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If It Were Not So - Part One - AsTheCroweFlies

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April 4th, 2006

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06:42 pm - If It Were Not So - Part One
"In My Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you."

My Sins My Sins My Savior

Joimus = writing for Cort
Sharon = writing for Rachel


He sat there alone on the hot steps, head lowered, sun baking down on his dusty hair. He was waiting. He wasn't sure yet for...what. All he knew was that he had this vague sense of expectation gnawing in his gut...worse than hunger. Licking his lips, he wondered how long it had been since he'd had a drink.

No matter. A drink was not going to alleviate this particular need. He buried his face in his hands then slowly spread his fingers apart just a fraction, just enough so's he could study the broken edge of the step his boots rested on. So concentrated was he on this activity, he failed to note her shadow as she approached and stood about 5 feet out from him, studying the way his hair swung down over his cheek.


"She left quite a large mess, didn't she?"

Cort looked up to stare at a petite woman in green calico shading with one hand her eyes from the glare of the morning sun, a splash of color in the haze of smoke still drifting from Ellen's explosions. In the other hand, she held a glass of water - blessed water! He felt his face crack into a smile, wanting to leap up and swing her about; but already his muscles locking up, as if he had spent a week galloping over the Arizona desert, feeling the Devil himself. The rancid wood-smoke leached away the last reserves of his will. He hoped the figure before him was not a pain-induced mirage, one last swipe by Satan.

When he didn't readily respond, staring at her with the uncertain look of a starved man, she sat down next to him and handed him the glass, tucking her legs up under her voluminous skirt. He examined the glass of elixir for a moment and then swallowed the contents with greed.

"I've been wanting to bring that to you for so long," she murmured as Cort held the empty glass to his forehead in silent prayer. "God knows Ellen never thought of you."


God, but he was tired!

The glass pressed to his skin felt cool and damp beads of its condensation dripped toward his eyebrows. He made no move to wipe them away, but simply closed his eyes, not wanting to see the soot, the smoke that still hung heavily in the air. He wanted to say something to her, to thank her. The sense of her presence, even with his eyes shut, filled the air beside him and some deep part of him wanted to know why that should be so. What had she said? She'd been wanting to bring a drink to him? He squeezed his eyes more tightly closed, trying to think, but even his brain felt dusty and too worn to make connections. Then sudden pain shot through his right hand and he jerked his whole body in response.


She caught the glass as it tumbled from his grip, hoping he wouldn't see the hot tears of anger in her eyes as she set it down to take his trembling hand. She bent her head over the mangled wrist, avoiding his gaze as she reached for his left hand as well to examine the damage. Both wrists were raw and black, fingers gnarled, deeply bruised, broken. Ratface. That bastard had crushed at least one finger.

"You need looking after," she said, not as successful in keeping the emotion from her voice. "Can you stand and walk inside? Just ... hold on a second, okay?"


He watched her get up, liking the swish of her green skirt. It was so blessed...female. His instinct was to rise when she did, but he couldn't seem to get his legs to lift his body. When she asked him to hold on a second, he just nodded weakly and leaned his temple against the rough wood railing, closing his eyes again, concentrating on breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth. It helped settle the pain a little. Not much. But a little, and even that was good. He hadn't slept, really slept, in days now, and he felt a gentle fog coming, trying to wrap itself about him. The pain in his hand kept piercing through, though, like some blasted searchlight, keeping him from slipping into the comfortable grey clouds. Vaguely, he heard the footsteps of people beginning to pass by, checking on what was left of Redemption. Someone even paused, speaking to him, but the words seemed to come from far away, muffled by the fog, and he kept his eyes closed...just breathing.


The man needs medicine and seclusion and fast! Rachel thought, wiping away the moisture in her eyes as she marched into the saloon behind them. She needed her satchel for the items she had packed in it before she came here, before the Warp gave her access to Redemption. She came to a dead halt in the doorway of the saloon, finding that the owner stood at the window to her left, looking out at the devastated town with a mixture of satisfaction and grim fatalism. His daughter sat at a table nearby, her own face hardened by a reality almost too much for a fourteen year old to bear.

"I need water," Rachel announced, not caring who decided to pay attention, just so long as one of them did. "I need water in a pan and towels."

The saloon owner turned to look at her as if she had risen up from between the floorboards. The girl stared at her, eyes half lidded with disdain.

"I need water in a pan," Rachel repeated, biting back an urge to scream at them both. A mad thought that maybe the reason why Herod so successfully took over the town was because of the utter lack of incentive in its residents. "There's a man out there who helped save your town. Now he needs your help."

"Yes!" The saloon-keeper said, coming out of his reverie at last. "Water. Towels. I'll go get some." He disappeared into the back.

Rachel turned to the girl, trying not to let her latent hostility cause her to lose her own temper.

"I need your help, too," Rachel intoned, flatly. As if to emphasize her urgency, she turned to look out the door. She could see Cort's back still hunched over, pain and exhaustion radiating from him. Hold on, Cort, hold on! "I have a satchel in my room. Would you please go get it for me? I'd get it myself, but I want to watch over him so he doesn't collapse or decide he doesn't need help."


The footfalls kept passing by, gentle thuds in the deep dust of the single street in Redemption. Soft as they were, the sound of them knocked hard against the cells ofhis brain and he turned his head more toward the railing. The young woman had been gone for...how long? He had no idea. He wanted to wonder what she was doing but it was too much effort to focus in on any single thought. So he let his mind drift, floating like the ash motes in the hot air, and found himself settling somehow in the cool shadows of the small chapel he'd come to know so intimately the last few years.

The edges of his mouth curved into the slightest of smiles. Ah, quiet, shade...peace. "Let me stay, Father," he mouthed. "Please...let me stay."


He was going into shock, all the adrenalin that it had taken to get through the morning spent. Rachel could see it before she rounded him and knelt down in front of him to let him know it was time to move.

"Cort? Cort, you have to hang on just a bit more...please, just come with me and let me clean you up a bit. Just a few steps," she pleaded with him, taking him by the upper arms to coax him up. He opened green eyes that were fast losing their lucidity, but he seemed to be holding onto an amazing reserve of strength. With a nod, he pushed himself up to a standing position, allowing Rachel to slip an arm around him and lead him into the saloon.

