Pt. I THE crush of hot youth enveloped him immediately, a pulsating beat boxing his ears w/its wild thumping. *Please tell me I'm not at a rock concert* Blurs of arms and colorful sweaters whipped about him from towering bodies. A voice crackled and boomed from tinny speakers. Sam clutched the swaying navy and gold jacket in front of him and a tall, strapping young man turned and flashed him an easy smile. Pulling himself to the side, the guy nodded towards Sam obligingly and afforded him a better view. A girl, microphone clutched in hand and sporting a yellow pleated skirt, took center stage, her face angrily slashed w/war paint. "Are we going to let AKRON desecrate OUR FIELD?? NO!! Are we going to send OSU home crying like a bunch of PUNKS?? YES!! Because who the HELL are WE?? ROCKETS!! ROCKETS!! ROCKETS!!" A roar erupted from the crowd and spirit oozed contagiously. Sharp blasts from air horns pierced all common sense and a mad swirl of screaming and laughter exploded, wrapping Sam, too, in its delirious fun. A tiny smile of realization was creeping onto his face. "Oh, Boy," he murmured. *I'm back in school...* PART I "So...this is Toledo." A warm baritone rumbled at his left and Sam glanced over. The young man was turned away, his face lifted towards the stage. The sun caught a handsomely bronzed profile. His chin jutted forward obstinately and there was something defiant in the way his jaw was set, the swell of his cheekbones... *Oh no...* An intense pair of almond-shaped eyes were suddenly burning into Sam's. He let his gaze waver to the ground, catching a white sneakered toe peeking from beneath boot-cut jeans. *Thank god it's not heels* "Ohio," he murmurred. "You speak Japanese." The lilting accent fluctuated the question into more of a statement. Sam laughed nervously. "No...I-I don't ~think~ so. I mean, Ohio, the state." A slow, crooked grin broke across the guy's face. "You must be freshman. I'm freshman, too. I'm from Cleveland." Sam felt the cool electric tingle of recognition ride down his back. "Me...too.." A tiny leak of memory spilled forward begrudgingly. It was like teasing the desert with a drop of rain. *I have a dog...named Sparky and my sister is almost --thirteen* The vast plains of darkness in his mind stretched endlessly before him and he sighed bitterly. "You really from Cleveland? Or you just say that to get to know me?" The liquid caramel eyes danced with laughter. Something neon pink snapped a few inches above their heads and they ducked. A group of guys wearing "Omega Psi Yo Mama" shirts hooted with laughter. The Frisbee flopped a yard away from Sam into the crisp green lawn. "Go fetch, Fido!" barked one of the guys into a megaphone and a flimsy boy trotted the distance half-heartedly, studded collar winking in the sun and leash flapping behind him. *Fraternities,* Sam thought mournfully, remembering of some vague past the image of a shallow dive into a wading pool gone wrong. The young man scowled briefly towards the display of stupid human tricks, turning a warm smile on Sam. "You live on campus?" "Uh...yeah, I think." Reaching into the pocket of his pullover jacket, he heard a nice jingle of keys and shook them out. "I actually have to get going now..." "You don't know my name. It's Tomomichi. Everybody calls me JP." And he raised an eyebrow, managing to look disarming and mischevous at the same time. Despite himself, Sam laughed. "Yeah, well, it was nice meeting you…Tomomichi. I guess I'll see you around." "Not if I see you first." With that, Tomomichi abruptly turned and strolled away leisurely, the sun riding easily on his back. Sam watched him for a moment, a strange warm pang of... ~something~ falling over him. *That was interesting...now, let's figure out where you live.* He studied the ring of keys, turning them over delicately in his hands. There were no engravings or tags to clue him in. "Well, I could always go door to door," he chuckled mirthlessly, shrieks of happy abandonment ringing in the air. "Alright, Beckett, pick a direction and Go." Just Southwest, a burst of light winked from the trees. As if in a slow, heavy trance, his feet moved, and he felt the satisfying crunch of gravel underneath his shoes. Kids drifted aimlessly about him, some in small groups of freshly formed cliques, and a few, like him, wandering solo. ~Student Union~ read the title of a building that was fading fast on his right. A wall of windows showed students inside milling about anxiously like ants, some emerging triumphantly from a bookstore with bags of overpriced, yet always recommended and little used, reading materials. A line that was obscenely long snaked outside of a black-and-white tiled cafeteria that was trying earnestly for a 50's look. An odd dark tower of glass rose suddenly before him as he rounded the corner. He was all at once allured. And repelled. *That's creepy.* He advanced more slowly around the structure as people pushed and pulled on the heavily tinted doors and seemed to be swallowed inside. The flow of traffic swept him towards a stone bridge, which he gladly crossed away from the building. A low murmur of water tumbled over smooth rocks below, twisting around downed limbs, and rumbling onward to… *The Ottawa River.