"Lost Causes" Part I April, 1993 Pomona, NE "Derrick" stalked the halls, a deep anger rising in his chest. He didn't want to be here - he didn't want to have to see this, but it was a decision he had made. "They back?" he asked tightly. "Yes." There was a slight pause. "Sam, what are you going to do?" Sam stopped short and looked at his observer, anger giving way momentarily to despair. "I can't do this, Verbena." "You have to. You need this information." Her tones were calm, level, intended to counteract his fury, but it didn't work. "Are you sure we can't try again? Go back and leap me in a week ago?" Verbena exhaled, dropping the `link to her side simultaneously. "Sam, you know I don't understand this stuff - all I know is what you and Donna told me." "And what did we tell you?" he asked bitterly and started moving again. It didn't really matter if anyone found him here, but he wasn't up to seeing any of the bastards responsible for what was going on. And if anyone had seen him around Al, there could have been questions at the least, suspicions at the most. "You told me it was going to be hard enough getting you around this time frame to begin with. We're lucky you got here at all. Plus you can't use the Accelerator twice in such a short amount of time," she added in a fashion that made him think she believed he remembered that much. "You know it's not safe, and it really drains our power supply." Sam reached his temporary dwelling and opened the door sharply to reveal a sparse room with a mattress on the floor of one corner and a terminal on a small metal table in the other. A wooden chair sat in front of the table, but otherwise there was nothing else in the room: it obviously wasn't designed for comfort. He took off his jacket and threw it carelessly and forcefully to the floor. "And why can't I just let him go?" "Because," Verbena replied with the air of someone who was tired of explaining things, especially things she knew he was already aware of, "Al told you not to, remember? He said it'd be a lot easier for the authorities to clean up this mess in 1992 than 2003. Project Quantum Leap is still only in the beginning stages - there's no tangible proof in the middle of the desert yet. If someone knows something, it'll be a heck of a lot easier to discredit them." "Maybe so, but did he remember that the committee wasn't very happy with him at this point?" "Unless I miss my mark, the committee's never happy with him." "This is different," Sam clarified. "You hadn't joined our little crew at this point - he was still drinking. And he wasn't being very discreet about it, either." The woman sighed. Sam explained, "I was really upset - I thought we'd taken care of it at Starbright, but as soon as we dried him out, all those things he'd been drinking to suppress came flooding forth and he couldn't deal with it. First he had nightmares, then flashbacks, then the panic attacks..." Sam trailed off, lost in memory. "And then, before I realized it, he was at the bottle again." He sat at the terminal, but faced towards Verbena. "I remember, now, the day he disappeared. I couldn't remember that when I leaped earlier today, which fight it was that did it, but I know now. We'd argued that morning - I told him I'd do anything to help him: I'd get him professional help, I'd sit with him all night, I'd do anything except give him a drink. He got really angry and told me he'd rather have the bottle, then he stormed out. I didn't see him again for three weeks." He looked up. "How is he? I mean, where you are?" She shook her head sorrowfully. "Well, he came reluctantly back to the infirmary on his own tonight, if that gives you any idea." Sam moaned and buried his face in his hands; she shrugged helplessly. "We're trying out some new medication: experimental." "Do we know when it happened here?" He hesitated. "Or does Al remember? I am, of course, banking on the fact that it hasn't happened yet." "I don't know, Sam, we don't have that data. But I'll ask Al about it. He seems to be thinking clearly enough. Put up a fuss about not being able to observe for you, but I think it's mostly to cover for how scared he is." "Yeah..." Al had seen him off before leaping back, warning him as best as he could of what to expect but, between how fuzzy he'd been while he was here and how bad he'd been feeling when Sam left, not to mention the fact that neither he nor Sam switched immediately with the changing timelines, he hadn't been able to provide all that many details. All Sam could picture, though, was how Al's eyes must have looked while he'd been talking to him earlier downstairs, in 1992. He wanted this over - he wanted it over _now_. "I really don't want to be here, Verbena." "I know, but we don't have a whole lot of choice. And you have to stay here - he needs you." Her stern gaze softened. "I'll send him along to the Imaging Chamber and you can talk to him soon, okay?" She made the switch from 1992 to 2003 without pause, but Sam understood. "You want to know the worst part? He's down there in an environment way too close to Vietnam for him to handle right now and probably the only thing on his mind is that if he could just get smashed, it'd fix it all." ~~~~~~ April, 1992 Santa Fe, NM Dr. Sam Beckett paced the room back and forth, frustration, anger, and concern meshing into a kind of ranting soliloquy. His wife sat calmly on the couch, watching him as he prowled around their living room. "Sam..." she tried for the twentieth time. "Dammit, Donna, there's only so much I can do for him! I can't throw my entire life away because he decides to...God knows what! For all I know, he's in Vegas making trouble, or in jail for drunk driving!" "Sam, you