A new story - which has totally been done before (as have most of my stories). This is very much a family story - with some adventure thrown in. I hope you enjoy!
In case anyone is wondering I do plan to finish my other stories - just found myself with a bit of a writer's block and a need to start something new.
He put his feet up on the coffee table and leaned back. Picking up the remote he turned on the TV and flipped channels until he found the hockey game, which was just about to start. He then grabbed the plate with the huge sandwich he'd made for himself and placed it on his lap. Finally, he picked up a bottle of beer and took a long swig.
This was the life! He'd just returned after a five-day mission to P-something or other. He was pretty sure the 'P' in this case stood for 'piss-poor' planet. The whole mission had been a bust and all they'd come back with were sore feet, soggy clothes and, in his case, a chapped butt from sitting around on the damp ground.
He smirked slightly however, when he thought of the fact that his science twins hadn't fared any better. Usually it was Teal'c and he who had to endure days of boredom on these kind of missions. This time, both Carter and Daniel had been equally as bored – and as soggy – as the two military men.
"Serves you right Jackson", he muttered to himself. Daniel had been the one to push for extra time on this mission, something the archaeologist had regretted after the first day.
Still, it was nice to be back and to have some time off. They'd been going pretty hard and Hammond had given them a week's worth of down-time. He planned to do absolutely nothing he didn't have to and hoped to catch up on some important TV. He was pretty sure Sam would be fixing something – if not at the SGC then in her garage. He might just wander over one day to bug her. He grinned, there was nothing quite like bugging Carter when she was trying to fix something.
He frowned – except maybe for bugging Daniel. His friend would be home reading some dusty old tome and would hate to be disturbed, he grinned and took a swig of beer. He thought about it for a few moments. Who brought the most satisfaction in the 'Jack torment' roster? He knew it wasn't Teal'c. Occasionally he could get his Jaffa friend, but usually the big man just stared at him and made him feel slightly childish. Daniel and Sam, on the other hand, were highly buggable.
So, back to the quandary – bothering which one gave him the most satisfaction? Well, Daniel was actually the easiest to irritate and the one who always fell for his teasing. Carter, on the other hand, was just too cute when he was harassing her. He loved the flush that would start on her neck and creep up to her cheeks. He also loved how she tried to stay totally respectful and military, while at the same time wanting to tell him off. He had watched her practically swallow her tongue on numerous occasions. He figured that if they were ever out of the same chain of command, or one of them retired, she'd let him have it.
He grinned and took another swig of beer. Yup, as much as it was loads of fun to bug Daniel, he had to admit that Carter was his favorite 'buggee'. Hell – Carter was his favorite everything. He sighed and drank again. Too bad – nope, just watch the game O'Neill.
He settled more comfortably and focused his eyes on the beginning of the game.
They were almost into the second period when the phone rang. He thought about ignoring it, knowing if it was urgent they'd try his cell phone, but after the third ring he sighed and reached for the receiver. It was still the first intermission in the game so he figured he would at least find out who it was.
"O'Neill", he answered.
"Hello, is this Mr. Jonathon O'Neill, son of Richard and Elizabeth O'Neill, late of Minneapolis, Minnesota?"
"Uh yeah", he sat up straighter and put his beer down. This sounded serious. "That's me. What's this about?"
"My name is Irving Layton, from Layton, Perry and Ross. I'm a lawyer in Grand Rapids, MI. Mr. O'Neill, I regret to inform you that your cousin, Terry-Lyn Benton and her husband Ross were killed last week in an auto accident. The accident happened outside of Grand Rapids where they were living at the time."
He sat frozen for a second – his cousin? God, he hadn't seen her since he was a young man and she'd been a little girl. She was much younger than he was and they hadn't lived close by so he really had never gotten the chance to know her. Her mom had been his father's younger sister, born after he'd already left home. She had been a definite accident, born to aging parents. He'd known his grandparents were devout Catholics so he'd always figured they must not have used birth control, although they'd only had the two children.
He knew his aunt and her husband had both died a number of years back and he had sent cards each time. Other than that he really didn't know anything about his cousin. He felt kind of bad about that, especially now that she'd been killed. Still, he wondered why the lawyer had called him. "I'm sorry", he finally said, although he realized after he'd said it that that was kind of weird. She was his cousin, not the lawyer's. "Uh – I am sorry" he repeated, "but I'm afraid I haven't seen her in years. You said last week? I assume they've had the funerals and everything so – uh – what can I do for you?"
"Mr. O'Neill, were you aware that you were Terry-Lyn's closest living relative?"
He hadn't, although he knew he didn't have any close family left. Once his parents had died he'd pretty much lost touch with any remaining relatives. "No, no I didn't", he replied, still puzzled by the call. Unless of course they wanted him to cover the cost of the funerals or something. God, he hoped not.
"Yes well, after the accident we investigated to find relatives of either Terry-Lyn or Ross. I had briefly represented your cousin's husband in a legal matter a year ago so I was called upon to locate next of kin. Unfortunately, Ross was an orphan and had no one. We were eventually able to determine that you were the closest living family member."
