Kathryn holds onto hope much longer than the rest of them. Chakotay says that it is her way and to not push her. But it's been over a year, and Tom isn't certain what's left to even hold on to anymore. This is their life now. He tries to look at the bright side – they could've landed in a time without any technology to speak of, could have found themselves in a third-world war torn country instead of on a sun-drenched beach.
Chakotay reminds him not to get too attached.
"It all falls into the ocean anyway," he says. They are standing on the pier. Chakotay keeps a baseball cap low on his brow because the tattoo is too recognizable. The team is the L.A. Dodgers and their whole life has become about not standing out in a crowd. Tom wears denim shorts and a blue shirt that buttons down. His skin is tan and the salt air stings his eyes a little as he watches the sun sink into the horizon.
"We should get back," he says. Chakotay nods. He's holding the bag of groceries and shifts it slightly in his hands. It's only a few blocks inland to their apartment. It's a duplex, actually, three bedrooms with a small common living space. The kitchen is more of an alcove with a refrigerator but there is a porch on the back with a grill and they make it work.
Tom climbs the few steps up to the door and unlocks it. Inside, Chakotay moves to put the groceries away and Tom peers up the carpeted stairs. He can see the two bedrooms from the bottom of the steps. Kathryn's bedroom door is open and the light is off. She isn't home from work yet. Tuvok's door is closed which means that he's meditating. He'll appear around dinnertime. It's hardest on him, though Tuvok would never admit it. He doesn't leave the house very much. It's too dangerous. What if the wind blows the scarf from his head? What if he stumbles and scrapes his hands and knees? It's a big risk.
"I'll start the grill," Chakotay says. On nice days, they try to do a lot of the cooking outside. The house is hot enough without turning on the oven. Chakotay has become quite adept at cooking on it – he often makes vegetarian burgers, roasts ears of corn or filets of fresh fish. Tom makes a salad or cuts up a melon. They try to eat simply because food is expensive.
Tom and Kathryn are the only ones right now with jobs. Tuvok does a good job of keeping the house safe, but it pales to any former career as a security officer. Chakotay isn't working now either – Kathryn thinks it's safer if they keep as low a profile as possible. Tom's job is hourly. He's a waiter at a French restaurant in the neighborhood. He's charming and speaks fluent French, and most importantly, they pay him under the table. Kathryn fixes computers. It was easy enough to forge the right documents for her once she mastered the archaic technology and she works under the name Kate Jenkins. She makes, by far, the most money and works the most hours.
She comes home hot and tired. She rides the bus and always goes straight to the shower to wash the exhaust and grime off her skin.
When she comes out, Tuvok has emerged from his room and dinner is ready. Her long hair is wet but dries quickly in the heat. There's a cheap table that they sit around while they eat.
"This is good," Kathryn murmurs, unwrapping her corn from the hot tin foil and Chakotay smiles. After dinner, it's Tom's turn in the shower. He dresses for work in black pants and a white shirt, long sleeved and buttoned down. He makes sure he has his apron and walks seven blocks to work.
It's always after midnight when he gets home. Usually, Kathryn waits up for him. Chakotay's room is downstairs and he goes to sleep early. Tuvok, when he sleeps, can sleep for days. It's Kathryn who sleeps fitfully or sometimes, not at all. When he lets himself in, she's sitting on the couch watching the news on the secondhand TV. They don't have money for cable, so they rely on the bent antenna but the fuzzy picture is better than nothing.
"How'd you do?" she asks, looking up at him.
"Slow night," he admits. In his apron are his tips. He's made less than seventy dollars on this night but Tuesdays are always slow. He hands her the money and she counts it and frowns. "Sorry."
"Can't be helped," she says and gets up to put the money into the box they keep for the rent.
For an hour or two, they sit side-by-side staring mindlessly at the television. Tom used to love televisions. An ancestor of the holodeck, his favorite pastime. But now, the TV depresses him. Kathryn watches the news to make sure no strange occurrences are being reported. No sign of Voyager or time acting strangely, no sign of a gun that can make entire cars disappear. There hasn't been a sign of that in at least nine months.
If Voyager were still up there, they would have found them by now. If Captain Braxton or anyone else were out there trying to correct the timeline, would they still be living in Los Angeles? Tom doesn't think so.
"I'm going to bed," Janeway says, standing up.
"Goodnight," he says. She climbs the stairs and closes the door to her room. The couch folds out into a bed, but most nights Tom doesn't bother. Now, he stretches out across the cushions and lets the low commercials lull him to sleep.
Tuvok wakes him up, moving methodically through the kitchen cupboards. Tuvok rises early. It's his favorite time of the day, though he'd be quick to point out that as a Vulcan, he doesn't have a favorite anything. Still, Tom can see the appeal. In the early morning, the stifling heat has not yet settled over the city. When they leave the sliding glass door open, a soft breeze comes through the screen.
"I apologize for waking you," Tuvok says when Tom sits up.
"Nah," he says.
"Would you like some oatmeal, Lieutenant?" Tuvok offers. He holds up a packet of the instant stuff that Tom can't bring himself to eat. It's too much like rations, one of the few things Tom doesn't miss.
"Maybe another time," Tom says, rubbing his face. He needs a shave.
"Suit yourself," Tuvok says and prepares three bowls instead of four. Chakotay comes in through the front door, his hat in his hand. He goes out jogging early and is sweaty and winded. He nods to them and disappears into the bathroom. Soon, Kathryn comes down the stairs, dressed for work. When they first realized that they were going to be here for possibly a long time, Tom went out to a thrift store and bought a bunch of clothing for them. Today, she's wearing one of the things he bought – a light floral dress that buttons up the front with her white coat over it. She has nicer clothes now, bought to help her navigate the office environment, but she likes this dress and so does he. It suits her small frame. Her hair is up off her neck held by a plastic clip and she's fastening an earring on, glancing at the clock. She hates when she misses the bus.
"Going to be a scorcher," she comments.
"Unlike the last 379 days," Chakotay says. Kathryn tends to be much more cheerful in the morning but Chakotay prefers the evening. There's about an hour in the early afternoon where everyone gets along. It's close quarters, this situation, but it's safer to stay together.
"I'm going to be late," Kathryn says apologetically, turning down her bowl of oatmeal. Tuvok doesn't say anything but Chakotay makes a concerned expression. To appease him, she pulls a banana from the top of the refrigerator and slips it into her purse.
"I'll walk you to the bus stop," Tom says, as if this is a novel idea. He walks her every morning. Part of it is to make sure she arrives safely and part is to escape the house for a few minutes. He enjoys the walk there and the walk home alone. The hall closet is where he keeps his few clothes but what he's slept in is fine. He puts some shoes on and the Lakers hat that Chakotay had refused to wear to cover his hair. He could stand a haircut.
"Do you want me to do anything today?" he asks. She looks at him, her brow furrowed. "It's my day off."
"You and Tuvok can try the homing beacon again," she says. "He says he thinks he found a power source that won't burn out so quickly."
"Sure," he says, easily. Down the street, they can already see the people congregating at the stop. When they arrive, she turns to him. "Have a good day," he says.
"I will," she promises.
"I'll be here when you get home." When he can, he picks her up from the stop. Most days he manages it.
