Chapter X DECEMBER 15, 1955 KEARNEY, NEW JERSEY ``Al! I'm so glad you're here! I've been worried! Was there a problem with Ziggy?'' Relieved, Sam almost ran across the room to the window as he spoke, words rushing out on top of each other. ``No, Ziggy's fine,'' Al replied, tone flat. As if to demonstrate, he pulled out the handlink and keyed in. He turned away slightly, facing the peaceful snowy scene out the bedroom window. The little computer made reassuring chirps and beeps. ``Do you have anything for me yet?'' Sam asked, looking over Al's shoulder, trying to see the read out. ``Not yet.'' Al's tone still sounded flat to Sam, and a bit cold. He peered closely at his friend, difficult to do, since Al's back was to him. The admiral's body language, coupled with his tone, told the scientist that something was bothering Al. ``What's wrong?'' ``Nothing. Ziggy says she'll need about eighteen hours to research the probability matrix. Gena only just remembered her last name. We had zip to go on.'' ``No, that's not what I meant,'' Sam said, trying to clarify. ``I meant, what's bothering you? Are you okay?'' For a moment, Al was silent. He slowly turned to face Sam. ``Am I okay?'' Al repeated, a touch sarcastic. Sam didn't like the look in Al's eyes. He looked hostile. Bewildered, Sam took a step back. He had no idea where it was coming from or why, but Al was definitely upset with him. ``What happened?'' Sam heard himself ask. ``You don't remember?'' Al's voice was tight and Sam saw tears forming in his eyes. The hostility was replaced with a look of heartache. Sam shook his head. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Sam opened his mouth to speak, but Al cut him off. The hostility returned. ``Your last leap, you leaped into *her*!'' Of course, the last leap. Partial memories surfaced, memories that he was now certain belonged to him and not Gena. However, none of them made any sense and didn't explain why Al was upset with him. Sam was also beginning to wonder if the ‘she' Al was talking about was the same person Sam thought she was. ``Her?'' ``Beth!'' ``I - I don't remember,'' Sam confessed Anger seemed to be the only thing holding Al together. ``There was a student, with a gun,'' he supplied through clenched teeth. ``You tried to take it from him. The gun went off.'' He couldn't go on. As it turned out, he didn't need to. Sam sank to the bed, numb and horrified, as Al's words prompted a deluge of memories. ``Oh, no,'' he whispered.'' ``You wouldn't listen to me. I told you to let him have the gun.'' ``But,'' Sam protested weakly, remembering, ``he'd have killed himself. I had to do something to save him.'' ``No,'' Al insisted fiercely, jabbing a finger at the handlink. ``Ziggy was predicting that Andrea would get help. All you had to do was stall him a few minutes more.'' Sam shook his head. ``You never --'' ``You didn't give me a chance to tell you, Sam.'' Al was angrier than Sam could remember ever seeing him. Sober, at least. Al wasn't shouting and that made it all the worse. ``You grabbed the gun as soon as Michael saw Andrea. Even if he had fired at her, Ziggy was giving him a less than 5 percent chance of him hitting her. Because of you, Beth is dead.'' The last was said in such a cold tone, Sam felt shivers down his spine. He was speechless as Al held his gaze a moment, eyes cold and unforgiving. Without another word, Al keyed the door and was gone. Sam was left, staring at the empty spot where Al had stood, feeling alone and helpless. DECEMBER 23, 2000 PROJECT QUANTUM LEAP STALLIONS GATE, NM Al prowled the halls of the project, lost in thought. He wasn't very proud of himself at this moment. Laying the blame on Sam was not only unfair, but completely uncalled for. He realized that, even as the words left his mouth. But Al couldn't help himself. Though Verbena and the others had been waiting for him in the Control Room while he was visiting Sam, none of the ladies attempted to stop him as he stalked past. He didn't want to stick around to hear Ziggy tell them when and where Sam was, he had already read that news on the handlink. Sam was nearly twenty one years too early and clear across the country. Ziggy had queried Al and asked him if he wanted her to find a connection to 1973 San Diego. With a heavy heart, he told the computer to concentrate on Gena and her family. There was no point in having Ziggy