Undomesticated Equines

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Mini-Angst, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - July 21-31, August 1,4, 2010
Spoilers:  Message in a Bottle (minor)
Size:  52kb
Written:  December 8-11,17,19,21,30-31, 2007, January 2-5,8, 2008  February 18, August 1-2, 2009
Summary:  Daniel and one of the brood have an unexpected and potentially dangerous adventure while on a business trip.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) This fic is for Sineag, by special request.
2) Photo courtesy of nbc4.com.
3) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
4) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
5) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Tonya, Linda, Melissa, Sara, Claudia, Lissa, Caro, Jodi, Ali, Adrienne!

Undomesticated Equines
by Orrymain

“You saved Dad's life, didn't you, Teal'c?” four-and-a-half-year-old Chenoa confidently stated rather than asked from her seat on the Jaffa's lap.

“I kept him company,” Teal'c responded.

Jack and Teal'c had just finished telling the little girl a watered down version of the time when Jack had been speared by an orb that housed an unknown number of entities.  The alien object had been brought back through the Gate the night before the incident, and Jack and Teal'c were in the process of returning it to through the Stargate when spikes spawned from the orb, one of them pinning the then-colonel to the wall.

“He told me jokes,” Jack chuckled.  “Undomesticated equines,” he mused, shaking his head as he stood up from his favorite chair.  “Teal'c, want anything?”

“No, thank you, O'Neill.”

“Noa?”

“Chocolate milk, please, Dad,” the little girl requested.

“Okie dokie.”  As he walked into the kitchen, Jack continued talking, his voice raised so the two could hear.  “Noa, it was pretty scary, but while Daddy and Aunt Sam were trying to figure out a way to save me, Teal'c was right there, by my side, making sure I didn't give up.”

“Dad never gives up,” Chenoa stated with certainty, looking at her true love and getting a nod of affirmation from him.

“O'Neill is a great warrior, ChenoaJacksonO'Neill,” Teal'c agreed.  “It is not in his nature to give up.”

“Daddy doesn't give up, either,” the little girl stated, bobbing her head up and down.

“That is correct.  Both of your fathers are brave and tenacious men.”

“What's that mean?”

“It means we're stubborn,” Jack explained casually as he returned to the living room and the sound of his giggling daughter.  “Here you go, Princess,” he said, handing her the cup of chocolate milk she'd requested.

“I like chocolate milk,” Chenoa declared, taking a big drink from the cup and then smiling.  “What's undoe...doe'es'cated equals?”

“Undomesticated equines,” Teal'c corrected.

“Yeah, those,” the girl acknowledged.

“Wild horses: ponies.”

“I love horses, Teal'c.  I rode Butterscotch this morning,” the girl spoke happily, referring to the lifelike toy pony that Jack had enthusiastically purchased for the Munchkins, even though they had only been three months old at the time.

Daniel had thought his husband was crazy for purchasing a gift that was designed for young children when it would be at least a few years before the babies were old enough to play with it.  Yet, Jack hadn't been able to resist the expensive toy that actually responded to touches and conversation.  As it turned out, though, they didn't need to wait that long for the toy to be used after all.  Some months later, the couple adopted Jennifer, David, and Chenoa, otherwise known as the Mouseketeers, and both David and Chenoa enjoyed playing with the horse from time to time.

“You told Dad a funny about undoe...those things?” Chenoa asked.

“I wished for him to think about something other than his ...” Teal'c paused.  Though he and Jack were sharing a real-life adventure concerning the Stargate, they had been very careful not to make it too scary.  He knew from Jack's expression that he didn't want the young girl to know just how painful the experience had really been.  So, instead of saying 'his pain', the Jaffa redirected his thoughts and completed his sentence in another way.  “... situation.  It was important for O'Neill to concentrate on something else.”

“Like Teal'c's crazy humor,” Jack responded, taking a sip of his coffee and giving his friend a covert nod of thanks.

“Hey,” Daniel greeted as he came down the stairs.

“Daddy, Teal'c's funny!”

“He is?” the archaeologist asked in surprise, receiving a glaring cock of the head from the visitor.  “Oh, I mean, he is.”  He looked at Jack and questioned, “What am I missing?”

“Just talking about undomesticated equines.  You remember,” the general stated, confident that his husband would remember the first time they had heard the phrase and know what they'd been telling Chenoa.

“Yes, I, uh ... do.”  Daniel stared at his husband in confusion.  **Jack?**

**Don't worry, Love.  Just a little story, and we've covered it up pretty good.  She just knows I was in trouble, you and Carter were saving my life, and Teal'c was doing the buddy thing and telling me ...**

**Jokes,** both men communicated at the same time.

“Well, have fun,” Daniel continued.  “The babies are all asleep.  That should give you about an hour of peace.  I'm gonna go pick up Jen and David.”

“Okay,” Jack acknowledged.

“Bye, Princess,” Daniel spoke sweetly to his young girl.  The younger man gave his husband a good-bye kiss and then turned to the Jaffa.  “Teal'c, good to see you.”

Teal'c nodded, watched Daniel head out of the house, and then turned his attention back to the young girl, who looked up at him with bright, happy eyes.  He had to admit he hadn't felt this honored to have a child's love since his own son was a young boy.

“How about a game of ping pong?” Jack suggested.

“I shall be honored to beat you once again,” the Jaffa sparred verbally.

“Game on, Big Guy,” Jack retorted while inwardly grumbling about Teal'c's overconfidence.

The two men and little girl made their way to the ping pong table and prepared for their amateur sporting event.

====

“I almost won,” Jack griped that night as he pulled off his blue shirt.

“Twenty-one to six?” Daniel teased as he unbuckled his pants.

The older man just sighed.  He was lucky to be able to get the ball in play whenever facing off with the alien, but continued to hold out hope that one day he would manage to defeat his friend.

