I know there were those who saw only a man
Too stiff with science for life,
Too full of himself to ever see love --
But they never saw him at all
Peace, at last.
The universe is full of irony; the one time I don't want peace, I get it. It would have been much easier to have slid into the middle of a disaster. I'd have had to run, to hide, to plan -- I wouldn't have had time to sit down and think.
But here I am.
We found this little place on the rooftop of the Dominion some twenty or thirty slides ago; the four of us -- *three* of us, damn it; I have to get used to thinking that way -- know this particular hotel better than any of its architects. I guess Beckett will, too, if she sticks around. I can see most of the city, clear to the docks; if I close my eyes, I can almost hear hear the sea lions over on Pier 39. They exist on this world, but I've seen many where they've been been driven to extinction. I always regret those worlds, but it makes me value the others even more.
Breathing out hard, I can see my breath fog in the night air. We landed in San Francisco again, but it's colder on this world, the result of a late or early ice age, maybe. The air is cold, seeping through my sweater and settling in my hair, but I don't want to go back inside. Wade and Remmy are in there, and Beckett, and I just can't deal with them right now. Not until I can deal with myself.
Is it supposed to help, I wonder, that he's alive on other worlds? That Professor Maximillian Arturo will always exist somewhere? Wade said once it was a comfort to her to think there were other Wades who would keep on living after she was gone. It's not much comfort to me, now.
Nine more hours until we leave this world, and can continue our pursuit. Something burns deep in my chest, and I study it with an odd, detached air. I've never hated before, not like this; not with the grim determination to make someone pay for my pain. For Wade's tears. For the Professor's life....
And that's last thing I want to think about, but I can't help it. It fills every thought, every waking moment. I know now, how it felt when the others thought I was dead, back in New Egypt; I see it in Wade's eyes, even though she's trying hard to be brave. I see it in Rembrandt's eyes, as he tries to be strong for her, for us.
I feel it in my chest, the vague sensation that something is missing, and will never be returned. We have so little -- only the hope of getting home, and each other. And now, we've lost one.
Since I can't stop remembering what I've lost, I force myself to start, to get it over with. To remember, and hope that then, the memories will let go.
So many memories. Being bawled out in class for what my double had done after that very first slide, having offended the Professor so deeply. Watching the man I'd thought of as stiff and pompous risk his life to find a cure for a world of dying people. Listening to Arturo and Rembrandt bicker and moan, knowing that they didn't mean a word of it. The Professor trying to leave us when he knew he was going to die, feeling the terror of knowing I was going to lose him, and being desperate to shove it away any way I had to. The soul-deep relief when he agreed to stay. His hand on my shoulder not two days later, as I tried to save my younger self, and had to plow through all those years of anger to do it. He'd stood behind me, like he always did.
His body in his arms, not bleeding all that much, for all that he'd just taken the bullet meant for me.... I jerk back from that memory; it's too much, too soon. It just hurts too damn badly. God, Professor, I miss you, and it's my fault....
Further back, I tell myself, find something easier to handle. Not that any of it is easy, or will be any time soon. But anything is better than remembering his life draining away under my hands. There must be comfort there, hidden in some of those memories.
Maybe there is....
They'd thought I was dead.
Wade cried, I remember, after we escaped from New Egypt; gallant Wade had cried against my shirt as Remy's arms enfolded both of us in an unashamed embrace, his eyes suspiciously watery.
And Professor Arturo had been none too dry-eyed himself, though he'd held himself away from the group hug, as usual. I'd tried not to feel hurt at that -- it was just the Professor's way. Besides, he'd made up for it later that night....
I flinch back as the pain suddenly hits again, doubling and trebling, then force myself forward. I have to face this. The wind picks up suddenly, blowing my hair back from my face, and I can hear voices on it, mine and the Professor's, if I try. I close my eyes and listen....
"Mr. Mallory, why is it I can always count on you to find the single most uncomfortable place in any world in which to sit and contemplate the cosmos?"
I'd turned as Professor Arturo came huffing and puffing up the small staircase. "Sorry, Professor," I'd apologized automatically, standing to hold the door. "I thought everyone was asleep."
"Miss Welles and Mr. Brown both sleep the sleep of the blameless," the Professor had told me, sinking to the brick ledge around the small roof area with a sigh. We'd checked into the Dominion two hours earlier, needing a familiar place around us. "Deaths in the family, followed by battles against giant insects, followed by emotional reunions with said deceased family members, do tend to wear one out."
"You'd think we'd be used to it by now," I'd commented wryly, taking back my own section of bricks.
For some reason, I'd seen Wade's unconcious body, clutched desperately in my arms when I believed she'd committed suicide. I forced it away now, as I had then. Deal with one thing at a time, Mallory....
"Indeed." The Professor had gazed out over the city, no doubt finding his own familiar landmarks in the sprawl of buildings and humanity. "You know, my boy, you gave us all quite a scare."
