Summary: As Jack and Daniel await the arrival of their family for a special gathering at their Minnesota compound, they recall some precious memories from years past.
Doctor Daniel Jackson-O'Neill, now sixty-seven years of age, sat on the sofa, smiling at the fireplace. There was no fire burning in the small cabin, but memories of many cozy fires smoldered in his mind. He leaned forward and ran his hand over a book that was sitting on the coffee table. He was about to open it when he heard the familiar sound of the door opening. He turned his head and grinned at the sight of his Silver Fox, Retired General Jack Jackson-O'Neill, his husband of almost thirty years.
"How many?" Daniel questioned.
"Five," Jack answered.
The younger man chuckled at his lover's empty hands and mused, "Do you think anyone would believe how many fish you've caught in your lifetime that you've turned loose?" Daniel paused and inquired, "How many have you caught?"
"Me?" the older man responded, his facial expression growing blank.
"Don't overtax yourself, Babe," Daniel teased.
"Too many to count," Jack, who was now eighty, groaned as his hands went to the small of his back when he cringed slightly from back pain.
"Nah," Jack answered dismissively. "Piece of cake compared to other things," he added. He sat down next to his spouse and commented, "More than Ricky."
Daniel laughed. Their Spitfire son had kept count of each and every fish he'd ever caught and freed. Being a frequent fisherman, Ricky, now in his mid-twenties, had never actually killed a fish. All had been returned within seconds of capture to the safety of the water from which they'd been caught.
"That would be a few thousand," Jack surmised.
"At least," the archaeologist agreed. Chuckling, he noted, "I stopped asking him at Chiliad."
Jack let out a laugh. Ricky had named his one-thousandth fish caught and returned to the lake Chiliad, a reference to all of his previously captured fish as a single group.
"What are you up to?" Jack asked, seeing the albums spread out in columns all over the coffee table.
"Oh, being sentimental," Daniel sighed.
"Danny, you know they're all coming, all of them," Jack reminded. "They'll be here soon."
"Come on, Angel. What's going on in that sweet head of yours?"
Daniel shrugged and leaned his head on his Love's shoulder. Immediately, he felt the strength of Jack's arm wrap around his own back, Jack's hand caressing Daniel's right arm.
"How'd it turn it out like this?"
"What do you mean?" Jack queried.
"Jack, we raised twelve perfect children. They're all grown, healthy, happy, successful in whatever it is they care about. How'd two stubborn messed up men manage to do that?"
"Simple," Jack answered. "Love."
Daniel nodded. Love was their answer for most everything.
"Even with all the, the craziness of our lives, the overprotectiveness, the lack of freedom when they were younger, the danger; gawd, the things we put them through, but they ... Jack, they were all happy."
"Yeah," Jack concurred simply. "They turned out good. Hey, they're still safety conscious."
"That's a good thing," Daniel opined. "The houses Jeff designs today all have extra safety features to protect children and animals."
As he thought back, the general acknowledged, "He told me a couple of years ago that he tried to make a model of a standard house but couldn't do it. He couldn't risk kids moving in and getting hurt."
"Designing homes known for safety is his niche, so I guess there was at least one positive from everything we did."
"Security, too," Jack noted.
"Safety and Security, the Jackson-O'Neill way," the couple sang, the jingle Jeff used professionally to promote his home designs and renovations at the forefront of their minds.
"Never thought I'd hear our name sung as part of a TV commercial," Jack laughed. Then he leaned forward to pick up the top album on the table and commented, "The kids really knocked themselves out when they put these together."
"I still can't believe it," Daniel admitted. "It was the perfect retirement present," he added, referring to the collection the children had worked so hard to make for their parents as gifts when the couple retired from working the day-to-day operations of their company, J-O Enterprises. "They're doing a great job with J-O, Jack."
"Yeah. Miss it?"
"Oddly enough, I do, but ..."
"But, just like with the Stargate, there's a season for everything and it's not like we aren't still part of it."
"Next month, Peru," Jack said with a grin, referring to their plans to head a dig there.
"If your back doesn't interfere," Daniel replied.
"My back is fine. What about your arthritis?"
"No problem," Daniel assured. "And your knees?"
"I can still stand," Jack put forth, half-seriously and half joking. "And your ..."
"Jack, if we keep pointing out our growing list of physical ailments, we'll convince ourselves we can't handle a dig, and we both know we're doing well. We just need to be more ... uh ..."
"Realistic," Jack completed for his Heart.
"Careful," Daniel corrected with a smile.
"No burning the midnight oil when we're there," Jack stated with a bit of a glare as he looked into the cerulean blue eyes of the other man, the man who would forever own his heart, the man who had saved his life many years ago, the man that made all the pictures in the books in front of them possible.
"Yeah," Daniel agreed, taking from Jack the book he'd picked up from the coffee table earlier. "This is Jeff's."
Daniel opened the book and touched the DVD that was placed in the inside jacket. It was a reverent connection with the item because to the archaeologist, it was part of Jeff.
Each book had a DVD loaded with pictures and videos the kids had made, detailing their childhood and things they'd take with them forever as they ventured into their own adult lives away from their parents. Each book, however, was also full of candid photographs, mostly of the children as babies and young kids. The brood knew their parents would enjoy the textile feel of a book and being able to enjoy it like a good novel by the fire or next to the lake. They'd also handwritten little notes throughout the books to express their love and appreciation for their growing up years.
"Jeffrey Bryce Hunter Jackson-O'Neill," Daniel read on the cover page of the book.
"Proud son of Nelson and Harriet Hunter and Jack and Daniel Jackson-O'Neill," Jack read from the page.
The parents turned the pages, looking at baby and toddler pictures of Jeff with his birth parents. Getting to one special picture, Daniel laughed.
Speaking in unison, both men suggested, "Let's watch it on ..." Jack and Daniel laughed, realizing that once again they were on the same page, speaking the exact same words. In fact, in perfect timing, each man stopped his laughter and completed the sentence together, saying, "... the DVD."
The DVD had a short video Nelson had taken of his wife and newborn son. It showed Harriet giving baby Jeff a diaper change.
"Tickle feathers," Harriet laughed, raising her hands and then flicking her fingers intermittently as she lowered them to the baby's body.
"Listen to him laugh, Jack," Daniel said to his husband.
"Yeah, he was a happy baby. Harriet made a great mom."
"I'm glad Jeff has this. It lets him see her, hear her voice."
Hearing a car, Jack looked over his shoulder and stood up. He sneaked a peek out the door and took note of the arrivals.
"Danny, it's the Dennison brood."
Standing, Daniel lowered his head for a moment and mused, "You know, Babe, I seriously doubt that when Alex first arrived in Colorado Springs that he thought he'd ever have a brood of his own."
"Kids and animals," Jack laughed. "And it looks like he brought them all with him."
"It's a good thing we added that mini-animal cabin a few years back."
"Cabin? It's more like a hotel, with more security than our house in the Springs," Jack opined.
"Well, it's for the protection of the animals, Jack. We are in the woods."
"Ya think?" Jack joked. "Come on, Love. Let's go say 'hi'. We can always reminisce more later."
Nodding, Daniel glanced back at the coffee table full of books and smiled as he thought, ~Precious memories, all of them.~
"Coming," the younger man called out, hurrying out the door to greet the first guests of many who would be arriving.
It wasn't Colorado Springs, but for Jack and Daniel, life was still good in the woods of Minnesota.
While the Dennisons settled into one of the cabins located in the Jackson-O'Neill compound in Minnesota, Jack and Daniel returned to their cabin.
"Coffee?" Jack asked, heading for the kitchen area.
"You have to ask?" Daniel laughed in reply as he sat back down on the comfortable sofa.
"Exercising my vocal chords," the older man explained teasingly. As he poured the coffee, he asked, "Who's next?"
"Let's see," Daniel replied, reaching over for the next book. He looked at the name and smiled. "Noa."
"Our horse princess," Jack chuckled, joining his husband and carefully handing Daniel a mug full of Arabian Mocha, the Starbuck's brew that had long been the younger man's preferred coffee flavor.
For a few minutes, the couple reviewed several pictures of their daughter as a toddler and young girl. Then they put on the DVD and randomly selected one of the videos to enjoy.
"That was so funny," Jack spoke, shaking his head at the zaniness of the long ago event.
"I'm glad I filmed it."
"A-plus on covertness," Jack praised.
"I learned from the best," Daniel responded with pride at the fact his lover hadn't spotted him capturing the video until minutes into the amusing situation.
//DVD Video Flashback//
"Dad needs to finish the laundry, Princess," Jack told the four-year-old girl.
"I can help," the blonde cutie offered.
"Okay," Jack responded, his brain reviewing the possibilities. "How about keeping these warm while I do some sorting?" he suggested, pointing to a large basket full of clothes he'd just removed from the dryer.
At that point, the military man focused on sorting the last two baskets of clothing from his large family. He became so absorbed that he failed to watch his daughter, although his mind took note of her frequent sounds and giggles, assuring the man that Chenoa was having fun with the task she'd been assigned.
When Jack finished his sorting, he casually looked over at Chenoa and began, "All done, Noooo...a."
The delayed speaking of Chenoa's nickname was due to the father's laughter at what he saw.
"That's an interesting outfit, Sweetheart," Jack finally managed to say.
"Keeping warm," Chenoa responded, proud that she'd done her duty well.
"I can see that," Jack mused.
The youngster had put on a variety of clothes from the basket. She was wearing one of Daniel's old plaid shirts that featured big gray and white boxes. She'd buttoned only a few of the buttons in the shirt. She also had on one of Jennifer's skirts that hung on her like a veil of a wedding gown. It was hard to tell where the skirt began, however, considering how long the somewhat faded shirt was on Chenoa. The outfit made her look even smaller than her size. One of Jack's handkerchiefs was around her neck like a scarf, and a bath towel was draped over her blonde curly hair.
Jack really wanted to laugh, but he was too ~verklempt is the word,~ he decided. ~The only thing I know for sure is that I wish I could put that shirt of Danny's in the trash. I could pretend it was an accident. Or Thor took it. Anything to get rid of it.~ The one thing he was certain about was that the shirt had never done anything to excite his libido. ~Well, Danny in anything excites me, but ... never mind.~
"You keep warm, too," Chenoa suggested.
~Heck, if I can wash them once, I can wash them twice,~ the father thought as he grinned down at his daughter. "I need a new necktie."
Chenoa reached into the basket and handed her dad the first piece of clothing she found.
Jack coughed as he caught sight of his new necktie: one of Daniel's briefs. Seconds later, it was around his neck.
//End of DVD Video Flashback//
"That was priceless, Babe," Daniel told his husband, even as he laughed.
"It was your undoing," Jack remarked, noting that, while he was still filming, the younger father had revealed himself in the garage due to his laughter.
"Even you would have laughed," Daniel accused lovingly.
"There's that," Jack agreed.
As the couple continued to watch, they were filled with the good humor of the day, accented by an impromptu bout of dress up with their little dove.
"Thanks, Alex," Jack stated as he closed the door of the cabin. When he turned around, he smiled at his lover, who had just emerged from the bathroom. His husband was still the sexiest thing on the planet to him. ~Make that the universe.~
"Did I hear you talking to someone?" Daniel asked. "Are they here?" he questioned excitedly, his blue eyes alight with hope.
With a sigh, Jack shook his head and answered, "No. That was Alex. He just got off the phone with Ricky."
"Our Spitfire has another idea for a project that J-O and Archonics can work on together and wanted to run it by Alex before he got here so they could concentrate on family while here and not business."
"Good thinking," Daniel praised.
"Yes," Jack responded proudly. "Chip off the old block."
