To: Happy Christmas, karenbear.
"--know, I know. This is like coming home to your worst nightmare," Rodney said, smiling at John with open affection and ill-concealed concern. "Things got crazy, as usual."
They were standing in a large, moonlit room John had never seen before, a room strewn with laptops, gadgets, paperwork, empty chocolate-bar wrappers, and bits of discarded clothing, including what looked like two tac vests and a moldy towel. Inexplicably, his Johnny Cash poster was hung on the far wall, but defaced with a This Way Up arrow pointing towards Johnny's head.
A small, cat-like creature made a plaintive kawerrring sound as it wove sinuously around John's ankles. John frowned down at it in confusion.
"Seriously, stop it now." Rodney took a step closer, and John could see that he looked old and weary in the dim light; his hair thinner than ever, his face rounder, with a definite double-chin, but he was still Rodney, still impatient even when he was clearly trying to be kind. "We'll worry about it tomorrow." He held out his hand, and when John didn't move quickly enough, snapped his fingers. "Come on, General. Bed time."
Slowly, John reached out, closing the gap between them, but even as his fingers brushed Rodney's, the moment shattered, spun out of his grasp, kaleidoscoped away like transient dream-stuff.
John woke in the infirmary, Beckett standing by the bed, looking down at him, brow furrowed with worry.
"What happened?" John asked, not at all sure he wanted to know. He had blurred memories of bright lights and screaming, and his body felt kind of off, as though it wasn't responding to his thoughts properly. That was a bad combination of symptoms. The list of likely causes made his skin goosebump: Goa'uld implantation; Replicator possession; cloned memories; Asuran mind-suck. "Did I hurt anyone?" He rubbed his head, only realizing as he did that there were no restraints holding him down. That was somewhat reassuring; maybe things weren't quite at the worst-case scenario stage.
Beckett pulled John's arm away from his head, and did a weird thing with his hand in order to slide two fingers onto John's wrist. "Remember you do what?" he asked as he took John's pulse.
"Huh?" John's head was aching like a sonovabitch, so maybe it wasn't surprising he wasn't tracking very well. He concentrated harder, but Beckett's movements were still strangely jerky, as though he was doing The Robot in addition to examining John.
On the other side of the room, one of the nurses pulled a trolley with a squeaky wheel backwards into the storage room. It set John's teeth on edge, making him blink with pain as the sound spiked through him.
"Feeling you are how?" Beckett let go of his wrist and smiled. He picked up a plastic cup from the bedside table and held it to John's mouth. "Colonel, last at awake you see to good it's."
The infirmary lights were blinding, and when Beckett took a step backwards, he became nothing but a looming silhouette. "Okay," John croaked, his throat painfully dry, "you're really starting to freak me out."
And then the dream tipped itself over again, like an endless breaker shattering across a shoreless reef, and John tumbled through it, anchorless.
"--time wasted in exercise!" Rodney said.
He was standing too far from the edge of the pier with his feet too close together, wringing the neck of a five-iron, and glaring at the golf ball teed up in front of him. He was wearing his I'm With Genius t-shirt, just as he had been the very first time they'd done this. It looked exactly like his original t-shirt too--the one that had been nested in and destroyed by Beckett's escaped supermice last year--right down to the little hole below his left shoulder blade that made John want to stick his finger in it, or maybe his tongue.
"What?" John said, staggering back a step and resting against the wall so that he didn't fall over. Everything was throb-throb-throbbing; the sky going dark and bright, dark and bright like a film turning negative with every beat of his heart.
Rodney leaned over, picked up the golf ball and dropped it into the bucket next to him. Then he cast an annoyed look at John and said, "Funny," before turning his back, hunching his shoulders and doing a comically awkward warm-up swing with the club. "Ha, ha. Not."
Before John could make any response to that, a golf ball on a low, pathetically crooked trajectory whizzed out of the ocean and landed neatly on the tee at Rodney's feet.
"Okaaaay," John said, because suddenly things were making a lot more sense.
"Please!" said Rodney, with utter confidence, "Genius!" and he had already begun to swing--with the worst form John had ever seen--when the chaotic tide of unreality rushed in again and washed John away.
"--and you always do this," Rodney said, arms crossed, chin thrust out.
