Jack O'Neill cast his line into the water and sat back in his camp chair. His eyes slid closed behind his sunglasses as he leaned his head back and stretched his legs out in front of him, enjoying the feel of the warm sun beating down on him. Fishing was the ultimate relaxation. It always amazed him that Carter, Daniel and Teal'c couldn't seem to understand that it was best when the fish weren't biting, because then there was no reason to move at all.
At the sound of another line plopping into the water, O'Neill opened one eye and peeked to his left. Jake was stretched out in his own chair, unconsciously mirroring O'Neill's lounging posture. As he watched, the teen pulled his line out of the water again and shifted in his seat, as though trying to find a more comfortable position.
"Something wrong?" O'Neill asked casually.
"No," Jake said, too quickly.
"Okay." O'Neill said. Waiting a few seconds, he asked, "How's Lindsay?"
Jake shot him an irritated glare that O'Neill couldn't really see behind the boy's sunglasses, but could deduce from the scowl on the rest of his face. "I thought we were observing fishing silence here."
O'Neill shrugged, "Fishing silence doesn't do much good when one of the fishermen is so tense, he keeps shifting around making noise."
Jake's scowl deepened, "Sorry."
"Why don't you just get it over with and tell me what's wrong, then you don't have to be sorry and we can both get back to enjoying our fishing silence."
Jake sat quietly for a few moments, pondering.
Jack waited silently, giving his younger self time to work through the implications of opening up to him. We have the strangest damn life, he thought as he waited. Who else on the planet would have to think about whether he should confide in himself and mean it literally.
"You won't tell anybody?" Jake finally asked suspiciously. "Nothing I say here is going into any reports or getting passed along to the shrink squad?"
"Yeah, right. Like I'd really want that. Don't forget letting them poke around in your head puts them in mine too," O'Neill responded blithely. "So just think of this as talking to yourself."
Jake considered that a moment. "Okay," he finally said with reluctance. He was silent a few more moments before saying, "Lindsay keeps calling me and trying to talk to me at school. She keeps thanking me for saving her. I mean, I keep telling her she never would have been snatched in the first place if it weren't for me, but she still thanks me for saving her. What's with that?"
"Maybe she actually likes you and is grateful you cared enough to make sure she was safe," O'Neill said. "It is possible you got the old O'Neill magic along with everything else."
"I'm so glad my life is the source of such amusement for you," Jake responded in a withering tone.
"My own life is such a huge source of amusement to me, why shouldn't everybody else's be too," O'Neill replied easily. "Besides," he added in a more serious tone. "I wasn't trying to be funny. Maybe she really does like you."
"Well, she shouldn't."
"Why not? Because it's complicated? It's only as complicated as you make it, Jake."
"Okay, if it's so easy, why don't you ask her out?"
O'Neill laughed, "Because she's a little young for me. I'd either get arrested for propositioning a minor or killed by her father for being a pervert."
"And why should any of that be different for me?" Jake asked pensively. "Just because my body is 16? I remember having sex for the first time over 30 years ago and lots of times after that. I remember being married to Sarah and making love with her. I remember being a prisoner of war and praying every night for just one last chance to see her again. I remember everything that you remember up until a little over a year ago. Doesn't that make me too old for Lindsay too, no matter what my body looks like. And doesn't it make me some kind of pervert for even thinking about wanting to be with her?
"And how can I possibly have a relationship with her if every single thing I tell her is a lie? I can't even tell her my real name, for crying out loud! And how could I ever let her get into a relationship with me without knowing the truth. Could you imagine how she'd react if she ever found out? Don't you think she'd be totally freaked to find out she was dating a guy who was really almost 50? Especially if she ever found out that guy is, well, you? How creepy is that?"
"Hey! Carter said one of the girls in the bathroom thought I was hot," O'Neill said defensively. He still couldn't see the teen's eyes behind his sunglasses, but he could tell by the expression on the rest of his face that his eyes were rolling furiously behind the lenses. He grinned to himself but remained quiet for a few minutes, pondering the boy's questions.