"Okay," she says. She doesn't try to argue anymore. At first they were all so suspicious – she carried her phaser in her purse but after so long, the power has drained and they've grown accustomed to this life. The bus is coming down the block now, huffing and puffing. He stands back from the crowd and waits for her to board it, to hand the driver her fistful of quarters, to find a seat by a window, to wave at him as she disappears around the corner and heads downtown.
Tuvok's room is storage for all things Starfleet, all things that don't exactly belong in this time, like Tuvok himself. On a cheap, wooden desk he has four communicators, nine pips, and one Maquis rank bar. In the large drawer, he keeps the three tricorders and the phasers. His tricorder is rigged to collect solar power and is the only that still functions.
"The Captain wants us to try the beacon again," Tom says, standing in the hallway outside.
"I will be able to make the attempt again in approximately three hours," Tuvok says. Tom leaves him until then. There's plenty to be done with his day off. It's Chakotay's turn to clean the bathroom and mop the kitchen floor. Tom decides that doing some laundry couldn't hurt. He goes into Kathryn's room. Her bed is made up to regulation, the thin comforter pulled taut over the mattress. In her closet, he pulls the plastic basket full of her soiled clothes and takes it downstairs. Tuvok, like with most things, is finicky about his possessions and prefers to wash his clothes by hand. In Chakotay's room, he adds more clothes to the basket and dumps them all in the living room onto the rug. Chakotay is out on the patio, his nose buried in a book and that suits Tom just fine. He doesn't feel chatty. He sorts the clothes into lights and darks. At first, it had bothered him, touching the Captain's things but now he sorts the socks, the panties and the bras like he has done so many times before.
The laundry room is dingy and often occupied, but Tom has learned that Wednesday morning is a good time to find empty washers. He fills both machines with his loads and fills them with hard earned quarters. He adds the cheap, powdery soap and starts the cycle. There's a metal folding chair in the corner, and he pulls a comic book from his back pocket before sitting down to wait for the clothes to be cleaned.
He doesn't bother with the dryer. It's too expensive and Kathryn is fierce about cutting corners. He piles the wet clothes back into the basket. In the house, he finds various surfaces to spread out the clothes. Jeans and thick materials, he hangs over the banister of the porch. Those will dry swiftly in the sun. He hangs some things over the shower rod and over the tops of open doors. Kathryn's under things get spread out across her bed and he cracks her window a bit to help the process along. He replaces the basket in her closet. She'll be happy to have clean things when she gets home.
When it's time to try the beacon again, he and Chakotay both congregate in Tuvok's room.
"Assuming anyone is up there to receive it," Chakotay is saying.
"And if there is, is it someone we want to find the transmission?" Tom says. "What if NASA picks it up? What if a passing Vulcan ship does? How will we explain ourselves then?"
This is a conversation they have often.
"Your concerns are noted," Tuvok says. "But I needn't remind you that she is still the Captain and her orders are to be followed."
Tom can't remember the last time he called her Captain to her face.
It's all moot, though. The communicator burns out before the message even has time to loop through once. There just isn't the technology to support what they're trying to accomplish. Tom thinks that their only option is to wait to be saved. That if the timeline is going to be fixed, it will happen suddenly and their time in the 20th century will be instantly wiped away. One day he will be washing a pan in the sink and then, one day, he will not.
"I'll let you make the report," Chakotay says to Tuvok, stomping down the stairs.
Tom doesn't leave the house again until it's time to meet Kathryn's bus. She's one of the last to get off at the stop and she looks wilted compared to the person he saw get on the bus. He hair is messy and he can see the sweat on her skin. But when she sees him, she smiles slightly.
"How was work?"
"Frustrating," she says. "I'm tired of being careful. I'm tired of not suggesting ideas that could make their system a thousand times more efficient, of suggesting technology that hasn't been invented yet."
"Well, we could be millionaires," he says. She gives him a hard glance.
"I bet that'd get Braxton's attention," she says. "I'm guessing if you had good news, you would have led with that?"
"Sorry," he says. "But I did the laundry."
"Well," she says, trying not to sound too disappointed. "Small victories."
"Chakotay is in a mood," he says.
"I know you think he should keep a low profile, but he's got cabin fever in the worst way," Tom says.
"I just don't think him getting a teaching job is a good idea," she says. "Speaking with all those same children and parents, forging relationships. It's not safe."
"Let him get a different job, then," Tom says. "Something less…academic. We could use the money, you know that."
"I know," she says. They could also move somewhere less expensive, away from the water but she's reluctant to leave the area in which they were lost. "I'll speak to him about it."
She shifts her bag from one shoulder to the other and he takes it from her.
"Thanks," she says, rubbing her shoulder.
Inside, Chakotay is silently folding the clothes Tom has left out. Tuvok is in the kitchen preparing dinner. Tom likes when it's Tuvok's night. He always tries to approximate Vulcan dishes and the meal is always interesting, if not recognizable.
"Chakotay," she says. "Come upstairs with me."
When Tuvok and Tom are alone, Tuvok says, "Good work, Lieutenant."
Tom thinks Tuvok prefers nothing more then when he is alone during the day.
"Don't congratulate me too quickly," Tom says. "They're just talking."
"Commander Chakotay will endeavor to follow her orders, whatever they may be," Tuvok says optimistically. Tom agrees with him, at any rate.
With Chakotay's income, they start to save some money instead of living month to month. Kathryn calls it the emergency fund; Tom calls it the car fund.
"Absolutely not," she says.
"You wouldn't have to ride the bus anymore," he points out.
"And as nice as that would be, I can't drive," she says.
"But I can! I'll teach you!" Tom promises.
"It isn't safe," she says. "Plus we'd have to purchase fuel, insurance, register it which is more of a paper trail than I'd like to leave."
"Don't make it sound harder than it is," he says. "If you can forge yourself a technical degree, we can register our car for free."
"I don't think you see the bigger picture here," she accuses.
"What I see is us being trapped in the same 10 mile radius until we die!" he says. "What if something happens? What if we need to leave quickly? We have no plan."
"What do you think is going to happen?" she demands.
"Anything!" he says. "Braxton was here for 30 years until we showed up. Don't you think one day someone is going to show up for us?"
"Someone will come but it will be to help us and it's not going to take 30 years," she says, forcefully.
"But you don't know that," he says. "Kathryn, open your eyes. We can't just wait here forever. We need a better plan than scraping by and clinging to some idea of a grand rescue is holding us back!"
"That's enough," she says.
"Paris," Chakotay says. "Enough."
Tom can't stay in the house so he storms out. Not his finest moment, but he heads for the shore knowing no one is running after him. More often than not, Kathryn lets him go. Of the four of him, he's the most comfortable in this time, the most capable of taking care of himself.
He sits on the beach for over an hour before she appears and sits down next to him.
"Maybe it would be easier if I went off on my own," he says.
"Easier for whom?" she asks. "Not for me."
"I just…" He shakes his head. "This is not how I always thought it was. The 20th century, I mean."
"Well, it's the end of the century," she says. "So much changes in the next hundred years."
He wiggles his toes in the sand.
"Tom, I don't think we could do it without you," she says. "Please come home."
"Did I piss off Chakotay?" he asks, standing and wiping the sand from the seat of his pants. She shrugs.
"Doesn't take much these days," she says. They take the long way home, wind around the neighborhood. Tom knows the area pretty well, is even superficially friendly with some of the neighbors. There's a house of college-aged men on one block that waves to Tom as they pass.