She guided him to the chair she had set up for him at a table just as the saloon keeper waddled in with a large ceramic bowl, a pitcher of water, and a few towels that had seen better days, but were crisp and clean. The young girl sidled in as well as Rachel propped one hand across the lip of the bowl and took a towel to wet one end and began bathing the misused wrist.


As gentle as she was, the touch of the towel hurt. Despite all his willpower, he winced. There was too little of him left now not to let the pain show. He felt a groan rising up his throat and pressed his lips tightly, trying vainly to contain it. The walk to the chair had been short, but had taken the little that remained of his strength. Neck muscles no longer able to support his head, he let his chin drop to his chest and would have slid sideways off the small chair were it not for a sudden reaching out of someone's arms.

"Please," he whispered into the darkness. "Let me stay."


"Lady, he's not doing so good," the saloon keeper's daughter - *what was her name?!* - informed Rachel; and just as she turned to confirm that, Cort's head bowed forward until it fell onto the table. At least, it did so because she was able to catch him from a trajectory towards the floor. Rachel heard him mumble as she put him aright, letting his head rest on the table as she repositioned his hand over the basin and continued her ablutions. He was out cold. It was
just as well. The next step of this triage was not going to be pleasant for him anyway.

"Hand me my satchel," she told the girl, who did so with more interest than she let on. Rachel could feel the fourteen year old assessing her: did she measure up to Ellen?

You just watch what I do to Ellen if I ever get a chance to speak my mind to her Rachel silently told the girl, digging in her bag for the one item she knew would ultimately help Cort.

Bandages, ointments, a dark brown bottle filled with an oily substance, pungent with the fragrance of herbs and camphor; another dark glass bottle that she opened and poured from it a viscous liquid into the wash water. Swishing the water around, foam sprung up. Rachel returned to washing Cort's hands. Despite the abuse they had suffered, she couldnt help noting the sturdy strength of his fingers, the broad palms that could be as gentle as they were deadly. For a brief, wildly perverse moment, she had a vision of those hands about her waist, picking *her* up, pulling her to him....

"What are you going to do with him once you do that?" the girl asked, now intent in watching Rachel clean away the grime. "It looks worse than it did before," she added, her freckled nose wrinkling.

Now came the tough part: realigning his broken fingers. Finger braces, bandages. With a deep sigh of trepidation, she acted quickly. Cort jerked with pain, even cried out, but never woke up. Soon, he had three fingers wrapped into splints. The oil from the bottle she smeared as gently as she could into the wounds, turning them deep red as blood rushed to confront the insult of the oils. Rachel knew it would have a burning sensation, but that with its use, the pain would eventually go away. She wrapped one wrist, then the other, when she was certain they were clean and free of debris.

"Can I put him in a room upstairs, somewhere that will be private, where he won't be disturbed? And where he can get a bath when he wakes up?" Rachel asked when she knew she had finished the first aid. The young teenager, having endured the whole spectacle, now dashed up the stairwell to determine just that.

Rachel couldnt resist looking down at Cort, his cheek resting on the wood table in the deepest slumber an exhausted man could have, an almost angelic face lurking beneath the soot and stubble clouding his face. Her heart hurt to see him so. Whatever his past, he didnt deserve this.

"A room is ready, miss," she heard the saloon keeper say. He had been behind his bar, watching Rachel, watching his daughter. He stood off to the side, as if he was ashamed to be so close to someone who had done what he could never do, yet anxious to repay Cort in whatever small way he could think of. Rachel noticed that he and his daughter walked wide circles around each other.

"I...I think I can carry him on my own, if'n you think you can't..." he said, as Rachel paused, trying to figure out how she, a five-foot-two lightweight, was to carry the six-foot gunfighter up a flight of stairs without injuring him further.

Nodding, Rachel followed him up the stairs to a large room in the back of the saloon - a veritable presidential suite by Redemption standards she thought as they eased the unconscious Cort into the bed. Wonder if this was Herod's prefered place when he....

No. Don't even go there. She reprimanded herself. Suffice it to say, the gun-slinger priest could have all the sleep he needed until he was ready to deal with the rest of his injuries - physical and otherwise.


Hours flowed into one another, circling around, making patterns...never with any real awareness of their passage.

Sometimes he dreamed, others he was in some place too deep for dreams to follow. Once, he roused enough to be aware of softness under him. How long had it been since his body had been embraced by a bed? But, no, he was wrong, and he smiled as he realized he was lying atop a bank of clouds that stretched from horizon to horizon with only the bluest blue above him. Raising his hand, he intended to fill it with the blue, let it sift through his fingers...but, instead, there was sudden, searing pain as flames shot out of his flesh and his skin began to melt. He moaned, twisting, trying to get it to stop and began to sink into the clouds. Everything about him became misted grey, the fire subsided, replaced by a sense of great...lostness. He ran through the grey...looking for something. What? Something he had to find! Where had it gone?

He stopped, unable to remember what it was he was looking for, what it was he had lost. A bullet zinged past his ear and he ducked, tripping, falling into the depths of the grey, arms flailing. There was nothing to hold on to! Nothing to stop his plunge. "No," he moaned as he fell...over and over and over.

"Noooo." Endless, weary no's.


Her eyes flew open as if the entire building had shaken, even though after a few seconds of looking around told her that nothing had moved at all. She was wide awake in those few seconds, listening intently for movement in the dark room. Then, as carefully as she could muster, she reached for her watch, pressing the tiny button on its side to light the face. Three twenty-one a.m. She sat up from her own palette on the floor, a makeshift bed in the far corner where she could keep watch. Blue light from a gravid full moon poured in from the tall windows, passing through voile curtains with the ease of water to illuminate the prostrate man on the bed and she saw why she might have come so quickly out of her own cycle. Cort was twitching in his sleep, moaning in despair, hands clutching to grasp some indefineable object. His brows were furrowed in pain.

It suddenly dawned on her: she hadn't administered the most basic of pain relief! She had been so happy to get him splinted and in a place of peace, she forgot that part of that peace would need to be his general comfort. Crawling to her nearby satchel, she pulled out a tiny syringe and small vial, along with a folded little wipe that filled the air with an alcoholic scent. She pierced the foil cap of the bottle with the new needle and drew down small droplets of medicine into the opaque tube. Then, she wiped down a small spot in his arm and slipped the needle into a small vein, hoping she could do so without waking him. In a matter of seconds, the medicine worked its magic and the troublesome wrinkles in his forehead smoothed away.

