He had become separated from his team during the firefight. Running, and ducking, crawling through the muddy debris, the ghastly carnage, that all out decimation leaves in it wake. Once in the throes of battle, he had not dared to make radio contact. The crackle, and hiss, of communications might alert the enemy, as to his whereabouts. Despite his long years of soldiering, the many missions of this nature, he still felt the icy hand of cold fear clutch at his heart. He had to stay alive, if for no other reason, than to make damn sure, the rest of his team got safely home. But first, he had to find them.
They had moved cautiously, into the war torn, burned out village at noon. It had been deathly quiet. Every living thing that had once thrived here was dead. Even the pet dogs and a ratty looking cat, lay destroyed on the gray slush covered ground. It was cold here, so cold that they could see steam rising from the corpses they'd stumbled over, as they explored the area for any further threat. He had seen death many times; too many times to let it invade his calm demeanor, locking his own humanity tightly away for now. He would grieve over the senseless waste later, when he was alone, and the lives of his team were no longer his first priority.
Using hand signals, he'd instructed them to search for any survivors, tightening his icy control, when none was found. They had been well into the center of the village, when the first blasts of enemy fire had taken them by surprise. Ordering his team to fan out, to take cover, he become separated from them, as they each took what shelter they could find; he led the enemy away, hoping to give them time to escape.
Long years of special operations and stealth, had made him an expert in these kinds of situations. He was soon rid of the offending marauders stalking him. Moving cautiously to the outskirts of the village and into the forest, he sought higher ground. Hoping to find a perch high enough, to have an overview of the village below, he sent a silent prayer heavenward that his team, had fared as well as he had.
His quest brought him to a small hillock, from which, he could make out most of the village below. Taking a minute to glance at his watch, he noted that several hours had past, in what he had perceived as several minutes.
Despite his high vantage point, he'd seen no sign of his team, a fact that worried him greatly. Now and then, during his desperate escape, he had still vaguely heard, the faint sounds of weapons fire, giving him hope they had all made it. Yet, now he heard only silence; he allowed himself one small moment of despair, letting the coldness of winter penetrate his heart. Shaking it off, he sucked it up, and moved on.
They had a prearranged rendezvous; a contingency plan, was one policy he always adhered to. Now, his priority was to get there, in one piece and hope the others, were there to greet him.
Silently, he moved through the deep underbrush of the dense forest; his senses on high alert to any possible danger. Oddly, he found he was short of breath, and mildly dizzy. The adrenalin high he'd been riding, was slowly abating, leaving him suddenly aware that he had been wounded.
A quick inventory of his person, revealed, he'd taken a hit to his left side, leaving a gaping hole, which was bleeding profusely. Digging through his field vest, he pulled out a thick dressing, pressing it to the wound; hoping to stop the crimson flow. Wincing, as he increased the pressure applied to the dressing, he took further stock of his condition. Besides the major wound to his side, he had a long laceration on his right forearm. A souvenir of the hand-to-hand struggle, he'd resorted to, in order to take down his last assailant quietly. Finding another dressing, he bound the knife wound, as best he could one handed, using his teeth to pull it tight. Deciding to rest for a few minutes, he gulped water from his canteen, popping a couple of painkillers from his pack.
Using his compass, he estimated he had another four hours to the rendezvous. Knowing he needed to restore some energy, he munched on a protein bar. He'd have to locate some water along the way; his canteen was only partially full now. Wounded, he needed to keep up the fluids, in order to replace his blood loss.
A faint sound disturbed his quiet musings. Stowing his canteen, he moved deeper into the brush; straining his senses, in order to ascertain the source of the distant sound. It sounded like a stifled scream. He slithered forward, despite the pain it caused him, using every caution he knew. Some fifty yards from his original rest stop, he spotted what appeared to be debris, covering the opening to a small cave.
Stealth brought him closer. Once in proximity, he heard the sound again. It was definitely a stifled scream.
Weapon at the ready, he advanced beyond the makeshift coverings, and into the heart of the cave. A small ledge hid a woman, a very pregnant, obviously laboring, native woman. The absolute terror in her eyes disturbed him. Did he look so feral?
