"Rebirth" Part III June, 2002 Northfield, MN Al paced restlessly, waiting for the phone to ring. He couldn't seem to concentrate on anything but that. As he moved about the small sitting area, he turned the scene over and over in his mind. He'd just looked at him - sitting there having dinner, very much alive. And Al began an extensive internal debate that left him feeling slightly schizophrenic. *That wasn't him. It couldn't possibly have been.* *It was and you know it.* *He's dead. He's...* Had he leaped into Al's time? That could just be the explanation he was craving. He'd been leaping as himself when they last heard from him: first in Cokeburg in `53, then San Diego in `69... Now Minneapolis in 2002? Why on earth had he left without at least going to see? What was so good in his existence now that he couldn't bear to see shattered? He sat on the couch and stood up three seconds later. The doorbell sounded. Al had been so anticipating the phone that he was momentarily startled by the new development and stood motionless for an instant, "what ifs" still clouding his thoughts. He advanced slowly to the front door and opened it and now there could be no mistake. All mental arguments were silenced, all indecision laid to rest. Sam Beckett stood on the other side of the glass door, alive, well, and starting at Al's face. His expression was one of startled amazement and both men just froze. Finally, a shaky utterance escaped Al's lips. "Oh, God...it is you." A kind of relief shone brightly in Sam's eyes and he motioned to Al's luggage on either side of him. "You left these at the airport and your address was on them, so..." Breaking himself from his trance, Al pushed the door open and Sam walked in, dropping the luggage just inside. "How..." he whispered. Sam shook his head mutely, tears pooling in his eyes. "I've missed you, Al," he said, a nervous laugh punctuating his words. "You have no idea..." "Sam," Al breathed in disbelief and, at that instant, whatever wall was keeping them at a stiff distance dissolved and each was clinging tightly to the other and it felt as if every prayer had been answered. So, so long they had both wanted this. "Sam," Al choked, holding his friend at arm's length. "I'm sorry I left at the airport. I thought...there was just no way..." Sam just shook his head and stared for several minutes, repeating Al's name, making up for the time when he hadn't been able to say it. Al still couldn't believe the development and he kept watching Sam's face, as if expecting it to dissolve into that of a stranger at any instant. "You're not...I mean, you're home, right?" he asked after the tearful part of the reunion had passed. Sam looked reluctant to answer. "Maybe I'd better tackle that one from the beginning." Al grasped his arm firmly, afraid to let him out of his sight, and pulled him more completely inside. "Tell me." But Sam changed the subject, sitting in the exact spot Verbena had occupied two weeks before. "This is your house?" Sharp guilt stabbed at Al's conscience. "Beth and I moved here after...Quantum Leap went under. Sam, I am so sorry." Again, the scientist changed the subject Al was trying to impose. "Do you know what I did? I mean, after Cokeburg?" he asked cautiously. "It was the greatest gift anyone could have ever given me," Al replied without hesitation. "I could never thank you enough, Sam. We have four daughters and two - soon to be three - grandchildren." Sam grinned broadly. "No kidding." Al's face sobered. "Sam, I tried to keep the project open. We all did, but when month two rolled around and we still hadn't found you, they pulled the plug. There was nothing I could do." Sam stood up and stared out at the lake. "Al, I really...I didn't expect to see you at the airport. I was there with a colleague of mine - she and I were supposed to fly back to D.C., but she went back without me." Al remained seated, staring at Sam's back. "I don't understand." Still facing away from the couch, Sam began his narrative. "When I leaped into Cokeburg, that started me leaping as myself. Then I leaped into San Diego to right that enormous wrong, and then I started leaping into other places, like before, but still as myself. And then...I leaped home." He paused, but Al was silent. "I don't remember much of that first week, but Weitzman said I had to be hospitalized. When things started to become clearer, he told me he wanted me on a new project. It's...based on Quantum Leap, but more complex." "_More_ complex?" Al echoed in amazement, trying to lighten the conversation, but Sam remained solemn and subdued. "What is it?" "I can't say. But the committee made one thing very clear." He stopped again, longer this time. "They...were willing to provide funding, but they didn't want you on the project." That caught Al's complete attention and he folded his hands in his lap to keep them still. Something felt very wrong about what Sam was telling him. "So...I agreed," Sam continued miserably. "And we're about halfway done with the project." "Already?" "Well, we've - we've been working on it for a year and a half now." Suddenly things were beginning to make sense with repulsive clarity. "Sam, when did you leap home?" "When they closed down Project Quantum Leap." The reaction hung dead in