Tom could still find a sense of home in a bar, even after all the years it had been since he had tried to find solace in one. It was a kitschy place that he sat in, but Tom hadn't chosen it for the atmosphere. He was there for the alcohol, and the fact that it was blessedly empty. There was nobody there save him and the bartender, and nobody to delay him being served. He didn't think the bartender had ever seen somebody spend so much money on scotch, if Tom judged both by his facial expression and the dust that he had to blow off the bottle.
The first drink Tom downed in a single swallow, the next he managed to nurse for close to ten minutes.
He rubbed his hand over his face, knowing that he came to this place for familiarity. Alcohol might have at least felt like the solution before, when his whole world was falling apart, however it didn't anymore. Perhaps therapy had helped him in some way, though his current situation didn't prove it.
His fingers had been toying with the napkin in front of him for about a half hour, before he finally decided to do something about it.
"A pen?" He brusquely asked the bartender, who looked surprised, but fumbled around before he finally found one behind the cash register.
It was one of those thin little Bic things that had probably been there since the bar opened. The pen barely wrote, with most of the ink having dried up. The act was mostly symbolic though.
Even just as indentation he could see Erica scrawled into the napkin.
It might not be the notebook he started out with, that day with Dr. Naadiah, but the feeling of regret was just as strong.
Three scotches later, when he stumbled to the door with the little stick man on it, it wasn't the washroom that he half fell into.
"Now is not the time," he said warningly.
Erica'd had a point when she had called Dr. Naadiah's office cold. In his worst days though, that's what he had responded to best. He hadn't been looking for comfort, and he probably wouldn't have responded well to it. She had been the right solution for him, her calm demeanour, and her sterile office, which is obviously why Arthur had essentially chosen her – he doesn't usually make mistakes. Still, when he had been made a therapist he had modeled his own office as the complete antithesis. Being back in this space, all he can hear is the call for a rug, or a throw pillow, like Erica suggested. He hasn't been here in years.
"I think now is the perfect time," Naadiah said calmly. She didn't move from behind her desk, sitting there with her hands crossed over her stomach.
In her voice, Tom heard a wealth of 'I told you so's'. She had been adamant that Erica should be doing phase two of therapy with her, and brought it up with Dr. Arthur at every available opportunity. This certainly wouldn't change that.
He didn't run, because there would be no avoiding her and this, but he didn't sit down. Instead, he found himself standing there, staring down at her with the sight sobering him up like nothing else.
"There is no end to therapy," Naadiah said reasonably, "we established that just a few months ago."
"You've talked to Dr. Arthur." It wasn't even a question.
Naadiah hesitated, but gave a quick nod of her head to acknowledge the truth. "He wasn't concerned when he heard you'd gone to 2019 to satisfy your own curiousity, or at least not enough to shift Erica into my group, not that I'm sure she'd agree to it. He doesn't know the rest, and he won't. That's between us now. I wouldn't have pulled you in here, if you hadn't made it a regret."
Tom couldn't hear censure in her voice. A month ago he would have heard it, a week even. In her office, Naadiah is his therapist though. He would have almost preferred her be confrontational, because he would find it easier to adapt to.
With a sigh, he sat down in the hard chair in front of her desk.
"Regret is an odd emotion because it becomes only upon reflection. Regret lacks immediacy, and so its power seldom influences events when it could do some good. Willam O'Rourke," Tom said wearily, speaking slowly through the quote. "You were right Naadiah, is that what you wanted to hear? She should have been in therapy with you."
Tom knew he had annoyed her. It was one of her few rules in their time together, that he not throw quotations back at her. They weren't his own words, and that was therapy was for. She didn't show it though. She was always quite good at that.
"If you believed that you wouldn't have joined therapy, stayed in therapy, or become a therapist," Naadiah said, not allowing herself to get riled, "it's the premise we work on, and the premise that helps. And it hasn't been a competition between us for Erica, it's what's best for her, and for you. The latter I've been paying attention to for years now."
Logically Tom knew that therapy had helped him. There was always sufficient evidence in that regard, even if it's not always overwhelming. However what he preaches to his patients is different than what he feels himself in all reality. He has supposedly passed through the phases; he should no longer be committing acts that he will regret for the rest of his life.
"You're still only human." When Naadiah interrupted his thoughts, Tom wondered once again if she could read them.
"Why did you pull me in?" Tom asked, rather than addressing her comment, "I know the tricks of the trade. I won't be allowed to undo taking her into therapy, because that isn't fair to her. I won't be allowed to foist her onto you before we even meet, because either she will refuse therapy because of that, or I'll be shown it will lead to a sequence of events that throw us together regardless. If I decide to relive the regret and not sleep with her, it will be shown that it will happen again, somehow, some way. The point of therapy is to learn from our actions, not really to change them, not in a life altering way. Tell me then Dr. Naadiah, tell me, what is the point of me sitting here?" His voice was practically vibrating with anger by the end, though it was mostly at himself, rather than her.