know as well as I do that he doesn't do that." She was referring to the latter, but she suspected he knew that. "There's a first time for everything," Sam snapped, then sighed. "It's been a week, Donna, a week. I know we had a huge fight, but he's never run off for this much time." He didn't come out and say it, but she knew he was worried. For all the time and effort he'd invested into Al Calavicci, everyone knew he never regretted a moment of it. Abruptly, he switched back to anger from anxiety. "He wants the bottle over me? Fine. We'll see how well his scotch can bail him out of this one." "The authorities are involved; it's a little late to think that way," she replied, her eyes tracing his movements tirelessly. He finally collapsed hard on the sofa beside her. "Donna..." "I know," she soothed, but he had to say it anyway. "I'm scared." She rubbed his shoulder. "What you have to do is calm down. Even when he's really been drinking hard and even when he's furious at you, he always comes back, doesn't he? So if he didn't come back, it wasn't intentional, which means something's wrong. Getting yourself worked up won't help him, and there's no need to feel guilty, because he didn't stay away because of you." His expression was sour. "That doesn't really help." He clenched his fist. "Damn, I wish he _was_ making us sick with worry for nothing - then he could come back and I could yell at him and it would be over." He exhaled heavily. "But that's not it. I know it's not and I'm as angry at that as I was at him." "Does the committee know he's vanished?" "I don't think so - I've tried to keep it from them, but especially now that everyone else in creation knows, it's not going to be easy. They'll know eventually, especially once the Navy informs them his reports have ceased." He shook his head. "And you know what _they'll_ blame - it'll be their final excuse to toss him out of the service and the project. They already want to; I knew it was just a matter of time. If he'd stayed dry after Starbright..." He buried his face in his hands, shaking it slightly. "Well, you'll just have to make a stand for him, won't you?" Donna questioned. "I don't know, Donna. I tell them that if he goes, I do, and they show us the door... They don't want to spend this much money on this kind of thing. They think it's science fiction and we're the only ones who don't: you, me, and Al. He pulled the strings to make it happen. Threatening to leave would be like going behind him with scissors. They haven't spent enough money yet to feel uncomfortable about cutting their losses." She was at a loss of what to say. "It will happen, Sam." "Maybe. The question is if Al will be there or not when it does." Then another thought struck with frightening clarity. "Maybe, in the end, sacrificing the project for Al would be worth it." Donna wasn't sure he was talking about Al's career or his soul, and she didn't ask. "First we have to find him, though. Donna, I don't know how to do that. I've tried all his usual spots - every place I know of that he goes when everything becomes too much for him, and he's not anywhere to be found. What if he's hurt - or worse?" "They'll find him; it'll just take time, that's all." "I can't not do anything," he stated, his tone distressed. She rested her elbow on the back of the couch and regarded him with a concerned expression. "What are you going to do?" He shook his head miserably. "I don't know. But I have to find him, Donna, I do. I'm, well, I feel responsible for him." *I _am_ responsible for him. He's my friend and that will always be there.* The thoughts that flashed across his consciousness were disturbing, but he decided it was just worry. "He's a grown man, Sam. He has to take responsibility for himself," she said, a little too harshly, then she sighed. "I'm sorry, Sam, I just...you're tearing yourself apart here and he's nowhere to be seen and I know that's the only thing that'll make you feel better. You can have concern for him, friendship for him, but you can't be responsible for him. Only he can do that." He rubbed his face, knowing she was right. "Donna, I just have this terrible fear that...whatever's happened to him..." He bit his lips together and passed a hand across his forehead. "I don't know if he'll be able to handle it." ~~~~~~ April, 1992 Pomona, NE The stranger was long gone and Al began to wonder, after a time, if he would ever come back. A week, Derrick had said. *What does Sam think?* he wondered frantically. A whole week. But two days since they last took him out, he'd been told. Took him where? A search of his own memory drew a blank; he couldn't even recall how he'd gotten there to begin with. The room - couldn't have been bigger than a modest walk-in closet by Al's estimation - had a distinct chill emanating from the concrete walls and the hardwood floor. As he'd done countless times in the last...however many hours since Derrick had left, he tried to adjust his position and his hands pulled on the rope, reminding him of its existence. *Hot. So, so hot...* His mouth was dry and he wondered how long it had been since he'd had anything to drink. The ropes tugged at him again, taunting him, restraining him. He felt the breaths in his chest begin to increase and he squeezed his eyes shut, fighting for all he was worth. "Breathe," he whispered to himself in the harsh nothingness. "Just breathe. Don't think." *Sunlight. Bright and streaming. Sunlight and heat.* "Stop, stop, stop." Each word came out louder than the one before it, a desperate plea to himself. There was only one way to make it stop, to make it go away. "Sam...help..." *Noises, all around him.* "God, help me." As usual, Al heard no response.