"Hidden Agenda" Part X November, 2000 Langdon, KS Al's phone was dead: that was problem number one. He'd been notified of why Sam was on his leap and, prior to last night, he'd toyed with the idea of leaving Celia behind, then coming back for her after the crisis was over, or even sending Sammy Jo to get her so they could talk. Now, he thought it might just be better to keep going forward and trust that Ziggy was being cooperative enough for Verbena to handle it. "I'm gonna sleep for a couple of hours," he informed Celia. "Wake me up at the first stop and I'll call the project." She nodded. "Okay." He touched her arm lightly. "You all right?" "I'm fine." She continued to stare straight ahead, not even sparing him a fleeting glance as she drove. He frowned. "You seem distracted." "I'm just a little anxious for this trip to be over is all," she replied, flashing an unconvincing grin. He nodded, settling back against the pillow. "Just relax." "Right." ~~~~~~ April, 1995 Hancock, MD Sam groaned softly as he slowly arose into consciousness. It was dark - that was all he knew. It was dark and he hurt all over. "Al?" he whispered into the silence. His only reply was a slight creaking noise and the subtle tapping of wood against wood. He moved and a musty smell filled his nostrils, choking him. When he coughed, pain lanced up his right arm and his ribs felt as if they were about to collapse in on him. And he couldn't remember a thing. "Al?" he tried again, fighting back fear. Suddenly, the bright light of the Imaging Chamber Door blinded him and Verbena stepped through. "Sam, thank goodness! We'd feared after he threw you down the stairs that that was it." "What...?" Sam murmured, trying to move towards the flashing lights of the handlink. "No, no, Sam. Just relax. You've got several cracked ribs and internal bleeding and you just need to keep still and quiet. Ziggy and the whole staff, we're working hard to get you out of this, okay?" Sam eased back against the rough surface behind him. "What happened?" "Someone grabbed you outside Gina's house. The record shows that you still called in sick this morning, so he must have arranged that somehow." "Who?" he breathed, feeling more discomfort as he became clearer on what was going on. "We're still working on that, but we'll figure it out. All you have to do is take it easy, okay?" "Verbena...where's Al?" "He's on his way," she reassured him, praying it was true. They hadn't been able to get hold of Al since Sam'd been kidnapped. Sam felt a panic well up inside of him, but he pushed it back. The effort that simple act took surprised him and he wished, more than ever, that Al was there. He and Verbena had always been close, but there was some comfort factor that came with Al's presence that he found himself craving. "Tell him...to hurry..." ~~~~~~ November, 2000 Ashland, KS Celia's hands tightened on the steering wheel, then she glanced towards Al, who was still sleeping peacefully against the small traveling pillow she'd brought. She felt a pang of guilt, but this was her chance: she couldn't miss it, not again. She bit her lip, and took the next exit. An hour or two after her decision, the warm sun through the streaked glass reached Al and the sound of a car door closing woke him up. The first thing he was aware of was the silence: no engines, no sounds of the tires connecting with the pavement at 70 miles per hour, no wind rushing over the body of the car. He opened his eyes and glanced about in confusion, noting immediately that they were not at a gas station. He looked out his window to see Celia walking away from him down a walkway and he opened the door quickly, trying to process what was going on. A house loomed in front of them and then, before his eyes, a little girl burst out, yelling at the top of her lungs. "Mommy!" she cried, blonde hair streaming out behind her as she ran full tilt towards Celia. Celia fell to her knees on the pavement and took her into her arms, crying. Al stood behind them, awe plain on his face. She was a little older - two years older, it would be - but she was still as adorable as she had been in 1998 when she'd pleaded with him to spend the night in her room. She couldn't have been upset, then, that her mother was dead, but that she'd had to leave - to leave her behind. Al remembered Bernadette's immediate worry and instant denial when he'd asked her if anyone might want to hurt Tabitha: someone probably did. David. And if it hadn't been for Sam, Al wondered if he almost had. Al understood - Celia had sent Tabitha away for her own safety and David had probably left Hardesty thinking her dead. Al remembered how he could hear Sam shouting when he'd centered back on Tabitha, thought how that may have scared David away sooner than he'd intended to leave. Bernadette stepped out of the house and Celia released her daughter and moved to her location, emotion plain on her face, and embraced her. Tabitha was still clinging to her mother, but then she glanced up and caught Al's eye where he stood by the open car door, and she hesitated, as if she knew she knew him, but couldn't quite place it. Then she let out an excited squeal and ran towards him, stopping a foot away, puzzlement on her face; she knew she couldn't touch him, but she obviously couldn't remember why. He grinned at the reminder and put out a hand to touch her head. "Hey, sweetheart," he greeted her affectionately, then bent down and hugged her warmly. "Oh, you feel so good," he laughed, holding her for all she was worth. He looked up to see Celia eyeing him with a mixture of suspicion and amazement: as far as she knew, her daughter had always been shy around strangers. "Mommy - it's Al!" Tabitha cried, pulling back and smiling broadly at her mother. "I see that," Celia said tightly. "Why don't you go in with Bernadette and I'll be in in just a minute." "K." She waved to Al and took Bernadette's hand. "What the hell is going on here?" she demanded. He closed the door and met her halfway towards the house. "Another lie," he stated. "I had to protect my daughter," she said defensively, calm and confident for the first time in a long time. "I know you did. David thought she was dead, didn't he?" Al questioned. He'd just known there was something wrong with that leap. "He almost did kill her," Celia informed him sadly. "I even came down alone for the `funeral' - it helped me have an excuse to come down every now and then to see her without him suspecting. A couple years back, Bernadette found her half drowned in a creek. She'd