Summary: While out of town on business, Jack receives a distressing call from his namesake, one that frightens him more than any Goa'uld ever had
"I miss you, too," Daniel sighed into the phone, silently shooing Jonny out of the master bedroom.
"How'd I let myself be roped into this?" Jack groaned.
"I think it was the old save the world thing," Daniel mused.
"They think I'm some strategy king," the older man laughed.
"Hey, whose side are you on?"
"Mine. If you were so good at strategy, then why haven't you strategized a way to get out of those meetings and come home?"
"Guess I'm not that good," the general replied.
Daniel laughed as the lovers continued their chat. Jack was at some undisclosed location for a secret session of military leaders. The exact topic was unknown to the archaeologist. All that he did know was that his husband was to be gone somewhere between a week and ten days, leaving him to be the sole caregiver of the brood.
Tending to the children alone was either easier or more difficult at the moment, depending on one's point of view since not all of the Jackson-O'Neill dozen were actually in Colorado Springs. Twenty-year-old Jennifer was in England visiting her boyfriend, Peter Hamilton. Jeff was away at college, Brianna was in the Bahamas on a dolphin communication research project, and David was off-world as part of the Teen Gate Exchange Program begun by his sister in 2008.
The unique part of David's trip was that he was with the Uniahili's at a distant point in the galaxy. While he would be gone for only two of their days, in earth time, six days would pass. Because of the time difference, the only way Jack and Daniel had agreed to David's participation was if SG-2 tagged along. Jack's close friend, Colonel Lou Ferretti, was under strict orders to stick to the boy like glue. In addition, two check-ins per Earth day were required.
With the older children all unavailable, this meant the archaeologist was caring for the eight younger kids on his own while juggling some deadlines with J-O Enterprises as well. Of course, both parents often tended to their brood single-handedly, but usually one or more of the older kids were around to assist in keeping the house functioning smoothly.
"Danny, I wish I could talk longer ..."
Daniel recognized the tone. His Silver Fox was getting back into command mode.
"Babe, you are ... safe?"
"I promise," Jack vowed, his voice steady and certain. "I may be in a hush-hush location, but I'm in-country and no threats anywhere close. I swear, Angel, all I'm doing is helping with their protocols for ..."
When Jack's voice trailed off, Daniel completed, "... something you can't talk about."
"You got it," the general confirmed. "Danny, we made a deal a few years back. We're not doing that save the world stuff anymore. It's about us now. You, me, the brood, and that crazy zoo are the priorities."
A smiling Daniel concurred, "I love the sound of that, so home soon?"
"I just got here."
Laughing, Daniel responded, "It feels like weeks, Jack."
The remark made the older man feel loved and missed.
"I love you," Daniel added.
"There aren't words, Danny," Jack began.
"Yes, there are."
Jack chuckled, "You're right ... again. I love you."
A minute later, the phone call ended. Daniel stood, staring at the phone he held in his hand.
~It really seems like weeks.~
Hearing the phone ring later that day, Daniel rubbed his forehead before picking up the receiver.
"Hi, Daniel, it's Sam." The woman laughed, "Were you asleep?"
"Asleep? Uh, no."
"It's the way you answered the phone."
"Oh, well, I was a little ... distracted," the archaeologist claimed as he stared around the room he was inside. "Sorry."
"I imagine the kids are running you ragged."
"Kids? Yes, sure."
~Yep, he was asleep,~ Sam mused inwardly. "Anyway, I was wondering if you wanted to meet up later. We could let the kids go wild, or if you need a break, I could ..."
"I don't need a break," Daniel interjected. "Sam, actually, I'd like to spend some time with the kids this week, special time."
"What about our plans to drive the general crazy by educating their young minds on the finer aspects of science?" the woman teased jovially.
"I'd really rather spend some quality time with them, if you don't mind."
"Okay, sure, but if you change your mind, let me know." Sam laughed and added, "You know how the brood can be."
"They're great. Thanks, Sam."
Sam was surprised when the next thing she heard was a dial tone. Then she chuckled, convinced the Jackson-O'Neill children were already on overdrive.
~He probably has a bet with the general about taking care of the kids. Those two bet on everything.~
"Maybe Bij and Katie can come with us," Little Danny suggested as he placed his pillow on his bed, the final act of cleaning the bedroom.
As he put his marbles back in a box, Jonny replied, "We could have races and they could be our timers."
"Bij and Katie aren't timers," Ricky sighed while putting away his clothes that had been freshly laundered.
"They'd be fair," Jonny opined.
The boys were in the final stages of cleaning their room, after which they were going to the park with their siblings and Daniel. They'd been doing all of their bedroom chores without complaint, eager for the playtime.
"What are you doing?" Daniel questioned as he stood at the door.
"We're ready, Daddy," Little Danny put forth.
"Yeah. Can we go now?" Jonny asked with bright eyes.
"Go? You're not going anywhere. Look at this room! It's filthy," Daniel ranted. He walked over and ran his finger along the edge of the dresser. With his finger upright, he complained, "Dust! This is not clean."
"What dust?" Ricky inquired, his head cocked to its side as he tried to understand the problem since from what he could see, there wasn't a speck of dirt or dust anywhere, including on his daddy's finger.
"No lip! You're confined to your room until lunch, and clean up this mess!"
Little Danny's interruption went unnoticed as Daniel exited the room in a huff, locking the door behind him.
"What was that?" Jonny asked his brothers.
"Is Daddy playing a game with us?" Ricky wondered.
"Not a fun game, if it is," Little Danny sighed. He looked around and asked, "What do we clean? We already cleaned everything."
"Guess we do it again," Jonny groaned. Then he brightened. "I know! Daddy misses Dad so he's acting like a drill sergeant. That's the game."
"Huh?" Ricky responded.
"Drill sergeants say things that aren't true all the time, just to make their recruits better. Dad told me, like making your bed. They'll say it's messy when it's not. It's part of training."
"Are we in training for something?" the Spitfire asked.
"Nah. Daddy just misses Dad."
"That's probably it," Little Danny agreed. "Okay, maybe I missed a crumb somewhere," he suggested about some bread he'd had in his room the night before as part of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich snack.
Undaunted by their reprimand, the three boys scoured their room for anything not perfectly in place and prepared to wait out their room sentence until lunchtime.
Twenty minutes later, a smiling Daniel walked into the room and asked, "Hey, everything okay?"
"We cleaned our room again, Daddy," Jonny volunteered.
"No more dust," Ricky spoke pridefully, mimicking his daddy's earlier action of running his finger along the dresser. "See!"
"Um, sure, yeah, but I thought you guys wanted to go to the park?"
"But you said we weren't going because our room was messy," Jonny returned.
"Okay, no more pretend time here," Daniel stated as he looked at his watch. "Actually, it's too late now. I'm really sorry, but Karissa phoned and I need to participate in a conference call for J-O. Maybe tomorrow we can go the park. Room looks great. Why don't you go play in the game room?"
The three boys looked at one another in confusion as Daniel walked away.
"Jonny, is that still Daddy missing Dad?" Ricky inquired.
"He's messing with us," the oldest Munchkin maintained. "It's a test. I don't know what for, but I bet Dad put him up to it."
Little Danny just shrugged and walked out of the room, happy not to be on room confinement, but uncertain about the morning's events, none of which made sense to him.
"Morning, JD," Daniel greeted the next morning.
"Patch, it's Daddy!" the four-year-old exclaimed with a smile.
"Put Patch down," Daniel requested. "It's time to get dressed."
"I love you, Patch."
JD was hugging his favorite stuffed animal, the dog given to him by Thor, the Asgard commander.
All of a sudden, Daniel's light mood darkened. He pulled the stuffed animal out of his son's arms and tossed it into the hallway.
"Don't 'Daddy' me! It's just a toy. You love people, not things, not ... not stuffed animals ... people!"
"But Uncle Thor gave Patch to me," JD cried.
"He's not your uncle. He's an alien who lives to butt into my life, and I've had enough. He's banned from this house forever. Now get dressed!"
Ignoring his son's cries, Daniel stormed out of the nursery, picked up the stuffed animal, and carried it far away from the now-distraught child.
Daniel looked up from his spot on the chair where he was reading a book and smiled at his original little miracle. Aislinn was a beautiful, healthy nine-year-old girl. It warmed his heart to see her smiling, though right now she had a sad expression on her face.
"Ash, is everything okay?"
Walking forward a tad timidly, the Munchkin inquired, "Daddy, why did you take Patch away from JD? He's really upset."
Shaking his head, the archaeologist responded, "Ash, I'd never take Patch away from JD."
"But you did, Daddy. JD's crying. He said you threw Patch away."
Setting the book down on the coffee table, the father leaned forward and frowned as he responded, "Ash, JD loves Patch. It was a gift from Thor. I'd never do something like that."
"He says you did, and we can't find Patch anywhere."
Getting up, Daniel assured, "He probably had a nightmare or something. He was a bit cranky this morning." Placing his left hand on Aislinn's back, he guided her towards the stairs as he suggested, "Let's go look in his room. It could be under the bed or in a drawer."
Smiling, Aislinn replied, "I think you're right, Daddy. He probably had a bad dream and maybe he accidentally tossed Patch onto the floor."
"It's something like that, Sweetie," Daniel answered. As the two walked up the stairs, he added, "Don't worry. We'll find Patch."
Aislinn felt hopeful, though in the pit of her stomach she was worried. After all, she and her siblings had already looked everywhere they could think of for Patch. Now that her daddy was part of the search, though, she felt better, certain the toy would soon be found.
"I want Patch," JD cried that night as Daniel tucked him in.
"We looked everywhere," Daniel responded to the boy.
"But you took him, Daddy. I saw you!" JD insisted. "Where'd you put Patch?"
"Son, I didn't take Patch. You had a nightmare. Nightmares can seem very real." Daniel bemoaned, "Believe me, I know. I've had a lot of very bad nightmares in my life." With a tender smile and soft eyes, he promised, "We'll look some more tomorrow, and we'll keep looking until we find him." Daniel leaned forward and kissed the boy. "I love you very much. Go to sleep."
"I haven't said my prayers yet."
"Okay, you say your prayers and then go to sleep."
The youngster scooted out from under the warm covers and sat on his knees on the floor in front of his bed. He put the palms of his hands together and began his conversation with a higher power.
Daniel listened as unobtrusively as possible. He and Jack both liked to give their children the freedom to say their prayers in any way they chose. They'd all been taught the basics and as they aged, they were free to expand or restrict those activities based on their own feelings and desires.
The youngest Jackson-O'Neill had a long chat with the spiritual being he believed in and then concluded with a special plea.
"Please help my daddy. He took Patch, but doesn't remember. I didn't have a nightmare. I know I didn't. Please help Daddy to remember where he put Patch. I love Patch, but I love Daddy more. I want Daddy to be happy. Does that mean I shouldn't love Patch? Please help me to know. I love you. Signed, JD Jackson-O'Neill."
Daniel lowered his head, confused by the prayer, but still convinced his son was the victim of an all-too-real nightmare.
Having climbed back into bed, JD asked, "Are you mad at me, Daddy?"
"Of course not. Thank you for praying for me. I love you. Now, close your eyes," Daniel instructed as he tucked in the boy for the second time. He stood and left the room, closing the door without shutting it completely. For a moment, he stood still as a statue. He was puzzled. ~Why would he pray for such a thing? He had to have had a nightmare. Why ... why did he say that about not loving Patch?~
Bewildered and a little anxious, Daniel walked slowly away from his son's room. He was tired and decided that an early night was appropriate. Tomorrow, he determined to search high and low for the stuffed animal. After reuniting JD with Patch, things would settle down.
~Oh my head,~ Daniel groaned. He had a headache and was positive that it was from the strain of JD's situation. ~I miss you, Jack,~ he lamented, missing his Love with all his heart and soul. ~Why'd you have to go away and leave me?~
His head pounding, Daniel took some aspirin and went to bed, pulling the covers up taut.
"Ash?" Jenny asked quietly from her bed.
"Isn't Daddy going to say goodnight to us?"
"I don't know," the little girl answered timidly.
The two had been in their room since dinnertime, essentially forgotten by their younger father. The last they'd heard from him was when he'd told them to go upstairs and play before bed. It was odd; everything lately was odd to the girls.
"I wish Dad was home."
Feeling unsettled, the girls quieted in their beds. They worried about Daniel's failure to check in on them, but considering the last couple of days, neither wanted to explore the issue, either. Instead, they tended to their needs on their own until they finally changed into their pajamas, said their prayers, and fell asleep under the covers.
The next morning when the children asked about Patch, Daniel dismissed their concern. He acted as though he didn't know what they were talking about and insisted they focus on their activities.
The brood didn't know what to think. They had a hard time believing Daniel would really yank Patch away from JD as had been described to them, but at the same time, JD wouldn't lie. They were left to believe their little brother must have had a bad dream, though a bad dream simply did not explain Patch's disappearance.
Due to Daniel's orders to let it go, however, the children had no choice but to let the matter rest, at least until their older father returned. It was the hardest on JD, of course, but he remained comforted by his brothers and sisters and vowed to find his beloved Patch no matter how long it took or what he had to do.
That afternoon, Daniel was in his den, working on business for J-O Enterprises. His goal was to review the first quarter expenditures and search for any inefficiencies. Normally patient, the archaeologist was growing more restless with each page of his review. Math had never been his strongest suit, in spite of his genius, and at the moment, he felt as if the pages of the report were closing in on him. His breathing became labored and he began to sweat.
"Who cares about this crap?" Daniel suddenly asked rhetorically. "That's all it is, crap."
Tossing the pages onto the desk so that they scattered in all directions, Daniel pushed his chair away, stood up, and walked out of the den. He needed air. He moved swiftly and somewhat turbulently through the house, as if fighting to find the exit. He bumped the walls a few times and leaned dangerously over the railing as he walked down the stairs. Reaching the living room, he gasped for air even as he held his hands to his head. He felt like his head was about to explode. Finally, he managed to open the door and walk onto the backyard deck. He closed his eyes as the freshness of the air began to encompass his body.
Daniel felt clean all of a sudden, which he couldn't explain. Neither could he figure out why he'd needed to be outdoors, but he knew he was glad not to be confined inside the maze that was his home. It felt good. His breathing returned to the normal as his anxiety lessened.
Then, as Daniel looked around, his mind skipped a few beats of logic. Everything appeared strange to him. The gazebo was foreign and he wondered why there were two ponies on the other side of the back fence. He noticed the swing set and even the garden. All of these things stood out as being unrecognizable.
~What's going on?~ the archaeologist asked himself. He walked out onto the grass, going midway between the house and the back fence. He turned to face the house and grimaced. It was so big. It was Jack's house, but it wasn't the profile of the house he knew. ~Oh,~ he chuckled. ~I'm dreaming, or rather, I'm having a nightmare. It's been a while. It makes sense, though. I miss my Silver Fox. Life without him here is a nightmare. That's what this is. Relax, Jackson. Jack will be home soon and you can wake up.~
Daniel blinked several times as a young girl skipped her way towards him.
"Daddy, we're hungry," Aislinn admitted on behalf of her siblings. "It's after two, and we haven't had lunch. Can we please eat something now?"
Daniel looked back at the deck where several children now stood.
"We can make assembly line sandwiches, Daddy," Lulu chuckled, loving how oftentimes the family took positions as if in an assembly line to build their sandwiches, each person responsible for one aspect of the final product.
"Sure," Daniel responded in a whisper.
Daniel stared blankly at Aislinn who now stood within a foot of him.
"I love you, Daddy," Aislinn declared, throwing her arms around her father. She felt Daniel's arms slowly move to embrace her. "We all love you."
"I ... I love you, too ... Ash." Daniel looked around and wondered when he'd come outside. "Hey, it's time to eat," he told his daughter as if he'd never been approached about mealtime. "Let's go make some soup or something."
"Okay," Aislinn agreed, feeling hesitant and a bit insecure. ~I wish Dad were here,~ she repeated to herself, not for the first time that day.
"Daddy, I need to check on Hot and Chocolate, okay?" Chenoa stated about her two Shetland ponies.
"Can I help her?" Aislinn requested.
"Sure. Just don't take too long. Lunch will be ready in a few minutes," Daniel told the youngest Munchkin while also looking over at Chenoa.
"Thanks, Daddy," Chenoa responded, waiting for her sister and then hurrying to the stable to tend to the animals.
~Strange names for ponies,~ Daniel thought as he stepped up onto the deck and walked back into the house with the other children. ~And a strange dream I've been having, too.~
Once in the kitchen, Daniel felt perfectly fine. He worked with the brood in preparing a nice lunch that included vegetable soup and sandwiches. They laughed and were playful as they worked on their meal.
With the table set and most of the children served, Chenoa entered the kitchen and apologized, "I'm sorry we took so long, Daddy. I was worried about Hot's hoof. She was favoring it a little, but it was just a big clump of grass."
"That's okay, Princess," a smiling Daniel replied. "Sit."
A minute later, Aislinn walked in, saying, "Here I am. Did Noa tell you about Hot's hoof?"
Daniel's smile ebbed as he barked, "Where have you been? Everyone's been sitting here, waiting for you."
"Rude! How rude can you be to keep us waiting. Time is money." Looking nowhere in particular, Daniel spouted, "Inconsiderate, juvenile, and disrespectful." Facing the youngest Munchkin, he ordered in a loud voice, 'Get upstairs. No lunch for you."
"Daddy," Chenoa interjected, wanting to speak on her sister's behalf.
"*Aislinn, upstairs*!" Daniel shouted uncharacteristically.
In tears, the Munchkin turned and ran out of the room.
The father sighed, drew a big breath, and then grinned at the children as he urged, "Hey, eat up."
The kids exchanged concerned looks, but no one said a word. They didn't know what to say or what to do.
Finally, though, Little Danny pushed his food away and stood up as he asked, "Daddy, I'd like to go talk to Ash. May I be excused?"
"Of course. Take your food with you and Ash's, too," Daniel replied. "I don't understand why she didn't want to eat. Must be a girl thing, as Dad might say."
The kids looked at one another in alarm. They just didn't know what was going on. None of it made sense.
Quietly and as quickly as he could, Little Danny gathered up lunch for both himself and his sister and headed upstairs, leaving the other children to deal with a seemingly happy Daniel, who began to chatter about their next trip to Disneyland and how much fun they were going to have there.
"Why is he acting so funny, Danny?" Aislinn asked her brother as they sat side-by-side on her bed.
Taking a breath, the boy shrugged and let out a sigh.
"Do you think he threw Patch away like JD said?"
"No," Little Danny whispered.
"You don't believe JD?"
"Yes, I do."
"Then you think Daddy's lying?"
"No," the boy negated.
"Ash, I don't know what to think, but Daddy wouldn't lie and neither would JD. None of us lie," Little Danny declared.
"Noa told him?"
Nodding, the male Munchkin affirmed, "Right before you came in. He said it was okay."
"Maybe I did something to make Daddy mad," Aislinn sighed.
"Dad will be home soon."
"Not until next week," Aislinn responded quietly, wiping away a small tear as she stared at her uneaten sandwich.
"I think ... I think I'm scared."
Little Danny put his arm around his sister and pulled her close. He was scared, too, but he wasn't sure exactly what it was that was so scary. Maybe he was having a bad dream.
~I hope I am,~ the boy sighed inwardly.
The next day, life at the Jackson-O'Neill home proceeded normally. JD continued to search for his beloved Patch, though he wasn't saying anything about it to his daddy. Whenever he did, Daniel would start lecturing the youngster about caring for people and not inanimate objects. That confused the child. He loved Patch, but he also loved Daniel and he trusted him. If Daniel said loving Patch so much was wrong, than maybe it was. Even so, something within him refused to let him give up his search.
Otherwise, Daniel and the children interacted normally, having a nice breakfast and an outdoor play session before separating for individual activities.
"I'm nervous," Lulu confided later in the day to her fellow Curly Top.
"You'll be great, Lulu," Chenoa assured.
"I hope we both get to perform in the program."
"Me, too," Chenoa said with a grin. "Maybe we could do a jazz number."
"Or ballet," Lulu replied with a grin as she thought about her dance specialty.
"I'm not very good at ballet."
"Sure, you are. You just like to dance fast."
The sisters laughed as they put their dance gear into their bags. It was almost time to leave for their dance class which today included an audition for a special program that would be held in six weeks. The entire population of Colorado Springs was invited to the event which was a fundraiser for a local dance troupe.
"What's going on?" Daniel asked as he entered the dance room. "You girls were supposed to be studying."
"We did, Daddy," Chenoa answered. "We have our routines for our auditions down pat."
"You're funny, Daddy," Lulu teased, certain her younger father was joking.
"I am *not* funny, Lulubelle," came the terse reply.
"I was just teasing."
"I'm sick and tired of your disregard for others," Daniel spat loudly.
Lulu gulped and explained, "I was only teasing because I thought you were teasing. Noa and I practiced really hard, Daddy. The auditions are today. You're taking us, remember?"
"Kids! You always think adults have nothing else to do but watch you play. I'm busy. I don't have time for this nonsense!" Daniel spoke dismissively as he turned to exit the room.
"But, Daddy, it's the auditions and ..." Lulu began as she trailed after the man.
Daniel spun around, his eyes on fire as he raised his hand into the air. Lulu gasped and took three steps back.
"*Never* question what I do," Daniel ordered, taking two steps toward the frightened brunette. His right hand hovering in the air over the girl, he ordered, "Sit down and stay there!"
Lulu immediately sank down to the floor, lowering her head as Daniel loomed over her.
As Daniel turned and walked out, Chenoa ran over to Lulu and embraced her. Both girls cried.
"He was going to hit me," Lulu sobbed.
"Daddy wouldn't do that," Chenoa insisted. "Something's wrong, Lulu."
Lulu sobbed as she looked up and asserted, "That's not our daddy."
"Daddy wouldn't act like that."
"Then wh...who is he, Nooooooooa?"
Chenoa hugged Lulu tight for a couple of minutes and then instructed, "Come on, Lulu. We need to find the others."
"He told me to stay here."
"Well, we have to go anyway."
"I don't want that man to h...h...hit me."
"He won't. We have to find the others."
The two girls held hands and crossed the floor to the door very slowly. Cautiously, they made their way through the house, going upstairs in the process. They looked around corners and kept as quiet as they could as they walked. Finally, they entered the girls' room. No one was there.
"Noa, I'm scared."
"You stay here. I'll find Jonny."
As Chenoa left the room, Lulu looked around the room. Afraid, she opened the door to Aislinn's closet, walked inside, and hid behind the clothes. Then she realized she hadn't closed the doors. Quickly, she corrected her oversight and settled back into the dark, fearing what might happen if the stranger who was her daddy found her.
As best she could, Chenoa slunk around the house in search of her siblings, especially Jonny. With her older siblings away, the oldest Munchkin was the unspoken yet acknowledged leader of the brood. She had to find him before her father discovered Lulu wasn't in the dance studio any longer.
Not finding anyone in the upstairs bedrooms, Chenoa checked the library next.
"Jonny, are you in here?" the girl called out quietly as she walked inside the room.
"Yeah," the Munchkin sighed. "We're doing extra homework," he explained, looking over briefly at Jenny and Ricky who both were reviewing different books to read for their reports.
"Jonny, Daddy almost hit Lulu."
The brothers stared in unbelief as Chenoa told them what happened just minutes earlier in the little dance studio downstairs. That was followed by silence, dead silence, as the children struggled with their situation.
Then Jonny stood up and ordered, "Find the others, but be really quiet and try to avoid Daddy. We'll meet in my room. Everybody be really good and do whatever Daddy says if you see him. Don't get him angry. Go!" He watched Ricky and Chenoa leave the library and then he sat back down and thought. ~Dad told me I had to look out for all my team all the time. I'm in charge. I can't let him down.~ He winced as he replayed in his mind what Chenoa said. ~Daddy wouldn't hit Lulu. Daddy wouldn't hit any of us. Not Daddy.~
Finally, the boy headed for his room. He had to reassure Lulu. What would come after that, he wasn't sure.
"Lulu!" Jonny exclaimed, though in a whisper. "Where are you?" He was sure Chenoa had said the girl was in the girls' room. Then he saw the closet doors. He remembered the stories about Lulu hiding in closets when she was scared. With a sad sigh, he walked to the door and opened it. "Lulu, it's me, Jonny."
"Jo...nny?" came the broken sob.
Pushing aside his sister's clothes, Jonny finally caught side of the brunette. He immediately hugged her protectively. He could feel her tremors.
"I'm here, Lulu. It's okay. We're all gonna be okay. I promise."
"H...how?" the girl asked. "That man, he's ... Jonny, what are we going to do?"
"We're having a meeting. C'mon, let's go."
"But I'm scared."
"I'm General Jonny, and I'll protect you," the Munchkin advised with strength. He tugged on Lulu's hand and said, "Let's go meet the others."
Reluctantly but yet trusting in the sandy-haired boy, Lulu let herself be pulled up and out of the closet, leaving the safety of the darkness for the fear of the light.
Holding Aislinn's hand, Little Danny sneaked a peek inside the master bedroom. The door was ajar and he could easily glance inside. He saw his father lying down on the bed. He looked to be asleep. Not wanting to risk waking the man, the boy tugged lightly on his sister's hand and continued to their destination.
"Jenny, be our lookout," Jonny requested once all of the children were together. "If you hear or see Daddy, tell us fast."
The redhead nodded and situated herself at the doorway of the boys' room. The rest of her siblings sat on the floor, grouped together as closely as possible for both moral support and so that they could talk quietly. Chenoa held Lulu's hand while Ricky had his arm around his sister's waist supportively.
Before things officially began, the oldest Munchkin sat down in front of JD and prompted, "Who are we?"
"The brood!" the youngster answered proudly.
"And when we have meetings, do we talk about it with others?"
"Na-huh," JD answered.
"What if Daddy asks about our meeting?"
"Not for Daddy."
"This is really important, JD," Jonny stated. "You can't say anything to Daddy about our meeting today, okay? Promise?"
"Remember, I'm your big brother, and I'll always take care of you. Brood business stays with the brood and only the brood, right?"
"We need to talk about Daddy," Jonny began as he took his place in the circle and called the meeting to order.
"It's not Daddy," Lulu whispered. "Daddy wouldn't do what he's doing."
"He's been really weird," Jenny commented, her words starting a round of discussion where the children recounted their experiences from the last few days.
Meanwhile, in the bedroom, Daniel's eyelids fluttered open when he heard the offbeat words, "Or so says the brag of McBragg." As he roused, he recognized the line as part of a cartoon. Realizing what it meant, he reached for the phone and answered it.
"Jack, where are you?"
"Now you know I can't tell you that," Jack responded.
"Hey, you okay? You sound a little funny."
"Danny, something wrong?"
"Wrong?" The archaeologist closed his eyes and took a calming breath. "I, uh, I was asleep."
"A nap in the middle of the day?" Jack laughed. "Kids running you ragged?"
"Where are they? Danny, I have a few minutes. Let me talk to them."
"Well, um, they're not here."
"None of them? What about JD?"
"No, they're ... they're not here," Daniel answered, his head still in some strange sleeplike fog. "Jack, I miss you."
The general smiled, wishing he were home with his lover. It was clear to him that he was missed, but with the kids out having a good time and his husband feeling free enough to take a midday nap, Jack believed things at home were fine.
"I miss you, too."
The conversation became more tender and romantic as the couple lamented their temporary separation.
The younger members of the brood finished going over every oddity they could recall about their younger father's behavior since Jack's departure.
"But sometimes he's fine," Aislinn pointed out.
"We played Twister last night," Lulu noted.
"But that was after he got mad at me," Aislinn reminded. "That's what I don't understand. He was so mad, but then when he came upstairs he acted like I wasn't hungry. He sent me to my room. You all heard him."
There was a moment of silence as the children reflected on Aislinn's words.
"The other morning, he taught me about the Osirian Civilization," Little Danny advised the others. "It was like always."
"Taking Patch away isn't like always," JD replied.
The more they talked about it, the more certain the children were that something was wrong.
"Maybe it's an alien," Jenny whispered, her eyes still focused on the hallway.
"Maybe he's been drugged like they do on TV shows," Chenoa suggested.
"Maybe he's sick," Aislinn dared to express, not really sure how that could be, yet afraid to consider some of the other options.
Little Danny let out a tear as he asserted, "Our Daddy would never yell at Katie and make her stay outside in the cold."
The middle Munchkin was thinking about what had happened earlier in the morning after breakfast when Bijou and Katie had gone outside for a bit. When they came back inside, Daniel inexplicably flew into a rage, accused the littlest beagle of being a slobbering mess, and ordered her and her mother back outside. Little Danny and Jenny witnessed the entire scene and both tried unsuccessfully to intervene.
"It doesn't make sense," Little Danny snuffled, feeling saddened even more as he thought about the much-loved dogs.
"What are we going to do?" Chenoa questioned.
"Daddy has us locked in," Ricky added. "We haven't seen any of our friends this week."
"Yeah, every time we're supposed to go out, he changes his mind," Jonny concurred.
"No phones, either," Aislinn noted.
"He won't even let us use the computers," Jenny added. "He's coming!" she exclaimed as she joined her brothers and sisters.
"Someone always stays with Lulu and with JD," Jonny instructed. "Try to stay in pairs," he added.
Daniel entered the room, a big smile on his face as he stated, "Why don't we go play some games?"
The children exchanged looks and responded with nods.
"Wow, everyone is so quiet. Is something wrong?" the father asked.
"No, Daddy," came the response from several of the children.
"Missing Dad, huh?" Daniel guessed.
"Yeah, we miss Dad," Jonny answered.
"He'll be home in a few more days," Daniel assured. "He called earlier. He misses all of you very much."
"How come we didn't get to talk to Dad?" Ricky asked.
"He had a meeting," Daniel explained as if Jack had never asked to speak with the brood. "Next time."
As they trailed behind the others, Aislinn whispered to Jenny, "He sounds normal."
The Spitfire whispered, "Yeah, but I thought Dad left his phone at home."
"He did. He probably called on an Air Force phone."
"Oh, yeah. I hope he comes home early."
In spite of the children's worries, the afternoon was a good one for the family. The kids had fun playing a variety of games with their younger father. Topping it off was an early round of ice cream that came even before dinnertime. After that, they went outside to play and build a mini-pyramid, something the large family often loved to do. Daniel even hid a new toy for Katie in her play yard, something that had the beagles as confused as the children. Silently, the brood began to wonder if they were overreacting. Maybe there was something to explain the oddity of their daddy's actions. Their doubts ended, though, when Daniel suddenly began shouting at them for dirtying clothes.
"I just washed those," Daniel complained. "That's all you kids do, dirty everything you touch. No respect. Leave me alone!"
The children were stunned as they remained in the backyard. They'd broken apart their pyramid, slowly separately and standing up. All the emotional pain of the past days came hurdling back.
"Aunt Sam," Little Danny stated, the moniker serving as an idea.
"Ash, watch for Daddy," Jonny ordered before leading the others to the gate that divided the Jackson-O'Neill yard from the Shanahan one.
"Bijou, Katie, come!" Little Danny beckoned as he hurried with the others to the gate. ~We can't leave them with Daddy right now.~
"What about Callie?" Lulu asked about her cat.
"And Mittens?" Ricky added.
"We need to get Aunt Sam first," Jonny insisted. Reaching the gate, he entered the code to open the electronic structure. "It didn't open."
"Should we yell? Maybe she'd hear us," Jenny suggested.
"We'd hear her now if she were outside," Little Danny pointed out.
"Daddy's coming," Aislinn advised as she ran over to her siblings.
"I think we should try ..." Jonny began, unable to complete his thought.
Jonny's words and the entire discussion ended with a loud, "Stay away from that gate. How dare you play with it. In the house, *now*!"
Daniel glared at the brood, waiting for them to follow his command. Seeing the dogs running with the children, he stared them down and barked angrily in human words.
"Not you two. Stay!"
Bijou and Katie ran to their dog house, once again as frightened and confused as their small humans were.
The next morning, Jonny determined that it was time to take action. His siblings were all uneasy about recent events. They'd been cut off from everyone but Daniel. They loved their daddy, but something was wrong. Katie and Bijou had been forced to stay outside during another very cold night. Of course, their doghouse was insulated and made for the low temperatures, but on a normal night, they would have been inside, sharing the warmth of one of their humans' beds.
Even though Daniel had been fine at breakfast, Jonny was certain something else could happen at any second. He was especially worried about Lulu, who was trying very hard to be brave. Even though he was aware of only part of his sister's history of emotional and physical abuse, he knew enough to know that it could not be ignored. Jonny was in charge and it was up to him to protect the family when his parents were away. To him, Daniel was away. It was time to do something.
"Keep Daddy busy," Jonny instructed the other kids in a hushed voice.
"What are you going to do?" Aislinn asked.
"Dad didn't take his phone with him," Lulu reminded as she looked around the room, fearful Daniel would walk in and interrupt their gathering.
"He has another one."
"How do you know, Jonny?" Little Danny queried.
"The first day Daddy acted weird, he got mad at me and said he was gonna tell Dad and Dad would spank me."
"Daddy said that?" Aislinn asked in surprise.
Jonny nodded and elaborated, "He took me upstairs, got the phone out of the nightstand, and called Dad, only he never said anything about me and he shooed me out of the room."
"Something's wrong with Daddy," Chenoa sighed, an assessment that all of the kids had made both on their own and as a group.
"I'll get the phone and call Dad," Jonny informed his siblings.
"You don't know the number," Lulu whispered.
"I'll hit the redial button and hope Dad answers. It's the only thing we can try," the oldest Munchkin concluded.
"Okay, we'll keep Daddy busy," Little Danny agreed. "Be careful, Jonny."
While his brothers and sisters went to the living room with the intent to keep their younger father distracted, Jonny quietly entered the master bedroom where he purposefully disobeyed his parents' rule about never opening their drawers without permission. His heart pounding so loud that he feared his daddy could hear it, the boy slowly pulled the nightstand drawer ajar. He immediately spotted the mobile phone which in no way was hidden among the other objects in the drawer.
Jonny took the phone, closed the drawer, and slowly walked to the door. He looked out and all around the hallway before he made his way out of the room. He swallowed hard as he walked steadily along the hallway, making the left turn to the jog that connected the old and new parts of the renovated home. Once he was beyond the jog, he ran to his room, closed the door, and went to his closet. He paused and went to his backpack from which he removed a flashlight. Then he went inside the closet, closed its door, and hid behind some of its contents.
The Munchkin turned on the flashlight and immediately looked up at the door, fearful he'd heard movement. Afraid of being caught, he turned off the flashlight, worried it would draw attention to his presence. Then he realized it was the beating of his heart that he was hearing. He closed his eyes and refocused on his task.
Jonny cautiously turned on the flashlight again and stared at the phone, studying it. He'd never seen this phone before and it certainly wasn't as fancy as the smartphones he knew his parents and older siblings had, but even so, it looked pretty good to him. He powered on the phone and said a small prayer as he hit the redial button.
~Please be Dad,~ the Munchkin prayed. He was aware of his nervousness and took a big breath, though he released it as silently as possible. Then he heard a familiar voice. ~Thank you, God.~
"Angel, are you okay?" came the immediate response from the general.
"Dad, shhh!" Jonny urged in a whisper.
Quickly, the boy began to lower the volume as much as he could. He wished he'd looked for a headset or earphones for the device, but he hadn't noticed any in the nightstand and just didn't think about it until his father's voice thundered in the darkness of the closet.
"Jonny, what are you doing?"
"Dad, please be quiet," Jonny begged as he lowered the sound again.
With confusion, the father responded, "Jonny, where's Daddy?"
"He's downstairs. The brood is trying to distract him while I talk to you," Jonny spoke in a hushed tone.
"Jonny, I can barely hear you. Where are you?"
"In my closet," the boy answered. "I don't want Daddy to hear me. Please don't talk very loud."
Jack wanted to shout, but not knowing what was going on, he willed himself to speak calmly and softly.
"How did you get this phone?"
"I took it from Daddy's drawer," the sandy-haired boy admitted. "Dad, remember when you taught me about being a good little general? You said I had to watch out for my team. My team includes my leaders, right?"
"And you and Daddy are my leaders, right? And if something is wrong, I need to do something, right?"
Jack didn't like what he was hearing. Jonny's emotions were all over the place, judging from the stress level the father could sense in the boy. There was vulnerability and, worse, fear. None of that made sense to the general.
"That's right," Jack confirmed.
"Something's wrong with Daddy. He doesn't even act like our daddy."
"What are you talking about?"
"He ... he's just ... Dad, he gets so mad at us," the frightened youth relayed.
"He forgets things, too. He told us we were going to the park, so we came upstairs to get ready. Then he came in our room and got all mad at us. He said our room was messy."
"Son, you know how you can be when it comes to cleaning."
"No, Dad, we'd just cleaned it. There wasn't even a sock on the floor. My bed was made, too. I'd even cleaned Bogey's cage. Daddy shouted at us and then he locked us in our room."
"Locked? Jonny, Daddy locked the door?"
"Yes, and yesterday, he yelled at Katie, told her she was shedding hair all over the house. He told her she was a ... I don't remember the word, but it wasn't good. Then he put her outside and he won't let her come in the house anymore. He put Bijou outside, too, and made them stay outside all night."
~This isn't good,~ Jack admitted to himself.
"Dad, he almost hit Lulu," the boy reported.
Jack heard the vulnerability in his son's voice and absolutely knew there was trouble at home.
"Son, call Aunt Sam or Aunt Sara ..."
"Can't," the boy replied. "Daddy took all the phones and won't let us go anywhere. We haven't been out front since you left. He even took Patch away from JD."
~What in Netu is going on?~ Jack wondered. ~Jonny wouldn't make this up.~
"Dad, can you come home? Pleeease," the boy begged, his voice trembling.
That did it. Jack's very cool and collected little general had just cried and that told the big general all he needed to know. That and what the Munchkin said next.
All of a sudden, Jack's mind went to a dark and scary place, to times past when his husband had some difficulties.
"Jonny, is Daddy sick? Has he been drinking more coffee than usual? Or have you seen him taking pills?" Jack recalled times from years earlier when both his husband's coffee addiction and poor decision making when it came to pills had wreaked havoc on Daniel's system and mental state. ~Maybe that's what this is. We had deadlines this week at J-O. Maybe something happened there.~
"No, I don't think so. I only saw him drinking coffee once, and he threw it into the sink."
~Now that's definitely odd. Daniel tossing out coffee is as sacrilegious as the brood turning down ice cream.~ Jack tried to process what he was hearing about his Love's strange behavior. Then a chill came over him as he began to recall another time when Daniel's behavior changed drastically. ~No, it can't be.~
"And I haven't seen any pills," Jonny continued. "But he never yells at us and Little Danny said to tell you something he thinks is important."
"What is it?"
"He said Daddy sometimes calls us kids, but Little Danny says Daddy never does that. He calls us children. I don't know what that means."
