Area 52 HKH

Jahindi's Mirror

by Orrymain

URL: http://area52hkh.net/aso/orrymain4/jahindis.php
Summary: When Little Danny brings home a human stray, assistance comes from two of Jeff's closest allies.

Jahindi's Mirror
Author: Orrymain
Author Email: marciastudley1@comcast.net (Feedback welcome)
Author Website: http://orrymain.com
Category: Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating: PG-13
Season: Beyond the Series - July 23, 2016 - March 27, 2017
Spoilers: None
Size: 191kb
Written: January 24-25,31, February 1-5,7-10, June 11-13, 2015, August 2-9, 10-12,17-18,29,31, September 1-3, 2016
Summary: When Little Danny brings home a human stray, assistance comes from two of Jeff's closest allies.
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't. A gal can dream though!
Notes:
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically. Their "silent" words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s): "Love in Bloom" and "Yesterday Once More"
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better: Mama Bear!

Jahindi's Mirror
by Orrymain

"This was so nice of you," Chely Tillison spoke as she put her napkin down on the large table in the hospitality room of the Jackson-O'Neill residence.

"Always room for one more," Jack responded. "Means more help cleaning the dishes."

"Jack!" Daniel chastised as the children laughed at their father. "He's joking, of course, Chely."

"I'm glad to help," the college girl replied.

"Jeff's really sorry he had to bail on you this weekend," Jack spoke seriously.

"I know," Chely acknowledged. "He sent me a dozen roses this afternoon. Wasn't that sweet of Gaffy."

"I love it when boys are romantic," Aislinn chimed.

"What do you know about being romantic?" Jack asked sharply.

"Easy, Babe. She's only nine."

"Almost ten, Daddy," Aislinn volunteered brightly, causing Daniel to wince slightly.

"Jeff really had no choice," Chely interjected. "He has so much to make up before the fall term." The girl gasped slightly. "Oh, I'm sorry. I probably shouldn't have said that."

"Chely, it's fine," Daniel assured with a smile. "Jeff's coming home when I was sick was very important to me, to all of us. He sacrificed a great deal with his studies to be here."

"His advisor has worked very hard on his behalf with his professors and the co-op firm he was working for to make things up," Chely put forth. She sighed, "He really thought he could come home for the weekend, though."

"He did everything he could," Daniel noted.

"I know," the disappointed but understanding woman agreed.

The evening meal continued with delightful conversation between the family and their guest. Afterward, Chely helped to clear the table and put the dishes in the dishwasher. In fact, with Lulu asking Jeff's girlfriend for some extra assistance with the large platter and casserole dishes, she was the last one out of the hospitality room.

"Happy Birthday!" the entire clan cheered as Chely walked out of the room.

"Wow! Oh, just ... wow!" the youthful woman expressed while bringing her hands to her cheeks. In front of Chely was a large birthday cake with twenty lit candles atop of it. She was totally speechless at the display. "I don't know what to say." Then she shrugged and shyly added, "You do know this isn't really my birthday."

"To Jeff it is," Jack refuted. "He didn't like not being with you in May and he had big plans for you this weekend."

With Daniel battling brain tumors for several weeks in April and May, Jeff had come home from the University of Cincinnati before the end of the spring semester. He had to stay with his parents and siblings and missed celebrating Chely's actual birthday. After Daniel's recovery, Jeff returned to the university for the summer session and to make up time for what he'd missed. He believed he would be able to come home for one weekend during the summer to celebrate belatedly. Unfortunately, he had so much to make up, in addition to his current obligations, that he had to cancel the date. He was pleased when his parents offered to have his girlfriend over for a special dinner to partially make up for his absence.

Chely approached the cake and simply stood, taking it in. It was three tiers, the bottom chocolate, the middle carrot, and top vanilla almond creme.

Daniel walked over to the young woman and remarked, "He couldn't make up his mind. He said you're a big fan of all three flavors and he wanted to make sure you had your favorite."

"He's so sweet," Chely sighed contentedly.

"Blow out the candles," Jonny requested anxiously. "I'm hungry."

"You just ate three helpings of meat and casserole," David teased.

"Yeah, but this is dessert."

"Make a wish first," Aislinn advised. "Make it a romantic one," she swooned with a sweet smile.

Jack growled as he looked at his little princess, who just giggled at her silver-haired father.

"Oops, wait a second," Jennifer requested. "Oh, okay," she said. "Jeff will kill me if I miss a minute of this. Go for it!" she permitted as she filmed the event.

Everyone cheered as Chely blew out all the candles. She smiled hoping her wish would come true.

The family each took a piece of cake and a beverage and settled in the recreation room to enjoy their dessert. A CD played on the stereo.

"Is that James Darren?"

"He's dreamy," Chenoa remarked. "I just saw him in this really old movie."

"Jeff uploaded the music and Little Danny put it on a CD this afternoon. He wants you to take it home with you," Jack told the guest.

"Thank you."

"There's a lot of really weird songs on it," Ricky opined.

"They're not weird, Ricky," Jenny argued. "They just have funny names."

"So do the singers," Ricky added. "What's a Fabian?"

Chely laughed, "I love the fifties."

"Then you'll love this CD," Jack responded with a smile.

"I'd love anything Jeff gave me," Chely sighed, almost forgetting she was surrounded by her boyfriend's family. "Sorry."

"Jeff and Chely sitting ..." Aislinn began to singsong.

"Don't say it," Jack warned.

Aislinn giggled, "I wasn't saying it, Dad, I was singing it."

Chely smiled as she mused, "That's okay, Ash. I know what you mean."

"Let's not go there," Jack suggested.

"Let's not," Daniel agreed.

More casual chitchat occurred until Daniel stated simply, "Bri."

"Okay, Daddy."

Brianna stood, headed for the hospitality room, and then disappeared from sight.

"Thank you all so much," Chely spoke. "It's been a great evening." She saw Jennifer starting to film again and asked, "Did he tell you to record me saying goodnight, too?"

"No, but I think he'd like to see this, too," Jennifer answered.

"See what?"

"This!" Brianna exclaimed, returning to the rec room with a few wrapped presents.

"Jeff shouldn't have done all of this," Chely sighed.

"He didn't," Jack responded.

"We did," Daniel told the girl.

"Us, too," Aislinn noted happily.

"Yeah, we opened our piggy banks," Ricky added.

"Wow," the surprised Chely responded.

Chely proceeded to open the presents and was happy to receive a lovely lavender silk blouse with matching scarf from Jack and Daniel, a designer crossover purse from Jennifer, Brianna, and David, and a five-pound chocolate candy bar from the rest of the children.

"We'll help you eat it!" Jonny suggested hopefully. He felt an immediate slap on his arm from his triplet sister. "Ouch!"

"That's for Chely, not you, Jonny Jackson-O'Neill," Aislinn reprimanded.

"I was just saying we could help her eat it."

"She doesn't need our help."

"We could cut it up," Chely suggested.

"Nooooo!" Jack negated. "Ash is right. Enjoy!"

"It'll take me forever to get through this," Chely pointed out.

"And the sugar high would take us weeks to overcome," Jack returned. "All yours."

Laughing, Chely said, "Thank you, all of you."

A phone call interrupted the levity. It was for Jack. While he handled the call, Daniel and the kids continued to enjoy Chely's company until Daniel looked at his watch and realized the lateness of the hour. Time had passed by quickly.

"Brood, you all have a few chores to do before bedtime, so say goodnight to Chely and scoot," the younger father instructed.

Reluctantly, the children did as asked, leaving just Jennifer in the rec room along with Daniel and Chely.

"Danny, problem," Jack called out as he returned to the rec room.

"What?"

"Where'd they go?" the general asked about the children.

"Chores," Daniel answered simply, pointing at his watch to make his lover aware of the time. "What's the problem?"

"Melvyn's sick so he's not going to the soccer practice tomorrow," Jack explained.

"Oh," Daniel replied, understanding the situation.

"More words, Dad," Jennifer requested.

"Full slate on tap for tomorrow, Jen. Danny and I are both playing chauffeur all day long, but we also have an important meeting at J-O in the afternoon."

"And?"

"And the meeting interferes with the practice," Daniel elaborated.

"Oh," Jennifer sighed, now comprehending the issue.

"Should I ask what's wrong or stay out of it?" Chely inquired politely.

Daniel smiled and explained, "Little Danny has soccer practice tomorrow, but our schedules are full."

"I have to work, too," Jennifer spoke about her part-time position at J-O Enterprises. "Dad, Daddy, I know I could a pull the 'I'm a J-O' for tomorrow, but it wouldn't be fair. Bibi's relying on me to help her with some big project. I don't know the specifics, but she's been telling me for two weeks how she's been waiting for me to be able to assist. I ..."

"No, Jen, that's your job and you're accountable there like any and all employees are," Jack reminded. "Can we change our meeting?" he asked of his husband.

"If we do, we'll have to push back the entire project schedule," Daniel spoke with a heavy sigh. "It appears we don't have a choice, though."

"Um, I ... may I offer a solution?" Chely interjected. She saw Jack nod and continued, "I know I'm not really family and you're very particular about the children, but I'm free. I could take Little Danny to practice tomorrow." She watched as Jack and Daniel exchanged a look. "Really, I don't have anything planned. I'd stay and watch and bring him home afterward."

"Are you sure?" Daniel inquired. **Any objections?** he asked his husband via their special silent communication.

**She's wrong, Danny.**

**Wrong?**

**She's family.**

**So no objections.**

**Nope.**

"Positive. I'd love to help out," Chely answered Daniel, smiling as she did so.

"You're hired!" Jack exclaimed happily. "Problem solved."

Jack and Daniel gave Chely the specifics and then walked her out to her car, as did Jennifer. When the parents left the two girls behind to return to the house, they shared a smile.

"Jen, you think they're really okay with me taking Little Danny?"

"Chely, after all this time, you know they wouldn't even let you in the house if they didn't trust you," Jennifer mused. "You were wrong in there."

"Wrong?"

Jennifer smiled, looked around just to make sure no one was nearby, and then confided, "Jeff told me how you two almost eloped after Dad's accident."

"It might have been a hasty thing to do," Chely returned.

"But romantic, as Ash would say," Jennifer mused.

"We gave it a thought. We ... things were hard when we started college, Gaffy in Ohio and me in California. When your dad had his accident, it made time seem so short."

"But you waited."

"It wouldn't have been right; timing."

"Not right for my parents, you mean," Jennifer asserted.

"They've been so nice to me. I wouldn't have felt right, Jen, taking away a wedding from them."

"Taking Jeff away, you mean," Jennifer laughed.

Chely laughed, too, and admitted, "I'd marry him right now if he asked."

"After Daddy's illness, I'm surprised he hasn't." Jennifer saw a look and probed, "Chely? Did my brother ask you to marry him?"

"I think he considered it , but I ..."

"Not again."

"Oh, Jen, I want to marry him, but I just want it to be the right time. Doctor Jackson-O'Neill has been so kind to me, always. He's ..."

Jennifer realized Chely's hesitation to continue and piped up, "Daddy's perfectly okay now, Chely."

"Jeff's still a little scared. He won't admit it, but I know he is."

"I guess we all are," Jennifer conceded.

"Timing," Chely repeated. "Besides, Jen, when Gaffy and I do get married, I want it to be because we're both really ready and eager for it, not just because we're scared that the world is going to end tomorrow."

"I know what you mean."

"What about you and Peter?"

"It's a little more complicated for us."

"Timing," Chely assumed.

With a laugh, Jennifer echoed, "Timing."

The two women hugged goodbye and, as she settled into her car, Chely observed, "You realize your fathers are watching."

"Of course they are." A bit playful in a sarcastic yet humorous sort of way, Jennifer continued, "I'm only twenty-one as I stand outside, in front of my own home."

"In the dark of night at ..." Chely began in a mocking perilous tone.

"Nine o'clock," Jennifer sighed.

The girls laughed again before Jennifer walked to the driveway and watched as Chely drove off.

~See ya ... Sis.~ Jennifer laughed to herself as she turned and saw her parents standing by the window. ~It's not so bad, Chely. Overwhelming, yes. Frustrating sometimes. Oh yes. But I wouldn't trade Dad and Daddy for any parents on Earth, or beyond.~

====

"Did you talk to Jeff?" Jack asked as he entered the master bedroom after making final goodnight rounds.

"He was pleased," Daniel responded. "I think they're going to survive their college separation."

"I don't want to think about it," Jack admitted.

"I hope she had a good time," the younger man sighed.

Jack walked over and took his Love into his arms as he spoke, "No guilt, Angel. Jeff came home when you were sick because he wanted to and we needed him here. He wasn't able to celebrate Chely's birthday with her then, and now he's having to scramble to make up lost time at college."

The older man could feel the guilt flowing through his soulmate's veins as he held him.

"Daniel, it's not like you grew a couple of tumors to interfere with our lives," Jack chastised albeit lovingly.

"I know that, but it's still my fault."

"Daniel, cut the guilt trip," Jack ordered. "Is that the lesson you want to teach our kids, that getting sick is some intentional action to goof up their lives?"

"Gawd, I hate it when you make sense."

Jack laughed as he continued to embrace his lover. He felt the tension lessen and that made him feel better.

Pulling back, brown eyes looked into blue as the words, "I love you" were spoken.

"I love you, too," Daniel responded, enjoying the deep kiss that followed.

The couple parted physically as they prepared for bed.

"Besides, Jeff's profs have been great about letting him catch up. So, he's had to bust his behind to get there, but he's getting there."

"I still wish he didn't have to cancel this weekend with Chely. It meant a lot to him, especially since they've had so little time together this year."

"Daniel, you already said it. I may try to deny it, but it looks like they're probably gonna make it. If that's true, he's gonna have decades to make it up to her."

"Don't you want them to make it?"

"I want Jeff to be happy."

"He's happy with Chely."

"They aren't even really acknowledging that they're together."

"That's a little game they're playing, Babe. They made that pact before college that they could date others. They did it; apparently, it didn't work for them."

"He was really impressed when she showed up when I was in the chair," Jack responded about his own accident that left him paralyzed for a period of time last year.

"You heard her tonight, too," Daniel pointed out.

"Sweet."

"What? Jack ..."

"I wasn't being sarcastic. I didn't say 'Sweet,' I said, 'Sweet'."

The archaeologist chuckled as Jack first spoke in a mocking tone and then in a tender, affectionate one.

"My bad," Daniel mused. "It's ... it's been a tough year, or months, depending on how you look at it; I mean, your accident was technically last year and what happened to me this year, but if you just count months; still, it's the cliché that says ..."

"Daniel, I'm getting a headache."

"Oh, well, you know what I mean. It's been a tough twelve months or so for us, hasn't it? I mean, your accident and my illness."

"When isn't it a tough year? Life is full of challenges and blast, it feels like we have more than our share, but we always get through it and that's what matters."

"Chely is a sweet girl," Daniel told his soulmate.

"Okay, I'll say it, but just this once. Don't ask me again," Jack barked.

"Say what?"

"I love her like a daughter. There. Now, let's go to bed."

Daniel laughed as he took off his watch and responded, "By the time we're through, we're going to have a lot more sons and daughters." He paused before adding a bit mischievously, "And grandsons and granddaughters."

"*Daniel*!"

The younger father laughed as he crossed the room. Both he and Jack knew that someday their children would have children of their own. Jack, however, never wanted to even think about their kids doing the one thing that would create the miracle of a child. Even so, he knew some of their brood were no longer children and the time for them to start their own families was getting closer every day.

"Sorry," the archaeologist mused while opening the drawer and preparing to pull out his pajamas.

"Don't bother with those, Plant Boy. I have plans for you."

"Oh," Daniel responded softly. "Ready when you are, Fly Boy!"

====

The next afternoon, Chely arrived early at the Jackson-O'Neill home to pick up Little Danny.

"Oops, I guess I just wanted to make sure I got here on time," the young woman laughed when she realized she was a full half-hour early.

As they settled into her car, Chely asked her charge, "Are you okay with the top down?"

"Sure!" Little Danny responded. "I love your car, Chely."

"Thanks. I still can't believe my mom and dad gave it to me for my birthday," the young woman spoke about the tornado red Volkswagen Beetle Convertible.

"Dad says bugs are cool."

Chely chuckled, "It's the only kind of bug I ever want this close to me."

The trip to the park where the soccer practice was being held took about fifteen minutes during which Chely and Little Danny chatted about silly things, including the origins of soccer in America and why the color red was associated with speeding tickets even though there was no real proof to back up the assertion.

Once at the park, Chely sat down on the grass and watched as Little Danny and his teammates warmed up.

"Hi," a tall, slender brunette called out to Chely.

"Hello."

"Is this spot taken?" the woman asked humorously about the grass.

"I think there's room for you to squeeze in," Chely mused.

"I'm Joan Tompkins," the thirty-five year old introduced. "That showoff over there is my son, Timmy."

"He's just being active," Chely rationalized. "I'm Chely."

"Is one of those yours?"

"Oh, I'm not ... um, no."

"I didn't think you were old enough. Little brother?"

"Actually, he's one of my boyfriend's brothers," Chely explained.

"Which one?"

"He's the one doing the stretches between the two girls," the young woman mused.

"Popular, eh," the older woman laughed. "How old is he?"

"I'm ... not really sure," Chely responded a bit hesitantly.

Chely absolutely knew Little Danny's age. In fact, she knew the ages of all the Jackson-O'Neill children, but she did not feel comfortable telling a stranger any personal information at all, especially since she was getting a negative vibe from the woman. Maybe she was being paranoid, but for now she decided to keep her apprehension to herself and play it by ear.

"My Timmy is eleven," the woman stated casually. "Danny looks a little younger. Does he like pies?"

"Who doesn't?" Chely answered. ~Okay, think Chely girl. You know General Jackson-O'Neill. He wouldn't want me talking too much about Little Danny.~

"You're right. Timmy is an apple fiend," the woman stated. "It's funny how kids get attached to flavors and colors, even objects. Does Danny have a favorite toy?"

"No." Chely stood up and said, "I'm sorry. I forgot that I have a phone call I need to make. Please excuse me."

Chely walked away, her direction actually taking her closer to where the coaches were watching over the kids. She pulled out her phone while looking back at the woman whose eyes were glued on Little Danny. Taking a breath, Chely decided to make an inquiry.

"Little Danny!" Chely called out, waving the boy over. She watched the Munchkin stand and run over to her. "Sorry to interrupt."

"Is something wrong?"

"I was just curious about that boy who's been getting all of you to laugh with the tricks. He is on the team?"

"Yeah," Little Danny chuckled. "That's Benjamin. He's always making us laugh. He's one of our best players."

"His name is Benjamin?"

"Uh-huh."

"Oh, I thought I heard someone call him Timmy."

"We don't have anyone named Timmy on our team."

"I didn't think so," Chely sighed as she became wrapped up in her thoughts.

"Chely, can I go back to practice now?"

"Yes, sure, okay." Chely looked over nonchalantly at the woman who now looked to be reading a book. She felt uneasy and focused back on her charge as he returned to doing some stretching exercises. She looked around at the coaches and made a decision. Approaching the three men, she spoke, "Excuse me."

"Yes?" the head coach queried.

"My name is Chely Tillison and I'm here with Little Danny Jackson-O'Neill."

"Oh, yes, Miss Tillison," the man spoke. "I'm Doug Patent, the head coach. Jack called this morning and said you'd be here today with Little Danny."

Chely smiled as she replied, "I'm not surprised he called. Um, do you know that woman, the one reading the book?"

The coach looked over and asked, "Which woman?"

Chely turned and realized the woman was gone. She sought to find her by making a full circle spin, but Joan Tompkins was nowhere in sight.

"Mister Patent, you don't have a boy named Timmy on your team, do you?"

"No."

"And I thought you had to be under ten to be in this particular group."

"That's correct," Patent affirmed. "Is something wrong?"

Again, Chely had a decision to make and she made the best one she knew to do. She chose the truth.

"I'm not sure, but maybe," Chely admitted, telling the man about the woman.

"Thank you for the heads up," Patent responded. "We'll inform all of the parents and make sure the team gets home safely."

"Thank you," Chely replied. ~This is harder than any college exam,~ she thought as she realized she had one more decision to make. ~Jeff's told me so many stories, and yet he often has to leave things out. He always apologizes about the secrets and reminds me about his parents' jobs prior to opening their firm. Chely girl, you can't not call them.~ She made the call. ~Please be the right thing to do.~

"J-O Enterprises."

"Doctor Daniel Jackson-O'Neill, please, or if he's not available, General Jackson-O'Neill," Chely requested.

"I'm sorry, they're both in a meeting. Can I take a message?" the receptionist offered.

~Oh dear, another decision.~ Chely paused and then responded, "My name is Chely Tillison and this is a small, kinda urgent ... I ... I really need to speak to one of them."

