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Chapter Twenty-One: A Rain of Ashes

"And every time I've held a rose,
it seems I've only felt the thorns..."

---Billy Joel, "And So It Goes"


Paul was right.

After the three had rescued Paul from the clutches of the Might-Have-Beens and had saved themselves in doing so, they were sent out again immediately after they had held their teacups in the air in the little house in the Field, saying in perfect unison, "To roses." The Timepool had not appeared---the angels had sent them out again with a quick wave of their hands and they had hardly taken a sip from their cups. Each of them found themselves in a separate time, having their own missions to complete, one by one, just like before and just like so many times to come.

But just as Paul said, there were roses in every time they found themselves in---and the moment one mission was completed, the tired but triumphant Beatle having finished was instantly transported to another time without even having a chance to catch his breath.

The "roses" were always different, but they all lead each Beatle to the solution. When one of them was especially despairing, the girl would appear in his mind, in her innocent beauty and peaceful aura, and would whisper words of encouragement. Such occurrences were often just the scent of a rose, but sometimes turned into the rose---the pointing of the way out.

The angels let drop that there originally weren't supposed to be any roses---only the roses from Heaven. They never said why.

But Paul knew, deep within his heart and soul, that this girl and her "roses" were roses from Heaven---help from Someone who wanted them to succeed.

He was in a Might-Have-Been past while he was thinking of this and John, George, and Ringo had either landed in the same or had been sent to pasts in danger of happening. He turned a 1958 Liverpool corner, having had a vision---or a rose, rather---of the solution to this particular mission. He was on the point of executing his plan when suddenly he heard people screaming and the whole world seemed to be shaking. There were lights in the daytime sky, but they were the wrong colours---and they crashed into each other and fell and the people kept on screaming and Paul saw others fleeing their houses. He stood in the middle of the street and stared up at the sky and touched his Time coin, willing himself out of this time. The street cracked and a jagged line raced toward him.

He screamed something with no words, but with his whole soul in it. Then there was pain, red, and darkness.


"Shit, John, what the hell happened?"

John felt his mouth moving, but nothing came out. He was numb with shock over what had happened and he couldn't bring himself to admit what he'd done.

George was waiting for the words to come out from John's open mouth and when they didn't, he muttered under his breath and went back to nursing a nasty bruise on his forehead. Ringo was in the bathroom cleaning the cuts and scratches on his face and arms and Paul lay prostrate on his bed.

They were back in the Field and had been brought back with such force that they were all drained of their usual energy and also a bit of their health.

John tried again, but the words were of concern, not explanation: "Is Paul all right, then?"

"Tell us what happened and we'll figure it out," George shot back, his temper up and flaring while a migraine nipped mercilessly at his brain.

"Why don't you think a little, you bloody arsehole!" John almost shouted, his shock wearing off. "What do you think happened? I fucking screwed up, that's what! I fucked my mission completely!" His hazel eyes were wide open and George could see plain fear staring right back at him. "George, does this mean the game's up?"

"I don't know!" George said, whipping his head away from John and staring at the corner of Paul's bed. "One mission screwed amongst so many..."

John cringed.

George looked at him, eyebrows raised and brown eyes shaded with questions.

Ringo came into the room and seated himself on the edge of Paul's bed. His fingers lingered over a long, raised cut on his right cheek and the sight of that struck John to the heart. He turned and got himself a cup of tea and a cigarette to soothe his frazzled nerves. After taking a puff on it with shaking fingers, he said, "I was such a fool. I thought I understood what was happening and now I see I didn't..."


It was cold where John was. He stood on a corner, rubbing his arms with pale, bloodless hands and stamping his feet as he expelled short, quick breaths that looked like clouds in the frigid air.

He smelled something faintly sweet in the air as he decided on a course of action to take to complete his mission. It was warm, fresh...roses? It was! The scent of the dream-angel-girl’s helping rose...something seemed different about it, though. It smelled just a little bit sweeter than usual. No matter, John thought; he was probably smack on the right track and the scent would increase in sweetness the closer he got.

The Might-Have-Been past he was in was a time when the young, newly-formed Beatles (not quite close to the final incarnation) had to play a certain dance hall where the Teds were constantly fighting. John knew that this particular concert was a personal turning point and that it needed to be corrected so that the other band members actually appeared that night. George No. 3 said that he had to go out of town and Paul No. 4 was sick. The drummer, Pete Best No. 2, was ready, but John wasn’t going anywhere without the two Might-Have-Beens.

