"Rebirth" Part XI January, 2003 Stallion Springs, NM Al awoke to frantic knocking on the door. He'd been working on the rosters for the better part of the day and he'd told Sam to come by, but whoever was at the door seemed ready to break it down. He sat up in bed, tense and anxious. Then, he forced himself to relax, reminding himself that this wasn't a battle zone, this was...a situation. He grimaced. He turned to his left and saw Beth's picture on the table and the tight knot in his stomach loosened somewhat. The banging resumed with renewed intensity and he heard Sam's voice calling urgently through the thick wooden door. "Al? Al, are you in there?! It's me - open up!" He swung his legs over the side of the mattress and padded to the door, loosening the bolt and tugging it open. "Sam, relax, willya?" he complained, stifling a yawn and forgetting his earlier anxiety. "You have to leave." Sam pushed his way in and shoved the door closed behind him. He wasn't hysterical, but there was a definite edge to his voice. Al put his hands on Sam's shoulders. "Sam. Sam, listen to me. Calm down." "Weitzman's here," Sam said clearly. "Al, he's gunning for you." Al sighed faintly and removed his hands, turning to hunt down his shoes. "He's always gunning for me." "With live ammo?" Sam demanded. "He knows you're here." "That does make it more difficult," Al admitted, bending to tie his laces. "He threatened to cause a lot of trouble if you come back to the complex." "Trouble as in how?" He stood and started sifting easily through the papers on the table. "He didn't say, exactly, but he was serious." Al kept focusing on the forms and printouts. "Sam, if you're standing there worrying about cold-blooded murder, don't. It's not his style." "Maybe not, but if you give him cause-" "Even then..." Al's eyes lit on what he was looking for and he reached for it. "Here." He handed a profile to Sam. "You remember him?" Sam looked at the page. "Lt. Collins? Sure I do." "He was on Project Quantum Leap," Al informed him anyway, leaning against the table and folding his arms. "A good man. He's married, got a couple of little ones." "And?" "And he's the commanding officer on the graveyard shift." "So you want to involve him?" "I don't think he'd object. He knew more about Quantum Leap than his clearance actually allowed, but I trusted him." Sam's eyes flicked over the bio. "And you want to tell him about what's going on here, don't you?" "Bingo." "What about you?" Sam asked, looking up. "What about me?" Al cocked his head to one side. "I don't think you should do this." "You're gonna have a lot more trouble sneaking Elane in - we established that already." "I don't mean that," Sam said, dropping the paper to his side. "I mean...maybe Lt. Collins can observe. With the improvements, it's a lot easier to hook up-" "No." His tone booked no argument, but Sam protested anyway. "Al..." "Sam, no." Al could be stubborn, for sure, but Sam really didn't expect to encounter this much resistance from him. "It's not a good idea to tempt this one. I really don't think you should go." "I don't care." Al faced Sam head on. "You need someone to observe and I'm that someone. After this is over, we're gonna torch that place and forget it ever existed." If they hadn't been in Al's room, Sam was sure he would have stormed out. As it was, he just stood silently, nailing Sam with an intense look. "There's no way I can change your mind." It wasn't really a question, but Al answered anyway. "No." Sam shifted his weight. "Okay. Boyd's coming down Friday and I hope to have the retrieval program done by then. We've got testing all weekend, so anything we do, we're gonna have to do when he's not at the project." A satisfied look crossed Al's face. "Good." Sam turned to go, but Al put out a hand to stop him. "Wait. There was another reason I asked you to come by tonight." Al slipped one hand into his pocket, feeling the weight there. Sam turned back. "What?" "I wanted to give you something." Sam looked expectantly at him and Al took the small object out of his pocket and handed it to him. Sam accepted it and opened the small jewelry case to see a diamond ring. "Aw, Al," he cooed, "are you asking me to marry you? I'm not sure my parents would approve..." He rolled his eyes. "Knucklehead," he muttered, then broke into a reluctant grin. "Look again." Sam glanced back down at the stone and Al saw realization flit across his features. "It's Donna's," he whispered, pulling it out of its nest and sitting hard on the mattress behind him. Al felt suddenly uncomfortable. "Yeah, she...she couldn't really take it with her and so she gave it to me. Told me, `Sooner or later, one of us'll be back. You can give it to whoever does.'" He shrugged. "I figured you'd want it." "Thanks, Al." "Who knows?" Al said lightly, waving one hand in the air, "maybe you'll want to use it again someday." "Maybe. But I don't know if I could." Sam finally looked up, his eyes bright. "Yeah, I understand, kid." "But, thank you. It means a lot to have this." Al cleared his throat. "Well, good, then. I guess I'll see you in two days, at the complex." Sam slipped the ring back in the case. "Oh, I was gonna come by tomorrow to-" "It's not a good idea, Sam," Al interrupted. "I didn't drive. I took a taxi," Sam protested. "It's still not a good idea." Sam was clearly disappointed. "If you're sure..." Sam alternately felt there was no way to hide and that Congress was in no sense tracking them at all. It was hard to know where the balance between paranoia and carelessness lay. "You said Weitzman's in town," Al explained. "If he knows where I am, it's going to be that much harder to get my foot in the front door." "You're right. I'll see