Not recognizing the name, the receptionist returned, "I can let you speak with our office manager?"

"Ma'am, with all due respect, this is about one of their children and I really think ..."

"One of the brood? Hold on, please."

~Wow, that was a change,~ Chely noted.

No more than a minute passed before a male voice came on the line.

"Chely, is everything all right?" Daniel inquired with some urgency in his tone.

"Yes, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill. I mean, well ..."

"Deep breath, Chely," Daniel advised, sensing some panic in his son's girlfriend.

"It's just ..." Chely explained how the woman approached her, asked questions about Little Danny, and made claims about having a son on the team that clearly were not true. "I told Coach Patent about it and he said he was going to notify the parents, but ... I don't mean to be an alarmist, but Jeff has said ... oh, I'm not supposed to say anything." Her stress level rose greatly. "I just know a little bit about all the troubles in the past, no details really, but enough ... oh geez."

"Chely, it's fine. I'm sure Jeff has talked with you; that's natural," Daniel soothed. "The coaches are aware?"

"Yes, and I can see that they've already brought all the kids in a bit, closer together, I mean, and they, the coaches, have spread out."

Daniel had his own decision to make as he checked his watch. The very important meeting at J-O would last at least another hour. Still, there was potential danger.

"Thanks for letting us know. How are you feeling?"

"Me? Feeling?"

"Would you prefer we come and get Little Danny?"

"Oh, well, no, Sir. I'm ... I'm fine. I mean, I just thought maybe you'd want to know."

"Are you frightened?"

"No, not really," Chely answered half-honestly.

"Okay, we'll see you and Little Danny at home in a couple of hours, okay?"

"Okay, yes, great!"

"Call us if you need anything or want us to take over," Daniel told the somewhat surprised young woman.

"I will, I promise," Chely responded. "Bye."

Feeling a bit relieved, a whole lot surprised, and even slightly nervous, Chely smiled and waved at Little Danny, who had just looked over at her.

"Keep stretching!" the young woman encouraged.

--

"Lacey, if Chely calls again, put her straight through," Daniel ordered the receptionist at J-O Enterprises.

"Of course, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill," the fairly new employee responded. ~Whew, girlfriend! Karissa was right. Any call about their kids, the brood -- remember, brood, that's the term, go straight through no matter what. No fooling around where the brood is concerned. Brain, remember that!~

Daniel walked into the conference room and interrupted the team, saying, "Jack, I need to speak with you." To the others, he spoke, "Excuse us a moment. Bibi, why don't you start the presentation about the bone analysis on the main site."

"Absolutely," the employee acknowledged and immediately following through with her instructions.

Meanwhile, with the conference door closed, Jack inquired, "Problem?"

"Well, I made a decision, but I think we need do a little more and I'm not sure who's available."

"And you wanted to make sure I was okay with it?"

"Something like that," Daniel admitted with a sly smile.

"Hit me!"

"I'd rather kiss you."

"Daniel!"

"You don't want me to kiss you?" Daniel laughed, but quickly grew serious. "Chely called to let us know about something that happened right after the warm up began."

Jack listened as his husband quickly relayed the events at the park. The couple then discussed the situation for a few minutes until they came to an agreement on what to do next.

====

By prearranged agreement, Chely and Little Danny were sitting at a local ice cream shop, enjoying a scoop of ice cream each. Practice had ended on schedule and Chely watched as the coaches diligently ensured that each player left with an adult known to them. She also noticed that Joan Tompkins was not the one who picked up the child she said was her son and that Benjamin called the woman who picked him up, "Mommy." Since Jack and Daniel wouldn't be home for at least forty-five minutes after the practice ended, they'd told the young woman to head for the parlor and enjoy a treat before returning to the house to meet them.

The two had fun, talking and eating the cool treat, but even as they did so, Chely kept an eye out, surveying their surroundings frequently for Joan Tompkins or anyone paying more attention to Little Danny than would be considered normal.

"Chely?"

"Hmmm?"

"Are you okay?"

"Sure."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure," Chely responded. "Are you okay?"

"I'm great," Little Danny replied.

"Great!"

The two laughed and a few minutes later headed for Chely's car to head back to the Jackson-O'Neill residence.

"Hey, you coming?" Chely called out to the boy, who stopped walking quite unexpectedly. "What is it?" she asked, seeing how distracted Little Danny was and wondering if it tied in to the woman at the park.

"I've seen him before," Little Danny opined about a young boy who was sitting alone at the corner. "He always looks so sad."

"Who is he?"

"Dunno," Little Danny answered with a shrug.

"We have to get you home, Little Danny. Your parents will worry if we're late."

Reluctantly, the Munchkin slowly began to walk until Chely managed to turn him towards her car.

~Sad: he's very sad,~ the boy thought to himself.

====

"How'd it go?" Jack asked his son who excitedly ran to him for a hug.

"It was great, Dad. Coach Patent said he was proud of us and that we're a lot better than when we started this summer."

"Super!"

"He said we might even win our game this week."

"Hey, way to go!" Jack laughed about the remark as he was aware that the unisex team had a lot of spirit, but when it came to winning, they'd yet to find the top score.

"Sproglet!" Daniel greeted as he entered the living room. After a hug, he suggested, "Go get cleaned up. We have a lot of picking up to do."

"Okay, Daddy." Little Danny noticed Jack and Chely speaking casually and turned around. He motioned with his finger for his daddy to lean over. Then he whispered, "Daddy, Chely was great."

Daniel listened as the boy added a few more comments and then smiled as he watched the Munchkin go up the stairs.

"I'd better go," Chely announced. "I hope I did the right thing calling you earlier."

"The perfect thing," Jack responded. "It's what we expect and it's what Jeff would have done."

"Chely, about the things Jeff has told you," Daniel began.

"I ... really, he hasn't said too much," the young woman stammered, afraid of getting her boyfriend in trouble for telling her anything.

"It's okay," Daniel assured just as he had during the phone conversation earlier in the day.

"Listen, anything our son has said to you is fine with us," Jack added.

"Look, couples talk about their lives and Jeff has, unfortunately, had to deal with a lot of ..."

"... mess," Jack continued. "If he hasn't said it, I'll say it. A lot of what I've done in the military is still classified, a lot of it darn risky and dangerous, and a lot of it made me a lot of enemies, enemies with ..."

"... very long memories," Daniel completed for his Love. "I've always been a civilian, but I was a consultant for the military and I've had to do ..."

"... things I wish he didn't, things an archaeologist never should have even been around."

"And I've made enemies," Daniel sighed. "All of this is neither here nor there except that our past affects our present and maybe our future," Daniel told the girl. "Jeff has tight rules to live by, as do all of our children, because of our past, but we trust them. Whatever Jeff has told you, we trust that it's within the boundaries and that it's safe with you."

Hesitantly, but wanting to be honest, Chely noted, "He told me about how the kids were attacked at Mrs. Wilson's house one time."

"That was, uh, frightening," Daniel acknowledged.

"Which is why that phone call you made was correct," Jack pointed out.

"Chely, we're very proud of you for being aware and responsible with Little Danny today."

"Being a parent is hard work, not that I was a parent or anything, but, you know."

"Responsibility for oneself is difficult enough, responsibility for another, especially a child, is twice that," Daniel asserted. "Thank you for taking care of our son as if he were your own."

"Wow," Chely responded as she reacted to Daniel's words and the appreciative hug that followed.

"Danny, we have a brood to reassemble," Jack reminded after glancing at the clock on the mantle.

"They're all over Colorado Springs," Daniel mused.

"I'll go," Chely said as she headed for the door. She stopped and turned. Smiling, she offered, "If you need help again while I'm home from college, please call me. I ... I really enjoyed this afternoon."

"How much?" Daniel questioned.

"What?"

"We're in a similar predicament for Thursday's practice," Jack explained.

"Practice is at two, if you're willing," Daniel advised with a smile.

"I'd love to."

"You sure?" Jack asked.

"Absolutely."

"We'll call with the details on Wednesday when our schedule is firmed up," Daniel replied.

"Great. Bye."

The men nodded and saw Chely out the door.

"Should we have told her?" Daniel asked his husband.

"That after her phone call, Lou became their shadow?" Jack asked, referring to their longtime friend, Lou Ferretti. "Nah. Danny, we did that for us, to protect our son, but ..."

"... but we also showed Chely we trust her, and we do."

"Dang right!"

"She could be our daughter."

Jack sighed, nodded, and elaborated, "She recognized that woman was asking inappropriate questions, saw her watching Little Danny and not the child she said was her son, and she connected the dots on the age thing."

"The woman didn't do her homework, saying her 'son' was eleven," Daniel remarked. "That's too old for Little Danny's group."

"Chely made the hard call, Danny. She told the coaches, kept her eyes trained on our son, and phoned us for instructions. It's what the kids would have done."

"Even our son was impressed," the archaeologist said.

"Hmmm?

"Little Danny told me he saw the woman talking to Chely and could tell it -- his word was unnerved -- that it unnerved her. After she asked him about the phantom Timmy, he figured it out. He wanted us to know that Chely was good big sister material."

"Big sister material? Is that what he said?"

"Word for word."

Jack shouted up the stairs, "Little Danny, let's move it!"

"Jack, we have an intercom."

The older man simply made a funny face and then smiled innocently.

"Ready," Little Danny shouted as he hurried down the stairs.

"Shouting," Daniel chastised.

"Did you tell Dad that?" the Munchkin smirked. Seeing Daniel's stare at the older man, the boy chuckled, "Sorry."

"No problem, Son. Let's move out," Jack ordered. "By the way, your big sis material is taking you to practice again on Thursday. You okay with that?"

"Chely's nice," Little Danny responded. "She knows the rules really well, Dad. You should be proud of her, like you are of us."

Placing his hand atop Little Danny's head, Jack nodded and admitted, "I am and I'm proud of Jeff, too."

"I know why," Little Danny put forward with a confident smile.

"Why?" the dad prompted.

"Because he picked out good big sis material for us, good daughter material for you and Daddy, and good wife material for him."

"You could have just said because he picked her," Jack groaned at the correct deduction.

"I did." Looking over at Daniel, he asked, "Isn't that what I just said, Daddy?"

"Yes, you did."

"See, that's what I said," the child prodigy stated proudly as he stepped outside and headed for the SUV.

"Apples," Jack mumbled.

"Huh?" Daniel queried.

"I know one that didn't fall far from the tree," Jack explained.

"I can name one, too, Mister Special Ops."

Amused, both men continued onward, having a bunch of children to pick up before anyone could think of eating dinner and enjoying a peaceful night at home.

====

"We almost won," Little Danny told Chely on Thursday as they headed for soccer practice.

"Great! What was the score?"

"Four to two," Little Danny responded with pride. He quickly added, "It's the first time we ever scored two points in a game."

"That's great."

"We have fun," the boy noted.

"You know, that's the most important part of any sport, having fun."

"That's what Dad and Daddy say, too," the genius replied. "Jonny likes to win a lot. He's very competitive."

"Not you?" the young woman questioned.

"I like to win, but it's not so important. Being friends is better than fighting over who wins."

"You're pretty smart, Little Danny."

"So's my daddy. He taught me that when I was a baby."

Chely glanced over and smiled briefly at the boy before returning her attention to the road.

====

The practice went smoothly. Chely noticed more parents remained at the practice with their children than at the previous one and she wondered if the strange woman was the reason for that. She didn't dwell on it, even though she remained vigilant in observing the action around her.

"Would you like an ice cream?" Chely asked as she and Little Danny walked to the car.

"Can we?"

"We have time," Chely answered.

Little Danny's response was a big smile. As the two began to walk to Chely's car, the boy stopped, having spotted a familiar image.

"What is it, Little Danny?"

Pointing over to a tree, Little Danny answered, "It's that boy again."

Chely looked over at the bench near the tree where the unknown youngster was sitting. She estimated the child to be about the same age as Little Danny, nine or maybe ten. He was wearing a blue denim jacket that was faded and torn at the right shoulder and the left breast pocket. His jeans were also faded and worn, a hole visible over the right knee. It was clear the boy's shoes had seen better days as well.

"He still looks sad." Chely sighed, but patted her charge on the shoulder and urged, "Time to go home."

"We should go talk to him."

"I'm sure his parents are here, somewhere," Chely commented, looking around the park for signs of the boy's parents. "We need to get going."

"Let's go say hello," Little Danny suggested while starting to walk ahead.

"Little Danny ..."

The Munchkin looked back at Chely and smiled as he opined, "He needs a friend, Chely. We have to be his friends."

The young woman watched Little Danny turn and start jogging towards the child on the bench.

"I hope the Jackson-O'Neills think this is okay, too," Chely groaned as she quickly followed after Little Danny.

====

"Hello," the Munchkin said as he sat down on the bench. "My name is Little Danny. What's your name?"

The other boy's gaze was downward at his feet. He said nothing in response to what had just been spoken.

"I've seen you before. Do you like soccer?"

"They won't let me play," the boy whispered.

"We will."

The boy shook his head.

"Sure, we will."

"I asked," the boy pointed out quietly. "Some boy told me I couldn't play."

"Why not?"

The boy just shrugged and asserted, "No one lets me play."

"Well, we'll let you play next time."

The boy remained silent and had yet to look over at Little Danny.

"What's your name?" Little Danny's question was met with the sound of nature's air and nothing more. "This is Chely. She's really nice. She's my," he chuckled at his thought for a second, "girlfriend-in-law."

The other boy's face crunched up and he turned at last to Little Danny and asked, "Your what?"

"My brother's girlfriend."

The boy looked up at Chely, but his expression was vacant.

Chely walked forward and kneeled down. Her eyes sparkled brightly as she reached out and gently patted the boy's hands.

"That's a funny expression, isn't it: girlfriend-in-law." The young woman mused, "Little Danny and his family have a lot of fun expressions." She paused and said, "We'd like to be your friend. When you're ready, tell us your name. What could we call you now?" She studied the boy's face carefully. His eyes were focused on her now with just a hint of curiosity beginning to shine through. "I know! Chavivi!"

"I've never heard that name before," Little Danny chimed.

"It's a special name that means love and my friend. I hope you'll be our friend, Chavivi."

The boy looked at Chely and as he did, she saw a slight indication of desire, a desire to belong or maybe a desire to have a friend.

"Chavivi, you wanna go play for a little while?" Little Danny asked. When the other boy nodded, he grinned. "Come on!" he encouraged, getting off the bench and waiting.

"Sounds like fun," Chely opined, standing up and nodding for the newly named Chavivi to go with Little Danny. She smiled as she watched the two boys run over to the play area. The park had a lot of climbing areas for children and she noted the boys both ran to the most complex one and began to climb the colorful bars. Suddenly, she made a realization. ~I know who Chavivi reminds me of.~

====

The two boys played for a half-hour. Every now and then, the boy known as Chavivi smiled. They talked about soccer, their favorite cartoons, and foods they liked.

Chely sighed as she observed the goings on. Little Danny was doing three-fourths of the talking, but at least Chavivi was playing and saying a few words here and there.

After glancing at her watch, Chely called out, "Little Danny, we really have to go now." She walked to the outer rim of the sand-filled play area and smiled. "Chavivi, I hope you had fun with Little Danny."

The boy nodded.

"Can we drive you home?"

The boy's head lowered and he simply turned around and began to walk away.

Little Danny sprinted after him, shouting, "Wait a minute, Chavivi." When he made it ahead of the other child, he turned to face him. "Do you come here a lot?"

With his eyes to the grass, the boy nodded.

"I'll come back and we can play again, okay?"

Chavivi shrugged as he continued to stare at the blades of grass. He lacked expression as he got lost in the greenness of his view.

"Chavivi?" the Munchkin queried.

The other boy stood perfectly still.

"Little Danny!" Chely shouted.

"Are you okay?" the Munchkin asked the silent kid.

"I'm here," Chavivi finally said without really responding to the question.

The boy veered to his left and began a slow walk. He looked so downtrodden to Little Danny. He'd never seen a child like Chavivi before, not even at the children shelters or the homeless camps. There was something chilling about the boy's disquiet.

"Little Danny, we have to go now or your parents will worry," Chely advised with strength.

The Munchkin knew Chely was right, but he felt torn. There was something about the boy that worried him. He struggled to figure out why he was so concerned, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't center in on the feeling. All he knew is that he had to act. Giving Chely a quick glance, Little Danny ran over the boy until he caught up with him again.

"Chavivi, why don't you come home with me?"

"H...home? With you?"

"Yeah. I have a lot of brothers and sisters and a huge play room with a huge honkin' stuffed dinosaur in it!" Little Danny saw the other boy's eyes widen. It was the biggest reaction Chavivi had had thus far. "His name is Muffin. My sister Jenny named it. She was scared of it at first, so we let her name him." With a sigh, he admitted, "Muffin's not a very ferocious name, but it made Jenny feel better. Wanna come see?"

The brightness in Chavivi's eyes faded as quickly as it appeared. He shook his head and started to walk away.

"Please, Chavivi," Little Danny called out. "You'd like my fathers, too. They're really nice."

Chavivi stopped for a reason he couldn't explain. He stood perfectly still, though, not reacting any further to the request.

Little Danny walked over and tugged slightly on the boy's arm as he encouraged, "Please come home with me. My dad and daddy can fix anything."

With disconsolate eyes of disbelief, Chavivi's head turned to face Little Danny. That's when the Munchkin realized what he was sensing in Chavivi and it scared him.

"Come on. Chely has a great car, a bug."

"Bug?"

"You'll see," Little Danny said with a smile while starting to walk toward Chely and keeping one hand on Chavivi, pulling him along. When the boys approached the young woman, Little Danny announced, "Chavivi is going home with us, Chely."

"Oh, Little Danny, I don't know if that's a good idea."

"It's okay. Dad and Daddy are used to us bringing kids home," the Munchkin asserted with a confident smirk.

~I'll bet they are,~ Chely mused. "Okay, well, we need to go."

As the three walked to the car, Chely wasn't sure if she was doing the right thing or not. Maybe she should have phoned Jack and Daniel. She wondered why she chose not to do so.

~You know why, Chely -- Jahindi.~

====

When Chely drove up in her tornado red car, Jack was out front trimming the plants. He immediately saw his son and waved. Then he saw the other boy and stared. He knew Chely didn't have a brother. The child was a stranger to him.

"Hi, Dad," Little Danny called out as he unfastened his seatbelt.

"Hey there!" Jack returned, walking toward the street where the young woman had parked.

"Hello General Jackson-O'Neill," Chely greeted as she, too, exited the vehicle. She stared over at Chavivi, who remained motionless. "Chavivi, it's time to get out of the car."

"Yeah, we're home, Chavivi," Little Danny stated enthusiastically.

~Home?~ Jack questioned silently, visions of the last time Little Danny and his siblings brought home an urchin. ~We adopted her.~ Smiling, albeit nervously, he asked, "Who's this?"

"We're calling him Chavivi," Chely answered somewhat shyly.

"Calling him?"

"He needs us, Dad," Little Danny stated, believing he need say nothing more.

**Daniel! Get your butt out here *now*!** Jack shouted through the couple's special communication ability.

**Do you have to shout?**

**Do you want to adopt another kid?**

**What?** The silence got to Daniel more than anything else. ~What, or who now?~ he wondered as he hurried down the steps of the family home.

"Come on, Chavivi," Little Danny encouraged, smiling when the youngster finally disembarked Chely's car.

His head down, Chavivi stood next to Little Danny.

"Chavivi, is it?" Jack asked the boy, who refused to look up at the man. "Son?" he queried expectantly as he shifted his gaze to the Munchkin.

"We met Chavivi at the park, Dad. He watched our soccer practice."

"Where are his parents?"

Little Danny shrugged and diverted the subject by tugging on the other boy's arm and saying, "Let's go inside, Chavivi. I'll show you Muffin."

"You do that," Jack tossed out verbally. ~Just like your daddy.~ As he watched the boys walking toward the house, he observed his husband stepping down onto the porch. **Give it a go, Angel. Go ahead. I dare ya.**

Daniel glanced over at his lover, confusion evident on his face.

"Daddy, this is my friend, Chavivi. He wants to see Muffin, okay?" Little Danny asked with a smile.

"Uh, sure, okay, go ahead."

During the conversation, such as it was, Jack approached his husband and the two children. Standing just a couple of feet away now, he wore a smirk on his face.

"What?" Daniel questioned. "Jack, who is Chavivi?"

"I thought you were going to find out," Jack returned.

"Me? Uh, Babe, I just got here, thanks to your summons."

"Danny, that kid is trouble."

"Just because we don't know him doesn't ..."

"Not him," Jack corrected. "The other one."

Feeling Jack's lips against his cheek as the older man breezed by him and entered the house, Daniel uttered a quiet, "Oh."

