Jackfic Fiction Archive Story

 

Lefted Behind

by Charli Booker and Gallagater


Never raise your hand to your children;

                                it leaves your midsection unprotected.  Robert Orben

 

                                                                        * * * * *

 

Kneeling on the dirt floor inside one of the recently abandoned structures, sifting through the contents of a small chest obviously not considered worthy of hauling across the galaxy, the last thing Jack O’Neill expected to hear was a crying child.  Immediately dropping what he was doing, he rose on protesting knees and hurried outside.

 

Momentarily blinded by the bright sunlight, he squinted and fumbled his sunglasses onto his nose then tugged the bill of his cap lower over his eyes.  Carter and Teal’c had gone to the lake to retrieve the inflatable raft while Jack and Daniel and SG‑9 combed through the village to make sure nothing of importance was left behind.  Once Lotan had agreed to stop the terra forming and transport the Enkarans to their home world, no time had been lost in packing up whatever was essential and getting everything and everyone on board before the Gadmeer representative changed his . . . its mind.

 


If it were up to Jack, none of the stuff discarded by the Enkarans would be worth hauling home.  But, of course, Daniel Jackson had different ideas.  He’d found all sorts of interesting reasons to convince Jack and the others to lug crates of clothing and pottery and glassware to the base of the Stargate awaiting the final trip home.

 

Looking around, Jack saw only Tarkman and Winters from SG‑9 going through what looked to be a pile of hand tools.  The archeologist was noticeably absent, and he supposed one could only hope Daniel had completed his treasure hunt and had gated back to the SGC.  Unfortunately, considering Daniel was a notorious pack rat, Jack was pretty sure his team member was still trying to decide what he could and couldn’t get by with taking home.

 

Hearing the cry again, Jack swivelled towards the sound, and spied Carter and Teal’c entering the village.  Teal’c was carrying the large duffel which contained the inflatable raft, and Carter had one hand wrapped firmly around the wrist of a small child who was sobbing uncontrollably and trying to break free.

 

His mind racing, Jack met them halfway.  “Carter?”

 

Struggling to keep her grip on the child, the major eyed him sadly.  “Sir, we found her near the lake.”

 

“Let go!”

 

Sam tugged the girl closer, smiling at her.  “It’s okay.  We’re not going to hurt you.”

 

“No!”  The girl, who looked no older than five at most, doubled her efforts to pull free.

 

“Shit,” Jack mumbled.  How the hell had they missed a kid?  A box of books, yeah.  A crate of old clothes, no biggie.  But a kid!  Forcing his anger back, Jack knelt on one knee in the dust, lowering himself to the girl’s level.  He grinned.  “Hey.  I’m Jack.  Who’re you?”

 

It took only seconds for the child’s struggles to cease, and she turned golden, tear-filled eyes to look at him.  Her lower lip quivering, she stared at Jack, and didn’t even seem to notice when Carter released her hold on her arm.  Bundled up in a homespun cloak, looking a bit like a miniature Hedrazar - minus the hat and the shoes - the girl was all tears and dirt and dark brown curls.

 

She was definitely a cutie, and Jack felt his smile soften even as his heart wrenched for her parents, wherever they were.  “So, what’s your name?”

 

“Maci,” she informed him, her breath hitching as her sobs quieted.  She sniffed loudly, and rubbed a small fist over her wet face, smearing dirt and tears and snot.

 

“Maci, huh?  That’s a nice name.”  Jack reached into his back pocket and pulled out a handkerchief.  “Come here.”  Frowning up at Carter, Maci tentatively stepped forward.  Jack gently wiped her face then held the handkerchief to her nose.  “Blow.”

 


She did, waiting quietly while he finished cleaning her up.  She watched his every move as he folded the handkerchief and shoved it back into his pocket.  When he was finished, she reached out and touched curious, grubby fingers to his sunglasses.

 

“You’re the colonel,” she pronounced.

 

Jack grinned and pulled off his glasses, wiping the smudge from the lens.  “That’s right.  But you can call me Jack.  Okay?”

 

“Okay.”  She pointed up at Carter.  “I don’t like her, Jack.”

 

Slipping on his shades, Jack looked at Sam who seemed shocked that someone didn’t like her.  He tried not to laugh, and looked back at the young girl who was seriously considering him.  “Really?  You don’t like Carter?  But, everybody likes Carter.”

 

“I don’t.  She’s mean, and she’s bossy, and she hurt my arm.  Look.”  She held out an arm for his inspection.

 

Jack pushed up the sleeve of the cloak, and carefully examined the pale, fragile limb.  “Well, I think it’ll be fine.  And, I’m pretty sure Carter didn’t mean to hurt you.”

 

Maci glared up at the offender in question.  “You shouldn’t hurt little kids.  It’s not nice.”

 

Sam leaned over, trying to touch the injured arm which was abruptly pulled out of her reach.  Straightening, Sam forced a smile.  “I’m sorry, Maci.  The colonel’s right.  I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

 

But Maci had already turned her attention back to Jack.  “Are you going to take me home now?”

 

“Uh,” he looked up at Carter, who frowned and shook her head.  Clearing his throat, Jack looked back at the girl.  “Well, I’m afraid that may take a while.  But, I’ll tell you what, why don’t you come back with us until we can get you home?  How’s that?”

 

In response, golden eyes teared up, and a small chin quivered.

