by Rebecca Ratliff
DATE: July 2003
ARCHIVE: If I haven't submitted to your archive, please ask. (I'll say yes, I just like to know where it is.)
CATEGORY: A/U Action/adventure, angst, minor character death.
SPOILERS: 100 Days
SEASON/SEQUEL INFO: Season Seven, after Lifeboat. Series sequence: Abyss Novelization, Sirikat, Fields of Gold, A Nice Quiet Week in the Country, Brothers in Arms, Shadows on the Moon, Parada, Light Duty, Snowbound, Planet of the Damned, Nothing Gold, Second Chances.
SUMMARY: A deathbed confession from an old flame sends SG-1 on a race against time to rescue a very special hostage from a deadly cult.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: OK, I admit it. This series has officially gone AU. Don't lose that pesky remote control for the mirror. :)
DISCLAIMER: All Stargate SG-1 characters are the property of Stargate SG-1 Productions (II) Inc., MGM Worldwide Television Productions Inc., Double Secret Productions, Gekko Film Corp and Showtime Networks Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. Anybody that you don't recognize is probably mine, so if you borrow them please send me an email to let me know where they are and have them home by midnight. :)
FEEDBACK: Much appreciated.
O'Neill went through the mountain of paper in his in box. There was a memo about the new requisition forms for ammunition. Another memo about overcrowding in the cafeteria during the first fifteen minutes of lunch. And another memo about too many memos.
The off world activation alarm interrupted his paperwork. That was one of the fringe benefits of this job. O'Neill went to the control room and watched the gate dial in.
Sgt. Siler reported, "The wormhole is from Edora, sir, it's the miners."
Hammond ordered, "Open the iris."
Their visitor was a big, burly individual with a shaggy black beard. He was the foreman of the naquada mine, and the one who did most of the trading.
Hammond asked, "What's wrong, Talamon?"
The miner was typically blunt and to the point. "O'Neill, Laira's dying, she wants to see you."
Hammond looked back and forth between Talamon and O'Neill. "Jack?"
He took a deep breath. "I should go to her, sir."
Hammond nodded. "All right but take SG-1 with you."
It was raining on Edora. Talamon set a quick pace.
Laira's house was exactly as O'Neill remembered from the season he had spent here four years ago. There were several neighbor women gathered around Laira's bed. If looks could kill, O'Neill figured he'd be dead right now.
Laira had been beaten. He took her hand. "Laira?"
"Jack? You came."
"Who the hell did this to you?"
"Followers of a cult of devil worshippers called the Children of Darkness. They took my Jamie. They took our little boy. I tried to stop them..."
"Wait a minute, our son?"
"I was pregnant when you left me."
He looked like he'd been punched in the gut. "Laira, you've got to hang on. We'll get him back."
"Your doctor from the mines has already been here. There's nothing that your healers or ours can do. I couldn't go to my rest with this secret. I wronged you by keeping your son from you. I couldn't bear that you might take him away from me. Please forgive me."
O'Neill was in shock, but whatever Laira had done, Jack wasn't going to hold it against her now. "I forgive you, Laira. I'll get your boy home, then we'll figure all this out."
"I can rest now." Her last breath escaped her with a little sigh.
O'Neill stumbled out onto the porch. He felt guilty for having left Laira to raise their child alone, and even moreso that he felt more shock than sorrow at her passing.
Talamon came out and said, "Kid's gotta be yours, he looks just like you. If you find him, take him with you. Nobody here wants that slut's half-alien bastard."
O'Neill slammed him against the wall. "If you ever call Laira that again, so help me--!"
Carter said, "Colonel, let him go. He isn't worth it. This isn't finding Jamie."
O'Neill nodded but didn't release Talamon just yet. "What do you know about this cult?"
"Nothing! They're heretics, devil worshippers. Ask the priest."
"What happened?" O'Neill demanded.
"This morning Laira was out back getting water from the stream when they jumped her and took the kid. The neighbor lady ran outside when she heard Laira scream and saw them going up over the gap towards Albin."
"Didn't anyone go after them?" O'Neill demanded.
"No, and they won't, either. That's why Laira wanted you. Go get your own. These people are dangerous, and we've got our own wives and kids to think of."
