When 9:30 rolls around, I try my hardest not to talk myself out of it, and head over to Tau Axis’s office with both fists clenched and walking as quickly as I can. It’s fine. I have no problem with time travelers. I don’t. They’re not nearly as creepy as every says they are, and it’s fine.
I rap lightly on the door.
“Come in,” he calls. He doesn’t look up. He just types at his computer.
“Tau Axis,” I say.
He glances at me. “Teke.”
“It’s 9:30,” I say.
He glances at his computer again. “So it is.”
“You wanted to tell me something,” I say.
He cocks his head. “Did I specify what?”
I try not to glare at him. “You said you were going to tell me what I was wearing.”
He stares at my clothes for long enough that I start wishing I had a trenchcoat or something to hide behind, and try not to pull my uniform closer around myself.
He grimaces. “Do you happen to remember when I told you this?”
I frown. “This afternoon?”
He sighs. “When this afternoon?”
“I don’t know,” I say, trying not to snap. “Early-ish, I guess. Does it matter?”
He sucks on his teeth for a second. “Well, let’s hope not.”
Then he disappears. And reappears.
“Teke!” he says, and glances at the clock. “Oh, good, you got here on time.”
“Sure,” I say, “good.”
“For future reference, please remember the time coordinates. I know I forgot to tell you, but, uh, hell of a headache when I don’t get it exact, sometimes causes trouble reintegrating, you know.”
I don’t know. But I nod anyway.
“Awesome! See you around, buddy!” he sits back down and starts typing again.
“Um,” I say.
He looks up.
“Were you going to tell me why I sent you back?” I ask.
“Like I said,” he says, with a shrug, “you didn’t specify. I don’t know, you seemed really upset. Big mood. Didn’t feel like getting in the middle of that.”
“You said you were going to say what I was wearing,” I tell him.
“Yeah,” he says, “didn’t figure you were going to change in the alternate timeline. Seemed like as good an anchor as any.”
“What?” I ask.
He waves a hand. “That, roughly. I mean, it’s not exact, it doesn’t have to be, but you were just in your uniform. It’s not interesting.”
“Oh,” I say, “well, okay, thanks.”
“Did it go okay?” he asks.
“Did,” I say, “what?”
“Today,” he says, “I mean, you seem pretty together and all, looks like nothing too terrible went on, so, you know, did we avert the disaster?”
“I guess so,” I agree, and turn to leave.
“Hope it all works out for you,” he says, as I walk out the door.
It’s not even an exaggeration when I say I almost forget to change out of my uniform before leaving, and probably would’ve if someone hadn’t made an offhand comment, but I’m getting nothing done, I’m no help to anyone, and the kids are long gone, so even if there were something no one could handle but me (because I’m so irreplaceable as a go between, you know), it’s not going to happen until tomorrow. I’ve been checked out all day, so I may as well check out for real. If I didn’t have to wait for Tau Axis, I probably would’ve been gone hours ago.
There’s a slight lull before the night crowd starts shuffling in, and I just make it, not even paying attention to which of the three drinks Tony offers me and just. Sit. And wait. I don’t even taste it when he finishes making it – I thank him for handing it to me, I know I do, but I just sip it without processing – and hope to fuck Perry actually got my messages. I sent seven texts and left three – four? – voicemails, and I even called Pris, too, and that’s not even counting –
“Hey, sweetie, what’s up?” she asks, planting herself across from me.
I thank whatever deities I can think of, which at the moment is not a lot, although seems to be a kind of esoteric assortment. “Can I stay with you?”
“Always,” she says, “how long?”
“I don’t know,” I say, “tonight for sure. Maybe longer. We’ll see.”
She pulls my hand into hers. “Do you want to talk about it?”
I shake my head vehemently.
“Okay.” She looks me up and down. “Are you bringing anything, or…?”
I cross my arms in front of me, and just put my head there. Just for a minute. Just until I have the energy to get up and move again. It’ll be fine.
“Pris, honey?” she says, but it’s into the phone, I know it is, because my field is not currently under my complete control, and it’s only her and me at the table, and someone – someone’s jacket, I don’t know, something at the next table.
I try not to eavesdrop. I don’t know how much I care.
“A couple days is probably fine – I don’t know, he won’t say,” she says, “it’s probably best not to pry. Yeah. No. Let me text you a picture of the shampoo.”
After that it’s mostly aimed at me again, but nothing concrete I can pick apart, or, at least, if I do, it blurs together afterward. I know I answer at least a few questions, but I think they aren’t pertinent, and even if they were, I don’t remember the information being anything I was particularly stuck on keeping back, so it’s probably fine. I don’t know. Perry doesn’t tend to lead me wrong, not in things like this. Taste in clothes – and décor – yes, job advice, yes, but –
Perry’s a good friend. I follow her out to her car. She opens the door for me, buckles me in, settles a pillow under my head. It makes soothing noises as she moves around the city, and the seat is warm underneath me. I fall asleep a few times. The basement is dark and smells like concrete, but the elevator is bright, and the carpet is red with some sort of pattern on it, and the lights are made to look like a chandelier, even if the ceiling isn’t high enough for that. And Perry’s apartment is quiet, and warm, and familiar. Nutmeg cuddles up on top of me.