Chapter 15

 

Matt arrived at work early the next morning. Going on a hunch, he bypassed the sign in sheet at the nurse's station and wheeled straight into the staff lounge. His instincts were on target. The reason for his urgency lay curled on the sofa, fast asleep.

Eyes closed and long dark curls covered half of Jeffrey's face, but Matt knew it was him. His cousin back from God knows where and having not aged more than a few years. How? What happened to him?

Matt wheeled closer. He placed his hand on Jeffrey's shoulder and shook. "Wake up."

The teenager released a powerful yawn. His eyelids fluttered open. He stared back at Matt in surprise. His expression softened and he smiled. "Matt."

"Yeah," the doctor answered. His suspicions confirmed. "Jeffrey."

His cousin pulled himself into a sitting position. "It's me. How did you know?"

"Look at you!" Matt exclaimed. "You're a little taller, but I'd recognize you anywhere. What happened to you? The family has been worried sick."

Jeffrey shifted uncomfortably. "I can't really talk about it."

"You'd better talk about it," Matt countered. "You should be 27 years old! But look at you! You can't be more than fifteen or sixteen."

"Matt," Jeffrey rose and headed for the vending machine. "It's not something that's easily explained. Let's not talk about me. Why are you in a wheelchair?"

"Skiing accident. It happened a long time ago."

Jeffrey pulled a bag of chips from the machine. He turned. His eyes were filled with concern. "Are you okay?"

Matt shrugged. "I'm alive and I'm a doctor. Actually, I'm better than okay."

"I can see. How is everyone else?"

"They're fine. After we all freaked out about your disappearance, everything returned to normal."

Jeffrey winced. "My leaving couldn't be helped—"

"Were you kidnapped?" Matt asked. "Were you hurt?"

"No and no," Jeffrey answered. "It wasn't like that. I'm sorry you worried, but you didn't have to. I was taken care of and I still am. I'm okay."

Matt wasn't entirely convinced, but Jeffrey seemed so sure. He certainly didn't behave like he needed rescuing or had been abused. The teenager seemed fine and healthy. But that didn't explain his youthful appearance.

"Why haven't you aged?"

Jeffrey hesitated to respond, but in the end, he did and Matt found the explanation unbelievable.

-/-

AJ remained by Carly's side at the hospital all night. Tony was too upset to lend any support. His frustration and bitterness ran deep. AJ understood it. He wasn't the only person Carly betrayed and lied to. His name was only one of many on that list.

But still, he couldn't leave her. Not to face this tragic moment alone.

The fetus didn't survive the premature labor. The baby, a boy, died soon after birth. Carly lay quiet and still when Dr. Newman gave her the news. AJ was sure Carly heard the doctor, but there was no reaction. Nothing. She sat immobile like a marble statue.

It was AJ who had to rush from the room. His insides constricted. His heart ached. Tears welled in his eyes and flowed down his cheeks. That baby…that poor innocent child was gone, and AJ felt the loss immensely.

Later, he went home and crawled into bed. Fuzzy memories about a boy from a different time wrecked havoc with his subconscious. As the following weeks passed, AJ dismissed the memories as dreams until finally it all faded to nothing.

-/-

Phineas took Dawn's hand and walked along the dock. He hadn't seen Jeffrey or the other kids for hours. He knew that Jeffrey could take care of himself, but he was worried about his three charges. Voyager code dictated that he completed his task first. Yet, he wasn't ready to depart from Dawn because he knew that when they OMNIed out, he'd leave a piece of his heart behind. With her.

"The hospital isn't far," she said quietly. "There's a short cut. Not too many people know about it."

"So, we'll have the path all to ourselves?" he asked.

She smiled. "That's the idea."

They walked in silence. So much had already been said between them. Saying more wouldn't add to what they knew about each other. The only joy it would be bring would be the pleasure of hearing the other person's voice. Phineas loved her melodious tone so listening to her would be a pleasure indeed.

Signs for the hospital appeared. Their destination had been reached. Their steps slowed.

"This is goodb—"

"Check the OMNI!" Dawn said quickly. "If the light's red, you can't leave."

"No." He flipped the gold lid as he mentally added that he couldn't stay with her. He would have to set history on the right path and that couldn’t be done by her side.

The red signal blinked at him. He swallowed hard. She was right. He couldn’t leave her time, but he'd have to leave her.

"I placed first in the history bowl for 3 years in a row," she said. "I'm a history major at the university."

"Dawn, I know…"

"Let me come with you," she said. "My sister has Mac. She'll be fine without me. I don't want to lose you, Phineas. You have Jeffrey. Can't you take me, too?"

His heart raced with anticipation. Was she sure? "You'll have to leave everything behind. There's no guarantee you'll ever see Dara again. We can try, but this OMNI has its limitations. You'll be stuck with me unless you find another time you'd rather be—"

"Ssh." Dawn pressed her fingers against his mouth. "I love you, Phineas. There's no place I'd rather be than by your side, fixing history and making a difference. If that's not what you want—"

"Ssh." He bent forward and kissed the rest of her words away.

When he checked the OMNI again, the light was green.

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