Jennifer requested, taking her brother's hand and walking over to a chair, where she sat down. "Ricky, Dad and Daddy are trusting us to give them the party of their lives, and while they've stayed out of it and let us plan it all, we have to remember who they are. We have to respect their past."
"The secret?" Ricky asked, knowing not to mention the Stargate aloud.
"Yes, and Dad's past with the Air Force. They have a lot of important friends who are coming, too, and we need to make sure everyone feels safe."
"No one's more important than Dad and Daddy."
Jennifer smiled as she held her brother's hands and affirmed, "Absolutely, and that's why we have the scanners."
"Okay, Jen," the Spitfire agreed contentedly.
A few minutes later, Little Danny hurried anxiously into the ballroom. Behind him was Colonel Paul Davis, who had been asked by Jennifer to help with the security and setup detail. His task at the moment was just to keep an eye on the middle Munchkin as Little Danny attended to his checklist tasks.
"Jen," Little Danny called out once he spotted his sister chatting with a hotel liaison.
"Thanks, Mrs. Smiel," Jennifer stated, concluding the discussion. She sat down on one of the chairs that were alongside the wall and asked, "Everything okay?"
"It is now," the Munchkin answered without elaborating at whatever the problem might have been, though Davis smiled as he thought about how the boy had taken control to make sure that his area of responsibility was appropriately laid out. "But I don't understand something."
"In the sleeping room for the middle kids, there's a space with nothing in it. Mrs. Johnson said that's what you wanted. How come, Jen?"
"Oh, well, do me a favor and trust me that's it's okay."
"Are you sure? It's a lot of space. We could spread the beds out a little more."
"I'm sure. There's a special package coming, and I really need some space for that, so just make sure that the area stays clean and that no one uses it for anything, okay?"
"Okay, Jen," Little Danny replied, trusting his older sister.
"Oh, and mark off that last bed for you and the one across from it for Jonny. That's important."
Little Danny's nose crinkled a bit. He really didn't want the last bed, but if Jennifer thought it was necessary for some reason, then he'd do as she asked.
"I'll go do that now," the genius promised as he turned on his foot and headed back to the room in question.
Jennifer looked up at Paul Davis and shrugged, watching as he grinned and then sprinted to catch up with the fleet-footed triplet.
~My brother, the genius. No one else would have thought twice about that space,~ the girl thought as she stood up and continued her duties.
"I like the blue better than the brown," Aislinn opined strongly.
"But the brown is richer."
"We have lots of money," the youngest Munchkin replied, unaware of how her words sounded.
The photographer smiled. It was obvious to him from what he'd seen that the Jackson-O'Neill family was well endowed financially, and he'd worked for them before, though their wealth had never really come up in conversation.
"I meant that it provides a deeper texture," the man tried to explain.
Aislinn frowned. She didn't understand. Besides, she liked the blue one, and she also knew that her fathers would prefer it, or at least her older father would. She walked up to the photographer and reiterated her preference for the blue.
"Aislinn, photography is my business. I do like blue, but the lighting is set up to provide for the brown template."
~Can't he talk English?~ Aislinn wondered. "I want blue."
"Why don't you trust me?"
"*Jennifer*!" the Munchkin shouted without moving her focus away from the man.
"Uh oh," Jennifer responded to the call from the other side of the room. "Lulu, can you handle it?"
"Piece of cake, Jen," Lulu asserted. With her sister walking away, the black-haired girl turned to face the floral arranger. "These aren't what we ordered."
"There must have been a mix up," the delivery person responded. ~Good thing the older sister walked away. Now maybe I can get out of here in one piece.~
"We want what we ordered, or there will be a 'mix up' with your check. Do you think your boss would like that?" Lulu didn't notice any change of expression on the man's face. ~What would Dad do?~ As she formulated the answer in her mind, the girl grinned. "I can go call Mrs. Brolin and see what she says."
With a disgruntled groan, the man acquiesced, "Okay, kid. I'll be back."
"Make sure they're exactly what we ordered, and they need to be here by five."
~Dang kid,~ the man groused as he left the area. ~She must be a midget.~
Smiling, the soon-to-be eight-year-old Lulu went to check on her next task, silently thanking her tough-as-nails dad for his unknowing guidance.
"Ash, what's going on?" Jennifer asked as she entered the photography area where the official pictures would be taken.
"He won't listen to me. I've looked at the three backdrops, and I like the blue one, but he wants the brown one, and he won't change it."
"Mister Glouster, we selected you because we have been satisfied with your work in the past. Out of all the vendors we needed to put this celebration together, photography is the only one I didn't shop around for pricing. Please don't make me regret that decision. Now, the photography setup is my sister's responsibility along my brother, Jeff. If Ash says 'blue', use blue."
"It's not large enough," the businessman admitted reluctantly, knowing his staff had packed the incorrect backdrop. ~What's wrong with brown?~
"Our contract states that you'd offer us three backdrops that we could select from. I suggest you get the blue." Jennifer put her hand on Aislinn's shoulder and directed, "If you like the blue, and you think it's the best, that's what we're going to have. If Mister Glouster claims any technical objections, find Jeff. Otherwise, he's to put up the blue *even* if it means he has to run to studio to get what we've contracted for. Okay?"
Jennifer gave the photographer a final look as she added, "I suggest you make a phone call to get the bigger blue background here before the guests start arriving."
Frustrated at the tenacity of the children but also knowing they were correct about the contract, Glouster pulled out his cell phone and made the phone call, instructing an employee to retrieve the appropriate length blue backdrop and bring it to the hotel.
~Fair is fair, Glouster. They're repeat customers; it's not their fault someone packed the wrong gear, so get your act together and deal with your employee goof ups later,~ the man told himself silently.
The fact was that the family had agreed to two huge bonuses, one for the length of the party and an even bigger one to surrender all images from the entire evening, be it still photos or video shots. The professionally posed portraits negatives would be returned per the terms of the contract, along with any images and video the family deemed appropriate to be returned. The copyright for each and every image or second of video footage was given to the Jackson-O'Neills.
Glouster had wondered at the time of the contract negotiations just where Jennifer had learned about the copyright issues which normally allowed the photographer to retain control of the images he or she captures. He wasn't aware of Jeff's keen interest in photography or that the family lawyer, Mark Kingston, was reviewing and advising the oldest member of the brood on all the contracts for the event. Of course, it was actually Daniel signing the papers, which he had done freely after getting Mark's okay and assurances from Sam, who worked with Jennifer on all the legal details as well, that all the I's had been the dotted and all the T's had been crossed.
The photographer knew the contract he'd signed was airtight. Ultimately, the Jackson-O'Neills had total control over any film, digital or otherwise, and video, including any alteration of any images. It wasn't just themselves they were protecting, but also some of the high profile guests. There was a provision that said if both parties agreed, a handful of photos could be designated for promotional use.
Following Mark's advice, all cameras and cell phones would be confiscated the moment guests walked onto the 38th floor. That ensured that whatever happened at the party, remained at the party, unless it was something taken by Glouster's team of photographers or Jeff. Glouster's team was a staff of ten photographers who would be positioned strategically all over the ballroom with cameras and recording equipment.
"There is one other issue involved in the control of the images," Jennifer had reminded him before the contract had been signed. "Mister Glouster, you know our parents are not what average people think of when they think 'gay'. They are just two men who happened to fall deeply in love. Even our family's closest friends have moments when they can't quite wrap their minds around that thought, but when you look at them together, it's just the way things are meant to be.
"I need your crew, all of them, to be of that same mindset. Dad and Daddy are not going to grope each other in public. They will dance together, hold hands, and kiss, and we want you capture some of those moments, but we do *not* want those moments cheapened and misunderstood by narrow minds. Photo software can do amazing things, not all of them nice. I'm sure you understand."
Mentally scratching off the names of a couple of his staff from potentially working the event, Glouster had agreed to the screening of his employees and signed the contract that included the hefty bonuses.
When the photographer finished his call to have the blue backdrop brought to the hotel, Aislinn reminded, "You'll have to meet them downstairs because of the security." Then the little girl walked away, thinking, ~I don't like sounding so mean, but everything has to be just like we planned it. This is a special party.~
Jenny crinkled her nose and stated, "That looks funny."
"It may look funny to you, Jenny, but they taste great, and your parents will love them," the assistant chef for the evening promised. "Adults really like foods that are served elegantly."
"But I'm a kid, and my friends are kids, and we want hot dogs and tater tots and pretty Jell-O cups and pudding, not ... that."
"Give it a try."
The Spitfire frowned. She'd just been run over, albeit politely, by the chef, and even at her tender age, she knew it.
~I thought they were supposed to have kid food, too.~ Jenny walked over to her backpack and pulled out her assignment. She nodded, confirming what she'd thought. She looked up at her assigned Marine, Lieutenant Carlson, and asked, "Did you see where she went?"
"Through that door."
"Thank you. Would you carry my backpack, please?" Jenny sighed, "I hafta focus. She was trying to confuse me."
"I've got it, Jenny. Lead the way," Carlson instructed, following the determined girl. ~That lady doesn't stand a chance. I don't know these kids well, but I do know they have a lot of strength.~
"Do you think I'm being pushy to ask for kid food?" Jenny asked, a little unsure if she was right to pursue the issue.
"Not at all. To be honest, Jenny, I'm not fond of all that fancy cuisine, either."
Carlson laughed, "The word is cuisine, and its definition is, well, fancy food."
"I double checked, and we did order kid food. I want hot dogs."
"You tell her, Jenny," Carlson encouraged. ~I've got your six, kid, but I bet you'll do just fine.~
The lieutenant opened the door that went to the main kitchen and held it open for the redhead to enter.
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Jenny stated. Then she saw her adversary, the assistant chef. "Mrs. Vachon."
"I double checked my list, and the adult food is fine, but there are a lot of kids coming." Jenny smiled sweetly. "We did pay to have kid food, too. Did you lose the list?" she asked politely. ~Daddy says to always be polite until it's time to not be polite.~
"Everything okay, Sis?" David asked as he popped through the double doors into the kitchen.
At that point, Mrs. Vachon excused herself, so Jenny took the opportunity to tell her brother what had been going on.
"You're right, Jenny. We sent them a long list of kid foods, and they acknowledged receiving it."
Jenny's red was beginning to extend beyond her red roots. She just knew this woman wasn't taking her seriously. As she stewed, loud words began to filter through. Jenny cocked her head as she listed. It was Mrs. Vachon, who had found the executive hospitality liaison and was complaining about the "rude kid" preventing her from getting her cuisine prepared on time.
"David, we need backup," Jenny stated. ~Like Dad says, when polite doesn't work, show 'em your numbers.~
"I did not graduate chef's school to waste my time and talent catering to the palates of children!" Vachon sneered.
"Mrs. Vachon, for the money the Jackson-O'Neill's are paying this facility for this weekend, I can easily afford to hire another, more cooperative executive assistant chef. Doctor Jackson has been signing checks left and right. He has made it abundantly clear that his children are in charge of this event. Jenny's sister, the older Jennifer, has already spoken with me and the executive chef."
Vachon wasn't happy being spoken to this way by this man. She'd trained in Paris, France, at the same culinary school where world famous chefs had learned and honed their craft; not just attended, she'd earned Le Grand Diplôme at Le Cordon Bleu and graduated with honors. The thought of having to cater to a five-year-old wasn't sitting well with her at all.
"There will be up to fifty children here this evening who are under the age of ten. Do you want to explain to their parents why the kid-friendly food they were told would be served isn't?"
Sternly, the chef replied, "It's boxed mac and cheese, hot dogs, tater tots, Jell-O, and pudding cups, for goodness sake. I didn't graduate with honors from Le Cordon Bleu to fix this, this ... slop!" Inwardly, Vachon quipped about the hospitality liaison, ~He probably got his training at McDonald's.~
"If you think your career will consist of preparing only those dishes you consider worthy of your time and talent, you are sadly mistaken," the hospitality liaison advised curtly. "The client pays you to prepare what they want. Mess this up, and you will find yourself looking for a new position. Are we clear?"
"Yes, Sir," the executive assistant chef acquiesced reluctantly.
"Good. Now get your fancy culinary trained fingers into that kitchen and make the best darn kid food of your very promising career, and remember, what that little girl says she wants, she gets."
With an inward groan, Vachon returned to the kitchen to find a Marine and eleven children, from teens down to kindergarten, not to mention a very intense looking baby staring at her, standing in a row.
~Such ridiculousness. Mess with one and you mess with them all,~ Vachon thought. ~I didn't sign on for this.~
Holding JD, Jennifer resembled Jack at the moment with daggers coming from her eyes. If this woman didn't cooperate fast, she'd regret it, although Jennifer wasn't really sure just how, but she'd think of something. Nothing would spoil this night.
"Everything is fine, Jenny. You and your friends will have plenty of everything you requested."
"Great. Thank you, Mrs. Vachon," Jenny responded, nodding at David, who then motioned for the brood to leave.
~Thank goodness,~ a relieved Jennifer sighed. ~Okay, now to feed JD. That's the fun part of this afternoon. I could have someone else do it, but he's my medicine. A few minutes away from dealing with people like this Vachon woman is going to be heaven.~
For the next few minutes, the lieutenant watched, highly amused, as Jenny exacted her justice, making sure the mac and cheese would be prepared just the way the directions on the box said to make it and not fancied up as Vachon had temporarily considered doing.
~Great! Nice job, little redhead.~
Meanwhile, back in Colorado Springs, the honorees were putting on their final touches as they spiffed up for their big party.
"Danny, how'd we get roped into this?" Jack asked as he put his finger between the very tight collar of his tuxedo and his neck.
"You made a bet and lost," Daniel answered, chuckling.
Jack shrugged, asking, "Who knew they could be perfect for two months straight, especially after last year?"
Daniel laughed, "They did."
Jack shook his head as he took in their formal attire. Both men were dressed in their finest, every hair in place, even Jack's cowlick. Looking at his lover, Jack didn't really mind. The man was still the most beautiful creation on Earth in his opinion.
"Danny?" the older man spoke softly.
Looking up from his own suit-check, Daniel asked, "What?"
"I love you," Jack replied.
Daniel smiled and spoke, "I love you, too. Happy anniversary, Love."
"Happy anniversary, Angel," Jack said as he leaned in to share a tender kiss with his heart, his Daniel.
The lovers returned to doing a final check of their appearance and fancy outfits.
"I wonder who's coming to this little shindig tonight?" Jack once again pondered aloud as he ran his fingers between the tight collar and his neck. ~Why did I make that dang bet? A man's gotta breathe, for crying out loud.~
"No, I'm not," Jack denied.
"You've talked about the guest list at least six times today," Daniel pointed out.
"So, I'm curious. What's the big secret?"
"The brood wants it all to be a surprise, or at least as much as possible," Daniel expounded.
"You *do* know who's coming," the silver-haired man accused.
"No, I don't."
"But you said ..."
"What I told you is that Jennifer asked for some assistance in making sure that everyone who should be invited received an invitation. I gave her some names and addresses she wouldn't have access to. Karissa helped as well, as did Sam, and General Hammond, and Sara, and Suzanna, so," the archaeologist shrugged, "who they ultimately invited, I don't know for sure. Jen has mentioned a time or two that they were getting a high rate of response from people saying they are coming, but I have *not* seen the official RSVP list."
"At least they didn't invite Kinsey." Inwardly, Jack mumbled, ~Geez, he was such an annoying pain in the mikta.~
"I don't think they invited any dead people, Jack," Daniel responded dryly. ~Give it a rest already!~
"Yeah, well ... Daniel, what about Maybourne? They wouldn't invite him?" Jack asked with dread, turning around anxiously.
"They don't even know he exists," Daniel reminded calmly. "Relax, Babe. They did everything. All we have to do now is show up and dance. Oh, and smile for the family portrait."
"That could easily be the worst decision of our lives," Jack sighed.
"I doubt it," Daniel assured with a smile. "Do you hear that?"
Jack stood perfectly still, listening to the noise of the house. He shrugged, giving his husband a questioning look.
The older man let out a slight chuckle as he mused, "Not where Carter and Sara are."
"It's nice of them to help," Daniel opined, referring to the women having devoted so much of their time to assisting the children with the setup at the Hyatt.
"When Megan called earlier about the project problem, she said Karissa was leaving the office a couple of hours early to help out, too."
"I'm surprised the brood didn't ask for the entire office to help," Daniel replied lightheartedly.
"Someone has to run the place," Jack responded about the archaeological firm.
"I suppose there is one advantage to the ... quiet," Daniel put forth softly as he ambled up to his soulmate. "We can do this."
The lovers kissed passionately, yet carefully, considering they were dressed and didn't have any time for hanky-panky. They would not be late to their own anniversary party, especially not this one.
"Forever and always, Angel."
"Gawd, I love you, so darn much, Jack."
The couple kissed again, their arms reaching around the other to warm and embrace them. With a final check in the mirror, they said good-bye to the girls, locked up the house, and stepped onto their front porch, intending to embark on the drive to Denver.
There was just one problem for the general. His archaeologist had stopped suddenly and no longer was carrying any forward momentum.
Daniel turned around to face his husband, so his back was to the street.
"Problem, Love?" Jack inquired, curiously. ~Can't be cold feet; we're already married -- thrice even!~
"Jack, I was just thinking ..."
"I knew that," Jack mused, his curiosity heightened about what could be on his soulmate's mind.
"This whole evening is about being like everyone else, which isn't something we really care about; that is, normally, we don't, but our children want that, this one night, they want sameness."
"Daniel, what are you talking about?"
The younger man smiled and then moved into his spouse's space. His hands went up and around Jack's neck, and then his lips touched Jack's. In a split second, the kiss deepened.
Jack happily responded, his arms wrapping around one Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.
"That's what I'm talking about."
"Yes, right, of course." The older man sighed, "Daniel, what are you talking about?"
With a smile, Daniel explained, "Babe, we're usually so careful about how we are out in public. We made a conscious decision years ago not to inflict our beliefs on others, especially when children might be around. It was never about being a secret; but it ... it was all about respect, respecting the rights of parents to bring up their children as they believed was right, and exposing them to ... other choices when they were ready."
"Danny, I understand what you're saying, but I feel like we're back in the briefing room. The point?"
Again, the couple kissed, and there was nothing swift or chaste about it.
"That?" Jack questioned.
"Tonight, Jack, we go on impulse. We don't censor ourselves. Everyone who is going to be at the Pinnacle Club knows who we are and why they're there, and that includes the children. This one night, we're just ... two adults, celebrating their marriage, nine beautiful years of a ... a powerful union which has resulted in twelve wonderful children. They want us to act how they've seen their friends' parents act. We have to give them that."
"So, we do this," Jack said as he gestured back and forth, indicating their visual presence and closeness in view of anyone passing by. ~I can do this. I always wanted to do this.~
The two men kissed one more time. They were close and definitely connected.
"Uh, yes, like that."
"Dannyboy, I love it when you think."
Daniel laughed as he pulled away slightly and began to walk off the porch while replying, "Not all the time, but I'll take what I can get."
"It looks like everything is on time and on track," Jennifer remarked as she reviewed her master checklist. She and Sam were outside the ballroom, having just supervised the placement of a 'We love you, Dad and Daddy' banner. "I couldn't have done it without you. Thanks, Aunt Sam."
"Thank you, Jen, but the brood pitched in, too."
"They sure have, like real troopers." Jennifer sighed in reflection. "You know what, Aunt Sam? I think we all learned a lot about functioning as a team; you know, not just our little groups -- the Munchkins, the Spitfires, the Mouseketeers, and the Mavericks, or ... however we separate ourselves sometimes -- but as a whole unit. We had to help each other to win that bet. I'm so proud of the brood."
Sam leaned forward, embracing the young woman as she complimented, "The kids had a pair of good leaders showing them the way. You and Jeff taught them to stay focused and pull together. Discipline's tough to accomplish."
"I'll say," Jennifer sighed in a near laugh.
"Many people believe discipline and high morale conflict, but they actually go together. You really can't have one without the other, not for very long, anyway. I'm proud of you, of all of you."
"Thanks, Aunt Sam," Jennifer responded as the two women pulled apart.
"There's Pete. I need to check with him about police and hotel security. See you later," Sam stated. She walked swiftly towards her mark, the man of her dreams. "Pete," she called out, reaching him as he'd gone halfway from the elevator to the ballroom door.
"All set, Gorgeous," Detective Shanahan chuckled beguilingly as he put his arms around his wife. "Put your hands up, I've got you surrounded." Seeing a bit of a scornful look on his wife, he assured, "Relax, Sam. I handpicked these guys. They're the best." Pulling back, he smiled confidently as he explained, "Bill's downstairs," referring to his partner, Bill Krazz. "The guys will cover the lobby and the hotel perimeter until we're clear."
"Good boy," the blonde responded as she patted her husband's arm. "And the hotel security?"
"They're aware. There shouldn't be any problems," Pete responded.
"I'm still surprised they agreed to give us exclusive use of two elevators," Sam commented.
"I thought they did argue about that."
"They did, at first. Then all of a sudden, they backed off. They became very cooperative after that," Sam sighed, still feeling confused about it.
Standing undetected nearby and able to hear every word the Shanahans had spoken, Jonny Jackson-O'Neill grinned mischievously.
~Piece of cake,~ the Munchkin mused, not at all surprised by the hotel's about face. ~I just told that security guy that Mister President Hayes was a personal friend.~
Jennifer looked up to see Jeff approaching. He was smiling, so hopefully that meant everything he was attending to was fine.
"What's up, Bro?" Jennifer inquired. "And I sure hope it's good news."
"Well, I've had three vendors give us grief today -- the florist, Mister Glouster the photographer, and you were there when that stuck up chef did her thing."
"It worked out, though, right?"
"Yeah. The brood did a great job handling whatever came up. I had to show up here and there for clout." Jennifer chuckled, "Adults just don't get the power of kids. They thought we were pushovers."
"It's all good on my front, Sis. Greg and Neal helped me place the baby grand for the orchestra and set up the microphones."
Greg and Neal were friends of Jeff's from high school. Just like a couple of Jennifer's pals, they'd come to help out with the technical setup.
"Do we need more than one mic?"
"Trust me," Jeff replied. "Uh, and the lights for the music stands all have fresh batteries, as do the cordless microphones, with spares if we need them. The cords for the stage lighting are all plugged in securely and taped down, and the lights have the correct color bulbs in them. Greg and Neal both have their cue cards for lowering and raising the screen and the curtain."
"Cool. That's one more thing to cross of the list."
The two teens pulled out their checklists and compared more notes on the status of the setup.
"The smoke machines are loaded and ready for Lance's act," Jeff advised. "There's a small changing area surrounded by curtains as he requested. The open top tent will be on the stage, concealed by the footlights."
"Okay, let's see," Jennifer acknowledged as she checked that off of the master list. "What about the orchestra area?"
"All set," Jeff assured promptly.
"Oh, look," Jennifer chuckled as she pointed with her chin over Jeff's shoulder. "That was one of our problems."
"Ash told me," Jeff returned as he and his sister watched Mister Glouster's team bring in the big blue backdrop that Aislinn had requested. "The hotel electrical crew has looked over the main connections, and everything looks good, and there's plenty of juice for the photographer's floodlights."
"You're a peach, Jeff, thank you," Jennifer praised, hugging her brother.
"What's next on your list?" Jeff inquired as he released his sister from the hug.
"Uh ... oh, the presents."
"Okay, I'll ..." Jeff chuckled at the back of his sister, who was going full speed ahead towards her next mission. She was really putting everything she had into making this night come off without a hitch. ~She'll need another trip to the Bahamas after this.~
"Uncle Lou?" Jennifer called out as she walked into the smaller meeting room on the right side of the 38th floor. "Wow, look at you! I'll bet Aunt Carolyn's eyes are bugging out."
"No more than mine are at her," Lou Ferretti acknowledged as he hugged the oldest of the brood.
"Thank you for wearing a Tux," Jennifer stated as the hug ended.
"That's what you kids wanted."
Nodding, Jennifer affirmed, "Only the Air Force personnel at the elevators, by the staircase, and a few assigned to the ballroom doors are in uniform. We want everyone else, our family, to be ... like this."
"You're eye-poppin', Jen. I'm guessing your dad hasn't seen you in this," Lou commented about the young woman's satin gown for the evening.
"I told you she was a hot tamale tonight, Dad," Trina Ferretti remarked as she entered the room. "I thought I saw you come in here, Jen."
Jennifer's strapless dress was cream colored and featured a split that went to just above the knee. The bodice was made of interlaced bias tubes of fabric that moved, giving the impression that if one looked closely, a glimpse of skin might be seen. However, it was only the viewer's impression and nothing more.
Looking at her friend, Jennifer acknowledged, "Yeah, I just wanted to make sure everything was ready to go." Unable to resist bragging a little, the beaming senior looked over at Trina's dad and responded to his remark by saying, "Thanks, Uncle Lou. I saw it in 'The Shadow' and copied it by figuring out the construction. By the time Dad does see this, he won't be able to do anything about it."
"You've learned well," Lou teased.
"It's easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission," Jennifer mused coyly.
Lou laughed until he realized Trina, who was a couple of years younger than Jennifer, had that 'taking notes' look.
"Except for you, Sweetcakes. Keep your front and back covered until you're twenty. You got that?"
"Anything you say, Dad," Trina laughed. ~What did Jen just say, easier to forgive than get the okay? I'll remember that one.~
Growing serious, Jennifer questioned, "Um, is everything set?"
"Grace should be here in a sec, and then we'll be ready to roll."
Lou waved over three Air Force personnel in Class-A uniforms and introduced them to Jennifer. She'd met some of them at Stargate Command and others she'd heard of from her folks. She grinned at Sergeant O'Dell, who'd been the victim of one of her dad's jokes years ago when the man was an airman at one of the entrance service gates at Cheyenne Mountain. She was also happy to see Technical Sergeant Laura Bates as part of the detail. The third member of the team present was Lieutenant Tanya Graves. She'd once been put through a very unusual training session with a rather bananas instructor -- Jack.
Then the group reviewed the plan. All gifts for Jack and Daniel would be brought to this room, where they'd remain unopened. However, they would be run through an X-ray machine, the top of the line model, and scanned thoroughly. That equipment was located behind a divider wall and was not visible to anyone who might enter the room by accident or to drop off a present.
Overseeing the handling of the gifts, ensuring the scanning was done properly and then the packages were sorted for easy removal after the party, was Lieutenant Colonel Grace Satterfield who, like Lou, was dressed in formal attire.
"Hi, Grace," Jennifer greeted upon seeing the officer enter.
Grace was wearing a flowing plum shimmer gown, accessorized by a white gold amethyst and diamond necklace, matching stud earrings, and silver three-inch pumps. Her long black hair was pulled up in the back into an elegant bun.
"Wow! You look so beautiful," Jennifer complimented.
"Thanks, Jen," Grace acknowledged with a smile. She knew she had business to tend to and quickly focused on the three members of her team for the night. "Run it by me," she demanded, making sure everything was in line with her previous orders to the trio.
~You sure don't need your uniform to be in charge, Grace. You may sound like an Air Force officer, but you look like a goddess,~ Jennifer opined. ~That one-shoulder look is perfect for you.~ Not wanting to interfere with Grace's assignment, she whispered, "I'll see you later," and left the room. As she walked out, she smiled brightly. ~You're going to love my surprise for you ... I hope.~
"Jen, do you need anything else?" her best friend Sheila asked as the countdown to the party start time ticked closer and closer.
"No, we're set, and the guests will be allowed up shortly. Thanks, guys, for handling the first guest book shift," Jennifer replied, speaking to both Sheila and Amber Nelson.
As they'd promised, the two friends had rushed to the hotel after their classes had finished that afternoon and helped the brood with whatever was needed. Now they were about to embark upon a three-hour shift, expected to be the busiest of the evening, ensuring that everyone attending signed the book.
"Go change," an appreciative Jennifer directed.
"We'll be right back," Amber stated as she turned to follow Sheila upstairs.
Sheila and Amber were headed up to one of the suites that had been reserved. They'd be spending the night there with Jennifer once the festivities had ceased, so both girls had a key card to get inside. They'd put their gowns in the suite earlier and now would do a quick change in order to be inside the ballroom when the doors would officially open at six. After that, they were free to stay at the party or stay in the suite, where they could watch movies, eat snacks, gossip, or even sleep, if they wanted.
"I owe you!" Jennifer called out to her buddies. ~It's good to have friends you can count on.~
"Make sure he stays out of sight," Jack instructed from the passenger seat of the Silver Fox, Daniel's sleek sports car. He laughed as he listened to the response and added, "You're right. There's a first time for everything. Stick close until he's delivered. I'd appreciate it."
"Everything okay?" Daniel asked as his lover put his cell phone away.
"The package is secure and ready to be launched on our signal," Jack answered.
