Chapter Nine Al Calavicci returned home. He hated Christmas, especially a white one. Christmas was too close to New Year's, and he hated New Year's even more. It would be three years since Sam's death, and each year made it more difficult to carry on. After Sam's death, he'd returned to Washington and tried to lapse back into the life he'd had before Sam. But, he'd realized, he really didn't have a life before he'd met Sam. Sure, he'd been married five times, been in and out of more military battles than he cared to remember, slept with more women than he could remember, but he hadn't actually been alive since he'd lost Beth. That was until Sam came along and pulled him kicking and screaming back into a life, rather than the existence he had made for himself. And now his heart ached for not one, but two losses. He'd left military service, even tried to resign his commission, but they wouldn't let him. Figures, they want me on a string, just in case I'm needed in some other hairbrained scheme some half-assed scientist might come up with. But he'd refused every assignment they'd presented to him. Let them keep me on the payroll, then. I'll do what's necessary, and nothing more. For all intents and purposes, Al Calavicci was retired. He'd even made sure that there was no trace of him after he'd left the Project. He didn't want anyone contacting him after that, not even those involved, that he'd become close to. He just couldn't handle seeing them, knowing that they'd all failed in not bringing Sam back alive. Sure, he kept tabs on them, where they were, what they were doing, but no one knew where he was, and that was fine with him. Someone had found him, though, through a simple call placed to the Pentagon, and some idiot ensign confirming that he had, indeed, returned to the area. Once he'd finished raking that ensign over the coals, he was sure that mistake would never be made again. Although no one ever contacted him as a result of it, he had started to get mail which someone, probably that lamebrain ensign, had arranged to be picked up from his old address on Boston Road, the one he had lived in before being transferred out west to Project Star Bright. Occasionally, when the navy courier picked up any mail that may have been sent to his old address, there would be a card or letter from someone, most often Verbeena or Donna. Somehow they had managed to track down his old address, and since their letters weren't being returned, kept writing to him there. He hadn't seen any of them since the Project was discontinued. He'd gotten an invitation to Donna's wedding, but didn't go. She had a right to get on with her life, he knew, but he couldn't do the same. The older woman who had taken over his apartment didn't mind collecting anything that arrived for him, and for that he was grateful. The only ones he didn't hear from anymore were Tina and Gushie. Tina had written only twice, once to tell him about her marriage to Gushie, then again to announce the birth of their daughter. But he had never written back. He couldn't. Oh sure, he and Tina had been an item at the Project, but when he told her he couldn't give her what she deserved in life, she fell into Gushie's waiting arms, and they wasted no time in getting married and starting their family. Gushie's way of ensuring that Tina wouldn't run back to him, Al surmised. And now it was Christmas, again. Stepping into the foyer of his condo unit, Al nearly tripped over a stack of envelopes that had been left on the floor. The building concierge must have left them in his unit. More deliveries from Mrs. Bartholemew's, he'd guessed by the seasonal ribbon tying the package neatly together. She had even included a small box of Christmas cookies, even though he'd never even met the woman. I'll have to send her a bunch of flowers or something. He picked up the parcel and stack and placed the box on the kitchen counter. Turning towards the livingroom, he took the few strides necessary to reach the coffee table, tossing the letters onto its glass top. Returning briefly to the foyer, he hung his coat in the closet, kicked off his shoes and then headed for the bar in the corner. The clock on the fireplace mantel chimed the hour of 1:00 a.m. So, it's officially Christmas Eve. Whoopie. He picked up the liberal glass of scotch he'd poured for himself and, sitting on the sofa, picked up the pile of envelopes. He pulled off the ribbon, and shuffled through the few envelopes, tearing open the ones whose outside showed handwriting he recognized. Christmas cards from Verbeena and Donna. One from Sam's mother, Donna must have given her the old address. The rest he tossed aside as junk mail. He sat back, placing his feet on the coffee table, raising his glass in a mock toast. "Merry fucking Christmas, Al Calavicci. You've made it through another year, God only knows why though," the scornful tone of his voice added to the negativity of the salute. Having finished his drink in one swig, he decided that he needed another. Sliding his feet off the coffee table, he knocked the pile of junk mail onto the carpet. Another envelope fell out. Bending, he picked it up off the floor. A simple 'Al Calavicci' graced the outside; no address, no stamp. There was something familiar about the handwriting, though. No, it can't be. It can't be Sam's. He torn open the envelope and read the note inside. He couldn't believe his eyes. Sam's alive?! Dropping to