Tiny beeps startled her out of a reverie that had her staring at Cort for what seemed very long minutes.

*Damn! Her watch!* Panicked, she swept it up from the folds of her skirt, de-programmed its alarm, and tossed it into her satchel, along with the alcohol wipe. Watching to see if Cort had somehow been brought out of slumber by these tiny noises and movements, Rachel locked the used needle in a sturdy leather case and found a cap for the used vial. No sense wasting what little there was, she thought.

With one last glance at a Cort, who now showed signs of being a snorer, she settled back into her palette, about as far from sleep as she was from home. Another couple of hours and she could slip out of the room to start the next phase of her mission.


There had been the smallest prick of added pain and he twisted in the fog, thinking more bullets were hurtling past. His efforts to avoid them faded as a stream of darkness took him, sweeping him away in its black waters.

He floated, almost peacefully, for some time way beneath the surface, his hair streaming about his face like thin strands of sea kelp. The fire was gone...for now...it was gone, so he leaned back into the flow, letting it take him where it willed. Opening his lips, he breathed it in, feeling its coolness wrap around his beating pulse. Hours passed and still he floated, nothingness, blessed nothingness, piling atop itself beyond the reach of pain, of memory. Even loss was...lost.


Now that she had come this far with the first part of her mission, Rachel began to go over plans for the coming day. Cort would probably sleep a good long while yet, if she could keep him comfortable and undisturbed for the next eight hours at least. She was going to have to change his bandages again later.

Soup; she was going to have to get some food to him. Rachel hoped the young girl would help her out some more, because she had landed from the warp just in time to ride to the outskirts of Redemption, just in time to see the explosions and Herod fall. She had not had time to fully collect for all contingencies.

She had hid in the brush as Ellen rode by, now a grim shell of a woman faced with living without the juice of revenge to keep her alive. How empty is her world going to be now? Rachel wondered. Would hate to have to wake up the next morning and realize that your purpose that day is NOT to face down the man who shattered your world. The pity Ellen elicited in her was not a compassionate one; it seemed to Rachel there would be more waste than before now that she had given Herod what he had been dishing out. Cort had been wise to drop whatever vengeance he might have had, even though he might have had a thousand better reasons than Ellen.

Rachel rested her head on her knees, letting the flow of her thoughts ramble in her mind. There were a thousand ways to take out the soul of a human, a thousand ways to defeat them. That Ellen had hung it on on the method by which she had killed her father was a poor choice in Rachel's eyes. And Cort had suffered for it. Cort, who had only wanted to reject the devastation.

She sighed as she watched the midnight blue sky outside the window turn a deep purple in preparation for the rising sun. Rachel came from an age of hostile takeovers and subversive politics, the late 20th century, where offers that could not be refused were par for the course. In Rachel's world, Herod would either be a Ken Lay or the devasted employee of one. And it was into that world that she ultimately meant to take Cort; not because of any sense of protection or desire to "evolve" him. She had a mission to accomplish for men who trusted her, believed in her talent for technology and blending into a community. Terry, Bud...how did she get involved with them....? The object of the mission replayed with ever increasing fuzziness in her consciousness....


Cort obliged her, giving her all the time she needed, though it was, of course, completely unwitting on his part. He floated onward, down his dark river, making no effort to stop its flow. It was, indeed, all there was, right now, in his world. Just him...and the nothingness that encased him. Some hours later, he found he was floating upwards through layers in the river, each one a lighter shade of grey than the one below. "No," he moaned again. He didn't want to break the surface. He would not break the surface. Holding himself perfectly still, he willed himself back into the darker deeps, back where it was quiet and still, back where the empty void absorbed his pain and the long fingers of his memory could not reach his soul.


She found the saloon keeper in the kitchen a few hours later, puttering away with a bit more bounce to his step. Rachel had drifted out of sleep this time to find early sunlight pouring in, heating up the room with a promise of higher temperatures. Had it really been twenty four hours? Yesterday had passed with unease all around as she hunted down Cort's clothes, handed them to the laundress, tracked down a hiding place for her things, taking a cursory survey of what was left of Redemption. Privacy was now a premium as those left without lodging doubled up in the houses remaining. She hadn't even bothered to find out what was going on at Herod's place - she imagined that much of what hadnt been blown to smithereens or burned away was already sequestered among the populace. Which was just as well. God knew they had been the subject of many pilferings themselves. The whores of the bordello looked haggard but unfazed. The farmers jubilant. The towns people various shades of shock, anger, relief, and ambition - ambition in making sure they filled whatever voids Herod and his men left behind.

Note to self - find out what happened to his henchmen. Scattered snatches of conversations clued her in that not everyone was grateful to be free of Herod's reign.

Now she carried a tray up the stairwell of hot soup and some bread. She had no idea how long Cort had been without food or water, so soup was the easiest thing she could think of to get him back on track. Balancing the tray on a side table near the table, she carefully turned the wobbly doorknob and tried to carry in the tray as silently as one could with heavy skirts, an irritating corset and unweildy dishes. She straightened to congratulate herself on a (relatively) smooth transaction after setting the tray down on the bureau and closing the door, when she heard movement and a voice behind her.


Cort was leaning on one elbow, watching her from the bed. It took all his strength to lift himself even that much and he shook somewhat with the effort of it. His mind was still fighting its way through the last cobwebs that encased it, slowing it down, making it hard to concentrate, harder still to get his eyes to focus clearly. He'd been aware of the swish of green skirting that came through the door. It was the green that had pulled him to the surface of his dark waters...green that didn't belong there in the murky grey-blackness. He felt drawn toward it and before even completely waking, had forced himself up on his elbow not to lose sight of the color. It was blurry and wavered a bit within his gaze, so he blinked several times. His hair had fallen forward, though, blocking his vision. He tried to lift his free hand, pushing at his hair, but the motion sent streaks of pain shooting through his fingers. He cried out briefly with the shock of it, falling heavily back onto his pillow.


"You're awake!" she exclaimed; only her voice came out more as a squeak than an intonation of surprise. Cort was sprawled across the bed, passing his brutalized hand over his face in a weak attempt to brush the hair out of his eyes, and grunting slightly from the pain of movement. Abandoning the tray, she rushed to the side of the bed to do it for him, noting that the pain medicine had worn off. How was she going to help him this time?