"Jack, the ... package is a person, and he isn't being delivered, he's a surprise."
"You want to do it right, it's a military operation, lingo and all," Jack refuted with a sense of Special Ops pride. "He's safe in hiding until we say so."
The younger man laughed, highly amused by his husband's rationale.
"Danny, how much is this party costing us?"
Jack hadn't seen any of the checks or charges for the event. Daniel had done all of the signing and okaying of the venue and anything cost related.
"Babe, you don't really want to know."
"Jack, our children rented the *entire* 37th and 38th floors of the best hotel in Denver. The *entire* floors, both of them."
"A bit extreme, don't ya think?"
"Actually, we didn't need it all, but Jen and Jeff said it would be better for security if they could control the whole floors and access to them."
Jack looked over at his archaeologist in amazement and requested, "Access?" He looked at his husband skeptically and asked, "Who's on the guest list?"
"I already told you that I don't know; however, our brood knows how we are about security. I was impressed when they told me they'd even thought about it."
"Daniel, you're one of the most curious men I know. Are you going to sit there and say you let a comment like that go without probing, prodding, and quizzing them for hours about it?"
"Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying," Daniel affirmed, straight faced.
Jack grimaced, still focused intently on his husband. He wasn't buying the response.
Then Daniel cocked his head to the left, smiled, and noted, "I asked Sam."
"I knew it!"
"She wouldn't tell me much, either, except she assured me that the venue would be extremely secure."
The major general recalled his own conversation with Sam about the security setup.
"Sir, everything is taken care of," the blonde officer told Jack for the third time in ten minutes.
"But what exactly is 'everything'? Who's coming to this little party anyway?" Jack quickly fired off, itching for some answers.
"I really can't say for sure, Sir," Sam replied, evading the prying general's inquisition.
"Carter, who's invited?"
"Daniel knows more about that than I do, General. I didn't even see the complete list of potential invitees."
"That was a huge box we took to the Denver post office that night," Jack put forth.
"I wasn't there." Sam smiled and reassured, "Sir, Jack, you didn't come over here to pump me for information. You already know the setup for the party. The kids sort of got it into their heads that they wanted to surprise you; well, that is, once you weren't going to cooperate; you know, during the bet itself. You don't really want me to violate their trust. Do you?"
"No, I don't, and had you told me anything, you'd be peeling potatoes in Elmendorf."
Both Jack and Sam smiled somewhat nostalgically at the decade-old threat.
"So, what is you really want?" Sam probed.
"Security," Jack answered. "Look, the kids want this to be like anyone else's party, and for the most part, I'm okay with that. "
"But, Carter, I really need you to be on top of the security for this shindig."
"I assure you, Sir, that there won't be a single worker or volunteer allowed on the either the 37th or 38th floors who haven't been thoroughly screened. The musicians, photographers, florists -- everyone is going through a stage two check."
"Cell phones?" Jack questioned. He saw her wide, curious odds and expounded, "Look, Carter, I assume some very important people are being invited to this little soiree. Daniel said he handed in a list of names the kids wouldn't know -- clients and such. Hammond's done the same."
"How do you know?" Sam queried with a pointed smile.
"Carter, I wasn't born yesterday. I have ... skills." Letting out a groan, Jack elaborated, "I just don't want any of us ending up in the tabloids. Confiscate the cell phones and any other doohickeys that might put a guest in a bad light. If we have to dress like monkeys, let's at least make sure we can have fun without worrying about being on the front page of the next day's news. Understood?"
//End of Flashback//
~I hope she understood,~ Jack thought. Looking straight ahead, he pondered, "I wonder what they're up to now."
"We'll find out in a few minutes," Daniel returned.
"Jeff!" Jennifer called out, nodding with her head that it was time.
Though the two high school students were separated by quite a distance, Jeff had been waiting for his cue, so his eyes were focused on his sister. Having heard the word, he hopped up onto the stage to begin the party of the century.
"Folks!" Jeff exclaimed and then waited for the guests to face his direction and quiet down a tad. Realizing he hadn't been heard, he switched on the cordless mic in his hand. "Hi!," he boomed. With an apologetic smile for the loudness of the equipment, he spoke, "Sorry; didn't realize it was turned up full blast."
The guests smiled or nodded, all understanding the perils of technology.
"My parents should be arriving at the hotel in the next couple of minutes. We're shutting the doors because we want them to be surprised by, well, all this," he explained as he held up both of her hands and waved them through the air at the decorations. As he stood center stage, he noted, "Thanks to the early arrivals for being here. Jen will be onstage with more information about the party after Dad and Daddy enter."
Chenoa ran up onto the stage and reached up for the microphone to add, "And don't forget to clap!"
The decent-size crowd chuckled at the curly-haired girl, who smiled and ran off the stage and over to her good friend, Chloe Payne, who was standing by her parents. Actually, there were several of the homeschooling parents visiting with one another, including the Richardsons and the Lomaricas.
"Chloe, make sure everyone claps, okay?"
"I'll clap real loud, Noa," Chloe promised.
"Oh, Lulu's waving at me. I have to go be in front."
The friends hugged, and then Chenoa hurried over to her siblings, who were gathering by the door.
"Perfect timing," Jack remarked with a grin as he got out of the Silver Fox.
"Thank you," Daniel spoke to the airman who took the keys to the sporty car.
No stone had been left unturned in security. All of the guests for the party who were valet parking were having their service handled by Air Force airmen from Cheyenne Mountain. Special guards would be with those vehicles at all times. It was unlike any other routine valet setup anywhere.
"We have five minutes," the archaeologist called out over the top of the car to his husband.
"Can't keep our guests waiting," the general agreed. Indeed, he and Daniel had been given extract instructions on when they should arrive and it was to be on the dot at 6:15 p.m., fifteen minutes after the official start time of the party. This would allow plenty of guests to already be in place when they walked in. Watching the airman drive off in his husband's car, Jack mused, "Crazy." He noticed plenty of blue military uniforms everywhere. "She had to set this up with Landry," he surmised, referring to Jennifer's acquisition of Air Force personnel to act as car attendants.
Entering the hotel lobby, Jack and Daniel were immediately approached by yet another uniformed man, only this one wasn't an airman first class as the first man was.
"Sirs, please allow me to escort you to ballroom. Everyone is waiting for you to arrive," the Air Force lieutenant wearing his fresh Class-A uniform advised cheerfully. He was part of the security team who would spend most of the evening standing at the exits of the main ballroom. "Your children have really knocked themselves out today."
"They're the best," Daniel responded as he began to follow the familiar face. Though he only knew the man slightly, he had heard of him quite a bit. ~Jen's mentioned him several times.~
**Why do I feel like I'm going to the gallows?** Jack asked his husband mentally, interrupting the archaeologist's thoughts about the lieutenant.
**Too many off-world missions, Love.**
**Sounds about right. I keep looking for someone to jump out of the corners.**
Amused, Daniel replied, **If it will make you feel better, I'll jump out of a corner in our suite after the party.**
**Oh, that has potential.** Jack was already anticipating their after party loving. His dread over the monkey suits was fast leaving. He was ready to party. **Let's go cut a rug, Angel,** he added enthusiastically, taking Daniel's hand as the Air Force guard pressed the button on one of the private elevators.
Even when the couple stepped off the elevator at 6:10 p.m., the atmosphere was festive. Flowers, banners, and balloons lined all of the hotel hallways.
"Hello, Sirs," Technical Sergeant Tracey O'Connor greeted, smiling brightly at the couple she'd known for several years now.
"Tracey, wow, you're ... hot," a grinning Daniel praised.
The sergeant was wearing an emerald green satin dress that hung off one shoulder in wide strips, which ran across her back.
~Whoa! Those BDUs have been covering up a sexy woman,~ Jack thought with a grin that included a bit of an admiring leer as well. In fact, he whistled. ~Probably shouldn't have done that.~ As nonchalantly and innocently as possible, he complimented, "O'Connor, you're workin' it."
Giggling, Tracey acknowledged, "Thank you, General."
Tracey was part of the volunteer security team from Cheyenne Mountain, where she'd been assigned since the year 2000. She'd been on duty, in fact, the very first time that Jack and Daniel had brought the triplets to the military facility. Since then, she'd had a very special place in her heart for the family.
"Uh ..." Daniel began, his eyes going down to the woman's hand.
The sergeant broke out into a gigantic smile. In fact, she was beaming, radiating even. She raised her hand, allowing Daniel to take a hold of it, though it was Jack who responded first.
"Bruce proposed last night," Tracey revealed about her longtime beau, Lieutenant Bruce Pittman, who had been assigned to Stargate Command from the early days of SG-1.
"I told ya there was sparkage there, Danny," Jack mused happily. "Now he'll really learn how to follow orders."
"Actually, General, Bruce says having that, well, unusual training with you at the beginning prepared him for just about anything."
Not really certain how to respond, Jack simply agreed, "Yes. Yes, that's true."
Daniel glanced at his husband as he finally released Tracey's hand. He recalled hearing about the odd training when most everyone who knew about it agreed that Jack had gone a little bananas with his training methods for the recruits.
"Sirs, let me be one of the first this evening to wish you a very happy anniversary," Tracey expressed from her heart. "And if you're ready ..."
"Let's do it," Jack interjected.
Tracey nodded and then opened the huge double doors at the center of the ballroom, quickly moving aside and standing with the couple's escort to allow the guests to get the best view of Jack and Daniel as possible.
It was precisely fifteen minutes after six in the evening, and to Chenoa's delight, all present in the ballroom erupted into applause when Jack and Daniel appeared in the doorway.
For a moment, the pair of men stood, rooted to the floor, and gazed on a scene out of a fairy tale. People with shining faces, resplendent in beautiful gowns and handsome tuxedos, stood in a room that seemed to have no end. The walls were draped with fabric that reflected tiny pastel hued sparkles in a shimmering rainbow. The ceiling was hidden. It looked like the sky, midnight velvet, with twinkling stars, and a bright full moon. A few wisps of cloud seemed to drift along, giving the entire scene an uncanny realism. The view from the floor-to-ceiling windows stood in sharp and amazing contrast to the illusion, making the viewer question which, if either, was real.
**How the heck did they pull this off, Danny?**
**I have no idea.**
Sam, Jeff, David, Jonny, Little Danny, Lou, Pete, and Alex Dennison exchanged knowing grins with one another. The eight had pooled their resources and talents to create the illusion of the night sky.
Jack and Daniel were immediately surrounded by their entire brood. There were hugs, kisses, "I missed you's," and plenty of "pretty/handsome" compliments.
Finally, Aislinn tugged on Jack's tuxedo jacket.
With a big grin, the little girl looked at her parents and declared, "Dad, Daddy, you have to dance. It's the first dance."
"It means it's special," Lulu added.
Swaying side to side with a dreamy expression on her face, Aislinn opined, "I think it's romantic."
Jack kneeled down and told his princess, "Do your old man a favor and hold that thought for another fifteen or twenty years." After a pause, he quipped, "Make it twenty-five."
Aislinn giggled, "You're funny, Dad."
"Yeah, I'm funny," Jack agreed as he hugged his daughter close and gave her a kiss. "I love you."
"I love you, too, but, Dad, you're supposed to be dancing with Daddy."
"My bad," Jack laughed, standing and turning to his husband. "I believe this is our dance."
Daniel smiled, taking his husband's hand as the two headed for the dance floor. At the same time, a huge screen on the stage, which was at the head of the ballroom, whirred downward, and the orchestra surrendered a few sweet notes before ceasing its musical musings.
"Shortest dance in history," Jack chuckled.
"Jack, it's ..." Daniel paused his speech as he gaped in total surprise.
"This never gets old," the older man said with a grin. ~She sang in person at our second wedding, and here she is via satellite for our anniversary. That woman has style.~
On the screen, Celine Dion spoke from her Las Vegas show, greeting, "Jack, Daniel, happy anniversary! I'm sorry I couldn't be there in person. You have the most amazing children! When I heard the story of how this wonderful celebration came to be, the least I could do is share a song from tonight's show, knowing you will enjoy it tomorrow night."
With that, the camera panned and the audience applauded as the star broke into, "My Heart Will Go On."
"How'd they do that?" Jack questioned, staring at the screen in surprise.
"I have no idea, but ..."
Jack grinned as he completed, "... they did, so let's dance."
With his Heart in his arms and the music in his ears, Jack moved gracefully in time with Daniel and the music.
Celine sang an extended rendition of her famous song, which went on an additional two minutes beyond its normal length. Knowing how special her "Because You Loved Me" was to the couple, she also performed it for the lovers.
"I could dance with you forever," Daniel sighed dreamily as the song concluded.
"Just wait until we're alone; we can do the 'Horizontal Mambo' to our hearts content," Jack snickered wickedly.
Suddenly, the microphone clicked on, prompting the lovers to look around until they focused at the center of the stage. As Jeff had promised, his sister was preparing to address the party goers.
"Thanks, Celine," Jennifer waved. She laughed, "That was actually recorded last night, so she couldn't hear me, but we do want to thank the wonderful Celine Dion for allowing us to record and use those two very special songs." When the applause died down, she looked over the growing crowd and spoke, "Thank you all for coming. This is a very, very special occasion for all of us, but especially for Dad and Daddy, and each and every one of you being here helps make it that much more special."
"Do you see what our daughter is wearing, or rather what she *isn't* wearing?" Jack groused from the middle of the room.
"Jack, one word -- chill."
"Chill is right. She's gotta be chilly wearing that flimsy thing."
Daniel's head dropped as he sighed at Jack's over exaggeration.
"All night long, there will be toasts, and more toasts, and some surprises. We have a lot of people who have asked to be a part of this celebration, so we've created a schedule to spread the non-dance elements throughout the night, rather than having them all at once. So, please, when someone asks for your attention, we would ask you to be gracious and give it for just a few moments.
"Also, while we're here to celebrate the many happy years our parents, General Jack and Doctor Daniel Jackson-O'Neill, have been together, more importantly we are here to boogie down, rock on, and *have fun,*" the young woman shouted, raising her right hand energetically into the air.
The guests whooped and applauded in response.
Jennifer continued, "The music will be mostly from the big band era, with selections through Dad and Daddy's teen years, on up to the present. Jeff and I, and a few others here have studied hard to learn a few basic steps of every dance we could find, so if you feel lost, look for someone with a big D/I badge, because tonight, D/I stands for dance instructor." With an energetic tone, she shouted, "Let's get this shindig started!"
Energetic sounds began in a medley of rock and roll music, but then the notes settled down, and the large orchestra broke into "Isn't it romantic?"
As the guests paired off with their dates and began to dance and otherwise enjoy the party, Jennifer exited the stage and made her way to the dance floor, which was actually a wooden, hard floor stage that was atop a huge section of carpet to allow folks to have plenty of dance space.
"Dad, Daddy, you look so handsome," Jennifer complimented as she approached her parents.
"About that dress, young lady ..." Jack began sternly.
"Oh, Dad," Jennifer laughed, especially when Daniel used his elbow to nudge his lover's arm in reprimand.
"Habit," Jack excused. With a smile, he praised, "It's lovely, and you're beautiful. It is a 'chair dress', though.
Kissing her older father, Jennifer assured, "Don't worry, Dad. No one is going to see any dress of mine draped across a chair until he marries me. I promise."
Just then, Colonel Jeff Cornell approached and advised, "Jack, the 'package' is wrapped and ready to go."
"Package?" Jennifer inquired curiously.
"Jen, come with us for a minute," Jack requested, smiling at his lawyer, Mark Kingston, who was just entering. "Mark, it's good to see you."
The men shook hands and chatted politely for a minute before Mark went inside and Jack, Daniel, and Jennifer followed Jeff Cornell.
Passing one of the elevators, Daniel saw a glimpse of familiarity. Package or not, he had to pause to say a proper 'hello'.
"Jack, it's Frances and Crystal," Daniel advised, tugging a second on his husband's, elbow. Turning around, he called out to the two ladies. "Wow, it's great to see you."
"Daniel, you're such a hot toddy," Crystal called out, opening her arms to join the archaeologist in a hug.
"Frances, what a surprise," Jack greeted as he hugged the woman.
Then the hugs went the other way around and included Jennifer. Jeff offered his felicitations as well. Frances and Crystal were sisters who had met the lovers years ago on their first trip to Disneyland. The two traveled together frequently and did their best to visit Jack and Daniel, and then the entire brood, at least once a year.
"Where's your husband?" Jack asked Crystal. "I'm beginning to think he's a phantom, like Siler's wife."
Crystal laughed. She'd met the sergeant and had heard the stories about the wife, who always seemed to be out of town whenever there was a big event like this.
"He's building a new deck for our home."
"Likely story," Jack teased with a chuckle.
After a minute or so and promises made for dances later, the women headed for the ballroom, and once again, Jeff Cornell began towards the group's destination where the package was located.
Jennifer had an air of anxiety about her as she pondered what the significance of this package was. It was an emotion her younger father could sense.
As he trailed his husband and their daughter, Daniel assured, "It's okay, Jen."
Seeing his princess' look of concern, Jack also swore, "It's okay, Honey, I promise."
The group walked to one of the side exits and stepped across the hall, where Jeff indicated a door with a tilt of his head.
"Look, Jen, if this isn't something you're okay with, you just let us know," Daniel spoke firmly.
The words felt like Greek to Jennifer. She had no clue what was happening.
"You'll be happy," Jack asserted, motioning towards the door. "Thanks, Jeff," he said to his friend, who then returned to the ballroom where his wife, Margaret, was chatting with Carolyn Ferretti and her younger sister, Carli Janssen.
A bit cautiously, Jennifer tapped on the door.
"Just go in," Jack encouraged.
With a sigh, the young woman opened the door and walked inside. She saw another figure across the room. Caught off guard, she just stared until the man turned around.
Jennifer's face brightened as she gasped, "Peter!" Eagerly, she hurried forward, meeting him at the room's center point. "What are you doing here?"
"Your parents invited me," Peter answered, holding his one-time girlfriend in his arms. ~I wish I could do this all the time.~
"My parents?" Jennifer asked, completely baffled. ~No way!~
"Well, I figure it was your dad's idea, and your daddy just went along. He's not my biggest fan," Peter noted about Daniel.
"Peter, stop it. If Daddy wasn't okay with your being here, you wouldn't be here," Jennifer remarked. ~He's so handsome.~
"So, I know it's last minute, but will you be my date tonight?"
Inside, Jennifer wanted to say 'yes' right away, but she was concerned that if she did, she would mislead the Oxford student. The two had an involved past. He'd hurt her horribly once, and while she'd forgiven him, in her mind, they could only be friends now.
"Peter, I'm not sure what motivated Dad to engineer this; I mean, I am glad you're here, but I won't lie to you. We're friends."
"I know, Jen. It's an important night, and you look so beautiful. No strings. I just want to be your friend and, maybe for tonight, your escort. I know where we stand."
"Do you, Peter?"
"Friends." Peter smiled and asked again, "You do realize that friends do date sometimes, for important events like this."
Slowly, a smile formed on Jennifer's face as she threw her arms around the wealthy young man and agreed, "Yes, I'd love to be your date ... for tonight."
"Jack, get that smug expression off your face," Daniel warned as the couple waited to see the results of their handiwork.
"She'll be happy."
"It was a risk."
"I know our daughter, and I don't care what she says with her mouth, her eyes tell the truth. Mark my words, Danny, those eyes are going to sparkle," Jack insisted.
At that moment, the door opened and the young un-couple emerged, Jennifer's arms holding onto Peter's. Immediately, Jack tapped his husband's shoulder, his eyes focusing on the fact that Jennifer was radiating happiness.
Suddenly, the young woman snapped out of the involuntary trance she was in, and she hurried to her parents, hugging both of them.
"Thank you for the surprise," Jennifer stated. "It's nice to have all my closest friends here."
"Yes, good friends should be here," Jack replied, his tone amused by his daughter's choice of words.
"You okay?" Daniel asked.
"I'm happy Peter's here, Daddy," Jennifer responded.
Jennifer reached back for Peter's hand, and the two headed back into the ballroom, leaving the anniversary couple behind.
"I'm a genius," Jack opined cockily.
"They'll have fun, but pushing them into a relationship isn't a good idea," Daniel returned.
"A certain silver fox I know."
"I'm only pushing for her mind to acknowledge what her heart has already decided."
Jack stole a quick kiss from his soulmate and then took his hand, leading him back inside the ballroom.
"Pbst! Jen!" Brianna called out in a hushed tone, waving for her sister to go over to the stage area.
Jennifer and Peter had only been able to complete one dance before Brianna's interruption.
"I'm sorry, Peter. I probably won't be much of a date tonight. I have a lot of things I have to attend to."
"If you need help, for anything, you can count on me," Peter offered, still loosely holding the young woman.
Smiling sweetly, Jennifer replied, "I know. Hey, why don't you ask Sheila or Amber to dance."
"Don't they still hate me?" Peter asked warily, remembering vividly the harsh remarks the girls had imparted in his direction the last time he'd seen them. ~Jen has some very supportive friends.~
With a sympathetic expression, Jennifer kissed Peter on the cheek and suggested, "They're my friends, too. Maybe if you talked to them, shared the truth, or at least part of it, with them, they'd see what I see."
Peter was dying to continue the discussion, but before he could, Jennifer had slipped away and was making her way to the stage at the front of the ballroom. Along the way, she accidentally bumped into Danny Hopkins Jenkins.
"Danny!" In a flash, the two hugged. "Mister and Mrs. Jenkins, oh, wow! Dad is going to be beside himself. Daddy, too."
"We couldn't resist," Julie responded. "We have the whole family with us."
"On Level 37?"
"I'm so glad. I saw your RSVP and that you weren't sure you'd make it, but I made sure all of the children had space in the party care center," Jennifer stated, using her nickname for where younger children were staying.
"Jen!" Brianna called out more urgently. "Danny, hey!" Realizing what was causing her sister's delay, Brianna sprung forward and joined in the conversation, only right after the hellos, she warned her sister, "Jen, he's on a schedule. You have to introduce him *now*, or he'll miss his plane."
"Oops!" Jennifer responded. "We'll talk later!" she told the Jenkins as she hurried off.
"Dad and Daddy are gonna flip when they find out you're here," Brianna stated. "Oh, my gosh! I have a scathingly brilliant idea. It's gotta work. Danny, come on."
Feeling the tug on his hand, Danny just shrugged as he looked at his adoptive parents and let Brianna pull him, only all of a sudden she stopped and ran back to the couple.
"Hide, okay? I mean, don't let my folks see you. They're over there, with the Cassidys. You know, Lisa Cassidy? She conducted their first wedding ceremony," Brianna looked up in recollection and chuckled, "and their second. Hide!" she insisted as she moved swiftly away, tugging Danny with her.
Seeing Jennifer walking up onto the stage and the special effects beginning, Brianna approached the night's official entertainment and began, "Hey, this is Danny, and I have a terrific idea!"
The man listened, nodding as he heard a very quick, and plausible, suggestion.
With the microphone in her hand and white smoke swirling around her, Jennifer began, "Dad, Daddy, and guests, I take great pride in introducing our special guest for the evening. He's made a special trip just to entertain us."
"Enough of that obligatory hogwash, Jen. Give me room. You're cramping my style!" a rich male voice teased from offstage.
"Okay, okay," Jennifer chuckled. "Kids, come up toward the front," she beckoned, her arms outstretched as she motioned for some of the adults to let the little ones up close. "Thanks," she spoke appreciatively of the crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen and kids of all ages, and that definitely includes my dad, voted most popular entertainer by his peers and public alike, Mister Magic himself, Lance Burton!"
"Lance Burton? How the heck did they pull this one off?" Jack marveled as he turned to watch.
As Daniel just shook his head at the special guest star, he had no desire to dwell on how the brood had accomplished all that they had. He simply wanted to enjoy it.
"I've seen Lance perform a couple of times," Carl Cassidy mention. "He puts on a great show, especially for kids."
"He sure does," Lisa concurred.
On stage, Burton appeared in a smoky chamber to an abundance of applause and smiles. He performed a few sleight-of-hand tricks, including having torn paper reassembling itself and birds seemingly made of paper take flight. Then he focused on the spotlight that had just centered on Jack and Daniel and called the guests of honor up onto the stage.
"No one said you could stop holding hands," the magician chastised once the lovers were nearby. "This is your anniversary party, right? Shy, are we? We'll just see about that."
With a flick of his hands and a flash of light, the lovers found themselves bound by a pair of handcuffs.
"You two must have been naughty," Burton mused mischievously.
"Not yet," Jack smirked, causing the crowd to whoop out and applaud at the quip. "The kids are here," he explained.
Burton chuckled, raised his hand, circled the lovers, and then, in a puff of smoke, the handcuffs came undone. Jack removed the cuffs, holding them up so everyone could see.
"Please keep them as a souvenir," the performer invited blandly, though his eyes were full of mischief. He looked over at the couple's daughter and requested, "Jennifer, I need your assistance, please."
Lance gestured as a table was rolled across the stage. As Jack and Daniel walked to the side of the stage and sat down on a couple of chairs that had been placed there for them, the magician helped Jennifer onto the table. As soon as she was in place, a wooden box was lowered over her. There were hinged portions along the side, giving a view of the young woman's gown-clad body.
"What is a magic show without sawing a pretty woman in half?" the magician questioned dramatically. He grinned as he wielded a hacksaw and vigorously began attacking the center of the wooden box with it. Of course, once the center was cut through, he separated the two halves, showing wood ends. "How do you feel, Jennifer?"
"The saw tickled," Jennifer replied, wiggling her feet.
"Well, how about this?"
The master magician sawed each half of his assistant into half again, separating each of the now four pieces of Jennifer. He mixed up the four sections, showing each of them obviously fine and moving.
"Can you put me back together? I don't think I can dance like this?" Jennifer giggled.
"Of course." Burton smiled and suggested, "But I think a change is in order."
Lance sashayed around the stage. For all of three seconds, a curtain went down and then back up, and when it was raised, there in the box was Danny Hopkins.
"Jen, you've changed!" Jack called out, stunned. "Danny, my boy!" he exclaimed as he headed for the box which was being opened to allow the teenager out.
Daniel had followed his husband, and the three of them hugged. There were questions about the Jenkins and their children, and all kinds of catching up queries; that is, until Lance stuck his head in the middle of the circular chat fest. In fact, a few of the kids had invaded the stage, including David, who felt a close bond with Danny Hopkins Jenkins.
"Missing someone?" Lance questioned.
It took a second, but then Jack caught on and responded, "Hey, where's my daughter?"
"If you'll just move over there," Lance requested, the shift in position by the group allowing the audience to see the rest of the magic show.
With some flourish, flair, and a few magical passes over the curtain that again descended for just three seconds, Jennifer emerged from the reconstituted wood box with scarcely a hair out of place. As she curtsied, the audience applauded wildly.
"Hey, that was great!" Jennifer proclaimed as she joined the others.
"I told you it was a brilliant idea," Brianna boasted as the group descended the steps from the stage to the ballroom floor.
For another fifteen minutes, the magician did an array of magician's tricks, including acts of levitation that amazed everyone, especially when Burton himself levitated. His slight of hand bits were so quick that even those who fancied themselves aware of how tricks were done were impressed. Then he proclaimed that he could produce a live elephant.
All the children and most of the adults cheered for him to do it.
The skeptical security team who were present for the performance looked around at one another. There were universal shaking of their heads, indicators that none of them had seen any elephants that night. They were positively smug that there was no way something as large as an elephant could have gotten past their collective eyes.
A silk fabric open-top tent suspended on poles was hoisted on ropes, and before it had finished rising, an elephant trumpeted. The tent dropped, and there was a full grown elephant, along with a baby elephant.
From the audience near the stage, Grace Satterfield's eyes nearly popped out of her head as she loudly exclaimed, "No frackin' way!"
After some 'ohs', 'ahs', and other pondering, Lance invited Grace to come up onto the stage and pet the creatures for herself to assure her they were indeed real.
"How did you do that?" a still stunned Grace asked amid the crowd.
"Now, now, Miss Satterfield, a magician never reveals his secrets."
"How did you know my name?" As Lance grinned, Grace answered her own question by saying, "A magician never reveals his secrets."
A few seconds later, both mother and baby elephant were gone, back to wherever they had been prior to being onstage.
When the applause died down, the magician again called the anniversary couple up onto the stage once again and surmised, "You are probably wondering how Jennifer managed to get me here tonight."
Jack nodded, admitting, "We wondered."
"She called several weeks ago and introduced herself. I recognized your names from all the charity work you do for children, the homeless, and the families of fallen police and fire personnel. Don't look so surprised, Doctor, General, word gets around. I have a soft spot for children myself. I couldn't refuse.