Unable to believe what he was hearing, O'Neill let Talamon go as if he were something slimy. "Yeah. Go on, get your sorry ass out of here."
Talamon got moving, glad to get out of that one with his skin. O'Neill drew a deep, ragged breath. He had to box it up, get back in control of himself if he was going to be any help whatsoever to Jamie. "Daniel, the temple is at the end of the street. Go talk to the priest and find out everything you can about this cult. Teal'c, go see if there's any chance the rain hasn't washed the trail out yet. Carter, let's see if we can find the neighbor lady."
The neighbor woman, Kelisa, turned out to be one of the group preparing Laira's body for burial. She said, "Laira told us she sent word to you with the miners as soon as she knew for sure she was pregnant."
Jack shook his head. "Nobody ever told me anything. It didn't work out between Laira and me, but I would not have abandoned my son."
"Maybe it was like Talamon said, that she was afraid you'd take him home with you. A father has all rights over his children here. But if I knew you better than that in three months, Laira surely did. It doesn't make any sense to me."
"None of this makes any sense," Jack agreed. "Talamon said you saw what happened this morning?"
Kelisa twisted her hands in her apron, which was wet with her tears. "I was in the kitchen when I heard Laira scream. I ran outside and found her lying on the ground. I looked up and there were three men running up the trail there behind the house. They had the little one. We sent for the doctor from the mines, but I couldn't get anyone to go after them. It's like Talamon said...people here are backwards, closed-minded goats."
"But you were always Laira's friend. You didn't turn on her when the baby was born."
"Of course not. The four of us were moving to Albin next spring....It just won't be the same without Laira. I can't believe she's gone." She dabbed at her eyes with the apron again.
"I know what you mean."
"Jack, I don't know why Laira didn't tell you, but I believe you when you say that she didn't. I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry too, Kelisa."
O'Neill and Carter found Daniel still talking to Father Dalan, a small frail white-haired man with one leg. Jack already knew a little about the Edoran religion, so the priest explained to the rest of SG-1 that the people here had a dualistic religion, with a balance in the universe between God and the devil. The Children of Darkness were a secretive cult rumored to be living somewhere in the mountains. "I didn't know that they really existed. They've been a tale to frighten children, nothing more, until today. Tomorrow night is the feast of the blood moon, an important festival for the Dark. It comes only once every hundred years. You must find your son before midnight tomorrow, or they will sacrifice him."
"Can you give me a better idea where to start looking?"
"They were seen going up Albin Gap Trail. Halfway between here and Albin, there's rock outcropping called Devil's Lookout. It's always been said that the Dark held some of their ceremonies there. Maybe something there will lead you to little Jamie."
"What do you know about this ceremony? Is there anything special that they'll need to carry it out?"
"The writings mention the well of night, but I don't know what that is. I'll go back to the old records from 100 years ago and try to get word to you if I find anything useful."
"I wish I could go with you. May the Light shine upon you, my children."
Teal'c met them as they left the church. "I am sorry, O'Neill, but the trail is mostly awash."
"OK, spread out and question more of the people. Maybe someone saw something else that will help us. I'm going back to the gate and get us a UAV flyover." At the very least they would have an aireal map.
Daniel watched him go. "We need more people to search an area like that."
"Yeah, it would be nice if these people weren't such jerks," Carter said.
Teal'c passed a warrior's judgment, "They are worthless cowards. They dismiss this child as a whore's bastard, therefore they have no obligation to put themselves at risk for him, or to avenge his mother."
Daniel said, "We'll just see about that." He grabbed a stick of firewood and banged on a big metal water tank, it made a hell of a racket. It didn't take the townsfolk long to check it out.
He jumped up on the woodcutter's stump. "All of you, I have something to say! What do you think, Laira wasn't your business? Her son isn't your business? Think again! You've got some kind of an evil cult that until this morning was a myth. Now they're real and they're here in your back yard! They killed one of your neighbors and kidnapped a three year old child! Do you think it's going to stop there? Whose wife dies, whose child is taken the next time they decide the devil wants blood? Sure, you can stand aside and let someone else be the hero, and then you can regret it for the rest of your lives because believe you me, you won't want to live with it if someone else from your town dies because you ducked your responsibility. This kind of evil only grows if good people don't have the guts to stand up and do something about it! This is YOUR time to DO SOMETHING!"