the sofa, as if his legs had given out on him, he re-read the short letter. His emotions ran the gambit; shock, elation, then anger. Who would play such an evil trick on him! Using Sam's name like this. His anger grew. How dare someone treat his already fragile emotions like this! Slamming his glass down on the table, nearly shattering both it and the glass top, Al bolted for the door, stopping only long enough to slip on his shoes and grab his coat. Not bothering to wait for the elevator, he was ran down the stairs to his car even before the door to his residence clicked shut, not waiting to lock it. A loud banging made Sam bolt straight up. What the? Where am I? Then he remembered checking into the Candelight Motel after having dinner with the older lady, Mrs. Bartholemew she had said her name was, and her granddaughter. He had been watching the late news and must have fallen asleep. Sleepfilled eyes adjusted to the light in the room before he could move from the bed. More pounding at the door made him jump up, and, wrapping the housecoat he had found among Kara's things around himself, he opened the door. Al Calavicci stomped into the room, fully enraged. Al! Before Sam could say a word, Al started to bellow. "Just who the hell do you think you are ..." It was as he turned that Al realized just whose room he had stormed into. His gaze trailed up the long, slender legs of Kara's body, stopping at the point where the short housecoat started. It was loosely tied, letting Al see more than he really should have. Sam followed his gaze, then realizing just what Al was seeing, quickly turned his back, retying the robe tighter. Al regained his anger, although not quite as strongly as before. "Alright young lady, I don't know who you are or who put you up to this, but this is some kind of sick, pathetic joke." "Al," Sam, turned back around, tried to cut in, but there was no stopping Al when he was at the height of a fullblown tirade. "Shut up. I'll do the talking. Now, just how the hell do you know about Sam Beckett?" He was nose to nose with Sam, staring directly into his eyes, but couldn't see through his anger that it really was Sam behind those eyes. Being that close, Sam could see just how much Al had aged. You've been through hell, haven't you old friend. "Well, I'm waiting." "You just told me to shut up." "Well now I'm expecting an answer. And you'd better be quick about it." Sam stepped back. He could smell the scotch on Al's breath. I hope he hasn't started drinking again. "Just relax and let me explain." Al didn't move a muscle. "Why don't you sit down, have a cigar or something." Al's mouth moved, as if he was going to say something, then changed his mind. "How do you know I smoke cigars?" "Aside from the fact that you smell like one, because you've smoked cigars since before the day we first met. Only back then it was the really cheap ones that smelled like what the cows used to drop back on the farm. I assume you're still smoking the 'illegally imported' kind." Al dropped down into the sole chair in the room. Now he was really confused. How could this extremely young woman know about things like this? "Okay," he said, calming down as each minute passed, "let's start at the beginning. What's your name?" "Al, it's me. It's Sam." His anger began to rise again. "Don't try pulling that crap on me, young lady. There's no possible way that you could be Sam Beckett." His voice dropped to a barely audible level. "Sam Beckett died three years ago." He had turned away so the pain wouldn't show on his face, but Sam heard it in his voice, and his heart ached for his friend. "Al, really, it's me. Like I said in my letter, at the end of my last leap, I crossed paths with another leaper. We switched places, she came back as me and I ended up here, where she should have been." "Anyone who can read can find information on Sam Beckett's theories and concoct a story like the one you're trying on me," he sneered. The look of disbelief on Al's face made Sam try another route. "Okay, what if I tell you about some of our leaps. Will that convince you?" "If you really were Sam, you'd know that he can't remember most of the leaps," he sneered. "Hell, most of the time I had to remind him about his own life, let alone where he'd just come from!" "I know that, Al, but at least let me try." "Go ahead. Convince me," Al said, leaning back in the chair, and lighting a cigar. He puffed away while Sam paced, trying to think of something, anything. "I remember leaping into a woman, a mother with three kids. The youngest one, Teresa I think her name was, she could see us as us. The other two couldn't but she could. You used to sing her to sleep." Al eyed him warily, not revealing his shock at this woman's knowledge of top secret information. "Then there was the time when I leapt into a cop in 1969. That's when I met Beth." Al's jaw dropped, causing him to lose the cigar. He quickly jumped up, grabbing the cigar from his lap. He brushed off the ashes, then turned to Sam. "Sam," he whispered, his voice cracking. "It's really you. Dear God, it's really you." "Yes, Al. It's really me." He opened his arms, looking down at the body he currently occupied. "At least it's me on the inside." Al couldn't resist. He stepped into Sam's open arms, giving him the bear hug he'd wanted to give him three years prior. "Al. Al! Don't damage the body I've borrowed." Realizing what he was doing, Al released