He had tried convincing George No. 3 and Paul No. 4 how important this concert was and that the pay was good (it wasn’t) and it was really worth their time (in more ways than one). They seemed to catch on and Paul No. 4 began drinking much more honey tea and eating more chicken noodle soup.

It was late afternoon of the day they were supposed to play the concert. John had no idea if Paul No. 4 and George No. 3 were going to meet him after all but he figured he’d done all he could.

He began pacing the sidewalk slowly, waiting for the pair to show up. They had promised to be there by five o' clock if they were going to be there at all. It was now four forty-five.

He stuck his hands in his pockets and set one heel in front of the other.

It was then that he had smelled the sweet scent. His nose perked at the fragrance. He walked towards the smell and noticed it got stronger with each step. He smiled and kept walking, a hand slipping under his shirt and touching his Time coin.

The day grew colder around him. The clouds were a stark gray and the trees began to move in the wind. He wondered at the change but kept on, looking forward to a few moments' rest in the little house in the Field and to the end of the overall mission.

He stopped for a moment to catch the scent. It was still there, and as strong as ever. As he took a step, there was a voice crying out faintly within his mind. Slowly, the words began to form and his inner ears heard the cry:

"An earthly angel guides your way
She throws roses onto your path with a smile
But roses soon turn to ashes
And her image will fade away.

There will always be a sweet fragrance in the air
Though the blossom cannot be seen
Roses bloom only when the time is right
But to every rose is a thorn."

John kept walking, his stride determined. He had to get out of this time before the "roses turned to ashes". He realized that he was now on Paul No. 4's street and the scent was from Paul No. 4's house.

That was where the answers were, John thought. The guiding scent would lead him out. It was from the angel-girl and she would not forsake him now.


He approached the house, pulling thoughtfully at his Time necklace as if memorizing the feel of the ribbon and the grooves of the coin. The smell of the rose was so strong it assaulted his nostrils and he recoiled. What was with the roses today? They had never smelled like this before. And where was the angel-girl? There was often an image of her either in the mind or around the solution to the mission---a moving image, but nothing tangible.

...Her image will fade away, John thought. Okay, it's happened. What's going on?

He was now on the front stoop and he wanted to vomit at the putrid rose-y smell. It smelled like old, soaking, rotting roses mixed with water from a squeaky toy and then being burned.

John raised his fist to knock. Before his fist touched wood, the door opened and Paul No. 4 smiled at him.

"Hello, John. Come on in while I get ready."

John said nothing in reply but entered, his old sense of dread returning. Paul No. 4 turned to lead him in and as John closed the door behind himself, the ribbon of the necklace caught and the knot came undone. He pulled it off and shoved it deep into his left pocket.

The Might-Have-Been led John into the living room, where a fire burned brightly in the fireplace. John went over to it to warm himself and noticed a rose-like smell coming from the fire. He looked at the logs and saw withered roses being consumed by the flames.

"What's with the roses there, Paul?" he said casually, his heart beating wildly with apprehension.

"I can't stand them," Paul No. 4 returned quietly, sipping tea from a cup that had been sitting on a chair-side table. "They were nice for a while, just something to look at."

"The flame of a rose is the most purifying flame of all," John muttered. "You're queer, but what else is new?"

"The bright colour just got on my nerves," Paul No. 4 continued, as if he had not heard John. "I took 'em and threw 'em in."

...But roses soon turn to ashes...

The roses were now a pile of ashes on the fire. Paul No. 4 strode past John and thrust his hand into the fire, grabbing a fistful of ashes.

"You want roses?" he snarled, his face inches from John's. "You want a fairy girl to guide you every step of the way? You and your friends are the most pathetic Timekeepers I've ever seen. You let that girl do all the work for you. Why don't you start thinking for yourself, you half-wit?"

He flung the ashes at John. John stared back, eyes glittering.

"There're your roses. Every damn one of 'em. One for you, one for the girl, one for the each of the Real Ones. You think you're safe when you slide around in time? You think you've outwitted Them? They're onto you, don't ever forget that! We may be a little slow but we have a habit of popping up when you don't have a bloody clue as to how the game is being played. We know what we want and we're going to get it. One at a time."

At the cue, George No. 3 and Pete Best No. 2 jumped from hiding places and leapt upon John. John ran and found himself yanking at a door that would not open. He ran upstairs but found himself trapped in a room with no windows, no way of escape.