Taking his forearms she placed his trembling hands on his chest, pressing lightly to communicate that he needed to be still. He still appeared groggy, disoriented, but she talked with a good volume so that he could be sure to hear her.

"I've brought some soup. You need to eat if you want your strength back," she said, trying to meet his gaze as he lay blinking up at her.


"The children," he gasped hoarsely. "Don't hurt the children!" He pushed with his forearms against her hands, not strong enough, though, to release them. Turning the side of his face into the deep pillow, he moaned, "No, don't! Don't...burn...it!"


Dismay broke out as tears in her eyes as she witnessed his delusion, heard the fear and sorrow in his voice. She let go of his arms - her touch only seemed to cause more agitation - and sat back to watch his expression replay the horror of watching the mission burn. For a several moments, she felt it as much as he: total betrayal, utter evil devastation, all his efforts to amend his life razed to the ground. Innocents taken down once again. And for what? So he could assuage Herod's own warped sense of guilt and outrage. Cort had rejected him, rejected the evil. And he was going to pay.

Blinking her eyes rapidly to clear her vision and to regain some sense of logic, she let this development sink in. He was not recovering as quickly as she thought he would...had counted that he would. A pale sheen of sweat shone on his face, signs of a burning fever, a paleness around his eyes and mouth despite the deep tan. For a moment she was tempted to forgo stringent instruction to keep all anachronistic instruments out of play and use the little thermometer she had packed. But then she knew: beyond a poultice and elixir, the times in which he lived held nothing more than relief of symptoms. A thermometer would only confirm in scientific milibars what she already knew : Cort was in trouble.

He needed rest; he needed liquid. Those two thoughts kept rolling around in her mind; liquid to feed the fever, keep the body's ability to fight it. The local doctor had disappeared, seemingly overcome by the events, by the triumph of watching Ellen get her due. And her bosses had said to do what she could on her own. The less contact, the easier it was to break away.

Shaking with unexpected anger, Rachel found her satchel once more, administered more pain medicine, and returned with a wet washcloth to wipe his face and neck. Grime and other questionable substances came away with relative ease, but still he looked gray with trouble and defeat.

She was going to have to ask the saloon keeper for even more, she realized. Despite his state of mind, despite her basic nursing skills, this wasnt the time to try objectivity in getting him well. They had just plopped him on the bed, taking off his boots, removing the gun-belt, suspenders, shirt, until he lay under thin sheets, shivering and protesting fire alternately. He needs a bath, he needs food, Rachel kept thinking to herself. She could probably convince the saloon keeper to give a cursory sponge bath. Getting food into a fevered patient, that was another thing entirely.

Cort lay quiet once more in several minutes as the pain reliever allowed him to relax and convinced his brain that he need not fight off whatever he thought was attacking him. She would have to see if there was a way to get him to at least swallow water....ice chips? Was there such a thing out here in the middle of the Arizona desert, where the latest newfangled contraption was the latest pistol, the silliest parlor toy?

She didnt get up from his side at the bed. He needed to become aware that he was not alone. But once he fell back into an uneasy ramble against perfidy, betrayal, horror, pain, Rachel placed her hands on his arms again. We'll get you through this she told him silently. We'll get you where you belong.

If she had dared to acknowledge the passing thought, she would have added with me....


On some level he knew someone was with him, sitting close. There was an awareness of...presence, bringing with it the only sense of comfort, the only anchoring in his rearranged world. Slowly, unseen, his fingers moved across the sheet, seeking that presence, needing some contact that would keep him from following his river and being emptied into the sea. Part of him wanted the sea, wanted to be lost forever in its depths, never having to...think...again, never having to feel. Yet at his basic, inner core, he rejected that. There had to be more...for him...than just that. And...so...his fingers moved. Only that. Nothing else. It was all he could do, the only effort he was capable of making, not to let his soul go out with the tide. It seemed to take a while to move them, and he did it blindly, eyes closed. At last, though, he felt a smooth softness and curled his hand atop it. A long, soft sigh escaped his lips. He was... anchored.


She had become so lost in thought, so caught up in her own troubles, that the slight movement of his hands on his chest startled her. The furrowed brow resolved several expressions of searching; it seemed he was making an effort to gain some semblance of consciousness. One of his hands, the unbroken one, moved as if he were gingerly testing the air for any sign of outward life.

On an impulse, she slipped one of her own hands underneath the fingers. At her touch, Cort took a breath and sighed, a fragile expression of peace finally settling in his aquiline features, the lines of his mouth softening. His fingers rested upon hers in the most delicate grasp. Deeply touched, Rachel risked the slightest squeeze in return. Her white hand looked so small and pale beneath his; protected, wonderfully fitted.

"That's it, Cort," she murmured, smiling broadly despite the fact that he wouldn't see her. "Rest easy. Everything's going to be okay."

The Angel had returned.


Filtered through many layers, he heard her voice, and like a small child, believed them. With his hand in hers, he knew he would not wash out to sea, would not be lost, not even to himself. It was enough. For now, it was enough. He lay quietly upon the cloud tops once more, the blue sky resting lightly upon him, the softest of coverings. "Mmmmmmm," he murmured, the first sound of peace he'd made in days.


When it seemed there had been a change in his sleep, Rachel had to talk herself into pulling her hand away, resisting an urge to lay down beside him, tempted by a silly vanity that he wouldnt get any rest if she left his side. But when she did, the fine spidery thread that was their connection held, even as she returned to the tray to inspect the (now cold) soup and the freshly washed clothing on the chair.

The cleric's vest was pressed, though a bit threadbare, and the overcoat showed signs of skillful patching, all the red dust and dirt of the Arizona desert sloughed away. She had to really look at the coat to see the patchwork, too, careful stitches that hid the fact that the priest had been dragged and kicked along the way. Beneath those items shone a crisp white cotton shirt which had to have been brand new. In fact, she was certain of it, for there were some conventions about the sewing and seams that were fancier than what they had removed. Rachel felt like dashing down to the gallery below to thank whoever it was that thought to do all this. She wasn't the only one thinking of Cort.

She walked to the window to see the position of the sun and to watch the people below. The sounds of hammers could be heard, and the rumble of carts. Her own stomach growled, reminding her that even nurses have to survive, and she wondered if Cort would sleep long enough for her to eat the soup and return with a fresh hot bowl.