"Easy Ma'am. I will not harm you." He told her gently, kneeling at her side.
She appeared to understand his tone of voice, if not the words, and calmed. Checking the shallow cave for any other survivors, he found none and set aside his weapon to aid her.
She was young, he estimated no more than twenty. With a round, once pretty face, straining now, to push forth her child. Taking in the impossibly large quantity, of blood surrounding her, he gently rolled her over. Stifling a gasp, he tightened his icy control once more, but was unable to prevent himself from shuddering in dismay, at what he found there.
She had taken a hit through her upper right shoulder; the shrapnel had torn most of her back away. Her injury was grave and he understood, there was little he could do for her. Gently rolling her back into her original position, he looked deeply into her eyes, noting her acceptance of her own death. Breathlessly, she pleaded with him in a language he did not know, to save her child.
Over the years, he had earned a reputation as a hard ass. A necessary cover to protect the empathetic and deeply compassionate, man he truly was. He understood her plea and nodded his acceptance, of responsibility for her child.
Unsure if he could fulfill the unspoken promise, he set about to make her more comfortable; giving her what little water he had left in his canteen. Weakly, she pointed to a bundle nearby. Investigating the bundle, he found more water, as well as, small linens for the child.
Her muted cry of pain drew him to her side once more. Seeing she was near to delivering her babe, he knelt down to assist her. Gently pulling the small baby from her shuddering body, he felt tears sting his eyes. It was a very small girl. She was obviously several weeks premature, with wide dark eyes, which stared into his with silent intensity.
Looking her over carefully, he noted she was pink and breathing with deep regularity. Concerned that the child was so quiet, he none the less, gently wiped her off, wrapping the tiny form in the linens, her Mother had provided, to keep her from the cold. He smiled up into the weary and spent face, of the little one's Mother. The unfortunate creature returned his smile briefly; then died.
Realizing he had little time for grief, he sadly covered the woman with a larger piece of linen from her bundle. Opening his fatigue jacket, he gently placed the small child inside his tee shirt, her skin against his own for warmth. He felt her relax against him, feeling her fluttering heartbeat joining his own. Zipping his jacket, so only her little face was barely visible, he gathered up his weapon, pack, and the remains of the water, and moved out cautiously toward the rendezvous.
He trudged onward once more, adrenalin, his welcome allay.
Stopping briefly, he noted the time, it was sixteen hundred hours. He checked his compass and the child; the little one appeared asleep. Fearing she had slipped away, he placed a large and trembling hand, carefully, on her tiny wrist, checking for a pulse, finding one; he breathed a sigh of relief. He'd already endured enough death in his weary life.
Suddenly, he was overcome with a desperate need, to see that this one life was not snuffed out. He would see she made it, even if it was his final act, on this plane of existence. He would call her Hope, he decided, feeling the blood still seeping steadily from his side. Hope was what he needed now.
Shouldering his pack, ignoring the agony that movement cost him, he moved on through the thinning forest, despite a growing feeling of exhaustion.
The rest of his team had made it to the rendezvous at sixteen hundred. Finding the area deserted, they none the less, found cover, awaiting his arrival. That he was coming was a given. He was more than capable of taking care of himself. If at all possible, he would make the rendezvous.
Now they would rest, and wait.
It had begun to snow lightly, the temperature falling rapidly. An icy wind swirled around him, making him pull his jacket closer, to protect the child. Night had fallen rapidly, the darkness hindering his progress. Puffing, he stopped to rest briefly. He had encountered nothing, and no one, in the last three hours. He guessed he was only a half a mile from the appointed rendezvous. His strength was failing him. He had lost a great deal of blood, the pain of his injuries, adding to his fatigue. Pulling a blanket from his pack, he wrapped himself and the child, against the frigid night. If he was going to save his own sorry ass, as well as this innocent child's, he had to risk making radio contact with his team. Fumbling for the button, he pressed it to engage the connection. His voice sounded tremulous, even to his own ears.
"This is O'Neill. Carter, Teal'c, Daniel... anyone out there?"
The radio crackled with static briefly, then he got a faint signal.