There was a buzz of conversation. Someone yelled from that back of the crowd, "What can we do?"
"You know this area, you know all the places where they could be hiding out! Somewhere they could reach from that trail before midnight tomorrow. Help us find them before it's too late for that little boy. Anybody who's willing to help, meet us here in half an hour. And if anyone saw anything this morning, let us know! Any little detail might be important!"
O'Neill came back to find out that Daniel had rallied eight people to help them with the search. SG-2 was with him, and they brought a MALP, an elint technician, and more fuel for the UAV so they could continue to use it for recon after the wormhole closed. Ferretti divided his people into three squads, with two of the villagers assigned to each of them as well as SG-1. While O'Neill and Ferretti were planning the search, Carter and Teal'c helped the tech, Sgt. Rideout, set up his equipment. Daniel was talking to the villagers and collecting as much information as he could. He found another witness, a ten-year-old boy who had been feeding the chickens when he saw the kidnappers. He took the boy to the command tent.
"Jack, I found another witness. Sammet, this is Col. O'Neill. You tell him everything you just told me."
"I seen them take Jamie. There was four of them!"
O'Neill asked, "What did you see?"
"I was out back feedin' the chooks when something started 'em cacklin'. Looked up the hill and here comes these four guys. First I thought they was Jaffa and I was gonna run tell Ma, but then they got closer and I could see they wasn't no Jaffa. They jumped the crick and went right by the back of the henhouse, I coulda reached out and touched 'em! They went past Kelleman's house and Laira and Jamie was by the crick gettin' water. They took Jamie and Laira started screamin' and they hit her. She fell down and they ran back acrost the crick and up the trail."
"Was Jamie okay?"
"He looked like it, I didn't see no blood on him or nothin'. He was hollerin' up a storm, couldn't a-been too much wrong with him."
"What kind of weapons did they have?"
"Like a club, only with spikes stickin' out all over this round knob at the end."
O'Neill imagined Laira getting hit with something like that, and clamped down on his fury. The last thing he wanted to do was scare Sammet. The time for retribution would be after Jamie was safe. "Did you see any guns?"
The boy shook his head. "Don't mean they didn't have none, though. They coulda been hidin' more stuff under their clothes. They was wearin' this big loose jacket thing with a hood."
"You've been a lot of help, Sammet. If any more of your friends saw anything, that man over there is Sergeant Rideout. You tell him what you saw, and he'll let us know."
"All right! Can I go now?"
"Sure, go on."
O'Neill asked, "Anything else, any questions? OK, then, move out."
Once they left the band of green in the valley, everything was barren gray rock under a leaden gray sky. They split up at the Devil's Lookout and searched till it got too dark to see. When one of Ferretti's men almost went over a cliff in the dark, O'Neill called the search off until dawn.
O'Neill didn't look like he was going to head in. Carter said firmly, "Colonel, if you blow out your knee in the dark, that's going to sideline you tomorrow when you can actually do some good."
After a moment, he nodded. Rest and food, map the areas that had already been thoroughly searched. Then they could start fresh at first light.
Talamon showed up at the command tent at 0500 with his wife practically twisting his arm behind his back. "Tell them!"
He said, "I am! I thought of something. The preacher said something about the well of night. There's an old mine up there, it was called Darkwell. Played out a long time ago. But you could hide an army in there. Could be that's what they mean."
"Mark it on the map."
Talamon's wife said, "He'll do better than that, he'll show you how to get there."
"Delphie!" Talamon looked a lot less formidable with his wife glowering at him.
"You do this or I swear--" She threatened in a low voice.
"All right! I'll show you how to get there, but I'm not going in."
"Fine," O'Neill said. He didn't want Talamon underfoot when they started running into cultists anyhow.
Talamon guided them for several hours until they came to a treacherous section of the trail where a narrow path separated a stream from a rock face. The stream was now boiling brown in full flood, and in places the water covered the trail. He refused to go further, but said, "As soon as you get around the side of the hill, there's a blind canyon. The mine is all the way up the canyon." With that, he headed back the way they had come.