He slept, deeply, dreamlessly, for some while, then, awaking, remained still, eyes closed, listening to the sounds of reconstruction coming in through the window. He had no idea why so much hammering and sawing would be going on. Had something happened? The mission! Was the mission being rebuilt? His eyes flew open, scanning the room. He'd never been in this place before. Where was it? Why was he here? He needed to get up, go to the window, check on the mission!

Then he frowned. There was nothing anywhere near the mission that would have a room like this. He pushed with his hands on the bed to get to a sitting position, a sharp, startled cry of pain escaping from him when he put weight on his broken fingers. He fell heavily back against the pillow, holding his bandaged hand in front of his face. What? Then sudden memory flooded back just as the door opened.


The man in the door way shuffled in, pushing aside the doorway with an elbow because his hands carried a large deep pot of steaming liquid, his forearms draped with towels. He was half-way across the room when he realized Cort was sitting up slightly, watching him with wary grogginess, blinking mightily against a sun that now peered into the room as it began its descent to the other side of the world.

"Excuse me, Preacher, just getting you some bath water. I was going to have one of the midwives in to take care of you, but I see you are probably fit to do it yourself."


With the combination of sunlight in his eyes and the sharp pain in his hand, it took Cort a few seconds to realize that it was Horace, the barkeep, who was talking to him. He shook his head, trying to clear it. Had he dreamed her? He'd thought..somehow... almost for sure...there had been a woman near. He remembered...green.

His head heavy, he let it rest on the pillow, turning a bit sideways to look at the man. Not really interested at present in the process of bathing, he summoned up politeness from deep inside, and said, "Thank you. I'll see about it in a few minutes. Just leave it over there."

Horace set the water down and moved to leave, pausing with his hand on the knob.

"You and Ellen," he said, his voice not much more than a whisper, so used had he become to hiding what he felt, "we're...we're...all of us...grateful." He ducked his head a bit. "Just wanted you to know." Then he was gone.

Cort lay on the bed, studying the dust motes in the sunbeam that flooded goldenly through the window. Ellen. She had thrown him her father's badge and said, "The law has come back to town."

His brow knit and his jaw worked as he recalled that final sight of her riding out of the burning town, leaving him standing there, his thumb pad rubbing the badge.

Had she thought to set his future for him by that? Did she think, really, that was what he...wanted? That, simply, he would take the badge and everything would be set on some even keel in his life?

And where was she, herself, going now that her whole life's aim had been fulfilled? He couldn't recall when he'd met an emptier soul.

Then he closed his eyes, scrinching his lids down tightly, pressing his lips into a thin, white line. A tear welled under his long lashes, threated to track down his cheek, but somehow made its way back within and spread across his eye. Slowly his left hand moved to his neckline, running with just a suggestion of a tremble along the length of where his white collar would have been.


"You gonna choose sumthin', little lady?"

Rachel turned to find the apothecary staring down at her over metal rimmed glasses as he hovered from a ladder propped against a wall brimming with cubbyholes filled with all manner of bottles and beakers. He was a severe looking man, whose face looked like it had drawn one too many nights under the kerosene lamp, puffy eyes squinting through a less than perfect lens. She had seen him climb the ladder but, not ready to address him for the items that she needed, wandered around trying to soak in the mystic atmosphere of the shop. She had only seen one other place like this, back home in Texas, but as a museum piece, restored for the sake of tourists who swarmed through looking
for a piece of history to purchase. It too had a plenitude of cubbyholes and ancient stained bottles, faded labels with odd and amusing spelling. And none of the rancid smell of blackened wood had penetrated the camphor-and-absinthe tinged air in here, as it had in just about every other building.

"Miss?" He insisted once again, slumping down the ladder a step or two, seeming put out by the fact that she was there. "Miss, I'm closing up shop here, so whatever you need, you tell me now."

"Oh! Yes...of course," Rachel stammered. It was getting awfully dim as the setting sun fell lower and lower. "I need some iodine and bandages. A few other items on this list...."

He took the list, frowned, looked at her, and frowned deeper.

"Who you needing all of this for?"

Rachel stared at him for a few minutes, weighing the desire to snap back at him with the necessity of telling him why she wanted to stock up. *How closely did he work with Herod?*

"Because the man who helped kill Herod is in need of assistance and I cant find the doctor," she replied, firmly, staring back at him, daring him to make a further issue of it. For all she knew, this man helped ferret illicit goods through to supplement his income...such as it was. Drug runners in every century, it seemed.

The man's expression changed in a flash. He practically leapt off the ladder to fill her order.

"So you're the one been sequestering him?" He chatted as though they had been old friends, beetling is way down the long aisle behind the counter, pulling out various items to plunk down for her inspection. "He was like lightening! Id never seen such quick work! He's not been injured, has he?" He queried, fastening another stern eye in her direction. "'Cause, little lady, if he's got any gun-shot wounds they need tending and you don't look like you might have had much experience with that," he concluded.

"No, no," she argued to dissuade him. "No gun shots, thank goodness. Just his wrists. And dehydration. And minor scrapes...broken bones..." she trailed off. "But I fixed those. I do know how to set bones, sir. Now, how much for all of this?"

He smiled broadly at her and waved off the bank note she extended. "On the house, miss. I figure there's a world of payment due that young man... that woman who was with him. You got an idea where she went?"

*No, and frankly my dear, I don't give a damn* was what ran through Rachel's head, but she put on her most sorrowful look and shook her head. "'Fraid not. Thank you!"

"You need any more salve and solutions, let me know. Ol' Doc considered my supply the best in Arizona."

"You wouldn't have happened to see him, have you? I really could use his advice on a few things," Rachel asked, stopped by her curiosity.

"Can't say that I have. He's been a might secretive these last few years. No telling if he's done retired or given up the ghost. Wish I knew, too. Best horseshoe partner in town."

Before she could hurry away, the door to the apothecary opened and two men came shuffling in, covered in desert dust, boots scraping the floorboards, expressions hooded with the arrogance of bullies who were used to no resistance. Neither one took their hats off. They wore dusters and chaps as if they had been out on the range, gunbelts heavy with their weapons. One had a handle-bar moustache that would have been rather handsome if it were not stained with chaw. The other had dark hair and thin moustache that he must have groomed a thousand times a day to coax into existence. Rachel needed just a whiff of their sweat and grime to know that her previous hunch had merit : Herod's men were not entirely vanquished.

