"Happy one year anniversary," Chloe mutters in an atypically bitter voice as she clinks her cup against Rush's and then drains Brody's alcoholic concoction. Rush glances at her but refills their cups without a comment. They are both sitting on the floor of the observation deck, a half-full bottle and a companionable silence between them.
She has called him earlier, asking him to join her because misery loves company and sometimes the misery is pretty specific about the company that is wanted. He is the only person on the ship who is able to understand why she sometimes flinches at the sight of water and why blue is no longer among her favourite colours.
It's hard to believe a whole year has passed since that day. It's even harder to believe that she is actually still alive after everything that has happened to her. She didn't think herself a survivor but the events of the past year have proven her wrong.
She downs her drink again.
"I'm going to stick Brody with night shifts for the next week," Rush says and pours them another round. "This is the worst moonshine I've ever drunk."
"And yet you're drinking it," Chloe says, looking pointedly at his cup. He shrugs.
"Beggars can't be choosers."
Chloe snorts at that and he flashes her the half-smile she's so familiar with. A quirk at the corner of his mouth, either preceded or followed by a remark that could be anything from biting through insightful to sarcastic, that is gone as quickly as it appears.
"The nightmares are back," she admits while she feels relatively cheerful. "Flashbacks to both times they had me."
"How long?" he asks and she looks down. There's something in his voice...
She hears him exhale slowly and she feels a sudden wave of relief. She knows what he's going to say.
"I've had no dreams."
And it's the best news she could receive.
"I hoped so," she tells him. "Mine started after I noticed the date coming up so..." she trails off but he gets it at once.
"Yeah. All in my head. Just like the numbers."
Chloe is the one who refills the cups this time. She's pretty sure the lightheaded feeling she has is a combination of relief that the blue aliens are not about to screw up her life again and an onset of drunkennes. And it prompts her to ask the question she has so often wondered about.
"Why did they change me?" she asks. "I mean, they had you longer so-"
She cuts herself off as it belatedly registers to her it's pretty insensitive to ask but Rush doesn't seem to mind. He swirls his drink around, thinking about her question and then he looks at her.
"You're younger, considerably so. I'm not an expert in neurology but simply put, human brains are like hard-drives. The older they get, the more information is stored. Your brain has more space than mine so it must have been easier for them to change things around."
"Lucky me," she comments bitterly.
"You still got through it all and survived," he tells her. "That's quite lucky."
"Do you believe in luck?" she asks and scoots closer to him, careful of the bottle with the rest of the booze. The deck is cold and maybe they should have taken one of the seats but aside from the cold, Chloe's quite comfortable.
"I cannae deny some things in the universe are impossible to predict. Whether we call such things luck or chance or fate doesn't change the outcome."
"No, I guess not."
She stares at the colourful scenery outside, the spatial distortions caused by the ship's FTL travel. In the end, theorizing is useless. They are who they are. They are here, maybe a little bruised up and changed from what happened but here nonetheless.
Chloe reaches down and grabs the bottle, dividing the rest of the drink between them.
"Happy one year anniversary," she echoes her earlier words but without the underlying bitterness.
"Happy one year anniversary," he repeats and when she leans into his side, he doesn't comment, merely shifts a bit to accomodate her better. The deck is cold, Chloe's definitely on her way to Drunkenville and she suspects the nightmares won't go away immediately. But at the moment, none of it quite matters.
Eli is the one to bring it up with her.
"It's really scary sometimes," he tells her while they are both alone on the bridge.
"What is?" she asks absent-mindedly, frowning at the screen in front of her. She's going through the diagnostic results from the newly discovered stasis pods and there's something not quite right. If only she could put her finger on what it is.
"You and Rush. The way you work together."
There it is, she thinks triumphantly as she locates the thing that has bothered her. A glitch in the system shifted the decimal point in one of the results and she sets the thing to run again to get the correct number. And then she registers Eli's words.
"Why would it be scary?" she asks and turns to look at Eli.
"Well, maybe creepy is a better word. Or freaky. Or-"
"Eli!" she interrupts him and he gives a shrug.
"He doesn't have to say anything to you and you still know what to do. You just look at each other and you go and do the thing. It's like you're reading each other's minds or something."
Chloe frowns and thinks back to her interactions with Rush.