====

"Who's that?" Jennifer asked upon returning home from her college classes. She'd entered the house and quickly located her parents, both of whom were standing at the doorway of the game room, eyes focused on the unidentified child. ~He looks sad.~

"No idea," Daniel admitted.

"That one says we're calling him Chavivi," Jack added.

Jennifer laughed at her dad's nod toward the Munchkin and knew exactly what it meant.

"A human stray?" the oldest brood member surmised.

"Apparently," Daniel confirmed. "How were classes?"

"Good. Is he the reason why Chely is standing outside, alone, looking uncomfortable?"

"Jack!"

"Oh crap," Jack responded, immediately heading for the front door.

"So I'm right," Jennifer questioned. "Chely was with Little Danny when, um, Chav..."

"Chavivi," Daniel interjected.

"Thank you," the girl acknowledged.

"And, I guess so. We really don't know anything yet, but I assume Little Danny found him and Chely didn't know how to say no."

"Like you and Dad know how to say no," Jennifer mused, her cheeks puffy and red as she tried not to laugh.

"Well ..." Daniel stopped, not really having a response and just sighing instead.

"Do you want me to do anything?"

"Actually, it's about time to do a bunch of pickups," Daniel stated. "I was supposed to, but ..."

"Maybe you should stay here with Dad."

"I think so."

"Okay, who's where?" Jennifer asked, pulling her phone out of her purse so that she could make a few notes on where her siblings were. ~Would hate to miss one; they might lose their spot now that we have a new stray.~

"Jennifer Renee, get that thought out of your head."

"Huh?"

Daniel looked at her pointedly and advised, "We have no plans to adopt another child, not to mention that we know nothing about Chavivi."

"Daddy?"

"Yes?"

"Of the adopted six, how many were actually planned?"

The father's head dropped immediately at the query, though he responded, "One, and you know it."

"I know, but we're all happy that you went with the flow," Jennifer chuckled. "You know I'm just kidding."

"You've been hanging around Dad too long. I know because I suffer from the same affliction."

Jennifer laughed and gave her daddy a kiss and a hug while also declaring, "I love you, Daddy. How many parents would let their children bring home strays in the first place."

As they parted, Daniel grabbed Jennifer's free hand, raised it up and kissed it, before answering, "I don't know, but I think I understand why Little Danny brought home this one."

"He looks so ..." Jennifer sighed and confessed, "I don't even know what the word is, Daddy. He's there, playing with Little Danny, or ... well, going along with him anyway. He's ... he's, well, he's just there. Does that make sense?"

"Yes, it does."

"And that's why he's here, isn't it? Little Danny found a stray and he's brought him home for you and Dad to fix, like always."

"We can't fix everything, Jen."

"You do for us, Daddy."

There was a wonderfully warm moment of silence that spoke of a strong bond between parent and child.

"Okay, the kids. Where are there?"

"Okay, well, Ash and Jenny are at their doll club at the Carson's. Um, you'll have to take two of their friends home, too. Do you mind?"

"Chauffeur duty, huh? No problem. Point me in the right direction."

Happy that his eldest child was so willing to assist, Daniel proceeded to give her all of the information she needed to round up several of the children.

====

Meanwhile, Jack approached Chely, who was leaning against her car while standing on the sidewalk.

"Enjoying the sunshine?" Jack questioned as he joined the young woman, standing by her side and leaning against the Volkswagen.

"It is a nice day out," Chely responded.

"Listen, I'm sorry I left you out here."

"Oh, that's okay."

"No, it's not. Listen, this is one crazy family. Unpredictability is normal and that's for a family that doesn't know the meaning of the word normal," Jack mused, pleased when he heard a chuckle from Chely as well. "You did the right thing."

"Did I?" Chely asked as she looked over at the man, uncertainty written all over her face.

"A little boy out without his parents, sure," Jack assured.

"It wasn't the first time we'd seen him," Chely informed the general as she held her hands together tightly. "We saw him the other day by the ice cream shop. He was sitting on a bench, just sitting, not really looking at anything. Little Danny said he'd seen him before, too."

Jack nodded as he processed the news and replied, "His daddy is the same way; he can't ever leave a person in need behind."

"Isn't that like your family motto, or part of it anyway?" Chely challenged lightly. "Jeff has told me several times about your military vow."

"Vow?"

"Wrong word," Chely laughed. "But you never leave anyone behind, right? That's from the military."

"Yeah, learned that the hard way, too," Jack recalled, becoming lost for a moment as he reflected back on a time he'd rather forget entirely.

"I'm sorry," Chely spoke quietly upon seeing the change in the man's expression.

"Nah, old news. I was on a mission. They thought I was a goner and took off."

"Obviously, you weren't a goner."

"No, and I spent a lot of time in one of those hellholes you hear about on TV."

~I hope Gaffy never joins the military,~ Chely prayed internally. She could sense the nightmare her boyfriend's father had gone through during that experience. She opted not to ask for more details as she was positive that would be too intrusive. "And you've passed on the lesson to the brood," she deduced, centering in on the heart of the matter.

With a nod, Jack affirmed, "One of the goals." He stood up straight and turned to face the girl before speaking again. "I'm not the good one with words around here. Daniel has me beat there." He chuckled, "All the kids do, but you did the right thing, Chely. You followed your heart and brought Chavivi home, irrespective of how illogical and uncertain it seemed. That's what we've tried to teach the brood more than anything, to follow their hearts and do the right thing."

Chely smiled and returned, "General Jackson-O'Neill, I think you do great with words." In a bit of a brave move, she stepped forward and kissed the silver-hair man on his cheek. "Thank you."

"Thank you," Jack grinned with an obvious nod to the gentle peck. "My boy's a lucky man."

The comment put a gigantic grin on the college girl's face. She blushed as she began to walk behind her car to the driver's door.

"Thanks for the help with chauffeuring. It helped us a lot."

"My pleasure. I'm happy I could help. Call me whenever I'm home on break. I love the kids."

"They love you," Jack responded. He started to walk up the lawn, but paused for a second and then turned around. "Chely, say no if you want, but Danny and I could use some help on Monday or Tuesday. It's a lot to ask you to give up your time again."

With the roar of the engine sounding, Chely gave the man a big smile and replied, "I can help on both days. I won't be going back to Stanford until mid-September."

"You sure you wouldn't rather be out boogie-ing with your friends."

Giggling, Chely answered, "I've done that." With a twinkle in her eye, she added, "Really, I love the kids and being with them makes me feel a little closer to Jeff. I guess that doesn't make much sense."

"It makes a lot of sense," Jack agreed softly.

"Please call me and let me help, both days."

"We'll do that."

Chely gave a little wave and just before she turned her head, Jack raised his arm to eye level and extended it outward in an odd half wave, half salute motion. He stood, watching the Beetle as it became smaller and smaller in his view. He felt good about the woman who had Jeff's heart.

~She'll do,~ Jack thought to himself as he headed for the front door. ~But not for a lot of years yet!~

====

"Any change?" Jack asked upon returning to his lover's side at the door of the game room.

"No, not really. Little Danny's attempts to engage Chavivi in conversation have limited success, but every now and then, Jack, there's life, but it's brief, like a blink and if you aren't watching closely, you miss it." Daniel sighed as he stood with his arms folded across his chest. He glanced at his soulmate for a second and asked, "Chely?"

"Geez, Danny, we came in the house and left her out there by the car," Jack groaned.

"You fixed it?"

"Of course," Jack mused. "Which reminds me, we need to find something to do that interrupts our plans on Monday and Tuesday."

"We do?"

"We do."

"Okay, uh, why?"

"Chely needs to get back up on the horse," the older man answered. He saw Daniel's vacant stare and the uplifted eyebrows that meant 'what the heck are you talking about' and elaborated, "I didn't want her leaving with the thought that she'd kidnapped a child or done something wrong by letting Little Danny bring home a stray."

"So we need to create a couple of reasons why we need her to play chauffeur for us?"

"You got it."

"Why two days?"

"Giving her lots of room to dive back in or bail," Jack explained. "She ended up volunteering for both."

"I'm sure we can come up with something to do," the archaeologist stated with a hint of playful mischief.

"Oh yeah," Jack responded happily. He looked around and asked, "Jen go upstairs?"

"Yes. Oh, I asked her to do the roundup."

"Good idea."

"Thank you," Daniel responded with a small smile. "So, what are we going to do?"

"We have to find out who he is," Jack responded. "He must have parents."

Daniel turned his head and stared at Jack.

"Danny, don't even think it."

With a slight chuckle, the younger man replied, "Haven't you thought about the irony? Our children bring home a stray and ..."

"We don't know this one needs a home."

"Doesn't he?" Daniel challenged. "Look at him, Jack. He's existing, not living. His eyes barely show signs of life. He's like a dying spark plug that every now and then gives off a jolt but then fades to silence."

"I need to make a phone call."

"Who?"

"Shanahan."

"Jack, we're not turning that little boy into the police," Daniel warned sternly.

"I wasn't suggesting that," Jack sighed. "Why don't you see if you can get him to tell you his name, anything. I'll call Pete and see if he can find out if there are any runaways or missing persons matching his description."

"Okay."

Jack looked back at the young boy in question. He'd barely spoken to the lad, but his heart felt soft for him. He was a lost soul with something different in his essence that separated him from other troubled children. Seconds later, the general went to make his call.

====

"Little Danny, are you going to help me with dinner?" Brianna asked from the doorway of the game room.

"Coming, Bri," the Munchkin responded.

"Chavivi, would you like to help?" Brianna waited for a response, but when none came, she stated, "Well, if you want to, you can."

"Come on, Chavivi."

The two boys left the game through and were passing through the rec room when a sound caught Chavivi's attention. He walked over to it and cocked his head.

"That's Ptolemy. She's our hyacinth macaw," Little Danny explained. "Good evening, Ptolemy."

"Hel-lo," Ptolemy responded as she flapped her wings inside her large cage.

"She talks?" the boy asked the Munchkin.

"All the time."

"Talk good," the bird stated.

"She's very smart, too," Little Danny put forth. "You can stay and talk with Ptolemy if you want, but I have to help Bri. I'll be right over there," he said, pointing toward the hospitality room.

Several minutes later, Daniel wanted to check up on the visiting youngster and started to enter the rec room from the front hallway, but as quickly as he stepped inside, he backed away. He saw Chavivi kneeling in front of the bird's cage.

"Do you like being in a cage?" Chavivi asked the bird. "I think it's a nice cage. I wish I could come inside. We could be friends."

"Friends," Ptolemy repeated.

Daniel continued to listen for a couple of minutes before walking away.

====

The evening was a bit unusual for the Jackson-O'Neill family and their guest. Daniel's conversation with the boy was totally one-sided as was Jack's subsequent try before dinner. Not even the children could get much out of Chavivi. He did as told, sometimes slowly, and hung back. No one could quite understand what was disturbing the youngster.

Pete Shanahan did some checking and discovered the boy was a mystery. There were a couple of possibilities, but once Jack messaged him a photo of the youngster, those leads were ruled out. As a detective, he had a certain duty, but he agreed to give his friends forty-eight hours to see if they could unearth the mystery of Chavivi's true identity and where his family was before calling in Child Protective Services.

It was close to ten at night and most of the children were asleep, including Chavivi who was resting in a sleeping bag in the boys' room. Jack and Daniel were snuggled up in the living room on their comfy sofa, relaxing as they chatted about the day. Their discussion was interrupted by the sound of a knock at the door.

"Wonder who that could be?" Daniel asked.

"One way to find out," Jack responded, reluctantly removing his arm from his Love's shoulder and standing up to answer the door. "Chely!"

"Hello, General Jackson-O'Neill. I'm sorry it's so late."

"Nah, it's early. Come on in," the general invited.

Seeing the young woman, Daniel stood and walked towards her as he spoke, "Hello, Chely. Are you okay?"

"Oh, yes, I am. Hello, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill." Now standing in the living room, Chely continued, "I probably should have called, but I wanted to speak with you about Chavivi."

"The mystery boy," Jack acknowledged.

"Did he tell you anything?"

"Nada! Zippo! Zilch!"

"A simple no would work, Jack," Daniel interjected. He sensed something more than curiosity from Jeff's girlfriend and probed, "What's on your mind?"

"Well, I could be wrong."

"You could be right," Daniel proposed with a nod for Chely to share her thoughts.

"Sit," Jack interrupted, also aware of the girl's hesitation and believing that being more comfortable might help relieve her fears.

"Thank you," Chely responded, sitting down on the left side of the sofa.

Jack sat in his recliner while Daniel sat on the sofa.

"Okay, when I look at Chavivi, I see a very lost little boy. He's empty, like the life has been sucked completely out of him."

"Yeah," Jack agreed. ~That's it exactly.~

"Do you know Jeff's friend, Jahindi?"

Jack and Daniel exchanged questioning looks that left Jack shrugging and Daniel shaking his head.

Just as Chely was about to continue, Daniel recalled, "Wait!" He looked at Jack and said, "High school. Wasn't he the, uh, unusual boy Jeff befriended? Remember, Jack. He said Jahindi liked to keep to himself. We never met him."

"Vague ring of the bell," Jack responded.

"When Jeff and I first started dating, he pointed Jahindi out to me," Chely elaborated. "Jahindi was a loner. A lot of the kids made fun of him, because of how he dressed. Jeff told me he was really a great guy, though, so I made a promise to myself that the next time I was around Jahindi, I would say hi."

"Did you?" Daniel asked.

"Yes, and Jeff was right, but it took a lot of hellos to get him to really look at me, even with Jeff telling him who I was." Chely continued, "Jahindi keeps Jahindi inside, if that makes sense."

"Nope," Jack admitted.

"No?" Daniel questioned. "Do you know who you're married to?"

"Okay, point taken," Jack teased lightly. "Sorry. I do this stuff all the time."

With a slight chuckle, Chely expounded, "Jahindi's parents never abandoned him, so he never starved. He was never beaten. He was never anything." Her eyes went back and forth between the two men as she spoke. "He was never given anything, not anything."

"You're talking about love," Daniel surmised.

"Yes," Chely affirmed with a nod. "He was left to himself. They just didn't care really, his parents, I mean. He found a way to entertain himself by exploring different ways of doing things."

"He's the kid who dressed funny," Jack chimed as he extended his arm towards his husband. "Danny, remember that play they did, with the crazy bus."

"I remember that."

"Remember when they tried to take the bus apart, to get it on stage. There was a boy, looked like the Crimson Crusader."

Daniel chuckled at Jack's exaggerated reference to a character from an old episode of the police drama, "Dragnet."

"That was Jahindi," Daniel acknowledged as he faced Jack. He turned towards Chely and explained, "We did meet him, but from a distance, a quick hello when Jeff pointed him out to us."

"You thought he was outlandish and, um ..."

"Say it, kid," Jack challenged. "Let me guess. Like everyone else in Jahindi's world, we saw a kid who dressed a bit nutty, said hey, and then moved on, leaving him and the crazy clothes to himself."

"Everyone has done that. Jahindi doesn't cause problems. He was a decent student, attended his classes, did his homework, and never got in trouble. He wasn't someone who would stand out for being a troublemaker, so he was left alone. I think the administrators admonished him a few times for his attire, but I'm not sure. He might have been suspended once or twice, but it was for clothing. The kids, though, they didn't know him, and what they didn't know ..."

"They were afraid of him because he was different," Daniel concluded. ~That's a familiar story.~

"Chavivi reminds me a little of Jahindi, only, well ..." Chely trailed off, her face crunching as she sought out the words she needed.

"Without himself?" Daniel wondered.

"What do you mean?" Jack inquired.

"From what Chely is saying, Jahindi grew up alone. No one paid attention because he didn't stand out, good or bad, but Jahindi found something to keep himself going." Daniel smiled knowingly. "Babe, I found my studies. I buried myself in learning. That's how I survived what happened to me. Jahindi found a different kind of exploration, an exploration of self. We know at least part of that was dress."

"Actually, it was even more psychological, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill," Chely interjected. "He liked to become other parts of himself. I don't know how to explain it except he wasn't out of touch or nuts or anything, he just would put on these certain clothes and say, 'I wonder how I'll react today when I'm dressed like a vegetable' or something like that."

"Odd," Jack opined.

"Yes, but he was discovering himself, how it felt to be this or that way. Maybe it was entertainment. Jeff was never sure, and I certainly wasn't, either," Chely said as she searched for how to explain her somewhat off-kilter friend.

"The point is that Jahindi survived because of his exploration, whatever it was, but Chavivi hasn't found a reason for being here," Daniel surmised.

"Yes, that's it," Chely said somewhat excitedly. She scooted slightly forward in her excitement and expounded, "There's a very old movie that I saw once on a school retreat. In the film, a boy dies for no reason. He gets on the bus to go to school, feels sick, asks to get off, and simply collapses right after he gets off the bus. Of course, this was a movie designed for awareness, for teachers to pay more attention to changes in student behavior and for kids to have some tolerance, so it's fiction, but I never forgot the story. Here's a little boy who was bright and did well in school. His parents divorced, his mom remarried, and he was left dazed and confused. His teachers never realized the effects of the divorce and once a teacher wrote about him not applying himself, everyone else followed suit. Eventually, the boy had nothing, absolutely nothing."

"So he stops trying and dies," Daniel surmised.

"That's what I see in Chavivi," Chely admitted. "It took me a while to figure it out, but he looks like a child with no one and nothing who has given up."

"Pretty sharp," Jack praised the young woman.

"I was thinking that maybe Jahindi could talk to him," Chely put forth.

"You know where to find him?" Jack questioned.

"I'm not sure. I could ask Jeff," Chely offered. She sighed, "I hate to say it, but after graduation, I ..."

"... moved on?" Daniel asked after the girl couldn't complete her thought.

"I like Jahindi, but in all the excitement, I really don't know what has happened to him, and with Jeff and I not really talking that much during our freshmen year at college, I don't know. Time's gone by. I could ask Jeff about Jahindi in the morning."

"Sounds like a plan," Jack agreed with a smile.

After a few more minutes, Chely left, leaving Jack and Daniel to return to their snuggling on the couch.

"You know, Babe, we could have called Jeff ourselves."

"Chely's on the case," Jack returned.

"Okay, what are you really thinking?"

"Danny, she feels guilty about Jahindi. That kid upstairs has reminded her of him and she needs to check it out."

Daniel chuckled with a warmth that was different than normal.

"What?" Jack prompted.

"Babe, you try so hard to put on this bravado thing, but your actions are the opposite."

"I know not of what you speak," Jack mocked playfully.

"First, you give Chely another shot at chauffeuring so she knows she's part of the family and now you're letting her sort out emotions about Jahindi. It's very therapeutic of you."

Jack laughed, "I've learned from you, Angel."

"There are other things you could learn from me, you know."

"Such as?"

Daniel sprung up, headed for the stairs, and encouraged, "Come up and see me sometime, Fly Boy, and I'll educate you."

"Time for take off," Jack eagerly complied as he hurried after his lover for a night of lovemaking.

====

After breakfast the next morning, the family went about their business. Little Danny tried hard to engage Chavivi in play or educational pursuits, but nothing seemed to reach the youngster. They were in the game room, just sitting, when the boy heard a sound and smiled. He got up and quickly walked to the rec room.

"Hello," Chavivi greeted Ptolemy.

"Hel-lo," Ptolemy responded. "Polly want a cracker."

"Dad!" Little Danny, who followed his guest from the game room, exclaimed unhappily. "Dad always calls Ptolemy Polly and makes parrot jokes. Ptolemy is not a parrot. She's royalty, but Dad is Dad." Seeing Chavivi look at him, Little Danny explained, "He likes nicknames a whole lot. He has a nickname for everything, even Ptolemy."

"Can I give her a cracker?"

"Here, you can give her some of this," Little Danny responded as he retrieved some of his preferred treats for the majestic creature. "She doesn't bite or anything."

Uncertain at first, but wanting to feed the bird, Chavivi slowly moved his hand forward. He laughed when Ptolemy literally ate the treat from the palm of his hand.

"Little Danny, time for school," Jenny called out. "You can study with us, if you want, Chavivi."

The boy did not answer. Instead, he focused on Ptolemy, becoming lost in the colors of her body and feathers.

"You can give her a little bit more, but not more than what we just gave her, okay?"

"Okay."

Little Danny left the boy alone so that he could go upstairs and get his study books and supplies, while Chavivi remained totally focused on Ptolemy.

====

As Jack conducted the homeschooling session, Daniel took Chavivi into the train room. That was a special place, one mainly for Jack and Daniel, though all of the children had been allowed to join in the fun in train races throughout the years.

The archaeologist sat on the floor, his eyes seemingly following his train, the Egyptian Express, as it circled the track. In reality, he was watching Chavivi who stared intently at the train as it moved.