"I know. I scared myself pretty bad, for a while there."
The Professor had nodded. There had been just enough light from the street below for me to see his solemn face. "I... don't pretend to understand what you say you saw," he'd said slowly. "But... I almost think I envy you the experience."
If only he'd known. My chest clenches, hard, and I have to fight for breath, almost doubled over on the bricks. Fight it through, get through it. I have to get through it.
I force myself to focus.
"I could have lived without it," I'd shrugged at the time, "if you'll excuse the phrase. But... it was good to see my dad again. I wish I knew if it was real, or just a dream."
I can hear Dad's voice again, as it was on the Other Side. 'If you can touch it', he'd said, 'then it's real.' And I can still feel that football, rough and solid in my hands. Was it a dream? Now, more than ever, I need to believe it wasn't.
The Professor's face had grown even more solemn, if possible. He'd started to say something, then stopped, clearing his throat as if that was what he had intended all along.
But I'd known him better than that, known him well enough to see the nerves in his fidgiting hands, which had smoothed his beard in nervous strokes. The Professor had never hesitated to speak his mind, unless he was considering an emotional problem. Ergo, he'd wanted to say something sentimental, and couldn't drop his reserve long enough to do it.
When had my arrogant, argumentative teacher become so familiar that I could almost read his mind from a single movement of his hands? Why didn't I realize that at the time?
"What's bothering you, Professor?" I'd asked finally, knowing the Professor wouldn't say anything without prompting.
The Professor had jumped, so deep in his thoughts that my voice had startled him. "Nothing is bothering me," he'd answered, too quickly. Then he'd stopped and sighed. "No, that's not true. I promised myself I would say this, and I'm damned if I'll wriggle out of it."
With another sigh, he'd shifted on his seat to face me. "Mr. Mallory... Quinn. I meant it when I called yours a death in the family. We have, somehow, all of us become a family -- the first I've known in... much too long."
He really did say that; I'd almost forgotten. Why can I remember every arguement he ever had with Rembrandt, but I almost forget this? I close my eyes more tightly, trying to remember every word, every detail. I'll tell them to Wade and Remmy, someday, when I can get through it without breaking down.
He'd stopped, and I'd had the novel experience of seeing Professor Maximillian Arturo lost for words. I tried to help him. "Professor, I know..."
"No. No, I *am* going to say this, somehow. I should have said it long ago." He'd tightened his jaw, determined to get through it. "You do not, I hope, doubt my sincere affection for Miss Welles." I'd shaken my head, almost automatically, and he'd smiled in satisfaction. "Good, good. Nor, despite our somewhat rocky relationship, do you doubt the friendship I feel towards Mr. Brown."
"Of course not." I remember smiling slightly, smugly. "Neither do they."
The Professor had blinked, surprised. "Ah. Good. I am aware, you understand, that I do not express myself as clearly as I should where matters of sentiment are concerned. It is a failing I have, at certain times in my life, regretted deeply." His jaw had tightened again, and he'd taken another deep, steadying breath. I'd waited. "But never so deeply as this morning, when I thought we... I... had lost you."
The Professor had met my eyes then, letting me see, for the first time, how very much it had hurt him to think I was gone. I saw that same look in my eyes in the mirror a few hours ago.
But I hadn't known what to say, then. I still don't, or I'd be able to say it to Wade and Remmy... and Beckett. "Professor, I...."
"When you told us of your trip to the Other Side,"the Professor had plowed on determinedly, "I found myself both relieved that you had returned to us and... somewhat jealous of what you brought back with you. It has been easy to forget, you see, that you actually had a family other than the three of us -- that you have had a mother... and a father."
He'd sighed then and looked away, staring out over the city. "It has been much too easy to pretend that we were always as we have been, that I had always had Mr. Brown as a brother, Miss Wells as... well, as a daughter. That I have always had you as a son."
The words are like a punch to the chest, now and then. Emotions I'd spent two years suppressing tore through me all at once, like leaves in a hurricane. A brief flash of guilt had come with my dad's face, but over it came pride and affection and love.
I feel tears running down my face, although I hadn't let them fall, then.
"I... dreamed once, that you were my father," I'd said slowly, groping for words. "Sometimes, when I miss him the most, I... pretend you are my father, so I'm not alone."
The Professor had nodded; he knew that already. Maybe I do have something to be grateful for -- he'd known how much he'd meant to me. "So you told me. It was that which I remembered, when Rembrandt told us you were gone; it was that which made me regret I had never told you how many times I wished you were my son in truth."
He'd sighed once again, so tired. I remember looking at him, and thinking how old he looked in that moment. "I have no wish to take your father's place, Quinn -- no one could do that, I know. But I envy him, that he raised such a son. I envy him that son."
I couldn't say anything; the silence stretched too long as I fumbled with my thoughts. God, I came so close to blowing it. The Professor had turned abruptly away when I couldn't say anything, getting up. "Well, I think it's time I got back to the room, before..."
