"Hidden Agenda" Part VII November, 2000 Moores Hill, IN Partly from the trip in general and partly because Celia's music while she drove wouldn't allow him to sleep in the car, Al was bone tired. They ended up stopping at a hotel around 9 PM (much earlier than Al'd intended, but when she started insisting, he was too exhausted to argue) and managed to get adjoining rooms for the night. Thanks to a quick stop at a department store before leaving New Freedom, Al now had at least a change of clothes and something to sleep in. He was halfway to oblivion, curled up under the covers, when someone knocked on the door. He opened his eyes and sighed deeply. The knocking resumed and he realized it wasn't the door to the hall, but the one from Celia's room. "Woman's not even going to let me sleep," he muttered and got up, yawning and running a hand through his hair. He opened the door and she looked up at him. She wore a robe pulled firmly about herself and seemed ready for bed except that she'd yet to remove her makeup. "What?" he asked. She looked surprised, as if he was the one who had woken her up. "Oh...were you asleep?" He leaned against the doorjamb. "When the lights are off under the door and there's no sounds from inside, chances are I'm asleep, yes. Either that or dead." She froze. "That's not funny." She turned and took several steps into her room. "It wasn't meant to be funny. The emotion I was going for was ‘annoyed'." She didn't reply and he rubbed his eyes and sighed again. "What did you want, Celia?" Either neither noticed he had used her first name, or neither really cared. "You didn't see anyone following us, did you?" He narrowed his eyes, now fully awake. "No. And I was paying attention to that. Why? Did you?" She shook her head and turned back to face him, her hair tumbling over her face. She didn't bother to push it back. "Did you see anyone hanging around the hotel?" "No." "Then? Are you just being paranoid?" he questioned seriously. "I guess so. I was just wondering." She bent her head, staring at a lock of hair that swayed gently before her eyes. "Don't worry about it. Get some sleep - we need to get in a full day's drive tomorrow." She pulled the robe a little more tightly about herself and tucked the loose strands behind her ear. "Right." Neither of them moved. "When are you going to tell me about it?" he asked slowly. She dropped her gaze and studied the carpet intently. "About what?" He folded his arms. "You know what." "I don't want to talk about it." She was starting to sound like a broken record. "Why not?" "Because," she said forcefully, "because...she was a friend and it was my fault." He wasn't sure how to reply to that and so he said nothing. "It's just...not anything I feel comfortable talking about." "With `someone like me'?" he inquired and she winced. "Maybe." *Just when I thought we were getting somewhere,* Al thought dryly. Still, there was no malice in her tone this time. "I see," was all he said. "I know I...owe it to you." It was Al's turn to react negatively to his words being thrown back at him. Still, one of them had to make the first move and it obviously wasn't going to be her. "Sorry about that," he offered, even though he still did feel she owed him an explanation. "It happened about a month ago," she began, sitting on the edge of the bed, still clutching the folds of her robe. He remained where he was. "It was my friend's birthday and we went out to a fancy dinner together. Afterwards we went for a walk and..." She closed her eyes and swallowed and Al moved silently into the room and sat down in the chair that lay at the midpoint between the television and the bed on which she sat. Then he waited. Finally, she seemed to breathe again. "Someone came up from behind us and grabbed her. For no reason." She shivered. "He didn't want money, he didn't want anything. She screamed and I just froze. I was so shocked, I couldn't do anything. And scared. And he just started - hitting her, over and over." Celia opened her eyes and looked at him, seeming to draw from his steadiness. "I turned away. Not to get the help that could have saved her life, but just so I wouldn't have to watch. Then when the sounds stopped, I started to run." She laughed bitterly. "How's that? I felt him grab the hem of my coat and I pulled back and started to run. Or maybe it was her and she was still alive and I'd abandoned her. I go over it and over it and I still don't know. I ran all the way home and then I looked down and saw blood on my dress. I...burned it that night, just because it made me sick. I knew I had to tell someone, but then he called me - maybe he got my number from her or her purse, I don't know, and he told me that if I told the police, he'd kill me." She looked away from him. "So I didn't and now I-" A sob clawed its way free abruptly and she stood, putting her hand to her mouth. "Excuse me, please." He stood, now, and reached for her elbow as she started to walk away. "Celia-" She jerked free, sharply. "Don't! Please, don't." She backed away several steps. "Excuse me," she said again and walked quickly to her bathroom, shutting and locking the door behind herself. Al stood alone in the dim light, beginning to realize what he'd gotten himself into, what _she'd_ gotten herself into. He waited for her to emerge, but, when ten minutes had passed by, he gave up and went to bed, figuring she probably wanted to be alone anyhow. ~~~~~~ Celia laid in bed and stared out the window at the faint stars, mostly obscured by the light of the town around her. The clock read 2 AM and she'd yet to fall asleep. *I shouldn't have told him...