The Healing Touch

By Hawk 50

Originally posted at JOC Fanatics Bboard

Chapter 1 [posted: 4/29/99]

Quinn Mallory was dying.

There were times when he knew it. Brief periods of lucidity when his mind could grasp the fact that life was slipping away from him. Most of the time, however; he was unconscious - either tossing and turning in a fever-induced stupor or wracked with violent chills.

"Man, oh man," Rembrandt Brown paced the floor of the small one-room cottage. A look of extreme concern marred his usually genial countenance. He kept clenching and unclenching his fists.

"Itís bad, Colin, really bad. He doesnít know us - and heís burning up with fever. God, I wish the Professor was here. I wish Wade was here. Hell, I even wish Maggie was here!"

Colin Mallory looked up at Rembrandt, his gentle blue eyes tired and filled with worry.

"I know. I wish Iíd paid closer attention to the homeopathic remedies on my earth. There must be a way to treat him with herbs and such - I just donít know which ones to use."

Colin was seated in a crude wooden chair, his whole body slumped from exhaustion. Heíd been up all night with Quinn, helpless to do anything to relieve his brotherís suffering.

They had slid into this world two days ago from a tropical one filled with rain forests and steaming swamps. Maggie had been viewed as a goddess of some sort by the primitive people who lived there. They had taken all the sliders to their village and had showered her with gold, jewels -- and adoration. Maggie loved it. And she decided to stop sliding.

The last time they had seen her, she was bedecked in feathers and flowers, a head-dress of beaten gold in her hair.

"I love you guys, but I canít pass this up," she smiled wickedly as she hugged all three for the last time.

They all tried to reason with her but her mind was made up. Most of the men of this tribe were tall, muscular, and well-endowed - and she could have her pick.

She had a serious heart-to-heart with Quinn, explaining her reasons. "Look, Quinn, Iím tired. Iíve lost everything that was dear to me -- my career, my husband, my family, my world. And, Iím tired of sliding. Plus," and here her eyes sparkled with unshed tears, "Iíll never be Wade."

"Maggie, I...," Quinn began, but she stopped him short.

"Listen, Quinn," sheíd said, gazing up at him, holding both his hands in hers, "Youíll never love me the way you did Wade. Hell, Remmyís in love with her, too. And Colinís sweet, but heís not my type. Itís just as well I stay here."

Before he could reply she kissed him quickly. "Take care of each other," she smiled sadly. Eyeing him closely, she added. "And see a doctor on the next earth. You donít look so good."

He hadnít felt so well, either. A persistent cough, a raging headache, and a heaviness in his chest had been with him a few days. He had first chalked it up to fatigue, for the foursome had been forced to hack their way through some serious undergrowth before the tribespeople had found them. But the symptoms had hung on.

The first night they slid into this new world, it had been bitterly cold. Quinn and Remmy gathered firewood while Colin had set up a makeshift camp. Although they had seen a dirt road nearby, that first night had come early and they were all too tired to go exploring. Civilization had yet to rear its head in this part of the world, it seemed.

They had slept fitfully, huddled around the dying fire. The next morning, Quinnís headache remained, his cough had worsened, and he had trouble taking a deep breath.

"Q-ball, you donít look so good," Remmyís comments echoed those of Maggie.

"I donít feel so good, Rem," he said, smiling weakly. At times, the ground seemed to be swaying beneath him.

"How long until we slide?" Colin asked.

Quinn peered at the timer. He was having trouble focusing on the numbers. "Six days," he said, dully. He shook his head, trying to clear it. A sharp pain tore through his temples. ĎThat was a mistake,í he thought. Out loud, he commented, "Letís follow the road. Maybe itíll lead to a town - and a doctor."

"Yeah, but which way? " Rembrandt asked. "Theyíre not big on road signs in this place."

Quinn turned to Colin, "You choose, bro. Which wayís the most likely one to civilization?"

Colin frowned. Brushing his longish brown hair out of his eyes, he knelt by the road, running his fingers over patterns in the dirt. Finally, he stood.

"This way," he said, pointing west.

"Man, how can you tell which direction to go from just looking at a road?" Rembrandt asked.

While Colin didnít have Quinnís technical genius, he continuously astounded them with other things he knew.

"You have to remember how I was raised, Remmy," he said, his handsome face creased with a smile. "Iím definitely not a city boy. Growing up on a simpler world forces you to pay closer attention to nature and other signs. The amount of foot, animal and wagon traffic going this way is greater than to the east."

"Amazing," Remmy smiled as they started off.

Chapter 2 [posted: 4/30/99]

After five miles, Quinn felt he could go no further. Heíd tied his jacket around his waist and sweat darkened the front and back of his T-shirt, despite the coolness of the day. His thick, dark hair was wet with perspiration and he couldnít seem to stop stumbling over his own two feet.

Both Colin and Rembrandt had been eyeing him with concern for some time. The trip had started off at a good pace, but now they had slowed to a very slow walk.

About 500 yards ahead, a small cottage sat just off the road. From this distance, it didnít look particularly well-kept, but seemed habitable.

Colin was the first to see it.

"Letís stop at that house. Maybe they can give us directions or something cool to drink," he said. Remmy nodded. Quinn didnít even look up. He was too busy concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other.

Colin ran on ahead. As he reached the cottage, he knew they would not receive any help here. The door was open. The place was deserted and apparently hadnít been lived in for some time.

However, the inside was reasonably clean and the roof and walls were solid enough to keep out any wind or rain.

The whole place consisted of one room. A fireplace took up most of one wall and a makeshift table and four chairs filled up the center. In the far left hand corner of the room was a narrow wooden bed covered with a straw mattress.

There was no electricity. No running water. Certainly no phone. But there were two full oil lamps; one on either side of the fireplace mantle, and a wooden bucket was near the hearth. A small stack of firewood sat on the floor to the right of the fireplace, and a small, curtainless window in the center of another wall let in a solitary, steady stream of light.

Perhaps the place served as a rest stop for weary travellers on their way to and from their destinations. Whatever the case, it looked like a haven to Colin.

He stepped out of the door, just in time to see Rembrandt helping Quinn up the short pathway to the cottage.

"No one lives here," he said, ducking back inside to retrieve the bucket, "but this bucket could mean fresh well or river water nearby. There are some chairs inside - and a bed of sorts. If the strawís clean, maybe you could get Quinn to lie down and rest a minute."

"You wonít get any argument from us," Remmy said, helping maneuver Quinnís tall frame through the doorway. "You go get some water. Iíll get Q-ball settled in."

Chapter 3 [posted: 4/30/99]

Colin looked around the overgrowth surrounding the cottage. In the front was a watering trough and a corral of sorts. In the back was a covered well. Lowering and raising the bucket, he took a tentative sniff at the water, then palmed a little in his hand and cautiously took a sip. Cool, clean and clear. Colin smiled to himself. This, at least, was good news.

On his way back, he also saw some uncut firewood and a somewhat rusty ax propped up against the wall. More good news.

Back inside, however; the news wasnít so good. Rembrandt managed to get Quinn onto the bed in the corner.

Quinn lay stretched out, one arm flung over his eyes. He was too still; the rise and fall of his chest barely discernible.

Colin carefully sat on the edge of the bed. His brotherís hair was still damp with sweat, and perspiration trickled down his face. His cheeks were flushed. Colin gently lay his hand on Quinnís chest. Quinnís heartbeat was rapid and his breathing was shallow and raspy and labored. The heat through the thin cotton T-shirt was unmistakable.

"Heís got a fever, Remmy," Colin said.

"You got that right, man," Remmy agreed. "Our boy is one sick pup. I have an idea. This world seems more like the one youíre used to, and you can move faster than I can. Why donít you try to find your way to town? See if we can scare up some help - a doctor, medicine, food, something. Iíll stay here with him."

Colin agreed. He showed Rembrandt where the well was, took what little money the group had with them, and shot out the door, his long legs quickly eating up the road to what they hoped was a town.

"Godspeed, Colin, and good luck," Remmy muttered under his breath. In a dusty cupboard he found a small, cracked cup. Rinsing it as best he could with the well water, he poured a small amount of the cool liquid into the cup. Gently, he raised Quinnís head and brought the cup to his lips. "Come on, Q-ball, easy does it. Drink some of this."

As he helped Quinn take a couple of swallows, Rembrandtís mind went back to an earlier time - a time when he, Quinn, the Professor and Wade had slid into an earth full of plague and death. A world with no antibiotics. At that time it was Wade who was so very ill. Thank God for the Professor, who knew enough about the fundamentals of medicine to grow some primitive penicillin cultures. Heíd saved Wadeís life that time.