They took their time passing her as they walked in. It took every nerve of pride for her to stare back at them, feeling as if she were going to have to ask the apothecary if he had a scrubbing pad to use when she got back to the saloon. They made her feel as dirty as they looked.

The apothecary, however, was feeling a bit defiant though, as if knowing that Cort was going to be all right gave him some strength to do what he could never do when Herod was alive. He leaned against the counter, dressed in a customary nonchalance, watching the two rogues amble in, sizing up the situation. An old medicine man and a girl. They sneered and smacked their lips as they faced the apothecary.

"You go on, now," the apothecary said lightly to her. "I got business to attend."

Rachel hesitated, wondering if she should run to her hiding place and get her own brand of weapons as back-up. She hated feeling helping without the technology she was used to having available. Then, with a shrug, she left.

The hammering was slowing down now and people were milling about, talking with ease as the sun turned everything a purplish red as the shadows of the buildings lengthened. Rachel hurried across the street to race up the steps of the saloon, thinking about the tray of food she was going to take up to the room, hoping this time, he had slept off the fever....

"He's awake!" Horace called to her as she started climbing the stairs. "But you'd better knock first 'fore goin' in...I just took up his bath water. And I'll send up some more soup."

Nodding, Rachel climbed the rest of the way, suddenly feeling her heart flutter. She'd been watching him fight the fever so long now...what was he going to say now that he was lucid? What was he going to say about her?


Cort had lain there awhile longer, his eyes closed, trying to gather the pieces of himself together enough to use the bathwater before it grew cold. He felt very weak still and took it slowly, slowly as he painfully drew himself into a sitting position. He just sat there for a few minutes before he found the energy to swing his legs over the side of the bed.

Damn, but Horace had put the basin about as far from the bed as possible! The open plank floor stretched like some vast prairie between him and it. Biting down on his lower lip, he stood, wobbled, and grabbed the bedpost for support.

"Come on, Cort," he urged himself. "Cleanliness is next to godliness, so they say, and that may be all that's left to you." He smiled wryly, looking at the basin, remembering his baptismal font.

Putting one foot carefully in front of the other, he crossed the floor. He found he had to support himself by leaning on his left hand even to remain standing by the small table.

That left his bandaged right hand to wash with. He looked at it, shaking his head. "Now how do we manage this?"

Forcing his left hand off the table, he grabbed for the sponge. His knees gave out and he toppled sideways, taking the table, basin, and towels with him.


Rachel wasn't certain what she was expecting to find as she topped the stairs and made her way down the long corridor to the room where Cort was cloistered. A whore at the opposite end called out to her in merriment, but she hardly heard a word, so focused was she on the sound of her heart in her throat. He was awake, he was awake...

Horace said he was awake, but then she had thought so too when he was under the spell of the fever. Still, if Horace felt it was good enough to leave washwater in there for him and bring some soup, maybe things had changed.

She was just reaching up to knock on the door when she heard a crash and a cry of pain, followed by a growl of frustration. Without thinking, she twisted the doorknob and burst in, ready to find Cort still in a fevered pitch, fighting with the bedsheets...anything but what she actually found.

It was actually less tragic than it looked as she rushed to throw down the package from the apothecary. The sight of the bare-chested priest sprawled out on the floor, bedside table toppled, basin tumped over, water everywhere would have been laughable had it not been for the pain on Cort's face and utter weakness he exhibited in trying to right himself. He was trying to navigate the spill with his one useable hand when he caught sight of her and froze. He stared at her in amazement, as if she were an inexplicable phenomenon.

Rachel shoved aside any embarrassment she felt for the moment to rush to his side, picking up the spilled basin, trying to soak up the water with the towels Horace had left, taking Cort by the arms to help him sit up with his back against the side rail of the bed.

"Are you hurt? Are you okay?" she kept repeating, flummoxed beyond words that he was trying to navigate without help, that she hadnt been here to tell him not to try. Finally, he was resting against the bed, trying to stave off her protests of concern, as weak as a kitten, soaked clear through.

"My goodness, Cort, what were you thinking?" she finally scolded, as she put the bedside table aright. "I dont want to have to set more bones in place!"


He let her help him. He wasn't strong enough not to let her help him. She was talking to him, worried, flustered, scolding all mixed together. He didn't say a thing. For one reason, his head was spinning and the room had a definite tilt to the left. For another, he was trying to decide if he'd hit his head when he fell and was back in the river with the floating green.

When the room righted itself a bit, not completely, but a bit, he gasped hoarsely, "Green!" and stared at her rather wide-eyed. He'd split his lower lip somewhat when he'd impacted the planks, unable as he was to brace his fall with his hands. He tasted the blood in his mouth but was too occupied with the sight of the woman to do anything about it. The spinning was making him nauseous now, on top of everything else, and he began to go a bit grey in the face.

Still...he stared at her...and repeated his one word, this time more as a question. "Green?"


Rachel pressed a not-quite-so damp towel against his lip, steeling herself to remain calm at the sight of so much blood. He kept watching her, seeming to be a bit more lucid now, but the only word he managed to say to her was a color and for the moment, for the life of her, she couldnt think what he was refering to...which made her even more frustrated because it seemed he was having such a hard time.

No, no. Don't let emotion rule the day here, she told herself and sat back to take stock of him.

His hair was limp, having been through every level of dishevelment in the last week. His handsome features were quickly disappearing under thick stubble well on its way to becoming a short beard...doesnt look half bad at that was the sneaky thought that made Rachel bite her tongue to keep her hormones from reacting. His bare shoulders and chest showed scars and bruises and abuse that she could only imagine, but it was the fine layer of hair on his chest that distracted her...he really needed a sponge bath...soup...food...that's why he's so weak....

He lifted his uninjured hand and touched her skirt, his eyes meeting hers for a moment. Green. She almost began laughing as comprehension dawned. He was remembering when she first showed up.

She cupped his cheek with her hand and got him to look directly at her.

"Don't move! Do you hear me?" she enunciated. "Or I'll have a big fat midwife with a penchant for slapping around cuties like you come in and give you a full bath...FULL bath, okay?...and she's not as modest as you. Don't think I won't do it, either, because I'm fully aware of how weak you are...got it, Preacher?" She commanded, hoping through all the vapors clouding his vision he would get the hint that one, she was real, and two, she meant business.