* It had been a moment of weakness, plus he'd just kept pressing. She'd noticed that, when he went back to bed, he'd left the door cracked between the rooms. What he'd thought that would accomplish, she wasn't sure, but she felt oddly comforted by the action. She'd been terrible to him, she knew, but that was out of necessity, for him and for her. She had to protect herself. *He's a good man.* She grinned halfheartedly in the darkness. She used to think that phrase was an oxymoron. She sat up, not even bothering to don the robe, and crept to the door, pushing it open slightly. In the faint light from the moon, she could see that he was indeed sound asleep, probably not even dreaming - he'd been exhausted. She bit her lip and pushed her way in another step, freezing when he shifted. Wondering at the sudden impulse she had to wake him, she tore her gaze away and retreated, tugging the door behind her, but still leaving it ajar. She laid back down and stared out the window for another hour before she finally made it into a sleep that didn't come close to being as restful as his. ~~~~~~ November, 2000 Stallions Gate, NM "Dr. Beeks." Unlike Al, Verbena truly only hated one part about working at Project Quantum Leap: being woken up in the dead of the night because Sam'd leaped in. The only thing worse was being woken up for a false alarm when Ziggy _thought_ Sam'd leaped in, when he hadn't, something that happened more often than Al was ever happy with. "What do you want, Ziggy?" she mumbled into her pillow, though she knew perfectly well what she wanted. "Dr. Beckett has landed." She rolled onto her back, trying to prolong the inevitable. "Are you sure?" "Dr. Beeks, I am a-" "No lectures and no snits until I've had my morning coffee. And, yes, I'm getting up." She sat up, stretched, and allowed herself another ten seconds to stare into oblivion as reward. "Any signs that he's in some kind of immediate peril?" "I have little data other than the fact that he's landed at this time." "What other little amounts of data do you have?" "Dr. Beckett's height, weight, eye color, date of birth, and quite a number of his cells," she replied smoothly. She gave the ceiling a sour look, but didn't comment. At least Ziggy wasn't starting this off by withholding any information. "How's the visitor?" "The leapee has yet to regain consciousness." She paused in the act of buttoning her blouse. "Ziggy... You _sure_ Sam's leaped in?" "Dr. Beeks..." "All right, all right..." She sighed and pulled on a pair of slacks. Ten minutes later, she was standing in the Observation Deck to the Waiting Room, watching the doctor and two nurses as they congregated around Sam Beckett's aura, trying to determine if something was wrong, or if the host just hadn't yet physically adapted to leaping. It had happened before, once or twice. "Do you have anything on Sam yet, or am I gonna have to wait for him to wake up?" she asked. "I have a location and a year." "So you have a lock?" she asked uncertainly. She wished Ziggy would spell this out for her - she wasn't a scientist. Al wasn't exactly an idiot and sometimes even he developed headaches trying to follow her logic. "Affirmative." She waited, but no more data was forthcoming. "And?" "Dr. Beckett has leaped into a young woman outside of Baltimore." Verbena waited again, then gave up. "Okay, fine, you can give me the information via the handlink when I get in there." "If that's what you prefer," Ziggy said haughtily, as if she'd insisted on it instead of being forced into it. "It'll do." She paused, glancing once more at the visitor, taking notice that they finally seemed to be getting a reaction from him - _her_. "I don't suppose we know what he's there for, yet, do we?" "Are you insinuating that I am slow in my evaluations of Dr. Beckett's objective?" She rested her hand on the knob and looked up. "Oh, no, Ziggy, I was just asking." They'd just gotten her to cooperate after her initial unrest at Al's absence - the last thing she needed to do was get her into another snit. And she still hadn't had her coffee... "I should say not," she retorted. "So...do you?" "Not at present." Verbena quite literally bit her tongue. "Well, let's go see what Sam's gotten himself into now." She opened the door. "Ziggy, when it gets a little later, call Al, or make sure I do, to let him know what's going on, will you?" "The Imaging Chamber is ready for you, Dr. Beeks." She raised an eyebrow: there were those rare moments when Ziggy could be subtle. They generally passed quickly. She made her way to the Control Room, acquired some last-minute instructions from Tina and Gooshie, and went into the chamber. Sam Beckett was dressed in a tight skirt, a low-cut blouse, and 4-inch high heels and was balanced precariously over a coffee machine. She couldn't help it: she started to laugh.