"Rebirth" Part V June, 2002 Washington D.C. "Mind if I join you?" Al glanced up to see the woman he had seen Sam with in the airport. She smiled sweetly at him from beside the table he was having lunch at. He stood. "Please." In spite of the fact that she'd signed his papers to join up, it was the first time he'd spoken with her. "I'm Elane Prescott," she said, offering her hand. He kissed it. "I figured that." She sat down across from him, blushing slightly. Then her eyes widened. "I've seen you before - in the airport." He winced, reclaiming his seat. "Yeah, that's me." She didn't ask what had happened, to her credit. "So you know Sam - Doctor Beckett?" "You could say that. We worked together on Project Quantum Leap. Didn't you see that in my dossier?" She leaned forward and folded her arms, resting them on the table. "No. Weitzman probably removed it." *That man's got a hand in everything that goes on here,* Al thought dryly, filing the information away. *He's got way too much control.* "So why have me approve this, not him?" she asked. "Can I ask you something?" he said, avoiding her question. She nodded and he grinned slightly, appreciating her open nature and frank assessment of everything. "Sure." "You and Doctor Beckett are partners, right?" "That's right, yes." When he hesitated, reluctant to get into a heated debate when they'd just met, she merely studied him with sparkling eyes and said, "What's on your mind, Admiral?" "Oh, I'm not in the Navy anymore. Besides, I'd feel more comfortable if you'd just use my first name." The smile widened slightly. "Only if you call me Elane." He nodded. "If you're helping head up this project, surely you know what a dangerous and serious mistake it is." Her expression remained neutral. "In what way?" "Well...going into the future... I mean, do you really trust anyone with that kind of power?" She held out a hand. "Now, wait a minute, Al. What if we do this and they've found answers to diseases or ways to-" "What if they know who'll win elections or where the money is going to go? What they could do...and what it would do to that future..." He sighed deeply. "It's a mistake," he said firmly. "Not if it's handled correctly," she challenged. "Sam went into the past and changed things." "But that was never our intention. We didn't go into it intending to change anything!" "But you did," she emphasized, her hair swinging over her shoulders as she gestured, "and it was done correctly." Al groaned and leaned back in frustration. "You don't get it, either. You and Sam both - geniuses blinded by enthusiasm." "Who said I was a genius?" she asked with self-assured calm. "Just a feeling." She raised an elegant eyebrow. "Your wife doesn't mind you coming on to other women?" She laughed lightly to show she was kidding, but he felt the color drain from his face. "I'm not married." She glanced down to where his hands rested on the tabletop and he moved his right hand over his left and the wedding ring he still wore. "Oh," was all she said. "Look, Elane, I'm sure you don't mean any harm by what you're attempting, and I know Sam doesn't, but that's what's going to happen. And it's a wrong that may never be reversed." "If you believe that so adamantly, why are you here?" He didn't even pause to consider the question, but, in the following weeks, it would haunt him. "I have my reasons." ~~~~~~ July, 2002 Washington D.C. The next month went by in tense sluggishness. Al spent hours behind his desk working and, when he wasn't balancing their substantial budget or figuring estimated needs, he was writing lengthy letters to Congress, detailed reports about how the project shouldn't be allowed to continue. Not for one minute did he see his actions as a conflict of interest. He was fulfilling both what his job description and his conscience demanded. Any necessary contact with Sam seemed to occur either through the computer or via memos that traveled with alarming frequency back and forth. The work also gave Al the opportunity to immerse himself and forget about the outside world for a while. It was a numbing, effective anesthetic, though not a healthy one. Inside of him, the hurt was still buried. Al was working after hours on his latest report when he heard a knock on his office door. "Yeah, what?" he asked impatiently. The door opened and a very solemn Sam Beckett walked through. "We have to talk," he said firmly. Al bit back a harsh reply. There was no point in rekindling old arguments, especially when they were both so adamant in their respective positions. "Have a seat," he said instead, but Sam stood behind his desk and slapped a stack of papers in front of him. "I just got this enormous fax from Weitzman." All he had to do was glance at the top page to know it was a copy of his latest in the series of volleys in protest. "He sold me out, huh?" "Why are you trying to sabotage me?" he demanded. Al remained passive. "You know why." "Yeah, I know you disapprove, but you work for me, now." Al sighed deeply, remembering a time when he'd worked with Sam, not for him. The brief flash in Sam's eyes told Al that he hadn't intended the words to actually leave his mouth. "I told you, someone's got to keep an eye on what's going on. If neither you nor Elane can see it, then I'll do it. Besides, you'll need someone to observe." "You know, Al, you're not the only one who's had it rough the last couple of years. I come home to find that my wife is dead and I can't communicate with my best friend." Sam took an unsteady breath. "Somehow, with those two simple acts, the committee's got more leverage over me than ever before. God, Al, don't you think I _wanted_ to tell you? You don't understand what's going on here." Al started to