“Jack, I got a call from Perry Oldman today,” the archaeologist reported.

“Oldman,” Jack repeated thoughtfully.  “The guy from the Kecoughtan project in Virginia?”

“Right,” Daniel acknowledged.  “He'd like our opinion; well, actually, he made a request.”

“Which is?”

“He'd like me to go there and take a look at the site first hand, maybe do a couple of preliminary tests, just to see where he stands and get a more accurate idea of what the potential financial impact would be,” the archaeologist answered.

“You mean he wants to pay us for you to go there and tell him whether or not he can afford to do what he already knows needs to be done anyway?” Jack put forth a bit cynically.

Daniel chuckled as he slipped on his pajama bottoms and replied, “He's new to historic restoration and what goes along with it.  He's just looking for a guiding hand.”

“Go forth, young man and ... guide,” Jack mused dramatically.

“Well, I had another idea, too,” Daniel admitted, standing by his side of the bed with his hands on his hips.

“Do tell,” Jack responded as he sat down on his side of the bed, his body twisted around so he could see his lover.

“I thought I'd take one of the brood with me and go there in Jo,” Daniel stated, referring to the family's Meyers aircraft.

“Which one?” Jack asked.

Daniel shrugged as he sat down on the bed, twisting around so he could face see his husband.

“Wanna draw a name?” the general suggested.

Smiling, the younger man bobbed his head up and down a couple of times and agreed, “Yeah.”

The two fathers loved taking their children on individual trips.  Sometimes it was a given who would go, but at other times, like now, the decision wasn't quite so clear cut as any of their brood would gain equal enjoyment from it.  Daniel was eager to take one of them, but he didn't really have any inkling as to which one should go.

Jack got up and walked to a drawer, pulling out a small box that had eight key chains in it.  The key chains were identical, except that each held a face of one of their children.

“Ya know, Danny, I think if the kids knew about this, we'd be drawn and quartered.”

Daniel chuckled, “Probably, but it works in a pinch.”

The older man shook the container, turning it over a couple of times, shaking it over his head and behind his back, and then tossing it onto the bed.

“That should do it,” Jack proclaimed.  He picked up the box, opened the lid, and then held it high above his lover's head.  “Let's see who gets the special trip with their daddy.”

Amused at his lover's antics, Daniel raised his hand high into the air and then let his fingers dance around the key chains for several seconds before he finally had one secured in his hand.  He lowered his hand and opened his palm to see whose key chain it was.

With a smile, the older man asserted, “You'll have a great time.”

====

“Daniel, it's good to meet you,” Perry Oldman greeted at the site of the restoration.

The man was in his mid-thirties, had short blond hair with hazel eyes, and he had a tiny scar just below his right ear from a traffic accident he'd had several years before.  He was about five-nine and weighed in at one-hundred-seventy pounds.  He spoke with a mid-western accent and wore a traditional black suit with a yellow shirt and a black tie.

“You, too, Perry,” Daniel replied as the two shook hands.  The archaeologist was wearing navy blue jeans and a white polo shirt, his more casual attire due to the testing he was about to do at the location.  He then reached down and picked up the child who'd been clinging to his leg.  “Perry, this is my daughter, Chenoa.”

“Chenoa, hello,” Perry acknowledged warmly, smiling at the curly-haired blonde.

The little girl was wearing a blue jumper over a lacy white shirt with puffy sleeves, an outfit she'd selected so she could match her daddy's attire as closely as possible.

“Hi,” the girl replied shyly before burying her head in her daddy's neck.

“Why don't you give me the grand tour,” Daniel suggested, moving forward with the business of the day.

====

“That really helps?” Perry asked.

“GPRs are a great tool,” Daniel informed Perry about the equipment he'd just set up.

“Can I push it, Daddy?” Chenoa queried hopefully.

“Okay,” the archaeologist agreed, though he stayed right behind his eager assistant.

Daniel had brought with him a few pieces of archaeological equipment to use in making a tentative evaluation.  One of those items was ground-penetrating radar, or GPR, that would hopefully give him some good images of the surface below.

“Go in a straight line,” Daniel instructed, not really caring that he'd probably have to go over the area again.  It was more important to him now that Chenoa felt like she was contributing.  “Good job,” he praised as they continued to walk forward.

====

“Daddy, can I ...” Chenoa began.

“Uh, not with this tool, Noa,” Daniel replied apologetically as he worked the hand-powered bore.

The little girl watched with intrigue as the archaeologist carefully worked the object.

“What's it doing, Daddy?”

“Well, I'm drilling a few holes in the ground and sucking up the dirt below.”

“Why?” the girl questioned.

“It will help me find out what the layers of ground are like below the surface and how far down we might have to go to find artifacts.  Mainly, it gives me an idea of how much it might cost us to dig here, because it will tell me how far down we have to go and what the soil is like.”

“Oh,” Chenoa replied while remaining focused on her father's task.

====

“What can you tell me?” Perry asked at the end of the afternoon when Daniel had finished his testing and exploration.

“I'd like to review the GPR findings tonight, and I also want to check in with my staff.  I had them doing some research for me today.  Can we meet tomorrow and discuss the results?” Daniel asked.

“We can, as long as you're willing to meet me at the pony swim,” Perry answered.

“Ponies?” Chenoa questioned eagerly, her eyes widening.

“Yes,” Perry confirmed with a smile.  “The ponies swim Assateague Channel at Chincoteague Memorial Park, on the east side of the island.”

“Daddy!” Chenoa exclaimed excitedly, grinning in anticipation, although she hadn't really understood anything the man had said except for swimming ponies.

“Pony swim?” Daniel asked, clueless about the event.

“It's an annual event, and I promised my nephew I'd take him this year,” Perry stated.  “You haven't heard of the Chincoteague ponies?”

“Na-huh,” Chenoa answered.