They took all possible care on the flooded trail, roping together and making sure they had secure footing before they moved. All the same, a couple of times what looked like secure footing wasn't, and the rope was all that kept one of them from being swept away.
The box canyon was safer footing but equally dangerous in another way. It looked like a perfect place for an ambush if the cultists had any kind of ranged weapons at all. O'Neill motioned for Teal'c to move up and the two of them went first, looking for any signs of danger.
They reached the mine entrance without incident, which wasn't really a hopeful situation for O'Neill. If they had just wasted half a day on a wild goose chase--
Teal'c called, "O'Neill." The Jaffa pointed out marks inside the tunnel. "People have been using this entrance recently, yet the mine tools and the rails for the mine car are all rusted, unused for years. Perhaps we have found a little-used entrance."
"Can't imagine they'd use that trail too often if they didn't have to, especially this time of year," O'Neill agreed. "I hope there's a better way to get Jamie out of here."
They continued to move on as they had before, with O'Neill and Teal'c taking point, and Carter and Daniel then the two villagers in the rear.
Then they came up against a dead end. A rockfall had blocked the tunnel, leaving only a narrow opening at the top that only a squirrel could have got through.
Teal'c could have blasted the rock away, at the risk of bringing more down, but that would surely have been heard. Instead they climbed as far as they could and started moving debris by hand until they had an opening large enough to crawl through. That took another few hours. It was now 2315 local time, they had only 45 minutes. The punishing labor of moving the heavy rocks had left them winded. They stopped briefly to rest, but they were on the clock and before too long that knowledge drove them on.
They passed several mined out galleries, silent and haunted with shadows, which they cleared quickly. The air was stale and damp. "Is there methane in a naquada mine?" O'Neill asked.
"You mean, explosive gasses?" One of the miners asked.
"Not unless you cross a coal seam, but this ain't the kind of territory for that. You just gotta watch for the dust a-flyin'. Breathe too much of it, and it's p'ison."
"Indeed," Teal'c said. "The danger is the naquada dust in the air, in an active mine. It will not harm MajorCarter or myself, and probably not you either since you have been blended. You probably do have enough naquada in your blood to bond with it. The miners here take precautions." He indicated the heavy scarves that they had wrapped around their faces to prevent breathing any dust, and the goggles, gloves and boots they wore. "DanielJackson, however--"
Daniel paled at the thought of heavy metal poisoning, but replied in a determined voice, "We're not moving in and setting up housekeeping, Teal'c, and they aren't doing any digging to get dust in the air. I won't be in here long enough to get sick from it. It isn't that hot."
"I wonder how long the cultists have been down here?" Carter wondered.
"Screw them, how would being in here for a couple of days affect Jamie?" O'Neill asked.
"The effect is cumulative, and as DanielJackson pointed out, this mine is not active. The dampness should keep much of the dust out of the air. If they keep him out of the water on the mine floor, he may not be exposed at all. If, however, the cultists have been living down here for an extended period and coming into contact with standing water frequently, they would indeed begin to show early symptoms of contact poisoning, such as unhealing sores."
Carter asked, "Sir, could you turn your light off for a minute? I thought I saw a light further ahead."
They extinguished their lights and waited for their eyes to adjust. The light ahead was faint, but present. The miners didn't relight their carbide lamps, and they held their picks ready.
"1138 hours, sir."
"Let's move out."
The light was a candle in a glass lantern. It couldn't have been burning there for too long.
Teal'c held up a hand for silence. A distant sound of chanting echoed through the tunnels but they couldn't place its origin.
O'Neill looked as far down the tunnel as he could. "Damn! They've already started the ceremony!"
Daniel asked the miners, "Is this the same layout as other mines you've worked in?"
"Yeah, basically, you seen one you seen 'em all."
"Where could you get enough people to make that kind of noise together in one place, and still have room for some kind of a ceremony?"
"Where d'ya think, Jo? Big main gallery?"
Jo measured his pick handle against the depth of the naquada seam. "Probably, and they would've mined out all they could get to before they closed the mine. Best bet is, straight ahead, God let me be right."