"Chipped anyway," Daniel teased.
"Uh, Angel, you do recall Ricky's biologically yours."
"Oh, yeah, well, it's the name; makes me think of you," Daniel rationalized with a smile and a casual shrug. Along with the brief look of amusement on his Love's face, he also recognized a dullness in the eyes, indicating there was also some not-such-good news. With a reluctant say, he prompted, "And?"
"Flat tire in the caravan, so they're behind schedule, but not by too much."
"I guess we have time to look at another memory then," Daniel suggested, nodding over at the books on the table. "Pick one."
"I love a challenge," Jack mused. He walked over to the table, closed his eyes, fumbled the hardback books around, and eventually pulled out the one on the bottom. Laughing, he turned the book to face Daniel and pointed out, "Red's!"
"Get back here," Daniel urged, patting the spot on the sofa next to him.
"Still so demanding," Jack joked as he didn't hesitate to join the other man.
The lovers turned the pages, smiling and laughing at so many of life's little moments that, when totaled, become a lifetime of love.
"Danny, remember that," Jack said, pointing to the picture that was tilted at the angle on the top of the right page.
"Oh. Yeah, I do, like yesterday," Daniel recalled softly. "It's probably when you first became Jenny's cheerleader coach."
"I was never her coach."
"No one did more cheers with Jenny than you, Jack. You worked with her all the time. You know that."
"Daniel, it's cheerleading."
"And you *loved* every minute of it," Daniel asserted confidently.
"Yeah, okay, I did," Jack conceded. "Sara gave me the idea when I got back from a mission. Charlie was just a few months old, and, geez, Danny, I was a little scared of this baby we'd created. Sara told me not to think so much and focus on Charlie. I did. He was wiggling all around and I realized I could teach him something while we had some fun. Dads are supposed to teach their kids something, so I taught him about his body." A few seconds of silence followed before Jack spoke again. "I was gone too much," he lamented, his face drawn up and eyes reflective of a long ago time. Feeling his Angel's hand on his arm, Jack smiled. "I did it with all the kids."
"Not how you did it with Jenny," Daniel refuted. "There was a bit more bounce to it with her."
"Only because she bounced back. Daniel, remember how she was jumping around all the time. Maybe it was just reflexes, but even as a baby, she was moving her arms and legs in response to what she was seeing." Thoughtfully, he inquired, "Was Kayla a cheerleader?"
"I have no idea." Curiously, Daniel asked, "Why?"
"There's not a cheerleader in my family, or in yours. She had to get it from somewhere," Jack implied.
"Let's ask Janet," the archaeologist suggested as he pulled out his cell phone.
Jack quickly reached out to stop his soulmate from touching the call key.
"What?" Daniel asked.
"Let's wait for the Doc to get here. If you make that call, we'll end up on the phone instead of talking to everyone when they arrive."
"What do you think?"
"I think I sound like you and you sound like me," Jack answered.
"We do that a lot now. Scary, isn't it?"
"No, unless we get called back to the Stargate."
"Oh gawd," Daniel expressed in horror. "Babe, I'll never sound like you and you'll never sound like me on a mission."
"Ya think not?"
"I think not."
"I think you're right."
"I think you're right, too."
"Daniel, that's not a word."
"I know, but I'm having fun."
Laughing, Jack replied, "Me, too."
It was a few minutes later, after a light make-out session, that the parents resumed their review of Jenny's album, centering on the photo that had started the cheerleading discussion in the first place.
"How old was she here? Eight, nine months?" Jack wondered.
"Closer to six, I think," Daniel responded. "Too bad that's not on video."
"It's here," Jack reminded, his finger tapping his forehead. "The sixties and the Goa'uld did their best, but the brain still works. We were in the nursery. Carter was with ... *Stop* rolling your eyes at me," the military man ordered. "Habit, Daniel, decades of habit."
"Good point which is why rolling my eyes at you using Sam's maiden surname should be expected, decades of habit," Daniel claimed with a sly expression.
"More like sarcastic."
Jack let out a small growl, causing Daniel to laugh and give him a small kiss on the lips.
"That's my grizzly bear," Daniel laughed even more. "Sorry, Babe, tell the story."
"Love you, Angel."
"I know," Daniel replied. "The story."
"Daniel!" Jack feigned hurt with big, sad eyes. ~C'mon, Angel. Humor me.~
"Okay, I love you, too. Better?"
"I always said you were my oldest child."
"Daniel!" Jack chastised, though he was unable to keep a straight face.
"Jack, the story."
"You were in the nursery, with Jenny. Sam had the rest of the children downstairs. I actually came upstairs to change Ricky's diaper."
"Yeah," Jack recalled, crinkling his nose. "I tried to forget that part. It smelled bad."
"Diarrhea will do that," Daniel stated flatly.
Finally, Jack recalled the little game he'd played with the kids and specifically on this occasion with Jenny.
Sitting on the three-quarter bed in the nursery, Jack placed the female twin down onto the bed, carefully letting her go just a wee bit before she actually touched the comforter. The baby bounced lightly and giggled immediately in response.
"Bouncy, bouncy," Jack said playfully.
Jenny's hands flew up in front of her as she lay on her back, looking up at her older father. Her giggles grew and soon her feet were flailing about in play as well.
"Time for some Jennynastics," Jack told his daughter. Lifting up her arms so they were straight up, he sing-songed, "Jenny's arms are up, way up!" Gently, he lowered her arms so that they touched the bed. "Now Jenny's arms are down." Lowering his voice so that it was as bass sounding as possible, he added, "waaaaaay down, down, down, down."
Jenny's laugh was a delight. She was totally focused on the silver-haired man.
Spreading the baby's arms to her sides, the father advised, "Lookie here. Now Jenny's arms are spread out. That's how much your old man loves you, you know." Jack smiled as he held out his own arms and declared, "Dad loves Jenny this much and more."
Jack tickled Jenny's belly gently for a few seconds, delighting in her happy laughter.
"That's beautiful," Daniel noted, his voice soft and full of contentment.
"Our daughter's beautiful and," Jack paused, getting a whiff of something very distinct, "our son stinks."
"Yes, he does," Daniel admitted.
"Come on, Jenny, let's leave Daddy to deal with that lovely aroma."
"Gawd, I hate it when you're sarcastic."
Daniel gave his husband a glare, but then nodded. He watched Jack pick up their daughter and leave the nursery.
"You know something, Son. Dad's right. You stink." Daniel laughed, "But it's only temporary. Alright, let's get the dirty work over."
//End of Flashback//
"It's the little things," Daniel commented.
"Little things are big things," Jack pointed out. "Ah, there she is. Her first jumping jack."
"And she hasn't stopped jumping since."
Jack and Daniel were having a great time looking forward to the arrival of their children. Soon, they'd be at the family compound. Soon.
"Want another?" Jack questioned his lover from his position in front of the refrigerator.
"No thanks," Daniel replied, happy with his half-full coffee mug.
"I miss beer," the general groaned as he filled his cup with pomegranate juice.
"Jack, you drink plenty of beer."
"Not when the kids are coming."
Daniel leaned his head all the way back to glance at Jack as he pondered the statement.
"You know, I don't think we need to follow that rule anymore. It's a little ..."
"silly," both men stated in unison.
"I probably went overboard with that. I'm sorry, Jack."
"Nah. You just wanted us to be the best parents we could be and for the kids to grow up in a good environment. We did that, Angel."
"Indulging me," the archaeologist answered softly.
"I live to indulge you."
"And I live for your indulgences," Daniel chuckled.
As he headed back for the sofa, Jack instructed, "You're next. Pick one."
"Sure," the younger father agreed. Closing his eyes for a moment, he grabbed the album that was the second from the top. Grinning, Daniel pulled the book to him. "Daniel Michael Jackson-O'Neill."
"Our Little Danny."
"Not so little anymore, Jack."
"And with a Little Danny of his own."
"Little Little Danny as he teases on the phone," Daniel pointed out.
"He's already purchased the entire DVD set of 'Bonanza' for him," Jack said about the middle Munchkin.
"Little Joe Cartwright is one of his heroes. No matter how old Joe got, he was still Little Joe," Daniel pointed out in reference to the TV character. A few seconds passed quietly. "Jack, do you think he was teased more than he shared with us?"
"Probably, but he never cared, Danny. Remember when we first tried to leave out the 'Little' on a regular basis?"
"He thought he was in trouble. He was used to us calling him Danny for, well, grown-up situations," Daniel recalled. "He got that and liked it, but when we decided that it might be better not to use 'Little' all the time, he wasn't so sure. It had the opposite effect of our intentions."
"It wasn't one of our better decisions," Jack opined. "We raised him, and all the kids, to be proud of who they are. He grew up as Little Danny; that's who he is, even today."
"He did get teased some, we know that."
"He dealt with it in his own way *and* without saying that phrase."
Daniel grinned and uttered, "I'm fine."
"Anytime you said that, Angel, I knew it was the furthest thing from the truth," Jack told his husband.
Leaving the past in the past, Daniel returned to the conversation, saying, "Danny told me last week that he was actually looking forward to teaching his son about the strength in names. He brought up Ptolemy as an example."
"He still hates it when I call her Polly," Jack laughed.
"He believes in names and their heritage. I think that's why he doesn't mind being Little Danny."
"Because of you," Jack stated, reaching over and running his hand gently through his Love's brown hair that had some silver sneaking in here and there. "That's his heritage, Daniel. You're in him, and he is *so* proud of that. That's what he wants to pass down to his children, to his Little Danny."
Daniel's emotional reply was a simple, "Maybe."
"Definitely," Jack insisted. "That's what it's about."
"He learned so much from you," Daniel replied, switching the emphasis.
"Nice try, Love," Jack responded, not allowing the conversation to switch, although he paused to lean in for a sweet kiss before speaking again. "The name thing, it's all good."
"Jack, thank you."
"Convincing me to call him Little Danny."
Jack laughed as he remembered how he had to maneuver his lover to finally entice Daniel to call their son Little Danny instead of Michael, as the baby was known for the first months of his life.
"It was my pleasure," the older man said with amusement.
"It wasn't easy."
"But it sure was fun."
After the duo shared a happy smile, Daniel patted the book he held and said simply, "The album." Carefully, he turned the pages as the couple reviewed the many pictures. Minutes later, he remarked, "I thought he'd never talk."
"He was just taking his time, getting used to us and this zany world we live in."
"He was so focused on everything happening around us, so quiet but yet so focused. I remember one night when he was maybe four or five months old. It was my turn to check on the babies when they cried. I don't remember what it was that disturbed them, but Jonny and Ash went right back to sleep. Little Danny was too fussy, though, so I picked him up and walked him around the house."
"Okay, how about we go in Dad's study?"
The gurgle of the baby was the only reply.
"I'll take that as a yes," Daniel mused as he entered the room.
Looking at his son, the new father was once again fascinated at how Little Danny focused in on details. He'd done that from the beginning of his young life, observing the details of the world around him. Much as Jonny exhibited advanced motor skills for an infant, Little Danny showed an amazing ability to concentrate and focus on people and objects.
Curious, Daniel flipped off the light switch he'd turned on a few seconds earlier. He walked over to his lover's desk and opened the top drawer where he knew a flashlight was kept.
"Let's try an experiment."
Still holding his namesake, Daniel turned on the flashlight and aimed it at the wall.
Sure enough, Little Danny's focus was centered exactly on the spot where the light was shining.
Intrigued, Daniel pulled the light upward to a picture, again noting that his son's eyes shifted to follow the bright light.