The slightest smile jacked up the left corner of his mouth. "Yes, Ma'am," he said. He'd decided she was real. He didn't know who she was, but she was definitely real. Only a real woman could be that...bossy.

When she stood to go get whatever it was she thought she needed to get, he looked up the green length of her and murmured, "Thanks." Then he closed his eyes again, trying hard not to throw up on her shoes. He figured that might not be...polite...or something. He heard her footsteps cross the floor toward the door and leaned his head back more fully against the side of the bed. He wanted desperately to get up, not to be sitting there like a cast-off sack of flour when she returned. Pushing a little with his heels, he managed to get his bottom off the floor a good, oh, inch or so. He sighed. He was stuck. Flour sack it would have to be. She was gone several minutes and, as worn as he was in combination with the earlier dose of medicine, he fell asleep just sitting there. His head slid slowly toward his right shoulder, hair falling over his face.


Well, thank goodness! Rachel thought as she rose to survey the situation. His brief 'thank you' contained a distinct amount of relief and recognition, which spoke volumes for his recovery. He seems to be coming out of it a bit more now. That's good. But...looks like I'm going to have to do a sponge bath right there at the side of his bed. With his head back against the rail, breathing with slow concentration, he looked as if he were fighting off either pain or nausea and would probably not respond well to being moved again.

She stepped out into the hallway again and almost missed Horace going down the stairs once more. She called out to him and motioned for a private conversation with the barkeep, trying to speak softly enough so her voice didnt carry into other rooms.

"I'm going to need another basin of washwater," she whispered. Horace's great eyebrows knit together with concern. "He tried to get up too soon and knocked over the bedside table. He's just too weak right now and is going to need our help. I'm afraid I'm gonna...gonna...." she trailed off, feeling her cheeks get hot as she tried to relay the message, but Horace's expression took on a wise look as he waited for her to finish the sentence. "I need a sponge, some more towels, and a fresh change of linens," Rachel rattled off, wishing Horace didnt look so much like an all-too-knowing owl.

"I'll help you. Anything else?" His voice was neutral.

"Maybe a bed-shirt? Something to keep him warm at night? Just...more towels and hot water..."

Horace smiled and nodded, giving her a conspiratorial wink, and turned to leave. He paused, though,
remembering something that he was concerned with.

"Miss Rachel, there's been some folks askin' about him and I told them, he's restin' up, but there's a town in a world of hurt out there, and rumor has it he's been made marshal. Is that true?"

It took a few seconds for Rachel to realize her mouth was standing open in surprise. The last 48 hours she had been so intent on getting Cort on the road to recovery and various little frustrations that she had completely forgotten the badge. And a town that needed order.

"I don't know. You told them he's been under a fever and all, right?"

"Yes, ma'am, but there's folk moving in from the outskirts that heard about Herod, and they mean to
find out what's gonna take his place. Plus, not all of Herod's men are so willing to give up. Some's got the idea they need to pick up where he left off. There's already been trouble down at the apothecary."

"What?" Rachel felt her heart go cold.

"That's right. The apothecary. Clem Schooster got shot. They already taking his body down there laying
out with Herod and them, ready to be buried tomorrow." Horace looked at her momentarily, regretful at
having to share that information.

Rachel had to lean against the wall to keep from falling because Horace's words took the legs right out
from under her. Not that she was surprised by the trouble...she'd had the feeling...and Terry had warned
her, not everyone is going to act like all their problems are solved. But the criminal elements were already making her move, and the one man they could look to for some semblance of law was bed-ridden. And those two men in the store as she left....she had just been there!

"Do they know who did it?"

"Folks got some suspicions, but no one is equipped to go after them. Supposedly took off into the desert. But they'll be back." Horace predicted with grim assurance.

"They were connected to Herod, weren't they?"

Herod looked at her sharply for a moment and then nodded.

"He needs at least one more day, Horace. I...I came to visit the Doc, but I couldnt find him and I arrived just in time to see what happened. I knew if I didnt do something quick, Cort would be in worse shape than he is now. They treated him pretty rough, didnt they?" Rachel stammered, hoping the little lie on the spot would be enough to satisfy the curiosity that was obviously building up. She kind of figured Horace wouldn't ask too many questions, but he could be instrumental in deflecting others not so willing to wait. "Getting him cleaned up will be part of that. And the poor man hasnt had anythng to eat in some time, so thats another reason why he's weak. But I can't do this by myself."

Horace was already halfway to the stairwell as she said this, smiling and waving her off.

"Don't you worry, miss. I got you covered."

Rachel leaned against a wall to collect her thoughts, trying to reformulate plans that were already completely off course. If someone didnt come forward with an official position, it would become a free-for-all and yet another Herod take charge. And the townspeople knew Cort was still around. They'd come looking for him, expecting a man ready for more battle, like the man they saw in the street, rifles blazing, fury in his eyes, a devil unleashed....

There's no way, no way, not right now! She bolted back to Cort's room, frantic for a new plan. The original one of quick triage and packing off into the desert for her rendevous point had been ditched
entirely by the collapse to shock and subsequent fever. And she was way past due for a check in with
Terry. Oh, he's gonna be pissed, she thought.

She left the door open, knowing Horace would return, frantically picking up any stray items around the
room, piling the wet towels where Horace could take them down to be washed. From her stachel, shoved into the corner with other innocuous items thrown against it to deflect curiosity, she pulled out the two
bottles she had used in her first ministrations, then opened her bag from the apothecary (*poor Clem!* she mourned) and set those items out as well. When all was established for her easy reach, she turned to look at her patient (make that victim! Rachel noted with a perverse giggle) to determine how she would proceed.

Cort's chin had fallen to his chest, having succumbed to sleep once more; snoring, even, his breathing now more even. She bent down to look at his wrists. Spots of blood had oozed through the bandages, which was expected, and the finger splints appeared to be in good stead, but she was going to have to rebandage before all was said and done. That would have to remain to the last.

Horace returned with another large basin of steaming water; Katie followed with the towels. She grinned
slightly at Rachel when seeing Cort without a shirt and Rachel found herself grinning back, but the three
of them quickly set to work. Cort need not have been awake for this.