"What I do is entertainment, illusion, sleight-of-hand. The real magic is what people like you do all the time when you change people's lives with your generosity. That's why we rearranged my schedule, and here I am. I'm a fan of anyone who consistently gives back the way you guys do. Any time you're where I'm giving a show, please let me know. You and your family will be my guests." To himself, the magician mused, ~I still don't know how she did it; she has magic of her own.~
"Thank you," Daniel replied politely.
"Actually, Doctor, it's thank you. All the best, guys."
Lance stood between them with his arm around their shoulders. The flash went off, commemorating the moment forever on film. The white blur clicked two more times as he shook hands with Jack and Daniel. Then he stood back and disappeared in white smoke.
"Wow!" Daniel expressed as he joined in with the applause.
"Those elephants have to be around here somewhere," Jack insisted as he looked right, left, up, and down.
"Maybe, but instead of thinking about elephants, how about a drink with the Jenkins?"
"I'll go for that."
"Jen, they're here," Janet called out, waving the young woman over and pointing in the direction of her surprise.
"Great!" a smiling Jennifer responded as she casually glanced at her watch and noted that it was seven o'clock. "Bring them over to the stage, behind the photo area so Dad and Daddy can't see them."
After Janet nodded and walked away, Jennifer checked with Chief Master Sergeant Walter Davis, who was assisting with some of the technical aspects, to make sure they were ready. Getting the go ahead, she took to the stage once again. She tapped on the microphone and then shrugged when a scratchy sound rang out across the ballroom.
"Sorry," Jennifer laughed apologetically. "Tonight is a night of surprises for my parents, and right now, we'd like to reveal another special surprise. Dad, Daddy, back up on stage, please."
The couple made one of numerous trips they'd be making this night up the stairs to stage center.
"As much as we wanted absolutely everyone we love and care about to be here, there were some who couldn't attend for one reason or another. However, by satellite, thanks to the United States Air Force and a local TV station in Ireland, Dad, Daddy, here'ssssss Molly."
Jack and Daniel were agape as they saw the flicker on the screen and some momentary static, but all of a sudden, there she was -- Molly O'Hanlon, the Irish woman who had run the orphanage were the Morgan children had been placed following the deaths of their parents. Those three, who still called themselves the Mouseketeers, were now happy campers as part of the Jackson-O'Neill brood.
"Oh, my. You are there! Saints preserve us, what marvels they can do today," Molly laughed from her Ireland home.
"Molly, Lass, you're as beautiful as ever," Jack called out.
The conversation wasn't long enough, but the few minutes of chitchat brought such joy to the couple and to their children that it made them all wish they could just beam Molly to the party.
**We should tell her about Thor,** Jack communicated to his husband.
**She doesn't have clearance.**
**No, I just thought I'd point it out.** Daniel smiled, waved, and called out, "We love you, Molly."
The screen went dark to the applause of the crowd.
"We love Molly," Jennifer told the crowd. "She changed my life, and David's, and Noa's in all the right ways. Without Molly O'Hanlon, I'm not sure I'd even know where my brother and sister are today. Thank you for sharing this little visit with us."
The parents wanted to take their daughter into a hug, but Jennifer waved them off.
~Now is not the time to cry,~ the young woman told herself as she continued to hold the microphone. She drew a deep breath to gather her strength. "We have another surprise. Many of you know Cassandra Luca and her husband, Dom. They live in Salt Lake City, and they have a beautiful baby boy named ..."
"Tommy," Jack called out.
Jennifer rolled her eyes and corrected, "Tommaso. You all know Dad and his nicknames." With the chuckles pulsating through the room, she continued, "Well, Cassie and the baby were here for a couple of weeks in October. In fact, she helped the brood learn some dances, but because of that and Dom's work obligations, they RSVP'd their very sad regrets."
The heavy heartbeats could be heard.
"But we have this wonderful screen that works magic, so please, let's see more of that wizardry."
Everyone expected the screen to grow bright, but nothing happened.
"Cass?" Jennifer called out. She looked back nervously at the crowd and said with regret, "We wanted this evening to be perfect." She refocused on the screen. "Cassie, are you there?"
"Right here, Jen!" Cassandra Luca called out as she walked across the stage.
"Yes!" Jack exclaimed, giving one of his familiar fist pumps.
"Uncle Jack!" the Hankan woman shouted excitedly as she found herself lifted into the air and twirled around. "We couldn't miss this."
"Cassie, I'm so glad you're here," Daniel stated as he took the young woman into his arms.
As Jack and Daniel greeted Dominic, who was holding the baby, Jennifer looked out to the audience and quipped, "Like I said, we wanted it to be perfect, so we called Dom's boss and convinced him to not only allow Dom to miss a company event being held this evening but to also allow him to get off work early today, so thank you to Mister Giamondi, wherever you are."
Jennifer backed away and motioned to the bandleader to start the music up again. Then she joined her parents, Janet, and the surprise guests who were still chatting at stage right.
"You really called his boss?" Jack questioned his daughter.
"Dad, you and Daddy have taught us all that there's always an 'or', and we wanted Cass, Dom, and Tommaso here. It couldn't hurt to ask, could it?"
"He was impressed. He loves you, Jen," Dominic responded.
"Maybe Jen should represent you at your next performance review," Cassandra put forth teasingly.
"Just give me a call, and ten percent," Jennifer joked.
"Jen, he's really tired," Cassandra stated as she caressed her son's forehead.
"We have a crib for him downstairs. I'll show you," the oldest Mouseketeer volunteered, leading everyone off the stage.
"General Hammond," Mrs. Sophia Valissi acknowledged.
The senior citizen had just arrived at the party, intentionally arriving late. She'd been signing the guest book while the Cassandra surprise had just gotten underway.
"Good evening, Ma'am," Hammond acknowledged as the two passed by each other near the bar.
Glancing over at her son, Mrs. Valissi questioned worriedly, "Evan, are you sure you got everything out of the car?"
"I double checked, Mom." Then Evan chuckled, "You're a riot, Mom."
Mrs. Valissi chuckled, "Better than being a bore, Evan, but why do you say that now?"
"You never worry about yourself, but you're almost paranoid about our ... guests."
"Precious cargo, my boy," Mrs. Valissi remarked as she patted his son's hand maternally. "Precious cargo."
As Mrs. Valissi continued chatting with her son, General Hammond refilled his glass at one of the bars and then headed over to chat with Sergeant Walter Davis for a moment.
Without warning, the lights dimmed somewhat.
"Space, the final frontier, or is it final, and what kind of frontier is it? Are we really living within our own version of The Twilight Zone, desperate to go beyond The Outer Limits to see what's there? And if we get there, will we find little green men, a space odyssey, or maybe even The Simpsons? Or maybe we're just living in the Matrix?"
The crowd laughed at David's remarks. The backdrop behind him now resembled outer space, with stars and planets all around. The theme from "Star Trek" played in the background.
"My dad is a major general in the United States Air Force. He flies jets and reaches for that boundary between our atmosphere and that of whatever is out there. He's a military man who takes risks for the better good. That's stuff I don't even want to think about, but what that means is that Dad protects us, even when we don't see him doing it. He loves science fiction, and if he could, he'd be on the front lines. He'd be a ... a planetary test pilot, seeking out new life and new civilizations, if they existed."
~He's good,~ Jack praised silently about the covert speech.
"My daddy is a visionary. While he excels on what is behind us, who came before us, and how they lived, he centers himself around the ideal, not in terms of perfection, but in peace and mankind, humanoid-kind, creature-kind. Okay, maybe that sounds odd, but the best writers of science fiction give us a concept of what could be out there. Daddy thinks about that and how we could blend these worlds into a harmonious universe, if they existed."
~Nice job, Son,~ Daniel complimented internally. ~Nice allegories.~
"This is the brood's version of what might happen, if Dad and Daddy traveled from Earth to some new world."
"Oh, this is gonna be good," Jack said out loud.
Daniel nodded, not wanting to say anything and miss even a moment of the short skit, performed by the children.
Aislinn skipped out onto the stage, wearing a mop as hair, and announced, "I'm Myla of the Pox."
"The Pox," Jack gagged, his abdomen tensing up from the obvious Nox-derived name.
"I see strangers," Aislinn stated, pretending to look off into the far distance and then with surprise as the strangers neared.
"Hi! I'm Daniel, a peaceful explorer," Little Danny greeted, wearing a pair of his daddy's glasses and one of his boonies. "Will you be our friend?"
"Daniel, she's wearing a mop. Let's go find a big, huge honkin' weapon," Jonny orated, playing his older father and wearing a pair of Jack's sunglasses as well as one of his Class-A jackets that went down below the boy's knees.
"Oh, gawd," Daniel laughed, doubling over at the sight and sounds. **Sound familiar, Jack?** he asked via the couple's unusual communication link.
**Too familiar,** Jack responded. **I never said that.**
**No, of course not. Just every other mission,** the archaeologist teased.
"The Pox are friends with everyone," Aislinn proclaimed calmly.
"I'm Glow Eyes. I'm an alien snake, and I'm not friends with anyone!" Lulu announced as she leaped in, taking a position between the Pox and the explorers.
"Help! Help!" Ricky called out from the back of the stage. "The money is vanishing."
A figure turned around and told the audience, "I'm Senator Pissy, and we shouldn't be spending all this money to explore the universe."
"Senator Pissy, we don't like you!" Jenny shouted. She was wearing a bald cap. "I'm General Hamhawk, and I'll make you go away."
"Hamhawk?" Jack asked with widened eyes.
"It's a good name," Daniel insisted, nodding his head and making sure that he didn't look over at General Hammond. ~I really don't want to see his reaction.~
"Beats Hamhock, I guess," Jack put forth.
Daniel closed his eyes and then folded him arms across his chest as he listened to the brood's skit as it continued.
"No one can make Pissy go away," Brianna claimed, since she was playing the part while at the same time didn't get scolded by creating and saying the name.
Suddenly, there was a flash of light, and a superb visual effect was seen that stunned and delighted the crowd.
"Oh my ..." Daniel began, looking around nervously. ~We are so dead for this.~
"I am Floor of the Buttguard. We will be friends of Earth, Senator Pissy, but only if General Hamhawk is in charge. You must go away."
There was another flash of light, and the gray creature disappeared, while at the same time, Brianna skirted behind an amplifier, making her disappear.
Before the next line could be uttered, a voice spoke, "Happy anniversary, Jack and Daniel."
The crowd applauded, some thinking Lance Burton must still be in the building.
"That little gray butt," Jack mused into his lover's ear.
"Floor? Of the Buttguard?" Daniel echoed.
The archaeologist couldn't hold it in anymore. He just laughed wildly, as did his husband.
Back onstage, the skit continued with Jenny saying, "The Buttguards are our friends. I, General Hamhawk, promise to be friends with the Pox for all time."
"You have to deal with me first!" Lulu as Glow Eyes cackled.
Commandingly, Chenoa walked onto the stage. She carried a wooden stick that was taller than she. On her forehead, was a T in a golden circle.
"I am Tal'c. I am from Chalupa, and I never smile, but I do tell jokes." Chenoa turned to the audience and delivered a very bad joke. "Well, you had to be there, I guess. Maybe Chalupa jokes should end like this." The tap dancer did a classic 'ta da' step and then resumed her character. "Glow Eyes, you are no match for me."
Chenoa aimed the wooden stick and fired. Lulu jumped up, danced around in a ballet move, and then fell to her death, performance wise.
"Jack, now we can be friends with the Pox," Little Danny said as his Daniel character.
"Tal'c, check the perimeter while Dannyboy and I get friendly with the natives."
As the audience laughed, and those in the real know were besides themselves, David returned to the stage.
"Hey, wait a minute!"
A young woman walked out onto the stage. Only a few people knew who she was.
"Jack , is that ..."
"Holy alien surprises!"
"I am Merrin, and I'm an alien. Is this how earthlings live?"
"Welcome to Earth, Merrin," Jennifer greeted as she walked out and hugged the visitor. "We're having a party for our parents, and we just wanted to pretend how they'd be if they explored worlds beyond Earth."
"Oh, I see. Well, maybe they met a little girl, taught her new ideas, and changed her world forever. Is that what you had in mind?"
Jonny walked over and declared, "Merrin, making lives better is what we do."
"Well, General, that's exactly what you did for my world. Do you have a wall?" Merrin asked, looking around.
"Over here," Little Danny announced at the chalk board that was pretending to be the wall.
"Let's color," the adult alien suggested. She happened to catch a glimpse at Jack in the crowd and smiled, giving him a wink. ~I'll never forget how he taught me to color.~
Jack grinned, watching Jonny and the adult Merrin re-creating a very special moment in time. He was pleased to see the woman, who was very happy and secure on her world.
**Danny, do you think Hammond knew about this?**
**I have no idea.**
Little Danny watched and announced, "I think she's really from Earth. She looks just like us and sounds just like us. I think the word 'alien' is misleading."
"Jack, we are going to get into so much trouble for this," Daniel whispered.
"I'm gonna lose my stars."
"We'll be fired."
The lovers looked at each other and then broke out into more laughter. After all, they were retiring, again, in two short months anyway.
Nyan responded to Little Danny's Daniel persona by saying, "To me, you used to be an alien, but now I'm one of you, so you're not an alien to me. Merrin's an alien."
Merrin looked over and replied, "Nyan, *you're* the alien."
Soon, everyone on the stage was accusing one another of being aliens until suddenly Little Danny shouted, "Does it matter where we came from? Can't we just all get along?"
"Not that TV show again," Daniel groaned as Jack laughed smugly.
Jonny walked up to his brother and put a hand on his shoulder. He took a breath and nodded.
"You're right again, Daniel. Let's all be friends."
The skit was over, and the kids bowed.
David went to the microphone and stated, "What you've just witnessed is, of course, totally fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living, dead, or alien, is purely coincidental. All rights reserved, by anyone who wants them."
The guests laughed and applauded.
"We'd like you to meet two friends of ours, Merrin and Nyan," David spoke, pointing towards them and watching as they joined hands and took a bow. "Thanks for helping us out." Turning back to the audience, he added, "We'd also like to say 'sorry' to our Aunt Sam. She knows why, but, uh, the reason is ... we ran out of brood. Dad, Daddy, wanna make us a baker's dozen? We needed another girl."
"In your dreams," Jack called out. "Maybe we'll do a trade-in."
"Jack!" Daniel rebuked, though he was laughing at the same time.
"In outer space or just right here, we love you, Dad and Daddy," David expressed from his heart. Then all at once, the brood shouted, "Happy anniversary!"
Jack and Daniel began to make their way towards the stage. En route, they came upon General Hammond.
"Uh, Sir ..." Jack began, wondering if he was going to have to explain General Hamhawk to the bald-headed man.
"Relax, Jack. Who do you think they rehearsed with?" Hammond replied, a smile on his face.
"So, it's okay ... what they did?" Daniel asked hesitantly.
"Plausible deniability, Son. It works every time," Hammond laughed as he walked away, heading over towards Sam's position.
"Peachy!" Jack exclaimed, loving that they were in the clear.
Happy and highly amused, the lovers went over to visit with Merrin and Nyan for a few minutes. Merrin had come with Thor and would be disappearing almost as fast as she'd appeared. Nyan, too, would be returning to Cheyenne Mountain before long. First, though, they'd enjoy some conversation and a few treats.
As Karissa Lewis stood watching the guests having a good time, her right foot was tapping to the beat, her torso was swaying in time, and her head was bopping around at the happy sounds.
The same Air Force lieutenant who had escorted Jack and Daniel to the ballroom at the beginning of the party was walking the perimeter of the ballroom, just watching the fun being had and occasionally talking with personnel he knew. The handsome man often worked with Jennifer and her Teen Gaters Program, so was well known to her and had been invited to enjoy the party in between the time that he'd finished his escort duty and when he was to report to assist with the security detail, which was just a few minutes away.
Smiling as he approached the right side of the room where the doors were, the man noticed the sexy looking blonde in the flaming red dress who was doing a bit of solo dancing.
~Hot! Hmmm. She doesn't look like she has a date,~ the lieutenant observed. ~There's a law against looking that good and not having a dance partner.~ He checked his watch, noting it was about twenty-five after seven. ~Just time enough for one quick spin.~
With a charismatic smile, the man approached Karissa and politely offered to fill the role of dance partner. She quickly nodded her acceptance and took his hand as he led her onto the dance floor.
The officer and Karissa made a great looking dance team. Karissa kept in shape and was an athletic dancer, which pleased her partner. He quickly learned that she could match his maneuvers, which is why he didn't hesitate to do some exciting steps and moves with her.
Some couples around the two noticed how good they were, and slowly, couples began to stop their own dancing to admire Karissa and the lieutenant. Then the officer sent Karissa away from himself in a powerful release, intending that she move with his pulling her back in toward himself, but Karissa's left high-heeled shoe had other plans.
At the height of her outward momentum, the five-inch spike heel snapped cleanly off the sole when it hit the floor. Instinctively, the woman placed her other foot firmly on the floor to keep her balance, but the laws of physics kicked in against her wishes. The lack of a heel caused the left foot to become airborne once more, and her momentum spun her around, causing her to fall forward.
Unfortunately for the J-O Enterprises employee, a cart with cake and ice cream was close to the edge of the dance floor area. To Karissa, it felt like the cart rushed upward to meet her face. The cake broke her fall enough to avoid injury, but it did stun her momentarily as she slumped backward onto the floor.
Quickly, those nearby the incident gathered around Karissa.
Instinctively, her dance partner shouted, "Medic!"
Before any medical personnel could arrive at the woman's side, two beagles sprang forward and stared at Karissa. Making their own determination that she was fine, the canines began enjoying their own desert, via the moist process of licking cake and frosting off Karissa's face.
"Bijou! Katie! How did you get here?" Daniel shouted as he and Jack arrived at the scene of the calamity and saw the beagles.
Karissa lifted her head and looked down at her feet and noticed that her dress hadn't slid above her knees.
~At least I'm still covered up,~ the woman sighed inwardly.
The cake was a simple spice cake with frosting. Only a little bit was on the bodice of Karissa's dress, but her face and neck, including her necklace, were covered with cake; that is, until the beagles decided to enjoy a cake and frosting treat, giving the fallen dancer a pretty thorough cleansing.
Once it was apparent Karissa was all right, people tried not to laugh but couldn't help it. It was partly due to the relief she was not hurt that the laughter grew from smirks and giggles to loud guffaws. The scene was ludicrous, a beautiful, elegantly gowned and coiffed woman sprawled on the floor having her cake-smeared face cleaned by two beagles.
"Karissa ..." Casey began as he moved closer.
"Casey, I'm okay. Just help me up, please," Karissa requested, holding out a hand expectantly.
"Not yet. Let me ..."
"Are you hurt?" Janet asked as she kneeled down to examine the fallen dancer.
"Only my pride," Karissa responded as she caught sight of her dance partner and extended her hand to him.
Just as Karissa returned to her feet, Jennifer appeared with Karissa's evening bag.
"Thanks, Jen. I'll want that in few minutes, but I am not going to let the image of me sprawled out, shoeless and covered in cake, be the last memory people have of me tonight." Karissa looked at the handsome lieutenant and stated, "We have a dance to finish."
With a regretful sigh as he checked his watch, the man apologized, "I really would love to, Karissa, but I have to be on duty in one minute."
The lieutenant scowled, already knowing he was going to be late, and that's not something he took lightly.
Jennifer interjected, "I'll take care of it, Lieutenant. Please finish your dance with Karissa."
Leaving the area, Jennifer first waved to the bandleader to continue the music and then she headed over to the security station to make sure the lieutenant's assigned area remained covered until he was ready to check in and begin his security shift.
Kicking off her other shoe so that she was now in her stocking feet, Karissa and the young Air Force officer put on a worthy performance for those close enough to see. They whirled and stepped, advanced and retreated in what appeared to be a carefully choreographed number. He lifted her over his shoulder and she slid down his back. He grabbed her arms between his legs and pulled her back on her feet so they could resume their athletic dance. When the music ended, they took a bow to enthusiastic applause.
Taking note of the man's insignia, Karissa asked, "By the way, what's your first name, Lieutenant?"
"Steve," the man replied. "My name is Steven Watkins," he expounded formally.
"Well, Steve Watkins, let a girl say thank you before you run off to guard duty."
With that, Karissa gave the man a kiss that drew 'ooh lah lahs' from the crowd.
Steve nodded bashfully and then hurried off to resume his duties.
~There he is.~ It was then that Karissa caught hold of a beaming face from the crowd. She walked over and stared down. "Well, you still want to dance with me again?"
"I always want to dance with you, Rissa. You were great!"
"Okay, I'll be right back. I want to freshen up before I dance with my best beau," Karissa stated, leaning over and giving Little Danny a kiss on the cheek.
Little Danny was grinning from the kiss, but then he gasped, remembering the unexpected arrival of the beagles.
~That's why there's space by my bed,~ the little boy realized before he set out in search of Bijou and Katie.
A few feet away, feeling smug and justifiably proud, the photographer, Philip Glouster, mused, ~I don't think anyone saw me, but I got the whole thing on video: the dance, her falling in the cake and sprawling on the floor, the dogs, and that spectacular encore. I'll make some great stills from that, too.~
"I'm glad your parents decided to come to the party tonight, Chely," Jeff told his girlfriend as they stood off to the side of the room in between dances. The two were missing all of the commotion that was going on up front. ~Gee, Chely, your smile just knocks me out.~
"Me, too," Chely Tillison replied happily.
"Do they give you a hard time much?"
"No, not really. They love you, and they like your parents. They're just still a little uncomfortable about me going steady with a guy whose parents are two men. It caught them by surprise, Gaffy," Chely explained, using her nickname for Jeff. "They've never had to confront anything that was the least bit different from their version of normal."
"That's part of why I'm glad they came. There are a lot of people here who love and respect Dad and Daddy. I'm hoping tonight will allow your folks to see how ordinary we really are." Jeff caught the odd stare his girlfriend was giving him. The gaze held some rebuke. "You know what I mean, Chel. My family is different in a lot of ways, but we're ordinary, too. You've been over often enough to know what I mean."
"You are so cute when you try to explain," the blonde returned, smiling for a second and then kissing her boyfriend's cheek.
"I like your folks, Chel."
"They're good people, Jeff."
"Hey, it's swing time," Jeff encouraged when the music started up again.
Smiling her assent, Chely began moving to the music and before long, the two were having a great time dancing the West Coast Swing.
By the time Karissa reached the nearest powder room, Jennifer was there waiting for her.
"I walked out with your bag," Jennifer chuckled.
"That's okay," Karissa replied as she took possession of her purse.
"And I brought these, too," the younger woman announced, holding up the pumps Karissa had worn to the hotel that afternoon before changing into her party attire.
"Thank goodness for small blessings. I'm glad you drafted me," Karissa chuckled in relief. ~We were swamped at work today. If Megan hadn't been able to make time to finish that report, I wouldn't have been able to help the brood and I'd be spending the rest of the evening barefoot.~
"Well, we needed an extra pair of hands, and yours worked nicely."
Smiling, the blonde remarked, "I have to thank you again for this gorgeous dress. You wouldn't believe all the compliments I've been given on it, and from women who are wearing much more elaborate gowns."
"You're welcome, Karissa. My inspiration was something Mrs. Valissi taught me. She always says, 'The dress should not wear the woman. Understated elegance, that's who you are'."
The statement prompted the two women to reminisce about how Jennifer came to sew the dress Karissa was wearing at the extravaganza.
Jennifer Jackson-O'Neill was working one of her part time shifts as an assistant to Karissa Lewis. As she was delivering a copy of a report to Megan, she heard Karissa complain that she hadn't yet found a dress to wear to the upcoming anniversary party for their employers.
"Honestly, Megan, everything that I can afford looks like 'grandmother of the bride" or like I should be standing out on the corner for $150 dollars an hour."
That was really all Jennifer heard, but as she drove home after work, an idea struck her. Quickly going upstairs to her bedroom, she looked through her collection of sewing patterns, seeking out the one she was thinking of.
~Here it is: Vogue 2193, Jerry Silverman. Perfect.~
The dress in question looked rather plain in the picture on the envelope. The pattern was no longer published, and it never could have been called 'in style', but it was just the thing for Karissa. As she reviewed it, Jennifer was glad she'd picked it up at a garage sale a few months ago.
The entire front and sleeves were actually one complete piece. The back was cut low clear to the waist with the sleeves folding over the arm and anchoring into the bodice. The back top and skirt were cut together, but split down the middle for a seam and zipper placement. The low back was covered with a bias cut cowl that hid the wearer's bra and terminated in long sash ends. The ends tied around and hid the elastic that gave the bodice its shape at the waist. The front neckline was a high bateau style that flowed into the three-quarter-length elastic cuff sleeves.
~Now the fabric. Nothing fancy. This will look great in a nice light wool jersey. Flaming red, I think. She'll be hotter than JoLo or Beyonce.~
Checking her watch, Jennifer figured she had just enough time to get to a fabric store and buy what she needed before having to be home to prepare dinner.
That evening, the capable seamstress stitched up the dress, except for the hem. Pleased with the result, she put the dress on a hanger and placed it in a garment bag by her purse to ensure she wouldn't forget it the next day when she ran her errands. She only worked a couple of days per week, and she didn't want to wait for her next shift in fear of Karissa selecting a dress off the rack that she didn't really want.
The next morning, Jennifer stopped by the office, carrying her surprise. She smiled as she tapped on Karissa's door.
"Hey, you busy?"
"I have a few minutes. Come on in," Karissa beckoned. "What's that?" she asked about the covered item.
"Well, I need you do me a favor," Jennifer advised as she unveiled the dress. "Try this on for me, okay?"
Karissa stood and took possession of the dress which looked pretty much like a big red rag. She noticed as Jennifer went over to the door and locked it.
~Why not?~ Karissa asked herself, not wanting to dampen her part time assistant's excitement.
Both Megan and Karissa had changing screens in their offices. The screens were easily moveable and could be almost totally hidden by pushing them into the corner, if desired. However, the decorative pieces made for interesting decor when expanded while also giving them additional privacy should they need to change, though no one ever anticipated a moment like this.
When Karissa emerged from behind the changing screen, the seamstress was wowed.
With a smile, Jennifer instructed, "Take a look in the mirror."
The results were startling to Karissa. Her bosom was completely covered, but still quite obviously there, without any lewdness. The cowl fluttered and flipped from side to side as she moved. It gave a view of a few inches of her back, and the viewer could tell the view went further, even though they couldn't see anything more. The skirt fell smoothly over her round, firm hips without calling attention to them. The overall impression was, 'There is a real, live, sexy, athletic woman under these folds of fabric'.
"This is what your dad calls a 'chair' dress," Karissa giggled. "Wow, it's so ... *red!*"
"Karissa, no man ever wrote a song about the woman in the beige dress. The right shoes and a pin, maybe a necklace, and guys are lining up for the lady in red."
"Wow, it's incredible."
//End of Flashback//
"You really nailed it, Jen," Karissa concluded.
"And so did *you* out on that dance floor. Holy Cyd Charisse! That was an amazing comeback performance if ever I saw one," Jennifer complimented.
"Good. That's what I wanted, even if you're exaggerating about Cyd Charisse." Karissa was still breathing hard from her dance. She took a cleansing breath before adding, "I need to fix my face. Bijou and Katie removed most of my makeup as well as the cake."
"Oh my gosh! Bijou and Katie!" Jennifer exclaimed. "No one else knew they were here. Later!"
By the time Jennifer returned to the ballroom, the beagles, who still had their harnesses on, were being gawked at in amazement by Jack, Daniel, Evan Valissi, Paul Davis, and Little Danny.
Seeing his daughter approaching, Jack asked, "Did we lose their invitations?"
Smiling, Jennifer called out, "Surprise." She sighed, "It's just wouldn't be a family portrait without Bijou and Katie. I wanted to surprise you, and for the record, in case you're mad, it was totally my idea. I asked Mrs. Valissi to bring them."
"She must have waited for us to leave and then gone to the house," Daniel surmised.
"I'm glad they're here," Little Danny stated happily as he remained kneeled on the floor to play with the dogs.
"Me, too," Daniel admitted, earning him a huge grin from his namesake.
"Hey, so am I, but how'd they get loose?" the silver-haired man questioned curiously.
"Sorry, General," Davis sighed regretfully. "Mister Valissi made the hand off a while ago. I had a call I had to take. The next thing I knew, they were scrambling towards the ballroom."
Jack just grinned at the colonel, only it was a sarcastic look. He'd made his peace with Paul Davis, but somehow knowing he was the one who lost control of Bijou and Katie caused his blood to boil.
Sensing this, Daniel communicated, **I love you.**
The disarming remarks work, and soon, Jack was grinning for real.
"What about the room?" Jennifer asked the colonel.
"It's all set up," Davis reported. "We've created a closed in space where they can walk around and play. Their crate is there, with plenty of water and some snacks, if they're hungry."
"Jen, we can't leave them alone," Daniel interjected.
"But, Jen, they can't be alone," Little Danny said at the same time, causing his daddy to smile in his direction.