confirm what he already knew. After several hours of aimless wondering and mental brow-beating, Al was worn out. Without realizing it, until the door was opening, he found himself standing in his own apartment doorway. *What the hell,* he thought, and crossed the threshold. Sabina was curled up on the couch, with some report in her hands. She managed to keep a look of surprise off her face. ``Hi.'' ``Oh, hi.'' Her expression turned quizzical. ``You look like something's puzzling you,'' she commented, placing the report carefully back in the folder on the coffee table. Al almost smiled. `Puzzled' was one thing he wasn't feeling. She was probably trying to avoid scaring him off by asking him what was wrong. ``Not puzzled,'' he admitted, reluctant. ``I - I can't seem to stop feeling angry at Sam.'' He shoved his hands in his pockets. ``It was an accident, I know, but I just can't stop feeling like it's all Sam's fault.'' ``Al,'' she said, gently. ``You're human. Of course you're looking for some one to blame, it's natural.'' ``But I don't *want* to blame him.'' ``You forgave Michael Murphy, you'll forgive Sam.'' ``I did?'' His memories were still filled with holes. Sabina nodded. ``When you heard the whole story, about his brother and how he was attempting to commit suicide when the accident happened, you couldn't hold a grudge. It was more sympathy than forgiveness, I'll admit, but you were instrumental in getting help for him and seeing that he got a lighter sentence than what they were going to give him.'' Al considered her words, feeling a little better than he had earlier. Under the circumstances, he'd have been appalled if Sabina had told him that he had demanded the death sentence for Michael. It was no more Michael's fault than Sam's. Sabina was watching him, concerned, but not in a pushy way. She'd been a real trooper though this, so far, and Al was grateful. His other ex-wives, what he could remember of them, wouldn't have been so accommodating. He crossed over to sit next to her, and she couldn't keep the surprise off her face this time. ``Thanks, Sabina.'' ``No problem, Al, I understand what you're going through. I was just reading over the details of . . . that . . .other time line. I see why you want it back so badly.'' Al sighed. ``I don't know what I'll do if I don't start forgetting, Sabina,'' he confessed. ``I asked that same question a thousand times, about Nick,'' she replied, sad. ``And I still don't have an easy answer.'' ``Nick?'' In all the time he'd known her, Al couldn't remember ever hearing about ‘Nick'. ``Claudine's father,'' she told him, patient, but Al had the feeling that they had this conversation before, probably on that cross-country trip. ``Nick is the love of my life, Al, just as Beth is your's. I was devastated when he was killed, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that I would give anything in the world to get him back.'' She sighed. ``I found it difficult to get close to other men, and on some levels, it took me a long time to get over him.'' She gave him a rueful little grin. ``I suppose if I had learned sooner, Janet would never have gotten you down that isle. I would have been your second wife.'' This sparked Al's curiosity. Sabina never married, on any time he could recall, and she never was more than a good friend on the time lines where he had six ex-wives. ``I guess,'' he thought aloud, ``you didn't relish the idea of being number seven.'' Sabina raised her eyebrows, obviously following his train of thought. ``I was wondering earlier about that myself. And I suppose, if I couldn't have Nick or you, I didn't want anyone else,'' she added lightly, before he could broad on the subject. This time, Al gave a genuine smile. ``It's good to know I'm loved.'' Sabina smiled, ``Of course you are, Al. Never forget that.'' They were quiet for a moment, Al feeling more like himself than he had in what seemed like years. He looked at her, hesitant. ``Do you mind if I stay here tonight?'' he asked, indicating the couch. ``Of course not, Al,'' she told him, surprised. She stood up. ``But I should warn you that Claudine flies in this afternoon. She normally sleeps on the couch.'' Al nodded and watched her disappear into their bedroom, presumably to get his blanket and pillow. He'd worry about where he'd sleep while Claudine was there later. Right now, he had to make it though tonight.