you in two days, then." Sam stood and Al patted him on the shoulder. "It'll be okay, Sam. You'll see. We make an unbeatable team." ~~~~~~ It was Friday night and Sam was already becoming anxious and he still had 24 hours to get through. Worry was starting to eat a hole through his stomach lining. He grimaced and rolled over onto his side. Lying in bed was a futile exercise, he knew. No way was he going to sleep. It was almost a relief when the phone rang. He reached over and picked it up without moving anything more than his arm. "Yeah?" "Sam?" It was Elane and she sounded worried. She could join the club, he thought. "Where's Al?" He squinted in the darkness. "What do you mean?" "He's not at the hotel." Had he been standing, Sam would have shrugged. After how worked up he'd gotten himself earlier about Weitzman, he was determined not to read too much into anything. "He's probably just in town running errands." "No, you don't understand. He's checked out." Sam now felt he had legitimate reason to panic. He sat up and started dressing. "When?" "Last night." She paused. "You didn't know anything about this, either? Oh, Sam, what if something happened?" "Al can take care of himself," he said, trying to reassure them both at the same time. "You don't think he got into any trouble, do you?" "He's too careful for that." Sam pulled on his shoes, still uncertain of where he was going to go. Had it been the other history, before Al had a family, he would have just assumed he was out with some woman. But this was _not_ the other history, and something was definitely off kilter. Elane let a full minute pass by. "Sam, tell me I'm overreacting." "You'd have to do the same for me. Listen, I'm gonna have to call you back. I have to run an errand." "Where are you going?" she demanded, the tension rising several notches. "To see Weitzman." ~~~~~~ January, 2003 Northfield, MN It was hard to see, but he knew his way, even in pitch black. The sun had gone down hours ago and a light snow cleared away the light coating of fog on the grass, catching the moonlight and covering his jacket with a light layer of white. It was almost eerie. Al walked until he found his destination, then knelt down in the damp soil, ignoring the chill as the snow dampened his slacks. One hand touched her headstone hesitantly, the other clutched a flower. "Hi, honey," he said quietly, laying the calla lily at his feet. Flakes fell on the petal, falling over into the grass. "I know this is an odd time to come out and see you, but I didn't have much time." He took a deep breath. "And I had some things to say to you." He chuckled quietly. "I finally read your letter. I know it took me a long time, but... Thank you for everything you said. I wanted to tell you this for so long, but...I couldn't. I blamed myself for a long time for everything and I always wanted to apologize, but I could never figure out...how. So..." He closed his eyes. "I'm so sorry for everything I put you through. All those times I should have been focused on you, but I wasn't. If it had been anyone else...it wouldn't have worked, but, somehow, you always made it work. Oh, Beth...I miss you so much. I just..." He braced himself on the headstone and tried to control the trembling. Several drops of water washed the snow off the delicate curve of the flower. "I love you, honey, and - if I'd only listened..." He broke off, unable to speak, and all around him the snow began to fall harder. ~~~~~~ January, 2003 Stallions Gate, NM Weitzman had alluded to poker, but the whole thing felt more like an elaborate game of chess to Sam, and, whatever the senator's strategy was, Sam couldn't even conceive of it. He tried all night and the following day to get hold of him, but he wouldn't take any calls or visitors. So Sam left messages: boatloads of them. Weitzman had stayed in Santa Fe and was planning to, he said, until Boyd arrived, and now Al was missing and he wouldn't take any calls from the director. It was more than suspicious - it was incriminating. All of Saturday rolled by with agonizing sluggishness as Sam and Elane bounced ideas off each other and they finally decided they were out of options: they would have to do this without Al. It was hard to say, then, whose face held greater amazement when Sam and Elane pulled into the project parking lot to see Lt. Collins talking with Al Calavicci. Sam threw open the car door and ran to the duo. Al turned to say something, but whatever it was was cut off as Sam reached him and hugged him tightly. Al glanced at Elane for an explanation, a baffled look on his face. Instead, she just grasped Al's hand and cried, "Where _were_ you? We were worried sick!" Al untangled himself from Sam's grip and looked sternly at him. "You came by after I asked you not to?" he demanded. "No, Elane did. Al, what on earth happened?" "Nothing. I had something to take care of in Northfield." Sam gaped. "You flew to Minnesota?!" Al shrugged. "I had a day to spare. Plus I'd hoped Weitzman would think I'd left for good." "What could you possibly have had to do?" Elane protested. He looked solemnly at her. "I had to visit Beth's grave. I've had some things that have waited a long time to be said." "Your wife," she murmured in understanding. He had yet to speak of her to anyone but Sam. He shrugged uncomfortably. "Are we ready to get this show on the road?" Elane kissed Sam briefly. "Be careful," she cautioned. Then she kissed Al on the cheek, adding, "Both of you." "I'll take care of him, honey. Don't you worry. Come on, Romeo," Al muttered, winking at her as he grabbed Sam's arm, and nodding to Lt. Collins at the same time, "let's do this." [Almost there...then we can actually try something lighthearted.