"Jack? Are you alright?" Daniel responded.
"Negative. I've taken a hit... Lost a good deal of blood Danny..." He panted, relived.
They were all alive; he breathed a small sigh of relief. Pride was not a luxury he could afford right now.
"Estimate... I am less than half a click from your position, south by southwest... Do you read?"
"We read you O'Neill. We are endeavoring to reach your side." It was obvious, from the quality of his voice that Teal'c, was already on the move.
"Stay where you are, Sir." Major Carter advised him, her military tone doing little to mask her fear for him.
"Hang on Jack." Daniel was worried. If Jack was calling for help, he was in a bad way.
"Not going anywhere at the moment Danny." Jack rasped out.
He clutched little Hope more closely to his chest, zipping his jacket to his chin. Then he curled up against a large tree, cradling the still sleeping baby, allowing himself to close his eyes and rest.
They found him semiconscious, blood covered and leaning there against the tree, tightly hugging his chest. Fearing he was cradling a major wound, Major Carter attempted to draw his hands away. Rousing slightly, he fought her.
"No! Leave off. I 'm all right... Just tired."
Catching her gaze, in the new moonlight, still bleary eyed, he pleaded.
"Help me up, I...can... walk... Just... need a hand... Hope..."
As Teal'c made to assist him, he passed out and would have fallen, if they had not caught him.
His pulse was thready, his skin clammy, and cold. Realizing they had little time, Teal'c scooped him up, cradling his friend against his own his massive chest, he ran toward the Stargate.
Major Carter and Dr. Jackson grabbed the Colonel's gear and hurried to follow. Unaware, their leader's unrelenting and clutching embrace, held something more precious to him, than his own wounded flesh.
Back at the SGC, General Hammond was pacing in the control room. His premiere team SG-1 was over-do and that usually spelled trouble. The mission had been a risky one at best. He had sent them in, hoping to make contact with a group of villagers, who had requested assistance in their struggle against an oppressor. The details of this conflict remained a bit sketchy. But, Colonel O'Neill had dealt with similar situations before.
In fact, despite his occasionally cavalier attitude, he was most capable in sorting out these kinds of situations and quickly.
The chevrons began to engage, warning alarms to sound; Hammond turned his attention once more to the Stargate.
"Who is it Sergeant?"
"Receiving a GDO signal, Sir. It's SG-1." The Sergeant intoned with studied calm.
"Open the Iris!" Hammond barked, making no attempt to mask his sense of urgency.
Listening intently to the transmission he was receiving, the sergeant added.
"They are requesting a medical team to stand by, Sir."
"Do it!" Hammond responded, as he hurried down to the Gate room to meet the team.
Teal'c was the first through the shimmering wormhole, cradling the unconscious form of his Colonel tightly.
As always, his face was expressionless, but the General discerned a fission of dread in the big man's eyes. Before he could form a question, Dr. Janet Fraiser was gently shouldering him aside, taking the situation in hand. Following her terse instructions, Teal'c gently laid the still and silent Colonel, on the waiting gurney.
Noting the Colonel's pallor, his tightly folded arms still clutching his chest, Hammond feared the worst. He much preferred those returns, during which, the Colonel sarcastically spouted some irreverent quip, to this dreaded arrival in silence. Turning to Major Carter and Dr. Jackson, he demanded sharply.
"Sir, we arrived to find the village had already been annihilated. Recon of the area, revealed a small contingent of the enemy. We exchanged fire..."
She hesitated, hearing a mewling noise coming from the Colonel.
Shocked, the gathering moved closer to the Colonel's still form. Dr. Fraiser gently pulled his arms from the tight hold, which he still maintained against his chest, revealing a small lump inside his jacket. Easing the jacket zipper down, she spied the face of a tiny infant. The baby's dark eyes were open and stared intently upward toward those of the unconscious Colonel's, then calmly blinked closed against the sudden light.
Hearing a collective gasp, as the company took in the sight, Janet inquired ironically.
"I take it you were unaware that the Colonel, had more than a wound clasped so closely to his heart?"