"Don't worry. Paul's going to be with them the entire time until you and Jonny decide to go to bed," Jennifer told her brother. "Of course, they'll be here while we're taking the official photograph, and that's going to happen within the half hour."
"Okay," Daniel agreed.
"Paul, you'd better take them. The hotel wasn't that thrilled with having dogs on this level," Jennifer stated calmly.
"Can I go with them, to make sure they're okay?" Little Danny asked.
"Sure," Jack permitted, looking over at Jennifer expectantly.
"I'll get one of the security detail to go with you. Come on, little brother," Jennifer urged, smiling as Little Danny took the leashes and led the canines away from the ballroom.
"I'm glad they're here."
"Wouldn't be complete without them," Jack agreed, smiling and then leaning in for a kiss.
After the kiss, Jack spun around and was stunned to see General Vidrine, his four stars on his dress uniform blinding.
"Sir!" Jack snapped.
"Relax, Jack. You've got the rank," Vidrine laughed, waving his hand to assure Jack at ease.
"You're two stars ahead of me, Sir."
"I'll make sure I retire to make room for you," the handsome and once again mustached man responded.
"Love the rebellion," Jack teased about the hairy lip.
"I shaved it off once," Vidrine reminded as he purposefully stroked his moustache.
"I remember," Jack acknowledged.
"Happy anniversary, Jack, Daniel," the man wished before walking away.
"That man is always direct and to the point."
"That's why you like him," Daniel put forth.
"Anyone who has the guts to say 'if you want me, you take my mustache' to the man deserves to be the man," Jack explained.
Meanwhile, over on the other side of the ballroom where several of the brood were at the moment, a search was in progress.
"Jeff, have you seen Teal'c?" Chenoa asked as the party was well under way.
Looking through the crowd, the teenager answered, "There he is, Noa, dancing with Aunt Sam."
"Oh, I see. Thanks," Chenoa replied gleefully, then turned and began to make her way through the crowd.
"Teal'c, you've become an accomplished dancer," Sam said as they waltzed.
"Thank you, Samantha. I am pleased that I no longer step on your feet," the Jaffa said in all seriousness.
Sam chuckled, "My feet thank you, too."
"'Scuse me. 'Scuse me. 'Scuse me," Chenoa apologized as she pushed her way through the adults. Just as the music ended, she reached her destination. "Hi, Teal'c."
"ChenoaJacksonO'Neill, I believe the next dance is mine," Teal'c stated, remembering that he had promised to dance with the little girl after the next waltz had been played.
Grinning, Noa moved into place and began her dance with her beau.
"He's not as good at the two-step, Gorgeous," Pete quipped over his wife's shoulder.
"Neither are you, but we're still going to dance to it," Sam said, turning around and holding out her hands.
With a weary Tommaso fast asleep on the 37th floor, Dominic and Cassandra were partying with Janet. They'd had a chance to say hello to several friends and to dance a couple of times. Everything felt alive and fun to the young married couple.
"Jack and Daniel really know how to throw a party, Mom," Dominic commented to his mother-in-law as he sipped some champagne.
Laughing, Janet replied, "Dom, Jack and Daniel had very little to do with the planning. Jennifer had to beg Daniel for help with ideas and suggestions during that bet of theirs."
"I just figured that after they lost the bet that they put the party together."
"For crying out loud, Dom, don't you listen to me when I talk?" Cassandra exclaimed, throwing her free hand up in exasperation.
"All the time, Cass," the husband assured his wife, leaning over for a kiss.
"Men! Mom, I told him this."
"When?" Seeing his wife's evasive look, Dominic nodded. "During the hockey game?"
A few seconds later, all three broke into laughter and then Dominic requested to hear the story again, now that he wasn't watching a sporting event.
Obliging, Cassandra and Janet teamed up to impart their knowledge of the bet details to the young Italian male.
"There must be ten different cakes here. That four-tier fishing pole one was terrific," Jack remarked to his husband over on the other side of the ballroom as they walked the cake tour.
Several of the cakes had just been wheeled in, allowing guests to enjoy their beauty before tasting the morsels of joy. They were placed in several locations throughout the ballroom so that when it came time to cut the cakes, the guests had plenty of options on where to go and wouldn't have to stand in line for very long.
"I didn't look past the double fudge mocha, German chocolate, and chocolate raspberry ones."
"There is a Kentucky butter cake, strawberry creme cake, cherries Jubilee cake, and lemon custard cake, plus the big cake!" the older man vocally salivated. ~Hmmm, miscount. Definitely more than ten.~
"All of our favorites." With a grin, Daniel pointed out, "You forgot one."
With a bit of a pouty face, Jack queried dubiously, "Which one?"
"Karissa's high heel spice cake," the younger man teased.
"I've never met a cake I didn't like, not even that one," Jack teased. More seriously, he grumbled lightly, "What do you think the bill is for all of these cakes?"
"Uh, well, somehow I don't think a cake, or twelve, made that big of a difference," Daniel put forth.
"You're the math expert," Daniel pointed out. "Look around and add it up." Seeing his lover looking around as instructed, the younger man noted, "Babe, we would never in a million years have done this for ourselves. It's ridiculously lavish, and that's not who we are."
Surprising his husband by not grumbling at the thought of the evening's price tag, Jack replied, "It's not about the cakes or that big band orchestra."
"No, it's not. Besides, look at the people we're surrounded by. All twelve of our brood, every member of our extended family, just about every person from the Mountain we care about, our neighbors, and a bunch of friends we care deeply about are here together, mixing and mingling. They're all having a great time, and you can't put a price on that."
"It's worth every penny," Jack opined quietly as he smiled over at Megan, who was laughing at something her beau, Yazid Awad, was saying. ~Hey, Yababomi is here,~ he teased to himself, referring to Abayomi Shariff, J-O Enterprises' best client who had become a friend to the family as well. ~We'll need to go say 'hello'.~
"Now that I think about it, I'd pay twice what it cost," Daniel added. "From what I've seen, it looks like there are plenty of photographers around to capture every moment."
"We're famous," Jack joked.
"If I had a nickle for every time you've said that since we met, it might pay for one of the cakes."
"Let's tango," Jack suggested, changing the subject as a new song began. ~Then we can talk to Abalone.~
"I thought you'd never ask," a smiling Daniel replied.
As the clock ticked towards the eight o'clock hour, it was time for the formal photographs to be taken while everyone was still reasonably fresh, but didn't have that 'I dressed up to have my picture taken' look.
"Jeff, would you please make sure the brood gets over to the photographer and in a presentable fashion?" Jennifer requested. "Jenny will want her hair perfect, of course. Um, the brood will probably start to sound off about only the girls being here and not the entire zoo, so be prepared. We can always take another brood plus zoo photo at home; that is, if we want to risk another sofa." Chuckling, she added, "I'll be back in a few minutes with Bij and Katie."
Jeff laughed and then set off to find his siblings while Jennifer headed for the 37th floor to get the beagles.
With the brood gathered together just outside of the photo shoot area and Chely having graciously volunteered to brush Jenny's red locks, Jeff addressed the group.
"Jen is bringing Bij and Katie up for the picture."
"Jeff ..." Little Danny began.
"Come on, you guys. You know we couldn't bring the entire zoo. The cats would hide and we'd probably never find them," Jeff argued.
"Jeff ..." Little Danny repeated.
"Jonny, if we'd brought Bogey, you'd probably lose him at the buffet line, and someone would eat him."
"No, they wouldn't," the boy denied.
"Jeff ..." Little Danny called out again.
"Little Danny, the zoo is safe at home, and you know that Ptolemy shouldn't be in the middle of all these people. She'd be frightened."
"Jeff ..." the middle Munchkin groaned a bit anxiously.
"Look, they won't know they weren't included in the photograph, and if you want, we can take a picture at home tomorrow night."
With a sigh, the teenager responded, "What?"
"I gotta go to the bathroom. I'll be right back," the Munchkin advised as he scurried hurriedly off to the restroom while the rest of the children laughed.
"Oh, sheez," Jeff groaned.
"Bro, none of us expected any of the zoo to be here," Brianna advised.
"Except for Bij and Katie," Aislinn corrected.
"Yeah, they had to be here," Jonny agreed.
"You're right. Okay, everyone ready?"
Nearby, the parents of the brood were waiting anxiously as well, only they were having a more serious discussion.
"What?" Daniel questioned, knowing his spouse had something on his mind.
"What ... what?" Jack asked in surprised.
"We're about to have our picture taken, and you look like you have frown face," the younger man responded. "What's wrong?"
"Danny, I just got why our kids did all of this -- the party, the picture in the paper -- all of it. They want to be normal, just like ... like people!"
"Babe, we *are* people, or have you been putting us in the wrong class?" Daniel retorted humorously.
"No, no, Daniel. Don't you get it? I *get* it. I understand; I really do, and I was such a jerk about the whole thing."
"Jack, I have news for you. You understood all of this six weeks ago. You're just having a tuxedo attack, complicated by party overload."
Jack stared for a few seconds and then shrugged.
"We talked about the bet and what it really meant before. This is our anniversary, Jack. Don't do the dumb thing tonight, especially not because you might be a little bored from waiting for Jen."
"Okay, it's a little calm, and you're looking out there thinking about the raucous you could cause. You know, a little ... pot stirring."
"Dang it, Danny."
"You know me too well."
Daniel laughed, "Probably, but you wouldn't mess up this party. I mean, you know how special it is and what it means to our children."
Jack gave his lover a kiss and agreed, "No, I wouldn't."
"And your little epiphany a minute ago?"
"You were right."
"I know," Daniel replied, sharing another quick kiss with his soulmate.
"Cheese time," Jack called out, seeing Jennifer and the girls entering.
The photo session began with the most difficult photo, that being Jack and Daniel with their brood and the dogs.
~Kids and dogs both,~ Glouster lamented, though in the end, he'd taken several shots he was certain would delight his clients.
After the big picture, individual shots were taken: Jack with each of the kids; Daniel with each of the children; Jack and Daniel both with the individual members of their brood; the married couple with Bijou, with Katie, and with both girls; Jack and Daniel in several different poses, including a couple of more intimate ones, such as the two kissing; the kids grouped together: Munchkins, Spitfires, Mouseketeers, Mavericks, and all such combinations there of. It was a seemingly endless session that took the better part an hour to accomplish.
In between needing to be in a group shot, Jack and Daniel had mingled with their guests who had wandered near the photography area, which kept the older man from being bored.
While the Munchkins and the Spitfires were still being photographed, the lovers stood off to the side, chatting with the family vet, Pam Lawrence. All of a sudden, Daniel looked over to the rear doors to see Ernest and Catherine Littlefield enter the ballroom. Nudging Jack, he politely made his apologies to Pam and started moving in the direction of the elderly couple.
"Excuse us, Pam. Those are old friends we don't get to see too often," Jack explained.
"Not a problem; catch you later," Pam responded with an understanding tone.
Hugging each of them close in glee, the archaeologist greeted, "Ernest, Catherine, you honor us so much by coming tonight. We're just so ... so glad you are here."
"We wouldn't have missed it for anything. How have you been?" Catherine inquired. "And how's Ptolemy?"
"How about a drink while we talk," Jack suggested.
"Aunt Catherine!" Jennifer squealed enthusiastically, having seen the couple come in as well. "I need a hug!" she exclaimed, embracing the man first and then the white-haired woman. "Your dress is stunning," she praised, referring to Catherine's long-sleeved, floor-length gown of royal blue.
"So is yours, my dear. It reminds me of my own days of wearing strapless gowns, when I had enough 'upstairs' to hold one up," Catherine laughed. "Enjoy wearing them while you can."
"We were just about to get these kids a drink," Jack told his daughter.
"Great, Dad. I'll take one, too, but keep an eye on Ash. We have more pictures to take."
Jennifer pulled Catherine aside and began chatting quietly for a couple of minutes, leaving her parents and Ernest to attend to the beverages. Then Catherine noticed a young man had been watching them and was now wandering his way over to them.
"Jennifer, is that your young man?"
Jennifer glanced over and replied, "Aunt Catherine, Peter and I are just friends now. I'm glad he could be here for the party, but he is going back to Oxford in the morning."
"I see," Catherine responded with a disbelieving tone of voice.
"Peter, I'm sorry I left so fast, but this is my Aunt Catherine," Jennifer introduced.
Jack, Daniel, and Ernest had just returned in time to hear the introduction.
"Jen, your drink," Jack offered.
"Thank you, Da..." Jennifer groaned, "Daaad!"
"Sorry, Princess. I couldn't resist."
Jennifer let out a groan, but then she shrugged and took a sip of milk, while the Littlefields and Peter all chuckled.
Having utilized the blue backdrop Aislinn had insisted upon before the party had begun, the last of the official photographs had just been taken. By 8:50 p.m., Colonel Davis was in the process of taking the beagles back down to their special area in the party care center on the 37th floor. Watching Davis leave with the beagles, Jack grinned, somehow thinking it was perfectly befitting for the colonel to be on dog watch.
The anniversary was firing on all cylinders, but with the nine o'clock hour on the approach, many of the younger children were on their last legs. In fact, the youngest ones and those whose parents simply hadn't wanted their children present in the ballroom had already enjoyed cake and plain vanilla ice cream slices after having changed into their pajamas.
Ice cream was a basic food group in the Jackson-O'Neill household with a riot of flavors always on hand, so there had to be an plethora of cake choices to go with a variety of ice cream choices as well.
The wait staff were taking their positions at the cake displays with carts of ice cream now being placed alongside. As Jeff took to the stage, the staff was setting up to serve cake topped with a dollop of ice cream.
"Attention, everyone! We know it's getting late for some of the young ones, and we apologize for the delay, but we had to get the family photos out of the way or I'm afraid the brood's outfits would be a little too colorful."
"Would not," Jonny decried loudly, causing some laughter in the room.
"Well, the time is here. Dad, Daddy, take a look at what we have for you," Jeff requested, extending his arm over towards the nearest door.
"Holy cake!" Jack exclaimed.
This cake currently being wheeled in was the biggest one of all. In fact, it was several tiers bigger than any of the other cakes in the room. While some of the smaller cakes had been theme oriented, this one was a classic wedding cake, and it was topped with images of Jack and Daniel.
"Babe, it looks like ..."
"... our wedding," the older man stated in perfect timing with his Love.
Indeed, it was another surprise for the couple. They'd taken a photo of Jack and Daniel in their Filipino wedding Barongs at Lisa Cassidy's cabin where they'd been wed in 2003 and had it replicated as a cake topper. The topper actually included the backdrop of the gorgeous Strait of Juan de Fuca.
"Ash and Lulu came up with the topper idea, in case you're curious," Jeff told his parents from the stage, sensing that's what they were talking about. "Once Dad and Daddy cut the cake and enjoy the first piece, we invite all of you to enjoy cake and ice cream. Uh, there's plenty, so feel free to enjoy as much as you like. There's a lot to choose from."
Mister Glouster's photographers all took up appropriate positions, getting some great shots of the cake and the cake cutting that followed, including Jack and Daniel chasing each other around the cake in an effort to mess up the other's tuxedo.
"Dad! Daddy!" Jenny shouted out, standing with her legs parted slightly and her hands on her hips. With a stern voice, she yelled out louder, "At-ten-tion!"
That caught Jack's focus, so much so that Daniel bumped into him, though none of the cake made it out of their hands.
"Parents, please. Behave yourselves. We're having a party here."
There was a hush, and then the entire ballroom roared. The lovers gently gave the other their piece of cake and then kissed. After that, they went over to their little cheerleader, picked her up, and gave her a piece of finger cake, too.
A few minutes later, while people were eating their cake and ice cream, drinking, dancing, and generally having an excellent time, Brianna finished off her treat and stared out at the massive, wall-to-wall crowd.
~Sure hope the fire chief isn't around,~ the tomboy thought. With a shrug, she walked over to the guest book area and began to review it out of curiosity. "Jen, I think everyone showed up."
"It's a good thing you purchased a big book, Jen," Sheila stated as she stood up and stretched her hand above her head.
"Are you guys going to stay and dance?" Jennifer asked, watching as Brianna walked away and continued to watch the activity in the room.
Sheila and Amber shared a look of agreement and both shook their heads.
"We're gonna pig out in the suite," Amber laughed.
"Well, if you change your minds, come back down," Jennifer invited warmly. "Hey, take some cake and ice cream with you."
"Oh, yeah!" the two girls laughed together.
At that point, the guest book duties were turned over to Mitzi Miller and Grace Lapierre, who had become good friends over the last few years.
Nodding as the women settled in, Jennifer walked over to stand by her sister, who was still in awe of the turnout.
"Our folks are cool," Brianna opined.
Jennifer nodded her agreement while replying, "Just about everyone we invited accepted. Look, there's General Landry dancing with his daughter."
Sure enough, Hank Landry was enjoying a slow dance with Carolyn Lam, who was smiling. The two girls had no idea that this father and daughter had once been estranged. Their relationship now was a very close one.
"Whatcha' doin'?" Ricky asked as he wandered over to the sisters.
"We're people watching. Who do you see out there?" Jennifer probed, curious who might stand out to her little brother, who had stuffed his favorite blue blanket inside his tuxedo jacket, causing the girls to chuckle as quietly as they could.
Ricky and his blue blanket had been pretty much inseparable since birth, and none of the family had said word one about his insistence on bringing it with him to the big event.
The Spitfire gazed into the ocean of people and answered, "There's Doctor Syl." He looked up worriedly and asked, "She's not gonna examine us, is she?"
"No, Ricky, we're safe tonight."
Sylvia Preston was the pediatrician for the brood. She lived in Manitou Springs, but worked at clinics in both Denver and Colorado Springs. She'd been the one to see Kayla Armentrout through both of her pregnancies when she'd given birth to the Munchkins and the Spitfires. At the moment, she was chatting with Janet and a bunch of medical folks, including Skeet Warner, Marie Hill, orthopedic surgeon Doctor William Barnes, and Monica Evans. Teal'c was there, too, looking a bit bleary-eyed from the medic-babble he was being subjected to at the moment.
"Whew!" the boy exclaimed, wiping his brow in relief. He looked out some more and pointed out, "I see Sister Conchetta."
"Hey, yeah. Let's go say 'hi', Jen."
Eagerly, the children headed over to the religious woman. She'd been a friend of Jack's originally, and as Daniel had become part of Jack's life, the archaeologist had been introduced to the sister. She'd actually caught them in a compromising situation once. It was one Daniel still blushed about to this day. The family didn't see her all that often, but a few times a year, they helped out her order in various ways, even though they didn't share the religion per se.
It was simply another example of the wide variety of friends that the lovers had. They were a popular couple, in spite of their need of privacy and their sometimes rebellious ways of living, especially back when SG-1 was at its most active.
At 9:15 p.m., Jack and Daniel were socializing with Melanie Allison, their landscaper, and Byron Stone, the architect who had introduced them to their home savior, better known as Alex Dennison. As he by happenstance looked over to his left, Jack noticed someone else they hadn't visited with yet. When Byron and Melanie walked way, Jack motioned over towards Annie Glenn, the woman who had assisted with Danny Hopkins' placement with the Jenkins. She was chatting with Mark and Sara Wilson at the moment.
As the lovers began to walk towards Annie, they were intercepted by Sam.
"Hey, don't I know you?" Jack jested, making a funny face.
Sam smiled, but the remark hadn't been directed at her, but at JD, who Sam was holding.
"Most of the little ones are going to sleep now, Sir, so I thought you might want to say 'goodnight' to JD," Sam explained.
"Come here, you," Jack urged, taking hold of the eleven-month-old. "Do you have Patches?"
"Jennifer has him waiting for you, JD," Sam promised, earning her a happy smile about the boy's beloved stuffed animal, especially when Jennifer walked up, holding Patches in her hands.
After hugs, Jack asked, "Jen, this set up on the 37th floor ..."
"Dad, it's all covered. Grandpa helped me to get everything arranged. All of the parents know what to expect. We have security on the security, okay?"
"In other words, 'Shut up, Dad'."
"Well, I wouldn't put it that way, but ..." the young woman mused.
As Jennifer and JD walked away, Sam turned to her CO and reported, "Security is tight, Sir. Parents show ID and their invitations to get on and off the floor. We have photo identification set up. The kids' sleeping area has five guards outside of it at all times, and at least two people they know, in party attire, are inside. It's a secure zone."
Indeed, the smaller ballroom on the 37th level had been converted into three sections. The smaller section had cribs and beds for the babies and children under five. The larger section had been partitioned into an area for kids six to twelve. That left the remaining area for the teenagers. These last two areas had games and large screen TVs that could be utilized until the designated curfew times. Hotel staff cleared to work the floor kept refreshments flowing as approved by the adults overseeing the children and per the wishes of their parents.
Some of the parents had dropped their children off there upon arrival, but most had allowed their kids to participate in the party festivities for at least an hour or so.
At this stage of the evening, most of the kids up to age five were headed for bed, if they weren't there already.
"Thank you, Carter," Jack acknowledged, realizing the secure zone was being well handled.
"You're welcome, Sir. Excuse me. I want to find my date. He owes me a dance," Sam advised with a grin.
"Sounds like it's handled."
"That's what Jen said," Daniel chastised lightly.
"Jack!" Daniel exclaimed, seeing a face he'd hadn't seen in a few years.
"Isn't that ..."
"Mrs. Harper," the archaeologist chimed happily as he took off toward one of the doorways that led into the ballroom.
The sophisticated widow was still getting her bearings when she caught sight of the beautiful soul coming eagerly towards her.
"Mrs. Harper," Daniel greeted.
Daniel and Mrs. Harper really hadn't hugged before, or if they had, it was so long ago that neither remembered, but now, they did embrace. After all, back when the two came into frequent contact as tenants of the same apartment complex in Colorado Springs, hugs, and even smiles, were rare in Daniel's life.
"Daniel, thank you so much for the invitation."
"Mrs. Harper!" Jack exclaimed cheerfully as he moved in for a hug of his own. "You look fantastic."
"I feel fantastic, and it's Mrs. Everwood now." The woman turned, sensing that her husband was now behind her. "Dear, this is Jack and Daniel Jackson-O'Neill." Looking at the couple, she introduced, "This is my husband, Frank. We've been married for two years."
"You're the lost lamb," Frank chuckled as he shook Daniel's hand. Then when he shook Jack's, he described, "And you're the fix-it man."
Jack laughed, recalling multiple times when he had helped the former Mrs. Harper with all kinds of apartment and appliance repairs.
"We're living in Idaho now," the woman advised.
"I...Idaho?" Daniel echoed. "I'm surprised you received the invitation."
"The apartment manager is the same, and I do hear from old friends from time to time, so he forwards anything that comes for me."
"You came ... just for the party, Mrs. H...Everwood?" a surprised Daniel inquired.
"Daniel, please, after all these years, call me Barbara," the woman requested. "And, yes, I wanted to see you both again. I remember when you were adopting the Morgan children, and then we fell out of touch. I just had to see how all of you were doing."
"Oh, well, we ..."
Daniel's words were cut off by Jonny and Little Danny, who ran up to their fathers with a question, only seeing their parents were talking, they didn't interrupt and were politely waiting for a chance to speak. Daniel, however, saw them and waved them closer.
"Oh my!" Barbara exclaimed as she grinned at the boys. "Mirror images. I'd know them anywhere. You're Little Danny and ... yes, you're Jonny."
"Barbara, come with us, and we'll introduce you to our entire brood, except for JD. You just missed him; he went to bed."
"There's twelve of us," Jonny piped up.
"Twelve?" In seconds, Barbara laughed and looked at her husband. "I told you, Frank. These two have big hearts."
With Jack and Daniel in the process of introducing the Everwoods to their children, a loud whistle emanated from the stage, causing heads to snap and loud chattering to cease.
"The brood asked me if I had anything I'd like to say," Lou Ferretti began. "There hasn't a been a day yet when a Ferretti doesn't have something to say."
As the audience chuckled, Jack belted out, "Keep it clean: little ears."
"He means us," Aislinn elaborated loud enough for many to hear and laugh at.
"Clean it is," Lou agreed. "When I first met Jack, he was all business. He didn't smile, and he didn't laugh. At the time, I didn't know why. I didn't care, either. He was my commanding officer, and all I cared about was that then Colonel O'Neill knew how to kick butt. That meant we'd survive whatever we were faced with.
"I met the Doc not long after I'd first met the colonel. I didn't like him. He stood for everything I hated at the time, and he lied." Lou nodded his head and pointed directed at Daniel. "Tell them, Doc."
"Yeah, I did," Daniel admitted, not the least bit repentant about the episode.
"I'll tell you later," Daniel whispered to a stunned Jenny.
"I wanted to make his life miserable, and ..."
"Thank you, Lou. You did," Daniel called out, nodding as he recalled the unpleasant events that had occurred on the first visit to Abydos.
"My pleasure, Doc," Lou replied with a smirk and a bow, causing more laughter from the guests, even those who had no clue about other worlds like Abydos.
"Okay, okay, pipe down," Lou requested. "Here's the thing. I was wrong. The Doc, he did what he had to do, just like we all do. He told a little lie, but he saved our sixes, too, and that's something he's done many times since that first mission we were on." The colonel's smile faded as he reflected back on the past. "When you serve with someone the way Jack and I have, you become brothers. Jack and I were brothers in arms. He changed with time. I noticed one day that he was smiling. Now, I wasn't supposed to notice why, and I certainly wasn't supposed to ask about it, but I knew."
There was a swell that took place in the audience, and Jack himself looked over at his Love and smiled. In fact, he reached out to caress Daniel's cheek as he whispered his eternal devotion to his husband, something many people in the proximity witnessed, much to the delight of the entire family.
"Look, I didn't get it, but I saw Jack come to life, and I knew why. I was Jack's friend by then, but I didn't know the Doc that well. That changed, too, over the years. The truth is, the more Jack perked up, the more slack I gave Daniel. By the time Jack told me the truth, it didn't matter to me anymore, because my friend was living; laughing."
Lou took a breath, composing himself for one more thing that he wanted to say.
"A while back, I was captured on a mission. You all know the joke. I'd tell you about it, but then I'd have to kill you."
A bunch of nods and murmurs of understanding filled the large room.
"Jack and the Doc came after me, both of them, even though they had eight kids at home. They got me out alive and in one piece, and they brought me home to my wife."
Uncharacteristically, Lou gulped a sob. He was still trying to collect his thoughts when he felt the microphone being taken from him. He looked up and saw his wife, Carolyn.
"Hello. I'm Carolyn Ferretti, the wife of a military man, which means I'm not supposed to know anything. All I knew was that my man was in trouble, somewhere in the world. All that mattered was that Jack and Daniel put their own lives at risk to bring him home to me."
The crowd erupted into applause, the only way many knew to express their amazement and happiness about the couple's brave actions.
"Jack and Daniel are two of the finest men who ever walked the face of the earth. Thank you just doesn't begin to say it. They will always our dearest friends." Carolyn smiled and added, "You know, many years ago, I was ... very sick. Most of you know what kind of salaries we make. It was hard, especially when we had our girls to raise. I didn't know Daniel that well, and honestly, I'm not sure I knew Jack that well at the time, either, but one day, Lou and I were given a trip." She smiled at Jack and Daniel and tearfully spoke, "It revitalized our marriage. It gave us hope that we'd not only beaten the cancer, but the distance that the stress had caused. I know we weren't supposed to know the trip came from you two, but we did." Sobbing with gratitude, Carolyn expressed, "Thank you."
Lou brought his wife in for a close hug. They'd never admitted to Jack and Daniel that they knew the trip to Paris had come from them. Of course, they hadn't figured it out at the time. It was something they'd realized later, as the two couples became closer and more a part of one another's lives.
Jack and Daniel were unable to stay off the stage, both going to their friends and exchanging hugs and words of friendships that would last forever.
Looking over at her parents and a couple who were considered part of the Jackson-O'Neill's extended family, Jennifer sniffled as she took possession of the microphone and faced the emotional crowd.
Letting out a huge whiff of air, the young woman gulped and suggested, "I think we need a dance now, something fast." Looking at the bandleader, she asked, "How about The Twist?"
The party music played as people began to dance and put their happy tears behind them.
Sometime later, Chenoa was sitting with her brothers and Lulu when she heard, "Ladies choice! Fillies, go find your studs."
"I'll be back," Chenoa called out as she went in search of Teal'c again.
As the young girl approached, the music was just beginning, and Chenoa stopped, seeing her beau dancing with Janet.
"Teal'c, you've come a long way," Janet laughed as the Jaffa twirled her around.
"SamanthaCarter agrees," Teal'c replied.
As she watched, Chenoa's grin faded to a frown. It was a ladies choice dance, and she was a lady. Her choice was Teal'c, and she didn't like being cut out by her Aunt Janet, especially since the two were dancing so closely. Suddenly, even her momentary jealousy turned to sadness, and she wiped a tear from her eye, turning around to walk away.