"See, John?" Paul No. 4 said smiling, his eyes smoldering with hate. ""

George No. 3 and Pete No. 2 closed in on him. He was in a corner, trapped with no way out. John raised his eyes to their outstretched arms. He was metal glinting in their hands, heard their breath coming in quick grunts and saw the bloodlust in their eyes.

John thrust his hand within his pocket and everything flashed around him. He heard the Might-Have-Beens screaming and the very world seemed to have spun off its axis. His very being felt as if it was being ripped in two and the Time coin burned in his hand and against his thigh.

The light became so bright that even covering his eyes with his hands still did not afford him enough protection. He felt his knees weakening and himself falling---


John opened his eyes slowly and cautiously. The dark night sky greeted him and the stars were bright. The night was cool and quiet. He was back in the Field. He felt himself all over and found himself shaken but unharmed. He ran up the steps of the little house and as soon as he entered, three separate brilliant flashes of light brought the rest of the Beatles together.


"Which brings us to the present," John said, his voice steadying itself somewhat.

George stared at him. "For all your supposed cleverness, you really are thick, John Lennon."

John stared back, his temper beginning to climb. "I went through all this shit just to have you tell me I'm thick?"

"Fuckin' hell, John! She tried to warn you before she faded! Did nothing get into that thick skull of yours?"

"What the---" John stopped. "Oh shit, you're right, George!"

"It's a bit late for that," George said shortly. "We've lost her. Now we're gonna go on all these little missions and with no hints at all!"

"Is that all you care about, you lazy sod?" a weak voice said. Ringo helped Paul sit up. "What's happened to her? Where is she?"

"I'm past caring about anyone who doesn't happen to be in this room right now," John spat, crossing over to a window and biting his thumb.

Paul's eyes narrowed. "I know you better than that, John Lennon," he spat in turn. "What happens to that girl is important to all of us."

"Don't you dare tell me what's important, McCartney," John muttered.

"Someone needs to because you obviously don't know what's going on."

John turned and met Paul's eyes. Paul gazed back evenly. The silence was deafening.

"She is our guardian angel," Paul said softly. "She's appeared out of the blue to help us but now she can't help us anymore. We don't know why and while that is important because it may affect us, we can't worry about it at the moment. There will always be ways for us to find our own answers to whatever mission we happen to be on, whether we see her or not. We only see her when it's appropriate and no other time. But there is always a drawback to her helping us. What that is, we don't know. There are your verses explained to you." Paul coughed and then lay back down. "Think about it for a while and maybe it'll make sense to you."

John lifted his upper lip and grimaced at Paul, who rolled his eyes in return.

A sudden flash of light startled the four but did not surprise them. In their midst were the two angels and their light felt cold, not warm as it usually had in their previous appearances.

"It's about time you two were here," John said with an acknowledging nod.

**John, please. You knew we would be here. There is no need for posturing.** Alexander's voice was low and even.

**The Might-Have-Been agents of Them have been tracking you four down,** Adriana said, getting straight to the point. **Your helper has been trying to tell this to you, but the Might-Have-Been agents are onto where she is and how she communicates with you.**

Alexander waved his hand towards the bed where Paul and Ringo were sitting and George and John sat with them.

**Here is your helper, your 'guardian angel' as you call her,** Adriana said softly.

The pictures burned into their minds so clearly that they did not to close their eyes to see the story Adriana was putting into a movie for them.

There was their helper, tucked up under a colorful bedspread, her eyes shut tight. There should have been an expression of peace on her face for someone so young in repose, but lines were etched around her eyes and her mouth was set in a thin line. She moved a lot and every so often, her mouth would open and they could hear her mumbling some kind of directive.

**Her bedtime ramblings translate into the way she helps you four,** Adriana said, her voice floating with the images as if she were within them, narrating.

**But They have heard her voice,** Alexander continued. **They have realized that she is the reason you are succeeding in your missions and They have also realized that she is the girl They are supposed to be on watch for. Why you four and she are a threat to Them, you will soon see; it does not take an angel's explanation.**

The movie in their minds went on. A flash of white light engulfed the troubled, sleeping girl and they could all see a transparent figure at her bedside. The face was blurred but the garb was of thick, dark-coloured velvet and detailed gold, silver, and red embroidery. The figure's overall dress was akin to royalty. It was obvious the figure was a male and he stretched out a hand and touched the girl's cheek. Her eyes popped open and she looked terrified, her brown eyes wide and searching the room.