Now it was Quinn who was near deathís door. And, as Remmyís eyes darted around the room, taking in the cottageís rustic furnishings, he had a sinking feeling that there would be no antibiotics on this world, either, and certainly no Professor to work a miracle. All Remmyís hopes were pinned on a young man who was, at this moment, tearing down a dirt road as if all the hounds of hell were at his heels - and an ever diminishing hope that Quinnís youth and strength would be able to fight this illness.

As Remmy watched his young friend struggle to breathe, he mouthed a fervent, quiet prayer.

"Please, God, donít let it end like this. Not like this. Not here. Not now."

The Cryiní Man bowed his head, hot tears running down his cheeks.

Chapter 4 [posted: 5/2/99]

Colin arrived, breathless and dishevelled, thirty minutes later at the outskirts of what appeared to be a small town.

It certainly wasnít modern day San Francisco -- or modern day anywhere, for that matter. The streets were dirt; the buildings mainly of stone or wood. No power lines, skyscrapers, traffic jams -- no people, to speak of.

He paused a moment to collect his thoughts and catch his breath.

The obvious lack of technology concerned him. This wasnít a likely place to find the drugs Quinn so desperately needed. Maybe there was a town doctor -- or a local apothecary.

Colin took a deep breath, ran his fingers through his hair, and started down what seemed to be the main street of town. The largest building appeared to be the General Mercantile -- a two-story, wooden edifice -- so he set off towards it.

The few people on the streets eyed him curiously and cautiously, but not with hostility. He nodded politely at a number of folks he passed, but was pointedly ignored.

Then he was up the steps and inside the cool interior of the general store. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the dim light.

About eight or nine pairs of eyes stared back at him as he stood, his tall, lanky frame silhouetted in the open doorway. Most of the storeís occupants were women - colorless, unsmiling, clad in long dresses of calico or cotton. All wore shawls and bonnets and most carried woven baskets. A pair of men in overalls and homespun shirts stood on either side of the long wooden counter located at the back of the store.

The one behind the counter was obviously the proprietor. He was a short, wiry man with curly thinning red hair. A handlebar mustache partially covered his severely pockmarked face. He wore a muslin apron over his clothes. The long sleeves of his shirt were rolled up and secured with a pair of bright red garters -- providing a splash of garish color in an otherwise drab setting.

Everyone in the store continued to stare. The seconds ticked by. Colin was beginning to feel nervous.

"Uh, excuse me, sir," he cleared his throat. "But where can I find your physician?"

"Who?" the proprietor asked.

"Your -- your physician. Your -- doctor. Where can I find him?" Colin repeated.

"Canít," the man replied. "Heís dead."

"Oh," said Colin, busy digesting that piece of news. "Well, how about an apothecary -- a druggist?"

"What for?"

"My -- my brother," Colin stammered. "Heís very ill."

"Then heíll die," the proprietor said simply, turning his head back towards the man with whom he had been conversing.

His answer galvanized a normally pacifistic Colin into action. Striding purposefully over to the counter where the man stood, Colin grabbed a handful of shirtfront and jerked the little man up two inches off the floor.

"That is not a satisfactory answer," Colin replied coldly, his blue eyes like flecks of ice. "So again Iíll ask you -- do you have an apothecary?"

A flicker of fear and respect shown briefly in the manís eyes. "Three streets down. On the left. On the corner. Canít miss it," the proprietor said sharply, pulling himself out of Colinís grasp. "But if I was you, I wouldnít waste my time on that quack -- or his niece."

He lowered his voice conspiratorially, displaying a malevolent grimace and rotted teeth. "Folks say sheís a witch. Decent folks wonít have nothiní to do with her."

"Iíll take my chances," Colin said, turning abruptly and walking out the door.

Chapter 5 [posted: 5/2/99]

Colin strode hurriedly down the street, concentrating on the past conversation rather than his surroundings. As a result, he almost passed the quaint little shop, which stood on the corner, apart from the other buildings on the street.

He started across the street to its entrance. On his way, he crossed paths with a couple passing directly in front of the building. The man spit on the ground next to the shopís door and both he and the woman made the sign of the Cross as they went by. The man glared suspiciously at Colin. The woman didnít even raise her eyes.

Colin pushed open the front door, its hinges creaking.

The inside of the shop was an interesting mix of sweet smelling herbs, large glass jars containing items of every size, shape and color, and other objects Colin wouldnít even begin to identify. Scented candles burned in several nooks and crannies. Lining the walls on every side were large dark wooden shelves, crammed full of bottles, baskets, strange tools and implements -- and books.

Colin stood, taking it all in. Then, his eye caught a splash of color in the corner, and a voice, sweet and lyrical, spoke to him.

"Good day, sir, may I help you with something?"

Colin stared. The girl was lovely. Blonde, blue-eyed and petite, she was dressed in shades of lavender -- with a long overskirt, soft, silky shirt, and quilted velvet vest.

She quietly approached him.

"Sir..?" she repeated. Then she looked at him intently. "Oh," she breathed softly. "Youíre not from here. And youíre in great distress. Something.." -- and as she said that, she raised her hand and gently caressed his cheek -- "causes you great pain."

At first, Colinís senses were so overwhelmed he couldnít respond. Then, the reason he was there drowned out any other emotions he was feeling.

"Yes, please," he said. "My brother is dangerously ill..."

"I sensed it was something like that," she nodded seriously. "Yes, we must help. I fear we donít have much time..." She turned to go to the back of the shop and Colin caught the scent of lilacs and wildflowers. Almost mechanically, he followed her.

"Uncle?" she called, "Uncle, come quickly! We have a young man here who needs our help."

A large man emerged from the back room. He was imposing, barrel-chested, with a neatly trimmed beard on his broad face and a pair of wire-rimmed glasses perched on his patrician nose. He hair was longish, curly and sprinkled with gray.

Colin felt he should know him, but didnít know why.

The man clasped Colinís hand firmly in his large paw. His handshake was firm and friendly. "Ah, yes," he boomed, his accented words crisp and congenial, "I sense this young traveller does indeed require our assistance. Well, my boy, weíre here at your disposal. How may we help you? Oh," he added. "I am Maximilian Arturo, alchemist extraordinaire - and this is my niece, Rose."

Chapter 6 [posted: 5/2/99]

Colin stood, dumbstruck. Maximilian Arturo? Quinnís beloved professor?

He shook his head. No, not the Professor, rather this worldís double. What would Quinn say when he found out? Then Colin thought soberly, if they didnít hurry, he might never know.

"Did I hear you say someone is ill?" Maximilian asked, his face mirroring genuine concern. "What seems to be the problem?"

"Itís my brother," Colin replied. "For the past few days he hasnít been feeling well. But when we sli -- er -- arrived here, he seemed to get worse. He has a high fever and a bad cough."

"Fever, you say? Cough?" The alchemist prodded further. "Is the fever accompanied by chills? Is he having trouble breathing?"

"Yes, yes," Colin nodded. "Can you -- will you help, please?"

"Of course, young man, of course," Maximilian nodded. "And, if you please, your name. I canít keep calling you Ďyoung maní."

Something kept Colin from revealing his last name. "Itís Colin," he said, "and, thank you. And, please, hurry."

"Of course we will," the alchemist replied. "Rose, gather some things into our bag -- you know what to take." Turning to Colin he said, "Are you staying far from here? Can we reach it on foot, or shall we take the buckboard?"

"Buckboard, please," Colin breathed a silent prayer of thanks, "It took me thirty minutes to get here on foot."

"Very well," the alchemist replied, rubbing his large hands together. "Rose, when youíve finished gathering the necessary supplies, meet us at the livery stable. I fear that time is precious."

Minutes later found them galloping down the dirt road. Maximilian held the reins. Colin sat beside him on the wooden bench. And Rose, surrounded by baskets and bags, her long blonde hair streaming out in the breeze, rode behind them in the back.

"How did you find us?" the alchemist asked, wanting to keep Colinís mind occupied as much as he wanted the information. He could tell by the set of the young manís jaw and the worried look in his eyes that Colin cared deeply for his brother.

"I asked at the General Mercantile," Colin replied.

"Well, I canít imagine that they would have been very helpful there," Maximilian almost laughed.

"They werenít," Colin said tersely.

Seeing the young manís look, the alchemist didnít press the matter further.

"If you and your brother are staying at the way station, weíll be there in about five minutes," Maximilian replied. "It must have pained you to leave him alone to find help."

"Heís not alone," Colin replied. "Rem -- er -- one of our close friends is there with him."

"Well," Maximilian said, urging the horse on, "Thatís a blessing."

Rembrandt peered out the cottage door worriedly. Colin had been gone almost two hours. The sun was beginning to set and already the wind was picking up. He glanced back at the bed.

