theo tate in 1954
There are different stages to drowning. First there is surprise, shock, disbelief. This couldn't be happening to you, could it? You're a strong swimmer. You know the water. You know the beach. Then comes panic. You know this water, and now it's turned against you, and you know how quickly this can turn deadly. You breathe too fast, too quick - you take too much in, too little, you inhale some water.

The stages change, then, depending on what happens next - either you panic, and you die, or you're dragged out and saved, or you fill your lungs with air and you float, and you push up to breathe, and you float, and you breathe, and float, and you breathe, and float.

At first it must be a dream, some momentary blip in his head. At first it seems as though his waking curled innocently next to Eva was just one of those dream tricks - when you think you've awoken only for things to get stranger and stranger. But no matter how hard he urges himself to wake from the next part of it, the next step in it, it doesn't work.

He can feel his heart racing, he can feel that his blood has turned to ice in his veins, can feel that the air is different, the world is different, the space in which he exists has shifted and changed and become untenable. It's not a dream, no matter how hard Theo wills it to be.

Isn't this an icebreaker question? If you could time travel, where would you go? Theo had a thousand other choices before he'd ever reach 1954 San Francisco. Thousands of other places he wanted to see, wanted to be, wanted to bear witness to. But the icebreaker question always came with the understanding that you would go, see, enjoy, experience, and then return home, warm in your bed, safe with your friends, with your loved ones, with the people whose hands and bodies you want to hold. But time passes and Theo does not return home, and then it settles in him, that this might be - it.

And then he thinks, fuck.

And then he searches through his brain for his family history. Did he have grandparents living here? Great uncles, great aunts? If yes, he would need to avoid them. If yes, he wouldn't be able to go to them, to search for some more comfort, more hope, more help. When reality hits, he sits paralyzed, because - well, that's the paradox, isn't it? The conundrum. Could he disrupt his own existence, somehow? Could he cause a catastrophe beyond belief? Or had this always happened, was he always supposed to be here, and was he always supposed to do what he would be bound to do?

Is he going to fucking Marty McFly this?

It takes a while to understand that he can't simply sit at the end of his bed and hyperventilate, that he needs to adapt. He can do that. Theo has adapted often. He knows his history, he knows what he needs to do, he knows how to survive. He knows how to help.

And he'll know, eventually, a way to return home. He'll find it himself, or he'll make it himself. Theo has always been the kind of smart that comes from books - always a good student, always quick to understand complex problems, but the solutions had never come as easily as they were now, nor did the inner workings of things make as much sense to him as they do, suddenly, and he thinks it must be Peter, somewhere, deep inside, unreachable but there, a connection to home, somehow - even though it's all been so new, so strange, so jarring, he knows that it's a part of him now, a whole broken crack in him that now feels almost entirely empty.

But not completely, not forever. As he adapts, he builds. It takes him a while to find it all, all the things that he needs, the different components, and they don't work as well, they're not the same, but they're web-shooters and they fit and they're strong, and with them he can climb to see the city, get his bearings, feel within it and outside of it at the same time. And that's just the first step - in a few years, there'll be other things to build, and he'll do it then, too, he'll put his big brain together with Reed's and they'll figure it out.

But that's a future that Theo doesn't know about just yet.

First he has to live in this new thing, new place, new problem. He's lived in new places many times before, and he's just going to look at it like that. It works for the most part, when he's going about his day, when he's finding work, bouncing from job to job until the government comes knocking, and god that's the last thing he wants, but they're not going to give him much of a choice when they've seen the things he can do. It's a job, though, a connection to something, somewhere, and Theo clings to it even when the night comes and all the ease in which he's faced the day fades.

Those are the times it starts to feel insurmountable, like the end - will he grow old, here? Will he see them all again, and will they even recognize him? He'll be ninety-seven years old in 2021, and the thought makes Theo vomit.

When the horror and the terror subsides, it's just another push. He's not going to live out the rest of his life here, and that's final - if there was a way here, there'll be a way back, and all he has to do is find it. Theo has never been easily deterred. He knows his facts. He knows how to blend. This is just an experiment, an essay waiting to be written.

He dives in.

He knows what it's like to have the waves come crashing down, to feel the urgency for breath in your lungs, the burning need to breathe. But Theo knows that panicking is the quickest way to drown. So he fills his lungs with air, and he relaxes, and he floats, and he breathes, and he floats.

And when he's floating he finds him, or he's found, or at least they've found each other, and suddenly Theo's not so alone, suddenly Theo's not floating in the empty ocean, but with someone he knows. And then there are others, suddenly, faces he knows, friends he remembers, and Theo's calm has paid off.

Sometimes he does more than float and breathe. Sometimes - more often than not - he's in the streets, in the skies, doing what he had started to try to do back home, back when it felt like - a hobby. Like maybe he'd been given the things that Peter has for a reason, and now he can make the most of it. And now there are others to think about, others to worry about, others to help. Now it's less about floating, now he'll fly.

There's a way home, and he'll find it.