"I can understand outright lying or not telling the whole truth being an issue. I'm sure you remember that Sarah and I had some pretty serious arguments about that – and that was just my sudden mysterious disappearances on ops, nothing like the kind of stuff you're dealing with. I can't tell you what to do about Lindsay, Jake. Honestly, I don't know what you should do about that.
"Hell, it's kinda funny to admit now, but I've been a little jealous that one of the perks of starting over as a teenager is that you'll have another 30 or 40 years to fly. You'll get to be one of the first pilots behind the stick of the X304 or one of its successors, while I'm stuck rotting behind some desk. My knees are already bad and will probably get worse in the next couple years from all the times they've been banged around. My eyes aren't as sharp as they used to be. I keep thinking it wouldn't be so bad to have a young, strong body again. I guess I never really thought about what the rest of it would be like. Maybe I should reconsider Harlan's offer and get myself one of those nice robot bodies, huh."
"You were jealous of me?" Jake asked incredulously. "Hell, all I've wanted for the last year was to have my old life and my old body back."
"Be grateful for small favors. I can tell you without a doubt that we're going through a pretty crappy chapter in the Jack O'Neill story."
"Yeah, well, don't expect me to throw you a pity party. At least you have people you can bitch to when things suck. When I'm having a bad day, who can I tell? It's not like I can go have a beer with the guys on the track team and tell them about the nightmare I had about being pinned down in a firefight or having a goa'uld inside my body."
"Yeah, that's a tough one," O'Neill said. "You've got me there, too. I guess my life isn't as rotten as I thought it was."
"Well I'm so glad I could help with that," Jake said sarcastically.
"You're a ray of sunshine, kid. So what are you going to do about Lindsay?"
Jake sighed heavily. "I don't know. She's been really nice to me, so I don't want to be mean to her, but I can't see how this could ever work out and I don't want to lead her on. She's really special," he added regretfully.
"No way to just be friends?"
"Just friends? You mean like you and Carter have been 'just friends' all these years?"
"Yeah, I think that's a pretty good analogy."
Jake snickered, "Yeah, like I really want to do that again."
"It's not like it's a life-time commitment. You graduate at the end of this year, right? What are the odds you'll ever see her again after that? Do you really want to spend the rest of the time you have left at school having her be mad at you for being a jerk to her?"
"I don't know," Jake said. "I'll have to think about it some more."
"And that's why we have fishing silence," Jack said evenly. "But before it's invoked again, have you decided what you're going to do about Special Forces' offer for you to join as soon as you graduate?"
"I'm still thinking about that, too," Jake said before turning the tables on him. "Speaking of Carter, what are you going to do about her?"
"What do you mean?"
"Hey, you can't snow me, remember. I know you almost as well as you know yourself."
O'Neill looked at Jake intently for a moment, then gave a careless shrug. "There's nothing to do. She's engaged -- to a cop named Pete Shanahan – who seems to be a good match for her."
"He's a good guy. He makes her happy. They're coming over later with Teal'c and Daniel so you'll get a chance to meet him. You'll see."
"You're a better guy and you'd make her happier," Jake responded stubbornly.
"I'm not so sure about that, but it doesn't matter. I'm still her superior officer and there's no getting around that."
"Military rules suck."
"You're not military. If you think I'm so perfect for her why don't you ask her out? You are basically me after all."
Jake gave him another glare, "Now there's an idea that really sucks."
Are you sure you aren't really 16. You use the word 'suck' an awful lot."
"Sorry. Habit from trying to blend in."
"Anyway, I'm doing just fine. I've got dinner plans with Linda next week. And if I ever get lonely there's always Kynthia on Argos or Laira on Edora who both invited me to spend my golden years with them. I've got lots of options."
"Yeah, they're both mighty fine ladies as I recall," Jake replied with a mischievous smile.