“No one is exactly sure how it happened, but hundreds of years ago, ponies inhabited Assateague Island.  There's a refuge built for them now, but it's expensive to maintain, so every year they have an auction, to sell off new foals and yearlings.  It's a big event.  Starts in the morning with the swim, where the ponies are herded across the channel from Assateague to Chincoteague.  After a rest, they're herded to the carnival grounds for the rest of the day.  On Thursday, the auction is held, and on Friday, any pony not sold swims back to Assateague to live on the refuge.”

“Daddy, please, please, please, pleeeeease, can we go watch the ponies swim?” Chenoa asked, jumping up and down excitedly.

“Sure we can, Noa,” Daniel replied, smiling at his daughter's enthusiasm.

====

Later that evening, Chenoa was sitting on her father's lap at the desk in their hotel room.  Daniel had researched the famous ponies on the Internet.

“Okay, well, folklore says that the ponies swam to Assateague Island from shipwrecked Spanish galleons,” Daniel told his daughter.

“Like a gallon of ice cream?”

With a little chuckle, the father answered, “A gallon is a measurement, a size, but this is a galleon.”

“What's a galleon?” Chenoa questioned, trying to say the word just as her daddy had pronounced it.

“That's a large ship.  European countries, like Spain, used them to travel the ocean. They had several decks and were more stable than earlier ships,” the father explained.

“Why would the ponies be on a ship?”

“Maybe they were taking them from Spain to another country,” Daniel supposed.  “Anyway, that's just one possibility about how they got to Assateague Island.  Another theory says that pirates may have been responsible for bringing the ponies to the island.”

“Wow,” the little girl responded.

“Apparently, though, no one knows for sure how they got there, but they've been there at least since the early sixteen-hundreds.”

“Were you a little boy then?” the girl asked.

Daniel chuckled, “Uh, no, Princess.  This is going back a really, really, *really* long time ago.”

“When Dad was a little boy?”

“Uh, even longer than that, Chenoa,” Daniel replied.  ~I am definitely *not* telling Jack she said that.~

“Oh.”

“For a long time, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department maintained their herd of ponies on the island.  Then in 1943, a refuge was built on the island.  Uh, let's see, eventually, they built a fence to keep the two herds apart.  The fence is on the state line, dividing the Maryland and Virginia sides of the island.  Now the members of the Chincoteague Fire Department are the ones who do the yearly roundup of their herd.”

“How come, Daddy?”

“Because of the amount of grazing land they need.  The roundup helps them monitor the health of the herd and keep the size to one-hundred-fifty.  They've discovered that that's the best number, so they strive to keep the herds at that size,” Daniel answered as he continued to read through the information he'd found.  “I like this,” he opined, smiling at his daughter.  “The Fire Department uses the money from the auction to take care of sick and injured ponies.”

“They love the ponies,” Chenoa surmised.

“It sounds like it, Sweetie,” Daniel affirmed.

“What about the other ponies?”

“Well, it says that they're looked after by the National Park Service, and I guess they have other ways of doing what they need to in order to take care of the ponies.”

“Can I pet the ponies tomorrow?”

“I'm not sure, Noa,” Daniel responded as he read some more.  “The ponies are pretty much on their own at the refuge.  It says here that they're considered wild animals.”

“Undomes'cated equines,” Chenoa laughed.

Daniel laughed, too, as he nodded and elaborated, “The ponies have a hierarchy of individuals within separate groups that live on home ranges.  From what this says, the ponies do have the behavioral characteristics of wild ... uh, undomesticated equines,” he chuckled.

“I'm excited, Daddy,” Chenoa confided unnecessarily, her grin easily giving away her eager feelings for the next day's happenings.

“Me, too,” Daniel responded.  “Now, you'd better get some sleep because we need to get up *very* early, and I still have some work to do.”

“Okay, Daddy,” the little girl agreed.

Daniel helped Chenoa prepare for bed and then listened as she said her nightly prayer.  It contained all of the usual requests, to bless their family, friends, and pets.  The young girl remembered her birth parents, too, something Jack and Daniel had encouraged from the very moment they'd adopted the Mouseketeers.

“And please help the ponies to swim safe and find happy homes,” Chenoa requested, ending her prayer and starting to get up.

“Noa,” Daniel reminded.

“Oops,” the little girl giggled.  She returned to her previous position, placing her hands back into their respectful, palms-together pose, and added, “Thank you for loving us.  Amen.”

Chenoa looked over and received an approving smile from her father, who then tucked her into bed.

“Daddy, can we take pictures of the ponies, please?”

“You bet!  I love you, Noa.”

“Love you, Daddy,” Chenoa replied, yawning as she settled into a comfortable sleeping position.  “Ponies ... excited,” she added, yawning again as she closed her eyes.

====

The next morning, Daniel parked his rental car at the Chincoteague High School parking lot.  It wasn't quite 6 a.m. when he and his daughter stepped aboard one of the shuttles that was providing transportation to Memorial Park, the place where the ponies would be swimming to.

“Where are the ponies, Daddy?”

“Still on the island,” Daniel answered.  “It could be a little while before they release them.”

“Why?”

“Because they have to check the tide and the currents, to make sure it's safe for the ponies, and they have to make sure the ponies are ready to go for their swim, too,” Daniel returned.  He smiled at his excited daughter.  She looked so pretty, wearing a denim skirt, white blouse, and a blue vest that had a darker blue puff edging.  “Remember to stay by me.”

“I will,” Chenoa promised, looking up at her father and thinking how handsome he looked in his blue business suit.

The young girl especially loved the initial pendant that Daniel was wearing on his navy blue tie.  It was the one that had an intertwined 'JD' on it, the item the symbol of her parents love that they'd exchanged during their second wedding.  The parents always wore them, somewhere on their clothing or person, sometimes hidden from view and sometimes obvious, like today.

