Devon, Caitlin, and Dr. Withers belong to me.
Thanks to Karen Evans for reading behind me.
I admit, the idea of McQueen with a baby popped up on the JMDG-L several months, which started me thinking (we're treading in dangerous water now). Kyril also helped with her posts on the subject--my thanks to all of the members. I have no qualms in telling you that I brought out a sentimental side of McQueen that's probably buried so deep even he may not know it's there--but it is.
As McQueen crouched in the underbrush surrounding the demolished colony, he thought he heard a sound. "Damnit." He was angry--royally pissed would be a better description. Taking fire, the squadron had split up, and he was separated from the rest of the 58th. They all knew the coordinates of their LZ, knew the extraction was in 5 hours, but it worried him to have them wandering around out there. He looked up, knowing that somewhere beyond the dense cloud cover, Lt. Col. Devon Matthews and her Fighting Tigers were playing patty-cake with the Chig squadrons that had destroyed the families living here.
The Saratoga had received the distress beacon, shocked to find that human colonists had found their way to this planet. No one knew they had been living on Planet XR-232, they hadn't bothered to inform anyone of their plans. The colonists had been looking for a place where they could found their own society--try to rebuild a new, better Earth.
"Yeah, they really succeeded." McQueen shook his head.
There it was again, that soft mewling sound. McQueen moved closer to the wreckage of what looked to be a house, keeping his rifle trained for enemy movement. Rounding a corner, he stopped short, finding himself staring at a woman who had an antiquated rifle pointed at his chest. Her eyes were wide, fear making her hands shake. When she saw he was human, she lowered the gun, sobs rising from her throat.
"Thank God, thank God."
McQueen knelt beside her and began checking her for injuries. "Are you hurt badly? Can you walk?"
She shook her head. "No, I can't go anywhere." Even as she spoke, McQueen saw the pool of blood she sat in, noticing the gaping hole in her side. Shifting, she leaned over and picked up a bundle and handed it to him. He took it without thinking, almost dropping it when he felt it moving. Pulling back the top layer, he found himself staring into baby blue eyes. Black puffs of hair escaped from the material, and a little pink mouth formed an "O". McQueen held the baby and stared, almost in terror, at the woman in front of him.
"Please, I'm not going to make it, and I have to know that you'll take care of her."
"Ma'am, I'll get you out of here."
"I'm a nurse...I know I'm not leaving this place." She looked over toward a barn-like structure, and McQueen followed her gaze, seeing what remained of her husband. She looked back at McQueen. "Please..." there were tears in her voice that matched the ones slipping down her cheeks, "...you have to take her and leave. I was praying someone would hear the beacon and come."
"I don't know what to do with a baby."
She pulled another bundle towards her. "Here's some formula and bottles, just pour some in and she'll eat till she's full. There are diapers and clothes--oh, and her stuffed bunny. When she cries, she's either hungry, wet, or both. There's also a picture of us, as a family, when she asks where she came from. She's really a good baby." She reached and stroked the soft hair--the little face turning towards the sound of its mother's voice and offering a toothless grin. She sobbed again, and the baby's forehead began to crinkle in protest. "There, there, little one. You're going to be fine."
She looked back at McQueen. "Her name is Caitlin Morrison...we called her Caty-did."
Even as he stared at her, he heard the rumble of enemy fire and knew that the Chigs were closing in on their position. She looked toward the sound, knowing what was coming. "Go...." She stroked her hand over Caitlin's cheek, kissing her forehead and pressing her cheek to the soft hair. "I love you, sweet girl." Then she looked at McQueen "Go...." she yelled.
McQueen gathered the bundles and crept away, looking back to see the young woman firing at the Chig patrols that closed in on her. Turning his back on the carnage, he stole through the forest cover.
It took him three hours to reach the LZ. He had stopped when he was a safe enough distance from the house to make a sort of carryall for Caitlin. It was kind of like a sling, crossing the front of his uniform, and he placed her in there so that she would ride next to his chest. He'd read somewhere that you put a wind-up clock in a box with a puppy because the sound simulated the mother's heartbeat--he hoped carrying Caitlin close to him would lull her to sleep so that she would be quiet.
Reaching the LZ, she began to whimper. Moving to sit under a tree that afforded some cover and a vantage point of the area, McQueen removed Caitlin from the sling and propped her up in his lap. She watched him with great interest, her eyes following his every move as he got out the formula and poured some into a bottle, grabbing his finger and pulling it to her mouth. He couldn't get her in a good position, and her whimpers grew into cries. In desperation, he turned her around and propped her against his chest, holding the bottle to her mouth with one hand and his rifle, safety off, in the other. After a while, he noticed that she wasn't sucking much. Looking down, he saw that her eyes were drifting closed. McQueen vaguely remembered hearing something about burping babies, but had never paid much attention and hoped that she would be okay. Shifting her back into the sling, he leaned close to Caitlin and she rewarded him with a long burp and a smile. McQueen closed his eyes and shuddered as the smell of digested formula wafted over him.