speak, but Sam sank heavily into the chair. "So many times, I just thought ‘screw the committee' - so many times, I couldn't remember exactly why I agreed to their terms, how I let everything get so out of hand. I just - I just don't understand why you're here." "I wish you could. It'd make things easier." The expression on Sam's face was tormented and Al felt a brief flash of regret. "Look...I know I did a terrible thing to you and I can't change it, not now, but I don't know what else to do. I've tried, you've got to believe that - God knows I've tried!" Sam leaned forward. "Al, I'm sorry. I'm sorry! And I can't go on like this." It was a fight to maintain a stoic expression. "But at the same time, you're going to continue here." "Yes." "Why?" "Because...because it's a new frontier, because it's never been done, because-" "There are good reasons not to do it, too," Al pointed out. "Not good enough." Elane's words came back again, ringing in his ears as if she'd just spoken them. Al didn't realize yet that the reason he was there was something he had yet to admit to himself. There was a part of both men that would do anything to prevent the death of their friendship - it just wasn't strong enough to push past the betrayal. Not yet. "I'm not sure we have anything more to discuss." Sam dropped his gaze. "I guess not." As he left the room, Al came to an abrupt decision. He picked up the phone and dialed. It rang twice before anyone answered. "Hello?" "Hey, Marina, it's me," Al said calmly. "Dad, I've been trying to get hold of you, but you're never home and the machine hasn't been picking up." He leaned back. "Yeah, well I've been out of town. Listen, I've been thinking a lot about what you said to me when I came up..." He paused, but she was silent. "And I think it's time I come up there. There's really nothing left for me here now. Besides, I'd like to be there when Elizabeth is born," he said with a smile. "You're welcome to come up any time." As he spoke, he called up a new file on the screen. "Well, I've got to put the house on the market and tie up some loose ends, but I'll shoot for, say, three months." "That'd be perfect," she said enthusiastically. "I'll give you a call this weekend," he assured her. As soon as the conversation ended, he started typing his resignation, aware of how pleased Weitzman would be with the latest development, but unaware that Sam had heard the conversation from outside his door. ~~~~~~ July, 2002 Northfield, MN Al washed another plate and smiled knowingly. "I'm not packing, Verbena, that's what movers are for." She dried the dish as he handed it to her and glanced around the living room. "Then how come it looks like a warehouse in here?" Order and care and memories had been reduced to a barricade of cardboard boxes, all sealed tightly, like the wall Al had erected around himself. "That's all the stuff I'm getting rid of." She dried the last cup and wandered over to the boxes as he wiped down the counters. "What are these?" she asked, picking up the stack of letters Marina had given him. They were resting atop a sealed box. He looked up, then crossed the room to take them from her. "Nothing." He laid them back down, feeling so much more the coward for not having read them yet. Someone rang the bell and he nodded to Verbena. "Get that, willya?" "When are you planning to leave?" she asked as she walked away. "Depends on when I get the house sold. I'll try and get rid of a lot of this stuff first, though. Give it to charity or something." "Uh-huh." She opened the door and he heard her gasp all the way in the kitchen. "Sam!" *That kid doesn't give up, does he?* Al dried his hands and moved into view to see them embracing. He stood silently, watching until Sam pulled back and looked over her shoulder at him. "Verbena, I know we have a lot to talk about," he said sedately, "but can you give us a few minutes?" She glanced at Al, who gave her no clue as to what he wanted her to do. She smiled slightly. "I have to be getting back, anyhow. Here's my number, Sam," she added, handing him a card. "Don't let another two years go by, anyway." "Sure, I'm sorry," he added, kissing her on the cheek. She left and Al held back a sigh, folding his arms and tilting his chin up. "Sam...I have a lot of work to do." "You quit." Sam said the words as if he couldn't believe such a thing could happen. He was frozen inside of the doorway, aware of just how unwelcome he was, of how unwelcome he'd been when he last left this place. "Yeah," he said defiantly, "I quit. I'm entitled to do that." "Why?" Sam challenged, advancing several steps into the room, pushing both Al and himself with the movement. "You never quit anything!" "I quit trying to get you back." "After 1 1/2 years!" he argued. "You've been on the project, what, a month?" Al shrugged. "I'm tired." Sam made a sound of disgust. "What kind of reason is that?" "A damn good one, that's what. I'm _tired_, Sam. I'm tired of fighting in wars I can never win, I'm tired of being around people I can't care about, I'm tired of seeing your face and being reminded of what I lost, I'm just - I've reached the end of my stamina." Al waved one hand through the air. "You said I fought for a year and a half and you're right, I did. But that kind of determination takes a lot out of a person. Losing people you love takes a lot out of you!" "Okay," Sam said heavily, putting his hands out in front of him. "You're right about the project, okay?" Al stared at Sam and, in the decade he'd known the man, he'd known him to be a terrible liar. And he knew Sam was lying now. "What are you doing, telling me more stories? In hopes of a reconciliation? I don't know you anymore, Sam Beckett." He turned away