"This may hurt, at first . . . "
"Owww!" Bogg yelped, abandoning all attempts at stoicism. "Bat's breath--that's cold!"
"Ice usually is." Susan peered more closely at his bare shoulder and gave a sympathetic wince. "That's going to be one nasty bruise."
"No kidding," Bogg said sourly. "He clobbered me with a baseball bat. Or something a lot like it."
"A cricket bat, maybe." Susan's tone was a little absent as she shifted the makeshift cold-pack--loose ice cubes wrapped in a washcloth--to a better position over the injury.
"Can't believe we got a green light," Bogg groused, glowering at the Omni in the palm of his hand. "He got away--again--and history's okay with this?"
"Count your blessings," Susan advised him. "At least we know his days as a baby-snatcher are probably over."
Bogg grunted. "'Probably' being the operative word."
She gave him a wry smile. "In this job, we have to take what we can get. Jeffrey's safe, his parents have been warned, Drake's accomplice is in jail and singing like a canary the last I heard--all's well that ends well."
"Until next time," Bogg muttered, flipping the Omni shut again. But he had to admit that Susan had a point. Losing Drake had been a major disappointment, but Jeff's being okay was all that really mattered. After limping out of the rogue Voyager's abandoned flat, he had made his way back to Susan, who had been waiting for him outside the police station. Together they had slipped away, checked into the first hotel that looked halfway decent, and tended to Bogg's shoulder.
A knock on the door startled them both. Bogg glanced quizzically at his partner. "You call for room service?"
Susan shook her head and made her way over to the door. "Yes?" she called tentatively.
"It's me, Beckett," a male voice announced.
"Oh!" Susan stole a confirming glance through the peephole, then unlatched the door to admit the senior lab tech. Removing the ice pack, Bogg eased himself back into his shirt and began to sit up.
"Everything okay?" Beckett asked, eyeing him with some concern. Behind them, Susan closed and relatched the door.
Bogg shrugged his good shoulder. "Piece of cake. What have you got there?" he asked, jerking his chin towards the suitcase the other man was carrying.
"Extra clothes, among other things. The VLS showed you were in trouble," Beckett added to Bogg. "Once we saw that, Susan Omnied in right away, to help."
"Perfect timing," Bogg remarked to Susan, now rejoining him on the couch.
She smiled. "I do my best."
"I take it the situation was dealt with?" Beckett asked.
Both Voyagers nodded. "Everything's under control," Susan reported. "And we have a green light now too."
"Good," Beckett said, smiling. "There's someone back at VHQ who'll be very glad to hear that. In fact," he continued, "I thought you might want to tell him that yourself, so I brought this along too." He handed Bogg a now-familiar object: the HGT.
The device in his hand, Bogg glanced questioningly up at the tech.
"Voyager Jones has been pretty worried about you," Beckett explained. "I think he'd be relieved if you got in touch with him. He's on stand-by at Mission Control."
Voyager Jones. Even after nearly two years, it was strange to hear Jeffrey called that. A big handle for such a little kid. All right, maybe not so little anymore, Bogg amended. Even if he could still scoop the boy up as if he weighed nothing at all.
He felt a sharp ache somewhere in the region of his heart. All of the sudden, he wanted very much to see Jeff, to reassure himself that the kid was safe and well.
"You want us to leave you two alone?" Susan asked, accurately gauging his thoughts.
"No, no--that's okay," Bogg assured her. "In fact, I could use some help making myself decent again."
Susan reached over to help him do up his shirt buttons again, then dropped the discarded cold-pack into the ice bucket. "You can put this back on again, afterwards."
"Thanks." Personally, Bogg would have preferred to forget the ice altogether but he doubted he'd be allowed to do so. Slipping on the headset, he flicked the HGT's "on" switch and pointed the device towards the largest empty space.
Again the rectangle of light materialized in the middle of the hotel room. A few seconds later, Jeffrey's image appeared within it. "Bogg!"
"Hey, kid." Even though Bogg knew they were communicating across different time zones, it was still startling to see thirteen-year-old Jeff gazing at him, when he'd parted from the toddler version just a few hours ago.
"Are you okay?" The boy's dark eyes were wide and anxious. "Bryce and Beckett said--"
"Everything's fine, Jeff," Bogg said hastily. "Nothing to worry about."
Jeffrey's posture relaxed a little, but he did not seem entirely reassured. "What was the problem? No one at HQ could tell me anything."
"Well . . . " Bogg hesitated, then quickly made up his mind. Whatever happened, he was determined to protect the boy. "There was this prowler, hanging around your folks' flat in London," he said at last. "I followed him into an alley, Susan landed on him, and then we turned him over to the police." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Susan make a sudden movement towards him, then stop herself.
"A prowler?" Jeffrey echoed, frowning. "But--why? Mom and Dad didn't have a whole lot of money back then."
Bogg shrugged, careful again to use only his good shoulder. "Dunno. Maybe he still thought they'd have something he wanted." Like a baby someone had paid him 500 quid to kidnap, his conscience added. "Anyway," Bogg resumed, trying to drown out that inner voice, "we stopped him. And got a green light too." Flipping open the Omni, he held it up to show Jeffrey the result.