She poured the viscous clear soap into the water and she and Horace began dipping their rags into the basin and used them to wipe down each arm, his chest, his neck, his face. Cort woke up once, took them all in, and then submitted like a child once more, not even protesting when Horace leaned him forward to wipe down his back. When that was done, Rachel bade Horace and Katie turn the man around until he was laid out flat upon the floor. Rachel rolled up some of the used towels to prop up under his neck so that his hair fell into the shallow basin she had filled with water as well. Quickly, and without much explanation, she wet his hair and began rubbing in more of the liquid soap, while Horace and Katie looked on in fascination.

She paused a moment to smile at them.

"You've not seen a head full of soap before?" she asked, meaning it as a teasing jest, but they had
something else on their minds.

"You just act like you've done this sort of thing all the time," Katie said, her eyes wide as if she were a bit weirded out by the sight of a woman washing a man's head.

"Yeah, well," Rachel balked, trying to think of the easiest and non-anachronistic way of explaining the
training she had recieved before coming to Redemption. "I used to volunteer in a hospital, you know...and the doctors had this weird idea that if you kept the body and hair clean, it would help them heal faster."

Cort mumbled something and Rachel looked down at him, wondering how awake he was, but gave a shrug and
asked, "Horace, you wouldn't happen to know if you can get the barber to come in and shave him, do you?"


He'd half-awakened, finding himself the center of what seemed to him to be some vast herd of humankind all intent on skinning him alive and drowning him at the same time. He wished they would make up their minds which method to use and just stick to it. He didn't care. One would serve as well as another, he figured. He wondered vaguely what the road to hell was actually paved with. Would probably be finding out shortly. He focused blearily for a second on Horace and mumbled, "Sure not pearls," then floated off
into the grey where he came upon himself as a little boy in a large tub of cold water, being scrubbed by his grandmother. He twisted a bit, trying not to let her get behind his ears. When she turned to get another bar of soap, he was off and running across the yard, two dogs hot on his heels as he headed around the barn. He smiled sloppily, remembering the hay he'd taken refuge under and how it'd stuck all over his wet body. His eyes opened slightly again just as the green person leaned near his face. "Hay," he said and grinned.

Then he was sitting under a waterfall, letting it splash down atop his hair. He turned his head this way and that, enjoying the coolness of it in the warm afternoon. Suddenly giant fireants began pouring down
amid the waters, biting his wrists, his hands, his face. "No," he cried, trying to swat them away. He began to wave his arms violently, swatting at them, intersecting Rachel's pitcher of rinse water just as she lowered it toward his hair. His left forearm impacted it, knocking it out of her hand, sending it crashing to the floor where it split in three sections, sending its contents into her lap and his face. He awoke with a jolt, sitting upright, the top of his head clouting her chin.


Rachel looked up at Horace and handed him the pitcher; or rather the handle of the pitcher, with a great big heaving sigh of weariness. The fragments lay in her lap with the rest of the water soaking her skirts and petticoats. "Just...dump the whole pot on both of us, okay? It can't be any worse than it is now." She rubbed her chin, her eyes smarting from the impact of his head as it grazed her chin and sent her backwards on her rump. Cort, sitting full up again, looked at his hands as if there were bugs on them. She got to her knees, feeling what little patience she had maintained over the last couple of days slip away with the water between the floorboards. She had just narrowly missed biting off the tip of her tongue, her teeth scraping together instead. She used a finger to rub over her teeth and make sure none had chipped. The pain from the blow quickly became the precursor to a very bad headache.

I am SO going to make you pay, Preacher.

Katie, however, did not make matters better. She was on the other side of the bed, trying very hard to keep her belly laughs to a mild roar, but not succeeding very well. She leaned on the bed, clutching it helplessly, almost out of breath from laughing so hard, gasping until the first sounds rang out, and then she coudn't stop. Horace had a look on his face like he wished he'd had a camera...but of
course, in the 1880s, Rachel thought, it was probably a good thing the Polaroid Instamatic hadnt been
invented yet. He took the pitcher and turned to leave for more water, turning once in the doorway to give way at last to a deep throated chuckle.

Cort had no idea of the daggers from Rachel's eyes being flung into his back. He sat with hair dripping,
blinking away water droplets, staring at Katie helplessly, and slumped in about as dejected a posture
as he could uphold. Rachel had half a mind to just leave him there. You're getting to be more trouble than you're worth, she fumed as she got to her feet, debating whether or not she should finish the job. </i>Terry, you are gonna hear about this! I don't have to take this! And Bud better run for his life, cause this was HIS idea....</i>

It was when Cort began trying to pull off the bandages from his wrists that Rachel regained some sense of
medical concern. Forgetting her soaking skirts, she flung herself down to him to stop him from ripping
open the wounds again.

"If you've had enough of your shenanigans, Mr. Im-Too-Sexy-For-A-Gun, you can just wait til you've gotten back into bed before you concern yourself with that," she told him sharply. He turned, turning clear green eyes to hers and she faltered, unable to stop the wrench his poor face gave her heart. He looked so pitiful. "I'll be taking care of that as soon as possible."

Cort listened, absorbed the words, and then nodded, seeming to understand that Rachel was not in a good mood. He lay his hands down, the right one trembling slightly from pain, and hung his head. Rachel got the distinct feeling he was beginning to get tired of being sick as well.

Katie had calmed down somewhat by now, finished up the sheets and folded them back. Rachel used the rest of the towels to wipe up the mess (again!) and tried to wet-towel out the remainder of the soap from the back of his head. Fortunately, the first pour of water had rinsed away the majority of the shampoo. It will just have to do for now.

His pants however, had not escaped the floodwaters. Oh, maaaaaaan! Rachel . Fine. Just fine. I can fix that.

Cort chose that moment to go back to sleep. He half fell, half crawled into her lap of soggy skirts, apparently indifferent to their lack of dryness, and curled his arms around her legs, his wet head nestled among the green folds of calico. This sent Katie into another pealing round of laughter. Rachel felt like she was going to cry.

Horace hurried in eagerly, as if he wanted to see more of the tragic consequences of making a half-comatose gunslinger priest take a sponge bath. He hid his disappointment well when he saw that Cort had taken Rachel for a bed.

That disappointment did not hide long, though, as Rachel smiled up at him and said "You put the longjohns on him, Horace. I'm leaving."


On to Part Two

Current Location: Streets of Redemption AZ
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