The house is gorgeous, on a beach somewhere, and John has left his mark everywhere.
He's in the surfboards stacked by the stairs, he's in the playstation, he's in the photographs. It's the one on the mantle that catches his attention. John is smiling in front of some anonymous mountain range, and John is pulling him into the picture by the back of his shirt, probably protesting the whole time if he knows himself, even though he's smiling larger than he thought he could.
"It's been four years," Elizabeth says. "Goddamn it, Rodney, you've got to move on."
Move on, definitely. It's the best advice he's received since he started.
"I'm leaving you," John tells him. "I can't deal with this shit anymore, Rodney. I just can't."
Rodney blinks at him. He looks amazing, and alive, and it's been fourteen worlds since he's seen him that way. Fourteen worlds and fourteen graves and fourteen 'I'm so sorry's and he'd started to think John wasn't left alive anywhere.
"Are you even listening to me?" John snaps. "God. They all told me, they all said you loved your work more than anything."
Then the door is slamming and John is gone, and Rodney wonders what kind of a pathetic asshole he is in this world to have let John slip away, before he heads into the next.
Atlantis isn't as common as he would have expected. It averages out to about one in every five, and John only ever came every other time. John always said he flipped a coin to make the decision, and what with the straight fifty-fifty odds, Rodney is starting to believe him.
Things come into focus and blur again with gun smoke. People are screaming everywhere with too familiar voices and Rodney closes his eyes, because this he remembers, this he's lived before.
"So long, Rodney," John says, suddenly beside him, and takes off running.
He doesn't stick around to see if it happens the same way, if John comes back safe and sound, or if he hits the trigger a little too soon and leaves nothing to save. He just hits the button he has beneath his own fingers, and starts again.
"Chicken, or fish?" Samantha Carter asks him.
He's in the middle of a Hilton somewhere, probably Colorado, if the pattern holds. It's always Colorado with Sam. "Does it really matter?" Rodney asks, and she gives him that look she has; he doesn't mean to say it, but sometimes he needs to talk to them, because even Rodney occasionally misses conversation.
"This is the most important day of our lives," she says.
"You don't really believe that," Rodney says. "It's not, not for us, this is just a contract, and I don't even love you."
Sam glares at him, and storms away. He never means to hurt her, but this isn't his place, and while it's kind of nice to think somewhere Rodney McKay asks Samantha Carter to marry him and she says yes, he's looking to find someone else.
"Shep?" Mitch says. "John Sheppard? God, I haven't heard that name in years."
It hadn't been easy to track the man down, but Rodney still had contacts in high places in nineteen realities out of twenty; and a Nobel Prize in every fifteen.
"Do you know where he is?" Rodney snaps.
"In Afghanistan somewhere," Mitch says quietly. "He died a long time ago, Dr. McKay; took a hit that was meant for me and my buddy Dex. He saved our lives, but we never got him out of there. Wasn't anything left to bring home."
You stupid bastard, Rodney thinks, and moves on. There has to be one place somewhere, one at least, where John isn't the goddamn hero he always says he's not.
The address is 329 Nevara Lane, and there's even a picket fence. A little girl with bright green eyes and tanned skin opens the door and squints up at him. "Can I help you?" she says, and then smiles. There's John in there, certainly, and traces of someone else.
"Charin, honey, I told you not to--" The woman trails off. "Oh, Rodney, you shouldn't be here," she says. "John...he doesn't want to see you."
It's Teyla, of course, wearing a wedding ring like she's lived here all her life. Rodney doesn't bother to wonder what he did to ruin everything here. It seems that in every reality John's still alive Rodney's done something to drive him away.
"Right, I'm leaving, don't worry," he says, and then turns to walk away.
"Rodney," Teyla shouts, and chases after him. She catches him while he tries to open the stupid lock on the stupid picket fence, and this isn't John, or Teyla, for that matter, this isn't any of them. "He did forgive you, he just--"
Rodney doesn't turn around. He supposes forgiveness counts for something, though he doesn't know what he's done.