"That's a picture of Dad and me as kids. It's, uh, complicated. Maybe one day we'll tell you about it. I'm really not sure we should keep that on the wall, but, well, it's special to us. I guess we'll deal with it later. That's what Dad always says."
Daniel moved the light to one of the corners where a shelf full of remembrances was located.
Little Danny actually giggled at where the light flickered for a minute before becoming still.
"Those are airplanes. Dad likes to dabble in model airplanes. He's military. You know that. Think of it this way. What your pacifier is to you, these planes are to Dad."
Little Danny giggled, as if understanding the analogy.
"Okay, uh, here," Daniel directed, slowly moving the light around to room to Jack's desk. "That's Dad's computer. He isn't really a fan of technology, but he knows how to use it, when he wants to. He's ... stubborn sometimes, likes to pretend he's computer ignorant, but he does okay."
Daniel moved the light upward to the ceiling. Looking at his son, he saw the baby's eyes looking up as well.
"That's the ceiling. Boring?"
Little Danny let out a bit of spit.
"Is that a no or indigestion?" the father joked as he dried his son's mouth with a cloth bib he'd brought downstairs with them as a precaution. "You're right, though. Everything has a history, a meaning, an origin, and no matter what it is, it's relevant and important to someone in the universe. The man who built it, the person who conceived it, and even Dad when he bought it. All of this, every piece of lumber, every screw, every inch of paint, it all is important. It's culture, Little Danny. Culture is so important to understanding, and there's so much to see and understand. Our world is full of places rich in history and that history has made us who we are. We're all connected, Son. Somehow, in some way, everyone is part of everyone else. Always respect the beliefs of others. You don't have to agree with another, but you do have to let them be who they are. That's called tolerance. Be tolerant, Little Danny. Be open to everyone you meet and value what they do, whether it's leading the country or," Daniel let out a short laugh, "or painting the ceiling."
Daniel looked at his son, noting the boy was intently focused on him. His eyes seemed so wise.
"I love you."
Little Danny's eyes brightened and he let out a sound that was a bit like hearing a babbling brook in the middle of nature.
"Ready for bed?"
Turning off the flashlight and leaving it on the desk, Daniel returned his son to the nursery. For a few minutes, he just watched, not just Little Danny, but Jonny and Aislinn as well.
"I can't believe I have you, that you're all actually mine, and Dad's, of course. I just ... just be happy, okay? That's all I want for you, to be happy."
//End of Flashback//
"I always wondered why my flashlight wasn't in my drawer where I left it," Jack stated.
"Jack, no way do you remember that."
"Sure, I do."
"No, you don't."
"Do so," Jack claimed.
"Not," Daniel maintained.
The lovers broke out into laughter, ending their joined amusement with another kiss. Kissing was always a great way to end, or start, a conversation for the duo.
"That's our playtime, isn't it, Love, the word games?"
Daniel nodded his affirmation and added, "It was even before we were lovers."
"Drives people crazy."
"Yes, it does," Daniel agreed, a sly expression on his face.
"Maybe we should pay a visit to Cheyenne Mountain and frustrate a whole new group of recruits."
"Maybe," Daniel replied, turning another page of his son's album.
"I remember that," Jack spoke enthusiastically.
The parents continued their journey through the middle triplet's album, enjoying each memory as they awaited Little Danny's arrival. It couldn't come quick enough for either of them.
"Your daddy and I worried? Pshaw!" Jack said dismissively into the phone. "Thanks for calling, Son." Smiling in response to what he'd just heard, he echoed, "I love you, too."
"Which one?" Daniel asked as he continued to do a few stretching exercises.
The couple had spent so long strolling down memory lane that their bodies were demanding a little action to get circulation flowing. The phone call from one of their children was the perfect excuse to take a little break.
Daniel laughed, shaking his head and leaning over to let his arms hang down for a minute.
"Bless our Little Bit. Sometimes I think she'd forget her head if it wasn't attached to the rest of her body," Jack added just before he began to run in place.
"Careful with your knees."
"My knees are just fine."
"You're so delusional, O'Neill," Daniel accused lovingly.
"So, apparently she got so involved at the caravan's last stop with a couple of kids who were ..."
"Let me guess," Daniel interrupted. "Dancers?"
"Yep," Jack affirmed. "She gave them a little dance class on the spot. Jonny called her over once everyone was gassed up, assuming she already had filled up her tank."
"No," Jack confirmed. "By the time she realized it, they were in the middle of nowhere."
"That's our Lulu," Daniel replied with a loving smile.
"She's a real lulu," Jack chuckled.
"Very remarkable," Daniel agreed about the girl.
"Hey, I think I saw her album on top of the pile at the end of the table."
With a grin, Daniel righted himself and returned to the sofa. Sitting down, he glanced over at the pile Jack had referred to and confirmed it had Lulu's name on it.
"One more minute," Jack said, wanting to complete a five-minute running-in-place segment. "You start."
Opening the book, Daniel noted the name, saying aloud, "Lulubelle Lewis Jackson-O'Neill, Thriving Daughter of Robert and Mia Lewis, Keith and Debbie Barton, and Jack and Daniel Jackson-O'Neill."
"Triple parents," the general laughed as he joined his husband on the couch.
"Thriving," Daniel repeated. "I love that word."
"It fits. Lil' Bit is a survivor and I couldn't be prouder of her."
Making their way through the pages of Lulu's album, the parents came across a picture that caused both to laugh immediately.
"Now that was fun," Jack declared.
"She'd only been with us a little while," Daniel noted.
"Weeks," Jack recalled. "This was right before Christmas."
Daniel looked at his Silver Fox and frowned in an unhappy recollection of how close he'd come to losing his husband during that holiday season back in 2010. The general had been injured and suffered amnesia during which time he was separated from the family. It was a worrisome period for the Jackson-O'Neills until a Christmas miracle reunited the family.
Jack could feel his husband drifting back to that despair and intervened with the strong suggestion of, "Let's not dwell."
"Let's not," Daniel agreed.
"This was before that mess," Jack stated.
"We took her to the mall, a Dad-Daddy-Daughter outing."
"And then we really had fun," the older man recalled.
"You and garage sales," Daniel sighed.
"Let's check it out," Jack suggested as the family happened upon a garage sale on the way home from the mall.
"Is it a carnival?" five-year-old Lulu questioned.
"No, Sweetie, it's a garage sale," Daniel answered.
"Well, when someone has things they don't need anymore, sometimes they sell them to others."
"Are they selling their garage?" the girl asked.
Smiling, Daniel answered, "No. That's just the name of the sale because many times the items being sold have been stored in the garage. Um, they are also called lawn sales, patio sales, rummage sales, attic sales, yard sales ..."
"Daniel, let's go," Jack interrupted, having already disembarked the cab of the truck.
"Oh, okay," Daniel responded, getting out of the truck and then helping Lulu out of the back seat. "All it means, Lulu, is that people are getting rid of things cluttering their house or that they don't need anymore. They make a little money in the process."
"Okay," the girl acknowledged, happily reaching up for her new fathers' hands. "But it looks like a carnival. My adoptive parents took me to one once. I remember pink cotton," she noted while licking her lips.
"Uh, cotton candy?"
"Yeah. It was good."
The trio approached the yard where Jack and Daniel had to admit it looked a bit like a carnival. A large bounce house, a trampoline, a standing water fountain, and a couple of novelty vending machines were just some of the items being offered for sale.
"Interesting collection," Jack opined to the apparent homeowner.
"Ever have a wife who buys anything for a kid to keep him from crying?" the man groused. "You wouldn't believe the things that woman has bought over the years," he sighed. "Kids are grown now and I'm reclaiming the house. Of course, she wants to keep everything for the grandkids. I tell her, no way. The kids can buy stuff for their own kids. No, she says. Yes, I say. I call the kids, tell them they have two months to take what they want. Not one showed up, not one, and I've got seven kids."
Jack laughed, but said nothing since the man still had more complaining to do.
"It's been six months. I'm building one of those, what do they call it, you know, men for men ..."
"Man cave," Jack answered.
"I'm building myself a man cave, no women allowed. Gonna kick up my feet on some old table, put on the TV, drink beer, and snore all I want to. If she don't like, she can go." The man laughed, "And she's threatening to. I'll buy her the ticket if she wants. Mister, I haven't been able to enjoy my backyard in years because of all this junk. No, sirree, no more. It's all going, every last ridiculous piece of junk. Look at those games," he directed, pointing to two stacks of board games. "If they played those games twice in their lives, that was a lot, but they whined and cried, so the wife bought them."
"Including a bounce house?" Daniel queried.
"Nothing was too big or expensive for my missus," the seller groaned. "Give it to ya for a couple hundred, the whole kit and kaboodle."
"Thank you, but no," Daniel answered.
"We would like to look around, though," Jack interjected.
"Help yourself," the man said, seeing another potential shopper walking up his driveway and hurrying over to make his pitch.
Jack and Daniel exchanged amused looks and led Lulu around the various contraptions to see if there might be something they would like to buy. Lulu, however, seemed focused on one thing: the colorful bounce house.
Seeing his daughter's intrigue, Jack called out to the owner, "Is it okay if my daughter plays in the bounce house?"
"No prob," the man responded in shorthand English.
"Lulu, bounce away."
"I'm scared," the little girl agreed.
"It's lots of fun," Daniel pointed out. "It's safe. You just ... bounce."
"We can't, Lil' Bit," Jack replied. "We're too fat."
"Jack!" Daniel chastised. "Sweetheart, bounce houses are made *just* for little kids. It's an adult-free zone."
"Oh." Brightly, Lulu came up with an idea. "I bounce there and you bounce there," she suggested, pointing at a low-level trampoline.
"We bounce now?" Lulu asked, her heart pounding from hope. She wasn't used to asking for anything, but bravely made her desires known now. ~Maybe they no want to bounce with me.~
"After you, Love," Jack teased, bowing slightly and sweeping his arm below him, inviting Daniel to head for the trampoline.
"Lulu, go ahead," Daniel encouraged, loving the huge smile that appeared on the curly-haired girl's face. "Dad and I will be bouncing with you."
Soon, Lulu was bouncing herself silly, while her parents bounced in a more relaxing and slow style on the trampoline. Both noticed how the girl giggled in a way they had not heard her do since joining the family. They also were aware of something else.
"She hasn't taken her eyes off us, Jack," Daniel noted.
"Keep bouncing, Angel. We can't let her down."
"Your knees okay?"
"Call me Tigger," Jack teased, referring to Winnie the Pooh's bouncing tiger friend.
After a few more minutes of bouncing, Lulu left the bounce house and became enthralled in the board games.
"Play this?" Lulu asked cautiously.
**She's so afraid of us saying no,** Daniel observed from the girl's vulnerable brown eyes and wistful expression.
**We're being tested, Angel.**
"Sure," Daniel told his daughter.
In no time at all, with the help of the owner who was fascinated by the two men and little girl, a game of Twister was in play. The three bodies were soon spread out until finally, Jack plopped down to the ground, dragging his lover with him.
"Looks like you win, Lulu!" Jack declared happily.
"I never won anything."
"You have now," the silver-haired man affirmed. "And so did Daddy and I when you became our daughter."
With a wide grin, Lulu looked up at the owner. That's when the man took another picture with a Polaroid camera, yet another one of the many 'toys' his wife had adorned their children with. Unbeknownst to the Jackson-O'Neills he'd taken several pictures of them playing the game.
"Enjoy them," the man told Jack and Daniel as he handed over the photos. "Wish my wife would have just let the kids play, but no, she has to spoil them rotten with things they don't care about. Here, please, take this home with you," he beckoned, picking up the game that had been re-boxed once the family had finished playing. "Play it, many times. Be a family. I insist."