====

“Perry,” Daniel called out evenly, seeing his client had already made it to the place they had arranged to meet.

“Good morning, Daniel,” Perry replied, shaking the archaeologist's hand.  He looked down and greeted, “Hello again, Chenoa.”

“Hello,” the curly-haired girl replied shyly.

“This is my nephew, Ross,” Perry introduced, smiling down at the nine-year-old, freckled boy.

“Are the ponies coming yet?” Chenoa asked eagerly.

“Not yet, but soon,” Perry responded.

“This is a great place to watch,” Perry stated.  “It's gonna get very crowded within the next hour, so why don't we take advantage of the opportunity and talk some business.” As Daniel nodded, he looked at his nephew and stated, “Ross, make sure you stay here, and keep an eye on Chenoa.”

Daniel was impressed by the instruction, not that he had any intention of taking his eyes off his daughter himself.

====

“Thank you for your sound judgment, Daniel,” Perry stated appreciatively.  “I suppose I was being a bit overcautious.”

“Understandable.  This is your first restoration.  What you're doing is a great thing for the area.  I hope you'll do more of it, and that J-O Enterprises can be a part of it,” the archaeologist replied as he closed and locked his briefcase.  He smiled and was about to say something else when he suddenly realized he couldn't see his daughter.  “Noa?”  Standing up, he looked all around and shouted, “*Chenoa!*”

Perry closed his briefcase and stood up while assuring, “I'm sure she's fine.”

Daniel's heart was pounding.  How could he get so wound up in business that he'd taken his eyes off of his daughter?  It was unacceptable, and he'd never forgive himself if anything happened to her.

“Relax,” Perry urged, seeing how upset the other man was becoming.  “I told Ross to keep an eye on her, and I'm confident that's exactly what he's doing.”

“Well, where's Ross?” Daniel questioned pointedly.

“Daniel, Ross has come to this event every year since he was a baby.  His parents, grandparents, me, or one of my brothers and sisters always bring him here.  He knows the routine, and he knows the grounds.  He's probably showing her a better spot to view the ponies from.”

“You said *this* was the best spot,” Daniel stated in a somewhat accusatorial tone.

“One of the best, depending upon the tide and the exact angle that the ponies swim across in,” Perry responded.  “Daniel, they're okay.”

“She's four years old, and I will not relax until I find her,” Daniel informed the other man vehemently, having lost all of his diplomatic skills he usually used without even thinking.  “*Noa!*” he called out again as he began to search the area.

====

I see them!” Chenoa exclaimed, pointing at the ponies.

“Awesome,” Ross responded.

The two children watched eagerly as over a hundred ponies swam towards the park.

After several minutes, Ross took Chenoa's hand and stated, “We need to go back to where we were.  We'll be able to see them come ashore better there.”


“Okay,” Chenoa reluctantly agreed.

Though wishing they could stay and watch the ponies longer, the two children hurried back to where Daniel and Perry had been.  Unfortunately, the two adults were no longer there.  In fact, they'd walked right by the youngsters, separated by a family that included a woman in a wheelchair.

“Uncle Perry probably took your father to another spot for a better look.  We know all the best places,” Ross announced when the two kids arrived at their place of origin but found no sign of the two men.

“I wanna see the ponies,” Chenoa insisted.

“Okay, come this way,” Ross instructed, once again taking the little girl's hand and holding it securely as they walked.

====

Daniel spun around in a circle, his eyes searching desperately for his little girl.  He looked through the crowd of people, hoping for a glimpse of the familiar blonde curly locks that reminded him and just about everyone else of Shirley Temple.  His heart was pounding so loudly that he could hear it, and his pulse was racing so fast that he could feel the throbbing through his clothing.

In his desperation, the fearful parent felt like he might even throw up.  Certainly, his stomach was in his throat at the moment.  This was all his fault.  He'd been careless, and he knew better.  Maybe, somehow, the Trust had followed him to Chincoteague.  Maybe, they'd kidnapped the two kids to enlist Daniel's help with something.  It was certainly possible, given the history between the rogue outfit and SG-1.

How could Daniel face his husband?  Jack would never forgive him; he'd never forgive himself.  How would they tell the other children?  A myriad of possible disasters that might have befallen the two children filled his mind.  He stopped his fast-paced walking and tried to gain some control over himself as his chest heaved in and out from the near-sprint that had lasted for several minutes now.

“Gawd, Noa.  Where are you?” the archaeologist asked, though not to anyone in particular.  ~Have to keep you safe; I'm so sorry I've let you down.~

“They're here somewhere,” Perry responded calmly, trying to get the other man to remain positive.

“Look, you don't understand,” Daniel argued curtly.  He paused, “I really don't mean to be rude, but ... there's a history; there's ... gawd, it's complicated.  I never should have taken my eyes off of her.  What was I thinking?” he asked as he sprinted forward once more.

~That's one worried parent,~ Perry thought.  ~A little paranoid, though, but that's better than not caring, and I've certainly met a few of those types.~

====

“I bet they're tired,” Chenoa surmised as she looked at the animals.

The two children were watching the ponies from the best vantage point possible, seeing them actually step out of the water and onto the park land.

“See that one?” Ross asked.  When his young charge nodded, he explained, “That pony will be given away this afternoon at the carnival.  I hope I win him.  Dad keeps telling me that's the only way I'll get a pony of my own, but if I win one, I can keep him.”

“Wow,” Chenoa expressed in awe.  “Your own pony.”  She smiled and commented, “I have Butterscotch.  She's lot of fun.”

“Cool,” the boy responded, thinking the girl owned a real pony.

“Look at that pony,” Chenoa called out.  “He has patches.”

“Dad says that's because of the interbreeding.”

“Huh?” the little girl asked, looking up in confusion at the boy.