They picked up the pace to a near run. The chanting came louder, and then they heard Jamie wail.
The tunnel gave out into the main gallery, a deep terraced pit. Two priests were holding the little boy on the altar. Another one was chanting and holding a dagger.
They didn't need to discuss what everyone's job was in a situation like this. Carter and Teal'c rushed down the terraces with Daniel and the miners on their heels. Jack stood where he was and sighted down the P-90's barrel. The instant he got a clear shot, he took out the guy with the knife, then targeted the people holding Jamie.
One of them, however, figured out where the shots were coming from and used the boy's body as a shield, making for a tunnel that opened into the lower level. Jack couldn't get a clear shot. He started down the terraces, making for that same tunnel, shutting out the noise of battle and everything else except making the most important shot of his life. He squeezed the trigger and hit the kidnapper in the ankle. The man screamed and fell in a heap. Jack ran over there and grabbed Jamie up in his arms, shielding him from the fighting.
For a moment he looked down at the injured cultist, and just about shot him where he lay. The only thing that stopped him was doing it in front of Jamie.
By then the surviving cultists had thrown down their weapons, and the two miners took the one Jack had shot over with the others.
Jack held Jamie tight, calming the terrified child. Sam walked over, smiling. There was no doubt in her mind that this was Jack's son. Nowhere else in this universe could he have gotten those chocolate-brown eyes. Two of them looking at her like that...she knew right then she was hopelessly lost. Fate might not ever give her a child of her own, considering the life she had chosen. Apparently, however, it had given her Jack's child. She hoped she would make a good mother. "Want me to take some of your gear, sir? Looks like you've got an armful."
"That's OK, he isn't heavy."
"Permission to check down this tunnel and see if it's a better way out of here?"
Carter motioned for Daniel to come with her.
Jack's hand was shaking as he brushed Jamie's hair out of his eyes. Too close. Too damn close. He checked his son over for injuries. If there were any real gods around, O'Neill thanked them that the boy was unharmed. Dirty, hungry, scared and tired, but unharmed.
His son. His. Son. Jack sat down on a stack of timbers and held Jamie tight.
Jamie asked, "Who are you?"
"I'm your daddy, son."
"Mommy said you'd come."
He nodded, letting the adrenaline rush burn itself out. He had just killed two men, and that never rested easy, but he had taken lives that he regretted a lot more than those. They'd cut it very close.
It took things only a little while to settle out after that. Church knights from Albin rode in to collect the cultists, where the priest said that they would face hanging for Laira's murder.
Laira had no family, at least none that she had claimed or had claimed her in many years. Jack wondered what had happened to her older son, but no one had mentioned him since they'd been here, and he was conspicuously absent from the wake.
The rain stopped by the next morning, when Laira was buried on a lonely hilltop overlooking the town. The only mourners were her three friends and SG-1 and her little son, who didn't understand what Mama's gone to heaven meant and wanted to know when she could come home.
Father Dalan said, "God must have had something very special for your mama to do. That's why He sent your father to take care of you from now on. But never forget that your mama will always be with you, loving you and taking care of you."
The neighbor lady had a large bag on Laira's front porch. "I put together some of Laira's things that Jamie will want, when he's older. Her jewelry and a few other keepsakes, and the quilts she made for him, and the clothes he ain't quite about to grow out of. Oh, and a few jars of things I canned. I thought it might help him
adjust if he had some things from home that he likes to eat."
"Thanks, Kelisa, for all you've done. And for standing by Laira all these years. If I'd known about Jamie, about what was going on here--"
"But you didn't and the river keeps right on a-flowin' away downstream anyway," Kelisa said firmly. "Even if we don't understand it, all we can do is accept that Laira knew what she was doing, and what's supposed to be will find a way."
Jack nodded. Teal'c picked up the bundle and they turned for home. Jack looked up to the hill where the cemetery banners waved in the breeze. He hoped Laira knew how sorry he was that things had turned out this way, that he hadn't been able to love her, that she hadn't found the man who could have been what she deserved. But he had seen enough this last year or so to know with all the certainty he needed that death wasn't an ending to anything. Laira had fallen defending her son. There were a lot of things he didn't pretend to understand, but he knew that had to count for something.