"I wasn't big on toys when I was a boy," Daniel spoke softly. "Well, I guess I just had different toys. My parents were archaeologists; I'm an archaeologist. I never had a train until Jack gave me this one, the Egyptian Express. My Jack is, uh, well, he loves the child that lives within us, all of us. It took me a long time to be okay with playing with trains." Daniel sighed, "I'm rambling. I do that a lot."

There was no change in the boy's demeanor. He was focused on the train and yet emotionless.

~Scratch the connection with the past angle,~ Daniel thought. ~Next!~ As he watched the Egyptian Express navigate a tunnel, the archaeologist opted to try an historical tactic, talking about how the first toy trains were made of cast iron and how trains lost favor with people as toys in the late 1950s until Thomas the Tank Engine became extremely popular in books and on television. The boy did look up at Daniel once, but his stare quickly returned to the locomotive as it traveled over a bridge that hovered above a pond. ~I'm not getting anywhere.~

Chavivi continued to study the train's movements, but, apparently, that was all he wanted to do.

"How about I shut up and we just play with the trains?"

"Okay."

Daniel's eyebrows raised at the boy's only verbal response to him in over thirty minutes.

"Okay then," the scientist agreed. "This is Jack's train, Lucky 97. It's a good train, but not as fast as my Egyptian Express."

Chavivi looked at the train and argued, "I bet it's fast enough."

"Give it a shot," Daniel offered, handing the train to Chavivi to set up. ~At least he's said something.~

====

"Ut! Ut!" Jack exclaimed when three of the children volunteered to answer the knock on the front door. "Focus on the fulcrum. You have ten minutes to finish your task and then it's test time."

Leaving the brood behind, the general proceeded to check on the morning visitors. Opening the door, he cocked his head.

~Joseph and his dreamcoat? He must be lost,~ Jack thought to himself about the young man dressed in a multi-colored tapestry that was more of a cape than a coat. "Good morning, Chely," he said to the college student as she stood next to the uniquely dressed young man.

"Hi," Chely returned with a smile. "General Jackson-O'Neill, this is Jahindi."

"Come on in," Jack invited the two visitors. "Too bad Jeff's not here."

"He's being hip at college. We talk."

"Good," Jack replied, looking over at Chely.

Realizing she needed to move things forward, Chely advised, "I told Jahindi about Chavivi."

"He's a nice kid, but we can't get through to him," Jack returned.

"Maybe he needs a pad," Jahindi responded.

"Pad? Reminds me of the sixties."

"A mental pad," Jahindi clarified. "He needs a place for his mind to go. Where is he?"

"Wait here," Jack responded. He headed for the train room while his mind sought to explain Jahindi. Reaching his destination, he knew he'd need a lot more time to decipher Jeff's friend. "How's it going?" he asked from the doorway.

"It goes," Daniel answered as he continued to reconnect the caboose onto the rest of the 97 train.

"What happened to my train?"

"It had a little accident," Daniel answered. **Later, Jack.**

"Chavivi," Jack called out to the boy. "Chely's here and she's brought someone with her that she'd like you to meet."

The boy stared at Jack for a moment before standing and walking out of the room.

Jack glanced back at his broken train and let out a groan before escorting Chavivi into the living room.

Daniel put the train down and quickly sprung up from his seat on the carpeted floor and hurried after his lover and the little boy.

As he passed the hospitality room, the general paused. Time for study had expired. Quickly, he pulled out a paper, handed one to each of the children, and announced they had thirty minutes to complete the test. They were on the honor system, something that was normal for the Jackson-O'Neill kids.

"Multi-tasking?" Daniel asked, having caught up with Jack.

"Something tells me it's going to be one of those days," the older man sighed.

====

Seeing Chavivi, closely followed by the Jackson-O'Neills, entering the living room, Chely instantly smiled and greeted, "Hi, Chavivi."

His head hung low, the boy said nothing.

"Chavivi, this is my friend, Jahindi."

"How's it chillin'?" Jahindi asked the boy, who looked up at the odd question. "Yeah, me, too. It's the world, you know." He looked over at Jack and asked, "You have a spot for us, an alone spot?"

Jack looked over at Daniel and suggested, "The study room?"

"Um, gee, I ... I don't mean to ..." Chely sighed, feeling once again that she was butting in inappropriately.

"What are you thinking, Chely?" Daniel asked. Immediately afterward, he glanced over at Jahindi and introduced himself. "Hello, by the way. I'm Daniel Jackson-O'Neill."

"Jahindi," he advised the archaeologist.

Chely continued, "Jen once took me up to the Bird's Nest. I know it's a place for the girls, but it's just the right size and it's light and airy. Do you think the girls would object?"

"No, they won't mind. That's a wonderful idea," Daniel responded to the young woman. "I'll show you where it is," he told Jahindi.

"Come on, kid," Jahindi instructed, reaching out and tugging on the boy until Chavivi began to walk with him. As he passed Jack, Jahindi explained, "The world is small for some."

"Okay." Jack shook his head as he watched the young man walk on. ~I need drugs to figure him out.~

"He doesn't always talk like that," Chely told Jack. "He's complicated and still different. I think he's just trying to get Chavivi's attention."

"By sounding like an oddball?"

"I guess so." Chely smiled shyly as she expounded, "He normally talks, well, normal."

"So, he and Jeff are still in touch?"

Chely nodded and explained, "Jeff said they talk at least once a month." She paused, "I feel so bad for losing touch with Jahindi. I won't do that again. We may not talk as often as he and Jeff do, but I want him to know that I consider him a friend."

Jack nodded as he wondered how things were going upstairs.

====

"Great spot to get in touch," Jahindi praised as he entered the quaint room and immediately noticed the small skylight that filled the room with airiness.

"Get in touch?" Daniel questioned.

"With yourself, or the universe, or the spirits that guide you," Jahindi answered mystically.

"Right." Daniel looked at Chavivi, who was sitting at an angle on the padded window seat so he could stare out the window, and said, "Well, I'll leave you two alone. Take as much time as you need."

"Time is a massive word, beyond a number and infinite in possibilities," Jahindi remarked.

Daniel reached up and scratched his chin for a moment before replying, "That's, uh ... an interesting perception. I'll think about that."

Jahindi grinned as Daniel left the room. He looked over at the boy, but said nothing. Instead, he sat down in the rocking chair that sat in a small nook portion of the room and gazed outside just as Chavivi was doing.

====

"Stop looking at your watch," Daniel ordered his husband.

"Just checking the time."

"It's only been a half-hour."

"Thirty minutes."

"A flicker of time," the archaeologist noted.

"A wink of an eye."

Chely giggled at the humorous exchange.

"We do this a lot," Daniel admitted.

"It's adorable." Hearing a growl from the general, Chely laughed even more and said, "Jeff really loves you two a lot. He talks about this, how you talk together."

"Seems like he could find something better to talk about," Jack replied.

"He wants to be like you, like both of you," Chely confided. "His father, his birth father, raised him to be diligent, dutiful, and even a little daring. He appreciates that. He calls it the three D's," she mused. "You two expanded on all of it and helped him to learn even more what a man should be, the comprehensive man, brave, bold, and beautiful."

"Beautiful?" Jack laughed.

"Beauty of the heart, General," Chely explained. "Jeff's more sensitive than some of his friends realize and I believe that's from being a member of the brood. He talks so much about the caring and the acceptance. He worries that he won't be the father that all of his fathers have been." All of a sudden, she backed a bit. "Maybe I shouldn't be saying these things, but in the last week or two, being here more and without Jeff, I see what he means, the way all of you interact and get along."

"Babe, speaking of our children ..."

"Oh crap!" Jack exclaimed.

Daniel chuckled as his soulmate stood and headed for the hospitality room where the children were involved with their studies.

"They just had an extra fifteen minutes for an exam," the archaeologist mused.

"Oh," Chely laughed.

====

At last, Chavivi turned around and was surprised to see Jahindi sketching.

Jahindi looked up and asked, "Would you like to see?"

The boy nodded and waited for the big reveal. When Jahindi flipped his sketch pad over, Chavivi's eyes grew wide with wonder.

"It's you," Jahindi announced. "The inner you."

Chavivi moved away from the window seat and kneeled down in front of Jahindi and the rocking chair. He took hold of the pad and brought the picture up close to him.

"Me?" the boy asked doubtfully.

"Sure," Jahindi affirmed. "Study it closely. Take a look at your soul."

"What's a soul?"

"The real you."

"Huh?"

"We all have souls. It's our truth." Jahindi gave the boy a nod and asked, "What's your name?"

"Cliff," the boy answered truthfully.

"Yo Cliff!" Jahindi called out, leaning over slightly and making a high-five motion. "Hey, five not high enough? Let's go for a high-ten."

"What's that?"

"High-five times two, rapido, like this," Jahindi said and then demonstrating when the boy raised his hand.

Cliff smiled which was the first real sign of life anyone in the Jackson-O'Neill home had seen.

"How do you draw souls?" Cliff asked curiously

"Listening, watching, tuning in to another person." Jahindi observed the thoughtful way the boy was processing the information. "Do you draw?"

"No," Cliff answered, shaking his head.

"Ever try?"

With a shrug, Cliff responded, "I did in school, a long time ago before ..."

The quiet was thunderous. Cliff retreated, putting the sketch pad down and drawing his feet up. He bowed his head as he closed himself off.

In response, Jahindi said only, "Time lasts forever, Cliff. Be within yourself for a while."

====

"What the heck are they doing up there?" an increasingly impatient Jack asked.

"Communicating, I hope," Daniel replied. He looked at Chely and asked, "Do you think Jahindi is making progress?"

Echoing Daniel's sentiments, Chely answered, "I hope so. Jahindi told me that it can take a long time to reach someone who is as lost as Chavivi."

"How is it that he's such an expert?" Jack pondered somewhat snarkily.

"Jack!" the archaeologist warned.

"Daniel, all we know about that kid is what Jeff and Chely have told us, which isn't much."

"I'm sure Jeff knows more than I do," Chely conceded. "I don't know much more than what I've already told you about him. He doesn't like to live in what was. He says it's too painful."

"I hear that," Daniel agreed.

The ringing of the house phone interrupted the conversation. Jack rose and answered the call. He listened for a moment and then looked over at his lover with an expression Daniel recognized as a mixture of trouble and concern.

"No," Jack stated simply to the caller. A couple of minutes passed as Jack was obviously listening carefully to what was being said. "Thanks for letting us know."

"Jack?" Daniel asked as his husband hung up the phone.

"A woman tried to abduct Jimmy Welsh this morning," the general advised.

"Who's that?" Chely asked.

"One of the boys on Little Danny's soccer team," Daniel explained. "What happened?"

"Some of the kids were getting in some extra practice at the park. A woman approached Jimmy, offered him his favorite candy, and tried to coax him into her car."

"He didn't go?" a frightened Chely questioned.

"A few years back we held a self-defense class for the kids in the neighborhood. It caught on and from time to time, we give little refreshers. Jimmy attended one of those. When the woman tried to force him into the car, he kneed her, turned around, and ran to the nearest adult who had a child with them, screaming his head off the entire time. A couple of the soccer parents heard, saw the woman and recognized her description from the incident with you, Chely. They chased her down and called the cops. She's in police custody."

"Wow, that's scary."

Daniel reached over and took the young woman's hand while comforting, "She can't hurt any of the children now, thanks to you taking mental notes and telling everyone."

"The police will probably want to speak with you about it," Jack told Chely. "When they do, we'll be there with you, if you like."

"Would you?" Chely asked. "It would make me feel better, if you were."

"Jack, why don't you call Pete," Daniel suggested, referring to Detective Pete Shanahan. "Maybe he could come over now and get whatever information they need."

"That's why you're a genius, Daniel," Jack laughed as he headed for the phone to make the call.

====

"That's all we need," Pete stated as he ended his interview with Chely about the woman she'd seen at the park.

"Is it the same woman, Detective?" Chely inquired.

"The description matches," Pete responded. "Her real name is Margaret Lavine."

"Does she have a record?" Jack asked.

"Two kidnapping charges in the last seven years, both pleaded down which is why she was out on the street."

"That won't happen again, will it?" a worried Chely questioned.

"I doubt it."

"That woman had her eyes on my son," Jack interjected. "She's going to prison."

Daniel didn't say anything in response, but he knew his Love well enough to know that no matter what, Jack was about to put pressure on his contacts within the system. He had no doubts in his mind that Margarat Lavine would be headed for prison with the maximum sentence.

"Why'd she pick Jimmy Welsh?" the archaeologist probed.

"We're still digging, but from we've already found out, she looks for kids that fit a certain pattern."

"What do you mean?" Chely asked.

"She asks questions about their hobbies, favorite foods, what music they like: things like that," Pete explained. "When she finds the one she likes, she acts."

Chely sighed, "She talks to people, like she did with me."

"She tries to fit in," Pete confirmed. "It's a good thing you were on your toes that day."

"You know ... I," Chely paused as a memory resurfaced. "I just remembered something. When she talked to me, she knew Little Danny's name. How'd she know that?"

"Probably from talking with another adult," Pete answered.

"One of the coaches?" Chely inquired. "I didn't see her with any of the other parents when I was there."

"Jimmy's parents recalled seeing her at a practice three weeks ago, talking with the sister of one of the kids," Pete explained.

"So most likely, this woman has been watching the soccer team practice and play for quite a while, but no one noticed her," Daniel surmised.

"They noticed, Danny, but she fit in, acted like she knew the kids," Jack corrected. "Think about it."

"You're right."

"I need to speak with the detectives working the case," Pete stated. As he put away his notebook, he asked, "What's happening with your stray?"

"We're working on it, Pete," Jack answered, somewhat forcing Pete to head for the door.

"Jack, I'm going to have to notify Child Protective Services soon."

"Soon," Jack agreed. "We'll call you," he said as he opened the door.

"Jack ..." Pete began.

"File the report, Shanahan," Jack instructed. "Keep that woman off the street," he added as he shut the door.

"Nicely done," Daniel chuckled. "He's right, though, Jack, and we don't have a right to jeopardize Pete's career by stretching this out much longer."

"He gave us forty-eight hours, Danny. We're not even halfway there yet."

"Do you think we should check on them?" Chely asked.

"Good idea," Jack agreed as he started for the stairs.

"Jack!" Daniel called out, stopping his husband's momentum. He looked at Chely and suggested, "Maybe you should go up."

"Daniel."

"She's less threatening to Chavivi. Besides, you promised Lulu you'd help her with her reading. She's having a little trouble with this one."

"Yeah, you're right. She should be in the library, so that's where I'll be if you need me."

"I always need you, but got it," Daniel replied with a smile. With Jack upstairs, Daniel nodded at Chely and urged, "Go on up."

"Alright." Chely headed toward the hallway that led to the stairs that went up to the Bird's Nest. She paused and turned back to face Daniel. "I hope you don't mind me saying this. I don't know what my future is with your son. I know what I hope happens, but even if it's not with Jeff, I hope that someday I have a family like yours."

"Ours is pretty crazy most of the time."

"But it's full of love. The way you and General Jackson-O'Neill communicate is amazing. You tease, laugh, and argue I think, all in one word or just a look. No matter what it is, though, the love is always there. That's what I want ... someday."

"You'll find it," Daniel assured. "All you have to do is follow your heart and soul."

With a nod, Chely turned and went on her way.

====

Chely climbed the stairs quietly and paused when she heard a young voice talking.

"Can you see your soul with your eyes, Jahindi?"

"With the eyes of your heart you can see everything, Cliff. Here, you try it."

"I can't draw."

"Who says?" Jahindi queried.

"My teacher, Mrs. Milligan."

"That's a strange thing for a teacher to say. A teacher educates and inspires. Did you do your best?"

"Maybe not," Cliff admitted. "I was thinking about my parents a lot."

Not wanting to intrude on the two males, Chely returned to the living room.

====

Seeing Chely with a grin on her face, Daniel surmised, "Breakthrough?"

"His name is Cliff and he was talking, sadly, but he was talking to Jahindi about drawing," Chely answered.

"That's good."

"Danny, I sent the brood upstairs via the stairwell in the rec room," Jack advised when he joined his husband and Chely again. "I told them they could have quiet playtime in their bedrooms and they were absolutely to steer clear of the Bird's Nest."

"Well, if they're staying in their rooms, that last part should be easy."

"Just covering the bases, Love," Jack replied with a grin.

"What about Lulu?"

"I got her started and over the rough patch. She wants to give it a shot on her own for a while." As Daniel nodded in understanding, Jack queried, "Any word on Jahindi and the boy?"

"His name is Cliff," Chely repeated for the general, her smile bright. "That's really all I know, but he's talking. If it's okay, I think we should let them continue."

"You mean we shouldn't butt in," Jack mused half-seriously.

"That's what she means, Jack," Daniel returned. "Chely, if you have things to do ..."

"Oh, please, let me stay. I know I'm just in the way, but ..."

"You're not in the way," Daniel interrupted.

"How would you like to help me grade a few exams?" Jack questioned hopefully.

"He still hates paperwork," Daniel sighed.

"I'd love to help."

"Follow me," Jack beckoned as he led the way to the hospitality room where the tests were located. "We may have to stop for a laundry run, too."

"I can help with that, too," Chely chuckled. "I have years of experience with that."

Meanwhile, Daniel opted to do some cleaning. He figured he would be better off expending energy with physical labor rather than working on J-O Enterprises business.

====

It was an hour later when Jahindi and Cliff walked down the stairs.

**Jack, Jahindi's back with Cliff,** Daniel communicated to his lover who was currently in the garage taking care of the laundry.

**On my way.**

"How'd it go?" Daniel asked Jahindi.

"Good, man, good. He has a knack for seeing inside; just doesn't know it yet." Jahindi looked down at the boy and said, "You up for more tomorrow?"

"You're coming back?"

"Fo shizzle," Jahindi responded.

"Is that yes?"

"Yes."

At that point, Jack and Chely entered the living room.

"Chel, time to fly."

"Okay, Jahindi," the girl acknowledged. "I had fun helping out, General. I'll have to remember that laundry system."

"Works like buttah!" Jack mused confidently.

Ignoring the chatter, Jahindi handed over his possessions to Cliff and told him, "Here, keep the pad. Draw the light inside, like I showed you. Start with him," he suggested, pointing at Jack. "Look inside, Cliff."

Jack looked down and patted his abdomen as he suddenly felt self-conscious.

"Be back."

Jahindi headed out with Chely hurrying to keep up. They moved so quickly that Jack and Daniel hadn't been able to say a word.

"Guess he had to go," Jack commented with a hint of frustration.

Daniel ignored the remark and focused on Cliff who held Jahindi's sketch pad and charcoal pencil in his hands.

"Do you like to draw?" Daniel asked Cliff in hopes of finally getting a conversation going.

The boy nodded. He looked around the room and saw the fish tank. He walked over to it, watched the fish for a few seconds, and then sat down in front of it. He glanced up at Jack and then just as quickly began to draw on the pad.

"Do I need to stand here?" Jack asked curiously, looking at his soulmate when there was no response.

"I guess not," Daniel surmised. "Um, why don't we just do what we need to do."

**Danny, let's put the Munchkins on Cliff. I don't think we should leave him alone.**

**Afraid he'll run off with the good dishes?** Daniel teased.

**No. I'm afraid he'll walk out the door.**

The archaeologist sighed, **You're right. Alarm systems only work when someone cares about being caught.**

**I'll get the bodyguards,** Jack advised, looking at Cliff for a moment before heading upstairs to give the triplets their assignment.

====

That night, Jack peeked through the open door into the boys' room. Jonny, Little Danny, and Ricky were all on the floor, playing with Legos. Cliff was with the boys as well. On the bed was Bijou, watching over the foursome.

"Jonny," Jack beckoned quietly, smiling at his other sons when they looked up at him.

The father walked several feet away from the open door and sat on his haunches as he spoke with his namesake.

"Tell me about Cliff," Jack requested. "Is he talking more?"

"A little bit, Dad, and he's building a fort with us."

"He's pitching in?"

"Yeah. He built the lookout tower," Jonny answered.

"Good."

"Dad, why doesn't Cliff smile?"

"I'm not sure, but we're going to see if we can get him feeling better."

"He likes Jahindi."

"I do, too. Twenty more minutes before bedtime," Jack told the boy.

"Gotta hurry then; need to finish the fort," Jonny replied, turning around and walking swiftly back to his room.

Jack rose and let out a sigh. Progress was, but for the most part, young Cliff was still a mystery. To the general, so was Jeff's friend. Jahindi showed up looking like he'd come from a Biblical musical, but his language didn't match the outfit.

~There's a lot more to that young man,~ Jack thought before turning his attention to other things.

====

Mid-morning the next day, Jack heard a knock on the door. Opening it, he did a double take, followed by a vertical scan of the young man standing before him.

~From Bibical Joseph to an Hell's Angel,~ Jack opined about Jahindi, who was dressed in typical biker garb.