“They don't have a pure line anymore.  Every year new ponies are brought to the island, and the ponies mate with them.  You know what that means?”

“Get married?”

Ross laughed, “Yeah, that works.  Now instead of solid coloring, some of them have brown and white patches like that one.”

“How come some of them look so fat?” the little girl queried inquisitively.

“Oh, that's because they graze on salty marsh grasses.  It makes them drink more than other horses, so they look like that, bloated or fat, but they really aren't,” the boy explained.

“Gee, you're smart,” Chenoa praised, getting a giggle from the boy.  “I wish I could pet one, but Daddy says they're undomes'cated equines.”

Now it was the boy's turn to ask, “Huh?”

“Wild horses,” Chenoa giggled.

“They're not wild,” the boy disagreed.  “They're auctioning them off to families.”

“Can I pet one then?”

“Sure,” Ross answered.  “Come with me.”

====

“I'm going to contact the police,” a frantic Daniel advised, still having not found his missing daughter.

“Daniel, trust me ...”

“She's *my* daughter,” Daniel shouted.  He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.  “Look, I'm sorry, but Chenoa knows better than to run off.”

“And how many times has she seen ponies swim across the shore?” Perry challenged.  “Ross is looking after her; I'm very confident of that.  In fact, I'm sure they're with the ponies,” he twisted around, “back that way.”

Daniel's body was reacting to his emotional distress.  Even with all of his history and training with SG-1, he felt weaker than he'd ever had -- his knees were actually shaking, and his body trembled with tiny convulsions.  Of course, this was different.  He wasn't fighting to save his life, or that of his lover.  He wasn't searching for a missing teammate, or tracking down some delusional System Lord.

No, this was Daniel's daughter he was looking for -- his sweet, innocent, little girl; the princess with bright brown eyes, who looked at him like he was the most important person in the world.  This was the child who smiled at him with such love that he sometimes couldn't speak as a result, the beautiful youth who spoke small words of caring and trust for her parents in her prayers every night.

This was Chenoa, and Daniel was scared stiff at the potential harm that could be coming to her, even as he searched the grounds.  Then there was another factor at play.  Daniel was alone, his lover, his support, his strength -- his Jack, being on the other side of the country.  Right now he was a single parent, carrying the burden of his lost child all alone, without even a moment for an encouraging word or comforting smile.

If that wasn't all causing the archaeologist's body to rebel against him, there was his guilt, steadily and aggressively eating away at his soul.  Still, what Perry was saying made sense.  They'd just gone all the way up Memorial Park, but the ponies were coming ashore at the other end.  Chenoa would be there.  She had to be.

~Daniel, go find our daughter.  You can do it.  She's counting on you, and I have faith in you.  Now move!~

The silent reprimand thundered through Daniel's mind, so much so that he almost, but not quite, laughed.  He could hear his lover as if Jack were there, reminding him of what was important: Chenoa.  Not lost among the supposed order was the older man's trust and belief in the archaeologist.  It gave Daniel strength to continue on in the search.

“Okay, let's go,” the archaeologist replied more calmly, though he was anything but calm.

====

“Be very quiet.  The trick is to find a pony off by himself.  We don't want to startle the herd,” Ross advised as he continued to hold the girl's hand.

The two children moved cautiously around the large area where the ponies were relaxing.  They'd be staying here a while, until they were rested, and then they'd be herded to the carnival grounds where they could be observed for the rest of the day.  They were near some trees that provided them some cover.  Most of the other observers were several yards away or on the other side of the herd, wanting to look at as many of the ponies as possible.  Since the children's aim was more specific, they remained away from the crowd.

“Look!” Chenoa exclaimed, seeing a brown pony, one of the smaller ones, looking at them and slowly coming their direction.

“Be calm.  If you're afraid, you'll scare him away.”

“I'm not afraid,” Chenoa promised with a smile.

“Hi, Pony,” Ross called out softly, not moving an inch.  “I think you're awesome,” he praised.

“I love you, Pony,” Chenoa added gaily, full of innocence and adoration that only comes with childhood.

The pony walked right up to the trees and stopped, as if waiting for the children to talk some more.

“Pony, can I hug you?” Chenoa asked.

The pony snickered and extended his nose towards the curly-haired child.  Slowly, Chenoa extended her hand out, letting the pony sniff it for a second and then giggling lightly at the sensation of the pony's nose against her palm.

When the horse let out another small snicker, Chenoa took that to mean that the pony was answering 'yes' to her question.  With a loving and happy smile, she walked closer and hugged the tiny pony.  She giggled with delight and then patted the animal before walking away.

“Thank you, Pony.  I think you're beautiful.”

“You'll find a good home, that's for sure,” Ross stated, wishing the home could be his.

“Kids, get away,” a man ordered sternly.

“We were just talking to the pony,” Ross explained as he and Chenoa immediately backed away.

“That's *the* one, you know,” the man told the children.  “He's a strong pony.  He was the first to get across the channel.”

“Dad said I could keep him if we win the raffle,” Ross advised with longing.

“Good luck, Boy, but stay clear,” the man warned.

“Yes, Sir,” Ross responded politely.

The man stood and stared at the children.  Something in their eyes and demeanor told him that they weren't horsing around, so to speak.  He sensed a true caring and curiosity about the horses emanating from them.  He softened his stance and decided to go with his gut instinct about the kids.

“I know this pony.  My own daughter's sat on him.  Would you ...”

“Oh, yes, please, can I?  Pretty please,” Chenoa asked.

“If the pony agrees,” the man responded.  He whispered to the pony and talked softly to him for a moment.  He put a rope around the pony's neck as a precaution and then he picked up Chenoa, gently placing her atop the animal.  “Be still.”

“Pony, I love you,” Chenoa declared sincerely, a happy smile on her face.