~Crap. It's like Daniel using 'stuff' for specific names of equipment and objects,~ Jack lamented inwardly. "Jonny, listen up. I want you to take the kids and go to Aunt Sam's. Use the gate and ..."
"Daddy changed the code to the gate and made it so we can't use it. We tried," Jonny admitted. "We can't go outside, either. He keeps the door alarms on."
Nothing was making sense to Jack, except for the horror that his mind was reliving, a time from almost two decades back when Daniel almost died.
"Jonny, I need you to focus like when we do our studies. I'm going to give you some numbers. Memorize them. You *have* to remember these numbers."
"Here's the first number." Jack relayed the number to his namesake. "Repeat it back to me, three times, without stopping." When Jonny stumbled over the number, Jack repeated it one more time. "Okay, think. Use associations like we've done with homework. Give me the number, three times."
This time, Jonny successfully repeated the number and then he asked, "What's the number to?"
"That's my disposable phone. Son, listen carefully. When you were a baby, no one could escape from a crib or playpen like you. I'm counting on you to use those skills now."
"I'm good at covert."
"You're going to need to be." Believing that the boy would react well to a military scenario, Jack used his command tone. "Here are your orders. Once we're done talking, return the phone to the nightstand. Place it exactly where and how you found it."
"Can't I keep it? Maybe I can call Aunt Sam."
"No. Listen, Sport. Daddy might want to call me and he's been doing that around lunch. If he hits the redial and gets Aunt Sam, that could set him off. Tempting as it sounds, I don't think we should risk it. Let's stick to the plan."
"Okay," Jonny reluctantly agreed.
"Now, once you put the phone back, see if you can make your way to the garage. You'll have to climb up to the storage rack without the ladder. Think you can find a way to do that safely?"
"Sure!" the boy responded with confidence.
~Which means he's done it before,~ Jack groaned inwardly. "Jonny, repeat the phone number I gave you." Once he heard the number, Jack praised, "Good. When you get to the storage rack, in the far left corner when you face the garage door, there's a small black box, about the size of two shoe boxes. It's marked 'Charlie.'"
"Does it have Charlie's stuff in it?"
"A few things, yes," the father acknowledged. "In that box is a pair of black socks. Inside one of them is a phone, similar to the one you're using now. You'll need to memorize more numbers. Are you ready?"
"Ready," Jonny replied, letting his intelligence surface.
"You'll have to unlock the phone," Jack began. He then instructed the boy on how to unlock the phone and what numbers to input. He had his son repeat the numbers back, as well as repeating Jack's current disposable phone number. "Let's review. Put Daddy's phone back in the nightstand. Check on your brothers and sisters and wait to see if Aunt Sam arrives. Give it an hour. If she doesn't get in, then as soon as you can, go to the garage and climb to the storage rack. On the far left, look for the black box with Charlie's name on it. Open it and pull out the socks. Remove the phone and unlock it. When it's safe to do so, use that phone to call Aunt Sam, Grandpa, Teal'c, Uncle Mark ... anyone you need to until you make contact. No messages. Do you understand? Do *not* leave a message with another person or on a machine."
"Jonny, I don't want you in the garage unless Carter doesn't show up."
"Got it, Dad."
"But if she doesn't, do as instructed and ..." Jack paused. He couldn't believe this was happening. ~What the heck am I doing?~
"And what, Dad?"
"Do whatever you can to get out of the house, but all of you."
"I'd never leave anyone behind. That's a big no-no."
"That's right. You all go, or none of you go. I'll be home soon."
"I'll do good, Dad."
"You already are," Jack assured. "One more thing. If Daddy finds you with the phone and gets upset or if Daddy keeps acting funny where you feel scared, do *anything* you can to get out of the house. Look, you're in charge, but work as a team. You, Little Danny, and Jenny need to focus that brain power on overriding the security system. I know you don't know how to work all of it, but put your heads together and see what you can do. He's probably changed the codes, but we have a backdoor ..."
"Tell Little Danny and Jenny that the system has a backdoor. If you can sign in through the backdoor, you can override what Daddy has done. All the doors and windows will disconnect from the system."
"Do we need a code?"
"Yes. Jonny, if things get worse, try to get in through the backdoor by using the code Abydos Puppy, two words, capitol A, a space between Abydos and Puppy, and a capitol P. Got that?"
"I think so."
"Jonny, you have to remember the code. Say it back to me."
"Big A for Abydos, space, big P for puppy. Funny code, Dad."
"We can discuss that later," Jack responded. "Son, I'm calling Aunt Sam and if I can't get her, I'll find someone in our family. When they come, do whatever they say. Understood?"
Jack couldn't hang up without asking one more question.
"Jonny, when you say you're afraid, are you afraid of Daddy or Daddy hurting one of you?"
"We're afraid Daddy's not Daddy. That scares us," Jonny answered as truthfully as he could. He sighed, "He gets really angry, Dad."
Jack decided to not press his namesake for further details. He needed to keep moving and they'd already been on the phone for too long.
"Jonny, it's going to be okay. I'm on my way. Do as I've instructed in the order I've given them," Jack directed, slipping into his military verbiage for his second-in-command. "Understood?"
"I love you."
Jonny heard the sound of the disconnect and turned off the phone. Temporarily, he put it in his pocket to keep it safe. Then he drew his knees up to his chin and buried his face. He was afraid, but not for himself, rather, for the stranger his daddy had become. For just a couple of minutes, he was a little boy, frightened in a way he'd never been before. Then he drew a giant breath as he became the little general with orders to follow and siblings to protect.
In his location, Jack reached for the phone and made a call.
"This is O'Neill. I need *immediate* transport back to Colorado Springs ... I don't friggin' care if nothing is scheduled. If you don't want to be emptying trash containers for the rest of your military career, get me a bird. I'll fly it myself if I have to, but I want transport waiting for me in thirty." Jack hung up and made his next call. "I'm checking out of this confab in five minutes. Make sure a car is waiting for me." Getting the acknowledgement he wanted from the major assigned to him for this trip, the general took a breath and then made his next call. "Carter!"
"Sir?" a confused Sam answered her phone. ~Haven't heard that tone in a while.~
"When's the last time you saw Daniel?" Jack asked as he quickly threw his personal items into a small duffel bag.
There was no sense of calm in Jack's voice. Every syllable was commanding.
"Not since the day after you left," Sam answered.
"Why the blazes not?"
"Carter, answer the question. Why haven't you seen Daniel? I thought you two were gonna science up the kids while I was gone."
"I, uh ..." Sam felt uneasy. Jack was barking at her as if SG-1 were on a mission. Something was wrong. "I tried, Sir. I approached Daniel Monday morning and started to talk about a lesson plan. He stopped me, said he wanted to enjoy being with the kids himself."
"Carter," Jack interrupted. "Did Daniel use the word kids or did he say children?"
"I think he said kids, which now that you mention it, he doesn't usually say."
"I need you to get to the house and ..."
"Sir, Daniel changed the code on the gate."
"Since when is a code something that can stop you?"
"Carter, where's Shanahan? No, I don't care where he is. Listen up, get someone, anyone, to watch your kids. Do *not* take your kids to my house. Get them covered and when you do, get to my house, and I don't friggin' care what you have to do to get there, just get there." Jack sighed, "Carter, there's a backdoor to our security system."
"I figured as much."
"It's a backdoor to the backdoor you put in."
"Trust me, it's there." Jack gave Sam the code and continued, "I gave Jonny the code, too."
"Jonny?" Sam asked, her voice rising as was her concern.
"Get my kids, Carter. Do *not* let Daniel deter you. If he shows any questionable behavior, take the kids. Do you understand? Do *not* leave my children alone with Daniel."
"Yes, Sir," the stunned blonde responded.
"Sam," Jack sighed, shifting for a moment from the harshness of his previous tone. "Jonny's scared. Daniel's not acting like himself. I may know what's wrong, but I need time to get home. Daniel ... Sam, I'm relying on you to take care of the brood, the ones that are home. They're first, then Daniel."
"I'm on my way," Jack advised as he packed a couple of shirts into his suitcase. "Carter, the big guy, is he available?"
"I'm not sure."
"You may need his help if he's around."
"I'll call Janet."
"I understand, Jack. I'm on it."
Jack gave Sam the number of the disposable phone he was using before hanging up. He finished packing and hurriedly left his location. He was obligated to make one more call, one to explain his departure, but he could do that on the move. After all, there wasn't a person or an order that would keep him from heading home to his family, not with the worry and concern that was flooding through him.
~Let me be wrong. Geez, I hope I'm wrong.~ Even as Jack bemoaned his internal fears, he was overcome with a potentially worse fact. ~If I am wrong, what the heck is wrong with Daniel?~
After successfully returning the disposable phone to Daniel's nightstand, Jonny walked casually downstairs.
"Where were you?" Daniel asked as he sat on the sofa.
"We're having story time," a normal-sounding Daniel explained with a smile. "Come join us."
"Okay." Jonny sat down next to JD and listened to the story being told. ~Sure hope Aunt Sam gets here soon.~
With her husband out on a case for the Colorado Springs Police Department, Sam asked one of her neighbors to watch her kids, opting to take them to the neighbor's home so that they would be further away if any trouble occurred. Then she checked out the gate that connected her backyard to that of the Jackson-O'Neill's and was stunned when an alarm began to blare.
Inside the house, Daniel tensed. He held his head in his hands for a moment. When he looked up again, the calm man who had been telling his children a story disappeared. His eyes were colder.
"Don't move," the father ordered.
In short order, Daniel appeared in the backyard. He paused, hearing footsteps on the patio deck.
"Stay right there!" the archaeologist shouted at his children, stopping them from leaving the small deck that was right outside the living room. "Sam, what are you doing?"
Trying to sound as nonchalant as she could, Sam answered, "I was coming over to say hello. I haven't seen you all week."
"We're all fine," Daniel assured. "Uh, I told you I want to spend time with the kids."
"Okay, sure, but I ..." Sam struggled to come up with a reason for her visit. ~Why not,~ she told herself. "Daniel, I need to borrow a cup of sugar. Isn't that funny how people say they want to borrow a cup. It's not like you'll get the same cup back. We really should ..."
"Sam, I haven't gone shopping." Daniel glanced back at his fidgeting children. "I have to go."
Frustrated and worried, Sam waited for Daniel to return to the inside of his house. She had to admit to being a little impressed with her colleague and his ability to reset the gate system to sound off the alarm. However, not being able to see what he'd done on his side of the gate exactly, she questioned her attempt to attain access to her friend's home via the gate, especially now that he was alerted.
~There wasn't a peep from the brood,~ Sam realized, having not been able to see the children due to the fence height. ~That's not normal.~
Sam considered her options, including climbing over the fence and letting the alarm sound. She feared that would just antagonize Daniel further. She thought about going to the front of the home and knocking on the door.
~He'd probably just ignore me.~
As she considered her choices, Sam replayed the conversation with Jack in her mind. It was forceful and full of concern. Ultimately, she knew she had to get inside the house so she could see the brood. Getting to the house with the alarm from the gate blaring could be difficult.
~He might have planned for that.~
Sam contemplated breaking into the home from the front. That, too, would set off the alarm if the system was on, but at least she would be inside. The problem there was that if neighbors or passersby witnessed the break-in, they might phone the police. She worried about what might happen to Daniel if that occurred.
Then the colonel heard the barks of the beagles. They were by the gate, imploring her to help.
"I sure wish I understood beagle the way Jack and Daniel do," Sam sighed. ~The dogs! Maybe through the garage. Jack and Daniel sometimes leave the girls access through their doggie door, even if the system is on. Oh gawd. The girls are outside. Things must be bad.~
Sam was in a quandary. She didn't want the alarms to sound and alert the neighborhood. Doing so could result in a call to the police and raise issues about whatever is going on. That would not make her commanding officer happy. At the same time, she had to get access. Ultimately, she determined that she needed assistance. The friends of the Jackson-O'Neills would have to go in via the front. If she had backup to ward off Daniel, she was confident she could shut off any alarm that sounded upon entry quick enough not to concern anyone within hearing distance.
Aboard a plane headed for Colorado Springs, Jack pulled out his phone and made a call.
"Alex, it's Jack."
Doctor Alex Weston grinned as he responded, "Jack, it's been a while ... again."
Alex recognized the tone and leaned forward in his office chair as he inquired, "How's Daniel?"
"I'm not sure. Alex, you said that thing was gone, totally gone?"
"It was, no thanks to me. It was that secret whatever of yours, remember?" the ex-Air Force officer prompted.
"Here's what I know," Jack began, recounting the brief specifics he had received earlier from his son.
"Have you yourself noticed anything, any changes in his behavior?" the doctor questioned.
"Not much, Alex. He's been a little tired, but you know our schedule."
"Not really, Jack. You only call me when you have a medical crisis," Alex lightly teased.
"Didn't we invite you to the wedding?"
"Which one? You've had three," Alex retorted. More seriously, he noted, "I was sorry to miss that big anniversary shindig of yours a few years back."
"We had a great time," Jack recalled about the party. "Alex ..."
"Jack, you'll need to get me his updated medical records and then we'll have to do some testing. I'm sure you remember the routine."
"Wish I didn't."
"Why don't you use your regular doctor? Last time, you needed to be discreet. You've got twelve kids now. I don't think discreet is a primary focus anymore."
"Having the best physician possible is," Jack returned. "I would like to put you in touch with Doctor Janet Frazier. She knows Daniel's history like a book, except for what happened years ago."
"You never told her?"
"No. Daniel wanted to keep it private. No one knows."
"Not even the kids?"
"No one," Jack reiterated. "Alex, could this be something else?"
"Jack, we can play guessing games all day long, but until I see his history and we can run the usuals, I can't comment."
"How's your schedule?"
"You just tell me when you'll be here, and my schedule is yours."
Jack hung up and stared ahead at the other side of the plane. He closed his eyes as he thought back to the time when he thought he'd lose his lover. He'd felt scared and helpless and only an alien device, the sarcophagus, had ultimately saved his Heart from dying from brain tumors.
~No way in Netu are we going through that again,~ Jack vowed. ~Has to be something else.~
Full of worry, Jack hung onto the phone with a death grip. Not only was he fearful for his husband, but he wondered how the children were doing.
~Remember your orders, Jonny.~
The children were gathered in the nursery, told to go there and stay by Daniel, who was busy watching the perimeter of the house. Jonny was frustrated. He'd twice tried to get to the garage, but both times, his daddy was too near for the boy to remain undetected. At least the kids were finally alone and he could fill them in on the conversation with his dad.
"Listen up. Dad has instructions," the eldest Munchkin advised.
The children listened attentively to Jonny as he related to them his conversation with their father.
"Why didn't you just use the disposable phone to call Aunt Sam?" Aislinn questioned.
"Dad said not to," Jonny replied. "He said if Daddy got the phone and hit 'redial', he'd find out and that might not be good."
"I think we should try it anyway," Chenoa opined as she held hands with Lulu.
"We have to trust Dad," Little Danny argued.
"Dad told me to get to the garage and use the phone he has hidden," Jonny stated. "Little Danny, you, Ash, and Jenny need to try to get that backdoor thing figured out."
"But Daddy's always downstairs," Aislinn sighed. "He'll hear us."
"Or see us," Little Danny added. "We'd have to stand on chairs. We aren't tall enough to reach the control panel yet."
"Why hasn't Aunt Sam come?" Lulu sniffled.
"She will," Jonny responded firmly. "We need to be ready."
The conversation was halted by the sound of more sniffles. Immediately, Jonny and Little Danny scooted over to Aislinn and put their arms around her.
"Ash, it'll be okay," Little Danny assured his fellow triplet.
"We're talking about Daddy like he's bad," Aislinn cried. "I don't care what he's doing. He's our daddy."
"He's sick, Ash. He has to be," Jenny put forth.
"So we need to help him, but we can't help him unless we get another adult to help us," Little Danny added.
"But what, Ash?" Jonny prodded gently.
"I love Daddy. It doesn't feel good to be afraid of him."
"We just hafta be safe until Dad gets home and can make everything better," Jonny replied.
Though she didn't like it, Aislinn nodded and went along with the plan that was set in place.
With JD in tow, Ricky approached Daniel in the living room. The scientist had shifted gears again, having gone from watchful paranoia about Sam approaching the house to calmly reading a magazine.
The one thing all of the children knew for sure was that their father could talk for hours about archaeology. With that in mind, Ricky asked Daniel a question about Mayan artifacts, certain the archaeologist would begin chattering away. That way, only he and JD had to keep asking questions to keep their daddy occupied.
Jonny watched stealthily from the hallway and once he felt it was safe, he passed the living room and ducked down. He peeked around the corner and saw Daniel with Ricky and JD. Then Jonny looked over at Chenoa who remained at the other end of the hall and waved her over.
The Curly Top was frightened at the thought of being discovered, but she took one brief look into the living room to ensure Daniel was not looking in the direction of the entryway and then sprinted to Jonny's position.
The Munchkin nodded and walked to the door at the end of the hallway that led to the garage. His only fear was making noise as the door opened and closed. He listened attentively to the conversation in the other room and tried to pick a point when his father was fully involved with talking.
Taking a deep breath, the boy cautiously opened the door, entered the garage, and closed the door behind him.
Chenoa watched Daniel like a hawk. She sighed inwardly when her daddy kept speaking with Ricky and JD about archaeology. There was no sign that he was aware of any other activity around him.
Inside the garage, Jonny waited for over a minute for any indication that he'd been detected. Swiping his forehead in relief, the Munchkin proceeded on his mission.
In the kitchen, Little Danny, Aislinn, and Jenny started to work on the control panel. They could hear their siblings engaging Daniel in conversation which meant the odds were that if they spoke above a whisper, they'd be heard as well.
Having planned for an alternative, Lulu held one of her notebooks in her hands. When necessary, the children could use it to write down their thoughts.
Quietly, the brood brain trust of three each brought over a chair to stand on. As carefully as they could, one by one, the trio stood up on a chair. Once they were ready, Little Danny lowered the control panel that was hidden behind the blackboard used to make notes and leave messages to one another throughout a normal day. They all knew the basics of how the security system worked, but none of them had yet been shown the delicate workings of setting or changing the codes and commands.
A few feet away, Lulu bowed her head. She could hear the whisperings of her brother and sisters working on the control panel as well as her daddy talking passionately about discoveries he'd made about the Mayan culture through his work on various digs. She was trying hard not to cry, but her being was filled with great sadness as well as fear that Daniel would discover what the brood was doing.
For the agile oldest Munchkin, climbing to the storage rack was a piece of cake. In no time at all, Jonny had the black box full of items that had been Charlie's in front of him. He opened the box, eager to find the phone that was hidden in the sock. Though anxious, he couldn't help but pause as he studied some of the objects inside the box. He picked up a baseball and held it in his hand. He'd heard the story about how Charlie once hit a ball into a second story window of the home where Jack and Sara lived. He wondered if this was that ball.
Jonny wanted to focus more on the box and its contents, but worried about being caught, so he searched until he found the socks mentioned by his dad. He took the phone and stared at it. Though he knew what he was supposed to do, he hesitated. The words of Aislinn thundered through his mind.
"We're talking about Daddy like he's bad," Aislinn had cried. "I don't care what he's doing. He's our daddy."
~There's always an 'or',~ the child thought.
Instead of dialing, Jonny put the phone in his pocket, returned the box to its corner of the storage rack, and eased himself back down to the floor of the garage.
"That's it," Jenny voiced softly to her siblings.
"You sure?" Aislinn whispered in reply.
"Has to be," Little Danny opined.
The three looked at one another. All that they had to do now was input the code they'd been given.
"Go ahead," Jenny urged her brother.
Little Danny was about to input the first digit of the code when he stopped. His mind was overtaken with questions and the replaying of his sister's earlier words.
"We're talking about Daddy like he's bad," Aislinn had cried. "I don't care what he's doing. He's our daddy."
The child prodigy shook his head and quietly uttered, "It's the wrong thing to do."
Aislinn and Jenny watched as their brother gently disembarked the chair and returned it to its spot. Not sure what to do, the girls remained.
"He's our daddy," Lulu whispered simply as a tear fell down her cheek and she looked over at her little brother in understanding.
"Noa," Jonny spoke, the name barely audible. He waved to his sister and then went past the living room to the other side of the hallway. He watched as the blonde followed him. "Upstairs," he instructed. Jonny stopped at the entrance to the kitchen and looked inside. "Did you do it?" he asked quietly.
"No," Aislinn answered.
Confused, the Munchkin motioned for them to go upstairs.
As they'd done before, the children went to the secret stairway that connected the recreation room to the upstairs level. Now that they were older, all members of the brood except for JD knew the security code that opened the hidden doors.
Once upstairs, Jonny told the others to meet in his room. He then used the main stairs to go back down to the living room.
"Hey, whatcha' doing?" the Munchkin casually asked Ricky and JD as they continued to listen to Daniel's long ramblings about artifacts.
"Daddy's telling us about digs," Ricky responded.
"Oh. Wanna play Battleship?"
Ricky looked at Daniel and asked, "Is it okay if we go up and play now?"
"Sure. Have fun!"
Unaware of what he'd missed, Daniel returned to a magazine he'd been reading while the children walked up the stairs to join their siblings.
"Ricky, be lookout," Jonny told the younger Spitfire.
With a nod, the boy walked to the door and kept it slightly ajar as he stared out into the hallway and willed himself not to blink. If his younger father appeared, he'd have just seconds to warn his siblings before Daniel entered the boys' room.
"Did you get the phone?" Jenny inquired of the eldest Munchkin.
"Right here," Jonny answered as he pulled out the phone.
"Who'd you call?" the redhead asked.
"No one," Jonny sighed. "How come you didn't do the backdoor thing on the security system?"
As Aislinn and Jenny looked at Little Danny, the middle triplet explained, "Ash was right."
Not sure what was being discussed, Ricky asked, "Right about what?"
"Daddy," Aislinn responded quietly as she began to let out a small sob.
"I know what Dad told you, Jonny, but Daddy is Daddy, and he needs us," Little Danny put forward, not just to Jonny, but to everyone in the room.
More sniffles began to fill the boys' room.
This time, the source of the cries was Lulu, who squeaked out, "He's sick or something. I love Daddy and I trust him. He wouldn't hit me, not ever. We have to trust him."
Determined, Aislinn argued, "We have to help Daddy. *Us*, not someone else, *us.*"
"They're right, Jonny," Little Danny offered. "We're family and we stick together, no matter what."
"What do we do then?" Jonny asked, putting the phone back into his pocket. ~Guess that's what I felt, too; must be why I didn't call anyone for help.~
Little Danny answered, "We help Daddy like Daddy helps us."
"When we're sick, Daddy stays up with us. He makes us soup and holds our hands," Jenny noted.
"He teaches us lots of things," Ricky interjected.
Quietly, Chenoa added, "He makes us feel better when we're sad 'cause he ..."
"He loves us," Aislinn completed for her sister.
"That's what he always tells us," Little Danny sighed. "And he holds us close, especially when we're scared."
The room quieted while the children further contemplated their situation. They had the means to get help, but now they weren't sure that was the thing to do.
"You know what we haven't tried?" Little Danny asked of his siblings. With the attention of his brothers and sisters on him, the child prodigy answered his own question. "We haven't been honest with him."
"What do you mean?" Ricky asked.
"Our family motto: we're the Jackson-O'Neills and we're unbeatable. Together, we can do anything," Little Danny began to explain. "We always say that we trust one another and we never lie, not really and truly lying, not about big stuff, but we're lying to Daddy."
"We are not," Jonny argued.
"We haven't told him what he's done and if he's sick ..."
"He doesn't know what he's done," Aislinn stated on behalf of her brother. "He doesn't remember."
There was a lightness to the girl's words, one that brightened the room. It was as if a light bulb went off collectively in the young members of the brood.
"We have to tell him," Lulu suggested eagerly, though another sniffle followed her words.
"What if he doesn't believe us?" Jonny questioned.
"He'll believe us," Aislinn claimed.
"How do you know he will?" Ricky asked his sister.
"Because he's Daddy and I believe in Daddy."
"I do, too," Little Danny declared.
"Me, three," Lulu sniffled.
"So do I," Chenoa interjected firmly.
It quickly became unanimous. With a few short sobs, the children totally reversed their positions. Their fear lessened and their determination increased. They had no idea what was wrong with Daniel, be it illness, alien imitator, or some covert cause, but that no longer mattered. Instead, they focused now on formulating a new plan, one that would put them head-to-head with their younger father.
"There you go, Homer," Daniel told one of the family's fish. "Hope you enjoy it."
Daniel heard the firmness of his name and turned around, surprised somewhat by the stance of the children. The were in a V-formation as if each were a plane with Jonny at the point. The Munchkin's arms were crossed, his legs slightly parted, and he had a stern stare in his father's direction.
"Looks serious," Daniel observed.
"We need to have a family meeting," Jonny returned.
"Okay, well, when Dad gets home, we ..."
"No, Daddy, now," Jonny insisted.
"Why?" Daniel asked as he put down the fish food.
At that moment, JD stepped out from behind Jonny. He ran over to Daniel and threw his arms around the man's legs.
Emotionally, JD answered, "Because we love you and we're scared."
"Scared?" a confused Daniel asked as he bent over and picked up the boy caringly. "Why are you scared?"
"That's why we need to have the meeting," Jonny elaborated vaguely.
"Okay," Daniel agreed. "Let's sit down," he suggested, putting JD back down and then heading for the sofa.
Little Danny ran to the door and called out to Bijou and Katie, telling them, "It's gonna be okay now. We're having a meeting."
The two beagles entered the house with some trepidation, but quickly went over to be with the children.
"Are you okay, girls?" Daniel asked the dogs, still standing as were the children. Approaching the beagles, he wondered why the dogs were behaving oddly. "Why'd you stay outside last night? I called you."
"No, you didn't," Little Danny refuted, deciding it was a good way to start their meeting.
Daniel turned back to face his namesake, but all he did was make a noise as if he were going to speak, but didn't. He stared at the children while feeling very uncertain. Then he felt a hand on his.
"Daddy, we love you so much," Lulu declared with soft eyes shining upward at her father.
"I love you, too, but I don't understand what's going on. What's the meeting about?"
"You," Jonny stated honestly.
"Me?" Daniel echoed, a small smile on his face. "Daddy's in trouble?" he mused. "Okay, why is the meeting about me?"
"Because you're not acting like you," Jonny answered.
"Daddy," Lulu interjected with watery eyes. "You'd never hit me."
"Hit you? Of course not. Wh...what's going on?" Daniel asked, looking over at each of the brood gathered and suddenly finding it harder to breathe with each passing second.
"You took Patch," JD asserted strongly.
"No, JD, that was a nightmare you had," Daniel maintained.
"Daddy, we think you did take Patch," Little Danny interjected.
"But you don't remember," Aislinn elaborated quickly.
"Cause you're sick or something," Jenny spoke up.
"Sick?" a flustered Daniel echoed. "Kids, I'm not ..."
"Daddy, you said it again," Little Danny interrupted.
"I said what?"
"Kids," Little Danny answered. "Dad calls us kids, but you always say children."
"I do?" Daniel wondered. "Do I?" he asked quizzically.
Chenoa walked over and took her daddy's left hand, while Lulu still held the right, and urged, "Come sit down, Daddy."
Not resisting, the archaeologist let himself be led to the sofa where he sat down. He felt cloudy, his usually clear-thinking mind murky and muddied by a strange fog he couldn't define.
Chenoa remained on one side of Daniel, while Lulu never let go of her father's hand as she sat down next to him. JD climbed up to sit on Daniel's lap as the other kids simply moved the coffee table back and stood in front of their daddy.
"You took Patch, Daddy," JD reiterated.
"And you yelled at me," Aislinn added.
"You yelled at Katie, too, and made her and Bijou stay outside last night in the cold," Little Danny noted.
One by one, the brood recounted the horror of the last few days and it sent chills up Daniel's spine. He remembered nothing of the bad experiences. There had to be a mistake. If only he could think clearly, but the truth was that he was having a difficult time thinking at all.
"No, I ... no, there's no w...way ... I ..."
"Dad is coming home, Daddy, and he'll make everything better again," Aislinn opined with a soft, comforting voice, almost as if she were singing her daddy a gentle lullaby. "He'll be home very soon."
"Dad?" Daniel asked blankly, causing the children to look around at one another nervously.
"It'll be okay, Daddy," Jenny promised.
Daniel's head began to throb. He pulled his hands away from the Curly Tops and hurriedly pushed JD off his lap and onto Lulu. The quick action was further proof of the man's downward spiral mentally. He stood and hurried to the mantle where he gripped the edges of the area and bowed his head.
"Daddy ..." Little Danny began.
"Shut up!" came the violent response as Daniel spun around. His eyes full of fire and his voice thundering through the air, he accused, "You're all lying! You're nothing but selfish brats. No more! I've had enough."
The children had two choices, to run away in fear or trust that their inner hearts were true. Their parents had always said that love was the truest and deepest emotion. With love, they could survive anything.
Instinctively, all eight children surrounded their younger father, their hands reaching out to him, taking hold of his hands, his legs, his arms, and his waist. They sang out words of love and belief. Even Bijou and Katie barked their assurances at Daniel's feet.
His body swelling with emotions he didn't understand, even as his head ached massively, Daniel collapsed down to his knees.
"Love you so much, Daddy," Aislinn repeated, her worry tripling as she heard her father let out a horrifying scream that was followed by wailing tears.
The children were frightened, their hearts beating faster than ever, but they remained in their places, circling their father with their loving protection.
"Dad will be here soon," Jonny promised his daddy as he leaned his head against Daniel's and held his arms around his daddy's neck.
As if cued in a movie script, the front door flung open, causing the alarm to sound. For a moment, the children thought it was indeed their older father, but it was Sam, not Jack, who entered and swiftly moved to the control panel and shut off the blaring noise that disrupted the household. At the same time, Teal'c hastened to get to the living room to ensure the safety of the young brood.
"Teal'c!" Seeing the handsome Jaffa, Chenoa immediately felt better. Still, it was all about her daddy and she was very worried about his condition. "Teal'c, is Aunt Janet with you?"
The Jaffa observed the situation and determined there was no danger, though he was very concerned about his friend's condition. He nodded to the young girl but said nothing.
"Where is she?"
"Right here, Noa," Janet called out, having entered from the side door. "It was a little tight getting in through the girls' door in the garage."
There were a few nervous chuckles at the thought of Janet's method of entry, but mostly the kids were anxious for her to tend to their daddy.
"Daddy's very sick, Aunt Janet," Jenny advised, doing her best to be strong and brave, something she was noted for within the large family.
Janet motioned for the children to back off slightly and then kneeled down beside her friend.
"Daniel? Daniel, tell me what's happening," the petite physician requested.
"Yes, it's Janet. Are you in pain?"
"P...pain? I ..." Daniel looked around, feeling lost. "Where's Jack?"
"Dad's on his way home," Jonny answered for his aunt.
"Who's he talking about?" Daniel asked wildly. "Who is he? Who are these kids?"
"Calm down, Daniel," Janet urged as she held onto her patient's arm and tried to get a pulse.
"*Out! Invaders! Get out of here!*"
The words sounded like one of the old fifties movies the kids often watched with their military father.
"Invaders?" Ricky asked, looking at his siblings.
"He's been acting funny since Dad left," Aislinn cried.
"Have to escape!" Daniel exclaimed as he sprung up and tried to run out of the living room.
The archaeologist was no match for his teammate, however. Teal'c easily held the struggling father and prevented him from going anywhere.
"Hold him, Teal'c," Janet instructed, pulling out a needle and giving Daniel an injection.
The solution worked quickly and in seconds, Daniel slid down in the Jaffa's arm.
"Take him upstairs," Janet told her alien husband. "And stay with him," she called out. The redhead turned and sat down on the sofa. She held out her arms and a round of hugs ensued. "Are you all okay?"
"No," Lulu answered. She finished her thought by saying, "We're not okay because Daddy's not okay."
"Okay, I need details. Don't leave anything out about what's been going on around here."
"I think we should wait for Dad," Jonny stated, his voice strong but clearly showing vulnerability.
"I can't help your daddy if I don't know what's wrong," Janet countered. "Tell me everything."
The voice caused the children's heads to raise and relief to fill their hearts. Not waiting for permission, they ran toward the sound, eager to feel the embrace of their older father.
"Kids, you okay?"
"We're all glad you're home," Aislinn sobbed as she leaped into Jack's arms.
"Princess," Jack comforted, rubbing her back. "I'm here."
"Daaaaaddy's sick," Lulu cried.
Jack looked down at the brunette and put his right hand on her cheek as he responded, "We'll ..." He swallowed hard, unable to lie to the little girl. "I'm home now" was all he could say. Then he saw Sam and Janet, both now standing in front of the sofa, and asked, "Where's Daniel?"
"He upstairs with Teal'c, Sir," Sam answered.
"I had to sedate him, General," Janet added. "He'll be out for a bit."
"Noa, lock the door," Jack requested of the blonde as he settled the youngest triplet back onto the floor.
For the next two minutes, the military man simply embraced his children. There were tremors and tears, muffled words hidden in sobs, and little hands and arms desperate to feel safe once again. Jack could feel their despair and sense the fear they'd had within them. He was plenty afraid himself. He'd made a diagnosis and he didn't like his prognosis.
"Jack, we'll need to run a battery of tests," Janet began, "but first, I need to know everything. The kids didn't want to say anything until you were here."
"Doc, there are a few things you need to know," Jack admitted. "Kids," he called out, motioning with his body toward the sofa where he sat down. "Everyone okay?"
"No, because something's wrong with Daddy," Ricky answered with a tiny voice.
Jack smiled weakly as he reached out and touched the boy's shoulder. Words weren't coming easy for him right now, but he knew he didn't have time to wallow in whatever his own fears and emotions were. He steeled himself for what he was about to hear. Wanting to create some normalcy for the children, he walked over to his favorite chair and sat down. The brood followed, all watching his every move.
"Aunt Janet needs to know what Daddy's been doing, and so do I. If it helps, pretend you're telling us a story, a scary story."
"Dad?" Ricky asked.
"When the scary story is over, will Daddy be okay?"
Jack almost lost control of his emotions at that point. It took all the calm he could muster not to break down and cry like a baby.
By the sofa, Sam and Janet exchanged a look. They both knew something was obviously very wrong, but what the general had just said made both extremely afraid for their friends.
Finally, Jack ignored the question and ordered softly, "Take it from the top."
It took a while for the children to relay everything that occurred since their dad's departure, mainly because they cried a lot in the retelling. When they were done, Jack stood up and walked around the living room. He stopped for a moment and stared at Homer the angel fish.
Turning around, Jack approached JD, picked him up, and asked, "Do you think Daddy was mean to you?"
JD shook his head adamantly and answered, "Daddy loves me and Patch. Why'd he take Patch?"
"Because ... Daddy's sick," Jack responded with a lump in his throat. "We'll find Patch."
"If Patch makes Daddy sick, maybe we shouldn't find him. Uncle Thor will understand."
Jack nodded and hugged the boy, giving him a kiss before putting him down. He looked over at Bijou and Katie.
"You girls okay?" Jack questioned, kneeling down to be closer to canine level.
Two not-so-happy woofs was the reply.
"It's been a little shaky, huh?"
Another round of sad woofs occurred.
"You know he didn't mean it. This thing, it's, uh ... it's not him. I need you to trust me on this."
Katie sprinted to Jack and licked him with a slew of understanding affirmations. Bijou followed and did the same.
"Thanks," Jack responded in a hush. "He needs you both on his side."
The sentence conveyed a request, one the dogs instantly understood.
The two beagles looked at each other and then ran midway up the stairs. They stopped and glanced back at Jack.
"Don't leave him for a second," the general instructed as he stood back up.
"Woof," Bijou acknowledged as she and Katie ran quickly to their post, determined not to leave their human's side again until instructed to do so by Jack.
Jack turned his attention to Lulu, kneeling again somewhat so that she was looking down at him instead of the other way around.
"Dad, I'm okay. I was scared for a little while, but now I'm just scared for Daddy. You're home now, so Daddy will be all better, right?"
Jack smiled bravely, said nothing, and embraced his daughter, holding her tight. He'd cringed internally upon hearing how Daniel had raised his hand to the little girl and his heart broke when told she'd hidden in Jonny's closet. She'd undergone so much abuse in her young life. He knew when Daniel was himself that he would feel tremendous guilt and that, too, weighed heavy on his soul.
The failure to answer Lulu's question did not escape the other children, who all looked around with concern on their faces. They looked over at Janet who wore a curious expression and then at Sam, who appeared frightened in her own way. The brood wasn't used to seeing their aunts wearing those types of expressions and it added to their fears.
Suddenly, Little Danny ran toward the stairs. He was followed by Jonny. Sam reacted immediately, hurrying to head off the children.
Jack looked into the eyes of the two boys, not flinching at all when Ricky practically flew by him to join his brothers.
"Sir?" Sam asked, seeking direction on whether or not to allow the children up the stairs.
After a moment, Jack just shook his head and permitted quietly, "Let them go."
In an instant, all but one of the children went upstairs to be with their daddy.
"Dad?" Lulu asked vulnerably.
"Go on, Princess. I'll be up in a few minutes," Jack told his daughter, giving her a kiss before standing up straight and patting her on the back.
"Sir?" Sam called out when all the children were gone.
"There are things you both need to know," Jack said while staring up the stairs towards the master bedroom. "I don't have answers, just questions, and ... history, or rather a nightmare." He motioned for the two women to sit down. He remained standing. Sitting for him would belittle the situation. With his back to his friends, he inquired, "Remember the first time we met the Mengal?"
"The Mengal?" Sam responded, thinking it was odd for her commanding officer to bring up that particular alien race. "They're a very advanced race, like the Nox. That was years ago, Sir."
"Yeah, almost another lifetime." Jack chuckled eerily, "For Daniel, it was one of his lives." He sighed, "Daniel and I were away when SGC called and asked for help with the Mengal."
"If I'm recalling the time correctly, Apophis was after the Mengali," Janet put forth.
Nodding, Jack affirmed, "That's correct. Daniel was supposed to be working on a research grant in Canada. My cover was nursing an injury in Minnesota."
"You were together," Sam recalled, her memory honing in on the long ago time. "When I phoned Daniel, you took the phone away from him."
"You already knew, Carter," Jack contended as he turned to face the blonde.
With a small smile, the colonel nodded and confirmed, "Yes, Sir, I knew you were together."
"Danny, he, uh ..."
As the normally strong general weakened and became more emotional, Sam took over, offering, "He was sick."
"He had a brain tumor. Actually, he had two of the suckers."
"Brain tumor?" both Sam and Janet questioned in astonishment.
"Two? General, why wasn't I told? How did he ..." Janet began harshly, thinking about the pre- and post-mission examinations that should have revealed something to her.