It took a long time for things to settle once they got back to SGC. Everybody wanted to hold Jamie, something that Fraiser stopped quickly. "He needs to have his shots first. There's been a lot of traffic back and forth with Edora, but all the same, he probably doesn't have immunity to a lot of earth diseases."
They headed down to sickbay for post-missions. There was a strict rule about MRIs for everyone through the gate, every time, no exceptions. Janet figured Jamie would freak, but Jack described it to him as a fun ride that made a lot of really loud noise, and he didn't have a problem with it. He did have a problem with his shots, Janet saw that one coming but she didn't expect him to bite her. "Hey! That f----reakin' hurt!" Fraiser yelped.
Carter was laughing so hard the tears were rolling.
"Sam, you're supposed to be helping me here, not aiding and abetting."
"Watch your mouth, Doc, there's some English words he doesn't need to learn just yet," Jack laughed.
"I didn't say it. Besides, you're telling me to clean up my mouth? Pots and kettles, flyboy!" Janet got down on eye level with the kid. "Now, you've got one more shot to go, then we're done. If you bite me again, I swear I'm going to bite you right back."
Jack laughed, "She'll do it, too."
Eventually they got the boy's checkup all sorted out. Janet said, "I'll watch Jamie until after debriefing, Jack. I think I can find him some ice cream and then it looks like it might be about time for his nap."
"Janet, are there any other single parents with custody on the SG teams? What can I do about day care?"
"We co-op, it saves bringing in outsiders. Major Murphy in data analysis coordinates. It's something like $5.00 an hour, offset by the time you can contribute watching other people's kids, and you settle up at the end of the month. She can get Jamie signed up and explain it to you."
"This has been a big surprise for you. How are you holding up?"
Jack shook his head, still looking a little bewildered. "There's about a million things I need to do, but this is a miracle, Janet."
She nodded. "I felt the same way about Cassie. That reminds me, she baby sits too." She fished a little cup of vanilla ice cream from a refrigerator.
Jack told Jamie, "Be good and mind Doc. I'll be back in a couple of hours."
Hammond gave him a long weekend to get things set up. Even with help from the rest of the team, there was a lot to do. He stopped on the way home to buy a child seat for the truck. There would be a ton of paperwork, but that would have to wait until Hammond could arrange a cover story for Jamie's identity. In the meanwhile, they spent that whole evening child proofing the house.
The first thing he did was get both his guns and put them in the safe. They were pretty damn useless there, but it was the one place in the house that he was sure Jamie couldn't get into. His hands were shaking as he spun the dial and made sure it was locked.
Tomorrow he'd take them both with him and lock them in his desk in his office. Jamie was never going to find and play with one of his guns. Never.
Teal'c asked, "O'Neill? What is wrong? You appear to have viewed an apparition."
"Seen a ghost. The phrase is, seen a ghost. And, yeah, that's exactly what happened. How did you keep Ry'ac away from your zat or your staff weapon?"
"I kept the power crystal from my staff weapon on me at all times, and kept the zatnik'tel under lock and key when it was not on my person. Ry'ac was perhaps two years older than Jamie when he began to accompany me to the practice field. Under ordinary circumstances, he would have begun training with a cadre of boys his age some two years after that, but I--Ry'ac did not have an ordinary childhood."
"He turned out just fine."
"Drey'auc and Bra'tac are much more to be praised for that than I. He is a man grown, who never truly knew his father."
"Yes, but thanks to you, Drey'auc died free, and Bra'tac and Ry'ac live free," Jack said. "Your choices created a hardship for them, but it was the right thing in the end. The stupid thing I did, killed my son and ruined Sara's life, for no reason at all. How do I know the same thing won't happen to Jamie?"
"My brother, if I or any other father knew how never to make a mistake, every child would grow up in paradise. Also, among my people, a child of some eight years understands his responsibility to follow the orders of his parents. If a boy cannot obey his father, how is he to grow up to be a warrior?
Hear me, O'Neill, I was not there, so I do not judge. But from what I know of this, it is perhaps something to consider that, if you would be certain that Jamie never plays with a weapon, he must grow up knowing that it is not a plaything."