Quinn, who had been tossing and turning, was quieter now. Remmy didnít know if that was a good sign or not. He had gotten Quinn out of his wet T-shirt and had tried to keep him covered with his, Quinnís and Colinís jackets. He had managed to get Quinn to drink a little more of the water, but mainly he had to just stand by, unable to help.

He turned back to the door, eyes fixed on the road going West. "Come on, farm boy," he thought. "Weíre counting on you to come through like the cavalry.

Chapter 7 [posted: 5/2/99]

As if on cue, a buckboard pulled up to the front of the cottage. Colin burst through the door, followed closely by Maximilian and Rose.

Rose and her uncle headed straight for the bed in the corner, barely glancing at the other man in the room.

Rembrandt stared, his jaw dropping open. "What the..?," he began, flabbergasted. "Profess...?"

Colin grabbed at his arm, and said warningly, "Remmy, this is Maximilian Arturo, a local alchemist, and his niece, Rose."

Maximilian offered an abrupt, "How do you do?" in Remmyís direction. Rose said nothing.

Rembrandt looked at Colin. Colin mouthed "Iíll explain later" and shook his head meaningfully.

Rose knelt by Quinnís bedside. Gently she laid a hand on his forehead, then carefully pulled back the jackets and placed a hand on Quinnís chest. A frown creased her gamin features.

"Uncle," she said, "Get me some blankets, the bag and the basket from the buckboard. Colin, please get me some water."

Everyone scrambled to do as they were told. Remmy, looking for something to do also, took one of the wooden chairs from around the table and carried it over to the young woman.

She looked up at him, flashed a sweet smile, and sat down. Then she got back to the business at hand.

The young man before her was very ill, indeed. He was no longer sweating; instead, his skin had a dry, tight quality about it that denoted a very high fever. His lips were cracking and he had dark smudges under his eyes.

She placed her hand back on his chest. The heat emanating from his body was intense. She could hear the wheezing deep in his lungs as he tried to breathe.

Just then Colin returned with the water and Maximilian with the items from the wagon. Rose began barking orders:

"Colin, bring the bucket to me. Uncle, put the blankets at the foot of the bed, and put the bag on the table. Remmy -- I believe Colin called you Remmy? There are cloths in the basket, bring several to me."

"You got it, sweetheart," Remmy sprang into action. Colin placed the bucket beside her. Remmy gave her the cloths. Then Rose and her uncle exchanged glances.

"Colin, Remmy," Maximilian spoke, clasping their shoulders and guiding them toward the door. "Please see to the horse, wonít you? We may be here a while."

Rembrandt opened his mouth to protest, but Colin interrupted, "Come on, Remmy, letís go."

Just outside the door, Rembrandt turned on Colin, "Are you crazy, farmboy? Leaving Quinn alone with those two? What if...?"

"Itíll be okay, Remmy," Colin said, with such conviction Remmy was silenced. "I donít know why, but I trust them with Quinnís life. Iíve heard you and Quinn talk about the Professor for months now. I know this is not the Professor you knew, but, still, I believe he and Rose are Quinnís only hope."

Rembrandt shook his head as he and Colin walked toward the horse and buckboard. "Man, I hope youíre right."

Chapter 8 [posted: 5/3/99]

Roseís uncle took a basin from the basket on the table, filled it full of the cool well water, and handed it to his young niece. Rose began dipping cloths into it. She placed one on Quinnís forehead and began sponging his chest and arms with the other. She looked up at her uncle.

"Itís beyond simple herbs and potions, isnít it?" he asked her. "Pneumonia?"

"Yes," she said simply.

Maximillian sighed and placed a strong hand on her shoulder. "Itís up to you, Rose. You have more of a say in this than I. What do you want to do?"

Rose looked intently at Quinn. She didnít even know this young manís name, but she wanted very much to see him well.

"I think we should give him the penicillin," she said.

Maximilian nodded in agreement, but still, he said, "Are you sure, my dear? You know what the town council said if they caught us using our Ďwitchcraftí again to heal the sick."

Her blue eyes flashed at her uncle. "Well, I say, hang the town council! Uncle, I have a feeling about this young man -- about all three of these men. Theyíre not from here, are they?" Her emphasis on the word Ďhereí took on particular meaning.

"No, Rose, I think not," her uncle said.

"Then, itís settled," she said firmly, turning her attention back to Quinn.

"Heís very ill," Maximilian said, moving towards the bag on the table. He began to prepare an injection. "We may be too late to save him."

"We canít be too late," Rose said emphatically. "He canít die. I wonít let him die."

Maximilian finished preparing the shot, then strode over to the doorway. After making sure that Colin and Remmy were still busy unhitching the horse, he went back over to the bed and eased the hypo into Quinnís shoulder.

"Iíll follow this up with another one in about four hours," he said. "Can I do anything for you, my dear?"

"Iíll be fine, Uncle," Rose said. "When Remmy and Colin get back in, see about helping them prepare a meal. I have a feeling they havenít eaten in a while. I brought some things in the basket."

"I could see that you did," Maximilian chuckled. "Always trying to feed someone -- thatís your mother in you."

Colin and Remmy were amazed at the array of food that awaited them when they came back into the cottage. They fell upon the meal like wolves.

"Man," Remmy rolled his eyes after polishing off his third helping of roasted chicken. "Sheís beautiful -- and she can cook!" He moved over to Rose on his knees, took one of her hands and pressed it to his heart. "Miss Rose, maíam, will you marry me?" He looked so much like a lovesick suitor that Rose had to giggle.

"It was wonderful, Rose, thanks," Colin said, moving over beside Remmy. Looking down at his brother, he asked, "How is he?"

"No change yet, Colin," Rose said, "but itís still too soon. We have a very long night ahead of us." Then she added, "And I donít even know his name."

"Quinn," Colin replied. "Itís Quinn."

Chapter 9 [posted: 5/3/99]

Quinn.

The name became a litany, a prayer on Roseís lips as she worked feverishly over him that night.

After dinner, Remmy had built up the fire in the fireplace, and Maximilian had generously brought in more blankets from the buckboard. Slowly the room began to lose some of its chill.

Rose looked over at the two men bundled up in front of the fire. Rembrandt lay on his back, mouth slightly open, snoring lightly. Colin was curled on his side, one arm pillowing his head, his tired face boyish in sleep. Both had tried to stay awake, to be of some help, but the hours of no food and no sleep had taken their toll. Now, warm, comfortably full and snuggled deep in the soft woollen blankets, both had fallen asleep quickly.

Her uncle sat at the table, nose buried in a book. He caught her glance and, picking up the hypodermic he had tucked in a pocket of the massive bag, walked over to her side.

"How is he?" he asked.

"No change, but no worse, which is good. His cough has subsided," Rose said. "Itís still too soon."

Maximilian eased the needle into Quinnís other shoulder, then asked, "You look tired, my dear, is there anything I can do? Would you like to rest a while?"

She shook her head. "Why donít you get some sleep, Uncle? I may need you to spell me later."

He nodded, made his way back to the table and sat down, picking back up his book. Minutes later he was also asleep, his chin resting on his massive chest.

Rose sighed wearily, dipping a cloth back into the basin of water.

As she ran the cloth over Quinnís chest, Rose couldnít help noticing, as she had all evening, how broad his shoulders were. His shoulders and chest, as well as his arms, were well-muscled and lightly sprinkled with freckles. His hair was dark and thick, worn slightly long. He had a full lower lip and long dark lashes that brushed his cheeks. He certainly was handsome.

And still running a high fever.

Rose poured water into a cup, crumbled some herbs from the basket near her into it and stirred the mixture with her finger. Then she cradled Quinnís head gently and eased the cup to his lips.

"Come on, Quinn, drink," she urged.

He seemed to hear her and made an effort to swallow some of the mixture. As she lowered his head, his eyelashes fluttered and she found herself looking into a pair of light blue eyes.

Confused eyes. Fever-darkened eyes. Eyes that couldnít quite seem to focus.

"Wade?" he rasped. "Wade, is that you?"

Chapter 10 [posted: 5/3/99]

"Wade," Quinn whispered, a ghost of a smile on his lips. "I knew Iíd find you." Then his eyes closed and he slipped back into unconsciousness.

Rose continued sponging Quinn down, but her mind was suddenly thrust elsewhere. Wade? She was certain Quinn had said Wade! But -- it couldnít be her Wade -- could it?

Memories of the half-sister she had lost so abruptly came flooding back. A year older than Rose, Wade had been dark where she was fair, impulsive where she was cautious, tomboyish where she was ladylike. Wade had hair the color of a ravenís wing and deep brown eyes, a sparkling smile and a wit to match.

They were similar in height and build; however, and shared many other traits -- a love of children and animals, a burning interest in the world around them, and an unflagging optimism in the basic goodness of mankind.