"Indeed Dr. Fraiser. Had I known of O'Neill's burden, I would have been far more gentle in his transport." Teal'c replied, wonder tingeing his normally expressionless tone.
Knowing how the gruff Colonel felt about children, Major Samantha Carter, was just as touched as the rest of them; he would die willingly to protect them. So the find was less of a surprise to her.
However, now that the Colonel and his tiny cargo were safely in Janet's capable hands, duty came first. The General needed a full report.
"We became separated, from the Colonel in the firefight, General."
"The Colonel had of course, planned for such an event; we proceeded to the rendezvous as ordered. Maintaining radio silence, due to the unknown strength of the enemy, we had made our destination; awaiting the Colonel's arrival, when he contacted us. It was clear, he was in no condition to make it on his own. We then proceeded to his last known position, finding him semiconscious. Rousing, he attempted to rise, then lost consciousness. We proceeded with all due haste to the Stargate, unaware of the child, Sir."
Sam hastily wiped a tear from her cheek, without embarrassment.
George Hammond was himself quite touched. The sight of his Second in Command, lying so silent and still, with the small helpless infant tucked carefully, into his black tee shirt, took his breath away.
It was no surprise to him that Jack O'Neill would give up his last ounce of strength, rescuing a child. He had two granddaughters who each adored the Colonel. Reaching out, he plucked the little one gently from the Colonel's shirt, enfolding the delicate life carefully, into his own embrace.
"Alright people, lets get these two to the Infirmary STAT!" He carried the quietly staring infant himself, while the others pushed O'Neill's gurney along.
Janet Fraiser was deeply worried. The Colonel had lost most of his blood volume. Both the wound to his side, and forearm, needed immediate attention. Judging by his skin turgor and bone-dry mucus membranes, he was grossly dehydrated as well. Ordering him prepped for emergency surgery, she took time, while her team prepped him, to give the child a quick physical, knowing that it's welfare, would be the first thing on his mind.
Despite the elements she had been subjected to and her slight prematurely, the infant, though tiny, was healthy. The Colonel's wise choice, to place her inside his clothing, had protected her and kept her warm. The man's natural affinity, for the needs of children, never ceased to amaze her.
Shaking her head, she completed her exam. Then, placed the small child into a basket, usually reserved for supplies, surrounded by warm blankets.
A sudden idea popped into her mind. Turning to an orderly, Janet requested, he seek out Captain Lucy Banes, a new mother recently returned to active duty and bring her to the area, immediately. Lucy was breast-feeding her newborn son. She regularly came down to the Infirmary to pump, storing her breast milk there till she was off duty. Instructing her charge nurse, to ask Lucy to share her milk with the child, she hurried to the O.R.
Daniel Jackson was stunned, and for once, totally speechless. It was shocking enough, to find Jack in such a dire state. But, the discovery of the baby hidden inside Jack's clothing was truly amazing.
Not that he was unaware of Jack's love of children. It was just, when the seasoned soldier, was in full combat mode, Daniel was unable to see the human side of Jack O'Neill.
‘That he'd take time, in the middle of battle conditions, to pluck a child up, stowing it inside his clothing was just... Well... Come to think of it... It was just like Jack to do something like this,' he thought with a wry smile.
Understanding that Jack would be worried about the child's welfare upon awakening, he vowed to look after the child himself, at least till Jack recovered. That Jack would recover, he had no doubts; there was no other option.
Pacing outside the O.R., clutching his arms over his chest in typical worried fashion, a sudden smile of joy lit his face. He had forgotten that next week was Christmas. The presence of this child would brighten up the holiday for his friend, considerably.
Teal'c, noting the sudden smile on the young Archeologists face inquired.
"What has brought you such joy Daniel Jackson?"
"T' it just struck me, the baby will certainly brighten up the Holidays for Jack."
"Indeed, is it not the celebration of a birth, that created Christmas season Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c added, allowing a small grin, to light up his dour face.
Samantha Carter also began to smile.
"Guys, I think I have an idea, that will guarantee the Colonel will enjoy this Christmas to it's fullest."