“You're one with the ponies,” the man observed, seeing how calm the pony was with the young girl.  “Let's walk a few feet.”

Chenoa felt like the princess her parents said she was, sitting atop the pony as they crossed back and forth a couple of times.  The pony was as perfectly behaved as the little girl was.

“Okay, that's enough.  The pony needs his rest,” the man told Chenoa and then helped her off the gentle animal.

The little girl walked in front of the pony and petted his face while vowing, “I'll never forget you, Pony, not ever.”

“Stand back, kids,” the man requested firmly.

“Thank you, Sir,” Ross responded respectfully.  Once the pony returned to the herd, he turned to the little girl and suggested firmly, “We'd better go find Uncle Perry.”

The pony looked back at the children, somehow aware that they were leaving.

“Bye, Pony,” Chenoa voiced loud enough for the pony to hear, waving as she walked away with Ross, their hands joined together again.

====

“Okay, now I *am* calling the po...”

“Daddy, did you see them?” Chenoa called out eagerly, breaking the handhold that Ross had on her and running to her father, who immediately swept her into a tight hug, burying his face in her curls as he took in the fact that she was okay.  “They're tired, so they're resting now.  Did you see the first one?  He's being given away at a raffle.  I rode him.  He's so nice, Daddy.  Did you ...”

“Whoa,” Daniel interrupted, taking a big breath as he held on tightly to the Mouseketeer.  “You *rode* the pony?”

Chenoa ranted excitedly for several minutes about her adventure.  Though Daniel heard her words, he was mostly regaining his composure.  He'd been scared out of his wits, fearing the worst.  While the little girl talked, he noticed that Perry talking with Ross.

“I held her hand the whole time, Uncle Perry,” Ross told his relative.  “She loves ponies.  She's ridden them where she lives, so I knew she'd be good around them.  I took her to where you let me ride one when I was four, remember?”

Daniel would have chuckled if he weren't still trying to catch his breath from his fear.  He considered chastising Chenoa for taking off without telling him, but he just couldn't ruin her happiness.  She had such a wide grin and a bright smile on her face.  Besides, it was his fault for losing his focus; and from what Ross was telling Perry, Chenoa had behaved perfectly with him, following each of his instructions to a tee.

Finally, the relieved father simply hugged his daughter and whispered from his heart, “I love you, Noa.”

====

“Hurry, Daddy.  Gotta get pictures,” Chenoa urged, pulling the archaeologist's arm as they walked alongside the herd that was being taken from Memorial Park to the carnival grounds, which was roughly a half-mile away.

“Chenoa!” Daniel called out, having finally released the little girl's hand.  “You stay right in front of me.”

“Yes, Daddy,” the overwhelmed girl acknowledged, bouncing up and down in excitement as she waited impatiently for Daniel to follow her.

“Don't worry, Mister Jackson-O'Neill,” Ross assured.  “I'll keep up with her,” he promised, sprinting forward and taking the point position so that Chenoa wouldn't get too far ahead of the two adults.

“I suppose you think I'm being overly protective,” Daniel sighed to Perry.

“No, Daniel.  What I think is that you're a good parent,” Perry answered.

“She loves these ponies,” Daniel stated.  “So, the auction is always a success?”

“They sold one a while back for $10,500, and most of the 'Misty' ones sell for at least four-thousand and ...”

“At least?”

“And as high as eight-thousand,” Perry answered.  “Has Chenoa read the Misty stories?”

“No,” Daniel responded.  “The Misty stories?” he asked, not having a clue what the man was referring to.

“Marguerite Henry wrote a very famous novel back in 1947: 'Misty of Chincoteague'.  You should check it out.”

“We will,” the archaeologist replied.  “Thank you.”

“Daddy, look at the ponies,” the little girl requested excitedly.  “I'm as tall as they are,” she observed about the animals.

“These ponies are most like Arabian or Welsh ponies,” Perry told Daniel.

The man was going to continue when Chenoa observed, “Look at their soft eyes, Daddy.  They just want a home to be loved in.”  She giggled, “Cute ears.”

The girl continued to describe the ponies with their firm muzzles, large nostrils, and rounded jowls.  They were impressive creatures, and Chenoa was noticing every detail, including their broad chest, short back, and the heavy, long mane and tail.

Daniel unobtrusively snapped shot after shot, capturing the joy on his daughter's face, as well as the ponies beside them.

“It's like a mop,” Chenoa laughed.

“They are beautiful, Noa,” Daniel agreed.  ~And so are you.  Thank goodness you're safe.~

====

The two Jackson-O'Neills and the two Oldmans spent the rest of the day at the carnival, and now the big moment had arrived  It was time for the drawing for the first pony to have reached the shore.

“I don't know why I'm so excited,” Ross stated almost as a gripe.

“Maybe you'll win,” Chenoa encouraged with bright eyes.

“I never win anything.”

“But you have to believe, or you won't win.”  Chenoa took his hand and instructed, “Close your eyes, and believe.  With all your heart, believe the pony is yours.  He belongs with you.  You have to believe.”

Daniel watched Chenoa with curiosity.  He'd never really seen his daughter respond like this before.  She was more confident than normal and speaking well, rarely slipping into 'toddler speak' mode, which she still often did at home.

“I believe,” Ross muttered, not speaking as confidently as the little girl wanted.

Chenoa tugged on his hand and reminded, “That pony came to you, Ross.  He wants to be yours, but you have to believe it, or he won't be.”

With more resolve, Ross repeated, “I believe.”

Over and over, both children chanted, “I believe” until the winning ticket was called.

“Well?” Perry asked, seeing the boy's open mouth.

Ross reached into his pocket and pulled out his ticket.  His eyes grew wide, and he began to jump up and down from excitement.

“It's me!  I won!  I won!  The pony is mine!”  Ross ran up to the auction stand, where the pony was being given away.  “It's me!  Pony, you're mine!”