That unflagging optimism is what had gotten Wade killed.

Rose shut her eyes, as if closing them could possibly block out the memory of that horrible day just one short year ago.

An angry mob -- cries of "Witch! Witch! Kill the witch!" Wade being dragged forcefully out of the small shop while Rose and her uncle stood helpless -- held fast by many hands.

Rose and her uncle later learned that the crowd had carried Wade to a ravine at the edge of town and pitched her over the side to the rocks below. Many spoke of flashing lights, a whirling wind and strange sounds emanating from the sight, and chalked it up to their belief that the little family was indeed deeply involved in witchcraft.

They had imprisoned Rose and Maximilian for six days in the most squalid of conditions, promising similar fates if they continued to practice -- as the townspeople called it -- the Black Arts.

"Youíd do well to learn from yer sisterís fate," the head of the town council had spat at Rose. No taller than she, he had shoved his battered face near her own. His pockmarked face, partially covered by a greasy handlebar mustache, rotted teeth and fetid breath made her cringe.

"A bit of herbs and poultices now and again -- Ďtis natural, and we will continue to seek you out for these. But the rest --" here he poked a gnarled finger at both Rose and her uncle -- "it smacks of the devilís handiwork! Stop at once unless you want to join yer sister at the bottom of the cliff. This is yer final warning!"

By the time Rose and Maximilian had been released, no traces of Wadeís body could be found save a few scraps of the leather vest she had been wearing.

Rose wept bitterly over Wadeís loss. Her uncle never spoke of the event to Rose again, and each time she mentioned it, a strange faraway look came into his eyes. They erected a small, unmarked grave of stones near the site where she had been killed, and went about rebuilding their lives.

At first, Rose had been stunned into almost immobility. It was true that they had received many warning and threats from the townspeople regarding their miraculous healing powers. Maximilian and Rose had grown reluctant to help the few that continued to seek them out, but Wade had been insistent -- and outspoken.

"Look, if we can help someoneís loved one recover, I say weíre morally bound to do so," she had said. "Iím not afraid."

Rose shook her head sadly. How ironic that, of the three, Wade had been the least knowledgeable about the "miracle medicines" they possessed. It was her uncleís knowledge that helped them manufacture the drugs, and Roseís natural healing abilities that produced so many of the so-called Black Arts healings. Yet Wade had been the one to pay for their efforts.

Rose looked over at her uncle, hoping that he might be able to shed some light on the situation, but he was still asleep.

Moans shook her from her reverie. Turning back to Quinn, Rose saw that he was now moving his head from side to side. The cloth that had been on his forehead slid to the floor. He began moving his arms and legs restlessly. His fever was spiking even higher.

It was time for desperate measures. Then Rose remembered seeing the watering trough out near the front of the cottage.

"Uncle! Colin! Remmy! Wake up! I need your help!" Rose cried.

Her voice galvanized the three men into action. Rose mouthed the words "watering trough" to her uncle, who immediately knew what she meant.

Raising Quinn up by the shoulders, Maximilian barked orders:

"Colin -- get his trousers off; then when youíre done, you and Remmy grab his legs -- hurry, man!"

It was all done in a split second. The trio carried Quinn, now clad only in a pair of boxers, outside into the cold night air and, under Maximilianís direction, plunged him into the icy waters of the trough.

Maximilian was at the head of the trough -- his hands under Quinnís armpits, keeping his head and face out of the water. Remmy and Colin each held a leg under, both gasping as the frigid water began to numb their fingers.

Quinn almost immediately began to struggle. Rose leaned over the trough, one hand applying firm pressure to his chest, the other stroking his hair and forehead.

She crooned to him melodiously, almost hypnotically, as one would to a wounded animal caught in a trap.

"Easy, Quinn -- easy, sweet boy. Donít struggle. Donít fight us. Relax -- let the water do its job. Relax."

She kept murmuring the words over and over, all the while stroking his hair and forehead, her eyes never leaving his face. She kept her other hand firmly planted in the center of his chest.

Gradually, Quinn stopped struggling. Rose could feel the heat of the fever diminish as his chest grew markedly cool.

After what seemed like hours, Quinn grew still, drifting from unconsciousness into a more natural sleep. While the wheezing sounds still emanated from his lungs, his skin grew cooler. Beads of sweat began appearing on his forehead.

"His feverís broken," Rose said joyfully. She smiled at her uncle, who beamed back at her.

Remmy and Colin, both cold and stiff from the ordeal, broke into huge smiles. "Hallelujah!" Remmy shouted. Colin said nothing, but his blue eyes swam with tears.

Chapter 11 [posted: ]

They carried Quinn back inside just as the dawn was breaking over the horizon.

Stripping him of his sodden shorts, Maximilian and Colin wrapped him in two of the warm woolen blankets while Remmy got more water from the well. Rose was busy at the hearth, re-stoking the fire and readying a warm poultice for Quinnís chest to help draw out the congestion.

As Quinn slept his first natural sleep in more than 72 hours, the rest of the group kept busy around the cottage.

Remmy chopped more firewood, Colin cared for the horse, Maximiilian diced vegetables for the eveningís supper and Rose washed Quinnís sweat-stained clothes and placed them outside on the bushes to dry in the warm sunshine.

Rose applied the poultice to Quinnís chest, the strong smell of the mustard seed in the mixture stinging her eyes. The foursome then took turns sitting with him, rousing him to a semi-awake state from time to time, encouraging him to take a few swallows of cool water or one of roseís herbal mixtures.

Maximilian continued to administer the penicillin, making sure each time that Colin and Remmy were out of the room. Although he was beginning to trust these young men with his and Roseís life, something held him back.

He could also tell that his niece needed to speak with him about something, but he put her off, feeling the time was not yet right.

The next night was uneventful. Quinn slept peacefully, still feverish but breathing more naturally every hour. Rose washed the poultice off his chest and applied a light, soothing salve to lessen the irritation to his skin from the strong mustard content. She maintained her vigil by his bedside all that night, zealously guarding him as a she-wolf would guard her cub.

With supplies dwindling, Maximilian decided to go back into town. With Quinn apparently out of danger, and all three desperately needing some new clothes, Remmy and Colin asked to accompany him.

At daybreak, the trio hitched up the horse and set out in the buckboard, leaving a sleeping Rose nestled in a chair by Quinnís bedside.

Chapter 12 [posted: ]

Sun streamed through the window into the cottageís interior, scattering patterns in the swept dirt floor.

Quinn slowly opened his eyes.

He blinked them several times to clear his vision. The room slowly came into focus.

Quinn hadnít the foggiest idea where he was or how he got there. He vaguely remembered walking down a dirt road with a raging headache and what felt like an anvil sitting in the middle of his chest.

He now found himself lying on a straw mattress on a makeshift bed in a rustic cottage, covered with blankets,

He knew he had been walking with Colin and Remmy, but right now he didnít see either one of them. Instead, sitting just a few inches away from him in a rough wooden chair -- was a girl.

Not just a girl. A pretty girl. A very pretty girl -- petite with long blonde hair and a fair complexion.

She was asleep, curled up, one blanket draped across her lap and another pillowing her head.

Quinn had no idea who she was, but he felt undeniably, unquestionably, inexplicably drawn to her.

 

Rose awoke slowly to find Quinn awake and watching her, a slight, crooked smile playing across his handsome features. His face was a bit drawn, his hair was tousled and he had three daysí growth of stubble, but his eyes were clear and his smile would melt an iceberg.

She smiled back shyly, "Hi."

"Hi," he grinned and tried to raise up.

She made a sudden movement toward the bed, pressing down on his shoulder. "No, Quinn, you mustnít. Itís too soon."

She didnít have to tell him twice. The slight movement made his head spin and bits of light flashed before his eyes. "Whoa," he said, lying slowly back down.

"Youíve been very ill," she said. "You must rest -- regain your strength."

"How long have I been out?" Quinn asked.

"Two days since my uncle and I have been with you," Rose said, "But you were ill before that."

"My friends, where...?" he began.

"Your brother and Remmy went into town with my uncle," she replied. "Itís all right. Theyíll be back sometime this afternoon."

"And you are...?" Quinn questioned.

"Rose," she replied softly.

Rose. The name suited her, Small, delicate coloring, sweet smelling, lovely.

She smiled down at him and gently placed her hand on his forehead, brushing back some hair which had fallen toward his eyes. Her touch felt like butterfly wings lightly brushing his skin.

"Youíre still running a little bit of a fever," she said, "But itís now low-grade. Are you hungry? Itís been days since youíve eaten. I could fix you some broth."

Quinn sighed. He had a million questions, but right now he was feeling extremely tired. "Not right now. Think Iíll rest a bit more."

He shifted position and a stricken look crossed his face. He could feel himself blushing.