Jahindi wore a black jacket embossed in orange and yellow flames, a white V-neck tee shirt with a flying eagle decorating the chest area, leather pants, and brown boots, also with flying eagles imprinted on them. A pair of wraparound shades completed the look.

"Jahindi, you've changed."

"Every appearance of the sun," Jahindi affirmed.

Glancing over the visitor's shoulder to the street, Jack questioned, "That yours?"

"Yeah."

"Nice," Jack opined about the Harley-Davidson motorcycle parked in front of his house. "Come on in. Didn't realize you were a biker."

Jahindi walked inside the house as he answered, "Today." He paused and questioned, "You ride?"

"I do," Jack responded as he closed the door.

"Then you get it."

"Get what?"

"Four wheels move your body, but two move your soul."

"I get it," the general agreed, having heard the biker quotation before.

As he headed for the living room, Jahindi asked, "Where's Cliffie?"

~Cycles and nicknames: I like this kid,~ Jack told himself as he followed Jahindi into the living room.

"Oh, hello," Daniel greeted as he saw the young man from the kitchen nook area.

"Hi. Where's Cliffie? We have a lot to talk about today."

"He's in the game room with the children," Daniel responded. "If you'd like to use the same room as yesterday, that would be okay."

"We need air, the outdoors, but confined. You have a place?" Jahindi asked the couple.

"How about the gazebo?" Jack put forth, walking to the patio door and pointing it out to his guest.

"We can hang there," Jahindi agreed. "Point me to Cliffie."

"Ah, just one thing you need to know," Daniel interjected. "We really need to know who Cliff is and where his parents are." He paused and then explained, "We're in a time crunch."

"How?"

"A friend arranged for us to have this time with him, but ..."

"You're turning him in," Jahindi surmised.

"We're not turning him in," Jack snarled. "Look, we want to help the kid, but we don't have a legal choice, either."

"You guys know anything about the system?" Jahindi asked.

"What system?" Daniel replied.

"Foster," Jahindi answered simply. "I was never in it, but a friend was. It messed him up bad. The stories I've heard are bad. You can't put Cliff in the system."

"We don't want to," Daniel replied. "That's why we need to know who he is and where his family is."

"Time is its own thing," Jahindi countered.

"You have to get us something," Jack returned. "We've already tried for an extension. No go."

Jahindi stood in silence for several seconds, causing Jack and Daniel to look at each other in confusion.

"Jeff still have some of his clothes here?" Jahindi asked.

"Yeah, sure," Jack answered.

"Show me," the guest requested in a somewhat hushed and tensed tone.

The perplexed couple led Jahindi to Jeff's room, opening the closet and showing him the chest of drawers where their son also kept clothing.

In silence, Jahindi perused the closet and pulled out a yellow V-neck sweater. He took off his jacket and tossed it onto the bed. He continued looking over the clothes and found a white button-up shirt. Immediately, he removed the tee shirt he'd worn to the house and put on Jeff's shirt instead. Over it, he put on the sweater. Without any modesty of note, he found a pair of jeans and put those on, adding his leather pants to the pile on the bed. He even replaced his socks with a pair of Jeff's and completed the transformation with an old pair of white sneakers.

Jahindi walked up to the mirror that was over the chest of drawers and stared at himself. He closed his eyes and bowed his head.

"Jahindi ..." Daniel began.

"Terry," the young man corrected. "Terence Grant Malone," he elaborated.

"Are you all right?" the archaeologist queried lightly.

"I exist. That's what Terry does, he exists." The young man was stoic as he quietly explained, "My folks weren't rich, but I never really wanted for anything. When I looked up, I saw a ceiling and there were four walls that made up my room. It wasn't small like this," Jahindi looked around Jeff's small upstairs room, "but maybe four, five times it. My parents: they didn't know how to love a child. They led their lives and I led mine. Dinners," he laughed, "were on a TV tray in my room. I had a TV and a stereo, the best game system, and food. I wanted a pet, but they didn't know what it meant to have the love of an animal."

Jack and Daniel remained still, their hearts understanding the outpouring of pain they were listening to from Jeff's unique friend.

"Jeff's talked a lot about your zoo: dogs, cats, rabbits, a tortoise."

"That's not the half of it," Jack quipped, mostly in a quest to let the young man know he and Daniel were listening.

"Go on, Jahindi," Daniel urged, hoping Jack's interruption wouldn't stop Jahindi from sharing his story. ~He needs to talk about this.~

"Every day was the same: nothing. I went to school, kept to myself, and went home to my Playstation and TV. I watched this old, old movie one night about some weird place called Oz."

**Weird?**

**Jack, shut up,** Daniel chastised.

"There was a witch and she melted. Crazy, huh? But it felt like Terry. He was melting into nothing. One night I was staring at my notebook and I saw a zero. Terry had written it, a great big zero, and I realized that was me."

**Danny, what's with the in and out thing with the personal pronouns? One minute he's using third person and then he's back to first.**

**He's still finding out who he is. Just listen.**

"I went to sleep and the next morning Terry woke. Breakfast was served on the tray, but there was no hello from my parents. There never was. I didn't like being Terry, just existing, so I changed. I made clothes out of a backpack and my bedding. I was a caped crusader that first day. The principal didn't like it. He wrote a note to my parents. It didn't mean anything to them. So, I just asked. They gave me a wad of cash and I bought outfits for the new me. I buried Terence Grant Malone and created Jahindi. Do you know what Jahindi means?" the young man asked as he looked at Daniel. "You're a linguist, right?"

"Yes, but I don't know the exact meaning. I, uh, haven't heard your name in my studies. I could guess."

"Jahindi means whatever I want it to mean. I made it up and I told my parents that Terence was dead and Jahindi born in his place. They changed it for me, legally. They never questioned me about it. If they had, it might mean they cared."

**His folks are pathetic losers,** Jack opined to his husband.

"Jahindi is strong. He's whoever he wants to be whenever he wants to be it. Kids in high school thought I was weird and different, but some could see. Jeff, he's sees. Chely, she sees, too. Most don't, but it's okay. Jahindi's strength means life. He has good friends, ones who care. He does more than exist." He turned to Jack and Daniel and announced, "Terry has to exist today. It's the only way to reach Cliff."

As the young man passed the couple to go back downstairs, Jack called out, "Terry's a strong man, too."

Jahindi stopped, but he did not turn around.

"Son, it took courage to get out of that rut your parents put you into," Jack continued. "There's nothing wrong with Jahindi, but there's nothing wrong with Terry, either."

"Maybe Terry just needs you to believe in him that way you believe in Jahindi," Daniel added.

The young man remained silent and motionless as the Jackson-O'Neills spoke.

"Jahindi," Daniel called out softly. "It took incredible strength of will for Terry to get up every morning, clean his room, go to school, get good grades, come home to emptiness, and then get up and do it all over again the next day. All Terry had was Terry." He waited a moment and gathered his thoughts. Then he confided, "It's different circumstances, but when I was a boy, very early on, I lost the ability to be a child. I lost ... Danny. It took me a quarter century to find him again and to be able to embrace him."

Jahindi glanced over his shoulder and rebutted, "You're not called Danny."

"Jack calls me Danny. He sees," Daniel replied. "All I'm saying is don't sell Terry short. Terry created Jahindi. It was Terry who found a way to go on."

After a few seconds of silence, the young man turned around and stated, "Jeff tells me stories about you, good ones."

The remark was spoken with the most emotion Jack and Daniel had heard from the young man. Neither knew quite how to respond.

"I don't know if I can get Cliff to wake up in time." Jahindi blinked and continued, "That zero Terry wrote in his notebook. Cliff thinks he's one, only worse, sub-zero. He's been beaten, not physically, mentally. Someone, or a lot of someones, have taken his ID and turned it off. The problem when you think you're nothing the way Cliff does is you don't feel because there's nothing left inside. Like a scene from a horror movie, someone reached in and grabbed his heart and yanked it out. When you're zero, all you do exist until you don't anymore."

Jahindi's black eyes burned into Jack's and Daniel's until he finally turned around again and headed down the stairs.

Daniel faced his lover and said, "Do something."

"Me?"

"Jahindi needs more time, Jack. Make it happen."

Daniel walked away, leaving Jack in the doorway of their son's room. The general jerked his head from side to side for a second as he struggled with what had just happened. It was a lot to process, but he knew he had to act. He would have anyway, of course, but now his Daniel was emotionally invested and expecting results.

~Time for Mr. Fix-It to think of something and fast.~

====

Jahindi took Cliff out to the gazebo and allowed the boy to adjust to his being present for a couple of minutes before speaking.

"Did your draw?"

"This is him," Cliff said, referring to Jack as he handed over the sketch pad.

"A cat?"

"Little Danny says he's loud, but hugs good, too, so when I see him, I see a cat. He scratches, but likes to touch, too."

"I like that," Jahindi responded. "Well done, Cliffie."

"You look different today," Cliff observed about his new friend.

"I dress how I need to for the moment. No one tells me to be anyone or do anything. I make my choices. Today, I'm not Jahindi. I'm Terry."

"Who's Terry?"

"Me, before I was Jahindi."

The young man proceeded to tell his story to Cliff, who was empathetic from the get go. The boy understood the loneliness and the inadequacy of young Terry's life, and he was curious about how Jahindi transformed himself.

"Cliff, being Terry was hard. I wasn't happy until I became Jahindi." The young man closed his eyes as he sought for an honesty he hadn't considered until today. "But Terry is part of Jahindi. I learned to see in ways I couldn't before. You can see, if you want to. What's your last name?"

Cliff's face drained of color as he became paler by the second. He withdrew, shutting himself off from his new friend.

"I get it. It took Terry a long time to find Jahindi. I can wait."

Jahindi picked up the sketch pad and began a new drawing. He wouldn't push Cliff, but he would stay and co-exist with the boy. Hopefully, Cliff would open himself up again and share more of himself.

====

"Any movement?" Jack questioned his lover who was standing by the sliding patio door.

His eyes glued on the gazebo, Daniel shook his head and answered, "No."

"Well, I bought us another day, but that's all I could get," Jack sighed.

"A day is a start."

"Daniel ..."

"Jack, we kept Lulu. If we can keep her, we can keep Cliff."

"You're not suggesting ..."

"No, I'm not, but he deserves time to realize that he's not alone and he won't be able to do that in the system. If he enters foster, he won't survive, so one day is good, but it's just a start."

Jack watched his lover walk up the stairs and then he turned and gazed back outside. All he could see was Jahindi sketching and Cliff sitting totally still.

~Not sure how I can get you more time, kid. I'm not a miracle maker. Give us something to work with.~

====

"Daddy," Lulu called out quietly as she stood in the doorway of the master bedroom. "Are you okay?"

The archaeologist was sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at nothing. He motioned for the eleven-year-old to enter.

Lulu sat down on Daniel's right and stared at her daddy for several seconds before asking, "Is it Cliff?"

With a sigh, Daniel put his arm around the girl and pulled her to him while answering, "Yes. He's lost and alone and I don't know how to help him."

"Do you think he was hurt like me?"

Daniel placed a kiss atop the brunette's curly hair and whispered, "I hope not, Li'l Bit."

"We could adopt him, Daddy, and he'd get better, just like me," Lulu suggested with bright optimism.

"We'll see."

"We always have room for one more, don't we, Daddy?"

"Yeah," Daniel confirmed. "There's always room for one more."

The father and daughter continued to sit together, letting the time pass as they fed off each other's love.

====

Outside in the gazebo, Cliff reached for the sketch pad that Jahindi had brought for him. He stared at it blankly for several minutes. Then he picked up a black marker and began to draw.

Jahindi took notice, but said nothing. He let the time pass. He felt the boy's sorrow and for now, that was all he could do for young Cliff.

====

"Danny, it's been two hours," Jack noted with frustration.

"We can't interfere, Jack."

"Are you sure we're doing the best thing for that kid? Jahindi seems to have his own problems."

"Don't we all," Daniel challenged.

"I just hate doing nothing," Jack admitted.

"I know, Babe. You're a man of action, but sometimes action is waiting."

"Waiting isn't my style."

"Patience, My Love," Daniel reminded calmly, leaning over and kissing his husband gently.

"Geez, I love you."

"Good to know," Daniel teased, sounding very much like the older man.

The two wrapped their arms around each other and stared out the window, hoping for progress as the clock ticked onward.

====

Minutes later, Cliff turned his sketch pad away from him.

"Cliff, what's on the pad?"

"Darkness."

"Show it to me."

Cliff tilted the pad so Jahindi could see it. It was a large blob, like an ink spot with daggers tossed into it.

"Is that how you see yourself?" When the boy shook his head, Jahindi probed, "Who is it?"

"The world. It's just the world."

"Part of the world is dark, but you can't live in that. You have the find the light for yourself."

"I'm nobody."

"You're Cliff."

"That's nobody."

"Who says so?"

"My mother and my stepfather," Cliff revealed.

"They're wrong, Cliff," Jahindi claimed. "If I'd believed my parents, I'd be nothing but a big fat zero, but I'm not nothing, Cliff; I'm not a zero, and neither are you."

Cliff laid down on his side, his hands beneath his head. He closed his eyes and said nothing more.

====

Fifteen minutes later, Jahindi left the sleeping boy to go into the house. He needed to use the restroom. With Daniel on the phone handling a business call, Jack walked out on the patio and kept an eye toward the gazebo. He knew on any other day, the brood would be outside, kicking up a storm with playtime, but that wasn't happening today.

Today, the children were instructed to stay upstairs and occupy themselves in their rooms or with activities that could be done on the upper level. Chenoa was in the sewing room, working on a new blanket for Katie. Jenny and Lulu were in the library, getting in extra study time with Jenny helping Lulu with that difficult reading assignment she was still struggling to get through. The older children were out for the day, and the rest were indeed in their bedrooms.

Jack felt a presence next to him and inquired, "Any luck?"

"He thinks he's a zero, like I was," Jahindi replied.

"I bought us another day," Jack informed the young man.

"A day," Jahindi echoed. "How many days did it take to make him feel like this?"

Jack glanced over at Jeff's friend and he could see the hidden pain the man still felt.

"The world is a dark place when you're a zero. There's no light."

"Turn it on," Jack stated simply.

"It's not that simple, General."

"I know that," Jack replied. "Okay, the world can be a dark place, but it's the world. We need to get through to that kid so he doesn't get buried in that darkness you're talking about."

"And you think that can be done in a day?"

"Look, Jahindi, I'm chuck-full of reality. There's not a lot more you can tell me about darkness that I don't know from first-hand experience, not the kind you've experienced or even Cliff, but I know what it's like to be trapped with no way out. The reality, though, is that you either pull yourself up, or you drown. Now I don't know how to get through to Cliff before CPS is brought in, but I'm doing all I know how to do to try. Are you?"

Jahindi turned his head to look at the general and, after several intense seconds flew by, replied, "Jeff said you were a tough one."

"If that's the worst thing he's said, I'm doing okay." Jack reached up and rubbed his chin and cheeks with his open palm. "Jahindi, I'm not my husband. He buys into all the psychological and spiritual elements of the world. I just buy into him. What I'm saying is that when you were a kid, you picked yourself up and made a change. *You* did that. I could care squat what you call yourself. Names are names, but you decided you weren't that zero you keep talking about. *You* made that decision. Somehow, you have to get Cliff to make that same choice, pronto."

"And then what, General?" Jahindi challenged.

"What?"

"What happens to Cliff when he realizes he's somebody and ends up stuck in that system?"

"One step at a time."

Jahindi drew a breath and stepped off the patio onto the grass. He returned to the gazebo and sat down. He stared at the still-sleeping child and wondered if he could get the boy to understand the light was within him.

====

Minutes later, the mysterious lad awoke. He sat up and rubbed his eyes.

"Cliff, we need to share some truth."

"Truth?" the boy repeated, letting out a yawn in the aftermath of his query.

Jahindi motioned for cliff to sit on the opposite bench, which the boy did without argument.

"Do you see the light within you?"

Cliff only stared at the man who sat across from him.

"The light is in your soul. It's in your heart. It's in that little voice you hear inside your mind."

"I don't hear a voice."

"Sure, you do," Jahindi rebutted. "Everyone has an inner voice that tells us our truth. We don't always listen to it, but we know it's there, even when we try to deny it. You have to listen to your voice."

Cliff bowed his head and looked away.

"Tell me about your parents." Jahindi's request was met with silence. "Think of it as a story, not the pain it's caused. It's just a story. Tell me your story."

"There was a man who ..." the boy began, but then he called out a spine-curdling, "no!"

Cliff sprang up and ran over to the swings located on the other side of the Jackson-O'Neill backyard. Jahindi stood and stared over at the child. Then he looked toward the house and exchanged a look with Jack, who then turned to watch Cliff.

The boy sat on a swing, but did not attempt any movement. He stared down at the grass and became lost in the myriad of blades until his essence was part of the lawn and he felt nothing but the small wisp of wind blowing against his blade.

Slowly, Jahindi stepped down from the gazebo and walked forward a few yards. Then he stopped and sat down on the grass, desperate to reach the boy and not knowing how to do so.

Jack sighed and entered the house. He felt great uncertainty as well. Time was running out for the youngster.

====

Several minutes later, Jack and Daniel approached Jahindi, both men sitting down on the grass, one of each side of the young man.

"You tried," Daniel assured gently.

"He'll die in the system," Jahindi opined.

"Too bad he's not more like you," Jack sighed.

"More like me?" Jahindi asked curiously.

"You flipped the switch and became a new you. Isn't that what you said?" Jack asked.

Jahindi's eyes widened as he stood up.

"What? Jahindi, what is it?" Daniel called as he, too, stood up, as did his husband.

"I thought he needed to see Terry to know what survival is possible, but I was wrong. General, you're right. Thanks."

"What did I say?" the confused man queried.

"I have things to do. I'll return Jeff's clothes tomorrow. Tell Cliff I'll see him in the morning. What an idea. Thanks."

Daniel blinked several times as he stood with his arms crossed.

"Danny, what just happened?"

"I have no idea, Jack, but, apparently, you've done it again."

Daniel shrugged and walked slowly towards Cliff. He didn't think he'd have any kind of breakthrough, but with time running out, he had to continue to try to reach the boy. He wasn't sure what to say or do, but he hoped that he would think of something.

====

That evening, the couple were discussing Cliff, who was again with the boys in their room while preparing for bed.

"Jack, I have an idea," Daniel told his husband as he led him downstairs.

"Where are we going?" the older man asked.

"To get Ptolemy."

"Polly? It's her nap time."

Daniel rolled his eyes as he corrected, "You mean it's your time to drive Ptolemy crazy."

"She loves me."

"Yes, I know, but if you can't get her going, you try to get our son going."

"That's easy."

"We all know that, Babe. All you have to do is use your nickname for Ptolemy and he gets riled."

Jack grinned. It really was a little game and both he and Little Danny knew it.

"Daniel, why are you taking Ptolemy out of her cage?" Jack queried as the couple stood by the bird's large home within their home.

"I have an idea."

"You said that already."

"Then you know why I've just taken Ptolemy out of her cage," the archaeologist smirked.

"Daniel."

"It's just a game, Babe."

As Jack groaned, Daniel chuckled while also gently stroking the hyacinth macaw as she perched herself on his arm.

The lovers returned upstairs and walked to the boys' room. When they opened the door, Ptolemy let out a big squawk and flew around the room for several seconds before landing on the desk. All four boys in the room laughed and ran over to the bird once she landed.

Jack and Daniel simply stood back and watched as their sons chatted away with Ptolemy. They took note that Cliff was fascinated with the bird, but he didn't join in much with the chatter.

After several minutes, Daniel asked, "Cliff, it's time for Ptolemy to go back to her cage. Would you take her downstairs for me, please?"

"How?"

"Little Danny, show him."

The Munchkin held out his arm and whistled, prompting the bird to fly to him.

"All you have to do is walk downstairs. She'll probably fly into her cage on her own as she knows it's bedtime for us, but if not, put your arm into the cage and tell her to shoo," the middle Munchkin instructed.

"No shoo, fly," Ptolemy responded.

"She loves to fly," Ricky spoke up.

Somewhat nervous and highly engaged in the activity, Cliff whistled and smiled when Ptolemy flew to him. Carefully, he headed for the rec room.

"You fellas settle down. We'll be making rounds shortly," Jack ordered.

The parents exited the room, but they walked slowly, wanting to give Cliff as much time as possible with Ptolemy.

Jack sensed there was more to his lover's thought process and questioned, "Daniel, what aren't you telling me?"

"Nothing specific, I don't think, or maybe I do."

"Where are the aspirin?" Jack mocked.

"I've noticed that Cliff is very interested in Ptolemy. He talked to her earlier and Little Danny mentioned something similar happening before."

"Which means what?"