* A beautiful canopy of leaves arched over the stream, both seeming to stretch miles and miles into nowhere. It was then Sam realized that he, too was standing beneath its cool cover. He grinned up at the branches of the trees on opposite banks interlaced like fingers. A guy on rollerblades wove around him sharply, shooting Sam a hostile glare over his shoulder. He tried giving guy a tiny smile of contrition, but his mouth wouldn't cooperate. The other side opened up to a huge field about three football stadiums in length with trees dotting the lot here and there. An impromptu game of Freeze-Tag broke out. Passersby became unwitting participants, having been slapped by someone and designated as "IT!!" as everyone scattered like marbles dropped on the floor. Sam moved away from the direction of the maddening frolic. He drifted closer towards a rolling hill, a tall oblong building shooting straight from the top like a giant milk carton. PARKS TOWER WELCOMES THE CLASS OF 2000, proclaimed a white sagging banner in an ominous shade of blue and yellow. He hit a minute stretch of paved surface before he was on grass again, picking up his pace to a trot. A small courtyard completely shaded from the sun was being grazed upon by kids looking for a quiet place to read. He skipped over the blacktop of a miniature parking lot, almost running by the time he'd reached where he thought he was supposed to be. A door swooshed open promptly and his shoes sank into plush carpet. A girl sitting at a circular desk glanced up at him briefly and flashed a perfunctory smile. Then she went promptly back to ignoring him. Two elevators off to the right of the desk dinged pleasantly, both opening to spill their load of anxious mothers with huge handbags and balding middle-aged fathers making rounds to the car to haul in cardboard boxes and suitcases. *I must be in this dorm.* He sighed inwardly, not considering his discovery a total victory. *I've got a key and no name --* "Rachel!" Sam's heart cracked thunderously in this chest. He spun around, eye-level with a chin. He adjusted his vision slightly upward and found the person belonging to the chin grinning and slightly out of breath. "Man! I saw you in the woods, what were you running for?" *I'm Rachel!* "I...didn't want to be late." The face screwed up its nose and the light sprinkling of freckles threatened to merge. "Late for what?" "Late...for my mother's call," he attempted weakly, adding a tiny smile. "But I think I lost my key, so..." He let his words to trail off expertly, allowing a small look of embarrassment to creep onto his face. The girl smiled brilliantly, snapping a wad of bruise colored gum. "That's cool. I got a key." The muscles in his jaw nearly went slack. *Of all the dumb luck...* His free ride was already walking away, shuffling coolly towards the elevators. He stepped in after her, watching closely as she depressed the button marked 3 and the car rode smoothly up the cable. A soft ~bing~ announced their arrival as the doors opened into a naturally lit hallway wrapping to the left and right. He waited as the girl steered left, counting the number of rooms they passed until she abruptly stopped and he almost slammed into her. The lock tumbled heavily in the chamber and the door swung inward, the girl popping on a light to her right. Two comfortably cushioned chairs and a matching coffee table sat unused in an area Sam guessed was being designated as the living room. He closed the door, the girl digging into an ample sized fridge, pulling out water balloons and a pck of Twizzlers. "These are for later," she grinned elfishly, and he was suddenly very sure he did not want to know. Quickly his eyes took in the cozy little layout of room 3207. A short hallway just beyond the refrigerator forked into three small unlit areas. At the moment, shoes were being heaped onto a doormat across from them. He studied the pile for a moment, decided none of them were really his style. Two doors, labeled "A" and "B" were a sure bet to be the bedrooms. Sam felt eyes guarding him closely. "Keys?" he suggested, half- shrugging. The girl's face lightened considerably. "Oh, I don't keep doors locked. That's ~you~." She tossed him a teasing see-this-is-what-you-get look and resumed the careful arrangement of supplies in her pack. "For a minute, I thought you had amnesia." A strangled cough flew out of Sam's mouth, and he feebly covered it with a laugh. "Yeah, amnesia." "Uh, you need to lay down, too." The girl shooed him off in the direction of door A, relief flooding over him. The long slender handle gave easily in his hands and he slipped in, exhaling deeply. His fingers automatically went for a tiny silver button that would grant him some privacy. The satisfying click of the lock felt like kind hands unloading the burdens of uncertainty from his shoulders. Not too much could go wrong in a bedroom. *God, at least I hope not today.* The thought wearily crossed his mind as he sunk gratefully onto a freshly dressed bed. An interesting feat of a bed elevated by the tops of a dresser and a set of shelves was displayed across from him. A desk threatened to erupt a leaning tower of books, clothes and CDs. Five pairs of the same shoes in the different colors littered the floor. Sam turned his eyes away from the mess, surveying his immediate surroundings. Nice, tight, clean. It was like night and day in this room. A small stack of mail beckoned him from the other well organized desk. He shifted through campus flyers, food coupons >>ROCKET PIZZA, FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF LIGHT!!