"Doc, no one sweet talks you like Daniel," Jack explained. "He came up with some excuse, and you let him get away with it."
"But sooner or later," Janet replied, not completing her thought.
"We went on the mission. Daniel was killed; I was injured, and I threw us both inside a sarcophagus. It did its thing. My injuries were healed and Daniel was breathing again."
"And you didn't think I should know?" the upset doctor returned.
"Janet, we couldn't say anything, not back then, not with the military's policy on same-sex couples."
"I suppose you're right."
"A friend of mine, Alex Weston, was Daniel's doctor. He did more tests and told us the tumors were gone." Jack looked at Janet and advised, "He needs all of Daniel's records. Doc, Weston was in the Academy with me. He left because he's gay. He got beaten up pretty badly one day and went elsewhere, became a doctor. I trust him."
"Well, that says a lot," Janet noted. "When will he be here?"
"We're going to him: North Carolina."
"Janet, we can't do this here. I've been through this and we can't deal with the kids until we know, especially with Daniel acting like ..." Jack let out a groan. "You heard the brood. Daniel won't want to be here. I'm taking him to North Carolina."
"General, I want to be part of this," Janet stated sternly.
With a bob of his head, "We'd like you to be. I'll make arrangements, if you can get away for a while."
"Teal'c may not like that."
"Teal'c may just come with me," Janet responded with a happy smirk.
"Carter, I'm gonna need a big favor," Jack sighed.
"I'll take care of the brood, Sir. Um, what about Sara?"
"Call her; tell her the truth," Jack answered. "We're way beyond the reasons for secrecy that existed back then." Thinking more about it, he added, "Tell her ... never mind." He wanted to talk to his ex-wife himself, but he wasn't sure when. For now, he'd let Sam make the attempt. "I'm not sure what to do about Jen, Jeff, Bri, and David. They won't be back for a couple of days and we can't wait."
"Jack, we don't really know anything until we examine Daniel and do tests. I understand why you contacted Doctor Weston and why you're afraid that the tumors may have returned. It is possible, but there could still be other explanations."
"And?" Jack prodded the doctor.
"You've always been truthful with the brood, so be truthful, but don't fill them with the doom and gloom you're feeling right now. Be positive, for now, while you can, until you and Daniel can come home and be with them again."
"Thanks, Doc." Jack shook his head, disbelieving the nightmare he was living. "I need to go upstairs and see Danny."
As Jack started for the stairs, Sam felt an uncontrollable urge and called out, "Sir, do you want us to call the kids, the older ones? Maybe they could come home early."
"Maybe," Jack agreed, reversing his original thought on the subject. He paused for a few seconds and then ordered, "Do it."
Jack knew he was going back and forth in his decisions, something that wasn't part of his normal behavior, but he wasn't feeling normal right now. His family was falling apart. Maybe he was even wrong in thinking the brood should stay home while he took Daniel to the east coast. He just wasn't sure. He wasn't sure of anything, except that at the minute, he needed to be with Daniel.
Leaving Sam and Janet in the living room, Jack bounded up the stairs to be with his husband and still-confused children.
"Daddy's still asleep," Chenoa told her silver-haired father upon seeing him at the doorway.
"He'll wake up soon," Jack responded softly as he entered and soon found himself surrounded by his children.
"I want Jen," Chenoa whispered.
"She's coming home soon, Noa," Jack promised. "Everyone will be here soon."
Hearing a small gasp of air, the children quickly ran back to their younger father.
"DanielJackson is ill?" Teal'c asked the man who he still considered to be his commanding officer as well as his friend and even a brother.
"I think so," Jack answered. He smiled at Bijou and Katie who had taken positions at Daniel's head, one on each side. "Thanks, girls," he mouthed.
Downstairs, Sam turned her attention to rounding up the four oldest children. She'd made one call in preparation for the next, the call to the eldest Jackson-O'Neill child. The time difference between Colorado Springs and England meant that Jennifer could be out on a late night date with Peter Hamilton, or she could be asleep in bed.
"Sam, if it were you ..." Janet offered with the slight hint of a smirk.
"Yep," Sam acknowledged as she placed the call to Jennifer's smartphone. "Hey, Jen, it's Sam."
Apprehensively, Jennifer inquired, "Aunt Sam, is everything okay?"
"You sound alarmed," Sam noted, giving Janet an odd look.
"I ... Aunt Sam, for the last couple of days, I've had the funniest feeling. I'm just being silly, right?" Jennifer sought hopefully.
"Well, there is a little problem. Jen, everyone's here at the house. You need to come home. I've made arrangements for your flight."
Sam relayed the information and did her best to reassure the young woman, though she knew Jennifer was apprehensive.
With that call finished, the colonel made more preparations and then contacted Jeff and Brianna.
Jeff was reached quickly and easily. The discussion was frustratingly short for the college student, but he was told enough that he knew he needed to get home as fast as possible. As soon as Sam gave him his return flight information, Jeff focused on packing his bags and contacting Tiffany Braga, his university advisor within the Student Affairs Office for the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning to let her know what was happening.
With Jeff taken care of, Sam turned her attention to Brianna. The fifteen-year-old was a bit more difficult to reach, however, since she was currently in the ocean waters participating in the research. Sam made the hard choice to wait for Brianna to return to the office lab to talk to her rather than having her pulled out of her time talking with the dolphins.
"You didn't leave a message?" Janet asked Sam once the blonde disconnected the call.
"She's right in the middle of a major experiment. Was I wrong, Janet, to let her have these next two hours or so of peace?"
"Could they get her?"
"Sure, but this exercise is being conducted at a more remote location. It would take them at least forty-five minutes just to get back to land."
"She'd just worry," Janet put forth.
"I couldn't get her a flight out until late afternoon anyway."
It was an uneasy decision, but one both women were okay with at the minute. Brianna was passionate about dolphins and desired to be a marine biologist. With the flight schedule, it just didn't seem right to interfere with the experiment.
Moving forward, Sam checked her watched and noted, "David's due for check-in in one hour."
"I'll call the base," Janet advised as Sam headed for Cheyenne Mountain.
Neither woman wanted David's mission interrupted by a stranger. Once at the Mountain, Sam could personally tell David that he needed to return home. She might even go through the Stargate and notify him personally. Either way, Sam would be the one to deliver the news. Somewhere along the way, she would get in touch with Brianna as well.
"How many more medical calamities can this family endure?" Sam rhetorically asked the universe as she headed for Stargate Command. ~One more; they have to endure at least one more,~ she prayed within her soul.
~Stubborn geek,~ Jack thought as he watched his lover rouse. ~He keeps his own timetable and dang the rules.~
The general had to make a quick decision, whether or not to allow the brood to stay with their younger father as he woke up. Jack wasn't sure what to expect, especially since he'd been told that Daniel's last actions were turbulent, to say the least.
"Kids, why don't you go check on your aunts," Jack suggested.
"But ..." several of the children objected.
"Go on. I need time with Daddy."
"You're afraid he'll be mean," Little Danny surmised.
"Give your old man a break, huh? I haven't seen him in days."
"He wants to smooch," Aislinn tried to tease.
"Yeah. Go on, just for a few minutes, okay?"
"Okay," Jonny reluctantly agreed as he and the other children sauntered out of the room.
"Outside, in the hallway," Jack requested. As the Jaffa reached the door, the general added, "Close it."
Bijou and Katie both raised their heads, four eyes focused on Jack.
"Floor," Jack ordered. He watched the canines stand and leap off the bed. "But don't go far."
The beagles sat together near the front of the closet, their eyes focused on their humans. If comfort was needed, they'd be there in a second.
Jack sat down next to his lover, who was lying atop the comforter on his side of the bed. He could hear soft moans, not like those from the ecstasy of their lovemaking, but rather the painful escape of some internal war of the mind. Jack put his left hand on Daniel's cheek and caressed it gently. His Love was fighting consciousness, his head beginning to thrash from right to left and back again.
"Danny, wake up," Jack beckoned as he kept his hand securely on Daniel's face. "Come on, Angel. We need to talk."
The younger man calmed slightly as his eyelids slowly flittered their way open.
"Are you home now?"
"Yes, Angel, I'm home. I love you."
"Love you, too," Daniel replied. He wanted to leap up and feel the protection of his soulmate's arms, but he couldn't. He was groggy and tired even though he'd just awakened. "Jack. Som...something's wrong."
"I know," Jack responded calmly, suddenly deciding that he wanted to have the needed discussion elsewhere. "Feel up to a walk?"
"Where are we going?" Daniel asked as he started to sit up.
"To our place," Jack answered, taking a moment to pull Daniel close. He heard the relieved sigh. "I'm here."
"Not gonna happen," Jack vowed. "Let's go." As he helped his husband up and began to walk gingerly towards the door, Jack heard the slight pattering of little paws. "Yeah," he said, a verbal response to the un-barked question about whether or not the beagles should follow their humans.
Glad not to be left behind, Bijou and Katie followed the couple through the door, not the one that led to the hallway, but the other one that went out to their roof deck. The sky was remarkably clear and the stars shone brightly overhead.
"Here, Angel," Jack directed, helping Daniel to sit down.
"Not right," Daniel negated. He was sitting beside his husband, but he wanted a different position. He smiled as he felt Jack's hands helping him to reposition his body. "Better," he sighed now that they were in a very familiar pose with Jack's back to the wall and Daniel safely ensconced in front of him, able to feel strong arms around his waist.
As Daniel leaned his head back against Jack's shoulder, the older man asked, "What do you remember?"
"This week, Danny. Tell me about the last few days," Jack requested, his voice as steady as he could make it.
"This week," Daniel echoed. "It's ... I ... gawd, it's a blur. Did you leave? You ... you left me."
"Military shindig, but I'm home now," Jack reminded, placing a kiss on top of the younger man's head. "What happened when I left?"
"I ... my head ... I ... I don't know," Daniel sighed as fear swelled within him. "Jack, what's wrong with me?"
"You're still groggy, Angel," Jack replied. "It will come back. Take your time. Focus on one moment. How about Jonny?"
"Our most covert Munchkin."
"Oh, yeah," Daniel said with a smile in his voice and on his face. "He's such an escape artist. How does he get out of ToddlerTown?"
Jack's eyes shut for a second as he took in the response. He held Daniel close, waiting for him to return to the present. He knew it would happen. He just had to be patient and wait.
"Gawd!" Daniel exclaimed, his body lurching forward, bringing Jack's arms with him. "I ... Jack, I yelled at Jonny for no reason. I just, I was ... I was mad. Why did I ..." His mind was reeling from nightmare after nightmare. "Oh my gawd. Katie. Jack, our girls. I ... said horrible things to Katie and I ..."
The distressed man's words were cut off by a bark. Katie looked at Jack, begging for permission.
"Get over here," Jack emotionally told the beagles.
Before a second passed, Katie leaped into Daniel's arms, giving him a slew of kisses. Her body leaned against his, happy to feel his hands caressing her body. Bijou ran over as well, supplying Daniel with plenty of love herself, but she knew it was important for him to feel Katie's love first.
"Katie, I'm so sorry," Daniel cried as he held the canine who shared his birthday close. "Katie," he sobbed.
Jack swallowed hard. He knew there were those who never understood the couple's attachment to the dogs, but he didn't care. Bijou and Katie were as much their children as the human kids were and that was just the way it was.
"Sometimes I think you two are aliens in disguise," Jack half-teased at just how much the dogs understood. He saw Bijou cock her head and thought he observed a tiny smirk. "Doesn't matter. You're here and that's all that matters," he asserted softly.
For a moment, Daniel quieted, absorbed in the love and forgiveness being shown to him by the girls, but then his breathing hitched.
Jack looked at the beagles and bobbed his head to the left, his unspoken order instantly comprehended by the dogs. Bijou and Katie gave Daniel a few more loving kisses before returning to their spot where they would observe and wait until they were needed again.
"No!" The archaeologist was in a panic as his recall re-engaged. His eyes widened, tears falling as he looked back at his Love and whispered, "I almost hit Lulu. Jack. Jack."
"It's okay, Angel," Jack soothed, pulling Daniel back into his safe embrace. "We're going to get through this," he promised. ~Somehow.~
Daniel curled up against Jack as the memories from the last few days flooded back to him. He felt emotionally sick as he cried into his soulmate's shoulder.
"I'm home now, Danny," the older reminded, not really sure what else to say. He was anguished, wanting to save his Heart from the torture his mind was putting him through, but Jack knew Daniel needed to have this release. He had to let the days past dissolve in his mind before moving forward. ~Cry, Angel; cry.~
"I wish we were with Daddy," Aislinn sighed as she sat with the others in the living room.
"You'll see him soon," Janet soothed, running her hand down through the back of the girl's long, silky hair. "Why didn't you call me, Jonny, once you got your dad's phone that was hidden?"
His mind focused on his parents, Jonny was staring at the stairs as he answered, "We're Jackson-O'Neills."
"Together, we're unbeatable," Jenny added, her voice somewhat of a monotone just as Jonny's had been.
"That means as long as we have love, we don't need anyone else," Chenoa added, letting out a big sob afterward.
Lulu hugged her sister tight as she said, "We needed to show Daddy that we believe in him."
"That's why we didn't use the backdoor," Little Danny noted as he sat in front of the sofa, his eyes focused on the stairs, too.
"When will Jen be home?" Chenoa asked.
"And Bri," Jenny sighed.
"I want Jeff," Ricky moaned, wiping a tear away by rubbing his sleeve against his face.
"And David. We all need to be together," Aislinn put forth.
The timing was perfect one more time. As Aislinn finished her sentence, the front door opened. It was Sam and the male Mouseketeer.
"How's Daddy?" David asked anxiously as he burst into the living room.
All of the children stood and ran to him, the brood hugging and gaining strength from one another.
"Aunt Sam didn't tell me much. What's going on?"
"Oh, David!" Chenoa cried, attaching herself to her big brother.
"Let's sit back down," Janet suggested, looking over at Sam, the two sharing a concerned moment about their dear friends. "There's a lot of catching up you need to do, David."
As he walked over to the sofa, David eyed his siblings warily. He knew only that his daddy was sick and that he'd been acting strangely. From the expressions on the brood's faces, his heart was already hurting. He sat down and braced himself for what he was about to hear.
"Alex?" Daniel questioned his lover. The couple had reviewed all of the horrors of recent days. Daniel remembered everything now, causing his body to become weak from an internal pain he couldn't describe. "I remember," he whispered.
"I thought we'd leave in the morning," Jack stated as he rubbed Daniel's back. "He's clearing his calendar; we can do all the test right away."
"Janet's my doctor."
"Doc's coming, too," Jack said.
"Why ... is she coming?" a confused Jack asked.
"No," Daniel spoke in a barely audible tone. "Why is this happening to me again?"
"I don't know, Angel," Jack answered.
"We have children, Jack. I can't ... this ... it shouldn't happen."
"Doc said it could be something else."
Silence loomed for several minutes as the lovers held onto each other, afraid to let go. Even so, they both knew they had things to do. They couldn't sit on their precious roof deck much longer.
"I'm afraid, Jack," Daniel admitted as he gulped in hesitation. "What ... what if I forget them again or maybe I'll get mad."
"No, not this time. I'm here," Jack assured, kissing Daniel's head again as he held him. "They want to see you, and you need to see them."
Supporting Jack's comment, Bijou and Katie stood and approached Daniel. Each sat on one side of his lap.
"You're a Danny sandwich," Jack teased since Daniel was essentially between him and the dogs now.
As he patted the dogs, Daniel finally let out a smile and a hushed acknowledgement, "Yeah."
A few minutes passed during which the quiet filled the air. It was evening now, the skies darkening inch by inch.
Daniel nestled in close to the beagles, just as close as he was to his husband.
"They're telling me something," Daniel announced quietly.
"And what would that be?"
"I have to see them; face them," the archaeologist sighed.
"We'll be right with you," Jack promised.
"If I ... Jack, if I get ... crazy ..."
"I'll get you out of there," the old man assured. "Teal'c's here."
"So if you can't, he will."
"I'm not saying I can't keep up with him."
"Of course not," Daniel returned with a small smile.
"No, but let's go anyway."
"Pete, I don't know," Sam sighed quietly.
The blonde was standing in the kitchen nook of the Jackson-O'Neill home, her eyes focused on the children in the living room. Her heart ached for the very quiet brood as they sat on the floor in a circle, their hands linked together as they silently used their synergy to convey their unity in silence to the universe.
Janet was sitting in Jack's chair as she, too, monitored the children. However, her attention was somewhat divided as she reviewed Daniel's medical history on her work tablet. Normally, the device never left Cheyenne Mountain, but she'd made a call and had nurse Marie Hill personally retrieve the tablet from her office and deliver it to the home.
"Can you take care of the kids?" Sam asked her husband about their four children. "I promised the general I'd make sure the brood was covered."
"Whatever you need, Sam," Pete responded over the phone.
Just then a crash was heard followed by a swear word.
"Pete, what's wrong?"
"Dropped the spaghetti, but I saved the sauce," the police detective remarked, trying to make the best of his situation.
"Pete, I'll call Cassie and ..."
"Don't waste your breath, Gorgeous," Pete interrupted as he kneeled down to scoop up the dropped pasta with his hands after positioning the phone to rest between his chin and his shoulder. "I saw Dom when I got home from picking up the kids. Amara has croup," he advised about Cassandra and Dominic Luca's two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
"Yep. They thought it was just a cold at first, but Cassie took her to the pedi this morning when Amara had some trouble breathing. She's gonna be contagious for about a week, so ..." Pete concluded in a leading tone.
Sam chuckled, "Pete, sometimes you're as bad as the general."
"Bad good or good bad."
"Pedi. No one calls their pediatrician a pedi."
"Nothing wrong shortcuts, Gorgeous," Pete claimed.
The brief levity was nice, but Sam needed to get back down to business and refocused on the situation.
"Okay, well, Sara wasn't home when I called her earlier," the blonde advised her husband. "I'm hoping she and Mark are free to assist."
"Don't worry about it. I can trade a few shifts."
"How are they doing, Sam?" Pete asked seriously.
"I don't know. Jack's been with Daniel since before I got back with David. I'm getting worried. Well, I am worried, but I'm getting more worried."
At that moment, Sam saw the children reacting to a noise. Heads turned to face the stairs.
"Pete, I have to go. There's salad in the refrigerator and some leftover pizza from last night."
The detective chuckled, "That's my wife, recommending nothing but the highest quality food for her husband and children."
"Just don't eat the spaghetti that you dropped," Sam warned. "Love you."
"Love ya more," Pete declared, hoping his wife heard his words before disconnecting the call.
"Daaaadddddy!" a chorus of young voices rang out upon hearing their parents walking down the stairs.
Overwhelmed, Daniel went down to his knees, his arms reaching out to hold as many of his children as possible.
"Sorry. I'm so sorry," the lachrymose father emotionally spoke.
"I love you, Daddy," were the multiple responses as the brood embraced Daniel, each vying for an arm, leg, hand, or even just a finger to hold in support.
"I didn't know what I was doing," Daniel told the kids.
"We know, Daddy," Little Danny replied. "Aunt Janet explained it to us."
"Janet?" The archaeologist looked around the room until he saw the doctor, who was now standing just feet away, her tablet held close to her chest. "Concussion?" he asked, hoping his nightmare would end.
"We'll talk later."
Daniel nodded, fully aware that his query was far out of the park. He looked into the faces of the brood, taking time to study each one.
"Lulu, I ... gawd, I ..."
The kids automatically shifted their positions, allowing the young girl to fall into Daniel's loving arms.
"Don't worry about me, Daddy. I'm okay."
Daniel's left hand caressed the back of the dark-haired dancer's head as she leaned into him.
"You're so brave and so forgiving," Daniel cried.
"I'm not forgiving you, Daddy," Lulu said after backing slightly so she could look into the eyes she trusted so much.
Daniel's heart stopped, though he was ready for the abandonment. He'd almost hit his precious princess. It was unforgivable.
"I don't have a reason to forgive you. You didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't you," Lulu stated, shaking her head firmly. "Was it?" she asked her siblings as she looked around at it.
"Not our daddy," Chenoa spoke for the others.
"I love you," Daniel responded, his voice hitching as he pulled the Curly Top close to him again. "Where's ..."
"Dad! Daddy! Kids!"
The voice interrupted the deeply felt reunion of parent and children.
"It's Jeff!" Chenoa exclaimed, breaking away to greet the college student.
"Hi, Noa," Jeff greeted, having already put down his suitcase and now tossing his backpack onto the carpet so he could properly hug his sister.
"I'm glad you're home, Jeff."
"Me, too," the young man agreed as he entered the living room. "Daddy."
Daniel rose and soon felt his oldest son's body next to his as they hugged.
"I'm sorry you had to come home," Daniel said in a hushed tone.
"I had to be here. How are you?" Jeff asked as the two parted.
"Daddy, even I know what your 'I'm fine' really means."
"Jeff," Jack called out.
Jeff turned to his right slightly and saw his older father waiting to greet him. Jack had been standing near the bottom of the stairs, allowing the children and Daniel to interact without his hovering.
"We need you here," Jack admitted.
"You couldn't keep me away," Jeff answered. Without missing a beat, he added, "But I'm not really sure what's happening."
"Carter?" Jack requested, not needing to finish the question.
"Jeff, come over here and I can fill you in."
A bit hesitant but realizing he'd interrupted something, Jeff smiled at Daniel, placing his hand on his daddy's arm as he said, "I love you."
"I love you," Daniel returned with a smile. He watched Jeff walk over to Sam and then the two go the corner of the living room where they were close enough to keep an eye on all that happened, but where Sam could also quietly tell the college student about the week's happenings. Daniel's gaze dropped and then he returned his focus to the young kids. "JD."
The boy grinned and held up his arms, feeling all warm inside when Daniel picked him up and kept him close.
"Son, about Patch."
"Patch is just a toy, but you're my daddy."
Daniel smiled, gave his son a kiss, and vowed, "We'll find Patch."
"It's okay, Daddy."
"No, it's not. I love Patch, too. He's a very special part of our home. Uncle Thor gave him to you. We'll find him."
"Okay, Daddy, but we don't have to if you really don't want me to have him."
Daniel's heart broke. He could sense JD's love for Patch and he felt horrible that he'd done something with the stuffed animal. He truly had no clue where he'd put the toy. Even more than JD's love for Patch, though, was his love for his daddy, and Daniel felt that more than anything else. He held JD close for several minutes.
The children were quiet, allowing the special time to happen. When Daniel put JD down, he talked to Aislinn next and then, one by one, he touched, held, and spoke with each of his children, apologizing, crying, and promising his eternal love for all of them.
"I guess it was a good thing you weren't here," Daniel said to David after finishing up his talks with the other kids. "How are the Uniahili?"
"Really interesting," David answered. "Thanks for letting me go, but I wish I had been here. I should have been here."
"No, you were doing a really great thing, representing Earth to another civilization. David, that's very important. SGC needs people like you to ..." Daniel sighed as he buckled slightly.
Jack moved in quickly to help support his tiring lover.
"I should have been here," the guilt-ridden teen insisted.
"You're here now, Son," Daniel negated, the sentence all he had the strength for at the moment.
"Danny, let's go upstairs for a while."
"No, I ... Jack, just let me sit down," Daniel requested. **Be with them,** he communicated via the couple's special mental connection, though even it was difficult for him.
Jack understood the need, though. Tomorrow, the couple would be in North Carolina. Tonight, Daniel needed the comfort of being with the brood.
"Okay," the general agreed. "Kids, help Daddy to the sofa." He watched as Jeff hurried over to assist, helping Daniel from the right side as David safely helped his daddy to move from the left. Meanwhile, Jack walked over to where Sam and Janet were standing together. "Jen and Bri?"
"They're both on their way, Sir," Sam answered. "Pete's okay with the kids. I haven't been able to get hold of Sara yet."
"I've cleared my calendar," Janet noted. She looked over at her husband who stood tall and looked as stoic as ever from his spot by the stairs. "I did the same for Teal'c. I really think he should accompany us."
"Carter, are you sure you can handle all twelve? What about Cassie?"
"She's unavailable," Sam responded. She sighed as she elaborated, "Amara has croup. There's no way she can be around any of the kids, yours or mine."
"I'm sorry," Jack admitted, hating how he was imposing on his friend.
"Sir ... family."
"Thank you." Jack nodded and started to walk away, but then he turned back. "Have they eaten?"
"They wouldn't," Sam answered.
"Fix them something. They need to eat."
"What would you like?"
"My husband, healthy and strong," Jack responded. He shook his head and softly replied, "Nothing. I couldn't eat a thing."
Sam and Janet watched the family for a couple of minutes before heading into the kitchen to make some sandwiches. They opted for small finger-sized portions since they were not at all confident that the brood would eat much, if anything, on this night.
Meanwhile, Jack, Daniel, and their children, including Bijou and Katie, spent time together, sometimes sitting in quiet, sometimes shedding some tears at the unknown, and sometimes talking about their situation and other things, but mostly, they just reveled in their love. They were as at ease as they could be.
As the family spent their time together, Teal'c continued to observe in silence, ready to move in if needed.
"Thanks, Daddy," Ricky spoke with a happy smile as he accepted the three-scoop bowl of ice cream, each scoop a different flavor.
"You're welcome," Daniel responded as he put the lid back on the gallon container for the rainbow sherbet ice cream.
"I'll put it away," Chenoa offered, taking the dessert and putting it into the large freezer that was in the hospitality room.
"Thank you, Sweetie."
Daniel joined the rest of the family as they lounged in the recreation room. Though there was lots of room for the kids to spread out and be comfortable, they all stayed relatively close to Daniel.
Janet and Teal'c had gone home for the evening at Daniel's insistence and with Jack's permission. It was actually a good thing as Teal'c could rest up for what could be longer days in North Carolina and Janet could more extensively review Daniel's medical history as well as updating her files with what she'd learned about Daniel's past.
Sam, too, had gone home to spend time with Pete and their children. They had preparations to make and even though Pete was willing to make arrangements to change shifts at the station, Sam wanted to see if other plans could be made, if only as a backup. She was still hoping to get in touch with Sara, but wherever she was, Sara hadn't yet returned her calls.
As for the Jackson-O'Neills, they were experiencing as close to a typical post-dinner evening as possible under the circumstances. Conversation was remarkably light as everyone attempted to ignore the reality of Daniel's illness, whatever it turned out to be.
Jack worked hard to stand back a bit and give the children their time with Daniel, but his muscles were tight and his blood pressure higher than appropriate from the distance he was keeping from his Love.
"Woof!" Bijou warned as both she and Katie's ears shot up and the two ran toward the front door.
"Stay here," Jack ordered as he headed for the kitchen and the control panel to see who was at the door. He smiled as he checked the monitor. "It's Bri!"
Before Jack reached the door, several of the children were in the entryway, impatient to be reunited with the teenager.
The father opened the door and smiled at the maturing blonde.
"Welcome home, Bri," Jack greeted.
"Dad," Brianna spoke as she hugged her father.
"Where do you want these?" Lou Ferretti questioned, his hands full of Brianna's luggage.
"I'll take them, Uncle Lou," Jeff offered.
"Good to see you, Jeff."
The young man just nodded as he took the items from Lou, whose SG-2 unit returned to Earth with David earlier in the day. Learning the reason for the recall, he'd offered to help out any way he could and ultimately was asked to pick up Brianna from the airport.
Greetings made, Brianna hurried into the rec room to see Daniel, who was too tired to get up. Remaining with him were the Munchkins, the trio making sure their daddy was safe.
"Hey, Sweetheart," Daniel greeted as he found the strength to slowly stand up.
"Daddy, I missed you," Brianna stated, her embrace holding for over a minute. "I need you, Daddy."
"I need you, too," Daniel replied, his hands rubbing the girl's upper arms. "I'm sorry to interrupt your trip. Did you learn a lot?"
"So much, Daddy. The dolphins were incredible. I think someday we ..." Brianna's brief enthusiasm died instantly as she studied Daniel's face. She could see the weariness and the strain in his eyes. "I'll tell you later."
"Want some ice cream, Bri?" Lulu asked.
"Sure," the girl agreed.
"Here, sit next to me while we catch up," Daniel invited as he carefully sat back down in the center of the longest sofa section. "Hi, Lou," he spoke as he noticed SG-2's leader standing in the doorway. "Come on in."
"Daniel," Lou responded, walking over and shaking the man's hand. "I'm here, however and whenever you need me. Carolyn, too."
"I appreciate that very much," the archaeologist replied. "Please, have some ice cream with us."
"I sure know when I'm at the Jackson-O'Neill's because there's always lots of ice cream around," Lou mused. "Maybe you two should buy an ice cream truck one of these days."
"Hmmm," Jonny responded thoughtfully.
"Turn off the calculator, Sport," Jack advised. "We're not buying an ice cream truck."
"We'd make a lot of money," the oldest Munchkin claimed.
"And you'd eat all the profits," Daniel joked, something that made everyone feel good. "Help yourself," he added as he motioned for Lou to enter the hospitality room and retrieve the ice cream of his choice.
"I think I'll just do that."
"Ash, what's that song that ice cream trucks play?" Jonny questioned.
"It depends where the truck is, like if you're in Italy, it's probably 'O Sole Mio.'"
"Elvis sang that," Lulu piped up.
It was a period of lightness as the family engaged in some banter over ice cream, trucks, music, and money. They only wished it would last for eternity.
"What's the plan?" Brianna asked after being brought up to date on the situation.
"Daddy and I are leaving for North Carolina tomorrow," a still standing Jack informed the children for the first time.
"North Carolina?" Jeff questioned as he sat on one of the ottomans, his arm around Jenny who was next to him.
"Why?" Aislinn asked as she moved a bit closer to her father's right leg from her spot in front of him on the floor.
"There's a doctor there we need to see."
"But Aunt Janet can take care of Daddy," Little Danny refuted.
"She's coming with us," Jack advised.
"I want to come, too," Jenny interjected.
"Me, too!" Ricky concurred, starting a round of insistent "Me, too!" exclamations from the brood.
"Kids, Daddy has to undergo a lot of tests."
"We want to be with Daddy," Aislinn demanded emotionally.
"He needs us," Lulu added.
"I'm sorry, gang, but ..."
"Jack," Daniel interrupted. "I want them to come."
"They're coming," the archaeologist insisted. **I want the time, Jack. If this is what we think it is, I need the time.**
Jack nearly broke down at the private communication, but he managed to maintain his composure and nod his agreement.
The children cheered, though it was a bunch of subdued acclimations released in the light of their victory.
"We'll need Carter."
"Jen and I can handle it," Jeff put forth about taking care of their younger brothers and sisters.
"I know you can, Son," Jack returned, though he quickly opined, "But we need your Aunt Sam anyway."
"That's so Daddy doesn't have to worry about us at all," Little Danny translated for his older father. He looked over at JD, something all the kids realized.
"I'll always worry about you, about all of you," Daniel corrected. "It's what parents do, all the time, forever."
Jack let out a sigh and then announced, "There are going to be serious rules. I don't want any flack, none, not a peep, on this trip."
"He means if he says jump, we'd better jump," Jonny noted.
"I appreciate all the translating you boys are doing, but I can speak for myself," Jack reproached mildly. He lowered his head for a moment and continued. "Look, I'm sorry."
"He's just saying he wants us to behave because he's worried about Daddy and doesn't want Daddy to get upset with us," Chenoa interpreted for her dad while she leaned her head against David's shoulder from their spot on one of the floor pillows located right in front of the sofa where Daniel was sitting.
"Yeah," Jack acknowledged, walking over, leaning over, and giving the girl a kiss atop her head. "I love you."
"I love you, too, Dad."
"Okay, Daddy needs to rest," Jack told the brood. "Jeff, it's bedtime; we have an early start in the morning. Can you handle it?"
"Piece of cake," Jeff affirmed with a smile. Standing, he instructed, "Okay, kids, give Daddy a kiss and hug goodnight and let's go upstairs. We have some packing to do."
The adults watched as the hugs and kisses were exchanged and the children reluctantly went upstairs. Remaining behind, however, were the beagles who jumped onto the sofa, one on each side of Daniel.
"Anything I can do?" Lou asked when the kids were gone.
"Actually, there is," Jack admitted. "Lou, we need to take off early. I was just going to take Jo, but with everyone wanting to go, we need to take the Lear."
Lou nodded as he agreed with the call for the couple to travel back east in the Lear jet given to them by their first and best client, Abayomi Sharif.
Anticipating the request, Lou offered, "I'll get her flight ready."
"Thanks," Jack responded. "Let me get Danny upstairs and I'll get you the keys and fuel card." He looked over at his husband who had an odd look on his face. "What?"
"You know, I am still in the room, Jack. You don't make all the decisions, not by yourself, and you don't act like I'm incapacitated. I'm perfectly able to think for myself and participate in discussions."
"You don't own me. You ..."
Bijou and Katie sensed the internal change in Daniel and chose to use the same technique the children had earlier in the day to calm the human. Both gently stood up, their paws on Daniel's arms and chest as they leaned in and delivered a fast round of kisses all over his face.
"You don't ... you ... oh gawd," Daniel whimpered at the realization he'd almost lost control again. "I love you girls."
"How about me?" Jack asked guardedly.
"I'll think about it," Daniel answered, a nervous smile on his face.
"Let's go upstairs, Angel," Jack suggested as he walked over and helped Daniel up. "Girls, with us," he ordered the willing dogs and for the record, yes, you're coming with us." The general saw the happy canine grins. "Lead the way," he told the beagles. "Be down in a few," Jack told Lou.
"I'll have another scoop," Lou returned, not wanting his friend to feel rushed at all. ~Better call Carolyn and let her know the plan.~
Standing in front the mantle where she'd been staring at Jack and Daniel's first wedding photo, Jennifer turned around and smile. In seconds, her smile faded to tears as she ran into her dad's waiting arms.
"How is he, Dad?" the young woman asked while still being held.
"Sound asleep," Jack answered.
Pulling back, Jennifer questioned more pointedly, "Dad, how *is* he?"
"He had a pretty good night, Jen. He's tired."
"Uncle Lou told me what he knew, but I think he left out a lot. Jonny called you and he was scared? Jonny? Dad, what's going on with Daddy?"
Jack put his arm around his oldest daughter and led her towards the stairs while explaining, "I want to keep an eye on him. We'll talk a little upstairs."
"I don't want to wake him up."
"Won't happen, Jen. Aunt Janet gave me something to give him. He's gonna be out until I rouse him when it's time to leave."
"Whatever this is, it's bad, isn't it?" Jennifer saw the nod and closed her eyes momentarily in sadness. "It's the funniest thing, Dad. I wanted to enjoy being with Peter in England, but the whole time I was there, I kept thinking I needed to be home. I wasn't homesick and I wanted to be with him, but at the same time, there was this ... thing pulling at me."
"Jen, you didn't spend the entire time worrying?"
"No, I had fun, but it was there, Dad, this feeling of gloom. I should have called."
"We had rules, for you and Bri, both," Jack reminded.
"Have fun and don't worry about the family," Jennifer commented as she stated the rules her father was talking about.
"You got that right, Princess. You're home now and it's a good thing you had those days away."
"Dad, you know I'll do everything you ask. The brood will be fine. Jeff's home, too, isn't he?"
"He got in yesterday afternoon."
"We're not kids anymore."
"So you keep reminding me."
"Well, it's true and that means you don't have to worry about us taking care of the others," Jennifer suggested. "You just need to make sure we know what the situation is. Please don't keep us in the dark about Daddy."
Midway of the stairs, Jack promised, "Deal." He took a breath a continued, "Jen, a long time ago, Daddy had brain tumors."
"Only a handful of people knew about it. Not even Aunt Sam and Aunt Janet knew."
"Wow," the young woman responded, not sure what to make of that piece of hidden history and how it applied to the current crisis.
As they reached the top of the stairs, the father explained, "Our relationship was new, so when Danny started to act funny, I took him away from here, to North Carolina where we could be alone and see an old academy friend of mine who was a doctor. His name is Alex Weston."
Jennifer listened calmly as Jack filled her in on the miracle of Daniel's survival twenty years ago and the potential nightmare of the present. Her heart sank from the devastation of the news, but she was a Jackson-O'Neill, so she remained strong. She had a job to do: take care of her brothers and sisters while her dad took care of her daddy.
~At least he's letting us go to North Carolina with them. That's huge.~
Jack stared at the telephone on his desk in the study and finally reached for it. He paused only for a second before dialing.
"Hello," Sara Wilson greeted.
"Sara, it's Jack."
"Jack, I thought you were away for a few days," Sara responded.
"Jack, what's wrong? I know that tone too well." The woman drew a breath of realization. "Does this have something to do with a slew of messages I have from Sam? I've been ..."
"Danny's ... he's ill, Sara," Jack interrupted.
"I'm on my way."
Jack disconnected the call and sat back in his chair. He could have stopped his ex-wife from coming over, but in truth, he didn't want to do so. He needed to connect with her. That's why he'd called and that's why she was coming over, and he was grateful for it.
When the door opened, Sara immediately walked forward and embraced her former husband.
"I'm sorry I couldn't return Sam's calls," Sara spoke softly. Still hugging Jack, she surmised, "It must be bad for you to call me like that."
"It is." Jack pulled back slightly and suggested they go into his study. Once there, he closed the door. The two sat down on the sofa and Jack filled Sara on in, telling her about Daniel's tumors from years ago and the plans to go to North Carolina. "I'm scared, Sara."
The blonde was the only person Jack felt he could say those words to, and he desperately needed to say them.
Sara held Jack's hands in hers as she replied, "You have to believe, Jack."
"I did that once before."
Sara's head dropped slightly. She knew Jack wasn't talking about Daniel, but was referring to their son, Charlie.
"Charlie never had a chance, not once he pulled that trigger. This is different."
"It's death, cold, unfeeling death."
"Jack, you don't know for sure what the issue is for Daniel. You've also told me more than once that Daniel is like a cat."
"I'm afraid to count."
"A proverbial cat has nine lives. Sara, Danny's been on death's door a lot. If I count, I'm afraid I'd end up at number nine." With a tear falling, Jack confided, "I don't know if I can stand to lose Danny for real. I can't do this again."
"Jack," Sara spoke softly, raising her hand to caress his cheek gently, "I know you're scared. I see it, and that's okay. It's okay to be scared. This isn't the Air Force where you're the man in charge and everything is your responsibility. This is real life in which you have a family to share your feelings with. It's okay to show your kids that you're scared, Jack. Let them to help you, just like you help them." She chuckled, "My word, I gave you a cliché for advice."
The general actually chuckled and replied, "We're gonna beat this thing, whatever it is."
"That's the way to think."
"Thanks for coming over."
"You knew I'd come."
"I was counting on it." With a sigh, Jack admitted, "Danny keeps me sane and balanced. When he's not able to do that, I go a little crazy."