As Caitlin drifted off the sleep, one tiny hand grasped his finger, unwilling to let go. McQueen studied her face, amazed to find that it had character. He'd never really been around human babies, so he'd never known that they had distinct personalities, even this young. He looked at the hand wrapped around his finger, rubbed his thumb across the top of her hand, then rested his fingers against the downy softness of her cheek.
When the WildCards arrived, there was no time for questions. Their ride showed up under Chig fire and they hastily made their way aboard. Lifting off, they rose through the atmosphere with the Tigers providing cover. Walking to the back of the hold, McQueen sat down, carefully folding back the protective material to find that Caitlin had slept through it all. Taking off a glove, he carefully stroked her cheek and watched as her mouth made little sucking noises.
Landing aboard the Saratoga, McQueen quickly made his way out of the ISSCV, rushing past Devon who was heading towards him.
"Hey, Ty, what's the rush? Are you okay?" Devon's voice took on a level of concern.
McQueen stopped and turned around. "I've got to get her to the medical bay and make sure she's okay."
"Who's okay?" Devon moved closer.
He folded back the material and showed Devon what he'd brought back. Those lovely little eyes were open, watching her surroundings. When she caught sight of Devon's braid, she reached for it, her fingers entwining in the red hair.
"What an angel." Devon looked up at McQueen. "May I?"
"Sure, you probably know more about this than I do."
Devon removed Caitlin from the sling and held her up close so that she could rest her cheek against Caitlin's hair. She pressed Caitlin's dress down over her legs and stroked a chubby little thigh. Inhaling, she smelled that baby smell and sighed.
"This is what I'm fighting for." Looking at McQueen over the baby's head, she smiled. "Trust you to bring home something interesting. What's her name and where did you find her?"
McQueen ushered them down the corridor toward the med bay as they talked. "I came across what was left of a house and found a woman there who was dying. She handed me the baby and gave me this stuff to take care of her. We heard enemy fire, I took the baby and headed out." He stopped for a moment and looked at Devon, sadness crossing his face. "The last I saw of her, she was firing on the Chigs that were coming in." McQueen tapped Caitlin on the nose. "This little one is named Caitlin, Caty-did for short."
By the time they'd finished talking, McQueen and Devon were in front of the double doors that led to the med bay. Reluctantly, they handed the baby to the medical personnel to ensure that she hadn't suffered any injuries. Dr. Withers ushered them out, telling them to get cleaned up and to get something to eat, that he would let them know she was okay.
Meeting at the officer's mess after their showers, Devon and McQueen sat for a moment, enjoying the peace after avoiding death another day. They listened to their squadrons bickering over some new game, tuning it out because they knew it wouldn't develop into anything ugly.
The ship-wide intercom squawked on, asking McQueen to report to the med bay. Jumping up, he rushed out with Devon on his heels. The rest of the squadrons followed when they noticed that both of the COs had left, wondering what medical emergency had occurred that necessitated McQueen's presence.
As they got closer, McQueen and Devon heard the wails. Walking in, they found Dr. Withers trying to bounce Caitlin to no avail. McQueen stood there, watching the doctor as he asked him if she was wet or hungry.
Dr. Withers threw him an exasperated look and held Caitlin out to McQueen. The good doctor had immediately picked up on the fact that Caitlin stopped fussing when McQueen came into view. "Do I look like a pediatrician?"
Taking Caitlin from him, McQueen put her up on his shoulder and hesitantly patted her back. "Okay, Caty-did, what's the problem?" Reaching out, Caitlin grabbed hold of McQueen's flightsuit and wouldn't let go.
Devon smiled at the sight of McQueen and the baby. "Looks like she knows a good thing when she sees it."
Grabbing a bottle that had been made up, Devon handed it to McQueen. "Maybe she's hungry too."
Devon helped him flip her around so that she was reclining in his arms. He slid the bottle into her mouth, smiling as she made cooing sounds around the nipple. Slowly, he began to walk the floor with her.
Reaching the med bay doors, the squadrons opened it, almost falling over themselves when they saw McQueen feeding a baby. They crowded around, each of them touching the baby, exclaiming how beautiful she was. Caitlin took all of it in, her big eyes looking at all them, but her hands curved around McQueen's hand and held tight.