"Thank you," Daniel replied, accepting the game.
"Thank you, garage man," Lulu offered happily.
"Anytime." The man's smile was sweet, the total opposite of the frown and verbal whining he'd done before. Looking at the adults, he asked, "Are you sure you don't want the bounce house? Or the trampoline? Or ..."
"No, sorry, we're full up," Jack interrupted. "Thanks for letting us look around. Good luck with the sale."
"Thank you again," Daniel added.
"Good luck with your wife," Lulu called out, walking away with her parents.
Jack and Daniel both looked back at the stranger apologetically, but he just laughed.
"He's not a bad guy, Danny."
"No, he's not."
//End of Flashback//
"Mitch was a character," Jack laughed in retrospect.
"He sure had fun when his wife left him," Daniel put forth, shaking his head. "Did you ever meet her?"
"Nope, but she wasn't missed. I don't think Mitch left his man cave unless he had to relieve himself or buy food."
"Slight exaggeration there, Babe."
Jack simply shrugged. He'd gone back some time later to reiterate his thanks for the man's tolerance while Lulu had checked out games and played in the bounce house, which is how he and Daniel ultimately became friends with the man. They didn't see him often, but every now and then, they'd spot him at the store or drop by the house to ensure he was okay. Mitch died in 2016 of a heart attack.
"The paramedics said he had a big ole grin on his face," Jack recalled. "He'd been watching three football games on three different sets with a six-pack by his side, and his feet up on the table."
"That's what he wanted," Daniel stated with a sigh. "I'll never forget him for taking these pictures."
"That's our Lulu," Jack replied simply.
"Look at her today, Jack: confident, strong, bubbling over with enthusiasm."
"Thriving," Jack reiterated. "Hey, I'm hungry. The kids aren't gonna be here for a while. Why don't we go for a walk, maybe check on Alex and Sunny and make they've settled in okay."
Jack and Daniel returned Lulu's album to the completed pile and headed outside for a quick walk. Their hearts were full of anticipation at their soon-to-arrive brood.
Returning from a short but brisk walk at their Minnesota compound, Jack and Daniel were headed back inside their cabin when they heard the sound of an engine.
"Solo," Jack stated, hearing just one car and therefore knowing it wasn't the brood caravan. "Ah, the Shanahans."
The couple greeted their guests and verified the camping area for the family. While the compound had multiple cabins on the grounds, the number of people coming to this get-together far outnumbered them, so many of the guests were camping out, setting up tents all along the lake and throughout the woods.
"We'll catch up later," Daniel told Sam, who was holding onto her latest puppy's leash.
"It's been too long," the blonde replied, leaning in for another hug with her science twin. "Does Alex need any help?"
"Uh, I don't know. We intended to check on them during our walk, but we got distracted."
"Distracted, huh," Sam retorted, her grin and sparkling eyes speculating about how the couple had been pulled away from their plan to drop in on the Dennisons.
"Anyway," a smiling and somewhat reddened Daniel continued. "We haven't seen him since they arrived. Jack and I have been strolling down memory lane a lot today."
"The albums the children made for our retirement."
Sam brightened as she stated, "They worked on those for a very long time." With an amused look, she added, "I can't believe they actually managed to keep it a secret from you two."
"We didn't have a clue," Daniel admitted. Seeing Pete patiently waiting by a distant tree, he urged, "Get settled. We have plenty of time to talk later."
"I've missed you, Daniel," Sam declared.
"I've missed you, too."
Watching Sam walk away, Daniel felt good. She was a very special part of his life and he really missed having her a part of his daily life.
"You coming?" Jack shouted from several yards away.
With a nod, Daniel rejoined his husband, filling him in on the brief discussion the two scientists had just had.
"The kids are good at keeping secrets when they have a common goal," Jack opined.
"They had some help," Daniel put forth, well aware that Sam and a few other of their extended family had assisted them in various ways.
"Yeah," Jack acknowledged, temporarily lost in thought.
"Jen," both men said together, almost out of the blue.
Jack looked through the albums and pulled out the one with his oldest daughter's name on it. Quickly, he opened it up and pulled out the DVD.
Placing the disk in the player, Jack commented, "Carter took a year to turn this up."
"And then some I think," Daniel put forth as he settled onto the sofa again, smiling when he felt his husband's body next to him and Jack's arm go around his shoulders. "I still can't believe she found this."
When the Jackson-O'Neill brood decided on the perfect retirement gift for their parents, it had presented some obvious problems for the adoptive children. This was especially true for Jennifer, who had few belongings, including pictures and film, from her pre-teen years when the Morgan children were a happy family with their birth parents. She was certain, though, that something more had to be out there.
"Aunt Sam, it's Jennifer," the woman spoke over the phone.
"Hi, Jen. How are you?"
"Peter? The kids?"
"Everyone's super. Aunt Sam, you know Dad and Daddy are going to retire, right?"
"Hard to believe," Sam responded. "Have they set a date for their exit?"
"No, not yet. It's going to be next year, I think, or maybe the year after. You know how Dad and Daddy are."
"Always one more project," Sam laughed. "That's why it took them so long to resign from the Stargate Program."
"And then they kept going back," Jennifer mused. "Actually, I doubt they'll be truly retired, but anyway, the brood has come up with an idea for a really special gift for them, but I ..."
"What is it, Jen?"
"Well, the truth is that it's easier for the younger kids than for some of us."
"Aunt Sam, we want to give Dad and Daddy us."
"Albums of us as kids, especially as babies and toddlers. That was such a precious time for them, that's how they refer to it when we talk sometimes -- a precious time."
"And the problem is that since some of you were adopted ..."
"And some of us don't have much or anything at all from when we were that young ..."
"So, what are you thinking, Jen?"
"We're working on ways around it. Do you remember when you helped Daddy find those pictures and videos of my mom with Noa?"
"Yes, I do. Daniel did most of that, though," Sam reminded.
"There's a handful of clips with David and a few bits with me on there, but nothing from when I was real young. I just thought that maybe if we tried again, maybe there's something. Remember Aida Martindale?"
"Your mother's best friend?"
"Yes. We've chatted a few times over the years. She went to college with Mom. She gave me the idea, actually."
"Mom was from Montana, remember? She and Dad took a lot of trips back there when my grandparents were still alive. I barely remember them, but with all Mom's friends, ladies who competed with her in pageants, and even maybe neighbors of my grandparents, isn't it possible someone might have something on film?"
"It sounds reasonable, Jen." Sam smiled, suddenly aware of the reason for the phone call. "You want me to try to track down some friends and neighbors of your mother and grandparents?"
"Yes, could you, would you? I know it's asking a lot. You have a lot going on, but ..."
"Say no more, Jen. Names, dates, events: what do we know for sure?"
Jennifer giggled, "You sure sound like Dad sometimes."
"Mission prep," Sam explained.
After a shared chuckle, Jennifer continued, "Thanks in advance for all your help. Okay, well, Aida mentioned Mom's childhood best friend. She said she met her one time during college break when ..."
Set in motion was the plan to locate anyone who might have footage of a young Jennifer. It would prove to be a gigantic task, but one with a satisfying ending.
//End of Flashback//
The parents were all smiles and even in awe at having the priceless video they were watching. The story of how the general's second-in-command found it was a story in itself, but right now all the couple cared about was enjoying the magical scene in front of them.
//DVD Video Flashback//
Enthused and serene, a young Ellen Morgan was playing with her six-month-old daughter, Jennifer Renee. The baby was settled in the middle of a twin bed. Being a seamstress came in handy for the beautiful mother, who often participated in beauty pageants, winning several local and regional titles in her youth.
"Feel this, Jenny," the mother urged, running a silk scarf slowly across the baby's cheek and then letting it settle in the tiny hands.
Jennifer cooed with happiness as she held the scarf.
"Soft and elegant," Ellen told her daughter before glancing back at the person who was taking the film. Something indistinguishable had been said, prompting Ellen to explain, "I want her to understand the textures of the world."
Baby Jennifer loved the feeling of silk against her soft body. It made her coo with delight. In another moment, though, the soft, smooth sensation was gone, replaced by a wool sock that felt scratchy against her skin.
"Don't like wool as much as silk, Jenny girl?" Ellen laughed when she saw her daughter try to toss the wool away. "How about this?"
The baby felt the arm of the polyester sweater run quickly but tenderly over her belly. Then she reached out, her fingers trying to take hold of her mother's old clothing top. Jennifer looked away, immediately releasing the item.
"I never liked it much, either."
For several minutes, Ellen took all kinds of items, dancing them along her baby's body and letting Jennifer explore, or not, the different types of material that made up her world.
"I like this one," Ellen opined. "How about you?" Taking a cloth towel, she followed her pattern of letting it fall gently against her baby's skin. Then she heard a sweet coo and a giggle, one of Jennifer's signals that she really liked that item. It happened a lot with very soft and smooth textures, like satin. As Jennifer played with the towel, Ellen studied her daughter carefully. The love she felt was incredible. She hadn't planned on having a child so soon into her marriage, but there was Jennifer and now, Ellen couldn't imagine a day without her. "The touch," Ellen sang softly. "The feel," she sang in a near whisper. Speaking, she said, "It's a commercial, Jenny, but these are the fabrics of our lives. Your touch, my little dear heart, your sweet eyes, your lovely little coos: those are the most precious parts of my life."
"She's beautiful, Ellen," the person taking the video could be heard to say.
"She's perfect," Ellen responded, picking up her infant and giving her a kiss. "That's the most wondrous touch and feeling ever, my sweet Jenny."
//End of DVD Video Flashback//
The video segment ended abruptly. Apparently, Jennifer's father and the videographer's brother walked in, startling the women.
"Jen sure loved getting this," Jack sighed a bit emotionally.
"We did, too," Daniel said with a smile. "No wonder Jen sews so well. Her mother was teaching her early."
There was a bit of silence before Jack suggested, "Time to stretch."
"Daniel, that was such sappy video that if we don't get up and do something, we're just gonna sit here and stare at Jen as a baby forever."
Laughing, Daniel concurred, rising with his husband to reset their energies. There were still several albums to enjoy and a lifetime of memories to recall.
Still reeling from the emotional viewing of the DVD showing Jennifer as a baby with her mother Ellen, Jack and Daniel made the decision to view Brianna's album next. It might be even more emotional than any other album. For sure, it was the most miraculous of the group.
"Jack, can you think of any rational, reasonable, logical way that Bri got her hands on these?" Daniel asked as his hands rested upon the unopened book.
"No," Jack answered honestly. "What gets me is that last one."
"The one with the inscription," Daniel noted.
"Danny, there's no way. Everything we know about Bri's mother goes against it. That woman was a drug abusing addict with no real caring or concern for Bri."
"At least, that's all she could be, here on Earth," Daniel put forth, his heart trying to equate the reality with the miracle. "Jack, do you remember the first time we sent up balloons to our parents?"
"An unforgettable day."
"We, all of us, saw hands scoop up those balloons. Was that in our minds, some kind of, of collected hallucination, or something?"
"I don't know, Danny. Together, our kids create such synergy. It makes it hard to understand sometimes."
"How do we explain this?"
"You're asking me?"
"You're the military expert."
Jack laughed, "Which means what?"
Daniel sighed, "Which means ... I haven't a clue what to make of this, but Sam authenticated the inscription. It's the handwriting of Rhia Davison."
"A dead woman."
There were no answers for the couple, only a slew of questions. For the practical, often scientific duo, the wonders of a power greater than humanity had sometimes entered their lives. In their own ways, they believed in that higher power. Yet, they had a hard time giving a name to it. Whatever it was, they were happy to be on the positive receiving end of that power more often than not. It was a blessing they tried not to question, but rather, to accept with gratitude.
