Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.
It wasn't until after Satch had arrived with forensics in tow that John really allowed his knees to buckle under him. In the heat of the moment, he'd been too busy trying to stay alive to cope with the flood of changing memories like lightning strikes in his mind.
Luckily, Dad saw him start to go and grabbed him by the shoulders before he could hit the floor. "Whoa there, easy, Chief. You okay?"
John nodded, even though he could still feel the Earth spinning. Even looking around the room made him dizzy, because it looked both familiar and unfamiliar at once. Dad helped ease him onto the sofa--which was a different one than what had been there an hour ago--and sat down beside him. "You sure?" he asked, sounding worried. "That guy didn't hurt you or anything?"
"Nah, I'm just..." He trailed off, fumbling for how to explain it. "I guess I've just lived too many lives in the past coupla days. I need a moment to catch up."
His memories were still such a jumble that for a moment, he panicked. "Oh my God. Where's Mom?"
"She's fine," Dad promised, gripping him by the shoulder before he could jump up and run off looking for her. "She's working tonight or she probably woulda insisted on coming along."
John felt like this should make sense, like it would've made sense if he'd just been a bit more with it, but instead he found himself asking stupidly, "Why's that?"
Dad just looked at him. "You think after everything that went down with Shepard back when you were a kid that she didn't sit me down and demand to know what the hell was goin' on?"
He still felt like an idiot. "You told her the truth?"
"Of course I did."
"And she believed you?"
Dad smiled that crooked smile that had always meant everything was okay, even back when he was a kid. Especially back then. "'Course she did. She knows I wouldn't lie to her, and she knows your old man's not that crazy." He laughed a little. "'Course it didn't hurt that Satch backed me up about the ball game."
John laughed too. He could totally see Mom doing that. In fact, if he closed his eyes and concentrated on just that memory, he could remember her pulling Dad aside that night and the two of them talking in low voices long after he was supposed to be asleep. Just like tonight, Satch had been there to take their statements and collect whatever evidence Shepard left behind, and he remembered Dad gesturing him over to join in the conversation at one point. Even though it was way past his bedtime, they'd all been too preoccupied to notice or probably to care that little Johnny had snuck back downstairs. Or maybe, like him, they'd needed the reassurance that everything--and everyone--was okay.
"Getting Sam out of the house was a bit trickier. Hell, I wanted to give you both tickets to a ball game or something so neither one of you'd be here, but I was afraid of what would happen if I did. Like maybe he'd go after you guys there, or maybe I woulda never talked to you that night so I wouldn't even know he was after you."
That made sense. If he'd known the consequences that first change they made would have for his life…no, he couldn't lie to himself, he still would've done it. He still would've told Dad how to save his own life. Only maybe he would've also asked him to pick Mom up from work early and take her out to dinner or something too.
Then something else Dad had said struck him. "Wait. Sam's here?"
Dad looked confused. "No, I told you, I talked Gordo into giving her and Linda a weekend out at a spa or something. Like in the Poconos somewhere. Not like he can't afford it."
"No, I mean...she's here? We're still together?" His voice was raw, almost desperate.
"Why wouldn't you be?"
"I dunno, maybe because the way I remember it, a coupla days ago she didn't know who I was, and a coupla days before that, she walked out on me." John shook his head, pressing his fingers to his temple as if that could stop the headache that was rapidly building. Jesus, who knew time travel--or whatever it was they'd done--could be so damn confusing. "It's like I've got half a dozen people living in my head. How the hell am I supposed to know which life is real?"
"Hey." Dad gripped his face in the same strong hands that had once held on to the back of the bicycle seat and refused to let him fall. "That feel real to you? If you need me to pull your mother out of a hat, I can do that too."
"Yeah, of course it's real. I mean...you're here," John stumbled. "But what about me? Am I the man who's been happily married to Sam for five years?" Because he remembered now that he had been. "Or am I the overgrown kid who never figured out how to treat a woman right because I was too young when you died to remember your example? Or worse, the man who was too afraid of losing someone like we lost Mom to even try?"
Dad let his hands drop and shrugged. "Seems like that's up to you. You want to hang on to a past that doesn't even exist anymore, or do you want to grab hold of your future? I didn't go see Jules at the hospital that night because I coulda been killed. I went to see her because I was alive."
"You knew you coulda been killed, but you didn't remember it," John objected. "It's not the same."
"No, it's not the same," Dad admitted. "But you know what is the same? You still have a choice. Do you feel like the same man you were before all this happened? Do you want to?"
John paused. He'd never been the introspective sort, but now he turned his thoughts inward. There was this weird peace there that he didn't remember ever feeling before. A sort of sense of safety, like he knew that he was loved no matter what and nothing could take that away from him. He felt like a man who'd grown up with two parents who loved each other and loved him and were never afraid to say so. All those doubts from when Dad had died, all the anger and fear that had driven him when it was Mom, they were still there if he wanted to reach for them, but they had receded into the background. He wasn't the man he'd been last week, and if Dad said he didn't have to go back to being that man, who was he to doubt him?
"So where do I start?" he asked helplessly. He might sense the potential in himself to be a better man than he'd ever been before, but that didn't mean he knew how.
Dad looked at him frankly. "You start by telling her the truth--the whole truth--and trusting her to trust you."
"Even with this?" John asked skeptically. Somehow talking on a radio with his father in the past, and it reshaping his life around him, didn't strike him as the easiest story to sell.
"Especially with this," Dad answered with conviction. "Otherwise, every day you don't you're gonna be asking yourself the same questions you're asking me now. And the first time you can't give yourself an answer, what happens then?"
"I snap back like a rubber band?"
Dad shrugged. "Maybe. Maybe not. But do you really wanna find out?"
No. No he didn't. A freak coincidence had given him the chance to change everything that had gone wrong with his life. How many people got a chance like that? And how stupid would he be to waste it worrying about what used to be? There were no more solar flares, and if there were, he was pretty damned sure he wouldn't be turning that radio back on. There was no way he'd take a chance on setting things wrong again, at least not in 1969. 1999 was the year he had to worry about now. Maybe Dad was right: changing the past was just the first step to changing the future.
Dad patted him on the shoulder. "So. You gonna be okay?"
John nodded. "I'll probably still be confused for a coupla days until I get my head sorted out, but yeah, I think so."
"Good." Dad laid a hand on his shoulder and dropped into a long, thoughtful pause. "So...you do at least remember Frankie, right?" he asked warily.
John blinked. "Who?"
"You know, your son?"
Jesus Christ on a crutch. "My what?"
Looking as flummoxed as John felt, Dad rubbed his face with one hand. "Oh, brother. Chief, we gotta talk..."