"Hey Bro," one calls out. They're all congregated on their porch, sitting in cheap plastic chairs. "You want a beer?"
"No thanks," Tom calls. "Maybe another time?"
"Sure, sure," the guy calls. "Hey, Dude, is that your wife?"
"No," Tom says, grinning. Kathryn crosses her arms and drops her gaze to her feet and all the guys on the porch laugh.
"Maybe some day, though, huh?" the guy calls. Kathryn puts her hand on his arm.
"See you later, guys," Tom says and they continue down the sidewalk.
"Did you know them?" she asks.
"We went surfing once," Tom says.
"You have a surfboard?"
"Remember last March? I helped that woman change a flat tire on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway?" he says. "As thanks, she gave me this coupon for a free surfboard rental."
"And you surfed with those men?"
"Sort of," Tom says. "Don't worry, we're not friends. Just friendly."
"It always amazes me," she says.
"How you can fit in anywhere you go," she says. "I envy you."
Chakotay is already asleep when they get back. He works construction and has to be out the door by 5:45am. Tuvok is cleaning up the kitchen and they don't exchange words. Tom turns on the television and Kathryn brings him a glass of water before sitting next to him on the couch.
"You want to watch the news with us?" Kathryn asks Tuvok.
"Thank you," he says. "No."
Kathryn watches the news and then fifteen minutes a sitcom before she goes to bed.
This is their life now. Sleep and work and sleep. When he turns the television off, the sound of the traffic outside filters in through the screen. Someone shouts in Spanish and there is the sound of glass shattering against the sidewalk.
On Saturdays, Tuvok goes to the library. It's the one outing he takes a week. Even in the hottest weather, he wears a beanie pulled down low over his ears. Vulcan is an arid and hot planet so it doesn't bother him too much. Saturdays, Tom works a double at the restaurant and is gone all day.
Sundays are the only days they're all home together. Sundays are long; they drag endlessly. Mostly, they read the books that Tuvok has brought or watch terrible movies on the television if the reception is good. They eat the leftover food Tom has brought home from the night before. Lately, Chakotay sleeps, trying to catch up from an exhausting week.
Kathryn is on the patio, her feet up on the banister. She's reading a physics textbook from the library.
"You have a doctorate quantum physics," Tom says, standing in the doorway. "What could you possibly learn from that?"
"What I'm supposed to know and what I'm not supposed to know," she says, glancing at him. "If I plan to work in a field better suited to my experience, I'll need to know the most recent scientific breakthrough."
"You planning on changing careers?" he asks. She glances into the living room behind him, but it's empty. He sits in the chair next to her.
"At work, they offered me a promotion," she says. "On Friday. I have the weekend to think about it."
"That's great!" he says.
"No," she says. "They want to make me a supervisor. Right now I'm low on the totem pole but if they promote me it's more responsibility, more recognition. Both things we can't afford."
"What we can't afford is for you not to have a job," Tom says.
"I've been thinking about what you were saying last week," she says. "About moving on."
He's surprised to hear this.
"We have some money saved. At the end of the month, Chakotay gets his bonus. What if we get your car? Go somewhere less expensive. Somewhere with less people where Tuvok could have a little freedom?" she says.
"We could go anywhere, you know," he says. "We could go to Bloomington."
"No," she says quickly. "I mean, of course the thought has crossed my mind but I think it would be too..." She doesn't finish the thought be he can fill in the blank himself. Painful. Dangerous. Self-indulgent.
"I understand," he says. "In that case, I think we should go north. It will be easier to continue to forge documentation if we don't cross state lines."
She lets out a dry laugh.
"When did we turn into criminals?" she asks, softly. Tom can't refute the statement – he's lost count of the number of laws they have broken just trying to get by.
"I'm going to get you some sunscreen," he says, instead. "Your nose is beginning to burn."
Even the most basic things have taken some getting used to. They have to be careful about their skin under an ailing and polluted atmosphere. No one can afford to get sick. The healthcare system is impossibly inefficient and, without proper insurance, impenetrable. In the first few months, while their bodies were adjusting to the radical change, they all caught terrible head colds. Kathryn always gets everything the worst – even simple sunburns turn bright red on her pale skin.
He gets up and finds the pink tube of the thick, greasy cream. Tom always thinks if they had money, he could get better ingredients and make better batch of things like sunscreen or cold medicine, but he just can't justify the expense. She takes it from him, dabs some across the bridge of her nose and her cheeks.
"Tuvok and I will figure out the best way to get a car, the best place to go," she says. "You and Chakotay just keep working."
"Yes, Ma'am," he says.
Overhead, the roar of a commercial airplane demands their attention. Tom watches it cross the sky with a wistful expression. He misses flying and even flying a clunky antique like a 747 sounds delicious about now. Kathryn watches him watch the plane. There's nothing she can say, nothing she can do to make it any easier on all of them. At the beginning, she'd apologize often. Apologize for putting them on the away mission; apologize for getting them lost in the Delta Quadrant in the first place. Now, she just says nothing at all.
One day, when Tom gets home from work, Kathryn hands him a manila envelope. He opens it. Inside are two gold bands and the marriage license of Kate and Eugene Jenkins.
"I don't understand," he says, holding the rings in his open hand.
"It will be easier for us to buy a car if we're married," she says. "I gave us a tax profile, I gave us something called credit history. I need a picture of you for the driver's license."
The next day they go to the post office. They can get their photo taken there for a passport, but instead she'll use it to forge the licenses. Tom has convinced her to make one for herself, too. He's curious about the process, though. She's a whiz with the computer, can worm her way into almost any system but he suspects there's some things even she can't do with a computer and a printer. He knows she has involved some outside help, but he doesn't ask and she doesn't tell. It takes a week for the licenses to arrive.
Tom is getting ready to go out. They're going to a used car lot today. In the bathroom, he brushes his teeth and his hair; he shaves his face and puts on some of his nicer clothes to try to look presentable. He slides the wedding band onto his finger. It isn't real gold; the metal makes his skin itch slightly and upon closer inspection, he can see where the gold paint is already beginning to flake on the inside of the band, but on his hand it looks real enough. When he goes into the living room, he can see Kathryn and Chakotay on the porch. He can't hear them because the door is closed, but she has both hands on his shoulder and they're talking close. Their faces are only a few inches apart. Chakotay looks pained, looks miserable and when they are done speaking, she steps a little closer and he lifts his arms and hugs her.
Tom has to turn away. The scene is something he shouldn't witness. It is intimate and heart wrenching and watching her touch him gives him a sharp pain of something deep in his gut. The door opens and Chakotay walks past him without a word, down the back hall and into his bedroom. On the porch, Kathryn stands with her hands on her hips and the morning sun glints off the ring on her finger.
"You ready?" he calls.
"As I'll ever be," she says.
They get something called a Honda. The car is blue and ten-years-old but when Tom drives it around the block, it sounds okay. He'll open up the hood when they get back and tinker around. There's a tense moment when the salesman is running their information through the computer on his desk. Kathryn grips the arms of her chair so tightly her knuckles turn white and Tom can't look at the man. But then the machine beeps.
"Great," he says. "Let's sign your paperwork. You first, Mrs. Jenkins."
Tom drives like a local. He's watched enough traffic over the last fourteen months to know the rules, even the unspoken ones. It's been a while since he's actually driven and the real thing is always slightly different than the holodeck, but the theory is just the same. Kathryn sits in the passenger seat looking slightly ill.