 

“Hey.  Hey, now.”  Reacting immediately and instinctively, Jack scooped her up in his arms.  Standing, he unclipped his P‑90, holding it with one hand and the child with the other.  Maci wrapped arms and legs tightly around him, and pressed her face against his neck.  “Carter, round everyone up and head back to the gate.  I’ll go ahead and get her back.  Let Janet have a look at her.  Teal’c, you’re with me.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

The three of them made their way to the gate without speaking.  His collar wet from her breath and tears, Jack watched Teal’c dial Earth and punch in the code on the GDO, and he marveled at the feeling of a child in his arms once again.  There was nothing quite like it.


 

“Jack?”  Maci raised her head and looked at him.

 

He studied the golden eyes and the tear-stained, freckled cheeks.  “What?”

 

“I got lefted behind, didn’t I?”

 

Jack smiled and hugged her closer, planting a kiss on her forehead.  “Yeah, baby.  You did.  But, we’re going to take good care of you.”

 

                                                                        * * * * *

 

When they stepped through on the Earth side of the gate, Jack could feel Maci’s little body trembling.  “You okay?” he softly asked.  The only response was small arms scrabbling for a firmer grip, clutching him desperately.  He tightened his hold, and walked down the ramp to meet a puzzled looking general.  “Sir.”

 

“Colonel?  What have you got there?”

 

Smiling, Jack passed off his P‑90 to a nearby SF.  “This is Maci, General.  Carter and Teal’c found her.”

 

Exchanging a worried look with Jack, Hammond gently patted the girl’s back.  “Hello there, Maci.  Welcome to Earth.”

 

He had to pry the girl off his neck.  Then, cupping her face in his palm, he forced her head up.  “Maci, I want you to meet General Hammond.  He’s a nice man.  You’re going to like him a lot.”

 

“I have two granddaughters just about your age, young lady.”

 

At that, Maci looked at him; with tears still brimming in her eyes, she grinned shyly and ducked her head.  “Can I play with them?”

 

“Well, now, maybe that can be arranged.”  Hammond smiled and patted her again then looked at Jack.  “Colonel, I think we need to talk.”

 

“Yes, sir.  But, I thought a trip to the infirmary might be warranted.”

 

Hammond nodded.  “Teal’c, would you mind escorting her to the infirmary so the colonel and I can go over a few things?”

 

“I would be honored.”  Teal’c stepped up beside Jack, and reached towards the girl.  “Maci, would you permit me to carry you to the infirmary?”

 

Clutching at Jack again, Maci shook her head.

 


“Come on, Maci.  Teal’c’s a good guy.  He won’t hurt you,” Jack promised.

 

“No,” she mumbled against his neck.

 

Jack shrugged, and Hammond smiled.  “Why don’t you deliver her yourself then join me in my office.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

                                                                        * * * * *

 

Heads turned as Jack, escorted by the regal Jaffa, carried his small prize to the infirmary.  By the time they arrived, Maci’s head was on his shoulder and her small hands had loosened their grip on his shirt; half-asleep, she was limp and growing limper by the minute.

 

“Colonel, what have you got there?”

 

“Seems the Enkarans left a little something behind, Doc.”

 

Janet frowned.  “Oh, no.”

 

“Yeah.”  Jack couldn’t agree more.

 

Maci’s head popped up and her fingers dug into Jack’s shirt as she glanced warily at Janet.  “I got lefted.”

 

“Oh, sweetie.”  Janet rested a hand on the small arm wrapped across Jack’s chest.  “I’m so sorry.”

 

“Jack’s gonna take me home, aren’t you, Jack?”

 

He touched his forehead to hers.  “We’re sure gonna try.”  Bouncing a soft giggle out of her, he turned to Janet.  “Doc, I thought you should check her over.”

 

“Of course.  Put her down over here, and I’ll give her a quick once over.”

 

Jack had planned to leave Maci in Teal’c’s and Doc’s capable hands while he talked to Hammond, but his plans quickly changed.  He pried her out of his arms, set her on the exam table, and took a whole five steps before she started screaming.  As he rushed back to her side, she stood on the bed and grabbed him around the neck.

 

“Don’t leave me, Jack.”

 


He put an arm around her, and looked at Janet.  “I’m not really leaving.  I just have to go talk to the general.  I’ll be back in a few minutes, okay?  Janet and Teal’c will take good care of you.”  As he reached up to gently remove her hands, the sobbing increased in pitch and intensity, and small fingers desperately grabbed at him.  The sound tore at him, and he found himself once again picking up the panicked child, cradling her head with a calloused hand and planting a soft kiss in her hair.  “It’s okay, baby.  I’m right here.”

 

As Doc and Teal’c silently looked on, Jack soothed and bounced and rocked until the sobs quieted and the breathing slowed, and Maci relaxed in his arms.  Wondering if she was asleep, he turned so that Doc could see the girl’s face.  Janet smiled and shook her head then reached up to stroke Maci’s hair.

 

When she spoke, her voice was hushed.  “Sir, why don’t you sit down on the bed and hold her while I check her out?”

 

“Yeah.  Okay.”

 

As long as Jack kept her on his lap, one arm wrapped around her, Maci allowed Janet to slip off the thick cloak and the rough undergarment, exposing her thin, pale torso.  Without the bulky clothes, Jack was struck by how fragile she seemed.  She wasn’t much more than a baby.  Certainly too young to be wandering around by herself.  Once again, anger flared momentarily but was quickly replaced by a pang of empathy for what must be two grief-stricken parents.  His hold on her tightened reflexively and she snuggled closer.