When she was finished with the bottle, McQueen removed it, placing it on a bedside table. Devon caught the "what do I do now" glance and made her way through the crowd. Grabbing a towel, she threw it over her shoulder and held out her hands to McQueen. "May I?"
He handed her over, somewhat reluctantly Devon noticed with an inward smile. Placing Caitlin up on her shoulder, she patted and rubbed the baby's back for a few minutes, chuckling when she let out a resounding burp. "There we go. I think she could pass for a Marine." Looking into the faces of the young pilots who surrounded them, Devon laughed. "She puts some of you to shame." The rest of them laughed.
Caitlin started getting fidgety, a sure sign that sleep was heading her way. Devon kissed her on the head and handed her back to McQueen. "I think this is your department."
Rounding up the pilots, Devon herded them out as they complained. "C'mon, guys, she'll be here tomorrow. You can play with her then. Let her get some sleep."
Devon returned an hour later to find McQueen reclining on a bed with Caitlin curled up on his chest. Tiptoeing over, she placed a kiss on his cheek, as she stroked the baby's back. "Can't put her down...or won't?"
McQueen found it hard to put into words what this baby had done to him. Even with the 'Cards--worrying about them making it back from missions--he knew they could take care of themselves. This little girl was totally dependent on him for everything, and it scared him. Caitlin looked at him with complete trust, which amazed McQueen to no end. All of his life, he had to earn the trust of people--nothing was given automatically. None of that mattered to Caitlin. She knew he was there, a smile lighting up her face when she caught sight of him--and when he moved away from her, the whimpers would start. He wondered if this was what it was really like to be a father--the worry, the nervousness, the excitement.
McQueen watched as Devon continued to stroke Caitlin's back, a wistful smile on her face. "Why didn't you have any?"
Devon's hand stopped for a moment, then continued its rubbing movement. "I can't have children. When I was 14, I caught a virus that damaged my uterus and it had to be removed. Now I just have nieces and nephews to spoil..." Her voice was neutral, the words resigned, "...and Tigers."
Straightening, Devon put her hands on her hips and stared at McQueen. "Is she staying with you, or is she staying with me?"
"What?" McQueen carefully sat up, careful not to disturb the baby's sleep.
"Dr. Withers would prefer that she stay with one of us because of the virus that's going around and all the patients in here who've come down with it." Devon stepped back as McQueen got off the bed. She watched his face as he struggled with the question--wanting to keep Caitlin with him, but not feeling he had a reason.
Devon gathered Caitlin's stuff, as well as some blankets, putting them in a bag before she answered. "I think she should stay with you, since she knows you so well. It would probably comfort her when she wakes up tonight."
"Wakes up tonight?" McQueen looked confused.
"She'll get hungry, need her diaper changed." Devon held the door open as McQueen walked through. They were silent as they walked down the corridor toward McQueen's quarters. People stared, some gaping outright, at the sight of the stern Colonel McQueen cuddling a baby in his arms.
Arriving at his hatch, McQueen followed Devon in and sat at his desk as she assembled a pallet on the floor for Caitlin. Looking around, Devon decided everything was as it should be.
Leaning down, she kissed McQueen gently on the lips before imparting a few last words. "Don't forget to put Caitlin on her side when you lie her down. I'll see you in the morning."
McQueen jerked awake as Caitlin began to cry. For a moment, he couldn't figure out what the howling was until he'd adjusted his eyes and saw her lying on the floor. Quickly picking her up, he held her to his chest as his hand automatically checked her diaper. Finding it wet, he removed the wet diaper and wiped her off before placing a dry diaper on her. Noticing the little sucking motions she seemed to make when she was hungry--at least that's what had happened before--McQueen fixed a bottle and cradled Caitlin in one arm as he placed the nipple of the bottle in her mouth. Sitting on his bunk, he leaned against the bulkhead to get into a more comfortable position.
For the most part, Caitlin kept her eyes closed as she ate, opening them occasionally to make sure McQueen was still there. McQueen had to bite his lip to keep from laughing as Caitlin made little scratching movements with the hand that rested against his chest. When she was finished, McQueen put Caitlin back on the pallet, making sure she was propped up on her side, before returning to his bunk. For a while, he laid on his side and stared at the baby lying on his floor. Shifting to his back, he fell asleep.
When he awakened, he tried to be quiet as he tiptoed around his quarters getting ready. He had been afraid the shower would waken her, but he returned to find that she was still asleep, her thumb tucked in her mouth. As McQueen put on his boots and laced them, he looked up to find her eyes watching him, a toothless grin spread across her face.
For the first time in his life, Tyrus Cassius McQueen was hopelessly, completely in love.
The sequel to this story is Goodbye, Baby also avaliable at this site.
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