"I do?" John looked around curiously, expecting to see things doing weird backwards shit, even though this wasn't a familiar place from his past. "You say that like it's a bad thing."
They were standing under a vine-covered patio, steaks sizzling on a nearby barbecue, and John had a beer bottle in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other. In the distance were snow covered mountains, and a house or two over someone was mowing their grass. A flash of sun caught his eye, and when he looked up a plane was going by overhead, flying forwards.
Back to the future, John thought, cool, and tried a mouthful of beer. It was a brand he'd never seen before, but it was cold and bitter the way he liked it. He smiled at Rodney.
"I hate you," Rodney said, in his most peevish tone.
Drifting out of the kitchen window overlooking the patio, John could hear Jeannie's raised voice demanding someone, "Pick up your own mess for once." A surly, teenaged voice muttered something indistinct in reply.
"Normal people try to avoid their in-laws." Rodney gave him the glare of death. "But, of course, you actually--"
"--onel, don't touch that!" Rodney snapped, but John's hand was already sliding into place. Before he could jerk it back, a tongue of lightning raced up his arm and curled around his head in a writhing crown, blanking out Rodney's yell of terror, turning the fresco-covered walls into dancing spaghetti pictures, breaking reality apart around him like ice calving from a glacier.
The Iratus bug's pincers were a band of fire around his throat, and Ford was hovering next to him holding the shock paddles.
"It do!" John ordered, wondering how many moments like this he'd re-visit before Rodney rescued him. It wasn't a happy thought. He looked past Ford and caught Rodney's wide-eyed gaze, and as he did, the pain became a lesser thing, eaten up by recognition.
Rodney was watching him with the same expression Rodney-from-the-future had been wearing: affection; irritation; ill-concealed concern.
God. John closed his eyes. How long has it been this way? He had no idea what to say, no idea what to do with the knowledge, but it filled his chest like a current of burning light, electrifying and unstoppable, until the only thing he could do was give into it, arch into it, open himself up to the future, just as everything around him blinked out of existence.
"--not blame yourself," said Teyla, between gasped breaths. She was leaning heavily on John's arm as he helped her into the jumper, and it was no small feat to keep her upright, as she was roughly the size of a camel, complete with hump. "We did not expect this for three weeks yet."
John assumed "this" was labor, as Teyla was clearly very, very pregnant. He bit down on the panic-filled question sitting on the tip of his tongue, because there was just no tactful way to ask if he was the father of her baby.
A few steps up the ramp, Teyla stopped and moaned, clutching her stomach. "John, I do not think we have time to fly back to Atlantis. You will have to deliver the baby." She leaned into him a little more, the only sign she was afraid. "I will tell you what to do."
"Me?" With a stomach-dropping thrill of sheer terror, John considered the merits of jumping back to re-live being sucked dry by a Wraith while Kolya looked on... It could happen any time now.
Teyla looked up at him with her big, dark, trusting eyes. "We have always made a good team, John. It will be fine." She gave him that little not-smile that was pure Teyla, calming him in a way no words ever could.
He nodded, throat too tight for speech, and helped her down into a spread-legged position on the floor. As she pushed her skirt out of the way, he fumbled through the emergency supplies for a blanket to slide under her.
She gripped his hand during the next contraction, and the pain of it was like every Hollywood cliché made real. Between panted breaths, she said, "Rodney will be very annoyed he did not get a chance to say, 'I told you so.'"
And it was Teyla, speaking so affectionately of Rodney, even as her entire body clenched with effort.
"But he's not..." John said, suddenly unsure, wondering if he'd misunderstood how the future was meant to be. "No. Rodney can't be--"
"--can't be yours."
Classic Trek was playing on the laptop, bathing John's quarters in blue light, and he and Rodney were sitting on the bed, shoulder to shoulder. Rodney's attention was entirely on John, his expression incredulous. "Jumping time?"
John pulled Rodney into a rough hug, relief making him light-headed. As he breathed in Rodney's warm-cotton and burnt-coffee scent, he thought very hard, very fast, despite the effervescent tug of otherwhens fizzing through him. He had a foggy memory of a weird, late-night conversation he'd once had with Rodney about time travel; it suddenly made a whole hell of a lot more sense. "Rodney, me help! Time in jumping." He reluctantly let Rodney go, just in time to see him roll his eyes.