Daniel looked down at the book and slowly opened it. Had it not been for the indescribable miracle, there would be nothing available to put into the album except for those photos taken once the tomboy was adopted by Jack and Daniel. However, the book was full, not of photographs, but of what could have been had life been different for Brianna and her birth mother.
"There's love here, Jack," Daniel spoke quietly.
"It's beautiful work," Jack responded, watching as his lover turned the page. ~Who cares how it got here, it's here.~
"Maybe we'll meet her one day," the younger man put forward, his voice still reverent and quiet.
"Angel, if you don't mind, I hope it's not for a while yet."
"Me, too," Daniel agreed with a chuckle.
"That's a beautiful sketch, Rhia," Elizabeth O'Neill praised as she joined the woman on a cloud overlooking the earth. "Is that your Bri?"
"Yes," Rhia affirmed. "She was just eight days old. I put this pink bow in her hair. She was so beautiful."
Elizabeth noticed a wave of sadness overtake the woman, prompting her to question, "What is it, Rhia?"
"This was the last good day we had," Rhia confessed. "Dean showed up out of the blue, handed me a fat bag." Seeing the blank expression on her friend's face, she defined, "cocaine." With a depressing sigh, Rhia elaborated, "I got high and I stayed high. I landed in jail, Dean took off again, and Bri had her first stay in a foster home."
"But you got her back."
"Yes, and lost her, and got her back, and lost her. It went on for years like that. Look at her eyes, Elizabeth. She's so innocent, and I raised her callously. I was an overindulgent, self-absorbed, addictive woman. I thought only of myself, never of this little life I'd brought into it. All she was to me was a mouth to feed. I was abominable."
"That was who you used to be, Rhia. You aren't that woman anymore."
"But it's all Bri knows." Rhia wiped away a heavenly tear and added, "She has nothing for the album."
Elizabeth thought for a moment and then gasped a breath of understanding.
"Oh, yes, the surprise the children are giving to Jack and Daniel soon."
"Even Jennifer found film of herself as a baby. Only my Bri has nothing. Liz, she's putting up such a brave exterior. She's telling them it's okay and that it doesn't matter. It's a bit of that tough 'don't need anyone' exterior she had as a young girl. It's my fault. I never took a photo of her. All I have are these."
From the cloud, Rhia picked up sketch after sketch she'd made over time, images of her daughter in a world that never really existed.
"These are all so wonderful. You are so talented, Rhia. Why didn't you make use of this on Earth?"
"Thank you for the compliment," Rhia responded. "I can't make excuses."
"I'm not asking for excuses," Elizabeth said as she sat down on the cloud opposite the woman. "Rhia, years ago when the children first sent up balloons, you wouldn't even sit with us. You stayed away."
"I was too ashamed," Rhia admitted with a downcast heart. "I was worthless as a mortal."
"No one is worthless, on Earth or in Heaven. You should know that by now."
"Yes, I know you're right, in my mind, that is, but in my heart, I can't leave that guilt behind, not when my Bri is in such pain. Look at her, Elizabeth."
The women looked down at Brianna, an intelligent, grown up woman with an otherwise fulfilling life, but who at the minute was starring at a blank album, trying to figure out something to put in it. As the cloud sitters watched, Brianna received a phone call from her brother, Little Danny, who was checking on her. Brianna assured the Munchkin that she was fine and not to worry about her; there would be an album from her full of something for her parents. Hanging up the phone, Brianna cried, though she quickly wiped away the moisture and returned to staring at the empty pages of the album. Her despair was obvious.
"She's hurting, Elizabeth, and there's nothing I can do."
"Maybe ..." Elizabeth paused her response, reaching out and looking at the many sketches Rhia had drawn. There were drawings from Brianna's birth through her high school graduation. Some even depicted her wedding and arrival of the blonde's first baby. Except for a couple from Brianna's first week of life, none of them were actual representations, rather, they were what Rhia had wished life had been like for her and her daughter. In essence, they were the 'if only' dreams in Rhia's mind, how she wished life had gone. "Rhia, I have an idea. Let me take these and talk to Peter."
Rhia gasped, "Peter?" She shook her head as she claimed, "Elizabeth, I'm not worthy of Peter's time."
Putting her hand on Rhia's shoulder, Elizabeth refuted, "You are a child of God and that makes you as worthy of Peter's time as anyone."
"But there is nothing he can do, nothing anyone can do. There are no pictures for my daughter."
"There's always an 'or', Rhia."
Rhia smiled slightly as she replied, "Isn't that what Jack always says?"
"Where do you think he got it from?" Elizabeth chuckled. "He's my son!"
As Elizabeth disappeared, taking the drawings with her, Rhia looked down at her daughter and shed another tear.
"I'm so sorry, Brianna. I was lost, so lost. There's no excuse," Rhia asserted. "I made horrible choices. I was weak and didn't realize or care how my actions affected you. It's my fault, Bri; it was my bad choices. I'm so ... so very sorry."
"Taking responsibility for your actions is a good thing, but you have to give yourself credit for what you've accomplished here."
Rhia looked up at her latest visitor, astounded, and meekly greeted, "Hello."
"There's a reason, Rhia, why you're here and Dean isn't." The visitor sat down next to the woman and asked, "What would you tell Brianna if you could?"
"The one thing I never told her on Earth," Rhia cried. "I love you."
Suddenly, one of Rhia's sketches appeared in the visitor's hand. It was a wishful moment of the woman with her three-year-old daughter. They were playing in a field of flowers, laughter on their faces, eyes shining with love. He held it out before her, a heavenly marker offered in his other hand.
"Tell her," the visitor urged.
Tears falling, Rhia wrote, "My Darling Brianna, You are the best of me, the one truly good part of my heart, and my reason for having been on Earth. I love you, now and forever. You are my daughter. Love, Mom."
"I wish I could tell her."
When Rhia looked up, the visitor was gone and so was her sketch. Then she looked down and beheld an incredible sight.
As if by magic, Brianna opened the door to her home and found a large package, full of sketches. Strange handwriting on a post-it note that featured a picture of the proverbial heavenly gates at the top said, "Know that you are loved by she who bore you."
Confused but curious, Brianna opened the package and beheld a pile of unusual sketches. She recognized glimpses of herself as a baby and in the older pictures. More surprising, she recognized her mother, only the woman was free and looked beautiful and serene. The pained and angry expressions that Brianna witnessed growing up were gone, replaced by looks that sprang from purity of heart.
The last drawing in the pile was the one Rhia signed. As she stared at the picture, Brianna felt the love of her mother for the first time in her life. She'd never be able to explain it, but the image was so true to life. All of the sketches were. It was her, Brianna, in each picture, feeling loved and nurtured by her mother, who was without the physical manifestations brought on by years of drug abuse.
Brianna cried, but this time, the tears were good ones of amazement and happiness. She phoned Little Danny and every other member of the brood, spreading the word of the unexpected marvel. Now she had something truly special with which to surprise her adoptive parents.
Overcome, Rhia collapsed in joyful sobs. Then she felt the comforting arms of Elizabeth O'Neill around her.
"You see, Rhia. You *are* worthy of *everyone's* time. Bri knows now; she feels it in her heart. He made sure of that." Smiling, Elizabeth added, "There's always an 'or'."
//End of Brianna's Miracle//
Daniel closed the album and look at his husband. He saw the tear escaping and rolling down Jack's cheek.
"Face it, Babe. We're sentimental slobs, and even if we weren't, somehow, someway, Rhia got these to Bri."
"Yep," Jack agreed, his voice cracked from emotion. "Danny, that post-it note."
"Like the inscription, the ink was unidentifiable."
"It was a different handwriting, too," Jack reminded. ~This is beyond the scope of understanding.~
"The wording was very ... uh ..."
"Biblical?" Jack asked with a raised eyebrow.
"One more time," the general suggested with his warbled vocal chords.
Nodding, Daniel opened the book and the parents started one more stroll through, not memory lane, but the avenue of what might have been.
"You know, Angel, our loss would have been Bri's gain. The woman who drew these was special."
"I know," Daniel agreed quietly. "I guess there's a reason for everything, though. We've learned that by now, haven't we?"
"We have." Jack drew a deep breath. "Danny, time for us to check on the brood."
"I thought we decided not to call, to wait until they got here."
"I need to hear her voice."
With a grin, Daniel replied, "Me, too."
Jack pulled out his cell phone and dialed Brianna's cell number. It would be a quick call, but one both he and Daniel needed to make. They just had to hear that extra lilt of happiness that had been part of their grown-up tomboy's aura since the day the sketches were delivered to her.
Some things would always be a mystery, and Jack and Daniel were okay with that, especially when it meant their children grew in happiness.
"Mmm," Daniel expressed in total adoration.
"Daniel, the one thing I can always count on is you sounding orgasmic when eating a Godiva truffle," Jack stated.
"The *one* thing?"
"Make that one of two things," the older man corrected, leaning in for a kiss and ending up with a taste of the chocolate delight himself. "Mmm, that is good."
Having checked in with Brianna, the lovers took a brief treat break and now were returning to the sofa to look through another album highlighting their children's youth.
"Looks like Jonny's next," Daniel noted, seeing the oldest Munchkin's book on top.
The parents leafed through the album, enjoying the selected moments of Jonny's youth. At the end, they decided to put on the DVD of favorite videos their son had personally selected for the project.
"This one," Daniel suggested as the remote control highlighted one of the scenes. He pressed the play button and commented, "When I watch it, I always feel like I'm watching two of my children."
Jack snarked, "Doesn't that ever get old?"
The two chuckled and then focused on the video that featured Jack playing with infant Jonny.
//DVD Video Flashback//
"Peek-a-boo," Jack sing-songed to his namesake, who was lying on the sofa cushion in front of his hovering father.
Jonny chuckled and waved his arms. The Munchkin was advanced in his motor skills, something his parents had been noticing for months, and to him this game was silly and fun, but old hat at his advanced old age of eight months.
To Jack it looked liked the baby was saying, "That's old, Dad. Let's do something new."
"Tired of silly games? I get it. How about we have a little chat?" Jack asked.
Jonny was all eyes and ears, completely focused on his older father. He felt protective arms raise him up high into the air and then lower him to face-to-face level. He trusted those eyes that looked into his. They were safe and loving, just like the eyes of his daddy were.
Holding Jonny securely in his arms, Jack began a very honest and sincere, albeit mostly one-way, conversation.
"I'm not much on talking; that's Daddy's specialty," Jack began. "I prefer to do. I'm an action guy: get the job done, whatever it is, no matter what it is. The key to being a successful action guy is observation: getting Intel. The more you have, the better the odds of success.
"Never let them see you sweat. Yeah, it's a cliché. I'm not big on those, but ya gotta give credit where credit is due and some clichés are spot on in their meaning. You have to play a little game, Jonny. Look, I don't care a rat's behind what people think of me. What I care about is getting the job done. The best way to do that is to act dumb."
Jonny frowned as his right hand swatted his father's nose.
"Hey, don't knock it before you've tried it," Jack responded. "Son, the dumber they think you are, the easier it is to get information. People," he let out a groan, "y'know, people aren't my favorite things. Well, except for Daddy, you, your brothers and sisters, your grandparents." The list ceased for a second as Jack smiled. "Charlie's mom; she's a trooper. Hammond. Okay, so there are some good people out there, but people can be a royal pain. Dogs, now there's a creation. Dogs are loyal, no matter what. Dogs are the best people."
On cue, Bijou let out a happy bark.