"You'll be fine. Follow your instincts and like I said, let the brood help you. You and Daniel have some very awesome and capable kids. They won't let you down."
"You're a peach, Funny Face."
Sara smiled, glad she could provide some assistance for Jack. She wished she could help the archaeologist somehow, too.
"Can I see him?"
"I don't think he's awake, but I'll check. The brood will be happy to see you."
"If there's anything Mark and I can do, all you have to do is ask."
"Thanks. Actually, the zoo needs attention while we're gone. Pete Shanahan is going to do what he can, but he's a cop, always on duty, not to mention he has his own kids to think about. So do you, but ..."
"Consider it done. I'll call Pete and we can coordinate."
Jack and Sara stood and embraced, after which Jack checked on Daniel and allowed Sara to spend a few minutes with the archaeologist, even though Daniel was more asleep than awake. The ex-Mrs. O'Neill also spent an hour or so talking with the children and reminding them that she was always there for them.
"It's a little late to ask this," Jack acknowledged, "but do you both remember how to fly the Lear?"
Jeff and Jennifer both had their small craft pilot licenses and both had training on flying the Lear jet, something that came in handy when the family flew to India a year-and-a-half ago.
"I remember," Jeff answered.
"Me, too, but it would probably be a good idea for us to watch for a while," Jennifer suggested. She looked at her brother and put forth, "Maybe we can take turns."
"That'll work," the young man agreed.
"Look, I might get a little crabby. When I do, I don't want you to understand, I want you to tell me to stuff it. That's the only way I can fully be there for the brood and Danny."
"We understand, Dad," Jennifer assured, reaching out to hold her dad's hand.
With a nod, Jack advised, "Uncle Lou called. The Lear's ready to go. Get the kids and the girls into the SUV, and I'll get Daddy."
"Is he awake now?" Jennifer asked.
"I woke him a while ago."
"What about Aunt Sam?" the young woman questioned.
"She's hitching a ride to the airport with Aunt Janet and Teal'c." Jack looked around for a moment and then noted, "Aunt Sara and Uncle Pete are sharing house duties. Is the zoo taken care of?"
"I checked on them a while ago, Dad. Except for Mittens and Calico, they're all secured," Jeff answered.
"Let them roam. It's their house, too," Jack instructed about the cats. "Okay, let's move."
Jack entered the master bedroom where Daniel had fallen back asleep. He couldn't help himself. He walked to the end of their large bed and simply watched his husband in slumber.
~You look so peaceful, Danny.~
Regretfully, Jack didn't have time to revel in the moment, no matter how much he wished he could. He sat down on his Love's side of the bed and reached out with his left hand to caress Daniel's cheek.
"Angel, it's time to go."
Slowly, Daniel roused and smiled.
"You're so beautiful, Danny."
"Jack?" Daniel called out, his smile fading. "Where are we going?"
"We went there once, didn't we?"
"A long time ago, in another lifetime," the older man replied. "Come on."
Jack helped his husband up and eventually down the stairs to the door. He also had Bijou and Katie, both wearing their harnesses and on their leashes. Their traveling crates and pet supplies were already packed and waiting on the jet, along with the rest of the family's luggage.
"Danny?" Jack asked, waiting for his lover to step out onto the front porch.
Daniel panned the house from his spot in the entryway. He loved the home and began to wonder why he was leaving. Then he heard the sounds of the family cats. He walked over to the hallway and kneeled down in front of them.
Mittens and Calico both meowed and rubbed against the archaeologist gently.
"I'll miss you, too. Don't give Ptolemy too hard of a time, and don't pretend to want to eat Bogey. He knows you won't, but with Jonny gone, he might get frightened."
"Danny, we have to go," Jack reminded.
Petting the cats one last time, Daniel told them, "Bye," before standing and walking outside.
Jack looked over at the felines and added, "Take care of the place. Humans will be around to help you out. Try not to destroy the bathroom this time."
The cats meowed in response as Jack closed the door and locked up the house.
~I wonder if those meows were a promise not to wreck the place or a 'bug off, we're gonna have a party.'~
The plane trip was rather ordinary, something Jack was grateful for when it came right down to it. They were wheels up on time and only had a landing delay of ten minutes. Jack arranged for a caravan of four rental vehicles, two SUVS, one full size sedan, and one more sporty four-seater coupe.
"Thank you, Sir," Sam responded upon being handed the keys to the blue coupe. ~She looks sleek and fast.~
"Jen," Jack spoke, handing her the keys to the second SUV. "Who wants to ride with your sister?"
The brood was quiet, all of them wanting to stick with their daddy and they knew he would be with their dad.
"Kids, we have a lot of luggage. Some of you have to go with Jen," Jack told the brood.
"Okay," Brianna responded, opening the door that would hopefully get a few more of the children to volunteer. "I'll go with Jen."
"Me, too," David said, stepping up which made his father proud.
The Spitfires also said they'd ride in the SUV with Jennifer.
"Who wants 'em?" Jack asked, dangling the keys to the sedan in front of Janet and Teal'c.
"I shall drive," the Jaffa answered, taking possession of the car keys.
It took some time to transfer all of their things from the jet to the rental vehicles, but with the entire group helping, it was accomplished in short order.
With the plane secured, the luggage in the vehicles, Jack prepared to head out of the airport and start the drive to their destination.
"You need something, Danny?"
The general couldn't believe he hadn't thought to do that on his, but then again, he was distracted by his quest to take care of his soulmate. He pulled out his smartphone and connected with the drivers of the other three vehicles.
"Head count," Jack advised. When he verified all adults, children, and pets were accounted for, he pushed forward. "If anyone gets lost, give a shout out. Where we're going is pretty remote."
After a round of acknowledgements, Jack finally headed for the airport exit.
"A boat! Daddy, it's a boat!" JD exclaimed.
"It's called a ferry," Daniel told his son. "We have to take the ferry to get to the island where we're staying."
"What about the cars?"
"They come, too. Watch Dad. He's going to drive right onto the ferry," Daniel advised.
"Wow!" the wide-eyed boy responded.
The ferry was ready for the vehicles within a few minutes of the caravan's arrival.
"Looks like we just made it," Jennifer sighed in the SUV she was driving.
"Dad said he thought we'd just make the last crossing of the day," Brianna noted.
"Glad we weren't late," Jenny stated.
"Dad had a Plan B, Jenny," Jennifer returned. "I think there's a way to reach the island without the ferry, but this is the easiest way."
"There goes Dad!" Ricky pointed out.
Jennifer nodded and began moving forward slightly as the caravan settled onto the vessel.
Twenty minutes later, the family was on their feet, enjoying the ocean breeze as the ferry crossed the waters of the Atlantic Ocean along the coastline. They were spread out, the adults keeping a watchful eye on the younger kids and beagles. Some of them were enjoying a beverage and/or snack from the ship's vending machines.
Jack and Daniel were by themselves, Jack's arm around his soulmate as they gazed out on the peaceful image.
"How'd you arrange to get the villa, Jack?"
"I made a call."
"No one was here?"
Jack sighed as he admitted, "Sorry, Angel, but money talks."
"Jack, you didn't."
"We need this place. Some bachelor was renting it. I made he and the owner deals they couldn't say no to. If you want to be mad at me for that, so be it."
"I'm not mad," Daniel replied calmly. "Thank you."
"You loved the villa, and so did I. I love you, too, by the way."
"That's a promise," Jack vowed.
The lovers continued to stare out at the ocean, their heads touching as they leaned side-to-side together. They were at peace on the ferry and for a few minutes, they left behind their problems.
For roughly twenty-five minutes, the caravan traveled with little in sight until they come across the villa.
"Wow!" Jennifer exclaimed as she followed her parents' SUV onto the property.
"Do the Hamiltons own this place?" Brianna mused. "It's gigantic."
"I bet the backyard is huge," Ricky guessed.
"Pete, we've arrived," Sam told her husband as she followed the SUVs onto the estate grounds.
"Where is it?"
"Oh, it's a secluded isle off the coast near Fort Fisher." As she took in the site, she remarked, "It's incredibly beautiful."
"Is that a hint for our anniversary?" the police detective laughed. "Hey, cat, off my jacket," he shouted at a mischievous Mittens.
"They miss the brood," Pete groaned. Then he returned to his previous comment and suggested, "Check out a secluded rendezvous for us."
"We can't afford it here," Sam responded while parking the car.
The blonde turned her attention to ending the phone call so she could help the Jackson-O'Neills.
"How did the general afford this when he was a colonel?" Janet wondered from the passenger seat. "It must have cost him a year's pay to rent this villa."
"Indeed," Teal'c agreed as he pulled up behind the blue coupe.
"Sometimes, Dear, I'd wish you say something besides, 'indeed,' if only for variety's sake."
"Indeed," Teal'c responded, raising his arms to stop the lighthearted attack of his wife.
Laughing, Janet exited the sedan. She caught a glimpse of Daniel getting out of the SUV and sighed.
"Is something wrong?" Teal'c asked.
"I don't have a good feeling about this, Teal'c," Janet replied.
"You are a powerful physician, Sim'ka," Teal'c stated supportively, using his nickname for his wife. "You will make DanielJacksonO'Neill better."
"I hope so."
"Is that our backyard?" Ricky asked as he stood in the middle of the large wall-length windows in the living room.
"That's my kind of backyard," Brianna noted happily.
"You can all check it out, but watch the younger ones," Jack permitted. "Ten minutes and then we need to get settled."
"Okay, Dad," Jennifer replied.
"Jen, I'll take the Spitfires," Jeff spoke quietly.
"I've got the Munchkins," Jennifer noted. She called out, "Bri!"
Brianna looked to her left and saw JD was just a few feet away from her. She nodded and gave her sister the okay sign before sprinting over to her youngest sibling, scooping him up to ensure his safety while on the beach.
For a couple of minutes, Jack watched as the brood made their initial exploration of the beach and then he turned his attention to Daniel, wanting the younger man to be comfortable and secure as nighttime took over. Tomorrow would be a big day.
After a two-hour trip, Jack, Daniel, and Janet, carrying a brief case full of files, notes, and her tablet, arrived at the medical office they sought in Wilmington, North Carolina. Entering the waiting area, they saw the office was empty, except for a single nurse who welcomed them.
"The doctor's expecting you. Please go right in," the nurse instructed.
"Jack, Daniel, it's ..." Alex Weston paused, realizing the ironic quality of what he was about to say.
"Get it over with, Alex," Jack sighed. "The inevitable cliché."
"It's good to see you, but I wish it was under different circumstances," Alex spoke, shaking the hands of both men.
"Thank you for seeing us on such short notice," Daniel replied with an apologetic tone.
"Alex, this is Doctor Janet Fraiser. She may be petite, but she's a human dynamo and the best," Jack introduced.
Smiling, Alex shook Janet's hand and spoke, "Doctor."
"Doctor Weston," Janet acknowledged. "Have you scheduled the tests?"
"Right down to business," Alex replied.
"She can crack quite a whip when she wants to," Jack mused, knowing the levity of the introductions was about to end.
"Have a seat," Alex requested as he walked over to his desk and sat down. "The tests are scheduled for this afternoon."
"Same place?" Jack questioned.
Nodding, Alex confirmed, "The Forum Diagnostic Center. Fortunately, they offer their services for a few hours on Sundays, though I had to call in a favor to get Daniel scheduled on such short notice."
"Thank you," the archaeologist acknowledged with gratitude.
"Daniel, Jack has told me about your abnormal behavior and physical symptoms of late, but I'd like to hear it from you. Tell me everything you can remember about your actions and your emotional and physical state at the time."
"Okay, well, it was like being in a fog. It's ... hazy," Daniel began. He talked for almost an hour, not just explaining the events as he understood them, but relating his emotions, then and now. He nearly broke down twice, once when telling the doctor about his confrontation with Lulu and later when talking about his actions towards the beagles. "That's it. Some of it I don't remember well, but my kids wouldn't lie or distort anything."
"Alex, the word thing," Jack interrupted. "When we went through this before, Danny would say 'stuff' and use other vague terms in situations he wouldn't normally. It's a quirky thing, but he doesn't call our kids 'kids'. He says 'children'."
"Doctor Frazier, would you like to confer before we move on?" Alex inquired.
"Yes, I would," Janet answered. "Jack, Daniel, would you give us a few minutes."
"Sure, Doc," Jack agreed, standing and following Daniel out into the waiting room.
"It's happening again," Daniel sighed. "It's the same thing."
"They have tests to do."
"And we'll do them, but we know the answer, Jack. We've been here before," the younger man lamented.
"Daniel, we are not giving up and we are not jumping to conclusions. Our lives are just beginning."
With a tender smile, Daniel gazed into his Love's eyes and whispered, "There are all kinds of beginnings, Jack." He raised his hand to caress Jack's face and opined, "This is just another one, maybe the hardest one for you."
"Not here and not now," Daniel interrupted, his hand dropping to his side as if it were anvil.
"Daniel, we're taking this one step at a time and we're doing all of it together." Jack waited for a response, but didn't get one. In fact, his lover was staring straight ahead and suddenly felt very distant. "Danny?" Still not getting a response, Jack gently shook his husband and called out again, "Daniel!"
"What?" a somewhat devoid of expression Daniel asked. "Oh, are we late for the debriefing? I need to get my notes. I'm really excited about this mission, Jack. General Hammond has to approve it. I know you'll think it's nuts, but it's not. There's a connection there to the ..."
"Danny, we're not at SGC and we don't have a mission."
The younger man blinked several times, shaking his head.
"Look at me, Danny. I'm older, grayer ..."
"... silver. You have silver gray hair. I like it. I like it a lot." Daniel lowered his head, shaking it as he thought, "That's not right. Sha're. We have to find Sha're. You promised we would."
Jack dealt with this the first time Daniel suffered from brain tumors. It was difficult, to stay back and be the best friend and nothing more. Fortunately, the episode didn't last that long. The general waited quietly, letting the archaeologist talk on about a decades-old mission and his late wife, even as Jack's heart broke.
"General, Daniel," Janet called out after opening the door to Alex Weston's office.
"Doctor Frazier," Daniel responded in surprise. "Are you coming to the briefing?"
Janet looked at Jack and received the non-verbal answer to her unspoken query. She smiled and glanced at the other doctor over her shoulder.
"Yes, I'm attending the briefing," Janet opted to respond. "Alex," she began, now on a first name basis with her colleague, "this may seem odd, but can you give us a minute."
"Sure. I have some reading to do. We'll wait out the classified episode."
When the door was closed again, Janet opined, "He's sharp."
"He knows what we did was classified," Jack replied.
"Who was that?" Daniel interjected.
"Alex Weston. He's an associate of mine," Janet answered.
"Why is he at the briefing?"
Jack saw Janet's look and answered, "He has intel."
"Intel? My briefing is about ..."
Daniel spoke continuously about his proposed mission, going off on several tangents while Jack and Janet remained quiet. He was interrupted when Alex opened his door and told the trio that the test needed to be done soon. He couldn't hold the equipment and team much longer.
When the doctor closed his door again, Janet commented, "Sir, it's not my call. We don't know what," she sighed, not wanting to say Daniel's name, "the subject might say, but it's crucial we have those tests done today."
Jack thought for a moment, walked inside Alex's office, and said, "We have a little problem."
"Daniel's experiencing an episode in which he's spewing classified information," Alex surmised.
"What do you want to do, Jack?"
"Minimize the risk," the general answered. "Can we control the number of people at the center with access to Daniel? By access, I mean can we keep those in listening distance down to the barest possible number?"
"Yes, that's not difficult to do."
"Okay, Alex, Danny, the Doc, and I have been part of a classified unit for years. We're going to play this by ear, but if you hear anything ..."
"Jack, I'm deafer than Helen Keller was. Let's get Daniel to those tests."
With a nod, Jack turned, walked back into the waiting area, and announced, "We're proceeding."
"Where's General Hammond?" Daniel asked as he looked around. "And I need ... Jack, my notes."
"It's okay, Danny. We'll find them," Jack assured.
"Jack, I know we work together, but I prefer to be called Daniel. I've told you that, haven't I?"
"Right ... Daniel."
Jack nodded to the others and they headed out of the office and went directly to the testing facility.
The afternoon was long, but finally as evening arrived, all the tests were finished. Daniel was extremely tired, but on the good side, he was back in the moment. On the not-so-great side, before he'd come back to the present, he'd pleaded for Alex to believe him about the alternate reality he'd visited. He had been sure the Goa'uld were going to attack and was desperate for someone, anyone to believe him. Alex had assured Daniel that he believed every word and that he would do everything in his power to convince General Hammond.
"I'll drive in tomorrow morning," Janet told Alex as they finished a quick review of their notes. "When do you have time to meet?"
"I was able to have the tests done today, Janet, but the earliest I could arrange to get the results in is Tuesday."
"There's nothing you can do to have the staff work on them tonight?"
"I have the feeling that you'd be able to."
"I have a very efficient and loyal staff who often work around the clock."
"I know you've worked with Jack and Daniel," the male doctor began. "Are you in the military, Janet?"
"I'm a colonel," the petite redhead affirmed.
"Your round-the-clock staff are ..."
"Military," Janet confirmed.
"Our resources here are among the best in the country, but I'm afraid I don't have the authority to force employees to give up their Sunday evenings. They're rushing it for me as it is."
"I understand," Janet replied, accepting the limitations of the private physician.
"The test results should be in Tuesday by eleven," Alex advised.
"I can have a lunch waiting," Alex offered. "A sandwich, salad, or maybe some soup?"
"Thank you. That would be nice," Janet replied. "I hate it when people ask me this before I have all the information I need, but what's your gut feeling?" Alex's non-verbal response seconded Janet's own feelings. "Anything you bring in for lunch will be fine. I might bring my husband."
"I'll make sure there's food for him, too."
"Doc, he's really tired," Jack interjected from the doorway.
"Thank you, Alex," Janet spoke, gathering her things and walking out the door.
The general approached Alex, the two old friends staring at each other for several seconds.
"Guld? Alternate reality?" Alex finally questioned.
"Goa'uld," Jack clarified, "and, oh yeah, lots of alternate realities. An alternate me was engaged to marry my second-in-command in one. That was a nightmare."
"You aren't kidding, are you, Jack?"
"I'm sure no one would believe you, Alex, but don't tempt the government, okay? You didn't hear a word Daniel said, not one."
"Tell me something, old friend."
"If I can."
"What made those tumors go away before?"
Jack scratched his head for a couple of seconds and then looked at Alex while responding, "Ever heard of a sarcophagus?"
"Those things the Egyptians bury their dead in?"
"Big coffins, the deluxe version," Jack noted. "For the Goa'uld, they have ... power. It heals them, of just about anything. I put Daniel in one. It healed him."
"Jack, if a sarcophagus ..." the enthusiastic physician began.
"Alex, don't go there. Yeah, they can do some good, but mostly, they create a lot of pain. Trust me, I know. I was desperate. Danny was dead in my arms and I threw us both into a sarcophagus and got lucky."
"Why not do it again?"
"Like I said, they create a lot of pain, too. Daniel ... he, uh, he's suffered from too much time in one those of things. He won't go again, not even if I could find one, and I'm not sure I could."
"Not even to save his life?"
Jack shook his head and expounded, "I'll try to convince him, but I'll lose. I know him, Alex. He didn't want it last time we went through this."
"Jack, you have a family now. Surely ..."
"I wish," Jack agreed. "The truth is the kids are one of the reasons he'll be even more adamant about not using an alien device." He shook off his frustration and advised, "We need to go. Thanks for making time for us on your schedule," he said as he reached out to shake his friend's hand. "I'm serious about what you heard. Don't repeat it, not to anyone. I won't tell you not to say anything to Ron, but if you can manage to omit it from your conversation, it's safer, for both of you."
Jack knew he'd laid it on a bit thick to Alex, especially since the Goa'uld had not been a threat to Earth in years, but he felt it was smart to give his old friend a reason to keep things quiet, even from his husband.
"Have a safe ride back to the villa," Alex wished as he released Jack's hand. ~I think Ron will forgive me this omission. It's crazy, though.~ With a smile, he thought, ~Jack was always a card. I'll bet he was pulling my leg.~ Sitting down at his desk, Alex remembered Daniel's impassioned plea. ~No, that was real. Jack was telling me the truth, and this is the last time I even think about the Goa'uld or Guld or whatever it was.~
Monday morning, Daniel was like his old self as he enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with his family, after which they all went outside and enjoyed a few hours on the beach. It was as if the family were on vacation, with laughter and good feelings among all of them. The weather was wonderful with a small breeze circulating.
Sam, Janet, and Teal'c hung back in the house, none of them wanting to intrude on their friends. Sam spent some time conversing with her family via webcam, while Janet studied her files and medical books. Teal'c meditated for a bit and spent much of his time keeping a covert eye on the family, wanting to be available should anything unexpected happen.
Around noon, Sam and Janet prepared lunch. Everyone was full of chatter and enthusiasm about the posh villa they were staying at. Afterward, Jack took his husband upstairs to rest for a while. Bijou and Katie followed. As instructed by Jack, the beagles were sticking to the archaeologist like glue.
Meanwhile, the other adults and kids separated somewhat and focused on other activities inside the house. All things considered, it was a peaceful time for everyone, or almost everyone.
As Janet worked on her tablet, Little Danny walked over and sat down beside her.
"Hi, Aunt Janet."
Janet continued to type, but Little Danny's eyes were boring into her very being.
"What can I do for you?" the physician finally asked.
"What's wrong with Daddy?"
Janet reached over and ran her fingers gently down the boy's hair, smiling as she answered, "I don't know."
"He's gonna be okay, right?"
Jack and Daniel believed in being honest with their children about most matters, not to mention Janet didn't want to mislead the youngest.
"Little Danny, until I see the test results, it would be wrong of me to make any type of assumption, but your daddy is a very strong man. He's come through some very tough situations."
"Okay," the boy responded, getting up and walking away.
~Why do I think he didn't believe me?~ Janet sighed. ~Maybe because I'm not convinced, either.~
It wasn't long until Aislinn found her way to the physician, and after that it was Lulu, Ricky, and then Chenoa. That was just the beginning.
Finally, Janet did her own version of covert and managed to go undetected outside the villa. She smiled, seeing her husband on the beach.
"Hide me!" the doctor called out to the Jaffa.
"Sim'ka," Teal'c acknowledged. "Were you not working on DanielJackson's situation?"
"I was trying to, but every five minutes, one of the kids found me."
"Is that bad?"
"It is when they keep asking me if Daniel is going to be okay." Janet sighed, shaking her head as she walked forward and stared outward at the ocean. "It's a question I'm not prepared to answer."
Teal'c followed his wife and reached out, holding her upper arms supportively.
"You do not believe DanielJacksonO'Neill will survive?"
"It's too early to know. We don't have the test results back." Janet took a breath and reviewed some of her friend's symptoms. "He's weak, sometimes confused, his memory comes and goes like a light switch, he has headaches: it's a long list, Teal'c. Of course, I know these symptoms could point to other causes. That's always a possibility, and I need to keep distance between my emotions and my training."
"But you do not believe he will overcome his situation."
"Teal'c, you're just like the children," Janet whined. She lowered her head and admitted, "Every medical bone inside of me says this is bad. I don't want to say it, Teal'c. I don't even want to think it, but when I look at him, it's different. I have a sinking feeling that I can't get to go away, and I think the general senses it, too." She turned around, her normally strong, persistent demeanor replaced by emotion and potential loss. "This might be Daniel's ninth life. Except for that one time with Cassie, I've never felt so helpless."
Janet fell into her husband's strong embrace, letting her tears fall for a few minutes.
Janet let out a sigh and stood back slightly from her husband. She smiled at Jenny, who was at the edge of the back patio and beckoning to Janet with big waves.
"Another child to find a creative fib of hope for," Janet sighed.
"Sim'ka, I have confidence in you."
"To be able to lie to the kids?"
"To speak the truth of your heart."
The couple kissed briefly and then Janet waved at Jenny and began to walk towards her. As she walked, she prayed her medical intuition was wrong and that there was a simpler reason for Daniel's situation, one with a known treatment.
Jack checked his watch, well aware that Janet should be arriving back at the villa soon. She'd called after her consultation with Alex Weston to advise she was on her way. Quietly, he called over Sam and Teal'c.
"I don't want the kids around when the Doc gets back," Jack stated.
"Why?" Sam asked.
"They'll read her face in an instant." Jack quietly mused, "The Doc's more attached now. She always cared, but it's not just business or casual anymore."
"We are family, O'Neill," the Jaffa reminded.
"Which is precisely why I want to shield the kids from that initial reaction. They'll hear it soon enough."
"How about we take them outside?" Sam suggested.
"No, I'm taking Daniel out there to wait," Jack responded. "He likes the beach."
"It was pretty windy this morning," Sam pointed out.
"It's calmer now," the general replied, having been on the beach minutes earlier. He continued, "This villa has a lot of rooms. Find one, away from the front door, and keep the kids there until I come for them."
"Yes, Sir," Sam acknowledged.
"I'm going to talk to Jen for a minute," Jack advised as he walked away.
"I'm worried about him, Teal'c," Sam confided. "He's trying to act normal in an abnormal situation. I hope Janet has good news."
"As do I."
"Dad, do you know something?" Jennifer asked the moment her dad pulled her away from her siblings.
"Only that Doc is on her way back," Jack answered. "Jen, I told Aunt Sam and Teal'c to keep the brood together and away from the living room until I come for them."
Responding with pure honesty, Jack answered, "Because as soon as Aunt Janet walks in the door, they'll hound her and they'll try to read her expression. I don't want them doing that."
"I guess you have a point."
"The kids are going to want to get to Aunt Janet as soon as they know she's back. I want you to help Aunt Sam and Teal'c keep the brood sequestered until I say so."
"You really do think it's going to be bad news."
"Will you do as I ask?"
"You know I will, Dad," Jennifer answered, not aware that she had begun to cry.
Jack took out his handkerchief and used it to dab his daughter's face dry as he encouraged, "No tears, Jen. If the kids know you've been crying, they'll start in with questions."
The father's hands gripped his eldest daughter's face. He couldn't speak. He just pulled her in for a hug, embracing her for over a minute, until he pulled away and went to get his husband.
~Daddy,~ Jennifer gasped in her mind. She closed her eyes and went to one of the villa's bathrooms to refresh her face. ~We're the Jackson-O'Neills and we're unbeatable. I don't know how, but we are going to get through this, whatever this is.~
Jack and Daniel sat on the beach of the villa. They were essentially alone, their brood currently under the watchful guard of Sam and Teal'c. Several yards away, Bijou and Katie sat together, watching the ocean and not their humans. It was the best the dogs could do to give Jack and Daniel privacy while still remaining close in case Daniel needed them.
The older man was behind his husband, his arms reaching around to hold Daniel as they enjoyed the fresh air and the view.
"Do you remember that night at SGC when we came back from Abydos? I felt so lost and alone, and you saw me and took me home?" Daniel inquired.
"I'll never forget it. You were such a lost puppy."
Daniel smiled at the reference before asking, "Was that when we started? Or was it on Abydos?"
"Before, when I walked in and heard you questioning the military. Who could resist you in that awful plaid shirt?"
"You didn't like me, Jack. I drove you crazy."
"You still drive me crazy," Jack mused. "Geez, I can't believe I didn't deck you when you said you couldn't open the Gate."
"You let Kawalsky do that," Daniel recalled about Charles Kawalsky who was on the original team to Abydos and was later killed in the line of duty at SGC.
Jack snickered, "Yeah, I did."
"I'm surprised you didn't kill me on the spot."
"Too much paperwork, and the team had to get home, and we certainly didn't have a chance without you."
"Ah, so letting me live was the practical thing to do."
Both men enjoyed the lightness of the banter. It was natural and they'd done it without second-guessing their phraseology or altering their words. They loved these silly moments.
"Babe, was Sara at the house before we left?"
"She came by for a visit," Jack affirmed.
"Did she help?"
"Yeah, she did," Jack answered. ~We really don't have secrets. He knew I'd call her sooner or later.~
"You know why I know it, meaning we, didn't happen until later, even though sometimes we tease about it happening at the beginning?"
"You loved her. It didn't matter that you were apart in your mental states, but emotionally, you were both still in love."
"I still love her."
"I know." Daniel chuckled lightly, "The really crazy thing, Love, is how much love there was, is, among all of us. I mean, you do love her, and I love Sha're, still, but it's not the same, and I'm not lessening any of those loves. There's something to this soulmate thing, though. We found that with each other, and Sara found it in Mark. I'd like to think that Sha're would have found it, too, had she lived."
"Oh, I'm guessing one of those hot Abydonian fellas would have seen to that eventually."
With a smile, Daniel sighed. He couldn't help but let out a small laugh, too.
"We're all crazy, Jack, to be so close to the, uh, ex's, so to speak. I'm guessing you needed Sara to back you up, to, uh, find the strength you need to be strong for me and the children. That's why you called her."
"Something like that. Danny, I'm friggin' scared, and the only one beside you I can say that to is Sara, and I needed to say it, at least once, before we came here."
"I understand. It was good to see her, even if the visit was just a blur to me. I felt her give me a kiss, or was that my imagination?"
"Nope, she laid one on you."
Daniel laughed, "Babe, it couldn't have been much of a kiss."
"It felt like one."
"Gawd," Daniel croaked out. "Mr. Jealousy is alive and well, even where Sara is concerned."
"Guilty," Jack conceded as he kissed Daniel's nape.
There was another pause as the lovers continued to enjoy their time together.
"Janet should be back soon," Daniel sighed.
"Any time now," Jack agreed. Though he'd already made the decision, he now felt like Daniel needed to be consulted, especially since Daniel was so feeling so clear at the moment and even though he was fairly certain what his soulmate would say. "When the Doc gets here, should we leave the kids out of it at first?"
"They'll want to know."
"Jack, we both know what Janet's going to say."
"No, Danny, we don't. The tests could show all kinds of things."
"But we know. I don't want our children to hear it yet. I mean, not from Janet. They have to hear it from us."
Jack swallowed hard, trying to remain strong, yet being on the verge of falling apart. This time was worse than it was years ago. This time he and Daniel were even more connected, years of love's trials, of highs and lows, of unimaginable euphoria and desert-like loneliness between them. The couple had been through it all, but their love was eternal and always got them through. This time, there were a multitude of memories, a brood of unending love and support, and a zoo that seemed to understand and be a part of it all, too.
"I like it here," the younger man opined. "It's colder than I like, but it's peaceful." He paused as seconds passed. "I like it here."
"It's so peaceful, but cold, but I like it."
Jack bowed his head to rest on Daniel's shoulder. His eyes were closed as he processed unfathomable pain. He forced himself to keep it together. His primary job now was to keep his lover as happy and positive as he could. Nothing else mattered.
"I like it here, too, Danny," Jack spoke, his voice trembling from his emotions. Then Jack felt the stare. He glanced far behind him, to the big patio and saw Janet. His eyes met hers. Hope died in that moment for the general. "Angel, Doc's back."
Two hours later, the children were seated on the floor of the large living room. They were in a circle, their hands joined together while they silently prayed and gained strength from one another.
"Jack, Daniel, the kids are in the living room," Sam reported, barely able to hold back tears of her own.
"Thanks, Sam," Jack managed to respond. "Are you ready, Danny?"
"Let me do it, Jack. I need to do it in my own way, whatever that is," Daniel replied.
"I'll be right there if you need me."
"I always need you," Daniel replied. "Always."
Jack followed Daniel, Bijou and Katie followed Jack, and Sam followed the canines, into the living room. Teal'c was already there, standing by the large windows that overlooked the back patio and beach. Janet was sitting at a table, her files and tablet there, if needed. The brood hadn't tried to ask her a single question, something that was very disquieting to the physician. If was as if they knew what was coming.
"Kids," Jennifer called out upon opening her eyes and seeing her parents joining them.
There was nothing but silence as Jack hung back outside the circle and his husband walked into the middle.
"Hey, this is, uh, a perfect circle, but how about we turn it into a semi-circle," Daniel suggested with a smile.
Silently, the children repositioned themselves, the youngest closest to Daniel and the oldest on the sides and in the back.
As he stood looking at his children, Daniel was speechless. He didn't know what to say to them, but Jack remained quiet, letting his Love find the words when he was ready. Finally, Daniel sat down Indian style in front of the children. He motioned for them to come closer, which they did, all twelve children moving along the wooden floor until they were right in front of their younger father.
Suddenly, Bijou and Katie broke through the circle of children and settled down, one on each side of the archaeologist. Daniel smiled, patting both dogs for a moment.
"I love you, all of you, more than you know," Daniel began. "When I was a little boy, my parents made me feel like I was their most precious gift. Then they were gone, and I was so lost. Then Dad came along, and with a lot of patience on his part, I rediscovered what it felt like to be a precious gift. I want all of you to know that you are my most precious gifts. I'm so lucky to have you and our beautiful zoo ... and your dad," he choked out, his words barely audible due to the emotion he was feeling.
"Listen, we believe in being honest with one another, and that's what I'm going to be now. A long time ago, I developed a couple of brain tumors. In simple terms, a brain tumor is a mass of bad stuff that impedes the brain from working properly. It made me forgetful and caused me to act differently. It did a lot of things, none of them good. I was going to die, but SG-1 was called on a mission, and I chose to go. Things didn't go so well, for me or Dad, and at the last minute, Dad made a decision. He knew it was something I was against, but he loves me, and in that moment, he put us both inside a sarcophagus. We've talked about what a sarcophagus is and what he does before when we've discussed the Goa'uld. JD doesn't really know, but you can tell him, okay."
Daniel drew a breath, not wanting to fall apart in front of the children, who had all eyes on him, eyes that were moist and already full of uncertainty.
"The long and short of it is that the sarcophagus healed us, both of us. Dad was healthy, except for his knees. The sarcophagus can be selective. I don't really understand that, but there are stories about what it does and doesn't correct, but I guess that's neither here nor there at the moment," Daniel remarked, taking in another big breath. "I didn't realize it at first, but the tumors were gone after we emerged from the sarcophagus. We couldn't believe it, but we were both alive and healthy. We thought that was the end of it."
Some sniffles were heard and hands were wiping away tears, although some of the brood didn't make any attempt to dry their wet faces.
"Apparently, we were wrong," Daniel continued. "Tumors can come back, and mine have. They can form very quickly and, apparently, mine did. That's why my behavior went from normal to ... well, it's why I was so erratic recently. It's why most everything I did was so ... very wrong last week. It's why I treated you badly. It's ... it's why we're here now."
The archaeologist looked to his sides, smiling at the beagles who couldn't be any closer to him without being on him.
"Aunt Janet and a friend of Dad's, Doctor Weston, the same doctor who helped us all those years ago, ran a lot of tests on me the other day, and they've consulted on the results. I have no reason to doubt their prognosis."
Jack glanced behind him and saw the watery eyes of his friend and neighbor. That's how he thought of Sam in this moment. It surprised him a little. He was so used to thinking of her in a military way. He reached back and took her hand.
Sam, too, was surprised, but she needed the support, so she accepted Jack's offer of his hand. She stepped forward and found herself placing her head against his arm that she held with her free hand. It was a small showing of shared support as they experienced this disaster together. In fact, it felt very much like a family moment among SG-1, especially when Teal'c quietly walked over and stood to the other side of Jack.
Daniel noticed the shifts in position and smiled at his husband and teammates. He felt happy because his husband was now as surrounded by love and protection as he was with the beagles. SG-1 would always be together. They were a team that surpassed its goals of exploration. They were a team that now was synonymous with family.
"I'm going to see my parents again soon and," Daniel looked at the Munchkins and the Spitfires, "your mother." He looked at the older children and smiled. "I hope I get to meet your birth parents and share with them how proud I am of all of you. Gawd, it will be good to see my parents. I'll bet they have a lot of questions, and I'll have eternity to answer them."
The sniffling turned to sobs and the children couldn't take it anymore. They cried out and engulfed their younger father with their physical warmth and love.
Jack's head bowed, tears flowing. He couldn't fend off his sadness anymore, either, but Sam and Teal'c held him up, knowing that's what he wanted and how he needed to be for the sake of the family.
"Okay, down. Everyone back down," Daniel instructed. "Aunt Janet is going to tell you about the next few weeks. I'm not going anywhere. I'm right here, but you need to know what it's going to be like from now on."
"Weeks?" Brianna questioned in shock. "Daddy, weeks?"
"I want you to listen to Aunt Janet, okay. Please, just listen."
The older children exchanged looks of horror and when they looked back at their older father, they knew their assumption was correct. Their daddy wouldn't be with them much longer. It was a horror that caused their hearts to sink and their souls to cry out in agony.
Janet talked about how Daniel would get weaker and perhaps fall in and out of sleep even while talking with the children. She said he could start to wander around the house for no reason.
"He will probably become disinterested in things he normally never would," Janet explained. "He might not even care about archaeology."
The statement came as a severe shock to the children and caused Little Danny to move up into Daniel's lap and hold on to him tight.
"Your daddy will probably become restless and agitated. It's not him, it's the tumors. He might slur his speech. He might act like a child. He's going to lose his coordination as the days pass."
Janet told the children that Daniel's appetite would most likely suffer and as the days passed might sleep more hours than being awake.
"His eyesight could suffer," Janet added. "That's the immediate situation for the next two to three weeks. It will worsen after that, but we'll talk about that later."
There wasn't a single question; instead, there were tears of despair and a desperate need to hold onto Daniel, something Jack allowed until Daniel whispered his name.
"Kids, Daddy needs to rest," Jack told the brood. "I know you want to hold on, but he needs to sleep." When the kids didn't move, he turned his head slightly and said one word that said all it needed to: "Carter."
Sam, Teal'c, and Janet began the painful process of pulling off crying children from their anguished younger father. They didn't want to, but Jennifer and Jeff assisted as well. Brianna was too overcome to help and David didn't feel like a teenager at the moment. He'd already lost one set of parents, plus Kayla Armentrout, the birth mother to the Munchkins and Spitfires. He couldn't deal with losing another parent.
Eventually, Jack grabbed onto his husband and helped him up. Some of the children gasped when Daniel nearly fell back down, his knees buckling. Right after that, Jack took Daniel to their bedroom, accompanied only by Bijou and Katie, who continued to stick with Daniel no matter what.
The children remained in the living room, crying and being comforted by the adults, though the adults were in need of comforting of their own.
"Janet, it seems so fast," Sam opined later when the two women were alone out on the patio.
"It happens that way sometimes, Sam," Janet responded. "There's no telling how long Daniel's been walking around with those tumors in his head; and every injury, every concussion might have made it worse, or not. We really don't know. The tumors could have grown while they were out of the country."
"It seems like there should be more time."
"Time is something Daniel's running out of fast."
"How long, Janet?"
"Weeks, six, maybe eight if he's lucky, but that's a long shot."
"You're hesitating, Janet."
