When he stepped out of the portal again, it was to find himself among the almost-comforting sights and sounds of Mission Control. The dimly lit room, the whirring, clicking machines . . . and Susan and Bryce watching him somberly from behind Bryce's console.
"Phineas." Susan came forward somewhat hesitantly. "Is everything . . . are you all right?"
Despite their recent clash, Bogg found that he did not want to fight with her anymore. No one had come through this unscathed: Jeffrey had lost his parents all over again, Susan had lost two friends. As Bogg himself had.
"I will be," he said at last. And he thought that might actually be true, in time. But first, there was something--and someone--of vital importance to deal with. "Jeff still in the infirmary?"
Bryce and Susan exchanged a glance that made Bogg's scalp prickle uneasily. "What?" he demanded, looking from one to the other.
"Actually, Phineas," Susan began, "Jeffrey . . . Jeffrey was here, just a little while ago."
"Here, in Mission Control? What for?"
"He came looking for you--"
"And for answers," Bryce said unexpectedly. He hesitated, then looked Bogg straight in the eye. "I gave them to him."
"You did what?" Bogg rounded on the tech.
Bryce hunched a defensive shoulder. "He wanted to know what was going on. So--I ran the Probability Projection Program for him."
Bogg strode to the console, fighting the urge to wring Bryce's skinny neck. "You showed him what would happen, if his folks survived the accident?" he asked incredulously, his voice rising to a near shout. "What the hell were you thinking?"
To his credit, Bryce didn't so much as flinch. "I was thinking he'd want to know the truth--"
"About all the ways he could die if he goes back to his own time? You dumped all that on a thirteen-year-old kid?"
"He asked me to!" Bryce's pale eyes flashed behind his glasses. "That 'thirteen year-old kid' is as smart as they come. Maybe you should stop underestimating him!" he added, jabbing an accusatory finger at Bogg's chest.
Seeing red, Bogg reached out and hauled Bryce up by the collar. "Why, you arrogant little--"
"Phineas!" Suddenly Susan was there between them. "Let go of him!"
The sharpness in her voice as much as her hands shoving at his chest cut through the rage. Biting back a snarl, Bogg released his hold on Bryce, who wrenched himself free with a snarl of his own. Eyes glaring, hands fisting, they sized each other up as if preparing to take the first punch.
"That's enough," Susan commanded, "from both of you."
Bogg gulped air, made himself count to ten, and then turned an accusing eye on her. "You let him do this?"
Susan sighed. "I was out of the room for a few minutes. When I came back, Bryce was already running the program for Jeffrey."
"And you didn't stop it?" Panic was riding along with the temper now.
"Phineas . . . " She paused, then made herself continue. "Bryce is telling the truth: Jeffrey did ask him for this."
Bogg swallowed dryly. "How--how did he take it?"
"Very quietly. He just--looked at all the screens, asked some questions . . . and then he left. Olivia was with him."
Olivia. Bogg exhaled, feeling a slight stirring of relief. Well, that was something--at least Jeffrey wasn't alone right now. "Any idea where they went?"
"No, but I don't think it was back to the infirmary."
"Try the lake," Bryce said suddenly. "It's a good place to go and think."
Bogg managed a stiff nod, fighting down his residual anger at the tech. "That's--a good idea," he conceded grudgingly, as he turned away. "I'll go there first."
"Voyager Bogg!" Bryce's voice caught him three strides from the door.
Still more than a little hostile, Bogg looked back over his shoulder. "Yeah?"
Bryce's flush was visible even in the shadows. "Sorry if I overstepped. I was trying to help Jones, that's all."
Bogg managed a stiff nod. "Apology accepted."
Bryce took a deep breath. "It's just that--I don't think he needs protection. Not as much as he needs someone to be straight with him. Like you."
Bogg sighed, feeling most of his anger draining away. "I'll keep that in mind."
In the late afternoon sun, the water was the color of amber, its placid surface wrinkled by a light breeze and the circling course of the ducks. Scanning the area, Bogg exhaled in a silent huff of relief when he saw the boy sitting on the bank and the tall blonde standing beside him.
Squaring his shoulders, he strode towards them. Olivia saw him first and stooped to nudge Jeffrey, who looked up at once.