Lord knew he was going to be cranky, while he recovered. He always hated being a "prisoner" in the infirmary. They couldn't do much more than wait now. But, they could plan for his recovery while waiting. Huddling together, they began to plan their new "mission".
Two hours later, an exhausted Janet Fraiser, found them still huddled, whispering excitedly.
"The Colonel is stable for now. He was lucky, no major organ damage. He was already suffering from hypovolemic shock, when you brought him in. We had to transfuse, the equivalent of his full blood volume, back into him. I m keeping him in the ICU, in his usual room, you can see him as soon as I've recheck his vitals and change."
"Good news, thank you Janet." Daniel replied with a relived grin.
"Once again, Jack owes his life to you."
"He is tough, that and his stubborn Irish nature, are what keep him ticking Daniel. A Doctor can only do so much. Now let me change, and check him out." She requested, as she hurried away.
"We should check on Jack's little lady." Daniel stated turning to the others.
A unified front, they proceeded to the main Infirmary, finding the baby cuddled against the ample bosom of Captain Lucy Banes.
"The little lamb, has just now, gotten to sleep. She seems to be searching for someone." Lucy said smiling.
"She has done nothing the past hour, but look intently around the room. I have never seen a more alert newborn."
"She seeks O'Neill." Teal'c stated confidently.
"I believe, she was aware of his rescue of her, despite her youth."
Both Sam and Daniel laughed gently at the notion. But Teal'c would not be swayed.
"She has given her allegiance to O'Neill." He repeated firmly, raising his eyebrow, indicating he'd accept no other explanation and daring them to disagree.
"You can see him now folks." Janet Fraiser's voice drew their attention, away from the sleeping child, a short time later.
Subdued by worry, they followed her to the small, separate ICU room, where Jack lay, hooked up to the usual cornucopia of monitors and intravenous fluids; looking slightly better than when they had last seen him.
"You may take turns sitting with him. I don't expect him to wake up for a few hours yet. I'm going to check in on my other patient and relive Captain Banes." Janet added.
Noting that she had already lost their attention, as they settled in around the Colonel's bedside, she hurried off, shaking her head with a bemused smile.
Between them, they set up a rotation knowing that if they violated her orders for very long Janet would not be pleased. Daniel took the first watch as Jack slept quietly on.
Some six hours later, Samantha's quiet voice, brought the weary Archeologist fully awake, as he dosed at Jack's bedside.
"Alright Daniel, you go get some sleep, I'll sit with the Colonel now."
Jack continued to sleep throughout Sam's watch as well. Eventually, She must have fallen asleep; her head cradled near Jack's still hand, until Teal'c gently shook her awake and sent her off to rest.
Janet had set up a cot in her office, sleeping there, so as to be readily available to both her patients. Her able nursing staff had sent out for infant formula, and supplies, while she'd tended the Colonel and seemed to be enjoying the presence of the newborn. But, it was Daniel Jackson and an amazingly gentle Teal'c, who took turns feeding the demanding youngster.
A full twenty-four hours passed before the Colonel began to stir. Transitioning from a coma-like state to semi-consciousness, he began to thrash about fitfully. Fearing he was going to do damage to himself, Teal'c who was currently on watch, gently restrained him.
"O'Neill, you are safe. Cease your efforts, you will do damage to yourself."
Lost in the fog, Jack thought he heard Teal'c caution him and stilled his movements, listening. Teal'c, aware that he was being obeyed, relaxed his hold, but continued the verbal assurance.
"All is well O'Neill. You are safe, in the infirmary, you have been injured and must rest."
Jack put all his effort into opening his eyes. He was aware he had a tube in his windpipe; making it clear he was intubated. He signaled Teal'c that he wanted the tube removed.
Nodding his understanding, Teal'c pressed the call button, summoning the nurse, who went in search of Dr. Frazier. Once Janet had briefly checked him out, she had removed the offending apparatus, cautioning him to cough while it came out.
Finding his voice he croaked.
"Where is Hope?"
"Hope? Who is Hope Colonel?" Janet asked him gently, with a puzzled frown.
"I believe O'Neill named the child Hope, Doctor Frazier." Teal'c supplied.