"Is 'to learn' too obvious an answer?"
"Being glib does not help," he was nearly yelling by that point.
"I'm not," her eyes seemed to be shining as she stared intently at him. "And I'm not here as a punching bag for your misplaced anger. We solved that problem between us a long time ago."
"You're not taking into account the fact that I'm angry with you too," Tom could feel his hand clenching on the arm of the chair though, and forced himself to spread his fingers in an attempt to relax.
"Most of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past, and fear for the future."
At the quotation, he started in surprise. Naadiah raised her eyebrows, echoing her statement from last time, "Annoying, isn't it?" This time though she didn't walk off in self assured smugness.
Tom wasn't sure what she meant. He had expected more of a lesson on obeying the rules they were supposed to abide by, reiterating the need for Erica to be in therapy with her which he now wholeheartedly agreed with, or a lesson on control which he has never been a master of. It was as if she had instead chosen to berate him for leaving, for being upset, rather than for the act in the first place.
"Therapy is about your growth Tom," she said simply, "not about rules, regulations, and laws. So tell me, which one is it that you're the most scared of, what happened, or what could happen?"
"That's not the point," his voice was harsh, "I have hurt her, physically and emotionally, I have taken advantage of the bond of therapy, I have...."
"It is the point," Naadiah interrupted. "It is the whole point. I'm going to send you back Tom, to the exact moment in 2019 when you arrived the first time, though perhaps with a few alterations because I can't give you back the ultimate control. You're not going to remember the first time. All you're going to remember is that we had a session, but not what was said. You have the chance to change what happens, knowing that there is something about it that you regret. "
He could hear it implied sarcastically, let's see how much that changes.
"I don't see the point." He said wearily.
"Well, in this instance, you're not the therapist, are you Tom."
He wasn't given a chance to respond before the sterility of her office disappeared around him. He'd almost forgot what that felt like, being jerked out of the timeline by somebody else before he was ready.
Toronto in 2019. It took Tom only a moment to realize he'd been there before, even if he can't remember a moment of it. He could vaguely recall sitting in Naadiah's office, but only as a fog of conversation that he couldn't bring into distinction no matter how hard he tried. It meant he did this before, he regretted it, and he had still been sent back for some reason without his memory intact. It was normally a puzzle he would be trying to solve even before wandering around, he had always been cerebral about his own therapy, but it paled in comparison to the reason he had come to this year in the first place.
He had regretted it from the first moment he had made the decision to seek out Erica's future. Still, even the first time around it hadn't been enough to stop him from doing it.
As he watched the planes pass over Centre Island in the distance, Tom knew that whatever premise Naadiah was playing with, it wasn't going to change what was about to happen. No matter what he felt after, right now he couldn't not know.
He had a brief moment to wonder if he had chosen to do it the same way the first time – though he doubted it. He would have been standing there on King Street, moments after the event. Not sitting at his desk, an overblown executive on the north end of Bay Street with a top floor office overlooking downtown. He could see the Rogers Centre, with the CN Tower beside it. From his own travel in the past, scouting objectively for patients rather than for personal reasons, he knew that it would be filled to capacity for the Blue Jays game that afternoon. With the teams renaissance and consecutive World Series wins in 2017 and 2018 they began to sell out for opponents not named the New York Yankees. It was a warm afternoon, he could see the roof open, and when Tom couldn't manage to time shift on his own – Naadiah's machinations no doubt – he was running for the elevators before the bombs even fell.
On some level Tom knew he was too attached. All his patients would die one day, like he would himself. He wasn't evolved enough to move past that when it wasn't an abstract, and it was still a possibility for somebody much too young.
The explosions shook the windows even at the north end of Bay Street. Tom twitched at the sound of the innocuous elevator music, which he couldn't escape or make the ride go faster, even as he went down. The bombs would be dropped in the Rogers Centre, and the destruction would go up to Queen Street from the aftershocks.
Down on the street, nobody seemed to know yet what was going on. People stood still, looking around in confusion. As he made his way southward, slowly, and then in a rush, he began to encounter people running away. It was like going against the grain of traffic to try and get closer. He wished Naadiah hadn't sent him back like this, or perhaps he had made a similar mistake in the first place, though his intention had been simply to pop in to ascertain Erica's fate - not to get involved in the timeline. It hadn't been the point of this, coming forward, to have to bear witness to the devastation.
It took him longer than he thought possible to get down to King Street, and even then, it wasn't easy going. People and debris crowded the streets.
Goblins and the office above aren't too far away. When he reached it though, he was breathing heavily unable to do anything but stand there and stare. It was one of the buildings that had collapsed in on itself, one of the less solidly built of the structures that lined the commercial thoroughfare.