"Hey, watch yourself, kid."
"My body may be 16, but I've still got most of your memories, and those are some mighty fine memories."
"True, but having the rest of my memories must suck big time," O'Neill said earning a half-hearted grin from the boy.
"It's got its good moments and its bad moments," Jake responded nonchalantly. "But I expect some of it'll come in handy," he added with an impish grin and a twinkle in his eye. "Anyway," he said, returning to their earlier topic, "just make sure you don't get yourself killed before you exercise one of those options. It's kinda nice to know there's somebody out there I can call when there's a problem. It's hard sometimes to know all the people you know, but to not be able to contact any of them because I can't explain who I am."
"That's pretty rough, kid," O'Neill said sympathetically. "I guess I never really thought about how tough that would be for you. For what it's worth, I guess it's not as weird as I thought it would be spending time with you. Don't get me wrong, it's still in the ballpark of normal high school weird, but it doesn't reach the level of Buffy weird. And there are advantages now that I think about it. After all, I know you like the important things -- like fishing and the Simpsons."
"So it's okay if I call again if any more weird people show up at school."
"As long as it's not at 3:30 in the morning. And it doesn't just have to be about that, it can be about other stuff too."
"That's cool. Thanks, man."
They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes before Jake said, "Can I ask you one more thing?"
"Only if I don't have to answer if I don't like the question."
Jake rolled his eyes, "Gee, how did I know that's what you were going to say."
O'Neill smiled, "What is it?"
"It's about the Special Forces thing. I'm sorta thinking about doing something else, but I'm not sure it's the right thing for me." He sat silently for a few minutes gathering his thoughts before continuing. "Have you ever wished you understood more than half of what Carter and Daniel talk about?"
"It's more like a third now that they're finding all that alien crap," O'Neill said with a shrug, "and yeah, sometimes I do."
Jake looked at him intently. "Don't put yourself down like that, Jack. You're forgetting who you're talking to. We're not stupid."
O'Neill's eyebrow went up at the vehemence of the teen's outburst, but, realizing he'd hit a sore spot, he nodded and responded contritely, "You're right. I'm sorry. We're not stupid, I just do a good imitation of it sometimes, especially around those two."
"Do you ever think about what you'd do differently if you had the chance? I've been thinking a lot about that time Dr. Carter came through the quantum mirror. Her life was so much different than our Carter's because she did just one thing differently -- she didn't join the military."
O'Neill thought about it for a few minutes. "I am who I am," he finally responded, "and I'm a little too old to change my ways now. I don't waste my time thinking about what could have been if I'd done this or that differently. Maybe in some people's eyes, and even my own sometimes, my life is a bit on the sucky side, but what I do is important, and it makes a difference. And I get to spend my days with some pretty interesting people, some of whom I even respect despite the fact that I don't understand what they're talking about half the time."
Jake gave a weak smile at that, but O'Neill continued. "You, on the other hand, are in a very interesting position. You know a lot of what I know and remember most of what I remember, so it's crazy for you to have to go back through training and endure all the other crap I've already lived through just because you have the body of a 16 year old. You've already been there, done that with the military thing. So it would be totally natural for you to want to explore other options.
"And you have to remember that once you decide to go down the military road, it will be very hard for you to turn back. We've done 30 years in the military already and once you go back in, it'll probably be another straight 30 or more for you, especially if we aren't able to eliminate the goa'uld threat. Think of this time when you have options as a holiday, like that time Ma'chello took over Daniel's body. Use it to do the things you want to do, to explore the things you want to learn more about and to just have some fun before you have to get back to the grind."
O'Neill's voice went quiet but firm. "Jake, you may have been created from my DNA and given my memories, but you're your own person now. I don't expect you to follow in my footsteps and lead your life exactly like I led mine. In fact, I hope you'll try out some new things and not just do what I did because that's what I did." O'Neill stopped, looking confused. "Did that make any sense?"