"Er....,"he stammered, pulling the blanket more tightly around him. "Where are my clothes?"

Chapter 13 [posted: ]

Rose smiled inwardly at his discomfort, but answered calmly, "Your clothes were in a terrible state, but I managed to get them clean. I folded them and put them over near the fireplace." This time she did smile when she said, "If youíd like some help getting dressed..."

"No!" Quinn blurted, then blushed again. "Uh, that is...no, thanks. I think I can do it myself."

Rose walked over to the pile of clean clothes. Picking up his shorts and T-shirt, she placed them near him on the bed. "I think this will be all youíll be able to manage at present. Take your time, Donít try to stand up." Then she added, "Iíll be right outside the door if you need me."

She couldnít miss the look of relief and gratitude that flashed in his eyes. "Thanks. Donít worry. Iíll take it real easy."

"See that you do," she replied, turning on her heel and going out the cottage door.

She gave him ten minutes, taking care to listen closely for any sounds of his falling.

When she re-entered the cottage, he was lying down, blankets pulled up around his waist, breathing heavily from the effort. He was still shirtless -- a light sheen of perspiration covered his chest, and the T-shirt was still lying at the head of the bed -- so she gathered that was too much effort. But the boxers were gone, so at least heíd regained a measure of - um - dignity.

She let Quinn rest a while, then woke him with a bowl of rich chicken broth.

He ate rapidly at first, then slowed as his energy flagged. Still, his eyes sparkled as he handed the half-empty bowl back to her.

"That was delicious, Rose," he smiled. "I didnít realize how hungry I was."

As she reached for the bowl, their fingers touched and she could swear she felt a jolt of something pass through her. And she was struck for the first time by the power of his smile -- warm, intimate and unsettlingly sexy. Quinnís smile sent shivers down her spine.

She began to clean up after their light meal when Quinnís voice stopped her.

"Rose, stop a minute, okay?"

She moved to his side. "What is it, Quinn? Is the fever back?" Her hand automatically went towards his forehead, but he caught and held it, pulling her down into the nearby chair.

"Iím fine," he insisted. "Much better, really. But I think you need to take it easy for a while. Youíve been waiting on me hand and foot for days. Rest for a minute, please. Talk to me."

"What should I say?" she asked, tilting her head prettily to one side, a gesture so like Wade that, for a moment, his breath caught in his throat.

"Anything. Everything. Tell me about this place. Your uncle. You." He encouraged her on, but his eyes were getting heavy. He tried to stifle a yawn.

"All in good time," she told him, covering him back up with one of the blankets. She brushed an errant lock of hair off his forehead. "Right now, you need to sleep. When my uncle, Remmy and Colin get back, weíll talk, okay?"

He wanted to protest, but already he was beginning to drift off. "..íKay...," he murmured, and slept.

Rose vowed she would talk to her uncle immediately when they got back. She had a feeling that many things needed explaining.

Chapter 14 [posted: ]

It was later that afternoon when Maximilian, Colin and Remmy returned.

A freshly shaved Quinn was awake and talking to Rose when the trio entered the cottage. His shocked look upon seeing the alchemist was evident -- and immediate.

"Professor!" he blurted out, almost rising out of bed. "What the...?"

"Relax, Mr. Mallory," Maximilian boomed in his prepossessing voice. "Your brother Colin and friend Rembrandt have given me quite an earful all ready this day. First, let me assure you I am not your ĎProfessorí. However, I do believe we have much to talk about."

"Amen to that, brother," Remmy said emphatically.

The group talked late into the evening. Rose was worried that Quinn might overtax himself, but this was a conversation that had to take place. So, instead, she busied herself fixing them all something to eat, adding information now and again.

Early in the discussion Quinn learned about the other Wade. Maximilian spun a fascinating story as he told them about how Rose and her half-sister came to live with him as children.

"Rose and Wade were brought here by their parents," Maximilian relished telling the story. "There had been some type of cataclysmic event on their world and they were trying to find a haven where their daughters could live in peace. He had been a respected physician; she a gifted pharmacologist. They had known my double on their world and sought me out when they arrived here. There was some type of danger; however, that they never fully explained to me. So they left the girls, and a great deal of their knowledge and medicines, with me."

"You mean...?" Remmy queried.

"Yes, Mr. Brown. Rose and Wadeís parents were -- sliders."

Maximilian went on to explain about the townspeopleís suspicion of the knowledge he, Rose and Wade had possessed, and how this had resulted in Wadeís death and a potentially deadly situation for himself and Rose.

Quinn and Rembrandt talked about their initial slides with the Professor and Wade, about the Professorís death, and Wadeís capture by the evil Kromaggs. Quinn then talked about Maggie joining the group and how he discovered a brother he never knew he had. And Colin told of some of their more recent adventures and how Maggie had left them on the last slide.

Remmy pulled out the timer and showed it to Maximilian and Rose. "A little less than 48 hours before we slide again," he said. "If it hadnít been for you two, we might not have been able to slide at all."

Rose listened, fascinated. She had been merely a child when she and Wade had been left with Maximilian. She knew she was different, she vaguely remembered sliding, but much of her past was like a dream and she pretty much took things as they were. She had truly believed Maximilian was her uncle. Now she was learning that the world she thought she knew was not hers, that the people she loved were not who she thought they were. And she was learning she had more in common with Quinn than she realized.

It was well past midnight. Remmy and Colin had long since drifted off to sleep on their pallets in front of the fireplace. Quinn and Maximilian continued their discussion at the table about the more scientific and technical aspects of sliding; two heads bent closely toward one another - one leonine and sprinkled with gray -- the other young and dark-headed.

When the trio had returned, they had brought Quinn a change of clothes. He was now dressed in his dependable, well-worn, snug fitting jeans, and wore a plaid shirt open down the front.

Rose noticed her uncleís conversation was still animated, but Quinn was showing signs of obvious fatigue. She admonished Maximilian, "Uncle, really! Here you go nattering away and Quinn at deathís door only hours before! Letís all get some rest before dawn."

"Youíre quite right, my dear," Maximilian said. "Itís been years since Iíve enjoyed such stimulating conversation! Oh, well, nothing more to say that canít be said tomorrow. Still, itís been quite an evening, eh?" He retired to a third pallet on the floor in front of the hearth and was soon snoring away.

Rose cleaned up the remains of supper and was looking for a place to lay her blanket when she heard Quinnís voice.

"Rose," he said softly. "Come here."

Chapter 15 [posted: 5/10/99]

The fire in the hearth blazed brightly, taking much of the chill out of the cold night air and casting dancing shadows around the room.

On the bed in the corner, Quinn sat in the half darkness; his feet resting on the dirt floor.

"Yes, Quinn?" she said.

He patted the straw next to him. "Please. Sit for a minute. Iíve not gotten an opportunity to thank you for all youíve done for me."

"Really," she sat, protesting, "You donít need to thank me."

The seriousness in his face stopped her from speaking further. "Yes. I do. You -- you both saved my life. I can never repay you."

He ran a hand through his thick hair. "Boy, as the prof..rather, your uncle, said, itís been some night, hasnít it?"

"You could say that," she laughed slightly. Putting a hand on his arm, she said, "Quinn. Iím so sorry about your Wade."

"And Iím sorry about your Wade," he replied. "But Iím certainly not sorry about meeting you."

He leaned over and tenderly cupped her chin with his fingertips. His wonderful blue eyes gazed into hers for a long moment. And then he kissed her.

Softly, ever so gently, his lips brushed hers. They pulled apart for a few seconds, her eyes wide and startled, his narrowed and smouldering. Then, his hand grasped the nape of her neck and he guided her head up to his. His lips touched her mouth again, then returned for a deeper kiss.

His tongue gently explored her mouth. Rose dug her fingertips into his upper arms, holding on to him as wild, unfamiliar sensations swept through her. His scent, his taste, were sweet and intoxicating. As he kissed her again and again, she could feel nothing but him, think of nothing but him. She slid her hands under his opened shirt and laid her palms on his bare chest. She wanted to kiss him forever.

"Oh, God, Rose," he breathed into her mouth, "This feels so right...". He continued kissing her deeply, searchingly. She moved her hands up to his neck and ran her fingers through his hair, pulling him ever closer to her. They shifted positions, and he laid her back onto the narrow frame of the bed. Pressed closely against her, she could feel the heat from his bare flesh through the thin silk shirt she wore.

He left her mouth and began raining kisses down her neck to the hollow of her throat. He could taste the slight saltiness of her skin and deeply inhaled the sweet springtime fragrance of her perfume. He paused, feeling the wild beating of her pulse just under the skin. He nipped at her chin, caressed her cheek gently bit her earlobe, his breath soft and warm on her face. He nibbled lightly on her lower lip and then his mouth found hers again.