Turning his full attention to O'Neill, he noted an affirmative headshake.
"She is well and hardy, O'Neill. I shall fetch her for you."
Inclining his head respectfully to the Doctor, he moved off to retrieve the child for his friend.
Janet took the opportunity to fully examine the now alert and usually impatient Colonel, pleased with her findings.
Jack tolerated her fussing impatiently. He wouldn't be satisfied that the kid was really all right, till he saw Hope for himself.
Sporting a huge grin, Teal'c returned, carrying the small bundle. He turned the child slightly outward, in his massive arms and bent forward, so Jack could look intently into her sweet face.
Little Hope was wide-awake and she stared back at Jack with equal attention.
"She has been most concerned for your safety, O'Neill. The child has constantly sought your presence when awake." Teal'c whispered, cognizant that his normal timber of voice might startle the child.
"Is she really alright Doc?" Jack rasped back, worriedly.
"Thanks to one smart, quick thinking Bird Colonel I know, she is one hundred percent. By placing her inside you're clothing Sir, you kept her safe and warm. It was the best thing you could have done." Janet smiled brightly at him.
Jack was weak, but he wanted to hold Hope in his arms once more.
"Give her to me T'." He demanded.
Teal'c carefully, laid the child, in the crook of Jack's undamaged left arm. Jack beamed down at the wide-eyed face, of his newest acquisition, a smile of wonder spreading over his handsome countenance.
"She's a real beauty, isn't she T'?"
"Indeed O'Neill, she posses a rare beauty and strength of spirit, my friend. She will be a formidable presence someday. Just as her Foster-father is." Teal'c stated simply.
Jack, momentarily taken by surprise, questioned.
"Indeed. You were and are, her only safe harbor in a lonely world O'Neill." Teal'c replied sagely.
Jack nodded and smiled broadly, then fell asleep still cradling the child. Little Hope, gazed solemnly up at her sleeping savior for a time, then sighed contently and dosed off as well.
So it was this sweet picture, which greeted the General, Daniel and Major Carter, as they entered Jack's room.
Janet couldn't help it, she'd been sitting here blubbering softly, enraptured by the two sleeping companions, with tears pouring down her cheeks. Hearing a sniffle, she noted, Sam had had the same reaction.
"Wait right here. I am going to grab the camera." Daniel ordered them, as he flew out the door.
Less than five minutes later, he was back, clicking away.
"Jack will probably kill me. But, this is just too sweet not to capture."
Eventually, Janet came to her senses and carefully removed the child; passing her to Uncle Teal'c, for her return trip to the makeshift nursery, set up in Janet's office.
Over the next few weeks, Jack recovered steadily. He insisted on Hope visiting, as much as possible. Both Daniel and Teal'c obliged him in this, despite Janet's misgivings. She was worried the Colonel would push himself too fast, causing a relapse. But as the days past, he seemed to thrive, thanks to little Hope.
Jack had one worry, which he kept carefully to himself, a worry, which turned his captive heart cold. He doubted they'd allowed him to keep little Hope, much longer. The legal system and the Air Force, would frown on him, a battle hardened old warrior, keeping so small a child. Not to mention a single, battle hardened warrior at that. Besides, who would look after her when he was on a mission?
Although, he had made every effort not to reveal them, during the inevitable debriefing, he suspected, General Hammond was well aware of his feelings. Attempting to harden his resolve, in preparation for the time, when he'd be required, to say goodbye to his precious foster-daughter, he pushed these thoughts to the back of his mind.
Christmas arrived, bringing with it a visit, from the other daughter of his heart, Cassie. She breezed into her Uncle Jack's room, finding him carefully feeding the baby her bottle, big goofy grin lighting up his face.
"You look great Uncle Jack. I was worried, but Mom assured me you were all right. Now I can see why." She smiled fondly.
"What's up Cassie?" Jack replied, looking at her searchingly.
Cassie rarely called him Uncle Jack anymore. She was quite a young lady now. Soon, she'd be off to college, taking one of the few bright spots out of his life. That she called him Uncle now, made it clear she was worried about something. As he was recovering nicely, it had to be something else.