Perry laughed, “Dicko is gonna be so surprised.”

“Your brother?” Daniel surmised.

Nodding, Perry commented, “Ross' dad.  He never really thought Ross would win a pony, but he promised that if he did, he could keep him.  Margo, his wife, warned him that he couldn't break the promise, either.”

“So ...”

“So, Ross is now the proud owner of a pony.”

“I knew he would win,” Chenoa asserted with a grin.  “Daddy, can we get a picture of Ross and his new pony?  And with me, too, please?”

“Of course, we can, Princess,” Daniel agreed as his little girl beamed with delight.

====

“That was a long trip,” Jack noted when Daniel and Chenoa returned home on Sunday, which was three days later than originally planned.

Chenoa had been so excited about the ponies that Daniel had decided to stay and let her watch them swim back on Friday; then on Saturday, they'd gone to Assateague Island themselves and explored the refuge, seeing the herds in their everyday environment.

“Dad, I rode an undomesticated equine, and he loves me!” Chenoa exclaimed as she leaped up into her older father's arms.  “I said it right, Daddy!” she cheered, glancing over at the younger man, who nodded.

“Daniel?” Jack questioned curiously.  He noticed some residual tension and studied his husband's eyes.  ~I'm guessing it's a long story.~

“She pronounced it correctly,” Daniel confirmed.  “We practiced a lot.”

“That's not what I meant.”

“Oh, well, it's a long story,” Daniel replied.  He smiled and added, “But it's a good one.”

“I'll bet,” Jack responded.  ~He'll tell me; he always does; but he's smiling now, so it must be okay.~

In what had been a strange fluke, the lovers had had a difficult time connecting over the past couple of days, and there had been a lot of messages relayed between their older children and themselves.  As a result, Jack hadn't heard about Chenoa being 'lost' to Daniel for a while.  He knew there was something Daniel had started to tell him during one conversation, but that had been when a small fight had broken out among the younger children and he'd had to end the call.

“And we went to the island, and watched the ponies on the refuge,” Chenoa told her older father, unable to contain her enthusiasm.  “And one pony came right up to the car and ...”

“Daniel?”

Daniel just shrugged, replying, “Long story,” again, kissing his husband quickly and gently rubbing the back of the little girl's head as he smiled at her before heading for the stairs.

“Dad, can I have a pony?” Chenoa asked.

Daniel closed his eyes as he turned around to face his husband, whose eyes had just widened about as big as they could.

“Daddy said to ask you,” the little girl revealed.

“He did?” Jack queried, giving his lover a stare that vowed payback.

The younger man simply smiled and shrugged.  Quickly, he picked up the suitcases and hurried up the stairs to freedom from his lover's wrath.

Remaining calm, Jack thought clearly and questioned, “Princess, think about the pony.  Where would he sleep?  How would he get his exercise?  We don't have a barn and don't have room for one.  Who would the pony play with?  He'd be lonely.”

The girl's smile faded as she considered the words of her older father.

~Got her!~ Jack thought.  Thinking quickly, he added, “But, we can go ride the ponies at the stables some more.  I promise.”

“Yay!” a satisfied Chenoa exclaimed as she smiled.

“Now, a pony came up to the car?” Jack prompted as he carried his daughter to the sofa to hear her tale.

“Right up to the car, and we got out and ...” a happy Chenoa began, speaking faster than her little voice had ever done before.

====

“It only took them five minutes, Teal'c,” Chenoa exclaimed as the Jaffa and her family listened on.

At the little girl's request, her 'beau' had been invited over for dessert so she could tell him about her big pony adventure.

“Equines are most swift,” Teal'c acknowledged.

“The channel is only about two-hundred yards,” Daniel expounded.

“They had rowboats there and men on big horses making sure the ponies didn't get lost,” Chenoa stated happily.

“Do they not care for the ponies during the rest of the year?” Teal'c questioned.

Seeing his daughter's sudden look of distress, Daniel quickly reassured, “Yes, they do.  From what I learned, the pony swim and auction began in 1924, but the herd is actually rounded up on the island about three times a year so they can be examined and checked.”

“Oh, good,” Chenoa sighed.

Daniel smiled and added, “Perry told me that volunteers from the Fire Department also check on the ponies every other week throughout the year.  They're well cared for, Noa.”

“I love undomesticated equines,” Chenoa declared cheerfully, happy she'd spoken the name correctly again.  “Ross is gonna train his new pony.  He said it might take a long time because the pony was born in the wild, but this pony is worth it.  We got pictures, too.  Ross hasn't named him yet, but he promised he'd call and tell me what he named him.  Did I tell you how gentle he was, Teal'c?”

With the patience of a loving parental figure, Teal'c gave a slight nod and answered, “Indeed, you have, ChenoaJacksonO'Neill, but perhaps you should tell me again.”

Grinning, the little girl told her tale for at least the fourth time that night.

====

As the lovers cleaned up the hospitality room after dinner, Daniel suggested, “Babe, I was thinking we could incorporate what Chenoa learned into a homeschooling lesson.”

“Yeah?” Jack asked curiously as he changed his clothes.

“I think we should have all the children read 'Misty of Chincoteague' as a starter.  We can talk about the places mentioned in the book and map them out. We can have David research the Spanish galleons, and maybe the Munchkins can find the places mentioned in the story on a map, or something geographical relating to the story.”

“The five themes of geography?” Jack asked, referring to the location, human-environment interaction, place, movement, and region.

“Well, they're a little young for that, but we can help ... a lot,” Daniel chuckled.  “We can incorporate some math into it, too, by, say, well, let's pretend we're going on a family vacation to the Island.  We can have them figure how long it would take us to drive there, or fly; maybe calculate how much gas it would take and how much it would cost ...”

“I prefer not to think about gas prices,” Jack groused.  “They haven't been anywhere near sane since 2005.”

