A Little Talk with Myself
by Maureen Thayer
Content Warning: Mild Profanity
Spoilers: Fragile Balance, Heroes
I couldn't believe my eyes when I came down the steps of the high school and saw him waiting out front. It was the first time I'd seen my older self, the real Jack O'Neill, since the day he dropped me off for my first day at high school. It had been decided that it would be best if all ties to him and my old life, his life, were severed.
As I studied him more closely, something about his posture made me tense up. Something was wrong. As I got closer, I saw it, a look in his eyes that I knew all too well. I'd seen it more than once in the past while looking in the mirror. 'Not my past, his past,' my mind promptly told me. But that little detail didn't matter right now, for I knew without being told that someone had died. I also knew that it could only be one of three people that would cause that expression on the face of the elder Jack O'Neill.
A sick feeling began to coil in my stomach. I didn't want to hear this. I didn't want to know that one of them was dead. But I couldn't pretend that, if I turned and ran away in the opposite direction, the cruel reality he was about to tell me wouldn't exist. There was no hiding from it.
As I came up to him, I decided not to beat around the bush. "Who," I asked. 'Please let me be wrong,' I begged whomever might be listening. It turned out that I was.
"Janet," the elder Jack O'Neill replied in a soft, sad voice.
Stunned, I just gaped at him. Doc was dead? An image came into my mind of the woman who had possessed more fire, passion and determination than seemed possible to pack into such a small body. How could she be dead?
"Let's go someplace we can talk," Jack said.
Almost numbly, I got in the car with him. As we drove, I felt the sorrow take hold. Damn. Throughout all these years, years of pain, and dying and death, Doc had been there, someone we could always count on, always rely on to be right there beside us, fighting to either keep us alive or bring us back from the dead. It seemed inconceivable that she was gone.
Jack drove to a quiet place out of town, someplace where there was no danger of us being overheard. He got out of the car and leaned against the hood, hands buried deep in his pockets, eyes on the ground. I joined him, also leaning against the jeep.
"How?" I asked.
"SG-13 ran into some trouble with Jaffa on a mission. Airman Wells was badly wounded. The doc came through with us on the rescue mission. A Jaffa got past us to where she was treating Wells. Staff blast to the chest. She . . . died instantly."
My eyes closed tightly. 'Damn.'
"Carter's a mess," Jack told me. "She and the doc were pretty close, you know. She gave the eulogy. It was . . . it was a good one."
Eulogy? Then this didn't just happen. They'd already had the memorial service. It angered me that my older self hadn't considered that I might have wanted to attend. After all, I cared a lot about the doc, too, even if I am just a copy of the real Jack O'Neill.
As if reading my mind, Jack said, "I'd have told you sooner so that you could go if you wanted to, but I got hit, too, and didn't get out of the infirmary until a few hours before the service."
My anger dribbled away. "What about Cassie?"
"She's hanging on. She didn't go to the service at the SGC, but there was a public funeral the next day that people not involved in the program could attend. Cassie was . . . well, you can probably guess how she was. She's lost three parents in her life now, two mothers."
'The poor kid,' was all I could think. "And Daniel? How's he taking it? He and the doc were pretty close, too."
Silence, complete, utter silence. I turned to Jack, but he was looking away, and I couldn't see his face. That's when I got scared, an irrational thought screaming through my brain. What if this was my older self's stupid way of telling me that Daniel was dead, too, or that he was seriously injured, on the brink of death?
Jack let out a slow breath. "He saw it happen," he murmured, staring once again at the ground.
At the same time as relief washed through me that Daniel was okay, it hit me what that must have done to him.
"Crap," I cursed softly.
"He was right beside her, helping her with Wells."
'Shit,' I cursed again, only silently this time. I could only imagine what Daniel must be going through right now. "I bet that's done a real number on him," I said, speaking my thoughts aloud.
"Yeah, probably so."
My head jerked in the direction of the elder O'Neill. "What do you mean 'probably so'? Don't you know for sure?" When he didn't say anything and kept his gaze focused downward, I suddenly knew what this meant. "You stupid son of a bitch. You haven't talked to him, have you."