"Watch it buddy, move," a shoulder bumped his, as somebody tried to get past him and out of this downtown core. Most had been dodging around him as they ran. This one stopped though, staring at the building beside him, and this one Tom recognized.
"Oh man," Kai said breathless, running a hand over his very short hair, looking impossibly young still. "Oh man, oh man."
He hadn't really paid attention to the man he had bumped into, and didn't now. His attention was solely for the building in front of him, as Tom's had been. Funny how this was both their immediate thought, trying to find Erica, seeing if she was okay. There was a recording studio down the street that Kai must have been based out of, to get here so quickly. Seeing the other man there brought Tom back to himself; he might have slightly lost perspective with Erica, but he was still a therapist. Even if Kai wasn't his patient.
"Kai," he said quietly.
Hearing his name startled the other man from his panic. It took a moment, before Kai placed him. "Dr. Tom. She....is she....?"
"You're not going to find her." Tom nodded towards the building. "You shouldn't be here."
It would have been his answer, regardless of what he knew or didn't. Kai shouldn't be here, trying to find her. He shouldn't be back in 2010 either, trying to sleep with her in a few weeks, and not for all the personal reasons Tom won't acknowledge. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Tom knew that he had just inadvertently started most of those acts in motion, even if he isn't responsible for exactly how it is going to happen.
"You're not going to find her," he said quietly again.
Kai waited a moment, standing there. "Fuck," he swore under his breath. "Christ, Dr. Tom."
"I know," Tom said, but for him, there was a wealth of feeling in that statement.
They both stood there for a long time, with people running around them. Eventually, Kai took off, backing away at a stumbling run, before turning to head away completely. He didn't say anything as he took off, off to find the others that were central in his life by now.
It took walking closer to inspect the rubble, examining the facade that was still visible, for Tom to realize that the sign for 50/50 Press no longer had it's place near the one for Goblins.
Tom wasn't used to the sort of stealth methods he was currently employing. He was used to the manipulation of time, and if one was technical, space. However being sent back by Naadiah meant that he didn't have those same capabilities. Going to Erica's parents house on foot led him to discover that they'd moved, the hospital was too busy to let him find out for certain if any surgeon named Samantha was still employed there, and there were no applicable 'Strange's listed in the phone book. The indignity of it was frustrating considering that none of it could be the point of being sent back, making it so difficult. It was about the why or why not of finding out Erica's fate, and what it was going to mean for him.
Instead of popping in at the right moment, Tom was relegated to waiting near her brownstone, hoping that she still lived there, and hoping that she came back.
People kept looking at him oddly as he stood in the hall – a chatty old woman had let him in, mostly because she wanted somebody to discuss the day's events with, somebody to listen to her worry about her grandchildren, but nobody else stopped to talk. Few people passed in front of the building, or through the halls. He could hear the television in every unit through the paper thin walls tuned into CTV, CBC – even CNN had deigned to cover the bombing of downtown Toronto.
It was well after midnight when he saw her come around the corner.
"Dr. Tom," Erica said, surprised – her keys dangled in her hands as she stopped short.
He didn't say anything, overcome for a moment. It was her, nine years older. Her hair was darker, the product of a hairdresser rather than anything natural, her makeup more severe. There were a few wrinkles that had settled in around her eyes and her lips. She looked tired, and so very sad. It was her though, the her of 2019. His lips curved in a half smile, relieved to see her.
"You're not 'my' Dr. Tom are you?" She asked slowly, stepping closer.
"If you wake up at a different time, at a different place, could you wake up as a different person?" The quote from Chuck Palahniuk came to mind, a rhetorical question that didn't really answer hers.
"Right," she said, with a half laugh, "right. It's you from a different time, but you're trying to say it's still you despite the much fuller hair line. After today and all the rest of it, I know that you can wake up as a different person though. One moment, to live with or without it, makes you a different person depending on what time you are in relative to it." It was a deep statement, from somebody trying to be objective. She couldn't take it though, and her face crumpled, pressing a fist to her mouth.
Tom hesitated. In their timeline, they had't so much as shook hands yet. That boundary of therapy he had respected, even if there are others that had been crossed. He stepped forward though, not understanding but overwhelmed by the relief of seeing her, and placed his arms around her. For a second Erica flinched, but then let her head press into his shoulder. How long they stood there, he couldn't quite measure, with the silence of the hallway enveloped around them.
"Dave is being operated on," she said finally, stepping back and wiping her eyes. "Ivan managed to pull him out of Goblins. They've always refused to give up their location on King Street. I always thought for a coffee shop it was so ideal, but now I just wish...." she shook her head, "I don't even know when you're from. I don't even if you know who Dave is."
"I know," he said enigmatically, slipping his hands into his pockets as they stood just a few feet apart in the hallway.
They stood there, staring at each other silently, until he broke the silence next. "I went there," he said abruptly, "looking for you. I thought the office was still there."