"Which means, I don't know except that Jahindi survived his world by creating new worlds. I found my way in education. Maybe Cliff's answer for now is ..."

"... that dang bird?" Jack queried. "Daniel, I want to help the kid, but Ptolemy isn't going anywhere."

The archaeologist was amused that his lover was inadvertently declaring his love of a member of their zoo. He cracked a smile that Jack couldn't help but notice.

Well aware he'd overreacted to his soulmate's comment, Jack asked, "What are you suggesting?"

"I'm not suggesting anything except that maybe Cliff's connection with Ptolemy could be therapeutic. He's talked more with her than any of us so far."

Sure enough, when the couple glanced into the rec room, Cliff was standing by Ptolemy, who was still on his arm. They were able to hear whispered words being said, not Cliff's voice was too quiet for them to make out exactly what was being said.

"He's definitely talking to her," Jack observed.

"We'll pass that on to Jahindi. Maybe it will help him get through to Cliff in some way."

Eventually, Ptolemy flew into her cage and Cliff returned to the boys' room to sleep away the night.

====

"Hey there folks of my pal Jeff," Jahindi greeted with a smile as he walked confidently inside the Jackson-O'Neill home the next day.

Jack mentally noted the young man's attire which reminded him of a throwback to the hippie sixties.

~Sammy. He looks like Sammy Davis Jr.,~ Jack realized silently as he took in the long gold chain and rings on Jahindi's fingers.

"Where's the kid?" Jahindi questioned as he held a box in his hands.

"Upstairs with David," Daniel answered. "David thought maybe he could interest Cliff in astronomy, or rocks."

"May I?" the guest asked as he motioned up the steps.

"Take a left at the top of the stairs. Feel free to call out. David will hear you," Jack told Jahindi.

Jahindi nodded and quickly moved up the stairs.

"What do you think is in the box?" Jack asked his lover.

"I have no idea, but Jahindi sounds ..."

"Happy?" Jack put forward.

"Yeah, something like that," the younger man acknowledged.

"He's still covering, Danny."

With a nod, Daniel replied, "It's not his persona, but it's what he sometimes uses to accompany it."

"The outfits and the language."

"But it works for him, Jack, and we don't have a right to question what he needs to survive."

"It's a still a cover."

"You know that, and I know that, but he's just now beginning to realize that," Daniel put forth.

"What do you think is in the box?"

"Babe, I didn't know the answer to that a minute ago, and I still don't know."

Jack smiled and then turned to walk away, his right hand reaching behind his head as he rubbed it. He was puzzled and hoping for answers soon.

====

"You two groovin'?" Jahindi asked David and Cliff.

"He's not very interested. Sorry, Cliff. These things are exciting to me," David told the child.

Cliff simply shrugged.

"Cliffie, it's time to find the real you, for today," Jahindi announced. "Can we use the room?"

"Sure," David answered. "I'll go downstairs."

"Is that for me?" Cliff asked Jahindi.

Jahindi looked at the boy and advised, "A man once said, 'Your mind is like a parachute, it doesn't work unless it's open.' Today, Cliffie, we're going to open your mind so you can see you."

Cliff took the box Jahindi gave him and placed it on David's bed. With some hesitation, he removed the lid and looked at the contents.

"I can't tell you where your action's at, Cliff, but you can decide which is you. Pick one and try it, just for today," Jahindi urged.

Inside the large box were several different outfits in the boy's size, including a replica of Jahindi's mod outfit. The boy studied each piece of clothing.

"This decade hasn't been great for you; a real bad scene, so let's go back to the sixties. Do you know the sixties?"

"Na-huh."

"Not for you, Cliff?" Jahindi asked calmly. With the youngster not responding to any of the outfits, Jahindi sat down on the bed and asked, "Who are you, Cliff, the you inside? There's something there. Ya gotta tell me, man, or it's gonna be a sad splitsville that's gonna break our hearts."

Cliff sat on the bed in silence, his head again hung low.

"Cliffie, what is it you want more than anything in the world?"

"I want ... I want ... I want ..."

Jahindi nodded and said, "I can dig it. You need time." He scooted over to the headboard and leaned back. "You do your own thing, Cliffie. I'm here when you want to share." He saw Cliff glance at him one time before staring at the clothing given to him. "See your soul. Let it be your guide."

The young man was determined to be patient, but he'd hoped Cliff would respond to the opportunity to dress up his personality, much as he did everyday.

~Many, was I wrong. My light isn't Cliff's light.~

====

"Three hours, Danny," Jack sighed.

"I know," Daniel replied with a heavy sigh. "We need more time."

"Daniel, I don't know what to do to get it."

"What about Annie Glenn?" Daniel asked, referring to the woman who worked for Social Services and assisted the couple years before with finding Danny Hopkins a home and then with their adoption of Lulu.

"I tried. She's out of the country for the summer. From what I was told, it's her first big vacation in years, and it's a doozy. Two months, Danny. She's going to be gone for two more months."

"I'm not sure Jahindi is going to get through to Cliff, Jack, I mean, not today. Cliff's been neglected or abandoned or alone for a long time. That's my guess, and you can't just wipe that away in two or three days. We were lucky with Lulu. She talked, Jack. She shared her pain with us and our brood. Cliff has it all knotted up inside. You can't just reach inside of him and untie the knot that easily."

"Right on, man," Jahindi responded as he joined the couple in the living room. "You're hip."

"Did you find out anything more about Cliff?" Jack questioned.

"Close. He almost connected, but then he tuned out. It's like you said, there are a lot of knots and they're pulled tight."

"Thank you for trying," Daniel replied graciously.

"Man, don't give up. I'm not," Jahindi assured. "Who's the fuzz?"

"Excuse me?"

"Who's gonna try and pluck Cliffie out of here tonight?"

"Someone from CPS, I assume," Daniel replied.

"Pete Shanahan is a detective friend of ours. He's working with CPS for us," Jack added.

"Good cop, bad cop?"

"Good cop," Daniel answered.

"Cliffie needs space and time. It took Terry years to find a way out," Jahindi reminded. "I made a mistake," he admitted.

"What do you mean?" Jack queried.

"I tried to use my light as Cliff's. He needs his own, but he has to find it first."

"Would you like to join us for lunch?" Daniel invited. "Maybe a break will help."

Jahindi nodded and walked with the couple to the hospitality room.

"I'm actually glad we have a few minutes to talk," Daniel stated as he opened the refrigerator to pull out some vegetables.

"Jahindi, any allergies or anything we have to watch out for?" Jack interjected.

"Nah. My stomach can handle anything but burnt food."

"So you're not game for an old fashioned barbecue," Jack teased.

Daniel noticed the confused expression on the young man's face and spoke, "He's making a bad joke. Around here, Jack's known for charring the steaks to an extreme."

"Jeff's warned me."

"That's my boy," Jack groaned.

"Doctor Jackson-O'Neill, you were saying," Jahindi prodded, curious about whatever it was the man wanted to tell him.

"Cliff seems to be fond of our hyacinth macaw."

"The famous and most royal Ptolemy," Jahindi recalled from conversations with Jeff.

"He talks to her, more than he does with us," Daniel pointed out.

"Thanks."

Jahindi was already mulling over the possibilities. He wondered if Ptolemy could hold the key for reaching Cliff's essence. As he enjoyed lunch with Jeff's parents, he talked more about the situation and took in the comments and advice that Jack and Daniel offered.

====

Lunch and dinner came and went with no change in Cliff. He refused to talk, though he stayed close to Jahindi, who continued to try to make a connection with the boy without pressing or forcing him to talk. For the most part, Cliff sketched through the rest of the day.

"Jack, Daniel, I'm sorry," Pete spoke as he walked in the front door with a patrol officer and a woman from CPS. "This is Officer McGrath and Elena Markova. She'll be taking Cliff with her."

"Into foster care," Daniel accused. "Please tell me how that's better than allowing him to stay here with us."

"We have to find out who Cliff is," Mrs. Markova responded.

"A change of scenery isn't going to guarantee that happens," Jack snapped.

"He needs care you can't provide," the woman insisted.

"Lady, you don't know who you're talking to," Jack responded angrily. ~If I didn't care about parading my kids, I'd show her a couple of Mavericks and make her eat those words.~

"Jack, come on," Pete encouraged in an attempt to keep the peace.

"Give us a week," Daniel requested. ~We'll negotiate that down to two days. Two days are better than nothing.~

"Please get the child," Markova instructed.

Daniel heard a loud noise from the backyard where the children were playing and relaxing. He walked to the large windows and looked out. He noticed Cliff, sitting off to the side with his sketch pad. Then he observed Cliff watching some of the children with extra intensity.

"Detective," the woman pleaded, wanting to take Cliff right away.

"Jack, you have to get Cliff."

With a groan, Jack headed in the direction of the backyard.

"No!" Daniel exclaimed. "Wait."

"You've had time," Markova argued.

"Lady, now we're gonna wait. He's on to something," the general advised.

"Detective ..."

"Mrs. Markova, we'll give them a minute," Pete responded sternly.

"Danny, what is it?"

"Space."

"What?" Jack questioned.

"We've been giving Cliff a lot of space, space and, and time," Daniel babbled as his mind worked to develop the idea it was formulating.

"Yeah, so?" the general prodded.

"So, look," Daniel requested, nodding towards the outdoors.

Jack walked over and stood next to his husband. He shook his head, not understanding.

"Jack, we've been too careful, way too careful."

Jahindi, who had been completely silent since the arrival of the fuzz, as he referred to the three strangers in the room, walked over and stood on the other side of the archaeologist.

"Are you jivin'?" Jahindi required.

"Jahindi, when you were growing up, what do you long for more than anything?" Daniel queried. He quickly saw that the young man would have to go to a pained place in his heart to answer, so Daniel shifted his position. "Jack, you had great parents. When you were a little boy, what made you the happiest?"

"Playing."

"Jack."

"Dad used to pick me up and carry me around on his shoulders, like I was an extension of him. Mom, she made great cookies. I'd help her and then we'd sit down together, she'd put her arm around me and we'd talk and eat a cookie."

"What's the commonality?"

Jack had to think about where his love was going, but he couldn't quite pinpoint it.

"When I was a little boy, my dad did the same thing, putting me on his shoulder and carrying me around, and my mom, well, she wasn't a big baker, but we sat together, close, cuddling, and we'd talk. Jack, what do we do all the time with our children? We hold them, in good times and bad. We hug them, all the time. Don't you see? Cliff knows words, but words are empty to him. Touch: it's touching that he needs."

"I'm hip," Jahindi responded as he took in Daniel's thought. "I wanted love. I wanted my parents to acknowledge me, just once. My parents didn't touch me. They never held my hand. I don't have a conscious memory of either of them touching me, not even to take my hand when outside, crossing a street or shopping. Terry's not good with touch."

"What about Jahindi?" Jack asked.

Jahindi replied, "I have my moments." He looked over at Pete and stated, "Jeff's folks say you're one of the good cops. Doctor Jackson-O'Neill just hit on something real. Give us another day."

It was noticeable by all that Jahindi dropped his 1960's slang when making his plea.

"Detective, I insist you get the boy now," Markova demanded.

Pete stared intently at Jahindi, a young man he actually had not met until this evening, though he'd heard a bit about him over the last couple of days.

"I can't do it," Pete responded as he stared at Jahindi, causing Markova to smile, believing Cliff was about to be turned over to her.

"Fine. We can ..."

"No, Ma'am," Pete interrupted, turning to face the woman from Social Services. "I'm giving them their day."

"On what authority?"

"My authority, the authority of a father to special needs kids; mine, a friend of a family with neglected and abused children; and mine as an officer of the law where intent and compassion still mean something. You don't approve? You file a complaint. I'm sure my bosses will review it tomorrow afternoon."

Outraged, Markova stormed out of the home.

"Officer, you can go now," Pete told the uniformed patrolman.

The man nodded and headed out to return to his regular patrol.

"Are you going to get into trouble for this?" Jahindi questioned.

"I might, but I'll survive."

"Good job," Jack praised.

Shrugging off the compliment, the detective replied, "It's no more than you two have done for years."

Eager to give the theory a tryout, Jahindi asked, "Can you get your brood inside? Cliffie and I need air, lots of air, and space, so he feels free to take in the touch without pressure."

"We can do that," Daniel responded.

"Uh, I need Jeff's closet again."

"Help yourself," Jack permitted. When Jahindi was out of sight, he asked, "Is he going to change clothes?"

"I'm guessing he wants something less cliché. He wants to be real, not that he's not real, but being a hippie may not be the best persona to use with a little boy in 2016," Daniel put forth. "Pete, thank you."

"We all know we have to protect the kids." Pete looked at his watch and said, "I have an errand to run before I go home to Gorgeous."

As the man headed for the front door, Jack asked, "Pizza?"

"Flowers. Sam's one heck of a mother."

"We know," Daniel acknowledged with a smile.

"Good luck. Keep me posted," Pete called out as he opened the door and left the home.

Jack and Daniel stared out into their backyard, observing as Cliff leaned against a tree while he sketched away.

"I hope Jahindi can reach him," Daniel sighed.

"I hope your theory is right," Jack returned.

"Touch is so important. We've been assuming that Cliff needed and wanted space, but Lulu didn't, Jack. Remember how she was? She never shied away from the hugs and how the children were always putting their arms around her. We didn't frighten her, either, when we held her. She needed positive touch. I hope it's the same for Cliff."

====

Jahindi walked downstairs and stopped as he faced Jack and Daniel.

"Terry, I presume," Jack stated as he observed the young man, not wearing casual attire but rather clothes that spoke to a yuppie persona. ~He said he never wanted for anything; guess his folks had plenty of money to give him. Too bad they didn't have any love to offer him, too.~

"It's necessary to make the connection with Cliff. Our communication needs to be stripped down."

"Back to the basics," Daniel replied.

"He's too young to understand the sixties. I need to be Terry to teach him, even though ..." Jahindi stopped and then headed for the door when Jack called out to him. "Do you have a suggestion?" a somewhat nervous sounding man asked.

"Just one," Jack answered as he approached Jahindi. Now standing in front of Jeff's friend, Jack advised, "Jahindi is a very powerful young man. It sounds like he knows who he is and what he's all about, but inside Jahindi, Terry still exists. I'm no shrink, but based on my experience with neglected children and people who grow up with baggage, Terry needs some nourishing. You're a good man, Terry."

Jahindi was shocked when Jack embraced him.

"Everyone needs hugs, Terry, even you. I'm sorry your parents checked out on you." Ending the hug, Jack's hands remained on the young man's arms. He patted them gently. "No matter how this goes down, Daniel and I are here for you, anytime, even if all you want to do is sit and be one with the air and space around you."

Jahindi nodded and then headed outside.

"That was a nice thing you did, Jack."

"How is a kid who never had hugs supposed to teach another kid that it's okay to be hugged?"

"He has to know what it's like himself," Daniel returned. "You don't believe him when he says he, uh, has his moments?"

"Terry, Jahindi: whoever he is, protects himself by being other people. Look, Daniel, I get what he's done to survive. It's great. It took courage, but he's still trying to escape."

Daniel sighed as he walked back over to the window to observe Jahindi and Cliff.

"You disagree?" Jack asked as he joined his Love.

"No, not really. It's not about how he dresses or speaks. Like you said, he survived and he keeps on surviving, but he needs to embrace who he was. Terry was a smart little boy. He's grown up to be an intuitive man. I hope he finds peace."

"But he's still fighting his own pain, whether he admits it or not," the older man opined.

"Probably," Daniel agreed.

"Are you thinking about butting in again?"

"I'm not sure we know him well enough, and he is Jeff's friend."

"You're going to let that stop you?"

"Maybe with time we can help Jahindi, if he wants help, but right now, Love, we need to pay attention to what's happening outside with Cliff."

Jack nodded and the two men turned their attention to the backyard.

====

With the entire backyard at their disposal, Jahindi began by sitting across from Cliff.

The boy looked up and asked, "What happened to the funny clothes?"

"I don't want to be funny right now," Jahindi answered. "What are you thinking about?"

His sketch pad at his side, Cliff shrugged.

Jahindi closed his eyes and began to meditate, allowing Cliff to have the silence and space he needed for a few minutes. When he opened his eyes again, he saw the boy just staring at the ground. Jahindi scooted over to sit next to Cliff with the sketch pad being the only distance between them.

"My parents didn't know love, Cliff. I was a thing to them. They never touched me. I had great food, a big place to sleep, and all the things they thought I wanted. I had clothes, like these, that reflected their success. You know what I really had, Cliffie? Nothing, that's what I had. I had nothing." Jahindi could feel the boy's eyes on him. "I wanted my mother to hold me close and I wanted my father to teach me how to play baseball. Isn't that what parents are supposed to do? I don't know because all I had were two adults who left me alone."

"I wish my parents left me alone."

Jahindi's heart raced. He wasn't sure how to interpret the comments. The belief was that Cliff had been neglected but not physically abused. He wondered now if that belief was in error. He waited to see if Cliff said anything more, but what followed were seconds upon minutes of silence.

"Cliff," Jahindi began while at the same time reaching out with his right hand and gently touching the boy's back. ~I can feel his tenseness. Should I stop?~

This was all new to Jeff's friend. He didn't have any kind of degree in psychology or child behavior. What he knew was what he felt, back when Terry was all he knew and now when Jahindi gave him the way to live life in light instead of darkness.

"Cliff, let your soul free, let it see the world isn't always a bad place, let it feel goodness, let it lead you away from the dark, and let it show you the way. It will, if you let it."

Jahindi slowly moved the sketch pad out of the way and inched his way closer to the boy. As he did so, he slid his arm around the boy's shoulders.

"There is light in your soul and it wants you to break free, Cliff. Come on," the young man urged strongly, his hand gently shaking the boy's upper arm. "If I could do it, so can you. We can drum away the clouds that threaten us. I'll help you, Cliff."

For the first time, Jahindi heard a small sniffle. He saw tears beginning to fall down the neglected child's face. He felt Cliff's body begin to shake.

"I won't go away, Cliff. Let your soul free," Jahindi encouraged as he turned slightly and drew Cliff into a hug born of hope, fear, need, and desire.

--

"Jack, he did it," Daniel expressed happily.

"That kid is crying up a storm."

"He needs the release. There's hope now," the younger man spoke softly.

====

"His name is Cliff Allen," Jack told Pete over the phone an hour or so later. "He's ten. His so-called parents are Alton and Veronica Allen."

Jack continued to provide Pete with the specifics about Cliff and his parents, including where they live.

"Pete, tell me you aren't going to take him back to those people."

As he checked the records for missing persons on his computer, Pete responded, "There's no report of a missing boy."

"Surprised? They probably don't even know he's gone," Jack put forth sarcastically.

"I'm going to call CPS and we'll pay a visit to the Allens. Keep the boy with you, Jack, and I'll get back to you."

"Pete, no matter what, we're keeping Cliff tonight. Before he goes back to those morons or spends a night in county care, he's going to have one more period of darkness that isn't dark from cruelty."

Pete sighed, but said he'd go along with the request. After all, he'd already agreed to the additional night.

"Tomorrow afternoon, Jack."

"Keep me posted."

After the call ended, Jack found his husband and told him the plan, limited as it was.

"He's still going to have to go into the system," Daniel sighed. "He can't go home."

"He doesn't have a home."

"Daniel, we're not talking a week or two. This is a long-term proposition and a darn messy one at that."

"I know."

"It's foster care or one of the shelters," Jack stated.

"He needs a lot of care, Jack, maybe more than we can give," Daniel put forth with insight and honesty.

"He needs a two-on-one," the older man suggested.

"Two parents who have time to show him what caring means. As much as I don't want him in the system, if I'm true to who we are, I'm afraid Cliff would be overwhelmed. He's not ready for the brood."

"Jahindi keeps talking about space. He's right, Danny. Cliff needs to be able to breathe. We're not the right fit, not yet anyway."

"It's hard, Jack."

"Yeah."

"Lulu said there's always room for one more."

"She's right, but we don't want to do that if we're doing it just to stick to our beliefs. We have to put Cliff first. Danny, he told Jahindi his name and a few statistics, but he's hardly parading around here with the kids. He's still out there, sitting, staring at that sketch pad."

"It was a breakthrough, not a miracle. He has a long way to go, and we have to let him go to find his way, at least for now."

"Look, when Annie gets back from her wallop of a vacation, I'll give her a call and make sure Cliff hasn't gotten lost in the system."

Daniel smiled and nodded in appreciation of his husband's suggestion. Part of him was still divided. It pained him to think of any child in the foster care system, but when it was a child he'd met, it was even more difficult. As conflicted as he was about that, he recognized that Cliff had special needs to help him discover that life was there, waiting for him. Maybe in the future, the Jackson-O'Neills would be an answer, but for now, Cliff needed a more intimate living situation which meant a smaller family circle.