Jack glared at me angrily. "You know, I didn't like it much when Daniel called me that, but I made allowances because he was upset and hurting at the time. I don't have to take it from you."
"I don't give a damn," I snapped. "I cannot believe you. After everything that's happened, you're still pulling the same crap, still so busy pretending you're okay that you refuse to talk to anyone about it, refusing be there for anybody because you're afraid they'll see how much you're hurting, too. You did it after Daniel died and ascended, and, now, you're doing it again."
Jack pushed quickly away from the car and whirled about toward me. "You have no right to lecture me. You are me, you little hypocrite!"
"Yeah, I was, but I'm not any longer. All we share now is the same DNA and the memories of the first fifty years of Jack O'Neill's life. Unlike you, I've had to start all over again, literally. Unlike you, I don't have SG-1 anymore, I don't have my friends anymore, not Daniel, not Sam, not Teal'c. You think it's been easy? I'm a fifty-one-year-old man in a sixteen-year-old body, and, though I . . . you . . . whatever, may have acted juvenile from time to time in the past, you try making friends with a bunch of teenaged kids who don't know anything of life except school, cars, girls, and hanging with their friends. And forget about getting a girlfriend. I thought I could. Hell, that's one of the reasons why I decided to go back and redo the whole high school thing. But those thoughts go right out of your head when you think about the fact that they're all young enough to be your daughters. Oh, I know that some guys get off on that sort of thing, but I was never into statutory rape. And, yes, I know that, technically, it wouldn't be that since my body's now sixteen years old, but my mind isn't."
Jack had turned away, apparently not wanting to face me as he was told about the misery of his clone's life.
"Since this," I waved at myself, "happened, I've had a lot of time to think about stuff, about a whole lot of things, and I realized that I'd been an idiot all these years. Apparently, you still are one."
Jack spun back around. "You don't know a damn thing about it," he snarled.
"Then tell me! Make me understand. I'm you, for cryin' out loud! If there's anyone on this entire planet that you can be honest with, it's me! Why haven't you talked to Daniel? Why are you shutting him out yet again?"
"Because it was my fault!" Jack yelled. "Because I'm glad it wasn't—" His voice broke off, but I knew what he'd been about to say.
"You're glad it wasn't him," I finished.
Jack walked away a few paces. "I saw the Jaffa who did it, or at least I'm pretty sure it was him. He was sneaking around our front line. Maybe he saw Daniel and the doc and figured they were easy targets, or maybe he was planning on getting around behind us and get us in a crossfire and just happened to run into them. I don't know. The point is that I saw him, and, like an idiot, instead of warning someone else, somebody who was closer and could have had a clear shot at him, I decided to play John Wayne and get him myself. I broke cover and got hit not two seconds later. Nobody else saw him, so nobody stopped him until it was too late."
I didn't say anything, understanding how he felt. Guilt was something we both carried around a lot of, and, if it had been me in his position, I'd feel the same way. After all, despite what I'd said earlier, we were the same person.
"When I woke up in the infirmary and found out that she was dead, I couldn't believe it," Jack continued. "And then I suddenly remembered that Daniel had been with her, that he was right there, and . . . I was scared. When I was told that he was okay, I was so damn relieved, and the thought went though my head. . . ."
"Thank God it was her rather than him," I guessed, knowing that's the thought that would have come to my mind at that moment. I also knew how I'd feel after having that thought: ashamed.
"The doc and I didn't always get along; there were lots of times when we butted heads, but she was a good woman, a good doctor, and . . . and a good friend."
"Yes, she was," I agreed softly, thinking about all those times when I'd tangled with that beautiful, compassionate, stubborn little Napoleonic power monger. It was so hard to believe that she was gone. I felt the ache grow deeper in my chest.
"You need to talk to him, Jack," I told my older self. "You know what this is doing to him. He's probably thinking that it would have been better if it had been him instead of her."
"Yes, he would be thinking that, wouldn't he. That's just like Daniel. He's probably even got the misplaced guilt thing going on, thinking that he should have seen that Jaffa before it was too late."