"No," she said, "we moved to a bigger place five years ago. God, ten years since we opened – I hope we would have been able to move out of a coffee house adjacent office at some point. We're not exactly Scholastic Canada, but we've eclipsed River Rock – which let me tell you, was quite cathartic."
"You're still living here though."
"Yes, well," she laughed, with some honest humour in it, "I could barely afford a place in the annex when I wasn't successful, now I'm just at the point I don't have a coronary over the payments."
He was glad for that, because it was how he managed to find her. If she'd taken one of those high rise condos near the water, he wouldn't have found her so easily. More importantly, the effects of the bombs would have taken them down.
"Come in," Erica said abruptly, turning to put her key into the lock.
Tom knew he should decline, and simply take off. He had found out what he had come to 2019 to accomplish, her fate. She is alive, she is doing well. He had already repeated what Naadiah likely wanted him to avoid though, satisfying his own need to know, despite having the knowledge that something in the present will make him regret it. Leaving now won't change that fact. He still wasn't quite at peace though with the relief it all made him feel though, finding her alive. He wasn't quite ready to let the moment go yet. Rather than making the decision himself to leave, or having Naadiah pull him out, he followed into her apartment.
"I agonized over this moment for this whole year," Erica said, moving around quickly, pouring wine quickly and handing him a glass. He was quite sure it was more for her nerves than for him. "I know I found some level of acceptance in 2010 about what was going to or not going to happen, but that doesn't mean I could forget it after New Year's Eve passed and this year began. Every day I've worried and wondered what was going to happen in Toronto. My work has suffered for it, I hope....no, I know, my patients have. It's horrible, it's all so horrible, so many people dead, but...." her voice trailed off, and she took a large sip of wine.
"You're relieved," he said quietly.
"Yes," she sighed, sounding so guilty over it, "I can't help it. I might die in a car crash tomorrow, but at least it won't be something like this. Some end game that has been hovering over my shoulder since the moment Kai came back."
"It's not something to feel guilty over," he pointed out reasonably.
"I know," she said, "but that doesn't mean I'm not going to, being relieved that some event has come to pass that has killed so many."
Erica sat down on the couch, and after a brief hesitation he joined her. He fiddled with the wine glass in his hand rather than sipping from it. She slowly continued to sip, flipping on the television and settling on the CTV coverage. Even despite living through most of it first hand, there is still the pull to watch the aftermath and the analysis from people who didn't. Even they, the illustrious broadcasters, wouldn't know who was responsible. They wouldn't find out for months yet, and then it would the biggest news to rock the country in a long time.
Erica's attention wasn't really for the television though. "I'd ask when you're from," she said, "but I know you're not going to tell me. I can guess though. This is the reason you could say you weren't worried about me, that day in your office. I thought it was just lip service, or at the very worst you were a good actor after knowing what the outcome was and not wanting me to live my life morbidly....but you knew, you knew it would turn out for me. I'm both glad you didn't tell me, and I hate you for it too, all at the same time."
He didn't confirm it, and Erica didn't wait for him to say anything, knowing he wouldn't.
"I wonder why Kai couldn't find me," she said, "he would have known to come here...."
"I might have had something to do with it," Tom said quietly, not elaborating.
She didn't ask him to spell it out, accepting his words at face value. She stopped paying any semblance of attention to the television either, and turned towards him. "I'm glad," she said earnestly, "that day was hell, when he came back, but to actually find me now...he shouldn't. For his sake, or for mine. I've learned that lesson time and time again. He has to learn to live his life."
Erica poured more from the bottle that she'd left sitting on the coffee table. There was no ring on her finger, and no family pictures around the apartment. There was part of him that was glad for it, that he wouldn't like to admit to, and part of him that was sad for it. At her age, children likely wouldn't be a part of her future. That had never been her goal though, in life, and procreation wasn't a measure of success. Sometimes it could be a person's biggest failure.
It was very different, being there with her. Not just because of his emotions, not just because he was out of his own – very convoluted as it was anyway – timeline. Erica was different; still the woman he handed his card to all those years ago, but a lot more than that. There was no hint of therapy between them, sitting there. For all it has been very proven with him that therapy never ends, her own isn't a central focus of her life anymore – she is more than capable of standing on her own feet, and isn't seeking guidance from him here. She has her own patients, her own people to figure out how to counsel. In 2019 it has all come full circle, and it threw him. He didn't know quite how to act.
"So you're breaking a rule being here," she said, settling back on the couch again. A therapist in her own right in this timeline, she would know.
"If I'm going to get a lecture from you too...." Tom began, rather dryly.
"No," she said firmly, resting a hand on his. The touch surprised him, though he didn't't have any inclination to pull his hand away, "I'm glad you're here. You're the only one who can understand how complicated today is for me. And Dr. T....you...him, however we are going to phrase it. I don't see him as much as I would like to anymore." She gave a wry twist of her lips, "The price of evolution as a person I suppose."