Rodney is running the odds and he's starting to worry that any universe in which he and John are lovers will result in John getting killed in a rather overly dramatic blaze of glory, but this is mostly disproved by the fact that in more than half the universes where they never even met John dies the exact same way.
"You're missing it," John shouts.
Rodney finds himself in a kitchen, holding a bag of potato chips, and slowly, he moves towards John's voice. He's slouching in a leather couch, with his feet on a coffee table, and Back to the Future is playing on a plasma screen.
"You promised you'd watch it with me, Rodney," John tells him, and flashes him a wicked grin. "Can't go back on it now."
John grabs his wrist and pulls him down beside him, kissing him gently before slouching again and turning his eyes back to the screen. This is it, Rodney thinks, this is the one.
He'll steal this life and no one will ever know.
And then John says, "Remember that time in Tahoe?" and he doesn't, because he wasn't there, and this isn't his John.
He doesn't know how long it's been. He spends three minutes in one world, two weeks in another. He spent a whole year in Rome with Zelenka, running equations he can't remember eighty worlds later.
He never lets it out of his sight. It's small, blue tinted, with a small oval pad that only works when touched by his thumb. It's a little like channel surfing, only there's an infinite number of possibilities and he can't find his way back to the one he started from.
There were so many at first that were so close to his own world, and he could have stayed, should have, but that was the beginning, when he thought it wouldn't take that long to find his own again. So he kept going, and they kept getting stranger, and so much further from what he remembers.
"You can't keep doing this to yourself," Kate tells him. "It wasn't your fault."
Rodney doesn't ask how John died in this one. He's found he's better off not knowing; in twelve worlds so far, it's been because of him.
You can never go home again, Rodney thinks, as he watches Atlantis burn.
He saw Elizabeth two hallways ago, sixty years too old, but didn't stop to check for a pulse. He doesn't know why he bothers to stay here at all, it's certainly something he could do without seeing, and it's not his problem.
This isn't his world, he can't believe that.
He finds John in the control room, covered in blood. He swallows, and it takes a minute to process that the blood is not John's. Most of it is too light to be human. He glances up when Rodney walks in, dazed and unmarked, and blinks at him.
The computer says they have sixty seconds left. "This was never supposed to happen," John tells him. "God, Rodney, how did this happen?"
John grabs him and kisses him, but even though Rodney wants to stay near him, be with him in this, he has to hit the button before the world ends.
He wakes up in bed, with someone's arm around him. The lights are out, and it's night, but the stars coming in through the stained glass windows are more familiar than those on Earth. He's on Atlantis, and he's in bed with John.
He sits up, and glances down at John as he sleeps, peaceful and with none of the scars he'd had in that one world, that one where he wouldn't say a word, and Rodney couldn't leave fast enough. "John," he whispers.
John blinks and glances up at him. "Rodney? What's wrong? What time is it?"
"Nothing," he says. "Nothing's wrong. John, you're the military commander here, right?"
John looks at him like he's lost his mind, but nods. "And Elizabeth? And Carson? And Teyla? And Zelenka and even Cadman, they're all here right? And Ford's not but Ronon is?"
John sits up and frames his face. "Yes, to all of the above; are you sure you're okay?"
Rodney sinks into him, wraps his arms around him and holds on. "How did we meet?" he asks, a little desperately, just one last thing, to make sure, because part of him doesn't want to know but the other part is a scientist, and has to.
"We met in the Ancient outpost," John tells him. "I sat down in the chair and lit it up, and you came running out to see what I'd broke. Why? Rodney, seriously, what's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. That's right," Rodney whispers, "that's exactly right."
Rodney lies back down, and John follows him, still frowning. Rodney curls his fingers around John's hip, and pulls him closer. Rodney feels relief for the first time, because it's so easy to lie, even easier than he expected.
Rodney met John in Atlantis, when he came through with the reinforcements right before the battle that almost killed them all, but Rodney was done wandering; whatever lucky bastard had this life before him was on his own now.
He was keeping this one.
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