Chapter IX DECEMBER 18, 2000 PROJECT QUANTUM LEAP, STALLIONS GATE, NM Al crossed the Waiting Room toward her. Elizabeth's expression was one of stunned disbelief. She shook her head and backed up against the table, trembling. Verbena and Donna looked at each other, alarmed. Al halted about a foot away. *Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all,* he thought, taking in her pale face. For a moment, no one moved or said a word. At a loss of what to do next, Al spoke. "Beth, honey, it's all right. It's me." Elizabeth raised a hand to her mouth and began to cry quietly, still shaking her head. Seeing no other reasonable course of action (as far as he was concerned), Al closed the gap between them and gently pulled her into his arms. After a moment a resistance, Elizabeth slid her arms around him and let him hold her. He pressed his face into her hair and gently rubbed her back. Al glanced up briefly as Donna passed him on her way out of the room. She wore a concerned expression. He gave her a brief, reassuring smile. Al sensed Verbena still watching him, but he said nothing, focusing his attention on Elizabeth. It felt strange holding her. He knew she was his wife, just younger, but it still felt awkward. Al sincerely hoped that his Beth wasn't watching and getting jealous. Verbena would have a field day with all this. It took a while for the trembling to stop. The tears ceased not long after that, but Elizabeth didn't move out of his arms. That, in of itself, was encouraging. It meant that she was accepting the fact that he was her husband. He pressed a handkerchief into her hand. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement and remembered that Verbena was still with them. She was retreating to the far side of the room. Composure regained, Elizabeth slowly lifted her head and gazed up into his eyes. She gently touched his cheek in amazement. "Al," she asked in a small voice, "what's going on here?" He sighed. "Honey," he said gently, "it's a bit complicated. Basically, a friend of mine invented a time machine and he goes around fixing things. Small things, like saving marriages and lives. Bringing people together and giving them second chances." "Marriages?" Elizabeth became alarmed. "Is he there to save ours?" "No, he's there to help a class mate of yours. At least," he amended, "that's what we *think* he's there for." Elizabeth's expression turned solemn again and she touched his face. "I've missed you so much, Al." "I know, Beth. I missed you, too." She paused a moment and then looked him in the eyes. "Will I remember any of this?" Al sighed. "I really don't know, sweetheart." Elizabeth's expression grew sad. Al drew her into his arms again. "Honey," he said soothingly. "By the end of the week, you find out I'm coming home." Elizabeth didn't respond. Instead, she closed her eyes and rested her head on his shoulder. "What about us, here in the future?" she asked, suddenly. He should have known she'd come around to this. They all do. He took a deep breath. "Beth, I can't elaborate on that. You already know more than you should. I'm sorry." She remained silent for several minutes, apparently just wanting to be held. "What's he like?"she asked, suddenly, a few minutes later. "Who?" "Your friend." Elizabeth drew away. "What's he like?" Al smiled fondly. "He's the eternal white knight, determined to do what's right, sometimes without regard to personal safety." He paused, thoughtful. "You've met him, sort of." "I have?" Al was about to mention Jake Rawlins. Then he realized he would be opening a can of worms, especially if she started asking questions. He remembered the leap from March. "Yeah, in October of 1960." Elizabeth gave him a puzzled frown. He floundered for something more specific. It came to him. "Do you remember the night I taught you how to shoot pool?" Her expression became distant, and then her face lit up. "Yes. At Gino's, right?" "Right! George wasn't acting like himself that day, if you remember." Elizabeth nodded slowly. "So, you're saying your friend was George that day?" "Exactly." "Does he have a name?" "It's Sam. Sam Beckett." Elizabeth's face lit up again. "I remember him! He's a Navy SEAL!" Al was momentarily taken off guard. "Uh, no, that's Tom. He's Sam's older brother. Tom brought you Maggie's photo and, he and his SEAL team are the guys who found me." Beeks caught his eye and gave him a look that said he'd been there long enough. Al reluctantly drew away from Elizabeth. "Honey, I have to get back to work. Sam needs some information and I need to check up on him, make sure he hasn't ruined you life somehow." She looked panicked. "You're leaving?" "Beth, you'll be all right in here. Beeks will stay with you for a while if you want her to. And," he added, "I'm not going very far. I'll come back to see you again. I promise." The look in Elizabeth's large brown eyes nearly changed his mind, but if he didn't leave, she might start asking more questions then he could answer. Al placed a kiss on her forehead and left without looking back. Donna was waiting for him in the hall, outside the Observation Room. "How'd it go?" she asked. "Ok, I guess. Verbena's still with her." He looked at her curiously. "You've been out here, the entire time?" he asked, opening the door for her. "Yes, I thought you should have some privacy," she explained, as they entered the Observation Room." "Ziggy, where's Beth?" Al had expected to find her in there in the Observation Room. She hadn't been in their apartment when he finished getting ready. "Admiral Calavicci has returned to your home to finish her holiday preparations," the computer informed him. Al was a little disappointed that she hadn't stuck around, and a little annoyed that she hadn't said anything to him before she left. "I wonder if that was the only reason," Donna muttered, gazing down at the Waiting Room, echoing his own thoughts on the matter. Al turned his attention to Elizabeth. Elizabeth looked much better than she had when he first saw her the day before. She seemed more relaxed, and was listening to Verbena explain what his job was and why he couldn't stay. Verbena then left her, with a promise that she would return with things for Elizabeth to do. "I think you did better than Ok," Donna said approvingly, as they watched Elizabeth sit at the little card table. Verbena came in looking satisfied. She opened her mouth to