 

As Doc warmed a stethoscope in her hand then pressed it against the small chest, Jack looked over at Teal’c who stood like a sentry at the foot of the bed.  “T, talk to Hammond.  I want to send a team back.  I know we can’t check all the villages but we can at least check the ones closest to the gate.  I want to make sure we didn’t miss anyone else.”  Teal’c nodded in agreement.  “You’re the best tracker we’ve got.  I want you to go with them.”

 

“Certainly.”  Teal’c looked decidedly amused as he turned to leave.

 

“What?”

 

The Jaffa paused, eyeing Jack with a lifted brow as he delivered his parting words.  “She appears to be quite taken with you, O’Neill.”

 

Janet snorted softly, and Jack glared at her then looked down at the child in his arms.  Maci’s head was tilted back.  She had her thumb in her mouth and was playing with her eyelashes with her index finger as she stared up at him half-asleep.  Jack brushed a sweaty curl off her forehead.  “She’s a cute kid.”

 

Maci smiled around her thumb, her eyelids drooping heavily.  Janet watched as the child fell asleep in Jack’s arms before quietly informing him that she seemed fine.  “I’ll need to run a few tests to be sure, but other than looking a little under-nourished, I’d say she’s fine.  I think, right now, more than anything, she needs a good nap.”

 

“Yeah, well,” Jack stood carefully, trying not to wake her, “she’s had a rough day.”

 


“Let’s put her down over here, sir.  It’s a little softer.”

 

Jack followed Janet to one of the hospital beds.  She turned down the sheets and he laid Maci on the bed; the move reminded him of the many times he’d tucked a sleeping Charlie into bed.  This time when a child roused, the eyes that looked up at him were golden.

 

“Jack?” she mumbled sleepily.

 

Resting his elbows on the bed, he leaned close.  “I’m right here.”

 

Eyes closing once more, she curled on her side and clamped a tiny fist around his trigger finger.  “Don’t let me get losted, okay?”

 

God, the power kids wield.  “Okay, baby.”

 

                                                                        * * * * *

 

“She’s younger than Cassie was when you found her.  My God, what kind of parents would let a little kid like that run around unsupervised?  Much less leave her behind in a village that was about to be destroyed?”  The soft tenure of Janet’s voice failed to mask the underlying tautness, betraying her emotions.

 

Jack shook his head, scrubbing his face wearily with a calloused hand, unconsciously checking for stubble.  “I don’t know.  My first reaction was wanting to kick their asses all over the galaxy for being so careless, but now . . . .”  He stared at the tiny lump of humanity dwarfed in the hospital bed, a tangle of unruly curls peeking from beneath the blanket, a small hand still gripping his finger.

 

“Now, Colonel?”

 

“Now, all I can think about is the hell they must be going through,” Jack murmured.

 

“But . . .,” Janet sputtered, disagreement writing an essay across her features.

 

“Doc, I know the Enkarans.  They love their kids.  They’re good people, but sometimes . . .,” his voice trailed away.

 

“Sometimes, accidents happen.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Janet chuckled softly.  “Even Mary and Joseph lost Jesus for a while.”

 

“What?”

 


“Just remembering a Sunday School lesson from a long time ago, Colonel.”  Janet smiled and reached to gently caress the sleeping child.  “And no comments about how long ago, sir,” she warned.

 

“It’d take a braver man than me to do that.”  Jack flashed her a grin before allowing his gaze to linger on the little girl.  “So, what do you think?  Five?  Six?”

 

“Hmm.”  Janet studied their sleeping charge.  “Just guessing, I’d say four or five.  No older.”

 

“Geez.”  Jack shook his head again.

 

“And, Colonel, don’t forget the problems Earth poses for the Enkarans.”

 

“Radiation,” he murmured, delicately extricating his finger from Maci’s grasp.

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

He frowned at Janet.  “So, will she be okay here?”

 

“In the base?  She should be okay.  But, we should monitor her to be sure, especially if she’s here for any length of time.  Outside?  No.”  She shook her head.  “No, I would recommend against taking her outside the mountain.  Even brief trips could prove hazardous.  The effects of a few short trips could be cumulative.  And, until we know more, I suggest we err on the side of caution.”

 

“You got it.”  Smiling, Jack tentatively reached down to touch a dark curl.  “Keep an eye on the munchkin, Doc.  I have to report to Hammond.”

 

                                                                        * * * * *

 

“Any idea what we’re going to do with her, Colonel?”

 

“Honestly, sir, I hadn’t gotten that far yet.  I’m still having a little trouble getting past what would have happened to her if Daniel hadn’t delayed us by hauling half the village home.”

 

Hammond’s expression was grim as he added softly, “Thank God.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Jack agreed.

 

“Well, Teal’c and SG‑3 are back on the planet as we speak.  I instructed them to perform a thorough search of the immediate area around the village.  I assume that . . . Maci, is it?”  At Jack’s nod, the general continued, “I assume that she’s a fluke.  But . . . .”

 

“We can’t take any chances.”

 

“Exactly.”  Hammond paused, briefly studying his second-in-command before chuckling softly.

 


“What?”

 

“If I’m any judge of horse flesh, I’d say she’s going to be quite the little handful.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Jack snorted.  “She’s already got Carter terrorized and hiding in her lab.”

 

“We’re not exactly set up for child care here.  I assume Doctor Fraiser has cleared her?”

 

“Yes, sir,” Jack nodded.  “She advised we should keep Maci on base because of the radiation thing.  But otherwise, she’s healthy.  That’s not an issue.”

 

“Good, that’s something.”  Hammond leaned back in his seat.  “Well then, what’s the status of her people?  Can we get her back to them?”

