Chapter 21 Al had gone up to his quarters and had gotten a few cigars. He then went up to the top floor of the project and outside. The storm had let up to a drizzle. Al walked out into it, not caring if his clothes got wet. The rain soon had his hair plastered to his forehead. Still he walked. He tried to sort out his conflicting emotions. He was responsible for bringing Donna's baby into this world. He was also responsible for Sam's coma. His anger burned brightly. He took out a cigar and lit it. Puffing away, he walked. It wasn't fair, damn it! It wasn't fair. Sam should not be lying in that bed. He should be laughing, joking, teasing me with his boyish ways. Al had walked a pretty good way away from the project. He wanted to run, but he had done enough running today already and it hadn't helped one bit. An old oak tree still stood at one end of the project. Al strolled towards it. He had never before had to make such a tough decision. And now Sam was paying the price. Al took a final puff from his cigar and tossed the butt away. Al reached the tree and leaned against it. He was already soaked from the rain, but it didn't matter. Nothing did. At this point his anger reached its peak. He kicked the tree trunk. Pain shot up his leg, but he ignored it to kick the tree again, harder this time. Again pain raced up his leg, and again he suppressed it. He kept kicking the tree, punctuating each kick with and angry thought. Not fair. (kick) Damn coma. (kick) My fault. (kick) My fault. (kick) MY GOD DAMN FAULT! (KICK!) The pain could not be ignored any longer. Al fell against the tree, his anger spent, but his soul still wracked with guilt. He remembered something Sam had said during one leap, the leap they had saved his brother Tom. Sam had said "I traded a life for a life." Is that what Al had done? He felt he had betrayed Sam in some way. He brought his legs up to his chest and rested his head on them. The wet ground seeped through his trousers, his undershorts, and Al felt the cold seeping into his bones. He began to cry. ************** Verbena went searching for Al. Ziggy had confirmed that Al was nowhere inside the project. She hoped he hadn't driven off in his condition. There was no telling what he would do. She checked the garage and was relieved to find Al's convertible still parked in it's usual spot. Well, if he wasn't inside, he had to be outside. She glanced across the courtyard, but didn't see him. It was still drizzling, so Verbena grabbed her umbrella from her car. Opening it up, she started walking across the main campus in search of Al. To the left of her was the main drive out. She didn't think he went that way. Straight ahead of her was the way to the military housing for the servicemen that were stationed here at the project. She knew he wouldn't have gone there. She headed off to the right. After walking for a bit and not finding him anywhere, she was about to turn back. A movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. At first she thought it might be a bird, or rabbit or even a prairie dog. She squinted in the rain and caught a flash of red under the old oak tree. It had to be him. She started walking in that direction, and as she got closer to the tree she noticed that he was sitting on the ground, curled up into a ball. She approached him quietly, not wanting to startle him. As she got closer, she could see his shoulders were shaking. She had seen Al cry before, but never like this. She knew he was a very private person, and it had taken her a while to get him to open up to her. When he had cried before, it had been quiet tears, not the racking sobs she now observed. She waited until the sobs abated some. "Al?" She spoke his name quietly. He glanced up, barely lifting his head. "Go away." His head went back down. "No, Al. I'm not going to let you do this to yourself." He grunted to her. "What's it matter?" The words were more of a mumble than spoken. He took out his damp handkerchief and blew his nose. She knelt down next to him, covering them both from the rain. "It does matter. Sam needs you now more than ever." "He don't need me." She put a hand on Al's shoulder. "You're all he has right now. You are his link." He pushed her hand off. He didn't want comfort. "Link him to Gooshie." The words were spoken to the ground. Al still hadn't looked up again. "Why are you torturing yourself this way?" "Why not?" he retorted. "Al. Cut yourself some slack. Donna needed you. You couldn't be in two places at once." "I don't want to be needed anymore. I want to be left alone." He said the words angrily. "So you can feel sorry for yourself?" She stated it simply. His head shot up at the words. "I am not feeling sorry for myself." Ah-ha! She thought. She had struck a nerve. "What would you call it then?" He shrugged. "Dunno." He blew his nose once more then pocketed the handkerchief. Verbena had enough of his self pity. Her next words were said in a tone meant to shock him. She took a deep breath and began. "Al. What has happened, has happened. Sam might be able to change the past, but YOU can't. It's time you got up off your ass, and got back in there. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. You of all people should understand that." He didn't say anything, just stared at her. At least she finally had his attention. She continued. "I know you must be angry. It's okay to feel hurt. But it is not okay to abandon Sam. I'm not going to let you walk away from him now. When he wakes up from the coma.." Al noted that she used the word 'when' and not the word 'if'. "When he wakes up, he is going to have plenty to deal with. He will need you." Al took a moment to consider what she was saying. It didn't help his guilt much, but it did make sense. Verbena held her hand out. "Come inside, Al." Al knew Verbena was right. He had to be there now for Sam. He couldn't change what had happened. But he could make better decisions now. Sitting out in the rain was not going to help Sam any. He took Verbena's hand and stood. "All right." He took a step and winced when he put his full weight on his leg. Verbena raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. "Don't ask." He began to limp back to the project. Verbena followed him, ready to offer assistance if needed. The rain had stopped, so she closed her umbrella. The ambulance was pulling in the drive as they made their way back. Following closely behind was Beth's car. She was frantic. She hopped out of her car and ran over to Al. "What happened? Are you all right? I've been following the ambulance for miles, worrying." Verbena led the paramedics inside, explaining as she went. Al turned to Beth. He must look frightful to her. He was dirty, wet, and covered with grime. And limping to boot. "I'm okay, Beth. It's Donna." At Beth's concerned look he resumed. "She went into labor shortly after you left." "Is she all right? Is the baby okay?" "They are both fine." Al limped over to Beth's car to lean against it. "What happened to you?" She followed him closely, trying to figure out just what had happened. He waved his hand. "Nothing. I'll be fine." He turned to face Beth. "There's more you should know." "Tell, me." She put a comforting hand on his arm. He swallowed once. Beth knew that whatever he was going to say was going to be hard. He was having a hard time getting the words out. "Beth, ummm... Sam's in a coma. Car accident." he said before she could ask. "I'm sorry. This must be hard for you." She knew how close Al and Sam really were. Either one would lay down their life for the other. They were best friends and more. "That's an understatement." He started back for the front door of the project, with Beth on his heels. They passed the paramedics bringing Donna and the baby out. She told them to stop. "Al, I just wanted to thank you. From both of us. And don't worry about Sam. He's a strong man. I have faith that he will pull through." Al could tell she meant it. It seemed her faith was stronger than his. He hugged her once, tightly, but not crushing the baby. "You're welcome." He released her and placed a kiss on the baby's head. "Take care of him. I'll come and see you once you are settled, okay?" "Okay." She smiled at him, then let the paramedics take her out. Al hugged Beth once, for reassurance, then they resumed the walk back to his quarters.