"Are you okay?" he asks. They're sitting at a light and the turn signal in the dash clicks on and off.
"Yes," she says. "Just getting used to the ride."
Lately, Kathryn's mood has begun to shift. Tom is certain it is because she's beginning to truly accept their situation. Agreeing to get the car, agreeing to leave Hermosa Beach is a step in a direction and Tom can only hope it's the right one. In the mornings, now, Tom drives Kathryn to work. It means she doesn't have to leave quite so early and it saves them on bus fare. Kathryn likes the country radio station. She never sings along but sometimes Tom will catch her tapping her foot along with the beat of the music. Tom prefers rock and roll but doesn't switch it until Kathryn gets out of the car and he can see that she has made it safely through the front door of her building.
Tom notices that Kathryn hasn't taken off the fake wedding ring so he leaves his on as well. When living elaborate lies, it's just easier to keep them going. The ring, when he slides it off his finger, has left the skin beneath tinged slightly green. He's used to it after a few days and when he's driving, he uses it to keep time with the music against the steering wheel.
There is a phone in the apartment. They had the line installed for the computer Kathryn's work provided, so they are able to connect to the Internet but occasionally the cheap plastic phone rings loudly, startling them all. Kathryn hates answering the thing, hates the idea that she can't immediately see who is on the other line. When it rings, Tom usually answers it. It's always Kathryn's work, looking for her to come in on a Saturday.
"Hello?" Tom says, trying not to sound immediately suspicious. All activities within the house pause and the three of them stare at him.
"May I speak with Kate?" the voice on the other end asks. It's a woman and Tom doesn't recognize the voice, but then, he's never met any of her co-workers.
"May I ask who's calling?" he says.
"This is Betsy," she says. "You must be her husband, Eugene!"
"Um," Tom says, startled. He wasn't aware that Kathryn spoke about him to anyone at work. "Yes, that's me. Let me get my wife for you."
Kathryn rolls her eyes and takes the phone.
"Betsy," he says.
"Hello?" she says, shifting the phone to one shoulder so her hands are free. She takes a sheet of paper and a pencil from the counter and writes down an address and a phone number. "Sure," she says. "Three O'clock."
When she hangs up, she sighs and pushes her hair behind her ears.
"Everything all right?" Chakotay asks.
"Got called into work," she says. "Tom, can you drive me?"
"Yes," he says, glancing at the clock on the wall. "I'll have to drop you off on my way to work. You might have to take the bus home."
"I don't want you taking the bus after dark," Chakotay says. Kathryn narrows her eyes at him.
"It can't be helped," she says, folding up the paper and slipping it into her pocket.
"Perhaps Command Chakotay could accompany you on this mission," Tuvok offers.
"How would I explain him?" Kathryn asks. "My brother?"
"Your friend," Chakotay says.
"And that's one more person I'd have to explain to the people I work with," she says. "I don't want to risk it."
"You don't have any problem telling them about Tom!" Chakotay says.
"Don't be petty," she says.
"How long is this going to take?" Tom says, trying to head off the fight before it begins.
"A few hours, probably," she says.
"I'll just pick you up after my shift," Tom says. "No harm, no foul."
Everyone disperses from the tense living room. Chakotay closes his door; Tuvok makes no noise on the stairs. When Tom passes the staircase on his way to the bathroom, he can hear Kathryn upstairs crying. It's a sound he's never heard from her before but one that is easy to recognize. With an unhappy mother, two sisters, and too many girlfriends over the years to count, Tom Paris knows what a woman crying sounds like. Part of him thinks he should just let her be because everyone has hard days, but he finds himself climbing the steps and knocking lightly on her door.
When she opens the door, she has tried to wipe away the evidence, but her eyes are red and her chin still trembling.
"Hey," he says. "You want to get out of here?"
They don't have to leave for over an hour, but she nods and grabs her bag and they leave without telling anyone. In the car, silent tears run down her cheeks because she simply can't seem to stop them. He takes his sunglasses from the dashboard and hands them to her. She puts them on.
He turns to say something but she cuts him off.
"I don't really need a pep talk, Lieutenant," she says.
He starts the engine.
There's a coffee shop in the neighborhood of where she's headed so he takes her there. Coffee is cheap and they can sit at a table for as long as they want once they buy a cup. He pays for both cups with change from his pocket and she, for once, doesn't lecture him on unnecessary spending. While he doctors his cup with milk and sugar packets, she sits down near the window and dabs at her eyes with a napkin. When she pushes the sunglasses up onto her head, she almost looks like she belongs here. She's left behind elaborate hairdos. Instead she lets her hair hang down or pulls it back into a simple ponytail. Today, it covers her back and shoulders and when the sun hits it though the window, it glows red. He's beginning to have trouble seeing where Kathryn becomes the Captain anymore.
He sits down.
"Captain, I…" he says.
"You shouldn't call me that, here," she admonishes. He looks over his shoulder. There's a middle-aged man reading the paper and the girl behind the counter besides them. The place, at this time of day, is dead. Maybe she's being paranoid or maybe he's not being careful enough but all the rules are beginning to chafe on him.
"Have you found a new place to live?" he asks.
"Tuvok is working on that," she says. "He wants to move near Lake Tahoe."
"Really?" he asks, surprised. He's been to the ski resorts up there. His father took him as a child, though he imagines they're much different in this century.
"It's in the mountains and there's few towns big enough nearby where we could get work," Kathryn says. "I don't have a better idea. He's been researching."
"I think it's a good idea," Tom says. "When?"
"Two weeks," she says. "I put in my notice yesterday and Chakotay finishes his job next week."
"I'll put mine in, too," Tom says. "Today."
"So it's settled," she says. "And you can get us there in the car?"
"Yes," he says. "I'd like to give you a few lessons before we go, though."
"I don't know," she says, looking out at the congested traffic on the street before them.
"I could use the help," he says. "And if we take turns driving, we won't have to stop if I get tired."
She doesn't need Tuvok to show her the logic of that.
At work, in the lost and found box, Tom finds a journal. It's moleskin and brown with a long leather strip to tie it closed. Someone had left it in one of the booths. When he opens it, it is empty and smells fresh and new. Before he leaves, he slips the journal into the pocket of his apron. He picks up Kathryn who looks tired and not in the mood for talking. When they get home, she doesn't even shower before she locks herself into her room and falls into bed.
He knocks on Chakotay's door and he opens it in a pair of jeans and nothing else.
"What?" he says.
"I have something for you," he says. "I found it at work and I thought you might like to have it."
He hands Chakotay the journal. Chakotay takes it and turns it over in his hands, touching the soft cover and flipping through the blank pages. He's silent so long that Tom thinks maybe he misread the man and the gift, that it was a stupid idea. But finally, Chakotay speaks.
"Thank you, Paris," he says. "I… thank you."
"Sure," Tom says. "Night."
Chakotay comes with them when Tom gives Kathryn her first driving lesson. She sits in the back and Tom drives them to an industrial neighborhood full of empty parking lots.
"Okay, it's not unlike flying," he says, shutting the engine off.
"Are you kidding me?" she says.
"I mean, the interface," he says. "The wheel steers, there are gauges for speed and distance. The hardest part, I think, is getting the hang of changing gears." He points out the pedals and their meanings before they all switch so she's in the driver's seat and Chakotay is in the back, looking concerned for his own wellbeing.