the air and Sam started talking again, hastily, trying to fill up the silence. "It's really something, isn't it? All those years trying to keep the money flowing and trying to get me home, and all we had to do was give up on one to get the other." The flood of words stopped abruptly. Al was stunned and, once he recovered from that, betrayal quickly took its place. "Al...I'm sorry. They thought it'd be best if-" "They thought," Al murmured and Sam turned. Al stared at the floor. "You've been back almost two years," he stated in amazement. "I can't believe it...all those trips to D.C..." He shook his head, trying to process everything. "All for nothing. And...oh, Beth - I must have looked like an idiot: pleading for money to save a man who didn't even need rescuing." "The committee kept me abreast of all your actions," Sam said simply, sorrowfully. "It always meant so much that you fought so hard." Al didn't even hear. "I can't believe you did this," he was saying, walking around the room now. "I can't believe you let them lie to me for all that time!" His voice began steadily to rise, both in pitch and volume. Sam didn't try to subdue him or defend himself. "Do you know what those years cost me?" He collapsed back onto his seat and buried his face in his hands. "Beth, I'm sorry," he gasped out. "I'm sorry..." Sam stared at him, confused. "What happened?" "She's gone." "What?" Al raised his head, a few stray tears slipping down his face. "She's dead, Sam. She died six months ago." "Oh, Al..." Sam seemed to exude sympathy. "How?" "How could you?" Al demanded, ignoring Sam's inquiry. "You were my friend; how could you?" Sam was still reeling from the news about Beth. How could he not have heard about it. "Al, I'm sorry. I made a mistake." He sat down on the couch and watched Al's face. Al could feel control beginning to return, but anger and hurt came with it. "Do you want to tell me what happened to her?" The invitation was soft and compelling and two years ago it would have prompted Al to pour out the entire story. But, now, in the face of Sam's unforgivable act, he closed up completely. "No. I want you to get out of my house." Sam looked genuinely startled. "Wha-what?" Al stood up and opened the front door. "I mean it - get out. Go back to D.C. and work on your project." "Al..." "You'll go now," Al stated with sudden calm, "or I'm calling the police." He was serious and Sam knew it. "I can't believe you could do that to me, just because of the reasons you gave." He stood up and walked slowly towards where his longtime partner and friend stood. "I am sorry, Al," he whispered. "You'll never know how much." Then he left the house. Al closed and locked the door, then leaned against it, shaking. Two years - wasted. All the times he'd hurt Beth because something inside him wouldn't allow him to give up, it had all been for nothing. The thought that Sam could have ever done anything like this - it was just inconceivable and, slowly, Al began to accept the fact that there was more going on than he was aware of. The reasons Sam had offered were flimsy and didn't make any sense. The phone rang, startling Al from his thoughts, and he crossed the room slowly, his mind reeling. The full impact of what he'd done when he closed the door on Sam still hadn't really set in. "What?" "Al? Are you all right?" "Verbena..." Never had he felt so grateful to hear her voice. He fell onto the nearby stool, still trembling uncontrollably. "No...not really." "My secretary said you called earlier, very upset. I only just got the message. What's wrong?" A sudden thought struck him. "Did you know?" he demanded. There was a short pause as she tried to assess where this sudden aggression had come from and why it was directed at her. "Did I know what?" Had everyone been informed of the truth but him? "About Sam. Did you know?" "Al...I have no clue what you're talking about," she said patiently. "What about Sam?" "That he's alive. That he's home. That he's _been_ home ever since PQL shut down! Did you know?!" The silence was longer this time. "Sam's home?" she asked in such a tone of amazement that he was certain she'd been as ignorant of the whole thing as him. "Al, why do you say that?" "He just told me. He just left." More hesitation. "I... No, I didn't know!" Then the situation seemed to come into focus. "My God, he was home and he didn't even tell you?" A sick feeling crawled through his stomach. "`Bena, I've got to go; I'm really not feeling well." There was no mistaking the concern in her voice. "Al, you can't hang up until I know you're going to be okay." "I...don't know. I don't know if I can promise that." "Do you want to talk?" "No..." "Do you want me to drive over?" she asked without hesitation. His eyes widened. "It's a six hour drive!" "I know. Do you want me to?" "No, I - I just need time to think." It was all hitting too fast and too hard. "Okay, but call me tomorrow and let me know. Promise." He almost smiled. "I promise." "Good. And, Al? Just remember: whatever he may or may not have done, Sam cares about you. He wouldn't do anything to intentionally hurt you; you know that." He took a deep breath that shook his whole body. "Yeah. `Nite." All that had transpired had led to one conclusion: Sam had to be in trouble.