 

“That might be a problem, General.  The Gadmeer ship could be halfway to the Enkaran home world by now.”

 

“Which is where?”

 

“Damned if I know, sir.  Daniel was on the ship with Lotan when the Gadmeer computer spit out the data, but as far as I know, he didn’t get the coordinates for the planet.”

 

“Let’s assume for the moment that Doctor Jackson does have the coordinates.  How does that help us?  Didn’t your report mention that the Enkaran world has no Stargate?”

 

Jack nodded reluctantly, “Yes, sir.”

 

“What about our allies?  Could any of them take her back?  Perhaps we could contact the Tok’ra.”

 

“No, sir,” Jack interrupted, his jaw clenched as he leaned forward.  “There’s no way in hell, I’d trust–”

 

“Colonel, need I remind you that the Tok’ra are our allies?”

 

“No, sir, you don’t.”  Jack stopped.  “It’s just, I had to turn over one kid to them knowing what they’d do with him.”

 

Hammond’s expression softened.  “You had no choice, son.  The Reetou created him wrong.  That child would have died if you hadn’t allowed the Tok’ra to intervene.”

 

“That may be true, General, but this time I – we do have a choice.”

 

“Do we?  The girl needs to be with her family.”

 

“Agreed, sir, but - all due respect to you - not by way of the Tok’ra.”

 


“I’m open to suggestions.”  Hammond stared with practiced neutrality.

 

“Thor?”

 

“Well, that’s certainly worth exploring.  I’ll issue an immediate order to attempt to contact the Asgard.”  Hammond paused.  “But, Jack, we both know that the Asgard have a habit of responding when they get around to it.  What do we do with her until we get an answer?  And, keep in mind, this is all assuming Doctor Jackson even has the coordinates and that the Asgard are willing to deliver her.”

 

“I’ll take care of her.”  Jack shrugged.  “For some reason, she seems to like me.”

 

“I’d noticed that,” Hammond smiled dryly.  “But, are you sure you’re up to the extra responsibility, Colonel?  I don’t have to remind you that caring for a child is a lot of work.”

 

“I realize that, but until Thor or something else comes along, I don’t think we have much choice.  Besides, she needs us, sir, and for some reason, she trusts me to take care of her.  A child’s trust isn’t something to take lightly, General.”

 

The general’s eyes were solemn as he nodded in agreement.  “No, it certainly isn’t.  Very well, Colonel.  For the duration, you have a new charge.”

 

“Thank you, sir.  I’ll do my best.”

 

“Of that, I have no doubt.”  The telephone pealed and, still smiling, the general picked it up on the second ring.  “Hammond.”  From where he sat, Jack could hear a blur of words and a shrill noise coming through the phone line.  The general cringed, jerking the phone away from his ear.  Maintaining a safe distance from the receiver, Hammond yelled into the mouthpiece.  “Understood.  I’ll send him right down.”  Frowning, Hammond hung up the phone.  “That was for you.  Dr. Fraiser requests your immediate presence in the infirmary.  Apparently, your ‘charge’ is awake.”

 

Jack rose quickly.  “Then, if you’ll excuse me, sir, duty calls.”

 

“Good luck, Colonel.  From the sound of things down there,” Hammond snorted softly and shook his head, “you’re going to need it.”

 

                                                                        * * * * *

 

The elevator had never been so slow.  Jack cursed that he hadn’t opted for the stairs.  As the car rumbled to a stop and the doors slowly opened, he could hear Maci screaming his name.  Gimpy knees forgotten, he jogged to the infirmary.

 


She was drawn into a trembling ball, her bony knees against her heaving chest.  Clutching the blanket in tiny fists, her eyes were wide and frightened, and her mouth was poised to loose another scream when she caught sight of him.  Fighting back tears, Maci blinked rapidly and moisture leaked from beneath the long lashes, working hard to form proper droplets on her cheeks and nose.  “I tried to be brave, Jack.  I woke up and you had lefted me.”  She tore her eyes from his face long enough to favor Janet and Sam with a glare.  “She was talking to that one that hurt my arm.”  She sniffed and held out the wounded arm sorrowfully.  “I was scared.”

 

“Sir, I just brought her some Jello from the dining hall,” Sam stammered.  “They had blue, and I thought Maci might like it.”  She shot a look bordering on desperation in Janet’s direction, silently beseeching her to confirm her story.  “I read somewhere that kids like blue foods,” she added lamely.

 

“Relax, Carter.”  Jack waved dismissively, even as he was reaching for the frightened child.  “Come here, Maci.  I’m here, baby,” he crooned, patting her back as she burrowed her face against his shoulder.  “It’s okay.  I’m here now.”  He eased himself onto the edge of the bed, rocking gently, and ignoring the look of surprise that passed between the women at the unexpected glimpse into his more tender nature.  His murmurs accompanied by the child’s soft hiccups blanketed the cubicle, muffling the ordinary sounds of the infirmary beyond the curtain.

 

The gurgling growl was amplified in the artificial truce he had created.

 

Janet chuckled.  “Was that you or Maci, Colonel?”

 

“Both, Doc,” Jack grinned, as Maci risked peeping out of the safety of her burrow.  “What do you think, kiddo?  Are you as hungry as I am?”

 

A second loud grumble sufficed for her answer.  She giggled and nodded.  “I haven’t eaten in forever, Jack.  But I don’t like blue stuff,” she declared loudly, examining Sam’s melting offering with disdain.

