Pt. IV He walked slowly and carefully, looking like a man -er, ~woman~- trying to retrace his steps. He didn't know what good it would do, but it couldn't hurt. All around him, people seemed to drift aimlessly, shrieking and laughing out loud. Sam watched them a little enviously, feeling muted by this strange, impending destiny that was pressing him with its heavy hand. He slipped Rachel's earphones over his head, trying to think of nothing in particular. The singer's voice was sad and sweeping with nostalgia. >>Hey, Jude...don't make it baaad... Take a sad song, and make it bet-terrr...<< *Words to live by, my friend.* University Hall sparkled before him like a castle of white sand under the sun and he trudged towards it. Rachel had a Spanish III test, but he couldn't for the life of him concentrate in the dorm. His mind whirled each time he attempted to crack open a book. Bassemah's late night phone marathon did not help. He parked himself a seat in an empty lecture hall, savoring the silence. His eyelids were beginning to droop and he rested his head, allowing the words to wash over him. >>...And anytime you feel the pain... Hey, Jude, refrain...<< "That's a great song." Sam peeled one eye open and peered over at Al. A delicate sliver of a tie in a metallic silver tone hung from the Observer's neck and a matching fedora perched smartly atop his head. His shirt and pants were two similar hues of navy blue interrupted by a pair of suspenders that reminded Sam immediately of Reynold's Wrap. "You look...conservative." Al shrugged casually, an odd grin twitching at his mouth. "Yeah, well, I try. I just thought I'd come and check on you before the fireworks." Sam glared at him sharply. "Al, that's no way to talk about my situation." "No, no, no," Al waved his hands defensively, as if clearing the air. "I mean ~fireworks~: cherry bombs, bottle rockets, Tijuana toilet crackers...today is the 4th of July. Well, at least, for ~me~ it is." "Fourth of July..." Sam's mind traveled far towards the bottom of a near empty well and found water. "Oh. Everything...okay?" "Yes, everything is fine, Sam. Thanks for asking." "Anything on Rachel?" Al tapped on a sleek new hand link and it emitted a few low mutters. "No. Still the same as last night." Sam's stomach rocked a bit and settled down. "~Que Sera, Sera...~" "What?" Al perked "I don't know...I heard it from somewhere..." Sam murmured sleepily, sliding down into the chair. "You just take it easy, kid. Get some rest and for heaven's sake--" "Stay away from boys," they said in unison. "You're a real cut-up, you know that, Sam?" Sam smiled drowsily. "No, I thought I was a choir boy. ~You're~ the cut-up." He never saw the cool blue of The Door wink out and take his friend with it. He had fallen asleep before Al could even reply. * * * * * He was smiling. It made the interns nervous. And whistling. That warranted light frowns from the techs. Only two people were relieved. Gushie, because he had not heard a bark from the Admiral all day, and Cary, who delighted in his change of mood and the promising festivities ahead. His brisk stride, which was usually all business, was now a light stroll. He seemed to be bouncing with each step. Like he was having ~fun.~ The idea confounded most of the senior staff. Sure, the guy knew how to swing and every room in Las Vegas had been given a whirl by the charming Italian, but this place was no party and it sure ~wasn't~ Vegas. Stallion's Gate was lean with people, most having been given authorized clearance to picnic outside on compound grounds. Others bolted at the chance of breathing fresh air and talking about anything that had nothing to do with the Project. The few left were the dedicated stiffs who wrapped Quantum Leap around themselves like a thick warm blanket. Well, Al was feeling nice and loose and not about to let a little work cramp his style. He was in the mirror, giving his eyebrows careful consideration when the doorbell sounded. Pleasantly. He glanced up at the ceiling, knowing the computer could register his surprise. "Zig, whoever it is, let 'em come on through." He heard the primary door swoosh open as he studied his face and was turning away from his reflection to just as the second door leading to the back room rolled on its tracks. He peered out from the bathroom to see the silhouette of a woman lingering just outside of his lair. "I didn't mean ~all~ the way through," He growled heavenward, positive that he could hear the machine snickering. He touched a sensory pad just outside the bathroom door. Dim lighting and smooth music filled the darkened room. Verbena smiled and raised a brow just slightly. His fingers moved quickly to kill the radio, giving her a small, embarrassed laugh. *Note to self: program the CD and the lights ~separately.