his hold on Sam, stepping back. "Well, I must say, you've certainly picked a great body to come back in," Al remarked, walking around Sam, checking out Kara's body. "Cut it out, Al. It's still me inside, remember?" "Let me guess. Starlet, topless dancer," his eyebrows moved up and down, a twinkle in his eyes communicating that he was teasing. Sam turned his head away, hoping that Al wouldn't hear him. "Fashion model," he mumbled. Al bent towards the Leaper, a hand to his ear. "Sorry, Sam, I didn't quite hear you. Could you repeat that." The Leaper knew full well that he had been heard. "Fashion model, okay. I'm a fashion model. Or rather, Kara's a fashion model." The glee showed on the Admiral's face. Despite the fact that he was in a woman's body, Sam enjoyed the fact that he had made his friend smile again. "Al, forgetting what I am right now, we need to talk about my last leap. What happened?" Al became sombre again, his eyes showing that he was thinking of a place far away and a time long ago. "Your last leap was nothing extraordinary. You were a teenager named Chris Barton. You had to prevent the kid's girlfriend from being dragged into life in a streetgang, which you did." It was the same leap that Sam had remembered earlier. "When it ended and you leaped out, I went back to the Imaging Chamber, and waited for you to land somewhere else. About six hours later, Ziggy told me that you were on your way home." Al's voice dropped to just above a whisper. "But when you came back to the Project, you were dead. Beeks tried to revive you, but nothing worked." Sam could hear the anguish in Al's voice, but said nothing. Collecting himself, Al turned to question the Leaper. "What do you mean about another leaper? As far as we knew, ours was the only government-sponsored project at the time." His voice changed to a whisper of concern. "Sam, what if it's Zoey?" "No, I don't think it's the evil project. Monica, she's your counterpart, didn't seem like she had an evil bone in her body. She was very helpful, very concerned for me. She told me that their project began after ours ended. And Al, they've made some pretty interesting additions. We've got to look into including them in our Project." Al's face told him what he already knew. "That is, if we can get it running again." "What do you mean running again? The entire thing's been dismantled, everyone's moved on, the files are most likely stored away in the back of some dusty fileroom, that is if they aren't landfill by now." "We've got to try and get them back, retrieve whatever files you can, find Ziggy's parts. Anything and everything we can to get me back to where I should be." "But, Sam, we buried you! Your body's six feet underground! And why, if other leaper died in your body, didn't you die in hers?" "Roger, that's Monica's computer, feels that she died just as she was leaping. That is, the person she was occupying died, and as a result, so did she. Because she returned to my body, it died, too." Al stood silent for a moment, then his words came in short, staccato syllables. "We're not going to have to, you know, dig you up or anything, are we?" Despite all that Al had seen in his life, the sight of a dead body still made his skin crawl. "No, Al. I'll leap back to the time where I should have gone after the last leap." "That's the point, Sam. If she died going in, what's to prevent you from doing the same?" "I don't know, Al, but if living someone else's life forever is my choice, I think I'd rather be dead." Silence fell between them, neither wishing to further consider that possibility. Sam finally broke the stillness. "Monica was able to locate everyone else from the Project. They should be easy for you to find." "I'm sure I could rattle a few cages, find out exactly where they are." "By the way, why couldn't Monica find you? She said that after the Project folded, you just disappeared." "I don't know, Sam. What I do know is, the night came back to your body only to die, I died. I tried to carry on in the service, but couldn't. Nothing was exciting anymore, nothing interested me anymore. I wanted to disappear, hide myself away on some abandoned tropical island, but the military wouldn't let me. So, I simply stopped being involved ... in everything. I moved back to Washington, with it's cold winters. At least the weather matched my heart. Cold and dark." A heavy silence hung between them, until Al pulled himself out of his melancholy. "But things are starting to feel warmer already!" "Al, there's one more thing. I've only got until New Year's Eve. That's when Monica's computer predicted that her leaper's original job was to happen. She and I made a deal, that she'd leave me to do what I had to do with you, but that I'd have to complete the other task as well." "New Year's Eve! Sam, that's only a week away! There's no way we can get Ziggy back together in a week! Everybody's all over the country. Aw, Sam, you're asking for the impossible." "Remember our earlier motto? Impossible we can do. Miracles take a little longer." "A miracle. That's exactly what we'll need to pull this off," Al grumbled. "Well, this is the season of miracles, isn't it?" Al's smile broadened across his face, his eyes twinkling with excitement, and life. "Damn straight, it is. Okay, here's what we'll do." Two heads þ one an older man one a young woman þ fell together as they planned their strategy for getting Sam back to where he belonged.