"You would prefer therapy with a pontificating and temperamental bastard for eternity?" Tom raised his eyebrows.
"It's never been just about the therapy," she said enigmatically, giving him a searching look before leaning back and removing her hand, leaving his feeling bare without it.
No, it hasn't. If it had been, he wouldn't have travelled in time to see the future for his own peace of mind. He wouldn't care as much as he does with her, even if it has been to her detriment as much as her benefit. Even in his time, Erica knew more about him than any of his other patients, and they have crossed the line between personal and professional in so many different ways. He is not completely delusional, part of it is the history of his daughter that started all of it, but Erica isn't the surrogate child Naadiah seemed to be worried she was before.
They were always a lot more complicated than that.
Tom had a feeling coming forward was going make it even more of a hazy dynamic. He can't quite picture pulling away from her altogether, and he's sure whatever will happen is tied up in that.
"It was a mistake coming in to your apartment," he said, finally taking a sip of his own wine rather than leaving. "God knows I'm not immune to them, given the fact I'm here at all."
It was obvious it was, when Erica hesitated only a moment before setting her wine glass down, and slowly reaching for his and setting it down beside the first. Tom never quite had Naadiah's intuition, but even an interaction like this one with her that isn't therapy, and he had no context for, he could tell what was about to happen, and he didn't stop it. He didn't want to enough to stop it. He sat perfectly still though as Erica leaned forward, her lips pressing softly to the corner of his mouth, barely responding. They were on two separate paths, and they were both drowning in emotion at the moment – emotion on her part especially due to the day that had nothing to do with this. It was his job to be the voice of reason, perhaps come up with a pithy quote to diffuse the moment.
Instead, he turned his mouth to hers, under the influence of relief and love – even if it was a love he couldn't quite define – rather than any wine.
Kissing was slow and languid, no touching, nothing except lips and the lack of thought. Sandy Ronaldo's voice droned on in the background, but Tom couldn't hear it except as background haze.
Erica was the one who got to her feet, and reached out a hand towards him. For her, it wasn't mindless. She was giving him the chance to refuse, and to leave. He knew her history, knew that she was good at being the aggressor no matter the level of comfort on the other side, and he really could tell then how much she had changed.
In 2010, this never would have happened.
Before he could think, which he had spent years learning how to do properly, he slid his hand into hers – standing up for a moment and staring down at her, her not blinking in return, before they walked wordlessly into the bedroom.
When he woke up, it was to see Erica's hair spread over her pillow, and a relaxed expression on her lips. The light streaming in her window illuminated the lines on her face, the sag in her skin, and all the signs of age shown in stark reality now even if he hadn't noticed them the night before. She was still younger than him though, chronologically and in experience. The regret threatened to eat him alive, a feeling that had only happened with her and her alone since his own mistakes with Sarah. He didn't run from the bed, though he wanted to. Tom sat there with a sheet to his waist, and his head in his hands.
More than likely, this was the regret he had been tortured by the first time around. He had only wondered why he hadn't been given the means to alter anything further. It kept him there, wondering why things had been allowed to repeat themselves the way they did. If this hadn't happened the first time around, the regret never would have been deep enough to involve Naadiah.
Slowly, trying not to wake her, he slipped from the bed – pulling on his own slacks and buttoning up the dress shirt that he was always the most comfortable in. He was well aware of the signs of age on his own body that even with this nine year difference eclipsed hers. He was torn between the temptation to slip back between the sheets with her, and the more overwhelming urge to flee. If this was the regret, a lesson, he should have been pulled out by now. He hadn't changed anything, and god knew he had enough to learn from.
"Taking off?" Her voice was heavy with sleep, and he turned around to find her struggling into a sitting position.
"I shouldn't be here," he said by way of explanation.
"But you are," Erica said, swiping her hair out of her face, "now tell me, are you leaving because you need to return to 2010, or are you leaving because you're panicked and full of regret?"
"Don't play the therapist with me," he said sharply.
"I'm not. Shockingly enough, I'm demanding as the woman you just slept with." Her voice was just as sharp in return. She fumbled in the sheets, pulling them around in her in a toga like style before standing, not wanting the disadvantage of nakedness in dealing with him.
"Both," he said honestly. "It was bad enough I came here for my own ends. To sleep with you, I took advantage...."
"Of what? Of me? You didn't. I went into this whole heartedly, with a conscious analysis of what I was doing. You're not my therapist anymore."
"Therapy never ends," he said quietly, thinking of the reason he was there for a second time.
Erica hesitated, but nodded, "Fair enough, though you know I don't come to you now. You know that's an excuse though, and nothing more. This is a lot more complicated than that."
"I'm not debating this, Erica. It was a mistake," he knew he was getting angry, but couldn't stop himself, "one I never should have made. You keep making excuses for me, you always have. You forgive where you shouldn't, and accept more flaws than you should."