"You never know for sure with tumors like this. Everyone responds differently and at a different rate. Not everyone experiences the exact same symptoms, either. The tumors are so big, Sam. If you want my hunch, his symptoms are those of the average patient three to six weeks from death."
"Why'd I become a doctor? Right now it's not who I want to be. I don't want to know what I know. I'm going to find Teal'c."
Sam nodded as Janet returned to the house. She felt numb as the breeze hit her face. Then she felt a strong urge to call her husband. She needed to talk to him, to see his face, and she needed to talk to her own children. In a bolt of human lightning, the blonde pulled out her phone to connect with her family. Assurances, that's what she needed, assurances that the Shanahan family was healthy and whole.
"BriannaJacksonO'Neill," Teal'c called out to the upset fifteen-year-old.
"I don't want to talk, Teal'c."
"I do not wish to exchange dialogue. I wish you to come with me."
Feeling angry and frustrated, the teenager wanted to fight with the Jaffa, but she knew she'd lose, so she reluctantly followed Teal'c to the villa's insulated garage. It was large and devoid of automobiles. It had another usage for interested guests.
"I don't want to workout, Teal'c," Brianna stated harshly when she saw a variety of machines designed for staying in shape.
"Observe," Teal'c instructed. He began slowly and then sped up, though he never reached a state where he was sweating. "Put these on," he told the teenager, handing her a pair of black gloves.
"You will learn," the Jaffa insisted.
Now angrier, Brianna rammed her hand inside the first glove and allowed Teal'c to help her put on the second one properly.
"Punch the bag."
Brianna thought it was silly, but she had no choice, so she punched the large rectangular black bag.
"This bag is DanielJacksonO'Neill's tumor. Destroy it," the Jaffa ordered, surprising the teen when he left the garage for the house.
"Right," the skeptical blonde replied. Still, she stared at the bag and began to picture it as the evil masses that were killing her father. "I hate you," she whispered as she punched the bag. "I hate you," she repeated more strongly.
Soon, Brianna began to punch the bag with all her might. Her barrage increased until she was exhausted and fell to the ground, crying.
"It's not fair," the girl sobbed. "Mama, it's not fair."
"Bri, are you out here?" Jennifer called out. She scanned the garage and finally saw her sister's feet beyond the punching bag. The young woman approached and sat down beside Brianna, who had her knees drawn up and her head resting on them. "We're all going to have our moments, Sis. It's okay."
"It's not okay, Jen. It's not okay that Daddy is going to die. That's so not okay," Brianna replied anxiously.
"No, it's not, but it's our reality." Jennifer scooted around a bit so she could look into Brianna's eyes. "Bri, Daddy needs us right now. It doesn't matter what we do or how much we fall apart later, but now, we have to be there for him. Do you want him to use his energy worrying about you? He will. You know he will."
"So shape up and chin up?"
"Bri, we're all hurting, but we're a family, and we've gotten through some horrible times by clinging to one another, and that's what we're going to do now."
"It's not fair."
"No, it's not, and I'm as furious and irate as you are, but Little Danny is sitting by Daddy's door, just waiting for it to open so he can go inside and hug Daddy. Jenny is acting tough, like it's a fact of life. She's trying so hard to be brave, but she needs to cry with the rest of us. David is confused. He's thinking about our birth parents, mourning them all over again. Bri, the kids need us, and Daddy needs us to help them. That's the biggest thing, what Daddy needs."
"I guess you're right."
"We can rebel later, Bri, but we can't afford to do that now. Daddy ..." Jennifer paused to regain control "... Daddy doesn't have long. We have to make these next few weeks the best ever for him, and for us. I have so much to ask him and things I want to tell him. Dad needs us, too. I'm not sure he's going to survive this. It's not fair that we can't give in to our hurt, but we're the oldest and that's just how it is."
The two girls were full of pain and both broke out into tears and hugged each other until they felt safe to return inside and wait things out with their siblings.
"Hi," Brianna spoke quietly to her brother-in-waiting.
"Hi, Bri," Little Danny responded, his eyes focused on the bedroom in which his parents were located.
With a sigh, Brianna sat down and looked at the Munchkin. She knew his pain because she was feeling it, too.
"Remember when I was going to run away?" Brianna saw Little Danny's head raise up. "You wouldn't leave me alone, not for a second. I had to come back to keep you safe."
"You're my sister. I couldn't let you go."
"We'll always have each other and the rest of the brood. Daddy knows that." Brianna pulled her brother close and held him as she whispered, "I don't want to think about tomorrow, Little Danny. I want to live in todays, this today and tomorrow's today, and the day's after that today. I don't think I can do any more than that."
Brianna felt her brother's grip tightening a bit and his tears were making her blouse wet.
"Little Danny, a very wise older sister of ours just made me realize that what matters most right now is Daddy. We have to think about him and what's best for all of these todays that are coming up. I don't want him to waste his energy worrying about me. I want him to know how much I love him and how he's changed my life. What do you want?"
The child prodigy cried, "I want my daddy to live."
"Danny," Brianna spoke as she comforted her brother. After a few minutes, she stated, "Jen wants us to stay together tonight. Are you ready to be with the brood?" There was a silent pause, after which she added, "Dad will get us when Daddy wakes up."
Reluctant but not wanting his daddy to worry about him, Little Danny went with Brianna to the living room where the rest of the brood was waiting.
"How long do we let them stay up?" Janet asked Sam as the two waited with the children for Jack and Daniel to emerge from the bedroom. "It's after ten."
"They won't sleep, Janet. I don't think it makes a difference whether they wait up here or in their rooms. This way, they can wait together."
"Daniel Jackson," Janet mused. "Remember when his hair was really long, back in the beginning."
"So cute," Sam chuckled. "I had such a crush on him," she spoke wistfully. "Well, until he became like a brother to me and fell in love with the general, who was a colonel then."
"I still can't believe you knew about them all that time and didn't tell me."
"I couldn't. I volunteered to help mislead everyone, but I didn't want to lie to you."
"So you shut me out."
"What about you," Sam accused with a smile. "All those examinations, illnesses, injuries ..."
"... concussions!" Janet couldn't help but laugh. "Daniel and concussions went hand in hand."
"They were always there for each other," Sam sighed.
"I really should have known, but maybe I didn't want to see it. What you don't know, you can't deny."
"General Hammond told me not long ago that he suspected once. He felt it, sensed it, but he immediately had to discard it. Don't Ask, Don't Tell was very much a threat back then."
"You know, I thought about trying to get something going once with Daniel myself."
"I didn't know that."
"It was a brief glimmer, a ship that passed in the night. He's such a good catch," Janet mused. "My ex-husband was nothing like Daniel and it was so nice to meet a man who didn't care how you looked, what your career was, or try to box you into a corner. Daniel has such an open mind. He only cares about what's in your heart. He's full of respect for everyone."
"Is Marie still pining away?" Sam asked about SGC nurse Marie Hill, who developed a crush on the archaeologist years ago.
"That woman knows she doesn't have a chance in the world with Daniel, but she fell under his spell as soon as she began working at SGC and she can't find anyone that tugs on her heartstrings like Daniel. Believe me, I've set her up with some awesome hunks of manhood, but it never takes in the long haul."
"I've learned so much from him," Sam sighed. "I learned to be human from Daniel. He showed me I could cry, even though I was a captain. The Munchkins: they taught me it was okay not to be scared anymore."
"Look at you now, Sam, a wife and mother."
"Four kids, Janet, four, for crying out loud. Me? Can you imagine, and it's all because of Daniel and those kids."
"Remember when the general slugged Daniel?"
"When we all went caveman?" Sam chuckled. "I have a hunch the general paid for that in ways we really don't want to know."
The two women continued to reminisce for a bit, recalling old times, primarily those with an amusing edge.
"What are we going to do without Daniel?" Sam asked rhetorically, walking away in an effort to prevent going on another crying jag.
"You should all be in bed."
The pleasant voice was unmistakable. In seconds, the brood was on their feet and by Daniel's side.
"We couldn't go to bed without seeing you, Daddy," Aislinn replied as she hugged her father.
"I'm sorry I got so tired."
"It's okay, Daddy," Chenoa responded. "We waited for you."
"We want to have our ice cream," Jonny announced.
"Please, Daddy," Jenny begged. "Have ice cream with us."
Feeling happy, Daniel replied, "We wouldn't be Jackson-O'Neills without ice cream. Lead on to the kitchen."
"Don't be mad, Dad," Jeff spoke as the other adults lagged behind Daniel and the blood.
"It's not an issue," Jack assured. "We've made a decision."
"Which is?" Jennifer prodded.
"We're going to stay here for a few more days. Daniel wants to have some quiet family time with all of you. He also has a follow-up appointment with Alex on Friday." He looked at his friends and stated, "If any of you can't stay, we understand." Then he expounded, "After the appointment, we'll go home and that's where Daniel wants to stay. We'll have some business to attend to, but mostly, Daniel wants to be home with the kids and our darn zoo." The general stopped walking and looked at his extended family of friends. "Look, he doesn't want to spread the word on this. He doesn't want to be the object of sympathy and have to endure a lot of goodbyes."
"Dad, what about Aunt Suz?"
"Daniel's going to call her and a chosen few others, but we'd appreciate it if you kept this among us. One more thing. David's birthday is tomorrow and Daniel wants us to have a party. He's very insistent about it. I don't know how to do that, but he wants it, so we need to make it happen."
"We'll make it happen, Sir," Sam promised.
"What about presents?" Janet asked.
Jack pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to Sam, saying, "We have a few things at the house. This is the what and the where. Get your hubby or Lou to get them on a plane, any plane that gets here on time. We'll have to go with these." He let out an exasperated sigh and mused incredibly, "A birthday party." He sighed again and suggested, "Let's get that ice cream."
The last few days were overall very pleasant for the group. They enjoyed their time together at the beach, playing and talking with one another. Daniel's strength held up for the most part, allowing him to spend private time with each of his children.
David's birthday party had some difficult moments, basically when the boy had a difficult time upon realizing this would be his last birthday with his daddy. On the whole, though, the family celebrated his transformation to age fifteen successfully.
The weather cooperated almost fully. Though the winds picked up a bit, there hadn't been any rain until very late last night, after everyone went to bed. By the time they arose this morning, the rain was gone.
Now, the Jackson-O'Neills and their extended family were flying home to Colorado Springs. Jack was in the pilot's seat with Teal'c at his side since Daniel didn't feel up to taking the co-pilot's seat.
Things were quiet during the flight until Katie suddenly sat up, her ears up in alarm. Bijou also sat up in alert a few seconds later. The mama beagle headed for Jennifer and nudged her.
"What is it, Bij?"
"Woof!" the dog barked before running back to Daniel, who was rubbing his hands together anxiously.
"Daddy, do I have to get married if I don't want to?" Jenny inquired.
"What? I don't care what you do," Daniel retorted.
Jenny's eyes grew sad. She knew now what was happening. Her daddy wasn't present at the moment. It was the imposter, a stranger in her daddy's body who she didn't like.
Jennifer unbuckled her seatbelt and walked over to Daniel.
"Daddy, is everything okay?" Jennifer inquired in concern.
"Where are we? Why are you holding me hostage?"
"It's okay, Daddy," Jennifer soothed. ~Don't overreact. The kids need to stay calm.~
"I want *off* this plane now!" the archaeologist demanded as he bolted out of his seat.
"Okay, Daddy. Hold on a minute," Jennifer spoke in a steady voice. "Jenny, stay here."
Sam and Janet heard the disturbance and quickly jumped in, trying to calm down their friend.
"I don't know you, any of you."
Daniel looked for the exit, frightening the children when he ran for the door panel.
"Daniel, calm down," Sam instructed, putting herself between the man and the exit. She saw Janet reaching for her medical bag. "I'm Sam, remember me? We're the science twins. We confuse everyone at SGC."
"Move out of my way!"
Jennifer hurried to the cockpit and went inside.
"Dad, Daddy needs you, now."
"Jen, take over," Jack ordered as he got up from the pilot's seat. He made sure his daughter was comfortable. "Questions?"
"No, I have the jet," Jennifer assured.
Jack patted his daughter supportively on the shoulder and then hurried to find out what was happening.
"Daniel, you can't open the door," Sam argued, her hands reaching out to stop Daniel's forward momentum.
"I don't know who you are or why you're holding me, but just let me go and ..."
"Daniel," Jack called out cautiously.
The younger man blinked as he studied the man walking slowly towards him.
"It's okay. I'm here."
There was something calming in the man's voice for Daniel that he didn't understand. He began to weaken, filled with nervousness and some fear.
"Who ... I ..."
"It's okay, Danny," Jack spoke soothingly. "We'll be home soon."
"*No, I want ...*"
Jack lunged and took Daniel into his arms, holding him so that Janet could inject him with a strong sedative.
"Jack," Daniel whispered as he fell under the drug's power.
"It's okay," Jack promised as he settled his husband down into one of the comfortable seats. He looked around and ordered, "Jeff, Jen's flying the bird. Make sure she's okay."
Jeff nodded and headed for the cockpit.
"He didn't know who we were," Jenny told her father upon walking over to where her parents were.
"I'm sorry, Princess."
"It's not your fault, Dad," Jenny stated, surprising Jack when she slipped by him and took the seat next to her daddy. "It was the stranger, not Daddy."
When Jack looked expectantly at Janet, the physician advised, "He'll be out until we land."
"Carter, you okay?"
"I'm fine, thank you, Sir."
Jack wanted to stay with Daniel, but he needed to take over for Jennifer. Even so, he stayed where he was for a few minutes until he felt he should return to the cockpit. His heart was heavy as he made his way up front and re-entered the pilot area.
"How is he?" Jennifer questioned.
"Aunt Janet did her thing."
"Dad, there was something different this time that you should know," Jennifer began.
"Bijou and Katie alerted. I mean, they knew before Daddy said anything that something was happening. Is that possible?"
"Sure. They're connected. Dogs sense all kinds of things. Let's watch that. It might help for a while." Jack smiled. "You flying us home?"
"Oh," Jennifer chuckled, checking the readings before giving up the pilot's seat to her older father.
"You did good," Jack praised.
"Way to go, Sis," Jeff complimented.
"T, you ready to get your license for this thing?" Jack queried.
"It would be fruitless, O'Neill," the Jaffa responded.
"Why no apples and oranges?"
Teal'c stared at his commanding officer for the odd comeback question, but ultimately replied, "With pilots such as JenniferJacksonO'Neill and JeffJacksonO'Neill, it is not necessary."
"Thanks, Teal'c," Jennifer acknowledged. "I'm going back to be with Daddy."
"Seat's taken," Jack advised. "Jenny's stuck like concrete next to Daddy."
"I'm not surprised."
Jennifer and Jeff returned to their siblings, leaving their dad to get them safely home to Colorado Springs.
Over the last couple of days, Jack and Daniel attended to various business affairs, including meeting with their lawyer, Mark Kingston, to ensure Daniel's will was up to date and that there would be a smooth transition for their company, J-O Enterprises, when primary ownership shifted to Jack only. With their children older now, they also opted to make sure the brood's stake in J-O was in place. Since they kept their affairs in order, altering it when appropriate to accommodate new additions to their family, it was a fairly simple process.
Among the other items on the agenda was meeting with Karissa Lewis, something Jack and Daniel did privately and away from their offices. She was going to have to carry the full burden of running the company for a while. They also contacted Megan Awad, who agreed to come to Colorado Springs and assist Karissa in running the company for as long as necessary. For now at least, they were the only two employees to know Daniel was dying.
Both women were devastated by the news and Karissa doubly so. Her heart ached for Daniel, but it also stung for the effect it was sure to have on the children, especially Little Danny. She wanted to talk to the youngster, who still carried a pint-size torch for her, but Jack and Daniel wanted to keep their home free from visitors, something Karissa reluctantly understood.
Jeff spent some time communicating with his professors at the University of Cincinnati. He'd missed the last two weeks of the semester, so made arrangements to attend the summer session, though he knew he would not leave his family if things were still up in the air at that point. Jennifer, meanwhile, also missed some classes, but since she was attending a local college, she was able to continue on without too much inconvenience and arrange makeup dates for any assignments or tests she'd missed.
Today was Wednesday and it was mid-morning in the Jackson-O'Neill household. Jack had his hands full with his husband, who wasn't cooperating with the general's plan for the day.
"Did you hear his prayers last night?" Daniel asked as he sat on the bed. "He said it again, that he loves Patch, but he loves me more and if I said loving things was wrong, then he'll give up Patch, and then he asked that Patch would be safe and loved. Jack, I can't let that be."
"I understand that, Danny, and we will."
"Now, Jack. It can't wait any longer. There's more at stake here than a, a toy. Patch is important to JD."
"I know that, Daniel, and we'll find the thing."
"Babe, it's okay to love things. It's priorities, but none of our children have ever come close to crossing a line with that, but JD is confused, and I'm the only one that can end that."
"I'm with you," Jack assured.
"We have to find it," the younger man insisted, as if Jack wasn't agreeing with him.
"Danny, sit down and relax," Jack ordered. "I'll round up the brood and we'll begin a search."
"*I* have to look, too."
"Daniel, you need to reserve your strength."
"I need to find my son's guardian."
"You know what I mean. Jack, Thor gave Patch to JD. It's more than a stuffed animal, and I ... I did something with it that I don't remember. I'm going to look for it, too."
With more energy than he'd shown since the trip to North Carolina, Daniel walked by his husband, exited their bedroom, and began his own search for the toy. Katie was immediately on the archaeologist's heels. One of the beagles was always with Daniel. It was the only way Jack would let his lover out of his sight.
"Stubborn geek." Giving in, Jack went to the intercom and called out, "Brood, meet us in the rec room. Jeff, bring your tablet, please."
The family was gathered in the rec room and Jack was about to initiate a grid search of their homestead when Daniel surprised him.
"You have an assignment," Daniel began, causing Jack to do a double take. "Jack, would you take JD upstairs for a while."
"No, you, please," the archaeologist directed. "I need Jen for the assignment."
"Sure," Jack replied, picking up the boy and feeling very confused. He nodded at Jennifer, who knew she was to be on alert where her younger father was concerned. "JD, I have a story just for you."
"About the Goa'uld?"
Jack let out a groan. Their son was now aware of the evil race, but he was on a beginner level and eager to know more.
When Jack and JD were out of the room, Daniel told the remaining brood what he wanted them to do. His guilt about his youngest son's state of mind was present as he spoke, but so was his passion for how he wanted them to live their lives.
As he waited, Daniel sat down and closed his eyes. He was determined to hang on to his strength.
~This is important. I made the problem and I have to fix it.~
Jack eventually became aware that the children were walking all over the house. When David went to his bedroom, which was adjacent to the nursery, Jack made sure JD was distracted and took a minute to ask David about the assignment.
~Interesting,~ Jack thought once the assignment was revealed. ~And smart. I see where you're going with this, Love.~
Soon the children completed their assignment, returning to their places in the recreation room. Brianna then followed her daddy's request to have Jack and JD come downstairs and join them. First, though, Jack stopped by the study to retrieve something. When he returned to the rec room, he kept the object hidden from his family.
"JD," Daniel called out with a smile, picking up his son and settling him onto his lap. "I want to understand that Daddy made a big mistake when I took Patch from you. You love Patch very much, and there's nothing wrong with that."
"Patch is a thing. I love you, Daddy."
"And I love you. You're our miracle, one of our twelve human joys, but we're human, all of us, and I did make a mistake. I was sick and that's why I made it, but it's still a mistake. Listen to your brothers and sisters."
"I'll go first," Aislinn volunteered. "JD, you like Bobo," the Munchkin said about the large stuffed ape that was still as big as the little girl. "A lot of us love Bobo, but I don't want to say I love Bobo more, but when I look at Bobo, and talk to Bobo, it's like talking to Mommy. I wish you knew Mommy. She's beautiful and smart and she loved us. Bobo makes me feel like Mommy is still here and not in Heaven. That's why I love Bobo, and I'd be crushed forever if something happened to Bobo 'cause it would be like losing Mommy all over again."
"I'll take my turn," Jeff volunteered. "This is the camera Dad and Daddy gave me a while ago. It has all the flourishes of a professional camera. Taking photographs is a passion of mine which is good since I've been the appointment picture taker around here for years. JD, it's more than the camera. It's the pictures that the camera lets me take, and it's what the pictures say that are important. Look at this one."
Jeff stood and presented his littlest brother with a photograph he'd taken just two days ago. He printed it out only twenty minutes ago, just for this occasion.
"Daddy and me," JD observed with a big smile.
The photograph showed Daniel and JD out on the lawn in the early evening. It was cold out, but the stars were clear. Daniel was lying on his back and JD was atop him, also on his back. Daniel was looking up at the stars, but JD was focused on his daddy as the two had a private conversation.
"See, JD, this is a special moment and this picture captures it so that you can remember it forever. I'll put it in your photo album for you, okay?"
"Thanks, Jeff," the boy spoke as he released the picture. "I liked it when I laid down on your tummy, Daddy."
"I liked it, too." Daniel looked out at the brood and asked, "Who's next?"
"Me," David offered. "This is the Family of Five sculpture. Daddy gave it to me, well, to the Mouseketeers, on our very first Christmas together. It represents our birth parents and how much we all loved each other. I love this statue. It helps me to remember how much my mother and father cared about us and that our family was real. It's very special to me." He let out a slightly embarrassed groan when he also revealed that he'd brought his own childhood stuffed animal downstairs. "And Squiggy still makes me feel safe when things aren't what they should be."
The family giggled and smiled. One by one, the children showed off things, inanimate objects that they treasured and would be upset to loose.
Jonny was the last of the children. Everyone was sure he'd pick something military to show or perhaps even his pet lizard, Bogey. Instead, the Munchkin stood and displayed his baseball mitt.
"JD, this is priceless. It's the best baseball glove in the world. It always reminds me to play my best and to have fun. Sometimes I get real competitive 'cause I like to win, but I need to remember that girls can play as good as boys sometimes and sometimes we lose, because someone else plays better that day. That's okay. See, this glove belonged to Charlie. Dad saved it and one day he gave it to David and David used it for a long time, but he's too big now, so he asked Dad, and Dad said it was okay, so they gave it to me. One day, JD, I'm going to give it to you, so you can remember Charlie, and David, and me, and remember to always have good sportsmanship and play for fun. That's why I love this glove. You can't find another glove like it anywhere in the universe."
"I'd like to get in on this," Jack chimed in, reaching out to pat Jonny on the shoulder for what the boy had just said. He quickly looked over at Daniel and saw that he'd surprised his husband, which was exactly what he had in mind by participating in the assignment. "Son, there are a lot of things that are important to me, that I'd miss if they weren't here anymore. This is one of them."
"I remember that," Jennifer interjected with a smile.
"It's a moon rock," Ricky opined about the black object that looked like granite.
"I always figured it was an alien doohickey," Jenny added.
"Actually, it's an African artifact that Daddy gave me years ago. It's called Odo Nnyew Fie Kwan and it refers to the power of love. Specifically, it means 'love never loses its way home.'" Jack looked directly into his Love's eyes and continued, "Daddy and I have had our hard times, before we married and started our family, and this was a symbol that no matter what, we'd always be together. I love you, by the way."
"I love you, too," Daniel responded with a sappy smile.
"JD, the point is that I'd be very unhappy to lose this artifact. I love it because Daddy gave it to me as a symbol of how much we belong together and that even if separated, we'll always find our way home to each other."
Emotional, Daniel had to truly focus to return to the his main point. He actually bowed his head for a minute, regaining his resolve and determination to help JD understand.
"You see, JD, we all have things we love, and that's okay. There's a big place in our hearts for loving things." Daniel ran his hand through his son's light brown hair and smiled. "Patch is a thing, but like Jeff's camera and Bobo, Patch is a wonderful passion for you. You have a right to be passionate about Patch, just like Little Danny is passionate about the empty cage he showed us because to him, that cage means he can help living creatures and when it's empty, it means all the creatures here are safe. Love Patch, JD. Loving him doesn't mean you don't love me, or Dad, or the brood, or Ptolemy, or anyone else. Love him and want him. I want you to have Patch back."
"Do you have Patch, Daddy?" the boy asked with bated breath.
"That's where I come in," Jack interjected. "We're conducting a thorough, inch by inch, search by Patch. He has to be somewhere in this house or on the grounds, and we're going to find him this afternoon. Jeff, your tablet?"
"Got it, Dad."
"Jeff will be the go-to for your results. Everyone will be given an assignment and report back to Jeff, who will log it on the tablet. If we don't locate Patch the first time, we'll shake up the search assignments and go again, and we'll keep going until Patch is found."
Jack had Jeff call up a schematic at the house, something he knew his son had due to his architectural studies. The first assignments were made and the family began the hunt.
"He's gone," JD sniffled.
The family had searched four times so far and afternoon had turned to evening with no sign of the alien gift.
Daniel began pacing, something that was disturbing to his husband, who was worried about the archaeologist overdoing it, which he felt Daniel had already done.
"Patch." Daniel kept pacing, mumbling and trying to focus his brain. "I took Patch. Patch."
Jack and the brood watched, all disturbed by the pacing and mumbling.
"Patch." Suddenly, Daniel stopped. He looked up and over at Jack. "Patch."
"Danny?" Jack asked, walking a few steps towards his husband.
"Jack, what's a patch?"
"Besides being a stuffed animal?" Seeing a glare from his husband, the confused general answered in more direct terms. "A piece of cloth, something that covers up a hole."
"A hole. Patch is in the garden," Daniel laughed nervously from the revelation.
"Daddy, I checked the garden," Brianna reminded.
"Me, too," Ricky added.
"I know, but I buried him."
"Buried?" Jennifer questioned.
"Patch can't breathe!" JD exclaimed unhappily.
"Come on," Daniel encouraged, heading outside and over to the garden that Jennifer grew on her own. "He's, uh, he's ... there. I buried him there," he said, pointing to a spot on the northeast corner of the garden."
"I'll get it," David offered, trying not to step on anything that was in the growing process. "Here, Daddy?"
"Yes, he's deep, David. I remember now. I didn't want the girls to get it."
"Woof!" Bijou objected, though then she sat down on Daniel's right foot.
"I know you and Katie stay out of Jen's garden," Daniel replied softly. "I wasn't thinking clearly," he apologized to the mama beagle, who gave him a lovely dog smile in return.
David was on his knees, his hands digging into the ground.
"David, don't worry about anything I've planted. Patch is more important," Jennifer told her brother, observing that her brother was trying to be careful about his pursuit.
"Okay, Sis," David responded as he widened the scope of his hands.
JD ran inside the garden area and took a stance right by his brother. He was hanging on every swipe David made with his hands.
"There's something here," David called out. He had dug down deep, his arms dirtied up to his elbows. He pulled up the object and grinned. "JD, it's Patch."
"Patch!" JD exclaimed, taking hold of the filthy stuffed animal. He held it to his chest and swayed back in forth. "I love you, Patch."
Jack looked at his husband, who was crying from relief.
"It's okay, Danny. You found him."
All of a sudden, Katie alerted by standing right at Daniel's feet and letting out a tiny bark.
"I'm so tired. Why are we outside?" Daniel asked. "I could catch a cold, Jack. Why are we outside?"
"We're going inside now."
The happiness of the children in finding Patch dimmed as they realized their younger father was in the throes of another episode, though this one was mild. Even JD's smile faded, though he clung to Patch as if he would never let him go.
Quietly, Jack steered Daniel towards the house, leaving Jennifer in charge of the children. He hated it, but for now, Jennifer had to essentially be a co-parent for the brood.
"Kids, back inside. JD, we'll clean up Patch for you, okay?"
"Patch stays with me."
Jennifer picked up the child and carried him and Patch into the house. She had a couple of options in her head about how to clean the stuffed animal, but both of them required separating the toy from its owner.
~That is not going to work.~ Jennifer sighed and settled for Plan C, something she felt her parents could agree on for now. Keeping Patch in full view of JD, she simply shook it out and brushed it off. "He's still dirty, JD, and we're going to have to clean him, but for now, he's all yours."
"Patch is always mine. Daddy said it's okay."
"And Daddy doesn't lie," Jennifer agreed. ~This is going to take a day when JD isn't home, but that's not going to happen for awhile. Oh well. Dad and Daddy worked in the dirt. They'll deal with it.~
Days passed as the Jackson-O'Neill family stayed close to one another. Jack was doing his best to shield the brood from the worst of his soulmate's condition, wanting to protect them for the harshness of the situation as well as not wanting Daniel to feel guilt during his most lucid moments.
The older father made a few attempts to get the children to venture outdoors, especially when it snowed for several days straight, but the brood refused. The skies were clear again, but all the kids wanted to do was stay together and spend time with their daddy, when Jack would let them.
Daniel was sleeping a lot and when he was awake, he often held on tightly to Jack. He was having more personal hygiene issues, and he got angry easier. He often talked about wanting to travel and more than once, Jack caught Daniel packing his bags. He had frequent headaches and other pains, for which Janet prescribed more medication. He often talked in short phrases or rambling sentences that were more challenging than his norm. At other times, he spoke as eloquently, and at length, as he ever had.
The archaeologist was also working on a special project. It was something Kayla Armentrout did for her children and those she treated as her own. Kayla made a series of videotapes for the kids, passing on her experiences and advice for the children. There were still a few tapes unviewed since they were meant for the children as they matured.
Daniel filled a computer memory card for each child, placing each inside a book that he created as well. He included a few special written memories and thoughts on life on the pages as well. Now he had one more to make. He seized his opportunity on this day since Jack was out of the house on business. His husband rarely left the home these days, so Daniel felt it was imperative to take advantage of his absence.
"Daddy," Jennifer sighed. She was under strict instructions not to leave her father alone unless he was sleeping under the watchful guise of the canines. "I ..."
"Jen, I'll be fine, and Bijou and Katie will be with me. I need to do this now."
"Do what, Daddy?"
"Jen, please. It's personal. It's for Dad. I'll be fine, Sweetie."
"Okay, I guess. Daddy ..."
"I love you. The girls will let you know if I get in trouble."
Jennifer sighed as Daniel walked inside his den, the beagles at his side, and closed his door. She cringed when she heard the door lock. Unable to move, she slid down the wall, her hands gripping her arms with worry, and began to wait.
"... so thank you for that," Daniel said. He'd spoken to his husband about a myriad of things and he showed his memory could still be strong as he recalled cherished times for the soulmates, but then he drew a breath as he tackled his last subject, one that resonated deeply within him. "Babe, there's one more thing."
Daniel looked into the camera, his heart heavy even as he smiled softly.
"It's about our pact. I'd talk to you about it now, but I know I don't have the strength to change your mind. Jack, when it was just us, our pact made perfect sense. Even early on with the children, it made sense, for us, but that's before we knew or even understood how much our children mean to us.
"You can't leave them, Jack. JD needs you to be there and protect him as he grows up. We don't know what power is in his intelligence. Thor keeps talking about JD like he's some savior or something. I don't know what that's about, but one of us needs to be here to protect our son. I can't be, so you have to be.
"Jen's a woman now and Jeff's a man ready to take on the world, but Bri. I'm worried about her, Jack. She tries to cover it up, but I know she's angry. Babe, you have to help her. You're the only one who can help her now."
Daniel spoke about all of their children and even their zoo in his plea to Jack to put their pact aside and remain living. Their pact was a serious one, based on their forever love and unique nation of two. Neither wanted to live without the other, and long before marriage was a thought in their brains, back when their family was not even a hidden whisper, the lovers agreed that if one died, the other would soon follow.
"I love you. You're my life. We are our own nation of love. We don't need anyone or anything else. We could live on Xanadu and not need anything but each other. We made a pact that we would be together for eternity, in whatever plane of existence that turned out to be. I'm only asking that you wait until JD is grown and able to protect himself. I'm asking you to delay your actions until Noa feels safe and realizes as a young woman that she is as wonderful as anyone in the world and that she doesn't have to grow up, mourning four dead parents. Please don't let that happen.
"We will be together again, Jack. I believe that in the deepest part of my soul. You're there already. I'm begging you, though, to be with our children until they're grown. Someone has to keep Jonny in line and keep Little Danny from feeling the pain of the world so that he doesn't destroy himself. Someone has to be there when Bri accepts that she's a beautiful woman who can still be a tomboy and, if she wants, a wife and mother.
"Please, Babe, be there, for them, and for me. You'll know when the time is right and then you can honor our pact. Gawd, I love you so freakin' much. I'll be watching, with your parents, Charlie, my parents, and whoever else is there. We know they're there, Jack. We saw their hands, we heard Charlie ... they're there, and now I'll be with them, waiting for you when the time comes.
"That's our revised pact, okay? It's my last wish, Jack. What a life it's been. Who would have thought it, the Air Force colonel and the geeky archaeologist? It's been a wild ride and it's given me joy that I never thought I'd feel again after my parents died.
"Good-bye, Babe. I'll be watching and loving you, forever." With tears streaming down his face, Daniel reached over to the camera and gently caressed the lens. "My Silver Fox, I love you, forever and always, and always and forever."
Daniel turned off the camera and removed the memory card. He placed it inside the secured compartment of Jack's book and put it with the others. His strength was gone, but he had to fulfill his promise. He couldn't let Jack get upset with Jennifer, so he made it to the door, unlocking it and smiling at his daughter. It was two hours later, but he wasn't surprised to see Jennifer there.
"Thank you, Jen."
"Are you okay, Daddy?"
"I need to rest. Can you help me to the bedroom, please?"
By the time Jennifer helped her father settle onto the bed, Daniel was fast asleep.
"I love you, Daddy," Jennifer declared, leaning over and placing a kiss on his forehead. She felt a tear drop as she asked, "How many times have you kissed me like that over the years? Not enough, Daddy. I need you. This is so wrong, so wrong."
Jennifer heard whimpers from the beagles, knowing it was their way of agreeing with her. She patted both dogs before leaving the room.
With Jack hovering over Daniel in their bedroom, the children gathered together in the rec room. They were unhappy in so many ways.
"Why can't we be with Daddy?" Ricky asked.
"Taking care of Daddy isn't easy right now," Jeff answered, even though he wasn't happy with the amount of time the brood was being given with their younger father, either.
"But we know when the stranger is there now, so we can help," Lulu insisted.
"It's the physical things," Jennifer put forth. "I don't think Dad wants us to get scared."
"But it's Daddy, and we want to spend time with him," Aislinn sighed heavily.
"Why won't Dad listen to us?" Jenny asked.
"Jen, will you talk to Dad for us?" David asked. "We don't want to upset him, but we're capable of helping Daddy and we, well, you know."
"You get to see him more than we do," a downtrodden Little Danny pointed out. ~I'm not jealous, I don't think, but maybe I am. I want to be with my daddy.~
"Okay, I'll talk to Dad." Jennifer heard the pain in the Munchkin's voice, and in that of her other brothers and sisters. She had to admit she was more fortunate when it came to seeing their daddy. As the oldest, Jack turned to her first. She'd been with her younger father quite a bit. ~They're right. I'm not sure I can convince Dad, though.~
Later that day, Jennifer approached Jack when he was in his study. Daniel was sleeping, so her father felt like he could take a few minutes to pay the monthly bills.
"Dad, do you have a minute?"
"Sure, Princess. What's on your mind?"
Jennifer entered the study and nervously walked around the room for several seconds.
"Jen, go ahead," the father prompted, aware from his daughter's demeanor and movements that it must be a sensitive matter to be discussed.
"Dad, the brood is upset that they aren't being allowed more time with Daddy."
"It's for their own good, Jen. Daddy's not himself."
"They understand that, and it doesn't matter to them. They just want to be with him."
Shaking his head, Jack maintained his stance, explaining the situation as best he could to Jennifer.
"Jen, they don't realize the difficulties. Danny sometimes loses control of his bodily functions," Jack noted, putting it as delicately as he could. "His motor control has weakened quite a bit, too. It's harder for him to eat now. Sometimes, he can barely swallow. That's only a few of the physical changes. The kids can't handle that, let alone his frequent disinterest in life. No, I want them to remember their daddy the way he should be, not as the shell that's developing."
"But, Dad ..."
"No. Is there anything else?" Jack asked, his sternness indicating he was done with the subject.
"No," Jennifer sighed, leaving the room.
~It's the best thing,~ Jack told himself before finishing his task, something he wanted to do quickly so he could return to his husband's bedside.
"Danny, where are you going?"
"Going? I don't know, and I don't care."
"Come back here and sit down," the older man requested.
"I am *sick* of sitting down or lying down. I want to move."
"Shut up, Jack," the restless archaeologist spat before walking out of the master bedroom.
The beagles were quickly on Daniel's heels, but they hung back. The dogs were experts on their sick human and knew just how close or distant to be at any given time.
Jack sat down on the bed and leaned forward, his head in his hands.
"Daddy!" Jonny exclaimed, alerting some of the other children in the game room that their father was in the room.
When the boy ran over and embraced his daddy, Daniel said nothing. While his hands automatically moved to rest on Jonny's back for a moment, his eyes were scanning the room.
Daniel's blank expression was noticeable to the children.
"I can't stay here," the archaeologist spoke, turning and walking out of the room.
The children exchanged looks and hurriedly followed their daddy out of the room. They hung back, behind the beagles, as Daniel roamed around the house. He walked into rooms, looked around as if lost, and then moved on. He wasn't in a hurry, his pace slow and leisurely. He kept saying that he had to move, that he was tired of sitting still.
As Daniel was about to unlock the front door, Jonny ran over and put himself between the door and his father.
"Get out of my way," Daniel ordered.
"Bijou, get Dad," Jonny ordered without budging. "Daddy, I think you need to go upstairs now."
Daniel looked around, confused for a moment, but only for a moment.
"Daddy, come with us, okay?" Aislinn asked, reaching out and taking her father's hand. "This way, Daddy," she encouraged gently.
"Do you want to play with us in the game room?" Ricky asked.
"Maybe we could play with your trains," Jonny suggested.
"We could read you a story," Chenoa suggested.
"I don't care," Daniel stated softly.
"Should we choose?" Aislinn asked while leading her father away from the front door, though they were taking very short and slow steps.
"I don't care," Daniel replied, his eyes devoid of emotion for now.
"Danny?" Jack called out as he hurried down the stairs.
"He's okay, Dad," Jonny spoke.
"Danny, let's go upstairs."
The children watched with sad expressions as Jack helped his lover back to their master bedroom.
"We could have talked to him some more," Aislinn bemoaned.
"Dad doesn't want us to be scared," Chenoa lamented. "I'm not scared. Are you scared?" she asked Ricky, since he was the youngest one of them in the room.
"Daddy doesn't care me," the Spitfire answered. "Are you scared of Daddy?" he asked Jonny.
"We might as well go back into the game room," Aislinn sighed.
"I don't want to play anymore," Ricky responded, leaving his siblings behind and walking away with hunched shoulders.
"Me, either," Chenoa added as she walked over to the sofa and plopped down on it, content to simply sit.
