Quantum Leap "A Time to Hurt, A Time to Heal" Chapter 11 The boxes were unpacked. The furniture was uncovered. Everything had been returned to its proper place. Alex had refused to talk to Verbina until all of his possessions had been put away. He was now in the kitchen cooking some dinner for Verbina and himself. "Wouldn't you rather sit down?" Verbina asked. Alex smiled gently. "If you want the secrets in my soul, you'd better let me cook. The idea is to be relaxed. Isn't it, Dr. Beeks?" Verbina nodded. "Yes, it is." "Well, I'm most relaxed when I'm cooking," he told her as he added a bit of parsley to a small dish of flour and mixed it. Verbina shrugged. "Very well." She approached him softly. "Why don't you start at the beginning?" Alex smiled widely. "Do you really want to know everything about all my lifetimes?" Verbina glared at him in a friendly manner. "You know what I mean." Alex glanced at her and nodded. "Well, then, I have a confession to make. I knew I had the HIV virus for a long time. I was just holding on to that little glimmer of hope that it wouldn't develop into AIDS." "How long have you known?" Alex sighed as he took some boneless chicken and breaded it in the flour mix. "A long time. Since before Sheri and I divorced." Verbina looked at him. "So, you've known that you were a carrier for three years," she surmised. He nodded. "It was how I learned Sheri was having an affair she'd been infected by her lover and she gave that infection to me." "I'm sorry," Verbina told him genuinely. He shrugged. "No need to be. It's old news to me." He placed the chicken into a pan, which he then placed in the oven. He then took a bag of frozen vegetables and opened them to steam them. "But when I had my physical last month and the results came back, I was more than shocked; I was devastated." He looked at Verbina. "Did you read the medical report?" "You know I did. Both versions," she told him. He colored in embarrassment slightly at the reminder of his altering those records. "You could say that it was a force of habit after having done it for the previous two years. That's why my having HIV isn't on my record." "Alex, why did you alter your records in the first place?" Alex didn't look at her. "The first time, I really was afraid to lose my job. An irrational fear, I know, but, at the time, I didn't know you or Al very well. I thought the military would never allow a carrier to work on the project." He gave her a slight shrug. "The second time? Well, I didn't want anyone to know that I was infected or that I had falsified records. You know how I am about pity." "And the same with the last time," Verbina concluded. Alex nodded. "And when you learned you had AIDS?" "I was shocked! I still am. It's very...unnerving." He looked at her firmly. "I don't want to die this way, even if I may have died of cancer in another life. I'm only thirty-eight years old." He paused. "The whole thing is causing me to doubt my beliefs and myself. I'm not sure I will be reincarnated. If I was, I really would have killed myself. Hell, I'm not even sure I have a soul anymore." He looked at her. "How can someone exist without faith? Of any kind? Of even in science? I have none. I don't want to live but I don't want to die either." Verbina exhaled. "Alex, you have to come to terms with yourself. This is an important transition in your life. Once you've come to terms with yourself, you'll know what you believe, whether it is reincarnation or something else." She touched his shoulder gently. "Let me help you find out who the real Alex Hathorn is and help you to cope with your illness. I'm a very good listener, you know." Alex laughed. "Yeah. I know." He looked at her. "What do you suggest?" "I want you to come to my office at least twice a week until we both think you've really accepted this latest challenge in your life." She smiled at him. "What do you say?" Alex nodded in agreement. "Only if you help me finish making dinner and stay to join me." Verbina smiled. "You have a deal, Dr. Hathorn." *********************** The next day, Verbina returned to the Project Quantum Leap complex to learn that not only had Al not left the Imaging Chamber, he also hadn't had anything to eat for the entire day. Upon learning this, she went into the Imaging Chamber to see Al sitting on his cot with extreme concern on his face. She slowly walked up to him and placed her hand softly on his shoulder. "How is he?" she asked gently. Al didn't answer. He didn't move for a moment. Then, he slowly took the hand that was on his shoulder. Verbina looked at Sam carefully. He was asleep but it was obvious that he was not in good condition. His breathing was extremely heavy. His body was covered with sweat. His head tilted from left to right, being the only part of his body he had enough energy to move. A young woman sat at his bedside, dabbing his forehead with a damp folded towel. She spoke with a gentle manner and, every once in a while, gave Sam some water out of a small plastic cup. "Who's the girl?" Verbina asked Al. She looked at little familiar to her. "Linda Cartwright," Al answered quietly. "She's a student in Zetter's neurological anatomy class. I have no idea why she came here but I'm glad she did. She's been a godsend." "The name's familiar," Verbina told him. Al hummed at Verbina's comment. Linda's name meant nothing to him other than it was the name of the person tending his best friend. Verbina looked at Al carefully. He seemed so much more somber than since the last time she saw him. Of course, there was Sam's condition to consider. But still... "What are his chances?" she asked with concern. Al hesitated. "They've gone up. There's a seventy-four percent chance he'll survive this." Verbina sat down beside him. "Then, what's wrong? I've never known you to get more somber because of good news." Al exhaled, turning his head away from Verbina. "He can't hear me or see me. Or at least he gives no indication that he can. And there's nothing I can really do for him." He looked at her. "I'm scared, Verbina." Verbina looked at Al carefully. He looked worn out. It was obvious that it was his more direct involvement with Sam's care that had been keeping him going. Now that Linda was providing that care, he was starting to feel the pressure he'd been putting on his body for the past forty-eight hours. "Al," she said gently, "he'll be fine. I'm sure he knows you're here." Al smiled. "I know he does. But I can't help worrying about him if he doesn't at least look at me." She smiled. "Why don't you go take a shower, get something to eat, and get some sleep?" Al looked at her firmly. "I promised Sam I wouldn't leave him and I won't break that promise, no matter what." Verbina looked into Al's eyes and knew that he was quite serious. "It could be a long time," she told him. "Byron had been taking morphine for a long time and Sam has that mental addiction." "I know. Seven years," Al said. "You told me." He exhaled. "I know it may take a while. That is precisely why I can't leave him." Verbina stood up. "At least have something to eat and get some rest. I'll have some hot food sent down. And you had better eat it." Al gave her a gently smile. "Thank you." He looked at her with deep concern. "How's Alex?" "He'll be okay," she told him. "What happened?" Verbina took a breath. "He tried to slit his wrist. He wanted to induce reincarnation." Al closed his eyes in sympathy. "I talked him out of it," she assured him. "Thank gawd," Al breathed. "He won't try again, will he?" Verbina shook her head with a slight smile. "I wouldn't have let him out of my sight if I thought he'd try again." Al nodded gently. "Good." There was a moment of silence. "I'll go order your dinner," Verbina finally said, touching Al's shoulder. "Thanks," Al replied just before Verbina left the Imaging Chamber.