"You do the same for me," she said quietly.
"It's not the same thing," he half yelled, "you should be irate, because I have interfered in your life here, in so many ways. You should be cautious and hold yourself back from emotional attachment of any kind with me because of what I've done before. It's a pattern, and not a healthy one. One we need to break. And then there are all the other things, the timeline, the therapy, our ages...."
"Right," her voice was angry, but Tom could see her eyes fill with tears, "right then. Tell me Tom, in your mind, am I ever going to be anything but a regret?"
"No," he said without thinking it over, the answer coming instinctively.
"Right," she said again, biting her lip and looking away, before walking over to him directly, not allowing him to back away. "I told you something Tom, before. A long time ago for me, not so long for you. If there is something I am never going to regret about any of this, it's you. No matter what. You will never be a regret for me."
Tom didn't say anything, standing there silently, and she gave a half hysterical burst of laughter, throwing up her arms and turning away. The sheet slipped, but didn't fall. "My god." She pressed two fingers to her forehead before turning around again.
"You want to know what I tell my patients during our first session together?" Erica asked. "I don't follow your method of using the wise words of others to prove a point, but I found something that resonated with me, from an anonymous source. The reason we all get into this in the first place. 'Accept the pain, cherish the joys, resolve the regrets; then can come the best of benedictions – "If I had my life to live over again, I'd do it all the same" '. I'm able to live my life like that now, I'm a fully enough realized person for it. My mistakes don't define me, and I don't look at everything as one."
She gave him a partially disgusted look, before turning and striding away. "If you can ever get past yourself enough to truly live your life, rather than churning out new regrets to add to your 'list', you know where to find me. No wonder the more recent you has pulled away so entirely."
The bathroom door slammed behind her.
Tom made a move to go after her, but going through the door let him directly into Naadiah's office. It came with his remembrance of how it had gone the first time around as well.
"Damn you," he said quietly, sitting down in the chair, "you should have given me the knowledge to alter my past."
"I did," Naadiah said calmly, "the first time around you snuck out before she woke up. You didn't have the opportunity to have it pointed out how far up your ass your head is.'
"Vulgarity, I'm shocked."
"The moment seemed to call for it. Maybe it will help shock you to where you need to be, if Erica didn't do it."
It gave him pause. The solution here wasn't as easy as so many regrets. Neither his nor Erica's life was static, and that was part of the problem. "Are you trying to say that I should be involved with my patient Naadiah, because somehow I don't think that's the point."
"No, it's not," she agreed, "because not even Dr. Arthur would keep you on her case if you tried to initiate something with her now. She's still a patient in every sense of the word. Tell me Tom though, why are you so against what happened between you in 2019? For all intents and purposes she isn't your patient. Actually, she has eclipsed you in her progression in a lot of ways."
"Do you need me to list the reasons?" He asked bitterly.
"Yes, actually I do."
Tom shook his head, settling back in the chair, unwilling to speak. He had been more shaken than he had thought possible, from the events in 2019. At the same time it seemed like something apart from Naadiah, even if his life had been an open book to her in all respects before. He couldn't appreciate her interference, and he didn't want to analyze any of it with her.
"It's been a long time since I've had to spell out the method in the madness for you," she said quietly.
"This isn't the same madness we're usually analyzing," he countered with.
Naadiah looked at him searchingly, before folding her hands on her desk. "You should have been able to take the message yourself, rather than it being forced on you. Even knowing you would regret it later, you went to find her, you slept with her, this second time. You wanted it enough for that, and there was no alcohol or other factors to blame. All the things that you worried about were still there between you, but they didn't really matter. Even after it happened though, you were terrified. That wasn't regret."
Tom bit his lip against refuting her, because upset as he was, he could see the truth in what she was saying.
"She forced you into the real world, with your own emotions and thoughts," Naadiah continued, "which you've been avoiding so nicely since making therapy your life."
"Fear of the future, rather than of the past this time." He agreed softly.
"The present even," she said.
"It was still a mistake," he countered. For him, that was the most important thing, and all he could focus on rather than the rest.
For once, Naadiah didn't contradict him. "It was. I'm watching the two of you falling into a pattern full of destructive behaviour, and it's like watching a train crash. While Erica remains under your care, that's not going to change, it's only going to get worse. I wish I could simply put her into my group, and everybody would accept it. Like I said the first time Tom, pulling you in today wasn't about her, because much as I hate to watch it happen that's not my battle to face. Maybe today will help with that....maybe it won't. It's about your fear of the future, and of living, no matter what it is in regards to – and that's not healthy for you."
Tom could see it in her eyes, the frustration when he didn't respond further. She knew that this session was like beating her head against a brick wall repeatedly. Having to spell out and force the lesson on him wasn't having the effect she wanted.
"You should be assigned to Dr. Arthur, or somebody else higher up the food chain" she said, pushing back her chair from the desk, "your therapy isn't done, and I'm not sure I'm able to help you anymore."