"Yeah, like you, Bij," Jack affirmed, smiling when Jonny giggled as he looked over at the mama beagle. Refocusing on his son, the general continued his lesson. "People make assumptions. If they think you're dumb, they dismiss you." He laughed. "Another cliché: don't judge a book by its cover. People do that all the time. Act dumb, talk dumb and they buy it.
"One thing, though," the father stated seriously. "You need to make sure that you succeed with your mission. Your men, and women, have to respect you. They can think you're odd, weird, nutty, insane, and dumb. That's okay, but they have to know that you will do whatever is necessary to obtain victory. You have to show them that anything you ask them to do, you'll do and have done. Respect, Jonny. Make them respect you." Laughing, he reminded, "but play dumb. It doesn't matter if they think you're IQ is bottom of the heap; what matters is that they follow you because they know that when their butts are on the line, you're the best one to get those butts home, safe and sound."
Jonny's brown eyes centered on his silver-haired father as he took in every word, even if he didn't understand them. The baby felt the love, though, and the sincerity of the lesson. One day, the words would make sense to him.
"On second thought, let them see you sweat. It's no big deal. Just stay focused on the most important thing: getting the job done, especially if it means survival."
//End of DVD Video Flashback//
"And my next lesson was on paying attention to snooping mothers," Jack griped.
Daniel laughed, "Don't blame Kayla if you weren't being observant while teaching Jonny about being observant."
Indeed, earlier in the day, Jack had been recording the Munchkins at play. The camera was still sitting atop the tripod near the entranceway. Kayla Armentrout, the surrogate mother of the triplets and the twins, was in the house, visiting. As she was preparing to leave, she spied Jack playing with Jonny and couldn't resist the candid taping. A quick tap on the camera and the end of the peek-a-boo game and Jack's heart-to-heart with Jonny was all captured for posterity.
"Besides, it helped her with your characterization in her novel," Daniel asserted.
"Yeah," Jack agreed. "I miss her."
"We all do."
"Not going there, not today," the older man said, ceasing the sadness that could easily overtake their current happy mood. Kayla's tragic death always pained the couple. However, when they remembered her, which was pretty much every day, they centered on her beauty in spirit, even though it was sometimes hard not to feel anger towards the drunk driver who was responsible for her death, too. Thus, Jack quickly put a stop to their pondering. "Pick another, Danny."
The couple was enjoying their review of these album treasures. It always gave them a wonderful excuse for recalling happy times and special memories of their life together when the brood was young.
"What time is it?" Daniel queried as he pulled out a package of Twinkies.
"Ten minutes since the last time you asked me," Jack answered, amused somewhat at how anxious his lover was for the children's arrival. ~If I focus on Danny's nerves, I can ignore my own,~ he rationalized.
"Shouldn't they be here?"
"Daniel, it's a caravan. Do you know how many cars are in that caravan? They're *all* coming. Think about the bathroom stops for the kids."
"It happens," Jack teased.
Daniel bit into the first Twinkie in the two-pair pack and, mouth full, mumbled, "Want a bite?"
"Huh?" Jack responded, trying to decipher his Love's question.
Swallowing, the archaeologist repeated, "Want a bite?"
"Twinkies? Angel, that's your vice. I'll stick to Big Hunks."
Daniel just grinned, causing Jack to grin as well.
Temporarily happy the brood caravan was taking longer than expected, the couple enjoyed their nation of two by making love. It was a quickie union, but exhilarating for both. After a quick shower, the two men returned to the sofa. Both reached out for another album, chuckling when their hands touched upon the same volume.
"Who's is it?" Daniel asked, pulling his hand back and allowing his soulmate to retrieve the album.
"David's," Jack answered.
"Jack, let's watch the video Phil took of David with Noa when she was a baby," the younger man suggested, referring to the boy's deceased birth father, Phil Morgan.
Instantly, Jack grinned. It was one of his favorite remembrances of the Mouseketeer, especially because it showed the nerdy youth in a bit of a protective mode. When he'd first met the three Morgan children, Jennifer had been extremely protective of her two younger siblings. By then, David had retreated inside to a dark place where he kept his pain covered by a tough exterior. It was nothing like the youth before his parents' deaths and certainly didn't represent the confident man he was today.
With the DVD on, the parents chuckled and laughed. Four-year-old David was standing over Chenoa's bassinet. In his hand was his stuffed frog, Squiggy. The boy was using the frog to tell his four-month-old sister a story.
"King Squiggy rules over all of Egypt. He's more important than Ra."
Jack and Daniel both chuckled at their son's declaration. The boy told a wild tale of how King Squiggy fought off all the bad gods of Egypt. It was a colorful tale that made use of real Egyptian facts and the boy's vivid imagination.
Then David let out a big roar as he thrust Squiggy towards his sister. The sudden movement startled the infant, who started to cry.
"No, don't cry, Chin...Ki...Shi...." Exasperated, the youngster consoled, "Noa, don't cry." David let out a frustrated sigh, not at the baby's cry, but his lack of verbal ability. "Why can't I say your name right? I'll call you Noa, okay? Is that okay?"
"Look at her, Jack. It's like she's comforting him now," Daniel observed as he watched Chenoa's crying stop and the little one reaching out towards her big brother. She even let out a small, content coo sound. ~Amazing.~
"Apparently, she liked her nickname from the start," Jack surmised contentedly.
The DVD played on as David talked with his baby sister.
//DVD Video Flashback//
David took Chenoa's hand and promised, "It's okay, Noa. Squiggy loves you, and I do, too. We'll always be together, okay? Whatever you need, you tell me, okay? I'll take care of you, Noa. You're my little sister. You, me, and Jenny are ..."
"Hey, what about me and Mommy?" Phil Morgan was heard to ask playfully from outside the viewer range.
"You, too, Daddy, and Mommy, too. We're family, but I'll take special care of Noa. Mommy says she's mine."
"That's a big responsibility, David."
"I can handle it, Daddy. Noa's special. I'll be real good with her."
"I know you will," Phil asserted tenderly, complete confidence in his tone.
//End of DVD Video Flashback//
Jack reached over and took his lover's hand, squeezing it gently as he remarked, "The birth of Noa's nickname."
"The love of a family," Daniel replied.
"Where's that picture of David dressed up as a mad scientist for Halloween?"
"It's ... right ... there," the archaeologist answered, having reached over and flipped through the pages of David's album that rested on his husband's lap to find the photograph. "You know what this reminds me of?"
"When he blew up the microwave," Jack responded knowingly.
"Our mad scientist, out to prove ..." Daniel paused and asked, "What was he trying to prove?"
"Danny, I'm lucky I remember the microwave."
Laughter in the air, the happy parents continued to review David's album. They were thankful for the handful of pictures Jennifer had managed to keep throughout the Morgan children's time at Molly O'Hanlon's shelter and those they'd later obtained through friends of Phil and Ellen Morgan. The video clips were much more rare and thus held a warm place in their hearts.
"Do you hear a car?" Daniel inquired just as he was about to choose one of the remaining albums to look through.
"Just one," Jack noted as he stood up and opened the door. "Danny, it's Lou."
Daniel stood up and joined his husband in going outside to greet the Ferretti family and make sure they knew where to set up camp.
The lovers had never had such a large gathering of family and friends before, but thanks to the family compound of cabins along with an abundance of nature, there was room for everyone. It was going to be an exciting week for most with some families staying even longer. Only a couple could only stay three days or less.
The Jackson-O'Neills visited with Lou's family for a few minutes before leaving them to get situated. Later that day, everyone would meet in the lodge for a big welcome party. Right now, it was time for setting up, or, in the case of Jack and Daniel, waiting for their children to arrive.
Back inside the cabin, Jack picked up one of the few albums that had yet to be looked through. He smiled at the inscription:
"Joel-Dai 'JD' George William Angus Thor Jackson-O'Neill, uniquely the happy son of Jack and Daniel Jackson-O'Neill ..."
"That was clever," Jack put forth. "Uniquely."
"His way of saying he's our biological son," Daniel expanded. "There's no way he can say the real truth without drawing attention to ... you know."
"I sure like what he added at the end," the older man remarked.
"... and grateful spiritual surrogate son of Kayla Armentrout," the inscription concluded.
"I'm proud of him for including Kayla," Daniel stated.
"Using Kayla's name on his birth certificate saved us a lot of hassle back in the day," Jack added. He chuckled, "But no one who might see this after we're gone is going to understand it."
"Just the way you like it, right?"
"You know me so well."
"I'll never forget when we finally sat him down to tell him the truth," Daniel sighed. "That wasn't the easiest conversation I've had in my life."
"Yeah. How do you tell your kid his 'mom' isn't his mom and his two dads are really his two dads when his biology lessons have told him that isn't possible."
"Thor made that easier," Daniel acknowledged, quickly continuing, "and taking him to meet Filip and Harad on Pierola. He was able to see a womis up close and talk with their scientists."
"Is that what they were doing?" Jack scoffed. "Danny, I didn't understand a word they said."
"Me, either, but JD did, and that's what was important at the time."
"Where do you want to start?" Jack questioned, finally opening up the album.
Daniel didn't have to think about it. He had a special moment in mind, a time when he thought he was alone with his five-month-old son.
"I didn't realize you'd come home," Daniel chuckled as he stared down at a couple of printed photographs that represented the event.
"Covert is my business," Jack stated proudly. Growing extremely serious, he kissed his lover and said, "That was a special day. It was the exact opposite of when the Munchkins were babies."
"You mean when I was an extreme stickler."
"When clean wasn't clean enough," Jack laughed. "You about had a heart attack if the kids even touched the floor in the house, let alone crawl around on the grass."
"I guess I learned something over the years." Daniel put his hand on one of the pictures, his thumb running down the center of it. "I cherish this afternoon, Jack. Maybe we should have had one more child. I don't know."
The couple had been offered the chance to create a second child together by their friends on Pierola, but after much debate, had decided against it. In truth, they never really made the choice not to have another biological child; rather, they delayed talking about it too much. In essence, time simply kept passing by until their brood was grown and they themselves had retired.
"Too late now."
"Yeah." Drawing a deep breath, the archaeologist leaned back, his mind wandering to a pleasant day in May 2012. "It was warm for the Springs, mid-seventies I think. Scattered clouds, a light breeze. Jeff came home from school and did his chores. After he mowed the lawn, he headed out to meet some friends for ... I don't know. It might have been his drama group or maybe he was playing basketball. I'm not sure which now, but he left. I thought you were out," he mused, "and the other children were at different activities. It was just JD, the girls, and me. It was so nice out that I decided to take JD on a little exploration."
"It smells good out here," Daniel remarked, the aroma of the freshly cut lawn in the backyard alluring. He put his infant son down on the grass, JD positioned on his belly. Daniel, too, was in the same position. "Take it in, JD. Use your senses."
JD's head lightly plopped down onto the grass and he giggled before raising his head up again.
"It helps to keep your head up, so you can breathe," the father told his son.
The baby sniffed the grass and his hands passed over the blades, examining their feel.
"You know what's odd, JD? People love this aroma, but in a way, it's the grass saying 'ouch.'"
"Ouch!" Daniel exclaimed playfully, loving how his son laughed in response.
"Anyway, when we cut the grass like Jeff just did or ..." Daniel paused, smiling as he observed his son, "... when someone roughhouses with the lawn like you just did, the grass releases chemical compounds that create this smell. Well, actually, these are organic compounds and they're called green leaf volatiles. Eight of these are oxygenated hydrocarbons and they create the cut grass aroma." The father chuckled, "There'll be a test later."
JD laughed appropriately.
"You're the perfect student, JD. You listen very well," Daniel praised.