 

“Doc, what do you say?  Can Maci and I take a stroll to the dining hall and see if we can find something that isn’t blue?  We should be okay if we stay away from the meatloaf.”

 

“That’s fine, Colonel, but no pizza.  In fact, stay away from anything spicy.  Let’s stick with a bland diet for now,” Janet ordered.

 

“I like pizza,” Maci interrupted, carefully pronouncing the word.  “Don’t we, Jack?”

 

“Yep, we love pizza.”  He smirked as Janet rolled her eyes and shared a long-suffering look of resignation with Sam.

 

“At least until we find out how her system handles it.  Understand, sir?”

 

He nodded and tossed a conspiratorial wink at Maci.  “Got it, Doc.  No pizza and nothing blue.  Maci, let’s go explore the wonderful world of oatmeal.  Care to join us, Major?”

 

“No, sir.  No, thank you.”  Sam cringed as Maci glared in her direction.  Retreating a step, she stammered, “I’m pretty busy doing . . . stuff.”


 

“Stuff, Major?”

 

“Yes, sir.  In my lab.”

 

“Well, carry on with your . . . stuff then, Carter.  Maci and I’ll catch up with you later, won’t we?”

 

Sam’s nervous smile wilted beneath the child’s covert communication.  “Great.  See you later, Maci.”  Maci ignored her as she stared at her exposed arm and sighed dramatically.  Sam fled.

 

Jack ignored the exchange as he reached for Maci’s coarse garment.  “Let’s get you dressed.”

 

“Here, Colonel.”  Janet handed him a blue scrub top.  “That looks pretty grimy.  This should work until we can get something better.”

 

Maci raised her arms, allowing Jack to slip the top over her head.  The scrubs ballooned past her knees, making her appear smaller than before.  “Got a piece of gauze I can borrow, Doc?”  Cutting a length, he wrapped it around the tiny waist and tied a neat bow with a flourish.  “Perfect,” he declared as he tossed her in the air amidst peals of delighted squeals.  “Let’s go eat.”

 

“Colonel, a moment, please?”

 

Jack set Maci down.  “Hold on just a second, kiddo.  Let me see what Doc needs.”

 

Holding Maci’s discarded dress, Janet stared into the pocket.  With a tentative frown, she reached in and held up a cracked, brown speckled egg.  Clearly puzzled, she looked at Jack.

 

“Don’t have a clue, Doc.”

 

“That’s mine.  All of them are.”  The adults exchanged a worried glance.  “I found them down by the lake, and put ‘em in my pocket to save ‘em from the Badmeers.”  With a sinking feeling, Jack stared into the yolky clutch of ruined eggs.  “Jack, should I put them in my new dress you made me?”

 

“Tell you what,” Jack swallowed, “why don’t we let Janet take care of your eggs for now?  That way they won’t get in your way while we’re eating.”

 

“Sure, sir.  I can probably find an incubator for them.”

 

Maci giggled.  “That’s dumb.  They need a nest, not a inkabater.  Don’t you know nothing about turtle’s eggs?”

 

“Yeah, Doc, what’s wrong with you?” Jack scoffed.  “Come on, Maci, let’s go find that oatmeal.”

 


                                                                        * * * * *

 

Maci squirmed in his arms.  “Put me down, Jack.”  He set her down then smiled as the fist closed around his finger once more.  Drawing stares and smiles, the two walked down the long hall towards the stairway.  “Jack, what’s a inkabater?”  Taking long steps, trying to match Jack’s shortened stride, Maci stared down at her bare feet.

 

“Well, when eggs lose their momma and their nest, an incubator is a nest we build for them to keep them warm and safe.”

 

“Oh.”  Grabbing onto his wrist with both hands, Maci lifted both feet off the ground, giggling as Jack took the hint and gently swung her as he walked.  “So we can hatch the baby turtles?”

 

Grimacing at the bitter taste of the white lie, Jack forced a tight smile.  “Yeah.  Sure.”

 

As they neared the stairs, Maci lowered her feet to the floor and resumed walking.  “Jack?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Am I in trouble?”

 

He stopped at the top of the stairs and looked at her.  “What do you mean?”

 

The tiny chin suddenly quivered and golden eyes began to tear up again.  “I didn’t mean to be bad, but the Badmeers were coming and the baby turtles were all gonna die.  Gartan said so.”

 

Ignoring his creaking joints, Jack sat down on the top step, lowering himself to her eye level.  “Who’s Gartan?”

 

“He’s the oldest.  He told me the turtles would get all burned up, and then the Badmeers would eat them.”

 

Jack stroked the dark curls.  She needed a bath, and he had a feeling that when the time came for it, Janet and Carter would be AWOL.  “Come here.”  Pulling her onto his lap, he rubbed her cold, dirty feet.  “Is Gartan your brother?”  She nodded, watching Jack’s hands on her toes.  “How many brothers and sisters do you have?”

 

Her eyes still watery with unshed tears, she smiled up at him.  “I can’t count that many.”

 

“Well, then, what are their names?”

 

Her head bobbing with each one, Maci rattled off the names.  “Gartan and Jinar and Fagyn and Miya and Namar and Lata and Maci.”  She grinned.  “Daddy says that’s a lot of little mouths.”

 

Jack chuckled.  “Yeah, well, I’d have to agree with him.”  Seven kids?  No wonder this one got lost in the frenzied dash to escape the planet.  “So, are you the baby?”

 


“I’m not a baby!”

 

“No, of course, you’re not.  I meant, are you the youngest?”

 

She shook her head.  “Miya is the baby.  She still poops herself.  I’m big.”