"So it's all over?" Jeffrey sounded dubious.
"Looks like." Bogg kept his tone nonchalant. "I did run into your folks again," he added, by way of distraction. "They're doing fine--and they even asked me to come by for dinner tomorrow."
Again, a series of emotions played across the boy's face--wistfulness, a slight trace of envy, then determined optimism. "You're gonna go, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I thought I might, before taking off again," Bogg said. "Just to make sure everything's all right. Oh, and I got to meet you today as well."
Jeffrey blinked and the older Voyager wondered if it was as disconcerting for him to hear of his younger self as it had been for Bogg to encounter him. "You did?"
"Yeah. You hardly talked at all--I couldn't believe you were the same kid," Bogg teased.
That earned him an expressive roll of dark eyes. "Real funny, Bogg."
Bogg chuckled, letting his momentary amusement mask his deeper concern. "Well, I guess you can't really expect a two-year-old to carry on a conversation. Look, Jeff," his tone softened, "it's kind of late, here, and maybe we're both getting kinda tired. Maybe we can talk tomorrow?"
Jeffrey looked instantly contrite. "I didn't know I was keeping you up. Sorry, Bogg!"
"It's okay, kid. Why don't we both get some rest?"
The boy nodded his agreement. "Okay. Goodnight, Bogg."
"Goodnight, Jeff." Bogg flicked the "off" switch and the light winked out. He could sense the heavy silence behind him without turning around. When he did, finally, he saw Susan and Beckett both watching him with suspiciously neutral expressions.
"Don't say it," Bogg warned.
Susan spread her hands wide. "I didn't say a word."
"You didn't have to. Your face did it all for you. You think I should tell Jeff."
"Since you're asking--yes, I think you should," she replied.
"And I suppose you agree with her?" Bogg asked Beckett.
The tech glanced from one of them to the other. "Are we--talking about what I think we're talking about?"
"What did you think we were talking about?" Bogg asked, suddenly wary.
Beckett blew out a breath. "About who was smoking the cigar you wanted analyzed." Again he glanced at the two Voyagers. "I thought you'd want to know--it's a match."
So that was that. Official confirmation. Bogg exhaled, feeling vindicated but not relieved.
Susan's own expression was bleak. "We thought so. And now that you know," she added to Beckett, "we can tell you that the same person was behind the problems here, just as he was in 1968. Unfortunately, he got away again."
The tech nodded, unfazed. "I gathered as much."
"Phineas and I have been discussing whether to tell Jeffrey--"
"He's not gonna be told," Bogg broke in. "I'm keeping Jeff out of this, and that's final!"
"You sure that's a good idea?" Beckett asked, turning a worried frown in Bogg's direction. "He might be able to help--he's a really bright kid."
"Kid," Bogg emphasized. "He doesn't belong in the middle of this."
Susan sighed. "Phineas, with all due respect, he is in the middle of this, whether he belongs there or not."
"Yeah, well, I don't intend to drag him in any deeper," said Bogg with finality. "You think I don't know how smart he is? Sometimes I feel like I'm the kid, and he's the adult.
"But that's not how it is," he continued, pinning both of his companions with a steely glare. "He's only thirteen--and he's had to grow up way too fast already. No matter what it takes, I'm gonna protect him this time. Even if it means keeping him in the dark." He turned to Beckett. "And that's why I'm asking you not to tell him about all this. The cigar, Drake, what's really been going on here--for his own safety, he can't know."
Susan bit her lip, her expression troubled; Beckett didn't look much happier.
Bogg pressed home his advantage. "And I'm not asking this just as a Voyager. I'm asking as a guardian--because Jeff's the closest thing I have to family. And families take care of each other."
"Okay, okay!" Beckett held up his hands in capitulation. "I won't tell him. But I think you should," he added, meeting Bogg's eyes squarely. "Especially if you run into Voyager Drake on your next assignment."
Bogg sighed, raking a hand through his hair. "I'll think about it," he conceded at last.
"Ia that a promise?" Susan demanded.
"I'll think about it," Bogg repeated, a note of warning in his voice.
Beckett glanced at them both and stifled a sigh. "Look, I gotta run. Between your assignment and others', things are pretty hectic at Mission Control and it's not fair to expect Bryce to hold down the fort all by himself right now."
"Okay." Susan touched the tech's shoulder briefly in a light farewell. "Thanks for dropping by--with the clothes and the results."
"I hope they both come in handy," said Beckett, nodding at Bogg and unclipping a brass Omni from his own belt. A moment later, he was gone, as completely as if they had both imagined him.
Alone again. Bogg glanced warily at Susan. "You mad at me?" he ventured after what felt like a lengthy pause.
Susan sighed and shook her head. "How can I be mad when I know you're doing this because you love Jeffrey? I just don't happen to think you're 100 percent right."
"How about 90 percent?" he suggested hopefully.
She sighed again. "Time will tell," she said with a crooked smile. "Now, take off your shirt again, so I can have another look at that shoulder."