It takes her a couple of tries, but she gets the hang of it pretty quickly, considering. She makes four loops around the lot at different speeds without stalling the engine.
"Okay, up here take a left out onto the street," Tom instructs. Instead, she steps hard on the breaks and in the back Chakotay slams against Tom's seat.
"I'm not driving where there are people," she says.
"Then why are we doing this?" Tom asks. "You're going to have to someday."
"I don't want to hurt anyone," she says. "I think injuring or killing someone constitutes changing the timeline."
"Oh, but forging government documentation doesn't," Tom says.
"Paris," Chakotay says, a warning note in his voice.
"Captain," Tom says. "We've made the choice to try to survive here but we can't keep pulling the rug out from under ourselves. You need to learn this and you need to do it today."
She stares at him, surprise written clearly across her face. He's voiced his opinion before, but he's never really ordered her to do something. Tom feels like the balance of power has shifted slightly. He knows the most about this time and understands the world they're living in. Shouldn't that give him some leeway? Does the command structure make sense at all here?
"You're right," she says. "I'm… you're right."
Tom turns around.
"Put on your seatbelt," he says to Chakotay.
Kathryn drives them home.
Everything they own fits in the trunk. They put their clothes into plastic trash bags and take some of their kitchen things – the plastic dishes and set of utensils. Tuvok puts all of the Starfleet things in a box and then doesn't let it go. In the car, it sits on his lap and when they stop, he carries it to the bathroom with him. Theoretically, the drive should take about eight hours but in reality, it's going to take longer. They'll stop to eat, stop to find a bathroom, get lost a few times. They'll sit in traffic.
By the time they make it to the highway that connects southern and northern California, they are all hot and grouchy. Tom stops to let them use the bathroom and to let Kathryn drive. In the gas station store, Tom sees her take a box of tampons to the counter, purchase them, and carry the box into the bathroom with her. He realizes, stupidly, that in his hundreds of trips to the grocery store, he's never once thought about buying her anything like that.
While Kathryn drives and Tom sleeps, Chakotay writes in his journal. He always writes in pencil, perhaps so their history can be easily wiped away. Tom sits next to him in the back and lets his head rest against the window. The glass is hot and the sun is high in the sky. Kathryn eats sunflower seeds while she drives. She leaves the damp, empty shells in a Styrofoam coffee cup and the sound of her cracking is soothing to Tom.
When he wakes up, he feels disoriented. The landscape looks different. There are more rolling hills and the desert is gone. Tom leans forward and touches Kathryn's shoulder. She meets his eyes in the rearview mirror. She nods once in understanding. While they wait for an appropriate place to pull over, Tom glances at Chakotay. He's asleep, his ball cap pulled down low over his eyes. On his lap, his journal has fallen open and Tom sees that he's drawn a picture of Kathryn driving. It's just the side of her – the line of her jaw and her hands. One is on the gearshift, where she tends to rest it, and her left hand is on the steering wheel. Chakotay has drawn the ring on her finger in angry, dark lines.
Tom drives up the mountain, but even he doesn't feel completely comfortable going around the bends in the darkness. He takes it slow and pulls over often for the line of cars that gather behind him. Kathryn, beside him in the front seat now, holds a map open on her lap.
"You're doing fine," she murmurs.
He glances at her and nods once, his thanks.
The house Tuvok has found for them is a furnished rental. It's easily twice the size of their house in southern California for less rent. It's owned by an elderly couple who are too old, now, to visit their summer home but don't want to sell it. Inside, they find pictures of grandchildren on the walls, well-used decks of cards and ancient appliances. But, there are beds in every room and closets full of linens, winter coats and shoes, and other odds and ends that will probably prove useful as the time begins to pass.
Tom is excited about having a bed and a room with a door. There are two bathrooms, furniture, and things that even Tom doesn't recognize.
"What's a dishwasher?" Tom asks aloud, reading directions taped up on the inside of a cabinet door.
"What ever it is, don't touch it," Chakotay says.
"This is fine work, Commander," Kathryn tells Tuvok. "It will do."
Despite the day of driving, Tom can't sleep. He comes out of his room into the dark and quiet house. He and Tuvok have taken the rooms upstairs. But now, Tom creeps downstairs and lets his curiosity get the best of him. He goes through every cupboard in the kitchen and every drawer. He sits in front of the closet in the hallway and inspects each item he finds. Some things he recognizes – what looks like an old radio and the supplies meant for cleaning, but some things are extremely foreign. Everything with an electric plug he wants to find a socket for, but is afraid of things making noise.
It's early morning when Kathryn comes out of her bedroom. Tom has already made coffee and hands her a mug. He knows, now, how to operate the dishwasher, the laundry machines, the VCR, as wells as a few other technological devices. One of the drawers in the kitchen contains old operating manuals, their pages slightly yellow with age. He has read them all.
"You need some rest," Kathryn says, accepting the cup and looking at him strangely.
"I can't sleep," he says. "I keep worrying if we did the right thing."
"Really?" she asks.
"I know, it doesn't make sense but…"
"It's all right to be scared," she says.
"The longer we're here, the more involved we get," he says. "We meet more people, we forge more documents, more and more money changes hands. I wish there were a way to stay out of society all together."
"I do too, but I just don't see how it's feasible," she says. "I find it curious, Tom. "
"You love this time period."
"I used to," he says. "You can love something without wanting to live it."
Kathryn sips at her mug.
Six weeks later, Tuvok disappears.
One day, he goes into the garage to work on finding a way back to their own time and he simply never comes back in the house. When he doesn't come in for dinner, Chakotay goes out to retrieve him and comes back looking forlorn and confused.
They search the neighborhood, but it isn't like Tuvok to wander off unannounced. It also isn't like Tuvok to leave 24th century technology unattended. But one of the tricorders is there, blinking in the dark garage. Everything else is the same. The car is still parked in the driveway, Tuvok's room looks untouched but not abandoned. His bed is made; his clothes hang in the closet. He's just gone.
"Give me that," Kathryn says, taking the tricorder from Chakotay's hand. She slides into one of the chairs and the dining room table and Tom knows her expression. They won't hear from her for a while.
Tom doesn't know what to do. Feeling helpless, he takes the car keys and the car and drives around aimlessly. He covers the neighborhood streets again and then out into the town's main streets. He drives all the way to the ski resort where he works as a bartender, where they didn't care about references and hired him on charm alone.
But of course, Tuvok is nowhere to be found.
When he comes home, Chakotay and Janeway are both sitting at the table with the tricorder between them. Chakotay looks up at him but he shakes his head.
"What did you find?" he asks, slipping into an empty chair.
"Here," Kathryn says, pointing to the tricorder's display.
"A phase variance?" he says.
"I think it's temporal," Kathryn says. "I think…"
"We believe Tuvok has jumped to another time."
"Our time?" Tom asks.
"There's really no way of knowing," Kathryn says, closing the tricorder with disgust.
"But how?" Tom asks. He's met with silence. "Yeah."
"Tuvok used to talk to me," Kathryn says. "I don't know anything about the research he was doing."
"It was hard on him," Chakotay says. "More than the rest of us."
"We should search his room," Tom says. "Maybe there are notes."
"Maybe," Kathryn says. On the stove, their dinner has gone cold. No one is hungry and so Tom packs the food away into containers and leaves it in the refrigerator for another day.