"Ut oh," Jennifer said, having seen the scenario play out. "Excuse me a moment," the young woman said to her date. Walking over to Teal'c and Janet, she tapped on the Jaffa's shoulder. "Uh ..." was all she said while pointing at the back of her sister as she slowly moved away.
"Oh, Teal'c," Janet sighed. "Go on. We can dance later."
"As you wish," Teal'c agreed, not hesitating to leave his current dance partner in favor of his young admirer.
Janet looked at Jennifer and commented, "I should have known."
"If Noa had her way, Aunt Janet, Teal'c would dance with her all night long, but she just looked so sad just now," Jennifer observed.
Janet nodded; then smiled as she gave Jennifer a nudge and said, "Someone's waiting for you."
Jennifer grinned and returned to her date just as Teal'c managed to convince Chenoa that he really did want to dance with her. As her smile returned, she again danced with her favorite alien, lost in the innocence of first love.
A stately woman well up in her years and yet looking dynamic and as capable as ever strode to the center stage and looked out into the audience. The presence she exerted was palpable. Everyone turned to see who had brought the room to silence.
"When I first met Daniel, he was a classic geek. That's Greek minus the 'R', and Jack was a classic pain in the ..." Catherine smiled as she paused. "Actually, I'm getting ahead of myself. My name is Catherine Littlefield, and I am, or was, part of the same organization that they have worked for all these past years. In fact, I'm the reason they were both recruited. Go ahead. Let me hear the boos."
Some laughed, and a lot of the Stargate Command personnel let out with mock jeers, as requested.
"Hey!" Jack barked, inciting the hissing even further. "You're just jealous," he called out.
"General Jackson-O'Neill, I'm talking," Catherine rebuked lightly.
"Sorry, Ma'am," Jack spoke contritely.
"As I was saying, the geek and the pain, as unlikely a duo as you would never expect to get along, let alone fall in love, did just that. They got along and did fall in love. Of course, none of us knew this for a very long time. Don't Ask, Don't Tell is such a dirty phrase."
Cheers erupted from the crowd. It prompted Chely to look over at her parents, worried that they might feel out of sorts, but they didn't. They looked undaunted by the supportive cheers.
"If you think love follows rules, it does: its own," Catherine proclaimed. "Just look at them, the parents of twelve. You might think that would be all they have time for, but if you know them at all, you know they manage to do so much for so many. It has been an honor and a privilege to watch them parent these children, some of whom they adopted, and some they gave life to, but they are fathers to all of them, with an equal abundance of love every day."
Jack and Daniel smiled, especially when they heard Jenny doing a spontaneous 'He's our Dad; He's our Daddy' cheer off to the side.
"Thank you, Jack and Daniel, for all your kindness and indulgence to myself and my dear Ernest. Without the two of you, I'd be an old lady, living alone and being lonely. You two know the truth of that. Happy anniversary to you both, from Ernest and me, with great respect, gratitude, and love."
The toasts were coming frequently, usually in groups of three, although it wasn't uncommon for someone to jump up on the stage and toast the couple, although a couple were more like a roast. Jack's pal, Erik Wilcox, had a great time sharing some past experiences with his Chicago pal before growing more serious to finish off his toast.
Likewise, Daniel's foster sister, Suzanna Simpson, had shared a few funny tales about their brief time together when they were children. Not many had heard about this more playful side of the child Daniel, and though he'd been reserved even then, she conjured up a few funnies to share. Then, she became emotional as she finalized her toast. No one was any happier than Suzanna that her brother had found such complete joy in his life as he had.
Then the toasts gave way to a special treat, from the brood to their parents and guests.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, it's dance time for the kids," Jeff announced from the center of the stage. "Let's make way for our younger party guests."
Jennifer and Brianna helped to indicate the open area on the floor where they wanted most of the children to dance, although several others were taken up to perform on the stage. These were youngsters between five and fifteen and included most of the brood as well as several of their friends and relatives.
Most of the kids had been dancing throughout the night, led by the brood who had all undergone several dance classes prior to the evening, thanks to their extended family.
"For our parents, the brood, and their special guest partners, present ... 'Crazy Legs'."
Standing towards the back of the hall where they'd been chatting with Jack's old Chi-town pal, Erik Wilcox, Jack asked his husband, "Any idea what this is about?"
"I have no idea," Daniel responded as he nodded at Erik and then motioned for Jack to follow him up closer to the action.
The band began to play, the spotlight focused on four locations on the stage. A red light centered on Jonny and Aislinn who had the audience applauding with their wild rendition of the Jitterbug. Then a blue spotlight landed on Little Danny and Carrie Lapierre, who danced a beautiful waltz, leaving the hundreds of party guests expressing tender 'aws'.
Next up, with a soft pink light beaming down on them, Ricky danced the fox trot with Melinda McClain-Stevens, one of the neighborhood children. Concluding the special presentation, with a bright white spotlight surrounding them, were Calvin Miller and Chenoa performing a lively samba.
Then the four were joined onstage by the brood's tomboy, and the music of the band changed dramatically. The audience chuckled when Brianna began to call out the commands for a square dance. That lasted for a couple of minutes before the onstage dancers stepped back, revealing David and Amy Livingston, who was younger, but tall for her age. Like Chenoa and Lulu, she loved to dance and had offered to help David with this special performance of the tango.
Then the stage cleared to feature only the twelve Jackson-O'Neill kids.
"Okay, I thought JD went to bed," Daniel stated to his soulmate.
"He did," Jack responded.
"Apparently, someone kept him from going to sleep."
"That's my observant genius," Jack chuckled. "He doesn't look cranky."
"My genes," Daniel boasted, surprising his Love. "Well, I'm the night owl, Babe."
"You got me there."
**And a few other places, too.**
**Promise?** Jack asked hopefully.
**Just as long as we're both still standing, or ... not.**
For the next few minutes, the brood danced the flamingo, jive, cha cha cha, and Lindy hop before bringing their dancing tribute to a rousing halt with a perky round of the Twist.
Before the applause died down, Brianna called out, "And for our encore, the JD ... well, call it what you want. Hit it, little brother."
Jennifer, who had been holding the infant while onstage, put the boy down. She pointed out Jack and Daniel, who were now right up by the stage, grinning widely.
JD giggled and then moved his legs and shook his hips as much as he could. The audience roared as the band played. JD circled around and hopped a little before bowing and falling down, which made him giggle even more.
"That was the JD special," Jennifer announced as she picked up the baby. "Good job, JD," she said, giving the boy a kiss on the lips, making him giggle more.
"Dad, Daddy, onstage, please," Jeff called out.
Suspicious but unable to resist, the fathers hit the stage. Once again, the band began to play.
Brianna walked up to Daniel, while Lulu stood before Jack.
"Daughters rule," Jennifer announced.
The girls curtsied, and their fathers bowed, after which they twirled around the stage in a waltz. As the dance continued, all the Jackson-O'Neill girls cut in until each of them had danced with both of their parents. At the end, it was Brianna with Jack and Jennifer with Daniel.
"You're a beautiful dancer, Jen," Daniel praised.
"Thank you, Daddy. You're not so bad yourself."
"Uh, how's it going with Peter?"
"I'll bet Dad had to twist your arm to get him here," the young woman surmised. "But it doesn't matter. I am happy to see him, Daddy. He's a good friend now."
"Friend?" Daniel questioned probingly.
"Yes, friend." Hearing the music subsiding, Jennifer smiled brightly. "Are you having a good time, Daddy?"
"I'm glad. This is costing you and Dad a fortune, you know."
"Uh, don't ... tell that to your dad. He's not the one who has been writing the checks."
Jennifer tried to contain herself, but she couldn't. She let out with a loud chortle and then hugged Daniel tightly. She felt so lucky to have such wonderful parents.
"And now, the younger generation!" Jeff called out.
The brood left the stage and joined all of the other children at the center of the ballroom, where their parents laughed and smiled at their offspring dancing with one another. All of it was captured on video and by the professional photographer. It was a happy sight.
After the children's dancing merriment and with the clock showing it was now 10 p.m., the toasts continued with Cassandra Luca.
"I have a lot in common with the Jackson-O'Neill brood. I'm adopted," Cassandra began. "I have the most loving, wonderful, patient mother in the world. It's not easy to take a young child who has lost everyone dear to her and instill a sense of trust and the joy of living, but you did, Mom," she looked out at Janet who was getting a bit teary as she listened, "and that's what Uncle Jack and Uncle Daniel are doing, too.
"It doesn't even feel right to think of any one of the brood as being adopted. I mean, sure, the adopted ones have had their own sort of loss because of losing their birth parents, but it's like Mrs. Littlefield said earlier, my uncles love every one of their children the same. Today, adopted or not, the brood lives life to the fullest. Even the little ones, they all have an appreciation for family and a ton of compassion for those less fortunate. You can't teach that emotion. It's something that becomes a part of life, of a person, because they live it every single day, whether or not anyone is looking. That's the key.
"The Jackson-O'Neills live the way they do because that is who they are. I hope that Dom and I are able to pass that on to our children. If we do just half as well, we'll be incredibly successful." Raising her glass, she looked over the couple being honored and toasted, "Uncle Jack, Uncle Daniel, happy anniversary!"
Drinks were sipped, comments were made throughout the room, a smattering of applause broke out, and then the next person began to speak.
Sam smiled as she questioned rhetorically, "When does a friendship begin? When do people cease to be co-workers and respected colleagues and become people who would give their lives for each other, even if it were not in the line of duty? I don't know. All I know is these two men have given so much love, joy, and hope to so many people, including myself, that I cannot imagine my life today without them. They encouraged me when I had lost faith in myself, so many times I've lost count. They nudged me in Pete's direction when I was ready to run from the greatest love of my life. They believed in my ability to be a mom when I couldn't see any maternal qualities in me at all."
From the audience, Jonny griped loudly, "Hey, we helped, too!"
As the audience laughed, Sam agreed, "You sure did, but if it weren't for your parents, you wouldn't be here."
"She's right, Jonny," Aislinn told her brother. "We wouldn't even be born."
"Technicality," the eldest Munchkin whined as those around him continued to chortle their amusement.
The attention focused again on the stage, where Sam regrouped and continued her comments.
"I was as surprised as anyone could be when I realized they were a couple, but when I saw them together, I couldn't deny the rightness of what I saw and felt between them. Soulmates is a term people throw around a lot these days, but when you see the real deal, you know it. It can be frightening to really meet your soulmate, because you have to truly look at who you are and how you are showing up in your life; but because of you, Jack and Daniel, because of your courage to love not only each other, but life itself, I found the courage and strength to love as you do and to share that love with my soulmate, my husband, Pete."
As he stood at the side of the stage, the police detective was grinning from ear to ear at the public proclamation. The road to love for the Shanahans had taken years, but it had definitely been worth the wait.
"He had the patience of Job," Janet mused not-so-quietly, inciting some laughter from the guests.
Sam shrugged in acknowledgment of the truth of her dear friend's jest and then concluded her remarks.
"This party tonight is a well-deserved commemoration, but, the real celebration is how you guys show up every day for each other, your children, for the world. Thank you for letting me be a part of that magic and for changing my life forever." Taking a breath, a tear escaping from the corner of her right eye, Sam raised her glass and declared, "To Gen... To Jack and Daniel, two of my dearest friends in the world."
The lovers shared a smile and each nodded up at the stage in appreciation of the endearing words that neither would ever forget.
Across the crowded room, the eye-catching Soncirria 'Sunny' Suvulpo saw her boyfriend, Alex Dennison, engaged in a very animated conversation with Casey Hemmings. She remembered the dances she and Alex had shared, not only tonight, but many times during their relationship. Unbidden memories of his skilled and passionate lovemaking flashed through the beauty queen's mind.
"Alex, the house is terrific. The master suite? Oh, man, that's something," Casey Hemmings raved. ~If only this gorgeous god of a man were there to share it with me. That shower is in-cred-i-ble. Alex, buddy, I'd wash your back and your everything else everyday if I could.~ Though salivating inside, what the nurse said out loud was, "If you ever, I mean ever, need a place to crash for the night, or a month, or however long, just knock on my door, day or night."
~He's had a few, but he means well. He's just being generous,~ Alex thought. ~Besides, I have my condo here, and, well, I'm not exactly in need of money.~
~Alex, my darling,~ Sunny began to herself, "you just don't see it, do you? You love my heart, my soul, and my mind, but it's wrapped in the wrong package. Seeing the fire in your eyes when you are just talking with Casey makes me see how blind I have been.~
"May I have this next dance?" asked a uniformed young Air Force lieutenant, the fire in his eyes unmistakable.
"Yes, thank you," Sunny replied, blinking a tear away before anyone could see; well, almost anyone.
~I wonder what that's about,~ Jennifer puzzled; then forgetting as Peter swept her into his arm for the dance. "You've been practicing, Peter. You've danced every dance superbly, from the twist to the Lindy."
"I admit I brushed up a little. I wanted to be a good dancing partner for you," the Oxford student confessed.
"I'm flattered," the young woman replied as she blushed.
"Hey, Daniel. You see that?" Jack asked, cocking his head in Jennifer's and Peter's direction.
Seeing the young couple entwined in a slow dance, Daniel nodded while responding, "I see, Babe, but will our Cinderella still have eyes for her prince in the morning, or will he be just a frog once more?"
"She loves him, Danny. She can say what she will, but she hasn't given anyone else the time of day since she gave Peter the deep six."
Meanwhile, some of the children were having a bit of a debate.
"I've got it," Chenoa told Aislinn.
"I'll help," the youngest Munchkin offered.
"You're girls; we'll do it," Jonny offered.
"Jonny, girls can do it, too," Little Danny chastised.
"But they're fighting," the sandy-haired youngster countered.
"So are you!" Jenny piped up, wanting a piece of the action.
"I've got it," Chenoa repeated it.
"But I ..." Jonny's eyes widened.
There was a collective gasp among all of the children present, which were actually all of the younger children, except for JD.
"Uh oh," Lulu sighed as she looked at the broken wine bottle of 1959 Chateau Beychevelle from St. Julien.
This was Daniel's favorite wine, and it was to be used for a special toast. The kids were trying to be helpful and had talked their way into carrying it out to the stage, except they'd only gotten as far as three-fourths across the hard dance floor. Now the bottle was in pieces, and they were all stunned, the girls on the verge of tears.
"Hey now, what's wrong?" a woman with a superb figure asked as she kneeled down while waving at the closest couples around to continue dancing.
"We broke it," Aislinn sniffled, looking forlornly at the broken bottle.
"Ash, it's just a bottle of wine," the woman attempted to soothe.
"But it's Daddy's favorite," Jenny explained in a near sob.
"For a drink maybe, but you have to know what is the most important to your daddy," the calm female prodded.
"Dad?" Jonny offered.
"No. You. You are his most prized and important pieces of his life, along with your dad." Carefully, the black-haired gal picked up the bottle and noted, "Look, it just broke the neck, and just a little bit has oozed out. There's plenty here for your parents."
Having seen what happened, Jeff and Chely had hurried to get a couple of towels to wipe the floor.
"Kids, no tears. This is such a happy night, and this wine is only a symbol. It's not the real thing. You trust me on this, you could bring out Kool-aid, and your parents would love it just as much."
"You really think so?" Ricky asked.
"I know so," came the confident response.
The male Spitfire grinned and threw his arms around the comforting lady.
"This is a party, and you've all done such a great job with it," the woman praised brightly.
"Aunt Nellie, I wish you'd come see us more often," Jenny opined.
The Spitfire was quickly joined by the other children in on the wine experience. It was a bubble hug, with Nellie Montgomery being cocooned by the loving children.
"Maybe I will. I like being an aunt," Nellie laughed.
"Me, too," Suzanna Simpson stated as she kneeled down. "Everything okay?"
"Oh, yeah. I dropped this, and the kids are helping me to pick it up," Nellie stated.
The kids were grinning from ear to ear, while Jeff and Chely, who had seen the whole thing, shared a smile.
"I can be so clumsy," Nellie announced with a smile. She looked at Jeff and asked, "Do we have something we can poor this into that will look nice?"
"I'll find something," Chely offered as she stood up.
As things settled, Jeff took possession of the St. Julien's, while Nellie took the youngsters aside and helped them all to get their faces back on. She listened as they told her what the surprise was supposed to entail, and then she asked if she could help. They happily agreed.
A few minutes later, surprising herself, Nellie led the children onstage and tapped the microphone.
From the audience, Daniel smiled. He hadn't even known that Nellie had come to the party. There were just so many people coming and going every minute.
"Ladies and gentlemen, most of you don't know me. Actually, I think Daniel, Jack, and the kids are the only ones who know me, except for Suzanna. I'm ..."
"She's our Aunt Nellie," Jonny shouted proudly.
Nellie laughed and confirmed, "Yes, I am. I'm Nellie Montgomery, and I'm ..."
The woman stopped. She and Daniel had a warm relationship, but they didn't see each other that often. She had been a baby when he was placed in her home as a child. It hadn't been a pleasant situation for either of them because of the abusive parents. A few years ago, though, Daniel had sought her out, to make sure she was okay. Still, their relationship was nowhere near as close as Daniel's and Suzanna's.
"I'm Daniel's sister," Nellie finally announced with a deep breath. "I hope he doesn't mind me saying that. Anyway, my nieces and nephews have a special surprise for their parents, and they've agreed to let me help. Where's the happy couple?"
Seeing Jack and Daniel, Nellie smiled and waved them up. There was a moment of hugs and greetings between the three.
"I'm happy to have you as a sister, Nellie. You're always welcome at our home," Daniel declared as he hugged his sister close.
"Thank you, Daniel," Nellie responded. "I didn't want to sound presumptuous."
Nellie nodded and then returned to the microphone. She told a story about being nervous and having butterfingers, causing the wine bottle to break. She then took the special canister of the remaining St. Julien's and handed it to the children, who made their special presentation.
**Danny, you buyin' it?**
**The kids dropped it.**
**Probably,** the archaeologist agreed.
**She's a good one.**
**Absolutely,** Daniel affirmed.
Honoring the kids' requests, Jack and Daniel shared their drinks by intertwining their arms. This was done while the kids sang "Happy anniversary To You."
When it was done, Nellie was about to walk off the stage when the kids huddled and then reached up for the microphone.
Little Danny led the remarks, saying, "We can't tell a lie. Our Aunt Nellie didn't want us to feel bad."
At this point, Nellie turned around, smiling at the children, though she was also surprised by what she was hearing.
"We weren't careful enough, and we all wanted to carry it," the middle Munchkin explained.
"It was me," Aislinn interjected.
"And me," Chenoa added hastily.
"It was all of us," Jonny put forth.
"We were gonna cry, and we felt sad," Lulu told the crowd.
"But then Aunt Nellie came, and she made us feel better and smile," Ricky added.
"She told us Daddy didn't care about the wine; he just cared about us," Little Danny sighed as he continued their confession.
"And she's right," Daniel called out from the left side of the stage, nodding to support his declaration.
"Thank you, Aunt Nellie, for making us feel better with your butterflies, but it was our fault," Jenny stated.
"We love you, Aunt Nellie," Little Danny called out.
Nellie spread out her arms and soon found them full of Jackson-O'Neills. She just had to find a way to stay a part of this family's life somehow. She lived in Philadelphia, but one way or another, she determined never to lose touch with them.
With Jack engaged in a conversation with Evelyn Bodine and Beth Carradine, the two women who worked at the shelter where Brianna had been staying before being adopted, Daniel was chatting with Solomon O'Shea. He was the one who had found Jonny and Little Danny when they'd become lost a couple of years ago.
"Daddy!" Lulu called out as she tugged on his arm. "Hi, Solomon."
"Hello, bright eyes," the man greeted warmly, his compliment prompting the young dancer to smile wide. "Daddy!"
Lulu crooked her finger, motioning for her father to come down to her level. Once he did, she whispered something in his ear.
"Really? She came? She's here?"
Lulu bobbed her head up and down in affirmation.
"Uh, Sol, if you'll excuse me, I really need to check this out."
Lulu took Daniel's hand and led him towards one of the exits. She looked around, wondering where the person went.
"Lulu, in here," Chenoa called out as she peered around the corner.
Following his daughter around the corner, Daniel smiled and greeted, "Hello."
The archaeologist walked to the center of the stage where the microphone stand was situated. He spoke a soft 'hello' into it, but there was static, and he jumped back. However, he also got everyone's attention.
"Hey, Babe, I have a surprise for you," Daniel told his husband.
"Here I come!" Jack shouted and then began to make his way to where his lover stood.
"You know, Jack is great with surprises. From the day we met, he's surprised me. I guess the truth is that he's a surprise maestro, only tonight, I think it's my turn to make him speechless."
"Give it your best shot," Jack teased as he took the stairs up the stage two at a time. ~Oops, forgot the knees.~
With a grin, Daniel placed his Love where he wanted him.
"Happy anniversary," Daniel wished.
The archaeologist nodded at Sergeant Davis, who was back assisting with some of the staging details. The large screen lowered and a montage played.
Jack smiled. It was a series of clips from the many performances of Mary Steenburgen. People in the know acknowledged Jack's fondness for the actress by their murmuring reaction.
"That was great, Danny. Thank ..." Jack's eyes widened. As the screen raised, he caught sight of some high heels. Then there were a pair of ankles, and he knew those ankles. Higher the screen went, and the general found himself standing. "... you!"
The guests erupted into applause as the famous actress walked forward. She went right to Jack and placed a whopper of a kiss on him.
"Well, Ted will be jealous," the black haired woman stated in her most sultry voice.
"Yesssss, Ma'am," Jack responded.
The orchestra quickly caught on and began to play "Miss Moorehead's Tango." Mary responded with a seductive smile and walked alluringly around Jack, much as Baby had done to Johnny Castle in "Dirty Dancing." Then she went right into a proper dance position, her eyes penetrating Jack's.
The major general was totally enthralled. He wasn't thinking; he was reacting. All his mind was doing was praying he didn't mess up this dance. Never more than in this moment was he glad that Daniel had insisted they put in time at the dance studio to review some of the dances that Jennifer had advised them would be part of their celebration.
Daniel was all smiles, shaking his head in amazement as he watched Jack and Mary crisscrossing the stage.
When the Tango finished, Mary ran her hand along Jack's left cheek and wished, "Happy anniversary, Jack."
The actress backed away, speaking much with her eyes as she gave Jack a look he'd never forget. Then she turned, waved to the crowd, sent a blow kiss towards Daniel, and then exited the stage to whistles, laughter, and thunderous clapping.
The archaeologist felt ecstatic. His soulmate hadn't moved one step from where the dance had ended. Daniel walked over to Jack, a pleased grin on his face.
"Well?" Daniel asked. When there wasn't a response, he asked, "Babe, are you okay?"
"Danny, I just had the craziest dream. I dreamt that Mary Steenburgen was here. I must be losing my mind," the silver fox opined, his expression glazed.
"It's okay, Jack. You'll be okay," Daniel assured, patting his husband's arm.
With the crowd in stitches, Daniel uncharacteristically flexed his muscle in it 'I got him' fashion, and then led his mostly speechless soulmate off the stage.
Jack was barely recovered from his brief encounter with the actress of his fantasies, when a stirring crowd by one of the doors caught his attention.
"Daniel, who are they?" Jack questioned about a couple of men wearing black suits.
The archaeologist stared in an attempt to recognize the newcomers, but he didn't have a clue, at least not until he saw them whip out credentials. Then he had a sinking feeling.
"Jack, I think we've seen them before."
"Not in this lifetime."
"Sure, we have."
"The White House."
Jack did a double take and then chuckled skeptically, "No way."
"Nah," Jack insisted.
"Yeah," a nodding Daniel maintained.
"No way ..."
All of a sudden, a familiar song began. The electronic entranceway was temporarily shut off and then, much to Jack's and Daniel's surprise, in walked President and Mrs. Hayes, dressed in their finest.
"Must have been one of those alternate universes," Jack spoke quietly.
"... something," the lovers stated in unison.
"Mister President Hayes! You came!" Jonny shouted, breaking away from the other children and running up to the President, who quickly waved away his assigned protectors and picked up the charging youngster. "I knew you'd come! Did you bring presents?"
As those who were close enough to hear laughed, the President chuckled, "Would I let down a Munchkin after receiving an invitation?"
Jonny grinned and hugged the President.
Hayes laughed at the boy's excitement, and then he spotted Jack and Daniel approaching.
When the hug ended, the politician told the boy, "I brought lots of presents."
"Oh, boy!" Then Jonny looked over and greeted, "Hi, Mrs. President Hayes."
"Hello, Jonny," the woman responded with a big smile.
~That explains the hotel's sudden surge in cooperation,~ Samantha Carter-Shanahan thought as she became aware of the special guests.
"Sir, this is a ... surprise," Jack greeted, offering a salute.
"Hello, Sir," Daniel greeted, nodding over at Mrs. Hayes and adding a 'hello' to her, too.
"Jack, not here, not tonight. It's Hank."
"Okie dokie ... Hank," Jack sputtered as he lowered his hand. ~One of a handful of people I'd salute these days, and he doesn't want it. That's why I like this man.~
After the pleasantries were done, the Hayes performed a few obligatory duties, such as saying hello to some of the higher ranking personnel who were present, but then they settled in to enjoy the party.
"Um, excuse me, President Hayes," Jennifer interrupted. "Would it be okay if you came and signed the guest book?"
This guest just had to be documented in the young woman's mind, and she didn't want it done by an aid, although she also realized that he apparently hadn't brought any such officials with him.
"I wanted to dance with the President," Lulu sighed. Realizing what she'd said, she quickly put her hands to her mouth and then giggled in embarrassment. "I'm sorry."
"I'm flattered, Lulu, and I assure you that before I leave tonight, we shall have our dance."
"Really?" the astonished Maverick asked.
"A president never lies," Hayes replied, quickly adding, "not this one anyway."
"I'll vouch for him," Jack averred with a smile.
"Dad!" Jennifer scolded for continuing to talk with the political figure.
"Sorry, Jack. I'll catch up with you later," Hayes advised as he took his wife's and Jennifer's arms and then began walking towards the guest book signing area.
Though the evening was ticking on at 10:30 p.m., the place was abuzz with the realization that the President of the United States was present, so it took a while before Jack and Daniel were actually able to speak with him privately.
"Mist...Hank, we're glad you're here, but ..."
"He means we weren't expect..."
"What Danny is trying to say ..."
Hayes laughed as he pulled out the invitation Jonny had sent him and showed it to the surprised parents.
"He didn't tell any of us," Daniel mused.
"I guess he wanted it to be a surprise," Jack theorized.
"Actually, he invited me over the phone first. He left the phone to ask you about it, Daniel, and when he came back he said you'd said it was okay."
Daniel blinked as he thought back and then he winced slightly as he replied, "I have a ... a very vague recollection of something, maybe."
Hayes laughed, "I love crashing parties, but this one I didn't."
"We're honored to have you here, Sir ... Hank," Daniel stated firmly.
"How's the White House?" Jack inquired.
"Recovering from the brood's visit last January, Jack. The head of the Secret Service is still trying to figure out how the Munchkins managed to get into our living quarters undetected. Do you know how they did that?"
With a nervous grin, the general responded, "Covertly."
Hayes stared at the preciseness of the answer and then reared back in laughter. He reached out and patted Jack on the upper arm.
"Jack, you're one of a kind. I don't know what the Air Force is going to do without you."
With a nod of appreciation for the remark, which referred to Hayes' last few months of public service, the Hayes and the Jackson-O'Neills began to circulate as they chatted some more.
A lone trumpeter played the opening bars from "Rawhide," and everyone looked at the stage.
Megan Williams playfully sang, "Keep those toasters toastin'." Then she laughed for a second. "Okay, so I can't sing, but it got your attention. It seems like I've known Jack and Daniel forever. Like fifty percent of the women here, I had a crush on Daniel once. I think we could start our own support group."
A wave of understanding female chuckles ran through the room, causing Jack to look at his husband accusingly and Daniel to just shrug as he blushed and unsuccessfully hid his smirk.
"The night of the murder mystery costume party is when I first suspected that they, Jack and Daniel, were closer than just good friends, but I never let on like I ever suspected. I have been privileged to participate in the building of J-O Enterprises from a fledgling upstart in the world of contract archaeological excavation to being one of the best firms in the country, and beyond. They don't preach integrity; they practice it, and when you do that, you don't need to talk about it."
Applause from the many employees who were present broke out. Ty Harper let out a whistle, while Kelly Tatem and Bibreanay Appleton led the cheers.
"As you can hear, we have happy employees. Every single member of our team know that they are valued, appreciated, and respected. The door has always been open, and they've used it, believe me." After some laughter, Megan continued, "Our suppliers, clients, and employees know they can trust J-O Enterprises to act ethically and honorably all the time, every time. I, too, have been fortunate to see how Jack and Daniel have parented their brood, and it's the same way they run their business, ethically and honorably, all the time, every time."