"Wait." I don't remember standing or catching the Professor's arm, but somehow I did. "Professor, I...." I still hadn't been able to figure out how to say what I'd wanted to, but I'd known I had to say something.
"These last few years," I'd said finally, "you've... raised me almost as much as he did, gotten me through some of the worst times of my life. I-- would have been lost without you."
I'd met the Professor's eyes, willing mine to speak for me, to give voice to the emotions both of us had always stumbled over. "If you had slid without me, it would have killed me -- because I'd have lost another family. I'd... have lost another father."
The lump in my throat had abruptly become too large to speak around; I'd swallowed hard, trying to clear it. It hadn't mattered, then; the Professor's hand had come up to take mine in a firm clasp. Then, before he could change his mind, I think, he'd pulled me into a rough, firm bear hug. And for a long, long moment, I'd been home.
We both been very happy and extremely embarrassed when we'd finally broken apart. "Well," the Professor had said, after he'd cleared his throat two or three times, "now that that bloody mess is said and done, I think the both of us could use some sleep."
I think I'd said something about staying out a while longer, wanting to sort through all of this, and fully aware of the silly grin that had been spread all over my face.
But he'd nailed me with a very fatherly glare that I hadn't been up to resisting. "Mr. Mallory, if your near-death experience was anywhere near as traumatic to your senses as it was to mine, you need your rest. We'll have many more nights to stare out at this blasted city."
He'd turned and stalked towards the door to the stairwell, not prepared to listen to any arguments, and I hadn't actually planned to give any. I'd just smiled some more, then laughed, and followed him obediently down the stairs and back to our room.
I'm surprised to find myself laughing now, chuckles that are so close to sobs that there isn't a real difference. My hands are clenched on the bricks and I'm standing straight, staring blindly up at the stars.
The door opens behind me and I almost turn around, expecting the Professor. Then it hits again, that it can't possibly be him, and I laugh some more. Cry some more.
Rembrandt's hand comes down on my shoulder, warm and strong. He's the adult now, the way he sees it; he's the one who has to take care of me and Wade, and he's taking his responsibilities seriously. He doesn't say anything, just waits for the grief to run its course.
It won't, of course. For the rest of my life, I'm going to hear a snatch of opera or a British accent, see a physics textbook he wrote, or read a piece of poetry he quoted, and it's all going to come back. I'm going to hurt all over again.
That's how it happened when I lost my first father and it's not one of those things that gets easier with practice.
Gradually, my breathing comes back under control and the wind dries the last of the tears, leaving my cheeks feeling stiff. The bricks are cutting into my palms and I gradually force my hands to loosen. One of them comes up to swipe at my eyes, before I turn to face Rembrandt.
He's looking at me very soberly, his dark eyes full of compassion. He understands, like Wade does and Beckett refuses to. His hand tightens on my shoulder, then relaxes, and he moves forward, leaning on the wall beside me to look out at the city.
When he speaks, his voice is rough, controlled, and I realize he's been thinking about the same thing I have. "Quinn, back on New Egypt, when we thought.... When you...." He fumbled for words and finally settles for, "Was it real? Where you were?"
I know what he's asking, the hope he wants me to give. I think about it, about that grey-misted world and my dad's face, the football rough in my hands. If I don't try, I can see the Professor standing next to him, wearing that half-smile that always meant he knew what I was thinking. That all was right with the world, or would be eventually.
Maybe it will.
"If you can touch it," I say slowly, finally, "then it's real."
Rembrandt nods, his lips pursing, as if he understands. Maybe he does; he's always had more faith than the rest of us.
We stand like that for a long time. Then he straightens and breathes out hard, his eyes shining supiciously. "Come on," he says, "We'd better get back inside before Wade and Maggie kill each other."
I take one last look out over the bay, as he starts towards the stairwell. The wind suddenly calms, except for a stray whisper of air that ruffles my hair and touches my back, urging me after Rembrandt.
One silent 'good-bye'. Then I obey, and follow my friend down the stairs.
"I never told you," I say as the door closes behind us, "about what the Professor said to me that night after we slid off New Egypt...."
Still, the parallels between Arturo dealing with Quinn's 'death' in 'Slide Like an Egyptian' [largely ignored in favor of resolution of that episode's so-called 'plot' (No, I'm not really this bitter, I just hate waste)] and Quinn dealing with Arturo's death in 'Exodus' were too strong to ignore. 'Sole Survivors' did a good job dealing with Wade's grief, but barely touched on Quinn's (well, he was being turned into a cannibalistic creature of the night, so it's understandable). So, I had to write what could have / should have/ might have happened right after that first slide at the end of 'Exodus', not to mention after 'Slide Like an Egyptian'.
The poem is entitled 'Professor' and it is also by me, for better or worse. RIP, Professor -- you have been, and will be, sorely missed.