====

"What did you find out?" Daniel asked Pete when the detective showed up at the house later that evening.

"The Allens were very evasive." Pete shook his head as he continued, "They didn't have an explanation."

"What kind of people are they? I mean, their home, Cliff's environment?" the archaeologist questioned.

"Small home, maybe eight-hundred square feet. Cliff's room was about the size of Jen's, if that. It was messy. When we arrived, Mister Allen was yelling at Mrs. Allen to clean up. You know something," Pete began with a look of amazement on his face, "those two barely acknowledged we were there. They stood there and argued about everything. Elena asked them what Cliff usually did at home and you know what Mister Allen said?"

"It can't be good," Daniel surmised.

"He said, 'Who?' I'm serious, he acted like he didn't know who I was talking about and when Mrs. Allen snapped at him that I was talking about her son, he went off on her. He let go with a slew of expletives to describe her motherhood abilities and Cliff."

"So, he's not Cliff's birth father?" the archaeologist queried.

"Nope," Pete confirmed. "Cliff's father was Curtis Underwood. He died five-and-a-half-years ago. Mrs. Allen remarried within a few months; couldn't cut it on her own. Cliff began using the Allen name right away, but we can't find any record that Allen ever adopted the boy. Those are the facts. I have a hunch there's a lot of nastiness behind the facts."

"Now what?" Jack questioned.

"The Allens have been arrested for child neglect. CPS is taking Cliff for his protection. Elena should be here in a few minutes to pick him up. He's going to have to go with her," Pete advised the couple. "For now, he'll be at the county home for children."

"Can I go with him, Detective?"

The three men looked over and saw Jahindi at the patio door. The young man walked forward and spoke in earnest.

"He's scared, but he won't show it. I'd like to go with him, make sure he gets settled. Please."

"Jahindi, Cliff is staying here tonight," Daniel advised. "Detective Shanahan will pick him up tomorrow afternoon."

"Detective, have a heart. He's frightened." After Pete nodded, Jahindi added, "I'll be back in the morning, if that's okay," he asked Jack and Daniel.

"Come by as early as you like," Daniel responded.

"He's still sitting outside. Maybe you could let him talk to Ptolemy for a while."

"Great idea," Jack agreed, watching as Jahindi let himself out and left the home.

"That's an interesting kid," Pete opined.

"He has a story," Jack responded.

"Everyone has a story, Jack. It's how they extend their plot that is the real story," Daniel asserted.

====

The next day was Saturday. It was a free day for the children with no homeschooling planned. After breakfast, some of the kids had play dates with friends while others were playing with one another or relaxing in the backyard.

Cliff was sitting on a floor pillow in the recreation room while Jack and Daniel took turns observing, usually staying out of the boy's sight. Little Danny tried twice to engage the youngster, and while Cliff spoke to him a couple of times, the lad seemed more interested in the family bird.

At one point, Daniel walked in and sat down perpendicular to Cliff. Polly let out a happy squawk at Daniel's presence, causing Cliff to laugh.

"She likes you," the archaeologist told the boy.

Though Cliff remained silent, Daniel had a different feeling about the child. While the youngster was still closed off, he wasn't as emotionally distant. Daniel decided to take a chance, beginning with opening up more about his own experiences.

"Cliff, for years, I didn't let anyone touch me. I did this a lot."

Cliff looked over as Daniel straightened and folded his arms across his chest.

"When I was the most stressed or feeling alone, I held myself, like this."

The boy's eyes focused on Daniel's hands as he squeezed his upper arms, his grip tightening.

"I only had me to protect myself. The only one I'd let in was me. I hugged myself because no one else wanted to hug me, and when some did, I retreated."

This is when Daniel took his chance. He reached out, his hand moving slowly and directly within Cliff's sight. Cautiously, he placed his hand on the boy's back and made very slow and ginger rubbing motions.

"The day I let Jack in, that moment when he touched me and it was okay, that was my renewal. I guess Jahindi would call it my light. I accepted Jack's friendship. It wasn't easy, but I began to heal that day. Cliff, it takes a long time to heal, but you will heal. The pain might be in your memory, but you'll replace it with smiles and good things."

Daniel noticed there was no tenseness in the boy's body as he gently caressed his back. In fact, he could sense a release in Cliff.

"I want you to know that we're all here, day and night. All you have to do is call us. You're a caring and smart boy, and you're part of us from here on out. Okay?"

Even with Cliff's acceptance of his touch, Daniel wasn't expecting a response to his statement. He smiled as he stood and started walking away.

"Ptolemy, too?"

Turning, Daniel saw a very faint smile on Cliff's face.

"Ptolemy, too," Daniel affirmed.

Cliff refocused on the magnificent bird as he stroked her gently with the palm of his hand.

With a good feeling within him, Daniel headed for Jack's study and sat down on the chair in front of the desk.

"What?" Jack questioned.

"Cliff let me rub his back. Touch is exactly what he needs," Daniel put forth.

Both men stared at the other, each knowing how unhappy they were with what would be happening in just a few hours. Even so, they were confident their decision was right. They could love Cliff, but their brood was large and Cliff had challenges they did not have time to properly address. Maybe they could change some things, but before they discussed those possibilities, they silently agreed to see what the court system would do with Cliff.

"Jack, if they don't place him ..."

The older man nodded, the non-verbal answer to the unspoken question exactly what Daniel expected, and wanted, to see.

Jack and Daniel would not let Cliff get lost in the system. If necessary, they'd find a way to make the time Cliff needed, even at the cost of their business participation.

====

After lunch, the kids at home were all upstairs at the request of their parents, who were not exactly sure when CPS would be coming for Cliff. Currently, Cliff was outside with Bijou and Katie resting nearby.

A knock on the door drew Jack's attention from the fish tank where he was refilling the feeder. He chuckled as he practically bumped into his husband at the entryway.

"After you," Jack mused, making a sweeping motion with his arm.

"Thank you, Babe," Daniel responded as he walked by and opened the door.

"I'm sorry I came so late," Jahindi spoke softly. "Where's Cliffie?"

"He's in the backyard, and we haven't told him yet," Daniel replied as he closed the door.

"We wanted him to have a peace night and morning," Jack explained as he stood at the edge of the entryway.

The young man nodded his acknowledgement and kept moving.

Concerned, Daniel walked to stand next to his lover as they both watched Jahindi go through the house and enter the backyard.

"Danny ..."

"Red and puffy eyes," Daniel noted.

"You think he's been crying?"

"Don't you?"

"That's why he didn't come this morning," Jack surmised. "Should we say anything?"

"No. Our focus, and his, needs to be on Cliff."

"He's in preppy clothes again."

"That's the closest he can be to himself, Jack. He thinks Terry would be dressing like that if he'd grown up differently."

"Danny, how much do you want to bet that Jahindi and Terry aren't that far apart?"

"No bet, Babe," Daniel responded as he walked forward.

"I wouldn't bet myself, either," Jack mused as he returned to finish his fish task.

====

Jahindi sat down next to Cliff and again put his arm around the boy as he said, "Cliff, I meant what I said yesterday. I'll see you through. You need anything, you call me, and I'll call you."

"Where are you going?"

"With you, for now, to make sure you're okay . You have a new beginning on your horizon, Cliff."

"I don't understand, Jahindi."

"Your soul is evolving. You have a lot to see and learn, Cliffie, about yourself, about the sun and air and space. You're going to be great."

"Am I going home?"

"To a new place, not home, but one day, you'll find your home."

As he'd done the evening before, Jahindi pulled Cliff close. Cliff didn't cry this time, but he didn't pull away, either. Daniel was definitely right. Cliff liked being touched. He felt alive, though he didn't quite understand it.

"Jahindi?"

"What is it?"

There wasn't a response, not even after Jahindi prodded the child. Cliff retreated, not really understanding what was happening to him.

====

Inside the house, a circle of inevitable gloom was circling.

"He'll be well taken care of," Elena Markova insisted to Jack and Daniel, who were still skeptical of the system Cliff was about to enter.

"Mrs. Markova, I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but I was in the system. I know what it's like."

"Is there any chance Cliff will be returned to his parents?" Jack asked.

"Doubtful," the worker answered. "Mrs. Allen said the last time she saw Cliff was eight days ago."

"Eight days?" Daniel echoed. "This is just his fifth day here with us."

"Some people should never be parents," Jack sighed unhappily.

"Can you get Cliff, please," the woman requested.

"Uh, Jack, Little Danny?"

Understanding, Jack walked over to the intercom and spoke, "Little Danny, will you come downstairs, please." He turned to Markova and advised, "Our son will want to say goodbye to Cliff."

Markova considered objecting, but having already gone a round with Jack and Daniel, she opted to accept the situation. She figured it would save time and lower her stress level.

"Here I am," Little Danny called out as he walked into the living room. "Hi, Uncle Pete."

"Hi, Little Danny."

"Danny," Daniel called out, reaching out with his arm to gently maneuver his namesake toward the patio door. "Cliff is going to go with Mrs. Markova."

"But ..."

"This is the right thing for today," Daniel interrupted. "Yesterday, Jahindi was able to get Cliff to tell us a little bit about himself and his family. Uncle Pete found his parents."

"Is he going home?"

"No."

"I think that's good, Daddy."

"I think so, too. If you want to say goodbye, now's the time. He's in the backyard with Bij and Katie."

Little Danny nodded and hurried outside, leaving the adults to themselves.

====

As he approached, Little Danny waved at Jahindi, who nodded.

"Hi, Cliff," Little Danny greeted as he sat down on his knees in front of the boy. "My daddy says you're going to a new home."

Cliff nodded as he remained quiet.

"We'll come visit, okay?"

"Why?"

"Because we're friends."

Cliff looked at Little Danny with uncertainty, but he did not respond.

"My family has a motto. We never leave anyone behind, especially family and friends. I know," the Munchkin spoke excitedly. "Dad and Daddy will pick you up and bring you here and we can play with Muffin. I'll bet they'd let us play with their trains, too."

"Lucky '97?"

Little Danny grinned as he replied, "Yeah. That's Dad train."

"I think I broke it."

"Dad will fix it. Dad's good at fixing things, all kinds of things. So is Daddy."

"Jahindi," Pete called out from the wooden deck. "Two minutes."

Jahindi, Cliff, and Little Danny all stood up.

"I'll see you soon, Cliff, and when you come back, we'll play games you like. What games do you like?"

"I like ..." Cliff began and then hung his head.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know what I like. I don't get to play games much."

With a grin, Little Danny promised, "That's okay. We'll play them all, and then you can tell us which ones you like."

"Your soul will tell you, Cliffie," Jahindi interjected.

"Okay," the boy agreed.

Little Danny eagerly threw his arms around his new friend and said, "We're gonna be great friends, Cliff."

Cliff was a bit overwhelmed, but he hugged Little Danny back and didn't let go for a few seconds. He felt alive again, just like when Jahindi hugged him and Daniel rubbed his back.

The trio casually returned to the home's interior. Cliff's heart rate increased and he felt afraid when he saw the social worker and the detective.

"It's time to go, Cliff," Markova told the boy as she approached.

Cliff felt the woman stranger take his hand, and it made him cringe. He immediately pulled back and ran towards the hospitality room.

"Wait!" Daniel called out as Pete and Mrs. Markova began to follow. "Pete, he wants to say goodbye to Ptolemy. Give us a couple of minutes." He looked at his husband, a silent request made to keep everyone in the living room. "Jahindi," he addressed, his hand tapping the young man's elbow in a quest to get him to follow.

The two walked quietly into the kitchen and stopped. They saw the boy sitting on the floor, talking to Ptolemy, who he'd taken out of the cage.

"This is what I've been talking about," the archaeologist spoke quietly.

"Whispers are easier than loud truths," Jahindi opined. "You're right. He and Ptolemy are soulful. This is good, but we need time to do its thing."

"I wish we had more time, but it's out of our control. Believe me, we've done everything we could think of, but now that the Allens have been arrested, the process, sick as it is, has to move forward."

The two returned to the living room and observed Markova was anxious to get Cliff and leave. It wasn't easy, but along with Jack and Little Danny who talked about anything he could think of as fast as he could, they managed to hold her off for several minutes, giving Cliff quite a while to share his thoughts with Ptolemy.

Finally, Cliff returned, head bowed and his soul silenced for the moment.

Pete and the CPS worker, who this time around did not attempt to take Cliff's hand, exited the home first.

"Jahindi," Daniel spoke. "Thank you for your help, and I hope you'll call us or come by sometime."

"Bring Terry with you," Jack added. "My hunch says you're both good people."

Jahindi nodded.

"Cliff, don't forget what I told you earlier," Daniel stated, handing the boy a J-O Enterprises business card on which he'd added the family's landline phone number. "We're here, anytime."

Cliff actually smiled, though it was brief. He felt Jahindi take his hand and knew he had to leave, though he didn't want to go. He never got to do what he wanted, not for long, like now, when he had to leave the home for something unknown and scary to him.

Holding Cliff's willing hand, Jahindi followed Markova to her car.

The Jackson-O'Neills watched in sadness as Pete, Markova, Jahindi, and Cliff drove away.

With the front door closed after the departure, Little Danny announced, "Dad, Daddy, I told Cliff that he can come back and play games with us, and we'll go visit him, too."

"Yeahsureyabetcha!" Jack exclaimed with a proud nod.

"What happened to Cliff's parents?" Little Danny asked.

"They were arrested," Daniel responded, speaking the truth to his namesake.

"For losing Cliff?"

"Something like that," Daniel affirmed. "Son, we'll talk about it more after dinner, okay?"

"Okay. I'll go tell everyone Cliff is gone," the boy advised.

"Son," Jack called out. "Sound the all clear. Everyone is free to come downstairs now, if they want."

"Okay, Dad."

With their son headed upstairs, Daniel requested, "Tell me again."

Putting his arm around Daniel's waist, Jack responded, "We did the right thing. Cliff will come around, but he needs time to adjust and he needs to do that in a less crazy atmosphere than with our brood."

"You'll call Annie when she returns?"

"It's on the calendar."

"And?"

"And if we see that Cliff isn't getting help, that he becomes lost in the system, we'll figure out a plan and bring him home."

"I love you."

"I love you, too, Angel."

====

August was coming to a close when a visitor knocked on the Jackson-O'Neill door. Daniel opened it and smiled. It had been a month since he'd seen Jeff's friend.

"Jahindi."

"You said I could come by," the young man spoke.

"Absolutely," Daniel responded as he motioned for the young man to enter the home. "Jack isn't here right now and the children are occupied with homework," he pointed out.

"You're more accepting than most," Jahindi noted as he sat down.

Daniel knew the reference was due to his lack of reaction to Jahindi's current outfit which was along the lines of a rapper. The young man wore a baggy shirt and baggy jeans. He had on a bandana that was mostly covered by a baseball cap and there was a heavy gold chain around his neck. A pair of Adidas sunglasses were hanging on the front of his shirt. Rounding out the outfit was a pair of Jordan sneakers with the tongues out. Daniel also took note that while Jahindi was wearing the rapper look, he wasn't using any of the slang or manner of speech associated with rappers.

"Thank you," the archaeologist replied. "How can I help you?"

"Risk," Jahindi responded. "It can hurt."

"Yes, it can, but in my experience, the end result is worth the pain."

"Pain is best when avoided."

"There's, uh, a lot of debate on that, and it depends on the kind of pain you're referring to." Daniel sighed before continuing, "When I was eight, I watched a cover stone collapse on my parents, killing them. Up until then, I was a happy boy with a family. After that, I retreated into my studies. I lived to learn, and that's how I survived."

"You were in the system."

"Yes. My ... grandfather didn't have time for me. Eventually, I got out and made my own way. I hid all the pain from those years deep inside. I ... I almost forgot what my parents looked like. So many memories were buried and I couldn't access them, not until I met Jack and he forced the issue."

"I don't get it."

"I didn't want to deal with my pain, Jahindi. I was fine. It never mattered what happened to me, I was fine. Whether I'd had a positive experience or a bad one, I was always fine. Jack knew that wasn't the truth, and he pushed, very hard, to get me to face my past. You see, Jahindi, the only way you can really go forward is to accept your past, the good and the bad, and face the pain. Then you can put it into your past, for real."

"Those are words, like speech."

"That is my life. Look, it's not easy. Jack and I broke up a lot, or I tried to break up. I couldn't trust, not him, I have always, well, most of the time, trusted Jack, but I carried baggage I had to deal with, and when that got too hard, I tried to leave. Jack hung in there. He helped me to see my childhood, all of it, including the joy of my parents." Smiling, Daniel pointed out, "I remember my parents clearly now. I can hear their voices and see their smiles. I can feel their touch. Nothing's perfect, Jahindi, but recognizing my pain, facing it, and letting out my sorrows and regrets helped me to be here, now."

"You had your husband."

"You have friends, and if you need help, Jack and I are willing."

"I didn't say I had pain."

"Everyone has pain of some kind. I think remembering Terry causes you pain and holds you back. Jahindi, Terry's an amazing person. You don't have to give up Jahindi to embrace Terry. Both souls, if you will, are in you."

"Conquering pain is courageous," Jahindi opined.

"It can be. It can also be liberating."

"How do you know when it's worth it?"

"Only you can answer that. For me, I fell in love and Jack guided me to a place that was safe. Over time, and that was a lot of years, Jahindi," Daniel spoke, stopping his thought to note, "This was not overnight. Anyway, at some point, I knew I was in a good place. I was home -- home."

"Jeff said it was when you got the beagles."

"Yes, it was. Jack always says every kid should have a dog. When he brought Bijou and Katie here, everything was right in my world. I can't explain that very well in words, but I knew I was finally at home, and not long after that, I proposed. My world has never been the same since then, and I'm a happy man as a result. Facing pain is tough, but when you do it, the light comes through."

"I survived because of this," Jahindi noted as he gestured to his clothing.

"And that's great. You don't have to change your style to win the war, but you do have to battle the bad and recognize how that pain is part of you. Then Jahindi and Terry will be one. That's what it's about, Jahindi, being whole. That's what I hope you'll find, peace and unity between Jahindi and Terry."

Jahindi nodded, stood, and repeated, "Risk."

"It's part of life. If the reward is worth it to you and if it's something you really want, then risk can bring you the world."

"Thank you, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill. Jeff's a lucky man."

Daniel was about to reply, but Jahindi wasted no time in fast walking to the front door and leaving the home.

~I hope that helped, and, hmmm, I wonder what he's thinking about. Something more than the obvious brought him here today.~

Curious, but realizing he wasn't going to discover the answer, at least not today, the archaeologist refocused on his family and what he'd been doing before the young man's unexpected arrival.

====

More than a week later, Jack was outside, trimming some of the bushes, when a visitor rode up on a motorcycle. It was Jahindi, but he wasn't dressed completely as a biker. Instead, he had on a colorful long-sleeved tee shirt with the phrase "Free Your Soul" on it and black jeans. He did have on his Harley Davidson leather jacket, something that caused the general to smile.

"I thought maybe your bike was stolen," Jack quipped.

"The Terry in me sometimes likes to be a little less complex."

"Don't lose Jahindi."

"Never, man. I am Jahindi, but I'm working on Terry, too."

"Glad to hear it."

"You said I could come by if I needed something," Jahindi told Jack.

"We did say that."

"I need something."

"Say the word."

"It's more like write the words," Jahindi replied while pulling out some papers. "I need your signature, and Doctor Jackson-O'Neill's."

Jack looked into the young man's eyes as he took possession of the papers and read them. A couple of times, he glanced over at Jahindi, studying his eyes and demeanor.

"I have one question," Jack stated after his review of the documents.

"Hit me with it."

"When is Cliff's birthday?"

Surprised and unsure why Jack would ask him that, Jahindi cocked his head slightly as he responded, "February 29. Do you believe that, General Jackson-O'Neill? His parents never celebrated his birthday. They told him his birthday didn't exist, except for once every four years. That dad pretender Allen said it was a punishment for Cliff being stupid and lazy."

"I hadn't heard about that," Jack admitted, wishing he had a punching bag with Allen's image on it to hit.

In the five-plus weeks since Cliff was taken from the Jackson-O'Neill home, more information was discovered about Cliff and his parents, not much of which was good. When Cliff's father died, his mother couldn't bare being alone. She was used to being supported and cared for by her husband, who worked hard for a living. In need of a man after Curtis Underwood's death, she married the first one that came along and was drawn into an existence where her love for her child faded in favor of making her new husband happy. Unfortunately, Alton Allen had a bad temperament and wasn't fond of children. As time passed, Cliff's happy childhood ceased. He was an annoyance to the Allens, someone who took of their food and space. He was told what to do and when, and most of that was at the bidding of Mister Allen. In a sense, he was a slave to his stepfather.