and wandered into the dining room. He spoke calmly and he moved confidently, but inside he was shaking. The small amount of control he had was fragile and precarious and he knew one tip in the wrong direction, and it would be gone altogether. Sam followed him. "I don't know, Al! You tell me! We've had our problems in the past - why is this so different?" "Because..." Al shook his head and faced the hallway to his bedroom. "It's not the project, it's that...I don't trust you anymore. I mean, I still don't agree with what you're doing, but...you hurt-" He stopped short of completing the thought. "Whatever reasons you had for doing what you did, they aren't good enough." Abruptly, he whipped around to face Sam. "Why did you come, Sam?" "I don't know..." Al could see that was the truth. "I just...I heard you were moving and that you'd turned in your resignation-" "Yeah, I'm going to live with my daughter." *Just say it. Tell him he broke your heart. He's the closest friend you've ever had - you think he wouldn't care? That he wouldn't hurt with you? First Beth and now-* Al cleared his throat, wiped the thought away. *Beth is dead. And Sam's not.* Sharply, Al was reminded of the reason they were at odds. *Part of the reason, maybe, but not the real reason.* "-And I...I guess I just couldn't leave things the way we did." Al exhaled heavily and ran a hand across his face. "You have to understand, Sam, that I...I'm not trying to be difficult or hold a grudge. It's just - there comes a point where you have to protect yourself, y'know? It becomes sink or swim and one more direct hit and you're going to go under. Well, that's where I am right now." *You hurt me.* He'd said it in anger, before he'd realized how true it was - why couldn't he say it in sincerity? Who was sparing who to keep truth hidden? But he hadn't ever said it, not really. Hinted at it, indicated it without words, but he'd never said it. Sam took a hesitant step forward, as if he had a huge weight on him that he just couldn't shake. He knew it, too. He knew the truth. "Al..." he whispered. "I'm sorry." "I know you're sorry," Al replied evenly. "You don't have to keep apologizing." "But I...I don't know what else to do to make this right." Al laughed without humor. "Two years home and the kid's still leaping," he muttered to no-one in particular. "Do you remember what I told you when you leaped into Elk Ridge in the middle of that bank robbery? At the end?" Sam shrugged apologetically. "I don't know...some of the details are still fuzzy, even now." Al adopted a look that was decidedly paternal. "They can't all be happy endings, Sam." *If only it was that simple.* He could see Sam's world crumbling in his eyes. "Al...please..." "Sam, I really do have a lot of things to do," he said gently, turning to go. "They were going to leap you," Sam called out bluntly. Al stopped in his tracks. "Al, they wanted you to go and me to stay behind. I couldn't let them do that, and this was the only condition that they...would agree to. They wanted you as a leaper or not at all and if you'd known..." "Sam, they don't have the power to do that. They lied to you." "But they said-" "They lied to you," Al repeated. *Why can't you accept it? Why can't you accept _him_? You know he-* "And even if they hadn't, it was still my decision to make, to come on the project or not. You can't make my decisions for me." "But, Al-" "You should have told me, Sam," he said angrily. "They lied so they could get their way, and get me out of the way. They set you up." He heard Sam exhale heavily from behind him. "So they could control everything." "Exactly. And you let them." Al started to walk away again, signaling the end of the conversation. But Sam refused to let it close. "Where are you going to go?" "I told you," Al said, sweeping up the letters and tucking them into his jacket pocket, then turning back to Sam, "to live with my daughter." "Where does she live?" Sam pressed. "How can I find you if..." He trailed off and dropped his gaze. "If you need me?" Al finished for him. "You won't need me, Sam." *I wonder if you ever really did.* "You've done everything on your own for two years. Just promise me you won't observe." "I plan to leap," Sam responded stubbornly. "Figures." "So you're just going to bury the past?" "I did it twice. What's once more?" Al shrugged. "Maybe its the coward's way out, I don't know. But whatever I was doing before didn't seem to work." "And what if Beth was alive? Would it be different then?" Al felt the letters in his pocket, felt the pain in his heart. "How can I answer that? Can you tell me what you would have done differently if Donna was alive?" *What would I have done differently had I known you were alive?* "No," Sam conceded quietly. "For what it's worth, Sam, I'm sorry you had to go through that loss by yourself." Sam met his gaze from across the room, filled with boxes of memories and meanings - packed up to be given away. And reluctant acceptance flowed across Sam's features. "At least, this time... At least I get to say good-bye." He shuffled his feet like a shy child. "I wish I could change it." "Don't do anything stupid," Al cautioned. This was it. He was turning Sam away for the last time and for what? Pride? Hurt? Principle? Or just because, like a wounded animal, Al Calavicci could never learn to trust again? "I think - I think I'm finally beginning to see just how much I hurt you," Sam whispered. `Please say it,' Sam's eyes begged. `End this. Fix this.' Al released a heavy breath. "Just go, okay? My God, just - just go." He turned slowly so he couldn't see Sam's tears and so he could hide his own, and retreated to the back of the house, leaving Sam to find his own way out.