After several minutes, he broke free of her lips and raised passion-filled eyes to hers. Rose was trembling and both of them were breathing heavily. "Wow," he said softly.

Roseís eyes filled with tears. A look of immediate concern crossed Quinnís face. "Rose, are you okay? Iím sorry - maybe I shouldnít have done that. Iíd never do anything to upset you, honest. Itís just that -- well, Iíve been wanting to kiss you since I first saw you asleep in that chair." He turned his face away from hers. "Damn! How could I be so stupid!"

Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, Rose cupped his face gently and turned it toward hers. "Quinn," she said. "You donít know very much about women, do you? Sometimes we cry when weíre happy. And right now, Iím very, very happy. So, shut up and kiss me again."

He smiled that killer smile at her and gathered her in his arms for another long, deeply passionate kiss.

Then he scooted over on the straw mattress. "Stay here beside me, please. Donít worry," he smiled teasingly, "youíre safe. Iím too tired to be dangerous tonight."

Grabbing her blanket up off the floor, Rose slid in beside him, her back against him, her head pillowed on his arm and the folded T-shirt. Quinn placed the blanket over the two of them and wrapped his other arm around her shoulder, pulling her very close to him. In seconds he was asleep, his breath tickling her ear.

Rose lay awake for a few moments in the semi-darkness, just enjoying the feel of him against her. She could feel the rise and fall of his chest against her back and the warmth of his skin. Her mind was whirl with the mix of emotions she was feeling for this special young man. Finally, listening to his even breathing, she fell into a sound sleep.

Chapter 16 [posted: ]

Both Quinn and Rose awoke the next morning with the distinct feeling they were being watched.

They were.

"My, my, my," Rembrandt grinned, looking down at them. "Isnít this cozy?"

Quinn reached for his T-shirt, balled it up and threw it at Remmy. "Okay, Cryiní Man, knock it off."

Rembrandt walked away, shaking his head and chuckling, "Way to go, Q-ball, way to go."

Quinn and Rose snuck quick looks at one another. Then he leaned in and gave her a gentle kiss. "íMorningí, Rose," he said, with a lopsided grin. "Howíd you sleep?"

Maximilian and Colin soon stirred and the group enjoyed a light breakfast. Quinn was well on the way to recovery and insisted on helping with the chores around the cottage. Rose was equally insistent that he still take it easy.

After breakfast, Quinn helped Rose do the dishes. Actually, he proved to be more hindrance than help -- splashing water at her and handing her back the same dish she had just washed.

"Awe, ainít they cute together?" Remmy nudged Colin. Colin said nothing. Remmy started to make another smart remark until he saw Colinís face.

"Hey, farm boy," he said worriedly. "Does this bother you? Youíre not...," he paused, "jealous?"

"A little," Colin admitted, ever honest. "But if Quinnís happy, then Iím happy."

"Colin," Remmy slapped him on the shoulder, an admiring gleam in his eye. "Youíre a better man than I."

At Roseís insistence, Quinn napped most of the afternoon. Maximilian gave him one final dose of penicillin.

"Ow!" Quinn flinched as the needle slid into his upper arm. "Who taught you how to give shots? Jack the Ripper?"

"Humph," Maximilian huffed indignantly. "Iíll have you know Iíve had no complaints from anyone else to date." He turned away. "Insolent young pup," he muttered under his breath.

The group passed another night seated around the table, talking. They moved the bed to one side of the table, and thatís where Quinn and Rose sat. When Quinn talked, he used both hands for emphasis, but, while listening, kept one arm draped casually. yet somewhat possessively, over her shoulder.

Maximilian was the first to raise the subject of leaving the cottage.

"Well, Mr. Mallory," he said, "I think youíre fit enough to travel. While this place has suited our needs well enough, I suggest that Rose and I take the three of you back to our home until itís time for you to slide. Youíll be more comfortable there, I warrant."

Before Quinn had a chance to reply, Colin cleared his throat and spoke.

"Max, Iíd like your honest opinion about something."

Remmy and Quinn exchanged glances. Since Colin had not known the professor, it seemed natural for him to call this Maximilian Arturo ĎMaxí. For the two of them, it was going to take some getting used to.

"What is it, my boy?" Maximilian asked.

"Both times Iíve been to your town Iíve gotten a bad feeling. Are you sure it would be safe for you and Rose to take us back there?"

"Yeah," Remmy echoed. "The other day I got the impression we werenít exactly...welcome."

"It is a strange place," the alchemist agreed. "And lately there has been -- something in the air. Actually," he shifted a bit uncomfortably, as if to confess something that made him uneasy, "things have not been going well for the town since the -- incident with Wade a year ago. Crops have failed, breeding stock has proven to be barren, wells have dried up. Although these things are certainly not uncommon, it seems our superstitious neighbors find it easier to place the blame solely at our feet."

"Then itís not a safe place for you to be, either," Colin said solemnly.

"You may be right, my boy," Maximilian said, clapping Colin on the shoulder. "You may be right."

After the others had retired to their pallets on the floor, Rose lay awake in the narrow bed with Quinn.

They shared the same position as last night, spoon-fashion, her back pressed up against him, his arm draped over her shoulders.

"Quinn?" she whispered, "Are you awake?"

"Yeah," he whispered back.

She turned towards him. She could barely make out the clean lines of his face in the flickering firelight. He propped himself up on one elbow and put out a hand to tenderly push a stray strand of hair from her face. "What is it, Rose?" he asked.

"I donít know," she said truthfully, "I just canít sleep. I keep thinking of what my -- my uncle said, and about you leaving tomorrow. Iím so confused and scared."

"Hey, donít be scared," Quinn said. He leaned forward and kissed her deeply. Turning her back around, he wrapped both arms about her tightly. "Iím right here. I wonít let anything hurt you. Now, try to get some sleep."

Rocking her gently, he hummed a wordless lullaby under his breath and soon she fell asleep.

Chapter 17 [posted: ]

The group spent the better part of the morning making the cottage ready for the next visitors that might need its shelter, then took off for town.

Maximilian asked Colin to drive the wagon. After Remmy had settled in next to Colin, the alchemist sat in the back with Quinn and Rose.

"I have something I must discuss with you," he said to Quinn.

"Uh oh, here it comes," thought Quinn, as the wagon started down the dirt road. He raised his hands defensively as if anticipating a sock in the jaw from Roseís uncle.

"Look," he said uneasily, "I can assure you that my intentions toward Rose are strictly honorable and I would never take advantage...."

"Oh, donít be ridiculous, Mr. Mallory," Maximilian barked, "of course you wouldnít. I wanted to talk to you about another matter, and I felt that Rose should be present."

"Oh," Quinn dropped his hands in confusion.

"Do you remember I mentioned to you that at the time of the -- incident with Wade, several people mentioned lights, wind, noise, and the like?"

Quinn nodded.

"Does any of that sound familiar to you?" Maximilian prodded.

"Well," Quinn ventured a guess, "It does sound like what happens when we activate the timer..."

"Precisely!" Maximilian boomed, pleased that Quinn was such a quick study. "There is one thing I failed to tell you about that day, but first, a bit of background. Wade was always more curious than Rose, especially about -- sliding. She wanted to know everything -- how the timer worked, if you could control what world you slid into, and the like. I shared with her all the knowledge her parents had imparted to me, although it was rather limited. And I gave her the timer her father had left for the two girls. Anyway," here the alchemist lowered his voice, as if he was afraid someone besides the group might overhear the conversation.

"Wade had been working on the timer the day she was taken. I know she had it with her when the mob stormed our shop. I believe she activated it before they threw her off that cliff."

"You mean...?" Quinn said, incredulously.

"Exactly," Maximilian said. "Thatís why we could find no trace of her body. I believe Wade slid into a parallel earth."

"Then sheís out there somewhere," Quinn said, a strange look in his eyes.

"Quite possibly, Mr. Mallory, quite possibly." Maximilian agreed.

The rest of the wagon ride passed in a blur for Rose. Both Colin and Remmy had overheard Maximilianís conversation and now the conversation focused on the possibility Wade was still alive somewhere.

Rose felt funny -- like her heart hurt. Part of her was overjoyed at the prospect that her half-sister lived, but she couldnít help noticing how Quinnís face lit up at the possibility of seeing Wade. And Remmy was more animated than he had been since she met them. How fortunate their Wade had been to have been loved so deeply by two very remarkable men. But, oh, how it pained her to see Quinn so happy over someone else. She knew her Wade wasnít his Wade. And she knew he knew that her Wade wasnít his Wade. She knew she was being unreasonable, but she didnít care. Until this moment, she never realized just how much she cared for Quinn. She had hoped he felt the same. Now she wasnít sure -- and it was breaking her heart.