For a few minutes, the father and son played with the grass, running their fingers through it, laying their hands atop it and smashing it down, picking individual blades, and talking about how grass feels. Of course, it was really Daniel doing the talking.
After a while, JD attempted to move forward, but he hadn't yet mastered crawling.
"You have places to go, JD?" Daniel inquired. "Try this. Just move your arms and pull your body." He demonstrated, but stopped after going a couple of feet. "On second thought, forget that. Jonny started crawling that way. They call it the commando crawl. I'll bet Dad taught him that. Let's, uh, go another route." This time, Daniel raised up his body, but kept his feet and arms rigid. He crawled backwards to return to his previous spot by the baby. "That's the bear crawl."
JD shook his head, as if saying he didn't like that type of crawl.
"Well, okay, you can do the traditional style. There's nothing wrong with that. The Spitfires both did it that way. It goes like this."
Daniel showed the baby the normal baby crawl, inching forward by using his knees and arms. Looking back at the infant, he smiled as JD made the attempt.
"Don't worry. You're still too young to crawl," the father assured as he picked up JD. "It won't be long, though, and you'll be scooting all over the yard. Hey, how about we explore Katie's sandbox for a while?"
//End of Flashback//
"It still amazes me, Danny, how wonderful it was seeing you down on the grass like that with JD," Jack remarked.
"We had a great time exploring the grass and the sandbox. He felt the sand filtering through his toes, felt the grains in his hands, and was able to see the difference between those two textures"
"Grass and sand."
"And the wood of the sandbox. He loved it."
"You loved it."
"Yeah, I did," Daniel affirmed softly. "Our son. Ours, Jack. It still seems like such an incredible miracle."
"We've had a few of those."
"Yo, Jack. A little help," rang out the shouted voice of Lou Ferretti from outside.
"Lost?" Daniel questioned.
"Probably," Jack laughed. "Be right back," he promised before giving his Heart a kiss and heading outside to help his friend.
Daniel leaned his head back and spoke aloud, "We should have had one more." Then he smiled and thought, ~But our brood is perfect the way it is.~ With a sigh, he said, "But still."
"Business is picking up at the inn," Jack joked as he and Daniel walked back into their cabin.
Since assisting the Ferrettis, two more groups had arrived, the Lapierres and Daniel's foster sisters, Suzanne and Nellie. They'd gotten another phone call from the brood caravan as well. Barring complications, the children would be arriving within the hour.
"Okay, we have three more," Daniel stated, walking over to the albums. He picked them up, without looking at the names and approached his lover. "Pick one?"
"Like cards," Jack mused. "The middle one."
With a nod, Daniel returned the books to the coffee table. He took the middle one and, naturally, smiled. It didn't matter which child's album it was, the book was full of loving memories.
Sitting down, Jack motioned for his Love to join him.
"Which one now?" the general queried.
"Ricky," Daniel answered.
The lovers spent several minutes turning the pages of the album, recalling special times and treasured remembrances. They laughed at images of Ricky during his Captain Nice phase when he constantly dressed up as the nice hero and enjoyed talking about their son's first Etch-a-Sketch, the toy that evolved into a tool of the trade as Ricky became a budding architect and designer at an extremely young age.
When Daniel next turned the page, Jack laughed out loud. There was a picture Kayla took after having heard about a play session the general had with the male Spitfire. Then he became solemn.
"Was this the last one?"
"I think so," Daniel answered. "She took it after dinner that night, the last night," he expounded, thinking back to the last meal they shared with the surrogate mother before her tragic death.
"Still hurts, dang it."
"Like it was yesterday," Daniel sighed.
Jack coughed to will away his emotions and refocused on the picture. During that January dinner, he'd told the young woman about having some fun with Ricky earlier that week.
With his husband and the rest of the children occupied elsewhere, Jack was in his study enjoying some time with the youngest Spitfire, Ricky. The male twin was just four-months-old. He'd begun their time together by playing one of his favorite opera arias, hoping to pass along his love of the genre to his son. Then he'd read the baby a short story, half expecting the infant to fall asleep afterwards and feeling surprised when Ricky was still wide awake at the conclusion of the tale.
"Hmmm. Not sleepy at all, are ya?" Jack surmised as he studied the baby. "Party time!" he laughed. "You know, Son, you may not always have a radio or CD player handy. Sometimes, you have to make your own music."
Making sure Ricky was secure on the old sofa in the study, Jack looked around for several everyday things to prove his musical point. With one eye on the baby at all times, he prepared for a demonstration that he hoped would delight his son. Once he was ready, the uninhibited general proceeded to show Ricky exactly what he meant.
"Here we go," Jack told the infant while making sure Ricky had a good view. "Keep in mind, I'm not going for a Grammy here. I don't sing, in spite of what your daddy says."
Using a pencil holder full of paper clips, Jack began to shake it, the steel pieces making a rhythmic noise as they bounced within the confounds of the holder.
"Well, shake it up, baby, now" Jack sang, exaggerating the shaking motion and subsequent sound of his action. "Shake it up, baby," he continued, moving the item all around and up close to Ricky to ensure the baby could really hear the noise being produced.
The father continued to sing as he changed out devices. Now he held in his hand a small glass container full of buttons of varying sizes. It was part of a small emergency sewing kit that he'd kept in his desk drawer for years. As he'd done with the first item, Jack shook the glass bottle fervently, a different sound from the first being the result. Again, he also brought the bottle up close to Ricky. He even put it in the baby's hands and helped Ricky to shake it while Jack sang.
"Drum time," Jack sing-songed, his hips sashaying as he exchanged out the button clashing sound for a ruler and a pencil.
Jack banged the items against the desk as he soloed on the furniture drum. Next, the father took hold of a plastic box of thumb tacks, shaking it up as he sang the words to the classic rock and roll song by the Isley Brothers.
Then Jack decided to expand the musical adventure to the kitchen. Carrying Ricky in his arms, he kept bouncing the boy while still singing the song. He opened a cupboard and pulled out a bag of rice.
As Ricky giggled, Jack continued his musical task, singing, "Shake it up, baby," whenever he shook the bag of rice. He did the same thing with a package of M & M candies, a half-empty carton of milk, a box of his beloved Froot Loops, and even a box of the beagles' favorite biscuits.
When he was done with the kitchen, the father carried his baby through the entire house, randomly picking up items that would make a distinctive sound, especially from shaking. Ricky giggled and laughed his way through the experience.
//End of Flashback//
The parents smiled at the recollection of Jack's shaker session with Ricky. The photograph Kayla took had Ricky shaking the box of Froot Loops in his hands while also surrounded by many of the things Jack had used to demonstrate his musical theory.
"He had a good grip on that box, Babe," Daniel put forward as he viewed the photograph.
"Ricky started holding onto things pretty young," Jack reminded.
"Four months: I'd call that young," Daniel mused.
Jack kissed his husband and said, "Now that's what I call music."
The parents' trip through the special albums was almost complete. Their anticipation for the arrival of the blood and their families was overwhelming. For the moment, though, they made their own kind of music, embracing their love and their forever.
"Oil leak?" Daniel echoed over the phone. "Okay, so thirty min...what?"
Jack shook his head. He was already taking bets on which child's car was the culprit for what he hoped would be the final delay in the arrival of the caravan. All of the other non-caravan family and friends had arrived. Many, like the Dennisons, had settled in and were starting to gather in the lodge. For some, they hadn't seen one another in several years.
"Get the tires," Daniel ordered sternly. He nodded, "Yes, I know you're a grown adult, but I'm still your daddy. *Get* the tires."
The older man laughed, mentally checking off names on the potential candidates. He was down to four at this point of the conversation.
"Remember the big picture, honey," Daniel replied to the caller.
~Nope, not him,~ Jack thought as the list dwindled to three possibilities.
"Sweetheart, independence is one thing ..."
~Red,~ Jack deduced with a smile. "Jennifer Samantha, do as your daddy tells you -- *now*" he barked loudly.
"Yes, that was Dad," Daniel sighed. "Jenny, rebellion only goes so far, especially when we're paying for those graduate degrees ... huh? ... <laughter> ... I like sounding like Dad sometimes. Jenny, get the oil change, buy the tires, *and* have them put in a new battery ... Jenny, I'm not asking, I'm telling ... I don't care how old you are. This is not about the cause of the day, this is about you getting here so I can squeeze you to death ... <laughter> ... I love you, too, Princess. See you soon."
"Jenny has car woes?" Jack smirked as he stood opposite his husband.
"Whatever gave you that idea?" Daniel returned smugly, his lips pursed and eyelashes batting a few times.
Jack shrugged, saying nothing.
"Geez, Jack, we've raised a monster."
"She likes causes."
"I wish she'd like the new car cause," the archaeologist groaned. "That heap of hers is ... it's ... well, it's ..."
"Like the car you bought after returning from Abydos," Jack laughed, his brown eyes staring pointedly into his Love's.
"Yeah," Daniel agreed. "We both like junkers."
"We'll get her a new car," Jack stated calmly.
"She'll sell it and donate the money to ... to ... I don't know, but to something," Daniel sighed.
"Nah, I'll have Thor arrange something."
Jack laughed and put his arm around his husband. Leisurely, he led the other man back to the couch.
"Look on the bright side, Danny, now we have time to look at Ash's album."
"Good point," Daniel replied, not for the first time in the day.
"It happens," Jack chuckled, aware they'd already had a similar word exchange earlier. "Déjà vu."
"Okay, Ash," Daniel declared as he sat down and reached for the cherished book. "Jack, let's watch her message on the DVD."
"Good idea," Jack returned.
"It happens," Daniel replied with amusement.
With the DVD in the player, the parents settled back on the sofa and listened as their youngest Munchkin delivered a special message to them from her heart.
//DVD Message from Aislinn//
"Hi, Dad and Daddy. It's me, your little miracle, until JD came along."
The Munchkin, now in her twenties, let out a gentle laugh, her voice a beautiful and calming tone.
"Here I am in the nursery of our home. Wow, it's hard to believe that at one point there were six of us in here, the Munchkins, the Spitfires, and Noa." Looking to her right, Aislinn pointed and added, "And David was right there, just feet away. It never felt small. Okay, I was a baby, so what did I know, right?"
Again, Aislinn smiled, her face lighting up the room.
"This was a room of life, though. It still feels like love. That's what being here means to me: love. You both showed me all the time that as long as there was love, there was an answer to life's problems. I feel it even now."
The young woman walked over to a rocker, putting her hands on it from the rear. She turned the rocker slightly, wanting what was in it to be clearly visible.
"And here'sssssssssssssssssssss Bobo!"
Aislinn laughed as she walked around the chair, picked up Bobo, sat down, and began to rock slightly as she caressed the stuffed monkey.
"This was Mom's," the woman spoke softly. "Growing up, it meant so much to me to have this here, and when you did the renovation, Bobo came with Jenny and me to our new room. You know, Jenny loves Bobo a lot, too, more than she likes to admit. You know, Miss Independent Brainiac."
After a bit of laughter, the Munchkin grew quiet. It was clear she was gathering her thoughts.
"I remember a lot from my childhood, so many good times. I remember the miracles, Dad and Daddy, the things we could never explain. The first time we sent balloons up with messages to Mom and our grandparents, I saw hands scoop up the balloons. I saw them, Dad and Daddy. *I* saw them. No one will ever convince me it wasn't real. Mommy was up there, watching us."
Aislinn wiped away a tear, only then another came, and another, and finally she just shrugged and said, "Oh well."
After regrouping, the girl continued her message.