"At some point, you just have to live," Tom replied softly, "no matter what it means."
Facing Erica the second time around after her re-enacting of Groundhog Day, as a palm reader, had gone smoother. The first time it had ended badly, his own emotions too much in turmoil. The second time, while nothing was solved for him still, he was more under control. Not that she needed him as much as she would have years before; she could learn the lesson without him uttering it. Her fear of the future had been holding her back, and she refused to pander to it anymore.
When she walked off, to live the rest of the day to the fullest, Tom gave a small smile looking down at the cards he held but had no idea how to use.
Naadiah would have been thrilled if her own therapy worked so well.
Erica's office had undergone many changes over the years. The egg chair she had started out with had been cute, but too impractical and uncomfortable for long term use. It had been replaced with a comfortable office chair over the years, and the chair for her patients a comfortable leather one they could relax in. The only thing that hadn't changed was the books – they had only spread to cover her entire space. In a second she could call up more, could switch the titles. It wasn't just for atmosphere – it was a comfort her, lover of literature as she was, to have them around her. Sometimes, when she felt completely inadequate, when a patient challenged her, that helped. As a person she wasn't infallible, as a therapist she was even less so.
"But what if the point was to let him to stand on his own two feet?" Erica asked the woman sitting in front of her, curled in on herself with tears in her eyes.
Helen had been her patient for a year. She came in even more screwed up than Erica had been at the beginning of her own therapy. She had almost died from a beating at her boyfriend's hands, that defining moment that had led to Erica seeking her out. She had led a lifetime full of regrets that were holding her back from having any kind of life. She had currently been sent back to deal with her regret for not being more understanding, and less selfish, when her father had been laid off that last time, rampaging through the family, before driving his car off a bridge.
This was one of the many regrets that would have them working on her tendency to tolerate abuse, not that Erica could state that explicitly.
Changing her behaviour hadn't changed her fathers, and it was something that was hard for Helen to make peace with.
When the session was over, Helen back to real life, Erica rested her head on her desk for a moment. Leading therapy was as emotionally draining as her own had been most of the time, which was something she had never really considered. It had been easy to contemplate the stress that would come with it, but not the rest. It was hard to stay completely objective. It was probably hard in any kind of therapy, but even more so in this one where she was watching most of it happen.
It took her half an hour there in her office, before she was able to begin packing up her stuff, ready to go back to her own life. It was hard to go back and forth, but she couldn't accept anything less, not after she had worked so hard to make her life what it was. Therapy wasn't life, it was just a facet of it.
Right then, gathering her things, her eyes kept sliding down to the phone that sat on the desk.
It had been three days since the bombs had been dropped at the Rogers Centre. Perhaps it was a blessing and a curse both that she had been too busy since then to think about Tom coming forward from his own timeline. She had to deal with Dave's passing, with Sam's grief over all those brought in to the hospital she couldn't save, with her own fear and grief and emotions over what had happened where she lived - and she'd had to deal with her own patients. It wasn't just regrets from the past that governed what they did.
Now, things had slowed just enough, just enough that she had time to think.
Erica closed her eyes for a moment, before picking up the phone.
"I need to talk to you," she said, and in response to the voice on the other end, "no, I don't think it should wait."
Dr. Tom's office never changed. The nick-nacks did - the little TARDIS had given way to a statue of Buddha for example, but the major pieces stayed the same. Once upon a time there had been some comfort in that. Now, it didn't really help. Perhaps she should have insisted that he come to her office, as if that petty detail might have made a difference. So much had changed since the last time they'd had a session here.
"You wanted to talk?" Tom had been staring out the window, and only half turned to her when she walked through the door.
Erica hadn't felt awkward and ill at ease like this in a long time. It wasn't something she appreciated being put through. "Are you doing to pretend you don't know what it's about?" She asked, walking over to stand beside him. A perfectly serviceable chair beside her, and she wasn't going to touch it. It might make him start thinking of them as patient and therapist again, and that was the last thing either of them needed.
Tom looked at her with an expression she couldn't quite decipher, "No, I don't suppose I am."
It had been days for her, and years for him, since that night in her apartment. There were so many signs that he wasn't the same man anymore. It wasn't just the physical signs, the toll the years had taken on his body, though he had aged well. It was that he wasn't the same man. There was less of the anger that had dominated Tom in those days, though it still came in flashes. He would never change altogether. There had been a lot that had changed for him since 2010, in therapy and in his life outside of it.
"I feel like I should be able to hold onto the anger," Erica said, "but from your point of view, we saw each other every few days after it happened for a few years. Until you began to pull away, and not just as my therapist. For you it's been nine years, and not as immediate."
"That quote I gave you, about waking up a different person in a different time? How do you feel about it now?"
"Damned if I know," Erica said bluntly. "Could nothing in my life ever be simple?"