Autumn is a surprise. Tom has forgotten about real seasons after living so long in southern California where it's warm all the time. But the air turns crisp quickly and they start wearing some of the old jackets that have come with the house. Kathryn works at the community college doing much the same thing – fixing computers and upgrading technology. Most days, she takes the car and Tom takes one of the many buses that go up to the ski resorts. He gets home late, always. When he lets himself into the house, everyone is asleep. Sometimes he can hear Chakotay snoring and once, he finds Kathryn asleep in Tuvok's bed but it was only once and since she never mentions it, he doesn't either.
Chakotay likes to make fires in the old stone fireplace. The garage came with a wall of chopped wood and as the weather turns, they start to burn it. It keeps the living room warm, at least, and they can turn the furnace down low and save money. One of the flannel shirts that Tom had procured for Chakotay, Kathryn wears often. It hangs on her, covering her knees and her hands, but she treats it like a robe. She slips it on when she's cold or sleepy. When Tom does the laundry, he always hangs it in Chakotay's closet but in no time, Kathryn has it again.
With Tuvok, there was a balance but now, Tom feels more and more like the third wheel. Kathryn and Chakotay murmur to one another in short hand, a language that's hard for Tom to decipher. Watching them makes Tom miss Harry and B'Elanna desperately. Kathryn and Chakotay were friends before all this happened and Tom misses having friends he can communicate with. He hopes Harry is still playing his clarinet, still chasing after the wrong twin. He hopes Harry misses him too.
Tom goes for walks during the day. Chakotay has construction jobs sometimes and sometimes not but Kathryn is almost always gone when he wakes up. He showers and puts on warm clothes and disappears into the neighborhood. They are on the edge of town, so it's easy for him to step off the roads and into the forest. The trees are tall and he likes feeling small around them, breathing deeply the smell of pine and soil, of the growing things and damp earth. He finds an enormous pinecone and brings it back to the house. Kathryn sets it on the mantle like it's a trophy of their achievement, their ability to find beauty in any situation.
"It's still Earth," he hears Chakotay say to her once.
"It may as well be a different planet," she'd replied. "Chakotay, I miss my ship."
Tom thinks a lot about how life is proceeding on Voyager without them and he knows he's not the only one. With Kathryn, Chakotay, and Tom all gone (Tuvok, too, probably), it leaves whom in charge, exactly? B'Elanna is the highest-ranking officer, but Harry is an actual Starfleet graduate. The Doctor isn't a real flesh and blood human, but has every right as CMO to take command. It's strange how Kathryn put the four highest-ranking officers on the same dangerous away mission.
The week of the first snow, Tom works overtime. He'll finally start making some money, not having to rely on the spa and casino to bring in tourists. There's actual snow on the mountain and families come in droves with their skis over their shoulders. He works doubles and weekends and is exhausted but makes hundreds of dollars every night. He drags himself home and sleeps in his clothes.
The first week of December, he comes home to find Kathryn still awake, crying on the couch.
"What happened?" he says, locking the door behind him and rushing to her side.
"He's gone," Kathryn says.
"What?" Tom asks, confused.
"Chakotay," she says, her face salty, sticky, and hot. "He's gone."
It's the same as Tuvok. One moment he was there and the next he wasn't. His things are still in his bedroom. His journal is still on the dresser, tied up tight. Tom picks it up and brings it out to where Kathryn sits at the dining room table with a glass of cold water and a bottle of ibuprofen.
"It might give us a clue," Tom says, setting the book between them. Kathryn looks mildly sick at the thought, but they need to know if Chakotay had figured out what happened to Tuvok, had recreated the conditions and stepped back into their own time. Tom can't bring himself to open the book so Kathryn takes it and unties the strip with nimble fingers. She starts on page one, her eyes moving quickly through the words. Chakotay's hand is sloppy – none of them are used to writing anything out on paper. She pauses at the picture of her driving and then at another, of Tom standing next to a tree.
"I didn't know he could draw so well," Tom says, because the silence is becoming unbearable. Kathryn doesn't comment, just keeps scanning. At one point, she sits up and holds the journal closer to her body so he can't see the words anymore. Her face slowly flushes and when she glances up at him, her eyes are glassy once more.
"Do you want me to read it?" he asks, softly.
"Absolutely not," she says. She flips to the last entry and reads back a few pages. "There's nothing in here about research, about Tuvok, about anything related to time travel, getting home."
"Maybe it's Voyager," Tom says. "Maybe they figured out a way to get us back."
"I want to hope for that," she says, holding the journal close to her chest. "I want to be sure of it."
All they can do is wait and see.
With the two of them, things are strangely and abruptly different. Even simple things are different – there is less laundry and less food for every meal. The hot water lasts longer and the dishes don't pile up quite so quickly. But other things are more complicated as well – Tom is acutely aware that it is just the two of them all the time. When he hears dishes clinking in the early morning, he knows it's Kathryn. When he doesn't, he worries and gets up to check on her afraid always that he'll find himself alone. More than once, he opens her door in the middle of the night to make sure she's still there, sleeping.
His bedroom has two twin beds side by side and he wishes she would come sleep in the empty bed so he can always keep an eye on her, but he won't ask. Mostly, he doesn't sleep anymore. She hates driving in the ice and snow, so he's started a new and horrific routine. Get home around three am, waking up at seven to drive her to work. Around five, he picks her ups, drops her off at home, and goes to work.
Sundays are the only days they both have off. They sit around, waiting for the worst. She studies the tricorder over and over again but it is a tool meant for, mostly, collecting data, not analyzing it. It has picked up a second phase variance coinciding with the disappearance of Chakotay but they still don't know what it means, how to predict it, or better, recreate it.
"Let's go out," Tom says, suddenly.
"What?" she says, looking up from Chakotay's journal. She's been reading it for days.
"For dinner," he says. "Let's go somewhere."
"Waste of money," she says.
"We need to get out of this house," Tom says.
"Tom," she sighs, closing the journal. "I'm really not in the mood."
"I don't care," he says. "This may be insubordination, but I can't sit here anymore and I'm not leaving without you."
She looks at him levelly and coolly.
"Is there somewhere I can get pancakes?"
Kathryn is starting to lose sleep. More and more she's awake when Tom gets home from work. For the first time ever, she calls in sick to work. They sit at the table and play cards. Tom is best at poker, but it's not any fun with two people so mostly they play Gin and Vulcan Pinochle, which is a surprisingly cutthroat game. The snow begins to fall harder and harder and when the phone rings, it's Tom's work telling him he won't be able to get up the mountain and to just stay home.
"Okay," Tom says. "We aren't going to wallow."
Kathryn doesn't respond, just slides the cards into their cardboard box and tucks the flap closed.
"What do you suggest we do, then?" she asks. "I'm open to ideas."
"What did you used to do for fun?" Tom asks. "I mean, before you had responsibilities."
"I swam," she says. "Played tennis, hoverball, and parrises squares."
"Besides sports," he says. "What did you do to relax?"
"Sometimes," she sighs. "Sometimes it's as if you don't know me."
It takes him a moment to realize she's joking but then the corner of her mouth twitches and he grins. It's a good feeling, humor. It's not happiness, but it's a relief nonetheless.
"I know this isn't what you had in mind when I told you about the away mission," she says.
"I've learned to not have any expectations about life aboard Voyager," Tom says. It's a faux pas, saying the name of the ship. Kathryn turns her face away, as if the word causes her pain.