The others returned to the game room, though they didn't play, either. Instead, they sat in silence by the expensive toys and games their parents surprised them with years ago after renovating the family home. Overcome with feelings of helplessness and sadness at being deprived of time with their daddy, the children sat quietly, each keeping their thoughts to themselves.
Once again, the Jackson-O'Neill children were gathered in the rec room. It was becoming a ritual for them to spend time in the large room and just sit. None of them felt much like playing, and all of them were upset to some extent about the lack of time with Daniel. Even more so, the brood was frustrated. They wanted their daddy to live and were beyond sad that nothing could be done. Yet, they were Jackson-O'Neills and defeat was not part of their beings. Their parents taught them that together, they were unbeatable. They were together, but none of the kids knew how to beat away the tumors in their daddy's head.
"We have to do something," Jonny demanded of the brood.
"What can we do?" Ricky sniffled.
"Well," Little Danny began. "There's the Stargate."
"Danny, we can't go walk into Cheyenne Mountain and ask to go through the Stargate. Not even General Landry will allow that," Jennifer sighed.
"We could go," David insisted since both he and Jennifer made regular trips through the Gate as part of the Teen Gater Program.
"David, the places we go for the most part don't have the technology we need, if it even exists," Jennifer reminded. "Besides, we can't schedule a trip anywhere we want."
"When is Grandpa coming back from his trip?" Jenny questioned.
"Not for another week or so," Jennifer answered.
"Why can't we call him?" Chenoa asked.
"Dad doesn't want us to disturb Grandpa's vacation. There's nothing he can do guys, so we need to be considerate. We all know Grandpa's been planning this reunion with his military pals for a long time."
"I thought he went fishing," Ricky put forth.
"He's doing that, too, after the reunion, with some of his friends. He'll be back soon," Jennifer advised, though she wished her grandfather were here, too.
"So what are we gonna do?" Aislinn sighed.
"I know!" JD exclaimed, surprising everyone. He started to run up the stairs, but then he hurried back. "Come on!"
The brood followed the boy upstairs to the nursery and watched as he ran to his bed and picked up Patch.
"Oh, yeah!" Brianna expressed with a smile.
JD stared at Patch and stated, "Uncle Thor, we need you."
Jonny ran over to Patch and added, "It's urgent!"
While Thor never confirmed that he listened in on the Jackson-O'Neill family with regularity, it was a commonly held belief that he did. In fact, Jack and Daniel had dealt with Thor's odd timing for years, long before the brood was even a gleam in their hearts. Everyone knew Patch was given to JD for a reason and by unspoken consent, it was accepted. Up until now, though, not even JD had requested Thor's presence through the soft plush dog.
The children waited for two minutes and began to succumb to the disheartening realization that Thor must not be listening.
"We could try our patches," Brianna suggested, referring to small devices that affixed to clothing and served as Asgard monitoring devices. Brianna was given a communication patch when she'd traveled to the Bahamas and her siblings were given patches later to ensure their safety. "Maybe they don't even work now."
"We've never had to use them," David pointed out.
"I wonder if they expire," Brianna replied. With a downbeat, she put forth, "I don't really think it matters. If he doesn't respond to Patch, he won't respond to the patches."
"I agree," Jennifer interjected.
"Maybe Thor's in another galaxy," Jonny sighed.
"Please, Uncle Thor. It's my daddy. Please come," JD cried.
Seconds later, a hologram of Thor appeared and stated, "I have received your message, but cannot speak with you at this time. Be prepared for contact in one day."
An idea occurring to him, Little Danny eagerly replied, "Thor, can you get Lya of the Nox and Ardyl of the Hedronix and ... and anyone important like that to talk to us?"
"We need a meeting," Jonny added quickly. "It's about our daddy."
"And our dad," Little Danny noted.
"Yeah," Jennifer responded as she processed the unspoken plan. "Thor, Daddy is sick, very sick. If it's possible, if you can arrange to have as many representatives as possible with you, somehow ... it's just ..."
"We need to talk with them about our daddy," Little Danny advised.
"Please, Uncle Thor," JD cried.
For a few minutes, the hologram remained silent, though still present in the room.
"I wonder where he is," Brianna remarked.
"I want to know what he's doing," Jonny replied.
Suddenly, the hologram spoke, "I will do what I can. I must go."
The hologram disappeared, leaving the brood staring at nothing.
"Now what do we do?" Jenny asked.
"We make a plan," Jonny answered. "We have to think about all the aliens we know who might be able to help Daddy."
"And try to convince them to help us," Little Danny explained.
"Even though some of those races never interfere," Jennifer sighed. "I've met some of them, kids. It's like Captain Picard and Starfleet's Prime Directive."
"You mean they won't help us?" a deflated Ricky asked.
"Well, we have to convince them that they should help to us," the young woman answered.
"We can't let Dad know what we're doing," David put forth, well aware of how his older father felt on the subject of trying to get help from Earth allies.
"We're good at keeping secrets," Chenoa stated.
"From Dad and Daddy?" Jenny asked skeptically.
"We need to be about this, or we won't get the chance to speak with Thor or any other ally," Jennifer told her siblings. "JD, you'd better keep Patch with you all the time."
"Okay," the youngster agreed, pressing the toy close to his chest, something he'd been doing a lot anyway after not having the stuffed animal with him for a while.
"Kids, we need to be clear on what we're doing," Jennifer stated. "Dad's told us that Daddy doesn't approve of using alien technology to save him." She sighed, "We have to face the truth."
"We're doing it for us," Little Danny returned. "But, Jen, we need Daddy, and Dad needs Daddy, and the universe needs Daddy. I'll bet everyone Thor talks to needs Daddy."
"We have to do it, Jen," David insisted.
"It's for the betterment of the universe," Jonny asserted in a full, confident voice.
With a smile, Jennifer concurred, "If we're all agreed, we need to start working on what we're going to say to convince our allies, and we do have to keep this a secret from both our parents."
"We don't have to worry about Daddy," Lulu groaned. "Dad never lets us see him anymore."
Not wanting to lose momentum, Jennifer put the remark aside and moved forward as she said, "Focus on the task. Think like explorers. What do we need to say?"
The children huddled together, doing as their sister requested. They had no idea for sure when Thor would return, so they needed to be prepared at a moment's notice to make their argument and convince aliens that their daddy was worth their intervention.
"Be prepared," Jennifer reminded the boys as she tucked them into bed.
"Jen, we don't need to be tucked in anymore," Jonny whined.
"Shutup," came the terse response. "I'm sorry, Jonny. It's just ..."
"I know," the oldest Munchkin sighed.
"Listen, I know Thor said something about a day, but if he has to round up some allies, it could take longer. Keep your notes with you, if you need them," Jennifer whispered. "And don't let anyone find them."
"Is Daddy gonna say goodnight to us?" Ricky asked with a tiny voice.
"I don't know, Ricky, and Dad doesn't really want to leave his side anymore. Be strong, okay?"
The little boy nodded and rolled over onto his side, A sniffle was heard as he pulled up the covers.
Jennifer walked over to the Spitfire and gave him a kiss on the cheek, after which she spoke softly, "I'm not Dad or Daddy, but I love you, and that kiss was for them. They love you, Ricky, very much. We just need to keep ourselves together a little while longer."
"Goodnight, guys," Jennifer said before turning off the light and leaving the room.
Jack settled into the bed and lamented the fact that his soulmate was sleeping on his side, his back to Jack. Daniel, wearing his burgundy pajamas decorated with camels, was sound asleep and had been from the moment he'd gotten into bed an hour ago.
The general sighed. He didn't want to sleep, his constant worry about Daniel superseding anything else. The truth was that Jack had gotten very little sleep since mid-April when Daniel's medical situation became clear.
Jack was use to getting little sleep during various periods of his life. His military background demanded he remain sharp and alert for hours and sometimes days on end. This was not a military event, however, and the situation had gone on for weeks and not just hours and days. Plus, a fact Jack didn't like to think about much, but he was older now. His body had its own demands that he needed to adhere to or risk his own health issues. Even so, Jack's top priority was keeping Daniel safe.
With the beagles on watch, Jack closed his eyes. He didn't intend to enter a deep sleep, but on this night, his body demanded rest. Soon, the silver-haired man was fast asleep.
A half-hour later, Daniel stirred. He sat up, sitting on the side of the bed for a few minutes. He wasn't thinking. His mind was in a calm yet bland state. He didn't quite register the presence of the beagles, who both had eyes on their human.
Daniel stood up and went to the restroom, closing the door behind him. This left the beagles uncertain whether or not they should wake Jack, but they decided to wait an appropriate amount of time. They stood on all fours when the door opened and Daniel emerged.
Seeing the man in his birthday suit, the dogs followed Daniel as he walked back to the bed. Of course, they'd seen the archaeologist naked before and thought nothing of it, until Daniel's course shifted and he veered toward the bedroom door.
Bijou considered waking Jack at this point, but again she opted against it. She knew Jack needed rest and figured as long as Daniel stayed inside the house, there would be no harm. Quietly, she nudged her child forward and the two dogs followed Daniel as he roamed around the house for twenty minutes. They were relieved when Daniel returned to the upper level of the home, until he bypassed the master bedroom and walked the jog to the newer side of the home where most of the children slept.
As Daniel walked the corridor, he began to pace, walking back and forth, though the length of each stretch lessened every time he circled around. He was unaware of anything around him, including the activity going on in the boys' room.
Inside the boys' room, Little Danny awoke, feeling thirsty. He decided to get up for a drink before making a trip to the bathroom. Before attending to either need, the Munchkin heard a noise and peeked out his door. Seeing his father, the boy left the bedroom and quietly approached.
Daniel looked down at the youth and tried to focus. He became agitated because he couldn't get a clear view of the child. His vision was blurry.
"Daddy, it's me, Little Danny," the boy said calmly as he noticed his daddy's cloudy eyes. ~I don't like that. Daddy has pretty eyes, or did.~
The archaeologist wasn't saying anything, but he pushed back from his namesake and made an angry grunt.
Undeterred, Little Danny reached out and took hold of his father's hands.
"It's okay, Daddy. You'll feel better when you go back to sleep. Come with me, okay?"
"I have to go."
"We are going, Daddy. We're going back to your room so you can be safe with Dad."
Bijou ignored yet another urge to run for Jack, but her heart was moved by Little Danny's calmness. She knew he wanted to tend to his father, so the mama beagle decided to stay alert and let the boy make his attempt.
"I have to go," Daniel repeated while letting himself be pulled forward by his son.
"Where do you want to go?"
"I ... I don't know."
"Well, when you know, tell us, and we'll take you there," the Munchkin promised.
"No, you can't come. It's just for me," Daniel spoke softly.
Little Danny inched forward with his parent until reaching the master bedroom. He watched as Daniel went inside the room and without hesitation laid on the bed. Then he felt a rub by his leg. He sat down and hugged Bijou and Katie. He didn't say anything. All he did was hug the beagles and enjoy being caressed by them. He missed the dogs, having not been able to spend much time with them during the past few weeks.
After a while, the boy stood and walked over by his dad. He shook him until Jack roused.
"What's wrong?" Jack questioned, looking over and seeing Daniel in the exact position he'd last seen him in.
"I think I should tell you," Little Danny began, telling his dad all before finally getting a drink, attending to his needs, and returning back to bed.
~Aw, Danny, what are we going to do? Blast it, Daniel, why don't you let me contact our allies?~
Frustated and having lost every attempt he'd made to change his husband's mind, Jack's mind wandered until he finally returned to sleep, though this time, it was a light rest during which he heard every nearby noise.
The next day was much like the days before it. Daniel went in and out of lucidity and slept much of the time. There were still perfectly normal moments and those were the times Jack rounded up the children to spend time with Daniel, but too soon, the archaeologist would tire and the frustrated brood would be separated from their daddy again.
That night, with her fathers together in the train room, Jennifer was with her siblings in the game. The kids were going through the motions of playing, only something else was going on.
"Not so hard, Jonny!" Aislinn warned from the opposite end of the air hockey table.
"I have to hit it hard."
"No, you don't!"
Jonny took aim and pounded the round disk so hard that it whooshed to the other end, hit the frame of the table, and bounced out.
"I don't want to play anymore," the Munchkin spat as he sat down on the floor. He looked over at the tall dinosaur that was in the corner of the room. "What a dumb name."
Jenny, who was sitting in front of the giant creature, stood up and shouted, "What's wrong with Muffin?"
"It's a dinosaur, Jenny, not a piece of bread."
"I picked the name and it's a good name," Jenny decreed.
"Only if you're a girl," Jonny whined.
"It's better than Bogey!"
Jonny sprang up and walked two steps forward as he yelled, "Leave Bogey out of this."
"Make me!" the brave redhead challenged.
"Kids, that's enough," Jennifer ordered.
"Let them argue," Brianna suggested.
"Bri, a little help here."
"I'm trying to. I made a suggestion, and it's a good one," the tomboy insisted.
The family drama continued. Soon, most all of the children were arguing about something, until Jeff finally pulled Jennifer and Brianna away.
"Listen! Jen, Bri, listen to what's happening in here?"
"Look at Lulu," Brianna whispered, seeing the eleven-year-old crying in the corner by herself.
"Gawd, this is ridiculous," Jennifer lamented. "Bri, I'm sorry. You were right."
"We're just mad, Jen. We're all mad, about everything, and mostly ... you know," the tomboy spoke.
After sharing a hug of forgiveness, Jennifer left the room. Her ire was strong. Someone had to stand up for the brood, and apparently, that someone was her.
With a full head of steam, Jennifer knocked on the train room door and called out, "Dad, I need to see you for a minute."
Jack left Daniel with the dogs and walked out to converse with his daughter.
"Jen, I don't want to leave Daniel for long. He's really enjoying this time with the trains."
"Is he? Or are you?"
"Jennifer, why did you want to talk with me?"
"A while ago, you told me to tell you something, and now I'm going to tell you, and then you can go back with Daddy and play with yours trains."
"Okay, what is it?"
"Stuff it. Did you hear me, Dad? Stuff it ... S - T- U -F -F -I -T."
Just then, Daniel appeared at the door, a sweet smile on his face, and asked, "Jen, wanna run the Egyptian Express for a few times around the track?"
"Thank you, Daddy, but the kids ne...want me to play some games with them. Are you having fun?"
"Yeah, especially since I get to beat Dad all the time."
"I'm glad," Jennifer said, walking over to give her daddy a kiss. "I love you, Daddy."
"I love you, too."
The young woman turned around, her eyes more stern as she approached the older man and hugged him while saying in a whisper, "I love you, too, Dad, but I mean it. Stuff it."
Jennifer pulled back and looked into her father's eyes, hoping he understood the message. Then she returned to the game room to pick up the pieces for the brood.
"Kids, listen up," Jennifer called out, sounding very much like her dad, the general. "I have two things to say. First, we don't treat one another the way we did a few minutes ago. I understand it because I know we're angry that Daddy is dying and we're sad because Dad believes he's the best to take care of Daddy. Second, we love one another and we need to stick together. We're the Jackson-O'Neills and together we're unbeatable, but if we pull away from each other, who are we? So, if you haven't already, say you're sorry to whomever you were arguing with and then let's stick together and play a few games."
Within seconds, there were a slew of apologies, quickly followed by hugs and declarations of their family love.
"Nicely done, Sis."
"I never felt so much like a parent before, Jeff."
"By the way, where'd you go?"
Turning around and taking a breath, Jennifer answered, "I did what Dad asked us to do. I told him to stuff it." She sighed and then smiled. "How about I beat your record at pinball?"
"No way, Bro. Come and see," Jennifer challenged her brother.
Peace returned to the brood as they hugged out their unhappiness, at least for the night.
Later that night, in the master bedroom, Jack was still dressed, though his yellow shirt was completely open. He sat on his side of the bed, his back against the headboard. His arms encircled Daniel, whose head rested upon his husband's chest. Like the burgundy pajamas with the camels, the pajamas the archaeologist was currently wearing were gifted to him by Jack.
Every year, Jack gave his lover a new pair of specially created PJs. It had begun in 1997, before they'd fallen in love. Originally, the theme revolved around Egypt, but as the years passed, Jack made the sleepwear even more personal with everything from chocolate and coffee theme pajamas to ones with sport cars and airplanes. In fact, tonight Daniel was wearing the ones with images of Jo, their private aircraft, on them.
As his hand played with the hair on Jack's chest, Daniel asked, "Why do my pajamas have planes on them, Jack? You're the pilot."
"You're a fly boy now, too, Danny. That's Jo, our plane."
"I can fly a plane?"
"You sure can. You fly high, Danny. You soar," Jack soothed, kissing the moderately long brown hair of his Love.
"Are we going to retire?"
Closing his eyes, Jack responded, "We are retired, Danny."
A minute of silence passed and then Daniel asked, "Do we have to go through the Stargate today?"
"No, Danny, we're retired. We don't go through the Gate anymore."
"Kids? Jack, are we going to have kids?"
Smiling, the older man assured, "I think we'll go for an even dozen."
"That's a ... a lot of children."
"We can handle it."
"I guess it will help some children. We can adopt twelve."
"Nah," Jack refuted. "We'll, um, find a beautiful woman, maybe even someone related to the Doc. She'll be full of life, a lover of adventure. Let's say she's a writer and photographer. We're going to love her, Danny. She'll go by the name of Kayla."
"That's General Hammond's granddaughter."
"Lots of Kaylas out there," Jack put forth. "This one is gonna give us a set of triplets."
"We'll call them the Munchkins. Then Kayla, beautiful on the inside as well as out, will gift us with a pair of twins."
"Twins *and* triplets? Gawd. How will we be able to raise that many children?"
"Love, that's how. We'll love those kids, and then we'll add a few more, call 'em Mouseketeers and then a few Mavericks."
"We're a couple of crazy guys, Danny," Jack returned. "We'll top it off with some alien technology that lets us have a child of our own, biologically."
"Jack, that's impossible."
"Nothing's impossible, not for us," Jack refuted. "His name will be Joel-Dai with a whole passel of middle names, but we'll call him JD. He's gonna save the Asgard, according to Thor."
"The little gray butt?"
Jack chuckled lightly and echoed in agreement, "The little gray butt."
There was another gap where nothing but the silent song of love played between the couple.
Then Daniel queried, "Those kids, are they real? Have I forgotten our kids?"
"They're real, Danny," Jack acknowledged emotionally. He pointed over to the nightstand where he'd placed a family photograph. "There they are, Danny, our brood. Little Danny, Jonny, Jenny, Ash, Lulu, Ricky, Noa, Jennifer, David, Jeff, Brianna, and JD."
"And our girls? Jack, where are our girls?"
"Woof!" Bijou barked lightly, nudging ever so gently against Daniel's right foot.
"Woof," Katie added, rubbing her nose against the bottom of the archaeologist's bare toes.
"There you are. I love you both." Daniel sighed, "They ... the girls, they'll always be with us."
"Always," Jack promised. He could hear a groan. "Headache?"
"It's time for your medicine," Jack noted. "I'll get you some coffee."
"Arabian Mocha, your favorite."
"Oh, if you say so."
"Or water. We have lots of that, too."
Jack didn't move for a minute. He didn't even want to get up to get his Love the water to help with taking the pills. The thought of Daniel turning down his favorite coffee blend was hurtful in ways the general couldn't describe.
"I love you, Danny."
"So much, Jack. I love you so much."
In the wee hours of the morning, Daniel pulled himself out of his husband's embrace. Barefoot, he sauntered out of the bedroom.
Jack's eyelids opened. His sleep was on the light side, his sharply honed military skills allowing him to monitor his lover's movements all the time. He considered getting up, but decided to follow his gut. Instead of following Daniel himself, he gave Bijou a nod. In an instant, the beagle leaped off the bed.
"But don't let him see you unless there's a problem," Jack instructed the canine.
Bijou blinked and then calmly trailed her assigned human. As she did so, Katie stood and walked over to Jack, climbing up onto his chest. She settled her head near his neck, nuzzling in for warmth and comfort.
"Yeah, me, too, Katie," Jack sighed as he closed his eyes, though he knew he wouldn't sleep.
As Bijou watched covertly from the corner of the hallway, Daniel entered the boys' room. He sauntered over to Little Danny's bed, sitting down on its edge. He reached over and ran his hand down the boy's cheek.
"Daddy?" Little Danny asked with a yawn.
"I love you."
"I love you, too, Daddy."
"Never forget, okay? Remember, everyone deserves respect, even if you disagree with them. Look at the big picture and ... and how we touch the lives of others. Nothing makes us more important than another. Remember that, okay?"
"Fight for what you believe, even when no one believes you," Daniel continued as his namesake looked up at him with loving eyes. "Know in your heart that you have to be true to yourself, and if you are, things will work out. It may take a long time, but it will happen. Study hard, but play, too. Don't make my mistake, Danny. Learn, but take time to have fun."
Little Danny listened, taking in all of his daddy's words, and there were lots of them. The father had a lot of wisdom to share in the middle of this night, and he was determined to impart as much of it as he could.
"Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal," the archaeologist concluded, using a quote by Pamela Vaull Starr.
Daniel smiled as he took his son's hand. It was still small compared to his own, but the connection he felt was so strong. To him, the boy was a miracle. All of his children were miracles. He didn't want it to end. There hadn't been enough time.
"Remember love, Son. It's the greatest thing, beyond studies, beyond the universe. Sleep."
Daniel released the boy's hand, stood up, and smiled down at the youngster. Then he leaned down and kissed him.
"Sleep," the archaeologist repeated.
The father watched for what seemed like hours to him. He couldn't get himself to walk away, not until he heard the sound of Jonny turning over on his bed. Daniel walked over and gazed at the sleeping child.
~So like Jack.~
Unable to stop himself, Daniel sat down on Jonny's bed and watched the boy sleep. Perhaps sensing a presence, the Munchkin batted his eyes as he merged from slumber to consciousness.
"Daddy, are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Daniel responded. "I'm sorry if I woke you up."
"You're so much like your dad."
"I'm like you, too. I like being like you and Dad."
"Do me a favor, Son, and don't overplay the dumb thing."
"What do you mean?"
"Dad loves to play dumb, and you're just like him, but I've always believed he overplayed that card. There's nothing wrong with being smart. Dad's smart, like you are."
"Sometimes you have to play dumb."
"Yes, I know," Daniel acknowledged. "Your brothers and sisters know you're not dumb. I know you're not dumb. Tootie knows you're not dumb. Just ... be happy with who you are. I know there are times when playing dumb is smart, but there are always times when playing dumb is just ... dumb."
"How do I know the difference?" Jonny asked.
"Listen to yourself," Daniel answered. "Jonny, Dad uses that dumb humor to survive. He had to find something to get through the bad times. What began as wit and silliness grew to a need, a need to cover up the pain. Along the way, it became a tool, too. Just ... be honest with yourself and don't hide behind an illusion. Acting dumb is an illusion; it's not who you are. It's not who Dad is, either. I'm probably not making any sense," Daniel spoke, suddenly cringing as he put his hands to his head.
"Daddy, are you okay?" Jonny groaned and added, "Geez, that's a dumb question."
Reaching down to make a soothing circling motion on the boy's abdomen, Daniel assured, "No, Son, it's not dumb. My head hurts a little, but it's okay. I love you. Be your best self, okay? Can you promise me that, that you'll always be true to yourself?"
"I promise, Daddy."
"I love you, Jonny," Daniel vowed as he found himself with an armful of youth. He held the boy close, enjoying the moment. "I'm so proud of who you are. You are like Dad and that's the best thing in the world. He's the best, Jonny. You're the best." He heard a sniffle and kissed the boy's cheek in comfort. "It'll be okay. Take care of Dad for me, and don't let him hide, Jonny. You know the difference. Don't let him hide."
Still crying, Jonny nodded against his father's shoulder. He felt like his world was ending and he was helpless to do anything about it.
"Back to sleep."
"I wanna stay with you."
"Sleep, Jonny," Daniel insisted, helping the boy to settle back down in his bed. "Dream big dreams. Remember, what other people think you are means nothing, but who you are means everything. Know who you are, General Jonny."
Jonny smiled, yawned, and reluctantly returned to the land of Nod. Daniel remained for a few minutes, trying to visualize the man Jonny would one day become. He wasn't totally sure of the Munchkin's path, but he was sure that Jonny would find his way and be happy.
A squinting Daniel looked over at the fast-asleep Ricky. The father was tired and for a second couldn't remember the Spitfire's name. Frightened, he backed out of the room. He looked down the long corridor, confused about where to go. He stood, still, waiting, though he didn't know what he was waiting for.
Bijou had backed up out of sight when Daniel first exited the room. She could sense his distress, but patiently waited. She would move quickly, if the need arose. Now, though, she watched and remained motionless. Her cues would come from Daniel.
The archaeologist leaned against the wall, his mind in a fog. He fought for control and, finally, clarity returned. Slowly, Daniel began to walk away, but then he paused when he realized he was by the girls' room. Unable to resist, he opened the door and walked inside.
Bijou breathed a sigh of relief. She could easily have been discovered. In truth, it made her sad that she hadn't been. A truly alert Daniel would have felt her presence.
Daniel was immediately drawn to Jenny's side of the room.
The redhead was holding her favorite dolly of the day. Daniel smiled as he thought about that. Like Aislinn, Jenny loved dolls and both girls had several. They even belonged to a doll club. The thing was that Jenny's favorite doll changed almost monthly for a variety of reasons. This month, Nurse Adora, a vinyl doll that was twenty inches tall, had the girl's favor. The auburn-haired doll with brown eyes was a gift from Janet, found at a thrift store during a recent shopping excursion she'd taken with Jenny. Jenny adored the traditional nurse's cap and uniform Adora wore and right now, considering the seriousness of her daddy's health, Adora was her constant companion.
Daniel noticed how tightly the Spitfire was holding the doll. It was unusual, but this was one of the few times in the girl's life that she'd shown a need for anything material.
"My sweet Jenny."
Suddenly, the girl let out a sigh as she began to wake, her subconscious registering the voice of her younger father. Especially in this troubled time, hearing or seeing Daniel meant the world to Jenny. She opened her eyes and smiled.
"I'm sorry I woke you, Jenny."
"I'm not," Jenny replied with a yawn.
"Jenny, sweet, Jenny," Daniel sighed. "Sometimes I think we've overlooked you, that you've gotten lost in the shuffle."
"I don't know what you mean, Daddy."
With a small upturn of his mouth, Daniel explained, "You're smart, Jenny, very smart, but you get almost left behind sometimes by all the attention on David and Little Danny, even Jonny." With a slight chuckle, he added, "Little Danny tells me all the time how smart you are. I think maybe we haven't given you the attention we should have, especially with your IQ."
"IQ is just a number: that's what you and Dad say." Jenny laughed, "Daddy, I don't even know what an IQ is."
"Yes, you do, Sweetie. I know Dad and I try to pretend that you, all of you, are ... equal to everyone else, but you're all pretty smart, and you hear things, you learn things, you know things we haven't told you."
"I like to learn. Learning's fun."
"I agree," Daniel replied.
"I like being in the background, Daddy, and I don't feel left out. Little Danny asks me questions all the time, and I ask him, and Jonny, and he asks me. We all ask questions and then we talk about it."
"You're your own study group." Daniel ran his hand gently down the girl's arm and sighed, "Maybe we're holding you back."
"Na-huh. We love how we learn," Jenny spoke on behalf of her siblings. "Besides, learning is just taking advantage of opportunities."
Daniel grinned at the comment and felt proud of his daughter's assessment.
"Look at Lulu and Noa," Jenny pointed out. "Lulu has a learning disability and Noa says she never thinks of herself as smart, but they know as many foreign languages as I do. I think they learn like I learn because you and Daddy teach us, together, so none of us are really smarter than the other. We just help each other learn. IQ is just a number, Daddy."
"You're right, Jenny. You're right about all of it. Thank you for reminding me."
"Jenny, when you grow up, don't change. You have so much spirit. Nothing frightens you, nothing. I don't really know if that's good or bad, but it makes you strong, able to tackle anything. You fight, Jenny, you fight for whatever it is you believe in, and never stop. Do that for me, okay?"
"Okay, but ..."
"You're wrong, Daddy."
"Wrong about what?"
"Something does frighten me; it scares me a lot," Jenny almost mumbled.
"What scares you?"
"Never having you kiss me goodnight again," Jenny cried. "I'm so afraid of that, Daddy."
Jenny threw herself into Daniel's arms, openly crying as her father held her close. Adora dangled from a loose hold in her right hand.
"I'll always be here, Sweetie, right here. You might not be able to see me, but you can feel me in your heart. I love you." After a moment, Daniel felt the doll sliding. "Hey, Adora's about to fall. We can't have our nurse getting injured."
Slowly, Daniel leaned back as Jenny did, too. He made sure the vintage doll didn't fall and then helped Jenny get situated back in bed.
"I wish Adora could cure you, Daddy."
"Me, too," Daniel whispered. "Sleep, my sweet Jenny."
The twin was upset, so it took her several minutes to lose her restlessness. Her sadness ebbed some as she saw her daddy's tender smile and loving eyes bearing down on her. She heard his voice, humming a soft tune and became lost in it until she entered the realm of dreams, though it was a fragile state.
"Thanks, Adora," Daniel whispered, patting the doll as he stood up. He wondered if he'd risen too fast as his head began to hurt. ~Oh my head!~
From the doorway, Bijou's heart pounded. Her senses picked up on the pain Daniel was feeling. Not hesitating, she turn and ran as fast as she could to the master bedroom.
Unaware of the dog's action, Daniel grimaced from the ache he felt. He let out a moan. Then he turned and looked over at the other bed in the room. He saw beautiful brown eyes looking at him. The little girl had tears running down her face.
"You're very beautiful," Daniel complimented the girl. "Who are you?"
Aislinn gasped and her tears tripled in an instant. The disturbance brought Jenny back from dreamland, though she said nothing.
"I don't know you. Why are you here?" Daniel asked Aislinn.
"Danny!" Jack called out, having heard both the praise and the question. His heart ached for his daughter and for his lover and the unintentional hurt just brought about by his presence. "Daniel ..."
Daniel twisted around and stared at Jack with a blank expression.
"Danny, the girls need to sleep."
"The girls? Who are they? Who ... do I know you?"
"Yes, Danny. It'll come back to you in a minute."
The younger man smiled and spoke lightheartedly, "Oh, I know. You're my Silver Fox and I'm your Angel."
"For always and forever."
"And forever and always," Daniel replied.
"Ash ... " Jack sighed. He didn't even know what to say anymore, but his heart was breaking. "Go to sleep, huh. I need to take care of Daddy."
"Ash?" Daniel echoed. He thought for a minute. "Our little miracle. She's such a beautiful baby."
"Yes, she is," Jack agreed, gently guiding his lover to the door. "Princess, we'll talk in the morning. We love you."
As their parents disappeared, Jenny got out of bed and joined her sister in her bed. With Adora still in her grasp, the redhead hugged Aislinn, even as both girls cried together.
"I don't want Daddy to die," Aislinn sobbed.
"Me, either," Jenny commiserated tearfully.
Bijou couldn't help herself. Knowing her daughter would be at Jack and Daniel's side, she hopped onto Aislinn's bed and snuggled up with the sisters. She felt a huge need to help them through the rest of the night.
"Ash was a mess this morning," Jack sighed as he sat on the patio deck talking with Sam as she sat in one of the deck chairs nearby.
Jack's eyes were focused on his lover, who was seated in the gazebo with some of the children. It had rained a lot yesterday, so the lawn was still wet, preventing the kids from romping around the yard as they normally might. At the moment, it was cloudy and somewhat overcast out and the forecast included more rain that was due to set in around noontime. That's why Jack suggested the outdoor time right after breakfast. His kids were becoming hermits. Having Daniel go outside for a time was the only he'd been able to convince the children to venture out of the house.
"He didn't recognize her, didn't even know her name. Crap. I don't know what to do."
"Sir, if I may ..."
"Carter, may away."
"I know you're trying to protect the kids from moments like last night, but the brood is used to being in difficult situations. They're your kids, Jack."
Jack glanced at Sam. It was still rare for them to use each other's given names and most of the time when they did, it was at times such as this one, when matters of the heart were at play.
"You think I'm shielding them too much from Daniel?"
"Spit it out, Carter."
"Is it possible that just maybe, well, that in trying to protect the kids, uh ..."
"Any chance you're trying to keep Daniel to yourself?"
Sam was expecting an explosion, but she didn't get one. Instead, she watched the general lean forward and put his hands together, rubbing them together for several seconds.
"Danny and I, it's always been about us, our ... nation of two. Then we got the girls and then this miracle called the brood happened, but we've always ..." Jack looked away, having a hard time saying the truth and talking so emotionally to the blonde. "We could deal with anything, just as long as we were together. Yeah, I'm being selfish because I'm not sure how I'm going to wake up one day soon, too soon, and not have Daniel here, in the flesh. I don't know that I'll make it through that, so, yeah, I'm trying to soak it all up, get every second. I can't friggin' help it, Sam. If I could, I'd take him somewhere, somewhere for just the two of us, Xanadu maybe, but I can't do it, because of them," he admitted, nodding over at the children.
"I understand and maybe that's why you should let them be more involved."
"He's forgetting who they are more often."
"Shouldn't they understand that, Sir?" Sam sighed and continued, "You're not allowing Hospice care, right?"
"I can take care of Danny."
"But you don't need to do it alone," Sam insisted softly. "Daniel taught me that a very long time ago. We're military, used to dealing with problems on our own, but in real life, we have family. *We* are family, Jack, and your kids, they need to be with Daniel, just like you do. I think Ash will cry some more, but the more she's with him, the more she'll understand that she was with her daddy when he needed her most. Don't take that from your children, Jack. Janet and I can help train them. Let us help you so that the children don't look back and ..."
"And resent me for keeping Daniel from them," Jack sighed. "Yesterday, Jen told me to stuff it."
"What does that mean?"
With a big breath, Jack admitted, "It means I'm keeping Daniel to myself and keeping him from the kids. She's right; you're right."
Sam didn't say anything in reply. She knew her commanding officer well. He needed processing time, and then she knew he'd do the right thing. She and Daniel had discussed it once, briefly, years ago during some disagreement the couple was having over a mission. Daniel told her then that Jack often needed to have his eyes opened. Once they were, he would always do what was right. Over the years, Sam came to have the same belief. She heard a noise that disrupted her thoughts. It was the happy sound of laughter. She looked out and saw Daniel tickling JD, who was giggling big time.
"They've told us what to expect," Jack suddenly spoke. "He's already weaker, but he can still get around okay, today anyway. Damn our principles!"
"I don't know what I'd do in your place."
"It's all I can do not to call Thor and ..."
The blonde could hear the frustration, anger, hurt, and despair in the man. She wished they were on a mission. Somehow, SG-1 always managed to find a way to survive, but survival in this situation went beyond firepower and creative ideas.
"I'm a little surprised you haven't kidnapped Daniel and ..."
Like Jack's sentence before hers, Sam didn't complete her thought. She didn't need to, anymore than Jack needed to vocalize his thoughts.
"He wouldn't forgive me," Jack lamented. "Sometimes I don't care about that, because he'd be alive, but blast it, we keep telling ourselves we don't deserve any special treatment from our allies. We've told ourselves that for so long that I don't know how we'd go against it. The truth is, I don't even know if there's an answer out there. The Tollan, they'd know what to do, but they're gone."
Jack looked at Sam curiously and asked, "Are we out of the loop?"
"There have been some rumblings from some of our allies that there were a few survivors from Tollana. The rumor is that they went about as far away from other planets as they could and have been rebuilding their civilization."
"Rumor, as in Area 51 doesn't exist or rumor as in Yellowstone is about to erupt and create a huge honkin' lava park?"
"More like Area 51, but there's no proof and no contact at all."
"Arrogant idiots wouldn't help anyway. Those pompous fools don't believe in sharing."
"Would you ..."
There was a tentative quality to Sam's voice.
"Sarcophagus?" Jack guessed, giving a nod in response. "I would, Daniel wouldn't. The addiction that thing brings isn't something he wants to deal with ever again. He doesn't want to take the chance, no matter what." He again looked at his friend. "I didn't think there were any of those still around."
"We're not sure."
"You're not sure of much, Carter."
"We've investigated, in case you and Daniel decide to explore other options."
"Can't do it. He won't let me, and those dang principles of ours are killing us, but we ... crap."
"Do as we say and not as we do," Jack groaned. "Daniel doesn't want his legacy to them to be exceptions. Believe me, I've tried to change his mind, but he won't budge, and I can't ..."
Sam reached out and did something very rare for her. She took hold of Jack's hand, smiling supportively as she did so.
"Jack, SGC is willing to reach out, if you can change his mind. We don't have definites, but we're there. General Landry wanted me to let you know that the Gate is at your disposal."
"You told him about Daniel?"
Sam sat back, afraid she'd just ignited a wick that was about to lead to a mighty explosion.
"I'm sorry, Sir, but I had to explore options. That's my job."
"Yeah, it is."
The woman was surprised, but grateful Jack understood her decision to let General Landry in on what was happening. It was necessary so she could be ready if Jack gave the order to contact allies or seek out a sarcophagus.
"Thanks, Sam. Tell Hank thanks, too, but as much as I want to drag Daniel through that thing one more time, I'd be letting him down. We've made promises to each other. When I was in the chair, I wouldn't go. He keeps reminding me of that. 'Not the same thing,' I tell him. 'Yes, it is,' he tells me. Sam, I can't have it end with me letting Daniel down. I have to be who he wants me to be, even it kills me to do it. This is about him, not me.
"You know something funny, Sam. All those nicknames I use. I've called Danny my Angel almost from the beginning, and I haven't been able to say it lately." Nearly overcome with emotion, the silver-haired man admitted, "It's too close, calling him an angel now. He's ... he'll be one, for real, soon. Oh crap."
Jack leaned forward, burying his head in his hands.
"How, um ..." Sam had tears rolling down her cheek and her voice cracked, prohibiting her from asking her question. ~I should ask Janet.~
"Two, maybe three weeks, if that," Jack barely got out in answer. "That's what the Doc told me three days ago, and that's a blessing. It hasn't progressed as quickly as she and Alex thought." Unable to continue the conversation, the general stood and ordered, "Watch him."
Sam's head turned as she watched Jack hurry inside the house. The truth was too hard to comprehend and deal with. Daniel's time on Earth was coming to a close and that was unthinkable to all who loved him.
Two hours later, Jack and Daniel were secluded in their master bedroom, leaving the kids downstairs with Sam.
All of a sudden, a light whirling sound was heard.
"Kids!" Jennifer called out. She looked at Sam apologetically and said, "Um, I think we're going somewhere."
"Cover for us," Jennifer requested.
"Please!" Chenoa begged.
"Back soon," JD added as he hugged Patch close.
A hologram appeared and looked around the room.
"Thor," Sam acknowledged. "Um, what have I missed," the blonde asked the children
"It must be now," Thor told the brood at the same time.