"Bogg!" Scrambling to his feet, the boy ran towards the older Voyager, skidding to a halt when they were just inches apart and looking up with searching dark eyes.
Bogg swallowed, knelt, and held out his arms, feeling his heart roll over in his chest when Jeffrey threw himself into them without hesitation.
Olivia, following at a slower pace, smiled down at them both. "Looks like you two have a lot to talk about, so I'll leave you to it."
"Thanks," Bogg said to her over Jeffrey's head. "See ya?"
"See ya," she confirmed, then limped past them and back towards the Academy buildings.
Jeffrey stood for a few more seconds in the circle of Bogg's arms, then pulled away a little to give his partner the once-over. "Hey, where d'you get the suit?" His voice sounded almost normal.
"Same place I got the rest of my clothes." Bogg stood up, brushing off the knees of his trousers. "Like it?"
Jeffrey tipped his head to one side. "I dunno. It makes you look real serious. Kinda like a lawyer--or maybe an undertaker."
His tone was light but Bogg could hear the strain behind it. After almost two years, he thought he'd gotten pretty good at reading the kid's moods, and right now Jeffrey's façade was as brittle as an eggshell. On the other hand, the fact that he could summon up any kind of façade at all, after what he'd been through, might be seen as an encouraging sign.
"Listen," Bogg laid a hand on the boy's shoulder. "I'm sorry I wasn't there when you woke up."
Jeffrey nodded in acknowledgment, then leaned a little into his hand. "Susan said you had something to wrap up--in my timeline."
"Yeah, I did." Bogg paused, unsure whether to continue, then remembered Bryce's words about Jeff needing someone to be straight with him. "I needed to talk to your folks."
Jeffrey caught his breath. "You mean--?"
"I went to the cemetery."
"Oh." The boy exhaled, his shoulders sagging slightly.
Bogg slid an arm more closely around him. "I'm sorry. That wouldn't have been my first choice either. But it's the only way I could've told them--about us." He hesitated again, then made himself go on. "And I'm even sorrier that I didn't make it back before you came looking for me at Control."
Jeffrey looked up at him swiftly. "Bryce and Susan told you--about the Probability Scan?"
"Yeah. Yeah, they did." Bogg gave the boy's shoulder a tight squeeze. "And I'm sorry, so sorry, that you found out about it like that--"
"I'd have had to find out about it anyway, eventually." The words were stoically, even bravely spoken, but Bogg caught the faint quiver of Jeffrey's lips before the boy looked down at the ground. "I knew--I guess I always knew--that I could never go home again." He swallowed, glanced up again, and Bogg saw the glint of tears in his eyes: the first crack in his composure. "They died for me, Bogg. My folks--for me and because of me . . . "
"No!" Bogg knelt again, taking a firm hold of Jeffrey's shoulders. "That's not on you, kid! It never was."
"But if I hadn't--"
"What, existed?" Bogg gave the shoulders he held a small bracing shake. "You're here because two good people fell in love, got married, and started a family. What happened later wasn't your fault--or Bill's or Kathy's. If anyone's to blame, it's Drake--and only Drake!"
Jeffrey sleeved his eyes clear and blinked at him in confusion. "O-only?"
Bogg sighed, realizing that there was still more left to confess, and quickly related the details of how he had first spotted Drake disguised as a service station mechanic in 1982. "I didn't catch him red-handed that time, so I don't know if he actually did anything to your dad's camper," he concluded. "Maybe he just saw that something was going to go wrong and did nothing to stop it. It's--it's a grey area."
Jeffrey had gone white to the lips. Abruptly, he jerked himself out of Bogg's embrace and turned away, breaking into a near-run along the shore.
"Jeffrey!" Bogg set out immediately after him, lengthening his stride until he drew level with the boy.
"I'm gonna kill him, Bogg." Jeffrey's voice was low and choked with fury. "Wherever he is, wherever he's gone, I'm gonna find him--and then I'm gonna take him apart!"
"Get in line!" Bogg said sharply, catching Jeffrey by one arm and instinctively dodging the swing from the other.
"Let me go!"