Megan looked over at the happy couple and concluded, "Bosses, thank you, and happy anniversary."
Karissa, who had been standing to the right and a few steps back from Megan, walked up and took the microphone to make her own toast.
"You might expect the Director of Operations to speak well of her bosses, the company owners, and I echo every word Megan has said. For those who don't know me, my name is Karissa Lewis, and Megan is my boss. I report directly to her. You might ask, 'So what's your point? This is Jack and Daniel's anniversary party'. My point is that Megan treats me with respect, just the way Jack and Daniel treat her. There is no question of ever doing anything but the right thing all the time, every time. It's more than a vision or mission statement, it's *who* they are, and so it's who we are, who I am.
"I know they took a chance on me when I was hired. I'd had a sketchy job resume because of various family obligations, but they saw something in me, and I'm so grateful they let me be a part of J-0."
Karissa looked down and sought out the children. Finding a certain sweet face, she smiled.
"They've also let me into their family. The brood is indescribable. I love them all very much. They've enriched my life, and I'm grateful for that, too." Looking away from Little Danny and the children, Karissa concluded her remarks. "It simply cannot be any other way. In their work and their home life, Jack and Daniel are the best." She turned to the honorees and emotionally wished, "I hope to be here when we celebrate your 25th year of marriage. Thank you, Jack and Daniel, for your faith in me and for allowing me to be some part of your extended family. Happy anniversary!"
Right after Megan's and Karissa's toasts, the two ladies joined some of their co-workers to prepare for the next bit of entertainment. The schedule was tight. It was already 10:45 p.m., and there was still so much to come.
As that was happening, Jennifer went downstairs. She was tasked with getting two outfits that were crucial to the punch line for the skit.
At the same time, Alex Dennison took the stage. He was the third speaker in this set of three.
"Almost missed my turn," Alex laughed, having been delayed just a minute in reaching the stage. ~Can't take my eyes off Sunny; I'm the luckiest guy ever.~
The guests laughed and waited for the designer to settle in and begin his remarks.
"Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I would have looked out at a crowd like this and thought, 'Potential clients!' I ate, slept, and breathed work, work, work. My boss loved my work ethic and its results for the firm, but he didn't like me, which is not surprising because I didn't like me.
"But a pair of clients changed all that. Jack and Daniel, thanks to you, I have a life. I'm dating a wonderful, beautiful woman. I have friends, and I only work five and a half days a week now, and when I work extra hours, I actually feel entitled to some compensatory time off. I'll never forget the look of shock on Byron's face when I told him I was taking a Monday off.
"Jack, Daniel, I am so glad you pried your way into my life, and, Daniel, I'm so glad I did *not* run over you with the bulldozer in your backyard. Believe me, it was tempting, and I still don't believe there was a court in this country that would have convicted me."
"Bulldozer?" Colonel Carl Rappaport was heard asking in the huge crowd. ~I would have liked to have used one on O'Neill a few times.~
"Jack, I must admit that I've dreamed of a Jimmy Hoffa move a time or two myself, but what's this bulldozer action about?" the President inquired.
Hearing the remarks and seeing the looks of confusion in the crowd, the designer continued, "I guess not everyone knows the story. President Hayes and guests, I'll explain, if I may."
"Oh, you may," the President called out. "I can't wait to hear this," he smirked at a nervous looking Jack and Daniel.
Alex explained, "The house was under construction and renovation, and Jack and Daniel kept making these huge changes, like the se... I mean swimming pool and the Bird's Nest. They kept changing the plans and coming to me with them, expecting me to make it happen while still keeping the project on schedule. I didn't know them well then, and at one point I fantasized about running Daniel over with the bulldozer. It was a *sweet* dream."
The audience shared looks of amusement, and some chuckles were heard. Daniel just grinned cutely, his smile closed, but his facial expression showing that he was guilty as charged, as was his soulmate.
From the stage, Alex continued, "But we all survived, and now I consider Jack and Daniel among my closest friends, and because of them, many of you have adopted me as well." Raising his glass, he finished by saying, "That's what your love for each other does, guys. It reaches out and heals those it touches, and I am so glad to be among those whose lives you have touched."
Smiling, Alex left the stage, allowing the next person to speak.
As Alex delivered his bulldozer story, Jennifer reached the party care area and the beagles.
"Paul, I'm going to be here a few minutes, if you'd like to take a break."
"Thanks," the colonel acknowledged, getting up and heading out to make a phone call to his significant other, who was in charge of Stargate Command for the evening.
"Hey," Jennifer greeted Bijou and Katie. "Sorry, don't mean to cramp your style, but one of these boxes has ... here they are." She pulled out the two outfits. As she checked them over, she kept talking to the beagles. "You remember these? You were my models. Thanks for doing that."
Bijou and Katie sat attentively, listening to every word. They remembered well being used as models. As they recalled, Jennifer had come home one day and said she needed to make these dog outfits for the anniversary party. The girls didn't quite understand the unusual attire. In fact, they were rarely dressed up in anything but their winter sweaters and Halloween costumes. Otherwise, they preferred the natural dog hair look.
"You know, you two could do this so much better," Jennifer sighed. Then she blinked and looked over at the dogs. "Hey, you could. Come on, girls, what do you say? Let's turn that skit upside down. It's for Dad and Daddy," she encouraged.
Bijou and Katie exchanged a look and a shaking of their ears as they woke themselves up more fully. Then they walked right up to Jennifer with a look that said, 'okay, humanize us'.
"Thanks!" Jennifer responded happily. "Okay, here's what you'll need to do."
Five employees of J-O Enterprises mounted the stage and began rifling through imaginary cabinets and desks. Each imaginary drawer slam was matched by a cymbal clash or a clap on the claves, a percussion instrument that was a pair of small polished wooden logs.
The opening spotlight centered on two people, Dora King and Bibreanay Appleton.
"Do you know what she had the nerve to say to *me*?" Bibreanay questioned. Without waiting for an answer, in a false high pitched voice, she continued, "'I am confident that all of you can find the file. After all, only one of you lost it, so certainly the five of you can find it!' What does she mean, 'One of us'? *She* had it last. If you ask me, that Yazeeeed character has filled her head with way too many ideas that she is his queen. She might be his queen, but she sure isn't mine."
Just then, Megan Williams entered wearing a cheap plastic dime store crown, prompting the employees to curtsy and bow, even if they'd been sitting before.
"Jack and Daniel will be here soon," Megan advised. "Have you found the missing file?"
The employees quaked and sobbed in unison, "No, Your Majesty!"
"Better make it snappy, or heads will roll," the queen employee warned and then regally stomped off stage.
"Who does she think she is, the Red Queen?" Donald Burton groused, pretending to slam a file drawer shut, an off-stage bang of a hammer against metal providing the actual sound of the slam.
"Hey, I didn't hear you stand up to her, Mister Macho Man," Ty Harper interjected sarcastically.
"Well, what are Jack and Daniel going to do if they fire us, anyway?" Karissa Lewis asked. "We misplaced a file. It happens."
"Well, Jack will blow his top," Donald projected. Imitating Jack, he mocked, "What do you *mean* you lost a file?"
"Now, now, Jack, they didn't mean to lose it. I know it's here, somewhere, right, guys?" Ty asked, playing along and getting nods from the three women, after which he batted his eyes at Donald.
"You're right, Angelpuss. Let's go home and let them look," Donald as Jack replied.
"I've got a better idea, Grouchbutt. Let's *help* them look."
The imitation Jack looked like he was about to explode. The imitation Daniel just said "Jack" in a warning tone, and the duo proceeded to have a silent conversation with subtle body language, cocks of the head, and facial gestures.
No one really knew what was going on during these moments, but for years, friends and family had observed these odd moments when it seemed as though the soulmates were talking, even their mouths weren't moving and they oftentimes weren't even looking at each other. The fact that their non-verbal communication was being mimicked at the moment was a little disconcerting to the lovers.
**Do we really look like that when we 'talk'?** Jack asked as he and his lover watched the skit unfold.
**I don't know. I've never looked at us when we 'talk' that way,** Daniel teased.
**Do they know we're doing it when we're doing it?** Jack questioned.
**I don't know. Do you think they know when we're doing it?**
Onstage, while the Jack and Daniel pretenders had their silent 'talk', Karissa, Dora, and Bibreanay buzzed in mostly unintelligible dialog, the three gossiping about their Director of Operations, Megan.
Said director then returned and, seeing the two men just staring at each other, asked, "What's going on? What are they doing?"
"Pretending to be Jack and Daniel," Dora answered.
"And who are you pretending to be?" Megan inquired of Karissa.
"I'm pretending to be you, but I'm not mean enough," the blonde responded, smiling smugly afterwards.
"Yes, you are," Ty asserted, ending the silent game he'd been playing with Donald.
"Daniel wouldn't say that," Bibreanay interjected, shaking her head and waving her finger at the man.
"How would you know?"
"Yeah, how would you know?" Megan probed jealously.
"Well, when you are off having your hair and nails done, someone has to work," Ty explained.
"What is Karissa doing while I'm gone?" Megan inquired, not caring that Karissa was witnessing the interrogation.
"Sitting in your office, pretending to be important," the other four besides Karissa chimed simultaneously.
Objecting with her physical demeanor, Karissa stood up and looked like she was going to rip four heads off their necks, but in reality, all she did was give her co-workers an evil glare.
"What's wrong, Karissa?" Bibreanay asked.
"I'm thinking," the woman responded.
"Does it hurt?" Dora queried.
"Where's the bleepin' file?" Megan interrogated, tired of the games being played.
Ty quickly answered, "Donald gave me the file, and I signed off on it. Then I gave it to Dora."
Dora chimed in, "Yes, that's right. Then I signed off on it and gave it to Bibi."
Nodding, Bibreanay confirmed, "She's correct. I looked it over, signed off on it, and gave it to Karissa."
Her frown fading, Karissa added, "And I signed off on it and gave it to ... to you, Megan."
"Well, I signed off on it and gave it to Daniel, who handed it back and said it had to go through legal, so I handed it back to Ty and told him to make sure it got over to the legal department," Megan recalled.
Everyone looked at Ty, who responded, "I took it to legal, and," he looked upward thoughtfully, "I forgot to get it back. That's it, guys! Legal still has it. *That's* where the file is!"
Karissa picked up an imaginary phone and proceeded to order in her most professional tone, "Could you please send over the file Ty delivered for review ... yes, that one. Thanks."
"Okay, girls, remember the stage direction. You know Megan. She's the one, and just make sure you show off your profile so the guests can read what's on the outfit. Be yourselves, and I owe you one."
Bijou and Katie ran up the stage steps to follow Jennifer's direction.
The six actors onstage noticed giggling from the audience, which they expected. They had been expecting a pair of stuffed beagles attached to a wire being operated by Jeff to appear. However, the laughter wasn't exactly how they'd imagined it. When the giggles turned to guffaws, the cast looked stage right and saw Bijou and Katie standing and soaking up the crowd's attention. The two were holding a thick file folder in their mouths, and they were wearing little doggie parkas with three-inch-high lettering that spelled out 'LEGAL BEAGLE' along the side.
The sight of the real legal beagles was too much. The skit players joined the audience in laughter.
"Girls, the file!" Jennifer called out in a hushed shout. ~Hams~
Finally, Bijou and Katie pranced over to Megan and delivered the file. Then they sat down in front of her and barked.
Acting confused, Megan continued the scene and asked, "What do you want?"
Bijou made a motion with her nose across Katie's head.
"You want me to lose this?" Megan asked as she took off the cheap crown.
The canine pair barked their approval; then licked each other's faces. Then they began to lavish their love on Megan.
"Oh, it's better to love than to argue, huh?" Megan laughed at the excited dogs and added, "You want me to kiss and make up." After a moment of thought, she walked over to Karissa and smooched the air by her cheek. "Legal says I have to."
Air kisses were exchanged all around, except for Ty and Donald.
Looking at the dogs for a second and then over at Donald, Ty stated, "You're gonna have to settle for a handshake."
"Grrrrr," the two dogs barked while the two men shook hands.
"Oh, all right," Ty acquiesced, doing an air kiss with Donald, cracking up the audience. "But you're not my type, Grouchbutt."
"You're not mine, either ... Angelpuss."
The roar increased, with Bijou and Katie prancing around merrily. They woofed to the music that closed the skit, and then scampered to the front of the stage where they sat down and looked like very regal legal beagles watching out over their kingdom.
Jennifer wasn't the only one surprised a few minutes later, at ten minutes after eleven, when Jeff's voice went out over a microphone. When she turned, she caught sight of her brother sitting at the baby grand piano in front the orchestra.
"Normally, I leave this type of thing to my sister, Ash, but tonight, I hope she won't mind if I take a piece of her action." Jeff took a preparatory breath and then told the audience, "This goes out to my fathers, all three of them."
Looking down at the keys and trying to forget that some three hundred people were watching him, Jeff began to play a soft accompaniment for himself. Repeating a sequence, though no one realized it, he finally jumped in, singing a song made famous decades before he'd been born. It was called, "Oh My Papa." He remained true to the ballad's tone and lyrics, except that he added a second verse that made 'Papa' plural and changed an important lyric to, "Now are the days when they hug me like a man and change my tears to laughter."
Jeff sang at home with his siblings all the time, but tonight he reached deep inside and projected his sincerity through a strong, smooth sound that left everyone, including Jack and Daniel, breathless at the quality of his voice. No one realized he could croon with such a velvet voice.
As he finished, his hands relaxing from their stance over the keyboard ivories, Jeff addressed the crowd.
"Many of you knew my dad, Colonel Nelson Hunter. I still miss him, and my two fathers here tonight love me so much that they are okay with that. I have never had to hide my grief or my love for my dad, or refer to him as 'my biological father'. There is so much love in our house that it doesn't stop at the walls or the property line; it just keeps growing deeper, and wider, and taller. I have a family of brothers and sisters, and we are blessed with parents who not only love us, but encourage and challenge us as well as support us in all our dreams. Thank you seems so inadequate. What does feel right is to say I will do my best to become the kind of man they are and follow their example, and show up in the world the way they do every day."
Jeff stood and went over to a small table where he'd placed his glass of Martinelli's cider.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, to my dad and my daddy, and to the generous and unending love that they've given to me, my brothers and sisters, our zoo, and to countless others. I love you both."
When Jeff left the stage after taking a sip from his glass, he was quickly surrounded by his family, with Jack and Daniel leading the charge. They exchanged a three-way hug, with both of his fathers expressing their pride and joy at having Jeff as their son.
"We're so proud of you," Jack stated emotionally as the hug ended.
"Jeff, you were great," Aislinn praised.
"Thanks, Ash, but I'm no competition for you. I sang over my head tonight."
"No, you didn't, Jeff," Aislinn refuted. "You sang from your heart, and when you do that, that's when you sing your best." Then the wise little girl smiled and proclaimed, "We can sing duets now."
Jeff laughed in response, certain the girl was humoring him. He'd been possessed to do this number from the start, but he'd kept it a secret, uncertain if he'd have the nerve to actually follow through. He was glad he had, but singing was just a hobby for him, a fun activity he enjoyed with his family, and that's all he wanted it to be.
Chely Tillison took both of Jeff's hands in hers, looked deep into his eyes and stated, "I am so proud of you, Jeff. I want you to know that. Sometimes I think you're ten years older and so much more mature than, well, all of us at school. I'm so lucky to be your girlfriend."
"You've got yourself a winner there, Son," Jack praised, patting Jeff on the back as he smiled over at Chely.
As the parents led the younger kids away, Chely told her young man, "I love that you aren't afraid to express your feelings in public like this. It makes me so happy to be here and see it."
Not knowing what to say, Jeff responded by giving the pretty blonde with the long hair a kiss.
"Nice pipes, by the way," Chely praised. "And your lips aren't so bad, either."
Across the room, Micah and Naomi Tillison, Chely's parents, looked at each other. It was apparent from the expression they saw mirrored in each other's faces they were re-evaluating the opinion they held of their daughter's boyfriend's parents. They really did like Jack and Daniel, and Jeff, too. Perhaps Chely's choice of a beau wasn't so bad after all, and just perhaps, they should stop worrying about Chely dating someone outside of their perceived comfort zone.
"Hey, aren't you going to ask your ex-old lady to dance at your anniversary party?" Sara joked.
The woman who had once been married to Jack was wearing an exquisite gown. It was deep blue in color, cut low in the back and the front. Her eyes sparkled with happiness for her ex-husband and still very close friend.
Automatically, Jack looked around for his husband, who smiled in approval.
As they whirled across the floor, Jack caught the smile on the blonde's face and prodded, "Okay, out with it."
Knowing she couldn't fool her dance partner, Sara bravely questioned, "I've never asked you, Jack, but, now, well, maybe it's the alcohol talking, but ..."
"Butt's behind your front," Jack quipped, causing his lady to laugh. ~I've still got it.~
"No one makes me laugh like you do, Jack, especially when I'm tipsy," Sara giggled.
"It's a gift." With a nod, he prompted, "What did you want to ask?"
"Was I ... good enough? You know, as a wife, in the bedroom, I mean ..." Sara asked, her voice trailing off.
"Funny Face, you were fabulous," Jack assured, using his nickname for Sara and hugging her tighter. As they danced cheek to cheek, he elaborated, "From the moment I first saw you, I never really looked at another woman that way; still haven't." He chuckled, "Daniel teases me about it all the time. I'm always looking. I love a good looking woman, but I've never wanted to do anything with them. I guess I just appreciate the chassis."
Sara's face separated from her ex's as she refuted, "But you and Daniel are together in a way that you and I never were." She smiled as she answered her own question. "Soulmates. It makes a difference, doesn't it?"
"Big difference. You know, if the situation were reversed, I'm not sure my male ego could handle it as well as you have, especially not that day at Pike's Peak."
"I must admit that I don't think I'll ever forget that day," Sara confided. "It was ... eye opening and did a job on my self-esteem for a minute or two."
"I'm sorry if I ever made you doubt yourself," Jack stated gently before twirling the beautiful woman around in a circle.
The two laughed as they danced closed together again.
The general continued, his eyes validating his sincerity as he spoke, "I never in a million years thought I would ever, *ever* want to see another man naked and share his bed. I don't look at any other man that way, Sara; only Daniel. I can't explain it except to say he is my soulmate in this life."
"I know that, Jack."
"I hate that I hurt you; I never meant to do that. I was shut so far down that only a lost and wounded soul could reach me. As Daniel healed, *I* healed, and I fell in love with him as he fell in love with me, even if it took a while for us to figure it out."
"We're all where we're supposed to be," Sara returned. "We're happy."
"Big time happy," Jack concurred. "Do you know how much I admire you for being here, for being a part of our lives? Geez, Sara, you're an incredible woman. I think I love you more today than ever."
"We're an odd pair of couples, Jack."
"Yeah," Jack laughed.
"So, nine years. That's an odd anniversary to throw a shindig like this for."
"Have you heard the full story yet?" Jack questioned.
"No, I haven't," Sara admitted. "Of course, I know there was a bet that you lost."
As the dance ended, Jack suggested, "How about I get us refills, and let's step out into the hallway?"
Sara nodded her assent and a couple of minutes later, she and Jack were seated on a bench outside of the main event room. He told her the entire story of the brood having watched the movie "Sabrina" and then making a bet, wherein they agreed to be absolutely perfect and obedient for almost two full months. If they succeeded, their parents would host this lavish anniversary party. Throughout the bet, Jack had been certain the kids would slip up and after a while, he'd even tried to sabotage their efforts, something he wasn't proud of and was still making up for.
Sara was laughing throughout Jack's tale of woe, chuckling in sympathy for the various members of the brood whom Jack had tried to trick into losing.
"You were done the night you made the bet, Jack," Sara opined.
"That's what everybody knew but me," Jack sighed.
"Hey, Buddy. You're not stealing my wife back. Go find your husband. He's definitely not my type," Mark laughed as he approached the two.
"Thanks, Jack," Sara said as she kissed him on the cheek.
As Jack returned to the ballroom, Mark inquired, "What was that about?"
"Nothing really that important. We were just settling the last bit of dust from our marriage."
"That'll never be done, Sara. I'm not that naive," Mark responded while smiling.
"You know my heart is yours, Mark."
"If I didn't, I wouldn't be having another boxing match with Jack next week." Then Mark laughed, "Or maybe I would, but it wouldn't be just for kicks."
Sara laughed and shared a kiss with her husband before suggesting, "Why don't you ask me to dance?"
"Sara, the most beautiful woman in the world who has made me the happiest man alive, will you do me the honor of having this dance with me?"
"I thought you'd never ask."
Arm in arm, the happy Wilsons returned to the dance floor, each only having eyes for the other.
Jennifer took note as Sara and Mark returned to the ballroom. They were smiling and looking quite happy. She'd also seen her older father walk in just a minute before. He, too, looked happy, especially when he'd surprised his soulmate by sneaking up on him from behind. The two had kissed quite passionately, something that was unusual for when they were out in public.
In spite of all that happiness, something was stirring within Jennifer. She had a sudden urge to turn and run, and she couldn't hide it, though she was able to temper it a little.
"Jen, is something wrong?" Peter asked his date when she stopped dancing suddenly.
"No, I just need to check on the younger children."
"I'll come with you," the young man offered.
"I'm sorry, Peter, but you can't. It's the security," Jennifer stated, although she knew that if she really wanted to, she could bend the rules and let him accompany her.
"Hurry back," Peter called out, sighing sadly as he watched his date walk away.
"Jen, where're you off to?" Jeff asked as he noticed his sister moving toward a set of doors.
"I thought I'd better check in on the kids downstairs."
"You're worse than our parents," Jeff chuckled.
"I feel responsible, Jeff. I just want to make sure they're okay."
"Mind if I tag along?"
Jennifer shrugged, so Jeff walked with her to the elevator that would take them to the 37th floor.
"I'll bet they're having a blast," Jeff opined as he pressed the button for the elevator.
"It is a party," Jennifer mused, though her voice didn't quite match the level of her amusing words.
"This was a great idea of yours, Sis."
"It makes it easier on everyone, including Dad and Daddy."
Jeff nodded as the elevator doors opened.
Jennifer's idea was to make the partying easy and fun on everyone, adults and kids alike. Though it was costing her parents a small fortune, they were covering the costs of child care for the party itself, one night of sleeping over at the Hyatt, and breakfast at the hotel the next morning. The parents did have to foot the bill themselves if they wanted to stay, but several of the extended Jackson-O'Neill family and friends had decided to do just that.
After the cake cutting, the youngest group of children partying were led to the converted ballroom where they changed into their pajamas and settled in for the night. General Hammond was actually making multiple trips to the room to read the kids a story, or two or three or four as the evening progressed.
At their parents' discretion, the six- to twelve-year-old kids entered the room at different times as the party continued. They were allowed to watch a movie, read a book, play a game, or go to sleep.
Some of the children staying overnight were the Wilson, Lapierre, and Miller kids. A few of Jack's grandnieces and grandnephews were there as well. It was actually quite a big group, and as Sam and Jennifer had both assured Jack, the security for them was extremely tight.
"Thank you for doing such a fine job," Jennifer spoke to one of the security guards as she and Jeff were concluding their check on the younger children, most of whom were already asleep. She looked over at Paul Davis, who was still watching Bijou and Katie, and waved as she mouthed, "Thanks, Paul."
"I have a hunch you didn't really need to check on the kids," Jeff stated as they slowly made their way down the hallway. "Jen?"
"I'm not sure what happened to me, Jeff. I was just watching all those people dancing. Dad and Daddy look so happy. Did you see Dad dancing with Aunt Sara earlier?"
"Yeah." Jeff saw his sister's contemplation and prodded, "Did something happen that I don't know about?"
"No, but ... Jeff, I'll bet Dad and Aunt Sara were really happy once, back before Charlie died. That's what hit me."
"I didn't like Aunt Sara when I first met her. Did you know that?" Jennifer asked shyly.
"I thought she had some kind of ulterior motives for wanting to be around us, but she didn't. She really just ... she loved us, and she loved Dad *and* Daddy. That was so hard to understand back then."
"Okay, but that was a long time ago."
"Jeff, they still love each other. I see it. It's there, under the surface."
"Jen, you aren't suggesting ..."
"No, Jeff, of course not, but can you imagine if they've reached this really beautiful place now, where they can both be with their soulmates and still have real love for each other, just how happy they must have been when Charlie was alive?"
"Wow," Jeff replied. "I guess I've never thought about it."
"It just hit me when I saw them go out together and then come back. All that happiness, and ... all that sadness, too. Then I thought about Sha're and how sad that made Daddy when she died." Jennifer sighed in a pondering sort of way. "He'd already lost so much by then, and then there's Mrs. Valissi, who misses her husband so much. And what about Grandpa? He's in there alone, but I'll bet he's thinking about his wife."
"I thought he was going to bring Mrs. Crenshaw."
"He was. I guess she wasn't feeling well," the young woman explained. Jennifer sighed as her thoughts drifted some more. "My parents. They had so many dreams, and they lost them all in a second. Kayla: she never had a chance to find her Mister Right, either. I look at the Munchkins and the Spitfires sometimes, and I think about her. When Ash turns her head a certain way, I see Kayla."
"I wish I'd met her."
"Me, too. There's so much loss, Jeff. Everyone's lost someone, and all of a sudden, all I can think about is the sadness that brings, for Dad and Aunt Sara, Daddy and Sha're, my folks, Grandpa and Mrs. Valissi -- everyone. It seems like no matter how much happiness they've had, fate intervened. I know how that feels, and so do you. You think the world is going to be a certain way, and then a drunk driver takes it away." Tears began to form in Jennifer's eyes. "I love Dad and Daddy, but Mom and Dad ..."
"Hey, Sis, it's okay," Jeff soothed as he took his sister into his arms. "I know how you feel. We never forget."
"I'm being silly," Jennifer murmured, rubbing her eyes.
"No, you're not, but ... all this because ..." the young man prodded as the two separated.
"I was just watching everyone. I think it started a while ago when I saw Sunny watching Alex when he was talking to Casey. I wasn't that far away from her, and ... Jeff, I swear, she was about to cry. Then she danced with an Air Force officer; I've forgotten his name, but Daddy had him on the invitation list. Anyway, I just got a funny feeling when I watched them."
"They looked happy to me. I saw them dancing inside before they left," Jeff replied, referring to Alex and Sunny.
"Oh, did they leave?"
"Yeah, right after my song. I saw them applauding me. Alex waved before they walked out the door."
"I wonder why they left so early."
"Sis," Jeff responded with a pointed laugh that indicated the couple probably had some other things to do for entertainment besides attending the gala.
Jennifer nodded with a slight smile and agreed, "Yeah. I'm sure they're having a good time." She sighed, "That's the point. I'm not saying there's anything wrong. See, it's me, Jeff. It must be me. Sunny was probably just thinking about how happy she is or something. Even Noa."
"Earlier tonight, right when the Ladies Choice was starting. She was absolutely crushed when she saw Janet and Teal'c dancing." Jennifer let out another sigh before lamenting, "So much happiness, so much pain, so much heartbreak waiting to happen. Maybe it's better not to fall in love. Maybe it's better to love everyone deeply and no one in particular."
"One guy did that, remember?" Jeff asked with a smile. After his sister looked at him, first in surprise and then with love, he continued, "Happiness, sadness, joy, and loss: that's the price of being human, Jen. The good part is that we want to survive; it's instinctive. We gain nothing by holding life at arm's length and refusing to engage it. The losses we experience only allow us to appreciate everything we have more. That's what I remind myself of whenever I get to feeling sorry for myself. I'll think of Dad, but losing him has made me really thankful for what Dad and Daddy have given me."
"Are you sure you're younger than me?"
"I have my moments," Jeff chuckled. Then he straightened a little and joked, "Nine-hundred years old am I. When you reach my age, talk backwards you, too, shall."
Unable to stop herself, the elegantly gowned young woman snorted with laughter, "Come on, Yoda, let's get back to the party. It's time for some more toasts."
"Everything okay?" Peter inquired as Jennifer returned to his side. ~It's eleven-thirty; I thought she'd never come back.~
"Couldn't be better. Aren't you going to ask me to dance?"
Still a little confused, but happy his date was back, Peter replied, "Jen, how about a dance, or ten?"
Jennifer chuckled as she took the young man's hand and headed out onto the wooden dance floor.
"Is she really okay?" Chely asked. She had gravitated over to Peter after realizing he'd been left alone by Jennifer at the same time that her boyfriend had disappeared as well. "Are *you* okay?"
"Yes, and yes," Jeff chuckled. "I was just doing the big brother thing."
"But you're younger than Jennifer," Chely countered.
"Technicality," Jeff returned.