"Aunt Sam, please," Jeff pleaded. "Don't tell Dad and Daddy we've gone anywhere."
Sam smiled nervously as she scanned the eyes of the brood and then she choked out, "Good luck." She watched as the hologram and children disappeared. ~Okay, didn't see that one coming, but why am I surprised? Their parents never followed rules, so why should they, especially now. Come on, Thor. Have a solution.~
A small glimmer of hope suddenly flickered to life inside Sam. SG-1 had survived death more times than she could count. They all just needed just one more miracle.
~Just one more.~
The brood looked around the bridge of The Daniel Jackson, Thor's command vessel. They were surprised to see so many alien races represented.
"These are the children of General Jack O'Neill and Doctor Daniel Jackson," Thor introduced to the assemblage. "They have asked to speak with you about their fathers."
Seeing the Asgard looking in the direction of the brood, Jennifer took the lead and began with, "Thank you for coming. I can't believe so many of you are here. I ... I know some of you, if not personally than from the stories my fathers have told me over the years."
Jennifer smiled even as her eyes watered and continued, "My name is Jennifer and these are my brothers and sisters." After naming each of her siblings, she explained the reason for the gathering. "My father, Daniel, is ill, very, very ill."
"Daddy's dying," Chenoa sniffled.
"Yes, he is," Jennifer confirmed, noting various reactions from the planetary powers in front of her. "Let me explain."
For the next few minutes, Jennifer told her audience about Daniel's condition, even about how he'd had the tumors years before. She noted the limitations of Earth medicine and how Daniel's time was now limited to weeks and not many of those.
"The thing is, our fathers don't feel like they have the right to ask you for help," Jennifer sighed. "They, um, they don't see themselves as special. They did their jobs and maybe in doing their jobs, they saved you, or you, or you," the young woman speculated as she looked at different alien representatives in front of her. "We know they've saved Earth and more specifically, they saved us," she spoke about her siblings. "We need your help."
"How?" Ardyl of the Hedronix inquired.
Jennifer didn't know Ardyl, but that wasn't important. She knew whoever he was that he had to be important to the universe.
"We believe that some of you have the ability to make our daddy better. We know for a fact that some of you do. We want you to save him for us."
"But that is not his wish," Lya of the Nox interjected. "Is that not what you told us, Jennifer?"
"Lya, we need Daddy," Little Danny responded, having run forward to stand just feet in front of her. "Sometimes, people need to be saved in spite of themselves."
"Our dad the general is a hero," Jonny put forth. "I bet most of you wouldn't be here if Dad hadn't saved your planet like he saved ours." He stood confidently as he added, "And our daddy was always there with him. Daddy's a hero, too. He always fought for what you believe, and he helped Dad to understand. That's cause Dad's the might and Daddy's the soul."
"He means Dad is military and Daddy's the cultural expert," Little Danny explained. "They're a team; they're our parents."
"And we need them," Aislinn declared. "They tell us all the time that they're not special, but we think they're special. Please save our daddy," she cried.
"Listen, I know maybe some of you don't think we have the right to interfere," Jennifer spoke. "Lya, I know the Nox very well. You've been so kind to all of us and I know how you saved SG-1 when they first went to your world. You don't like to interfere. You like to stay neutral, but you saved them. Isn't there a way you can understand how beneficial it would be to save Daddy now?"
"It is a fine line, Jennifer. Your parents do not want the help of the Nox."
"Dad does," Lulu whispered. "He just can't ask because he promised Daddy."
Lulu's words sparked an idea for the little general. Confident, Jonny took several steps forward and then climbed up onto one of the ship's stations so that he could be seen by all.
"General Jonny, the Asgard do not climb onto the parts of our ships," Thor reprimanded.
"I'm not an Asgard," the boy smirked as he further got into the character he wanted to portray. "What I think you should think about, and I know I'm just a little boy, but if I were you, and I knew how often General O'Neill and Doctor Jackson ..." Jonny paused. How he hated not using his parents' full names, but he was on a mission now, and sometimes sacrifices had to be made. "... saved my planet or somehow made it better, I'd think about how *grateful* the general would be, and I'd remember how the general, that's my dad, my dad the lieutenant general, is respected on Earth. He knows all the important people on Earth. I'd think about that, how *grateful* General O'Neill would be if I were the one who saved Doctor Jackson."
Jeff grinned at his brother's ingenuity and added, "He's right. Dad would be in your debt. He wouldn't forget that, not ever."
Young JD felt a strange sensation. As he held Patch, he felt the dog urging him forward. He didn't understand it, but then he looked over at his Uncle Thor. He thought he saw the Asgard nod at him. Even so, he had no idea why he was so possessed to run out in front of his siblings, but that's what he did. In his head, he heard a whisper to join Jonny on the console.
"Jonny, help me up," JD requested, happy when his brother assisted him without hesitation. The youngest member of the brood listened to the whispers within his soul and spoke to the aliens on his daddy's ship. "Dad would be grateful, but so would we." He looked back and pointed at his brothers and sisters as he said, "We'd all be very happy if you saved our daddy. For the rest of our lives, we'd be so happy. Daddy says that when someone does something nice for you that you should want to do something nice for them. Well, Daddy says we should do nice things for everyone, no matter what. Jen grows things; Jeff takes lots of pictures of stuff, David loves rocks, Bri talks to dolphins, Lulu dances pretty, and Noa dances real fast. The Munchkins are super smart. They're gonna be part of the Stargate one day. Ricky is good at making buildings, and Jenny isn't afraid of anything."
"Except ... I'm afraid of my daddy dying," Jenny corrected with a tiny voice. "Please don't let my daddy die."
Jenny turned around, her tears flowing like an open tap releasing a spillway of water. Ricky hugged her protectively in response.
"We'd all be very happy if you'd help us," JD added, climbing down and ambling sadly back to his previous spot.
"We'd owe you," Jonny told the group. "We'd owe you forever. Dad and Daddy told us to always be honest and never forget when someone helps us. We'd never forget."
"Please love our daddy. We need him to help us grow up right," Little Danny interjected. "We just need him."
"Thank you for listening," Jennifer said softly. "We'd better go home now, Thor. Daddy only has ... he's very weak. He doesn't even know us most of the time now."
As Thor walked to the main controls to return the children to their home, David called out, "If you ever need us, we'll help you, even if you don't save Daddy. We'd never turn our backs on you because, well, we understand that you have your reasons for helping, or not helping."
"David's right," Little Danny added as he walked forward. "I should have said that. Daddy tried to remind me of that recently. It's important to accept people, or planets, for who and what they are." Nodding, the boy reasserted, "The Jackson-O'Neills are always your friends. Anytime you need us, we'll be there. I know we're just kids now, well, mostly, but when we grow up, we'll still be your friends. That's what Dad and Daddy would want; it's what we want. Thank you."
"Be well, Jackson-O'Neills," Lya called out on behalf of the planetary powers.
Sam stood up when she heard the familiar whirl of the Asgard transportation device and asked, "How'd it go?"
"Who knows," Jennifer answered, conflicted on how to answer. "We talked to them, told them how much we love and need Daddy, and then we just told them we'd always be their friends, even if they didn't help."
Late that afternoon, there was a tap-tap-tap on the Jackson-O'Neill front door. Jeff opened the door and felt a ping of relief. It was his grandfather, General George S. Hammond.
Entering the home, Hammond hugged the young man.
"I'm glad you're here," Jeff stated.
"I wasn't sure when you're semester ended. How'd it go?"
"Good," Jeff replied, though he knew full well that was only half the answer since he hadn't actually finished the spring semester.
"Where are your folks and those brothers and sisters of yours?" the man asked as he walked into the living room, eager to see his grandkids.
Just then, JD became aware of Hammond's presence and ran to him.
"There he is," Hammond greeted cheerfully while picking up the child.
"Grandpa, I missed you," JD said as he put his arms around the man's neck.
"I missed you, too."
"Grandpa!" came the joyful exclamations from most of the brood as they hurried to see the man, resulting in happy hugs and smiles.
That is, until Aislinn tugged on his arm and began to cry. Her tears ignited those of several others, leaving Hammond extremely confused.
~Grandpa doesn't know yet,~ Jeff realized from observing Hammond's behavior and surprise at the emotional state of the brood. He looked over when he heard his sister walking into the room. "Sis, he doesn't know yet," he told Jennifer, who nodded.
"Grandpa," the young woman spoke in a voice that was mixed with both desperation and exhilaration.
Hammond was focused on the youngest Munchkin, leaning over in an attempt to soothe her. He felt her arms go around him and though she was getting a bit too big for him to lift her up, he did so anyway. Immediately, his neck moistened from the fallen tears the girl shed.
"Kids ..." Jennifer knew it was hopeless. Her siblings needed the comfort of their grandfather. The truth was, so did she. "Jeff, I'm going to get Dad."
Hurrying up the stairs, Jennifer saw the bedroom door was open. She smiled when she heard her parents chatting. It was nothing special, just talk about the news of the day.
"Dad, Daddy, Grandpa's here," Jennifer announced.
"He's here?" Jack questioned.
"Tell him we'll be down in a minute," Daniel instructed.
Jennifer saw a reaction from her older father, but he didn't verbalize any objection, so she turned and headed back downstairs.
With their daughter gone, Jack questioned Daniel's decision to go downstairs.
"I'm okay right now," Daniel insisted. "Not sure long, I mean, how long."
"I want to see him, Jack."
Daniel started to stand, but his legs gave out and he bounced back down on the bed.
"Danny, I'll bring him up here."
Nodding, the archaeologist surmised, "You haven't told him."
"I thought about it, but you didn't want it blabbed all over the place," Jack answered.
"He's been out of town anyway, remember," Jack reminded.
"Gone?" Daniel questioned.
"Danny, I'll talk to Hammond and ..."
"No!" Daniel snapped angrily. He closed his eyes and tried to focus his mind. Feeling an unwanted pressure in his chest, he worked hard to calm himself. "Bring him."
"If you're sure."
"I'm sure," Daniel insisted as he leaned back against the headboard of the king bed.
Heading downstairs, Jack was glad Hammond was there, but at the same time he was worried. He knew why Daniel wanted to speak with Hammond, but he also realized that Daniel was showing signs of agitation and forgetfulness.
~The words are going to be hard. I don't know if Danny is going to get through this.~
"General Hammond," the silver-haired man called out.
"Jack, I seem to be the cause of a crying outbreak."
"It's good to see you, Sir," Jack greeted as he reached out and shook the man's hand. ~Let's just ignore the crying.~ He focused on the brood. "Kids, listen up. Daddy wants to talk with Grandpa. I want all of you to go into the game room until further notice. Go."
Hammond was curious about the situation. His grandchildren were very clingy and he wondered why Daniel hadn't come downstairs. Something was up and his senses told him it wasn't anything good.
"Jack, I can still smell the scent of a cover up. What's going on?"
"There's no cover up, Sir," Jack refuted as he nodded for Hammond to walk with him. "Daniel will fill you in, but ..." He let out a uncertain groan. "He'll tell you."
Confused, Hammond kept silent. He walked with Jack into the master bedroom and immediately noticed the paleness of Daniel's skin and the medications on Jack's nightstand.
"Danny, General Hammond is here."
"Sir, it's good to see you. Well, I can't really see you that well right now, but you have a familiar silhouette," the archaeologist teased.
Hammond walked over and reached for Daniel's hand to shake it. His insides told him something was dreadfully wrong.
"Son," Hammond responded, uncertain what to follow up with since he was unsure what was happening.
"I'm sorry I can't get up," Daniel sighed. "I tried and crashed. Please sit down, if you don't mind."
Daniel pointed across from his position to the foot of the bed.
"Of course," Hammond agreed. That's when he noticed the beagles weren't budging from their position on the bed. ~Stuck to Doctor Jackson like statues.~
"Did you have a nice trip?"
"It was excellent, but don't small talk me, Son. What is it?"
Daniel bowed his head slightly, a tiny smile and slight release of air his response to Hammond's question.
~I don't like this.~ With a reluctant sigh, Jack stated, "I'll be downstairs with the brood." He looked at the beagles and clarified, "Game room."
"Woof!" Bijou responded.
~Those dogs are human beings in disguise,~ Hammond thought to himself.
With Jack gone, Daniel stated, "The Mengali mission that interrupted my time away from SGC: it was years ago. Do you remember it, General?"
"It was a trying mission. I almost lost SGC's flagship team."
"Sir, there was something about that mission that you never knew. I ... I wasn't well."
"I guessed as much," Hammond admitted as the memory of that time came flooding back to him. "I was mighty pleased when you and Jack came back after leaving town. I wasn't sure you would."
"Neither were we," Daniel returned. "I, uh, I had a couple of brain tumors. I don't know what Jack said in his report, but he was injured and I was ... dead, but he put us both in a sarcophagus. It ... revived me, but it was a while before we knew that it had eliminated the tumors."
"Daniel, you're going back a long way. That was '99 or so, wasn't it?"
Daniel became lost in thought, his eyes losing what focus they had. He closed his eyes and said nothing.
Bijou whimpered and was about to run for Jack, when Hammond leaned forward and gave Daniel a slight nudge.
"Son, are you all right?"
Daniel was flustered as he awoke from a minute-long nap. He looked around the room and he could hear his heart beating.
"I know you dogs ..." Hammond began, about to suggest they retrieve Jack from the game room.
"I'm ... I'm sorry, General. Where we? I ... I mean, where were we?"
Quietly, the bald-headed man answered, "The Mengali mission. That was some time ago."
"Yes, it was, but it seems the tumors have come back."
Hammond was shocked by the revelation, but it explained the odd behavior he was witnessing.
Daniel gasped for breath, but he was determined to finish what he'd started.
"Back then, Jack took me to see a friend of his who's a doctor in Carolina North. We went to see him again, while you were gone. Janet came, too, and she conferred with Doctor Weston. There's no error. They're very big tumors and the reality is that I don't have long."
"I'm sorry, Son," Hammond sighed. ~That's why the children were crying.~
"Sir, the kids. They need you. I, I, I scare them sometimes. Don't want to. My behavior changes. I can't help it; it just changes and I don't realize what I'm doing. I hurt them. I ..."
Daniel was becoming very emotional and took a huge breath to center himself.
"Daniel, is there anything I can do?"
"Be there, for the brood, and for Jack. He's having a hard time. He didn't call you because I told him I didn't want anyone to know. The team knows, Sam's husband, Jack's wife: no more, think no more, no more. I think that's it. I might have forgotten someone. You know how we are."
"There's nothing amiss about keeping your affairs private. Do you want me to give you and your family privacy?"
Katie stood up, in full alert mode, something Daniel was aware of, but he reached over and held onto her. He couldn't give in to the tumors, not right now. He had something to say and he feared this was his last chance. Katie sat down, but her eyes were affixed to her human.
"No, please don't," Daniel responded. "I, uh, I'd like to thank you for everything you've been to Jack and me. I told you once before and, important, say it again. You've been more of a grandfather to me than my biological Nick was ever. I thank you for that and for accepting my children as your own grandchildren. They love you. I ... I love you, Sir."
Conversations like these were rare for Jack, Daniel, and General Hammond. They happened occasionally, but none was ever more heartfelt than this one.
Hammond recognized how hard it was for Daniel to get out his words. His phrasing was off, which the general realized must be an effect of the tumors. In his heart, he didn't care about Daniel's manner of speech, grammar, or vocabulary, but he did care about the sentiment. He realized, too, that this could well be his last conversation with the archaeologist. The words needed to be said.
"I love you, too, Son, and I am very proud of what you and Jack have done with your lives and making a family for your children. I've been honored to be a part of it. I make you this promise, that Jack and your brood can always rely on me to do whatever is necessary. I love them all and consider all of you to be a part of my family."
Daniel let out a huge sigh. He looked peaceful, but then his body jerked for a few seconds.
Hammond looked at the beagles and ordered, "Get Jack."
Bijou jumped off the bed and headed downstairs while Katie remained at Daniel's side. She looked at Hammond with sad eyes.
"He's one of a kind," Hammond said to the canine, who put her paws on Daniel's legs and gently lay down her head while waiting for Jack.
When Jack entered the bedroom, Hammond excused himself and went downstairs to see his grandkids. This time, he knew how to respond.
The kids cried and enjoyed the supportive hugs their grandfather gave them.
"What do you want to tell me?" Hammond asked the brood, not pressing them for their feelings or asking direct questions that might make them feel uncomfortable.
Hammond received an earful as the kids told him about their daddy's behavior and how scared they'd been while Jack was away on military business. They told him about the trip to North Carolina, and shared what they'd observed about Daniel's physical and mental lapses that were increasing daily since returning home. Finally, they relayed their sadness and upset over not being able to spend time with their daddy.
There was also an addendum as the brood expressed their joy at having their grandfather home.
During the long conversation, Jennifer and Lulu prepared a few finger foods since no one was very hungry. The goal was to have foods the family could snack on during the evening. There were various mini-sandwiches, along with crab salad canapes, strawberry bruschetta, and little bacon-wrapped dinner sausages.
Though he hadn't planned on staying this long, Hammond couldn't leave the Jackson-O'Neill children. He remained to provide them the comfort and security they needed. Besides, he'd promised Daniel two hours ago that he would be available whenever needed and from his point of view, he was needed now.
Eventually, Hammond took Jeff aside and asked, "Is this normal, for your dad to spend most of his time with Daniel?"
"Usually. It's like we said, Grandpa, we'd like to help, but Dad's taking on most of it himself. He thinks he's protecting us."
Hammond nodded and waited some more, until he decided he'd waited enough. He left the kids and went upstairs, knocking on the closed bedroom door until Jack opened it. He could see the archaeologist was asleep, the beagles at his side on the bed.
"A moment," Hammond requested of Jack, backing away from the bedroom door.
Jack glanced back at Daniel and then shut the door before joining Hammond several feet away from the door and down the hallway.
"Jack, it's not my place to butt into your business. This news about Daniel is hard to take. I understand that. I've lived through it, and it's a darn unpleasant thing, but you have twelve children who need their dad to help them get through this difficult time. You're doing yourself, and them, a great disservice by creating this distance."
The silver-haired man listened to Hammond's words, but he didn't reply with anything but slight bobs of his head.
The silence led Hammond to believe Jack was stuck in his ways and not open to other possibilities.
"Maybe you should think about what Daniel would want. The man I know would be very unhappy to know that his children were being kept from him and that his husband was ignoring them. I'm disappointed, Jack, but how I feel is not important. How Daniel feels is. I'd advise you to consider alternatives to your status quo or risk losing the respect of your children in the future."
Jack lowered his head, but he still didn't reply verbally.
"Very well. I've interfered enough," Hammond sighed. "You're hurting your children, Jack. They are more capable of looking after Daniel than you think, and they need your time now as much as later."
Hammond stared at Jack for a few seconds and then went downstairs, where he said goodnight to the children and left the house.
Jack remained in the hallway, a small smile on his face.
~Thank you, General. You just reaffirmed my decision. I'll tell you about it later and hopefully you'll understand.~
Feeling more confident about the decision he'd made earlier in the day, Jack returned to be at his husband's bedside.
Bright and early the next morning, even before breakfast, the kids were gathered in the living room as instructed by their older father. They were scared, worried the meeting had to do with their daddy. These days, those types of conversations were not positive.
"Kids, we're waiting on ..." Jack stopped, hearing the knock at the door. He went to the entryway and nodded after he opened the door. Returning to the brood, he said, "I asked Aunt Janet, Aunt Sam, and Aunt Sara to come over today to help us. First, though, I need to apologize."
"Apologize?" David called out. "What for, Dad?"
"I didn't mean to," the father responded, his voice ebbing as he choked up. "I, uh, I ..."
Jack couldn't get out the words, so Sam walked over and continued, "I think what your dad is trying to say is that, if you want to, he'd like you to help take care of your daddy now."
"Don't whitewash it, Carter," Jack spoke, finding his voice. "I've been hogging Daddy. I wanted every second to myself, and I know that was wrong. I just ..."
As Jack shook his head again, unable to speak, he found himself surrounded by his twelve children as they engaged in a giant hug.
"We understand, Dad," Chenoa cried.
"I do, too, but it was still wrong," Jack replied. He raised his head and leaned it back. Then he shook it in a quest to regain control. "Kids, listen to me. Daddy doesn't have long, and in the time's that left, he'll need even more care. He is going to be ornery sometimes. He may not even care about anything, and he'll know us less and less. I've tried to shield you from that, but that was wrong, too."
"We've seen the stranger a lot of times, Dad," Lulu reminded.
"I know, Princess. I just ... crap, I used it as an excuse, and I've robbed you of time with Daddy. I'm very sorry."
"Does this mean we're going to be able to spend more time with Daddy?" Jennifer questioned.
Nodding, Jack explained, "I asked your aunts to come over to show you how to care for Daddy. No one has to. This is not going to be an easy time. The next week, maybe two, will be hard on all of us. Daddy won't be himself much. If you want to learn how to take care of Daddy, stay downstairs. Otherwise, go about your business. Remember, kids, nothing about this will be easy, and you're going to need to have tough skins. No one is wrong for choosing not to help. Being a doctor or nurse and tending to patients is a difficult thing. Okay, that's it."
Jack walked over to the ladies and continued to face them. He didn't want to put any pressure on his kids by staring at them.
"We're wasting time," Little Danny said. "Help us help Daddy."
"They're your kids, Jack. What did you expect?" Sara asked with a smile, seeing that all twelve children wanted to be trained.
"Here's what we're going to do," Janet began, walking over to the children. "We need to talk about what's happening to your daddy physically. Time for class."
"And while Aunt Janet is conducting class, I'm going to KKs for a few dozen donuts," Jack stunned his children by saying.
"What if Daddy needs you?" Brianna queried.
"You can help him. I won't be gone long."
Jack exited the house, stopping on the porch for a few seconds. Walking away was one of the hardest things he'd ever done. He wanted to turn around, run up the stairs, and hold his Angel. He turned, prepared to do just that, but then he heard his daughter's voice, her words echoing in his head.
~Stuff it,~ Jack sighed internally. ~They have a right to be with Daniel as much as I do.~
Full of resolve, Jack headed for his truck, determined to show his faith and need in the brood.
At noontime, General Hammond arrived at the Jackson-O'Neill homestead. He'd received a call from Jack, requesting his presence.
Jack greeted the man and welcomed him inside the home.
"I'd like you to see something," Jack beckoned, leading Hammond to the recreation room.
Hammond looked out over the room and saw the children spread out in groups. Each group had an adult, either Janet, Sam, or Sara with them.
"That, Sir, are your grandchildren learning how to take care of their daddy," Jack answered. He let out a breath and confided, "I've been a donkey's behind, George. I didn't realize it until I was hit over the head with it yesterday, first by Carter who helped me see that I was being selfish and not protective like I'd convinced myself, then by Jen who hasn't been this upset with me since I grounded her in high school, and then by you. Maybe I did know it and I just needed someone to make me face it."
"You'd already decided to make a change before my soliloquy?"
Smiling at the reference to the one-side discussion of the night before, Jack confirmed, "Yeah, but hearing you say what you did told me I was right to let the kids in. It's hard, but I need to step back." Jack's voice cracked when he asserted, "There's not much time left. I don't have a right to keep them from Danny, or Danny from them." Looking down, he added, "He still has moments. He's a fighter. He's not going down easy."
"I wouldn't expect him to, Jack. That boy has gumption. I remember when he demanded to be on SG-1. He looked like a hippie with no real qualifications to be on a military team."
"He was a fast learner," Jack opined. "I take a little longer to learn my lessons," he mused.
The men backed away, not wanting to disturb the training exercises the children were involved in.
"I'm glad you came by, Sir. Come by whenever you like."
"Thank you, Jack."
After talking for a few more minutes, Hammond left and Jack went upstairs to check on Daniel. Jack still felt bad about his recent actions, but he felt good about making it right before it was too late. As he watched his sleeping soulmate, he recognized that Daniel would want continued contact with the children, no matter what.
"Sorry I messed up, Love. I get very one-sided where you're concerned. The brood will be up soon and I'll be here. I'll always be here."
By the end of the day, the children were confident in their skills and that they knew how to care for Daniel. A schedule was made and the children were assigned to duties they were able to aptly perform. Between the twelve of them, Jack, and their aunts, Daniel was in the best hands possible.
Jack felt relieved. He knew now that had he kept Daniel to himself. He wouldn't have been able to forgive himself later for depriving his children of the chance to spend precious time with their younger father, regardless of his condition. It was a revelation that also caused him to make another decision.
"Suz, it's Jack ... no, he's hanging in there, but ... yeah ... I know what Daniel told you when you spoke, but ... right ... not long, though. He may not even know you ... You sure? ... Let us know when the flight arrives and someone will meet you at the airport."
With the call ended and plans made for Suzanna Simpson, Daniel's foster sister, to visit, Jack looked over at his sleeping archaeologist and whispered, "They need to say goodbye, Angel. I won't let it drag out, but these are people you love. A couple of minutes, for them, okay?"
Also invited over were Mrs. Valissi, Lou Feretti, and Cassandra. It was a small list, but that's all Jack dared to allow. Other family and friends would simply have to understand.
Jack walked over and laid down next to his lover. He put his arm around him and whispered, "I love you, Angel. You'll always be my Angel."
It was late at night and the soulmates were together in their master bedroom. Daniel didn't often leave the room anymore and when he did, it was only for a few minutes. Bijou and Katie were there, too, per usual, but at the moment, they were settled together in their beanbag. They were aware of all movement, but they weren't watching their humans. This was special time for Jack and Daniel, so the dogs were giving them as much privacy as possible.
"Jack, is it time to go?" the pajama-clad archaeologist asked as he sat up in bed, something that was surprisingly difficult for him.
Daniel was asking that question frequently of late, which was disturbing to his lover.
"No, Angel." Jack walked over to the bed, reached down for his Love's hands, and urged, "Danny, come here."
The older man had a feeling this was the right time. He'd been waiting for it, but Daniel's energy was either too low or he wasn't able to focus.
Jack helped Daniel to stand, the two mere inches from the other, but that was only for a second or two. Jack carefully braced his soulmate, his right arm solidly in place on Daniel's back while his other arm supported the younger man from the opposite position.
"What are we doing?"
"Oh," Daniel sighed contentedly as he rested his head on his husband's shoulder. "Did I ever tell you I love your gray sweats?"
The sweats were old, with a few holes here and there, but though he had newer ones in the same hue, Jack often wore the original pair because he knew Daniel had a sentimental affection for them.
"You've mentioned it once or twice."
"That you love me."
Daniel chuckled, "Yeah, I do. Why is that?"
"It's my charm and wit when faced with a crisis."
"I thought it was the overly charred steaks and sarcasm."
"Very funny," Jack responded dryly.
"I thought so."
The lovers quieted as they began to sway slightly. There was only the music of their hearts as the couple danced in a slow, sweet caress of their love. Jack had to be cautious, not wanting Daniel to fall if his legs suddenly gave out as they sometimes did.
Daniel loved dancing with Jack. It was special to him, being so close and moving to the music, no matter what the source. There was something else he treasured, something Jack didn't do near as often as Daniel would have preferred, but when he did, Daniel's heart sang in joy.
In a soft lilt of his voice, Jack began to sing "An Irish Lullaby," better known to many as "Too Ra Loo Ra Lool Ral."
Quietly, Daniel smiled. It was as if Jack heard his inner thoughts. That wasn't much of a surprise. The couple were very in tune and even had their own special communication link, though that ability had gone away since the tumors interfered with life.
Jack embraced his Love as he sang the gentle tune and then, when the song was over, so was the dance. He pulled back to look his husband in they eyes.
"I love you, Danny. I wish I could keep the monsters away. I'd do anything to keep you here in my arms forever."
Daniel recalled the reference just made. When the Munchkins were born, he'd heard Jack sing the lullaby to Little Danny. The silver-haired man promised the middle Munchkin he'd always keep the monsters away.
"I'll always be here, Jack. I love you so very much. Thank you for this moment. It'll live in me for eternity, wherever that is."
Jack and Daniel shared a tender kiss that testified of their feelings. Both wished it was more, but that wasn't possible nowadays. Each contemplated an attempt, but then Daniel began to slip. His strength was ebbing away again.
"Back to bed, Angel."
"I wish ..."
"Me, too, but we have this, and nothing is more important than this," Jack said, engaging his soulmate in one more brief kiss before settling his Love in the bed.
Jack turned away for a second to line up the sheets and, as he turned to face Daniel, began, "Maybe we ..." He stared at Daniel, already fast asleep. He ran his hand through Daniel's hair and then down his face. "Danny." Overcome, Jack couldn't find the words to express his feelings. Instead, he leaned over for a stolen kiss and whispered, "I won't sing or dance again, Danny, not without you."
Standing, Jack walked to the door and opened it. He looked over at the beagles and motioned them to the bed. Then he walked out and went to the roof deck, a special place that was so symbolic of the couple's friendship and love. It was cold out, not even fifty degrees, but that didn't matter. He looked up at the sky and gave in to his grief. He collapsed to his knees and cried.
As the tears subsided, the military man looked up and begged, "Charlie, take care of Danny for me."
Suddenly, a warm breeze enveloped Jack while the chill of the night dissipated. Jack looked around and then nodded.
"Thank you, Son."
The warmth stayed with Jack until he went inside ten minutes later. The often skeptical general wasn't skeptical about this. He felt the presence of his first born and he knew it was an answer to his request. No one would ever convince him otherwise.
Back inside the master bedroom, Jack snuggled next to his lover, wrapping his arm over Daniel's body protectively. As he shut his eyelids, the beagles gently shifted to the foot of the bed on Jack's side. They remained alert, but they were able to relax and sleep, knowing Jack was there to surround Daniel with love.
The days passed slowly by for the Jackson-O'Neills. Suzanna spent a few days with the family before returning home. She wanted to stay longer, but she didn't want to intrude on the family. General Hammond came by several times, and the others on Jack's short list had a few minutes with the ailing archaeologist. Mrs. Valissi became a daily visitor, bringing over large casseroles, salads, soups, and finger foods for the family so that they could concentrate on Daniel instead of cooking.
A few days ago, the general realized he needed to add two other people to the short list, Ernest and Catherine Littlefield. Unfortunately, Ernest was having some health problems and Catherine didn't want to leave him. As a result, Jack initiated a video chat so the two could visit with Daniel for a few minutes.
Jack also made a last minute decision, one urged on by his middle Munchkin, who desperately wanted some comforting from Karissa Lewis. As such, he invited both Karissa and Megan to drop by, say goodbye to Daniel, and spend some time with the brood. Lou and Carolyn Ferretti also came over one evening. Other than that, visitors were limited to Sam, Teal'c, Janet, and Sara.
Daniel's condition deteriorated daily. Most of his time was in bed, where he frequently picked at the sheets as if kicking objects off them. He often repeated phrases, in a manner that simulated a chant. One of his favorites was, "Who would have believed it?" and another was, "No idea, no, no idea; no idea, I have no idea."
The children were dutiful helpers in taking care of their younger father. It was hard on Jack to stand back, but he did it, knowing how important it was to the brood to be hands on with their daddy. At the same time, he realized his advisors were right as in stepping back, he felt freer. He wasn't Daniel's sole caregiver and as a result, he was able to concentrate more on the emotional aspects. His times with Daniel were more meaningful in that regard.
Jack was proud of the brood and how focused and aware they were in their care giving. Not once had the kids overstepped in terms of doing something that was beyond them and they never hesitated to ask Jack or one of their aunts for assistance. They maintained detailed records so they could tell their Aunt Janet about Daniel's behavior and responses as well as physical changes they noticed. All of this caused their older father to become even more grateful for the miracle of his children. He blessed the day Jennifer told him to stuff it.
The archaeologist frequently had a low fever. He refused to drink fluids like he should, and his voice was lower than usual.
It was at this point when Janet quietly warned Jack that Daniel was in the final stages of his condition. He was down to days, not weeks.
On this Tuesday afternoon, the children, except for Daniel's caregivers, were in the rec room. They often held hands and sang their song of hope. Sometimes, they simply sat, holding their pets as comfort.
All of a sudden, the brood heard a noise.
"Lya!" Little Danny called out as he got up and ran to the Nox woman. "Are you going to help Daddy?" he cried.
"I come with greetings from many of your allies."
"Are they going to make Daddy better?" Jenny questioned.
"I must speak with your parents. Take me to them," Lya requested.
Taking her hand, Little Danny led Lya up the stairs to the master bedroom. The brood followed.
"We have to knock," Little Danny explained as he tapped on the door.
Jack opened the door and began to talk, but then he saw the alien.
"It is good to see you, my friend," Lya greeted the general.
Jennifer and Aislinn exchanged a look from their daddy's side of the bed. Their hearts took stronger beats.
"May I see Daniel?" Lya asked Jack.
"He's pretty out of it," Jack stated, though he moved back to allow her in. He looked at his children suspiciously. ~I don't know how they did it, but I know they're responsible for this. Bless them all.~
Lya went to Daniel's side. She reached down and gently swiped his forehead.
In response, Daniel let out a sound and then he woke up and uttered a faint, "Lya?"
"How'd she do that?" Chenoa asked David, wondering how Lya managed to awake Daniel.
"I don't know, Noa," the teen responded in a whisper.
"Hello, Daniel. The Nox send their greetings to you."
"Thank ... you."
"I also send the greetings of the Hedronix and many other friends."
"Tha...that's nice," Daniel spoke, though he was having a hard time catching a breath.
"I have come to ..."
"Lya, you can't do an...anything. It wouldn't be fair," Daniel claimed as his speech zapped much of the little energy he had.
"The Nox have a special relationship with the people of Earth. Mostly, the Nox enjoy their kinship with you and your family. They have asked me to bestow a very special gift upon you and your family, as our thanks for all you've done."
"We don't need a gift," Jack replied.
"Perhaps I used the wrong word. This is something we have done only twice in our memories. It is not done lightly and once done, it cannot be undone."
Daniel gulped, which hurt because he was having a hard time swallowing, and inquired, "What is it?"
"Jack, sit down here," Lya instructed, pointing to a spot on the bed next to Daniel, who didn't even have the strength to sit up. "This must be witnessed by the others."
~Yippee!~ Jonny beamed as he stood between Little Danny and Lulu. He whispered to them, "She's good. She's not letting Dad and Daddy say no."
"What's she doing?" Lulu whispered back.
"She's saving Daddy. We hafta honor our promise and be good friends of our allies forever," the little general proclaimed quietly, smiling at the nods he saw from his siblings.
As Lya closed her eyes, the room filled with eight other Nox, none of whom any of the Jackson-O'Neills, except for Jennifer, had ever met before.
~It's the Nox Life Circle,~ Jennifer thought to herself. She couldn't say it aloud as their existence was a secret. She'd briefly seen two of them from a distance and had only been introduced to one other member of the Circle. That was during the day when she'd been invited to the Nox cloud city. Not even Jack and Daniel had been to visit the sky home of the alien race. ~That's Nafeema. He's their eldest and highest leader. Wow.~
"Lya," Jack stated, confused about having a bunch of strange Nox in his bedroom.
"Close your minds to the obvious and open them to the beauty that exists in all things."
"Lya," Daniel called out. "I ..."
"Be patient, my friend," Lya advised. "This is from the earliest of the Nox days, an old way, one from our elders through millennia. We open our hearts and through it flows wisdom and knowledge." Lya placed one hand on Jack's forehead and another on Daniel's as she continued, "The way of the Nox is the way of our family."
Without warning, Jack felt a bolt thunder in his system, as did Daniel. Neither could describe the strange feeling except to say it was like a gentle explosion in their chest that then streamed outward until every part of their body was touched by it. Neither could move. They were completely still.
After a few moments, Lya moved back, a smile on her face.
"What did you do?" Jack asked, surprised when the room emptied of the Nox strangers. ~I can move again.~
"You are now of the Nox," Lya announced. "You are Nox."
"We are? What does that mean?" Jack questioned, unsure if he should be concerned or not. ~And what does this have to do with saving Daniel? That's why you're here, isn't it?~
"It means, it is a fine line to cross or walk around," Lya answered cryptically as her family suddenly appeared.
A usually playful Nafrayu was somber and serious as he motioned for Jack to move away from the bed.
"Wow, look what they're doing," Aislinn gasped upon seeing some of the Nox standing through one side of the bed so they could be close enough to Daniel to do what was necessary.
"They're doing something with space," Little Danny observed.
"Shifting space," JD interjected as the eyes of his siblings turned to the child.
"Huh?" Ricky questioned.
JD shrugged, unable to explain his words.
The children returned their attention to what was happening with Daniel.
Anteaus stood by Daniel's head with Lya between he and Nafrayu. Standing as if the bed were not there, Ohper was opposite Anteaus and three other Nox Jack didn't know filled the other spaces on that side of the bed. One Nox also took a position at the foot of the bed.
~This is odd. When they brought us back from the dead, it was just the three of them. Why so many? Maybe they can't do this.~
"Jack ..." a concerned Daniel called out.
"You are Nox, Daniel," Lya reminded. "Nox fix Nox."
The kids were quiet, though they wanted to jump up and down with joy. Jack wondered if he should stop what was happening, but he couldn't fight it, nor did he want to do so.
The eyes of the Nox closed as they held their hands over the dying archaeologist. Daniel's eyes closed just as he lost consciousness. The Nox positions changed, each taking on a different stance, holding their arms in various poses. It went on for several minutes until suddenly the Nox, save for Lya, disappeared. Then Lya's eyes opened and she radiated an aura of peacefulness and serenity.
"The ritual is complete. Daniel must rest, but he is well."
Jack didn't know what to say, but his heart was full.
"How'd you know?" the general finally asked.
"Your children made a request. Your allies met and decided which way was best. The Nox responded."
"You don't interfere," Jack reminded.
"We did not," Lya returned. "Nox save Nox and you are Nox."
"Fine line there."
Lya grinned, but said nothing.
"Lya, I ... we owe you."
"You owe yourselves, Jack. I must go." Lya walked over and did something she'd never done to an adult human before. She leaned over and kissed Daniel on the forehead. "We are brothers now, my friend. You will be well when you wake. This makes the Nox very happy." As she stood straight, she smiled at the children and gave them a nod. "Goodbye for now."
A slew of thanks made their way to the Nox woman and Little Danny managed to reach her before she disappeared. He hugged her and looked up with tearful eyes.
"Thank you for saving Daddy. I love you, Lya."
Lya ran her hands down the back of the boy's head. She smiled tranquilly as she gazed into his innocent eyes.
"The Nox are family. We are family, Little Danny. I love you, too."
Her job done, Lya disappeared, resulting in a few chuckles since Little Danny's arms were now circling nothing but air.
Focusing on their parent, the children immediately ran over to Daniel.
Jack let the children fuss over their daddy for a moment, but then reminded, "He needs to sleep," after which the youngsters backed away slightly.