Bogg grabbed his free arm. "Not until you calm down." Deciding that the suit was a lost cause, he knelt again upon the damp ground. "I'm not saying you don't have a right to feel this way, to want Drake gone--"
Dark eyes blazed up at him like twin pyres. "I want him dead!"
Passion, fire, temper . . . Kathy's legacy. Bogg stifled a sigh and made himself speak calmly, still keeping a firm hold of the boy. "We'll catch him someday, kid--and he'll be punished the way he should be. But do you think this is what your parents would want? For you to throw your life away trying to get revenge? Or put yourself in danger chasing after him through time? They loved you too much to want you pursuing some kind of vendetta--even for them." He gave Jeffrey another little shake. "And I love you too much to let you do that either."
For a moment longer, Jeffrey quivered under Bogg's restraining hands, then he gave way, collapsing in his partner's arms with a sob that was half-pain, half-rage. The older Voyager held on tight and waited for the storm to pass.
"I was mad at him. At my Dad." Jeffrey shook his head. "How wrong is that?"
Bogg sighed, stretching out on the grass beside his partner. "Kid, you were hurting--and feeling the way everyone does when they lose someone they love. Scared, abandoned, angry . . ."
"Yeah, but I blamed him, Bogg. Even though I tried not to, I kept thinking: why didn't he just pull over when he was tired? If he'd done that, everything would've been different. And now," he looked up at Bogg with troubled eyes, "you're saying that's not what happened? That he didn't fall asleep at the wheel like everyone thought? That it really was all Drake and what he did--or didn't do--to our camper?"
"Your dad drank two cups of black coffee to help him stay awake on the road," Bogg replied. "And he promised your mom that he'd stop driving at the first sign of fatigue. Bill Jones didn't seem like the kind of guy to take stupid chances, especially not with the people he loved."
"No. No, he wasn't." Jeffrey looked down at the grass. "I should've thought of that before."
"Hey." Bogg gripped his shoulder. "Why don't you try cutting yourself some slack? You just believed what everyone else believed, even the people who investigated the crash."
"My aunt said . . . there was hardly enough of the camper left to tell us anything. And Tom," Jeffrey's voice thickened with disgust, "Tom thought we should get a lawyer and sue the pants off the car dealer. He said so right in front of everybody, at the funeral."
Tom, Bogg gathered, had been Elizabeth Jones's boyfriend. "Jerk."
They fell silent, gazing out across the lake. The storm had passed, Bogg thought, but it had left them both feeling exhausted and fragile. He knew Jeffrey was still hurting--as he was himself. But maybe together they hurt a little bit less.
"I miss them."
Bogg looked up right away at that. "I know, kid."
Jeffrey swallowed. "Even if I don't--dream about them so much anymore or think about them all the time."
"I don't think they'd expect you to--not all the time."
"It's been real hard, Bogg," the boy confessed. "Me being here and knowing you were there--with them." He swallowed again, blinked. "Sometimes . . . I couldn't help feeling jealous, of all of you, because you were together."
"Kid, in your place, I'd have been eating my heart out."
"And maybe it's worse because--I don't remember them as clearly as I used to." The boy's eyes were shadowed again. "I told Olivia, it was getting so I couldn't picture my dad's face or hear my mom's laugh anymore." He plucked miserably at the grass beneath him. "How can you love your folks so much and still forget things about them?"
Bogg put an arm around Jeffrey and pulled him close. "If you're afraid of forgetting, ask me," he said, resting his cheek against the tousled dark curls. "Maybe I didn't know your folks for very long--but I know I'll never forget 'em. Because I've got a living, breathing reminder of them, right in front of me. You." He pulled back a little to study the boy. "You're the image of your mom. I noticed that the moment I met her."
"Yeah, but I don't have any of her talent," Jeffrey said wistfully. "She could sing opera--I can barely carry a tune in a bucket."
"You've got her fighting spirit--and her heart. Her way of reaching out to people. I'd say that was more important than being able to hit a high C. And you've got your dad's love of history and you tackle problems the same way he did." Bogg gently tapped the boy's temple. "With what's up here.
"I told them that you had the best of both of them. So, you won't lose them, Jeff. You won't ever lose them, because they live in you."
Eyes brimming over, Jeffrey turned suddenly and buried his face in Bogg's shoulder. But this time, when the tears came, they were tears of healing.