 

“Yeah.  You are.  Do you know how old you are?”  Frowning in earnest, she held up five grimy digits.  “You’re five?”

 

She started to nod then ducked her head instead and grinned up at him shyly.  “I’m really this many.”  Using her other hand, she folded down her little finger.

 

“You’re four?”  She nodded.  “Four’s pretty big.”

 

“Yeah.” She sighed deeply, and stared up at him.  “Jack, I wasn’t a’sposed to go to the lake.  I was a’sposed to stay with Gartan and Fagyn to go with the Badmeers.”

 

“But you had to get the turtle eggs so they wouldn’t get all burned up and eaten.”

 

She nodded.  “Am I in trouble?”

 

Jack frowned, and took his time answering.  “I don’t think so.  I think when we see your mom and dad, we’ll just tell them about the eggs and I’m pretty sure they’ll understand.  I mean, yeah, you’re supposed to obey your parents, but maybe they didn’t know about the eggs.”

 

“Will you tell them so I don’t get in trouble?”

 

“Sure.  I can do that.”

 

Maci grinned.  “I like you, Jack.”

 

He squeezed her dirty toes.  “Good, ‘cause I like you, too.”

 

“You know what?  You can play with Pootie.”

 

He snorted softly.  “Pootie?”

 

“Yeah, he’s–,” Maci gasped and her eyes widened.  “Oh, no!”

 

“What?  What’s wrong?”

 

Small hands grabbed his shirt.  “Jack, Pootie got lefted!  The Badmeers will burn him all up and eat him!”

 

                                                                        * * * * *

 


Jack leaned over the microphone, staring down at the rippling blue of the event horizon.  “From what she’s told me, I’d say their place was probably just east of where Hedrazar lived.”

 

There was a moment of hushed static before Teal’c’s voice traveled the length of the wormhole.  “We will search the structure thoroughly.”

 

“Thanks, T.  I take it you haven’t found any more strays.”  Jack watched as Maci climbed into the empty chair in front of him and worked her way towards the microphone.

 

“No,” Teal’c responded, “we have search–”

 

“He looks like a babbit,” Maci yelled at the microphone.

 

“Maci,” Jack gently pulled her back down onto the chair.

 

“Tell him, Jack.”

 

Walter snickered, and Jack glared at him before smiling down at the girl.  “Okay, okay.”  He leaned back over the microphone.  “Teal’c, uh, this . . . thing you’re looking for, from the way Maci described it, I think it looks kind of like a rabbit.”  Maci frowned up at him, and Jack had to fight back a grin.  The kid was seriously worried about her toy, but considering the fact that she stood to lose everything she’d ever known, a stuffed animal that looked vaguely like a bunny rabbit was no small thing.  “Teal’c, did you copy that?”

 

There was a lengthy pause.  “A rabbit.”

 

“Yeah.”  He glanced down at Maci who was tugging on his sleeve.  “What?”

 

“Tell Teak, his name is Pootie.”

 

Walter choked and swiveled his chair, turning his back to Jack and Maci.

 

Jack frowned.  “Something wrong, Sergeant?”

 

“Uh,” his back still turned, Walter cleared his throat, “no, sir.  Everything’s fine.”

 

“Tell him, Jack.”

 

“Maci, I don’t think Teal’c really needs to know his name.”

 

The chin quivered and the eyes watered.  “But how can he call him?”

 

Jack sighed and rubbed his eyes.  He was so whipped, it wasn’t even funny.  And by a barefoot four year old wearing a shirt for a dress and a strip of gauze for a belt.  He leaned towards the microphone, his eyes drilling into the back of Walter’s head.  “Teal’c, be advised, the target’s name is . . . Pootie.”

 


Through the vast expanse of the wormhole, Jack could swear he heard the lifting of a Jaffa eyebrow and the muted laughter of a handful of Marines.

 

Yeah, his reputation was pretty much toast.

 

* * * * *

 

Jack ignored the stares following them across the room to his favorite dining spot.  The table was littered with textbooks, computer printouts, and empty coffee cups, all signs that the infamous Daniel Jackson was somewhere in the vicinity.  Lifting Maci onto one of the vacant chairs, Jack patted her on the head.

 

“Okay, kiddo.  How about I get you some of that oatmeal I promised you?”

 

“I’m hungry, Jack.”

 

“Well, you wait here, and I’ll fix you right up.  I’ll just be over there, okay?”  At her nod, Jack squirmed his way through the crowded cafeteria towards the buffet line.  Toting a lunch tray, Daniel passed by him on his way back to the table.

 

“Hey, Jack.”

 

“Daniel.”  He nodded towards Maci, who was currently receiving the undivided attention of two young airmen.  He watched her talk animatedly then stretch out her injured arm for inspection.  Turning back to Daniel, he grinned.  “Hope you don’t mind that I brought a date.”

 

“Ah, the third wheel.”  Daniel smiled and sighed dramatically.  “Unfortunately, I seem to be getting used to it.”

 

Jack stepped to the end of the line, and grabbed a tray and some utensils.

 

“What can I get you, Colonel?”

 

“Hi, Matt.  How about some mashed potatoes and gravy, some corn.  What’s that?”

 

Matt frowned down at the steaming metal dish.  “Cookie claims it’s salisbury steak.”  He shrugged at Jack.

 

“Pass.  How about some of that . . . lasagna?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“And, do you have any oatmeal?”

 

Matt grimaced.  “Oatmeal?  We’ve probably got some instant in the back.”

 


“Fix me up a bowl of that, would you?  For the kid.”