“I know, but stay on track here,” the younger man requested.  “We could have Chenoa come up with other places to see along the way, or maybe just while we're there.”

“How about lessons on the ponies themselves?  I don't know much about them myself,” Jack stated.

“How they live, what they eat, how many there are of them ...” Daniel began, creating a list of possibilities.  “More specifically, it's a good opportunity for the brood to learn about the wetlands and marsh areas.”

“True stories about people who have bought the ponies, beginning with Chenoa's new friend.  She could learn what it takes to really train a wild animal.”  After a moment, Jack smiled and opined, “Daniel, this a great idea: history, science, math, geography.”

“The list is endless.  Let's work on it tomorrow,” Daniel suggested.

Jack nodded and was about to reply when a ruckus broke out in the living room.

“I'll take it,” Jack volunteered, hurrying off to see what crisis needed handling now.

====

Late that night, the lovers were settled into their bed, though they were sitting up, Jack reading a novel and Daniel writing in his journal.  The younger man had paused his writing, wanting to tell his husband about his observation of Chenoa's behavior.

“I'm not sure what that means, Jack, but Noa acted much more like a child her age, maybe even older; and her speech was perfect,” Daniel noted.

“Maybe it was just being on her own with her daddy.”

“I don't know, but she was so ... different, out there ... um, I don't know, assertive, all in good ways,” Daniel put forth.

“I bet that was fun, seeing the ponies swim ashore,” Jack stated.

“I guess so.”

“You *guess* so?”

Daniel sighed, closing his journal as he elaborated, “Okay, I wasn't trying to keep this from you, but I didn't want to detract from Noa's excitement.”

“Okay, now, I'm curious.”

“For the record, Babe, I did start to tell you about this, but ...”

“I know.  The kids decided to play war and made Bij and Katie their hostages.  It didn't go over so well.”  Watching Daniel's eyebrows arch in curiosity, Jack used his lover's own words to quell his curiosity for the moment.  “It's a long story, but a good one.”

Daniel chuckled and then took a breath before explaining, “I didn't see the ponies swimming to the shore because Ross and Noa disappeared.  I was so panicked that all I did was look over a sea of people, trying to find them.  I never saw a single pony swim ashore.”

“You lost our daughter?”

“Yes,” Daniel admitted.  “Gawd, there were like forty-thousand people there and a slew of media, and I just ... I ... I lost her,” he confessed, ready to be on the receiving end of a lecture.  Instead, he felt a kiss on his cheek that led to a tender kiss on the lips.  “You're not ... mad?”

“Danny, we're a team.  As protective as we both are, even with our histories, we're going to ...”

“Mess up?” Daniel sighed, his blue eyes singing with remorse.  “Jack, I was so excited about the restoration.  One minute, I had an eye on Noa, and the next she was gone.  I don't even know how much time passed.”

“Love, it happens.  The important thing is that she's okay,” Jack put forth as he put his arm around his husband and drew him close.

“But it could have gone bad just as easily,” Daniel sighed as he leaned his head against the strong, comforting shoulder of his lover.

“No, I don't think so,” Jack replied, his hand rubbing gently against the upper arm of the other man.  “Noa said she thought you heard her when she asked to go off with Ross.”

“You already knew?” the younger man questioned, raising his head to look into his Love's eyes.

“Daniel, all she talked about for the last six hours were those ponies,” Jack reminded.  “Besides, I have complete faith in you,” he stated strongly.  ~You've come so far, Love.~

“Oh,” Daniel expressed a bit bashfully, nuzzling into Jack again.  “This feels so good.”

“Missed you, Angel.”

“Me, too, Jack, so much,” Daniel agreed.

After a moment of just enjoying the warmth each other's warmth, and the feeling it gave them both, Jack stated, “According to our happy princess, Ross took good care of her.  He's been there before, and he knew his way around.  She told me that he held her hand the entire time, except when she got to ride that pony, of course.”

“Why are you being so calm?”

“I probably wouldn't be if it had been me,” Jack responded.

“I thought my heart was going to jump out of my body,” Daniel admitted.  “There was a moment, when I was really scared, but I heard you ... shouting.”

“Daniel, I swear.  I haven't shouted once since you've been gone.”

Daniel chuckled lightly and clarified, “You shouted, in my head.  I was getting desperate to find Noa, and then I heard you, telling me to find our daughter, telling me she was waiting for me, and that you had faith in me.”

“That I do, Angel,” Jack affirmed tenderly before sharing a kiss with his husband.

“It kept me centered, Jack, in that worst moment; it gave me the kick in the butt I needed to keep going, too.”

“I'll be happy to kick your butt anytime you want, as long as I can do ... other things, too.”

“Gawd, you're incorrigible,” Daniel sighed.

“All's well that ends well, Angel.”

“A cliché, Babe?”

Jack laughed, “Let's just focus on our blessings,” and gave his Love a kiss on his temple.

“Like wonderful, understanding husbands,” Daniel replied, shifting enough so that he could place a kiss on his husband's stubbly cheek.

“And wonderful, sexy archaeologists,” Jack added.

“Plural?”

“Just one,” Jack laughed as he kissed his lover on the lips.

“I love you, Jack, and I missed you so much.”

“I love you, too,” Jack vowed.  He looked at the journal in his soulmate's lap and asked, “Just how determined are you to write in that thing tonight?”

“This thing?” Daniel asked, holding up the journal.  He pursed his lips and quickly placed it on the nightstand.  “I don't see anything.”

“That's my sexy archaeologist,” Jack crooned.

As the lovers enjoyed the passion of their hearts, souls, and bodies, in another room, Chenoa was having a sweet dream, remembering the gentle power and love of a tiny pony.  Who knew?  Maybe one day she'd own a pony, too, just like her friend, Ross.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
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