"O-kay", Jack answered, briefly noticing that the second period had begun and he didn't want to miss the game. He instantly felt guilty – God, his cousin had just died - the least he could do was pay attention. He flicked the remote and turned off the game. "Okay", he said in a stronger voice. "How can I help you?"
"Mr. O'Neill", your cousin left three young children. As the closest remaining relative I am calling on behalf of the state to determine your willingness and eligibility to take guardianship of them."
The stunned silence must have gone on for a long time because the lawyer's voice came over the phone again. "Mr. O'Neill? Are you there?"
"Wha -? Uh, yeah, I'm here. What did you say?"
"I am calling to determine if you would be willing to take custody of your cousin's children. As their closest living relative it is the responsibility of the state to determine whether or not you agree to take custody. Of course, they will have to determine whether or not you would be a fit guardian but the first step is to see if you would agree to it."
"I – see", he answered, running his hand through his hair. He didn't know what the hell to think or to do. "Three you said? Three kids?"
"Yes. There's Matt, he's" there was a rustling of paper, "he's seven. Then there's Chloe, she's five and Ali is two and a half."
"Two and a half?" He rubbed his face this time. He knew he was sounding like a moron but he really didn't know what to think.
"Yes, that's right. Are you alright Mr. O'Neill?"
"Colonel", he replied.
"Pardon me?" the lawyer asked, sounding confused.
"Oh – I'm sorry, but it's 'Colonel' O'Neill, not Mr. I'm with the Air Force."
"My apologies Colonel. Look, I know this is a shock, so I don't expect an answer immediately, but I will need to know relatively quickly, for the sake of the children."
"Yes, I understand. Uh – where are they now?"
"They are being kept with a foster family. It is only temporary however and they cannot stay for too much longer."
"I see. Tell me, what happens if I decide not to take them? I mean, it's not that I don't want to but my job – I'm away a lot."
"I understand Colonel. In that case they would be made wards of the state and placed in foster care permanently."
"Foster care?" he didn't like the sound of that, but maybe it would be okay if they got a good family. "They would be kept together, right?"
"Well, my understanding is that they will try but it is usually difficult to keep siblings together. Very few families are able to take two, let alone three children. It will probably be easier to place the little one."
God – they couldn't separate them, not after they'd just lost their parents. "Listen, when do you have to have my answer?"
"In the next day or two Colonel. They've already been in their temporary setting for a week. It took us that long to locate you."
"And they're in Grand Rapids?"
"Yes. They were at their babysitter's when the accident occurred but she couldn't keep them with her. She contacted police who arranged to have them taken into care. Look, I'll give you my phone number and you can contact me. Please let me know if you need any more information. If you do decide to take them, I will explain the process to you."
He said goodbye to the lawyer and sat there stunned. He had absolutely no idea what to do.
There was no way he could take three children to live with him, not with his job. He was away for days at a time and what he did was extremely dangerous. He could get killed which would leave them again without family. He couldn't do that to them.
But on the other hand, could he let them go into foster care? God, he'd heard the horror stories about what happened to foster kids. Oh, he knew there were good families, but many of them did it only for the money and the kids were disadvantaged often for the rest of their lives. No, he really didn't think he could do that.
Maybe he could see if he could find a family that wanted to adopt them? Surely there must be people out there who couldn't have children who would jump at the chance? He'd call the lawyer and ask about that.
He sat thinking about it the rest of the evening, not once thinking about the hockey game. He thought briefly about calling one of his teammates, but then reconsidered. He couldn't throw this burden on them. It wouldn't be fair.
He spent most of the night going back and forth over the problem. By dawn he knew what he had to do. As soon as it was late enough he picked up the phone and called the lawyer.
"Mr. Layton, Jack O'Neill here. Look, I thought about what you said. I was wondering if I could come up your way and talk to you and maybe see the kids?"
He wrote down all the details and thanked the lawyer. His next call was to General Hammond. He explained the situation and got permission to take extra time off if he needed it. He then packed a small duffle bag and arranged a hop to Grand Rapids.
The lawyer was kind enough to meet him at the airport and took him back to his office. "I checked into the adoption idea", he said, "and I'm afraid there isn't much possibility, at least for all three of them with the same family. Again, it might be possible to find a family for the littlest one -"
"Uh, yes. The older ones will be a problem."
"Could I look after them until they found someone?"
"No, I'm afraid not. If you become their guardian the responsibility of the state stops. They won't look for a family for the children – or do anything, for that matter."
"Can't I act as their foster parent or something and then they'd keep looking for a family?"
"No, it doesn't work that way. If you agree to become their guardian the process is expedited and you can keep them with you while they're doing the check on your suitability. To become a foster parent takes at least six months and you couldn't have them during that time. They'd have to be split up into other foster homes, and there'd be no saying you'd get them back – probably not actually, since you're a single man – you are single?"
"Yes, uh divorced."
"Right. Well, as a single man I doubt they'd give you three children to look after."
"So, you're telling me it's easier to become their guardian than their foster parent?"