He gave a short laugh, "You're a time therapist, Erica."
Neither of them was ranting on about regrets and mistakes, which for him was a large improvement. However the two of them were different, which she was being more strongly reminded of now. She really hadn't realized how the Tom she had slept with was in a far different place, especially with her. This Tom had watched her make the mistakes with Adam, a lesson he let her learn from them rather than stopping and lecturing. This Tom had interfered in her life time and time again since that day, more so than any person with a healthy sense of objectivity should. This Tom had been through the consequences of that, when they'd sat through sessions with Arthur and Naadiah about what stood between the two of them, and how he shouldn't be the one on call anymore as her therapist, though he still led her training to handle her own patients.
It's what had made it more natural to take that step with Tom that night, not fully accepting in her mind how much they weren't the same man.
"I had to separate myself these last few years," Tom said, "as your therapist and....otherwise. You couldn't become the person you were meant to be, without standing entirely on your own. In every way. I stayed your therapist enough to know that."
"It wasn't fear then?"
He smiled, echoing his words from before, "Playing at therapist?"
"No," she said, "wanting to know as the woman who cares for reasons much more important."
"It's not a yes or no answer."
Neither of them had moved, standing two feet away near his window, staring at each other – but neither had they touched. Neither Erica nor he had looked away, focused on each other. It felt entirely more intimate than anything they had shared in years.
"That night," he said carefully, "when I came to find you, I wasn't ready to be a part of anything. I was still scared of living, and still too wrapped up in myself and my problems. You had a point that night."
"When you came back to your own timeline," she said, "when you got to the point years later where you were - I wasn't ready."
"No," he replied simply. "You weren't."
"I am now," she said quietly.
They both stared at each other, absorbing that. He had likely been thinking about this moment for years, because he'd known it was coming. She just wouldn't ignore it once that moment had passed. They both knew there was no governing her reaction though, and he couldn't plan how it would unfold.
"I can't control my only destiny...there's only now, there's only here," Tom paraphrased the quotation from Johnathan Larson. "This isn't something predestined between us Erica. I know it feels like that, but it's not. I've had years to think about it. You don't have to take the next step because of that night, especially because everything either of us fears is complicated by the relationship of therapy, and our history outside of it."
Erica gave a deep sigh, feeling a tension between her eyes and a pain in her chest. "I'm tired of being the one always doing the chasing. It was like that with Ethan, it was like that with Adam – it was even like that with Robert when he came along. Always I have to convince people that we're right, and I'm tired of it. Somebody else has to be the pursuer for once. Still, I'm going to point out, this has nothing to do with destiny, but it's a result of everything that has passed between us. You shouldn't be scared of your past, but it does define you. It can't not. I'm not going to beg or bully you but...." She paused, and then said simply, "I'm ready now."
"It's complicated," Tom said.
"We're time therapists," Erica threw his words back at him with a laugh, moving away and half sitting against his desk.
There was a lot more than that, and she knew it as well as him. It wasn't about their timelines, or the night three days ago. It had to do with their age, with their families and their history, the fact he had been her therapist initially, and they both existed in different realities of a sort – none of it was simple. The problem had always been that there was love between them though, from those first few sessions, when it should have been a much more benign emotion than that. Erica didn't know how to define it, and she wasn't sure Tom did either, but she was ready to try. They were both at a point in their lives where they were standing on their own feet, evolved far beyond where they had been before.
"Out of all the things in my life, I've never truly regretted anything with you," Tom said finally. "It took me a long time to realize, truly, that it was largely fear. The whole time you have forced me out of the comfort shell that was conducting therapy with my other patients, and then you forced me into wanting more out of living, even more so than other things in my life. In many different ways, in many different aspects, by Arthur, by Naadiah, but my daughter, by you, I've had to have my fear pointed out. I might have passed the test that allowed me to move on to the next step in therapy, but there was part of me that was still.....scared, still hiding, still living in regret."
"I'm not perfect," he said by way of an answer.
"Neither am I." She said reasonably. "But I'm finally at a place where I'm comfortable with who I am, and what I've done with my life, and comfortable taking risks for the future."
His answer didn't require words. Erica found herself fixated as he stepped between her legs, resting his hands on her thighs. There was no need to be the one being the aggressor as he lowered his mouth to hers, his kiss hard and demanding. They had both set up barriers against this for years now, him more so then her, but they had always been destined to come down. Not for reasons that had anything to do the grander question of free will, but for the simple reason of what had always been between them, evolving over time.
The kiss wasn't like Ethan's, always so careful, or like Kai's, full of youthful desperation. It wasn't like Adam's either, which had sought to use it as a replacement for something else, nor was it like Roberts, which had always been sadly devoid of emotion now that she could look back on it. It felt more right than any of them ever had, and things flared between them at his touch with something besides mindless passion.
It wasn't simple, it never would be, but she wasn't going to regret finding out where it led.