 

“Yes, sir.  One oatmeal, coming up.”

 

As he waited for the oatmeal, Jack added a carton of milk, a cup of coffee, a bowl of Jello - red, and a cup of fruit salad to the tray, then glanced back across the room.  Daniel was unwrapping a tuna sandwich and talking to Maci, who was kneeling on her chair with her elbows planted in the middle of the table.  Leaning as far across the table as she could possibly stretch, she was studying Daniel’s every move.

 

“Here you go, Colonel.  One bowl of oatmeal complete with brown sugar.”

 

“Great.  Thanks, Matt.”  Jack wound his way through the maze of tables.  “Okay, kiddo.  Dinner is served.”

 

“Think you’ve got enough food there, Jack?”

 

He set down the tray and eyed its eclectic contents.  “I’m not sure what she likes.”

 

“I like pizza,” Maci announced, reaching for Jack’s cup of coffee.

 

He gently pulled it from her grasp, opened the carton of milk and poured it into a glass before handing it to her.  “Doc says you can’t have pizza.”

 

Remembering the weird drinking glasses he’d fumbled during his dinner with the Enkarans, Jack watched as Maci skillfully managed the Earth version.  She took a large drink of milk and set the glass down with a loud sigh, smiling at him with a huge, white mustache.  “Is Doc the one that hurt my arm?”

 

“No, that was Carter.”  Jack stirred the oatmeal and held a hand over the bowl to test the heat.

 

“Sam hurt her?”

 

Her eyes on the bowl of hot cereal, Maci absently held up an arm for Daniel’s inspection.  Funny, Jack could have sworn it was her right arm that had been so badly damaged.  He smiled and scooted the bowl in front of her.  “Here you go.  Eat up.”

 

Maci grabbed a spoon.  “Is this pizza, Jack?”

 

“No.  This is oatmeal.  Pizza will have to wait.”

 

Forking the pseudo-lasagna, he watched as she shoved a huge spoonful of the cereal into her mouth.  She made a few chewing motions before grimacing over at him, her pale cheeks bulging.

 

“What?  Is it too hot?”

 


She shook her head, her eyebrows drawing together as she leaned towards the bowl.  He knew what she was going to do just milliseconds before she opened her mouth and let the oatmeal plop back into the bowl.  She spit, then coughed; flecks of the warm cereal splattered across the blue tablecloth and onto his plate and Daniel’s books.

 

“O-kay.”  Daniel frowned at Jack, and flicked a stray glob of sticky oatmeal from one lens of his glasses.  “Well, that was officially gross.”

 

Ignoring Daniel, Jack looked at his charge.  “I take it you don’t like oatmeal.”

 

“It tasted bad, Jack.”  Still clutching her spoon, she struggled to pick up the glass of milk.  Jack reached over and helped her take a drink.  Together, they set the glass down and he saw her eyeing his plate.  He inched it towards her, digging into the pasta as she spooned up a sizeable mound of mashed potatoes.  Shoving it in her mouth, she chewed, swallowed, and smiled at him.

 

They ate around each other.  Maci dipped her spoon into the potatoes, then scooped up a few kernels of corn before moving to the fruit salad.  After a few tries, she managed to clip a fair sized corner off the lasagna, leaving a mixed blend of mashed potatoes, peach fragments and alien kid spit smeared across the intricate layers of faux Italian food.

 

“Should she be eating that?”  A cup of yogurt in one hand and a spoon in the other, Daniel grimaced at the oversized bite of noodles and sauce and stringy cheese that Maci was forcing into her mouth.

 

Jack shrugged.  “She likes it.”

 

“I like it,” Maci echoed, a large dollop of noodles and sauce dropping out of mouth and onto the table with a liquid splat.  Smiling to herself, she picked it up with one hand and put it back into her mouth.  Chewing, she glanced at Daniel who was staring at her like she was . . . well, an alien.  Maci giggled, stretched, and shoved a mashed-potato-fruit-and-lasagna covered implement into Daniel’s yogurt.  She pulled back a spoonful of the white stuff, and took a tentative bite as Daniel stared down at the now multi-colored, multi-flavored dairy product.  “Mmm,” Maci declared as she swallowed.  Setting the container on the table, Daniel pushed it towards her.  Maci smiled sweetly.  “Thank you.”

 

“Don’t mention it.”

 

“Colonel O’Neill?”  Quietly chuckling at the sight of Maci robbing Daniel of his lunch, Jack looked up at the young airman who’d stopped by their table.  “Sir, Sergeant Davis asked me to give you this.”

 

Jack thanked him, and took the proffered note.  Reading it, he felt his insides clench.  “Crap.”  This was not good.  In fact, it was bad.  Very bad.

 

“Jack?”

 


Glancing at Maci, who was intent on licking the inside of the yogurt cup, Jack frowned and handed the note to Daniel.  “Uh, Maci?”

 

She stuck her small fist into the cup, digging into the bottom with a still grimy finger.  Double crap . . . he’d forgotten to wash her hands.  “What, Jack?”

 

“I need to go do something, and I need you to stay here.”

 

She immediately stopped what she was doing and frowned at him.  “I’ll go with you.”

 

“Afraid you can’t, kiddo.”

 

She set aside the cup and the spoon, swiping sticky hands down the front of the jury-rigged dress.  “Yes, I can.  I’m full.”  Standing up in the chair, she began insinuating herself onto his lap.

 

“I’m sorry, Maci, but you have to stay here.  I have to go outside, and it’s too dangerous for you out there.”