"Mmm hmm – kind of the same way it's easier to become a parent than a foster parent."
"Damn – so that means unless I agree to take them, they're most likely going to end up split up and in foster care?"
"I'm afraid so", the other man said sympathetically. "Uh, did you still want to see the kids? I called the foster mother and said you might be by but she hasn't said anything to the kids yet."
Jack thought for a second and then took a deep breath. "Yeah, I'd like to meet them, but I don't want them to know about the guardianship."
"I understand." The lawyer pulled his cell out of his pocket and quickly dialed the foster mother and told her they were on the way. "It's just about ten minutes from here."
Jack looked out the window, not saying anything, as they drove. He still didn't know what to do. The issues hadn't changed any but the thought of the three kids being split up – hell, that would be horrible after they'd just lost they're parents.
They arrived at the small, grubby little house in what was obviously a poor part of town. As Jack followed the lawyer up the front walkway he couldn't help but see the broken toys in the yard and the general air of squalor that surrounded the place. "Not very nice", he said.
Layton grimaced and nodded his head in agreement. He hated to even think what kind of place this was.
The woman who opened the door didn't look that much better than the house. She was gaunt, to the point of emaciation, and her skin was pale and pock-marked. Jack felt himself shudder.
"You here to see the Benton kids?" she asked, standing back. "They're in the bedroom – I can't get 'em separated." She turned and walked a few steps down the hall. "Hey – you kids, get in here. There's somebody to see you!" She turned to Jack and smiled, obviously interested in the handsome man in front of her. "You here to take 'em?"
"I just want to meet them", he said calmly.
"Yeah?", she shrugged. "They barely talk. Weren't even interested in watching TV." Since the TV was blaring in the background, and the area surrounding the couch was covered in dirty plates and food wrappers, he figured that was just about all the woman did.
Just then he saw movement from the hallway and looked over to see three, frightened looking children standing there. The little boy – Matt – was holding the hands of the two little girls. He looked solemnly at the adults but Jack could see a spark of something in his eyes. As he looked closer he realized he recognized that look. This little boy would protect those two girls to death – and he was sizing up what he saw as a potential enemy.
"Hi", Jack said softly, squatting down. "My name is Jack, what's yours?"
None of the children answered. The littlest one – Ali – buried her face against her brother's leg. The other girl – Chloe – looked as if she was going to cry, although she was obviously trying hard to be strong.
He figured it was that – her courage - and the older boy's obvious love and sense of responsibility towards his sisters – that captured his heart from that very moment. There was no way in hell he was going to allow these kids to be split up. He turned to the lawyer.
"Mr. Layton, I'll take them", he said quietly.
The lawyer smiled and nodded. He'd known, as soon as he'd met Colonel O'Neill in person, that he was going to keep those kids. For the first time since he'd been handed this tragic case he felt some hope. They didn't know it now, but these three children, who had just gone through such tragedy, had been given something special in the person of one Jonathon O'Neill.
"Of course you will Colonel. Let's go get the paper work done and then you can take them home with you."
Jack watched the small house as they pulled away. Rarely had he found anything so hard as to leave those kids in that place, but until the paperwork was filed he had no choice. He'd spoken softly to the children, telling them he was related to their mom and that they were going to come live with him. He didn't know if any of that had sunk in. These poor kids were terrified and traumatized – although he thought he saw a flicker of relief in Matt's eyes. At least he hoped he had.
That night he lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. He'd spent the rest of the day at the lawyers filling out what felt like dozens of forms and answering every question under the sun. When he'd told the lawyer about Charlie – he'd had to say whether or not he'd had any children – the man had briefly looked worried.
"Is that going to be a problem?" he'd asked, with a frown.
"You say you were cleared of any wrong doing?" Layton had asked in return.
"Yes", he answered shortly. He wasn't going to tell the man that, while he hadn't been held guilty by the police, inside he still knew he was at fault. He'd often wondered if he would have felt better if he had, in fact, been charged.
"Then it should be fine. It's only if we get some over-zealous case worker." He stopped and looked seriously at Jack. "You should be prepared, however. I expect it's still very painful for you, but it will probably be dragged out repeatedly in any interviews."
"Okay", he answered calmly, although inside he felt sick. God – he didn't know if he could handle people probing and asking questions. He'd had to go through it at the inquest after Charlie – and it had almost sent him over the edge. He prayed he could handle it. Still, it was for the sake of the three kids – he'd just have to handle it!
"Okay", Layton had sighed, clearly exhausted as well. "That looks like everything for now. I'll get these filed immediately and hopefully you should be able to take the kids in just a couple of days. You'll be able to take some of their clothes and toys, although the house and the rest of the belongings will be held pending the estate being settled. That will probably take a while since the parents didn't leave a will."
After that he'd headed back to the hotel, grabbed a quick supper and then had crashed. He tried to figure out what to do next, but he still felt like he was in shock. He'd have to call Hammond and tell him – and then he'd have to tell his team. He sighed, knowing it was not going to be easy. He didn't know yet what it would mean for SG1.