<<, until he came to a plain envelope with his -uh, ~her~-- name in plain, block letters. RACHEL HORTON. Postmarked September 22nd, UT Registration Office. Sam was filled with a stupid giddiness, debating whether or not he could rightfully open someone else's mail. "Hey, Sam, sorry it took so long." Sam smiled pleasantly up at his long time companion, who was as always, predictably late. "Hi, Al," he said distantly. He considered the sunburst yellow tie screaming from the pea green shirt, and decided against commenting. "Alright..." Al inhaled deeply and jabbed at the handlink. "The year is, uh-" "Nineteen Ninety-Six." A crooked eye was cocked at him. "Yeah, and you are Ra-Rack... What?" Al's hand shot up and gave the link a solid whack. The tiny machine bleeted plaintively. "Rachel Horton. I'm in Toledo, Ohio." Sam folded himself neatly on the bed, tapping the envelope against his shoe. "Al, I think I'm a Fresh- man." Al quickly fastened his gaping mouth to the rest of his face. "Gee, that's a neat trick," he sneered, feigning hurt. "What ~don't~ you know?" "I don't know ~why~ I'm here," Sam replied sweetly, leveling Al with a quick flutter of lashes. "That's-that's real cute," he grumbled, smacking the whiny box in his hand. "Okay, well you know that you're Rachel. Uh, you ~are~ a fresh- man and --Sam." Standing before a full-length mirror behind the door, Sam was tilting his head slowly and auburn hair tumbled gently over his shoulder. Calm dark brown eyes stared back at him, squinting a bit at the corners when he tried smiling. "Hey, Al." "Yeah, Sam?" A light edge of wariness crept into Al's voice. "You know, this is the first time this Leap I've tried to see myself. I mean, I passed windows and there's glass all over the place." Sam's fingers traced the curve of Rachel's cheeks, a dimple pressing faintly into sable brown skin. "But I wasn't even looking. And-and then I was remembering these things..." "Whoa, what "things?" Al narrowed his eyes at Sam. "I don't know...Rachel's memories, I guess. And I walked here with- out any help." "You mean you ~Leaped~ here." "No," Sam whirled away from his reflection to face Al. "I ~walked~ here. On my own two feet. I Leaped in somewhere else." "Where?" "I-I don't know. There was this pep rally and this guy, Tom...Tom-something." "Tom," Al muttered softy, punching in the data. "Nope. Nobody by that name in here." Sam settled dejectedly into a chair at the desk. "Maybe I only met him by accident. By my Leaping in when I did." "That's...possible. And maybe you better stay away him on purpose." Flashes of red and green lit the handlink as it gave a high-pitched squeal. "Ziggy says there's a 97.6% chance that you're... here to keep Rachel from getting pregnant." "~Pregnant?~" Something hot and slithery coiled up inside his stomach. "Al, I just got here. I'm-I'm the one of the first kids in the family to go to college. I can't have a ~baby~. I have to graduate!" "Sam, calm down." Al pressed his warm hands firmly to the younger man's shoulders. Sam murmured softly. "Who's the father?" Al squinted at the read out. "Ziggy doesn't know," he admitted, falling quiet. The thoughtful silence between them stretched for some time. Al "leaned" -as much as holography would permit-- against the sill of the room's only window, glancing occasionally at the handlink for change. The same numbers throbbed, nice and red, like a nasty welt. He watched Sam in his new form, always struck with awe by the strange melding of two minds and hearts in one body. Oh, this one was cute. A pink slip of tongue poked through her lips absently while she -Sam-- stared on, maybe looking for an answer on the wall. "Well," Al started, slow and reluctant. "I'll go see what I can dig up. In the meantime, you just relax, kid. I mean, this should be a snap compared to--" *Shit!* Sam arched a delicately shaped eyebrow at the comment that went unsaid, but which was rently plainly on the Admiral's face. "Compared to what? Have I been pregnant before?" Al sighed. "No use hiding it from you now." "Wow, the messes I get myself into." Sam whistled low and Al chuckled. The link uttered its usual pops and squeaks as the hologram plugged in the codes to activate The Door. A brilliant blue portal enveloped Al as he began to step through. "I mean it, Sam. No funny business. No smiling--" "I can't smile?" Sam laughed incredulously. "No ~flirty~ smiling. If a guy is coming on to you, you run the other way." Al swirled his arms in counter cirlces. "Yes, Uncle Al." "And no kissing...Aww, what am I saying? You would think I had daughters or something. Look, Sam, I don't want to hear that anything... ~hinky~ went down while I was gone." "Hinky?!" That was definitely a new one. "I'll see you soon." Al gave him a brief nod before The Door shut them out of each other's world. A sharp knock at the door -Sam's door- was followed by the lock popping open and the girl shuffled in, smiling somewhat apologetically. Sam snapped up the telephone receiver and casually dropped it back on its cradle. "So, how's your mom?" "Oh, she's, uh fine." The girl dumped her empty pack near the raging desk. "You seem cool with your uncle." *How much did she hear?* "Uh-huh." "Don't worry." She chuckled conspiratorially. "My uncle acts like my dad, too. He told me I wasn't even allowed to hold hands!" They both burst into laughter at this, Sam relieved to have a new friend replace the void of Al's departure.