Colin slowed the buckboard as they reached the outskirts of town. All the conversation in the wagon stopped and the occupants started paying attention to their surroundings.

"Thatís odd," Maximilian spoke for the group when he said those words.

Although the town was never a beehive of activity, there had always been people in the streets. Now the town looked deserted -- at least on the outside. But everyone in the wagon felt as if dozens of pairs of eyes were watching from behind every door and window.

"Man, this gives me the willies," Remmy said, a shudder running down his spine.

"Easy, Mr. Brown," Maximilian muttered under his breath. He laid a hand on Colinís shoulder. "I suggest, Mr. Mallory, that we make haste to the shop. I donít like the looks of this."

Soon the shop appeared before them. Collin pulled the wagon up short. Quinn heard a sharp intake of breath from Rose, and Maximilian spoke softly, "Oh, my God."

Chapter 18 [posted: ]

The shop had been gutted. And, on the remaining smoke-blackened walls were scrawled hate-filled messages: NEWCOMERS MUST DIE! ONE DEATH WAS NOT ENOUGH! KILL THE WITCHES! BURN IN HELL!

Roseís hand flew to her mouth, her eyes wide with horror. She heard her uncle swear an oath. Then she felt Quinnís strong arms around her shoulders.

"Donít worry, Rose," he said grimly. "Weíll see no harm comes to you or your uncle."

Colin nodded solemnly. "Amen to that," added Remmy.

Maximilian directed Colin to their little house about one-half mile from the shop. To their great relief it was still intact. However, the group kept looking over their shoulders as they unloaded the wagon and made their way inside.

The house was tiny, but neat and clean. In addition to the great room and kitchen, two small bedrooms were located at the back.

"I see Ezraís hand in all of this," Rose told her uncle.

"Indeed, it smacks of his methods," Maximilian agreed.

"Ezra? Whoís Ezra?" Quinn asked.

"Head of the town council," Maximilian replied. "A truly evil little toad of a man. Despite his abhorrent appearance, he considers himself quite a Romeo, even though he has a wife and young son. Heís made advances towards both Wade and Rose. They, of course, rejected him, quite publicly. And, as you can plainly see, heís not a man who takes rejection, or any kind of humiliation, lightly."

"You said abhorrent appearance, Max," Colin said, "What does this Ezra look like?"

Rose spoke first, "Short, handlebar mustache. His face is marked with old acne scars...,"

Colin interrupted, "...Rotted teeth?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Youíve seen him?"

Colin looked uncomfortable. "Heís the proprietor of the General Mercantile, isnít he?"

Both Rose and Maximilian nodded.

"Well, Iím afraid I got a bit -- er-- forceful with him when I was trying to find you."

It was difficult to hide the respectful and amused looks in everyoneís eyes while Colin went on to explain what happened.

"Lifted him right off the floor, eh? Gad, I would have paid a pretty penny to see that!" Maximilian chuckled. "Still," and here his face grew solemn, "Ezraís not the kind of man you want to embarrass -- let alone in front of his friends and customers. Heíll settle for nothing less than blood."

Quinn looked at the timer. "Less than four hours until we slide," he said.

"Then I suggest we stay put," Maximilian said. "The less attention we attract, the better."

"Slide with us, please?" Quinn directed the question at both of them, but he was looking directly at Rose. "Itís not safe here for you anymore. Helping us has endangered your lives. Come with us." Colin and Remmy quickly agreed.

"Now, now, Mr. Mallory, I assure you weíll be quite safe," Maximilian said. "Iím sure this will all resolve itself soon." But he didnít look completely convinced.

"Think about it, okay?" Quinn asked. "Thatís all I ask." He grabbed Roseís hands and looked deeply into her eyes. "Please....think about it," he repeated to her quietly.

"We should post a guard," Remmy said, starting for the door. Colin shouldered by him.

"Since I caused the initial problem, Iíll take first watch," he said and was out the door before Remmy could stop him.

"Guess Iíll give him a hand," Remmy said, "After all, two pairs of eyes are better than one."

Chapter 19 [posted: ]

For a long while, Remmy and Colin stood together a short distance from the house under the shade of a large pin oak, their eyes searching in all directions for possible trouble.

Colin slouched against the trunk; Remmy leaned forward, his elbows and forearms resting on a low-slung branch.

"How long did Q-ball say we have until we slide?" Remmy asked Colin.

"Less than four hours," Colin replied. His hands thrust into his pockets, he seemed the picture of absolute relaxation. However, Remmy could see the tension in his face and body. Colin was very much aware of their surroundings.

"Think theyíll come with us?" Remmy asked.

"I pray to God they do," Colin replied.

"Think Q-ballís having any luck talking them into it?" Remmy said.

"My brother can be very persuasive," Colin answered. "I think Max would go in a heartbeat; itís Rose Iím worried about."

"What do you mean?" Remmy queried. "That girlís got it bad for Quinn."

"Yeah," Colin said, his jaw tensing. "But heís also got it bad for Wade -- even if he doesnít realize it. I just donít want him to hurt Rose unintentionally."

"I think he really cares for Rose, Colin," Remmy said. "I know Q-ballís dense sometimes when it comes to women, but I donít think heíd hurt her."

"Look, Remmy, I really donít want to talk about this." Colin moved abruptly away from the tree, but not before Remmy could see a shadow of pain cloud his sensitive blue eyes. Suddenly, Colin stiffened.

"Shhh!" he whispered, "Do you hear that?"

Remmy strained to listen. At first he was going to chalk it up to Colinís imagination, but, ever so faintly, he heard the sound of angry voices carried on the light breeze.

"Voices! But where..." Remmy said.

"Itís coming from town," Colin said, moving in the direction of the voices. "Letís go check it out."

"I donít know, farm boy," Remmy said.

"Weíll be careful," Colin said impatiently. "Are you coming, or not?" And he took off in a fast trot for town. Remmy felt he had no choice but to follow.

Inside the house, Quinn felt he had made real progress with Maximilian. Apparently, a great deal of the mutual love and respect he and the Professor had felt for each other seemed to be growing between this Maximilian and himself. The alchemist was excited about the possibility of exploring other earths; however, he wouldnít go without his niece. And therein lay the problem.

"Rose, come on, why wonít you talk to me?" Rose had moved off into the tiny bedroom she had shared with Wade. Quinn had followed her, and now they stood, face to face, a short distance apart. Rose had her arms folded across her chest. Her head was down; she refused to make eye contact with Quinn.

"Talk to me, Rose," Quinn crossed the short distance. With the fingers of his right hand, he gently lifted her chin until her face looked up at his. She glanced at him briefly, then tried to lower her gaze. Quinn could see unshed tears swimming in her eyes.

"Rose, what is it? Please, tell me whatís wrong. If youíre scared, itís only natural. All of us are scared. But I promise, your uncle and Remmy and Colin and I will do all we can to keep you safe."

Itís not that," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "Itís us. You and me."

"You and me?" A confused look crossed Quinnís face. "What do you mean?"

"I think Iím falling in love with you," Rose blurted out. "But I saw how you looked when you heard that Wade might be alive. Sheís the one you love, Quinn. Iíll always be second. I donít think I can compete with -- with a dream, a ghost."

"Wade? Compete?" Quinn almost laughed until he realized how serious she was. And, he also realized that he did have deep feelings for this petite girl who was so different, yet so much like his Wade.

"Come here," he said, and wrapped her up in his arms, giving her a warm hug. Then he stepped back, put his hands on her shoulders and said, "Listen, Rose. You must understand. Wade was such an important part of my life for so long. I still have feelings for her. Guess Iíll always love her, in a way. Iím the one who got her into this sliding mess in the first place. We shared so much; those are not feelings I can put aside easily. And, yes, I do hope sheís alive out there --somewhere. And I do hope we find her.

Quinn looked down at Rose, and continued, "But that doesnít change what you and I have. Itís real, itís special, and itís now. You are very much a part of me. And," he grinned,"I want you so badly I can taste it. So please, please, come share this crazy life with me."

Wordlessly, she went into his outstretched arms.

Chapter 20 [posted: ]

Colin and Remmy quietly approached the edge of town, taking care to stay well-hidden.

Across from the remains of Maximilianís shop, a fair-sized crowd had gathered. All eyes were focused on a man who could only be Ezra. He was talking loudly and gesturing towards the direction of Maximilian and Roseís house.

"I say, weíve let this evil dwell in our midst long enough!" he shouted to the crowd. "Now is the time for action. We all saw them bring the newcomers into town.

If we strike now, we can rid ourselves of all the dark forces!"

Several of the townspeople, many who were brandishing homemade weapons, shouted affirmatively, "Kill the newcomers! Death to Witches!" But some hung back.