~* For some strange reason, he felt completely naked -and not in a good way- having her in his den. Candles of every size and fragrance were arranged strategically on glass tables and a bearskin rug of delicious texture lay waiting in front of his custom built fireplace. Couches upholstered in exotic silks invited all sorts of trouble with the right kind of company. Overstuffed pillows lay everywhere. He didn't figure her to be the type of dame to take to a nice little romp on the floor. But now, thanks to his good friend Ziggy, it looked as if he'd had that in mind. "Bena..." he began, and didn't know how to end. "Nice place," she said breezily and Al could feel his dignity slowly creeping back. "So, uh, is it about that time? I guess we should get going." "Actually, I wondered if you wouldn't mind sitting for a moment." "Yeah, sure." He gestured towards a sofa decorated in deep purple and hunter green with gold embroidery. At the wet bar, he made himself a Long Island Ice Tea --virgin-- and drew the doctor a glass of water from the tap. They sat quietly, Al's body was nearly ~humming~ in proximity to hers. He glanced at her slyly and wondered what it was that was on her mind. He knew a "talk and walk" when he heard one, even if the walking part was out of the picture. But her expression was remarkably cool and unrevealing. She had a good poker face. "Sleeping well?" The question threw Al. "Uh, yeah. Fine, I guess." "Zenfir been helping?" Al paused in mid-swallow. "Maybe." "I hope the holiday isn't causing you to lose sleep." Something inside of Al dropped. It was a sinking-pit feeling. He needed a really hard drink --Now. "Me and Uncle Sam've kissed and made up. Why'd you say something like that?" "The pharmacy contacted me about unauthorized refills." Al shrugged nonchalantly, setting down his tea. "So I decided to give the Zenfir another curtain-call." "Al." It was her tone. Soft. Firm. And those eyes...he was going to melt right on the spot, keeping things from her. She layed her hand on his thigh to stay him and it seemed to burn right into his flesh. *Oh, no...* Her touch. His loneliness. This couch. It was too much. He bolted up before he did anything, feeling warm all over. Verbena stood also, her face riddled with concern. "Is there anything I can do?" "Yeah," he sighed, the bitterness of regret already in his mouth. "Go on without me." Verbena placed her glass on a nearby table, smoothing her skirt. Her fingertips grazed his arm lightly. Then she was gone. He pressed the sensory pad, shutting down the den. As he passed himself in the bathroom, he did not look this time, knowing what he would see. He pushed open a door to the left of the sink, leading him to sparcely decorated room with a modest size bed and a mammoth closet. In the drawer of a simple nightstand, he found four tiny blue pills. Just in case. He rolled them around in the palm of his hand, listening to their delicate ~clink!~ in the darkness. * * * * * Sam felt like he was waiting for the Boogie Man to come. He was so wound up, that he nearly exhausted himself in anticipation. And the damned clock. He watched it warily as it ticked off the hours. 10:23 pm. So far, so good. It had been quiet. He had spoken to no one, allowing the answering machine to screen his calls. One call had been from Rachel's mother, wishing her luck on an Organic Chemistry exam (which Sam had been too keyed up to review for) and the rest of the messages were for Bassemah. All fourty-seven. He was nodding off, bundled safely at the head of the bed with a pillow tucked under his chin, when the phone jangled. It gave one more obnoxious burst before a recording clicked on: *We're too busy doing better things than answering this phone. Leave your complaint after the beep. BEEP!* "Ha! I crack myself up-" "Baseemah," Sam mumbled thickly, snuggling further into his blankets. Just calling to see what's up, making sure you're not throwing any parties--" "No parties here." "Without inviting me!" "Figures," Sam muttered. "Ha-ha! See, there I go again. Anyways, just to let you know, I'm at McBastard, doing this shitty lab and I probably won't be back until ~forever~--" Something shiny caught Sam's eye by the answering machine. He craned his neck for a closer look. Bassemah's keys. He dove out of bed for the phone, fumbling with the receiver. "Don't wait up! Later!" "Bah--" The message ended just as he blurted out her name. *Damn!* He hung up the phone, sighing. He couldn't just leave the place open until she decided to come home. That could very well be Rachel's undoing. Aggravated, he snatched on his jacket and a pair of running shoes. He glanced at the clock. He was down to the wire. * * * * * Al was on the prowl, softly stalking himself. In the bald hours of the morning, he had carefully retraced all his steps, his pauses, looking very much like a man on a mission. To the few bleary-eyed staffers, this went almost ignored, as they were accustomed to his third shift routine. The Admiral was in Thinking Mode, everyone knowing better than to accost him with a problem or meaningless conversation. But the kid...maybe he didn't. Ziggy interrupted Al's pensive sojourn to the cafeteria. "Admiral..." "What, Ziggy?" "You seem agitated." "Can't you see I'm busy?" "Not too busy for Dr. Beeks," the computer pouted sulkily. Al shot a glare upwards. "~Ziggy...~" "Perhaps I would be bothering you with an important projection I have found regarding Dr. Beckett's Leap. Of course, if you're too busy..." "Spill it." There deliberate hesistation, followed by a reluctant admission. As if she were being prodded. "Pulse Communications Technician Cary Masterson has asked me to inform you that a Christopher Isaiah Horton has just appeared in our databanks." "So?" "~So~..." Ziggy drawled. "Rachel Horton will be host of the deoxyribo nucleic acid of a male embryo in exactly...fifteen minutes and two seconds."