"Well, I think it's great that you're being so responsible, big or little brother."
"I have my moments."
"What's that supposed to mean?" the high school junior questioned, curious at Jeff's tone that hinted at some irresponsibility.
"Do you remember when Mary Beth Cheney had her picture plastered on the front of the school paper in nothing but her underwear?"
Chely giggled wildly.
"Here's what really happened," Jeff began, leading his girlfriend onto the dance floor and telling her for the first time how he'd exacted some harmless, but embarrassing revenge on his older sister's behalf.
When Jeff finished telling his tale, Chely whooped with laughter and kissed him.
"You *are* a good big brother. Mary Beth got just a taste of what she deserved."
"Mister President, it's such an honor to have you here," Jennifer expressed warmly. She'd only been able to complete one long dance with Peter when she'd been called away again. She couldn't believe it, but now she was actually dancing a waltz with the President of the United States. The invitation had surprised her, but she knew she'd never forget that moment when the President had tapped her on the arm and made the request. "Thank you so much for making this evening even more special for my parents."
"Jennifer, it was my pleasure. Actually," Hayes looked around at the ongoing activity, "would you mind if I hogged the microphone for a few minutes? I brought presents."
"Of course, Sir. I'll introduce you."
Jennifer started to pull away, but Hayes didn't let go.
"I've had too many incomplete dances for one night. I'd like to finish this one."
The President was referring to the whirlwind round of picture taking that had erupted earlier. It had begun with Jack asking the First Lady to dance. The next thing they knew, a flash of light had gone off, thanks to the photographer. After that, it had been a series of 'my turn, please.'
In quick order, Glouster and his photographic assistants had organized the guests as they had their moment with the First Couple. It had turned into a tag team situation, with the married couple each twirling in and out of holds with the party goers. It had been a quick 'hello', a whirl around the floor, a 'cheese' with a snap, and then on to the next partner.
The only respite that the Presidential couple had enjoyed had been during the toasts, Jeff's song, and the skit. All in all, the Hayes' had probably smiled and twirled with at least a hundred people each, each 'dance' having amounted to a mere twenty seconds or so.
The fun had ended when Jack and Daniel stepped in and put a kibosh to the spontaneous photo op session, or tried to.
"Okay, folks, let's let the President breathe," Jack requested as he acted like a bodyguard and tried to get the line to disperse. That's when he saw the glare. "Sister," he acknowledged.
As luck would have it, the next in line to dance with Hayes was none other than Sister Conchetta.
"Better let me dance with her, Jack. Her hotline goes higher than mine," Hayes quipped.
"Yes, Sir," Jack agreed.
"That was a good decision, Jack. It saved me threatening you to tell my story about you and Daniel in the backyard that afternoon," Sister Conchetta stated.
"Oh, do tell," Hayes invited as he took the nun into his arms.
"Dance, Sister. Have two dances." As Hayes and the nun twirled away, Jack called out, "Three even."
Jack let out an amused tone and then turned around. He intended to walk away, but instead, he just about ran into another of the President's would be dancers. His mouth was agape as he just stared, looking very much like the guppy fish that he had often accused Daniel of resembling.
"Ma'am. I thought you left already. I mean, I didn't know you were still here. I mean, you're welcome, of course, but I ... crap, I'm sounding like Danny."
The woman laughed and then explained, "I was leaving when this gentleman, indicating a secret service agent, asked me to accompany him here to speak with the President. Actually, he told me that the President had made it a direct order."
"Understandable, Ma'am," Jack responded, still feeling tongue-tied. "Dancing with the President would be an honor that no one could turn down."
"Oh, good. Dance with me, Jack."
Jack was stunned to find himself being spun around by President Hayes. Those who could see were laughing freely.
"You have to work on those spins, Jack," Hayes critiqued when he stopped.
"Yes, Sir," Jack acknowledged. ~I could have sworn that was an aspirin I took earlier.~
"Miss Steenburgen, may I have this dance? It's not an order, just a request of a fan," Hayes put forth with charm.
"I'd be delighted, Sir."
Glouster's team was quick to capture every moment, resulting in a sea of flashes.
When that dance was done, the actress expressed her regret that she couldn't stay. Her husband was waiting for her, and since she'd been away filming a movie, she was anxious to get home. That was something Jack could understand.
Unaware of the strict contract Glouster was operating under, the actress asked for the photographer's card, hoping to get a picture of her dancing with Hayes.
"Get one of those for me, too," Hayes instructed one of the Secret Service agents.
"I'll have my agent contact you," Steenburgen advised. "Could I have one of Jack dancing with the President, too?"
Glouster looked over at Jack, who nodded.
"Sure thing, Miss Steenburgen."
"Thank you." Mary smiled at the general and requested, "Dance me out, Jack."
It wasn't a full dance, but with a smile, Jack danced the actress all the way out of the ballroom, into the hallway, and to the elevator door.
"Thank you, Jack, for the dance and for being such an admirer of mine. I hope you're always a fan."
"No doubt about it, Ma'am," Jack assured.
Mary smiled, kissed Jack on the cheek, and then disappeared inside the elevator.
~If that's a dream, I *don't* want to wake up.~
//End of Flashback//
Beaming, Jennifer replied to the President's request for a full dance by agreeing, "Me, too."
"Jennifer, you are a remarkable young woman. My secret service agents told me they could not have done better with the security arrangements. You have done an outstanding job."
"Thank you, Sir. I know we need to be careful, but we wanted this to be special, in a normal sort of way. Know what I mean?"
"Yes, I do. I long for that myself some days. Telling the truth, and not giving in to pressure has made me a few enemies. I'm afraid for Mrs. Hayes more than for myself."
"I can understand that."
"She's not just the woman behind the man, she's the woman who makes the man, and not wanting to leave her a widow prematurely means we'll spend the rest of our lives shadowed by secret service."
"I'm not sure my parents will ever really be free of the danger, either."
Hayes nodded and replied, "I am impressed by what you've done here. My gut tells me that you could really go places if you got the right start. If you want a job, you just let me know."
"Why thank you, Mister President. Who knows? Maybe one day you'll hear from me."
"I welcome calls from you and your family at any time, young lady, even if it's not about a job." As the dance ended, Hayes gave Jennifer a kiss on the cheek. Then he asked, "Where's that Lulubelle? I promised her a dance, too."
"I'll help you find her, Sir." Jennifer laughed, "I think she's still awake."
"Fifteen minutes, guys," the bandleader informed his troupe while putting down his baton.
At that moment, the conductor was approached by a couple of men in black suits. He listened, nodded, and then went after six of his crew. Their break would be postponed briefly.
From the doorway a couple of minutes later, the bandleader was more curious than ever. This had been the strangest event he'd been a part of in quite some time. It wasn't 'odd' strange, but it was something about the way it had been put together.
This routine break was planned, and he knew there would be other activity occurring during this time period. However, the two unfamiliar men had told him that it would be another twenty minutes probably before the band would be needed again.
~That was their best guestimate,~ the conductor chuckled.
With this longer break, most of the band would be able to grab a bite to eat and have something to drink, not to mention having the chance to stretch their legs and relax their muscles.
This was a very long gig, having begun at six with a planned stop time at one in the morning, and that didn't include the setup and breakdown time. In all, it was twice as long as the band's usual engagements, but they were being paid handsomely, including a nice bonus for following the schedule dictated by the brood and not packing up and fleeing should there still be dancers when the clock struck one.
~Hard to turn down this much dough,~ the bandleader admitted to himself.
The musician thought about Jennifer and felt that for someone so young, she was very self assured. She'd insisted on attending two of their events to make sure they were as good as their recommendations had indicated. Then she'd made an odd request.
~Request? It was a demand, and noncompliance meant no dough at all.~
Jennifer had insisted on having the names and addresses of each one of the band members who *might* play at the anniversary party. She'd even requested photos of each band member and anyone who would accompany the band to the venue.
~It's not like we're playing the White House.~ The man laughed, ~Well, who knew the President would show up?~
Like any band of this size, there was a regular core group with various others who filled in according to their desires for work and the size of the band required for a particular gig. Not many people knew or even thought about this.
~Sheez, I forgot about Betty, and she couldn't get in for thirty minutes,~ the bandleader thought about his wife, who helped with the band's sheet music. ~It's not like I pay her; well, not in cash anyway.~
Surprisingly in the conductor's view, Jennifer had returned a few days later with a larger-than-usual deposit and the news that three musicians would not be allowed to play at the party. She'd said only that she had her reasons.
~Did she really know?~
Deciding he needed coffee more than he needed to watch the current entertainment or spy on the President as he mingled among the party goers, the conductor headed for the designated break room.
~I didn't vote for him anyway.~
Two minutes later, the man sipped his coffee as he continued to recall Jennifer's demands about the three men who would not be allow to play the gig. He laughed in curiosity, especially since a week later, one of the three had been detained by the F.B.I. for 'suspicion of seditious activity'.
The man rolled his neck and then kicked back in his chair. They were on the homestretch now. Before the evening wrapped up, the schedule called for there to be a few country western music videos for two-stepping, which would be followed by a quartet of fiddlers and a dance caller that would allow the band to have more stretch time. It was needed during a job like this.
~Square dancing? They're actually going to square dance at a party that has big band music and roaring thirties decorations. Go figure. Jennifer did mention that a lot of these folks had spent some time in Texas. I guess square dancing is a religion there, like riding horses and football.~ Reaching for a sandwich, the orchestra leader opined, ~This has been one unique anniversary party.~ Then he began to laugh out loud, drawing the attention of his band. ~Those dogs! Now that was funny.~
At fifteen minutes before midnight, Jonny covertly climbed the risers and surprised the guests by playing an instrument. The boy was a drummer, and this instrument was part of the drum family.
People began to clap along, and then they smiled as Lulu, Chenoa, Aislinn, and Jenny began to dance around their brother, their steps in line with traditional Irish moves.
When the children stopped, it was Jonny who continued to act as spokesman.
"I'd never seen this," Jonny held up the instrument, "until we went *all* over the USA last summer. We had all kinds of fun, especially when we met the O'Reillys. They're from County Cork, Ireland, and they gave me this, the bodhran. Well, they couldn't come all the way back here for Dad and Daddy's anniversary, but they really wanted to be here."
The big screen lowered, and Sergeant Davis again worked his technological magic. The sound and picture blared with clarity.
Jack and Daniel laughed, seeing Sean and John O'Reilly, both looking like they'd been having a great time.
"What's the time difference, Danny?" Jack asked his Love.
"Seven hours -- ahead," Daniel replied, chortling a little afterwards.
"They've been having a good time."
"Oh, yeah," the younger man agreed.
The music was loud, and the O'Reillys appeared to be at a pub, with plenty of guests all around the Irish bar.
"Hush it down, lads!" Sean called out. "We're in Colorado now."
"Jack, Daniel, ye there?" John shouted as the music hadn't yet ceased to a quieter level.
"Right here!" Jack shouted at the top of his lungs as he and Daniel moved towards the stage.
"Lads, we had a whale of a time with you and your brood last summer."
"Get on with it, Sean. They want to party, not chit chat," John opined.
Jack and Daniel laughed at the couple, who were also a same-sex couple, the fathers of four children.
"Right, you are, John," Sean agreed. "Jack, Daniel, our wee ones are home in bed, but they send their love and wishes for a happy life. John and I and we friends have been partying the night away in your honor, and we'd like to send you wishes for your own gay evening." He winked at his choice of words and looked over at the musicians assembled in the pub. "A-one and a-two ..."
Jonny chimed in with his bodhran, while his sisters danced a routine choreographed by Chenoa. As planned, before the song ended, the entire brood, sans JD, were onstage, participating in the number.
The festive song had everyone in the ballroom dancing and/or clapping along gaily. This was a drinker's song originally, one that urged the party to go all night long, as it obviously had done in Ireland.
When the song ended, John advised, "That little tune is called 'Níl sé ina lá', which to you Americans means 'Seize the Day'. To all of you Jackson-O'Neills, that is our wish for you, tonight, on the morrow, and the days that are to come. The luck of the Irish to ya all!"
The kids waved and shouted out their thanks, and then Aislinn walked over to the microphone. Normally, when she sang it was soft and tender, but that's not what the night called for. She turned back to face the O'Reillys on the screen.
"One more time!" Aislinn exclaimed in an obviously planned moment. ~Celtic Woman sing this, and I love it. Maybe I'll meet Chloe one day,~ she sighed as she thought about her musical inspiration.
The difference was that this time, the brood had the lead, and the lyrics had been altered to be more befitting of children.
The children danced and sang, and the O'Reillys provided the instruments and the background voices.
"Tell me that the night is long
Tell me that the moon is glowing
Fill my glass, I'll sing a song
And will start the music flowing."
On the dance floor, Jack and Daniel were dancing the Irish jig that the O'Reillys had taught them, while the guests were clapping with the music.
"And we'll stay here till the morning," the kids sang, getting tons of whoops from the crowd.
Daniel grabbed Sam, pulling her into the dance, while Jack took hold of Jilly, his brother's wife. This began more people following their example, learning the stomping moves as they watched the party's honorees.
"And turn the party up *full throttle*!" the brood shouted out.
When the dance was over and it was almost midnight, David took center spot at the microphone and spoke out loudly, "Thank you, O'Reillys, for taking our party up a notch!"
"Happy anniversary!" Sean and John called out as did their guests with pints raised up in salute.
As the screen went blank, David looked out at the party guests and stated, "We've been here for hours, but we're still rearing to go, so let's do as the O'Reillys suggested. Let's turn this party up ..."
As David turned, his siblings walked over to be even with him on the stage and all shouted out, "... *full throttle*!"
At that point, a video began of festive Irish music. It continued for several minutes, long after the children descended the stage and rejoined their guests.
It was midnight when the Irish music stopped, and the cessation of sound prompted Daniel to glance over at the stage. He saw the screen had already been raised and he also saw something else.
"Uh ... Jack," Daniel called out, having noticed Hayes and a few members of his entourage were on the stage.
A quick flurry of "Hail to the Chief" made the archaeologist's observation unnecessary. In seconds, hundreds of eyes were on the Chief Executive, and many took notice that apparently just a few members of the band had been escorted back to the orchestra section to provide the fanfare.
"At the risk of sounding like a DJ, I've enjoyed the big band sound this evening," President Hayes stated as the audience began to clap. "I understand they've been playing for hours with lots of dance time to come, so I'm sure they won't mind extending their break while I make a few remarks." The applause for the band continued for a minute and then focused on the President, all curious what he was about to say. "I love a party without press," the man mused.
Indeed, there wasn't a single reporter in the audience. The only journalistic press representatives who had been present were photographers who had been a part of the official photograph session earlier in the evening. Those folks had already departed the event before Hayes had even arrived. That left just the official photographer and his staff to cover what was now occurring.
"I've based my entire presidency on telling the truth. Not once in almost eight years has anyone accused me of lying and brought for any proof to substantiate their accusation ..."
The curiosity of the crowd was palpitating. Some wondered if this would turn into a political speech.
"... so for the record," Hayes continued, "every living soul on this planet owes their lives to Major General Jack Jackson-O'Neill and Doctor Daniel Jackson-O'Neill. Unfortunately, their actions are a matter of national security, and that prevents me from detailing their heroics. Just know that every breath you draw, you do so because of these two men."
The room erupted into applause, the group now understanding Hayes' opening remark and others in the know realizing the depth of the statement's truthfulness.
"Now, I want to thank Jonny Jackson-O'Neill, the Little General, for inviting me here this evening."
"That's me!" Jonny piped up from the center of the room.
"Come on up here, and bring your folks; your brothers and sisters, too," the President requested.
It took a few minutes, but soon President Hayes had the entire family on the stage next to him. Also, much to the surprise of all, at the signal of the President, four other people entered the ballroom and made their way to the stage. They took prominent positions. Many recognized a couple of them as being part of the White House press corps.
Hayes saw a troubling expression on Jennifer's face. He walked over and leaned in, whispering something in her ear, after which he returned to the microphone.
"What'd he say?" Brianna asked nervously.
"To trust him."
Brianna nodded and then declared, "Okay, I trust him."
"Me, too," Jennifer agreed. ~He likes us. He wouldn't turn our perfect party into something political. He just wouldn't.~
With a smile, President Hayes motioned for Jonny to come center stage with him. The young boy was thrilled to do so.
"Jonny, do you know what an Executive Order is?"
"I do!" Little Danny answered from his spot in line. "It's an order from the President. That's you."
"You got it." Looking at Jonny and back at all of the children, he queried, "Do you know what the Presidential Medal of Freedom is?"
Gasps filled the large ballroom, while Jennifer and Jeff exchanged looks of curiosity. Daniel looked down, curious and having a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"It's a big honor that you've done really good," Little Danny answered simply.
"It's for civilians," Aislinn chimed.
"They give out medals in the military. Dad has lots," Jonny boasted proudly. Suddenly, he gasped. "Are you giving Daddy a medal?"
Jack and Daniel shared a look, uncertain what was about to happen. When they looked up, Hayes tapped Jonny on the shoulder and sent him back to stand with the rest of the brood.
"Folks, in 2005, I publicly awarded six of our worthy citizens the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Prior to that, unbeknownst to the press and in a ceremony for a select few at Cheyenne Mountain, I was honored to present Doctor Daniel Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom."
The gasps and 'aws" from the room were deafening. Only a couple of people knew about Daniel's honor. In fact, not even the children were aware. The award was in Daniel's den, and while it had been on display for a while, because of the secrecy involved, he'd locked it away sometime after the birth of the Munchkins.
The press corps were taking notes while the official press photographers along with members of Glouester's staff were snapping pictures like mad.
"Let me paraphrase, for the sake of classified activities, some of what I said that day to a limited group of his peers. 'This man has saved the lives of his teammates, citizens of the world, and sometimes, even the enemy. He has a good heart, a caring heart, and even more than that, a heart that is sometimes too good for his own good. He's sacrificed himself, more than once, ready and willing to give his life for those working with him, and those on Earth who have never, and may never, hear his name -- Doctor Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.'"
Again, the room broke out into applause. The children were clapping, the younger ones even jumping up and down in excitement. Chenoa ran over and hugged her younger father, her movement prompting the rest of the brood to follow until there was a massive family hug in process. All the while, the applause continued, even growing in loudness.
When things settled, President Hayes continued, "I said that day that I hoped the day would come when Doctor Jackson's true heroism and contribution to the welfare of this nation could be made public. While I still cannot elaborate as to the specifics, I can say that without his presence, America would not exist as we know and love her. You'll have to trust me on that."
Hayes took a breath and nodded to his associate, who then handed him the black box he'd been holding. He looked over at Jennifer, who had a few tears of pride falling. Then he faced the crowd once again.
"Under Executive Order 11085, dated February 22, 1963, it is my pleasure to publicly honor Doctor Daniel Jackson-O'Neill for his scientific contributions in the fields of archaeology, anthropology, and ancient cultures. He has gone beyond the boundaries of science, repeatedly saving the lives of many, including his teammates." Hayes pulled out a replica of the medal previously awarded to Daniel. He walked over and placed the golden star around the archaeologist's neck. "With distinction, a grateful nation says 'thank you' one more time."
"I don't know what to say," Daniel replied, totally taken aback.
"Gotcha!" Hayes smirked, pointing at the honored man.
"Congratulations, and happy anniversary," Hayes wished as he shook Daniel's hand and then Jack's.
"Thank you, Mister President," a grateful Jack responded. ~He never forgot,~ he thought, recalling many conversations that took place back in those days about how important it was to Jack for Daniel to get the recognition he so justly deserved.
Hayes nodded and then looked at the children as he asked, "So what do you think about your daddy here?"
"We love him, and we're so proud," Jennifer answered for the children.
"Like my present, Jonny?"
"It's the *best*!" the boy exclaimed excitedly.
Quietly, Hayes told Jennifer, who was right by her parents, "These are trusted representatives of the press corps. If you don't want this released, I'll ensure it doesn't, but ..."
"No, please, we want it," Jennifer interrupted. She looked at her parents, her eyes pleading. "Don't we?"
"Yeahsureyabetcha!" Jack affirmed proudly.
"Um, well ..."
"Danny, you're going to put that star on display," Jack ordered. "Hank, thank you."
"I'll fax you their releases for approval," Hayes stated.
"We don't really want the children pictured ..." Daniel paused. He saw Jennifer's face drop. Not only that, but he glanced at the faces of the other children who were listening in on the conversation. ~They wanted us to be normal, to have their pictures in the paper just once. He nodded and then stated, "Never mind. I'm sure whatever you think is appropriate will be fine." Looking at his husband, he sought, "Right, Jack?"
"Very well," Hayes acknowledged, making a mental note to take a look at the copy himself. ~I like these kids.~
"Danny, now or never. What do ya say?" Jack whispered to his husband after the Presidential detail had left the stage.
"Okay. Uh, better find Walter," Daniel replied.
"I see him. He just the needs the word."
"The word is given," the younger spouse chuckled.
Jack let out a groan, but then hurried off the stage.
Except for Jennifer and Jeff, the brood had walked away with the President. The two teenagers were making sure the stage was back in order for the next toasters.
All of a sudden, Daniel approached and took the microphone. Quietly, he asked the teens to make sure the brood was up front so they could see what was coming up next.
"Okay, Daddy," Jennifer responded, walking away with her brother. "Jeff?"
"No clue, Sis."
With the stage clear and seeing Sergeant Davis setting up, Daniel addressed the crowd.
"Uh, Jack needs just a few moments to prepare. You're asking, 'prepare for what'? Well, this is something we have argued about for years, and finally, Jack cried, 'Uncle!' as his way of being a good sport about losing the bet. Uh, well, I realize not everyone knows what the bet is, or was, but let's just say that children are often wiser than they get credit for being, and sometimes, adults, parents even, become blind by, well, what they want versus what's right."
"Oh, for crying out loud," Jack shouted, though no one could see him at the moment. "We lost a bet with the kids, and I was a jerk. Nothing new. Danny, get on with it."
Daniel's head dropped, and the crowd laughed.
"Okay, well, my husband isn't a jerk; well, not usually anyway. He's a strong, loving man, and he's a protector. I love him."
"Crap. Daniel, now isn't the time for sentimentality," Jack griped. "But I love you, too."
The guests thought the entire exchange was cute and sweet. Of course, they were all curious about the bet now, too. However, their minds were taken in another direction when Daniel spoke again.
"So, as I was saying, we've fought about this for years, and who would play what role."
Just then, another figure joined Daniel onstage. He was dressed in flat black from head to toe, carried a cane, and was wearing a bowler. His face, except for his eyes, were covered in soot black.
"I'm no one's shadow," Daniel stated playfully as he caught the cane that Sergeant Davis tossed in his direction.
Then Sergeant Davis cued the music and the familiar song, "Me and My Shadow" began.
The duo did a classic soft shoe routine to the old standard, delighting everyone, especially the brood because they had heard the banter between their parents about over who would be the shadow for as long as they could remember.
Of course, during the routine, Jack hammed it up with a few more bars and some extra steps after Daniel had finished, but the routine was a success. As the crowd applauded, the lovers bowed and then they shared a kiss, getting soot black on Daniel's lips and delighting their children even further.
Not long thereafter, at about 12:15 a.m., Hayes located the couple to say his good-byes for the night.
"Mister Pres..." Jack began from habit, though he caught the look of warning and altered his salutation, "Hank, one more time, thank you for what you did up there tonight."
"Guys, I want you to know that even though I am leaving office, I am not without connections. You need anything, you let me know, okay?"
"It *has* been an honor, Sir," Daniel stated, shaking the man's hand.
As for Jack, he saluted and declared, "You're one of the best, Sir."
Returning the salute, Hayes responded, "Thank you, Jack, and thank you, Daniel. Where's the little general?"
"Here I am," Jonny called out. He'd been secretly trailing Hayes most of the evening. ~I did good, too. That secret service guy only looked back at me twice.~
"Thank you for the invitation. Mrs. Hayes and I had a wonderful evening."
"I knew you'd come. You like us," the boy proclaimed, getting chuckles from those who could hear.
Mussing the boy's hair, Hayes confirmed, "That I do. Just so you know, I brought presents for your entire family."
"Yippee!" Jonny cheered. "I thought maybe you only brought Daddy's star," the boy said, taking hold of the replica that he was wearing around his neck.
Laughing, Hayes tapped the boy on the shoulder supportively. Then with a nod at his entourage, the President walked out of the ballroom with Mrs. Hayes on his arm.
The parents watched Jonny take off to parts unknown, leaving them to chat about what had happened.
"I can't believe he did that," Daniel commented as the Presidential couple disappeared from view. "Did you know?"
"Not a clue," Jack answered truthfully. "But he's given out a lot of honors over the years for classified missions in the Gulf. I guess he figured it didn't matter anymore."
Jack looked over, seeing Jonny had joined his siblings. They were all still buzzing over the honor. He smiled, seeing that Jonny had turned over the medal to Lulu, who was now showing it off to various guests.
"I'm glad you can take the real thing out of hiding," the general admitted to his archaeologist.
Little Danny let out a huge yawn, which attracted Jennifer's attention. By now, most of the under thirteen group had already gone to 37th level. Only the brood and a couple of others remained, and that was mostly because they were staying with their brood friends. This included Carrie Lapierre, Angela Wilson, and Calvin Miller.
"Bedtime," Jennifer pointed out to Brianna.
"They won't like it," Brianna responded.
"Bri, they're exhausted. I think ..."
Jennifer looked again at Little Danny. He and Carrie had both fallen asleep, their heads leaning against each other's.
"Too cute," Jennifer chuckled.
Motioning to get Jeff's attention, Jennifer held an imaginary camera to her face and pointed at the sleeping children. Jeff nodded and grabbed his camera out of his Tux pocket as he started walking in her direction.
"I wonder what Karissa thinks about Little Danny cheating on her," Brianna laughed.
Jennifer laughed, "I'm glad it's not my problem. We'd better round up the brood for their number."
"I hope they're awake enough to do it."
The piano rumbled with a deep bass riff and then broke into "Rubber Ducky," which made everyone laugh.
Jeff stood from behind the piano and announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the brood has prepared a special farewell number for you this evening."
What followed was a twelve minute performance where just about every song from the hit play and movie "The Sound of Music" was performed. Some numbers, such as the majestic theme which began the number and was sung by Aislinn, were given more time, while others were just briefly delved into, including the puppeteer piece called "The Lonely Goatherd" which Brianna and David teamed up to do.
Throughout the piece, Chenoa and Lulu danced, doing contemporary, tap, ballet, and jazz sections. Sometimes they danced together, and at other times, they were alone. They performed as the featured players and also were background for some of their brothers' and sisters' routines.
Some of the special bits were "Do-Re-Mi," performed by the Munchkins and the Spitfires, "Sixteen Going On Seventeen," sung soulfully by Jennifer as she sauntered around the stage, and a parody of "I Have Confidence in Me," by Jonny and Little Danny.
All eleven of children gathered together in the middle of the stage towards the end and sang a tender rendition of "Edelweiss." Then the music shifted to the main number, "So Long, Farewell."
The brood opened it pretty much like the standard version, with all of them singing and cuckooing appropriately. However, most of the final lines were changed.
Lulu was the first to exit, her solo verse being, "I hate to go, but they're forcing me to." She shrugged as she headed for the right rear of the stage where she was to stay. "What's a kid to do?" she added in a spoken question.
Jeff stepped forward to do the second spot, his kick off line being, "It's time our friends, our guests, for us to go, but please remain, enjoy our farewell show," after which he walked over and stood next to Lulu.
Jennifer was up next and she sang the actual movie line, running right up to the edge of the stage, finding her parents, and then requesting to stay and sip her first champagne.
Just like in the movie, the high school senior asked with big eyes and hope in her voice, "Yes?"
Just like in the movie, Jack looked at Daniel, and with smiles, both stared her in the eye with smiles on their faces as they echoed Christopher Plummer's simple line, "No!"
With a sigh, Jennifer headed towards Jeff and Lulu, grousing, "I'm not a little girl."
Brianna and David stood together, uniting for the next specialized exit verse, the two singing, "We're glad you came to our party oh so grand, to honor our dearest Dad and daddy, please give a hand."
The brother and sister led the applause and then departed to join the others at the rear of the area.
Chenoa took center stage and followed the movie version exactly, adding a yawn, as she admitted she was glad to go and couldn't tell a lie. She was suddenly surrounded by three flitting, floating, and flying Munchkins and one Spitfire, Ricky. Together, the five pirouetted their way to their siblings.
Jenny was exhausted, and could hardly hold her eyes open, which made her bit a snap. She had the final solo. She backed to a chair that had been placed a couple of feet behind her and sang that the sun had gone to bed and so she must, too.