That was an exceptionally long speech from Teal'c. Jack nodded. "OK, I can see starting taking him to the range with me when he starts kindergarten. They got safety classes for little kids. That's the way to go. Until then, I just won't have one in the house."
Teal'c asked, "How would you think then to protect Jamie if one of our enemies decided to take him, or simply to kill you both? You must be prepared to defend him. We have learned that these hashak will use our children against us."
"What do you want me to do, T? Take a chance on history repeating itself?"
"No, of course not. But surely there is some way to disable a firearm so that a child cannot fire it accidentally."
Jack nodded. Keep the 9mm, put a trigger lock on it, and keep it where he could reach it in a hurry.
He didn't want it to be that way. Jamie should never have to touch a gun, or worry about the NID. But Teal'c was right, as usual. They couldn't give their children that perfect world.
Jack found himself stopping what he was doing every ten or fifteen minutes to find Jamie and see what he was up to. Once he was sitting on the couch with Daniel watching Sesame Street.
Another time Sam was teaching him to color. Their eyes met over Jamie's head. Sam looked so happy that Jack just about went weak with relief. He had been seriously worried that she wouldn't take kindly to the idea of helping raise a kid that some other woman had given him. He should have had more faith in her than that, he told himself. Carter just plain loved kids, and didn't give a damn where they came from.
He had almost not told her the whole story about Laira. Looking back, he was so glad he hadn't given in to that temptation, knowing now how that skeleton would have exploded out of the closet. As it was, Carter had long since forgiven him. Sadly, he wished it could have had a better ending for Laira. He would always regret that his drunken irresponsibility had led to so much hardship for her. But there was no way he could ever regret Jamie.
They made a last run through the house, looking at everything from kids' eye level to make sure they hadn't overlooked anything.
The pizza came, and Jamie found out he really liked pizza except when he bit into it and the sauce was still steaming hot. He liked Aladdin and the Lion King. He also liked to flip the channels on the TV. Jack found out fast how to set the parental controls on the cable movie channels.
Daniel and Teal'c left once they had cleared away the pizza boxes. Sam asked, "Are you two going to be okay?"
Jack looked down at Jamie, napping on the couch. "I think we're going to be just fine. I never expected to get another chance to have a child of my own. I thought the years had passed me by. But here he is. If I'm dreaming, don't pinch me."
Sam nodded, smiling through tears. "Call me if you need anything."
"Thanks, Carter. Good night."
"G'night, sir." He watched her to her car, and turned out the porch light when she had pulled away from the house.
Then it was just the two of them. Jack took a very sleepy little boy up to bed in Sirikat's old room and stood there for a while just watching him, safe and sound in his new home.
Jack thought about Sirikat, worlds away and in such a dangerous position. Not for the first time or anywhere nearly the last, he wished he could have kept her safe here as well. He couldn't wait for her to meet Jamie. She loved kids and she'd probably spoil him rotten--not that all his honorary aunts and uncles hadn't already made a good start on that. Jack wasn't sure how many teddy bears one kid needed, but apparently it was a lot.
He closed the new toddler gate at the top of the stairs. Jamie was really a little too old for it, but it had these little jingle bells on it that would wake him if Jamie decided to do a little midnight recon. He went across the hall to his own room, leaving the doors ajar so that he could hear if Jamie woke up and needed something.
Over the next week, things fell into a routine. There was rarely such a thing as lying around the house with an energetic three-year-old around. Jack was thankful that he had a big back yard with plenty of room for Jamie to romp around.
The team came by the house nearly every evening, one at a time or all at once. Hammond encouraged that. When his son-in-law had passed, his grandchildren had really come to rely on him and the rest of their extended family.
Jamie hit it right off with Teal'c. Jack knew how much Teal'c missed Ry'ac. Teal'c could scare the crap out of an adult without saying a word, but kids saw right through him. Soon he was Jamie's favorite uncle. He was a gentle giant with the small boy.