"How'd they do that?" Jonny questioned aloud as he felt the solidness of the bed.
"The Nox have their ways," Jack answered, though he was curious about the action himself. ~I don't really need to understand it. I can live with the end without understanding the means.~ He laughed to himself, ~And that was a deconstructed cliché.~
"Are you mad at us, Dad?" Lulu asked.
"Are you kidding? Heck no. You apparently did what I couldn't. You guys are awesome."
After sharing a big hug with their dad, the children settled down in the master bedroom. Everyone waited, wanting to believe, but needing to see it for themselves.
Finally, the family's prayers were answered.
"That never gets old," Jack mused with a satisfied grin, though the kids didn't know what their dad was talking about. "Danny? Angel, do you hear me?" he asked as he leaned over and ran his head down his husband's face.
"Jack, I feel so funny."
"I don't know. I ..." Daniel blinked and then he sat up in confusion. "It's like ... like ... were we shot? Weren't we shot? That's what this is like. Jack, was Lya here?"
"Apparently, we're now part of the Nox," Jack reported.
"What?" the archaeologist asked as the memory of Lya's visit returned.
"The whole bloomin' family was here, Danny, and some I've never seen before."
"My head doesn't hurt, and I can see you, clearly, sort of," Daniel remarked offhandedly.
"Jonny, get Daddy's glasses."
The Munchkin retrieved his father's glasses that were resting atop Jack's nightstand. He climbed onto the bed to hand the lenses to his daddy.
"Thank you, Son," Daniel spoke as he took hold of the glasses. Putting them on, he mused, "Why doesn't anything that saves a life fix bad eyesight?"
Again, the kids were confused, but they didn't care. They figured their parents would explain later.
With visuals now in focus, Daniel was overcome with his new reality. He felt good and strong. The weakness was gone. He could move his legs freely and sit up or lie down on a whim.
"This is a dream; it has to be a dream," Daniel said to no one, certain he wasn't really awake.
"Danny," Jack whispered, his hands caressing his lover. "It's real. I love you so friggin' much."
"Jack, the Nox, we shouldn't have ..."
"Daniel, forget our friggin' principles. Lya found a way because the brood fought for you. We're alive and we're gonna watch this bunch grow up and create all kinds of havoc in the world," Jack laughed, feeling overjoyed.
Daniel looked over at the happy children and whispered, "Our brood. Are they really here, Jack?"
"Daddy, don't you see me?" Jonny questioned, shaking his father's arm.
The younger father laughed as he answered, "Well, if I don't see you, Jonny, I can certainly feel you."
The father and son hugged at the same time Aislinn climbed up onto bed and said, "We're here, Daddy." She, too, hugged her daddy. "I'm so happy."
"Me, too, Sweetie."
All of the younger children joined the Munchkins, surrounding their parents to celebrate.
Jennifer noticed Brianna trying hard not to let emotion overtake her. She put her arm around the younger girl, offering her support as the family came to the happy resolution that their family unit was in tact and staying that way.
Hard as it was, Jack stood and backed away, letting the children fuss over their younger father. There was time now, so he could afford to wait. He walked to the door and pulled out his smartphone.
"Doc, Danny's gonna be just fine."
"Come see for yourself, and bring Carter with you."
Disconnecting the call, Jack grinned at the miracle of life. He made one more call.
When the call was answered, Jack jovially advised, "Grandpa, your geeky son found another life. We're having a party. Come on over."
"Jack, have you been drinking?" Hammond inquired.
"The liquor of love, Sir."
"On my way," Hammond responded. ~I hope he means what he says, but if he's hitting the bottle, I need to be there for my grandkids.~
Having been greeted at the door by a smiling Jennifer, Janet was led into the recreation room where she saw a sight that stunned her.
"Daniel?" Janet called out as she watched the archaeologist dancing with Lulu.
"One minute, Janet," Daniel requested.
The celebration of the family miracle had unexpectedly included dances between the once-ailing father and each of his daughters. Lulu was the last one, and Daniel had no intent of shortening the special moment.
"What is going on?" the astonished physician asked Jack when walking over to him.
"We're Nox," Jack answered with a smirk.
Jack quietly explained what happened during Lya's visit and for verification pointed to his buoyant husband who, as the dance ended, picked up the tweener and spun her around. Her cheerful giggles and broad smile were music to her fathers' souls.
"Janet," Daniel welcomed, receiving an instant hug from his longtime friend.
"Daniel, if you've pulled off another life, I'll ... be very happy," Janet stated, hugging the man again.
"Hey, where's Carter?" the general questioned.
"Pete was called out on a case, a shooting," Janet responded both quietly and grimly. "She's working on a sitter."
"We have to thank the Nox," Aislinn put forth, not having heard her aunt's remark.
"We do, and we'll work on that," Jack replied.
"Daniel, let me do the basics," Janet requested, steering Daniel over to the sofa where she could conduct a light examination. When finished, she smiled. "On the surface, it looks good, but we need to do a full work-up."
"Any chance I could talk you out of that? I mean, the Nox have a proven track record."
"I didn't think so," Daniel acquiesced with an accepting grin.
The physician insisted on taking Daniel to the Air Force Academy Hospital where she could run tests, including an MRI and MRS.
"Brood, we'll be back," Jack announced.
A chorus of objections filled the air, with some of the younger kids clinging to Daniel and refusing to let go.
"I don't want to leave you, either," Daniel told the children.
"Field trip," Jack agreed with a grin. Quickly, he added, "But we need to wait for Hammond."
Fifteen minutes later, General Hammond was invited inside the home by an apparently cured Daniel. The two hugged and shared a private, albeit silent, moment in recollection of their last conversation when Daniel was truly cognizant.
"This is a night to remember, Son," Hammond told Daniel.
Learning of Janet's desire to examine Daniel at the hospital, Hammond headed with the family to the medical facility. In doing so, he was able to help Jennifer and Jeff with the brood, allowing Jack to stay with Daniel during the testing.
Having invoked her powerful status with the hospital, Janet ensured all testing and results were performed on a priority basis.
When the examination was completed, the Jackson-O'Neills and Hammond returned to the house and began a celebration while Janet remained at the hospital, awaiting test results.
"Dad, there's Aunt Sam," Jenny observed as the SUV pulled into the driveway.
The blonde was pacing, uncertain of everything that had gone on during the day and evening.
"Sam," Daniel called out as he exited the SUV.
~Holy miracle!~ Sam gasped, seeing her friend looking very healthy. "Daniel?" The two embraced as Sam cried on Daniel's shoulder. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Daniel answered as the friends pulled apart. "Let me rephrase that. I'm great. I'm healthy."
"Are you sure?"
"Pretty sure, but Janet just did some tests. She'll be here when she has all the results."
"I can't believe it."
"Aunt Sam, what's shifting space?" Little Danny asked, still curious about JD's remark.
"JD said that's what the Nox were doing," the genius explained.
"Help," Sam asked lightly, not understanding.
"Hey, why don't we go inside and we'll tell you all about it," Jack suggested.
Confused but happy, Sam joined the family inside the loving home. All she really cared about was that Daniel's cat apparently had that one more life she'd prayed for.
With the data now at her disposal, Janet reviewed the results carefully.
~Daniel Jackson, you are one lucky man.~
Disregarding the lateness of the hour, Janet made a call to Doctor Alex Weston and sent over the results of the testing.
~Amazing what new technology can do. When I was in med school, this would have taken days.~
From his home in North Carolina, Alex shook his head as he read through the data.
"Janet, this is unheard of; it's ... amazing," Alex stated, shaking his head at the stunning examination results.
For quite a while, the two highly regarded doctors poured over every aspect of the testing. They both wanted to make sure no mistakes had been made. They made sure the results were verified and Janet advised that she was absolutely confident the staff's efforts were complete and accurate.
"So you concur?" Janet questioned at the end of the joint review.
"One-hundred percent," Alex replied.
The doctors ended their call, allowing Janet to head for the Jackson-O'Neill home and Alex to make a phone call of his own. At first, he thought Jack wasn't going to pick up, but then the general answered. By the sound of Jack's voice, Alex sensed the joy within his friend. The two discussed the situation for a couple of minutes and finally Alex had to speak his mind.
"Jack, there is no human way those tumors just disappeared, not when Daniel was days, if not hours away from death."
"Remember those things we discussed in your office?"
"I've forgotten all of it."
Jack smiled as he replied, "It wasn't the coffin, but it was something of another realm."
"I don't want to know," Alex returned in both a statement and a question.
"You got it," Jack affirmed. "Alex, I owe you."
"Jack, I didn't do anything last time and I certainly didn't do anything this time, but I'm happy for you, Daniel, and your family. Best of luck to you all."
As the word spread among the extended family of the Jackson-O'Neills, the knocks at the door became frequent. It was close to midnight, yet the house was filling up with spirited people. Along with General Hammond, the Wilsons, Lucas, and Ferrettis were present. Teal'c arrived to join his wife, followed by Mrs. Valissi. Even Karissa and Megan showed up.
Jack and Daniel had kept Daniel's illness quiet from their neighbors, except for Mrs. Valissi, who honored their wishes and mentioned nothing to others in the neighborhood. Even so, throughout the past few weeks, many residents became aware that something was amiss and by simple logic surmised something was wrong with Daniel.
Seeing sudden activity at the Jackson-O'Neill home, some neighbors feared the archaeologist died. Phones began to ring from neighbor to neighbor. It reached the point where Mitzi Miller couldn't help herself. She knocked on the door with a casserole and tearful condolences, only to get a pleasant surprise.
"Daniel, we all thought you were very ill," Mitzi commented after sharing a hug with her longtime neighbor.
"I was, but it wasn't as bad as people think," Daniel fibbed out of necessity. "You know how private we are. I guess Jack and the children made it out to be more dramatic than it was."
"We haven't seen you out in weeks, and whenever I saw Jack, he looked so defeated. What on Earth was wrong?"
"Oh, it was just a ..."
Jack was listening to the conversation and, when Daniel paused while searching for something believable, interjected, "It was concussion related. My Danny gets concussed more than anyone else I know."
"Did it happen when you were away on that dig?"
"Sure," Daniel responded, nodding his head. ~That'll work.~
It was actually a very logical explanation. In early April, the family was away for a week on a dig for J-O Enterprises. Jack's enlistment into the secret military assignment and Daniel's odd behavior began right after their return. Though there had not been any calamities on the trip, the scenario would work as a cover story for their friends and colleagues.
"He forgets he's not human when he plays in the dirt," the general teased.
Jack laughed, pulled Daniel to him, and kissed him.
"He's incorrigible," Daniel whined.
"But he loves me," Jack boasted.
"Gawd, I do, I really do."
Mitzi inquired if it was all right for her to notify the neighbors. She admitted several were waiting to hear from her. After Jack and Daniel agreed, she excused herself.
"Danny, if we're going to have a house full of neighbors, we need to make sure everyone knows the cover."
As Daniel nodded, the couple quickly passed on the story. They did have to take special care with two of the guests already at the impromptu party. Carolyn Ferretti was unaware of the Stargate Program and the aliens her husband often associated with. Jack filled Lou in and let him deal with his wife, something the colonel was quite adept at after all these years. The other was Karissa who knew nothing about the Stargate. All she knew was that Jack, Daniel, and Megan worked together in some capacity for the government and dealt with classified material. She was going to be more difficult as she knew about the tumors and how serious things were.
"Doc, what can we tell her that's realistic and goes along with the cover?" Jack inquired of the petite physician.
"Realistically? Jack, Daniel was on his death bed, and I realize that's not new, considering SG-1's history, but there's no way you can tie this into a concussion or fall on that dig. She knows Daniel had tumors, correct?"
"Affirm," Jack sighed. "She and Megan are the only ones at J-O we told. They needed to know, and," he took a big sigh, "they came by and said goodbye."
"Jack, there's nothing I can suggest you tell Karissa that is remotely believable. Yes, sometimes tumors go away. That's a possibility, usually after weeks of radiation and chemo treatments. Some go away with prayers that medical science can't explain, but if Karissa saw Daniel in the last two weeks, she knows how ill he was. You said they came to say goodbye?"
"Who knew this was going to happen, Janet," Jack returned. "I thought they had a right to see Danny."
"From my position, I believe you made the right move. However, two minutes on the Internet will tell her it's an impossibility for Daniel to be tumor-free after some quickie fictional treatment, especially when he's in great shape so soon."
Jack nodded, his hand rubbing his neck as he pondered what to do. He saw Daniel, who just finished informing the brood of their cover story for the neighbors, and approached him.
"Danny, we have a problem."
"Bingo, my genius," Jack responded.
"I've been thinking about that," Daniel replied. "I saw you talking with Janet. Did she have any ideas?"
"Not a one," the older man groaned.
"We could try the truth," Daniel put forward.
"Little Danny would be happy. He's been desperate for her to know about the Stargate for years."
Daniel contemplated the situation and then lightly suggested, "Maybe she doesn't need an explanation."
With a shrug, Daniel walked over to Karissa, who was with Megan and some others. After a moment, he pulled her aside to have a private chat.
"Karissa, I wanted to thank you for coming."
"It's my pleasure, Daniel," the woman responded. She beamed as she added, "It's such a miracle."
"About that miracle," the archaeologist began. "Karissa, you know that Jack and I tend to keep our lives private."
"Basic Jackson-O'Neill 101," Karissa teased.
"Well, some of our neighbors are on the way over, and we, Jack, neither of us told them about the tumors."
"You don't want them to know how serious it was."
"Exactly. We're telling them I fell and wasn't feeling well because of a concussion sustained on the dig last month."
"Thanks," Daniel replied, planting a kiss on her cheek before returning to his husband. "Sometimes, Babe, we overthink."
"She's on board?"
"Yes. I told her we were keeping it quiet and using the cover story."
"Why didn't I think of that?"
A knock on the door prevented Daniel from answering. It was the first of several neighbors wanting to join in the celebration, in spite of the light rain that was falling.
Twenty minutes later, Pete arrived, pleasing his wife. The shooting call had been a false alarm, allowing the detective to learn of Daniel's reprieve from death and participate in the party.
When the party ended shortly before one o'clock, Jack and Daniel told the children to head off to bed. After a bit of light cleanup, the couple made their nightly rounds together. There wasn't any serious chatter, only the sounds of joy at Daniel's instant recovery. The visits with the children were very quick as the entire family was tired from the long day. In fact, some of the kids were already fast asleep by the time their parents entered their bedrooms.
The lovers retired to their bedroom and for the first time since the crisis began, Bijou and Katie entered the room, gave their humans goodnight licks while receiving lots of belly rubs, and then pranced away to join a couple of their smaller humans in sleep. They loved their time with Jack and Daniel, but they'd missed the little kids.
With the beagles gone, Jack closed the door and leered at his soulmate, who was leering back. One leer led to another and soon, they were exchanging declarations of love and foreverness through their bodies in a combination of deep passion and tender need. Both fell asleep afterward.
Around four in the morning, Daniel awoke. He knew his Jack was sound asleep and for a minute, he watched his husband take sweet breaths of life. His lover was exhausted, not having slept much in recent weeks, but tonight, his Silver Fox was peaceful and full of bliss, resulting in a deep slumber.
Daniel placed a kiss on Jack's forehead before getting out of bed and slipping on his pajamas. He made a pit stop in the bathroom and then headed downstairs. He visited with a few members of the zoo who were making noise or walking around and then Daniel found himself reviewing the pictures on the mantel. He lost track of time as he reflected on his past. He reached over and took a framed photograph into his hands.
"Danny," Jack called out as his arms slipped around his life partner's waist. "I missed you."
Daniel wasn't really surprised to feel the warmth of his soulmate surrounding him. Deep sleep or not, Jack had an internal sensor that most always was aware when the archaeologist slipped out of bed.
"Jack, it's the funniest thing. I'm happy, so happy to be alive. I want to grow old with you. I want us to watch our children grow up into ... whoever they are going to be. I want to be there when they get married and make us grandparents. I want to play with our girls ..." Daniel paused, uncertain how long the beagles would really be with them, but he moved on in his mind quickly, not wanting to even think about a time when he and Jack would be without Bijou and Katie. "I want us to be as happy, always, as we are right now, but ... there's a part of me, a little part, that wanted to see them again, so much."
Jack focused on the photograph of Melburn and Claire Jackson with their little boy, Danny. They were a happy family.
"One day, Danny, you'll see them again. We both will."
"But not for decades, I hope," Daniel replied with a sly smile.
"Come back to bed, Angel."
Daniel put the photograph back onto the mantel. He ran his fingers over the glass lens in a last moment of longing. Then he shared a kiss with Jack, and the two returned to their master bedroom and made love once again before returning to sleep.
The family slept in, no one rising until eleven in the morning. It was decided to focus on the midday meal and skip breakfast. The brood banded together to make lunch, keeping it light with sandwiches and chips. They still clung to Daniel, not wanting to let him out of their sight.
"Wait," Daniel called out just before everyone began to reach for their food after sitting down at the rectangular table. "I, uh, know this isn't something we tend to do, and I truly believe that each of you, as you mature, should decide for yourselves what you do or don't believe and how you put those potential beliefs into practice. Maybe this doesn't even make sense for a scientist, but today, at this time, with just us, and after the last two months, I'd like to say thanks."
"Are we going to say grace, Daddy?" Jonny asked. "Tootie's family always says grace before their big meals."
"Something like that, if there aren't any objections."
Seeing none, the family joined hands and bowed their heads. Daniel spoke reverently as he thanked the higher power that let their family be together on this day and all the days to come. He expressed his thanks for Jack, the brood, the zoo, their extended family, and their friends and neighbors. He asked for blessings on all, especially for the Nox who helped to make their family miracle a reality.
"Thanks for listening," Daniel concluded, hearing several "Amens" afterward.
"I think it's good to pray," Little Danny asserted. "I like to pray."
"Daddy, are we going to do more study of religion? I'd like to learn why everyone thinks differently," Jenny stated.
"We can," the scientist acknowledged.
"I don't understand why people get upset about religion," Chenoa interjected. "Isn't it always about love, no matter what the name for the religion is?"
"It should be," Jennifer told her little sister.
"There's a lot of bad things in the world," Aislinn noted. "I think people aren't listening to their hearts. They're just looking at all the bad."
"That's an excellent observation, Princess," Jack praised. "We can't change what others do or think, but in this house, we're focusing on the love."
The kids nodded before beginning their meals. The conversation shifted to lighthearted things and, finally, a bit of bickering broke out. The parents, though, let their children be, the two exchanging amusing looks as the children aired their differences.
**Hey, it still works. I was afraid to try,** Daniel replied via the couple's strange but delightful communication ability.
**Me, too, but I had a hunch.**
**Back to our normal abnormal?** the archaeologist questioned.
**They'll cling for a bit longer, but we're on the road back.**
Daniel smiled and then focused on his parental duties by interjecting, "Jonny, please don't punch Ricky while he's eating."
"But he dared me."
"Jonny, we have rules."
At first, Jonny frowned, but within seconds, he grinned and exclaimed, "Daddy's really back!" which led to cheers from the brood.
"Okay, calm down. Eat," Daniel instructed with a big smile.
"Hey, you haven't told us the whole story yet about how you reached the Nox. How'd you do that?" Jack questioned.
The brood perked up, each taking turns telling their parents all about their visit to The Daniel Jackson and their plea for Earth's allies to save Daniel's life.
"Thank you," Daniel whispered at the end of the story. "I can't believe you did that."
"You'd do it for us," Little Danny replied.
"Absolutely," Daniel agreed. "I was thinking."
"Watch out," Jack joked, hearing plenty of laughter in the room.
"I'd like to spend a day with each of you. Bri and I have already talked about it, but what would you think about a one-on-one day together?"
The children buzzed with delight, all eager to spend a day with Daniel. It was something the archaeologist believed would go a long way in healing and moving forward. Since the kids were eager, conversation shifted to ideas of what each could do.
Feeling better than any of them had in weeks, the family chatted away as they enjoyed their lunch together.
Around one in the afternoon, Jeff walked into the living room and looked at his younger father as he sat on the sofa.
Daniel stood, knowing what was happening. He walked over and hugged the young man. He held on longer and tighter than usual.
"When you are leaving?"
"Now," Jeff answered as he stepped out of the hug. "The summer semester started on Monday. I talked to one of the counselors and they said if I get there for tomorrow, they'd let me in. I have a lot to make up, Daddy, but if you want or need me to stay home ..."
"No, Jeff. You have a life to lead. Thank you for coming home when you did and staying."
"I didn't want to be anywhere else. I'll be back when the summer session ends. I promise, and then I hope we can have our special day together."
"When you get home," Daniel agreed. "I love you, Son."
The brood was a little surprised by their brother's departure, but they tried to understand.
"We'll drive you to the airport," Jack offered.
"No, Dad. All of you need to be together today. I called Grandpa. He should be here any minute."
Jack nodded, his response being another hug and the words, "I'm proud of you."
"I'm your son," the young man replied as he faced both of his parents.
Jeff made the rounds, saying goodbye to his siblings and several members of the zoo. His last goodbye was to his older sister.
"Happy Birthday, Sis," Jeff concluded. "I'll talk to you soon."
"Take care, Bro. I love you."
Following a quick conversation with Hammond, the family waved as their loved one disappeared from their view. Immediately, as they walked to the porch, Daniel sighed with regret.
"Gawd, we forgot. Jen, I'm sorry it took Jeff to remind us, especially today."
"Daddy, it's okay."
"No, Daddy's right," Jack put forth. "Birthdays are special."
"And there's nothing like your twenty-first birthday," Daniel noted.
Jennifer grinned as the children began to fuss over her. It was beginning to truly feel normal around the house.
"What would you like, Jen? Dad and I want to get you something special this year."
"Daddy, I already have my present, and it's the best present ever," Jennifer replied, blissful tears falling as she hugged her father. "All I want is my family, and I have that now. I love you."
"I love you, too," Daniel responded as he led the way into the living room. "But we're still giving you a gift."
"Well, if you insist on giving me something, it will be only be a token," Jennifer said, shrugging her shoulders, "but the only gift around here is you."
"We're having a party," Jack announced.
"Another one?" Ricky asked, eager for more cake and ice cream.
"I don't need a party," Jennifer interjected.
"Jen, this is important. Please, let us do this. We'll keep it small, just us and the extended family," Daniel implored. "We need this, Jen."
"I'll make a few calls," Jack told the family. ~Geez, how I love having this extended family of ours.~
The general smiled, certain he could count on Sam, Janet, and Sara to quickly arrange for a birthday party that evening. He was proven right with his first call. In fact, Sara already had the party planned and was just waiting for the family to opt-in for a celebration.
"What if we hadn't remembered?" Jack asked his ex-wife.
"I'm a good nudger, Jack. You spend time with the family this afternoon and leave the rest to the three aunties."
"You are all amazing aunties."
"Thank you. I'll pass that along."
With the call completed, Jack returned to his family and informed, "We're a go, and best yet, we don't have to do a thing but wait."
"What time is the party, Dad?" Brianna asked.
"I'm not sure. Aunt Sara said she'd call later and let us know, or she might just show up at the door."
With a few hours before the party, the family shifted to the much larger rec room, where Bijou and Katie, for the first time in weeks, snuggled in next to the Munchkins and JD. They talked, played, watched a few cartoons, and, just to get things back on track, Daniel told the brood that homeschooling would resume the next day. The children's studies had gone by the wayside during his health battle.
"No more goofing off," Jack announced with a smile.
"We're ready, Dad," Lulu responded for her siblings.
"We miss our lessons," Jenny put forth.
"Let me write that down," Jack teased.
The lovers were playing with their children in the game room when Daniel spoke, "I'll be back in a few minutes."
"Where are you going, Daddy?" Aislinn asked.
"I need to call Aunt Suz and Aunt Catherine."
"Can't you call them later?" Jonny whined.
"Kids, chill," Jack ordered as he quelled the impending uprise. "Think about how you'd feel if you were Aunt Suz and Aunt Catherine and no one called you for days to say a miracle occurred."
"We're sorry," Aislinn replied.
"It's okay, Ash. I won't be long. In the meantime, who's going to beat Dad at air hockey?"
"Me!" David chimed. "Come on, Dad."
"Go ahead and underestimate me, Son. I'm about to knock that vid out of your David."
"Sometimes, you worry me," the teenager teased.
With the children's attention diverted, Daniel walked out of the room, intending to go upstairs to his den to make the phone calls.
"Whoa!" Jack called out to Bijou and Katie, who automatically began to follow the archaeologist. "No problem if you want to, but remember, you're off duty now. Relax. Play. Roll over. Scratch an itch."
The beagles barked lively and jumped around in happiness. For a second, they'd forgotten they didn't need to stay at Daniel's side every second of the day.
"No excuses, Dad, when I cream you," David reminded.
"The only cream in your life, Sport, is ice cream."
"Yippee for ice cream!" Ricky exclaimed with glee.
No one noticed that at the entrance to the game room, Daniel stood, watching. He'd been inexplicably lured back for a moment, wanting to enjoy the lighthearted challenge in play. Feeling highly contented, Daniel finally went to his den and phoned Suzanna and Catherine.
Jennifer's birthday party lasted a mere two hours, but it was enough to remind the family about their unique version of normalcy. The extended family happily would have stayed longer, but they all realized that the Jackson-O'Neills needed time to themselves.
While the party lasted, Jennifer was toasted and celebrated in energetic fashion. There was cake and lots of ice cream. Sara even coordinated among the aunts and uncles for some presents to be given to the young woman.
Now the guests were gone, and once again, the family was spending time together, although it was already past the bedtime of the younger children. Still, it was a special day, so the children were allowed to stay up extra late.
Soon enough, though, the yawns overtook the exception to the bedtime rule and it was time for the children to retire for the evening. The process also signaled another return to normalcy as Jack and Daniel made nightly rounds individually, giving the kids their first real one-on-time with both parents since mid-April.
Daniel tapped on Brianna's door and entered when she responded. The tomboy smiled when she saw her daddy walk in. As usual, he sat down on the side of her bed. They spent a couple of minutes in small talk before Daniel brought up something he'd heard from Teal'c during the party.
"I understand you went a round with a punching bag when we were in North Carolina."
"More than one round, Daddy. I've never felt like that before."
"How did you feel, Bri?" Daniel asked as he reached over and took her right hand.
"Angry. Desperate. Confused. Alone. I don't know, Daddy. I felt life was unfair. I guess I felt sorry for myself. That sounds horrible, doesn't it?"
"No, it doesn't. It sounds normal, Bri. Your childhood wasn't pretty, but you love your mother, and you lost her. Then we found each other and you were afraid you were going to lose someone else you love. Most people feel the same way. I'm glad you let your feelings out because the worst thing you could have done would have been to keep your emotions hidden and let it fester into darkness inside of you."
"I need you, Daddy, and Dad, too," Brianna responded, leaning forward into a strengthening embrace.
"We wouldn't know what to do without you, Bri. I love you."
"What does it feel like?"
"Being a Nox."
Daniel chuckled, "I have no idea, but I'm glad I'm one." He smiled and asked, "How would you like to spend a day together soon? We could visit a museum and have lunch, or do whatever you'd like to do."
"I'd love that."
"Good. We'll make plans later."
The father and daughter chatted for a few more minutes before saying goodnight, after which Daniel continued his rounds.
After his rounds, Daniel met up with his soulmate and reminded, "Jack, we need to talk to Jen together."
"The evolution?" Jack sought to verify, referring to a plan the couple developed years ago.
"I'll get the fireworks," the general advised, going into his office and unlocking a hidden safe that contained packets that he and Daniel referred to as the fireworks. There was one packet for each child in their family, and each packet was updated frequently to keep its contents current. "Here we go."
The couple walked up the stairs to their oldest daughter's room and tapped on her door, entering when she called out for them to enter.
"Jen, we'd like to speak with you for a few minutes," Daniel told the young woman who had changed into her peach-colored nightgown.
"Sure. Everything's okay, isn't it?" the young woman asked with worry as she turned her chair around to face her parents.
"I'm fine, Sweetie. Everything's okay," Daniel assured as he sat down on the foot of the bed with was just a couple of feet from Jennifer's chair.
"No worries, Jen," Jack added as he shut the door behind him and joined his husband.
"Okay, so what's that?" Jennifer asked, pointing at the packet her dad held in his hands.
"Jen, you're a woman now, totally of age," Daniel began. "We couldn't be prouder of the person you've become."
"Years ago, when we were planning for the Munchkins, we began a process that we've continued and built upon for the entire brood. Look, this isn't a secret, but we would appreciate if you use caution about what you say to your brothers and sisters."
"I don't understand."
"You will," Daniel promised. "Take a look."
Jack handed the packet to his daughter, who took it with a slight hint of trepidation.
~Geez, this is scary.~ Opening the envelope, Jennifer pulled out the first item. "A bank book?" Stunned, she opened it, her eyes widening as she gasped. "Oh my gosh. Dad, Daddy, I ... wow, I mean, it has my name on it."
"Jen, everyone has a piece of J-O Enterprises. We started our company for us, but as soon the Munchkins came, we knew it was really for all of you," Daniel stated.
"Since we're not a corporation and basically just a very fortunate, bigger than we'd thought we'd be, family business, we've been able to set it up so that everyone benefits. We've held benefits for the brood for years," Jack noted.
"You don't want me to tell them about this, right?"
"It's up to you," Daniel answered.
"But think about how it might change things," Jack suggested.
"Jen, the brood doesn't think too much about their finances yet. Everyone has their holiday money and the money they earn from doing their chores and other jobs they've done from time to time, and I think they know they have cash available other than what's in their piggy banks, but if they know ..."
"... there's a pot of gold for them at twenty-one they might not work so hard."
"It's values and ethics. I trust the brood, but temptation when you're young is hard," the archaeologist put forth.
"I don't think I'm going to touch this," Jennifer reflected. "It would make one heck of an inheritance for my children." She saw Jack's grimace and laughed, "Don't panic, Dad."
"I'll try not to," Jack groaned.
"There's more in here," Jennifer mentioned as she reached inside the envelope and pulled out what looked like a contract.
"We're going to talk about this more later," Jack began. "Jen, as we've said, J-O is for you and your brothers and sisters. We know all of you have your own lives to live and might not care as much as others of you might."
Jennifer laughed, "Little Danny's gonna rule."
"Probably," Daniel mused. "However, that's going to be up to all of you to figure out when the time comes."
"And it's not coming for decades," Jack interjected.
"For now, you have the option to join J-O officially in various capacities," Daniel advised.
"Jen, it's all spelled out here in good ole confusing contractese. Just looking at those papers gives me a headache," the silver-haired man teased, though he was quite serious.
"And that's why we're setting up an appointment for you with Mark Kingston," Daniel indicated about the family lawyer.
Jack added, "We don't want you to make any decisions until you meet with him and then you can make a choice or you can choose to hold on to those papers for as long as you like."
"That's true, Sweetheart. No one will ever be shut out of J-O unless they choose to be. It's all documented. Mark will explain the ins and outs about your future options and where you stand now."
"Wow," Jennifer responded. "You won't be hurt if I don't sign on?"
"No," Daniel replied without flinching or any hint of disappointment. He leaned forward and grabbed both of his daughter's hands. "Jen, we know you have a passion for your sewing and tapestry. We are constantly amazed by the creations you make. You can do a lot of things with your business degree, too. J-O has a lot of ways to put your talents to use, but only if your heart is there. It's your choice, and we'll respect it without prejudice."
"Thanks, Daddy," Jennifer replied, getting off her chair momentarily to hug her two fathers. "It'll be good to hear what Mister Kingston has to say," she added about the lawyer.
"Check out the rest of the packet," Jack instructed.
"There's more?" the surprised woman asked. Reaching in, she pulled out the last of the contents. "These are," she studied the items, "bonds, lots of bonds, and ... stocks?"
"One of the things we began at the beginning for the children were buying bonds on a regular basis. The idea was to cover college expenses. Once that was covered for each of you, we kept buying," Daniel explained.
"But the stocks?"
"Daddy and I have been blessed by the stock market," Jack explained. "Someday, maybe we'll tell you how it started. We're very careful, but we've been surprisingly lucky."
"I get the idea," Jennifer laughed as she interrupted her parents.
"It's our gift for you. You can cash them in completely, hold on to them, or sell for something else," Daniel said.
"Win or lose, these are your stocks. You have no obligation to tell us what you do with them. You're an adult now."
"I have been for a few years, Dad," Jennifer chided lightly.
"Careful, Princess, to your old man you're still a baby."
"You didn't know me when I was a baby."
"In my heart, you're my baby. You will be always be my little girl, and I don't care swat about technicalities."
Jennifer smiled and wiped her eye to stop a tear from falling.
"You're going to make me cry, both of you," Jennifer told her parents. "Thank you so much. I really don't know what to say except ... thank you."
"We only want to help you and your siblings to be able to follow your dreams and we hope by the time you're twenty-one that we've taught you to be responsible and think through your decisions, but come what may, we love you," the younger man declared.
"Um, you know, I think you're right about not telling the others, at least not everything. Besides, I think they should all get to be surprised, like me."
"I guess we'll call it a family secret," Daniel mused.
The three stood and talked a bit more about the fireworks kit before the parents headed for the door.
"Dad, Daddy," Jennifer called out. When her parents turned to face her, she stated, "You've really set us up for a great life, and I don't mean this," she said, pointing at the bank book, bonds, stocks, and contract options for the family business. "I'm talking about the ethics we've learned, the social skills, the love of education, our values, and so much more that it would take me all night to list them all. Who we are as we grow up is because of you and your love. We're a reflection of both of you, and I know I speak for the brood when I say that we wouldn't be as strong, confident, and capable as we are if we hadn't had you as role models. We can handle anything because you taught us that we could. We can survive anything because you showed us that adversity is nothing but a challenge and that as long as there's love and we're together, we have everything we need. Thank you for believing in me, in all of us."
Jack and Daniel both walked to their daughter and hugged her in a three-way embrace.
"Dad, Daddy, you do know that Jeff didn't want to leave. He's really broken up over it, but it goes to the work ethic you've taught us. He knows you're proud of him and he wants to make you both even prouder by making responsible choices."
"No matter what he does, we'll always be proud of him," Jack interjected.
"He knows that. He really had to fight to get into the summer session, but he felt so conflicted." Smiling at her younger father, Jennifer noted, "He wants that day with you, Daddy, so bad."
"Me, too," Daniel acknowledged.
"He'll be back in a couple of months," Jack reminded.
"I guess what I'm trying to say, and I don't think our birth parents would object, is that we couldn't be prouder to be your children."
After another hug, the trio talked for a couple of minutes, hugging, laughing, and feeling a tremendous sense of joy and unity at being family.
"Goodnight, Princess," Jack spoke as he and Daniel finally exited Jennifer's bedroom. As they headed for the living room, he asked, "Your thoughts on the evolution?"
"Happy. Our little girl has evolved into a beautiful, caring, bright, and intelligent woman. All those years ago, Jack, all we wanted was to secure their college education and help with their financial future. We've done that, but ..."
"Yeah, it's what she said that was our gift," Jack agreed. "Tired?"
"What did you have in mind?"
"For starters, a rendezvous on the Aerie."
After making sure the house was locked up, the lovers retreated to the Aerie and assumed their favorite positions with Jack leaning against the wall and Daniel in front of him, relaxing his head against his soulmate's strong shoulder. Jack's hands slid up under his husband's blue shirt and gently caressed his abdomen.
"We did it again, Angel," Jack sighed. "Somehow, we survived a nightmare."
"I'm still not sure this is real."
"We need to go over everything at some point. I want to know what the brood went through. So much is foggy in my mind."
"I missed some things with the brood, too," Jack admitted.
"We need to let the children settle first. They're still on a big high."
"We have time, Danny. We'll get the whole story soon."
"Jack, what does it mean to be a Nox? That's a crazy question, but aren't you curious?"
"As long as they don't expect us to grow our hair like theirs, I'm okay with it."
"The brood really came together. I can't believe they convinced Thor to put together a gathering of leaders like that," Daniel remarked.
"Yeah, I mean, Ardyl ..."
"Not the aliens, Danny, our kids. They're impressive."
With a smile, Daniel agreed with his husband's words.
"Danny, I need you to know something," Jack stated with a slight groan.
"What did you do?"
"What makes you think it's something I did?"
"I know you."
"Okay, guilty. I was greedy," Jack admitted.
"Greedy? I'm confused."
"You were dying and I wanted every minute I could get with you. I ... Danny, I kept the kids at bay for a while. It took our birthday girl and Carter to get me to see the truth."
"Jack, you told the children what you did, didn't you?"
"You explained why?"
"As best I could."
"They forgave you, didn't they?"
"How do you know they did?"
"I know our children."
With a sigh, Jack replied, "I don't deserve it, but they forgave me."
"Then it's done, and we move onward," Daniel insisted, not wanting any negativity in their lives for a while. "Babe, in my den, there are thirteen books, or diaries really. Each one has a USB drive in it."
"A Kayla thing?" the older man guessed.
"Yes, and there's one for you, too. If something ever happens to me, I want you to distribute them, okay?"
"That time won't come, but if it does, I promise," Jack replied.
"And no peeking."
"Are you accusing me of ..."
"You know me too well," Jack teased, pleased when he heard the sound of his Love's laughter. "Danny, I promise, I won't look at thing."
So often, the couple didn't need words. Jack had a good idea of what was in the book and on the thumb drive designated for him. Yes, there had to be declarations of love and reflections on times gone by, but he also was certain Daniel made a request about not following through with their pact. He didn't want to hear that or think about it right now. Actually, he never wanted to think about it or be in the position of making a choice. Daniel, too, was fully aware that his lover had a good idea of things he'd said, as well as his request regarding their pact. He hoped Jack never had to listen to his plea. No words were said, but Jack and Daniel were aware of the unspoken truth.
"La Mio Bello Stella Cadente, I love you more than words. I love you to the moon and back and beyond," Jack declared, leaving the darkness behind.
Daniel soaked in the words. He reached up with one hand and caressed Jack's face. He couldn't believe his luck.
"I don't have the words, either. All I know is that without you, I'd be dead, in more ways than one. You brought light into my life; you are my life. I love you, Jack."
The lovers kissed under the cloudy night sky, feeling serene and luckier than any two men in the world.
"Dance with me, Angel."
The soulmates rose and began to dance, not needing anything but the music of their hearts.
"The monsters are gone," Daniel whispered. "Sing to me."
Jack's heart soared. He thought he'd never sing another note or dance another step. He wouldn't want to without his Daniel. Now, through the wonder of the universe, he was doing both.
Neither Jack nor Daniel questioned the line Lya crossed, or worked around, but they were glad she did. Life could be a lot worse than being a Nox, whatever that meant. For now, they concentrated on each other and the joy each felt at being alive. For Jack and Daniel, life in Colorado Springs was not just good, it was an eternal miracle.
~~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