Just like in the movie, Jennifer walked forward and picked up her weary sister. The brood moved forward, all of them singing the well known, "So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye," as they walked slowly off to the right. The last three "Good-byes" were sung in a progression Jeff had arranged that went from unison, to six voices, to ten voices in close harmony. Then the children disappeared behind a well placed curtain so that they couldn't be seen.
Following the movie, the guests, without being asked, returned the final, "Goodbye," delighting the children.
However, right after that, and as it turned out, almost on top of the party goer's surprise response, Ricky rang back onto the stage and shouted, "Buh-dee-puh-dee-phu-deep, that's all folks!"
It was obviously planned since the orchestra played the familiar notes of the Looney Tunes closing melody right along with the boy's words.
"Jeff, you put Ricky up to that, and had the bandleader primed and ready!" Jennifer scolded, though she giggled as she put Jenny down.
"Guilty as charged. It's recorded for posterity, too!" Jeff boasted smugly.
"Okay, kids, let's go give Dad and Daddy a hug and a kiss, and then it's off to bed."
Daniel picked up Ricky and grinned as he praised, "I loved your 'Buh-dee-puh-dee' bit."
Ricky giggled happily and, while hugging his younger father, asked, "Did we make a good party, Daddy?"
"You made the best party, Son. You made Dad and me very happy tonight."
Yawning, the boy rested his head on Daniel's shoulder. Two seconds later, he was actually asleep.
"I'll take him," Jennifer volunteered.
"No," Daniel responded, extending out an arm. He looked over at Jack, who was holding Jenny. "Out?"
"Like a light."
The parents smiled and nudged their brood outside of the ballroom and over to the elevators.
"Dad, Daddy, you have three hundred guests inside," Jennifer sighed. ~If they go down to the 37th floor, they'll never come back. They'll want to stay and read stories and stuff.~
"She's right, Danny."
"Daniel, let me," Sam volunteered, taking Ricky into her arms.
"I'll take Red," Pete offered, taking Jenny from Jack.
The parents brought the other children together for a big family hug.
"We love you," Jack stated.
"We'll see you in the morning," Daniel added. "Thank you so much for tonight."
"I'll be back up in a few, Jen," Brianna announced.
"Not me, Sis, unless you really need me, but I'm zonked," David stated.
"Thanks, Bro, but you go to bed."
"Great 'Star Trek' bit," Jack praised David, referring to the brood's skit from earlier in the night.
"I knew you'd like that," David responded, getting a hug from Jack as the elevator doors opened.
"Check on JD," Daniel instructed as the children walked into the elevator.
"Do you want me to go with you?" Jennifer asked.
"I can handle it, Jen," Jeff told his sister. "Give me fifteen to make sure they get settled okay."
Finally, the doors closed. Jack and Daniel both sighed, hating that they were missing their goodnight visits with each child.
"Come on, you two," Jennifer beckoned. "They're exhausted. They'll be asleep as soon as their heads hit their pillows."
"You're right," Daniel lamented.
"Yeah, she's right," Jack bemoaned.
"Hey, we have a party going on."
"So, let's party," the older man agreed.
Two men stood on the stage, both with the stance and bearing common to those who have served in any branch of the military. It's not definable, but definitely is recognizable to those 'in the club', so to speak.
The first man looked a lot like Jack, but was a few years older. He was the first to move three steps forward to the microphone.
"The two of us were talking about how we had put off making our toasts until everything wonderful and nice had already been said. I'm Jack's older brother, Billy, in case you missed the resemblance. Just because everything nice about him has already been said, doesn't mean that's all there is to be said."
Chuckles ran through the room.
"Spill the beans, Billy!" someone hollered.
Billy obligingly related several pranks and hi-jinks, that Jack had perpetrated in revenge, or that Billy had conned him doing acting as his accomplice.
While the crowd was still laughing, Jack's older brother continued, "The problem with being a nice guy is that, there's always more nice to tell. My bro is a nice guy, so here is one more nice thing to add to the other ones. I was away for many years, out of touch with Jack, but when the time came when we were able to connect again, we introduced our families to one another." Billy extended an arm out to the front of the room and grinned. "This is my Jilly, and she and my ... brood were welcomed with love and acceptance by Jack, Daniel, and their brood. That means the world to me." Billy drew a breath and then looked to the honorary couple and said, "Thanks, guys, for joining our families together, and, Bro, you've made me proud. Happy anniversary."
"I guess that means it's my turn," Hammond stated as he walked forward. "Let me say this: when I first knew Jack and Daniel, I had hair!" Hammond teased.
Everyone, including Hammond himself, cracked up, knowing full well, that he had been bald since the late seventies. Of course, there was a technicality there. The statement wasn't really a lie. That's because SG-1 had once gone back to the year 1969, and in that year, that's a met a young lieutenant, with hair, George S. Hammond.
"Seriously, folks, it's one thing to say you have integrity, and it's another to risk your career and the chance of being court-martialed for your principles. When you can look your commanding officer in the eye and say, 'What you are about to do is wrong', *that* is integrity. Believe me, Jack has plenty of integrity, and the court-martial papers to prove it."
As the guests laughed, Jack and Daniel shared a look, both appreciating the high praise and the joke.
Hammond added, "And Daniel? He's the son my wife and I never had. He's also a thorn in my side, and Jack's, because he's nothing if not a man of high principle. They balance each other, and they've made the Air Force a better service in the process."
**Gotta love that man, Danny.**
**Yes, I do,** Daniel replied.
Hammond turned in military fashion, saluted, though he didn't hold it, and wished, "Happy anniversary to General Integrity and The Thorn."
The crowd loved Hammond's toast. It had been the perfect last toast of the evening. Now it was back to the party.
"Sir, thank you for what you said up there," Daniel told Hammond after having walked over to the stage steps to meet him.
"It's the truth, Son."
"I ... I feel the same way," Daniel replied emotionally.
The two men entered into a brief and rare embrace, which Jack watched while wearing a smile. He loved Hammond for loving Daniel in such a paternal way.
As the clock hit 12:30 a.m., the party was finally beginning to wind down a bit to the point that except for a few stragglers the children under the age of eighteen were in bed. Many guests not staying over at the Hyatt had left the hotel as well. There was still plenty of fun to be had, but the official events, like the toasts, photographs, and cake cutting, were long since concluded.
Still cutting a great rug were many of Daniel's Stargate Command team, like Joanie Campbell, Edward Haapiniemi, Estelle Shardon, and Cameron Balinsky.
Telling stories and laughing frequently were a lot of Jack's buddies, such as Dale Rancolini, James Ramsey, Sean Douglas, and Jeff Cornell. Their wives were dancing with each other, since the men were occupied with their flying fibs, as the wives referred to the tall tales.
Neighbors and friends of the Jackson-O'Neills were partaking of the finger foods which were being constantly added to the buffet line. It was a great chance for some of these people to meet for the first time.
"Hi, Bob Stevens," the neighbor introduced himself as he held a glass of wine in one hand.
"Stevens?" the other man chuckled. "I'm Joel Stevens."
"Maybe we're related."
The two men laughed and chatted for a minute, quickly ruling out any true relationship between them. Then they started talking about their hosts.
"How long have you known them?" Bob inquired of the other man.
"Daniel wanted to learn sculpture," Joel replied, proceeding to tell Bob about the silver fox piece Daniel had surprised Jack with several years ago.
Checking her watch and then looking around the room, Jennifer smiled while thinking, ~Time for Grace's surprise.~
The smaller crowd meant it was easier to take someone off duty, at least for a while. The young woman took a few steps forward before stopping and turning around, not because she needed to look in the other direction, but rather, because she had a brief bout of anxiety about her decision.
Jennifer took a breath, contemplating whether or not she really wanted to go through with her plan.
"Jen, what are you thinking about?" Peter asked after glancing over at his date and getting the feeling that she was a million miles away.
"A little surprise; something I have to do."
"Can I help?"
"'Fraid not. Um, I'll be busy for a few minutes, Jennifer advised with a smile. "I'll explain later."
Since Jennifer's breakup with Peter Hamilton, she'd become especially observant of people's eye contact and body language. While working at Stargate Command, she had particularly noticed Steve Watkins and Grace Satterfield.
Grace had moved up fast on the promotion roster, going from a freshly graduated Air Force Academy recruit being run through training scenarios to a lieutenant colonel who had command of her own SG team, specifically SG-24. She was a highly respected, very competent and efficient officer. On the lighter side, her crush on Daniel Jackson was wide knowledge and was something she figured she'd never live down.
Jennifer had idly wondered if perhaps Grace's attraction to Daniel went further than a cadet's crush since she'd never observed any hint that Grace was dating, or even wanted to; that is, until Steve Watkins.
Steve was an electrical engineer with a double major in some esoteric branch of physics, on loan to Cheyenne Mountain by the Air Force, who had allowed his talents to pass unnoticed, buried under the bureaucracy, until recently.
As Jennifer stood in the Denver Hyatt ballroom, she sighed, still uncertain, even though the timing was now perfect for her to proceed. She thought back to something she'd witnessed at SGC some time ago.
At that time, Jennifer had observed Casey Hemmings' attempt to make a play for Steve. The two were sitting in the commissary, with Jennifer positioned to read Steve's lips when he'd responded.
"Better double check your gaydar, Casey. I'm not on it," Steve had told the nurse, a polite smile on his face.
Casey had nodded in understanding, after which the only sounds Jennifer heard had been chatter about the Air Force and careers. One specific remark had captured her attention.
"Yeah, I'm not certain about re-upping again. I've enjoyed my time here, but I might have an offer that is too good to refuse, a place where I could use my degrees."
Smiling over at her grandfather for a moment as the party continued to be a happy place, Jennifer recalled her thoughts upon overhearing Steve's remark. He'd followed it up with a request not to mention his potential departure since he wasn't yet certain. However, Jennifer saw Steve's exit from the military as an opportunity.
~If Steve is leaving the Air Force, that means rank wouldn't be an issue after he's out, and there wouldn't be any chain of command to worry about,~ the Teen Gater leader had thought.
From time to time during her days at Stargate Command, Jennifer had noticed Steve casting a wistful glance at Grace whenever they were in the same room or he passed her in the corridor. Even more intriguing, Grace had done her own share of wanton watching in Steve's direction. Clearly, both officers had an eye for the other, but a romance would go against military regulations.
Jennifer thought back on multiple occasions when the two had shown up in front of the vending machines to get some snack or in the mess hall for coffee at the same time.
~It's almost intuitive,~ Jennifer opined as she debated further. She sighed, ~Why do I even care? Why'd I even think to try to set this up? They're adults; they don't need me to meddle.~
The conflicted woman was ready to give it up, but then she saw the faces of the two co-workers in her mind.
~She doesn't know he's leaving, and he thinks because she's a lieutenant colonel and is a few years older that she doesn't care. What we have here is a horrible failure to communicate. Besides, I learn from the best, and if it's good enough for Daddy to do with Alex, it's good enough for me to do with Steve and Grace.~
Jennifer looked over at the bandleader and gave him a nod. Then she turned to face the ballroom exit one more time.
~Okay, girl. Head held high, step forward, and ... butt in!~
With that, Jennifer walked out the doors and headed for the room where the presents were still being scanned.
As she walked, Jennifer heard a disturbing conversation near the ballroom doors she'd just exited.
"Watkins, we're able to let a few members of the detail go home. Interested?" one of the security supervisors inquired.
~No way!~ Jennifer exclaimed, about to hit panic mode. She looked around anxiously and spotted her sister headed for the elevator. "Bri, hurry!"
Brianna heard her name and caught sight of her big sis urgently waving for her to come hither. As soon as she was within a couple of feet, Jennifer began talking.
"This is urgent. Go to the X-ray room and tell Grace that I need to see her *now* in the ballroom."
"Just tell her! Go!"
With a shrug, Brianna strode purposefully as directed, yawning as she did so. She'd finally reached her 'must sleep' point when stopped by her older sister to run this errand.
Jennifer turned around and saw Steve heading for the designated room for the security detail. More than likely, he was going there to sign out and get his coat.
~Can't have that, not now,~ Jennifer insisted strongly. "Steve, wait!" she called out. She walked hastily towards the lieutenant with the black hair. ~He'll be so cute when he can grow it out a little.~
"Colonel Cornell's releasing a few of us, Jen. I thought I'd go home and kick back for a while."
"Not before our dance," Jennifer stated.
"Are you turning me down, Lieutenant?"
Steve laughed and replied, "Of course not. The honor is mine."
Graciously, Jennifer slipped her arm around the man's elbow and walked with him inside the ballroom, glancing back briefly to see if Grace had received the message and was coming.
Peter Hamilton's face dropped and his heart sank when he saw his date walk in on the arm of an obviously older Air Force lieutenant and begin to dance.
~This is what she had to do, dance with another guy right in front of me?~
Conflicting emotions warred inside the Oxford student. He wanted to punch the officer out. He wanted to cry. He wanted to leave and head for the airport on foot.
~It's your own fault, Hamilton. She's a class act, and you treated her like a tramp.~
Jennifer had been a surprise to the young man when they'd met. He had been used to seeing his parents buy their way out of any difficulty or inconvenience. He was arrogant and spoiled back then, back when he'd made the biggest mistake of his young life.
Peter liked to think of Jennifer as having once been his girlfriend, but the truth was that they'd only had one date. As a rich brat left mostly to his own devices, he'd managed to get kicked out of three private schools by the time he was a sophomore, which is why his parents finally enrolled, or rather dumped him, into public high school.
That's where Peter and Jennifer had met, though it was the young girl who had fallen for him from afar. She'd been thrilled when he asked her out, and then devastated when on their first date he treated her like a conquest.
The snobbish young man's epiphany had begun when he watched Jennifer walking away from his home like a queen and sliding calmly into Daniel's sporty silver car. It was a moment Peter would never forget, and if he could trade all his wealthy upbringing, including his parents, to rewind the evening and treat Jennifer Jackson O'Neill like the lady she was, he'd do it without hesitation.
~At least we're friends, but I'd give anything to have a real chance with you, Jen.~
Grace was ready to have a small piece of cake and maybe visit with a few friends, so she didn't really question Brianna's message. Leaving the tomboy who was chatting with her Uncle Lou behind, the lieutenant colonel returned to the ballroom. She looked around for Jennifer, spying her dancing with Steve Watkins.
With a sigh, Grace walked towards the two dancers as they swayed around the floor off in the distance. She noticed the empty band area and that the big viewing screen was down with a video playing.
Seeing Grace out of the corner of her eye, Jennifer gulped and self-encouraged, ~Deep breath. If Daddy can butt in and make it work, so can you. Fast talk: that always works.~
"Hello, Steve," Grace greeted, though her eyes swiftly focused on the oldest of the Jackson-O'Neill siblings. "Jen, Bri said you wanted to see me."
"I sure do," Jennifer responded. She smiled, suddenly losing her voice. ~This isn't easy.~
"Jen?" Grace prodded.
~What'is going on?~ Peter wondered as he watched Jennifer, the officer, and this other attractive female. ~Who's that. I don't get it. Jen looks happy to see her.~
Not wanting to watch, yet unable to help himself, the young man edged closer, hoping to hear what was being said in this curious triangle.
"Grace, you know Steve, right?" Jennifer did not wait for a response. "He's such a great guy. Do you know the initials he has behind his name? I think he rivals my Aunt Sam. That science stuff is way over my head." Again, the young woman did her best imitation of her daddy and his namesake, talking as rapidly as she could to avoid embarrassment as well as questioning. "Well, he's found this terrific job downtown, and he's leaving the Air Force."
"He is?" Grace looked up at Steve and asked, "You are?"
"That wasn't a secret, was it, Steve?" Jennifer queried coyly. ~Okay, it was. I beg your forgiveness, but this is for your own good.~
"Steve, did you know that Grace is one terrific woman, and that her often-discussed crush on my daddy was years ago? She's been waiting for Mister Right; you."
Nervously, Jennifer grinned as she looked back and forth repeatedly at the two adults.
"Uh, you know what? I'm going to walk away now, and I hope you don't hate me for butting in, but, well, call me a daddy's girl. You two need to talk." Hearing the next video about to begin, she corrected, "Or, better yet, dance and then talk and then dance and talk some more." With a cough, she told Steve, "I'll go sign you out for the night, Steve." She looked at Grace and stated, "And I think Uncle Lou has everything handled, so why don't you enjoy yourself for the rest of the evening, Grace? Please."
A bit shyly, as the music began, Jennifer walked away, leaving the stunned couple standing there, staring at each other. Suddenly, Steve smiled.
"May I have this dance, Colonel?"
"Tonight it's Grace," the woman responded.
The song being played was Reba McIntyre's "Somebody." As Steve held out his arms in invitation, Grace couldn't refuse.
"And, yes, I'd love to dance."
The two danced the two-step like they'd been dancing together their whole lives.
As the pair stepped around the floor, Grace commented, "That was some performance earlier with Karissa Lewis."
"That's exactly what it was, a performance," Steve replied, aware only of the woman he held in his arms.
"I'm really on the shy side. My time in the Air Force, going from airman to sergeant, to OCS, to lieutenant has been good for me, making me socialize more ..."
"Go on," Grace encouraged after Steve had paused for a moment.
"This will sound corny."
"Continue, Lieutenant. That's an order," the colonel stated with a smile.
"Dancing with you feels more real than anything I've done in the last ten years."
Grace managed to find her voice as she responded, "But you are in my chain of command, at least for now."
"Not for long. Like Jen said, I'm getting out." Steve smiled, not believing that he was really dancing with this woman who he'd admired from afar for the last few years. "I haven't really told anyone because I wasn't certain. I mentioned it to Jen a few days ago because she was working on outlining her ... program for the next few months. I didn't want to cause her more work for nothing."
"That's very thoughtful of you," Grace complimented. ~Thoughtful, conscientious, smart, hard working, handsome, great dancer: he has a clean record, so no anger management issues, or drug problems. Hmm ...~
The woman's thoughts were interrupted when Steve asked, "Grace, when I'm out, may I call you?"
With a smile that grew, the career military woman nodded and permitted, "I'd like that." Silently, she screamed, ~Thanks, Jen!~
As they moved around the floor some more, Steve teased, "So, about this crush on Doctor Jackson ..."
Grace laughed as did Steve Watkins. She hoped it would be the first of thousands of laughs the two would share.
Jennifer smiled at the bandleader and then made her way up to the stage. She looked out at the sea of guests who were still laughing, conversing, and dancing.
"Folks, I really don't know what to say. My brothers and sisters and I wanted to have a really special party, one that honored our parents, but that also really let us cut loose and just ... have fun. I think we've done that, and it's all because of you.
"I know some of our friends, neighbors,and family who couldn't stay overnight have left, but looking out now, I still see so many people we love. Uncle Billy and Aunt Jilly, Mister and Mrs. Rancolini, Trina -- she's been staying up with me, keeping me calm all night," Jennifer spoke about Trina Ferretti. "The McRaes, Evan and Robert, Tony -- did you know she taught Daddy how to fly?"
"And almost caused a divorce!" Jack exclaimed jovially. "Ouch!" he groaned from the elbow that had just dug into his abdomen.
"Oh, gee, so many," Jennifer continued. "Grandpa -- I'm just overwhelmed.
"Uh, our wonderful orchestra has agreed to keep on playing until 3 a.m., so please feel free to keep dancing and having a good time."
Cheers and hollers of approval broke out.
"A note to the parents. We are securing the children's areas for the night. It's for their protection. It'll open back up at seven. We're planning a big breakfast for the kids, so there's no rush. We're prepared to amuse, feed, and take care of all the children until four in the afternoon.
"And while the toasts, performances, and skits for tonight are done, we know that many of you are staying over at the hotel tonight, so we've made special arrangements to have a huge brunch right here in this ballroom at 11 a.m. It will be catered, so you can just come in, find a seat, and tell the waiters and waitresses what you want. It's on us.
"Thank you for coming. Please, continue to enjoy the evening; er, morning," Jennifer giggled. "Dad, Daddy, I love you so much. Thank you for letting this happen, and for footing the bill."
Ending on a high note, Jennifer walked off the stage. It had been the perfect party. Sure, there had been a few tiny snafus, but she'd followed her daddy's advice, and she'd filed the party with love.
"Well done, Princess," Jack praised as he hugged the young woman tightly.
"It's been a great party, Jen. You and the rest of the brood far exceeded anything we could have imagined," Daniel added.
Jennifer was overcome, and she began to cry, relieved that the stress of planning the event was over and that everything had gone as planned. Her tears, though, were happy ones, and soon they were gone, replaced by smiles and more hugs from her fathers.
"Oh, I forgot about Peter!" Jennifer exclaimed with a gasp.
Looking around, Jennifer located her date dancing with a hot looking woman she didn't recognize. The woman had to be in her early 30's, but she looked fabulous, and she was enjoying her partner's dancing skills.
Jennifer stood rooted to the spot, not knowing the depths of what was stirring within her.
Daniel walked up behind her and observed, "I saw you ... butting in with Steve and Grace a while ago."
"Well, I had intel about both of them that neither of them had told the other," Jennifer replied. She laughed, "Yeah, I butted in, and think it worked."
"Looks like a backfire to me," Jack interjected as he joined the two. Jennifer glanced back at her dad with a puzzled expression on her face. "What do you mean?"
"You left your *friend* on the dance floor," Jack responded.
"Actually, Jen, you've left him on his own a lot this evening," Daniel pointed out.
"Dad, Daddy, you surprised me with him. I told him at the beginning that I had a lot of things I had to do during the party. He said he understood."
"So, butting in was part of the party?" Daniel probed gently. "Did you explain to him what you were doing."
"I ... I told him I'd tell him later."
"Later works," Jack agreed, "as long as you don't get dumped first because later came." Seeing his daughter's confusion, he groaned, "You know what I mean. You left to have your fun, Jen, and it looks to me like you didn't much care what Peter did."
"I ... " Jennifer sighed, a part of her wishing she hadn't been surprised by the young man's presence. "He's just a friend," she finally said.
"Yes, you've said that, quite a lot, in fact," Daniel acknowledged. "Sweetie, if you'd gone halfway around the world to spend a few hours with a friend, wouldn't you be a little ... upset if that friend found more reasons to spend time with other people than with you?"
"Princess, any chance Peter has offered to help you with this shindig tonight?" Jack questioned with raised eyebrows.
"Yes, several times."
"Did you let him?" Daniel inquired.
After a moment where the unspoken answer became obvious, Jack told his daughter, "I don't like betraying my own sex, but a moment ago, your *friend* was standing over in the corner looking like a puppy that had just been kicked."
"Look, Jen, Dad and I don't mean to double team you, especially not tonight, and you know how I feel about Peter," Daniel began, "but simply because you've been hurt doesn't make it okay for you to hurt in return. Peter's only here until tonight; then he has to fly back for his classes on Monday. Are you sure you want him going back to Oxford thinking you didn't want him around and with that image of you dancing with Steve?"
Jack put his arm around Jennifer and concluded, "Give the kid a break like you asked us to do not very long ago." As he squeezed her lovingly, he added, "Daniel, I'm ready for a drink."
Daniel watched his husband head towards the bar and replied, "I'll be right there." He smiled at Jennifer supportively. "Are you sorry we invited Peter?"
"No, Daddy, I'm not."
"Then maybe you might want to consider making sure he knows that. Even friends need to feel wanted and appreciated, Jen. I love you."
Giving his daughter a kiss, the archaeologist began the walk over to the bar.
Jennifer watched her date as the music ended. She watched as he made his way over to her.
"Hey, Jen. Um, would you like to get some punch, or are you still busy?"
"I am thirsty," Jennifer acknowledged. "Yes, I'd like that very much, and ... I want to tell you about Steve and Grace."
The young un-couple headed over towards the beverage area, and as they walked, Jennifer explained her butting in maneuver.
Peter smiled as he listened and thought, ~She's not soured on love after all. She wants other people to be happy together. I was a jerk once, I won't be a jerk twice. Maybe, maybe if I'm patient ...~
"So, when do you think you'll be coming back to the Springs?" Jennifer asked off-handedly.
"I'm not sure. Christmas isn't a big deal in my family. My folks will probably go to some tropical island. They'll probably want me to put in an appearance for the newspapers."
"Oh, well, maybe you could come and visit, for a day or two anyway. I'm sure Dad and Daddy wouldn't object."
"That would be great." Silently, Peter shouted to the heavens, ~Thank You!~
"You know, Peter, the kids are in bed, we've finished all the photos and skits, and I don't know of anyone planning to make a toast, so ..." Jennifer smiled in a leading way, her eyes shining, "... I have no one to dance with for the rest of the party."
"Gee, someone should do something about that, I think," Peter replied, smiling as he took his date and began to lead her in a waltz.
It was 3:20 in the morning, and the last of the guests had left the hotel or gone to their rooms.
Philip Glouster had collected all of the film and media cards and sent the few remaining members of his crew to their rooms. He snapped several shots of the empty room as he had when he had arrived twelve hours before. He handed the last media card from his camera to the airman who had been stationed by the photography area all night long. The airman would be taking the last of the media to the security room where it would be locked up for the night. As for the photographer, he headed to the bar for a nightcap before turning in for the night.
The band and their staff were gone, and Jennifer had finally gone up to her suite with Sheila and Amber. Just outside the ballroom, the concierge on duty was giving instructions to the cleaning crew. In just under seven hours this room would be a banquet hall with breakfast foods of all kinds awaiting the hungry party goers as they ambled in to start a new day.
Jeff had gone down to the rooms where the older kids were staying. Like Brianna and David, he'd been given the option of sharing a suite, but he'd also chosen to be on Level 37 just in case something happened and he was needed.
Lagging behind, Jack and Daniel looked around the now-empty ballroom.
"Do you realize how many hours our children put into this event today alone?" Daniel pondered.
"Jen and Jeff were up at seven this morning." Jack winced and corrected, "Ah, yesterday morning."
"Twenty hours," Daniel acknowledged. "When I was dancing with Ash, she said they'd taken a nap, but everyone was so excited, they really didn't sleep very long."
"That's why Jenny and Ricky were out as soon we picked them up."
Daniel smiled as he processed that parental emotion and replied, "The party was over for them, and it was a success. They were safe and free to sleep."
"Feels good, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, it does," Daniel agreed.
The two men continued to look around, just taking it all in for one final moment and letting it settle.
Finally, Jack assumed they were about to leave, but when he turned back in anticipation of taking his husband's hand to go up to their suite and enjoy their private celebration, he noticed Daniel had gone over to Grand Piano that was in the corner of the room.
The silver-haired man heard the familiar piece. Daniel was playing a song he'd begun to compose many years ago. It had once been a sad and lonely piece, but then it had turned into a harmonious blend which represented the soulmates and their nation of two.
Slowly, Jack ambled over to the piano, cherishing every note. He leaned forward on the black instrument, his hands clasped together as he listened to his Love play the piece which Daniel had named "Heart and Soul," a title he'd given to the soulful song because Jack was his heart and soul.
All of a sudden, there were new chords. They were strong, powerful, and expressed a combination of fire, spirit, passion, and joy.
~He's added JD ... and Ptolemy,~ Jack realized internally, chuckling at the section that he was certain referred to the family's hyacinth macaw bird. ~My Danny: the composer whose song includes every person, and critter, that makes his heart and fingers play magically.~
There were moments of playfulness and tranquility in the new bars, and even a lighthearted segment that Jack knew was from the spontaneity, unpredictability, and craziness of their day to day life. In fact, Jack laughed out loud, prompting Daniel to look over and smile at him.
Finally, the song ended in a string of happy notes with an air of serenity in the high notes played.
"Happy anniversary, Babe. I love you."
Jack walked over and sat down next to Daniel on the bench. He reached over and caressed his Heart's cheek as his eyes gazed softly into Daniel's loving eyes.
"La Mio Bello Stella Cadente, Angel, forever and always," Jack crooned softly and leaned in for a tender kiss.
"Caro Mio, My Silver Fox," Daniel whispered before the two kissed again. He gazed into the smooth brown eyes that always meant 'safe' to him. "Jack?"
"I'm ... cold."
Jack grinned, a smile that went back years to when they'd stood out on the roof deck and declared their love for the very first time.
"I think I may have a way to ... fix that."
"I was hoping you would."
Smiling, the lovers stood. They walked with their arms around their waists and their heads leaning toward the other. Their anniversary had been more special than they ever could have imagined. Now, they were going upstairs where passion and tenderness would combine to satiate both even more.
As they reached the elevator, Daniel looked at his husband and said simply, "Babe."
"I already pressed the 'down' button," Jack responded, nodding at his finger.
"You know me so well."
"They're our brood, Angel."
Before their nation of two would sizzle, their nation of two, plus brood, plus beagles, would share a very quiet moment, one that only Jack and Daniel, and the girls, would be aware of; but it would put the finishing touch on the emotional night.
For the Jackson-O'Neills, life was incredibly good, whether they were in their home in Colorado Springs, or on the 37th and 38th floors of the Denver Hyatt.
~~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