"It's really coming down out there," she says. "I hope we don't get snowed in."
"I have an idea," he says. "Put on something warm."
In the garage are two plastic discs. At first, Tom couldn't figure out what they were for, but then he saw the handles fastened to the sides and he realized they were a kind of sled. Kathryn, though it's slightly out of character, doesn't ask any questions. She just rises and moves to the bedroom to change. He suspects she likes taking orders on some level, to hand the control over to him for however brief a time.
She meets him outside, her feet in the old boots and in a jacket too big but plenty warm. She eyes the saucers warily.
"Do you know how old I am?" she asks. "Broken bones are much harder to mend here."
"Take a risk," he goads. She grabs one of the saucers from him without a word. They cross the street, walk down two blocks, and walk across the high school football field to a hill. The snow falls steadily, sticking to their clothes and hair, but it's invigorating. Kathryn stands at the top of the hill and looks down. Under the fresh powder, they can see where people have been sledding here already – the shallow path chiseled out.
"I haven't done this in thirty years," she says.
"I've never done it," Tom admits. She gives him an unbelieving look. "I can ski," he argues. "I've just never done, this, exactly."
"Well, I'd better go first then."
She sits down and after a moment's hesitation, slides down the hill. It's bumpy at the bottom, and she goes sliding off course a bit. When she stops, she's mostly off the saucer and lies back in the snow. He can see that she's uninjured; he can see her chest rise and fall rapidly. When she doesn't move, Tom sits hard on his own saucer and pushes himself down the hill. He can't even enjoy the experience as the saucer flies down the incline. When he stops, he's several feet away from her.
"Captain," he says. "Are you all right?"
He rushes over to her. When she doesn't move, he takes her hand and pulls her to her feet.
"Maybe we're not doing enough," she says, as if they have been in the middle of the conversation all along. "Maybe we should be creating the technology we need. Producing the alloys, creating the power source. If we had enough technology, enough time, we could figure out a way off this planet."
"Captain, even if we could manage to make some sort of space worthy craft, warp flight would alert the Vulcans years too early," he says.
"We could explain to them what happened. Maybe with their technology we could find a way home," she argues.
"Vulcan technology four hundred years from now can't support time travel," he says. "It's against the prime directive."
"The prime directive doesn't exist yet!"
Her voice echoes through the forest, bouncing off trees back at them. Her back is covered with snow and he can see that she's shivering. The sun is setting now and it's only going to get colder.
The next morning, Tom wakes up with a cold. His throat feels raw and his nose runs and runs.
"You have a fever," Kathryn says, but there's nothing to be done about it. Medicine is as expensive as it is ineffective. "I'll call in for you."
"I shouldn't miss two days in a row," he says, moving to get off the couch, but she presses him down by the shoulder.
"I need you to get well, Tom," she says. "We can't afford any serious illness."
"I'll call," he says, coughing into his sleeve. His voice is already beginning to falter. It sounds scratchy and thin.
"I'll do it," she says again. "After all, I'm your wife."
He smiles at her. She dials the number into the telephone slowly, like she's working advanced technology that she doesn't quite understand. After a moment, she starts to speak.
"Hello, this is Mrs. Jenkins, Eugene's wife. I'm afraid he's taken quite ill."
She looks at him again, studying his flushed skin and sweaty brow. She's looking at him when something shifts in the air. He can almost taste it, like metal in his mouth and then she's rippling before him.
He tries to leap over the back of the sofa and grab her, but his hand passes right through her and then she is gone. The phone receiver drops and swings by its cord against the wall with a thump. He can hear the tinny voice on the other side calling out. But it's too late. She's gone.
It's like someone has put a rock in his heart. Being alone makes him feel like a trapped animal. It's too much to endure. He knows he can't survive very long by himself. He can't afford the rent with his salary alone, can't stand the constant isolation from anyone who truly knows him. When he's certain she's not coming back, he goes into Kathryn's room and lies in her bed. The pillow smells like her hair and he presses his face into it. Under the pillow, he discovers the journal. He opens it and scans the pages, looking for what she was so unwilling to show him.
Chakotay speaks of a deep longing. He writes about Kathryn's fading hope and growing distance from the rest of them. He writes about wanting to hold her in his arms, pull her to his bed and make the feelings of doubt and despair disappear. He makes several references to New Earth, to events between them that Tom doesn't know about. Tom is jealous of their history. Near the end, right before Chakotay's abrupt disappearance, there are several pages on their fake marriage. It's nothing but paper and cheap metal rings, but Chakotay cannot stand it.
Why not me? he wrote. There were several reasons. One was they weren't sure Chakotay was going to be employable. They weren't certain how humans in this time perceived interracial marriages. Tom blended better in larger society – the list went on.
After Chakotay's last entry, Tom finds that Kathryn had started to fill the pages her self.
Tom tries to keep my spirits up, but I think he's just as frightened as I am. If I could only contact Tuvok and Chakotay, if I only knew they were all right I would feel better. If it is Voyager who's snatching them, why one at a time? Why not me first? A Captain belongs with her ship. Without a ship, without Starfleet, what exactly am I? I suspect Tom will be the next to go. He makes this time bearable and I don't think I can live here without him.
Tom wakes up at dawn. He's confused at first. He doesn't know where he is or why it smells like the Captain. When he rolls over, he half expects her to be in the bed next to him, but then he remembers that she's gone.
He drives to work feeling disoriented. He's still sick, but he doesn't know what to do other than continue on with the routine and wait for his turn. When his boss asks him what's wrong, he tells the boss that his wife had to leave suddenly for a family emergency.
Tom can tell that the boss thinks he's lying, that the boss thinks his wife has left him. It feels that way. It feels like he has been left brokenhearted.
When he is home, Tom packs up the other's things. He puts Kathryn's clothes in a bag and the things that Tuvok and Chakotay had go on top of those. He throws away toothbrushes and the things he can't use for himself. He cancels the phone service and the cable because they're too expensive. The clothes go to charity and the sheets on their beds get washed and put back in the linen closet. Instead of washing Kathryn's sheets, he washes his own and moves to her room permanently.
It takes another five weeks. Five weeks before he's standing at the sink washing dishes by hand and then, suddenly, he's on the transporter pad and B'Elanna is in front of him, grinning like mad.
"Tom!" she says. She taps her badge. "Torres to bridge. We got him!"
"Where's the Captain," he demands. "Where are Tuvok and Chakotay?"
"They're fine," she assures him. "Sorry it took so long."
He rushes past her and out of the transporter room. It's bizarre to be back. The air feels strangely thin and clean and the artificial gravity pulls at him. He almost gets turned around on his way to the turbolift but then it all floods back into him. Left, then right, deck one, and a few moments later, the doors open to the bridge.
It's Harry, grinning and looking proud. No doubt he had something to do with getting Tom back. But Tom only has eyes for Kathryn, the Captain again, now. She stands by her chair and looks at him with a solemn face. Chakotay and Tuvok are both there – they're all in uniform looking for all the world like they never left Voyager in the first place. He's the moron in jeans and a cable knit sweater, his hair too long to be regulation and with a beard.
"Your hands are wet," Kathryn, no, the Captain says, finally.
"I was washing the dishes," he says. "Oh, God, I left the water running."
Janeway cocks her head to the ready room and Tom wipes his hands on his thighs before following her in. Chakotay and Tuvok exchange glances but don't follow them.