"Oh, you can bet on that."
Jack turned around and looked at me. "We both know him all too well."
"He's our best friend, Jack." I paused, then corrected myself. "Your best friend."
There was a long moment of silence. "So, uh . . . you going to be okay?" Jack finally asked.
I forced myself to smile. "Hey, this is me we're talking about. You know better than anyone that it would take a lot more than having to suffer through the teenage years again to defeat me. Besides, there are some advantages. At first I didn't see it, but having a younger body can be pretty cool. My knees don't hurt anymore," I smiled for real, "and there is the whole extra vitality thing."
"Hey. Nothing's wrong with my vitality," Jack objected strongly.
"Uh huh. Sure there isn't."
"Little pipsqueak," Jack grumbled.
"Old fogey," I shot back.
"You know, I could kill you, go back to having just the one and only original Jack O'Neill in the galaxy."
"You'd have to catch me first," I said smugly, knowing that, with his bad knees and my younger, more agile body, there's no way he'd catch me.
"Smart ass," Jack growled.
"Look who's talking."
Jack shook his head, almost smiling. "You do have a point there." He grew serious again, looking at his watch. "I need to get back."
I nodded, and we got in the car. Jack took me to my house, which was in a rural area where there were few people around to question why a teenage boy was living by himself. The people who had been assigned to be my keepers came by twice a week to make sure that I was doing okay and to take me shopping for necessities. I would be so happy when I could get my driver's license and not be dependent on others for that. I'd also be happy when I was out of high school. I wanted to go into the Air Force again, but the higher ups in the Stargate Program had told me that would not be a good idea. The chances were too great that I'd eventually bump into someone who knew the older O'Neill and see the uncanny resemblance. Though, as a sixteen-year-old, I could pretend to be Jack O'Neill's nephew, that probably wouldn't work in another fifteen years or so. The resemblance would be too great. Besides, there are people I know in the military who are well aware that Jack doesn't have any nephews. And then there was the whole DNA thing, too. I wouldn't be able to get around the fact that the DNA of all military personnel are put on file, and if, for some reason, someone ever checked my DNA, it would come up in the records as belonging to Jack O'Neill. Of course, the same would also be true of my fingerprints.
I had decided instead to become a private pilot. I was already making plans to take lessons, figuring that I could solo in record time. After all, how many other sixteen-year-olds had thousands of hours of flight time under their belt, many of those in combat situations? I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to do with my license. The truth was that I really wouldn't have to work for a living. The U.S. Air Force would continue to give me plenty enough money to survive on for the rest of my life. But I'm not the kind of guy to just sit back on my butt and let others pay my way. Whatever I did decide to do, I knew that it would be a different life from what I'd had before. I glanced over at my older self. No, what he had before, what he still had.
Was I jealous of him? Hell, yes. I wanted what he had. I wanted my life back, my friends back. But that wasn't going to happen, so I had to live with it and move on. I could imagine what Daniel would be saying right now if he were here and could hear me thinking, probably something about all the new possibilities my life had to offer.
Just then, we pulled up in front of my house. Jack stayed in the car as I got out.
"So, you're going to talk to him, right?" I asked through the open door. "If you don't, you're an even bigger idiot than I thought we were."
"Yes, I'll talk to him," Jack said, though his voice made it clear that he wasn't looking forward to it.
"Tell him . . . tell him that I miss him, okay? Carter and Teal'c, too."
Jack met my eyes. "I will." He smiled just the tiniest bit. "Take care of yourself . . . Jack."
"You, too, Jack." I started to shut the door, but paused. "Don't ever forget how important friends are. Take it from someone who knows how much it hurts when you lose them."
Jack searched my eyes for a long moment, then nodded. I shut the car door and watched him drive away until he'd disappeared from sight. Alone, I went to my house and got one of the beers that I'd managed to con someone into buying for me. Beer in hand, I sat on the couch and gave a silent, somber toast to the caring, passionate woman who had saved the life of Jack O'Neill so many times and whom I would never have the chance to repay.
"Goodbye, Janet. I'm going to miss you."