**This man,** Adriana said, her accented voice thick with disgust, **is the Leader of Them. Because he is transparent, she cannot see or feel him but she senses an alien presence.**

**Traveling transparent---imaging, as it's more commonly known---is occasionally a choice but is often forced upon one,** Alexander went on. **He is not really present in her time, which is the future Real Time. He is sending his image---his mind, actually---through the times to find her and keep ahead of you. He has had a few successes, but none near to what he needs. He is getting frustrated that he can only image and not Travel in the flesh---They are still trying to figure out a way to overcome the Timepool's safeguard, but They will only manage to get it down for moments at a time and return to Their time is not always possible. This makes for many acts of subversion on the parts of the Might-Have-Beens, but the Leader and his special army consider them the scum of the earth anyway and have no problem executing them.**

**We cannot help you once you have gone into a Time,** Adriana said. **Just so you understand that and don't think we've deserted you. We can't even be sure you'll end up in an untainted time. You have to think on your feet and use all your resources. You can't just use your coins and leave the situation behind every time you get into trouble. Too many incomplete missions will make an eventual complete victory for Them. Use the coins only as a last resort.**

They nodded, each mouth firmly shut. Not one of them dared dart a glance at John, whose head was slightly bent, as if in shame.

**The Leader has seen the girl for himself but he just got really lucky in actually finding her. He hasn't the faintest clue what Time she's in and so he can't get her and by not getting her, can't get at any of you. The only way any of Them can get you is if They manage to get a hold of at least one Time coin---as you saw before.** Adriana nodded to Paul. **Another way is if you actually are caught by Them and none of you are in image form. So, if by some odd chance you manage to walk right into Their camp without knowing it and They are waiting for you---well.** Adriana coughed to emphasize it.

There was a long silence.

"Well, Alex?" Ringo said. "Haven't you got anything to say?"

Alexander raised an eyebrow, but seemed to realize Ringo's wanting to lighten the atmosphere.

**You'll have a few minutes to rest yourselves. Then time to go, unless you have any questions?**

"John escaped from the Time he was in---why did we disappear too?" Paul asked quietly.

**The Might-Have-Beens meant business. They were going to hurt John badly enough to put him under so they could steal his coin and take him back to Them. With that coin, They would have been able to immediately capture the rest of you because the five coins---four for you and one for the girl---are all interconnected. One coin can be used to call the rest of you. The coins are able to recognize situations like John's and how important it is that all of you come back to the Field instead of staying to complete your missions. That is what happened---the coins recognized the urgency.**

Paul nodded and asked, "Will the times we were yanked out of count against us because we didn't complete them?"

**There is no magic number in the completion of missions. You either complete them all or you don't. We will send you back to each one and you are to finish what you started. You cannot leave things undone---it will only create more Might-Have-Beens and more agents for Them to brainwash and control.** Alexander cocked his head slightly as if waiting for another question, which immediately came.

"Brainwashed? What?" George had an eyebrow raised. "I thought the Might-Have-Beens automatically worked hand-in-hand with the people you call Them."

**Do you remember the first double you met?** Adriana asked. **It was the first Paul double and it was just before we appeared to you that first time. He and his fellow Might-Have-Beens of that particular time did not believe in Their codes and conduct and preferred to keep to themselves. That was why you had nothing to do with that time. Those Might-Have-Beens and that Might-Have-Been time were of no threat to you or Real Time. They were satisfied with their existence.**

**But there are the undecided Might-Have-Beens, the discontent doubles, and the rebellious ones. In these there is room for Their call---there is room within these minds for the Leader of Them and the Might-Have-Been Army---made up of these same Might-Have-Beens---to tell them that they could be on top of it all: they could have the Real Ones under their feet and be the rulers of Real Time. Just that hope is enough for these disillusioned Might-Have-Beens. And there just doesn't seem to be enough content doubles to balance it out. The content Might-Have-Beens are the smart ones. They realize that the changing of their Might-Have-Been time can kill them or enslave them. The smart ones don't want anything to do with the Leader and his people---and they wouldn't want to become just another brainwashed slave within the Army.** Alexander stood erect, his arms folded behind his back.

"Well, go on, Alex," John said.

Alexander raised his brow again and it dropped as he went on. **Those content Might-Have-Beens have been looking out for you four and for your young lady friend. If by any chance you end up in any of their times, they will protect you. They know what you mean to their lives.**

Chapter Twenty-Two

Copyright 2000: Lissa Michelle Supler/Strawberry Sunshine This is copyrighted original work and may not be reproduced in any form by any means without the permission of the author. Permission may be obtained by e-mail.

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