"He told me what to do," she protests.
""Chloe, take a look at the diagnostic results." "The inconsistency?" "Yes."," Eli mimicks. "How would you even know there was an inconsistency when you'd just arrived to the bridge?"
"I didn't read his mind," she tells him exasperatedly. "He mentioned at the breakfast there was something in the results bothering him and if I would take a look. I'm good at seeing patterns when it comes to large group of numbers. That's all."
"Yeah, well, why were you having breakfast with him?"
"Because it was early in the morning, almost no one else was up and we're friends?" she suggests a bit archly.
"You're probably the only person on the ship who would say that," Eli mutters.
"True," she concedes. Rush doesn't have friends. He has colleagues and subordinates and people who get out of his way and people who annoy him. But as far as she knows, she's the only one who could be called his actual friend. It should be sad but it isn't. Rush doesn't need other people so to be the one person who's close to him almost feels like a privilege.
"At least being his friend is less creepy than being his brain twin," Eli says and yelps when she swats his arm.
"Honestly, Eli..." she trails off when the door to the bridge opens with a hiss and Rush walks in, talking to Volker. He looks between her and Eli and raises an eyebrow in a silent inquiry. She shakes her head and he nods and Eli elbows her the moment Rush turns away.
"Told you so. Creepy."
Chloe just rolls her eyes.
They remain in the stasis for three years, one month, two weeks, four days and seventeen hours.
It feels like less than an hour has passed.
It doesn't take long for people to slip back into the old routines, though with some changes. Greer and Lisa start sharing quarters. Colonel Young and T.J. are known to have long evening talks in the infirmary. People notice and people draw conclusions. Wrong ones.
"Matt asked me to marry him," Chloe tells Rush the moment she enters the control interface room. He looks up from his console.
"I suppose congratulations are in order then," he remarks but she shakes her head.
"I told him I needed to think about it."
"I see," he says. "It might have been kinder to refuse him outright."
"I can still say yes," she says. He looks at her pointedly.
"But you won't. If you wanted to say yes, you would have done so."
"I just..." she trails off, picking through her thoughts. "He said it made sense. We've been together for years and it worked out in the other timeline."
"Those are good reasons," Rush tells her and she sighs. That isn't what she wants to hear.
"Not for me," she admits. "Three of those years don't count anyway and just because the other us worked doesn't mean we will, too. We went through different experiences from the moment they passed through the gate. I... I don't want to marry him. Not now and not for those reasons."
"Then don't," he says as if that's the easiest thing in the world. "He'll be hurt and you'll feel guilty but it would be worse if you said yes out of obligation."
"Thanks," she says and he shrugs and it's familiar and maybe there is another reason she doesn't want to say yes but this is not the time to think about that and so she merely smiles and leaves.
The break-up is less of a break-up and more of a gradual drifting apart. Things are still strange for a while but that too passes and one day Chloe finds herself in a corridor with Matt and they're talking about a prank Brody played on Volker and laughing. She knows they are okay after that.
"Is this the second or the fifth anniversary?" she asks, cradling her bottle close. She bribed Brody for two bottles of the one batch he managed to make that was actually good and she's going to savour it.
"Second year one," Rush replies. "In your own words, the stasis years don't count."
"Does it bother you sometimes? The missed time?"
"Yes," he says shortly. "The things that were overlooked and missed, simply because there was no one to notice them... Just imagining the possibilities and the knowledge that will never be gained, it's all very aggravating."
"We did what we had to," she states and nudges him. "To survive. Maybe we missed a lot but at least we have a chance to catch up now."
"You gave me this speech before," he reminds her and she nudges him again.
"It obviously needs repeating."
They lapse into silence and Chloe realizes how much she likes the fact that it isn't awkward. They can talk together, yes, but they can also be silent together and maybe there is something to Eli's brain twins theory after all. Or maybe the life just bent them around so much they won't fit with anyone else but each other.
"We're stuck with each other," she says, voicing that thought, expecting denial but hoping for confirmation.
"I'm afraid so," he says and glances at her, to gauge her reaction, she thinks. So she smiles, puts down her bottle and takes hold of his T-shirt collar, pulling him closer.
"Good," she says and kisses him. "Happy second year anniversary."