"Job day your quit don't."
Soldiering on, John said, "Soon again gone be. Forwards and backwards jumping time. Happens it now from years three. Yoda-like, I feel!"
"Accident, what?" Rodney looked almost as confused as John felt. "Accident?"
Realizing he'd missed out the crucial bit, John added: "Explosion. Chamber fresco in accident."
Rodney blinked at him owlishly, twice, and then turned back to the laptop. "Now what?"
"Rodney!" John grabbed Rodney's arm, its warmth fleeting beneath his fingers, there, and then gone again, as he was snatched up and whirled onwards, backwards; somewhen far, far away from the familiar, comforting heat of Rodney's skin.
"--should do it." Rodney's attention was tightly focused as he carefully adjusted a crystal, Radek kneeling next to him. They were both wearing rubber suits, and John could see why. Ropes of blue light were crawling along his skin, occasionally arcing out to touch one of the frescoed tiles on the walls.
As Rodney slid the crystal home, Radek turned his head towards John, his eyes invisible behind the double glaze of glasses and hazmat suit. "Colonel?" he asked, sounding surprised and hopeful.
"What?" Rodney spun around. "Did it wor--"
"--can't do this anymore," Rodney said, head bowed, both hands hiding his face. He was covered in blood and dirt and sweat, sitting hunched against the wall in one of the labs. His handgun was lying discarded on the floor by his right leg, and when John turned to scan the room, he saw the body a few feet away, face-up in a slowly spreading pool of purplish blood. The bullet had made a small, neat hole in the middle of her scale-covered forehead, and it was clear she was beyond help.
The rest of Rodney's staff had fled, leaving he and Rodney alone in the lab, except for Elizabeth's voice, scratchy with worry in John's earpiece.
"It's under control," John told her. "Give me a minute before you send anyone in." He dropped to his knees, carefully putting his P-90 down within easy reach, and shuffled forward until Rodney was close enough to touch.
"I'm a scientist, not a soldier." Rodney's shoulders shook. "I can't do this anymore. I can't..."
John brushed his hands against Rodney's arms, keeping his touch gentle. "I know."
When Rodney raised his face, it was tear streaked and blotchy. "She was a good person," he said. "Actually a good person! Not even all that stupid compared to the other morons, and she wasn't even the one who turned that fucking thing on. She shouldn't have been the one it changed. She shouldn't be dead! She shouldn't..." He trailed off, breathing hard.
"I know," John said again, wishing there was some way he could make this better; knowing that there wasn't.
Rodney's hands were snot-streaked and clammy as they cupped John's face, but John held still, not pulling away. He kept his eyes open as Rodney leaned forward; kept looking, as Rodney's eyes slid shut; watched every subtle flicker on Rodney's face as they kissed, just once, short but achingly sweet, even flavored with Rodney's tears; the press of Rodney's lips against his own so right, like the last piece of his life clicking into place.
"Don't ever leave me," Rodney sighed, leaning his forehead against John's shoulder with the ease of someone who'd touched him like this a hundred times before.
"I won't," John promised, pulling Rodney into his arms and holding on tight, even as time snapped at his heels, relentlessly twisting him away, away, away.
When John woke in the infirmary, Rodney was asleep in a chair by his bedside, a laptop open and precariously propped on his knees.
For a while, John just lay still, eyes slitted, watching the steady rise and fall of Rodney's chest, waiting for the inevitable rush of vertigo as he was wrenched away. Eventually, when the moment showed no signs of ending, he leaned over and lifted the laptop out of Rodney's lax hands, turning it so he could see the time; the date.
Rodney startled awake, hands clutching air, staring around wildly until he took in that John was using the laptop. "Oh, thank God," he said. "We were worried you'd be a vegetable!"
The date was right there, ticking over in black and grey pixels at the corner of the screen, just as it should be. Today. Now. John looked up to find Rodney watching him greedily, his concern open, his affection ill-concealed.
"Rodney," John said, hyper-aware of the steady press of time against his skin, familiar and relentless, as he reached out, fingers spread, and tentatively touched the face of his future.
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