speak, but Al spoke up first. "I'm fine." "That's not what I was about to say," Beeks denied patiently. "I think she's going to be Ok, Al." Al felt immensely relieved to hear that. "Good." "Are you going to see Sam now?" Donna asked. Al shrugged. "Ziggy?" "Yes, Admiral?" "Got anything new?" "Still researching, Admiral." "I guess that's a ‘no'," Al muttered. Donna and Verbena smiled. He sighed. "I guess I'll go to my office then." Al entered the cafeteria area and noticed Sammie Jo and Paul huddled together at one of the tables, on the far end of the room. They were speaking in whispers. Sammie Jo's face was suffused with pink and she looked like a woman in love. A slow smile spread across Al's face. *Well, it's about time,* he thought. For years, Sammie Jo had been so absorbed in her work, that she rarely went out on dates, and then, she went out with a group of friends. In that way, she was just like her father. Al moved on, without disturbing them. Al entered the reception area of the main offices. His assistant was at her desk, typing away. She glanced up to greet him. With a startled frown, she hurriedly glanced at his appointment calendar. He remembered what he was wearing and reassured her. "Nothing specials going on today, Ann Marie. Long story." He glanced at his closed office door. "Why is my door closed?" "Oh, Dr. Calavicci is using the phone, Admiral." She handed him a thick, legal size envelope with the US Senate's return address on it. "This just came, sir." Al eyed the envelope suspiciously, wondering what they were up to now. He tapped lightly at the door and cracked it open. Bertie was sitting at his desk, and she waved him in. Alberta looked to be either on hold, or listening to someone on the other end. Sitting on the desk in front of her was the Tribble with the red bow. She was absently paper clipping tufts of fur. She had also rearranged his desk top. Al gave her a stern look, which she ignored, as he sat across from her. *With all the phones in the complex, why does she ~have to~ use mine?* Frustrated, Bertie hung up the phone. She rubbed her face and buried it in her hands. "What's wrong, sweetheart?" Al asked, alarmed. She didn't answer him right away. After a moment, she looked up at him, worried and a little annoyed. "I've been trying to track down Kevin. I've called everyone I could think of and they're either not at home, or they haven't seen or heard from him." Bertie sighed. "I've even called his parents." "Then maybe he's on his way here," he pointed out. His son-in-law had a bad habit of not checking in before flying off in his Cessna. It was a source of frustration not only for Bertie, but for Kevin's mother as well. Al normally didn't butt into his daughters' personal lives, but he decided that, when he sees Kevin, he would talk to him about that habit. Kevin was about to become a father, and the last thing Bertie needed was to be always worrying if her husband was safe. "I thought about that, Dad," Bertie said quietly. "The Cessna's still in the hanger." It sounded more like martial problems than simple forgetfulness. "Are you two having problems?" Bertie gave him a small reassuring smile. "Not anything big. He wouldn't mind it too much if I accepted a project directorship or became the head of NASA. He doesn't understand what Congress is up to, when it comes to me." "Who does?" he replied lightly. "What about the Blue Angels?" "No, he's lost interest in them. I think talking to his old mentor and some of the other pilots changed his mind about the Angels," she replied. Around the time Bertie was nominated for the Nobel, Kevin had expressed an interest in trying out for the group. Recent problems and accidents had plagued the Angels. Bertie was scared that something might happen to him. Of course, she hadn't *told* Kevin that at the time, she just asked him not to try out. Inevitably, that led to arguments when she wouldn't explain her reasons. It put a rift in the marriage which clearly indicated, in the clips from the Nobel ceremony and the White House gala thrown in her honor, that their marriage was on the rocks. It was Faith who convinced Bertie to explain her reasons to Kevin, and to at least let him try out for the team. Kevin wasn't selected and the marriage seemed to be headed back on course. "Trust me, Dad," she added. "It's my job this time, and Congress." "Speaking of which," he said, waving the envelope at her, "look what came today." "What's in it?" she asked, coming around to sit next to him. "I don't know. Here," he handed the envelope to her, "you can open it. I've got to go over what Ziggy's got on this leap." While she was opening it, Al went around to the other side of the desk, getting it back in order and rescuing the Tribble from its bad hairdo. He booted up the computer. "This is great!" Bertie exclaimed, excited. "What is, sweetheart?" "It's the committee list. They've not only replaced Weitzman, they've also replaced Larry McNair and Steven Brooks." "What's so exciting about that? Now I have to convince two new senators that we're serious and we deserved to be funded." Bertie came around the desk to stand next to him. She flipped the pages to the bio on one Constance Myers of Wisconsin. "Well, for one thing Senator Myers is a major advocate in the environmental arena. You shouldn't have a problem winning her over. McBride's still the chair and she still supports you. Sabina is also on your side. That's three people that should support this project without too much of a problem." Al took the sheets from his daughter. He flipped to the bio on Lauren Meade. Education, women's issues, gun control, anti-abortion. "You see?" Bertie asked. "You'll be able to win them over in no time and Henderson will be out numbered." Al glanced up at her. Personally, he never had a problem with Henderson. Bertie seemed just a little more self-satisfied and excited about the new arrangements then he thought she would be. Apparently, Bertie and Henderson did not get along. "Do you mind if I tell Donna the good news?" "Uh, sure. Go ahead." He watched her leave his office. Bertie seemed to have forgotten all about her husband and his own visit to the Waiting Room. Al turned his attention back to the computer, absently thinking about Kevin and Bertie, which led him to think about him and Beth. Remembering that she wasn't at the project, Al picked up the phone and called her.