With the help of a counselor and frequent visits by Jahindi, Cliff was discovering what it meant to be a child again. He had a long way to go, but he was engaging more with people. Unfortunately, outside of Jahindi, CPS refused to allow any outside visits for the boy, something that was a great consternation to Jack and Daniel, both of whom were anxious for Annie Glenn to return and intervene.

The Allens were still in jail, unable to meet bail. Their trial would be soon and after that Cliff's future would be determined.

"Have a pen?"

Jahindi reached inside his pocket and pulled out a pen. He handed it to the other man.

**Danny, if you're free, come outside. Jahindi's here and he wants to foster Cliff.**

**Wha...what? I'll be right there.**

As Jack was signing his name, Jahindi asked, "Why did you ask me about Cliffie's birthday?"

"Because birthdays are special. That told me all I needed to know," Jack answered.

"Hello, Jahindi," Daniel greeted, having hurried to the front yard.

"Doctor Jackson-O'Neill," Jahindi acknowledged. "Sir, would you consider signing this for me? I need references. I could get some of my friends, but they won't carry the power of your names," he explained, looking at both men.

"What did Mrs. Markova say?" the archaeologist asked curiously.

"She's not being very supportive, but she said if I was able to get some references, CPS would consider me."

"Cliff needs a lot of attention," Jack put forth.

"I agree and I'm able to give him that. We're connected. Mrs. Markova doesn't understand that, but Jeff said you two would."

"Our son is very smart," Daniel opined as he signed the paper. He smiled as he returned the paper to Jahindi. Making eye contact, he put forward, "Risk is difficult, but the reward is huge."

Daniel and Jahindi made strong eye contact, and the young man bobbed his head in acknowledgement that the conversation he'd had with Daniel about risk was indeed related to his decision to move forward and foster the boy.

"Risk is the reward," Jahindi responded. "Do you think Detective Shanahan would give me a reference, too?"

"I'd bet on it," Jack responded, pulling out his smartphone. As he pressed the appropriate button, he smirked, "Would a few more generals help?"

Jahindi broke out into a smile.

"I can do one better," Daniel interjected.

"Oh, yeah?" Jack questioned.

"How about an ex-President of the United States?" the archaeologist queried.

"You're kidding?"

While his husband shook his head in response, Jack retorted, "Let's see Markova reject your application with that reference."

====

An hour later, after obtaining a few very influential references, Jack walked Jahindi outside and toward his motorcycle.

"By the way, you do have a job?"

Jahindi laughed, "I make do."

Jack wasn't sure exactly what to make of response, but the young man wasn't asking for a job or money, so he decided to think positively on the subject.

At the bike, Jahindi got on and retrieved his helmet.

"Jahindi, I hate butting in."

"Why do you think you have to?"

"I don't, but sometimes my gut stings until I do."

Jahindi nodded and invited, "Say what you have to, man."

"Is this you?" Jack saw the young man's questioning expression. "Love the tee and the denim, but somehow it doesn't fit the image."

"Image is nothing but perception."

"Can't argue that," Jack agreed. "Look, Daniel and I want to make sure we haven't steered you away from yourself when our goal was the opposite."

With a nod, Jahindi assured, "My soul is free and true. It sees my world as mine."

"It is your world, Jahindi, but you know what's better than having your own world?" After a pause, Jack answered his own question. "Our world, Jahindi, *our* world beats my world hands down. If you get Cliff, you'll find that out. You'll never be the same."

Jahindi nodded, made sure his helmet was secured, and drove off.

~That young man has a lot to learn. Maybe he and Cliff can learn together.~

====

September was coming to a quick close as was the state's case against Cliff's neglectful parents.

"Eighteen months? That's it?"

"It was kicked down to a misdemeanor," Annie Glenn told Jack as they discussed Alton Allen. "There's also a five-thousand dollar fine, but the Allens don't have much. His future wages will probably end up being garnished," she spoke about Cliff's stepfather.

"What about his mother?"

"You're not going to like it."

"I don't like any of it," Jack returned sternly.

"She was given time served."

"She's out?"

"Yes."

"And where does that leave Cliff?"

"The judge is still considering what's best for the child. It's considered a positive if we can reunite a family." Annie could sense Jack's resistance over the phone. "It does work, Jack, sometimes."

"Yeah, okay, I'll give you that, but for now, Cliff stays with Jahindi, right?"

"For now. You realize I'm limited in what I can say, but for the most part, all of the welfare checks have been satisfactory. There's a noticeable difference in Cliff."

Jack heard the drop off in Annie's voice and prodded, "But?"

"There are a few questions about Jahindi."

The general knew he couldn't pry, even though he was extremely curious. He still knew very little about Jahindi. He considered having Sam do a background check, but this wasn't a stranger. This was a friend of his adult son's and he felt it would be inappropriately invasive for a non-emergency situation.

"You're about to explode, aren't you, Jack?" Annie chuckled lightly.

"Me? Nah," Jack responded sarcastically.

"It's a colorful situation with a unique characteristic," the woman explained, saying all she felt she could.

"He's a survivor, Annie. Do you have any idea what it must have taken for him as a kid to create a way not just to survive, but to thrive? That has to go a long way."

"That's why Jahindi is still approved as Cliff's foster parent. That's secure for now."

"There's that," Jack sighed, not all that confident in the system. "Thanks, Annie, for the update."

"You're welcome."

When the call ended, Jack went directly to the backyard where Daniel was hiding two new toys for Katie in her sandbox.

"Buried?"

"It won't take her long, but she'll like these new ones," the archaeologist opined as he put the finishing touches on covering up the toys and stood up. "Did you speak with Annie?"

With a nod, Jack proceeded to update his husband on the latest information.

"It was to be expected," Daniel asserted about the resolution of the case.

"You're not any happier about it than I am," Jack put forth.

"No, I'm not, but we know how the court system is, and there wasn't any physical abuse or past history. The important thing is Cliff's future."

"Let's hope the judge makes the right call."

====

It was late March 2017. Jeff was working for Archonics Ltd. as part of his university work program. He'd had an active role in designing and building his parents' new man cave. Since his return home, he'd seen Jahindi a few times and assured his fathers that Cliff was doing well.

Every now and then, Annie Glenn phoned Jack, giving him small updates, confiding that Jahindi continued to receive satisfactory reviews as Cliff's foster caregiver. Meanwhile, the judge was monitoring the progress, such as it was, of Veronica Allen as he considered a possible reunion between mother and son.

On this day, Jack was tinkering with his truck when Jeff returned home from a late lunch with a beautiful girl on his arm.

"Chely," Jack greeted warmly, hugging the young woman.

"Hi, General Jackson-O'Neill," Chely greeted.

"Chely's home for a week in between quarters at Stanford," Jeff advised his older father.

"Daniel!" Jack shouted, alerting his husband who was in the backyard.

The archaeologist heard the shout and joined his husband in the front yard. He shared a hug with Jeff's girlfriend as well as the four adults caught up for a few minutes.

The young woman beamed, happy that Jeff's parents seemed so excited to see her. It made her feel like a part of the family, which, of course, she aspired to be at some point.

"Chel, I need to check in with Alex," Jeff told his girlfriend, giving her a peck on the cheek. "I'll be right back," he said before heading inside.

"He did a great job with our man cave. Would you like to see it?" Daniel asked.

"I'd love to."

Jack and Daniel took Chely inside and showed off their new private space.

"Jeff did all this. I'm so proud of him."

"So are we," Daniel returned.

"Alex has him working on a gym now," Jack reported.

"How are your studies going?" Daniel inquired.

"Wonderfully. I'm very happy. There are some interesting choices for me, though."

"Yeah?" Jack questioned.

"I'm eager to see where it goes."

Jack and Daniel saw the young woman's contented expression, but they also sensed she wasn't yet ready to share her decision making, so they didn't push her.

"Do you know when Jahindi's coming?" Chely asked casually. She immediately noticed her boyfriend's parents exchanging a surprised expression. "You haven't heard from him?"

"No, we haven't," Daniel answered.

"Oh, well, he called Jeff this morning and asked him to bring me here this afternoon so he could talk to all of us."

"It's news to ..."

At that moment, there was a loud rap on the front door.

"... us," Jack completed. ~Maybe that's him.~

The trio left the man cave behind and walked into the living room. Jack took the lead as he approached the front door and opened it.

"Okay, who are you and what have you done with Jahindi?" the general asked.

Jahindi chuckled as he stood at the door, dressed in a business suit. Cliff was on his right and Jahindi had his hand on the boy's shoulder.

"Jahindi, Cliff, hello," Daniel called out as he walked into the entryway. "Come in."

"Hey man!" Jeff called out, having finished his call with Alex.

"My man," Jahindi returned joyfully, hugging his friend.

Hellos were made all the way around with Jahindi hugging Chely as well.

"You look happy," Chely whispered as she accepted an embrace from Cliff.

"Thank you for helping me," Cliff told the college student.

"I'm glad Little Danny encouraged me to help you."

"Is Little Danny home?" Cliff asked Jack and Daniel.

"*Little Danny*!" Jack shouted, causing Daniel to cringe. "I know. We have an intercom."

"Then why don't you use it?" the younger man challenged.

"Too easy," Jack answered with a chuckle.

"Sirs, Jeff, Chely, I'd like you to meet ... my son," Jahindi announced, his hand patting Cliff lovingly.

"Son?" Jack queried.

"We just came from the courthouse," Jahindi explained.

"Hi, Cliff!" Little Danny exclaimed as he joined the group.

"Hi, Little Danny. Can we play?"

"We have school in a few minutes," Little Danny responded with a sigh.

"The schedule has just been changed," Daniel told his namesake. "Go play."

With a grin, Little Danny asked, "Do you want to play with Muffin or ..."

"Yeah. Let's tell dinosaur stories," Cliff suggested.

"I have some good ones," Little Danny put forth as the two headed for the game room.

"Can we play some games, too? I want to see which ones I like."

"Sure."

"What about Jonny and Jenny and ..." Cliff asked eagerly.

Little Danny looked back at his parents, a question on his face.

"Go get 'em," Jack told the Munchkin.

Soon, several of the children were with Cliff in the game room. For a few minutes, the adults watched, all amazed at the change in Cliff. Then they returned to the living room, allowing the kids to play on their own.

"So, you're adopting Cliff?" Daniel inquired.

"What about his mother?" Chely asked.

Other questions followed, causing Jahindi to laugh before explaining, "Mrs. Allen gave up her parental rights. Since I've had Cliff, she missed every single meeting that was set up for her to spend time with him. From what I know, she was a good mom once, but now she doesn't care. I don't know exactly what happened between her and the judge, but when Mrs. Markova told me that Cliff's mom had given up her rights, I moved forward."

"Mrs. Markova was supportive?" Jack questioned with some skepticism.

"Not so much, but Mrs. Glenn was," Jahindi responded with bright eyes. "I asked her not to tell you," he admitted. "If Cliff was going to be mine, it had to be because I was the best one for him. Your references opened up the light, but I had to go through on my own."

"You don't sound like yourself, exactly," Jeff pointed out.

"Yes, I do, Jeff. This is me. I'm Jahindi Malone, a survivor of child apathy. I understand more about myself now than I used to, and I'm at peace with the life I led as Terry." Jahindi faced Jack and Daniel as he continued, "I found a way to live and now I'm strong enough to help Cliff do the same." Chuckling, he added, "I haven't lost anything, but I've gained a light I hadn't envisioned before."

"I never thought I see you in a suit," Jack stated.

"A suit has its place. Some souls only see the surface. For Cliff, I showed them what they wanted to see. It's no threat to me. Tomorrow, we'll see where the day takes me, and Cliff."

"If you need any help, with anything, even financially, we're here," Daniel put forth.

"They don't know," Jahindi mused as he looked at Jeff.

"I don't think so," Jeff replied.

"Know what?"

Jahindi reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card which he handed to Daniel.

"Business cards are so conventional, but like a suit, they have a function," Jahindi stated.

Daniel handed the card to his husband while commenting, "Is this who you work for?"

"I work for me."

"Dad, Daddy, Jahindi is a computer and software genius. He owns his own company and has developed several successful apps."

"In a capitalist world, I have more than I need or want. I give most of it away, but I have a place that's comfortable for Cliffie and me."

Jack and Daniel learned that Jahindi didn't employ anyone. He did everything himself. He had a few advisors who dealt with contractual issues, but the young man kept his life as simple as possible. He pulled in a substantial amount of money, but kept only what he needed. He'd been donating large amounts of money to children's causes for years.

"The suit and my tax returns got me Cliffie today. The references you got for me last year made CPS give me a chance. Everything has its place."

"Tell us about Cliff," Jack requested.

"I can't believe the change in him," Chely remarked. "That was such a big hug he gave me."

Jahindi responded, "He loves hugs. It's one of his things now." He smiled as he continued, "He's doing good. You were right, Doctor Jackson-O'Neill. The power of touch is mind blowing. I ... it helped me, too. Cliff still needs to find his light, though. We're experimenting with his interests until one explodes into a passion. We already found one that reaches him."

"Do tell," Jack requested eagerly.

Jahindi pulled out his smartphone and called up a photo of Cliff and a beautiful hyacinth macaw.

"This is Cliffie's bird, Anima."

"The soul," Daniel translated with a smile.

"Yes. Cliffie talks to Anima about his innermost secrets all the time. Sometimes, he shares with me, but Anima is always there, listening. She never tells him what to do and she never neglects him. Birds may be his passion, but even if not, Anima helps him. Thank you for showing me that."

"Hey, a kid needs a dog, too," Jack interjected. He observed Jahindi look at Daniel, who smiled. "What'd I miss?"

"When the light permits," Jahindi essentially agreed.

Daniel was happy to see that things were moving in a positive direction, but he sensed there was more on the young man's mind and inquired, "Jahindi, is there anything we can do to help you?"

"You sure do see the light more than most," the young man put forward, not for the first time. "Ya gotta hear me. I don't know a lot about your Lulubelle, but Jeff said she had really bad times with bad people. He said she's gotten a lot of help from the family, but she saw a head man, too."

"She's really grown. My little sis is becoming a super confident lady," Jeff said with pride.

Daniel expounded, "She sees a psychologist who has been very helpful to her. Would you like us to call her for you?"

"I'm not sure if that's the right thing. Maybe Anima is all he needs," Jahindi suggested, though his demeanor and tone indicated that he knew more assistance was needed to truly help Cliff to recover from the negativity of the last several years.

**Danny, what do you think?**

**I'm not sure,** Daniel responded. **He needs help, Jack, that much I know. Why don't you ask Lulu how she feels?**

"Excuse me for a minute," Jack told the group as he disappeared up the stairs.

Jahindi continued, "Cliffie's smiling. I don't want to mess him up by making him talk to someone who can't see souls."

"Lulu's psychologist might surprise you, Jahindi," Daniel returned.

"Cliff needs to go forward."

"And so do you," Daniel stated pointedly. "Look, you've shown me that you aren't just intelligent, but that you're aware. You talk about our spirits and our souls seeing the light. Sometimes, we all need a little nudge to understand. Jack and I have both had sessions with Lulu's counselor. We've had them together with Lulu, we've had them as a couple without Lulu being present, we've met with her individually, and individually with Lulu."

"Hey, even we've had sessions with Lulu," Jeff interjected, referring to a few scattered meetings in the past between Lulu and her siblings. "We needed to understand why some things touched Lulu a certain way. It worked."

With a smile, Daniel noted, "It's helped all of us to understand Lulu's experiences and how those nightmares have touched her life and ours. I have a strong feeling you wouldn't have asked if you didn't hold a belief that both you and Cliff could benefit from meeting with a psychologist. Your light is so strong, Jahindi. Don't ignore what it tells you because it seems establishment or conventional. And, by the way, I guarantee you that you can wear anything and be whoever you need to be when you see Corinne, and she won't bat an eye. She has her own light that works."

"Why don't we sit down and talk some more," Jeff suggested.

====

"Hi, Dad," Lulu greeted when her father rapped on her bedroom door.

"Busy?"

"I'm just cleaning my room," the youngster replied.

"Princess, let's talk for a minute," Jack requested as he sat down at the foot of his daughter's bed while signaling for her to sit next to him.

"What do you want to talk about, Dad?"

"You know Jahindi and Cliff are here, right?"

"Uh-huh."

"What may not have made the brood rumor mill yet is that Jahindi is in the process of adopting Cliff."

"That's great. Is Cliff talking now?"

"Yep. He's downstairs playing with some of your brothers and sisters. He's smiling and laughing." Jack saw Lulu smile in response. "As a responsible parent, Jahindi is considering having Cliff go through counseling."

"He should go see Doctor Corinne," Lulu suggested.

"That's what we said, but Jahindi's past isn't pretty, either, and he's not sure there's anything to be gained by having Cliff see a psychologist."

"He's wrong, Dad."

"Would you like to tell him that?"

"Can I?"

"If you want to, but only if you want to," Jack stated strongly.

"I don't mind talking to Jahindi, Dad. Doctor Corinne helps me a lot. You and Daddy know that."

"We sure do, Li'l Bit."

Jack and Lulu went downstairs and joined Daniel, Jahindi, Jeff, and Chely. The young girl had no trouble recommending the use of a psychologist. She kept her comments generic, but explained how her psychologist aided her in understanding herself, those around her, and how and why she responds in certain situations because of her abusive past.

"You speak from your heart, Lulubelle," Jahindi opined. "I'll talk to Cliffie about it."

"Can I go play with Cliff and the brood now, even if I'm not done cleaning my room yet?"

"Go ahead, Princess," Jack answered.

"She's wise for her age," Jahindi put forward after Lulu left the room.

"She's gone through a great deal," Jack responded.

"Thank you for letting me speak with her. It helped."

The adults settled in and relaxed, engaging in conversation that had nothing to do with being a parent or Cliff's experience.

====

"Bird therapy," Jack joked that evening as he and Daniel settled into their bed. They were sitting up, Jack with a western novel he was intending to read a chapter or two of before going to sleep and Daniel with his tablet that he wanted to utilize for scheduling some family outings. "What a squawking idea."

"If Anima can help Cliff to share his feelings, I'm for it."

"Me, too, Danny. She's a beautiful bird," Jack spoke of Cliff's hyacinth macaw. "She's no Polly, of course."

"Gawd, you love that bird."

"And you don't?" Jack challenged.

Daniel chuckled as his response and then opined, "Chely was sweet today."

"You're thinking about when she left," Jack surmised.

"Yes."

When Chely was saying goodbye to her boyfriend's parents, Jack and Daniel told her it was okay to call them by their first names. With a blushing smile, she thanked them, but said she just couldn't do that. She admitted to thinking about calling them by other names at some point, but she couldn't tell them what those names were. Everyone knew the words she was thinking of was 'Dad' and 'Daddy.'

"Well, Angel, all's well that ends well."

"I hope so, for Jeff and Chely, and for Jahindi and Cliff."

"That was a different little boy that came into our home today, Danny. He was vocal and playful."

"He was," Daniel agreed. "Jahindi has done a remarkable job. He's actually a pretty remarkable young man to be where he is today, and I don't mean financially."

"Cliff's been great therapy for him."

"I have a feeling Jahindi is going to make the right choices for them both. I mean, uh, he's wanting to make himself whole, as well as Cliff. He still hides a little. He says he's one with Terry, but I don't think he's really there yet."

"He will be. He knows he'll be a better father if he's clear on his own feelings."

"I just don't understand parents who neglect or abuse their children. Jahindi's parents have a wonderful son they don't even know, and Cliff's parents don't care about their son. It makes no sense to me."

"Does Nick make sense to you?" Jack asked about his husband's grandfather.

"I guess everyone has reasons for how they act, and there's really nothing we can do about it except try to help the children get through their situations and come out of it with as little harm to themselves as possible."

"Angel, I have a suggestion."

"What's that?"

"How about I forget about this western novel and you work on the schedule tomorrow?"

"And go to sleep?"

"Eventually," Jack answered as he gave Daniel a leer and a wink.

"I thought you'd never ... you know."

"Danny, I specialize in you know."

"I know," Daniel smiled with bright, inviting eyes.

The future for Jahindi and Cliff was hopeful, though not certain. Jack and Daniel worried somewhat that Cliff's mother might cause problems later, even though she'd given up all of her parental rights. They weren't worried at all about Cliff's stepfather since he had no legal rights over Cliff and, as part of his deal with the authorities, was not allowed to make any contact with the boy. Even after his release, Allen had to stay at least three hundred yards away from Cliff at all times.

For now, Jack and Daniel promised to be available whenever Jahindi needed them and the door was always open whenever Clfif wanted to play with the brood. The two families were even considering a bird date to introduce Ptolemy and Anima to each other.

At the moment, though, as the night inched forward, Jack and Daniel threw themselves into their nation of two, an energetic and passionate explosion to the end of their day. Life may not be perfect for the couple in Colorado Springs, but it sure was exciting.

~~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

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