"I think we told you this once, after our first trip to India, but sometimes, Jenny and I felt like Mom was watching us through Bobo. I know that doesn't make sense, but when we were upset or super sad, Bobo seemed to cry out to us. We'd pick her up and it was like we were being hugged. Silly, maybe, but I'm not sure.
"Dad, Daddy, you both love Mom so much and we've never forgotten her, either. We talk about her all time, wishing we'd really known her. You know what I mean. Anyway, I've made a decision, and I hope you'll approve because it means so much to me to make you proud."
More tears streamed down the youngest triplet's face even as her smile lit up the entire room. Her arms enfolded Bobo, squeezing the monkey gently and comfortingly.
"My singing means so much to me and thanks to my brother, the money-conscious agent," Aislinn laughed, referring to Jonny who had been managing his sister's musical jobs for over fifteen years, "and to you for putting most of the money I earned into savings or investments, it's a nice little sum. When I listen to you two and Aunt Janet and others talk about Mom, what always comes out is her love of life and how adventurous she was. She loved to write and capture feelings with a camera. It was her number one passion, like singing is for me. When we went to India, it made a lasting impression. We used to take so much granted, but not after India, not in the same way, anyway.
"I want to create The Bobo Foundation in Mom's honor. It's designed to do two things. First, to help the people in the poorest parts of the county and second, to help others who were like us to understand just how lucky we are to have all that we do. I've talked with the brood and a lot of them are in and want to help. What I want to do the first time around is take some of the students I coach in music to India, not for a week, but for two months, all expenses paid. I want them to see what we've seen and then to help as we've tried to over the years. After my students, well, we can find others who want to go but who can't afford it or don't want to go alone. From what Jonny has calculated, I have enough funds to send over six groups. I think that's a good start."
Aislinn smiled, her face glowing and bright.
"Here's the part you may not like, but to make The Bobo Foundation work like I want, I need to be there, so ... I'm moving to India, at least for a year. I don't know about after that. The brood has talked about rotating, taking their families there even for a year. I don't know if that will happen. You know how it is when we get together. Everyone starts talking and things just ... explode." Aislinn laughed. "I am going. I'll miss you so much, but I hope you approve. I hope you're proud. I want Mommy to be proud, too, because this is for her. She gave me life. She made me your little miracle, and someday, when I have my own little miracle, or miracles, I want them to practice what they preach. That's a cliché, Dad, just for you."
The young woman brought Bobo to her face and squeezed the decades-old but still-in-excellent-condition stuffed animal.
"Thank you for watching over me, Mom." Releasing her hold on Bobo slightly, Aislinn looked back into the camera. "I'd like your support. I love you. I am who I am because of you both. I love you. I love you. Oh, how I love you both."
//End of DVD Message from Aislinn//
"Crap," Jack whined, clearing his throat and standing up and walking around to try to get his emotions under control.
Daniel sat quietly, recalling the very first time he'd heard the message. He'd cried, like he was now. It was the same for his husband. Of course, that had been close to two years ago. It had taken a while to get The Bobo Foundation set up, but Aislinn managed to pull it all together, with some help from her siblings and parents.
"It's going to be so good to see her," Daniel finally whispered. "A year. We haven't seen her in a year."
"She did it, Angel," Jack replied. "She accomplished what she set out to do. I can't imagine being any prouder than I am right now."
"She's helped a lot of people, here and in India," Daniel agreed.
"And now she's come home."
"But Bobo's work goes on. She set that up, too."
"The kids helped with that." Jack sighed, "Danny, she might go back anyway."
"I know. She's said as much."
Looking back over his shoulder at where Jack was standing, Daniel returned, "What?"
"I think that dang monkey was staring at me sometimes."
Daniel laughed, "Gawd, there were times I thought that, too."
"Maybe. We missed Kayla so much we wanted her to be alive in Bobo," Daniel suggested. "Maybe that's what the children did, too."
"What time is it?" Jack asked.
Daniel just laughed. He and Jack were both anxious to see their family again, especially Aislinn who they hadn't seen in over a year since the Munchkin left with the first group of Bobettes, as she called those who came to India under the banner of The Bobo Foundation. That was the main reason for the gathering at the compound. As Aislinn said in her message to her parents on the DVD, when the brood started talking, things just took off. An idea for a simple weekend family reunion quickly turned into a week-long (or more) multi-family gathering that included their extended family and friends. It was that synergy that had often been discussed among the Jackson-O'Neills and those who knew them that was working yet again.
Soon, the brood caravan would arrive and the celebration could begin. In the meantime, the couple regained their composure and spent some time thumbing through Aislinn's album, enjoying multiple recollections of her antics as a baby and young child.
"Everyone's doing well," Daniel announced as he walked back inside the Minnesota cabin he shared with his lover. "They, uh, understand our waiting here until the children arrive."
"Good," Jack replied. "One more, Angel."
Daniel grinned. All the albums were special and this one was no exception.
Jack opened the album and read the name, "Bijou and Katie Jackson-O'Neill, Leaders of the Zoo (too numerous to mention in detail) and Dedicated, Protective, and Loving Beagles of Jack and Daniel Jackson-O'Neill."
"Ingenious," Jack praised.
"Ah, look. They were so cute," Daniel chuckled, his happiness obvious at remembering the early days when the canines joined the family. "They did it, Jack. When you brought them home, I knew I had a home, a real home."
"A forever home," Jack remarked, leaning over for a kiss.
"Jack, are we doing the right thing?"
The general sighed thoughtfully and responded, "For years, Danny, we've talked about the alien influence on our world. We vowed never to take advantage of our off-world friends. We've tried to honor that vow."
"We haven't always succeeded," Daniel interjected.
"Nope, we haven't, but this is one of the few times we've gone out and asked for it, with a bit of prodding from the little gray butt."
"He's not so little anymore."
Jack laughed, "Yeah, JD gave the Asgard what they needed. Thor's all grown up now."
"I'm just saying I think I liked him better when he looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy."
Daniel turned the page of the final album, his fingers slowly inching down the pictures from the top to the bottom of the page.
"No. It's just ... I want them to be happy. How do we know we're doing the right thing?"
"Ah!" Jack exclaimed brightly. "There's your answer."
"Katie," Daniel called out. "Wanna give it a try?" he asked, putting aside the album and patting his lap as a signal for her to jump up.
"Come on, girl. Give it a go," Jack urged.
"Lots of room for you, too, Bij," the general called out, motioning for the mama beagle to jump up onto the sofa.
With a bit of assistance, the aging dogs joined their humans, Katie in Daniel's lap, Bijou in Jack's.
"Jack, I have a confession to make."
"A few years ago, well several years ago, I guess, I woke up in the middle of the night. I went downstairs for coffee and then I heard something. The girls had decided to spend the night outside. I saw them over by the gazebo and then I ... I saw Thor."
"He was still a ... little gray butt," Daniel noted. "Jack, I heard him talking to Bij and Katie. I ... gawd, I saw him, I ... I let him give them an injection of something. He told them it would make them feel better and keep them healthy. I ... I turned around and went back to bed."
"I see," Jack returned. "Daniel?"
"I have a confession to make."
Hearing the words, Daniel's head turned sharply in his lover's direction.
"A few years back, maybe several years ago," Jack began with a bit a smile at what was being said, "I was outside working on the revamp of the doghouse. It needed upgraded insulation and a few of the boards on the inside needed replacing."
"I remember that."
"What you don't know is that I fell asleep in their doghouse. You were at J-O," the general recalled. "I was awakened by Bij and Katie barking their hellos to Thor. Like you, I heard the whole conversation. Apparently, what the buttinski Asgard was doing took a series of four injections. This was the third one. One more would give them ten years, barring accidents and that sort of thing. That's what Thor told them. Danny, I stayed in that doghouse, quiet as a mouse, until he was gone."
"Why didn't you say something?"
"Why didn't you?"
"Because ... because I was afraid you'd ... we'd ... gawd."
"The truth, Danny, is that we love those girls and for them, we both set aside our principals about alien technology for our personal gain."
"But we were both afraid if we said something ..."
"We'd talk ourselves into letting them go."
"I can't let them go, Jack. I can't," the younger man admittedly vulnerably.
"We aren't," Jack reminded. "That's one of the reasons we came here, to keep them safe and away from curiosity seekers."
Referring to the family's long-time veterinarian, Daniel commented, "Pam doesn't know what to think. I mean, uh, the last time I checked, the longest living beagle died at age twenty-eight."
"Well, Bij just turned thirty-one and Katie's about to be twenty-nine, so with a bit of Asgard magic, they're probably the record holders, but I'll be darned if anyone is gonna hound them."
"Their bodies are wearing out," Daniel spoke sadly as he held Katie tightly to him.
"Enter Thor *again*," Jack noted.
"And is that the right thing?"
"Daniel, I don't know about right. I only know what my gut tells me, and my gut says these are our girls. I'm not sure I want to wake up without them one day."
"We're being selfish."
"Ask them," Jack urged.
Daniel again turned to look at his husband. He felt so many conflicting emotions. The Asgard, Thor in particular, had volunteered to make artificial bodies for the two canines. Much as their own minds were kept alive in small cloned bodies, the beagles' minds could be kept alive in new synthetic bodies. It wasn't cloning, but a newer, more advanced technology developed by the race with assistance from JD. The bodies would look very much like the normal beagle body, but movement might be a bit stiff, at least at first. The process had never been used like this before, so the specifics of locomotion and other aspects were a tad uncertain. With the girls' bodies wearing out more every day, the decision to make the transfer would have to be made soon or risk the loss of their love forever.
The archaeologist looked down at Katie and asked, "Do you want this, Katie? Will you be happy? You might not be able to jump much. Thor doesn't know for sure. I just ... I want you and Bij to be happy."
"And you, Bij. How about you? Maybe you'd rather get to that next world we keep hoping is out there. I guess Danny is right. I can't make the decision for you."
"Mama, why are Jack and Daniel being so funny?"
"Because they love us, Little One," Bijou answered.
"I don't want them to be alone, and Thor promised we'd be okay."
"He sure did, and I agree. Jack and Daniel need us. I want to stay, but if you'd rather ..."
"I had to say it, Little One."
"I want to stay here as long as Jack and Daniel are here," Katie told her mother strongly.
"For two very strong men, they are very sensitive," Bijou remarked. "Let's stay. Even if Thor is wrong, we'll be here."
"We can overcome anything, Mama. We'll jump."
"You sound certain."
"We're Jackson-O'Neills and Jackson-O'Neills are unbeatable," Katie asserted.
"Yes, we certainly are!"
Suddenly, both dogs began to bark adamantly. Intermingled with their barks were kisses and hugs.
"Danny, I think they want to stay."
"Yeah, I think so, too," the emotional scientist agreed as he accepted more love from Katie. "Katie, Bij, we'll always keep you safe. More importantly, we'll always be together."
"No worries, Danny. The family motto, remember?"
As Daniel grinned, both he and Jack unknowingly echoed the sentiments of their beloved canines: "Together, we're unbeatable."
"Hey, hear that?"
"Cars. Jack, lots of cars!"
The beagles eagerly jumped down, their aging and frailer-than-ever-before bodies second to the energy felt in their hearts. They, too, were eager to see the brood they'd loved and protected for many years.
"Ready for a huge-honkin' party, girls?" Jack asked the beagles.
"Wooooof!" times ten was the response.
"Let's go greet our children," Daniel suggested.
"I love you so friggin' much."
"I love you, too, so much," Daniel declared.
The lovers kissed, a mix of excitement and passion. Then they, and their beagles, headed outside and finally greeted their brood and their brood's families. It wasn't Colorado Springs, but life couldn't be better for Jack and Daniel Jackson-O'Neill at their cozy and safe Minnesota cabin.
~~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