With Daniel it took a little longer. Daniel had no experience with little kids, and neither was quite sure how to relate to the other. It sorted out when Jamie discovered Daniel's infinite patience with his endless questions. Jack had learned, as his parents had before him, that "Because" and "It just is" were answers for just about everything. Daniel, on the other hand, would gladly explain the whys and wherefores until someone stuck a caramel in his mouth. One evening Jack found them both sitting out on the back deck with equally rapt expressions on their faces as they watched a spider spinning her web.
Granny Garrett told Jonathan about Jamie, and one evening he came over to meet his new nephew. For some reason, Jamie's presence made things so much less awkward between them. Made them family, apart from the history they shared. Jack found himself inviting Jonathan and his friends over for a barbeque that weekend.
"Sounds great. He really looks like you."
Jonathan wasn't the first one to comment on that, but it wasn't until Jack saw Jamie sitting on his clone's lap that he saw the resemblance. He'd seen Laira in Jamie. There was too much trouble and sorrow in both Jonathan and Jamie's young lives, and most of it came right back to him. He couldn't change the past, but the future was all theirs.
Jamie yawned, and Jonathan took that as his cue to call it a night. Jack locked up and got his son ready for bed. His son. As he laid out an outfit for Jamie to wear, he reflected on unexpected and, he felt, undeserved blessings. With a lump in his throat the size of the whole state of Colorado, he kissed Jamie's forehead and tucked him in.
At night, Jamie especially missed Laira, and for several nights in a row now, he woke up scared. Finally, that night Jack got out of him that he was afraid Laira wouldn't know where he was. Jack told him, "That's not how it works. When people cross over, they always know where we are. They can find us anyplace."
"You sure about that, Daddy?"
"Yeah, I am."
A few minutes later, Jamie was back to sleep, and he didn't wake up scared again.
One of the things Jack had taken care of was a codicil to his will naming Sam as Jamie's guardian. But since the same thing was likely to happen to both of them, it was important to name someone else.
Janet was in her office when he walked into sickbay. "Jack? Is something wrong?"
"No, I just need to talk to you about something."
She put her papers down. "What is it?"
"I'm taking care of some business. I named Sam as Jamie's guardian if something happens to me, but I don't need to spell it out for you. Would you be willing to be his guardian also? Kinda like his godmother, I guess?"
"Well, I--of course I would! Jack, that's an honor."
"You're a good friend, Janet. You were the first person Sam and I both thought of."
"I never want to have to take you up on that, do you understand me? It's just another excuse for me to spoil him rotten."
"As if anyone needs an excuse," Jack laughed.
O'Neill got used to dropping Jamie off at the sitter's before work, and that wasn't so bad because after the first couple of days Jamie decided he liked playing with the other kids.
The hard one came Thursday morning. He packed up a couple of changes of clean clothes and took Jamie to Major Murphy's grandmother's place. She had retired from the SGC as a nurse last year. She took the kids when their parents were through the gate, which was a godsend because there weren't security issues. She always seemed to be very busy somewhere when it came time for parents to give their little ones a last hug before going to work. Jamie had already made friends with some of the other kids at day care, so this was just a normal day for him.
Jack explained to Gloria Murphy about Jamie's mother. "I told him this was going to be a sleep over for a few days, but I'm not sure how much he understands. He might get worried that I've left him here permanently or something."
"Jack, he'll be fine, just like all the rest of the military brats running around here. I haven't misplaced any of them yet, and they learn pretty fast that their parents aren't going to forget where they left them, either. Take care."
"I will. Thanks, Gloria."
Jack's knee was acting up. Not for the first time lately, he wrapped it in an ace bandage as he was gearing up in the locker room. Daniel asked, "Is that getting worse?"
"Not so much, but it lets me know it when we go through the gate. The cold--you know. I probably won't be able to keep this up too much longer, before I'll have to let 'em fix it. About time I got put out to pasture anyhow."
Daniel grinned from ear to ear as he tied his boot laces. "Sure, Jack, as if your knee was the real reason."
An equally silly grin spread across Jack's face. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about, Dr. Jackson."
Even Teal'c laughed out loud at that one.
They were still carrying on like three idiots when they met Sam at the armory. She just shook her head and decided not to ask what all that was about. It had been way too long since they'd headed for the gateroom in such high spirits. She decided to just enjoy the good times and be thankful.
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