"Nothing, I was just worried about you that's all." Cassie lied.
"Cass, you lie as poorly as Daniel. Spit it out." Jack admonished her affectionately.
"Later, I'll tell you later. Right now I have to check in with Mom." Blowing him a kiss, she was quickly gone, leaving Jack to puzzle over her behavior.
Not long after, General Hammond came by for his daily visit.
"Jack, we have to talk." He began gravely.
Oh God, not today Jack sighed. Closing his eyes, he unconsciously tightened his hold, on the now sleeping Hope. It was Christmas for crying out loud! Couldn't anyone cut him a break?
"Can it wait Sir?"
"No Jack, I'm afraid it can't."
Turning slightly toward the entryway, he called.
Janet, Cassie, Daniel, Sam and Teal'c all filed into his small room grinning foolishly. The General, returning his attention back to his stunned Second, handed him a thick sheaf of papers.
"This Son is the paperwork confirming, that one, Hope Noel O'Neill is your legal Daughter. Congratulations, Dad." He said, with obvious joy.
Jack was stunned. Hope was his. He could keep her? How? Who? When? The questions whirled in his still recovering brain, faster than he could utter them. Noting his shocked expression and stunned silence, Daniel took the initiative to enlighten him.
"We... All of us had a hand in this Jack. Don't worry, once you are recovered enough to go back on duty, we've lined up a host of volunteers, to baby-sit little Hope. She has captured the hearts of the entire base."
"My Daughter has requested little Hope stay with her family, while you are away on long missions, Jack." The General informed him.
"It will be good for the girls to have a baby around."
Jack couldn't believe his good fortune. He had agonized over giving Hope up, even contemplated retiring, so he could make a bid to keep her.
Aware of the odds against such possibility, he had quickly dismissed the idea, knowing he was an unlikely candidate.
"General?" Jack was just now able to find his voice.
"You wouldn't kid about a thing like this, would you?" He asked dubiously.
"No Jack. We had to fabricate an elaborate... Shall we call it fiction, to explain just how an Air Force Colonel had fathered a child off world? Afraid, your reputation may have been sullied slightly." The General grinned ironically at him.
"But, she is all yours. Only the few people in this room know the real story. The full truth regarding this matter is classified."
Noting Jack's pallor, Dr. Frazier decided he'd had enough excitement for the day. After all, he was still recuperating, from a close call with the grim reaper, as he liked to refer to it.
"Alright everyone, lets let the Colonel digest all this new information, shall we? Colonel, I'm ordering you to grab a nap. You've still got several hours till the Christmas celebration, in the Commissary starts, Sir. I want you rested!" She ordered, with mock severity.
"Napoleonic Power Monger!" He accused her affectionately, as the crowd thinned out, leaving him alone with just Janet, Hope and Cassie.
"I'll look after her Uncle Jack." Cassie whispered, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek.
Jack caught her hand in his, giving it a squeeze and whispered.
"You are still my girl Cass."
It had just struck him; Cassie might be worried his affections would now be displaced. The sudden joy lighting her face, reassured him he had guessed correctly, as to just what, had been troubling the teen.
Throwing her arms around him, Cassie gave him a mighty hug, causing him to wince in pain.
"I love you, Uncle Jack. I guess I can share you with Hope. Now let me look after her, while you get some sleep. Otherwise, Mom will restrict you to bed rest and you'll miss the party."
Jack O'Neill battle hardened warrior, friend, Foster-father and all around hero, relinquished his grip on two, of the most important women in his life, with a weary smile. Glancing over to the smiling Doctor, he nodded his head, grinning wryly.
"Guess I have to conserve my strength. It seems, I have two young ladies to look after now."
Yawning, he added.
"Don't forget to wake me for the party Janet. This is the best Christmas I have had in a long time. I plan to enjoy it to the fullest."
Sighing, he snuggled down beneath the covers, to comply contently.
"Merry Christmas, Colonel." Janet replied softly.
"I'll be sure to wake you early enough to share the Christmas cheer."
Flipping off the lights she tiptoed out. Thinking that this Christmas, they had all been truly blessed.