 

Her lips outlined with milk, pasta sauce and yogurt, she smiled endearingly.  “I’ll be very careful, Jack.  I’ll squeeze my eyes shut so I don’t get blinded like Hedyzar.”

 

With one arm, Jack pulled her close.  “Sorry, baby.  You can’t.  But, I bet Daniel would just love to play with you until I get back.”

 

“Uh, Jack?”  Daniel sounded worried.

 

“Daniel,” Jack warned.

 

Maci’s smile faded, and small arms encircled his neck.  “I don’t want to play with Daniel.  I want to go with you so I don’t get lefted again.”

 

“You won’t get left again.  I promise.”  Hearing a soft whimper, Jack hugged her tight.  Oblivious to Daniel and the curious stares of the other diners, he patted her back and whispered to her.  “Listen, tell you what I’ll do.”

 

“What?” she murmured against his neck.

 

“What if I leave you with something?  Something that’s very important to me.  Then, you’ll know I’ll be back.”

 

There was a slight hesitation before she leaned back in his arms, staring at him with liquid, yellow eyes.  “Like what?”

 

Yeah, like what?  Jack’s mind raced.  “Like . . .,” and then it hit him.  He grinned, and reached into the pocket of his BDU shirt.  “Remember these?”

 


Maci stared at the folded glasses, complete with a thin leather strap.  She nodded.  “Those are your colonel things.”

 

“Right.  My sunglasses.  Now, everyone knows I can’t very well be a colonel without them.  Right, Daniel?”  When there was no response, Jack glanced over Maci’s shoulder at Daniel, who seemed to be in a daze.  “I said, right?”

 

Daniel flinched.  “Oh.  Yeah.  Right.”

 

“So,” Jack unfolded the glasses and gently draped the cord around Maci’s neck, “if you have these, I have to come back.”  She stared at the glasses, which hung down to her waist. “I won’t be gone long, and I will come back.  I promise.”  Jack lifted her chin with a finger and planted a kiss on her forehead.  “So, will you try to be brave and play nice with Uncle Daniel until I get back?”

 

Ducking her head shyly, she glanced at the uncle in question then nodded reluctantly at Jack.

 

“Good girl.”

 

“Uh, Jack?”

 

His eyes glued to Maci’s, Jack smiled.  “Shut up, Uncle Daniel.”

 

                                                                        * * * * *

 

Funny, he could swear the trip down the mountain had never taken this long before.  Knowing there was a spot to pass coming up around the next bend, Jack eased the big pick-up closer to the car in front of him.  There should be a law against going the speed limit.

 

As soon as they rounded the corner and he saw it was clear, he floored the accelerator and felt the slight hesitation before the diesel engine kicked in.  He was soon flying around the small Toyota.  The driver flipped him off, and Jack smiled and waved.  “Right back ‘atcha, asshole.”

 

Screw ‘em.  He had an important date with Toys R Us.  Jack frowned again as he remembered the note saying that despite an in-depth search, Teal’c and SG‑3 had failed to find anything even remotely resembling a stuffed babbit named Pootie.

 

Damn.  The kid couldn’t catch a break.  First, she went off on a mission to save a handful of unhatched turtles and ended up getting left behind.  Then, her sole possession in the world apparently had been packed up and was even now winging its way towards some remote corner of the galaxy.  And, if that weren’t enough, Jack didn’t even want to think about having to tell her about the busted turtle eggs.  So, if he had to scour every toy store within a hundred mile radius, he would find a suitable replacement for Pootie.

 


Crap.  Item number two on the agenda:  re-name that thing.  No way could he bring himself to say the word ‘Pootie’ out loud in front of anyone else.  Once was more than enough.  Maybe he could convince Maci to name the new one Woody or Bouncer or Bruiser.  Something a little more . . . manly; something a lot less . . . prissy.

 

Speaking of which, the kid could really use some clothes.  Maybe he could stop by the mall or Wal-Mart while he was in town and buy her something decent to wear.  He had no clue what size she wore but he hadn’t been married for twelve years for nothing.  He’d become a master at putting on a pitiful face and selecting the perfect saleslady - someone who would patiently tolerate him pointing out patrons of equivalent size.  Somewhere in Wally World, there had to be a kid who was the same basic height and weight as the golden-eyed alien who was more than likely driving Uncle Danny absolutely bonkers.

 

Jack’s chuckle was drowned out by the pealing of his cell phone.  Without slowing or taking his eyes off the road, Jack flipped open the phone.  “O’Neill.”

 

“Jack?”

 

He smiled.  “Yes, Daniel?”

 

“Uh, Jack . . . .”

 

“Daniel, I already apologized.  Like I said before, I’m sorry, but you happened to be there, and I had to get to the store before it closed.”

 

“Yeah, I understand all that.”

 

Jack eased to a stop at a red light.  “Okay.  Then find Doc or Carter . . . no, wait.  Forget Carter.  Find Doc, and she’ll help her.”  The light turned green, and Jack turned onto the entrance ramp leading up to the freeway.  “Better yet, just knock on the door, make sure no ladies are in there, and take her yourself.”

 

“What?”

 

“Don’t tell me you’re scared of wiping a four year old’s butt.”

 

“Jack, that’s not – I think you’d better get back here.”

 

“What?”  Jack frowned, his pulse quickening.  “What’s wrong?  Is she okay?”

 

“I’m not quite sure how to tell you this.”

 

“Dammit, Daniel, just spit it out.  What’s going on?”

 

“Jack . . . I lost her.”

 

go to part 2