"Yeah, it actually did," Jake said with a laugh, and seemed to relax a bit. "I think I want to go to college," he finally blurted out. "And I don't mean the Air Force Academy, I mean a regular college."
O'Neill's eyebrow rose slightly at that, since his own feelings about attending any type of higher educational institution were ambivalent at best. "Then that's what you should do," he responded. "And if the government balks at paying the bills or tries to pressure you because they were counting on you going with the program and going straight into the service, let me know. I've got a little nest egg put away that can help with the cost."
"You'd really do that for me?" Jake asked, clearly surprised.
O'Neill shrugged again. "Daniel was trying to make a point by telling us this stuff about twins in the briefing last week, and I figure that in a twisted sort of way you're like my twin brother, only younger," he stopped, looking confused again. "Anyway, it made more sense when he explained it. But the upshot is family helps family. Just make sure you remember that in case I need a favor some day."
"Okay," Jake said quietly, looking away so his older self wouldn't see him blinking away the wetness that had suddenly sprung up at the corners of his eyes. "It would be cool to know I have somebody out there to talk to when things get too weird."
O'Neill deliberately kept his eyes straight ahead and his face completely composed as he added. "Well, there is a downside, you know."
"Like what?" the boy asked suspiciously. "It's not like I'm ever going to forget your birthday or anything like that."
"That's true," O'Neill said, still deadpan, but mentally kicking himself that now he was going to have to remember to do something for the kid on their birthday. Or would the kid's birthday be the day he'd actually been grown and put in O'Neill's place? Or would it be the birthday they'd made up for him? Those questions started his head aching, so he decided to put them aside for the time being and return to the subject at hand.
"Since we don't have a lot of biological family left, I've sort of expanded the definition a little. Daniel's an orphan, and with his grandfather Nick still communing with the giant aliens, he needs someone to keep him out of trouble. Jacob is off with the To'kra and Carter can't really confide that much in her brother, so she needs people she can talk to about all the weird alien shit. And with Ry'ac married and off on his own now, Teal'c doesn't really have anybody either. So we all sort of take care of each other. So, that means you'll be stuck with them too."
"Yeah, that's pretty tough," Jake said, trying to hide how overwhelmed he felt at having gone in seconds from being totally alone in an alien-feeling world to having some of the people he cared about most back in his life.
"Yeah, I know. It's pretty freaky," O'Neill said maintaining his facade of seriousness as Jake stifled a laugh.
"So, if I'm not available for any reason," O'Neill continued, "or if you need something you don't think I can help with, you can call any of them -- any time."
"Okay," Jake said, "I think I can handle that. I'll just try to forget that Carter and Daniel are scientists."
"That's how I handle it," O'Neill said somberly. "And there's one more thing."
Jake rolled his eyes impatiently, "What?"
"Once you get to college and use that brain of yours to figure out what it is Daniel and Carter are talking about the other half of the time, I want you to start sending me stuff I can drop on them at briefings so I can keep them on their toes. I love seeing that 'I didn't know he knew that' look on their faces."
Jake laughed. "If you promise to send me the footage from the security cams of the expressions on their faces when you say it, I guess I'm in."
"Cool. "Now I think it's time to return to fishing silence mode," O'Neill said.
They both leaned their heads back and closed their eyes as they stretched their legs out in front of them. Two fishing lines plopped simultaneously into the still water as their owners lazed on the shore, enjoying the warmth of the sunswept day and fervently hoping there wouldn't be any nibbles on the lines that would shatter the tranquility and require them to move.
Suddenly Jake's head popped up again. "Wait a minute. What Linda do you have dinner plans with next week? And the answer better not be Linda Schiler, my principal! I was wondering what the two of you had your heads together about for so long on Wednesday night after the recruiting visit. I'm serious, Jack. You are not dating my principal! At least, not as long as I'm still going to that school!"
O'Neill's only response was a self-satisfied smirk.