A quavering female voice spoke, "But what of the good the alchemist and his niece have done us? My Josh was sick with the colic. Did they not cure him with their herbs?" A few voices around hers murmured assent.

Ezra would have none of it, "Aye, they saved him - aícause it suited their purposes! Mayhap to use him later in some fiendish ritual!" He turned to the crowd. Ripping the top of his shirt, he displayed a blistered neck to the crowd. "Did not the tall stranger inflict these grievous wounds upon me when he grabbed me in his taloned hands?" A collective gasp from the crowd.

Remmy turned and looked at Colin, whose mouth opened in amazement. "I did no such thing, Remmy!" Colin whispered. "Ezra must have done that to himself to sway the crowd to his side."

Then Ezra summoned a woman and young boy up through the crowd. They came slowly, reluctantly, to where he stood and turned to face the crowd. Colin heard Remmyís sharp intake of breath as another collective gasp tore through the gathering.

The woman had a livid wound upon her cheek, and the boy clutched a badly burnt hand in a filthy rag. They both glanced at the man beside them, fear nakedly displayed in their eyes.

Ezraís voice rose even louder and higher-pitched.

"Did not the dark stranger speak to my wife, his breath like a knife on her face? And the tall stranger, did he not accost my boy outside the store, injuring him so?"

Remmy and Colin looked at each other. Both were there when Remmy had greeted the woman politely, and when Colin had bent down to retrieve a ball the boy had dropped, tossing it back to him with a smile.

"What kind of a monster would do that to his own wife and son?" Rembrandt breathed.

"The worst kind," Colin said grimly. "The kind who feeds off of fear and hate. The kind who enjoys inflicting pain. The kind who seeks absolute power, no matter what the cost." What Ezra had done to the woman and boy enraged Colin so, he actually began to move from their hiding place and started toward the crowd. Only Remmyís quick reflexes stopped him.

"Whoa, Colin, think!" Remmy hissed in his ear. "Donít do it! Weíre badly outnumbered, itís not too long before we slide and you canít help them anyway. I hate it as badly as you, but we canít do anything. Itís more important that we get back to the house and insist Rose and Maximilian slide with us. This crowd will kill them if we donít"

Colin looked into Remmyís sincere face and knew the man was right.

"Okay, Remmy," he said, a look of total frustration on his face. "Youíre right. I donít like it, but youíre right. Letís get back to the others."

They turned to slip away, and suddenly heard a voice that made their blood chill:

"The strangers! Itís the strangers!"

Colin and Remmy looked back at the crowd and saw a old man pointing a gnarled finger in their direction. The crowd mumbled in confusion. Several townspeople started their way.

"Run like hell, farm boy!" Remmy shouted, and they took off, with the mob slowly gaining momentum several yards behind them.

 

Chapter 21 [posted: ]

Both Remmy and Colin ran as if their lives depended on it.

It did.

The crowd still pursued them, but, as a collective group, were slower than the two men, stopping along the way to pick up rocks and sticks as weapons.

They made it to the house only seconds before the mob.

Colin was the first to burst in the door. "The slide," he gasped out "How much time until the slide?" Remmy was right behind him, panting heavily.

Quinn had been standing at the door, afraid that they were going to miss the slide. He saw the angry mob in the distance, quickly gaining ground. "Just a few minutes, bro," he said.

"Come on, Maximilian! Rose!" he shouted, "No time to lose!" And then the five of them stepped out on the porch.

 

The crowd stopped in their tracks at the sight of the five on the front porch of the simple house. Maximilian stood toward the front; Colin and Remmy on either side. Remmy had grabbed a pitchfork; Colin found a shovel. Quinn and Rose stood back a little, Rose partially shielded by Quinnís body. In his right hand was the timer. His left grasped Roseís right warmly and firmly.

For a long minute, no one spoke. Each group eyed the other warily. Then Ezra, rock in hand, lifted his arm.

"Donít try it, little man," Colin growled, taking a short step forward with the shovel. Ezra, struck by the look in Colinís eyes, slowly lowered his arm to his side. The crowd began to murmur amongst themselves restlessly.

Maximilian faced them. Raising his arms, he motioned for quiet. "My friends!" he thundered "Why do you follow this -- this spawn of the devil? He does not speak for all of you, does he? Surely, my niece Rose and I have done you no harm.

"You, Sarah Goodnight," and here he pointed to a plain-faced young woman in the crowd, "didnít we help your family through the outbreak of pox last spring? And you, Isaiah Carpenter," Maximilian gestured to a gangly looking farmer in overalls. "Rose nursed your wife through milk fever two months ago, didnít she?"

Maximilian continued on, naming several more folks in the mob and recounting how he and Rose had helped them.

More and more of the crowd were looking shame-faced and dropping their hastily acquired weapons.

Ezra, sensing he was losing ground -- and credibility -- with the crowd, spoke frantically, "What about this blister on my neck? And my sonís burn? And my wifeís face?" Some in the crowd nodded assent, and looked back at the fivesome for some explanation.

Colin put down the shovel and stepped off the porch. Remmy grabbed at him; "Donít be a fool, farm boy!" But Colin didnít hear. He strode forward until he stood directly in front of Ezra. He towered over the little man, who cringed involuntarily.

Colin gazed down at Ezra. Ezra started to speak, but the words died on his lips.

"I didnít put that mark on your neck," he said simply.

The man who had been conversing with Ezra the day Colin first entered the store then spoke. "He did hoist you up, Ezra, no doubt of that, but I saw him put no mark on you!"

Ezra sputtered, "But -- but my wife, my son..."

Colin knelt in the dirt in front of Ezraís son, who stood cowering behind his motherís long skirts.

"Hi," he said simply, smiling. "Remember me? We played ball for a while the other day." The little boy nodded solemnly. "I didnít do anything to hurt you, did I?" Colin asked quietly. Gently. Not a sound could be heard from the crowd. It was as if all were holding their breath, waiting for the answer.

The little boy looked up at his mother. Then at Colin. Then he shook his head. "No," he said.

Then Colin stood up. He looked the boyís mother directly in the eye, and gestured for Rembrandt. Remmy put down the pitchfork, walked off the steps and stood by Colin. The woman lowered her eyes.

"I didnít put that mark on you, did I, maíam?" Remmy asked the woman.

Slowly, the woman raised her eyes until she looked directly into Remmyís kind ones. He smiled at her, and slowly, tentatively, she smiled back. It was a beautiful smile; one which transformed her rather plain face into one of remarkable beauty. Remmy realized with a jolt that this woman had had very little to smile about in her lifetime. He reached for her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

When she spoke, it was in a sweet, melodious voice. "No, you never harmed me. No more than this young man," she nodded towards Colin, "hurt my son." Then she raised her voice and it carried over the crowd. "No more than Maximilian and Rose have hurt any of us!" She looked at Remmy and smiled again, a sad smile. Then she dropped her eyes. "I am so ashamed for what we have done; for -- for what we were about to do. Please, forgive me."

She looked over at Ezra. "Iím leaving, Ezra. And Iím taking Ezekiel with me. If you ever touch either one of us ever again, I swear Iíll kill you."

Then, gathering her little boyís hand in hers, she turned on her heel and began walking back towards town. The little boy looked back at Colin over his shoulder once, then obediently followed his mother.

The crowd had dropped their crude weapons, until only Ezra remained armed.

"What are you doing?" he screamed, his face purplish with rage. "Canít you see theyíve bewitched you? Kill them! KILL THEM!"

Quietly, Quinn counted the seconds down and then activated the timer.

The crowd was mesmerized by the appearance of the vortex. Many dropped to their knees, making the sign of the Cross and lifting their hands as if in prayer and supplication. Ezra looked stunned.

Maximilian looked at his neighbors for the last time. "May God have mercy on your souls," he said. First Rembrandt, then he, then Colin jumped into the wormhole.

Quinn turned to Rose. "Are you ready, Rose?" She looked at him, eyes filled with love -- and uncertainty. For once in his life, Quinn picked up on the look.

"Rose, I donít know what lies ahead. Your uncle and the others have gone on ahead, and theyíll be there for you when you land on the next earth. As for me," and here he gathered her in his arms for a warm embrace. Her head lay pillowed on his chest and she heard him speak these words.

"I only know that I need you with me. I love you, Rose. Please, please say youíll come."

He released her. The wind from the wormhole whipped at their hair, their clothes. Her eyes shone up at him and he smiled that heartbreakingly sexy smile.

He held out his hand for her. "Any last words, Rose? Any doubts?" he asked gently. She shook her head.

"Well, then," he said, taking her hand firmly in his. He kissed her softly. "Letís go."

Together, they slid into the vortex.

 

END

 


Alternate Earth 117
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