"Are you all right?" she asks, once the doors have closed. He looks around at the pristine ready room. There's an underlying hum of technology, of thrumming energy that grates on his nerves. He looks back at her, at the concerned expression on her face.
"You were just gone," he says, feeling overwhelmed. "You were there and then you weren't."
"I know," she says. "Tom, they had no way of warning us. The window of time in which they could use the singularity to retrieve us was short. They could only take one of us at a time and then there was a long wait in between."
"Where's Voyager?" he asks, confused.
"We're still in the Delta Quadrant. It's a long story, you can read the report, if you'd like," she says. "Are you sure you're okay? The phase back into our time can be uncomfortable."
"I can't believe I left the sink on," he says. "It's going to flood the kitchen."
"Tom, that was 400 years ago. That house probably isn't even still there."
He realizes she's right.
"And since we're here, I can only imagine anyone who found our technology didn't know how to use it," she says.
"No, I destroyed it," Tom says. "When you disappeared I thought I might be next so I destroyed the comm. badges, the tricorders. I burned Chakotay's journal."
"That's good work, Tom," she says. She keeps saying his name – he's had more medical training than she has. She thinks he's had a traumatic experience and she's trying to anchor him by repeating his name, by using a soft, calm voice. He notices that she doesn't have the ring on. He can't even see a strip of pale skin on her finger where it would have been. He takes his off now, hastily, embarrassed. He drops it on her desk and it clinks and clatters. His finger is green from the cheap metal and he tries to rub it away.
"What do I do now?" he asks. "Ma'am?"
"Your quarters are still there, just as you left them," she says. "I need you to go to sickbay and let the Doctor take a look at you."
"When can I come back on duty?" he asks. "There must be repairs."
"We'll let the Doctor tell us when you can come back," she says. "The ship is fine. We're going to resume course to the Alpha Quadrant. We've lost two years to this mess and we need to try to make some of that up."
"Right," he says. He doesn't want to go out to the bridge and face the people there. He doesn't want to catch up with Harry or look at the helm.
"I'll walk out with you," she says and she does. She walks him all the way to the turbolift and the expression on her face deters any interruptions. He expects her to leave him there, in the lift, but she takes him all the way to sickbay and then stands by his bed while the Doctor scans him, inoculates him, deems him physically healthy.
"When can I return to duty?" Tom asks. The Doctor and Janeway exchange glances.
"The transition can be difficult," Janeway says, again. It's a weird thing to repeat after he's already been given a clean bill of health but he realizes that she doesn't mean dizziness or nausea. "Get settled. I'll let you know about duty."
His quarters really are untouched. There's still a dirty uniform on the floor, his razor by the sink, his hockey stick leaning in the corner. He touches things lightly – runs his hand along the desktop, picks up one of his pillows and smells it. He takes a sonic shower and though it leaves him cleaner than a traditional water shower, it doesn't feel that way. He stands in front of his mirror and stares hard. The beard has to go but he doesn't feel like shaving it just yet.
When he puts on a clean shirt, it feels tight across his chest and shoulders. Two years of much more physical work has broadened his upper body.
Harry comes by.
"I'm headed to the mess," he says. "Want to get dinner?"
"Sure," he says. Mostly, he wants to stay in his quarters but he's had enough of being alone in the last five weeks, so he goes with Harry. Harry talks about life on Voyager without the majority of the senior staff, about the scientific details of their eventual rescue and he doesn't seem to notice that Tom isn't saying anything. A couple people clap when Tom walks into the mess hall and Tom waves, nods, forces a smile.
"Mr. Paris!" Neelix says. "I'd like to speak with you about the party!"
"Neelix," Harry says. "Can we talk about that tomorrow?"
The last thing Tom wants is a party and after he eats, he excuses himself and goes to the Captain's quarters. She answers the door and doesn't seem at all surprised to see him. Instead, she steps aside and allows him entrance. They sit on the sofa next to one another. If there had been a television in front of them playing the nightly news, it would have been all too familiar.
"I don't want a party," he says.
"Fine," she agrees. "I'll take care of it." She probably doesn't want a party either. The celebration is in their accomplishment, in their returning home. The payoff will be in things returning to normal.
"Will you tell me what it was like for you?" Tom asks. She sighs and rubs her hands on her pants.
"It was… difficult," she says. "I wanted to be able to get right back into the swing of things, but I found myself second guessing every decision, every choice. All I did was worry about you and there wasn't anything to do but wait." Her honesty is refreshing. "I hate waiting."
"Me too," he says.
"The crew was so proud, you know, and I was proud of them too but…" She doesn't finish the thought.
"Tuvok and Chakotay?" he asks.
"Tuvok is Tuvok," she says, with a wry smile. "And Commander Chakotay doesn't seem to want to talk about his experience at all." Tom can tell by her tone that this is unusual.
"You read his journal," Tom supplies. To him, the reason is obvious. She looks slightly scandalized that Tom says this.
"He hasn't said as much, but yes, I imagine that's at least part of it."
"I read it, too," Tom admits. "You thought you'd be the one left alone."
"I did," she says. "But, it turns out there was no specific order. B'Elanna grabbed who she could grab in the short window."
"I see," he says. "I'll just be thankful it wasn't Tuvok and me at the end there."
"Don't take this the wrong way, Tom, but I'm glad you were the last one and not me," she says. "I know I should always want what's best for my crew but the thought of being there alone…." She touches his forearm. His skin is tanner than hers – the little color she'd picked up is gone now. "You're strong. You can take care of yourself. I knew I didn't have to worry that we'd bring you back dead."
"It wasn't easy," he says.
"No," she confirms. "It surely wasn't."
They sit quietly for a moment. Finally, she reaches into her pocket and pulls out the pair of wedding rings. She holds open her palm and finally, he takes the larger one.
"You know," she says. "I just can't bring myself to recycle them."
"It was my first marriage," he says, trying to sound cheeky.
"Mine too," she agrees, laughing slightly. "I thought it went very well."
"It ended pretty quick," he says.
She curls her hand around the ring and she holds it tightly.
Tom is actually excited on the day he returns to duty. He just wants to get back to normal, to put this whole bizarre episode behind him. He puts his uniform on, he gets his hair trimmed, he shaves his face. When he looks in the mirror, he looks like a Starfleet officer and once again he looks like himself. He gets to the bridge a few minutes early because he is excited to fly. He wants to get settled. B'Elanna has informed him of small alterations she'd made to the engines and helm interfaces in the last two years. He sits in his chair. He's early enough that the bridge is mostly empty. There are a few members of the night shift lingering – Ensign Matthews at the science station, Ayala at Tuvok's post, and, sitting in her chair, Captain Janeway. She nods at him when he steps onto the bridge and he knows that she's watching him.
He runs his hand along the metal frame.
"Hello," he whispers. Behind him, he hears Janeway snort back laughter. Talking to the ship is one of her peculiarities and he can only imagine that she did the same thing upon returning. He hears her get up and walk toward him and then feels her place a firm hand on his shoulder.
"Welcome back, Lieutenant," she says, very formally. Informally, she gives him an affectionate scratch at his hairline on the back of his neck before returning to her seat. The hiss of the turbolift doors means everyone else is beginning to arrive.
"Your orders, Ma'am?" he says, spinning in his chair to look at her.
"Earth," she says, assuredly. "Warp six."