later said that David had hit her and then pushed her in, but two men helped her and..." She stopped as she read his expression and what she was saying hit. "Oh, no... That can't be it." Al rested his hands on her shoulders. "Sam's last leap was into Bernadette. The first time you called, we were in the middle of it. When you told me you could retrieve Sam, that's when she almost died, why I took so long to call back. I appear to Sam as a hologram and kids and animals can see me. Tabitha saw me. Bernadette told us that her mother was dead, though." "That's the official story. David suspected this was where I'd sent her - I guess it was pretty obvious, especially seeing as Bernie raised me when my mother died." "Then how are you related?" He didn't ask about her father; Ziggy had said they apparently weren't on speaking terms and he wondered if it was because of neglect or abuse. Or both. "She's family, but not by blood." Celia stared down and past Al. "I got scared for Tabby and sent her down here. When David found out I'd taken her away from him, he got really angry. I didn't think I'd be able to hold out, because that anger just never seemed to abate, but then I'd picture her face and...I found the strength." Al tilted her chin up. "That was very risky - but very brave. He could have killed you." "He wouldn't kill me," she stated with a bitter certainty that surprised him, "but she's my child. I couldn't let him hurt her." Al gazed at her firm determination for a moment, then leaned forward and kissed her gently, giving her the opportunity to pull away if she wanted to. She stepped closer, hesitantly, allowing his arms to close around her, and winding her arms around his neck, but she was the first to pull back, in the end. She opened her eyes slowly, a little startled by the intensity of his gaze. "You're not going to apologize for that one?" she asked softly. "Do you want me to?" She swallowed hard. "No." He smiled slightly and kissed her once more, briefly, before releasing her. "I bought plane tickets from here to Santa Fe," she told him. "I had to use a credit card - I think that's how he found us that morning." "So you do fly," he stated, unsurprised. "Yes. But if we flew, I couldn't stop to get her." He squinted at her. "When are you going to learn to be honest with me? When are you going to learn that not everyone is like him?" She dropped her gaze, ashamed of having misjudged him yet again. "I'm sorry." "There's more, isn't there?" he asked her. She pulled further back. "Yes. I only got one plane ticket. Because-" "You don't know how to bring Sam back," Al finished for her. Her eyes widened. "You knew?" "I suspected. You may have researched Project Quantum Leap extensively, but every little detail I dropped along the way seemed to be news to you. How could you possibly know how to create the intricacies of a retrieval program from bits and pieces when some of the brilliant minds we've got who work around it every day couldn't do it?" She exhaled heavily. "What I don't understand is - why me?" "I have a friend who works on Quantum Leap." "Who?" "Someone who works in the retrieval department. She called me one day, asking me about some concepts as it related to Dr. Beckett's work. I think she had an idea she was running with and she wanted someone to bounce it off of first. She didn't know how much I already knew...about Dr. Beckett. And about you. Oh, Al, I'm sorry... I know how much - I mean, it's obvious that you really care for him." "Oh, shoot - Sam!" he exclaimed suddenly. "Celia, I really need to call the project. And I think you should get three more tickets - it's not safe for you here." He considered her. "On second thought, maybe I'd better get them." "Good point. Your flight leaves in three hours." He kissed her cheek and then walked her into the house, heading straight for the first phone. Ziggy transferred him immediately to Verbena. "Al! Thank goodness - how far away are you?" He tensed at the anxiety in her voice. "I'll be in this afternoon. What's wrong?" "It's Sam - he's not doing so well." Celia moved to Al's elbow, alarmed by the lack of color in his face. "What happened?" he asked. "He's been kidnapped," she explained, covering the details of Sam's injuries and Ziggy's findings. "Every scenario we run doesn't seem to come out so well. He's in the middle of nowhere, so there's no-one to go for help for him, and if this guy comes back, he'll never make it." *Oh, no...not Sam...* "I'll be there soon, okay? Just tell him I'm coming and to hang on - don't let him die, Verbena!" "Just hurry. We don't even know what kind of good you can do once you get here." "I'll figure it out as I go. I'll be there no later than-" he glanced at his watch "-1700. Just tell him to hold on until then." "Okay." Al hung up and closed his eyes, feeling helpless. "What's wrong?" Celia asked gently, touching his arm. "Sam's been hurt - they're not sure if he's gonna make it." "Oh, God, this is all my fault," she lamented and he opened his eyes to look at her. "We don't know that anything would've been different had I been there. Go get your stuff together, and have Tabitha and Bernadette do the same. I'll get the tickets." She nodded and turned to go, calling for her daughter as she went. Al called the airline and got three more seats, then went to get Celia. He knocked on her closed door and she opened it slightly. "Let's get going," he said tightly. All he could think about was Sam. She swallowed. "Either way, we're going to be waiting at least an hour - here, or at the airport, it doesn't really-" "Celia, I don't want to risk missing the flight - come on! Is Tabitha in there?" "She's asleep on the bed." Al laid his left hand flat against the door, pushing slightly. "I'll carry her." "No. I think we should just let her be," Celia countered, holding the door steady. Al's concern for Sam flashed in his eyes and twisted his stomach and he fought back anger. "What the hell is..." Her hand tensed against the dark wood and he let the words trail off. "Al, I really think you should just leave us alone." *Oh, no, not now! Not when Sam needs me!* He touched her hand lightly. "I think you're right. I'm leaving." A tear slipped free before she could stop it. "That's a good idea," she said and now there was no mistaking the fear in her voice. She wiped it away discreetly and shut the door again. The low sounds of talking reached Al and he went off in search of _something_ he could use as a weapon. He didn't intend to lose this time; there was a debt to be settled.